This story is set in February of 2018.
"I'm just a bit puzzled why Jonas is not terrified of Bent-Tail."
"You're talking about someone who has spent the past fifty years being not intimidating," said How.
"Oh," said Tina, in revelation. "Right. Like the way cats and dogs just walk right up to him, when most shapeshifters - even kitsune - scare them away."
"Yeah. That's one reason he's so good with kids. That practiced mild demeanor puts them at ease."
"Not to mention he can be so childlike when he wants to."
The doorbell rang.
"Wonder what Mrs. Hallston wants..." said Tina, peering out the window.
"Well, that's my cue to head back to work."
"Oh, before I forget; your agent has arranged for a showing and sale at Rinton's first Saturday of next month."
"Great!" said How. He gave her a quick kiss. "I'm in love with my business manager!"
Tina laughed as he sashayed off, then went to answer the door.
Turned out their neighbor wanted to talk about a yard sale, given how nice the weather was lately. Then she launched into a long monologue about how mild the Winter had been and how early Spring was arriving this year. Tina managed to break in long enough to explain that they had cleaned out everything which might be appropriate for such a social event before moving in a few months before. Mrs. Hallston was about to reply when they both spotted Tina's youngest in the doorway to the living room, obviously wanting something but politely waiting instead of interrupting.
"Momma," said Thurla, from the hall, not quite entering. "Can I have some milk?"
"Of course, dear," said Tina. "Get Ginger to help you."
"Oh, how darling," said Muriel, all but cooing, as the baby kitsune toddled off. "Is that some sort of sleeper?"
Tina didn't realize until then that Thurla was in her trueform, complete with fox ears and multiple tails.
"Uh, yes," said Tina, thinking quickly. She nodded and smiled. "She won't sleep any other way."
"Kids and their phases," said Muriel, laughing.
* * *
"I guess it's true what Bent-Tail says," said Tina, stretching and yawning as she lay down beside her husband that evening. "Most people are so mentally inflexible, so reluctant to even admit that reality doesn't meet their preconceptions, they just gloss over anything odd or unusual."
"Then fill in the blanks with the first thing which seems to fit," said How, nodding. He yawned, too, and reached over to put a hand on Tina's left breast. "Mmmmm... so glad this room is soundproofed."
"I still worry that Thurla and I both were so careless."
"You covered it well."
"Yeah, but... what about next time? Thurla just isn't old enough, yet, to reliably conceal her true self from those who shouldn't know."
"I'm actually thinking about just coming out of the closet," said How, quietly, as he played with her breast. "Seriously. A number of supernaturals have, even some vampires. Yeah, they've had problems with bigots and jerks and occasionally even the law, but they no longer have to worry about keeping hidden. It about balances out."
"That is tempting," sighed Tina, getting into the foreplay and not sure if she meant what he suggested or what he was doing to her.
"Would you be willing to live openly among humans?" said How, quietly.
"Hon, I am a human, remember?"
"You know what I mean. Once the kids are old enough..."
"Assuming we don't have any more," said Tina, giggling as she rolled onto her husband.
* * *
"And you keep saying I'm imagining things," said Mr. Hallston, after his wife innocently related the anecdote about Thurla and her foxy "sleeper."
"Oh, Harold, stop it," said Mrs. Hallston. "This is exactly what I'm talking about. You see something with an innocent and normal explanation and you go all X-Files."
"How can you be so blind..." said Mr. Hallston, sadly.
* * *
The next day How and Tina were a bit more serious, as they met with Lisa Dawnwind and Joyce Jones to discuss the problem with Jonas.
"I'm half-wondering if he should just go feral," said Lisa, though her tone was reluctant.
"Wait. You mean just go off and live outside human society," said Tina, feeling chilled by the idea, "out in the woods, like a wild kitsune?!"
"I don't like the idea, but it's not such a bad thing - two of my own children did that, remember. It might be best for him."
"The few times he's been in the wild he hasn't shown any particular attraction to it," said How, firmly.
"I don't think we should give up on socializing him, yet," said Joyce. "I've been working with Gillian on some ideas. You know how good she is with kids; it's just that she didn't think to apply that talent to her brother until I suggested it."
"If she can help him, great," said Lisa. "But I'm not holding out a lot of hope he can become a social creature. I remember how much trouble I had..."
* * *
Mr. Hallston approached the tall hedge between his yard and the Metus' cautiously, moving slowly and staying crouched to keep his head out of sight. He stopped at a thin spot and carefully spread the shrub to get a look. Sure enough, there was the little monster, playing in the side yard. She looked so human... but only to most people. But he knew, could see...
He suddenly became aware of a shadow falling over him. Puzzled, he turned and looked up.
"Can I help you, Mr. Hallston?" said Tina, her tone belying the mildness of her words.
"Just... just making sure she wasn't in any trouble," said the older man, his voice cracking, as he quickly stood.
"You keep away from my daughter," said Tina, manner quite threatening.
"I... I'll call the police!"
"If I catch you stalking my daughter again you'll wish I'd called the police!" said Tina.
She turned and stormed off, leaving the older man sweating nervously.
* * *
She couldn't tell How; he was busy getting ready for the show. Besides, he'd either shrug it off or go ballistic. Instead, she called her biggest friend.
"...and this isn't the first time," she said, still angry. "At first I chalked up to the natural curiosity, since we're new here, but he kept doing it so I started watching for him whenever the kids were outside. Today's the first time I've actually confronted him, though."
"Call the cops now," said Bent-Tail. "Get it on the record. Make it a preemptive strike, in case he calls them later. And just hope he hasn't already called."
"If you don't, I will," said Bent-Tail, sternly. "I mean it, Tina. This isn't something you can let slide. Your child's safety comes ahead of the trouble this will cause, and ahead of keeping hidden, even if this risks outing my family, too. We're all old enough to take care of ourselves. Thurla isn't. Go. Call."
Tina sighed and nodded to herself. She hookflashed and dialed 911.
* * *
"I have every right to watch what goes on in my neighborhood!"
Tina had seen the police car roll up and carefully opened the closest window from the side, and now was listening from behind the curtain.
"Don't take that tone with me! I've called and complained about them and you people did nothing! One of them calls and you come right out!"
"I don't know anything about that," said the officer. "I..."
"You're damn right you don't! How the other people in this neighborhood can put up with having things like them living here is beyond me."
"According to the fair housing laws..."
"Which only apply to humans!" Mr. Hallston yelled, throwing his arms up.
Tina shivered, and not just from the cool breeze coming in the window. She'd been hoping he was just an ordinary bigot, hating How and the kids because of their Asian heritage and Tina because she was wife to the former and mother to the later. Now, though, she knew.
"They're all some sort of wolf monsters, with multiple tails! How can you not see that?!"
And now she was even more fearful. He could see their true natures! Tina, unable to stomach more, ran to How.
* * *
"We tend to assume that someone who can see the hidden aspects of the supernatural will have an accompanying high level of tolerance for - or even interest in - it," said Lisa, sighing. "I think this Mr. Hallston is strong evidence to the contrary."
"And with Exposure already a fact, people - at least some people - will believe him," said Bent-Tail, grimly.
"Most won't, though, cause they aren't perceptive in that way," said Joyce. "If they don't see it, it doesn't happen."
"But what do I do when he accuses me of having a daughter who isn't human?" said Tina.
"Say 'So what?!' and stare him down," said Bent-Tail, with a toothy grin which wasn't - wasn't meant to be - friendly.
"But if I do that when there are others around..."
"Hon, if they're good people they'll judge us by how we act and not how we look," said How, surprising her by taking that very un-foxlike position. "If they're really good people they won't judge us at all. And if they're not good people, who cares what they think?"
"And if Mr. Hallston talks to some tabloid paper or talk-show host?"
"We sue," said How. "There's plenty of precedent, even among celebrities, who are held to a different standards than we mere private citizens."
"And if it comes out that you and all our kids are kitsune?"
"Let it," said How, almost growling. Even Bent-Tail looked surprised. "The world has changed a lot in the past few years. If someone accuses any of us of being not human, we say 'Prove it!' then wait. If they produce evidence good enough to convince people we say 'So what? We pay our taxes, just like every other good citizen.'"
"You're greatly underestimating the trouble going public could cause," said Tina, frustrated. "Not just for us, but for all our friends, even those who don't know anything about the supernatural."
"Tina," said How, seriously, "it's the nature of my kind to be secretive, to stay hidden... yet even we know there are times to stand up, glare and say 'To Hell with you!'"
"Can we go through with this?" said Tina, having doubts but starting to come over. "Can we put not only our family, but our friends, through the sort of Hell going public would bring all of us?"
She looked around, but the others were staying deliberately quiet.
"You and I are both celebrities, in different ways," said How, shrugging. "But that's in our civilian IDs. Jackie and Jill are celebrities in their guises of Foxx and Wolfe. Most of the other supernaturals we know keep very private lives."
"You're not helping," said Tina, with a scowl.
"My suggestion is to ask them," said How. "Moondust, Teleomier... Bent-Tail can ask his clan and pack... we talk to as many as we can get into contact with. I'll handle the local fae."
"Why don't you handle the other shapechangers, too?"
"They like you better," said How, grinning. "Or, rather, some like you better, and others have more respect for you. I can't think of any we'ôre on speaking terms with who wouldn't at least listen seriously to you. With me..."
He shrugged, and Tina had to admit he had a point.
"Just be sure," said Bent-Tail, carefully, "That you make the point you won't do this unless forced to by outside revelation."
* * *
When Tina was having trouble she usually saw it as a good reason to run. She was doing a lot of running, lately. Tina wasn't really used to human-style confrontation. Through most of her life her size, build and reputation had kept the bullies away. Her manners had kept her out of confrontations with most other humans, and most supernaturals. Also, with supernaturals the situation was usually much more direct and open, and she either just put up with whatever trouble they caused as not being worth the effort, or dealt with it directly. This situation, where she was torn between ignoring the problem causer and hoping he would go away, selecting the supernatural option of influencing his behavior with magic, or trying to deal with him openly through human societal mechanisms, left her at a loss.
The supernaturals she had queried were little help. Most of those she had spoken to about the situation had either recommended "adjusting" Mr. Hallston or simply ignoring him, and either way not worrying about the results unless they became a problem afterwards. They did promise to support her decision. Which didn't help her all that much.
She was almost home, when the subject of her rumination startled her by stepping into her path, looking angry. Mr. Hallston threw his arms wide, obviously wanting her to stop, but not obviously meaning any harm. That caught her off balance, and instead of darting around him she did stop.
"Doesn't it bother you that your daughter is a freak?!" demanded Hallston, accusingly.
Tina had been taught both aggression and control by her coach father. Which is why Hallston found himself being held with his feet off the ground, rather than waking up in a hospital... if at all.
"My daughter," said Tina, voice as tight as her grip on the man's shirt, "is a kitsune. Not a freak."
She literally tossed him away from her, causing him to land awkwardly on his back in the lush grass of his front lawn. She stared at him for a moment, perhaps contemplating further mayhem. Then she turned and walked the rest of the way home in a very deliberate fashion.
* * *
Lady Jun shook her head in wonder. Notice of the dilemma How and Tina faced had reached them directly from How. Who had given the basics and then requested they get the details from Tina. It was a mark of the respect Lady Jun had gained for Tina these past few years that she had not only done so, but treated the young human politely and offered sympathy and aide. Only now she was beginning to worry that the only aid which her kind would offer would not be what the young woman wanted.
"By Inari, those two... a four-Tail brown kitsune and a human who have brought two five-Tails, a four-Tail and a white eight-Tail into this world..."
"An eight-Tail who had to be reduced to seven while still a child," Shiro pointed out. "Also, How should be at least a five-Tail himself, except he has irritated some European oni."
"But still, it is rare even for a kitsune couple to have more than one child, though those are always one of us, but usually with only a single tail. They have four, and they are all multi-Tail!"
"That is extraordinary," Shiro agreed. "However, just because they are extraordinary does not mean they are wiser than us. No. I think we should handle this as we have always handled threats of revelation. If it isn't already too late."
"I believe it is too late," said Jun, surprising herself with that evaluation. "Not because of anything How and Tina have done - or not done - but because Exposure is already a fact. The world has come to accept the existence of the supernatural."
"Which does not mean we should allow the humans to become aware of us as individuals," said Shiro, pointedly. "Even if that is what some are willing to do for themselves, it endangers us all. Therefore, all who are potentially affected must have a say in the matter. And our say will bear the authority of Inari."
* * *
"Jill? I'm goin' to th' store for some stuff," Jonas called out, from the top of the basement steps.
"Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?"
"That's silly," the boy laughed.
"No, that's narrowing it down," said Jill. "Just counting contents and not whatever packaging it might have, is what you're going for made of metal or paper, is it food, or what?"
"It's not food," said Jonas.
"Is it entertainment?"
"Uh..." He actually had to think about it. Then he nodded, grinning. "Yeah!"
He nodded eagerly.
"Then why didn't you tell me you were going for comic books?"
"What are you going to the grocery for?"
"Comic books!" he cried, triumphantly.
"That's fine. Come straight back home, and don't read them until you get here."
"You're really good with him," said Jackie, impressed, as the boy hurried off. "He's not only communicating better than before, he's actually friendlier."
"Hey, I'm the older sister. Plus, I've had all that experience with the kids at the daycare center, my other siblings, and all those classes."
"I'm surprised you allow him to read comic books, though," said Jackie.
"Hey, they're great for this purpose," said Jill. "The images are something he immediately understands, and they support the meaning of the words, making them easier for him to understand. And he enjoys the stories, so it's easy to get him to read them."
"You still set on being a teacher?"
"Well, of course," said Jill, grinning. "You know how much I like showing off my great store of knowledge!"
"So how is that TA job working?"
"Honestly," said the myobu, blowing a lock of white hair out of her face in an expression of exasperation. "Some of those kids make Jonas look eloquent. They don't listen most of the time, and when they do they don't understand, and when I ask what they don't understand they can't explain it! They're not illiterate, they're incoherent! If I see one more example like 'The car lost it's breaks' or 'That's they're property' or 'all the folk's stopped' or 'stay on coarse' or 'peaked interest' or 'shear courage' or 'baited breath' or 'your not going anywhere' or 'wrecking havoc' I'm going to scream!"
"That is pretty bad," said Jackie, smirking, as her friend recovered from working herself up to a near-frenzy.
They were sitting on the floor in the basement den of the Metu home, supposedly watching a movie but actually just having some girl time. Part of the purpose of which was airing grievances. Just now, Jill had the floor. After calming a bit, she resumed.
"I swear, one boy doesn't even know how to work a stapler! His papers kept coming in with one leg of the staple dangling in the air, off the paper, and the other leg barely bent. When I tried to explain how to properly use a stapler he got mad and yelled 'You're not my boss!' When I told him that, as his teacher, I was his boss and had both a right and a responsibility to set standards for his work, he became so angry I thought I was going to have to magic him! I finally just changed the standard to paper clips for the whole class. Those he can manage!"
"My Dad would nod sagely at this point and mutter something about the 'blameless society' and 'belligerent stupidity,'" said Jackie. "He keeps saying that the average effective IQ on the planet has gone down thirty points since he graduated college, and that it's all due to social tolerances relaxing in the mistaken belief that such a lowering of standards was a part of multiculturalism, which itself is necessary, but separate from this."
"I try making jokes out of this stuff, hoping that will get through to them," said Jill, groaning. "Y'know, 'an apostrophe is not a warning that there's an ess coming' and the like. They just stare at me. Even if these were high school students these mistakes would be puzzling, but these are college freshmen and sophomores!"
"Easy, girl!" said Jackie, laughing. "You're getting all furry! Someone might think you're a werefox, instead of a kitsune."
Jill calmed herself, smoothing both fur and dress in a dignified way which was apparently meant to imply she had intended to change.
"Anyway, Lisa, Bent-Tail and I worked out how to get through to Jonas," said Jill. "You have to get him used to thinking about what he says and what others say, since it's not natural for him to parse speech in the human manner."
"Some potent jargon, there."
"Yeah, but it's appropriate jargon. And the methodology seems to be working. Even Mom is getting through to him more, these days."
"Uh-oh; speaking of your Mom, I think I hear your parents returning from that meeting with the local fey council. That means she'll be wanting to run, soon."
"Which means you'll be having your tail dragging, soon," said Jill, snickering. "Trust me; I've run with her and it's no picnic."
* * *
Given that Tina had been accosted twice in recent months - once by a pair of vampires, and once by an obnoxious neighbor - and that she was considered an ally by the local Fey, those worthies had decided that she should no longer run alone, at least for the near term. Of course, they hadn't bothered assigning an escort; but simply declared that she must have one. And left the rest up to her and her friends.
There had actually been no dearth of volunteers. Tina was well-liked, and many Fey were rather athletic themselves. Today, though, was the first time Jackie had been "volunteered" for the duty. By her father. Who had stated plainly that the experience would be good for her. And it was never a good sign when Bent-Tail recommended something as a learning experience or character building, and worse when he declared it would be both.
Tina, irritated that someone would assign her an escort, rather than politely offering one for extra protection, took a while to notice that said escort was lagging. She looked back over her shoulder, puzzled, at Jackie, who was breathing hard and obviously struggling to keep up.
"Maybe you'd do better in wolf form," said Tina, unable to keep from smirking, just a bit. "It's dark enough for you to pass as a German Shepherd, or something."
"Wolves and humans are both cursorial hunters," the younger woman gasped. "I can do this..."
"We've only gone three klicks," said Tina, innocently.
Jackie made it to the corner bus shelter and collapsed, gasping. She was somewhat recovered by Tina's next pass and joined her again, but then had to stop after just one lap. She sat out two laps this time, then managed to join Tina for the last three and the trip back to the Metu Mansion.
"Sweet, crispy walnuts," moaned Jackie, not even making it inside, but trying for the porch swing and almost missing. "How do you do that?!"
"It's like the old joke," said Tina, smirking. "'How do I get to the Olympics?' 'Practice, practice, practice!' Proper technique is as important as physical conditioning."
Jackie just groaned and melodramatically slid out of the swing and onto the porch.
Mr. Hallston was standing on his front porch, watching them and scowling.
"That guy makes me nervous," said Jackie, as she let Tina help her back up into the swing.
"Just smile and wave," said Tina, quietly, as she followed her own advice. "And be glad that werewolves don't just disguise with magic, the way kitsune usually do, but actually change fully to human."
"There is that," said Jacking, not smiling in a friendly manner but managing a derisive grin.
"Mom, you've got a visitor," said Ginger, opening the door and leaning out to deliver the quiet message.
From the seven year old's tone Tina knew this was no ordinary guest. Sure enough, waiting patiently and elegantly on the living room couch was lady Jun.
"We need to speak."
* * *
"I am glad you told me that," said Jun, a bit later. "The fact that he used 'Tails,' plural, is significant."
"But I've always been able to see that How had more than one tail," said Tina, confused. "Well, since he found out what he really was, I mean. I'm not sure he even had tails before that, from the way I understand the process."
"Your perception doesn't surprise me in the least," said Lady Jun, as she gracefully set her tea cup back on the coffee table. "I am, however, surprised at this man's insight. It is no great feat for a perceptive human to catch some glimpse of the true features of one of us. Especially after long association. If you think back you may remember noting something physically unusual about your future husband even before his recall of his true nature. This man, however, has only casually known any of you for only a few months. Yet he has noted such significant factors as the multiple tails most of you have."
The kitsune's attitude towards Tina had changed notably in the years since they had first met. It didn't escape Tina's notice that Lady Jun had included her in with How and the kids when talking about tails. As if she weren't human, but a kitsune, herself, who happened to have no tails.
"So what do we do about him?" said Tina, with an uncomfortable feeling about what the Court of Inari wanted.
"The current situation is too unsettled to be allowed to continue," said Lady Jun. "We recommending altering his mind; gradually, so as to arouse no suspicion through a sudden change."
"That's... beyond what his offenses call for," said Tina, shifting uncomfortably. "The local Fey wouldn't allow that."
"I am not local Fey," said Lady Jun, coldly. "If you..."
"Mom! Come quick!" yelled Jonas, violating a lifetime of protocol training by not only interrupting the meeting but staying in human form. "They're hauling the crazy guy away in a straight jacket!"
"Jonas! Where are your manners?! And you know I've told you not to exaggerate like that!"
Tina rolled her eyes, then glanced uneasily over at Lady Jun. Who was already rising.
"If something has, indeed, happened with this man, I would like to see it."
The three of them - Lady Jun taking human form, something Tina had seen only rarely before - stepped out onto the Metu front porch. And saw Mr. Hallston being taken away by paramedics.
"I'll be damned," said Tina, faintly. "That does look like a straight jacket."
He was on a stretcher, and wrapped tightly in a light grey blanket. His eyes were glazed, and his head lolling. As the attendants lifted him into the back of their truck, however, he seemed to spot Tina, Lady Jun and Jonas. And stare, blankly, at them.
He kept staring, apparently even after he was loaded inside.
"That," said Lady Jun, as the ambulance drove away, "was unnerving."
"I'm going over to see what happened," said Tina. She looked at Jun. "Normally I wouldn't be nosy like this, but considering our history..."
"I understand," said Lady Jun, nodding.
"I'm goin' too!"
"I will stay here and entertain him until you return," said Jun, with a slight smile. Which immediately faded. "I suspect you will be a while."
Tina took a deep breath, then headed down her steps and across the grass to the end of the hedge. She could see Mrs. Hallston on her front porch, watching after the ambulance. She was holding a damp tissue to her lower face, and her eyes were red.
"Mrs. Hallston? Are you all right?" said Tina, as she came closer.
"I just don't know," the woman said, turning to Tina as the younger woman approached. "I just don't know. Harold swore up and down to me that he was taking his pills, but I caught him flushing one earlier, and we had a horrible row. The things he said! He told me he had to stop taking them because they kept him from seeing things as they really were, and then started in on how 'They' wanted him to take the pills, and, and..."
She broke down, sobbing. Tina hugged her and made comforting noises for a while, then took her inside the Hallston home.
* * *
"All this time, we thought he was just a jerk who happened to be unusually perceptive," said Bent-Tail, shaking his head, "when he was actually chemically imbalanced. We dodged a bullet. But I definitely don't like the way we did it."
"This pretty much solves our problem," said Tina. She corrected herself. "Our immediate problem. But I... feel so bad. I was hating the man, when he needed help."
"He had help," said Lisa, flatly. "He rejected it. Modern brain adjusters are safe and effective. Not perfect, but far better than they were even ten years ago."
After finally getting back from comforting Mrs. Hallston, Tina had begun making calls. Lady Jun had stayed, partly out of duty but also partly out of curiosity. Somehow, it had been decided by no-one in particular that everyone concerned would meet at Lord Teleomier's. Perhaps because, being used to hosting local Fey events, he had a large entertainment room big enough for the whole group. Jackie was there, but all the Metu children were home, Jill sitting the youngsters.
"I have to admit, I feel pretty bad, too," said How.
"Perhaps... This should serve as a lesson," said Lady Jun, as she sipped her tea. "For all of us. To try and consider cause and not merely effect before considering response."
"Good lesson," said Bent-Tail, nodding. "If you know why a man does something you don't like, you will have a better idea of what to do about it... or even whether you should do anything."
"That still leaves one question unanswered," said Joyce. She looked Tina and How in the eye, in turn. "What would you do if someone tried to out you?"
"As your husband said, you have to know the details of the situation before deciding," said How. "As happened here, it might not be necessary to do anything. It might be necessary to have a quiet talk. It might be necessary to just endure the situation. And it might be necessary to kill a particular bastard. There's just no way to know beforehand."
"Well, as Bent-Tail said, we dodged the bullet this time," said Tina. She gave a wry laugh. "Again, actually. We've come close before, remember. I'm pretty confident, after this, that we'll be better able to handle the next time."
"And there will be a next time," said Lisa, sourly.
This document is Copyright July 2006 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reprint this or post it on a Web page must get permission from the author, who can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org This specific page may be linked to without permission.