Greets all. This'n be my debut fic, the first I've ever actually completed :s Sad, but true. It's more of a test-the-waters work to see how well I can actually write stuff, rather than anything majorly serious, so don't expect anything too grandiose. It's in two chapters for ease of reading only – I wrote it as one long single chapter as it's only a short story as opposed to a full-blown fic with all the trimmings. And the ending is appalling. I'm sorry, but it really is. My original ending was supposed to be funny, but after everything that happens it just seemed awkward... I spent the better part of six weeks agonizing over how to end it before just making up some lame extra scene. So apologies. Nyway, other than that, read and review, please  And I want AT LEAST TWO CRITICISMS per 'chapter' from every reviewer ;) In particular, for this section, comments on the following would be helpful:

- Uriko's breakdown outside the school: Is it descriptive enough? Emotive enough? It seemed a tad shallow to me. Subsequent ones also would merit comment.

- Metaphors n stuff, especially the one regarding the 'tsunami of grief': do they work?

- The structure seems a little... loose. Explanations and descriptions being a little obscure. Am I just being paranoid?

- Dodgy spelling doesn't count, although mention it by all means. I just don't want people worming out of real criticism by mentioning that I put an a instead of an e :P.

Anyways... read!

Whispered words, in Health and in Sickness . Part one.

Uriko whipped round in astonishment and her half-opened locker door flew from her hand, smashing against it's neighbour with a hollow booming crash of metal that drew startled glances from the pressing crowd of schoolkids surging around her. She didn't care. At that second, she didn't care about anything - if a nuclear blast had ripped through the school at this very instant and annihilated everything and everyone around her, she'd have barely spared the carnage a passing glance. Her eyes were bugging almost cartoon-esque as in a voice bordering on a shriek she exclaimed "You heard what?!"

That drew still more puzzled stares from the gathering crowd; she ignored them, her attention fixed like a hawk on a mouse – like a cat on a mouse - on the girl standing calmly before her, one Lucy Walters, who let out a high-pitched giggle at Uriko's stunned expression. Slightly older than Uriko, Lucy was the single most sought-after girl in the entire school; by guys who wanted to date her, and by girls who wanted to rip her head off and feed it to a pack of rabid wolves, Uriko included and especially so now. Her lithe and graceful figure was clad in a delicate, hugging dress that revealed just slightly more of her fulsome bust and legs than was strictly decent, and her hair, summer-sun blonde, seemed not to hang so much as cascade from her head and across her shoulders, like a molten river of gold. Unlike the other girls in school, however, Uriko didn't care a fig about the fact that Lucy's movie-star looks turned the guys into drooling imbeciles whenever she passed them in the corridors - insofar as Uriko could tell most of them were practically drooling imbeciles from the outset, and she'd sooner have taken a razor-blade enema than even consider a date with any of them. No, what pissed Uriko off was that as some sort of counterbalance to her stunning figure God had seen fit to bestow upon the blonde bimbo an IQ just slightly lower than your average brick and a towering complex of arrogance that could be measured only in light-years. Whenever she was in the room you could feel yourself getting stupider by proxy.

And then there was what she'd just said.

"Oh, come on, Riko, you deaf?" Lucy replied through her airy laughter. "I said, Gemma'd heard Kenjo saying to one of his friends that you and he had, like, slept together?"

This time, she'd said it loud enough that the crowd gathered around to watch the spectacle heard too, and a chorus of catcalls, whistles and shouts of "Riko for Kenji!" – although they at least got his name right – filled the corridor. Uriko barely heard a word of it. She had gone cold, completely numb with shock. Perhaps I'm seeing things, she thought. Perhaps that bang of my locker door was actually my head hitting the locker, and right now I'm unconscious on the floor, or being stretchered to the medical room, and all this is a hallucination...

Please God, let it be a hallucination!

But no; off in the distance she could still hear the whistling, the laughter and the shouting of the crowd, could see through a misty haze their slobbery leering faces; and through it all Lucy's grin, Lucy's smug and bitchy grin, and Lucy's giggling, a high-pitched gurgling that sawed against her eardrums like a piglet being throttled - Everything, in a horrible clarity no hallucination could hope to reproduce.

How could this have happened?

Kenji had... talked?

"So come on, Riko," Lucy's smug, imperious voice cut through her reverie, "Tell us all; is it true or not?"

"Hey, Uriko!" a voice yelled from the crowd. "Does this mean you won't be my sexy kitty anymore?" There was a burst of laughter.

Uriko's fist smashed into the locker next to her with such force that it crumpled like tinfoil. The noise was like a thunderclap in the confined space and the jeering crowd silenced like a muted TV set.

The sudden quiet was punctuated by a forlorn creaking as the locker door swung slowly open; then it parted from it's hinges with an almost defeated air and clattered with a metallic complaint to the floor, where it lay, rocking gently on it's convex surface.

Twenty pairs of eyes rocked in tandem, hypnotized.

Uriko turned, slowly, and glared sheer murder into the shocked faces.

The crowd pulled back in startled fear as they met her gaze. Her face was changing, warping; her normally chocolate-brown irises flashed with golden fire, her pupils narrowed and slitted, her teeth elongated, vampire-like, glittering with a dangerous light. Her voice hovering just above a whisper, she snarled, "Fuck. Off. Now."

The crowd dissolved like a sugar mountain in a thunderstorm, people fleeing up the corridors as fast as their dignity would allow, casting nervous glances over their shoulders as they went.

"H...hey, come on, Riko..." Lucy stammered from behind, her usual blithely arrogant tones subdued from sudden fear - Uriko was amazed the dumb bitch had enough brains to recognize when to be afraid and oh boy, did she have reason now. "It's not like it's that big a deal, is it...?"

Uriko whirled with an inhuman speed and seized Lucy's delicate throat, smashing her with stunning force into the racks of lockers with a hollow booming crash that echoed like a death toll through the empty corridor. Lucy, a girl who's first, last and only line of defense was a soprano-class scream that brought everyone within 10 miles to their knees, could manage only a gurgling shriek as the vice-like grip about her neck tightened, cutting off her air supply. Her legs flailed uselessly six inches from the ground.

Uriko leaned forwards, an evil smile on her lips. Her transformation hadn't completed fully - she hadn't been stupid enough to lose all her self-control, thank you very much - so she was missing fur and a tail, but to be honest she didn't really need those to scare the hell out of the girl; she could smell the terror radiating from her like the two dozen brands of perfume Lucy dosed herself with each morning. But so much sweeter. Oh, so much sweeter.

"In answer to your question, Lucy, dear," Uriko purred almost seductively as she gazed into her petrified eyes, wide and white as full moon, "No, we did not sleep together. Nor do we have any intention of sleeping together." Yes, her inner voice shouted, Of course we damn well slept together! In fact, we didn't just 'sleep together' - only bimbos like you and the dumbass jocks who pay you go to 'sleep together'. No, we had SEX. One hundred percent pure loving amazing SEX! And, by God, I'd do anything to do so again!

But, by God, if Kenji's been bragging about it then by the time I'm through with him he won't be CAPABLE of doing it again!

Her feline eyes twitched slightly as the rage of emotions surged up within her, but she continued smoothly. "Now then, I'm going to give you a friendly little warning, one girl to another and all that. I know you're a health freak, so I'll advise you that spreading any nasty rumours about either me or Kenji can be very unhealthy - I hear it plays hell with your neckline." Uriko flexed her fingers and her claws unsheathed slowly, pressing dangerously against Lucy's throbbing throat, who squeaked in terror. Uriko leaned even closer until their faces were a millimetre apart, and smiled - or at least, parted her lips. Her incisors glittered. "Get the point?"

Lucy's head twitched forwards fractionally, the best nod she could manage without tearing her throat open, and Uriko dropped her. She hit the floor and collapsed to her knees, clutching her reddened neck and gulping air in hoarse, ragged rasps. Uriko reached into her doorless locker - there'd be some questions about that later on, no doubt about it, but for now she couldn't care less - and pulled out her schoolbag.

"Oh, one other thing," she added as she slung her bag onto her shoulder with a practiced ease, "It's 'Uriko'. With a 'U'. I'm only Riko to my friends." Without sparing her another glance, she turned and strode away down the corridor towards the glass double-doors that heralded the building's exit, leaving Lucy staring after her.

Only once she was through the doors and around the corner did she allow her self-control to slip; her knees buckled and she collapsed against the wall, hot tears springing to her eyes, a half-sob heaving from her chest.

Kenji had been... had been... bragging?


She felt another sob hammering it's way up through her system and she bit it down - if it came up she'd start crying and then she'd never be able to stop, not even if she died. Her mind was reeling, as if she'd been slapped, Smack! right across the face by someone she trusted. Which was exactly what had happened.

Kenji had been boasting?

What the hell was he thinking?! Was that all he thought of her, all he thought of that night? An... an achievement? Something to impress his friends? Did he have some big list in his diary? 'April 4th: Achievements today: Scored B in Math test, beat Yugo in practice fight, screwed Uriko'?

'Extra note: I even managed to make her think it meant something,'?

No, her mind argued wildly, no, he wouldn't do something like that. This is Kenji we're talking about for Godssakes, he feels bad if he steps on a cockroach, he wouldn't do something like this.

But then how had Lucy found out?

"Godamnit, Kenji," she whispered hoarsely, tears streaming down her cheeks, cutting rose-red streaks down her pale skin. "Why? Why did you do it? I thought... I thought I c-could trust you..."

Trust. Her whole life had been about trust - the total lack of it, for people and from people. Her whole life - all because of what she was, because of what else she was - was wreathed in hatred and in mistrust. People whispering in corners. Glaring from dark shadows. Mocking her. Occasionally, outright physically attacking. Sticks. Stones. Fists. All because she could grow fur and a goddamned tail. And throughout her whole life, in a world of shadows and prejudice and darkness, the one light that warmed her, sustained her, was that somewhere, there were others, who didn't care what she was. Others, who cared for her, who loved her, people she could trust and love in return. Her mother. Her sister.


And now that light was wavering like a candle flame in a winter breeze, a breeze carrying the harsh electrical tang of an imminent storm, and if that storm came, if Kenji had betrayed her, it wouldn't matter that there were still people who cared for her, it wouldn't matter, that light would extinguish because she would never be able to trust anyone again -

The sob she'd fought against so long suddenly tore from her throat and with a wail of grief she collapsed to the ground. She buried her face in her hands and wept, sob after sob wracking her body as tears dripped like rain through her reddened fingers.

Why? How could he?

Hey, look, calm down. her inner voice spoke again, soothing., You still don't know for sure. Lucy's making it up for all you know. It's not exactly a secret you two are friends. And as far as this crowd of hormone-fueled perverts is concerned, that means you're sleeping together. I mean, let's face it, the idea that a boy and girl could just be friends around here is sheer lunacy, right?

Uriko sniffled, her sobs subsiding. That was a point...

Of course it is, her mind continued, a lulling, loving, voice, just like her mother; she could almost feel her warmth as they hugged, the soothing way she ruffled Uriko's hair whenever she was upset. You remember when everyone found out that you and he were friends?

She did. She remembered only too well; The first time they'd been seen together at school they'd come under fire from a veritable artillery barrage of catcalls and insults from the nearby watchers, the usual playground cries of "Ooo! Kenji for Uriko!" intermingled with some fairly incendiary comments about their Zoanthrope heritage. She hadn't been bothered; Kenji had. She could see it from the stiffness of his posture, his narrowed eyes. But he'd quietly ignored them and continued walking with her.


She smiled, despite herself. Until someone had made the very dire mistake of hurling a direct insult at her. Something about her being ugly – it hadn't stuck in her mind. What had, was that Kenji had shot towards the guy so fast she hadn't even realized he'd moved until a bone-cracking crunch and a scream of agony had cut the air and she'd turned to find the would-be cocky-boy reeling backwards, blood pouring from his mouth, splinters of his teeth decorating the asphalt. And Kenji, standing with blood on his fist and fire in his eye that said only too clearly he would just love for someone else to try their luck.

See, her mother's voice continued, THAT'S who Kenji is. He'd die trying to protect you, you know that. He'd never do anything to hurt you; he loves you too much for that.

Uriko laughed and dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve.. Yes, she thought, that's who he is. He wouldn't do anything like this. She felt a crushing weight lift from her shoulders, and laughed again, louder. Of course he wouldn't.

But... even so...

...It was possible...

The freezing wedge of doubt pierced into her heart again; with a shout of frustration she leapt up and delivered a crushing kick to her bag, which flew into the air and crashed bonelessly to the floor.

Goddamnit, this was going to kill her!

She had to know.

Absently, she wandered over to where her bag was cowering and scooped it up, deep in thought. If Kenji had been boasting, then there'd only be one person he would have talked to. Neither of them were big on friends outside of their fellow zoanthropes; whether it was just the people around here she didn't know, but humans always struck her as being so unbelievably stupid. It wasn't just hatred of her kind she despised; If life was a restaurant, then prejudice was the salt – people heaped it on everything, regardless of taste. But just occasionally you'd find there was someone in the crowd who didn't follow the trend, who wouldn't care that she sometimes spent her nights chasing rodents or climbing buildings – who even were envious. They were rare as diamonds, it seemed, and even more highly prized in her book – although, she thought with a grin, she wouldn't have said no to a big, fat jewel if someone had offered - but they did exist. She was friends with three other girls; Kenji, being... well, being Kenji, knew only one.

She glanced up at the flaking paint of the steel guttering, glowing pink-orange in the evening light. The guy took a bus, damn it, so she probably wouldn't catch up taking the normal route...

She grinned. Ah, hell, Roof Road was always more fun anyhow.

Taking a calming breath, Uriko extended her hands forwards, then outwards, turning her palms upwards and raising her eyes towards the soft evening heavens. Not without an inner grin of self-mockery – okay, she had a flair for the dramatic. So what? It was fun. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

The change was... surprising. Not surprising in itself – it wasn't as if she didn't know she could do it – but surprising in that it, well, wasn't surprising. She always felt it ought to... hurt more, or involve crunching bones, or something. She always used to go over to Kenji's – no, her mind forcefully corrected, you still will, quit with the past tense here – often would go over to Kenji's if the weather was lousy or if they had no other plans, and they'd snuggle down together on the sofa with a huge bucket of popcorn, buttered to artery-busting proportions, and rifle through Yugo's DVD collection. The guy had a passion for old werewolf movies – well, he would, wouldn't he – and on every single last one of them, the moon would come out and the main hero or heroine would shriek and collapse to the ground, writhing in agony as their transformation began, and there'd be thrashing and snapping and wailing and fur and blood and mucus all over the place. Some of them were so graphic she'd been twitchy at transforming for days afterwards. You had to wonder what the zoanthropes of old went through to transform, to have stories like that popping up after them.

No, the real change was altogether less spectacular. With her eyes closed, she could barely tell it'd happened at all – she'd stand there, and then her skin would itch a little, and she'd suddenly feel calmer, more confident, more graceful, and she'd open her eyes and oh, look, I'm a cat. How about that?

She felt a sudden black bubble of rage burst inside her soul, and her claws twitched involuntarily. Of course, the other reason her transformation was so subtle was because that bastard Buzuzima had screwed up her morph beyond repair with his sick experiments –

Come on, her inner voice chided, No point crying over spilt milk now. You've got a mouse to catch!

She grinned. Time to hunt...

She glanced up towards the gutter again, new, distinctly feline regions of her brain calculating a whirlwind of numbers involving distance, weight, wind speed, handholds and hazards – if only she could keep this mind for her math class. Her muscular legs bunched as she crouched and then with a yowl of glee she launched herself into the air. She cleared the ten-foot high barrier as if it were no more than a knee-height step, pulled a lazy somersault and dropped. To simply say she landed was too basic – she didn't just land, she floated down, like a bird, her four paws caressing the flat concrete roof with as little noise as a leaf landing. She grinned exultantly, her teeth flashing brilliantly in the evening light.

Oh man, she loved this! Forget roller coasters, forget Hollywood super-heros, nothing, nothing could ever compare to this. How did humans stand being so ungainly, so clumsy and weak?

She glanced around. The roof was a flat-type affair, smooth concrete punctuated with rusty ventilation ducts and the occasional grime-coated skylight. A two foot-high barrier encircled the edge, and drifts of dead leaves, mud and litter had piled up in the corners, along with old, sun-bleached footballs and other toys that had wound up here either accidentally or through more spiteful intentions. To Uriko, this was a perfect haven – her little secret place no-one else could reach, except perhaps Kenji, although he was usually too worried about what the teachers would say to risk it – Uriko had already been in trouble more times than she could remember for coming up here, but as far as she was concerned it was worth braving the wrath of her tutors to spend her lunch breaks away from the rowdy crowds below, basking blissfully in the summer sunshine.

A sudden burst of movement made her turn – a bird, looked like a seagull, too busy pecking at some scrap or other to have noticed her silent arrival, had turned to find the mother of all rooftop predators crouched not three feet away, and had exploded upwards in squawking terror, feathers flying every which way as it's wings flailed indignantly at the air. Or at least, that was how any... normal person would have perceived it. Uriko, however, was far from normal – the drastically heightened reactions that came with the awakening of her feline side caused the world to slow down around her, and the gull seemed not to be flailing but almost dancing, tumbling in a beautiful midair ballet; she could see everything, the pattern of each individual feather, the bunch and pull of it's muscles underneath it's skin, her own reflection in the perfect black pearl of it's eye. Everything, in an amazing clarity no camera, no computer, no microscope could ever hope to match.

You want to fly, little bird? Let me show you how it's done!

Uriko exploded up from her crouched position like a sprinter going all-out for gold and flew with inhuman speed across the concrete, covering the distance to the edge in three magnificent bounds. She leapt onto the partition, balanced precariously on one claw for the briefest moment, and flung herself into space. The seagull hadn't even had time to sort itself out before the feline monster it was running from flew past not ten centimeters overhead, flashing it a lazy, toothy grin that sent it into a panicked, shrieking midair tumble as it tried to fly in three directions at once.

Uriko laughed and turned her attention back towards her arcing flight, to which gravity was beginning to win the majority vote. Looked like she was gonna fall short of the next roof – not much, just a few inches, but that was all it took, and a fall from this height would definitely put a crimper on her life plans.

Good. Just as she'd planned...

A clawtip shot out at the last moment as she plummeted towards terra firma and snagged onto the guttering, swinging her round and flinging her upwards in a wild, tumbling somersault that pulled a howl of adrenalised glee from her throat. She fell, somersaulted in midair and touched down perfectly on all four paws.

Oh yes! Not even a crease on her clothes stood testament to her acrobatics, not a hair out of place, not a patch of fur ruffled, and she flung back her head and laughed wildly to the sky just for the sheer hell of it.

No other way to travel.

Uriko's destination was on the very outskirts of the city, the furthest neighborhood there was from the school. The average hurried walk to get there would have taken at least half an hour, provided there were no hold-ups, which in a city this crowded was like asking for an ocean with no water. Uriko, leaping and spinning across rooftops and lampposts like Spiderman without the web, her journey marked with shouts of astonishment and crowds of pointing pedestrians, reached it in ten minutes. She caught sight of her target as she bounded across the lush grass of the small park edging the neighborhood, his corn-blond hair bobbing in and out of view behind the park's tall bordering hedge as he ambled peacefully towards home. She grinned and raced forwards.

The boy's amble became suddenly much less peaceful as Uriko snatched onto a treebranch and flung herself through the canopy of leaves, exploding in a feline glory of flashing claws and teeth and a howl of exultation into the air not three feet from him. He gave a yell of surprise and stumbled backwards, crashing indignantly to the pavement as Uriko, with considerably more grace, executed a neat somersault and touched down in a shower of leaves.

"What the-!... Uriko?" The boy exclaimed as recognition dawned. Uriko grinned as she caught sight of him sprawled on his backside on the pavement – probably that was cruel of her, but hey, it was fun! She concentrated and reversed her morph – her claws retracted, the sharp points melting and melding into human fingertips, and an all-body itch announced, in case her eyes – the molten gold swirling into chocolate hue, the slitted pupils retracting into black blobs - couldn't tell already, that her luxuriant fur was dissolving into pale, human skin. Lastly her muscle structure reasserted itself and she groaned quietly as her limbs seemed to turn to lead. Why were humans so graceless?!

She stood up and grinned towards the figure, who was pulling himself to his feet with as much dignity as he could muster. "Hey, Ben. How's things?"

"Well, pretty fine until you tried to take my head off just now," the blond-haired Ben replied, returning her teasing smile with a half-embarrassed one. Not a Japanese name, Ben, Uriko knew, but then he wasn't a Japanese student – he'd transferred over from America a couple years ago, something to do with his parents getting transferred in their company. Apparently he'd had zoanthrope friends back in America, too, so he had no qualms at all with either she or Kenji, and they'd become steadfast friends within his first week of arriving. Of course, that friendship along with his name had led to howls of laughter from the ranks of simpletons at school. Kenji and Benji. Oh, what a hoot. "Yeah, well, it's not as if you ever use it," she replied, sticking her tongue out and winking coyly.

He laughed. "So, anyway, what're you doing all the way out here? Or is this just the scenic route home?"

Uriko's grin flickered and died, the joy of the last few minutes swept away in a cold wind of dread as she remembered exactly why she was here. What if she was wrong? Ben wasn't acting the least bit strange or embarrassed – and if Kenji'd been boasting about half the stuff they did on that night she'd have expected him to be as red as a beetroot with blushing – only the worry of the moment was keeping her from burning up at the memory. What if Kenji really was innocent? If she asked if he'd been talking, and he hadn't, Ben'd surely mention it to him. And if that happened, it'd crush him, knowing she hadn't trusted him when push came to shove...

But... what if she was right?

"Hey, 'Riko?" Uriko blinked as Ben prodded her in the arm. "Earth to 'Riko! Where'd you zone out to?"

"Oh, umm, sorry," she stammered, flustered. Well, she had to do it... "Say, umm, Ben? This is, umm, kinda a dumb question, but, umm..."

"Yeah, 'Umm' is kinda a dumb question." He replied deadpan. "Come on, it can't be that hard. Or are you planning to ask me out?" He grinned easily.

Uriko laughed nervously, feeling not in the least cheerful. "Well, er, it's just that, well," she stumbled onwards, determined to force it out, "I was just wondering, umm... you see I'd heard that, umm... well... I was just wondering if, er, if Kenji'd been, umm... talking about me?"

There. It was out. The moment of truth...

The next second was an eternity. She could feel the words hanging in the air round her, like a smell, like poison gas. She watched as they rippled softly and oh, so slowly through the air towards him. Like waves in treacle. She saw them reach his ears. She saw them whisper delicately to him, and then they continued on, expanding out into the street, the park, spiraling gently away until with a breathy sigh they faded into nothingness. She stared into Ben's eyes as his ears delivered the words, searching for a reaction.

Centuries passed.

And then Ben flinched as if someone had slugged him in the gut.

Uriko's heart stopped.


"Wh-whadaya mean?" A distant voice reached Uriko's ears as the world dimmed around her. Ah, Ben. Of course... "He hasn't said anything about you. I mean, he says a lot about you, but nothing you should worry about, really."

His words were reasonable, honest. She wanted to believe him – Oh dear God, she wished she could! – but she'd seen it, she'd seen that flinch, and she could see through the mist the blush crawling into his cheeks. Could hear the crawling fear in his voice.

He knew. He knew what she meant. He knew what they'd done together. What she'd done.

"Well, actually, it doesn't matter." Someone spoke in Uriko's voice; it couldn't be her, because whoever it was sounded perfectly normal. Even cheerful. She could feel her face pulling itself into a smile without ever being told to. "Well, sorry but I've got to be off. See you round!!"

"Uriko, wait-" Ben reached out to stop her but she dashed past him and was around the corner before he could call out again.

It's strange, she thought, almost dreamily, as she stumbled absently onwards, unseeing and uncaring. She'd expected a storm. Her one comforting light in the world was gone forever... but it hadn't been in the tearing wind of grief she'd imagined. It was more like... as if someone had gently blown out a candle beside their sleeping child. Like a loving, tender kiss from your murderer. Quietly and serenely, her hope had been murdered...



She stumbled onwards. There was no more feeling in the world; she was detached, numbed from body to soul. Perhaps it was better this way. The storm hadn't arrived, but she could still sense it, muttering and rumbling around the outer fringes of her mind. It was only a matter of time before it turned inwards and crushed her... at least for the moment there was nothing...

Kenji had betrayed her.

Why? Why had he done it?

"Ugh!" She staggered as, oblivious to her surroundings, she collided into someone walking the other way. Dimly, she heard the sound of shopping bags scattering across the pavement. A faint shout penetrated her ears: "Hey! The hell you think you're doing?!"

"I... I'm sorry, I – "she stammered, blinking in confusion. She tried to focus on the fuming figure, but she couldn't. Her eyes were functioning perfectly, she could see but what all the shapes and colours meant was beyond her. "I, uh – "

"Watch where you're going! And help me pick this stuff up, seeing as it's your fault it's everywhere!"

"Um, ok, I - " She shook her head and glanced down, searching. If she concentrated she could make out an object on the ground – she stepped forwards to retrieve it and something went bang under her feet, making her leap in surprise. A spray of white exploded across the pavement – she'd crushed a milk carton.

"Ahh, damn it!" The voice yelled. "What the hell is wrong with you?! You're a fucking disaster! Get outta here!"

"I, I'm s-sorry - " This was all too much – she couldn't take any more. Any more shouting, any more insults, any more pain and hurt. She clamped her hands over her ears and sprinted blindly away, going nowhere and not caring, just anywhere she could hide from the world for eternity, away from the shouting, away from the pain and the betrayal and the jeering crowds, the hideous noise, the her and the Kenji –

- and a terrible panic rose as she felt the storm close in, roaring up through her system towards her soul, and she knew she was about to die, to drown in grief, and then it was rearing above her, a terrible malignant tsunami of emotion, and there was nothing she could do but scream in mental despair as it teetered and toppled –

It fell.

It crashed down, unstoppable, engulfing her.

But it wasn't grief.

It was rage. It was pure, unadulterated fury. It roared through her like a nuclear explosion. Her blood burned like liquid fire. This wasn't like back at school, with that bimbo-bitch Lucy. This was a hundred times worse. No, a hundred times better. A thousand times.

Kenji had betrayed her?

How dare he!

She snarled, a deep-throated sound of utter hatred. He thought he could do that? He was going to pay. She was going to make him pay.

She glanced around, the misty fog of confusion swept away in the burning wind of anger howling through her mind. Somehow she'd crossed half the city without even realizing it – she was only a few streets from home. She took off along the well-trodden route to her door, and with every step her rage flared all over again. She didn't know what she was going to do about him, but it was going to involve agony.

Two minutes later the door to Uriko's house crashed open with enough force to leave a doorknob-shaped indentation in the wall and Uriko herself stormed through, flinging her bag roughly towards the coat stand, missing by ten feet and sending it tumbling down the narrow hallway.

"Hey, careful with the door!" Her sister's voice floated down from somewhere upstairs. "I don't want to have to replaster that wall again!"

"Whatever," Uriko shouted back indifferently as she continued towards the kitchen, trampling straight over her supine bag without even pausing and grinding her heels in for good measure.

"Ah," Alice's voice echoed in reply, a touch of sarcasm tingeing her words, "Good day at school, I take it?"

"Don't ask!"

Uriko flung open the refrigerator door and snatched the carton of milk from the shelf. She'd been told, often and vehemently, that she wasn't allowed to drink from the carton, and would she please try not to finish off half the container in one go, thank you very much, but under the Uriko Mandate of Law being screwed over by your best friend and lover came under the heading of Emergency, and an Emergency meant that the milk was hers and damn the consequences. She drained a full quarter-pint in one swallow, and for a moment the hints of a contented smile flickered at her white-foamed lips as the creamy liquid washed over her taste buds and slicked seductively down her throat. Milk always calmed her down – probably the feline genes. As far as calming went this time, however, it only served to pull her anger down to a modest eight on the Richter scale.

She took another swig. How to get her revenge? Spreading rumours at school as he'd done to her – at least indirectly – had a sense of poetic justice to it, but she wasn't feeling too poetic at the moment. It just wasn't enough; Besides, it wouldn't work. She hadn't any dirt on him except what they'd done together, and he obviously didn't care about that getting out. No, spreading a bit of gossip wasn't nearly going to make up for what he'd done - she wanted so much more than that, and she couldn't afford to wait until tomorrow before she did anything. The rage high that was keeping her burning wouldn't last forever, and she didn't want to wimp out as she might do once it had gone. So then... straight violence? Beating the living daylights out of him... she grinned slightly. That had a straightforward simplicity she could appreciate... but too simple.

She ground her teeth together and snarled. What to do?

Footsteps sounded on the stairs in the hall, and a moment later Alice appeared at the door, sisterly concern etched on her features. "Hey." She greeted as she sauntered in and leaned casually against the worktop. "Anything you want to talk about?"

Uriko took a breath, precursor to delivering an incendiary rant about Kenji, but hesitated. "Well... not really." She let out an irritated sigh; much as she wanted to take off his head to anyone who'd listen, if Alice found out about what they'd done together it'd make Uriko's own rage look like a kiddie's tantrum compared to the blistering she'd receive. And that prospect only made her even more pissed off - knowing that her sister still thought of her as a kid. She wasn't a damn child any more, she knew about STD's and pregnancy and all that, they'd taken precautions – she knew what she was doing, for Christ's sake!

Alice's eyebrow arched as she read the mounting pressure behind Uriko's eyes. "Oooo-kay," she said. "One of those situations, then." She thought for a moment, then continued. "If you don't want to talk about it that's fine, but I'm thinking... boy trouble?"

Uriko barked a humourless laugh. "You might say that." She'd long ago ceased being impressed by Alice's ability to read her mind – Uriko herself was useless at gauging moods. Just so long as she couldn't read any deeper.

"Ah. What happened?" Alice continued; when Uriko remained stoically silent, she sighed. "Well, fair enough. I'll leave you to it, then." She pushed herself off the worktop and smiled reassuringly to her sister. "I'll be upstairs if you need me..." She headed for the door, then paused and turned back. "Umm, you know, if it's any help... I'd say it's probably best to tackle your problem head-on, get it sorted as soon as possible, you know? Brooding never helps, you know – especially where relationships are concerned."

Uriko blinked. "Umm, yeah," she replied, a sudden smile breaking out across her face as a plan occurred to her – so obvious. Why hadn't she thought of it before? "Thanks, sis. I think I will."

Alice smiled and left. As she climbed the stairs, however, a slight frown rippled across her features; she hadn't liked the look of that smile...

Had she stayed, she'd have liked it even less. As Uriko contemplated her plan it grew, until she was grinning from ear to ear, and there was nothing humorous in her expression. It was the gleaming, purring smile of the cat who can see it's prey running into a dead end, a smile that sent mice and men scrambling in silent terror for escape.

She'd dismissed it as... well, because it was the wrong way to go about it. But why not tackle her problem head on?

With as much force as she could muster. Corner him and kick the crap out of him...

Her fist tightened around the milk carton at the thought and crushed it contemptuously. White blood spilled through her fingers and trickled slowly down her arm. She blinked as the cold sensation pierced her thoughts and glanced to the floor, muttering a curse as she saw milk – that precious elixir - pooling around her trainers. Damnation. Milk just shouldn't be wasted like that - it bordered on a capital crime in her book. She grabbed a towel and threw it over the offending puddle, trying to quiet the more unscrupulous feline voices that were telling her, well, so what if it's on the floor? She wasn't quite that catlike, thank you very much.

But now she was really pissed – Not satisfied with bragging, now Kenji'd gone and made her spill milk. There was no turning back after that.

Sauntering over to the wall-mounted phone, she lifted the receiver and struck the auto-dial button labeled 'Yugo/Kenji'. A few purring rings sounded, then a click as someone answered on the other side. "Hello?"

"Oh, hey, Yugo!" Uriko greeted brightly, her voice abuzz with finely-crafted levity. "How's things?"

"Ah, hi 'Riko!" Yugo replied – his voice was light-toned, just your average twenty-something speech, if you didn't count the slight hint of lupine in the back of the throat; a flicker of a growl that most people who didn't know him took for irritation, or perhaps even a threat. "Yeah, I'm fine, thanks. I take it you're after Kenji?"

You don't know the half of it. "Yeah, I'm after him, all right. Could you put him on?"

"Sure thing." There was a muffled shout of "Hey, mole-boy! It's your girlfriend!" – Uriko's fist clenched around the telephone receiver – followed by a rapid thudding of someone running down stairs. Then –

"Oh, hey, Uriko! How are you?"

And suddenly the receiver was falling from Uriko's hand as she lost her grip and collapsed against the wall, shaking uncontrollably as a fresh tide of grief wailed it's way up through her system. His voice, her voice, the voice of her friend, her carer, her lover... that boy was dead. And the voice on the line was everything in her life that had any meaning left, everything she had lost, and the voice of his murderer... She stuffed the trailing sleeves of her kuyata into her mouth as a tearing sob threatened to escape her and squeezed her eyes shut against the pinpricking of tears until blue stars flashed in her vision. I'm not going to cry, she chanted in her mind, I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry...

Gradually, the prickling disappeared. Gradually, her breathing slowed. Her body relaxed. She slowly pulled her hands from her mouth and looked down to stare at the telephone receiver, swinging lazily on the end of the cord a few inches above the floor. Like a gallows corpse in the wind. A tinny voice sounded from the earpiece... almost like those horror movies, she thought absently, where the girl's parent / lover rings and she leaves the phone swinging as she runs panicking from the murderer...

"Uriko? Hello? Are you there? Uriko?"

She stared down at the mouthpiece in nervousness – and, yes, fear. She was afraid. Could she stand to hear that voice again? Could she talk to him without breaking? How could she bear to hear that again? The voice of a dead friend?


You have to, a voice within her replied quietly. You have to, or you'll never get your revenge...

At that, something inside her hardened, and she nodded resolutely. Of course I have to, she thought to herself, her anger rising. It's not the voice of a dead friend – that friend never existed, did it? It's the voice of a con. A murderer, a cheat, a liar.

The last traces of fear dissolved in the acid pit of her bubbling anger, and she strode forwards and snatched up the phone receiver, disgusted at herself. How could she be so weak as to break down like that?

"Hey, Kenji!" She replied, laying on the false cheeriness in her voice. She was an excellent actor – even she couldn't have seen that she was anything but cheery if she'd been watching. Don't let him suspect...

"Ah, 'Riko!" Kenji's voice answered. "I was beginning to worry for a moment. Where did you disappear to?"

"Umm, well..." She weaved an embarrassed tone into her reply, "I sorta dropped the receiver."

"Dropped it? Still the clumsy kitten, I see." Kenji laughed. Uriko hissed under her breath as her anger rose again: Don't you dare call me that, you double-crossing bastard. But she willed herself back into calm, and forced herself to laugh sheepishly.

"Yeah, I know. I was just swatting at a fly and I got kinda... enthusiastic. Damned irritating things."

"True indeed." Kenji agreed. "So, are you doing anything tonight? There seems to be a new film on at the downtown cinema we could go to see, if you're not too busy that is."

"Say, I've got a better idea," Uriko replied, "You know that old alley near the train station? The place we used for training a while back? D'you think we could meet up there?"

"Huh?" Kenji responded, a hint of confusion apparent in his voice. "Umm, well, sure, 'Riko, but... what for? If you're planning on training there's far better places, you know..."

She smiled to herself. "I know. But..." she lowered her voice and purred seductively into the mouthpiece. "It's... secluded. And I've got some special training in mind. Very... physical training, mole-boy. Get me?"

She half wondered whether she'd been too subtle – to anyone else such a comment would have been just short of shouting distance from ripping her clothes off right there in front of them, but Kenji, for all his sharp wit in school and battle, was slower on the uptake than a shopping-centre lift when it came to suggestive innuendo. But he caught it. And she could tell because, bless the little innocent that he was, he got all embarrassed.

"W-wha? Um, ah, eh, I uh -" Uriko grinned: she could practically feel the heat of his blush through the receiver. "I'll be waiting for you," she cooed softly. "Don't take too long, okay? 'Cause I'm really desperate to get started..."

"U-umm... s-sure thing, I'll, umm, I'll be there..."

It said a lot for his nervousness when he could stutter an 'umm', she thought absently. "See you there, then, mole-boy," she breathed, every nuance oozing with a sexuality she was far from feeling, "Twenty minutes, okay? Make sure you're there..." Without waiting for an answer she hung up the phone.

A sudden savage hiss of breath sounded through clenched teeth as the rage she'd kept bottled up throughout the conversation strived to escape, her hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically. Innocent boy? Yeah, right. No innocent boy went round bragging to all and sundry about his sexual achievements. That was a hell of an act he could put on. Was he even now rushing upstairs to his journal? "Dear diary: Hey, guess what? I'm gonna score a second time tonight!"

Damn it, how long had he been fooling her? Had their entire friendship been a con? Had all that just been an elaborate plot to bed her?

Umm, you know, I don't wanna be a prude or anything, Uriko's inner voice sounded, But how do you know it isn't an act? I mean, it was really, really convincing... and the evidence from Ben is a little, umm, circumstantial, if you know what I mean. I mean, a bit of a twitch isn't tantamount to anything, is it?

Uriko blinked as a tiny blossom of hope unfolded; but then shook her head sadly. No, she thought, a bit of a twitch mounted up to a lot; if there really had been nothing he'd have had no reason to get so embarrassed. He'd just have asked what the heck she was on about, but he'd already known, hadn't he?

She glanced at the clock. Eighteen minutes until she was supposed to meet Kenji in the alley. The trap was set: now she just had to get there. She turned and headed for the door, pausing briefly at the foot of the stairs. "I'm goin' out for a while," she yelled up to her sister, "I'll be back before dinner, okay?"

"Sure thing," Alice's reply floated down. "Where're you off to? Going to see that new film? I hear it's a kicker."

"No," she called back, "I'm gonna go kick some arse. See you later!" She was out of the door and gone before Alice could ask her what the hell she was on about.