Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chloe couldn't sleep. She had been tossing and turning for the past hour and half now. She was absolutely sure whoever was on her rooftop tonight must think she was crazy for not laying still for even a minute.
She had stopped crying over an hour ago. It hurt. It hurt having had to deny Brian's confession and consequent kiss. But she could never put him in such danger. He couldn't be another Xavier. She felt too much for him to allow such thing.
From her position on the bed she could eye the beautiful dress she wore to the art gallery party; for Brian. Only when she got home, her eyesight completely blurred from her tears, did she noticed that the flimsy piece of cloth that had complimented the dress was missing. It was possible that Brian himself had it. It didn't matter; he could keep it because it was the only thing from her that he could keep.
Taking a deep breath to hold the tears in, Chloe turned once more on her bed, away from the dress. Closing her eyes, she could hear a very low breathing from the roof. Focusing her hearing, she caught the thump thump of an unmistakable heartbeat. Alek's.
Smiling for the first time in a good number of hours, Chloe closed her eyes and fell into a deep slumber.
Her eyes snapped open, her irises going into cat-like mode, her claws making an appearance. Realizing it had been just her mother calling for her, she took a deep breath and her claws retracted back and her eyes went back to their normal state… at least she presumed they had.
Looking around, her eyes fell upon her clock. She was definitely late for school but, to be very honest, she didn't feel like going. She still felt too heartbroken, too upset to be around others.
"Chloe, didn't you hear me–" Her mother said while opening her door but stopped right away, gasping. "Chloe, what happened? You look terrible!"
It was like the floodgates had opened. The tears were back in full force and Chloe just couldn't stop. Meredith went directly to her daughter and sat down on the bed, taking her into her arms.
"Oh kiddo, what happened? I thought you had fun with Brian last night."
Chloe shook her head and her mother knew that something hadn't gone right between the two. Knowing that asking more questions would only upset Chloe further, she rocked her child in her arms, kissing her hair lovingly.
It took a few more minutes for the blonde to calm down. When she did, Meredith cleaned the tears from her face and, for once in a long time, gave permission to Chloe to stay at home and not go to school with the promise that her daughter would not let any blond boys near her bed. Chloe definitely cracked a smile at that.
Getting out of bed after staying curled up on her comforter a little while, Chloe gathered her essentials and went for a shower; maybe it would help her put her thoughts together more clearly. Twenty minutes later she left the bathroom wrapped in a fluffy white towel and her hair dripping wet and entered her bedroom going directly to her closet.
"Nice choice of outfit."
At the sudden voice, Chloe dropped the clothes she had picked up and crouched on the floor in attack mode while trying to not let her towel fall, which wasn't exactly the easiest task. She groaned when she noticed the supposed perpetrator leaning on the now open window.
"Alek! Stop sneaking into my bedroom!" Chloe hissed, getting up while holding the towel in place since it was starting to slip off.
"Why should I? It's so fun to get you all riled up." The Mai in question answered back, going to sit on the end of the bed eyeing her from head to toe. "I hope you stay in that all day. I know I wouldn't mind it."
Holding in the urge to throw her hands in the air, Chloe simply rolled her eyes and picked the clothes she dropped from the floor.
"What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in school?"
"Mom allowed me to stay at home today with the promise that NO blond boys would get near my bed." Chloe answered, glaring at Alek and making shooing motions to get him as far as possible from her bed; that wouldn't make her break her promise since her mother had only mentioned the bed and not the bedroom.
Getting up with a smirk the Mai boy circled the Uniter, confusing her. When he finally stopped in front of her, he lifted her chin with his right hand making her look right into his eyes.
"It is my duty to protect you. I have to be where you are so if you aren't in school…"
"You are skipping school because of your duty? You can't do that!"
"Too late." Alek stated, catching a strand of Chloe's hair and playing with it absently. Ignoring that for the moment, she crossed her arms.
"Did Valentina tell you to do this?"
"Then why are you here then? If she didn't tell you…"
Huffing at her persistence, Alek stopped twirling her hair in his fingers and focused his attention on her.
"I could hear you last night." He confessed, a surprising look of compassion gracing his features. Chloe looked everywhere but his face. "I'm here by my own choice. You shouldn't be alone right now."
"And why do you care? Your duty is to protect me from the Order, not to act as my therapist!" The girl retorted, feeling a strange need to claw out all of that compassion and pity from his face. "You should be happy right now since I'm not coming closer to Brian again! That's what YOU wanted."
Seeing Chloe's mood drastically change, Alek took a step back fearing some sort of physical retaliation he wasn't sure he deserved. Here he was trying to be considerate of her for once – at least without being under duty – and she was probably thinking of scratching his face with her claws. It really wouldn't be a first a girl tried that one on him, to be honest.
Growling, Chloe pushed the blond out of her room and closed the door on his face. Biting her lip to control her anger, she dressed the pair of sweatpants and tank top she had picked up before and made her bed hoping Alek had left; she really wanted to be alone for the day.
She left her bedroom and, while climbing down the stairs, two of her senses were assaulted with something foreign. One, there was this quite delicious smell coming from the kitchen and two, she could hear someone using the stove for cooking and mumbling some song while at it.
Please tell me it isn't…
The one and only Alek Petrov was in her kitchen cooking breakfast. While wearing an apron that she had no idea she owned.
"You cook?" Was the only thing Chloe's mouth could blurt from the endless thoughts going through her head at the moment.
Smirking from the slices of bacon he was frying, the man himself didn't seem either fazed or embarrassed to have been caught. Quite the contrary: he seemed very proud of it.
"I'm a man of many talents, Chloe King. Stay for a bit more and you might get to know all of them." He winked thoroughly amused with himself.
Rolling her eyes at the walking smugness that was Alek, Chloe sat at the kitchen counter and waited to be served breakfast.
"You cook for every girl you know?"
"No, you're the first. With the exception of Jasmine and Aunt Val, of course."
"I feel special."
"You are." Alek said looking her in the eyes, making Chloe feel quite warm all of a sudden. Breaking the eye contact, the Mai boy put a plate full of delicious looking food in front of the Uniter and put another one next to hers going to sit in front of it.
Taking a sniff out of the plate just in case and ignoring Alek's roll of eyes, Chloe picked up the fork and took a bite of the pancakes first. Her eyes lit up and a surprised smile formed on her lips.
"This is good. Really good." She approved after chewing and kept eating under the proud gaze of her protector.
"Glad you approve." Taking a drink from the glass of juice he had poured previously, Alek looked far ahead. "I'm not happy."
"I'm not happy. About you and Brian."
Choking on the piece of bacon she was chewing, Chloe coughed and took a gulp of her milk – how did Alek even know she preferred milk to juice? – trying to make sense of what the blond had just said.
"You… never approved of us so I suppose you're happy we aren't close anymore."
"Yes but that doesn't mean I'm happy. I simply want the best for you and wanted to save you from getting hurt. Unfortunately, I couldn't do it so now you're sad and if you're sad then I'll share the feeling. That's how it is."
Looking completely speechless at Alek's words, Chloe simply took them in and kept eating. There was no need to evaluate what he had just said. For some reason, something told her it wasn't the right time to do it. They meant more than what she could handle in her current mindset.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chloe and Alek finished their breakfast in silence. Once done, they cleaned their plates and looked at each other awkwardly.
"So…" Chloe started, hoping her Mai protector had any idea of where to go from there. Alek simply crossed his arms, waiting on her. "You're really going to stay with me all day?"
"And are you sure you won't get bored?"
"I've told you: I'm here by choice… meaning, I know how boring you are and what I'm getting into."
"I'm not boring!" Chloe objected, slapping him on the arm. Smirking, Alek strutted from the kitchen to the living room falling gracefully into the couch just like he had weeks ago on her bed… before her mother caught him laying there.
"We can watch a movie, maybe. So I won't be so bored by you."
"Very funny Alek. DVDs are under the TV; choose whichever you like. I'll get the ice cream."
Looking up from his spot on the couch, he saw the young girl opening the freezer. Moving towards the TV he started to browse the DVD collection.
"Ice cream with a movie? Isn't that for depressed girls with broken hearts?" Not hearing an answer, the blond looked up and saw Chloe glaring at him, hands on her hips. "My bad, my bad. I'll try to find a happy movie just for you."
In the end, they ended up watching some romantic comedy that Alek had never seen – because he would never get caught watching a chick movie – and sharing the ice cream tub Chloe had picked up. They had started the movie sitting apart – one on each end of the couch – but somehow Chloe had gravitated to Alek's side and seemed to lean towards his right shoulder a bit. He was sure five more minutes and she was resting her head on him.
And she did.
One movie became two, three and four. Around lunch time and after their second movie, Alek surprised Chloe once more by cooking lunch. Trying not to think about why he would even trouble himself like he was, the blonde girl accepted her plate with a smile and had to contain a moan of satisfaction. All because seeing her protector's smirk grow bigger wasn't exactly the best idea; she wouldn't want to be the cause of his death by inflated ego. No sir.
After lunch came movie three and four, one of them being a more action type so Alek would stop his moaning about not being able to endure more chick flicks.
"Chloe?" Alek's British accent called from somewhere close to Chloe. She mumbled, nuzzling her face into one of his legs. Somehow, and neither of them knew how exactly, the girl had ended up using her protector's lap as a pillow for her head. Not that he minded; he knew she just couldn't help herself.
The blond male Mai rolled his eyes and pulled his protégé's hair a little too hard causing her to wake up from her catnap on his lap and yelp, not amused.
"Couldn't you just wake me up?"
"I called you, you didn't answer. This was easier." The boy smirked, easily masking the disappointment in not having Chloe so close to him anymore. "You're supposed to go to work in… ten minutes."
"Crap!" Chloe cursed, getting up from her seat on the couch, turning off the DVD player and running upstairs as quickly as possible to get dressed for work. Finding a decent outfit to wear, she was about to change when she noticed Alek had followed her. "Would you stop with the stalkerish moves? I'm really not amused by them."
"Oh, you know you love me, King."
"You wish, Petrov." There was a staring match between the two until Chloe realized she was wasting precious time. "Just get out. I need to change or I'll arrive late. Again."
Smirking, the blond protector left the bedroom, closing the door. Rolling her eyes at his cockish behavior, Chloe changed clothes as fast as she could. When she left her bedroom she crashed right into Alek's chest. A very muscular one from what she could gather.
"If you really wanted to get this close to me, you could have asked. I'm always available for some closeness." The charming British accent sounded very close to her ears and before she felt more affected by it, Chloe took a step back and quirked an eyebrow at her fellow Mai.
"I don't doubt that."
"I'm hurt." Alek mockingly said causing Chloe to roll her eyes and walk down the hall to climb down the stairs. "Hey, want to race to the shop?"
Chloe looked back at him, cocking her head to the side, curiosity written all over her face.
"As in rooftop racing?"
"That very kind, yes."
Suddenly, Chloe grinned in this unusual way and Alek knew right away she was plotting something. Of the 'I'm-going-to-make-you-regret-it' kind.
"Let's make a bet. Whoever wins gets a rain check."
"A rain check?" The blond boy asked, puzzled. Chloe had to admit he looked rather cute when absolutely out of the loop. "For what?"
"Anything. At any time."
"Why do I feel like I'm going to regret this?"
"You're just being a chicken." Chloe answered, knowing that he would not tolerate having his honor spoiled like that. She climbed down the stairs and walked right before the door, hearing Alek's footsteps behind her.
"We'll see who is the chicken, Chloe King." He whispered close to her ear before opening the door, letting her out first.
Closing the door behind him Alek locked eyes with his protégé, then glanced rapidly to the alley where he usually climbed up to get to her roof and, when he saw her nod, the two flashed into a run for it.
When reaching the destination, they jumped on to the closed dumpster and climbed up to the roof with Alek always letting Chloe go first, making her wonder if he was letting her win their race. When they both go to the top they locked gazes once more.
"Three!" The blond boy exclaimed and they both started their race.
They were neck to neck, jumping over rooftops ignoring everything around them and letting their true nature out. They were Mai and needed to let themselves feel what being Mai meant. This racing contest of theirs was nothing but an exposure of their traits and Alek's way to, little by little, awaken more of Chloe's Mai heritage. She needed to come to facts with it, to stop ignoring who she truly was. And maybe, he wished, she would realize that it also meant living and loving those like her. Like him.
"What? I won fair and square!" Chloe gasped, immediately glaring at Alek for accusing her of such.
They were walking up to the Vintage shop and Alek was, for lack of a better word, sulking. In his own cockish 'I'm-not-sulking' kind of way.
He had lost. To Chloe King. His protégé-slash-student. She had obviously cheated. That had got to be it. He was Alek Petrov; he didn't lose. Ever. Much less to a recently awakened Mai. Who was actually the Uniter of their race but that was beside the point.
"How would that even be possible? We were neck to neck, Alek. I just got a lucky break and got here first." Chloe stopped and looked back to him, hands on her hips.
Alek had to admit the upset look looked good on her. Even when it was directed to him. She looked very much like a lioness ready to pounce. Very Mai of her… and very appealing too.
"You distracted me, of course." He answered, crossing his arms and making his muscles more prominent which distracted Chloe herself for a second. Eye candy was eye candy, no matter if it was an obnoxious cocky Brit guy who lived to torment her.
"I distracted you? You're such a sore loser!"
"I am not–"
"Excuse me to meddle into your obvious flirtation but I would like my employee to start working. Now." Lana Jacobs interrupted them, leaning on the open door of her shop.
Blushing like a red beet, Chloe smiled apologetically to Lana and glared at Alek saying under her breath 'I'm going to get you for this' knowing he could hear it with his Mai abilities. Turning her back from his cocky, smirking face, Chloe entered the shop and followed Lana to the counter where the older woman crossed her arms and frowned at her.
"I'm sorry?" The blond girl half-smiled, trying her best to really look like she was sorry. Which she was. It was all Alek's fault, really.
"Chloe… you're a great girl and I owe you for helping me out with Jesse but you really have to start setting your priorities straight or I might just reconsider letting you work here." Lana said in a tired tone of voice. "You either arrive here very late or keep getting distracted by your friends and… boyfriends."
"Alek is not my boyfriend!"
Lana raised an eyebrow.
"And that other boy? The kitty hat one?"
Chloe closed her mouth shut, a look of anguish in her face. Lana, seeing this, easily dropped out the argument realizing she had crossed some invisible boundary she shouldn't have.
"I have this new shipment at the back that needs to be tagged and put in the right shelves. Can you get started on that?" The shop manager half-smiled at the blonde teenager who gladly took that to save herself from even having to think about Brian.
It was too soon.
All of her shift, Chloe had felt a pair of eyes following her every move. She was already used to that feeling and was satisfied Alek kept his distance from her and didn't even come to annoy her like other times. He seemed to understand that Lana hadn't been joking when she mentioned reconsidering Chloe's second chance at the job.
There was this sudden warmness in her chest at the thought of Alek actually caring and being considerate of her. True, he was her protector – one of two actually – and it was his duty to look out for her and preserve the remaining lives she had but, at the same time, it felt good knowing he might even care for her outside the whole Mai protector thing.
Sure, Alek was too cocky and had that bad boy sort of vibe going on but she knew that he was much more than that. That there was a side to him that not many hadn't seen because, for whatever reason – maybe his parents' deaths, Chloe thought –, he had hidden it from others. She was sure she had seen glimpses of it on few occasions but the one that she could easily recall had been during breakfast that morning when he had confessed he wasn't happy for her situation with Brian, that if she felt sad he felt exactly the same. Why, she had really no idea. Alek Petrov was a tricky mystery to solve.
Her name being called took her out of her musings and she turned to whoever had called her. The two pieces of clothing she had in her hands fell to the floor.
"Hi." He said looking – and probably feeling – a little out of place.
Picking up the clothes from the floor, Chloe was hit with a strong wave of mixed feelings – anger, protectiveness and… jealously? –, all coming from the same person who was definitely not Brian.
"Look, could I talk to you? In private?" The dark-haired college student asked Chloe and even without her empathy hits she could easily hear a certain desperation in his voice. It wouldn't be that that would make her change her decision.
"I'm sorry Brian but my decision was final."
"But Chloe! Can't you rethink it? Please?"
Feeling the tears close to well up in her eyes, the blond girl shook her head negatively, turning her back to him to walk to the counter. Suddenly, she felt a hand around one of her wrists pulling her in the other direction.
"If I were you I would take your hand off of her right now." A British accented voice almost hissed the threat just like a cat feeling his territory threatened and quite ready to pounce on the perpetrator which Alek looked quite close to do when Chloe turned around.
Surprised at the intervention of this stranger but feeling himself in danger due to his overwhelmingly dangerous presence, Brian let go of Chloe and took a step back.
"I just wanted to talk to her, not that you have anything to do with it." He told and he could see the blond guy's fists clenching hard until his knuckles turned white. Brian was sure he would be no match to this six something feet tall and rather muscled stranger.
"Brian… just leave. Please." Chloe begged him, her hand going to Alek's left arm as if to stop him from acting on his impulses. He seemed to ease off a bit from her touch and she really thought he was acting very much like a cat at that moment, calming down at a gentle human's touch.
At that moment, she saw something on Brian's face: realization.
"He's with you?"
"I-I can explain–"
"Yes, she's with me." Alek interrupted Chloe, chin held high and a smirk on his face. The anger and jealously easily wore off from his aura to give space to this feeling the blonde girl could only explain as pride. If she didn't know better she would say he was staking his claim at the moment. Stupid, cocky bastard.
Brian looked furious all of the sudden, looking from Chloe to Alek. Taking one last look at her, he left the store banging the door with such force on the way out that it called the attention of Lana who had been at the back.
"Chloe, is everything alright?" The shop manager asked, eyeing Alek. Chloe faked a smile.
"Everything's fine. Let me just say a word to my friend here and I'll go back to work."
Lana looked suspicious but nodded. Still with that fake smile on her face, Chloe pulled Alek further into the store, out of Lana's hearing reach.
"Are you insane?" She whispered with a scowl on her face. "Do you have any idea of what you did?"
"I protected you from that human. He was hurting you and no one hurts you under my watch."
For a brief second Chloe saw Alek's eyes shifting into cat slits then back to normal; the anger was back. She had never seen him like this, so out of control.
"I can defend myself, Alek!"
"But you don't need to while I'm here. I'm your protector." He hissed and Chloe felt a strange shiver from head to toe. This… overprotective behavior of Alek was having a strange effect on her, making her feel both protected and like she belonged. To what she wasn't sure.
"Being my protector doesn't mean you can go all caveman on me." The Mai girl refuted, crossing her arms. "I'm not yours to claim, Alek."
To her shock, her protector calmed down and smiled. Not a smirk but an actual smile. He caught a loose strand of her hair and twirled it on his fingers.
"There is a lot you don't know about us Mai, Chloe. One of them is that, when we feel deep down in our heart, our soul, that we could give our life for another Mai… a claim is made. You'll have to accept that I don't give up so easily. Much less on something like yourheart."
And he left the shop, leaving one shocked teenage girl trying to wrap all that information in her head.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chloe hadn't seen or heard Alek for the rest of her shift at the shop.
In a way, she was grateful for it. Her mind was just swimming with all the events of the last hour. Not only did Brian not know what the meaning of no was but Alek had gone caveman on her and talked something about a claim on her. A claim. When did her life turn into a cheesy romance novel? She really didn't know.
Lana, probably reading the turmoil Chloe was in on her face, allowed the blonde girl to leave the shop earlier with the promise she would arrive on time the next day and with no boy trouble following her either. Taking the opportunity with a thankful smile, she left the shop to go directly to her house and take some time to herself before her protectors arrived and whisked her away to another grueling and tiresome training session.
Curious to know if Alek had stayed around to watch over her, Chloe focused her hearing in finding his heartbeat; she genuinely had no idea how she could differentiate and picked it out from other people's heartbeats so easily but she could admit it made things easier sometimes.
Nothing. Alek was nowhere near Chloe. He left me alone, she thought with a frown. He has never left me alone before.
Biting her lip and feeling a strange ache in her chest, the blonde Mai looked around and upwards but found no one following her. For once since her sixteenth birthday, the Uniter found herself unwatched.
"It would be just my luck to be attacked right now." She muttered and continued her walk towards home, trying to understand why, all of sudden, she felt lonely… aside from wanting to slap Alek silly.
"Is there a reason why I was left alone for the rest of this afternoon by your cousin?"
Jasmine had to admit Chloe was slowly letting her abilities as a Mai sink in and be a part of her. A few weeks ago the Uniter wouldn't even realize her female protector had sneaked in her room to take her to another training session.
"Well… is there a reason why my cousin arrived home looking like he wanted to use the nearest person's face as his scratching post?" The olive skinned Mai raised an eyebrow at Chloe who closed her laptop and got up from her bed.
"We didn't fight if that's what you're asking."
"I know. If you had fought, Alek would have been pouting which – and I'll kill you if you tell him – is quite the adorable thing to see."
"Why would he be pouting?" Chloe asked absently while taking a small towel from her bathroom and putting it inside her sports bag. Jasmine just shook her head, smirking.
"We better go training. We can't waste precious time like this."
Both girls climbed out of the window as silently as possible so Meredith wouldn't hear and, when on the roof, they shot forwards with Jasmine on the lead.
Arriving on the park, Chloe looked around waiting to see Alek. When she noticed he wasn't there, her eyes focused on Jasmine.
"He's not coming. It's just you and me tonight."
"Why isn't he coming?"
"I feel loved." The older girl commented, crossing her arms amused. When Chloe rolled her eyes, Jasmine answered her question. "Mom asked him to stay. And no, I have no idea why. So, can we start our training now or do you need a minute to stop obsessing over my cousin?"
"I'm not– Oh forget it!"
Though Chloe considered Jasmine not only a good friend and protector but a good teacher, she preferred Alek's training sessions. Sure he could be a first class jerk and spend most of the time pointing out her mistakes almost cruelly but there was something different in the way he taught her. Chloe couldn't exactly explain, to be honest. But he was there, invading her space and pushing her harder, making her act on her instincts instead of doing it with her head. He could reach into her Mai side in a way no one could.
Caught off guard, the blonde girl was thrown to the ground by one pissed off Jasmine.
"Chloe, can't you concentrate on training for a minute?" She asked, hands going to her hips and, for a second, Chloe could see Valentina in her place. The apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.
"I'm sorry. I just… have so much on my mind…"
Sighing, Jasmine went to her bag, took two bottles of water and sat down next to Chloe, handing her one of the bottles. Uncapping her own and taking a sip, the older girl cocked her to the side with a curious look in her eyes.
"You want to talk about whatever is going on in your mind? Aside from Alek, of course."
Blushing under Jasmine's scrutiny and apparent mind-reading, Chloe drank from her bottle.
"Alek mentioned something today that hasn't really left my thoughts."
"And that is…?"
The amused look Jasmine had completely vanished from her face. In its place there was a very serious look.
"What did Alek tell you exactly?"
Taking a deep breath, Chloe explained what had happened that afternoon.
"Brian came and tried to talk to me. When he became a little to forceful, Alek was the knight in shining armor meets caveman and made him back off. We argued about him not needing to protect me and I told him I was not his to claim. Then he said that when a Mai feels like they could give their life for another, a claim is made. And then he just left like that."
"Typical of Alek, of course." Jasmine rolled her eyes and, at Chloe's confused stare, she explained. "Mai claims as you call it are a tricky but serious matter. It's not something that happens as often as you can think of for us nowadays. With so little of us scattered around the world and with only one life to live, no one feels that willing to give their own life for another, to live for another. Selfish I know but I'm sad to say Mai have become more human in certain matters than what we would like to think."
"Then why would Alek do it?"
The older Mai looked uncomfortable for a second which told Chloe she might know exactly why the British Mai had done such thing.
"I don't know Chloe. Alek can be very… impulsive sometimes. Ever since my Mom gave us this job as your protectors I haven't seen him so focused, so passionate about something. I think that question might be better off answered by him and not me."
Chloe nodded, still not entirely convinced. Jasmine seemed to be purposely hiding something from her.
"Wait… how do you even claim someone?"
Jasmine chuckled and got up, turning her back to Chloe to put away her training gear on her bag. Feeling her charge glaring into her back she turned back around and half-smiled.
"It depends from Mai to Mai. Or, better yet, from the reason the claim was made."
"So… not all claims are made for protection?" The blond girl asked looking as clueless as a baby kitten in that moment. Jasmine now understood Alek's secret codename for her. She really looked like one.
"Claims were initially done for… well, mating purposes." Chloe's eyes went as big as saucers at the mention of mating and Jasmine really didn't need mind-reading to know what was going through her head. She continued, to appease the girl's mind. "In the Mai race there isn't something like marking or marriages. The male Mai can encounter a female that they find quite appealing and which they feel like they will fulfill the male's prospects on reproducing. They then enter in a short courting period where the female will either accept or deny the male; if she accepts, the male claims her as his to protect and a bond between the two is forged that lasts throughout their lives."
"You're saying the Mai only get together for reproducing? They don't… stay together because they love each other?"
"Of course they do, Chloe. This is simply the more… scientific way of the claim, let's say." Jasmine said with an apologetic smile. "We are capable of loving one another, just like humans; better than them actually since we stick with one person for the rest of our lives. But in the last few centuries, with the Order after us and our numbers diminishing drastically, reproducing as been more important than anything else so no claiming has been done in a long time, mainly because we are killed so early in life and if our partner is killed…"
Jasmine didn't finish what she was saying. The sad note which her voice had taken pulled something inside Chloe she wasn't sure what it was.
"A Mai mother can have a claim on her children too but that one comes almost naturally; it is a mother's job to protect her offspring. That's the other great reason for a Mai claim aside from mating."
Chloe laughed out loud all of sudden, surprising Jasmine.
"Wait wait… Alek is acting as my Mai mother now?" The blonde Mai couldn't stop laughing, the image of an Alek wearing her pink apron – just like in the morning – while being all motherly and braiding her hair replaying in her mind.
"Why do I feel like you're imagining something very amusing about Alek?"
"Alek… pink apron… hair braiding…"
The olive skinned girl chuckled as her charge kept rolling on the floor in tears and stored that thought in her mind, knowing it would come in handy whenever Alek picked on her.
"C'mon, it's time to go. We've trained and laughed enough for the night." She declared, holding out her hand to help Chloe up. The girl took it and they both picked up their bags and walked out of the park.
Though the whole idea of Alek being her Mai mother had been amusing, Chloe knew something was escaping her about the whole Mai claim idea. She knew Jasmine wasn't telling everything or, at least, wasn't telling everything about why would Alek claim Chloe as his own to protect. The final words he gave her before leaving didn't match with it.
…when we feel deep down in our heart, our soul, that we could give our life for another Mai… a claim is made. You'll have to accept that I don't give up so easily. Much less on something like your heart.
Those weren't words of someone claiming another for protection only. Had Alek claimed her in a mating way? And without her opinion on it? Jasmine had said the female Mai had to either accept or deny it.
"You think too loud, Chloe." Jasmine commented and stopped walking, focusing her eyes on the blonde.
"You never really told me how the male Mai finds his 'appealing' female."
"By smell of course. The Mai are part feline so they guide themselves by three important senses: sight, hearing or smell. In interacting with others, the last one is the most important. Those that are important to us have a stronger, more appealing scent than others. For a male Mai that encounters their female, she smells very good to him."
Very good. You smell very good… Oh crap, those had been the words Alek had said to Chloe after he smelled her in the school's hallway after the basketball fiasco.
"I… think the apron is not an option."
Jasmine looked confused for a second but realization hit her eyes fast. She caught the blonde girl by the shoulders.
"Chloe, what did my cousin tell you exactly before he left?"
Shocked by Jasmine's forceful behavior, Chloe's brain had a hard time concentrating on what she was being asked.
"He said… He said that he didn't give up easily… much less on my heart."
Seeing Jasmine enraged was something Chloe hoped she would never see. There was a fire in her eyes, a very dangerous one, and the way she was moving… it looked like a caged lion that was ready to pounce on the person that opened his cage. Chloe just wasn't sure who the person here truly was: herself or Alek.
"But… I thought you said the female had to accept or deny–"
"Alek claimed you before any type of courting! He did it forcefully, without your input on it. That means that he's tied to protect and cherish you but you aren't to him. It means… that his heart was given away and is no longer his own… but yours. If you give your heart to another he will never be able to move forward."
In that moment, the Uniter truly realized what Alek's claim meant.
"Oh my god!"
"Please tell me there's a way to break the claim, Jasmine… Please!" Chloe begged her protector, feeling more scared than she had ever felt before. She didn't want to have Alek's heart thrown into her hands when her heart was in such a turmoil because of another.
Jasmine took deep breathes to calm herself down, her eyes no longer in slits.
"I don't know. This was never mentioned in the books my mother owns on the Mai." She looked ahead, wondering what in the world was her cousin thinking. "Because it was done forcefully and you had no hand on it, it might be possible to break it. The question here is: does Alek want to break it or not."
"He has to!"
"Chloe… he did it for a reason: to be closer to you and to protect you better. And… he seems to genuinely care for you. If he didn't, I doubt he would get himself in such a mess because he knows that you don't care for him in the same way as he does for you."
"I care for Alek, Jasmine." Chloe hissed, outraged for being told otherwise.
"No. You care for him as your friend, as your protector. He doesn't belong in your heart like your human does." Jasmine snapped and Chloe took a step back, surprised at the girl's protective behavior towards Alek. The older girl shook her head and took a deep breath. "Go home Chloe. This is not the time to discuss this and neither am I the one with the answers you need."
Seeing Jasmine giving up so easily, Chloe knew the discussion ended there. Seeing as her house wasn't very far she uttered a goodbye to her protector and continued her path hoping Alek wasn't the one on watch that night. Or she wasn't sure he would be in one piece tomorrow.
Chloe easily climbed up the tree near her window and moved slowly towards it, opening it and entering her room as quietly as possible so she wouldn't wake her mother up. Closing it, she heard a very loud ahem.
Please please tell me it isn't…
"Is there a reason why you are climbing into your bedroom from the window at 1AM, Chloe Anna King?" Meredith questioned in a very low calm voice which Chloe knew as the 'I'm-extremely-mad-at-you-and-you-will-be-grounded-for-the-rest-of-your-life' voice.
"Oh, hi Mom!"
Meredith crossed her arms looking strangely menacing in her silk robe. The way she was sitting in her bed gave off the idea she had been there for quite some time. Chloe gulped, fearing the worse.
"I aah… I went for a walk, you know… I needed to catch some air because everything's so jumbled in my head and I don't know what to do next and–"
"And you decide to do that at this hour?" Her mother got up from her seat, hands going to her hips. "Chloe, do you have any idea how I was when I came to your room and saw it empty? The things going through my mind! You… you… Something could have happened to you and I wouldn't know!"
"I'm so so sorry, Mom." Chloe whispered feeling so terrible at seeing her mother looking so desperately pained.
"I can't… We will talk about this tomorrow. Just… go to bed."
Meredith left the bedroom leaving Chloe standing in her room not knowing what to do with the craziness her life seem to have become.
Sighing, she dropped her sports bag and went for a shower, thinking that maybe the hot water would help her in some way. It didn't but at least helped with the soreness all over her body. Jasmine just didn't know her limits. Unlike Alek.
Right before she went to bed, her eyes fell on her closed laptop for a second. Deciding to obey her sudden feeling, Chloe opened it up and logged in to her e-mail finding a new one from her father. Her heart beating fast, she clicked it open.
From: KING0165 kmbglobal . net
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
"Very helpful, Dad." Chloe muttered with a roll of eyes. For a minute or two she considered if she should reply or not. It was obvious at that point that her father knew exactly what she was.
To: KING0165 kmbglobal . net
WHICH ONES? THINGS ARE TOO CONFUSING RIGHT NOW
Clicking the send button, Chloe hoped her father would be a little more detailed in his next e-mail. And maybe explain how he knew she was Mai. Had he known her biological parents?
Thinking it was waste of time to keep questioning herself about it, the blonde girl closed her laptop and dived under her covers, ready to succumb to the heavy weight in her eyes and body.
The last thing she remembered before falling asleep was trying to find a distinctive heartbeat and only getting silence.
"Bye Mom! See you later." Chloe said while climbing down the stairs to the front door hoping she could escape the conversation of doom.
"Chloe." Meredith drawled eyes fixed it on her daughter's back. Biting her lip at her lack of luck that morning, Chloe turned around and waited. "Don't think you're off the hook, young woman. Sneaking around during the night to 'catch some air' was not how I raised you. God knows what could have happened to you, Chloe."
"Mom, I was fine. I AM fine."
Meredith sighed, closing her eyes for a brief second.
"Will you please tell me what is going on? Is this about Brian?"
Giving up on arriving early to school, Chloe sat on the stool next to her mother. She had known this conversation was coming though she had hoped it would have taken longer.
"Yes and no. Things are too confusing right now." She answered, using the same words she had sent to her father.
"Brian told me he was falling in love with me but I told him I couldn't see him anymore."
"Why did you tell him that? I thought you liked him too!" Meredith gasped, completely shocked at her daughter's decision. Chloe shrugged her shoulders.
"There are… other variables."
It was like a light bulb had suddenly appeared above her mother's head. Oh no.
"Chloe… is this about the Bed Boy?"
"Alek, Mom, Alek. And no, it isn't." Chloe denied, feeling sorry she couldn't explain the real reason to her mother. She wasn't sure how Meredith would react to the whole I-can't-be-intimate-with-Brian-because-he-will-drop-dead.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes Mom." I think. "Is this conversation over? I'm late for school already."
"It is. For now. But you know… if you need to tell me anything, anything you're going through…"
"I know. I promise I will tell you." She lied with the fakest smile on her face. Picking up her bag, she hugged her mother.
"I love you kiddo."
And she left the house, not seeing the painful look her mother gave in her direction.
"So, let me get this straight: Brian appears at the store to talk to you, holds you captive and Alek comes to the rescue like the hot knight in shining armor he is?"
"Brian did not hold me captive, Amy." Chloe rolled her eyes at her best friend, already used to how she exaggerated on everything.
"Doesn't matter! All I know is that His Royal Hotness saved you. That's sooo romantic!" The brunette gushed like the teenager she was, almost hitting one of the school's students in the face with her flying arms.
"Bet she wouldn't be like this if I had done something like that." Paul whispered to Chloe with a frown. She sent him an apologetic smile knowing that, no matter what, Amy would forever keep her crush on Alek. For whatever reason, Chloe felt upset at that and with this strange want to hide Alek in her room, away from other girls' eyes. What. The. Hell?
"He didn't save me; he acted all caveman on me, making a claim and whatnot in front of Brian. That was NOT how I wanted to make Brian quit on me." Chloe said and stopped by her locker, opening it and taking one of the books there.
"Chloe, don't you get it? Alek likes you! As in I-will-protect-my-girl-from-other-guys like you!"
"Amy, he's JUST my protector and Mai teacher, whatever. He doesn't like me. He simply thinks keeping me away from Brian is part of his job."
It was in that moment Chloe realized how much of a liar she had become since her sixteenth birthday. Because Alek wasn't just her protector and Mai teacher.
"God Chloe, denial isn't just a river for you is it?" Amy threw her hands up in the air, finding her best friend absolutely hopeless and most definitely blind. She left for her next class leaving Paul and Chloe looking at her back.
"You know…" Paul started, rocking on the balls of his feet. "Maybe Amy is right. Maybe Alek really likes you, you know? You should think about it since he is, well, Mai and all and Brian isn't."
Chloe looked at her other best friend in complete shock. Did Paul really just give her advice on her romantic life?
"Oh look, speaking of the devil."
Looking to where Paul was pointing, the blonde girl saw Alek himself standing by his locker surrounded by some of their classmates. Sending a smile at Paul and seeing him wink at her she walked in the British boy's direction. As if he had some sort of alarm in his head to her incoming presence, Alek's eyes found her almost immediately. He easily shooed the girls around him and waited for his protégé to reach him.
"Oh, hello there Kitten. I see you came to get some of your daily dose of hotness."
Almost spluttering at Alek's nickname for her, Chloe's eyes narrowed on him.
"You Alek Petrov are in great trouble."
"I swear if your pink bra is missing, it wasn't me."
"I'm pretty sure it's still– wait, what?" Chloe choked on air when she finally caught up with what he meant. Glaring, she crossed her arms under his smirk. "You know exactly what I meant, Petrov."
"Don't know where the black one is either." Alek said in a low voice as if he was telling a secret. Chloe smacked him on the arm, not amused.
"I'm talking about your claim, Alek."
"What about it?" He asked sounding very uninterested on the subject but the girl could see a sudden panic in his eyes.
"I talked with Jasmine about it. You didn't just make any claim; you made a mating claim on me, Alek. Without my opinion on it and without telling me about the consequences!"
Chloe's voice was a few notes high calling the attention of the other students in the hallway. Locking his jaw angrily, Alek took her by the arm outside where their conversation wouldn't be heard.
"Don't flatter yourself, King. I wouldn't be stupid enough to make a mating claim on you when all your brain can think of is that human." The British accented boy growled, eyes flashing with anger. Chloe knew she had touched a nerve. "Unlike you, I prize my life and myheart."
"But you said yesterday–"
"Those were just words, nothing more. I have only claimed you as the one to protect so I would always know how and where you are. At least someone has to be careful with your lives around here."
With watery eyes, Chloe broke off the hold Alek had on her arm and went back inside, feeling like a part of her had just broken. He was only doing his job as her protector. He didn't even like her.
If she had wanted yesterday for Alek to break off his supposed mating claim on her… Why did Chloe feel so disappointed at knowing that he had never claimed her as a potential mate but only as someone to protect?
The blond turned around and saw his cousin with an expression of pity on her face.
"Why did you lie to her?"
He swallowed hard at her words and the mantra of 'It's for the best' kept going round in his mind.
"She still loves that human and I don't want her to be guilted into liking me because of what I did to protect her better."
"Alek… we both know you could have made a protection claim like you told her. But you didn't." The olive skinned girl shook her head and move forward, putting her hand on his shoulder for comfort even though she knew that wouldn't help his wounded heart. "I don't know why you did what you did; why you would sacrifice your heart like this but know that I'll be there if you need me."
"Just like the annoying big sister that you are."
"Exactly." Jasmine half-smiled and pinched Alek's arm, smirking at his wince. "Also… I would advise you to put Chloe's black bra where it belongs. Before she finds out."
Chloe's middle name Anna is the name of her mother in the books. I thought it fit.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
The rest of Chloe's morning at school was rather uneventful. Or at least, that's what it seemed to her. She wasn't really there, if she was being honest with herself. Her conversation with Alek had left her in a strange type of daze.
Even though she didn't understand the whole Mai claims completely – maybe because there was still so much about the Mai she needed to learn – and had felt slightly shocked at the idea of Alek claiming her as a mate, the Uniter now felt deeply disappointed at being told by the boy himself that he had claimed her as someone to protect and not as someone to love and cherish. And it hurt even more knowing that Alek felt almost offended at the idea of putting his heart in her hands.
She knew why he would say such thing. Why claim someone as a mate when that someone had another in their heart? It was an absolute suicide for his romantic life. He would forever pin over her when she would love another. Brian.
And, truth to be told, Alek had no reason to make such a claim. He didn't like her that way. He only saw her as someone to protect, the Uniter of his race. Our race, she corrected herself. I'm no longer human, I am Mai.
Chloe couldn't lie. There was something that pulled her towards Alek… Something deep that she couldn't understand. It was like a magnet. If they were in the same location, her eyes would always stray to glance at him and her mind would formulate a thought or two about him. That shirt he was wearing today looked very good on him… yummy yummy tight, Chloe's mind sidetracked itself for a moment before she grumbled and went back to her current dilemma while folding some clothes at Varese's.
But she really didn't understand what that pull meant, that strange magnetism. It was something that she most definitely didn't feel with Brian. But with the kitty hat boy she always felt a smile forming on her lips every time she thought of him. Like now.
Brian was something else. He was a sweet guy who didn't care if she was some high school girl that rambled on and on and that clearly was hiding something from him. He was also falling in love with her and that made her heart soar so high…
… but I just like him. A lot. I don't feel like I'm falling in love with him. Why can't I feel that way? I want to. So much.
She did. She wanted it very much but there was a bad side to it. If she did fall in love with Brian for whatever reason, she was the one condemned to romantic life suicide. She was Mai, he was human and they would never be able to be intimate with each other because of the stupid Mai curse. That had been why she told him she couldn't see him again.
"Curse the idiots who cursed us." Chloe muttered, folding the last piece of clothing and putting it on its designated shelf. "I really hope they are tossing and turning in their graves."
"Speaking to yourself?"
Chloe jumped in place at the sound of someone speaking to her very closely. She turned around already with a narrow of eyes to direct at the cocky idiot who tended to scare her like that when she realized it wasn't Alek.
It was Brian.
Feeling quite glued to the spot at the sudden appearance of the older boy, the blonde girl blinked a few times before answering back.
"Hey back." Biting her lip and discreetly looking around – just in case – for a tall, blond and handsome boy who clearly had too much unhealthy love for tight shirts. Not finding him, Chloe moved towards the counter, hoping to get some distance from Brian. "Did you come to buy something? Maybe another kitty hat?"
"Chloe… I'm not here to buy anything. I'm here to… apologize."
At those words, Chloe's eyes flew rapidly to Brian's face. For someone who came to apologize he looked very against doing it. She focused on her empathy for a second and she could clearly feel his reluctance coming off in waves.
"Apologize? For what?"
"For what happened the other day. I shouldn't have been so forceful. I just wanted to talk to you."
"You could have talked to me if you wanted." The blond girl crossed her arms with a frown on her face.
"I wanted to talk to you in private."
Last time he had resorted to being forceful in a physical way; this time he was doing it not only with his tone of voice but in the way he looked at Chloe. She had a strange tingle in the back of her head that told her that talking in private was the last thing she should do with Brian.
She took a deep breath and told herself that Brian wouldn't hurt her. He wouldn't. He had said he was falling in love with her, didn't he? When you love someone you don't hurt them.
"Brian, you have to understand… I made my decision. Period." Chloe said, almost as if she was begging. It hurt to have to do this, to have to put a stop to their friendship, to their almost something.
Brian was breathing very fast through his nose; in and out, in and out… He couldn't understand why she didn't want them to see each other if he was in love with her and she had admitted the same.
"Is it because of that blond guy?"
"No no." He shook his head, cutting her off. "You're with him, I saw that and he confirmed it. But you don't like him; you like me. Is he forcing you to be with him? Blackmailing you?"
Chloe, who had picked up some new pieces off the counter and had moved to put them in their places, almost tripped on her own feet at Brian's accusation.
"That's the only reason I can see why you would be with him. He does seem to be the forceful type. And the cheating type too."
The blonde girl didn't remember being so shocked in her life before. Forget finding out about her abilities, knowing that she was not only part of an ancient race but the Uniter of it. Hearing Brian, the guy she liked, make such horrible accusations on someone dear to her and who he didn't even know was too much for Chloe to hear. What had happened for her sweet kitty hat boy turn out to be so bitter?
She fully turned around to face Brian, trying to control her anger so her eyes wouldn't shift or her claws come out. Her senses were at their maximum though; she could pick up the older boy's heartbeat getting faster by the second and his sudden fear and regret. She felt strangely satisfied at those.
"Listen to me and listen very carefully, Brian Rezza: I like you, I really do, but I made a decision and told you we couldn't see each other anymore and you made a very big mistake by ignoring it and try to talk me out of it. I don't want to have someone by my side that will ignore my wishes and decisions and do things his way. Neither do I want a guy who badmouths my own friends. Because that's what Alek is, a friend. A very dear friend to me who I owe my life to. You don't know him and, apparently, you don't know me either so if I were you I would back off before I do something I'll regret."
There was no better way to describe Chloe in that moment than saying that she looked like a lioness whose cubs had just been threatened; Alek being the cub in question. And she felt powerful. No wonder the British boy looked so satisfied when he protected her. And speaking of him… although she loved having him around to protect her, she had realized in that moment that she could stand on her own and do a great job at it. She was all about the girl power now.
Focusing back on Brian, Chloe could only say he looked like a fish, mouth open and absolutely stunned at the backlash he had just received. She wished she could take a picture. Or have Alek around to take it for her. He sure would like that.
"Chloe, I… That's not what I meant with–" Brian was cut off by his own phone ringing. Taking it out, he looked at whoever was calling and frowned. He looked up to Chloe, that fiery look on her eyes still giving him the chills. "I have to go. I'm sorry, I am. I hope when you are calmer we can talk about this. I'm not giving up on you."
"Didn't you listen to–"
"Brian, what is taking you so long?" A tall redheaded woman called from the door of the shop. Looking at her, Chloe could only describe her as the cold business woman type: dressed in fine looking white clothes, all elegance but with a very arrogant expression on her face.
Her eyes met the woman's for a brief second and Chloe was hit with a deep feeling of curiosity and realization. Did she know her?
"I was just coming, Simone. I've said all I had to say." Brian answered back, glancing one last time to Chloe. He left the shop after the Simone woman, leaving the blonde girl wondering why she suddenly felt trapped.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Lana had been a blessing from the heavens when she appeared after Brian left, telling Chloe she would close down the shop and that the girl could leave.
All that Chloe wanted was to get home so she could get away from all the mess her life was. Being alone at home wouldn't exactly make it disappear but at least it might help with the sensation of being trapped that she was feeling.
After arriving and checking that her mother wasn't around, Chloe took a long nice bubbly bath to help her calm down. Her blood was still boiling from her encounter with Brian.
She was incredibly disappointed with him. But it wasn't that would stop her from liking him. Because the feelings where still there. She just felt very let down and hurt by him. And maybe she had overreacted a bit. She really had no idea why she suddenly became so overprotective of Alek. It wasn't because he was just a friend, she was sure.
Drying herself off and dressing some comfy clothes, the blonde girl entered her room being surprised by a tall figure currently raiding her dresser. More specifically, her underwear drawer.
Jumping three feet in the air and landing in all fours like just like a cat, the boy was the picture of a child who had been caught with his hand inside the cookie jar. The red that slowly seemed to color his cheeks only helped the image.
"Oh. Hey Chloe." Alek said, trying his best to sound and look nonchalant.
"'Oh, hey Chloe'?" The girl narrowed her eyes, looking all kinds of mad. "What are you doing touching my underwear drawer?"
Getting up to a standing position, Alek raised an eyebrow and smirked.
"Looking for your diary, of course. I need to know what type of dreams you have with me."
"I don't have–" She was going to deny his affirmation… until she saw what Alek held in one of his hands. Her black bra. "ALEK!"
He didn't know why she had screamed his name but he had run off her room anyway. Quite the cowardly act yes but he just knew that if she caught him, she would claw out his face and then how would he be able to woo his English teacher into forgive him for not doing his homework? Which was Chloe's fault really because he spent most of his free time protecting her. Not that he would admit it.
Running after her protector, she caught him right on the last step of her stairs, jumping him and making them both hit the floor with a loud thud and a strangled yelp from Alek.
Straighten up and sitting on his back, Chloe took her bra from his right hand and smacked him on the head.
"You're a freaking jerk!"
"What? Just because I took your bra?"
Chloe hit him again, loving how pained his yelps sounded.
"Just because?" She hissed close to his head and she could swear Alek had shivered at that sound. "Why did you even take it in the first place?"
Alek, with the graceful agility of a true feline, turned them around and pinned Chloe to the floor. Smirking, he closed down the proximity between their faces to mere inches, looking deeply into her eyes. Seeing the sudden blood rush on her face, he leaned his face towards her neck and breathed deeply, a strange rumbling sound coming from his chest.
"Um… Alek?" Chloe whispered, surprised at his behavior. Then she realized what he was doing: he was taking in her scent, just like on her birthday. Was it possible that she really smelled that appealing to him? Mate type of appealing?
"You still smell very good. It… distracts me." The British Mai confessed in a low but warm tone of voice, almost as if he didn't want her to hear.
"Mai very good or mate very good?"
It was as if her question had broken the dazed spell Alek was under. He rapidly moved away from Chloe as if she had some sort of infectious disease, letting her free. He stood up and, even though he had this impenetrable expression on his face clearly to mask his irritation at her, he still offered his hand to help her up.
"The bra was only a joke, Kitten. No need to get so flustered about it." Alek's cocky nature was back, like if the last few minutes hadn't happened.
"Yeah, of course." Chloe said, disappointment filling her once again. It seemed to be the only constant emotion she felt lately.
"Well… I came here to take you to Valentina. She wants to speak to you about something important."
Surprised at being summoned by the San Francisco Mai leader, Chloe walked towards the stairs knowing Alek would follow her.
"Do you know why she wants to speak to me?"
"God knows." Alek huffed, following his protégé to her room and watch her put the black bra in the laundry basket in the bathroom. He felt slightly insulted at that. "Valentina is quite the secretive person. You only know things when she decides to tell you about it. Very frustrating if you ask me."
"Yeah, I have noticed." Chloe said and went to her closet to pick some clothes to wear to Valentina's summoning. Turning around to tell Alek to leave the room so she could get dressed, she found him already at the door, hand on the knob.
"I'll be downstairs waiting for you."
And he left, closing the door behind him, a surprised Chloe looking at it.
Generally, Alek would have made some sort of smartass comment at the possibility of seeing Chloe changing clothes, just like he had when he had caught her in a towel. That was Alek for you: a cocky, smartass bastard that just loved to pick on her whenever he got the chance. But lately… there had been a change in his behavior. Not obvious, of course, but Chloe could see it, strangely enough. The most prominent example of this was of him spending a whole day with her at home watching terrible chick flicks and even cooking for her. He was showing her that, underneath all that C.B. act of his, he could still be somewhat sweet and caring towards her. Chloe just didn't know if this was by his own choice or by the claim he had made on her. Just what exactly did it entail?
"Chloe! I know I'm drool-worthy but stop daydreaming about me and move faster. Valentina is not one to keep waiting on."
Ah, there was the Alek she knew.
"You two took your time." Valentina pointed out from her seat at the couch, a glass of wine in her hand, half full. Jasmine sat on one of the armchairs, eyebrow raised at the pair.
"Unfortunately, dressing quickly isn't an ability given by Bastet to the Uniter." Alek replied, receiving glares from the three women in the room.
Elbowing Alek on the ribs and relishing in the oof sound he let out, Chloe walked over to Valentina, an apologetic expression on her face.
"I'm sorry you had to wait for long; I have too much on my mind lately. And today just… wasn't one of those days."
Valentina smiled and put the glass down on the table, patting the seat next to her so Chloe would sit. The girl did so and saw the San Francisco leader turn her attention completely to her. From the corner of her eye she saw Alek sit on the arm of Jasmine's armchair, both of their gazes on her and the older Mai.
"I have summoned you here to discuss something I have thought for quite some time now." At Chloe's surprised look, Valentina continued. "I believe it is time for us to put your skills to the test."
"My skills to the test? What do you mean?"
"I would like for you to test what you've learnt in your training against some of the other Mai of this Pride."
Chloe, not even able to clearly discern what Valentina meant, was startled to hear Alek's exclamation. Looking at him, she saw her blond protector standing up, his eyes narrowed on Valentina. Jasmine, though she remained on her seat, had an expression of displeasure on her face.
Valentina, calm as she ever was even in a dire situation, looked up at her adopted nephew with a raised eyebrow.
"Though I value your opinion Alek, this is a matter where what you think isn't taken in account. Chloe has, of course, the last word."
Feeling three pairs of eyes on her, Chloe felt her hands getting sweaty and her heartbeat go faster. She had to make a decision and she had to make it now, if Valentina's look meant anything.
"I… I've been training a lot and Alek and Jasmine are great teachers–"
"Chloe, don't even think about!" The growl that left Alek's mouth seemed to vibrate all over Chloe's body. It frightened her but at the same time made her feel protected and safe. She wasn't sure why his actions and words affect her so bad but she wanted to know. She wondered if the same thing happened to him.
"Chloe? I need an answer."
"Chloe, please think this through." Jasmine said in a pleading voice, already regretting talking when her mother's gaze was set on her. "You're still in the early stages of training, there's a lot of work to be done before you can think about fighting other Mai."
Jasmine was right, she was, but Chloe felt like she could do this. She was Mai and she was the Uniter and she had to show that she wasn't just a sixteen year old with cool superpowers. She had two races to unite while keeping her loved ones safe and maintaining her job and her good grades at school.
"I… I will do it." She finally answered, making Valentina grin widely. It really rubbed off in a wrong way to Chloe in that moment. Had she made the right decision?
"Are you out of your mind?" Alek hissed furiously, eyes smoldering Chloe. She cowered on the couch, feeling suddenly ashamed and like she had dishonored something between them. She had no idea where these feelings where coming from and it was confusing her.
Valentina stood up quickly, an angry expression on her face. It seemed Alek had never been on the receiving end of that since he had taken a step back almost immediately.
"The Uniter has made her choice, Alek. You will respect it."
"I'm her protector and I will NOT allow this!"
"I can easily take you out off that duty, if needed be."
Chloe gasped at the same time Alek narrowed his eyes which had changed into cat-slits pupils. The Uniter was hit with such a strong wave of anger and defiance that she had to grip the couch's armrest for support. Jasmine got up and put her hand on Alek's arm to stop the worse.
Suddenly, Alek laughed making Valentina look at him puzzled.
"You can do that if you want." Chloe looked at him in shock and the blond protector smirked. "I am still Chloe's protector anyway. I'veclaimed her as my guard."
Chloe would say, later on in life, that Valentina's shocked face had been one of the most hilarious things she had ever witnessed in her life. Aside from Alek slipping off her roof due to his half-asleep state but that is a story for another time.
The San Francisco's Pride leader turned right away to Chloe and she knew what Medusa's victims had felt right before she petrified them with her gaze.
"What is the meaning of this?"
"I-I… didn't know about any claim or anything! I'm the Mai idiot here."
"You're not an idiot." Alek refuted her, briefly moving his cold stare from Valentina to the blonde girl, warming her up with his intense look for a second. Chloe rolled her eyes, though she was grateful for him telling her otherwise.
"You claimed her without telling her? Without telling me?"
"Hey, I think I'm the one here who should be more offended, not you!" The Uniter got up from the couch and put herself between Alek and Valentina, surprising both. "I'm the one who has to deal with all this Mai craziness and still be expected to unite two stupid races that keep killing each other off. I have to worry everyday if I'm coming home to see my Mom alive or on the floor bleeding to death. I'm the one who dreams at night with different variants of my deaths. And let's not even talk about the crazy moment where I thought Alek made a mating claim on me! Because that was wonderful!"
For a few seconds there was only silence, the other three occupants of the room too stunned by Chloe's outburst. Then Valentina cleared her throat and looked between Alek and Chloe.
"Obviously Alek did not claim you as his mate. He would not be stupid enough to give himself to you when your heart belongs to ahuman." Valentina commented amused, quirking an eyebrow at Chloe like she had said the most idiotic thing ever thought possible. She did not seem to notice the painful grimace that crossed Alek's face for a second. "And neither would I allow that. You two belong to myPride and you follow my rules; no mating claims are to be done without my consent especially on the Uniter."
Chloe huffed. Who was Valentina to tell her what to do? She was just a Pride leader while Chloe was the Uniter; the whole Mai race was her Pride.
"Now this… protection claim… I'm severely disappointed in you, Alek. Though I understand your desire to protect Chloe from harm, this is not the way to do it. Much less without my opinion on it."
"You mean your big fat no on it?" The British Mai laughed, no amusement whatsoever in that action. Jasmine hissed his name to make him stop taunting her mother.
Penetrating her adopted nephew with her gaze, Valentina took Chloe by the arm, surprising them.
"I am, for this once, forgetting the fact that you are clearly out of the line Alek, since someone needs to explain to Chloe the mess you created."
Taking Chloe with her, Valentina walked to her office not seeing the frightened look both Chloe and Alek gave each other.
Closing the door of her office behind her, Valentina sat at her desk and motioned to Chloe to take a seat on one of the chairs in front of her. Chloe sat down, taking every single detail in.
The whole office was what she would expect out of Valentina: something in between classy and Mai. The more prominent features were this gigantic shelf with wide number of old, worn-out looking books that she knew where related to their race and, on one of the walls, a glass display with Egyptian looking weapons. Chloe wondered how many of the Order had been killed with those.
"I believe your decision about my test hasn't changed." Valentina interrupted Chloe from her thoughts. The blonde girl seemed to hesitate so the Mai leader smiled kindly. "Don't worry, Chloe. I would not put you through it if I didn't believe you couldn't do it."
Still, deep down, Chloe felt unsure. Unsure on her skills, on the outcome of this, of her trust in Valentina. And there was this residual anger in her chest… Clearly Alek was still coming to terms with her decision.
"Well, now that we are clear on that… I'm sure you have many questions on the Mai claims."
"Um… yeah. I only know the basics, really. Jasmine was the one to explain them to me."
"Ah. For once, my daughter doesn't let me down." Chloe felt rather insulted for Jasmine in that moment. "This was a subject I expected not to explain to you in a long time. Maybe when you reached your twenties and you started to feel that pull that all of us Mai feel to find a mate. And maybe, after you had completed your Uniter duties. Those are more important right now than a boyfriend or a mate."
Valentina looked pointedly at Chloe and the girl held her gaze as if she was telling the older Mai that those decisions were her own to make. Quirking an eyebrow, the San Francisco Mai leader half-smiled.
"I'm curious to know what my daughter has told you about the Mai claims."
Taking a deep breath, Chloe told Valentina all the information Jasmine had given her. If anything, re-telling it only made the blonde girl feel more confused about it and the older Mai seemed to pick on that.
"What Jasmine has told you is correct. The Mai have this inner instinct of finding someone appealing to settle down and reproduce, yes. It's not exactly something like a soul mate but certainly something closer to a life mate. You don't necessarily claim your mate, much less nowadays with our numbers declining as fast as they are. Mating claims if taken and consummated create an unbreakable bond between a couple; their lives become entwined. It's like the air that they breathe is the same."
"Consummated? You mean, for the bond to be forged the couple has to… um…"
"Have sex with each other?" Valentina was amused at the slight blush in Chloe's cheeks. "Yes, they do. The claim in itself creates a connection between the pair where they can easily reach other even when they aren't within distance, feel the other's feelings as if they are an echo of their own and feel this instinctual need to protect each other though it is more prominent on the male. These characteristics become deeper and more complex when the bond is forged which doesn't take long to happen, really. The Mai are very… sexually active."
Chloe looked around the room trying to hide her obvious embarrassment. That and the fact that the only thing she could think at the moment was Alek and herself bonding. So not what I should be thinking about right now, she mentally reprimanded herself and focused on Valentina once more.
"The mother-child claim is something quite simple and instinctual so it does not need further explanation. Now the protection claims… Those can be even trickier than the mating claims." The older Mai got up from her seat and walked slowly to her bookshelf, her fingertips gliding lightly on the books' spines until they stopped on one book. She picked it out and placed it on the desk, in front of Chloe. She opened it to a page with an image of an Egyptian sarcophagus and two paragraphs of text in English. "All three types of claims were already part of us when Bastet herself created the Mai to be the guardians of the Egyptian pharaohs. Though the two first were solely Mai-related, the protection claim was not. Its purpose was to create a connection between a Mai and their human charge that, of course, belonged to the family of the Pharaoh. That's how the whole divide between the Mai and humans came up to be; the daughter of Ramesses III fell in love with the Mai who claimed her as his to guard and, against her father's wishes and the Mai's, they eloped. The Egyptians then killed the Mai boy for violating the protection claim rules and the war from Mai and human began."
"So… the protection claim can only be done on humans? Then how come Alek did one on me?" Chloe asked, satisfied that she got to know more about the story of the Mai but still somewhat puzzled.
"It has been heard that it is possible for a Mai to claim another as his to guard though there aren't records of such unlike the mating claims. Which is why I was quite surprised to hear that Alek had claimed you as his to protect. Have you considered the possibility that he did in fact claim you as his mate?"
"You said it yourself that he would have to be stupid to do such thing!" Chloe remembered the older woman who still looked quite unsure. "He told me himself he had claimed me in a protector manner not a mate one. He actually sounded offended by the suggestion."
"Alek does not like to put his feelings and emotions out in the open. Most especially if the possibility of getting hurt is grand which, in this case, is very high considering how confused your heart is. Or your head, for that matter."
Chloe didn't exactly understand with Valentina meant with that last sentence but she was sure she was being laughed at in the woman's mind.
"I'm curious… how do you exactly claim someone either way?"
"According to the old records, the Mai had to save the human's life to be able to claim them as theirs to protect. That plus the simple thought of wanting to do it was enough."
"Which has happened between Alek and I. Twice, as he likes to remind me."
Valentina seemed to ponder on that bit of information for a minute or two, oblivious to Chloe's impatience.
"And the mating claim…?"
"That one… I can't exactly tell you how it happens. It's unique to each couple."
"Jasmine said that the female had to accept the claim. If you tell me to consider the possibility that Alek did in fact claim me as his mate… how did that happened without my consent? Could have he forced the claim?"
"No mating claim can be forced. If it did happen between Alek and yourself... it means you did consent to it." The San Francisco Pride leader explained looking terribly amused at the idea.
Shocked beyond belief at Valentina's words, the Uniter shot up from her seat, moving away from the older woman, pacing the room.
"That's impossible! I-I didn't consent to anything! I didn't even know about it!"
"Not consciously no… but the Mai side of you might have done it. It might have felt the pull from Alek's Mai side and consent to it."
"So… what does that mean exactly?"
"That your head has been shadowing your heart, Chloe King."
Fifteen minutes later, Chloe still wasn't very sure about what exactly had Valentina meant. And neither was she sure if Alek had claimed her as someone to protect or someone to love. The possibilities were high to both sides. But Alek would not lie to her about something so serious so he had to have claimed her in a protective manner then.
"I can hear you thinking, Chloe."
Being pulled away from her thoughts by the boy himself, the blonde girl looked up to him and half-smiled. They had decided to take the normal (aka walking) way to her house, for what reason she wasn't sure.
"I'm just trying to understand everything Valentina has told me."
"Some things weren't made to be understood, Chloe, but to be felt."
Raising an eyebrow at the British Mai, the girl wondered if he knew what had been discussed in Valentina's office. Even though she had been assured by the older women that the room was soundproof.
"I believe I have to thank you." Alek said in his low but warm tone. Looking puzzled, Chloe stopped walking and cocked her head to the side. He stopped walking too and stood right in front of her. "For defending me on your showdown with Brian."
"You were there?"
"Of course. I'm your protector, Chloe; I would not leave you alone."
"But… I couldn't find you!"
"A wonderful thing about this protection claim thing is to be able to mask my presence from you. It was quite amusing though to feel you searching for me." Chloe slapped his arm and he smirked at the fact that there was no real force on her action. "You were quite the lioness, I have to admit. Wasn't expecting you to go at him that way. You do like him."
Chloe sighed and looked everywhere but Alek.
"I didn't like what he said about you. You're my friend and I don't allow anyone to badmouth my friends, no matter who he is."
"Just a friend, uh? I feel hurt." Alek said in a nonchalant manner but the intense gaze he had on Chloe told a different story.
"A very dear friend. To whom I owe my life to. That's what you are."
"You don't owe me anything, Chloe. I saved you because I wanted, not because it was my duty… although it very well was but that's a different matter."
"You can be killed, Alek. Your only life is more precious than one of my eight." The blonde girl whispered, feeling her eyes sting from a possible oncoming of tears. She could not imagine not having Alek in her life.
To her surprise, the blond boy wrapped his arms around her loosely – in case she would want to break their embrace – and softly kissed her on the forehead. Feeling a sudden warm feeling completely fill her, Chloe wondered if it belonged to her or Alek. Or both.
"No matter how many you have, your lives will always feel more precious to me than anyone else's."
Chloe smiled against his chest, taking in his scent and feeling the safest she had since her sixteenth birthday.