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Loose Threads

Twenty Four

Eve rested against him and laughed softly. “So Soun and Genma think you are Sidhe and that you’ll kill them if they renege on the deal for the shrine? They certainly deserved that kind of a shock, considering the way they’ve been treating Akane and Ranma.”

“Parents here have a lot of latitude in how they can treat their children,” Iain replied. “Still, I agree with you. They’re cads.” They were sitting on the bench in the park and watching the Tendo house as they cuddled. Since this was a unique situation in the contest where time was a prize in that Kasumi didn’t want Iain close at hand constantly, he’d let the clan decide and it had been unanimous that he was obligated to remain close by so that he could respond instantly to her summons, should one arrive. But it didn’t mean he couldn’t spend quality time with some of his family and so each day was spent with a couple of the women rotating through to spend nonsexual time with him.

“What happened at the bank?”

“It went pretty much as I expected. The bank drafts drew some attention, but only because of the amounts involved. We set up both foundations and Akane can draw on either one in an emergency, although the monthly payments into the Tendo bank account should cover pretty much everything except the house getting stomped on by Godzilla. She expects that for several months out of the year she won’t have to spend everything coming into the account and so she can start building a nest egg against problems before she has to touch the principal in the foundation. The foundation for the shrine will pay into a different account and tomorrow I’ll take Soun to the bank and give him access to it. The biggest surprise was that Akane gave Kasumi full access to everything she had access to, but it makes sense. She trusts Kasumi completely. And it turns out that Nabiki already has full access in case something happens to Akane.”

“How did Kasumi take this development?”

“She was surprised and flattered. Then we took Akane to school and Kasumi dragged me to go shopping at the Ginza. She wanted gifts for her family and the Saotomes. I got to porter and keep her company.” He grinned. “She got Akane to invite Ranma’s mother over for a few days or so, starting tomorrow. That’ll keep Genma busy.”

“I thought you said she knew about Ranma, Genma and what happened at Jusenkyo.”

“She does. However, apparently Genma hasn’t been informed that she knows and Ranma, who does know his mother knows, is willing to play along with his girl type.”

Eve’s body shook as she laughed silently. “That is so cruel and so perfect. What are you going to do during her visit?”

“Unless Kasumi has something for me to do, I’m going to be right here.” He chuckled. “And I’ll be training and trying to squeeze in a little magic research and dealing with clan problems as well as getting updated on our little projects.”

“Is it because of clan problems that Dominique is refusing to sit down, walks gingerly and still refuses to let anyone examine whatever injuries she may have?”

Iain looked evenly at his wife. “She did something very wrong, knew it was wrong when she did it, took pleasure in the act and wasn’t contrite in the slightest when confronted with her action. I had to take steps to try and keep it from happening again, even if her reasoning was that it was best for the clan. She accepted her punishment and we’re good again.”

“What did she do?”

Eve yelped when Iain flipped her around so she was across his lap and slid his hand up under her skirt to rest on her ass. “Do you really want to ask me to violate privacy?”

She froze. “I’m sorry! If Dominique wants me to know what she did wrong she’ll tell me.”

Iain let her up. “And if I’d told you, Dominique would have been within her rights to spank me.”

“And I would have enjoyed doing it,” Dominique said as she came around from behind the bench. She poked Eve in the chest. “And what happened is between me and Iain and none of your fucking business.”

Eve scowled at her. “I thought we were trying to stop cursing for the children.”

“You are. I don’t care. I explained to Seraphina and Olivia that adults curse and children do not. I then explained that when they’re adults they’ll have to decide if they want to curse or not.”

“You had no right to tell them that,” Eve snapped hotly.

“I am one of their mothers too,” Dominique replied with as much heat. “I told them the same thing I told Myrna and Saoirse when they asked about it. Adults are like inner clan and inner harem. They get privileges that children do not and that we earned them just like they will when they go through the transition from child to adult.”

“You agreed with us about Iain and cursing.”

“I did because Iain cursed too much at the time, not that he needed to stop cursing completely and he has gotten much better about it since then. As far as I’m concerned this is the same Celestial crap that you and Pandora pull from time to time, whether it’s about people wearing clothes or cursing.” She glanced at Iain. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s about something they see as wrong or just some knee jerk reaction where they have to try to assert some control on their surroundings and the people in it.”

Iain shrugged. “It’s a good question and I doubt we’ll ever get an answer that will satisfy everyone. As long as I continue to insist that everyone gets to choose, are you good with it?”

“I am.” She started to settle into his lap and paused. “Can I heal my ass yet?” He smiled and nodded. “Good.” She swept her hands over her jean clad rump and sighed. “Better.” Then she sat down next to him opposite Eve and cuddled into his shoulder. “So what’s going on in the Tendo household today?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Eve said. “Soun got his first deposit yesterday and has some craftsmen bidding on putting a building in around the shrine to protect it from the elements.” She glanced at Iain. “It’s a good thing it’s not a shrine to the Running Wolf or I’d have to tell him not to bother, considering how much time you spend out in the weather with various members of your family.”

Iain groaned. “Can we forget all about that please? All I need is for Soun to hear that somebody somewhere worships me and I might end up with a shrine too.”

“Is Kasumi standing in a shadowy spot inside the house and watching us normal,” Dominique asked.

Iain frowned. “Not that I’m aware of, why?”

“That’s what she’s doing right now.” Dominique smiled suddenly. “She’s got a spell up that can hear us because she just jerked out of sight. Kasumi, if you want to come join us then do so.” She grinned. “We don’t bite unless you ask nicely.”

Nothing happened for a moment and then Kasumi appeared, walking quickly towards them. She stopped in front of the bench. “How did you detect me?”

“You are an excellent mage,” Dominique said as she slid over to make room between her and Iain, “but I have been practicing magic for over three hundred years and a slave of the Order of Pendragon for most of it. Considering the Order’s predilection for remaining undiscovered, it’s hardly surprising that counter surveillance and counter detection magic is part of the Order’s strong suits. Please sit. Granted this bench is a little cozy for four, but Iain won’t mind if you have to lean against him.”

Eve shook her head and gave Kasumi a quick smile. “That’s our Dominique, as subtle as a sledgehammer.”

Dominique smiled lazily. “As long as the sledgehammer gets the job done, who cares how subtle it is.”

Kasumi smoothed her skirts and settled carefully down between Iain and Dominique. “I cannot be seen in any sort of compromising position with Iain or, honestly, any of you.”

“Tell them I’m too much of a bitch to get up for you,” Dominique said. “It’s true enough. I am a bitch.”

Kasumi leaned forward to look at Eve. “I am aware that Dominique is actively tempting me, but you are my friend. How do you feel about these events?”

Eve looked thoughtful for a moment. “If you knew Dominique as well as I know her, you’d understand just how hard it is for her to be doing what she is for you.” Kasumi raised an eyebrow and Eve nodded. “We are pokegirls and even the freest of us, including me and Dominique, have an inferiority complex involving female non-pokegirls. So she’s inviting someone who she instinctively feels will outrank her forever in certain ways to join us, and she’s offering to share her male and husband with this woman. If there’s one thing Dominique has always been consistent about, it’s refusing to share. She is one of the few who will not let us be with her and Iain together. So her behavior, while possibly annoying to you, is very remarkable to me.” She paused. “As for me, you have smiled more in the last few months than I remember you doing since we met, and most of those smiles have involved Iain and the rest of my family in some way. Additionally, I spent several years at Caomh Sith and the Kasumi I knew there never seemed to be more than content with life, even when she opened up as we became good friends. I find myself hoping that somehow she has found someone like Iain to make her smile too.” She leaned against Iain. “But to directly answer your question, I welcome you. If I didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. April, Dominique and I are the surviving original harem and if any of us had thrown a fit about your presence, we would likely not be here on your world and certainly not having this conversation.”

“I understood that Vanessa is also one of the originals,” Kasumi said.

“She is and she isn’t, but if she didn’t approve of you it is quite possible that you wouldn’t be around to have this conversation with me.”

“Eve.” Iain’s voice was quiet but firm.

“Shit.” Eve sighed. “Forget I said that, Kasumi.”

Kasumi frowned. “Vanessa doesn’t seem that formidable.”

“And on the surface,” Dominique interrupted, “neither does Iain. But he is and she is too. It’s our business until and if you join us. Neither you nor Ygerna know everything about us yet.”

“The subject is currently closed,” Iain said. “How about we give Kasumi information on other things instead? How is the work in Ireland going?”

“Work in Ireland?”

Dominique smiled. “Kasumi, while Iain has been sitting here doing what you want, we’ve been busy elsewhere with various missions that our dear husband has come up with, lest our time be wasted sitting on our asses and getting soft.” She looked past Kasumi to Iain. “As for Ireland, it’s good news and bad news. Ygerna actually met her counterpart on this world, and they seem to get along as well as a pair of Sidhe can. The counterpart is a duchess and well placed in her court, so that’s being helpful.”

“Is that the bad news or the good news?”

“I haven’t gotten to the bad news yet. The Sidhe were very impressed with Ygerna’s bodyguards and April put on a little demonstration of her card magic, which got her several offers to join the court. So, overall they’re favorably inclined towards us.”

Iain made a face. “With Sidhe it’s still hard to tell if that’s good or bad news.”

Eve snickered softly. “True. It’s funny that Ygerna made a similar observation after returning home after her first meeting with the king of that court.”

“The bad news is that before they’ll let us copy a large portion of the royal library, the king and the local Ygerna got together and set the price for it. They want us to recover their Grimoire of Danu.”

Iain cursed in Hindi. “Won’t that fucking book just stop being an issue?”

“It turns out that it going missing a few thousand years ago looks like it’s going to be a common theme,” Dominique noted. “Fortunately for us, our Ygerna was able to track her Grimoire as it moved around even if she couldn’t recover it, at least until Jimmy removed it from the planet. So she thinks she knows where it is, although we haven’t told the counterpart or her court.”

“Good. Let me guess, it’s in the vestibule on the first level of Hell and I have to bargain with Satan for it.”

“It’s a good thing you didn’t say Lucifer,” Eve said with a smile.

“According to Ygerna,” Dominique said, “during this time period the Grimoire was housed in the Presidential Library in the Kremlin.”

“It’s in the Kremlin? Fuck.” Iain rubbed his eyes.

“No,” Dominique corrected, “it may be in the Kremlin. In a few years, if this had been Ygerna’s world, James Scott would have bought it from the Russians with samples of advanced technology and the promise of more before taking it into space. But right now it should be in the Kremlin.”

“Even better. So we have to scout the Kremlin and recover the book if it is in there. And if it’s not, after risking life and limb, we still have nothing from the Sidhe court.”

“They don’t normally give prizes for second place,” Dominique pointed out softly.

“I know. So I’ll have to be a tourist in Moscow and from there the Dragonesses can scout the library for the Grimoire. Add it to my list of chores.”

My lord, we cannot handle the Grimoire, Skye said to him. The one who murdered us would have had us send for him as he had magic that could nullify it enough for him to transport.

But you can tell me if the Grimoire is there, right?

Yes, my lord, we can. And we can protect you when you come to get it.

“It turns out,” Iain said, “that my undead harem can’t move the Grimoire. If it’s in there, we’ll have to recover it while they help stand guard.” He grimaced. “Ask Ygerna if it would be possible to very, very, very politely ask Danu where the book currently is without putting us in mortal danger.”

Dominique turned her head and looked around Kasumi at him. “Really,” she asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Fine, without putting is in a whole butt load of mortal danger that we could otherwise avoid.”

“That’s better. The words goddess and mortal danger do tend to go hand in hand and we can’t forget that.” The Archmage scowled. “I still think we should scout the Kremlin first. Even if the soldiers are on full alert when we come back for the book, it’ll be less hazardous than letting Iain around a lonely goddess.”

“I didn’t make her that way! It’s not my fault!”

Kasumi chuckled. “You are the author, so that statement is eminently debatable.”

Iain sighed. “And once more I missed the memo about today being yet another day to abuse Iain.”

Eve leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips. “All days are that day, Iain. Haven’t you realized that yet?”

“That would explain why my inbox has been so quiet on the subject,” he replied cheerfully. “Fine, abuse Iain to your heart’s content. He’s used to it.”

“We’ll wait until you’re not expecting it or it’s not as much fun,” Dominique said. “In other news, the Japan project is at a standstill. Either they don’t want to talk to mere humans, when we threatened Youta we really frightened them or Jirou has put out word to keep away from us and they’re avoiding us out of fear of him.”

“Was Youta the spirit folk you mentioned on the drive home,” Kasumi asked.

“He is. He’s also one of the strongest ones in the area and is supposed to be their best scout. The fact that he never knew Canaan was there until we captured him and that he couldn’t put up enough of a fight to get away or at least seriously hurt one of his attackers really pissed him off, so we had to be very definite with the consequences of disobedience about trying for you again.” Iain rubbed his eyes, for a moment. “Where is he, anyway?”

“He’s a few kilometers to the northwest from here,” Dominique replied. “Canaan and Ganieda think it’s one of his lairs. He’s still alive and relatively healthy though, according to the transponder.”

Kasumi looked at Iain in surprise. “You tagged him?”

“We did. He’s actually got two transponders on him, one that’s relatively easy to find and one that’s not. Nobody even bothered to look. We did it so we could listen in on the meetings between him and the other local spirit folk. No, it isn’t polite, but neither is carrying you off in the night to rape and I decided the rudeness was justified. Not to mention that once they realized you were spirit folk and Akane and Nabiki were your sisters, they’d be taken next and, later, Nodoka and possibly the female Ranma.”

“What have you learned?”

Eve glanced at Iain and he nodded slightly. “In the Tokyo area there are seventeen spirit folk that we have to keep an eye on. Two are a mated couple and originally we dismissed them as of no concern. The rest are males of varying ages and power levels ruled by a two headed shark spirit named Jirou who proclaimed himself their ruler back in the 1920s. There are some female spirits living in the local waterways, but they’ve managed to avoid being caught by him or any of the others, so you’re the only available female around and Youta got close enough to determine that you’re fertile. Apparently the pollution around Tokyo is strong enough that not very many of the local females are.”

“You said you ignored the couple but that was a mistake. Why?”

Eve pursed her lips before speaking again. “The female in the couple is fertile and apparently Jirou regularly checks to see if her mate can still protect her. She fights alongside her mate and so far it hasn’t been an issue, but as soon as news spread about your presence she started pushing Jirou and the others hard to go after you in the hopes that by doing so they’ll leave her alone. Iain thinks that if she becomes more of a problem we may have to eliminate her first but Lucifer and I disagree.”

“Will any of these spirit folk be a problem for my sisters after we leave?”

Dominique shook her head. “The spirit folk blood that the Tendo and Saotome families carry isn’t strong enough to be useful to them, so no. They want your blood as a full kami instead of someone who is one eight or one sixteenth spirit folk. That might change if they find out they’re related to you and you were once like they are.”

“I’m not sure that’s true,” Iain said. “I still think they might take them hostage to try and get Kasumi to return.”

“If that happens, and that’s a definite if, we will come back and kill them all,” Eve said darkly. “The surveillance system we’re leaving will make sure we’re aware of events here.”

Kasumi frowned. “What surveillance system?”

“We’re leaving Ranma, Akane and Nabiki with phones so they can contact us if there’s trouble and an inter-dimensional system like we left in our home universe using technological gate generators and communication equipment. Messages from here will be received by Theodora within at most a couple of hours, depending on where she is in the solar system.” Dominique grinned. “And it also lets us steal broadcast television, cable and internet.”

“There isn’t a lot of internet yet,” Kasumi noted.

“No, but it’s getting started all over the planet,” Iain said. “But news isn’t the primary reason for the com link. It’s for your family. Shikarou didn’t set up the resources to do this, but he still shouldn’t have left his in-laws hanging like he did.”

“Isn’t that my fault,” Kasumi asked.

“He’s the multiple centuries old as dirt kami in the relationship and he should have known better,” Iain said. “You were too easily influenced by him and his ‘we’ll see them soon but not now’ routine. And then you got busy and time flew by. But now you’re making up for it and you’ll visit more in the future.”

“You’ll let me come more often?”

Dominique smiled. “Yes, we will.”

“What if things don’t work out between Iain and me?”

The Archmage got up and stretched. “I’ve got to get back to work.” She looked at Iain. “The primary shopping list will be done fairly soon. Some of the things we wanted are mail order only right now and we had to get an apartment in San Clemente to have an address to ship them to. It gives us a forward base for collecting our loot since we’re doing a lot of shopping in California.”

“Any problems?”

“I get hit on a lot, but other than that not really.” She grinned. “Some guy swore he could make me a movie star, but I knew from the beginning that he was lying and eventually he went away. Besides, I’m not interested in a career on this world. A few others tried to tell me that they’ve seen me in movies.” She shrugged. “It’s been happening to several of us, which is why we don’t go out alone a lot after what happened to April.” Kasumi gave her a curious look and Dominique grinned again. “Some guy grabbed April’s ass while she was carrying some stuff back to the apartment. That was a really bad idea and she responded by dislocating his elbow. We don’t need that kind of attention since we don’t exist on this world.” She looked down at Kasumi. “And to answer your question, I don’t think that’ll be a problem. You are his type and you already know his opinions of you and while you say you’re still trying to decide what he is to you, I’ve noticed that you’re being evasive about it. I think you already have a good idea about Iain and you still don’t want to say or do anything that could be seen as committing yourself. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s a lingering loyalty to the idea of Shikarou being the only man for you.” She smirked when Kasumi’s eyebrows drew together in a frown. “And you didn’t think Iain has a type? He most certainly does.”

“I don’t understand. What type are you talking about?”

“None of the women that Iain has let into his life to stay are stupid, Kasumi. Everyone in the inner clan would be considered a genius if she weren’t surrounded by others just as bright as she is. See, when Iain makes a joke about us being smart and pretty, he isn’t joking. All of us are smart, all of us are pretty and none of us are weak. That is Iain’s type in women and he is very consistent in that. And, if you look at us, you’ll realize that his idea of what is pretty varies according to the woman, but each of us in her own way is beautiful. Even the ones who won’t admit it to themselves are. He sees what they won’t and eventually persuades them he is right. Sofia, Dianthus and others have all taken or are taking that journey with him. And you,” she smiled broadly, “fit that type exactly. You are smart, you are pretty in a fashion and you show flashes of being as strong willed as any of us here. And I am well aware that he likes you. As for you, you have been careful to keep him close during this visit and I know why. By the way, I want to thank you for that. Giselle and I saw it and we stand to clean up in the betting pools about you two.” She vanished.

“She is very impertinent,” Kasumi said. She glanced at him. “She is that way because that is how you like your women.”

“No, I like my women to be free to be impertinent if they want to be. Sometimes it’s annoying, but I’m sure that sometimes I am just as annoying.”

“Amen to that,” Eve said.

Kasumi got up and turned to face them. “Eve, am I keeping Iain close?”

Eve held out her hand, palm down and waggled it. “You are summoning him to do things when you want him and banishing him to here when you don’t but you’re not predictable so he has to stay here and wait while we’re doing a bunch of other things. I can see where Dominique would say you are.” She smiled. “And she would definitely say that if she can get ahead in the betting pools.”

“What about you?”

“I haven’t put any bets on this. I don’t bet on relationships, I find that unsavory.”

“I see. Well if Giselle is in the lead, I can’t let her lose. Iain, I’d like you to go shopping with me for dinner and then help me prepare it.”

He hugged Eve and got up. “All right.”

Kasumi nodded to Eve. “I hope you don’t mind, Eve.”

The Megami-sama’s eyes twinkled as she stood. “Not at all. Just remember that it’ll be my week eventually and you won’t see him at all during it.”

“I will certainly keep that in mind. Come along, Iain.”

***

“That was wonderful, thank you, Iain.” Kasumi said as she sipped at her wine while obviously trying to decide if she wanted the rest of her dessert. “I only thought to visit the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower here in Paris but I’m glad you mentioned the catacomb tour. It was fascinating.”

They were in an elegant restaurant in central Paris that Iain had picked on the recommendation of an administrator at the Louvre. They got the occasional odd look, but that was simply because Kasumi only knew some basic French and was embarrassed to try to converse in it and so they spoke Japanese, which was unusual for the time period. It helped that Iain spoke fluent French, thanks to Theodora’s ongoing language program. He just had to make sure not to confuse it with Noir, which he’d learned to please Raquel. While essentially still French, it had evolved over the more than three hundred years it had been in use since the destruction of France. To the average French speaker, Noir was as incomprehensible as Latin.

Apparently deciding she didn’t want the rest of her dessert, Kasumi moved her plate to the side and leaned back in her chair. “Is everything ready for tomorrow’s tours?”

He nodded. “We’ll arrive in London as soon as you’re ready to leave Paris and then start the visits you wanted. There’s only one real thing that still needs to be resolved.”

“What’s that?”

“Tomorrow is the last day of the week you wanted to spend touring the world, but you’ve still got a week left and you haven’t said what you want to do with it.”

Kasumi took a deep breath and nodded as she slowly let it out. “I think Dominique is right when she said I’m afraid to commit myself to a new course of life. I know what I want to do but I am afraid to ask for it because it would commit me to something new. Is it normal to fear change?”

“It is for some,” he replied. “A lot of people don’t like change of any kind, especially in their personal lives.”

“Do you fear change?”

“That’s hard to answer.” He smiled when she raised an eyebrow in his direction. “Before I was kidnapped my life had very little change in it. With only a few exceptions I felt like I began and ended my day and my life in exactly the same place. I didn’t fear the changes in the exceptions, like when I dumped my girlfriend. After I was brought to Four the changes in my life were rapid and unexpected. I didn’t have time to know they were coming, much less to worry about them. Things slowed down after coming to One, but still, most changes were unexpected. However, there were a few that I had anticipated and, to be honest, no I wasn’t afraid of them. I was making the decisions and so the changes were mine to control, just as this one is yours.”

Kasumi nodded and started to speak but fell silent as their waitress returned to check on them and refill their wine. After the waitress had left, she sighed. “I’m not sure how to say this.”

“Remember what I said before; just tell me in the fewest words possible what this is about.”

“I want to experience life in your clan.”

He frowned for a moment. “Could you elaborate on that? I thought you already had.”

“I’ve experienced being a guest in your clan’s care, Iain. I want to spend my last week being a Grey. I want to know what I’d be joining if,” she smiled, “more likely when I join you after leaving Haven.”

“I’ll talk to my staff after you go to bed tonight and see what we can put together for you.”

“I don’t want anything special, Iain. I want to do what your clan does with them in their normal daily lives so I can see what I may be volunteering to do.”

“What about your harem?”

“I’ll speak to them tonight about what we’ll be doing.”

Iain smiled gently. “Kasumi, we’re Greys. If your harem doesn’t want to join us or participate, I’m supposed to tell you that you can’t force them to.”

She shook her head. “I’ll talk to them tonight and ask them to join me in this.”

“Just know they’ll be asked the same thing by April or someone else later.”

“I will not tell them to lie to you.”

“Thank you. I’ll talk to my ladies tonight and see what they say. I don’t think this is unreasonable, but I need to see if it will be to them since they’ll all have to be involved.”

“I can ask for no more, Iain. If they say no, I think we’ll just travel for another week. I would rather have my first desire though.”

“I’ll do my best to get it for you.”

***

“We really need to be back at the ranch for this to be real,” April said. She and the rest of his command staff were in the living area of his quarters on the Theodora. “If she wants to be clan for a week, I don’t have a problem with it otherwise.”

“I was hoping to give her a week to decompress after her month was done,” Iain pointed out. “The problem is that she can only stay a week after we return and if we take her home to let her be a Grey she won’t get the recovery time.”

“What if we increased the training to cover the stress she’d get from the household chores,” Ninhursag said.

Sofia’s ears flicked as she looked thoughtful. “It would not be the same since she would not have to deal with wild cattle and hogs. However, it would do.” She looked at Iain. “She will not replace any of us, no?”

“No.”

“Then for you I will make it work for her. She is not in shape, though. There will be much pain for her.”

“She said she wants this, so let her hurt as much as we’d let anyone else hurt.”

The Ria nodded. “One thing I need from you, Iain.”

“What’s that?”

“You will not let her beat you again unless she can. You are our male and it doesn’t matter how badly she does in the beginning, I will not let you be weak just so she will feel stronger. It is a lie and she will want you to be strong too. Also, it will make her work harder to become stronger than you.”

Iain hesitated and finally nodded. “Done.”

Sofia spat in her hand and held it out. “And done.” He spat in his and they shook as several people chuckled.

“Now that the barbaric custom is over,” Allison said, “I’d like to note I don’t really want a newcomer on my team.”

“We’ll take her,” Eve said. “If she does as we want she’ll be inner harem sooner than later anyways.”

“Iain,” April asked, “does she know anything about rugby?”

“I doubt it, but you’ll find that I had Theodora ordering everything she could find on the subject. You’ll have rules, video tapes of games and anything else she can dig up. Theodora will digitize everything as fast as she can.”

“You’re a wonderful man,” she said with a broad smile.

“I strive to be.” He looked around the room. “I’ll let Kasumi know in the morning that we are willing to accommodate her wishes and I’ll find out what her harem had to say about participating.”

“Please remind them,” April said, “that if they do not join the clan and she does, they will put her in a dangerous situation. I do not want non-clan finding out our secrets, especially if they have some ties to Haven, which I would suspect if they refuse. It would support Iain’s hypothesis that they are either sworn or bonded to Shikarou.”

“She’s right,” Ninhursag said. “If they don’t join and she does, she may have to release them from her service.”

“I’ll explain their options,” Iain replied. “I agree with you. If she won’t release them and they won’t join then they’re more important to her than we are and she won’t be joining us either.” He looked around the room. “We are in agreement on that, right?”

“We are,” Silver said without hesitation. “The question is has she already learned anything that would be crippling for us? In many ways we have been treating her as if she is one of us.”

“No,” Lucifer stated firmly. “I’ve had Theodora monitoring the things around Kasumi and her harem, just as I have had her doing the same thing for Ygerna, who has also not yet joined us and whose harem presents the same potential problems.”

Eve nodded. “We haven’t found anything damning yet, so we didn’t mention it. However, they do know enough about us to give Shikarou pause if he listens to them.”

“So far, that’s a big if,” Iain said as he stretched in his seat. “As for the monitoring, keep it up. And do the same thing for Monica if you aren’t already.”

Eve frowned. “I hadn’t considered her but you’re right. She isn’t clan. I’ll start monitoring her as soon as we return.”

“We forget about her sometimes because she’s so close to us,” Iain said. “I hadn’t considered her until you mentioned monitoring Ygerna. Before we end the meeting, is there anything else critical I’m not aware of?”

“I don’t think this is critical,” Allison said, “but you should be told that Melanie won the betting pool you set up where the prize was a week with you.” She shot Ninhursag a hard look that the Elfqueen ignored. “Since I’m sure it wasn’t some kind of put-up job for her and nobody can prove otherwise, I’ll make sure the inevitable bitching is kept to a minimum where you can hear it.”

“It was a legitimate contest,” April said. “Melanie got lucky.”

Allison shrugged. “I know that but some other people are ticked off about it.”

“Thanks for the alert, Allison.” he said. She gave him a warm smile and a nod. He glanced around the room. “Anyone else have something to contribute that can’t otherwise wait?” When nobody said anything he rose. “Then I want to thank everyone for taking time out of their fun for meeting unexpectedly like this. I’d stay and chitchat but I need to catch the shuttle for the surface so I can be ready for Kasumi’s next request, which is not what just went through the minds of most of the people here.”

Dominique laughed. “Oh, I’m sure she thinks about it. She’s been around you for a month. Any woman except a nun would be thinking about you and sex by this point, especially if the alternatives are Genma and Ranma.” Iain groaned and more people laughed.

“You needn’t worry about the shuttle,” Allison said loudly enough to be heard over the laughter. “As your pilot I can say unequivocally that it shouldn’t leave without you.”

“I appreciate that. Lead the way, my lady.” As he followed the Umbrea out of the room he reached out through his bond to Ninhusrag. What pool?

The one where we were betting on what Kasumi would do with her last week with you. Canaan read Kasumi’s mind to see what she was most inclined to do and planted the thought in Melanie’s mind while she was asleep that Kasumi would want to spend the last week with the clan. Nobody knows but me, Canaan and you. That’s why I couldn’t warn you or anyone else what Kasumi was most likely to do.

I see. Carry on, my loyal and loving adjutant.

***

“I’d like to thank you for the last five weeks,” Kasumi said. “It was wonderful, informative, fun and annoying at times and I think I’ve had the best time I’ve had in years.”

“We enjoyed most of it too, sir,” Giselle said, “even if the last two weeks have been humbling.”

Iain chuckled. Giselle and Kasumi had known that her harem and the kami were rusty after so many years of irregular training, but the sheer amount of rust that had accumulated had been shocking to both of them. It had also been quite a surprise, although definitely a more pleasurable one, to Ninhursag to find out just how much the women she commanded outstripped the veterans of the dreaded Haven Wolf family. Fortunately his women hadn’t been more than smug about their superiority while behind the scenes April and Sofia began restructuring their training program to ensure that superiority persisted. “You did the right thing in not giving up and all of you have been improving steadily, Giselle.” He smiled at her. “Even your softy of a mistress is improving.”

Giselle didn’t do more than smile after a month of experiencing how casually Iain treated all four of the guests. “Yes, sir, although I would never admit to agreeing to any derogatory statements about my mistress.”

Kasumi poked Giselle hard in the chest. “That’s agreeing with him.”

The Pegaslut gave her mistress an amused smile. “I did not say that, mistress. I would never say I agreed with him, mistress.”

Iain hid a smile of his own. Two weeks of shared pain had bonded Kasumi and her pokegirls more than he suspected they’d realized and he hoped it didn’t cause too much trouble when they returned to Haven today.

Kasumi gave him a look that suggested she knew what he was thinking. “I will defeat you again in the obstacle course someday.”

“I have no doubt about that.” He smiled. “I’m going to miss all of you. I’ve gotten kind of used to having you around.”

Kasumi’s smile vanished. “I have a great deal to accomplish before I can return, Iain. It is even possible that things may change between Shikarou and me for the better, once I explain to him how truly unhappy I have been.”

“I know. No matter how things turn out, you and yours will always be welcome here.” He paused, “except maybe for Kozakura. She has to make an appointment.”

“Kozakura isn’t mine and I don’t think she has been for a very long time,” Kasumi said. “She is her father’s daughter.” She fell silent and even without telepathy Iain could feel her mind racing.

He put his hand on her arm and she blinked as she returned to the present. “And you won’t make those mistakes again. Learn from them but don’t let them rule you.”

She smiled again. “Again you know me so well as to divine my thoughts. You are correct; I will be a proper mother to my future children.”

“It wasn’t hard to know what you were thinking. I worry about being a bad father for my kids every day, Kasumi. According to Eve, it’s what shows I’ll be a good one.” He shrugged and released her arm. “But then she’s a celestial and they lie.”

“Trust me, Iain; you won’t be a good father for you already are one.”

“Thank you, Kasumi. But the truth is that I won’t know for sure until my children are grown and I can finally answer the question that all parents ask when their kids are around two years old.”

She frowned. “What question is that?”

“Should I drown this one?”

Kasumi looked shocked for a moment but Giselle just smiled. “Sir, again you mock the goodness inside you.”

“That’s because any goodness in me is a reflection of the company I’m keeping.”

“Then, sir, you are mocking the women you love. Is that wise?”

“An excellent question, Giselle,” Iain chuckled, “that is an excellent one indeed.” He sobered. “You’ll come back when you can?”

Kasumi smiled. “Now that I have you as a friend, Iain, I know how shallow the relationships I have with most of the people in Haven really are and how few of the people I call friend there are. You can count on us returning.”

“Good. Don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions to the most benefit to you, even if they end up with you reconciled with Shikarou. If that’s what’s best I’ll cherish your friendship happily.”

“I know you will, Iain,” she said gently. She took Giselle’s hand. “No matter what happens I will send word to you.”

“Don’t if it’ll get you in trouble. I’ll find out somehow if it’s best that you don’t. It’s what I do.”

She smiled. “Be well, Iain Grey.”

“Be better than well, Kasumi Wolf. Be happy.”

She chuckled and nodded to Giselle. They vanished.

Iain took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “What will be will be, I just want Kasumi to have what’s best for her,” he muttered and headed for the house.

Ninhursag and Siobhan were waiting for him outside the door to the house and Iain could tell his Elfqueen was in a state of unhappy that was heading for pissed. He stopped in front of them, looking from one to the other. “What is it?”

Ninhursag took a deep breath and let it out slowly, obviously keeping a firm grip on her temper. “There’s been an unexpected development and I’m not sure if it’s a problem.” Her tone said there was a problem in there somewhere. She looked at Siobhan. “Tell him.”

The NurseJoy’s face was the most neutral Iain had ever seen it, but in her eyes he could see she was worried about something. “Master.” She squared her shoulders. “There has been a development, master. I am pregnant.”

Iain was surprised for a second and then he gave a mental shrug. Ninhursag obviously hadn’t used the Earth Mother technique on Siobhan, so it must have been a regular parthenogenesis induced pregnancy. Nobody really understood what caused them yet, but he intended to figure it out. If the trigger was environmental, hormonal or chemical, maybe he could use that to deprive the ferals of the ability to reproduce. In the meantime, it explained why she was worried, and that he could fix. “That’s great,” he enthused. When Ninhursag’s irritation didn’t decrease and Siobhan still looked worried, he frowned. “What am I missing?”

“Tell him the rest,” Ninhursag told Siobhan.

“Master, I was not aware that I had been moved into a new pokeball when you woke me,” Siobhan said.

“We’ve been doing it with all of the girls,” Iain replied. “The new balls are a lot more durable.”

“They don’t have the contraceptive effect of regular pokeballs,” Siobhan said.

“Actually, that’s the standard here so those are regular pokeballs. If a pokegirl doesn’t want to be pregnant there are steps we can take, but I won’t have a pregnancy terminated just because.”

“Yes, master.”

“So pregnancy is unexpected, but it does happen.”

“Tell him before I hit you,” Ninhursag almost snarled.

“Master, what you just said isn’t true. My pregnancy didn’t just happen. Master, I’m forty eight years old.” Iain frowned as something niggled at his memory. She hesitated. “Master, I have been a pokewoman for over ten years.”

Iain fancied he could actually feel his mind stutter. It vibrated harshly through him, leaving him cold, empty and completely unprepared for the pain that rushed an instant later to fill the emptiness. I don’t love her. We’re having a child together and I don’t love her. She hasn’t even been here long enough for me to like her enough to consider this. He smiled warmly and stepped forward to wrap his arms around her. “As if that would make a difference,” he murmured in her ear. “It’s wonderful that you’re pregnant.” Slowly she relaxed against him. He looked at Ninhursag and let her see his agony for an instant.

She nodded and reached out to stroke his hair once before backing up a step. April knows. We all do and none of us are happy about this but she’ll never know. This isn’t her fault.

No it’s not, but have all of the remaining Glasgow Elfqueens checked before I bond them. It doesn’t mean I won’t still bond them but I want to know first. And to answer the question that will eventually come up, if it already hasn’t been asked, no. She is not inner harem because of this.

Good. She hasn’t earned that right. She cocked her head, her silver braid flashing as it moved behind her. Then she is more like Monica, but clan. What of the child?

He or she is my child and Siobhan is his or her mother.

That will be complicated but I’ll take care of it.

“Master, I was frightened that you would be angry at me,” Siobhan said into his neck. “And I am afraid. I have not been pregnant since becoming a pokewoman and I do not know what this will be like. And you are still new to me.”

“You’re in luck. A lot of women here have been or are pregnant and they’ll help you and so will I. And we’ll get to know each other better during all of this. Actually,” he pulled back to look into her eyes, “there is only one thing that I know is going to have to change and it needs to start now.”

“What is that, master?”

“No child of mine, be it a boy or a girl, is going to grow up listening to its mother call me master. It will teach that child something that is wrong and I won’t allow it. You’re going to have to stop calling me that.” He glanced at Ninhursag. “And so is everyone else who does it outside of the bedroom.” It hadn’t been an issue up to now since Siobhan and Dianthus were the only ones who called him master and Siobhan didn’t spend time around the children while Dianthus didn’t call him that when children were around since he’d asked her not to.

“I’ll make sure it happens if I have to enforce it on each person,” she said grimly.

Siobhan searched his eyes. “I will try, master, but it is very hard. Can I still call you that in my heart?”

“If it pleases you, then yes you can. But you need to start practicing that now so you’re still not trying to unlearn that when our child is here and can hear you.”

“May I call you sir?”

He managed not to sigh. It was a step in the right direction. “You may.”

Her face relaxed. “Thank you, master, I mean sir.”

Iain kissed her gently and let her go. “See, you told me you’re pregnant, I’m not upset and nothing bad is happening.”

“Yes, I see that, sir.” She smiled at him. “I know you have things you have to do. I would have waited, but Ninhursag insisted I tell you now.”

“I needed to know, but now I do.”

“Yes, sir. Now I must be off to the clinic.” She turned and headed inside.

Iain waited until the door shut. “I almost wish I had training with Kerrik today,” he said in an emotionless voice. “Then I could hurt Raven and it would be for a good reason.”

“If you did hurt her wouldn’t it be a step up?” He glanced at Ninhursag and she smiled slightly. “So far I understand all you have done is to try and hurt her.”

Slow anger threaded through his voice. “You know, considering my mood right now I think I’ll accept that challenge.”

“Good. It’s about time you hurt her.”

He smiled slightly. “I still have some tricks she doesn’t know about yet. Just remember that if I do hurt her she’s only going to hurt me more.”

“I’ve watched your matches when I’m there. She’s getting complacent fighting you. If you do seriously hurt her I believe you’ll get away unscathed.”

“And that will last just until our next bout at which point she will deliberately plow me under to prove how much better she is than I am.”

Ninhursag nodded. “True. So ask yourself, honorary pokegirl, is the price you’ll pay worth it?”

He slowly smiled. “Fuck me, but it is.” His voice held anticipation. “But I’ll be sure and hurt her a lot since I won’t get many more opportunities for a while.”

“Good. That’s how we improve.”

***

The sentry looked Iain up and down, his lip curling slightly at what he saw. “You can’t come in here like that.” Beside the sentry his Beautifloe sneered at him.

Iain smiled broadly, reading the man’s nametag and rank tabs. “Sergeant Jackson, you have just made my day. I’m going home and when they come and ask why I haven’t shown up, you be sure and tell them that you refused me entry like a good little guard and I didn’t protest because I’m a good boy.” He turned on his heel and headed for where pickup would take place.

“Sir, wait!” It was a female voice and Iain cursed to himself when he recognized it. Feet raced up behind him and passed as Nicole skidded to a halt in front of him, carefully avoiding covering him with the cloud of dust she raised as she stopped. “Mr. Grey, why aren’t you coming inside?”

“Good morning, Nicole.” Iain looked the Dark Kitsune up and down. “I see life is treating you well. How’s Golding?”

“The general is fine, sir. Why are you leaving?”

“Sergeant Jackson refused me entry and I’m being polite.”

Nicole took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Sir,” she said politely, “do you think it might be due to the way you’re dressed?”

Iain shrugged. He was wearing his Ranger battledress and weapons. “I was told to dress up for this. This is dressy for me. I officially banned ties from my life along with dress uniforms when I gave up being an admiral. And I think Jackson didn’t let me in because he’s an asshole who likes to throw his weight around and has no clue who I am. If he gave a shit about his job he’d have asked who I was or sent for someone who could grant me admittance or refuse me and get him off of the hook, like you.”

Nicole’s ears flicked and she tried another tack. “Sir, if you leave, Sergeant Jackson will probably be shot.”

“Good.” She blinked in shock and Iain smiled thinly. “Too many Indigo troops seem to like the adjective asshole to be used to describe them. One less is an improvement. If I stay, can I shoot him myself?”

Nicole took another deep breath. “Sir, please come inside. The Assistant Secretary is waiting for you.”

“All right.”

Her mouth dropped. “All right?”

“You’re pretty and you said please. It’s hard to say no to that.”

She smiled weakly at him. “I’ll try to remember that the next time you leave a scheduled conference, sir.”

“Nicole,” she straightened up to attention at his sudden change in tone, reacting automatically to the leashed anger pulsing beneath his voice. “I am not here because I want to be here. I was not invited to this meeting. I was summoned, which puts me in the kind of mood that smart people don’t want to be around me while I’m in. However, I decided to do my due diligence and checked with Lorena and she asked me to attend so we could see what the Indigo League wants now since I’m the only person they’re willing to talk to at the moment. She’s pretty and she said please, so I’m attending this meeting. But understand that if this Assistant Secretary is an asshole like Jackson, I’ll be gone so fast people will wonder if I was ever here.”

His tone had lightened towards the end and she took a chance to ask a question. “Sir, who is Lorena?”

“That would be President Robinson of Texas to you, Nicole.” He sighed. “Let’s get inside.”

“Sir, I thought you would have brought Pandora with you.”

“Oh, she’s around, just not where anyone can find her until I need her. If you take me hostage she and the others will act without hesitation. If you take Pandora hostage I will act without hesitation but some Assistant Secretary might not believe that until after a whole lot of people are dead.” He met her gaze. “You understand that they will act immediately and that holding me hostage will stop nothing. You might still capture me if you have orders, but at least you and Golding will understand that the massacre that follows will be on your heads and my death will accomplish nothing towards neutralizing my family.”

Her tail flicked. “Sir, I understand that my general would be among the dead if that were to happen. If you were in danger I’d have let you leave and let them shoot Jackson as an alternative.” She motioned towards the building behind him. “Please, sir.”

“Lead the way.” He turned and let her pass him before following her to the building. It was situated a few kilometers east of Stile, in what had become sort of neutral ground during the lull that had developed in the war between Texas and Indigo since the formation of the Louisiana Canal.

Nicole led him up the steps and paused in front of the door. “Sergeant Jackson, this is Iain Grey, the man that Assistant Secretary Monroe is here to see.” Her eyes were cool and disinterested as she looked at the sergeant. “When I explain to General Golding that you tried to run him off without bothering to get his name, I expect you’ll get to enjoy being a corporal again and that if the general isn’t in the mood to make an example of you and have you shot as a defeatist.” Jackson went white as Nicole opened the door. “Come this way, Mr. Grey.” After shutting the door behind him, she led him down a hallway without glancing back at him. “Sir, did you let me go first so you could look at my ass?”

Iain grinned behind her. “Busted.”

She gave a throaty laugh. “The general does it too.” She was wearing shorts and a t-shirt in Army green and he could have sworn that she’d suddenly put some extra sway in her hips as she walked.

Iain wasn’t going to complain. “See, we have something in common already.”

“I wouldn’t bring that up in this meeting, sir.”

“I won’t. We won’t be alone and I don’t intend to cause trouble for you or Robert.”

“Thank you, sir.”

She stopped outside a door and knocked gently. “Sirs?”

The door opened and Golding looked out. “Was there a problem?”

She nodded. “It has been resolved and I’ll explain later, sir, so you can decide how to deal with the individuals involved.”

Golding stepped out of the way and fully opened the door. “Come in, you two.”

Iain was unclipping his assault rifle from the tactical sling he wore and leaned it against the wall after stepping into the room. “Good morning, General Golding.” He looked at the tall, broad shouldered man standing next to the conference table. “Assistant Secretary Eric Monroe, I’m Iain Grey.”

Monroe looked surprised. “You know who I am?” Behind him a Denmother standing with her back against the wall watched Iain alertly.

Iain nodded. “You’re with the Indigo State Department and the man in charge of Western Hemisphere Affairs. You were with the American State Department before the coup.” He hadn’t been anyone important during his time in the Office of Canadian Affairs but he had been in the State Department and Iain hadn’t forgotten that Monroe had also betrayed his solemn oath to his country.

Monroe’s eyes narrowed. “It was a revolution, Mr. Grey, and one that was overdue.”

Iain wasn’t here to discuss definitions with the man. “Mr. Monroe, I’d like to know why I was asked to come here.” Yes, he’d been peremptorily summoned, but if he dwelled on that it would just piss him off.

Monroe waved to a chair. “Please sit, Mr. Grey.” He looked around. “I was told you’d have a bodyguard with you.”

“My guard is observing this meeting from a place where she can’t be turned into a hostage against me but can react quickly if she’s needed,” Iain said as he sat down. “Past experience with leagues has made us an untrusting lot.” Considering that with his perception he could see a tactical team of pokegirls and soldiers in the room next to theirs, Iain was glad Pandora wasn’t here. He added what he was seeing with perception to the data stream going to his women through his twee.

Monroe nodded. “Yes, General Golding’s report noted that at least three of your pokegirls have teleportation. Would you like some tea or whisky?”

“Tea would be nice,” Iain replied. He didn’t glance at Golding as Monroe picked up his phone and ordered tea for them. In the time since the formation of the Louisiana Canal by Evangelion, Iain had been to Fork Polk on numerous occasions as the unofficial ceasefire between Indigo and Texas had been unofficially negotiated out. While not friends, the two men had forged a relationship based on mutual respect and Iain knew that Golding would have tried to warn Monroe that Iain had little patience for prevarication and time wasting, such as holding up a discussion for tea. However, Lorena had done everything but plead with Iain to be as polite as he could and patient with the Indigos. Since she and her husband had managed to become his friends and been his guests on numerous occasions, he was going to try to accede to her wishes.

But his patience would only go so far. “Mr. Monroe,” Iain said calmly, “why did you ask for this meeting?”

Monroe leaned back in his chair and regarded Iain for a long moment. “Mr. Grey, the Indigo League has recently favored the Texas rebels with an unofficial ceasefire.”

When Monroe stopped speaking and seemed to be waiting for Iain to respond, he smiled to himself and remained silent. While not a politician, this was a tactic he was familiar with and for this he could be as patient as Job.

So they were still sitting silently and looking at each other when a man entered with a tray of iced tea and placed it on the desk between them before silently withdrawing.

Finally Monroe raised an eyebrow. “You have nothing to say?”

“There isn’t anything new to say about that subject,” Iain replied. “I agree that there has been an unofficial ceasefire. I dispute and deny the idea that the Texans are rebels. We have never been a part of the Indigo League and the fact that Indigo, Sunshine and Johto all claim parts of Texas means nothing as none of them have ever been able to project power into Texas. But General Golding and I have had this discussion on behalf of our respective governments several times and so, as I’ve already noted, there’s nothing new to say.”

Monroe scowled. “Actually, there is. I have been instructed to formalize that ceasefire, Mr. Grey.”

“You are aware of the conditions that the Texas government requires,” Iain countered. “Are you willing to recognize Texas and its legitimacy as a government and the Texans as a free people?”

Monroe’s scowl deepened. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of idea. “Yes,” he finally got out through gritted teeth. “But your Texans have to immediately stop selling military equipment to Indigo rebels.”

Iain shrugged. “You’ll have to take that up with the Texas ambassador when he or she arrives. However, as far as I know, the Texas government isn’t involved with that.”

“You are,” Golding said from behind him. He hadn’t made a move towards the pistol he wore, which is why he and Nicole were still breathing.

“I am,” Iain admitted. “And the Texas government can’t make me stop.”

“I could have you arrested,” Monroe said ominously. With his perception, Iain could see that Monroe’s knee was almost touching a button built into the side of his desk. Wires from it went into the floor and, presumably, to some guard post or monitoring station.

“I came here under an assurance of safe passage,” Iain pointed out. “However, you are correct and you can default on that and have me arrested. But President Robinson asked me here as a favor to her and if you do she is going to be furious with you personally and with the Indigo League as a whole and that means you won’t be able to secure your flank and reduce the forces in the area to build up another invasion force to hopefully deal with Rush. In addition to that, my clan will probably show up tomorrow at Stile with a few dozen tons of real military grade hardware instead of the oddball stuff you claim is military equipment and give it away for free to anyone who claims to be an American patriot and still at war with the usurpers who raped America up the ass when they staged a coup and destroyed the nation.”

Monroe jerked as if he’d been stabbed. “Rush has been neutralized.”

Iain didn’t quite sneer at him. “I have excellent information sources, Mr. Monroe, and the only two people in this room who might believe that are General Golding and Nicole since your government has been hiding the latest fiasco from the military.” He glanced back at Golding. “Rush has gotten his hands on some real pre-coup military leaders who know a thing or two about tactics. Indigo sent in a second expeditionary force to start retaking the land Rush had captured. They got mousetrapped, surrounded and forced to surrender. The officers were executed. Of the others, roughly half joined Rush’s military. The rank and file who didn’t want to join were stripped of all equipment and pokegirls and marched back into Indigo land where the Indigo government promptly detained them and has been holding them in isolation to keep word of this Charlie Foxtrot from getting out.” Golding didn’t make an outward change but Iain could see the surprise in his eyes as he turned back to Monroe. “And you’re here to secure the border with Texas so Golding or someone like him can get sent against the IFR army. I want to help you with that, I really do.”

Monroe looked surprised. “You do?”

“As bad as I think Indigo is, Rush is even worse. But what I do for a living and recognizing Texas as a political entity are two different things and you’re not going to tie them together.” Iain looked into the man’s eyes. “I am not selling military hardware to the people of Louisiana to fight your troops.” That was true. If they were using it against Indigo forces, Iain would cheer them on and he hoped they were, but that wasn’t why he was selling them weapons. “I am selling them weaponry so they can keep the ferals from hopefully eating them since you’ve stripped them of all their pokegirls, which are the best and often the only way to successfully fight another pokegirl. The ferals are coming.” He reached into a pocket and skimmed a data chip across the desk to Monroe. “You can read that with any pokedex. On it are population surveys of ferals across Indigo. Things are already worse than you know, and they’re only going to go more sideways from there. Louisiana’s swamps are teeming with water and reptilian pokegirls and they’re running out of things to eat. They’ve already destroyed a few isolated communities that evaded your consolidation sweeps. You and I are next on the menu and as soon as they realize that we are easier to hunt than deer or feral hogs they’re going to come for us.” He leaned back in his chair. “Well, they’ll come for you. The remaining ferals on my property have learned that we are apex predators and they trouble us at their peril.” He leaned forward slightly. “Now are you going to recognize Texas so President Robinson can send you an ambassador and you can start stripping this part of the country to try and defeat Rush or not?”

Monroe looked surprised. “I was under the impression that you would be the ambassador from Texas.”

Iain laughed. “No, that isn’t happening. I have dipped my toes into politics on occasion but I am a rancher and I have no urge to have a full time political career. Any information you have to the contrary is incorrect.”

“I see.” Monroe looked thoughtful and nodded. “With the understanding that I have the ability to dictate policy with Washington’s oversight and approval, I am ready to conditionally recognize Texas as a sovereign nation.”

“And is Indigo currently at war with Texas?”

“That is a political discussion and you just informed me that you don’t want to get involved in politics.”

“True,” Iain said as he rose, “but I’ll advise President Robinson that your response is a yes.” Monroe’s eyes narrowed as Iain bowed slightly. “But I believe that concludes our business, sir.”

“Good day, Mr. Grey.”

“And I wish a good day to you, Mr. Monroe. Will I get an escort out or shall I show myself out?”

“Nicole will see you out,” Golding said as the Dark Kitsune was opening the door.

“Thank you, General.” Iain followed Nicole out of the room and waited as she shut the door and headed down the hallway.

Her voice was low enough to carry to him but no further. “Sir, were you deliberately trying to provoke Mr. Monroe into arresting you?”

“Another reason I’m not suited for politics as a profession is that I have little patience for fools or people playing the fool, Nicole. On top of that I see no reason to kowtow to anyone and finally I don’t sugarcoat facts.”

She chuckled softly. “And yet you are a Texas Ranger and I understand part of that job is politics.”

“I kind of got dragooned into that job,” Iain replied. “And certain members of my family are excited that we have that kind of prestige and so I’ve been encouraged to keep it.”

She gave him an amused glance as she stopped at the door leaving the building. “Do you wonder where you would be if we pokegirls hadn’t been put on this earth for people like you?”

“No. I already know what my life would be like in that circumstance.”

Her ears pricked towards him as she smiled. “And what would it be like?”

“It would be empty.” He pushed the door open. “I wish you a good day, Nicole.”

All humor had fled from her face. “I hope I didn’t speak out of turn, sir.”

“You haven’t. Remember, I don’t sugarcoat facts and that is definitely a fact.” She relaxed when she realized his tone was still amused. “Be seeing you, Nicole,” he called as he stepped outside.

“Yes sir.”

***

“Sir, are you ready yet?”

Golding gave her a halfhearted glare. “Nicole, I am well aware that you enjoy PT a lot more than I do. I’ll be ready in five minutes. How about you go outside and start warming up.” He grimaced. “Besides, I expect Abrams will be early so he can try to impress me.”

“Yes sir.” She finished drying the dishes and hung the lanyard with her ID on it around her neck before opening the door and stepping outside.

“Good morning.” Her head whipped around, her ears flattening until she recognized Iain. He gave her a big smile. “Can Robert come out and play?”

Her ears slowly rose. “Are you trying to be funny?”

His smile didn’t go away. “Apparently not.”

“That’s good, sir.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “I’d hate to tell you that you failed.”

“I’d hate that too,” he chuckled. “Is Robert actually skiving off of PT this morning?”

Her ears canted sideways. “What is skiving, sir?”

“In American it means blowing off or avoiding something.”

Nicole’s head whipped sideways again at the new and, more importantly, female voice. Her ears flattened as she looked Ganieda up and down. The Splice was wearing clothing identical to Iain’s, that being military issue exercise shorts and a t-shirt that had the Forging the Warrior logo on it used by JRTC. Her ears twitched when she realized that the newcomer was at least thirty centimeters taller than she was, and that before the ears were counted. “You’re one big Bunnygirl.”

Ganieda’s ears halfway flattened. “How’d you like me to call you a steaming pile of shit?”

Nicole’s ears flattened. “I wouldn’t,” she growled.

“Then never call me a Bunnygirl again. My name is Ganieda.”

“She’s my bodyguard,” Iain supplied helpfully.

Nicole was looking at Ganieda’s tail. “What are you?”

“I’m Ganieda,” the Splice rumbled, “and that’s all you need to know.”

“She also needs to know you won’t kill Golding,” Iain noted.

“True. I won’t, except to defend Iain and myself.”

Nicole turned to Iain. “Why are you here, sir?”

“I need to talk to Robert and this is a good time to do it. It’s not like I haven’t done this before. Is there a problem, Nicole?”

“No, sir, it’s just a surprise and I don’t like surprises from you.”

Iain nodded. “Evangelion told me what to do when I kidnapped you, Nicole, but I understand if you blame me for it. Blaming her is a bit hazardous.”

“Blaming you is just as hazardous,” Ganieda said grimly.

“No threats,” Iain warned his bodyguard as Nicole’s ears went completely flat. “Apologize.”

She sighed and turned to Nicole. “I’m sorry if you took what I said as a threat to you or Robert. It wasn’t.”

Nicole nodded as her ears came back up. “Sir, the general will be along in a moment. The problem is that today we’ll be joined by Colonel Abrams. He’s the commanding officer of a new unit that’ll be forming up and heading north in a few months.”

Iain frowned. “Colonel Francis Abrams?”

Nicole looked surprised. “Yes sir. Do you know him?”

“No, but I’m trying to keep up with the rising stars of the Indigo League. He happens to be one of them and so I know of him, but I wasn’t aware he’d been transferred from Florida regional command.” Iain pulled a lanyard with an ID on it from his pocket and hung it around his neck. “Should I leave?”

Nicole turned when she heard footprints. “It’s too late, sir. Colonel Abrams is here.”

“My name will be Major Austin Drummond with Internal Security as an enforcer,” Iain said quietly.

A stocky man in his late thirties joined them. “Nicole, is the general ready?”

“He’ll be along in a moment, sir.” She headed for the door, “but I’ll let him know you’re here.”

As soon as the door shut, Abrams turned to Iain. “Who are you? I wasn’t told anyone else would be joining us and I don’t remember you from the staff meetings.”

Iain smiled. “You wouldn’t, sir. Major Drummond, sir, and I’m not posted here at Fort Polk. I arrived last night. The general doesn’t know I‘ve returned either, Colonel Abrams, although I’m sure that Nicole is telling him right now.”

Abrams looked surprised. “You know me?”

“Only by reputation, sir. I’m with Indigo Internal Security, sir.”

“You’re a commissar?”

“No, sir, I’m an enforcer.” That meant he was a licensed executioner for the league with the right to capture, try, judge and execute almost anyone in the Indigo League, regardless of rank, based entirely on his own judgement. Commissars rooted out the unfaithful to the league’s new doctrines but the enforcers were its secret police.

“You sound Irish, major.”

“I am, sir, or I was. Ireland sent some observers over during the war and I was stranded here after it became too dangerous for air or water travel back to Ireland.”

The door opened and Golding came out with Nicole. He looked at Abrams. “Good morning, Francis.” He smiled at Iain. “Good to see you again, Austin. I didn’t know you’d returned.”

“You’re not supposed to, sir,” Iain replied with a quick grin. “But I’m not here for you today.”

“That’s good, but if you were, you’d be nice enough to arrest me before I had to do PT, right?”

Iain shook his head. “Sorry, sir, but that wouldn’t be fair to Nicole.”

Golding chuckled and nodded to Ganieda. “I can never pronounce your name right.”

“It’s Ganieda, sir, and most American’s can’t pronounce Celtic names properly.”

Golding smiled and turned to Abrams. “Well, since Austin isn’t here to arrest me, are you stretched out?”

Abrams nodded. “I am, sir.”

“Then let’s get going.” Golding looked at Iain. “We’re going to be talking business while we run, so just keep up with us major.”

“Yes sir.” While the other two men ran and talked, Iain paced them with Ganieda.

When they were done, the colonel and general talked for a minute before the colonel left without a word to Iain. Golding chuckled as he walked over to Iain. “Colonel Abrams doesn’t like you very much right now.”

“Why is that?” Iain didn’t really care, but it was polite to pretend.

“You aren’t even breathing hard, that’s why.”

“Oh, that.” Iain shrugged. “Clan workouts are a bit more strenuous than this due to all of the pokegirls and their enhanced abilities. I work out with them as best I can so I get a lot more cardio than this regularly.”

“You could at least pretend,” Golding point out.

“No, I couldn’t, because pretending to be breathing hard and exhausted while running makes you winded and gets you exhausted from running incorrectly.”

“I suppose that’s true. What did you want to see me about?”

Iain headed for a nearby picnic table and sat down on the top of it, using the bench as a footrest. “I was just curious about something and it’s been nagging at me for a week since that meeting with Monroe.”

“What is it?”

“You were military right? I mean before the end of the world.”

Golding nodded. “I was an officer in the Army, yes.”

“This is probably going to be incredibly personal, but how could you violate your oath to the Constitution and the US and end up an Indigo officer? Indigo is everything that the US wasn’t.”

Golding glared at him. “You’re right, that is incredibly personal.”

Iain didn’t back down. “You don’t have to answer it, but I wanted to ask it. I wanted to see if I could understand how the people who took the same oath I did could side with a group that murders its citizens without due process and that practices slavery, one of the things we tried to make sure was stamped out forever in the US.”

Nicole rounded on him. “I am not a slave!”

“Every day,” Iain said relentlessly, “pokegirls who are happy with their males and their females are ripped from those people and raped until they bond to a soldier in the Indigo League. That may have happened to you. It may not have. But either way what is happening is institutionalized kidnapping, rape and slavery. Have you considered what will happen to you when Robert retires? You’re a lot younger than he is and you’re military property and not a person at all. You don’t get a choice in the matter and he may not either.”

Nicole went white but Goldman answered in a heavy voice. “Yes, I’ve considered what will happen to her if I retire.”

“We both know there is no if. Eventually they’re going to make you,” Iain said, “if you survive.”

“And what am I supposed to do, take on the Indigo League by myself?”

“You command a fairly large army unit,” Iain pointed out. “And a lot of those soldiers are conscripts who would become volunteers if your plan was to establish a new United States starting in Louisiana. I can and will supply you with armaments and other equipment. Or you could lead the willing to Texas and join the Texans.”

Golding shook his head. “I won’t abandon the USA.”

Iain looked surprised and then angry. “There is no way you can say that Indigo is the US under a new name without lying to yourself. Yes, someday Indigo may be less punitive and restrictive but right now is all we can deal with and right now Indigo is a tyrannical regime where Nicole can be a lot of things but she’ll never be a person and neither will any other pokegirl. She is a fungible and under the law of almost any league that is all she will ever be.” He rose and climbed off of the picnic table. “But if you can convince yourself that this is still the same country that you were born in, then we have less in common than I thought.”

“I gave an oath to the Indigo League,” Golding said acidly.

“Yes, you did,” Iain’s voice dripped sarcasm.

He and Golding glared at each other until Golding’s cheeks burned a dull red and he looked away. “Yes, damn your eyes, I gave an oath to the USA first.” His eyes flicked back to Iain’s. “You did too and you’re not dead.”

“I never said you had to die for making a mistake, Robert.” Iain’s gaze softened. “But you have the chance to make up for it and, possibly, to punish the Indigo League for its treason. The United States is dead. I admit it. And you can’t bring her back to life. Neither can I. But she came about because of oppression and tyranny from Great Britain. As her orphaned son, why not strive to punish her murderer and give the people living under the yoke of that murderer the chance to decide how they want to live and die?”

“I don’t know if I can do that,” Golding said.

“Then don’t,” Iain replied. Golding looked at him in surprise and he smiled. “I’m not directing you on a death mission, Robert. I can’t and I wouldn’t if I could. I want you to stop working for Indigo. You are better than Indigo deserves and so is Nicole.”

“I thought you took the same oath I did.”

“I did, and when my service ended and the military turned its back on me, I turned my back on it. As far as I’m concerned, my mustering out included me being released from that oath.”

“Then why do you care?”

“I care because I live on the border and when Indigo invades they’ll come through where I live. I intend to kill them all and I don’t see where the dead have to include you and Nicole. Even better if I can destroy Indigo before they come for us.”

“You’re getting a formal ceasefire.”

Iain laughed. “And that will last just as long as Indigo thinks it should, after which they’ll ignore it just like the old US and every other government that thought or thinks it’s superior ignored inconvenient treaties and ceasefires as soon as they became inconvenient. Sunshine is trying to learn a lesson from what happened to the Green Battalion when it invaded Texas. It’s likely that Indigo will have to learn a similar lesson before they listen to that little voice in the back of their heads that’s been whispering that maybe this is a bad idea since the appearance of the Louisiana Canal.” His laughter faded and he smiled evilly. “And I intend to hurt Indigo far more than Sunshine got hurt. You do not want to be the commanding general of Fort Polk when that day comes.”

“And if I am?”

“Robert, I like you and I like Nicole. Both of you are respectable people and I find that rare in the service of the Indigo League. If you weren’t an Indigo, I think we could be friends. But the fact that I like you won’t stop me from protecting my family and if you die during it I will feel bad about that, but that’s it. You’re a good tactician and so you’d be a priority target, both you and Nicole.”

“Why her?”

“Nicole would lay down her life to protect you and your death would break her heart. If she dies with you, she doesn’t get to go through that or live with the idea of failing to protect you or have to keep your memory in her heart while also having to give her body to some faceless Indigo soldier because she became his property after failing you.”

Nicole blinked and her ears and tail flicked uncertainly. “Thank you, sir, I think. I wouldn’t want to outlive Robert.”

Iain had never heard her use Golding’s first name before.

“You are not to die just because I did,” Robert growled at her.

“Sir, with all due respect you’ll be dead then and can’t order me not to.”

“I’ll be leaving now,” Iain said quietly. “If you decide you want my help with something, you have my com number.”

“What, you’re leaving now that you’ve started a fight between me and Nicole?”

“That fight shows that you care for each other and that’s a great thing,” Iain said. “I’m leaving because I wanted to plant an idea in your head and I have. It’s up to you to decide what, if anything, you are doing to do with it. But there are two things to consider. One, do not trust Abrams. He’s one of the new inductees from Florida and he believes in the supremacy of the Indigo League. He hated America and I’m sure he hates this ceasefire and the fact that Indigo is going to acknowledge Texas. Two, I’m afraid I started the clock ticking on this as far as you are concerned. I don’t care how long you take to think about this and I’m not going to tell anyone about this conversation, but a League telepath might pluck it from your mind and her handlers will care if you’re considering what they’d call treason.” He grinned at the stunned look in Golding’s face as he took Ganieda’s arm. “See ya.”

Iain Grey

Inner Harem

Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani

Eve Grey - Megami Sama

April Grey - Duelist & beta

Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage

Pandora - Fiendish Archangel

Canaan - G Splice (Hunter Amachamp & Alaka-Wham)

Zareen - Nightmare

Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur

Sofia - Ria

Vanessa – Evangelion

Lucifer – Megami Sama

Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice

Heather - Elf

Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen

Outer Harem

Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck – Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Silver - Pegaslut

Joyce – Milktit

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan – NurseJoy (Glasgow)

Queendom / Outer Harem

12 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

6 Wet Elves

Dead Harem

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

Matilda - White Tigress

Liadan - Twau

Sorrel - Armsmistress

Natalie - Blazicunt

Maria – Slutton

Rhea Silvia - Chimera

Mother s & Children

Vanessa

Myrna

Saoirse

April

Dorothy: Duelist

Meara: Duelist

Regan: Duelist

Canaan

Hannah: Huntress

Rebecca: Huntress

Joyce

Lisa: Milktit

Sherrie: Milktit

Harriet: Milktit

Lucifer

Olivia: Megami-sama

Seraphina: Megami-sama

Zareen

Caltha: Nightmare

Kim: Nightmare

Xanthe: Nightmare

Epona: Nightmare

Philippa: Nightmare

Nott: Nightmare

Nyx: Nightmare

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