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!)
"We're too early," Taketo murmured, peering through the glass of the Karasuma Animal Clinic's front door. "I don't think anyone's up yet."
"That's too bad," said Salsa, turning away. "We'll have to come back later. Like next year."
"Hold it." Taketo snagged his collar. "Let's try knocking on the back window," he suggested.
Taketo followed Salsa around to the back, where they both climbed over the fencing and fought their way through the bushes. Despite the muzziness left over from a late night, Taketo had woken to a face full of cold, wet dog nose and felt exceptionally happy about it. He didn't even mind showing up this early at the clinic on his day off to collect Wolf.
He knocked gingerly on the glass of the bedroom window and waited. After a few moments, the curtain with little Ginsei pictures printed on it slid aside, followed by the window. A pair of sleepy eyes peered back at him from below a wild mop of silvery hair. "What? Taketo?" Ginsei said. "Salsa?"
"Um, yeah," Taketo said, embarrassed. "I know it's early, but we thought you'd like to get rid of Wolf, so --"
"Say no more," Ginsei said, feelingly. "I also believe this a worthy cause. He had that TV going all night long." He yawned. "Excuse me. Kaoru wanted to make breakfast today. If you go over to the door, I'll let you in."
Taketo walked over to the back door to wait with Salsa. "Wow, does Sensei really let Ginsei sleep on his bed when he's in his human form?" Taketo wondered aloud. "There can't be much room that way."
Salsa gave a strangled cough. "What?" Taketo said. "He's a lot bigger than you are. If you weren't a dog, it's not like I'd want to share either."
"No comment," Salsa said sourly.
The glass door slid aside, Ginsei motioned them in. The muffled blare of the TV set was immediately evident. Taketo smothered a laugh. The long fall of hair down Ginsei's back had apparently been braided at some earlier point, but now it was a matted mess, and Ginsei had wrapped himself in a bathrobe with "Kaoru" printed all over it. Taketo had never seen tidy, orderly Ginsei looking this disheveled before.
"As you can see, we're still at sixes and sevens this morning," Ginsei said, "but -- "
"Ohhhhh! My loooove! My Ginsei! I've huuuungered for your touch!" came the bellow from the direction of the kitchen, followed by a crash of crockery and a more prosaic 'ouch.' Then the song started up again: "A looong, lonely time! And time! Gooooes by! So slooooowly!"
"Um, Ginsei," Taketo said.
"No, it's fine," Ginsei assured them serenely. "We haven't started on the extra set of dishes." But as Karasuma continued to wail off-key, Ginsei looked more and more uneasy, until a smell of burning and "No, the miso!" informed that the food itself was also in danger.
"Pardon me a moment," Ginsei said wanly. "It can't be helped."
The moment he disappeared into the kitchen, a querulous voice from the other direction asked, "Have you come to save Wolf?"
"Wolf?" Taketo said, surprised. Wolf apparently had made it as far as his half-human form overnight; he was crouched in the doorway looking befurred and bedraggled. Although his pointed ears and brushy tail were drooping, he did look less pale than the day before. He also looked a lot more tired. "What's the matter?" Taketo asked.
"Wolf wants to leave /now/," he said, leaning over to look furtively past Taketo. "They're demons here."
"Well, I heard you were blasting the TV all night, so not the perfect guest yourself," Salsa pointed out.
"Yeah, /all night/," Wolf confirmed darkly. "Wolf had no choice!"
"We have to get your prescription from Sensei," Taketo said. "He's making breakfast right now . . ." Sensei's tone-deaf singing had cut off shortly after Ginsei had disappeared, and now the kitchen seemed oddly quiet. "I think? Maybe we should check on --"
"Watch TV with Wolf," Wolf said, grabbing his arm. Salsa had already scrambled through the doorway, calling back, "Look, a program on growing trees! Taketo, we can't miss this."
Bewildered, Taketo sat tucked between a dazed Wolf and an intense, concentrating Salsa as together they learned more about root depth, treatments for rot, and fertilizer options. The program had just started to discuss beetle infestations when Karasuma wobbled through the doorway, still dressed in his pajamas with little Ginsei images printed all over them.
"Good morning!" he said, pushing on his glasses. "Taketo-kun, Salsa-kun, so you're here to visit Wolf-kun?"
Taketo prodded Wolf awake, as Salsa said, "Karasuma-sensei, we're taking him with us," in an undertone, he added, "damn it." In a more normal tone, he asked, "Taketo says he comes with medicine?"
"Ah, are you sure? That's too bad -- Ginsei and I will miss him," Karasuma said, sadly. "Well, let me step over to the clinic, and I can put the package together. I didn't realize that you'd come this early, or I've have let Ginsei make breakfast."
Ginsei didn't tell him we were here about twenty minutes ago? Taketo wondered.
Fascinating, Salsa replied. I had no idea that limb pruning was so controversial.
You have weird interests, Taketo thought.
Ginsei joined them again not long after, now dressed in a turtleneck shirt and jeans, tying on an apron with "I heart Kaoru" embroidered on the front. "Why yes," he confirmed, "we're terribly sorry to see Wolf go."
"Demons," Wolf muttered.
"You could be right," Salsa muttered.
"Hunh?" Taketo said.