Disclaimer : Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings : Sex and love between women
Feedback : Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at email@example.com
Copyright © 2011 Geonn Cannon
Dale was already at her desk when Ari arrived at the office. It wasn't surprising, since it was already half past noon. A client had called to set up a tentative lunchtime appointment, so Ari was technically right on time. Dale glanced up to greet her, but her attention was grabbed by the slender paper in Ari's hand. "I see a werewolf with a Chinese menu in her hand."
"And my hair is perfect." Ari handed the menu to her. "That was hanging on my apartment door when I left, so I thought maybe we could get it for lunch after I finish with this meeting. It's been a while since you and I were both seeing someone. I miss our single-girl dinners."
"Aw, you're jealous."
Ari grinned and took off her jacket. "How's Natalie?"
Dale was already skimming the menu. "She's doing great. She's going out of town this weekend for the Pacific Northwestern Dental Convention."
"So you're abandoning me for a whole weekend?"
" She is leaving Thursday. I wasn't invited."
Ari raised an eyebrow. "Everything okay there?"
Dale grinned. "It's a dental convention, Ari. I'd be worried for the relationship if she wanted to subject me to that. But things should be back to normal for us this weekend if you and Miss Kitty--"
"Now who's jealous?"
"--can stop running around in the alleys together."
Ari smiled. The past few nights, she and her felidae police officer girlfriend had started hanging out together in animal form. At first it was an attempt to get Ari over her dislike of cats, but soon it became fun to have a sidekick running around with her. Ari had enough clothes in each stash to accommodate them both, but Bryn was a little more slender than Ari and the Goodwill clothes seemed to hang off her frame.
"Bryn has a graveyard shift on Thursday. If we need to do any late-night snooping, we can do it then."
"Back to normal it is, then. I can hardly wait."
Dale grinned and went back to the menu. Ari went into her office, leaving the door open. She had never figured out what private investigators were supposed to do between cases. Sit with their feet on the desk, look out the window, and monologue about dames with legs that wouldn't quit? She had given that a try once, and it had just made her horny. She sat at her desk, fired up the laptop, and spent an hour aimlessly surfing.
She lifted her eyes toward the front office when she heard a quiet knock on the door. A potential client, or just the mailman with something they had to sign for? She left her fingers poised over the keyboard as she waited to hear which one it was.
"Excuse me. I called for the appointment."
Ari was out of her seat before she realized she had moved. She rounded the edge of the desk and appeared in the doorway, drawing the attention of both Dale and their guest. The voice hadn't been misleading. Evangeline looked exactly as she had the last time Ari had seen her; there was a bit more grey streaking through her hair, but it only added to the overall aura of wealth and power. Her red blazer was low-cut, with the collar of a white shirt turned out over the lapels. Her hands were clasped in front of her, and her smile looked almost shy.
Dale seemed confused by Ari's sudden appearance. "Um, meet Ari."
"We've met." Eva smiled. "Hello, Ariadne."
"Wha-what are you doing here?"
She glanced toward Dale. "I want to hire you. Maybe we could speak in private?"
"It's okay. She knows." She cleared her throat. "Dale, this is Evangeline Dobrin. She was... she, uh, got me off the streets after I left home. Gave me a place to stay, and gave me the money I needed to start this place up."
Dale had risen from her seat. "The one who got off making you live as the wolf for the majority of the day?"
Eva and Ari both averted their gaze. Ari cleared her throat so an apology for Dale's bluntness wouldn't slip out. "Yeah. If you want to bow out--"
"No. I want to be here for you."
Ari nodded her thanks. "So, Eva. What do you want to hire me for?"
She glanced nervously toward Dale, fearing her judgment. "My pet has run away."
"Dale." Ari held up her hand to ward off any further comment. "By pet, I assume you mean...?"
"A canidae , yes."
Dale's voice was harder than Ari had ever heard it. "Have you put up fliers? Maybe checked the local shelter?"
Ari glared at Dale. "Be quiet, Dale."
"Just shut up. Okay? Just..." She rubbed her forehead, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"
Dale picked up her jacket. "You didn't mean to bark at me? She must have brought out the animal in you. Sorry. I thought... I'll let you fill me in later. Ms. Dobrin." She brushed rudely past Eva and out of the office. She slammed the door behind her and left Ari and Eva standing in the middle of the office without anything between them. Ari cleared her throat and Eva adjusted her hands, changing the grip without releasing her fingers.
"You chose well," Eva said. "She'll stick up for you. I'm glad you have her."
Ari nodded. "Come into my office." She led the way, gesturing for Eva to sit on the couch. She sat on the edge of the desk and waited until Eva was settled before she asked her first question. "So your new pet ran away?"
"Her name is Cameron. She's only been staying with me for a few months. Just under a year." She had unfolded her hands when she sat, and she now reached into the purse hanging off her shoulder. She withdrew two photographs and leaned forward. When she handed them over, her fingers brushed Ari's. Ari tensed slightly at the contact.
The first photo showed a girl, mid-twenties, with center-parted hair that fell on either side of a slender face. The roots of her hair were red, the tips black. She was smirking into the camera. She was resting her elbow on her knee, her hand folded flat so her chin was resting on the backs of her fingers. Her lips were twisted as if she was about to start speaking.
The second photo showed Cameron's canidae form. She resembled a Siberian husky, with a pentagonal shaped face, brilliant blue eyes, and rust-colored fur.
"When did she leave?"
"Three days ago. I kept waiting for her to come back on her own, but... I finally... thought that maybe I could use some help."
"And let's say I find her."
Eva didn't hesitate. "Then you tell her I was telling the truth. Let her know I honored the arrangement you and I had, and I'll do the same with her. I'm willing to... let her go if she wants. I'm not going to hold anyone prisoner. Right now, she's probably living on the streets somewhere and I cannot bear the thought of that. When you find her, tell her that I'm as good as my word. I'll pay for her to move wherever she wants, set her up with a trust fund until she finds a job or other means of income. Be an example that I'm not lying." Now she paused, wet her lips. "I didn't lie. Did I, Ari? You're happy, aren't you?"
"Yeah. I'm happy." She let her shoulders sag. "I'm sorry, Eva. You just remind me of a time when I wasn't very happy. I was willing to be a dog for twenty hours a day just so I wouldn't have to see myself in the mirror." She shrugged. "I don't like remembering I used to be like that."
Ari pushed away from the desk. "I'll do it. If Cameron wants to leave, she should know what her options are."
"Thank you." She sounded relieved. "I don't know how much you charge--"
"Don't worry about that. I owe you."
Eva shook her head. "No, you don't. We were even, but now you're helping me. I want to be just a regular client."
Ari considered arguing, but then she nodded. "All right. Five hundred a day, plus expenses. We'll have an itemized bill for you at the conclusion of the investigation."
"Thank you, Ari."
"Don't thank me yet. I want to check out your house. Maybe later this afternoon, if that's all right."
"There's a key in the backyard. You know where. I'll stay out of your hair for the rest of the day so you can look around in peace."
"Thanks. Can I keep these?" She held up the pictures and Eva nodded.
Ari escorted her to the outer office. Eva paused at the door. "The woman who was in here earlier. Your girlfriend?"
"Partner. Uh, business partner. My current girlfriend is a cop."
"I'm glad you found someone. Glad you have... all of this. It makes me very happy to see you like this, Ariadne."
Ari nodded. Eva left, and Ari sat in one of the waiting room chairs. She wasn't waiting five minutes when the door opened and Dale slipped inside. She looked abashed, smiling sheepishly when she saw Ari. "I shouldn't have said anything."
Ari nodded. "Yeah. I was with Eva during a very bad part of my life, and seeing her just brought it all back up. But as for her, she didn't do anything."
"She did do something wrong, Ari. She took advantage of a young girl who was suffering. She didn't do anything to help you, she just waited until you decided it was time to move on. What if you had just sunk deeper and deeper into your depression? What if you had shut off and let the wolf take over?" Her lower lip trembled. "Don't tell me she didn't do anything wrong. She stood by and watched while you teetered on the brink of suicide or worse."
Ari realized that she'd had the same feelings, she'd just never been able to articulate them. She pressed her fingers together, leaning forward with her arms on her knees.
"But now there's another girl out there," Ari said. "Someone like me, who is as lost and confused as I was. I want to help her."
"Me too." Dale walked over and knelt in front of Ari. "I wish I could have known you back then. So I could have helped you, too."
Ari put her arms around Dale and hugged her close. "You've saved me enough times to make up for it."
Dale chuckled. "What do you say we stop blubbering and get to work? Where do you want to start?"
"The beginning." Ari rolled her shoulders. "Ariadne Willow, this is your life."
Dale drove on the way. They barely spoke, except for Ari to give her turn-by-turn directions. Dale's one attempt at conversation immediately fell flat.
"So you never told me why you left home in the first place."
"Nope. And if I haven't told you , then..."
"You haven't told anybody." Dale nodded. She waited for Ari to continue, an assurance that she would tell her one day when she was more comfortable with it.
"Turn left up here."
Dale parked in front of a large corner lot, the house set far enough back to allow for a large front lawn. A brick walkway led from the curb to the front door, and a secondary path led around the corner of the house. Ari motioned for Dale to follow her into the backyard. The iron gate in the wooden fence was unlocked and Ari glanced back to see Dale had slowed down, pausing to look into the windows at the interior.
Ari waited for her. Curiosity was to be expected.
"So this is where you started life on your own?"
"Yeah." She gestured at the backyard. "I might still have a bone or two buried around here."
"I know, I know. Just... good lord, Ari."
Ari nodded. She crossed the lawn that she had indeed romped and played in and moved a planter over to the corner of the guest house. She stood on it and stretched, feeling around until she bumped the spare key with her fingertips. She tossed it down to Dale who unlocked the door while Ari put the planter back where it had been.
Dale turned on the lights, and Ari stuffed her hands into her pockets as she looked over her first home away from home.
Evangeline turned to face her. "Well, this is it. It's not much, but--"
"It's more than I had." It was a large single room, with a kitchen on the left. A bookshelf separated the living room and the bedroom, and two French doors on the far wall were covered by sheer white curtains. Ari had a duffel bag full of her meager belongings and carefully set it by the door, trying to shake the feeling that she was a guest. This was her home. She was being invited to live here. She looked at the woman who had swept in like a deus ex machina to save her. "What's the catch?"
Evangeline furrowed her brow. "What do you mean?"
"People don't just come up to other people and offer them a place to live. What do you want from me?"
She stepped closer and Ari resisted the urge to back away. "I'd like your companionship. And if we decide we enjoy each other's company, perhaps we could be more." She tucked a strand of hair behind Ari's ear.
"You want to sleep with me."
Evangeline laughed and turned her face away. "That's--"
Ari put a hand on Evangeline's cheek and turned her head back forward to kiss her. She parted Evangeline's lips with her tongue and Evangeline put her arms around Ari and pulled her close. Evangeline was the one who put a stop to the kiss, sliding her hand down to hover over Ari's breast. Ari leaned into her palm, and Evangeline gently squeezed her breast through the shirt. Evangeline was gorgeous, and she smelled fantastic. Sex would be a small price to pay for a roof over her head. Hell, she'd have slept with Evangeline for free.
"There... is... something else we should discuss about the arrangement for staying here."
Evangeline stepped out of Ari's arms and went to the closet. She took something out and held it up, letting it hang from her fingers as Ari realized what it was. The collar was wide enough to fit a human neck, and the leash was bright red. Ari stared at it and then stepped forward. Evangeline was trembling as she fastened the collar around Ari's neck, whispering in her ear to ask if it was too tight. Ari shook her head.
"Dinner will be in the main house, in about twenty minutes." Her hands rested on Ari's shoulders, gently massaging them. "Feel free to join me."
Evangeline kissed Ari's neck. "Do you prefer Ariadne? Ari?"
"Ari is fine."
"Then I'm Eva. I look forward to getting to know you, Ari."
Ari watched Eva leave the guest house and shut the door behind her. She reached up and fingered the leather that circled her neck, hooked her finger where the leash attached, and pulled. She considered herself lucky; of all the sordid things that could have been asked of her, this was by far the easiest to swallow. She started to undress.
Twenty minutes later, the wolf nudged open the back door. It had been left slightly ajar for her, and Eva looked up from the kitchen table with a slight smile. "Hello, girl."
There was a plate on the floor; beef stew. Ari sat beside it and lowered her head to eat.
Ari blinked and looked at Dale. She was standing quietly, staring at her, and Ari realized she waiting for Ari to snap out of it before she repeated whatever she'd said. "Sorry."
"Don't be. I was just asking if things had changed much."
Ari looked at the guest house as it really was, not as it had been. She was surprised by how much it had changed. "I didn't have a TV, and the couch was over there." She pointed. She walked to the bedroom and saw a regular queen-sized bed with a large, easy to overlook dog bed tucked into the corner. A leash was coiled on the nightstand, along with an assortment of collars. Framed pictures decorated the walls. Eva and Cameron, in her canidae form, in various poses. Sometimes at the park, a few taken inside the house. Two of them showed Cameron in her human form, smiling at the camera as if she'd been caught mid-laugh.
"Yeah. Everything looks pretty much the same."
"Are you jealous?"
Ari laughed. "Oddly enough, yeah. A little bit." She turned away from the pictures. Dale was standing a few feet away. "Let's see if we can find anything that might tell us where Cameron went. Computer?"
"There's one over there. I was just about to check it out."
"I'll look around."
The guest house was small, but it had plenty of hiding places. Ari knew most of them by heart. She checked the loose baseboard behind the toilet to discover it had been fixed. The crawlspace at the bottom of the closet was empty. When Ari checked it, she also noted that half the hangers in the closet were empty. Wherever Cameron had gone, she'd packed a bag. She could hear Dale typing on the computer as she searched its files for clues.
Ari closed the closet door and went into the living room. There were novels, crossword puzzles, a TV Guide... she picked up the crossword book and thumbed through them. Half of them were finished, although she noticed that some had nonsense words filling in for stubborn answers. She put the book back and looked at the TV screen. It was one of the new ones, and she couldn't see her reflection in the glass.
"She didn't have any pictures of me."
Dale turned to face her.
"Eva. She had pictures of the wolf, but none of me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Cameron apparently spends a lot less time as a wolf than I did. But it still kind of hurts."
Dale cleared her throat. "It's been bugging me, Ari, and you can refuse to answer if you want. But I have to ask. Did you ever... when you were the wolf, did you and Eva--"
"No. Not once. She wasn't into bestiality, she was just into..." Ari sighed. "I don't know if there's a word for it. God knows we should have coined one. She loves her pets to an almost pathological degree. She wanted to take that love to another level, but she couldn't... with an animal. The idea disgusted her. So she came up with a fantasy of having a pet that could become a human for the... more intimate moments. She was born and raised in the old country, Dale. Canidae and our ilk were called vârcolac , and they were treated as real in her household. She knew we existed, she just had to find one who was open to the idea."
Dale sighed. "I'm trying to understand it, Ari. I am."
"Don't try too hard. I'm only defending her because I accepted it for so long. I'm not sure I really understand it." She took a calming breath and looked at the computer. "Have you found anything?"
"Just an online journal. I cracked the password, but so far there's nothing incriminating. Just talk about her and Eva."
"How does their relationship sound? And spare the commentary."
Dale nodded. "For the most part, they sound normal. This entry: 'Eva took me to the park this morning. Everyone complimented how beautiful I looked again. Eva seemed pleased, which made me pleased. Afterward we came home and she brushed my hair. I took a bath and then joined her in...' Well." She cleared her throat. "She, uh, doesn't go into details in that part."
"Was that the last entry?"
"From three days ago. Yeah." She closed the file and Ari noticed something in the bottom corner of the screen.
"There's something in the trash."
"Recycle bin." Dale moved the cursor over to click on it.
"I thought it was a trash can."
Ari rolled her eyes. "We're so politically correct we even recycle our digital trash? Heaven help us."
The only item in the bin was a Document. Dale restored it and then opened the folder to click and see what it was. It was the same format as the diary. Ari read it aloud.
"I think I have to go. I know she'll will be devastated, and it kills me. I can't take letting her down. Maybe it would be better if I just disappeared."
Dale looked over her shoulder at Ari. "Is that how it was for you?"
"Not really. When did she write that?"
"Five days ago. About two days before she disappeared. I guess she deleted it in case Eva went looking for clues, but she forgot about the recycle bin." Dale leaned back in her chair. "At least we know she left willingly. I was kind of afraid it would turn out to be a suicide note."
Ari nodded. "You and me both." She went back to the closet and opened the door, taking a shirt off the hanger. She sniffed it, but it smelled far too clean to have been worn recently. She went to the hamper instead and found a pair of jeans. She sniffed and caught a faint whiff. She left the jeans draped on the hamper and called Dale to join her.
Dale came around the partition just as Ari shrugged out of her shirt. "Whoa." She put her hand up to block the sight of Ari's bra.
"What's wrong? You've seen me naked hundreds of times."
"I'm still getting used to seeing Natalie naked on a regular basis. I think it would be best if I just act prudish about your nudity for a while."
"You're probably right." She found a robe and slipped it on. She turned her back to Dale as she finished getting undressed. She handed her clothes to Dale. "You can go outside if you want."
"Thanks." Dale held Ari's clothes to her chest as she walked rapidly out of the guest house.
Ari watched her go, well aware of how Dale felt about actually watching her transform. Once she was alone, Ari closed her eyes and breathed in deeply through her nostrils. She thought back to all those idiotic movies that portrayed a werewolf transformation as just painful. The character flopped around a bit, widened their eyes, and then poof. Wolf. To become the wolf, Ari's entire skeletal structure had to change. Bones contracted and became half their size, splintering and fracturing in a matter of milliseconds before they knit back together. Her skin hardened, hair sprouted. The bones in her back popped as if she had just stretched after a really good night's sleep. Her lips pulled back as her teeth grew and knocked her jaw out of shape.
Ari dropped to all fours as her hands and feet cracked like an aluminum soda can under the tire of a car. Her sacrum extended and became a tail. Her tongue, long and flattened, rolled out of her mouth in a strangled scream that turned into a yelp.
She shook herself, the newly grown hair flaring with the movement. She stood on her hind legs and sniffed the jeans she had taken from the hamper. The entire apartment was a heady mixture of scents, including sex and sweat, but she wanted to go straight to the source. She sniffed Cameron's jeans.
As a human, her sense of smell was merely greatly enhanced. As the wolf, it was downright uncanny. Smells were unique. She could no more confuse one smell with another than a human could mistake a bite of potato as apple. As she sniffed, the door opened and Dale returned. She put her hand on top of Ari's head and stroked her hair.
"Are you okay?"
Ari huffed and dropped from the hamper. She walked from the room and Dale followed, still holding Ari's clothes in her arms. As they rounded the edge of the house to walk down the drive, Eva's car pulled into the drive. Ari slowed, but didn't stop. Eva got out of the car, eyes locked on Ari as she trotted across the lawn. She looked back and saw that Dale was watching Eva, but she had no interest in getting into a whole thing.
She stopped, turned, looked back at the woman who had once been her owner. Eva waved nervously, like someone greeting a former friend and unsure how the kindness would be received. Ari barked once, lifting her head in greeting, and then continued to the car. Dale opened the passenger side door for her, put the folded clothes in the floor, and went around the back to get in the driver's seat.
Ari sat in the passenger seat, watching Eva through the window. Eva was still standing in the open car door, holding it with one hand as if she needed the support. Ari rested her front paw on the window control and held it until the window was rolled all the way down. She scented the air and picked up Cameron's scent. It was weakened by two days of wind, but it was definitely her. Ari barked and leaned forward.
"Forward it is." Dale pulled away from the curb. Ari lifted her right front paw and scraped it on the dashboard. "The next right turn?"
"We're going to have to figure out an easier way for you to give directions. One bark for north, two barks for east, three--"
"What's that, Timmy? Lassie's stuck in the well?"
"Don't be like that." Dale turned right. "Okay, which was next, Arin tin tin?" Ari moved across the seat and closed her teeth gently around Dale's upper arm. "Quit it." Ari growled and shook her head from side to side. Dale snickered. "Okay. No more jokes."
Ari released her and sat back down. She lifted her left paw this time.
"Left it is."
Ari settled on the seat, her head leaning toward the window, and kept focused on Cameron's scent.
"I wonder if that's why dogs do that. Stick their heads out the window. I wonder how many of them are private investigators sniffing out a lead."
Ari would have smiled if she could. Instead she just let her tongue flop out of her mouth.
"Attractive. Although I do have to say, Bryn is a very lucky lady."
Ari snorted and lifted her right paw as they approached the next corner.
Her nose led them to a parking structure attached to a building that had been vacant for as long as Ari could remember. Dumpsters and garbage bags had been lined up as fortification, separating the pedestrians from the inner courtyard. Dale parked and let Ari out of the car, pausing to take the photos of Cameron off the sun visor before she followed her into the garage structure.
Tents and lean-tos seemed to take up three or four parking spaces, on average. Ari hurried forward, but Dale lagged behind. She approached the first person who seemed willing to talk and smiled. "Hello. My name is Dale Frye. I'm looking for either this girl or this dog. Have you seen either of them?"
The man took the picture of Cameron and looked at it. "I think I'd remember that two-tone hair. What'd she do? Steal your dog or something?"
"No, nothing like that. She's not in any trouble. I just want to talk with her."
"Sure." He handed the picture back. "I haven't seen her. Sorry."
Dale started to walk away, but a voice from across the aisle stopped her.
Dale turned and saw a woman in a knit cap staring at her. "Pardon?"
The woman seemed to have used all her courage to speak the first time. Her voice was much more timid when she spoke again. "Did... he say... the woman you're looking for. She has, has hair that's two colors?"
"Yes." Dale approached and showed her the picture. "Do you know her?"
"Yes. Ma'am, I promise you that I just want to talk with her. If she wants to stay here, I'm more than happy to let her. I just have to make sure she's safe and happy."
"She's on the third level. North side. She has a little blue tent."
"Thank you very much." Dale held out her hand. After a moment, the woman shook it. "My name is Dale Frye."
Dale headed to the ramp that led to the second level. She had never realized just how big a parking garage was without a car. By the time she crossed the second level, she was breathing hard. She paused to catch her breath and scanned for Ari or a blue tent like the one Phyllis had described. She was about to start a more thorough search when she heard barking and turned toward it. She had time to put up her arms before the impact, her body and the girl's slamming into each other so hard that Dale was sure her internal organs had an imprint of the buttons on the girl's shirt. She hit the ground, dazed, as Ari vaulted over her.
Ari skidded to a stop and turned to look back at Dale. She was still flat on her back, but she waved for Ari to go on. Ari resumed the chase, her nails clacking noisily on the pavement as she lowered her head and picked up speed. Cameron was trailing a long red scarf, pumping her arms and legs like an Olympic marathoner. She stuck out one arm and used a pillar to turn herself, racing up to the fourth level. Ari's limbs weren't prepared for the sudden change in direction and she skidded, bumped her hip against the chest-high concrete barrier, and skittered until she got enough traction to start running again.
The sky was overcast as they raced out onto the upper level of the garage. Ari could smell the sweat pouring off Cameron. Even if she got away, there was no way she could hide. But Ari couldn't let her get away now. It was a matter of pride. The girl was wearing a fedora, a baggy suit jacket, and at least three dresses over a pair of ratty jeans. How she could run while wrapped up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Ari hadn't a clue.
She also had no idea how she was going to stop before she reached the edge of the building. Her sneakers slapped against the pavement, her arms pumped, and if anything she was picking up speed as she approached--
Oh, fuck me.
Cameron jumped, planted one foot on the safety barrier, and launched herself. Ari's heart seized in her chest as the girl flailed through the air, arms pinwheeling as she arched through the air. Her hat flew off her head, revealing the flash of red hair like the white on a mockingbird's wings. She landed on the roof of the abandoned building next door and crumpled, arms tucked against her chest and her legs out straight.
Ari reached the barrier at a full run as well. She couldn't stop and think about it; if she was going to do it, she needed all the speed she could muster.
"Don't you dare! Ari!" Dale screamed from behind her.
Ari didn't have a choice. She leapt.
The freefall wasn't so bad. It felt kind of freeing. She kept her body extended, her legs stretched out in front of her as she hoped and prayed that she could--
She hit hard. She yelped as she rolled across the pebbled tar, feeling like she had just been hit by a car. She ended up lying on her side, panting, waiting for the adrenaline to fade so she could tell if anything had been broken. She closed her eyes, a whimper releasing from her throat with each exhale. She was hurt. But how badly?
"You stupid mutt." A soft hand rested on Ari's billowing side, gently touching her ribcage. Ari lifted her head to look up at Cameron. There were tears in her eyes as she examined Ari for broken bones. "Should've just let me go. Stupid dog." She sniffled.
Ari dropped her head back to the roof. She closed her eyes and felt the hair receding from her body. Her bones popped and adjusted to their previous positions.
"Oh, for God's sake. I should've known a dog wouldn't be that dumb."
Cameron got to her feet and started moving. Her left leg dragged behind her, her foot twisted at an odd angle that told Ari she hadn't come out of the jump unscathed either.
Ari barked, but it had the form of a word. "Wait!"
"Fuck you, Dog."
She was only partially changed, an ache spreading up from her left elbow to her shoulder. It felt like there was an iron rod inside her bone that was slowly being twisted. She gritted her teeth and got to her knees, one arm crossed over her breasts as she watched Cameron's pathetic retreat. "Wait." Her voice was still raw. The transformation continued, her skin softening. Her bones still popping. She still had a slight pelt on her back and arms and her face felt hot and strange as she tried to speak.
"Eva just wants to know you're okay. If you want to go, she wants to help you like she helped me." Ari clutched her left shoulder and cried out. It felt like it was on fire.
Cameron slowed, stopped, and turned. "What's your name?"
Cameron stayed where she was, but she dropped to the ground and sat with her back to the wall. She gripped her left thigh and massaged it. "You're Ari? You're Ari. Wow." She looked toward the edge of the building. "She said she would let me leave?"
"She let me leave. She's not holding you prisoner. Did you ever get the feeling she was ?"
Cameron looked away. "She's done so much for me. No one does that much for somebody and then just lets them walk away. Life doesn't work that way. Nothing comes for free."
"Eva wants your companionship. She wants a partner." Cameron looked up and furrowed her brow, but the look quickly passed. "If you have to be forced to stay, your companionship doesn't mean anything. If you want to go, at least let her say goodbye. Let her help you."
Cameron got to her feet and limped back to where Ari was crouching. "Are you okay?"
"I'm hurting pretty bad."
"Here." Cameron took off her blazer and handed it over. She unzipped one of her skirts and stepped out of it. Ari gratefully took the clothes. The blazer looked odd without a shirt, and the skirt was so long that it draped over her feet when she stood up, but she had worn much worse. "Can you walk?"
"Help me." She held out her hand. Cameron took it and slipped her arm around Ari's waist and walked her toward the stairwell access. "This place is locked up tight. Do you know a way out?"
Cameron smiled. "I may have been living in a house for the past few months, but I'm not an idiot. I don't run into dead ends. C'mon."
As they headed downstairs, the pain in Ari's arm finally started to subside. Her legs ached from the chase, the landing, and two transformations. She was utterly exhausted by the time they reached the ground floor. Ari heard a banging noise coming from the front of the building, but Cameron guided her toward the fire exit. She leaned on the crossbar and escorted Ari out onto the sidewalk.
Dale was standing in front of the building, clutching the jack from the trunk of her car in both hands as she swung it around for another blow. The glass was splintered and spider-webbed but not broken. "Dale!"
She stopped mid-swing and turned, eyes widening when she saw Ari. She dropped the jack with a metallic clatter and ran to her. Dale's voice broke as she ran. "What do they make this damn... glass out of? Kevlar?" She grabbed Ari in a tight hug, which Ari allowed given what they had both just been through. She kissed Dale's forehead and pushed her back. "Are you okay?"
"In one piece, mostly." She winced at Dale's grip. "But my shoulder..."
"Oh, God. I'm sorry." She let go and seemed to finally notice Cameron. "Oh."
"Dale Frye, this is... uh, Cameron, I don't know your last name."
Dale and Ari both stared at her. "As in Evangeline Dobrin?"
Cameron looked confused. "Yes. Why wouldn't... who did she tell you I was?"
"Who are you?" Ari asked.
"I'm Evangeline's daughter."
Ari and Dale were sitting in the car while Cameron went to get her things from her hovel. They hadn't spoken since Cameron left, but Ari finally broke the silence. "Why wouldn't she tell me?"
Dale shook her head. "I don't know. Why would she let us assume they were lovers?"
Ari took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It explains a lot."
"Eva never took pictures of me as... me. Cameron seemed to spend a lot of time as herself. The computer and the crosswords, the television. The only sign of her canidae form was the dog bed and the leashes." She shuddered as she thought about those leashes now.
"You didn't know she had a daughter? She must have been born before you stayed there."
"She never mentioned a daughter."
Dale looked out the window and saw Cameron approaching. "Looks like we have a lot to talk with our client about. How is your shoulder? Do you need a massage?"
Ari managed a smile. "If you don't feel comfortable seeing me in a bra, we should probably hold off on the massages. It's okay. I can have Bryn give me a rubdown." Dale raised her eyebrows and looked away. "What?"
"Upset she's taking your job?"
Cameron was almost to the car. "I'm happy with Nat, and I'm sure you're happy with Bryn, but I do miss when it was just us and we didn't have to worry about anyone getting the wrong idea about me helping you. That's all. You hurt, and I want to make you feel better." The back door opened on the last word and Dale looked away, breaking off the conversation.
Ari twisted in the seat. "We can take you wherever you want. And you can decide if you want Ev-- if you want your mother to know where that is."
"I guess we do have to talk."
"Dale and I can set that up. Right now, let's get you to a motel."
Dale stayed at the motel with Cameron while Ari drove back to Eva's house. She debated what she would say the entire drive, muttering under her breath as she rang the doorbell. But when the door open, she simply blurted out, "What, did you think she wasn't going to bring it up?"
"You've found her."
"Who? Your daughter? Yeah, we picked her up."
Eva sighed and stepped out of the way. "Please, come in."
Ari went into the house. She tried not to be distracted by the memories and smells being there brought back, holding onto her anger by focusing on the pain in her shoulder. "You called her a pet, Eva. God."
"It's how she presented herself to me. She didn't feel comfortable calling me Mom and being considered my daughter, not after what I did. So she hid behind the canidae . It made the transition easier. I was willing to go with it if it got her back into my life. Please, is she okay?"
"She sprained her ankle trying to get away from me, but otherwise she's fine. I want the whole story now, Eva. All of it."
Eva went into the sitting room and settled on the couch. Ari stood on the other side of the coffee table and crossed her arms, causing her shoulder to whimper in protest. She waited out the silence until Eva started to speak. "Cameron's father was my first canidae lover. He wasn't... content with letting me be dominant in the relationship. He was abusive to me, assaulted me so many times. Tell me I don't have to explain--"
Ari shuddered and looked away. "No."
"Due to the circumstances of her conception, Cameron was born in the canidae form. I went to a special doctor and had a C-section. The look on that man's face when he saw my daughter..." She shook her head. "She couldn't control her transformations when she was little. I've seen enough canidae transform to know how badly it hurts. Can you imagine an infant going through that pain?"
"So what did you do?"
"The father didn't stick around, naturally. But I knew I couldn't take care of her. So I found a canidae newsletter and looked around for the right candidate. When Cameron was eight weeks old, I found them. A nice lesbian couple from Idaho. They lived in the woods, and they had been trying artificial insemination for years. It just wouldn't take. So I contacted them and explained the situation." She made a fist with her hand, chewed on her thumbnail as she looked out the window. "We met halfway. I kissed my little girl goodbye and handed her over. I still think it was the right thing to do."
Ari couldn't argue. A normal parent trying to raise a canidae was a recipe for disaster.
"And then she found you?"
"She found my name and information in her parents' things. They'd never told her she was adopted; they were waiting for the right time. So she ran away from home and hitchhiked her way here. But she waited a year before she even contacted me. A year of living on the streets and..." She closed her eyes and a tear slipped free. "She finally called me. I brought her home and told her she could stay as long as she liked. I made her the same offer I made you. She could stay here for as long as she wanted, but if she ever decided to go home--"
"Right." Ari sat in the armchair in front of the window. "So why did she run away again?"
"She was getting restless. I could sense it, but I was waiting for her to come to me. I didn't think she would just leave." She met Ari's eyes again. "Can I see her? Does she want to see me?"
"I don't know. Dale's with her right now. I think we should all just take the night, sleep on it and deal with this in the morning."
Ari stood and closed her eyes. "And... I'll talk to Cameron for you."
Eva seemed to relax. "You will? Thank you, Ariadne."
"I'm doing it for her."
Ari let herself out of the house and walked down the path to the car. When she got in, she looked back and saw Eva was watching her from the doorway. She waved, and Ari lifted her fingers in response as she pulled away.
They were lying naked in bed, tangled in the sheets. Ari was covered with sweat, a result of their frantic lovemaking. Eva was idly stroking her hair, her breasts rising and falling as she caught her breath. She pursed her lips, whistled, and then chuckled. "That was a very lovely way to come home, darling." Ari closed her lips around Eva's nipple and Eva groaned. "I'm going to need to take a break, sweetheart. I'm pretty sore from the last time."
Ari lifted her head and looked into Eva's eyes. Eva frowned.
"What's wrong, darling?"
Ari swallowed. "I have to go."
"I don't know yet. Just not here. Not anymore."
Eva was motionless for nearly a minute. Her hand stilled on the side of Ari's head and then began stroking her hair again. Ari closed her eyes as she was ( petted ) stroked.
"I'll make arrangements tomorrow." Her voice broke. "We'll set up an account for you, and I'll take you to look at apartments. Okay."
A tear dripped from Ari's eye. "I'm sorry, Evangeline."
"Don't." She kissed Ari between the eyebrows. "I've been expecting this. I'm just so happy you stayed as long as you did. Thank you, Ariadne." She stroked the hair out of Ari's face. "But you're not leaving until tomorrow, so... let's enjoy tonight." She kissed Ari's bottom lip.
"I thought you were sore."
"I'm getting a second wind..."
Ari had been sitting in the motel parking lot for fifteen minutes, staring at the window of Dale's motel room. She finally took out her cell phone and dialed Bryn's number.
"Hi." She furrowed her brow at the sleepy sound of Bryn's voice, then remembered she had pulled a late shift. "Oh, crap. Did I wake you?"
"Ari. No. Hi." It was an obvious lie; Ari could hear the bedclothes rustling. "Did we have a date tonight? Shit. I crashed--"
"It's okay. I'm just calling to say I might be busy all night, so I won't be coming over. Sounds like you wouldn't have been very good company anyway."
Bryn laughed. "No, not really. Looks like it all worked out. Doing anything dangerous? Need a hand?"
Ari snorted. "Nothing I'd need a cat for. If there was a ferocious scratching post at large, then maybe..."
"Better watch out, pup."
"Kitty got claws?"
Bryn chuckled. "Stay safe, Ariadne."
"You too, Bryn. Talk to you tomorrow." She hung up and tucked the phone into her pocket before she finally got out of the car. She knocked on the door and Dale let her in.
"Hey. How'd things go?"
"Fine. We're going to hang here tonight and the reunion will be tomorrow. If you wanted to head out, I can keep an eye on her."
Dale glanced over her shoulder at Cameron. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Head on home."
Dale picked up her jacket as Ari came inside. Cameron was sitting on one of the twin beds, halfway watching whatever happened to be on TV. Dale put on her jacket and cleared her throat. "I'm sorry we didn't get to have that lunch today. Rain check?"
Ari waited until Dale was gone before she went to the vacant bed. She stretched out and crossed her feet, laced her hands together on her stomach, and watched what Cameron had put it on. The younger girl finally looked over at her. "So are you going to talk?"
"I figure it's your decision."
Cameron turned off the TV and scooted back against the headboard. "You fucked my Mom."
Ari pursed her lips. "Your mother and I were lovers. Yeah. A long time ago."
"A couple of years. I left when I was your age."
Cameron nodded. "I knew my Moms weren't... I mean, I could just tell. They never told me anything, but I knew. Then I found that paper and I found out they were lying to me."
"They weren't lying to you." Ari sat up. "They changed your diapers, made sure you did well in school, fed you and kept you safe... they were your mothers. The fact you weren't their blood didn't mean anything. And they kept you in one piece. Eva couldn't have done that. A canidae child is a heavy burden in the best circumstances. To a human parent, it... it would have crushed you both."
"So you were raised by a shapeshifter?"
Ari bristled. She steepled her fingers, thumbs extended, and felt the door in her mind opening. The vault where she'd hidden the story slowly cracked and she closed her eyes.
"Yeah. My mother was canidae . She taught me how to deal with my transformation as best I could, and how to hunt. She showed me where to stash clothes and how to avoid getting caught by the police or animal control... all things Eva couldn't possibly have known. She was smart enough to let someone smarter take care of you."
"So why did you end up with Mom? I mean, if your mother was so great..."
I don't talk about my mother. The standard response was right there on her tongue, but she couldn't blurt it out. Not to Cameron. She straightened and looked at the girl and decided she would tell the truth.
"I was born with the canidae gene, but it was dormant. Mom had me tested by one of our doctors and he confirmed I was normal. So Mom booked an appointment and I had a little procedure. A blood transfusion. I was three years old, and she told me that I was sick and needed to get better. I was sick because I was normal. The transfusion worked. After I got out of the hospital, Mom showed me how to change for the first time.
"Every time my skeleton breaks and reforms, every time I go through all that goddamn pain, I can hear her voice in my head telling me I'm not normal. And I know that all that hurt is because of her. She did it to me on purpose. When I found out, I confronted her. She admitted it, proud, like she expected me to thank her. I slapped her, cursed her out... left."
Cameron had grown still. "And that's when you met Mom?"
"A couple of years later, actually. She was just doing what she thought was right. Like your mother did. So why did you leave her place three days ago?"
"She got rid of me once before. I was just saving her the trouble."
"She doesn't want you gone, Cameron. She's older now, smarter. She might make some mistakes, but you'll bounce back. She's had a lot of experience with canidae ."
Cameron scoffed. "Kinky sex doesn't mean experience."
"It wasn't just about sex." She sighed and decided not to fight that battle. "No one is saying you have to go back to Eva's. Just give her a chance to say goodbye, and she'll set you up with whatever you need."
"I guess I've heard worse offers. So are you going to take me back there?"
"No. We can meet her here if you want. Neutral territory. She's not asking for promises, she just wants a chance. She deserves a chance."
Cameron considered it and then slowly nodded. "Yeah."
Ari reached out and patted Cameron's knee. "How's your ankle? I could find a doctor who specializes in our physiology."
"No, it's fine. Your shoulder?"
"It'll be fine."
"You said we'd wait until tomorrow to talk to Mom. Why?"
Ari held out her cell phone. "Because you're going to call your parents in Idaho and ask them to come out here. They deserve to know what's happening. They didn't lie to you. They were just waiting until you were ready to hear the truth. Apparently you weren't ready when you found out, so they weren't exactly wrong. Give them a break. Unless they've done other stuff that was so awful, finding out you were adopted was just the last straw."
Cameron stared at the phone and then took it from her.
"Good girl. I'll give you some privacy."
She stepped out onto the walkway and leaned on the rail, looking down at the parking lot. She closed her eyes.
"How could you do this to me?"
"Do you know how many people would kill for this opportunity, Ariadne? How many people would give anything to experience--"
"Then make them a monster. I'm your daughter. You're supposed to protect me."
Her mother had straightened and her expression became cold. "I did, Ariadne. That is exactly what I did."
The last words her mother had ever spoken to her. Ari pushed them back into the vault, closed the door, and locked it. The hotel room door opened behind her and she turned. Cameron was holding the phone. "They'll be here tomorrow, around noon."
"Doesn't begin to cover it." She took a deep breath of fresh air. "I expected yelling, screaming, threats of being grounded. But they were just... happy."
"You're in one piece, you're safe, and you called them to come get you. I'd say happy is an understandable reaction."
"I'm sorry you got hurt."
Ari tried to shrug without moving her left shoulder. "I'll be fine. All in a day's work." She rested her elbows on the railing and Cameron joined her.
A big day. A tiring day. Ari reached up and rubbed her shoulder as they watched the day turn into night.
Ari waited until Cameron was fast asleep before she slipped out of the motel room. She hailed a cab and slumped in the backseat, eyes closed as she tried to massage her own shoulder. It ached, but she couldn't get the right angle. She needed Dale. She had just enough cash to cover the fare, and she expected she could get the keys from Dale so she could drive back to the motel after her rubdown.
The hallway outside Dale's apartment was very dimly lit, with only a few lights burning every few feet. Dale's door was in the aura of a pale yellow glow, and Ari cast a large shadow over it as she approached.
She used her knuckle to knock loudly enough to be heard, but softly enough that it wouldn't wake Dale if she was asleep. She was about to walk away when she heard locks being thrown and the door opened a crack. Ari straightened her shoulders, but tensed when she saw Natalie Regan, Dale's new girlfriend. Her hair was loose, hanging down to mid-chest, and she seemed to be naked except for a button-down dress shirt. Her bare feet were crossed at the ankles.
"Hi. Ariadne, right?"
"Uh, Ari." She frowned. "Yeah. I hope I didn't wake you up."
"No, I was just getting a glass of milk."
"I would have, um... I-I thought you had a, uh, dental convention or something." She winced. "Not that I'm dropping by your girlfriend's apartment in the middle of the night when I think you're out of town."
Natalie smiled. "That's Thursday. Don't worry, Dale told me that late-night calls were just part of the job. Should I go get her?"
"No. Let her sleep. I just needed to talk. And to borrow her car keys..."
"Uh, sure. Just a second." She disappeared and returned a moment later with the keys. "If she gets mad at me, I'm just going to blame you."
Ari smiled. "That always works. Thanks. And I'm sorry. I'll let you get back to bed."
"Wait." Natalie stepped out into the hall. "Are you okay? I know I only met you once, but..." She looked over her shoulder. "Dale hasn't been asleep long. I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
"She wouldn't. But I'd feel guilty. Thanks, though. Good night."
Ari heard the door close as she walked away, hands in her pockets as she returned to the elevator. Her shoulder still ached. She considered going to find Bryn, but couldn't remember if she was on-duty or not. Better play it safe and just go back to the motel.
She leaned against the elevator wall and rubbed her shoulder.
She hated change.
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