"It is not the same!"
Kobayashi gave a tired sigh through her nose, doing her best to concentrate on the cards in her hand. From the way Kanna was looking at her, she suspected the littlest of her circle of dragons was craftier at this game than she'd let on.
This was getting to be a pattern, and with all of them, really. In her limited experience, dragons were either painfully naive regarding the ways of humanity, or far more knowledgeable than they would ever dare to admit. Then again, her current level of experience with these creatures probably dwarfed any other living person on the planet. In some ways her life was unchanged from that drunken night, stumbling through the mountains. On other days, like today, she would look around her living room and still feel that tiny twinge of wonder and amazement deep down inside.
"How can you say that?" Tohru's outrage was still going strong, rolling along with no end in sight. "It's not Kobayashi-san's fault if she's from an inferior species! As my mistress, her perfection is beyond question!"
Kobayashi could feel herself wince as her maid's outrage devolved into mushy adoration. This also was a pattern, she thought, going back to the beginning of their relationship. It seemed Tohru was always at her happiest when basking in the glow of even the smallest scrap of affection from her self-adopted human.
"Nobody was insulting your mistress." Great Quetzlcoatl, or Lucoa as she was informally known, could usually be counted on to be the peacemaker in any situation. Given the little Kobayashi knew of her bloody history, it was a welcome change of pace. The tall and statuesque blonde might relish the role of a bimbo with more bosom than brains, but behind those mismatched eyes lay a keen mind and generous heart. Kobayashi had quickly warmed to the older dragon's presence, and had often been grateful for her calming influence on the more impulsive Tohru.
"She's right. We would never do that." Elma narrowed her eyes at Fafnir, who sat to her left. "Would we?"
The sole male present snorted, but otherwise ignored them. A man and dragon of few words, most involving some combination of kill and humans, Kobayashi could only hope that Fafnir's human roommate continued to provide sufficient amusement to keep his destructive nature in check. As for Elma, the dark-haired enforcer of the Harmony faction whose original intent had been to return Lady Tohru to their own world -- by force, if need be -- Kobayashi had eventually managed to win her over with a continuous stream of human delicacies to tease her sadly deprived tongue and to fill her seemingly bottomless stomach. Though Kobayashi had to admit, that bottom certainly wasn't bottomless. Of late she had caught herself discreetly admiring that full, rounded figure, usually when Tohru wasn't around to turn into a green-eyed monster about it. Any more of one than usual, that is.
Elma gave Tohru a pat on the head that would have appeared condescending if the maid hadn't been pouting so prettily. "I'm sure all humans would choose to be dragons, given the option."
Naturally, this comment caused everyone to look to the sole human in the room. Except Kanna, who looked up at Fafnir, who continued to sit on the couch with his arms crossed not looking at anyone.
"Um." Not for the first time that evening, Kobayashi wished that Fafnir had brought his roommate and her fellow code monkey, Mokoto Takiya. Something like this always seemed to happen whenever she was a minority of one. It wasn't as though the dragons deliberately set out to gang up on the lone human, but the balance of power was something that could not be denied by anyone truly aware of what these beings were capable of.
"Honestly..." The rest of them were looking at her expectantly, and she couldn't help feeling pressured as she struggled to formulate her response. "It would probably just be too much trouble."
Predictably, Tohru's disappointment was obvious. Nonetheless, Kobayashi forged ahead.
"Seriously. Dragons are..." She fumbled for a reasonably politic turn of phrase. "Complicated creatures. Who lead complicated lives."
"Not as bad as the work your people have me doing." Elma groaned and leaned back on the couch, massaging her temples. "And I thought the Arabs were mad, with all their fancy numbers."
"I don't know." Kobayashi tried to recall the many tales she had heard from Tohru over the -- years? Had it been more than one already?
"Maybe if I lived in your world," she mused. "It sounds like humans there are stuck in the feudal stage. Probably better to be a dragon."
"That's the spirit!" Tohru crowed, beaming with pride.
"But then you've got all that Chaos and Harmony faction stuff going on. And between the infighting, and the duels, and the blood feuds and the lack of Internet..." Kobayashi gazed at her fingers, having ticked off her talking points. "It doesn't really seem worth it."
"Oh, most human minds couldn't go more than a few hundred years without cracking." Lucoa's sunny presentation was cheerfully at odds with her dire portents. "Of course, there is that one spell --"
All eyes turned to Fafnir. The eldest dragon continued to sit on the end of the couch, doing his level best to ignore everyone.
"Oh -- I'm sorry." Lucoa reached over to pat him on the hand, her bosom giving a slight jiggle. "But I know how proud you are when it comes to your magic."
"Lucoa, what are you talking about?" Tohru sounded as though she were becoming frustrated. Kobayashi had learned through repeated and painful experience that one way or another, this was always a bad thing.
"That's right!" Elma snapped her fingers, pointing at Fafnir. "You were the one who devised that spell!"
"What spell?" Tohru's petulant demand was loud enough to cause Kobayashi to shut her eyes with a grimace.
"What do the humans say?" Fafnir gazed at the ceiling. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
"Fafnir is the one dragon in all the worlds who knows the spell to transform a human into a dragon for one day." Lucoa's patient explanation came with a fond smile, as though her male counterpart were a recalcitrant junior. Kobayashi realized she'd never actually asked exactly how much older Lucoa was than the rest of them. She had a feeling just knowing Tohru's age would make things more awkward between them.
"I've never heard of such a thing!" Tohru was looking outraged again. "I can't believe I've never heard of such a thing! Why haven't I heard of such a thing?"
Lucoa's cheeks dimpled as she smiled. "Well, you are young."
Fafnir sat with his arms folded, looking disdainfully bored.
"Then you must!" Tohru was already flailing, arms wildly gesticulating as she entreated her elder. "You must do the spell for Miss Kobayashi! You can't possibly deny her the opportunity!"
"Uh..." Kobayashi could already feel the now-familiar sensation of control once more slipping, falling from her grasp like so much sand. "Tohru --"
"Don't worry, mistress!" Tohru's bounce nearly sent her chest into the stratosphere. "I'm sure you'll see the advantages right away!"
Kobayashi's vague protests continued to fall on deaf ears as her maid turned once more to Fafnir, silent and forbidding. "I know your human companion would love it, right? The chance to play at being a dragon for real?"
Fafnir's only response was another snort. Something flickered on his face, and he looked down to find Kanna tugging on the leg of his finely tailored pants, staring up at him.
"She should know." The youngest dragon's voice was, as always, in keeping with her form. But there was nothing of a child in those huge, purple and alien eyes. "What it feels like."
"Hmph." The dismissive contempt in Fafnir's snort was oddly lacking. He raised his head, staring at Kobayashi across the table.
"I'll do it. But only to prove what fools you all are." He gave a meaningful glance in Tohru's direction. "Especially you."
"Now hold on a minute!" Kobayashi sank back into the cushions, holding out both hands. "I can't just abandon my responsibilities! Not during crunch week --"
"Then as soon as the weekend is here!" Tohru practically flung herself at Kobayashi's feet, which were drawn all the way up onto the couch. "You'll see! I'm sure you won't regret it!"
"But..." She tried to think of more words, which utterly failed to come. "But..."
Tohru's surprise was bordering on mild shock. "Are you saying you don't want to be a dragon?"
Kobayashi blinked. Then she removed her glasses, and set to polishing them on her sweater with a quiet sigh. "All right."
Tohru's squeal was quickly silenced when Kobayashi fixed Fafnir with a hard and meaningful stare. "You're sure it's just for one day?"
Fafnir inclined his head. "The incestuous one is correct."
"Hey!" Lucoa's protest was soundly ignored, again according to standard group protocol.
"Human minds could not long withstand their own existence as dragons." Fafnir offered another snort, this one more mild. "Which is for the best -- at least, from your perspective."
Kobayashi blinked again, and then a few more times. "Huh?"
"He means you'd wipe yourselves out." Elma frowned and cocked her head to one side. "Each other? You'd wipe each other out."
"I said all right!" Kobayashi instantly regretted raising her voice upon her maid's hurt look. "If -- if nothing else comes up, okay?"
"Never fear, Kobayashi-san!" Typical for her, Tohru bounced right back with a literal bounce. "I'll dedicate myself more fervently than ever before to keeping your calendar free!"
"I already have nothing to do!" Kobayashi couldn't conceal her exasperation. Nor, at this point, did she much care to. "What, are you going to do my crossword puzzles for me?"
Tohru's encouraging smile was so wide that her eyes were nearly shut. It only made her further resemble the busty Lucoa. "Of course!"
Kobayashi buried her face in her hands. "I can't believe work is starting to sound like fun."
"Now that she knows how, Elma-san can teach me how to program. Then I can help you crunch numbers even faster!"
Hands still covering her face, Kobayashi threw her head into the back of the couch with a groan.
Kobayashi was hardly surprised when Friday inevitably rolled around and found her still trying to figure a way out of her predicament. Tohru wasn't even mentioning the subject at all any more, her animated and ebullient demeanor speaking far louder than words as she sent her mistress off to work with a bento box and a huge smile. It was a better than average lunch, and one that Kobayashi couldn't even properly enjoy despite the distinct lack of dragon tail as an ingredient. She was too busy thinking of what awaited her at home.
"Kobayashi-san?" The lanky figure of Mokoto Takiya loomed overhead. The young man held a steaming cup of coffee in his left hand, a stack of laser printouts in his right as he pointed to a line far down the first page. "This library the American contractor submitted -- does that look right to you?"
"Lemme see." She squinted at the page, inwardly cursing his miniscule choice of font. If you were going to waste paper, she'd always thought, just bite the bullet and get it over with.
"Maybe," she eventually conceded, shaking her head. "I'll have to check where it links up with mine. Probably part of yesterday's commit."
"No rush. Either way, it gets merged at the end of the week." As ever, Takiya remained the consummate gentleman and exemplary co-worker. "How about a drink after? My treat."
"Thanks, but I..." She tried not to grit her teeth. "Have prior commitments."
Takiya gave her a kindly chuckle. "Looks like you're going straight from here to the boss's house to wax his car."
Kobayashi's mouth twisted briefly, as if she'd bitten into a lemon candy. "I wish."
"What's Tohru got you roped into this time?" Takiya's knowing smile told only half the story. The first night they'd met he had actually seen Tohru transform right before his eyes, and merely shrugged it off due to excess alcohol. While most adult dragons' magical ability included the ability to block perceptions, erase and alter memories entirely, Takiya remained blissfully ignorant of the nature and capabilities of her friends without any of them having to resort to such measures. If the man hadn't realized after this long that his roommate wasn't even human, it was hard to imagine what it might take to convince him.
"You're better off not knowing," she sighed. "But trust me when I say that no amount of alcohol would suffice."
The ride home seemed to take forever and no time at all. Her stop was already far too near, and she found herself sorely tempted to just keep going. Pick up a bottle, stumble into the mountains, and do it all over again.
"Welcome home, Miss." Tohru's smile was still extra-large and extra smiley, but her excitement had thankfully been toned down a bit. "Can I take off your shoes and lick your tired feet -- er, give you a footrub?"
"It's okay," Kobayashi mumbled. "I need a shower. And a cup of coffee."
"Right away, Miss!" Tohru whirled and disappeared into the kitchen, just as her mistress was about to add please. Kobayashi sighed and bent to remove her wet boots, hanging up her coat.
She nodded to the living roomful of dragons on her way through, listening to their muffled voices chattering away as she forced her weary and graceless body under the hot water. It ended up being too relaxing, and she finished with an ice-cold rinse, biting her lip to keep from screeching like a banshee. Tohru had argued that it was better to make the transformation in the evening, as the spell would wear off Saturday night and leave her all of Sunday to recuperate. Kobayashi didn't have the heart to scold her maid for the poor choice of words, but it didn't lift her spirits to think of this as something from which one needed to recover.
It wasn't much surprise to slide back the door to the shower and find a mug of coffee waiting on the sink, still hot enough to need blowing. It served nicely as yet another log on the fire of her guilt, and Kobayashi dried herself off as quickly as possible, wrapping her hair in a towel and herself in a bathrobe before emerging from the now steam-filled room.
"Wonderful." Lucoa beamed, offering a hearty upturned thumb in her best ganbatte style.
Kobayashi swallowed and tried not to trip over the hem of the long, fluffy bathrobe as she strode into the center of the room. The kotatsu had been shoved aside to make room for the mystic diagrams, laid out on a marble slab almost three meters across with a full length mirror at the north point facing inward. Kanna sat on the couch, her thin tail twitching back and forth, observing the procedings in silence.
"Did you eat first?" Elma sounded unduly fatalistic. It struck Kobayashi as unnecessary at best as she took her place inside the multiple layers of magical barrier. Triangle overlapped with circle, pentagram and parallelogram, along with a dizzyingly irregular blob shape that reminded her of nothing so much as a wad of mucus.
"I just got cleaned up." She nodded to Fafnir. "Please. Before I change my mind."
"Pathetic human." Fafnir sounded as bored as he looked even as he raised his hands, the lighting in the room falling to a dramatically darkened pitch. "Do you ascend to dragonhood freely and without coercion?"
"Hey, hey." Kobayashi frowned. "Isn't that a bit over the top?"
Fafnir regarded her as though she were covered in her own vomit. "The laws of magic allow no deviation."
"Like dragon customs." Kobayashi nodded. As she looked about the room, her eyes fell on Tohru, as desperate and happy as she'd ever seen the dragon maid.
It might have been a mistake. It probably was. But all Kobayashi could think about was the look on that face.
The jolt hit her before the sound waves were done vibrating, falling from her lips. An ocean of roaring pain, her thoughts expanding at nauseating speed; it all came crashing down upon her, the universe contracting to a point with her at the center of its ultradense core.
Then just as quickly fled, leaving her gasping, down on one knee.
"Okay," she managed to croak. She didn't really feel any different, apart from the rapidly fading echoes of remembered agony. But the others were looking at her encouragingly as she stood on shaky legs. Except for Fafnir, tall and arrogant, looking down his nose. At least he was actually looking at her.
"Do I look different?" She turned to see her reflection in the mirror. Nothing. No different. Not a thing.
That was different.
Kobayashi's scream nearly shattered her own eardrums as Lucoa swept forward, gracefully snatching up a blanket from the couch and casually draping it about her shoulders. Grateful for the quick and efficient coverup, the lone human -- now ostensibly dragon -- found herself trembling from the memory of that sound. It might be her imagination, but the very glass in the windows seemed to be vibrating right along with her.
"Oh -- right." Elma looked like she had solved a puzzle. "You need to transform your scales into clothes by a conscious act of will. And you probably weren't even thinking about it."
"You mean my clothes are gone?" Kobayashi blinked, then gave an annoyed frown. "I liked that robe."
"You can make one just like it," Elma assured her.
"Better." This came from Fafnir, who was gathering up his implements and accessories.
Elma nodded. "Isn't that right, Tohru-san?"
A moment passed, and everyone turned to look at Tohru. Except Fafnir, who didn't turn his body or his head, but did glance in her direction from the corner of one eye.
Tohru stood silent, wide-eyed and mute, lips slightly parted as she stared at her mistress. A deep flush graced her cheeks, her bosom lightly heaving in sympathetic fascination.
"Tohru --" Kobayashi sighed and shook her head. "Tohru!"
The dragon maid's glazed eyes came back into focus as she snapped upright, firing off an enthusiastic salute. "Yes, Miss Kobayashi!"
"How come I don't look any different?" She turned again toward the mirror, running one hand over the top of her head, glancing behind and over her shoulder for any sign of a tail. Same as it ever was.
"I don't think it worked."
"Fool." Fafnir's cutting remark was typical, but seemed to cut less deep than the norm.
"Oh, it worked." Lucoa smiled, infinitely sure of herself.
Tohru clapped her hands, bouncing up on her toes. "Try to breath fire!"
"Are you crazy?" Kobayashi glared at her. "Not indoors. Off the balcony!"
Elma ran forward, tugging open the sliding door. Kobayashi marched outside, defiant, then stood there as the others gathered behind her. Their looks were nothing but encouraging as she glanced around the circle, apart from Fafnir. Still, it was hard not to feel sheepish.
"I don't know how."
"It's okay, Miss Kobayashi." Tohru was at her side with a knowing smile, unfailingly upbeat. "You just don't have the instincts. But you do have the power."
"That's right," Elma chimed in. "We don't even know what her dragon form will look like."
Tohru clasped her hands to her cheek, letting out a dreamy sigh. "It'll be beautiful."
"Not in the house," Kobayashi growled.
Tohru snapped her fingers. "We could go to the field where Kanna and I were playing. There's plenty of room!"
"But first?" Kanna pointed out over the edge of the balcony, toward the horizon. "Breathe fire."
The young dragon's big-eyed, innocent demand made it even harder to clear her own mind. Kobayashi shivered as Lucoa stepped in close, one hand on her shoulder, the other clasping her upper arm; those phenomenal boobs pressing against, into and all over her suddenly very warm, increasingly solid body.
"Like Lauren Bacall said." The dethroned Aztec goddess smelled intoxicating like always, and like never before. All manner of exotic unknown herbal fragrances combined in that musky aroma, exhaled on the very breath from her lungs. "You just put your lips together, and --"
Kobayashi leaned back, jaws yawning impossibly wide, then lunged forward.
A fiery lance leapt forth to cleave the air, searing every drop of moisture in its path before vanishing in the night sky. The wisp of vapor that issued from her lips in its wake rose past her astonished eyes, disappearing in turn on the wind.
The tiny group erupted in cheers. But none were louder than Tohru, who cheered and pumped her delicate fist so hard it made the balcony creak and sway.
"My fellow dragons!" The maid turned with upraised arms, and a wicked gleam in her eye. "Time to break out the booze!"
Fafnir raised a single eyebrow.
Is it too horribly meta to refer to an animated character as being animated?
Not everything goes better with booze.
Tohru didn't understand. That was really the only frustrating part. Everything was finally perfect. Well -- almost. But for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why she wasn't, in fact, having a stunningly good time. At least it made sense, from Kobayashi-san's point of view: Her mistress was merely realizing how much more alcohol it took to get a dragon good and drunk. It wasn't a happy look.
"I am not breaking into my birthday scotch!" Kobayashi slammed her empty can down on the table, crushing it flat. "I've gone through a case of this pisswater and it's doing nothing at all! How am I even alive?"
Elma pursed her lips, adopting a calculating expression. "Well, we could always open the --"
Tohru's eyes grew wide. Behind Kobayashi and over her head, the dragon maid frantically waved her arms, mouthing silent negations.
"What's that?" Kobayashi sounded all too intrigued. Her mistress was beginning to show the tiniest signs of horns, twin buds peeking out from underneath her tousled hair. It made Tohru wonder if the same thing was happening under her blanket; the vestigial nub of a tail inching its way forth from the gentle swell of those slim, boyish hips.
"Oh, it's just the stuff I was drinking when I lost my divinity." Lucoa produced an unmarked bottle covered in dust, its bottom end the size of one of her breasts. "Minus the curse."
"I should hope so." Elma shook her head. "What happens if you don't have a sister to sleep w--"
"Kanpai!" Lucoa took an enormous swig, immediately forcing the bottle upon Elma. The smaller dragon went into a fit of choking and spluttering before getting a swallow down, waving it on with tears in her eyes.
Tohru felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as she watched her mistress raise the bottle high.
By the third pass round, Elma was cross-eyed, trying not to focus on her own horn. As Tohru had feared, Kobayashi-san had quickly moved into the belligerent and authoritative stage of drunkenness. Not that she normally minded, when it was just the two of them. Still, her innate sense of pride couldn't help but balk at being ordered around in front of her elders, a flushed and slurring Kobayashi demanding that Tohru cease this pointless attempt at cosplay and strip, immediately. Or as her mistress had actually put it, now. Only with a good many more O's.
"No! All of you strip!" Kobayashi abruptly lunged forward. "No, Kanna! Not you --"
"I told you." Kanna's resigned glare was more openly resentful than the young dragon generally allowed to be seen on her cute face. "You seduced Lady Tohru with your body."
"That's not fair, Kanna!" Tohru could never help the instinct to defend her mistress from any perceived attack. "If anything, it was the other way -- er."
Thankfully, Kobayashi didn't appear to notice. She bobbed and weaved in her seat, holding out her cup as Fafnir regarded her with cold derision.
"C'mon, Faf-kun! Drink up!"
"I told you, only your co-worker may refer to me with such familiarity." But Fafnir accepted, holding the cup daintily between thumb and forefinger. He raised it to just under his aristocratic blade of a nose, nictating membranes actually flickering as his nostrils flared deeply.
"Your offering is acceptable." In the blink of an eye the dark-haired dragon had tipped his head back, inhaling the cup's contents and returning to his previous position in a motion almost too quick for the others to follow. His normally pale cheeks now showed the faintest hint of a flush, and Kobayashi cheered as she waved the bottle, nearly smacking herself in the head.
"More cups! Cups for everyone!" Kobayashi pointed a wobbling finger at Tohru, her eyes and mouth widening in mock astonishment. "D cups!"
Tohru had no idea where this was going. So far, it wasn't that different. But any second now, her mistress would realize --
"Wait!" Kobayashi sat bolt upright, her astonishment now genuine. "I can do magic!"
"Erm -- Miss Kobayashi?" Tohru did her best to sound appropriately docile. "Perhaps you should start with something small?"
"These cups are too small!" With a gesture from Kobayashi, the bottle rose into the air, turning upside down and moving across the table to fill the entire row of cups. "Look at how small these drunks are!"
Elma frowned. "Drinks?"
"I'm not drink, you are!" Kobayashi whooped and gestured again, sending one of the cups into the air to levitate over her head. It tilted with her as she tipped her head back, making loud noises of satisfaction as the stream of liquor ran over her tongue and down her gullet.
Tohru's laugh sounded too nervous, even to her. Kobayashi seemed surprised at the sound, looking at her maid as though she were a farm animal that had just been airdropped into the living room.
"You!" Kobayashi leveled her finger at Tohru. Thunderheads seemed to gather from behind, transforming her into a dark and avenging deity.
Tohru was ready for anything. Or so she thought, until her mistress blinked out of existence.
"Oh no!" Tohru ran forward and fell to her knees, scraping and pawing at the floor. "She's disintegrated! I told her not to --"
"I teleported, you jackass!" Kobayashi stumbled from the bedroom, barely clutching her blanket around her nude form. Her laughter abruptly ceased, replaced with terrifying rapidity by rage. "You truly have no respect for me! You -- the woman who once told me there is no power but the power to destroy!"
The rattling hum that was rising seemed to come from the very air itself. Tohru knew that all the other dragons could see what she saw: The dim and fiery glow that now surrounded her mistress, concentrated most strongly in her hands and forehead.
"Kobyashi-san?" Lucoa was still smiling, but both of her eyes were fully visible. "Why don't you give me that bottle, hm?"
"I'll give it to you, all right!" But Kobayashi was pointing at Tohru as she said the words. "I'll give it to you so hard --"
A pencil-thin ray of light leapt from the tip of her finger, the color of rubies. It barely missed Tohru and met the sliding door to the balcony, causing a neat hole to appear in the glass.
"Bwah!" Kobayashi was laughing again. "You should have seen your face! But that was nothing --"
"Please, Miss Kobayashi!" Tohru put every ounce of her love behind her plea, imploring her mistress with all her heart. It wasn't enough.
"You always underestimate me, Tohru. Except when you're overestimating me." Kobayashi's voice had fallen to a growl as she staggered forward, the glazed and cloudy eyes behind her wire-rimmed glasses fixed solidly upon her stunned maid. "Either way -- I can never live up to your expectations!"
Tohru could have blocked the spell, or sent it back upon its caster. There were a stunning array of options open to her, if only she hadn't cared about the consequences. Instead, she dove and hit the floor, feeling the shockwave as the massive beam melted the air above her.
She raised her head, glancing warily around the room. Every inanimate object had been vaporized; the far wall completely gone, sliding door and all. Lucoa was patting a sobbing Kobayashi on the back, smothering the smaller woman in her sizable chest with a perfectly ordinary and friendly hug.
Both rage and grief appeared to quickly pass, for Kobayashi sat quietly on the floor as Elma and Tohru worked to repair the damage. Her destroyed property was back in place in less than ten seconds, her neighbors' memories wiped clean shortly thereafter. Still Kobayashi remained silent, gazing around her restored apartment as if she'd never seen it before.
Tohru's first impulse as always was to run to her mistress's side. Instead she held back, waiting to approach. Finally Kobayashi glanced up at her and nodded, looking very tired.
"Tohru, how do you do it? Get through every day without..." Kobayashi plucked at her blanket, grimacing at the singed and smoking holes. "Without destroying everything?"
Unnoticed by anyone but Kanna, Fafnir slightly inclined his head in a nod of approval.
"I..." She didn't have to think about the answer. Just how to say it.
"I'm not saying it never happens. I get angry. Things -- upset me." She stood before her mistress in her perfectly starched uniform, hands clasped in front of her. "And when that happens, Kobayashi-san -- I think of you. And then, somehow...everything is all right."
Kobayashi reached out, making a scooping gesture in the air. A cup appeared in her fingers before the motion was complete.
"Here's to you, then." She tossed back her toast before Tohru could utter a word, leaning on the arm of the couch and gazing out the window.
"I should want to go flying right now." Her head lolled, cheek resting on her arm as she looked up at Tohru with unmistakable affection. "But that's what I have you for, isn't it?"
"You have me to fulfill your every desire." Tohru bowed her head. "I only wish you desired me."
"Hey, now." A decidedly uncomfortable tone had entered Kobayashi's voice. "That's not --"
"You're right," Tohru sighed. "That was selfish. This day is supposed to be about you."
"But --" And now Kobayashi sounded confused. "Every day feels like that."
Tohru glanced up without raising her head.
"You wait on me hand and foot. You worship the ground I walk on...it's --" Kobayashi stumbled to a halt.
Tohru felt a panic rising. "Not enough?"
Kobayashi's reply was almost inaudible. "Exhausting."
Tohru remained silent as her mistress continued, fumbling to put her thoughts in order.
"I've always been...just an ordinary person. More boring than the average. Tohru --" She shook her head. "You're the extraordinary one. You have all this power. And every day you struggle, just to keep it in check." A note of wonder was there, and more than a little respect. "For me."
Fafnir's snort echoed throughout the room. "As if a dragon were your pet."
"Hardly." Kobayashi let out a snort of her own, not even bothering to glance over at him as she regarded Tohru.
"Believe me, I don't think of you that way. It's not like cats and dogs." A wry smile. "And anyway -- those are totally different. If its master dies, a dog will sit by the body for days, waiting for that person to return. Most cats would be eating you before your body was cold."
The corner of Fafnir's mouth rose a fraction of a centimeter.
"I mean -- I like cats. But I don't kid myself about what they are." Kobayashi sighed, looking aimlessly about the room before settling back on Tohru. "Sometimes...I realized I was kidding myself about what you are. I thought I was over that."
Her gaze fell once more.
"I guess I never will be."
Transformation, and a brief flight.
Her temporary madness having flown as quickly as it arrived, Kobayashi now found herself full of an unaccountable nervous energy. Usually by this point she was well past maudlin and approaching passed out. After the initial rush, however, the effect of the powerful dragon liquor was anything but sleep-inducing. Tohru had managed to shed the lingering effect of their conversation by engaging herself in the kitchen, helping the children make cookies.
"Don't take this the wrong way." Kobayashi was nursing a mug of coffee, cradling the warm ceramic in her hands. "I do like you, really. You're just easier to deal with when Shouta's not around."
"I understand." Lucoa patted her on the arm. "Don't worry. I like to give him a break every now and then."
A thought occurred to her. "What do his parents think?"
"Oh, they're incredibly accepting." The blonde dragon took a sip from her own mug, frowning before adding a generous dollop from her seemingly unending bottle. "They even tried to tell him I'm not a succubus. Though I don't blame him for being suspicious."
Kobayashi felt one eyebrow rise at the other woman's punctuating giggle.
"Lucoa-san -- how do I put this delicately?" She hesitated, then plunged in head first. "Do you intend to mate with your master? When he's...mature?"
"Oh my, no. Though it certainly would be entertaining." Lucoa twittered and removed her baseball cap, fanning her brow.
"Really." Kobayashi had to admit she wasn't expecting that. "No?"
"By then -- I'm sure he'll have grown beyond me." Lucoa gazed fondly through the kitchen doorway. The young wizard stood at the counter next to Tohru, showing Kanna how to roll out dough. "They do that so quickly."
Despite her cheery demeanor, there was visible pain in those mismatched eyes of green and gold. It made Kobayashi bow her head, speaking very quietly.
"I'm one of them."
"I know." Lucoa seemed to shrug off her sadness, the look on her face one of overwhelming and unmistakable sympathy. "More's the pity."
"Kobayashi-san --" Elma pointed at the television. "The skies are clear now. Can we go outside?"
It was half past three when they emerged from the stairwell onto the rooftop. A few clouds remained, scattered in the sky, but the sun shone down on the city in multiple locations. Kobayashi found it quite pretty. Unfortunately, she was starting to feel weird again. With so many eyes on her, it was to be expected.
"It would be doubly irresponsible of you to attempt to fly in an inebriated and untrained state." Fafnir delivered this assessment in his best monotone, and Kobayashi frowned.
"I'm surprised." She couldn't help a grin. "The great Fafnir, concerned for the safety of mere humans?"
Her target wore a frigid sneer. "My only concern is the reputation of dragonkind."
"It's okay, Miss Kobayashi." Tohru's disappointment was as clear as it was expected, but the maid's optimism remained unbroken. "At least we get to see what you look like."
Once again, all eyes turned to her. Once more, it had the same effect.
"I can't." Try as she might to reign in the fidgeting, it was just no use. "It's too weird with all of you watching. Especially you."
"Hmph." Fafnir rolled his eyes, but did not look away.
"No -- she's right. Come on, everyone." Tohru turned and gestured, gently encouraging. "Turn around, give Miss Kobayashi her privacy. There we go..."
"Uh -- Tohru?"
Her maid froze in place.
"Not you." Kobayashi's voice was quiet. "It's okay."
Tohru seemed to swell in her sight. Almost like that first morning when, faced with the imminent threat of being late for work, she'd been desperate enough to ask her strange new companion: Can you fly?
"That is so unfair," Elma retorted, even as she turned her back. "And typical."
With a tremendous effort, Tohru composed herself once more. Standing prim and proper, she awaited her mistress's pleasure.
The slow boil of borrowed energy through Kobayashi's veins was certainly pleasurable. Now that she could identify it as such, the power was all too obvious. Whatever else lay beyond her, whether by lack of training or innate ability, this was something she didn't need to know how to do. No need to think, this knowledge sunk deep in her bones, in her blood.
The only question was whether she wanted to. Especially after the joking comments at the hot springs, rekindling her unfortunate school years, a thousand casual acts of unkindness. It didn't help that the only dragons in the group with less chest than her were the guy and the loli.
Tohru was still looking at her. But all that high pressure seemed to have been drained away. That smile said there was no hurry.
They had all the time in the world.
The bloom and flower within her felt like a nuclear bomb. If a nuke were made out of mushrooms and puppies, wrapped in velvet with a chocolate milkshake on top. As the sensation faded, she realized Tohru was now looking up at her from far below.
Okay, guys. Her vocal projection was as strong as her tone was shy. You have to promise not to laugh.
"I make no promises." Fafnir's scorn and sarcasm came perfectly mixed, dryer than a Bond martini.
"You, laugh?" Elma chuckled. "I'd pay to see that."
Well? She couldn't quite inject the needed note of confidence. Tohru?
The dragon maid was stunned, silent. Then her open mouth slowly became a smile; nodding with approval, as she continued her inspection.
"Wow." Elma was the first to turn around. She craned her neck to look up, joining Tohru in her nod. It was like watching a pair of doctors discussing which particular flesh-eating disease was killing someone.
"Oooh." Kanna's exclamation was typical in its lack of overt emotion. Still, it was clear to Kobayashi that the young one was genuinely impressed.
Well -- someone take a picture or something. Her impatience came through loud and clear in her sending, and Fafnir held up his smartphone with a pained look.
"Please." The dragon's exaggerated patience reeked of the whole we're not savages vibe he had adopted since moving in with Takiya. "We can use the latest app to do live videoconferencing."
"Oh, you have that too?" Elma dug her own phone from her pocket. "They made me install it for work. Okay, I'll record Kobayashi-san --"
"And you can show her this." Fafnir handed his phone to Tohru, doing a very good job of sounding bored.
Kobayashi lowered her head to the level of Tohru's shoulder. It seemed to take forever, but finally she was squinting at the screen, watching herself towering over the comparatively miniscule figure of the maid. Her coloring was brown and gold, with hints of red toward the tips of her claws; her scales resembling Kanna's, almost akin to feathers.
I feel more like a gryphon.
Kanna tilted her head. "You kind of look like one."
"True gryphons wouldn't be as intelligent," Elma remarked, nodding sagely. Lucoa merely smiled, and Fafnir's glower appeared slightly less scowly.
Tohru stepped forward and reached out her hand, looking unsure. "May I...pet you?"
Of course. Kobayashi couldn't help a snort as she curled up around Tohru, emitting a sigh of contentment at the touch of the dragon maid's hand running over her razor-fine scales. Neither of them noticed the others quietly turning to leave, with only Kanna and Elma looking back as they shut the door behind them.
Sunlight crawled across the sky. She continued to doze until she felt an odd sensation in her lower arm.
The far-off poking ceased. Kobayashi realized it had been Tohru, punching her in order to to rouse her from slumber.
"There's still a couple of hours left." The maid sounded hopeful as she pointed to the sky, now streaked with purple and gold. "Are you sure you don't want to go flying?"
Tempting. And it was, unlike earlier when the notion filled her with terror and trepidation. Probably not the safest idea, though.
"I'll come, too." Tohru's confidence was ironclad. "With me along, you've nothing to fear."
And so they did, for a little while. Kobayashi found her initial concerns quickly fading, getting more and more into it until they were looping spirals around each other, up and down over the city as it sparkled with light. But all too soon they were touching back down on the roof, their enormous forms coming to rest atop the building without a sound, without a single tremor.
The shimmer enveloped her once more, leaving her human. At least in appearance.
"I almost..." But the words failed her again. Tohru only gave a sad smile.
"Is that --" Her tongue felt clumsy inside her mouth. "Is this what you and Kanna felt? That day you were playing in the field?"
"I think so." Tohru wasn't looking at her, still gazing up at the nighttime sky. "And what you felt before."
"Yeah." Kobayashi shivered and wrapped the blanket tighter around herself. At least the holes were gone. "Can we go inside?"
Tohru turned, her eyes covered in shadow from the flickering security light that hung above the doorway. "Mistress?"
"I'd really like some tea."
For a moment, she actually thought the dragon might refuse.
Tohru gracefully moved aside, holding the door open for her. She was about to head downstairs when she felt a hand on her arm.
She might have expected something else. But there was nothing but love in those strange, red and alien eyes.
She was all set to do the same old thing. Just another innocuous pat on the head. Yet somehow, she didn't think about it at all when she opened her arms and stepped forward.
"No, Tohru." She felt the dragon's breath hot on her neck, that tiny and powerful body trembling in her embrace. "Thank you."
Tiny bits of angst, and a ton of tooth-rotting fluff.
Really glad this steamrolled like it did. Also hilarious that I inadvertently echoed the final scene of Honey Moon Shine more than once. God dammit, I love this pairing. Here's to season 2. Kanpai!
Tohru was unsurprised to find everyone else gone when they got back to the apartment. Except for Kanna, who was tucked up under the kotatsu, drooling on a pillow. By the clock on the wall, they had about ninety minutes before the draconic essence dissipated, returning to the aether.
"Welp -- guess I know the last thing I'm using super strength for." Kobayashi hoisted her ward over her shoulder with a theatrical groan. "Get the door for me, would you?"
Tohru swept ahead of her. It was only the work of a few minutes to stow the littlest dragon in her own bed, Kanna instantly curling into the shape of a pillbug as soon as Kobayashi managed to peel her arms free. She pulled up the blankets with a sigh, bestowing a goodnight kiss on the small patch of forehead that still peeked out from under the covers.
Tohru returned to the kitchen, her head in a daze, a thousand and one thoughts competing for her attention. Her hands moved automatically, locating all the necessary pieces of the puzzle as she sought to clear her mind. It was almost funny, in a perverse sort of way. Elma certainly had to be getting a kick out of a dragon of Chaos having fallen so low, to feel such a horrible need and desire for order.
She was still standing in front of the counter, staring at a covered mug when her mistress entered the room. The thrill that rose in her as the other woman drew close was something that had to be present at the subatomic level, Tohru felt. Magnets, gravity, even magic; all the force in the multiverse had nothing on this.
"You don't want any?"
Tohru glanced up, startled. Her mistress was wearing her favorite lounging clothes, consisting of a ratty old pair of jeans and a slightly less ratty green shirt. Apparently the comfort of familiarity won out over the convenience of magic scales.
Kobayashi nodded, indicating the solitary mug.
"Oh." The dragon offered an apologetic smile that turned into a grimace. "Tea -- just makes me tense."
"Is that so?" Kobayashi accepted the mug with a raised eyebrow. "More tense than I was acting earlier?"
"You shouldn't think anything of it." Tohru's smile came more easily this time. "I certainly don't."
"Huh." Kobayashi watched as her maid turned back to the counter, busying herself putting away the dishes. A quiet slurping sound reached Tohru's ears. "Thanks. It's good."
Tohru couldn't help a satisfied hum as she stowed the last of the plates. Still, there remained a shadow of doubt.
"Is that everything?"
"I think so." This was rhetorical; a human flourish, a social nicety Tohru had learned to help keep a conversation well lubricated in the absence of libation. She pretended to check, looking around the kitchen before giving a satisfied nod. "Yep. That's it."
"Well --" Kobayashi held out her hand. "Shall we?"
Tohru accepted even as she cast her gaze upon the floor, silently following her mistress down the hall. Those thousand and one thoughts were back again, each of them raising a million and more questions. Maybe she wouldn't be happier, she thought, if she had obeyed her father's orders and returned to her world. But it couldn't be denied that her life would be less complicated.
She shut the door behind them, ignoring the flutter in her stomach. Kobayashi was stooping to remove her pants in that casual, clumsy manner she had, tossing them in the laundry hamper before collapsing to a seated position on the edge of her bed.
Tohru knelt to arrange her own bedroll, consisting of a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor. It wasn't as though they had never slept in the same bed, but in general her mistress seemed more comfortable when given a little space of her own. A personal space, the humans called it.
She didn't realize what the sound was until it came again. Tohru looked up in confusion to find her mistress looking at her. The expression on that face wasn't necessarily unreadable, but it was a hell of a lot to unpack, even for a student of humanity such as herself.
"Would you like to come to bed with me?"
Tohru blinked twice, shook her head and frowned. There had to be some sort of clarifying question she could ask, but it wasn't coming to her.
"I'm not drunk." Kobayashi's smile was mildly rueful. "Not any more. And I'm not under the influence of a love potion, or anything like that. Pretty sure."
Tohru could only stare. That was definitely a first.
"I mean -- I'm a dragon. For another hour or so." Kobayashi looked up at the ceiling, seemingly weighing this in the balance. "Don't think that's got anything to do with it."
She was dead, Tohru thought. Or dying. The sword of the gods had laid her low, and now she lay, alone. Hallucinating.
"You're always doing everything for me." Kobayashi took a deep breath, drawing Tohru's gaze to the modest curves beneath her shirt. "So let me do something for you."
"Miss Kobayashi!" Tohru rose to her feet in shock. Stunned and torn didn't begin to cover how she felt. "Please -- don't force yourself on my account. I would never --"
Tohru felt her fangs pierce deep into her bottom lip. The pain was exquisite.
"I know you wouldn't," Kobayashi continued. "Since the night we first met."
Tohru swallowed, tasting blood as her saliva healed over the little wounds.
"It took me quite a while to remember everything, you know." Kobayashi was looking almost wistful.
"Um --" Tohru knew how nervous she must look. "Everything?"
Tohru gazed at her feet, fiddling with her hands. Fascinating human things they were. How they felt, and could feel.
"I mean -- it was all so obvious in retrospect. There you are, all alone. Big old sword sticking out of your side. Some crazy drunk human -- literally bumps into you. Pulls it out, shares her booze, and --" Kobayashi's embarrassment had the air of something long denied and finally acknowledged. "Spends the next half hour fondling your tits."
Tohru couldn't meet her gaze. "More like a couple of hours."
Without looking up, Kobayashi reached out and patted the empty spot next to her on the bed. Tohru silently obeyed, sitting with her head bowed.
She felt an arm around her, gently tugging until she succumbed. Tohru lay her head on the other woman's shoulder, unable to do anything else.
"So, yeah. Under those circumstances -- who wouldn't fall head over heels?" Kobayashi's voice was soft with understanding. "I probably would have."
Tohru sniffled, wiping her eyes. Her hand covered her mouth as she stared into space.
"Ever since that night." Her voice was a tearful whisper, almost angry. "I've only wanted you to love me."
"It took me a while." Kobayashi's fingers were stroking her hair, scratching the spots where horns sprouted from her head. "I had to learn how."
Tohru swallowed again. All she could think was that if anyone else were to barge in right now, their life would be forfeit, human law or no law. Not even the gods could be so cruel.
"But now...even if you weren't my maid --" Kobayashi floundered again, holding her close. "I can't imagine my life without you."
That made two of them, Tohru thought. This lizard-slow heart of hers had never beat so hard and quick, near to bursting in her chest. Her normally cool skin felt like a furnace, throwing off sparks everywhere they touched.
"Would you..." Kobayashi looked up, seeming to gather her courage. "Would you change your scales? Like that night?"
Tohru's eyes were moist as she nodded. Her uniform dissolved in a smear of rainbow coloring, replaced with a plain brown blanket; her twin pigtails transforming to a rumpled mess.
"Yeah. I thought so." Kobayashi nodded, her gaze bright and fierce. One hand rose to cradle the dragon's cheek, a gentle thumb brushing over her lip. "Even if you weren't my maid."
"I'll be anything," Tohru breathed. She thought she might dissolve herself. "Whatever you want."
"I told you what I want." Kobayashi was sounding embarrassed again. "But it's been a while, so I might be a little rusty. And I have a feeling I'll be --" She let out an exasperated sigh, looking cuter than ever. "Going into uncharted territory."
"You mean mating?" Tohru leaned in, breathing deep the thrilling scent of her mistress. Even the hint of her own kind could add nothing to that smell. "I've only observed humans mating. And other dragons, of course."
Kobayashi frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well -- I mean..." Tohru's blush intensified. "I've only...observed."
This produced more than the expected number of blinks. These were increasingly dumbfounded, until Kobayashi simply stopped and stared.
"You're kidding." Somehow, her mistress's eyes managed to be both narrowed in suspicion and simultaneously wide with disbelief. "You mean you're a --"
"My father was very protective." Tohru couldn't help the overly defensive tone.
Both women were silent for a time.
Finally, Kobayashi gave a small, embarrassed grin. "So we're both --"
"Apparently so." Tohru's face was on fire, all the way down to her belly button. She could feel Kobayashi's clever fingers still stroking her hair.
A shaky laugh emerged from the human's throat. "Well, aren't we pathetic."
"I think it's sweet," Tohru said quietly. "But you shouldn't be worried."
The lightness in Kobayashi's tone couldn't disguise her worry. "Why's that?"
"I've...observed an awful lot." Tohru had to smile at her recollections. "Sex is easy. Far too easy, some might say. But love...is very hard."
Kobayashi said nothing. But those fingers never stopped moving.
"And that's why I've never been worried about you," Tohru concluded. "I don't know about me -- but I know all about you. I've known from that first night."
Kobyashi's own voice was near a whisper. "And why's that?"
Tohru swallowed, laying her heart bare. "Because I've loved you ever since."
Humbled by this simple declaration, it seemed Kobayashi could only accept it.
Tohru leaned forward, as if confiding a secret. "You can take me by force, if you wish."
"What!?" Kobayashi pulled away. Confusion once more reigned on her face, with outrage a close second.
Tohru bit her lip again, looking unsure. "I just thought the role reversal of the usual --"
"Stop." But Kobayashi was smiling even as she was blushing, leaning back in, gently rocking them back and forth in a soothing motion. "Just stop."
Tohru couldn't help the faint and far-off flicker of concern. Kobayashi was brushing the locks of hair out of Tohru's eyes, fingers cupping her chin.
"I spent a long time worrying about that kind of thing." She gazed into Tohru's eyes with her human ones, yet dragon for a short time longer. "But it can't be that hard."
"Obviously," Tohru sniffed. "If Lucoa can do it --"
"Anyone can!" Kobayashi finished, and they broke into giggles.
Tohru shut her eyes, embracing the love of her life with all her might. Her lips brushed the other woman's ear, her voice once more a whisper.
"I will always be a selfish creature."
"That's another thing I've learned from you," Kobayashi murmured.
Human hands were wonderful things. But so, it seemed, were human hearts.
"Because I don't think I can ever let you go."