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!)
When they got back to the Iwase apartment, Wolf made a beeline for the hallway and Taketo's bedroom. In an instant, Salsa had latched onto the the tail of his coat and hauled him back. "Oi!" he yelled, "where the hell d'you think you're going?"
"Wolf needs sleep now," he said.
"First," Salsa said, "you take off your boots. Second, you say, 'I'm sorry to be a bother!', and third --"
"Wolf isn't sorry," he said.
"That comes as no surprise," Salsa snapped.
"Why should Wolf take off his boots?" He pointed an accusatory finger. "You! Dog is like all dogs -- he wants to steal Wolf's boots and chew on them, doesn't he?"
Taketo toed off his own sneakers, and quickly ducked under the flying boot. He left them to sort it out while he went to his room to change his clothes for work at the pet shop. Behind him he could hear the roar of "Third! Freeloaders get the couch!" To hear Salsa of all dogs lecturing Wolf on good manners made the entire morning worthwhile; Taketo would never forget that day when Salsa had imperiously announced that he was moving in, commanding Taketo to cater to his needs. Well, I'd always wanted a dog, hadn't I? he thought philosophically. So it worked out fine.
Salsa joined him shortly afterward, fuming, "Nothing good can come of this." He threw himself into the corner and nosed a ratty sandal out of his pile of trash. He began to chew on it moodily. "If that asshole even thinks about marking anything in this place, I'll kill 'im."
"Well," Taketo said, "it's only for -- uh."
"Yeah, 'uh.' That's what I mean," Salsa said. "Who knows how long he's staying?"
Taketo went back to making his bed. If you'd stop fighting with him, he mused, he'd probably get bored staying around here, too. Salsa didn't respond to that at all; puzzled, Taketo repeated it out loud.
"Huh!" Salsa snorted. "Tell the moon to stop rising while you're at it."
Which reminds me/, Taketo thought, rubbing the mark on his chest. He could hear Salsa grumbling aloud to himself about Taketo, Wolf, Ginsei, and the degraded quality of chewable footwear these days, but Taketo no longer /felt that stream of dog consciousness in his mind that he'd grown so accustomed to during high school. Over the past year, it had gradually faded until now he only found himself reacting to the feelings that Salsa pointedly, specifically directed at him. The same seemed to be true the opposite direction as well.
"Hey. Let me see it."
In the quiet of his own thoughts that remained, Taketo felt oddly bereft. Maybe all of that had just been a passing phase? he wondered. Maybe being alone like this is what it meant to become an adult. Maybe they'd even keep growing farther apart until one day --
"Oof!" Taketo rubbed the back of his head. Something had . . . a wet, chewed up foam sandal? "Hey!"
"Listen when people are talking to you," Salsa said, irritably. "I just said I wanted to look. So take it off."
"Ehh?" Taketo clutched his collar and shrank back. "Look at what?"
"Your mark. You're rubbing your chest again." He peered at Taketo. "What did you think I meant?"
"It's, it's the way you put it!" Taketo huffed, dropping down to Salsa's level on the floor. "Be clearer about what you mean, geez."
"Why," Salsa said, snorting, "are you acting like your virtue's in danger here? Like those asinine AVs Sakaki and Takeda were always bringing over in high school." He struck a stern pose and said in a deep growl, "But I carried your groceries back to your apartment, didn't I? Time to show your gratitude!" He sprawled on the floor, paws clasped to his chest, whining, "Oh no, sempai! I'm ever so grateful, but I couldn't possibly share my melons. Oh no, stop, oh, oh!" Salsa stuck out his tongue. "No wonder those two didn't pass the entrance exams the first time." He rolled to his feet and trotted over to park himself in front of Taketo.
"Can't believe you watched any of those," Taketo said, unbuttoning his shirt. "Anyway, I didn't mind -- their families were always home during the day, and my brother wasn't. We could always go play Frisbee until they were happy."
"Happy," Salsa repeated in a distant tone. Taketo's shirt had fallen open, and Salsa was staring at the mark on his chest with the intensity he usually reserved for watching Taketo eat dinner. Taketo had learned long ago how to ignore a staring dog while he was eating; but it was a little more difficult to ignore when he felt like he was on the platter.
"Um, Salsa?" he said. "Does it look different to you?" He could understand Salsa's interest, especially if his power really had been weakening.
This mark had first appeared on Taketo's chest in the wake of their first major falling out. During all the fighting and retaliation, Taketo had thought that he'd accidentally thrown out Salsa's only keepsake from his former master, the collar given to him by Mitsuki Katsuragi. When he and Salsa had finally reconciled, a crescent moon mark had burned itself into Taketo's chest, which had waxed over time, finally reaching a full phase on the night they'd decided to confront Salsa's inner werewolf. Taketo's mark was still full -- and he was positive that his feelings for Salsa hadn't changed. Yet didn't Salsa seem weaker last night?
That night he'd first gotten this mark, Salsa had told him that anywhere that smelled of Taketo was his best, most comfortable place. So when did that stop being true? Taketo wondered. He was sure now that Salsa had been avoiding him. Why?
"Looks the same. You said it hurt," Salsa said, leaning forward and sniffing it.
"Not . . . hurting," Taketo said. "Not exactly. More like aching. It's not bad, not really." He thought about it now. "I can't remember it ever feeling this way in the past, except for when . . ."
"When," Salsa prompted.
"That time when you went with Shouhei Abe," Taketo admitted, feeling ashamed. "He said he was your master, and you didn't say he wasn't. He put his own collar on you, and you let him. So I didn't know what to think, and I doubted you at first -- which was stupid of me. I never have again. So there's no reason for it to feel the same way." Except, his mind prompted him. He ignored it.
"Taketo," Salsa said. "Listen, I --"
"I trust you completely," Taketo said firmly. "You're my dog."
Whatever Salsa said been about to say, he apparently changed his mind. Instead, He leaned forward and sniffed. "Doesn't smell different," Salsa muttered. With that, he stuck out his tongue and dragged it over the mark slowly. "Tastes the same, too."
Taketo gasped, shrinking back. He'd felt the contact of Salsa's tongue on his skin, but also farther inside. Somewhere. And that somewhere seemed to be resonating uncomfortably now, like a struck tuning fork. Is that the stone? he wondered.
"What?" Salsa demanded. "You got something against dog spit now?"
"Yeah," Taketo agreed without thinking, "feels kind of gross." Salsa's eyes narrowed, and Taketo realized that he'd just said precisely the wrong thing -- Salsa was already hunkering down.
"No, that's not what I meant!" Taketo scrambling backward on the floor, "Wait, uh, Salsa -- no, Salsa-/sama/, I, I totally apologize!"
"Too late!" Salsa snapped back, kicking off and taking him down like a fur wrecking ball.
"Whoa!" Taketo shouted. "No!"
"Ha! So you don't like dog drool now? Well, how about /this?/" Salsa said, covering Taketo's entire face with wet tongue, leaving copious slobber. "How about /this?/" Salsa was pushing his wet tongue into Taketo's ear, "And /this?/"
"Gugh! No, Salsa, cut it out --!" Taketo said, trying with no success to push him off. Inside his chest, the resonance had increased -- it was now like a hum that he could almost /hear/. He grabbed for a handful of Salsa's pelt, but his hands slid over skin.
Salsa had butted aside Taketo's chin so he could lick his neck, and now his hand dropped down; he began to finger the mark on Taketo's chest, running the pads of his fingers over it, tracing the circle shape.
"Mnn," Salsa said.
"Salsa, uh," Taketo said. Wait. Skin, fingers, he thought, dazed. Salsa changed.
Salsa muttered something that sounded like Taketo's name, then pulled back a little to move down; he began to lick the mark on Taketo's chest, long strokes of wetness, then tracing the shape with the tip of his tongue. His hand dropped lower to fumble with the last few buttons on Taketo's shirt. "Protect . . . only you," Salsa was mumbling, nuzzling and licking his mark, "fight only for you . . ."
Taketo shivered, clutching at Salsa's shoulders and wondering what he should do. Nothing like this had ever happened before. The humming sensation radiating out from his chest as Salsa touched his mark was making him dizzy.
Salsa now grasped Taketo's hip and pulled him up against him. Then he pushed Taketo's shirt aside, and began to stroke his stomach with his palm. "Mmm, Taketo," he murmured, "down here, right? You like it right here?"
What did he say? Taketo thought, the fog lifting a little. Wasn't that . . . what he'd say to Salsa when he was brushing him? Taketo stiffened. Then he grabbed a handful of Salsa's hair and yanked as hard as he could. "Hey, Salsa!" he said. "Hold it. What's going on?"
Salsa lifted his head. "Hunh?" he said, looking befuddled.
"Salsa," Taketo said. "I think we need to --"
Salsa sat up abruptly, staring at him. "Taketo," he said.
"Yes, me," Taketo agreed. He tried again, "Salsa, listen, we need to --"
"Shit," Salsa breathed, horrified. "What the hell was I doing to you?" He jerked away the hand that was still resting on Taketo's stomach.
"No, I'm fine," Taketo said quickly, "but I think we need to --" But Salsa wasn't listening -- he was a black and tan streak of fur shooting though the door. Taketo scrambled to catch up. "Salsa, wait!" The front door slammed just as Taketo stumbled into the living room.
"I think we need to talk?" Taketo said lamely to the closed door.
Behind him, he heard that the TV had been going full blast. "Why won't anyone let Wolf sleep?" the lump of blankets on the couch grumbled. "First old guys, now you guys. Let's play /later/."
"Hunh?" Taketo said. With that, he caught sight of the clock -- he was going to be late at the pet shop if he didn't run. He sighed. Oh, terrific. He'd have to try to catch Salsa later.