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!)
Salsa . . . why? Taketo thought, in despair. But there was no answer -- the bond between them was completely dead. It's just a misunderstanding, he decided. Just because he couldn't tell what Salsa was feeling now didn't mean . . . But hadn't that been true for a while? he realized, shaken. Salsa hadn't been giving him any real access to his feelings for a long time. He's been keeping me at a distance so long that . . . I've only been guessing how he feels, haven't I?
So Taketo waited silently, as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He could now see that there was a dim glow coming from several long, narrow ventilation grills near the ceiling. Maybe it was streetlight or moonlight -- he had no idea. He waited.
"Taketo," Salsa said, at last. "Can you move yet?"
Taketo shifted his arm. "It's wearing off," he confirmed listlessly. "Probably won't take much longer."
"Good," Salsa said. "You've got to get out of here. Once you're mobile again, stay as far from me as you can get, and make as much noise as you can manage. Yell, scream, whatever it takes. Those refrigeration ducts apparently aren't hooked up, so the sound might carry though those vents. Someone outside might --"
"What about you?" Taketo said.
"-- hear you," Salsa continued, ignoring him. "Someone can come and get you in time."
"Salsa, what's wrong?" Taketo said. He was, at last, beginning to feel something other than numb -- he was angry. "Tell me what's going on!"
"I know what he had in mind, if that's what you mean," Salsa said wryly. "He's trying to force out my werewolf."
"But we killed it!" Taketo said. "There's nothing to force out."
"Yeah. He didn't know that." After a moment, Salsa said again, "You've got to get out of here."
"Something was wrong with that stone," Taketo said. "What was it?"
"Dunno," Salsa said. "It wasn't as hard as yours. Felt softer. Smelled and tasted bad, like dirt. It's . . . dissolved, I think. Spread out."
"Inside you," Taketo said.
When Salsa didn't say anything else, Taketo prompted him. "And?"
"You've got to get out of here," Salsa repeated. "Don't waste time talking to me. Get yourself moving."
Taketo thought about that view he'd had of Salsa's back. "What's it doing?" he demanded.
"Taketo . . ."
"No, you're going to tell me," he said, insistent. "You're changing, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Salsa said, voice now sounding raspy, "it's forcing a change."
"Into what?" Taketo said.
"Salsa," Taketo prompted him impatiently.
"I mean it. I'm not Ginsei, I don't know about this stuff. Hell, I didn't even think a stone could last that long outside a host. All I know is that stones are made of feelings, and these aren't . . ." He paused, then said, carefully, "Taketo, these aren't the good kind. Don't come near me, and don't touch me. Got that?"
"Okay, but --"
"No buts," Salsa said. "I can hold this off for a while, or at least slow it down. That'll buy you time."
Taketo groaned, pushing himself up to a sitting position. He unbuttoned a few buttons of his shirt; the moon mark on his chest had always had a faint glimmering sheen in the dark, but now he could see nothing. But it's still here, he thought, running a finger over his skin. Something's still here, even if I can't see it.
"But Salsa," he said, "we ought to be able to get it out of you. If you'd just --"
"Forget it," Salsa said curtly. "I've got a quicker way to finish this if I have to."
Taketo blinked. He knew what Salsa meant -- Ginsei had told them that his brother Kuro had ripped out his own heart to stop a transformation gone wrong. "No," Taketo said. "No way. You are not going to do that! There's no need to do that! You get power from my feelings," Taketo said, clutching at the mark on his chest. "From this stone. No, it's my feelings and your feelings -- together. Our feelings for each other. That bond is the basis of a moonlight stone. We just need to --"
"I'm not bonding with you again," Salsa cut him off.
"Not --?" Taketo sat back, stunned. "What you told Shido, that wasn't the truth."
"Taketo, I told you before," Salsa said, "you don't think. If you did, you'd already know the reason your mark has been feeling that way."
"No, I want you to explain this to me." Taketo yelled, forcing himself to his feet against the wall. "Salsa, I love you -- you're my dog!"
"You always say that so easily," Salsa muttered.
"Well, why wouldn't I?" Taketo said. "I mean it."
"Because I didn't want to be your dog any longer. That's why your mark felt that way," Salsa said. "Taking out the stone would have messed you up like the last time. So instead I just . . ."
"What . . . are you saying?" Taketo said. "Salsa, why?"
"That's why it's . . . dead now. This is all my fault," Salsa said, "I'm sorry."
"Fine. If you're sorry, then don't do this -- it's not dead," Taketo said. "It's still here. The mark's still here."
"But I don't feel anything," Salsa snapped at him. "Nothing. Do you get it now?"
This can't be happening, he thought. Taketo slumped, sliding back down against the wall. Salsa didn't really mean it -- he couldn't mean it. It wasn't possible. Taketo folded his arms over his knees, and wiped his nose against his sleeve. Salsa still cared about him, he thought. So what they really had was a communication problem, and Salsa . . . wasn't communicating.
Or maybe he had been all along. So maybe, like he said, I haven't been thinking. Now I'm going to. As he listened to Salsa's breathing in the corner becoming harsher, deeper, Taketo thought about himself, and about Salsa, and about the two of them together.
He and Salsa had never had the same kind of problems as the other wild-half pairs they'd known. Taketo had never considered it before: Why haven't we? For one thing, Salsa was the one who'd chosen Taketo -- first he'd stolen Taketo's lunch, then he'd taken over his bed, then he'd helped himself to the rest of his life. Taketo had known from the start that Salsa wasn't an ordinary dog; he'd spoken to Taketo right away, and Taketo had seen his human form not long after.
Salsa hadn't made Taketo wait. He hadn't hidden what he was, not like Ginsei, Tanaka, or Mirei. So their relationship had been different all along. Wasn't that a good thing? But then again, Salsa had tried to eat Taketo once. No one else had done that, aside from Akamichi . . .
But a wild-half like Wolf or Crow didn't have a were-side; only the domesticated ones did. Was that because they had to suppress a lot of natural urges to be a pet? That had to make a difference, Taketo thought. Look at Tanaka: he'd been raised as the Tanakas' grandson -- he'd never be able to adjust to being a pet, no matter how much Salsa nagged him to act more like a dog. And why does Salsa keep going on about that, anyway? Taketo frowned. It's not like Tanaka-kun's unhappy. What am I missing here?
Taketo wondered suddenly if Yamanaka had a stone yet. He didn't think he'd survive long if he tried to find out, but he thought he knew the answer. He'd even bet it was even as full as his own. So why hadn't Tanaka changed and attacked her? Taketo blinked. But Yamanaka-san's not Tanaka-kun's owner, is she? She's his . . . girlfriend. Did that make a difference, too? As soon as the question occurred to him, the answer was obvious. Different type of relationship entirely. Taketo reddened.
For that matter, Taketo wondered, had Salsa even wanted to be a pet? He was remembering now that, in the beginning, Salsa had insisted on his independence. When had that changed? Hadn't Salsa had simply given in and let Taketo have what he'd wanted? Now that Taketo was older . . . had what he wanted changed, too? If it had, even if Taketo hadn't realized it yet himself, Salsa would have picked up on it immediately. So were they like Mirei and Miya, with Salsa convinced that he was doing what was best for Taketo? /Stupid Salsa/, it wasn't as though what Taketo wanted had ever been different from . . . what Salsa wanted . . .
Taketo really hoped an urge to wear cute, matching pajamas was just Karasuma's thing, and not some sort of terrifying side effect.
"'Cause I'm not wearing those, even for you," Taketo stated. "I guess I've been kind of dumb."
"Yeah, I know," Salsa snapped. "So Taketo, listen to me, damn it. You have to --"
"No, not about that -- just be quiet," Taketo cut him off. To himself, he muttered, "Okay, so that stone Shido had . . . " Taketo knew from firsthand experience how overprotective and territorial a wild-half could be. Why would there have been other cats in that woman's house? Unless . . .
If that wild-half cat hadn't been a pet, then what was it? Ginsei was the only wild-half he'd met who remembered his parents; his mother had been an ordinary dog, and Ginsei and Kuro had been the only wild-half puppies in their litter. But a wild-half animal had two forms, didn't it? So what was to stop them from, from . . . Maybe Shido was wrong -- maybe none of them had been ordinary cats. The stones were nothing but feelings solidified, and the stone they'd forced Salsa to eat was the feelings of someone who'd died. It's like a ghost, Taketo decided, with a really serious ax to grind, and it'll take out anyone in swinging distance.
But Taketo already knew how to exorcise it. Maybe neither of them had been ready to change what they had up to now. But in the end what they wanted was the same.
"I don't want to be your master anymore," Taketo said.
"You already aren't," Salsa said curtly.
"But that doesn't mean I'm leaving you," Taketo continued. "You said you'd protect only me, fight only for me. You said that would never change. Has it?"
"I'm not leaving," Taketo repeated. "I didn't know Mitsuki, but I know how he felt. What Shido doesn't get -- what you don't seem to get -- is that even if you guys had known about the werewolf, he wouldn't have abandoned you. He'd have stuck it out and taken his chances, just like I did. Just like I'm going to."
"What you're going to do is get out of here," Salsa said, "or I'm going to end this now."
"If you do that," Taketo said, "I'll come over there to stop you."
"Taketo, you've got to stay away from me," Salsa said. "I told you --"
"If you don't want to hurt me, then don't hurt yourself," Taketo said bluntly. "Our bond is the source of your power, right? If it comes back, you'll be able to control your own change again, you'll be able to get rid of that. I remember how the mark appeared the first time -- I just didn't know what it meant then. I do now. All we have to do is feel all the same things for each other, strongly enough, at the same time." He took a deep breath, and asked, "So I'm going to reconnect our feelings. One way or another. You going to cooperate?"
"Taketo, I don't want you to," Salsa said, growling. "And you can't force me to feel something I don't want to feel."
"Wanna bet?" Taketo said. "Listen to this: After I came back from the pet shop this afternoon, Wolf had me pinned to the floor, and he was kissing me. This cut on my tongue is from his fangs. He was smelling me, Salsa. He licked me. He forced my legs apart. You could probably still smell Wolf on me when you got here. And you can smell that I'm not lying, can't you?"
The black lump in the corner shuddered; Taketo heard a light scrabble of claws on metal. He could tell: once Salsa got too distracted, he'd lose any control over this change. So Taketo had to hurry.
"Salsa, did hearing that piss you off?" he asked. When Salsa didn't answer, he forged on: "Wolf wasn't even awake -- he called me Takahashi/. So I've realized something. Wolf is a true werewolf, he didn't eat his master and become that way, he was /born that way. He's never had to suppress his own instincts, so he doesn't need someone else's feelings to give him power, not like a domestic wild-half does." Taketo another took a deep breath. "So he's never looked at Takahashi as master. Takahashi's never looked at him as a pet."
"Taketo, stop it." Salsa's voice was hoarse. "You don't know what you're --"
"No," Taketo cut him off. "What did you really want to do to me this morning, Salsa? Tell me."
"I'm not going to listen to this," Salsa said.
"That's fine. Even if you stop listening," Taketo said, "you can't stop breathing." Taketo closed his eyes and summon back to mind his morning. This should be more than enough to generate some nice smells, he thought grimly.
"This morning, you were watching me unbutton my shirt for you," Taketo said. "I was showing you my mark, do you remember that? You wanted to smell it." He could almost feel the shock of Salsa's cold, wet nose again. "You were smelling my mark, and then . . . you licked it." Taketo tried to call back to mind the resonance he'd felt in his body -- but nothing was happening yet. He's trying to fight? I'll try harder.
"You were licking me, Salsa," Taketo said. "Your tongue is really long and flat, and wet. I could feel it inside the stone every time you lapped my mark. Then you were licking my throat and face, and pushing your tongue into my ear. And then you /changed/, and you were tracing the mark with your fingers, then with your tongue, and . . . uhh, stroking my stomach." Taketo swallowed.
"You were stroking my stomach with the palm of your hand, and your thigh was up against mine . . . I could feel how hard you were, Salsa," Taketo admitted. "Did you feel how hard I'd gotten for you?"
The mound of fur in the corner that was Salsa had gone still and silent. Taketo rubbed his chest: He'd just felt a solid twinge. The stone was reacting to /something/. He didn't think it was just him.
"And you started to trace the waistband of my jeans with your fingers, just like this." Taketo lowered his hand to do the same. "What did you want to do after that, Salsa? Were you going to unbutton my jeans? Like this?" Taketo slipped the button free and slowly pulled down the zipper so that the sound was clear in the quiet room. "You can hear this, can't you, Salsa? I'm opening them up for you now.
"Isn't this what you wanted to do? You wanted to reach down here like this," Taketo paused to lick his hand, then he slid it under the waistband of his underwear, "and you wanted to wrap your hand around me like this? Salsa, your hands are so big -- uhn, I can imagine how that would feel."
Suddenly, even as Taketo felt a sharp flare of pain in his chest, Salsa came roaring back to life, almost deafening him in the enclosed space: "Damn it, Taketo, if you've got this much breath to waste, use it to yell for help! Someone might hear you and come!"
Nice try, but not going to work/, Taketo thought. /You're not distracting me at all. Can you hear this yet, Salsa?
"You don't know," Salsa said, voice ragged, "that this would even work."
"We both leave together or only you leave. I'm fine with that."
"Too bad." Taketo licked his hand again, and went back to work. "You can smell this, can't you Salsa? I'm getting harder right now. It's all from thinking about you," he said. "It's just from thinking about you touching me, stroking me with your hand. But I bet you wanted to use your mouth/, didn't you? You wanted to lick me here, you wanted to suck me. You wanted to /smell me. You could . . . could," Taketo gasped, "you could press your nose here and smell me. Isn't that what you want to do?"
"Taketo," Salsa's breathing was now loud and rasping. "I can't . . . I don't want this."
The stone in Taketo's chest was arguing otherwise; he was starting to hear disjointed sounds in his mind. And it really hurts, Taketo thought wonderingly; his mark had never hurt in precisely this way before. It had become a battle between competing aches. "Salsa, c'mon," he groaned, starting to work his jeans down his hips, "I,I'm dripping now. Can't you smell this? Don't you want to lick it?"
Their connection flared into searing life again with a force that left Taketo shaking. He slid down to his knees. "Salsa," he said, "look . . . the mark's starting to glow again . . . I'm touching it right now with my fingers. But I want you to touch it. I want you to lick it again." He was sensing a flood of hot chaotic feelings, and he was having trouble separating his own. Taketo bit his lip hard. "Salsa, I, I can feel what you want now, you know." He dropped heavily onto his hands. "Salsa . . . ngh, you can smell what I'm feeling. You can feel how ready I am. You /know/."
Taketo's chest felt like it was tearing apart from the inside. "Salsa, that's . . . want to do that," his own thoughts were being swamped under feelings and impulses that weren't making sense to him. "Just like that, unnn, brush your fur," he muttered raggedly, "and lift your tail and smell you and lick you, and take you in my mouth and lick you and suck you, Salsa, I . . . "
Salsa lurched out of the corner, and Taketo squeezed his eyes shut so that he couldn't see what was dragging itself across the floor to him, making those weird, guttural noises, with claws that scraped a little too long over the floor. No . . . it's Salsa, he thought faintly, it is. He could feel him, and he could feel how much Salsa wanted him. Somewhere inside him the stone was white and hot and filled with Salsa.
And what was left of Taketo didn't recognize his own voice anymore. "Salsa," he whined, "hurry, come on, I'm ready for you, hurry . . ." The cold shock of Salsa's nose as his muzzle thrust itself under Taketo's belly, sniffing him, made him aware of a small voice in the back of his mind, which might have been the last shreds of his sanity, shrieking that this was too fast, the stone had never felt this way, wasn't supposed to feel this way, was dangerous, had to stop -- but Taketo was completely synched with Salsa's feelings now, and Salsa's feelings were dominating his own, and that was how it was supposed to be, and he couldn't do anything except writhe as Salsa nuzzled and sniffed him thoroughly. Salsa was growling steadily, a low thunder that vibrated everywhere his muzzle touched.
Then Salsa's tongue shot out to lick him, just as Taketo needed him to. "Unh, Sa . . . Salsa!" he gasped, shuddering, as Salsa's long, moist tongue explored him. Taketo could feel everything Salsa wanted now; Salsa nudged him with his muzzle, so Taketo raised his hips and groveled down on his forearms so that his back was arched, just as he knew Salsa wanted. "Please," he begged, "I'm ready, mate with me, Salsa, c'mon . . ." Salsa was behind him, and Taketo was panting, muttering brokenly, "I'm ready, I want it, lick me, put your tongue in, lick me back there, please hurry please lick me, please Salsa I need it, put it in, Salsa, please put it in, hurry . . ."
Salsa mounted him, his rough pads on half-hands scrapping over Taketo's skin, grappling at his hips. Then the claws sank in, and Salsa jerked him back suddenly -- and it /hurt/. "Aah," Taketo shouted, "Salsa!" then again and again, as Salsa began to push and thrust, trying to get deeper inside him.
The stone inside Taketo cracked, with a cold, bright sound.
In that lucid moment, Taketo knew he'd made a mistake. He knew he was being dragged over the cold floor of a storage room, with something large, heavy, furred bearing down on him, shuddering.
"Take . . . to."
"Salsa, no, wait! This wasn't supposed to --!"
Their stone shattered inside him, a burst of white. A black sensation of earth crumbling away.