May 16, 2016 by Lyn
Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
“Okay, Kai, it’s been half an hour, and I’m out of string.”
“But we’ve barely gotten anywhere!” She’d agreed, though, to stop after half an hour. Reluctantly, she planted her feet.
“You’ve gotten more books than I can count. I think that’s somewhere. Besides, we can come back tomorrow after the cy’ree challenge meeting.”
“Promise?” She bit her lip, studying the pile of books. There were titles here she’d never seen, entire subject areas she’d only barely heard of. They still hadn’t found the section on magic, but then, Taro had told her it would probably be hard to find.
“No.” She could barely see him shaking his head above the pile. “But I’ll try. Come on, let’s go.”
He was carrying the books, so, reluctantly, she followed him. It had been awfully nice of him (or he had ulterior motives, or both. She still wasn’t sure) to bring her here after the meeting of what she had wanted to call Team Aggregate and Caity and Taro had gleefully named Team Misfit instead. She’d been so distracted by the whole cy’ree challenge – and by the problems she and Jamian had been discussing – that she’d almost forgotten the whole library thing again until Wren had mentioned it.
Seeing the interest in her expression, Taro had offered to bring her here – for a half hour, and only as long as he could find his way back to the entrance, which she’d thought he was joking about until she saw the balls of string available at the front desk, and seen the way this place was laid out – and here they were.
They checked out the books and headed back towards the suite. As they walked, a question occurred to Kai; Taro was being so forthcoming that she came out and asked it.
“When you Belonged to Megan, if someone had offered to rescue you, to challenge Megan for you, would you have welcomed it?”
“Oh, man. That’s a tough one. Now, I’d say yes of course. At the time, who knows?” He shook his head. “Where did that come from?”
That matched what people had been telling her about the bond. “Jamian and I were talking. About Bowen… and others.”
“Bowen? You’re not seriously thinking about challenging Aggie? She’ll rip you apart.”
She shuddered softly. “I noticed.” She shied away from thoughts of Anatoliy. “But it doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.”
“Yeah, well, the right thing to do is to protect yourself. Nobody’s got the balls to take on Agatha. Even the Thornes don’t cross her without good reason.”
“I…” She stopped. He’d gotten burnt to a crisp because of something she’d done. And besides, they were back at the suite. She opened the door for him. “Thanks, Taro. You’re a lot nicer when you’re like this.”
“Like this? Like what?” He carried the books inside, setting them in a heap on the table.
“Friendly. Helpful.” Not grabbing at her.
“When have I not been friendly?” he laughed.
When you were trying to Own me. “When you were mad at me.”
“Oh, well,” he shrugged dismissively.
She sighed. It was fruitless trying to understand him. “Thanks.” She scooped the first three books off the pile and headed into Conrad’s – her – room.
Conrad lay on the bed, studying. “There you are.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed. Which book to read first? “Taro took me to the Library after Team Agg…Team Misfit met.”
“Mm. I worried about you. I guess off alone with Taro could be worse.”
“He’s being… less Taro, since Tuesday night. More pleasant.”
“Maybe it got burned out of him,” Conrad grumped.
“Or frozen. That would be nice.” She scooted closer to him, wondering why he was so grumpy. “Why are you so grumpy?”
“Hey, I’m fine,” he said, looking up at her and putting on a smile.
She frowned. She’d thought she was getting better at reading people, but he’d said he couldn’t lie to her… “Did you have a nice day?”
“Not bad, I guess. This cy’ree challenge is going to suck.”
She’d been really excited about the whole thing until he said that. “I… why?”
“There’s thirteen teams and only the top two go anywhere. Do you really think cy’Luca has a chance in a trivia contest?”
“Well…” She pondered that, trying to remember who she knew in cy’Luca. “Well, I don’t know how well our team is going to do. Taro’s not very bright, and Nydia… looks half-asleep. Or half-dead. She barely said anything.”
“She belongs to Dysmas,” he said as if that explained it all. “But you can probably carry that team by yourself.”
“Dysmas… Oh.” She shuddered a little bit. At least it hadn’t been him. “I can’t sit in four chairs at once – are you upset at the chance that my team might win?”
“What? Hey, no, Kai. You do the best you can.”
“Of course.” That was never in question. She picked the brush off the nightstand and started brushing his hair. Brushing made everything better.
He seemed to relax a little under her touch; maybe it did for him, too.
“Jamian said you were worried last night,” she asked, as she worked out a tangle carefully.
“Jamian should keep his eyes out of other people’s heads.”
“Even I can tell that isn’t an answer.” She kept brushing. His tail needed grooming, too, but that seemed a little too intimate for this conversation.
“Yeah,” he sighed. Another non-answer. She was beginning to feel put-off.
“Do you want me to leave you alone?”
“No… no, Kai. I like having you here.”
He wasn’t going to tell her unless she pried it out of him. “Conrad,” she pled, “I need to know what’s wrong.”
“It’s no big deal, okay? Sheesh.”
She reeled back, hurt. Jamian was right, something was really wrong. She wondered how long it would take him to tell her he didn’t want to be with her anymore. If the bond would even let him tell her that. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she said stiffly, and walked out of the room, clutching her books to her chest.
Standing out in the hall, she wondered where she’d been planning on going. She could go back to her room and study, but the teachers hadn’t provided her with anything all that challenging. She hadn’t found the books on magic, yet, and Taro had made her promise not to go back to the Library alone. She didn’t have any friends that weren’t part of Conrad’s crew, which was more friends than she’d ever had before. She could go to the Thornes, but that was beginning to seem like more and more of a bad idea.
She’d made it to Shiva’s crew’s door before she had decided that was where she was going. Well, she was here, she might as well knock.
Niki answered the door, looking sullen and unhappy. “Redhead,” he called into the room.
Jamian, on the couch, perked up instantly. “Which one?”
“New one?” Niki was clearly not into this today. Kai noted, uncomfortably, that he was wearing a thick leather collar in place of his normal necklace.
“Kai,” Jamian smiled, approaching the door. “What’s up?”
Oh, dear, what was up. “I… can we talk? Somewhere?” Oh, that wasn’t what she’d meant to say.
“Yeah, sure.” Before she could change her mind, he’d stepped out into the hall and closed the door.
Well, she had to come up with something, now. She started walking towards her old room, remembering that the halls weren’t safe, but… “Is everything okay with Nikita?”
“Oh, I have no idea. I think so. He just gets like this sometimes.”
“Oh.” It was nice to know she wasn’t the only one without a clue. She stopped at her door and opened it. “Come on in?”
“Thanks…” He stepped over her threshold, glancing about the room. It still looked kind of lived in; she spent all her nights now in Conrad’s room, but still came back here to study once in a while. She cleared off a couple chairs of books, and sat down. She didn’t want this to be awkward. She didn’t know what to say.
“I was thinking…” Brilliant start. “about what we talked about in the locker room. About how no-one’s doing anything. And even when you have an upperclassman who’s supposed to tell you things, how they’re so heavily geased they can barely get a word out and even when they do, half the time it’s nothing helpful.”
“Yeah,” Jamian sighed. “But what can we do?”
“No-one has put us under any geasa.”
“Well, yeah, I guess we could talk to people ourselves… but what good will talking do, at this point?”
“Sharing information. Putting everything together, the fragments of information everyone has been able to pick up. We’ll know more that way. We’ll be able to ask more accurate questions. And we’ll be able to tell anyone who hasn’t gotten caught yet what they should avoid.
“And…” she blinked, rather stunned she hadn’t thought this far ahead before, “we’ll be able to start planning for next year.”
“That’s… a really good idea, actually. So when you say ‘we’, who are you thinking of there? I mean, you and me of course, but it’ll take more than us.”
“Oh.” Dealing with people. It was easier when it was just a logic problem, wasn’t it? “Well, maybe if we start talking to people, we can work out who we should ask to help us with this?”
“Ask people who to ask?” he grinned.
She flushed. “Um… I guess? I’d say we should ask Shahin, because she seems pretty good with the social thing, but…”
“Shahin? Oh yeah, I heard she was back, but I haven’t seen her. Do you think she’s okay?”
“I…” She wondered if she even knew what “okay” was anymore. “…have no idea. But if she’s back and not going to classes, it can’t be good, can it?”
“Maybe she’ll be in classes on Monday? If she just got back, it’d be kind of silly to just go to a couple classes this afternoon, right?”
“I guess so.” It couldn’t be that bad, could it? “So maybe we should talk to her tomorrow, and see if she’ll help? But in the meantime, maybe we can just work alphabetically through the Fifth Cohort?”
“Alphabetically? Okay, let’s make a list.”
She grinned widely. This was something she was good at! She’d seen Regine’s rosters, after all. She grabbed a notebook and started writing.
“Aelgifu, Aneislis, Aponi…”
“Okay, okay, slow down. Aelgifu. I think she’s dating Ioanna? But I don’t think she’s Kept.”
“Ioanna? But Ioanna’s a… right.” The pretty girl with the orange hair. “Well, at least we can often tell at a glance if people are Kept.” If she put her foot any further in her mouth, she’d be eating her knee. “Well, if she’s not Kept but dating an upperclassman, maybe she has heard something we haven’t.”
“Or maybe Ioanna’s just a nice girl.”
“I guess. But we should still talk to her, right?”
“Definitely. So next up, Aneislis? I don’t really know him.”
“He’s in Calc with me. He seems pretty bright.”
“Bright enough not to be Kept?”
“I’m pretty awful at gauging anything about social interactions; he’s bright enough to handle differential equations and I don’t believe he was wearing a collar.”
“Good enough. Aponi? I’ve seen her talk to Mark but I think they’re just friends. She hangs out with Rowan and her friends too.”
“I have Chemistry with her. She seems… to be having a different school experience than I am.” That was inadequate, but seemed accurate, too; she seemed like she’d slept through Hell Night and continued to have a happy boarding-school life.
“Well, we could ask her about that. Who’s next?”
“The Japanese girl? I have History with her. She seems nice, though she’s quiet.”
Kailani nodded. “I don’t really know anything at all about her, but we could probably talk to her, at least.”
“Okay then. Next?”
She flinched. “Bowen.”
“Ah.” He frowned, biting his lip. “I don’t think there’s much to talk about there.”
“No. Well, ah, actually…”
“Actually? It sounds like you know something I don’t about that.”
She shook her head. “No, no, I mean… we don’t want to talk to Bowen.” She shuddered. “Not until we can figure out how to get him out of there. But… Agatha’s argument was that we were, I was, interfering with her Kept. And I don’t know what, under the Law, constitutes ‘interfering.’” And if she asked, someone would yell at her.
“Probably having any kind of interaction with them beyond a conversation, from the sound of things.”
She shook her head. “‘Probably’ isn’t clear enough, though. Can you ask your crew?”
“I guess? I’m not sure how much they care. Ty doesn’t seem to mind me doing stuff with other people.”
She shook her head. “Not for you, but, I mean, that’s good to know, too. But you have two Second Cohorts in your crew. They ought to know what the Law really is on that, so we don’t – well, so I don’t overstep. Again.”
“I could ask Mags I guess, yeah.”
“Please?” To explain, she added, “my crew already thinks I’m up to something. If I ask questions like that, after what happened with Bowen… they’ll yell.”
“I understand. I wouldn’t be asking Ty, either.”
She blinked, wondering at the parallel there. “Maybe I’ll ask the Thornes.” If she dared talk to them again. “So… Caity.”
“She’s dating Richard, and that crew doesn’t seem to believe in Keeping people.” That was a heartening note, at least. There were at least a few more good people out there. Kailani held onto that thought as they continued the roster into the waning evening.