Chapter 152: Kailani
The future's looking rosy
And I can see us spending every Christmas

"I've never really done this before," Kai admitted, as she and Conrad walked into the Store. "I know I say that a lot," she added, "but I think that this is a bit stranger than most." For human values of "strange."

"You've never gone shopping? Seriously?"

"Well, with you, here, and things like that… My mom isn't big on commercialism."

"You must have celebrated Christmas though, right?"

"A little? Mom's not Christian."

"That's not what Christmas is about in this country anyway," Conrad laughed. "What about the presents?"

"No, but I always thought it would be nice."

"Wow. Okay, well. I mean, you've bought gifts, right? Maybe birthdays, or whatever?"

"For my mom, and my grandparents," she nodded, "and my teachers." She squirmed a little bit, looking at a shelf of clothes instead of at him. Addergoole was such a strange place, she'd gotten used to not being all that weird in context.

"Right. This isn't any different, just everyone gets them at once."

"So it's just buying presents for… everyone?"

"Well, only people you like of course! I generally get them for the crew, and a few other friends."

"Oh, okay." That was a lot more reasonable, and she could see how it could be fun. "So the crew, and Jamian and Shahin, and the Thornes, and Finnegan, and Nydia?"

Conrad was nodding along as she listed people, until she got to the end. "Nydia? Well, okay, sure. So, any idea what to get for any of those people?"

"No?" she admitted weakly. "Shahin likes black, and lace. Mabina likes food. Jamian likes… um."

"No worries," he laughed. "You've got plenty of time to figure them out; it's kind of traditional to subtly probe for clues around this time of year. The ones you'll need to think of are the people you don't see as often, or don't have as much casual conversation with."

"So Nydia, and Finnegan, and the Thornes?"

"Likely, yeah. The Kept are extra tricky, make sure their Keepers will be okay with whatever it is."

She winced. The war Anatoliy had warned her about hadn't materialized, but some of the upperclassmen Keepers were decidedly unfriendly towards her.

"I imagine you know Allyse well enough that Finnegan will be all right on that score. What about Nydia?"

"I can ask Dysmas first?" she offered. "Something small, something non-offensive?"

"It's never a bad idea to ask first. What kinds of things does she like?"

"Black and lace? She likes being really thin. Maybe I can work out something with Shahin; she seems to be good with that sort of thing?"

"Maybe, yeah. She might understand what kind of gothy thing Nydia would like. I didn't realize you two had hardly talked."

"Most of our talking during the field trip was either about the trip - oh! She liked the little notebooks and pens; she picked up one at every place we went."

"Okay, I bet we can find something like that." "I wonder if she'd like one from someplace different?" she mused.

"Probably, but we can't exactly get anywhere."

"The Store does special orders," she answered offhandedly and then, catching his look, added, "I asked. I had something I wanted to get."

"Yeah?" Conrad smiled. "So you've already started shopping, then."

"I was shopping for them," she admitted, folding her hands over her stomach because it felt strange to point at her womb. "I know it's early…" "Not a bad idea to start that early, too." He set his hand on hers. "You may not feel like it later."

"I haven't been sick at all," she mused. "Not like Shahin was, or the way Jaya was vomiting every day just after her first class. But no matter how much I train, I'm starting to put on a bit of weight." She frowned at her waistline.

"That's good," Conrad said. "With two, it'd be unhealthy not to be."

"I suppose," she agreed ruefully. "But they won't really need Christmas presents."

"Not this year, anyway. So, all right, Nydia's planned. What about Finnegan?"

Finnegan. Obviously nothing like a weapon… "I don't want to come off like I'm flirting with him," never mind that Sima flirts with Conrad… "so I think not jewelry, right?" What did Finnegan do? Hide, mostly. She giggled.

"Not jewelry," Conrad agreed. "I doubt that's really his style anyway."

"Camouflage t-shirt?" she laughed.

"That could be a hit, actually. What about his Keeper?"

"Allyse? A wide, flat, smooth bowl." She could see it in her mind, the place the water was supposed to go for the Thorne's seer.

"That was fast. Cool, shouldn't be too hard to find something like that. And the others?"

"They're harder," she admitted.

"Acacia's a surprisingly material girl, I'm sure you can come up with something."

"Really?" She wouldn't have thought it of the lead Thorne, but… "Belts. She likes the really showy belts, and Massima likes the boot decorations."

"Sima does like her boots," Conrad sighed.

Kai watched his ears and tail carefully. "Is that bad?"

"I guess not." He chuckled, but his body language looked rueful; she wondered exactly what interaction he'd had with Sima's boots.

Well, he was hers now, and didn't have to worry about that. She squeezed his hand. "I can get her something else, if you think it's wiser."

"No, no, it's not a bad idea. Let's see about actually finding some of these things."

"All right," she nodded, picking a wall and beginning to walk. "What should I get you?"

"You can't just come right out and ask me," he complained.

"I can't?" She paused to look at him. "Why not?"

"Well... that's just not how it's done," Conrad answered plaintively.

"But then how do I know?" This Christmas thing was getting more and more complicated. Briefly, she contemplated the idea of ordering him to tell her, but she was pretty sure that really wouldn't be in the spirit of things.

"How did you know for everyone else?" he countered.

"I studied their patterns and made educated guesses," she answered promptly.

He paused momentarily at the directness of her answer, but then nodded. "Okay then. That should be easier the better you know someone, right?"

"But that's a clear case of observation tainting the data," she complained.

"...tainting? Isn't the observation part the whole point? The, uh, method of data collection?"

She could tell by his tail she was explaining this wrong. "Me being with you changes how you act," she tried.

"Isn't it the same when you're with anyone else?"


"No? Why not?"

She blinked up at him, trying to determine why they weren't communicating. Finally, she touched the necklace around his neck. "There's this. And there's this," she patted her stomach. "And living together. And… dating?"

"Well, okay, yes, our relationship is different. That doesn't change the underlying premise, though."

She wasn't certain he understood her complaint, but she didn't want to argue with him. "So, I should buy a present for you, based on my observation of you in the time we've been together?" she hazarded.

"You don't have to buy me a present of course, but if you're going to, then yes."

"I want to do it right," she explained. "I want to do everything right for you."

Conrad just stopped, right there in the aisle of the store, and took her in his arms. "You're perfect, Kaia."

"You're biased," she mumbled, but it felt so very good, being held by him, having his approval. "Thank you."

He kissed her gently. "You'll do just fine."

A blush crawled up her face and down her shoulders, all from one kiss. And his assurances. When he was like this, she didn't need anyone else. "With you, I will," she murmured. "As long as you're with me."

"You don't need to ever not be with me," he replied softly.

"I'd like that," she agreed. She could be with him forever, and that would be fine.


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