May 26, 2016 by Lyn
And your wise friends might say
This is how we survive
But I know in my own mind
Can’t you see it’s a clever disguise?
This friendly advice
She hadn’t managed to get Conrad a new collar on Thursday after all; she’d spent the evening being fussed over, aching and sore and painfully pensive. Friday evening, she’d planned on going after Shahin’s challenge with Xaviera, but then gotten embroiled in a long argument with Mabina and Cassidy, who felt going to such things was just encouraging them. That she wanted to encourage Shahin didn’t seem to occur to them.
So now it was Saturday morning, and she’d planned on working on her list of Fifth Cohorts with Jamian again, and Conrad was still without a collar. She stretched slowly, working out the pain from the beating the Thornes had given her and thinking about the lessons they’d taught.
“Let’s go get you a collar,” she said, glancing at Conrad upside-down from her stretch.
“I seem to be doing okay without one,” he protested weakly.
She frowned at him. “You know that’s not true.”
“Okay, okay,” he sighed.
She couldn’t help being a little frustrated with his attitude, although the soreness in her back and her frustration with Mabina and Cassidy didn’t help matters. “You wanted this,” she pointed out.
“I did. I do. I want to help you.”
She wasn’t sure she believed him anymore, but he couldn’t lie to her, could he? “All right,” she agreed quietly. “We’ll go get a new collar, and this evening, you can help me.”
“This evening? What will we be doing?”
Plotting revolution. She had a feeling that would go over badly. “Just talking. There’s things I still don’t understand about this school, and I want you to explain them to me.”
“Oh, okay,” he said with evident relief. “That’s what I’m here for, after all.”
“When it suits you,” she grumbled, as a bruise in her back reminded her of its presence. She slipped on her shirt. “Ready to go?”
“I guess I am.”
She really didn’t like being grumpy with him, didn’t like the way it made him act, so she offered him her hand by way of apology, hoping they could do this without fighting. He took it, seeming content enough to walk with her like that, and she relaxed. Maybe this wouldn’t have to be any sort of drama or scene.
The selection was thinner at the collar display than it had been when they bought his first one; she looked around, wondering what would be appropriate, wondering what he’d pick out.
“Something discreet?” he suggested. “But not too girly.”
She smiled affectionately at him. “Nothing girly,” she agreed, glancing at the more necklace-like designs. She pointed at a row of three that looked, she thought, probably non-girly enough.
“I could go with that one,” Conrad admitted grudgingly, selecting one from the lineup.
“I like it,” she agreed. “I think it will look nice on you.”
“That wasn’t too bad, I guess.” He picked it out of the case and walked with her to the counter.
She shook her head at him, uncertain why he was so twitchy about this, but not knowing how to get a useful answer out of him.
The greeting sounded friendly, cheerful even, but it wasn’t Shahin or Jamian; she turned, surprised, to see who would be going out of their way to talk to her.
Wren cy’Akatil was smiling at her, the pretty brown-haired and brown-feathered girl looking excited as she juggled three bags of chips and three jars of dip. “And Conrad, hi,” she smiled warmly.
“Hi, Wren,” he smiled, and glanced back at Kailani.
“Hi,” Kai echoed, deciding that Wren smiling at Conrad didn’t bother her the way it did when Mea did it. “Planning a party?”
“Oh!” Wren looked startled. “Nydia didn’t find you? Taro didn’t tell you?” She frowned. “We’re having a Team Misfit meeting today, about eleven. My room.”
“Oh.” She’d been planning on meeting with Jamian at eleven. “No, no-one told me.” “Weird. Well, you’ll be there, right? It works better if everyone shows up.”
She wanted to go talk to the rest of their list. But she had an obligation to her team, as well. She couldn’t just ditch out to work on another project. “I’ll be there.”
“Great! I’ll see you at eleven, then!” Wren hurried off, leaving Kai and Conrad to buy his new collar.
At the checkout counter, the pale girl – Lydia, that was her name – smiled faintly at them. “Another collar?”
She was going to have to answer that one, Kai realized. “The other one was a little too cruel.”
“Cruel?” Lydia tilted her head quizzically. “It didn’t look that bad.”
“It had a residual enchantment left on it that tended to shock Conrad at inopportune moments.”
“Oh my,” Lydia giggled.
“It was…” Funny. But that would make Conrad grumpy all over again. “…unfortunate.”
“Yes, I guess it would be.” Lydia was giving her that amused, just-between-us-girls look; why?
“A bit.” She checked out, looking at Conrad, hoping he would explain what was going on, but apparently he wasn’t so inclined.
Wishing yet again that she could translate his body language when it didn’t involve his tail, she took the bagged collar from Lydia, thanked her, and headed back towards the suite. “I guess I’m going to a cy’ree meeting.”
“Looks that way. Have fun.”
“Mm.” She’d learned enough to know mentioning her plans with Jaya to him probably wasn’t a great idea; instead, she hugged him. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Wren was, if she was remembering her list right, in Pod Three, Room Two. She found the room easily after the door-to-door searching they’d been doing recently, and knocked, wondering what they’d discuss. Taro was mostly a lump in these meetings, but Caity was pretty bright.
Wren answered the door, smiling. “That was quick! You got your Kept tucked in already?”
“Tucked in?” She shook her head. “He’s…” Well, she really didn’t know what he was going to do, did she? “Off doing his own thing, I guess.”
Wren made a clucking noise of disapproval. “You should take better care of him.”
That was the second time someone had said something like that to her in just over a week. Aware she was still standing in the hallway, Kai asked cautiously, “I thought I was doing all right.”
“Kept need attention. Take him on a date. If he’s being good, spoil him a little.”
Like a pet. Taro was coming around the bend, though, so she didn’t say anything but “thank you.”
“Hey there,” Taro greeted her as he stepped up behind her. “Gang all here?”
“Just Renata and you two so far,” Wren answered. “Come on in, Kailani cy’Regine, Taro cy’Akatil.”
Confused at the sudden formality, Kai stepped into the girl’s… nest. Box? There was nothing messy about the room, except the bed, which, shoved up against a wall, was a pile of blankets and pillows with no apparent order. The whole room was as brown as the girl, and in twice as many shades of brown, and legless chairs were scattered around the floor over dozens of tan-on-russet oriental rugs.
At least Taro was being no more surreptitious about staring around the room. “This is… different.” Nevertheless, he wasted no time in making himself at home, flopping down on a pile of cushions.
“Isn’t it?” Wren agreed cheerfully. “I like to think of it as my nest.”
“I can see why,” Kai agreed. She glanced at the blonde girl, Renata, who was reading a book on American History in the chair most removed from the group, and settled in near Taro. He, at least, was a known quantity.
“It’s nice, in its way,” Taro nodded, glancing around a bit more. “Still all to yourself?”
“Yes,” she sulked, “though I think Elfred’s coming around. He said he’d been talking with some other fifths about it.”
Kai cringed, hoping they hadn’t steered him wrong. He’d seemed like a nice guy…
“Well hey, good luck with that. And if it doesn’t work out…”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “I don’t think that works. Two bottoms don’t really make a top.”
Another knock at the door left Kai puzzling that one out. Thankfully, it seemed to equally distract Taro, who was left with his mouth open.
“Hi,” Caity chirped from the other side of the door. “I hope I’m not late. I brought brownies. I was experimenting with a new type of oven, though, so, um, well, there was a bit of a mess. But the brownies are good!”
“Brownies are good,” Wren agreed. “Come on in, Caity cy’Akatil. And now we’re just waiting on Nydia.”
Across the room, Renata looked up from her book. “Brownies?”
Kai had to admit brownies sounded good. As Caity dished them out, she asked, “so, how do we want to plan our attack?” She hadn’t done a competition like this in a couple years, but she still felt confident they could win.
“Study up a little and try not to get rolled too badly?” Taro suggested, stuffing a brownie in his mouth.
“Speak for yourself,” Caity huffed. “I don’t plan to get rolled at all.”
Kailani could actually see Taro biting back a snarky comment at that one, covering it with his brownie. She sort of felt bad for him, so she handed him another brownie and tried to sidetrack the conversation.
“It depends on who the other teams are fielding. There’s a lot of strategy in who you put up for which categories, and sometimes it’s mind game sort of stuff. I’m no good at that,” she admitted, “but I think if we try, we have a chance of winning.”
“So, what categories are you going to leave the rest of us?” Taro joked.
“Sports?” she joked back at him. “And rocks.”
“We all know you’ve got rocks in your head,” Caity added helpfully.