By Time Lady
[Mystic Manor, Tegan's office. After the Open House and the baby shower. Mid morning]
Tegan was in the office going over paperwork with Feathers when Su Yee drifted in. "The mail is in everyone's boxes," said Su. "I'm going up to the game room."
"Okay, thanks," replied Tegan. As soon as Su left, Tegan turned back to Feathers. "Now, as I was saying, with all the new tenants, I think we seriously should consider the addition of a second, more heavy duty exercise room. This one we should have the Wizard or PATE set up some spell protection, keeping the damage down."
"And where would you put a new exercise room?" asked Feathers.
"In the dungeon, off the new parking garage. Down there, we would have stone walls...."
As Tegan and Feathers talked, two people entered the lobby carrying several pieces of luggage. The man and woman both looked vaguely familiar, as if you probably knew someone that they must be related to, but weren't quite sure who. The woman had long, dark brown hair with traces of gray and light green eyes. She was very petite. The man was more solidly built, with salt and pepper hair, and blue-green eyes.
"Are you sure this is the right building?" asked the woman.
"She called the building Mystic Manor," replied the man as he put down a suitcase. "The taxi driver said this is the only place in town by that name."
The woman looked around. "That must be the office. Let's ask in there."
Inside the office, Tegan and Feathers were looking over a floor plan of the dungeon when the office door opened. Tegan looked up. Surprise flashed across her face. "Mom? Dad? What are you two doing here?"
"Is that how you greet your parents?" asked Mrs. Dawson.
Tegan came over and hugged her parents. "I'm sorry Mom. It's just that you caught me by surprise. You didn't tell me you were coming to Nerima..."
"Last minute change in plans. I had to address a...," Mr. Dawson said as he glanced at Feathers, "a convention in Beijing. Your mother suggested that we come in a few days early, take a detour through Japan, and surprise you."
"I'm... definitely surprised..." returned Tegan. "Uh, Mom, Dad, this is Marion Schwartz, the Mystic Manor accountant."
"Please, call me Feathers. A pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise. I am Tom Dawson, and this is my wife Ellen." Tom reached out to shake Feather's hand, then suddenly noticed the small, white feathers on the back of her hand. He looked up and saw the larger while feathers she had instead of hair. "Err...."
"Say, how long will you be in town?" asked Tegan in an attempt to diffuse a possible situation.
"Only a couple of days," replied Ellen.
"Tegan...," began Tom.
"Apartment 5A is still set up from the open house. Why don't your parents stay there while they're visiting?" suggested Feathers.
"Good idea," said Tegan. "Then you two can have some privacy."
"Sounds wonderful," responded Ellen. "Why don't you show us around, then we can go get something for lunch?"
"OK," replied Tegan. "Feathers, we'll talk about those plans later."
"It was nice meeting you, Mr. and Mrs. Dawson," said Feathers.
Ellen followed Tegan into the lobby, towing Tom behind them. Tom touched Tegan's arm.
"Tegan... that woman had... feathers...," stammered Tom.
"Yeah," said Tegan matter-of-factly. "You'll see a lot of strange things around here. Feathers is mild by comparison. Just take everything with a grain of salt, say "OK, that's interesting," and move along. That's Nerima for you."
"Don't talk to your father like that," scolded Ellen.
"Sorry," apologized Tegan. "Just trying to make a point. You'll see stranger things before you leave Nerima." Tegan took her parents on a tour of the building, helped them carry their luggage to apartment 5A, then showed them to her apartment. Inside the apartment, PATE first walked out of her room, still yawning. She wore her nightie and fluffy pink slippers. She stumbled to the kitchen in search of coffee. As she took a sip of the coffee Tegan left on the coffee maker, she heard the front door open, then heard Tegan's voice, followed by two strange voices. PATE nearly spittedd her coffee out as she realized Tegan had guests. She gestured, changing her clothing to a gi outfit. Tegan walked in, followed by her parents.
Tegan:saw PATE in the kitchen. "Good morning PATE. Mom, Dad, this is my roommate PATE."
"Finally we get to meet you," said Ellen.
"Yes," added Tom. "I believe we've spoken to you on the phone."
"Of course," said PATE, glancing at her roommate. "Tegan did not tell me you were coming to visit."
"Mom and Dad didn't tell me either. They're only going to be in Nerima a couple of days."
PATE simply said "Ah."
"We're going out to lunch. Want to come along?" offered Tegan.
"I think not," replied PATE. "I am first having breakfast, then I will go and work out upstairs."
"Maybe later, then. I'll make dinner here."
PATE grabbed a muffin. "That sounds all right. I will see you later."
"Before we go, where's a restroom?" asked Ellen.
Tegan pointed to a door off the living room. "Over there."
"While we're waiting for your mother, I may as well look over your log books," said Tom.
Tegan sighed in exasperation. "You just can't leave that alone, can you? *sigh* They're in here.
She led her father back to the extra bedroom set up as Tegan's personal office and pointed to a shelf of books behind her desk.... a collection of the three immortals she watched in her career. Two were unfortunate enough to run across other immortals faster with a blade. The last, Keido Morisato, left the planet with Corrie the Time Lady. Tom took down the last journal and began flipping through it.
"I was somewhat concerned about some of the entries you downloaded," started Tom. "Especially your last one."
"Yes, he really did leave the planet. His girlfriend really was an alien."
"That's what you wrote," stated Tom skeptically. "We did some research. Our records say he became an immortal within the last year. However, we have previous accounts of an immortal with the same name and description appearing centuries before. He seems to disappear and reappear. Can you explain that?"
"His alien girlfriend is a time traveler."
"Don't give me any stories!"
Tegan crossed her arms defensively. "I'm not! Ask anyone around town. My friend Lisa knew her pretty well..." The phone rang a couple of times. PATE answered it.
"That still doesn't...." began Tom.
"TEGAN! IT'S FOR YOU!" PATE shouted from the other room.
Tegan yelled back: "I'll take it in my room!" She turned to her father. "Hold on a minute Dad." Tegan ran into the other room, flopped onto her bed, and grabbed the phone. "Hello?"
Tora's voice comes across the phone. "Hey."
Tegan relaxes. "Hi. What's up?"
"Are you doing anything this afternoon?"
"I've got some... out of town guests who dropped in on a layover. They'll be in town for a couple of days."
Tora sounded slightly disappointed. "So you'll be tied up for a while."
"Maybe not. I was going to take them out for lunch. Why don't I just take them to the Ken-ni-Kaze?"
"I can meet you down in the restaurant."
"Sounds great. I'll see you in about a half hour."
"Bye," said Tora.
She hung up the phone, then sat back for a few minutes and thought about Tora. Meanwhile she could hear her parents in the other room. Sighing, she got up and goes to see what they are up to. Tegan found her parents going through the Watchers' logs.
"Ready to go?" she asked.
"Hmm?" Tom looked up from the books. "Oh, yes. We can talk about these later."
Tegan sounded exasperated. "You know, I haven't seen you two for months. Can we just spend some time as a family, or are you going to talk Watchers business non-stop?"
"She has a point," replied Ellen. "We'll discuss this later."
"Then let's go," said Tegan.
She walked her parents out to her car and drove them them to the Ken-ni-Kaze. Inside, Ling-chan is at the hostess post. "Welcome to the Ken-ni-Kaze," greeted Ling-chan. She noticed Tegan. "Hi, Tegan. Three for lunch?"
"Four," replied Tegan. Her parents looked at her enquiringly. "Someone will be joining us in a bit."
Ling-chan smiled, knowing who the 4th person would probably be. "Certainly. Please follow me." Ling-chan led them to a table and handed them the menus. "Your waitress will be with you shortly."
"Someone is joining us?" asked Tom.
"Err.. yeah," replied Tegan. "They'll be along any time now. Why don't we start looking at the menus in the meantime?"
Tora walked into the restaurant. Ling-chan was elsewhere. He spied Tegan at a table, sitting with an older couple. From what he could see of the couple, he was glad he decided to wear a suit. He carefully adjusted his sunglasses, then casually strolled over to the table and handed Tegan a single, white rose. She looked up and smiles.
"Hi," he said.
Tegan stood and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Hi. This is lovely..." Tom cleared his throat. "Oh... Tora, these are my parents, Tom and Ellen Dawson. Mom, Dad, this is Tora."
Tora blinked in surprise. "Err..." He held out his hand and shook with Tom. "Pleasure to meet you, sir." Then he nodded to Ellen. "Ma'am." He whispered to Tegan. "You didn't tell me your parents were coming to Nerima... and you didn't tell me I was going to meet them...."
Tegan whispered back. "I didn't know they were coming to Nerima... we can talk about it later."
"So this is the young man you've been seeing," said Tom. "How did you two meet?"
Tora pushed in Tegan's chair as she sat down. "We sort of... ran into each other on the street. It turns out we had a mutual friend."
Ellen eyed Tora with interest. "I see."
As they talked, Tom found something about Tora unnerving, but couldn't quite identify what. He watched his daughter with interest. She was obviously smitten with Tora. They chatted through lunch. Tora's interrogation by Ryan and Tsu after the date was a simple question and answer session compared to Tegan's parents. Under the table, he felt Tegan squeeze his hand reassuringly. Tegan swallowed and listened as her parents grilled Tora about *everything*.
"So,...Tora is it?" said Tom.
"Tora it is."
"What is it that you do for a living?" asked Tom.
"I'm...on vacation right now. When the next semester at the local college starts, I'll be teaching courses in Zoology there.
"Zoology?" asked Ellen.
"Yes. I was in the field studying a group of tigers before I came here. I... needed a change of scene." Tora glanced back at Tegan for a moment, thinking 'and am I glad I did'.
Tom noticed Tora looking back...and then it hits him.... "Any reason you're wearing sunglasses right now?"
"Uhm, well,..." Tora paused.... "my eyes have always been especially sensitive to bright lights, so I adapted by wearing them for most of the day."
The table was quiet for a while.
Ellen broke the silence. "So where is it that you live, Tora?"
"I live in the apartments of this building here. Its a small place, but its home."
"How interesting," stated Tom. "And how often is Tegan over there?"
"DAD...." gritted Tegan through clenched teeth.
"Tom, really...." said Ellen.
"It's OK." said Tora. He turned to Tom. "Unlike what you seem to be insinuating, sir, Tegan only stops by for an occasional short visit, as running the Mystic Manor takes up a large amount of her time these days."
"I...see..." said Tom slowly.
To Tora, the meal appeared endless. Finally it is over. Tegan paid the bill, then they pushed back their chairs and stood up.
"Mom, Dad, why don't you two go out to the car," said Tegan. "I'll be along in a minute." Tom and Ellen nodded, then walked towards the door. Tegan turned to Tora. "I'm really sorry about this. Dad can be pretty overbearing when he wants."
"That's okay... I guess I'd have to meet your parents sooner or later."
"I guess I should have told you first. I better go." She reached up to kiss him good-bye. Tegan wrapped her arms around Tora's neck and pulled his lips towards hers. Tora put his arms around Tegan's waist and held her close. They were unaware of Tegan's parents, who stopped at the doorway and watched Tegan and Tora.)
"Why that...." Tom gritted, his face flushing in anger.
Ellen put her hand on her husband's arm. "Leave them be. Let's go out to the car."
"Let's _go_," said Ellen firmly. She dragged her husband outside.
Tegan pulled away from Tora and sighed. She smiled and wiped a little of her lipstick off Tora. "They're going to be waiting." She picked up her purse and the white rose.
"I'll speak to you later."
Tora watched Tegan leave, then turned to go back to his apartment. Outside, Tegan's father was leaning against her car, his arms crossed on his chest. Tegan smiled. She barely noticed her father's ire.
"Ready?" she asked.
"Yes," replied Ellen. "I think I'll forego the sight seeing for now. I'd like to go back to the apartment and lie down for a while. I'm tired from the flight."
"Sure. I can take you on a tour of the town tomorrow."
As they drove back to Mystic Manor, Ellen and Tegan talked about insignificant things while Tom sat in the back and fumed. At Mystic Manor, Tom went straight upstairs. Ellen hung back, walking slowly with Tegan.
"That Tora is an... interesting young man." she said.
"How do you feel about him?"
Tegan's face reddened "I... really, really like him.... I feel... I don't know how to explain it... I feel... connected to him... like we've known each other for years, but we've only known each other a few weeks." She turned to her mother. "Mom, is this what it feels like to be in love?"
Ellen met her daughter's gaze. "This is the first time you've really been in love?"
"When Tora and I went out on our first date... it was the first date for either of us..."
"Oh.... I thought you had been out before." Tegan shook her head. "Give it time before you really call it love. It may still be infatuation at this point."
"I'm not saying it isn't," interrupted Ellen. "You'll know when it's love. Just give it time." She smiled at Tegan. "It's hard to thing that our little girl is all grown up. I think you're father's not quite ready for that."
Tegan and Ellen climbed the stairs. When they reached the second floor, they saw Tom waiting outside Tegan's apartment. They walked over to him.
"I want to take your Watcher logs back upstairs with me to read," said Tom. Sighing, Tegan unlocked the door. Ellen shook her head ruefully as Tom followed Tegan back to her personal office. She gathered the log books for her father.
"Here Dad. I'll see you and Mom down here about 7 for dinner, okay?"
Tom nodded tersely. He picked up the books and left without a word. Tegan sank down into her chair. Tegan thought to herself as she put her head down on her arms. I can't keep doing this... I'm going to have to tell them once and for all... tonight..."
At 7 PM, that evening in Tegan's apartment, Tegan was setting the table. A lasagna baked in the oven. The salad was tossed and ready. She went into the kitchen and readied a pitcher of ice water, which she put down on the table. The doorbell rang. Tegan answers it and found her parents waiting.
"Hi. C'mon in. Dinner's almost ready." She noticed her father looked like he had one of those "discussions" with her mother.
"Is that lasagna I smell?" asked Ellen.
"Uh-huh," replied Tegan. "Have a seat." She goes back into the kitchen.
Ellen whispered to Tom: "I told you to act pleasantly."
"Tom, we're in a foreign country thousands of miles from home. You spent the entire lunch time interrogating her boyfriend like he was a criminal. I want to have a nice, pleasant meal with our daughter, who we haven't seen in months. And *no* Watchers' business this evening."
Tegan came out of the kitchen with the salad. "PATE should be along any time. Do you want to wait a few minutes or start now?"
"We can wait," said Tom.
"Tegan," said Ellen, "did you decorate in here?"
"I pretty much decorated the entire apartment myself, except PATE's rooms." The phone rings. "Hold on a sec. I'll get that." "She picks up the phone. "Hello?"
PATE was on phone. "Tegan," she said.
"Hey PATE. Finally got the phone figured out, huh?"
"With assistance. I have called to tell you that I will be delayed in my return to the apartment. I will not be there in time for dinner. You and your parents should begin eating without me."
"Yes. I do not want you to have to wait."
"Okay. I'll see you when you get in." She hangs up phone. "PATE's running late. She said to get started without her."
Tegan brought dinner to the table. Her parents sat down. It was an evening of canned discussion... talk about what's going on with other members of the family... about plans for the building... about Tegan's apartment... Tom, under his wife's edict, avoided any mention of Tora or the Watchers, though he burned to talk about both subjects. After dinner, Tegan served coffee and cake. It was nearly nine PM by the time they finished.
"Very good Tegan," said Tom.
"Yes," commented Ellen. "You have to give me that cake recipe before we leave."
Tegan stood up and picked up some of the plates. "Sure. Remind me tomorrow, and I'll print you out a copy."
She took the plates into the kitchen. Carefully she put on a pair of long, latex, dishwashing gloves before beginning on rinsing the plates. Her mother came in with some more dishes and began to help Tegan. As Ellen rinsed some of the heavy dirt off the dishes while Tegan opened the dishwasher and began placing them in. Her father brought in the pitcher, which was half full of water. In a superb exhibition of where Tegan inherited her clutziness from, Tom walked into the open door of the dishwasher. The water went flying... all over Tegan. Tom and Ellen gaped at what they see... Where once stood their somewhat overweight, brown haired, fairly normal daughter now stood a slender woman with hot pink hair... and black furred cat's ears and a cat's tail.
"Oh my God...." cried Ellen.
"T... Tegan.... what...?" stammered Tom.
"You two better sit down..." said Tegan-C quietly. Tom and Ellen followed Tegan-C into the living room. They appeared to be in shock as they sat down on the couch.
"How...? Why...?" Tom tried to ask.
"Remember that last immortal you sent me after?" began Tegan-C. "Well, I tracked him to a place in China called Jusenkyo. Jusenkyo is known for it's cursed springs. Essentially, people and animals have fallen in these pools and drowned. Who ever falls in one of those pools afterwards gets the curse. Which means, when that person is hit by water, they turn into whatever had drowned in that pool."
"I don't understand...," murmured Ellen.
"Here's an example. And I know the guy this happened to. He went to Jusenkyo and fell in spring of drowned pig. So when he gets hit by water, he turns into a small, black pig."
"Oh my..." said Ellen, her mouth opening in surprise.
"There are several people in Nerima who have Jusenkyo curses. Rainy days are hell around here."
"Is there any way to reverse the curse?" asked Tom as he stared at his daughter.
"To turn back to normal, I have to get wet using hot water. But there's no permanent cure so far. When you've got it, you're stuck with it." Tegan-C sighed.
"And... which pool did you fall in?" her mother asked nervously.
"Spring of drowned cat woman."
"So when you get hit by cold water... you turn into a cat woman... and when you get hit by hot water, you turn back to normal," repeated Tom.
"That's it." Tegan-C felt a sudden burst of pent up anger well up to the surface. "And it's all because you "talked" me into joining the Watchers!"
"Now wait a minute..." began Tom.
"If I would never have joined the Watchers, I never would have gone to Jusenkyo, I wouldn't have fallen in the cursed pool, and I wouldn't have to deal with this damned curse!"
Tegan-C appeared to not hear her mother as she tearfully said: "I *hate* being a Watcher! I don't *want* to be a Watcher! I want *out* of the Watchers."
Tom raised his voice in response. "You can not just up and quit."
"I NEVER WANTED TO BE A WATCHER IN THE FIRST PLACE! YOU'RE THE ONE WHO MADE ME BECOME A WATCHER!"
"There have been Watchers in our family for generations," argued Tom. "Your uncle never married and had children. It had to be either you or Adam."
"YOU LET ADAM DO WHAT HE WANTED BUT YOU MADE ME JOIN THE WATCHERS!" cried Tegan-C hysterically.
Ellen came over to try to calm Tegan-C. "Your brother never demonstrated the right skills. You were always a natural."
Tegan-C stood and began pacing. "You never asked me if I wanted to become a Watcher! You never even asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up!"
"You can't just quit the Watchers!" shouted Tom angrily.
"And why the HFIL not?!?" returned Tegan-C.
"Because...." began Tom.
Tegan-C abruptly cut her father off. "Because my ass! I spoke to Uncle Joe and there is *no* reason I can't quit!"
"Don't you take that tone of voice with me young lady!" responded Tom.
"Tom! Tegan! Please!" cried Ellen. "We can talk this out like rational adults."
"There is nothing to talk about!" shouted Tegan-C. "I am quitting the Watchers once and for all!"
Tom stormed over to the door. "Over my dead body!" He yanked the door open, then slamed it behind him. Tegan-C threw herself face down onto the couch, sobbing hysterically. Ellen glanced at the door, then looked at her daughter. She came over to Tegan-C and squeezed onto the edge of the couch next to her. The sight of Tegan-C's black tail lashing angrily was unnerving to Ellen. She tried to put it out of her mind.
"Tegan, honey, we never knew you felt this way..."
"You never asked!" sobbed Tegan-C.
"Quitting means that much to you?" Tegan-C nodded. "You can't just stay on permanent reserve?"
Tegan-C slowly began quieting down. "I can still be called on if another immortal comes to Nerima. I don't want to deal with it...."
Ellen sighed. "Let's give your father some time to calm down. He's been in a bad mood since lunch. And finding about this..." She glanced at Tegan-C's black furred ears peeking out from the pink hair. "... curse... I think it's all a little too much to swallow at one shot. We can talk in the morning." Tegan-C sat up. "We'll work this out."
"When... when I asked to go to boarding school... and I said I didn't like moving around from town to town.... didn't that give you a clue I didn't want this?" asked Tegan-C, sniffling.
Ellen shook her head. "Your father and I thought it was because you were having difficulty changing schools. Adam never had a problem with it."
"I hated moving around... I wanted some stability... I like it here in Nerima... it may get crazy at times, but at least it's stable... and I have a fixed place to call home..."
"And it is a lovely home..." She put her arm around Tegan-C. "We'll work this out. Do you... need me to get some hot water for you?"
Tegan-C shook her head. "I'll just jump into a hot shower." She forces a smile. "They say I'm one of the lucky ones."
"When I'm in my cursed form, I'm still somewhat human. Most of the cursees turn into different animals. Though I know one guy who turns into a girl when wet."
"He must lead an interesting life."
"I better go and see what your father is up to." Ellen leans over and kisses Tegan-C's cheek. "I'll talk to you in the morning."
Tegan-C nodded. "Bye Mom."
She watched her mother leave, then flopped back on the couch. After a few minutes of lying there, she got up and began cleaning up the rest of the meal. She tripped over something on the floor. Looking down, she finds her mother's purse. Tegan-C picked it up, then took it upstairs to the apartment her parents were staying in. She rang the buzzer. Her father opened the door and just glared at her.
"Hi Dad. Mom left her purse in my apartment."
Tom took the purse and said in an angry tone: "Dad? Who's Dad? I've never seen you before."
"C'mon Dad. I just told you about my curse less than an hour ago," said Tegan- C, becoming exasperated.
"I_DON'T_HAVE_A_DAUGHTER_," replied Tom flatly.
He slammed the door in an astonished Tegan-C's face. She stood there a minute, her lower lip quivering, and a tear rolling down her cheek. She shifted to cat form then opened a cat-space portal to her apartment. Tegan-C returned to cat woman form.
"PATE? Are you back yet?" Tegan-C searched the apartment for her roommate. PATE, however, was nowhere to be found, as she had not returned yet. Tegan- C wilted back onto the couch, fighting tears. She desperately needed someone to talk to... but she didn't know any of the new residents enough to confide in them. PATE, her closest friend, wasn't back. Tegan-C scribbled a hasty note and left it in the place she and PATE called "the message center." She shifted cat form and opened a cat-space portal again.
Meanwhile, in 5A, Ellen overheard her husband. "TOM DAWSON, HOW COULD YOU!!!" Cringing, Tom turned around slowly to find Ellen standing behind him. Ellen's eyes blazed furiously. "YOUR OWN DAUGHTER!!!"
"No daughter of mine!" he retorted angrily.
"Why you insufferable bastard!" She pushed Tom out of the way and yanked the door open. Tegan was gone by then. She angrily whirled around to face her husband. "YOU, MR. DAWSON, ARE GOING TO SIT DOWN AND LISTEN TO A FEW THINGS..."
Elsewhere, Tegan-C's cat-space portal opened out into the Ken-ni-Kaze, right in front of Tora's door. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly 10 PM. She hoped Tora was awake. Inside, Tora was in his extra room. After practicing his katas, he was sitting cross-legged and meditating. A knock at the door startled him.
"Damn, who could that be?" He stood up and walked to the door. "RJ's not due to visit for a while longer yet..." There was more knocking, this time faster. "I'm coming! I'm coming!"
Tora opened the door, and there stood Tegan-C. He noticed the strain in her eyes, as if they been holding off tears. Tegan-C lept towards Tora, her arms wrapping themselves around him, her head resting by Tora's shoulder. Tora noticed that this embrace is different from the others, being driven by something other than joy.
"Tegan...." Tora, unable to find any words to say, placed his arms around her so as to comfort her...the only thing he could think of doing. They stayed standing like that for what seems like minutes.
Tegan-C raised her head. "Can...can we talk? I don't have anyone else to turn to right now..."
"For you? Anything. Come on. I'll put on some tea."
"Th... thanks..." She walked over to the sofa and sat down while he made some tea.
"Is it something to do with your parents?" he asked. She nodded.
"Yeah... I... I guess I better start at the beginning. My father, my uncle and I are members of an organization called the Watchers. We observe immortals. Not like Tsu. These immortals are of a particular race. They seem human. The only way to kill them is to cut off their heads. They battle each other, slowly weeding out the weaker ones by taking heads. When they do, there is an release of energy from one immortal to the other. The goal is to work their way down to the one strongest. Anyway, there have been Watchers about as long as there are immortals. The Watchers are trained to observe and record information about the immortals. All this information is kept in central repositories around the world. My father was a Watcher before I was born. The immortal he was assigned to watch was a businessman. Dad got a job as the immortal's secretary. We traveled when he traveled. When he decided to spend some time in France, we went to France. When he went to California, we went to California. I never spent more than one year in the same school. Sometimes we were in one place as little as a month. My older brother never seemed to mind. I couldn't stand it."
Tora brought over a cup of tea. "I can imagine."
Tegan-C accepting the cup of tea. "When I was 12, I begged my parents to send me to a boarding school. Took me a year to convince them. Finally they sent me to a school in upstate New York. That was the best time of my life. The only time I traveled was on school breaks, like for Christmas and the summer. There was still one problem, though. My father wanted another generation of our family to join the Watchers. We can trace back the Watchers in our family for nearly 10 generations. That meant either me or my brother was going to become a Watcher. According to what my mom told me tonight, my brother didn't show the right type of skills for the Watchers. I did." She took a sip of tea.
"So you became a Watcher."
"Not willingly. I always thought it was my uncle was the one who talked me into it. He used to tell me about all these great things about being a Watcher. But it was really my dad who was responsible. I don't think I would have even considered joining, if my father hadn't kept telling me to join. Basically, I had to, to keep the family line going. After I joined, I realized it wasn't that great. I hated it. I hated every moment of it. Two of the immortals I was assigned to weren't good enough. Their heads were taken a few months after I began watching them. The last one was different." She paused for another sip.
"First of all, I had to track him down. It was pretty difficult. I went to check on a rumor of him appearing in Jusenkyo. He had appeared, fell into the Spring of Drowned Moogle, then disappeared. I was going to investigate the area where he appeared, to see if I could find some clues..."
"When you fell into the Spring of Drowned Cat Woman?"
Tegan-C stared at her cup. "Uh-huh. I traced him to Nerima..." Tegan-C then told Tora more recent history... from her arrival in Nerima, to the trip to Egypt, to the battle with Madame WWW, up to her dinner with her parents... When she began talking about dinner, a tear rolled down her cheek... She started to become agitated. "And then, he... he opens the door... and I try to... talk to him... and he tells me... he tells me... that I'm not his daughter anymore...." Tegan-C could no longer hold back. A torrent of tears began to flow...
Tora pulled Tegan-C closer to him on the sofa so she could use him for support. Tegan-C's tears did not stop as she began sobbing. She placed her head on his shoulder as they put their arms around each other.
"Tegan...I..." Tora wished he knew what to say, but no words of use formed. All he could think of was to hold Tegan close as she let all her tears out, and just try to cope. Unconsciously, he began to gently run his fingers through her hair.
"All...I wanted...was...a normal life....why would he...hate me...for that?" Tegan- C sobbed.
"I...I don't know...but I wish I did..."
"Tora... please... just hold me..."
Sighing, Tora pulled Tegan-C closer, till she was sitting on his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and rests her head on his chest, still crying. Tora put his arms around her. Feeling her tensed muscles, he stroked her back, occasionally running his fingers through her soft pink hair.
Meanwhile, back at Mystic Manor, PATE walked into the apartment. Out of habit, she glanced at "the message center," where she found Tegan-C's note. Tegan's note only said that she has gone out, and didn't know when she would return. The tear stains on the note worried PATE. Before she could pursue the issue, the doorbell rang. PATE answered the door to find Tegan's parents. She sensed something was wrong... strong anger emanating from Tegan's father and upset from Tegan's mother.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Dawson," said PATE.
"Good evening PATE," returned Ellen. "Is Tegan around?"
"No she is not."
"Do you know where she went?" asked Ellen, her voice sounding concerned. "Or when she'll be back?"
"She has left a note, but it does not tell me." She showed Ellen the note.
Ellen read the note, then shoving it under Tom's nose. "Look at this *very* carefully..."
"Is something wrong?" asked PATE.
"Other that my husband being an insensitive, pigheaded, idiotic..."
"She *gets* the picture Ellen," interrupted Tom through gritted teeth.
"PATE, do you have any idea where she might go?" asked Ellen.
PATE did have a vague idea. "I am sorry. I do not know exactly. She has several friends out of the building that she may have gone to see."
"Oh, dear... I don't like the idea of her out by herself late at night," said Ellen.
"Tegan is very capable of taking care of herself," returned PATE.
"I know... I wanted to have this resolved tonight, though," sighed Ellen.
"You are welcome to wait in the living room until she returns. I do not know when that will be. May I offer you a drink?"
"Thank you PATE. Some coffee, please."
Tom plopped himself down on the sofa while Ellen went to help PATE with coffee. The coffee brewed.
"If you will excuse me for a few minutes, Mrs. Dawson....," said PATE. Ellen nodded. PATE went into her meditation room. She sat cross-legged on the floor and concentrates, searching for Tegan's psychic signature. She located Tegan-C, detecting the presence of Tora and confirming her suspicions. PATE paused for a moment as she sensed Tegan-C's state of upset. A quick perusal of Tegan-C's mind explained everything. Tegan-C was too upset to sense PATE's brief intrusion.
Back at Tora's apartment, Tora and Tegan-C were still in the same position after several minutes. Tegan-C's tears seemed to have slowly abated, but she clung to Tora as tightly as when the tears started. Tora still stroked her back and her hair. He noticed that Tegan's tears had ceased and her breathing had slowed. Much of the tension left her body. Tora looked down at Tegan-C and watched her for a moment before realizing she cried herself to sleep in his arms. Confused, he was not sure what to do next.
Tora thought to himself: "It's hard to believe how calm she looks. To think that she was extremely upset only a little while ago...I guess wonders will never cease."
Tegan-C's body shifted slightly, to which Tora shifted in response. Unfortunately, he found that he couldn't shift himself far enough so as move off the sofa without disturbing Tegan-C.
" Well, I'm stuck here," he thought. "I so much as move an inch more, she'll wake up. And after all she's been through, I think she deserves to rest."
Tora noticed Tegan-C's tail waving around. He smiled.
"Tegan...why is it I feel so connected to you?" he thought.
Tegan-C shifted again, but this time Tora didn't move. He gently ran his fingers through her hair once more, as if to remind himself of its texture. After a moment, he then reached for the remote to the TV.
"Well, if I'm stuck here, I guess that I'll have to make the best of it," he thought.
Tora turned on the TV, and tuned into a just starting 'Casablanca', watching it until he drifted off into the dreamlands.
Tegan-C relaxed enough that she begins to dream. She saw herself, in her cursed form, at the edge of a wooded area. With her were an older cat woman, a young cat man, and a man that looked like he is only part cat man. The last, apparently a seasoned warrior, was the one that attracts Tegan-C's attention the most. He vaguely reminded her of Tora. The group was quietly enjoying a meal, before moving on to some destination. Suddenly, another man, who also appeared to be only partially cat man, appeared. He gestured at Tegan-C. A malevolent gleam flashed in his eyes. The others jumped up to defend her. They were surrounded by evil, demonic creatures summoned by the evil one. The small party battled on, but all they do appears futile. The warrior told Tegan-C to run. Reluctantly she followed his order. A few of the demons broke off their fighting to pursue her. She tried the Cat Spike to no effect. She ran, losing track of her direction, until she found herself at the edge of a cliff. The creatures approached. From her location, she could see the rest of her party battling on, the evil one and the old cat woman engaged in a magical battle. As the creatures closed in, Tegan-C backed as close to the edge as she could. Her foot slipped. The thin edge of the cliff crumbled. Tegan-C cried out as she tumbled over the cliff. Cat-like, she attempted to turn and control her fall into the pool of water below. The creatures rushed up to the edge of the cliff, knocking off some of the loose pieces of rock. Tegan-C, trying to get a hold on the side of the cliff with her claws, accidentally struck her head against the side, stunning her, but not forceful enough to force her into cat form. She hit the water face first. Rubble crashed onto her back, knocking the breath out of her. Water filled her lungs as she struggled futilely to free herself....
Tora also entered the dreamlands. He saw a young boy, with eyes like his, at some sort of religious building, one that he doesn't remember seeing, standing next to a cat woman, but not Tegan. The boy was smiling until he sees Tora, and then they both ran away.
He turned and saw one of the people he saw on his first date, the one that proclaimed his happiness on the dance floor while dancing peacefully, glaring at Tora as though he did something wrong. The boy came running to him, and the person [what was his name] knocked him to the ground.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a cat man and yet not a cat man, wearing a jeweled headband. He was laughing, a laughter that Death itself would be afraid of. A cat woman returns, looking very much like Tegan-C, with at first a look of joy, but then she saw the man with the jeweled headband, and she glared at Tora, saying 'how could you?' without saying anything at all.
He was forced to spin around, and there stood Tsurugi. And Ryan. And PATE. And Tegan. And Vince. And Amy. And others, their names still unknown to Tora, but their faces were familiar. The robes they wore shift from a pure white to the darkest black. Their lips moved, with only faint whispers escaping. From the males - "Why are you?" From the females - "How can you?" They raised hoods over their heads and walked in a circle around him, their whispers turning into a ritual chant as they transformed to forms and shapes surrounded him. The chants stopped but he could still hear their labored breathing in the darkness that had just fallen, scratching away at the armor holding his fear. He spun around, trying to see through the blackness, but he could not focus. Blurred shadows flowed past him, snaring him and pulling him towards the temple. He could not see, could not breathe, could not scream. Wildly, he flailed about at the darkness, but his blows touched nothing. Unbidden visions of his own broken form lying on the temple floor come to him, with his friends standing around, unable to see his corpse. Despair swam to the surface of his thoughts, prompting him to surrender his fight, to surrender his life. Death could not be worse than this.
Tora's eyes flew open. He glanced around for a minute, not recognizing his own apartment. Slowly, he came to his senses.
"Must have been a nightmare..." he thought.
He looked down at Tegan-C, who apparently was still asleep. Tora held her tight, as if finding solace in the nearness of her warm body. Before he could further dwell on his dream, he felt Tegan-C move suddenly, as if she was fighting something in her dream. She began to thrash wildly, crying out. Alarmed, Tora tried to wake her.
Tora gently shook her. "Tegan!... TEGAN!"
Tegan-C's eyes opened abruptly. She seemed to stare at Tora, but not see him. She made a strange noise, panting heavily as if she could not breathe.
"Tegan! Are you okay? Speak to me!" There was a glimmer of recognition in her eyes.
Tegan-C tried to catch her breath. "T...T...Tora....?" She threw her arms around his neck. Tora squeezed her gently. He felt her whole body shaking.
"It was just a nightmare," he said soothingly.
"It...it was awful... I felt like I couldn't breathe..."
Tora loosened her grip on his neck and tipped her chin up to meet her eyes. "Are you okay?" Tegan-C nodded tentatively. "Do you want a drink?" She nodded again.
"Do... do you have any Coke?"
Tegan-C slid off Tora's lap. He stood up and stretched, his body stiff from sleeping in that cramped position, then went into the kitchen. When he came back, he finds Tegan-C huddled in one corner of the sofa looking very vulnerable. His heart lurched as he strode over to her and sits down.
Tora handed her a Coke. "Here." She accepted the drink and sipped it. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Tegan-C stared into the depths of her drink. "I've... had this nightmare before. PATE's woken me up from it a few times... I was being chased... by some weird looking monsters... they were trying to capture me... I was escaping... and I fell over a cliff into a pool of water.... some rocks pinned me under the water... I... I couldn't breath... I felt like I was drowning..." Tora put his arm around her shoulder. She buried her face in his shoulder. "It... it was awful... it felt so real... "
Tora stroked the back of her head. "It was just a bad dream."
"But... but I've had it so many times..." She sighed, then glanced up at the clock. "Oh, $h!t! It's 2 am! I should go."
"You're welcome to sack out on my couch for the rest of the night."
"No... I better get home... If I don't get home sooner or later, PATE will start worrying."
"Then let me walk you to your car."
"I didn't come by car. I came by cat-space."
"You've told me about cat-space, but you know, I've never seen you as a cat. You *have* seen me as a tiger..."
Sighing, Tegan-C shifted into Tegan-cat. She wound around Tora's legs, purring. Tora picked her up.
Tora smiled. "And do you like having your ears scratched too?" He scratches Tegan-cat behind her left ear. She purred, then licked the tip of his nose. Then, without warning, she shifted back to cat-woman while in Tora's arms and kissed Tora on the lips.
"Well?" she asked.
"Very cute." He kissed her again. This kiss was longer... the kind that made Tegan-C weak in the knees. However, Tegan-C knew she couldn't stay any longer and she pulled away.
"Tora... I love you..." said Tegan-C softly. Before Tora could respond, she turned back to cat form and disappeared through a cat-space portal.
"I... I love you, too, Tegan."
Tora closed his eyes for a moment, trying to recapture the moment, then headed off to bed. He sighs, as it was the first time he said those words, and no one was around to hear them.
The portal came out in Tegan's living room. She shifted into cat woman form, then realized the lights and TV were on. Looking around, she found her parents dozing off on her couch.
"Mom? Dad?" she asked in surprise.
Hearing her daughter's voice, Ellen woke up. She shook Tom awake. Tom looked at the clock. "It's nearly three am! Where have you been?"
"Out." She added coldly: "But why should it matter to you. You already said I'm not your daughter. So if you're not my father, it shouldn't bother you what time I'm out to."
Tom bit his tongue at having his words thrown back at him. "Tegan... about what I said... I'm sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry about?"
Tom glanced at Ellen, who nodded her head. "I said some things... that I didn't mean.... First you show me this building that you own, then you introduce me to your boyfriend, then finding about the curse... and then you tell me you want to quit the Watchers... I blew my top. I said a lot of things out of anger."
"You said a lot of things that hurt me," said Tegan-C softly.
"And they hurt me to say them. Your mother made me realize... and this is the hardest thing for me to accept... that you're a grown woman. I can't tell you what to do. I can only support you in whatever you want to do. If that means you quitting the Watchers, then..." Tom swallowed hard. "... then it's fine with me."
"Do... do you mean that?" asked Tegan-C in surprise.
Tom sighed. "Yes. I can still say that your generation did have a member in the Watchers... so now I just have to wait for grandchildren and begin working on them."
"Tom, you are incorrigible," laughed Ellen.
"Now about that young man you're seeing..." began Tom
"What about Tora?" Tegan-C asked suspicously.
"You're brother and his wife seem to have no inclination in the way of children..." started Tom.
"Do you currently have any thoughts in the way of...."
Tegan-C interrupted her father. "We've only been dating a few weeks! Sheesh! You're starting to sound like my friend Amy!"
"Tom, you're becoming incoherent," said Ellen. "I think it's high time we went to bed."
"One last thing... Tegan, do you like being in that... cursed form?" asked Tom.
"I'm not sure... it has some advantages... but it's not really me. I just haven't had a chance to grab a hot shower yet."
Ellen came over and kissed Tegan-C's cheek. "We'll talk to you in the morning sweetheart."
"Okay Mom. If you two feel up to it, I'll still take you around to see some of Nerima."
"We'll see in the morning," said Tom.
Tegan-C kissed her father's cheek. "Thank you for understanding Daddy." She opened the door. After her parents left, she went to take a hot, relaxing shower.
In the elevator, Ellen said to Tom: "See, Tom, that wasn't so bad."
Tom knew he was beaten from the start. "Yes dear."
Tegan spent the next day showing her parents around Nerima. They stopped for lunch at Zuni's this time, then returned to the apartment building. The following day, Tegan drove her parents to the airport.
Tom took one of the suitcases from Tegan. "When you can, be sure to ship your Watchers' log books and the CD back to the central headquarters. You have the mailing address?"
"And don't forget to wipe the files off your hard drive," he added.
"Trust me. I won't forget," replied Tegan.
"We'll call you when we get home," said Ellen.
"Okay. Have a good trip."
She waved to her parents as they went their plane. As soon as their flight left, Tegan returned to Mystic Manor and promptly packed up the Watchers' log books and CD. Next she turned on her computer and deleted all files related to the Watchers from her hard drive, freeing at least half the drive's capacity. She shut down the computer and went into her bedroom, where she flopped onto the bed. For the first time in a long time, Tegan found herself happily looking towards the future. It appeared a lot more pleasant than it previously did. She decided she wanted to celebrate her newfound freedom.
"I wonder what Tora is doing tonight..." she said to herself.
As Tegan reached for the phone, it rang. She answered it.
"Tegan? It's the Wizard."
"Hi. How are you feeling today?"
"Fine, fine. Could you come up to my apartment? I need to talk to you."
"Is PATE around?"
"I don't know. I just got back from taking Mom and Dad to the airport. I can check."
"Good, wonderful. I'd like to speak with both of you."
"OK. I'll check on her, then I'll be upstairs." Tegan hung up the phone. As she comes out of her room, she meets PATE, who has just come from the exercise room upstairs.
"PATE, you got a minute? The Wizard asked if we can come up to his apartment."
"Is something wrong?" asked PATE.
"Didn't seem like anything's wrong. But I guess we should go upstairs and see what he needs."
Nodding, PATE follows Tegan to the stairs. They meet Lisa coming up the staircase.
"Hi Tegan, PATE," said Lisa.
"What's up?" asked Tegan.
"The Wizard asked if I could come over and talk to him," she replied.
"That's weird," said Tegan with a thoughtful look on her face. "He just asked me and PATE to come over too..."
"We had best make haste to the Wizard's apartment," said PATE.
Shortly, they are knocking on the door to apartment 3C. Leo opens the door. "Leo?" asked Lisa. "What's wrong?"
"Apparently the Wizard wants to talk to all of us," he replied. They entered the apartment and found the Wizard sitting in his recliner. Feathers and Opus were seated on the sofa.
"Ah, nice to have all of you here," greeted the Wizard. "I wanted to talk to all of you together, my dearest friends."
"Is something wrong?" asked Lisa fearfully.
"No, my dear," he replied. "It's just that I've come to a decision about my life. I've been here in Nerima for a few months now. And I'm not as young as I used to be. I've decided I would like to visit my old home in Omaha, Nebraska."
"You're leaving?" asked Tegan.
"But Wizard..." began Lisa.
"I want to be able to go before the harsh winter hits. And then I'm planning on going to a climate more suitable for this arthritus of mine. From what I've heard, the Japanese winters are not the best for one with extreme arthritus."
"Are you certain this is what you want to do?" asked Leo.
"I've spent several weeks thinking about it," replied the Wizard. "Now that Tegan has several of the apartments rented, and Su Yee and Ro have joined the staff, I feel certain that I'm not really necessary here."
"How could you think that?" stated Tegan. "We need you."
"Who else can help teach me about the spell jewels?" asked Lisa, who sat on the floor next to the Wizard's chair. He patted her shoulder.
"There are several people around Nerima who can help you. Perhaps that nice gentleman... Corindaen, I think is his name. Just moved into apartment 5D. The library is cataloged. Feathers can handle the office on her own, and can train Su Yee as her assistant."
"What about me?" asked Opus.
"I've found something the witch had stashed away... that can return you to your home," said the Wizard. Everyone stared at him.
"You... you can send me home...?" stammered Opus.
"Yes, I can. But that would be your choice," stated the Wizard.
"Both of you are leaving now?" asked Lisa.
"I... can go home?" repeated Opus.
"If you wish," said the Wizard. "The decision is up to you."
"We will miss both of you," said PATE.
"Yeah...," said Tegan. "But you both need to make your own choices."
The room becomes silent for several minutes as everyone is lost in thought. Opus breaks the silence. "I've thought about trying to get home... I miss Bill, and Ronald Ann, and Milquetoast, and the rest of the gang... I miss the dandilion meadows... I know if I leave, though, I'll miss all of you. And Vince and Amy. No one makes a herring milkshake and herring pizza the way they do."
"But?" asked Leo, as if he knows the answer.
"But I do want to go home," said Opus quietly. "I don't belong around here. All the crazy stuff makes my stomach ache. The most excitement I had back home was when Steve Dallas got kidnapped by aliens. There weren't any crazy redheads with giant swords trying to smite me. And no dungeons for me to get lost in."
Leo stared at Opus. He would be losing his best friend since he had been freed from Madame WWW's influence. "You're serious."
"Yeah. I'd really miss you Leo. But think of it this way. You won't have to keep searching for me in the dungeons."
Leo found his reply stuck in his throat. He glanced at Opus, then at Tegan. Things weren't going his way.
"My plane leaves tomorrow afternoon," said the Wizard. "I wanted the chance to talk to all of you about it."
"So soon?" said Feathers. "I would have liked to give you and Opus a going away party."
"After the baby shower, I think I've had enough of parties," said Opus.
Lisa began to cry. "I'm going to miss both of you so much." She reached up and hugged the Wizard. Tegan also fought back tears.
"That's not to say I might not visit," consoled the Wizard. "You can write me whereever I am."
"Maybe we should meet back here... tomorrow morning," said Tegan quietly. "That'll give Opus a chance to say goodbye to anyone he needs to, and I can drive the Wizard to the airport before his flight."
The next morning, everyone assembled in the Wizard's apartment. Leo appeared sullen and quiet. "I'm going to miss you, little buddy," he said quietly to Opus.
"Me too," said Opus, holding his suitcase. "I already said goodbye to Ro, Su, Amy and Vince."
Tegan, Lisa, and Feathers came over and hug Opus goodbye. The Wizard came over and handed Opus a shoe box. He opened the box. A red glow came from the box. Opus pulls out a pair of sparkling red shoes.
Everyone blinks in surprise. "That's not..." began Lisa.
"Can't be," agreed Tegan.
"Put the shoes on," instructed the Wizard. Opus squeezed his feet into the shoes.
"OW! THEY'RE KILLING ME!" he moaned.
"Pick up your bags," said the Wizard. Opus obeyed. "Click your heels three times," continued the Wizard, "and repeat: 'There's no place like home..."
"There's no place like home," said Opus. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home..." Opus fades from sight.
Elsewhere, Opus found himself falling. He landed on his fanny, in the middle of a meadow filled with dandilions. "OUCH!" he complained. He noticed the shoes were missing from his feet. "Did it work?" He takes a deep breath. The smell of the air is familiar. Suddenly, he spied some figures moving towards him...
"Opus?" called a small girl, her hair in pigtails.
"It's him!" shouted a cockroach wearing a hat.
"ACK, ACK!" said the cat.
"I'm really home!" said Opus.
Back at Mystic Manor, they could only hope that Opus reached his destination. The Wizard hobbled over to a table where some books were sitting. "I found some things, when I was going over the library," he said. He handed two of the books to Lisa. "One of these talks about something similar to your spell jewels. It's a bit cryptic, but you might be able to work your way through it. The other mentions a few things about the SEDF. You might already know some of this, but it might help you." Tearfully, Lisa accepted the books.
"I'll read through them," she promised.
"Tegan, I found something in the library you might find interesting." He hands her a book titled "The Rise and Fall of the Cat People."
"It seems to be a history of the cat people... the ones like your cursed form... it talks about their origins, their culture, and the decline of their society. I read through it. The author sounds like she experienced every little incident," said the Wizard Tegan examined the book. It appeared to be about a hundred years old, written by someone named Ayla Felis. Illustrations in the book showed cat people that in ways resembled her curse. "Too bad all it has is history and culture," he said. "When you start renovating the penthouse, you might find something else in her personal collection."
"Thank you," said Tegan, hugging the Wizard.
"We better go, before everyone gets too emotional," growled Leo.
Everyone went downstairs. Leo pulled his car up to the front of the building. He loaded the Wizard's luggage while everyone else said their final goodbyes. At last, the Wizard climbed into the front seat of the car, next to Leo. As they drove off, Tegan, Lisa, PATE, and Feathers waved goodbye to the Wizard of Oz.