August 2, 2016 by Lyn
‘Lisha was smiling when he met her after their last classes of the day – grinning, actually, bouncing and cheerful and happy. Vlad thought a little less of himself that it just made him wonder what she was up to.
When he left her with her friends for dinner, she was still smiling. She stood on her toes to kiss his check. “Come get me at Lydia’s before bedtime?”
There was no reason to distrust Lydia, or her boyfriend Abe, and if Vlad hadn’t learned to keep his jealousy in check, one or the other of them would have long since gone mad. “Nine, then?”
“Eight it is.” He kissed the top of her head as she turned to her friends.
He waited as he walked away for the mocking laughter to follow him, but their giggles sounded as girlish and happy as her smile had looked. He waited as he sat with his friends for the tension to leave his shoulders, but he found himself missing her presence. Across the Dining Hall, she was joyful and animated, not seeming to miss him at all.
“You could, you know, tell her to come over here.” If even Taro had noticed, he had to have been staring pretty obviously.
“Nah,” Cassidy dissented. “If he did that, she wouldn’t be smiling anymore. She’d be back to sullen and miserable.”
Vlad glowered at them, even though he knew they were both right.
“Why do you still Keep her,” Taro demanded, “if you’re just wandering around being her bitch?”
“I don’t want to lose Min.” He’d had this conversation before, although never with Taro. The answer was nearly rote by this point… and it was almost the whole truth.
“Couldn’t you just make a bargain with her? You set her free, she agrees to give you joint custody of your daughter?” Vlad wondered if Taro missed Carrig. Megan seemed like the type of woman to milk that Law for all it was worth.
“Think he could trust the results?” Cassidy offered quietly, echoing the thoughts Vlad didn’t want to voice. “It’s not like he can bind her to an Oath beforehand.”
“You don’t think she’d keep her word?” Taro’s eyebrows furrowed.
“Would you have,” Vlad asked, since Taro was being so forthcoming, “if Megan had put you in that situation?”
“Well, yeah.” Taro hesitated fractionally. “Probably. Depends on what she wanted me to promise, I guess.” He glared across the table at Kailani, who, blessedly, was oblivious to his random anger. “Damnit, how’s a guy supposed to get anywhere when the girls don’t play by the rules?”
“Depends on the girl,” Cassidy said lazily. “And depends on the rules.”
Vlad smiled to himself. ‘Lisha was the sort of girl who thought rules were for other people, unless she needed them for her own benefit. It was one of her more maddening – and most endearing – traits.
Getting help with his homework from a girl two Cohorts younger than him was weird, but Kailani didn’t seem to mind – and neither did Conrad, which was also important. Vlad killed the evening that way, feeling a little less self-conscious once Cassidy asked Kai for help with his Earth Science homework – which, knowing the fairy godparents, was probably what Cass had intended.
Conrad – the smartest of them all, until Taro had brought Kai home – didn’t seem to need any help and, to his credit, didn’t fake it to get his Keeper’s attention. He hung out like everything was normal, and even Taro eventually stopped grumbling, let Kai help him with his homework, and stopped acting like anything was weird.
Everything wasn’t normal, of course, not even for Addergoole or the Village, but Vlad was willing to play along, if it meant he still got to hang out with his friend. And Kailani didn’t seem to notice that things were at all strange. Taro and Cassidy had mentioned, separately, that she seemed a little off socially, but Vlad wasn’t sure. Not reading the cues of an entirely alien culture wasn’t necessarily inept – Vlad would never admit it, and was quiet enough that it rarely showed, but he still had trouble, sometimes, with normal humans. Having trouble with the strange hybrid culture of the school seemed understandable by those lights, and it wasn’t like she wasn’t fun to hang out with.
Seven-fifty came quickly, and he excused himself from the middle of a friendly debate on the (im)practical uses of Eperu, which Taro, of course, thought could do just about anything short of start a fire. “Going to go get Alisha,” he said to the room, mostly out of habit. He didn’t really think he’d go missing between here and Lydia’s room, or that anyone would be looking for him.
“I’ll come with you.” Conrad stood, without, Vlad noted, a backwards glance at Kai. “…halfway,” he added, grinning knowingly. “I need to stretch my legs.”
Kai, engrossed in the discussion of Eperu, didn’t look up as they left, and Conrad didn’t seem to mind. “How’s things?” he asked jovially as they left.
“I… have no idea,” Vlad admitted softly. “Alisha seems to be in a good mood. That could be a good thing…”
“Yeah.” Conrad nodded. “Or it could be a bloody mess waiting to happen. Good luck, man.”
“Thanks.” Vlad shrugged, looking for a topic change. “How’s things with you?”
“I have no idea,” his friend admitted. “She’s so straightforward, you’d think she’d be easy to figure out, but…”
“Yeah. She’s still a woman.” Vlad laughed. “You’ll do fine, man. She’s good people.”
“You will, too.” He punched him lightly in the arm. “And that’s my cue to take off. Good luck.”
‘Lisha was still smiling when she met him at Lydia’s door. For a moment, Vlad’s worries resurged – was she making fun of him with her friends? She’d tell him, if he pushed the point, but he didn’t think he wanted to hear it and knew he didn’t want to push her. Not when she was smiling.
“M’lady.” He wouldn’t bow – she thought it was corny – but he did offer her his arm. Giggling the way she had when they were first dating, she set her hand on his arm.
“‘Bye,” she called to her friends, offhanded and casual. He hated himself a little more for how relieved it made him feel – when she gushed over her goodbyes, it made his chest tighten and his eyes cross, which he knew was stupid. He Owned her. Did he really want her to moon over him like some TV-sitcom wife?
Maybe a little.
He shelved the thought with the other wild and unsuitable fantasies and smiled back at her. “Good day?” He almost didn’t want to know, didn’t want to ruin the moment, but if there was a chance she’d share her happiness with him, he wanted to take it.
“Wonderful day.” She leaned in close to him, both hands on his arm. “I learned something new in class.”
“Something new?” Considering her classes, that could be any number of things, some of them rather unpleasant.
She stood on her toes to whisper in his ear, her breath warm and sweet against his skin. “I’ll show you when we get back home.”
His ears turned warm and, probably puce; he covered it by picking her up under the arms and kissing her firmly, damn the cameras and anyone who might be watching.
“Vla-ad!” she protested, laughing all the while. “Put me – oh! – put me down!”
“Yes, m’lady.” He didn’t release her hand, though, and he turned down a side hallway, doubling their walk home. “What’s got you in such a good mood? Just what you learned in class?”
“Mmm.” She didn’t say anything for a few steps, and then a few more, and then a few more. Vlad glanced at her, worried he’d ruined it, and she looked back up at him, looking more hesitant than cranky. “I was talking to Eriko in gym today… and she told me I was lucky. And, well, you know. I know if I had to be Kept by anyone, I was lucky that it was you. I’ve seen what happens to some of the other girls.”
He didn’t bother trying to conceal his surprise, but she wasn’t done yet. “But Eriko – and Dysmas’s snack, Nydia – they, well, ‘Ko called me stupid.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
“You’re not stupid, love,” he said, meaning it. She wasn’t brilliant by any means, but dumb was never a word he’d use to describe her.
“Yeah, except about you.” Her smile wasn’t as bright as it had been this morning; she looked sad, and a little brittle, and he braced for the recriminations. “I, well, ‘Ko really let me have it. And I thought about it for a little bit, and then while Dr. Caitrin was teaching, and…”
Here it comes. He stiffened his spine, waiting for the inevitable, waiting for the storm that would come when he, once again, refused to release her. For Min.
“…well, she’s right. I kinda take you for granted, don’t I?” She looked up at him with the cute, vulnerable, lost-kitten look that had first hooked him. “You’re really good to me, and if you do it sort of backwards and old-fashioned, well, you can’t help how you were raised.”
It was almost a relief, the back-handed casual insult at the end of the positive. He gaped at her, feeling his gills open in a stupid body-response, as if more air would help. She grinned again, puckish and determined, and captured both of his hands in hers. “You mean well. So I just need to stop yelling at you and teach you how to treat me right instead.”
Oh, eleven departed gods. “O-kay.”
“Don’t look at me like that.” She slapped him across the chest, frowning sulkily. “I’m trying to be nice. Say ‘thank you, ‘Lisha,’ or something.”
He couldn’t help it; he laughed, right in her face. She was, if nothing else, consistent in the end. “Thank you, m’lady.”