Chapter 24: A Vixen For The Night
Cosmo entered one of the many dress shops within Wall Market after leaving the red light district. A disgruntled Tails followed right behind her and she could feel him glowering at her. She knew that what happened at The Peacock Tail Inn was making him bitter towards her, but she paid it no mind.
Looking around, Cosmo noted mentally that this shop was less shabby than the other three they visited previously. The walls and floors were peeling slightly, but they were free of grime and dust. The racks were filled with dresses of various colours, patterns and styles and the garments themselves were of fair quality, with no visible holes or tears. At the back was a small dressing room, its curtain open and ready for use.
A bored-looking yak with heavy, drooping eyelids stood behind the counter by the door, her eyes glued to a magazine in her hand. She looked up at the two a few moments after they entered. “Can I help you?” she drawled, chewing on a piece of gum.
“Yes,” Cosmo replied earnestly. “We’re looking for a dress.”
The clerk gave her a tired smile, set the magazine down and walked around the counter. She led Cosmo to the back rack of dresses. “These ones are ready-made and need only a few alterations to fit,” she said.
The flower girl picked through the rack while Tails remained by the counter. A pretty, crimson A-line dress caught her eye. The dress was cut with a V-neckline and had thin straps on the shoulder The skirt flared out and had pieces of lace sewn into it to mimic the appearance of rose petals. The hem ended at the knee and on each side of the bodice going down the length of the dress were three thin stripes of sheer crimson fabric intermeshed with the dress material.
Cosmo’s eyes hovered on the dress. She then took some of the fabric into her hand and ran her fingers along the soft material. ‘I wonder what Spikes would have thought about this one…‘ she ruminated. A pang of sadness struck her and she shook her head slightly to clear her mind. She turned back to the store clerk and cleared her throat to get her attention. “Uh… Excuse me, but do you have something that would… uh… fit him?” she asked, pointing her finger at Tails, who shot her another glare from the cashier counter he was leaning on.
“Um…” the yak faltered, her eyes wide. Her gaze shifted between the two Mobians and she looked visibly uncomfortable. “Well, the thing is… that… umm…” She let out a deep sigh. “It might take a little while to get a custom dress, is that OK?”
Cosmo let out a breath she didn’t realize she held in. “Oh great! I thought you were going to say you wouldn’t make dresses for men!” she exclaimed. “You’d be the fourth one to say that-”
“Are you kidding me?” the clerk cut in, taken aback. Her lips curled into a broad smile. “My dad can make ANYBODY look good in a dress! He’s one of the best dressmakers in the slums. Possibly in all of Megapolis for that matter!” She suddenly sighed again, giving Cosmo a deflated look.
“What’s the problem?” Cosmo asked, frowning.
“Well, he’s been in a bit of a slump lately. Hasn’t been able to make any new dresses, so…” she trailed off looking away.
Cosmo nodded. “And where is your father?” she pressed inquisitively.
“He’s probably at the bar, getting plastered or something.”
“OK… so you’re saying we can’t get a dress unless we do something about your father?”
“Yeah, I’m so sorry,” the yak replied, apologetically. “He’s been a real problem lately and-”
“We’ll help you find him.”
The yak paused, her mouth parting at the reassuring expression on the flower girl’s face. “… Really? You’d help bring him back?” she asked, bewildered.
“Yeah,” Cosmo shrugged. “Well, we can’t get a dress if we don’t do something, right?”
“Oh thank you so much!” the clerk said, her voice thick with relief. “Please help my crazy old dad, I just don’t know what to do with him anymore…”
Cosmo winked. “Don’t worry, we’ll do something about it!” she said. “Now, could you tell us which bar he went to?”
Once the clerk had given them directions, Tails and Cosmo set out into the now busy streets. She could still feel the fox scowling at her as they took the left fork towards the far end of the Wall Market, and she was beginning to get annoyed at his attitude. ‘Alright, that’s enough,’
Cosmo stopped abruptly in the middle of the street. “OK, Tails, you need to get over yourself,” she admonished, turning around to face him. “If there was any other way to do this, I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, this is the only plan we have.”
Tails looked taken aback by the flower girl’s abrupt tone. He let out a sigh after recovering from his initial shock. “Yeah, I know,” he said, pinching the space between his eyes. He raised his head and looked at her. “…Sorry.”
Cosmo smiled gently at the fox. “Well, I can understand why you were mad in the first place,” she said, swaying on the spot. “If I were you… I’d probably be mad too, come to think of it?”
Tails smirked. “Yeah. But we’re in the thick of it now, so I guess there’s no use getting upset over it,” he said. “Let’s go find this guy then and get it all over with.” He strode off to a bar on the left, opposite a junk shop. Cosmo followed behind him.
They entered the bar at the peak of the lunch rush. It was packed with Mobians and a few Humans who kept to themselves in a corner. They watched as one of their own bravely made their way to a karaoke stage at the far end of the bar.
Scanning through the throng, Cosmo spotted a lone yak with a weathered face sitting at the bar counter, nursing a drink, his head hung low. “That’s probably our guy,” she pointed out to Tails.
They approached and Cosmo tapped his shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said in a honey-like tone. “Are you the father of the girl at the clothing shop?”
The yak swiveled around on the stool he sat on. He squinted at the flower girl. “I own the clothes shop,” he slurred. “Buh I ain’t yer father.”
“I didn’t say that…” Cosmo muttered.
“Make me some clothes,” Tails interjected, stepping forward. He gave the dressmaker his most intimidating glare, but the older man laughed it off.
“Ha, piss off ya little shit,” he guffawed, causing the fox to falter slightly. “I don’t make men’s clothes and even if I did, I ain’t in any mood to make ’em.” He swung back to the bar counter. “Now, if ya excuse me, I’d like to get back to my drinking, so both of ya fuck off…”
The two stepped back from the drunk. Cosmo leaned into Tails’ ear. “Hey, let me take care of this,” she whispered. “Go check and see if they have anything good to eat while I deal with him.” She jerked a thumb back to the yak, rolling her eyes all the while.
Tails sighed, gave her a look that said ‘I hope you know what you’re doing,’ and then moved to another table away from the bar.
The flower girl steeled herself before approaching the yak once more. ‘Alright Cosmo, time to turn on that patented charm of yours…‘
She rested her back against the counter and turned her head to face the drunk seamster.”You know mister,” she said in an offhand tone. “That guy I was with, he always wanted to dress like a girl. Which is why I wanted to get a cute dress for him.”
The yak spat out his drink violently onto the counter and had a coughing fit. After bringing himself under control, he whipped his head towards the flower girl, his eyes bulging in shock. “You’re shitting me right?” he choked out. “That tough-looking guy?”
“Uh-huh,” Cosmo smiled. ‘Time to go in for the kill.’ “So, how about it? Will you make him one?”
Despite being slightly intoxicated, Cosmo could see that he was mulling over his options. His eyes trailed over to the fox, who was reading off of a menu at another table away from them.
“…Might be interestin’. I was gettin’ a touch bored makin’ regular dresses,” he murmured to her a minute later, his eyes sweeping up and down Tails’ muscular body. He then turned back to her and nodded firmly. “Screw it, let’s do it then girlie. How do you want the dress?” He took another sip from his glass.
Cosmo smiled giddily. “Great!” she said. She placed a finger on her chin and tapped it, thinking. “So let’s see… How about something soft… and something that shimmers.” She clapped her hands happily. “Yes! Let’s go with those.”
The dressmaker downed his drink and let out a satisfied sigh. “Alright, I got it,” he said. “You two help me back to the store so I can get measurements. When d’ya need it for?”
The yak harrumphed. “Gonna be kind of tight, but I’ll get ‘er done.” He turned to the barkeep. “Hey Jones, put ’em on my tab; you know I’m good for it!” Then he stood up, staggering. “OK girlie, let’s go.”
Tails ground his teeth as he stood on a pedestal, his armor and sword removed and arms spread out. The dressmaker – who introduced himself as Tom before he threw up on a wall next to the bar – had layered fabric all over him and was pinning him in various places, all while muttering to himself.
“Hrm… what to do about that second tail…” Tom trailed off as he inspected the appendage. “…I think I got an idea…”
The fox suppressed the urge to both sigh petulantly and roll his eyes. ‘How much longer is this gonna take?’
Cosmo stood on the other end of the room, her hand underneath her chin. She looked critically over the fox, taking in all of the areas that the dressmaker pinned. “Something’s off here…” she said out loud. Tails then saw her face glow as a thought dawned on her. “A wig! That’s what will put it all together!”
Tom the dressmaker sniffed. “I figured as much,” he grumbled, inserting the final pins around Tails. Raising his head up over the fox’s shoulder, he addressed his daughter. “Nance, call up ‘The Beautiful Bro’ at the gym, tell ’em there’s a guy like him lookin’ to get a wig and some other stuff.”
As his daughter picked up the phone, a happy smile crossing her lips, the dressmaker removed the fabric off of the fox. “Alright, you’re done, get off,” he said. He turned to Cosmo. “Girlie, go meet the Bro at the gym. It’s the right path in the fork near the bar ya two found me in. Dress’ll be done by quarter to eight.”
Tails strapped on his armor and sword and quickly left the shop with Cosmo. “… ‘like him’? I can’t believe this,” he muttered to her as they walked up the street. “Did you tell him anything back at the bar?”
Cosmo shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter, Tails,” she said nonchalantly. “At least we’re getting ourselves a pretty dress for the operation tonight!”
The two took the right path and headed towards a large, domed structure at the far end. Inside was a large gym, replete with weights and fitness machines. On the side opposite the weights was a boxing ring. A jaguar and a gorilla were doing squats in the ring, both wearing tight wrestling singlets. At the centre, watching them carefully, was a statuesque tigress who looked completely out of place. She wore a tight fitting skirt, a light blue blouse and her fiery, orange hair was held back by a hairband. She tapped a heeled shoe impatiently as though she was waiting for someone.
‘That must be the person we’re lookin’ for,‘ Tails thought as they approached the tigress. She turned to face the two Mobians and Tails recoiled in shock.
‘She’ was actually a ‘he’.
The tiger eyed them critically. “So, you two are the one’s dear Nancy had mentioned,” he said in an airy voice. “And you, darling,” they looked at the fox. “You’re the one who wants to be cute?”
“Yeah, cute,” Cosmo interjected before Tails could reply. “So, you’re the Beautiful Bro?”
“Of course honey!” They laughed delicately. “Isn’t it obvious? Anyway, I hear you’re looking for a few things for tonight, hmm?”
“That’s right,” Tails replied, his initial shock wearing off. “We heard you have a wig?”
“And that I do, sweetie!” The Beautiful Bro exclaimed, smiling. “But if you want it, you’ll have to earn it.”
“Yeah!” The two Mobians in the ring hopped out, standing side by side with The Beautiful Bro. The gorilla pounded his chest and bellowed loudly. “Little brother, the only way you’ll get cuter is by beating the Beautiful Bro’s squat challenge!” he exclaimed, his voice rumbling like thunder. “Are you brave enough to try?!”
‘A challenge?‘ Tails smirked, looking up and into the gorilla’s eyes. “You’re on. What do I have to do?”
As he listened to The Beautiful Bro explain the challenge, Tails dimly heard a voice in his head. It seemed familiar to him…
“…ails, Tails,” the voice tsked. “Have you learned nothing? The only way you’re gonna get as fast as me is by doing lots and lots of squats! I’m tellin’ ya little buddy, you gotta get Quads of Steel if you ever wanna catch up with me!”
“…so do you understand?” The Beautiful Bro asked the fox.
“Yeah, do as many squats within 30 seconds, crystal,” Tails replied cockilly. ‘Where was that from?’ he questioned. ‘And who, exactly, was talking to me?’
“Urrgh! Big Bro’s wig is MINE!” the simian grunted, breaking Tails’ train of thought. He was showboating to the now growing crowd. “You’re goin’ DOWN!”
“Settle down now,” The Beautiful Bro said, waving his hand. They turned to Tails. “It’s not fair for you to start right away without warming up. Would you like to practice?”
“Nope,” Tails replied, shaking his head. “Don’t need practice.”
“Fair enough, honey,” the tiger shrugged. “Then on the count of three, squat as many times as you can within thirty seconds!”
The group around them started to cheer as the two competitors faced each other. “Good luck Tails!” he heard Cosmo shout behind him.
‘I don’t need luck to win,‘ he thought to himself as he settled into position. ‘All I need are my Quads of Steel!‘
“Three… Two… One… Go!”
“I have to admit, I’m pretty impressed,” Cosmo chortled as the two headed back to the dress shop. In her hand were a luxurious orange-blonde wig, a diamond tiara and a small, delicate-looking bottle filled with clear liquid. “You certainly quieted the room! Thirty squats in thirty seconds-“
“It would have been thirty-one,” Tails interrupted smugly. “I was halfway through that last rep when the clock stopped.”
‘OK there, hotshot.‘ “Well, at least we got the wig, and the Beautiful Bro was kind enough to throw in this tiara and perfume,” she said. “With all these in hand, we’ll have you looking like a proper lady in no time!”
“Don’t remind me,” Tails huffed, some of his bravado fading away at the mention of wearing a dress.
Cosmo giggled. ‘Looks like I found his weak point.‘
They passed by a general store when Cosmo stopped suddenly. “Hold on a second Tails,” she said. “I just need to grab something from the store. Do you mind waiting here for a moment?”
Entering the shop before he could open his mouth, she hurried to the counter and purchased a disposable camera. Stashing it into her coat pocket, she returned to Tails. “Thanks for waiting,” she said, smiling at him. “Let’s go.”
“What did you have to pick up?” the fox asked pointedly.
‘LIE!’ “Oh, just girl stuff,” she answered quickly, averting his gaze. “You’re so nosy sometimes, Tails.”
He rolled his eyes in response.
The sound of arguing welcomed them back as they returned to the dress shop. “So let me get this straight; you’re seriously going to sell dresses to both women AND men?! ” Nancy yelled out, looking exasperated. “You’re crazy, there’s no way that’s gonna w-“
“Of course it’ll work!” Her father cut in loudly. He was grinning merrily as he put the final touches on the dress. “It’s all about inclusivity these days ain’t it?! I’m tellin’ ya, people from all kinds will flock to this shop for dresses of all different styles and tastes!” He looked to the door and saw Tails and Cosmo gawking at them. “And here’s the girlie and my muse!”
Nancy walked over to them, nonplussed at her father’s demeanour. “Welcome back you two,” she said wearily. “As you can see, my dad’s got his mojo back.” She then dropped her voice down to a mutter. “Not sure if that’s a good thing though…”
“Hey, foxy!” Tom the dressmaker called. “It’s ready and waiting in the dressing room. Thanks to you two, I’ve been inspired, so the dresses are on the house. Yours and the girlie’s! On that note,” he inclined his head towards the dressing room. “Go try it on and see how it fits.”
Steeling himself, Tails entered the dressing room and shut the curtain. The sounds of ruffling fabric could be heard from behind the curtain as the fox attempted to put on the garment. “How… do you put this on?” he grumbled. “And what’s with this pocket on the inside across the chest?”
“Oh yeah, that’s where you put one of your tails through,” Tom said. “Try slippin’ that in first before puttin’ the rest of the dress on.”
As Tails continued to get ready, Cosmo pulled out the camera from her jacket pocket and pointed it at the curtain, her finger poised over the trigger. She snickered softly. ‘Oh man, this is going to be great!’
The curtain was pulled back and Tails stepped out. He was resplendent in a shimmering, violet, form-fitting gown that covered his arms, chest and legs. He looked like he had breasts, thanks to one of his tails being stuffed in the inside pocket on the chest. On his waist was a red sash tied up into a large bow on his back. Atop his head were the blonde wig and tiara he won from The Beautiful Bro. His face was tinged in a shade of burning red as he slowly moved forward, the dress preventing him from taking his usual long strides.
Cosmo pressed the button on the camera several times as he came into view before quickly stashing it back into her pocket. ‘Hopefully they don’t come out blurry…’ “Oh wow, Tails,” she chimed, watching him move towards her. “Can you do a little twirl for us?”
Tails glared daggers at her before turning on the spot. On the back of his head were two, braided pigtails. Cosmo sniggered, trying very hard not to laugh. “You look really cute, Miss Tails,” she said.
“Holy shit,” Tom gaped, placing a hand on his forehead in disbelief, an ear-splitting grin on his face. “I’ve really outdone myself here! These are gonna sell like hotcakes!”
“You’re… delusional, dad,” Nancy said sardonically, giving him a withering look. “Men with dresses? It’ll never work…”
“Alright, now it’s my turn,” Cosmo said, cutting in before Tom and his daughter could start arguing again. “And I know just what-”
“I’ve got just the thing!” Tom exclaimed suddenly. He peered through the dress rack behind him and picked out an off-white, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress with a high slit that went down to the ankles. “This one would really accentuate your hair and eyes! Give this a try!”
Nancy huffed loudly, her patience wearing thin. “Ugh, dad, that’s too conservative!” she groaned. She thrust her hand into the rack and pulled out a form-fitting, shimmering emerald green dress that ended just above the knee. It had a deep, plunging V-neck that went down to the navel. “This one would be perfect for you! Really brings out your skin tone and shows off those legs!”
“No, THIS one would show her features off better!”
“Dad, as a woman, I think I know better how certain fashions look on certain people-”
“But I’M the one who taught you all you know about fash-”
“I’ll take this one!” Cosmo shouted over the two, pulling out the crimson, flower-patterned dress she saw earlier. “I’m going to change.” Both yaks gawked at her as she went to the dressing room. “And Tails,” she winked at him before she entered. “No peeking!”
She heard him grumble, “I wasn’t going to…” as she shut the curtain and shed her clothes, leaving the pendant on her neck. She took it in her hand and stared forlornly at the small, silver-green Emerald in its centre.
‘Remember why you’re here, Cosmo.’
She resumed dressing, slipping the garment over her head and then zipping herself up. She untied her hair ribbon, loosened her hair out of its braid and allowed it to spill down her back in waves. She checked her hair blossoms in the mirror before retying the ribbon at the back of her head. Finished, she then properly looked at her reflection in the mirror.
The dress she wore hugged and flaunted her curves and the crimson fabric contrasted well against her skin. The skirt flared out below her hips and ended with a lace hem just below her knees. The petal-like patterns crossed upward from the bottom of her left leg to the top of her right. The mirror behind her revealed that her entire back – from the neck to her waist – was exposed. The strips of mesh-like fabric teasingly exposed the skin on either side of her body from her chest down to her waist. A wave of embarrassment flooded over Cosmo and she blushed at the sight of her reflection.
“I’m pretty sure Spikes would have gone nuts if he saw me in this,” she murmured to herself.
“What did you say, Cosmo?”
Tails’ voice broke her out of her reverie. She sighed softly. ‘Back to reality, I suppose…‘
She opened the curtain and walked out. “It’s nothing. So, how do I look?” she asked them, twirling around to show them the dress. The hem of the skirt flared out playfully as she turned.
Tom’s and Nancy’s jaws both dropped at the sight of the beautiful Mobian. Tails however shrugged and looked away. “You look alright,” he said, his tone aloof and indifferent.
Cosmo whipped around and was about to give him a piece of her mind when she noticed the pink tinge on the fox’s cheeks. “Are you sure about that?” she said in a sing-song voice, grinning. The fox cocked his head to the side and gave her a bemused expression, to which she shook her head. “Oh, you’re no fun,” she retorted as she placed her hands on her hips.
Getting over her initial shock, Nancy then rounded the counter, ducked underneath and then pulled out a small black travelling bag. She unzipped and opened it to reveal a set of cosmetics. “Dad may be the master at dresses, but making you look pretty on top of that is my domain!” Directing Tails and Cosmo to sit down on a pair of stools by the counter, the yak went to work applying makeup on both Mobians. Fifteen minutes later, she stepped back and admired her handiwork. “Perfect,” she said brightly.
Cosmo looked over at Tails’ side profile. Nancy did little to his face, save for a bit of gloss and colouring on his cheeks. ‘Gee, Cream wasn’t lying when she said he had pretty, feminine features,’ she remarked, stifling a giggle.
Tom looked over the two and clapped his hands loudly. “Damn, you two look great!” he said eagerly. His voice still had a slight slur to it. He tottered to the back of the store and returned with two pairs of heels. “Here’s some shoes to complete the look,” he said, handing them over for them to put on – Tails with some difficulty. He also dug out a garment bag and handed it to Tails. “For your stuff, although I doubt your weapon will fit inside.”
“It’s alright,” Tails forced out through gritted teeth as he hefted his massive sword with one hand. He collected his and Cosmo’s items and stuffed them into the bag.
“Thanks again for all your help,” Cosmo said, bowing politely.
“Not a problem,” Tom said, smiling. “Now, go and have fun, you two!”
The two Mobians left the boutique as Nancy waved them farewell. Once they were out of earshot, Tails rounded on the flower girl. “This had better work, Cosmo,” he grunted as they navigated the streets. Passerbys halted in their tracks and stared at the two as they made their way deeper into the slum city towards the Don’s mansion.
“It’ll work out, Tails, trust me!” Cosmo replied optimistically, flashing him a brilliant smile. Her mind said otherwise, but she chose to ignore it. “Now, let’s hurry and meet up with Cream. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can get you out of that dress.”
‘And the sooner I can get some answers.‘