June 2, 2016 by Lyn
When I’m crying out for change
You tell me it’s just growing pains
Oh, I’ve made mistakes
And yes I know, it’s growing pains
Touch, Kai had said, and the redhead’s notes had borne that out. It seemed wrong, it seemed a violation for both of them, but she could remember what Emrys’ hand had felt like on her skin when he had Owned her. And maybe Jaya had a point, maybe, if she was going to do this thing, she could get some good out of it.
She let herself into her room Wednesday evening, knocking as she entered so Xaviera knew she was coming.
The girl was lying on her bed with a textbook open, a spiral notebook beside it. She looked up expectantly at Shahin’s entrance.
Shahin closed the door behind her, shutting herself in a soundproofed room with a girl who had broken her ribs less than a week before. “I think we need to talk, you and I.”
“So talk,” she replied without looking up.
Shahin sat down on the edge of the bed, as close to the other girl as she could bring herself to start. “No, see, that would be me talking at you. That’s a different thing from you and I talking to each other.”
Xaviera rolled over to face her. “Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
…Oh. She really was doing poorly at this planning thing. She could, she supposed, try being direct. “How can I make this, being Kept by us, the least unpleasant for you?”
“If you actually cared, you’d let me go. What are you after?”
“It’s possible to care and still have conflicting interests. But I suppose I’m after a truce.”
“We’re not at war,” Xaviera said carefully.
“No,” Shahin agreed. “But it will make both of our lives more comfortable if we can get along.”
“Comfortable. Right. Well, at least you generally leave me alone.”
“Tell me, honestly, outside of freeing you, would you rather I left you alone entirely?” It would be the easy way out, wouldn’t it?
“I…” She was clearly struggling with this one. “Yes, but… no…” The girl scowled, shaking her head uncertainly.
“You hate me and don’t want anything to do with me, but the bond, the connection from being owned, won’t let you have that distance?” Shahin hazarded.
Xaviera’s sulky silence said it all.
“Right,” she sighed. “Well, I’m used to being hated, at least. I can work with that.” She looked around the room, trying to think about Kai’s notes and not about the sound when her ribs cracked. “Where do you keep your hairbrush?”
“Hairbrush?” Xaviera was startled, but pointed to the brush on top of the dresser. Shahin walked over to retrieve it, taking the time to calm herself. She’d barely touched anyone at all except Emrys, since they were rescued. She liked it that way; skin on skin contact still felt like a cheese grater to her over-sensitized nerves.
But if she could handle getting beaten into a pulp, she could handle this. She sat back down on the bed with the brush, within touching distance of the snake-girl.
“You’re kidding,” she said flatly, glancing from the brush to Shahin’s face.
“Do I strike you as the sort to kid?”
“Fine, then. Whatever you want.” She reached for the brush.
She shook her head. Hooray miscommunication. “I’m sorry, you misunderstood.” And besides, her hair took a long time to get done properly. “Let me brush yours… please.”
“Mine? … Okay?” she said dubiously, turning her back to Shahin.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She set a hand carefully on Xaviera’s shoulder and started running the brush through the fine blonde hair. As she worked, she could feel the tension going out of the girl, see the set of her shoulders relaxing.
She kept brushing for a while, working in silence so as to not upset the fragile peace. It was pretty hair; she was a pretty girl, even with the snakeskin accents. And it was soft, pleasant to touch despite the dull rawness of physical contact. Xaviera raised no protest, apparently at peace herself, finally.
There was, sadly, a limit to how long one could feasibly brush another’s hair. Shahin pushed the limit, brushing until the blond tresses gleamed, and then, with a small sigh, set down the brush. “You have beautiful hair.”
“Thanks?” Xaviera replied, apparently at something of a loss for words. Shahin patted her shoulder carefully. “Right… so… I should get back to my studying.”
Shahin smirked at the girl’s back, a bit amused at being dismissed, but stood, taking her cue. “If you need anything…”
“I know where to go,” she agreed.
“I’ll leave you be for now, then.” It wasn’t much, but perhaps it was a building block. Feeling a little bit less pessimistic, Shahin let herself out and headed for Agatha’s suite.
Bowen answered to her knock, looking, if at all possible, more wan and tired than before, his wooly hair a little matted on the sides. “I’m here to see Anatoliy,” she explained, and, without a word, Bowen went to find the giant.
The suite was otherwise quiet, for a change, and she could hear the moment Tolly started walking her way. “Hey there,” he boomed. “C’mon in.”
She stepped in, closing the door behind her, and smiled up at him. “I was wondering if we could have a little talk.”
“Yeah, sure. What’s on your mind?”
She tilted her head towards his bedroom. “In private?”
“Oh! Yeah, c’mon in.” He tromped into the room, flopping onto the oversized bed. She followed him in and sat down in, rather than on, the desk chair, feeling a bit like an Alice in Wonderland drawing.
She opened her mouth to speak and, for the fourth time in under a week, realized that she didn’t know what she wanted to say. “I…”
Anatoliy sat up on his elbows, looking over at her. “Hey, it’s okay, you can tell me anything. Well, y’know, almost anything, there’s stuff about Emrys I’m sure I don’t wanna know.”
Shahin chuckled dutifully at the joke. “It’s nothing like that. Emrys and I are doing well. But… did you hear about my challenge to Xaviera?”
“A little, yeah. Heard you won, anyway. Good job.”
She smiled wryly. “I wouldn’t have challenged her if it weren’t close to a sure thing. But… I Kept her, as the condition of winning.”
“Seriously?” the giant asked, his startlement hurting her ears as he sat up more. “Holy cow, Sheen.”
“I know,” she admitted. “That’s about how I’m feeling about it as well.”
“Man. So, are you really gonna hold on to her, or something else?”
“Well, I didn’t just Keep her for the fun of it,” she said cautiously. “After all, Emrys and I agreed to help you with your graduation requirements.”
“Oh, well, I… wait, what?”
That was better than the booming disbelief she’d been braced for; she had to un-tense before she could answer. “I’m already pregnant. But Xaviera isn’t. And I’m not sure Ayla is ready to cope with the idea of having to have children for the school.”
“I don’t know,” he demurred. “I mean, thank you. I’ll have to think about that one more, though.”
She nodded, understanding. He’d been rather broken up about the situation with Kailani, almost as much as the girl herself had. “Of course. There’s really no rush, Tolly.” She leaned forward in the chair to squeeze his big hand with both of hers.
“Thanks.” The big man smiled, and then apparently came to a realization. “So, wait… where are you keeping her?”
“My room.” Every time the question came up, she had an image of a closet or a trunk somewhere, like keeping your out-of-season clothing.
“It’s not good for them not to be around you, y’know. It’s not all bad, for the ones whose Keepers won’t let them out of their sight.”
“I’m learning.” That in specific hadn’t been in Kailani’s notes, but she was beginning to get the impression. “It’s made more complicated by the fact that she and I hate each other’s guts, of course.” She mm’d thoughtfully. “Do you think we should be keeping her in Emrys’ room with us? It seems as if it would get… awkward.”
“That’s what most people do, it seems,” Tolly hedged. “As for should… well, I’ve never been on either end of it, myself. I really can’t say.”
“Most people, it seems, are also sleeping with those that they Keep,” she pointed out dryly, and sighed. “We’ll figure it out, I suppose.”
“Ohh, I thought you meant… yeah, um. You’ll figure it out.”
This conversation could only be more awkward if she’d invited Kailani to come in and talk with them. Shahin jumped out of the chair and hugged the giant as best she could. “Think about what you want to do, okay?”
“Right,” he said uncomfortably. That phrasing could have been chosen better, she realized. “I’ll see you later.”
“Any time,” she agreed. “Thank you for the advice, too.” She smiled wryly. “Don’t tell anyone, but this is all new to me.”
“I’ll keep your secret,” he grinned.