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This story was prompted by [livejournal.com profile] silvercat17, who wanted shapeshifting for money.  It was sponsored by the general fund.  Happy Wealthathon, everyone!

CareGivers

May started every morning putting on her face for the day.

It was a common misconception among shapestatics that a shapeshifter had a ‘natural’ form most comfortable for them. Not so for May. Unless she focused, her shape was constantly changing in response to her environment and her emotional state, and when she slept, she turned into a featureless blob.

Today, she felt calm and content. Her ‘auntie’ face, then. Lined, because she felt experienced, and with big wrinkles from a life of smiles. Nice brown skin for the sunny day outside. Padding, to keep out the chill of autumn. She put on her favorite blouse and sweater, and smiled at her reflection. Her last touch was to turn her hair bright pink; it made her easier to identify for her coworkers, who were all shapestatics.

A short bus ride and a walk later, she arrived at a three-story gingerbread house, sheltered by a large weeping willow. There was no sign. CareGivers preferred not to attract walk-ins.

Eboo was already taking messages when she came in the door. He glanced up from his notepad to smile at May and give her a reverse-nod. May returned the smile, waved, and then hurried on.

Her first client wasn’t for hours, but every attachment surrogate at CareGivers also did other tasks. Eboo did phones. May was stagehand. Like many shapeshifters, she’d been involved in theatre, but she’d always been better at set design than actual acting.

Richard would be using the gym for a morning appointment with a collegiate athlete. He’d requested a ‘macho flavor,’ with characteristic courtesy. After giving the gym a quick sweep and a mop, May put the free weights in the center of the room under the lights, and moved the aerobic machines into the corners, less visible. She had no trouble moving anything; her muscles automatically shifted for her needs. Putting a Playboy calendar on the wall, she paused to resume her auntie shape, ran a spot-check, nodded with satisfaction, and moved on.

She was readying the kitchen for her own appointment later when Eboo stuck his head in. His expression was apologetic.

“Sacha just called in sick,” he said.

“Oh no, again?” Sacha caught everything. “Do you need help rescheduling his appointments?”

“No, Leona and I have it covered, but there’s a one-timer who’s been trying to get in for months. He’s been rescheduled twice already, and he has a temper. Could you…?”

“Sure. Give me his file, I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, May, you’re a life-saver.”

She didn’t get to check the file until lunch. Richard had a last minute schedule shuffle, which sent her scrambling to get the den ready in time. The amount of lifting and moving let her with four muscular arms and a torn blouse, and it took her a quarter hour of focus before she was back in face. Then she grabbed a pair of bifocals, pulled on orthopedic shoes and a shawl, and took care of her first appointment, baking cookies and letting a paralegal vent about performance evaluations. Then there was clean up.

Finally, she got to look at the one-timer. The photo of him looked nice enough. A round, teddy bear face, thinning hair. May automatically shifted to more closely match him, trading out brown skin for white, softening her features, redistributing her body’s padding. Then she saw that he’d specifically requested a male caregiver, and shifted to reflect that.

His face sheet read, in meticulous handwriting, “I have long had a fantasy of a loving relationship with a warm paternal figure in my life. I hope you can help me fulfill that fantasy.” The sheet went on to describe, in elaborate detail, the physical appearance of his ideal surrogate.

Hmm. May felt an alarm bell tingle. Until recently, Leona had personally interviewed all prospective clients, (a process she referred to as ‘weeding,’) but lately, business had gotten so brisk that she’d dropped a few. For a moment, May considered bringing the file to Leona and asking her to look over it.

But then again, perhaps it was nothing. Some clients were awkward in print, but fine in person. Besides, after two reschedules, May didn’t want to outright cancel on him this late in the day. If he’d gotten this far through the process, it only seemed fair to see him, and May was still the newbie on staff. She didn’t want to give the impression of not being up to a challenge. Surely it’d be fine.

All new clients had their first meeting in a neutral room with potted plants and calm landscape paintings, meant to evoke calmness and little else. Prep took five minutes. Then May settled in front of the mirror to put on an appropriate face.

She was almost finished when Richard dropped in with lunch and made a double take.

“Sorry,” he said ruefully, handing her a cheeseburger. “You’d think I’d be used to it by now.”

She smiled at him and unhinged her jaw to swallow the burger whole, just to see his face. It was just as well; the client arrived a minute later.

The session started smoothly enough. Introductions, small talk. He talked about his childhood, his family, his feelings and goals, and everything seemed to be going fine.

Things began to go awry when May disclosed she was a shapeshifter. She’d found it was better to warn them early, in case she involuntarily shifted during an appointment. This client didn’t seem bothered, only intrigued. Too intrigued.

“A shapeshifter? So you could be anyone I wanted?”

“My appearance is variable, but I’m still me.”

He shifted his chair closer to her. “You know, like this, you look a little like my father…”

Under her clothing, May felt her skin ripple, harden. She didn’t like his tone, but tried to keep her voice level.

“Attachment surrogates aren’t intended to replace a specific person,” she explained. “We’re only intended to be supportive figures.”

“I’m the one paying your salary. Don’t I get a say in this?”

May felt her features sharpen. Actually, Leona paid her salary, but she had no desire to share that. Suddenly she understood why Sacha had originally gotten this client; he could handle anyone. “My bodily appearance is not part of this service.”

The client’s volume rose. “Now look here. You people have been giving me the run-around for months. I’m not asking for much. All I want is to pay a hundred dollars to spend half an hour with my father who loves me.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” May said. “That’s not the service we provide. We are attachment surrogates, not your father.”

He smacked the table. “I don’t believe this! You’re telling me—”

“I’m sorry for your inconvenience, sir, but I think it’s best that we end the session. This is—”

“You’re the only goddamn shapeshifter parental rental in this goddamned country!” The client shouted. “You’re the only one who can give me what I want, and—”

May stood up, holding her hands out pacifically. “I’m sure if we got to the front desk together, we can—”

He lunged at her.

May’s response was automatic. Her body contracted, hardened, and sprouted tentacles. By the time Richard and Leona arrived, the client was shrieking and rocking in a corner.

May didn’t know how Richard and Leona got him out of their building. She was too busy regaining her composure and her shape, while Eboo made soothing noises and brewed chamomile tea.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, spooning in honey. “I should’ve kept him with Sacha, or asked Leona to deal with him…”

“It’s all right,” May said, forcing her body to hold lips, tongue, and vocal cords. “I’m so sorry, I should have better control than that.”

Leona appeared at the door, and Eboo and May automatically sat up straight. “That would be useful,” she boomed, “but a client like that shouldn’t have gotten an appointment in the first place. It’s my responsibility to weed; the failing’s mine, and it won’t happen again. In the future, if anyone gives you the creeps, I highly advise you come straight to me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” May said quickly.

Leona nodded and left. Eboo and May relaxed, and Eboo let his breath out with a whoosh.

“She took that very well,” he said.

“Yes. Yes she did,” May said, and sipped her tea.

She took the rest of the day off.
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