August 20, 2015 by Lyn
Conrad was trying not to pace, while walking a circuit around the suite’s living room. Kailani had been gone longer than he found comfortable, even if the clock on the TV did say it had only been 15 minutes.
Mabina and Cassidy had tried to talk to him, but he was wound too tightly to be decent company. Vlad had taken one look at him and decided that the best idea was to take ‘Lisha out to the Village to spend time with their daughter Min. Conrad appreciated it – ‘Lisha had been looking at him oddly for the last couple days, and he wasn’t sure he could bear her sympathy.
That left Taro, who was sitting on the couch, watching him pace while pretending to watch TV. Conrad wished he’d say something. He wanted to fight with someone.
“Slipped your leash and now you can’t find your master?”
Perfect. But his heart wasn’t in finding a retort. “I know where she is.”
“In her room, ignoring you?”
Conrad glared at him, but it wasn’t that inaccurate. Half the time, Kaia didn’t seem to realize he was alive. Then again, she hadn’t really realized she was dating Taro, either.
Taro shrugged. “What? It’s her.” The weight he put on the pronoun was a little surprising. “Where else would she be?”
“Talking to the Thorne Girls.”
Taro snorted. “The Thorne Girls? Yeah, right. She’s not exactly good with bullies.” His smile faded as he noticed Conrad’s expression. “You’re shitting me, right?”
“I wish I was.”
“Why? Doesn’t she get in enough messes without looking for more on her own?”
Conrad winced. “She does okay. It’s not like she’s falling in a well every week or something.” He sounded defensive, and he knew it, but it was hard not to be. Taro had always sold her short – and it grated so badly on him now, he didn’t know how she’d stood for it.
She didn’t notice. A lot of things just went over her head; she was charmingly naive. Ignorance, bliss, etc.: Conrad envied her the naïveté.
“She’s got us to pull her out before she gets too deep,” Taro countered. Conrad noted the “us,” and wondered at it. “So why is she off with the Thorne Girls alone?”
Conrad sighed, not really wanting to discuss this, and especially not with the guy from whom he’d stolen the girl. “She wanted to ask them some questions.”
“She wants to ask everyone questions. Why did you let her go?”
Conrad tugged on the collar Mabina had made her put on him, angry and more than a little humiliated. “I didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“Bullshit. You could sell ice to Eskimos. You could have talked her out of it before she even knew you were trying to convince her of something. You didn’t. Why?”
Damnit, Taro wasn’t normally this persistent. “Because I think they’ll have the answers she wants.”
“Didn’t you rope her into this whole Belonging-to-her bullshit so that you could give her the answers she wants?”
“I don’t have these answers!” And damn if that didn’t burn.
“What the fuck do the Thorne Girls know that you don’t?”
He’d gotten himself backed into a corner. “What Ownership is really like. How to deal with it.”
“She couldn’t just ask me?”
“You’ve never been on the right end of it either.” It was a stinging retort, but Taro was pushing him, and he wasn’t in the mood.
Luckily, Taro plowed right through. He was pretty unbearable when he got maudlin about Megan.
“And the Thorne Girls are a shining example of the ‘right’ sort of Ownership?”
Conrad had been chewing over that one for a while now. Rozen wasn’t a good guy, no matter what face he’d put on when talking to Kaia – if he’d sent her to talk to the Thorne Girls, he had his own reasons. But…
“They’re hard, but they’re honest, and they keep their end of bargains. They won’t screw her over. And,” he hesitated, and shrugged, hoping Taro would drop it.
“They’re still bullies and control freaks. You think that’s what she ought to be learning?”
Speaking of control freaks… Conrad shook his head. Taro just didn’t learn.
“I don’t get to choose that.” And neither do you. “But if I did, I’d say they’re not a bad choice.” He plowed ahead before Taro could argue with him. “I’ve seen their Kept, and they’re a lot better off than some are. They’re definitely Kept – but I guess that’s what Kaia wants, or at least,” he frowned, “what Mabina-and-Cassidy want her to want – but they’re not miserable and they’re not broken.” Not like you were. He didn’t have to say it. Even Taro could read that subtext.
And choose to ignore it. “So you’re completely okay with her being off talking to the Thorne Girls alone?”
“Then why are you twitching like a junkie who needs his fix?” Taro smirked, inordinately pleased with himself.
The knock on the door made both of them jump. Conrad turned to answer it, then, sighing, stepped back to let Taro get the door. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t played this game in reverse last year.
Still smirking, Taro opened the door. “Kailani.” He blocked the door, not yet inviting her in, not letting Conrad see anything but a flash of red hair.
“Hi, Taro.” She sounded cheerful. She always sounded cheerful, until she was pissed off.
“Moving in?” Was he going to keep her standing in the hall all day?
“What? Oh, no. Well, maybe. Can I come in, please?”
“You don’t have to ask, you know,” he said, in that maddeningly insulting voice he always used when talking to her. As if talking down to her like she was stupid would somehow make him remotely in her league. “It’s your place now too, since you decided to Own Conrad.”
“Oh.” She sounded a little guilty, and a little squelched. Taro did that to her almost every time they talked. “Well, um, you’re still in the doorway.”
“Yeah,” he said grumpily, and stepped out of the way. “Come on in.”
“Thank you.” She walked past him, straight to Conrad. She was carrying a small overnight bag. “Hi,” she said shyly. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and pull her close to him. Instead, he just smiled.
“Hi.” He couldn’t help glancing at the bag questioningly. She’d been so vehemently opposed when Mabina had suggested she moved in.
She blushed, and couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “I thought you needed your space.”
Taro, behind them, laughed unkindly. Conrad ignored him, and set his hands on top of Kai’s, hoping she’d ignore Taro, too. “You changed your mind?”
“I was working off of incomplete information.” She glanced up at him, and he was a little gratified to realize she was nervous. “I’m beginning to understand how this Ownership thing works.”
“Good,” he answered, sounding sure about it because she’d be unhappy if he sounded uncertain or nervous.
She ran her hands up his arms slowly, watching his face as if she were conducting an experiment.
He smiled, more confidently than he felt. “So what now?”
“Kiss me,” she whispered.
He leaned in and did so, sweetly, tenderly, fighting every instinct to make it otherwise, but not here… “My room?,” he asked softly, glancing from her face to her bag to his door.
She glanced at Taro, and back to him, flushing a little, as if she’d gotten caught doing something naughty. “Your room sounds good,” she agreed.