Modern Crusaders, Book 2
Disclaimers in Chapter 1
"Corey, we're heading out now," Claire said, interrupting the intense conversation her friend was having with Reggie, the head chef. The pair had hit it off almost immediately after Claire's unfortunate attack, despite the differences in their ages and situations, and had remained thick as thieves for the remainder of the evening. It did Claire's heart good to know that her friend had discovered another acquaintance, and she reflected that the evening had truly been a godsend. Not only had she and Corey discovered a wealth of new potential friends, who seemed willing to accept them both as they were even after as dramatic a demonstration as Claire's attack, but Ally's and Sophia's unexpected offer of a place to stay meant that she and Corey would not have to find a shelter after all, or dip into Corey's carefully hoarded funds. There was one more thing she would have to discuss with her new benefactors, but given how they had reacted so far she was optimistic that it would prove no problem. Coming back to herself, she saw that Corey and Reggie were looking at her expectantly. "Sorry. Ally and Sophia are leaving now, and they're going to drop me off on their way home. Are you coming with us, Cor?"
"Right, 'dropping you off.'" Corey leered, his voice slightly slurred from the alcohol he had consumed. It wasn't nearly as much as some of those present had imbibed—like Jean, who was currently lying passed out in a pile of limbs on one of the couches—but it was more than enough to loosen all his inhibitions. Not that he was the master of restraint at the best of times, Claire mused with humour. "Is that what they're calling it now?" he said suggestively. "You really mean you're going off to have wild three-way lesbian sex for the rest of the night."
Reggie's eyebrows rose high on his balding head, and Claire was incredibly grateful for the dim lighting which covered both her deep blush and her involuntary glance towards the two attractive women in question.
"Of course, that's what I meant," she said, forcing exasperation into her tone to cover up her embarrassment. "Do you want to join us?"
Corey's comical shudder was nearly sufficient payment for his teasing. "Good God, no. No, you go on. I'm going to stay for a while longer. Reggie said he'd give me a ride home." The cook nodded in agreement.
"Okay," Claire said. She hesitated. "I was going to tell them about…" She trailed off with a vague hand gesture. "Unless you want to."
Corey sobered slightly, in demeanour, if not in condition. "No, that's fine," he said. "Go ahead. I have a feeling it'll be okay."
"Okay, then. I'll see you tomorrow then. Or later today, I suppose."
"You bet. Say, 'Happy Birthday,' to Ally again for me."
"Here she comes," Evelynne murmured as she finished zipping up her light coat and looked up to see Claire approaching. "He's not coming?" she asked when the other woman entered earshot.
"No, he's sticking around for a while longer."
"All right," Evelynne said as now her lover came back from where she had been saying farewell to Narmin. "So, are we set?"
"Good to go," Ally agreed, hefting her bags of gifts, and Claire nodded as well.
"All right. So where do you live?" Evelynne asked, exiting the door that Ally held for her, giving a final wave to their hostess.
"On Ballie Street," Claire replied.
Evelynne looked at Ally, who took a split second to look up the street on the map of the town she had memorised. "That way," the taller woman said, pointing down the street to the left. "About a twenty minute walk."
"Yeah," Claire said, not particularly surprised, having become used to displays of her friend's exquisite memory over the last few weeks. A hint of uncertainty entered her tone. "Look, you really don't have to walk me all the way. I can get back no problem."
"No, we'd feel much better knowing you're back home safe and sound," Evelynne said firmly.
"Yeah, besides, it's a magnificent night for… walking," Ally added, with a sly grin, and a subtle hand motion that only her lover noticed.
Evelynne grinned back and looked up at the clear sky and the millions of stars visible even through the lights of the town. "Oh yes. Perfect for… walking." She slipped an arm through her partner's and hugged it to her body.
Claire watched the display of affection with some discomfort. She could tell that there was some inside joke or meaning to the banter, and couldn't help feeling a little jealous. Not that she begrudged them their relationship in any way; she only had to look at them to see how much they adored each other and how happy they were together. However, it was that very closeness that Claire envied, and it made it even more obvious that it was lacking in her own life. And now, of course, I'm going to be living with them both, at least for a while, she thought. And it's not enough that I have a crush on one of them; no, now I might just have a crush on both of them. And they're irrevocably involved with each other. Claire tried to inject some humour into her own thoughts, but was still aware of the underlying sadness. Well, I'll live. I suppose it's great fantasy material at any rate.
Coming back to herself, Claire realised that her companions had grown silent, and that there was a subtle tension in the air. "Is something wrong?" she asked hesitantly as they all kept walking, uncertain whether she had been caught staring.
"I think your friends from earlier are back," Ally murmured, glancing behind surreptitiously.
A chill ran through Claire's body as she also looked behind her. Sure enough, the five young people, high school students by their dress and appearance, seemed to be following them about fifteen meters back, and in the light of a nearby streetlamp they appeared to have been joined by two or three friends. Decked out in a motley collection of leather jackets, baggy pants, chains, and scarves, the youths were obviously attempting, with questionable success, to mimic a gang from a much larger city, which would have been funny if Claire wasn't so scared.
One of the gang, seeing her looking, grinned evilly at her.
"What do we do?" Claire asked in a low voice, unable to completely suppress the quiver in it. The trio was currently walking through Horton City's small business district, which meant that there were no houses and, at this time of night, no other people from whom to seek assistance. A glance at Ally and Sophia showed that they appeared surprisingly unworried.
"Hey guys, look. It's the freak." The de facto leader of the gang pitched his voice so that the three women could easily hear. "And she got some fuckin' lezzie friends. You a lezzie too, freak? Maybe me and my friends can help you fuckin' dykes with your problems." He grabbed at his crotch suggestively, while his fellow delinquents laughed, and one began playing with a switchblade. They started slowly closing the gap.
"This is so stereotypical it's pathetic," Ally muttered.
Claire looked at her, surprised at the total lack of fear in her voice. Sophia was looking at her partner, and one of Ally's eyebrows quirked in question. Her girlfriend nodded, barely perceptibly.
"Just keep walking," Sophia told Claire, as the sounds of the boys behind them grew louder as the distance between them closed. One of the youths made some comment that had his companions laughing. Claire saw Ally and Sophia look behind themselves at the same time and turned her head as well, still lacking the fearlessness the other women appeared to possess.
She was just in time to see the leader of the gang, still in the process of making some remark to his cronies, complete with highly graphic hand gestures, trip over his own feet and crash headfirst into an empty aluminum garbage can that had been placed by a lamppost. It didn't end there, however, as the can bounced at a highly improbable angle, careened off the lamppost, sailed over the prone leader, and struck the boy who had been walking behind him square in the face. The unfortunate youth collapsed, more in surprise than pain, managing to take down the boys walking on either side of him in a tangle of limbs. The crash of the metal trash can hitting the sidewalk was not particularly loud, but the two youths who had managed to remain upright abruptly clapped their hands over their ears, their expressions ones of pain and… fear?
"Oops," Ally said mildly, and the surprise in her tone was affected to Claire's ears. "I think they might have been drinking or something."
"Maybe," Sophia agreed.
The three women stopped and watched as the boys helped each other up and then, obviously deciding that discretion was needed, began to reverse their course down the street. Those who had fallen were cursing volubly and cradling bruised flesh, but at least one of the others was oddly silent, and cast a wide-eyed, unfathomable expression at the three women before the group disappeared down an alley.
"Well," Ally said a moment later, "that was interesting."
"Uh, yeah," Claire said. "It was… weird." Despite her words, there was a tremor in her voice.
"Are you all right?" Sophia asked, laying a concerned hand on her arm, frowning when she felt the slight shaking in the limb.
"Um… yeah." Claire drew in a shaky breath and let it out slowly. "I've just had experiences with gangs before. Nothing major," she assured her friends, "just some name-calling, pushing and stuff."
"That's major enough," Sophia said, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders and starting down the street once again. Ally took up a position on Claire's right. "But I don't think that particular gang will be bothering you again."
"They weren't even really a gang," Ally added. "They were more of a mini-gang. A gangling."
Sophia looked up at her partner, an amused smile playing about her lips. "'Gangling'? Is that a real word?"
Claire couldn't help but smile as Ally shrugged dismissively. "Of course it is," Sophia's girlfriend stated confidently. "A baby duck is a duckling, so logically a baby gang is a gangling. What else are you going to call it?"
"I don't know," Claire replied, hardly even noticing how her friends had managed to soothe her reaction to the incident. "Maybe a ganglet?"
"Maybe, maybe," Ally allowed, nodding her head solemnly. "In that case, would an all-women gang be a gangess?"
Sophia arched an eyebrow at her girlfriend. "Been thinking a lot about all-women gangs, have you?"
This time Claire laughed out loud as Ally spluttered her protests.
The remainder of the walk to Claire's apartment passed by uneventfully. Evelynne and Ally had insisted on walking Claire all the way up to her door, remembering Corey's description of some of the risks inherent in her condition.
"You going to be okay?" Ally asked as Claire stood in her open doorway.
Claire nodded. "I'll be fine," she said, then paused. "There's—There's something you should know. Y'know, if Corey and I are going to be staying with you. It's—Well, Corey's actually a transsexual. He's really, well, physically a she."
Ally's eyes widened and she looked stunned. Sophia just nodded. "Jean knew him from some events they've both been to."
"I never guessed," Ally murmured. "It never even crossed my mind."
"He'll take that as a compliment," Claire said. "So, is this a problem?" she asked hesitantly.
"Not at all," Sophia said firmly, and her partner nodded.
"No, I was just surprised. I'll still give you a call in the next couple of days to talk moving arrangements."
Claire smiled broadly, her relief obvious. "I'll be waiting."
Back on the street, Ally and Evelynne walked casually down the sidewalk away from Claire's apartment building. Ally had a thoughtful expression on her face when Evelynne looked up at her.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, squeezing her partner's warm hand in her own.
"Pardon? Oh, I was just thinking about Corey." Ally shook her head slowly.
"It really surprised you, didn't it? That he's a transsexual."
"It did," Ally admitted. "It never even crossed my mind. I mean, you know how I get impressions of people, right?" Evelynne nodded. A side effect of Ally's empathic ability was that she usually picked up a "feeling" about people she met, even when she wasn't actively scanning them. "Well, it's just that Corey's so completely male. Which makes sense, since I'm picking up his psyche, after all. It never occurred to me to look at his body, if you know what I mean."
Evelynne nodded. One of the things that made Ally so accepting, she thought, was that whenever she did meet someone she was much more in tune with their psyche, their soul, the thing that made them who they were inside, at least on a subconscious level, than their physical appearance. "I understand," she said. "I admit it surprised me when Jean told me. He's just so… Yes, male is a good word. A—What's the word?—a 'flaming gay' male, but still…"
Ally laughed. "As my friend Pat would say, 'So gay he wraps right around into straight again.'" Evelynne looked puzzled. "Think about it. Physically he's a woman, and he's definitely attracted to men, so technically he could be said to be straight. But he identifies as a gay man, so…" She drew a circle in the air.
Evelynne's face cleared. "Ah, I see. Your friend Pat, she was almost the opposite, wasn't she?"
Ally nodded. "Before she transitioned, she was technically a man attracted to women, but she identified sexually as a lesbian." She shook her head ruefully. "And people think there are only two genders. Even genetically that isn't true."
"Last I heard, scientists had identified at least thirteen different combinations of the X and Y chromosomes occurring in nature. So genetically, anyway, there are at least thirteen different genders."
"I didn't know that." Evelynne thought for a moment, then laughed softly. "You realise that if someone had told me before I met you that these would be the kind of people I'd be calling my friends and be socializing with I'd have laughed at them. Politely, of course, but I'd have still laughed."
"You aren't sorry, are you?"
"Oh, Isis, no! I'm just thinking of what would happen if some reporter managed to track down where we'd been and what we'd been doing once we get back home."
"Would that be a problem?"
Evelynne shrugged. "No, I don't think so." She laughed again. "Nobody would believe him anyway!"
"Well, that was an eventful evening," Ally said, as she got ready for bed finally. She was towelling her hair dry after a quick shower, and her lover was already in bed watching her with sleepy yet appreciative eyes.
"That it was," Evelynne agreed, secretly pleased when Ally casually removed the towel wrapped around herself without even a hint of hesitation. It was a far cry from the woman who had been nearly terrified to be seen naked after their first night together. "You sound like you had fun."
"I did," Ally admitted, turning out the light and finding her way to the bed as she talked. There was a pause as she placed her glasses on the side table, and then she climbed under the light covers, taking up her customary position wrapped around Evelynne's back. She sighed as she burrowed into the familiar warmth. "What about you? Did you have fun slumming with the peons?"
"Hey!" Evelynne protested, lightly elbowing her bedmate in the ribs. "I've been working with these 'peons' for a while now, you know. I'm even engaged to one. Or at least I was." Her tone dropped to a playfully threatening edge.
Ally just grinned, her intimate contact with her lover letting her feel the humour in Evelynne's thoughts. "Oh, I'm sure your errant fiancée will be able to convince you to take her back," she murmured, using her hand to draw light, teasing circles on her partner's belly. She paused to yawn widely. "Although maybe not tonight." She squinted at the curtained window, seeing the tell-tale natural light that indicated that dawn was not far off. "Or this morning, or whatever the heck it is."
"I'll hold her to that," Evelynne said, smiling. "She still needs to show me that mysterious gift from Jean." She grinned more widely as she felt the body behind her flush. "You know, this isn't how I ever imagined spending your birthday."
"Mmm?" Ally made a sleepy questioning sound.
"I'd actually planned to take you to see Cirque de Soleil. They're touring Atlantl this summer. Then afterwards we'd have a quiet, romantic picnic dinner, preferably in our grotto."
"Sounds perfect," Ally murmured. "I've never seen Cirque de Soleil before. Live, anyway." She chuckled. "Instead, we spent it with your boss and co-workers, dancing and singing karaoke. And finished it off by scaring the pants off a bunch of high school delinquents."
"Actually, did you see that one boy? His pants were half off already." Evelynne giggled at the memory. "That was a neat trick with the trash can, by the way."
"Thanks," Ally said, smiling wryly into the back of Evelynne's neck, and musing on the surrealism of lying in bed and discussing the psychogenic subdual of ruffians so matter-of-factly. "What did you project at them, anyway? I think that one kid might have wet his pants."
"I just 'yelled' at them to leave us alone. I think. I also tried to throw some anger as well. Of course, I have no idea exactly what they 'heard'."
One of the discoveries about Evelynne's telepathic talent that they had made through experimentation was that every person “heard” her mental voice differently. While most "heard" Evelynne's "words" clearly, as though she was speaking aloud, it was a cold, unemotional voice; Sir Arthur Ramirez had characterised it as listening to a computer speaking. On the other hand, Ally's mother could more easily sense the emotions and pure concepts, as could Ally herself, and Ally's father couldn't "hear" anything at all. Evelynne's brother, Patrick, had even reported seeing some sort of halo surrounding his sister when she projected, something that was unseen by anyone else. Ally actually thought it made sense, speculating that Evelynne was directly stimulating people's sensory cortices. Since everyone processed that data differently, it made sense that the end results would be different for each person.
"Well, whatever they heard, it worked." Ally could feel sleep pulling at her, and could feel Evelynne likewise succumbing.
*Happy birthday, love,* Evelynne said, forgoing conventional speech. *And thank you for a wonderful flight.*
Ally didn't reply, but she smiled as she took the words, and the emotion behind them, down with her into sleep.
Continued in Chapter 7
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