278: Dressing Down, Dressing Up

on September 3, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Kai And Mackenzie Compare Scars

Kai sat outside the curtain with her book while I headed into the showers. I didn’t know what she would do if one of the other yokai came in… she hadn’t brought a towel or changed out of her regular clothes. It seemed like she’d rather be caught shirking her duty guarding me than jump into the shower area naked with me.

In deference to her, I’d worn my robe in and hung it up on one of the other fixtures. I went as quickly as I could without neglecting hygiene, and with at least a bare minimum of time to relax under the hot flow. While I soaked in the steam, I did my best to forget about Amaranth’s resigned spirit and focus instead on my coming date.

Part of it was that I wouldn’t be able to do anything to help the situation. Part of it was that it didn’t seem fair to Sooni, to have my mind full of my own problems during our promised date.

Most of it was the fact that I didn’t want to give Sooni an excuse to throw a plate at my head during dinner, or something. Having her make a big scene and getting us kicked out of the restaurant was the last thing I needed, image-wise.

It wasn’t easy getting my mind off of Amaranth…but I tried to remember the meditation that Dee had led me through and bit by bit, I let the warmth and the wet wash over me, until my mind was clear and free to turn to other things.

It had been an incredibly eventful week, even given the tumultuous time I’d been having so far. This date felt like it would be the culmination of so much more than my… well, I didn’t really have a relationship with Sooni.

I didn’t even know if “flirtation” would be the right word. I hadn’t been flirting with her. She’d flashed her underwear at me and shoved her bikinied boobs in my face… but she did that to the whole world. Amaranth had said Sooni was a hard read, sexually. If she hadn’t disappeared, I’d have to ask her if she’d noticed anything different about the fox girl’s aura, or whatever it was she looked at.

She’d tried being my rival, my enemy, and my friend… had there ever been any hints of attraction? Real attraction? Her reaction to anything that smacked of lesbianism had always been “ew, gross!” She’d seen me in various states of undress with so little reaction I might as well have been wearing sets of black censor bars. The one time she’d physically contributed to me getting off, she’d been angry at me for stealing focus from her “victory”.

Once again, the only conclusion I could come to was that Sooni didn’t really know what she wanted from me. I could relate to that. It might have been the only thing about her that I could relate to. Two parents who spoiled her rotten, the best friends money could buy… she and I could hardly have had less in common if we’d tried.

But maybe that was why she’d singled me out. Opposites were supposed to attract. I didn’t know how true that was, but in the world of popular fiction that apparently drove Sooni’s thought processes, they did tend to make pretty good spunky sidekicks.

Finally,” Kai said when I came out of the shower. “Did you remember to wash…?”

“I washed everything,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “If she asks, I checked.” She tucked her book under her arm, went over to the sink, ran some water over her hands and then wet down her hair and the fur on her face. “There. That should cover me, at least against Suzi’s dull wit. You need to be changed into your outfit before she gets here.”

“Yeah, about that… do you have any idea what Sooni made for me?” I asked.

“Why don’t you go see?”

“I’d like to be able to prepare myself,” I said.

“You didn’t look?”

“No,” I said. “She made me promise I wouldn’t.”

“Was the box warded?”

“Not that I noticed,” I said. “But I didn’t check.”

“You just assumed it was?” Kai said.

“No,” I said. “I promised I wouldn’t open it.”

“Do you always keep your promises?”

“The ones I actually make,” I said. “I try to. I’m not perfect. Don’t you? I mean… try.”

“I try to do whatever’s most likely to get me through the day unscathed,” Kai said. “Of course, if you’re only pretending to be somebody’s plaything, I guess you don’t have to worry so much about that kind of thing, do you?”

She said everything matter-of-factly, with a pronounced air of disinterest.

“Why do you hate me so much?” I asked her. “I used to feel sorry for you.”

She started walking towards the front of the bathroom.

“Hey, I asked you a question,” I said.

“And then you answered it,” she said, without turning around.

“I what?” I asked, then I realized what she meant. “Well, excuse me for caring… sorry I tried to help.”

“I already told you that I don’t need a hero,” she said, spinning around on her bare heel. “I need a college degree. I need a visa. I need employment in this land. Can you provide me with those things? Can your magical girlfriend pull them out of her secret pocket for me? If not, then it seems I need Sooni’s help more than I need yours.”

“You could work something out without her… get asylum or something,” I said. “We have laws here…”

“Which I am here in violation of,” Kai said. “It is a small technicality, but without the patronage of Sooni’s father it would be more than enough to get me deported. Her father has no special love for nekos. If I’m not here watching his daughter, he would sell my contract in a heartbeat. Can you not imagine how much worse my situation could be?”

“Frankly, no,” I said. “Sooni almost killed you once that I know of. She messed up your fingers and didn’t let you heal them…”

I messed up my fingers,” she said. “And I told you before, it wasn’t the sort of thing that you heal. If you truly cannot imagine a worse use to which I could be put than having shoes flung at my head, then I envy and pity you at the same time.” She pointed at the spot over her eye. “This is supposed to be lucky. It was just my luck that Sooni spotted it before some middle-aged pervert saw me and decided he wanted a Baby Kai-Kai of his own.”

“What was your name before?” I asked. “I mean, your real name.”

“No,” she said.

“Your name is ‘No’?”

“My name is my own,” she said. “And it will stay that way until I’m ready to reclaim it.”

“You know, I get that you haven’t had an easy life,” I said. “But I haven’t exactly…”

“What you break, other people fix. What you start, other people finish,” Kai said. “You have people who care about you, who take care of you.”

“Well, I do now,” I said. “Since coming here, I’ve met people who care about me, because I was open when they reached out. Before that…”

“Your grandmother went on television to say that she was worried about you.”

“Don’t talk to me about my grandmother,” I said, and I was able to match her frosty tone without even trying. “You don’t know anything about that.”

“I know that she is your family and she cares. My grandmother was run over by a delivery cart. They paid my grandfather the equivalent of five silver in compensation. He was arrested five months later, for teaching skills that nekos aren’t supposed to know. The last time I saw any of my family was moments before I met Sooni. That was my younger sister. My older sister left a few years before that, to go to the city with an inuyokai man.”

“I don’t know what that means,” I said. “Inuyokai.”

“Like a canid,” she said. “A dog man.”

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t know anything about Yokano racial politics, but the imagery of dog vs. cat seemed like something that would translate across borders. I couldn’t imagine that a neko going off with an inu was likely to end well.

“He’d bought her a dress. The first new dress from a store she’d ever owned. He promised to give her more, and set her up with an apartment. I could have told her that he was a pimp, but she wouldn’t have believed me. He was her way out, you see. Her only way out. I don’t even blame her for it. Maybe her life is better for it. Maybe she has good clients who treat her nicely and buy her things.” She shrugged. “It was her way out. She couldn’t hope for another one. She wasn’t clever or graceful.”

“Why are you telling me all this if you don’t want my sympathy?” I asked.

“I want you to understand the difference between you and I,” she said. “The difference between a lower middle-class girl with human blood living in the Imperial Republic, and a nekoyokai living on Yokan. What are your hardships, Mackenzie? Did you get a sweater for Khersentide when you wanted a doll? Were you not popular in school?”

“My grandmother, who impressed you so much by telling the world what an abomination I am, used to lock me in the basement,” I said. “She didn’t let me have any normal food for nine years.”

“I suppose you win, then,” Kai said, turning away. “The longest I’ve ever gone without eating was only a handful of days. Considering the pain in my belly and the weakness in my limbs that caused, I can hardly imagine what you must have gone through.”

“It isn’t a contest,” I said. “I’m not saying I’ve suffered more than you… just that I’ve suffered.”

“Fine, you’ve suffered,” she said. She gestured over her shoulder towards me. “Come along, please. You have to make yourself ready for your next ordeal.”

I sighed and repressed the urge to catch up to Kai and strangle her. We were both stuck with Sooni, for the time being. Even if I didn’t know what it was like to be a member of an oppressed underclass, I had my own stigma to worry about. The fact that our experiences were different didn’t mean that we couldn’t relate to each other.

There was just no talking to her, though.

When we got to my room, I found that Amaranth and Steff had made themselves scarce, and Two hadn’t returned. I might have liked their company… and their help if whatever Sooni had made proved to be too complicated… but I was also kind of glad to be alone for a minute. I’d worked hard to get past my emotions in the shower… seeing Amaranth would just bring it all flooding back.

I got out the box that Sooni had given me and looked it over. A quick visual and mystical check showed that there were no wards on the box. Of course, any that were there would have had to have some kind of timed or remotely deactivated component, or they would have been a booby trap rather than a protection. Once I was sure I wasn’t going to get blasted with lightning or ice the instant I opened it, I slid the ribbon off the box and closed my eyes.

“Okay,” I said out loud, lifting the top off. “Let’s see what I’m about to get myself into… literally.”

I opened my eyes and saw shiny, glittery black fabric. Lifting it out of the box, I found a relatively simple dress… low cut, with a single shoulder-strap, and a wide slit up the side. The fabric was glammed up with little twinkling lights like stars. Inside the box were a pair of lacy black panties, what looked like pantyhose, and a strapless bra. Lifting the items out, I saw that the pantyhose were actually separate stockings… and the panties were missing a key component that was pretty integral to the primary function of such garments.

“Oh, she has got to be kidding,” I said. I didn’t think she was… but could she really expect me to go around all evening, exposed under the dress like that? With my “lady parts”… however clean they might be at the moment… just sort of there, framed by black lace? It was unthinkable. I’d go crazy long before dinner was over, just thinking about it.

Though at least it clarified her intentions a little bit more, if nothing else.

There were a pair of garters in the box, too. It took me a few tries to work out how everything went together. When I was done, I had to admit that it was almost a sexy look… it probably would have been one on somebody else. It just looked weird on me. I felt like a kid playing dress-up, or something.

I got the bra on, and then slipped the dress over my head. Sooni’s magical measurements had been accurate, it seemed… it felt like it was clinging a bit much, but everything looked fine in the mirror. Actually, it looked good… very good. At least, from the neck down. My hair was a mess and I couldn’t do anything about my face, make-up wise. I wondered if I had time to find Steff… and if there was even the tiniest chance she could be persuaded to help make me pretty for Sooni.

Before I could make up my mind to go look for her, there were two quick raps on the door. “Get decent,” Kai said, and then she opened the door a crack and slipped through it, with her eyes closed.

“I’m done,” I said, and she opened them.

“Suzi’s coming,” she said. “Remember…”

“You never left me alone,” I said.

“Shoes,” Kai said, looking at my feet.

“She didn’t give me any,” I said.

“You don’t have some?” she asked.

“I guess I could wear my black ones,” I said, heading to the closet to get out the shoes from the dance.

“I would assume that was the intent,” Kai said. “Hurry, please.”

She was starting to look a little antsy. I had one shoe on and was working on the other when there was a heavy thunk on the door.

“Hello?” Suzi said, in her kind of dazedly bored voice. “Kai-Kai? Lesbian? It can be go times now?”

Kai opened the door.

“Yes, I think so,” Kai said. “You are ready, Miss Mackenzie?”

“Ready as I can be,” I said.

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10 Responses to “278: Dressing Down, Dressing Up”

  1. Daezed says:

    I love the fact that suzi is eloquent and well spoken in her native tongue, and a lolcat in pax. Some people can’t pull off an intelligent sentence in their first language. She reminds me of the way I used to sound, trying to talk to my ex’s family in spanish, and the giggles some of my attempts would occasionally cause.

    Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    when i was a kid,army family was stationed in Verdun, France {before de Gaulle had the gall to kick us out of Gaul}. we lived in the city and that was were i learned to speak French.

    Then the several times since i’ve been back to France, the French have made it quite clear that they did not want to hear me abusing their language with my atrocious accent.

    turns out that Verdun is that part of France, that has been often overrun by Germs and i had learned to speak French with a Deutsch accent. Drives the French right up the wall. A reminder of how many wars they have lost since Napoleon went down.

    Current score: 1
    • MackSffrs says:

      You know how kids have that relative whose life stories they hate hearing over and over?
      That’s not you.

      You’re awesome, I hope to keep finding more of these.

      Current score: 1
    • Arakano says:

      To be fair, Verdun used to be part of the HRE before France acquired it in 1648. It has remained French ever since…

      Current score: 0
      • Kanta says:

        That would be the version of the Holy Roman Empire that was actually a secular German republic; yes?

        Current score: 0
  3. Duke says:

    There is a joke that has been making the rounds where I live that strikes a chord with me and is somewhat appropriate given the nature of current discussion.

    An older gentleman arrives at Charles De Gaulle airport. He makes his way to customs and attempts to walk through. He is stopped by the smiling French customs agent.

    “Sir, you need to show me your passport.”

    “I didn’t need to do any of this the last time I came to France”

    “Well sir, it’s been our policy for quite some time, when did you last visit us?”

    “Well miss, that would have been about ’42, when you had that problem with the Germans”

    He gets through customs with no further problems.

    Current score: 5
  4. zeel says:

    So as far as the order of shittiest pre MU life goes. . .

    1. Two – literally thrown away, then sexually abuse regularly.
    2. Kai – Technically a slave owned by someone who regularly beats her, and nearly killed her. And did I mention that person is crazy?
    3. Mackenzie – First half of life lived in mild poverty with her mother, who then dies just as she come into her nature. She lives the next half with her oppressive grandmother that locks her in the basement and reminds her that she is a horrible monster at every turn. Attends school with people who hate her, make signs at her, and blame her for things.
    4. Steff – Half her life spent going to a school being beat up (and raped) for what she is, the other half with ass-hole father and elves who also make fun of her.

    I think that’s about the right order, Two probably beats Kai, but the details could throw it the other way. Steff comes in after Mackenzie since her mother was at least supportive for her the whole time, and didn’t die.

    Current score: 3
    • Athena says:

      There is no such thing as the Hardship Olympics.

      Current score: 2
  5. nobody says:

    Considering that kai only had tha slave part once Sooni was at least 17 and Mackenzie all had her problems for half her life I’d say Kai would be third with the currently available information (excluding spoilers). Newer information may make it closer to equal but Mackenzie has her beat for now simply for her “nightlighting” incidents and the bucket of holy water Grandma threatened her with.

    Or did you forget that she would have been killed for her equivalent of bed wetting?

    Current score: 1
  6. Jechtael says:

    Suzi doubtless means “It’s time to go”, but I enjoyed interpreting that as “It’s go time.”

    “Two probably beats Kai”. PHRASING!

    Current score: 5