Summary: Things have finally settled down between the Supernatural Communities when the Panther Shifters go looking for their past. Hiring me will get the job done, but will a human be able to live among panthers? What if the boss-man himself is too hot to resist?
Main character names: Tumaini (Hope, Egyptian) Maria (Star of the Sea, Latin)
Anxiously biting my nails as I watched my possible future employer walk into my current employer's office, I cast a glance at Sherona, the secretary in hopes this wasn't really happening. When I finished my internship I had wanted to find a nice, quiet office to work in, not the over the top save-our-world, search for the secrets of their lost culture opportunity that has thrust itself into my lap.
Sherona gave me a reassuring smile as she picked up the constantly ringing phone and began to tap her nails against her desk. Apparently not having enough interest in the caller, she crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue in my direction. Though I laughed and rolled my eyes, she hadn't subdued the worry that was bubbling in my stomach. I was afraid that if my suspicions were correct, this would be a life or death situation (or feel like one) and I'll end up accepting whether I want to or not. And I knew that since the man who came in to get my resume was fairly attractive, Sherona would be on his side. That thought made me turn the funny eye on Sherona, and though she didn't notice I'm sure she felt the heat of my glare.
Satisfied I was teaching Sherona a lesson, I began to pace, trying somehow to untangle the mess I had gotten myself into. I felt like I had been caught at doing something wrong- being qualified for the job I suppose- and I was trying to get myself out of trouble. Which is ridiculous, I reasoned, because I'm an adult and shouldn't be pressured into taking jobs from Supernatural Communities. It was widely known no one from those realms wants humans anywhere near them, much less working for them. But no, this Ubastic male has to come and offer me a job, because I didn't do anything wrong by being qualified for the job.
Shaking my head and pulling down my arms from where they had raised to question whatever gods may be listening, I cleared my throat and tried a different angle. Perhaps I wasn't qualified for the job. There's an idea! ... It'll never work. There was only one thing I did with complete ease and certainty, and that was my job. Groaning, giving up, and knocking into a side table, I soothed my throbbing knee and glared at the offensive table. I wish inanimate objects would top getting in my way.
Just as I was about to work myself into a fit, a door to my left opened and revealed my boss Max and the man he had been in conference with, Tumaini Mubarack. Gliding towards me with his sensual gait, Mr. Mubarack came right to me and smiled. Refusing to let my knees get too wobbly but unable to restrain the dorky smile that came across my face, I stood to meet him. At my height not many were taller, but Ubastic males were known for their tall stature and Mr. Mubarack was no exception.
But his height wasn't what intimidated me. Staring at me with a soft reverence and a keen intellect, his amethyst eyes were a heavy burden. I had caught a man's eye once or twice my twenty some odd years, but nothing like this had ever happened. I'd never felt undressed by someone's eyes, as if even my soul showed.
Playing it off as my insecurity, I shook Mr. Mubarack's hand as it came out for me to shake, noticing, ridiculously that his hand though warm and having a soft velvety texture due to his species was well worked and calloused. Most leaders were pampered and well taken care of, this male was a worker, a fighter. Like his people.
"Hello, Maria." He smiled and I swore I wanted to throw any inhibitions I had into the wind. "Thank you for seeing me today."
"Oh," I cleared my throat as it cracked. "Not a problem, Mr. Mubarack. I'm sure you have a busy schedule as well."
He let out a soft laugh that held a lot of secrets and said, "Please, call me Tumaini. My schedule is a bit crowded, and so I must go now; Max would like to fill you in on the position. If you would, please chose to come to us."
"All right Mr. Mu- Tumaini." I corrected myself as his eyes narrowed in warning. Funny how he could look so much like a predator one moment and completely civilized the next. "I will consider it."
He seemed to weigh something in his mind and then let out a knee melting grin. "Good then, if you need anything from me or my offices just let us know. I hope you will be able to meet us Thursday." Tumaini bowed above my hand with a twinkling smile and said something in a language I didn't understand. "There are many things we would like to show you."
… That couldn't possibly have been the lost language of the Egyptians, could it? No, I mean, yes the Ubastic tribe has been rumored to have kept it around, though it's not their language they were certainly in Egypt when Egyptians spoke it…
Completely floored and sure it showed on my face, Tumaini walked out before I could finish blanching. I'm pretty sure my brain stopped all together at the possibility he would consider exposing me to the language. As silence followed the closing of the door my brain kept running in circles and finding a new path only to come back again to its original conclusion.
That certainly threw a new temptation into the mix. Sighing, I ran a hand across my face and tried to make a decision based on these new facts. That is until uproarious laughter filled the room and distracted me. "Well that was unexpected! Leave it to Maria to persuade an illusive culture to divulge one of its greatest secrets upon first encounter. You are the single most amazing person I know." Max laughed as he looked at me. "I'm going to miss you, even if you are a smart-aleck and continually knock over my experiments."
Reminded again of my earlier panic, I quickly latched onto Max in hopes of dissuading the crazy notions that were roaming about his mind. "I'm not leaving, and you can't make me."
Max, used to my antics, calmly pried my talons from his waistcoat and led me into his office. I unwillingly relaxed at Max's touch as we went along; there was something just so right about Max. I knew he was a good man, I could feel it when I met a good person. This Tumaini Mubarack was a whole other kettle of fish. I couldn't get a grasp on everything that he presented, my senses were overloaded, and… I just didn't know what to do.
As we entered Max's office I looked around for signs left behind by this man. Unsurprisingly, there were none. Neat, undisturbed, there was nothing to show anyone other than Max had been in his office this morning. Ubastic culture has a built-in defense mechanism that seemed to never turn off. That sudden and complete disappearance was exactly how they severed ties with the human world.
Placing me in a chair that bordered the front of his desk, Max made his way around to sit across from me. Smiling, he fixed me with a serious look. "It's about time you turned this internship into a real job. Out of all the people enrolled in our programs, in both Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, you're the only one I would even begin to consider offering this job to."
Always pleased to know I was his best intern, I urged him to go on. "What is it exactly they want me to do?"
Max lazily shuffled the folders in front of him before looking at me again. "As you know Tumaini Mubarack is with the Panther Shifters and one of their head governmental branches. They're trying to recover things from their history that they've lost; their first language, mythology, the like."
"And they want me to decode what I can?" I began to wonder if I could breathe a sigh of relief; all that could be done from this dimension, if they were willing to have it sent out of their area.
"They want you to become their Lehydre eventually." At my quick intake of breath, Max held up a hand to sooth the torrent of protests that were on the tip of my tongue. That was exactly what I didn't want. "But that is not what they're asking you to accept; it's a long-term option."
"Long-term option!" I snorted. All thoughts of a lost language were thrown to the side. From what I'd heard, you get into a position like that in one of the Supernatural's realms; you were stuck there, for life. Not to mention the danger of an unattached female in a testosterone-led, combative society.
"Now, now, Missy, it's not like you to be close-minded. These people need your help; they've lost something key to their understanding of themselves. You know that if they let the upset of not knowing grow in their community, there will be a war. One of the neighboring Shifters will see a weak spot and they will attack."
Groaning, I slumped back in my seat. With yet another consideration thrown in, my mind was on overload. "I hate when you guilt trip me. It's irrational and unfair."
"Irrational? Hardly. Don't I usually get what I want?" He grinned, but then gave me another serious look. "Academically speaking, there's no one I would trust more with uncovering an ancient civilization than you."
"With all the pieces handed to me, it's not like it's going to be difficult." Gearing up for my argument (and hopefully victory), I pointed out the most problematic. "You know how the Supernaturals don't trust humans- it goes against the grain; for both of us." I didn't mention how this particular Supernatural group is a shifting community that can morph into large and dangerous cats.
"That's not true for you though, is it Maria?" Max eyed me skeptically. He knew I was going to fight back. I loved my work, but I disliked change, and accepting a position for one of the Supernatural Communities meant working and living on the other side. Convincing me wasn't going to be the easiest thing in the world.
"There's another reason why I chose you for this, why they chose you for this."
"Do tell." I muttered grumpily.
"Out of all the students, human or no, you're the only one compassionate enough to see beyond the differences of species." Sighing and deciding he couldn't prove his point from behind his desk, he got up and came to my side.
Unraveling my hands from their entangled place among my waistcoat, Max gave me a deeply serious look. "There is no one else with your qualifications that would be able to see past the wreckage of this past war. You know how your coworkers feel; you can sense it in their behavior, their words. It's obvious they harbor resentment for the Supernaturals. They don't care what the war really did, and to whom it dealt the most damage- unwarrantedly might I add.
"No one but you can go to the other side, be amongst its people, and be able to grow fond of their culture." Placing my hands back in my lap, Max patted my shoulder. "Sherona has all the information for your flight."
"Hey, who said I was accepting this heinous offer?" I protested as we both stood.
"Your good sensibility did. Plane leaves at 7:30pm next Thursday, better get moving." Giving me a shove out the door, I was propelled forward until I caught myself on a nearby Fichus.
Muttering irritably, I brushed off imaginary lint and headed towards Sherona's desk in hopes I could convince her to deliver the bad news to Mr. Mubarak. Her headset was practically buzzing and Sherona's pinched face told me exactly what she thought of the caller and his business. She did however perk up when she saw me come into view. Pushing her mike aside, she gave me an excited smile.
"He. Was. Gorgeous. Please tell me he's your new boss and that you're going to engage in a fiery office romance."
Laughing, I leaned lazily on her desk, preparing to sway her fondness for someone she hardly knew. "Sorry to disappoint,"
"You always do," She interrupted with her matter-of-fact statement. "Hun, I do all the paperwork here, so I know what's going down. I just want you to tell me that you're going to at least try and get some sexy from that man that just walked in here."
"Technically, he's not a man," I pointed out as I played with the plaid of my jacket. This may not be as easy as I thought.
Sherona emitted a lovely sound of disbelief and told the man on the line to hold. "Ubastic- even better! I hear they're positively wild in bed." Sherona always did have a respect for the Supernatural Communities.
Giving me a frisky smile and some eyebrow action, her hand migrated towards the 'end call' button, hovering for a moment and then wandering off again. She decided to busy her hands with taking off her jacket instead.
Highly affronted at her statement, I momentarily brought my hand up to my chest in sheer horror that she would presume as much. I though better and tried to hide it, because I'm a prude and Sherona likes to throw me out of my comfort zone. Plus, I was trying to butter her up, so…
"Here are your plane tickets, pick up instructions, a little info on where you'll be staying, and literature from your future company of employment. Oh, and a massage coupon. That's from me. I know a girl on the other side that's practically to die for! Her hands are like magic."
"Probably are," I joked with a wince and took the folder from her. Maybe I would take a look and see if there were any real grounds for me saying no. "Thanks Sherona, I'm going to miss you." In the few days I'm gone to read this, I mentally added.
"Even though I made you get that bikini wax last winter?" She asked with a big grin.
"Yes." I grinned as well, thinking how I still hadn't forgiven her for that one. It made me feel less guilty; after all, she owed me for that little stunt.
"Even though I brought all my friends over to your house for a girls night and used all your fancy-ass soaps like they were ribbed condoms and I was ovulating?"
I winced and nodded, deciding to get out of here so I could have more time to pull an argument together.
Laughing, she shooed me out of the office and I hit the elevator button with a smile even though it scared me like I was about to enter the jaws of a great white. I simply didn't have the stamina to walk down the stairs right now, per my usual. Entering the elevator and relaxing against the cool mirror of its interior, I tried to catch up with what was going on. I was finally getting my Doctorate, I had been recruited by an ancient and powerful Shape-Shifting Tribe to uncover their past and possibly accept a position of high revere, and all this meant that I was going to have to leave everything I knew here at home and travel to another dimension. Man I needed another cup of coffee.
"Sir, the reports from our Eastern Tribes have come in." Walking up beside me with his usual stealth, Lance handed me a thin folder. Nodding, I frowned at the obvious lack of cooperation they were giving us.
With that delivered, I could focus again on analyzing the problem before me before having to deal with them. If only I could get that rouge pack of shape shifting wannabes to settle down…
Lance cleared his throat beside me and I looked up, surprised to see that he was still at attention. "Yes Lance?"
"Your translator, she will be coming soon."
"Yes." I affirmed, deciding to correct him later on her actual position.
Raising his eyebrows, Lance pointed towards a deeper meaning. I caught on and answered him. "I have not had time to assess her skills personally, but some of my most trusted colleagues on the human side have been surprisingly generous in their accounts."
"Do you think she will do well in her new position?" As Lance casually glanced around the room I could tell he was hedging around a deeper issue. His stiff posture and the smell of worry bubbling off of him only added to my suspicion.
His feelings, and the feelings of most of the pack, were understandable. Humans only ventured into our part of the country to speak politics and show their "good faith". Very rarely did one travel here for leisure, and neither of us knew what to expect of the other. Everyone was on edge, but we needed her.
"You know very well I believe that she will be everything we need her to be. Otherwise I would not have left the pack during this time." I crossed my arms over my chest. "What is it you really want to ask me, Lance?"
Pausing, Lance looked at me and asked tersely, "How will she react among our people?" Worry laced itself in his words, though if you didn't know him; it would have qualified as another hedging question. "Did you catch her Demehnor?"
Sighing, I though back to the unruly redhead in the human world. Frazzled and quick to fright, I hadn't seen much when we passed; not having long enough to establish a deep connection. However I did manage to catch a little of what I was looking for; honesty, compassion, and a spark of determination. I took the slight quiver in her step and the cautious way she moved to mean she would need training to be safer in case of danger, but otherwise she is fully qualified to do what we need her to do.
There was also a good chance her presence would be enjoyable as well. Goodness knows she smelled good enough; like the deep, hidden folds in a pine forest. The soft smell of soil and trees and the rain that enveloped our forests was a sweet seducer. Inhaling, I could almost recall her scent from memory.
But the problem at hand wasn't as simple as physical attraction. I was as uneasy as all of my people that a human would be among our ranks, sharing our knowledge. We simply couldn't do anything about that now that the last Leyhdre had died and took certain things with him.
"She will adapt." I replied, and hoped I was right.