Danny 1 - What's New Pussycat? (part 2 of 2)


A Whateley Academy Adventure

Danny 1 - What's New, Pussycat?

by

ElrodW

Part 2


Wednesday, August 29, 2007 - Late Afternoon
The Quad, Whateley Academy

"Watch it!" Dump Truck exclaimed, having come around the corner of Schuster Hall and running directly into Danny. "You should watch where you're going!"

"You ran into me!" Danny protested, already thinking of how to escape the bully.

"Yeah? Well ... I didn't see you, Tinkerbell!" He grinned broadly. "I guess I don't believe in fairies!" The bully had slowly moved and turned so that Danny was backed up against Schuster Hall. "You're a trouble-maker, twink!" he snarled, leaning against the wall beside the boy and strategically 'tripping' so that he 'accidentally' bumped hard into Danny and knocked him tumbling to the ground. "Oops! Sorry, twink!"

The many incidents of bullying in the two days he'd been at Whateley, the minor, persistent headache that he knew was going to stick around and get worse in a few days, and the stress of knowing he needed to change into Wihinape all added up until Danny snapped. Pushing himself up from the ground, he led with a fist right at Dump Truck's face.

He could as well have hit the wall of Schuster for all the effect it had on the bully. "Well, now, twink," Dump Truck sneered, "it seems that you started this by punching me." He grabbed a fist-full of Danny's shirt and slammed him back against the brick wall. "So I'm gonna finish it!" A fist smashed into Danny's ribs, then a second quick blow hit him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Only the bully's hand holding his shirt kept Danny from falling to the ground doubled over.

"You should leave this school and go back to your sissy home, twink!" Dump Truck hissed menacingly as he dropped Danny, catching him with a quick combo as the boy collapsed. "We don't like your kind stinkin' up the place!"

Danny lay on the ground, cringing in pain from the combination of blows. He'd barely turned his head in time, so that the blow aimed at his face had been a glancing blow to the head, but that had nearly rung his bell; his ears rang and stars danced before his eyes.

Let me free! Wihinape's voice snarled inside the boy's head. Let me fight! Before he kills us!

Danny's head rang again when the bully kicked him, though he suspected that if Dump Truck had really kicked him hard, he'd be dead. Even bullies avoided killing their prey - most of the time. But for how much longer? Was he just toying with Danny? Trying to scare him away from Whateley?

Help me! Danny cried out in his head to his spirit. I don't wanna die!

Let go so I can save you! the spirit's voice answered him.

Startled, Danny tried to understand what Wihinape meant, but that delay gave Dump Truck an opportunity to kick Danny in the side. A sickening crunch sound was matched with an explosion of pain that made his vision fuzzy and red.

Let go! Wihinape insisted again, this time more urgently.

Over the summer, Danny had learned a few things about his shifting ability, though he still had a long ways to go. One was that most of his shifting was controlled as if he was throwing a switch, a conscious effort on his part made the transformation happen - except the fuzzy form, which he still hadn't learned to control. The previous night, to escape, he'd thrown that switch, becoming Danica with her clawed nails that let him scramble so effortlessly up a tree. The second thing he'd learned was that, unless he willed the switch to change, his subconscious seemed to have 'clenched' onto whatever form he was in and he wouldn't change without mental effort.

Danny was clenched onto his Danny form because he feared what would happen if the anti-gay bullies saw him change into a sexy cat-girl. But the pain from the beating he'd taken so-far outweighed any other considerations; his goal now was simple and primal - survive. He mentally flipped the switch into Wihinape's human-like form, the one his mom called Slut-Kitty.

Danny wasn't quite sure what happened, except that his body shifted quickly and fluidly into the cat girl. Even before the bully could react, Danica, guided by Wihinape, did a flip and was on her feet, catching Dump Truck halfway into kicking a victim who was no longer on the ground. Using her razor-sharp claws, Danica scrambled up the bigger boy's arm, tearing into his flesh even though the boy was an exemplar with tougher skin than normal. But it was nothing compared to the son of Unhcegila, so she easily shredded his arm.

Screaming in pain, the bully lashed out, but the cat-girl's reflexes were far too fast, and his midsection was lacerated badly by her claws, and as he stumbled in agony, she darted behind him and raked his back, rending his shirt and ripping open flesh all the way down to his ribs. Dump Truck fell back, screaming and bloodied, and the cat-girl mercilessly pressed her advantage, a slap across his face cutting his cheek to the bone in a splatter of blood and flesh, and then she very deftly kicked the boy hard in his crotch; Dump Truck stumbled to the ground, covered in blood and puking from the intense pain in his family jewels.

Stop! Danny cried as he realized what Wihinape was doing. She was a huntress, a mother to Danny, at least metaphorically, and she was reacting with all her cat-like instincts for killing prey and protecting her own. You'll kill him!

He started the fight, Wihinape replied in a cold, calculating voice. Or would you rather I let him kill you?

The very brief conversation was long enough for Danny to wrest control from the rampaging cat-spirit. He looked down at the boy on the ground, bloodied and battered, torn practically from head to toe, the bully become the victim.

"Security! Don't move!" an adult voice to the side of him commanded him very firmly.

Startled, Danny looked around, and seeing two security officers standing with weapons drawn, looking at the scene. Danny knew that he looked like the aggressor, and at the same time, he had a flashback to his hometown when one of the boys had tried to shoot and kill him. In that moment of confusion, Wihinape took over, reacting with cat-like dexterity fueled by adrenaline and pure panic and zig-zagging wildly, bolted past Schuster, past Crystal Hall, and into the woods, easily outracing the security officers burdened with their heavy equipment

"Oh shit! Oh shit!" Danny repeated to himself in mental anguish as he ran wildly away from the scene. "What if I killed him? I'm so screwed!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 - Dinnertime
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Martina tried to look unobtrusive as she waited outside the house-mother's apartment, but she was more than a little worried. A very heavily-armed security detachment had escorted the changeling badly-bruised boy in bloody clothes to Mrs. Horton's apartment. When the door opened, Mrs. Horton had tried to look like she wasn't waiting, but it was pretty obvious that she had been.

"Martina," Mrs. Horton immediately called to her, "Danny has had a pretty rough day. Could you please find Elaine Nalley and his sister Kayda?"

"Not Kayda!" Danny pleaded softly. "Please?"

"Danny, she's going to find out and it's probably better from you than from the rumor-mill," Mrs. Horton admonished him gently. She turned to Martina. "Find Miss Nalley."

Luck was with Martina; she had only turned up the stairs when, by coincidence, the RA was descending. "Mrs. Horton wants to see you," she reported to the redhead. "Is Kayda upstairs?" The redhead shook her head no, so Martina followed Elaine back to Mrs. Horton.

"What now?" Lanie asked, eyeing the bruises, disheveled hair, and blood on Danny's clothing.

"Some problem with bullies. Danny was pushed a little too far, so he hit back." The girls' eyebrows rose. "He let the cougar out of the cage. One of the bullies is in pretty bad shape in Doyle and he's getting some pretty serious healing."

"Is ... is Danny being ... expelled?" Martina asked in horror.

Mrs. Horton shook her head. "No, just detention. And Elaine, Mrs. Carson suggested that you or Wyatt should explain to Danny all the undesirable aspects to having a UV armband."

"Okay, Mrs. Horton," Elaine replied. She dug out her cell phone and spoke briefly, then hung up. "Run upstairs and change, Danny," she ordered, "then you'll come with me."

"Where?" Danny asked, a bit perplexed.

"Dinner."

"But ... I'm ... I'm not hungry!" Danny protested. "How do you expect me to be hungry after ... after that? After what she did to Dump Truck?" He looked like he was going to upchuck.

"Doesn't matter."

The boy knew that Lanie had the strength to drag him along if he wasn't cooperative, and as his RA, she did know a lot more about the school than he did. Reluctantly, he trudged up the stairs to change clothes. When he emerged from his room, she was waiting patiently for him. With no other options, he fell in beside her.

"Aren't you going to ask me what happened?" Danny asked.

"Yes, but not until we have something to eat." She led him to Crystal Hall, where he felt like he was on display. A few of the known bullies seemed to be glaring angrily at him, while others gawked openly; obviously the rumor mill was in overdrive.

A huge senior strode casually to Lanie, who was pretty obviously delighted to see the mountain of a senior. "You must be Kayda's brother Danny," he said, extending a huge hand toward the much smaller boy. "I'm Wyatt Cody. Lanie said you have something on your mind. Let's grab some food, and then we'll talk." He clasped his beefy hand on Danny's shoulder, signaling to the boy that it wasn't optional. Self-consciously, Danny dished up a plate of food, every one of his meager portions scrutinized disapprovingly before Lanie simply dished up more food. "Trust me," she said with a smile. "Ah know you'll be hungry in a bit."

After checking out, flanked by Lanie and Wyatt, the trio ascended to the second level and then ducked behind the waterfall to a small out-of-the-way table where there was at least a modicum of privacy.

No sooner had they sat than Lanie started the conversation. "What happened? You've obviously been in a fight, a serious one judging from how bloody your clothes were." She could tell that the thought of talking to Wyatt made the boy nervous. "It's okay," she said. "Wyatt is my fiancé, and a good friend of Kayda's. You can trust him."

After a moment of indecision in which he tried to gauge Lanie's reassurances and whether he could trust Wyatt, Danny prefaced a discussion of the situation by explaining that he was an avatar with a female mountain lion spirit, and that gave him the ability to shift among four forms. He then recounted the bullying to the best of his recollection, starting from the first incident on Tuesday right up to the fight. "I tried to hit him," he admitted, "but it was like hitting a brick wall, and all it did was give him an excuse to wail on me!" he admitted glumly. "I ... though he was going to kill me! He broke my nose, and a couple of ribs, cracked a collarbone ...." He shook his head sadly. "I ... Wihinape's regeneration helped a lot, but I still hurt a little."

"Then what?" Lanie asked,

"Then ... she took control." He shook his head slowly. "I was just ... a passenger. She was in control, and she went after him like she had on Unhcegila's son last summer." He squirmed uncomfortably, fighting the rising bile in his stomach. "She ... she tore him up pretty badly. There was blood everywhere!" He sighed, shaking his head. "He had cuts all over his body and face, she tore one of his hamstrings, and ... and from what Mrs. Carson told me, when she kicked him ... in the balls, her claws tore open one ... nut. She really did a number on him. Then security showed up, and I panicked and ran away."

"So security found you?" Wyatt speculated.

Danny nodded. "I ran into Tansy. She ... she helped me calm down somehow. And then Security showed up, and I was panicking again, but she did something and everyone calmed down again."

"So they took you to Kane?"

Danny shook his head sadly. "That's when Mrs. Carson showed up, or rather, Lady Astarte. Tansy and I had to go back to her office, where she really laid into me. Verbally, I mean," he added quickly. "She threatened me with expulsion or a UV armband, and that I should ask you," he looked at Lanie, "what that would mean to me. I got two weeks of detention."

"That's reasonable for a first offense," Lanie mused, "especially considering the bullying that was reported to security yesterday and this afternoon. No doubt Mrs. Carson took that into account."

Danny didn't look from staring morosely at his plate of unappetizing - at least to him - food. "Tansy got in trouble, too, for using her psi power to calm me and the security guards down," he added. After a couple of deep breaths, he looked up at the redhead and her boyfriend. "So Mrs. Carson said I need to ask you."

"What it would mean to be tagged as UV?" Wyatt perceptively finished his question. When the boy nodded, Wyatt explained what his freshman year had been like with the UV armband. The more he described, the more horrified Danny got. "Trust me, Danny," Wyatt concluded, "you do not want an armband if you can help it."

"But ... she can manifest and take control," Danny protested, feeling utterly helpless to be able to control those situations. "And ... and she has a wicked temper!"

"Can you let me speak to her?" Wyatt asked.

"Why?"

Wyatt smiled, and then the Kodiak spirit appeared beside him, startling Danny who hadn't expect a huge bear to manifest. "Baloo can probably talk to her," the senior said, to which the bear snorted unhappily.

"Baloo?" Danny asked.

"I am not 'Baloo'!" the bear spat distastefully. "I am Kodiak, spirit of the Untamed Earth, Duke of the Court of the Center, Master Healer and Court Physician to her Majesty, Gaia, High Queen of the Natural Realm."

"I'm ... I'm Danny. Danny Franks," the boy stammered nervously.

"Bring your spirit. I would speak to her."

With a nervous glance to Lanie, which was answered with an affirmative nod, Danny took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and as he exhaled, let his body flow until he was once more Danica, wearing Wihinape's semi-human cat-woman form. Very nervously after the incident with Dump Truck, he toggled the mental switch that he'd learned let his spirit have control.

Wihinape glanced around, and her eyes locked onto the massive bear spirit, narrowing in anger while her nose flared and her lips curled into a sneer. "I have nothing to say to you, Healer!" the cat-spirit spat angrily.

"Good. Then you can focus on listening. You must control your temper while at this school so the boy ...."

"My duty is to keep the boy alive, to keep him healthy! When he is attacked, I will defend my host!" Wihinape snapped back, baring her teeth threateningly.

"Do you wish him to learn to fight?" the Kodiak asked gruffly. "Do you wish him to develop skills of his own, or do you intend to possess him whenever he has a task to accomplish or faces a threat?"

"I must defend him!" the cat-woman retorted.

"Then let him teach you about ragers, and what that means to the humans around him," the bear snarled. "You put him in extreme danger if your temper causes him to be labeled as such!" The cat-girl gawked at him, curious about the term the Kodiak had used. "And if you kill or maim someone, what does that do to the boy, who remembers everything you've done? Do you want him to lose his mind because of what you do when in control?"

Wihinape glared at the bear for several awkward seconds. "What would you have me do, bear?" the cat-girl asked with a scowl. "I have to protect him!"

"Teach him to fight. Teach him your other skills. In the end, you must let him learn to defend himself, to use your skills himself. That is what your kind does - the mama cougar lets her cubs experiment and learn to fight and hunt under her watchful eye. She doesn't do everything for them. That is what the Pact of Solomon requires of us, not for us possess and control and endanger our hosts." Seeing that he had her attention, he continued. "Use your skill only as much as needed to keep him alive. Fight only when his life is in serious danger. Use your skill to evade and escape fights otherwise. Let him fight as he learns."

"He will be hurt."

The Kodiak, Wyatt, and Lanie nodded. "Yes. If there was no risk, would he have incentive to learn?"

"I do not run from a fight!" she snarled angrily. Seeing that the bear was unmoved, the cat-girl glared at him for several moments. "Your words are true," she finally said. "Very well, Healer," she said reluctantly. "I will take control only if there is no other option, and will try my best to escape if possible."

"Good." The bear disappeared as Wyatt had him demanifest. At the same time, the semi-defiant sultry look that always accompanied Wihinape's manifestation faded from Danica's face.

A tray clattered noisily to the floor a few feet away, startling the three diners, and their heads spun to look for the source of the noise. A boy, likely a freshman as he wasn't familiar to either Lanie or Wyatt, stood slack-jawed and wide-eyed, gaping at the cat-girl. "Uh ...." he stammered incoherently. "Um ...."

Wyatt was the first to recover. "This is a private discussion," he said simply to the boy.

"Um," he stuttered again, "I ... I was ... I took a wrong turn. I ... I didn't mean to ... to interrupt." No doubt he was tongue tied from the very sexy cat-girl who was seated at the table.

Lanie nodded. "No harm, no foul. Now, why don't you leave so we can continue our ... private ... discussion?"

"Uh, yeah," the boy mumbled. He squatted down to pick up the mess, which was difficult because his eyes were glued to Danica's figure. Finally, he got enough of the remains of his dinner on the tray and backed awkwardly away, still staring. When he bumped into one of the second-tier's railings, he turned and scampered away.

"Ah think you have an admirer," Lanie chuckled.

"That's just great!" Danica frowned. "What else can go wrong today?"

Both Lanie and Wyatt shook their heads. "Don't jinx yourself like that," they both said simultaneously.

* * * * * * * * * *

Thursday, August 30, 2007 - Before Dinner
Room 218, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

"Well, so much for a single," Danny muttered to himself as soon as he saw someone else's stuff in the room. Closing the door behind him, Danny flopped heavily on his own bed. At least, he thought, Hank was neat; his bed was neatly made, his desk was organized with precision, and all his belongings had been put away. Danny cringed a bit - if Hank was a neat-freak, it was going to be a long year; he hadn't even put away all his stuff, let alone all the things he'd wound up buying that afternoon with the girls.

Startled by a sudden thought, Danny practically leaped from his bed and looked at the shopping bags, then moved around, his gaze fixed on the hidden purchases. At least he hoped they were hidden. He had no idea how Hank would react if he found out that his roommate had a now-sizeable supply of makeup and lingerie hidden in his dresser drawers, and dresses hanging in the wardrobe. That thought startled Danny more, and having convinced himself that maybe Hank hadn't seen the makeup and other 'girl' things in the shopping bags, he turned, gasping in shock when he saw that one door of his wardrobe was open.

This was bad, he reasoned. What was this Hank kid going to think when he saw Danny's female clothing and supplies? He imagined some kind of blowup.

A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts of doom and gloom. "Come in."

Kayda poked her head in and glanced around, then came in. "You okay?" she asked, her voice conveying a tone of genuine concern. "Lanie told me what happened."

Danny hesitated, not sure exactly what he was feeling, except that it didn't feel normal. Finally, he accepted Kayda's hug, burying his face on her shoulder. "I ... don't know," he muttered, fighting tears. "It's ... I hate being bullied! I hate being called gay!"

For a couple of minutes, Kayda just let the boy cry on her shoulder. "Maybe we should find you a girlfriend who's big on PDAs," she suggested with a slight chuckle when he withdrew from her embrace and sat on his bed. "That'd shut them up about you being gay!"

Danny couldn't help but smile slightly. "I suppose. Or Jade suggested I could join Wondercute, and that they'd protect me from bullies."

Kayda's jaw dropped at that suggestion, and she gawked at her brother. "You're ... you're not going to do that, are you?" Reading Danny's expression, her features softened and she relaxed, looking around as she sat down on Hank's bed, absently picking up his teddy bear and cuddling it. "So you've met Hank?"

Danny morosely shook his head. "I was kind of tied up with security and Mrs. Carson when he moved in. I haven't met him yet." He looked around the room, toward Hank's side, and noticed a framed picture on the desk. Curious, he went over and picked it up. "Hank's family?" He asked, turning the picture toward Kayda.

Kayda looked at the picture of a woman, elegantly dressed, sitting on a porch swing, a girl sleeping peacefully with her head in the woman's lap. The woman was stroking the girl's head with a look of pure love. A tiny whimper of distress managed to slip out before Kayda choked up and words and sounds failed her. She scooted down the bed and took the picture, gazing at it as tears rolled slowly down her cheeks. "No, that's ... Mrs. Guzman and ... and Jamie," she finally managed to say. "Jamie was Hank's roommate last year."

"So what's up with Jamie, then? Was Hank still mostly a girl last year?"

"No. It's ... Jamie was complicated - like you. Depending on which spirit Jamie channeled - he was Lakota like us and had the spirit of Heyoka, the Sacred Clown," she explained. "Anyway, he was kind of like you - androgynous looking, and depending on which spirit Jamie channeled, he would appear more masculine or more feminine."

"So why aren't they roommates this year?"

Kayda sighed, suddenly sounding very weary. "I bet Mom or Dad never told you, did they? About the trouble I was in when they rushed over here last year?" When he shook his head, she looked down for a moment, and when she looked up her eyes were misty. "Heyoka - was ..." Her voice cracked.

"What?" Danny demanded impatiently, until he saw a world of hurt in her eyes.

"Jamie ... was ... was mur ... murdered. To ... to frame ... frame me," Kayda stumbled, tears falling as she clutched the picture tightly to her chest. "They wanted ... wanted me and they couldn't get me so they ... they killed Jamie instead."

Despite all their years of sibling rivalry, Danny knew when his sister was distressed and needed support. He slid onto the bed and gathered his distraught, weeping sister into his arms, very sorry that his innocent questions had caused her such anguish.

"Just because ... because of old ... tribal hatred! The killer was Crow! He ... he hated us just because we're Lakota. He and his friend ... wanted to kill one of us to make the other ... the other one leave!" Kayda sobbed, putting her head on her brother's shoulder. "They didn't ... didn't care ... who ... who they killed!"

Their little mutual support hug was interrupted by the sound of the door lock cycling. Walking in, Hank stopped short, surprised to see Kayda and Danny, especially sitting on his bed, the visibly distraught girl holding his picture tightly to her bosom while Danny hugged her.

"Sorry," Kayda apologized to Hank, rising from the bed and very carefully putting the picture back in its spot. "I was ... explaining to Danny." She read the look of distress washing over Hank, and knowing that her own grief was much less than Hank's, she wrapped Hank in a supportive embrace.

"Hank Declan," Hank introduced himself to Danny after easing out of Kayda's hug.

"Danny Franks. I'm Kayda's brother," he added the last bit unhappily.

"So what's your trick?" Hank asked with a knowing smile. "Changing sides like I did?"

Danny winced. "Erm, not quite." He glanced nervously at his new roommate. "I've ... got a spirit. Wihinape. It's the Lakota spirit of the mountain lion. And that caused some ... complications."

"The biggest complication is that your spirit is female, right?" Hank asked with a smirk.

Danny goggled at that. "How ...?" he stammered.

"Why else would you be in Poe?" Hank continued, struggling to not laugh. "Besides, Kayda told us last spring. So - how often do you turn into a girl?" Hank quizzed his new roommate. "Is it going to be a permanent change? Or is it part-time?"

"Danny's hallow is too small for his spirit," Kayda said by way of explanation. "So he has to manifest her periodically." She saw the puzzled look on Hank's face. "Danny, just show him."

The boy looked nervously at his roommate. "Um ...."

"Just show me," Hank requested slightly impatiently. "Nikki is our teammate, and Ayla is Adalie's girlfriend, they've already told me all about your shapeshifting and what you shift into. Ayla sent all of his team copies of some rather thorough research on you and your spirit."

Danny's jaw dropped further. "Research? On me?"

"Yeah. It was pretty thorough research, too. Including the two girls who fought over you all summer."

Kayda scowled at Hank. "Would you stop teasing him?" She turned to her brother. "Go ahead."

With a very worried expression, the boy nodded slowly and then, with a heavy sigh, closed his eyes to focus. After lots of practice over the summer, the shift was remarkably quick. "See?" he said once the shift was complete and he stood as Danica, also known as Wihinape and his mom's favorite name, Slut-Kitty. "When I'm like this, I go by Danica."

Hank gawked at the cat-girl for several awkward seconds. "How often do you change like this? Is it like every night? When you want to?"

"I have to spend a day and a half or two every week like this, or I'll get a really bad headache," Danica explained cautiously. "Worse than migraines, and the pressure will eventually cause my body to shift toward this form, but if that happens, any changes will be permanent." She winced. "To keep from being Danica permanently, I need to change periodically - every week or so. It's got to be a continuous time, too, so I can't just change a few hours every day; I tried it, and that doesn't work."

"Are you fully ...?"

Danica simply nodded in response to Hank's question. "But most of the time," she willed herself to change back to his normal Danny form, "I'm like this. And that's how I plan to stay."

* * * * * * * * * *

Friday, August 31, 2007 - Lunch
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Pulse racing and heart pounding like it wanted to explode from his chest, Danny darted around a corner with a glance over his shoulder, and after a short sprint down the vacant wing on the second floor, ducked into the emergency stairwell, pausing only long enough to make sure the door shut gently instead of slamming with a metallic crash.

Only after he scrambled down half a flight of stairs did Danny remember that on this wing, the emergency stairwell emptied only to the outside on the ground floor, an action that would trip the emergency alarms. That would alert them to his presence, and Mrs. Horton wouldn't be too pleased, either.

Panting for breath, he paused a moment to consider his options - he could go all the way to the basement and then work his way back up, but that left only the main staircase, and the significant chance that they would be waiting for him. Or he could go up to the third floor and work his way across to a different wing and go down one of the staircases that did open back onto the ground floor. Of course, that would mean exiting the two main doorways, on either side of the bar of the H of the cottage, where it would be easy for the two to spot him.

Danny reversed course and ran softly back up the stairs, flinching at the way his tennis-shoes seemed to loudly slap the concrete and steel fire stairs and echo, drum-like, through the enclosed stairwell, certainly announcing his presence to anyone within twenty yards of the emergency exit passage. Stopping at the third floor door, he listened to see if there was any noise in the hall. Hearing none, he eased the door open, peeking as unobtrusively as he could down the hall. The coast was clear, to his relief, so he crept into the darkened hall of the unfinished third-floor wing.

He still had the dilemma of how to exit the building. If he went down the stairs, Bunny or Jade would see him, since Bunny had very explicitly said that the pair of them would wait in the lobby for him to finish changing. He could take one of the elevators, but those disgorged into the very same lobby. The design of the building - with only front and rear primary exits in the lobby, had doomed him to discovery. It was only as an afterthought that he remembered the tunnel from the basement, which would take him safely underground to Crystal Hall for lunch, right under the noses of the two Wondercute terrors who'd decided that he was going to dine with them.

"Hi, Danny," a sultry female voice called out as he scooted into one of the elevators, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin.

"Oh, hi," the boy replied, nearly shaking from nerves of the cat-and-mouse game the two Wondercute girls were playing with him, although he felt like the mouse for a change! "Have we met?"

"No, but word about you has spread pretty fast. I'm Peggy. Peggy Miller. Code name is Diamanta, which I usually go by." She looked up and down the boy's figure. "What are you doing up here?" the older girl asked simply, "And looking like ... like that?" She wrinkled her nose in disgust that he was in his normal male form instead of the alluring cat-girl that so many of the lesbians in Poe had expressed a strong interest in.

"Going to lunch," Danny said simply, trying to avoid any discussions about his true intended purpose, which was to evade the Wondercute terror which was trying to hunt him. He waited until Diamanta was in the lift, then reached for the panel. "Tunnels?"

"Nope, first floor. And hold a sec for Destry and Cascade." She wrinkled her nose. "Why on earth would you want to take the tunnels on a gorgeous day like today?"

Danny cringed. "I have my reasons," he said defensively, and as he was replying, two other girls joined him and Diamanta in the elevator.

"Wondercute?" Diamanta asked knowingly; Danny's answering blush was all the answer she needed.

"What'd they do this time?" Cascade asked, having come in on the middle of the conversation.

"They probably want to recruit Danny," Diamanta guessed. When Danny's blush spread and he went 'fuzzy', she chuckled. "Nailed it in one!"

"Looking like that, you'd fit right in," Destry laughed.

"I am not joining Wondercute," Danny protested angrily. "I want them to leave me alone! They act like I'm their mascot or pet or something!"

"I heard you've attracted the attention of a few bullies," Cascade observed. "With Wondercute's rather extreme reputation, they could help with that. Of course, it'd take a while for them to teach some of the new bullies, especially the 'slow' ones," she added, "but it'd be great entertainment for the rest of us!"

Fortunately for Danny, the elevator didn't stop on the second floor, but went straight to the ground floor. Unfortunately for him, as she left the elevator, Cascade paused in the open door. "Next time you come up to our floor," she said, "you need to be in that cat-girl form everyone is talking about!"

"Cat girl?" came a questioning voice from the lobby. "Danny?" Before the door could close, Jade sprinted from the chair she'd been occupying and blocked the door, causing it to reopen. "Danny!" she squealed. "We've been waiting for you!" The petite little Kimba and Wondercute girl grasped Danny's elbow and all but hauled him out of the elevator. He wanted desperately to resist, but not knowing about her insane regeneration, he worried about hurting her.

"You aren't trying to hide from us, are you?" Bunny said with a mock pout as she took Danny's other arm. Though she didn't like boys, she couldn't resist Danny's fuzzy look, and she petted his head and neck.

'Damn this body!' Danny thought to himself as he unconsciously arched his neck and back into the hand stroking his fur, feeling a rumbling erupting from down within his chest cavity. He wanted to say that he hated it when girls petted his 'fuzzy' form, but that form had a mind of its own, it seemed, and it loved being petted, as the purring betrayed.

The walk to the cafeteria was torture; Jade and Bunny were taking turns gushing about all things cute, and how cute the girls were, and how cute their training outfits were, and what a cute outfit they'd make for Danny, and what new movies and anime series they could watch. Through that constant bombardment of cuteness, several rude comments could be heard from passing 'tough guys'. The kitty-boy hunched over, trying to hide his face from all those who were gawking at him, knowing that due to the stratospheric level of embarrassment he felt, he wasn't going to be shifting back to his normal form anytime soon.

Shepherded by Bunny and Jade, Danny got through the checkout line without any new major incidents besides a few snide comments from several guys and some angry glares from Thud and Dump Truck. The two girls led him to the Wondercute table, where four other girls were already sitting.

"Girls," Jade announced gleefully, "this is Danny, Kayda's brother. Anna and Lindsay met him yesterday!"

"Ooohhh!" several of them squealed almost in unison but not in harmony. "He's so kyooot!" one of the girls positively gushed, scooting to one side so Danny would hopefully sit by her. "I'm Misty," she said with an adoring grin. "Misty Cooley."

There followed a veritable torrent of information that would have been tough for someone with an eidetic memory to handle - the girls thought nothing of interrupting each other, changing subject mid-sentence, or scrambling their own personal information in a flood of introductions and comments about their code names, powers, cuteness, favorite 'cute' things, and so forth.

Molly, Bugs, Squirrels. Danny already knew that Anna liked squirrels, having a squirrel spirit. Superchick. Warper. Pern. Pern was easy - that was the cute little dragon on Lindsay's shoulder. Danny caught himself - did he just think the dragon was cute? Rainbows, Gateway, bunny rabbits, Generator. Whoops, Danny caught himself - was that Jade's codename? Unicorns, bullies, Hello Kitty, devisors, Misty, Dragonrider, Whateley cheerleaders, mages. Aquerna, someone named Jericho who had a bad wardrobe. Rythax, Bunny. Danny's head was spinning as he tried to sort out how all the data went together. And what the hell was a Rythax? Jade seemed to think that this Rythax thing or person would be very interested in Danny's mountain lion form.

The poor mentally-besieged boy hoped that there wouldn't be a test, because there was no way he could keep all the names and other information straight.

In the midst of all the chaos echoing in his ears, Danny noticed out of the corner of his eye that someone was standing near the table. He turned - just in time to face Kayda's camera as she took yet another picture to send to their mom. "Kayda!" he bellowed his annoyance at her, "stop that!"

All he did was call attention to himself, as his voice carried to a sizeable fraction of the tables in the cafeteria. Suddenly, instead of a few curious people at a few tables near Wondercute, it seemed that half the cafeteria was staring at him. Instantly, his sharp sense of hearing began to pick up comments that were no doubt about him.

"What a faggot!" "Eating with the little girls!" "Queer-boy!" No doubt this line of commentary came from bullies and anti-gay bigots on campus.

Another line of statements went something like, "Figures he'd join Wondercute." "So they finally found a boy that likes cute?" "That's all we need - more of them!"

The third major theme came entirely from girls: "He's so cute!" "I could just cuddle him to death!" "He's just adorable!"

Danny wanted to shrink down to hide under the table. As much as his cheeks burned, he knew that his embarrassment was going to lock him into his kitty-boy form for quite a while.

The girls of Wondercute, meanwhile, continued to prattle on about cute things, anime, costumes, classes, cute outfits, whether they'd have to teach Jericho another lesson, cute boys ....

Danny mentally rewound the conversation. "Teach Jericho a lesson?" he asked, perplexed.

The girls turned as one to face him, as this was the first bit of conversation he'd added since sitting down and saying vague hellos. "Last year, we had to show the prince of bad fashion that he needed to be cute," Jade said with a wicked, evil grin. "And at the end of the term ...." Danny tuned out, hoping things would somehow get better if he just ignored the insane conversation.

It didn't. A sudden commotion caught everyone at the table by surprise, and they all turned to see a trio of girls approaching the table, clad in what appeared to be a knockoff of Sailor Moon outfits. "Hi," the red-headed leader of the trio declared, stopping and looking boldly at Jade. "We're ready."

"Ready? For what?" Anna asked. "And your outfits - they're kinda like our Wondercute outfits, except your skirts and collars are more of a royal blue than pastel, and you've got red bows on front, but we don't, and ...."

"Why are you dressed like that?" Lindsay asked bluntly.

"Because we wanna join!" one of the girls, a short blonde with her hair in tight curls and holding a small puppy blurted out. "Cuz you guys are so cool, and you do all those awesome sims, and you put bullies in their place!"

"Yeah," the dark-haired girl with glasses volunteered hesitantly, "we talked it over and we want to be in Wondercute, because you guys are so awesome, and everyone leaves you alone."

"And nobody bullies you," the first girl chimed in. "And ... and we think your team is neat."

"We figured if we showed you how cute we are, you'd let us join," the redheaded girl chimed in, trying to be helpful.

The second girl was quite obviously fawning over Danny. "I'm Bethany," she introduced herself to the boy.

"We call her Abra," the blonde added helpfully. "I'm Estelle, but I'd rather be called Clover. That's my code name," she added with a cute smile at the boy as she sidled up as close to him as she could get. "And this is Pally."

Palantir spun on Clover, frowning. "Don't call me that!" She straightened up and looked back to Danny with a sudden shift of her features to friendliness or even adoration. "I'm called Palantir," she said with a not-so-shy smile, before turning back to Jade. "We wanna do awesome things like sim battles and sleepovers and stuff," Palantir added.

"And help out with things like when you got Jericho and the bullies - that was awesome!" Abra squealed in delight. "And ... and we wanna be on your team!"

All three were looking at Jade with big sad puppy-dog eyes, although they failed to consider that Jade, master of the big-sad-puppy-dog look, was relatively unmoved. "I don't think we can have more on our sim team," Jade cautioned the newcomers.

"Yeah," Molly said with a nod. "Teams can't be too big."

"Besides," Anna - at least Danny thought it was Anna, said warily, "you girls haven't had any simulator training, and ..."

"But anyone who loves cuteness is welcome to help us battle the evil force of anti-cute!" Jade spoke the last words louder and with authority in a way that drew a lot of attention. Danny wanted to crawl under the table.

"But, like maybe you could be junior Wondercute girls," Anna said, still warily looking at Danny, "and if enough girls wanna join you, you could have your own Wondercute training team, like the Little Cutes ...."

"Or Cutettes," Lindsay said hopefully. "But our training uniforms have our own animals and colors, like mine is a dragon, and Jade's is a kitten, and Anna has a squirrel ...."

"I like Cutettes better," Abra said with a frown.

"So it'd be us three and you and kitty-boy ..." Clover continued as if it was a done deal.

"I'm not joining ...." Danny said firmly in yet another unsuccessful attempt to get a word in edgewise.

"We all have our themes," Bunny said, looking at the three plain outfits.

Palantir pouted. "You already took the cute ones, like dragons and unicorns," she grumbled.

"But not puppy dogs," Clover said cheerfully. "I like puppies! That'll be mine!"

Danny tried to stand. "I'm going to get some dessert," he announced, at least making an excuse to leave, hoping the girls wouldn't object, especially as they were busy with Wondercute stuff.

"What do you want?" Misty asked, looking at Danny with moon-eyes. "I'll go get it for you," she said, gently pushing him back down as Lindsay and Abra helped keep him seated with them.

"I like teddy bears," Palantir mused. "Maybe a teddy bear with a magic wand, because I'm a mage?"

"Maybe ... I'll skip dessert," Danny very reluctantly gave in.

"And I like butterflies," Abra said. "Butterflies are so pretty!"

"We'll help Danny figure out a theme," Clover said with a smile.

"But ... Danny is going to be on our team!" Lindsay countered.

"You have too many on your team! You said so!" Palantir shot back

"Yeah!" Clover and Abra echoed.

"I'm not joining ...!" Danny tried to sternly protest.

"What is Kitty-Boy ....?" Palantir started to ask.

"My name is Danny," the boy interrupted through clenched teeth. "Not Kitty-Boy!" Though he'd been raised to be polite, especially to girls, the constant 'Kitty-Boy' stuff was grating on his nerves.

"... going to wear? He can't wear a dress!" Pally continued, mostly ignoring Danny.

"We'll figure that out," Jade proclaimed as if Danny joining Wondercute was a done deal. "Sit down with us - we're planning our first sleepover and movie night."

"A sleepover? Can Kitty Boy come?" Clover pleaded, looking doe-eyed at Danny, who gawked in absolute horror that these three additional denizens of cute were practically announcing to the world that they considered him cute, too. Worse, he realized, his reputation as 'Kitty Boy' had spread across campus, since he'd never met these three girls and doubted they were in Poe.

"It's Danny," the boy protested again with a sigh, realizing that it was apparently futile to change the minds of these denizens of Cute-ville. "Not Kitty Boy."

"We'll watch some anime with magical girls!" Misty chimed in.

"Magical Girl Sasame?" Clover squealed in delight. "I love Magical Girl Sasame!"

Danny shrunk as low in his chair a he could, knowing that his reputation was going to be ruined by being seen with these insane girls. Maybe no-one would notice. He glanced around, cringing when he saw Kayda standing with her cell phone taking more pictures to share with their mom.

"But if we're going to have a Cutette team," Abra thought out loud, "we'll need one or two more girls!"

"Hey! There's another freshman who seems to like cute stuff," Abra chimed in. "Melissa Chambers. Maybe ...."

"Mischief," Danny stated flatly, having given up on escaping or convincing them that his name wasn't Kitty Boy. Seeing the puzzled looks, he shrugged. "Her code-name is Mischief."

The girls perked up. "How do you know her?" "What else do you know about her?" "Does she like cute?"

Danny sighed as if heavily put-upon. "I met her on the train up from Boston. She ... she saw my hoodie and ...."

"Kitty!" a squeal of delight was accompanied by a pair of arms wrapping eagerly around Danny from behind, while a head plopped on his shoulder, the girl rubbing her cheek against his soft fur.

Danny flinched from the unwanted attention of the newest newcomer. He turned to see who was assaulting him with a hug, and started. "Melissa!" he stammered. "I ... I haven't seen you since the train ride!"

"How do you like Whateley?" Melissa - Mischief - blurted out. "I think it's really cool!"

"Er ...."

"You're the girl Danny knows? We were just talking about you!" Clover squealed with delight.

"Do you like cute stuff?" Clover asked Mischief. "Cuz if you do, you can be in the Cutettes with us and kitty ...."

"You like cute, don't you?" Pally asked excitedly.

"Um, yeah," Melissa answered, a little confused. "Cutettes?"

"Because we're joining Wondercute," Abra announced. "And we'll have our own training team - the Cutettes! And you can join with us and Danny!"

Danny opened his mouth to remind them, then gawked, slack-jawed, that Abra had actually called him by his proper name.

"He's gonna be in Wondercute!" Jade protested. "Cuz I saw him first! In his Hello Kitty hoodie!" Her voice was loud enough to carry, and several guys nearby started to snicker at Jade's pronouncement that Danny had such a hoodie.

"Hey, he's our kitty!" one of the trio of girls objected, trying to cut in to hug Danny and push the newcomer away.

"I saw him before you did, then!" Mischief countered. "He rode with me on the train! Wearing his Hello Kitty hoodie. So he's my kitty!"

"If we find someone else, we'd have us three," Pally said, "and Mischief and Kitty-boy..."

"I'm not anyone's kitty!" Danny protested, words which seemed to have no impact as the admirers of cute gushed on about Cutettes and Wondercute and training teams and sleepovers.

"There's the white-and-blue haired Sidhe girl in Dickinson," one of the girls - Danny was past caring which - noted. "Someone said she's from Europe. Maybe she likes cute, too?"

"No," Jade objected forcefully. "Danny is on our team!"

"But you said ...!" Palantir started to object.

"I'm not on any team!" Danny scrambled from the table, slipping free of the girls who wanted him to stay, and dashed toward the door, right past a startled Nikki and Toni.

* * *

The two girls watched the boy flee, and then looked back at the table of Wondercute. "Oh, this is so not good!" Nikki said with a worried look.

"What?" her roommate Toni asked. "All the attention that Danny's getting? If I was him, I'd be lapping it up! All those girls thinking he's so cute ...."

"Not that. Somehow, the Three Little Witches got their wells lit!"

"Dayum!" Toni mouthed. "That ain't good!"

"And they're talking about joining Wondercute," Nikki added ominously.

"Well, that should keep Mrs. Carson off our backs for a while, then," Toni smirked. "Let's go see what kind of End-of-the-World party Ayles can lay on." She grinned when Nikki gawked at her. "Since we're all doomed, we might as well go out with a helluva big bang!"

* * *

A large, angry-looking freshman boy watched Danny moving toward the door, and his eyes narrowed. After seeing the boy walk outside by himself, he nudged his buddy. "Hey, the twink is leaving all alone."

The other boy looked, and then he grinned. "I think maybe we should go say hello, don't you?"

The first one grinned wickedly. "My thoughts exactly." He looked at another of the guys at the table. "Take care of our trays, would ya? We've got to go have a ... friendly chat ... with a little tinkerbell."

* * *

"Uh, oh!" Jade's happy, cute disposition vanished instantly, and her eyes narrowed as they followed two large freshmen stalking out of the cafeteria."

"What?" Anna asked, perplexed by the pint-size princess of mayhem's abrupt change of mood.

"Those guys," Jade said. "They're following Danny, and I can tell that they're really mad about something. Probably the same guys who've been harassing him."

"Let's go," Lindsay said, already rising from her seat. She needn't have said anything; all her teammates were already pushing back their chairs and standing. Palantir summoned her scrying ball, quickly growing it to large size and hopping atop it like she was riding a horse, and as soon as they were outside, Clover had her familiar Buttons grow to pony-size to carry her while she pulled her witch's hat firmly on her head.

"Oh, damn," Jade swore mildly, watching the bullies. Danny had sensed them, and was running. "Lindsay!"

"On it!" the Wondercute girl's dragon leaped from her shoulder and grew to mammoth size. As soon as Lindsay was on him, Pern beat his mighty wings and launched skyward, causing mini-whirlwinds of dust and debris, which the other girls ignored as they raced toward 'their' kitty-boy.

* * *

"Well, Twink," Dump Truck sneered at Danny, who was penned in by the four bullies - Centurion, Switchblade, Thud, and Dump Truck. "You're gonna pay for getting me in trouble and for putting me in the hospital."

"You started it!" Danny protested, wincing as Thud tightened his grip on one of Danny's shoulders until it felt like the big bully was crushing his bones.

"You're the fairy, not us!" Thud snapped back in what Danny considered to be the snappiest rejoinder the brutish thug could come up with.

"Security is going to come!" Danny tried to bluff his way out of his predicament.

"Nice try, fruit," the one called Centurion shot back as he shoved Danny hard against Thud, which was like hitting a brick wall.

"One of the upperclassmen told me that there aren't a lot of cameras here!" Thud growled as he shoved Danny back, just as hard, with a quick little rabbit-punch in his side.

"Yeah," Dump Truck snarled. "Thanks for running."

"Do you want to end up in the hospital again?" Danny asked uneasily, challenging Dump Truck directly. As expected, the bully flinched a tiny bit, which was what Danny hoped. "I can do it again."

"You think you can take all of us?" Switchblade challenged Danny.

"Maybe," Danny tried to stay cool. "Maybe not. But I won't be the only one hurting."

Dump Truck gave Danny a hard push against Centurion, who greeted the boy with a small, sharp punch. An audible crack of bone accompanied the stabbing pain from Centurion's vicious punch; no doubt he'd broken a rib or two. With a worried expression, Danny glanced between the burly thugs, and with a sinking feeling, he realized that there weren't any nearby students, and he was close to the woods surrounding the core of the campus. He had been stupid to run, he realized. It was time to let the cat run free, and damn the consequences, because if he didn't, he was at the very least going to end up in the hospital.

"Leave him alone!" a girl's voice yelled from up above as the sun was blotted from the sky by something quite large. From the sound of it, the girl was very close.

"Yeah, leave him alone, you bullies!" It was another girl's voice; in the gap between Thud and Centurion, Danny saw a blonde-haired girl, with curls and a witch's hat, riding toward the group on a ... a large dog? He gawked at the sight, then gulped again when Palantir came into view riding a large semi-translucent, multi-hued bubble. Behind her was a visibly angry Jade, flying through the air somehow. Behind Jade, running on the ground, came the rest of Wondercute.

"Oh, the little girl has to be rescued by her cute little friends?" Dump Truck mocked Danny and the group.

"I got this," Danny protested against the onrushing horde of cuteness, feeling dismayed that he was going to be rescued by Wondercute and their Cute wannabes.

"Buzz off, girlies," Thud snapped at the girls, never letting loose of Danny's shoulder. He reached out to push Clover back, possibly with the intent of knocking her off her giant dog.

Buttons slipped on something, most probably a patch of random bad luck that Clover created with her purely random probability warping, and he and Clover skidded beneath Thud's hand, with enough momentum that Clover's familiar ended up in perfect position to bite Thud's leg, which he proceeded to do. Meanwhile, Clover incanted something in a panic, and grabbing at anything to keep from falling from Buttons, she grasped Centurion's arm.

"Yeep!" Centurion yelped as he recoiled from the discharge of Clover's shock spell into his arm, a shock with all the power of a low-grade taser.

With the distraction, Danny pulled himself from underneath Thud's extremely painful grasp, intending to use the opportunity to push back, or hit someone, or fight in some way. No sooner had he turned towards Dump Truck than Molly incanted a spell which put up some kind of protective shield around Danny, just in case one of the bullies tried to hit the boy. He bounced harmlessly off the magic protection.

Seeing the chaos erupting from the newcomer girls, Switchblade turned toward the herd of girls, but before he could do anything, Mischief popped out of a teleport right in front of him, and she blew something in the bully's face. Switchblade immediately started sneezing repeatedly and hard as Mischief's prank caused him to lose focus on fighting.

No sooner had Centurion shaken off the powerful shock than Anna, using her signature 'squirrel climbs up and over the tree' move, scrambled over the bully's head, administering a severe boxing of his ears as she went. Centurion was tough, but even a tough guy would have been rattled by the sudden smack of air pressure in both ears, and he staggered, just as Anna landed and did a neat hip throw that would have won approval from Ito Sensei.

Gateway created a portal just behind Dump Truck, and seeing the opportunity, Danny dropped his shoulder and hit the bully squarely in the chest. Before he could hit Dump Truck, however, Palantir charged on her sphere and crashed heavily into the bully; while the impact didn't hurt Dump Truck - Pally could have as well hit a brick wall - it did knock him off balance, making him stumble backwards into the void; he emerged about ten feet above the ground, and promptly fell with a crash right on top of Thud.

Meanwhile, Thud was trying to dodge Kitty Compact, which buzzed angrily about his head, this time having deployed a pair of electrodes that had nasty sparks shooting between them, in addition to the blades it normally had.

Directed by Lindsay, Pern clutched the shoulders of Centurion and launched himself up in the air. The boy, still recovering from being shocked, having his ears rung, and being knocked over, gave a serious "Eep!" as he looked down from suddenly being up in the air, held by a hovering dragon.

"I really, really suggest you leave Danny alone," Jade said angrily to the pile of boys on the ground being orbited by the angry pink torture droid, pausing to look up at Centurion. She showed her armband of the day, the one she'd selected by the flip of a coin, the one labeling her as an Ultraviolent. "I really don't like it when my friends get hurt or bullied!" she hissed through clenched teeth.

For good measure, Pern dropped Centurion about eight feet onto the stack of bullies. With a smug grin, Bunny pulled an egg from her waist-belt and threw it; it exploded in mid-air, releasing a mist that settled on the boys. Within a second or two, all four started shivering furiously as they were very suddenly chilled to the bone.

"Security is on the way," Anna reported nervously to Jade. At those words, Pern alit, and as soon as Lindsay leaped from his neck, shrank back to shoulder-size and crawled up on his mistress's shoulder.

"We'll be fine," Jade said with a grin. "They started it. There's four of them, and eleven of us, so if it's our word against theirs ..." She turned to the heap of bullies. "And thanks to Ayla and Bugs, Kitty Compact has a recording camera, so even if there aren't any security cameras in the area...."

"You guys are going to have fun trying to explain how you had your butts handed to you by a bunch of cute little girls!" Clover said mockingly.

With that, Misty and Lindsay grabbed Danny's arms and helped him to his feet. He gasped in pain from his right side, from the ribs that Centurion had hit and possibly broken.

"He's hurt," Lindsay said, worried. "We need to take him to Doyle."

"No!" Danny retorted sharply, so sharply that the sudden motion of his response caused him another stab of pain. "Not Doyle!" He waited until his grimace of agony faded. "If I go to Doyle, they'll ask what happened, and security will get involved, and then I'll get in trouble again!"

"I think," Jade beamed to the Three Little Witches and Mischief as the security squad trotted the last few yards to the scene, "that you guys are really going to fit in Wondercute!"

"So ... we can make our own junior training team - the Cutettes?" When Lindsay and Misty nodded, the four younger girls squealed with delight.

"And you have to come to our sleepover," Anna insisted.

Clapping with glee, Clover turned to Danny. "So ... you're going to join the Cutettes now?" she asked hopefully.

Danny's pained expression was from a different sort of pain than his broken ribs. "No. Not joining Wondercute or the Cutettes," he answered firmly. "Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the help, but I had it under control!"

Jade grin evilly at Danny, turned to face Misty, and asked, "Molly?"

Misty returned the knowing grin and nodded. "Molly." The tone of her voice made Danny gulp nervously, wondering what kind of persuasive measures Molly could take that would outdo the insanity of Jade and innocent sweetness of Bunny.

* * * * * * * * * *

Friday, August 31, 2007 - Before Dinner
Room 218, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Fighting a mild headache, Danny lifted his head at the sound of the door unlocking. Based on his experiences during the summer, Danny knew that he had two or three days before he absolutely had to spend time as Danica. He also knew that he was just putting off the inevitable, that eventually he was going to have to change to Danica, and eventually everyone in the school would know his secret. He let it flop heavily back onto his pillow, and the motion caused him more than a bit of discomfort, eliciting a tiny yelp of pain.

Hank came in with a girl, who was most likely his girlfriend Lily. Kayda had told him a little about her.

"Danny," Hank started when he noticed the boy on his bed, but his features clouded when he recognized the slightly pained look on the boy's face. "Are you okay?"

"A bit of a headache," Danny replied simply. "I'm just waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in. One of those ... complications ... Kayda was talking about yesterday."

"Lily Turner, this is Danny Franks," Hank did the introductions. "Lily is ..."

"Your girlfriend," Danny interrupted. "Kayda told me." He forced a smile, though it was a struggle against his discomfort. "Nikki told us more about you two when she came out to help fight the snake-demon and get the tree seed," he added.

"So ... are you changing sides?" Lily asked hesitantly.

"Nope," Danny said softly, hoping that they'd take a clue from his example and keep their voices down. "I've got a female Lakota spirit, and she gives me shifter power. Two of the forms I can change into are female. One is a cat-girl ...."

"Like Miyet and Feral?" Lily asked, turning to Hank for an answer.

"Yeah."

Danny puzzled at their brief interchange, but figured he'd find out soon enough. "The other is a female mountain lion."

Lily's gaze turned a bit icy. "When you say cat-girl ...."

Hank wrapped his arm around Lily's waist affectionately. "Danny, can you show her?"

Danny nodded almost imperceptibly, then sat up slowly, already feeling a little better as the analgesic began to have an effect. "It looks like this." He let his body shift until he was in the cat-girl form. "When I look like this, I go by Danica."

Lily gawked at the cat-girl for several awkward seconds. "When you said periodically," she asked as she walked around Danica, sizing her up from multiple angles, "what do you mean?"

"A day and a half or two days, about once a week. Continuous time, too," Danica explained cautiously, reading Lily's skeptical and somewhat jealous expression.

"Are you fully ...?" Danny simply nodded in response to Lily's question. "This is going to be a problem," Lily turned and stated flatly to Hank.

"Why?" Hank asked, puzzled. "We didn't have a problem last year with Jamie."

Lily frowned deeply. "Jamie didn't look like that!"

"Well," Danica said, "if you think it's going to be a problem, we can go talk to Lanie."

"It won't bother me," Hank said. "I'm not interested in you. Just Lily." He pulled her close as a demonstration of his affections and loyalty to Wallflower.

"And ... when you're like this," Lily started hesitantly, "are you, um, interested in boys? Like Hank?"

Danica's eyes bulged at the question. "No!" she denied. "I'm ... I'm only interested in girls."

"Can you deal with this?" Lily asked Hank skeptically. "Having her in the room every week?"

"What about me?" Danica complained. "I ... I can't change clothes when I'm like this and Hank is in the room!"

"It's only one day a week," Hank tried to be diplomatic. "Or two. Maybe you can change in Kayda's room. Or the bathroom. "

"I'm sure the other girls wouldn't mind a bit he changed in the bathroom when you're in that form," Lily interjected with a tiny chuckle and a waggle of her eyebrows.

"Or you can ask Mrs. Horton about using the unused RA room in the other wing."

"That won't work," Danica replied. "I already asked. The policy is no singles if they can help it. And the fourth wing is a long way from finished, including the RA suite."

"I haven't got a roommate," Lily volunteered. "So you could use my empty bed when you have to be like that."

It was Danica's turn to grimace again. "Um, that'd be kind of uncomfortable for me," she said. Rooming with Hank some days and Hank's girlfriend the others would possibly make for some awkward situations.

Hank decided to play diplomat again. "There wasn't a problem with Jamie. There shouldn't be a problem with Danica. She's not looking for boys." Lily looked at Danica, who was very assertively shaking her head in agreement with Hank's comment. "So ... we can try it, and if it's weird, then we can talk to Lanie and Mrs. Horton?"

"I guess we can see how it goes," Lily said reluctantly. Hank clutched Lily tightly so she hopefully wouldn't get any mistaken impressions.

"Yeah," Danica agreed. "And I'll either change in the bathroom - I used the girls' bathroom in the freshman wing the other morning, so they know ...." She focused and changed back to Danny. "But most of the time, I'll be like this."

* * * * * * * * * *

Friday, August 31, 2007 - Evening
Poe Cottage Ballroom, Whateley Academy

Christina and Cindy sidled up beside Danny, who was seated at a table with Angel practically draped all over him, since he was the only boy she could be near. "So when is she going to come out and play?" Christina purred in his ear.

"Back off, girls," Angel cautioned them, clinging possessively to the boy. "He's going to dance with me again before you can have him."

"I don't want him!" Cindy protested. "I want her!"

"Get in line," Ros said, having sneaked up behind the group. "I've got the first dances with Danica."

"We asked first!" Christina protested.

"Seniority," Ros replied, sticking out her tongue at the freshmen. She leaned over Danny's other shoulder, brushing her breasts seductively against the boy's shoulder even though the two other girls could see that it was uncomfortable for the senior RA to be so obviously sexually flirting with a boy. "So go change already, so we can dance!"

"He owes me a dance first," Angel protested with a smug grin. "And then he'll change only if he wants to! Which he might not want to." She reached around and took Danny's hand, tugging him gently to his feet.

Danny's eyes widened as the DJ changed to another tune. "Eeep!" he gulped uneasily, and then he looked at Angel, his eyes pleading. "Are you sure?" The music was slow, and Danny felt nervous about dancing a close, slow dance with Angel.

"You're not getting out of it, little brother!" Angel replied with a broad smile, still tugging him to the dance floor. She held him a lot closer than Danny would have expected, and between her soft body pressed against his and her intoxicatingly-sweet perfume, he found himself getting very highly distracted.

"Um," Danny stammered to the girl who considered him her 'little brother', "are ... I mean, are you ...?" He wasn't quite sure how to phrase his question so that he didn't accidentally offend Angel, but he really needed to know if she was, perhaps, attracted to him.

The older RA caught on quickly. "No, I'm not attracted to you," she answered softly and gently. "Not that way." A shudder coursed up and down her spine, enough that Danny could feel it from holding her. "But ... it's really, really nice to dance with a boy, to be able to hug a boy. I meant it when I said you could be like my little brother!"

"Oh." Danny's disappointment came through quite unintentionally. Having a beauty like Angel tell him she wasn't sexually attracted to him was quite a let-down, even if he knew she was a lesbian, and even if not, she was out of his league.

The older girl laughed softly. "If you change into Danica," she continued, "I might not be able to resist cuddling with you, though."

Eventually, too soon for Danny, the dance ended and Angel led him back to the girls. "Okay, he's all yours now," Angel laughed sweetly as the two freshmen girls latched onto him like a drowning person would clutch a life-ring and led him out of the dance hall.

Cindy shut the door behind the trio once they were in Danny's room. Danny winced; he'd always imagined having a pretty girl alone in a room, and two was the stuff of a hyper-hormonal teenager's fantasies. But they were not interested in Danny, but rather in Danica, and that was another blow to the fragile ego of a normal teenage boy.

Christina stepped to his wardrobe, opening the door to look for suitable attire. "Hey!" Danny protested. These two girls were invading his private space.

"You're going to change first, right? Like you were a couple of days ago in the shower?" Cindy prompted.

"But ...." Danny tried to insert himself between the Italian girl and his clothes, but Cindy took hold of his arm and spun him toward her. Deftly but with a look of distaste, she began to unbutton his shirt.

First Angel. Now Cindy undressing him. Danny's struggle against his raging male hormones was lost, and he squirmed awkwardly to relieve the pressure in his trousers. Cindy noticed his discomfort. "We'll take care of that in a sec," she said.

"Oooh, look!" Christina was holding the little black dress that Kayda had strategically hung but which Danny had tried to hide. "You have to wear this!" She hooked the hanger on the back of the wardrobe door. "Now, have you got any shoes to match?" she mused as she started to rummage through the footwear. "Heels?" She held up a pair of attractive black shoes with three-inch heels. "You've been holding out on us!" she pouted in mock indignation."

"Mom and Kayda got that, not me!" Danny protested, attempting to salvage at least a tiny bit of dignity from this embarrassing situation.

"Okay," Cindy said, having taken Danny's shirt off. "Time to change!"

With a bow to the inevitable, Danny closed his eyes, took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, then let his body flow. Because of the building pressure, the change was rapid and very easy. "Happy now?" Danica asked with a resigned air.

"That is so cool!" Cindy said, then her eyes lowered to Danica's chest. "And the outcome of your change is pretty nice, too!" She impulsively took Danica's cheeks in her hands and leaned into the cat-girl, their lips meeting in a frantically-passionate kiss. When they broke, Danica stood breathless, her whole body tingling, while Cindy smiled. "I don't think I want to let you go back to the dance," she said, waggling her eyebrows and seductively touching her tongue to her lips.

"You ever do a three-way?" Christina asked in a husky, sultry voice, sidling up to Danica holding a set of lingerie she'd found in one of the drawers. "Because that can be arranged!"

Danica spun, gawking at the girl with her jaw agape, eyes nearly popping from their sockets. "Er, what?" she stammered in shocked disbelief, her brain not quite willing to accept what the Italian beauty had said. "What did you say?"

"I think your hearing works just fine." Cindy giggled at Danica's discomfort. Danica pulled away from her possessive embrace, right into Christina's arms, which encircled the cat-girl, tugging Danica into perfect position for Christina to kiss her.

"Eeep!" Danica flinched, squealing in shock when Christina's hand slid down to cup a naked breast. She pulled away from the Italian, making sure not to fall into Cindy's hands again. "I'm not, er, um, I mean, I ... I don't ...."

Cindy glanced at Christina, a coy smile on her face. "Poor, confused Danica." She looked back to the cat-girl. "Most of the time, you're a guy, right?" Danica nodded, puzzled. "And when you're a guy, you're a regular guy, not one of the Nancies, right?"

Seeing Danica's puzzled stare, Christina picked up, having figured out where Cindy was going. "You like girls, right? When you're a guy?"

"Yeah," Danica said, still confused.

"And you still have Danny's thoughts and emotions and likes when you're like this, don't you?" Cindy continued quizzing the cat-girl.

"Well, yeah," Danica replied, not quite getting the point the two girls were driving at.

"Think about it," Cindy said with a knowing grin.

Danica cocked her head slightly, eyes narrowed, focused on trying to figure out what the girls were saying. "Huh?" she stammered. "I still don't ...."

Christina sighed. "Look, the other morning, you were pretty interested in the girls. In the shower, I mean. Right?" Danica's furious blushing was all the answer she needed.

"And since you still think like a guy, it's only natural that girls turn you on, right?"

"Yeahhhhh," Danica admitted slowly and cautiously. She was starting to get an inkling of where the conversation was headed. "So?"

"So it'd be only natural for you to still find girls attractive when you're like this, wouldn't it?"

Danica frowned. "Duh! Of course! It's not like I changed brains or something!"

"So that makes you a lesbian when you're kitty-girl!" Cindy pronounced triumphantly. "Welcome to the sisterhood! You're in a cottage where there are a lot of other lesbians who find you attractive. So what are you going to do about it?"

"Do?"

Christina rolled her eyes. "What kind of convent did you grow up in?" she asked sarcastically. "You're attracted to girls. You're in a cottage full of girls who might be attracted to you."

Danica goggled at the two. "You're talking about ...?" she asked fearfully.

"Sex," Cindy said matter-of-factly. "The mattress mambo. Midnight push-ups. Doing the nasty. Fooling around."

It took a few seconds for Danica to get her jaw closed and back in working condition. "I can't ..." she mouthed in shock.

"Well, maybe you're not ready for it now," Cindy said with a wicked leer. "But anytime you are ready, you know where to find us!" After gazing lustfully at Danica for a couple of seconds, the two girls turned toward each other and nearly burst out laughing at the cat-girl's reaction, knowing that they'd embarrassed him a little more with their banter.

"Now, let's get you dressed for the dance. Before Ros and the other lesbians come up here to hang us for stealing you from the party!" Christina added.

With two sexy girls tag-teaming her, Danica had zero hope of not being sexy by the time she got back to the dance. The little black dress showed her figure almost perfectly, and with the heels, she couldn't help but walk with a sexy, slinky strut. The girls had done Danica's makeup - which, given her light fur, was little more than lipstick, mascara, and some eyeshadow - and a little quick work with a brush and curling iron had her hair looking quite stylish.

When Danica walked back into the ballroom, heads turned and jaws dropped - mostly among the lesbians of the cottage, although there were a couple of boys who were undoubtedly bi who were giving her appreciative stares. Suddenly, Danica felt very self-conscious and decided to beat a hasty retreat to the freshman table to get out of the limelight.

Unfortunately for Danica, Ros had other ideas, intercepting the cat-girl and practically dragging her to the dance floor.

Relax and enjoy this, Wihinape strongly mentally suggested to Danica as she protested.

I can't dance! Danica replied in her mind to the spirit. Not like this!

But I can! Wihinape replied smugly. Let me loose!

With nothing else for it, Danica reluctantly let his spirit control their body. Immediately, Danica's motions changed from rather clumsy and jerky to something a lot more smooth and sultry. The change was not lost on Ros, who'd been sort-of leading, but suddenly, Danica's motions and dancing were stalking her, cat-like, predatory like a feline on the hunt. All the girls noticed the sexual aggressiveness and blatant flirtation in Danica's dance steps.

Danica's only breaks were to use the rest room. Other than that, the Poe girls kept her on the dance floor the rest of the night, sometimes forming a line to take turns. Danica was exhausted by the time the dance ended.

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - Morning
Arena 99, Whateley Academy

"Purr, purr, kitty-cat!"

Instinctively, Danica glanced at the sound, only to see one of the male students looking at her with a lustful grin on his face. With a shudder, the cat-girl snapped her focus back to the steps, to where Jade and Bunny were leading her. It wasn't the first comment she'd heard, nor the first time she'd caught some guy gawking at her, and the attention was getting her more and more creeped out. "How did I let you girls talk me into this form?" she grumbled softly.

Bunny smiled sweetly at the cat-girl. "You aren't exactly a pillar of strength against Ros, Cindy, or Christina!"

"Or Bethany or Lanie, or even your sister," Jade added. She waved toward a small group. "Hey!" she called out enthusiastically to three of the Wondercute girls as they got near the bottom of the long stairway through the rows and rows of bleacher seats.

"Jade! Bunny!" Molly called back from where she, Anna, and Lindsay sat among other Dickinson girls. "We saved you seats!"

"Gotta sit with our cottage," Bunny grumbled back.

"They'll never notice," Lindsay suggested with a naughty wiggle of her eyebrows.

"Mrs. Horton will," Jade said with a shrug.

"Who's that?" Anna asked, curious about the cat-girl with Jade and Bunny.

"Danica," Bunny answered simply. Seeing the girls' curiosity, she gave a smile. "I'll tell you later."

"Thank you!" Danica mouthed to himself. If Bunny or Jade had called out that it was Danny's 'other form', everyone in school would know of her gender-confused shape-shifting. Not that her secret would be safe forever, but she wanted to delay that day of reckoning. On the other hand, Danica had to reveal herself eventually to the rest of the school, and this seems to be the safest way she could think of. Nobody was going to try anything in front of the entire school and faculty and security. And if she was lucky, it'd take quite a while for the less-bright bullies to figure out that Danica and Danny were one and the same.

Lindsay's brow furrowed as she stared Danica, making the cat-girl flinch from the extra scrutiny, but then Dragonrider's eyebrows cocked up and her jaw dropped a little. Danica winced, certain that the Wondercute girl had deduced her secret.

The girls continued through the stands until they neared the section occupied by the Poesies.

"Over here!" "I saved you a spot!" "Sit here!" the girls, from freshmen to seniors, seemed to all be calling to Danica.

"I think I'll sit with my wing," Danica half-stated, half-pleaded with the two Wondercutes. On the other hand, given the way Cindy and Bethany and Christina were gesturing for her to join them, especially considering what Cindy and Christina had said at the dance, maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea.

Danica's ponderings of which seating choice would be the lesser of the two evils was interrupted when Mrs. Horton rose from the far end of the bleacher row, beside the freshmen from her cottage. Wordlessly, sternly, she directed the cat-girl to sit with the others from her freshman class. Perhaps she wanted to keep the freshmen under close supervision during the orientation speeches, but Danica couldn't fathom why. Perhaps a previous class had ignored the important informational talks and had goofed off instead?

"Mrs. H wants me to sit with the other freshmen in my cottage," Danica said, grateful on one hand that he wasn't going to be stuck with the exuberantly-unpredictable Jade, but quite uncomfortable that she might be stuck between Cindy and Christina.

She looked again, then scooted through the bleachers, cautiously threading her way between the backs of those sitting one row down and the legs of those in her own row. She flinched as someone pinched her bottom, and wheeling, she unhappily scrutinized the faces of the girls she'd been passing.

Whoever had goosed her had to have been a good actress, because all the girls looked equally amused and equally guilty. With a frown, she stepped more carefully, and ignoring the open spot between Cindy and Christina, she opted instead to sit on the other side of the girl next to Cindy, the one called Downpour.

It was common knowledge on the wing that Cindy considered herself Downpour's guardian, which couldn't have been an easy task, as the girl was a weather manipulator afflicted with severe depression which manifested as everything from dark clouds over her head to torrential rains - hence her name. It was like the comics, where a dark little storm-cloud followed her around to match her mood. No wonder there was an empty seat next to Downpour; if she got depressed, her neighbor was apt to get wet.

"May I?" Danica asked with a small smile and a gesture toward the open seat.

"By all means," Bethany said from the other side, while Downpour just shrugged.

Ignoring the frowns from Cindy and Christina, Danica sat down, looking down toward the center of the arena. A large stage was set up, with white curtains hanging from a framework about 30 feet above the stage in an effort to make the vast underground arena seem smaller and more intimate. On the white curtains was a large crest - the crest of the school itself, with a motto in Latin surrounding it, though Danica had no clue what the phrase meant; Latin was not something taught in her hometown school. Her former school, she caught herself.

"Do you know that that says?" Danica asked Downpour to have some kind of conversation instead of sitting in her seat bored.

"Nope."

"How long do you have to stay like that?" The whispered voice came from the other side of the cat-girl.

Danica turned to Bethany. "Eventually, when I absolutely have to change, probably two days."

Bethany grinned. "So I'll get to see you in the showers naked for a couple of days when that happens? Just like the other morning?"

"You're incorrigible," Danica huffed. "Just like all the other girls."

"Yup," Bethany whispered in Danica's ear, leaning close enough that her warm breath tantalized the cat-girl's neck. Feeling Danica's shoulders stiffen, Bethany smiled. "You're way too tense."

"Duh! I wonder why!"

"Here, let me." Before Danica could object, Bethany started massaging her neck, and almost immediately, Danica felt her neck and back muscles ripple. "Ooh!" Bethany squealed softly. "Are you ... purring?"

"No!" Danica tried to deny, but her body betrayed her. Bethany's massage was very relaxing.

"Purring? Like a cat?" Downpour's voice caused Danica to wheel toward her, which had the effect of letting Bethany more effectively massage her, causing the purring to deepen. "Really?" She actually sounded a tiny bit enthusiastic. "Can I ... please?" She looked at Danica with big, soft, sad eyes; a snowball in a blast furnace would have had more chance of lasting than Danica's resolve to not add to her petting humiliation.

Danica spent the rest of the speeches quite distracted; surely the Headmistress and her staff had gone over a lot of rules and expectations, but between Bethany's and Downpour's petting and all her purring, it seemed a bit hazy.

As they rose to leave at the end of the long talks, Danica flinched from the unhappy look she got from Christina. She expected the same from Cindy, but as the two of them maneuvered to the crowded steps full of fidgety students, Cindy leaned closer to Danica. "Thanks," she said simply, surprising the cat-girl. "Downpour wasn't feeling too good this morning, but she looks almost ... happy."

"Um," Danica stammered, startled by Cindy's words. "You're welcome," was all she could think of saying.

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - Lunchtime
The Quad, Whateley Academy

With her eyes darting back and forth, looking out for the catty girls – Danica started at the bad pun, since she was cat-like – who were so insulting, as if to demonstrate by some sharp barb or witticism that they were superior to a true cat-girl. And if those weren't bad enough, there seemed an uncountable number of perverts who did everything from shamelessly leer to blatantly proposition Danica. The third category she'd discovered quickly were the Casanovas who were so cocksure that they probably honestly believed that a night of sex with them was the most valuable gift in the world.

"Is there something wrong?" The voice boomed out from behind and above Danica, and she correctly judged that it was directed right at her.

The girl turned with a resigned sigh, ready to tell yet another Don Juan that she had zero interest in spending any time whatsoever with an arrogant jackass. The bitter invective she'd been prepared to hurl at the offender - probably the thirtieth or thirty-first so far since the students had left the arena - choked in her throat. "Um, hi," she managed to squeak at the bear of a man who'd strode up behind her. Inwardly, she cursed her own lack of attention; Wihinape's lessons had taught her to never ever let her guard down. "... um ..." It was also embarrassing that she'd forgotten his name, especially since his spirit had cautioned Wihinape on the dangers of her taking control of Danica's physical body. "Um ..."

The boy chuckled. "Wyatt Cody, remember?" He reminded the girl of his name. "You seem a little bit distracted right now."

Danica cringed. This was not a good way to be remembered by a key senior like Wyatt. "Um," she stammered, "It's been a very stressful week, and I feel kind of overwhelmed - like drinking from a fire hose! I'm sure I've already forgotten half of what I've been told so far!" The cat-girl sighed. "And I was thinking about one of the girls who .... wasn't feeling well." That part was true; Downpour had been very depressed and Danica had been distracted by the depressed girl petting her neck and back.

"You don't look like you're having fun!" Wyatt observed. "This is supposed to be a fun social, not a wake."

"Sorry," Danica apologized, wincing when Wyatt took her arm to lead her somewhere. "It's just ... I'm sick of catty girls, stud wannabes propositioning me, and worst of all, perverts trying to hit on me. Like the ...." She paused, pointing to a boy, "like him! He was trying to get pictures of me! Demanding that I model some sexy poses for him!"

Wyatt frowned, then gently took Danica's arm and altered course. "Peeper!" his voice boomed at the offending boy who was trying to work his way toward a small clutch of hot girls, who were of course trying to avoid his presence like the plague.

Peeper turned toward the sound, and he gulped visibly. One could almost see the gears turning in his head as to whether he'd be better off to face Cody and deny any wrongdoing, or to run like a frightened rabbit, thus increasing the big senior's displeasure. "Y ... yeah?" he stammered nervously, frozen by indecision until it was too late.

"I understand you've been harassing students again!"

"Um, no, Cody!" the boy practically groveled. "I was ... was just introducing myself! Yeah. That's it - I was introducing myself!" He looked at Danica, trying to not show the lust in his appreciative gaze as he drank in the view of her curves.

"I told you, no leering, no off-color comments, and no cameras at the social, right?" Wyatt boomed unhappily at the pervert.

"Um, yeah, Cody," Peeper squeaked. "I wasn't taking pictures!"

"But you said some really ... sick things!" Danica shot back, her courage at facing Peeper strengthened by the presence of the massive Alpha president.

"Um," Peeper gulped again, even more nervously, his glances toward Wyatt fearful, "I was just ... um ... saying ... that with ... with you ... and the other kitty-girls," he managed to stammer, "um, you should have, you know, your own kitty-cat club!"

"Peeper!" Wyatt growled.

"But Cody," Peeper squeaked, wincing out of fear that he was going to catch a fist in his face, "it's true, isn't it? I mean, Cyberkitty and Miyet and Feral, and Tabatha Bolton! And ... and that new Japanese girl! And ... and ... and Mrs. Turner could, you know, be their advisor!"

"You're just digging a deeper hole for yourself," Wyatt said, glaring at the boy.

"That sounds like a good club to me!" one of the bystanders, a junior exemplar from Emerson, interjected in the conversation.

"And what, you'd photograph them?" Wyatt demanded.

"That's what he said," Danica added her own fierce glare to those being received by Peeper. "You said you'd be happy to take whatever pictures we wanted, even naughty ones! Especially naughty, sexy ones!"

"I'd pay to see those!" a smartass guy dared to say aloud.

"I bet you would!" The voice was unmistakable to Danica's ears - a dulcet tone that was normally melodic and sweet, but which now added a tone of pure, unadulterated threat. "And the closest you'll get to pictures like that is in your imagination."

"Um, Tansy," Peeper gulped nervously again, "hi!" Then he spun and took off at a run through the crowd, terrified of facing both Wyatt and the exemplar blonde.

"If there are any pictures taken, they'll be taken in Venus Inc.'s studios, and licensed through the club," Tansy announced sternly, looking around at the guys and practically daring them to cross her. Most decided to back up half a step or wander off rather than face both Tansy and Wyatt, no matter how cute or attractive the unfamiliar cat-girl was.

The blonde draped an arm around Danica's shoulder. "You know, Danica," she whispered, leaning close to the cat-girl so no-one else could hear her and clearly indicating that she knew exactly who Danica was, "that might not be a bad idea - some kitty-girl group pictures. I understand they'd sell very, very well in Japan!"

"Um, no thanks, Miss Walcutt," Danica muttered nervously. "I ... I couldn't do that!"

"It's Tansy, remember?" she gently chided her, reminding her yet again about not being so formal. "And why not? Your sister models!" Tansy rebutted.

"I'm not her!" Danica snapped angrily, giving vent to her frustration at constantly feeling in Kayda's shadow.

"No-one expects you to be your sister," Wyatt both added their understanding of the cat-girl's feelings. "But think about it. It'd be a type of modeling unique to you. Tansy knows what she's talking about," the big senior encouraged.

Tansy nodded her agreement. "You go hob-nob with all the groups, Wyatt," Tansy fairly ordered the boy. "I'll introduce Danica around." She gently took Danica's arm and directed the girl toward another small cluster of girls. "These are some of the girls from Venus, Inc.," she began.

Even though many of the students seem to be very suspicious of Tansy, most of them were polite enough to at least allow themselves to be introduced to Danica. After a thoroughly dizzying hour and a half of meeting people - Tansy seemed to know everyone on campus, including already knowing details about many of the freshmen - listening to countless stale jokes about yarn balls, laser pointers, catnip, wind-up mice, and belly-scratching, and eating an average picnic hot dog and some excellent potato salad, Danica was nearly at her limit. "I think I'll go hang out with my cottage wing for a bit," she said lamely.

"Well, it might have been a bit much," Tansy answered with a wry smile. "And ... oh, she looks interesting! We have to meet her." Her eyes were fixed on another girl a short distance away through the crowd.

Danica followed Tansy's gaze, her eye settling on a girl with long, silky, black hair, and more noticeably, a pair of cat-ears atop her head. Her eyes were dark with large irises that nearly filled her eyes, dark enough that it was difficult to see her pupils, which Danica instantly knew were cat-slits, and her nose was a tiny bit more cat-like than the average girl, though not nearly to the extent of the GSD that Danica possessed.

"Hi," Tansy said cheerily as she and Danica approached the girl. "I'm Tansy Walcutt, president of Whateley's modeling club, Venus Inc."

The girl's eyes flared a bit at Tansy's introduction. "Koizumi Miki," the girl replied stiffly. "No interested in modeling."

Tansy flinched, taken aback by the girl's instant, sharp rebuke. "Okay," she replied a little cautiously. "I was only telling you who I am. And this is my friend Danica Franks."

"Sorry," the girl apologized quickly, bowing slightly in Japanese fashion. "I am ... tired of offers of ... modeling." She shook her head, sending her cascading black hair dancing about her mid-back. "In Japan, no matter how intelligent or capable, only career choice for me is ... Neko-onna - modeling in ... porn movies." She said the latter with a look of total disgust. "Or ... as toy. Mistress for man with cat-girl thing."

Tansy and Danica winced at her statement. "I can understand your reaction, then," Tansy said quite sincerely. "Honestly, I thought that because you and Danica share the same ... features ... that I should introduce you."

The Japanese girl bowed to Danica. "Very pleased to make your acquaintance," she said in a phrase which was obviously rehearsed, given her halting and accented English in her previous statements. "Is good to know people. Is good to know I am not only cat girl. I am new to country and to school."

"I'm Danica. I'm a freshman, too," Danica said, a bit nervous because the Japanese girl was quite cute and her Danny instincts were strong. "But my sister was here last year, so I already know a few things about the school."

"Is very different from Japan." She smiled a most becoming smile. "Is good you know some things. If possible, maybe you help me?"

Danica goggled at the girl, wondering exactly what she was saying or implying. "Yes," she managed to stammer, "I ... I can help."

"Always good to have friends, yes?" Miki asked pleasantly before looking past Danny and Tansy. "Ah, house advisor signaling me. I must see what she wants." She bowed again. "I look forward to see you again." She bowed to Danica and Tansy, then turned and left.

"I think," Tansy whispered with a leering grin to Danica as both of them watched Miki's cute little Japanese butt sway as she walked, "you've got a girlfriend."

Danica glowered. "I want a girl who likes me as a boy!" she snapped. "Not like ... like this!"

"I would imagine you have plenty of cottage-mates who like you just fine like that," Tansy chuckled. Seeing Danica's open-mouthed shock, she grinned. "Don't worry," she whispered, "I know the secret. Mrs. Horton told me all about it, and made me take the same promise you did. So yeah, I suspect there are a lot of girls who admire your form just as it is now!"

"Great!" Danica scowled. "All the girls want Danica, not the real me!"

"Then go change to your Danny form," Tansy direct to the boy with a knowing smile, "and we will see if we can't do something about getting some girls interested in you as a boy!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, September 1st, 2007 – Lunchtime
Alpha Social Mixer, the Quad, Whateley Academy

Encouraged by the blonde exemplar that he'd been fantasizing about since the start of summer, Danny hurried back toward the quad and the mixer, though he couldn't help but be curious as to what Tansy was thinking. How could she possibly get other girls interested in him? Having little self-confidence is a cat-boy, the one thing Danny knew for certain was that most of the girls in the lesbian wing much preferred him to be Danica.

Watching carefully around himself in case the bullies decided to stir up trouble, Danny strode nervously toward the food table, near a stage which had been set up in front of the statue of Noah Whateley. At the moment, the Outcasts were jamming to provide the entertainment. The boy was quite surprised by the skill displayed by the velociraptor on his guitar, and the snake girl was singing with a very mellifluous voice.

As promised, Tansy was waiting for him, sitting on a picnic table, her feet resting on the bench, and nibbling on French fries from the plate balanced on her lap.

"That was quick, Danny," the blonde called out as soon as she saw him. Of course her dulcet voice attracted attention, and of the crowd who look to see who Tansy was talking to, two of them were some of Danny's tormentors.

Danny blushed; he didn't want to admit his motivation to the senior girl, figuring it would be highly embarrassing if she knew his thoughts about her. "I told you I'd be right back," he admitted sheepishly.

"Pull up a chair," Tansy suggested, patting the table top beside her. "So why do you look so nervous? Something on your mind?"

"I've just had a rough few days," Danny said meekly.

"You want to tell me about it?"

"Nah," Danny grumbled. "I have to figure out how to deal with those idiots myself." He winced as he sat down and he clutched at his side.

Tansy noticed immediately. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, mostly," Danny replied, glancing around and grateful to see the security was present in force. At least the bullies who were there and who were glaring at him knew better than to start anything right under the noses of the heavily armed officers. "The last time I had a run-in with Dump Truck and his idiot friends, I may have cracked a rib or two."

"Have you gone to Doyle to get it checked out?" Tansy asked, a look of genuine concern on her face.

Danny shook his head. "No. It's just a little sore is all, and besides, every time I change back and forth, it heals a little more."

Tansy gave him a gimlet eye, understanding completely that his reticence to go to Doyle to get checked out was all about not letting the bullies see that they hurt him. She figured it best to change the subject. "Word is the Wondercute girls are interested in you, and that they kept you from going UV on those fools," Tansy chuckled. "If you're not careful, those crazy girls are going to rope you into their loony little club."

"Yeah, I just have to be firm about saying no to them," Danny replied morosely, shuddering at the thought of being more permanently associated with the wackiness of Wondercute. "And figure out how to say no to the girls in Poe when they keep asking me to be Danica."

Tansy grinned and waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "I've heard about her," she practically leered, "Oh, don't be so surprised! You think Lanie and Kayda and I don't talk? Now what else is on your mind?"

"I just don't understand," Danny began, "why people dislike mutants so much. Even people who should understand, like other mutants, find reason to hate or fear us."

"The honest truth?" Tansy asked. "The world is full of bigoted assholes, and there is nothing anyone can do to change that." She smiled. "By the way, how did you make out with your detention?"

Danny shrugged. "I just have to do landscaping around the cottage for a couple weeks. No big deal. It's a hell of a lot less work than regular chores back on the farm," he added with a chuckle.

"Mrs. Horton probably went easy on you on purpose," Tansy said. "From what Lanie told me, she hates bullying as much as anyone on campus, especially her students. If you want a hint, do landscaping with your shirt off. You'll get a lot of positive attention from the girls, trust me."

Danny gawked at the girl, not quite believing the advice she was giving him, and very dubious about how other students would react to him doing his detention shirtless.

"Now, you didn't answer my question. What is it you don't understand?"

"I can understand why people would be afraid of ragers, but why do people hate non-dangerous mutants so much," Danny said. "I mean, all of that stuff that Kayda went through, and that was in our hometown! And today Mrs. Carson really hammered on keeping our identity in our powers secret! People can't be that bad, can they?"

Tansy arched her eyebrows and looked at the naïve boy. "You're not serious, are you?"

"No really!" Danny pleaded. "I don't get it!"

Tansy looked thoughtful for a few seconds and then looked at the stage, where Jericho and Razorback were sitting between sets. "Hey guys! Can I see you for a second?"

"Do you need something, Tansy?" the short stocky black man wearing a Scottish plaid kilt and a loud, clashing Hawaiian print shirt asked suspiciously. For a brief moment, Danny wondered if he perhaps shouldn't have eaten the hot dogs, because the attire was so revolting that it was making him nauseated.

"This is Kayda's little brother Danny," the blonde explained. "I want to show him why people hate mutants, if you don't mind."

Jericho eyed the blonde cautiously. "How are you going to do that?"

Tansy smiled. "Will you guys vouch for me that I have never played a guitar?"

Jericho shot Razorback a puzzled glance and then shook his head. "As far as I know, you never ever played a guitar before. As far as I can remember, I've never heard any musical talent from you."

"That's a fair assessment," Tansy laughed. "Razorback, would you mind?" She reached toward the velociraptor's guitar. "Can you time this please?" When Danny nodded, Tansy started plucking at the strings, listening to the notes as she tested various strings and frets. After a little more fiddling around, she experimented with chords of multiple strings and fret combinations. Satisfied, she looked at Razorback." How long was that?"

Danny gaped at his phone, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. "Five minutes and 36 seconds," he replied, shocked at the number. "You mean that in five minutes you learned ...?"

"How to play guitar?" Tansy smiled. "Name a song. We'll find out."

Not quite believing the situation, Danny picked out a song he was sure Tansy wouldn't know how to play if she was telling the truth. To his amazement, she began to pluck out the instrumental section of the song, while the rest of the Outcasts joined in. Tansy's technique wasn't perfect, but the fact that she swore she'd never played the guitar before was impossible to believe, considering how well she played.

When the group finished, there was some general applause from the gathered students, although a few were shooting unpleasant looks Tansy's way. With a smile, she handed the guitar back to Razorback, and hopped down from the stage.

"I… I don't believe it!" the boy exclaimed.

Tansy chuckled. "That… is why you fail!" she said with a grin. Then, somewhat more morosely she added, "And that is why they hate us. Because most mutants, with no interest, will be better than any baseline at their particular talent. Better, stronger, faster, more intelligent . And without thinking about it."

Danny started to nod in understanding, but the movement of his head and the pressure on his hallow sent a stabbing pain through his head, and he winced visibly. Tansy noticed immediately. "What's wrong?" she asked, her voice echoing her concern.

Danny tried to wave off her concern but it was clear she wasn't going to dismiss it. Finally he gave in. "My hallow is a little too small for my spirit," he explained, "and I sometimes get headaches. It's nothing really."

"Do I need to take you to Doyle to get it looked at?"

"No," Danny replied, trying to sound dismissive of his pain but failing. "I'll be okay. I just have to change into Danica for a while to relieve the pressure on my hallow. I can do that tomorrow in Poe, since we don't have classes."

As Danny threaded his way through the crowd, diligent in his lookout for bullies, he came across Alicia and Adalie and a third younger girl who had some familial resemblance to Kayda's French friend. "'Ello, Danny," Addy said warmly. "'Ow are you enjoying school so far?"

"It's interesting," Danny replied, grimacing slightly at the pain in his head, "but... there are some challenges."

"It'll get a lot better when things settle down and all the idiot freshman realize they're not as hot shit as they think they are," Alicia drawled. "Ah had a hell of a time with getting' picked on mah first couple weeks."

"I hope it calms down," Danny said hopefully.

"Yeah, Kayda said you already attracted your share of bullies," Addy said sympathetically. She noticed, seemingly for the first time, that Danny's eyes were glued on the third girl of the trio. "'Ow rude of me to not introduce my sister! Amelie, this is Kayda's younger brother Danny. I met 'im ...."

"I met 'im in the cafeteria already," Amelie smiled at Danny as she interrupted her older sister, not taking her eyes off the boy.

Figuring that he had to impress Addy if he had any chance at all with her little sister, Danny dug into his memories for anything associated with etiquette and French that his mother had taught him. Extending his hand, when Amelie took it, he bowed forward as if to kiss it. "Bonne après-midi, mademoiselle," Danny said in halting French.

The girl's eyes lit up. "Ah, vous parlez français?" she asked hopefully.

Danny's eyes widened. "Um, no," he replied quickly. "Between mom and Kayda, I just picked up a few words." He winced again as a minor pain made a stab at the inside of his head. "I would love to stay and talk more, but I need to go take something for this headache. I hope I see you around campus more, though."

"Me, too," Amelie said with a coy smile. Addy must have noticed, because she gave Danny a stern, judgmental look, and then pivoted her head to frown discouragingly at her little sister.

"Don't you start fawning after all the boys!" he heard Addy insistently chiding her sister Amelie as he quick-timed back to Poe to change. "You're too young!"

"You were younger when you started dating!" Amelie shot back.

"Papa said I must watch out for you!" Addy retorted sharply before Danny was out of range of their suddenly intense little conversation.

Mmm, a familiar voice in his head purred, she's cute! We are going to see her more often, aren't we?

Oh hush, Danny thought back at his spirit. Is that all you ever think about?

I know what you're thinking, the cat spirit thought back at him. You're hoping the same thing, aren't you?

Danny shut off his thoughts, because he knew his spirit was right. Amelie was cute, and he did hope to see more of her. He just wished his spirit wasn't such a hypersexual flirt. And that Amelie's older sister wasn't going to be as much of an impediment to Danny seeing more of Amelie as Danny feared from Addy's 'protective older sister' glance.

A few minutes later, Danny felt rather than saw a presence near him, perhaps through his spirit's enhanced senses. He cautiously turned, and his eyes popped open when he recognized the girl with long, straight, dark hair standing politely looking at him. From the expression on her face, Danny guessed that she wanted to introduce herself but was rather reluctant to do so. Without thinking, he took a step toward the Japanese girl, his mouth already moving. "Hello, again, he said without thinking.

The girl's eyes narrowed and one eyebrow cocked upward. "Have we met?" she asked, her voice caring more than intent of suspicion.

Too late, Danny realized his mistake. "Um," he stammered, trying to figure a way to recover from the awkward situation of his own making, "I … thought I recognized you from somewhere."

A look of disgust flashed onto the girls features. "Anime fan," she muttered softly, probably not intending at the boy heard it, but his hearing, enhanced by his GSD, picked up her soft words.

Curiously to him, though, the girl's eyes widened slightly as she scrutinized him. "Look ... familiar, somehow."

"Um, I get that a lot," Danny stammered. "I'm Danny. Danny Franks."

"Koizumi Miki," the girl replied with a slight bow of her head. "You have twin sister, perhaps?" she asked curiously. "I met girl earlier with similar name. Danica Franks she said name was."

"Um," Danny tried to buy some time while his brain raced to catch up, "you could say that."

"It's nice to know I am not only cat-person here! Already much nicer than Japan, where no one is like me," Miki said with a demure smile.

About fifteen minutes later, Danny was led away from the conversation by Angel, who interrupted a nice conversation with the Japanese girl by insisting on spending some time with him again. At least Angel had told Miki that Danny was like a little brother, so she wouldn't get the impression that there was a romantic connection. As the two walked towards one of the many picnic games that required partners, Danny mused about how Miki had seemed interested in him, and how he had somehow promised her that they would get together again soon.

Perhaps, he thought to himself, Tansy was right, and girls did find him attractive. After all, already two international girls seem to be intrigued by him. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad year after all.

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - Evening
Room 218, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Coming around the corner from the elevator, Danny stutter-stepped when he realized that not only was the door to his room open, but that it looked like half of Team Kimba was standing in the hall peeking in. Given the amount of noise coming from the room, the other half was no doubt already inside.

"Excuse me," Danny said to Toni, hoping he was polite as he tried to gingerly push through the crowd. "Excuse me," he repeated as he ducked in front of Jade. "My room, coming through."

He stopped in the doorway, eyes bulging and jaw-dropping as he beheld the sight of his roommate, Hank, sitting on his bed with a miniature, near-perfect replica of Fey sitting on his lap, looking about nervously but her gaze always returning to stare with adoring rapture at Hank. Lanie sat on his bed, one eyebrow cocked quizzically and the corners of her mouth turned up in a wry smile, while Wyatt Cody stood beside Hank's bed, his right arm encased in a gold-colored, exotic bracer and held out toward Hank. Wyatt's eyes were focused on the bracer, as if he was looking at some kind of the data readout from a science-fiction device that was scanning Hank.

"What ...?" Danny gawked, surprised not so much by the people in his room as by the little Fey in Hank's lap.

"Er, Danny," Hank sputtered uncertainly.

Wyatt dropped his arm and turned to the kitty-boy. "It seems," he chuckled, "that you and Hank have a new roommate." He gestured toward the little Fey with Hank.

"New ... roommate? What do you mean, a new roommate?"

"Er, this is, I mean, she's ... a Leanen Sidhe," Hank fumbled through an explanation, "that was kind of ... accidentally bound to me ... in the spring."

"A better term is 'hearthwife'," Cody said with a smile. "It's kind of a servant-brownie that in the old days was bound to a warrior to help with routine tasks."

"Um, she looks like Fey!"

Hank winced at Danny's pronouncement. "Yeah, um, that ... kind of happened."

"So she's going to be staying with us?"

Hank started to open his mouth, but Wyatt chuckled and spoke first. "That's the whole idea behind a hearthwife."

Danny gawked a little bit, and then shook his head, a smile slowly breaking over his features. "And here I thought I was going to be the strange one because of my spirit!" After the guffaws and titters faded, Danny looked at the brownie again, moving slightly closer. For her part, the brownie stared at Danny, eyes wide and clutching tightly to Hank, as if Danny was a danger to her. "Um, what ... what do we call her?"

"Leanne," Hank said decisively, "since she's a Leanen Sidhe." He looked down at his brownie. "Leanne, Danny is my roommate. He and I share this room. He's a friend. You shouldn't be afraid of him."

Danny moved in front of Hank, crouching down a little so his face was level with Leanne's eyes. "Hi, Leanne," he said gently. "I won't hurt you. I promise."

The brownie looked questioningly at Hank, and when he nodded reassuringly, she looked back at Danny. Slowly she rose to her feet. "Are you a kitty?" she asked innocently.

With a grimace, Danny nodded slightly. "I guess so. In a way." His embarrassment at being called a cat caused him to uncontrollably change into his kitty-boy form, which startled the brownie, but then elicited a squeal of delight from her. She reached out and brushed Danny's oddly shaped ears that bore some resemblance to those of a mountain lion, and then she lightly touched the fur on his cheek before glancing up uncertainly at Hank again.

With a smile, Hank nodded to Leanne, and thus reassured, she began to stroke his soft fur. Once more, Danny's unusual kitty boy form betrayed him and a soft purr rumbled through his chest. Feeling the rhythmic vibration, Leanne squealed happily again and clutched Danny tightly, her face nestled into the fur of his neck as she relished in the tranquilizing vibration of his cat-like purring. "Kitty!" she sighed contentedly.

"Well, I don't think you'll have problems with your roommate and Leanne getting along," Lanie chuckled, which caused Danny to blush slightly, further anchoring him temporarily into his kitty-boy form.

Danny knew he was going to have to learn to control his shifting, if only to keep from inadvertently becoming Kitty boy whenever he was embarrassed. Otherwise, he feared, the girls would never let him be in his normal form.

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - Around Midnight
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

An ongoing litany of pained screams slowly penetrated Hank's sleep, persistently stabbing his brain with notice that he should awaken, if only to find out what the noise was about. As soon as he realized he was awake, he knew that the screams were coming from his roommate. That knowledge slammed his brain into full awake mode, and he practically leaped from his bed.

"Danny?" he said insistently as he shook the boy's shoulder, thinking that he was only having a real bad nightmare. "Danny, wake up!"

"Kitty, wake up!" A diminutive copy of Fey added, sitting on the edge of Danny's bed and tugging insistently on his hand." Wake up Kitty!" Leanne, Hank's brownie, looked plaintively at her master with big, mournful eyes. "He won't wake up!" Leanne had taken an instant liking to Danny because of his kitty characteristics, and more importantly because Danny was her master's roommate, and therefore obviously of some importance to Hank. At present, though, all she could do was grasp Danny's hand and try to rouse the boy from his painful sleep.

The younger Franks only responded with groans mixed with more screams. "Danny!" Hank said more insistently this time. When there was still no response, he flipped on a light, not seeing his stricken roommate flinch with a cry of anguish from the bright light. Hank dashed into the hall, directly to Elaine Nalley's door, and banged frantically and loudly. With his room door open, Danny's screams mingled with the loud knocking.

"What's going ...?" Lanie started to ask, but the shrieks of pain stabbed her brain to full consciousness. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know," Hank replied with a pained expression. "He just started screaming, and he won't wake up."

"What's going on?" Another two girls' heads poked out of their rooms, curious as to the cause of the loud disturbance.

The redhead RA ignored the other girls and darted to the room next-door to hers. Some insistent knocking produced a response; Kayda's bleary-eyed face appeared. "What's wrong?" she asked. Danny's shrieks had faded to muffled moans of pain, but were still loud enough to alert the Lakota girl. "Danny?"

"He started screaming, and I can't wake him up!" Hank explained again.

Led by Danny's sister, the trio dashed back into Hank's room. Leanne had moved to Danny's pillow, and was gently stroking his head. "Please wake up, Kitty!" she implored.

"Danny?" Kayda questioned, gently but insistently shaking him. Every movement of the boy's body seemed to elicit more pained response from him. She looked up at her friends. "We have to get him to Doyle."

"What is it?" Hank and Lanie asked simultaneously, worried about Danny.

"What's wrong with Kitty?" Leanne asked with sorrowful eyes. Her mental connection to Hank caused his concern to be felt strongly by her.

"Can you carry him?" Kayda asked Hank. When he nodded, she ran into her room, only to emerge a couple of seconds later with a robe that she was slipping on over her nightwear. Hank had Danny cradled in his arms, flinching with every movement that seemed to cause new agony to his roommate.

"Can you fly?" Kayda asked hopefully. When Hank nodded, she sighed a little bit of relief. "It'll cut down on the jostling and jarring."

"Do you know what it is?" Lanie asked. "Let me grab my robe," she added.

"No, you stay here," Kayda insisted. "I think he's put off changing to Wihinape too long, and it's gotten to be too much pressure on his hallow. It's like a super-migraine."

"Leanne," Hank directed the small brownie, "just wait here, please. It'll be okay. I'll come back as soon as the doctors help Danny."

With Hank floating a foot off the ground and carrying Danny, the two moved quickly down the stairs and through the tunnels to the medical center. A gurney met them at the tunnel entrance in the complex, and Hank laid the boy gently on it, trying desperately to minimize his movement and the resultant pain.

The doctor on duty was immediately at Danny's side as he was taken into an examining room. "What happened?" he asked.

"If it's like past episodes," Kayda explained, "it's like a severe migraine." Seeing the doctor's quizzical stare, the Lakota girl continued. "His spirit doesn't fit into his hallow, causing stress. After a while, he gets a very severe migraine."

Nodding, the doctor resumed examining the boy. Danny flinched and screamed when the doctor pried open his eyelid and shone a light in it, which caused the doctor to nod grimly. "Any recent head injuries?" he asked as he made notes on a tablet computer that he'd pulled from the bedside.

"None that I'm aware of," Kayda replied. The doctor looked at Hank, who likewise shook his head.

"He's only an avatar, right?"

"Correct."

The doctor stabbed at the tablet. "I'll get something in him for pain."

"When he gets like this," Kayda advised the doctor, "even Vicodin won't relieve the pain. We've got to get him shifted into the form that better fits his spirit."

The doctor looked incredulously at Kayda. "How do you make him shift?"

"Right now, he's in so much pain that he's 'locked' himself into this form. He needs a serious muscle relaxant so he can change." She grimaced. "Hopefully. I'll make him an herbal tea that should do the trick." When the doctor nodded his assent, Kayda mixed up an extremely powerful brew from her medicine bag, and then, with the doctor's help, got Danny sitting up enough, even though every motion had to have been excruciating for him, that they could pour the liquid into his mouth. By pinching his nose, the pair got him to swallow the elixir.

"Okay, I'm going to into his dream-space and see if his spirit can't 'kick' him into shifting," the girl explained to the other, then she slipped into her dream space, looking to the outside world like she was in a lotus position meditating, and after about six or seven minutes, Danny convulsed mightily and then his body flowed into a new form.

The doctor, far too experienced at Whateley to be shocked by a transformation, watched with fascination while Danny's features softened and became more feline and his body lost height and mass and gained curves in non-masculine places. In a few seconds, he was in his Danica form. All signs of pain on the boy - now girl - had vanished like flipping a light switch, and slowly, Danica's eyes opened although they had had a glassy, disorientated look in them.

"Are you okay?" Kayda asked, her concern having ratcheted down considerably now that the symptoms of distress had abated.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Danica said, and then she giggled drunkenly. "Hi, roomie!" she said to Hank with a silly grin. "I hope your girlfriend doesn't mind you sharing a room with me!" Danny didn't notice the pained expression his words elicited on his roommate.

"It's the tea," Kayda explained to the doctor. "Is the pain gone?"

Danica thought a moment; all her mental processes were slowed by the medicinal tea in her system. "I think so, yeah."

"I want to keep him overnight for observation," the doctor said to Kayda and Hank. "With that kind of headache ...." He glanced at his tablet. "I'm going to have a CT scan done, just as a precaution, to make sure there isn't anything organic in his head that caused this. And I've made a note in his file that he's got to be a priority for power testing, so we understand the limits of his power and the impacts on him. Er, her."

"Okay," Kayda assented. "If you're done with us, I'll leave him in your hands. If anything comes up, call, please."

"Certainly. Although I suspect he ... er, she ... is, she's not going to do much but sleep."

After seeing Danica settled into a regular room, Hank and Kayda walked back through the tunnels, Hank being very pensive.

"Penny," Kayda said simply.

Hank looked at her for a moment, then sighed. "This is really going to mess things up," he said. "I mean ... those pajamas ... and ...."

Kayda rolled her eyes. "Figures you'd be gawking at Danica's cleavage. I might have to tell Lily."

"Eeep!" Hank grimaced. With the shirt Danny had worn to bed, soaked as it was with sweat from his ordeal in pain, there had been little left to Hank's imagination once Danny shifted to Danica. "I wasn't ... er ... I mean ...."

"Frankly," Kayda chuckled, "I'd have been worried for Lily if you hadn't been sneaking a peek!"

"Are you going to tell her?" Hank asked nervously. Seeing Kayda's mischievous grin, he gulped once more. "Please don't," Hank implored of the Lakota girl. "Things with Lily ... and Leanne ... are already complicated enough without adding that."

"Is everything okay? Between you and Lily, I mean?" Kayda asked, recognizing the painfully obvious concern in Hank's voice.

"It's ... it's ... Lily doesn't, er, I mean, she's not sure how to take Leanne." He shook his head slowly. "And with Danny, er, Danica, looking like that! This is going to take some getting used to."

"I guess it's a good think Mom and I packed some granny-jammies for her, then, isn't it?"

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, September 2, 2007 - Mid-Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

With a soft tone, an internal electric motor retracted a hardened steel bolt, unlocking the door in response to Danica's thumbprint. Automatically reaching inside for the light switch, Danica stepped into her room, already shutting the door behind herself.

There was a sudden, soft electric zap sound that caught Danica by surprise, but even more startling was the moderately powerful shock that hit her hip. "Ow!" Danica cried, flinching from the moderate pain and reflexively scanning the inside of the room to find out what had happened. Another zap hit her in the leg before she recognized Leanne sitting on Hank's chair with a very unhappy expression.

"Leanne! Stop it!" Danica shouted.

"Get out of Master's room!" the diminutive brownie commended sternly. "Only Master and Mistress and Master's Kitty come in his room!"

"Leanne, it's me! Danny! Kitty!" Danica replied, dodging another elf-shot.

"You're not Kitty!" Leanne replied sharply, thrusting her hands forward, fingertips outstretched, as she discharged yet another small electric bolt at the girl she thought was an intruder.

"Leanne, I am Kitty!" Danica screeched back, stung by another of the brownie's defensive electric bursts. "I mean, I'm Danny!"

Halfway towards taking another elf shot at the girl, Leanne paused, confused. "Kitty is a boy! You're not a boy!"

"Leanne, didn't Hank tell you that I change shapes?" Danica had been herded into a corner between the door and the wall trying to dodge Leanne's shots.

"Yes, Master told me," Leanne said with hesitation. "Show me. Make yourself Kitty!"

Danica winced, sure that she was going to get another barrage of shocking. "I can't right now!" she protested. "I have to stay like this for a while, or it hurts me." Seeing the hesitation in the brownie, Danica tried to give her more evidence. "The locks in the door don't work for anybody, do they? If I didn't belong in this room, could I open the door?"

Leanne lowered her hands, puzzling over the new information. "Are you really Kitty?"

With a sigh of relief that she wasn't going to getting more of the painful stings, Danica knelt down, opening her arms is an invitation for Leanne to come to her. The brownie hopped off the chair and cautiously approached Danica. "When I look like this," Danica explained to the brownie, "people call me Danica. And when I'm in the shape that I was last night, people call me Danny, not Kitty."

Leanne gingerly reached up and touched Danica's cheek. "So soft!"

Danica gently scooted Leanne away from herself and went to her desk, opening her laptop computer as she sat down in her chair.

Leanne climbed up the drawer handles and plopped down facing Danica, her eyes wide with fascination at the cat-girl.

Nearly twenty minutes later, the door opened again and Hank came into the room, but then suddenly Danny's roommate abruptly stopped. Slightly confused, he gawked in disbelief, but that momentary surprise was followed almost immediately by guffaws and then open laughter.

Danica was seated in her chair, facing her powered-on laptop, but it was obvious that using her computer was the last thing on her mind. Her purring was being caused by Leanne, who was standing on the back of Danica's chair, one arm draped over Danica's shoulder while the other rubbed the cat girl's other shoulder, her own cheek pressed affectionately against Danica's neck so that the deep rumbling from within Danica seemed to be massaging the small brownie's entire body.

Leanne looked up and smiled broadly. "Master," she said, "Kitty Girl is nice!"

Shaking his head, Hank chuckled, "It looks like you two are going to be good friends!"

Danica just sighed, torn between embarrassment at her predicament and enjoyment of Leanne petting her. "Just don't tell Kayda, please? If you do, I'll never hear the end of it."

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, September 2, 2007 - Before Lunch
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

The sun shining through the window onto the couch made a warm spot that Danica found herself irresistibly drawn to. Slowly, she stretched herself out on to the sofa in the sunlight, unknowingly basking in the sun and stretching contentedly, which Bethany, seated on the other side of the room and watching television, noticed.

Bethany nudged Christina silently, and when the Italian girl looked at her, she nodded her head in the direction of the cat-girl on the couch, who was lying sprawled out like a cat sunning herself.

"She is so cute," the Italian girl whispered, a lustful gaze in her eyes.

"Yeah," Bethany agreed, her eyes locked on the feline girl with the long, sexy, tawny hair and more than her fair share of feminine curves. It didn't help Danny's sense of masculinity that the casual wear his mom and Kayda had packed for Danica was quite feminine and a little revealing. Until Danica learned to dress more modestly and bought new clothes for herself, the girls on the wing were going to get a show every time Danica came out to play.

Cindy, too, noticed the sultry cat-girl, but the longing gaze she had also bore a hint of mischievous fun. "I've got an idea," she whispered to Bethany and Christina before rising and leaving the common room.

A few moments later, Downpour came in, guided by Cindy and wearing a somewhat puzzled look, and sat down where Cindy had been sitting. That accomplished, Cindy ducked out of the room again, and while she was doing whatever it was she was planning, other girls from the wing drifted into the common room in ones and twos. Jade and Bunny, having seen the slow gathering of girls in the common room, followed them and stood just inside the doorway where all of the expectant girls sat focused on Danica.

Cindy reappeared, carrying something in her hands and grinning like a Cheshire cat. The girls had a very difficult time stifling their giggles and outright laughter when the blonde produced a small, red ball from behind her back. Kneeling down on the floor near the sofa, Cindy held a thread of yarn in her left hand as she rolled the yarn ball in front of the sofa, into the rectangle of sun that was streaming through the windows behind Danica.

The cat-girl wasn't as sound asleep as her motionless state might have otherwise indicated; one eyebrow hiked up towards her forehead and her vision focused on the red ball, watching it roll in front of her. When it reached the other side of the small carpet on which it had been rolling, Bethany scooted out of her chair onto her knees and gave the yarn ball a gentle bat back toward Cindy.

The girls could easily see, from the slight motions of the cat-girl's head and eyes, that she was watching the yarn ball moving in front of her.

Danica may have been sleepy and relaxed and resting, but her spirit had none of those physical needs, and was fully alert watching the red ball of twine moving back and forth. With catlike reflexes, Wihinape twisted and sprang from the couch, hands extended to pounce upon the moving ball. She hit it, knocking it from in front of her, and after recovering from the cat-girl's unexpectedly sudden motion, Cindy gave a yank on the yarn, pulling the ball toward her again.

The girls all giggled as Wihinape, crouched on the floor in a feline pose, reached a hand to the red yarn ball, trying to bat it, but Cindy deftly pulled it out of the way. To the accompaniment of more giggling, Wihinape pounced again, this time getting her hands on the yarn ball. Like a cat toying with a mouse, she lifted one hand to look at the ball. In that moment Cindy gave the end another tug, pulling the object of her attention from beneath her hand.

Stirred by the action of her spirit guiding her body, Danica reasserted control just in time to realize that she'd snagged the yarn ball again. It took her a few seconds to realize where she was and what she and the girls were doing. With a disgusted look on her face, Danica batted the yarn ball away from herself, but even then Wihinape's instincts couldn't help but follow the ball moving across the rug. Danica had to fight the cat spirit's instincts to pounce on the ball again.

"Not funny," Danica growled, glaring at Cindy and then around the room at all the girls who were laughing at her expense. With a quick twist of her body, she lithely sprang to her feet and darted out of the room, fighting tears that her own cottage mates would tease her so embarrassingly. Bypassing the elevator, she ran down the stairs past a very startled Ros and Angel, out the doors, and away from Poe.

Back in the common room, Downpour practically beamed with delight at the antics of Danica, a major highlight in her otherwise depressed state, while Bethany and Cindy exchanged worried glances.

"Do you think maybe we went too far?" Bethany asked.

"Maybe," Cindy replied hesitantly, "so maybe we should go find Danica and apologize?"

Bethany nodded. "Based on yesterday, we probably want to let her know that she put a smile on Downpour's face."

Christina frowned heavily. "If you pissed her off so much that she won't shower with us, I'm going to be very, very upset!" The other freshmen girls nodded their agreement, causing Cindy to wince. Perhaps she had gone a bit too far. And as soon as the thought crossed her mind she smiled to herself; she knew a perfect way to apologize to Danica.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, September 2, 2007 - Afternoon
Whateley Academy Grounds

The mountain lion easily dodged through the pine trees, running free and away from the central part of Whateley campus. Senses fully alert to everything around her, the big cat easily avoided the security patrol making its normal rounds. Fuming with anger, Danica wanted to lash out - at security, at bullies, at the girls who had humiliated her, at anyone who crossed her path at that particular moment. Being a shifter with female forms was embarrassing enough, but to have her cottage-mates take advantage of the instincts Wihinape brought to her was just downright mean.

After running aimlessly for a while, the mountain lion paused, ears alert as she turned her head to focus on whatever tiny noise had caught her attention.

You hear it, too? the spirit in her head asked.

Danica nodded to no one in particular. Yeah. What is it?

What do you think it is?

I can't tell, Danica replied silently.

Smell, the spirit directed her.

Danica followed her instructions, and her eyes narrowed. A deer?

It smells like a deer, the spirit replied, but also different. And the noise it makes - it is far too loud to be a deer. Danica could practically hear the spirit grinning in her head. Let's go find out what it is!

Didn't you ever hear that curiosity killed the cat? Danica asked sarcastically.

You're curious too, admit it!

Cautiously, as silently as possible, Danica stalked through the underbrush among the trees toward the noise. She wasn't blessed with great patience, and stalking was a skill that Wihinape had been trying desperately to teach Danny and Danica. If Danica hadn't been so impatient and curious, it would have been easier, but eventually, through the brush, Danica spotted a very large, brown, four-legged animal with a massive spread of antlers.

That's a …

Hebelaska! Wihinape said, her voice slightly reverential and surprised. I know Hebelaska, but he is seldom seen near the People of the plains.

We call it a moose, Danica replied. And they have a reputation for being quite ornery.

Yes, I know, Wihinape shot back silently. I know much more about Hebelaska than you do, young one, she added, as if to chide her host for his impertinence at presuming she didn't know about moose. We will avoid him, but since you are enjoying being outdoors, let us see what else we can find so that you can have more practice stalking.

* * *

Danica suddenly pulled up short as she padded through the woods towards the campus quad. Something didn't feel right, and she began to scan and listen around her intently. It only took a few moments to locate and identify three armed men of a Whateley security patrol, who were themselves looking around as if searching for something. Danica crouched down on her haunches, keeping her body as still as possible, counting on her tawny-colored fur to blend into the background and conceal her. From what Kayda had told her about Whateley security, she didn't want to take a chance on a bunch of trigger-happy goons who would shoot first and ask questions later.

"Danny Franks?" one of the officers called gruffly.

Danica sighed to herself; they were looking very specifically for her, which most likely meant that Mrs. Horton had been told that she ran away, and she was going to be in some serious trouble. Carefully she made sure her body was still so that no motion would give away her position, and hopefully the officers would wander past allowing her to go back to Poe on her own.

Alas, it was not to be. "Danny Franks?" the officer repeated. "You are in a restricted area without permission. Come out before you get in more trouble."

One of the officers was scanning with a pair of fancy, electronically enhanced binoculars, and his gaze stopped looking right at Danica. "Isn't he a shifter?" the officer asked his compatriots.

"Yeah," another officer grumbled. "Might be anything."

"He's the one that did that shifting and tore up Dump Truck, right?" The officer with the binoculars looked at Danica again. "I think we got him." Without lowering his binoculars, the officer yelled, "Danny Franks, you're in a restricted area. Come with us now. I know you're shifted. Come out and don't make us come and get you."

Danica sighed again. No doubt the binoculars had some kind of sensors that had allowed them to locate her. "Don't shoot me!"

Her voice had startled the officers, and two of them immediately swung their weapons towards the sound, which was exactly what Danica had been hoping to avoid. "Don't shoot, dammit!"

"Are you shifted?"

"Yes," Danica snapped back angrily. "I'll come slowly. Don't get trigger-happy!" Slowly, cautiously, afraid the officers were going to panic or overreact, Danica rose to her feet, and peering intently at the officers to make sure they weren't about to do something stupid, she slowly padded from the woods through the trees toward the nervous men. "It's me," she growled in a throaty, cat-like voice. "Why don't you leave me alone?"

"You are reported as missing," one of the officers replied in a snarky tone, "and you're in a restricted area. Come with us." The man gestured in a direction that Danica knew was straight towards Kane Hall.

"I've got to go get my clothes," Danica snapped in reply. "They don't shift with me."

Two of the officers exchanged worried glances. "What do you think?"

Danica had had her fill of these men. "Oh for God's sake! You think I'm stupid enough to run away when you've got guns and I don't? Or do you want me to complain to Mrs. Carson that you wouldn't let me get my things and that's why I don't have clothes or student ID or cash or other things that are in my wallet?"

"No tricks. You're already on record for running from security the other day."

Danica took a breath to vent her extreme displeasure at the men, no doubt laced with significant profanity, but before she could say anything she thought better of it and kept her mouth shut for a moment. "Okay," she said simply.

Fifteen minutes later, after a detour to gather up the clothes she'd shed earlier when she transformed into Wihinape, Danica was led into Kane Hall for personal lecture by chief Delarose on which areas of the reservation students could go without prior permission, and even more emphatic lecture on which areas were extremely hazardous and not to be entered by any student at any time.

After nearly forty-five minutes of in-depth, personal attention from the chief, Danica trudged unhappily back to Poe cottage. "Well?" Mrs. Horton asked simply when she met Danica at the door.

"I just needed some exercise," Danica said by way of feeble excuse.

"Are you sure that's all?" the house-mother asked skeptically. "Lanie and Cindy both seemed to think you were very angry about something."

"I don't want to talk about it," Danica replied in a huff.

The house-mother was unconvinced. "Some of the girls were quite upset, and felt the need to apologize to you. That doesn't sound like nothing." She waited a couple moments for Danica to reply, but when the cat-girl said nothing, Mrs. Horton crossed her arms sternly. "I have to give you detention for going into a forbidden area," she said to the girl.

Danica hung her head, torn between anger and humiliation and frustration. "I know."

"Three more days of landscaping duty," the older woman pronounced. Danica simply nodded, and when Mrs. Horton said nothing else, turned toward the stairs. "If they try to apologize," she called after the girl, "at least listen before you completely shut them out."

"Why should I?" Danica demanded spinning angrily towards Mrs. Horton. "I'm not a pet cat or a plaything for them to tease and taunt and bully and torment!" The upset girl spun on her heel and raced noisily up the stairs to her room, slamming her door shut behind her so forcefully that Mrs. Horton heard it echoing all the way to the first floor.

Giving the girl a few moments, Mrs. Horton followed Danica up the stairs to her room. She rapped lightly on the door. "Danica?" When no response came forth, she knocked again, and then pressed her thumb to the door's electronic lock. Since she had the master override for all of the locks, as well as the master key to every door, there was no way Danica was going to keep her out.

Much as Mrs. Horton had expected, Danica was flopped face-first on her bed up, her body convulsing lightly as she wept. As with every charge that had come before and every one that would come after, the house mother's heart was filled with compassion for the girl. Danica was a unique case in that she was forced to spend part of her time in the cat-girl form she now wore as well as in her normal Danny form. She sat on the edge of Danica's bed, one hand reaching out to lightly and reassuringly touch the girl's shoulder. "It will help to talk about it."

"They ... deliberately humiliated me," Danica sniffled through her sobs.

"I don't think that's what they were trying to do," the house mother replied gently. "The way I heard it, they were just being playful and didn't know that it would hurt you."

"Well, it was really, really embarrassing," Danica started to reply.

"And I bet if the circumstances were reversed, you'd tease a little, too. And if you went too far, you'd feel bad and want a chance to apologize, right?"

Danica stiffened momentarily, and then rolled to her side, looking doe-eyed at the older woman. Her eyes drifted shut down or at least down away from meeting Mrs. Horton's gaze. "I ... Yeah, probably." With a heavy sigh, Danica nodded. "I guess I owe them at least a chance to explain, or apologize if they really didn't mean it."

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, September 2, 2007 - Late Evening
Behind Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy Grounds

Wrapped in a luxurious black robe, Danica walked nervously between the two girls. "We're going to get in trouble for breaking curfew," Danica stammered.

"No we won't," one of the girls said, clutching desperately to Danica's arm as if fearing that the cat-girl would run away if she had the chance.

"Where are we going, anyway?"

"Our RA told us about someplace special," the other girl replied coyly.

The unlikely trio stopped in front of a massive stump of an oak tree, which seemed to be at least four feet in diameter, and the broken, twisted remains of the upper trunk were devoid of branches, shorn of them so long ago through the combined effects of lightening, snow, and countless thunderstorms.

One of the girls took a piece of paper from a pocket, and reading the instructions given her, manipulated some controls hidden inside a small hollow in the bark. Immediately the massive trunk opened revealing a ladder down into the depths of the earth among the tree's ancient roots. A soft bluish-green light washed upwards from the depths, the strangely illuminating the scene.

One of Danica's escorts removed her arm and descended the letter into the unknown depths. "After you," the other girl said with a smile.

"You just want to make sure I don't run away or chicken out," Danica said simply.

"That thought had crossed my mind," the girl said with a sweet giggle.

With nothing else for it, Danica shrugged and grasped the handrails of the steep ladder, lowering herself toward the unknown. When she reached the bottom she was surprised by the size of the artificial grotto. The bluish green lights illuminating the interior dimly added an almost ethereal glow to the scene, and the gentle burbling of water added to the idyllic tranquility.

The first girl down had already shed her robe and slippers, and was making her way nude toward one of the three hot tubs. The second girl joined Danica at the foot of the latter, and without even a hint of modesty, shucked off her robe and set it on one of the benches. "Well?" the second girl asked.

What the hell, Danica thought. These girls had already seen her naked in the bathroom, so there was no need for modesty. Had Danica known how a similar scene played out in April with her sister Kayda, she would've abandoned the robe promptly and plopped into the tub with the two girls. Instead, Danica took time to fold the outer garment, set carefully on a bench with her slippers, and then tried to walk confidently to the hot tub.

"Mmmmm," Danica practically purred as the warm water based her, the heat penetrating rapidly into her weary muscles. "I could get used to this," the girl said as the spot quickly washed away her concerns and fears.

"How about this?" the first girl asked, turning toward Danica and placing her hands on the girl's cheeks before she crushed the cat-girl's lips beneath her own. For the briefest of moments, Danica panicked, unsure how to react to this forced attention, but very quickly she was swept into the passion of the moment and began to reciprocate the eager kiss.

"My turn!" the second girl interjected, voice tinged with more than a hint of jealousy and a lot of anticipation. When the first girl let up, the second took over.

Danica's eyes bulged in surprise and her whole body tensed when the second girl took one of Danica's hands and guided it to her breast. The cat-girl pulled back from the kiss, a baffled look of uncertainty clear displayed on her features.

"Admit it," the second girl said with a sly grin, "you're curious, aren't you?" Satisfied that Danica's hand was not going to go anywhere, she moved her own hand as she resumed kissing.

Danica flinched a second time when the girls hand moved slowly and gently onto her own chest. Eyes wide with uncertainty, Danica gulped nervously. "I don't think ..."

"That you want us to stop?" the first girl asked in a sultry tone as she let her own hand roam towards the cat-girl.

I like the way they apologize, the spirit in Danica's head purred appreciatively. And I can tell that you do, too.

Much to her surprise, Danica found that she was enjoying the girls' tender ministrations so much that she didn't even think about propriety or awkwardness of her situation. Are you messing with my mind? he demanded of his spirit.

Me? Would I do that? Wihinape answered with her own questions.

Then why aren't I freaking out? Danica practically demanded.

Why do you think? the spirit asked with a knowing tone.

Because ... Because I'm getting used to it? Because I'm like Kayda?

Quit comparing yourself to your sister! Wihinape chided him sternly. You are not your sister. Did you think that perhaps you realize that, since you have to spend time like this, you might as well make the most of it?

I don't think ...

Your mind is very much male. You enjoy the company of girls, Wihinape explained. Should it make much difference what form your body is if you're getting attention from girls?

"So ... I'd be a part-time ... lesbian?"

"Would that be so bad? You do like the attention, don't you?"

Danica started to snap a response to her spirit, but she found herself mulling over Wihinape's words. It wasn't like she was expecting or prodding him to do something realy weird, like have sex with guys when she was in this form. And if Kayda could deal with the change ...  Aw, what the hell? I might as well just roll with it, she thought as she decided to just sit back and enjoy every bit of their attention that she could get. Since I'm kind of stuck with this ....

* * * * * * * * * *

FIN



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