Andrea was sitting insistently in her chair, behind her desk, just like normal. She was very, very determined to keep sitting there and working, just like normal. And she was absolutely resolute about the fact that, no matter what, she was not going to curl up on the floor in the warm, pleasant, inviting sunbeam just a few feet away from her. No matter how much she wanted to, and no matter how pleasant a nap would be, and no matter how much it was calling to her, she wasn’t going to do it. She wasn’t. Absolutely not. Not for the first time, Andrea realized that a few minutes ago, she had stopped paying attention to the report she was supposed to be reading, and had simply been staring longingly across her office at the sunbeam. She was even drooling slightly. Andrea rubbed her eyes and sighed. It seemed hopeless. It was already mid-afternoon, and all day she’d accomplished essentially nothing. It had just been one long series of embarrassing failures. Andrea shuddered at the memory of the stunt Gabriella had pulled with her earlier. It should have made her angry, but instead it just made her feel small. It was so tempting to call the whole day a write-off, to go home and sleep in the hopes that tomorrow would be better, but she couldn’t afford to do that. Not when they were all so backlogged. They needed to put their noses to the grindstone and catch up, but instead they just seemed to be falling further behind. Andrea had been totally unproductive, Gabriella had blown off her work completely, and neither Misty nor Zel seemed to be doing much. It was a disaster.
Under the circumstances, she mused, perhaps it was no wonder napping in the sunbeam seemed so appealing. Earlier, it had been utterly blissful. All her worries and cares had seemed to melt away at the feeling of the sun’s soft rays gently warming her skin. Normally, she could never sleep anywhere but her own bed, but somehow being curled up neatly on the floor had been more comfortable than anything she’d ever experienced. Now that her stomach was full of delicious little puppy-shaped cupcakes, the prospect of a little nap was even more seductive. She’d been hoping the sugar would perk her up a little, but food had only made her sleepier. Sleepiness wasn’t the only change she’d noticed in herself. Even though she knew it was impossible, it felt like her hair had grown by a matter of inches over the course of the day, and had become dramatically thicker and curlier. It had become a total mess. And she’d had a much, much harder time keeping a lid on her emotions compared to normal. She kept getting swept up with one mood and then the next, and she kept having to suppress little excited yips and little disheartened whimpers whenever anything went right or wrong. It all made her feel ridiculous, and completely unprofessional. She didn’t know why any of this was happening to her. It seemed absurd that she’d eaten some cupcakes decorated to look like puppies, and now she was finding herself acting like a puppy. Was it more than just a coincidence? Andrea shook her head, frustrated with herself. Of course it was just a coincidence; what else could it be? Maybe she really did need a nap.
Before she knew it, Andrea was starting to bargain with herself. What if it was only an hour? Only half an hour? Maybe that was for the best. Maybe she’d be more productive afterward. She could set an alarm for herself. Inwardly, she knew the moment she curled up on the ground, she’d end up sleeping as long as her body wanted her to. But she wasn’t about to admit that to herself. Just half an hour, with an alarm. Would that really be so naughty? Andrea soon found herself slowly rising to her feet, her legs carrying her over to the perfect napping spot she had spent the last hour yearning after. Her self-discipline was gone, and she was helpless in the face of her own desires.
Then, suddenly, the door to her office swung open. Andrea jumped halfway out of her own skin. Someone entering her office unannounced would have been a surprise even under normal circumstances - she was always very insistent that people should knock first - but given what she had been about to do, it was so much worse. Even though she hadn’t done anything wrong yet, Andrea found herself blushing guiltily, like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. But her embarrassment quickly turned to horror and fear when she saw who had disturbed her. It was Gabriella De Luca.
“Hey there Andrea!” Gabriella exclaimed brightly, sounding like nothing was out of the ordinary even as she strutted into the office like it belonged to her, rather than Andrea. “How’s it going? Me? I’m having just a lovely day. Had a great, long lunch out. And just look at my new nails!” She held out her hand to Andrea, palm down. Indeed, her nails had been freshly trimmed and painted. They looked expensive. “How are things going back here?”
“Well, um…” Andrea was so flustered by the way Gabriella had stormed in, she had no idea what to say.
“Great!” Gabriella was all smiles as she blatantly disregarded whatever Andrea might have been about to say. “But here’s the thing: I’m gonna need to take the rest of the day off.”
“W-what?” Andrea’s whole body sagged, and her bottom lip started trembling. “B-but you said-”
“I know, I know.” Gabriella waved away her objection dismissively. “But here’s the thing: at lunch, I was sipping a Bloody Mary, and I just realized that I do so much around here. So much. And there’s this mindfulness guru I follow on Instagram who keeps reminding me that it’s important to reward ourselves with rest for the good that we do, and maintain a good work-life balance so that we can keep life as an adventure. So, I’m taking the rest of the day off.”
Andrea was weak at the knees. Gabriella’s force of personality felt like a crushing weight on her shoulders. Normally, she knew how to keep her on a leash, but today, that skill had utterly deserted her. None of the stern, carefully-chosen words she’d normally use came to her lips. “But,” she managed weakly. “You c-can’t.”
“Can’t?” Gabriella stepped forward menacingly, still smiling. Andrea froze on the spot, unable to retreat. “No, I don’t think that’s right. That’s not something you wanna say to me.”
Andrea whimpered. “I… You…”
“Or did you forget?” Sadistic glee danced in Gabriella’s eyes. “Did you forget what I saw you doing in here earlier?”
All the color drained from Andrea’s face. She tried to speak, but all that came out was helpless spluttering.
“That’s what I thought.” Gabriella sighed dramatically. “Look. You’re going to give me the rest of the day off. Cause if you don’t, I am going to make sure my aunt hears all about your little misadventure. And I am going to make sure she takes action over it. Very serious action.” She shook her head. “You’ve got no choice, Andrea.”
Numbly, Andrea realized Gabriella was right. She had no choice. In truth, she barely even cared. She just wanted Gabriella to leave, so she could skulk back to her desk with her tail between her legs and collapse in her chair. She felt utterly helpless. But in spite of her despair, she had one small shred of pride left that wouldn’t let her give in quite so easily. “B-but the projects… we’re so behind on everything. We need you, Gabriella.”
Gabriella waved a hand nonchalantly, utterly dismissing Andrea’s concerns. “Too bad. I don’t care. Get Zel to do it.”
“Zel?” Andrea somehow paled even more at the thought of asking Zel.
“Yeah.” Gabriella now sounded bored. “I saw them on my way in, they were just sitting around talking to Misty or something. They’re not busy.”
“I… I dunno…” Andrea thought about the way Zel had snapped at her earlier. They’d eventually agreed to what she’d been asking, sure, but she didn’t dare to try and imagine how they might react if she asked them to take on Gabriella’s workload too.
“Oh my god.” Gabriella sighed. “You don’t have to know, just do what you’re told.”
The color came roaring back into Andrea’s cheeks as she blushed fiercely. Perhaps fortunately for her, she didn’t have time to interrogate that reflex. “I-I just don’t think I can.”
“Oh my god,” Gabriella repeated, even more exasperated. “Fine, whatever, I’ll help you with that too. Just get them in here.” When Andrea just stared at her for a long moment, dumbfounded, she insisted: “Go! Send them a message!”
Powerless to resist Gabriella’s command, Andrea sunk back into her desk chair and, with her coworker watching her like a hawk from over her shoulder, started writing a brief message to Zel on the company Slack.
Even though they had done nothing to exert themselves, Zel found themself breathing hard and sweating palpably as they were bent over a sink in the bathroom. They’d been in there so long, they were surprised someone hadn’t come looking for them, or at least stumbled upon them. They’d just needed some quiet and some space, but what they were feeling wasn’t getting any better. Something was happening to them. Of that, Zel had no doubt. But what? They didn’t know, and that scared them. All they knew was that when they looked at Misty - or anyone else, for that matter - something raging and vicious rose inside them, pushing its way out with vicious, demeaning words and twisted commands. They’d felt angry and on-edge ever since first waking up, and had practically bitten Andrea’s head off earlier, but it was unquestionably Misty who had received the worst of their attention. When they’d found her pleasuring herself in the bathroom stall earlier, it had somehow felt like a dream come true. Everything after that point had just spilled out of them, snowballing out of control more and more. But Zel couldn’t pretend they weren’t responsible for it. They were. It was all them. Degrading Misty gave them such a powerful sense of seething satisfaction. There was clearly something up with Misty too, but Zel wasn’t about to use that as an excuse.
Zel needed to get a lid on this. That much was clear. The only problem was, they weren’t sure they could. It just felt so good. When they had taken control of Misty, it had felt like they’d unchained something that had been locked up inside them for far too long. They weren’t sure they knew how to chain it back up again. It was roaring through their veins now, suffusing every part of them. That was why they were shaking and breathing hard - with each and every moment, they were having to fight the temptation to go back into the office, find Misty, and do awful, unspeakable things to her. Misty would almost certainly enjoy those things, especially after the way Zel had so effectively broken through her feigned modesty, but to Zel’s mind, that didn’t change anything. They needed to be more in control of themself than they were right now.
It had been bad before, but it seemed to have gotten a lot worse since Sasha had shown up with more pastries. Even thinking about a possible connection there made Zel feel like they were crazy. And that wasn’t the only thing making them feel crazy. Their hair was darker. It was definitely darker. It had been getting darker all day. Spikier too. At first it had been subtle enough that Zel had dismissed it, but now, there was no mistaking it. Except, that was impossible. Zel knew that. They’d considered everything they could think of, but they just couldn’t see how it could have happened. And that was to say nothing of some of the other changes Zel had noticed in themself. Their face seemed more angular, and their jawline sharper. Stranger still, they kept having fantasies about dressing differently. About getting piercings and tattoos. It was like they were a teenage rebel again. Alone, that might have been easily dismissed as a harmless impulse. But along with everything else, it had Zel’s mind going to far darker places. Were they having a mental breakdown? Were they dangerous? They weren’t sure. There was just one secret little silver lining to it all: they didn’t feel so stressed anymore. For longer than they cared to remember, stress and overwork had pressed down on Zel’s shoulders like a mountain. They’d gotten so used to it that they’d almost stopped noticing, but now that it was gone, the revelation was indescribable. Snapping at Andrea had felt freeing, even though they’d still caved in the end. Taking out some of their frustration on Misty had been even more so. As alarming everything had been, Zel felt forced to admit that they felt a little grateful for it too.
Eventually, Zel decided they needed to get back into the office. They’d either be able to control themself or they wouldn’t, and hiding in the bathroom wasn’t going to change anything either way. Besides, they had work to do, as much as they resented that fact. Zel resolved to go sit at their desk, stay away from everyone - especially Misty - and get through the day with as little human interaction as possible. That was the best plan they had. Hopefully, at the end of the day, they’d be able to go home, relax by themself, and get their head back to where it was supposed to be. With that in mind, they headed out of the bathroom. Fortunately, beforehand they’d had the presence of mind to send Misty back to her own desk, so Zel was able to settle down at their computer without distraction. They booted up their email and started reading the subject lines, looking for anything that required immediate attention. The familiar, routine activity was comforting, and Zel was just starting to think that they were going to be able to make it through the day without incident, when they heard a distinctive ping and saw a notification pop up in the bottom-right corner of their computer screen.
‘In my office, now - Andrea’, the Slack message read.
Zel let out a weary sigh. Clearly, luck just wasn’t going to go their way today. They seriously considered blowing Andrea off completely, but that just didn’t seem smart. Andrea didn’t take kindly to being ignored, at least under normal circumstances, and Zel had a feeling that if Andrea confronted them angrily, it would end very, very badly. And alternately, if Andrea was still feeling as wimpy and vulnerable as she’d seemed earlier, Zel would feel a little guilty about leaving her high and dry. Zel’s best bet was probably to just see what Andrea wanted and then get out of there as quickly as they could. Maybe it would be nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal. Zel knew that probably wasn’t true. If it was nothing, Andrea wouldn’t have bothered telling them face to face. Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out for sure.
Sighing once more, Zel stood up out of their chair and headed over to Andrea’s office. They knocked. “Come in,” came Andrea’s immediate answer. Zel thought they detected a strange note of hesitancy or uncertainty in Andrea’s tone, but nonetheless, they opened the door and stepped inside.
Zel was immediately surprised to find that they and Andrea weren’t alone in the office. Gabriella De Luca was there. Instantly, that had Zel’s blood threatening to boil. They hated Gaby with a passion. She treated everyone around her like dirt, for no other reason than that she could. It took several long, deep breaths for Zel to master themself and calm down. Once they had, they noticed something distinctly weird and wrong about the scene they had walked into. Andrea calling them into a meeting with Gabriella wasn’t particularly strange - if they had a project they needed to work on together, for example - but this didn’t feel like that at all. Andrea was sitting at her desk, like normal, but for some reason Gabriella was leaning on the wall behind her, almost looming over her. She had a hand resting on Andrea’s shoulder, and seemed to be squeezing a bit. That made Zel instantly wary.
“Hey Andrea,” Zel began slowly. “Gabriella. What’s going on?”
“Um, thank you for coming, Zel,” Andrea said. Her strange, uncharacteristic false start set Zel further on edge. “How are your projects coming along?”
“Uh…” Zel made the diplomatic choice to refrain from telling Andrea just how little work they’d gotten done so far. “Fine. Pretty good.”
“Good.” Andrea sounded relieved at that, but there was a tightness to her face and a worry in her eyes that betrayed that she had much more to say and ask than that, even when she lapsed into silence.
“So, what’s this about?” Zel prompted, after several awkward seconds.
For several more seconds, Andrea remained silent. But then, suddenly, she flinched slightly. Zel didn’t understand why, until they noticed that Gabriella’s knuckles had suddenly clenched. She was gripping Andrea’s shoulder tightly. Zel frowned.
“I!” Andrea started falteringly, her voice coming out as something of a whiny yelp. “I wanted to talk about your workload for this… week?”
It sounded like she was asking a question, perhaps looking to someone for confirmation. Zel didn’t say anything. They just narrowed their eyes.
“As you know, um, we’re all under a lot of strain right now.” Andrea’s eyes kept darting this way and that, looking everywhere but at Zel. “And as I told you, deadlines are slipping. So we…. I mean, I need you to really, um, step up to the plate right now.”
“What do you mean exactly?” Zel asked slowly. In truth, they knew exactly what was coming, and it already had them seething with rage. The worst part was the thin, sneering smile on Gaby’s face. Zel didn’t know how, exactly, but she had something to do with this.
Andrea started to sweat palpably. That was when Zel noticed that she looked like a complete mess. She seemed sleepy, as well as worried, and her hair was a dense, curly, tuft-riddled mop. “We-” Andrea began, her voice extremely hesitant, before swallowing and correcting herself. “I’m giving you Gaby’s project work.”
Zel’s jaw dropped. “What?” they exclaimed angrily. That was beyond ridiculous.
Andrea looked profoundly apologetic, but when Gaby squeezed her shoulder again, she recited: “I’m sorry, Zel. I know it’s a lot. But this has been discussed. I’m telling you, not asking you.”
“What the hell, Andrea?” Zel burst out. They were fighting two struggles now; one to figure out what was going on, and another to keep themselves in check. This was the exact opposite of the situation they had been trying to avoid, and it was already starting to get the better of their self-control. “And what exactly is Gaby going to be doing? Huh?”
Andrea paled. “That… isn’t something that you need to know,” she finished lamely.
Zel closed their eyes and inhaled and exhaled, as calmly as they could, for several very long, tense moments. Then, they opened their eyes and started daggers at Gabriella, fists clenched. “Gaby, I swear to god, you better tell me what’s going on right now. Or else.”
Gaby clearly thought that by getting Zel mad she’d won, and smirked. That sent Zel over the edge. “Wow! Andrea, are you really gonna let-”
“Cut the shit, Gaby,” Zel snapped. The wide-eyed, startled look on Gabriella’s face was the greatest pleasure they’d received all day.
“Z-Zel,” Andrea managed. She looked like she was about to cry. “I can’t… you have to… I mean…”
“Andrea, shut up,” Zel told her, less angrily. “I’m sorry, but shut up.”
As quick as a whip, Andrea’s mouth slammed shut. She let out a muted, whining yelp, like an injured puppy. Zel knew they should have felt bad for startling their friend, but instead they just felt good. They felt powerful. Gabriella quickly recovered from her surprise, and pushed off from the wall, standing straight up with her legs slightly apart and her arms crossed. Zel stared at her evenly, refusing to back down.
“I know you probably think you’re hot shit,” Gabriella began haughtily. She had dropped all pretense of Andrea being the one in charge. “Probably because everyone always comes to you with their problems, needing your help to get things back on track. I get why that might give you a bit of an ego. But you really, really need to remember your place. You can’t just come in here and start talking to your boss like that, Zel. That’s a very, very serious HR issue.”
“Oh yeah?” Zel’s nostrils flared, and they returned Gabriella’s vicious smirk. “OK. Let’s talk to HR. I think they’d have a lot to say about what you two just tried to push on me.”
Gabriella grit her teeth. The sudden stiffness in her face was obvious. Clearly, she was frustrated at Zel’s unexpected ability to stand up for themself. Zel, conversely, was feeling better and better by the moment. Adrenaline was singing in their veins. Why hadn’t they realized long ago that it could be this easy? When Zel thought back to all the times they’d let people walk all over them, responding with nothing more than silent resentment, they felt faintly disgusted with themself. This was so much better. Maybe it was silly of them to keep holding back. What good had that ever done them?
“Oh, Zel!” Gabriella tittered. She was feigning amusement, but Zel could see the vein throbbing in her forehead. “So naive! We’re not going to HR. But, if you don’t scamper out of here and get back to work right now, I will be going to talk to my aunt. You know, the person who owns this whole place? I’m sure she’d have a few things to say about your behavior.”
Normally, such a threat would have had Zel on the verge of breakdown. But in that moment, it just made them angrier. “She would, huh? Funny how that’s all you seem to be able to do, Gaby. Run to your aunt. Like a little girl.”
Gabriella twitched. Maybe Zel had hit a nerve. “Yeah, well, it works, doesn’t it?” Gabriella shot back. “That’s the way the world works - not that you losers would ever understand. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And I know the woman with real power around here. I don’t care what you think about how I do things. They work. I win.”
“Believe me, I know you don’t care what I think,” Zel snorted. They didn’t know where their words were coming from, but they came to them easily, spiteful and perfectly-chosen. “But I bet you care what your aunt thinks.”
“What do you mean?” Gabriella’s eyes narrowed. For the first time, she sounded uncertain. To Zel, that was like a drug.
“I bet you pull this shit all the time,” Zel continued. It felt so good to be angry, and let that anger out. “Going to her, whining, explaining you need her to sort out all your petty problems. I bet she’s so tired of it. Wouldn’t you be? How long before she gets tired of you completely, huh? Before she starts to cut you off. Before she tells you to sort out your own problems.”
“I…” Gabriella was lost for words. Zel had never seen that before. Zel sneered at her, victorious.
“Maybe you should go think about that,” Zel told her, crossing their arms firmly. “Somewhere else.”
“I…” Gabriella repeated dumbly. Her mouth kept opening and closing without any words coming out. To Zel, it was crystal clear that her mind was racing, trying to figure whether Zel was right, and whether she’d pushed her luck too far. After a few seconds, she huffed and flashed a very thin, insincere smile that utterly failed to reach her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “But this isn’t over, Zel.”
With that, she stormed out. Zel let her go. They wanted to go much further. They wanted to let out all their spite, and experience the pleasure of seeing Gabriella utterly humiliated, but for now they were content to savor their victory. Once Gabriella was gone, Andrea let out a huge gasp, and started panting frantically as if she’d been holding her breath.
“Oh Zel!” she exclaimed gratefully. “Thank you so much! I… she… I don’t know what happened, I just… I’m sorry, I didn’t really want to-”
“Andrea,” Zel said calmly, cutting across her with ease. “Shut up.”
Andrea yelped again, and fell silent. Still riding high on the thrill of beating Gabriella, Zel took no small amount of pleasure in seeing their boss look so humbled. They found themselves thinking about all the times Andrea had pushed extra work on them, seemingly not caring if they were OK with it.
“How could you do that?” Zel demanded suddenly. “How could you let Gabriella De Luca turn you into her lapdog? How?”
“I don’t know…” Andrea pressed her shoulders forward and hunched in her chair, making herself seem smaller. “I-I didn’t mean to! It just…”
She had no words. Zel snorted contemptuously. They’d given up on holding back, or avoiding people. Why bother? The world was clearly determined to spit on them. Why not spit back? It felt a lot better than taking it lying down the way they had done their whole life. What was the point in wringing their hands over how they’d treated Misty? She’d clearly enjoyed it. As for Gabriella and Andrea, maybe they deserved a little payback. After what they had seen, Zel now completely understood how Gaby had ended up with Andrea wrapped around her little finger. In her current state, Andrea was pathetic. Clearly, something was happening to her, just like how something was happening to Misty and Zel. But Zel didn’t care. They didn’t care about the reason anymore. Their heart was pounding, their blood was up, and they wanted to feel good. Zel was starting to realize it didn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
“Honestly,” Zel said, shaking their head. “What would you have done without me? You’d be nothing more than her pet.”
“I…” Andrea squirmed, and blushed slightly. “B-but I can make up for it, now that you saved me! Thank you so-”
“Oh no,” Zel interrupted. Andrea looked up at them, and once she saw the look in their eyes, she started trembling. “I didn’t save you, Andrea. I just took you.”
Andrea whined loudly. Zel could see a hundred protests rising to her lips, but from the look in Andrea’s eyes, she knew the beleaguered woman didn’t have it in her to fight.
“Why are you still sitting in that chair?” Zel suddenly snapped at her, grinning sadistically. “You don’t belong there anymore. Understand?”
Andrea’s eyes went very, very wide, and Zel almost thought they’d pushed it too far, when Andrea slowly rose out of her chair, her hands clasped submissively in front of her body. The sight of her looking so meek made Zel’s body hum with pleasure.
“There.” Zel pointed at the floor, next to the desk. “You’re my dog now.”