Chapter 16: Shots: Romantica: Artistica: Trifecta: Romantica

Sekai ichi Catsukoi

Chapter Sixteen: Shots

Out in the main area of the pet shop, Kiku was beside herself. Sato would be back in the store in just moments and the rebellious Usami rabbit showed no inclination to stop smoking.

"That's it Usami," The shop assistant raged. "Now you're going to get it!" Kiku began moving over towards the counter.

"And what, pray tell, do you intend to do exactly?" Akihiko called after the furious woman.

"I'm getting the spray bottle!" Kiku shouted back.

Akihiko's lop ears erected themselves substantially at this declaration. The spray bottle was a weapon generally wielded as a means of correction against unruly nekos. The big silver-back sighed. This news was really quite disquieting. The hybrid considered that not only would the water douse his smoke, but it would also most likely dampen the pages of the book he was reading and the Usami had always maintained a high respect for the handling of literature.

On top of these two things, however, there was also the issue of getting his fur wet. Akihiko had a strong suspicion that Takahiro would be returning this evening and might very well finally purchase him. The silvered hybrid had absolutely no desire to greet the object of his affections looking matted. And though he was one, Akihiko had always found the scent of wet hare rather off-putting. No, this turn of events was most disagreeable.

Akihiko watched as Kiku grabbed the spray bottle from behind the store's front counter and stormed back towards him. He set his novel off to the side, a distance where he hoped it wouldn't get too wet, and took one last deep, mournful drag on his cigarette before tapping it out on the floor of his cage.

The big bunny looked up, hands raised in a pantomime of surrender. As the furious Kiku approached his cage, Akihiko noted that the girl's eyes were brilliantly lit, illuminated by the fire of her fury. Her adequately sized and pert chest heaved with the power of her anger. Akihiko imagined that if he had been bent that way, in this moment he might find the young woman quite attractive.

As he was not, however, Akihiko had to merely settle for the fact that the woman was incensed and enjoy that he'd managed (as he so loved to do, regardless of a creature's gender) to irritate Kiku so mightily.

His pleasure dimmed perceptibly and his eyes widened, when Akihiko realized that this time, however, he might have actually pushed the shop assistant over the edge: it appeared that despite his acquiescence the young woman fully intended to spritz him anyway.

"Now, Kiku-san," Akihiko unbolted the best silk of his voice for display, "Let's be reasonable about this. I have complied with your requests."

"Fuck my requests," Kiku snarled. "I have had it up to here with your bunny bullshit!" The young woman raised one hand above her head to indicate the level of her perturbation. With her other hand, she simultaneously squeezed off a round from the spray bottle, striking Akihiko square in the forehead.

It was at that instant that Sato re-entered her shop. Her nostrils were immediately assaulted by the recognizable scent of cigarette smoke. Sato's sharp eyes darted across the room and she caught Kiku the midst of her hydro-assault.

"Kiku! What do you think you're doing?" Sato exclaimed in dismay.

Kiku followed her forehead shot with a significant soak of one of Akihiko's lop ears and she was just about to level a third blast to the middle of the tanked tee that was stretched rather enticingly across the silvered hybrid's broad, muscular chest.

Sato rushed up and grabbed the spray bottle out of her assistant's trembling hand.

"I've been shot," Akihiko moaned pitifully, turning his lavender eyes on the shopkeeper, being sure to make them look particularly large and terribly wounded.

"Kiku, why on earth would you spray the Usami?" Sato scolded. "You know the spray bottle is reserved specifically for nekos!"

"He wouldn't stop smoking!" Kiku screeched, balling her fists and stamping one of her delicate booted feet on the floor.

"Smoking? And where on earth would the Usami even manage to secure a cigarette In truth the shopkeeper was well aware that certain ones of her adoptive pound pets had various vices.

She had also long had her suspicions about Kiku's little black market operation, though generally she was willing to maintain a blind eye to a degree, if the hybrids held themselves in check until they were securely locked into their holding pens for the night after the shop had closed.

"Well?" I'm waiting!" Sato stared at Kiku whose gaping mouth was opening and closing so rapidly the young woman rather looked as though she belonged in one of the glass tanks fitted on the opposite wall with the rest of the store's colorful aquatics.

Sato's eyes drifted from the still speechless Kiku to the Usami, who was looking at her with a lavender gaze that declared both his innocence and his affront. Sato frowned at Akihiko, knowing full well the silver-back was anything but an innocent.

Realizing the Sato woman wasn't buying his bunny blind; Akihiko opted for his next tactic which was shoving the blame off himself as much as possible. His eyes regained their normally sly countenance and shifted over to Kiku.

"Kiku, what in the world were you thinking? Giving cigarettes to the Usami! Don't you know how hard it is to place a smoking pet these days?" Sato scolded in exasperation.

Kiku was about to issue her defense, when suddenly the door to the back of the pet shop flew open and four squealing schoolgirls tumbled out.

Sato's eyes widened as the girls without ever acknowledging either of the shopkeepers scrambled for the door, not even bothering to re-don their jackets before darting out onto the slick sidewalks.

Sato looked at Kiku with increased disapproval. "I told you those girls were never to be allowed in the back. It's bad enough even having them out here in the front. And what did I say about using the Yokozawa to give people the thrill of a scare at his expense, Kiku!" Sato's voice was severe. "That poor big hybrid's not actually nearly as fierce as he looks and his self-esteem has been battered quite enough!"

Finally Kiku seemed to find her voice. "I didn't let them in to see the Yokozawa!" she exclaimed in self-defense without even thinking about what she was saying. "They were there to pet the Araki."

Sato's eyes widened in horror at Kiku's words. "What were you thinking, you stupid girl! Do you have any idea what you've just done?" The shop keeper thrust the spray bottle back at Kiku and immediately bolted for the back of the store.

The moment Sato disappeared into the back, Akihiko looked up at the disgraced assistant and smirked. "Busted."

Kiku glared at Akihiko. Then, she looked down at the spray bottle that Sato had returned to her. She knew she was going to be fired anyway; there was no way Sato would forgive her regardless of their family connections. Considering this, Kiku gladly gave the arrogant Usami hybrid one last squirt right on his noble nose. She adopted her own slightly less self-satisfied smirk as she headed over to the counter to collect her things. "Shut up, Usagi," she muttered under her breath at the sputtering rabbit.

In the back, Hisashi had stopped crying. He had been sitting silent and still in Yanase's lap for several minutes now.

Yuu said nothing as he continued to gently stroke the blond hybrid's head intermittently, all the while carefully removing the atrocious barrettes from the Araki's lush curls.

"Is he okay?" Yokozawa called from his run. "I tried to get them to stop but they wouldn't." Yokozawa felt terrible that he hadn't been able to help the poor Araki more. He was extremely grateful Yanase had showed up when he did.

Yuu looked down at the motionless Araki. In his opinion the poor catman was about as far from fine as one could get. He wasn't quite sure how to answer the black hybrid, though he knew he should say something. What had happened had obviously upset the big neko in the adjacent run as well since he was anxiously pacing.

Apparently Yokozawa's query managed to break into the place where Hisashi's mind had retreated. Before Yuu could respond, the blond neko whispered, "I'm fine, just tired Yokozawa-san, thank you. You shouldn't pace so much or you're going to wear yourself out too."

Yokozawa's keen hybrid ears picked up Hisashi's quiet reply, though it was barely audible. He snorted as the first part of the Araki's response had been almost exactly what he'd offered Hisashi earlier himself, and Yokozawa knew exactly how shitty he'd felt when he'd said it.

Still, that the Araki was even talking, Yokozawa took as a good sign. He left off his pacing and returned to sit on the edge of his futon. Here, he pulled the bottle of whiskey out from underneath the edge of the mattress where he'd hidden it after taking it from Kiku.

Yokozawa cracked the seal and took a substantial swig from the bottle, relishing the alcohol's burn in his throat. He had planned to wait until after store hours but the episode with the fangirls had shaken him deeply, on top of the deep pain that Takano had already caused.

Despite his longing to belong to someone special, and his particular relationship with Takano, Yokozawa had been on his own in many ways for almost thirty years. If the person coming to see him tonight claimed him, he would have a true master at last, and his life, such that it was, would no longer be his own.

Though he'd never admit it, the very mention of the word "neuter" by the girls, accompanied with the fact someone had placed a hold on him, frightened the big tom,. The whole thing just underscored how few rights hybrids really had. If the person who put the hold on him wanted to take him, Yokozawa had no say in the matter and would have to comply with whatever his new owner dictated, even if that meant submitting to having valuable body parts snipped off.

Yokozawa certainly didn't want to stay in the pet shop indefinitely, but in comparison with the uncertainty of the future, it seemed preferable. His grey eyes appraised the bottle he held in his hand. No one in their right mind would want to adopt a drunk pet. Right?

He grinned bitterly.

Yokozawa closed his eyes wearily and brought the bottle to his lips once more.

In the Araki's run, Hisashi had gone silent again after reassuring Yokozawa.

Yuu continued to simply sit quietly with the neko; he'd been really relieved when Hisashi had actually spoken. He looked up sharply when Sato suddenly appeared breathless at the door of the run.

Seeing the brunet cradling the neko, the woman's eyes flashed between relief and chagrin. "Oh, Hisashi-chan," Sato said sadly, coming into the run and kneeling down next to the two males.

Hisashi raised his head slowly. His red-rimmed blue eyes looked at the shop keeper wearily, but there was no accusation in his gaze.

Yuu however was not so forgiving. "What the hell? Do you know what those girls were doing to him when I came in? Does that sort of thing happen often?"

Sato bowed her head in remorse. "I'm so sorry Hisashi-chan," she said, not addressing Yanase. "I just left the shop for a few minutes. I had no idea that Kiku-kun would do anything so thoughtless."

"It's okay, Sato-san," Hisashi lowered his eyes. "I'm okay now." As if to prove his point, the Araki released his grasp around Yuu's neck and attempted to stand up. After looking initially as though he might immediately fall over, he eventually found his balance, though he swayed precariously.

Sato rose and looked at the still sitting Yuu. "Do you still want to take him, Yanase-san?" she asked nervously.

"Well I certainly don't want to leave him here now!" Yuu rose himself. His anger was undiminished.

Hisashi had moved over to the side of the run and was clutching the mesh of the enclosure. He hoped that it didn't look like he was using the run wall to keep himself upright, though in truth that was exactly the case. The whole ordeal from the fangirls to the weeping had left the fragile neko exhausted.

"Are you really adopting me, Yanase-san?" Hisashi murmured flickering his eyes at Yuu before quickly returning his gaze to the floor. A slight blush darkened his cheeks.

Yanase felt an unexpected blush rise into his own cheeks at the question, suddenly remembering what he'd shouted at the spectacled girl. Though there was a part of him that really wanted to adopt Hisashi already to spare him from the environment of the pet shop, the manga artist didn't desire to force the Araki into an arrangement that he didn't want.

"Ah… No…," Yanase said, his sharp eyes scanned the blond, reading Hisashi's body language carefully. "I told Sato-san I'd foster you through the holidays so you could have a break from this place."

Hisashi's wooly ears and tail all gave a slight twitch at Yuu's words. Yanase noticed that the Araki's hand gripped the mesh he was holding on to just a little bit tighter as well. Other than that there was no response and with the neko's head down as it was, obscured by his profusion of curls, there was no way he could clearly read Hisashi's expression.

Hearing Yanase's words, Hisashi couldn't decide if he was relieved or disappointed. What he did know was that now he'd regained some of his bearings, he felt terribly embarrassed about breaking down as he had in some stranger's arms. But even as he thought this, Hisashi's tender flesh ached with the memory of Yanase's warmth and his gentle stillness.

"You don't have to do that, I don't need your pity you know, Yanase-san," Hisashi murmured after a minute of awkward silence.

Of course Yuu realized immediately that this was the neko's pride talking. He smiled to himself, pleased that the fragile blond maybe wasn't quite as broken as he looked.

"In all honesty, Araki-san, you'd be doing me a favor," Yuu offered. "I didn't really want to spend Christmas alone. But if you want to stay here, I certainly understand. I mean the accommodations are so palatial and the food…" He kicked an unopened snack bar that lay on the ground near his foot with the toe of his shoe. "I can certainly see why that would be hard to give up."

Hearing the sarcastic humor in the other male's voice, Hisashi looked up.

The two males regarded each other cautiously. Yuu was aware that though the Araki's slate eyes looked flat, he was being carefully read. His own keen eyes noticed just a flash of spark, in Hisashi's pale gaze.

Yuu's mouth twisted into a smile when the neko offered him a slight nod.

"Okay," Hisashi whispered.

Sato breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Hisashi-chan, why don't you gather up your things and wait here while Yanase-san and I go get your papers in order. I'll give him the directions for all your medications and such too."

Hisashi looked from Sato to Yuu. His lamby ears flattened just slightly. "May I bring my sketchbooks?"

Yuu offered Hisashi a knowing grin, "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Thank you for reading and reviewing.