It’s a start.
The house Ahri comes home to is empty and dark. There’s not much there, just piles of paper scattered all over amongst coffee mugs long since abandoned. You’d think after a millennia or so of living she’d have found a better organization system but, eh. Piles work just fine. Normally, it would be the start of another long, coffee-scented night amongst the long-winded articles, half-baked notes and proposals, and a frankly ungodly amount of ungraded student papers…But tonight. Tonight the press of deadlines can’t touch her because in her hands was now the official document outlining her position as the new Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Targon University.
Dropping her bags, she zips through the tiny apartment and giddily flings her bedroom door open. A few quick spins on her desk chair later and she settles at the desktop in the corner of her room, firing it up and immediately calling her best friend. Evelynn was a terrifying woman, off doing terrifying business for a case out in a place that really doesn’t matter right now because as soon as Eve picks up:
“I got it.”
It takes a moment for the other woman to process what Ahri says. Possibly because of the unhinged expression being broadcasted through the screen. But a smile slowly unfurls across Evelynn’s face and she beams right back at her, eyes glowing with pride.
“So it seems the pathetic oompa loompas that make up our board finally saw the jewel hanging right in front of them,” she quips. “And here I was thinking I’d have to give them another…nudge in the right direction.”
"Eve we talked about this –“
“Save it, sweetheart. We can talk about your precious ethics against my absolutely warranted gesture of good faith some other time. For now, tell me what you’re wearing.”
“We’re in a video call.”
“And I can see you’re still in that get-up and not out painting the town red like you should be.”
Her ears flick in annoyance. She’s right and Ahri hates it. Hates that she can’t go out anymore because someone’s bound to recognize her, what with her fox ears and all. The unfortunate truth is that she’s always just one …Vine? TikTok? Away from getting a bad rep and she’s not about to shred her brand new career for that. She’d put on a wig, but that would be a new low.
“You know I can’t right?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I won’t encourage it.”
A sigh escapes blood red lips. “Ahri, love, I know what it’s like – but you have got to at least do something.”
The conversation moves on late into the night as Eve and her play catch-up, and that something ends up being an entire bottle of wine down Ahri’s throat. Even Evelynn seems impressed. Nice. Eventually though, the time zones force Eve to take her leave. They were working women after all.
“Try not to scalp someone until I touch down next week,” are Eve’s parting words.
The call disconnects and Ahri is left to the familiar dim lighting of her room.
Wine-drunk she wanders around her space, ears and tail limp from the relaxation that washes over her. She really can’t believe it. There’s still all of those papers to grade and dishes to clean but. Staring at the paper in her hands, she finally has it. A voice, a foothold, however small it might be.
A flash of something dances across her vision, kind words and a soft touch from a friend long gone. They might’ve been proud. That or telling her to get her shit together. Her buzzed mind can’t really do the translating. Still, her hand reaches out, finds a pen and writes it down on a post-it. She really shouldn’t be this excited – official or not, it’s just another slip of paper and lord knows her apartment is already covered in that.
It’s a start.
There might have been a little bit of regret the morning after. Head throbbing and eyes overly sensitive to the light peeking through her window, Ahri shuffles to the kitchenette and sticks the pitcher under the coffee maker. The scent of the coffee is overwhelming and makes her queasy, but she knows she needs it – especially if she wants to survive today. A quick look at the clock and a groan escapes her lips. FUCK it’s early. Why was she up?
A bubble of joy erupts from somewhere in the back of her mind and her eyes fly wide open. Its real. It’s on her desk. HOLY FUCK it’s real.
The coffee maker makes a gurgle. Ah. The papers she didn’t grade are still, just as real.
Coffee in hand, Ahri moves back to her room to groom her ears and tail. She could glamour them of course, but the extra five minutes of brushing that it takes until her fur naturally shines is worth it. Gumiho are an old species and it’s with pride that she bears them. It’s extra worth it knowing how far she made it while never compromising that, she thinks with a smile.
Magic had often commanded respect in the past. The sort of deference that comes with respecting a force of nature. But as the years wore on and the human world slowly bridged the gap between magic and science, that respect warped and distorted into something disgusting. It wasn’t that magic and those that had it died out. They were cast out. “De-humanized” you could call it (Eve preferred demonized, but not everyone fell into that category). But that would make human the standard…and that was the whole problem…Ahri hums to herself. Humiliated wasn’t the right word either…she could look into that for a topic to lecture on…she could see the title – “the structure, function, and evolution of non-committal sounds into derogatory language”…actually, what did lead to that word getting popular – perhaps…
Ahri rubs at her eyes and works through a knot in her tail in annoyance. It was too early to run through this now familiar debate with herself. Prejudice can wait five fucking minutes.
Speaking of, if there was anything that really needed to wait five minutes, it would be the goddamn train. Ahri raced forward, toting several books in her bag and catching papers as they flew out. Thank the gods for her gumiho reflexes. Reflexes that just barely had her tail through the threshold as the doors slid to a close. This was her least favorite part of the day and judging by the emotions that flitted through her senses, everyone in the train car agreed. Yeah, it would sure be convenient to live near campus. But the rent was worlds cheaper where she lived now and the air wasn’t constantly saturated with anxiety, lust (ew), and despair. College students really were something else in the emotions department. She didn’t need them to add to her own. And…how were they referring to it now? “Gays who can’t drive”? Yeah, she fell right into that category.
So here she stands, amongst the sea of bodies, barely afforded personal space. At least people knew the absolute disrespect that came with touching another species’ body parts. Still, she curled her tail as close to her body as she could, ears flat as to shield from the worst of the creaking of the train. Each stop let her breathe a little easier as people filtered through. In and out, in and out, like the steady beat of a drum. When the train finally cleared enough for her to snag a seat, her body caved and she slumped into the grimy window. She’d done it enough to know that she would wake just in time.
A familiar voice signals her stop and Ahri moves in a stupor. Rude. Just when she was about to enter one of her memories. But the sun was shining and today, she was now an assistant professor. It couldn’t be that bad.
Unfortunately. She was just an assistant professor.
“Congratulations!” How fake. Did they forget that I could sense their emotions? “Are you sure you can handle it? Man, it’s gonna be a lot of work from here on out,” He says with a low whistle.
Why yes, it sure will be, yes, thank you. With a strained smile plastered onto her face, Ahri wordlessly nodded and went back to nursing her third cup of coffee today.
“I think I might be next! I mean, my work practically speaks for itself” Man he really wasn’t going to stop today huh.
Oh, how she wished to just charm the man and lead him away from her. But that would also be unethical, she muses. Ethics… A quality this man obviously didn’t have when he shamelessly stole some of my lecture prep to use as his own. That was a fucking week’s worth of work down the drain! God I can’t believe I had to avoid plagiarizing myself. Your work MY fucking ASS.
She came to this secluded section of campus for a reason, a reason that remained unlit in her back pocket, much to her annoyance. Why was he here again? Right. Posturing. I suppose all people get their kicks somehow. The mental image of kicking him entered her view. That, I could get behind.
She flicks her wrist, deliberately showing her “watch.” A warning. Gumiho had gotten with the times and developed ways of feeding using tech like hers. Small devices that harmlessly converted ambient emotional energy into food. But their past reputation precedes them. The man winces and it’s all Ahri can do not to smirk.
“Sorry, it seems I might be running a bit low,” she turns to her colleague, “I’m going to let you go , and let’s continue this some other time yeah?”
And with that she heads back to the main grounds. Eve would’ve been proud of that one, she’s sure. Ok Eve would have docked some points for “lack of subtlety.” Fifteen minutes. She has fifteen minutes until another damn faculty meeting, but you know what? She signed up for this (assistant professor and all that). Ahri lets out a long exhale.
Fifteen – her feet automatically shuttle her off to another one of her secret haunts and she quickly reaches into her back pocket. Not gonna risk it this time.
Thankfully, she doesn’t get bothered again and she enters the faculty meeting in a slightly less ticked off mood. She forces her ears and tail to perk up though. It’s one of those faculty meetings they hold in the middle of the first quarter to “check up on the well-being of the staff.” They run a small presentation on the direction of the rest of the year, how things are going, changes they’d like to introduce, student ratings...important, but not at all related to the mountain of work she has to get through by the end of the day. There’s a few new faces, a lot of them chatting and networking with a vengeance. Figures. At least Ahri can finally stop doing that because of her new position. There was this one tall woman in the corner, silently watching over everything with a peculiar expression. Guarded? Curious? Meh. Ahri feels sorry for some of the chattier hires – hopefully they weren’t all pity hires for “diversity.” God that was a horrible thing to even think about, but it’s true. She half wonders if she was one of those.
It’s off to the races after that. The day passes in a blur of lecture prep, actual lecture, answering questions, office hours. A nice chat with Akali, bless her soul. More coffee…she would drink something else but it’s a bit too early to spike her cup (even for her).
“How about water,” Akali says.
“How about you grade my papers?”
Touché. It’s a win in Ahri’s book. She makes no comment when she finds one of those tiny bottles of water in her bag a few hours later. Bless her soul indeed.
She gets home, naps, and gets ready to do it all over again. Assistant professor . Fuck. Indeed she was.
It’s slightly annoying how absolutely normal everything stays. The train runs, she runs, and her lectures are still just as exhausting and irrelevant to her research as they were before. It’s only been a week. Yikes.
The high of assistant professor quickly dissolves into oh God now how do I get tenured. She’s stuck. Well, stuck in a better place, but still. She’s stuck. Her head rests on the cool surface of the whiteboard in her office as she goes through the list of things she needs to do to get noticed. Run a committee. Write an article. Maybe two. Who knows. Get them published. What was that one project she abandoned? Have to finish that one too. Hmm. Do a talk…but when? Something else…?
Ahri’s mind goes utterly blank until she notices a shock of pink hair entering her peripheral vision.
“Oh! I thought I might find you here!”
Ahri is about to snap, tail beginning to bristle – because Yes, it’s her office, where else would she be . But no. It’s the familiar sight of the current light of her life, Seraphine.
“Uh. You have…” Seraphine points to her forehead.
Of course she did. Ahri wipes at her forehead without much grace as Seraphine just smirks and continues.
“I’ve double-checked some of the sources on these papers. A few think they’re slick, but the rest are golden. Well. Not the most…golden content but there are a few jewels here and there…”
Ah…her beloved TA, untarnished and always on the bright side. It’s a bit scary, all things considered, but it’s a quality that Ahri can’t help but celebrate and encourage. The world would definitely be a more abysmal place without people like her.
“…Though a few did cite Wikipedia,” A bell-like chuckle. “One student actually made quite the argument about the legitimacy of information and how, in this day and age, Wikipedia is nearly as reliable as any other source. ‘Treat it with respect for the actual locus of knowledge it is.’ And, I gotta say, they’re kinda right…if only they spent some of that energy on the actual paper…”
“Oh, but I’m rambling, sorry – they’re done!”
Ahri blinks slowly. God bless her. She really did put the Sera in sera-tonin. Wait.
“You cut your hair! It looks great.” Ahri takes a moment to figure out if it’s been like that for a while, hoping she didn’t straight up miss that in the last week. It’s quite the change too – from nearly waist long pink hair to a sharp pixie. She looks older. The slight flush on Seraphine’s cheeks is encouraging.
“Thank you! It was honestly getting in the way, and you know what it’s like. It’s getting to be that time where I need to be taken seriously…”
“Well, I’m glad you kept it pink.” And Ahri is. She remembers the nights with Akali when she first started, complaining over shitty beer about how God she’s pulled out all stops and done all the work, why wasn’t she getting in? Akali looked her dead in the eye and told her that she looked too good. Normally, that would’ve been a compliment. But looks were a double-edged sword in this line of work. Bat your eyes and you can get a lot of favors, get to places faster than you could otherwise. That is, until some people start saying that that was all you could do.
She cut her hair herself that morning.
It wasn’t her best work, obviously, because Eve took one look at her and immediately took her to a salon. But Eve’s eyes were hardened steel and her grip tense. Ahri had loved her long hair for the better part of a century. Eve loved it too. But they knew.
Seraphine’s face began to fall slightly, and Ahri was definitely not having that today. No one else needed to be tired other than her – she’s had hundreds of years of practice and this kid still had the rest of her life.
“Hey – I did take a look at your abstract the other day. It’s brilliant stuff. There’s a few changes I’d like to discuss with you, but otherwise? I think you’ve set up really solid scaffolding. Not to toot my own horn here, but it’s looking like a paper even I would like to read.”
There’s a small smile and Ahri is relieved.
“Sweet! Thank you so much – I think you’ve just lit a fire under my ass, so I’ll be off then. Ah. I’ll run interference, professor Kick-His-Face-In is coming in hot.”
Ahri chuckles. “If I could, I’d have given you your PhD just for that.”
She’s just about to go back to moping when she hears another set of footsteps approaching. Oh no, Sera’s interference didn’t work – but only smooth and sleek greets her. Eve.
“How’s our new resident assistant professor doing?” There’s clearly something behind those eyes. “Emphasis on ass .” There it is.
“Tired as fuck, now hurry up and close the door, you-know-who is around the corner.”
“If I didn’t know you better, I’d have thought you were asking for a quickie.” Eve stretches out like a cat on the little couch she managed to fit into her office.
“Been there,” Ahri rakes her eyes over Eve’s lithe form in faux interest, “ Done THAT .”
“And the fangs are out so soon. Though really. Tell me how you’ve been, the bags under your eyes are so big they might as well be Gucci. And while I love my Gucci, I can’t say I love that for you .”
Ahri squirms in her seat. Eve’s right again. For a demon, she really did do a lot more to care for her than herself sometimes. Her eyes dart to her empty mug and an even emptier coffee machine. Fatal mistake.
“Oh honey. No.” She sniffs. “Oh my god I can even smell instant coffee. You are definitely not good.”
Ahri winces and a whine escapes lips – desperate times, desperate measures ? She braces for the inevitable. Instead, Eve just stares, a small groove forming in between her eyebrows.
“Alright, I won’t push. But what’s the use of that title if you can’t even make it past the week?... Hello?”
The week. Yeah. Wait. Only a week, holy shit it’s only been a week. Oh dear. There’s so much to do and none of it has been done yet, let alone started. Oh. Oh…oh no. Are all weeks gonna be like this? Well. Nothing tragically new has really happened and yet everything has happened . Who the hell made the term week? When did we all collectively decide it was 7 days…days…as a concept…hmm –
“…Hello?” Right. Who…? There’s a flash of something and Ahri panics because the next moment, it’s gone. A hand rests on hers and she starts. She looks from her desk and the couch is empty. Eve the warmth on her shoulder reminds her. Eve is still there. Good. She takes a pen out and jots something down on a post-it. Safe.
There’s a tense look in Eve’s eyes, even as clawed hands gently card through her short hair, delicately scratching the base of her ears.
“Are you done for the day?” The words are uncharacteristically soft, and Ahri feels bad. It’s not humiliating, no. But Evelynn has always been sharp. Sharp voice, sharper claws. She is a demon after all. It was simply against her nature to handle things with care – but here she was.
“Yeah.” It’s a lie, but suddenly she feels all of her momentum slam against a wall and the weight of the day sinks into her.
“Let’s go home.”