He had always had a talent of remaining unnoticed just to make a sudden entrance at the most unexpected of times. Birth was no exception to this. Kai would later hear from his brother that his mother had almost forgotten she was lugging him around, used to the weight of stones in her basket. Would hear from her how her water broke in the middle of a meeting much earlier than things had been planned. Because naturally, the Kims thought these things could be planned. Nevermind that no one planned for Kai to be born in the first place - not they hadn't wanted the child but they had tried after Innes for so long, until they let the past take hold of what it must and they moved onwards. A miracle, Kai would think to himself many years later, privately.
Washington remains a blur of family recordings and scarce pictures. The house he spent his first few years in always something the family came back to but it never felt like home. Nothing ever did. What Kai rememers is Seattle. He remembers it well enough that if he closes his eyes he can summon the wet fuzz of humidity and the pinprick of mountain seabreeze air. They moved there when he was two - by they it's understood that it was his mother, brother and himself that moved. Kai's father always had pressing things to do in a country he couldn't fathom just yet. His image remained phone calls and sihlouttes of his mother at a door frame late at night when he was meant to be asleep. The man that had set up all the rules they were meant to follow, discipline no matter the distance.
It's no surprise that Kai grew up to love stories. Seattle still seems storybook start to him, the sleepy sound of raindrops, quiet and unsuspected. Like it happens in the tales, it was his caretaker that introduced him to what great passion could be. Not his parents and their bigger than life careers, not the intense passion for justice Innes carried. It had been Anne. She came to look after him in the hours between school and his mother's late returns from the office. It was him she'd spend time with, because Innes had a book to read, friends to see, some elusive hobby he had picked up for the time being. He would only bother with them if there was some reason to show off, some good graces he felt he ought to be getting.
Those days became treasure chest precious to him, things he collected in his mind and stayed tucked within, to thumb through even now.
It all started with seeing her pointe shoes in her bag. They were strange things, too stiff and worn for walking. She tried them on for him, blossomed with elegance and moved with words Kai knew could never be spoken but only ever seen, only ever felt. Anne would go on to show him movies, then to taking out library books for him, teaching him what she could and marvelling at his quick progress. There were many 'then's after that - visits to dance studios, field trips to ballets, coming with him to enroll him in his first set of classes.
Ballet, jazz, tap, - anything he could spend time lost in movement with, he'd do. For the first time in the young boy's life, he felt like he was there, fully present. Seen. Not just a lousy cat, not the secret reset, not the thing no one had time for. Such a simple thing would become his everything. It's easy to understand how it became the only thing he'd talk about - which lead his brother to try to bite any glimmering star of possibility from Kai's sky with each passing comment. His parents had passing praise, more proud of quick progress than the progress itself. The questions would come later, when the obsession remained and never lead anywhere more logical the way age should push dreams.
Kai was used to being dismissed, his temper tantrums ignored, feelings written off as improper and ideas too far fetched to belong in a world as real as theirs. But dance had given him a full view through doors that had been slivers to peer through. A full view of possibility. Of a way to excell and be embraced for it. Everyone else had daily warm memories of mothers and embraces, had traditions like nightly dinners and talks of father's works and fun between siblings who wanted to play. Everyone but him. Kai had dance and a quiet home with corners made for him to be tucked away in.
How outside he felt then, how purposeful it all felt.
Running away was the logical choice each time the outsideness threatened to blot out any chance of within. It was his brother would smile at and mother would deal with as placidly as she did anything with him. Even towering tall at seven years old, no one ever expected him to get far because he never did. Something would frighten him, regret and the desire for things to be pleasant without having to be alone would grip him stronger than the hurt. But that day, Kai was braver than any other - and the tears and hiccups shouldn't have fooled anybody. Innes had pushed him too far and his mother, who was home for the whole Saturday for once, did nothing but told him no gently. Kai made a plan as he stood firm on the porch: he would follow the road down the forest, like they did to get to the academy, and there he'd find the city and someone nicer within it, someone like Anne.
Instead what Kai found was the forest - a shortcut turned into lost and scared and alone as the sun was starting to set overhead. It was a cat that found him. Black, with eyes so green and kind they glowed through the dark thickness like a flashlight, a guidance. He followed it, not needing to talk to trust it, careful feet stepping quickly behind the animal that'd pause every so often to allow him to catch up. Neither of them were prepared for how badly the river had run over after the recent rains. Kai's yellow rainboots were no match for the wide breadth of water that seemed to hiss curses at them both as it ran past. The feline would try to guide him over branches of trees and across, but all the jumping he had practiced in the studio couldn't prepare him for a leap like this.
There was water, so much water, and it was cold and final. The water had hands that crumpled him up small and warm and it made him feel tired, all that gravity and movement. But Kai didn't want to go under, refused to, even at such a young age, he fought, screamed through the water trying to snuff him out. He was fighting but not winning until he felt something else tugging at him. Teeth sinking into skin but it didn't hurt the way fighting did. Instead it felt safe, it felt strong and in turn made him strong enough to move through liquid thickness and grip at slippery mud and pull himself outwards. The outside was dark now, quiet and loud all at once, like he had stepped through a door and everything on the other side was the same but different. The darkness wasn't scary anymore, even without the kind green to follow - all because Kai could see, he could see with the whole of himself. Every single part of him awake and telling him to go, go home, and he didn't need to be told twice to follow instructions.
No one was waiting for him when he got back. The journey seemed twice as long as it had been initially, and through each hurried step he had grown colder and more tired and more hungry, more of those things than ever before. The house looked bigger than ever, more intimidating and closed off even as the windows glowed golden and inviting. It made him stop at the porch and start crying before he could do much else. Human nature had finally caught up to him. Kai felt more Alice than boy - that he had enough water within him to make a drowning ocean himself. But also that he was so small that someone might need a magnifying glass just to find him.
It wasn't until his mother came out angry at the sound of him that he realized something was different. Indifference had never felt like disdain until that moment. "Momma!" He cried through the yowls. "Momma!!" He reached out with all of himself for her, and he got to see the way paws shifted into familiar hands, felt then how his tail shot up scared at himself and ears perked overhead and caught the gasp of her lungs and the race of her heart aching. His hands were never taken. His mother angry he had shown himself so publically, dared to worry her for far so long, made such a big thing of something so silly. Stupid, silly boy.
Momma, he wanted Momma, Innes, Daddy, anyone - he insisted, he was sorry, so sorry, he'd be better now.
Change happened quickly the way change always seemed to. Confusion came first though - and that was at least shared even if everyone pretended he was the only one that felt it, and that he shouldn't even be it in the first place. Suddenly his father was there and Innes was nice but awkward and everyone was buying him icecream and games and driving him places. It wasn't exactly normal but it was almost nice, as nice as it was scary, as it was confusing. Especially the visits to a place that wasn't a supermarket, wasn't a school or an academy, wasn't even a stage, but it all felt regulated, final and to be tested on.
The special treatment would fade. Treats and kisses to the forehead traded in for stricter concern. It wasn't the strictness that bothered him as much as the denial they were peddling. Normal, they said, despite all you're learning about yourself, try to be normal. One day a week he wouldn't be allowed to go to the dance studio anymore and instead have to go somewhere that taught him how to hide instead of how to be. It confused Kai, because once again, they never tried to understand. They knew what they knew, thought what they thought, read what they had read, and that had been enough. What he was, what it was like, that was secondary. They knew he was some complicated kind of homostia, knew of the curse and not of the gift, knew children were cruel but that you had to be tough, that his life was difficult but he was young enough to learn to survive it.
Normal, but his mother was working too much too soon and nothing made sense and their whole life was being stored away in boxes that screamed too loud with screeching tape that set them all on edge daily. Normal was a promise his parents had teased him with and never made true on. Instead of normal he got California. A change done in his name without anyone ever asking him if he wanted it done in the first place. He would sit beneath the heavy gaze of Innes as they both heard their parents talk through walls about how there was a feline expert, that they'd help, he'd be in control, he'd pass, as though otherwise his life would be over.
Being new was difficult, having his parents around was difficult, having Innes angry at him for the move, for making his own be under sudden scruteny, for anything he could be angry at him for, it was all difficult. But dancing wasn't - people could be cruel, but that would be fine because he could dance, and keep dancing, and it was the one thing he could stubbornly keep doing and see himself improve, see it get closer to what he wanted. It was a place people heard him because they had to, because they couldn't turn their eyes away from him, he demanded their attention and all would give it. And he didn't have to talk, didn't have to struggle through words clumsily that always failed him with everyone he wanted to listen and just get it. Just try to understand. With dancing he spoke and they all heard him.
He would have to learn how to listen too - about the cycle his life was caught in, about how surviving the unsurvivable had given him gifts and curses and there was a balance to be earned and how he was branded with this for life. How maybe one day he'd be worthy enough to be above it, if he worked hard enough. No one let him slam doors about that, or let his claws sink through mattress and wall and curtains. Crying only felt okay in the shower with music on in the background. He didn't hate his powers, didn't hate the magic in his bones or the power in his body. Kai didn't even hate the feline image in the mirror he had fallen through and the Cheshire world he lived in now. What he hated was that no one aknowledged his life was a riddle no one was helping him solve. That everything but dance was difficult and dancing was what everyone found difficult in him.
Few friends were made in California, nearly no happy memories outside of dancing his way to twelve years old. When they moved away it was for everyone's sake but it own. Balance, he remembered thinking, angry in a room too small to exorcise it. Innes was signing up to be a cazern and was off to New York, the only way to be what they were and be proud about it, his mother had some new contract and father a new study underway. No one stopped to think what Dallas would do to a boy like Kai. The next two years felt all curse and no gift. His brother moved out and home became a name with no meaning. Passion kept him company, kept him sane and helped him grow at a time when everything else was set to stunt.
By thirteen Kai had gotten a trial class at the School of Ballet in New York. All his luck had gone into convincing his mother to plan her meetings in the city when he needed to go. The true miracle was that the class became an audition that became an invitation to enroll. The riddle continued with a new refrain. How would his parents ever agree to this? It was Innes who helped him solve it. Kai can picture the Texan sunset, the distraction of bug song in the air and the heat that came from the pavement and sky alike. His brother out of his costume for once, but still looking so much like the man he had seen on TV more than once now, fresh ink still glossy on skin and sweat on his brow, telling him to go pack for the start of the semester.
Kai learnt many things in New York. He thought that finally the only thing that would be was dancing. Normal was no longer what he wanted, knew it to be impossible, but forgot that normal was still what everyone knew best. His peers liked him less now, if possible. Competition the nature of the game and everyone had some nasty rumor about him to whisper after weeks of distrust and that made their dislike for him final. Everyone but one. Everyone but Hugo. A boy who seemed too kind and too bright to have been doing this for years, too good to be overlooked but there they were, the outsiders. Friendship came naturally, for the first time in a very long time.
It was Hugo who taught him his fairytale idea of family did exist, just not in the words he had written in his mind as a child. Hugo included him in the pages of his life, shifted his view to include that family could be much broader than blood. He gave Kai a home to run away to, when the dorms got more nightmare than living and the world got too loud and it all got too heavy. In return, Kai gave Hugo every scrap of goodness he had managed to hold on to through the years. Together, they grew, two stars parallel in the sky, altogether different but burning on wishes just the same.
They were in the academy when the attacks happened. Kai had felt it in the air before the stench of the creatures and the horror even hit the building. He pulled all the magic he could harness just to fight them off, bones turning brittle from the strain and it destroyed him in full view. Many unexpected things happened afterwards. Waking up when many thought he wouldn't. Waking up with a hunger for something he had only ever wanted in the privacy of a bathroom or hinted at in the smirk of a dance. It burnt him, his flesh aching for touch and all of him hot and on but with no one worthy to cling to. The frenzy that followed was awful. He was kept at the Haven until someone with more control over pheremones than him could switch him all the way off. No one needed to tell him what had happened this time around, mortifying that they did anyways.
Training was awful and necessary but dance taught him more than any training room did. Kai started trying different styles during down time he didn't need and didn't want. Shame was something he felt like most people wanted him to wear but it only made him angrier. Things were hard enough already, why not make them better? He had spent his whole life trying to be a force that bent his life into the shape he wanted it to be. Better, forever the goal for him. So he started to own it - his sex, his magic, the language only he could speak - how his body could turn from grace to power to desire and everyone understood, everyone felt it as sure as he did the energy in the world. Better himself, better his skills, better than those who saw him as less.
It was good enough to get him far. Get him dream after dream in his life that still felt riddle but no longer impossible to solve. It just took too long too often, and tangled itself up again and again, endlessly. But endless trials could always mean he was the wayward hero of the story, and not the one who was defeated at the end of it all. Luck was on his side as much as it wasn't, and that was always something he could cling to.