May 24, 2016 by Lyn
I bet you got pushed around
Somebody made you cold
But the cycle ends right now
‘Cause you can’t lead me down that road
Kai shook her head, trying to clear the memory of Taro on fire. What must it be like, to have a boyfriend who could do that? Who would do that?
“So that leaves…” This time, Kai caught the faint noise of Xaviera’s approach and coughed hurriedly, drowning out Shahin.
“I see you’re back,” the blonde girl said haughtily, looking down her nose at Shahin. “They throw you out of whatever hole you crawled into?”
Kai tensed, thinking about the blue scars, the way she and Emrys had clung to one another while pretending they weren’t. Shahin, however, just smiled. “Turns out they’ll drag you out of Hell itself if you skip classes.”
“Devils probably couldn’t stand the smell,” Xaviera sniffed disdainfully.
“I think it was the taste they disagreed with, actually.” Even Kailani couldn’t miss the way Jaya was tensing; what was she reading in the petite Victorian girl? Was she reading anything at all? She doesn’t register emotionally at all, she’d said on Sunday.
“Oh of course, I should’ve known you’d let just anything have a taste.”
“The difference,” Jaya offered, “is that people want to taste her. No-one seems to want you anymore, do they?” Shahin just smiled. Kai didn’t know how she could keep smiling, keep pretending nothing was wrong.
“You’re one to talk,” she scoffed. “Reinventing yourself until someone’s desperate enough to not care what a freak you are?”
It was like watching a ghoulish game of ping-pong. That one, it seemed, hit home; Jaya flickered momentarily into Jamian and back again. But Shahin was waiting.
“Ah, but Jaya can reinvent herself, whereas you, my dear, are stuck as a petty-tyrant high school dictator forever. Doesn’t your old cheerleading outfit look a little silly with the scales? “
“I won’t be stuck here long,” Xaviera laughed. “I have my graduation requirements already. Is Emrys man enough? Or is that where you’ve been, getting a little outside help?”
Shahin’s hand curved protectively over her stomach. Jaya picked up while Kai tried not to give in to the urge to hug her friend.
“Ah, there’s so much skill in holding still while Ardell does what he does, isn’t there? Go where you want, Xaviera, you won’t leave the taint of this place behind.”
“I happened to enjoy my time with Ardell. It’s not my fault a little snot like you doesn’t appreciate a real man.”
“Oh, Ardell is such a lovely specimen of mankind,” Shahin smiled. “Picking up unconscious boys. Running away from a little fire. He is exactly the sort of thing I think about when I’m thinking ‘real man.’” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
“He makes up for it all in the bedroom,” Xaviera assured her. “But I’m not surprised he’s gone downhill since I left him.”
“Since you left him?” Jaya smiled. “Since you, what, took off the collar and told him he didn’t Own you anymore? I’d heard he got bored with you.”
“Hardly,” she scoffed. “He wanted ‘more than just sex,’” she pantomimed with a mocking tone. “When even you could tell that’s all he’s good for.”
Kai swallowed hard. She knew Ardell more from what Jamian had told her than from personal experience, but that seemed harsh for a former lover. Former Keeper, she amended, which might excuse it.
“All he’s good for? Or all you’re good for?” Shahin asked quietly. “It’s not like you’re any good for conversation. Or decoration. Or elucidation. Hibernation, maybe.”
Kai tittered a little at that. Hibernation.
“What’re you laughing at?” Xaviera scowled, whirling on Kailani. “Little girl, I could end you.”
She was just… not frightening. Not after the Thornes. Not after Agatha and Tolly; not after Shahin’s scars. “Only in warm weather,” she giggled.
She was not all that surprised when Xaviera shoved at her shoulders, pushing her against the locker. She twisted enough to take the impact across her entire back; the lessons with the Thornes were giving her a lot of practice in landing well. She giggled again: lessons with bullies to help her with other bullies. And Xaviera wasn’t nearly as strong as Acacia.
“You see,” Shahin murmured, “you’re just not all that impressive, Xaviera. Not very scary at all.”
“I’ll wipe the smirk off your face too, Gothy Spice, when I’m done with Red here.”
“That sounds like a challenge.” Shahin’s voice had changed somehow, confident instead of languid.
To Kailani’s relief, Xaviera, who had already pulled back a fist, removed her hand to face Shahin. “And what if it is?” she asked defiantly.
“Then I’d suggest you formalize it,” Shahin answered levelly.
“No use challenging vermin like you,” she scoffed, but there was clearly some deliberation there. “What could I possibly want from you?”
“Haven’t you heard?” Shahin smiled sweetly.
“Heard what?” the other girl asked with some suspicion.
“Well, why do you think I’m cy’Pelletier? Where do you really think I was for the last week?”
“There have been rumors…,” Xaviera began, but her uncertainty was beginning to show.
“Of course there have. There’s always rumors. And the rumors always have a seed of truth, don’t they?”
“So what do you propose as terms?” the blonde asked slowly.
“Five minutes.” Kai winced, thinking about the five minutes she still owed Aggie. “Five minutes where the loser does whatever the winner wants.”
“Five consecutive minutes,” Xaviera countered quickly, her greater experience showing. “And nothing that incurs a debt to anyone else.”
“Consecutive minutes,” Shahin agreed lazily. “and nothing that incurs a debt to anyone else, certainly. And the terms of the challenge itself?” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “You said you’d wipe the smirk off my face. So… first to cry uncle?”
“Right here?” The blonde girl licked her lips, taking a step back and settling her hips.
“Let’s do this properly, shall we? Friday after dinner.”
“At the gym, then,” Xaviera nodded. “If you’re brave enough to show.” She turned and stalked out of the locker room.
Shahin chuckled softly, grinning at Kailani and Jaya. “You two were great!”
“Great?” Kai blinked. “What just happened?”
Shahin’s voice dropped to barely-audible. “She just agreed to a challenge she can’t win. If nothing else, it ought to knock her down a peg.”
“Ooh.” Kai blinked thoughtfully. ”That’s a really good idea.”
“Can’t win?” Jaya asked. “Why’s that?”
Shahin’s smile was tight and fierce. “Because I don’t flinch. That penny-ante bitch has nothing on the monster that had us, and he didn’t manage to break me.” She turned to look directly at the Daeva. “I’m defective,” she smirked. “I don’t read emotionally unless I choose to.”
“That’s… neat, I guess?” Jaya said.
“It’s rather entertaining,” the smaller girl allowed. “So… is there anyone else on your list of badly-Kept?”
“Bowen and Kendra, of course,” Kai whispered. She felt a little surge of fear even saying Bowen’s name. “Nydia and Finnegan, I’m not sure about…”
“I’ll talk to Nydia at D&D tonight. And I’ll ask Emrys to talk to Finnegan tomorrow at their cy’ree meeting,” Shahin interjected thoughtfully. “Shera?”
“Definitely,” Kai nodded, thinking about the collar, and the way the girl shivered through class. “Aneislis thought Renata might be in a bad situation, but it’s hard to tell. When we visit Mark and Kylie, maybe we can figure it out.”
“Callista,” Shahin added in softly. “Jaya? Anyone else?”
“I think that’s it, but we ought to finish talking to all the Fifths,” Jaya answered. “Maybe this coming weekend.”
Kai, meanwhile, had been thinking about Shahin’s questions. She stared at her in dawning realization and a bit of horror. “You’re thinking about the cy’ree challenge,” she whispered. Shahin nodded slowly, her lips curled in a creepy little smile.
“What… oh.” Jaya nodded, looking thoughtful. “That’s not a bad idea. But,” she murmured, as they headed out to PE, “if you’re going to be going down that road…”
“Oh!” Kai grinned suddenly, understanding, loving how it all came into place. “What cy’ree are those Keepers in, too, right?” She felt stupidly pleased when Jaya and Shahin nodded and smiled at her. So this is what having friends feels like.
Once out in class, they all did their best to pretend nothing was up, although Kai was nowhere near as good at pretending as the other two. Still, PE was hard, and physical, and fun, and required enough focus that she didn’t have to pretend not to be thinking about their plans.
As they went back to change, she saw Luke regarding the three of them with what she thought might be satisfaction.