TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH
Copyright (C) 1996, Daedalus
How far would you go to save the woman you love?
This story contains what is known as "transgender material". It does NOT contain any elements of m/m, s/m, b/d, humiliation, pain, or anatomically detailed descriptions of sexual acts. If this lack offends you, do yourself a favour and read no further.
All characters and situations described herein are fictional and any resemblance to any real or fictional persons or events is purely coincidental.
The story may be freely copied, archived and distributed, on the condition of this header remaining its integral part.
"You are being thoroughly unreasonable, you know!"
"Oh yeah? I am being unreasonable? And what does that make you?!"
"It's not as if it were for the first time..."
"Quite! I've had enough. No!"
"I'll start throwing things!"
"Ah... We are now threatening to throw a fit, are we? How un-ladylike."
"You knew you weren't marrying a lady!"
"Is that supposed to mean anything?"
"Perish the thought!"
Meg dumped two steaming plates on the table and for a short while they were both pretending to be too busy concentrating on their food. Only when Joe got up to pour, rather belatedly, two glasses of beer, Meg decided that the temperature had dropped low enough.
"Look," she said, "let's start again. You are obviously upset over it and I can't work out why. It's only another session of the Circle, for goodness' sake. You know all about it. I've never made it a secret, have I? What's the big deal?"
"Yeah, and why does the damn Circle need to meet here? And every bloody week, too?"
Meg heaved a carefully judged sigh - just enough to show irritation, but not enough to trigger another bout of shouting.
"Joe, please... I did explain. Our place happens to be by far the most suitable, for miles and miles and miles around. A fluke of geography. We've been through all of this before you moved in with me, remember?"
Joe felt his anger losing its original edge and made a mental effort to generate a stubborn determination to fill the void.
"Oh, I don't mind the wretched Circle meeting here, dammit. But I do object to being booted out of my own home every time it does decide to get together! It was supposed to be 'a few times a year' - remember? And how many times has it been over the last months? Come on... Tell me!"
Meg allowed herself another sigh, making a note not to overdo it. "Darling, I am sorry. You know we've been having problems. It's really not my fault, as you know perfectly well. It won't last forever."
"No? So how long will it last?!"
"I wish I knew. I can only hope..."
"There! And in the meantime you boot me out of my own house for a whole night damn near regularly once a week! And you are surprised that I get angry?"
For a while they ate in tense silence. Finally Joe pushed away his plate, leaned back on the chair and said: "Look, I am sorry I shouted, but I really meant it. I am not spending another night in a cheapo hotel..."
"You never do!"
"...and don't interrupt me! The answer is no, and that's final."
Despite everything, Meg could not help wincing. Joe knew as well as she did that she would never force him to comply, as was in her power to do one way or another. There was no way he could be sure the same applied to the rest of the Circle.
"And have you considered how my guests would react to that?" she asked angrily.
"They are guests, remember? There are traditions about that!"
Joe did have a point, but Meg wasn't at all sure whether the likes of Amanda would stop considering traditional niceties before venting her disapproval in some unfortunate manner. Not that it mattered...
"Besides," continued Joe, feeling his momentary advantage, "What they don't know can't hurt them." To his surprise it was clearly the wrong thing to say. Meg just looked at him and the look spelt out volumes about just how idiotically dumb-headed that last remark was. Joe glared back until Meg got up to clear the empty plates off the table.
"Do you want a yogurt?" she asked from the fridge.
"What kinds have we got left?"
"Fine by me... I'll have one."
Meg fetched two yogurts and two teaspoons and settled herself back at the table.
"Darling, if you are contemplating lurking in the house you don't know what you are talking about. Your male Yang would stand out like a totem pole even if I hid you in the cellar behind three padlocks."
"Yang, Yang, Yin, Yin... That's just words you hang on your abilities. Things are things..."
"... and if my 'Yang' stands out so - disguise it somehow! You are supposed to be a witch, after all!"
Meg opened her mouth and then shut it with a snap. She felt like giggling, but didn't dare. She felt like many other things too - crying being definitely one of them, and that would have been even worse. So she fixed Joe with a thoughtful look instead.
"I could, you know!"
"So, what's the problem? You do that, I get a good night's sleep and everybody's happy! I wish I'd kicked up fuss before now. Women!"
With a triumphant look Joe dug his spoon into the yogurt. He was pleased with himself. Meg ate in silence. Finally, licking off the last spoonful, she said:
"You really would want me to do that?"
Joe looked up. It was typical of Meg to start wriggling almost immediately. The classic female trick - if you don't want to do something, persuade your man that he thinks it is not a good idea. He had to stand firm. But... Why was it he was getting the feeling he was about to lose the argument after all?
"Yeah, why not?" he asked challengingly.
"Because there's only one way I can disguise your Yang - by replacing it with a Yin for a while."
Joe looked bland: "Yeah - so? You are hiding behind words again." She was NOT getting around him this time.
"So. That would turn you into a woman for the duration. See?"
Joe stared. Meg smirked. She clearly thought she had him, and by golly, she was not far wrong! It was intolerable and Joe squared his shoulders and said: "So? Maybe I've been having this hankering for femininity all these years. Sitting in the closet, you know."
Meg laughed, got up, collected the yogurt pots, dumped them in the bin, dumped the spoons in dirty mugs filled with water by the sink. Then she walked behind Joe's chair and buried her fingers in his hair.
"You are a rotten liar, and you know it," she said pulling his head back and planting an upside-down kiss on his nose. Joe grinned at her upwards. "But," she continued, "you showed disrespect to my calling and this 'supposed to be a witch' really ought to teach you a lesson."
She let go of Joe and moved back to the sink. He got off his chair and sauntered over to the teapot, stretched past Meg to fill it with water, and switched it on.
"Seriously, though..." he said.
Meg turned round and put a finger on his lips: "Not a word! It's settled."
Joe's mouth opened... and shut again. He found himself profoundly unsure how to react. Was she expecting him to throw a fit? He knew perfectly well what his wife was capable of. He'd seen proof enough of her powers, even when not augmented by the formidable powers of the Circle. But it had been an unwritten law in their relationship that Meg never used her witchery to his disadvantage. Did he push things too far this time? How come? It couldn't have been such a big deal for her!
Seeing the doubt reflected in his eyes, Meg laughed and moved up to him, putting her hands around his butt and her forehead against his.
"You big baby," she said. "You scared I'll do something to you against your will?"
"No, no... Of course not!" said Joe swallowing.
"But you did sort of agree to it."
"Only before you spelt out the implications..."
Meg pressed herself against him and was amused but not really surprised, to feel Joe's erection.
"So you didn't mean it."
"Er... No. Not really."
"What do you mean, 'not really'?"
"I mean, 'no'."
"So why," whispered Meg nibbling his left ear, "are you so excited about it?"
"I am not! Well... I mean... Why shouldn't I be excited when my wife presses herself against me in a meaningful manner and starts eating my earlobes?"
"I tell you, darling, you are a rotten liar." She reached with her lips for his ear again. "I'll do you a deal, OK? Say yes, and I'll turn you into the most beautiful woman in the world - your own wet dream come true."
"You are my wet dream!"
"Liar! Liar! You think flattery can get you anything, don't you?"
"This is ridiculous!"
"You are being ridiculous."
"No I am not!"
"Oh yes you are! I am offering you the solution you wanted, and it's a nicely naughty one too - I wish it'd crossed my mind before. You get a night at home and we both get a look at your dream female. It's only for the night anyway. You can be yourself again as soon as they are gone."
"And I am supposed to buy this? What's the point of meeting my dream sex object and being unable to screw her?"
"Joe, Joe...," laughed Meg, now quite sure of herself. "I am positive you'll find a way around that. Come on, don't tell me you have one of those fragile masculine egos that go all to pieces at a mere hint of an unmanly experience. I wouldn't have loved you if you had one."
The kettle, which had been blowing steam for a while, finally decided to switch itself off. They both ignored it.
"Look, Meg... I mean, no... I mean, can't you see it would be wrong?"
Meg started shaking her head but Joe went on.
"Look, I know myself well enough. Please, listen... It's not that. It's... Don't you think I don't realise that my dream bimbo is really a ridiculous looking creature?"
That was a degree of insight Meg didn't really expect. Well, it made things simpler - all well and good. She cocked her head to one side thoughtfully and said: "Hmm... You do have a point there. Too much of a good thing isn't wonderful."
"Well, there... It was a nice thought, but..."
"...But I have another one. I take your point entirely. OK. It'd be harder for me, but it is an interesting challenge. Suppose I turn you into a woman you would want to be if you were one. How about that?"
Meg was gratified to feel Joe's erection harden again. There was something buried in that masculine psyche of his that positively luxuriated in the thought of becoming female... Strange but convenient. Perhaps it was indeed true of men in general, she thought ruefully.
"Isn't that a bit circular?" said Joe doubtfully, "I mean, not being one, I have no idea..."
"Well, no, neither do I. Makes it more interesting, doesn't it? Leave the how of it to me. Come on, darling. I am now curious. And you are curious too. I know you too well not to see that you are..."
She hugged Joe to herself and he hugged her back. Meg could practically hear Joe mulling it around in his head, and had no compunctions about loading the odds by nursing his erection with slight movements of her body. When Joe finally broke the embrace, there was no need to say anything. They both knew he agreed.
It'll hardly surprise a perceptive reader, that on that particular night their love-making was unusually intense and satisfying to both parties. Setting a new precedent, we shall not dwell on the details.
"Yes, yes... tomorrow." Lucy sounded quite uncharacteristically excited, thought Amanda with disapproval.
"Fine." she said, "I'll make sure there are no slackers at tomorrow's meeting. We'll need all our strength and all our presence of mind, I shouldn't be surprised."
"Getting together at Betty's first, is it?" asked Lucy's voice anxiously.
"Yes, as arranged." said Amanda and firmly put the phone down. Lucy was definitely beginning to get on her nerves. Of course they were all on edge, ever since losing Joan so stupidly in that unexpected attack. For once, however, things were beginning to look up. Just as well. It would be a relief NOT to be in charge again.
In the morning, Meg slipped out of the bed early, despite Joe's protests.
"Stop grumbling... I have some special preparations to make, as you should know," she said, kissed him on both nipples, slid her hand down his stomach to briefly nurse his erection, and was gone.
Joe let himself drift down into semi-sleep again, but soon wound up having a conversation with himself, behind his closed eyes.
"What the hell have I let myself to be talked into?" he asked himself.
Meg was busy all day with her preparations and Joe, somewhat dazed by the prospect of the coming evening, busied himself in the garden, which required a lot of attention in any case.
Meg emerged blinking from her darkened workroom at mid-afternoon and settled herself in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and some biscuits. Joe wondered in from the garden a little while later and parked himself at the table with his own mug of coffee.
"Better don't eat anything," said Meg. "We'll have to get started pretty soon and you may find a rapid change upsetting on the stomach."
"You really want to do this?" asked Joe, sipping his coffee with a distinct feeling of unreality.
"I am not wasting all that work, that's for sure. You are not about to get cold feet, are you? To faint on me or something equally ridiculous?" she grinned, "That would be unmanly!. Hope you aren't suffering an uncharacteristic attack of macho-attitudes."
"I just don't know," said Joe with a sigh. "It is a bit much to take on a short notice." He looked mournfully into his mug.
"You'll manage it all right, my love. That's what I like in you," said Meg laying her hand over his on the table. "You are only feeling down right now because you feel silly - for no real reason I can think of."
She drained her mug and got up.
"Well, there is no time like the present." she said, "Better go and take a quick shower. I need you clean. But do make it quick. I am not really sure how long it will take, to tell you the honest truth."
"OK, OK," said Joe getting up and feeling more foolish than ever.
"And don't bother to dress after the shower," added Meg stopping in the door. "I need you naked."
Amanda stopped spinning her bracelet on the table and looked at Lucy sharply: "You are quite sure she actually got him to agree to it? You know how important this is!"
If at all possible, Lucy briefly looked even vaguer than ever, but Amanda knew better than to be fooled. Behind that confused image was one of the sharpest far-sensing minds in the world.
Lucy nodded, her hands fussing ineffectively with her untidy bun of hair: "Yes, yes... He consents. He is curious."
"Have you ever considered trying a pony-tail?", said Amanda nastily and pushed away her tea cup getting up in a rustle of gray silk. "We should be on our way - to stand by, if nothing else. Is everybody ready? Thank you, Betty dear. Do remind me to make you a present of some of my herbal tea."
She shut her eyes (not quite coincidentally avoiding a poisonous look from Betty) and concentrated, excluding from her mind the sounds of the members of the Circle getting from their chairs and sofas.
"By all the powers that be!" she thought fiercely, "This'd better work! I am TIRED of trying to organise this madhouse. The Moon be my witness, I never wanted the responsibility."
"Come in, come in..." said Meg without turning around in response to the knock on the door.
Joe slid into the room and shut the door behind him. Usually this place was out of bounds to him, just like his study was out of bounds to Meg. It avoided unnecessary arguments.
The room was crowded with cupboards and working surfaces, barely leaving enough room in the middle for the white pentagram carefully painted on the floor. The floor area within the points was covered in painstakingly chalked meaningless scrolls - presumably the fruit of Meg's preparation. Five small incense burners were positioned just opposite the points of the pentagram and Meg was carefully measuring the distances between them.
As always, Joe somehow expected to see bubbling alembics and glass tubes with multicoloured liquids, and couldn't quite suppress the childish disappointment that there weren't any. The room was full of stuff, but little of it looked even vaguely witchy or just plain magical. If it weren't for that pentagram on the floor and for the incense burners carefully positioned in its five corners...
Meg straightened from her measurements, satisfied, and had to suppress a smile - Joe looked so very apprehensive standing there, clutching the towel wrapped around his waist.
"Drop that towel on the top over there and get in," she gestured at the centre of the pentagram. "Just mind you don't step on any of the writing."
"You are not feeling bashful, are you?", she added with a smile when Joe turned away before removing the towel. "If your body is feeling horny, all the better."
Joe disposed of the towel and moved towards the centre of the room, his nakedness revealing a semi-arousal and lots of goose pimples. He stepped into the inner pentagon of the design and turned to face Meg with an unspoken "Now what?" on his face.
"Do you want to watch?" asked Meg and when Joe hesitated, added "You probably won't see any details anyway - it'll be near dark here. But there should be some special effects worth seeing."
Joe nodded abruptly, not trusting himself to speak.
"Right," continued Meg, "Turn towards the door, spread your legs as far as you can without stepping on any lines and lift your arms up and a bit sideways. No, UP - not in front of you. Good... Now, don't panic, I am about to immobilise you... It's to make sure you don't get hurt..."
Joe tried to nod and found he couldn't. Not that anything stopped him nodding - he simply could not find any will-power to make the necessary effort. That, as far as he was concerned, was the maddening thing about his wife's witchery. Most of the time there was no sign she did anything at all and half the time one wound up wondering whether in fact she did do nothing, simply allowing a verbal suggestion to do its own work. This time there was witchery involved all right. He was sure he would not feel so comfortable in this position otherwise.
Meg lit the brasiers and switched off the electric light, plunging the room into a flickering semi-darkness. She said something polysyllabic and strange, and the brasiers flared briefly, their light suddenly reflecting off a large mirror surface that now replaced the door. In it, Joe could see himself in a vague imitation of the classic "Leonardo" position. At another sharp word, the brasiers started producing a lot of aromatic smoke, dimming the meagre light in the room to a mere glow.
"My God," thought Joe, "She is really about to do it. Unless she's bluffing, by the time she's done with me I'll be a woman!" To his consternation, his penis eagerly responded to the thought.
All at once, the air around him lit up with a bluish glow, which quickly sank to the floor, concentrating into a bright circular band encircling him. A faint tinkling swirled around the room, and the band of light grew dimmer, allowing Joe to see that the room was filled with reddish, directionless illumination. It cast no shadows, making everything look flat and unnatural.
His eyes gradually adjusted to the dim light, allowing him to see quite clearly his reflection in the mirror. Meg was somewhere behind him to the right - he could not see her and she was keeping utterly still, making no sound at all. For several minutes, or so it seemed to Joe, absolutely nothing happened, but then he noticed the band of dim light slowly creeping upwards. His eyes were held by the movement and so it was only when the band crept above his knees that he noticed the change it was leaving behind. While above the level of the band his legs had their usual cover of dark hair, none at all was visible below.
Despite expecting changes, it took Joe a while to convince himself that his eyes were not tricking him, by which time the wave of change of nearly at his groin.
"This is it!" he thought. "Goodbye masculinity!" as the band of light traversed the pubic region making it difficult to see what changes might be taking place there. He could still feel his penis, standing to attention and throbbing with excitement, as a kind of "phantom limb" he imagined. To his surprise, however, as the change moved up, he could still see his penis too - now apparently quite hairless - standing up between a pair of shapely, quite feminine legs.
"Well," thought Joe, "There's a relief!" At the same time he felt a tinge of regret mixed with an anticipation of ribbing Meg about the inadequacy of her magical efforts.
By the time the change reached his neck, there was no longer any doubt. After the passing of the band of light, Joe's body was moulded into feminine proportions, losing all body hair in the process, but that was about it. His masculinity, though somewhat incongruous, was quite undeniable. His nipples did appear somewhat larger, but his chest remained as flat as it always had been. And when the band lifted itself over the crown of his head, it was clear that his face had acquired a somewhat androgynous look, but combined with the masculine haircut, it was quite far from being really female.
"OK," said Joe to himself. "Show over. Sorry about it, Meg, old girl..." And at that moment the band of light above his head lit up like a flare and with a bone-jarring crash fell back to the floor and instantly dimmed again.
Joe blinked several times, trying to get rid of the bright after-images, and stared: spread-eagled in the mirror in front of him was a voluptuous raven-haired beauty. Before he had a chance to comprehend the sudden change, a basso-profundo voice above him said "AUM!" and the band of light flew up, flared and crashed to the floor again.
This time Joe shut his eyes in time to avoid being blinded. Opening them, he was greeted by the sight of a dishy nordic blonde being reflected in the mirror.
"This is ME?!" he gasped inwardly, and with another "AUM!" a flare and a crash, there was a compact red-haired girl with a snub nose and lots of freckles looking back at him. With increasing rapidity, the reflection flicked through a number of different female types, gradually losing the initial sex-doll looks, until the voice said "HARUM!" and all went dark. It was only then that body sensations caught up with Joe's consciousness and they were profoundly strange. He could feel a mass of hair lying on his back, its weight pulling his head back. He could feel the weight of... presumably breasts! on his chest, with the burning radiance of excitement spreading from the nipples. Above all, he could feel a kind of lightness and... emptiness, between his legs. His skin felt strange, his lungs too full and his mind was stunned by the utter certainty that, indeed, he was no longer a he, but a she.
The immobilisation spell must have let go at that point, letting him sink heavily to the floor.
Meg slumped in her chair. After a long silence she said wretchedly, without lifting her eyes: "Sorry... I am just not up to it... He didn't respond at all and I simply can't go on with this... How could I? I look at him in that body and..." her voice broke. "Don't you understand?!"
To her surprise, Amanda felt all her carefully prepared words to evaporate under the weight of misery radiating from Meg. It would be so easy to compel her, to re-impose the simpler, compliant personality... And it would do no good. What had to be done had to be done freely or not at all.
There was another awkward silence while Amanda frantically searched for the right things to say, with the eyes of the rest of the Circle firmly on her. They weren't accusing eyes, not yet, merely expectant.
Unexpectedly, it was Mary who finally broke the silence. "Child," she said, "We do understand. Not all of us equally, but we do, believe me. Yet our need is great and your distress, however real and painful, is something that we can attend to. Trust us. Trust us one more time." She turned to Amanda, adding quite needlessly: "This is my strength. By your leave and the leave of my sisters..." She left the sentence unfinished.
Amanda nodded and closing her eyes thought "A friend in need... I won't forget..." Aloud she said: "Good. We must carry on with the final step. Meg, dear, I feel for you. You must be brave and joyful and above all persuasive. Through you, we WILL succeed." As long as it sounded decisive and confident - that was enough.
Mary got up from her chair and walking around to where Meg was sitting, slumped and hopelessly shaking her head, placed her hands on Meg's left shoulder and the forehead: "Come, child. It is for love, as you know. What else is there but love?"
"They would have been FURIOUS!" said Meg with a giggle, stroking Joe's breasts. "I was really terrified when Amanda first stepped in. She sort of sniffed around as if she suspected something..."
Joe wriggled, surprised how pleasant the sensation was despite all the love-making of the previous hours. Women did have a different physiology of sex, after all.
"Sorry I risked getting you into trouble," he said. "Wasting your efforts..."
"Wasting? Oh dear... I thought you were enjoying yourself!"
"Well, yes... And it is different, sure. And I will have been glad it happened, if you see what I mean. But I would have enjoyed it just as much as a man..."
"But not as long! And we now know what kind of woman you'd be comfortable as, if you were comfortable being a woman," laughed Meg.
"True and true... Not as good looking as I would have hoped..."
"Nonsense! Sexy as hell!"
Laughing, Meg collapsed on top of him: "Lack of!", she said, playfully sliding her hand between his thighs and slipping a finger between the lips of his pussy. "Does it feel very different?" she added curiously.
"Oh, it does... But... No, don't stop!..." Joe pulled her head towards him for a long kiss.
"But what?" asked Meg disentangling herself. "Is it because you are a man and it feels strange to be a woman?"
Joe thought about it. "I suppose that might be a part of it, I don't know..."
"Would you like to know how it REALLY is for a woman?"
"How do you mean? You've turned me into one already, remember? Yin replacing Yang and suchlike..."
"Love, I confess it wasn't quite as thorough as I'd hoped. That's why I nearly pissed myself when Amanda started sniffing. Trouble was, I didn't have the time to do anything about it."
"What?! What on Earth are you burbling about?" Joe lifted himself on one elbow and examined himself. "Are you saying this is just an illusion?"
"Oh, goodness, no! What I mean is, you are a stranger to this shape..."
"Well, I hope so! What did you expect? Was I too awkward for you as your lesbian plaything? Is that it?! Well, you can..." His sudden anger stumbled as he realised that Meg was convulsed with laughter. "Well... Now what?"
"What do you mean 'now what'? It was simply you all over. Demonstrating it perfectly! I may have changed your looks, but it changed you not one iota otherwise."
"I didn't expect it to... Did you?"
"Well, of course. It's only natural. Matter of fact YOU are unnatural right now. A man with a woman's body... However a delightful 'lesbian plaything' that makes! But, remember? I wanted to know what kind of woman you'd want to be if you were a woman and that is by no means limited just to the looks. I am still curious."
"Uh-uh... I can see it coming!"
"Aren't you curious?"
"Hmmm... You mean there IS more to experience?"
"How should I know?" mused Meg. "There may well be. Your reactions suggest to me that there is."
"This is beginning to sound like a bad porno-fantasy... You have somebody else, so you are trying to turn me into a woman and make me forget I ever was a man."
"And you'd believe that?"
Joe thought about it. "No." he said at last. "Beats me why, but no, I wouldn't."
"So let me do it... Just for the rest of the night. Cross my heart!"
Joe slid his hands over his unfamiliar form. "What the heck", he thought. "In for a penny, in for a pound..."
"I take it you want to drag me into that lair of yours..." he said warily.
"Nope. In your current shape and with your free consent, it shouldn't be difficult. Just relax and shut your eyes."
Joe complied and whispered, his voice almost too soft for Meg to hear: "I'll trust you, my love." It was just as well that he kept his eyes closed and therefore didn't see Meg's eyes filling with tears, despite all Mary's ministrations. She kissed Joe lightly on the forehead, slid her finger along his smooth cheek and thought fiercely at the Circle: "Do it, damn you! Do it! And better do it right!"
She awoke suddenly and, after a brief moment of disorientation, quickly scanned her surroundings for familiar signatures.
"OK, Amanda," she said, "You can stop lurking outside that door!"
There was a double gasp - one from Amanda and one... Her eyes flew open meeting the gaze of the naked woman kneeling over her. Her mental shield flung up, she dived into the eyes of the stranger. "Who!..." Then her shield disintegrated in the shock of recognition. "Mark! Mark?? What on Earth?..."
Mark/Meg fell on top of her, sobbing with relief. As Amanda walked into the room, Joan snapped at her: "This was YOUR idea, wasn't it?"
Amanda, quite unembarrassed by the sight of two naked female bodies, moved a chair to the bed and carefully sat down. "Yes, Joan," she said. "Welcome back."
The rest of the Circle slowly filed into the room. Joan scanned their faces and auras, straining her formidable powers of intuition in search of pieces of the jigsaw of events, and gradually putting the pieces together. Then she closed her arms around the woman lying on top of her: "You let them do THAT to you," she whispered. "For me."
"We had no choice, Joan," said Amanda. "You realise that already. It was either that or you were Joe for good, with no power to wield and no memory of yourself. Mark was desperate to have you back. As were..." she paused very slightly, "... all of us."
Joan held her eyes for a few long seconds and then suddenly smiled. "Well, you have me back. Now get out of here and leave me alone with my husband!"
"Blessed be the Mother!" thought Amanda, her soul filling with moonlight. "Blessed be the Moon, and the Swan, and the Dancer. The burden of choices is taken from me!"
Joan kept still and watched the Circle to file out, and then kept still listening to their departure, until the front door shut and her awareness of the others told her they all left the house. Then she turned her attention to the woman in her arms.
"Mark," she said. "Meg. Darling. How can I ever pay you back?" She lifted her husband's tearful face and kissed him gently on the lips. "You can be a man again tomorrow, but for now, let us celebrate as we are..."
It was morning. It was breakfast. Black coffee and croissants with jam.
"Yeah..." said Meg licking the jam off her fingers. "It was bad to start with. I nearly freaked out. But then Amanda did that thing of hers... personality overlay."
Joan nodded. "She is VERY good at that. I take it she did the same for me, to convince Joe he'd always been married to Meg?"
"Yup... She said she could only embroider over what was there, not do anything which would have worked against the personality imposed on you. Not without doing permanent damage. But for me, with my consent she manufactured a full female persona."
"I am sure she enjoyed that... There's always been a queer streak in Amanda... How long did she keep you 'under'? It could not have been all the time."
"Well, I started remembering who I was and why I was, something like half a year later, but Amanda didn't want to remove overlay in one go. She just let it weaken for a number of months. It was so gradual, I don't really know when it evaporated altogether - I guess it was a year all in all. Why? You look concerned... Was that dangerous?"
"Hmmm.. You could put it that way. So you have been fully 'yourself' waiting for an opportunity, for what, nearly another year after that?"
Meg thought about it: "Must have been. Doesn't really feel like that long. Time flies... I nearly blew it at the end, though. When we gave you back your own shape and it didn't dent the Joe personality at all, I nearly went to pieces. Mary had to work hard on me to put me in the right frame of mind for that last push." She poured herself more coffee, her hands shaking slightly. "I feel bad about it, you know... About lying to Joe at the end... If I hadn't been sure it was you, just twisted into a strange mental shape..."
"Don't," said Joan. "Joe is still here. I remember being him." She winced. "I will always remember being him. But what about you? You didn't have your overlay removed all in one go. Amanda just let it fade away imperceptibly, you say..."
"Yes. It's a problem? Yes? I wondered... I wasn't going to bring it up, but..."
"Let me guess..." Joan took a big gulp of coffee to disguise her concern. "You are unsure whether you want to be Mark again. I had a feeling there might be something like that. Your aura is just too convincingly feminine."
"Well..." Meg blushed, "It's not as simple as that. Yes, I am used to this body now, and to being a woman. No, I wouldn't mind being a man again, though I may find it... awkward for a while..."
Despite the concern, Joan was interested: "So what is it, sex?"
"Er... no... Yes, it is different, of course. Less driven, less intense, more all-embracing, more of a flow rather than an... act. But I enjoyed it as a man just as much. Differently, yes. It's... well, you know... how shall I put it..." She was desperately hoping that Joan would guess her meaning, and not laugh. And Joan, being Joan, of course did guess.
"It is the Power, then," she said in a quiet wonder. "You were THAT good at it?"
"Yes..." said Meg relieved. "And yes. Betty thought I was quite quick learning that sex-change spell I worked on you..." She stopped seeing Joan's jaw drop. "Er... yes?"
"Let me get this straight... YOU WORKED THE SEX-CHANGE SPELL? ON YOUR OWN?"
"Well..." Meg squirmed in embarrassment, "They DID provide the shielding... Was it taking too much of a risk?"
But Joan was screaming with laughter: "You silly idiot! It may be only a fancified sex-change, but for a raw novice..." she shook her head in wonder. It was the same old lesson of course - no power of intuition was any good if one fell for the lure of the obvious. It was so damn obvious that Betty and Anne must have been pulling tricks for Meg behind the scenes, that she'd never stopped to consider alternatives, despite the showy embellishments of that performance. But once alerted...
Joan stopped laughing. "Say, when did they realise you were a wielder?"
"Dunno. I think it must have been during the first few months, while the overlay was still at full strength. My memories of that time are very hazy, but as I started to recollect myself, I was already able to do some minor stuff."
"Which is why Amanda let the overlay merge into your aura... Waste not, want not. Recruit your talents where you can. Damn her! I'd probably do the same, but DAMN HER, DAMN HER ANYWAY!"
Meg flinched from her wife's vehemence. "I think she was right," she said defensively. "I can't see how I would have managed otherwise."
Joan sighed. "That as may be, but I'll skin her for this anyway!" She got up and went to the window and just stood there for a long few minutes staring into the garden. "I'll miss Mark," she said at length. "Though I'll have you of course... I hope?"
"So you wouldn't mind?" asked Meg carefully, coming up to her. "After all, I am Mark. I still am. It's just that I am Meg at least as much now."
"Oh, my love," said Joan turning to Meg and taking her hand, "Of course you are. I would know your feel anywhere, as I knew it when you broke the spell. You are yourself, even if that self has a different sex and a different gender. After what you've done for me, how could I complain?" She grinned weakly: "As long as you'll accept me as your 'lesbian plaything' of course!"
She wasn't at all surprised when Meg threw her arms around her and burst into tears.
In case you were wondering... Naturally enough, they were happy ever after. Yes, if you insist, they both had kids and it is none of your business who the fathers were. Meg grew in power to rival Joan and proved to be a bastion of strength in the Circle's deadly struggle with the Adversary, as Joan had known she would. But that, as they say, is a quite different story.
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