Story (c) 2000-2003 by Hikaru Katayamma/Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. The character Sheila Vixen (c) Eric W Schwartz. Throckmorton P Ruddygore, Poqua, Lakash (c) Jack L Chalker. Jack (c) David Hopkins.Mary the Mouse © Mary Minch. All other characters are (c) Hikaru Katayamma.  This story contains adult situations and language. By reading it the viewer agrees not to hold this or any other person responsible for any content they may find objectionable. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Identity Crisis
Chapter 33

Why ask why?

Arden leaned casually against the wheel of the buggy, his eyes half closed as his skin soaked up the sunlight. They'd pulled off the road slightly as Sheila had once again heard the call of nature. A couple of minutes later he cracked his eyes at the sound of Sheila pushing her way though the bushes. "Everything OK?" he asked, giving her a hand up.

"Just dandy," She replied, dropping heavily down onto the wooden seat.

He harrumphed as he walked his way around the buggy. "You're welcome," the man muttered under his breath before climbing back up onto the seat. He reached for the reins but found that Sheila already had them. With a slight lurch, the buggy pulled back onto the road. "You know, you don't have to drive."

Sheila glanced over at him and smiled. "I know. It gets a bit boring sitting over here all the time with nothing more to do than look at the scenery."

"Ahh," he grunted, giving a knowing nod. "Now you can sit there and watch the scenery drift by while holding onto the reins, eh?"

"Something like that," she replied with a similar nod, getting comfortable. As Sheila drove, she watched Arden leaning against the side rail of the seat, staring out into the distance. They rode in silence for the better part of an hour before Sheila finally spoke. "Hey." Not getting a reply, she reached over and swatted his arm, speaking louder, "Hey! Anyone home?"

Arden jerked upright with a start and looked around quickly before noticing the smirk on her face. "Sorry, I was thinking," he mumbled, leaning back against the seat again.

"Yah, I know," the vixen replied with a snort. "The gears were grinding so loud I was afraid you were going to spook the horse." She waited for a reply, but had to settle for a momentary cocking of one eyebrow in her direction for a response. "So what were you so hard at work thinking about? You were a million miles away."

He cocked an eyebrow at her again and then shrugged. "Actually it's a bit more than a million miles," the man replied stretching his back and clasping his hands behind his head. "I was thinking about Japan."

"Oh," she replied, not sure what to say.

Arden smiled gazed off into the distance. "I was thinking about the trains."

Sheila's face scrunched up in confusion as she looked at him. "Trains?"

"Yah. Trains." He smiled and chuckled at her consternation before continuing. "I used to love riding on the trains. It was one of the few times that I felt at peace." All traces of amusement faded as old memories made themselves felt. "I could sit there and watch the world safely passing me by for hours. I didn't have to worry about someone on the street taking a shot at me, or someone trying to run me down. I was in my own little world and everyone else was outside of it."

"What about the people on the train with you?" the vixen asked, scooting around to get comfortable again. "Didn't you have to worry about them?"

"Sometimes," he replied with a shrug. "If you pick the right time of day and the right rail line, there probably wouldn't be that many people on the train. As long as I was careful not to be followed, the train was safer than anywhere in Tokyo or Shinjuku."

Sheila nodded as she listened. "Sounds nice, though I'm surprised that someone didn't figure it out."

"They did," he replied, putting his arms down and frowning. "It was shortly after I went ronin. The government sent people to eliminate me. They knew that I liked to travel by train even though I never used them for business."

"What happened?" she asked as she intently studied his face, waiting for the answer.

"They made a critical mistake." He sat up and turned on the seat so he could face her, his knee up on the bench, resting his arm on its back. "They were rushed and couldn't use outside talent. As a result, I recognized two of the people in the teams. I thought they'd wait until I disembarked the train, but one of them panicked." Arden looked away for a moment and pursed his lips. "The fool opened up with an automatic weapon in a car full of people. When it was all over, there were six agents down and more than twenty bystanders wounded or dead."

Sheila's mouth hung open as she stared at him. "Jesus! And you walked away from that?"

"I didn't exactly just walk away from it," he snapped making her flinch. "I had taken a bullet in the arm and two in the legs. When the train slowed down to enter the Yokohama station, I shot out a window and jumped. I barely managed to get away from the station before the police stared searching the area. Even then I wound up having to kill some poor bastard from Sonobe who'd just rented a car and had the bad luck of being in the first vehicle I saw."

"You killed someone just so you could steal his car?" Sheila couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I can understand killing the bad guys in the train. I mean, you were just defending yourself, but how can you justify killing someone for their car?"

"Hey!" he barked back angrily, "Don't take that tone of voice with me, woman! You don't know anything about what it's like to live like a hunted animal!" He turned back around to face the front of the buggy and folded his arms over his chest. "I was fighting for my survival. Standard operating procedures when running from the opposition is to kill any potential witnesses. He would have told the cops I had stolen his car. Given that I was wounded, they'd almost immediately link me with the massacre on the train. By killing him, I assured myself that nobody would be looking for the car for at least twenty four hours, by which time I'd have obtained new transportation, preferably off the island."

"So that's supposed to make it right? You needed to get away so it's OK to kill someone?" She shook her head. "Does that mean that if someone corners you, that you'll kill me to get away?"

Arden's head snapped around as he stared at her in disbelief. "How can you say something like that?" The words were spoken so softly as to be barely heard over the sounds of the horse and carriage. "With all that we've been through, how can you even suggest something like that?" He turned and stared past the horse and down the road. "That happened a good fifteen years ago. I've changed since then."

"I suppose," she muttered noncommittally, with an awkward silence settling over the pair. They rode on in silence for some time before she again spoke. "Umm... You know all that talk last night about destinies?"

"Yah," he grunted.

The vixen just stared ahead as she asked, "Do I have a destiny?"

"What?" He looked over at the vixen and gave her a half-cocked smile. "What brought this on?"

Sheila shrugged. "I don't know. I was just thinking about what you said last night. You know, how anyone with a destiny has to deal with a bunch of crap before they can accomplish it, usually turning their life into a living hell in the process." Again she shrugged. "I was just wondering if all this was because I had my own destiny, or was I just unlucky and got sucked up into yours."

Arden chewed on his lip for a bit as he thought for a while, then let out a long sigh. "You do have your own destiny, though I'm afraid it's not very earth shattering."

The vixen glanced over at him with a look that was split between concern and fear. "What is it? Do you know?"

"Yah, I know," he reluctantly admitted.

She waited several seconds before glancing at him again. "Well? What is it?" The vixen watched him for a few seconds before prompting him again. "Arden, please. I have a right to know."

At last, he nodded. "Yes, I suppose you do." He took a deep breath and let it out before continuing. "Nanuk forged your destiny at the same time she forged mine. Though you may not think it important or glamorous, it is an important one in the greater scheme of things." He rocked his head back and forth as he searched for a way to put it, only to fail miserably. Again, he took a deep breath and simply said, "Your destiny is to be the mother of my children."

"WHAT?" Sheila barked in surprise and shock. "My destiny is to have your kids? What the hell kind of destiny is that?" She sat fuming as she ground her teeth together. "Next you're going to tell me that I'm supposed to stay at home and become Ms. Beaver, right?" She clasp her hands together in front of her and gave him an extremely sucrose smile. "Hi honey. Did you have a hard day at work?"

Arden glowered at her. "That's not what I meant."

"Yah?" the vixen growled back. "It may not have been what you were thinking, but I'm sure someone out there was."

He took another deep breath and slowly let it out. "Tell me, why did you decide to get pregnant?"

"I don't know," she whined, shaking her head. A second later her eyes lit up with an answer. "Say, maybe my destiny made me do it? Yah, that's it. My destiny took control of me and made me do the stupidest thing of my life."

"Your destiny doesn't control you," Arden growled. "There are lots of people who never achieve their true destiny. Besides, somehow I don't think that qualifies as being the stupidest thing you've ever done."

The vixen cocked an ear in his direction. "Oh?"

"Making that wish while we were in the locker room," he replied with a smirk. "Now there's a class A screw-up if I ever saw one."

She rolled her eyes. "Ha ha. Like our last night together doesn't qualify?"

"Actually," he replied, tilting his head to one side, "as I remember it, I don't think up or down qualifies for how we did it."

"That's NOT what I meant!" Sheila replied, swinging at his arm with a fist and only grazing it. For the next few seconds, she rained a hail of blows at him that he somehow kept deflecting with one arm, all the time laughing. Finally she sat back in her seat and just glared at him. "You can be the most annoying person some time."

"Thank you," he said with a small grin. "I try." He watched her stew for a moment, and then reached out to lightly tap her arm. "Oh, come on. Don't sit over there and sulk. All this will be over soon." He turned back forward and propped his feet up on the railing. "Tonight we'll meet back up with Hecate. In two more days, we should be at the Castle Terindell. It won't be much longer after that until my quest is done and you can go home."

"Home." She let out a long sigh. "I can't wait to get back. I miss everyone, terribly." She sat upright and looked over at the man. "Wait! What about you? Aren't you coming back too?"

"Why should I?" He paused to watch the look of shock on her face. "Ever since you brought me back, you've abused me, been condescending to me, denigrated me and been a pain in the ass without end. Even after the spell was removed that was screwing with your emotions, you've continued to be nothing but a pain in the ass. I see no reason why I should return to a world where all I have to look forward to is more of that. Shit, for all I know, you don't even want me to come back." He crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the side of the buggy at the slowly passing scenery.

Sheila slowly closed her mouth and looked away. She sat, staring down at her hands for some time before again speaking in a quiet, meek voice. "I do want you to come back."

"Eh?" he grunted, looking her way. "Sorry, but I didn't catch that."

"I said, I want you to come back," she repeated without looking up.

He gave a single nod of acknowledgement. "And why do you want me to come back?"

"What do you want me to say? "Sheila shot back, annoyed at his attitude. "You want me to say that I need you? You want me to tell you that I can't live without you? Well it's not going to happen!"

"No," he replied slowly, "That's not what I want. I want the truth. Why do you want me to come back?"

"I don't know," she replied, crossing her arms and hugging herself slightly. "Maybe it's because I'm scared, or maybe it's because I don't want to be alone." She shrugged and shook her head. "Hell, for all I know I just want you to come back so I don't have to change the diapers. I don't know. Why the hell are you giving me the third degree on this now? All I've heard from you is that you'd move heaven and earth to come back and now you're telling me now that you might not. What's up with that?"

Arden scratched his chin and chewed on his lower lip for a moment as he thought. "Things are coming to a head," he explained without looking at her. "All the possible paths that I might take are converging on one event where, if I'm successful, I'll make the wish. I have no vision beyond that point. Before I dedicate myself to the goal of returning to you, I have to know that I'm making the right decision. Too many other things could be affected by that outcome for me to ignore the alternatives."

"Yah," the vixen replied in a soft voice. "I guess I can see how you might not want to go back. It's not like you have anything to look forward to other than me."

"Oh, don't get me wrong," he said, sitting up. "If all I had to look forward to was being with you, I wouldn't let anything stop me. I just…" He paused, searching for the right words. "It's just that there's no point in me going back if you don't really want me there." He leaned against the side rail again and looked out at the grasses of an open field. "We'd both be better off going out separate ways if that's the case. Until I know for a fact what you want and why, I'm not making any plans."

Sheila started to reply but stopped herself. She watched the horse as it made its way down the meandering path, lost in thought as she contemplated a now very unsure future.

Lakash lay in a meadow of grass that swayed gently with the breeze. Before him stood the translucent, glowing image of Arden, his ghostly visage not having any noticeable effect on the surroundings. The dragon stirred, lifting its titanic head from the ground and looking down on the small, flickering image. "Have you done as instructed?"

The man nodded, "I have."

"And if she doesn't tell the truth?" the dragon prompted.

"Then per our agreement, I'll not return to her world." He crossed his arms as he glowered at the dragon. "And if she does, you'll keep your end of the bargain? You'll ensure that no matter what happens, I'm returned to her world and that nobody will interfere with our kids until after they turn twenty?"

"Of course," Lakash replied, his head giving a slight nod. "I always keep my bargains."

Arden frowned. "Why doesn't that give me a warm, fuzzy feeling?"

The dragon chuckled as the aura faded, taking the man's image with it. He waved his hand, summoning an image in the air of Nanuk who sat in her cottage, sipping a cup of tea. "You heard?"

"We may be old, but we are not deaf," the polar bear retorted. "We heard. You'll lose your bet, dragon. Both of them."

Lakash laughed, causing the grass to shudder in waves at the sound. "You're mighty confident, considering that you no longer hold any sway over the female."

"Perhaps," the bear replied, nodding in acknowledgement. "We know this woman. We are confident that she will do as we expect."

Again, the dragon laughed. "Indeed." He leaned towards the image and grinned, but it held no humor, only threat. "You better hope that they don't discover the truth about you and your imminent demise, or I will own you."

Nanuk simply smiled and waved a hand, causing her image to fade from his view. Lakash rolled his enormous bulk over onto its back and stretched out. "Silly bear. Ruddygore knows the truth and will surely tell your champion. Let's see how well you do when that happens." Again a rumble of laughter echoed up from the cavernous mouth, and didn't fade for quite some time.