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 was still barking, but at least he'd moved farther away. Somewhere closer, a vaguely familiar voice announced, "Yeah, he's awake all right."
"Is /not/. Stop prodding him like that!"
Taketo was already tired of listening to this conversation, so he opened his eyes. Two eyes were staring back into his own. "Salsa?" he said.
"That's an insult, right?" Wolf said, eyes narrowing.
"Wolf!" Taketo yelped, fully awake and pressing back into the pillow. "Where's --"
"Ah, Iwase-kun, you are awake!"
"Told you," Wolf said smugly.
"Tanaka-kun? Why are you -- oh, wait." He looked around. "This is the hospital?"
"It's the hospital!" Tanaka affirmed. "You're fine, the police --"
"Where's Salsa?" Taketo interrupted. He levered himself up on an elbow, and could see that Wolf and Tanaka, of all the unlikely people, were the only ones in the room with him.
"He's fine, too," Tanaka said. "You can see him later."
"Why can't I see him now, instead of, uh --"
"Wolf-sama, who saved your ass?" Wolf said, annoyed.
"Saved me," Taketo said, "from what?"
"He said you didn't come back to your apartment, so he went out to look for you," Tanaka said, eyeing Wolf with dislike.
Wolf shrugged. "Real easy smell to follow. Wolf was just gonna dig a hole and dump the body, but the Dog said not to -- dunno why. Said you needed to go to the hospital, too. So Wolf had to call the cops." Wolf frowned at the thought of police, but then brightened. "Hey, it was just like on TV."
"Body," Taketo said, now remembering. "Oh. Oh yeah." He couldn't recall the name Shido had given that guy, but then Taketo thought he had extenuating circumstances for the social lapse. His brother was no doubt freaking out; he'd probably want to hold Taketo hostage himself for at least a month to keep anyone else from doing it again.
But, more importantly, 'the Dog said' meant that Salsa really was all right then -- Taketo felt a tight knot of anxiety loosen in his chest. He still wanted to know why Salsa wasn't there, but Tanaka was clearing this throat.
"Iwase-kun," Tanaka said, nervously pushing his horn-rims into place, "your brother only left because we said we'd stay with you . . . and, uh, not fight, yes. But before he comes back to talk to you, I, well . . . since we're friends, my sensei has asked me to . . well, that is . . . he felt that . . ." He coughed, turning red and clutching at his clipboard. "Iwase-kun! Please share with me your traumatic experience!"
"My what?" Taketo said, blinking.
"Your traumatic experience," Tanaka repeated, terribly sincere. "Because we're both men/, we can talk about these anguishing matters like /men do."
"We can?" Taketo said, still having no idea what Tanaka was talking about.
"Puppy there wants all the hot details," Wolf said. "He wants to take notes."
"Hot details?" Taketo said, a dire suspicion now forming.
"That's unsympathetic and, and /inhuman!/" Tanaka said.
"Does Wolf smell human to you?" To Taketo, he said, "He thinks that dead guy raped you."
"What?" Taketo shouted, bolting upright.
"Now now, Iwase-kun," Tanaka said, waving a hand weakly, "it's perfectly understandable that you don't want anyone to know, but the physical examination --"
Wolf was now laughing so hard he'd rolled out of his chair.
"Oh god," Taketo said. "Tanaka-kun, just stop right there."
"It's not funny," Tanaka yelled at Wolf, furious, "Iwase-kun was --"
"Dummy, that Salsa dog did it," Wolf wheezed.
"Saru-inu?" Tanaka froze, and blinked once. Then blinked again. "But Saru-inu's an anim--, I mean a . . . a he," Tanaka trailed off, appalled.
"Definitely a 'he'," Taketo muttered grimly; sitting up had introduced him to an all-new kind of ache.
"Definitely an animal," Wolf added, rolling on the floor. "Wolf's really glad he's here!"
"You!" Tanaka said, pointing. "How could you know something like that!"
"Use your damn nose -- he reeks of him," Wolf said scornfully. To Taketo, he said, "But you don't smell like 'fuck me now!' anymore, which means the stupid Dog finally did it."
As Taketo gaped at him, Tanaka blurted, "You didn't have to tell him /that./"
Taketo swung around to stare at Tanaka. "Tanaka-kun," he said, "you're not implying that I . . . that everyone was . . . ?"
"No no no, Iwase-kun," Tanaka assured him in a panic. "Not everyone! Only a wild-half would have smelled it!" Then, with his usual scrupulous fairness, he continued, "And probably the animals at that pet shop. And maybe any animals you'd meet on the street. And, well, Karasuma-sensei may have noticed. And --"
"Enough," Taketo cut him off, groaning.
"Wolf figured that stupid Dog just didn't know how," he said, tossing himself back in the chair and lacing his fingers behind his head. "Wolf would have taken care of it eventually, if he didn't." He added, matter-of-fact, "No Takahashi. Nice smell."
Tanaka and Taketo both stared at him in horror, and the barking outside hit a fever pitch.
"That barking," Taketo said, with a sudden realization. "That's not --?"
"Yeah, idiot's been running laps around the hospital," Wolf said. "Guess he's finally made it back to this side."
"But why doesn't he just come in?" Salsa's not . . . is he avoiding me? Again? Taketo thought.
"No no, Iwase-kun, he's not avoiding you," Tanaka said hastily. "But this hospital doesn't permit animals inside. That includes dogs, of course."
"Oh yeah?" Wolf said. "So what about --"
"I'm not a dog, I'm a student here, obviously!" Tanaka said angrily. "Iwase-kun, Saru-inu hasn't been able to change from a dog, he's stuck. He was that way when they found you, and --"
"Forget him," Wolf said flatly. "Now that you're awake, we've got something more important to discuss."
Taketo recognized the signs of Wolf in his 'or else' mode, even if Takana didn't. "Like?" he said warily.
"Like the clubs Wolf's going to," Wolf said cheerfully. He propped his boots on the bed, and leaned the chair back. "Yeah, as soon as you're out of here, we can go!"
"Feet," Tanaka gasped. "On the bed. Feet on the bed!"
"Shut up, puppy" Wolf said lazily.
"Wolf," Taketo said, slumping. "I know I promised to we'd all go out, but you can see that I haven't had time to --"
"Don't worry," Wolf continued blithely, "Wolf's already looked around. Wolf will bring that art girl from the park, and that --"
"Wait," Taketo interrupted. "Art girl from the park?"
"Yeah," Wolf said. "Wolf asked her to draw Takahashi, and she yelled at Wolf to go away. Said Wolf should be ashamed, that he was 10 years too early." He considered it a moment, puzzled. "Huh. Wolf doesn't know what that 'ashamed' stuff is." Then he smiled thinly, pleased. "But Wolf's got her scent now. Real nice. Like cats -- pretty tasty."
"Tasty?" Tanaka gaped at him.
Taketo just groaned. Fujieda must be home on some sort of break. Who would have guessed that her aggressive shyness was wolf-bait?
"Wha-at, you know that art girl?" Wolf said, looking at him surprised. "Great -- we'll take her. When Takahashi gets back, Wolf will give her to him." Taketo could even picture it: Wolf tossing Fujieda over one shoulder, a bag filled with her cats over the other, shouting, "Let's go! Hokkaido! Takahashi!" while she shrieked, "No! You're one hundred years too young! One thousand! Aren't you ashamed?!"
Taketo desperately felt the need for someone who'd understand his problems, not keep heaping more onto the pile. "Wolf," Taketo said, "I'm sorry, but I really need to talk to Salsa first."
"They're not going to let a dog into any of the clubs," Wolf said, confused.
"Maybe after I've talked to him, we can figure his problem out," Taketo said patiently. "See, I can't go anywhere without Salsa. I wouldn't have any fun."
Wolf studied him narrowly. Then he shrugged, and unfolded himself from the chair. "Dog it is."
Tanaka and Taketo both stared, as Wolf strode over to the window.
"Iwase-kun," Tanaka whispered. "What's he doing? We're on the second floor!"
Wolf unlatched the window, slid it aside and shouted, "Stupid Dog, shut the hell up!"
"Get out of the way, damn it! Taketo, I'm coming up there!"
A few moments later Wolf turned around dangling a furious Salsa by the scruff of his neck. "Huh, you're noisy and you're clumsy," he said. "So is Dog going to thank Wolf properly for saving him from going face-first into the wall?"
"Go to hell," Salsa snapped.
"Okay," Wolf said agreeably, turning back to the window, "you first."
"Wolf!" Taketo pleaded, "c'mon, please don't drop Salsa out the window!"
Wolf paused, considering. "Yeah, all right," he said -- he tossed Salsa over his shoulder instead, and he crashed into the far wall with a thump. "But he better sing good karaoke," Wolf added, warningly.
"You boondocks bastard," Salsa snarled, rolling to his feet. "Your ass is mine!"
"Hey, hey!" Taketo said, waving his hands.
"A weak doggie like you?" Wolf sneered. He stabbed out a finger: "Five drinks, and you'll be licking Wolf's feet!"
"/Ten/," Salsa shot back, "You'll be whining for your Salsa-sama!"
"/Twenty drinks!/" Wolf said, now delighted, fist shooting into the air. "Dog will be Wolf's bitch!"
"Wait a minute." Salsa stared, open-mouthed. He said, slowly, "What is this idiot talking about?"
"He was talking about going out to a club," Taketo said, collapsing back into his pillow. "You should figure out what the topic is before you jump into it, shouldn't you?"
"There," Wolf said, dusting off his hands. "Dog delivery, Wolf's fee in drinks."
"You! Saru-inu!" Tanaka was pointing a stiff finger at Salsa. "Don't tire out my patient! Or touch him! Or look at him! Or do anything else!"
"Like what?" Salsa said, perplexed.
"Stuff! Don't do it!" Tanaka said firmly, then stumped to the door. "Iwase-kun, I'm going to call your brother. /Right now./"
"Uh, okay," Taketo said. "Thanks?" But he was already running down the hall.
"Wolf will guard the door," Wolf said, striking a heroic stance.
"Just go home," Salsa snarled. "No one wants you here."
"Right, Wolf understands. Dog wants those nurses and doctors and police and reporters and friends to come in now," Wolf said, nodding. "Dog's an exhibitionist."
"Guard the door!" Salsa said, hurriedly. Wolf tilted his head expectantly, and Salsa ground his teeth. "Please, Wolf, would you guard the door?"
"Hnn," Wolf said, sauntering out. The door slammed.
"Since when are you Yoshiyasu's patient?" Salsa said, perplexed. "Isn't that grounds for malpractice?"
"Somewhere," Taketo told him, "there's a real doctor who's not dealing well with my male identity crisis."
"Your /what?/" Salsa said. "Am I supposed to know what the hell's been going on in here?"
"I've wondered, too," Taketo said. "Never mind -- just do not forget to remind me when I get out of here that we have to rescue Fujieda."
"Eri Fujieda?" Salsa said. "Rescue her from what, the French?"
"I'll explain later," Taketo said. "In the meantime --"
"In the meantime," Salsa said, "how are you feeling?"
"You can't tell?" Taketo said, surprised. "Um, headache, some rope burns --"
"Couldn't heal those," Salsa mumbled.
"-- and I think I might be sitting on a pillow for at least a week," he said. As Salsa went hangdog, he added, "But I'm sure that if I was expecting puppies Tanaka-kun would have called it to my attention."
"Taketo," Salsa said, appalled, "this isn't a joke."
"I wasn't joking," Taketo said, "not really."
"Taketo," he said despairingly. "I'm a dog. I'm attracted to /dogs/."
"I could tell." Taketo scratched his cheek with his finger. "Definitely a dog on top of me."
"You shouldn't have done that," Salsa said, looking away.
Taketo could feel him withdrawing. /Here we go again/, he thought, exasperated. "But isn't the question whether you're attracted to /me?/"
"Don't be an idiot," Salsa said bluntly. "Didn't they tell you? I'm a dog for good now. When that stone broke, I broke. There's no fix. You can see that."
"Salsa," Taketo said, "I want you to look at something." He reached up to unbutton the top button of his pajamas. "I had this idea." He undid the second button. "Your trigger has always been thoughts about things that excite you, right? Like walks, and soup bones, and brushing." He undid the third button.
Taketo looked down at Salsa, and noticed that his expression had gone glazed. "Salsa, why don't you just come up here where you can see this better?" Taketo said, patting the bed. Without argument for a change, Salsa put his front paws on the side of the bed, then boosted himself up as Taketo shifted aside to make more room.
He undid the fourth button, and parted the cloth. "I was positive it had broken, but you can see that the mark's still here. What I think happened is that it --"
The bed sagged under the additional weight of more Salsa, who was reaching out with a human hand to touch Taketo's full-moon mark.
"There, Salsa, see? That's what -- uhh, hey," Taketo said, as Salsa stroked the pad of his finger over the mark. "Salsa, wait --" Salsa had leaned in, and he swiped his tongue over the mark with a broad stroke. Taketo gasped: He'd felt that inside again, in the stone, like before. Salsa slid his hands over Taketo's chest, lapping at the mark. "Listen to me, Salsa," Taketo said, "you can't, not here --"
"Why not?" Salsa said thickly.
"We,we're in a hospital room!" Taketo said.
"But you want it right now." Salsa rolled on top of him, pressing him into the bed.
"I don't want it now," Taketo said, seizing hold of his pointed ears and tugging.
"You're lying," Salsa groaned, nuzzling his neck, "I can smell it."
Oh, Taketo thought helplessly. C'mon, not with Wolf sitting outside the door!
Salsa froze in place. Then he sat up abruptly, and reached out to jerk Taketo's pajamas back into place. Good point, he thought sourly.
In response to that, there was a thump on the door. "What? Keep going!" Wolf called.
"Damn it," Salsa said bitterly, rolling off the bed. Then Salsa lifted his hands, staring at them in wonder. "I changed," he said.
"You really didn't notice?" Taketo said. "I guess that answers my question." He sighed. "So your trigger's shifted a little, um, lower than your stomach. You're not going to be chasing dogs, at least not until the thrill wears off a little."
"Oh god, I'm Ginsei now," Salsa said, resting his head between his hands.
Taketo didn't have to ask what he meant anymore. "So is that so bad?" he said. "I think I'm the one with the problem here. My dog isn't cute at all. He's got a bad personality -- he's bossy and never does anything I tell him. He's got incredibly gross habits." He made a face of disgust. "I mean, he'll pee on anything that can't run away fast enough. And why would anyone want to roll around on a dead frog -- and then try to eat it, huh?"
"Stupid Taketo," Salsa mumbled, "doesn't understand anything /interesting/."
"No, I guess I don't," Taketo said. "But . . . I want you anyway. I can't help it."
"That's my fault. If I hadn't --"
"Stupid Salsa," Taketo cut him off, "when he doesn't even try to understand what I'm saying. I was right. It's exactly like Mirei."
"Nothing, talk about it later," Taketo said, letting it slide for now. "That's my bag over in the corner, I guess my brother brought it. He's probably not in the mood for finding a half-naked guy in the same room with me, so why don't you put something on before he gets here?"
"Good idea," Salsa mumbled. He pulled over the bag, unzipped it, and began to rummage through the contents. "Thought you said this was your bag. Whose junk is all this?" he said, holding up a half-empty bottle of sake.
"Hey, keep your paws off Wolf's stuff!" came the shout.
"Okay, not my bag anymore," Taketo said wanly. "Just borrow some clothes off him for now."
"When your brother gets here," Salsa said, answering the unspoken worry that had been lurking in Taketo's mind, "just say you don't remember and stick to it. You got hit on the head, didn't you? So you had a concussion. They won't know it's a lie."
"You want to tell your brother the truth? About what?" Salsa said. "How do you think he'd like to hear you did it with a dog?"
"Less than he'll like me doing with a guy, I guess," Taketo said.
"'Don't do as I do, do as I say'," Salsa muttered.
"What?" Taketo said.
"Nothing," he said. "Here's what's happened today. Your brother got called out because Wild Half sent one of his faxes to the police. He told them what the point of connection was that they'd been looking for with the killings."
/Aniki's going to be thrilled about that/, Taketo thought.
"Yeah yeah, I know he loves me. Anyway, I strongly recommended that they go talk to a certain doctor at a certain clinic." Salsa shrugged. "Right now, I'm sure they're discovering that the place was cleaned out in a hurry, which ought to be suspicious enough to suit them. If Shido was there as long as he said, he'll have trouble shifting the accumulation in time, so they ought to be able to get something out of it. Otherwise, we walk away like we usually do, let 'em draw their own conclusions."
"Shido's going to come back eventually," Taketo said.
"Yeah, he will," Salsa agreed. He looked at Taketo. "That's what life's always going to be like around me. You have a chance to --"
"After four years," Taketo said, "I've already figured that out. You know."
"Yeah, well, I guess you would have." Salsa slumped. "So what do we do about /that?/"
"It's up to you. I'm not your master anymore. I don't want a pet," Taketo said, carefully. "I wouldn't mind having a partner. But if you don't want to /that/, you don't have to. I'm never going to stop feeling the way I do about you, so you won't have to worry about going running out of power."
"Well, it's not like I need that either," Salsa muttered, looking away. He added grudgingly, "But I guess I could do it if that's what you wanted."
"Ha. Dog totally wants to do it!" came the helpful information from the other side of the door.
"Shut up!" Salsa roared, shaking a fist full of jeans. Then he looked at the jeans more carefully. "Hey, aren't these mine?" He pulled a tee-shirt out the bag, and emblazoned across the front was "I Love Ginsei!" with his picture.
"Well, no one's specifically told him not to take their stuff yet," Taketo said, trying for reasonable.
"Cannot believe that asshole," Salsa said, fuming. "And these boots -- these are mine, too!"
"Then at least you know they'll fit," Taketo pointed out, watching an embarrassed Salsa squeeze himself into the Ginsei shirt.
"The other thing I've been wanting to talk to you about," Taketo said, "concerns you."
Salsa paused from stuffing his paw into the boot. "What?"
"My life," Taketo said, tired. "It's like one of those really bad TV dramas, where the misunderstandings keep piling up higher and higher." He ticked them off on his fingers: "I want Maria-san to stop sleeping in that hammock in her store every night because she refuses to admit she's in love with Aniki because she's got this weird idea he's in love with Karasuma-sensei. I want Aniki to stop getting plastered and sleeping with Karasuma-sensei because he's really in love with Maria-san. I want Ginsei to stop being patient and scary about it all." He sighed. "I want Aniki to stop using me as an excuse to put off talking to Maria-san. And I want Mirei to stop trying to force Miya-chan to date me because she refuses to acknowledge that Miya-chan already knows what she wants -- a lot like someone else I know."
Salsa stared at him, shocked. "You knew about all that stuff," he said flatly.
"I guess," Taketo admitted, shrugging. "In spite of you not telling me, yeah. But I've had my own problems -- I have school, and part-time jobs, and all the housekeeping at home, and a stupid dog who wasn't sleeping with me."
"Taketo . . ." Salsa said, flinching. "Fine, whatever. But I haven't forgotten, even if you seem to have, that your brother threatened to shave off all my fur the next time you interfered with his farce of a love life."
"But I can't help but care about all this," Taketo said, thoughtfully. "So that's what I wanted to talk about: I think the only solution to everyone's problems is for me to move out. With you. Before classes start again."
"And you'll be explaining that to your brother how?" Salsa said.
"Let's see. As a result of the blow to my head, I achieved enlightenment, and now I want to live as an ascetic hermit with my dog," Taketo said.
"How about this then? I've been sleeping with one of my high school classmates for a few years now, that foreign-looking kid with the same last name. Now I want to live with him and my dog."
"Next, your brother shoots me." Salsa's scowl was fearsome. "With the same gun I got returned to him. You've got to be joking."
"No. And it's got the benefit of being true. I'm tired of lying to Aniki," Taketo said, "though I have to skip the part about that guy and my dog being the same person. Even though I've had to support a greedy canine, I've been saving up from all my jobs. I think I've got enough in the post office for the key money and the other costs for my own place, if Aniki will keep paying all the university fees. Might have to start with a ratty-tatami hole-in-the-wall, but --"
"That's a lot of money," Salsa broke in, staring at him. "Saving up /how long?/"
When this mark first went full, Taketo thought to himself, I knew I'd be spending the rest of my life with you. He shrugged. "For a while. It's up to you. You can go anywhere you want. But do you want to? Live with me?"
Salsa crossed his arms and stared at the ceiling. "Who'd want to live with someone as stingy as you?" he said.
"Good," Taketo said, from long experience of translating from Salsa. "I'm really glad."
"Yeah," Salsa said.
Relieved to have the hard parts out of the way, Taketo flopped back onto his pillow, idly puzzling over a weird image he'd just had of himself in a collar and a leash sprawled out on a tatami floor. No, wait a minute. That notion definitely hadn't been /his/. "A collar and leash?" he said. "Salsa, what the hell?"
"Eh?" Salsa said, starting guiltily. "What are you talking about?"
"Just now, weren't you thinking --"
"I wasn't thinking --"
From the other side of the door to the hallway came the shout, "Hot! Wolf's coming, too."
"So you were thinking," Taketo said accusingly.
"Wolf bastard, shut the hell up," Salsa bellowed.
"Wolf thought that one with the dog was good, too," he shouted back.
Salsa scowled and muttered, "What one with the --?" Taketo rolled over quickly, but it was too late; Salsa had caught sight of his face. "Oh," Salsa said, blushing.
"Wolf, just be quiet!" Taketo yelled.
"He's not going with us," Salsa said.
"Definitely not going with us," Taketo agreed.
The door to the hall slammed open, and Wolf bounded through waving yet another suspect cell phone, this one blue with a mass of tiny Gundams on the strap. "Don't worry! Wolf will call Takahashi," he said happily. "Wolf will tell him where we're moving!"
"Forget it, you asshole werewolf," Salsa said. "It'll be a psycho-free zone -- that means you're never staying there, and neither is that damned Shouhei Abe."
"/Not/ Abe," Wolf growled, eyes narrowing dangerously. "Takahashi."
As Wolf and Salsa descended into another of their flailing, snarling free-for-alls, Taketo began to wonder who else was going to be trying to move in with them. Resigned, he scrapped all his estimates and started calculating again for shares.