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Yuki, wrapped only in a blanket, let the wind flow through her hair as the luxurious car sped down the highway. With the windows down she marveled at the Japanese coastline as the first rays of dawn hit it. The watery horizon glittered as the early sunrise shone across the sea of the Sunrise Land. She didn’t say a word… she just relaxed in silence as night turned to day and the sun rose on the world, looking at the beach as they drove along it. Somewhere, over there across the sea, was where this had started… the Mists of Avalon.
The place where she had made Merielle fall for her.
As she rode in the car in the rising light, her mind slowly opened doors that it had slammed shut for its own survival, a desperate attempt to keep some sanity in her life… even in the dismal, atrocious state she lived in. She vividly remembered the terror of turning the key, of sneaking into Mordred’s lair and sneaking past his defenses to get her fire back. The moment she had decided that Merielle deserved better than to be simply left behind to fend for herself… the moment she’d realized that she had begun to fall for the selkie in turn. Before then, the centuries of captivity… the helplessness… the rage… and before then, the endless ocean of betrayal.
She’d thought that she’d drown at the bottom of that sea. It was only now she could admit that while she hadn’t made the ocean, she had jumped into it. Now, in the warm light and with Merielle safe, it all seemed unbelievable, like a dream… something she might have imagined rather than something that had actually happened. She didn’t understand why she hadn’t chosen death over that nightmare… There was a force in that brothel, beyond Mordred, that had made her stay. More than any threat the evil vampire had laid on her, it could’ve been her own hopelessness that was responsible.
Merielle was hope.
It was something in her eyes, Yuki thought. Yuki had trained hundreds of selkies that her damned master had brought through there, tormented them and abused them as she beat them into shape. From Merielle, though, she had seen fresh, new light emanating from the girl’s eyes. The selkie was enthralled by her new mistress even though the kitsune was viciously tormenting her. There were countless nights when Merielle was trained and disciplined, judged on her ability to fuck and suck, working on giving a world-class blowjob and crawling on all fours before being pounded by a heavy dick. Merielle was trained to show that she loved being sexually abused in all kinds of ways. The clients paid Mordred handsomely for a chance to abuse a perfect sex toy with more experience than any mortal woman. A trainer might beat her relentlessly with his fists until he was out of breath without actually damaging the goods, but she would feel all the pain… and the brutality he had unleashed on her would only make his prick that much harder. Merielle would smile and moan and squeeze and fuck him back, but the look in her eyes, beneath it, spoke of desperation and the total despair… and yet that light never went out.
She really should have known sooner that she was Maya’s sister. They were so much alike.
Yuki was lucky in a way… if she hadn’t been sent down into the hellhole of the Paradisium Game, she might have kept sleepwalking through life until Mordred really had killed her… and in that state, she would have reacted to Merielle’s kindness about as well as she had to Maya’s. It was only because of the four tailed freak, as much as she was loathe to owe anything to her. She had… well, she had shocked the nogitsune awake. Given her some small measure of hope again. It had let her see the opportunity to escape when Merielle had caught Mordred’s eye.
The car continued to speed down the highway as Yuki took in one of nature’s most beautiful coastlines. They’d arrived in this country by plane, not by shore… but symbolically, it felt like where they had first stood, free at last. They certainly had spent enough time on beaches, allowing the selkie to swim, feeling the sand and the rocks beneath bare feet. But… freedom was still elusive for Yuki. No matter how fast the man drove the car, she couldn’t escape from the past. Her mind couldn’t help but recall those dreadful memories. Yuki realized that no matter where she and Merielle would run to or hide in, there was no escaping her memories. No escaping what had been done to her… and more importantly, what she had done.
There was only moving forward.
The car made a sharp turn, the morning sunlight hitting Merielle’s face and making her red hair shine as Yuki’s body was pressed lightly against the selkie’s. The woman was just as tense as Yuki was, and there were tears in her eyes still. Yuki had earned those. She wouldn’t flinch away from them. They were her fault.
She would never escape her memories… but that was okay. She was done escaping. She was done running away. Merielle deserved better. The stupid selkie hadn’t run away screaming yet, and Yuki could barely even begin to guess why… but she was still here. Somehow. She would have to make it work… one step at a time. She had escaped Mordred. She had just escaped another specter out of her past in Mai… and Merielle knew the worst now, or most of it, and she was still here. She didn’t have any secrets left to cut her any deeper… from here on, only actions could do that. As they drove down the coastline, a sense of ease finally came to her. She realized that Mordred and Mai, Syllana and Inari and all the rest, though still alive, were all but memories… at least for now.
The car continued to speed down the highway. Yuki knew she should be more alarmed about that. When she had limped out of the factory, Merielle had still been there… with a car. She had been screaming for Yuki, terrified out of her mind, certain that her mistress was going to get killed. After all the pain and fear and misery and blood, she’d felt too exhausted to do anything but just collapse against the selkie, who’d quickly gotten her into the fancy car and closed it, and she wasn’t even up for wondering how Merielle had arranged it. Now, though, her healing was finally catching up with her injuries… They weren’t all gone, but blood loss was no longer troubling her, and she was able to wonder who had come to their aid.
It took another few miles before she caught a glimpse of him in the mirror and recognized him. She had to laugh. It hurt, and she tried not to but she simply had to… it was too damned funny.
The man looked back, as if seeking to make sure she was alright, and as he did he met Merielle’s eyes for a few moments before looking forward. “I’m… I’m really glad you called,” the man said, breaking the silence in the car finally. “I’ve been looking all over for you… I wanted to repay you for what you did. I’d be dead if not for you.” The man’s eyes were red and tearful in the mirror, and if Yuki had any doubts about who he was, she was positive now. Her chuckle faded, but her amusement didn’t. It was the suicidal jackass… the man that Merielle had rescued. What had the news broadcasts called him? Akio… that was it. She had had a chuckle about how his behavior had been dumber than his name.
“It was the least I could do,” Merielle said softly… but Yuki could feel her eyes on her as she continued. “I knew how you felt that day.”
“I thought about what you told me,” the man continued as he got off the freeway and started driving through the streets. “I… I realized that I was being an idiot. That of course love existed… and that while I might get hurt trying, it was better than not trying at all. If I could give it a chance, even in the most dire days or moments… It is always there ready for you. All you have to do… All I have to do is… Get back from the edge, and don’t fall.”
Yuki had no idea how he had gotten here… how Merielle had contacted him, how she had even known to do it. Probably Akari’s doing… that would be just like her, to put Merielle in touch with the man she had saved. She was too exhausted to care. Yuki had been wrong about him… he was a good man. She’d been wrong. That should have hurt more than it did.
She was too exhausted to care much about that, either.
“I… I talked to my wife,” Akio said to them. “We’re going to try again… We talked it through. And we decided to give love a second chance. It’s not going to be easy… it might not work at all but…” He shrugged. “I would rather try than have regrets.” He met Merielle’s eyes through the mirror. “I have a gift for you, Merielle,” the man said. “For saving me…” Yuki looked at Merielle with her eyebrows raised. Merielle looked back, briefly… and managed to flash Yuki a small smile before she looked away. The fact that she was willing to smile at all was the most hope Yuki could ask for.
The man drove for a little while before stopping at an apartment building. “Your friend told me that you had been living in a dump,” Akio said while they were in the elevator together. “And, well… I work in developing and selling real estate around Japan. I called in a favor or two…” He led them out of the elevator and down the hallway to open one of the doors to… Yuki wanted to cry. It was the nicest place she had ever been in, probably. It wasn’t objectively as perfectly lovely as the nicer parts of Mists of Avalon, but here there was no vampire, no music, no slavery. Here there was safety. The lavish, luxury apartment was furnished, nice and tidy, and decorated with modern amenities.
Merielle seemed just as taken aback as Yuki was… her mouth opened and closed several times without speaking a word. “So what you think?” the man asked the two bewildered women. “Nice, huh?”
They both nodded their head in agreement. “I can’t accept this,” Merielle protested.
Akio smiled. “I wasn’t asking you.” He took out a key from his pocket and handed it over to Merielle. “It’s all yours. You can just leave it to rot I guess, but you’ll never pay a yen to live here. Thank you, Merielle. Please take this apartment, for you and your girlfriend. As appreciation for saving my life. I was losing my life and you gave me one. You lost your home and now I give you one.” He bowed his head towards the couple. “It’s not a fair trade… but it’s the best I can do.”
Merielle smiled… then she pressed her hand into Yuki’s, the key between them. She squeezed softly. “Thank you, Akio.”
The man bowed and backed out of the apartment… leaving Yuki and Merielle alone.
The silence stretched. A second. Ten. A minute. Longer? It was hard to tell. Yuki swallowed. “I…”
Merielle let out a sob and embraced her, hard. Tears poured from her eyes to soak the blanket she had wrapped around herself… and there was nothing sexy about them now. Yuki just squeezed her back. “I thought she was going to kill you,” Merielle sobbed, the tears spilling over.
Yuki just hugged her tightly. “It’s okay, Red… it’s all over. You’re safe now. We’re safe,” she whispered softly.
Merielle pulled away, looking at her with wide, teary eyes. One her hands reached up to stroke at Yuki’s ear… the one that she had seen Mai take off. “I couldn’t do anything…” she said, voice breaking. “I couldn’t stop her from hurting you, or… or… or anything. I’m so useless, I-”
Yuki took her hand in both of her own and slowly pushed it down. “I’m fine, Mer. I’m fine… I’d do it all again, a thousand times.” Yuki gave her a soft smile, thumbing away her tears. “Hey?” she said gently. “I love you.”
Merielle let out a few more tears at that, surging forward to kiss her. Even though she heard it hundreds of times while Mai was torturing Yuki, this was the first time Yuki had said it to her directly. “Was it all an illusion?” Merielle asked, looking up and down her mistress.
Yuki swallowed. “Yeah,” she said. “I tricked her good.” She paused. “Red… I know where she is. More or less… I know who took her away, what he had in mind for her. Maya will still be there… we’ll go get her. I swear we will.”
“I know…” Merielle said softly. “I believe you.” She swallowed hard herself. “The other nogitsune… Mai… she kept talking about my skin. About how it could let her get her own back.”
“Yeah…” Yuki said. “She’s nuts, Mer.”
“Is she?” Merielle pressed. “C-” Her voice broke again and she needed a moment to recover. “Could you figure out a way to do it?”
Yuki shrugged. “You really don’t know how old you are?” she asked. When the selkie nodded, Yuki sighed. “She’s insane, but she might not be completely wrong… there’s probably a lot of power stored up in it by now, and the magic that lets you transform… it really isn’t all that different from what lets me do it. It’s not mine, so it would be an absurdly inefficient process, but… Maybe? But-”
Merielle slowly untied her skin from where she had it around her waist like you’d tie a sweatshirt, pushing it into Yuki’s arms. “It’s yours, Yuki. I want you to use it.”
Yuki smiled… and pushed it back into her arms. “I burned my own skin once,” she said softly. “I… I’ve regretted it every day since. You don’t know what you’re asking, Mer… what you’re offering. I won’t do it… never.” She cupped her lovers face and met her eyes. “It’s not worth it. I could stand losing my white fur, but I couldn’t stand losing you,” Yuki murmured as she held the selkie close to her body. “Any of you.”
She was exhausted, drained of almost all her magic, and her witchfire felt ravenously hungry but her injuries were long gone by the time Mai made it to the docks in Kyoto.
It had taken her most of the day to pull the shrapnel out of herself… especially without a knife or her sword. She had needed to use one of the biggest pieces of scrap metal to dig out the others, cutting her fingers to the bone over and over again, letting them heal in between… and she cursed Yuki with each time she needed to stab the steel into herself. At last, though, most of it was gone. It would take a real surgeon to get rid of the rest, but they were small… they would hurt, but the wounds wouldn’t close around them. She could get it taken care of soon enough.
Right now, she needed to get the hell out of the country before it was too late.
She was going the same way she came… smuggled into the country on a small boat. The airports would be too likely to be watched… and so would anywhere else that would report a name. Even a fake one. Most people would think she was being paranoid. Mai, however, knew that it wasn’t paranoia if she really was being watched, all the time…
The man had boggled his eyes the moment she had showed him a little bit of leg in Korea, and he had practically tripped over himself in his willingness to make her happy and help her get into Japan. It had been hard not to just eat him the moment she was finished with him, but she had held herself back… knowing that even if everything went well she might need a quick escape, and if things went badly she certainly would. Sometimes, Mai felt downright prescient. She would get on the boat, get him to take her to somewhere in China where she could vanish, and then she would be able to sate the hunger as her witchfire burned inside her and…
The sun was setting again… dark sky over dark water shimmering with the last rays of the light, but it was more than bright enough to make out the fact that there was a figure standing on the dock. Nine black tails swayed behind the assassin as she stood there, her arms clasped behind her back as she waited, idly looking in Mai’s direction without any particular intensity. The light shone on her pale exposed scalp where the drape of her hair didn’t cover it, but the crescent moon carved into her forehead showed clearly even in the dark.
She could run, but it wouldn’t get her anywhere.
“The goddess summons her second,” Kuu said, her voice emotionless.
Slowly, Mai began to move forward. “I am doing important work,” she said. “I was… I am trying to collect Syllana’s prize for her. She had instructions for me.”
A small glitter in the nogitsune’s eyes were all that betrayed the smile… her lips or cheeks did not even begin to move, like that was as much amusement as she could hope to summon up. “No, she did not. The second will return to the goddess and face her punishment.”
Mai stood tall… and summoned her fire. Blue flames flickered to life in her hands, and Mai hoped that she looked restrained, not as exhausted as she was. Her hand went towards her back before she cursed Yuki for the millionth time for taking her sword. “You don’t scare me, jizzmop. Save it for people who believe in fairy tales… I know what you are. Get out of my way.”
Kuu’s expression didn’t so much as flicker as her own sword came free of her back. She met Mai’s eyes… and then the dark lines of her fishnets began to expand and grow, the blackness swelling and swallowing first her and then the world around her like a pool of ink.
Yuki had subtlety and skill in her illusion, perfect control and devious deception… but that didn’t just take talent, it took creativity, and this used up old fucktoy had none. Instead, she compensated with brute force. Her illusion was as subtle as a brick to the face… she simply coated the world in darkness out to a few hundred feet, leaving Mai alone in a dark void. The assassin was gone now… vanished completely into her illusion.
Kuu would be coming for her… Sight and sound and smell were masked completely. She could see nothing but the dark, hear nothing but the wind, and smell nothing but the ocean. Normally, she would blast out with fire, coat the area, disrupt the illusion… but that arrogant cunt of a former lover had drained her utterly. Instead, Mai improvised… she sent out flickers of witchfire, weaving a net around her, waiting for the nearly invisible strands to be intersected. She felt the knife coming before it arrived and turned her body to the side, letting the blade that would have taken her in the center of her body to slide past. The assassin followed up barely a heartbeat later, and Mai summoned fire to her hands, reaching out, and catching the sword as it descended between two palms.
The explosion of air from their suddenly conflicting energies revealed Kuu where she stood right before her, bearing down, pushing against Mai’s grip. Mai pushed back, growling. “Get… out… of… my… way…”
A sliver of freezing cold steel came to rest against her throat.
Mai froze, not daring to move her head, but she flicked her eyes to the side as the darkness began to dissolve… darkness that had not hidden the assassin’s attack, but had instead hidden the approach of her twin sister. The other assassin stood right behind her and to the left, on Mai’s weak side… her sword in hand and resting against her shoulder, the tip pressed into the hollow of her throat from the side. “The second will return to the goddess and face her punishment,” the second assassin said, in exactly the same tone her sister had used, exactly as emotionless. She turned the blade in her hand so it pointed up at Mai’s chin.
Mai growled… then let her hands relax and released her fire. It was done.
The perk of not owning much was that it made settling somewhere new quite easy. It only took a single bus ride to get everything worth taking from their shitty old apartment… Yuki didn’t think that Mai was going to cause them any more trouble, but she wasn’t taking any chances. It was good to get some real clothing on again, though. By the time they stopped to pick up some food and made it back, the day was mostly spent already… the two of them were more than ready to collapse.
Yuki let Merielle use the bathroom first before she went in herself, locking the door behind her… finally alone again. The nogitsune looked at herself in the mirror… dark circles beneath her eyes, sagging in exhaustion, messy hair she hadn’t had time to comb, but overall she looked alright. She had made it through intact.
Mostly. The thing about lying was that once you got into the habit, it was very difficult to stop. Your reasons might change… but just because Yuki wasn’t lying to herself anymore didn’t mean she wasn’t lying to the world.
Yuki took a deep breath and let the illusion go. Wisps of witchfire burned away invisibly, revealing unscarred skin beneath them… the more serious injuries from the knife that she had been hiding were all gone by now. Gingerly, however, she raised her hand to the one that wasn’t.
Her right ear was gone.
Her hand ran along the ragged edge. Just touching it ached… and it shouldn’t. The nerve endings had all closed, sealed off as if they had only ever gone that far. The skin had closed up perfectly. There was no injury left to hurt, so she wasn’t actually feeling pain… but it felt like it hurt anyway. That hadn’t been fake. She had only committed to making the swap the moment she’d realized Mai actually intended to kill them both… and after that, the first opportunity was the distraction when the mobsters drew her eyes away, allowing just a heartbeat for Yuki to replace herself with the best illusion she had ever made in her life. That was only after her former lover had cut her ear off just above the base, though.
There was no chance of getting it back. Even if the injury hadn’t long since healed shut, Mai had burned it to ashes before her eyes. It was gone… as gone as her skin was. She touched her ear again and wanted to cry… but Yuki had meant what she said earlier. She would have done it all again for Merielle. She loved her… and she wouldn’t let her go, no matter the cost. This was just one more small price to pay… but Merielle didn’t have to know and blame herself. Yuki could keep up the illusion. She didn’t have to let the selkie see what it had cost her and feel guilty for it. Instead, she coul-
Merielle knocked at the door. “Yuki?”
Yuki jumped a foot in the air, all nine tails lashing in a seemingly random direction. “Just a minute!” she said, spinning, making sure the door was still closed before she worked to put the illusion back together. Sight, smell, taste, and touch. A moment later and she looked as she always did… Merielle would never know the difference. She opened the door.
Merielle was naked.
The selkie seemed to almost glow in the moonlight, her soft skin radiant as it reflected the wan light and cast her features in attractive swaths of light and shadow. Goddess above, Merielle was gorgeous… every bit of her perfectly smooth and curved, she stood in the center of the apartment like a marble statue of a foreign goddess, and Yuki’s breath couldn’t help but catch. She had come through their nightmare completely intact… showing none of the wound or bruises that Mai had inflicted on her, her skin as perfectly pristine as only the fae’s could be… except for a single, lighter mark on her belly.
Yuki couldn’t look away from the pale scar. A perfect woman stood before her, a sculpted marvel that a thousand master artists couldn’t improve, and the one blemish on her body was the one that Yuki had put there. Suddenly, she wished that Mai had cut off her other ear, too. Softly, as if handling delicate porcelain, Yuki lay one hand over the scar, feeling the small, raised bump of the healing cut, unable to look Merielle in her face, unable to look anywhere but at the scar.
Merielle put both of her hands over Yuki’s, wrapping it up and slowly bringing it away. That brought Yuki’s eyes to the selkie’s face just before she leaned in and kissed her. That kiss was… it was as gentle as a newborn’s first embrace from her parents, as soft as the softest foxtail, and as filled with heat as the hottest hot spring in Japan. Yuki lost herself in that kiss… just the feeling of Merielle’s lips against her. Something so simple, so easy… something she had felt a million times before but never really appreciated like this.
She was always kissing Merielle. Merielle wasn’t kissing her… and that little change made all the difference.
Yuki wasn’t sure how they had ended up in bed. She certainly didn’t remember walking… maybe Merielle had the ability to teleport them. It made as much sense as anything else. Yuki had Merielle in the crook of her body, holding her with tails and arms and legs as she squeezed, holding on. Despite living together for more than a year now, they had spent surprisingly little time actually in bed together… or maybe that wasn’t so surprising. Right now Merielle was so close to her, and Yuki felt reluctant to allow even the slightest space between their skin… but in the past, she never would have been able to tolerate this kind of closeness. Even now, a small voice in her mind was panicking, telling her to run, telling her to push Merielle out of the bed and away from her. The voice was quiet now, small and weak, but it wasn’t silent… Yuki wasn’t sure if it would ever be silent. She ignored it anyway and squeezed harder, and cried as silently as she could into Merielle’s hair as she held the selkie against her.
The love of her life was warm and comfortable and hers, and that was all that mattered. She didn’t need anything else from her… she could be grateful just for this. It was enough that…
Merielle poked her in the stomach.
Yuki was so surprised she gasped. Her blue eyes fluttered open, and she looked, expecting to find Merielle turning in bed, expecting to find her trying to struggling out of the embrace. Instead, she just relaxed back into it and squirmed gently against Yuki’s muscular body. The motion made her breasts brush against the nogitsune’s hands and she moved them to be just beneath the swell of her chest instead. “Wha-”
“No feeling sorry for yourself,” Merielle said dreamily, pressed herself back against the fox. “None of that.”
Yuki gave a weak smile. “Well… I guess you were right. Saving Akio’s life was worth it.”
“I didn’t save him for an apartment!” Merielle protested, but she chuckled as she did it.
“I know,” Yuki whispered softly. She settled against her selkie again, and closed her eyes. She was exhausted. She hadn’t slept well, or at all, since Merielle had left three nights ago, and the events packed into that time made it feel more like three centuries. All she wanted to do was relax and-
Merielle poked her again.
Surprised, Yuki opened her eyes again, looking over just as Merielle shifted in the bed again, her ass squirming against Yuki in a very… very… distracting way. She disregarded it, forcing herself to ignore how it felt. Merielle deserved better than that from her and-
Yuki had barely closed her eyes before Merielle poked her again, harder than before… practically right in the liver. Yuki let out a frustrated growl as her sleepy eyes popped back open before narrowing to slits. “Fuck, Red. Are you trying to make me lose my temper?!”
Merielle twisted in her embrace, lithe as a serpent as she turned her face to look at Yuki’s. Her face was almost expressionless, serious, but her eyes glittered with… something. “Yes. Is it working? Or do I need to poke harder?”
Yuki narrowed her eyes further… then had to blink back the start of tears. She… she didn’t want to… Yuki didn’t know if she deserved to even touch Merielle after what she’d done but she treasured the girl, and even if she had to treat her like she was made of glass for the rest of time, she was never going risk hurting her again… but it seemed Merielle disagreed.
Yuki pulled her hands off of her slave just long enough to wipe her eyes. Then she smiled. “…In the future, Merielle, if you want me to hurt you, you just have to say so.”
Merielle blinked innocently in the moonlight. “And what do I have to do to make you hurt me in the present?”
Yuki’s smile grew downright predatory. “Right now? Red, there’s exactly one thing you could do now to stop me from hurting you right now. And that’s to run away. As fast you can. Starting… about 30 seconds ago.” Then her mouth covered the selkie’s, and for a long time after that neither of them said anything at all.