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A Different Kind of Love

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Author: Bad Guru

One

Tony was still feeling indefinably under the weather even as he returned from the pub gents, which put paid to his theory about it being down to a dodgy curry or something like that. He slapped his belly thoughtfully and frowned, but the sight of Lance and Sarah smiling and chatting together at their table was enough to brighten his mood.

Now, as will become apparent, Tony Winster lived an unusual life - for his time. Mostly this was due to circumstances beyond his control, but credit where it's due – Tony was not a man ever to be troubled by jealousy, paranoia, or unworthy thoughts regarding his nearest and dearest. Many young men would be alarmed and suspicious if their best mates and their girlfriends got on as well as Lance (his former) and Sarah (his latter) did, but not he.

He took a great deal of pleasure in the way the three of them could go out together without him having to referee all the time. Admittedly, he thought, heading back to the table, it would be nice if Lance could actually go out and get a social life – or, even better, a woman – of his own, without having to tag along constantly, but Lance had enough on his plate at the moment.

'So, your old landlord's insisting on keeping the deposit?' Sarah asked, as Tony settled his considerable bulk into the threadbare pub seat.

Lance nodded glumly. Short and slight, he was the opposite of Tony, and even an inch or so shorter than Sarah (who was no Amazon herself). 'I went down the CAB and showed them the contract, and they said he's within his rights. Says I should have got him to specify routine wear and tear before I signed the bloody thing in the first place.'

'Well, it doesn't hurt to get these things checked out,' Tony said, glancing at Sarah with a conspiratorial smile. She smiled back, white teeth flashing as she flicked her collar-length auburn hair out of her face. 'So what are you going to do?'

'Find a cheap bedsit, I spose,' Lance sighed. He hefted the copy of the local free paper that lay on the table in front of him. 'I'm looking at a couple of places during my lunch break tomorrow, which'll mean starting early and working late... oh damn,' he muttered, looking at his watch. He glanced up at them apologetically. 'Got to go. Early night and everything.'

'Yeah, okay, mate,' Tony said with a grin, clasping his best friend's hand. 'Take care, let us know how you get on.'

'Yes, and remember -' Sarah added.

'Don't take the first place you look at just to get it over with. I'll remember,' Lance said with a weary smile. Sarah gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek, and with a wave he was gone.

'Poor old Lance,' Sarah said. 'He could've come and stayed with us for a bit, I wouldn't have minded.'

Tony grinned, fully aware of her compassion and generosity and loving her for it. 'I know, love, but... come on, he'd never leave, would he? And much as I feel sorry for him, the three of us living in the same flat, well, it'd probably be a nightmare, wouldn't it? It'd be like Men Behaving Badly. You and him get on really well and I don't want to spoil that.'

'You're probably right,' Sarah admitted, finishing her glass. Suddenly remembering, she stroked Tony's stomach. 'How are you feeling? Any better?'

'No, not really,' Tony said. 'Maybe I should see about it.'

'Mmm.' They collected their things and got ready to go home. 'Didn't you give blood last week?'

'What? Oh, yeah, there was a big drive at work, you know the spiel – high demand at present cos of the Middle East crisis and so on. Why?'

Sarah shrugged. 'Well, if you really are sick, it might have been in the blood you donated.'

'Well, don't they screen it all for bugs and stuff?'

She tutted and dug him in the side, exasperated. 'That's what I meant... You never know, if it is something serious maybe it'll show up and they'll let you know about it.'

'Oh. Okay.' Tony smiled. 'Listen to us, anyone'd think I had the flesheating lurgy. It's probably nothing.'

Back at the flat they got ready for bed and as usual Sarah couldn't help smiling ruefully as Tony undressed. He was certainly hirsute, she thought, running her fingers through the thick hair that covered most of his skin. She pulled on her nighty and clambered into bed.

'Oh, you magnificent man-beast, you,' she said, deadpan.

Tony mock-growled. 'That sounds like snugglin' talk to me!' He grinned at her. 'You want to?'

She smiled and he reached for her. Tony was not the most refined of lovers but his technique had a certain robust directness she had come to appreciate in the fifteen months they'd been together. She hissed with pleasure as he hammered his way towards their mutual climax, but then, abruptly, he faded, losing his hardness and seemingly running out of energy entirely.

'Sorry, love,' Tony whispered, flopping onto his back next to her and looking genuinely appalled. 'I dunno what -'

'Ssh,' Sarah said, nestling next to him. 'It's okay, you're not 100% right now. This is fine.'

'Thanks. I love you.'

'I love you,' she replied. But she could tell he was worried.

Lance bounded up the steps leading to Tony and Sarah's third floor flat, motorcycle helmet in hand. It was an old Victorian building and the rooms and corridors were correspondingly narrow and high. But it had character, and his friends had done enough work to it to make it very inviting. Well, more so than the dank hole he was forced to sleep in, anyway.

He banged the helmet against the door a few times and considered using his spare key to let himself in. But that would be a bit rude without prior arrangement, and anyway, he could hear footsteps coming now. It was Sarah, still in her office clothes and looking rather wan.

'Hiya,' Lance said, then noticed her expression. 'What's up?'

'Hello, Lance,' she said with a weak smile. 'Come on in. It's Lance,' she called into the flat proper.

Lance stowed his jacket and helmet by the door. 'What's wrong?' he asked.

'We've, er, we've had some bad news. Well, Tony has,' she said, brushing her hair out of her face and preceding him down the hallway. In the main room, basically a big lounge leading onto the kitchen, Tony was sitting on the sofa looking positively shell-shocked. His eyes were red – has he been crying? Lance thought, in utter astonishment.

'Hiya mate,' Tony said. A look passed between him and Sarah. 'Yeah, we should tell him.'

'Tell me what, exactly?' Lance asked.

'You know how Tony felt ill, flu-ey, last week when we went out?' Sarah said. 'Well, he gave blood just before and the tests they did on it showed up -'

'I've got the Girl Flu,' Tony said, voice cracking midway through the sentence. A tear rolled down his cheek.

'Shit,' Lance said. 'Really?'

Sarah nodded. 'We got a letter telling Tony to come in for more tests and they confirmed it there and then. His sickness was caused by poisonous by-products from the change going into his blood.'

'Shit. I've heard of it, but... you never really think it's real. Even when Jim Carrey got it, I thought it was just a, you know, urban legend or something.'

Sarah sat down next to Tony. 'It's real. One of the IT guys at my place got a bad dose.'

Tony looked at her. 'You never mentioned that. What happened to him?'

Sarah winced. 'He's, er, she's working in clubs now. Stripper.'

'Oh, God,' Tony said hollowly.

'I don't think that's compulsory,' Lance said consolingly.

'Shut up, Lance,' Sarah said.

'So – what caused it? Is he... ah... contagious?' Lance said, glancing nervously at his friend.

'It's not caused by a virus or bacteria, at least, not a detectable one,' Sarah said. 'There doesn't seem to be a single cause, it's different every case. Sometimes they can halt it with drugs but...' She sighed. 'Not in Tony's case.' She put an arm round his shoulders supportively.

'So... what? You're just going to change into a woman?' Lance couldn't help looking at his friend more closely, but couldn't see any obvious differences. 'When?'

'Half past two, the day after tomorrow. We're selling tickets,' Tony growled harshly.

'Tony,' Sarah said, giving him a reproving squeeze.

He sighed. 'Yeah, sorry. It's a gradual metamorphosis, mate,' Tony went on. 'I'm still completely male right now, but, they reckon I've got one of the nastier, faster kinds of it. In about six weeks I'll be... I'll be a woman, pretty much completely.'

'There's nothing you can do at all?' Lance sat back, aghast for his friend.

'Nothing at all,' Tony said with a defeated shrug. He and Sarah exchanged a look filled with such longing and regret and despair that Lance felt embarrassed to be intruding on them like this.

'What will you do?' he asked.

'I'm quitting my job in the morning. Don't think I'll be able to hack it as a lady plasterer, somehow. I've got a fair bit saved, enough to keep us going for ages with Sarah's wage too. Past that... dunno. I dunno who I'll be in two months time, if I'll even still be me...' Tony shook his head, clearly unable to deal with what was happening. A mirthless smile appeared on his face and he looked at Lance. 'But enough about me. How has your day been?'

'Uhrr,' Lance said, unable to form a coherent word. 'Normal. But for the last fifteen minutes. I was going to suggest going down the pub, but...'

'Sorry, mate, oddly enough I'm not in the mood,' Tony said dourly.

'Right,' Lance said. He felt obliged to not just leave it at that. 'Listen, Tone, I know this'll sound weird, but – whatever I can do, to help either of you, I mean...'

'Yeah. We know,' Sarah said. 'You want a coffee or something?'

Lance shook his head. 'No, I... I think I'll get going.' He stood and met Tony's gaze. 'For what it's worth, mate, I'm so, so sorry about this.'

Tony rose and the two clasped hands. 'Me too. Don't be a stranger. We can still be friends, right?'

Lance was inwardly amazed at such a display of emotional vulnerability from his big bluff friend, but managed to mask it. Course,' he said with a slightly forced smile.

'Okay, then. Ta-ra.'

'Ta-ra.'

Two

Sarah knew that Tony was initially afraid that Lance would flee in terror and abandon him as the changes really kicked in, but she was pretty certain that Lance was better than that. And she was right. He still popped by the flat more evenings than not, and to begin with they almost returned to their old routine.

Almost. Tony's light-brown hair started to lighten to a dirty shade of blonde, and she occasionally caught a glimpse of a new delicacy to his features and physique. They could both see it and it provoked in her boyfriend a desperate need to assert what was left of his masculinity at every opportunity. They had sex more often than they had since the first weeks of their relationship, but it was becoming more and more obvious that Tony was losing his ability to climax or even sustain an erection, no matter how desperately he tried. But she indulged him, only too aware herself of how little time they had left together.

It only got worse as Tony started to complain of aches and pangs in his shoulders and hip joints: his skeleton was reshaping itself. It was just as well he was on the verge of finishing work for good. When she got home on his last day, he was waiting for her hungrily, half- carrying her to their bedroom and almost tearing her out of her clothes. It was deeply arousing for her but also a very bittersweet experience.

They rolled together frantically atop the bedclothes, both naked by now, but for all the fervour of Tony's kissing and caressing of her he showed no sign of growing hard. Sarah let out a growl of frustration and tried rubbing her sex against his crotch, but found it hard to get the leverage she needed. She grabbed two handfuls of the flesh of his sides and back and ground herself fiercely against him.

'Aah!' Tony yelped and Sarah found herself flopping back onto the bed, suddenly losing her grip. Both her clenched fists were full of... she sat up and stared at her palms, which were full of dark curly hair.

'Shit,' Tony said hollowly, sitting up next to her. Two roughly oval bald spots had suddenly appeared in the hair covering his side and back.

Sarah winced. 'Did that hurt?'

'Not... not nearly enough,' Tony said. He grabbed a handful of chest hair and tugged, not very hard at all. With a noise like someone ripping up a clump of grass, the hair came cleanly out, revealing pale soft skin. 'Oh, God...'

'Don't pull any more out,' Sarah said, clutching his shoulder – finding herself suddenly careful about how and where she touched him.

'Wasn't about to,' he said. 'It's all going to fall out eventually anyway. I expect I'll probably be quite glad...' His voice had a detached, dreamy quality that alarmed her.

Well, that was the end of that particular attempt at lovemaking, anyway. Tony was subdued all evening, and was beginning to complain that his skin felt dry and itchy. But when they undressed for bed that evening, she was relieved to see that his body hair was still intact.

But Tony's discomfort, from both his skin and the deep skeletal pangs that were getting stronger and stronger, was obvious. Sarah almost rang work, to take the day off and stay home with him, but there was very little she could do, and there'd be worse times ahead for which she should probably preserve her leave. But she felt bad about leaving him in this state.

He was in the lounge when she got on, sitting on the sofa with his shirt unbuttoned and a determined look on his face. A sheet of newspaper lay by his feet, with a small heap of curly fuzz on it. He was methodically plucking all the hair out of his chest, and had nearly finished.

Sarah felt her heart fracture. Her eyes stung but she knew him well enough to be sure that histrionics weren't what he would want or need right now. 'Hello, love,' she said softly.

He looked round and smiled quietly. 'Hello. Couldn't bear it any more, the itching I mean. Thought I'd stay in control of this thing, as well.'

She nodded. 'Do you need anything?'

Tony shook his head, pulled out another double handful. 'Don't think so.' He looked down at his chest, which was now almost totally bare, sighed, and started to shrug off his shirt. As he did so he paused, wincing. It happened again and again as he reached for the still-thick hair on his sides, arms and back.

'Are you okay?' Sarah asked, unable to hide her concern any longer.

'My shoulders and elbows are so bloody stiff,' Tony said, his voice tense with frustration.

'Lie down then. Let me,' Sarah said. He nodded, lay on his front on the sofa, and gently Sarah started to remove all the hair from his body, a long and meticulous task.

'It's a pity we don't have any pillows need stuffing,' she murmured dryly as the pile of fluff grew. He let out an amused snort. 'Do you – do you want me to pull all of it out?' she asked, looking at the hair creeping from round the waistband of his jeans.

He shrugged, rested both forearms on one arm of the sofa, laid his head atop them. 'May as well,' he said resignedly.

'Well, you'd better take everything else off,' Sarah said, reaching under him to unbuckle his jeans. 'No, wait. Let me.' She tugged off his shoes and socks, pulled his jeans and y-fronts down and off. Naked, he looked almost like a satyr – thickly hairy from the waist down, completely bare above it. Sadly Sarah continued with her task until the only hair left on his body was on his scalp, in his armpits, and at his crotch. She stroked the new pale skin gently, sensing the tension deep down in the muscle and bone.

'How do you feel?' she asked.

He shifted noncommittally. 'Skin still itches like hell. I still ache.'

'Wait a minute,' Sarah said. From the bedroom she fetched a small bottle of faintly scented oil and began to rub it into him, all over, following it up with the closest she could manage to a good firm massage, driving her fingertips hard down into the muscles, trying to free up the labouring joints. Tony's breathing deepened and she could feel him relax, grow more at peace... until the sound of faint, untroubled snores filled the room.

Sarah straightened up and smiled sadly. He looked so peaceful... but utterly different from the macho ape she'd fallen for. Her back ached now, from stooping over him for nearly an hour. She collected up all the hair Tony had shed and put it in the bin, collecting a thick towel as she did so and laying it over him. And now, she thought, it's time for a shower.

Lance rapped on the door of their flat, wondering if he looked as dismal as he felt. It would be just his luck if the pair of them were out. He slumped against the doorframe wearily, but straightened up as the door opened.

It was Sarah, clearly fresh from the shower: wrapped in a robe and her hair swept up and hidden by a towel. 'Oh, hello – did Tony know you were coming?'

'No,' Lance confessed. 'Is it a bad time?'

She smiled. 'Course not. Tony's in the lounge, but I think he's still asleep. Go on through, I'll finish drying off and get dressed.'

Lance made his way through to the lounge and was startled to find Tony asleep, face down on the sofa, under a towel. There was something weird about his exposed arms and shoulders, something different... it took many long seconds before he twigged it, noticed the exposed bareness of his skin. Tony hadn't been so smooth since he was about thirteen.

Fascinated, Lance carefully grasped the edge of the towel and drew back off his sleeping friend. He hadn't expected Tony to be naked beneath it and his first impulse was to drop it back into place, but... Tony's bare, faintly glistening skin had a pale vibrancy and health to it that was very appealing, matched by the sheen and lustre of his fairer hair. And his body was losing some of its rugged bulkiness, smoothing out its corners and edges, plumping and softening, particularly his buttocks.

Despite himself, Lance reached down and touched Tony between the shoulder blades, feeling the oil that still coated him. Tony twitched and mumbled something. Lance stroked his friend harder, unsure how to respond as Tony made contented noises into his pillowing arms.

The sound of Sarah coming down the corridor provoked mild panic and quickly he pulled the towel back into place and bounded over to look out of the window. Sarah appeared, in t-shirt and long skirt, and smiled fondly down at her lover.

'Still asleep,' she said, gently shaking Tony's shoulder. 'Wake up. Lance is here.'

'Mmmph? What?' Tony struggled awake, tried to sit up, realised he was nude and quickly wrapped the towel round his waist. 'Oh, hello, mate. Sorry. Wasn't expecting you.'

'Yeah, sorry.' Lance forced himself to look away as Tony grabbed his clothes and started to pull them on. 'If it's a bad time...'

'Nah, don't be daft. How's it going?' Tony was clearly unused to the sensation of fabric on bare skin, and seemed glad to be able to at least pretend to be normal for a while.

'More landlord problems,' Lance said wearily. 'The heating in the sitter above mine's shot to hell, sounds like the battle of Tehran every time it's switched on. And legally, the landlord doesn't have to do a thing unless the resident in that particular flat actually complains.'

'So why don't they?'

'Stone deaf. Lovely man, but really totally stone deaf,' Lance sighed. 'I'm barely sleeping. Twice today I nearly came off the bike through sheer exhaustion.'

'You know how to pick 'em, don't you?' Tony said with a heartless cackle.

'Yeah. I'm looking for yet another new place, but...' He shook his head disbelievingly.

Sarah smiled. 'If you want to grab a couple of hours on our spare bed, Lance, go ahead.'

He breathed a sigh of relief. 'Cheers. Wake me at ten, is that okay?'

'Fine,' Tony said, glancing at Sarah, clearly amused.

After Lance eventually went home, Tony and Sarah went to bed themselves. Sarah felt a creeping discomfort as Tony undressed: this soft, smooth, pale person just wasn't her man... maybe wasn't even her type. But he still reached for her and she responded as best she could.

But there was no trace of an erection, and he seemed somehow ill-at- ease as they rolled and moved together. Sarah felt very little sense of sexual arousal. Abruptly Tony let out a little hiss of pleasure and gently took her wrists, guiding her hands across his body.

'There,' he whispered, smiling at her. She found her hands were over his nipples, and he was encouraging her to knead and stroke them. As she did so, he wriggled and gasped with pleasure, and deep under her palms, below each nipple, she could feel a tiny knot of tissue that had not been there before.

Nausea lurched in her belly and abruptly she withdrew her hands, sat up and stared at the sheet between her knees.

'What?' Tony asked, sitting up on one elbow, clearly genuinely baffled. He looked flushed and happy.

'I'm... I'm sorry, Tony,' Sarah said, shutting her eyes. 'I can't do that for you. We... we can't be together like this any more. Not properly.'

He stared at her. 'What? Why not?'

'Can't you see? Your... your breasts are starting. That's why you're so sensitive there,' she said. 'And... I'm not a lesbian. Being with another woman, it doesn't attract me.'

Tony sat up, stared at the wall, away from her. 'So I'm a woman now? Already?'

'No, of course not. But – you're going to be. Maybe not so long from now.' She wiped a tear from her cheek. 'Did you think we would just carry on, despite everything? You... you may find yourself liking men, it's not impossible -'

'Oh, stop it,' Tony said with a shudder. 'So this is it. You're breaking up with me.'

'We're... we're being broken up, put it that way. I don't want this any more than you do, you must believe me,' she implored him. 'I still love you. I always will, and I'll always be there for you if you want me to be. But... I don't want you that way any more. I'm sorry.'

He nodded, didn't speak.

'I'll sleep in the spare room, then,' Sarah said.

'Are you moving out?' he asked neutrally. 'Leaving me?'

'I don't know. Let's see how it goes, eh?'

Sarah grabbed a spare pillow and blankets from the airing cupboard and lay down to sleep in the tiny spare room. But sleep was a long time coming, and her tears were not. It was no consolation at all that the faint sobs drifting through the wall revealed that she was not alone in her misery.

Three

She really did intend to stay in the flat with him until his metamorphosis was complete, until he was settled in his new form. But practice proved harder than intention. Every look he gave her eloquently expressed his sense of betrayal and his longing for her. It rapidly became unbearable. And, truth to tell, her own resolution that they could no longer be lovers was not so solid as she might wish to pretend. For all that he was shorter, his shoulders narrower and rounder, his hair longer and slightly curlier, his features more delicate, he still looked quite masculine, still recognisable as Tony – her Tony.

Evenings in front of the TV became excruciating, not wanting to touch or even be too close to him in case her resolve weakened. Their good physical chemistry had underpinned the whole rest of their relationship, and with that now gone, she knew they were floundering. A serious, terminal bust-up seemed inevitable, and she knew she couldn't bear that.

So she packed a few essential things and rang an old college friend whom she knew was between flatmates. Her friend already knew about Tony's condition and happily agreed to put her up for a while – Sarah sensed her friend was quietly surprised it had taken her so long to decide to move out. Now all she had to do was break the news to Tony. She made the final arrangements while he was out seeing his APFS therapist, seated herself on the sofa with her bags around her feet, and waited for the familiar rattle of his key in the lock.

Lance was weaving his way down Croydon High Street, teeth gritted against the almost gridlocked rush-hour traffic, when he felt the ticklish buzz of his phone inside his jacket. He let the answering service get it, but was slightly startled when it juddered into life again seconds later. And then again. He was the first to admit that his social life did not bear much comparison to that of the Rainiers of Monaco, and three calls so close together suggested something urgent. He peeled off into a side street, halted the bike and pulled off his helmet and gauntlets.

All three calls had been from Tony, no message left, though. He was about to ring the flat when the phone zzzzzed again. He took the call. 'Tony, mate? What's wrong?'

The incoherent, howling sobs coming down the line were initially unrecognisable as his laid-back friend's voice. 'She's gone, mate... gone... the bitch...'

'What? Do you mean – do you mean Sarah?'

'Yeah... the cow, she's... she's left me. Moved out...!'

'Oh, Jesus,' Lance said, cringing for his friend. What could have made Sarah do that to him, when he was so vulnerable? But he knew her well enough to be certain that there would be a good reason. It occurred to him that Tony's change would be just as hard on her as on Tony himself.

'Look, mate, I'm in Croydon on a job, but as soon as I'm done I'll come round. Don't do anything... don't do anything daft, okay?'

More breathless sobbing. 'I... okay, mate. Thanks.'

'See you soon,' Lance promised.

Inevitably the traffic seemed like the worst in history, just to make the occasion extra special. But eventually he was parking the bike outside the familiar old Victorian apartment block and hurrying up to his friend's door.

Tony opened it in seconds, face ghostly white but for the deep red rings round his eyes. He wore a t-shirt and jeans. 'Oh, mate!'

Lance accepted his friends' crushing hug with a due mixture of compassion, surprise and alarm. He could sense Tony's desperate need for human contact and held him gently, patting and squeezing his back and shoulders. Tony's face was buried in Lance's shoulder. Lance couldn't help noting how much slimmer and less muscular his friend seemed.

Eventually Tony's sobbing dwindled to a series of sniffles. Lance partly disentangled himself and shut the door behind them. 'Oh, mate,' Tony said with a feeble smile. Lance could smell whiskey on him. 'Look at me, crying like a – oh, God!' And of course that set him off again.

Still holding him supportively and whispering encouraging words, Lance guided Tony through into the lounge, where they sat on the sofa. A bottle of JD and a glass sat on a low table before it.

'So, what happened, mate?' Lance asked gently.

'First she... first she said we couldn't be lovers any more, because I was a woman now,' Tony said. His voice grew stronger, yet lost its emotion as anger superseded grief in his mind. 'Do I look like a woman to you?'

'Well... no,' Lance said. Slightly effeminate, in an odd, Russian lady shot-putter way, but still quite mannish.

'And then she just announced she was leaving. Just like that. Said it was no good us living together, it was just reminding us of things we had to say goodbye to,' Tony said. 'I came back from hospital and she was here on this couch, bag packed, taxi booked. Cow. I... I still love her, Lance! Oh, God...'

'I'm sure she still feels for you, mate,' Lance whispered, as Tony had another slug of JD. 'But... it can't be easy for her, either.'

'No. I spose not,' Tony said with a sigh. 'But... I don't know... I'd counted on her being there... being around, at least some of the time... I won't be able to go out, soon, I'll be in the middle of it... I don't know if I can cope with being so alone here.' Tears flowed again.

Lance hugged his friend and let him sob against his shoulder until he once again seemed spent. Finally Tony shook his head and looked up. His face was about three inches from Lance's and Lance marvelled at how soft his jawline looked, how full his lips had become. He was suddenly extremely aware of how intently Tony was staring back at him. They were still half-embracing each other. The air between them seemed suddenly charged.

'Well, well,' Tony whispered. 'Who'd've thunk it?'

'What?' Lance asked nervously. Then Tony's palms slapped against the sides of his head, holding it in place as he shut his eyes and leaned in to kiss Lance full on the lips. Lance found himself unable to object – then, after a moment, unwilling to. The kiss was fierce and urgent (it smelled quite strongly of spirits, too, but then Lance had had most of his romantic successes under similar circumstances, and so wasn't about to complain), and weirdly satisfying. Lance found himself lightly holding his friend about the waist.

Tony came up for air, sat back and let his hands drop onto Lance's shoulders. 'Well, mate?' There was a wary defensiveness in his eyes as he brushed a strand of long hair back behind his ears. 'Too weird for you? Crossed the line?'

'Well... I... it wasn't what I'd expected for this evening,' Lance said. 'But... I don't know. I... I don't know.'

'Shouldn't have done that. I should've felt sick at the thought,' Tony murmured, seemingly half to himself. 'But I just needed to... to touch someone, and that felt... the right way.' He looked at Lance. 'I'm going to kiss you again, all right?'

'Uh... okay,' Lance said, not feeling qualified to object. Tony's lips clamped down over his again, and, no longer quite such a hostage to surprise, Lance was able to relax and let himself enjoy it. Yeah, he was enjoying it, in a weird, forbidden-fruit kind of way... Tony withdrew again.

'No... no complaints,' Lance said. 'You're a, uh, good kisser, mate.'

'Cheers, mate,' Tony said, as they disentangled themselves from each other. 'Want some Jack Daniels?'

'Uh, yeah,' Lance said, deciding some artificial fortitude wouldn't go amiss, given the way the evening seemed to be heading. Tony went into the kitchen area and rummaged around for a glass. Try as he might, Lance couldn't think of a single thing to say.

'Well, anyway,' Tony said, pouring Lance a slug. 'Chin chin.'

'Indeed,' Lance said, and they clinked their glasses and drank. Idly he reflected on the somewhat surreal turn that events had taken. 'So, anyway...'

'Yeah,' Tony said, with a rueful smile. 'Christ, I can't believe I actually kissed you. I can't believe it actually wasn't that awful.'

'Oh, thanks a bunch,' Lance muttered. He looked seriously at Tony. 'What the hell's going on here?'

Tony shrugged. 'Damned if I know,' he said. 'Both of us wanted to do it, didn't we?'

'Um. Yeah.'

'Both of us liked it.'

'Um, right again,' Lance said, a little uncomfortably.

'So. Let's not freak out too much worrying about it,' Tony said, a bit too breezily for Lance to be utterly convinced. 'It's just... just fooling around. No need to get all serious or worried, eh?'

'No,' Lance said, thinking to himself: you're saying all that to me but it's really yourself you're trying to convince, isn't it, Tony? He shouldn't let this go any further. He shouldn't let his best friend delude himself, should remove the risk that Lance would be tempted to exploit him – Tony was psychologically fragile enough right now.

'Right then,' said Tony, and turned on the TV. It was international football night and they spent a pleasant couple of hours watching the Welsh team get hammered into the ground by the young tigers of Liechtenstein. Things seemed completely back to normal between them – which, in its own way, was extremely weird.

Lance checked his watch. 'Damn. Got to get home.'

'Back to Tehran, eh?'

He rolled his eyes and sighed. 'Yeah.' His gaze settled on the bottle of JD, which they'd managed to empty between them in the course of the evening. 'I'll need to get a taxi, too. Bollocks.'

Tony stood up and ran his hands through his hair. 'Listen... you're living in a shithole, I could really use some company around the place. Come and stay here for a bit. Sarah's gone and...'

Lance looked carefully at him. 'You want me to move in with you.'

'Yeah. Spare room, you divot,' Tony said with a sudden wonky grin. 'I'm not asking you to... oh, sod it. Look, the offer's there if you want it. But...'

Lance raised an eyebrow. 'But what?'

'Thirty quid a week rent and you pay half the bills. Plus no clipping your toenails in the lounge,' Tony said.

Lance couldn't help laughing, despite the undercurrent of vague tension he felt. 'Okay, okay. I'll get me stuff tomorrow after work.'

'Top man. I'll fish you out some sheets and that kind of crap.'

Lance waited at the spare room door until Tony returned with some bedding. 'Cheers. Night, then.'

'Night,' Tony said. They looked at each other briefly, and an awkward moment ended when Tony quickly and casually leant forward and kissed him on the mouth. 'Night, then,' Tony repeated, before turning and striding casually into his own room, the door shutting behind him.

Lance shook his head and went into his room. He suspected he wouldn't be sleeping until the chaos of emotions, thoughts and urges in his mind had spun itself out, which might well take some time.

Four

They both enjoyed it. It was an entirely mutual and consensual arrangement. Only that old troublemaker, rampaging macho pride, could have any objection to two male friends getting pleasure from the sharing the odd playful and casual kiss. Except... it wasn't that simple, Lance knew. Tony's maleness was a matter of degree and that degree was dwindling fast, as his hair grew and his body shrank and softened.

As Lance moved in as Tony's lodger (he was very clear in his own head about that), it became apparent that the kissing thing was going to be happening quite a bit between them. It was a secret, of course, Tony had severed contact with virtually all of his other friends and was refusing to ring Sarah or answer her phone calls, and Lance just wasn't sure enough of how all his biker friends would react to the news for him to feel confident about telling them. But he got a casual smacker first thing in the morning, another when he got in from work, and every now and then a slightly more intense session in the evening if there was nothing on the telly.

Yes, it was nice, but...Tony was acting weird. Especially weird. He seemed to treat it just as a new recreational activity, an end in and of itself, rather like playing Jenga for drinky forfeits or hallway bowling (both of which they also did on occasion). He wasn't letting it affect their relationship at all, he was plain old blokey Tony, for all that he'd lost four inches in height and most of his muscle definition. Lance was used to... well, that kind of activity... being significant in some way. But Tony was sticking to his insistence that it was just meaningless fooling about.

Except... well, it wasn't. Tony was transforming into a woman, and most people would've sagely nodded and pronounced that his new penchant for slipping the tongue to another man was a clear-cut sign of how this transformation was going. But Lance didn't feel like he was kissing a girl, or even close to it. Tony was still acting the guy's part, trying to force Lance into the submissive, reactive role. When they kissed on the sofa, it was Lance who felt himself bent backwards, trying to fend off Tony. His few attempts to initiate this kind of play were invariably ignored by his friend.

He'd seen Tony like this before, with other girls he'd been less serious about, before Sarah came on the scene. Being on the receiving end of such predatory treatment was, to say the least, a bit alarming. It was as if Tony was acknowledging the new femininity of his libido, but expressing it in the most alpha-maleish way he could, a declaration that he was still in some way the guy he'd always been.

It was a weird thing to be involved with, and it got weirder as Tony's body grew androgynous and slowly slid over the border into the early stages of femininity. Lance couldn't help but track the changes as he slowly ran his hands over his friend's shoulders, back, and sides.

Tony had been showing signs of frustration at Lance's response to him for some time, but even so it was still a shock when he broke off in mid-kiss, sat back and stared at his lap. 'Come on, mate, put a bit of passion into it,' he muttered. 'Make me feel something, for God's sake.'

Lance blinked. 'Er... how?'

'Bloody hell, do I have to show you everything?' With a sigh, Tony grabbed Lance's left hand and slapped it into place on the right side of his chest, and placed his left hand in a corresponding position next to it. Lance had always steered clear of that area, and Tony's loose shirts and t-shirts had hidden whatever changes had occurred there, but now Lance could feel a shallow fleshy dome under each hand, through the thin fabric. Each was about the size and shape of an upturned saucer and Lance felt his own dick stir as a nipple sprang to life at the centre of each one.

Tony exhaled slowly and was unable to resist a smile. 'That's more like it,' he said. 'You know what to do with those, don't you, mate?'

Lance nodded, squeezing softly. Tony kissed him again with sudden fire, and Lance found for the first time he didn't have to fight to avoid being physically overpowered by his bigger friend. Tony was no longer stronger than him. That aroused him even more and he concentrated on keeping Tony as excited as he clearly was, pushing his alarm to the back of his mind to be considered later. Much later.

'Goodnight, everyone,' Sarah said with a weary smile, pulling on her coat and leaving the office, the muted chorus of farewells from her workmates following her down the corridor. Life had been hard this last couple of weeks, but she was blessed with an understanding boss, and a good friend in the girl she was staying with. But Tony's rejection of her, understandable though it was, still stung. She worried about him, still cared and wanted to help. But he'd hung up on her every time she'd rung and none of her messages had had any response.

She headed for the local tube station but was surprised to see a familiar figure leaning against his bike by the exit from the building. 'Lance!' She found herself genuinely pleased to see him, gave him a warm hug. 'How are you?'

He looked a bit embarrassed. 'Okay. How about you?'

'Oh, well, you know...' She brushed hair out of her face. 'It's not been as easy as all that, but... should've expected it, I suppose. Have you seen Tony much recently?'

Lance looked away sheepishly. 'Don't get mad, but... I'm staying at the flat. As a lodger, I mean.'

'Of course,' Sarah said, finding herself beaming at him. 'That's such good news.'

'It is?' Lance said, looking startled.

'Yeah, I've been worried about him, I thought he was stuck there on his own... how's he looking?'

'He's... it's getting obvious,' Lance said with a shrug. 'It's weird, I've never actually looked at him and suddenly thought, God, you look different... but he's changed. A lot.' He looked away, almost as if embarrassed.

Sarah sighed. 'I wish I could see him.'

'Well... that's why I've come to see you,' Lance said with a thin smile. 'He doesn't actually know I'm here, but he needs... I don't know, someone to talk to about - oh, crap – girly stuff. Cos quite frankly things are getting weird.'

Sarah couldn't help smiling. 'Will he see me?' she asked seriously.

Lance shrugged. 'Dunno. Hope so. I think he still cares about you. I think we should try anyway.'

'It's just... I don't know, before I left he still...' She found herself blushing now. 'He still wanted me, you know? And if he still does it'd be so awkward...'

'I honestly haven't a clue what he wants at the moment,' Lance said, with obviously heartfelt sincerity. 'C'mon, Sarah. Please.'

'Oh... okay. Where's your spare helmet?' Sarah asked.

It took an effort of will not to produce her own key – still on the ring – and open the door of what she still thought of, on some level, her home. Instead she waited while Lance let them in, and followed him down the hallway.

'Tony?' Lance called, trying to sound casual and making a fairly Lance- like hash of it.

'In here.' She recognised his voice, but it was softer, slightly higher. She swallowed hard.

'Guess who I bumped into in town,' Lance said, going into the main room.

'What?' There was instant wariness in Tony's voice.

Sarah sighed and followed Lance. 'Hello, Tony.'

'Hello,' he said neutrally, glancing from her to Lance suspiciously. Lance hadn't lied: even though he was sitting down she could tell he'd lost a good four or five inches in height and was more-than- proportionately slimmer and more slightly built. His shoulders were thinner and rounder, his hips looked wider, and there were hints that his waist was starting to dwindle away. His loose t-shirt hid what most of breast development had occurred. His hair was now pale blonde and reached almost to his shoulders, framing a face with an odd mixture of delicacy and strength.

'I was worried about you,' she said. 'Lance said I should come round.'

'Oh.'

Lance cleared his throat. 'I'll sort us out some dinner,' he volunteered.

'Really?' Sarah couldn't help making the jibe.

'Yeah. Tony, where's the phone number for the Chinese chippy?'

'On the fridge,' Tony said. Lance grabbed the number and the phone and made himself scarce. Sarah sat down opposite Tony.

'How are you?'

Tony shrugged, dragged a hand unconsciously through his mass of fine curling hair. 'Okay, I suppose. Why've you come back?'

'I was worried about you. I still care, Tony, I want to be your friend -'

He snorted. 'I've got friends.'

'Lance, yeah, but who else? And – you're going to have to start adjusting to being a woman soon, change your clothes, your habits -'

'Yes, but why you? Why not someone else?' He looked levelly at her, outwardly hostile, but she knew him well enough to realise he was silently begging her to prove him wrong.

'I know you. We – know each other so well. And I do care – Tony, there's only so many times I can tell you that I still care about you. If you really don't want me in your life, just say so and I'll go.' She stood up.

'No. Wait.' Tony looked at her and part of her was surprised to see his eyes glistening. He stared down at his knees. 'Damn it, stupid soft -'

'Sshhh,' Sarah said, sitting down next to him and putting a consoling arm around his shoulders. 'It's okay...'

He looked tearfully at her, but he was smiling. 'Guess this proves it, I really am turning into a big soppy girl.' He dabbed at his eyes with a tissue.

'Oi, you're not allowed to go around promoting those kinds of naff stereotypes,' Sarah said in a mock growl, then squeezed his shoulders. 'Are we okay?'

Tony put his arm round her and they hugged, but Sarah was relieved to feel it was – as far as she could tell – purely platonic. 'We're okay. Thanks for... well, thanks for -'\

'You'd've done the same,' Sarah said. She let a pause hang in the air. 'How far along are you?'

He laughed quietly. 'Pretty far. Tits are well on the way, nuts and dick have started to shrink. I'm not looking forward to the end result of that.'

'Mmm?' She looked sharply at him.

'Well... it's been quite painful, so far, the change, and I expect that'll be the worst part.' He looked nervously at her, almost as if wanting reassurance.

She squeezed his hand. 'Anything I can do...'

'I don't need to change my clothes just yet, do I? I mean...' He looked down at himself.

'Might help you make the mental adjustment. And to be honest, you look like you're going to be a – oh, well – quite a curvy lady. You might need a bit of support sooner than you think.'

They couldn't help smiling at that, and fortuitously that was the moment at which Lance reappeared. 'Everything okay?' he asked, clearly half-expecting them to be clawing and spitting at each other.

Tony looked at Sarah. 'Everything,' he announced, 'is hunky-dory.'

Five

Even so, it was a bit of a surprise the following Saturday when Tony rang early in the morning. She just about recognised his voice over the phone. 'Everything okay?' Sarah asked.

'Er – yeah.' He sounded somehow brash, yet brittle. 'You were talking about clothes and stuff, buying things for... afterwards.'

'Oh!' She twigged. 'You want us to go shopping for, uh, women's clothes?'

'Er, yeah. If you don't mind. It'd be a disaster if I went with Lance.'

'Oh, God, wouldn't it just... I'm guessing you're thinking in terms of today?'

'Well, yes. Sorry it's short notice, are you busy?'

'No, nothing important. I'll come round the flat, about half past nine?'

'Fine.'

'See you then, then.'

Tony opened the door to her. His hair was scrunched back messily and he wore his usual t-shirt and jeans, even though the jeans looked noticeably tight around his hips. But he looked more like a woman than a man, even though he'd made no attempt to play up to his femininity.

'All right? Cuppa coffee?' Tony asked as they went into the lounge.

Sarah glanced at her watch. 'Better not. We've got a lot to do, and I should really get back by early afternoon.'

'Oh. Okay, then.' Tony reached for a baggy jacket.

She shifted uncomfortably. 'Where's Lance?'

'Asleep. He was out till the early hours with his biker mates. Why?'

'Well – I just wanted to say to you, make it clear... to do what we're going to do, you're going to have to...' she sighed. 'You're going to have to come out as a woman. If you're going to buy bras and knickers you'll have to do it as a girl, no messing about.'

Tony smiled ruefully. 'That had occurred to me. Let's go.'

They walked to the high street, and Sarah was aware of Tony's slightly awkward walk. His hips and behind were really swelling, she realised, and his waist had definitely shrunk. It was tempting to sort him out with a pair of jeans in a female cut, or even a skirt, as their first purchase. But it would be better to approach this more methodically, she decided: from the skin outward, top to bottom.

Two and three quarter hours later Sarah dumped her bags of shopping on the café floor and sank gratefully into her seat. She stirred her cup of coffee absently and watched as Tony carefully smoothed down his skirt and sat opposite her. He seemed to be moving slightly awkwardly and somehow she didn't think it was down to his new way of dressing. But he'd not complained about or tried to shy away from any of the things she'd suggested to him, and that was impressive, creditable.

His old clothes were in one of the bags. As a man Tony's dress sense had always been fairly mainstream and unremarkable but the clothes he'd bought and was wearing now hinted at a new and slightly bolder sensibility: a black sweater over a long, deep purple dress which buttoned down the front, together with dark tights and knee-length heeled leather boots. Keeping him warm was a full-length dark denim coat with fake fur erupting fluffily around the cuffs, collar and hem. His hair was down and reached past his shoulders. No-one could possibly have guessed who he'd once been.

'How's it feeling?'

Tony grimaced. 'Weird,' he said. 'The bra's pinching at the sides...'

'You'll get used to it.'

'...and the pants keeping riding up.'

'Bet you're glad it isn't a thong,' Sarah said lightly. 'By the way, try a bit harder to keep your knees together when you sit down.'

'What? Oh shit.' Tony hurriedly corrected his stance. 'I'm never going to get used to this.'

'You will. For what it's worth – I think you look really good. You look like a proper girl, without going berserk with fluffy stuff and tight pink... whatevers.' Sarah smiled.

'Oh. Thanks,' said Tony, with a shy smile that momentarily changed to a wince of discomfort.

'Bra pinching again?' Sarah couldn't help a wry smile. 'You'll be grateful of it in the long run. Those boobs of yours are a bit of a handful, aren't they?'

'Uh. Yeah,' Tony said, flushing a very vibrant shade of crimson. Sarah was baffled – there was no reason for him to feel quite so embarrassed about them, surely? It didn't make sense.

They drank their coffee in silence. 'So, anyway, have you thought about the future much?' Sarah asked. 'Once everything's, ah, settled down?'

Tony grinned. 'You're going to think this is silly, but... you know I can get one of those special lifestyle adjustment grants off the government?'

'Yeah.' It was one of the more popular APFS-related pieces of legislation.

'Thought I'd put that together with my savings, get a job in a shop somewhere, and go back to school. University, even.'

'A second chance.'

'Yeah, if you put it like that.' He looked carefully at her. 'What do you think?'

'Sounds great to me. But...' She looked sadly at him. 'You'll have to think about a change of name. Unless you're going to go to uni as Toni or Antonia. You're not planning on striding in and shouting 'Hi, everyone, I used to be a guy', are you?'

Tony wrinkled his nose. 'Suppose not. Could prove socially awkward. Can't stand Antonia, and Toni's just... ugh... on a girl.'

'Well, then, what's it going to be, missy? You may as well pick now.'

'I can't pick my own name, that's just... weird. You do it.'

Sarah laughed. 'You're not lumbering me with that responsibility! Hang on.' She looked around and caught the eye of the nearest waitress, beckoned her over.

'Yes, miss?'

Sarah smiled, looking at the woman's name badge. 'Can we have some more sugar, please?'

The waitress stared at her. 'It's on the counter. You can take as much as you like.'

She smiled sweetly. 'Sorry, my head's all over the place today.' After the woman had gone, Sarah grinned triumphantly at Tony. 'Joan.'

'What?'

'It's as good a name as any. If it's good enough for her, it's certainly good enough for -'

Tony grimaced. 'Joan? Can you not try again?'

'No, we'll be at this all day. Can you think of a single name you'd actually say 'wow, that's perfect' to?'

He sighed. 'No, I spose not. Joan it is. But not yet, though!'

'Whenever,' Sarah sighed.

'Just give us a little while to get used – nnng.' This time Tony's grimace was involuntary and his hands flew to the pit of his stomach.

'What is it? Tony, what's wrong?'

'Changing,' Tony muttered, breathing hard. 'Last few bits and pieces twisting into shape, bloody painful it is too... ahhhhhrrrrr!'

'Do you need an ambulance, pills?' Sarah looked around for someone to assist them.

'No, this is what I was told to expect. Just get me home, I'll sweat it out.' He managed to smile at her. 'Another day or two and it'll be all Joan, no Tony left.'

She helped him to his feet, collected up their bags. 'We'll worry about that later. Come on, let's get you home.'

Lance had woken with a dry mouth and a thumping head, with noon just about in sight. He tried to remember if the night had been good enough to justify this kind of suffering and found he couldn't remember. Probably, then. It was weird: he could remember meeting a girl there last night, someone who'd come with a mutual friend, and she actually hadn't seemed utterly disinterested in him. Yet he hadn't pursued the issue, it would have felt... wrong. Dishonest, somehow.

There was a note on the top saying that Tony and Sarah had gone out, and that they were out of milk. The clear subtext was that the former was none of his business but that he was definitely expected to fix the latter problem. So he showered, had a bacon sandwich and some juice, and staggered off to the corner shop, detouring for a rejuvenatory toddle round the park on the way.

When he got back Tony's coat was hanging up in the hall. He went into the lounge-kitchen and found his flatmate sprawled on the sofa, barefoot, wearing tracksuit bottoms and a loose t-shirt. His face was contorted with discomfort and slick with painful sweat.

'God, you look awful,' Lance said – sensitively, he thought later.

'Feels worse – like a knife in the gut,' Tony whispered. 'The home straight, though, mate, after this it's all over.'

Lance wondered what exactly would be 'all over' – did Tony just mean his change, or the slightly odd elements of their relationship, or their whole friendship? Did Tony even know himself? 'Can I get you anything?' he asked.

Tony shook his head. 'Painkillers are out, my system's messed up with different chemicals as it is. Oh, shit, this hurts.'

'I can imagine.'

Tony glanced at him. 'Can you? It feels like being kicked in the balls forever.' His face screwed up again.

'Can I do anything at all?'

'Just... just be around,' Tony said.

'Course I will.'

Six

All through that afternoon and evening Tony's torment continued. Lance couldn't believe how helpless he felt, unable to offer anything more than a comforting word or reassuring squeeze of the arm. Tony repeatedly assured him that this was what he'd been told to expect, and that none of his specialist doctors could help much. As the evening turned into night Tony started helplessly groaning, crying out from the pain. He could clearly tell how much this was disturbing Lance and clambered to his feet, wished him a good night and stumbled off to his room.

Lance felt wretched and considered calling either an ambulance or Sarah – but doubted Tony would thank him for either. He seemed to be treating this as a private thing, a personal trial of strength. In the end he sighed and went off to his own bed.

But even through the wall he could hear the sobs and moans of agony Tony was letting out: crying freely, helplessly now, all semblance of strength crumbling away. The pitch of his voice had risen too. Lance found himself out of his bed and going to the door of Tony's room.

'Tony, are you okay?' he called into the darkness, feeling foolish.

Tony's bedside lamp clicked on. His eyes were red-rimmed, his t-shirt soaked with cold sweat. His lower lip juddered helplessly. He pulled back the duvet and shifted painfully over to one side of the double bed, the invitation obvious.

'Tony...' Lance looked away. 'I...'

'Please. Just get in,' Tony whispered.

And Lance nodded and obeyed. Tony switched off the light and rolled desperately into his arms. Lance held him, marvelling at how fragile he suddenly seemed, hugging him through the worst of the night, sharing the pain, until sleep finally took them both.

When Lance woke he was alone in the bed. He remembered the feeling of Tony lying in his embrace and had to confess it was a good memory. Even admitting that to himself was a bit scary.

He got up and found Tony on the sofa watching Sunday morning TV. He was still clearly going through the wringer but it seemed less acutely painful than the previous night. Lance flopped down next to him. 'Morning.'

'Morning,' said Tom. His voice was definitely softer and higher. He looked away awkwardly. 'Look, about last night...'

'Yeah,' Lance squirmed himself. 'Sorry, I -'

'I was going to say sorry to you,' Tony said with a weak smile. 'And – thank-you.'

Lance shrugged. 'I didn't know what else to do.' There was a pause. 'How are you doing?'

'Trust me, you don't want the gory details,' Tony said. 'But... I'm, ah, shaping up, down there. Next day or so, maybe sooner, and - ' he sighed. 'I'll be a girl. Properly.'

'Scary,' Lance said without thinking.

'Yeah. As soon as it's over I'm supposed to see my specialist for a full ob-gyn exam, which scares the shit out of me. I'd rather it wasn't so, you know, clinical.' He looked around, then back at Lance. 'Do you think Sarah would, you know, have a butchers for me first? Just say, yes, it's supposed to look like that?'

Lance blinked. 'Have a butchers at your...'

'Front entrance, yeah.'

'Well, mate, you know her better than I do,' Lance said. 'I mean, if the situation was reversed I'd say yeah, but...' He shrugged.

'I'll give her a bell,' Tony said. He clambered to his feet, wincing, and walked over to the phone. Lance did his best to avoid listening to the gory details of the call and concentrated on the Hollyoaks omnibus on the telly.

'Well,' Tony said on his return to the sofa, 'she's busy all day today but she says she'll pop round first thing tomorrow, before work. Sounded quite concerned.'

'She's all right, she is,' Lance said with a grin.

'Yeah, I don't know how I'd've coped without her,' Tony said with a sigh.

Tony's pains seemed to diminish to a dull, grinding ache, and he spent most of the rest of the day on the sofa, sometimes watching telly, sometimes dozing. Lance found himself watching his friend sleep, entranced by the slow rise and fall of his stomach, wanting to stroke his long blonde hair.

Tony eventually slept through from late afternoon until about nine in the evening. Lance sat on the sofa beside him, watching TV with the sound off and subtitles on, or reading magazines. Tony's head flopped onto Lance's shoulder and he didn't bother to move it. Oh, he thought to himself, you're heading into trouble now, you fool...

And then, with a tiny yawn, Tony awoke and stretched, looked around the half-lit room. He looked refreshed and comfortable. 'Oooh.' His voice was higher, softer again. A woman's voice now. 'What time is it?' 'Coming up to nine,' Lance said. 'How do you feel?'

Tony rubbed his thighs thoughtfully. 'I feel... fine. I really do. It's – done. Finished.' He looked at Lance and smiled, then leant forward and kissed him hard.

Lance found himself responding despite his misgivings, sliding his arms round Tony, Tony the woman, now, and hugging him closer. He broke the kiss and whispered, 'I thought you'd just want to rest –'

Tony wriggled against him. 'I've been asleep for hours. Now I ...' - he smiled, helplessly - '...now I just want to play. Unless you don't want to?'

'Play?' Lance asked. 'Is that all it is?'

Tony sighed, hugged him tight. 'Do you really need to ask? Lance, you're my best friend, I've loved you for years. It's just that now... it can be a different kind of love. If you want that.'

And Lance kissed him fiercely in reply. Tony giggled and jumped up off the sofa, switching off the telly and turning the fire up to four full bars.

'What's that for?' Lance asked, taken a little by surprise.

'It's a bit cold in here for romping around in the nude,' Tony said, then grinned as Lance gawped at him. He unbuckled his belt and pulled the hem of his t-shirt free. 'Come on then, get 'em off. It's getting hot in here, so take off all your - '

'Oh, my,' Lance whispered. He got to his feet and, finding it hard to believe this was happening, started to unbutton his shirt. Tony beamed at him, wriggling out of his jeans, tugging off his socks. Lance realised he'd been wearing black cotton panties all the time and felt his dick stiffening up. He scrambled to undo his own jeans.

'Don't go off half-cocked on me, mate,' Tony laughed as he casually stripped off his t-shirt, glanced happily down at his full, rounded breasts. Lance didn't trust himself to reply, kicking off his shoes, kicking out of his jeans. Not breaking eye contact with Lance, Tony slipped his panties off and stood there proudly naked.

'Oh, God, you're gorgeous,' Lance whispered, clawing his boxer shorts off rather less elegantly.

'Yeah,' Tony said, stroking his – no, that was just not true anymore, Lance thought – stroking her sides and hips, not even trying to conceal the silky nest between her thighs. 'And you're looking pretty good to me right now, mate.' Her gaze rested squarely on the unwavering erection Lance had pointed in her direction.

He strode forward and took her in his arms, feeling his hardness press against the cool and slightly yielding flesh of her belly. They kissed, hard and serious, and he found his lips wandering along her jawline to her earlobe, the side of her neck.

'Look, mate... I need a favour.' For the first time Tony sounded uncertain. Lance looked at her warily. 'You can't have me tonight,' she said sadly. 'It's... I don't know, but it just doesn't feel ready yet, it's too new, too sensitive.'

'Okay,' Lance said, wondering if this was all a big and very sadistic windup. It must have shown in his expression, as Tony hugged him to her desperately.

'But it's going to be you. It was always going to you,' Tony whispered extravagantly as she planted kisses on his chest. 'Soon, I promise, mate.'

Lance surrendered to her obvious passion and sincerity, but something still gnawed at him. 'I... I'd like a favour, too...'

She looked sharply up at him, suddenly seeming very vulnerable and worried. 'What?'

'Please stop calling me mate. It's too weird...'

Tony laughed, a musical sound. 'Of course... what would you prefer?' she teased.

Lance swallowed hard. 'Darling. Sweetheart. Lover.' He looked at her, terrified of laughter or ridicule, but she smiled the most welcome and beautiful smile he'd ever seen.

'Of course, lover. And now that's sorted, there's some naked romping on the agenda, isn't there?'

And indeed there was. What grace and experience they lacked was more than made up for by their energy and excitement, and when carpet burns threatened to become a real issue Tony took a firm grip on Lance and led him to their bedroom.

'Move your stuff in here tomorrow,' Tony said, squeezing his hand and leading him to the bed.

'You're that certain about this?' Lance whispered, crawling under the duvet next to her.

'Aren't you?' She slid into his arms for the umpteenth time that evening. For an equally countless time he felt himself come to the very verge of release and grunted helplessly. Tony looked playfully at him, then slipped down under the duvet. Moments later he felt her lips on him and almost cried out at the feel of it. When he came it almost felt like dying, as if nothing else could ever approach such an intensity of feeling.

Overwhelmed with love for her he held her again as she reappeared, even as a happy, hazy cloud settled over him. The scent of her hair was all he remembered as he fell asleep.

And she was still there in the morning, cradled in his arms, already awake but showing no inclination to move. She smiled at him. 'Morning, darling.'

'Morning, T - ' He broke off. That name didn't fit this person, what they'd done together.

She nestled closer, comfortable, happy. 'Call me Joan.'

'Joan,' he said, trying it out. 'Suits you.'

'Thanks.' She kissed him again and he felt her hands on his manhood, bringing it to life again. 'How do you feel?'

'Fine. No, better than fine. The best ever,' Lance said.

'Good,' Joan said, clambering onto him, straddling him. He felt his erection growing apace as the soft hair at her crotch ticked his belly. 'Are you up to this?'

'Up to what?' He looked dumbly up at her.

'Oh, for heaven's sake!' She giggled. 'The main event. Popping me cherry.'

He could feel her gently moving into position, his hardness sliding against her belly and loins. 'Are you sure – you want to?' he asked nervously, twitching with nervous excitement.

'Oh, for heaven's sake!' And she thrust herself down onto it, her back arching with pleasure as she did so, the fingers of one hand thrust into her mouth to stifle her cry of exultation. Lance groaned as she moved down against him, her breathing rising to a crescendo, his too, until, finally, the moment came. Followed, quite closely, by both of them.

'Oh, boy.' Joan flopped down next to him, pressed both hands against her scalp.

He grinned. 'What's up?'

'Just checking the top of my head's still on. Could've sworn it blew off just then.' She looked affectionately at him. 'Lance by name, lance by nature, eh?'

He raised an eyebrow. 'I'd hoped you'd be the one person who didn't make that gag.'

She kissed him, gave him a little intimate squeeze... and he was surprised to find he was ready again. 'Let me make it up to you, lover,' she whispered, and he happily accepted her apology.

Later there would be time for languidness and lazy sex, but this time it was as passionate and energetic as their first. Lance felt the blood roaring in his ears as they moved together, heard the sound of his heart knocking his ribcage, almost as a separate pounding noise. That was a first, he thought absently.

Sarah rapped on the door one last time and bit her lip with indecision. No-one seemed to be in, which was weird. Tony had seemed quite worried about the state of his health, so it was possible he was lying there in bed unable to move. But what about Lance? Maybe he'd had to make an early start. She tutted and pulled out her old key to the flat, let herself in.

'Hello? Tony?' she called. A peculiar squawk came from his room. She frowned and gently opened the door, stuck her head round.

A clearly nude Tony, looking flushed and sweaty, peeked out at her from under the duvet. 'Oh. Hello,' he said in a high, sweet voice.

'Hello. How are you doing?' Sarah said. This situation felt inexplicably weird.

'Er. Fantastic. Well, okay, anyway,' Tony said.

'Where's Lance?'

There was a nervous silence and a second head popped up from the depths of the bed. Lance looked as red and exercised as Tony did. 'Hello, Sarah,' he said weakly.

'Oh. My. God.' Sarah felt suddenly weak and sat down on the end of the bed. There was no mistaking the cheerful post-coital buzz these two were high on. 'Good God.'

'I guess the old girly bits are in working order after all,' Tony said with slightly forced breeziness. 'No complaints, Lance?'

'Er. No. No,' Lance said, looking slightly glazed.

'I'm a woman now,' Tony said. 'And I must say I'm enjoying it more than I expected to.'

'So am I,' Lance added unnecessarily.

Sarah found herself laughing out loud, unable to stop. 'Well, as long as you're both happy, then that's great. God, why didn't I see this coming?' 'We didn't,' Tony said. He – she – looked at Lance. 'Did we?'

'Er, no, love, not really,' Lance said. He looked back at Sarah. 'You really don't mind?'

'Why should I? God knows neither of you is my type – any more, at least – and you're both good friends of mine. And,' she smiled. 'Bloody hell, you look good together.'

'Oh. Thanks,' Tony said. The two lovers exchanged pleased looks.

'But I think I'll go and sit in the lounge, cos this being here with you like this is just freaky,' Sarah said, standing up.

'Give us a minute, I'll get up and make you a cup of tea,' Tony said, looking around for something to wear.

'I'll go if you like,' Lance volunteered.

'No, I know how she likes it.' She wrinkled her nose. 'Plus, I'm sitting in the damp patch here and I'd rather not be.'

When Tony appeared in the lounge she was wearing a silk Japanese-print robe that looked suspiciously familiar to Sarah.

'That's one of mine, isn't it? One of the things I left behind.'

Tony busied herself with the tea things. 'Er, yeah. Do you mind? We're not really the same size -'

'I'll say,' Sarah murmured, surveying Tony's bountiful bust and behind.

' – but it looks okay on me, doesn't it?'

'Yeah, it does,' Sarah admitted. She couldn't help smiling. 'I never thought things would turn out this way. What...' she giggled, '...what's Lance like, anyway?'

'Mmm?' Tony frowned at her.

'You know... what's he like in...'

'Ohhh! That,' Tony said with an arch smile. 'Well, let me tell you, he's the best man I've ever had.'

Sarah rolled her eyes. 'Guess I asked for that one.'

'Yes, you did.' After a moment Tony handed her a cup. 'Seriously. I'm so glad we can still be – well, friends.'

'Me too.' She smiled. 'We're going to have a lot of fun.'

Tony sat down, smoothed her robe. 'First thing is to find you a new bloke. He's got an impossible act to follow, obviously, but you'll have to make allowances.'

'I can find a man for myself, thank you,' Sarah said with a grin.

Tony shrugged with mock-delicacy. 'I don't know,' she said, 'maybe one of Lance's biker friends...?'

'Ha. You realise you're now officially a biker chick? I can just see you in your leathers, riding pillion behind him - '

Tony rolled her eyes. 'If Lance thinks that then he's – oh, hello, lover,' she said as Lance shambled in.

'If Lance thinks what?' he asked dully.

'If you think you can keep your bachelor lifestyle now we're together,' Tony said primly.

'Oh. Whatever. Budge up, Joanie,' he said, squeezing onto the sofa next to her and putting an arm round her.

'You're using Joan after all?' Sarah asked, raising an eyebrow.

Tony – no, Joan, shrugged. 'I didn't choose it,' she said. 'But then, I haven't really chosen most of the things that have happened to my life lately. All the others have worked out for the best, so maybe this will too.' And she smiled contentedly at them both.

It was the perfect end to a surprisingly wonderful day, Joan thought, leaving the bar and heading back to the table. Sarah and Lance were talking and laughing together and she couldn't suppress a fond smile. She didn't know how she'd've coped with her transformation without the pair of them. Oh, she'd been lucky, so lucky.

'Good news,' she said, slipping into her seat and smoothing down her skirt. 'He is looking for a new barmaid after all, four nights a week and a couple of afternoons too. Should pay the bills and give me time for school as well.'

'You, a barmaid,' Sarah said, shaking her head and smiling. 'I'll believe it when I see it.'

'I'm going to go for the buxom but scary look,' Joan said cheerfully. Lance's face at that moment told its own story.

'Remember the last time we were here?' Sarah said, looking suddenly thoughtful.

'No,' Lance said.

'I do,' Joan replied. 'It was... just before we found out. About the transformation, I mean.' She looked down at herself, vest, skirt, tights, boots. 'If you'd told me then how much things would change...'

'Are you sorry?' Lance asked, looking seriously at her.

She smiled and squeezed his hand. 'Not at all. And... I don't know, maybe...'

'Maybe thing aren't so different at all?' Sarah completed.

Lance frowned. 'Don't follow you.'

'I'm still doing what I want to do with my life. I still have a damned fine lover and a great best friend,' Joan said, looking at Lance and Sarah. 'The jobs have just been switched around, that's all. Do either of you regret what's happened?'

'No,' they said, speaking almost in unison and smiling at the fact.

'Well, then.' Joan raised her glass. 'To things massively changing, but still managing to stay exactly the same as well.'

'There's a special name for that,' Sarah said.

'Yeah?'

She smiled. 'It's called life.'