May 31, 2016 by Lyn
They always have and so will you
Prepare yourself for it or get bit
So this is what having a boyfriend is supposed to feel like. Kai snuggled against Conrad at lunchtime, feeling content, happier than she had been in weeks. The cy’ree bowl preparations were going well, Jaya didn’t seem too annoyed at her for skipping out on their meeting Saturday, and Conrad, most importantly, wasn’t unhappy with her.
Of course, all that couldn’t last, she thought as she heard unexpected footsteps behind her. What new calamity had risen to confront her, even here in the cafeteria? It was thus was some relief that she beheld Shahin as she turned.
“Oh, hi, Shahin,” she grinned. The other girl wasn’t smiling, but that was not uncommon. “How’ve you been?”
“All right, I suppose. Can we talk?” Even Kailani could tell she meant without everyone else at the table. She glanced at Conrad, not wanting to ruin their good streak.
“You don’t need my permission,” he chuckled. Apparently his good spirits weren’t to be dampened. Good. She kissed his cheek and grabbed an apple off her plate. “Where do you want to go?”
“A quiet table will be fine, it’s not like we’re discussing state secrets,” Shahin said casually.
Kai chuckled nervously and let the shorter girl lead the way. “‘Bina will think we are,” she murmured when they were out of range of her crew. That was the one sticking point in her otherwise pleasant existence this week: Mabina’s quiet and constant disapproval.
“Will she, then? That’s interesting. And what if we were?”
“She’d glower disapprovingly.” Kai giggled; it sounded far less threatening when said out loud.
“Indeed,” her companion sniffed, only underscoring how actually harmless that was. What had she been worried about, anyway?
“So… not state secrets then. What did you want to talk about?” She tugged surreptitiously on her skirt, wishing Shahin didn’t always make her feel so grubby and frumpy.
“Kept. The kinds of situations they’re in… and how we can tell.”
“Oh.” She frowned nervously, unable to stop herself from glancing back at Mabina-and-Cassidy. “Well, I’m not all that skilled at reading people, but sometimes it’s obvious, like,” she dropped her voice nervously, “the way Agatha treats Bowen. Sometimes, I think, it’s just patterns of behavior; Jamian knew Kendra before she was Kept, and he says she’s a lot different now.”
“Different, yes,” Shahin agreed. “But are they being mistreated? Or is it just the effects of the Belonging?” It was curious of Shahin to chew at a point like this; Kailani wondered if there was something else going on.
“That’s harder to tell, isn’t it? I’ve tried talking to Taro about it, but he doesn’t really like talking about when he was Kept. And I’ve never been Kept.” She shrugged faintly “I could share my notes on it, if you want. The crew gave me some information when I first Kept Conrad.”
“That might… be useful, yes.”
She couldn’t quite tell if Shahin was being serious or sarcastic, and nothing about the girl’s expression was any help at all. “I don’t have them with me, but I could bring them to PE, if you wanted. ‘Lisha was pretty helpful.”
“Yes, that would be useful. You’ve been making quite a study of this.”
She blushed nervously. “Well, no-one wanted to tell me anything.”
“There’s a shocker,” Shahin replied dryly.
“It was never like that back home,” she complained defensively. “Teachers back at my own school would explain anything, except, well,” she blushed. ”Some of that would have been useful, too,” she added in an embarrassed mutter.
“Conrad doesn’t know all there is to know, huh?” the other girl said sympathetically.
She blushed even more hotly. “Um. He might, but I don’t know that much!”
“Ha,” Shahin snorted. “If he did, believe me, you’d know about it.”
“No, no…” She gave up, blushing hotly. “You’re the one who’s good with people, how would you tell if a Kept was being abused?”
“I’ve been giving that a lot of thought the past few days. What signs can there be that a clever Keeper can’t just order away?”
“Oh…” Her blush faded in a sudden ill feeling. “I hadn’t thought of that. I mean… the bruises show, don’t they? And the bags under the eyes? The fatigue?”
“Is there any of that that can’t just be spelled away, if the Keeper or one of their friends has body magic?”
“But they don’t bother, do they? The bruises, I suppose, but I’ve seen more than one Kept here showing signs of fatigue and exhaustion.”
“That’s good! I mean, not that they’re exhausted,” she added quickly, as Kailani felt her jaw dropping. “But we can tell.”
“Except, if we can tell, so can the teachers and the administration. And they’re not saying anything, are they?”
“They’re not, but I’m beginning to think they’re rather willfully blind to it.”
“I do, too,” she admitted softly. “And it’s horrible. I hate it.”
“Well, I hear someone may be starting to do something about it, quietly.”
Kai blinked, confused. Did she mean someone else? “What…?”
“Talking to the new students, letting them know what’s going on.”
“Oh!” She smiled, getting it. “Yeah, I heard that, too. Hopefully something comes of it.” She frowned faintly. “Something um…” She felt a little ill. “I don’t want anyone to go through that again.”
“I don’t blame you,” Shahin murmured, but she was clearly not having fun with the conversation anymore; her hands were doing that thing they did sometimes, one slipping inside the other mitt.
Kai flushed. “I didn’t mean… I mean… oh, fiddlesticks, I’m sorry, Shahin!”
“It’s nothing,” the other girl replied, too quickly. It wasn’t nothing, though, not if it had cracked the girl’s infamous composure enough that someone like Kailani had noticed.
“I’m horrid with… well, with people. I’m sorry.” She looked around for an excuse to flee before she made things any worse. “I can bring you those notes in PE, right, if you still want them?”
“Yes, thank you. That’d be very helpful.”
“I’ll see you then, um, then.” She fled back to her table, trying to collect herself as she went. Brilliant, Kai. Just brilliant. You can’t manage a basic social interaction without making someone feel bad. You think you had it bad? She was kidnapped by a monster. You just had to handle… She was crying by the time she made it back to Conrad.
Conrad glared sharply in the direction she’d come from for a moment, before taking her in his arms. “Kaia.”
“It wasn’t her,” she reassured him. “Just…” The rest of it was lost in a horrible gulping sob.
“Kaia, hey, it’s okay.” He pulled her close to his chest, holding her. “It’ll be okay.”
She sobbed into the comfort of his chest. “Will it?” she whispered.
“Yeah, it will. We’ll make it okay, yeah?”
“Okay.” She clung to him. He couldn’t lie to her, could he? He’d make it okay. “It’s just.. Shahin, with the dragon, and Tolly .. he’s not a monster… but still…”
“Horrible things have happened here,” Conrad said softly. “I know, there’s nothing I can say to fix any of that.”
“I feel bad… I feel bad feeling bad about it. It, I mean, he was so nice about it, and Shahin’s scars are so bad, and so many people…” another sob ate her words.
She held tight to him, slowly beginning to realize she was making a scene in the middle of the lunch room. “Oh, god,” she muttered, mortification beginning to overtake her tears.
“It’s okay,” he said again, as if reading her thoughts. “These things happen.”
“They shouldn’t,” she whispered. And then, because she didn’t want to get into a fight with Mabina, not right now, she wiped her eyes and smiled a wobbly little lip-twist sort of thing at Conrad. “I’m okay. I’m sorry, just a little off-feeling, a bit tired.” A bit moody, too, but that was nothing new.
“Okay,” he nodded, holding her tightly for another moment. She leaned into his hold, feeling safe, even as she was feeling a bit squished. Her breasts, she realized, hurt where they were pressed against his chest. They didn’t usually get tender, even when she was getting her period, which should have started…
…yesterday. “Oh,” she muttered against Conrad’s chest.
“Oh?” he asked, clearly wondering at her change in tone.
She wiggled in his arms until she was sitting sideways in his lap, glancing at the rest of the table before looking back at him. Vlad and Cassidy were talking to each other about something; Taro was looking thoughtful, Mabina completely unreadable. She looked back to Conrad, studying his expression.
“Oh what?” he repeated, a bit nervously.
“I…” She glanced at Mabina. We’re crew. We don’t need to have secrets, she’d said, and it wasn’t as if Kai could keep this secret for long, if she was right. But what would Mabina say? Forget that, what would Conrad say? “I don’t think this is the sort of thing we should talk about in public,” she said slowly. “Walk with me back to our room? I need to get my notes, anyway.”
“Okay, yeah.” For the moment, at least, he was worried instead of upset. She clung tightly to his hand as they walked through the halls. This should be a happy moment, but she was afraid. Terrified.
He squoze her hand gently as they entered the suite, but it did little to reassure her.
Facts. If not comforting, they would at least be solid. She forced herself to look at him as she told him, “I should have gotten my period yesterday at eleven.”
“You know the exact time?” he blinked.
“Well, yes. The point is, I didn’t.”
“You… oh. Oh!” She had no idea how to read his expression, so she watched his tail. It was twitching, flicking about rapidly. “Um. That’s… well. Congratulations.”
She hugged him tightly, wishing she could make this better. “I should go ask Doctor Caitrin,” she mumbled into his shoulder. “She should be able to tell relatively soon, if, if…” she gulped, and looked up at him, wondering if their tenuous relationship could survive her carrying Anatoliy’s baby.
“Yes,” was all he said, as he hugged her close.