Ray all but ran from the room when Kai came in. Kai didn't blame him. Even covered with a towel, he had seen what was beneath, and there was nothing to stop the images from popping in his head. So he distracted himself by checking the temperature of the water and her pulse. It was slow and not as strong as he would like, but her breath puffed out well enough on the back of his wet palm. He ended up holding the bottle of shampoo stupidly for only God knew how long. He had never cleaned someone else's hair before, let alone someone with as much hair as her. What if he pulled on it? What if he hurt her or didn't get all the soap out?

Realizing how stupid he sounded, he growled himself into action, squirting out the shampoo in the palm of his hand and slapping it to the top of her head.

Which woke Ayah with a start. Though not very energetically. Still, he flinched as well.

She looked up at him with heavy-lidded eyes that were glazed with sleep. Her lips parted to say something, but only a breath came out. He allowed himself a few seconds to be caught like a deer in the spotlight before steeling himself and setting to work rubbing the shampoo into her hair. After only a few strokes, her eyes had closed again and she made something halfway between a weak purr and a sigh. Even though it was barely audible, it made every hair on his body stand on end.

Much squirts of shampoo later, he managed to get her hair clean of the slime and set to work doing her feathers. He wasn't surprised to find they felt much like his own. Feathers were just feathers. By the time Ray came in with a steaming pot of what smelled like rice gruel, Kai had exhausted himself with scrubbing on only one wing.

"Here, I'll take over," said Ray. "You try to get her to eat some of this. I mixed some of that protein shake Tyson got a few months back."

Oh. That stuff. Tyson had voiced his envy of Kai's physic. Rather than listen to everyone telling him that he just didn't have the same body type and genes as Kai (as the Japanese were just genetically smaller than the eastern Europeans overall), he had bought a giant canister of chocolate whey protein. Again ignoring the warnings of the others that binging on protein milkshakes would just constipate him, or worse, cram up his kidneys, Tyson did a grueling three-day exercise regime in which he ate almost nothing but protein shakes. After a constipation experience from hell with no muscle to show for it, not to mention a considerable lack of real food, Tyson decided to pretend that he had never seen the canister and grew deaf whenever someone else brought it up.

Kai, who lived nearby, had quite the amusing time watching from a distance. He had his secrets for building muscle, though yes, being a little Japanese boy also didn't work in Tyson's favor.

He took the pot from Ray with shaking arms, suddenly very glad that Tyson had such a stupid idea. If anyone needed the extra energy, it would be Ayah, as well as himself. Still, it gave the rice gruel a muddy, unappetizing sort of look.

"I added a bit of tapioca flavoring, so it shouldn't taste too bad," said Ray apologetically.

"You did good," said Kai, meaning it.

Ray smiled. Then he gave a long-suffering sigh to the bottle of shampoo and Ayah's sleeping form.

As Ray pulled over the far-side wing, Kai patted Ayah's cheek, calling her name. She made a displeased whimper, once more on the edge of hearing, but opened her tired eyes.

"I have food," he said. As he expected, it was enough to get her attention. The tips of her wings twitched and she attempted to raise one of her arms from the tub, but only managed to dislodge the towel from one of her breasts, to Ray's dismay, before her eyes started to close.

Apprehensive, he patted her cheek a little harder. "Come on. If you don't stay awake you won't get food. If you can't move, just open your mouth."

She wrinkled her nose in obvious disgust at the idea, which for some reason made Kai smile. Perhaps it was because he could understand losing such dignity all too well. But it didn't last long and she opened her mouth. He pulled down a towel to prop her head up more, then, after setting the towel beneath the water back in place over her breast so Ray would stop fidgeting, he raised the first spoonful of gruel to his lips to test the temperature. Only then did he feel the full depth of how out of place he was.

I've never fed anyone before. What if he just ended up getting food all over her? What if he couldn't get the spoon in her mouth? What if he choked her? What if he just made an overall fool of himself?

He slammed the thoughts closed, just as he had with the fire, and lifted the tolerably warm food to her mouth. It went down well enough and she swallowed. No teeth had been broken. He hadn't had to stuff the whole spoon in either. He didn't feel like he would rather melt through the earth either. The second, third, and fourth spoonful went, and he found, to his surprise, that this wasn't all that unpleasant. It was strangely...satisfying to see her gulp it down so readily while knowing the hunger he was satisfying. He was easing her pain. 

He was helping. 

An overwhelming rush of warmth flooded through him. He liked this. He liked helping her.

And like a thunderclap, it hit him that he wanted her to be happy. He wanted it more badly than he ever had for another being in his life.

A squeak and splash threw water over him and the gruel as Ray slipped and fell face-first into the tub. He scrambled up like he had slipped into poison instead of water, gasping. Kai, a little high on the strange giddy warmth, chuckled

"Does the kitty not like water?" Kai asked.

"Oh don't talk like you're not equally uncomfortable. Aw gosh, do we have to scrub the rest of her?"

"Most men would jump at the chance to do that."

"Yeah, if they get to jerk off while doing it."


"What was that?"

"That was me being polite to said lady, who is hearing everything you say."

Ray's face blanched and turned so red, it almost reached a purple. He made a closed mouth squawk and stalwartly pulled up a leg to start scrubbing her feet.

In all honesty, Kai thought it was likely Ayah was too taken by hunger to even comprehend anything that was being said. He himself had been vaguely aware that Tyson and Ray had been talking the entire time while cleaning him, but once he had started eating he hadn't paid much attention.

Ray had smartly made a very large pot of gruel. By the time Kai had finished feeding it to Ayah, Ray had cleaned as much as he was willing to of her and was getting out the towels.

"I called Hillary over from the search to help us out with clothes for her," he said. "I don't think Tyson's wardrobe can take much more depleting."

Before Beasts, There Was Water--Book 4Where stories live. Discover now