hares-recovery

Christmas Party: Day 3

December 24, 2047.

It had been a very loud night.

Tari rolled over in bed, rubbing her eyes. Her kitsune hearing had given her front-row seats to Lenard’s father’s obnoxious snoring, all night long. Staying in a pure human form without her extended senses hadn’t even worked - her ears were still sensitive enough to capture every snort, every single grunt cutting through the floorboards. Lenard, still numb to the noise after his time away from home, slept blissfully through the entire night.

Briefly shaking out her fur, she cuddled up against his back, resting her muzzle on his neck. The noise had only just stopped not ten minutes before; she’d heard footsteps moving about downstairs as the old man started in on his morning routine. The aroma of fresh coffee drifted up the steps shortly afterward, teasing her nose with delicious promises of caffeine. Outside, the old tractor fired up, rolling down the drive for the morning feeding of the cattle.

Tari sighed, trying to let sleep consume her at least for an hour. As she drifted off, strange dreams of a photography shoot carried her along, the sound of a camera shutter echoing in her ears.


“Mommy! Look!”

“Hm? Cameron, I’ve told you, mommy’s phone is not a toy.” Jolene took the device from her son, setting it on the kitchen table.

“But -“

“No buts! The last time you played with it, you broke it. Remember? Mommy had to get a new one and was very upset for several days.”

Cameron frowned. “But mama - I got pictures!”

“Oh, god…” Jolene pinched her nose. He’d sent a bunch of photos to random people in her address book the last time, too. An unflattering shot of herself, sprawled out asleep in her pajamas, had made the rounds at work before she’d transferred. “Okay, honey. Who did you send them to this time?”

“I didn’t,” he defended, reaching for the phone. “I got you pictures of the werewolf!”

“The werewolf, hm? Weren’t you scared it was going to eat you?”

“Nuh-uh. I think she’s a nice werewolf.” Cameron held up the phone, showing his mother the screen. “See? Unca Lenny isn’t afraid of it. I think she’s his pet.”

Jolene stared at the phone’s display, her mind grinding to a complete halt as she digested exactly what she was looking at. “That… Okay, kiddo. Tell you what. You promise not to tell anyone else about this, and we’ll see if he’ll let you pet her. Okay?”

Cameron’s head bounced happily in a nod. Jolene gave him a kiss on the forehead, her eyes lingering on the photo before locking the display.


“Mornin’,” Tari grunted, pouring herself into a chair. A thankful smile crossed her face as she lifted the cup of coffee that appeared before her. “Thank you.”

“You bet.” Jolene parked beside her, setting her phone face-down on the table as she nursed her own pick-me-up. Tari thought she smelled a shot of brandy in the young woman’s. “Sleep well?”

“Hnnf,” she grunted around the mug. “Your dad kept me up all night with that snoring.”

“That’s the big reason I brought the camper. My brothers have always managed to sleep through it… Sarah tells me that Jonathan has inherited dad’s gift for shaking dust off the rafters. You get any sleep?”

“An hour or two, after he left to go feed the cows.”

“Hope Cameron didn’t disturb you too much this morning, then. He went on another werewolf hunt.” Jolene sighed, flipping her phone face-up and sliding it across the table. “Seems he’s got a half-decent camera technique. Maybe I should have bought him a little pocket one for Christmas.”

Tari’s eyes fell on the digital picture, a faint sense of panic bubbling up through her still-sluggish thoughts. Splayed out before her was a rather uncomplimentary photo of her three-tailed kitsune form, sleeping with her arms around Lenard. She’d kicked off the sheets after finally falling asleep, the room having grown slightly too warm between her fur coat and the small fusion heater. A great deal of detail about her backside and all three tails was plainly visible.

“Jo, I -“

“Stop. Don’t. Just… Don’t even try, please.” Jolene reached over, taking back her phone and gazing at the shot. “I assume he knows?”

“Yeah.” Tari stared at the tabletop. “Yeah, he’s known since the end of October.”

His sister nodded slightly. “I’m pretty sure I have an idea already, but I want to hear it directly from you. Who and what exactly are you?”

Biting her lip, Tari’s eyes fell on her bracelet. “I like you, Jo, and I’d rather not flat-out lie to you. With your connections to the Commonwealth, it’d be really easy for me to cop out that way and confirm what you’re assuming… But it’s not the entire truth.”

“So you actually have legitimate Commonwealth paperwork?”

“I do… It’s the sole portion of my life I’d rather not tell Lenard just yet. I’d been considering surprising him with a ship tour as his belated Christmas present.” A quick tap at her bracelet later, Tari changed her holographic PDA into a proper datapad and slid it in front of Jolene. “My Commonwealth credentials are valid, but the personal data was falsified to protect myself and my people.”

“Let’s see…” Jolene chuckled as she perused the record. “Cute. You’re actually a registered metamorph.”

“Hm?” Tari slid the pad back into her own view. Her identity as a Val’Traxan was gone. In its place was a file stating she was a member of a race called the ‘Kitsunati.’ “What the hell… When did this change on me?”

“Timestamp of last-update was a couple weeks ago.” The human tapped a line of text on the screen. “Right there.”

“Huh. Well, I have a feeling I know why she changed it, but I wish she’d have asked me first…” Scratching her head, Tari let out a quiet sigh. “Either way… It’s still a fabrication. Bracelet. Display my full and true ID record, not this coverup.”

The pad’s screen flashed red. Voiceprint matched. Please confirm: Display secured record for Tarioshi Kitanaka?

“Confirmed. Display the record.” The screen blanked, new data pouring forth. “I’ve earned a Commonwealth citizenship, but I’m actually from here on Earth. I was born in Japan in -“

“1849,” Jolene interrupted, reading the screen. “Yes, it’s all right here. Why should I believe this garbage that you claim is fact over the other garbage you claim is fiction?”

“I can’t give you a reason. The most I can suggest is that you confirm this data with Captain Tzeki and Commander Halio. They both know me and what I am -“

Jolene glanced up as the kitchen door opened, shooting her husband a faint smile. “Morning, Greg.”

“Hi-hi… Hey now. You’re supposed to be on vacation.” Greg tapped the edge of the pad. “Why are you bringing work with you?”

“It just seems to follow me wherever I go these days.” Jolene glanced at Tari and stood up, slipping the holographic pad in a pocket of her robe. “I’ve got to get started on breakfast, Tari. We’ll finish later.”


“You’re lying,” Natalie insisted. “There’s no such thing as werewolves.”

“I’m not!” Cameron shook his head. “I even got a picture.”

“Oh yeah? Where is it then?”

“On mama’s phone. She said we might get to pet it.”

“I don’t want to pet a wolf,” Josephina rejected.

“It’s not a wolf,” Cameron countered, frowning at his older sisters. “It’s a werewolf. It’s like a big, hairy person, with three tails and white fur.”

Their cousins, Jacob and Roland, exchanged a glance. “Where’d you see it?” Roland probed.

“In th’ attic,” Cameron replied around a mouthful of pancake. “It was sleeping next to Unca Lenny like a big puppy.”

“Kids?” Jolene stuck her head around the bottom of the stairwell, holding out a platter. “Still some pancakes left.”

“Yes, please, Aunt Jo.” Jacob held out his plate, smiling as another installment landed. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Rollie, Cam, girls?”

“No thank you.”

“Okay. Try to keep it down to a dull roar this morning? You can play video games if you keep the volume low.”

“Yes, mom.” Natalie looked at Cameron as Jolene proceeded back upstairs. “Mom? Cam says there’s a picture of a wolf on your phone.”

The woman’s footfalls immediately stopped on the steps and turned around. “What’s that, now?”

“The picture I took of Auntie Tari, mama.”

Jolene forced a smile. “Just because she looks a little scary in the mornings doesn’t make her a werewolf, honey. Go on, finish breakfast and bring your plates up to the sink. Okay?”


Tari glanced over her shoulder as the front door opened; Jolene stepped outside into the crisp morning air, adjusting her scarf. “How can you not be freezing to death in just that jacket?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time outside in the cold. You get used to it.” Tari slid sideways on the porch swing, making room. “It’s really not too bad out here.”

“Having a winter coat you can turn on at your whim can’t hurt, either.” Jolene eased onto the swing, peering up. “I remember when Dave and Jon hung this thing. They used tiny little eyebolts the first time… Dad sat down and they pulled out of the overhang. He nearly went through the picture window.”

“I envy you.” Tari stared across the farmyard, watching the same two older brothers fighting with a cold piece of farm equipment. “I couldn’t have had a normal childhood like that. No brothers or sisters while I was growing up… Mother wasn’t around, and my father really wasn’t in a position to help me through what I was going through.”

“I take it he was human, then.”

“Mm-hm,” she voiced. “Died a very long time ago. Minus a brief stay with my own people to learn how to control my gifts, I’ve basically been surviving on my own for the last hundred and eighty years.”

“How’d you get involved with the Commonwealth?”

“I came across one of their field researchers and wound up going offworld for a year. Was a pretty good time, actually…”

“Jadyn, I assume? From what you said earlier.”

“Yeah.” Tari glanced at Jolene. “Did you call them?”

“There’s no need to bother them with this.”

“No need?” she asked. “That’s a mildly disconcerting thought.”

“The datapad you gave me disappeared when you left the room. Even so, from the brief look at your file I got before Greg came in… I think I can say with certainty that I believe you are what your secured record says you are.”

“Just like that? No inquisition?”

“Just because I knew exactly what I was looking at the moment I saw the picture doesn’t mean you’re getting off without a grilling.”

“Wait - you knew?

“Don’t change the subject.”

“But -“

“No. What are your intentions with my kid brother, kitsune?

Tari peered at Jolene, biting her tongue before she said something she’d regret. Regardless of the questions raging in her head, she was a guest in their home. Depending on exactly what Lenard’s sister knew, the human could make things either very difficult, or incredibly difficult.

“I love him,” she replied softly, gazing out over the farmyard. “I honestly do. Someday I’d love to start a family with him, be it a child of our own or an adoption or whatever the case may be… but that’s years away. For now I’m content just sharing in his life. After he graduates this spring, I’ve been planning on taking him on a tour around the world. Maybe even off of it for a while, if the cards fall into place. Haven’t tried to touch bases with anyone since they rescued the Ares crew… Been a little hesitant to make the call.”

“Why?”

“Jadyn and I made a deal before we parted ways. We agreed that until the fiftieth anniversary of the day we met we’d not try to make contact with each other… We never said we couldn’t before that, just that we wouldn’t actually try.”

“Strange. Any particular reason?”

“None that are easy to explain on short notice. It’s only been forty-eight years. If I happen to run into him, so be it. I’m going to hold up my end as long as I can until then.”

“I’ll accept that… For now. But do me a favor? Don’t mention the aliens around my mom and dad. They’re really not comfortable with what I’m doing and they don’t entirely trust the Commonwealth’s claims of altruism. They weren’t ever fond of the idea that I might someday be in a position to take a bullet to save the President, but I think they’d rather watch that replayed forever on TV than see me doing the same for the Captain or Speaker.”

“Guess that means they can’t know about me, either.”

“No. Definitely not.” Jolene shook her head. “They wouldn’t understand it. A two-hundred year old terran-born Japanese fox-woman, possessing alien paperwork and masquerading as a Caucasian human, dating their youngest son? That blows my mind away. It’d probably give dad a stroke.”

Tari frowned. “How much do you actually know about us?”

“Quite a bit. One of my best friends in college was a kitsune. She was always a party waiting to happen… And often did. I know more truths about your people than you think, including the fact that I doubt they’ll look highly on your present relationship.”

“Yeah… They wouldn’t understand it any better than your parents would understand me.” Tari patted her hands together. “There’s no need to be concerned for his safety. They won’t lay a finger on him. Hell, by their own laws, they can’t. If they feel the need to prove a point, they’ll take it out on me.”

“And you expect it won’t completely destroy him if you’re whisked away to be punished for breaking the law?”

“He’s stronger than you give him credit for.” Tari shook her head. “Besides. There’s no way they’ll find out. I’m completely disconnected from our society with one very minor exception, and she agrees with my opinion on those archaic rules.”

“The sister you mentioned?”

“Mm. She’s tried to have meaningful relationships while staying within the laws, and it never works out because they figure out she’s hiding something and promptly leave her on the curb. Lenard’s been completely understanding of what I am… He’s still a little jumpy about the things I can do, but he doesn’t want me to hide it just to alleviate his personal discomfort. That’s why I love him.”

“He’s got good taste, I’ll give him that.” Jolene smiled. “I suppose… If he’s happy, that’s all that really matters. That necklace you bought makes more sense today. He’ll love it.”

“I thought he might.”

“Word of warning?”

“Hm?”

“I suspect the kids are going to try for more pictures. Cam couldn’t keep his mouth shut, even with the promise that he might get to pet Lenard’s pet werewolf if he didn’t blab.”

Tari snickered, nodding. “I see.”

“Jacob and Roland have their own little camera and I can’t rightly take one away from someone else’s kids. Keep an eye open.” Jolene stood up. “Also, there’s been some more talk about going to the Christmas Eve service tonight at the local Lutheran church.”

“I’d rather not… Churches and I don’t get along well.”

“If you’ll trust me to make arrangements, I think we can get you in without a hitch. It’ll be a little strange if you stay here all by yourself. It looks like everyone else is going, and we were planning on taking the kids.”

“All right… Just don’t expect me to sing a hymn.” Tari eased to her feet, looking across the yard. “Wonder if I should be help or hinderance with that old tractor… Just doesn’t start in the cold?”

“Never has. Don’t know why they think today’s going to be different. They wanted to go push open a road to the next stack of bales with the bucket on this junker. Dad’s got the bale forks bolted on the other one for feeding the cows. It’s an all day project to swap them out.”

Keeping her arms at her side, Tari made a fist, gently spreading her fingers and focusing the warmth of her thoughts into the engine block. All the machine needed was a little bit of heat. Pure elemental Fire wasn’t a fun playmate for a Forest kitsune, but even a novice one-tail could manipulate foxfire. “Come on, guys, hit the starter…”

The engine roared to life, spewing a black cloud of diesel soot into the winter sky. The two brothers clapped each other on the back as they closed the hood.

“Nice job… Now what are they going to fight with for the rest of the afternoon?”

“Wait for it.” Tari grinned as the engine sputtered and died. “My work out here is done.”


Lenard rubbed his eyes, looking again at Jolene’s phone. “Damn it, Tari…”

“It’s hardly my fault,” Tari scoffed.

“Well, I’m certainly not the one with the built-in fur coat,” he replied. “You going to make us tell mom and dad?”

“No.” Jolene scrubbed her finger across the photo, deleting it from the memory. “Oh, hell. He took more than one.”

“I don’t know… That one’s sort of precious. Maybe we could frame it?” Tari grinned as the remaining pictures were purged. “Thank you, Jo.”

“You have no idea how hard it is to make myself destroy evidence.” Jolene stuck her phone back in her pocket. “Lenny, I’m thrilled you’ve found someone that cares about you, and that you actually reciprocate… I’m a little surprised by your specific choice, is all. Mom and dad don’t need to know the finer details about your personal life any more than they need to know the finer details about my professional life. It’s enough for them to know we’re all happy with what we have.”

“You kids ready yet?” Linda asked, sticking her head in the kitchen. “We’re about to head out.”

“Yeah, mom. I’ll ride with Lenny and Tari.”

“Okay. We’ll meet you guys there. I think Cam wants to ride with them, too.”

Tari smirked. “I bet.”

“Is there room for all of us?” Jolene asked.

“Should be, now that all the stuff’s out of the back seat.”

The group grabbed their coats, plodding out into the fading afternoon sun and piling into the powder-blue crossover. Tari eased into the back seat, smiling as Cameron climbed out of his mother’s lap from the front and sat beside her.

“Am I not so scary anymore?”

“Nuh-uh,” the child voiced. Jolene smiled wryly, fastening her seatbelt.

“I heard you took my picture this morning. Why’d you do that?”

“No one believed me when I told ‘m what I saw!” Cameron exclaimed. “Can I touch your fur?”

“Cam,” Jolene scolded.

“No, it’s all right. It’ll let him get it out of his system.”

“Or it’ll just encourage him further. What if someone sees you?”

“We should be far enough away from the rest of the caravan. It’s dark enough out here now that oncoming traffic won’t be able to see in the windows, anyway.” Tari peered at the child. “You have to promise me something, Cameron. No more taking pictures of me or telling people what you saw. It’s going to be our secret. Can you do that for me?”

Cameron nodded quickly.

“I mean it. If you don’t keep your promise, I’m going to nibble off your toes and fingers in your sleep. Just think about how hard it will be to enjoy waffles if you can’t hold a fork?”

“I promise,” he gulped, gasping as Tari’s foxen side appeared. She met Lenard’s eye in the mirror, giving him a wink.

“Eyes on the road, hon.”

“Right, right…”

“Wow…” Cameron’s fingers ran through the fur of her arm. “You’re soft. Do you like to play fetch?”

Tari laughed and shook her head. “I’m not a dog. I do like my ears scratched, though.”

“Why do you have three tails?”

“Because I’d look strange if I didn’t have any.” Tari glanced forward as she felt a hand land on a straying tail. “Hm?”

“Sorry,” Jolene replied, letting her go. “Couldn’t help myself. I’m working around furred people all day, every day, and it’s nearly impossible to restrain the impulse to just… Pet one.”

“Humans do have the compulsion to cuddle soft and fuzzy things,” she observed, laying her head down in Cameron’s lap so he could grope her foxen ears. “Kudos for restraining the urge around them. Personally, I don’t mind so much. Mm… Kid, if I could purr, you’d be getting an earful.”

“You’re silly.”

“Tari?” Lenard asked. “You briefly mentioned… difficulties… getting into a church. Care to enlighten me yet?”

“If I walk into a church that I haven’t been invited into, my human shapedance will break very shortly after I cross the threshold of the door. I’ve never actually pressed my luck to test it… But I doubt the particular source of the info would lie about something like that.”

“And that’s where I come in,” Jolene replied. “You just need someone to invite you in, right? That’s all we ever needed to do for Umeko.”

“Mm-hm. The pastor would be best, although any member of the congregation that can speak for the congregation can do it.”

“And once you’ve been let in, you can just walk in any time after that?” Lenard queried.

“Unless I’m specifically asked to leave by name and not return. Hnnn… How much of a drive is this? Hope it takes a while… If you ever need to rent a lap cat, let me know… Mmh. Talk about magic fingers… Len, get a lesson from this kid. Seriously…”

“It’ll be about half an hour with the roads like this.” Jolene smirked at her son. “Okay, Cam, that’s enough playing with her ears. We need more than just a quivering puddle of fur when we get to the church.”

“Aww, mom…”

“Mother knows best,” Tari quipped, sitting up and running her fingers through her hair as she shifted back to human appearance. “Don’t worry, Cam… If you’re good this evening and listen to your mommy, and you don’t forget our little deal… I might just be willing to indulge you in that game of fetch if the weather’s nice tomorrow.”

“Really?”

“Just for a little while. It’s really a pain to brush wood chips out from between my teeth.”


“Wait here a minute.” Jolene left Tari and Lenard outside the church doors as she stepped inside, moving off through the small crowd.

“You’ve been pretty quiet tonight,” Tari observed.

“I’m a little worried that Jo found out.”

“Eh, don’t be. She and I have an understanding, now.”

“It’s not that. What if one of the others figures it out too?”

“Then we’ll deal with it when it happens, and not stress over it even a second before then. It’s a complete waste of energy and time to fret about something when there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening. Save the energy, fix it when it comes up, and move on.”

Lenard shook his head. “If you say so.”

“Hey.” Tari laced her fingers behind his neck, pulling him down for a kiss. “Trust me on this. I’m a little more aware that I can’t just fall asleep and let my fur hang out, so I won’t be going to bed like this and waking up like that until we get home. Cam’s being a good sport, and he’s opened up an opportunity for me to terrorize the rest of the runts. I just have to figure out a way to exploit that…”

“Maybe you should come down the chimney early in the morning in a red suit.”

She blinked, looking him in the eye. “Hey… Are you calling me fat?”

“What? No!”

“Tsk,” she clicked, poking him between the ribs. “I see how you are.”

“Tari?” Jolene spoke, standing just outside the door with a well-dressed young woman. “This is Pastor Umeko Plumchild.”

“It’s a pleasure… ma’am?” Tari blinked as they shook hands, sensing the repressed aura of the woman before her. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Not in the least. I am the pastor for this congregation. I greet you, sister… and… How rare! Greetings to you as well, brother. Please. As long as you behave yourselves, you are welcome here. Do come in.”

“Thank you.” Tari glanced at Jolene; she simply winked and led them to where the rest of the family was seated.


The service was nice, but otherwise uneventful; Pastor Plumchild stopped Tari at the door as everyone else filtered downstairs for a potluck dinner.

“I am surprised to find kin in such a remote place, so far from home,” the young woman voiced, gesturing to a pew and sitting down.

“I assume you’re the same Umeko that Jo attended college with?”

“I am. I have settled down somewhat in the brief years since she and I met. My parishioners would likely not agree with the types of get-togethers I used to enjoy.” She leaned back, gazing upon Tari. “I must admit, I do not entirely understand the nature of your visit. Have I done something to warrant being checked upon?”

“No, no… Not at all. I’m not here because of you. It was either attend the service with the Evanson family, or sit at home all alone for the evening. Jo said she could make arrangements for entry… She never mentioned that a sister-in-tails was leading this particular church. I had no idea until she carted you outside.”

“I see… So you and your mate are simply friends of the family, visiting.”

“He’s not… Well… I suppose he is my mate, at that.” Tari sighed. “I haven’t been thinking in that context but I suppose it’s true enough.”

“It’s quite strange… I thought all our males were restricted to Japan.”

Tari’s mind reeled as she finally realized the pastor’s confusion, Traize’s voice coming back to her. I really could have mistaken you, Lenard. There’s an energy about you that most humans don’t have.

“What is he doing so far from home?” Umeko finished.

“You know how they are about hybrids,” she replied, weaving a careful trail of words in her head as she desperately tried to not look rattled. “Despite what they say, the only males they actually care about breeding are purebloods.”

“True enough.”

“How long have you been leading this congregation?” Tari probed, gently pressing the spotlight away from Lenard.

“Two years. I assume you have some question as to whether I am merely guiding a herd of sheep, feeding upon their combined energy… Or if I truly believe what I preach to these humans?”

“I don’t question the faith of another, even when I don’t share in it. What you believe - or don’t - is entirely your own business.”

The pastor nodded. “I thank you for that. But surely you must wonder?”

“There is a slight morbid curiosity, yes.”

Umeko lifted up a bible, turning it in her hand. “This is a book. It is a good book, full of a great number of stories from the past. They may be fact; they may be fiction. Not even our very eldest have lived long enough to be first-hand witnesses of what has been documented within these covers. Whether or not I believe in these words is irrelevant - if I can fathom the lessons passed down within, and pass those lessons on to those who wish to learn them, I have done a good thing.”

Tari smiled. “These people are lucky to have you here.”

“And I am blessed that they continue to return. Come. Let us get something to eat before everything has been cleaned out.”


“What exactly happened tonight?” Lenard asked, following the caravan of cars back to the farm.

“What do you mean?” Jolene questioned back, looking up from her smartphone calendar.

“That pastor called Tari her sister.” He glanced over his shoulder. “You awake back there?”

“Mmm..?” Tari voiced, Cameron’s fingers scratching around her foxen ears once again. “Sorry, must have dozed off. What’s up?”

“Was that pastor someone you knew?”

“Not specifically. Just a fellow sister of the tails.”

Lenard blinked. “What?”

“Seriously, you cannot be that dense.” Jolene laughed. “Pastor Plumchild’s a kitsune, like Tari.”

“I thought you guys were rare to find out in the world?”

Tari smirked. “The average person won’t ever see even one of us, or know that they have. Those that actually are lucky enough to meet one tend to stumble upon a multitude of others. That’s three now for you?”

“Yeah, guess so.” Lenard shook his head. “So why’d she call me a brother?”

“She thought you were one of us. Remember what Traize said when you met her - she would have mistaken you as kitsune had she not been told otherwise.”

“Oh, really?” Jolene voiced. “Why’s that?”

“I haven’t really been able to see it, myself… But she’s always been more sensitive to that kind of thing. Apparently there’s a bit more energy in his aura than a regular human normally totes around. It happens from time to time… You guys used to possess magical talents, and there’s still a few here and there with the potential. It really needs to be nursed early on. At this point it’d be nearly impossible to teach Len much of anything, if that’s actually what it is they’re seeing in his aura - Nnh.” Tari squinted one eye, flipping her ears back. “Hey now, Cam. Don’t be doing that. It may be cute to watch my ears twitch when you poke a finger inside, but it’s hardly polite.”

“Sorry, Auntie Tari.”

“Anyway… Since Jo hadn’t mentioned you two are siblings and the Pastor came out while we were smooching… I didn’t bother to correct her error. Don’t need to worry about uncomfortable questions coming up that way. As far as she’ll ever know, we’re just a pair of wandering kitsune staying with some human friends for the holiday. Chances are we’ll never see her again. Nothing to worry about.”


“Umeko-san.”

Umeko dropped to her knees, bowing before her visitor. “Daisensei! You grace me with your presence. To what do I owe the honor?”

The silver fox nodded tersely, snapping a paper fan shut between his fingers. “I cannot remain long. A suspected nogitsune was in your presence this evening. Tell me what you know of her, quickly.”

And so the pastor recounted the evening. She described the disguised kitsune pair that had attended the service, outlining the talk she and the female had shared in great detail.

“Why do you believe that he too was one of us?” the silver fox asked.

“His aura appeared too strong to be that of a mere human, Daisensei. I could perhaps have been mistaken… But after witnessing their intimate moment outside, I merely assumed that they were a mated pair traveling together. She did not counter my assertion that he was kitsune… But I now realize she did not support it, either.”

Arigato, Umeko-san. Spend no further thought on this matter.”

And the silver fox vanished, the aura of each of his nine tails hanging in the air as he faded from sight.


 

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