August 21, 2015 by Lyn
Oh, it’s like I started breathing on the night we kissed,
And I can’t remember what I ever did before
“…That’s how I’d solve it, at least.” Kai looked up shyly at Vlad, uncertain if she’d overstepped her bounds. People could get really touchy about help with their homework, sometimes, but he had asked.
Still, he was looking at her strangely. Has she gone into the realm of nerdliness again? “What?” she asked nervously. It was just math, right?
“He’s not looking at you, hon,” Conrad murmured, softly, but still loudly enough that Vlad could hear him. “He’s looking at me. Or rather, us.”
“Oh!” The furnace in her cheeks lit up, and she hid her face against his shoulder. Since this morning, she had found it nearly impossible to not touch him when they were together, and even Professor Pelletier’s engaging Chemistry class couldn’t completely take her mind off of Conrad. Right now, she had her chair pushed as close to his as was possible, and was half on his chair at that, cuddled up against him with his arm around her waist.
Her mother would be mortified, but, she found, the warmth of Conrad’s presence and his bright, content smile were far more pleasant to consider than her mother’s paranoid man-hating conspiracy theories. And… Vlad was blushing, too, this odd shade of puce that looked natural on him.
“I wasn’t staring,” he stammered. He stacked up his calculus homework, squaring all the edges, and then grinned at both of them. “Thanks for the help. And good for you.”
It was interesting to see the colors Conrad’s face turned – almost as red as Kai was sure hers was. “Thanks… I think,” he answered dryly.
“Well, hello, you pretty little thing.” The large Viking of a man stopped at the table nearest theirs, and only then did Kai realize he’d been making his way through the cafeteria for some time. Maybe love really did make you blind.
He was booming at Aelgifu, a shy but pretty girl with whom Kai shared an English Lit class, and her two friends, neither of which Kai knew offhand – although the boy was the one Aelgifu and Shahin had come in late with on the first day.
Speaking of Shahin, she was making her way over there, putting herself between her friend and the tall, loud man with a bravery Kai envied. She watched, leaning into the strength of Conrad’s arms, wondering if that sort of courage could be emulated or, like being clever or graceful, it was something you were either born with or not.
“Who is he?” she whispered, not wanting to break whatever spell was allowing the petite girl to stand up to someone easily twice her size.
“I don’t know.” The tension in his voice surprised her; she twisted to look at him curiously, only to find that not only was he frowning, but so were the rest of the crew.
“There shouldn’t be strangers here,” Cassidy said tensely, scooting his chair closer to Mabina’s.
“He can’t be that much of a stranger,” Kai said reasonably; “he just said he was Aelgifu’s father. And…” she pondered the name for a moment before working her mouth around the swallowed first sound, “Yngvi’s.”
“That means that Administration knows him,” Cassidy admitted grudgingly, “but not that we want to.”
“I’d like to know my father.” She was a little surprised to hear herself say that, but, as she examined it, she realized it was true. “I’d like to ask him some questions.”
Taro barked out a laugh. “I’d like to see that! I bet you’d make him squirm, whoever he is.”
The whole table chuckled a little at that and, even through her relief at the dropping tension, Kai couldn’t help but squirm a bit herself. “Am I that bad?” she whispered.
Just like that, the laughter stopped. “Oh, honey,” Mabina said gently. “No, sweetie, you’re not bad at all. More people around here should be as interested in finding answers as you are. But…”
“…you can be a little intense about it at times,” Cassidy finished, with such a gentle smile that she found herself relaxing. “That being said… aside from the teachers, most of our ‘spare parents’ never put in an appearance here at the school.”
“Why not?” She cringed; she was doing it again, wasn’t she? Cassidy grinned broadly at her, not seeming to mind.
“No-one’s quite sure; hard to tell when they’re not around to ask questions of. My… well, Cormack, at least, whatever he is to me, said in a roundabout fashion of sorts that they’re not really welcome here. I think guys like that are the reason.” He nodded his head in the direction of the departing man. “Although I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him he can’t come in – would you?”
She studied the exiting back, the bone beads in the yellowed hair bouncing against his leather jacket. He hadn’t so much backed down in the face of Shahin’s challenge as he stepped around her. She didn’t think he was the sort of man who could snarl at a pretty girl, no matter how much she challenged him.
And now you’re resorting to banking on your face instead of your brain? Didn’t your mother teach you better than that? But what her mother had taught her was fast revealing itself to be of dubious usefulness “down here,” in magic-land.
“I don’t think barring his way would be useful,” she agreed slowly, “but I might want to ask him a couple questions.”
Conrad’s arm around her waist kept her from standing. “Kai,” he said gently, “he’s not your father.”
“How do you know?” She twisted to look at him again, at the worried expression on her friends’ faces. “I mean, how could we know? And besides… even if he’s not my father, he’s a father. He has to know something about what’s going on here!”
Taro chortled. “What did I tell you?” he asked Cassidy. She frowned at him, getting angry, getting angrier as Conrad’s arms tightened possessively around her, angrier still as Taro turned his laughing face to her. “What? No need to get pissed off, sweetcakes. I’m rooting for you! Keep asking questions until people run away in fear.”
She didn’t know whether to scream or cry. She turned away from him, hating that her hair lashed emphatically as she did so, making it look like she was throwing some sort of melodramatic-teenaged-girl-tantrum, hating him all the more for having made her like him before he turned out to be a miserable, flaming ass.
Conrad was still holding her tight, but, as Rozen had learned on Hell Night, she was squirmy, and Conrad’s grip wasn’t nearly as strong as Rozen’s had been. She slipped out of his arms and hurried after the old Viking – Aelfgar. He’d said his name was Aelfgar.
“Kaia, wait!” Conrad hurried after her, reaching for her arm, but she slipped out of his grasp. Like water, Acacia had said. Like a storm.
“Kaia…” he called after her. She’d caught up with Aelfgar by then, and was tapping him on the shoulder before she could pause to think too hard about what she was doing, before she could panic.
“Excuse me, sir?”
He turned around, looking down at her – he was bigger than he’d looked, a head taller than her and half again as broad in the shoulders.
“What can I do for you, lovely lady?” He reached one calloused, cracked hand to her face, and took her chin between two sandpaper-rough fingers.
She gulped. She couldn’t afford to be afraid now, could she? Not after she’d survived her meeting with the Thorne Girls. “You said you were Aelgifu and Yngvi’s father…” she began.
“You caught that, did you?” He chuckled loudly. “I’m not your father, pretty thing. Your heritage is written all over your face; it might as well be tattooed there.”
My heritage? The questions piled up like a train wreck; much to her chagrin, the one that fell out of her mouth was “Why are you here?”
Aelfgar just laughed. “And in your manner, too! No-one’s ever going to accuse you of being subtle, are they, sweetheart? I’m just here for some R-and-R.”
Behind her, she could feel Conrad’s anxious, angry presence, ready to snarl in her defense. That, Aelfgar’s fingers on her chin, the dismissive “sweetheart,” all added fuel to the fire and she found herself glowering again, just a moment from yelling… and he laughed again.
“But you never got that temper from your father. A real ice cube, he was.”
Just like that, her anger faded again. Conrad’s hand folded around hers, and, ashamed of the way she’d treated him, she held him tight. “You knew my father?” She hadn’t missed the past tense, but wasn’t certain what to think of it.
“Ah, yes.” He smiled widely. “Falk. A smart one, he was, in his books.” He made it sound like nerd. “Bit of a dreamer, more of the seer to him than I’d expect from that family. No fire, though. You must have gotten that from your mother.”
He shook his head. “If you want to know more, lovely one, you ought to ask Regine. That one was her brother, after all.”
He strode away, leaving her gaping, clutching more tightly than she wanted to be to Conrad’s hand. Regine. Regine was her father’s sister. Her father who, it appeared, had a name.
Well, what did you expect? Some faceless demon lover who’d seduced your mother in the night? That was almost easier to believe – some seducer, some incubus – than a milquetoast pencil-pusher. My father was a nerd.
“My father was a nerd.” She tried it out loud, discovering that it neither bothered nor surprised her.
“Your father was Dr. Regine’s brother,” Conrad said, in a strange, choked voice. “No wonder she wanted to Mentor you.”
She turned back to him, to watch a series of emotions pass across his face, as foreign and illegible as cuneiform script. How did other people read such things as if they were See Dick Run?
It took him a moment to reach a conclusion; his face settled into a very Conrad-like grin. “An ice cube, hunh? You must take after your mother’s side of the family.”
My mother hates men. But even Kai could understand the reassurance he was trying to offer – You’re nothing like Regine. You’re nothing like your absent, non-existent, mythical cold fish nerd of a father. “I think I’d rather just be myself,” she said, and, before she lost her nerve, she kissed him.
She was still kissing him when a hand landed on her shoulder. “I see you’re taking my advice,” Acacia laughed. “Good for you.”
She broke away from the kiss just enough to smile at the Thorne Girl. “It was good advice.”
“Of course it was. See you tomorrow after class at Doug’s?”
Training. She nodded at Acacia, ready to take on the world. “I’ll be there.”
“Great.” The bully left, and Kai was once again alone with Conrad.
“Doug’s?” Conrad looked, she thought, worried. Or sick to his stomach.
“Training with the Thorne Girls.” She tried to sound casual about it. He still looked pale and definitely sick to his stomach. “It will be all right.”
“I think I would have rather slept with ‘Sima,” he muttered.
“I think,” she said, wondering at the surge of jealousy that brought up, “I’m much happier with you sleeping with me.”