May 25, 2016 by Lyn
You ain’t never had a friend like me
Can your friends do this? Can your friends do that?
Can your friends pull this out their little hat?
Can your friends go, poof?
“…and then after I get back from training, we’ll go get you another collar. Before I go out with Jaya tomorrow night.” Kai kissed Conrad in the doorway to his bedroom, glad that things were going better. “I shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half.”
Mabina was just walking into the living room as Conrad closed the door. “Out with Jaya again?”
Kailani nodded. “We’re getting together with Shahin for a little bit.”
“Really?” It was clear from her expression that that improved the situation. “What’re you doing?”
“Just hanging out and comparing notes,” she hedged.
“Comparing notes? The way you say that, it doesn’t sound like studying.”
Kai frowned at her irritably. She didn’t want to tell her about the Project; she’d just tell her not to do it. “We’re studying.” It sounded weak even to her ears.
“Kai, dear,” Mabina said in a matronly tone that Kailani couldn’t help but think of as patronizing. “We’re crew. We don’t need to have secrets.”
“We should have less of them, then,” she snapped. “Hell Night. Graduation requirements. The fact that nothing I did to Bowen was against the Law. I think we have plenty of secrets.”
“We tried to help you, Kai. We were bound, though. You’ll understand what it’s like, next year.”
There are ways around the geasa. All she said, though, was “I’m going to be late for training.”
“Take care of yourself,” Mabina said as she left. Kailani had the definite impression there was an unspoken “since you won’t let us”, there, and she didn’t think it was quite fair, but she couldn’t argue it since ‘Bina hadn’t, after all, actually said it.
Stewing a little over that, she headed for training. Last week, the Thornes had been gone. Would they be back now? She found herself hesitant, thinking about Carter and the shock collar, and yet eager for the actual training.
“Come in,” Doug called. “Cay first, warm-up.” That was less talkative than even his norm, but she stretched and walked over to the lean head of the Thorne Girls.
Acacia fell into a relaxed sparring pattern with her, one the older girl had practiced thousands of times and she herself was getting better at. It had become a sufficiently routine series of strikes and dodges that she was able to think and talk about other things.
“I’ve been talking to Rozen about Kept.” It seemed like a safe place to start. “And the care and feeding thereof.”
“Care and feeding?” Acacia smirked. “Has he had anything interesting to say on the subject?”
“I grew up with animals. Sometimes it’s easier to think about it in metaphor,” she admitted. “Rozen’s thoughts… seem awfully similar to that. Don’t seem to take into account… Oof,” she added, as she almost failed to dodge a strike, “…the sentience of the Kept.”
“Well, to be fair, his last Kept was Mea. Some people really aren’t much more than animalistic instinct.”
“Mea.” Kai nodded, trying to focus on Cay and not on the way Mea liked to pour herself over Conrad. “But what about Kept with sentience? Intelligence?”
Acacia grinned sharply at Kailani’s acceptance of her estimate. “Well, that’s a bit different. It depends on what you want from them.”
“What if you want them to be happy?”
“Making people happy is easy, just give them whatever they want. No reason to Keep them if that’s all you want though.”
“So will it always come down to this sharp dichotomy between what I want and what he wants?” It was getting easier to dodge as she got more upset.
“Depends on how much those differ, now, doesn’t it?”
“It would be easier if I could read his mind,” she grumbled.
“No need, just make him tell you.”
“Mm.” She nodded, accepting that was partial truth, and couldn’t help a small smile as she thought of the way his hair had stood on end. The collar had been cruel, but… “It turns out the collar I bought for him used to belong to you.”
“Is that so? Which was it?”
“Which… ah.” Acacia had probably had more than one Kept. “Carter’s. With the electroshock.”
“Oh, yes. Still worked? I imagine that’s helping keep him in his place.”
“It… started working again.” No need to go into the particulars. “Did you create that?”
“Not by myself, but yes. Enjoy.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, I suppose, but you’d better get a new collar then.”
“I meant, why did you make it?” Her dodges were getting faster than her eyes could track. “I can see why it would be enjoyable.” And better hope Conrad never hears you say that.
“Carter was the uppity type, and I was younger, less in control.”
Less in control sound like anyone else we know? “Aah. Did it work?”
“Beautifully. I really think it’ll help you.”
“But…” She slid across the ground in a move she only barely understood, “was there anything left of Carter, afterwards?”
“Of course, he’s still here. He learned.”
“To behave, of course. That’s rather the point.”
“Hold.” She stepped back as the thought really hit her. “He learned to behave the way you wanted him to.”
“That’s part of the point of Keeping someone, after all.”
“I just really understood the important part of that. Thank you.” She half-bowed.
“Anytime. And your dodging is getting better; think you’re ready for the bigtime?”
“It gets better when I’m angry,” she admitted. “Bigtime?”
“Let’s put you up against Sima, we’ll see what you can do.”
“Oh.” She was surprised at the snarl-like smile that curled her lips. She could do angry with Sima.
“This oughta be good,” Acacia chuckled, stepping aside. “Sima! The girl scout thinks she’s getting good.”
The brunette tossed her ponytail over her shoulder with a grin and stepped up. “Alright then.”
Brilliant. Taunting tigers.
Tigers shouldn’t be touching her man. She smiled at Sima. “Ready.”
It began easily enough, albeit with slightly different maneuvers than she was used to with Acacia. She was able to keep her feet and avoid being hit readily enough, though she didn’t really have time to mount any effective counterattack. Then she was facedown on the mat with a sharp pain in her back and no idea how or why.
She swallowed a surge of frustrated humiliation. She was here to learn. “Could you show me that again?” she asked the mat.
“Sure thing.” Sima wasn’t offering her a hand, so she pushed herself up to her feet and squared off again. Strike, counter, dodge, dodge… ow. She was back on the mat. This time she’d been watching for it, for something at least, and saw the other girl simply vanish from in front of her as she went down.
She smiled. “Again.” She could take a little pain.
“Get up, then.”
Again, Kailani pushed herself up, set herself in a proper stance. She was alert. She was prepared. She was on her face again. Sima wasn’t even moving! She just… disappeared, and reappeared behind her. Teleported.
“Teleportation.” She hauled herself to her feet. “That’s neat. How do you defend against that?”
“That’s your problem, not mine. We’ll practice it until you can dodge it.”
She wondered if she’d always just missed the animosity the other girl held for her. Was it over Conrad? Worry about it later. She muttered a quick Working under her breath. “Ready.”
Her connection to the air made it more obvious when it happened, at least. She could sense exactly where Sima ended up as the breath left her in a whoosh and she collapsed painfully to the mat again. It wasn’t the most helpful thing in the world. But it was a start. She was going to be one solid black-and-blue splotch by tomorrow, but she pulled herself to her feet again. Sima seemed to be coming in behind her, usually to her left. Think, Kai.
Knowing it was coming wasn’t enough, as she fell again. This time, there was a sharp pain in her shoulder when she tried to push herself up, but she struggled through.
It was like dealing with Mabina. She always knew there was another strike coming. The wind moved, the hit came, she tried to dodge, she failed. She picked herself up and tried again, because Mabina was trying to teach her something. Because Massima was trying to teach her something.
What if they were trying to teach her to stay down? What if the lesson she was supposed to be getting was stop fighting? The enemy was bigger than her, stronger than her, and they had more power. She wasn’t supposed to be defying the people who were teaching her.
Her reverie cost her attention for the critical second, and she fell hard again. She tried to push herself to her feet, but the pain in her back and shoulders was too strong, and she collapsed, extending an arm up towards Sima for help.
“Help yourself,” the older girl said derisively. “In your real battles, no one else is going to be there to help you. They may fight on your side as long as you keep up, but have no illusions that if you start to fail you will be left behind rather than letting you drag them down with you.”
The words stung, and Kailani lay there for a long moment as she pondered them. ‘Bina and the crew would help her even if she fell behind… wouldn’t they?