AwDae sat up from bed and moved to the edge of the mattress, stretching languidly and letting eir fur bristle from tip to tail, the latter bottle-brushing out in the process. Ey shook emself to settle eir fur back down and yawned widely, slender pink tongue curling and just shy of sharp incisors.
Brushing eir fur down, ey stood languidly and ambled over to the dresser in the corner of the room, pulling out a thin white cotton shirt with laces up the front and a simple navy sarong, which ey tied around eir waist. Ey’d spent countless hours examining some of the highest fashions out there on the net and come to the conclusion that, in these times, understated clothing was actually best. It interfered with the fur least, it worked well with a tail — a simple slit cut down the length of the sarong let that slip free, and anyone who might want to peek at a fox’s backside would find only soft white fur there — and it was cheap. There was no shortage of ways to spend money, here, and AwDae had better things to do than worry about that.
Ey set eir paw down on the dresser and swiped it from left to right, revealing a dimly glowing arsenal of personal belongings. Ey wound up equipping only the simple things: set of vcards, a limited credit chip (no worries about overspending that way, though ey doubted ey’d shop any), and a simple canvas pouch attached to a belt, more an affectation than anything, which ey equipped rather than putting on by hand because ey hadn’t bothered to make it anything other than an accessory.
Ey made eir way to the eye-rollingly named tport pad in the alcove just off of the main room. It was considered fairly gauche to appear or disappear in the middle of some room, so most homes or venues had them sequestered off to the side, a sort of digital foyer. Ey faced the black screen on the far wall in the alcove and brushed eir paw from left to right once more, bringing up a list of recently used commands. There were a few that stood out, but right at the top of the list was the one ey wanted. If ey left fingerprints online, there’d be a clear smudge over the entry: ey rarely did anything else.
‘tport: The Crown Pub’
A tap and an the obligatory click that went along with the change of scenery brought em to an alcove paneled in oak, lit by green-shaded lights hanging pendulously from a cord directly above the pad. Ey blinked to adjust to the comparatively dim light. The pub, which largely followed the circadian rhythm of the British isles, was just as dark as it was for RJ, back in London-as-it-was.
Ey turned and stepped away from the pad, narrowly avoiding a weasel stumbling towards the alcove.
“See ya, Debarre,” AwDae offered, though it came out more like ‘Cheeya, Demaw’ coming from the fox’s narrow muzzle. Ey got a curt wave from the slender weasel done up in all black.
The fox shrugged and headed into the pub proper, eir nose twitching about at the scents of the room which told em more of those present than simply scanning the crowd. One or two gawking entities with no scent property set — some tourists — and the usual crowd of scents. Their ears perked at the distinct whiff of dandelions, something leftover from eir youth, and ey made a beeline towards one of the window tables, where the scent seemed to originate, skirting around one or two bodies of diverse shape.
“Come on, AwDae, loosen your filters, won’t you?” Sasha laughed, scooting her chair back so that she could stand up and fling her arms around AwDae’s shoulders, giving the fox a tight hug. Ey slipped eir arms around the skunk’s waist in turn and gave a squeeze, tail flicking about excitedly.
“Lame,” ey drawled, but dialed back the output filters on eir speech, letting something more closely resembling English pass. “How you been, skunk?”
“Oh, you know, same old crap.” Sasha settling back down into her chair and fiddling with a stack of vcards on the table and gave an outsized shrug. “Been kind of boring in here over the last few days, so it’s good to see you, even if it’s getting super late for you.”
The fox nodded, tugging eir shirt straight and moving over to the chair opposite the skunk, sliding into it easily and resting against the back. “Not too late. One something. Made good time home at least. Rehearsal ran late.”
Sasha laughed, “You know, every time you talk about rehearsal and such, I keep thinking back to high school and school productions. It’s hard for me to picture you as having grown up and taken that up as a job.”
AwDae adopted a look of mock despair, “And went to school for it and everything. But hey, London ain’t bad, I can’t complain any.”
The skunk rolled her eyes and leaned forward onto her elbows bringing her paws up to rest her muzzle on them. “Tell me about it. You’re missing out big time here in the burbs, dear. You could be teaching high school theater in any town along the central corridor, doing the same plays once every five years so no students repeat them. Truly a life of glamor.”
The fox groaned and buried eir face in eir paws, Sasha laughing at the reaction. She continued, “Seriously though, you just remind me a lot of school. Maybe it’s ‘cause of all of the ways you haven’t quite grown up.’’
AwDae stuck eir tongue out at eir friend briefly and crossed eir arms. “You’re not going to bring up dating again, are you?”
“Hey, sorry, just looking out for you, fox.”
“I’m plenty happy not dating, I can promise you that,” ey countered.
“No, I get that,” Sasha admitted, lowering her gaze. “Not all it’s turned out to be, even for someone who wants to date.”
“Oh no, struck out again?”
Sasha nodded and shrugged once more.
AwDae reached eir paws out to take one of her own, cupping black fur in black fur. Both had opted for mostly hand-like paws, but where Sasha’s fur was an even black marked by white stripes that were a little too sharp, a little too exact, AwDae had gone all out and constructed a version of emself as a cross fox to exacting detail, down to the point where eir muzzle couldn’t even form the two letters that made up eir name offline.
“I’m sorry, Sasha…”
Sasha shrugged it off once more, giving the fox’s paws a squeeze in her own briefly, “Men are dicks, I promise you. I’d take a neutrois fox over any dickhead guy any day.”
The fox smiled bashfully and returned the squeeze to eir paws, “Sasha, you know it wouldn’t—”
“No, I know, AwDae. I just wish there were more guys out there like you.”
AwDay stiffened in eir seat and looked away towards the window. Sasha caught the movement and splayed her ears, “Sorry fox. I keep putting my foot in it, don’t I?”
The silence stretched out a little longer before AwDae shook emself free of it and gave eir friend a grin, “Sorry, no, you’re fine. I should get a thicker skin about it and stand up for myself, after all. I spend night after night hiding in here, and even here, I can’t really stand up for myself. I appreciate you trying, though.”
Sasha smiled cautiously and nodded, “I think that’s what I meant earlier, that you remind me of school. You haven’t done like all the rest of us and grown up, gotten married, all that crap. You’re still doing what you loved to do in school, from the picture you showed me, you’re as androgynous as ever. You seem kind of frozen, kind of stuck, in a few ways, even though you’re succeeding in others.”
AwDae nodded before a thought occurred to em, “Oh, speaking of frozen.”
AwDae nodded once more.
“No news, yet. He’s been trying to get in touch with the center that’s taking care of Cicero, but the family has been getting in the way. They’re fielding everything. They always sort of supported the relationship on the surface, you know, but never actually wholly approved of them being together.”
“What? Really?” The fox shook eir head, poking a claw at the table as though it might dent the wood, though the sim was hardly that immersive, “That’s unfortunately not all that surprising, given what Cice said about his family. They at least confirmed that’s what happened, though?”
Sasha nodded. “That’s what these are,” she said, slipping the stack of vcards over to the fox. “There’s contact info for the family, and a few centers around there that work on contacts, we’re thinking that those types of places might be where he wound up. There’s also a card detailing his laston information.”
AwDae slid the stack of vcards over to sit in front of em, leafing through them slowly and taking in a few of the details that slid through eir fingers. “Mind if I make a copy?”
“Go ahead, it’s a deck Debarre and I have been working on. Not complete, but I’ll give you ACLs.”
“Mm. Debarre looked crushed. Is he doing alright?”
Sasha hesitated for a moment, caught in the middle of a gesture to transfer access to the cards, then shook her head, to which AwDae could only frown. “I’ll take a look, too. I can’t do too much right now, I’ve got a—”
“I know, you’ve got a show coming up,” Sasha said, grinning. “Don’t worry about it, dear. Debarre’s working on it, I’m taking a look when I can, and I’m sure the weasel’s got others helping him out as well. No reason not to, either; we all liked Cicero.”
The two sat in silence once more. AwDae fanned the cards in front of emself before shuffling them back into a stack and swiping above them, instructing eir workstation to make a copy of the deck, which wound up in eir pouch.
Ey lifted eir muzzle away from the silence to scan the scent of the room once more. The tourists had gone, leaving mostly familiar smells, now that it was starting to get on in the evening even in the Americas. Some familiar scents, some unfamiliar, but most of them at least detailed, which told AwDae that the owners had put some thought into them. None, however, really jumped out at em, and ey were more content to keep eir post at the table with Sasha, eir friend from so long ago, now.
Finally, ey slid the deck of vcards back to Sasha, who equipped them on to her person somewhere; ACLs being what they were, there’s no way AwDae could’ve done more than look at the covers. Had ey tried to walk off with them, they would’ve re-equipped to Sasha as soon as they passed into the tport alcove.
“Hey, Sasha, I gotta get going. I know I only got here a little bit ago, but I’m starting to crash hard.”
The skunk nodded and gave a little flick of her tail, “No, it’s alright, AwDae. It’s late there, and I know you’ve been in rehearsals for a while. Go get some sleep.”
Both stood up once more and exchanged another hug, AwDae breathing in that dandelion scent of his friend once more, brought back to thoughts of high school, when she had explained that the smell always reminded her of muffins.
“I’ll see you later, skunk, yeah?”
Sasha nodded and smiled once more, “Take care of yourself, okay? No working too hard, slaving over a hot rig…”
AwDae laughed and shook his head, giving the skunk one last squeeze before making his way back through the crowd toward the alcove, already swiping his command palette into view to head home.