Tina was endurance training, running along a wooded road in southern Jefferson County, How accompanying her on a bike. The weather was moving towards Fall, but still warm enough that she had twice stopped to remove layers of clothing. Now she was comfortable, settling into a rhythm. The pavement sped by under Tina's feet, as she entered into a sort of moving meditation. This was what she loved best about exercise; the feel of her body moving, the sounds, sights and scents, flowing around and through her. She just let her mind empty, taking it all in without thinking about it. The whole experience was very zen. Perhaps this ability to empty her mind was why it had been so easy for her to learn How's lessons on how to see the unseen.
Unfortunately, her meditative state did not make her immune to the failings of mortal flesh.
"Cramp!" she yelped, slowing.
Tina tried to walk it out, but it got worse. She managed to hobble to a driveway, so they would be off the road, and stopped. How jumped from his bike and squatted beside her, rubbing where she pointed.
"Its not helping," gasped Tina. "This is a bad one."
"Yeah, I can feel it," muttered How. "Your thigh's knotted up like an old shoe lace. You need more calcium."
A few more minutes of massage didn't help, and Tina was starting to worry. A really bad cramp could actually tear the muscle, which would take a while to heal. How could see that she was concerned, and looked up at her.
"Okay, let me try something I've been practicing."
Before Tina could ask what he wanted to do, a feeling like warm water flowing over her skin spread along her thigh, relaxing the muscle. Within moments the cramp had released, and the pain was ebbing.
"Ummm, that feels good..." she sighed, eyes half closed.
"Any other problems?" asked How, sliding his hands along her leg. "How about here?"
"Ooohhh, no," purred Tina, with a laugh. "Uhm, How, as good as that feels, we shouldn't do this out in public."
"What public? There's nobody for miles."
"What about the people in that house?"
"That..." Tina stopped in confusion, as she turned to see that not only was there no house, but that what she had thought was a driveway was actually a wide, graveled patch on the shoulder. "I could have sworn..."
"Oh," said How, suddenly straightening.
"You mean there is something there?"
"Yeah. Its pretty well hidden, though."
Tina relaxed, breathing from her diaphragm, and let her eyes unfocus. It wasn't easy; first there was just woods, then the house flickered in, but as soon as she tried to look at it the woods came back. She shook her head.
"Yeah. Somebody wants their privacy."
How started walking up the hidden drive.
"Uh, How, do you think that's smart? I mean, remember what we've been taught. Fey can be mean if you intrude where they don't want you."
"Oh, come on," he chided, smiling. "We'll just go up and introduce ourselves. If we're not wanted, we'll leave."
Tina made an exasperated sound, then hurried after him. If there was trouble, How would most likely need her to get him out of it.
The kitsune simply walked up onto the front porch and knocked. Tina stepped beside him, standing close; this place made her nervous. How knocked again. Still no answer.
"Nobody home," he decided. He jumped off the side of the porch and started walking around the house.
"How! What are you doing?!"
"This place could be abandoned," How told her. "In that case, we need to report it to somebody."
"Or they could be out and due back any minute," Tina said. "Or they could have been taking a nap and not able to get to the door quickly. Or..."
"The owner could have been working in the orchard out back," said a new voice.
How gave a yip, flipped to fox form, and jumped for Tina's arms. Which was unfortunate, because Tina had spun around to face the source of the voice. How bounced off her back and onto the ground, then sat up, shaking his head, tails splayed out in disarray.
"I am Broderic," said the stranger, after giving How a bemused look. He might have almost smiled.
Tina slowly relaxed, her heartbeat returning to normal. The stranger was a big man, hairy with joined eyebrows, but he didn't seem hostile.
"I'm sorry if we disturbed you," she said. "I'm Tina Moore, and this is Howaya Metu."
"Good afternoon," said Broderic, nodding to the fox. There was definitely a very slight smile there. He turned back to Tina. "I seem to have startled your friend."
"He startles easily," said Tina, truthfully and with a bit of exasperation.
How suddenly popped back to his true form, complete with foxy ears and tails.
"Uh, nice to meet you," he announced, too loudly and quickly. He stood and tugged on Tina's arm. "We better get back to your roadwork before you get too cool."
Tina gave him a strange look, but allowed herself to be led quickly away, barely taking time to wave farewell to Broderic.
"Okay, now what was that all about?"she demanded, as How climbed onto his bike, still in a hurry.
"He's a Wilder," said How. "Did you notice his eyebrows? Well, just like Lord Teleomier has a cat affinity, and I'm a fox, he's a wolf. Only he's not a Pooka."
"You mean he's a werewolf?!" exclaimed Tina.
"Well, one type. They're a lot more serious than most Pookas, much more into their animal totem."
How started to peddle off, leaving Tina staring at his receding back for a moment before she chased after him.
* * *
"So is he dangerous?" asked Tina, as they ate supper at a small restaurant near campus that evening.
"Depends," said How, maddeningly vague.
There hadn't been much opportunity - or breath - for conversation during the rest of Tina's run, and since they were behind schedule thanks to the cramp and exploration, they had been been busy catching up with their separate agendas for a while afterwards. Finally, though, they had met for food as planned, and as soon as the waitress had taken their order Tina jumped in.
"Okay, let's try this track," said Tina, knowing better than to pursue the matter directly. "I assume you will tell Teleomier or Moondust about this. What will your Fey friends do about him?"
"Depends," said How. Seeing the thunder clouds growing behind Tina's eyes, he relented. "Well, there haven't been any reports of hideously mutilated and partially devoured joggers lately. Nor cattle nor pets, for that matter. So we can assume that he's not out of control. So if he isn't already known, someone will just make contact and maybe watch him for a while."
As they spoke, neither noticed the young man in a nearby booth watching them. Susumu Tekua was a Japanese student who found How baffling and a bit offensive. When they first met, he had been astounded to learn that the fellow was of Japanese descent. What sort of name was Howaya Metu, even for a nissei? It didn't help when How explained that his first name came from a Chinese grandfather, making him mixed blood. Even worse, How didn't know any of either of his ancestral tongues.
On the other hand, the gaijin Tina was fascinating. Susumu knew that it was largely the lure of the forbidden, but he still found the tall, strikingly handsome woman strangely alluring.
Tina looked up, checking to see if anyone was approaching; it wouldn't do to have their conversation overheard. She didn't notice Susumu, but her alertness made him wary. He leaned back in his booth, out of sight. He wanted to watch her, however, and remembered an old trick. The ice in his glass of water was nearly gone; he spooned the rest of it out onto his plate and carefully angled the glass to catch Tina's reflection on the shimmering surface. Susumu smiled as he saw Tina's pale, shimmering image. Then he froze and almost dropped the glass as How leaned into view.
The young nissei looked much different in reflection than he did to the eye. His hair was longer and curly, with a reddish tinge, and he had foxy ears. Susumu felt faint, and strangely detached. He knew the old legends, but hadn't believed them, thinking them only fairy tales. Surely this was some trick of the light, or maybe a prank on How's part.
Susumu leaned forward and glanced directly at How. He appeared normal. Yet a check of the reflection still showed those strange, vulpine features. Susumu lowered the glass, nearly spilling the water as he angled it to get a look at How's lower portion. Sure enough, there were two foxy tails dangling from the young man's behind.
Susumu put his glass back on the table, and thought long and hard. He did not doubt what he had seen, and had little doubt about his interpretation. To think that he had to come all the way to America to find a kitsune. Did Tina know? Did How know?! The woman probably didn't. As for the kitsune...
The exchange student decided to keep silent for now, and simply watch.
"Well, if he's probably not dangerous, why were you in such a hurry to get away from him?"
"I didn't say that he wasn't dangerous," How corrected. "I said he wasn't out of control."
"There's more to it than that," said Tina.
"Okay," sighed How, "well, its just that, y'know, wolves and foxes are natural enemies."
"Oh," was Tina's response.
"I mean, in the wild they compete for a lot of the same food, and..."
"Okay, I get the picture," said Tina, smiling slightly. Sometimes How got a little too deep into his animal side.
* * *
"You mean he's Broderic Lisater, the wildlife photographer?!" exclaimed Tina.
"The one, the only, the same," said Teleomier. "He retired here about two years ago, after that mess in Alaska."
Tina remembered. Broderic had been part of a team documenting grizzly bears, a team which had run afoul of some poachers. One of the poachers tried to kill the members of the documentary crew, to keep them from reporting him; several people had been badly hurt. The poacher had wound up dead... mauled by wolves.
"And you think..."
"We know," said Teleomier. "Broderic made a brief report to the Council, avoiding a lot of details, claiming that he didn't know what happened to the poacher. But it is pretty certain he dealt with the man. Broderic also stated that he thinks one of his crew - a woman he was in love with - saw enough to suspect what he is. That's why he immediately went into seclusion. He doesn't want to risk exposure."
For Teleomier, this was quite terse. Like How, he was an unrepentant romantic, and probably found Broderic's sacrifice especially tragic. The Wilder had given up someone he loved in order to protect the secrets of the Fey.
"But why didn't he just tell her?" asked Tina. "I mean, there wasn't any argument over How telling me."
"It was a judgment call in both cases," said Teleomier. "It was pretty obvious about you. Whether Broderic was right, no-one knows. Personally, I think he is a bit ashamed of what he is and what he did, and perhaps was afraid that she would be repelled. Broderic might feel it is better to lose her than to have her think him a monster."
"That's a rather cowardly stance," muttered Tina. To herself she added Especially for a werewolf.
"Waitaminnute, what was her name?" asked How.
"The assistant he was in love with?" said Teleomier. "Susan Holiday."
"I thought so. She's here."
"What?!" the other two said in chorus.
"I remember reading about her getting a job here," How explained. "She's supposed to teach wildlife photographic techniques, among other things. Just started this semester."
"I wonder if he knows," mused Teleomier.
"I wonder if she knows," said Tina. "She may be here looking for him."
"That seems unlikely," said Teleomier.
"Well, we could always ask," said How. "She's living on campus until she finds an apartment."
"How...," began Teleomier, a warning in his tone.
"Aw, c'mon, what harm could it do to ask?"
"A lot, potentially," replied the pooka, but he was smiling.
Tina sighed, but also smiled. How was unusually responsible for a Pooka/kitsune type. Lord Teleomier was positively dour and humorless, a paragon of responsibility. Which was why he was one of the few to have any position of responsibility with the Fey Council. Still, even the most stodgy Pooka was more like Chico Marx than Carl. These two had already talked themselves into meddling in this matter. There was practically no chance that Tina could stop them, but she could go along with their plan and at least try to minimize the damage.
"One suggestion," said Tina. "Let's talk to Broderic first about this. He might have a very good reason for her not being told about the Fey."
* * *
Finding the driveway was even harder the second time, perhaps because Broderic had reinforced his concealment, or perhaps just because they were looking for it. However, find it they did. The trio walked up to the porch and Teleomier knocked.
This time the owner opened the door after only a few seconds. Broderic seemed surprised to see them, especially Teleomier, but while they introduced themselves he recovered. When the Pooka stated that they were there on Fey business, Broderic nodded and invited them in. As they went through the door, Tina noticed that How was actually shivering with fear.
Broderic escorted them into a modestly furnished but tidy living room and waited for them to seat themselves, Teleomier choosing a cassock while Tina and How sat together on a couch. Broderic lowered himself onto a recliner and templed his hands, fingertips together, waiting for them to state their business. Unfortunately, all three were strangely tongue-tied. Broderic let them shift in awkward silence for a few moments before speaking.
"All right. What?"
Teleomier still hesitated, his slight indecision speaking volumes to Tina and How. The Pooka was normally extremely self-confident, but right now seemed very uneasy.
"Did you know that Susan Holiday recently took a position at the University of Louisville?" Teleomier finally managed, deciding to go directly to the heart of the matter. "We suspect she is looking for you."
"And what if she is?" Broderic's words were casual instead of derisive. He gave the impression that her possible interest in him was of no interest to him.
"If she's looking for you, she will probably find you," said Teleomier. "It would be better if she could meet with you in a controlled manner, when you are both expecting it."
"I really don't think that is a good idea," rumbled Broderic, for the first time showing something other than reluctant good manners. His features were elongating, becoming more bestial. Tina realized that he was relaxing into his base form, perhaps deliberately to intimidate them. She watched, fascinated, as he grew a slight muzzle and became hairier on all his exposed skin, his ears growing points and becoming darker. On How such changes looked cute. On Broderic they looked menacing. And mesmerizing.
"Why not?" blurted How, bringing Tina back to the present with a start. "I mean she seems like a nice person, I mean I've never met her but I've read a lot about her and the work you did together and if she's concerned about you it seems only the decent thing to do to..."
"You're babbling," Broderic pointed out.
"Yes, sir," squeaked How. "I know I'm babbling, sir. You scare the Hell out of me."
That evoked a gruff chuckle, which made Tina relax a bit, though it didn't seem to help How.
"Her presence here could simply be a coincidence," said Teleomier. "What do we lose by asking her? If she's not here to find you it is unlikely that she will have more than a casual interest in meeting with you. If she is, then we will know for certain, and can decide what to do about her."
"All right," sighed Broderic, after several long, tense moments of thought. "You three seem determined to meddle in my life regardless. I suppose I might as well go along and get it over with."
As they were walking back to Teleomier's car, Tina was surprised to see the Pooka dab at his face with a purple silk kerchief.
"What is it about this guy that scares you two so?" she blurted. "I mean, sure, he's impressive, but..."
"He's a lone wolf," said Teleomier. "Lone wolves are usually insane. Either that was why they were driven from their pack, or they go crazy from being alone after becoming separated."
"He doesn't strike me as crazy," said Tina.
"No, but that doesn't mean he isn't... or might not become so without warning."
"Well, then, that's all the more reason to get his woman out here as soon as possible, isn't it?" declared How, his natural cheerfulness having quickly reasserted itself.
* * *
"Miss Holiday? Howaya Metu," said How, holding out his hand. "This is my friend, Tina Moore. Listen, I don't know whether this means anything to you, but we saw Broderic Lisater the other day. He's here, in Louisville."
The woman gave them a long, evaluating stare, showing no surprise, nor any other emotion. Finally she nodded.
"I had heard that he was in the area. I... had hoped that I might run into him."
Her response wasn't much indication of how she felt, but she was probably just being cautious. After all, she didn't know How or Tina and had no reason to let them know if Broderic still meant anything to her.
"What's his address?"
Susan Holiday was tall and lean, with sandy blond hair and brown eyes. She gave the impression of immense self-confidence, and that she slightly disapproved of everything and everyone around her.
"Oh, he doesn't really have one," said How, easily. "He's living in a run-down old house south of town on a country road. Not even a mailbox out front. Really hard to find. We'd have to take you there."
"We found it while I was out doing road work," Tina elaborated.
Susan looked doubtful, but seemed to finally accept their story after Tina showed her the location on a map. It was an isolated area, and even if she had good directions finding the exact place would be difficult.
"Well, I'm quite busy right now, but I think we could get together this weekend," the woman said. "Say, Saturday, just after lunch?"
They agreed on the details, and the two teenagers left.
"Well, that was easy," said How, rubbing his hands together and grinning.
"Too easy," said Tina. "You came on too strong, and way too smooth. If I was her I'd be suspicious. Probably go check out the place ahead of time."
"So when do you think she'll go?"
"How about now?" asked Tina, pointing to a car pulling out of the parking lot.
"Call Teleomier!" yelled How, starting to grow feathers.
"Not here!" hissed Tina, grabbing him.
She hauled How into an alley between buildings, did a quick scan to make sure no-one could see, then turned to give How the OK. Tina was just in time to see a large red hawk flying off. She made a disgusted hrumph noise, then sighed and headed for a pay phone.
* * *
Lord Teleomier was as upset as Tina, but not for the same reasons.
"This is terrible!" he fretted, as the two of them drove to Broderic's in the BMW Teleomier had conjured up. "We haven't even told Broderic she's coming, yet, and if she confronts him by surprise the least he'll probably do is run away!"
Tina found his discomfort almost funny. Like most pookas, Lord Teleomier loved acting on the spur of the moment and upsetting the plans of others. To hear him complaining about his own plans being upset...
They slid to a stop in the driveway, behind Susan's parked and empty car. Lord Teleomier jumped out, Tina barely making her own exit before the car dissolved. She was just wondering where How was when a hawk stooped down, changing in mid air. How dropped the last of the way to the ground in his base form and immediately straightened, looking worried.
"She's here. He's here. They're here," he stammered, pointing. "In the orchard. He's pruning, again, and..."
He was left talking to himself, as Tina and Teleomier ran for the trees behind the house. How raced after them, only to see them pull up short just beyond the first row of apple trees. How got there just in time to hear Susan say:
"Do you think this matters?! I knew there was something about you... it's almost a relief to find out what!"
Broderic was standing almost within arms reach of Susan, in his wolfman form. She was obviously surprised, but not frightened.
"Darn, I missed, it," stage-whispered How. He was shushed by Tina.
"Yes, but after what happened to Charlie Kittrick, I was afraid you would think I was responsible and was a monster!" cried Broderic, sounding a bit like a wolf whimpering.
"You mean that you thought that..." stammered Susan. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "You moron! I thought you were avoiding me because you knew I killed Kittrick!"
"You killed the poacher?!" exclaimed Broderic.
"I shot him, then rubbed elk blood and fat on his body and scattered elk parts around to lure wolves." Susan sighed, looking very tired. "I thought they would erase the evidence, but they didn't have time."
"I wanted to kill him," admitted Broderic, "but when I caught up with him he was already dead and the wolves were at work on the carcass."
"Wait a minute," said How, stunned. "You mean you didn't... that she's the one..."
"I never said I killed him," Broderic responded, voice ominous. "People just assumed I did. When I saw that wolves had killed him - or at least, that's what I thought - I was afraid that Susan would guess what I was and think I did it."
"Oh," said Teleomier.
"And I was afraid you knew I had, and hated me for it." Susan lowered her head, and sobbed softly.
Broderic hesitantly came up and put his arms around her. Sue not only didn't object, she put her arms around him. How and Teleomier were grinning like maniacs. Tina gently tugged at their sleeves. When they didn't move, she pulled harder, drawing them away.
* * *
"Don't you just love a happy ending?" sighed How, eyes dreamy, as he read the newspaper announcement of the wedding of Susan Holiday and Broderic Lisater.
"If you and Teleomier don't stop spying on them, there's gonna be a tragic ending for us," snapped Tina. She threw up her hands and rolled her eyes. "Honestly! You two haven't given them more than a few hours privacy, total, since they got back together!"
"Well, Broderic does want Teleomier and me to explain about the Fey to her," said How, defensively. "And he wants you to come with me, to show Susan how a good relationship works."
"Well, that's flattering," said Tina, touched. "I just hope you and the pooka don't make her change her mind about marrying one of your kind."
This work is Copyright 1998 by Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact the author for permission before reposting or reprinting. Thank you.