Chapter Twelve: Beware of Dog
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog.
~Henry VI, Part 3. V vi
A/N: HOLY COW A CHAPTER. Huge thanks go to Aoi, who has thankfully resumed her beta'ish duties with enthusiasm and only a few "It's about times."
Akemi awoke feeling disoriented and sluggish; after looking at her alarm clock and struggling with some very basic mental math, she was able to determine that she'd slept for nearly fifteen hours straight. The good news was that she felt somewhat better. Her eyes still burned against her lids, her head still pounded, and she had no desire and no plans on getting out of bed for any length of time. But she had something resembling an appetite. This was improvement.
Just then, a cold nose nuzzled her arm, and she pried open her eyes to see a dark head resting against the crook of her elbow. Kuroi was still quite asleep; his lids twitched as he dreamed. Shifting carefully onto her side, she slid her other hand across his smooth head, letting her thumb drift between his closed eyes. We're quite a pair, aren't we? After a moment or two, the dog opened one eye, then the other; after blinking sleepily for a second or two, he curled closer, pressing his back against her body, and settled down again with a content groan that sounded almost human. She lay like that for a while, petting the dog and feeling her own eyelids grow heavy all over again.
Akemi knew she needed to get up – she needed to take more aspirin, she needed to let Kuroi out (even if he appeared to have no interest in leaving the warmth of her bed), and she needed to feed him. She also needed to consider feeding herself.
"Okay, that's enough," she said, stretching and sitting up. The dog lifted his head, tilting it as he watched her. "You need to eat, I need to eat, and your bladder has got to be ready to burst by now."
Getting out of bed resulted in a slight wave of dizziness that passed quickly enough; after she and Kuroi had made visits to their respective lavatories, Akemi stood in the kitchen pondering lunch. She reheated some of the Tom Yum Goong Hikari brought, deciding to add some noodles to the spicy soup. As for Kuroi, Akemi found the dog food that Sho had provided and poured some into a bowl. She wrinkled her nose at the hard brown discs; they didn't look appetizing at all.
"He says it's good for you," she said by way of apology, setting the dish down. Kuroi sniffed at the bowl's contents, then looked up at her, his eyes doleful. The expression was an eloquent one, and she couldn't help but reply to it. "Just give it a try."
But Kuroi lowered himself to the floor, resting his head between his paws, and looking at her.
"You know, I bet there are starving puppies in Africa who'd love to have a meal like this." She could almost imagine his reply, if the look on his face was anything to go by: Then send it to them. Akemi sighed, then sat cross-legged on the floor. "I know. It's gross. But I'm not supposed to keep feeding you scraps. It's bad for you. Here," she said, picking up one of the bits of kibble in her hand and setting it in her palm, offering it to the dog. "Just try one. If you really hate it, then..." Akemi stopped suddenly, and shook her head. "I'm negotiating with a dog. Come on, Kuroi – just try it."
After several seconds of what appeared to be careful deliberation, Kuroi leaned over and took the kibble nugget out of her hand. He chewed it, also thoughtfully, and swallowed. And then he did the strangest thing: he closed his eyes and turned his head, reminding Akemi very clearly of a child refusing to eat his vegetables.
"You are one spoiled mutt, you know that?" she muttered, pushing herself to her feet. "Is this my doing, or were you this bad when I found you? Congratulations. You win."
It didn't take her long to put something else together, despite her annoyance. She mashed a boiled egg in with some rice and added some of Hikari's warmed-over miso broth into the mix, and then set the bowl on the floor again. This time the meal was met with ardent enthusiasm; thus defeated, Akemi retired to her bedroom, carrying her bowl of soup. She wasn't even sure why she was bothering, other than the fact that the dog was injured and she really did still feel bad for it. Particularly since the whole thing was entirely Takashi's fault.
At the thought of her fiancé, Akemi felt her features pull into a scowl. Something about his visit the day before had left her feeling strangely unsettled, and now that she had some energy to speak of, a shower sounded incredibly appealing.
There was no other word for it: dog food was completely vileand borderline inedible. Shigure now had new sympathy for Kyou and his aversion to leeks; if he could have brushed his teeth to rid his mouth of the aftertaste, he would have. The concoction Hime-chan put down in place of the dog food wasn't much, but it was far superior to the kibble, and Shigure ate with relish. He was also fairly certain that sooner or later her goodwill was going to run out, and he was going to find himself faced with the option of eating dog food or nothing at all. Shigure fervently hoped it would not come to that point.
By the time he had finished and helped himself to a drink of water, then returned to Akemi's room, Shigure was pleasantly surprised to hear the shower running. Still walking gingerly on his injured forepaw, he made his way to the bathroom door, which Hime-chan had so obligingly left open. He lay down on the floor, using the small pile of Akemi's discarded pajamas as a pillow as he watched the blurred figure move behind the smoked glass doors, and for the first time it really hit him how blindingly lucky he was for her to have been in the car with Takashi – or, as Shigure had started to refer to him: Bakashi.
The rush of water stopped, and the door slid open enough for Hime-chan to reach out and grab a towel from a nearby hook. She yanked the towel into the shower and dried off briskly before wrapping it around herself. The door then slid open and she came out, stepping delicately over Shigure, padding into the bedroom and changing into fresh pajamas. She sunk onto the bed, her hair still hanging down in damp clusters, and pulled the blankets over her.
"Oh, my god, I feel human again."
Must be nice, Shigure mused silently as he carefully climbed onto the bed before settling down against her warmth. He noted that she didn't seem to be burning up quite as badly as she had been, which the Dog considered a good thing. He curled in upon himself, resting his head on her stomach and waiting for slumber to claim him again. The horrible experience with the kibble behind him, the day was shaping up to be a pretty good one, as far as these things went. A nice meal (eventually), glimpsing an attractive woman in the shower, sharing a warm bed with aforementioned attractive woman who was, at that moment, petting the top of his head. It was shaping up to be a good day, all things considered.
And then his ears caught the sound of a key scratching in the lock, and it took every ounce of willpower not to groan out loud.
"Akemi?" a voice called out. It was Takashi.
Of course it's him. If he's come around looking for another quickie, he's going to have to move me first. With that thought, Shigure settled in even more firmly, determined to stand his ground and bite any hand that tried to dislodge him. But as he was steeling his resolve, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Akemi looked incredibly pained by this surprise visit from her beloved.
"I'm in here, Taka," she called back, adding under her breath, "just like I was last time."
Takashi appeared in her doorway, still in his coat. He hadn't even bothered to take off his shoes. The man shot Shigure a disapproving glare, which the Dog met with maddening placidity.
Akemi took in her fiancé's appearance, and her brow contorted quizzically. "...Taka?"
He checked his phone, then flipped it shut and looked up. "Hey, babe – I hate to break it to you, but I just found out I have to go out of town again."
"Again? Taka, you just got back!"
He offered her a placating smile that Shigure could see was patently insincere. "I know, honey. It's just going to be for a couple of days. I'd ask you to come along--"
Sure you would.
"—but you're still not feeling well, and I'd hate to ask you to travel while you're sick."
Really? Shigure thought, clamping his jaws tightly shut. That's funny, because you didn't seem to have any trouble asking her to sate your libido while she's sick. He glanced at Hime-chan out of the corner of his eye, and he wasn't sure whether she was annoyed or relieved at this latest development.
"Oh. Well... I guess – I mean, they obviously need you—"
"They really do."
"And you're right – I really don't feel like going anywhere."
"And you've got to take care of Kuroi, here, right?"
Shigure looked up sharply – since when had Bakashi shown even an iota of concern for his well-being? He looked more carefully at the man's face – his expression was open, honest, and utterly without guile.
He's up to something.
Even Hime-chan seemed to have trouble with the direction this conversation had taken. "...Right. I've made a commitment to take care of him," she said carefully, "even though—"
"Even though it was my fault he was hit in the first place," he finished for her, looking appropriately sheepish.
Definitely up to something. With an elaborate yawn, the Dog stretched and, still mindful of his movements, climbed off the bed and padded toward the door. He saw Takashi stiffen and he smirked to himself; most people had no idea how much their body language gave away. With slow steps, Shigure passed by Takashi, sniffing him idly as he went. The components comprising the man's scent flashed through Shigure's brain: soap, aftershave, clothing detergent, starch, cigarette smoke, the greasy scent of a diner, chewing gum, and there, tucked amid the tangle of smells, were a familiar synthetic vanilla scent and the earthy, musky scent of sex.
The Dog was completely unsurprised.
He maintained the charade as he made his way to the kitchen for a drink of water. If there were only a way to give Akemi his sense of smell, Bakashi would be done for. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible, so something more worthy of Shigure's talents would have to suffice. He couldn't even get his hands – paws – on the man's cell phone. A true pity.
As he left the kitchen, Shigure spied a briefcase and an overnight bag by the door. He gave the items a cursory sniff on his way back to hime-chan's bedroom but something made him stop and go back for another check. He sniffed again. The vanilla perfume was all over the overnight bag, and he wondered if Taka's mystery woman had packed his bag for him. But when he turned his attention to the briefcase again, there was something else, something that was nearly lost in the scent of leather. Working very carefully, Shigure nosed the briefcase onto its side, and began working at the clasps with a claw.
Come on, Hime-chan, keep him talking…
Akemi followed Kuroi with her eyes as he walked past Takashi; when he passed by with only a curious sniff, she let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Good dog, she thought, fervently, before turning her attention back to her fiancé. Something wasn't copacetic there; in fact, something was seriously fishy in Denmark.
"You're admitting it was your fault?" It was hard to keep the dubious note from her voice.
"Well, I was driving the car, and..." Here he paused, and Akemi wondered if it was her imagination or if he really did look like the words left a bad taste in his mouth. "And you did point out that I was driving a little too fast for those back roads."
Yes, something was definitely up. Taka knew how to be conciliatory, and he was good at it, but he was laying it on a bit thick. It was possible he simply didn't want to upset her by leaving town so soon again after coming back.
Possible, a soft voice inside her said, but not likely.
"Where are you staying?" she asked. "I'd like to have the number, in case there's an emergency."
He hesitated, and a number of tiny alarm bells went off in the back of her head. "I'll call you when I get there – I don't have the number on me."
Anger flared up in her chest, but Akemi beat it back. Nothing good ever came from jumping to conclusions, after all. Even though she'd asked him the name of the hotel first, and he didn't seem inclined to share it. I'm probably reading too much into it anyway – I'm not feeling well, and I could probably do with a little more sleep, and—
But her train of thought was cut short by the appearance of Kuroi in the doorway. He padded into the room, and it wasn't until he reached the side of the bed did she realize that something red was hanging from his jaws. Something red, and made of what appeared to be lace and satin.
"What on earth...?" she breathed. "Kuroi, drop it."
Obediently, Kuroi let the material float soundlessly to the floor, and Akemi found herself staring at a pair of women's red lace thongs. Her head snapped up and she looked at Takashi, only to see that the blood had drained out of his face.
"What are those, Takashi?"
Takashi's face went rigid with fury and he vanished from the doorway. "That fucking mutt went into my briefcase!" he yelled from the living room.
This was not the answer she was looking for. Far from it, in fact. Akemi pushed herself out of bed and stormed down the hallway after him. Sure enough, Takashi's briefcase was on its side, wide open, and he was standing over its gaping jaws, fuming. But Akemi cared very little about that at the moment. "What the hell are you doing with women's underwear in your briefcase, Takashi?"
"Your dog opened my briefcase!"
"I don't give a damn what the dog did, Takashi! I want you to tell me why you have a pair of red lace thongs in your fucking briefcase!"
He rounded on her then, glaring down at her with hard eyes. "You can't honestly be surprised, Akemi."
"That your briefcase moonlights as a lingerie drawer? You're kidding, right?"
"Come on. I was never important to you. You always had your work, your friends, and now your stupid dog. Where did I fit in, huh? It's not my fault I had to find someone who understood me."
Akemi was shocked into silence, and found she could only blink at him while she absorbed this new piece of information. "So you're telling me," she said slowly, "that it's my fault that you cheated on me. That, even after agreeing to marry you, be your wife, and spend the rest of my life with you, it's somehow my responsibility to..." She trailed off in disbelief. "My god, what does that even mean? She 'understands' you?"
"I knew you were going to react this way," he sighed.
"Oh, you did, did you?" She wanted him out. Out of her house, out of her neighborhood, out of her life, and if she could have managed it, out of Japan. "How long?"
"Don't make me ask you again, Takashi! How long were you sleeping with her?"
He hesitated. Heat that had nothing to do with her fever surged through Akemi's body, and she marched to the front door, opening it and yanking the diamond ring from her finger.
"A month! Only a month!"
Akemi looked at Takashi; he was pale, sweating – frantic. He was panicking. Casually, she tossed the ring in her palm, watching his eyes as he tracked the movement of the diamond, up and down, over and over again. "Were there any more?"
"... A couple?"
She clenched the ring in her hand, drawing back as if to throw it. "Numbers, Takashi! Give me numbers!"
"I don't know—"
"You lost count?"
"No! Nothing like that!"
"So, what – a series of random, casual flings carried out over the course of... months?"
"How many months?" He didn't reply right away. "How many months, Takashi?"
He cleared his throat. "...About eighteen."
And with that, Akemi's world fell away. "Eighteen months," she echoed.
"...Give or take."
She took a deep, steadying breath. There was a baseball bat under the bed, but she was reasonably certain that Takashi wouldn't wait around for her to retrieve it. "I have one last question," she said, striving to keep the furious tremor from her voice.
"How hard is it to find three months' salary in traffic?" And with that, she threw the ring as hard as she could, a platinum and diamond projectile, toward the busy street.
"You fucking bitch!" he bellowed, rushing towards her. Akemi wasn't certain whether Takashi was heading for her or the door – either was entirely possible – but the sudden low growl by her side rendered the question moot. She glanced down to see Kuroi, his hackles raised dangerously, his lip curled back in a snarl, revealing sharp white teeth.
"Get out, Takashi."
"That thing probably has rabies, you know," he spat, grabbing his bag and his hastily-shut briefcase, and storming out.
"I'll take my chances!" she yelled, slamming the door and leaning against it. The rush of fury pounded in her ears, and as the adrenaline began to ebb, Akemi's hands started to shake. She pressed her back against the door, and slowly she sunk down to the floor as the reality of the situation sank in. Akemi shuddered, her head dropping forward to rest in her hands. Her palms were wet with tears before she realized it. Furry warmth was curled against her leg and when she peeled her hands away from her face, she saw that Kuroi lay in a half circle, his back pressed against her thigh. His head was resting on his uninjured paw, and his eyes were closed.
He's probably relieved, she thought, bringing one hand down to stroke the top of his head.
Shigure was at a loss. He wasn't entirely sure what he'd done, or why he'd done it. He wasn't even sure at what point it had occurred to him that Takashi would even try to strike Akemi. He only knew that Takashi was going to lose a hand if he tried.
At least he's gone. She's got to know she's better off without him.
Behind him, Akemi cried quietly – there were no histrionics, no drawn-out tantrums, only ragged, uneven breaths punctuated by wet sniffling sounds. It carried on for a while – Shigure had no idea how long – and then... stopped.
"Bastard," she breathed, scrubbing her hands over her face and pushing herself to her feet to pad wearily back down the hall to her bedroom. Shigure followed quietly and eased onto the bed as she drew the blankets over herself, then lay down, pressed against the lump of covers. Her breathing was uneven and hitched occasionally, but she did not cry again. He smiled a little. Attagirl.
Finally, Akemi's breathing slowed and deepened. Satisfied that she was down for the count, he indulged in a wide yawn before slinking beneath the warmth of the comforter for a nap as well.
There we go, he thought, letting his head burrow into the pillow a bit. Unless I am much mistaken, this is just about where we left off before Bakashi crashed the party. I seem to recall being petted at the time, but I think I can overlook that part for the moment. The warmth of the bed sunk through fur and flesh, leaving him feeling heavy and content, hovering on the fuzzy edge of slumber, and once again life was good. Takashi was potentially playing in traffic, looking for that ring, which made it even better.
And then Akemi's phone vibrated on her nighstand, half a second before the chipper electronic tune's insistent trill, and Shigure began to realize that his chances for sleep were officially nonexistent. He felt Akemi jerk awake and he suppressed a groan, choosing instead to burrow completely under the covers. She answered the phone – not Shigure's first choice: what else was voicemail for?
"Hello?" She sounded nasally and congested – more than usual, even. There was a pause, during which time his ears picked up the faint electronic buzz of a male voice, and Akemi rolled onto her back as Shigure pulled his head out from the nest of blankets. "Yes, this is she. Can I help you?" A longer pause, and as Shigure's ears flicked forward to listen, the voice on the other end of the line started to sound incredibly familiar. He heard the name "Sohma" and the word "dog." Then he felt her go completely still. "Yes, that's correct."
Shigure held his breath, inching forward, listening intently. Akemi looked at him, and then looked quickly away. He could hear Hatori's voice, but couldn't quite make out all that was being said. It didn't matter; the Dog had a pretty good idea.
"Of course. I imagine you miss him terribly."
"He's been no trouble at all, Sohma-san. By all means, whenever you'd like to--" Something like pain flashed across her features and she swallowed hard, but her voice was at odds with her expression: perfectly cheerful. "Tonight it is! I'm sure he'll be glad to go home."
More was said, but Shigure had stopped listening.
They'd found him. He was going home.