by Mark Andron and Time Lady
Tora strokes her hair. “You like me as a teddy bear, don’t you?” he whispers.
“I like you any way you want to be,” she yawns.
“Thank you.” he whispers again.
“I love you,” she whispers as she begins to doze.
He runs a finger along her left cheek. “I love you too,” he whispers, although Tegan is now fast asleep. Her body shifts slightly, nuzzling him in her sleep. Tora smiles, and after wrapping the covers over them, he wraps his arms around Tegan and allows her gentle purring to lull him to sleep. Sleep comes to him like a tidal wave, completely overwhelming him. No longer is it the nightmares of night before, but now he dreams of a tranquil place, with Tegan standing by a large tree, dressed in a kimono.... He finds himself walking over to her, the sun reflecting off her hair and her kimono. Tegan smiles as she turns to see Tora. He takes her hand in his, and together the tie their locked hands with a large red ribbon in a bow. And then they begin to dance, in step to the music of their hearts.
Slowly, Tegan wakes from her dreamless sleep. She opens her eyes to see the sun setting. Briefly she wonders if Tora’s dad is home. Lifting her head, she realizes Tora is asleep, his arms tightly wrapped around her. She smiles, then settles herself so as not to wake him. The warmth of the sun entering the room soon makes him pull his eyelids apart, revealing his green cat’s eyes yet again. And the first thing he sees is Tegan’s smiling. face. “Morning.”
Tora looks around the room for a bit. “Its a bit to dark to be morning.”
“It felt like morning to me.”
“You mean waking up next to me?”
Tegan blushes. “We better get up. If your dad’s not home yet, I’ll go ahead and get dinner started.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll just lay here for a bit.”
“Mmmm...” Tegan slips off the bed and pulls off the sweaty T-shirt she’s still wearing. She picks up a towel left over from the morning and quickly wipes herself down before dressing in clean clothes. “I’ll probably be in the kitchen.”
“All right. If you run into pop. well. tell him I’ll be out in a moment.”
“No problem.” Tegan closes the door behind her.
“She’s right... it can almost be too addicting.” Tora lies on the bed in silence before rolling himself off. He gathers his scattered clothing, and then heads to his room to put on some clean clothes. He comes out of his room and into the living room, tying up his tail.
Tegan is setting the table when Tora comes in. “I have no idea what to make for dinner. Right now, I’m dying for pizza, but I don’t think your dad has any of the fixings.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Pop’s gone through a number of days on rice alone. And so have I.”
“Wonderful. Why don’t you pull some stuff out of the pantry, and I’ll try concocting something.”
“Anything in particular?”
“Anything but seafood. Just pick some stuff out. We’ll wing it.”
“All right.” A few moments later, Tora returns with a large sack. “How’s your stir-fry?”
“Depends on what we’re throwing in it. What did you find?”
Tora pulls out rice, tomatoes, peppers, onions, pickles, and a host of other things.
“I might be able to throw together some Spanish rice. Rinse and chop up the tomatoes, onions, and peppers while I get the rice ready.” Tegan takes the rice and Tora proceeds to start washing the tomatoes, onions and peppers. He places the rinsed vegetables on a cutting board when he hears the door open.
“I’ll be right back. I’ll see if it’s Pop.”
“No problem.” After putting up the rice to cook, Tegan begins chopping while waiting for Tora.
Tora heads out to the main entrance. [Chinese] “Hello?”
[Chinese] “Did you get my letter?”
[Chinese] “Yeah, I did Pop. Are you sure?”
[Chinese] “I am.”
[Chinese] “Hm. Have to admit, I was kinda surprised.”
In the kitchen, Tegan is unaware of Tora’s conversation. She continues preparing the items she needs for the meal.
[Chinese] “Pop, you really think so, neh?”
[Chinese] “I do. I see how happy the two of you are. I see no reason to disturb it.”
[Chinese] “I was kinda expecting something from you. I mean, you were in your father mode there...”
[Chinese] “Ah, son, there is depth to me that you have yet to see. So... when will the two of you be bringing home grandchildren?”
[Chinese] “I am sorry. But I could not resist.
[Chinese] “Look, all I can promise is that if there is a wedding, you will be there. As for the grandchildren... we’re working on it.” Both Tora and the guide let out good chuckles.
[from the kitchen] “Tora... is that your dad?”
“Yeah, it is. You wouldn’t catch me talking this much to an amazon.”
[Chinese] “At least fortune smiled on you when you met her. Her culinary skills are exquisite.”
“Dinner will be ready soon you two, so go get washed up.”
In stereo from the living room “Yes, ma’am” Smiling, Tegan adds the vegetables and seasonings to the rice, and sets it all to steam together. Tora and the guide take their turns at the washroom, and then return to the living room to continue their discussion.
[Chinese] “Ah, Pop, listen. We’re going to be heading back to Japan tomorrow.”
[Chinese] “Yeah... We’re running out of things to do here.”
[Chinese] “Is there nothing wrong?”
[Chinese] “Well... ah... we’re both starting to miss pizza a bit.”
[Chinese] “It’s not just that...”
[Chinese] “Well, ah, there are just some things that we have to get used to now, and...”
The guide puts his arms on Tora’s shoulder [Chinese] “I know.”
[Chinese] “You know? How?”
[Chinese] “Let us not worry about that... I believe that your lover has our meal ready.”
Tora sighs. [Chinese] “One of these days, Pop....” The guide goes to sit down at the dinner table while Tora heads off to the kitchen. “You know, I knew there was a reason why I missed the old man”
“The hard time he gives me.”
“Ah. Something I really don’t miss from my dad.”
“Don’t think about him right now. It’s our last night here. Let’s try to make it a good one, neh?”
“Mmmm... better get dinner on the table.”
“Here, let me help.”
“OK.” Tegan hands Tora a large dish of Spanish rice.
Tora takes the rice out to the table, where the guide is patiently waiting. [Chinese] “Remind me to thank her for all the trouble she’s gone through. It’s been nice to not have to cook for a while.”
Tora smiles [Chinese] “She’s wonderful in that way.”
Tegan comes out with the rest of dinner. “Well, since I’m working without recipes here, I hope you like it.”
The guide lets the aroma fill his nostrils. Tora sits down at his place at the table. “I must thank you. This all wonderful.”
“No problem. It’s the least I can do for you being so kind as to let me stay here.”
“My son tells me that this last night here for you.”
“Yeah. I own a building back in Nerima. This is the longest I’ve been away since I took it over. At this point, I don’t think I can stay away much longer.”
“Is too bad. I hope you stay longer.”
“Sorry Pop, but we should be heading back. There are things we have to do.”
The guide takes a heaping of rice. “I hope you remember the agreement that we have made.” Tegan’s eyes widen. She glances back and forth between Tora and the guide, but doesn’t comment. Tora looks back and forth between Tegan and the guide, wondering if he was referring to the letter or to Tegan. Dinner is uneventful. As they finish, Tegan begins clearing the dishes.
Tora still sits at the table along with the guide [Chinese] “Pop, just what was the deal you were referring to?”
[Chinese] “That? I was... simply referring to the letter.”
[Chinese] “So why in the hell was she so spooked?” Tora stands and looms over the guide. “Just what did you say to her?”
[Chinese] “All right, all right.. it was the same deal that I made with you...”
In the kitchen, Tegan washes the dishes, oblivious to the conversation in the other room.
[Chinese] “It was .. in regards to our possible...”
[Chinese] “Yes. It would be better here than in Japan. I can see what coming home does to you... you become like a little child. I can also see the change this place has had on her. It’s seemed to be the right thing to do. And she agreed to do it”
[Chinese] “Pop..” <sighs> “I think I’d better check on her.”
Tegan finishes clearing the table. “Tora, care for a little after-dinner walk?”
“To anywhere in particular?”
“No. Just a little fresh air.”
“I’d follow you through the pits of hell itself.”
“*Sigh* Will you give me a straight answer every so often?”
“All right ... I’d love to go.”
“Fine.” She turns to the guide. “If you’ll excuse us sir...”
The guide smiles. “Is no trouble. Have good time.”
“Thanks.” She take’s Tora’s arm. “Come on.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Ow. That hurts, you know.”
“It’s not like I’m using my claws. Sheesh.”
Tegan pulls, without much effort, Tora outside with him. After walking for a few minutes, Tora locks his hand with Tegan’s. “Is there something... you want to talk about?”
“No. Should there be?”
“I guess not. We’ve talked so much.... I’d forgotten what your hand feels like.”
“Still just as furry as it’s been the last few months.”
Tora smiles. “It doesn’t hurt to remind myself every now and again. It makes me feel better.”
“And how does my hand feel to you?”
“Very nice. Especially after I found out some of the wonderful things it can do.”
Tora laughs out loud. “You, my dear, are a trip...”
“Is that good or bad?”
“In this case, I could care less.”
“Mmmm...” Tegan reaches up and kisses Tora.
Tora quietly takes a deep breath once Tegan pulls her lips away. He whispers, “I love you”
“I love hearing you say that.”
Tora smiles. “I don’t want you to forget.”
“I don’t think I ever will.”
Tora looks up for a moment. “A full moon. Thank god we’re not werewolves.”
Tegan smiles. “You like teasing Al-X, don’t you?”
“Somebody has to do it from time to time.”
“*sigh*.... you’re impossible.”
“I know. I’ll try to work on that when we get home.”
“Hey, even reborn tigers can change... when we want to.”
“Yeah... and they say leopards can change their spots too.”
Tora wraps his arms around Tegan’s waist. “And what does that say about you, then, milady?”
“And what are you insinuating?”
“Don’t forget that you’re part cat, although your tail is not letting me forget.” Tegan looks down and sees her tail wrapped snugly against him.
“I guess I’m getting used to being a cat woman full time. And sometimes my tail tends to do things out of pure instinct.”
“I can forgive your tail.”
“And my tail thanks you.” She giggles.
“Come on. One last dance before we leave.”
“Mmm....” Tegan puts her arms around Tora’s neck.
“You’ll have to forgive me for something though.”
“I can only waltz to the sound of the wind.”
“Whatever,” she purrs as she rests her head on his chest.
Tora leads Tegan in a slow waltz, the wind setting the rhythm that guides his steps. They forget everything else that is around them as the dance in the pale moonlight. They only care about whether or not the other has left their arms, “*sigh*... I could stay like this forever...”
“So could I...”
Tegan sighs again. She gives herself up completely to Tora, letting him set the pace.
Tora lets the music in his mind guide their movement for several minutes. He then whispers in her ear “It’s been one interesting vacation, hasn’t it?”
“Very.” Tegan sighs. “What are you going to do to top this the next time you want to take me on a vacation?”
Tora grins. “Next time, I’ll let you choose where we go. Even if for some strange reason you want to come back here again, I’ll go no matter what.”
“Mmm... we’ll see. Depends on what happened back at Mystic Manor while I was gone.”
“I think that it’s in good hands.”
“Like I said. We’ll see. This is the first time I’ve left the building for so long.”
“Just remember. That building is not your life.”
“Yeah. But running it is still new to me. It’s the only major thing I’ve done outside of the Watchers. Other than the odd temporary position, that is.”
“Just remember ... I don’t ever want to see you so obsessed by you work that you can’t even crack a smile.”
“Trust me. I’m not *that* obsessive, except about two things.”
Tora smiles. “Oh?”
“Chocolate... and you...”
“I’m going to have to so something about that then.”
“Whatever..” Tora caresses Tegan’s left cheek “you...” His fingers move over to touch the other side. “want...”
Tora lifts up Tegan’s chin, and then gently presses her lips with his. Tegan responds instinctively. She finds herself succumbing to Tora’s touch. Tora feels Tegan’s tail brushing along his leg. He looks at her. “Sorry. I’m still not quite used to having a prehensile tail. I discovered that it could do more than convey emotion one day when I was trying to do something and needed an extra hand.”
“It’s okay. It just another thing that we both have to get used to.”
“As long as you don’t mind when it gets a little bit out of control.”
They both smile. “Do you want to head back now? Or do you want to leave the packing for tomorrow?”
“Depends on what time the flight is.”
“Its in the evening, considering that were are leaving a bit early anyway...”
“Then I guess we have time to pack in the morning. Did you want to have a little time with your dad before we leave?”
“No. We’ve talked about all we needed. Right now, I just want to stay here and dance with you in the moonlight”
“I have absolutely no problem with that.”
Tora says nothing. Tegan rests her head on his chest. The wind echoes a whispering melody that sets the rhythm for their waltzing and the rhythm for their beating hearts. They dance the rest of the night away, unaware of a certain pair of cats eyes looking at them from afar. Ayla stands up from her crouch and turns to walk away. “May Misra bless them, for now and for ever.”
Sighing, Tegan looks up at Tora. “We better head in. Maybe if we get to the airport earlier, we can catch an earlier flight.”
“All right. But can I do just one last thing?”:
Without further warning, Tora sweeps Tegan off her feet and cradles her in his arms. Her arms hang on to his neck and her tail wraps around his wait.
“Now what are you up to?”
Tora doesn’t say a word as he slowly carries her towards the front door of the house.
“*sigh*... I figured as much. It’s going to be hard to get used to things back home after all this...”
“Oh come on... I have yet to properly carry you over the threshold.”
Tegan looks at Tora. “And what do you mean by that?”
“Just indulge me.”
Tegan shakes her head and sighs. She could say it, but at this point it would be useless. They finally reach the front door. “Yes, I know you think I’m impossible. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with, along with that tail of yours ... which, I believe has just now released my waist and is wagging rather impatiently.” Tegan blushes in response. Tora slides open the door. “Now come on. We have things to do. And I don’t want to keep your tail waiting.”
“I can just imagine what you have in mind.”
Tora finally carries through the door and over the threshold. “We’ll see.” Tora closes the door behind him.
“Hmm... I can’t wait.”
“Then I’ll try not to disappoint.”Tora carries Tegan to her room. As he enters, she grabs the door with her tail and closes it. The guide pokes his head into the hallway upon hearing the sound of Tegan’s door close. He smiles, and decides to let them be. Although they may be leaving tomorrow, he dares not keep them apart.
[Chinese] “Ah, I’ll be proud to be a grandfather....” And the caterwauling lasts through the night.
The next morning, Tegan slides out of a slumbering Tora’s grasp and begins packing her bag. She looks at him and sighs. The last few days of lovemaking have been bliss. Once they return to Nerima, those types of nights will become less frequent... rare. But in a way, that could make their lovemaking even sweeter. Tora rubs his eyes opens and then yawns. “‘Lo again.”
Tegan smiles. “Hi. Just getting this stuff packed.”
“Right. We leave tonight.” Tora slides out of the bed, walks to Tegan’s side and kisses her gently. “Don’t forget the teddy bear.”
“Where did you hide him?”
“What do you mean?”
Tegan glares at him. “I haven’t been able to find him. What did you do with him?”
“I didn’t see him the whole time.”
Tegan crosses her arms. “You said you put him somewhere. Where did you put him?”
“I didn’t touch him. Look, if you want, I’ll help you look for him.”
Sighing, Tegan bends down to look under the bed.
Tora begins to look around the rest of the room. He thinks to himself “The things I do for the woman I love...”
Tegan’s tail lashes in irritation. “He’s not under here.”
“Hmm....” Tora pulls the pillows off the bed, his eye fixing on something furry “Is this the bear in question?”
Looking disheveled from looking under the bed, Tegan sits up. “Where was he?”
“Buried underneath the pillows.”
“I didn’t put him there. I left him on top of the bed after I made it.” She glares at Tora.
“Hey hey hey.... he probably got stuck in there after last night.”
“He’s been missing since the first night you spent in here.”
“Tegan, please try to calm down. You know I would never intentionally do anything to hurt you. And your bear is here now.”
“Uh huh. Well I’m going to need *something* to keep me company in bed when you’re not around.”
Tora picks up the bear, then looks at Tegan. “Well, I can see why you want him....” He gives the bear to Tegan, who quickly snares it and hugs it.
Her tail still lashing in irritation, Tegan carefully places her bear in her bag.
Tora takes picks his clothes from off the ground and gets dressed. “Care to tell me about the bear?”
“He was a gift from my uncle. Papa Bear’s been with me since I went off to boarding school.”
“Ever given him a personality?”
“Yep. He’s always taken care of me, and listened to me when no one else would. When the other girls teased me...” she pauses.
Tora places his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to talk about that. That was then.”
“Thanks. I’d rather not talk about that. The only good thing about boarding school was the stability. The other girls were a bunch of snot nosed brats.”
“I can understand. I teach a couple like that.”
“Yeah, but it feels a heck of a lot worse when you’re 12 years old and you also have to live with these girls in the dorm.”
“Ah. Well, I guess I’d better go and pack.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you in a few.”
Tora heads out of her room and into his. He hunts around for his clothing, packing it all away. Tegan, unable to find some articles of clothing, decides to ask Tora if he’s seen them. She walks in as Tora opens a dresser and says, “Ah, there you are...”
“I’m missing a blouse and a bra. Have you seen them?”
Tora smiles. “You mean the ones I shredded back in the cave of Misra?” Tegan blushes. “Oops. Forgot about that.”
Tora quickly slams the dresser shut. “Well, it’s just less for you to pack.”
“Well, I’m finished.”
“I’ve still got a few things.” Tora heads over to the bed to his check a few things. Tegan quickly takes the opportunity to open the drawer and look inside.
“And what the hfil is this?” She reaches in and pulls out a small stuffed white tiger. “Ah........”
“Its ... something I’ve had ever since my nightmares started ... if you want, she’s yours. I don’t think that the nightmares will be back.”
“Yes, she. And yes, I know, whatever...”
“I’m going to go get started on breakfast. I think I know where the basics are by now.”
Tora takes the stuffed tiger out of her hands. “OK. I’ll see you in a few.”
In the kitchen, Tegan sets out to start making scrambled eggs. Tora looks at the stuffed tiger. “So now what do I do with you?” He then carefully packs the tiger away, checks everything over once more, and then heads out to the kitchen.
By the time Tora comes into the kitchen, Tegan is serving the eggs to a couple of plates. “Is your dad off again?” Tora points out to the dining table. The guide is sitting there, reading a book as he waits. “He must have come in while I was cooking. Good thing I made extra.” She takes out an extra bowl and fills it with scrambled eggs.
Tora heads out to the dining table and takes his seat. “Morning. Pop”
[Chinese] “Good morning. You heading off today?”
[Chinese] “Sometime later”
Tegan puts the bowls on the table. “Scrambled eggs.”
Tora is about to take some when the guide slaps his hand. “I glad I catch you both today.”
“Yeah,” says Tegan. “I’m glad we got a chance to see you before we leave.”
“I want to thank you for paying me visit.”
“I’m glad Tora talked me into coming.” She glances meaningfully at Tora.
“I also hope that you both keep promise to come back again. Next time I make sure Plum is here.”
“We will, when we get a chance.”
Tora whispers to Tegan “That was the gist of the letter... along with a few other minor things that don’t need to be talked about right now.” He turns to face the guide. “Pop, are you ever going to take a break from this for a while?”
“Do not worry about me. Plum worries enough. I like what I do. I have no reason change.”
Tegan glances at Tora again, then turns to the guide. “If you ever decide you need a vacation, you could always come visit Nerima.”
“From what son writes in letters ... I think about it.”
Tegan finishes her breakfast, then clears away the empty bowls. With Tegan taking the bowls to the kitchen, Tora moves a bit closer to the guide.
[Chinese] “Hey, Pop...”
[Chinese] “What is it?”
[Chinese] “Thanks. For everything. In case I didn’t mention it before.”
The guide smiles. [Chinese] “Just make sure that you come back and visit this old man again.”
[Chinese] “Don’t worry about it Pop. Besides, when have I let you down? Don’t answer that.” Both Tora and the guide chuckle.
Tegan finishes cleaning up the dishes, then returns to where Tora and the guide are sitting. “Thank you sir, for allowing me to stay here with you.”
“Is no problem. Anything for my son.”
She turns to Tora. “We better be heading out.”
Tora gets up. “You’re right.” He turns to face the guide. “Until the next time, neh, Pop?”
“Until we meet again.” The guide gets up and hugs Tora.
“Be sure you write soon. Plum will be upset she miss you.”
Tegan also comes over and hugs the guide. “Thanks for everything.”
“Come back soon.” The guide reluctantly lets go. “Let me get your things.”
The guide walks off towards their rooms. Tora moves close to Tegan. “First time I’ve ever left this place early, but considering all that happened this time...”
“Considering all that happened this time, I guess we do need to go home and let it all sink in some more.”
“Yeah... and I need to make sure the building hasn’t exploded in my absence....”
Tora smiles. “Well, if that happens, there’s always room in the KnK for a certain someone.” He wraps his arms around her.
“Oh yeah... Tsu would just love that....”
“Depends on how much noise that person makes.”
“*sigh*... Maybe I’ll be lucky and PATE just blew up a computer....”
“Ah, quit worrying. I’m sure that they didn’t do anything that can’t be easily fixed.”
“Well if nothing happened, I’ll be a lot more relaxed the next time I take a vacation. Of course I hope the next time I have a little time to plan and arrange things...”
“What you don’t like unexpected things?” Before Tegan can reply, she finds his lips smothering hers.
A minute later, she pulls away, gasping for breath. “I give up on you.”
“All right all right.. I promise that I’ll be serious from here on in.”
“Good. Just not *too* serious.”
Tora grins. “I think I can do that.”
“Hey, I was being serious!”
“I wonder how your sister puts up with the two of you. *sigh*.... Let’s get our stuff and head out.”
The guide returns, placing their belongings down in front of Tegan and Tora. “Son, please take bags outside.” “Whatever, Pop.” He lets go of Tegan and takes the bags out the door. The guide motions for Tegan to come closer. “Don’t let son bother you too much with jokes. He does mean well, “ he whispers in his ear.
Tegan smiles. “Yeah, I know.”
“There some days I like to take pan to his head...”
“Yeah... I’ve felt like that a few times too.”
“... but I let it go, because he only sees me so often. Don’t let it stop you, though.”
“Pop, are you quite through yet?”
“Oh hush. I’m ready.” She turns to the guide. “Thank you again.”
“Is my pleasure.”
“Good bye.” Tegan goes outside to let Tora say his final good byes to his adopted father.
[Chinese] “Don’t worry. I was only telling her how to deal with you.”
“Thanks. I think.”
The guide pats Tora on the shoulder. [Chinese] “Will you try to be serious with her for once, though? If she is the one you love, then don’t put her through the same torture you put me through.”
“All right. This time, I’ll really try.” They give each other one last hug before they part.
Outside, Tegan waits for Tora. She breathes deeply, inhaling the fresh air. In the back of her mind, she can’t help but wonder about the past. Then she glances at Tora and his dad in the open doorway and begins thinking about the future. Unlike Tegan, Tora has his mind focused more on the present. He’s seen his past, and could care less about the future. It’s only a matter of what to do now. And he decides to lock Tegan’s arm with his. Startled by Tora’s sudden appearance, Tegan turns her head, then smiles. “Ready?”
“OK. Then let’s head out.”
And as the two of them begin to walk away, the guide waves, wishing in his heart the best of luck for the both of them. Several hours later, they arrive back at the airport in Tokyo. After a visit to customs, they take their bags out to Tegan’s car.
“Okay, I know it wasn’t the greatest vacation ... and I apologize for that.”
“That’s okay. It could have been worse.” She glances at her watch. “It’s kinda late. I guess I’ll drop you at the KnK, then head home.”
“Sounds fine.” Tora gets into the car. “You know, I keep think you should be somewhat upset with me right now.”
“Well, for one, me acting like a righteous jackass over the past week.”
“True... but there were some good things about the week.”
“And the good outweighs the bad in this case?”
“Maybe.” Tegan gets into the drivers seat while Tora loads their bags into the trunk. “But there’s one thing I’m going to have trouble with.”
“Getting used to sleeping alone again.”
“It’ll come back. It’s like riding a bike.”
Tora gets into the passenger seat. “Yeah... but it’ll be lonely in that bed with nothing but my teddy bear.”
“I’m trying very hard not to be impossible right now.... and this is not making it easy”
“What would you rather say right now?”
“Normally, I would say ‘I guess that can be fixed’ with a grin, but I don’t want to say stuff like that for a while.”
Tegan starts the car and drives towards the Nerima district. “And how would you fix it?”
“How do I say this delicately... *sigh*... Well, it would probably involve each of us spending a lot more nights at the other’s place.”
“I don’t have a problem with that.”
“Then...uh... how soon....?”
“Whenever you want to start.”
“Would you mind today then?”
“No. But I really should get back to Mystic Manor in the morning.”
“I was thinking of heading over there later today instead. I know that you have a few things you want to take care of.”
“Maybe not... we can drive past. If I stop in now, I’ll spend the next few hours getting grilled. Unless you want to spend the night in my apartment.”
“Hmm... I don’t think that you’d want to sleep alone tonight... “
“Nope. It’s just a matter of which apartment.”
“I guess we’d better make it mine, then. You’re going to have a lot more people to deal with at the MM than I do at the KnK.”
“Yep. Though I could always sneak up to your place through cat space.”
Tora grins. “That would probably do it. Just make sure to put the car someplace safe.”
“OK.” Tegan pulls up to the front of the Park Hyatt. Tora gets out and gets his bags out of the trunk. “I’ll be up as soon as I park.”
“OK, I’ll see you in a few.” Tora enters the hotel. He doesn’t see anyone else and counts his blessings. He finally gets into his room, belongings and all, and locks the door behind him.
Several blocks away, Tegan finds a relatively safe place to park. She locks the car, then shifts into cat form and into cat space. A short trip takes her into Tora’s apartment. She watches for him, then once he is in the apartment, she pounces.
“Gah!!!” Tora falls to the floor on his back, a black cat on his chest. He peels the cat off of him. “Nice to know that you learned something applicable on that trip.”
Tegan’s response is a low, rumbling purr. “Come on, kitten. I think we have a few things to take care of.” Tora gets up and carries Tegancat with him into his bedroom, making sure to close the door behind him.
The next morning, Tegan wakes up. She blinks at the strangeness of her surroundings. Then Tora’s arm pulls her close. “Hey, kitten. How are you?”
“Just fine,” she purrs. “I’m going to grab a shower, then head back to Mystic Manor.” Tora kisses the back of her neck for a moment. “I love you.”
“Mmm... I love you too...” She sighs.
“No, I’m not going to try anything. But I am going to miss you not being around for a while.”
“Like you said before. It’s something we’ll both have to get used to. Why don’t you come by the apartment this evening?
Tora smiles. “I think I’ll do that. Hopefully I don’t get asked too many questions.”
“I’ll try to diffuse as much of that before you get there. But you’re going to have to deal with your neighbors.”
“I know. I just hope their imaginations aren’t too active.”
“Let them think what they want.” She wriggles out of Tora’s grasp. “I’m going to go take a shower.”
Tora makes himself sit upright. “I’ll be counting the seconds.”
“You’re welcome to join me if you like.”
“You don’t like cold water. And I doubt there’s going to be room for a large white Siberian tiger in there with you.”
“Good thing I made sure to install extra large showers and tubs at Mystic Manor.”
Tora smiles, then slips out of bed. “Doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”
“Mmm... I’ll see you in a few.” Tegan disappears into the bathroom.
Tora goes outside to where he left his bags last night and pulls out a black T-shirt and a pair of jeans. After sliding those on, he heads off into the kitchen.
Fifteen minutes later, Tegan comes out of the shower, dries herself, and brushes out her fur. She pulls extra clothes out of cat space, and tosses the dirty ones inside, to be washed when she comes home. An intriguing smell enters the bathroom. Not the scent of arousal that she has become familiar with, but something completely different... like French toast.
After she pulls her slightly damp hair into a pony tail, Tegan goes into the kitchen area of the suite to find Tora cooking. “I guess I’m rubbing off on you.”
“Not quite.” He points to an open cookbook, with a section on orange French toast highlighted.
Tegan smiles. “That’s one of the best ways to learn. Once you learn how to follow a recipe, you can make your own.”
“Yeah, well, this is really the only one from this cookbook that I could do well enough to eat.”
“It takes practice... and learning how to modify when necessary. Anyhow, it smells good.”
Tora smiles. “If you would be so kind as to put out the dishes... my hands are rather preoccupied right now.”
“Certainly.” Tegan sets the table while Tora finishes his attempt at French toast.
A bead of sweat rolls down the side of his face. “Come on, don’t burn, don’t burn...”
“Got any juice?
“Hard to make orange French toast without orange juice.” Tora uses a spatula to point out the juice beside him and then quickly returns the spatula to the pan in an effort to keep breakfast from going up in flames. “rrrrrrrrrrrrr....”
Tegan takes the orange juice to the table. “Make sure you use enough butter or oil in the pan to keep it from sticking,”
“I know I know... just want to make sure this is still edible.”
“Want me to take over?”
Tora waves her off. “Not yet. I’m still got some control here.
She takes a sip of juice. “Okay. Let me know if you need any help.”
Tegan only smiles as she sees Tora still struggling to finish making breakfast. After a few minutes [and a couple of ‘don’t you dare burn on me’s] Tora finally takes the pan off the stove and to the table.
She sits at the table waiting patiently for Tora to serve the French toast.
“Well, milady, the moment of truth.” Tora slides one of the two French toasts onto her plate, with the other going onto his.
“Here goes.” Tegan cuts off a piece of the French toast and takes a bite.
Silence blankets the room for a moment, only to be broken by a quiet whisper from Tora. “Well?”
“Not bad for a first try.”
Tora breathes a sigh of relief.
Tegan finishes her French toast and juice, then glances at her watch. “I should be heading out.”
Tora is still working through half of his. “You’re right. They’re probably wondering what you’ve been doing.”
“Remember, I didn’t exactly give them a return time. But I should be going.” She comes over and kisses Tora.
Tora doesn’t let her lips remove themselves from his for a moment, but then lets them finally separate. “My door still has an open door policy for you, if you still need it.”
“Ditto,” says Tegan a fraction of a second before she shifts into cat form. She glances at Tora, then disappears through a cat space portal.
Tora sighs. “Yep, things are definitely going to get interesting here on in.”
Tegan’s portal exits out by her car. She turns back into a cat woman, then gets in the car and drives back to Mystic Manor. Tora stands by the window, watching as her car drives on by. He then heads towards the door, going to the bar to deal with any interested parties in advance
Tegan arrives back at Mystic Manor around 7am. No one is around the lobby. She takes her suitcases up to her apartment. PATE isn’t up yet, so Tegan takes her cases into her room and begins unpacking. After she finishes, she comes out of her room. Sounds come from PATE’s room. Tegan knocks on PATE’s door. PATE opens her door. “Tegan! When did you return?”
“I got back to Mystic Manor this morning. I figured you were asleep, so I went to unpack.”
“Come. I must hear all about your trip,” says PATE excitedly.
Tegan sighs... “And so it starts...” she says to herself.
Tegan follows PATE into the kitchen. They sit down, PATE with coffee and Tegan with hot chocolate. Tegan tells PATE an encapsulated version of what happened, including their discoveries and their meeting with Ayla, but omitting details about the changes in Tegan and Tora’s relationship.
PATE listens intently. “How fascinating... I always knew there was more to you and Tora.”
“Thanks... I think...,” replies Tegan.
“I would like to meet this Ayla,” muses PATE.
“I have a feeling she’ll be around sooner or later.”
PATE smiles intuitively. “Should I expect to be seeing Tora around the apartment more frequently? Particularly in the morning?”
Tegan blushes. “Yep.” She puts down her mug of hot chocolate, then glances at her watch.” “Feathers should be in the office by now. I better head down and see if anything important happened while I was away.”
“I will talk more with you later.”
Tegan walks to the stairwell, where she encounters Feathers coming down the stairs.
“Tegan,” exclaims Feathers. “Welcome back!”
“Thanks. How did things go while I was away?” The two go down the stairs.
“Just fine. Only the occasional blown circuit and backed up plumbing. Nothing Leo and Ro couldn’t handle”.
Tegan is relieved. “Oh, good. I kept envisioning fifty million things happening to the building.”
“We told you not to worry. So how was the trip?”
“It was... informative,” replies Tegan.
Leo sees Tegan in the lobby with Feathers. He knew she was away for the week. His own investigation told him she was out of town with Tora. Logic warns him not to follow her into the office. He does otherwise and walks right up next to her. Leo’s eyes widen. Tora’s scent is all over Tegan... this time, though, Tora’s scent permeates Tegan’s body in a way it never did before. Leo freezes. The lion instinct within him tells him there is only one way for a male’s scent to insinuate itself like that in a female. He growls in irritation. The door to the office swings closed. He stares at the door for a long moment. Agitated, Leo turns on his heel and storms up the stairs to his apartment. He pushes past Ro, who is coming down the stairs.
“Hey!” complains Ro, watching Leo. “Que es *su* problema...?” he mutters to himself
Downstairs in the office, Feathers and Tegan talk. “Wasn’t Leo right behind us?” asks Feathers.
Tegan opens the office door and looking around. “No one out here.” She closes the door.
Upstairs, Leo yanks open the door to his apartment, then slams it closed behind him. A picture crashes tot he floor. He kicks over a chair, picks up a vase, then hurls it at the wall. Angrily he shoves over his sofa.
“Not very productive, yet cleansing, is it not?” says a strange voice.
Leo snaps his head up. “Who...?”
The voice seems to be coming faintly into Leo’s head. “You want the female, don’t you?”
“Who are you? Where are you?” asks Leo, looking around”
“I am currently, I believe, in a drawer full of clothes,” replies the voice, echoing in Leo’s head.
Puzzled, Leo goes to his bedroom and begins pulling things out of his drawers, carelessly dropping the clothing on the floor. His fingers grasp metal. “YES!” the voice rings clearly into Leo’s head. “You have me!” Leo pulls a gold circlet out of his drawer - the one he picked up in the penthouse after Tegan’s accident.
“What the...? Madame WWW said this was a dud...,” says Leo
“I lay dormant for hundreds of years, responds the voice. “Your growing anger has awoken me.”
“And what have I woken up?” asks Leo cautiously.
“A talisman of power... a talisman that can give you what you desire,” replies the voice.
“Why should I believe you?”
“I can sense you once had great power. Others respected you... you *led* others. There was only one from whom you took orders. Now everyone tells you what to do. Think... with the power that was once yours, you could eliminate your rival, possess the female you desire.... be a person that commands respect...” The voice seductively draws out the last few words so they reverberate in Leo’s head.
“Another offered me the chance to have the one I love... there were too many strings attached. What do *you* require for all this?”
The voice sounds faintly amused. “Nothing... I am merely an enchanted circlet... what could I possibly need or desire? I exist to serve my user.”
Thoughts jumble together in Leo’s mind... Tegan his... Tora out of his life... respect... and no obligations... it almost seems to be too good to be true... As the voice continues, Leo finds his will weakening. “What do I do?” asks Leo in a low voice.
“Simply put on the circlet.”
“And what will that do?”
“Boost your own natural abilities... give you confidence... give you a source of mystical energy to tap...” The voice lowers. “Just put on the circlet...”
Leo makes a decision and faces the mirror. He lifts the circlet and places it on his head. Suddenly the band constricts around Leo’s head. A wave of energy strikes his very soul, surrounding his essence - imprisoning him within his own mind. Another presence flows into his mind - a presence radiating evil. This other spirit assumes control of Leo’s body.
“I AM FREE!” cries the voice exultantly.
Leo’s spirit asks “Who are you?”
The spirit in control of Leo’s body seems to glare at him. The energy entrapping Leo constricts around him. “SILENCE WEAKLING!” booms the voice. Energy lashes out at Leo’s spirit, inflicting mental pain. With Leo temporarily silenced, the “Other” turns to the mirror. “Yes... this body is adequate.” He notices the lion-like looks of Leo. Then he detects the mystical energies flowing through Leo and smiles. The “other” walks into the living room. With a gesture, the vase reforms itself. A wave returns the vase, picture, chair, and sofa to their regular position. “More than adequate. The meager resources of this body will supplement my own.” He walks back to the bedroom and looks in the mirror at his circlet, then frowns at the missing jewel. “I must allow my powers to grow, that I may recreate the missing power gem.” The voice pauses. “Damn that warrior of Pharangese. May his soul rot!” He composes himself. “That is the past. I must research this new world... see what opportunity turns up. Then the world will know - Verlayne lives again!” <MML>
“Oh God... what have I done?!?” thinks Leo’s spirit.
“Mayhap this place will be a good location to stay and marshal my energies. There are strong nodes of power flowing around and through this building.” Verlayne studies the clothes Leo was wearing. “Is this the raiment of this time and place?” Leo doesn’t reply. A jolt of energy painfully shoots through his mind. “Answer me when I ask a question!”
Leo’s spirit replies weakly. “Yes it is... one of many styles of clothing.”
“Very well... though it seems hardly suitable for one of my power and position. At this point I do not wish to make my presence known.”
“Hope you like fixing plumbing...” mutters Leo’s spirit.
“What?” Verlayne hisses angrily.
Leo’s spirit replies, afraid of another backlash from Verlayne. “It’s my job. I fix things in this building.”
Verlayne snorts in dismay. “To allow yourself to be lowered to such base labors... Such will not be accepted.”
“Wait till he tries to tell Tegan...” Leo’s spirit thinks to himself.
Verlayne turns and walks out the door. He goes down to the first floor, then freezes. Corindaen and Greymist are standing near the mosaic and talking to Tegan. Verlayne detects strong mystical energies from the man and the cat. “Damn,” he mutters to himself. “Are they residents of the building?”
“Yeah,” answers Leo’s spirit. “That guy is pretty darn powerful. He’s not the only one around here with strong powers. They’d find you out the instant they looked at you.”
“Then I must...” Verlayne’s eyes fall on Tegan. He studies her closely. “No... it can not be! Princess Taygana - alive!”
“The cat woman!”
“That’s Tegan Dawson,” replies Leo’s spirit. “She owns the building. From what I know, she fell in the spring of drowned cat woman at Jusenkyo. An accident made the curse permanent.”
“But the aura... the essence... is that of Princess Taygana. This changes much. I must withdraw from this place and plan.” Verlayne turns and climbs the stairs. Ryuji passes Verlayne as he comes downstairs. He freezes, sensing something is very wrong. His eyes fix on the two crystals in the circlet. Verlayne doesn’t notice her. He returns to Leo’s apartment. “There is nothing here worth taking.” Verlayne begins preparing a spell to teleport away from Mystic Manor. He then detects the wards protecting the building and growls in irritation. To be able to use the spell, he would have to slip out of the building unnoticed.
“They will search.”
“Tegan or Feathers will search for me... you. If you disappear, they might ask one of the wizards to search for you with magic...” Verlayne’s eyes narrow at Leo’s words. Suddenly Leo thinks to himself “$h!t! Why did I tell him that?!? If someone searched for us, I might have had a chance to be free. <thinking sullenly> Not like I deserve anyone helping me... the way I’ve acted....”
“It is too soon to face them... I will not be able to combat them until I have had time...” His eyes fall on Leo’s desk. “Unless...”
Downstairs, Ryuji runs up to Tegan, who is now alone and about to walk into the mail room. “Onee-chan! You’re back!”
“Yeah. I just arrived this morning.
“Something’s wrong with Leo. I just passed him on the stairs. There was something strange...” says Ryuji.
“More so than usual?” replies Tegan dryly.
Tegan sighs. “Ro said the same thing a little earlier. I guess I better go talk to him.”
Ryuji follows Tegan up to 3C. She rings the bell. No answer. She pulls her cell phone out of cat space and dials Leo’s cell phone. They hear it ring inside the apartment. Tegan pounds on the door and yells. “Leo? You in there?” She looks at Ryuji. “Something’s weird here.”
Tegan shifts into Tegancat and opens a cat space portal. She comes out in Leo’s apartment. Tegancat shifts back to normal. She finds Leo’s cell phone on a table. “Hmmm... Leo usually isn’t without his cell phone. I better look around.” She goes into his bedroom and comes out a minute later. “Some of his clothes are gone,” she thinks, somewhat puzzled. Then she goes into the other room. A note was left on Leo’s desk. “I need some time on my own. I’ve gone away for a while. It was a last minute decision on my part. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Please don’t try to find me. Leo.” “Majorly weird,” thought Tegan. She went back out of the apartment to Ryuji and told him what she found.
“See? When I saw him, he didn’t even seem to notice me. And he was wearing this weird thing around his head.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe he just needs a little space. I’m not going to worry about it. He said he wants to be left alone. I’ll just wait until he decides he wants to return, then we’ll have a little chat.”
In a hidden valley in China, in some mountains not far from Jusenkyo, Verlayne walks through the remains of what once was a magnificent keep. He kicks at the rubble in the area that used to be his inner sanctum. A few shreds of paper, several broken bottles, and a load of stones are all that remains of his study.
“Damn Ayla and her attempt to make my destruction complete! I will have the last laugh.” Leo’s spirit, severely weakened by the drain imposed on him by Verlayne, silently watches in horror. “But this place is no longer suitable. I do not have enough energy to rebuild the keep, and without my grimoire, I can not summon creatures to do the labor.” He thinks a minute, then smiles. “Of course... the hidden cavern... my duplicate grimoire and tomes are hidden there.” Inwardly he glances at Leo’s spirit. “I am expending too much energy keeping you entrapped. There is one way to remedy that... and to boost my strength as well... “
Leo’s spirit screams as he feels himself drawn towards Verlayne’s essence. Verlayne absorbs Leo’s spirit into his own. His eyes widen as Leo’s memories and emotions join his - memories of Leo’s childhood; the time he spent enslaved by Madame WWW; Leo’s release by PATE, Lisa, and Tegan; Leo’s hatred and jealousy of Tora-no-Shi; and perhaps the most intense emotion, Leo’s desire for Tegan. Though Verlayne possesses Leo’s memories and emotions, Verlayne’s intellect remains dominant - but not unaffected by the union. He smiles as a new plan develops in his mind.
“Yes... that will be a good start to my plan...” He looks around. “I must retire to the hidden cavern and work out the details...”
A glow surrounds Verlayne. He disappears from the ruins, then reappears in a cavern lit by a strange, unearthly glow. Verlayne strides over to a locked book on a pedestal. He blows off nearly a thousand years worth of dust. A gesture summons the key. Verlayne unlocks the book and frees it from the pedestal. He carries the book to a desk, seats himself, and begins to study.
Back at Mystic Manor, the remaining staff is meeting in the office. “So that’s the story,” finishes Tegan. “I’m going to hold Leo’s apartment until he’s ready to come back.”
“If he does,” says PATE.
“This is not like Leo,” comments Feathers. “We should try to find him.”
Tegan shakes her head. “He asked us not to. The way he’s been acting, I think he needs a little space. Let’s give him a few weeks before mounting a search party. So, for now, Ro’s going to be in charge of maintenance.”
“Me?” asks Ro, surprised.
“You’ve been helping Leo for months now,” replies Tegan. “You know the building and it’s routine. Don’t worry. Jake will help you when he can, and I’ll start looking for someone else to back you up on maintenance. I’ll talk to you more about it later. <she pauses> Anyhow. that’s how things stand.”
“I am still not comfortable with Leo’s departure,” returns PATE.
“No one is. I’d have preferred talking to him face to face before he left,” says Tegan.
PATE stands. “Then I will try to locate him.”
“I said no,” states Tegan. “Maybe he’ll come back in a better frame of mind.”
Later that night, in Tegan’s apartment, Tegan tells Tora what happened.
“So that’s it. Leo’s gone,” says Tora after hearing what happened with Leo.
“Yep. Ro was a little uptight until I mentioned he’d be getting a raise with his new position. I’m not going to worry about Leo. So what do you want to do tonight?”
Tora smiles, then sweeps Tegan into his arms. “Did you really need to ask that?”
“Not really.” Tora caries Tegan to her bedroom, then kicks the door closed behind him.
-- fin --