El Goonish Shive: Uncertain Future
by Christy "Dame Helen" McFarland
DISCLAIMER: El Goonish Shive is property of Dan Shive, and is used here without permission. No money is being made from this work.
Susan found herself stirring from a fitful sleep and for a moment didn't realize where she was, as usual. This was probably why she was generally so surly most of the time, as an adrenaline rush every morning tends to grate on one's nerves. Once again, as usual, she was in her own bed. Grumpy already, she thought, That has to be a new record, even for me.
She felt a body stir in her arms and realized that not only was she in her own bed, she was next to her part-time husband, part-time wife, Justin. With a slight smile, Susan ran her palm over the smooth female flesh of her spouse to the bulge in the other woman's stomach. To say that she never expected this when she was a little girl would be a pretty big understatement. When little girls dream of their married life, they think of a handsome Prince Charming carrying them off to have lots of perfect children and a white picket fence and all that. Being the Prince just wasn't in her plans, but then, she wouldn't trade her child, now growing in her husband-turned-wife's belly, for anything, let alone for some childhood dream that was shattered when her father cheated on her mother.
Gently, so as not to wake Justin, Susan disentangled her arm from under the sleeping woman's body and quietly slid out of bed. She glanced at the clock and saw a glowing green "1:30 AM" staring back at her. Sighing, knowing she wouldn't get any sleep until she figured out what had woken her, she grabbed her bathrobe off the chair next to her desk to cover her bare chest. The problem with going to bed transformed was that she would change back in the middle of the night, but her husband loved being held in masculine arms, especially when he was female. Her transformation belt hit the carpeted floor with a thump. Silently thankful that they didn't stick with the hardwood floors the apartment came with, Susan picked up the belt and draped it over the back of the chair again. Susan would have just worn it to bed, as she could sleep in just about any clothing and it held the transformation longer than the hard-programmed limit of one hour, but Justin had said the buckle woke him up at night. Susan had taken to waking up before Justin and using the belt just to see his face when he woke up to his "husband," it was a smile that put the stars out of work. This interruption in her night's sleep was way too early for that, though.
She adjusted the waistband of her pajama bottoms, slid the robe over her bare chest, and stepped out into the hallway. Almost immediately she stepped on a quill. Curses of "Stupid cat!" were spouted as she knelt down to twitch the quill out without further injuring herself on the quill's barb, a move that she had come to perfect over the years. She had gotten used to the quills, but that didn't mean they hurt any less. Grumbling, she headed for the kitchen, tossing the quill into the trash as she went by it, and grabbed a glass for water.
She was just about to pull the tab for the filtered water tap when she heard a sort of sniffling moan. Pausing in her action, she looked out over the kitchen counter into the great room. She could make out a form tossing and turning on the couch. She put her glass on the counter and went into the great room and knelt down next to the couch. Junior paced up the length of the back of the couch, looking down at the woman there with feline concern. "Hey, Junior," whispered Susan, "She's got you up too, huh?"
Nanase was crying in her sleep. Occasionally she would whimper, "Don't take the kiss back," or, "I'll drown!" Not being one to overanalyze without all the information, Susan reached out and shook Nanase, "Hey, Red, wake up. You're keeping the cat awake."
Gasping, Nanase snatched at Susan's arm, nearly bruising her. Damn, thought Susan, I keep forgetting she still works out more than most professional trainers. "Ellen!" Nanase gasped out.
"Heh, sorry. My tastes are more for blonds."
Nanase's eyes slowly focused on Susan. "Oh, sorry," she said, "I..."
"Was having a bad dream? Yes, you woke up me and Junior." She indicated the cat/hedgehog/whatever that was presently peering down at Nanase.
Nanase reached up and scratched the cat-monster on the chin. "Sorry, kitten," she said, "Aunty is just having nightmares again. You can stop worrying about me." Junior purred as Nanase's magic and ki strengthened nails dug through his heavy coat of wiry fur to his skin.
"The cat," Susan said, "May be able to stop worrying that easily, but I can't. This is, what, four nights in a row now? My couch is open, but you're waking me up and I've got a pregnant woman to take care of, in addition to a job."
Nanase's face took an appropriately chastened look as her scratching of Junior slowed slightly. Junior, in protest, pushed his head against the redhead's hand until she worked her scratching back up to Junior approved levels. "I...I'm sorry."
"You want to talk about them?"
"The nightmares?" at Susan's nod, she said, "I suppose."
Susan lifted herself off the floor and sat down in the nearby recliner. She knew from experience that it could take a while for Nanase to get to the heart of whatever her problem was. She was glad that Nanase was finally willing to talk. When the woman had showed up on the Tolkienberry doorstep nearly a week ago in tears and with a suitcase, Susan and Justin had attempted to prod information from her, but the redhead wouldn't talk about whatever the problem was. Susan knew that for Ellen to have turned out Nanase, it must have been pretty bad. Ellen had so many demons in her past that Nanase, Elliot, Sarah, hell, the whole crew had put up with to varying degrees, so Ellen was more forgiving of the other's foibles than some priests.
Nanase sat up and Junior hopped into her lap. With a shuddering breath, Nanase calmed herself enough to speak. "You remember the incident with Damien?" It was a rhetorical question. Nobody in the original crew, or O.C. as it came to be known, could forget the Damien episode. "Well, around that time, I started having these dreams." Nanase's petting of Junior took an automatic pace as her eyes became unfocussed, playing back the dreams in her own mind. "I would be underwater, in the ocean. Deep underwater. I could see the surface, but I couldn't swim hard enough to reach it. Then, as I was starting to lose strength in my arms, I would see Ellen. She was a mermaid. She was..." Nanase paused, collecting another shuddering breath and losing a tear down her cheek, "She was beautiful. She swam up to me and..." Nanase's free hand went up to her mouth, gently brushing her lips with the tips of her fingers. Susan knew how the sentence ended. She had caught herself performing the same maneuver in quiet, unguarded moments when she would think about Justin and herself kissing. Nanase cleared her throat and continued, "Suddenly, I could breath! It was the most incredible thing, I wasn't drowning, even though I was underwater. Then, I noticed that I had turned into a mermaid, too. Then, we would swim off together, and..." Nanase swallowed. "The last few nights, though, I've been dreaming that I'm swimming along as a mermaid, looking for Ellen. I'll find Ellen, but she's always angry with me. It's then I realize that to get to her, I have to swim through water with some hungry sharks. The sharks scare me so much that I can't go on. Then Ellen says something about not trusting me and I feel my fins turn into legs, and my lungs start to fill with water and I can't breath it..." Nanase started to silently cry again.
Susan thought about what Nanase said for a bit. In spite of years of separation, implanted memories, and unique experiences, Ellen was still essentially Elliot in a girl's body. Sure, she was more comfortable with the female form than Elliot, but she was still aggressive, sometimes overbearing, and also rather demanding of how those around her should act. It was thanks to this similarity that Susan could take a look at another relationship to see where the problems with this one lay without being terribly off.
Sarah and Elliot had gotten into a few spats in the past, mostly about the proper way to raise their two kids. Elliot wanted the boys to charge into fights and take out the "bad guy," and Sarah was adamantly against the practice and would worry constantly about the boys getting hurt. This had something to do with the fact that the boys could, like their father, change into both anthrofelines and girls at will, and were a whole lot more comfortable with it than Elliot. Sarah was worried that the boys would "go girl" at the wrong time and lose whatever strength advantage they might have and then...
Elliot had the same concerns, of course, but his philosophy was substantially different, in that the more combat experience the boys got, the less likely they would lose at the worst time.
With Elliot, it was all about courage to face the challenge. It was the same with Ellen.
"So," said Susan, breaking the silence, "I take it that you haven't told your mother about your choice in life partner yet?"
Nanase didn't react at first. She probably knew that Susan could guess what the latest round of fights was about based on just the nightmare. Junior had by this time started the steady breathing of a cat that was just asleep enough to not worry about being petted, and so didn't notice when Nanase stopped stroking him and used both hands to wipe the tears off her face. She shook her head in the negative and stayed quiet.
They sat in silence for a while, Susan's mother's grandfather clock ticking away in the corner. After a few minutes, Susan spoke up. "Did I ever tell you about the time I introduced my mother to Justin as my fiance?"
Nanase looked up, slightly startled by this change of topic. "No, I don't think you ever did."
"Well, I don't think you were there when she first met him. You remember the party where we watched movies all night for the first time? Ellen threatened to skinnydip in the pool."
For the first time in nearly a week, Nanase smiled warmly. "She pretended to sleep on the TV."
Susan raised an eyebrow, "Really? I never knew that."
"Well, when you reacted the way you did when we sat on your kitchen counter, I figured it was best you not know."
Susan chuckled slightly. "Well, anyway, while you two were assaulting my home, I was telling Mom that a boy was staying over for the night. I told her Justin was gay, and she was OK with him staying at that point."
"What about it?"
"I didn't know he was gay at the time."
This revalation took a moment to sink in, then Nanase started snickering. "So..."
"Yes, yes, Justin loves teasing me about it. Moving on..." Susan waved her hand as if to clear the air. "Well, imagine her surprise that her daughters gay friend who's been over several times for movie nights is suddenly her daughter's fiance. Imagine further, if you will, her overhearing talk about having children together. It's one thing for a gay man to marry a woman as a 'beard,' but..."
"...I sometimes forget that you're not as actively gay as Justin. The term 'beard' is used for the companion of a closetted gay person. For instance, if a gay boy is afraid that his homosexuality is going to be a problem with his parents, he'll get a 'girlfriend' who knows he's gay and willingly goes along with the charade. Mom expected that I was going to be Justin's 'beard' and he would be mine. Remember, she wanted me to be a lesbian to 'spare me' the trauma of being betrayed by a man."
"You were kind of thinking the same thing, if I recall right." said Nanase with a smile.
Susan smiled back, "Yes, and people change. For instance, I never thought that I'd ever want to be with a man after what my Dad did to my Mom and me, but then I go and fall in love with Justin, and he, by some miracle, falls in love with me."
"I gotta say," interjected Nanase, "I don't think anyone in the O.C. saw that coming."
Susan hummed in agreement. "Well, when Mom overheard us talking about actually having kids together and she flipped. She barged into my room and started yelling at me about ruining everything she had worked for, about being weak and a fool, and accusing Justin of being just like Dad." It was Susan's turn to get a bit choked up. "I saw Justin's face...he looked like he'd been punched in the kidney. He knew what Dad had done and was sickened by the whole thing. I think it's the fact that Justin is attracted to men in the first place that got him so revolted at Dad's actions. Well, then I did something I thought I'd never do."
Susan paused for a moment, pondering what to say next. What she had done that evening was something she didn't like to recall. Not only was it totally out of character, the fear in her mother's eyes... "Well, I showed Mom some of the magic I had access to."
A heavy silence settled between the two. Nanase seemed to be processing what Susan said, thinking about the time and where their studies had taken them at that point. "Susan," she began, "Wasn't the magic you resorted to when you were angry at the time..."
"My sword." Susan finished the sentence for Nanase. "Before my mother could finish calling Justin a perverted bastard...I had my sword against her neck, I had pinned her against the wall. My anger was pushing extra energy into the sword to the point it was vibrating. Justin had to pull me off my mother." With a flick of her wrist, Susan summoned her sword. She showed the bladed edge to Nanase in the dim light. There was a small splotch of bloodstain halfway up the blade. "I could have made sure the blood disapeared next time I summoned it, but I need it there to remind me of that night that I almost lost control of my emotions. I almost killed my mother, Nanase, because I love Justin that much."
Susan dismissed the sword. Nanase continued staring at the spot where the bloodstain had been. After a moment, Susan continued. "Mom left the room for a bit, Justin calmed me down and then went to check on her. Turns out she had fainted from shock when she got to the downstairs living room. He cleaned her up and carried her back to her room, then waited for her to wake up. By that time my magic had exhausted me. In my anger I had summoned too much mana for the job and had wiped out my resources, so I wound up crying myself to sleep. I found out later that Justin and Mom had talked for a long time when Mom came to. He explained what he knew of my magic, how we met, the O.C., Grace, the TFGun... to say mom was a bit shellshocked... Anyway, by the time I woke up in the morning, they were starting out as good friends."
"And when Justing got pregnent..."
"Well," smiled Susan, "He's now an honerary woman, so he's the perfect spouse in her eyes now. It doesn't hurt that he knows how to keep house and do hair. She was ecstatic when he proved what he was capable of after he went to cosmetology school."
They sat in silence again, the clock ticking away, then gently chiming out the second hour after midnight. Junior stirred at the muted sound and decided to hop off of Nanase's lap and wander into the kitchen. After a moment, they heard the crunching of a cat chewing on dry cat food. A couple of minutes later, Susan stood up and made sure her robe was gathered properly.
"So you're saying I should tell my mother?"
"I'm saying that introducing Justin to my mother was almost a disaster but turned out great. I have no idea how your mother will take it."
"So what should I do?"
Susan stood in the darkened living room, examining Nanase closely. "Ellen is upset that you won't confront your mother?"
Nanase seemed to fold up on herself again. "Yes," she mumbled after a moment's hesitation.
"You love Ellen?"
Nanase straightened up her neck and looked Susan in the eyes, "Yes."
Susan paused again, then said, "You don't need me to tell you what to do then."
With that, Susan stopped briefly in the kitchen for her glass of water and went to bed.
To be continued...