Salsa's on the trail of a local killer, but why has he been shutting Taketo out of his investigation? Taketo wants answers, but he may not like what he learns. (slash!)
Wild Half by Yuuko Asami is a 17-volume manga from Jump Comics. (This plays fast and loose with the original and completely ignores much of the last volume, so let's consider it an AU.) Written for Qwerty, for the 2005 Yuletide obscure fandoms exchange.
"'Iwase-san, don't you talk about anything but your dog?' That's what she said to me before she left. What's that supposed to mean? I talk about lots of things." Taketo Iwase was irritated, and the more he talked about his afternoon, the worse he felt. "But if it's about my family, that's my big brother and that's you. If it's about my friends, you were my classmate in high school so that's you, too. If it's college -- well, what's wrong with using you for my examples? She's taking the same courses, we're both studying to be veterinarians, so why wouldn't she be interested in hearing about you?"
"My question would be, why're you asking me what women want?" Salsa, the black and tan German shepherd mix in question, grumbled. "I'm a /dog/."
"Yeah, but you can smell what people are feeling. You pick up on a lot of things I don't," Taketo pointed out. "So that was what she said to me after I told her I'd have to leave early to take you for your walk."
Salsa rolled his eyes. "Taketo, this does not require my genius-level skills. You were on a date, right?" he said. "I think you're supposed to want more time with the /girl/. And don't skimp on my tail this time -- my fur's getting a mat in it down there."
"Hai hai." Taketo obediently grasped Salsa's tail and applied his brush to the underside. "I guess you're right. Hadn't thought about it that way," he said. "But who wants to go out with someone who doesn't like his dog? Roll over and let me do your stomach now."
"No question that I'm beyond compare, but you are pathetic. This makes the fourth time you've struck out since this school year started." Salsa flopped onto his back, hooting, "Ha, what a loser!"
"Thanks for the words of encouragement, coach," Taketo said, glaring at him as he pulled tufts of fur from the brush.
"Again I point out, you're the one trying to get dating advice from a dog," Salsa said comfortably, adding, "C'mon, hurry it up, will you?"
Taketo frowned, and set back to work. Salsa used to consider his brushings a high point of the evening, but these days he'd been rushing Taketo to finish quickly. In fact, in the face of the mounting evidence, Taketo could only conclude that Salsa had been actively avoiding him of late. Taketo had given over his dog-walking job for Izumi-san's pack to a high-school student, he'd severely cut back his hours at the Luna Rental Pet Shop, and he did all of his studying at home now -- but even as Taketo scrambled to make more time in his schedule to be with Salsa, Salsa seemed to be spending more time away with his own detective business. He didn't know what to make of it.
Salsa's hind leg began to twitch rapidly. "Damn, that tickles," he muttered.
"Sorry," Taketo said, "let me just brush down here then." He began smoothly stroking farther down Salsa's belly. "Hey, Salsa, does that feel better?" he said. "You like it right here, don't you?"
"Mmm, yeah, Taketo," Salsa said, wriggling. "More like that. Use the softer brush though."
"On it," Taketo said, switching brushes. So he'd come up with his top-secret motivational plan: he'd spoil Salsa more to get him to stay home more. He didn't think Salsa would be averse to the idea, even if he figured it out -- after all, no one thought Salsa was more deserving than Salsa did. "So, Salsa," he began, adding a little more pressure to his strokes.
"Hmm?" Salsa squirmed and moaned blissfully, "Ahhh, Taketo, sooo good."
"You'd like something else good too, wouldn't you?" Taketo continued, leaning over. He breathed in Salsa's ear: "How about a nice, meaty soup bone when we're done?"
Abruptly the dog vanished. Lying in his place was a tall, long-haired young man with pointed ears and a torso of tanned, bare skin -- but everything below was black fur, complete with a tail and huge paws. As a wild-half dog, Salsa was a shape-shifter by nature, one form pure dog, the other human enough to pass with concealing clothing. But in Salsa's case, overstimulating thoughts about brushing and food and walks in the park could trigger his shift. And right now, Salsa was blinking up at him, stunned. "What the hell was that for?" he demanded.
"Whoa," Taketo said. He hurriedly pulled the brush from between Salsa's legs. "Sorry, I didn't think that just mentioning it would --"
Salsa sat up abruptly, and Taketo scooted back against his bed to make room. "That's the trouble," Salsa fumed. "Lately, you don't /think/."
"Hunh?" Taketo said, exasperated. "What's that mean?" He brandished the brush. "So why does it matter? I can still brush your fur like this. Just lie down, and I'll --"
Salsa smacked the brush out of his hand.
Taketo sat back, wide-eyed and nursing his stinging hand. "Salsa?" he said.
Salsa looked confused as well. "Reflex or something. I didn't mean to do that," he said quickly. He raked his claw-like nails through his hair. "I guess I'm just feeling a lot of stress over the investigation right now. Taketo, I really didn't mean to take it out on you. I'm sorry."
"Oh," Taketo said, lamely, "those murders, you mean." Salsa never apologized for anything unless he meant it; Taketo felt relieved. If it was just work, then he could understand at least some of Salsa's tense behavior, why he'd been shutting him so firmly out of his feelings for months now.
"Yeah. Them," Salsa said. "And other stuff."
"Other stuff?" Taketo prompted.
"Other stuff," Salsa repeated, tone precluding discussion. "Whatever. I'll just get dressed," he said, flowing smoothly to his feet and walking over to the dresser. "You did laundry yesterday, right?"
"Yeah," Taketo said, with a nagging sensation of missing something important. "You know I don't care. Why bother to get dressed if you don't want to?" Salsa's only response to that was to slide open the top drawer and begin shuffling through the contents. "I put your stuff on the right side, like always."
"Great." Salsa pulled out one of his tight, black tee-shirts that left his midriff bare, a pair of jeans, and one of his bandanas; then he stood there, weighing them in his hand. "You said something about a soup bone?"
"Um, yeah," Taketo said, tearing away his gaze, hauling himself to his feet. "I bought it at the butcher's after my last class. Actually, Salsa, since I'm done now until classes begin again, we could --"
Salsa stretched out an arm, finger pointed at the door: "Fetch, boy!"
Rude. Definitely rude/, Taketo thought, stomping out to the kitchen. He'd always enjoyed watching Salsa squeeze himself into those weird clothes he favored, but Salsa was being bitten by some sort of privacy bug these days. /My Dog. Is. A. Selfish. Arrogant. Jerk! he felt, strongly as he could manage.
The only reply was a casual whiff of amusement: Just figuring that out? How'd you get into college?
When the clothed version of Salsa finally sauntered out of Taketo's room, he was hefting the file of newspaper clippings and notes that he kept in Taketo's desk drawer. "So you want to know what I'm doing lately?" he said. "Here you go. Two and a half months, six murders, zero progress." He slapped the folder down on the table and slid it across to Taketo.
"I read most of these the first time around in the paper, y'know," Taketo said. He handed over the promised soup bone, adding, "I'll never figure out what you see in these things."
"Ohhh yeah," Salsa said, delighted. "'Cause you're not a dog." He snatched it and turned the bone over admiringly in his hands, then greedily set to gnawing on the meatiest portion. "'Cause you're just a stingy human," he mumbled, mouth full. "If you'd buy some extras, I could bury them in the park for later."
Then you'd come home even less often, wouldn't you? Taketo thought, dejected -- rapidly tagging on with the rice, chicken, milk, and cucumbers. Mulling over the week's grocery list had become Taketo's standard ploy to keep Salsa's oversensitive nose diverted from whatever he had really been feeling.
"Even I don't think about food as much as you do," Salsa said. "If you're that hungry, eat more."
"I thought you were going to tell me about what you're working on," Taketo said, pointedly changing the subject.
"Mmph." Salsa said, bone in mouth, as he flicked open the folder with a nail. He pulled the bone out to state, "Not a lot more to go on except what you see there. No witnesses, no real patterns. He didn't kill them in the same way -- strangulation, gunshot, stabbing, beating. Most were different. Some were men, some women."
"So why do you even think they're connected?" Taketo asked. "I mean, aside from the way that the media has been --"
"Smell," Salsa cut him off. "Overlapping smells."
"You mean you've smelled the same person at all the scenes?" Taketo said. "Wouldn't that be the killer?"
"No," Salsa said impatiently, "that's not what I mean. And that's the point -- I haven't smelled the same person at all of them, except the same police detectives. The exact same investigators have been showing up at those scenes -- one of them is your brother. But there haven't been any other consistent scents. But some of the scenes have had a scent that overlapped from the previous one."
"Hunh?" Taketo said. "But . . . doesn't that mean that one person didn't do all of them?"
"Maybe. By the time I can get close enough to where they've found a body, usually the traces have been muddled with a lot of other people's scents." He dropped his bone on the table and sat back, crossing his arms. "But the same investigators at each one tells me the police seem to think they're all connected, too." He scowled. "So I can visit the locations after they've left, but they've already picked them clean. I'd like to get a look at what they got. If you could get me into the station again --"
"No way!" Taketo said. "You know the last time, we nearly got caught." His heart thudded leadenly, just remembering it. "Aniki really would lose it if he ever found out about that."
"All right, fine," Salsa conceded. "You could ask your brother some of my questions."
"Sure. But first tell me how I'm supposed to explain why I'm asking. Tell him, 'That private eye guy, Wild Half, asked me to ask you'? He's a such big fan of yours," Taketo pointed out, sighing. "Do you really think he'd tell me any confidential information?"
"Yeah, yeah," Salsa mused, dangling his bone and staring at it meditatively. "That's the trouble with those," he indicated the clippings, "naturally the police are withholding information from the media, and I'd give a few fangs to find out what the hell it is." Salsa tapped his nose: "I'm familiar enough with your brother to read him pretty well, but I can never get anything from him when I'm around except 'hate dogs hate dogs hate dogs'."
Taketo laughed in spite of himself. His brother did hate dogs -- he loathed them with the burning passion of a thousand wiener roasts, and Salsa was no exception to that. Taketo still wasn't certain how they'd managed to persuade his brother to let Salsa stay.
"'Cause all he's ever wanted is for you to be happy," Salsa murmured, preoccupied with his reading but unconsciously responding to the scent of Taketo's thought.
/Aniki needs to get a life/, Taketo thought, reddening. After their parents had died in an accident, his brother Toshifumi had raised him alone from the time he'd been a high school student and Taketo a toddler. Taketo thought his brother's ideas of child-rearing had sometimes been too strict, but he couldn't deny that his brother's pushing had led to him graduating at the top of his class and passing his entrance exams. But his brother's vow to stay single and devote all his attention to Taketo until he finished school was creating an uncomfortable situation, now that they were both older. Taketo sighed. "So he puts up with a lot, but not even he would understand why I wanted to wallow in the grisly details, you know."
"True," Salsa said, glancing at him. "You're not that kind of person." While Taketo considered what kind of person that made Salsa, he continued, "So what you're going to do instead is tape that broadcast tomorrow afternoon." He waved a hand at the TV. "I still can't figure out how to work those damn machines. There's a special airing locally that's a complete compilation of all the reporting to date. I want a copy."
"That I can do," Taketo said, relieved. "I mean, you know I'd do anything that's not completely insane for you, Salsa. Even if you're nuts, you're my dog."
Salsa didn't rise to the bait; instead, he said moodily, "Some things are crazy, yeah." Taketo studied him, sensing a subtle veering off topic, but Salsa had already reaffixed his attention firmly on his case. "This one's the really odd one."
"That third murder, just outside of town to the south," Salsa said. "The old woman with all those cats."
"Cats?" Taketo repeated. "I didn't read those. You don't mean the pets were killed, too?"
"Yeah," Salsa said, "says here the police think all her pets were killed first, though it doesn't explain why. This one was a stabbing."
"Killed all her cats, then killed her," Taketo said. It made him feel uneasy. If anything like that were to happen to Salsa, he didn't know how he could handle it. And they'd come so close to that in the past -- lunatics seemed to home in on them for some reason, many of them other wild-halfs.
"Like I said, you really are slow." Salsa was tapping an impatient nail on the table. "I've told you before: it's because you smell too damn good," he complained.
"So I'm what? A bone to fight over now?" Taketo said.
"Something like that," Salsa said, sniffing the air. "Or you usually smell good. Maybe that's the real reason she walked out on you."
"Cut it out," Taketo mumbled, irritated at this reminder of his latest dating disaster. He'd missed the bus, but had run home rather than waiting for the next one because he really hadn't wanted to miss his walk with Salsa. But he saw no reason to hand over that information -- flattery like that might be taking the spoiling plan too far. "Anyway, what I was going to say was that none of those other murder victims had pets," Taketo pointed out.
Salsa stared at him. "How do you know that?"
"You didn't know? Maria-san takes in pets from owners who've died when they don't have anywhere else to go," Taketo told him. "Or the police drop off animals with her during investigations until relatives can collect them. No pets have come in to Luna Rental Pet related to these killings, so I'd assume there haven't been any other pets involved."
"No pets," Salsa said, "so maybe that's not unusual, but --" He abruptly tossed his bone to the floor, then shuffled the clippings back into the folder. "Incoming," he informed him. Salsa dropped to all fours and melted back into his dog form, shaking off his clothes in the process.
Taketo scooped up the lot and had just tossed it into his bedroom along with Salsa's file folder when the apartment's door opened: "'Home," his brother stated flatly, dropping his briefcase and leaning over to untie his shoes. He looked as exhausted as he usually did these days.
"Welcome back, Aniki," Taketo said brightly. "I've got your dinner waiting to warm up, and the bath is -- wha, Salsa?" He broke off, as Salsa bullied his way past his brother and through the still open door. Toshifumi stumbled aside, yelling, "What the hell is it with this damned mongrel of yours every night?"
"Salsa, hey, you're not going to spend the night out in the doghouse again?" Taketo called after him, but naturally there was no answer, not with his brother standing right there. Taketo had a sinking feeling that was precisely why Salsa always chose that moment. C'mon, Salsa! Why won't you sleep on my bed anymore? Taketo thought at top volume, but that won him no response either.
"Good riddance," his brother muttered darkly, yanking at his necktie. "Dogs!"