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Amadhay wondered if Christein even knew how relieved he looked when they left Stalia behind on the ziptrain at their stop. She had cheerfully exchanged information chips with her, putting each other into their DS’s data strips, all the while with Christein looking as if the human had personally insulted him. If she hadn’t noted that he had only become nervous when Stalia was talking about the colonization project, she would have thought he was jealous.

But he had definitely only become nervous when the space colonization had come up, which pricked at her curiosity. What about that did he not want her to know? Was there something the Phoegani was doing? She could understand that the Phoegani, specifically Procedures and Information, was keeping information from her, considering it was still a possibility that she was a Palnoki spy. She hated it, but she understood.

What was strange, though, was that Christein was keeping something from her. Even when he had been cold toward her, he had never seen a reason to keep tight-lipped about mission information. He had told her about the strangeness going on with Wonder Girls and Co., even though it was definitely top secret, considering a war was brewing involving them, Kayden, and a large portion of the united RA. The Phoegani was trying to pick it apart, but so far hadn’t had much progress, especially since they were definitely blaming the Palnoki. Amadhay had told him then, and still believed now, that the Palnoki had no part of it. Atlas didn’t like easy feats. He wouldn’t pit the rest of Roadesia against itself just so he could conquer them. There were too many loose ends. It was too sloppy to be his work. No, this was someone else and so long as she knew that, she saw no reason for her to get involved when they didn’t want her to.

So she couldn’t understand what about this colonization he didn’t want her to know. It seemed pretty straightforward. The humans were tired of being the bottom of the social ladder, so they were going to try to colonize and spread like roaches elsewhere. Why was he getting so anxious? Did he think she was going to try and run off with them? Her? On a giant, pressurized metal balloon flying in space, with no oxygen for miles around and a possibility of hostile aliens stronger and faster than her or for the giant balloon to break down some way? Yeah, he knew that wasn’t going to happen.

She smiled sweetly at him, grabbing his hand. “So let’s get shopping,” she said, pulling him from the train station, across the street, to the Mall. She had only been here a few times, and each time had been more amazing than the previous. The last time, she had come with Nolando and Anne, before Arne Riff had demanded they hand her over to him. Anne had tried to convince Nolando that Amadhay needed a beautiful, if a bit provocative, aqua dress for future court appearances, but her cousin had been staid in his stance and she had ended up with a similar, though much less (or rather much more in terms of fabric) showy one that glittered in the light when she moved. It reminded her of the snow at the Snow Castle despite its dark coloring.

That last time, she had seen an ensemble in one of the shop windows that she had known was made for Christein. When she had stopped to stare at it, Anne had jokingly told her that the store probably didn’t carry any of it in her size. Amadhay had chosen not to say that she wasn’t looking at it for her, knowing how awkward things got when she mentioned Christein around Nolando or Anne. Thinking on it, she wondered if they could see her attraction to him, if their interference had been to keep what had happened the previous night from happening. No, she decided, they just don’t like Monkey.

That store was the one she was pulling her cousin to first, when she was distracted by a store that specialized in vampire and dark elf styles. The customers leaving the store were completely decked out in black clothes and shining from multiple piercings all over their bodies. Her first thought was I bet Tenshu shops here. Her second thought was on just how good Christein would look in those clothes. While true, it wasn’t what most aelfen lords in their twenties were wearing, it would fit with her cousin’s chosen persona. He was dark and broody, which would be paired much better with dark clothes that cried out mystery and danger, than the brightly colored, tight and flamboyant clothes most aelfe court males were wearing lately. He would look ridiculous dressed in tight aqua pants, slightly heeled brown boots, and a tight white shirt with a bow tie at the collar, she decided as she watched a man around Christein’s age walk past wearing just that. He would be uncomfortable, and the last thing she wanted was for him to be uncomfortable in what she dressed him.

“Can we get a hurry on it?” Christein asked her as she paused, eyeing all the different men passing them. He had yet to pull his hand from hers, which she counted as a win for her. In fact, he was much more relaxed than she had ever seen him in a crowd of so many people. She eyed him for a long moment, seeing the calm smirk at the corner of his lips as he watched people pass by them. His free hand was on the back of his neck, as if he had been scratching there, and he looked good despite the fact that his shirt had her lipstick on it.

She flushed, looking down at their interlocked hands. “Um. Sure. But, uh…Monkey…” she looked up at the red stain right below one of his buttons and then up to his teal eyes. He looked incredibly amused. “I’m, uh, my, you have…” she moved closer to him and he leaned down when she gestured at him. “You have my lipstick on your shirt,” she whispered into his ear.

He laughed, straightening back up. “I know, Mayday. That’s why I’m getting new clothes. So maybe we should get on that?”

Amadhay rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she responded even though she was smiling. He was out with her mark on him.

She tugged him in the direction of the dark shop called Poison Dreams, which she thought was a ridiculous name. He paused right outside, staring at a pair of men walking out together, holding hands and completely covered in ink and metal, their black clothes strategically torn and weighed down with chains and had skulls and crossbones covering everywhere. Their faces, the only place not covered in tattoos, instead had multiple piercings, black eyeliner and black eye shadow. Both of them had black hair with brightly colored streaks that was long enough to cover their ears and force her to have to guess what they were. She would say human, Shifter, or aelfe, given that they weren’t nearly as tall as Christein (since he was abnormal and clearly should have been born an elf or witch) but not short either, like a vampire. When Amadhay stared at them as well, the men smirked and one grabbed the other’s face, turning his head to plant a kiss on the other’s lips.

Amadhay honestly couldn’t pull her eyes away from them. She felt Christein shift at her back, but still didn’t look away. The soft jingle of the men’s lip rings (and she was pretty positive but wouldn’t swear, tongue rings) was music to her ears. The one who had initiated the kiss glanced back at her again and smirked.

“A picture would last longer,” the second one said.

She nodded slowly, lifting her wrist DS to snap a picture. “You are incredibly right. Kiss again?”

The second one laughed while the first one quirked his eyebrow challengingly. “Why don’t you have your twine take the picture and you join us?”

 “Cousin,” she immediately corrected but still didn’t take her hand from Christein’s. She probably wouldn’t have been able to, considering his grip tightened when she said ‘cousin’. He moved in tight behind her.

“Oh, really?”

She laughed this time, only coyly. “Oh yeah. No strings on me,” she said with a flutter of her eyelashes. Both men grinned. “So how about that kiss?”

When both men laughed, she heard a possessive hiss come from her cousin. Initially, neither man looked intimidated in the least, telling her that they were used to non-humans, but as they continued to look at Christein rather than her, the two began to move away. Amadhay glanced back and up at her cousin, to see that his eyes were turning red right in public. She swatted at him to try to break his concentration on whatever spell he was trying to do. “Monkey!” she squeaked, and his eyes moved from the men and to her, immediately turning back to teal.

She glanced back at the men, who were all but running away. “I’m sorry!” she called after them before looking back at her cousin. “Geeze. Can’t take you anywhere,” she muttered with only a small amount of annoyance. Mostly, she was excited. His possessiveness was a good sign for her. It meant that he saw her as his, just like she saw him. He was hers.

“Let’s just get clothes,” he muttered, trying to pull her away from the store.

“We are,” she said, trying to pull him into it.

“Not there we aren’t,” he argued.

She pouted pitifully. “Why not?” she whined. “You’d look good.”

“I think you’re—”

Monkey,” she whined. “You’d look even better than those guys. I mean stop in your tracks, drop your pants immediately hot. Everyone would want some of you,” she tried. “It’s super up and current,” she lied. It wasn’t, but after seeing those two, she definitely wanted to dress him up in whatever she could find in this store.

When Christein tried to argue again, she leveled him with the full force of her kitten eyes. Just as many a Hakinato had, he fell victim to the power of her sad eyes and sighed. “Fine, enough with the kitten eyes. I said you’d get to pick it out, so let’s go on in.”

Only five clacks later, she had him regretting agreeing to giving her power over his wardrobe. She had to have picked out one of everything in the store and piled it onto his arms before she was content.

“Go on, try some of it on,” she ushered him, smiling sweetly when he started to scowl her way. Almost immediately, his scowl dropped and he headed to the dressing rooms with her trailing close behind him.

When he got to one of the stalls, he kicked the door closed in her face. She whined, staring at the door and listening close to him pulling clothes out of the pile. “Monkey, I can’t tell you what to wear if I’m out here.”

“Too bad, because you’re not coming in here.” His voce held a teasing edge to it.

“Oh really?” she challenged him.

“Really,” he said seriously. “I dress, come out to show you. That’s how this is working.”

“It’d go faster if I were in there with you,” she pointed out.

“No, it would go a lot slower because we both know you can’t be trusted in the same room with me undressing.”

“I’m insulted. I can keep my hands to myself,” she claimed, trying to look into the crack of the door. Nothing. The doors must have been warded for privacy. If they were, the ward was good because she couldn’t feel it, even when touching the door.

He opened the door and she jumped back to not be hit by it. “How’s this?” he asked, his resigned face telling her that he didn’t like what he saw in the mirror.

Looking at him, she pressed her lips to keep herself from laughing. He was wearing a ripped top and tight pants that would have looked good on one of the pretty boys walking around the shop, but on him, they looked ridiculous. It was like dressing a tiger Feral in a poofy dress and claiming it was no longer dangerous.

“Yeah, no. You look too…pretty,” she saw his face begin to close off the moment she said that. It was his automatic reaction whenever someone said he wasn’t pretty. It hurt her to be the one, but he wasn’t. He had been, but the scars and his subsequent hairstyle to hide them kept him from being pretty. He could pull off dangerous, mysterious, even breathtaking on a good day, but pretty was never a word anyone would use when describing him ever again. “You’re more…I dunno. Rugged, maybe. Toss all the torn shirts my way. They aren’t working for you. Try the red shirt with the webbing sleeves with those pants, maybe.”

His movements were mechanical as he went back into the dressing room, closing the door tightly behind him before she could try to join him again. When he came back out, she saw that he had ignored her advice and this time was wearing a black leather jacket with a slightly torn shirt underneath above looser jeans and a studded black belt.

She stared at him for a long moment before he shifted uncomfortably. “What’s wrong with this one?” he asked her.

Nothing, she thought, before remembering that she wanted him to look mysterious, but not obviously dangerous. Dressed like that, he looked like who he really was, a man who could punch a Feral’s face in while breaking an arachin’s ribs with a kick and not even break a sweat. He looked good, too good really. “Now too rugged. You look like you’re going to murder everyone who looks at you too long. I don’t think that’d hide your identity very well,” she teased as well as she could, trying to hide her real reaction.

She must not have done it very well, because a slow, knowing smirk eased onto Christein’s lips, and instead of going back into the changing room, he moved forward, to her. Playing with her curls with one hand, he leaned down toward her. “You like me dressed like this, don’t you?” he whispered into her ear, “All dangerous and threatening.”

She shivered, looking up at him. He knew her too well. She leaned up, trying to kiss him, but he apparently just wanted to tease her, because he straightened up and walked back into the changing room.

“What was it you wanted me to try on?” he called out to her after a click. She was still trying to calm herself down.

“Um. The red shirt with webbing. I think those pants are better on you. So toss me the tight ones, kay?”

“Okay,” he called to her, sounding muffled as if his head were covered in fabric. She assumed he was changing shirts.

Regardless of him teasing her, she’d still gained something. He hadn’t denied that his clothes were for hiding his identity. That told her they were for the mission. “So how long’s the mission going to be?” she asked, moving closer to the changing room door so that she could speak softer and others might not hear her.

“I’m not sure,” he said.

“Where’re you going?”

“We’re in public, I’d rather not talk about this,” he said, opening the door and stepping out.

She gave him a long look when he raised his eyebrows expectantly. It was good, but something was missing. She slipped past him, to the clothes pile and began digging. “It only really matters when you think someone’s around to hear. Do you think someone’s listening?”

“No,” Christein said. “But it doesn’t hurt to be careful. You never know.”

Amadhay shrugged and pulled a black vest from the pile. It had shiny, silver studs on the lining and looked dangerous where the red shirt looked pretty. Christein shrugged into it and buttoned it closed before gesturing to Amadhay to get her decision.

It was just what she wanted, a nice mixture of pretty and dangerous. The prettiness softened his danger, making him seem more of a question than a definite threat. No one would underestimate him, but neither would there be a target plastered to his forehead. The red and black was like blood and shadows, and the gleaming silver of the studs reminded her of his blades. It was a great outfit, perfect for him.

“Perfect,” she decided.

“Yay. Now we can buy one outfit when I need at least ten,” Christein stated drily, giving her a small smile.

She rolled her eyes. “Well now that I know that looks good on you, I know what else to pair together, silly.”

“Ah,” was all he said, nodding as she pushed him in the direction of the dressing room again. Before she could try to slip in with him, he pushed her back by the forehead and closed the door in her face. “What next?”

Next Chapter


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