Author's Note: After almost three years of growth in my writing, this story is still in-progress. As I'm battling an especially long writer's malaise (I know where this is going, and how to get there, it isn't blocked, I just can't open the friggin laptop), I have decided that now is the time to go back and edit everything. So this is the edited first chapter. Though I tried to preserve much of the original language, the chapter has is now an extra thousand words long. The plot has not changed at all, nor do I think it will it change at all, so none of my caught up readers actually have to go back, but the writing is much improved, some embarrassing naming inconsistencies will be taken care of such as Wolfe/Cantrell, Stephens/Stevens, and Armstrong/Andersen (In each case, the latter listed name won out), and some minor plot holes will be filled. It the subsequent chapters aren't labeled as being edited in the authors note, THEY HAVE NOT BEEN EDITED YET. This is a work in progress. Thank you for your patience with me. I would greatly appreciate reviews of both the edited chapters and the new ones, which will hopefully continue to come out simultaneously.
Disclaimer: I do NOT own Wolf's Rain,nor do I ever claim the contrary. I make NO MONEY off of the online publication of this FREE-TO-READ FANwork.
Fortunately, Once Again
Foster Care, Family, and Thieves
Looking out of my open bedroom window, I contemplated whether or not obeying the call was really worth it. I was sitting on the window sill, back to one frame, knees to my chest, toes touching the other frame. As if taunting my thoughts, a rabbit came into my range of scent. My mouth watered, and I scowled, comparing my appetite to the size of the scrappy thing. As much as I'd rather chase after the rabbit, I shook my head – and my hair out of my face – and swung back into the room proper, feet hitting the wooden planking so as to make as much of a thunk! as possible.
Going through human foster care was a decidedly tricky business, but I could easily recognize the worth. I speared my fork into the steak put before me, I wouldn't have that without the ruse, no matter how frustrating it sometimes was. A stubborn part of my brain reminded me that freshly killed meat always tasted better, but there was rarely enough of it. Bringing the fork to my mouth, and attempting to enjoy the flavor of it, I rationalized. This family was much better than the last. That one was strictly vegetarian.
Foster care was at its most redundant during that period. The whole point of the charade was the food, and I was a growing wolf. With that family, I hunted for nearly all my food and by the end of it all, they were convinced I was anorexic.
Well, they'd been well off. I'd squirreled away enough of the spending money they'd given me – and a little extra they hadn't given me besides – for it not to be a total bust.
Pushing the old and somewhat unpleasant memories from my mind, I tried to eat more enthusiastically. The entire family preferred their steaks well done and they'd gone out of their way to cook mine rare when I asked. Mr. Stevens always made dinner, and I wouldn't forget this particular kindness, however small.
After clearing my plate, I rose and gave a curt nod in appreciation, but forced myself to voice the sentiment regardless. A surprising number of people cared about that sort of thing. "Thank you, Mr. Stevens. Mrs. Stevens."
"You're welcome, Tsume," Mr. Stevens said, smiling as amicably as possible in the face of a stonily silent ten year old. Given that he'd dealt with countless stonily silent ten year olds, it was a pretty amicable smile.
"How often do we have to tell you to call us Paralee and Giles?" Mrs. Stevens, on the other hand, wore a smile that spoke of exasperated affection. I held myself back from scoffing. I'd hardly been here a month. It was stupid to grow so attached.
"Sorry," I said, "It's habit now." In reality, it was a measure to avoid the attachment over familiarity fostered.. I could be living with them for the next eight years and I would continue to avoid being familiar with them. I doubted this would last eight years, however. Mr. and Mrs. Stevens were nice enough, but I never stayed anywhere for long.
Something always happened. Whenever a family got even the merest inkling of what I was, or even just that there was something beyond human about me, I got sent to someone else. It was too much to hope for, thinking that it wouldn't happen again. I gave the two a reserved smile, slid out of my chair, and stood.
After carrying my plate to the sink, I went to my room and, after a moment's thought, decided to leave the door open. I would draw for a while. The image of me doing something totally normal, and in a manner that made my activities clear, would give Paralee and Giles a certain peace of mind. Hopefully, they would be subsequently less inclined to pry. My delicately maintained human illusion fell away whenever I slept, and if either were to give into worry and check on me during that vulnerable period, I'd be done for.
Wolves are extinct.
I've been taught that in every school I've ever gone to, and despite being only ten years old, it's been quite a few. I always wondered why they were so adamant about that, I knew that it was far from the truth, being a wolf myself. Answers weren't forthcoming, either. I asked why wolf extinction was taught so relentlessly, once. I ended up with a detention.
Scoffing at the memory, I picked up my sketchbook and drew the squirrel that liked to sit outside of my window and taunt me. With my unused left hand, I flipped her off when she got particularly vulgar. I then brushed my fingers against a discreet interior pocket of my pencil case. My small 'treasure trove' of earned, given, and sometimes pilfered moneys lay inside of it. A part of me wanted to dump the contents out on my desk and count it all, but I glanced at the open door. I knew I couldn't afford to be secretive now, if I wanted to ensure my privacy later.
Besides, I didn't need to count my only valuable resource anymore. Even as I slipped a few more dollars into the cache, my brain rushed to do the math. One hundred and sixty three dollars and forty seven cents. After nearly five years of saving what money I was given and otherwise, it was all I had. I zipped the pocket and folded zipper out of sight, and resumed my sketching. I had an awful feeling that I'd never escape the charity of the humans.
Curled up on the bed in Toboe's room, attempting to tune out the racket of the first rate storm, Toboe pushed his nose into his younger cousin's fur. Hige, who had always seemed fearless and flawless, was whimpering.
"It's okay, Hige."
"I h-hate thunder," Hige said, eyes closing against the room and huddling further into Toboe's pelt.
"It'll all be okay," Toboe said. He did understand Hige's fear; the sound was eerily reminiscent of gunshots.
As night left, so did the storm, and Toboe had the real Hige back. Despite being two years older, Toboe had looked up to Hige. Hige'd always been everything the older boy wasn't. It was hard to believe that the funny, outgoing, glutinous, womanizing, living garbage disposal was afraid of storms as he wolfed down hot dogs at a rate nigh unheard of. Toboe ate more slowly, enjoying the smile on Hige's ketchup covered face.
Hige's methods were certainly questionable; he had swiped about ten hot dogs from the stand without anyone noticing. Giant dogs were far too inconspicuous to execute something like that. The human illusion really was incredibly useful, Toboe thought as he finished off his second hot dog. Hige was almost finished with the other eight, and so Toboe was tolerably certain Hige would make it to school on time without being herded. He stood from the park bench.
"Well, I'm gonna get to work. Have fun at school and get along with your classmates," Toboe said with a smile that begged for Hige's compliance.
Hige moaned and tried a pitch that he'd tried many times before. "Dude, you're seventeen. Given that you should be a senior, come to school with me. "
"I've told you before, Mrs. Andersen is giving me a decent enough education, as well as full-time job experience."
"Toboe, experience in housekeeping won't land you a better job." Hige crossed his arms and stuck out his tongue.
"Would you prefer to work?" Toboe asked with a roll of his eyes. Hige sighed.
"I suppose not."
"So go to school," Toboe said, and, as gentle as he was, it was a tone that brooked no argument. Hige nodded, crammed the last of his eighth hot dog in his mouth and slung his backpack over his shoulder. Hige was off with a wave, and Toboe smiled at his back.
It was partly because of how wonderful Hige was that Toboe took the role as parent, and while yes, Toboe was jealous, he felt that his younger cousin deserved the best.
Cautious to avoid tripping the alarm system, Kiba quietly exited the human house. He'd emptied their fridge, but didn't take anything else. The newspapers kept expecting him to steal other things, but that had never been his agenda. It always left both the cops and the media befuddled, and there was something about that fact he enjoyed. They scrambled to figure out the string of robberies; Kiba was a wolf, and the humans were his inadvertent messengers.
Every once in a while, he'd flip through the newspapers, and sometimes there would be articles on him, the infamous robber who stole nothing but food. To his dismay, those articles had caused many restaurants to heighten security. There was a part of him, however, that appreciated the publicity.
As much as Kiba disliked comparing himself to humans whatsoever, he did like to think of himself as something of a wolfish Robin Hood, stealing food from the rich humans, and giving it to the poor wolves. Except for that one wolf, the wolf that the crows went on and on about. Admittedly, the subject of the crow's gossip was a mere pup, but no wolf should grovel to the humans like him, Tsume.
Tsume could get his own food.
Kiba gently shut the window behind him, and began on his way, large cloth grocery bags bulging over his shoulder and hiding in plain sight. He glanced at the sun, and struggled to convert his wolfish perspective of time to a human one. He figured it was about three o'clock, when the human high schools let out. He nodded to himself and began walking in the direction of Swelter City High in search of his long time compatriot, Hige.
As the building came into view, Kiba sniffed the air for his brown furred friend. The wolf scent stuck out like a sore thumb, but even with that small relief, the school's population of sweating hormonal teenagers was difficult on his nose. He shook the extraneous scents from his mind and refocused on Hige. Kiba found him flirting with a bachelor pack of human females. How utterly pointless. Kiba walked up from both behind and downwind, and Hige jumped when Kiba tapped his shoulder.
"Hige, I need your help with distribution," Hige nodded and turned to the pack of females.
"Sorry ladies, but my friend here needs my help, so I gotta go," Hige said, proceeding to hug every single one of the girls. Kiba couldn't help but roll his eyes. How did Hige manage it? Dealing with humans, day after sweltering day? He grabbed Hige's wrist and began to pull him away. Hige followed him easily enough, raising a human hand in salute to the girls left laughing in his wake.
"I don't understand why you spend your time at that school," Kiba said, releasing Hige's wrist.
"I've told you it was my cousin's idea," Hige said, tongue lolling out in a way that didn't quite work on a human face. "He wants me educated so that I can live side by side with the humans."
"And just what will that accomplish?" Kiba asked. "A miserable death in this city?"
"I think the idea is to help remove the 'miserable' from that statement. Even if I do die as a human in this city," the brown wolf said. "Or at least that's Toboe's reasoning!" Hige's tone was probably more lighthearted than Kiba's accusatory statements warranted, but Kiba decided to take it as testament to the friendship between them. Hige never seemed hurt by anything Kiba said anymore.
"Why doesn't your cousin go to school?" Kiba asked, deciding to try a new tactic.
"He's home schooled by our landlady, Mrs. Andersen. Apparently it was her idea to send me to school in the first place, she was a teacher before she retired," Hige said, shrugging. "It's a sort of trade off that they have. He works as a general housekeeper and gardener, she teaches him and let's us stay in the coach house in her back yard."
Kiba snorted. "Has he no pride?"
"I honestly don't know. He's proud in every way he knows how to be, I guess," Hige said, sighed. "Let's cut the small talk. We have to distribute the food to all the neighborhood wolves before Toboe expects me home."
Kiba nodded his agreement. They turned down an alley, and then they were wolves, with the bag of food divvied up and strapped to their backs. They broke into a run.
After a moment, Hige bolted ahead. Kiba let out a short barking laugh and put on extra speed himself.
The afternoons were nice, spent like this.
Word Count: 2140
Original Publication Date: 4/13/2013
Edited Edition Publication Date: 6/4/2015
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