Chapter 115: Shahin
Your mother warned you there'd be days like these
But she didn't tell you when the world has brought you down to your knees
That, I'll be there for you
Monday found Shahin in a pleasant mood. Things seemed to be progressing all right with Xaviera, they were going wonderfully with Emrys, and in less than a week, they would have this cy’ree challenge dealt with and, hopefully, have won. What she would do with a week apart from Emrys, she was steadfastly not thinking about.
Aelgifu wasn’t in her room when they stopped by on the way to breakfast, but that was not all that much of a surprise. She and Ioanna seemed to be hitting it off quite well. Yngvi, of course, had a bit of a frown, but he was getting better at hiding his blanket disapproval of other people having love lives.
They saw Ioanna at their table before they registered Ayla’s presence; her hair acted as a beacon to draw the eye. Ayla was, it seemed, trying to hide; her head was down on her arms, her ears…
…her ears. Oh. The long, perky, velveteen rabbit ears were draped across the table. Remembering her dreams, remembering how sensitive her friend was, Shahin made sure her face showed no signs of anything, then checked Xaviera and Emrys, to either side of her.
Xaviera was keeping her mouth shut, but Emrys grinned broadly. “Nice ears,” he said sincerely by way of greeting.
Ayla looked up at him slowly, as if expecting a trick, and they could see two budding antler tips sticking out from her blonde hair. “I’m a freak,” she said woefully.
“Nah,” Emrys replied. “You look good.” Shahin could have hugged him for the casual reassurance; from the looks of things, Ioanna felt the same way. Ayla seemed unconvinced, but mollified.
“You haven’t seen the feet yet,” she muttered half-heartedly.
“You gonna show us, then?”
She blinked up at Emrys, then over to Shahin, who was smiling encouragingly. “You got off easy on the Changes,” she complained, but she stuck one long, somewhat rabbitty foot out from under the table.
“You can say that again the first time you wake up and all your stuff’s on fire. That’s not bad, though; from the way you were talking I expected, I dunno, giant warty lizard feet or something.”
She looked down at her feet, then back up at them. “You don’t think it’s bad?” Even a deaf man could hear the neediness in her voice. Shahin shook her head.
“Not at all, Ayla. I think it’s kind of cool. Can you hear better with the ears?”
She rotated one ear experimentally. “More directionally, I think?” she offered.
“That’s something, yeah. And how’s running on those things? Well, I guess you’re still getting used to them, but I bet it’ll be an improvement.”
Yngvi was looking at Emrys as if he’d grown a second head; Shahin couldn’t help but smirk a little bit.
Ayla, on the other hand, looked considerate. “That’s a good point. I’ll have to try it, once the funny pills have worn off… oh, sorry, Sheen.”
Shahin smiled faintly, determined not to flinch. “It’s fine, Ayla.” She couldn’t ask for a pill, shouldn’t, wouldn’t. Ayla would give it to her, too, not like Caitrin, she could make her... no! “So, any obvious powers yet to go with that, or do you think you’re done?” Emrys asked by way of changing the subject back.
“Powers?” Ayla shook her head no. “Nothing so far, unless an urge to eat greenery counts.”
“Probably not. You never know, though. Something might come up.”
“The amazing lettuce-eating menace?” She was smiling, though, that was a good sign. Shahin settled in to eat breakfast, smiling back at her friends. She wondered if the girl had given any thought at all to other matters, but she wasn’t going to press the issue. Not, at least, until she had adjusted to the rabbit ears. Maybe not even then.
She glanced over at Xaviera thoughtfully. Somehow it hadn’t seemed this complicated, when she told Agatha and Emrys she’d help them.
Xaviera glanced back at her questioningly, quickly polishing off her own breakfast.
It had worked with Nydia… “How do you feel about shopping?”
“Shopping? Are we looking for anything in particular?”
She really should put a collar on her… “I’m fond of clothes, you may have noticed.”
“So am I,” the girl responded just a little too quickly.
She studied her Kept for a moment, without saying anything, watching her pulse beat in her throat. Xaviera said nothing more, not quite cringing, clearly wondering if she’d overstepped.
Ayla broke the silence. “Nobody likes clothes as much as Sheen does,” she laughed, her tone clearly teasing. “Good luck keeping up, Xav.”
“Right,” the girl nodded slowly, her relief only faint as she waited for Shahin’s reply.
Shahin smiled, mostly at Ayla’s ribbing. “She has a point,” she warned Xaviera. “I’m a little clothing-obsessed. But it could be fun, if you’re up to it…?”
“Yes, okay, we could do that.”
“Tomorrow then, after dinner,” she nodded. It might not be fun, but it might be educational.
“Alright. Are we shopping for both of us?”
“Yeah,” she smiled, as warmly as she could. “It’s more fun that way.”
“It is,” Xaviera agreed, a faint smile finally working its way back onto her face.
Shahin couldn’t help but wonder what had gotten her so twitchy about shopping, enough that, when they went the next day, she spent quite a bit of the walk to the Store watching the girl’s face. It was perfectly calm then, though, almost serene, and she wished, for a moment, for Jaya’s emotion-reading powers. Instead, she studied the girl’s clothes. “Do you ever wear skirts?”
“Sometimes, yeah,” she shrugged. “Nothing like some of yours, though.”
Shahin smirked faintly. “I’ve seen very few modern people in anything like my more elaborate outfits,” she admitted. “It’s a bit of an affectation, I suppose.” One that seemed both less and more important now.
“That, too. And I don’t wear things that try to make me look like a pretty-pretty-princess. I’m not. None of us are.” Even though Shahin could tell it wasn’t directed at her, the challenge was clear in her tone.
She paused to look up at her Kept, wishing there wasn’t such a clear difference in their heights. “Who’s been playing pretty princesses?” she asked quietly.
“There are some every year. Sarita and that ilk.”
“Ah,” she nodded, wondering why it bothered her so much. “You’re quite pretty yourself, you know.”
“I look good,” she allowed.
“But not a princess?”
“What do you think?” she smirked. “You’ve had me.”
“No princesses to compare to,” she smirked back.
“Oh, well. The way you make deals, I’m sure you could end up with one.”
That could be a compliment or an insult, and Shahin wasn’t sure which it was, so she just nodded. “If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know how the experience compares.” She started walking again, heading into the Store. “So skirts, but nothing elaborate, and nothing pretty-princes. I suppose pink is right out then,” she smiled.
“Please,” Xaviera shuddered.
She shuddered companionably along with her. “Agreed.” They headed into the clothing section, for the moment ignoring the collar racks in the center of the store. She let the other girl do most of the directing as they headed through the store, pausing only a few times to pick out something she thought would look particularly nice on the statuesque blonde and offering it, careful to make it a suggestion each time.
Xaviera took the first several suggestions without comment, though eventually she hesitantly refused an item. Shahin, who had been beginning to suspect the girl was just taking things because she thought she had to, smiled encouragingly when she did. “Not your style?” she asked gently.
“I’d rather not, no.”
“Okay, then.” She put the shirt back and moved on without comment. Behind her, she could tell the girl was trying hard to hide her surprise. “If I want to play dress-up-doll with you,” she murmured, “I’ll do it behind closed doors, okay? You can wear what you’re comfortable in, in public.”
“Right,” Xaviera nodded quietly.
She couldn’t really tell if the girl believed her, so she moved on to something else. “Tell me,” she asked softly, “are there Keepers who don’t collar their Kept?”
“It’s not always so obvious. Little necklaces or such. We know, though; and there’s always something.”
“What would you like, then?”
“I... What would you accept?” she countered.
Shahin let an amused smile cross her lips. “Nothing too intense. No dog collars, no steel, nothing that goes zap.”
She shook her head. “On me, I mean, not if you were in my shoes.”
“That’s what I mean, too,” she clarified. “Something like that is a statement about your Keepers as much as it is about you.”
“Right. Okay. Could... could I have a necklace?” she asked quickly, almost cringing.
Shahin resisted the urge to hug her; she was pretty sure it wouldn’t get taken well. Instead, she nodded solemnly. “Of course. Let’s go pick one out.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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