September 13, 2015 by Lyn
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?
Tolly’s arms were surprisingly gentle and comforting as he carried her through the halls. He was so big, it was like being a child again… no. Not that. But somehow safe. Kailani lay limp in his arms, wishing she could lose consciousness.
He knocked on the door to Mabina-and-Cassidy’s suite, but it was Conrad that answered.
“Let her go,” he said, his voice low and quiet.
“I’m not sure she can walk,” the giant warned. She stirred, trying to sit up in his arms.
Conrad only spared another menacing glare for the big man before looking downward, setting his hand on Kai’s shoulder. “Kaia, love… are you okay?”
“I’ll be okay,” she said slowly, as Tolly gently lowered her to her feet. He was right, she wasn’t quite sure about standing, but Conrad was right there. She reached out for him before she could stumble.
He wrapped his arms around her protectively, taking a pointed step back into the room as he held her close, nudging the door with his toe to shut it in the giant’s face.
She wanted to protest, to say that it wasn’t Anatoliy’s fault, but she couldn’t, not and be honest with him. She held onto him, instead, nuzzling against his neck. “I need a shower,” she muttered softly.
“Of course. Come on, I’ll help you.” He led her gently back towards his room.
She leaned on him, because if she held on tightly enough, he couldn’t tell that her hands were shaking. But she was going to have to get undressed, wasn’t she?
Indeed, once they were safely behind closed doors, Conrad began slowly undressing her.
She held still, letting him. If she didn’t, he’d just worry more. He was going to be upset enough.
“What did they do to you, Kaia?,” he asked softly.
“I…” She shuddered softly. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He’d figure it out without her saying anything, anyway.
He gently stripped her naked, nodding slowly. “It’s okay, Kaia. I’m here for you.”
“Promise?” she whispered, not caring about Law, just needing to hear it.
“I promise,” he said, wrapping his arms around her bare skin. “I’ll always be here for you.”
She clung to him, not quite crying. If she started crying now, she wouldn’t stop. “A shower,” she repeated shakily.
“Let’s go,” he nodded. He shed his own clothes in a matter of moments, before wrapping a towel around her and grabbing another for himself on the way to the door.
She couldn’t look at him, but she couldn’t bear to be away from him, either. She held onto his arm as they headed for the shower, and clung to his hand as she gingerly began to wash herself.
Without a word, he took the washcloth from her and took over, his touch warm and gentle. She shied away for a moment, but this was Conrad – there was no-one in the world she was safer with. She relaxed into his hands, slowly letting the tears come.
A long time later, she smiled weakly up at him. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I feel human again, or, well…”
“Shh,” he whispered softly. “I know.”
She kissed him very lightly, but her brain was running again. She’d mucked things up so badly, again and again, by not understanding how things worked, and she didn’t, yet, even know enough to ask the right questions of Conrad. “I need to go talk to Dr. Regine.” The Director, at least, wasn’t under geas to withhold things from her.
“Okay,” he nodded. “I’ll come with you.”
She didn’t want to talk about what had just happened in front of him. If she had a way that he would never find out, she’d take it, but since that wasn’t likely, she wanted to put it off as long as possible. “I’ll be fine on my own.”
“You could barely walk not long ago. Just let me come with you. I love you, Kaia.”
She gulped. “That’s cheating,” she complained half-heartedly. He loved her, really? Would he still, if he knew?
“It’s true. You know it is. Let me be with you.”
“You’re with me,” she said, growing desperate. How was she going to get him to let her do this? “But I want to go talk to my Mentor alone.”
“You shouldn’t go out by yourself, Kaia.”
“I’ll be fine. As long as I don’t try to help anyone,” she added in frustration. He was just going to keep arguing, keep stalling. She grabbed the doorknob and headed out into the common room of the suite.
“Hey!” He followed her out of his room. “Kaia…”
“Stop following me,” she snapped. “I’ll be fine.” She stormed out before he could come up with another protest.
She slowed down at the stairs, remembering that there was a dragon on the loose and running headlong through the halls was unwise. Still, she was nearly to Dr. Regine’s office before she noticed that someone was following her. She twisted into a nook to catch sight of her stalker, hoping they wouldn’t noticed she’d veered.
He came around the corner, missing her hidden in a shadow, and frowned. Vlad. She sighed, and stepped out of her hiding place. “I’m here,” she told him.
He stammered something incoherent, turning puce in the cheeks. She didn’t want to talk to him, either, but she couldn’t just walk away. She hugged him briefly. “I’m going to Dr. Regine’s office.”
He nodded, still funny-colored under his green-tinted skin. The part of her that still felt scientific and sane wondered what color his blood was. Content that she’d done the bare minimum of courtesy, she turned back around and continued on.
He followed her more closely now, but didn’t try to talk to her. She was too grateful for the silence to wonder why, too grateful for the security of a friend to be upset at being followed.
When she got there, she turned to look at him. “Please tell Conrad I got here okay,” she asked him, feeling a little embarrassed for having run out on him. “I won’t leave until one of the crew gets back here, if you want.”
He nodded earnestly, and hugged her again. “That would be good, Kaia. Con or I will be back in just a couple minutes.”
The Director’s secretary announced her, and let her directly into Dr. Regine’s office. The Director’s assistant was there with her and, for a moment, Kai was afraid he’d stay. How could she talk in front of him?
He stood gracefully, nodded at her, and kissed the Director briefly. Kai found herself blushing and looking away: adults didn’t do things like that in public! But by the time she turned her head, she could tell they were already done. He slipped out the back door of the office, leaving her alone with her Mentor.
“How can I help you tonight, Kailani?” Regine asked.
How, indeed. Kai dithered, trying to decide how to start. “I keep messing up,” she blurted out while she thought she was still thinking.
The Director looked mildly surprised. “Your teachers haven’t said anything of the sort.”
“Not in classes. Those are easy. I mean, with people. More than out there – everything is more complicated in here. The, um, the stakes are higher.” She curled her hands around her stomach without meaning to.
“Is everything all right with Conrad?” There was a sharpness to the question that surprised Kai, but, really, Conrad was why she was here, wasn’t he?
“Yeah, I mean… no.” She slumped. ”I keep screwing up. I’m afraid I’m being a horrible Keeper.”
“It’s not an easy proposition, which is why we normally discourage first-year Students from attempting it. Remember to be patient and kind, and you should do all right. Conrad is a reasonably clever and well-balanced young man.”
Kai smiled weakly. “I’m afraid he’s going to hate me forever,” she confessed.
“Because you Own him?”
“No, because…” she trailed off, looking down at her feet. “Because I’m a mess at everything. He says he loves me, but how much of that is his being Owned? Can he actually feel a genuine emotion about me without the Keeper-Kept bond getting in the way?”
“Have you considered trading places to find out what it feels like to be Owned? In the interest of answering those questions, and assuaging your scientific curiosity?”
How would that solve anything? “Have you tried it?”
“No.” The Director dropped her head, looking something Kai would normally think was embarrassed or ashamed. “I have never subjected myself to being Owned.” She looked up quickly enough that the shame had probably been imagined. “If Conrad is content with you, and you continue to treat him as well as you can, I don’t think you’ll have a problem. And as for your fellow students – give it time, Kailani. You will adjust soon enough.”
“Thank you, Dr. Regine.” She didn’t want to adjust. She didn’t think the Director understood the problem at all.
But you never got that temper from your father. A real ice cube, he was. So was the Director. Her Aunt. She wished it was a dominant trait.
“Any time I can help, Kailani. You’re always welcome to stop by.”
For all the good it will do. Feeling, if anything, worse than when she started, she left the office.