Chapter 155: Kailani
Don't you know, it's not easy
When you gotta walk upon that line
That's why - you need
That's why - this is what you need

Kai clutched her bag of gifts nervously as she headed to the gym on what would normally be their training time. Conrad (and then Jamian) had assured her that her gifts were appropriate, but the Thornes were so prickly and hard to understand sometimes. She didn't want to offend them.

As she walked, she wondered if they would have brought her gifts. They were her friends, right? Wasn't that the way it was supposed to work? Of course, that assumed they were there at all. Surely they weren't going to actually train two days before Christmas, with classes closed and everything! Would the gym even be open? Regine had sent her away when she'd asked for some holiday-time independent study work….

To her surprise, the gym was not only open, but the Thornes were in there, stretching, dressed for practice. "Hurry up, Girl Scout," Acacia called upon seeing her. "Stretching is important, and we're almost ready to go."

She dropped her bag of gifts carefully in a corner and fell into a stretch. So they really were going to train! What if they didn't want to exchange gifts? What if they thought she was silly for buying them things? There was no helping it now; they couldn't have missed the bag. She fretted as she began her routine, muscle memory kicking in to carry her through her distraction, and the real threat of getting kicked in the head taking care of the rest of it. Sima never pulled her punches, but Kai was getting better at dodging them.

"So are those for us?" Sima asked casually between exchanges, jerking her head in the direction of Kai's bag.

"Yes," Kai answered, without looking in the direction. "And Doug and Finnegan."

"Doug's actually not here today, it's just us. But we'll take Finnegan's back for him." She looked amused at the idea of it.

"Doug's can wait, I guess." She shrugged uncertainly, and almost missed an attack. "It seemed like something I should do? Something people do, with their friends?"

"Of course it is, I just didn't realize Finnegan was your friend."

She frowned, and stepped back out of kicking range, uncertain now. "I didn't want him to feel left out."

"That's so cute," she chuckled. "It's just like you to do that, Girl Scout. Yeah, we'll give it to him."

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? "Thank you." She turned her attention back to the fight.

After their usual training, Acacia approached her on the way to the locker room. "C'mon, we've got some stuff for you."

"All right." See? Conrad can be right about this sort of thing. Unless, of course, they have an ambush for you. But they were her friends. They wouldn't do that. Indeed, as they changed, each girl retrieved a box from her locker; plain boxes, apparently they weren't the gift wrap type, but they served the purpose nonetheless.

She opened her own bag and pulled out her four, wrapped in colorful paper Conrad had helped her pick out. It looked a bit childish compared to their plain boxes, but she didn't mind much.

Allyse set Finnegan's aside; it looked like she'd give it to him without opening it, which was a relief. Not that it was anything bad, of course, but she really hadn't been sure what kind of reaction to expect there. Kailani watched as each of them opened their presents in turn, hoping she'd done well, that she'd been able to read them at least a little. Wishing that their slightly-feline attitude came with ears and tails to match.

Allyse's was revealed first. The seer's lips curled just a little, but it was clearly a smile at the shallow blue bowl.

"Thank you, Kailani," she said, sounding serious and sincere. "It's lovely, and it will serve my purposes well." She carefully repacked it, setting it beside Finnegan's wrapped gift along with the wrapping paper, which had been meticulously removed without breaking its shape - how had she managed that and still been the first to finish?

While Kai was boggling about that one, Acacia finished opening hers, the feline smile on her lips growing, Kai thought, just a bit wider. "That's very nice," she said, slowly lifting the belt from its box and letting it hang from her fingers to be displayed. "Very nice. Thank you."

Kai relaxed a hair, turning to look at Sima. Of all the Thorne Girls, she was pretty sure Sima liked her the least. Her present was a bit larger, as well, so it had taken her an extra moment. She lifted the cover off the long shoebox, gazing inside and nodding slowly before removing the boots.

"Well, well."

She ran a finger over the leather, nodding again in approval, and leaned back against the lockers. "They look good in a box; let's have a better look."

Kai watched her uncertainly. They had been the right gift, she was sure of it. Still…

Sima slipped the boots on gracefully, lacing them up to her knees without assistance or even sitting down. Kai envied her that balance and flexibility for just a moment, before remembering how much her own had improved in these months of training. Meanwhile, Sima began to strut around the locker room, with a deliberate sashay as if walking a runway. Several moments passed before she spoke, with an appreciative tone.

"My, my. These boots are made for walking." She shot a glance over her shoulder, directly at Kai, and grinned broadly. "And that's just what they'll do." Well, of course they would, Kai thought. What else were boots for? Sima confused her sometimes, but she clearly liked the gift. "Merry Christmas?" she offered uncertainly.

"Thank you," the older girl purred. "And now it's your turn."

Somehow, that sounded ominous. Kai took the first box to hand and opened it, hoping it wouldn't bite her.

Whatever it was, it was very well-wrapped; the box contained a swaddling of bubble wrap and polystyrene foam. She began slowly unwrapping it, before realizing just how long that would take; in the end, the need to know took over, and she tore through the wrapping. The contents nearly did bite her for her haste; she jerked a finger back as she touched something sharp.

Brilliant, Kai. As she was chastising herself, however, she managed to finish unwrapping it - a long, curved knife with a horn handle. "A Gurkha knife!" she exclaimed, excited. "Oh, this is… oh, wow!" She carefully pulled the kukri out of its packaging. "Wow," she repeated.

"You're familiar with the Gurkhas, then?" Acacia asked, folding her arms in front of her.

"Well, I've read about them, of course. I've never met any…"

Acacia laughed, shaking her head. "Likely not, no. Determined warriors, and good models for a scrappy little fighter. You see how the blade curves inward along the edge, there, rather than outward in Western fashion? It's designed for catching and slicing, with fast, sweeping slashes. A weapon for one who flows like the air. And, of course, for taking off arms, legs - even heads."

She studied the blade, nodding. Some of the drills they had been teaching her could easily be adapted to this weapon. "Thank you." She was still a bit stunned at the generosity of the gift, staring at its wicked edge.

"It might come in handy someday," Acacia said, stepping back to let her open the next gift; Sima's, by the look of things. Pondering what sort of life she'd ended up in, where she might need a kukri to chop off an enemy's limbs, she set the weapon down carefully and began opening the next gift. This one was wrapped with similar care, and this time Kailani took her time, feeling the weight of what could only be another metal object inside. When she peeled away the last layer, though, it was decidedly different; a pair of steel, matte-black handcuffs emerged, the dim light of the locker room practically absorbed by their finish.

She studied them, curious. Shahin had mentioned, in one of their whispered locker-room conversations, people using such things in sex-play, was that... She looked up at Sima.

Sima just smirked, and echoed Acacia. "They might come in handy some day."

Oooh. She nodded, feeling the blush coming hot to her cheeks. "Thank you," she murmured. Handcuffs and kukri.. She was a little more hesitant as she opened Allyse's gift. The increased care proved unwarranted; inside was a simple headband, an attractive dark green that would look good in her hair while keeping it out of her face.

It was so different from the other gifts, and yet so very much something she could see herself liking and using. "Thank you," she smiled, sliding the headband into her hair.

"It will come in handy some day," the seeress said with a simple certitude that chilled Kai to the bone.


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