May 31, 2016 by Lyn
Bad advice is just the same as good advice.
Don’t think about Melchior. Don’t think about Melchior. It was easier to do when he was Jamian, not wearing the body that had not thinking about that damnit, and so he spent the day that way, glad that Ty was self-absorbed or oblivious or just not caring enough to not notice or comment on which skin he wore.
He liked PE with Shahin and Kailani, though, liked the camaraderie in the locker room, so he shifted as he walked through the halls, not very self-conscious about it anymore; everyone knew what a Daeva was. Everyone knew he was a Daeva. Very few people seemed to mind that sometimes she turned into a girl between classes.
Shahin and Kai were sharing an awkward moment as she joined them in “their” row of lockers. Kai was blushing and uncomfortable; Shahin was working her around to something, fussing with the cuffs on her mitts and, for once, radiating an emotion.
“How do you do it?” Shahin asked. “Keep someone?”
Kailani looked a little boggled. “You Kept Emrys, didn’t you? And he Kept you…”
“I wasn’t paying too much attention to technique while he was Keeping me. And I spent the first three days Keeping him being angry that he’d gotten me pregnant and the rest of it being kidnapped.”
“Oooh.” She blushed uncomfortably. “Well, I’ve asked Rozen and the Thorne Girls for advice, and they all seem to have a very hierarchical view of it.”
Jaya looked between them, wondering what had sparked this conversation. The flash of miserable anger from the far side of the locker room caught her attention: Xaviera, as far from them as she could get and still be in line of sight.
Shahin seemed unaware that she’d glanced at the snake-girl before she continued her conversation with Kai: “Emrys says she needs orders, or purpose, but I don’t have much of a purpose for her.” Jaya looked between the tiny brunette and the tall blonde again. Had she…? Had that been the result of their challenge? “He said he wanted to see if I’d break, when he Kept me… but I don’t want to break her.”
“Maybe heal her,” Jaya interjected suddenly. As the other two girls stared at her, she continued, a little nervously, “she was Kept by Ardell for two years. That’s got to leave scars.”
“She seems fine with it,” Shahin countered dubiously.
“Well, what would you say about it, if you’d been Kept like that?”
“… Ah… I suppose you may have a point,” Shahin conceded.
Jaya glanced over at Xaviera, and then back to her friends. “It seems like an opportunity to do good,” she offered.
“How would you even start something like that?” Kailani asked. She looked uncharacteristically flustered; Jaya wondered if there was more to this than she had surmised, even.
“Um.” Jaya worried at her lower lip, pondering that. “Well, you heard the way she talked about Keeping. So you’d have to start by showing her it didn’t have to be like that, right? By being a good Keeper.”
“I don’t think any of the Keepings I’ve been in have been normal enough to really know what that is,” Shahin admitted.
“Well, that’s what you have us for, right?” She smiled cheerfully, trying to ignore the knot trying to form in her stomach. “I can tell you plenty of what-not-to-do’s, and Kai can tell you what you should be doing.” Conrad seemed happy enough, more so since this past weekend; she was pretty sure Kai was at least doing something right. And maybe it would cheer her up.
Kailani, for her part, seemed none too thrilled about being put on the spot like that as Shahin turned towards her expectantly. “So, we’re back where we started. How do you do it?”
The redhead blanched and held her notebook out in front of her like a shield. “I brought my notes. Um. Touch. Touch is important. Physical contact.”
Jaya mulled over that one while she watched the two of them interact. It did feel uncomfortable when she went too long without being near Ty, even when she was mad at him, even when he was being an asshole. Was that all part of being his possession?
It was Shahin’s turn to look displeased. “Physical contact. Lovely.”
“It doesn’t have to be sexual.” The word sent a spike of discomfort through Kai, and she was still thrusting out the notebook. Something was really bothering her, beyond this conversation. “I… when I first Owned Conrad, I brushed his hair a lot. I still do. It’s kind of soothing.” She looked like she needed a lot of soothing right now; Jamian wondered if she’d take it amiss if he hugged her.
Shahin shook her head and took the notebook from Kai before continuing to change, slipping into her gym shorts. “Still. I suppose it’s worth a try.”
“It’s, I guess, better than nothing? Maybe it’s easier if you’re not dating, too?” She seemed really, really unhappy. Jamian decided to risk the hug.
Kailani seemed startled, but didn’t protest, at first. She was so warm and soft in his arms, her half-naked body pressed up against his… his… uh-oh.
“Ack! Sorry.” He let go of her and focused on shifting his body back to female. “Ack, ack, sorry, I thought I’d gotten that under control.”
Kailani was just staring at him, mouth open, her face scarlet. Shahin, at least, had turned away as she finished dressing.
She managed, with some effort, to hold on to the Jaya form, blushing just as hard as Kai. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “You looked so sad.”
“It’s okay,” Kailani said faintly, looking down and hurriedly tugging her shorts on. That seemed to have snapped Shahin out of her own distress, however, and she looked thoughtfully at the redhead.
“Oh, well, I… um…” Her hand lingered on her stomach for just a moment before she pulled her shirt down over it.
“Ooh…. Oooh.” Jaya paused. “Um. Can I hug you? Like this, I mean?” She looked down at herself to be sure she was still a girl.
“I guess so?” Kailani squeaked, so Jaya hugged her carefully from the side. “Do you… have you talked to the doctor yet? She’s really nice,” she added helpfully.
“Oh, she’ll help you right along with that,” Shahin interjected acerbically.
“Not helping,” Jaya snapped, as Kai quailed.
Shahin sighed and nodded. “Actually, at this point, she’s likely to be helpful.”
“I’ll go,” Kai whispered. “Later.”
“Later,” Jaya agreed. “Tonight we can work on the Project.” Kailani nodded mutely, and they didn’t speak of it again until after classes had ended.
Once they’d finished dinner, though, they met in Kai’s room to stare at their notes. “Back to door-to-door, then?” Jamian asked, trying to look at the same paper while keeping his body angled away from Kai. He didn’t want to upset her any further.
“Mm,” she hemmed noncommittally. “After talking to Shahin this afternoon, and after a few things Mabina has said, and Emrys said, I’ve been wondering about our long-term strategy.”
“Hey, that’s a good point. What is our long-term strategy?”
“Exactly,” she confessed.
“Oh,” he said sheepishly. “Right. Well, informing people is a good start…”
She nodded. “Did you notice, though, that everyone seems to think that it’s a waste of effort, a lost cause? Do you think it’s because so many of the Fifth Cohort are already Owned, or do you think it has something to do with the geasa that make them unable to tell us much?”
“Y’know, I really don’t know. Could be either of those, or something else. I agree though that it won’t solve much on its own. We need… well, we need a way to do something for people who are already Owned.”
She winced a bit, folding her knees up to her chest under her skirt, but she was nodding in agreement. “What Shahin did with Xaviera…”
“I’m not saying she did wrong,” Jamian said quickly. “But I don’t see that going well, no.”
“Well, probably not,” Kai admitted. “It’s hard enough to Keep someone you like. But, I mean, she challenged an upperclassman, and she won. I assume,” she added thoughtfully. “That would be a pretty silly way for things to work out if she’d lost.”
“Oh, right. That part. So… you’re thinking of challenging people?” He thought about trying to challenge some of the people in his cy’ree, having seen some of what they could do. Ardell, or even Ivette…
“I’ve thought about it,” she admitted, even as she pulled her knees tighter to herself. “But it seems really dangerous. I’m not as brave as Shahin is.”
“That’s not saying a lot,” Jamian laughed. “I think she could stare down a tiger.”
“It’s really neat. I can’t even stare down Mabina.”
“Why would you want to? I mean, I don’t know her that well I guess, but she always seems so nice and helpful.”
She shrugged into her knees. “She spends a lot of time disapproving of me. I think she liked me better when I was just being pliable. But I’m loud and I get angry and I question everything and she really doesn’t like any of that.”
“Oh. Um. Well, she means well, right?”
“Probably,” she admitted grudgingly, and then changed the subject before Jamian could say anything else about it. “So we want to tell everyone as much as we can, and find a way around the geasa for next year, right? But what about the students that are already Kept? I mean, can we challenge their Keepers?”
“I probably can’t, actually. You could, I suppose, but I think they have to agree too. You’d have to have terms they’d accept, something they’d want. And then you’d have to actually win.”
“So it’s not really all that feasible. I mean, I could challenge Massima, but she doesn’t have anything I want… and I’d lose.”
“Massima?” Jamian’s brow creased as he tried to work that one out. “How’s that?”
“She wants Conrad.” Kai wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“Oh. Um. Well.” Yeah, that couldn’t be good. “Maybe Shahin will have more insight? She seems to know more about how the rules really work and how to use them. Or at least, Emrys does, which lately has seemed to be basically the same.”
She nodded slowly in response. “We could ask them. I guess we have to accept there’s going to be some upperclassmen involvement, don’t we?”
“Just as long as we can be sure they’re on our side.”