By Mathieu Roy

Wordlessly Raven thumbed the lock to her apartment and stepped aside. Shion-Hime, despite towering nearly a foot above her, seemed almost meek as she stepped past her to enter the conapt. Raven was at once struck by both the resemblance and contrast between Shion-Hime and her model. Shion-Hime was even taller than Shion, and she had the tapering cat-ears of a Puma, but the same figure filled out the hospital gown, the same mane of white hair dusted the floor, the same grey eyes looked at Raven from inside. Well, the eyes were not quite the same. Shion's eyes were usually indifferent, though lately she'd seen anger and sadness in them. But Shion-Hime's... they were kind of like Mangy's, that old dog she'd had for a few months in the Zone, so many years ago.

Seeing that look in Shion's face made Raven shudder. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. Shion-Hime looked around, then went to a corner and stood waiting, watching Raven. The teek took a package from the easy chair and handed it to the replicant. "Clothes," she said, "for you."

Shion-Hime nodded, took the package and unwrapped it. Then she unconcernedly peeled off the hospital gown and let it fall to the ground. Flustered, Raven masked her embarrassment by picking up the gown and taking it to the laundry bin. When she came back, Shion-Hime was buckling up her new pants, apparently oblivious to Raven's discomfort. She now wore a sweatshirt and some pants, probably looser than anything she'd ever worn before. Shion-Hime meticulously picked up the clothes' packaging and went to trash it. Then she returned to her place—Raven was sure she was within an inch, at most, of the spot she'd dressed on—and stood there, hands demurely clasped behind her back, watching Raven with the old dog's eyes.

"I don't know about you," Raven said off-handedly as she moved the cushions on the couch, "but I could use some pop right now." She turned to the replicant. "Would y..." She trailed off, seeing that Shion-Hime was already halfway to the kitchen.

Before she could protest, Shion-Hime was back with a glass of pop with ice cubes floating in it, much more trouble than Raven usually went to. The replicant offered the drink to Raven. She picked it up slowly, looking Shion-Hime in mild bewilderment. As soon as Raven had the glass in her hands, Shion-Hime returned to her spot to watch Raven expectantly.

Raven sighed, sat on the couch, and watched Shion-Hime. The replicant had a faint, pleasant smile on her lips, something she'd never seen on Shion. Her hands were clasped behind her back again, and still she watched her with old Mangy's eyes. The teek sipped at the glass, sat back, and kept to her scrutiny. So much and so little like Shion, and Shion-Hime didn't seem to mind being stared at all. She reminded Raven of someone else.

Adam. Yes, Adam too would jump to fulfill the slightest whim she expressed, but at the same time it was different. When he wasn't tending her, Adam found something useful to do. And he'd acted with a sort of friendly humor that had so endeared him to Raven. Shion-Hime... She was just waiting for Raven to tell her what to do, almost but not quite eagerly. And then she just did it, without showing any emotion except that submissive, pleasant little smile. Almost, but not quite, eagerly.

Raven took a deep breath and released it again in a sigh. "So what am I going to do with you?" It was a rhetorical question, and Shion-Hime didn't answer it; she just looked more eager, as if she expected Raven to tell her to do something now.

She could be told to clean the apartment with her hair, dance the lambada, or even fuck Raven silly, and Shion-Hime would just do it with that same smile and that same almost but not quite eager manner. To her it was just like fetching a glass of pop. That realization suddenly struck Raven like a ton of bricks and she looked away from Shion-Hime's grey eyes. What a bastard that Case was, to get someone to act as a... a toy like that. Raven's gaze fell on the bathroom and she remembered she had something for the replicant to do.

"Shion-Hime," she said, looking to the replicant, "I can't have you looking like Shion. She just might drop by, you see, and..." She trailed off, noticing that Shion-Hime's expression hadn't changed. She was listening, Raven realized, but she didn't really care why Raven want her to do something. All she needed to know was that her owner wanted her to do it. "Um, anyway, I'd like you to go to the bathroom, cut your hair short, and dye it. There's some leftover black dye in the cupboard."

"Yes, ma'am," said Shion-Hime. Raven had never thought she'd hear so much meekness in Shion's soft, slightly husky voice. The Puma quickly moved to comply with Raven's request—Raven's order. The teek leaned her elbows on the coffee table and buried her face in her hands. There was no way she could stand to have Shion-Hime around the apartment, and even if she did keep her... She was a little scared by the idea that she might get used to ordering the Puma around like she'd gotten used to Adam's comforting presence.

"Oh, I miss him," said Raven to herself, then she thought on it, and added, "although he'd probably just tell me to keep her to do the laundry or something." Adam never quite could figure out why Raven treated him as much like a person as he let her. The concept was apparently alien to him, and she figured it was even more alien to Shion-Hime.

Well, she couldn't keep Shion-Hime anyway. If Shion did show up—and she tended to do so unexpectedly—the hot-tempered Empress would probably tear the Puma apart to clear the insult she represented, short black hair or not. Then God only knew what would happen between her and Raven. So she needed to foist her off somewhere. But where...?

She heard Shion-Hime carefully put her discarded hair in the trash, then come back to the room. Bereft as she was of Shion's most striking feature, the replicant's resemblance with the Empress might be overlooked by a casual observer, but the similarities still struck Raven. She followed the replicant with her gaze until, maddeningly, she returned to the exact same spot and clasped her hands behind her back.

"Oh, sit down!" Raven said in frustration. Obediently Shion-Hime took a seat right next to Raven, her hands on her knees, looking at her as if to be sure she did not miss the expression of a whim. Raven noted she'd carefully positioned herself so that she would be looking right down her neckline if she'd had one. Disgusted, Raven rose grumbling to pace across the living room. Shion-Hime's eyes following her every step of the way.

Raven stopped abruptly. God, she needed to teach her not to do that! Suddenly the perfect solution popped into her mind. A place where Shion-Hime could be free, and someone to look after her since she would not be free even if she could. If said someone was willing of course, but it never hurt to ask. "Come here," she said. Shion-Hime rose to meekly stand next to Raven. The teek took the replicant's hand and concentrated hard. And one, and two...

The pair abruptly rematerialized in the middle of a grimy street. Raven looked around and spotted Rammer and two of the Devils, armed with clubs, talking excitedly as they approached. Great, she thought, it would have to be that jerk on duty. Shion-Hime, she noted, had recovered remarkably quickly and was now looking warningly at Rammer, tensed and ready to pounce.

"Hello sweetie," said Rammer, leering at her. "Brought another hottie with you, I see." He smiled and took another step forward. "Are you going to share?" And another step.

Shion-Hime stepped forward to interpose herself menacingly between Rammer and Raven. She was taller than the ganger, but the man's thick, corded musculature dwarfed hers, and the secondhand cyberarm clicked menacingly. Despite this, Shion-Hime seemed perfectly willing to face the ganger, and lay down her life for her owner if need be. She'd already done so once, Raven reminded herself.

"Ooooh, scary," said Rammer in mock terror. He lasciviously looked the Puma over. "Well, I like it rough."

Raven's hand caught Shion-Hime's wrist. Her iron grip was enough to convey her wishes to the replicant, and Shion-Hime stepped back, letting Raven take the lead.
"I'm here to see Lydia," the teek stated, not responding to Rammer's ribbing. It was only designed to make him look tough to his gangmates, anyway; he knew better than to push Raven too far. *Everybody* in Clark Street knew better.

"Well I don't need to show you the way," was the ganger's surly reply.

Raven turned away from him without comment, and Shion-Hime followed on her heel. Behind her she heard Rammer wolf-whistle, but she ignored it and made her way to the door to Lydia's clinic.

Her Auntie was standing in front of her home, with a smile on her face. Raven ran to hug her. "Oh, Auntie, I'm sorry I've been away so long..." she said.

"I knew you hadn't forgotten me," said Lydia. It was a simple statement of fact, and that comforted Raven immensely. The two split up and the doctor said, "You look well."

"I'm doing great," said Raven. "How are things around here?"

"Quieter than last time you were here, actually," the old lady replied. "I see you've brought a friend with you? Shion-Hime, is it?"

Shion-Hime had been unconscious for her entire sojourn in Lydia's clinic, but if she was surprised that the doctor knew her name, she didn't show it. Raven looked at her and sighed. "Yes. She's finally out of the OR and she's officially..." She paused then finished, "She's officially mine. But I don't know what I'd do with her anyway, and I don't really need her around so I was thinking that maybe you could do me a favor and..."

"I'll be glad to have someone help me around the clinic," Lydia answered before Raven found the words to formulate her request.

"Are you sure? I don't want to cause you any trouble."

"Oh no, Raven, you know me. You and I, we are just the same." Lydia smiled that mysterious smile. "We like to take in strays."

The veracity of that statement suddenly struck Raven. Whether it was Old Mangy or Karin or Shion-Hime, Raven could not stand to leave someone abandoned. Was this something she'd learned from Lydia, or was she born that way? Was that why Lydia, so long ago, had taken her as her adoptive niece?

Resolving to do what she usually did with Lydia's wisdom, namely pore over it later, Raven instead turned to Shion-Hime. "Shion-Hime,. this is my Auntie, Lydia. You're going to be staying with her for a while." She paused, then added, "I want you to treat her like you would me, okay?"

"Understood, ma'am."

"Well, dears, don't just stand there on the threshold," Lydia said. "It's almost lunchtime and I have some soup cooking. There should be enough for two more. Come in." Shion-Hime almost but not quite eagerly went inside, but Lydia didn't seem to think her careful obedience was unnatural.

Raven knew she'd come to the right place. Here Shion-Hime could grow at her own pace, carefully tended by Lydia who knew better than anyone how to help someone bloom. She knew this firsthand, and for a moment she felt a pang of jealousy, wishing she could return to her old life with Lydia taking motherly care of her. But the moment quickly passed, and Raven was wearing a happy smiled when she followed the replicant inside. After all, she was all grown now, and had her own home... to take in strays.

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories