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User:Michael Bard/Losing Himself

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Losing Himself

Author: Michael Bard
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Xanadu story universe

Brian looked at the fur on the bed as he dried himself. Three month's work, assorted panic moments, and then the stupid airline had lost the parcel! Sure, he'd insured it, but he'd still lived in terror of telling the buyer that his fursuit had been lost. Handing money back is small consolation at the loss of a dream.

But, they'd found it, and here it was.

He checked the time. The costume judging was starting, but then he wasn't interested in it. He knew his niche, and the client didn't mind delivery after the judging -- he was acting as the furless lackey for somebody in the contest.

Now was time for the final inspection. He'd just brushed it, the fur was sleek and floofy. Everything was there, no obvious seam failures, no tears or rips. Still, he preferred to put it on one last time. A final inspection before handing it over. Later he'd have some fun in his own.

It was odd. He'd worked hard to get to where he was. Not a big maker, but a popular one. Enough to pay the bills even though he still worked part time just to make enough to cover basic bills in case of a slowdown. He didn't have the drive, the skill, the artistic ability, to get into the big leagues. Creating the suits that made everybody shit their pants.

But, there was a market for cheaper basic cartoony suits. The mind blowing jobs ran into multiple thousands, his were just over a thousand. He was happy, his clients were happy, and all was good.

Though, there were times he wished--

Taking a few steps away, he opened his luggage and rustled around until he found the full body zentai, though the eyes and mouth were open. It served a whole bunch of purposes -- kept him cooler, let him put the suits on easier, and allowed him to guarantee the customer a more pristine product. It didn't take long for him to wiggle into it, and soon he was a slightly-overweight figure in dull brown lycra, except for his bright white eyes and skin around his lips.

He'd learned long ago to keep his hair short -- made fitting and wearing far easier.

Now--

He pulled up the one chair in the room and lifted the furred body suit from the bed. It was bright green, almost eye searing, but that was what the client wanted. Bright, bright green, with white chest and airbrushed dark green tiger stripes along the back. A big floofy skunk-like tail, again in green, but with the double white stripe. Green footpaws and handpaws with black claws and white pawpads, and some tufts of darker green at the wrists and palms, and along the back of the ankle -- a kind of feathering.

He'd given up understanding the designs people wanted long ago. There were so many weirdo crossbreeds and personal creations.

The head was a big skunk head. Green, with friendly blue eyes and a big floofy pile of dark green headhair. The ears were extra large, and set off slightly to the side.

First went on the bodysuit. Sure, he'd done it many times before, but there was ritual, a mindset that he changed into, the fears and follies of his real life falling away. To him it was the final christening of a suit. He never wore the full thing until the final inspection. It made no sense, but he felt it helped bring the fanciful costumes to life.

The bodysuit was one piece, and he stepped into the leggings and pulled the belt out that was sewn into heavy bands at the back to support the tail. It was a weight lifter's belt, and it had to go snug as the tail on this one was close to half the weight of the entire suit. He clicked it shut, and felt the weight of the tail pull down even as its tip tickled against his neck. His arms went into the arms of the suit and he zipped up the chest, securing the flap that hid the zipper with a strip of white fur. The suit was baggy on him, but the customer had a bigger build and was a little shorter. The costume pulled at Brian's shoulders and crotch. He'd help the client with the final fitting, and make any adjustments necessary. If the duct tape dummy was accurate, there shouldn't be any.

After that it went quickly. The feet when on like fuzzy winter boots, sliding over the bodysuit legs. There was a bit of fumbling before his fingers found the snap buttons that would keep the boots up. The hands, four fingered for once, wiggled on, and again there were the snap buttons hidden in the fur above his wrist to keep the hands from sliding and sagging.

Standing up he wiggled his body, stretched one leg and another, and then jumped a couple of times to get it to settle right. Definitely didn't fit him, but it wasn't too far off. The tail-- he'd have made it smaller, but the client was always right.

He walked over and looked down at the head looking up at him. The handpaws were a bit clumsy, but not too bad, and he picked the head up, looking inside as he switched on the two fans. Even though it was covered with thin lycra, he could see the shape of the mesh framework he'd used to shape the head. Already he could feel himself sweating, and they were vital. At least the customer hadn't insisted on glass or plastic eyes which always wanted to fog up. They'd gone with his suggestion of mesh eyes which had good vision, and no chance of fogging.

With the ease of long practice, he lifted up the head and settled it on his shoulders. There were no straps or clips, its weight would hold it down. The neck was loose. It didn't have a really snug fit like a high end balaclava head, but that was fine with him. The ones he'd tried were always a bastard to zip up right, and even more of a bastard to unzip to get off. Got forbid he'd ever start to feel faint in one of those--

The fans were loud in his ears, but the eyes weren't positioned quite right -- vision would be better for the client, but he could manage enough. Walking over to the mirror, he felt the tail wagging a bit from his motion. Looking at himself he smiled, even though the partly open mouth was always smiling. Everything looked complete, okay. The cool air hummed through the ears, through the fans, and against his head and neck.

Brian cocked his head a bit to look through one eye, trying to get the best view he could. The fans hummed, the tail flopped, and he frowned at the wrinkles in the suit.

Until the wrinkles vanished.

He stared, unable to move, as the suit stretched and shrunk before his eyes. Seams moved slightly, fur panels shrunk or stretched. The slippers stretched a bit to fit more comfortably. The head eyes moved slightly closer together and he could see far better.

And the suit fit him perfectly.

Which was impossible.

He must have been imagining it-- that was it!

Looking again in the mirror, he cursed. How could he have been so stupid? He must he have substituted his own measurements for the client's? Jesus, he was so screwed. Fuck!

The door swung open and his roommate, Felix, burst, slamming it shut. Sweating, with what looked like blood on his arm, he grabbed the chair and shoved it against he door with a loud thud.

Brian pulled the head off, the air cool on his naked flesh, and gingerly put it down on the table. "Felix, what's going on?"

"What the-- of course-- how could I--" He took a deep breath and flopped down in the chair, using his weight to make the door even more secure. "Brian, I have no clue. I was at the judging -- you knew about--?"

Brian nodded.

"Some-- I don't know! If I wasn't there-- Brian, you have to believe me. I saw what I saw. The rich guy, what's his name, became a crow on the stage. A crow! And he flew! And then everybody--"

Brian wondered what the prank was, and his disbelief must have shown on his face.

"Brian, if ever you loved Clark Ashton Smith's writing, if ever you loved what I gave you, you have to believe me! It happened! He became a bird. And then everybody, everybody, became their costu-- oh hell-- Brian, were you wearing anything during the judging? That fursuit of yours?"

"Of course I was. And nothing happened! Felix, I don't know what the hell you're going on about, but I'm not going to bite. I'm pissed off enough already -- somehow I screwed up the measurements and I have no clue what the hell I'm going to do! So, just don't give me any shit right now-- please?"

Felix sighed. " Brian, humour me. Just take it off. What did you say its name was--?"

"The buyer hasn't named it, though I've called it Stinky Green."

"Take it off."

"Fine! I'll take it off, and you, or whomever, can snap pictures of me in a brown zentai. Whopsido!" With that Brian sat down and unclipped the gloves and pulled them off, and unclipped the feet and pulled them off, and unzipped the bodysuit and pulled it off.

And stood there. Naked. Not just physically, but he felt panicked. He couldn't help but look around nervously, feeling helpless, unprotected, cold--

Felix stared. He spoke. "Umm-- Brian-- umm-- you-- you-re naked."

"Naked? What?" He looked down and saw that everything was hanging out. No wonder he was so cold. But-- How--? Spinning around, the carpet rough on the sole of his foot, he looked at the bed, and at Stinky Green sitting there, neatly folded. And, sticking out of the bodysuit, somehow, was the brown zentai he'd been wearing. How the hell did that happen? He must have taken it off. That was it, there was no other possible explanation for it. "Felix, I have no clue what you did to me, but stop it. Now!"

Unfolding the green and white fur, he pulled the zentai out and wiggled back into it. He finished pulling the back zipper up and was instantly wonderfully warm and hugged and safe. The cold nakedness of the zentai had been replaced with the warm full enclosure of a fursuit. Fans whirred in his ears, and he looked out and down along a silvery muzzle.

"It did get you--" Felix held his head in his hands.

Brian could conceive of Felix lying to play a joke. He could conceive of some kind of-- hypnotic suggestion? -- to get him to take the zentai off without conscious knowledge. But-- but this? Turning he padded over to the mirror, feeling the slight give of the spongy soles of the footpaws he was suddenly wearing.

He stopped and stared.

There, staring back, was a silver fox, long bushy tail hanging down behind, long pointed ears with his trademark extra fuzziness, a well formed muzzle, and thick white bellyfur. Holding up a handpaw he looked at the fleece pawpads with the silver-white fur sewn around.

Blinking some sweat out of his eyes, he remembered. Somebody had proposed a silver fox, though more white than silver. There'd been some sketches, but then the commissioner had vanished, no explanation. Nothing. He'd never even ordered the fur.

And yet, here he was.

Half unbelieving, he reached up and pulled off the head. He didn't want to, but he did anyway. He looked inside. Yup, mesh construction, he could see it behind the liner. And the stitches -- he'd always had to hand do those -- and each stitch was neat. And utterly, completely, perfect, as though done by a machine.

And that simply wasn't possible.

Numbers ran through his head. He could get a full zentai for $50. This suit, with his name attached, he could sell for hundreds, maybe even a thousand, easy. Jesus Christ, he was going to be rich!

Shoving back the fears and rejection of the very idea of desuiting, and with a bit less than usual care he put the head down on the bed on top of Stinky Green, and unbuttoned the handpaws and feetpaws and pulled them off, and fumbled around until he found the zipper for Silver Fox and pulled it down. Stepping out of the bodysuit, he put it on the bed--

And stared at a brown zentai.

He shivered--

It didn't make sense. And he was so alone--

Before he even knew what he was doing, he was clambering back into the brown zentai. And, when the zipper was done--

He was surrounded in warm fur with the comforting hum of fans in his ears. Checking the mirror showed he was wearing a brown cartoony deer, with plantigrade plush hooves and big wide silly eyes. And he never wanted to take it off.

He shook his head, the floofy antlers shaking with a slight delay as they were floppy and not solid. What the hell?

Forcing down his fear, his chill, he stripped out of the deer and the last piece he tossed off stretched and twisted with the other pieces back into the brown zentai. He shivered, whether with fear or coldness or aloneness he couldn't say. Yanking open one of the drawers, he pulled out a pair of underwear--

"Hey! That's mine!"

And shoved it on--

-- and was wearing a bright blue bodysuit with white furry chest.

He wanted to stop, but couldn't, and put on a pair of socks which shifted into big wide bunnyfeet, and a pair of gloves that became floofy bunnyhands as a silly bunnyhead with one floppy ear over one of its eyes swelled up and over his head, surrounding him in warm comfort and softly whirring fans.

"Brian--?"

That was when Brian knew. There were people that would kill to be in the position he was now in. But then, they'd never worked out what it really meant. Fursuiting, forever. Fun and games, forever.

At first glance.

Brian threw himself onto his bed, carelessly throwing Stinky Green onto the floor, almost tearing one of the ears off. He curled up, hugging himself, rocking himself back and forth.

Felix just stared. He'd never seen anything like it.

After all, how many times did you see a floofy blue bunny with big floppy feet and ears, hugging itself, smiling.

And spilling out from the grinning mouth, the sounds of sobbing, audible over the softly whirring fans.


Brian looked at Dr. Benton Quest-- Dr Sands, as the doctor, another Xanadu victim, looked back. Today Brian was wearing his personal fursuit, a brown otter with a loud Hawaiian shirt built in over the body. Pantless of course. At least whatever had happened to him hadn't forced him to lug around a surfboard or a beachball-- Brian was sitting in a padded chair, a portion of the back removed to make room for those with tails, but he was holding the fat fuzzy brown snake-like tail in his lap and petting it to try and get him to ignore how uncomfortable he was with the otterhead sitting on a table behind him. Though couldn't see it, he knew it was there, with its comforting all enclosing fur and happy warm hum of fans--

"Mr. Brian Harold Tadwell, of Toronto, Canada? At least that's what your official records show."

"That's me. Don't worry, I still remember my life, clearly." Too many other Xanadu victims had forgotten theirs. There were people he'd once known who now were their fursuits, and who actually fainted when he popped off his head to get a drink.

His head--

"I know. That was all clarified in your preliminary examination."

Brian nodded.

Dr. Quest-- Sands shuffled some papers. "We've sent home pretty well everybody we can. Some can't function in what we consider normal society. And then, there's you--"

Brian sighed, snuggling his-- the suit's tail for strength. He could almost feel his pawhands-- gloves rubbing along it--

"You have one of the more extreme cases of what we call The Clothing Curse. It's rare, maybe ten cases. We can't be sure though -- sadly accurate records weren't kept of either attendance, or of what happened to everybody."

Brian sighed. "Fine. Let's cut to the chase. What are you going to do with me?"

Dr. Quest took a sip from the water on his desk. "Would you like some?" He motioned towards a large sealed jug with a straw.

Brian had been a suiter for years. He knew better than to refuse, and gratefully took the jug and sipped. Not too much -- he didn't want to shock his system, and God knew what would happen if doctors tried to cut him out of his fursuit.

"Anyway, legally, anyway, we can't hold you. You're psychologically stable, and your-- powers don't seem to constitute any conceivable threat or danger."

"Ha!" What harm could a guy permanently in an otter suit do? Or whatever kind of suit he ended up with on any given day.

"But, there is the question of what are you going to do? From what we've been able to learn, Clothing Curses can be particularly nasty. There's this one rabbit--" He took off his glasses and polished them. "Mr. Tadwell, I'll be frank. We've had some minor luck with getting people's actual memories back. Very limited though. And some of the minor effects we can do something about. But--" he put his glasses back on, "Clothing Curses have survived everything we've tried. Not that we've tried much -- the first few made the situation far worse than it was originally. Worse, I'm afraid than yours."

"So, what now then." He needed his head back-- maybe he could think then-- Brian took another sip of the warm water.

"Yours, I'm afraid, is almost dangerous. From our tests, it's not only a physical effect, but also a psychological effect. Almost an addiction. You need to wear a-- fursuit as much, or more, than you're forced to by the curse. And, it's getting worse. There are some things I can try that might minimize the psychological effects--"

"No!" The words were out of Brian before he even knew he'd said them.

"That solves that then. Mr. Tadwell, I'm not allowed to be a charity, at least not in cases where the victim is mentally competent and capable of functioning in normal society. People wear costumes all the time, and they get by."

"And they have to stop--"

"A very indicative choice of words on your part. I really wish you'd agree to some psychological counseling. I don't think that even you realize how seductive your psychological addiction is becoming."

"No. I'm fine. Just fine the way I am." A tiny part of Brian screamed at the words, but that bit was overwhelmed by the horror at the merest hint of having not to live all the time in the warm all comforting fakefur, living in the laughing, happy, fursuit persona. The scream died, submerged in comforting fuzzy hugs and fuzzy happy thoughts.

"Well then, your choice. I have no legal ability to force you, and no reason to hold you any longer. Your friend--" he glanced down at the paper, "Mr. Felix Kunzel, is waiting for you. He'll take you back home. But then, he brought you down in the first place."

Brian leaped to his feet, his tail slapping against the chair. He could put his head back on!

"One more thing, Mr. Tadwell."

Brian stopped and looked at the doctor.

"After consultation with the Ontario authorities, your driver's license has been suspended pending review and retesting. In essence, there are strong psychological reasons to suggest that you would drive whilst fully-- clothed. As your clothing significantly restricts your vision to an unsafe level, the decision was made at my urging for both your, and the public's safety. I would restrict it further, but there's no legal recourse to prevent you from riding, say, a bike. In six months you may undergo psychological assessment and this decision may be appealed depending on the results." Dr Quest stood up and handed over a folder. "These are your papers. Now you're free to go. I wish you the best of luck."

Brian grabbed the folder, the papers thoughtfully stapled together and paper clipped to the folder, and mumbled thanks. He ran over to where his head was, dropped the folder to the table, and put his head back on, submerging himself in the warm fur, the limited version, and the heart-warming hum of the fans. Feeling much better, he fumbled with his handpaws and grabbed the papers, leafed through them quickly, and jammed them back into the folder. With a bounce in his stride, looking from side to side so he could see where he was going, Brian happy walked from the office.

Behind him, Dr. Quest just shook his head and pulled up the laptop to check the news on the Hunt for the White Rabbit, who had once been Phil Guesz, as he waited for the next victim.


Felix was waiting for him outside, luggage stacked beside, sitting in a chair. Pushed himself up, he watched the otter approach. "Brian, can't you take the damn head off for just a few minutes?"

Brian, the otter, shook his head violently, and shivered in horror.

"God--" Felix muttered. "The border's going to be hell you know. At least we didn't fly across. They're going to make you take that off, all of it off at the border--"

Brian shook his head violently. Fumbling in the folder, he pulled out his passport, which now included new documentation which labeled his costume a medical condition and that it should not be removed unless absolutely necessary. Brian pointed at the wording, jumping up and down happily.

"You warned me there'd be days like this-- warned me before-- oh God-- why did you have to--"

And Brian was there, the papers and folder fluttering to the carpeted floor, holding his best friend in a warm hug, cuddling against him in his warm soft otter fur, willing the fears and anger and sadness to go away.

"You-- you know-- it is impossible to stay mad at a furry--"

Brian patted Felix on his back, wiggling against him like he was a giant stuffed toy.

"I--" Felix stopped.

Brian had known Felix for more years than he wanted to count, and knew that the crisis was over. He let go, and took a step back, watching through his narrow tunnel vision, moving slightly side to side and turning his head back and forth to get a better view of his surroundings.

"Let's go. We'll cope with this. We'll get back home." Felix snorted and Brian cocked his head curiously. "I wonder what they'll think of this when you get back to the station--"

Brian just shrugged, it bothered him far less than it once would have. He'd survive, and he'd be happy. All bouncy bouncy happy! The only time when he wasn't was when he was out of suit, even just partially. Still, there was something he had to do--

Felix leaned down and began gathering the papers up. "You can help with the luggage, at least, like that, can't you?"

Brian nodded eagerly. Then he stopped. The station! Holding up one finger, he stopped and looked at Felix. There was one thing to do first, now that he was no long incommunicado. Felix looked curiously, but then followed as Brian made his way back to their room. It was hard, so very hard, but some things just could not be done with the head on. And, for necessities, his suit, his curse, seemed to understand. So, he called work. He hadn't been allowed to directly communicate with them earlier stuck at Xanadu other than to say that he was being held in quarantine by the US government.

The phone rang and rang and Brian itched to get his head back on. He got an answer. Quickly, he said he'd be back, that he had some funny clothes-- his manager wouldn't let him finish. Apparently things had changed.

The service station where Brian worked was an independent franchise of one of the big companies. For some reason, the gas bar component of the station had been taken over directly by the big company. New manger and everything. He was told that his working dates would be passed on to the new management and that they'd be waiting for him. Then he was asked if his new clothing requirements would interfere with the job. "Of course not!" Brian replied. "Bye!" Then he hung up and shoved his warm comforting head back on.

Soon he was bouncing down the hall, pushing a luggage cart in front of him, whilst Felix worried.


The trip back wasn't nearly as bad as it could be. Felix kept the car's AC on, and wore a jacket. The only oddity was when Brian was dressed as a greyhound and insisted on rolling down the window and hanging his head out, long felt tongue flapping in the breeze. It was a good thing that most people thought he was just a dog, else there'd have been accidents. They arrived at the border in Buffalo without any problems worse than a few confused late night hotel clerks. The trip had taken longer, but then on the way down the two of them had switched off driving, and Felix refused to push himself too far.

It was about ten in the morning when they drove up to Canadian side of the border. Felix had their documentation ready, and wound down the window. A bored guard started out with, "How long were you gone?"

Felix sighed. "A month."

"And what was--" The guard stared as he saw what was lounging beside Felix.

This time, Brian was wearing a glistening white cervine-based unicorn. The horn was of purple felt wrapped in silver wire, and a flowing white wool mane flowed down his neck and amongst the ears that stretched out to either side of his head. Looking at the guard, he waved.

The guard blinked. Looked at Felix, looked at the waving Brian, and looked back at Felix, looked at the documentation-- He swallowed. "Umm-- he needs to take that off--"

Brian shook his head violently, holding one finger up and shaking it in a no no type sign.

Felix cringed. "He-- can't. It's a-- a-- medical condition."

"I have to insist."

"Sir," Felix said, "if you check his passport, the one that's not mine, there's an attachment. A medical exemption."

The guard looked down, almost thankfully, and saw the notes. Psychological reasons. Or so it said. It didn't matter though, he had to see that the face matched the passport. He turned to Brian. "Head off. Now."

Felix cringed more.

Brian shook his head and pointed at the passport the guard was still holding.

The guard, finding refuge in procedure, put the paperwork down. "Head off."

Brian shook his head even more violently, crossing his whitefurred hoofhands over his chest.

"Sir--" Felix began.

"I'm not talking to you!"

"We were at Xanadu--"

The guard stopped. "Oh Jesus--" He backed away, almost as if there were plague carriers in the car. "I really need you to take the head off."

Brian just shook his head more.

"Fine. Out of the car please."

Felix broke in. "Brian, please, just take it off. Not even for a minute. They'll-- they'll make you take it all off if you don't."

Brian let himself seem to deflate in sadness, his entire body almost collapsing in on itself. With infinite sadness, he reached up, and pulled the unicorn head off, revealing his sweat-plastered human head, naked and alone in the cold.

"Sir," Felix said, "is that--? I'm not trying to argue, but, it's the way he was affected. It honestly could hurt him. It's in the papers.

The guard looked down at the passport, and back at Brian. At his look of fear and horror and soul numbing loneliness. "Fine. You may put it--"

Brian had his head happily back on before the guard could complete his statement. The rest of the questions were more perfunctory and then the guard passed them through. Shaking his head, he watched the happy white unicorn waving byebye as Felix drove off.

"Why me--?" Felix muttered.


Felix dropped Brian off at his house late in the afternoon. After helping him carry his luggage inside, he waved and drove off as Brian happily waved back, still costumed as a unicorn.

The house was quiet. His housemate wasn't back yet. His fiscus tree had been watered. The piles of fur and half completed projects were where he'd left them. Not having much to unpack, what with not needing clothes anymore, he happily clopped over and sat down in front of the computer. Sipping some water from a tube that slipped under the neck of his head, he waited through the bootup sequence.

Then the e-mail download started.

Sighing, he got up, turned the thermostat down a bit, and refilled his mug with cold water from the jug in the fridge and happily clopped back and flopped down. He had to cock his head to see out of one eye as the muzzle of the unicorn head caused cross-eyed vision otherwise.

Finally the mail was downloaded. He had filters in place to direct what should be business e-mail to dedicated folders, but he had learned that far too many people never obeyed instructions in the subject matter. And, spam was omniscient. He looked down at the keyboard and moved to press a key, and saw the clumsy handhooves he was wearing. He had two fingers on the glove, and one thumb, all far bigger than a key. He was torn. Intellectually he knew he had to check the e-mail, he had to get things back in order. But, that would mean taking off a hand. At least one, likely both. And that-- that--

He remembered seeing people come by the gas station late at night begging for a cigarette. Even a stub. He'd never smoked, he'd never understood it, had tried to help.

Now he knew how they felt.

He didn't know how long he sat there, looking from hoofhand to keyboard to hoofhand.

He had to do work, he had to buy food. There was no other option.

Blinking back tears of rage and fear he tore off one hand, and then the other, yanking hard enough to tear the clips that kept the fur of the hands from slowly sliding down his arm. Intellectually he knew there was no pain, it was just fur, but it felt-- it felt like he was tearing off his hand.

Shivering in fear, in loneliness, he tossed the torn hands onto the floor behind him. Out of sight, out of mind. Then he started deleting the spam, reading what had to be read, and replying to what had to be replied to.

It took him until late in the night. The customers he'd kept informed from Xanadu as best he could, the person who had bought Stinky Green hadn't accepted it -- he'd been wearing a green tail and the event had made him into Stinky Green. At least the client hadn't asked for his money back.

As for others, most understood. If the government won't let you go, there's not much you can do. He'd done what he could design wise, but the projects had lain idle. He couldn't even be specific due to the censorship -- just delays with no answer as to how long.

At least he didn't have to work until next week.

Finally, he got it all caught up near midnight, and ran downstairs to the washroom. Thank God he didn't have to strip -- he'd made a practice of having the belly zipper long enough that, in an emergency, a wearer could answer the call and minimize the risk of ruining a thousand dollar fursuit. Pressure abated, he padded back upstairs, shut off the monitor, and crawled into bed.

He couldn't sleep.

His hands felt so cold and naked. He could put something on, but had nothing complete handy. And he couldn't sleep. His hands weren't on! Finally he got up, found where he'd tossed the hoofhands and happily yanked them on. The magic, the curse, healed the damage he'd done as he relaxed. As stress he hadn't even known he'd had poured out of him.

Feeling much better he skipped over and flomped onto the bed, not bothering with blankets as he was cradled in warm snuggly fur. Curled up into a ball of white fluff, laying on his side, he was soon fast asleep.


Things fell into a routine after that, at least for the next few days. He had some frozen casserole left, it was still good. His housemate was in a study. They were friends, but really didn't do much. He saw him once, and waved, and his housemate just shook his head. He'd gotten the e-mail about the curse, but, just like his thoughts on his housemate's hobby and furrydom, he wasn't going to comment.

Showering in the morning was the worst part of Brian's day. To shower he had to get undressed. He had to get out of suit. At the hotel he'd had Felix to help. Now, he had to do it himself. He had some pride left, pride in his work, in his body, and in the quality of his suits. That was what got him to do it. It was better to strip, shiver, cry, leap in, soap, rinse, leap out, and then get dressed again without even drying off, then to slowly get the suits dirty and stinky.

After that it was sewing. He had to take off the hands, and it still was a disaster, but he couldn't bear to take off any more. He'd learn. He'd have to learn.

Working all day, he struggled and cursed. He just couldn't see enough, and without his hands on his fingers shook. He'd just have to learn, that was all. It was far better to relearn his hard earned skills, rather than learn to work without his head on, without his hands on. At least his curse had tried to help, giving him full fingered gloves with very fine fur to wear.

And yet--

Disaster after disaster.

He'd learn. He had to learn. And he wasn't sad, not really. How can you be said in a soft fuzzy huggable fursuit?

And he had work to carry him over if all else failed. Money would be tight for a while, but, he'd manage.


On his third day back he finally had to face facts. He needed to go shopping. Water he had lots of from the tap and through a filter. But food, well, he had nothing left he could nuke.

He'd never been out in public, not locally. Not in fursuit anyway, other than Halloween. It was well into December, there'd already been one snowstorm and was threatening another. At least he just had to go a block and across the street. Not as cheap as he could get further away, but convenient and fresh.

After his morning shower, he got dressed in a poofy husky fursuit with very thick fur. More than warm enough. Grabbing a backpack, he tossed in his wallet, his keys, a scrawled list of necessities, and zipped up the smaller backpouch that held all that.

Time to face the world.

Once he wouldn't have dared. He wouldn't have even conceived of the idea. Now, whether it was because of the curse, because of necessity, because he was so happy in suit, or just from surviving a month of government scrutiny and mass science fictional warfare amongst stormtroopers and related costumes that were no longer fake, he had no trouble opening the door and stepping outside.

The first thing he noticed was that he didn't feel cold. Not at all. Then he almost slipped, only grabbing the porch railing kept him from ending up butt down on the stairs. Foot paws weren't the best things for traction-- A bit more carefully, he made his way down the two steps, his footpaws sinking into the soft snow.

Hey, this is pretty good! he thought. Blowing snow, cold, cold temperatures, and he was all toasty warm. Even his face was all nice and toasty. Whistling a happy tune, even though it couldn't be heard outside the husky head over the softly humming fans, he happily walked down the snow-strewn sidewalk, kicking puffs up with his footpaws, his empty backpack slung over his shoulder.

All around him, he expected the cars to screech to a halt. People to scream and point, and then to laugh at him rather than with him. Police and news crews to swoop down on parachutes and shoves mics in his face and ask him how he could dare walk in public dressed as a cartoon.

But, there was none of that. The odd person blinked and looked again, a few waved and he waved back, grinning internally. But, most just went about their business as he went about his.

At least so it seemed.

Something *pocked* against his back and he heard laughter.

Once he'd have fled, face red underneath But now-- There were no working blasters in evidence, so what could they do? Stopping, he scratched at one ear, cocked his head--

Another snowball *pocked* onto the ground, and then another one into his side.

Spinning around, he stared, raising his handpaws into mock fists. It was a bunch of teenagers. Given the time, they were probably skipping class. One pointed, and they all laughed.

Well, he thought. That means war!

With that, he reached down, and gathered up a big ball of snow and scrunched it into a misshapen mass as another bit of enemy munitions *pocked* nearby. It was much bigger than their's, but not much less dense. He heaved it towards them, and flomped down to take cover and gather more ammo as another ball flew over where he'd been. Kneeling, he heaved his second was, this time impacting the kid who'd pointed at him, splashing a huge mound of dirty snow over his victim's chest.

The kid stopped and stared, murder in his eyes.

Brian just pointed and laughed, falling over and splashing into the snow.

As one, all the teenagers stared. Brian's laughter was the only sound. Then they all rushed him, grabbed him, and threw him onto and into a snowbank, head first. One grabbed the tail and yanked it off.

Brian just lay there.

What had he done wrong? They'd started it. He'd just done what they'd done.

He could feel his face wet with tears. All around people ignored him.

Finally he staggered up. At least he didn't have to worry about the repairs. The curse would take care of that for him.

Brian fled for home.

Maybe his housemate could run some errands for him.


The rest of the week passed. Brian's sewing improved, maybe. Well, not really. He just had to find the proper technique. That was all. Really.

But then, soon, far too soon, Brian had to go back to work.

And he was terrified.

Before Xanadu he'd have changed, done it right. Never would he have even though of going in fursuit. But now-- that terror seemed so remote, so simpleminded. But the very idea of not going in fursuit--

He almost fainted just at the thought!

At least his curse was helping. Out of the infinite variety of fursuits it could have created, it had tried to be helpful. When he'd gotten dressed, he'd found himself wearing a silly reindeer fursuit, complete with tinkling bells and ivy tangled in the antlers. The handhooves were snug fitting gloves with rubber black tips for grip. He'd have no problem there. There was even a nice Christmasy name tag on his chest that said Brian. The curse had even come with a little holdable sign that read what kind of gas on one side, and how much on the other. At least it was Christmasy rather than just furry.

Getting onto the street car was fine. He was dressed. The street car operator hesitated, but he had a valid ticket and he just shook his head to tinkle the happy winter bells. Shrugging, the driver let him on. Inside the street car it was actually a bit hot, but Brian wasn't worried as he would cool off soon. He sucked a bit of water from the thermos in his backpack through a rubber tube, and happily clopped first one foot hoof and then the other as the street car hissed from one stop to another. Reaching his stop, he got off, glad he'd never tried to make proper digitigrade footwear as, from what he'd read, they were almost impossible to walk down stairs in.

Maybe this would work. Maybe his shopping trip was an aberration.

He was so happy!

There were many more people here than when he'd went shopping. But, he was committed now. And, walking amidst all the people was far easier than even thinking about taking the fursuit off and working in normal clothes. Children waved, he waved back, his bells tinkled merrily, and he refused the five somebody offered. That was begging, and he wouldn't beg. Though, it did bode well for tips at work. After all, tips were a reward for a job well done. Definitely not begging.

He patted his side for the curse had thoughtfully provided a pouch to store any required objects in. He'd just have to remember to take any change out before getting unsuited, else it would probably vanish to wherever the fursuit went to.

Almost at a happy march, he clopped across the paved lot and into the office, grabbing a pen and some paper, and began taking product inventory. One of the workers from the earlier shift looked at him and stared. Brian waved, cocked his head so the bells tinkled, and pointed to the nametag.

"Brian?"

Brian nodded, and clopped out to begin counting stock, even as the co-worker called out something behind him. Cars piled into the station and he waved as he worked, bells tinkling merrily. It got so busy that he began serving gas. Walking up to the first car, he peeked in, head cocked, bells tinkling.

The driver started with, "Fill, Reg--" He stopped and stared. Brian waved. The driver still stared.

Brian held up the sign so that the driver saw What kind of gas?

The driver stared.

Brian tapped the sign with a hoof finger.

The driver swallowed. "Reg-- Regular."

Brian bounced happily and put the sign back against his harness and opened the gas tank and stuck in the nozzle. Then he moved on to the next car, a black SUV. The driver looked down and smiled, and Brian waved.

"High Octane. Forty dollars."

Brian gave a thumbs up and went to work, bells tinkling merrily.

He'd only managed to serve five cars and had gotten an amazing three dollars in tips, when there was a loud voice from behind, so loud that stillness spread out form it, and everything seemed to stop.

"Who the hell are you?" It was somebody Brian had never met. The new manager?

Cocking his head, Brian stopped and looked. He could feel his heart thumping. Once, before Xanadu, he'd have snapped to attention and answered. Now-- He tapped the nametag.

"Take that damn head off!"

Brian shook his head vigorously. What am I doing? But then, even the thought of taking the head off filled him with cold, icy terror.

By this time a crowd had gathered. Brian looked around, and saw the station owner, the old manager, and waved.

"Brian?" the old manager asked.

Brian nodded vigorously.

"Xanadu?"

Brian jumped up and down, bells tinkling, and nodded even more vigorously.

The new manager shook his head as the drivers watched. People waiting for the bus watched. In the distance impatient drivers honked, not knowing what the hold up was. "Well, take it off. It's not proper uniform."

Inside the head Brian blinked. Technically this guy, the new manager, was right. But-- Brian shook his head vigorously.

"It's not safe!"

Brian shrugged. Then he waved, and made his way back into the office and got his pack. Opening the pouch he pulled out the medical papers he'd gotten at Xanadu. The new manager had followed, as did the old, and Brian proudly handed them over, and then waved at the crowd, bouncing up and down a bit to keep the bells on his harness happily ringing.

The new manager looked up. "It has to come off. The insurance doesn't cover it. You are not clearly identified as a gas attendant. It's not safe!"

Meanwhile, one of the drivers stuck at the pumps blew his horn.

"Either get proper clothes, or you can't work."

Brian stopped bouncing, and his bells fell to silence. What? But how--? What was he doing? But it felt so right!

The new manager stood his ground. "Change, or you won't work here."

More horns.

"And, you," he pointed at the gas station attendants, "get to work!"

Brian nodded in agreement. The customers came first!

So, why was he here in fursuit causing problems.

But, why couldn't he be here in fursuit?

He felt a hand on his folder through the nice warm fake fur and turned his head to see the station owner, his old manager. "Brian, come along."

But--

All around people pushed by, and Brian backed out of their way. The old manager gently tugged and, meekly, Brian let himself be let off as the world dimmed to normality behind him.


In the old manager's office, he sat down and motioned Brian to the other seat. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked.

Brian struggled to find a way to answer. Finally he shrugged.

"It is Christmasy and all, but--" He sighed. Looking down, he read the documents Brian had gotten at Xanadu. "Psychological, eh?"

Feeling a cold chill, not from the warm fur, Brian nodded.

"So, the-- mascot is separate? It can be taken off?"

Brian slowly nodded again, and then hung his head.

"But, from what I read here, you couldn't do it. Not and be able to function anyway. Not, and not go mad--"

Brian nodded vigorously!

"You've lost your job, you know that? The new manager-- I don't know. He's been looking for an example. You-- you're perfect. Obvious reasons for termination." He sighed. "Hell-- I might have-- Not my problem anymore."

I'm being fired, Brian realized.

"Just go home, Brian. Stay there a few--"

I'm fired. But I've never been fired--

"--days. Let things cool down--"

What am I going to do. I can't make fursuits. I can't work anymore. I can't go out--

Ignoring his old boss, numb with fear and terror and a tangle of other emotions, Brian got up and left.

Somehow he made his way home, too full of himself, too full of shock, to notice what anybody said or did.


Standing in his room, still wearing the reindeer, Brian looked at his first fursuit. It wasn't much. A ratty head that was supposed to be a fox. Bright, almost eye-searing red fur. White highlights. Misshapen and non-symmetrical. Eyes not even and bulging out. A body that he knew would hang over him baggy and loose, except where it pinched.

His very first fursuit. The beginning of a journey.

He would have sworn he felt the warm fur of the reindeer snuggling against him.

Somewhere Brian had read that being fired was one of the most psychological painful things that could happen. More painful even then a close friend's death.

He felt tears staining the already damp inside of the reindeer head. The happiness of being in suit just wasn't enough. It tried, but he was so angry, sad, depressed--

What was he going to do?

Brian could live off fursuit making. Maybe. Eventually. But, he had to face facts. A week of effort, and he couldn’t' see any improvement. None. And then, the snowball ridicule. The stares. The psychological dependency.

No job, no certainty--

Shivering, he pulled off the reindeer head, unzipped the body, took off the hand and foot hooves. He could sense the suit calling to him to put it back on, that it would make everything better, but Brian now knew that was a lie. With the removal of the last piece, it reverted to the pants he'd put on. He shivered, but from fear, horror, fatigue, or just being naked--

He didn't know any more.

Somehow, a twonie had rolled out of the reindeer pouch and thunked on the floor, making a lonely roll until it clunked against the wall and fell over as the suit reverted.

He shivered. Alone. Unloved.

The world wouldn't accept him. Or, he wouldn't accept the world the way it was.

So many furry dreams. So much happiness.

So much hiding from society.

And now, now, because of Xanadu, he had no choice.

He started putting on the scratchy ill-fitting fox. His first suit. His oldest suit. As he put each piece on it changed, stretching and twisting until it had become what he had dreamed rather than the ugly reality. He felt himself relaxing as each piece went into place. Body, tail, feet, hands, head--

A dream that the world wasn't ready for.

A dream that Xanadu had ensured he couldn't live without.

It was on. Looking at the mirror he saw where the dream started. Where he'd worked so hard to get to the point where he could reproduce it. And now, now the fucking magic had taken away all the craftsmanship. It had taken the reality and twisted it into a private magic that he could never give to others, never share.

He picked up a knife from his workbench. He didn't write a note, didn't e-mail. People would know. People would pity him, beg him, order him--

But bills wouldn't wait. Schedules wouldn't make allowance for wimsy in this world of mundanity.

It didn't take long for the tub to begin filling with hot water. He lowered himself into it, feeling the steaming water ooze through the fake fur and against his skin. The fur snugged against him, comforting him, offering to give him back the dreams.

Angrily, knowing now what it was -- a lie -- he shoved it away. Tears flowed from his eyes as the water gurgled and bubbled deeper and deeper.

He didn't wait. Didn't want to waste more people's time by making them try and help him.

He was cursed. Cursed and doomed.

It took a couple of tries through his tear-caused blindness before the knife tore through the fur and deep into his flesh. First one wrist, and then the other.

Closing his eyes, Brian went to a final sleep as red seeped into the fur, and then stained the water as it overflowed the tub.