September 4, 2015 by Lyn
Now I’m going through changes, changes
God I feel so frustrated, lately
She followed Conrad as he tugged her across the dance floor, feeling like a balloon on a string. This was your idea, she reminded herself. That it was mildly terrifying and a little uncomfortable was no reason to back off now.
Conrad brought her over to a small gathering of people from his Cohort, and introduced her around: Nikolai, who spoke evenly around his massive tusks, with a level, formal friendliness that made him seem both safe and more intimidating; Genevieve, beautiful, blond, and elven, and her boyfriend Dawfyyd, who kissed Kai’s hand with a flourish that made her uncomfortable and seemed to make Genevieve equally unhappy; and Nenica, whose tufted ears and tail intrigued Kai almost as much as Nikolai’s jointed horns.
Talking to Dawfyyd seemed to be dangerous to her well-being, and Genevieve was too poised and fashionable-seeming to not be far out of Kai’s social weight class. She turned her attention to Nikolai and Nenica, even as she folded her hands around Conrad’s to keep herself from reaching out and petting either horns or ears.
Nikolai raised one bone-ridge eyebrow at her hands. “You can touch them, you know,” he offered. “I won’t mind.”
Her fingers twitched. She glanced at Conrad, but he was talking animatedly with Genevieve about someone named Coy. She heard him mention Xyradia in passing, and Xaviera, the ophidian girl in her PE class. Perhaps Coy liked names beginning with X?
Well, he’d said it was all right. She untangled one hand from Conrad’s and reached for the horns. Nikolai bent his head forward, and she carefully ran her hand over the exoskeleton-like structures.
“You know what that feels like to him, right?” The voice caught her by surprise, and she jumped back, startled to see Xaviera there when Conrad had just mentioned her name.
“No, I hadn’t asked him yet,” she answered cautiously.
“He wouldn’t have told you anyway,” the snake-girl hissed in glee. “He likes to get new girls to pet them, because they don’t know.”
“Xaviera.” Nikolai glared balefully at the girl, but that just made her laugh all the harder.
“Come on, Nick, it seems only fair to tell the poor girl when you’re getting your rocks off.”
“Getting your…” Kai glanced briefly around at the group. Experience told her that Xaviera was a bully and not to be trusted, but she didn’t know Nikolai at all. He was frowning unhappily, but that didn’t necessarily mean confirmation or denial. Genevieve was hiding her mouth behind her hand, and Dawfyyd was smirking faintly; they were no help, either laughing at her or at Nikolai. Nenica was watching the whole situation with interest, also not helpful.
Conrad rested his chin on the top of her head, making it impossible for her to even guess at his reaction, but still lending his reassuring presence. And Xaviera was still smirking at them all.
“Makes it all seem a little less innocent, doesn’t it?” she sneered. Kai wished for the calm and easy way she’d seen Shahin deal with the bully, but, lacking that, she had her intellectual objectivity.
“Is it true, Nikolai?” She reached out for his horns again, trying not to blush at the thought that Xaviera might be telling the truth. Nikolai, in return, tilted his head towards her hand, like a cat enjoying a good petting. For a moment, she thought he wasn’t going to answer.
“It’s… pleasurable,” he admitted finally. “More pleasant than a handshake. Less so than ah, than things I wouldn’t ask of you.” He flashed a grin at her. “At least not in public, in front of your boyfriend?”
“Is he your boyfriend then?” Nenica interrupted. Kai glanced at her, then back at Conrad, who was watching her with a strangely neutral expression.
Was there a wrong answer here? Xaviera’s smirk had grown into a toothy grin. “Ooh, this is going to be good,” she taunted. Conrad’s hands on Kai’s hips tensed and tightened.
Was he her boyfriend? Weren’t people supposed to talk about these things beforehand? Shouldn’t there be some sort of call-and-response, like a dry run to marriage?
He took your collar and agreed to Belong to you. What else do you want, a diamond ring? The cynical little whisper in her head taunted her quietly. He was her lover. He was her Kept. Discussing dating now was a little redundant.
“Yes,” she said, before Xaviera could say something else mean. Thinking of how ‘Lisha and Vlad sometimes acted, Genevieve and Dawfyyd, Mabina and Cassidy, she twisted in his arms and kissed him very deliberately.
She wasn’t certain, but she thought, when she pulled back, that he looked surprised. Behind her, Xaviera chuckled. “That’s one way to do it, I guess. How’d you get the collar on him, Fifthy?”
“He volunteered,” she answered. She didn’t care too much if she did things “wrong” with this obnoxious bully. “Are there a lot of other ways to get a collar on someone, short of brute force?”
“Trickery,” Nikolai offered, “or seduction.”
Kai smiled sadly. “I don’t think I’d be very good at either of those,” she admitted.
“You seem rather straightforward,” Nenica offered, her ears perked forward in interest.
“Completely,” Conrad answered, “not a devious bone in her body. But she’s learning.” He winked at her, and she wondered what he thought she was learning. To be devious? That seemed a little beyond her.
“I like being direct,” she said, rather than ask about it in front of all these people. She twisted in Conrad’s arms again until she was looking at Nenica and Nikolai again, doing her best to ignore Xaviera, who was now joking with Genevieve and Dawfyyd. “If everyone said what they meant, life would be much easier. It would be a lot easier to gather information. Like your horns,” she added, looking directly at Nikolai.
He looked away for a moment. “They have nerve endings, kind of sensitive ones. So, yeah, it feels nice to have them touched. But, like I said, it’s not dirty or anything.”
“So…” She brushed her hand across the horns again. “Did they hurt, when they grew in? I mean… did they come in all in one go, overnight, or did they grow like they would naturally?”
“They took three weeks. The horns… and everything else.” He gestured at the tusks. “And, yeah, all the nerves growing in to all the new stuff hurt like he… like heck.” He smiled charmingly around the tusks. “I wouldn’t worry, though. Most people don’t get the really intense Changes.”
“I’m not worried.” She shut her mouth on the words a moment too late. “I mean…” she shook her head. “I guess I should have thought about that a little, but there’s been so much to learn.” She bit her lip, glancing uncomfortably at Nikolai. “I guess it’s the scientist in me. I get involved in the questions and I don’t really think about how it will relate directly to me.”
“It’s probably better not to worry, anyway. It’s not like you can really prepare.”
“I’d think more knowledge would help me be prepared,” she argued.
“Only if you could find anything consistent in all of our Changes. I mean, other than ‘it hurts for a while, and then it’s done.’”
“See?” she smiled. “That’s a consistency already.”
“I guess.” He shrugged a little, glancing around with a lost, furtive look Kai had grown to recognize and hate. She sighed, deflated.
“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”
“What? Oh, no,” he shook his head. “It’s just… well, yeah, probably, if you mean ‘look at the world in a strange way even for people with tusks.’ But that’s okay. I deserved it for not telling you about the horns up front.”
“You’re just saying that to be nice.” She deflated, leaning against Conrad for support. She never felt like she was being strange, until she got The Look yet again.
“So?” He shrugged. “I like being nice. And you’re a nice girl.”
“A very nice girl,” Conrad agreed. “Nick, Nenica, good to see you.” He bowed over Nenica’s hand with a flourish that seemed more Vlad than him; Nenica watched Kai over his shoulder rather than watching him, which somehow made it a little bit better.
He turned back to Kai, who was both relieved he’d rescued her and annoyed that he’d shut her up, and executed another bow. This one, she noted, was deeper than the bow he’d given the cat-girl. “My lady.” His expression, solemn and unsmiling, somehow managed to suggest a grin anyway. “I like this song. Would you grace me with a dance?”
“I… Yes.” She took his hand again, smiling. He was so sweet sometimes. “I think I’d like that a lot.”
His arms were warm and strong around her waist and shoulders, without any of the bruising clinginess Taro had been fond of. His smile was sweet and intense, and somehow, it didn’t matter that she didn’t know how to dance; in his arms, everything flowed smoothly.
“So we’re dating now?” The song was winding to a close; it seemed safe to talk now.
“That’s what you said.” He relented as she wrinkled her nose at him. “But is it what you want?”
Even his tail was still as he waited for her answer. She looked at him, wondering if she was reading his body language remotely correctly. He was so much nicer to her than anyone had ever been, and so much more honest. And she liked spending time with him, liked making him smile, liked it when he touched her.
“Is this what love feels like?” she whispered softly. It was overwhelming, like her senses were no longer trustworthy, like her heart wasn’t beating properly. She felt light-headed and woozy, and sudden stabbing pains were assaulting her in both temples.
“I…” Conrad frowned. “It may be, Kaia, but I think we should get you to Dr. Caitrin anyway. You’re awfully pale.” Before she could argue the point, he swept her up into his arms.
“Um…” The watery scenery was spinning unhealthily. She thought about telling him to put her down, but he seemed to know what he was doing, while she was utterly uncertain.
“Hold on, Kaia,” he urged. “Just a little further.”