Title: Chasing Rabbits
Fandom: Wolf's Rain
Warnings: Misplaced capital letters and disjointed paragraphs are intentional. Possible inconsistencies in the WR world. Ah well.
Summary: In his dreams, Tsume was an idealist. Disgustingly sappy. Tsume dreamt in black and white.
twitching, eyelids fluttering, yellow orbs behind a thin flap of skin darting first one way, then the other. Handspaws jerking, clasping at ground that could not be felt, air giving way where there should have been purchase. Rocks and cliffs, normally scaled with animalistic ease, left him breathless, shivering, cursing whatever gods be above. And there were
rabbits, even though he'd never seen a true rabbit before in his life. They, too, had been hunted to virtual extinction many years before. Occasionally, a bony hare would be found at a meat stand at market, but they were no more rabbits than they were rats with large ears. True rabbits of legend were fast creatures, fat, fluffy creatures, no larger than a cat;
but to Tsume, they were the size of deer, ears defiantly pressed skyward in place of horns. They ran, faster than his wolf-legs could carry him, scattering petals and chaff as they snaked through the fields. Closer, closer, but he could never get close enough. They ran so fast, he was left panting, tongue lolling, gasping for breath through burning wolf lungs. If only
if only he could catch them. They stank of prey. Meat. Enough to fill his belly for several days. Hell, enough to fill even Hige's belly for several days, with sufficient meat left over for the rest of the pack to gorge themselves upon.
In his dreams, Tsume was an idealist. Disgustingly sappy.
Tsume dreamt in black and white
and he ran, ran, chasing the elusive stagrabbits. Nipping at their ankles, yet when he was just close enough to sink his teeth in, they would manage to put on a burst of superspeed. A blur of fur and grass left like smoking dust in their wakes. But still Tsume ran, and chased, for he knew that there were two crying cubs in the pack who needed to be fed, and an arrogant alpha who needed to be taken down a peg.
He didn't know why he cared. He was the omega. Not by pack denomination, but by choice. But
hunger, while not unfamiliar, does strange things to wolves. Even ronin, such as Tsume.
A high-pitched, worried voice. Hesitant. A dull whimper, brought from the back of a throat. Tsume dreamt of a stagrabbit with its bushy tail (somehow) tucked between its rear legs. And then he was shaken again.
Rabbit melted into overly large, overly fearful eyes. The cub. He'd been kept, tamed, turned half-dog, and for some reason, that hadn't bothered the alpha. But it bothered Tsume. He was dependent, a mere pup no more than two wolf-years in age. Had Tsume cared, he could easily have bested the cub, leaving the shivering child bleeding and broken and omega.
Toboe nuzzled his nose against Tsume's cheek, daring to sneak in a remorseful lick before the older wolf recoiled, snarling deep in his throat.
"Don't. Do. That. Again." Each word concise, cold, like a silver knife through thin skin.
But Toboe had no such thin skin. In time, he might outgrow those long legs and thick paws, and maybe even gain the courage to challenge Hige for the position of beta. But he'd never be alpha. He'd been kept too long to ever grow that independent.
"Tsume must have been having some dream." Toboe backed off, leaving about a foot and a half of space. It still wasn't enough. The cub sat back on his haunches, the pale light of a three-quarters moon not bright enough to bring the full amber back to his eyes.
Tsume didn't bother to answer. He could have lied to the pup, told him that he never dreamt, or never bothered to remember. He had no obligation to tell the truth to a half-dog, no desire to respect another of his own kind when they'd willfully been kept.
"You were running in your sleep," Toboe prattled on, softly. "Like you were chasing deer."
"Huh?" The cub was startled. Was it possible for those eyes to get any wider?
"I was chasing rabbits." Tsume pushed himself up to sitting, fisting a knuckle against one of his eyes. Level ground with the pup.
Toboe laughed, full, yet quiet at the same time. Kiba and Hige were still sleeping several feet away. Separate, yet close enough to the lesser-ranking packmates in the event of danger. Toboe's arms laced behind his head, and his grin was pure. "That's funny. There's no such thing as rabbits!"
"There are no such things as wolves either."
The sarcasm was lost on Toboe.
"Obaasan used to tell me faery tales of rabbits."
Tsume snorted, closed his eyes, leaned against the large roots of the sheltering tree. He could pretend to be asleep, but he would never fool Toboe. All creatures had a natural sleep-smell that even cubs could scent.
"One time, she told me the tale of a little white rabbit, who wore a bracelet and led a little girl down a hole. It really wasn't trying to trick her, though. The girl was just curious about why the rabbit wore a bracelet. And the rabbit kept repeating how he was late for his date with the queen."
"She followed a rabbit down a hole?" Tsume wasn't interested in the story (or so he told himself), only a means to pick it apart, shoot it down. Put the cub on the defensive. He'd learn, given time and testing.
"Well..." Toboe paused a moment, re-settling his weight upon his legs. "She ate a cookie and got very small. The size of the rabbit. That way she could follow him down the hole. It was magic."
"The girl, Arisu-chan, she was a little like us. She was looking for Paradise. She thought she could find it by following the rabbit."
Tsume cracked an eye, fixing it upon the moon-illuminated, eager face of the cub. "How stupid."
"It's not stupid, Tsume! It's a story! Besides, Arisu-chan was human." The last sentence added quickly, as if needed to prove that Toboe wasn't tamed.
"Did she ever find her Paradise, then?"
"Not by the rabbit. And not by the flowers, either." At that Toboe frowned. "The flowers only led her astray. She was so small, and they thought she was a weed."
Tsume stared up at the moon. In its face, he saw the mocking of a twitching nose. A rabbit he would never catch. If the moon were to disappear down a dark hole, would he still chase it to Paradise?
"Tsume?" Toboe's voice was a whimper, pathetic and doubting. A canine who had been unexpectedly kicked by the master who'd once shown so much love.
"Stop. It was only a story."
"Yes. Just a story." Relieved, Toboe sighed and stretched his long, puppy legs out before him, sliding his body down to rest his head upon one of the tree's large, hard roots. He laughed thinly and repeated, "Arisu-chan was human. She'd never have found Paradise without a wolf to guide her."
Tsume grunted. So many words best left unspoken. It was something he could never bring up with the others. Toboe might whimper or, even worse, weep in his gangling, human form, face crumpled and ugly. Hige would dismiss his words with a laugh, or with a rumble of his ever-ravenous stomach. And Kiba... Kiba would take exactly the opposite stance. Cold words, but not harsh. Arrogant, concise. And worst of all, Kiba would be right.
But what right did humans have in Paradise, anyway?
Were there rabbits in Paradise?
Would they let Tsume catch them, if there were?
"Do you know any stories, Tsume?" Toboe shifted, his head lolling against the older wolf's thigh. Tsume stiffened, but let the pup rest there. He didn't have the heart to chase him off with a bark and a nip.
Tsume stared up at the three-quarters moon. "No."
"That's sad, Tsume. Very sad." Toboe let out a wide yawn, curling in on himself. He slept in full-human form, still not knowing any better. "I'll tell you good stories."
Another wide yawn, a shifting and a re-settling. The pup was always restless before he fell asleep. Tsume made a mental note to teach the boy to circle the perimeter of his bed prior to lying down. Toboe simply seemed to lack even that basest of instinct.
The boy made no further sound as he slid easily into sleep, soft head against Tsume's thigh. His lips parted, eyelids twitching. Perhaps, in his dreams, Toboe was chasing a braceleted, white rabbit down a hole. Or perhaps, in those dreams, he was the rabbit.
Tsume fought the urge to lick protectively -- hungrily -- behind the cub's ears.
There was blood in the air. Tsume couldn't help but lick his lips.
He must have been asleep for a good six solid hours, given the location of the sun as he cracked open his eyes. Sleeping so long disturbed him, especially when he had to be on his guard. As the omega, he never knew if or when the pack (Well, just Kiba and Hige, to be perfectly honest. He'd never be able to shake the cub no matter how hard he tried.) might abandon him to his own devices.
Tsume swore he could see Toboe's ears perk, even though the cub was in his human form, the moment he sat up. "Naa, Tsume!" Excited, Toboe clambered to his feet, nearly stumbling in his hurry to get to Tsume's side. He held something soft and bleeding, freshly killed, in his hands.
"Mou, let him get his own breakfast, boy." Several feet away, Hige was crouched, huddled beside a larger kill, a small deer, stuffing strips of raw meat as quickly as he could into his belly. Kiba, apparently, had already eaten his fill and was now prowling restlessly as his packmates took their share of the meal.
"I'm not a boy!" Toboe shouted hotly over his shoulder, before turning a bright-eyed face to Tsume. "Hige caught us something to eat. He threatened to eat it all before you woke up, but I stopped him."
Tsume narrowed his eyes as he gazed down at the creature held in the palms of Toboe's hands. Small, grey, and fluffy. For a moment, Tsume wondered if it was a rabbit. But it wasn't a rabbit -- it wasn't even one of the stringy hare-rats that were occasionally for sale in the cities. He'd never seen such a creature. Too round to be a rat, too large to be a mouse. Its tail was long and furry. Its blood smelled sweet.
"Eat, Tsume." The cub again extended his hands, holding the rodent-like creature anxiously before him.
Tsume snatched it single-handedly and sniffed it up and down. Unfamiliar, certainly, but it didn't smell dangerous, or poisoned. Even if it were, he could easily rid himself of that portion of his stomach before it did him harm. Tsume tore past the fur and the thin skin and sank his teeth into tender flesh. It was like eating candy. Toboe watched him eat, proudly, as if he'd been the one to catch the creature himself.
And Tsume ate, not so much that moving would be a chore, but enough to satisfy the steady ache of hunger in his belly. Who knew when the pack might eat again? Sweet flesh filled his mouth, and he licked the sugary blood from his lips. It must be what the rabbits of Paradise might taste like.
After a while, Kiba stood, gazing out at the expanse of field and rubble that had once been a city beyond the copse of trees. "Ikkou."
With that single word, both Hige and Toboe leapt to their feet, following the lead of their alpha. Grudgingly, Tsume ground the last of the cartilage and sinew between his teeth and stood as well, swallowing what could be his last full meal for several days.
"Which way today, sen-sei?" Smirking, Hige sidled up to Kiba, practically resting his chin on his alpha's shoulder.
Without a word, Kiba pointed, seemed to flicker, and sank to the wolfish form better suited for traveling the vast distances they covered each day. Hige immediately followed suit and took off in a run after their pack leader, leaving behind nothing but the barest bones of the young deer and a cloud of dust.
"Tsume! Come on, Tsume." Toboe tugged fast at Tsume's arm. "If we don't hurry, we'll miss Paradise!"
As Toboe flickered, growing long legs and large paws he had yet to grow into, Tsume couldn't help but think that they were merely chasing rabbits of their own making. Following two unfamiliar creatures down the blackest of holes, hoping that it might lead them to a better world. Wolves might show the way. Or flowers. Or rabbits with bracelets.
Predator or prey, hunter or hunted, perhaps, ultimately, it simply didn't matter. As long as it wasn't in vain. As long as they got to Paradise. Or died trying. Tsume swore he would tear Kiba's throat out if he were wrong.
The wolf that was Toboe turned, his tail wagging expectantly, and he let out a high-pitched bark, hoping Tsume might follow. And, after a moment, Tsume dropped to all-fours and ran.
There were, after all, rabbits to catch.