Chapter 133: Kailani
If everything was different, you'd be my man.
Sometimes I wish we were more than just friends
For all the drama of the trip, it was really a lot of fun. Kai leaned back in the bus, between Taro and Nydia, where she’d been most of the vacation, and pondered how fun it was to have friends, to really be able to hang out with people who didn’t hate her. She closed her eyes, letting the breezes of conversation flow over her, and smiled.
Taro had been a sweetheart for most of the trip. He’d been protective of her and the rest of their misfit cy’ree, especially after the events at the Alamo; she hadn't told him, but she supposed her anxiety would be noticeable to someone who actually noticed such things. He hovered near them, herding them along like a nervous sheepdog. When some boys from another field trip had started bothering Renata and Kai, Taro had shown up from across the room and very firmly suggested they go away. Unsurprisingly, they had.
He was so unlike the Taro she’d first met, accommodating, concerned, polite. It was as if his ordeal being frozen had changed him, mellowed him. He hadn’t even made a crack about her intelligence since they really got into the cy’ree challenge.
Even now, he was turning towards her with a smile as he fished something out of his backpack. “Hey, I picked this up at the museum, you want some?” Without waiting for her reply, he snapped the candy bar in half, holding a piece out to her.
“Thanks,” she smiled, accepting the half and breaking off a tiny piece - the most Nydia would consent to eat anyway - for the skinny girl. “It’s been a fun trip so far.”
“It really has, yeah.” Taro put an arm around her shoulders companionably, and she found that she didn’t object at all. “It’s nice getting to know some different people better.”
Or getting to know that the same people can be different, she mused, leaning into his arm. “I’m surprised the school allows this,” she murmured without thinking.
“The field trips, you mean? Why wouldn’t they? Hell, they’ve gotta understand that we need to get out sometimes.”
“With different groups. Everything is set up to isolate incoming students into their new crews and then, secondarily, their cy’rees.”
“Oh, well, I guess so, yeah. Maybe they figure by this point it doesn’t matter?”
“That could be. We’ve already made friends outside of both.” Friends they’d left at home, in some cases.
“Or maybe the staff aren’t as diabolical as we paint them, sometimes.”
“I’m not willing to believe that one yet,” she murmured. “The things that they allow to happen…”
“Maybe,” he nodded, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
She smiled at him. He might have been pretending he’d let Rozen get her, but he really wouldn’t have, would he?
Before she could say anything, though, he changed the subject, and she filed the thought away for a future moment, perhaps a more isolated one.
“So, the Lexington was pretty awesome, huh?”
“It was very neat,” she agreed. “I want one some day.”
Taro laughed, shaking his head. “Where would you put it? I don’t think the bathtub’s gonna cut it.”
For once, his laughter didn’t bother her; it had sounded awful silly without the rest of the plan. “Well, I’d need a harbor, of course.”
“I guess that would make things easier, yeah. Gonna have your own city, then?”
“That would be the easiest, a decent-sized town, at least. Or a large waterfront property.”
“Wait, you’re serious?” The playfulness went out of his tone, but he was still smiling. “Well, I guess you’ve got goals, at least.”
His surprise made her smile. “I’m not one for joking much, Taro, haven’t you noticed?”
“Yeah, yeah, I guess so. Man.” He looked down at his feet for a moment. “I’ve got no idea what I’m gonna do, after all this.”
That surprised her, although she supposed it shouldn’t have. Future careers had never been in short supply for her. “Well, what do you like doing?” she tried.
“Not working,” he answered promptly.
“Not… seriously? Wouldn’t you get bored?”
“Nope.” He pulled his arm back, crossing his hands behind his head as he leaned back. “I’d lay on a beach somewhere, just like this.”
“Hunh.” She tilted her head, trying to figure that one out. “I guess that could be fun for a little while.”
“You’re probably too smart to enjoy it, really. Mind always going.”
“It does that wherever I am, though.” She couldn’t imagine it being any other way. She looked at him again, trying to figure that one out; he, in turn, glanced out the window, apparently oblivious.
“Hey, looks like we’re stopping though, this must be tonight’s hotel. It’s still kinda early; you could stop by my room if you wanna keep talking.”
“That would be nice,” she agreed. She could only handle talking to Nydia for so long, and Shahin had been quiet and withdrawn for the last couple days.
“Okay, I’ll see you soon then,” Taro smiled, bounding up as the bus came to a halt and scooping up his bag before scurrying off.
“You’ll be okay?” she asked Nydia quietly, as they settled into their room a few minutes later. “If I go hang out with Taro for a bit?”
“Oh I’m fine,” she replied quickly. “Go, have fun.”
“Okay,” Kai agreed. She had the sneaking suspicion they were both getting sick of each other. Nydia had nothing further to say, which didn’t really allay that fear.
It was only natural, Kai told herself, as she headed for Taro’s room. That much time in close proximity, people were bound to get on each other’s nerves. Taro might be the lucky one this trip, having been the odd man out and thus having a room to himself.
He opened the door to her knock. “Hey there.”
“Hi.” She looked down at her sandaled toes, suddenly shy. Because you haven’t spent the last two months living in a suite with him or anything.
“C’mon in,” he added as he headed back into the room and sat down on the bed. The room was a bit smaller than her own, since Taro was the only one occupying it; there was only the double bed, an endtable bearing the usual clock and lamp, and a dresser with the TV perched atop it. Since there was no place else to sit, she perched on the edge of the bed, looking uncertainly over at him. Now what?
“So, what’s been your favorite place so far out here?” he asked.
Oh, yeah. They could just talk, like she assumed normal people did. Like friends. Friends alone in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere... She banished the thought from her mind before it finished forming, although there was a nagging worry that it had been accompanied by an electric thrill of anticipation and rebellion.
“So far, I think today’s trip was the best,” she admitted. “I would probably have enjoyed the Capitol more, but with the trouble…” She let that one lie. “What about you?”
“Yeah, the ship was awesome, although it was kind of cool to see some of the actual battlefields the other day, too. And the Alamo was neat, although you were a little distracted there.”
“The… oh.” She flushed. “Yeah.” She hadn’t told him about that, had she?
“Yeah?” He’d clearly picked up on something, though. “Did something happen there?”
“I thought I saw another Ellehemaei.” Thought? You were sure.
“Out here, seriously? What were they doing?”
“Hard to tell,” she admitted. “They were cloaked in some sort of disguise Working.”
“Shit, that makes it hard to think they’re not Ellehemaei then, yeah.” Taro shook his head. “Well, there had to be more of us out in the world.”
“We knew that,” she murmured.
“Yeah, but I guess it’s a little different actually seeing one, huh?”
She tilted her head, trying to figure out what he meant. “Aside from the dragon that kidnapped Shahin and Emrys, you mean?” she asked carefully.
“I guess that’s true, but I only saw it in the halls, y’know? It was one more strange thing at Addergoole. Not quite the same, when it’s out here.” He paused a moment, turning towards her more fully. “You don’t think, it might have been something like that?”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” she admitted. “A predator.”
“Oh, hey.” Just like that, she was in his arms, and she wasn’t quite sure how it had happened. “Kai, there’s nothing to worry about. We’ll keep you safe.”
It was a nice feeling; he wasn’t squeezing her too tightly, the way he used to; he was just holding her and protecting her. She let herself lean into his arms, the voice of her mother very very far away.
“I…” She caught a sob and swallowed it. They hadn’t been able to keep her safe from Agatha. They hadn’t been able to protect Shahin and Emrys from the dragon. But it was nice, still, to feel as if they’d try. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He didn’t seem inclined to let go of her, but she wasn’t particularly inclined to make him, either. She tilted her head to look at him, so close to her that their noses were nearly touching.
“Is the world this strange for everyone?”
“I wouldn’t know. Is it really that strange?”
Was it that strange, being here with him? In his arms, in his bed, feeling his breath on her cheek? It felt good, warm, comforting, and the nagging voice in the back of her mind was nearly silenced.
She could kiss him. She was so close; she leaned in just a little bit more. His lips were nice, she knew, and his kisses might not be so rough now. Not since… she froze, a bare millimeter from kissing him.
“Kai...” His lips brushed against hers, just barely touching as he murmured her name, half-lidded eyes searching hers.
“Taro...” She shook her head. “No.”
He pulled back as if snakebit, releasing her from his arms. “Oh, hey, Kai, I’m sorry.”
She sat back on her heels, looking at him. “It… it isn’t your fault. But it shouldn’t happen again.” No, really?
“No, it shouldn’t, we shouldn’t...” He paused for a moment to stop tripping over his tongue. “You’re right. You should probably go.”
She nodded, touching his shoulder lightly. “I should go,” she agreed. So go. She stood up awkwardly. “Thanks, Taro.”
“Yeah. Uh. Sleep well. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” she agreed, and fled.
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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