Chapter 158: Kailani
One, cut a hole in a box...

Christmas Day.

They had exchanged presents with the crew the day before - although most of them had lavished their attention on Mabina's twins and little Min - but, at Conrad's suggestion, Kai and Conrad had held off their own exchange until this morning. Now, she waited with bated breath as he removed a wrapped box from the closet, with apparent effort; whatever it was, it was heavy.

She chewed on her lip. She hoped she liked it. She hoped it was something nice; she was lousy at lying. Mabina had been able to tell she hadn't like the sweater Mabina-and-Cassidy had gotten her, she was sure of it.

He set the squarish box down with a small exhalation of breath, then smiled, echoing her thoughts: "I hope you like it."

"I hope you like mine, too," she said uncertainly, as she pulled the box towards her. She unwrapped it carefully, folding the paper beside her - waste not, want not, after all. The brown box was unadorned; clearly it wasn't the original packaging, if there had been any, of the contents. She opened it slowly, unsure what to expect from this heavy mystery box.

The smell reached her first, a thick, musty, back-of-the-library smell, with the scent of new leather oil over it. She kept opening, quicker now, curious.

The tome was thick and heavy; she had to struggle to lift it from the box, revealing a companion of similar age and heft beneath. Excited now, she scanned them both for indications of their identity and contents.

Indications? Well, there was script on both of them, bearing a resemblance to the tattoo-like Change she sometimes noticed on Emrys' arms, but illegible to her. She looked up at Conrad, curious.

"I'm not exactly sure," he said, more proud than apologetic. "They're a mystery."

"A mystery?" She smiled broadly. "Oh, that's wonderful!"

"You're welcome," he grinned. She smiled between him and her books, gleeful, until she remembered it was her turn to give a gift. Suddenly nervous all over again, she pulled his present out from under the bed. "You wouldn't tell me what you wanted," she murmured. And observing him wasn't as easy as observing her friends, no matter what he said. But he and Vlad liked to roughhouse in loose approximation of sports when the weather was nice or even bearable, and football in November and December had found them outside in their coats and hats - and ill-fitting gloves or mittens.

"I'm sure I'll love it," he said, taking the box from her and shredding the paper in a matter of moments. Was that how you were supposed to do it? She watched uncertainly. She and 'Lisha had talked it over, debated, bargained, negotiated. In the end, she'd been happy with what they came up with. Would he be?

He pulled the gloves out of the box, turning them over in his hands, spreading them out to their full seven-fingered width. Lisha had gone all out; they were warm, insulated, and would still allow him, hopefully, plenty of dexterity.

"These are so nice," Conrad said, slipping one on. "How did you find something like this? The Store won't do that kind of modification."

"I worked out a deal with 'Lisha - with Vlad's permission, of course." That she'd helped the girl come up with gloved for webbed hands had, of course, helped. "You like them, then?"

"They're awesome. Thank you, Kai."

She leaned in to steal a kiss. "I'm glad you like them. Maybe later, you can show me how to use Sima's gift?"

"How to use... do I want to know?"

"Well, it would probably help to know," she answered practically. "Right now, though, I have a couple more gifts to pass out. I shouldn't be long."

"I'll ask later, then," Conrad said. "Have fun, and come back soon. I'll show you how to... whatever it is."

For that, she kissed him again, taking her time at it. "I know you will," she assured him. "You're wonderful like that."

"You're pretty wonderful yourself. Hurry back and I'll show you just how wonderful... unless demonstrating Sima's present precludes it, of course."

She blushed hotly. "I don't think it will. I'll be quick." Her cheeks still on fire, she gathered her other presents and fled the suite before Mabina could stop her.

Her first destination had been one of the trickier presents to choose. Rozen wasn't exactly a friend per sé, but he'd been helpful to her sometimes, and his blunt honesty could be refreshing, albeit occasionally disturbing. It had seemed appropriate to get him a gift, although, now, in the hall outside his room, visiting him alone to deliver it didn't seem all that smart.

She was here now, though; besides, he'd never done more than frighten her. Except on Hell Night, she thought to herself, even as she knocked on his door. Even then, though, he was just scaring them... right?

Rozen opened the door, leaving no more time to question herself.

"Merry Christmas," she offered hurriedly, shoving her present out in front of her.

"Merry Christmas yourself," he said, smiling broadly. Not like a wolf at all. Just keep telling yourself that. "Come on in, I've got something for you too."

Not at all certain this was a good idea, Kai stepped just inside the door. Rozen closed the door with a casual swipe of his hand - What big hands you have, Mr. Wolf! - and took the present from her hand, unwrapping it with more care than Conrad had, much to her amusement. The hardcover book, one she'd had to ask Regine's help in tracking down, looked tiny in those wolfy hands.

"Interesting," he said slowly, reading the inside jacket. "This should prove entertaining. Thank you." He flashed her a grin - What big teeth you have, Mr. Wolf! - and set it down. "Let me get yours." Rozen turned his back to her for a moment, opening his closet and moving things aside. She stepped towards the doorway silently, hoping she'd have time to run if this went badly.

"I thought about this for a long time, and I figured out exactly what you need," he said conversationally. It was going to be fine; he was turning towards her again, holding a long box in front of him. "Go ahead, Kai."

She reached cautiously for the box, her eyes on his hands. "What I need?"

"I can't think of anyone else who needs this as badly as you do," he confirmed.

Kailani took the lid off the box and looked inside. What a big, big cock you have, Mr. Wolf! "Oh! Oh, um… oh," she stammered. Not as big as Tolly, of course, but still… "Umm…"

"It's okay, you don't have to say anything. You'll thank me later," he assured her smoothly.

Not to mention a big ego, Mr. Wolf. "It's a very nice offer," she stammered, closing the lid on the box . "But I have to decline."

"C'mon now, you don't have to do anything," Rozen said. "I wasn't kidding; you need this, girl. No funny business, no strings attached. I promise."

She shook her head. "I appreciate the offer, but… no. "

"Well, try and have a merry Christmas anyway," he offered, not seeming too stung by her refusal.

"You, too," she stammered, and fled. In a box? Seriously? No wonder he has to jump girls in the hallway! Of course, he can't have seriously expected her to accept, she thought, calming herself as she moved away. It was a joke. Right? Rozen was too smart to think that would work on anyone.

Even Mea? She stuffed the unkind thought and focused on the hall around her. Someone was coming, weren't they? The halls did muffle sound, making it hard to notice an approaching person, but there were limits. Who would... Tolly. The giant lumbered into view, coming around a corner, and waved at her. "Merry Christmas!"

"Err… Merry Christmas." She smiled hesitantly at him.

"I was just looking for you, actually," he continued, before whipping a small wrapped package out from behind his back.

Well, it was coming from behind his back, but still… Kai stepped back. "You were?"

"To give you your present," he explained, holding out the package almost bashfully. "I mean, it's not much, but maybe it'll help you."

She reached cautiously for the gift. "I didn't get you anything," she admitted.

"That's okay," he shrugged. "I don't really need anything."

"Christmas isn't about needing things, is it?" She blushed, thinking of Rozen's "gift." "I just… if I got one for you, then your whole crew…"

He waved his free hand, still holding out the gift in the other. "No, no, it's okay, really. I understand."

"Okay…" She reached hesitantly for the gift; when it didn't bite her and no more cocks jumped out, she began unwrapping it.

Tolly watched as she carefully peeled back the paper, revealing a pair of books. The first she was familiar with, although she hadn't actually read it - Machiavelli's The Prince. The second author was new to her, and the title - Of Sheep and Shepherds - could refer to any number of things. The question must have been plain on her face, because Tolly explained: "They kind of go together, but the second book is more from, uh, our unique perspective?"

She blinked. "Ellehemaei machinations?" Yes, yes, that probably could come in handy. "Thank you, Tolly." She nodded politely and hurried away. He'd put some thought into that gift, she reflected as she made her escape. She'd ended up buying presents for practically everyone she talked to at all - even people like Rozen. But she hadn't even thought of Tolly; worse, she'd thought of him and dismissed him as not worth bothering with.

She looked down at the books. He was right about one thing; she needed help learning to deal with people.


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