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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

"So have you been watching the Wonderful House?" Malik asked, leaning back in his chair and knocking back his espresso.

"Of course," Ivy said, examining her glass of chai.  "What about you?"

"Hell, no," Malik said, running his brown hands over the mass of his longish natural hair that he hadn't bothered to control with his usual headband.  "I don't really want my roommates to connect me with him."

Ivy gave him a skeptical look over the lip of her glass.  "What makes you think they haven't?"

"None of them have asked me," Malik said.

"Why would they?" Ivy said, a toss of her head setting her beaded braids clicking.  "We're all on Parapedia.  Anyone looking up Simon -- and you know that thousands of people looked him up the day of that first episode -- saw us."

Malik looked away, rolling his head to one side to look out the windows in the garage door at the front of the coffee shop.  "You know, you and I are the normal ones in the family."

"Are we?"  Ivy watched him from under her eyelashes.

"Oh, come on," Malik said.  "You've changed your name so no one will know you're one of the family..."

"I changed it," Ivy said slowly and carefully, "so I wouldn't get special treatment from my professors."

"Ivy Sullivan," Malik said, as if testing the flavor of it.  "Rolls off the tongue better than Ivy Canis."

"Aesthetics were not the first thing on my mind," Ivy said stiffly.  "Though changing the last name is better than trying to drop it entirely, Mr. I-Have-Only-One-Name."

"I'm a musician," Malik said complacently.  "It's a tradition."

"And that's normal?" Ivy said.

"I haven't changed my sex," Malik said, rolling his eyes.

"Gender," Ivy said.

"Sex, gender, what the hell is the difference?" Malik said.

"Sex is biological," Ivy said.  "Gender is social and performative."

"Don't lecture me," Malik said, pointing at her.

"I'll lecture when you need a lecture," Ivy said.  "What else supposedly makes you normal?"

"I'm straight," Malik said, ticking off on his fingers.  

Ivy glowered.  "Do not go there, home boy, or I'll slap you upside your head so hard you'll need a mirror to walk forward."

Malik made a vaguely apologetic gesture.  "I stay human."

"When was the last time you were a wolf?" Ivy said, eyeing the pewter wolf's head buttons on the crazy-quilt winter coat Malik had draped over the chair next to her.

Malik frowned and looked up at the most recent set of art on the wall behind Ivy.  "At least a year.  Maybe two?"

"You know," Ivy said, picking her scone to crumbs on her plate, "Jasmine said that after spending a year as a wolf, it was really hard to make herself human again."

"I'd rather be stuck with opposable thumbs," Malik said, "than be left able to do nothing more interesting than lick myself for the rest of my life."

Ivy just gave him a Look.  The two of them shared the advantage of having eyes that were closer to human-normal color -- light brown rather than yellow -- so they could get away without the dark glasses that Simon and their mother affected.  But still, looks conveyed a great deal in their family, and he dropped his gaze to the table.

"If you are the exemplar of normal," Ivy said, "then I'm certainly not."

He frowned.  "What do you mean?"

"I didn't tell you what I did last summer, did I?" she said.

"You stayed in Boston," he said.  "I figured you were interning, or taking classes or something."

"I was working in my advisor's lab," Ivy said.  "But it was only part time.  The rest of the time, I was having a steamy summer romance."

"You?" Malik said, eyebrows on the rise.  "This I have got to hear."

I met Rachel at the first Science Fiction Society meeting, and ran into her again at the Anime Club.  And then I kept running into her all over campus, despite the fact that she was an upperclassman and I was a lowly frosh.  She was this tall, muscular white woman with swimmer's shoulders and a hell of a suntan, and this amazing cascade of black curls that trailed down her spine... People at the SF Society told me she was a biology major, and had spent the summer before down on Cape Cod, doing marine biology research at Wood's Hole.  I kinda... read up on marine biology.  People at Anime Club told me she was a wicked-good artist and had drawn three of her own doujinshi for shows I'd never seen.  So, of course, I hunted down those shows and mainlined them as fast as I could.

I never thought I'd have a crush like that.  People talk about getting jelly-knees when their crush is around, and I always thought that sounded stupid.  I don't think so any more.  But I held up really well, just sort of -- if you'll forgive the phrase -- being a puppydog, trailing along behind her at meetings and things like that, volunteering to help her with a poster or decorating for the Hallowe'en party or whatever.  I don't even think she noticed.

Then she turned up at one meeting in the spring with her hair butched really short -- she was cosplaying for Anime Boston, I think, and she wanted short hair for it.  But I kept having these... horrible urges to pet her hair.  I wanted to run my fingers through it.  It got so I couldn't stand up around her while she was sitting because I'd drift over and... yeah.  She smelled really good too, one of those people who really do smell good enough to eat.  And she had these incredibly intense blue eyes.  I was completely incoherent around her.  I think she finally started to notice.

So then, at the end of the semester, I ran into her as she was carrying this incredibly awkward bunch of boxes across campus, so of course I offered to help.  When I said, "Where to?" she laughed and said, "You'll be sorry: my house."

See, she lived in this house off-campus with a bunch of other geeks like us, and I'd just let myself in for a ten-block walk.  But I didn't care, since it meant I had an excuse to go back to her place.  Maybe we could go out to dinner or something afterward.  Maybe I could hang out.

So we walked and we talked.  Stuff like:

"So what are you doing for the summer?" I said.

"Staying in town," she said, shifting the heaviest box against her hip.  "I did a bunch of work last summer, and some more over the year.  My advisor wants me to write a paper."

"That's great!" I said, since at the very least, you and I both know the value of getting published from Mom.

"What about you?" she said.

"I... don't really know yet," I said.  "My mom is kinda leaving it up to me.  One of my professors has offered to advise me on a project if I stick around, but I guess I've really left things really late to find a place to live..."

"We're looking for a subletter for the summer," Rachel said.  "Cooper is spending the summer biking across Europe or some shit.  You could have his room.  It's the smallest, so it's cheapest."

I think I was struck dumb.  Yes, me, struck dumb, I know how unlikely that is.  But I couldn't think of what to say.  I just kind of kept walking and staring at her and walking and staring at her for a few moments.  Then I said, "Really?"

She grinned and I almost fell down because my knees didn't want to keep me up, she was that sexy.  She said, "Really."

It was that easy.  I offered to carry some boxes for my crush and I had a room for the summer.

We got to the house and I looked at the room.  It was tiny, just big enough for a twin futon and some milk crates for clothes and books.  It was on the third floor, and the window wasn't big enough for an air conditioner.  But the only other room on the third floor was hers, and she had an air conditioner and was willing to leave the door open and we could get a fan to direct the cool air into my room and...

You know I was hooked.  That room could have been the nastiest trash room in several universes and I would still have taken it.  I mean, she was practically offering an open-door policy, wasn't she?

I emailed Mom and my professor that night when I got home after Chinese food at Mary Chung's and some seriously awkward goodbyes where our way split.  I got a storage unit the next day and found someone with a car to help me take most of my dorm room crap out to it later that week.  On Saturday morning, Cooper asked me to come over and sign a sublet agreement, so I went by.  The whole house was there: Cooper and Rachel and Blib and Li and Aragorn and Squall and Ladonna.  They'd gotten a bunch of pizza and beer and were having a party to welcome me to the house.  Blib had set up Rock Band and we played until 3 am.

We were all exhausted and sweaty and drunk by 3 am, and none of them would let me walk back to the dorm.  Rachel grabbed me by the arm and said, "Come on, you can crash in my room, I have a fold-out futon chair."

"Well," said Malik.  "That was convenient."

Ivy rolled her eyes at him.  "It was late.  We were tired."

"You didn't get busy in her room?" Malik said, looking horrified.

"Well... yeah, I guess we did," Ivy admitted.

"Convenient," he said again.

What Ivy would never tell Malik:
They staggered up the stairs to the third floor.  It was dark up there, but of course Ivy had no trouble seeing.  She could smell beer and sweat overlaying Rachel's normal scent, bit her trembling lower lip and clenched her teeth because all she wanted to do was fling herself against the other woman and bite one of the pale shoulders revealed by the black tank top.

Rachel pulled her down the hall and into her room.  It was bigger than the room that would be Ivy's, and a fan blew cool May evening air in, the motor's hum dulling the city sounds outside.

The room was cluttered, and it looked like she hadn't done laundry in a while.  The whole room smelled of Rachel, and the breeze stirred it up to dance like an elemental in Ivy's tipsy head.

Rachel rummaged for a few moments in the laundry.  Ivy stood behind her, breathing slowly and deeply, dizzy and drunk, arms and legs buzzing  like a hive of bees.  Finally, Rachel stood up with a grunt.  "Oh, fuck it," she said and looked at Ivy.  Ivy held herself perfectly still as the taller woman leaned down and kissed her, tasting of beer and chocolate and nachos.

After that first tentative pressure, the frantic desperation blotted out Ivy's considerable mental processes, and she clutched at the shoulders she'd swooned over, was crushed against the muscular body she'd imagined as she went to sleep at night.  At some point, she heard herself growling, but she was only answering growls from Rachel.

In the morning, she had to apologize for tearing the tank top, and they never did find Ivy's underwear.

So every night after that, yeah, I was in her room, and as the weather heated up and we turned on the air conditioner, we didn't have to worry about a fan in the hall.  I moved my stuff into Cooper's room, but everyone in the house knew that Rachel and I were sleeping together.  I mean, there were some days that we didn't come out of the room at all except to stagger to the bathroom and maybe down to the kitchen, and whenever we did that, we had idiotic grins on our faces.

One afternoon, she was at work, and I thought I'd do something nice and clean up the room.  This mostly involved about five loads of laundry, carting them up and down the stairs to the basement, paying the quarters into the machines and running the dryer a lot.  In between loads, I straightened things.  She had sketch and drawing pads all over the room, and I started to stack them up on the drawing table I found under some of her winter clothes.  I changed the sheets on the bed and went back to straightening.  Then one of the sketchbooks fell open and the first sketch, a version of an anime character I recognize, caught my eye, so I started flipping pages.  Mom always did say that our besetting sin as a family is our curiosity.

I was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, clutching the sketchbook and feeling angry and sick and sad and used and... I don't know what else... when she got home.

"Jesus, what does she draw?" Malik said, straightening up in his seat.  "Snuff fantasies or something?"

Ivy said, "Ha ha, no.  Look, brother dear, have you ever heard of furries?"

He blinked.  "Those are the people who, like, dress up as teddy bears and..."

Ivy said, "That's what I thought.  You don't know shit.  Where did you get that, watching television?"

"Um," he said, looking side to side as if for escape.  "Yeah?"

She rolled her eyes.

"Well forgive me, Miss Lah-de-dah!" he nearly shouted, then caught the stares of fellow coffee drinkers and dropped his voice.  "I don't hang out with the freaks and geeks."

Ivy snorted.  "You're a musician."

"I don't hang out with your type of freaks and geeks," he amended.

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, that's all I knew when I found her sketch book," Ivy said, a little more kindly.

"What the hell is this?" I said, flipping the sketchbook open to a really... kind of sexy drawing of these two anthropomorphic wolves kissing.

"Wait," Malik said, holding his head.  "How can anthropomorphic anything with muzzles kiss?"

"With a lot of tongue," Ivy said, grinning mischievously.

"Waugh," Malik said.

"What the hell is this?" I said.

Rachel had looked around the room, gobsmacked, but come to a complete halt when she saw my face.  Now she glanced at the picture and said, "Two naked anthropomorphic wolves kissing."

I looked at it.  It was true, they weren't wearing clothes, and since they were anthropomorphic, I guessed that technically made them naked.  "You draw a lot of this," I said, glancing at the neat stack of sketchbooks on the drawing table.

She sat down in front of me cross-legged, dumping her backpack on the floor behind her.  "Yes, I do," she said.  "I'm a furry.  I think anthropomorphic animals are nifty.  Sometimes I draw them having sex.  Mostly, I draw them doing normal things, like sitting in class, or running, or shooting laser guns."  She gave me this hopeless little lopsided smile, and I giggled a little, letting the book shut.  "Sometimes I have cybersex with people online in my persona as a wolf.  It's no different from people having cybersex online while pretending to be six feet tall and hung like a horse."

I could tell she'd explained this to a lot of people.  People who'd probably had reactions like mine to her art.  I was ashamed.  But I was also... kind of sick and anxious with this fear that... well, you can guess.

"I need to know something," I said, not looking at her.

She sighed.  "I don't have a fursuit, if that's the question.  Though there's nothing wrong with that either, you know.  What's the difference between a fursuit and a maid's uniform, after all?"

"Nothing," I said, feeling about three inches tall, but finally managed, "Rachel, I have to know if you're... you got together with me because of this."  I shook the sketchbook.

Rachel's brow furrowed.  She looked from me to the sketchbook and back.  "What do you mean?"

I blinked.  "Wait.  You know who I am, right?"

Rachel, if possible, looked even more puzzled.  "Ivy Sullivan? Anime fan and engineering major?  Um, what else am I supposed to know?"

"You don't know..." I started, then covered my face and started to giggle.

She let that go on for a few moments, and then started to get alarmed.  "Ivy... Ivy, what's wrong?"  She was kneeling in front of me and gripping my shoulders.

I guess I was sounding kind of hysterical.  I'd gotten myself all worked up -- angry and hurt and frustrated -- and stewed in it for hours, and then it turned out that it wasn't anything like what I thought at all.  She hadn't gone stalking me on the Internet or anything.  She'd completely taken me at face value.  I was so self-centered and self-important, I thought it was all about me.  And she just happened to be, in addition to my girlfriend, fond of drawing furry people and anime characters.

"I'm... really, really sorry, Rach," I finally said after gasping for breath for a while and calming myself down and wiping my eyes.  "I... completely misinterpreted... imputed meaning where there wasn't any..."

She hugged me, and we sat there, holding each other.  Finally, my stomach growled, and she pulled away and looked down at me.  "I think you're hungry," she said.

"I think I'm hungry," I agreed.

"Shall we go get pizza?" she said.

"Pizza sounds excellent," I said.

"And after we've had something to eat," she said, as we were gathering ourselves up and heading out, "maybe you can explain what it is I don't know about you."

"Ooooooh, busted," Malik said.  "Can I get you another?" he added, gesturing at her empty glass.

"Sure," she said, and watched him pounce off to order their drinks.  She watched a few people -- women and men -- turn their heads to look after him.  He had a flirtatious way about him as he moved that drew the eye of anyone who wasn't related to him.  He was more suave than Simon was, or at least tried to be.  Simon was willing to look like a fool sometimes, which endeared him to exactly the sort of women he was hot for.  Neither of them had ever lacked particularly in the relationship department. Animal magnetism?  Malik would have thrown something at her for the suggestion.  Their grandmother would have suggested that the elder twins had got "the gift of gab" from the Irish side of the family.  Something Jasmine, at least, had always lacked.  

Malik returned, gracefully serving her chai and seating himself.  "So you told her who you were?" he prompted.

"More or less," Ivy said.

"I changed my name," I said after I'd had a few slices of pizza.  "The last name on my birth certificate was, um, Canis."

Rachel was mid-bite and stayed that way for several seconds while this clicked through her brain.  Then her eyes went wide and she chewed and swallowed really fast.  "Oh, god, Ivy, I... I can't even say I'm sorry because I didn't know, but I... no wonder you were upset."

I shrugged and looked contrite.  "I'm sorry I overreacted.  I guess I've taken my brother's stories about... um... specialists to heart."

"Specialists... oh, geez, that sounds awful," Rachel said.  "I'm so sorry.  Which brother is this, Malik or Simon?"

"Simon," I said.  "He's got a lot of experience with people who want him to be something else."

"Well, I can safely say that I've never fantasized about any of the shapechanging paras out there," Rachel said.  "It just never occurred to me."

"Never?" I said.

"Never," Rachel said.  Then she caught my look and said, "Well, okay, maybe there was one drunken late-night conversation at a furry convention..."

I laughed and she laughed, and everything was pretty much all right.

"Well, that's good," Malik said.

"Yeah, it was," Ivy said with a fond smile at the tabletop.

"So when do I get to meet the lucky woman?" Malik said.  When Ivy was silent for too long, he said, "You're still with her, right?"

"Not... exactly."

What Ivy would never tell Malik:

Rachel left everything the way Ivy had made it and they worked together to keep the room clean.  But this meant that Ivy found herself drifting back to the stack of sketchbooks whenever Rachel wasn't home.

She would stare for a long time at some of the art. (Not the ones with boys in, which, incidentally, inclined her to wonder about the accuracy of her own self-identification as bisexual.  But she decided it was just that she didn't find certain boyparts all that interesting to look at.)  And she thought about how hard both she and Simon had worked, back in their spandex days with the Puppy Patrol, to do partial shapechanges.  Simon was better at it than she was, able to change, say, just his hand, or just give himself fangs.  (He'd worked so hard at it because he hated trying to talk as a wolf.  Unlike his siblings, he had a terrible lisp in wolf form. Even the partial changing didn't fix the lisp, no matter how hard he tried, so when he was a wolf, he refused to talk.)

Could she manage the anthropomorphic wolf look herself?  She only made a few attempts -- in her own room, just to avoid Rachel walking in on her.  She didn't have fine enough control: once she got past the point of muzzle and claws, the rest of the change just slid forward and she found herself on four paws.

Still, the look on Rachel's face when she demonstrated her ability to grow fangs and a longer jaw was more than a litte fun.  And further experimentation was even more fun.

"So was she hotter for you after the big reveal?" Malik said in a low voice, slumping down in his seat.  "Was that the problem?"

Ivy pursed her lips thoughtfully and eyed her brother's face.  "No.  It wasn't the problem.  The thing is..."

We had this talk one day, you see.

"So what is it about furries that got your attention first?" I said, as we were prepping green beans from the farmer's market.  It was our turn to make dinner, and Rachel had decided that we'd be Healthy about it.

"It was the sexy at first," she said.  "And then... well, I started to feel like... this is going to sound really stupid..."

"No, it won't," I said.  There was something about the look on her face that was really familiar, that I didn't want to discourage.

"I... I've never really told anyone this before," she said, covering her face with one hand.  "Except on my blog. And that's anonymous. Or I can pretend it is.  I kind of feel like I was born the wrong... species."

"WAIT A MINUTE!" Malik bellowed, then winced and subsided under all the disapproving looks from other patrons.  Through gritted teeth, he said, "I am not buying that shit.  Someone actually said that to you?"

"Why is this so weird?" Ivy said, leaning forward and glowering.  "Simon was the wrong sex.  Why not the wrong species?"

"Because humans got no idea what it's like to be another species," Malik said.  "A woman's got an idea of what being a man is like and vice versa."

"Really?" Ivy said.  "I've got no idea what being you is like.  And you're closer to my experience than that really cute woman sitting near the pool table.  Or the Ultimate.  What if she'd said she was born with the wrong powers, because she didn't have any?"

"You know how wolves are romanticized," Malik said.  "This is different."

"That's what everyone who doesn't buy this seems to say about other people, don't you think?" Ivy said.  "Don't you think everyone told Simon he didn't know what being a man was like, why shouldn't he just stay a lesbian, poor confused dear?"

"I..." Malik started, then snapped his jaw shut, looking troubled.

"Don't you think that Mom got told by her well-meaning friends that she didn't know what it was like, being human?" Ivy said.  "Don't you think every goddamn one of them offered her some sort of advice?  Even though they knew she was smarter than most of them?  Wolves are social animals, just like humans.  If their society is a little different, well isn't American society a little different from... from... Japanese society?"

"Your girlfriend taught you a lot about making those comparisons in these sorts of discussions," he said sourly.  "Yes, I know what Mom dealt with.  She's told us all.  That's why she told us to leave Simon alone, and leave Jasmine alone.  But we're different.  We're not like anyone else.  Foot in both worlds."

"Why should we have the corner on the market of figuring shit out?" Ivy said.  "Everyone has to figure out their own damn identity."

"What the hell did you say?" Malik said sulkily.  "I mean, what can you say?"

I didn't say much at the time, just hugged her and told her I totally understood.

She rubbed her eyes and grinned and said, "I guess you do.  You're really about the only person in the world who would."

"Well, me and my family."

"Yeah," she said.  "And it probably sounds really stupid."

"No," I said.  "No, it doesn't."

We went on to a different angle of conversation, but this stuck with me for a while.  And I thought about it.  And I started looking through some of Mom's designs...

"You didn't," Malik groaned, rolling forward to rest his forehead on the table.

"Well, why not?" Ivy said.  "Mom couldn't build them, but I could build something that was based on her design and alter the design to do what I wanted it to..."

"Ivy," Malik said helplessly.

"What?" she said.

He raised his head and looked at her hard.  "You turned your girlfriend into a wolf?"

"With her permission!" Ivy said.

"I... don't even know," Malik said, his head thumping down hard on the table.  "I can't even... with her permission?  You just said, 'Hey, honey, wanna be a wolf?' and zapped her with your transmogrifier or something?"

"Of course not," Ivy said stiffly.  "The design needs to harness my own morphic energies, so I had to transform with her.  And, of course, it needs me to transform her back."

"Wait," he said, "you didn't leave her as a wolf."

"No," she said, avoiding his eyes.  "Not the first time.  Or even the second or third times..."

"She's a wolf now, though, isn't she?" Malik said.

"She wanted to be!" Ivy said.

What Ivy would never tell Malik:
The first time was sad and funny, with Rachel trying to figure out how to walk gracefully on four legs.  It's harder than it looks.  Walking, sitting, jumping, pouncing.  Two wolves in Rachel's tiny bedroom in the heat of summer.  Fortunately no one else ever came up to the room to wonder why it smelled of dog.

The second time, Rachel was getting her wolf legs under control.  They went for a stroll through the big, rolling cemetery, startling a fox and several raccoons, and terrifying a coyote into a growling confrontation.  When they turned back, Rachel had to lie in the grass, recovering from the sensory overload for a while.

"I can't cover my nose as a wolf," Rachel said.  "I thought I'd die when we went past where that skunk had been."

"Yeah, it caught me by surprise too," Ivy said.

"I thought you were used to it," Rachel said.

"Not as much as I should be," Ivy said.  "So says my sister Jasmine.  Who likes to criticize all of us because we didn't go off, live as a wolf for a year, and come back with puppies."

"She did not!" Rachel said, sitting up.

"Ohhhh, yeah," Ivy said.  "They're super-smart puppies, of course.  Even Mom doesn't know if they'll be able to shapechange, or how smart they'll be.  But they can talk and stuff."

"I guess it would be kind of hard to be supersmart and stuck as a wolf," Rachel said, reaching over her shoulder and scratching her back.

"Hold still," Ivy said, plucking a tiny deer tick off Rachel's bare leg with a bit of paper and tossing it away.

"You can't scratch, you can't deal with things like that," Rachel said, gesturing after the paper.  

"You can't get on the Internet," Ivy said.  She wiggled her fingers.  "No matter how cleverly someone makes a keyboard for you, typing is maddening."

"Can't talk, if you're not a Canis," Rachel said.  

"No real sex drive," Ivy said.  "Except when you come into heat, and then it's not really sex sex.  So saith Jasmine."

"The scary part is that I still want to try it again," Rachel said.  "Maybe for longer?"

Ivy considered Rachel.  "All right.  How long can you get off work for?"

"I was thinking," Rachel said, "about taking a semester off.  For field work."

"She's a field biologist," Ivy said.  "She wanted to learn more about wolves from the inside."

Malik covered his face with both hands.  "Ivy, she can't possibly believe that she's going to be able to publish.  There is no branch of field biology that allows for... for... wolf anthropology."

Ivy sighed and leaned on her fist.  "I know that.  She knows that.  She wanted to explore more.  And when she comes back..."

"If," Malik said.

"When," Ivy said.  "She'll have done something she'd always be curious about."

"What if she goes native?" Malik said.  "What if she loses herself in the wolf?  Our brains are designed to be supersmart whether we're wolves or humans."

"And I copied my own transition," Ivy said.  "Her brain should be fine at holding onto her human stuff."

"Did you do any testing?" Malik said.

"We did a two-week test," Ivy said through clenched teeth.  "And she was fine.  Itchy and full of fleas, but fine."

"How about heartworm?" Malik said.  "How about the fact that as a wolf, she's likely to be staring down a gun barrel without the ability to say, 'Don't shoot! I'm a human!'?"

"Oh, I forgot the heartworm meds," Ivy said, frowning into the distance.

"See?" Malik said.  "What else did you forget?"

"She's got a tag that she has to report in on daily," Ivy said.  "She just has to trigger it.  It takes human brains to make it trip.  If she doesn't report in, I get an alert."

"She could still be dead by then," Malik said.  "How the hell did she explain this to her parents?"

"She didn't," Ivy said.  "She's also got a purposeful alert, if she needs help."

"How fast could you get to her?" Malik said.

"I used Mom's recall and tracker," Ivy said, more defensive than ever and not meeting his gaze.

Malik rolled his eyes.  "What is this, 'if you love someone set them free, but make sure they're on GPS and emergency recall teleport'?  Did you ask her before you... no, you didn't.  You fucking microchipped your girlfriend without asking?"

"For her own safety!" Ivy said, but she still wasn't looking up from her glass.

"Ivy, my girl," Malik said after watching her for a moment, "I am not only questioning your ethics as a scientist, but also as a girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend," Ivy said sullenly.  "She broke up with me before going."

"Why?" Malik said.

"I don't know," Ivy said with a sigh.  "It just... wasn't working out."

"And she still trusted you to come save her in an emergency?" Malik said.

"Yes."  Ivy stopped the low growl, but he heard it and sat up a little straighter in his seat.  "Because we're still friends.  Unlike you and every girlfriend you ever broke up with.  I've seen them talk about you on Twitter."

"Friends," Malik said. "Huh."

What Ivy would never tell Malik:

Ivy spent a lot of time online in those weeks after her initial discovery of Rachel's notebooks, looking at furry sites, playing on furry MUSHes and MUDs and MOOs, and finally, designing her own furry massively-multiplayer roleplaying game. She knew she probably wouldn't be allowed to release it -- she'd had to build her own server to handle it, and it had some special add-ons that probably put it under the coverage of the Paranormal Invention Control Act. If she tried to release it publicly, it just meant that a lot of government agents would be playing her game. They'd probably like it.

The problem was that, like her mother, when she started working on a project, she developed... focus. And at first Rachel was really understanding about Ivy staying up late nights working on her new toy. But not long after their third wolf experiment, after Ivy had already agreed to change her for a semester, Rachel sat down next to Ivy one night and nudged her until she looked up from the computer.

"Hey," Rachel said, but not with her usual smile. "We need to talk."

"I... um... okay," Ivy said, putting her ergo-keyboard -- it was in the rough shape of a cube, and she held it in both her hands -- down on the desk and turning to face Rachel.

"I... was thinking that while I'm gone... we should..." Rachel stuttered to a halt, then took a deep breath. "I was going to make up an excuse about giving you your freedom to date or whatever while I'm gone. But we promised not to lie to each other, right?"

Ivy nodded breathlessly. Her stomach felt like it was somewhere near her ankles.

"The truth is... I'm glad that you're interested in furry stuff," Rachel said, smiling briefly, a little painfully. "I really am. Because, you know, it's something else we can share. But... I did all this already." She gestured at the computer and the clock. "I spent my years online, hanging out with other furries, doing my art and things like that. And I kind of... moved past it to another place."

"But you're still into it," Ivy said.

"Yeah," Rachel said. "But... look, you're a new convert, basically, and you're really, really into it. And I'm glad you found something you love so much. But all these realizations and stuff that you're coming to... I had. And it wouldn't be a problem except that... you're so focused on the online stuff that you're hardly spending any time with me any more."

"I always spend time with you!" Ivy protested. "I moved the computer in here so we could be together." Even as she said it, she realized what was wrong with that statement.

"I have to poke you to get your attention," Rachel said, with a grim little smile. "And you know? That's okay. I was thinking that, you know, maybe while I'm gone you'll have some time to get over the new stuff and into..."

"More interesting stuff," Ivy said, her shoulders slumping.

"I wasn't going to say that," Rachel said.

"You were thinking it," Ivy said.

"No." Rachel took her by the shoulders. "Look at me."

Ivy obeyed.

"Just like the whole wolf thing isn't really new to you, just like you won't really get much out of exploring it with me?" Rachel said. "I think you'd be better off for exploring this stuff on your own."

"Oh," Ivy said. She was a little startled when the tear rolled down her face. "Sorry," she said, wiping it away, and then another. And another, and another, and... "
Damn," Ivy said, and put her face in her hands.

Rachel let go of her and fetched a tissue box. She held Ivy while she cried, and Rachel might have cried a little too. And there was more, because, of course, there had to be.

In the darkness, later, Ivy said, swallowing an awkward hiccough, "Do you think maybe... after you come back... we could try again?"

Rachel's hand glided over Ivy's bare skin. "I'd like that."

Ivy and Malik made their way to the front door of the coffee shop together, dodging around a trio of butch Asian women with piercings and tattoos that made Ivy's head turn.

"Well," Malik said as they stepped out into the icy wind, "that was certainly some story. I'm sorry I don't get to meet her."

"You might," Ivy said.

"Yeah, sure," Malik said. "Look, Ives, you really need to think about this whole relationship thing."

"I know," Ivy said, turning up the collar of her gray coat. "You really need to think about this whole 'being normal' thing."

"Yeah," Malik said. "Catch you later, sis."

Ivy watched Malik's crazy quilt coat disappear down the street toward the subway station.

What Ivy would never tell Malik:

She thought, perhaps, that none of them could ever be normal. Though maybe, just maybe, Simon's choice to be a liminal being was as close as any of them could get.

It wouldn't stop any of them from trying their own methods, though. That was probably just the way it had to be in the Canis family.


From the Author:
Wow. That was hard work.

Through May, I'm running the commenting incentive again. If I get 50 total comments in May, I will post twice weekly through June. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through July too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through August.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction. Clicky please!


Date: 2011-05-28 02:14 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I've known people who were born the wrong species, with enough shear that they could barely pass no matter how human the body looked. The body language was different. The social dynamics were different. They just don't move through the world the way Homo sapiens does. Which doesn't make them any less people, but does require a different type of interaction than most folks are used to.

You handled this beautifully. Thank you.

Date: 2011-05-28 07:00 am (UTC)
brushwolf: Icon created by ScaperDeage on DeviantArt (nuwisha)
From: [personal profile] brushwolf
Huh. Hard to say what I think about this - I'm not really sure how furry fandom works when there are actual shapechangers around, not just the occasional therian or whatever. Some of it's an appealing fantasy and some of it I disagree with, but I definitely read all the way through and enjoyed it no end.

Date: 2011-05-28 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is incredible. Thank you for writing it.

Date: 2011-05-28 11:32 pm (UTC)
akaihyo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akaihyo
Very impressive. Thank you.

Date: 2013-01-19 04:15 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have basically no understanding of the furry experience. I mean, I've been around the right parts of the internet. I know the facts, the words, the assertions. It's just that none of it clicks for me. I can't empathize. I can't really empathize with people that are attracted to guys, either, though, so there's that.

Despite that, this chapter brought a tear to my eye in a way that few others have so far. Ivy's heart-wrenching experience of thinking she'd an unwitting fetish object, Rachel getting to live out her fantasy, and the breakup... all against a backdrop of Malik's... well-meaning intolerance, I guess? It just really worked. Worth the effort it took to write.


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