August 25, 2015 by Lyn
We open the latch on the gate
Of the hole that we call our home
Protect me from what I want
“I don’t like this.” Conrad hurried alongside Kai as she walked, more briskly than was necessary, towards the gym.
“I’m aware,” she told him. She knew he wanted more than that, but she wasn’t going to give it to him. For one, she wasn’t quite sure what he wanted. For another, it would only encourage him to keep complaining, and he wasn’t going to talk her out of this.
“This isn’t safe,” he complained (again). “The Thorne Girls are violent, and they’re not going to go easy on you.”
“I don’t expect them to.” He was making it hard to keep her resolve – the Thorne Girls were scary, and she’d never fought anyone before. The best she’d ever managed was getting out of bullies’ way, though she’d gotten a lot of practice with that. “I’m not worried.” That was almost a lie, so she frowned, and tried to correct it to something more honest. “I mean… I know I’ll probably get hurt. But learning to ride a horse means a lot of aches and bruises, too.” She smiled at him, remembering the first time she’d fallen off Majmun.
He wasn’t smiling back, though. “I don’t know why I can’t come with you.”
“Because you’re distracting, and you’ll get worried.”
“I’m already worried.” He stopped, and she found herself stopping too. “I don’t like this. I’m supposed to protect you.”
She shook her head, but she couldn’t help feeling both exasperated and affectionate towards him. “I’m supposed to protect you. That’s what Owning you means.” To forestall another argument that she was taking Owning him more seriously than she was supposed to, she added, “besides, you can’t really protect me from combat training, and it would be pretty silly to try.”
He smiled just a little at that, but it faded quickly. “It’s not the combat training I’m worried about.”
“Then what are you worried about?” The exasperation was beginning to outweigh the affection. She was going to be late, and she’d promised to be there.
“I…” he faltered for a moment, but seemed to catch himself. “I don’t like leaving you alone with people like that. Predators.”
“Predators? Bullies?” She shook her head, her irritation growing, sparking more than a little anger. “Like Rozen?”
He flinched, a tiny thing, but she was paying attention. Maybe some day she’d understand why he flinched, instead of merely seeing that he had. “That’s not fair, Kaia. I didn’t Belong to you then.”
“You were my friend then. You all were. My crew, right? That’s what Taro said. And you stood there.” He tried to say something, but she talked right over him. “No. Even if it’s different now, it shouldn’t be. And even if it is and should be, you’re not always going to be there. I want to be able to defend myself if it happens again.”
He sighed, and she thought she might be winning. “Okay. But why can’t I be there?”
As she started to answer him again, a suspicious thought presented itself. “Are you just asking the same question over and over again in hopes that I’ll give in out of exhaustion?”
“Um,” he looked embarrassed, or at least like she’d caught him in something bad. “Maybe?”
She glared at him. “I’ll see you afterwards. They said two hours. I’ll be back in two hours.”
He sulked at her, but turned around and headed back towards his suite. With an aggrieved huff, trying to get it out of her system, she headed to the gym.
She made it in time, but just barely. The Thorne Girls were all there, stretching; they looked up and nodded at Kai, then went right back to stretching.
They weren’t doing anything complicated or esoteric, although they were more flexible than most people and possibly some cats. Kai entered into her own stretches, noting as she looked around that the bullies had left Finnegan at home. She wondered if Allyse had the same problem with Finnegan that she did with Conrad. She’d have to ask, later. That should be covered under their deal.
She bent backwards, brushing the floor with her hands. As she did, Doug walked into the room. The muscular assistant gym teacher – who, from this angle, looked an awful lot like Luke, despite their superficial difference in coloring – walked with a casual, smooth grace that made even Acacia’s fluidity look jerky.
He looked around, smiling, and then his eyes fell on Kai, and his smile faded.
“Cay,” he called sharply, “what the fuck?”
Kai rose back up and turned to face him, wondering why he was so angry. Acacia didn’t seem bothered by it; she moved indolently from one stretch to another. “Trainee, Doug.”
“I’ve told you before; you can’t bring in the new students to act as training dummies.”
Kai shuddered softly. What if Conrad was right? Would a year of getting beat up be worth it to have some advice on how to deal with him?
Yes. As she’d told him, a few bruises were part of learning, right?
Acacia laughed. “Relax! She’s here to train. For real.”
He shook his head. “Impossible. She’s Regine’s Student.”
“So?” Acacia shrugged. Kai, feeling a little bit left out of the conversation, decided to bite her tongue and hope they came back to her soon.
“So she can’t be my Student when she’s Regine’s.” He sounded very irate; it only seemed to make Acacia more amused.
“She doesn’t have to be your Student to train. And she has to train.”
Doug sighed. “Why? She’s not going to join your crew, is she?”
“No,” Acacia answered easily. She talked to Doug so easily, without any intimidation at all. Then again, she didn’t seem to the sort to be intimidated by anything. Maybe it was a learnable skill.
“Then why does she need to train?”
“She’s going to go out on a monster hunt with us.”
“What?” Doug sputtered. “Why?”
“We made a deal.” She said everything so matter-of-factly, and yet as if she was amused with the world.
“Oh.” Doug sighed, and frowned at Kai. “Well, I guess I’m training her. Damnit, Cay.”
“Sorry.” She didn’t sound sorry. “Look, the three of us can take turns working her through drills until she’s good enough, and I don’t think it will take long. Come on, Girl Scout. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Kai was a little startled to discover that her anger was rising and her pride had been pricked by the dismissive way they were talking about her. She grimaced at Acacia. “Okay,” she agreed, “let’s.” She wasn’t some silly little bookish nerd, no matter what they thought. She’d show them.
She threw herself into the exercises they showed her, determined to do each one perfectly. It wasn’t a math problem, sure, but hitting people couldn’t be that hard – dumb bullies did it. If she could bring home ribbons in dressage, she could learn to do this.
The Thorne girls were exacting teachers, and what they were teaching Kai wasn’t hitting people, but simply a series of motions, done over and over again until she had them, not even perfect, but “good enough for today.”
“Any moron can hit someone,” Allyse told her. Kai hoped her rising blush would be attributed to exertion. “What you’re learning is going to turn into being able to hit someone without thought, in exactly the most damaging point. But first, you need to learn where your body is at all points.”
It was exhausting work. Horseback riding, while rigorous, didn’t use the whole body at once, and farm work was mindless, leaving her free to think about other things. This took every bit of her, and left her mind and body both feeling well-worked.
“Not bad, Girl Scout,” Massima patted her on the back as they came to the end of a sequence, “for your first day. Keep practicing that, and we can move on to something more interesting next week.”
“Okay,” Kai panted. Nothing in her life had been this hard, or this exhausting. Hadn’t she wanted to ask Massima something? She’d never felt this slow.
Massima grinned widely at her. “Go back to your boy. Take a long shower, and convince him to rub your… oh, anything. You’ll be feeling fine in no time.”
Her boy. It sounded so dismissive and condescending, like Conrad was some sort of puppy. But it would be nice to have him rub her back again…
“Oh!” She blinked owlishly at the Thorne Girl as the thought came to her. “Your boy!”
Massima blinked back at her. “Finnegan? What about him?”
This time, Kai had nothing to cover up the blush. She plowed on ahead. “Sorry. I mean… Does Finnegan get all obnoxious when you train? Or, I mean, when you go out monster hunting?”
“Obnoxious?” Massima laughed shortly. “You mean worried and over-protective, mother-henning? I haven’t been with him long enough to tell, but I’m sure he will. He’s a man. Well, a guy.” She looked at Kai’s face and chuckled softly. “You really are naïve, aren’t you? Just because he got himself Belonging to you doesn’t mean he’s any less of a guy… and all his instincts say that he has to protect you. The bond just makes that worse.”
“Worse?” Kai asked, trying to put the pieces into place. “Well, beforehand, he didn’t even do anything when Rozen attacked me…”
“And I bet it killed him to stand there. Ask him about it sometime – but don’t be surprised if he lies to you.”
“Why would he lie to me about that?”
She shook her head. “It’s complicated. Come by after the dance Saturday and I’ll explain it. But you’ll just have to get used to the protectiveness – even we get it, and it’s not like we can’t protect ourselves.” She smiled tiredly. “Go back to your boy, Kai, before he gets it in his head that we’ve beaten you up or something and feels the need to come running.”
“Thank you.” Massima had a good point. Although it hadn’t been two hours yet, she wasn’t sure how well Conrad would listen to her.
She stopped in her own room, where she was spending less and less time, to shower and grab some more clothes. It would be more efficient to move into Conrad’s room, but it still seemed, no matter how much he argued otherwise, to be an imposition. She liked having her own space, too, a door she could shut behind her and be alone.
Not tonight. That much was easy to predict about Conrad – if she didn’t come back to his room tonight, he would have a conniption fit. She packed another overnight bag, grabbed her homework, and went to head the fit off at the pass.