User:Eirik/Waters So Cold and Deep

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Paradise story universe

Waters so Cold and Deep

Author: Eirik

The rhythmic roar of the surf was hypnotic. The water slapped against the pillars of the pier, then rolled quietly out over the sand, the foam hissing slightly before it started all over again.

Art leaned heavily against the railing of the pier, his... her mind so full of confused thoughts that she couldn't keep the thread of one idea for more than a moment. She had hoped that the long walk from the hospital and a little time at the beach would clear her mind, but in it was having the opposite effect. She'd been so excited, looking forward to the transformation. She knew as well as anyone what might have happened. It's just that having it happen was a little different than imagining it. She could deal with being a foot shorter. She could deal with a tail so thick it was like having a useless third leg. She wasn't sure if she could deal with being a she.

It took her a moment before she realized that there was a presence behind her. The pier was far from empty, but no one else had stopped. They had been blissfully unaware of the five foot tall otter standing at the rail. Art thought at first that it might be her brother, but she realized that his hooves would have made a horrible racket coming down the wooden planks of the pier. She sighed and closed her eyes.

Trinidad leaned against the railing next to her, looking over the surf. "You ok?" he asked in a voice that was much less animated than usual.

Art didn't open her eyes, "I guess."

"Otter, huh?" he said with a bit of a grunt.

Art just shrugged, "Looks like," she said simply, without elaboration.

"Could have been worse," suggested Trinidad. "Your brother got stuck with a mightily inconvenient form."

Art didn't look up from the water, "Yeah, I guess." She sighed, "I don't mind the body. This wasn't my first choice, but I can live with it. It's just..." She trailed off and sagged her head onto the rail.

They stood in silence for a long minute, just watching the waves.

"Did I ever tell you about the day that I changed?" asked Trinidad.

Art looked over at his friend, seeing a serious look that he wasn't used to on his face. "I don't think so."

A rare humorless smile played across the sea lions' face. "You'd remember."

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"Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god..."

He kept repeated it into the mirror as his strangely flattened hands played across his face. The narrow snout and whiskers reminded him of a seal or something, though he was covered in dense dark brown hair. "It's not real, it's not real, it's not real..." he whispered into the mirror. He started picking at his neck trying to find a seam. It had to be a costume or something. No, it couldn't be a costume; he'd watched his hands flatten out. When he got the fingers in the right position, he could imitate a flipper.

He was a seal. Well, maybe a sea lion.

At the same time, he was still partly human.

The last obvious change to his body had been over an hour before and it hadn't continued. He still had two legs and could walk without much difficulty, though his feet were now almost twice their previous size and flattened.

There was a pounding at the door, "Trinidad! Other people need to use the bathroom!"

"Damn it," he said under his breath. This was supposed to be a vacation. He and some friend from high school rented a couple rooms in a cheap hotel near the beach for a few days near Pismo. This was their last bit of freedom before they started orientation at Cal Poly next week. He couldn't let them see him like this. Whatever this was, it wasn't good. "Just a second!" he yelled.

"Something wrong?" asked the voice on the other side of the door.

Trinidad tried to recover his composure. His usual tone was cheerful, but even he could tell his voice was deeply strained. "It's fine, fine," he said.

"Look, if you need some time I'll go over to Jerry and Dillon's room."

Trinidad thought quickly, "Just take off without me, I think I'm getting sick."

There was a pause, "Okay, will do. If you feel better give me a call on my phone and meet up."

Trinidad waited a moment, then had a sudden panic attack, "Wait!"

"What is it?"

"Kent..." his voice trailed off, but the thought had hit him hard and fast: what if this is contagious? Whatever the hell 'this' was. Kent would have been exposed. "Kent, I think something's really wrong with me." He reached over for the door. "Just don't be shocked by what you see." He opened the door.

Kent winced and looked away, "Trinidad, why are you naked?"

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Naked, as in no clothes."

Trinidad was shocked. "What are you talking about?" he yelled, his voice shrill, "I look like a refugee from Sea World and that's all you notice?"

Kent only took a slight glance over, then looked away again. "Look, I'm not playing along until you put on some clothes."

Reluctantly, and with great confusion, Trinidad slipped on a pair of swim trunks he'd left in the bathroom. "Better?" he asked.

Kent nodded and looked him over. "Now what are you talking about? I don't see anything wrong with you."

"I look like some kind of freak!" he yelled, his blood suddenly boiling. "What do you mean you can't see this!" he said holding up a flipper-like hand.

Kent was looking confused and even a little angry himself, "I still don't have a clue what you're talking about!"

There was a knock at the door and Kent threw it open, letting Jerry and Dillon in. "What's going on?" asked Jerry. "We heard you two yelling from the hallway."

Kent threw up his hands in frustration, "I have no idea. Trinidad is off his rocker."

"That's because he's looking right at me and denying there's something strange going on!" yelled Trinidad.

Jerry and Dillon looked at each other, "What? What's strange?"

Trinidad had passed all point of rationality. The stress of the morning was enough, but this was too much. "You mean that me turning into a fucking seal is completely normal to you three?"

The three of them exchanged looks in silence. Trinidad absolutely never used profanity, ever. Even when he'd sliced open his hand in shop class the year before he'd screamed out "Gosh darn it!".

Exasperated, Trinidad grabbed his stuff from the bathroom counter, brushed past his friends and started packing. "I have to get out of here."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" asked Dillon, "You taking drugs or something?"

He didn't stop packing, but threw a shirt and some shorts on. "Yeah, drugs," he muttered. He sat on the bed and by force of habit grabbed a shoe to slip it on. He stopped only when the realized that it had faded out, like a strange after image. "What the hell?" he asked quietly as he stared at his shoe. He tried it with the other only to get the same result.

His three friends stood around and stared at him, completely bewildered. Finally, Kent turned toward the door, "Whatever, if you come down off this give me a call." He walked out the door with the other two on his heels.

Trinidad spent the next fifteen minutes putting his shoes on and taking them off over and over again before he gave up, grabbed his bag, and left the room.

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Art looked at her friend, for the first time taking her eyes off the surf. "What did you do?" asked Art.

Trinidad shrugged. "I drove. I got in my car and just started going south. I ended up actually not that far from here."

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The car stopped on the gravel parking lot. Trinidad put it in park and looked out over the ocean. He'd spent the entire drive down waiting for the other shoe to drop, for his legs to fuse together into a tail, to feel the unbelievable urge for seafood.

He watched the tide come in for a while. Was that going to be his home now?

None of this made sense. Why couldn't' the others see what he was becoming? He was covered in a pelt that was so brown it was almost black and had a snout like a dog. He was obviously an animal wearing a suit of clothes but no one on the highway gave him a second look. His friends saw nothing weird. He simply couldn't discount the possibility that he was going insane.

He got out of the car and headed out over the beach. It was still a bit early, a slight chill hung in the air, and this section of beach was nearly empty. He walked across the sand, stopping only near the waters edge to strip down to his trunks and dove into the water.

The water was usually pretty cold, but he felt comfortable with it, even invigorated. He stayed near the surface, finding that he could swim far faster than he thought possible. The ocean felt like home.

He turned his attention to the deep, taking a deep breath and going under as far as he dared. He was far enough out that he wasn't even sure how deep the bottom was here, but he kept going down, not feeling any urge or need to surface. He kept going until it actually felt like it was getting dark. Trinidad hovered a moment, taking in the still, silent cold of the water, then rocketed up to the surface. He broke into the air and took a deep breath.

"Hey, buddy! You okay?!" yelled a voice from nearby. He looked over to see a lifeguard swimming toward him.

"Yeah, why?" he asked.

"You were down for more than five minutes!" he yelled back. "Did I just not see you surface?"

He opened his mouth to respond, but didn't. Five minutes? "I couldn't have been down that long," he said more to himself than the lifeguard. "It wasn't close to that long."

The lifeguard looked confused, but eventually turned back. It was only then that Trinidad realized something else. "Hey! Can I get a towel? I seem to have lost my shorts!"

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"Swimming too fast?" asked Art with a grin.

"Something like that. It's why I have to wear a Speedo when I swim," he said.

"What happened with your friends?" she asked.

Trinidad shrugged, "Never talked to them again after that. Just couldn't. We'd known each other most of the way through high school, too. Even once I decided it was all in my head, I'd made such an ass of myself in front of them that I couldn't figure out how to apologize." He shrugged, "I guess if they ever Change, then they may look me up. I suspect they'll understand then."

Art sighed again, "Why are you telling me all this?"

Trinidad shrugged. "I'm not sure. I guess because I didn't have what you have. I had no idea that all this was going on. I caught a few fleeting glimpses on TV, never enough to be sure I wasn't just imagining it. You know all about us and you have people who care about you, love you..."

"Watch it," she said with flint in her voice.

He nodded, "I know, I've got a reputation, and I'm not stupid. It's who I am. When I first met Tea', all I ever knew her as was a drop dead beautiful woman with a dangerous edge. You know what I'm like." He put an arm over Art's shoulder, "But I know you, all about you. No matter what happens, I'm not sure I could really think of you as a woman. You're not the same."

She glared at him, "First of all, get your arm off me."

He jerked it away with a slight smile, "Sorry, habit."

Art glared at him a bit longer then turned her gaze back to the sea. "This is one hell of a confusing day."


Art nodded absently, "Yeah. I left the hospital to get food then found myself here."

"There's a fish and chips place near the end of the pier. My treat."

That got a bit of a glare from the otter, "Lunch, not a date."

Trinidad smiled, "Not a date, just seafood."

They walked to the end of the pier and found the chip shop. The lunch rush hadn't started yet but there were more than a few people in the place. The waitress came over with a smile, "Two?"

"Can we have a booth in the back?" asked Art.

The waitress walked them over to a quiet booth in a corner of the restaurant. They tried to settle in, but Art had a hard time with her tail. "Damn thing is so stiff I don't know what to do with it," she muttered.

The waitress dropped off their drinks and took their food order when a young female ferret stopped at the end of their table. She had on a white chefs uniform that was clearly about three sizes too large for her thin frame. "Hi! I'm sorry to interrupt, but I don't see many of us around. I saw you though the kitchen door. You two...?" she asked, her voice trailing off.

"Just friends," blurted Art.

The young woman looked a bit startled, "That's not..."

"2004 for me," said Trinidad quickly. "Him this morning," he said with a bit of emphasis.

She nodded in understanding, "I'm not sure if to give you my sympathy or congratulations," she said. "I changed last year, and again today."

"Really?" asked Art hopefully. "Gender?"

She shook her head, "No, just species. I was a pig yesterday," she said with a grimace. "I like this better." She looked Art over quickly, "Don't know what you looked like before, but you came out pretty good."

"How about me?" asked Trinidad with a wide smile, "How did I come out?"

She smiled, then wrote a number down on a napkin. "Call me and I might let you know." She glanced at the kitchen and back at Art. "Listen, if you need some help..."

"No problem, my brother and his fiancée are both changed."

She nodded, then looked back at Trinidad, tapped the napkin and went back to the kitchen.

The two of them looked at each other then burst out laughing after she left. "You old sea dog," laughed Art. "You really are incorrigible."

Trinidad tried to look innocent, "Me? I'm not attached." He picked up the napkin, "She lives a little far away, but maybe I'll give her a call."

The waitress brought the fish and chips and the two aquatic dwellers starts eating. They were quiet for a while before Art asked, "You didn't know what was going on for a while, did you?"

He nodded, "Over a year. I bumped into Tea', before she was Tea', on campus a few months after she Changed. That's the first time I knew, for sure, that I wasn't crazy."

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He sat in the waiting area, alone, for a long time. He'd tried to thumb though copies of the various outdated magazines while he waited, but he couldn't keep his mind on it. He didn't want to be here, not even in the slightest, but he needed to talk to someone. He wanted to talk to his friends, his family, but if they couldn't see anything wrong with him, what was he going to say? What was he going to do when they decided to have him committed? His parents were pretty open minded, but he feared they'd decide that he'd cracked under the pressure of college and send him back home to stay with family in Bermuda.

What if he had cracked? He had proved to himself as much as he could that he was what he thought he was. He'd managed to dive underwater for up to seven minutes without needing a breath, not nearly what a natural sea lion could do but far better than a normal human. He'd discovered that his footprints were bizarrely shaped, a result of his altered feet, and better other people could see those. They just couldn't seem to see the foot that made them.

In the end, before he decided that he was crazy anyway, he decided to seek help from a professional. With some quiet inquires at the campus health center, he found himself in the waiting area of a Dr. Cynthia Dupree. He wasn't sure what he was going to say to this doctor, but he had to get it off his chest.

The door opened and the receptionist poked her head out, "Mr. Weathers? Dr. Dupree will see you now."

He got up and hustled into the room, trying to tamp down his nervousness. He walked in and the doctor was waiting just inside the room. "Good morning, Trinidad. Have a seat."

Trinidad shook her hand then took the offered chair and let out a deep breath. "Thanks for seeing me."

She nodded and sat, "I understand that you didn't want to tell my staff what was going on," she said. "I can assure you that nothing leaves this room, so you're free to be open with me about anything."

Trinidad nodded, "Let me ask you, because I'm going to tell you things that you won't believe. If you think I'm nuts are you going to put me in a hospital?"

She kept her expression passive, "Doctors don't have that kind of power anymore, Trinidad. Unless I think that you're a danger to yourself or others, I can only counsel or prescribe."

He let out a relieved breath. "Well, I'm not suicidal. I might have been a few months ago, but I'm way past that. I actually feel good. I'm not going to hurt anyone, either. I don't know if someone is to blame for this, but if there is I certainly don't know who it is. I don't suspect some grand conspiracy or some rot like that."

The doctor still kept her expression passive. "Well, that's all good, but I'm not sure what it is that brings you in to see me."

He took a deep breath and let it out. "Doctor, when I look in the mirror, when I look at myself, I don't see the Trinidad Weathers that I remember. When I look at myself I see, literally, a sea lion looking back at me."

The doctors' expression faltered only a little bit, but recovered. "Sea lion?"

He nodded, "California sea lion, to be exact. Zalophus californianus to be completely accurate, at least to the best of my ability to use Google. I'm not a taxonomist."

"I see," said the doctor. She seemed to be reaching for where to go next, if only for a moment. "When did this all start?"

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Art smiled, "You just came out and told her?"

"Laid it all out there, as they say," Trinidad said. "Never got her to believe me, even tried the footprint trick, but for some reason she wouldn't buy it. I saw her for a dozen sessions before she not-so-subtly hinted that she thought it was all some frat prank."

Art shrugged, "You were asking her to believe what should be impossible. When I found out about Dusty, it took him an hour to convince me not to just shoot him. Even once I could see thorough this thing, it wasn't easy to stay convinced."

"Didn't believe your own eyes?" he asked before taking a bite of fish.

"Didn't want to. I'll admit that I've been fascinated about all this for the past year, but it's been from the outside looking in. Now?" she motioned her hands over her body, "Looks like I'm part of the conspiracy." She ate a couple bites of fried fish and nodded, "This isn't bad."

"This place has always been good, even before I had a more natural craving for it. You'll find that your tastes have changed a bit," he said, slipping into a bit of a lecture, "Some things will be pretty quick, like changes in cravings. Some people change a bit in other ways."

Art slumped back a bit, "Yeah, I noticed. There's a guy up at the hospital nursing a couple kids that could point that out."

Trinidad shook his head, "It never has to come to that, you know. There are gender changed that have been that way for years without going through that. Tea' took a path that isn't common."

Art shrugged, trying to feign disinterest. "I know that this thing changes you. Right now, I can't imagine wanting what Dusty and Tea' have. Then again, if I'd stayed male I'm not sure I'd have wanted it anyway."

Trinidad's phone started to ring and he looked at the display. "I don't know that number..." he muttered, but answered it anyway. "Hello? Calm down, who is this again? Kent? Yeah, I was serious. Wait, no. It's ok, don't panic. You're not crazy. No, no one can see you. Yeah, don't worry about it. I'm not in town, I'm down in Santa Barbara. Look, don't panic, things are fine. Hold on," he looked up at Art while covering the mouthpiece, "It's my friend Kent Deluise, he changed this morning. Can you come with me and help me fill him in?"

Art nodded, "Sure, we just need to stop and tell my brother what's happening."

Trinidad got back on the phone, "Kent, a friend and I are just finishing lunch, we can meet up in about two or three hours. What's your address?" he jotted it down on a napkin, "Really? I didn't even know there were apartments in that part of downtown. We'll find it. Bye."

Art stuffed the last of her fish in her mouth, "What did he change into?" she asked.

Trinidad flipped his phone closed then looked open-mouthed at Art. "I didn't ask."

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They stopped at the hospital for one last visit with the new family. They walked in to find the babies both sleeping soundly, looking for all the world like little stuffed animals. "The veil is not real strong with them," said Dusty. "We've already seen two nurses look like they were going to break through."

"We're going to try and get them home as soon as possible," Tea' added. "But in the rush to get down here we forgot their car seats."

"We need to head back anyway. One of Trinidad's friends apparently changed this morning and he just got a call. When do you need the seats?"

"We're hoping to be released tomorrow," Said Tea'. "Sometime in the morning, I guess."

With that they said their goodbyes and headed back up the highway for San Luis Obispo. Art spent most of the trip squirming around in the seat trying to get comfortable. She finally sat with her tail literally between her legs and sighed, "I'm going to have to do something about this when I can."

"Like what?"

Art started looking around Trinidad's car with great interest. "Modifications, that's what. I need to cut a hole in my car seat in order to sit now." He motioned to some of the buttons on the console, "I can still use these, but what about Dusty? His fingers are so fat I'm not sure he could tune this radio." She sat and mused in silence for a while, but there was a slight grin on her face.

Trinidad sighed, his thoughts drifting to his high school friend. In this area, he would have changed early, so he might have been asleep when it happened. He'd have awakened and discovered what was going on. He shuddered, "I hate this."

Art was brought out of her musing, "What?"

"Kent, my friend. He spent half the day in terror, from the sound of his voice. It sounded like he'd been crying. Kent didn't cry. Not ever. He was always a tough guy."

"Maybe he gender shifted, too?" mused Art.

Trinidad shook his head, "No, his voice wasn't that different than I remember, just a bit deeper. I think he just panicked a little. At least he'll have most of the answers today, and some support. It was a long time for me."

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He tried to hold it in until he was alone, racing through the crowd, clutching the phone number in his hand like it might vanish into the ether at any moment. Any thought about the class he was supposed to be in was gone, and he raced back to his room. He managed to get through the door and close the curtains before he slumped to the floor, tears streaming down his muzzle.

"I'm not alone, I'm not alone, I'm not alone..." he kept repeating over and over again.

He looked down at the name, Tim. Such an odd name for such a beauty of a woman. What had she said, that she wasn't a she, but more a he? It didn't make much sense, but neither did the fact that she was a gorgeous, exotic mix of animal and woman. And she had a friend! A moose! Mooseman? Mooseperson?

He looked at the name and number again, and with it felt a lightness that he hadn't felt for a long time. It was a lightness that he hadn't even realized was gone. Even though he'd gotten over thinking he was crazy, it was something else to realize for certain that he wasn't.

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They knocked on the door of the apartment and waited. There was silence from inside and after about a minute, Trinidad knocked again. "Kent, it's Trinidad. It's ok, just let us in."

They heard heavy footfalls inside, then a click as the door was unlocked, but then the footfalls retreated. "Look, just come in and let me see you first," he said from a distance with a tremble in his voice.

Trinidad looked at Art, who just shrugged. "He's just a little freaked out, lets be careful, though." Trinidad nodded and slowly opened the door.

The apartment was decorated in early college student, with an old couch and chair off to one side, an outdated tube TV against another wall. It was clearly lived in, with an old pizza box sitting on the coffee table and the scents of an uncleaned kitchen clear despite the fact that their noses weren't all that much better than human.

There was another smell in the air, a stronger animal musk that they both found oddly familiar, but different all the same. Art looked at her friend, "Moose?" she whispered.

Trinidad shook his head, "I don't... no, close though." He looked around but hesitated before trying to look down the hall. "Kent, we're here. Are we alone?"

"Close the blinds first," came a voice from one of the bedrooms.

Art closed the living room and kitchen windows, darkening the apartment considerably. "Closed," she yelled out.

They could almost hear the hesitation, then the bedroom door slowly opened. Kent started to step out, then smacked an antler into the doorframe and momentarily retreated, cursing. After a second, the came through again with his head turned at an angle Art and Trinidad found all too familiar. Trinidad had been right, his old friend was still a male. He was huge, too. The old bathrobe thrown over his frame to cover himself had been clearly bought for a young man considerably shorter and less muscular. His fur was brown, with a darker shade on his head and lightening over his body. He was ducking down in the living room as the top-most tines were actually brushing the ceiling. He was also shaking like a leaf while he stared open-mouthed at Trinidad.

Trinidad cracked a knowing smile, "So now do you believe me?"

Kent was a bundle of nerves, and for a fleeting moment Art thought the new elk fur was going to flip out over the remark, but instead he dissolved into laughter, falling to his knees and threw his hands around his old friend.

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It took some time, but Kent finally settled down into the old recliner, looking oddly regal in his faded purple bathrobe and massive antlers, and let Art and Trinidad fill him in. Art tried sitting on the sofa, but ran into the same problem as she had in the restaurant and the car with her tail. She finally settled on laying across half the couch, which was uncomfortably close to a cheesecake pose for her.

Once they filled him in on the basics, Kent sighed and waved a hand, "Let me just make sure I'm not nuts. This is real and permanent, I'm stuck like this. But everyone is going to be in the same boat in the next decade or so. And for some reason most people can't see me." He looked between the two of them, "Is that about it?"

Art chuckled, "That's not really it, but that's the basics. You might change again next year on this date, but don't count on it. And if you do, it'll be another random form. Or worse."

Kent looked at Art quizzically, then over at Trinidad, "What's with her?"

Trinidad looked a little uncomfortable, "Uh, well..."

Art sighed and sat up. They'd avoided the gender stuff since Kent didn't have that additional issue to deal with. "I was a guy until this hit," she said. "It's rare, really rare, but sometimes you get both a gender and species switch."

Kent looked slightly aghast, then embarrassed. "Oh, damn, I'm sorry. I mean, other than your clothes, you look..." He looked even more embarrassed and stopped talking, his ears flipping back and forth.

Art managed a smile, but she had the feeling the elk had been having some rather unclean thoughts about her. "It's fine, I'm still getting used to it. The concept isn't new to me. My brothers fiancée was a guy before he changed two years ago." Art felt the air in the room get heavy, like the revelation about her had shaken Kent even more than the fact that he had about two feet of antler sticking up over his head. "Can I use the bathroom?" she asked.

Kent motioned toward the hallway, "Second door on the left. It's kinda a mess," he added hastily.

Art smiled as she passed him, "Don't worry, I'm not that feminine." Yet, she thought in her head. She got into the bathroom, using the toilet virtually sidesaddle because of her damned tail. Once she was done, she stood in front of the mirror and looked at herself, really for the first time. Things had happened so fast this morning that she never took any really time to see what she had become.

She locked the door and disrobed, dropping her clothes to the floor and looked at her reflection. She had to admit that she was at least pretty, though not in the exotic was that her soon to be sister-in-law was. Her form was more compact, her torso made up a bit more of her body, but she had shapely athletic legs with a bit of webbing between the toes. She looked at her breasts, which she found were disappointing in a strange way. Art had seen a lot of furs and he'd noticed that they had a tendency to be generously endowed, but hers were small even for her smaller body. It did, however, fit with the sleeker aquatic form. She allowed herself a smile at that. A couple years ago, the thought that she'd be standing in a bathroom lamenting the smallness of her breasts would have been hilarious.

She started getting dressed and thought about the way that Kent had looked at her and a feeling of shame welled up inside her. She and Trinidad had gone out bar hopping just a few weeks ago, and she'd treated every women she'd met the same way, thinking first about how they might be in bed, then thinking about how the get them there. That Art the carouser hadn't had much success was beside the point. As a he, he'd been as lousy as...

She stomped out of the bathroom, walked up to Kent and slapped the smile off the elks face. He sputtered, "What was that for?"

Art stammered, unable to speak, then turned to Trinidad. "And you!" She just pointed, then looked back at Kent and stormed out of the apartment.

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A few days later, things started to get back to some kind of normal. Tea' and the babies came home. Dusty was back to working double shifts at the lab until school started. Art had tried to avoid what happened at Kents' apartment, but eventually sat down and explained it was more about Arts past than anything Kent had done. Though it didn't help that she'd known without a doubt what Kent had been thinking.

The rest of the community and the world settled down in a hurry, too. The early reports were showing about the expected doubling had occurred, to around a million worldwide. The numbers were still pretty sparse, so it wasn't a huge surprise that the San Luis Obispo area didn't' get that many new additions. Other than Kent, there had only been two others known so far. There was an assumption that this would change in a few weeks with the start of the school year.

Art started splitting his time between his work at the auto body shop and the storage unit that came with his apartment. She'd already set up a small workspace there before the change, and with things settled a bit, she spent a day re-organizing it for her smaller form and annoying tail, resisting the urge to take a hacksaw to it. It took a week, but by then she was ready for her first project: car seat modification.

She was in the process of removing the passenger seat from her car when she heard a familiar clopping on the asphalt behind her. She was trying to unhook the seat heater from the power source, but the connection wouldn't budge. "Hey, Dusty! Can you hand me a pair of pliers?"

She heard a rummaging in the toolbox and a hand came down from above, "These?"

Art jumped and smacked her head on the glove compartment. The voice wasn't Dusty. "Kent!" she yelled. "What are you doing here?" she continued as she scrambled out from under the seat. She felt her skin turn red under the fur as a thought crossed her mind, "Just how long were you planning on staring at my ass before you said something?"

The elk looked completely embarrassed, "I'm sorry..." he muttered, then started to turn away.

Art sighed and stopped him, she'd already punished the guy for unclean thoughts once. "Wait, sorry. I probably would have done the same in your shoes." She glanced down, "Where are your shoes?"

"Don't' really need them, these hooves..."

Art rolled her eyes. "Come on, I know this is all new for you but there's a reason we use them. At least for now." They went into the apartment and Art tossed him an old pair of sandals. "Don't let people wonder why you're always barefoot." Kent seemed mollified by the mild scolding, but just quietly nodded, his antlers rocking back and forth. "So, what brings you around?" she asked after her guest went quiet.

"I wanted to apologize for the other day," he said. "I didn't have any idea what had happened to you. I'm still getting over all this."

Art smiled, "So you came over, and by way of apology, starred at my tail?" She could actually see the tips of his ears turning red, so she let him off the hook, "Don't worry about it. It's the antlers and the critter you've become. My brother goes through the same thing."

"He's a moose, right?" he asked.

Art nodded, "We need to get the two of you together to compare notes. You're not exactly the same, but close enough."

Kent smiled, "That's not a bad idea. I need to meet a few others like us, anyway. Other than you and Trinidad I haven't had a chance to see any others in person."

"Have you checked out the websites?"

Kent nodded, "Yeah, but they're a bit overloaded at the moment, and the forums are flooded with people who are still in a bit of shock."

Art inclined her head, "You're not?"

"I went from being five foot four to six foot two, minus the antlers, and added more muscle mass just by waking up yesterday than I could have if I'd gone to the gym for six months. The antlers are a pain in the ass, but I think I came out ahead," he said, flexing his arms comically. "How are you dealing with this?" he asked.

Art thought a moment, "As well as I can, I guess. I'm still a little freaked out, afraid to get too comfortable in this body." He stopped, searching for the right words, "I'm trying not to think of myself as a female for now. I know from talking with Tea' that the changes are subtle. I might not even know when it happens, exactly. For now, I think of myself still as a man. I'm going to try and keep that up though next year, see if I change back."

Art and Kent ended up chatting for most of the afternoon. She could see why Trinidad had regretted losing him as a friend after his own change, and why he was excited to have him back. Art let herself relax in his presence, managing to forget for a while about all her new baggage and just make a friend.

Trinidad walked in after a while, and smiled when he saw the two of them together. "I guess all is forgiven?" he asked Art.

Art smiled, "For now. We'll just wait until you open your snout again."

Trinidad excused himself and went to change out of his work clothes. He closed the door behind him, then sat heavily on his bed and closed his eyes.

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He left the hospital with a spring in his step. This was turning into the best day ever! Tea' had the kids, everyone was happy and healthy, and his best friend had changed! Into a sea creature! And female!

He almost bounced down the street toward the pier, letting his mind wander around the possibilities that presented. He'd always told people that he wanted to find another fur that shared an aquatic form, and now his best friend…!

Trinidad stopped in sight of the pier. It was still far away, but he could see her standing at the railing, staring motionless and silent at the water. In that moment, he felt like the biggest ass on the face of the earth. Art had just had his, or rather her, entire world rocked this morning. She wasn't his drinking and carousing buddy anymore. Or more accurately, she was. Inside that furry body it was still Art. If he walked up and treated her like he did every other woman in his life, he'd drive her away and destroy the friendship. Since his own change he'd managed to crater every other friendship pretty effectively. He needed her.

He took a few deep breaths and buried his feelings deep. Maybe someday. For now, the distant smell of fried fish drifted in on the breeze. It had been a long morning for both of them. He was sure his friend was hungry.