Difference between revisions of "User:Eirik/Reverberations"

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(Re-wrote the last posted bit to downplay events a bit. I'd gone a little further than I'd intended and left a character in a hole I didn't want.)
(Added another section)
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He turned out to be very lucky, given the circumstances.   
 
He turned out to be very lucky, given the circumstances.   
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It was a while before things got back to semi-normal around the apartment. 
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Tea' continued to dress as a woman when she got home, but stayed more to herself than before.  She and Dusty could both feel it.  He'd stepped way over a line at the party, getting so possessive of her that she wasn't comfortable.
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She was barely ready to be a woman, a girlfriend.  She wasn't ready to be his property even for a short time.
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They parted company over Thanksgiving break having not resolved this between them.  Tea' was reluctant to let go of him, but even though they left to visit their families on good terms, he could tell that he didn't have much time to make things right.
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Dusty had arrived back in Lake Tahoe for the break still in turmoil.  He'd run things over in his head a million times, but the simple fact was that his hormones were raging this time of year.
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It hadn't hurt, of course, that he'd been drunk at the time.
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He pulled up to the house and sighed.  It was going to be the second holiday that he couldn't be completely himself.  The antlers made even sitting at a crowded holiday table a challenge.  At least this year he heard that the gathering would be smaller than years past, just his parents, his brother and sister.
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He walked in the door and set down his suitcase, "I'm home!" he yelled. 
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He could smell his mothers cooking from outside, and she emerged from the kitchen with a big smile on her face, "Dusty!" she said straight into his neck, "Welcome home!"
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He hugged her, "Anyone else here?"
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"Your brother is, but he went out with friends.  Ellen is supposed to be in tonight."
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Dusty nodded and after some more small talk took his bag up to his room.  The bed was just a twin, way too small for his new body, but he wasn't about to tell his parents that.  The previous year he'd been able to give up the bed to a relative and sleep on the floor.  This year he'd just have to hide his size.
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He unpacked and sat on the bed.  All the way up to Tahoe, he'd debated telling Art.  His older brother had always been a good sounding board for him, but this situation was beyond him.  How could he explain that some of his problem came from being part animal?
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He heard Art come in through the front door, then run up the stairs.  "I thought you'd be here by now," he said coming though the door. 
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Dusty was unsurprised to see that he was still fully human.  He'd hoped that his brother might have changed over the summer.  "Yeah, got tired of eating my own cooking."
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"I thought you had a girlfriend," he asked with a big smile.
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Dusty was a bit taken aback.  He'd taken care not to mention Tea' to anyone in the family.  "How'd you know?"
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His smirk got bigger, "I didn't, but I figured you'd find someone in college."
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Dusty put his head in his hands, "Lord, don't tell anyone, please?"
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Art sat down and looked concerned, "What's wrong?  This is a good thing, isn't it?"
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"It's complicated," he said quickly.  "Very complicated."
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Art was unconvinced.  "It's only complicated if she's ugly, pregnant or a guy."
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Dusty looked at him with narrowed eyes, "Thanks for the lesson in women," he said warily.
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His brother hadn't expected the reaction, "Wait, she's not pregnant, is she?  Or a guy?"
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"Stop it, Art.  I can't explain what's going on.  There are things…" his voice trailed off.
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"What things?" Art asked a bit louder.
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Dusty felt a familiar rage building up.  "Can you just drop it?" he said with his teeth clenched.  "I'm not ready to talk about it."
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Art didn't respond, but playfully swung one of the pillows at his brother.  Dusty hadn't expected it and didn't have time to duck before it hit him in the antler and slipped out of his brothers hand.  "Jesus!" he screamed and leapt up from the bed.
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Dusty grabbed the pillow and threw it aside, but his brother was already backed against the far wall.  "What the hell?" he screamed again.  "Who are you?  What are you?"
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Art was still looking at his neck, so he the field hadn't totally collapsed, but he'd clearly seen something.  "What?  I'm your brother," he said trying to play a little dumb.
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"The hell you are," he spat, "I saw… I saw some kind of animal for a second!"
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"Art, I'm still Dusty," he said quietly.  He let out a long breath, "But I've been hiding this for a year and a half."
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It took a good two hours to convince his brother that not only was he still the same Dusty, but that he was also part animal, and a moose at that.  Dusty in the end decided to ram his head into the drywall, leaving a deep antler mark on the wall.  His brother had blinked a few times when he saw it, and even more at the dust that outlined his brothers antlers.
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Even once it was cleaned off, he seemed to have a headache.  "I can sort of see you now," he said now looking into his brothers eyes.  "It's like a ghost of hovering over you."  He finally sat down heavily, "So I'm going to be a moose someday?"
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Dusty shrugged, "Maybe, but my sense of it is that it's random.  So far, all I can say for sure is that you'll be a mammal.  Like I said, there's a small chance you won't even stay male."
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Art leaned back on the bed and closed his eyes, then opened them again and looked, "I still see the ghost," he admitted.
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"We might have lowered the field for you a bit, you might see others now."  He sighed, "Hold on, let me show you something."  He reached over and pulled his wallet out and flipped to a picture of himself, Tea' and Dusty at the beach.  "What do you see here?"
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"It's you and your roommates," he said, then blinked.  "Crap, my head hurts.  Wait, one of them is a seal, and the others a panther?"
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"Close, sea lion and a black jaguar."
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He blinked again then squinted at the tiny photo.  Only belatedly did Dusty remember Tea' was topless in it, "Wait, this isn't right, this jaguar looks like…"  He looked at his brother and rolled his eyes, "So, she's gorgeous, not pregnant, but she's a guy?"
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Revision as of 14:22, 13 March 2008

Reverberations

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Works by Eirik on Shifti
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This story is a work in progress.

Reverberations

Author: Eirik

Dusty sat on the hall floor and slowly, rhythmically tapped his antlers backward into the wall. One slow tap, pull forward, another slow tap.

"Mr. Hollows!" hissed Ela as she turned the corner and saw what he was doing. "Stop doing that!"

He looked up at her, "What?"

She reached down and helped him to his feet, "What do you think normals are seeing when you do that?"

He quickly turned his head down the hall, accidentally hitting his left antler against the doorframe. "Damn it," he muttered. "Sorry about that."

She unlocked her office and let him in. "Since you're not in any of my classes, and you're clearly distracted, I assume you're here about T.A.?"

He took a seat across from her and sighed. Their kiss had been a couple days before, and he was still conflicted about what was happening. "I suppose I am," he admitted. "I'm worried about her, and I'm not sure who to talk with. I'm worried she's moved too far, too fast."

"That's not a question that I can answer," she admitted. "Personally, I think it's a good thing, at least for the most part."

"For the most part?"

She shrugged, "This isn't some kind of well defined science. She's in a strange place right now, as are you." She absently started logging into her computer. "She's moving a lot faster than most of the gender changed. I don't know any, but what I've been hearing is that most spend years getting adapted, if they ever do. For her, it's like she's trying to break a record."

"That's what I'm afraid of," admitted Dusty.

Ela nodded. "Every situation is unique. A lot of people in her position over the last decade had no one they could be normal with, no one they could confide in, no one..." she trailed off.

"What?" he asked.

"Well, no one they could be their new gender with."

Dusty felt his mouth hang open, "But..."

"You care for her, don't you?" she asked.

He nodded vigorously, "I do. I'm just afraid that I've pushed her into this. I don't want her to be with me because of something I did."

"Tim is going to have to adapt eventually. The chances that she'll change again are almost zero now, and if the changes keep occurring, especially at the accelerate rate we're seeing, it won't be long before she'll have to be a woman."

"Wait, she might change again? You said it couldn't happen."

She looked crossly at him, "I know about as much as you do about this. We might all change back tomorrow."

"You didn't answer my question."

There was a long pause, "She might. I've asked a few people about it, and there is some precedent for a change after skipping a year, but it's on the odds of winning the lottery. There are maybe a dozen documented cases." She allowed herself a smile, "I'm an economics professor, I can assure you those are long odds."

"I need to tell her that," he said. "She's changing herself, as much as she can. What if she changes again in August?"

Ela regarded him carefully, "Are you trying to get out of your relationship?" she asked seriously.

Dusty shook his head vigorously, so much he knocked an antler hard into a bookcase. "No!"

Ela cut him off, "If you're trying to find an excuse to break it off right now, you're not the young man I assumed you were."

"I'm not trying to break it off!" he said, more loudly than he intended. "I just don't want to do anything we may regret later."

Ela eyed him carefully. "Have you?"

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"This is nice," said Tim. After the party, she had resolved to start preparing herself for the day that she wouldn't have to hide anymore. She still had to maintain appearances, she couldn't start wearing a dress in public, but she could start doing things in private.

Sheila opened the glass door and pulled out the bracelet, handing it to Tim. "I didn't make this one, came from my supplier." It was a simple costume bit of fake silver with cubic zirconium.

"$20?" asked Tim incredulously. She wasn't used to buying this stuff. Without thinking, she started to try it on.

Sheila grabbed it off her arm and glared at her. "Remember where we are, Tim," she hissed.

Tim regarded the fox for a moment, then nodded carefully. She looked around the mall. There weren't many people there, and no one seemed to notice anything amiss. "Sorry, I should know better."

"I know this is all new for you, but I'm the one that will have to explain the weird guy that was hanging around trying stuff on," she said in a whisper. "I swear, you've been dealing with this for the last year and half. I've had a couple months. You know better." She put the bracelet back in the case. "Tell you what, pick out a few pieces that you like and I'll bring them by your place."

Tim nodded and looked over the case a bit more. "I think she's more into this style," she said more loudly for the benefit of passers-by.

Shelia grinned thinly, "Staying with the silver? She doesn't like gold?"

"She really doesn't own any, so I'm not sure," Tim said honestly. She looked over the case, using her tail to point out a few pieces to Sheila.

The fox made mental notes, but eventually stopped Tims' browsing. "I'm not wheeling the whole cart over."

Tim smiled and noted the women running the next kiosk taking too much interest in her browsing, "Sorry. I'm not used to shopping for my girlfriend." She picked a bracelet off a display and handed it to Sheila, "I'll take that for now. When can you stop by"

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Dusty stopped at the supermarket on the way back from class. He'd realized shortly after he'd grown his own personal coat rack that transportation was going to be a pain in the tail. On campus it was a non issue, but even taking the bus was tough because just getting though the doors without looking like a circus contortionist was impossible. With the help of his parents, who still had no idea that their son looked a lot like the head mounted on the game room wall, he'd bought an older Saab convertible to get around. It wasn't what he'd really wanted, and he still wasn't sure what he was going to do in the rain, but it got him around.

He closed the top and sighed. Once a few car engineers were transformed, he hoped someone would make a bubble top car.

He walked into the store and grabbed a cart. The conversation with Ela was still in his head. He really had no idea who else to talk with. Trinidad was out because nothing said to the sea lion would be kept secret. It just wasn't in his nature. Even on the special online forums, there was almost no one in his position, in Tim's position. Transgendered were rare, and most of the ones out there were trying to stay in current relationships. He'd found none that were willing to publicly admit they were in this situation.

He filled his cart with stuff from the produce section, the went for the meat department. Tim's meat really threw off their food budget.

The truth was, the two of them hadn't done anything that couldn't be taken back. Tim wasn't ready for that, and the closer Tim got the colder Dustys' hooves got. He cared for her, deeply, but the time of year to make choices like this was lousy. He turned a corner and knocked a box of crackers with the edge of his antlers. He pretended not to notice, since bending down to get it was likely to cause more stuff to get knocked over.

The antlers, in a way, were his problem. Or what they represented. His hormones were in overdrive and would be for a couple months. There was no way he could hope to think clearly, and he couldn't afford to destroy his relationship with Tim.

He paused at the small florist near the checkout, picked a single red rose, and went to pay. He'd take it slow, but he did want to move forward. He only hoped Tim would do the same.

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Sheila was at the apartment a couple of hours later with a small bag filled with fake silver and gold. "I grabbed that stuff you liked, and a few other things."

Tim smiled, "Thanks," she said as she showed her in.

They settled on the couch and she dumped out the bag. "Where are your roommates?"

"Trinidad wanted to go for a swim, so I guess he's at the beach. Dusty should actually be home any minute." She picked up some of the gold and held it against her black fur. "I don't know, I still think I prefer the silver."

Sheila nodded and separated out some of the other stuff, "How are you handling this?"

Tim didn't look at her, "Fine, I guess." She set down what she was holding and looked at Shelia, "This feels right, it really does." She fingered a pair of earring, but wasn't looking at them. "What do you think of Tina?"

"Who's Tina?"

Tim looked at her, "For me. I don't think I can't keep the name Tim forever."

Sheila laughed, "You do not look like a Tina to me, not at all." She looked the jaguar up and down from head to toe, "I'm not sure what to call you. Didn't Lisa call you Tea'? Like the actress? Seems a bit more exotic."

Tim considered it. Lisa had called her that since their first meeting. She was a nice woman, but the concept of a gender changed seemed to shake her a bit. She compensated by pretending it hadn't happened. It had annoyed Tim for a while, but the more feminine she got, the less it bothered her. After a little though, she shook her head, "I don't know yet. I kind of like it."

They continued to go thorough the various pieces that Sheila had brought with her, eventually settling on just a few. "You're going to have a lifetime to figure out your style. Just in time for it to change again," she added with a smirk.

Using a mirror, Tim tried to put a set of earrings on, but couldn't figure out a way for them to look natural with her ear shape. "I suppose that keeps you in business."

Sheila nodded while adding things up, "Don't you know it." She flashed over her calculator and came up with a total. "Usually, this haul would run you about seventy five, but I suspect I'll be seeing you a lot, so I'll knock it down to sixty."

Tim sighed, "This is going to become expensive, isn't it?"

"Wait until you start getting the real stuff," she replied. She looked over the silver costume jewelry that Tim was trying on, "You really were a guy just a year ago?"

She nodded, "Good old-fashion, heterosexual, red-blooded American boy," she said as she struggled with a necklace clasp. "Strange what being turned so completely into this will do."

"Living with Dusty probably helped," she said. "Maybe it's pheromones, but since he shed his velvet he even makes my heart skip a beat."

Tim looked at her, she'd never considered that living with Dusty might have accelerated her change of heart. "He's not your type?"

She shook her head, "Not really. Believe it or not, I'm still into unchanged guys. I guess that won't last." She starting putting away the other pieces of jewelry, "I had a boyfriend when this happened, but broke up with him when I changed."

"Why's that?"

"Partly it was because I was scared, it was before Lisa spotted me and took me into the fold. Partly it was because he was a jackass when I was sick. I hope that's what he turns into," she muttered a bit angrily.

Dusty opened the front door, twisting his head as he walked though, carrying several bags of food. He spied the two of them on the couch, "Hi ladies," he said with a smile, hiding his nervousness. "What's going on?"

Sheila held up her bag of samples, "Just getting your girl some accessories," she said.

He set the bags in the kitchen and looked at Tim. She was still wearing male clothes, but decked out in silver jewelry she looked like a slightly tomboyish woman. She stood up and they hugged, "How was your day?" she asked.

"Fine, I have a project for my conservation class coming up. The professor there is going to flip when he finally changes. I think he's already half animal." He reached back and slipped the rose out of a bag. "For you," he said quietly. Tim took the flower and stared at it. She was so quiet that Dusty started to think that he'd done something wrong. She looked at him with tears welling in her eyes, kissed him, then ran to her room and shut the door.

Dusty started to follow, but Sheila stopped him. "I'll talk to her," she said.

"What happened? I thought she'd be happy," the moose asked with concern in his voice.

"You've never given her flowers before, right?" she asked.

He shook his head, "We haven't really been an item until a couple days ago," he pointed out.

"I suspect until that moment, she didn't fully realize how much she'd changed."

"You think she didn't like the rose?" he asked.

Sheila smiled, "No, I suspect she loved it, and it scared the hell out of her."

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Tim sat on the edge of the bed and let the tears flow down her cheek. "What is wrong with me?" she whispered quietly to the empty room.

There was a light knock at the door and Sheila came in, "Want some company, honey?" Tim shook her head no, but the fox came in anyway. She sat down at the end of the bed next to her and put her arm over Tims shoulder. "Scared you, didn't it?"

Tim nodded, "Yeah. I mean, I decided I was going to be a woman, but he gave me the flower…" she trailed off for a moment and caught her breath. "In high school, I was the one that gave flowers. They never did anything for me. I could smell them, look at them. They were just plants." She closed her eyes, "Now? Dusty gives me one red rose…"

"And you felt like melting into his arms? Like he was the center of your universe?" Sheila asked with a grin.

Tim nodded. "I guess I felt like that before, Halloween certainly. But I was in control then."

Sheila chuckled. "Dusty is a moose, I suspect he's going to take charge this time of year." She smiled and patted her on the back, "You're a jaguar, you can take charge the rest of the year."

"I guess it's just that I have to keep all this bottled up all day. I can't act like I love him outside this apartment. I can't act like a woman outside this place. The only reason I dressed up for Halloween like a woman is because everyone else would see me as a guy in a costume." She reached over and picked a fashion magazine off her nightstand. "I've been looking at this stuff. When I was a guy, I'd have been looking at the women, now I'm getting fashion tips, and getting excited about it!"

Sheila didn't know what to say. They both knew that Tim was on virtually uncharted territory. "Maybe you need to be more like a woman inside these walls," she suggested.

Tim considered it. It had been one of the reasons she was buying the jewelry to begin with. "I guess so."

The fox stood up and went to Tims' closet. "We'll need to start getting you some correct clothes," she said pulling out the white dress from Halloween, "And this doesn’t' count. You can't wear this around the house nightly. You need some causal stuff. Bedtime stuff, too."

"I can't just go shopping…"

Sheila cut him off. "Rupert Manassas manages a clothing boutique downtown. He's already told me that he's been waiting to hear from you. He'll let you in after hours to try stuff on. Just bring your checkbook."

Tim sighed, "Okay, lets do that this weekend, maybe late Saturday night?"

"I'll talk to him. He's a funny little chipmunk, too. You haven't really talked to him, but before he changed he was a big guy, about six foot five. He's a small little thing now."

Tim winced, "That's gotta hurt."

"He hasn't been thrilled, but he changed the year before you. He's used to it, even if people talk two feet over his head."

"I hadn't thought about that," she said. "I really haven't talked with him."

"One more thing, your name," she said a little dangerously.

"I'm still thinking about it," she protested weakly.

Sheila sighed, "I know, and you still need to be Tim outside these walls, and T.A. when you're with a group of us in public. But if you're going to be a woman inside here, I think you need to decide on something."

They talked back and forth a bit longer, and she was feeling better about things. Finally, she walked out with Sheila in tow to find Dusty still standing nervously near the kitchen. Trinidad had come home while she was in the bedroom and was beside him, looking about as concerned as his perpetually happy expression would take him. They had obviously been talking.

"Guys, I've been talking to Sheila and I've made a choice. When I'm here, inside this place, I'm not going to be Tim anymore. I've decided I want you two to call me Tea'."

Dusty looked stunned, but happy. Trinidad didn't waste a moment, practically leaping forward, grabbing her in a hug and kissing her all over her muzzle. "Congratulations!" he exclaimed. "It's a beautiful, bouncy girl!"

Dusty finally got over the shock and stepped over, tapping him dangerously on the shoulder and huffing loudly though his nose. "Flippers. Off. Her. Ass."

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After Sheila left, Tea' and Dusty went into his room to talk about things.

"You're sure about this?" he asked her, not for the first time.

She nodded and idly played with one of his antlers. "If you'd told me I'd be in this position a couple years ago, I'd have thought you were nuts. But the fact is, for whatever reason, it's clear the universe wants me to be a girl. If the universe wants that, who am I to argue?" She shrugged, "If the universe decides it's made a mistake, I'll change back this summer."

Dusty looked surprised, "You knew it was possible?" he asked.

She smirked, "One of the first things I looked up a when I didn't change," she admitted. "I know it can happen, just the chances are so low as to be nothing." She pulled down hard on his antler and kissed him before letting go, "I really think the universe wanted us, maybe needed us, to be together. If I change male, maybe you'll be the woman next time."

"What does all this mean for now?"

"I'm going to be Tea' Anders when I'm home, and Tim to everyone else. At least until things go upside down and we can't hide it anymore. We just need to be careful, and don't invite anyone over without telling me. Eventually, I'm going to need to tell my family. That should be an interesting conversation." She kissed him again, "And maybe we can talk about other things down the road."

Dusty huffed again, clearing his nostrils. "Tim… Tea'," he corrected, "this is a lousy time of the year for me to think clearly. The more I think of you as a woman, the closer we get, the more I'm afraid I'll do something we both regret."

She smiled and lightly scratched one of his antlers with a claw, "Dusty, believe me, you won't be able to try something I'm not ready for. You may be stronger, but I've got more pointy bits."

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Tea' primped herself in the mirror for a few minutes. She'd bought a lot more stuff than she'd intended, but Rupert had been a big help. He'd been working in women's clothes for so long that it was second nature to him, even with her black fur and tail.

He'd already had a great deal set aside before she'd even gotten to the store with Sheila. "I had you sized up the first time we met," he said, "Obviously I don't know your style, but I doubt you do, either."

The three of them had spent hours in the darkened store, until well after midnight. For the most part, Rupert had been right on cue. He'd selected clothes for her that were nice, but not overly feminine. "You're not going to want to be in low cut dressed everyday," he had said. "Start slow. You'll have to find what you think looks good on your body, and what's comfortable with that fur." They had more or less stuck with casual stuff that she could wear around the apartment.

Night clothes were a bit different. The store was certainly no Victoria's Secret, but there was a selection of things that Tea' had a difficult time picturing herself wearing. They'd started with a very feminine white robe made of a thin, silky material. She'd picked up a few shapeless night shirts just to keep her covered.

At Sheilas insistence, she'd also tried on something a bit more risqué. "Eventually, you know, you're going to want to show this to Dusty." Tea' had felt her ears burn, but she had to admit that she was right.

They did choose a couple of light summer dresses that she was surprised to like. Standing in front of the mirror, she'd been shocked at how she looked in a yellow sundress. Tea' had felt only a singe pang of embarrassment before it passed.

Tea' was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, primping that yellow dress. She looked fabulous in it and she knew it. She heard Dusty come out of his room and stop. He leaned against the wall, his head cocked at an odd angle because of the antlers, and smiled, "You look gorgeous," he said with a smile. "You can't wear that tonight, you know."

Tea' smiled and sighed, "I know, we have time so I thought I'd try it out, dream a little." She sauntered out of the bathroom and put her arms around him, "I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the years to come."

He snorted, then kissed her. "You change, and I'll keep working on my time machine."

Tea' went back into her room and shut the door. The three of them were going to a party given by a group that Trinidad was a part of, some service club that Tea' couldn't even name. It was a pretty open affair, they were all allowed to invite a few people. Tea' hadn't really wanted to go, but it was hard to say no to the sea lion. The hardest part was going to be ignoring that he and Dusty were together.

She slipped into her regular clothes and fixed her fur. She really wasn't all that interested in going tonight, but at least she could try and have a good time.

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The party was already in full swing when they got there. It was at a house a few miles from the university, and when they arrived it was already crowded. The music was pounding pretty loud, to the point where neither Dusty or Tea' could hear themselves thing.

Dusty waited a moment before getting out. His instincts were already on edge and he could feel the fur rising on his neck. This place was not exactly his idea of a good time, not anymore. He got out of the car and sighed, "This is going to be a long night, isn't it?"

He started to put his arm around Tea', but she deftly stepped back and glared at him, "Remember?" she hissed. Dusty sighed again. He'd rather have been back at the apartment, watching a movie with her laying against him.

Trinidad grabbed the moose by the arm, "Come on, big boy, lets have some fun!" he said with way too much joy. "Just watch that rack of yours on their lighting!"

They got into the place and immediately the three of them got separated. He'd tried to stay close to Tea', but the lights were dim and his eyes were a bit weak in the dark. He made his way over to the only well lit area, where someone had a keg tapped. He was still underage, he wouldn't be 21 for another year, but he hoped the alcohol would take the edge off the noise. He downed one, and another. By the time he'd been there an hour, never having moved from that spot, he couldn't have said how many he'd drunk.

He scanned the crowd looking for his girl as he drank but had a hard time finding her. Trinidad stood out, but his barking laugh was so over the top that it was easy to track him. Tea' blended in.

He finally spotted her near the far corner talking to a guy. They were both smiling and laughing. He struggled to pick up their voices over the sound of the music, but all that did was succeed in making him feel disoriented. It wasn't long after that he felt a migraine starting to build under his antlers.

Bleary eyed, he started to imagine what the two were saying. He was trying to take her away from him. This man, this rival, wanted her. Wanted her as much as Dusty did. He felt an unfamiliar rage start to build up. His breathing became faster, deeper. Slowly, his vision began to tunnel, and all he could see was the man that was trying to take his mate.

Dusty dropped his cup and started across the crowded room with rage in his eyes.

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Hours later, Dusty was still sitting on the emergency room bed. The doctor had managed to stop his bleeding, but he'd needed a few stitches on his arm and shoulder.

He heard the familiar sound of claws on tile coming down the hall slowly, deliberately. Finally, Tea' walked into the room and regarded him silently for a few seconds before getting a chair and sitting down near him. "What was that about?" she asked. Tea' glanced around and noted the doctor had stepped out. "If I hadn't stopped you, you might have killed him."

"I know," he said quietly.

She was silent for a few more moments, and he wouldn’t meet her gaze. "You do realize he didn't even know? He thought I was Tim. We were talking about football."

Dusty slowly nodded his lowered head, but said nothing.

Tea' sighed, "Dusty, I love you, but you scared me tonight. For just a moment, you were more moose than man. I'm surprised you didn't try and take him down with your antlers." She reached over and held his hand, "I was afraid I was going to have to go feral to take you down."

"What's going to happen?" he asked still staring at the floor.

"Nothing, I imagine. Everyone at the party thought you were drunk." She sighed, "Good thing most of them were, too. No one seems have realized that your cuts had nothing to do with that glass coffee table I pushed you into." She paused a moment, "By the way, you're paying for the table."

"I mean with us?" he asked, finally looking at her out of the corner of his eye. "Do you still love me?"

She was shocked at the question, "I still love you, you big stupid lug. Whatever happens, I'll be there for you."

He closed his eyes and let his head hand low. He'd screwed up tonight, he knew that even through the haze of beer and hormones. He knew Tea' would stay by his side, at least for now. It was clear that he'd fallen pretty far in her eyes in just a few moments.

He turned out to be very lucky, given the circumstances.

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It was a while before things got back to semi-normal around the apartment.

Tea' continued to dress as a woman when she got home, but stayed more to herself than before. She and Dusty could both feel it. He'd stepped way over a line at the party, getting so possessive of her that she wasn't comfortable.

She was barely ready to be a woman, a girlfriend. She wasn't ready to be his property even for a short time.

They parted company over Thanksgiving break having not resolved this between them. Tea' was reluctant to let go of him, but even though they left to visit their families on good terms, he could tell that he didn't have much time to make things right.

Dusty had arrived back in Lake Tahoe for the break still in turmoil. He'd run things over in his head a million times, but the simple fact was that his hormones were raging this time of year.

It hadn't hurt, of course, that he'd been drunk at the time.

He pulled up to the house and sighed. It was going to be the second holiday that he couldn't be completely himself. The antlers made even sitting at a crowded holiday table a challenge. At least this year he heard that the gathering would be smaller than years past, just his parents, his brother and sister.

He walked in the door and set down his suitcase, "I'm home!" he yelled.

He could smell his mothers cooking from outside, and she emerged from the kitchen with a big smile on her face, "Dusty!" she said straight into his neck, "Welcome home!"

He hugged her, "Anyone else here?"

"Your brother is, but he went out with friends. Ellen is supposed to be in tonight."

Dusty nodded and after some more small talk took his bag up to his room. The bed was just a twin, way too small for his new body, but he wasn't about to tell his parents that. The previous year he'd been able to give up the bed to a relative and sleep on the floor. This year he'd just have to hide his size.

He unpacked and sat on the bed. All the way up to Tahoe, he'd debated telling Art. His older brother had always been a good sounding board for him, but this situation was beyond him. How could he explain that some of his problem came from being part animal?

He heard Art come in through the front door, then run up the stairs. "I thought you'd be here by now," he said coming though the door.

Dusty was unsurprised to see that he was still fully human. He'd hoped that his brother might have changed over the summer. "Yeah, got tired of eating my own cooking."

"I thought you had a girlfriend," he asked with a big smile.

Dusty was a bit taken aback. He'd taken care not to mention Tea' to anyone in the family. "How'd you know?"

His smirk got bigger, "I didn't, but I figured you'd find someone in college."

Dusty put his head in his hands, "Lord, don't tell anyone, please?"

Art sat down and looked concerned, "What's wrong? This is a good thing, isn't it?"

"It's complicated," he said quickly. "Very complicated."

Art was unconvinced. "It's only complicated if she's ugly, pregnant or a guy."

Dusty looked at him with narrowed eyes, "Thanks for the lesson in women," he said warily.

His brother hadn't expected the reaction, "Wait, she's not pregnant, is she? Or a guy?"

"Stop it, Art. I can't explain what's going on. There are things…" his voice trailed off.

"What things?" Art asked a bit louder.

Dusty felt a familiar rage building up. "Can you just drop it?" he said with his teeth clenched. "I'm not ready to talk about it."

Art didn't respond, but playfully swung one of the pillows at his brother. Dusty hadn't expected it and didn't have time to duck before it hit him in the antler and slipped out of his brothers hand. "Jesus!" he screamed and leapt up from the bed.

Dusty grabbed the pillow and threw it aside, but his brother was already backed against the far wall. "What the hell?" he screamed again. "Who are you? What are you?"

Art was still looking at his neck, so he the field hadn't totally collapsed, but he'd clearly seen something. "What? I'm your brother," he said trying to play a little dumb.

"The hell you are," he spat, "I saw… I saw some kind of animal for a second!"

"Art, I'm still Dusty," he said quietly. He let out a long breath, "But I've been hiding this for a year and a half."

It took a good two hours to convince his brother that not only was he still the same Dusty, but that he was also part animal, and a moose at that. Dusty in the end decided to ram his head into the drywall, leaving a deep antler mark on the wall. His brother had blinked a few times when he saw it, and even more at the dust that outlined his brothers antlers.

Even once it was cleaned off, he seemed to have a headache. "I can sort of see you now," he said now looking into his brothers eyes. "It's like a ghost of hovering over you." He finally sat down heavily, "So I'm going to be a moose someday?"

Dusty shrugged, "Maybe, but my sense of it is that it's random. So far, all I can say for sure is that you'll be a mammal. Like I said, there's a small chance you won't even stay male."

Art leaned back on the bed and closed his eyes, then opened them again and looked, "I still see the ghost," he admitted.

"We might have lowered the field for you a bit, you might see others now." He sighed, "Hold on, let me show you something." He reached over and pulled his wallet out and flipped to a picture of himself, Tea' and Dusty at the beach. "What do you see here?"

"It's you and your roommates," he said, then blinked. "Crap, my head hurts. Wait, one of them is a seal, and the others a panther?"

"Close, sea lion and a black jaguar."

He blinked again then squinted at the tiny photo. Only belatedly did Dusty remember Tea' was topless in it, "Wait, this isn't right, this jaguar looks like…" He looked at his brother and rolled his eyes, "So, she's gorgeous, not pregnant, but she's a guy?"


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Stages
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