Becca discovers she's not quite
herself anymore (but doesn't seem to mind). She also gains another mentor and
friend, takes a "paws" in the action to go fishing, and discovers
that you really CAN go home again ... especially when nobody knows you left.
literally means going beyond your form." - Wayne Dyer
I was a kitsune, just as I
had been in the Cat's lair, only my fur was reddish-orange with a white muzzle,
neck, chest, and paws. I had only a single tail, reddish-orange tipped with
white. The world spun slightly, and I reached up to touch one soft velvet ear
with my fingertips.
'Huh,' I thought, half in
wonder, half in shock.
'I wonder what Mom's policy
is concerning pets?'
reaction to my newfound foxiness was confusion. I suddenly felt ... more. Of
everything. Colors were brighter, smells were overwhelming. Soft breeze
ruffling my fur, slipping across parts of me that were never bare in the outside
air. There was a soft ringing in my ears, and I was vaguely aware of the tip of
my nose at the end of a long muzzle hovering there between my eyes. Everything
around me started to fade as I drifted towards unconsciousness ...
then an impossible, almost alien calm rose up from deep inside and pulled me
back down into the world that was. I felt strangely at peace, and my senses
dropped back from overwhelmingly sharp to pleasantly enhanced. I was connected
somehow, to everything around me. The sky, the trees, the grass ... even to
Akomachi as she hovered in the air in front of me. A part of me acknowledged
that the calm was not a normal reaction for the girl I used to be. But for a
kitsune, it was perfectly natural. And being at least partly kitsune now, being
centered and part of the natural world was completely normal. I realized it was
probably that part of Akomachi still inside me, from the time we shared my
scared me, to think of myself possessed of something as strange as this accepting
placidity. And yet, what had I lost, really? The paralyzing "flight or
fight" reflex that drove so much of human behavior? Was that so bad? And
was anything of Becca even really lost? It could only be masked by the kitsune
response that this form made dominant. My human responses could just be hidden,
waiting for an opportunity to emerge
without the kitsune calm, I could see that panic would not be an appropriate
response. I felt my whole body go as still as a mountain lake on a windless
day. I should be honored, I thought. After all, I had always respected
and revered the kitsune. Now I was one -- at least, in part. Just like that, I
felt a smile coming on, and I looked over my shoulder at my newest furry
appendage. It seemed to sway back and forth with a mind of its own, and I
looked up at Akomachi.
one tail?" I gave her a little pout. "I feel cheated somehow. After
all, I did have all nine of yours to play with for a while." The vixen's
mouth opened in silent laughter. I grinned. "I know, more tails come with
time, and wisdom." My own smile faded. "But I have no time, Akomachi.
As much an honor as this is, I cannot stay like this. I have work to do, as a
human. And I have a family, and a life, that I need to return to."
may call me Oneesama, if you wish," the fox spirit replied. "It is an
appropriate honorific, in and of itself." Information about the complex
Japanese forms of address between individuals flowed into my head. She looked
down, briefly, and it seemed as if she was embarrassed. "However, I must
admit that, in the short time we have known each other, I have come to think of
you more as my daughter than as a friend. If, one day, you come to think of me
as a mother, I would be honored if you would call me 'Casa.'"
looked up and smiled slightly. "In either case, formality between us would
be absurd, Becca-chan. We have, after all, shared a body. And you need not
worry. Our kind have always been shapeshifters. Your human form remains, with
all of its power, whenever you choose to reclaim it. As does your work. But I
would talk with you for a while, if I might?"
for a moment. I genuinely liked Akomachi. I understood her in ways I have never
understood another person, because of what we had shared. And I knew how much
she truly wanted a daughter. Finally, I decided that a girl could never have
too many mothers, and I smiled. "I would welcome the gift of your time ...
Casa." I felt her pleasure flow through me like a physical force, and I
let it gently stroke my soul in passing. I concentrated, and floated up to join
her in mid-air. "But I am curious. How is time passing in the world I
left, where my ... other family dwells? I have been gone a while, and I would
not wish them to be worried at my long absence."
shook her head. "Only an instant has passed there since your departure at
the hands of the Goddess. No other time shall pass until you return. And what
we need to speak about is important."
The two of
us drifted towards the river, and my new senses were overwhelmed by the smells
of the forests and the grass. My eyes were so sharp, I could see for miles.
gently to the ground by the water, and Akomachi padded over to the river's edge
on all fours. She looked over her shoulder and grinned at me. "Come,
Becca-chan. Fish with me!" I looked at her, a bit cautious, and she shook
her head and let her tongue hang out of her mouth. "You are young and life
is short, child. Catching your own food can be fun! We can talk of serious
things and still enjoy the baser pleasures life brings. It is part of being
into the water, where big fat fish swam complacently under the surface. "I
thought foxes did not fish for their food, Casa."
shrugged. "Foxes do not. But I am kitsune, and this is my home, and I have
come to enjoy fishing ... and fish. If you'd rather, we could hunt voles, or
other small game ... but I sense that you are not so much one of us that the
game of predator and prey would interest you. Yet." Akomachi paused for a
moment, then her paws darted below the surface and came up with a huge fish. It
fought fiercely in her hands, and she held it up to me with a grin. "On
land or in water, the fun is in the hunt, Becca-chan. In being faster than the
fish, in her own element." The fox spirit looked into the fish's eyes, and
her grin became a small smile. "Of course, the best thing about fishing is
... you can choose to let them go."
lowered the fish back into the water, and it swam rapidly away. I looked at
her, slightly confused, and she looked at me and smiled. "It is only a
game, Becca-chan. We are fox spirits, not foxes. I do not need to eat, and as
kitsune, neither do you." Her eyes narrowed slightly, and she cocked her
head. "Although you should know that I can eat if I wish, and have often
eaten and enjoyed my prey in the past. It is my choice, and part of who I am.
Does this disturb you?"
almost as if I were being tested, and I looked into her eyes and shook my head.
"I would not have you deny who and what you are, Casa, nor should anyone.
Does a mountain deny itself? Or a river?"
smile grew, and I felt a soft caress deep inside my soul. "Thank you,
Becca. Today, I fish only for fun. So come, daughter ... play with me?"
I threw her
a tentative grin of my own, and settled down to peer into the river, looking
for a likely target. Akomachi moved downriver a few meters and continued to
fish as she spoke.
kitsune do not involve themselves in human affairs unless specifically asked
for help." Her nose moved slightly as she tracked her next victim through
the clear water. "When your admiration and respect called to me, I was
curious, and chose to take it as a request for aid, as is my right. Also, since
you were engaged in an ... interaction with a magical entity, the normal rules
about human affairs did not strictly apply."
ears at attention, watching my own fish move closer. "When we were one, I
saw that you have sworn to protect your kind from magical abuse, and that is a
worthy goal. Oaths are very important to kitsune, as you know. But as
impressive as you are, as a human, you are still new at what you do. There are
questions you have not asked yourself. And your current teachers have not asked
them for you. In fact, they may never ask them for you, because they have their
own concerns for you and your mission -- and their own opinions of those
creatures with which your kind shares this universe."
moved faster than thought itself, and I held a silver fish up over my head. Now
it was my turn to wear the predator's grin, and Akomachi grinned back. I
carefully slipped the fish back into the river, and watched it swim away.
Arbiters think all magical creatures are guilty, by their very nature,"
the vixen continued, "and as a result, they spend all of their time
waiting to pass judgment whenever an opportunity arises. They do this because
it is what they do. They have no life beyond their duty. It is their entire
purpose, judgment and punishment. They saw the need for someone like you when
too many magical creatures evaded their 'justice' through loopholes. But I
believe they might have seen you as little more than a samurai to fight their
battles, when in fact, the Omnipresence intended you to be so much more."
her eyes lit up, and before I could blink she held her own fish aloft, arms
over her head. Happiness poured off of her in waves, a joy that was pure and at
the same time wicked. I tapped my paws together in applause, and she delivered
a mock curtsey that made me burst into laughter -- a curious sound in my
kitsune form, like Lauren Bacall impersonating the bark of a small dog who
smoked two packs a day. The vixen laughed with me.
stopped, Akomachi placed her fish back into the stream gently. Instead of
continuing to fish, she padded up onto the river bank and sat near me, by the
edge. "You do agree," she said, "that the Arbiters are somewhat
... limited in their point of view?"
I replied, watching my own fish slip away. "Because of the nature of their
work, they only see that part of the Omniverse for which they are responsible,
and view all things through the filter of their obsession. That's how Leander's
punishment came to be. A human is different from a demon, and deserves a
different punishment. They just didn't know better, because they
couldn't." I glided up onto the bank and sat beside her, our legs just
touching. We both looked out at the water together in a companionable silence.
"Still," I continued, "they did help me past a difficult
situation and gave me the ability to do some good, so I am somewhat ...
predisposed towards thinking kindly of them."
if their help came at a price?"
"Casa, almost everything comes at a price ... and this price was one I was
willing, even eager to pay. I know you know that. And if the giver is the
universe, the price is one of roads not taken, or opportunities missed. For a
new job, you must pay with the security and familiarity of the old one. For
adult pleasures, you pay with the innocence of youth." I shrugged, and
turned my nose down towards the water. My reflection gazed back, placid and
quite centered, and for the first time, I noticed that my ears were actually
black. "If the might-have-been was a universal currency, everyone in
existence would be rich beyond measure."
Akomachi's reflection look at me, curiosity clearly evident in the tilt of her
head. "How did you become so wise, Becca-chan?"
and shook my head. "Wise? I don't know about that. But I have learned a
lot. I lived for over forty years surrounded by the most dangerous creatures in
the Omniverse -- humans. I kept my eyes open and my feet on the ground. And I
suffered every minute of every day for being what I was not, and knowing it would
never change." One of her tails brushed my side gently, over and over. I
felt her love as a tangible force, and sighed. "It made me sensitive to
the suffering of others. It helped me share their pain."
understand your need," Akomachi said softly, "as you understood mine
in the Cat's cavern, because I felt the shadow of it when we were one. I could
have helped you in your youth, if you had only called out to me as you did
before. But for all of your reverence and respect for my kind, you did not
truly believe we were real. So you did not call."
only wish I had, Casa. Perhaps my call would never have reached you, had I not
been given this power by the Omnipresence." I sighed again. "We will
never know. Still, my suffering brought me to think more than most about the
nature of reality, and of humankind. So if I am wise, blame my wisdom on
thinking too much."
shape shimmered and blurred, and suddenly a large white fox sat beside me. Only
her nine tails showed her true nature. She threw me a predator's grin, and I
gave her one back. Then I concentrated, and my own form changed to that of a
red and white fox. I watched my vision shift again, becoming sharper with more
muted colors. Akomachi turned and began padding towards the forest. I followed,
still getting used to the experience of moving on all fours.
more than thinking too much, I think," she said, her voice suddenly in my
head. "You are gifted. You perceive the universe as an intricate series of
layers, woven together and interacting on levels others cannot even begin to
imagine. You can truly see through the eyes of others, gain their perspective
with but a thought -- not by reading their minds, but by seeing the world as
they see it. You can solve problems by literally turning the Universe on its
side in your mind, and seeing things in a new way. It has helped you thousands
of times in your earlier human life, before your encounter that morning and
your new life as the Advocate."
to protest, and the vixen turned her head to face me. The look in her eyes
stopped me in my tracks. It was stern and focused. "And now you seek to
deny it -- to deny who you are. 'Does a mountain deny itself? Does a
river?'" My own words turned against me, there was nothing I could say. Akomachi's
voice softened in my head. "Do not try to lie to me, daughter, after what
we have shared. These are things that need to be said ... and heard." I
stayed silent. Her eyes narrowed. "I know you are embarrassed by being
better than other humans. You wish to hide what makes you special. Tell me
you already know," I said softly. She nodded.
course I do, and so do you. But I want you to say it. To ... acknowledge it.
My turn to
nod. "I have always believed that thinking you're better than other people
is wrong. It's the first step on the road to becoming everything I despise --
to becoming a slave to my own ego. I don't want to believe I'm better than
other people, because that implies that other people are less than I am. Once
that happens, I'll start believing I have the right to tell others how to live
their lives, just because I'm better. Better to deny that I am special than to
admit it to myself and risk becoming the jerk I could be."
nodded once, decisively, then sat directly in front of me. "Now,
Becca-chan ... what is wrong with your theory?"
don't know," I said sheepishly, looking away.
do know," the vixen replied sharply. "But since it is my turn to
state the obvious, I will oblige. The phrase 'all men are created equal' is a
fiction. There are those among your kind who can run a mile in under four
minutes. They are better than you at running ... at least in your human form.
Does that make you somehow less than they are? No. It makes them better at
moving quickly. That is all. You, however, can see the world from multiple
perspectives, and solve problems they don't even know exist. This does
not make them less than you. It just makes them different. And you know
this. I know you do."
I hung my
head, still in fox form. She padded over to me and pressed her body against
mine, tucking her head under my chin and nuzzling my throat.
Becca-chan," she sighed, her voice echoing in my head. "I think who
you really are and what you can do is a large part of why you were chosen to be
the Advocate. You could be the greatest force for good your people have ever
known, but first you have to believe in yourself. The Arbiters do. Your human
family and your friends do, too. Your ... boyfriend as well, although he does
not know everything about you. And I? I believe in you most of all. Because I
have been you, and you are indeed very special. You just need to see that,
began to tremble all over, and both Akomachi and I reverted to kitsune form. I
found her arms around me, holding me close and cradling me to her breast, and I
felt the tears running down my nose and disappearing into her fur.
she whispered. "I know why you cry. Tell me, so you can tell yourself."
I'm so scared!" My voice shook. "I have all this power, and I'm
supposed to be able to use it, and protect people, and stop the 'bad guys.' And
you tell me I'm better, and I'm special. You tell me I could be great." I
felt Akomachi nod. "That's all well and good. But what if I'm not as
'special' as you think? What if I'm not good enough? I'm the only hope for
those boys who were changed -- and maybe for the girls who are being changed by
the Cat. What if I try to save them all, and fail? What then?"
There was a
silence, and a sigh. "Becca-chan. What will happen if you do not even
I froze and
thought about what she had said. I remembered what I had thought in the cavern,
just before confronting the Cat goddess. 'Always assume you can succeed.
Otherwise, you're defeated before you begin.'
If I didn't
try, I would definitely fail. No one would be saved, and I would curse my
cowardice for letting it happen. But if I stopped being afraid and took a
chance ... if I actually believed in myself, the way everyone else seemed to
... maybe we would all come out of this whole.
could actually win.
I looked up
and found the vixen looking down at me, a small smile playing at the edge of
she said simply. "You will do what you must, because you have to. It is
who you are. You will embrace your power, and your destiny. And you will prove,
to yourself and to everyone, that you are every bit as gifted as I know you
are. That you are everything you need to be to fulfill your oath and protect
gave me a final squeeze, and stood. I looked up at her from the ground. She
held out a paw. I took it, and she pulled me to my feet.
are always welcome here, daughter." She grinned her predator's grin.
"But it is time for you to return to your own world, and consider what we
have talked about. Focus your mind and retrieve your human form."
I did, and
after a few seconds of shimmering in the air around me, a naked human Becca
stood shivering slightly in the tall grass. I closed my eyes, and the clothing
I had whisked away in the cavern came back and wrapped me in its embrace.
Akomachi towered over the human me, still smiling. I hugged her tight.
you, Casa," I whispered. She hugged me back.
know I will stand with you, Becca-chan, when the time comes to face the
goddess." Her voice rumbled in her chest. "As my child, it is my
right to stand beside you in a time of challenge. The battle is yours to win,
of course, but I know ... you will always make me proud."
back in the hallway of my home. Akomachi had helped me to orient myself, taught
me the technique with a touch that brought it back from the memories she had
shared with me during our time together, and watched me 'port home. After the
tense confrontation in the cavern and the hyper-reality of Akomachi's home, my
human reality seemed smaller somehow.
As in fact,
it was. But small or not, it was home, and I was happy to be back.
dizzy, just for a few seconds, and reached out with one hand to steady myself
on the wall. The coolness of it against my fingertips brought me further back
into the world. I closed my eyes and breathed in the air, scented with
something sweet I couldn't quite identify. The bra and jeans that had fit so
well a few hours of my lifetime ago seemed snug after bare skin and soft fur,
but the feeling helped to ground me more.
okay, Bee?" I felt a hand on my shoulder, and opened my eyes to find Amy
looking at me, her concern evident.
"Just a little shaky," I said, reaching up to pat her hand with mine.
"It's been a rough couple of days, after all."
and chewed on her lower lip for a second. "Becca ... do you really want to
go shopping? I mean, I was kinda into it and didn't think to ask if you were up
to it ..."
and I knew you were into it and didn't want to spoil your fun," I finished
for her. "Truth is, Ames ... I dunno. I'd love to go shopping with you,
but I don't know if I'm up to 'shop 'til you drop' right now." I grinned.
"I think I'd wind up dropping pretty fast."
back, then looked down, embarrassed. A few seconds later, she raised her head
and smiled. "Maybe we should just hang in today, then. You know, listen to
some tunes, watch some TV. Would that be okay?"
I gave her
a big hug. "Better than okay, girl. I can't think of anyplace else I'd
the rest of the day doing pretty much nothing much at all. It was wonderful.
When Amy heard I was cleaning out my closet to make room for Heather, she
looked at everything Heather didn't choose to keep with an eye for expanding
her own wardrobe. Soon, Heather and I were watching Amy try on things while my
computer played alternative rock by bands whose names Jack barely registered,
even though Becca knew them intimately. Heather didn't seem at all embarrassed
or upset by Amy stripping down to her underwear, and she didn't have a problem
with doing the same when Amy begged to see the red dress Heather had tried on
the night before.
When we all
moved to the kitchen to raid the fridge, we found Jeremy buried in the new Samurai
Champloo video game, and descended upon him as a group to wrest the
controller from his grasp and do some serious playing ourselves. At first,
Jeremy was a little upset. But since we immediately replaced the controller
with a very cuddly (and loving) Heather, he suddenly decided that holding a
warm girl beat holding a piece of cold plastic any day, and left Amy and I to
wield our katanas in peace.
afternoon, we were all stretched out in front of the television, giving Heather
a crash course in geek by watching the first episode of the Battlestar
Galactica miniseries on DVD. Jeremy and Heather were snuggled in the
loveseat, so totally wrapped around each other that I suspected neither of them
was actually watching the screen. I was on the sofa with Amy, my head resting
on her lap as she ran her fingers through my hair.
glad you didn't die the other day," she said in a low voice, almost as if
she was afraid to say it.
I turned my
head to look up at her. "Me, too," I replied with a grin.
UP!" she squealed, and mussed up my hair with both hands. I giggled and
turned my head all the way to tickle her tummy with my nose. Amy shrieked and
started tickling me with both hands, and the two of us rolled onto the floor,
laughing and screaming like idiots. Heather and Jeremy looked up for a moment,
confused, then looked back at each other and went on with the kissing.
Amy had gone home, Heather was picking out her outfit for tomorrow's school
day, and as a nod to my earlier meeting with the Cat goddess, I was curled up
on the sofa in a purple "Hello Kitty" nightgown and fuzzy slippers.
The phone rang, and I picked it up.
Becca." Tommy's voice sounded happy and warm, and I felt a sudden rush of
heat wash over me.
I squealed, and heard him laugh.
you're so happy to hear from me, babe," he said, and I heard the
tenderness in his voice.
have no idea," I purred at him. "Drop on by and I'll show you just
how glad I am."
again. "Don't tease, please. Or you're gonna wind up with a very
interested boyfriend beating a hole in your door at two a.m. Then what ya going
I smiled a
smile he could feel through the phone. "You did ask me not to tease,
Tomcat. Do you really want me to tell you?"
girl! I thought you didn't want to jump ... or be jumped ... just yet."
There was a pause, and a little hesitancy. "Unless ... that's
sorry, baby," I said softly. "I'm being awful, I know. I just ... I
do want it. Just ... it's scary how much I want it, and I love you so much I
know I'm going to say yes sooner than I should." I took a deep breath.
"Dancing so close to the edge, like we do, it makes me feel sooo ... but
I'm still too young. You are, too."
know." His heavy sigh rolled through my heart. "But the 'everything
else' is so sweet, you won't catch me saying no the next time we're
together." Another long pause. "'Tomcat,' huh? Where did that come
even though he couldn't see me. "Not sure. It just felt right."
some more. "Well, I sorta like it. But just so you know, this tomcat
doesn't go out yowling for anyone else but his girl. And he never will."
know," I whispered, my heart beating faster. "Thank you for
things come to them that waits," Tommy replied with a grin in his voice.
"That's what my Grandpa always said, and I waited long enough just to find
you, so he musta been right. I can wait until we're both ready, 'cause I know
we will be, someday." His voice dropped low, almost as if he didn't want
anyone else to hear. "Love you, babe."
the meantime," he went on, his voice still low, "while we're ...
waiting, how about meeting me tomorrow morning before homeroom? Under the
stairs by the girl's locker room? I need a really good reason to climb out of
bed tomorrow to go to school, and you in my arms with your lips on mine is the
only thing I can think of."
I felt a
shiver run through me. "I'll be there, I promise. Ummm ... don't start
then laughed. "God, you make me happy."
too." There was a warm silence, and Tommy cleared his throat. "I
guess I'd better get off the phone before we both explode."
would be messy," I said seriously, then ruined it with a giggle. "See
you in the morning, Tomcat."
sure will. Bye, Becca."
I hung up
the phone and curled up into a ball, hugging the warm feeling he left in my
middle and wishing the Arbiters could have made me just a year or two older.
God, how I
wanted that boy!
about two o'clock in the morning when I woke from a sound sleep and smiled. I
knew exactly how to deal with Leander's redemption. Mrs. Graymalkin was right
-- the answer was right in front of me all along. I spent a half hour turning
the solution around in my head, looking for weak spots while I listened to
Heather snoring softly above me.
realized that I didn't want to let this hang any longer. I wanted to deal with
it tonight -- well, as much as I could deal with it tonight, anyway.
out with my mind, and fingers of magical energy stretched across the planet,
looking for the person I needed to speak with to set things in motion. I felt a
jolt that shuddered through me, and smiled.
awake. I could feel it.
out of bed, wandered over to the mirror, and tried to get my hair into some
semblance of order. I didn't have a lot of luck, but a scrunchy and a quick
ponytail helped some. I was girl enough to know that I wasn't going for an
uninvited visit without at least trying to make myself a little more
eyes, I willed myself to be ...
out to be a suburban American kitchen, decorated in the latest style and
spotlessly clean. I appeared behind Leander. She was wearing a pink teddy with
a matching silk robe over it, and heeled slippers. Her hair was tousled and out
of place, her head was bowed, and I saw her shoulders shaking.
There was a
slight smell of recent sex in the room. A glass of wine and a bottle of
chardonnay sat on the kitchen table in front of her, and as I watched, she
raised the glass with a trembling hand and took a dainty sip. When she put it
back on the table, Leander froze, just for an instant. I saw her shoulders
straighten, and her head come up. Her eyes met mine in the reflection in the
Advocate." Her voice was shaking, just a little, but there was still a bit
of her old attitude slipping past the tears. Her eyes traveled down to my
nightgown, and she smiled. "A ... fetching ensemble, Becca."
you, Leander," I said, and threw her a small curtsey. "You're looking
pretty nice yourself. Did you ... choose that?"
grimaced and shook her head. "Hardly. He wants this." She waved her
hand across her breasts. "Wants his little wifey to look pretty when she
gives him what he needs. And this is tame, compared to some of the other things
he wants me to wear when we ... do it." She looked down. "Not to
mention what he wants me to do."
surprised you're out here," I said, looking back at her in the glass.
"Doesn't he want to cuddle afterwards?"
gave an unladylike snort, and took another sip of wine. "That might be the
case if he actually loved me. I think I fit in his view of the world somewhere
around the same level as a family dog. If we had a dog, that is." She
laughed, the sound dry and empty. "I'm just the friendly bitch who can
make him cum. And do his laundry, and make his meals, and worship the
ground he walks on. Every. Single. Day." She laughed again, and it sounded
like the sound autumn leaves make when they're blown across the pavement on a
cold November night. "I am just his wet dream made warm flesh. And every
time I pleasure him, those bastards who did this to me make me love it. They
make me cum, too ... and that makes me want something I should despise."
around and faced me head on. "My God, how could you ever WANT to be a
woman? To be some man's plaything? Pretty little painted toy, always bent to
some man's will? Why would you turn your back on being a man and choose ...
this?" The pain and anger warred on her face, and the tears kept pouring
out. Finally, she turned away from me and bowed her head. Her shoulders started
shaking again as she curled into herself.
think. I didn't have to. I walked up behind her, put my arms around her, and
just held her. She stiffened for an instant, then broke down in huge sobs that
made my heart ache. I poured my own compassion into her, let her feel how I
felt for her as it washed through her soul. At first she resisted, but I kept
wrapping her in layers of true emotion, and she saw how much I cared about her
pain, and hated what they had done to her for so long.
the tears subsided. I still held her, only I had slipped to the floor beside
her chair and wrapped my arms around her torso. Her arms had found their way
around me, and when I was sure she was listening, I spoke.
the Arbiters did to you had nothing to do with being a woman." She could
hear the anger in my voice. "They used that body as a prison and tortured
you with it. They did more harm than good, and never intended this to end. This
has always been slavery instead of punishment, with no hope of redemption. It
was wrong, and I told them so. At some length, I might add."
what?" Leander froze in disbelief. I let her go and moved away from her so
I could look into her eyes.
told them they were wrong to do what they did to you, and after going away and
thinking about it for a while, they agreed." I sighed. "So ... you're
my responsibility, now."
narrowed. "What does that mean?"
they aren't your jailers anymore. I am. So what happens to you now ... is up to
stiff, all over, and her voice became very cold. "So what are you going to
do to me?"
turn you back into a man, for a start," I replied, and smiled. "If
that's what you really want."
mouth opened, but nothing came out. She seemed to be in shock, and I couldn't
blame her. "A m-m-m -- man?"
"I'd have to take away your magic, and give you something of a stake so
you could make your way in today's world, but if you want to be a man again,
that's fine. You've spent five hundred years trapped in a body you despised. I
think that's enough to punish you for your crimes, don't you?"
without really thinking, and one hand rose up to touch her breast, still
wrapped in pink silk.
trouble is, your punishment created its own problems, and I'm not quite sure
how to deal with those." Leander looked down at me, and her eyes filled
with confusion. I sighed. "Good God, Leander, you're filled with hate and
anger, and I don't blame you. You have been ill-used, and twisted by time and
circumstance into thinking a woman's role is to be a man's slave. You don't
have a clue what being a real woman is, and the past five centuries have done
nothing to show you how to truly behave like a man instead of a tyrant. If I
just set you free, even without your magic, I could be causing more harm than
you did before you were caught."
girl looked like she was going to cry again, and I shook my head and gave her
arms a squeeze. "You're not staying like this, hon. I promise." I
paused, then plunged ahead. "I have a proposition to make -- one that will
benefit us both in the years to come."
her head, and I continued. "I'd like you to come and work for me. I'm
looking for a knight in shining armor, but a spell-slinging ex-warlord and
former housewife will do."
laughed, a truly feminine sound that almost stopped her from continuing. When
she got over her initial shock, she said, "You must be joking."
I shook my
head. "I'm not. I don't care if your armor's tarnished -- hell, if you
were 'sans peur et sans reproche,' you never would have wound up in that cute
pink teddy, or on the wrong end of five hundreds years of domestic and sexual
servitude. What I want to do is give you a chance to learn what it means to be
a good man."
her head and sneered. "Like you could give me lessons in manhood, Rebecca?"
anger flashed out. "I was a good husband and father for a lot of years, bitch,"
I snapped. "I may not have liked being a man, but I worked at it, and I
did my best. I was proud of who I was -- who I made myself become. I was a good
man. Could you ever say the same? How many people did you hurt for the fun of
it? How many were killed because you were playing with other people's lives?
Entire armies ... hell, whole villages of innocents died for your
entertainment! That's not being a man. That's being an asshole, on a level so
high you only come out looking good in comparison to Vlad the Impaler and Josef
Mengele." I took a deep breath. "Right now, I'm trying very hard to
forget all the bad you did because of all the bad the Arbiters put you through,
but you're not making it easy. So just shut up and let me finish making you an
offer ... before I decide to forget the whole thing and send you back to bed
looked at me, her eyes wide with fear. "Y-y-y-you promised I wouldn't have
to stay like this!"
and nodded. "I did. That's true. But there are worse things I could think
of than locking you away in a suburban house in Vicki's lingerie. Think about
it." I paused for a second to let that sink in, then sighed and went on in
a normal tone. "If you're working for me, you get to keep your magic, and
use it to make things right. You will be fighting against magical entities who
would prey on those less powerful than themselves, and there will be times when
you will get to make the bad guys pay. But you will be working for me. I'm the
boss. I call the shots, and you do what I say, or else."
There was a
long silence. "For how long?' Leander's voice was small, and shaking.
I see you've changed," I replied. "Until I decide you're not the
ego-driven tyrant you used to be. Until I believe you actually care about the
people we're going to save. Until I look over one morning and see a good man
standing in your place. It's my call ... my decision. That's the deal."
there, her eyes unfocused, and I knew she was thinking about the possibility of
finally being free -- even if it might not be for years, or even decades.
Finally, Leander spoke.
I agree to 'work' for you ... how could you possibly trust me not to betray you
someday? After all," and she bit off the words as they left her lips,
"As you so forcefully pointed out, I was not a good man ... when I was a
man. I might turn on you when events conspire to make escape an attractive
I shook my
head. "You won't."
all her attention on me, surprised at my tone. "You seem so certain.
there's one thing about you that hasn't changed, in all the years you've been
trapped in that body." I smiled. "Your pride. Your ... honor. You may
not have been a good man, but you were a man. And that makes some things more
important to you ... than freedom." I looked back at her, catching her
eyes with mine. "You told me back in the hospital that you have always
kept your word, no matter what. And you said that if you promised to fight
beside me, you would. Did you mean it?"
She sat up
straight, her back stiffened. "I did. Despite the endless lies of love
I've been forced to spout to five centuries of husbands, I still have my honor.
If I ever break my word, duly given with my full knowledge and consent, I would
be no better than the 'plaything' your Arbiters made me. And that would kill me
as sure as a sword."
believe you." I took a deep breath. "Would you be willing to swear an
oath of fealty?"
reared back, and her eyes flashed. "To who? The Arbiters? No! I would
I held up
one hand. "No. Not to the Arbiters. To me, personally."
you work for them!" Her voice shook, this time with anger.
don't." The calm tone behind my words stopped her cold. "I work for
the Omnipresence, if I work for anyone at all. I am the Advocate. My job is to
protect all humans from magical abuse, even when perpetrated by others with
official standing, like the Arbiters." I leaned forward. "That's why
I'm here, now, Leander. To save you from them, and what they've done -- but
only if you are willing to swear, on your honor, to be loyal, obedient,
faithful and true ... to me."
to your office, Advocate?" There was a ghost of suspicion behind the
question, as if this was all a scheme to trap her as my personal servant for
just a little. "The office is only as good as the person who holds it. I
plan to be here for a long while, but I will not make you beholden to whoever
comes after me. That would be almost as bad as leaving you in the hands of the
Arbiters. No, you would serve me -- and if you served me faithfully and well,
you would be free if I should die."
another long silence as Leander considered everything this might mean. I sat
down across from her, and took both of her hands in mine. My touch seemed to frighten
her, when I meant it to comfort and reassure. I gave her hands a squeeze and
she looked at me, curious.
understand how this must feel," I said, holding her eyes with mine.
"If you agree and swear this oath, you would be putting yourself in my service
willingly, and it has never been in your nature to serve anyone's interests but
your own. And I am not surprised that five hundred years as a sex slave and
domestic servant hasn't made you sing the praises of working for others. But
working for others is the reason I chose to become the Advocate. I'm not about
to become what I have sworn to fight."
I let go of
her hands and stood up. "This is a big decision. I don't expect an answer
tonight. And if the answer is 'no,' we'll work something else out. Just think
about what I'm offering before you turn me down, okay?"
what is that, exactly?" I raised an eyebrow. It was my turn to be
confused. Heck, it WAS going on three a.m., after all. Leander sighed.
"What exactly are you offering me?"
chance to be free to chart your own course for the first time in centuries. A
chance to use your magick skills to do some good for a change," I replied
with a grin, "and maybe ... the chance to put a little shine on your
doorway behind her, a hulking figure emerged, groaning slightly and scratching
bitch." His voice managed to combine the snarling menace of a full-grown
man with the petulance of a spoiled two-year-old. "I didn't tell you to
get out of bed. I want you to do me seven ways from Sunday before the dawn's
early light, so get your ass back there and start making me happy."
instant he entered the room, Leander's whole demeanor had changed. She
immediately wrapped herself around him, rubbing her whole body against his and
apologizing the entire time. "Oh, Joey,
I'msosorryIwasn'ttherewhenyouwokeup ..." She trailed her tongue down his
neck and wrapped his hardness in her hand, squeezing gently.
"Pleasepleasepleaseplease please forgive me? I'll be very good, I
promise." She leaned over and purred in his ear. "Very, very
husband du jour, looked over at me while Leander fawned over him. I could
almost feel her inside the pretty shell, screaming in frustration at being
yanked so soon from her freedom.
well," he said with a self-satisfied purr. "Fresh meat. One of Lee
Ann's friends, huh?" He ran his eyes over my thirteen-year-old body,
tracing my curves and engraving them in the back of his mind so he could have
great fantasy sex with an under aged girl later. It made my stomach turn.
"Hey, baby. Wanna make it a threesome?"
I shook my
head. "I would rather French kiss a rabid wolverine in a pit full of
rattlesnakes," I replied, "than get into a bed with you, you
confused for a second, his hand squeezing Leander's bottom in an absent-minded
sort of way. Then the fog lifted as he finally processed my answer. "Hey!
That's not nice!"
are you," I pointed out cheerfully. "That doesn't stop you from saying
the most revolting things, now does it?"
mind boggled at trying to interpret my words, and finally he shook his head.
who needs you when I got her? You're barely out of a trainin' bra anyway."
That stung, a little, until I considered the source. Joey swung Leander around,
still kneading her ass, and started guiding her out the door. "Come on,
sweet cheeks. I'm in the mood for some bedroom golf. Let's see how many holes I
can play before the sun comes up." Leander giggled inanely, and I lost my
not, Joey," I snapped. "If you were any more disgusting, I'd have to
stamp XXX across your forehead and check IDs at the door."
out and pulled Leander off of him, then threw her back across the room towards
the kitchen table. She plopped down in the chair by her wine glass and threw me
a picture perfect pout, as if she really wanted to go with the jerk. Joey stood
there, stunned for a moment, then turned red with anger. His hands became
fists, and he took a step toward me, roaring. "Just who the hell do you
think you are?"
I thought triumphantly. A straight line if ever I heard one.
worst nightmare, punk," I replied in my best Clint Eastwood drawl. "A
woman who can say no!" With a flick of my wrist, I sent him ... elsewhere.
return to sanity was punctuated by a single gasp, the clink of a bottleneck
meeting a glass, and a hearty gulp. I turned to find the glass at her lips, and
watched her put it back on the table. She turned to face me.
Dieu," she said, betraying a French heritage I didn't know she
possessed. "What did you do?"
mad, I guess," I said with a mischievous grin. "It happens sometimes,
and if you're going to work for me, you'll see it more often than I'd like.
Besides, you needed to think about my offer, and with him around, all you could
think about was sex."
looked around the room, as if she could find Joey hiding behind the toaster
oven. "Where did you send him?"
he couldn't seem to stop thinking about sex either, so I thought I'd give him
more than he could stomach. Literally." I could barely keep the smile in
check, and suddenly it just rolled out and made itself at home on my face.
"I turned him into a big-breasted blonde bombshell, made him submissive as
all hell, and dropped him down smack in the middle of a three-day bachelor
party in Vegas. He'll do whatever they want, whenever they want, and never say
no. And when it's over, Joey will wake up in Vegas on Tuesday morning in his
old body, dressed in a silver lame bikini that's two sizes too small. He'll
have an odd salty sweet taste in his mouth, and feel sore in places he
shouldn't even have. Then he'll remember just enough to make him shake all over
until he can make himself forget."
narrowed. "Did you really do that?"
"No." Leander blinked. "I sent him into a pocket universe I just
set up, where time runs at a very different speed. He'll pop back here whenever
I decide to let him out, and think it's still today." She gave me the weirdest
look, and I shrugged. "Oh, I won't say I wasn't tempted to send him to
Vegas and put him through all that, but in the end, he's probably just as much
a pawn of the Arbiters as you are." I sighed. "With great power comes
great responsibility, Leander. As the Advocate, I need to think in terms of a
measured response. It wasn't as if he was guilty of anything other than being a
boorish, uncaring jerk, and I don't know how much of that disgusting
performance was added by the Arbiters for your benefit."
I took an
extra wineglass from the cabinet and slid into the chair opposite Leander's.
"Besides," I said as I poured a small amount of wine, "in the
end, if Joey doesn't wise up, he's going to wind up punishing himself for the
way he's treated you."
has spent years treating you like dirt and getting anything he wanted in
return. Naturally, he assumes that's how women like to be treated."
I grinned and took a sip. "It is soooo not true, of course, but Joey
doesn't know that. As a result, he will spend the rest of his life wondering
why women find him so repulsive, and eventually die clueless ... and alone --
unless he gets smart and grows up."
took a sip of her own wine, and in a quiet voice, she said, "I hope he
does. Get smart, I mean." When she saw the astonished look on my face, she
gave me a small smile and shrugged. "I have spent fifteen years with Joey,
and countless years before that with men just like him. I see in him an echo of
the man I was, so long ago. For that alone, I would wish he could learn what
not to do, and find some measure of happiness." She put her glass down and
hugged herself under her breasts. "Also, I have spent a long time ...
loving him, even if I was forced to do so. Part of me cannot help but wish him
well, even as another part despises everything he's done to me. It's ...
that's what it means to be a woman." I smiled as she cocked her head.
"It's always ... complicated."
smiled back, and we shared a moment before she looked down at her glass and
sighed. I waited. Finally, she spoke.
don't know exactly what being a good man means," she said in a small
voice, "and I'm not even sure I could learn to be one if I knew. What if I
try ... and fail?"
the wrong question to ask, hon," I replied, putting my hand on hers.
"What you should be asking yourself is, 'what if I try ... and succeed?'
Five hundred years is a long time to be trapped inside a life you never chose.
This is a chance to choose again -- and maybe do some good."
I stood up.
"Like I said before, I don't expect an answer tonight. Joey won't be back
until I bring him back, so take a few days and think. No matter what, this part
of your life is over. Think about what you want to replace it. As for me, I've
got school tomorrow." I shook my head. "I can't believe I just said
I walked to
the center of the room. "Call me if you want to talk, or if you have an
answer. Either way, Joey doesn't come back until you've moved on." I
started focusing, getting ready to 'port home.
I opened my eyes. Leander was standing by the table, her mouth set in a grim
line. She looked me in the eye. "Write me an oath, I'll take it."
had five centuries of waiting," she said softly. "Some decisions ...
make themselves. And there's something about you ... something that makes me
want to believe in you, in spite of myself. It's foolish, and sentimental, and
wrong in too many ways to count. But maybe I've been a woman long enough to
count on my ... intuition. Or maybe I just want to believe in something after
all those years."
I took a
step towards her, and she took one toward me. Suddenly, inexplicably, we were
hugging. It didn't last long, and Leander seemed to melt into it for an
instant, before drawing back, embarrassed. I saw her face and smiled.
write the oath together," I said. "It should bind us both and serve
us both. Otherwise, it's just a waste of breath."
... My Lady."
it until afterwards, 'Lee Ann.'" I squeezed her arms and let go.
"You're not my knight yet. Right now, let's both get some rest. We'll work
on the oath tomorrow. "
I forgot. It's a 'school night.'" Leander grinned, teasing me a little.
"I think I'll sleep in. It's been a while since I had the bed to
bet." Again, I moved to the center of the room and started to focus. As I
began my 'port home, I watched the smile grow on her face, and I knew I'd made
the right call.