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User:JonBuck/Travelers

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Travelers

Author: JonBuck

September 8, 2012

"Supervan laughs at your suggestion to wax him." Yusef grinned, upper lip curling over toothless palate while his lower herbivore teeth jutted forwards. The black-faced impala was proud of his purchase. A customized 1995 Ford Econoline 250 full-size van with oxidizing paint but surprisingly little rust. "That dirt's been there fifteen years, Ray. Let it go."

"I can't believe you paid ten thousand for this thing," Ray Warren replied, rubbing off a few more flakes of cracked clearcoat. The color underneath the cloudy oxidation might be the dark hunter green that was so popular in the mid-90s, but it was impossible to tell. "Ten thousand for this gas guzzler!"

"Hey, gas is a buck fifty a gallon. No problem." Yusef smiled again. He reached up and tapped the end of one of his curved black horns. "Besides, it was this or nothing. Ten thou's a steal these days for folks with a rack like mine. You haven't seen the interior yet, either. And Supervan's about as mechanically sound as you can get for something this age. I'll start 'er up."

Ray looked inside as Yusef opened the driver's side door. Polished wood trim covered the dashboard, the seat leather looked very well cared-for. The V-8 engine started with a satisfying growl, the exhaust's ammonia-like odor from the biogasoline in the tank making the human want to sneeze. Bob Marley burst into life from the speakers. Yusef's large ears flicked in time with the beat as he bobbed his head. "I figured, if we're going to spend a few thousand miles on the road together, we need some creature comforts! Am I right or am I right? Take a look in back, buddy. Tell me if Supervan's missing anything."

Vehicles with high ceilings were very hard to find these days. There were so many people with horns and antlers now they couldn't make them fast enough, so what would've cost a couple thousand just a few years before the Veil--which came down almost completely last May--were now worth much more. The ceiling over the driver's seat already bore a few tears from the tips of Yusef's horns. "You'll have to replace that with something more durable," Ray said, pointing at the damage. "Or maybe file those points down."

"Hells no!" Yusef shouted, grasping his horns in both hands, folding his ears back. "Mine!"

The human rolled his eyes. "Sure, Yusef. The ladies love them just that much. Maybe you should line the roof with Kevlar. Just last week you wanted to saw them off at the roots."

"No! Just... no. Never!" The impala's lips quivered as if Ray had suggested castration. "Anyway. We should get packing. It's a long way to Yellowstone from Pittsburgh."

"Yellowstone? Yusef, I thought we'd agreed on the Grand Canyon first. Work our way north."

"When did I agree to that, Ray? No, no. Yellowstone, then Mt. Rainier, south, then through the southwest parks," Yusef replied. "Crater Lake, Zion, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, hit as many as we can in three weeks. If we can cram in the Everglades before coming home--"

"I'm not interested in a four-corners tour. We can reasonably visit five Parks and get some depth out of the whole thing." Ray sighed in frustration. His mercurial college friend had only become moreso since they'd lost touch. Since rediscovering each other on Facebook they'd spent weeks working out just what they were going to do together after not seeing one another for years. He ticked off each Park. "Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Muir Woods, Rainier or Crater Lake, and Yellowstone. We only have three weeks. I don't want to spend all our time on the road."

"I thought you could get more?" Yusef snorted. "Well, we're going west anyway, right? Can we split the difference and take I-40 to Vegas? Make a decision there, north or south? Compromise?"

Ray knew I-40 didn't actually go through Vegas, though he suspected there was a way to get there via that route. "You just want to see showgirls," he said, smirking. He patted his furry friend on the shoulder. "Fine. That I can deal with. We'll firm things up when we get there. Better pack up, buddy. We got a schedule to keep."

Yusef groaned as his college friend made a few ominous taps on his tablet. "I was hoping you'd grown out of that checklist thing, buddy."

"You've met my Dad, Yusef. I had too many ruined vacations a kid." Ray shrugged.

"Yeah. Your old man would turn around after driving three hours because he forgot his damned toothbrush." The impala snorted derisively and shut down the engine, hopping out of the driver's seat. "But come on! You're almost thirty years old! I’m pretty sure you haven't forgotten anything. You're not your dad."

It was a hot late summer day, sultry and breathless. Yusef kept flicking his expressive ears against the occasional fly, tapping his cloven hoof impatiently. It made a hollow clop on the blacktop. "I put up with it in college, but can you let it go just this once? We're not going to turn back for a toothbrush."

"No, we won't," Ray agreed. "But I'm not going to break a useful habit. I've never had a bad vacation since I went to college, you know. If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Yusef gave him a particularly hard look. Ray sighed and closed the checklist app. "Okay, fine. You win this once, but I want compensation. Keep the sightseeing detours to a minimum when you're behind the wheel. Remember that trip to Montreal between junior and senior years? You decided to stop at every Tim Hortons along the way for some reason."

"You ate all the Timbits every time, that's why. I had to stop for more," the impala pointed out with some levity in his voice. "Anyway, no time to waste. Supervan's waiting. Think we can make Knoxville in seven hours?"

Ray smiled. He knew how to keep Yusef focused, at least for a little while. The man liked to drive, at least at the beginning of a roadtrip. "Without any stops? That van has a range of what, seven hundred miles?"

"Like old times, buddy. You're on!"

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September 10, 2012

Morning rush hour traffic slowed their approach to St. Louis, sometimes to a complete halt. Supervan was on fumes, Yusef watching the low gas warning light with some worry. Stalling in the middle of a bridge over Old Man River wasn't in the plan. Then again, neither had been the side trip to St. Louis. The polished eastern side Gateway Arch shone in the sunlight out Ray's window. "Come on! Keep going!" the impala mumbled.

Drumming his fingers on the dashboard from the passenger seat, Ray checked the GPS suction-cupped to the windshield. "Four goddamn miles short. Can't believe we've been sitting here for half an hour!"

An accident on the bridge ahead had closed all lanes but one. The local news blamed someone who had Changed and lost control of his car. People who went furry outside of the normal August 17 date didn't have any "sleeping sickness" to warn them. It just happened, sometimes in the worst places. It didn't help that the public service announcements from the state and federal governments were as usable as the laughable "duck and cover" films of the 1950s.

Yusef tilted his ears forwards and turned up the local radio. "Oh shit! There's a Pocket ahead! That's probably what did that guy in."

"I'm sorry, what?" Ray asked. "What's a Pocket?"

Yusef made a bleating-groaning sound and unlatched his seatbelt, almost jumping out of the driver's seat. "I don't wanna... you drive, Ray. I just... yech. I'm so used to this being me I don't think... just... no."

Ray took his place just in time for the traffic to start moving again. "Come on, Yusef. What's a Pocket?" he repeated.

"You remember the Veil, right? Of course you do," the impala replied, moving towards the back of the van, pulling the shades on the side windows. "It's like a Mega Veil. I've heard stories about them, but never hoped to travel through one. They're like... that concentrated syrup they make pop out of. Everything it used to do and then some. It's like hitting a wall."

"I think I follow." Ray merged Supervan into the far right lane after a few honks on the anemic horn, treading very lightly on the gas to keep consumption down. The GPS said there was a gas station nearby, so he told it to direct him there.

"This one's on the move, so hopefully it'll--gah!"

Ray looked back at Yusef's exclamation, but his friend was hiding behind a chair. "Keep going!" he shouted. "News said this one's tiny."

There were going on forty million furries worldwide now and more every day, so Ray didn't need to see what was happening to Yusef. He watched a fawn-child in the back seat of the car in front of them jerk as they moved through the Pocket border, who then started bawling so loud he could hear the now apparently-human young boy very clearly from the driver's seat. Fortunately the Pocket wasn't very large either, and they were out of it just as they reached the exit just past the baseball stadium. A few turns later they stopped at a BP station just south of the Interstate and in sight of the Gateway Arch.

"I'm going to fill the tanks, Yusef. You didn't say what you wanted to do after we saw the Arch. I'm open to staying here a day or so." There was no answer. "Yusef?"

"Yeah, yeah. Gimme a couple minutes," he replied irritably. "Feels like the hangover from Hell. I got these stabbing pains around my horns. Get some Tylenol, will you?"

It was a recently renovated gas station with a big "BioGas Available!" sign atop the overhang. Supervan's air conditioning was frighteningly effective for a vehicle its age. The oven-like heat and humidity, even worse than Pittsburgh summers, slammed into him. He quickly shut the van door behind him and sprinted inside the gas station's convenience store. There was a bored-looking female skunk behind the counter. It was almost as cold here as inside the van. Ray grabbed the bathroom key and went to take care of business.

When he came out he found Yusef had followed him and was flirting with her to no avail. Her arms were folded across her breasts, head tilted, with skeptically crooked ears. The skunk's nametag only had her initials, DC. The impala turned his head. "You piss like a racehorse, man. How long were you in there?"

"What, do I look like one now?" Ray replied, only halfway serious. He checked himself for a tail.

"Your day is coming. Anyway, you took so long I started gassing up Supervan and decided to say hello to this lovely lady."

"I'm flattered, really," she replied dryly, expression hardening. Her white headfur hung limply over her shoulders. "Speaking of change, here's yours. Have a nice day, guys." DC's voice dripped with sarcasm.

They left after Yusef took his turn in the restroom with Ray still behind the wheel. Yusef massaged around the bases of his horns. Ray often felt like he was living in a cartoon. The way the Changed looked, moved, their speech through animal mouths, the strange physiology. By all rights all of them should have sat right in the uncanny valley. But it all just seemed to work somehow. More amazing than any physical change was how civilization was somehow holding together. At Ray's office the management was more concerned about workspace ergonomics and air filters during shedding season than the certainty that humanity would vanish by the end of the decade. Far from being a problem the Change created economic opportunity and was powering the strong recovery from the Great Recession.

Neither had slept well, though the plush velour upholstery and reclining chairs in back did provide a good place to doze. Supervan had only needed gas once since Pittsburgh, fifty miles west of Knoxville. Stopping for a day made good sense anyway. The next stop was Amarillo, Texas, roughly halfway to Las Vegas from St. Louis. The past twenty hours had been grueling to say the least and by unspoken agreement neither wanted to do it again.

Yusef found a Hooters nearby, so they marked that place for lunch after the Arch visit. "Never been this far west before," Ray said after returning to Supervan. "What about you, Yusef? You haven't said what you've done with yourself. You kind of disappeared after college. Hard to do these days."

"Uhh..." the impala shifted on his cloven hooves. "I've been around. Here and there."

This raised Ray's eyebrows. "Am I getting personal? I'm getting personal. You don't have to answer. It's just weird is all."

"Maybe later." Yusef drank his iced Starbucks coffee through a straw. "But no, I've never been this far west either. Far from it. In fact, I went the opposite direction for a while, though not by choice."

From his tone of voice that was as much as Ray was getting out of him for the time being.

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The inside of the Arch's innovative--for the mid-60s--elevator system was a tiny cramped cylinder with a half-circle of five pearly white hard plastic seats. It was also a hotbox that smelled deeply of animal musk mixed with human sweat and ineffectual air freshener. A fan blew through an overhead grille to keep it tolerable, if there had been more than Yusef and Ray inside they would have gotten right out again. As it ascended the Arch there was a very loud clack every time the elevator car rotated back to level that made Ray want to jump out of his seat.

"Oh, shit," Yusef said after getting a look at the low ceiling. Even without his horns it would've been uncomfortable. He had to walk hunched over and keep them from scraping the metal ceiling. "They weren't kidding on that sign at the entrance, were they?"

"Looks like it. Be glad you're not an elk," Ray agreed, grabbing the handrail against the Arch swaying in the wind. The two college friends looked out the east windows, over the Mississippi River. A cold blast of air surged over his back from the vent above. The hazy late-summer atmosphere obscured anything over ten miles away, but the view was otherwise spectacular. The speakers blared folksy western music and an informative voice droned on about history. "This was a good idea."

Yusef slapped Ray on the back, hoofnails digging in. "Knew you'd think so eventually. Didn't make sense to go west for the first time and not come here to start." The impala flicked his nearest ear. "So, what've you been up to? Been six years, man."

"Nothing earthshaking. Just along for the ride, really," Ray replied, shrugging. "Unemployed for a couple years. Stayed with my sister and her family until I got back on my feet. Just watching the world Change like everyone else, wondering when it'll be my turn."

The impala snorted. "You haven't changed a bit. You always let shit happen to you."

"Enough 'shit happens' to me without going out to find more," Ray replied tersely. "Besides it's not like I can choose when and where I'll Change, let alone what I'll be."

Yusef decided to let that slide like Ray had for him. He had his own touchy topics. Neither wanted to antagonize the other too much. They switched to the western windows to look out over the city proper. The Arch was pretty empty of tourists, so they could take their time. Ray shot some video with his smartphone before they moved on.

The Arch was the only solid item on their sightseeing list. They went for lunch at a downtown Hooters location Yusef found earlier. There were a lot of furry girls on-staff. "They should call this place 'Hoofers'," Ray suggested dryly, watching a curvy tank top-clad doe saunter up to their table.

"Hello guys. I'm Jean and I'll be your waitress today," she said. "We have some great veggie dishes on the menu now." She smiled amiably at Yusef. "So, what are you? I don't think I've seen one quite like you before."

Yusef's fur was mostly a golden-tawny color, like dry savannah grass. He had black markings atop his muzzle to the tip of his nostrils, the tips of his ears, and of course black horns. "Black-faced impala subspecies. My grandparents are from Tanzania, and they're pretty common there. I was hoping for lion, leopard, or maybe a zebra. This'll do."

"You're unique," she replied cheerfully. The whitetail doe filled out her tank top very well, with long reddish headfur that matched the rest of her. "We deer are a dime a dozen, you know. Anyway, what'll you have?"

They ordered and Yusef watched Jean saunter away with half a smile. "I do love deer tails, I do. 'Dat tail."

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September 13, 2012.

Every time Ray closed his eyes he saw the road. The endless expanse of Interstate 40, rolling on and on, where the only real feeling of making any progress came from the countdown of the miles on the GPS. It was no surprise that the first thing Yusef wanted to look at were some Las Vegas showgirls. A little Google searching found a place that offered both topless bartenders and a good show, and oddly noted as "human-friendly". In truth, Ray was shocked at Yusef's fixation on girls. Six years ago he'd been far more reserved.

"I've heard stories about this place," the impala said as he preened in front of their hotel room's mirror, cleaning his horns with a toothbrush. "It was the first openly furry hangout in Vegas. Even had some staff in costumes before the Veil came down. Fursuit heads and such. The locals at the time praised their 'hyper-realistic anthropomorphics', then shrugged."

"It's Vegas after all," Ray added. He was feeling a little queasy. Days of road food was getting to him, he decided. He felt more exhausted than he cared to admit to Yusef. He still wasn't dressed after a long night's sleep. Just a tee shirt and briefs. "Or could've been the Veil at work."

"You coming?" the impala asked. "You look kind of sluggish there, buddy."

"I feel like an old man for saying this, but I'm going to nap for another hour. And I'm waiting for the hotel laundry service to bring back my clothes. Didn't pack enough."

"Probably my fault. We rushed out the door." Yusef shrugged. "Meet you there in a couple hours, then?"

"I'll be there. I swear."

"Well, don't spend all your time in Vegas in the hotel room. It's a nice room, and I know it's hot out there, but I know you and unplanned stuff. You can pry yourself out of here. So I'll see you at the Paradise Club, buddy."

"I'll send you a text and look for the horns."

The most Ray could manage was a doze before there was a knock on the door. He lurched out of bed, put on some shorts, and opened it. The Luxor concierge had an Egyptian theme like the rest of the hotel. It helped this one was a white housecat with blond headfur dressed like Bastet. "Here you are, uh, sir," she said, handing him the basket. "Just leave this outside the door when you're done with it."

"Thanks," he replied, then looked her over. "Say, isn't it kind of hard to have fur in the desert?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" she replied. "But it's more like how desert tribes wear all those robes, right? Insulates you from the heat instead of cold, see. If you need anything else sir we'll be happy to oblige."

Ray thanked her and brought the basket inside. When he opened it he stared. Sitting right on top was a lace-trimmed blue bra. He picked it up by the shoulder straps and dropped it on the bed. Except for a missing blue undershirt, the rest of his clothes were accounted for. Looking at the time he decided to go meet Yusef and take care of the mix-up later.

Even non-Changed people were beginning to wear headbands with animal ears or clip-on tails as a fashion accessory. Not for the first time Ray wondered why the lack of large-scale social disruption. People were changing into anthropomorphic animals. They were changing sex, too. And not always both at the same time.

When he told the cabbie where he wanted to go the fox-eared man tried to sell Ray a pair of the cheap headband he wore. Ray turned him down with a wave of his hand, and spent the rest of the thirty-five dollar ride in silence. He stepped out in front of the Paradise Club. No human in line to enter didn't have a set of furry ears, a clip-on tail, or more. Great, a dress code. Thanks for telling me, Yusef. Ray had none of that.

Ray tapped out a text to Yusef, but no answer. Reluctantly he approached the equine bouncer. "Is there a place around here a guy can get some tail?"

The horseman laughed despite the lame pun, then pointed across the street. There was a costume rental shop called Wildsiders. "Thanks, hoss," Ray said.

Ten minutes and another fifty dollars later Ray wore ocelot ears and a tail and was allowed to enter the club.

Inside there were surprisingly few of the omnipresent slot machines and video poker. The music was also quieter. A pair of bare-breasted canid dancers twirled to the beat, their tails wrapped around their poles. He paused to watch the coyote and shewolf. The rhythm of the lights started getting to him. Ray felt lightheaded. He started looking for Yusef's distinctive horns in the crowd, only to fall forwards and dizzily sink to his knees. "Whoaaa..."

"Stormy! Catch-22!" the coyote yelped. "We got a double! Let's get him out of here."

The dancers leapt off their platforms and grabbed him by the elbows. Even two girls should not have been able to lift his overweight self, but they had no problem. Ray was suddenly aware of his own newly quivering chest. Odd pressure flowed from head to toe.

A third dancer grabbed Ray by the feet, and they lifted him off the ground. Ray had a good view. White and rust fur spreading like wildfire. Slender legs, fusing toes with polished nails, now deer hooves. Breasts rising sluggishly, swaying gently as they carried him. Ray's insides quivered, connecting to an odder sensation between the legs.

All that was blotted out by the twisting of his skull. It reached right into Ray's mind, flipping switches like some mad engineer. It ceased after an eternity. Ray wondered just what it left behind.

"Quill, I think she's finished. Good catch," the shewolf said as they carried her into the employee area. The canid face overhead looked concerned, but her voice was cheerful. "Don't worry, girly, we've done this before. We'll teach you everything you need to know. Such a pretty doe you are!"

"Oh, yes," Quill agreed, a mischievous glint in her eye. She lolled her tongue. "Delicious, even. So cute."

"She? Doe? You mean I--I'm a woman? I'm a woman!" Ray exclaimed, then cleared her throat against her new voice. Their words finally registered across the overwhelming sensations of altered mind and flesh. She looked at herself. Her clothes had become a rather close-fitting tube top dress. She hefted her breasts and started to sob, staring down her muzzle at her cleavage. "Oh no. No no no. Not this. I don't need this!

"Not again. Not again!"

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August 16, 2008

Five days sick in a Chicago hotel room was more than Ray could take, but there was simply no way Olivia could endure the drive back to Philly in her condition. She could barely keep anything down, though most liquids were just fine. It was the worst stomach flu he'd ever seen. The local doctor said to keep her hydrated until it passed.

"Will you quit harping how I ruined your vacation?" Olivia said testily. "I didn't plan to get sick, Ray!"

"I know," he replied weakly. "It's just... I have so many plans. If you got well tomorrow we'd probably have time to--"

"Crap like this doesn't vanish overnight," his live-in girlfriend of two years said.

Ray sighed and got a hold of himself. "I'm sorry, honey. I don't mean to snap at you. I really don't. Neither of us has really slept much, have we?"

Olivia softened her expression, but only a little. "I know. And you've been very attentive. But I'm sick and tired of your Daddy Issues. I think I've heard every vacation horror story from your childhood at least twice the past few days."

He picked up a towel and soaked it in cool water, squeezing it out before putting it on Olivia's fever-hot head. "Almost every story. There's one I haven't told, but I think I need to say something. This vacation's started out like that one. You've met my Dad, so you know how strange he is. It's a direct result of that illness. Before then, perfectly fine."

"You worry too much." The curvy brunette regarded him, bags under her brown eyes from sleepless nights, with a mix of warmth and irritation. "Once I'm well enough I'm going to buy a plane ticket home. I hate to make you drive by yourself back to Philly, but I don't see an alternative."

"I'll be fine. I'm used to long roadtrips." Ray shrugged, then took her hand between his. "Just focus on getting well. Haven't I been a good man through all this?"

"Ray..." the irritation vanished. "You have, Ray. I couldn't ask for more. But, please, I know what all this is about. You're not your Dad. You're not anything like him. Let it go, please? Just this time?" She reached up and put her hand around his neck, then pulled him closer and gave him a kiss on the forehead. "I love you, Ray. Thank you for staying by my side. But you really try my patience sometimes."

Olivia's pointed criticisms really stung, but she knew him well. She had to be blunt with him sometimes, though she applied stereotypical feminine subtlety equally.

"I'm completely beat," Olivia said, then yawning. "It's only four. I'm going to crash for a few hours."

Ray kissed her on the forehead. "Is it okay if I leave you? I at least want to see the Sears Tower."

"Go, then. Have fun. Take pictures." Olivia waved her hand at the door then sank back under the covers.

Early the next morning Olivia slipped out of bed, awakening Ray. Nude, as she stretched her curvy, voluptuous figure was silhouetted against the light reflecting from the bathroom. "I feel much better!" she said. "So much better! Wow!" her voice cracked like a teenaged boy's. "What the hell?" she continued, voice pitching down in register. She grabbed her throat. "Ray? What's... what's happening to me?"

Her breasts were already flattening. It smelled like deer.

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September 13, 2012

"If I hadn't seen it for myself I would've called the cops. She turned into a man right in front of me!" Ray explained to Yusef back in the hotel room, arms folded across her chest. "This is the third time this Change has messed up my vacation. Third time!" She held out the remaining fingers on one hand, dewclaw-thumb folded inwards. "Three!"

"Ray..."

"'Rachel'," the new doe corrected. She flicked her ears forwards. "It's 'Rachel Ellen Warren' on the license. Might as well get used to it, eh?" She giggled. "This is incredible, Yusef. I feel like dancing! It's like that one time I smoked a joint as a Freshman!"

"You mean the only time," Yusef added. "Folks like you get hit harder than everyone else. But it doesn't smooth away every problem adapting. Just the big ones."

"Stormy and Quill wanted to take me to the male furry strip club across the street," Rachel said, pacing around the hotel room. "They said to stop worrying and 'learn to love your breasts'." She hefted them. "Worry? They just sort of hang there, don't they? It's weird. They're brand new yet normal at the same time. Can't explain it. It's really a funny thing."

"And you--you turned them down?" Yusef said, carefully matter-of-fact and trying his best not to stare at her gyrating torso.

"Well, yes. They said that a new girl should know if she's a dyke right away. They wanted to see if I'd get horny over the strippers. Of course I said no! What's the hurry? I don't need to know that an hour after getting tits, do I? No!" She rocked her hips to a thundering beat in her head. Rachel's thoughts were going a million miles per hour, bounding off in odd directions. There was a direct connection from her emotions to her mouth, like her sister when she was a teenager. "It's like I'm me, but I'm not-me. It's rather... freeing." Rachel shrugged, rubbing the sides of her muzzle, licking her nose. "This room smells like Lysol and human male-me. Is that what I smelled like? Ugh!"

"Hate to say it, but that's still not anything special. We all feel like that." The impala shrugged. "You're a very healthy, very pretty doe and you know it, deep down. When you get a girl's body, you get a girl's brain. Proven medical fact."

"You know, there was this time," Rachel said. She knew she was babbling, but hardly cared. Her mind fizzed and bubbled, merrily unselfconscious, knowing she was wildly out of character. "It was just past Christmas a few months after Dad got sick. The Veil was in full force, you know. I was playing a game and I heard this huge clatter from the kitchen. When I went to see what happened there was an antler on the floor and Dad's head was tilted to one side as if the other was weighed down." She laughed, having stripped down to bra and panties as she skipped and twirled between the balcony door and the bathroom, feeling the how new her body moved. Rachel savored the feeling of renewal. The world had a new shine to it. She twisted her long reddish hair between her fingers, thinking of the possibilities.

"I don't even remember what he said to explain. But he put up a mounted set every year in the living room. Never said how he got them. And the house always smelled like deer. Always sounded like he had tap shoes on, you know. Never knew why until three years ago. Mom's a ferret, you know."

The doe picked up her tablet and sniffed it. It was a new thing. Everything was a new thing. "Wow... wow... no wonder he went a little nuts if he felt like this! He wanted to smell everything! Wow."

Rachel sat on her bed, pulling her knees up to her chest, trying to guide her thoughts into calmer, more ordered directions. New senses, new sensations, and female hormones made that like trying to steer a tiny sailboat through a Category 5 hurricane. It was a losing battle she had no chance of winning. "What about you, Yusef? When did you Change?"

"Can I tell that story later?" The impala's tail swished uncomfortably. "We need to get you a plane ticket home. I know you feel good about this right now, but it's a rockier trip for you teegees then the rest of us furs. You get the body and the brain, but you don't magically know how to be a doe--a woman."

The doe pointed at him. "Yusef, I'm not letting this happen a third time. Tomorrow we're going to see the Grand Canyon. Then we'll go to Yosemite, then all the rest, just like we planned. I might have literally gone tits-up, but I'm not letting that happen to my vacation again."

"I can't think of a better reason to call the whole thing off," Yusef continued. "Life isn't a damned checklist. Let it go! Head home and take care of things, then take some medical leave and come back west to see the Parks. Get your family used to your new self. You don't know thing one about being female socially, either. Hell, even basic stuff like having to sit just to piss! Come on, woman! Throw out the thrice-damned list!" he huffed. Rachel just grinned back at him like a madwoman. "Hmph, you're not going to give up on this trip, are you?"

"I'm still me," Rachel insisted. "You want to know the best thing about this? The very best thing?"

"What?" the impala grumbled.

"I love my Dad, I do. But I never wanted to be like him. Well, this," she gestured floridly at her curvy new self, "is a little more extreme than what I had in mind, but I'm okay with it." She pumped one fist into the air. "Freedom through Change!"

Yusef snorted, shaking his head, muzzle-palming. "You and your Dad. Shit. If you still think that 'freedom' worth the price of admission after a few weeks, I'll be shocked. You got the highs right now, but tomorrow's a hangover of sorts. Go take a long shower, jump in front of the mirror for a few minutes, admire yourself as much as you want while you feel good about it. Just wait until tomorrow. Everything changes when you get out in the world as a chick. Everything. I'm not human anymore, but I'm still a man. I still have some familiar ground to walk on."

Rachel wondered how he knew that, but doubted it could apply to her. Unlike in past years there was a whole support system for girls like her. All she needed were an hour, her laptop, and a wireless signal. Her emotions were riding high.

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September 14, 2012

"I can still turn back to Flagstaff," Yusef said. The road leading up to the Grand Canyon South Rim rumbled past, Supervan's stressed suspension creaking over potholes. "You can get on a plane and head home from there. You sure you're okay? You're over the high?"

Rachel's ears felt hot with acute embarrassment. She'd done so much barely-coherent babbling, melodramatically declaring acceptance of her new femininity, and spent hours in the hotel room's small bathroom getting to know her body. Now that her hormones weren't supercharged came the hangover. "Let's just forget that ever happened. Keep driving. Let's see what we came to see."

"If you don't want to fly home we can drive from here," he continued.

"Keep going. I'm actually meeting someone here. She's going to help me start socially adapting." Rachel's limited wardrobe had become feminine equivalents and then some. Everything was replaced wholesale or totally new. Dresses, useless makeup and shoes, and a whole suitcase full of party outfits meant for a heavier girl. She currently wore the most covering shirt she had and a long skirt on account of her tail. To top it off there was still a tiny voice that insisted she was crossdressing.

"Really? You met online?" he said, obviously skeptical.

"On one of the teegee support web boards. She's with her boyfriend at the Kachina Lodge. She's two years on, herself. Doing the Parks tour just like us." Rachel grinned triumphantly at Yusef. "Yosemite is next on their list. She invited us to travel that far with them."

"How awfully convenient." Yusef said without much enthusiasm. He was very tense, choosing his words much more carefully. He had not looked at her chest the entire time. "I bet you found a teegee checklist, too," he droned.

"This isn't like when the Change first started and everything was hidden. You wouldn't believe how many teegee self-help e-books I found on Amazon." What she didn't say was most of them had poor reviews. "I signed up at three different teegee support websites, and other help. Why go home to learn? It's all 'on the job' training anyway. I've got this thing covered. So I'm going to enjoy my time off." She tapped on her tablet's screen with a new stylus. Fingerhooves rarely worked on touchscreens. Reading with so much nose in the way required some maneuvering. Her phone dinged another message from her older sister. She shot a warning look at Yusef.

Her old friend sighed. "You know what? If you won't even respond to your own family and tell them what's going on, fuck it! No more advice from me. You're as stubborn as my crazy-ass racist Grandpa Asante."

It took a moment for Rachel to parse that statement. "The one that--"

"Threatened to disown me when he found out I had a white boy as a best friend. Yes, that one. He's as racist as any Klansman." Yusef glared at the road ahead as if it had insulted him. "Rich bastard uprooted the whole family and dragged us back to Tanzania when he Changed. Practically kidnapped us! Hard to say no to a rhino, though."

"What?" Rachel stared at him. "Please, tell me more. How'd you end up back here?"

The impala chuckled and shook his head. "No you don't, girly. I'm not saying anything else until you see reason. Lips are sealed." He clamped his mouth shut as they entered the Park.

There were elk everywhere--the four-legged kind--casually walking across the road. They had to move slowly to let them pass. They could easily see the Canyon's edge as they approached a parking lot. The lots themselves were hardly full. With the Change happening anytime, anywhere, nobody still human wanted to be caught behind the wheel in the middle of nowhere when they went furry. Resorts and vacation havens were taking a major hit as a result, but telecommuting became far more popular. Rachel sent a text to Vivian, the woman she was going to meet here to start learning the ropes.

Supervan lumbered into a parking space and seemed to sigh as Yusef shut off the engine.

"I'm going to meet her right at the overlook," Rachel said excitedly. "What an inspiring place to begin anew, right Yusef?"

The impala rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Look, be careful, will you? There's a lot of shady characters online. I'll be hanging around in case you need me."

Vivian was easy enough to find. She was a white dog of some kind with her fur shaved down to a fuzz, sitting on a bench at the overlook. The sheer scale of the Canyon overwhelmed the doe, she had to stop and admire the view before approaching her volunteer teacher. Rachel stood there so long Vivian apparently got frustrated and walked up to introduce herself. "Rachel, I presume?"

"Yes. Yes, that's me." In just three words Rachel was very put off--more, it was the way she smelled. It was an unpleasant odor of tobacco and cloves, and the dog reeked of it. "Sorry, I just had to have a look."

"It's less impressive than I thought it'd be, frankly," Vivian said, obviously bored of the whole thing. The way she carried herself just seemed off, just slightly in the uncanny valley. A rumpled, severely plain black dress was all the clothes she wore. She spoke in a clipped, perfunctory tone of voice, oozing condescension. "Why don't we get started? We don't have much time and there's a lot to pack in."

"Uh, sure." Rachel sat across from her at a vacant picnic cable so she could see the Canyon. The doe put her ears at attentive-forward. "I'm all ears."

"Right. At any rate, the first thing is attitude." She dug in her purse and took out a pack of cigarillos. Her voice was roughened from smoking them, and she was upwind. "If you have the right attitude towards your new femininity it's much easier to adapt. Right?"

"That makes sense," Rachel admitted, carefully choosing her words. She didn't like where this was going at all.

"As a man you were a useless, expendable appendage with no more importance than a cockroach."

"What?! How can you--" Rachel rose off the bench.

"Shut up, sit down, and listen, woman! That's what you're here to do! Everything I'm saying is complete truth! As a man, you were worthless. Absolutely worthless! Now, all that's changed. All women are special. All of us, by virtue of our womb and our ability to nurture through our breasts! So listen to me and be happy! Happy!"

It went downhill from there, but Rachel was too polite to get up and walk away just yet. There was a morbid curiosity to listening to one former man's diatribe against her old sex. Men were boorish, violent, stupid, unfaithful, and didn't deserve to be allowed to raise children since all of them were potential child molesters and rapists. Vivian was a living, breathing straw feminist Rachel thought only existed in screeds by political bloggers. Her wild-eyed rant drew onlookers to stare, even a few sympathetic looks for Rachel. But after a while the whitetail's anger faded. What could have possibly happened to her to make her think like this? she wondered, taking some pity. This was the oddest form of self-hatred she'd ever encountered. Eventually she just shrugged and got up to leave.

"I'm not finished!" Vivian frothed. She stabbed her clawed index finger at the bench. "Sit down!"

"You're not finished, bitch, but I am. I'm going to let the others on the forum know how batshit insane you are," Rachel said, folding her arms. "Goodbye. Don't try and follow me."

Yusef stood a distance away, ears tilted in her direction to listen in on the rant. Rachel joined him, and they walked further along the overlook trail. Away from the woman's stink the whitetail felt much better. "That insane bitch claimed to have a boyfriend?" he asked. "Who would subject themselves to someone like that willingly?"

"We're not going with them to Yosemite." Rachel kicked at a pebble, only to get it stuck between her hoof lobes. She stumbled to a bench then put the leg up on her thigh, stretching to reach it. Her breasts were in the way, so she gave one a shove. Her fingerhooves dug in. "Ow! Damn it! Why the hell did I do that?"

"She's got you flustered as all get out. Take a deep breath, relax. Let me get that pebble," Yusef said gently. She extended the offending hoof. The impala took it, then gently removed the pebble. "I hate that. Annoying as hell, and we have very long legs compared to the rest. Makes it harder to reach our feet."

The long rant left Rachel feeling drained of enthusiasm. Even the grandeur of the Canyon couldn't help her regain it. Her ears drooped. "Why don't we find a room for the night. I'm done with this for today. That wasn't what I expected at all. My impression was that she was more spiritual about this. Damned real life troll."

"Everybody reacts differently," Yusef said, starting to pant in the heat. "I think for every ranting bitch I've seen there's another one writing odes to her new perspective on life. Let's go."

Supervan's rear air conditioning only effective at full blast. Rachel belted herself into one of the plush chairs and pulled up her laptop, folding her ears back against the noisy fan. The wireless signal here was weak, but enough. As Yusef pulled out of the parking area she went to the forum she'd met Vivian and started to compose a warning to the other members. She was only on the third paragraph when the van abruptly slowed to a stop on the side of the road.

Rachel looked up. "Why are we stopping?"

"Saw some folks who looked like they need some help changing a tire. I just want to make sure they can get other help if they have more trouble," the impala said. "I'll leave the engine running for the aircon."

A blast of hot air came in when Yusef opened the driver's side door. "Hey there! Need a hand with anything?"

The voice that replied made Rachel's spine tingle. A familiar baritone not heard in years. "Actually, yeah! Got some stubborn lugnuts on this thing, and I've never had to change a tire before. Could use a hand from a fellow hoofer."

"No. No way," she muttered.

"I keep telling him we should just call a tow truck," said an exasperated female voice. It was another doe with a sika deer's white-spotted coat. "But nooo, he has to prove himself a big manly stag, don't you Oliver?"

Rachel looked out the windshield. In front was a high-roofed black Ford TransitConnect van with one corner lifted by a jack.

"Why do you think I'm asking for help now, Renee?" Oliver replied.

"This is impossible. Stuff like this doesn't just happen," Rachel muttered. "It doesn't."

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October 23, 2008

There weren't even any photos of Olivia left. Whatever had made a man out of Ray's live-in girlfriend had been very thorough, replacing her existence root and branch with her male counterpart. Everything about her was gone, and that included all the signs of there ever having been a romantic relationship between them. What replaced it was similar to Ray's friendship with Yusef. Ray and Oliver had done everything together. Everything two straight guys in a "bromance" were expected to. That level of thoroughness left Ray with a hollow, helpless feeling, but he never said anything aloud to his "bro".

Oliver said there was actually more to it, but was taking it "one step at a time." Just like Ray's parent's house, their now-two bedroom apartment smelled like deer due to so-called sleeping sickness. There'd been some discussion about one of them moving out, but nothing had come of it yet.

Fortunately Oliver spent most of his time with a nebulous support group. Ray had yet to absorb that there were others like him, including a large number who had gone the other way. Women becoming men, men becoming women. "And more," Oliver always added without elaboration. All very secret and hush-hush. There was no paper trail to prove what they claimed anyway.

"Does it have to do with that sleeping sickness thing and smelling like a rutting stag?" Ray said. The only information he'd found on the web came from pants-on-head stupid conspiracy nuts about the world "going furry" and how everyone would swap sex at the same time. That these crazies were at least half right made Ray wonder if he should start buying bras just in case.

"Precisely," Oliver said, a man of few words. Oliver, now jobless, spent a lot of time keeping the apartment clean, though it did little for the deer musk odor. He perpetually wore an expression like he'd smelled something bad, and the slightest noise inside the apartment awoke him at night.

Ray picked up another printout. "I've got a new male how-to checklist for you--"

"I'm just going to throw that one in the garbage too," Oliver said. "I know you mean well, but it's not helping. At all. So stop it."

The man still spoke like Olivia, had retained her mannerisms. Somewhere in there, Ray told himself, was the woman he had planned to propose to. After more than eight weeks he'd started to lose hope that whatever--or whoever--did this to her would relent and restore Olivia's womanhood. That Oliver himself seemed wholly unconcerned about even being a man unsettled Ray very deeply.

I'm trying to be open-minded about this, Ray thought. He liked to think of himself as straight but not narrow. Oliver was a handsome, handsome man, and picking up good masculine habits from his former boyfriend. It went without saying that he knew women better than any man could ever hope to. "What else am I supposed to do, Ollie? This isn't working anymore!"

"I thought we could stay friends," Oliver said, drumming his fingers on the wooden arm of the easy chair, making a rapid rat-tat-tat. "But... I've had sex with you. I don't know how to feel about that. I remember being a woman, but every day that feels a little more distant, and my brain keeps wanting to think of you as a chick." he shivered. "It took a while to convince myself that I'm a straight guy, but I met someone at the local meetup for people like me. Oh god she's so beautiful! She was a man a year ago. We're going to trade notes, help one another. So gorgeous. And the way she smells."

Ray facepalmed at the infatuated man and gestured for Oliver to stop. "Okay, okay. Say no more. We'll have to break the lease. Living in the same apartment just... feels squicky."

Neither even had to say aloud they were too emotionally confused to reconcile their old relationship. Ray had felt guilty for weeks since the Change, feeling like the worst sort of bigot. It wasn't supposed to matter if the person you lived was physically male or female--except that it did. He hadn't been open-minded enough to accept Oliver as a lover. But the feeling was definitely mutual. Any purely sexual attraction they once shared was gone, and without that element they couldn't make it work.

They simply lost touch, changing jobs, addresses, and phone numbers without telling the other what they were.

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September 14, 2012

Outside in the afternoon desert heat the men were still trying to change the tire, without success. Rachel had turned the engine off to keep it from overheating, but remained inside with all the doors and windows open, drinking a soda from the cooler. Renee had stayed by her stag, not even coming over to say hello. Rachel was profoundly relieved.

"There's something we're not doing," Oliver said. The frustrated stag paced as a few more cars and RVs passed them without slowing. "I've only had this van a couple of weeks. I don't think I ordered the locking lugnuts. Did I, Renee?"

"No you didn't," Renee confirmed. "Maybe you gentlemen should read the instructions?" It wasn't so much a suggestion as a thinly-veiled order.

"I left the owner's manual at home, dear," Oliver said, as if it was a little act of rebellion.

"Just a minute," Yusef said. "My... traveling companion has a signal out here. She can pull up an electronic version. I'm sure she can hear me. She's just a little shy. New to womanhood and all. Rachel?"

She almost jumped out of her seat at the sound of her name, and wished Yusef hadn't spilled the beans like that right away.

"I knew I smelled another doe," Renee said in a friendly tone. "I'd love to meet her and compare notes. How new is she?"

"Just yesterday. You seem like nice folks," Yusef said. "She could use some advice."

"Yesterday?" Oliver said, aghast. "Just yesterday and she's out here? She should be sitting at home, in the fur, enjoying the view."

Rachel girded herself and stepped out into the desert summer sun. She had figured out years ago that Olivia had changed into a stag like her father had, since it fit all the facts. But meeting him on a desolate desert highway between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, traveling with a doe who was probably the girl he'd "left" Ray for in the first place? Improbable to say the least. If she played her cards right he would never know who she really was. It only took a moment to decide to play that hand. She really didn't want the baggage. He didn't have to know.

"Rachel? Can you find it for us?" Yusef asked slowly.

"Pretty name," Renee said warmly, "for a pretty whitetail doe." Oliver flared his nostrils, lip-curling reflexively, but the dry air carried little odor. The spotted doe lightly punched her boyfriend in the shoulder. "Yeah, she's cute. But I'm right here, Ollie."

Rachel's ears felt hot. Oliver had huge, spreading ten-point antlers and she couldn't help but stare. An impressive specimen from antlers-to-hooves. "Just give me a few minutes and I'll have it, Yusef. Nice to meet both of you," Rachel said. "I'm sorry I'm not very sociable right now. Still getting used to the additions--and subtraction, if you get my drift. Give--give me a few minutes," she stammered, feeling a little hotter than even the weather and anxiety could account for. She didn't feel this way around Yusef.

Rachel's typing was slower than the datalink, since she had to hunt-and-peck with four-fingered hands with thick black nails. Renee sat down next to her in the van's open side doors. She wore a green tank top and tail-slotted denim shorts. "Wow. This thing looks a lot comfier on the inside," she said, extending her hand. "Renee Plimpton."

"Just... Rachel," she replied timidly, shaking the other doe's hand. She had a firm, rather masculine grasp. Google ran at a glacial pace. She found a straight web page on how to change the TransitConnect's tires rather than a huge PDF file.

"Don't feel like sharing too much? That's fine," Renee continued amiably. "So, you were a man just yesterday, huh?" She cupped her breasts. "I've had the girls for about five years now. The first year is pretty rough. You'll need help from all sides. Resocializing is a beast." She cast a warm, friendly look at Oliver. "Now, he came from the other direction. We ended up helping each other out. I take it your impala friend isn't..?"

Rachel shook her head. "No. Nothing girly about him." The page finally came up. "Uh, guys? I got it."

Unfortunately Oliver decided to walk over himself to look at the screen, getting close enough to Rachel to feel the breath from his nostrils. He was chivalrous, a gentleman, but still gave her chest a close inspection. "Howdy, Miss Rachel," he drawled like a cowboy, chewing his cud. In the jeans and plaid flannel shirt he looked the part. "Right pretty doe you are, ma'am. In all the right places."

"Casanova," Renee scoffed playfully, also drawling. "I'll be givin' you a whuppin when we get home for that one."

Rachel laughed nervously. "Well 'cowbuck', here you go."

When Oliver saw the images he started swearing. "Goddamn it! It does have locking lugs! I never asked for those! Stupid dealer!"

"That's it. I'm calling a tow truck," Renee said, heading back to their van. "Thanks for stopping Mr. Yusef. We appreciated the help. Nice meeting you, Rachel. We won't keep you here any longer. It's too damned hot."

The impala watched Renee get back into their new van and pointed in her direction with his thumb. "She gets really bossy sometimes, doesn't she?"

Oliver shrugged helplessly. "Sometimes I think she excuses her fickleness on being a woman now. Done that for four years. I don't buy it." He sighed and stood up, dusting off his shorts. "There's just no arguing when she gets like this. It was nice meeting you. I run an online Furgonomics shop for hoofers and I'll be glad to give you and the ladydoe a discount. Here's my business card." He shoved his hands in his shorts pocket and gave it to Yusef. "Keep in touch, huh? Wish there were more Good Samaritans like you."

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September 15, 2012

The Howard Johnson motel in Williams, Arizona only had free wireless in the lobby/breakfast room, so after waking near dawn Rachel dressed and took her laptop down there. She wore the previous day's outfit. The clothes still smelled clean and it was reasonably comfortable, though she decided not to bother with a bra just yet. A flame war had erupted because "VivianVaVoom" had an inexplicably good reputation on that particular web board. Rachel decided it was time to write that one off and find another.

A few other travelers were filtering in for breakfast. Their smell revealed their general contented mood. The humans in the room all sat together in a corner. One cat-man had come inside shirtless, and it looked like he had a full body of bedhead. Rachel did some speed reading through The Female Body: An Owner's Manual for Trans-furs while she waited.

A line had begun to form next to the Belgian waffle maker as the motel staff brought the food in. Rachel left her laptop and tablet on the table she'd claimed and lined up herself. In front was a chattering white rabbit girl, behind her a bison breathing down her neck. Then a harried, shirtless Oliver entered and got in line.

She desperately tried not to look at him, focusing on getting her normal breakfast at motels like these. One fresh Belgian waffle, followed by exactly seven seconds of syrup poured, no butter. One all-grain bagel or two slices of wheat toast. Two glasses of orange juice since the cups were always so small here. One cheese Danish, but no scrambled eggs or bacon. All carefully arranged on the orange plastic tray she took back to her table. It smelled heavenly. She was halfway through starting on the hot waffle before she realized Oliver staring at her.

The expression on his face said everything. He knew. Ray and Olivia had traveled enough to know each other's habits. The room seemed chilly as she took the first bite, swallowing it after only a few chews. Rachel carefully placed the plastic fork down on the paper plate, wiped her mouth with a napkin, then sighed. The doe raised her hand and waved Oliver over like she had in crowded dining rooms if they became separated.

The whitetail buck carried a plate piled high with quickly cooling toast, the cheap butter already congealing. He turned a chair around and sat down next to her, arms resting on the back. "Only one ma--sorry, one woman--I know eats motel breakfasts like you do. What are the chances of this? Rachel, huh? Two days ago, really?"

"Day and a half. Really, really," she replied. "Your toast is getting cold."

"It can wait, Ray. Rachel. Unbelievable! Meeting like this? Out here?" He went quiet and rested his head on the back of the wobbly plastic chair he'd pulled up, looking at her. He started laughing. "Wow. Heh. I know you really didn't want to be like your Dad, but don't you think this is going a wee bit too far?"

Now Rachel laughed, though more nervously. "You know I had the very same thought?" She laughed more relaxed this time. He was so close; he radiated something intangible that played her like a harp, and smelled soooooo good. For a few magic moments she felt like it was old times again. Oliver had the same feeling, from the look of him. He reached out and patted her on the shoulder before the mood shifted for the worse.

Oliver looked at the orderly spread of food on her tray, the book displaying on her tablet. Warmth turned to regret. "Otherwise, you haven't changed a bit. It's just like you to soldier on through a vacation, rain or shine, blizzard or hurricane. No, you haven't changed a bit. You're a woman now, a doe, but you're still the same person. That's what I call a missed opportunity if there ever was one, if you choose to ignore this gift of Change. You have to learn to let go. Start with those damned lists of yours.

"But you are very, very beautiful. I'm sure once you settle in you'll have no problems finding someone special who can forgive your flaws."

With that Oliver picked up his plate, put a slice of toast in his mouth. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a previous engagement." He left Rachel without an appetite wondering just what, exactly, she had done to deserve that.

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September 17, 2012

Despite the shrunken number of travelers the campsites inside Yosemite were crowded, though not quite full. Rachel wanted to spend at least two days here. The drive in had already been spectacular. Half Dome, El Capitan, the sheer granite faces of other peaks, the mountains. She'd never seen mountains like these. I-40 over the Rockies wasn't anything special. Documentaries couldn't do the place justice. Photos were mere shadows. To her enhanced senses of smell and hearing, it was a whole new world.

But whenever she had a spare moment to take her eyes off the landscape she used it to review some old photos she'd found on her laptop and transferred to the tablet. Buried in a forgotten directory were Ray-and-Olivia vacation photos. Except they weren't that any more. Oliver was there, handsome creature even as a human. But replacing Ray was a pretty girl--the human woman Rachel had never actually been. She shuffled through them one-by-one, staring dumbfounded at the full-figured golden blonde bombshell with a recognizable face. "This is so creepy. It's me. That's my feminized face! My face! My tits!"

"For a woman who decided we were coming here rain or shine you're not looking at the landscape much," Yusef said. "At least the external landscape." They rode in one of the Park's slow trams, the tour guide telling stories about the history of the Park, the geology, and so forth. The impala looked over her shoulder. "That's you, isn't it? The busty blonde? Cute face."

"I was never this woman. I don't care what these photos say," Rachel insisted, shaking her head. She remembered all the events in the photos. After Olivia became Oliver they'd become rowdy "bro" photos, featuring girls she dimly remembered to have met but had somehow become a girlfriend in Olivia's absence. Now the original photos were back again, with the poses swapped between the two. Rachel and Oliver, seeing the sights in Chicago.

"Uh uh," Yusef said. "Do you have any pics from our summer roadtrips in there? I'm really curious what this history editing did with us."

Some tapping with the stylus brought up a folder full. "Okay, here's that Montreal trip." She shut her eyes. "I don't know if I want to see these. Here." She handed him the tablet. "Were we... an item?"

After a few minutes of tapping and monosyllables of amusement, Yusef handed it back to her with the folder closed. The impala smiled broadly. "Have a look for yourself, girly girl. All I can say is we're ebony and ivory. That's not a bad thing, but they're just photos. They don't change what we remember we did. That's the only thing that matters. The only thing."

"Uh, I'll save that for later, if you don't mind." Rachel shut it off and focused on what the tour guide was saying.

"I will say one thing," Yusef continued, chuckling. "Me having a white friend pissed my Granpa off a lot. But having a white girlfriend would've sent him into a rage." He laughed full-throated. "Maybe this time around he actually disowned me. It'd be a load off! Racist fucker can rot in Hell."

"I'm glad my spontaneous womanhood is useful to somebody, then," Rachel said snidely, ears folded to annoyed-irritation.

"Hey, I'm not going to try and rekindle a romance 'we' never had. So just... stop thinking about it." There was a gleam in his eyes.

I'm not the one who's thinking about it. Why did I even look at these? Why did I let him look? God Almighty, why am I a woman now? She was beginning to understand why the teegeed had such complicated lives. While the Change took care of being comfortable with her body, it did absolutely nothing for her socially. She had told her family, in a flat text, that they would figure out how to deal with it after her vacation. A quick call to human resources at work put things in motion for medical leave. But all of that would have to come after seeing the Parks.

Pines surrounded their campsite, but they weren't so dense they couldn't see the steep sides of the valley to other side. Yusef decided to walk up the road to the Yosemite Lodge for some supplies, leaving Rachel by herself. They had already spent one night here, using Supervan as a mini-RV, but her focus on her own inner landscape prevented doing more than a superficial tour of the Park. The doe wandered around the campground aimlessly, amused at the signs asking visitors not to eat any of the local plants, even if they were a "native species", and especially no hunting. There were elk, bighorn sheep, other deer, and a few families of cats and canids.

It was hard to remember sometimes that she wasn't human anymore either, she was so focused on teegee. Yusef had little problem with his own species, but she gathered he'd been Changed at least a couple years. Slowly she looped around the campground road twice, people-watching, taking in the Sierra Nevada air. By the time she reached the entrance again Yusef was back with a half dozen bags. She rushed up to help him. "Did you buy the whole tourist shop?"

"Just some groceries. Geez," the impala replied irritably. "And a few more clothes for you. I have a pretty good eye for size, but you might want to check."

"I haven't been thinking about clothes," she said.

"No kidding? You're still in the same outfit! It's started to smell, Rachel. You could use a shower too."

"Oh? Oh! I'm sorry, Yusef." Her ears felt hot. She took a clothing bag from him and found a half dozen pairs of shorts with tail loops. They were all the same color and style, but beggars couldn't be choosers. "I'll go try these on right away."

It felt good to wear shorts again, though she'd actually gotten used to the swish-swish of a skirt. The shirts were mostly button-collar cotton in earthy tones, hardly sexy. But there was one thing. A shaped tee shirt with Yosemite Valley on the front, with the valley floor right down where her cleavage would be. "Smartarse. How much did all this cost you?"

"You can pay me later, doey doe," the impala smirked. "Just get out of that stinky outfit. The Lodge has open laundry, too." He sighed deeply and looked around. "How much longer did you want to stay here? You're not really enthusiastic about this trip."

Half Dome caught the setting sun, the light-colored granite casting a reddish glare across the valley. For a minute she seriously pondered turning for home. There was something to be said for putting her inner universe in order before being able to appreciate the outer one. But she was here, in California, closer to the Pacific than ever. Mindful of what Oliver said, there was no sense in wasting the opportunity.

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September 18, 2012

"If you don't tell me where we're going, you silly doe, I can't put it into the GPS." Yusef looked up from his phone, taking a moment to pause in a long text conversation with somebody. He hadn't said a word when Rachel decided to take the wheel, nor did he say anything when she turned south instead of north. His phone dinged again, and he started tapping a reply with his stylus.

"Who're you talking to?" she asked, avoiding the question. "You've been texting for a long time now."

"Rachel, you're not the only friend I've been trying to get in touch with since I got back. Just the first one."

"Oh? Who is she?" Rachel asked sharply. She could tell he wasn't being fully truthful.

He looked up from his phone. "You're acting like a nosy, jealous girlfriend. Again."

"Uh..." Rachel swallowed. "I've been playing it by ear, to be honest. All I want to do is dip my toes in the Pacific."

"I'm not complaining, Rachel," Yusef reassured, sending another message. "In fact this is an awesome idea. I'm glad you thought of it." Outside Supervan the legendary Los Angeles traffic started to thicken up as they descended out of the mountains north of the city. For some reason they called it the Grapevine. "This is just a little unlike you. Spontaneous. Do you have any idea where you want to go in LA? There are a lot of beaches. So can I make a suggestion?"

"I'm open to it," Rachel said. She knew that southern California was a tangle of freeways that put anywhere else in the nation to shame.

"Santa Monica Pier. Perfect spot! Carnival rides, restaurant at the end. Route 66 ends there, too. Perfect place to start the drive home if you ask me. I have a friend we can meet. Good idea?" Yusef leaned forwards in the chair behind the driver's seat. "What say you?"

"Type it in the GPS and point the way," she declared. I'm going to find a swimwear shop and buy a tiny bikini. I'm going to sunbathe on Pacific sands and let men ogle. If I'm going to have boobs I'm going to show them off!

"Whoa. Looks like the Pier is a bad idea," Yusef said, breaking her train of thought. "Damn. Checked out the Pocket movement forecast. One's going to cover it very soon. It's California, I'm sure we'll find someplace else." More text tapping.

Most Pockets were stationary, but some moved across the landscape like beads of mercury on a mirror. "What exactly happens in a Pocket?" Rachel asked.

"It's awful! It feels like you've been wrapped up in plastic. You look human again, even to yourself. Can't feel your own tail or even your fur." The impala shivered. "I don't want to see that ugly human pate of mine ever again. Somefurs like it, though. A few will never accept their Change."

"Would I be Ray again..?"

"Maybe. Some Pockets will, some won't. But I'm not going in there again." The normally easygoing impala was quite firm on that. His phone dinged again. "Ah! How about Newport Beach? It's another hour or so south, but my friend assures me you'll love it. She's going to meet us there. All the sun, surf, and sand you could want."

"So, who is this girl?" Rachel drummed her fingers on the wheel. "Old girlfriend? New girlfriend?"

"There you go again."

"Uh, it's the hormones, I swear. Shutting up now." Rachel wondered if it really was just the hormones. "Just point the way."

Newport Beach was everything Yusef promised. California stucco architecture, broad sandy beach with rolling Pacific surf. Women in tiny bikinis and men in Speedos. Otters, seals, sea lions, even a few dolphins and orcas in the water and lounging on the sand. She'd never seen so many aquatics in one place before. There were even homes for them under construction as part of the harbor's breakwater.

"A dolphin on a surfboard is a little redundant," Yusef said, observing the apparently naked cetacean out on the waves. He had dressed in a tight swimsuit himself. But he looked a little silly in the hoofer sandshoes that spread his weight around enough that he didn't sink hock-deep into the dry sand. He wore a pair that looked like human feet. "You holding up, Rachel? I know this is a huge step for new girls."

"This is the most spontaneous, off-the-wall thing I've ever done!" Rachel said, trembling with delight enough to make her breasts jiggle under the filmy white coverup. There were so many women--other women, she belonged with them now--on the beach, mostly human, with little knots of furries here and there. More than a few male and female gazes swept over both of them, either sizing up the competition, in admiration, or envy. "There's so many beautiful people here. Where were we going to meet your friend again?"

The impala pointed towards Balboa Pier. "Right at the end up there. Do you want to take off that coverup now, or wait for a while longer for the grand reveal?"

"I... uh..." Rachel decided it was now or never and shrugged it off, shoving it into the beach bag she'd purchased that had some of their rental beach gear in it. "Ta daa! I don't know what it's called, but it has the Furgonomics for Deer logo. What do you think?"

Her breasts were covered by two white triangular pieces of cloth held to her body by very thin straps around her back and neck, leaving no hidden curve or cleavage. The white bottoms were more covering and had a different design than a human's. She had two pink teats down in roughly the same position a deer's udder would occupy, unswollen but still needing to be covered up in polite society. Her tail went through a reinforced slit. The doe spun around once, tail a-flick.

Yusef looked like he needed a cold shower. "Perfect. Just... wonderful. Perfect. Stunning!"

"How am I going to explain this to my coworkers?" she said, half-giggling. "'On my vacation I turned into a doe girl and spent an afternoon sunbathing on a Southern California beach.'"

"To be honest, five years ago that would just be seen as crazy. Everyone but other furs would see you as the man you'd been. Now? I don't think that stretches credulity much." The duo walked slowly towards the Pier. Once off the sand they removed the silly-but-functional hoofer sandshoes and put them in the bag, too.

Halfway out to the end of the Pier Rachel started looking around, more to see who was looking at her. "So Yusef, who are we look...ing for." The breeze off the water carried two familiar odors. She glared at her college "boyfriend" accusingly. "Them? We're meeting them?"

"It didn't start out that way. I didn't know who he was," Yusef replied. "But when you turned south I sent him a text message that we were going to be in the area. He pretty much spilled the beans. I think we've traded a couple hundred texts the past couple hours."

Rachel folded her arms. "Oh? And what did he tell you?" she snapped.

"That he feels awful about how he treated you in Arizona and wants to make amends. But also a little pissed off you didn't even say hello on the side of that highway. Kind of cancels itself out, in my opinion." He shrugged unapologetically. "Look, don't get angry at me. I'm just caught in the middle, so don't shoot the messenger."

He had a point. Yusef was blameless in all this. "Okay, then. Let's do it. Can't believe Ollie moved all the way to California, though. Wow," Rachel said.

At a wider section apparently once used for pier fishing, but no longer because of the cetaceans and other aquatics, Renee and Oliver waited. Rachel said nothing as they approached them, giving Yusef a look to make him break the ice first.

"Sorry we're so late," he said smoothly. "Just a little shopping trip, and we stopped at a beach rental place. We hadn't planned on this little side trip, but it was her idea."

Renee spoke up a fraction of a second before her boyfriend, approaching Rachel. She extended her hand and put it on the whitetail's shoulder, then looked back at Oliver. "Before you start in on her, Rachel and I need to have some girl talk. Former guy-talk? Something like that. I've never settled on what to call it, exactly. Anyway, we need some doe-to-doe time. Your girlfriend and I need to clear the air a bit."

The stag nodded, his antlers tilting back-and-forth rapidly. Rachel stared at the hypnotic motion as if she was still a man admiring jiggling breasts.

"Uh, okay," Oliver said. "Why don't you two go to Ruby's and Yusef and I will go talk guy stuff or something? I'd like to know how he keeps that old beast of a van running for over three thousand miles without a breakdown."

"Nah. We'll just argue over which is better. Horns or antlers," the impala quipped. "See, my rack doesn't fall off every winter."

While the two men walked back towards the beach, Rachel followed the spotted Asian doe the other direction. Renee was going out of her way to appear friendly. Like Rachel she wore a swimsuit. It was technically a one piece that left her front mostly covered and her back bare, exposing the Japanese doe's white-dappled coat. It covered all the important places, including her half-udder. She fished her cover-up out of her bag. "You'll want to put yours back on."

Rachel nodded and did likewise, following her inside the diner. Like many restaurants this one had installed better ventilation and odor management. They were seated in a booth next to a window with a spectacular view of the ocean and the city. There were tall partitions between booths to give some semblance of privacy in a world where people's hearing was getting better. "Furgonomics seats? Nice!" the whitetail said.

"Thirsty? How about a nice big chocolate shake?" Renee asked. "That's what I'm getting. Not often, but this is a special occasion. It's not every day I meet one of Oliver's old girlfriends. In fact, this is a first."

"If you want to get technical about it I was never really his girlfriend," Rachel added. "I was the boyfriend and she--he was the girlfriend." Only in the strange malleable universe they lived in would that statement ever make sense. "We were admittedly on a downturn when she got... unwomaned."

She nodded then with an elbow on the table, rested her head in her hand. "I hear you, sister. When I still had 'the boys' I was quite the Casanova myself. It's been five years and I still haven't untangled those relationships. Especially when I started going out with their new boyfriends. I've been with Oliver four years. Longest I've ever stayed with anyone. He's the best friend a new girl ever had. He taught me everything I know about being a woman. Ev-ery-thing.

"Anyway, he never really got over you. Talked about you all the time as if you were already a chick. I think it's how his masculine brain coped with all the fun you had in bed together. Weird mental defense mechanism." She shook her head and laughed. "So you can imagine what an earful I got on the way back from the Grand Canyon. With these huge ears that's saying something."

When the shakes came all Rachel could do was stir it with the long spoon and sniff it. The richness of the chocolate was mouthwatering enough, but she had other things on her mind. "That's... somehow reassuring. Even if he was pissed at me."

"Now, he's a good friend. And I'm going to be straight with you. He's been a 'friend with benefits'. Great in bed. We've never been closer than that. We've gotten the emotional support we've needed from one another. I wouldn't be the picture of womanhood I am today if not for him." Renee gave her straw a good suck. "Mmm. Have some of yours, Rachel. It's melting."

She did so, taking the time to gather her thoughts together. Olivia, Oliver, Ollie. "I never sought another relationship at all," she muttered over the milkshake. "I couldn't... I always saw Olivia melting into Oliver whenever I thought about it. I had nightmares where he would swoop in and steal any girlfriend I got. How crazy is that? Maybe I should've gotten therapy, but..."

"I'm not surprised. I've seen this often enough in the teegee support group I met Ollie at. Studied it. See, Olivia was taken from you. You're grieving for her. Except in a way she's still alive, just in a body you didn't find sexually attractive." The other doe smirked. "Of course, things have changed again, haven't they girly?"

Rachel put both hands out in front of her, palm out. "Whoa! Slow down. I can't keep up. Give me a chance to absorb for a few minutes, will you?"

"Look at him," she continued, unswayed. She pointed at a shirtless muscular tiger sitting at the lunch counter, striped tail swishing back and forth. "Isn't he just gorgeous? What a hunk of manmeat! Rawr! Just look at him! Smell him!" She leaned over the table and started to whisper. "Doesn't he make you feel all warm and gooey inside? I just want to snuggle up with that big kitteh, don't you? All warm and safe in your man's arms."

"What's your point?" Rachel choked out, every bit as warm and gooey the other doe suggested. "I mean, I'm not..."

"You are and you know it. I can smell it! It's the Rut! Rachel, you're practically oozing estrogen from every pore. If you were a straight guy before you're a straight gal now, sister. It's so different, but feels completely natural. Embrace it like you once did your manhood. Savor it and make it yours." She sucked on her shake again, this time nearly emptying the glass. "Mmm. Good shake. Do you still want yours?"

This was the kind of lively speech Rachel had expected from Vivian, and Renee obviously didn't care if anyone overheard. The whitetail took a small sip of her shake, getting chocolate ice cream on her lips and licked it off. "Okay, taking you at your word here. Men do make me feel all gooey and, well, girly. I can't, um, deny that.

"What I don't understand about all this is I still feel like me. Shouldn't a change in you and me this fundamental take months or--or even years of inner emotional turmoil and therapy to resolve? Going right to singing 'I am Woman, Hear me Roar' after a few weeks just seems like--"

"Why in God's name would you want to go through any of that emo shit, Rachel? What would be the point of all that angst? It wouldn't make the Change feel more noble or genuine." Renee rolled her eyes. "No, where we have a hard time is making others understand. It's helping our family, loved ones, co-workers, etcetera, accept who and what we are now, and trying to reconcile our re-written lives with what people actually remember.

"If you ask me, being just as comfortable as a two-legged doe with hands is by far the bigger issue. We're not even human, but still act like we are. Who cares about getting tits or a dick in the mix? But I'm not about to question that, either. Now are you going to drink the rest of that, sister?"

Like the relationship 'I' had with Yusef in college, or the Ray and Oliver 'bro' pics. I see what she's saying. "No, I'm done." Rachel pushed her half-empty glass across the table. The other doe finished that one, too. "Thank you. I think I have a better handle on 'being Rachel' now. I just needed it spelled out for me in huge, flashing neon letters."

"Atta doe." The sika doe finished the rest of Rachel's shake in one go. "I hope you and Oliver reach a similar understanding. Role reversals like yours don't happen that often among us teegeed."

"What about you two?" Rachel asked.

"Him and me don't count because I never had Olivia as my girlfriend. Good luck, Rachel. Both of you."

Separator k.png

It was exactly the kind of idea Rachel would've expected had Yusef and Olivia ever met before the impala disappeared. It was both crazy and sensible at the same time. "The problem is that there are three likely outcomes," Yusef explained before they left for Santa Monica. "One, you end up in your original bodies. Ray and Olivia again. Two, it's been long enough for Oliver that you'd see him again, but Ray would also return while inside. Three, you stay the sex you are, be 'human' Rachel and Oliver. No matter which way it goes, you'll have to make it up as you go along."

Rachel chewed on that idea for a few minutes, changing back into regular clothes inside Supervan before coming to a decision. In any case, the idea that they needed to see their human faces again to come to some kind of reconciliation made sense in a strange sort of way. While the two whitetails chatted the sika doe and the impala were going to go clubbing and get to know one another better.

Los Angeles traffic on I-405 slowed their progress to a crawl. Rachel rode with Oliver in his brand new Ford van. There was enough headroom for the buck's massive antler spread. Rachel could barely take her eyes off of those ten magnificent points. Not a word was spoken for over an hour, after sitting at a standstill for ten minutes near Los Angeles Airport. The enhanced air filtration couldn't completely keep the interior from smelling like a stag in rut with a doe clearly attracted to him. It made the ride that much more awkward.

"Traffic around LAX is always bad," he said. "I, um, I came to California after... you know. My parents had moved out here and there were things I needed to straighten out with them. Plus I needed a place to live after I, uh..."

"And Renee came with you?" Rachel asked.

"Uh huh. First for moral support to show my parents the teegees were two-way, then because we found jobs at Furgonomics Hoofer Services." The stag looked at her with his near eye, keeping the other on the road. "I still work for them. What about you? It's been four years."

"Oh, you know me. Still just a middle management peon. Staid, predictable, and boring. I'm Bilbo Baggins. Never have any adventures or do anything unexpected. I don't see why being a woman now would change that. I'll be the most boring chick in the office."

"Boring? I never thought you were boring. A little too practical-minded, a little too by-the-book. Too many lists, but I know you mean well. And that bikini was hardly 'boring', 'Chel. I couldn't take my nose or eyes off you. Besides, I think Gandalf knocked on your door in Vegas. You decided to throw your schedule out the window and came down here, and you didn't know I lived here. I'm impressed, 'Chel. Very impressed."

He had a point, and her heart glowed from the compliment. She licked a hoofnail and drew a hash mark in the air. "That's one for you, Ollie."

"Damn right it is. That dress you're wearing looks great on you, too."

"Well, this is the one I ended up in when I Changed," she explained. That warm, gooey, girly feeling had a hold of her and wouldn't let go. "It... felt appropriate if we were going out to dinner. I have no idea what'll happen to it if I end up Ray in the Pocket."

"A little harmless crossdressing," Oliver replied, smirking. "Don't tell me that didn't think of that."

"It's worth the risk. You're worth the risk, Ollie."

The stag did his own air hash mark. "One for you, 'Chel."

The Pocket over Santa Monica extended almost a mile inland, the low angle of the very late afternoon sun making it visible via double-refracted light. It was moving right along the coast, which meant it would roll over some economically important facilities. LAX, the Port of Long Beach, and more were in the path. Non-Changed just shrugged while most furries stayed away.

Oliver didn't want to risk driving in, so parked his van near the border. He fed the meter to its four hour max as Rachel got out. The red tube top dress was a little hard to move in. That her breasts were the primary support wasn't lost on her. In contrast Oliver still wore a t-shirt and swim trunks.

A vixen police officer stood just outside the membrane. "Afternoon," she said amiably. "I'm not here to stop you. Just letting you know it's here. Did either of you deer bring shoes?"

Rachel blinked. "I completely forgot."

"Never crossed my mind," said the buck. "Thanks for the heads up, but I'm still confused why a cop's here. Pockets aren't dangerous."

The red vixen officer looked at the ground a moment and put her hands on her hips. "See, that's the thing. We got a report of a guy who was human, out for a jog, who went in the south side and came out the north an ocelot the instant he crossed the border. Must have Changed inside but didn't feel a thing. Can't substantiate the claim. Victim left the scene before I got here, but there were witnesses. I'm here in case it happens again.

"At any rate, you furs are safe. Enjoy the novelty. Mind your toes on the sidewalk."

The deer walked a distance away next to the border for a measure of privacy. "I'll go first," Oliver said. "Be weird if I get my boobs back after four years."

"I don't know if I want to lose mine again. We've grown kind of attached." Rachel admired the buck's antlers, reaching out to touch them, tapping a fingerhoof. "You know, I'd wondered why you and my Dad got so chummy all of a sudden."

"Yeah. We traded notes for a few months after I Changed. How's he doing, by the way? No, don't answer that. This is about us." Oliver looked at the shimmering membrane and stepped right through. There was nothing so dramatic as a reverse transformation, not even a ripple on the Pocket surface. On the other side a familiar handsome man in his late 20s stumbled and almost fell on his face. "Shit that's weird! Shit shit!"

He stood up straight again and faced her. "This feels so weird. I can't smell anything, no tail, and I can feel the pavement under my feet! I have toes!" He lifted one bare foot and wiggled all five. "Your turn, 'Chel."

I'm going to be Ray again, she thought, stepping forward. I'm going to be a dude in a dress. This is going to... Oliver offered his pink human hand just across the membrane.

There was a flash that seemed to fill her skull, and like Oliver she stumbled. He caught her before she could fall. Rachel knew immediately that she was still a woman and reached up and felt a smooth, naked, and very flat face. She looked down at her bare shoulders, and the way her breasts actually seemed a little larger, with a healthy measure of cleavage showing. Dark brown hair draped over her shoulders in waves. "Uh, I can't see my toes with all this fat in the way," she quipped.

"Oh, I assure you they're very cute toes," Oliver said, taking her in with a bright smile. "You've never actually seen that face you have now, right? Let's find you a mirror."

"Aren't I supposed to be blond? I've seen photos of myself," she said. "I have some on my tablet of the two of us." She grasped her purse over her shoulder.

Oliver ran her hair between his fingers. "I don't think this is your natural color, but it works on you. Remember I changed my hair three times?"

"You mean Olivia--"

"No, I mean me. I am Olivia, I don't care what I look like now. If you so start thinking of your pre-Change self as someone else, there lies madness. Anyway, let's get walking. Maybe we can buy some flip-flops at a shoe store."

As it turned out there was a shoe store, and it had foot-level mirrors. The man behind the counter was normally furry, and welcomed them in for some temporary footwear from his clearance stock. They weren't the most fashionable shoes, but did the job. Rachel quickly found that she had no skill for walking in heels, so went back to a pair of sneakers. "I walk tiptoe all the time," she said. "I'm actually doing that right now. And I can't walk in three-inch heels?"

"Don't look at me," the buck demurred. "I never had more than three pairs."

Then came the mirror.

It was one thing seeing a woman in a photograph that was supposed to be you. But quite something else to see that woman's reflection in the mirror. Shorten her hair, make her features a little more angular, and it would be Ray's. The amazing thing was just how few changes her male face actually needed to make it very feminine. "Or maybe that's just the girl-brain talking," she pondered aloud. "This so creepy!"

"So darling, are you hungry?" Oliver said. "Can I tear you away from your beautiful reflection?"

"For conversation I am. Why don't we walk on the beach for a while? I haven't set foot in the Pacific yet. It's on my list."

A little of the warmth vanished from Oliver's voice as they approached Santa Monica Pier. Most of the shops had closed, the Pocket having chased away a lot of customers and tourists. "And we can't have you miss anything on your lists, can we?"

Rachel took his hand. "Oliver--Ollie. Remember what you said back at that motel? That this is a 'gift of Change' and I'd be a fool to pass up reinventing myself? Well, I'm here, standing in front of you, as much a woman as you were four years ago, and I'm not about to pass this up. The old me would be at Crater Lake by now instead of walking with you here. What about you, Ollie? What have you done with your 'gift of Change'? You've ended up a very good man. I'm proud I had some influence there."

"Still not as good as you." The faux human man actually looked embarrassed. "Well, to be perfectly honest, when I said that I was desperately trying to sound profound. I regret being so condescending and bombastic. I'm sorry I spoke to you that way, 'Chel. But you didn't even say hello earlier, and I've thought about you so much over the years."

"I should have said something, anything, on that desert highway," Rachel admitted. "I was just so scared, though. I couldn't believe it. I still can't! I don't normally believe in fate or destiny, but... I don't know."

They walked on the still-hot sand towards the low tide on an empty beach. The sun was an hour from setting, sparkling off the water. A flock of shorebirds raced up and down the wet sand, plumbing the beach with their beaks when the waves receded. Rachel slipped off her shoes at the edge of the wet sand, as did Oliver. They even left human footprints, which they marveled at. The old Veil never went that far for some reason. Surf rumbled and a surge of foam and water flowed over their bare feet and calves, soaking the bottom Rachel's cotton-spandex dress, then flowed back into the ocean with the water going up over her ankles. "Whoops! Well, I got my feet wet! I'd better... eeep!"

As she squealed in delight, Oliver easily lifted her up from behind as another, stronger wave crashed in, carrying her in his arms back to her shoes atop a sand berm. Gritty sand covered her wet, dainty human feet. The faux humans sat down close to each other to watch the surf and let a thoughtful, but joyful silence come between them. Rachel moved until their hips touched, wrapping her arm around his waist, then rested her head on his shoulder.

They snuggled up close, side-by-side to watch the sunset. Four years felt like hardly time at all. It didn't matter who was the man and who was the woman. This way felt no more wrong than it had as Ray and Olivia.

"There's the edge of the Pocket," Oliver observed as the sun slipped below the horizon. The border marched slowly southwards. "It'll be over us in a few minutes. Want to go eat? We still have a lot to discuss."

"We'll work it out," Rachel said, burying her face in his chest with eyes closed, waiting for it to pass. Their cervine senses exploded back into being as it left their faux human forms behind. She breathed in his rut-musk, tinted heavily by the sea. "Things were never perfect between us. But we'll work it out." The doe looked up at his handsome muzzle and nuzzled the buck's chin.

He took it as the invitation it was.

END

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