Chapter 1: Unusual Petshop
It was his love for animals that got him into this mess.
The flier he had found trampled on the ground said something about needing teachers to raise cute animals. Nikko didn't get the connection, assumed it was some kind of advertising gimmick, because since when was being a teacher a requirement for owning a pet? But the fact that he was a teacher and had just moved into an apartment building that allowed animals had his fingers tapping the address on the flier into his tablet's map application.
The office he was led to was clean, professional, and he was greeted by an attractive man in a sharp suit whose slicked-back hair was far too white for his young face and his eyes red enough to make Nikko take a step back before the word 'albino' popped into his head. The man introduced himself as Jack, and asked Nikko if he was there about the teaching position.
"Well, I really like animals, so..." It was all Nikko could think of to say. People he didn't know made him nervous anyway, and he was still a little confused.
Jack's smile showed slightly buck teeth and helped quite a bit to relieve nerves. "That's perfect. We'll get the process started, and if all goes well, we should be able to match you with a student today. Please follow me."
He was shown to a small interview room in shades of white and blue. Professional, though slightly clinical. A single potted plant was in a corner near the door, a plain desk and chairs across the way. Jack handed him an application, a pen, and a thick manual with the words 'Caring For Your Student' written across the front, then left the room for a moment.
Nikko put the manual aside. He'd had pets as a kid, and all of them had lived long, happy lives. He knew how to care for animals already, so he focused instead on the application. The paper in front of him seemed as much an application for a job as it was for a pet adoption. It asked about his teaching experience and any credentials, as well as references and a space to write why he was interested in the position. Nikko wrote again that he loved animals and wanted a companion, that he was willing to participate in any necessary training programs, and looked forward to raising a pet with care.
When Jack returned, he had a clipboard and more papers, and Nikko was surprised at just how many applications were needed to adopt a dog or cat.
"Oh, you're an actual teacher," Jack commented as he looked over the paperwork.
"Yeah, I teach fifth grade over at Shochu Elementary."
"That's perfect." Jack's polite smile turned up. "You must have a lot of patience, dealing with children every day."
Nikko returned with a soft chuckle. "Yes. It's both a challenging and rewarding career."
"What's your living situation like?"
"I'm currently single and live alone. I guess... that's part of the reason why I'm here." He could feel his cheeks warm at the admission. "It would be nice to have someone to come home to."
Jack nodded, glancing at the application. "Your address is an apartment building. Do you have enough room for your student to have his or her own space?"
It took a brief moment for Nikko to connect 'student' with the animal he would get. Their gimmick – as if pet adoption needed it. "Yeah, there should be enough space." It wasn't like he was getting an elephant.
"How many rooms are there?"
"Two," came the slow answer.
There were many more questions – a full-on interview that included whether or not he had a criminal history and if he was willing to submit to a background check – and by the time Jack declared that everything checked out and looked good, Nikko was exhausted.
"Then the last thing is to match you with a student," Jack explained as he attached yet another paper to his clipboard. "We have students in the building right now, so depending on your preferences, you could take someone home today."
Nikko perked, sitting up straighter, energy returning with excitement. "Sounds great."
"We have several species available. Did you have anything particular in mind?"
"Nothing too big," Nikko answered. "What are my options?"
"There are some cats and rabbits around if you want someone small, or a dog or fox if you're willing to go a little bit larger." Then Jack's red eyes darted over Nikko's body. "A wolf might be a bit difficult..."
Nikko's eyes shot open wide, too shocked to even note the jab at his stature. "Wolf!? People can have wolves!?"
"Wolves are one of the species approved for this program. They take well to the teaching."
The polite smile didn't falter. "So, what would you prefer?"
"I... I like foxes," Nikko answered eventually, still dazed and questioning exactly what he was getting himself into.
"Brilliant." Jack checked a few things off on his form. "Male or female?"
"Anything is okay."
After a moment of thought, Nikko answered with "Gentle, I guess. Someone I can relax with."
Smile still in place, Jack replied "I understand" as he wrote a few comments on his clipboard. Then he fell silent for a while, reading over the papers before him, before finally nodding once and looking back up at Nikko. "I have someone in mind, someone I think you'll like. He's a fennec, though a bit taller than most. And he's very sweet. Would you like to meet him?"
"Yeah," Nikko said, excitement surging through him. He adored fennecs, his favorite of foxes; their oversized ears and tiny noses has always charmed him. "That would be great."
"I'm glad." Jack's smile brightened, turning two notches more sincere, and he stood up. "Please wait here. I'll bring him to you."
Left alone again, Nikko's leg began to bounce in anticipation. Long ago he had dreamed of owning a fennec fox, but it just never seemed to be the right time. Strange gimmick or not, he was glad he let instinct bring him to this place. He would have to buy supplies, some cute food bowls, perhaps a cage. He wondered if foxes were okay with leashes; it would be fun taking the little guy for walks around the neighborhood, show him off, maybe catch the attention of that cute veterinarian who lived in the building across the street.
He had just begun to wonder about how long it was taking when the door opened again and Jack returned, this time accompanied by another man. And though this new man had a rather convincing cosplay going on, with long ears on top of his head and a furry tail trailing behind him, there was no real fox in sight. A lump of dread began to form in the pit of Nikko's stomach.
"Sorry for the delay," Jack said as he closed the door behind them. "He was a little nervous, but we got things straightened out."
"I see," Nikko replied carefully. "So... Where is he?"
Jack paused for a moment, taken aback it seemed, losing his air of professional confidence for a second before his smile slid back into place. "He is right here," he answered as he gestured to the man beside him. "This is your student, if you'll have him."
Nikko looked the strange man over. He was tall and slim and quite handsome. His hair was brown, perfectly matching the fox ears on top, and hung in multiple lengths about his face. His eyes were a striking and unusual yellow color, gentle and timid, but even those were only half as strange as the pair of horns that sprouted from his head, just in front of the ears, black and curling in a wave backwards.
"That's not a fox," Nikko finally said.
Jack looked to the man, whose eyes cast to the floor, looking as though his whole world had just been crushed. "I know he's bigger than expected and there is a reason for that, but I assure you he is a fox."
"N-No..." Nikko stood slowly, wanting out. Wanting away from these people. "That's- This is- Is this-?" He backed away several steps, then his voice dropped to a whisper. "Is this a sex thing?"
Jack's brows furrowed. "Heavens, no! In fact, sexual relations with the students are expressly forbidden. Didn't you read the rules listed in the guide?" He gestured an elegant hand toward the care manual on the desk – the one Nikko had pushed aside and ignored.
"I- Err... I hadn't gotten to that yet."
Understanding dawned, and Jack huffed a sigh as if this had happened far too many times. "You don't know what we do here, do you?"
"I thought it was regular pet adoption, but now I think I was wrong."
"You were wrong," Jack replied, his smile this time indulgent.
"So is it some kind of human trafficking? Slave trade?"
"Far from it," Jack answered. "We are a research company. Our scientists have been working with animal DNA for decades, attempting to mix traits of various animals with marginal success. Though it was only when they mixed animals with humans that things got... interesting."
Nikko glanced at the man- fox- man- thing again. His lip was trembling and there were tears in the corners of his eyes. It was almost heartbreaking how sad and pathetic he looked.
"It's extremely painful for them," Jack continued, subdued. "And once they gain language, many of them ask to be destroyed." He looked as though it hurt him to say it, and he paused for a moment. When he spoke again, though, his voice was stronger. "But some of them ask to live. They are the strong ones; the resilient. They complete the process until they have almost completely human bodies, as you can see. And then..."
"Well, that's where you come in."
"Yes." Then Jack put his hand on the other man's head, scratching behind his ears. The poor guy seemed to relax – just a bit – at the touch, his tail twitching as the long ears flattened. It really wasn't a costume after all. "They have these bodies, but they're not human. They don't know how to live or act in human society. They can't survive on their own, until someone shows them how. So we recruit teachers to give them the proper guidance. It's all there in the care guide."
"What happens when they've learned how to be human?"
"They integrate into society." The smile Jack held tilted up, buck teeth appearing from behind his pink lips. "You may have even seen some in your daily life. They get very good at assimilating."
"I fail to see how an animal could..." He trailed off, dumbstruck, when Jack's slicked-back hair began to move, to lift. He watched in awe as what he had taken for soft, white hair stood tall, revealing instead a pair of long rabbit ears. "You're one of them too," Nikko finally said after blinking away his stupor.
"I'm a rabbit," Jack answered with a nod. "I was one of the first. My teacher was very kind and patient with me, and now I can exist in society as a human. I was hoping you were kind as well."
"I am," Nikko insisted softly.
Then Jack seemed to make his move, pushing the fox-man a step forward. "This one is a bit of a special case. You see, sometimes our researchers try to mix more than one animal with human DNA. It usually doesn't work, but sometimes it does, and we end up with special batches. He is eighty-seven percent fennec fox and ten percent red fox, but also three percent ram, hence his height and the horns. Because of that, however, it's been difficult to match him with a teacher. Everyone wants cute pure-breeds, not a mutt."
The fox looked down again, looking pained, looking broken. His yellow eyes were wells of tears.
"I was hoping," Jack continued. "As an elementary school teacher, you would have an understanding heart."
For a long time, Nikko just stared. He had come here for a pet – a little puppy or kitten he could feed and teach tricks. He came for something that would curl up at his feet at night and lick his face in the morning. How could he care for a grown man with the mind of an animal?
"If you don't want me..."
Nikko's head shot up when the fox spoke at last.
"I understand..." He bit his lip, lowered his head, swallowed a sob.
Nikko's heart shattered, and he heard himself say "I'll do it."
The fox's face lit up as he looked back up at Nikko. His ears perked, standing straight, and his tail began to wag. "Really!?"
A bright smile turned to Jack. "I'm going to have a home!"
And Jack smiled softly back. "Yes."
The fox turned back to Nikko, so shining and happy he knew he had made the right choice. "Than- Yiff." He put a hand to his mouth, blush covering his cheeks, and he was so cute Nikko thought he might die. But with tears in his eyes, the fox managed to say "Thank you."
"It's... It's my pleasure." So this was happening. "What do I have to do?"
"Just sign the contract and you'll be on your way," Jack answered, going to the pile of papers on the desk and setting the contract before him. Then, as Nikko took up the pen and began skimming the document for small details, Jack asked "Have you thought about a name?"
"Name?" Nikko glanced up with a raised brow. "He doesn't already have one?"
"While some students do choose their own names, he has decided to let his teacher pick for him."
"What have you been calling him?"
He had lost count how many times he had been struck dumb since walking into this office. Yes, a real name would have to come. "I'll think about it."
"Please let us know when you do so we can update our records."
Everything seemed straightforward, so without further ado, Nikko signed the contract, binding the fox-man to him. He felt like he had just adopted a kid. It didn't take long after that for Jack to provide him with a copy of the contract, his business card in case there were any questions, and the thick care manual, with strict instructions to actually read it.
Then, before he knew it, Nikko found himself standing on the street with a bright-eyed and literally bushy-tailed fox-man smiling at him like he were his last hope in the world.
"I... guess a leash is out of the question," Nikko said, mostly to himself.
"I'll wear a leash if you want me to."
"That's... all right. Let's just go home."
And people stared, and people whispered, and people didn't understand why a man with fox ears and horns was walking down the street with a face full of sunshine, but when Nikko saw his student smiling at him like that, for once he couldn't bring himself to care.
It was his love for animals that got him this joy.
Chapter 2: In Shining Armor
He should have read the care guide from the start, honestly. From the very first page it explained the whole DNA and genetics research project; he could have saved himself a lot of embarrassment if he hadn't put it aside at that time, four days ago.
The science of DNA splicing was a whole lot further along than people realized. It must have been, if they were now going to the general public for help raising their experiments. Yet the company still kept a tight control on things. Nikko wasn't allowed to teach his student just anything – there was a strict list of topics they could cover, as well as study materials. Most of it was normal stuff – math, English, reading – and some courses were etiquette related, so the animals could learn to live as humans. And some of it was way out there and suspicious, like battle strategies and fencing, though Nikko didn't dare question it. But it again made him wish he had read the manual before signing the contract. It was a bit disconcerting, not knowing exactly what he was getting into.
On the other hand, as he looked over to his lovely fox who was working so hard on a math problem, he may very well have signed that contract anyway, even if he had known all the little details.
He still didn't have a name for his fox-man. Nothing had struck him as suitable – nothing that wasn't lame or stupid, anyway. He thought about a plain name, like Benjamin or Sam, but that didn't really suit the guy, who wasn't even plain amongst his kind. He thought about cartoonish names, like Mcavity or Frodo, but quickly dismissed those as well. Nothing seemed to fit, but the fox was waiting patiently for whatever would be bestowed upon him.
"I finished," the fox said as he held up his workbook, yellow eyes shining and hopeful.
"Let me see." Math wasn't Nikko's forte, but he could at least do long division.
The handwriting was messy, a child's scrawl, but readable. There were only a few mistakes, easily corrected, and he seemed to understand when Nikko explained where he had gone wrong, smiling with an "I understand!"
"Alright." Nikko returned the smile, handing the workbook back. "Have you finished all your homework for the week?"
"Good boy." Sometimes it took conscious effort not to coo at the adorable fox. Though he had only been there four days, he had quickly endeared himself to Nikko. He was so open and sweet, doing his best to please Nikko, acting as though his life depended on making Nikko proud. When he couldn't understand his studies, he cried, desperate and concerned, seeming terrified that he would be taken back to the research facility. They would have to work on that. "Then tomorrow I'll come straight home after work and we'll go shopping for new clothes."
"Really!?" His tail twitched, the light brown tip curling back and forth a few times. Though the red fox part of him was only ten-percent, it showed in his markings, the tips of his ears and tail a lighter shade of brown than the rest. It was really... really cute.
"Thank you, Nikko!"
It wasn't just as a reward; the fox needed clothes. He was allowed to keep the outfit he had worn at the facility, a set of plain white coveralls and a t-shirt, but that's all he had. Nikko tried lending his own clothes, but he was tiny, scrawny, and the fox was large for a fennec. Even Nikko's loosest t-shirt was tight across the fox's chest, and pants were a lost cause. So the coveralls were worn during the day, washed once, and the fox slept in his underwear and an extra blanket.
Clothes were necessary, and shopping together sounded like fun besides.
Fridays meant no teachers' meetings, decided long ago by the principal because even she just wanted to go home. So after the last student climbed into his mother's car, Nikko scrambled to get his things together, waved a goodbye to anyone still left in the teachers' room, and rushed home to his apartment and a waiting fox.
The fox was at the door as soon as Nikko came in, listing from one foot to the other. He smelled clean and his coveralls held the scent of dryer sheets; he was ready to go.
Nikko couldn't help but smile at his anxious pet. "Just let me change my clothes and we'll go."
"Yes, yes!" The fox nodded, hopeful smile in place, and he followed Nikko into the bedroom.
That had taken some getting used to. Whenever Nikko was home, the fox followed him everywhere. Though the spare room was slowly being converted into a bedroom for the fox, most mornings Nikko woke up to an extra, warm body curled up against him and a fluffy tail flopped over his waist, making him unbearably hot. If he wasn't actively engaged in his studies, the fox would stand too close to Nikko in the kitchen while he tried to prepare dinner and lunches for the following day. He had to put his foot down when the fox tried to follow him into the bathroom.
But although he had a human face and body, the fox was still an animal. Nikko reminded himself of that yet again as he undressed while his student hummed nearby.
It wasn't like he was bothered by the fox's constant presence – that was why he had gone to the facility in the first place, to get a pet to keep him company, though at the time he was expecting an actual small, furry thing. Sometimes he wondered, though, if it were normal for the students in the program to be so attached to their teachers. He wondered if all of them were so clingy, or if his student's circumstances made him like that. Or maybe he was just lonely, sitting around alone all day, every day. The care guide mentioned the possibility of veteran teachers taking on more students; he would have to look into that further when they had settled in more.
They stopped to eat first; just a pre-shopping snack at Starbucks to keep their energy up. Not that the fox needed it, given the way he was bouncing in his seat. They attracted attention, school-girls and businessmen alike staring at the vibrating fox-man. Nikko sunk in his chair; he was shy by nature, uncomfortable with people looking his way. His family had been shocked when he had decided to become a teacher, but it was different in the classroom. In front of his class, his kids, he could follow a mental script that kept him in a comfortable place until the students were no longer strangers, but his class. That worked for him.
But random people off the street, at a café, in the mall... They scared him. Their stares and unhidden whispers about the "costumed weirdo" irritated him, though he didn't have the balls to tell them to mind their own business.
"Hey," he said softly, catching the fox's attention. "Could you... put your ears down?"
That's what Jack had done at the facility. Nikko hadn't even known the man was anything other than human with the way his long rabbit ears blended perfectly with his hair when kept down. If the fox did that, it might attract less attention. If they could do something with his tail, it would be even better, though there wasn't much to be done about the ram horns. Perhaps they could pick up a hat for him.
The fox's smile slowly fell, looking slightly hurt and puzzled. "My ears?"
"Yeah. You want to be human, right? If you fold your ears down, you'll look more human."
"Like this?" His ears folded down, tucking into his hair. The light brown tips showed a bit, but it wasn't noticeable.
Nikko nodded. "Yeah, it looks good. Like a human."
The fox smiled again, his tail curling. "I'm glad."
"Now to do something about your tail." He paused, thought, and then asked "Can you fit it into your pant leg?"
"I think so," the fox answered, then reached up to unzip his coveralls.
"Not here!" Nikko grabbed his hand before the fox stripped completely. Then he stood, pulling the fox with one hand and taking up his garbage with the other. "Come on, we'll do it in the bathroom."
They were able to adjust his clothes perfectly, stuffing the long, fluffy tail along the fox's left leg. There was even a button on the tail-hole of the coveralls to keep it closed, as if the facility had anticipated people doing this exact thing when they designed the outfit. It helped quite a bit; the only thing remaining to give away what the fox really was being the black horns. Still, they received fewer stares, fewer whispers, so Nikko counted it as a success. The only looks they got were from the people who noticed two men coming out of the single person bathroom together, but that was nothing new. Nikko had endured those particular looks his whole life, being called 'faggot', being called 'twink' because of his size. And because he was gay.
"Let's go," Nikko said, leading them out of the café.
Shopping with the fox was significantly more fun than expected. While he did have some preferences, leaning towards casual and – thankfully – cheap styles, he didn't seem to feel too super strongly about anything in particular. Anything Nikko threw at him, the fox tried on, and he looked good in everything. It was like playing dress-up with a beautiful doll. With a deep blush coloring his cheeks, Nikko had to remind himself again that the man clad in tight jeans and a black mesh shirt before him wasn't actually human.
He yanked the dressing room curtain closed, yelping "That one's no good!" and found himself overly grateful that they were the only ones there.
A soft and compliant "Okay" was the only reply from behind the curtain.
"I'll go find you something else," Nikko said, taking several steps backward. "Wait right here."
A smile crossed Nikko's lips as he took another step backward, and then it dropped when he backed into something solid. Eyes wide and an apology already on his tongue, Nikko turned slowly. "I'm so sorry..." He trailed off as his gaze went up and up.
It was a large man, because of course it was, and the sneer on his hairy lip was the furthest thing from pleasant. His voice was gravel as he ground out "Fornicatin' in the dressin' rooms is illegal, ya know."
"You disgustin' fags, ruinin' our country. Now I hav'ta watch ya get married. Fuckin' gross."
Nikko's eyes turned away. He absolutely hated people like this, but he wasn't confrontational. He wanted to tell the jerk off, but words wouldn't come – wouldn't have come even if the guy weren't twice his size. So instead of saying anything or sticking up for himself, he just moved to step around the guy.
He didn't get very far. The man moved with him, blocking his path, looking to pick a fight. A club of a hand pushed Nikko's shoulder, planting a bruise, and the pained sound Nikko grunted out had him feeling even more like a wimp than usual.
"Nikko?" The fox's gentle voice questioned from behind the curtain.
So many things flashed through Nikko's torn mind. He didn't want to be alone; he didn't want to get the fox involved; he didn't even have a name to call out to.
His lack of intention didn't matter as the homophobic bully grabbed Nikko's shirt collar, giving him a shake before he sneered with curdling, rank breath "Yer boyfriend's callin' fer ya."
Nikko whimpered high in the back of his throat. "He's not..." Human. "He's not my boyfriend."
"Sure he ain't, ya sick little fuck. I bet he plows yer tight ass every night."
"Let me go, please."
"I wanna take a tire iron to yer face."
He had been lucky for thirty-five years. Sure, he had read awful comments on the internet; seen talk shows featuring zealots who raved that all the homosexuals will burn in Hell for eternity. He had seen the pictures of children holding signs that proclaimed 'God hates fags', and raptly followed every bit of news where people argued about whether or not he should be allowed to get married. But aside from the comments and stares Nikko got the few times he had gone on dates with men, he had never been directly confronted about his sexuality, and he had never been confronted so violently. He had read the stories, though, and it terrified him.
And all he could do in the face of such fury was whimper pathetically.
The curtain of the dressing room burst open and his fox stood there clad in nothing but his trunks, though it may as well have been shining armor. His yellow eyes were fierce in a way Nikko didn't think was possible from such a gentle beast. His ears laid flat on his head, but his tail stuck out straight, bristled, angry.
"Leave Nikko alone!"
The man tensed, grip tightening a moment in the face of someone almost the same height as he was, but then he put his bully face back on. "Or what? You'll sick yer AIDS on me?"
The fox lowered his head, not even giving a warning before he launched forward, proving the horns weren't just for show. The hard bone hit the man square in the chest, audibly knocking the wind out of him and sending him crashing to the floor. Nikko was caught up in the fox's arms, shielded from the blow, safe for a moment and then pulled back behind his savior.
"Ya crazy bastard," the man said as he ambled back onto his feet. "I oughta call the cops on ya."
"You assaulted me first," Nikko said, voice rising now that he had a shield. He was too weak on his own, but perhaps with his fox by his side, he could find a touch of strength.
For a moment, the bully looked like he was going to step up to battle, but when the fox tilted his chin down again, he relented. "Ya freaks ain't worth the trouble," he grunted, jabbing a pair of fingers pointed like a gun in their direction. Then with a hand pressed to his battered chest and wounded pride, he slithered away as quietly as he had appeared.
Immediately, the fox turned. "Nikko! Are you okay!?"
"I'm fine. Just..." He looked up and up into his fox's concerned face, the store's overhead light giving him a glowing halo as his lip trembled. The crybaby fox was the fox Nikko was used to, and he smiled. "I'm fine. Thank you."
"He wanted to hurt you." Said with a pout.
Nikko was silent a beat, looking off to the side before slowly replying "Some... humans are like that." Not so much better than animals, after all; perhaps worse. "Sometimes they hate for no reason." Then when the fox's lip quivered again, Nikko put on a smile. "But you saved me."
The fox's face lit up, bright with purpose. "I'll always protect Nikko!"
And then it hit him. A name. The perfect name.
He opened his mouth to speak, lifted a hand. Then he paused, unsure. Always so unsure. When he moved again it was simply to place his hand on the fox's arm. "You should get dressed before we get in trouble. We'll try another store."
"Okay." Smile still burning, the fox disappeared back into the dressing room.
All this after having worked a full day. Nikko heaved an exhausted sigh and leaned against the wall beside the dressing room. His eyes closed for a moment, brief, and he could swear he saw the name on the back of his eyelids. He tasted it on his tongue.
"Nikko?" The rustling of clothes ceased as the fox's voice drifted through the curtain. "Did you say something?"
"For your name," Nikko answered, opening his tired eyes to glace at the pink curtain that separated them. "What do you think of Knight?"
The curtain tore open again, shocking that it hadn't been ripped off its rod entirely yet, and the fox stared wide-eyed in his t-shirt, a single foot sunk into the leg of his coveralls that dragged behind him as he rushed forward. "You found a name for me!"
"If you like it..." Nikko's cheeks tinted pink.
"I love it! Because-" The fox's cheeks matched, blush for blush. "Because I want to be Nikko's knight..."
Nikko's smile was soft, yet bright. "I think... you are." He chuckled shy. "Now, go get dressed."
He would call Jack tomorrow and make it official. His fox had a name. He would have someone to call out to when he came home every day. He had someone to care for, who would care for him.
Suddenly, Nikko didn't feel so alone anymore.
Chapter 3: Lost
His tail twitched involuntarily, and he grabbed it to hold it still. He had mixed feelings on the thing. Humans weren't supposed to have tails; how could he be human if he had this stupid tail that wouldn't stay still? And it embarrassed Nikko when they were in public, so he had to tuck it into his pants, hide it from the stares of real humans. Humans who didn't have tails and thought it was weird that he did.
But sometimes, when they were alone at home, away from people and their curious eyes, when they lounged on the couch and watched TV or read books, Nikko's hand would find its way to his tail and pet it or brush fingers through it. Sometimes Nikko would just hold his tail loosely in an easy grip, idly fiddling with the strands of fur. It felt so good!
The tail twitched again. He couldn't help it; he was happy. He had woken up early and got to see Nikko sleep. Nikko was so pretty when he slept; his long eyelashes rested on apple cheeks, the usual crease in his brow softened, his pink lips parted slightly. Nikko was always so worried about everything – his job, his apartment, his family... his pet – but he seemed to be able to relax in his sleep.
He owed everything to Nikko. When nobody else wanted him, weird-looking mutt that he was, Nikko took him in. Nikko gave him a home, bought him clothes and games, taught him to be human. Nikko gave him a name.
Knight smiled, letting his tail go free so that he could bury his face in Nikko's chest. He was overwhelmed with Nikko's scent, and he nuzzled in further until a small hand plopped onto his head and scratched behind his ears. He also couldn't help the little 'yiff' that escaped his throat like a hiccup.
A gentle chuckle sounded, before a questioning "Knight?"
"Nikko smells good."
"You've got to start sleeping in your own room one of these days."
"But it's dark!"
Another chuckle, then the small hand moved to his horn, pulling it to ease Knight's head back, forcing him to look up into sleepy brown eyes. "You are a big, strong, fox-ram thing. You can't actually be scared of the dark."
"But..." It's lonely.
"And sometimes..." Nikko let go of the horn then, his hand and gaze dropping. "Sometimes I need to be alone."
Knight quickly began to scoot back. He had messed up; he had been a bother. He had taken advantage of Nikko's kindness far too much, and now Nikko was tiring of him. "I- I'm- Yiff. I'm sorry!" He couldn't see with all the tears in his eyes.
"No, Knight." Nikko shot up to a sit, grabbing Knight just as he was about to fall off the bed. "You don't need to be sorry, just..." His throat bobbed. Knight couldn't tell what he was thinking. Then Nikko just finished with "Never mind. Don't worry about it."
So small hands came up, brushed his tears away, retreated. "I'm going to take a shower."
Knight scrambled off the bed. "Shall I make coffee for you?"
"Yeah," Nikko smiled. "That'd be great."
He wasn't so good at cooking yet, the one attempt he had made ending up in burnt and cut fingers, but he could do coffee. As long as the coffee maker didn't leak all over again, he could make a passable pot of coffee. Nikko had taught him how.
Knight hummed to himself, tail twitching as he fixed a large mug with a single cube of sugar; Nikko drank his coffee mostly black. One pointed ear listened in on the brewing pot, the other stayed turned toward the running shower. It wasn't until he heard a soft gasp, while he was pouring the fresh coffee, that he paused his humming and his step.
He very carefully set the pot down, listening intently, sharp ears pointed toward the bathroom. And when he heard a pained moan, he sprang into a flurry of movement. He threw himself into the bathroom door, busting it open, and ripped off the shower curtain, tearing away anything that tried to separate him from Nikko. "Are you okay!?"
Nikko looked up at him, dark eyes wide in shock and something else. He had one hand braced against the shower's tile wall, the other wrapped around his own genital. There was no blood, nothing to indicate he had been harmed, but there was pain or something... something like fear written in his face.
Then, for the first time since they had come together weeks ago, Nikko raised his voice, yelling "Get out!" And Knight stood still, petrified, until Nikko grabbed the battered curtain and pulled it in front of himself, snapping again. "Out!"
Knight fled. Not only the bathroom – he left the apartment completely, forgoing shoes or a jacket or the hat he usually wore outside to cover his horns. He was still in the cotton pajamas Nikko had bought for him, which did little to protect him from the cool, early-spring wind that hit him as he dashed out of the apartment building.
He was a stupid fox. So stupid, and now even someone as kind as Nikko didn't want him. He didn't even understand what he had done wrong, but he knew it was his fault. He had made Nikko angry, or worse – he had scared Nikko. With his stupid mutt body and stupid ears and horns – his stupid, non-human tail – he had made Nikko afraid.
He was supposed to be Nikko's knight.
The city, the streets, everything was unfamiliar to him. He always just followed Nikko around when they went out, never bothering to learn how to get around on his own. He had relied on Nikko so much, he was useless, and in no time at all he was lost.
He stopped running when he found himself in a park; several mothers watched their bundled-up children play, but otherwise it was empty. His chest hurt, but it wasn't from exertion. His heart hurt. He wanted to cry, because on top of being stupid, he was also a crybaby. It was with a rough hand that he swiped at the tears running down his face.
A tug at his tail made Knight jump, and then he looked down to see a little blonde girl looking up at him with bright blue eyes. "Mister, are you okay? You're crying."
"I..." She wasn't afraid of him. He could talk to this child. "I'm lost. I need to find the facility."
"It's the laboratory where I was born. There are scientists, and Jack is there." He would go back, if he could find it. He would ask if he could be destroyed, since he wasn't doing anyone any good. "I need to go to there. Do you know where it is?"
The little girl gave an exaggerated shrug. "I dunno." Then she pet his tail, like Nikko did. It didn't feel as good, though. "I like your tail!"
"Jessica!" An equally blonde woman ran up to them, lifting the small girl and glaring at Knight as she chided "I told you not to talk to strangers."
"But he has a pretty tail!" the girl protested as she was carried off.
"It's a costume," the mother said, and Knight stopped listening. The woman was like all the other people who stared at him, the people who made Nikko uncomfortable. Nikko had said humans sometimes hate for no reason – the more time Knight spent outside the facility, the more he saw it.
But Nikko was kind; Nikko was gentle. Nikko had patiently put up with Knight for as long as he could, longer than anyone else would have, until Knight ruined everything.
A pathetic sob escaped him, but he began to move again. He had to find the facility.
The city's tall buildings were intimidating when he was on his own, titans looming over him, staring him down. No matter how much Nikko had taught him, he was still so far away from being able to live on his own. His shoulder accidentally bumped someone else's and he jumped, an apology on his tongue, even as the man simply glared and muttered "Watch it, freak" before continuing on.
Aimlessly, Knight wandered up and down the streets. Nothing looked familiar; he had no idea where he was or how to get anywhere. As hours went by, he grew hungry, his stomach grumbling in anger, loudly demanding sustenance. He didn't have money to buy food like a human, and even he – in all his stupidity – knew better than to try and steal. His gut hurt from hunger, and when he spotted a rat sniffing around an alley, his instincts kicked in.
He chased the rodent, quick on his feet despite his mostly human body, and yiffed in victory when he caught it. Just when he had raised it to his mouth to bite in, however, he saw the eyes of everyone in the area trained on him. Lips were curled in disgust and murmurs of "What the fuck?" drifted into his twitching ears. A few people had the cameras of their cell phones directed at him, their minds already writing the video title for posting on YouTube. 'Dude with a tail catches rat on street; eats it raw'.
He dropped the rat, feeling more than seeing it scurry away to safety.
After a moment of utter stillness, Knight ran again, pushing past the onlookers. He wanted to go home. He wanted Nikko.
He didn't have a home to go back to.
He ran for a grove of trees. Another park, maybe the same one as before, he really didn't know. Maybe he had just walked in circles all day; maybe he had walked clear across the country. But the trees would shield him, so he ran to them, a big, strong, fox-ram thing hiding in the dark shade of elms.
Then Knight fell to the ground. Curling up at the foot of a wide tree, he wrapped his tail around himself for warmth, buried his face in his arms, and cried loudly until he passed out with exhaustion.
It was freezing when he woke up, the grove already several degrees cooler than elsewhere due to the lack of sunlight, and colder still since the sun had apparently set altogether. Without the warmth of glowing sunshine, Knight thought he might freeze to death, and he shivered violently.
But it wasn't the cold that had woken him; it was his name. He was being called.
It was unmistakably Nikko's voice, though it was hoarse, as if he had been screaming all day. Knight had to use every bit of his willpower not to jump up and run to him. Nikko was better off without him. But still, his ears swiveled towards the voice.
"Knight!" Nikko called again, but it was quieter this time, choked and broken. The "Where are you?" that followed was but a whisper.
Chains creaked, haunting, leading into the screech of a neglected swing accepting a new rider. His sharp ears caught shuddering breaths, but it was the whimper that pulled him out of his ball.
Nikko was crying, and it was all his fault.
Creeping to the edge of the grove, Knight stopped where the trees did. From there, he could see Nikko, see how Nikko's head bowed to hide his face, though there was nobody around to hide from. Nikko's thin fingers gripped the chains of the swing he sat in and he shook slightly, though if it was from the cold or from crying, Knight didn't know.
The barely heard whimpers made Knight's heart hurt more. He could feel Nikko's pain, and it confused him. Nikko should be happy to be rid of him, rejoice at the freedom of having his apartment and bed to himself again. But he was sad – terribly sad – and it struck so painfully in Knight's chest that he dropped to his knees, a long whine tearing unbidden from his throat.
Nikko turned suddenly, and even in the darkness their gazes met, soaked brown meeting drenched yellow. They stared for a long time, until Nikko leapt to his feet and ran, plowing into Knight and wrapping arms around him before the fox even realized what was happening.
"Why did you leave me?" Nikko choked out as he clung to Knight, pressing his face into Knight's neck. "I thought I had lost you."
"I- I thought you didn't want me anymore..."
"I'm sorry!" The grip Nikko had on the back of Knight's pajama shirt tightened as he began to shake again. It was definitely from crying, the force of trying to hold back sobs causing him to tremble. "I shouldn't have yelled at you. I was... startled, but it was wrong of me to yell."
"It's my fault," Knight insisted. "I'm..." His voice dropped. "I'm stupid and annoying..."
Nikko pulled back then, looking Knight in the face. "No, you're not. It's my job to be patient and teach you, but I'm not doing very well with it."
"Nikko is the best teacher!"
A smile touched Nikko's lips, but it somehow seemed sad. Usually Nikko's smiles made Knight happy, but this one didn't. "Knight..." He never finished what he was going to say, though. Another abandoned thought. Eventually he just reached up and tugged at one of the long locks of Knight's hair. "Let's go home."
"You don't..." He could feel the pout on his lip, worried it made him seem clingy – clingier – but couldn't make it go away. "You don't hate me?"
"Of course not," Nikko replied as he reached up to pet Knight's ears. The smile this time felt more real; it made Knight happy. "I like you very much." Then his hand fell. He practically whispered "I like you too much."
Knight didn't understand, because how was it possible to like someone too much? Like was a good thing; from what he had seen of the outside world, there needed to be more like. "Then I like Nikko too much too!"
A look of pain crossed Nikko's face, though he didn't seem to be injured. "Knight... It's not..." Then he shook his head and shivered. "Let's go before we freeze to death."
He was super quiet as he crept into Nikko's room, not wanting to wake him. Nikko always told him to stay in his own room, but he just couldn't. It was too dark, too cold. It reminded him too much of all the time he spent at the facility, years and years of being alone, watching his friends get taken in while he was passed over again and again. Always alone. He couldn't stand it.
He was sure he was quiet as he climbed into Nikko's bed, curled up facing him, but a silent moment later Nikko's arm came up and went around him. His ears perked; he waited for Nikko to say something, but the room stayed quiet, and Knight figured Nikko must have moved in his sleep. Until-
"Yiff?" He looked up. In the darkness he could see Nikko's eyes opened to bare slits.
"Promise me you won't run away again."
Nikko sounded sad. It made Knight sad too. "I promise."
"You know what that means, right? Humans take promises very seriously."
"I... I know..." He wouldn't run away ever again. Nikko wanted him to stay, so he would protect the promise. They would be together forever. "I promise."
Knight's tail twitched.
Chapter 4: Playtime For Animals
He was, more or less, saved by the bell.
Months had passed since Knight came into Nikko's life and his home. The bitter chill of earliest spring turned into the easy warmth of oncoming summer, while one human and one fox-hybrid learned to live around each other. And with every day, week, month that passed, Nikko found himself growing more and more in-
Affection. It was affection he felt. Like one would feel for a pet, because humans couldn't feel anything deeper for an animal.
But Knight was adorable and Knight was charming, and sometimes a little 'yiff' would escape from Knight's mouth and he looked so embarrassed every time it happened. His tail curled when he was happy and bristled when he was scared; he cried at least once a day, but when he smiled, it was the most brilliant light in the world. He worked so hard on his studies and loved praise, and even if he didn't have an amazing body, Nikko would still hold all this affection for him.
He did have a nice body, though. Nikko couldn't help but notice. Knight's body – his human body – was smokin', and he often got lustful glances or even blatant staring from people who likely wouldn't believe what he was if they were told in small words. Knight never picked up on the come-hither looks, though, for which Nikko was grateful, and so far nobody had approached him directly.
It was getting harder to ignore that nice body, that delicate and handsome face. The more Nikko's affection towards Knight grew, the more his physical attraction did as well, and he had to berate himself harshly when he found his eyes lingering too long on a strong chest built from ram DNA, or that juncture at the small of his back that bled into the soft brown fur of a fox tail. But his own scrawny body, more and more often, lit up when Knight was near. He warmed, he blushed, his dick filled. Knight's nose seemed to quiver whenever that happened.
Nikko forced himself to think of other things when he stroked himself off in the shower. He thought of the cute veterinarian across the street, with his dark skin and friendly smile. He thought of his first boyfriend back in college, Aaron Smith, the blond-haired, blue-eyed übermensch. He thought of nothing at all, putting all of his focus on the pleasure he gave himself, locked away in the bathroom like a dirty little secret. But when the moment came, when he launched himself over the cliff of release, he saw sharp ears and a fluffy tail, and he had to bite scars into his own arm to keep himself from crying out Knight's name.
He was going to Hell, for sure. There was a special spot just for him in the level where animal abusers got their nuts chewed off by rats.
The oncoming summer made things worse. In an effort to put off turning on the air conditioner and save money, the amount of clothing they wore around the apartment became less and less, until Nikko came home to find Knight sprawled out on the living room floor in nothing but a pair of shorts that hardly covered him. Nikko had to excuse himself to the bathroom quickly that day, and then the air conditioner was turned on at last.
Some mornings, Nikko woke up with a mouth full of tail, because no matter how many times he told Knight to sleep in his own room, the fox didn't listen. It was the only bit of rebelliousness Knight had shown, though, so it was difficult to be strict with him.
Some mornings, Nikko woke up with Knight pressed right up against him, bodies aligned, making him overly hot despite the running air conditioner and thin pajamas. He had to disentangle before the raging erection that feeling Knight's dick pressed against his ass caused drove him out of his mind.
Some mornings, Nikko was already hard when he woke up, dreams of playful 'yiff's breaking up as he rose to consciousness.
He had become aware of Knight sniffing him, his nose running along his side, dragging lips after it. The sniffing had continued, as if on a searching quest, until Nikko asked in a rough, sleep-laden voice "Knight? What are you doing?"
"Nikko smells good," had been Knight's answer as he leaned up and over, moving from Nikko's side to his stomach.
Nikko pushed lightly at Knight's head, weak with the clinging remnants of sleep. "You always say that."
"It's different this time!" His nose quested lower. "There's something sweet, I think. It's coming from..." That perfect nose, perfect mouth, perfect face breached upon Nikko's groin, tickling at the leading hairs that peeked from above the waistband of his sleep shorts. "From here."
"Knight!" Nikko pushed harder this time, awake now, for sure. He shoved Knight's head away and scooted the few centimeters away that he could while lying down.
Knight looked up at him with furrowed brows, looking hurt, denied a treat. Then, in his apparent second act of rebelliousness, he leaned down again, shoving his face directly into Nikko's crotch, inhaling deeply. His tail began to curl in pleasure.
Nikko's erection surged and he gasped out Knight's name. His fingers flexed, but he didn't move, too scared that an attempt to push Knight away again would result in him pulling the fox closer.
And then the phone rang.
A groan escaped Nikko's lips when Knight pulled his face away to look curiously at the silver device resting on the nightstand. Several deep breaths later, Nikko pulled himself together enough to actually answer it.
It was Jack, and Nikko's heart began to pound before he even said a greeting, convinced the rabbit somehow knew what had been going on, knew what thoughts were in Nikko's depraved head. He would get kicked out of the program; he would get thrown in jail; Knight would be taken away from him. Surely his meek "Hello?" betrayed every bit of his guilt.
"Good morning," Jack returned, professional as always. He had called regularly when Knight first came here, checking in, making sure everything was alright and answering any questions Nikko had. As the months went on, however, the calls became less frequent, which Nikko took as a good sign, understanding that it meant the facility trusted he could handle things.
Sometimes, he wasn't so sure he could. He hoped his doubts didn't carry though the line when he echoed the greeting. "Good morning."
"I hope I didn't wake you. I understand you're on summer break now?"
"Yeah..." Nikko replied. Jack didn't sound suspicious; maybe he was safe for now. "But it's okay. I was up anyway." Too 'up'.
There was a smile in Jack's voice as he went on with "Knight must be happy to have you around more."
"Yeah, I think he is." He looked to the fox who was looking back, a smile on his lips as his tail flopped back and forth. They had spent almost every moment together since summer break started, two weeks prior. Though Knight still had his studies and Nikko had a lot of work to prepare for the upcoming new school year, they usually sat side-by-side or across from each other at the living room's low coffee table. Knight had definitely seemed happier as of late.
"That's good." Jack gave a quiet chuckle. It had been clear from the start that he cared deeply for his animal brethren. "I'm calling to let you know there will be a picnic for teachers and students two weeks from now. As it's the first one since you joined the program, I strongly encourage you to attend. It's a good opportunity to meet other teachers and exchange ideas."
Nikko's mouth went dry. It sounded absolutely terrifying. "Will there... be many people there?"
"Not too many. Perhaps twenty or so, but..." The line was silent for a moment, until Jack continued. "Knight hasn't had much exposure to others, has he?"
It was like a punch to the gut. It was true that Nikko didn't have any friends; he had his coworkers and a class full of students whom he saw every day, so he never felt like he was lacking in human interaction. He'd had friends when he was younger, but got fed up when they constantly declined every invitation he extended to hang out, despite the fact that he always went out of his way to accept the invitations of others. For a long time, he felt like a doll, only to be played with at the whims of others. So he had made a decision. Since he had to do everything he wanted to do alone anyway, he stopped trying, stopped bothering to invite others to spend time with him. He also stopped accepting the invitations to do what someone else wanted to do. He slipped quietly out of everyone's life, and he was fairly certain no one even noticed. It was lonely, but he was fine with that.
But he wasn't alone anymore. And while it was nice having Knight around, it also meant he had someone else to take into consideration. He got what Jack was implying – Knight needed to be around other people; he needed to interact with others and learn how to meet others. Knight needed to know how to make friends, because even if Nikko was fine – fine – on his own, it didn't mean Knight deserved to have that imposed on him as well. The point of the program was to teach knight to be independent, and he couldn't be if he became a shut-in like Nikko practically was. Knight needed to be able to live on his own.
Because someday he would leave.
Nikko let out a slow breath, and then asked "Where is it?"
"It'll be at Daniels Park. I can send you the information via e-mail, if you'd like."
"Yeah, that'd be good."
"I'll do that, then," Jack replied. "I hope to see you there."
They hung up and Nikko heaved a sigh. His erection disappeared as stress coursed through him, and incidentally Knight no longer seemed interested in his crotch. It was for the best, because Nikko didn't have time to worry about that. Right then, all he had time for was brainstorming possible conversations and writing scripts of perfectly normal replies.
He thought he had come up with every combination of words that might come his way, and was sure he would be able to handle any interaction that came up, both human and animal.
Naturally, all those preparations where blasted to useless within moments of arriving at the reserved picnic area of Daniels Park. He was greeted with a smile upon approach, ticking him one point towards comfort, and then when the woman's gaze landed on Knight, an unmistakable look of disgust crossed her eyes and curled her lip. It sent Nikko's comfort levels reeling backwards towards wanting out of there, and though he would never claim to be a lip reader, he could see the word "Mutt" on her mouth when she leaned closer to another woman sitting next to her.
Knight's ears drooped, likely able to hear it, and it drove a spike of anger through Nikko. He hadn't really thought about elitism amongst the program's teachers, but snobs were everywhere, it seemed.
Nikko turned, about to leave altogether, until a delicate hand took him by the elbow. Startled, he jerked his head to see Jack, who began to lead him back towards the picnic in progress. Jack was dressed in a suit despite the heat, and his rabbit ears were back, looking for all the world like a real human, albeit a bit pale. "They own the matching poodles over there," Jack said as he gestured his chin towards a pair of tall, Twiggy-skinny girls with poofy, white curls who watched the rest of the picnickers with clear disdain. "They also donate a lot of money to the program... Or, at least their husbands do, so we can't ask them to leave or berate them. Please just deal with them." Then they stopped walking, and Jack faced him fully, buck-teeth showing through his smile. "I'm glad you made it."
Jack smiled again, and then turned his attention to Knight. "And how are you?" he asked, stepping over to scratch behind the soft fox ears. "You look well."
"Yes!" Knight answered, happy. "Nikko takes good care of me!"
"I'm glad." Then Jack stepped back to address them both. "There's food and room to run. Help yourself to anything. Bathrooms are down that path over there. If you have any questions or need anything, I'll be around." He smiled polite, and then his red eyes turned decidedly to Nikko, though his voice was casual. "Please meet the others, and have a good time."
Nikko gave a "Thank you," and then realized he had said all of three words before Jack left them alone. Throwing them to the wolves, almost literally, Jack wasn't about to coddle him and let Nikko stick by him – he was forcing Nikko to do it on his own, and in turn showing Knight how to hold himself in social situations.
Really, Nikko was the last person who should be teaching that.
"Let's get some snacks," Nikko said, though his stomach hurt with anxiety. With his face schooled into a smile, he led Knight to the table piled with food – plenty of meat for the carnivores and veggies for the herbivores – and handed him one of the small paper plates, keeping another for himself. He smiled at everyone he saw.
Others were around the food table, conversation was made, and Nikko managed to keep up his side like a person who totally knew how to be social. When a kind-looking middle-aged woman asked "You're new here, aren't you?" he was successfully able to keep his voice from cracking like a tween.
"Yeah. This is my first picnic."
"How long have you been in the program?"
"Well, your fox is very handsome." She tossed a good-natured wink at Knight, who giggled in response.
"Thank you," Nikko replied, his smile becoming miles more genuine. Not everyone was a bully; not everyone was a snob. He knew that, even if it was hard to remember sometimes. "Do you have a student too?" Then he mentally smacked himself as soon as the question came out of his mouth. Of course she did; she wouldn't be there otherwise.
But there was no hint of judgment in the woman's face as she answered "Yes, I have two male cats, but they're off chasing a squirrel somewhere."
"I see," Nikko said with a chuckle, even as he wondered if it were a squirrel or a 'squirrel'. He left that question unasked, though.
Food retrieved, they found an empty picnic table to sit at, and for a while just watched the activities around them. By and large, there seemed to be a divide between teachers and students, as though the animals were taking the opportunity to freely play, and the humans more than happy to leave them to it and talk amongst themselves. Nikko was nothing short of amazed as he watched the students frolic. Ears and tails aside, a lot of animal traits showed themselves in the students' interactions.
The cats were more aloof, most of them looking content to just watch from the sidelines, though a few played as well, chasing the rabbits or taking turns chasing and being chased by dogs. Sometimes they rubbed their faces on the other students, and Nikko understood that that meant they were friends.
The dogs were playful, happily running and racing and chasing, playing fetch with one another or having a tug-of-war that ultimately turned into a wrestling match. They were also the most vocal, barking and yipping to show their joy. Only the poodle twins and a little chihuahua cowering by his teacher's side were quiet.
There were only two rabbits, aside from Jack, and they tried their best to stay out of the way for as long as playful kittens would let them. One of them was rather large and had the floppiest brown ears, which the smaller, black rabbit seemed to enjoy hiding under. Nikko both smiled and blushed when he saw their little cotton-puff tails peeking out from their altered shorts.
His eyes turned to Knight, who was watching the other animals with interest. The e-mail Jack had sent was clear that the area of the park would be private in order to give the students a chance to go all-out and be themselves in the fresh air. Knowing that, Nikko had allowed Knight to let his tail out, keep his ears up in their natural position, and the relief in Knight's eyes had said everything.
The few other foxes seemed to enjoy darting into other students' games just long enough to get in the way before dancing out of reach and finding someone else to pester. They were bratty, for sure, but the others took it in stride, giving chase at times. All of them were smiling.
There was one pure-breed fennec, and she was breathtakingly adorable. Her body was tiny and dainty, which made her tan-colored ears seem all the larger. She seemed very popular, with many males chasing after her, but she was nimble on her bare feet, and never got caught. Her laughter was like the tinkling of bells and her white sundress twirled around her as she evaded yet another grabbing hand, and Nikko couldn't help his persistent smile as he watched, until he caught sight of a large figure looming toward him.
It was a wolf, and a big one at that. The wolves were the ones Nikko was most wary of – second only to humans – so of course they would be the most abundant. He supposed it was an ego thing, people wanting to be able to say they were in charge of a fierce predator. Or perhaps it was compensation. Either way, a red-headed wolf had made a bee-line straight for them, and Nikko's body went rigid, caught between flight or playing dead, until Knight jumped to his feet.
The wolf gave a dazzling smile with dangerously pointed teeth as he greeted "Fox," and it finally hit Nikko that they must have known each other from the facility. Knight hadn't shown any recognition towards any of the other students, but Nikko found himself relieved that there was at least one familiar friend amongst the menagerie.
"It's Knight now," the fox replied with a bright smile of his own. "I finally have a name!"
"Nice to hear," came the reply as the wolf's golden eyes turned to Nikko. There was natural power and aggression in each of Gus's movements, and being under his scrutiny made Nikko shiver.
"This is Nikko, my teacher." Knight's smile turned up, blinding. "He's so nice to me!"
A fanged smirk appeared on the wolf's lips. "He's tiny." But then he smiled more friendly. "Good to meet 'cha."
"Y-Yeah..." Nikko managed a slight bob of his head, like a stunted bow.
Without sparing Nikko another ounce of his attention, Gus grabbed the shoulder of Knight's t-shirt and tugged. "Let's play."
Knight's enthusiasm towards his friend wavered a bit as he gave a stilted "N-nn..." Then his gaze turned to Nikko, a question in the yellow depths.
"Go," Nikko said, smile in place.
"Is it okay?"
"Of course. That's why we're here. Go. Have fun."
Knight smiled again; his tail curled. "Okay." Then he allowed himself to be pulled away, until Gus let go of him and took off running. Pausing in his steps, Knight turned and looked back at Nikko, who gave his brightest smile and waved. Only then did Knight finally perk back up, and then he was off and running after his friend.
And Nikko was left alone.
He watched them play, on edge at first, worried about Knight getting hurt. The fox had pounced on his larger friend, but was soon wrestled to the ground and the two began tumbling over each other. A floppy-eared Labrador had no qualms joining in the fray, tackling Knight, only to be tackled by Gus in return. But they seemed to know just how rough they could be, how much strength they could use to play their games without anyone getting injured or angry. Even Knight seemed to instinctively know how much to hold back as he playfully headbutted a gray wolf in the gut, making use of his horns. Poodles aside, none of the other animals seemed to care that Knight was a hybrid – a mutt – and they accepted him as another friend to play with, more accepting than humans ever were. Very quickly, Nikko realized he was smiling at their antics.
"They're cute, huh?"
Nikko jumped at the voice that had appeared beside him, and he turned to see a young woman sit next to him, taking the seat Knight had vacated. She looked to be the same age as him, or perhaps a little younger, her dark brown hair in a super-short, boyish cut. She looked stylish and had a casual air about her.
Her laugh was easy. "Sorry if I startled you. I haven't seen you around before. Are you new?"
"Yeah, I just joined the program a few months ago, so..."
"Well, welcome." She stuck her hand out, the first person to actually introduce themselves to him. "I'm Ginger."
"Nikko..." He took her offered hand for a quick, limp shake.
"Thanks... My parents gave it to me..."
Ginger laughed, taking it as a joke when really he was just being awkward. "Does it mean anything?"
"I don't know... My mom's really spiritual, so my siblings and I are all named after 'power spots'." He made air quotes with his fingers before quickly pulling his hands down again. He was talking too much; she didn't care about his family's quirks.
Nikko's eyes drew away from her steady gaze. "My brother Machu doesn't think so."
He figured she would think he was weird, but instead she laughed again. "I know the feeling, though. I have a younger twin sister name Ale. Though I guess she got the shorter end of that stick."
A smile found its way to Nikko's lips, and it bubbled until he too was laughing. It felt good.
"There it is." Ginger's smile quieted, but was no less sincere. "I was afraid you didn't like us."
Nikko shook his head slightly, falling back to shy. "No... Everyone's been really nice. Or, almost everyone, anyway."
Nikko nodded, chuckled lightly. "Poodles." Then his gaze fell away again. "I just... don't do well with people." Every 'No, I can't make it'; every 'I have other things to do that day'; every 'Sorry, I have to cancel our plans because someone else invited me to do something else, but happy birthday!'; they all flashed through his mind, stabbing like ice, reminding him that he shouldn't even be bothering talking right now. He should just go home.
"So which one's yours?" Ginger asked, a question Nikko never thought he would hear in his life. It drew his eyes up, out, towards his reason for being there.
"The brown fox with horns."
"A hybrid, huh?" Her remark was casual, not judgmental. "They're pretty rare. This is my first time seeing one." She smiled so broadly that her blue eyes crinkled. "He's beautiful."
An unwarranted and ridiculous blush touched Nikko's face as he stammered out "Th- Thank you." Then he turned redder when he realized how stupid that must have sounded. It wasn't like he birthed Knight or had anything at all to do with his looks.
"I can tell you take good care of him. He looks really healthy and happy."
"Thank... you..." That one he could take credit for. Then he asked "How about you?" to divert attention away from himself.
"I have a female dog," Ginger answered with her smile. "She's a golden retriever named Penny. I believe she's..." She began to search the park, looking for her student. When her eyes widened a bit, Nikko knew she had found the dog-girl, but then her eyes narrowed again in amusement. "Ah, there she is. And it looks like she's made a friend." Then she laughed.
Nikko followed her gaze, until he thought his head would burst with hot blush at what he saw.
The retriever was on her hands and knees, her long, blonde hair falling in front of her, hiding much from Nikko's point of view, but not nearly enough. Her dress was pushed up and her face held pure pleasure as the small, black rabbit Nikko had seen before mounted her from behind. He wore an expression of concentration as his slim hips pushed against her at a fast pace, his shorts dropped to his knees. The brown, flop-eared rabbit sat nearby, as if waiting for his turn.
"Oh, my god!" Nikko's hand flew to his eyes as he turned his head away, traumatized.
Ginger laughed again, greatly amused. "What, did you think that they didn't do that?"
"We're in public."
"I don't think they care. Have you never seen animals go at it before? They don't care if they have an audience."
Nikko was shocked at her nonchalance. Nobody else seemed to care either, as if they didn't hear the growing barks of pleasure. Only he seemed to be uncomfortable. And while he had seen animals mate in his life, it was different. Those were animals, but... "But... Their bodies..."
"Their bodies may be humanoid," Ginger said, catching his drift. "But their minds-" She tapped her temple. "Their minds are still animal, largely. This is normal and natural for them. It's good for them to socialize sometimes. Hell, if Penny goes without for a while, she gets cranky."
Knight had never shown any interest in... socializing. Aside from the sniffing, but Nikko chose to ignore that. That wasn't sexual, that was just Knight being curious. Nikko was skeptical, unsure, even as he took a furtive glance back to see the brown rabbit taking his turn... on the black rabbit. The dog-girl, Penny, laid in the grass next to them, looking satisfied.
"I know Jack probably didn't say anything about it," Ginger continued. "But it's one of the big reasons we have these gatherings and ensure private places."
"But..." His next protest already hung on his tongue. "But we're supposed to be teaching them to be human..."
Ginger regarded him for a moment, studying him. Surely the judgment would come next. Instead, she asked "Do you always let him run around with his tail out in public?"
"But you did today. Why?"
He got it. "Because... I knew it would just be people in the program here."
He got it, but Ginger explained anyway. "It's the same thing. The students know, or they should know, that these events are special, and that they can only do this here. They have a freedom here that they can't have on regular days; a freedom that humans can never have." Then she gave a one-shouldered shrug and smiled. "I know it's surprising at first, but you get used to it. And, yeah, by the time they graduate they don't do it anymore. You'll never see Jack going at it." A laugh sprang out of her then. "Though he probably needs it more than anyone."
Nikko looked to Knight, who was still playing with the others, though he and Gus seemed to have separated from the rest. They were lying in the grass together, nipping at each other. Knight didn't seem to have noticed Penny or the bunnies at all, for which Nikko found himself grateful. "What if she gets pregnant?"
"Then I guess I'll have puppies!"
His eyes bugged at how okay she seemed to be with the idea of having a whole litter of them. Knight was enough of a handful; Nikko was sure he would go crazy having many more following him around like ducklings.
Ginger didn't wait for a reply – which was good, because Nikko had gone speechless – but she laughed again. Apparently she found teasing him hilarious. "Actually, they can't breed. Technically they're all hybrids, human and animal, and hybrids can't reproduce. That's why there aren't many ligers or zonkeys. They're sterile."
That made more sense than anything he had heard so far, and he said as much.
"It's kind of a shame, though, ya know? I'd love to see one of them as a baby."
An image of Knight as a baby – fat and soft, with tiny horns – came to Nikko's mind, and he chuckled, relaxing at last. "That would be cute."
"Right? But the public isn't allowed in the actual laboratories, so nobody's ever seen what they look like young. The rumor, though, is that they're born with animal bodies and have to have their genes, like... zapped or something to start growing human limbs."
Nikko flinched, feeling a pang of sympathy. "That might explain why it hurts them so much."
Ginger nodded, looking more solemn than Nikko had seen her in the whole hour they had known each other. But then her eyes lit up, and she smiled. Looking past Nikko, she said "Hey, Pen. Have fun?"
The golden retriever trotted up, wrapping arms around Ginger's neck and sitting on the bench next to her. She seemed cheerful and cuddly; her tail wagged happily. "Yep! Big fun! Now I'm hungry."
Ginger laughed, and then leaned back to reveal Nikko. "This is Nikko. He's new. He's teaching the hybrid fox over there."
"Nice to meet you!" Penny said with a broad smile.
"What's his name?"
"Ah... His name's Knight."
"He's a cutie!" Penny bounced. "I want to socialize with him next."
Nikko's face went red; his chest squeezed. His mouth opened, but no words came out.
Luckily, Ginger seemed to notice his distress. "Maybe next time, Love."
"Aww." Penny pouted even as she laid her head on Ginger's shoulder. They seemed affectionate with each other, as any person and their dog would be, Nikko supposed. Rubbing her nose against the fabric of Ginger's t-shirt, Penny went on to mutter "Feed me."
Another good-natured chuckle sounded from Ginger. "Alright, alright. Come on." They stood up and she looked to Nikko before heading off to the snack table. "Want anything?"
"No, I'm good," Nikko replied with a polite smile. "Thanks." He waved them off.
There was a wet spot on the bench where Penny had been sitting.
Nikko recoiled, though it was mostly out of shock. Still, he was glad nobody was there to notice his probably immature reaction. They were still animals; he had to get over it.
Left alone again, his eyes instinctively sought out Knight once more.
And almost bugged right out of his head.
Gus had pinned him. Knight lay on his side and Gus kneeled over him, straddling Knight's hip and holding himself up on strong arms. And he was pressing his groin against Knight's hip, dry-humping him. Knight didn't seem to understand, brow crinkled in confusion, but he also didn't seem to mind at all. He smiled and his tail curled when Gus leaned over to bite at his ear, and when Gus's hand slid forward a bit, Knight rested his chin on it.
Nikko turned away, jerking around to face the picnic table he had been sitting at. His arms came to rest on the table, his fingers gripping his forearms, digging nails into his flesh. His chest hurt; it hurt so much. It was jealousy ripping through him, tearing him up, but he had to quash it.
This was good for Knight. It was normal and natural. He needed to spend time with other animals like this.
He had to accept that this was natural for Knight, and any feelings he had for the fox were not. So Nikko brought his hands up, burying them into his hair as he hung his head, trying to block everything out.
Until he heard a familiar and distressed 'yiff'.
Nikko was on his feet in a flash, turning to Knight's direction. His heart went cold, ice.
Gus wanted more. He had a tight grip on Knight's shorts, yanking them, trying to get them off though Knight clearly didn't want that. Knight was trying to push Gus away, trying to scramble out from under him, but the wolf was bigger, stronger, baring fangs. When Knight gave a displeased growl, Gus snarled, sending Knight's ears flat.
Taking a step forward, Nikko opened his mouth to yell, to tell the wolf to stop, to protect his student. But his throat clogged with fear, terrified of drawing attention – because what if he was wrong? What if this was normal too? – as much as he was of Gus's large canine teeth. He wanted to rush forward, grab Knight, and take him home, but Nikko's feet were rooted in place, unbudging. He was stuck, and all he could do was croak out an unheard "Knight..."
"All right, all right. Knock it off." A stocky man in a football jersey lumbered up to the pair, bopping Gus on the head, completely unafraid. Even when the wolf's head shot up, growling low in the back of his throat, the man didn't flinch. He just put on a stern look, warning "Don't you dare." And Gus relented, letting go of the cloth in his hands and sitting back. Knight scurried free and Gus lunged for him, but the man admonished again. "Leave him alone."
Knight ran for Nikko, tears in his eyes. He was scared, and rightfully so, as he took hold of Nikko's shirtsleeve. "I- Yiff. I accidentally ripped my clothes! I- I'm sorry!"
That was what he was worried about?
"It's okay," Nikko replied, reaching up to tug at a lock of Knight's hair. "It was an accident. Are you... Are you alright?"
"Your friend seemed to be... getting a little rough."
"Gus was playing," Knight said, wiping the tears away with the back of his hand. "But his playing got weird. I didn't..." Then his head drooped. "I didn't mean to let him rip my clothes... So-Sorry..."
Nikko took Knight by the horn, pulling his head down to tuck it against his chest, though it meant Knight had to bend down more than a little. Knight seemed happy and relieved at the touch, wrapping his arms around Nikko's waist. "It's okay," Nikko said, soothing, as he glanced around the picnic. Nobody paid them any mind; nobody seemed to find it strange. Everyone seemed to show great affection to their students, and for that, Nikko was grateful. It made it so much easier to calm a concerned fox. "It's not your fault. We can buy you new clothes." Next paycheck. "Okay?"
Knight nodded into Nikko's chest and gave a tiny 'yiff', which made Nikko smile.
It was a smile that slowly dropped when he saw the stocky man, obviously Gus's teacher, heading toward them, one hand gripping the back of Gus's neck, though the wolf was larger than he was. Nikko pulled back a bit away from Knight, and as Knight stood back to his full height, the other pair stopped in front of them. Gus wouldn't make eye contact, instead keeping his gaze averted, his ears drooping. He was in trouble.
"This guy has somethin' to say," the man said, pushing Gus forward. And when Gus was silent, the thick fingers at his neck flexed. "Gus."
"I'm sorry," Gus said, face turned away and voice gruff.
"He got carried away," the man continued for his student. "It's one of the tough things 'bout wolves; they don't know when enough is enough."
"He ripped Knight's clothes..."
"I'm sorry, man. I'll pay for 'em."
Nikko looked up quickly. "No, I just meant... That's why he's upset. Not because of... the other stuff..."
Finally, the man smiled, stern draining away from his face. "I gotcha. Well, I'll pay for 'em anyways. It's only right." Then he stuck out his hand, as Ginger had done before. "I'm Buck. This is Gus, though I guess you've met."
"Yeah... Ah, I'm Nikko." He took the offered, meaty hand. "He's Knight."
"Nice to meet ya." Buck seemed like a good match for a wolf, a nice guy overall, patient, but able to be strict when necessary, and completely unafraid. Most of those were traits Nikko seriously needed to work on. "So, who brought ya in? Anyone I know?"
Nikko's brows drew together. "Brought me in?"
"Yeah. Who introduced ya to the program?"
"Nobody..." Nikko answered. "I just-"
"Hey, Buck!" Ginger's voice interrupted as she and Penny approached, waving with the hand not balancing a plate of food.
Penny immediately rushed to Knight, standing too close. "You're Knight, right?"
"Yes," Knight answered.
"I'm Penny." Her tail wagged like crazy. "Let's be friends!"
Knight smiled. "Okay."
"Let's be mates!"
"Oy," Gus growled, stepping out of Buck's loosened grip. He stood on Knight's other side. "Mine."
"Liar." Penny stuck her tongue out at Gus. "Nobody would be mates with a stupid wolf who can't even use a human toilet yet."
"Shut it, ya dumb bitch." Gus's long canines bared again.
"Oh, I'm so scared of the big, bad wolf."
They continued to argue, Knight caught in between them, while Ginger and Buck caught up on each other's lives, always considerate of keeping Nikko involved in the conversation. And while Nikko gave his attention to Buck as he regaled them with his acquisition and subsequent losing of Super Bowl tickets, he briefly thought that this must have been what it was like to have friends. It had been so long, the feeling was almost completely forgotten, but a glimmer of it was there.
He never would have guessed taking in a fox would reconnect him with people.
Chapter 5: Separation Anxiety, part one
The most important thing the picnic had cinched for Nikko was that, despite the human faces and bodies, the program's students were animals. All the other teachers felt so, to the point of not thinking any more of the students mating at the park than they would of two cats – actual, furry cats – going at it. The students were learning to be human, yes, but they weren't there yet.
It meant, without a doubt, that the growing feelings Nikko had toward Knight were wrong. They were wrong and despicable, and they were a recipe for heartbreak, because Knight could never feel the same way.
He had to put a distance between them, to keep his feelings from spiraling out of control. He had to draw a line between teacher and student, and be strict about it.
He started two nights after the picnic, after he had made his decision. After they had gone to bed in their separate rooms, as Nikko always insisted they did, he stayed up and waited. And when Knight carefully pushed his door open, Nikko put on his strictest voice, warning. "Knight."
"It's dark..." Knight replied quietly, a protest, though he didn't try to come any further into the room.
"Go to sleep. When you wake up, it won't be dark anymore."
Somehow, Knight's voice became even quieter, saying "It's lonely..." Nikko was surprised he even heard it, and it was a much harder point to address.
"Well... You'll have to get used to it."
"Knight. Maybe someday I'll bring someone home who I'll want to be alone with. Then you will have to sleep alone. You should get used to it now."
"Someone... Someone else? Another student?"
"More like... Like a boyfriend or lover. Okay?"
"Oh..." He couldn't see Knight's face in the dark, but if it were nearly as crestfallen as his voice, Nikko may have relented.
Strict. Strict. Strict. "Do you understand?"
"Y-Yes," Knight responded, followed by a choked "Yiff."
"Good. Now go back to your room and stay there. Go to sleep."
Knight whimpered, and Nikko almost took it all back right then. But then the fox whispered "Okay..." and backed out of the room, closing the door gently behind him.
Nikko breathed a sigh, one high hurdle jumped clear. He turned over, onto his side, ready to spend his first night in months sleeping alone. His eyes closed, silence and calm again blanketing the dark apartment.
Until, through the thin wall that separated them, the heart-wrenching crying began. Knight's devastated sobs tore through the night like a gale, carrying a world of pain and loneliness and sorrow. Gods and angels alike would weep at the tale of woe Knight's cries told.
Nikko pulled his pillow over his head, pressing it to his ears as his tears began to fall.
Knight didn't try to come into Nikko's room the following night. He didn't cry either, or if he did, it was too silent for Nikko to hear. It was good, Nikko told himself, repeated like a mantra. They were on their way to becoming proper teacher and student. And if his bed suddenly felt a little too big, he would get over it. He had spent years sleeping alone in that bed, bringing it with him from his old apartment when he moved to the current one. He would get used to it again.
He should have put his foot down about this from the start. It would have saved him a small handful of sleepless nights.
Other new rules were imposed as well. Most of them were rules Nikko gave to himself. Knight wasn't allowed to stand too close or hang off of him – especially when Nikko was cooking – and they couldn't cuddle on the couch when watching TV, because teachers didn't do that with their students. Nikko berated himself every time his fingers itched to seek out Knight's tail or hair – no petting, no cooing, no jerking off while thinking of Knight. Proper, proper.
Knight never questioned the change, seeming to trust Nikko completely, but he was considerably more subdued. He still smiled when he did well with his studies, but his eyes didn't light up like they used to. When they went out shopping with Ginger and Penny, Buck and Gus, one Saturday afternoon, Knight just followed quietly, ignoring the other students' bickering and complaining about having to hide their ears and tails. When Penny latched onto his arm, Knight snapped at her, but was otherwise silent. Even when Buck paid for a new outfit of Knight's choice, to make up for the one Gus had ripped, his only response was a barely-heard "Thank you."
When they went to Buck's house for coffee afterward, Knight turned down the invitation to play, only sitting on the couch and staring out the window while Penny and Gus attempted to destroy each other at Mario Kart.
"Is he okay?" Ginger asked, tossing a worried glance to Knight through the doorway that separated living room and kitchen.
Nikko's eyes fell, staring at the dark coffee in front of him. He clasped the mug with both hands; it burned. "I think... he's mad at me. I've had to be a bit strict with him lately."
"He doesn't seem angry; he seems depressed."
Buck cut in with "He looks like he's lost weight."
"Why have you been strict?"
Nikko's gaze moved from the coffee to a spot on the table, unable to look at the other two. The weight of their accusations, their judgment, pulled his shoulders down into a slouch. "It's just... I've..." Then he scowled. "He's been annoying. He's always underfoot, when I'm cooking, when I'm cleaning, when I'm working. It's a pain." It was a complete lie. Nikko never once found Knight's constant presence annoying. "I'm trying to establish some boundaries."
There was a beat of silence, then another, and then Ginger softly said "Well, I hope he feels better soon."
The grand opening of a new school year had Knight further withdrawing. No doubt being left home alone all day added to the loneliness he was already feeling, but Nikko didn't know what to do for him. He had to work, and it wasn't like he could take Knight to the school with him. When he suggested that Knight spend the days with Penny or Gus, Knight turned the offer down. He only wanted to be around Nikko, and it was as heartbreaking as it was affirming that this needed to be done.
It wasn't exactly easy for Nikko, either. He worried about Knight constantly, spacing out at the most inconvenient times, wondering what Knight was doing, if he would be okay, if he would still be there when Nikko came home. So caught up in his concern he was, he lost track of his script in class. He tripped over his words and misspoke; he introduced a lesson on Ancient Egypt by talking about "The child pharaoh, King Butt," which the kids found hysterical. At least he could make them smile, even as they affectionately nicknamed him 'Professor Buttertongue'.
If nothing else, in the very least, Knight was still there to greet him when he came home every day. When he pushed the apartment's mahogany door open, he would find Knight waiting for him at the end of the short hallway that bottlenecked from the doorway to open into the living room. Usually Knight would nod with a small pout. They would greet with 'I'm home's and 'welcome back's. Until one Wednesday evening, Nikko returned to find Knight in tears, and he immediately dropped his bag and rushed to the fox.
"What's wrong!?" Nikko asked, eyes scanning Knight's body for injuries. There were band-aids on Knight's fingers, applied haphazardly, half of them crumpled or hanging off his knuckles. "Did you get hurt?"
"I-" Knight sniffled as fat tears rolled down his cheeks. "I'm sor- Yiff. Sorry."
The only answer was Knight bursting out in loud sobs and pressing his bandaged hands to his eyes.
"Knight, I-" A lump corked his throat, dry and tough to swallow, but he got it down. "I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."
Knight moved a hand to silently point into the living room, and Nikko followed the lead, slipping past Knight in search of what, exactly, was so distressing.
He found it immediately.
In one corner of the living room, near the large, glass door that led out to the balcony, the carpet had been shredded. Off-white shags of yarn were strewn about the area like snowfall; torn fragments of what was once pristine rug seemed to spell out 'You're not getting your deposit back'. The dirty wooden floor beneath showed its naked self, gouges bared like scars.
Knight had taken up a new habit – digging.
Nikko turned to the sniveling fox hiding behind the entryway, his heart breaking again and again when Knight cowered at his approach. But his touch was gentle as he took Knight's hands, analyzing the poor attempt at first-aid. It was a tremendous effort to keep himself from kissing the battered fingertips. "Did you hurt yourself doing this?" And when Knight only nodded and sniffled, Nikko gave him a downy smile. "Come on. Let's fix you up."
He led Knight into the bathroom and had him sit on the closed lid of the toilet while he perched himself on the edge of the bathtub, first-aid supplies at the ready. Then, one by one, he took Knight's fingers and removed the band-aids. Underneath, Knight's fingers were torn and red, blood smeared from where his nails had torn. One nail was ripped half off, and even Nikko winced as the bandage was eased off. Knight's instinct to dig didn't seem to have conferred with his human body. Unfortunately, it was the body that suffered the consequences.
The dangling remnant of nail was clipped away and peroxide was applied to clean and disinfect. Each finger was given the same careful treatment, delicately re-dressed in Johnson-and-Johnson's finest. The worst ones were swathed in gauze. Knight's cries had dwindled to sniffles and whimpers, and when he gulped, Nikko looked up at him, meeting red-rimmed, yellow eyes.
"I... I didn't mean to," Knight said, voice forced. "I didn't realize what I was doing, and then it hurt and I saw what I did and... And..." He trailed off into a keening whimper that probably would have turned into sobs again if Nikko hadn't put a hand to his cheek.
It was soft and warm. They'd had barely any physical contact since Nikko made the decision to put distance between them. He missed touching Knight; he missed the energy that flowed between them when skin pressed to skin. He wanted so badly to stay just as they were forever – he wanted so badly to lean forward.
Body warming with blush, Nikko yanked his hand away.
"It's okay." Nikko's eyes pulled away. "You couldn't help it."
"I won't- I won't do it again. I promise."
"Okay." It took a sheer force of will not to reach out and finger Knight's soft hair, comb through his limp tail, kiss his downturned lips. "It'll be okay."
It wasn't okay.
The following day, Nikko returned home to no Knight, and his heart leapt into his throat so hard he almost puked. There was no way to mask all the fear in his voice as he called out a weak "Knight?"
A moment later the tip of a black horn and a single yellow eye peeked around the corner. Nikko breathed a premature sigh of relief, and then the crying started. "I- I- I broke-" Knight couldn't speak through the sobs, and he really didn't need to.
"Are your hands okay?"
Knight stepped into the entrance hall, hands held out. Most of the band-aids were gone, crimson fingertips almost glowing with visible pain. The two wrapped in gauze were still protected, the cushy bandaging secured by medical tape. Perhaps they should all be done up like that, though it would make feeding himself difficult.
"Okay," Nikko said, again and again. "It'll be okay." Because he didn't know what else to say.
Then it was back to the bathroom, Nikko making it a point to not even glance at the living room as they went by. The fingers were again cleaned and dressed, now five of them bad enough to need the thick gauze. Afterwards, he sent Knight to bed for a nap, promising a nice dinner when he woke up. Only when the door to Knight's room was softly shut did Nikko go to inspect the damage.
The new rips were right next to the old, making one big hole in the carpet. The strands of rug that were cleaned up the night before had been replaced, and the area was dotted with blood.
Nikko's eyes went wet as he began to clean up again. He just didn't know what to do for Knight. The digging was due to anxiety, that much was obvious, but it wasn't like he could quit his job. And he couldn't let Knight start sleeping with him again. He had hoped with time Knight would get used to the new arrangement, but instead he seemed to be getting worse, leaving Nikko at a loss.
His own tears fell to the carpet, mixing with the drops of Knight's blood.
Over the weekend, Knight seemed fine. Or, as fine as he had been, anyway. While on Friday Nikko didn't even need to say anything when Knight greeted him with a hung head, leading him straight to the bathroom, immediately reaching for the gauze that he hadn't bothered putting away, on Saturday he didn't wake up to the mess he expected. Instead, he woke up to a mess in the kitchen. A blanket of dark sand spilled over the counter and floor, three crumpled filters littered like decoration, and a pouting fox sat on the floor, sniffling while trying to comb coffee grounds out of his tail with fingers trapped behind layers of bandaging and tape.
Nikko actually smiled at the scene. "Thanks for the attempt."
There were no other incidents all weekend. Knight didn't dig – didn't even look like he wanted to – and by Sunday afternoon his fingers were healed enough to replace the gauze with thinner band-aids. By Sunday evening a new rug had been bought to cover the digging spot.
By Monday evening, the rug had been flung aside and more of the carpet and flooring shredded. Knight's fingers were bloodied and raw; his whimpers were of pain, fear, and self-loathing.
"We'll do something about this," Nikko promised as his thumbs rubbed circles into the backs of Knight's hands. "We'll figure something out."
He hadn't felt this lost since junior high school, when he realized there was probably more to his desire to see the most popular boy in school blatantly naked than a want for friendship. When it occurred to him that he just might be gay, a million and seven questions bowed before him, and he gave each of them fair attention over the course of his life. Some of them he still hadn't gotten to, like if he would ever get married, if he would have children, if he would be lynched in a mob. Some of the questions were difficult to answer, taking much of the time he offered, but finally received resolution. He came out to his family in high school and was eventually accepted after the initial shock had dissipated.
He didn't even remember that popular boy's name anymore, which was almost funny, considering what a catalyst he was. Nikko snorted a laugh, not that it was really funny, as he stared blankly at the scratching pad for cats in his hands.
"Is it really that amusing?" a voice asked from beside him, making Nikko jump.
Dark axinite eyes flecked with laughter smiled down at Nikko when he looked up. A gorgeous grin stole away Nikko's voice, leaving him mute.
It was the hot veterinarian from across the street.
Hot Veterinarian From Across The Street chuckled, even as he apologized. "Sorry to frighten you. You just seemed lost."
"N-No, I..." Awkward struck again. "Thought of a funny joke suddenly."
"Perhaps you'll tell it to me someday."
"Ah... I would probably ruin it."
The guy smiled deeper, chuckled again, voice like a soothing summer day. Then he said "You live in the building across from mine, don't you? I've seen you around."
"Yeah... And you're a vet, right?" When a dark brow was raised at him, Nikko's eyes turned away, cheeks warming. "I've seen you around as well..." Then his eyes widened, darting back to the handsome face before him. "I mean, I've seen you at the animal clinic. I'm not, like... a stalker or something..."
"I figured that was the case." Sometimes Nikko hated that it was so easy to tease him. At that moment, though, he didn't mind so much. Not if it allowed him to see those perfect, white teeth. "I'm Darryl," those teeth said. "It's nice to finally meet you."
"I'm Nikko. It's... nice to meet you too."
"What kind of cat do you have?"
"Huh?" Not the most intelligent sound he had ever made. And when Darryl gestured to the scratching box still in his hand, Nikko finally remembered where he was. "Oh! No, I don't have a cat. Actually, I have a- A fox." Kind of. "A fennec fox." Sort of.
"Wow." Darryl's face somehow managed to brighten further, his love of animals shining obvious. "They're pretty rare."
"You have no idea..."
"I've never actually seen a fennec before. Do they need scratchers?"
"Ah..." Nikko looked at the thing again, then set it back on the shelf. "Actually, he's started digging, and it's tearing up the carpet. I was looking for something that would keep his hands- ... Paws busy."
"Have you tried a covered litter box?"
"I don't think he'd fit..."
Darryl's head tilted a bit; his brow crinkled. "Fennecs are pretty small, though, aren't they?"
"Knight is big for a fennec."
The smile and amusement came back in force. "His name is Knight?"
Nikko could feel his cheeks flush further, and he became positive Darryl would soon be convinced he was a lobster-hybrid. "Yeah... Because he tries to act tough."
A hearty, brilliant laugh drew a smile to Nikko's own face. "Well, let's go check out the dog section. I think they have sandboxes for little diggers that might work for Sir Fox."
They were able to find a suitable box, one that would fit well in the apartment, giving Knight enough to play with, but wouldn't be in the way. Darryl was kind enough to drive Nikko to a hardware store to pick up a bag of packable dirt and a narrow tarp to control any spillage, and then drove him home. He offered to help carry everything up, shining axinite telling how much he also wanted to meet the purported fox, but Nikko refused, citing a messy and embarrassing apartment. There was no way Nikko was about to let the man meet the fox hybrid.
Before Nikko could exit the car, Darryl's voice hitched up an octave to say "This may be a bit forward, but..." Then he paused, glanced away for a moment, showing something other than complete confidence for the first time. It was charming. "Are you seeing anyone?"
For a long time, Nikko wanted to hear that from someone. He had even dreamed of hearing it from this man. That hint of interest; that promise of more to come; that prayer, a twin star for each of them. Hearing it now, at last, after so long without any sparks coming his way... Nikko wasn't nearly as excited as he had thought he would be. There was no giddiness, no elation, only an instant worry about Knight.
It was because of that worry that Nikko answered with "No, I'm not." Because he wasn't seeing anyone. He wasn't seeing Knight – he never would be; he never could be. Knight was an animal, Nikko's student and kind-of pet, and teachers didn't date their students, and they certainly didn't date their pets. "I'm single."
Darryl's smile gleamed. "Then, would you like to get coffee sometime?"
Nikko's own smile was timid. "Sure."
Numbers and smiles were exchanged, with a heaping serving of thanks on Nikko's part for the help and ride. Then, with the sandbox and tarp under one arm and bag of dirt under the other, work bag across his shoulders, loaded like a pack horse, Nikko lumbered his way up the three flights of stairs to his apartment.
Knight was waiting for him, as usual, when he opened the door, and the heavy heartbeat he should have felt minutes ago finally began to thud in his chest at the sight of a miserable fox. "Sorry I'm late," Nikko started as a greeting. "I was looking fo-" Then his heart stopped completely, the pervert. "Where are your pants?"
"In the bathroom," Knight answered. The length of his shirt was the only thing keeping him from being indecent. "I couldn't get them back on because of my fingers." Each of Knight's fingers had been covered in gauze and tape, divesting him of any dexterity, but also preventing further damage to the abused digits. He had been left with sandwiches and carrot sticks, finger foods and juice boxes with the straws already inserted, and strict instructions not to try holding anything glass.
Nikko couldn't help a small smile. His fox was too cute.
Too... too cute.
His smile dipped as he told Knight "Go get them. I'll help you."
Knight turned and headed into the apartment, his tail hanging limp behind him. Nikko began to drag his purchases in, leaving the bag of dirt by the door to carry to plastic sandbox and tarp to the living room. The carpet didn't have any more damage than it had the previous day – the gauze worked well; even if Knight had dug, there wouldn't be any more effect than if he had hit the spot repeatedly with a pillow. It worked, but it wasn't a long-term solution. Knight could never live independently with permanently taped fingers; he couldn't graduate; he couldn't leave.
Knight returned just as Nikko broke open the plastic wrapping that contained the tarp.
Nikko took the bundle from him and fished the trunks out of a pant leg, not even using up the energy to wonder how they got in there. "Turn around," he instructed, and when Knight did he crouched down, holding the underwear open in spread fingers. "Now step in." Knight did so, and Nikko pulled up the trunks, thumbs wrapped around the elastic waistband. He got a glimpse of Knight's bare ass as the cloth rounded the soft globes, eyes lingering too long on that precise place where the fox tail grew out of human flesh. It made Nikko's cock jump, and he bit his lip. His hands made a wide berth in front, making sure all of Knight's bits and pieces were covered before setting the elastic against the fox's waist. He just had to feed Knight's tail through the hole they had sewn in before they moved on to the pants, which were a much easier affair.
Once dressed, Nikko turned Knight's attention to the sandbox, speaking as he opened and laid out the tarp over the damaged portion of carpet. "I hope this helps. Since the digging is instinct, perhaps diversion will be more effective."
"Oh." Knight watched on, clearly not understanding what Nikko meant, which was just as well, since Nikko hardly understood it himself. It was Darryl's solution to the problem Nikko had outlined, and he trusted the suggestion of a vet, even if Knight wasn't quite the same as Darryl's usual patients.
The sandbox was placed on the tarp, looking like any other pet owner's setup, and then Nikko fetched the bag of dirt. Knight watched curiously as the box was filled, and then Nikko waved him over.
"Here," Nikko said, running his own hand through the dirt, balling a clump of the coarse grit in his fist. It was rather soothing, he had to admit. "When you feel the need to dig, dig in here. It'll feel better on your fingers."
Sitting next to the box, Knight dug his bandaged fingers into the dirt, pulling up handfuls and letting them fall again. Then his other hand dove in, raking through the dark soil, seeming to take great pleasure in moving it around. It made Nikko smile, hopeful. This just might work.
"How is it?"
"I like it," Knight replied, tiny smile coming to his own face.
"I'm glad." He really was. "And don't worry about making a mess." The carpet would have to be replaced if he ever moved anyway. "Just be sure to wash your hands afterward."
Nikko stood, brushing his hands off against each other. "When your fingers are healed more, we'll take the gauze off and you can try it for real."
"Okay." Then Knight looked up at him, a measure of relief in his yellow eyes. "Thank you, Nikko."
He wanted to touch. He wanted to touch so bad, to run his hands through that uneven hair, to pinch a foxy ear between his fingers, to tug on that twitching tail that bled caramel over the white carpet.
Instead, he grabbed up empty wrapping, holding it in a too-tight grip as he smiled.
Chapter 6: Separation Anxiety, part two
The call came on Friday.
Knight's digging box seemed to be working so far. On Wednesday evening they took the gauze off his fingers, with Nikko inspecting the torn nails and skin. They were healing nicely, scabs and new skin growing quickly to replace what had been ripped away. On Thursday, Nikko came home to a few granules of dirt in the carpet, but by and large the area was clean. Knight proudly proclaimed that he had used the box when the urge to dig hit, and had even cleaned up after himself. Nikko rewarded him with a quick pat on the head and an extra serving of meatloaf.
On Friday morning, Nikko secretly hid some chocolate sealed in a Ziploc bag and a card praising Knight deep in the dirt to act as positive reinforcement, a reward for digging in the box instead of the carpet.
On Friday afternoon, his lunch break was interrupted by his cell phone buzzing in his bag, indicating an incoming call. There was a flash of worry as Nikko dug his phone out of his bag, afraid that Knight had some kind of emergency. He couldn't think of any other reason someone would call him at work.
It was Darryl.
Surprise coursed through Nikko as he pressed the icon to answer, greeting with a tentative "Hello?"
"Hey," Darryl greeted. "Am I calling at a bad time?"
"No... It's fine. I'm on lunch right now."
Both the relief and the smile were evident in Darryl's rich voice. "Oh, good. I was afraid I would end up bothering if I called during the day."
"Nah... You have impeccable timing."
"Awesome." Darryl's chuckle was like honey. "So, would you be up for coffee tonight?"
Nikko ran though everything he had to do, which was nothing. Nothing that would justify refusing. He could pick up some take-out on the way home to feed Knight and probably have enough time to change his clothes and freshen up a bit. "Yeah," he said at last. "I'd like that."
"How does six sound?"
"Great, it's a date then."
Nikko's grip on his phone tightened. "Is it?"
"Is that alright?" There was no tension in Darryl's voice; no awkwardness. Only patience, as if he knew what he was getting into with Nikko.
Two heartbeats and a breath passed, and Nikko answered, "Yeah. It's a date."
Darryl's vocal smile came back. "Alright. I'll pick you up at six, then."
"Yeah, I'll... I'll be waiting outside."
They hung up, and Nikko was left staring blankly at his phone until the bell rang.
He came home to the rare sight of Knight smiling, and it made him miss the days when Knight smiled all the time.
Knight held up the card Nikko had buried, polka-dotted with dirty fingerprints. "Nikko! Thank you for this! It-" He started to cry then, silent tears spilling down his cheeks, leaving Nikko at a loss. "It made me really happy."
Ah. These were tears Nikko could handle. "Well, you deserve it for being good."
"I'll be good!" Knight rushed forward as he spoke. "I'll always be good! So-!" But he stopped when Nikko took a step back, pressing himself against the door.
Knight would say he would be a good boy, so please let him back into Nikko's bedroom, Nikko's bubble, Nikko's life. He would say he was sorry for whatever it was he did to make Nikko stay away from him. He would accept any punishment, any atonement, if Nikko would only cuddle with him again.
But Knight hadn't done anything wrong. Nikko was the one at fault. Nikko was the one who couldn't see an animal for an animal, couldn't keep his thoughts about an animal appropriate. Nikko was the problem, and Knight had to suffer for it, because Nikko had no idea what else to do.
"I- I bought some kung-pao chicken from the Chinese place for dinner," Nikko said, gathering himself and stepping past Knight into the apartment. "Tonight I'm going out with... with a friend, so it'll be a little early."
Knight had followed him to the kitchen, but stopped at the entryway and watched Nikko take the styrofoam boxes out of the bag he carried. "A friend?" Any trace of smile Knight held before was gone. "Is it Ginger?"
"No," Nikko answered. "It's a friend I met the other day."
"Is it... a lover?"
Nikko's face warmed and he turned to pull some plates out of the cupboard. "Not... yet. Maybe someday, but... We only just met."
"Someday?" Knight's voice was a whisper.
"Maybe." When he turned back around with plates in hand, however, Knight was gone.
He sighed, dished out the cheap Chinese food, and carried the plates to the dining table. He found Knight in the living room, chin resting on the armrest of the couch as he watched the purple-painted sky out the sliding glass doors. They ate in silence, and then when Nikko retreated to his room to change his clothes, Knight didn't follow. He rarely did these days.
As he exchanged his suit and tie for a gray sweater and slacks, Nikko wondered if he should call the date off. Knight was clearly upset, hurt, and lonely. But this was something they both needed to learn how to navigate, and making phone calls was far too terrifying besides.
He would make it up to Knight, somehow. He would buy him clothes or toys or take him somewhere or something.
Six o'clock neared. Nikko passed by the living room, found Knight back to laying on the couch. The TV was on, but the fox wasn't watching it, attention turned back out the window.
"I'm leaving now, Knight."
"Okay." Knight didn't bother to look at him.
"I have my cell phone, so if you need anything, just call."
"Knight..." He let out a breath, thought about cancelling the date again, then walked out the door.
Darryl was already waiting for him at the bottom of the building's stairs, looking sharp in a long, black coat. He stood up straighter when Nikko approached, and after a longer glance asked "Is everything alright?"
Nikko had to wonder what he looked like right then, to prompt such a question. "Yeah," he answered. "Everything's fine."
"Are you sure?" He began leading the way to his parked car.
"Yeah," Nikko said again. "I just... think Knight is mad at me for leaving him alone again."
"I see. Separation anxiety?"
"I think so, or something like that."
"How did the sandbox work out?"
"Like a charm," Nikko replied, a hint of a smile coming to his face.
They talked their way to the car and they talked through the drive. They made it to Starbucks and talked there, too, about animals and fifth-graders and families. Nikko learned that Darryl was married for a short time – no kids – until he finally came to terms with his sexuality. Darryl learned that Nikko hadn't spoken to his own family in two years. They talked a lot, got to know each other well, and every step of the way Nikko was sure Darryl would get that look on his face indicating he had just really realized exactly what he had gotten himself into before politely excusing himself and leaving in a hurry.
Instead, they had to be politely told by the staff that the place was closing.
When they were back at the bottom step of Nikko's apartment building, Darryl gave a soft, sweet smile. "So... Can I kiss you? You can say 'no' if you want; I won't be offended."
"Yeah," Nikko replied slowly, unsure. He was anxious to get back to Knight, worried that he had left the fox alone for longer than he had meant to, but he also wanted to pursue this thing with Darryl, for his sanity, if nothing else. "It's okay."
And Darryl moved in, invading Nikko's space, breathing Nikko's air. The kiss was short and tame, plush lips pressing gently into thin. It was a kitten's paw of a kiss, and then it was over. They stared for a moment, a meeting between brown eyes, faces close, and then Nikko stepped back.
"Th-Thank you, for tonight. I had fun."
"Me too," Darryl said, smile glowing like embers. "Can I call you again?"
"Yeah. Please do."
"Alright." Then Darryl began to back up, a twinkle in his axinite eyes and silly grin on his face as he tried to hold Nikko's gaze, all of which was ruined when he backed into a bench. Nikko held back outright laughter, managing to keep it at a polite giggle as Darryl somehow majestically kept his balance and righted himself.
Nikko watched until Darryl was at his car, parked at the curb of the street that separated their buildings. When Darryl was seated behind the wheel, Nikko finally turned and headed up the stairs.
The apartment was the same as it had been when he left, hours before. He could hear the TV on in the living room, but no foxes appeared to greet him.
"Knight?" Nikko called softly as he stepped further into the apartment. No response came, and his heart sped up, numerous awful things flitting through his mind in an instant, until he reached the living room.
Knight was asleep on the couch, curled into a ball, most of his face buried into his fluffy tail. He was breathing deeply, oblivious to Nikko's presence.
For a moment, just for a moment, Nikko allowed himself to be weak. He kneeled by the couch, gazing at Knight's sleeping face. There were tracks running from the softly closed eyes into the depths of the furry tail, a treasure map made up of Knight's tears. It broke Nikko's heart, and he reached up to run a finger over Knight's cheek, which led the way to his hands raking through Knight's hair. He rubbed a soft fox ear between his thumb and forefinger – his Knight was so beautiful – but when the urge to lean over and kiss that furred ear hit him with an overwhelming force, he let go and stood up.
A blanket – plaid, blue, synthetic-fluff – was pulled from the back of the couch, laid over Knight. The sleeping fox didn't stir.
A week passed, then another, and then maybe another or more. Nikko continued to see Darryl. They went out every Friday night, sometimes Saturday too. An occasional Tuesday, Wednesday. Their relationship progressed slowly. Being a gay, interracial couple brought on a share of stares and sneers, and it took a few dates for Nikko to grow comfortable enough to let Darryl take his hand in public. Though Nikko spent a few dinners at Darryl's apartment, they hadn't had sex yet, but Darryl was patient and kind and never asked or pressured him about it.
Darryl did ask about when he would get to meet Knight, though. After weeks of dating, he had of course caught on to how important Knight was to Nikko. He clearly wanted to meet what he thought was a small, furry animal. Nikko had no idea how to tell him that his image of Knight was surely very wrong. If their relationship continued to progress, Nikko decided, he would explain everything and introduce them, but for the time being, he dodged the suggestion that he play host one of these nights. He claimed his place was messy, or being repainted, or that he had accidentally left food out for too long and the whole place stank of rotten fish. He lied, and then offered to pay for dinner at a family restaurant instead. If Darryl was suspicious, he never said anything.
And Knight. Knight continued to withdraw. His smile was extinct but his tears were in abundance. He continued to lose weight, picking at his meals with little interest, despite Nikko's insistence that he eat more. His studies were okay, but even praise for a job well-done brought little reaction from the fox. Nikko worried about him so much, he spent his nights half sick.
Nikko didn't know what to do for Knight. Several times he considered calling Jack for advice, but each time he became so terrified that Knight would be taken away from him that he didn't dare. In the end, in an attempt to ease Knight's loneliness, Nikko called Ginger and asked if she would babysit for a night, just as a trial, to see how it went.
Ginger and Penny arrived with smiles and 'my pleasure's, and for once Nikko was able to go out with a small measure of comfort.
His ease came too soon.
Dinner had just been placed in front of them when his cell began its tune, and with a brow creased in curiosity, he tossed an "Excuse me" to Darryl while fishing the device out of his bag. His chest squeezed painfully in fear when the display showed Ginger's number.
"You need to come home," she said straight away after Nikko's tentative greeting.
"What happened?" His stomach dropped; it was a good thing he hadn't eaten yet.
"Knight bit Penny."
"What!?" Nikko was already on his feet, grabbing for his coat.
"He's really agitated and I don't think he should be alone, but we need to go before a real fight breaks out. Please, just come back."
"I'm on my way." He shoved his phone back into his bag and pulled out his wallet, hands shaking so hard it was difficult to keep hold of anything. The whole time, he sputtered apologies to Darryl. "I have to go. I-I'm so sorry. I'll make it up to you." He pulled several bills out of his wallet, far more than the cost of dinner, but he didn't have time to figure out the tab, and he didn't want to dump the cost on Darryl. He practically slammed the money on the table in his frantic haste.
"Knight is- He's in trouble."
"Oh, my God." Darryl stood too, genuine concern in his voice. "Is he sick?"
"No," Nikko answered, throwing on his coat, flinging his bag across his shoulders. "But I- I need to check on him."
"Do you want me to drive you?"
"No. I-" He was wasting time. "I've got to go. I'll call you."
Then he bolted, tearing out of the restaurant and towards his apartment building as fast as his twig legs would take him. He didn't even have the wherewithal to worry about how rude he had just been to Darryl, how it probably would have actually been faster to accept the ride. He didn't know what he would find when he got home, he just knew he had to get there, now.
He was out of breath when he reached his door; his hands clawed at his key, trying to get it in the lock, but he dropped it. Cursing, he kicked the door, a tiny tantrum, before bending to pick the key up.
The door opened, then, Ginger holding it for him as he slid in past her. "What happened?"
"Pen just wouldn't leave him alone, so he lashed out and bit her. Got her arm."
Nikko's throat choked up and he stepped into the living room. Knight was on the couch, slightly curled, his tail bristled and stiff. His chin was tilted down and his eyes were narrowed, glaring death at Penny, who was on the other side of the room, growling and holding a blood-stained towel to her arm. But when Knight saw Nikko come into the room, his eyes widened, fear and shame darkening the yellow irises. His head dropped, lying in a tight ball on the couch, and he covered his face with his tail.
With a faint sigh, Nikko turned to Penny. She had stopped growling, but her face rested in a deep frown, nose crinkled. "Are you okay?" Nikko asked, but the only response he got was a whip to the face with long, blonde hair as Penny whirled and stormed off towards the door.
"She'll be fine," Ginger said, taking up her leather coat from the arm of the couch. She gave a smile to Knight, but there was no way he could have seen it with his entire face hidden behind his fluffy tail.
"I'm so sorry about this," Nikko said. "If there's anything I can do to make up for it..."
"Don't worry about it." Ginger put a hand to his arm, smile sad, but sincere. "It's partially her own fault. I told her to leave him alone, but she wouldn't listen. I'm sorry I couldn't control them and it ended up ruining your date."
Nikko thought of Darryl – lovely, kind Darryl – and felt sorry at last about how embarrassed he must have been, being run out on like that. He wouldn't blame Darryl if he never wanted to see him again, but Nikko, for once, trusted that wouldn't be the case. Not with Darryl. He would have to make it up to him.
He apparently had to make a lot of things up to a lot of people.
Nikko shook his head. "It's not your fault. We just..." He looked over at Knight, heart breaking over the still fox. "We just need to figure this out."
"Well, good luck." Ginger smiled again and patted his arm. "Call me and let me know how he's doing, okay?"
With agreement, thanks, and a wan smile of his own, Nikko saw Ginger and Penny out the door.
Knight was still in his ball of sorrow when Nikko returned to the living room. "Knight," Nikko said, trying to sound strict. "Knight, you can't do that." There was no response. "Why did you bite her?"
"She bothered me too much."
"Knight, this isn't like you. What's gotten into you?" As if he didn't know. "I thought you were a good boy."
Finally, Knight unraveled, uncurling and standing up in a flurry of fur and grace. "If I'm a good boy, then why-!" His fists clenched and the fire in his eyes wavered, flooded with tears. "Why do you leave me alone all the time!?" Then he bound over to his sandbox, flinging himself to the ground and burying his fingers into the dirt. In an attempt to comfort himself, Knight's hands clawed at the soil, digging deep trenches before ultimately gripping clumps of dirt in tight fists and falling forward. He landed face-first in the sandbox, his arms moving to wrap themselves and dirt around his head, hiding.
Nikko could only watch his fox have a breakdown, trying desperately to hold on to himself. "Knight-" he croaked, and then finally managed to make his feet move. He kneeled beside Knight, hands reaching, but held back from touching. "Knight, I'm sorry. I know you've been lonely; that's why I invited Penny over."
"I don't want Penny!" Knight raised his head just enough to yell, dirt and mud covering his face as his tears dripped to the box below. His fists pounded once into the soil. "I want Nikko! But-! But Nikko doesn't want me anymore!"
"Yes, I do!" In ways Knight could never understand, and it was terrifying. "I do want you, Knight. But I need to be around humans sometimes, too."
"I want to be human!" Knight was facing him now, tears pouring a flood down his cheeks, mud-drops falling to the hopeless carpet.
"I know," Nikko said. "That's why you're here, to become human. And you're doing so well. Someday, for sure, you will be human and then... And then you'll leave me, and I'll be the one left alone. So before then, I need... I... For now, while I have a chance-"
"No!" Knight stood then, hurt and betrayal in his yellow eyes. "I will never leave Nikko!"
"Knight... You'll have to. That's how it works. You know that."
A whimper escaped from Knight's throat, and then his brows drew into a scowl. He shouted "No!" once more, and then bolted, running to his room and slamming the door behind him.
Chapter 7: Separation Anxiety, part three
Nikko turned his head, pressed his face into the strong shoulder beside him. It wasn't the body he really wanted to be leaning on, but it was there and it was warm and it was normal.
He had barely seen Knight at all since their fight a week before. The fox just stayed in his room, refusing to answer Nikko's calls. The few times Nikko barged into Knight's room to check on him, he found Knight in bed, staring at him with orphan eyes. When Nikko tried to talk to him, Knight's only response was to roll over, turning his back to him.
He was worried sick, hardly able to sleep at night, relying on a constant supply of coffee and energy drinks to get him through the day. The only thing keeping him going were the small, dirt fingerprints he would find in the kitchen and bathroom when he came home from work, so he believed Knight was at least eating during the day.
Darryl hadn't been angry about being ditched, bless his heart. And he understood about Nikko not wanting to go out during the week. Nikko agreed to go out on Friday, though. He needed a distraction to calm his nerves and settle his turmoiled stomach, at least for a little while. So they went for coffee at their Starbucks, kept their conversation off of foxes and on world news and recent scientific discoveries, and then they headed back to Darryl's place for dinner.
But always – always – in the back of his mind was Knight. He was pretty sure Darryl knew it, too, even if the other man didn't bring it up. Darryl didn't force him to talk, for which Nikko was eternally grateful, and when they settled on the couch, Darryl put his arm around Nikko, held him close, and didn't mention the teardrops that soaked into his crisp dress shirt.
Nikko leaned up and kissed Darryl's neck, his jaw, the bottom of his lip. The quiet, still comfort wasn't enough of a distraction. He needed more, needed to be taken out of his mind completely.
"Take me to the bedroom," he whispered, more forward and desperate than he had ever been in his life.
Darryl pulled away a bit, eyes searching Nikko's face. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. Please. I... I need you."
For a long time, what seemed like forever, Darryl studied Nikko, as though looking for some kind of confirmation. In the end, though, he was only a man, and eventually he gave in, scooping Nikko up with ease and carrying him to the dark bedroom.
And as Nikko was laid upon the bed, he worried. He worried as his sweater was pulled over his head and his pants slid free from his body. He worried as touches and kisses were caressed across his body, warming him and making him rise. He worried as slickened fingers entered him and stretched him, and he worried through the tearing of foil and snapping of rubber. He worried about what the punishment for his transgressions would be, yet each and every time Darryl paused and asked if this was alright, if Nikko was sure, his response was always a "Yes," or a "Keep going," or a "Please."
He only stopped worrying when Darryl finally entered him, pushing in slowly, with the utmost of care. The burning pleasure pulled his thoughts away from everything but the intense feeling of being filled. And when the gentle, careful thrusting took up a steady rhythm, Nikko couldn't think of anything at all. His arms and legs wrapped around the body above him; his lips kissed any bit of flesh that came close enough. He panted and moaned involuntarily, and he heard his own voice say lewd things – "Yes, right there." "It's so good." "Harder!" – without his permission.
Darryl's thrusts became less gentle. He sat up on his knees, pushed Nikko's knees to his chest, pounded into the raised and exposed hole. It was perfect. The only things in Nikko's head were hot pleasure and the erotic sounds of flesh slapping flesh, rocking him out of his mind and into a world where only physical gratification existed.
He was mewling in pleasure when Darryl's hand moved to take hold of his cock, and then Nikko screamed out his orgasm, hands clutching at the sheets beneath him as he painted the night white.
Hardly a few thrusts later, Darryl's hips pressed one last time, lodging himself inside Nikko and grunting out his own release. And then the room went quiet.
Nikko's body was gently lowered to the bed. Darryl's softening dick slowly pulled out, and he moved away, presumably to toss the condom. Nikko hadn't even caught his breath before the week's – month's? – stress and fatigue caught up with him, pulling him fast asleep.
He woke up at a time that was too early to say he had spent the night, too late to say he hadn't. Darryl lay next to him, looking handsome even in his sleep, and the covers had been pulled over them.
By all rights, it would have made perfect sense for him to roll over and go back to sleep, but the incessant, gnawing worry that he had been carrying for weeks had returned, chewing a hole in his gut and pulling him out of the warm bed.
Darryl woke up while Nikko fumbled into his clothes in the darkness, his honey voice thick with sleep as he asked "Are you leaving?"
"Yeah, sorry. I... I need to get home."
"Do you want me to walk you there?"
"No, it's alright," Nikko answered, even as Darryl slid from the bed and pulled his boxers on. "You should go back to slee-" He cut off when Darryl embraced him from behind, burying his face into Nikko's hair. They were silent a moment, and then finally Nikko said "Thank you, for everything."
It felt so final.
Darryl walked him to the door, Nikko gathering his things along the way. They kissed, Darryl promised "I'll call you," and then Nikko turned and left the apartment across the street behind.
It was still dark outside; a cool autumn wind rustled Nikko's coat as he hurried to his own building, like icy fingers that pricked at his spine. The street was an intermission between scenes, and he wondered what he would find in the next act.
There was one light on in the apartment, which was strange, and no Knight to greet him, which was regrettably less so. It would be totally normal for Knight to be asleep at this hour, but the single light shining in the depths of the apartment had him calling out softly "Knight?" No response came – expected – and he continued into the living room.
His heart stopped. Fear and panic ripped through him, tearing at his soul, and for a moment he knew what it felt like to lose everything.
Knight lay face down on the living room floor, four paces away from his beloved sandbox. He wasn't moving at all, not a breath, not a flutter, and his complexion was deathly pale. And, god, when did he get so thin?
Nikko dropped everything in his hands as he rushed to Knight's side, shaking the immobile fox and crying out "Knight! Knight!" There was no response, no pained moan or injured grunt, no words or sighs. "Knight, wake up!"
Vision going blurred, Nikko sat back, hands stilling as he tried to calm himself and think.
Leaning down, Nikko listened. It was barely anything, but there were soft pants of strained breaths. Knight was alive; he was breathing, but overall unresponsive. With trembling hands, Nikko rolled Knight over, unbuttoned his pajama shirt, and put an ear to the fox's chest. His heart was beating softly; that was a good sign, but Nikko was no doctor.
Nikko's own breaths came in sharp gasps. He had to keep himself together. There was no way to get a hold of Jack at this hour, and the facility itself would be closed even if there were a way to drag Knight's limp body there. The care guide listed a 24-hour phone number for emergencies, but as soon as Nikko had his phone in hand he froze.
If he called, they would know what a screw-up he was. They would take Knight away from him, and he was selfishly not ready for that to happen yet. He needed Knight.
But if he didn't call, he could lose Knight in an even worse way, and a loud sob escaped from him as he punched his code into the phone's unlock screen.
He didn't deserve Knight anyway. He had abandoned Knight, pushed him away because he couldn't deal with his own feelings, left him alone, and now Knight lay dying and he didn't even know if he should call a doctor or a-
He dropped his phone and was out the door before it even hit the ground.
Nikko pounded on Darryl's door without mercy, crying and yelling to please open up. Darryl looked startled and concerned when he flung the door open, asking with wide, axinite eyes "Nikko!? What's wrong!?"
"Knight is sick! He's not moving and he's hardly breathing and I think he's dying! Please! Please help him!"
"Okay, okay." Darryl's voice was controlled, as though he understood the situation. He likely encountered desperate pet owners on a regular basis; his instant professional demeanor calmed Nikko by the barest fraction. "Let me get dressed and grab some things."
"I'll be right back." Then Darryl disappeared.
Nikko paced in the building's hallway and it seemed like a millennium had passed before Darryl rushed out the door, dressed in dark sweats and carrying a black bag. He had the door locked in a flash, and then they both took off running.
He didn't think about anything as they flew. He didn't think about how he was going to explain Knight to Darryl; he didn't think about how they might not be able to do anything; he didn't think about how it might be too late, and how it would be all his fault. He just ran, leading the way, moving faster than he ever had in his life.
Knight hadn't moved in the moments he had been gone. Of course he hadn't. And without looking back to spare a single glance at Darryl, Nikko dropped by his side again, stroking hands over his face and pleading "Knight. Knight, please wake up. Please."
"Yes," Nikko answered, looking up at Darryl with desperate eyes. "Please help him."
"I thought he was a fox."
"He is. Please!"
Darryl looked a blended mixture of stunned and as though he just realized the person he had been dating was mental. "Nikko... That's a human."
"He's not human." A fresh batch of tears spilled hot down his face as he lifted Knight's head, wrapping fingers around one of the soft fox ears. "Look. These are his ears, and he has a tail. They're real, I promise! He's- He's a hybrid. A science experiment. I promise I'm not lying. I promise he is a fox. So-" He sobbed, choked, croaked out one last "Please..."
Darryl's jaw set and, despite whatever was going through his head at the moment, he nodded and moved forward. "What has he been eating recently?" His hands moved over Knight's body, feeling for something only a doctor would know. He pressed fingers to Knight's forehead, then slid them down into Knight's mouth, along his gums and tongue.
"I don't know," Nikko admitted. "We had an argument last week and I haven't-" He swallowed a lump. "I haven't seen him eat anything at all. I assumed he was feeding himself, but... he's gotten so thin..."
"I doubt he's been eating. Fennecs- If that's what he is..." He glanced at Nikko, but continued. "Fennecs are desert animals, and they don't need to drink water at all. They get all their hydration from the food they eat, but he's severely dehydrated." The he stood again, moving to pull his bag over as he instructed "Put him on his side and take his pants off."
"I need to take his temperature."
Of course. Of course. It was a standard procedure, and even if Knight had a human mouth, he couldn't exactly hold an oral thermometer under his tongue while unconscious. Nikko knew that, but he still flushed with embarrassment as he followed the orders. There wasn't time to be shy. He yanked the flannel pajama pants down, slid Knight's trunks to his knees after, and pulled the limp body onto his side, whispering "I'm so sorry, Knight. I'm so sorry..."
Darryl returned with a prepared thermometer, and there was a crystal clear moment when absolute belief spread through his eyes as he looked down at his patient. But all he said was "Hold his tail out of the way," as he kneeled back down.
Nikko gathered up the furry tail and held it tightly, averting his eyes while Darryl went to work, gazing at Knight's slack face. His free hand ran through Knight's hair, pulling his bangs away from his forehead a moment before moving to cup his cheek. He only turned away when he heard the electric thermometer beep.
"He's got a fever," Darryl announced. "Let's put him on the couch. We'll put a cool towel over him, then try to get some fluids in him."
"My- My bed would be better," Nikko said. Then he added "It's bigger."
"All right." Darryl stood, taking Knight up easily in his arms. "Where is it?"
"Down the hall there, last door on the right."
"Okay. You get a large towel and soak it in cool water."
Nikko did as told, rushing to saturate his largest bath towel, not sparing a thought to the water that spilled onto the bathroom floor. It became heavy and unwieldy as it absorbed the cool water, but Nikko did his best to hurry to the bedroom with the dripping cloth.
Knight was laid nude on the bed, all of his completely human body bared to Nikko for the first time. Nikko didn't stop moving to make note of it; he spread the towel as best he could as he hurried to the bed, laying the cloth over Knight. Darryl helped him arrange it, and then looked up at Nikko again. "Do you have any bottled water?"
"I think so."
"Get a bottle. And he'll need some taurine."
"Fennecs need it or they might have seizures or go blind. Do you have any energy drinks?"
"I have some Red Bull..."
"Bring that too."
Nikko was off again, gathering the drinks and returning to find Darryl taking Knight's pulse. More importantly, however, was that Knight's eyelids were fluttering. He was waking up.
Nikko practically slammed the items he carried on the nightstand in his haste to climb onto the bed and sit by Knight's side. "Knight!" He took the fox's hand, held it tightly, pressed it to his chest. "Knight, please be okay."
"Nikko...?" Knight's voice was weak, cracked, void of its usual vigor. His yellow eyes were slits, but they were opened.
"I'm here, Knight. I'm here."
Then Knight smiled, a whisper of a chuckle, and his eyes closed again. "Nikko..."
"Give him water, very slowly," Darryl said. "It'll be easier if he's at least a little bit conscious."
Nikko nodded, and together they sat Knight up, resting his back against Nikko's chest. Nikko tilted Knight's head back, brought the water bottle to his lips. "Knight."
"You need to drink water, okay? I'll give you some, so drink it properly. Got it?"
The water was tipped in, just a sip flowing into Knight's mouth. Knight's eyes stayed closed, but his throat worked as it should, taking the water in. After the first swallow, his mouth opened wider, a silent request for more, which was given.
"Slowly," Darryl reminded softly, almost a coo. But then he smiled. "I think he's going to be alright."
Nikko finally looked up, directly into Darryl's face, though his vision had gone wet and blurry again. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"Hey, it's what I'm here for. ... Sort of."
A tiny 'yiff' came from Knight, and it was enough to make both Nikko and Darryl chuckle softly. For a while, things fell silent, with Nikko slowly giving Knight water, Knight taking it obediently, sometimes asking for more. And then, to Nikko's immense relief, Knight took a deep breath. His breathing was steadier, stronger. Darryl took his pulse again, and Knight's eyes cracked open again to watch him silently. Darryl smiled at him, drawing Knight's eyes up to his face, but then all Knight did was take another deep breath like a sigh, and then closed his eyes again.
Soon, Knight's breaths evened out and his jaw slackened, letting his mouth fall open. He fell asleep leaning against Nikko, a peace that had been missing for weeks erasing the crease in his brow, and for a long time the room stayed quiet. The only sounds were of Knight's gentle breaths, while his body, now replenished with life-giving hydration, worked at reducing the fever. And Nikko only stared, grateful beyond belief that his beautiful fox had been saved.
It was only when Darryl moved again that Nikko remembered the rest of the world.
"I may as well go," Darryl said, looking weary. His voice was subdued. "The rest is up to him, but he'll be okay."
"Nn." Nikko nodded, eased Knight back down onto the bed, and then got up to see Darryl out.
"Don't leave the towel on him all night," Darryl advised as he got his things together, cleaning the thermometer with an alcohol swab and packing it away. "Give him the Red Bull and more water when he wakes up, but don't let him guzzle it."
Nikko took everything in. Hopefully he could at least do this right. "Okay."
"The fever should break soon. I believe a fennec's core temperature is 100.8, so if you have a thermometer, you can check."
"I... just have a regular one... For the mouth..."
Darryl smirked, but it was amused. "That'll work fine, if he's awake."
"And... I think that's it." Then Darryl picked up his bag, raising a shoulder strap as if to sling it around himself, but then he paused. Slowly, his arms fell. "What... What is he?"
Nikko's eyes slid to the side, not looking for anything in particular, but ending up staring at the dark hallway that led to the bedrooms. He didn't know how much, if anything, he was supposed to keep under wraps, or if he was free to say whatever about the program. He had never been sworn to secrecy, had found the facility by chance himself, but the way everyone – even people who couldn't care less about the stares of strangers – hid their students in public gave the impression they didn't want the program widely advertised.
But Nikko trusted Darryl. Darryl was okay to tell; he wouldn't shout to the world about Knight's existence, and he deserved to know besides.
"There's a whole company of researchers working on genetic splicing. They're combining DNA, making hybrid... things. Part animal, part human. They have traits of both."
"That's... That's impossible."
Nikko shook his head. "It's not. Knight is one of them, and he's even a hybrid amongst hybrids."
"Yeah, he's also part ram."
"How did you end up with him?"
Nikko shrugged, a stilted, lapsed movement of his shoulders. "By chance. The animals are paired with people to teach them how to live as humans, and I was approved as a candidate. But..." Then his shoulders, his expression, his gaze fell. "Apparently, I'm not very good at it."
A smile sounded from Darryl, and he finally completed the movement to get his bag around his shoulder. "I think you're doing fine. You've taken care of everything that needs taking care of. You got him a sandbox when he needed it, I see lots of toys and games to keep him entertained, and I already know you're a great teacher." Nikko snorted, but didn't respond, and Darryl continued. "There was one little hiccup-"
"-And you took care of that too. And, Nikko... It's obvious he adores you very much." The smile remained in that honey voice, and it was a comfort. He tweaked Nikko's chin, then headed to the door while saying "Did you know that fennecs mate for life?" He reached the door, opened it, and spun around.
"You know an awful lot about fennecs for a guy who hadn't ever seen one before."
Darryl leaned on the doorframe. "Well, see, I met this cute guy who has one, so I studied up on them in hopes of impressing him."
It was cute, clever, sweet. Nikko's eyes pulled to the floor, his head bowed, studying his shoes in silence until he couldn't see them anymore, and then his heavy, unwanted tears began to fall.
"I'm sorry," Nikko choked out, a sob hitching his breath. "I can't- I can't do this anymore."
"Can't do what?"
"I can't see you anymore." He sniffled loud, embarrassing crybaby that he was. "You're great and wonderful and so damn nice, but I can't. I- I have to take care of him. I have to be here for him and stay by his side and- And I'm so sorry!"
There was no response. They stood silently with only Nikko's sniffles serenading them, and he didn't dare look up at Darryl. He had no way of knowing if the other man was angry or heartbroken or really just sick of him; he was almost too scared to find out.
And then Darryl's gentle, honey voice simply stated, "You're in love with him."
"No!" Nikko looked up then, eyes wide, afraid of those words. "I- I can't! He's not human!"
Darryl smiled, profound, knowing. "He's human enough."
"No... He's an animal."
"Do you really think that?"
Nikko's mouth floundered, but nothing came out. Because that was the wrong line. That wasn't in the script, and he didn't know how to ad-lib. His next line telling the audience that he knew humans and animals couldn't have romantic feelings between each other was out of place now, and all he could eventually come up with was "It's not like that..." It was lame and pathetic, but at least he had stayed in character.
Darryl's smile deepened one more time. "You deserve to be happy, Nikko." Then he turned around. "Please don't hesitate to call me if you ever need anything." He exited stage center, leaving Nikko to grip the doorframe alone.
Chapter 8: Separation Anxiety, epilogue
Warmth like sunshine wrapped around him. He hadn't felt this warm in a long time; it was more difficult staying warm since he lost his fur. Human skin wasn't as good at regulating temperature.
But when he woke up, he felt warm, and everything around him smelled good.
His body felt heavy and he couldn't really remember what happened or where he was. He remembered being exhausted; he remembered his heart hurting. He remembered being scared and alone and desperately looking for any hint of Nikko's scent.
He remembered Nikko holding his hand – so warm! – and crying for him. Nikko had returned to him and saved him, which was funny because Knight was the knight, but maybe sometimes Nikko was a knight too.
Knight opened his eyes to a sunlit room. An arm was around him, something pressed against him, and he looked down to see the top of Nikko's head. He was in Nikko's room.
His eyes popped wide and he began to squirm. He had to get out. He had to go back to his own room, or Nikko would get upset, maybe kick him out for good. He tried to slip out of the bed carefully, but the movement jostled Nikko too much, and large, brown eyes looked up at him before he even had the blanket off.
"I'm sorry!" Knight said straight away. "I'm sorry! I don't know how I got here, but I didn't mean to go into your space! I'm sorry! Please don't-"
"Knight." Nikko calmed his brewing fear with a touch to his arm as he sat up. "It's alright. I brought you here. Or, well... Had you brought here..."
He felt his ears go flat, submissive. "So... I'm not in trouble?"
"No, you're not." Then Nikko turned, his eyes looking at something on the blanket that his hands kneaded. "You... You did nothing wrong, Knight. This whole time, the way I've been so strict with you... It was because of me. I thought it would be better if there was a distance between us, as student and teacher. I thought we needed to be professional. So I pushed you away, and I'm so sorry." He looked to Knight then, and he looked so sad. "It hurt you, and it hurt me. Hell, even Darryl got hurt in the end, and it's all my fault. I'm sorry."
Knight moved then, reaching forward to wrap his arms around Nikko. Perhaps he was taking a risk – perhaps – but Nikko looked so sad, he wanted to hug the hurt away. And then Nikko hugged him back, and a smile spread across Knight's face as his tail began to twitch. He felt so warm, and he realized that warmth came from Nikko.
Finally, finally, Knight simply said "I didn't run away."
Nikko laughed and sniffled in one breath. "No. No, you didn't."
"I kept my promise."
"Yes." Then Nikko moved back, the space between them quickly cooling, though Nikko's smile kept Knight warm. "You're a good boy."
Knight's tail wagged outright, ecstatic. "So! So! So... Can I sleep in Nikko's room again...?"
Nikko snorted and shook his head, but his smile held. "You should still try to sleep in your own room, but... If you need to come in here, I... won't kick you out."
"Thank you, Nikko!" Then Knight wrapped the other man in his arms again. He was sure – so sure – that he wouldn't be alone any more.
After some moments, Nikko pulled away again. He twisted, turning to reach for the nightstand behind him, saying "Here" before turning back. He had a can and a bottle with him, and he handed the can over to Knight. "Drink this, and then this. Take your time, though. I'm going to get a thermometer. Stay here."
"Okay." When Nikko had slipped out of the bed and padded off down the hall, Knight looked at the can he had been given. None of the words printed in excited red meant anything to him and he had no idea what it was, but Nikko told him to drink it, so he did. It was sweet, fizzy, not great but not bad. He had a few gulps down when Nikko came back with the thermometer.
The drinks were returned to the nightstand and Nikko arranged himself so he was sitting on the bed, facing Knight with his legs crossed in front of him. "Hold this under your tongue until it beeps," he said as he pushed a button on the meter, and Knight nodded. When Nikko held the thermometer up, Knight opened his mouth, lifted his tongue, and let Nikko put it in place.
A staring contest ensued then, the two of them watching each other, eyes meeting and then quickly darting away. Finally, Knight asked "What about your lover?" and the thermometer fell right out of his mouth.
The thermometer was reset and placed again, this time Nikko holding it there for a moment. Then his hand moved slowly, as though afraid, to touch Knight's hair, his ear, running over his horn. Knight liked those touches. He wanted to tell Nikko not to be afraid, but he needed to keep his mouth closed around the thermometer.
Then, as his fingers played with the locks of Knight's bangs, Nikko quietly said "I'm not going to see Darryl anymore."
Knight's brows drew together, the best he could do for an apology at the moment. He may be a stupid fox, but he knew it was his fault. He was selfish, got angry because he didn't have all of Nikko's time anymore. But it was so lonely and cold without Nikko.
"Don't worry about it," Nikko said, as if he could read Knight's expression. He likely could; Nikko was really smart. "You're my number-one priority, and... I'm okay with that. More than okay; I'm glad." Then Nikko smiled, and Knight felt his own heart beat heavy with joy.
The thermometer beeped and Nikko pulled it free from Knight's lips. Looking at the small display, he announced "You've still got a bit of a fever" before sliding off the bed. "Well, we can just relax for today. Do you want to watch a movie? I'll grab my iPad."
Beneath the bedcovers, Knight's tail wiggled out of control.
It was scary being outside alone. Everything looked so monochrome and intimidating when Nikko wasn't by his side, and he hoped he could get this over with soon so he could go back home and dig in his sandbox. Maybe Nikko had hidden chocolate again.
On Mondays, Nikko had extra long meetings at work, and didn't get home until late. It made a good chance for Knight to do this. Not that he wanted it to be a secret, per se, but he did want to do it alone, even if he didn't understand himself why.
He hid in a bush, tail stiff against his leg, confined within his pants. His ears and horns were tucked under the hat he wore, what Nikko called a 'newsboy cap'. He must have looked completely human, totally unsuspicious as he parted the greenery in front of him with one hand, clutching a small package with the other.
His target came up the walkway, keys in hand, wrapped in a long, black coat with a bag slung across his shoulders. Knight had never met Darryl before, but for some reason he looked familiar. His scent was certainly familiar, in any case; that scent that had clung to Nikko's clothes for weeks.
Knight leapt from his hiding spot, landing in front of the man, who stopped dead in his tracks. They were both still for a moment – Knight had instantly forgotten all the things he was going to say – and then the man smiled and his posture relaxed. "I see you're feeling better," he said. "It's nice to finally meet you, Knight."
"You're... Darryl?" That was the name Nikko had said.
"Then... Here!" Knight thrust the package forward, holding it at arm's length for Darryl to take.
And he did take it, slowly. "What is it?"
"They're cookies. I made them myself." He had even used the fox-shaped cookie-cutter Nikko had. "Ah, but some of them might be burned..."
Darryl laughed; his smile was really amazing. "Well, thank you."
Knight shook his head. "It's to say thank you to you, because you saved my life. Nikko told me. And! And... I'm sorry..."
Darryl looked at him for a long time and Knight couldn't tell what he was thinking. He still smiled, though, so it must have been nice. When he did speak, it was with sincerity. "I'm happy to help. You and Nikko... You guys have something special. Take care of each other."
"I- I'll always take care of Nikko!" Knight said as his back straightened, standing taller.
Smile tilting, Darryl gave a nod. "I know you will." Then he raised the small bundle of cookies. "Thanks, for this," and disappeared into the building.
Somehow, Knight felt like he had gained a new ally.
He turned back to his own building, his home, wondering as he walked about what he should try to make for Nikko's dinner.
Chapter 9: Trick-or-Tails, part one
"Nikko, what's Halloween?"
He received a question instead of a greeting when he walked in the door. Seemed Knight had gotten the memo too. "It's a holiday," he answered. "Where people put on costumes and go around asking strangers for candy."
"Eh... Well, it's an old custom to celebrate the dead."
"But now it's mostly a community event, for fun." He headed towards the kitchen to see what Knight had made for dinner – a task he had recently decided was his duty – and figure out what he would have to do to salvage it. Cooking was absolutely not the fox's strong point, but he got an A for effort. Hopefully he didn't end up burning the whole building down some day.
Knight followed, tail twitching curiously. "Sounds scary."
"Nah," Nikko chuckled. "It's just for fun."
"Does Nikko get candy?"
"Not anymore. The candy is for children. They go door-to-door and say 'trick or treat', and adults give them candy." The 'stew' on the stove was more like a paste, and it held fast to the wooden spoon left in the pot. Nikko decided to order a pizza instead, and slid open the coupon drawer. "I'm too old for trick-or-treating, but I enjoy passing candy out to the kids. Their costumes are really cute."
"If I put on a costume, will I get candy?"
"M... mm..." Nikko looked over Knight's body, nice as it was. He still wasn't as built as he had been before... before their trouble spot, but he was starting to gain weight again. Evening trips to the park, where Knight was let loose to run and play on the monkey bars and jungle gym, were building muscle. His natural build – the lucky fox – would have him fit in no time. "I don't think anyone would believe you're a child."
Knight's ears drooped. "No fair..." But then he sniffed, and perked right back up again. "Nikko! Your sweet smell is coming back!"
"Never mind that," Nikko said quickly as he turned away. He shouldn't have lingered on Knight's body so much. "What do you want on your pizza?"
"But... I made stew."
"Ah... Yes, but I'm really in the mood for pizza tonight. I'll take the stew for lunch tomorrow. Is that alright?"
"I see. It's okay." Then Knight smiled broadly. "Then, I want meat!"
Nikko returned the smile. "Meat it is."
They ate right out of the box when the pizza came, and Nikko finally remembered their conversation from before. "So, did you get the message from Jack?"
"Yes," Knight answered. "Halloween party!"
"Do you want to go?"
"Um... I suppose... If it's okay for Nikko..."
His fox was observant, sometimes. It was true that Nikko didn't care for parties; he wasn't fond of new situations where he would be stuck facing new people. But this wouldn't be a completely new situation, and the people there wouldn't be complete strangers. He had met some of them before – some of them had become his friends. These parties hosted by the facility seemed to be pretty regular, and Nikko would become more and more comfortable with each one.
And besides, Knight would be with him.
"Yeah, it's okay," Nikko smiled. He had already RSVP'd with Jack when he returned his voice mail earlier in the day. "You'll have to wear a costume, though."
"What kind of costume?"
"Anything is okay. You can be anything you want."
"Then I want to be human."
Nikko smiled, amused and endeared by Knight's simplicity. "You'll have to be a little more specific than that."
"What kind of human? A police officer? An astronaut? A mad scientist? Or you can be an angel or a fairy or a vampire. Anything. For one night, you can be anything you want."
Time passed. Seconds went by, then a minute, a little more. Nikko was curious about what Knight would choose, given the option to be anything for a night. In the end, however, Knight just smiled and said "I'll think about it."
The answer, of course, was obvious.
Decked out in metal, half-plate armor that cost enough to make Nikko seriously regret saying "anything," Knight was, appropriately, a very dashing knight. While they went ahead with the bracers and greaves, they forwent the helmet, both to save money and because it wouldn't have fit on Knight's head over his horns anyway. A replica sword completed the outfit, and Knight looked amazing. Worth every cent.
What was not so amazing was that, while browsing websites for the armor, Knight got it in his head that they should do pair costumes. And what was a heroic knight without a princess to save? So, despite his initial protests, on the night of the Halloween party, Nikko found himself stuffed into an atrocious pink taffeta dress, complete with cone headdress. He really needed to say 'no' to Knight more often.
They walked to the event, which was held at a rented out hall in the city center, and through the entire trek Nikko was as pink as his dress. He received several catcalls from creeps loitering on the streets, most probably mocking, but a few possibly not. Nobody approached him, though, likely due to the tall knight escorting him, and he was glad for that.
Knight had his ears down, but his head was left uncovered. They would get stares from walking around in costumes anyway, even if it was Halloween weekend, and people were likely to assume the black horns on Knight's head were part of the ensemble. His tail was tucked into his pants for now, with a promise that they would set it free once they arrived at the hall.
Nikko started seeing people and students he recognized a couple blocks away from the event space. Though he hadn't had the chance to meet many of the other teachers at the summer picnic, he gave a smile to those he made eye-contact with, integrating himself little-by-little.
A lot of the others also seemed to have gone for pair costumes. The older lady and her two cat boys were dressed as Mrs. Potts and a pair of teacups from Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast', while the fennec girl was dressed as a maid, her teacher a matching butler. The poodles and their teachers were all done up in full-on Marie Antoinette attire, complete with white makeup and powdered wigs. Even one of their outfits must have cost as much as Nikko earned in two months. When one of the women saw Nikko in his pink taffeta, she sneered and leaned over to her gossip partner. Nikko's eyes pulled down, looking away, feeling foolish.
"Yo, Nikko!" Buck stood by the entrance of the hall, wearing plain jeans and a t-shirt that read 'This IS my costume'. Gus stood next to him, dressed in what Nikko could only guess was a Viking costume, with a plastic, horned helmet and flimsy armor.
"Gus!" At seeing his friend, Knight took off running, bounding up and headbutting the wolf's shoulder. How he managed to move so easily in the metal armor was a mystery, when Nikko could hardly walk in the stupid heels he wore.
When Nikko reached the group, Buck was patting Knight's head, saying "It's good to see ya in high spirits," and Knight beamed at the touch. Then Buck's attention turned to Nikko, and he let out a whistle. "Sexy," he said with a laugh.
"It was Knight's idea..." Nikko replied with a blush.
"Well, he knows what's up. If I didn't know what was under that skirt, I'd-"
Buck laughed, finding great amusement in Nikko's embarrassment, like everyone did.
"Nikko! Nikko!" Knight tugged at a puffy, pink sleeve, and when Nikko gave his attention, he turned, the almost unnoticeable lump in the back of his black pants dancing left and right. And without further prompting, Nikko unsnapped the fastening to open the hole they had created, feeding Knight's tail through until the long appendage was free. It went stiff for a moment, then relaxed, stretching as one would stretch a cramping leg. His ears were already up, standing at attention.
It wasn't long – only enough time for Buck to have to admonish Gus about swinging Knight's replica sword around haphazardly twice – before the distinct sound of a Harley Davidson roared up the street, pulling easily into the parking lot. Nikko saw Penny perched on the back of the bike – identifiable by the braid of too-long blonde hair snaking out from under the helmet she wore – and even from a distance he quickly recognized the Princess Leia outfit – slave version, of course.
He was already grinning when their friends approached, and so was Ginger. "I see I'm not the only one who was coerced into cross-dressing," she said, hand resting on her toy blaster.
Nikko chuckled. "Yeah, but you make a much better Han than I do a princess."
"Are you wearing bra under-"
"No." But he still smiled.
Penny had sidled up to Knight, but didn't say anything, only looking away from him. Knight looked in the opposite direction, frown touching his face, and Gus looked confused between the two of them. After kicking the dirt underfoot a bit, Knight finally said "I'm sorry... for biting you..."
"Well," Penny replied, purposely obstinate. "I don't know if I can forgive you."
"Hmm... Okay." And then she smiled, turning to him. "Only because it's you."
Knight smiled back, painted with happiness and relief. "I'm glad."
"If it were a stupid wolf, I would never forgive him!"
Gus's ears perked and he looked back and forth between them. Then, slowly, his eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute..."
"Ruka!" Penny bounced away, finding someone new to tease, giving Nikko and everyone a view of the back of her outfit. Instead of a single panel of cloth, as Leia's slave outfit should have, hers was split in two for her tail to hang through. The long fur of her tail was basically the only thing keeping her from flashing the world.
Ruka, it seemed, was the little black-haired rabbit that Penny had socialized with at the summer picnic. Nikko never did get any of the other students' names, something he resolved to do soon. Both of the rabbits were dressed as druids, wearing heavy-hooded cloaks that put their faces in shadow. Holes were cut into the hoods for their ears to poke free from, but Ruka, whose ears usually stuck up straight and long, seemed to be holding his down, like Jack always did.
Nikko guessed the young, blonde woman in a matching robe was their teacher. Penny paid her no mind as she took hold of Ruka's arm. "Ruka, do you like my outfit?"
"It's fine," the rabbit answered, hardly sparing her a glance. His voice was soft but held little inflection.
For a brief second, Penny looked put-off, but then she smiled again. "I hope we can play again later."
"Not interested." And with that, Ruka pulled his arm free and continued into the hall.
Even Nikko had to raise a brow at that. The rabbit had been so enthusiastic last time, but now had shot Penny down instantly, straightforward to the point of rude. He wouldn't have blamed Penny if she were hurt, but instead she looked pissed.
The larger, brown rabbit gave her an apologetic smile as he passed by, while their teacher said "Sorry about that" as she followed.
Angry and dejected, Penny returned to their group. "Better luck next time, Pen," Ginger said as she wrapped an arm around the retriever's shoulders.
"You could always try for the brown one," Nikko added, still unnerved by the whole idea but wanting to be helpful. He felt like he owed her at least that much.
His words, however, just made Buck laugh out loud. "That is the worst thing you could'a said."
"What?" A hot blush colored Nikko's cheeks as he blinked in confusion.
"Toto won't socialize with anyone but Ruka," Penny spat out. Nikko got the impression she had found that out the hard way. "He wants to marry him."
"They have... a relationship?"
"They're brothers," Ginger answered casually.
Nikko felt his stomach sink. "Brothers!? You mean... like..."
"Brothers from the same mother," Buck sang like he thought he was clever. Then he scowled. "Gus! Put the sword down! No! Give it back to Knight!"
Nikko's mind was still reeling. "They're brothers... But they..."
"They're animals," Ginger said. "They don't think about such things. And those two are a special case besides."
"Siblings ending up at the same facility is unheard of, much less with the same teacher. But they've always been together. According to them, they refused to be separated, even at the lab."
"They remember their time at the lab?"
Ginger shrugged. "Some do, I guess."
He had never thought about that possibility. He wondered if Knight remembered his birth, his growth. He wondered if he should ask Knight about it, or if it was a time the fox would rather forget. If it was as painful as he kept hearing, Knight might not want it brought up at all.
Before he could think on it further, though, Buck turned to the hall, inviting. "Shall we go in?"
The hall was large and decorated with cute Halloween motifs, orange and black streamers everywhere and pumpkins in each corner. Immediately next to the door was a long table stacked with food, and in the far opposite corner was a stereo playing some kind of pop music. There were round tables, some of which were already covered in jackets, purses, and bags, some of which already had people sitting at them, chowing down from overflowing orange or black paper plates. And on the other side of the door, opposite the food table, was Jack and a line of other facility workers, each in a suit with matching small witches hat perched on the sides of their heads.
Jack was the only staff from the facility Nikko had ever spoken with. He had served as Nikko's coordinator from the moment he walked in the door and into this world, but it made sense that there would be others. He hadn't noticed who was staff and who wasn't at the summer picnic, but with them all matching now, it was easier to distinguish them from the rest of the guests. Nikko wondered if they were all graduated animals, or if any of them were human. He honestly couldn't tell.
He greeted Jack, as did Knight, though with much more enthusiasm. Then Knight moved on to greet all the other staff members, calling them each by name. "Jeff! Baily! Marcus!" And each of them had a fond smile for Knight in return. More than a couple also turned their glances and smiles to Nikko, and he felt like he could read gratitude in each of their eyes. He could see their appreciation for him taking Knight in, and it made him feel strangely warm.
Though, honestly, as his own fond gaze turned to the smiling Knight, he couldn't see how anyone else could have passed up such a lovely creature.
"Nikko," Knight said as he gripped Nikko's arm while they followed Buck to an empty table. "That pumpkin is scary."
He followed Knight's gaze, seeing a jack-o-lantern carved with menacing eyes and pointed fangs. "It's a jack-o-lantern," Nikko answered with a smile.
"A jack-o-lantern. A pumpkin with a face."
"Why is it scary?"
"Halloween is supposed to be spooky."
"I don't like it."
Nikko laughed and patted Knight's hand. "Then just stay away from it. If you leave it alone, it'll leave you alone."
"Let's get some grub!" Buck and Gus both bee-lined for the food, two of a kind, while Nikko and the others followed at a more leisurely pace.
They ate and talked and talked some more. Ginger and Buck introduced Nikko to several of the other teachers and students they were friends with, and shared gossip about the ones they didn't care for as much. Nikko learned that the older woman he had spoken to before was named Alice, and her cat-boys were Ben and Jerry. There were a few years between the boys, but they got along well, with the older Ben lending a hand in teaching Jerry, who was but a kitten.
Ruka and Toto's teacher was Noella, who was actually much older than she looked. She was a professor of psychology at the nearby university, and the rabbits were actually her second set of students, having seen a trio of bunnies graduate a few years prior. She seemed to be one of the best teachers in the program, but worked exclusively with rabbits, saying she just couldn't resist their little cotton-tails.
Another man made his way up to their table, prompting Buck to stand with a loud "Ayy!" that led into bear hugs and back pats. Then Nikko was introduced to Reece, who seemed friendly enough, and Reece's dog, Axle.
He wasn't sure if he would say Axle was big or not, as he was shorter than Knight, but as stocky as Gus. His short, black hair was straight, and had two blonde spots in his bangs that Nikko's eyes got stuck on. He couldn't help it – the golden-blonde spots really stood out against the black that was the rest of Axle's hair. Then all of a sudden it hit him, and his jaw dropped. "You're a rottweiler."
Axle's brown eyes turned to him, and for a moment Nikko was afraid, until the dog smiled. "Yep."
Nikko smiled back. He liked Axle. "I adore rottweilers."
Axle beamed. He looked like he should have been wagging his tail, but Nikko realized there was no tail to wag. Axle had been docked, and it made a pinch of sadness swirl through Nikko's heart. He hated the practice, and hoped it wasn't Reece's doing. But Axle was full of a toothy grin – all sharp fangs – and said "Thanks."
Penny sauntered by then, catching Axle's attention before quickly bounding away. Axle took off after her like a shot, dodging other party-goers on agile feet as he chased his prize. So Penny had found someone to socialize with after all. Good for her.
Beside him, Knight pouted. "What's wrong?" Nikko asked while pressing their shoulders together.
"I thought Nikko adored foxes."
Ah, he was jealous. Cute. "I do adore foxes."
"But you said you adore rott- ... Rote- ... Rottwankers."
"Rottweilers?" Nikko chuckled when Knight only pouted more. "I do. I adore many things. I also adore birds and fish and ice cream."
Somehow, Knight's pout pulled down even more, and he sniffled. So before the fox started bawling right there, Nikko took his hand.
"But you know what?" Then he leaned in closer, a secret just for the two of them. "I adore Knight most of all."
Like magic, Knight was smiling again. "Really!?"
"Nikko!" Then Knight grabbed him up in a hug, knocking the headdress off Nikko's head and squeezing the air out of him.
"Knight." Nikko pushed him back, though Knight's eyes continued to shine. A furtive glance around the hall and of course nobody cared. Nobody paid any more attention to them than they did the two dogs mating in the corner. He heaved a sigh, relieved, and then ran his hand through Knight's hair, scratching behind his ears. And quietly, he repeated "I adore Knight most of all."
A butler approached their table, grabbing attention, and Nikko realized belatedly that it was the fennec-girl's teacher. He had a gorgeous smile with which he greeted their little group, and Ginger took the liberty of introducing. "Kent, this is Nikko and Knight."
"It's a pleasure," Kent said, and Nikko wondered if it were an act for the costume or if the guy really was that proper. "I remember seeing you at the summer picnic."
"Yeah," Nikko replied. "It's nice to meet you."
"And this is Tina," Ginger finished the introduction, gesturing to the tiny girl. Nikko was again struck by how adorable she was, all ears, tawny hair fluffing out.
"Good to meet you as well," Nikko said with a smile. His circle widened a bit more. "Right, Knight?"
"Un..." Knight nodded, but then turned his face away. His voice was a whisper when he said "She's a real fennec..."
Tina must have heard – she probably heard everything with those satellite dishes on her head – because she smiled, soft and kind. "Hybrids are good too." Every bit of her was as sweet as she looked.
Knight turned back, smile and eyes shining. "Thank you."
Then Kent extended a white-gloved hand to Ginger, smile charming. "I was wondering if you'd like to dance."
Ginger looked stunned and pulled a face before taking the offered hand. "Sure," she said, then tossed a grin and a wink back as she was led to where the music played.
"I'd like to dance with Knight," Tina smiled, reaching for Knight's hand. "And Gus-Gus too," she added as she took the wolf's hand as well.
Knight smiled as he was led away, saying "Nikko! I'm going to dance!"
"Have fun," Nikko called back, ignoring the squeezing in his chest. Then he turned to the other guys at their table. "Can they even dance?"
Buck laughed and gave an exaggerated "Hmm..."
"Sometimes, some of them can," Reece answered, grinning. "The more attentive ones can if they watch people dancing. Axle is a lost cause when it comes to anything other than chasing things down and knocking things over." Then he cocked his head towards Nikko. "Never play football with him."
"I've never played football in my life."
The other guys laughed. Nikko had been serious.
Nikko looked to the area where people were dancing. Ginger and Kent made a nice pair despite their contrasting costumes. He twirled her around and she laughed, moving gracefully with him. Close by them, the trio of students stood in a circle with their hands joined, swinging their arms to no beat in particular. It was a far cry from dancing, but they looked to be having fun all the same. Knight's smile was dazzling, full of happiness and fun. It took Nikko's breath away.
"Ginger sure is a looker, isn't she?" Reece said, and Nikko turned to find the man grinning at him knowingly. He thought Nikko had been looking at Ginger. Nikko's blush probably didn't help the assumption, but he wasn't about to admit whom he had really been mooning over.
"Hey, mate, you got a girl?" Buck asked. It was a topic they had never breached before; Nikko wondered if it meant he was one of the guys now. He also wondered whether or not he should let on that he wasn't interested in the fairer sex. Even though he had hung out with Buck a few times and knew the guy was fairly laid-back – and he certainly didn't seem to give much thought to Gus's apparent crush on Knight – Nikko never could be too sure. Not with humans.
In the end, he just answered "Nah, not right now. I was dating someone a few weeks ago, but..." He thought of Darryl. Darryl had been great, possibly perfect, and very astute. They had only seen each other a few times since their break up. They waved when spotting each other from across the street, each at their own apartment building, but they hadn't spoken. "But it didn't work out," he finished.
"That's too bad."
Nikko shrugged. "How about you?"
Reece raised his left hand, gold ring shining, and simply said "Married," effectively taking the attention off of himself.
"Single, kinda lookin' but not too seriously." Buck took a gulp of his punch, and then added "Got a few chicks I'd like to get to know better, but nothin' for sure yet."
"Well, that's okay," Nikko said, feeling like that was stupid. Did guys even talk like that? He hadn't boy-talked in so long; even longer since he chatted with straight guys.
But Buck only smiled. "Yeah, it is."
Before they could delve into more embarrassing things, Gus lurked over to them, listing from one foot to the other. Nikko glanced to see Knight and Tina still 'dancing', having been joined by a flushed-yet-pleased-looking Penny and Axle, and the group of them were bobbing their knees, still attempting to get the concept. Knight and Tina kept watching the humans around them, though, began copying the movements they saw. There was hope for them yet.
"Hey, Buddy. What's up?" Buck asked.
"I..." Gus continued to rock, blush touching his cheeks in a rare display of embarrassment. His hand moved to grab at his crotch. "I have to..."
"Gotta piss?" When Gus nodded, Buck set his plastic cup down and stood up. Seemed Gus really didn't know how to use a human toilet yet. "All right, let's go." And as they began heading towards the bathrooms, Nikko heard "Ya could do it yourself if you'd stop liftin' your leg."
"I can't help it."
Nikko was left alone with Reece, a man he just met and didn't know. Terror rose like bile in his throat, but he swallowed it down. He had to act like a normal person. So he asked "Does your wife help with taking care of Axle?"
"Sometimes," Reece answered. "But mostly he's my responsibility. I had him before I met her, and shit, that was tough to explain."
"I bet," Nikko said with a chuckle.
"She wants a student of her own now, but we're waiting until we move into a bigger place."
"That's a good idea."
And then silence fell. Nikko didn't know what else to say or ask, and Reece didn't seem inclined to add anything of his own. After moments, minutes, ticked by in awkward quiet, Reece took a drink from his cup and stood. "Well, I'm gonna go say hi to a few people. See ya around."
"Yeah," Nikko replied with a smile he didn't feel. "See ya."
Then he was left alone. As usual. And it was fine; he didn't expect to connect with everyone.
He grabbed his own empty cup and headed to the food table, intent on getting more punch and looking like he was just refilling his drink, not sitting alone and abandoned.
The door next to the food table was open, letting in cool October air, and it felt good compared to the stuffiness inside the hall. Voices drifted in from outside, some party-goers taking a breather, and Nikko thought that was a really good idea, until he got closer and heard exactly what they were saying.
"Well, that little slut won't win, that's for sure." It was a woman's voice, haughty.
A stereotypically stuck-up laugh responded. "Did you see that outfit? She may as well not be wearing anything at all. It'll be a hundred years before she graduates."
Nikko reached the punch bowl, filled his cup slowly, listening. Perhaps it was rude to eavesdrop, but he could tell they were talking about Penny. She was the only one there dressed overly provocative. He could also guess who the likely speakers were.
"How about the hybrid, though?" Number Two said. "He actually looks... really good."
Nikko's hand tightened around his cup, the flimsy plastic crinkling in his grip. They were talking about Knight.
"Better than our girls?" the first voice asked, offended.
"Of course not! Just... Maybe he'll take third."
"That mutt will come in dead last!" Then the voice turned dark, malicious. "In fact, we'll make sure of it, won't we?"
A dark giggle. "Yes, we will."
Then the two women slithered in through the door, startling Nikko to stillness. It was the poodles' teachers, as he thought. Victoria and Marie were their names, if he remembered correctly. They both stared at him, looking him up and down, sizing him up. Marie actually looked ashamed at being caught, but Victoria was stronger – rather, richer – and simply curled her lip.
"There's nothing you can do about it," she said, and then the two women walked away.
Nikko watched as they separated, each going to speak with different teachers, and his stomach dropped. He felt nauseous.
Nothing good would come from this.
Chapter 10: Trick-or-Tails, part two
The Halloween party was in full swing. People were chatting and laughing, animals were playing and... playing. Ginger and Kent had re-joined Nikko at their table, as did Buck after he finished helping Gus in the bathroom. They made conversation, frequently punctuated by loud laughter.
Nikko hardly paid attention.
Their students continued to spin each other around on the dance floor, getting further and further away from actual dancing, until two dark figures floated out onto the floor. Ruka and Toto both had the hoods of their druid costumes pulled back, and the smaller rabbit pulled his brother along by the hand. Then they faced each other, took their stance, and began to move perfectly to the music.
Either Noella had taught them to dance, or – as Nikko suspected was the case – they had learned simply from watching humans. In any case, they made a lovely pair, even if Nikko still couldn't get over that they were brothers. He had to remind himself again that they were animals.
Just like Knight was.
Knight and Tina paused in their roughhousing with the others to watch the rabbits, as they had watched Ginger and Kent earlier. Then they simultaneously looked at each other, smiled, and joined hands. Their movements were awkward and clumsy, they still didn't seem to get music, but somehow, they were dancing.
They looked exquisite together, and it made Nikko's chest hurt even as he acknowledged that that was how it should be. Knight had so much affection to give, he should give it to another animal; another fennec, even. They even looked right for each other, Knight tall and Tina tiny, fitting against each other like they were carved out of the same piece of fate.
A small whimper sounded from the back of Nikko's throat, and he covered it with a cough.
"Are you okay?" Ginger asked. She was sitting almost directly across from him in their small huddle, Kent at her side.
"Yeah," Nikko answered. "Just... My throat's a little dry."
"No, I mean, you've been awfully quiet."
"Ah, I was just thinking."
"About?" Her voice lilted up in friendly curiosity.
There was another issue at hand, and while he didn't know for sure, he took a chance and asked "Is there some kind of contest tonight?" When he had spoken to Jack about the party a week ago, all he had been told was that the students should wear costumes. The conversation he had overheard earlier, though, was his first clue that there was more to the evening's program of events, and he wasn't sure it was going to turn out well.
"Yeah," Ginger answered. "There's usually a costume contest for the students, and the teachers get to vote. It's fun."
"O-Oh..." He wondered if creating competition amongst the students was really a good idea, but kept that opinion to himself.
"Tina always does well, doesn't she?" Ginger asked, turning to Kent.
"Yes, she came in fourth last year. She only lost to Ben by three points, if memory serves."
There was a short round of 'ooh' and 'so close!' before Ginger laughed. "Penny seems to think wagging her ass is going to get her votes. She doesn't seem to get that it's humans voting."
Nikko winced inwardly, reminded again that it wasn't normal to be sexually attracted to the students.
"Gus just don't give a shit," Buck snorted. "He likes keepin' the candy, though."
"Are there prizes?" Nikko asked. On one hand, he didn't like being the only one who didn't know anything, but he was grateful that everyone let him use them as a resource. It was partially what these parties were for, he supposed.
Kent answered this time. "There's a small trophy for first place and plaques for second and third. It's not much, but it's a fun event that they can all compete in fairly."
"Fair my ass!" Ginger spat out.
Ginger turned to Nikko again. "The fact of the matter is Miffy and Tiffy take first and second place every year. Everyone else just competes for third."
Nikko glanced at the poodles, who were sitting dainty and fanning themselves with lace fans. "Well, their costumes are very nice..."
"It's not even that. They could wear rags and they'd still win."
Ginger's brows rose, asking 'how do you think?' in the form of a "Hmm..."
Eyes darting away, Ginger sat back in her chair and pulled her cup to her face, taking a long drink. Buck, on the other hand, leaned in closer. "Not exactly, but there are some unspoken... favors."
Nikko's voice went quiet. "What kind of favors?"
"Well, ya know how most everyone here owns their own business?" It was true; most all of the teachers had money, usually in the form of being business owners. Buck had his own construction company and Kent apparently did something with developing components for computers. Even Ginger worked for herself as a freelance writer. Nikko seemed to be the only one who needed to be careful of his finances. "So everyone who votes for Miff and Tiff suddenly finds their stocks goin' up, or an influx of new customers. It's not exactly bribery, since no money changes hands."
There was a bout of silence, and then Kent smiled. "That aside, I think Knight has a good chance of winning something. Ah, but don't tell Tina I said that."
"Yeah!" Ginger chimed in. "He looks fantastic, and everyone seems to really like him."
Nikko smiled, though it was a subdued, unsure thing. "I think he'd like that." Then he looked down at his hands. The conversation he had overheard played in his mind again, and it made him uncomfortable. "Have... Have those ladies, Victoria or Marie... Have they spoken to any of you tonight?" His voice was quiet; he wondered if anyone could hear him.
"Haven't said anythin' to me," Buck answered, which was followed with a chorus of the same. "Why? Somethin' up?"
"Ah... Probably not," Nikko said. He shouldn't create enemies where there weren't yet any. "I don't think so."
Knight bounded up to him then, a smile on his face and a spring in his step, creating the perfect chance to drop the conversation and turn his attention. The fox grabbed Nikko's hands, pulling as he implored "Nikko! Dance with me!"
Nikko resisted, stuttering at just how much he wanted to agree to it. "I- I thought you were dancing with Tina."
"She's dancing with Gus now." Apparently dancing now meant riding piggyback while Gus spun in circles. "And! And I want to dance with Nikko!" He pulled harder, and Nikko was dragged onto his feet and into Knight's chest, which would have been much nicer if he weren't wearing metal armor.
"Knight, I... I can't," Nikko said as he righted himself.
"Why not?" Knight had on his pleading eyes, the ones that were nigh impossible to resist.
Just then there was a pop and feedback sound from the speakers, and they – everyone – turned to see Jack standing with a microphone in hand. Nikko was once again sure the rabbit was on to him and his inappropriate thoughts.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please." Jack's smile was, for once, slightly less professional and slightly more plain cheery. "It is the time you all may or may not have been waiting for. The annual costume contest!"
A round of cheers went through the hall, mostly from the students, while the teachers largely just clapped politely. Victoria and Marie shared a smug glance between them that made Nikko's stomach roil.
"I will review the rules," Jack continued as some of the other staff members began passing out small, pumpkin-shaped buckets to the students. "This contest is for students only. Students will go around to the teachers and say 'trick or treat!' Votes are cast with candy."
Other staff members circulated the room, handing each teacher a small baggie containing several pieces of candy. Nikko took his with a polite smile and a "Thank you."
"You can give as many candies as you wish to the students, but remember that you only have ten pieces. Give them all to your favorite costume, or spread them out. It's your choice. But remember, you can not vote for your own student or students. Understood?" There was a murmur of agreement throughout the hall. "Does anyone have any questions?" This time, silence. Then Jack's smile turned up and he declared "Alright. Let the contest begin." And with a clap of his hands, the students began to move.
Knight turned to Nikko, clutching his little bucket in both hands, his face shining with excitement. "Nikko! I'm going to do trick-or-treating!"
"Yes," Nikko smiled back at him; his heart warmed for the happy fox. "Now go."
If he could, Nikko would give Knight all of his votes. Knowing he couldn't, Knight rushed to the nearest other teacher. "Trick or treat!" Knight gave Ginger his brightest smile, tail outright wagging.
"Here you go," Ginger said with a smile of her own, dropping a candy into Knight's bucket.
"Trick or treat!" Knight turned to Kent next, and another candy plunked into the bucket. Buck was next, happy to give his vote, but the next teacher Knight went to turned away slightly.
"Sorry," the man said, eyes pulling to the side. "I'm saving mine for someone else."
Knight's tail paused, but then he smiled and said "Oh, okay," before moving on to the next. "Trick or treat!"
That person, too, turned away with a murmured "Sorry..."
Knight's ears drooped; his smile was a little more forced. "Okay..." But he tried again.
Nikko watched Knight as he passed out his own candy, suspicious and concerned. He had given a vote to Penny and Gus because they were his friends, as well as one each to Ruka, Toto, Ben, and Jerry as they came up to him. Two candies went to Tina, because she really was adorable, and two to Axle, even if his pirate costume was a bit plain, just because of Nikko's love for rottweilers. His candy went surprisingly quick, going to the first students who came his way, and he felt bad for the cat in a fairy costume that he had to turn away, before deciding to hold his baggie upside-down to let others know he was out.
Knight had gotten another candy from Alice, apparently her last one, and another from Noella, bringing his spirit back. When he spotted Reece, he bounded over, gave a cheerful "Trick or treat!"
Reece denied him. They were too far away for Nikko to hear, but he saw Reece's hand go up and Knight's ears droop again, even though the man clearly had some candy left to give.
The next teacher Knight tried was much the same, simply turning her shoulder away before Knight could even speak, hand still in her baggie. Every attempt Knight made was denied, and every denial broke him a little bit more. His ears were flat, his tail was limp, and each "Trick or treat" was quieter than the previous.
Eventually, Knight slinked back to Nikko. His bucket was nearly empty, compared to the other students' considerably fuller ones. "Nikko... Nobody likes my costume..."
"It's-" Nikko swallowed the rising lump of heartbreak and anger. "It's not that. Try... Try those guys over there." He gestured to some teachers who still seemed to have plenty of candy. "They can give you something."
Those teachers also each turned him away, and then the crying began. Tears poured down Knight's face, his voice little more than a cracked, choked thing. It was a pathetic, distressing sight. He kept trying, though, going to everyone he saw, approaching teachers who had already turned him away twice. Most of the time he couldn't get out more than a forced "T-Trick..." before his throat closed off.
Nikko looked to Victoria and Marie, who looked directly back at him, smug sneers on their painted faces. This was absolutely their doing; they had used their influence to convince people to turn Knight away, and the people had listened. They were cruel. Not caring for hybrids was one thing, but Knight was innocent. He had never done anything to them – he had never even met them. To do this to him just because of how he was born was beyond heartless. They were malicious; they were evil.
He turned to Jack, who was watching the event with a deep frown on his face, his buck teeth worrying at his bottom lip. Nikko needed to tell him what he had overheard, that this was done on purpose, maliciously. He needed Jack to put a stop to this.
Except that his feet wouldn't move. As always, when he most needed to be strong, he instead was gripped with fear. Fear of causing a disturbance. Fear of making a scene. He couldn't even berate himself for it, too frozen in place to even think.
Then a hand gripped his arm, firm, and began pulling him. "Come on," Ginger said, voice as icy as the look in her eyes. And it was Ginger who confronted Jack, demanding "This needs to be stopped." Nikko was at the same time grateful for her and angry that she had to be the one to speak.
"There's... There's nothing I can do..." Even Jack seemed to be at a loss.
"You know those bitches set this up."
"There's no- No proof."
Nikko spoke up then, quietly, his voice quaking. "I heard them. I heard them say they were going to make sure Knight comes in last. They did it on purpose. They want to hurt him."
"You know they pull favors to get their way," Ginger added.
"Is... Is there evidence? Or only your word and rumors?" And they were silent, because Jack's crystal clear point was right, as much as all three of them hated to admit it. His voice went low. "I told you before; they donate a lot of money to the program. It would be bad if we lost that funding. So... I'm so sorry, but if there's no proof of wrongdoing, I can't accuse them. I wouldn't dare. I'm sorry. I'll make it up to him. I'll give him all the leftover candy. I'll- I'll buy him candy myself! I'll have a special trophy made just for him without letting anyone know."
"Don't bother." Nikko scowled, his anger beginning to show at last. He knew it wasn't Jack's fault and he shouldn't take it out on the hapless rabbit, but he was pissed and frustrated. "I'll do something myself."
Ginger looked genuinely shocked at his tone, questioning "Nikko?"
He didn't respond, only turned around to face the party again. Knight stood in the center of the room, having given up trying to trick-or-treat and just crying, loud sobs drowning out the music, the conversation, everything. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and stared at him, some at least having the decency to look ashamed of what they had done. Most of the other students looked confused as Knight dropped his bucket to press his hands to his eyes. The five measly candies he had received spilled onto the floor.
Even if this farce of a contest couldn't be stopped, Nikko would call them out. Openly. Publicly. He took a deep breath – he had to do this. Even if his voice shook, even if he was no longer welcome to come to events, he would let them know how awful they were.
But before he could speak, a small, dark figure approached Knight. Everyone watched with held breath as Ruka scooped the dropped bucket up off the floor, then grabbed Knight's arm and pulled it away from his face. Knight's sobs hitched, croaking a broken "Wha-?" as Ruka shoved the bucket into his hands.
Then Ruka lifted his own bucket, tipping it over Knight's. The colorful fall of candy poured into Knight's bucket, giving him every last piece. Knight's sobbing stopped; his eyes went wide as he watched the exchange, jaw hanging open in shock. And then, just as nonchalantly as he had strode up, Ruka walked away.
Toto was right behind him. He had picked up Knight's original five pieces and dropped them into the bucket, then turned his own over, doubling what Ruka had put in, and gave Knight his gentle smile.
Tina was next, rushing over to add her candy to the collection, and Penny joined in as well. So did Gus and Ben, and the cat in a fairy costume.
One after the other, the animals surrounded Knight, giving him their candy – their votes – and with each one Knight's tears disappeared. His eyes began to shine; he smiled, broad and bright, at the outpouring of support. He ended up with so much candy, his too-tiny bucket overflowed, and the other students began to just hand him their entire buckets. By the end, Knight was covered in candy and laughing with the purest joy.
Nikko felt his own tears sliding down his face, until Ginger laughed at him and wiped them away for him, giggling "Softie."
"Oh, quiet. You're crying too."
"I am not!"
A furious shriek pierced through the hall, interrupting the mood, and Victoria stormed up to Jack, Marie close on her heel. "That does not count! That mutt needs to be disqualified!"
"What for?" Jack asked. The question was straightforward, but there was a challenge in the rise of his eyebrow.
Then Jack clasped his hands in front of him, all business. "I'm sorry, Madam, but there is currently no rule against the students giving each other candy. We will review and revise the rules for next year, but at present, there is no foul."
All the woman could do was give an almost inhuman growl, and then she stomped away, snapping "We're leaving!" at Miffy – or was hers Tiffy? – as she snatched up her fur coat.
From across the hall, Nikko met Knight's gaze. Arms full of candy and heart full of joy, Knight's smile was dazzling.
Just as bright, Nikko smiled back.
Knight bounced from one foot to the other, small trophy clutched in both hands, as he waited outside the hall's doors. His yellow eyes scanned the people coming out, searching, and when he spotted the pair of black rabbit ears, he bounded over. Nikko followed at a more casual pace.
"R-Ruka..." Knight started, suddenly shy. He hadn't actually spoken to either of the rabbits directly before. "I... Um... Thank you!" He smiled; a blush touched his cheeks. "Because of you... everyone became so nice to me."
Ruka's bright blue eyes turned away and his ears, now standing straight up, twitched. "I didn't do anything," he mumbled, then shrugged and walked away.
Nikko couldn't help a chuckle, and then he turned to Noella. "Really, thank you so much."
Noella smiled back and shook her head. "He's learned empathy. We're really proud of him." Then she glanced to her other bunny-boy. "Right?"
"Yes!" Toto's eternally gentle smile remained forever on his lips. "Ruka is the cutest."
Nikko laughed, even as his face dusted with pink. Toto seemed to have some catching up to do. But he nodded to them both. "I'll see you at the next party then."
"Yeah," Noella responded. "I look forward to it."
They went back to Buck and Gus, who had offered to give them a ride home so they didn't have to walk in the chill darkness. With a "Ready ta go?" and a thumbs-up, they climbed into the humongous pickup, Nikko taking the passenger seat while Knight sat in back next to Gus, who was clinging to his bucket of candy like his life depended on it.
While the tradition, apparently, was for the students to keep the candy votes they had received in the contest, this year most of them would have gone home contently empty-handed. It was Knight who suggested that all of the candy be divided equally among the students, and in that moment Nikko's heart swelled to bursting with affection and pride for the fox. He definitely understood where Noella was coming from when she admitted she was proud of Ruka. The students may have "mostly animal" minds, but they were still capable of being pretty decent people.
"What a night, huh?" Buck said conversationally as they streaked down the road.
"Yeah." Nikko tugged on his seatbelt again, making sure it was secure. "I'm... really grateful to Ruka, actually. I think if he hadn't stepped up like that, things wouldn't have ended so well."
"Yeah, man. We're gonna miss that little runt when he's gone."
Nikko blinked, looking at Buck, whose eyes stayed on the streets ahead. "Gone? Are they moving?"
"Nah, but the way I figure-" Buck glanced to Nikko then, briefly, before turning back to the windshield. "And this is just my observation, mind you, but with the way he acted a couple'a times tonight, I think he's on the verge of graduatin'."
Nikko's mouth dropped open in a tiny "Ah..." It made sense, putting everything together. It explained a few things. "Is that why he tried keeping his ears down as long as possible?"
"I 'spect so. And why he wouldn't mount Penny." A grin spread across Buck's face as a blush bloomed over Nikko's.
"W-Well, that's good news, then. Good for him."
"Yeah. Dunno about Toto, though."
Nikko answered with a whispered "Oh, yeah..." and for a moment, the truck fell silent.
Until, from the back, Knight asked "Nikko, what's 'mount'?"
His blush burned hotter, while Buck just laughed out loud.
"Nikko!" Knight twirled around in the living room, still laden with the metal armor, then beamed. He looked so happy, it was hard to believe he had spent any time at all that night crying his eyes out. "Let's dance!"
Having kicked the awful heels off as soon as he walked in the door, it actually felt strange to walk with solid steps again. His feet hurt; he vowed to burn the shoes until there wasn't even ash left, or at least throw them in the garbage. "I am way too tired to dance," he said, enjoying the feel of plush carpet on his battered feet as he tossed the cone headdress to the couch. "Some other time."
In reality, Nikko would have loved to dance with Knight, pressed tight to his chest. Not cheek-to-cheek, of course, because Nikko wasn't nearly tall enough, but their bodies would be snuggled together all the same. They would sway gracefully to imagined music, smiling, hearts beating in tune. Maybe Knight would dip him and they would laugh. Maybe Knight would sweep him off his feet. Except that these were concepts Knight didn't understand.
"Sorry," Nikko said, giving a tired smile.
Knight didn't give him a choice in the matter. He grabbed Nikko's hands and spun him around, a playful chuckle bubbling from him. A hand went to Nikko's back despite his sputtering protests, and then Knight began to move their bodies together. He hummed, tuneless, as he imitated the moves he had seen earlier, and it was all Nikko could do to keep from tripping over his dress.
Their movements were far from smooth. Nikko looked up with a scowl that dissolved as soon as he saw the happiness on Knight's face. Knight beamed at him. "Nikko, we're dancing!"
And Nikko smiled, defeated. "Yeah." Then he yelped when his foot banged into the coffee table, bruising his ankle and tripping him. He fell to the floor, Knight tumbling after, and Nikko flinched, bracing himself for the crush of a metal-clad fox-man.
A still second later, Nikko cracked open an eye. Knight had caught himself on his arms, sparing Nikko as he held himself hovering above. It was like a fairytale, appropriately dressed as they were, faces close from how they all-too-conveniently fell. Nikko's body warmed, the press of Knight on top of him making his cock twitch.
"This... This is why we shouldn't dance at home," he said, trying to focus his spiraling thoughts.
"Nikko..." Knight spoke so gently, it made Nikko's heart pound. And then Knight leaned down.
His nose pressed against Nikko's neck, sniffing, a long, deep breath to take in Nikko's scent. Nikko's hands were frozen where they had landed on the carpet, as unable to shoo Knight away as his stolen voice was. His heart beat faster and his dick swelled further as Knight moved down Nikko's body, little sniffs coming from a nose sensitive enough to smell arousal.
"Nikko smells good," Knight murmured.
"I like when Nikko smells like this, but I don't know why." His hand slid along Nikko's leg, pushing up the pink taffeta. "Why do you smell so delicious, Nikko?"
His hands twitched, balling into small fists. His erection grew so hard it became painful. "Knight, please don't."
"I don't understand. Nobody else smells like Nikko does."
Then Knight's nose touched Nikko's shaft, only the fabric of his trunks separating them. Nikko gasped, a strangled sound pulled from his throat. It was a tease, that pert nose questing its way along the length of his dick, not touching enough to give any gratification, only enough to drive him out of his mind. The hands that should have been pushing Knight away instead reached down and pulled his head closer; the voice that should have been reprimanding instead moaned in need and long-suppressed want. Nikko had lost control of himself, only able to follow along with the demands of his body and Knight.
A knock came to the door, and the world went still.
At first, Nikko didn't recognize what it was, didn't recognize where or who he was. Then another knock – louder – blew the haze of lust right out of his head. He sat up like a shot, scrambled away from Knight's curious face, and took a handful of heavy, panting breaths. His body flushed hot, his dick still hard. He was ashamed and embarrassed of what he had been doing, what he had been allowing to happen.
Quickly, Nikko got to his feet and went to the door, taking a moment to make sure the dress was, in fact, poofy enough that his erection wasn't noticeable.
It was Buck at the door, holding the replica sword from Knight's costume. Nikko hadn't even noticed it was missing. "Oh, Buck..." he managed to say, voice miraculously close to normal. "What's up?"
"Gus tried ta steal this," Buck said as he lifted the sword. "I'm really sorry."
"Oh. It's... no big deal." He took the fake weapon when Buck handed it over.
"Yeah, well, he's grounded for the rest of his life."
Nikko chuckled, only partially forced. "Uh, please go easy on him, for me."
"Eh, we'll see," Buck replied, lips quirking up in a half-smile. But then his hazel eyes narrowed and his brows drew together. "You alright? Ya look a little flushed."
"I- I'm fine," Nikko said quickly, mind racing. "I just... Just thought it might be someone important about to see me in a dress."
"Are you sayin' I ain't important?"
"Not at all."
Buck laughed, and then took a step back. "All right. Well, sorry again."
Nikko's smile grew more sincere as he responded "Don't worry about it."
They said their goodnights, and the door closed to a quiet apartment. Nikko stood in the dark entrance hallway for a moment, eyes on the sword without really seeing it. Guilt churned in his stomach, eating away at him now that he was in his right mind.
This wasn't Knight's fault. Knight was just acting on instinct, unaware of what he was doing. He had no way of knowing what his actions meant to a human, and it was all Nikko's fault for failing to teach him.
He had to get over his own prudish embarrassment and do what he had promised to do.
Chapter 11: Honey & Nikko
Nobody in the world smelled like Nikko did.
Sometimes, he smelled normal, like a fresh, clean human. Knight's senses had dulled a bit since gaining this body, but he could still smell the difference between human and animal, between living and non-living, between edible and not edible. Most of the time, Nikko just smelled like Nikko, and that was that.
But sometimes Nikko smelled like the sweetest honey and cream, like something delicious. Sometimes Nikko smelled like he was hiding a treat inside himself. Knight wondered what it tasted like.
He understood where it came from. He pinpointed the place where the scent originated, where it was strongest, but he hadn't yet figured out why it was only Nikko. Other people had those places – animals did too – but Nikko's scent was the one he liked best. It was better, sweeter than anyone else's, for some reason.
He also didn't get what made it happen. The scent came at many different times, and his small, animal mind couldn't piece together what set it off. Sometimes it came when they were watching TV, lying comfortably together on the couch. Sometimes it happened when they were changing clothes, getting ready to go out, or turn in. Often it came when Nikko was in the shower, the sweet scent difficult to catch amongst the smell of water and soap, but there if he concentrated enough.
Sometimes, like early that Tuesday morning, it came when Nikko was sleeping.
Knight's nose twitched when he caught the scent, and he lifted his face from where it had been resting on Nikko's chest. His arms were folded under him, wobbly from lack of circulation, but he managed to raise himself up and looked at Nikko's face. He was sleeping deeply, breaths coming even. He looked soft.
His tail curled of its own accord as a tiny smile spread over Knight's face. Then he leaned up and pecked his lips against Nikko's; he had seen people on TV do that.
It was a chance to do a little investigation. Nikko always seemed so nervous when he knew Knight could smell it – well, Nikko always seemed nervous about many things – but if he were asleep, he couldn't be nervous. So Knight moved down, moving his nose toward Nikko's waist, lower.
As suspected, the scent came from Nikko's genital, but it didn't smell like urine. Knight knew that scent, and this was very different.
Nikko's genital was hard, seemed bigger than usual. Knight pressed his nose to it, taking in that sweet scent, and his tail wagged in delight. Small sniffs travelled up and around the length. The scent seemed stronger at the top, and Knight lingered there a moment, pressed closer, eyelids drooping in pleasure until a small sound like a whimper came from Nikko. Knight's head lifted, alert and watching Nikko's face carefully until he was sure it was just a sleep sound.
His curiosity had gotten to him; he wanted more, wanted to explore further. He wanted to know more about and be closer with Nikko. Taking a chance, Knight sat up and climbed over one of Nikko's legs until he was nestled in between, pushing the blanket off of the both of them as he went. Then when he was again assured that Nikko was still asleep, Knight tugged gently at the flannel pajama pants, pulling them down to mid-thigh.
The scent came stronger, wafting to Knight's nose as it escaped the confines of Nikko's pants. It made Knight's own body feel strange and tight, and his tail wagged harder, curling out of his control.
Even in the darkness, Knight could see Nikko's genital lifting the front of his underwear. It was funny, but also strange. There was definitely something different about it when it was making the sweet scent. So Knight leaned down again, brought his nose close again, inhaled along the length again. And though he heard the sleep-laden moan that Nikko gave, he ignored it, unwilling to pull away from the ambrosia before him. When he reached the top of Nikko's genital, he found a wet spot darkening the cloth of the plain trunks, and Knight sucked that spot in between his lips.
That was it!
It was good, that taste of honey and cream and Nikko, like nothing Knight had tasted before. He didn't know how or why it came from Nikko's body; all he knew was that he wanted more. He wanted to taste everything inside Nikko, and he didn't ever want to taste anything else again.
He forgot care and caution; his hand raced up to yank Nikko's underwear down, his body almost moving on its own. The motion must have jerked Nikko awake, because his almost frightened voice began to cry out "Knight!? Knight, what are you-!?" He was too late, though. Knight had found what he was looking for, the nectar a glistening droplet at Nikko's tip, and he licked it away.
Nikko cried out, his voice a lovely sort of pain as another drop replaced the previous, and Knight lapped at that one too. More droplets came, a ceaseless supply, and Knight greedily took them all, sparing a moment to run his tongue flat over the tip of Nikko's genital, cleaning away anything that may have smeared, wanting every last bit. Nikko gasped and moaned with every pass of Knight's tongue; his legs on either side of Knight were tense; his breaths were heavy and panting.
Before Nikko could inevitably push him away, Knight wrapped his lips around the flesh in front of him, determined to get as much of that flavor as he could. Nikko gasped, voice strained, and his hips pushed up. Knight's mouth filled with Nikko, that sensitive part pushing past his lips, and he sucked on it in hopes of drawing out more of that sweet flavor.
"Knight," Nikko gasped out, broken and breathy. "Knight... Don't..." He panted. "That's..." And then he moaned loud, a sound even Knight understood was in pleasure. "Feels... good..."
Knight's tail wagged hard. He was making Nikko feel good! Somehow, having his mouth on Nikko's genital gave him pleasure, and that made Knight as happy as getting to taste his sweetness did. So he sucked again, harder, following the small movements of Nikko's hips until he was sliding his mouth up and down along the flesh. His tongue continued to swipe at the tip, taking away every drop of the nectar that seemed to flow unending.
Nikko's panting breaths came faster, harsher. He moaned, gasped gibberish, whimpered Knight's name. And then he screamed. His hips jerked up, shoving himself all the way into Knight's mouth, and a flood of that sweet taste poured out of him.
That was what he wanted. Every bit of that taste, that honey that came from Nikko, Knight swallowed down. He would never be able to get enough, and he whimpered when the flow began to ebb. He continued to suck, sucked harder, greedy, wanting more.
"Stop! Stop!" Nikko's voice was clearer, a definite order that Knight obeyed, pulling away at the same time Nikko began to flail his legs until he had sat up. He yanked his pants and underwear back up, breathing heavy. His body trembled enough to make the bed quiver, and Knight wondered with a broken heart if he had hurt Nikko.
"Knight." Nikko cut him off, but then remained silent. A handful of moments later, Nikko slid off the bed and left the room, left Knight sitting alone in the dark. Not long after, there was a sound of the shower turning on.
Knight's head drooped. His hand slid to the tight spot between his legs, and his brows furrowed.
His own genital was hard.
There was a hole in Knight's studies.
To learn things about the world of humans, the students were sent a series of textbooks and complementary workbooks and homework exercise books for all the things they needed to know. All of the materials were made by the research company itself, and the best part, according to Nikko, was that they were sent for free. During the day, Knight would read the assigned pages in the text and do the matching practice pages in the workbook, usually two or three subjects per day. When Nikko came home from work, they would discuss what Knight had studied and any questions would be answered. Nikko seemed to know a lot of things, and Knight loved their evening chats about the various studies. It made him feel slightly more human to be able to talk about each subject. And if there were any questions that neither of them could figure out the answer to, they would open up Nikko's laptop computer and find the answer together. Knight loved doing that too.
Homework was done on Knight's own time throughout the week, to keep the information fresh. Nikko would check his answers and correct any mistakes, and always gave explanations that were easy to understand. He was such a good teacher, and Knight was happy to learn so much from Nikko.
It took three months to complete one set of books. After the second set, Nikko gave Knight a test, and when Knight passed with what Nikko called "flying colors," they went out to eat at a special all-you-can-eat cake restaurant to celebrate. Knight was so happy!
But there was a hole in his studies. One chapter from all of the science books went untouched, and the one time Knight had asked about it, Nikko just said they would get to it later. Months had passed and that later never came, but Knight trusted Nikko knew what was best.
It seemed it was finally 'later'.
Knight hadn't seen Nikko anymore that morning. He wanted to; he wanted so badly to apologize for hurting – maybe hurting – Nikko. He had waited in Nikko's room, waited for Nikko to finish his shower and come back, and Knight would say he was sorry, but Nikko never came back. He must have had to go to work early. He must have gone to work in his pajamas and without coffee, because he never came back to the room, and Knight never left to make breakfast.
When Knight finally did leave the room, the apartment was quiet, and Nikko's work bag was gone. His ears drooped and his tail went limp, as did his genital, which had been sticking up all morning. He told himself Nikko would come back – he would! – and Knight would apologize properly then. He would promise never to hurt Nikko again.
If he had hurt Nikko, but Nikko had said it felt good, being licked, being tasted. He had made pleasure noises, had moved his hips to go into Knight's mouth more. Maybe it had hurt, maybe it had felt good. Knight didn't understand, and he wanted to ask Nikko, but Nikko had left.
Knight's own breakfast was milk and some hard-boiled eggs. He watched TV while he ate, but couldn't really pay attention, so he turned it off, cleaned up, and went to the study schedule posted on the fridge. Nikko had all of Knight's lessons planned out for the month, clearly marked on an easy-to-read chart that even Knight understood. He worked so hard to make sure Knight's learning was organized.
That day he would start with geography. They were practicing reading maps – he remembered that from last week – and this would be a continuation. The exercises and homework were pretty fun for geography lessons; Knight enjoyed guessing where the countries were and drawing lakes and rivers. He liked learning the names of mountain ranges and volcanoes, even if they were hard to remember.
The second subject, however, had been crossed off. A scribble of pen blackened out most of 'Science – Geology' and written above it was 'Science – Human Sexuality'. The page numbers were written, and 'Book 1' was clearly circled. All of the science lessons for the entire month had gotten the same treatment, every topic replaced with Human Sexuality.
They were finally going to fill the hole in Knight's studies.
He got to it right away, curious about the topic that Nikko had avoided for so long. His curiosity was piqued, and his tail curled lightly as he settled onto the couch with science book number one. And though the first lessons on any given topic were basic introductions, he immediately found it fascinating.
Some things he knew already. He knew boys and girls had different parts, but now he had words for them. Now he had an idea of what they did – it was interesting! The text talked about how human parts and animal parts were different, and also how they were the same; there wasn't such a huge gap between living things.
The workbook had diagrams for him to label and color, and Knight hummed to himself as he dug out his colored pencils. He was very careful to make each part a different color so it was easy to see the various puzzle pieces that made up the human body, and when it was finished he skipped to Nikko's bedroom, workbook in hand, and stripped off all his clothes. As he stood in front of the tall mirror on Nikko's closet door, he compared the diagram to himself, and realized for the first time that his body was really human. His penis stayed out, like a human, not sheathed like an animal, and his... – he checked the diagram – ... his scrotum hung close below. Aside from the ears and tail, he had a completely human body, and it made Knight so happy.
He couldn't wait to tell Nikko.
He moved to return to the living room, but then paused before taking a single step. His mind turned for a moment, things slowly falling into place, knocking loose questions as they landed. Looking back to the mirror, he ran a hand along his genital – his penis. It made him shiver.
If his body was human, like Nikko's, did he also have a sweetness inside? Could Nikko smell it? Did Nikko want to taste it?
His textbooks held a clue – he just knew it – and his thirst for more knowledge had Knight zipping back to the living room, back to his books. He started reading beyond the assigned pages, needing to know more, unlocking mysteries about the human body he didn't even know were mysterious. And when he read everything science book one had to say about human sexuality, he fetched book two, continuing the saga. That one moved from all the biological parts and their functions to the act of copulating. How humans mated, how they reproduced.
When a man was interested in mating, his penis got bigger and stiffer. Became erect, the book said, so that it could enter a woman. The man's testes produced sperm – Was that what it was? – the woman's ovaries released an egg. When they came together, a baby was made. So... So, when a man got hard, he wanted to make a baby.
He caught the sound of Nikko's footsteps, light and uneven, and he got up from where he had been sitting on the floor. It was good timing; he had so many questions!
"Nikko!" Knight pounced as soon as the door was open. "Do you want a baby!?"
With only a single glance, Nikko's eyes shot open wide. He slammed the door shut quickly, yelping "Knight!" His back remained turned away as he sputtered "Wh-Where are your clothes!?"
"Oh." Knight looked down at himself, still naked. "I forgot."
"Go get dressed!"
"Ah, okay..." He slinked back to the bedroom where he had left his clothes, passing by the mirror again. His mind was overwhelmed with thoughts and questions – so many questions – and his brain felt a bit scrambled.
When he was dressed again, he went back to the living room. Nikko was at the coffee table, holding the science books in his hands, a small crease in his brow. "Knight, did you read these today?"
"Y-Yes..." Knight answered nervously. Was Nikko mad? The chart said to do book one, pages 163 to 166, and only book one. Knight had done more of his own accord without thinking about how it might mess up the schedule Nikko had taken the time to craft. Perhaps that had been a bad thing to do. "I-! I was so curious, and began reading a lot. I'm sorry..."
"It... It's okay."
"I forgot to study geography..."
Nikko made a sound like acknowledgement, or defeat. "It's... okay. We can adjust the study schedule."
"I forgot to make dinner, too..." Knight's ears drooped.
Setting the books down, Nikko began to move toward the kitchen. "It's all right. We can have leftovers. Do you mind having Hamburger Helper again?" There was a little smile on his face, but it didn't look real. He sounded normal, casual, but his movements were stiff. His muscles were tense. As he passed by, he kept a certain distance from Knight.
"Nikko!" Knight rushed forward, wanting to be closer, wanting to be in Nikko's space, but when Nikko scurried back, fear replacing his pretend easygoing expression, Knight froze. Nikko was afraid, scared Knight would hurt him again. It made Knight's chest squeeze in pain and his eyes brim with tears. He bit his lip in an attempt to keep from crying. "Nikko, I- I'm sorry!" His chest heaved; it became harder to talk. "If I- If I hurt you this morning... I'm sorry. I- Yiff- I just..." Then a sob broke out of him.
A thousand different things crossed Nikko's face, but his gaze remained steady on Knight. Then he just said "Knight..." and grabbed Knight's hand. For a moment, they stood like that, letting energy flow between the small touch, until Nikko finally pulled Knight's hand, leading him to the living room couch. "Come here."
They sat for a bit, a cushion-length between them, only Knight's sniffles breaking the silence. He wondered if Nikko would calmly tell him they were going to have one last dinner and then take him back to the facility. He wondered if Nikko would put distance between them again, together but not. He wondered which would be worse.
A long while passed, and then another, and then Nikko's small mouth opened to speak. "What happened this morning..." he started slowly. "It... It didn't hurt. You don't have to worry about that, okay?"
It made Knight feel minimally better, though his heart continued to knead itself to mush. "Did... Did it feel good?" That's what Nikko had said at that time, panted out between harsh breaths. He had said that it felt good.
Nikko's cheeks colored pink. He looked cute – cuter – when that happened. His mouth seemed to be stuck for a second, but finally he said "Yes... It did, but..." Then he sighed a breath. "But, Knight, you can't do that. Okay?"
"But why!? If it felt good-!?"
"You just can't! All right?"
Knight both scowled and whimpered, and a beat later Nikko stood up, walking out of the living room. He had made Nikko angry again, and he desperately tried to figure out how, even as he was wracked with tears and sadness. He wanted Nikko to feel good – why was that bad? Why was that forbidden?
Only a bare moment later, however, Nikko came back, carrying the thick, blue care guide he had been given months ago. Knight hadn't seen it for a long time.
Nikko set the book down on the coffee table and sat on the floor beside it. His voice was calmer, gentle, as he said "Knight, come here," while flipping to a page near the front. When Knight scooted further up on the couch, quietly obeying the request, Nikko turned the book toward him. The pages contained a numbered list, some entries long and wordy, others short and concise, all of them weighty commandments that Knight had been told many times before, even if he didn't always understand them. "Do you know what these are?" Nikko asked, even though they both knew the answer.
"Yes, they're our rules."
"And do you know what rules are?"
"They're things we must or must not do."
"Very good." Then Nikko pointed a small finger at one of the entries. "Can you read this one?"
Knight looked down at the book, reading the printed words out loud. "Students will remain property of the company. Upon graduation, students shall be returned to their local branch facility."
"Very good," Nikko said again, and then his finger moved. "How about this one?"
"Students are forbidden from harming any human. If a student purposely inflicts harm on a human, he or she shall face punishment of reprimand or termination. Student may be removed from the care of his or her teacher."
"And this one?"
"Teachers are forbidden from harming students. If a teacher purposely inflicts harm or neglects his or her student, he or she shall face punishment of a fine or jail time. Students will be removed from the care of the teacher."
"Good." Then Nikko paused, took a breath. His finger moved again. "How about this one?"
"Sexual relations between teachers and students are forbidden. Teachers found in violation shall face punishment of a fine or jail time. Students will be removed from the care of the teacher."
They fell quiet. Time ticked away in deafening silence, until Nikko finally asked "Do you understand? We can't do... what happened this morning, because it's against the rules. They- They'll take you away from me."
Knight's lip trembled and he bit it, one of his small canines slicing, drawing blood. "But- But that wasn't sexual! The book-!" He grabbed science book two, hands shaking so hard he almost dropped it. "The book says sex is with a man and a woman to make a baby! So-! So it's different!"
Nikko took the book from his frantic hands, giving him nothing to cling to, but his voice was calm. "No, there's more to it than that. For humans, sex is also used to bring two people closer. Sometimes it's done just for pleasure, and it can be between two men or two women as well. It can be done with hands or mouths or... other... things. But it's all... It's all sexual, and it's all against the rules."
His whole body began to shake, fear ripping through him. He had broken a rule, and it sounded like an important one. He was going to be taken away from Nikko; he was going to break his promise to never leave, and all he could do was press his hands to his face and cry. "I'm- I'm sorry, Nikko!"
Then Nikko's slight weight was next to him on the couch, and slim arms wrapped around him. Knight allowed himself to be pulled against Nikko's chest, comforted by the touch and scent of Nikko. "Shh..." Nikko's voice was soothing, angelic, so capable of influencing Knight's moods. "Don't cry."
"I- Yiff! I don't want to be taken away from Nikko!" He would rather be destroyed.
"Knight, it's okay." A small hand buried into Knight's hair, petting, soothing, calming. "Nobody else knows what happened, right? If we keep it a secret, you won't get taken away. Okay?"
Knight looked up suddenly, facing Nikko, who also had tears in his eyes. "I'll keep it a secret!" Knight declared, finding hope in all this. "I won't tell anyone, I promise! So don't let them take me!"
"Okay." Nikko's hand moved to touch Knight's face; it felt good. "It'll be okay, as long as nobody knows. But, Knight..." Then Nikko's hand slid down to tug at Knight's hair, then down further to take Knight's hand. "It is against the rules, so we can't... You mustn't do anything like that again, okay?"
He nodded, even as a pout found its way to his face. "Okay..."
"Good boy." Nikko smiled, then pulled Knight to him again, tightening the embrace. "You're a good boy."
Knight's tail curled as he snuggled against Nikko's chest. His heart hurt, but he felt a small bit of relief. Nikko wasn't mad, and they would keep his mistake a secret, so he wouldn't get taken away. He was sad that he wouldn't get to taste Nikko again, but at least they could stay together. That was most important; that was what Knight wanted, needed. If he could stay with Nikko forever just like this, he would be happy. And just like that, pressed against Nikko's warmth, Knight smiled.
He felt like they were in a world of their own, even if they were just sitting on the living room couch. It was just the two of them, but then, wasn't it always? Yet something felt different. Somehow, Knight's feelings for Nikko felt different, and he didn't understand. He didn't know why it mattered, but a question flickered to life in his mind, so he broke the lingering silence with his voice. "Nikko?" And at Nikko's acknowledging hum, Knight asked "If... If those things weren't against the rules, would you want to do them with me?"
Nikko went stiff, and for an anxiously long time, he didn't answer. Maybe it was a bad question; maybe Knight had made a mistake again. But then Nikko moved, hunching over to press his face into Knight's hair, his lips landing right between Knight's ears. When he answered, it was a whisper on an exhaled breath.
Chapter 12: Little Red, Riding Wolf
"Knight, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
Knight liked talking to Jack. After Nikko, Jack was the person Knight felt most comfortable talking to – sometimes he felt more comfortable talking to Jack. Jack was the one who took care of Knight all the years he was stuck at the facility unwanted, and never once did he act like Knight was a bother or that he was at all irritated by the responsibility put on him. And Jack found Nikko for him. Jack knew Nikko would take such good care of him. Jack was so smart! So Knight couldn't help but smile every time he talked to Jack.
"Jack! I want to work!"
"To work? As in, you want a job?"
Knight nodded so hard he almost dropped the phone. The gold-colored device felt small in his hand, even if the things looked big compared to Nikko's tiny fingers. Nikko had bought him the phone soon after Knight moved in with him, just in case he needed to get a hold of him while Nikko was out. Jack's number was in the phone too, as well as Ginger's and Buck's, though he rarely called anyone. He couldn't use the phone like a human, since his ears were so far away from his mouth, but Nikko had shown him how to use the speaker feature, and that worked perfectly.
"Yes! Nikko told me about Christmas, so now I want to buy him a present, but I don't have any money. So I want to work!"
Jack's light chuckle came over the line. "That's very sweet of you, but... won't Nikko give you money for shopping?"
"He tried to give me some, but I don't want it! I can't buy his gift with his own money. Then he would be buying it himself. I want to buy it myself!"
The distance between them couldn't obscure the fondness in Jack's voice, and it made Knight's tail curl. "You're very thoughtful, aren't you?"
"Is it strange?"
"No, it's just like you." Jack chuckled again. "Well, we do have some work programs, though they're usually for older stu- Ah." He cut himself off, as if just remembering. Knight was older; he was just really far behind. He was the only one from his batch, the only surviving hybrid on this side of the country, and all the pure-breeds born at the same time were either graduated or close to it. Knight having taken so long to get a teacher left him much older than everyone else in his current 'class'. "Well," Jack continued. "If it's you, it should be okay. So long as your studies are going well."
"Yes!" Knight exclaimed. "I study very hard!"
"I bet you do." There was cheer in Jack's voice. "Then, I hope you don't mind, but I'll have to talk with Nikko about it. But I'm sure it'll be fine."
"Thank you, Jack!"
There weren't many jobs that students could do, but the company did have ties with the government, and there were some things they were allowed to do where no questions would be asked and payment would be in cash. Since technically they didn't exist on an official level – they had no social security numbers or birth certificates – it wasn't like they could apply anywhere or open a bank account. The work program was created just for them and their in-between-human status.
Knight was assigned the task of cleaning parks.
He was given a map, a schedule, and a bright-orange vest that designated him as park staff. He would have to start early in the morning, going from location to location as dictated by the map, and pick up any trash that littered the park grounds. Garbage cans had to be emptied and gum scraped off the underside of picnic tables. It sounded like fun.
Nikko went with Knight on his first day, the nerves rolling off of him in waves that Knight could smell. He was worried, letting Knight go out alone; he seemed more worried than Knight himself was. So Knight took his hand as they walked to the first site. They were both wearing gloves to protect from the chilly air, but it was a comfort all the same.
"Is Nikko worried?"
"Well... Yeah." His cheeks were pink, which may or may not have been from the cold. "You haven't been out on your own much, so I'm scared you'll get lost or hurt or kidnapped." Despite his words, Nikko smiled.
"I can't be kidnapped," Knight said simply. "I have to go home to Nikko."
Nikko smiled again, cheeks turning redder, but he didn't respond. When they neared the park, though, he pulled his hand away from Knight's.
There was another student who had been working the park cleanup for a while; he had keys to the storage sheds and knew how to use all the equipment. Knight was to follow him and basically do as he said, and Knight had been relieved when he was told that. There was less chance of messing up if he were following someone else's lead.
They spotted the other student right away, standing with his arms crossed over a wide chest that donned the same vest Knight wore. Though his ears were hidden under a knit winter cap, only a few locks of black hair sticking out from underneath, Knight could smell wolf all over him. Nikko must have figured it out too – golden eyes the likely giveaway – because his steps stuttered.
"Ah, it's nothing..."
A smile pulled at Knight's lips. "Nikko is scared of wolves."
"No. ... Yes."
Knight did the talking when they approached the wolf, and it made him feel a little more independent, a little more human, and he wondered if Nikko hung back for that reason, and not just because he was afraid. "Are you Roco?"
"I am," the wolf answered as his arms dropped to his sides.
"I'm Knight." Said with a smile. "I'm here to work."
Roco's eyes moved up, out. "He gonna work too?"
Knight looked back to where Nikko stood, clutching the strap of his work bag in one hand and Knight's lunchbox in the other. "No," Knight replied, turning back. "He has his own job. He was just making sure I got here okay."
Roco nodded, and then gave a short "Follow me" as he turned and began walking.
Smile stuck to his face, Knight rushed back to Nikko for a moment, taking the plastic lunchbox handed to him. "Nikko, I'm going to work now!"
Nikko returned the smile, though the worry never left his eyes. "Call me if you need anything, and be sure to go straight home when you're finished."
"Then..." Nikko reached up to tug at the strands of hair that stuck out of Knight's winter cap. "Have a good day."
"You too, Nikko!"
Waving as he went, Knight then turned to chase after his new boss.
Roco turned out to be strict, serious, and never smiled, but he also was thorough in showing Knight how to do everything the job required. From the park's storage shed they took a cart that carried a large garbage can, bags, and cleaning supplies, as well as some spare light bulbs and tools. They went through the park from bottom to top, left to right, picking up trash and emptying garbage bins. If anything was broken or damaged, Roco fixed it, and he instructed Knight on how to clean graffiti off of picnic tables. It was physically hard work, but not challenging by any means. It felt good to be out using his hands.
It took a couple hours to cover the first park – the largest they were assigned to – and once back at the shed, Roco filled out some paperwork on a clipboard, signed it, then told Knight to gather his things and follow.
The second location went much the same, though it was a considerably smaller park, and didn't take nearly as long. When they were finished, they sat at a picnic table and had their lunches. Knight smiled when he opened his lunchbox, remembering how he and Nikko had packed it together, making matching sandwiches for both of their lunches and having a long, drawn-out discussion about if they should have potato chips or an apple. Knight liked to think they were eating their matching lunches together, separated by the span of a city.
Roco didn't smile at his lunch, but when he looked into his box with impassive gold eyes, an unusual thudding sound pricked at Knight's ears. It wasn't a completely unfamiliar sound, though; Knight had heard it before. He had heard it when out shopping with Penny and Gus, each of their tails confined in their human clothes, and Gus got excited over the steak Buck had bought for him. He had heard it from Penny, being told she did indeed look 'hot' in her new off-the-shoulder shirt. He had heard it from himself, sitting at Starbucks with Nikko, happy to see the teddy bear the barista had made out of latte foam. It was the sound of a tail with no room to wag thumping against a seat.
Roco must have had good memories about his lunch too.
"Did your teacher make your lunch?" Knight asked. They hadn't made much conversation while working, and Knight didn't push Roco to talk, afraid he would disturb the wolf's work. But they were on break now, and he wanted to practice getting to know someone on his own while he could. And besides, they would be working together for the next few weeks, so it would be good to be friends.
"Yeah," was Roco's short answer.
"Are they a good cook?"
A snort. "No."
"What's your teacher like?"
Roco just shrugged a large shoulder, and Knight thought maybe Roco didn't really get along with his teacher. That was a shame. He stopped asking questions for a moment, and then changed tactics, talking about himself instead. "Nikko is very nice to me. We made my lunch together, and he showed me how to make many things. And he always buys the foods I like, even if they're expensive. And-! And when I ripped his carpet by digging, he didn't even get mad at me."
Golden eyes flicked up to him, and Knight stopped talking. He was stupid again. If Roco didn't get along with his teacher, he probably didn't want to hear about Knight's teacher either. So he let conversation drop altogether. If they were going to work together for weeks, it would probably be best not to make Roco angry by being annoying on the very first day.
The third site was the smallest, but had some of the hardest work. This one had a fancy design of hedges spiraling out from a fountain, and they all needed to be trimmed, pruned, and shaped, and then the trimmings had to be cleaned up and put in special bags. Between the two of them, though, they got it done in no time, and despite not knowing much about landscaping, even Knight thought the place looked great.
When they made their way back to the final site's storage shed, there was a small girl waiting. Or rather, Knight thought it was a small girl, until they got closer and he realized her proportions weren't very child-like at all. Especially her chest. Her figure and scent were that of a full-grown woman; she was just very short. Probably shorter than Nikko, but where Nikko was rather skinny, this lady was more plush, extra weight on her chest and hips, giving her a softness that Knight thought must be nice to hug.
"Finished?" she questioned in a feminine voice as they approached, a smile on her sweet lips. Her bob of red hair fluttered in a passing breeze. She was pretty.
"Yeah." Roco's answer was little more than a grunt as he walked past her to the shed, unlocking it and pulling open the rusting, metal doors.
The woman's attention turned to Knight, smile never faltering even as an all-too-familiar apprehension crossed her eyes. Knight had seen that touch of fear in Nikko's eyes many times, anxious when coming upon a new face or situation. "Are you the new guy?" she asked.
"Yes! I'm Knight."
"Nice to meet you, Knight. I'm Wendy, Roco's teacher." She seemed kind, and Knight couldn't for the life of him fathom why Roco wouldn't be able to get along with her. "Will you be working full-time?"
"No, only part-time, until Christmas. I'm earning money so I can buy Nikko a present."
Her smile turned up two notches. "That's very nice of you."
Roco's voice grumbled from the shed with a brusque "Oy. Cart."
"Ah, sorry!" Knight ducked his head in apology, and then pushed the supply cart through the open door.
With half his attention on Knight and the other half on this site's paperwork, Roco gave swift instructions on where everything went, directing Knight to put everything back in its proper place. Then they each loaded their arms with bags of garbage and hedge-clippings, and Roco showed Knight where the site's dumpsters were, leaving Wendy momentarily behind.
"Your teacher seems nice," Knight said, smile in place, as they headed for the dumpsters. Roco only gave his shrug. "Does she pick you up every day?"
"That's nice!" Knight beamed. "I wish Nikko could pick me up, but he works all day. He can drop me off in the morning, though."
Roco didn't respond. Knight was starting to understand that that was something to expect.
Back at the shed, Wendy waited patiently, and Knight gave her a smile. "Did Roco teach you everything about park maintenance?" she asked, friendly.
"Yes! He was a good teacher."
Roco stepped out of the shed then, closing and locking the doors behind him before clipping the ring of keys onto his belt. He seemed so professional, for a wolf. Then he stepped over to Knight and smacked him in the chest with an envelope, prompting Knight to take it. "Same time tomorrow," was all he said before turning and walking off with Wendy by his side.
Knight watched them go, noting how Roco's usual long strides were half-length, matching Wendy's pace. Maybe they did get along after all. Then his attention turned to the envelope. Peeking inside, he saw several crisp bills. His first payment.
With an enduring smile, Knight slipped the envelope into his pocket, clutched his lunchbox in his hand, and hurried home.
Each day on the job was much the same. Some days held different tasks – hedges didn't need to be trimmed every day, after all – and some days they found the parks more trashed than others. Sometimes people took their dogs out for evening walks and didn't clean up after them, so Knight had to pick up animal droppings. It made him blush at first, wondering if anyone ever had to clean up after him. Sometimes mischievous kids broke into the park at night, leaving behind huge messes of beer cans and alcohol bottles. Knight thought it was very rude of them to litter like that.
Roco remained quiet and gruff, but he was never outwardly aggressive. It seemed more like he simply didn't have much to say. Knight continued to try talking to him, and though getting a response was like a small miracle, Knight came to see that Roco wasn't exactly annoyed with the chatter.
Each day, Nikko dropped Knight off at the first site, giving him a farewell wave before heading to his own workplace. Each day, Wendy picked Roco up, always there waiting when they finished at the last site. Knight liked chatting with Wendy while they waited for Roco to sign the checklists and lock up. She was nice, and seemed interested in Knight's life. She asked him about himself, about his studies, his life. She asked him about Nikko, and listened attentively when Knight spoke about him. And when she commented that Knight "must like him a lot," Knight couldn't agree more.
"What are you getting him for Christmas?" Wendy asked one day, and it made Knight pause.
"I... I don't know." Unease came over him suddenly. He really hadn't thought about it.
"Well, what does he like?"
"He likes..." What did Nikko like? "He likes animals and nature. He likes coffee and sitting at cafés for a long time. He likes reading and watching TV. And..." Knight's face felt warm. "He likes me, I think..."
Wendy's smile was sweet, some emotion drawing her fine brows together and up. "I'm positive he likes you."
"But you've never met him." He thought they should, though. They would probably get along, and then Nikko could have more friends.
"Call it woman's intuition," Wendy replied, and then she chuckled. Knight didn't know what that meant, but he didn't say so. "How about..." Then Wendy put a hand to her chin, looking thoughtful. "How about taking him on a trip? Somewhere quaint, with nice scenery."
Knight's tail curled against his leg. "I'd like that! I've never been on a trip before. Where's a good place?"
"How about Vino Mountians? You can rent a cabin and there are some great hiking trails. It might be nice to get away from the city for a while."
"I think that would make Nikko happy." Knight beamed. He didn't know where Vino Mountians were, but he would research. A few days relaxing outside the city would be so good for Nikko, probably. "Thank you!"
Wendy smiled back. "My pleasure."
It was then that Roco's tall form appeared to loom over them, snipping "Cart. Trash," at Knight before turning on Wendy. "Quit distracting him."
Knight was quick to move, yelping "Sorry!" and grabbing the cart to push it into the shed and unload it.
He caught Wendy's voice, though, saying "I wasn't distracting him. We were just talking."
"No time to talk," Roco huffed back. "The sooner we finish up here, the sooner we can go home."
"You should be nicer to him. Do you ever talk to him?"
"Don't need to talk. Need to work."
Knight's hands slowed where they had been tying off the garbage bag. He hadn't meant to cause a fight. If that's what it was, but there was a playful lilt in Wendy's voice when she said "You're jealous, aren't you?"
Knight stepped out of the shed then, unsure whether it was a good idea to interrupt them or not, but acknowledging that Roco's words were true. They could leave as soon as he took the trash to the dumpster, a task that had been Knight's duty from his second day on. He lifted the bag a bit as golden and green eyes both turned to him to indicate where he was going, and simply said "I'll be right back."
He hurried to the dumpster; there was only a single full bag that day, so moving was easy, tossing it into the huge bin was child's play, and he managed to not spill anything for once. Then he jogged back to the shed, hoping everything between teacher and student would be okay. Then they could go home, relax; then Knight could start looking up information on Vino Mountains.
Wendy was gone when Knight made it back, and he worried that maybe she had left and wouldn't come back. He would miss seeing her every day. Roco wasn't around either, but the shed door was still open, so he couldn't have left. He wouldn't have left without locking up properly.
He peeked his head in the doorway, looking for the large wolf. Roco was in there; Wendy was too. They had their mouths pressed together in that gesture humans did when they cared about each other. One of Roco's hands was on Wendy's lower back, the other holding her wrist; both of their eyes were closed. They definitely weren't fighting, and it made Knight smile to see they were getting along.
But then Roco's back tensed. He pulled away from Wendy suddenly, turning fierce golden eyes toward Knight. Knight took a step back, sensing the aggression in Roco, but then Roco launched forward, and there was nothing Knight could do. Roco knocked Knight to the ground, climbing over him to pin his wrists down, and leaned over to snarl in his face, long teeth bared.
"Roco!" Wendy called out. "Roco, don't hurt him!"
Knight didn't know what he had done to make Roco so angry, but it must have been bad. He turned his head, averting his eyes and baring his throat, submissive. Roco was bigger and stronger, but even if he weren't, Knight wouldn't have tried to fight him. He respected Roco too much.
"Don't tell anyone," Roco growled, breath scalding.
"T-Tell- Yiff. Tell anyone what?"
"What you just saw." Roco leaned closer, voice dropping to a hiss. "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you."
Wendy pulled at Roco's coat, prompting him to release Knight and stand up. "It'll be okay," she said, reaching down to squeeze Roco's hand, and for a moment, Knight clearly saw Nikko in her.
With a final curl of his lip, Roco turned and headed back into the shed.
"Are you alright?" Wendy asked as she knelt by Knight's side. "I'm sorry."
"I'm okay," Knight answered as he sat up. "I think I messed up." Now if only he could figure out how so he didn't do it again.
"No, it's not you. Roco is just... scared."
"Yes. If anyone finds out about us, we'll be in big trouble. So please, please don't tell anyone you saw us, okay?"
Knight didn't understand. Find out what? That they were teacher and student? Or was it that Roco had let Wendy go into the shed? It was supposed to be for staff only, but it wasn't like Wendy would break or steal anything. She hadn't even made a mess. "I... I don't understand," Knight whispered. "Don't tell anyone what?"
Wendy just stared for a moment, and then something dawned in her soft, green gaze. "Knight, do you know what kissing is?"
"Yes, I saw it on TV. It's what people do when they like each other, right?"
"That's right," Wendy replied with a smile. "Sometimes Roco and I kiss, but he's very shy about it, so we keep it a secret. Does that make sense?"
"I think so." Like how Nikko didn't want Knight to mention that he had worn a dress for Halloween. "He'll be embarrassed?"
"Yeah, exactly. He acts like a tough guy, but he would be really embarrassed if anyone knew he was actually nice. So it's a secret. Okay?"
"Okay! I won't tell anyone." Knight's tail curled, trapped as it was in the confines of his pant leg. He liked being in on Wendy and Roco's secret.
Wendy's smile was bright; her eyes held relief. "Thank you." Then she stood up, tugging at the hem of her black coat. "I'll talk to Roco and tell him to be nice to you."
"Okay." Knight smiled back, and then watched Wendy walk into the shed. He wasn't sure what to do once alone – all of his tasks were done, but he hadn't gotten paid yet, so he didn't want to leave. But he felt odd just standing there by himself, like he was in the way even if there were no people around to be in the way of. At last, he finally understood the word 'awkward', and he was just about to leave anyway and hope Roco paid him the following day when the others stepped out of the shed, the large wolf closing and locking the doors behind him.
Knight tensed, his head drooping as he was approached, but then Roco held the usual yellow envelope out to him, and Knight straightened. All Roco said was "Tomorrow," but it made Knight happy.
Then Roco walked away, going down the familiar path with Wendy by his side.
"I-!" Knight heard his own voice before he even realized he was about to speak, but when the retreating couple stopped and looked back at him, Knight continued. "I have a secret too!" They could trust him, because he knew what it was like to have to keep something inside.
Wendy smiled and nodded, Roco's expression remained the same, and then they turned and continued on their way.
Knight turned to his own path home and began to run.
For some reason, he couldn't wait to see Nikko.
Chapter 13: Happy Holiday
It started on Christmas Eve.
Well, no. It started before then. It started the morning Knight gave him a blow job without realizing what he was doing. Or perhaps it started the day Knight saved him from getting his face beaten in by a bully, planting the seeds of a great affection that grew to so much more. Perhaps it started the moment Nikko first laid eyes on the lonely fox, who didn't even have a name at the time.
There were so many things that filled up the basin of Nikko's love and lust for Knight, and he tried his damnedest to hold back the inevitable flood. It was on Christmas Even when the first real cracks in his defense began to appear.
He had spent many Christmases alone. It didn't really bother him, or so he told himself. He wasn't religious, and only ever celebrated it as a general winter holiday, full of familial cheer. But his cheeriness towards his family began to dry up as he grew older, no longer able to wave off their 'only-just-teasing' insults, their attempts to thwart his education, their lectures about how he wasn't bowing low enough to his siblings' children, how he should be having children of his own instead of pursuing any dreams of acquiring a college degree. So he moved out immediately after graduation, spent a few family Christmases with Skype, where he was lectured more despite being an independent adult who made his own way in life, a life that he was proud of but they never seemed to care at all about, and then he gave up. Christmas wasn't so special anyway.
But that year, his first year with Knight, Christmas somehow felt magical all over again.
He'd had no idea what to get Knight for a gift. The fox didn't really have any particular interests, and any games he ever wanted Nikko had already bought for him. But Knight was eager to learn, so Nikko bought him a giant book that catalogued every living thing in the world, and Knight was active, so Nikko bought him a starter sports equipment set, which included a baseball and glove, two badminton rackets and a pair of birdies, a Frisbee, and a generic kickball.
And, on an impulse or a whim or a manic bit of crazy, he also bought Knight a silver necklace, not going so far as to put a collar on him, but selfishly wanting to see some sort of claim lying at Knight's throat. The chain held a small, sword-shaped charm, perfect for his gallant Knight.
They exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, just like Nikko used to do with his family. It was appropriate, because Knight was his family now. So they had a nice dinner with ham and mashed potatoes and all the fixings, the traditional holiday reborn. He let Knight try some wine, but after one sip the fox declared he didn't like it. It was just as well; Nikko didn't like wine either, and wouldn't have bothered if his school's principal hadn't given all the teachers a bottle the last day before winter vacation. They switched to coffee instead, which went so much better with the apple pie Nikko had made for dessert.
Almost immediately after the last bite was swallowed, Knight began to bounce. "Presents? Presents?"
"Okay," Nikko said, not bothering to hide or tone down his smile at all. "Presents."
They had set up a Christmas tree in the living room, on the other side of the sliding glass door from Knight's sandbox that he hardly touched anymore, now that his issues with separation anxiety had been resolved. The first night of Nikko's winter vacation had been spent decorating the tree together, and it was one of the most fun evenings he had ever had in his life. Knight had laughed the entire time as he ran back and forth between the tree and where Nikko sat on the couch, holding out one brand-new ornament after another. And when he saw that Knight had put all of the ornaments in the same spot on the tree, Nikko himself started cracking up, before finally getting up to scatter them in elegant randomness.
By Christmas Eve, a small smattering of gifts had appeared beneath the lit-up tree.
"Do you want yours first?" Nikko asked, a little surprised when Knight shook his head, but not much.
"I want Nikko to open his present first."
Nikko chuckled, charmed. He was exceedingly curious about what Knight had worked so hard to get for him, so he didn't put up an argument about it. "Okay," he replied as he perched himself on the couch.
Knight retrieved the small box and envelope that had Nikko's name on them, but when he returned, there was a touch of nervousness wavering in his yellow eyes. "I... I hope you like them... At least a little bit," he said, setting the items on the table.
"I'm sure they'll be great." Nikko smiled as he reached for the envelope, assuming it was a card, but Knight stopped him.
"The box first."
"Okay." Nikko chuckled again, and grabbed the silver box. The lid came off easily enough, and he peered inside to see a little, stuffed fox. He laughed as he pulled the plushie free, setting the box aside. It was orange with brown-tipped ears and tail, and yellow eyes. "Cute! It looks just like you."
"I'm not orange!"
Nikko laughed, so amused. "Close enough." Then he hugged the toy to his cheek. "I love it. Thank you."
Knight beamed. "I'm so happy!" Then he grabbed the envelope, holding it up to Nikko. "Now this one."
Slipping his finger under the flap, Nikko carefully tore open the sealed envelope, curiosity beyond piqued. Inside he found several sheets of paper, some simply presenting information like a brochure, looking like they had been printed directly from the internet, others looking like printed emails. Nikko tossed a confused glance at Knight, who looked nervous, gripping his tail in his hands.
Nikko took a moment to actually read the emails, which seemed to be from an account called Vinoinfo, sent to one 'foxknight at yahoo dot com'. Seemed Knight had gone ahead and created an email account on his own, somehow. The letters themselves were an inquiry from Knight about renting a cabin, some back and forth with questions and answers, and finally, a confirmation letter.
Knight had rented a cabin in the mountains for two nights in April.
Looking up, Nikko met Knight's concerned gaze. "Knight, this..."
"If you don't want to go, it's okay." Knight's hands wrung nervously at his tail. "There's still time to cancel the reservation."
"Knight..." Then Nikko's lips curved up. "I'd love to go."
"Really?" Knight's ears began to perk up.
"Yeah. I haven't been on a trip anywhere in a while, and it seems like forever since I've been hiking." He used to go hiking quite often; he couldn't remember when or why he stopped – just kind of fell out of it – but the thought that he should go again was always sitting patiently in the back of his mind. "This is such a good idea." He smiled bright. "Thank you so much."
The end of Knight's tail curled to and fro; surely the whole thing would be thrashing outright if he weren't still holding it. "Ginger helped me do it. She said you could use some fresh air."
"That's probably true," Nikko chuckled.
"And she said winter is too cold to go to the mountains. I checked your schedule and you have time off of work around Easter, so-! So I thought it would be a good time... I hope it's okay..."
Nikko's smile persisted. "It'll still be a bit cold in April, but it should be fine if we wear warm clothes." His heart raced, even as he spoke casually. They would be alone in the woods for three days, two nights. It actually sounded romantic, which was the first thing to make his smile dip.
Well, he would have to be careful, and treat the time alone as he treated all of their times alone. Even in a different place, their status as teacher and student wouldn't change – their relationship would be the same as always.
"I'm excited," Nikko admitted. "It'll be our first trip together."
Nikko gave another smile, a chuckle, and then asked "Would you like your gifts now?"
"Yes, yes!" Knight nodded his head enthusiastically, letting go of his tail to grip his pants at the knees.
"Alright." Nikko fetched the items from under the tree, setting them on the coffee table and handing Knight the lumpier package first. "They're not much, but..."
Knight took the present, tearing open the paper to reveal the sports set. His tail wagged in excitement as he looked everything over, and he laughed. "It's fun! Nikko, we can play!"
"When it's warmer out, we will."
Shining eyes turned to him, and it made Nikko's heart flutter. "I can't wait," Knight said, some kind of emotion making his voice soft.
Nikko didn't think it was worth all that, but he acknowledged that Knight was excited to be celebrating his first Christmas. He could probably give Knight a paper bag and the fox would be happy. That happiness was contagious, for sure. Nikko felt his heart and body warm as he handed over the next gift.
That one was opened as quickly as the first, no attempt to be delicate with the paper, childlike excitement moving Knight's fingers. His eyes widened when he saw the huge book. "Nikko, this is-!" He began flipping through the pages, eyes sparkling more and more at every animal he saw. "If I read this, I'll know everything!"
"Well, maybe not everything," Nikko said with a laugh. "But you'll know an awful lot."
"Look!" Knight pointed at a page. In a book of every living thing, he had managed to find the foxes. "It's me!" he beamed as his finger touched the picture of a fennec.
"It is," Nikko smiled. And though he had always adored fennecs, he couldn't help but think Knight was even cuter. The most beautiful, the sweetest, and Nikko had no idea what he had done to be gifted with Knight, but he thanked the stars this particular fennec had come to him.
"Nikko, are you okay!?" Knight suddenly looked anxious, holiday cheer replaced with concern. "You look like you're going to cry!"
"It's okay," Nikko answered, snapping out of his moment and looking up to meet Knight's eyes. He smiled. "I was just thinking."
"Thinking? What were you thinking about?"
Nikko took up the last gift, a tiny, bright red bag. "One more," he said as he handed it over, his heart beginning to flutter nervously for no reason.
Knight's smile came back, small, as he took the bag and reached in. His fine brows furrowed in confusion at the little box that came out, small and delicate in Knight's hand, much like Nikko himself was. When he opened the box, his jaw dropped, just a little, and he whispered "Nikko..."
"I know you've never shown an interest in jewelry," Nikko suddenly felt the need to explain. "But it reminded me of you."
"It's beautiful!" Knight's tail wagged heavily, thumping against the sofa. "Can I put it on?"
"Of course. It's yours."
Knight carefully removed the necklace, setting the box aside to immediately try to fit the chain over his head. It didn't fit, of course; wouldn't have even if his black horns didn't get in the way. With a little "Yiff?" of confusion, Knight brought the chain down to analyze it.
"You have to use the clasp," Nikko said with a little smile as he moved closer. He took the necklace from Knight's hands, finding the silver clasp and showing Knight how to undo it. Then, since he was holding it anyway, he went ahead and leaned forward, sliding the chain around Knight's neck and fastening it in back. When he sat back, he adjusted the charm to set it just in the center of Knight's collarbones. "It looks good on you." It really... really did.
"It reminds me of Nikko." Knight reached up to touch the little sword. "Every time I feel it, I'll think of Nikko."
Nikko's face grew warm. He couldn't find a single thing to say – never got a chance, because all of a sudden Knight's lips were pressed against his, stealing away his voice, his breath, his soul. His eyes went wide, but his body refused to budge, unable to move away, like he should, unable to return the kiss, like he wanted to.
He was freed when Knight pulled away, a small smile curling the fox's lips. With the connection broken, Nikko was able to lift a hand, pushing gently at Knight's chest. "Knight, you shouldn't do that if you don't know what it means."
"I know what it means!" Knight's voice rose; determination shone in his yellow eyes. "I see it on TV all the time! It means you like someone, and I like Nikko, so..."
"Okay..." It wasn't a surprise. They had watched plenty of movies that ended with the hero and heroine wrapped in a dramatic embrace. "So then you know we... We can't do that. The rules-"
"It's not sexual!" Knight insisted. "Mothers and fathers do it with their children! And- And the pet food commercials show people touching lips to their animals! So! So it's not... against the rules..."
While Knight wasn't exactly wrong – kissing wasn't strictly sexual – it was hard to explain that there were so many different kinds of love, and a different kiss for each of them. Since Knight couldn't feel romantic love, it was difficult to come up with an explanation why sometimes it was inappropriate and sometimes it wasn't. Especially since the 'like' that each of them felt for the other was different. While for Knight a kiss simply meant affection, for Nikko it would mean so much more, and allowing it just to make Knight happy would be a self-torture Nikko wasn't sure he could take.
"It's true that parents kiss their children..." Nikko started slowly. "And it's true that people kiss their pets. But, Knight... I'm not your parent and you're not my pet. It would be different for us."
Knight's ears drooped and his lip quivered. On this happy, holy evening, Knight was on the verge of tears. "But... I really like Nikko..."
Nikko reached up to scratch behind Knight's ear. "I really like you too." That was the problem.
"Then kiss with me."
A major crack appeared in the flimsy dam of Nikko's restraint. The timbre of Knight's voice, the sniffles surrounding his words, the crease to his brow and tears in his eyes that betrayed his deep want – they chiseled a hole in the wall that Nikko was sure could never be fixed.
Well... A little bit of self-torture might not be so bad.
His hand moved, sliding from behind Knight's ear to pull at a black horn, tilting his head. Surprise colored Knight's expression, but Nikko didn't pause, didn't hesitate, didn't give himself a chance to get back into his right mind. He leaned forward, giving Knight the kiss he so desired.
It was sweet and warm and everything Nikko could have ever wanted in a kiss. Knight pushed into him further, and Nikko pushed back, feeling the connection between them simmer. They parted for a brief moment, taking in a breath, and then were back together again. Now that Nikko had given in to this, he knew there would be no going back. He could live off of Knight's lips.
They separated again, and Knight's eyes shone with so much joy, they lit up the dim room. The twinkling Christmas tree couldn’t compare to the light in those eyes. And with a brilliant smile, Knight cheered out a "Nikko!" and pounced, knocking Nikko back so that he was lying against the couch cushions. Knight landed on top of him, somehow wiggling himself between Nikko's legs as he planted another kiss, then another, on Nikko's lips.
Nikko was helpless against the onslaught, helpless to resist as his mind went fuzzy, accepting kiss after kiss. Their bodies relaxed together, kisses turning lazy in their reclined position. They sucked and nibbled on each other's lips, and Nikko totally forgot not to let it go too far, but it never did anyway. Knight never tried to kiss deeper, probably didn't know how, and Nikko felt perfectly content with the sweet and mostly chaste kisses.
It was Knight who pulled away, jumping back with an abruptness that left Nikko reeling. It took a moment to figure out why he was so cold all of a sudden, and once he came back down to the real world, Nikko looked to see Knight sitting back on his knees, face pink and turned away, hands pressed to his groin.
"Knight?" Nikko questioned as he sat up. He wouldn't admit that he missed Knight's lips already.
"My penis got hard."
Nikko would have laughed if Knight hadn't looked so uncomfortable. Instead, he gently replied "That's why kissing is dangerous for us. We shouldn't..." Knight's head drooped, and Nikko smiled. "Well, a little bit is okay. Just a little. Alright?"
Knight nodded once, whispering "Okay."
"Do you want me to give you some privacy?"
Brow quirking, Knight finally looked back at Nikko. "Why?"
Right. Knight wouldn't know what masturbation was, and Nikko was not about to teach him. "Never mind." He laughed, nervous. "How about we clean up?"
"Okay." Knight nodded, agreeable as ever. He stood up from the couch, erection obvious and making Nikko's eyes dart pointedly away, and together they began gathering up the shreds of wrapping paper. Quietly, Christmas Eve was brought to a close.
A new step was added to their nightly routine.
They still took turns using the bathroom, the room too small for more than one person to brush their teeth at a time. Knight still ran the garbage down to the incinerator and cleared the dishes from the strainer while Nikko got himself ready for bed; Nikko still made sure the door was locked and both of their workloads were prepared for the following day while Knight did the same. But after Christmas Eve, something changed.
Instead of a wave goodnight before parting to their separate rooms, they now met in the space in between. Knight would bend down and Nikko would tilt his head back; they would share a kiss in that space, a wish for sweet dreams, then climb into beds that seemed warmer than before.
And when Knight inevitably crept into Nikko's room a short time later, Nikko would feel more kisses pitter-patter along his face or ear or the back of his head. Soft lips would ease him into gentle dreams of sharp ears and fluffy tails.
It was the sweetest torture.
Chapter 14: Socializing, part one
It was as if Knight had gone through puberty or was in heat or something. Whereas before the early-morning blowjob incident he had shown very little interest in sex and never experienced erections, afterwards he was on far more frequently, as if the single hit had already left him addicted, and he needed more. It wasn't all the time – he didn't spend his nights howling in need – but several times a week at least he looked to Nikko with pleading eyes and a tent in his pants, whimpering with discomfort. It had Nikko feeling helpless because there was nothing he could do for Knight, and more often than not it left him with his own bit of discomfort.
Sometimes, Knight's instincts took over, and he would take liberties he wouldn't normally dare to take. It was almost like a trance, and he was far less likely to listen to 'no'. It had happened before, the night of the Halloween party. Knight hadn't listened when Nikko gasped for him to stop, and he had no idea how far it would have gone if they hadn't been interrupted.
Nikko supposed instincts taking over was also the case at their first picnic, when Gus wouldn't take no for an answer, going so far as to snap and growl when he didn't get his way. At that time, it was Buck's firm and strict hand that had brought Gus to his senses. In that same vein, Nikko had to be strict to keep Knight on the proper path when his hands began to wander.
But it was so, so hard when Nikko's own body was screaming to give in.
He was making a breakfast of French toast one chilly Saturday morning when he felt Knight's arms slip over his waist, pulling their hips tightly together. Nikko could feel the hard erection hanging at Knight's crotch, which Knight ground against Nikko's backside. It made Nikko's cock jump, even as he tried to pull away with a reprimanding "Knight, no!" But his arousal only seemed to spur Knight on further.
Knight gave a 'yiff' as he pressed his nose into Nikko's hair, grinding into Nikko harder, seeking gratification without understanding it. Though Nikko struggled to get away, Knight was bigger, stronger, and held him in place, growling in the back of his throat.
As a last resort, Nikko raised the frying pan he had been holding, and then slammed it back down on the stove. The loud sound startled Knight, causing him to jump back, and Nikko quickly turned around to face him.
Knight's eyes went wide as he realized what he had been doing. "Nikko... I..." Inevitably, he began to cry. "I'm sorry! I-!"
"It's okay," Nikko said, putting his hands out, placating. "It's over now."
"It's part of why you're here. It's something we need to work on, okay? Just another thing for you to study and learn. Alright?"
Knight nodded, sniffled. "I don't... I don't want to hurt Nikko..."
Nikko smiled, even knowing how capable Knight could actually be of that very thing. If Knight really went out of himself, there wouldn't be anything Nikko could do to stop him. They had to do something to relieve Knight's... tension, before things got out of hand.
Even though Nikko really, really didn't want to – god, it was so embarrassing – he steeled himself, took a breath, and then asked "Have you tried... touching it?"
Knight's head tilted, confused. "Hm?"
"When you get hard, have you tried touching your... your penis?"
Nikko's face was on fire. "If you touch it and rub it, it'll feel really good, and if you orgasm, the discomfort will go away."
"Is that what Nikko does?"
"Err... Yes... Sometimes..." Like, daily. "But it's private, so you should try it in your room."
Knight stood up straighter. "Okay. If Nikko does it, then I'll try." Then he skipped forward to plant a kiss on Nikko's lips before disappearing from the kitchen and down the hall.
Nikko breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully Knight figured it out, because jerking off was not something he could really help out with. But the whole incident had left him so painfully hard – picturing Knight stroking himself off, head thrown back, pleasure and ecstasy written all over his lovely features – that Nikko was desperately in need of a rub-out himself.
He turned around and found himself faced with a black piece of French toast.
With a sigh ghosting out from between his lips, Nikko flicked the stove off. It probably wasn't safe for him to be around fire right then anyway. Snatching the pan off the stove, he stepped over to the garbage can and dumped the ruined toast, though it took some rough scraping with the spatula to get it unfused from the pan. They could have cereal instead.
The pan was deposited in the sink, and then he braced himself against the counter, holding himself up with one hand while the other slid along the front of his pants. He wondered if Knight was whimpering in pleasure. He wondered if Knight moaned, as Nikko himself did when he cupped himself, stroking a thumb along his hardened length. Or did Knight make his little yiff sounds when getting off?
He pressed harder at his erection, eyes fluttering closed. He really shouldn't be doing it right there; he had told Knight it was private. He should slip into his room, or the bathroom. Before he had a chance to move, however, and before he had a chance to whip his dick out right there, a weight settled on his shoulder; a pointy chin dug into his flesh. "Nikko smells good."
"Knight!" Nikko's wayward hand flew to the counter, both from being startled and to plead innocent.
"I want to taste Nikko."
Surely his grip would have cracked the countertop if he weren't so weak; his cock would have hardened to stone if it weren't already at its limit. "Pour yourself some cereal," Nikko said as he pushed back from the counter, moving away from Knight. "I need to use the bathroom."
"Are you going to touch yourself?"
"No. I just... need to go. Excuse me."
Knight was still sitting at the small dining room table, empty cereal bowl in front of him, when Nikko sat with his own bowl of Shredded Wheat. A pout was on Knight's lips as his yellow eyes tracked each of Nikko's movements, a predator eyeing its prey. "Your sweet scent went away."
"Never mind that. Are you still... uncomfortable?" At Knight's nod, Nikko asked "What happened?"
A shrug, and Knight's eyes turned away. "I tried touching it like you said, but..."
"I got bored."
Nikko snorted, but it wasn't like that was completely unheard of. He wondered if Knight was capable of fantasizing. "You need to try it longer."
"No! It's stupid! I want Nikko!"
He startled when Knight snapped, somewhat shocked at the sudden aggression. He understood Knight was frustrated, but Nikko never realized just how grumpy the fox would get from unresolved tension. It brought to mind Ginger's words from last summer, that Penny also got grumpy if she went a while without getting laid.
Then an idea slowly began to materialize in Nikko's mind, a potential solution. Maybe not a good solution – it definitely made Nikko sick, filled to capacity with jealousy until he could vomit – but if it worked out it could certainly make Knight feel better and happier. In the very least, it might be worth a try.
"Knight... Do you know what socializing is?"
Knight looked at him for a moment, fine brows drawn somewhere between a scowl and a pout, and then he looked away. "No."
"It's... a slang term among the teachers. It's what they call sexual intercourse between students."
Knight's eyes slowly moved back to Nikko's gaze, expression lifting from irritated to curious. "Between... students?"
"Yes." He didn't want to think about it; he didn't want to picture Knight laying with anyone else, even just for sex. He had to shut off any images lurking in front of his mind's eye before he could speak again. "You and I can't do anything... like that together, but it's okay for you to do it with another student. It'll feel good, and afterwards you won't be so uncomfortable. Do you want to try?"
For a long time, Knight was silent. His gaze fell to his lap, seeming to search for answers in the hands folded there. When his mouth finally opened to speak, his voice was quiet. "With who?"
"Well..." Nikko took a breath. "How about Tina? She's really cute and she seemed to like you." His heart fell to pieces even as he spoke, but he managed sound normal.
Knight gave a slow nod. "Tina is nice."
Nikko returned the nod. "All right, we'll ask her if she wants to. It'll be fun." He wanted to cry. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
Knight only turned his yellow gaze away.
It was likely one of the most embarrassing phone calls Nikko had ever engaged in, yet Kent's polite and kind demeanor eased his nerves at least a little, which helped. He had sent a text to Ginger asking if she could give Kent his number and ask him to contact him, and mere minutes later the call had come. Not having to be the one to make the phone call helped as well.
After standard greetings, Kent got right into it, saying "So, Ginger said you wanted to talk to me. What's up?"
"It's... Well, it's kind of embarrassing," Nikko started honestly. "But Knight has been... in a rather amorous mood more often than not lately."
A polite chuckle came over the line. "I see."
"He'd like to try... socializing... and..."
"And you want to know if Tina is interested?"
"We would have to ask her first, of course."
"Of course," Nikko agreed.
"But..." And then there was a clear smile in Kent's voice. "She really likes Knight, so I don't think it will be a problem."
Nikko's heart sank – he hadn't even realized he was hoping Kent would say no. But he pushed a polite smile into his voice and said "Thanks."
"One moment, please. I'll go talk to her."
As the line went silent, Nikko looked across the sofa to Knight and smiled. Knight's erection had faded since that morning, probably due to nerves at the prospect of socializing. He had been left quiet and on-edge, tail stiff; Nikko wondered if he would even go through with it.
Kent came back on the line, announcing that Tina was all for the idea, and the pain that had been stabbing at Nikko's heart twisted. They arranged for it to be at Kent's house the following afternoon, and then Kent said "Tina doesn't have much experience, though."
"Knight doesn't have any."
"She's quite nervous."
"So is he."
They found themselves laughing together, as if they were parents whose children were going to prom together. Nikko didn't know if the students ever hooked up as couples, but he imagined if Knight and Tina did, he would be glad it was Kent who was her teacher. He could stand being around Kent. If it were someone like Victoria or Marie, he might forbid the relationship.
Goodbyes said, Nikko set his phone down to face Knight again. "We'll go see Tina tomorrow. She's excited to... to see you again."
Knight nodded minutely.
"You'll have a good time." He tried another smile, but didn't get a response.
Knight didn't even bother trying to sleep in his own room that night. He followed Nikko to bed straight away, and clung to him extra tightly all night long. Nikko didn't find himself minding at all.
It really did feel like getting ready for prom, or a date in the very least. On Sunday morning Knight took a long shower, and Nikko recommended that he use conditioner on his tail. Afterwards, Nikko helped him bush his hair and tail, and picked out a nice outfit for him. He was polished until he shone, handsome as ever. If only he would smile.
They held hands as they walked to Kent's place, the nervousness streaming through Knight's palm prompting Nikko to hold tighter, instead of pulling away when he saw people watching them. And when Nikko spotted the address on the nice, brown house they needed, he pointed it out. "There it is."
Knight stopped moving.
Nikko stopped with him, looking up to question "Knight?"
"I don't know what to do," Knight answered quietly. "I mean... I do, I read how to in my books, but what if I mess up?"
Nikko patted his arm, trying to soothe. "It's normal to be nervous. Just... follow your instincts. Your body will know what to do." Knight didn't reply, only stood there, trembling. Nikko gave his arm a squeeze to make sure he had his attention. "Knight, if you don't want to do this, it's okay. Or if you want to wait until another day or another week, that's okay too. Tina will understand."
"No, I... I want to try..."
"Are you sure?"
Nikko sighed, then gave a small tug on Knight's arm. "All right, then. Let's go."
The front door opened as they approached, and Nikko got the impression Kent had watched their whole exchange. There was a knowing look in his eyes as he let them in to an empty living room with a warm greeting.
After an exchange of thank you and assurance that they found the place with no problems, Nikko finally dredged up the nerve to ask "So... Where's Tina?"
Kent chuckled, and then began looking around the room. "Well, if I know her as I think I do, I'd say she's..." His smile brightened. "Over there."
Nikko followed his gaze. It was hard to see, tan hair blending like camouflage against the cream wallpaper, but he managed to spot one large fennec ear and a single tan eye peeking out from behind an antique-looking chest. Nikko almost wondered how she had gotten behind there, but she was tiny, after all.
"She's rather nervous," Kent said before calling out more loudly. "Tina, we have company. Come and greet them."
She slipped out from behind the chest, eyes downcast as she moved towards them. It was very different than the fun-loving girl who had easily taken Knight's hand to dance at the Halloween party, but then, this was a very different situation. Her nerves were also so vastly different than the other animals, who seemed to have no qualms about getting down wherever. Nikko got the impression, from that and other things, that Tina was further along in her studies and maturity than many of the others.
Knight had stepped behind Nikko in some kind of attempt to hide, which was ridiculous, considering he stood a head and shoulders taller than Nikko. But when Tina gave a small "Hello," Knight returned it.
"Thank you for agreeing to this," Nikko said, showing a smile that he hoped was comforting. "It's a big help."
She shook her head, her fluffy hair swishing around her face as she did so. "No, I... I've wanted to do this with Knight for a long time."
Nikko smiled even as a shock of pain and jealousy stabbed through his heart. He told himself once again that this was for the best. This was natural, especially with another fennec, like Tina.
"Why don't you show Knight your room?" Kent suggested, and Tina nodded.
Stepping beside Knight, Tina slowly reached for Knight's hand. He must not have pulled away, because a second later she had led him out from behind Nikko. "My room is pink," she said as she began pulling him towards a hallway. "I'll show you."
Knight glanced back at Nikko once before the matching pair of tails disappeared around a corner.
"Would you like some tea?" Kent asked, then showed Nikko the way to a quaint kitchenette. "Tina really has been quite smitten with your Knight," he continued as he flitted around, preparing a kettle and two cups of tea. "She talks about him frequently and always asks if we could meet with you two. Of course, if something blooms between them-" He smiled and leaned in closer as he set the cups on the table. "I wouldn't mind seeing you more often."
"L-Likewise," Nikko stammered in reply. He honestly couldn't tell if Kent was hitting on him or not, but ultimately decided there was no way. Last he heard, Kent was wooing Ginger. "How long have you had her?"
"Hm... It must be close to five years now. My business partner introduced me to the program. He and his wife were raising a wolf and made it seem like such a rewarding experience, so they took me down to the facility and the rest is history."
Nikko got stuck on the word 'were'. It probably wasn't his place to ask, but any sort of distraction to keep him from thinking about what Knight was doing right then was more than welcome, so he pried. "Does your partner still have his wolf?"
"No, Kent answered as he moved to grab the kettle that had begun to whistle. "His wife got pregnant, and they didn't want to raise the baby with a wolf in the house." Kent smiled as he began to pour the boiling water into each cup, but when he glanced up at Nikko's face, his brow lifted. "What is that look for?"
Nikko hadn't realized he was giving a look, though he knew exactly what it was for. He hated couples who abandoned their pets as soon as a baby came into the equation. They didn't deserve to take care of a goldfish, much less anything larger. If he were in a really bad mood, he might wonder what they would do if something even shinier than a baby came along. Would they abandon the kid too? But it was even worse if it were one of the program's students, who weren't fully animal. It wasn't like they could just leave a wolf-person on the side of the road and drive away.
"No, it's just..." Nikko shook his head. "What happened to their wolf?"
"He was taken back to the facility and a new teacher was found for him in another district." Kent sat and began stirring some sugar into his tea. "He was nice, so it was unfortunate, but... It wasn't my decision."
"I see." It answered one of the many questions Nikko had always wondered about the students – what happened if they were returned? It was nice to know they weren't just destroyed outright, though given how much money the company must sink into each student, it wasn't too surprising. It did, however, make him wonder if there was ever a shortage of teachers.
It fell silent a moment. Nikko just stared into his teacup for a long while, thinking about Knight and wondering – against his better judgment – what his fox was doing right then. Jealousy gnawed a hole in his gut, but... He could never imagine giving Knight up. He didn't have to be straight and married to know that he could never just let Knight go like that. He already spent nights making himself sick, worrying about the day Knight graduated and left him, and that wouldn't be for years yet. He could never... Never...
He looked up to see Kent watching him with mysterious green eyes.
"Sorry," Nikko said, picking up the teacup at last. "I was just thinking."
He opened his mouth, then closed it, looking for something to say besides how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Knight. He was saved, though, from having to say anything at all when Tina came into the kitchenette. Her skirt was on sideways, which made Nikko's heart constrict even more painfully, but there was a small frown on her delicate face. She went to Kent and leaned in to whisper in his ear.
"What do you mean it didn't work?" Kent asked out loud.
Tina shrugged as she looked down for a moment. Then her tan-colored eyes fluttered back up to Nikko. "I'm sorry."
Nikko was quickly on his feet, and Kent automatically said "Her room is down that hall, on the right."
"Thanks," Nikko said, then followed the directions, finding a very pink room and a despondent Knight sitting on a rumpled bed. Knight's chest was bare, his coat and shirt lying on the floor, and he was shivering, though the house was actually pretty warm. Nikko's heart cried for him as he went and sat next to his broken fox. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.
"It didn't get hard."
"Oh," was the only thing that came out of Nikko's mouth. He didn't want to give away the relief he felt; he didn't want to smile selfishly in the face of Knight's failure, especially when it had been Nikko's idea in the first place, and especially knowing it was going to put them right back at square one.
"We laid down together and she even took her clothes off for me. And she smelled sweet, but... It didn't do anything. I don't understand..."
"It's okay." Nikko leaned against Knight, pushing their shoulders together. "It happens to guys all the time. It's natural. It was probably just because you were so nervous."
"Yeah." Then Nikko stood and grabbed Knight's shirt up off the floor, handing it over to him. "Let's check on Tina, and then we'll go home."
Tina and Kent were both still in the kitchenette. Tina had pushed a chair over so that she could sit right next to Kent, but she stood when Knight and Nikko entered, looking down demurely. Knight moved to stand before her, also looking shy, but determined.
"I'm sorry," Knight said. "My body isn't working right now, but... But I do think you're very pretty!"
Tina smiled, even as she shook her head. "I'm sorry I don't know how to be erotic. But I hope we can try again someday."
"Y-Yeah..." Knight nodded, but there was a hesitance in his movements. He seemed reluctant to agree outright, but also cautious of Tina's feelings. It was thoughtful – it was a very human thing.
"He's just too nervous," Nikko said, looking to Kent. "You know how it goes."
Kent smiled knowingly. "I see."
"We're really sorry for taking up your time."
"It's no problem. We would like to hang out with you two more often anyway. Right, Tina?"
"Yes." Her eyes were still glued to Knight. "We can hang out anytime."
There were more polite 'thank you's and apologies, and then they were on their way home. Knight was subdued, probably confused, and Nikko's heart ached to do something for him, though he didn't know what.
"Do you... want to go shopping? Or we could get some ice cream."
Knight just shook his head.
"Do you want to hold my hand?"
This time, Knight nodded, and Nikko joined their gloved hands. Finally, a small smile came to Knight's face.
When they got home, Knight dug in his sandbox for the first time in a while. He had so much on his mind, and all Nikko could do was assure him that what had happened was normal, that Tina wasn't mad at him and still wanted to be his friend, and that everything would be okay, somehow. He left Knight to dig while he made dinner, and afterwards they cleaned up both the plates and the dirt together.
At night, in the darkness of Nikko's room, Knight's body began working again. As he held Nikko from behind, spooning him, Knight kissed Nikko's ear, giving small 'yiff's as their bodies rubbed together. Nikko felt the hardness of Knight's dick grow as it pressed right up against his ass, and when Knight buried his face into Nikko's neck and whimpered, Nikko's own erection grew. He winced.
"Nikko..." Knight began pressing against him harder. "Nikko... I want..."
Nikko squirmed, moving out of Knight's grip, away from Knight's rubbing until there was breathable space between them. And despite – or perhaps because of – his burning desire to pull Knight on top of him and spread himself open to Knight's need, he screwed his eyes shut and forced himself to ask "Knight, do you... want to try socializing again?"
Knight went still. Darkness and silence spread, until he asked "With... With Tina?"
"If... you want." Nikko's chest hurt so much. "Or... Or with Penny?"
"She has a lot of experience. She'll know how to make you feel really good and... And I think if you get too nervous, she'll know what to do."
Silence permeated the room, until a huff sounded from Knight. "Fine. I'll try." Then there was a flurry of movement, rustling. The bed shook, then went still again.
Unable to see in the darkness, Nikko reached out a hand.
He touched Knight's back.
Chapter 15: Socializing, part two
Penny was way more than willing to help Knight out with his little problem, and Ginger only laughed like she thought it was the funniest thing. Of course, the laughter was all at Nikko's expense – he had been so uptight and prudish when they first met, only to end up having to ask if they could mate their students. She didn't know the full story, though, and Nikko was not about to tell her it was all an attempt to keep him from satisfying Knight himself, so he just let her laugh.
They went on a Tuesday, Nikko still in his work suit when he knocked on Ginger's apartment door. Penny answered it, wearing nothing but a short, white dress and clearly nothing underneath, given the way her nipples showed through the material. Her eyes immediately went to Knight, and it struck Nikko, not for the first time, just how popular Knight was amongst the students.
The apartment smelled like coffee, and Ginger was waiting just inside the entryway to greet them. "I've got dinner on if you'd like to eat first."
Nikko looked to Knight, who averted his gaze, giving a polite "No, thank you."
"He's nervous," Nikko added, turning back to Ginger.
Ginger smiled. "Penny always eats after. Socializing builds her appetite like crazy."
Penny laughed as she latched on to Knight's arm. "It's a good workout!" Then she turned batting eyelashes up at the fox. "Ready?"
"Y-Yeah..." Knight gave a stilted nod, discomfort radiating off of him in waves.
"Actually, if it's all right-" Nikko looked from Ginger to Penny and back. "I'd like to speak with Knight alone for a moment." He smiled, hoping it looked sincere. "To help calm him down."
"Yeah, sure thing," Ginger replied, then pointed a thumb down a hall. "Penny's room is the first door on the right. We'll wait out here until you're finished."
"But-" Penny's tail wagged impatiently, a little pout wrinkling her nose.
Ginger placed a hand on Penny's head, leading her toward the kitchen. "Pen, let the boys talk." Then she tossed a wink to Nikko.
"Come on." Nikko took Knight's hand and pulled him down the hallway, quickly finding Penny's room and going inside, shutting the door behind them. Then he tilted his head toward the bed and instructed Knight to sit as he took his coat off. "Are you hard?"
Knight shook his head, looking down again.
"I'm going to teach you a new kiss," Nikko said as he pulled off his suit jacket and loosened his tie.
"It's a special kiss, a kiss for people who are in love. It's not a kiss for parent and child, or owners and their pets. It's a kiss for husbands and wives. For lovers."
"People in love?"
"Yes." And Nikko smiled. "Do you want to learn it?"
"Yes!" Knight's reply was enthusiastic. His tail curled, momentarily forgetting his predicament. Perfect.
"Okay." Nikko smiled again, an attempt to put both of them at ease. "I'm going to sit on your lap, okay?"
Knight spread his arms, inviting. "Okay!"
And Nikko crawled up, straddling Knight's hips, planting his butt directly on Knight's crotch. His arms went around Knight's neck, their faces went close. It was romantic, kind of, ignoring the circumstances. "Just follow my lead, okay? Do what I do."
"Okay," Knight replied, much more subdued this time.
After a breath and a heartbeat, Nikko leaned in. He kissed Knight softly, chaste at first, and Knight returned it. And when Nikko licked at Knight's lips, Knight copied that too, giving Nikko a chance to slide their tongues along each other. When he opened his mouth, Knight followed suit, allowing Nikko to go deeper, explore further. Their tongues wrapped around each other, tasting each other, and only once did Nikko think about how he was doing this with an animal.
Except it wasn't just an animal; it was Knight – his Knight – and it was becoming harder and harder to see Knight as anything other than human, plus a few extra traits. Knight's arms had gone around Nikko's back, holding him close as they kissed, and his dick had started to harden. Nikko could feel the lump of flesh grow against him, as his own grew, and he pressed down against it. He needed Knight to be hard for Penny, as much as it killed him to even think that.
Knight's grip on his back became tighter and he thrust up against Nikko's clothed ass. His mouth tore away, letting out a long whimper before he whined "Nikko..."
"Okay," Nikko said, using up every ounce of his willpower to pull away. "Okay, I'll go get Penny."
Nikko slid out of Knight's grasp, off his lap. He stumbled a bit, his own knees going weak, his head dizzy, but he somehow managed to gather his coat and jacket. "Wait here." Despite his words, though, for a moment he stood rooted, eyes locking with Knight's desperate gaze, and he wanted him so much. But he couldn't – they couldn't – so Nikko pulled his feet free and left the room.
With his bundle held in front of his straining erection, Nikko made his way to the kitchen, where Penny was pacing back and forth in contrast to Ginger sitting casually at a small table. "He's ready," was all Nikko had a chance to say before Penny pranced out of the room, tail and ass wagging behind her.
There was a steaming cup of coffee waiting on the table across from Ginger and Nikko sat behind it. Then he let his head fall, hitting the table harder than he had intended, but the pain helped soften his erection.
Ginger laughed at him. "Aww, is Mommy worried about his growing boy?"
"I feel like a pimp."
"Just think of yourself as the ultimate wingman." Ginger laughed again. She was so much more used to this, it was almost unfair.
"What does that make you?"
"Ooh, below the belt, Nikko." But then she chuckled, as confident as Penny. The two were made for each other. "If it helps, you can think of it as breeding. It's totally normal for owners to mate their animals for breeding. Just, nothing will come from it in this case."
"Are they, though?"
Nikko lifted his head just high enough to slip his arms underneath and rest on them, his eyes picking up Ginger's curious gaze for a moment before flicking away. "Are they just animals?"
"I know. We talked about this last year; I remember. Despite their bodies, their minds are mostly animal. You said that. But..." He buried his face in his arms then; his voice went low, and he didn't particularly care if Ginger heard him or not. He wasn't really talking to her anymore as he said "The more time I spend with him, the less I believe that."
It was silent for a long while, a still quiet pressing on them like glass, until Ginger shattered it to say "I know what you mean." She had heard him after all. Nikko looked back up to see a rare, serious Ginger. "I haven't talked with anyone else about it, but... It's a rhetoric everyone spouts, but I wonder how many people actually believe it. Like... Penny is so worried about how she looks. She acts flirty and confident, but I've seen her in tears over a bad case of bed-head. She hates studying but loves the shit out of TV, and seeing all those beautiful, human women on the screen has really messed her perception of how important appearance is. It's just like dealing with a little girl. It's not at all something a dog would worry about."
Nikko sat up straight. He had never heard Ginger speak so candidly about Penny. Their relationship always seemed like pals, roommates, but in that moment she looked like a mother finally opening up about her daughter. "I... I didn't know that," he said softly.
"Don't get me wrong, Pen still has a lot of animal traits and habits. Sometimes it's very easy to remember she's not human, but sometimes it's not so easy."
"Knight is the same way," Nikko replied, a smile finding its way to his face. "He still digs when he's agitated, but at the same time he's determined to learn how to cook. He's far too thoughtful to be just an animal."
"I was so shocked when he called me to get help with your Christmas present." Ginger smiled again too, parents doting on their children. "He had already done all the research himself; he just needed a credit card number to make the reservation."
"He's really excited about the trip." Nikko's heart glowed for his Knight. "Have you taken Penny anywhere?"
Ginger laughed. "She loves amusement parks. She says her goal is to hit up every park in the country. I think I've been on more roller coasters in the past three years than in the entire rest of my life combined."
Nikko smiled and reached for the coffee cup he had finally remembered he had. "That's probably her most dog-like trait. Dogs love roller coasters."
"You would know."
"Hey, I'm not just a fox guy. I had a dog when I was a kid. He was in love with a pillow, to the point that it was dubbed 'Jasper's Girlfriend'. He was very, uh... passionate about it."
Ginger threw her head back, smile wide, laughter bright. "That sounds more like Penny."
Nikko chuckled as well, but it broke off quickly when Penny herself stormed into the kitchen, glowering, and slammed herself into an empty chair. Her sudden appearance stunned them to silence, the two humans staring at the disgruntled pup as if they could read an explanation on her skin.
"Finished already?" Ginger finally asked.
Penny's response was to look Nikko square in the face and snap "Your fox is gay!"
They walked home in silence. Nikko didn't ask what happened – really didn't need to – and figured Knight would speak if he wanted to talk about it.
And apparently, he did. Halfway through the trip he suddenly said "My body knew what to do, just like you said."
"Mm." Knight nodded. "I got into a position behind Penny, and it was kind of automatic. But then she lifted her dress, and..."
"I could smell... her."
Nikko almost choked on nothing, but kept silent.
"She smelled sweet, like Tina, but..." Then Knight's expression and voice dropped. His ears probably would have too, if they weren't tucked into his winter cap. "But it didn't smell like Nikko. She didn't have... what Nikko has..."
"So my penis went soft again, and Penny got upset. And she tried touching it and rubbing it and she even used her mouth a little bit, but I didn't want that, and it didn't get hard again."
A small whimper escaped Nikko. His chest hurt, heart pounding, even as he asked "Did you try the kiss I showed you?"
"No," Knight answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Because I'm not in love with Penny."
Nikko's heart squeezed hard, making him feel sick, and they spent the rest of the walk in silence. Snow began to fall, covering them in white, and though Nikko adored snow, he couldn't appreciate it. He couldn't process what was going on, mind being driven in every direction at once. He wanted to believe Knight's words and actions – or, specifically, his lack of actions with the adorable animal girls throwing themselves at him – meant something. But he also couldn't forget Penny's words, despite them being said in frustration. Perhaps Knight's lack of interest in both Penny and Tina was just a general lack of interest in girls. Homosexuality wasn't unheard of in the animal kingdom, and the assumption that Knight would have preferred a female was just a byproduct of a still-too heteronormative upbringing.
Maybe Knight just wanted a guy. Maybe – probably – it wasn't Nikko specifically he wanted, but rather a man's scent. It was something they hadn't tried yet, but may be worth the attempt. It hurt, but Knight had gone along with everything so far, and they needed to do something.
He moved on auto-pilot, not really even realizing they had arrived home and he was standing in the entrance hall until he heard Knight call "Nikko."
He turned and caught an armful of fox. Knight had bent low, capturing Nikko's lips in a kiss, holding on to Nikko's coat as though he had been waiting for this chance the entire journey home. And then he opened his mouth, leading Nikko's lips to part, and lapped at Nikko's tongue. He moaned into the kiss, pulled Nikko closer, held him tighter.
There was no way. There was no way Knight understood what he was doing. He had gotten confused somewhere; that was the only explanation. Animals didn't have a concept of romance. But Nikko – oh Nikko –
He was in love.
He was in love, love, love with this beautiful creature, which was what made it so excruciating to pull away. "Knight," he gasped, trying to catch his breath and his voice through his choked-up throat. He didn't even need to glance down – though he did anyway – to know Knight was hard. "Knight, I'm... I'm tired. I want to take a shower and go to bed."
"A shower at night?" A pout touched Knight's lips. "You always shower in the morning."
"Y-Yes, but I feel... dirty. And cold. I need a warm shower to thaw out my fingers."
"What about dinner?"
"Can you make something for yourself? I'll just have a snack later."
Knight stared at him a moment, then suddenly launched forward again. He didn't kiss this time, only held Nikko in a tight embrace, tucking Nikko against his larger body. "I'm sorry if I messed up. I'm sorry that I keep bothering you."
Nikko's eyes went warm, and he wrapped his arms around Knight in return. "Don't be sorry. You didn't do anything wrong, and you never bother me." He pulled back enough to look up into Knight's face. "I'm just worried about you."
Knight pouted again, but didn't respond.
The third time Nikko arranged a social meeting was no less embarrassing than the first, but also accepted just as easily.
He had some reservations about setting up Knight and Gus. Though the two were good friends and Gus clearly still had his little crush on Knight, Gus was also aggressive and had issues with restraint. He was all brawn and no brains, which didn't help the trepidation Nikko already held towards wolves.
There were, however, exactly zero other options. He didn't know or particularly like Reece enough to ask if Axle would be interested, and he didn't really know Alice well enough either, so couldn't ask about Ben or Jerry. And as far as he knew, Ruka and Toto were only socializing with each other these days, so they would be a no even if he knew Noella's number. He just didn't know anyone else.
But Knight was okay with Gus. Knight liked the idea of trying it with a friend, someone he had known for a long time and was comfortable with. And when they headed off to Buck's house, Knight seemed far less nervous about meeting up with Gus.
Gus was the one to answer the door, having it open and bounding out to tackle Knight before they had even ascended the porch steps. The two students landed in a pile of snow, Gus seeming to not feel the cold despite wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and jeans. His bare feet were lightly-furred and clawed, different than Knight's completely human toes, and the long, black nails dug into the frozen ground as Gus pinned Knight and began sniffing him. "This is gonna be great!"
"Gus!" Buck barked from the front door. "Get outta the snow; you'll freeze!"
Fanged grin flashing, Gus got up, then helped Knight to his feet. Knight's own lips held a smile, cheeks flushed from the exertion or the cold or something else. He looked happy – at least happier than he had for the other meetings – and it made Nikko think it just might work this time, which was good for Knight, even if it made Nikko's heart ache.
Nikko turned to Buck, who held the door open for everyone as they filed inside. "Thanks for... this."
"Eh, it ain't no thang," Buck answered with a smile. "Gus has been so excited since ya called, he's broke three lamps with his tail. I'm 'bout ready to cut the damn thing off."
Nikko chuckled, even as he noted once again that he could never handle a wolf.
Gus stood behind Knight with his hands on Knight's hips, chanting "Let's go! Let's go!"
"Knight," Nikko called softly to get the fox's attention. "Do you want to talk a bit first?"
Knight stood still for a moment, and then he smiled. "No, it's okay."
Nikko's gut churned with jealousy, but he nodded, returned the smile. "Then... Have fun."
Gus continued to chant "Let's go! Let's go!" as he led Knight by the hips towards his bedroom.
"I hope... they're okay," Nikko said absently as he stared at where the two animal boys used to be.
Buck snorted, then turned and headed toward the kitchen. "Wanna beer?"
"Ah, no thank you," Nikko answered as he followed behind Buck. "I don't really like beer."
"Ya don't like beer? What kinda man are ya?"
"The... kind who doesn't like beer."
Buck laughed. "Fair enough." Then he pulled open the fridge. "Would ya prefer some Chardonnay?"
"I... don't really like wine either."
"Good, 'cause I ain't got none." He laughed again, as did Nikko, and then pulled out a can of cola. "Pop?"
"That'll do," Nikko replied, taking the can. "Thanks."
Buck closed the fridge with a beer for himself in one hand, and then leaned against the huge, white door. "So ya tried fixin' Knight up with Penny?"
"And Tina too, but neither of them worked out." He cracked open the can, the overly sweet scent of soda filling his nostrils. "I guess..." He spoke cautiously, then. "I guess girls just don't do it for him."
"Gus is the same way," Buck said with a snort of laughter that put Nikko at ease. It seemed he really didn't mind homosexuality – at least in animals. "When he and Penny first met, she was all over him, but he wasn't interested. Pissed her off. They've hated each other ever since, or at least they claim they do."
"Oh-" Nikko paused a moment when he thought he heard a 'thump' from the back of the house, but when no other sounds came, he continued. "What do you mean by 'claim'?"
Buck shrugged and smirked. "Half the time they act more like friendly rivals."
Slowly, after a moment of thoughtful silence, Nikko decided to ask outright. He didn't know how to navigate relationships, but he was sure honesty was a part of friendship, and if that's what they had... Well, he took a chance. "So, you're okay with that? With Gus being..."
"Gay?" Buck's smile deepened at Nikko's nod. "I ain't got a problem with gays, Nikko. I know I seem like a big ol' redneck, but I ain't got a problem with Gus, and I ain't got a problem with Knight, and I ain't got a problem with you."
Nikko's gaze took to the floor as his cheeks warmed. Buck did come off like a stereotypical redneck, and to be honest, Nikko had judged him on that. He had a lifetime of bullying to base it on, but it was still an assumption that suddenly had him feeling ashamed. "Sorry..."
"No worries, mate"
"So..." Then his eyes came back up. "You knew? About me?"
"Well, I mean..." Buck gestured with his beer, another shrug. "It was just a guess..."
Everyone made assumptions, he supposed. Nikko smiled, and was just about to comment to that effect when he heart another, definite, louder 'thump', followed by the sound of stuff falling, and a very familiar whimper.
Nikko snapped into movement, dropping the can in his hands without even thinking about it, taking off down the hall. He had been to Buck's place before; he knew where the bedrooms were, and he didn't pause or hesitate as he threw open the door to Gus's room, that whimper ringing in his ears.
Gus stood with his pants pushed down, dick out and shoved into Knight's mouth. Knight was on his knees, trying to pull away, yanking desperately with his whole body, but Gus had a firm hold of his horns, preventing Knight from moving his head. While there was fear, betrayal, and tears in Knight's eyes, Gus's had gone blank, lucid.
"No!" Nikko shouted as he moved. He didn't have time for fear or being proper and prim. He didn't think about what action would be best – he didn't think at all as he slammed his shoulder into Gus. His tiny body didn't move the wolf all that much, but it was enough to make him lose his grip on Knight's horns, giving Knight a chance to pull free.
Gus whirled on Nikko, snarling, his large teeth bared, and for a brief moment Nikko was sure the wolf was ready to use them. Buck stepped in between them, grabbing Gus by the back of the neck, which seemed to flip a switch, turning on the light in Gus's eyes.
Nikko scampered around them, going to Knight and wrapping arms around him. "Knight! Knight, are you okay!?"
"Come on." He stood up, pulling Knight with him and never letting go of him.
"I'm so sorry!" Buck said, looking sincere and overcome with guilt. Gus looked horrified, terrified, like he had just destroyed everything important with his own hands.
"It's- It's fine." No, it wasn't. "We just- We have to go. I'm sorry." Nikko didn't say anything more as he led Knight out of the house, his heart pounding, using every bit of his will to remain calm for Knight's sake. Knight was shaking, forcing each step, and after several blocks he collapsed completely.
"Why- Why did he do that!?" Knight pressed his hands to his eyes, crying loudly.
Nikko crouched by Knight's side, keeping arms around him for support. "Knight..." he whispered, but he didn't really know what to say.
"Gus-" Knight sobbed, a keening cry ripping from the back of his throat. "Gus isn't my friend anymore!"
Completely lost, heart breaking for his devastated fox, Nikko ran a hand through Knight's hair, kissed the side of his head, and let him cry.
The living room was dim, the only light on in the apartment being the one down the entrance hallway. It made it difficult for Nikko's human eyes to see much, but that was okay.
They sat on the couch together, Knight managing to be in Nikko's lap somehow, curled against him. His face was pressed to Nikko's chest, though he had stopped crying long ago. Nikko kept his hand moving through Knight's hair, soothing. He must have been sitting there, petting his fox for hours, yet he felt like he could keep it up for hours more.
He felt guilty. This had all been his idea anyway, but even aside from that, he should have listened to his own intuition about Gus. It wasn't that he thought Gus was bad, per se – the guilt and despair that had been painted across his face was enough to give him the benefit of the doubt – but Gus was certainly more feral than the other students. There was quite a bit more wolf in him, and it only just started to occur to Nikko that that could be a thing.
Knight began to stir. He wiped his face along Nikko's chest, and Nikko felt his shirt dampen. Knight had started crying again. "I can't- I can't do it anymore," he said between loud sniffles.
"Socializing. I... I don't want to try anymore."
"That's all right," Nikko said, arms tightening around Knight. "You don't have to. You never had to."
"It's no good if it's not Nikko," Knight declared, pressing closer. "I only want Nikko! I only want to taste Nikko! I want-!" He rubbed his face into Nikko's shirt. "I want to taste Nikko..."
He hadn't even realized what he had said until Knight was looking up at him with tear-stained eyes blown wide open in shock. Like his subconscious desperation to comfort Knight would have him agreeing to anything in that moment, his mouth made the decision for him. But, given the way Knight's face finally started to light up, smile just barely pulling at the sides of his lips as he questioned "Really? I can?" – given the way Knight's tail began to twitch and curl against Nikko's leg – Nikko knew he couldn't take it back.
"Y-Yeah..." he answered slowly. "But only one time. And, Knight, you can't tell anyone." God, he felt like such a predator. "Okay? Nobody can ever know."
Knight had practically bounced to his knees, suddenly full of energy, full of life, now that he was getting his way. "I won't tell anyone! It'll be a secret!"
"Okay. Then-" He cut off when Knight slid off the couch, landing heavy on his knees, and pushed Nikko's legs open to crawl in between. Anxious. Knight already had Nikko's pants undone when Nikko caught his hands. "Knight, slow down." And when Knight looked up with puppy-dog eyes, he forced a smile. "We have all night."
"I want Nikko."
"You can have me... just for tonight. So... take your time."
The idea of savoring something wasn't likely a concept foxes understood, but Knight listened. His hands slowed, working more leisurely to push the cloth of Nikko's pants away, and when Nikko nervously lifted his hips – still in disbelief that he was about to go through with this – Knight gently tugged everything down, releasing Nikko's semi-erect dick to the dim apartment.
"It's not hard," Knight said.
Knight chuckled. "But I want what's inside. How do I get it out? By licking it?"
"Knight-" Nikko's face was red, his whole body warm. Whether Knight was asking honestly or not, the innocence he emitted was... sexy. Though it wasn't like Nikko had some kind of virgin fetish, Knight's coy play was a turn-on, making his erection lengthen in the fox's hand. And when Knight licked from base to tip, Nikko gasped loudly. His eyes clenched shut and his mouth hung open. He was careful not to let his hands move to Knight's head, not wanting to scare the fox, so he gripped the couch cushions in tight fists instead.
Knight stayed at the top of Nikko's dick, running his tongue over the hole he knew would produce what he wanted and driving Nikko absolutely insane. Nikko wanted to plead with Knight to swallow the whole thing, to suck him off to blissful completion, but this wasn't for Nikko's pleasure. This was for Knight, for Knight's happiness, to let Knight experience and taste something he had been craving. So Nikko only whimpered and gasped in need at each swipe of that selfish tongue.
"Nikko." Knight pulled off, calling Nikko's name in a voice that made him whimper just as much as the attention to his cock did. Nikko cracked his eyes open to see Knight looking up at him, tail curling in pleasure. "Does it feel good, Nikko?"
After a few heavy breaths, Nikko answered "Y-Yeah... Yeah, it does."
Knight's smile was sweet, despite the fact that he was holding Nikko's cock to his face. "I'm glad." Then his smile turned up. "It's starting to come out." He licked away the drops of precum that had beaded at Nikko's tip.
Electricity jolted through Nikko's body, shocks of pleasure that built up at his dick and spread, causing all of his muscles to contract. And when Knight moved up to – finally – take all of him in his mouth, Nikko moaned, loud, and squeezed the cushions in his grip even tighter, holding on for dear life. He didn't know how Knight knew what to do, how the fox had figured out how amazing it was when he slid his mouth up and down over Nikko's erection, and in that moment, he really didn't care.
Every time Knight's mouth came up, he licked across the head of Nikko's dick, sometimes pausing to run his tongue along the underside, determined to catch every bit of his taste. Then he went down again, his lips sliding along Nikko's shaft, coaxing out more of what he wanted. Each movement drew a noise out of Nikko – a pant, a moan, a cry – and though Nikko tried his damndest to stay still, his hips began to move, pushing in minute movements up into Knight's mouth. It only seemed to encourage the fox more, his mouth becoming more active, moving faster, sucking harder.
Nikko didn't know how close he was until he was crying out Knight's name. He came into the hungry mouth, and Knight continued to suck the entire time, giving his own small sound of pleasure as he swallowed the seed down.
Then the oversensitivity hit, making Nikko hiss when Knight still lapped at him. His hands moved at last, his fingers having to be pulled from where they had embedded themselves into the couch cushions, and went to Knight's head, pushing. "Stop, stop."
Knight pulled away and looked up, a drop of cum clinging to his lip and – dear god – it almost set Nikko off again. Knight's tongue darting out to lick it away didn't help, but the fox didn't seem to notice as he simply questioned "Nikko?"
"It- It hurts if you keep doing it after I... come."
"Come? Come where?" Knight's tail curled despite his confusion.
"No, I mean... After I... orgasm. It gets very sensitive."
"I understand." Knight left Nikko's dick alone, moving up to instead wrap his arms around Nikko's waist, snuggling against his body. "Thank you, Nikko," he said in a too gentle voice, as if he were the one who just got sucked off. "You taste good. It made me happy."
"I... I'm glad..." He rubbed Knight's ear, then let his head fall back against the couch and sighed.
This was getting dangerous.
Chapter 16: Gus-Gus
They had made it to bed, somehow. Nikko was pretty sure Knight carried him, as his knees had gone weak from the awesome blow job. He was also pretty sure Knight had gone ahead and crawled into bed with him instead of going to his own room, which was something the fox had been doing more and more often lately. Nikko was having a hard time being strict about it, though, since what was the point of always starting off in separate rooms if Knight was just going to sneak into his bed anyway, and because he didn't exactly hate sleeping with the warm fox.
Nikko had rolled over in bed after being awoken, head fuzzy and confused by the music playing. It took him a moment to realize it was his phone ringing from inside the bag he had dragged along into the room and dropped in front of the nightstand. One hand slid down the side of the bed, feeling around the bag, searching. By the time he located and pulled out the black and silver phone, it had stopped singing at him, but he saw Buck's name on the 'missed calls' display.
Of course, he would have to deal with it. While he had no intention of forcing reconciliation between Knight and Gus, he would have to talk to Buck about what happened, like adults – like parents speaking for their fighting schoolboys. But it was difficult; he didn't want to be involved in any kind of confrontation, even if it were Buck inevitably apologizing on Gus's behalf.
He would deal with it, though. As he set the phone down on the nightstand and buried his face in the pillow, he promised he would answer the next time Buck called.
Which turned out to be thirty seconds later.
Nikko lifted his head to stare at the phone, then grabbed for it before the call dropped again. As he greeted his "Hello?" he flipped himself over and sat up, leaning his back against the bed's headboard.
"Hey, yo, it's Buck."
"Hey..." Then Nikko got momentarily distracted from the conversation that hadn't really begun yet when Knight wiggled up and wrapped his arms around Nikko's waist, using Nikko's hip as a pillow. The curve of his horn dug painfully into Nikko's hip bone, until Nikko reached down to nudge Knight's head into a better position. Then his hand stayed on Knight's head, fingers digging into the soft, caramel hair.
Buck went on, oblivious to the snuggling happening on Nikko's end of the line. "So... I wanted to say sorry again, for what happened. Gus just... Ya know, sometimes his instincts just get the better of him, and he forgets restraint. Err... Not that he's got that much restraint to begin with."
"I understand," Nikko said in a careful voice. He wasn't entirely sure how he felt, or what he wanted to say. For the time, he opted to say nothing.
"He's not a bad guy, ya know?" Buck continued after a spat of silence. "He feels like shit about what happened, and he's really sorry."
"I do believe that, but... It's not for me to forgive."
"Yeah, I know." The line went silent again, dead air hanging between them until Buck gave a defeated sigh. "Look, I'm gonna be a little bit selfish here. Ya got every right to report Gus. I wouldn't blame ya if you did, but... I'm seriously askin' here that ya don't. It wouldn't be his first offense, and I don't know if they'd let me keep him. Ya know? I don't wanna lose him."
A small sound escaped from the back of Nikko's throat as his hand went to Knight's cheek, hugging the fox's head closer to his hip.
"I know he's got his problems," Buck said next. "But... I love the guy." A beat of silence ticked by, and then he added "I mean, not like that, but... Ya know what I'm sayin'?"
"Yeah." Nikko smiled despite things and looked down. Knight slept peacefully against him, silly, happy grin on his face. He looked as though he were in some kind of post-coital bliss, which was ridiculous, because Nikko was the only one in the room who had actually gotten off recently. He was a strange fox, which made Nikko smile more as his hand moved back to petting Knight's hair. "I know what you mean."
A puff like an audible smirk came over the line. It said enough – Buck knew Nikko understood the affection between teacher and student very well. He likely – hopefully – didn't know just how much affection was between Nikko and Knight, though. "So...?" Buck's obvious question sounded in his voice.
"I won't report him."
A long breath this time, relief. "Thanks, man. I owe ya one."
"It's... okay. Just..." Nikko paused then. It really wasn't his place to lecture. Buck had been at this a lot longer than he had.
Buck used the pause to ask "Do ya want the full story?"
That was unexpected, but Nikko found himself saying "Yeah, sure."
"I'll buy ya brunch. Anywhere ya want."
They met up at Starbucks. Nikko was sure the staff there recognized him by now, and he wouldn't be surprised if they thought he was some kind of slut, showing up with a different guy every few months. He wanted to greet the barista with 'We're just friends!' – Instead, he ordered his usual café mocha and a cinnamon roll.
He had left Knight at home. Even though he had known Gus wouldn't be coming along, he wanted Buck to be able to tell his story openly, and wasn't sure he would be able to do so with Knight sitting there. This would be a teachers' meeting, and Knight had understood when Nikko explained that to him.
"Shit, man," Buck said as he stared at the menu. "I don't know what half this shit is. What's a fap casino?"
"A frappuccino?" Nikko supplied.
"Whatever." Buck looked to the waiting cashier. "Just gimme a large coffee and two of them sprinkle donuts."
When they had sat with their food, Buck immediately tore into one of the donuts, polishing it off in record time. Nikko was significantly less enthusiastic about his roll – though he did so love cinnamon – unraveling it bit by bit with a fork and knife.
"Okay, so here's the thing," Buck started after sucking the frosting off his fingers. "I just- An' this is just between us, right? I just don't think I'm cut out for this program."
Nikko was taken aback, surprised not only that Buck felt that way, but by how straight-forward he was about it, like he had been thinking it for a long time, and was anxious to tell someone. "What makes you say that?"
"I got into this for the wrong reason. You remember Reece, yeah?" At Nikko's affirmative nod, Buck went on. "He an' I go way back. We've been pals since middle school, and have always competed at everythin'. So when he showed up one day with Axle- Oh man. All those sharp teeth under his control. I thought he was like a beast master, and I wanted in on that too."
Nikko almost laughed at how Buck described it, but kept it at "I see."
"But I had to be better, ya know? So I went down there an' I got me a wolf. Not just any wolf either; I had to have the biggest, strongest wolf available."
"Yeah. And they didn't wanna give him to me. I didn't have no experience with animals or children and hadn't never taught nobody nothing before."
"Then how did you get him?"
"My coordinator, May- Do ya know her?"
Nikko shook his head in the negative while he chewed his cinnamon roll.
"She's a little yorkie and had just graduated. It was so easy to bully her into givin' in. So I got my way, took Gus home, then realized I knew fuck-all 'bout what I was doin'. I've been wingin' it ever since."
It wasn't quite the heroic tale Nikko had been expecting, but he understood. A lot of people – even Nikko himself – had stories of things they had done or money they had spent simply to keep up with or surpass their peers. Everyone was susceptible to bouts of 'Keeping up with the Joneses'. "For what it's worth..." he started slowly, and at Buck's raised brow, he continued. "I think you're doing fine." It was almost strange being on this side of self-doubt, for once. "I've seen you get Gus under control when... When his instincts have taken over. That's not something anyone can do. And he trusts you and relies on you; that says a lot. How are his studies?"
Buck shrugged. "Fine, I guess. Readin' is difficult for him, so it's been slow going, but he can learn."
"See?" Nikko tilted a knowing nod towards Buck. "That you know that says a lot. It's not like you've chained him to a doghouse outside, thrown some books at him, and left him to work it out for himself."
"And also..." Nikko paused, looked away for a moment, then drew his eyes back to meet Buck's hazel gaze. "Gus has some other difficulties, doesn't he?"
Carefully, Buck asked "Like...?"
"He's more wolf than human, isn't he?"
"What makes you say that?"
"I saw his feet."
Buck's lip quirked up in a smirk. "Yeah, it's true. I mean, ya don't really get to choose what genetic traits show up, right? Back then, May straight-up said Gus was close to being considered a failure an' destroyed because there's just so much wolf in him."
That was even more than Nikko had guessed, and his eyes widened a touch. "Wow."
"Yeah. He's come a long way."
Nikko smiled then. "Because of you."
"I don't know 'bout all that," Buck replied, but he held a smile of his own. Nikko's smile turned up a notch as he popped the last of his cinnamon roll into his mouth, and it was then that Buck added "He's got a knot, too."
Nikko choked on the food he had been about to swallow, sputtering as Buck laughed at him. When he managed to successfully get the lump down, he looked up at Buck. "I don't even want to know how you know that."
Buck answered anyway. "Couple'a years ago at a picnic he was going at it with a chihuahua and they just..." He flailed a hand. "Got stuck."
"Oh, my god."
"Little dude's teacher had to sit there with him for half an hour before it went down. She was so mad." Buck laughed then, loudly. He continued to giggle even as he picked up his coffee to drink.
And somehow, despite being very different people, their conversation continued to flow, moving on to other topics, normal human interaction. They talked until Buck's other donut was but a memory and there was nothing left of Nikko's mocha but the last dregs of cold, cinnamon-tainted chocolate.
When they had both had their fill of coffee and chatting, Buck gave a sincere "Hey, man, thanks for listenin'. I feel better."
Nikko shook his head. "Honestly, I'm kind of flattered that you trusted me enough to tell me."
"Well, yeah. We're friends."
"Ah." Nikko's lip pulled up. "We're friends."
"An' I hope Knight's okay."
He was more than okay that morning, but they would have to see where things went between the students. "He'll be fine," Nikko said. "But... I don't think he'll want to see Gus for a while."
Buck put his hands up. "Understandable."
With a smile and a nod, Nikko gathered up his coat and stood to swing it on. "Then, as my friend, I'm sure you would be more than happy to buy me another cinnamon roll. To go."
"Scammed," Buck said, even as he threw on his own coat and pulled out his wallet.
It was snowing when they stepped out of the café, more and more white adding to what already covered the city. Nikko clutched the paper carry-out bag in one hand and was just about to wave a goodbye to Buck with the other when he spotted a familiar yellow eye peeking from behind a tree. He couldn't help a chuckle as he commented "Oh, I have an escort."
Buck laughed and waved to the conspicuous fox, which Knight returned with a nod that ended up knocking his head into the tree. Then Buck said "Take care of him" in a tone Nikko was unaware the heavy man was able to make.
"Thanks," Nikko replied. "And you too. Take care of Gus, and believe in yourself. You've been working really hard with him and haven't given up, so have faith."
Buck's lip quirked again, but all he said was "See ya," before he headed off to the parking lot.
Nikko trotted up to the waiting Knight, who pouted and said "I got lonely."
"I was only gone a short time."
Soft smile in place, Nikko held up the paper bag as they began to walk home. "I got you a cinnamon roll."
"For me!?" Knight's face lit up as he took the bag. "I'm so happy!" Then he tackled Nikko in a hug, knocking both of them to the fluffy, snow-covered ground. Nikko landed on his back with Knight on top of him, snuggling into his chest.
"Knight," Nikko reprimanded as he pushed at the fox's shoulders. "We're in public."
"I'm sorry, Nikko." Knight sat up, but made no move to stand, keeping Nikko trapped beneath him. "But, because you thought of me and because... Because of last night... I'm really happy!"
Knight looked gorgeous in the shining daylight, white snow flitting about his head. Nikko wanted to pull him down and kiss him, and from the way Knight pursed his lips and let his gaze caress across Nikko's face, he thought maybe – probably – Knight wanted it too. But they were in public; people would see. For all Nikko knew, Buck could still be in eyesight of them. And furthermore, it was freezing. While Knight wore a warm winter hat complete with ear flaps, Nikko's head was bare. His ears were tipped with icicles, and he was pretty sure snow was creeping its way into his coat.
"Knight," Nikko said again, liking the feel of the name on his tongue. "I'm cold. If I don't get up soon, I'll get sick."
"I'm sorry, Nikko!" Knight leapt up, and then helped Nikko to his feet. They resumed their trek home, and after a few paces Nikko lifted a gloved hand. Knight took it happily. "If you did get sick," Knight said cheerfully. "I would take care of you."
Nikko laughed. The past two days had been a wild ride of ups and downs, leaving his mind and heart scrambled. But this, at least... This felt familiar. The strong hand gripping his tightly kept him grounded, and he wouldn't let it go.
Chapter 17: Tender, Loving, Care
Knight had gotten mail two days prior. It was weird, because he never got mail. The only things to ever grace their silver box on the building's first floor were bills for Nikko to take care of, letters that often sent him into a tizzy of anxiety, and ads. Knight never got mail.
But two days prior, he did.
There was a card inside that contained all of Knight's personal information – his name, address, height and weight. It listed his eyes as brown, though he knew they weren't, and even had a birthday for him, which was something he wasn't aware he had. Also on the card was a photo – an old one of Knight from the company's database.
Along with the card was a letter addressed generically to all students, explaining that the cards were being issued as identification – that they were identical to a human's I.D. card or driver's license, and could be used the same way. They were to be kept safe and carried on the students whenever they went out, especially alone.
Nikko had blushed when he saw the card, but had overall been impressed with it, and showed Knight his own I.D. card. They really were the same, and Nikko wondered out loud if the students' were legal. Knight was more interested in how cute Nikko's picture was, looking so young, caught somewhere between smiling and not.
"Your hair is different," Knight had said as he scrutinized the tiny picture.
"Yeah, I didn't have the undercut then."
Nikko rubbed the shortest parts of his hair, the clipped bits that Knight liked running his fingers against whenever Nikko came back from the barber shop. "Yeah, the way it's shorter here and longer on top. Years ago, it was all one length."
"I see," Knight replied.
They had gone shopping that day, to buy Knight a new wallet in which to keep his new I.D. card.
Two days later, Knight got a phone call.
His phone ringing wasn't nearly as rare as getting mail. He assumed it was Nikko, who sometimes called to check up on him. Every great now and then it was Jack, to relay some information about textbooks or just to see how he was doing. Lately he had gotten a few calls from Gus, but Knight ignored them. Gus wasn't his friend.
On that day, however, it wasn't Nikko or Jack or even Gus. The display said 'Unknown Number', and it was with some bit of nervousness that Knight tapped to answer, then immediately tapped for the speakerphone function. "Hello?"
A woman's voice asked "Is this Knight Krakowski?"
That was Nikko's last name. Knight didn't have a last name, as far as he knew. Come to think of it, that was the last name they had put on his I.D. card, too.
"This is Knight," he answered, confused.
"This is Rita Johnson. I'm the principal at Shochu Elementary."
"That's right. You're listed as the emergency contact for Nikko."
Knight didn't know what that meant, but he knew the word 'emergency', and it made his tail and voice go stiff. "Did something happen?"
"Nothing too bad, dear." Rita Johnson's voice turned softer in response to Knight's worried tone. "Nikko fell sick today and was taken to the hospital. He'll probably need help getting home."
"Oh... Oh no..." Knight's heart started thumping. He didn't know what to do if Nikko was sick. Would he have to get a job and pay bills? Would he have to feed Nikko by hand and give him baths? Would he have to-
"It's not serious," Rita cut into his thoughts. "Just a touch of the flu is all. Are you able to pick him up from the hospital?"
"Yes!" Taking care of Nikko was his duty; he would definitely pick him up. "Where is the hospital?"
"He's at Kvass University Hospital. Do you know where it is?"
"No," Knight answered honestly. "But I can use a map."
"All right. Then-"
"Nikko taught me how."
There was a beat of silence, and then, "All right. Please have him call me when he gets home."
Knight didn't know what a 'sweetie' was either, but he thanked Rita for calling him and hung up. Then he immediately looked up the hospital on his phone's map application, glad that it didn't seem to be too far away, and then grabbed for his coat and hat.
He ran the entire way to the hospital, following the paths that showed on his phone. He only ran into three people, apologizing quickly each time before taking off again, and it wasn't long until he was standing before the large hospital building. Finding the proper entrance was more difficult than finding the hospital itself.
There was a receptionist window a lobby-length away from the door he entered, with a pretty, young, human girl sitting on the other side. Knight headed for there, practically yelling "I'm here to pick up Nikko!"
For some reason, the girl sat up straighter after she looked up at Knight's face. Her back leaned a bit, pushing her chest out. Her eyelashes fluttered as she questioned "Nikko?"
"Nikko Krakowski. He came here with a flu."
"I see," she replied. "One moment, please." She typed a bit at the computer on her desk. A moment later, she said "Okay, it looks like Mr. Krakowski is doing fine and resting right now. He can go home at any time. Would you like to see him?"
"Yes!" Knight answered, his tail beating excited against his leg.
"Are you family?"
"What is your relation?"
Knight's tail went limp. "Relation?"
"Yes," the girl said, smiling. "Are you his brother? His son?"
"I'm his student!"
The girl's brows rose. "Student?"
"But you're family?"
"So, how are you related?"
Knight's shoulders dropped, excitement at seeing Nikko bleeding out of him. This girl must have been slow, or wasn't listening to him, because Knight was sure he had answered this question already. "I'm his student."
"So... You're not his brother?"
"You're not his son?"
"You're not his cousin?"
The girl sat back in her chair. Her lip held a bit of a curl to it; her fine eyebrows took on a crinkle, looking annoyed. She didn't seem so pretty anymore. "Look, only the patients' immediate families can go back into the hospital wards."
"Nikko is my family!"
"Immediate family. If you're not his brother or his kid, you'll have to wait out here."
Knight felt his mouth fall into a deep frown, but at least he didn't cry. "How long do I have to wait?"
She shrugged. "Depends on how long it takes the doctor to sign his forms." Then she tilted her chin towards some chairs and a TV. "You can sit over there."
Knight gave a pout, but then slinked off and sat in one of the plush lobby chairs. He faced the door that must have led back into where the patients were – where Nikko was – and he waited.
Eventually, he picked his feet up off the floor, half-curling in the chair. Sounds from the TV came to his ears, muffled through the layers of wool and flannel that made up his hat, but he paid it no mind. All of his attention went to the door, and he waited.
His chin hit the chair's armrest. Arms tucked to his chest behind his knees, he had somehow managed to curl his large, human body up into a comforting ball, resting his head on the armrest while his eyes stayed on the door that may as well have been an impenetrable, iron wall. He glared at the door – it was keeping Nikko from him – and when it opened he lifted his head excitedly.
A dark-skinned old lady walked out with a younger version of herself on each arm, griping about how she could walk on her own while one of the youths grumbled "Gramma, please."
Knight's head dropped again. It wasn't Nikko.
The next three times the door opened were the same. Knight would sit up, excited, only to be disappointed when someone other than Nikko came out. Eventually, he stopped getting excited. His head stopped perking up, though his eyes stayed on the door.
It didn't escape his notice that everyone who came out was accompanied by other people. Everyone else had 'immediate' family who weren't stuck sitting on a chair in the lobby. Everyone else had someone to go to them and be by their side – a child, a brother, a wife.
Nikko would be back there alone, and it made Knight's heart hurt. He wished he could be with Nikko when he was sick in the hospital. He wished he could be 'immediate' family.
He wished he could marry Nikko.
Knight rubbed his face into the chair's armrest, the padded cloth absorbing the tears that had started to well, leaving behind dark gray spots. But then he caught the sound of that horrible door opening again, and he peeked an eye up.
Alone, Nikko stepped carefully out the door. He was awfully pale, dark circles staining under his eyes. His nose was red and his lips chapped – he looked really cute.
Flinging himself out of the chair, Knight bounded over to Nikko, taking hold of his coat sleeve like an anchor. He couldn't stop the tears that ran down his face. "Nikko! Are you okay!?"
"I'm fine," Nikko answered, voice weak. "Just a bug."
"I was really worried."
Nikko smiled at that, and it made Knight feel worlds better. "Thank you, but... I'll be okay. Don't cry."
Knight sniffled and wiped at his tears with his sleeve. Then he smiled, both for Nikko's sake and because he was so relieved. "I'm happy that you're okay." He took Nikko's work bag and slung it over his own shoulders, doing what he could to help. He had said he would take care of Nikko, so that's what he would do. "Rita Johnson asked me to pick you up."
Knight lifted Nikko off of his feet, cradling him in his arms. Nikko was so light, he was easy to carry, until he started squirming weakly.
"Knight, what are you doing?"
"I'm picking you up."
"I don't think she meant literally."
"But Nikko is sick, right?" He looked down at the tiny man in his arms. "I'll take care of you." And despite Nikko's moaning protests, Knight glanced a the girl behind the window, who was watching them with outright disgust on her face, then simply turned and walked out the door.
Once they were off the hospital's grounds, Nikko's protests stopped. He became very still and quiet, and Knight thought he had fallen asleep, until he heard a whispered "Knight..."
"Hm?" Knight looked to Nikko again.
"Please... Not here... I can walk, so please put me down." His eyes were turned to the street, darting around. "Please."
Because people would watch them. Knight understood. Probably... it was strange for adult men to carry each other around, so people would stare, and Nikko didn't like that. Knight had been stupid for not thinking about that. "I'm sorry, Nikko," Knight said as he carefully set Nikko down on his feet. "But... You looked very tired, so..."
"It's okay," Nikko replied as he held on to Knight's arm for a moment. "Thank you for your concern, but... I should be fine like this."
He wasn't fine, though. They had only gone a short way before Nikko started leaning heavily on Knight, and they were less than half way home when Nikko stopped walking altogether. He hunched over, pressing a hand to his chest, breathing in ragged gasps. Knight's lip quivered, but he needed to be strong for Nikko. So he took hold of Nikko's arm, to let him know he was there. "Are you okay, Nikko?"
"I'm-" He panted a breath. "I'm so tired."
Knight whimpered. He didn't know what to do, had no idea how to help or protect Nikko. He felt absolutely useless, a pathetic knight who couldn't do anything.
After a moment, Nikko's head drooped. "On your back..." he said quietly. "Can you carry me on your back?"
"Of course!" Knight quickly crouched down, a steed ready to be mounted. "You can ride me anytime!"
"Please don't say it like that," Nikko said, even as he draped himself over Knight's back. His arms went around Knight's neck and his legs slid around Knight's waist as he stood, and Knight reached back to support under Nikko's thighs.
"You're really light," Knight said with a smile.
"I know." Then Nikko's head fell, burying his face in the space between his own arm and Knight's neck as they began to move again.
They had gone a few blocks silently, comfortably. Knight didn't have any problems remembering the way, even if he had only travelled it once. It was an easy route. Then Knight opened his mouth, even as he wondered if Nikko had fallen asleep, and asked "Nikko, what's an 'emergency contact'?"
Nikko's head adjusted, resting his chin on Knight's shoulder. "Mm... It's just a person who gets called to help the person who needs them. Most workplaces require them for their employees in case there's an accident or they get sick." Even though Nikko didn't say 'like I did today', Knight understood.
"And I'm your emergency contact?"
"Yeah... I changed it to you several months ago. I... hope that's okay."
"It's okay!" Knight's tail twitched, confined though it was in his pants. "But... the girl at the hospital wouldn't let me go see you because I'm not immediate family. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Nikko replied. "You were there when I came out, and you're helping me now. That's what matters." His arms around Knight tightened a fraction, still weak, but it was enough to send Knight's heart soaring and his tail wiggling. Until Nikko's head dropped again and he muttered "My immediate family wouldn't have come for me anyway."
Knight's tail fell; the spring that had bloomed in his step withered. Nikko never talked about his family, didn't display any pictures of family members around the apartment, never spent time on the phone catching up with anyone. But every few months he would get an email that would make him sneer at the computer screen and mutter harshly under his breath. Family was a bad topic for Nikko.
"Who's my emergency contact?" Knight asked, wanting to give Nikko something else to think about.
It took a few beats, but Nikko's head shifted again. "You don't exactly have a job," he said, voice clearing as he went. "But if you had an emergency contact... I suppose it would be me. Or maybe Jack."
"Who's Jack's emergency contact?"
Nikko chuckled weakly. "I don't know. Maybe it's you."
"I'm kidding," Nikko said, and Knight was happy to hear the amusement in his voice. "Probably, it would be someone from within the facility."
"Who's Penny's emergency contact?"
"Who's Tina's emergency contact?"
"No!" Then Nikko started laughing. His face pressed back into Knight's neck, but his shoulders convulsed with his giggles. It lifted Knight's heart again.
Knight carried Nikko all the way up the stairs of their building, driving the man to cling to him, shaking. Letting Nikko down at the apartment door, Knight fished his key out of his pants pocket. Once inside, Nikko took his bag from Knight to find his phone, saying "I have to call work," as he headed toward the bedroom. It was good, because Knight had totally forgotten about Rita Johnson's request to 'have Nikko call'.
After pulling his hat off, flicking his ears back and forth a bit to get rid of the stiffness that had set in from being trapped all day, Knight took a moment to let his tail out. He didn't like having to hide his animal parts, though he understood why it was necessary. It was just so uncomfortable.
Then he followed Nikko into the bedroom. Nikko spoke on the phone with one hand and undressed himself with the other. He had already managed to pull off his tie and unbutton the crisp, white dress shirt, and was wiggling his arm, trying to get the shirt to drop off his shoulder. Knight rushed to him, ever helpful, and pulled the shirt off for him. Nikko's eyes widened as he looked at Knight, his voice stuttering in its conversation. But Knight wanted to help out more, so he grabbed the hem of Nikko's undershirt and lifted. It got stuck at Nikko's elbows, Nikko making no move to allow it to be removed further as he continued to stare at Knight.
Knight smiled, gave the shirt a little tug, and finally Nikko complied, pulling the phone away from his ear for a moment to lift his arms. Knight pulled the shirt off and Nikko went back to his call, shivering in the cool apartment.
Nikko's body was so much smaller than Knight's own, so skinny. It made Knight want to protect him from all the bigger things that could harm him. But a flu was very small, and there was nothing Knight could do to save Nikko from its clutches. All he could do was make Nikko comfortable and do whatever he could to help. So he moved on to Nikko's pants, barely getting the button undone before Nikko stepped away. Knight pouted.
"Get my pajamas for me," Nikko said with the phone pulled away before returning to the call.
Knight felt better with a task to do. Nikko's pajamas were always tossed unceremoniously onto an otherwise unused chair in the corner of the room, so Knight was easily able to fetch them and return to Nikko. The call had been finished, and Nikko sat on the bed in his underwear, suit pants laid on the bed neatly.
"Here, Nikko." Knight handed over the soft, flannel pajamas, and then took up the pieces of Nikko's suit to move them to the chair.
"Thanks," Nikko replied, immediately starting to dress. "The school told me to take the rest of the week off so I don't get the kids sick." He crawled into bed, pulled the covers over himself, and smiled up at Knight as the fox returned to Nikko's side. "I guess you're stuck with me for a while."
Knight's tail wagged. "I'm happy to be stuck with you."
Nikko sighed then, and his smile fell. "Knight, I need a really big favor."
"I'll do anything!"
"First, could you get my bag for me?"
Knight chirped "Yes, Nikko!" before quickly bounding off.
When the bag was in his hands, Nikko pulled his wallet and a small square of paper from it. "I need you to go to the pharmacy and get some medicine for me. Can you do that?"
"I... I think so."
"You can go to Corona Drugs, on the corner. Do you remember where it is? It's the place that sells the candy you like."
Knight knew the place. It was the only store in the city that sold real chocolate-covered grasshoppers. "I remember it."
"Go to the pharmacy counter in back and give them this." Nikko handed over the white paper. It had scribbles on it that Knight didn't understand. "You'll have to wait a while, but they'll know what to do."
Next, Nikko took a card out of his wallet. "This is my insurance card. They'll need to see it." He handed the card to Knight, and then pulled out some money. "If you could also pick up some chicken soup, crackers, and chamomile tea, that would be great." He smiled as he passed the money to Knight. "You can get your candy, too."
Knight's tail wagged again, full of joy at being useful. "Okay, Nikko!"
"Good boy. If you need any help, just call."
Knight put the money, card, and medicine paper into his new wallet and took a moment to stuff his tail back into his pants, then was on his way. He was more used to being outside alone, so it wasn't nearly as scary as it once was. The time he spent working with Roco, walking home alone five days a week, probably helped a lot. These days he even sometimes went for walks during the day. He could find the park on his own now, though if there were people around he couldn't play. The one time he had tried to swing on the monkey bars alongside the kids, a mother yelled in his face that the playground was for children, and that "perverts" needed to be arrested. The word 'arrested' scared him, so he didn't stay at the park if there were people around anymore. He liked going with Nikko in the evening better anyway.
And now he was going to the pharmacy all by himself. He felt so independent, so much closer to being human.
He followed Nikko's instructions once he got to Corona Drugs, going to the back counter that read 'Pharmacy' and handing the girl at the counter the paper and insurance card when it was his turn. "I need this medicine for Nikko," he said.
"Are you his relative?" she asked in a kind voice.
Oh no, it was this question again. "I'm his family and we live together," Knight answered carefully. "Nikko is sick, so I need medicine for him."
"Do you have I.D.?"
He did! He happily took out his new I.D. card and handed it to the girl, who studied his card and the insurance card both before giving his card back.
"Okay," she said with a smile. "Just a moment."
It took longer than Knight expected it would. He listed from foot to foot for a while before pacing near the counter. He was bored and wanted to be with Nikko. What if Nikko got even sicker without the medicine? Didn't the girl understand he had a flu?
He pounced on the counter when she called him back, hoping to hurry the transaction through, and when he had the medicine in hand he breezed through the rest of the store, getting the other items. Then he ran back home, plastic bag clutched tightly in his fist, and once he was in the door, he immediately rushed to Nikko's room. "I got it, Nikko! I got your medicine!"
Nikko cracked an eye open, looking like he had been sleeping. His breathing was noisy, difficult, and he coughed as he sat up. "Thanks," he said, reaching for the bag.
"Are you okay?" Knight asked, worry squeezing his heart tighter. "You sound strange."
"When I lay down, my nose stuffs up and I can't breathe," Nikko explained, and then sniffled. "Ugh, I need some tissue."
"Okay!" Knight was ready to continue his caretaking. "Do you want tea too? Or soup?"
"That would be great," Nikko said with a smile as he opened the paper bag containing his medicine.
Knight felt like a nurse as he made the tea, humming to himself in the kitchen. The tea smelled good, and he used Nikko's favorite mug to help cheer him up. He grabbed a box of tissues from the living room coffee table and brought everything back to Nikko. A red bottle sat on the nightstand – Knight guessed it was the medicine – and he put the tea and tissue-box next to it.
Already snuggled back under the covers, Nikko croaked out a "Thanks" and a weak smile.
Knight stared for a moment, brows knit together, and then he moved to the other side of the bed, crawling in under the covers, wiggling up next to Nikko.
"Knight!" Nikko objected, coughed. "Knight, no. You'll get sick."
"I won't. I'm very strong," Knight replied as he pulled Nikko to him, tucking the man's head under his chin. His freed tail thumped under the covers. Nikko was warm – perhaps a little too warm – and his efforts to protest were weak, quickly given up. "I want to protect Nikko."
Nikko sighed, but then said "There are some things you can't protect me from."
"I know." He would try, though. "Nikko?"
"How did you get a flu?"
Though Nikko's voice sounded tired, there was a puff of a laugh before he answered. "I probably caught it from one of the kids at school."
"Oh..." It was silent a moment, then another "Nikko?"
"When's your birthday?" Knight was still curious about if the birthday listed on his I.D. was real or made-up, but surely Nikko's was real.
"It's in August," came the reply.
Knight gasped. "We didn't celebrate!"
A sound came from Nikko, almost like a whimper, but not quite. "It's not so special. We don't need to celebrate it."
"But... But in August, we should have a party!"
"No, Knight." Nikko's voice went low. It was sad, made Knight feel some kind of loneliness for him. "I'm... I'm too old to care about that kind of thing. I don't want anyone to make a big deal out of it."
"Okay..." But Knight thought it was special. Surely... Surely Nikko being born was important.
Though, actually, no cards had come in the mail in August. Wasn't that what humans did? If their loved ones were far away, they sent cards in the mail for their birthdays. None had come for Nikko, and though he hadn't said anything... Nikko must have been sad.
Another sigh, then "Yes?"
"Are we family?"
Nikko's body went stiff. Maybe it was a bad question – Knight knew family was a difficult subject. Maybe Knight had been stupid again. Eventually, however, Nikko slowly answered "I like to think we are. We might not be blood related, but... you're very important to me. I... I care about you a lot."
Knight's heart burst. Happiness and joy sent his tail into a tizzy, wagging out of control. "I-! I care for Nikko a lot too! I want to be Nikko's family!" His arms tightened around Nikko's tiny body, almost squeezing too hard.
"Okay," Nikko said with his exhausted amusement. "Then we're family."
"I'm glad." A smile took residence on Knight's lips; his tail continued to wag under the covers, and eventually calmed to a relaxed curling back and forth. Nikko relaxed against him, filling Knight with warmth, making his tummy feel funny. He yearned. "Nikko?"
"Knight, let me sleep."
"But, Nikko! Can I kiss you?"
A whimper sounded form Nikko before he answered quietly, "You'll get sick..."
"I won't. I promise."
"Then... Just a little bit."
More happiness flooded through Knight, coursing through his veins, his heart, his lips. He moved down so that he could be face-to-face with Nikko, close enough to see the flecks of green and fear in Nikko's brown eyes. Knight wanted to chase the fear away; he wanted to protect Nikko, and he wanted Nikko to feel strong too. He lifted a hand to brush against the short hairs of Nikko's 'undercut' behind his ear, then his fingers moved to dig into the longer hair up top. They both seemed to lean in to each other at the same time.
Knight really liked kissing Nikko. It made him feel warm, made his body feel tingly. Nikko always tasted good and his lips were always soft. Though right then Nikko tasted like medicine and his lips were dry, Knight still liked the kiss. He opened his mouth to taste more – the lovers' kiss – and Nikko did too. When their tongues touched, it felt like lightening running through his body, burning him in a way he craved. When their mouths sealed against each other, Knight felt his genital – dormant for weeks – begin to stir.
He pulled away. Nikko breathed heavily, reminding Knight that he was having trouble breathing through his nose. His face was pink and his dark hair stuck to his forehead, matting wet with sweat. Still cute.
But then Nikko's eyes turned down, pulling away. His voice sounded pained, but not from the flu. "I wonder... if that kiss means the same thing for you as it does for me..."
Knight felt his ears droop; sadness whispered through him. "I wonder too!" he said. "I wonder... what it means for Nikko..."
That was all they said, though. No long explanations or revelations. Knight lay back down on the bed and Nikko rested his head on Knight's shoulder.
To Knight, the kiss was a sign of how much he wanted to be with Nikko. Like lovers – like husbands and wives – Knight wanted to be with Nikko forever. He thought maybe all the sparks and tingles and pulling he felt when they kissed like that was his body and instincts telling him that he was supposed to be with Nikko. Maybe.
But he was just a dumb fox; he didn't know if that was right or if it even made any sense. He didn't know if it was different for everyone who shared that kiss.
"I wonder what it means for Roco and Wendy," he suddenly thought out loud.
A heartbeat passed, and then "What?"
Knight clamped a hand over his mouth, wide-eyed, just as Nikko sat up to look at him. "Oh no! I- Yiff. I wasn't supposed to tell!"
"Knight, what do you mean?"
"Tell me, Knight. Did you see Roco and his teacher kissing?" When Knight only stared, Nikko added "You can just shake your head; then you're not really telling me. Okay?"
Knight still felt bad, but he nodded.
"Did you see Roco and his teacher kissing?"
Knight nodded again.
"The open-mouth kiss?"
Nikko's brows drew together; his eyes swung back and forth, following staggering thoughts that Knight couldn't read. He looked confused, a little bit panicked, and it scared Knight. Maybe it was a bigger deal than he had thought. Maybe Nikko understood something that Knight didn't. Maybe whatever that was, it was the real reason Roco had gotten so angry at that time.
"Nikko..." Knight whispered. "I don't understand."
Nikko's eyes turned down to Knight, and the fake smile he sometimes showed crossed his lips. "No, it's nothing." He lay back down, this time his head next to Knight's shoulder instead of on it. "I was just surprised, that's all."
"Are... Are Roco and Wendy in trouble?"
"N-No. Not if nobody else finds out. Don't let anyone else know, okay? We'll keep their secret."
"Yes." Just like Nikko and Knight had their own secret, and each time they kissed became a new secret. "Nikko?"
"Will you go to sleep now?"
Nikko laughed softly. "If a silly fox would let me."
"Okay." Knight had many more questions, but they could wait until Nikko was healthy again. Then they could talk about emergency contacts and flus and chocolate-covered grasshoppers. Maybe they could even talk about family and kissing. Knight had so many things he wanted to talk about with Nikko, and he would do whatever it took to make sure they had the rest of forever together in order to do so.
He was so glad he chose to become human.
Chapter 18: Ascent
He was actually pretty quick, despite having such a short stride. If the park he aimed for was further away, he would have taken a taxi. After thinking about it, fixating on it, obsessing over it for weeks, however, he realized he could make it there and back on foot before his lunch break was over if he hustled. Hopefully, anyway, but he had spent so much time wondering if it were possible that before he knew it he had a real plan. Before he knew it, he was carrying that plan out.
All he had to go on were the things Knight had told him offhand during his work experience. He knew when they usually finished their park maintenance and which location was the last. He knew Roco's teacher had always waited for them, in order to walk her student home. If his calculations – guesses, really – were correct, he would hopefully be able to catch her before the wolf joined her.
He just... He had to know. He had to know if it was true, that there was someone else like him, someone who could fall in love with an animal hybrid. Maybe nothing would come from it; he didn't expect an instant friendship or kinship, but just knowing could perhaps help him feel a little less like a freak.
The tiny park was easy to find from the route he had basically memorized, and his eyes instantly began scanning the place. He had a brief description of her from Knight's chatter – shorter than Nikko himself, red hair, "soft" – and his heart thumped in his chest when he saw the lone woman leaning against the park's storage shed, looking away towards a muddy path.
He had to beat back his nerves. "H-Hi," he said as he approached her.
Her head shot towards him, startled, and a familiar fear crossed her green eyes. Nikko knew that particular apprehension well. Yet she answered a polite "H-Hello..."
"Are you Wendy?"
This time it was confusion in her eyes, creasing a line in her brow. "Yes..." she answered carefully.
"I'm Nikko," he explained, and understanding dawned on Wendy even before he finished with "Knight's teacher."
"Oh," she said, friendly. The kindness Knight had waxed about began to show itself as she let her guard down. "How is he?"
"He's doing great." Nikko smiled, but it didn't last long. "Look, I... I just wanted to ask you something..."
Her shields went back up, visible in the minute turning of her head and stiffening of her posture. "Okay..."
"Knight... told me... He said he saw... you and Roco..." Even as Nikko stuttered, Wendy already began to step away from the shed, putting distance between them. Fear ripped through her eyes, her face. Then Nikko blurted out "He told me he saw you kissing."
Her head shook as she backed away from him. "He's... He's lying."
"He wouldn't lie to me. Please-"
"I just want to know-"
"No!" Tears began to pour down her face as she shouted suddenly. "He's lying!" Then she turned and ran, disappearing down the muddy path.
And that was that. Nikko was left staring at where Wendy had vanished, her expression of terror forever burned in his mind. Though it had absolutely confirmed her relationship with her student – she wouldn't have run if she had nothing to hide, and despite her claim, there was no way Knight would have lied about it – Nikko was left empty. He had wanted to ask her things – how she had come to realize her feelings, how she dealt with it, what she planned to do when Roco eventually graduated and was returned to the facility. Instead, he hadn't gotten to say anything at all.
In the very least, though, he now knew he wasn't alone. Someone else felt for their student as he felt for Knight. He wished he'd had a chance to tell her, so she knew she had an ally. He wondered if there were others like them.
March came and went and within it Nikko and Knight celebrated the one-year anniversary of them coming together as teacher and student. Nikko splurged and they went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant, and he quickly realized it was something of a waste. Knight had no concept of fancy versus simple, and Nikko himself didn't care either way. But it was fun to dress up, and seeing Knight in a suit did things to Nikko's body.
As they ate their overpriced and miniscule meal, a woman leaned towards them as she passed by, saying a quiet "Congratulations" as she went. Knight tilted his head in confusion, but a blush colored over Nikko's cheeks.
It did feel like... maybe not a wedding anniversary, but certainly like something more than simply having become roommates on that day, one year ago. Knight had changed Nikko's world so dramatically, he couldn't remember what life was like before the fox came along. And that feeling of romance – as one-sided as it may be – permeated through him so strongly that when they got home, when they shared a celebratory kiss that went too far and ended up with Nikko lying on his back on the couch, when Knight whimpered that he wanted to taste Nikko, Nikko allowed it. He may very well have allowed Knight to do anything that evening, but Knight was perfectly content to lick and suck until Nikko was moaning his name.
Nikko woke up still on the couch the following morning, wanting to smack himself. But the deep dread he used to feel – that he should have felt – wasn't there.
Knight positively bounced with excitement the evening Nikko came home from his last day of work before spring break. He followed Nikko throughout the apartment, calling "Nikko! Nikko! We're going on our trip, right!? Nikko! Let's pack! Nikko! Can I take my big book!? Nikko!"
Nikko had to take Knight by the shoulders and force him into a chair to get the fox to stop moving. "Calm down. You're making me dizzy." Though, when Knight smiled up at him, tail wagging, Nikko returned it. "We don't leave for another two days. Packing can wait." Then his hand moved to Knight's hair, rubbing at one of those lovely fox ears he adored so much. Knight leaned into the touch. "Right now, I'm hungry. What's for dinner?"
When they did pack for the trip, it was side-by-side, their matching, small suitcases laid open on Nikko's bed. Nikko showed Knight how to pack so that everything fit nicely, though Nikko's tendency for the journey home at the end of a trip was to just throw everything back in haphazardly.
Nikko's motto was that it was better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it, so they ended up with an extra bag of miscellaneous, just-in-case things – first-aid supplies, plastic bags, matches, as well as an extra SD card for his camera, and so on. They also each took a small backpack to carry supplies in while hiking.
Knight really had planned the entire trip out. From the taxi to the bus station and the bus to Vino Mountain's cabin lodge, everything was planned and paid for in advance. He had worked really hard, and Nikko was both proud of him and appreciative of his thoughtfulness.
The cabin was small, but enough for two people. It was like an open studio apartment, with a kitchen area in one corner and makeshift living room in another, complete with a fireplace. There were two single beds, each on opposite sides of the room, and a door leading to a small bathroom. Very quaint.
Nikko set his stuff down on one of the beds, remarking "It's going to get cold at night. We can walk around a bit, but we should pick up some firewood at the lodge before it gets dark."
"Or would you like to eat first?"
Knight smiled. "It's Nikko's choice, since this is your Christmas present."
Nikko's heart thudded, warm. "Then, how about we go for a walk, look around, and then we'll have dinner at the lodge. We can get snacks and groceries there for tomorrow."
The area around the cabin was beautiful, full of green and flowers just on the verge of blooming. It was still cold, more shaded areas harboring the last clumps of snow, but birds and squirrels and spiders had already come out of their winter retreats, bringing life to the woods. Nikko took pictures of everything, capturing images of the things he saw, which he would never show anyone.
They were the only ones around, still too early for most people to be hiking in the mountains. It was their own private forest, and Knight was free to let his tail out. They would have to pick burrs and twigs out of it later. His ears flicked to and fro, as if trying to hear everything all at once. A particularly loud bird cry grabbed his attention, his eyes and face turning up towards the treetops. The light hit him perfectly, and Nikko raised his camera, taking Knight's picture.
It hit him that someday that picture would be all he had of Knight, and he vowed to make many more memories in the time they had together.
By the time they made it to the lodge, Nikko was starving. They had walked for hours, both distracted by every little thing. Knight had taken quite a few pictures on his phone, mostly of birds and bugs, and he was determined to reference his big book of everything that he had brought along and left at the cabin to figure out what every species he saw was.
They picked up some groceries to make their meals for the following day with, and Knight pouted when Nikko had to be the one to pay for them. All of his money had gone into transportation and the cabin itself – he hadn't even thought about food. Nikko assured him he didn't mind taking care of it, even if this was supposed to be his present. He was more than happy just getting to spend the time with Knight.
They also got several bundles of wood for the fireplace, which were loaded onto Knight's back like a packhorse. The owner of the cabin grounds even threw in an extra bundle for free, since guests were so rare this time of year.
Nikko wouldn't call himself a woodsman by any stretch. No doubt, if he were ever actually lost in the woods, he would die very quickly. But in the comfort of a rented cabin, with already cut firewood, some paper, and his matches, he could at least build a fire. With the sun setting and no central heating in the cabin, the blaze sparked to life just in time to keep them from freezing solid.
Knight sat on a bed with his phone in one hand and his large book in his lap, comparing the image of a bright red bird he had seen to a page on North-Eastern mountain birds. "I think it's this one," he said when Nikko sat next to him.
"Looks like it." Nikko couldn't have wiped the smile off his face if he tried. His fox was too cute when interested in something. Knight was curious and clever, attractive qualities that belied his intelligence, even if that curiosity sometimes caused trouble.
"And this one is called a banana spider, but I don't think it looks like a banana."
Nikko chuckled. "Maybe because it's as big as a banana."
"Maybe..." Knight's brow creased in thought.
With a pat to Knight's leg, Nikko smiled deeper and asked "Do you want to help me make lunches for tomorrow?"
Nikko couldn't help but feel oddly domestic as they made their lunches together. It was dumb, because it wasn't like they never spent time alone together. They were alone together all the time. They cooked and ate together all the time. They lived together... but there was something different. There was something about their solitary cabin in the woods, away from work and people and facilities – away from the world where they were student and teacher – that was unlike the day-to-day life back home. There was something magical here.
So, as a special treat to his chivalrous Knight, once the lunches were made and their backpacks were ready for the next day's heavy-duty hiking, Nikko browsed his phone's playlist, looking for a song. The perfect song. When he found one that fit – quite perfectly, indeed – he tapped 'play' and turned the volume up, then set the phone carefully on the counter. He turned to Knight, extended a hand. "Want to dance?"
"Really!?" Knight's tail curled, excited.
"Yeah." And Nikko's heart fluttered. "There's... There's plenty of room here."
Knight laughed, joyous, as he took Nikko's hand. He wasn't any better at dancing now than he was in October, and he still didn't get the rhythm and beat of music. Nikko had to lead their movements, twisting, turning, bringing them apart, then together. It was fun, clumsy as it was. Knight grinned brightly as his hand returned to Nikko's shoulder; Nikko's smile softened as he sang a line with the song. "And I'm out of my depth, I go under the wave." It sent Knight into a fit of happy laughter, scooping Nikko up and spinning him around, sweeping him off his feet.
When he was set back down, Knight leaned in and kissed Nikko, pressing their lips together hard. Their dancing stopped; they simply stood in the middle of the room, holding each other and the embrace. Then the song ended.
The next song that started up on the playlist shuffle was something dark, heavy metal, the angrier side of Nikko's myriad of musical tastes. Completely un-danceable. Their kiss broke off and they laughed. Maybe because of the fire or because of the movement, maybe something else, but Nikko felt very warm, despite being in the mountains in April.
He ran a hand down Knight's chest, and then looked down, cheeks pink. "We should get to bed so we can get an early start tomorrow."
"Okay, Nikko." Knight's voice was soft.
After he had changed into his warmest pajamas and brushed his teeth to sparkling, Nikko put another log on the fire. In theory, he should be snuggly and asleep long before the fire died out, but it wasn't a bad idea to keep the place as warm as possible for as long as he could.
He had only just begun to climb into his chosen bed when Knight lumbered over, smelling of mint and looking dangerously cute in his sheep-print flannel pajamas. "Nikko, the bed is so small."
Nikko made a sound not quite like a sigh. "There are two beds, Knight. Sleep over there."
"We're in the same room, so you can't say you're lonely."
Knight's ears drooped, but he gave a quiet "Okay..." and turned away. "Goodnight."
He wasn't sure what time it was or how long he had slept; all he knew when he woke up was that it was freezing. The fire had died out, leaving the room a dark cavern of ice, and despite the warm pajamas, wool socks, and two blankets, Nikko's feet were popsicles. His body shivered hard enough to shake him out of sleep.
He tried ignoring it. He tried closing his eyes and willing sleep to come back to him, to let him be comatose until the light of day warmed him again. It was futile, of course, and even stuffing his fingers under his arms and curling in on himself didn't warm him enough to let rest come.
Hypocrite. He was a hypocrite. He was the one who sent Knight to the other side of the room, and now he was the one padding over to the second bed. It was kind of selfish, on one hand, only offering to sleep together when he was the one who wanted to. On the other hand, it was usually the other way around – Knight had been climbing into Nikko's bed from the very beginning, rarely giving Nikko a choice in the matter.
In the dark room of the cabin, Nikko could only make out rough shapes in silhouette, but he could hear the soft breaths of a sleeping fox. He reached out, gently touching soft hair, and quietly called "Knight..."
The breaths stuttered; a furred ear flicked against Nikko's fingers.
"Knight," he said again.
Knight shifted, gave a small 'yiff' before the rustling sound of his body turning over. Then his sleep-laden voice questioned "Nikko?"
"Knight, I'm really cold. Can... Can I sleep with you?"
Knight giggled, quiet and sleepy, then said "Of course, Nikko." A large, black shield rose – Knight lifting his blankets to invite Nikko in.
Warmth began to seep into Nikko's body as soon as he was wrapped in the thermal embrace of Knight's arms. Nestled together like Russian dolls, body heat from Knight's chest spread over Nikko's back and arms. Knight's furry tail flopped over Nikko's thigh, and their legs entwined together, with Nikko's icy feet ending up under Knight's calves. The bed was tiny, forcing them to crowd close, not even a breath of space between them, though they would have lain so tightly pressed to each other even if it had been king-sized. For warmth, of course.
"I'm so happy," Knight said, arms tightening around Nikko's body. "Nikko came to me."
"Yes, well... It's cold."
Knight chuckled again. "I like holding Nikko like this. You feel so little."
"I'm not that small." Truthfully, though, it did make Nikko feel smaller, but he didn't hate it – not with Knight.
Knight only made quiet, happy sounds as he wrapped himself around Nikko further. His tail curled against Nikko's leg and his hips pressed against Nikko's ass. Nikko felt the bulge of Knight's dick rubbing against him, and he realized that Knight was hard, growing harder. Knight began to squirm, the erection digging into Nikko with every movement, making Nikko's own cock stir. Almost immediately, Knight bent down, pressing his nose to Nikko's neck.
"Nikko..." Knight's hand slid down, ghosting over Nikko's dick, drawing out a gasp. Then he unraveled himself, rising up to lay over Nikko. "Nikko smells good."
"Knight... Don't..." So he said, but he made no move to stop it when the fox's mouth began to nuzzle its way along Nikko's collar bone, nor did he have any other protests when Knight's head slipped under the blankets.
He felt large hands on his hips, felt a perfect, handsome face snuggle into his groin. Then, without further preamble – because Knight didn't know how to tease on purpose – Nikko's pajama pants were pulled down. He gasped loudly when his erection was engulfed by that hot mouth; by now Knight had a much better idea of how to get him off.
He was helpless. The lips sliding along his shaft, the tongue flicking along his tip, and the deep feelings of love and lust he felt for his lovely Knight left Nikko moaning and whimpering at the onslaught. His hips thrust up; his body wanted to give Knight everything and more. His hands clung for dear life to the pillow under his head. He didn't stand a chance.
He came with a long cry, every nerve lit to bursting. As always, Knight drank down every drop – his favorite treat – but now knew to pull off before Nikko became oversensitive.
Nikko panted, taking in deep breaths of air as his heart continued to race. When Knight's head popped back up from under the covers, all Nikko could manage to say was a breathed "Why?"
"I'm sorry," Knight said as he hovered over Nikko. "I... I got hard..."
"You got hard, so you... you tasted me?"
"Yeah..." Then Knight carefully lowered himself so that he was laying over Nikko like a living blanket. His cock – still hard – rested against Nikko's leg. "It makes me feel better."
Nikko sighed, body relaxing even as his mind began to churn. "I think you're confused."
At least it was warm.
Chapter 19: Descent
Vino Mountain was gorgeous.
Knight and Nikko explored every nook and cranny of the mountain, following hiking trails that led them up and up. Sometimes they went off the trails, pushing aside brush and branches to see what they could find. They would spend an hour later picking twigs and burrs out of Knight's tail, but at the moment they didn't think about that. Everything was new and wondrous.
The main trail had them climbing boulders at one point, and though Nikko was pretty weak, he could at least lift himself over the large rocks. The exertion felt good, and though it only got colder the higher they went, Nikko found himself sweating.
Knight had no problems jumping from rock to rock, the shutter sound of his phone's camera an almost constant. The ram in him showed itself well in his sure-footedness, his tail flagging for extra balance. He looked as at-home in the mountains as he did curled up on the couch in their apartment. Nikko couldn't stop smiling as Knight went into sneak mode to stalk a caterpillar.
They stopped for lunch after a few hours of hiking, sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree. Knight watched in amazement as a family of deer passed by, then turned to Nikko with shining eyes. "They're so cute!"
Nikko laughed. "Yeah, they are." But his gaze never left Knight's face.
The trek seemed to go quicker after lunch, both because of the energy food and a rest gave them, and because they had already taken pictures of everything there was to take pictures of. The only thing left to do was continue onward and upward.
Pushing through some brush brought them face-to-face with a sheer rock wall, the barely-visible path veering to the right, going around the obstacle. Nikko started to lead the way, but Knight grabbed his sleeve, pointing off to the left. "Nikko, look! There's a hole in the wall!"
"Looks like a cave," Nikko answered, finding where Knight was referring to. Then he turned a smile to Knight. "Want to check it out?"
They climbed down a bit, through a tangle of trees with web-like branches. A particularly vindictive branch slipped out of Nikko's grip when he tried pushing them aside, whipping back and lashing him in the face. He yelped, more in shock than pain, and Knight was suddenly by his side.
"Nikko! Are you okay!?"
"Yeah," Nikko replied, holding a hand to his cheek. "It's just a scratch." There was blood when he pulled his hand away.
"It's fine," Nikko assured his concerned fox.
Knight took Nikko's chin in his hand despite the assurances, turning Nikko's head to analyze the wound, as if he knew what to look for. Then he leaned down and gently, carefully, licked the cut – an animal caring for its mate. It stung a bit and Nikko flinched, but Knight kept at it, pressing Nikko against the wall beside them. A few seconds – or maybe it was a few minutes – later, Knight pulled away and smiled. "Okay, it's not bleeding now."
"Th-Thank you..." Nikko had thought he was used to Knight's idiosyncrasies, but that one took him by surprise. "Let's go."
The cave was even colder than outside and pretty plain. There were no magnificent stalactites or crystals. No buried treasure or hidden artifacts. The walls were covered in graffiti and the ground spattered with guano, which drew Nikko's eyes up to the ceiling. A small smile touched his lips. "Look."
"What are they?" Knight asked, gawking with saucer eyes at the black bundles hanging above.
"Yeah." Nikko continued to smile at the sleeping creatures of the night. He had never seen a bat at rest before, only ever catching rare glimpses of them flitting throughout the city. He found them cute, never understanding why they had such a bad rap. "They're rodents, like mice or rats, but..." He paused for effect, and then said with hushed excitement. "They can fly."
It was too late, though; Knight's voice echoed throughout the cave, reverberating off the walls, through the air. Disturbed, the bats began to unfurl their leather wings, dropped from the ceiling, and flew about the cave as if trying to get their bearings. Nikko felt them brush against him, fluttering around like dark butterflies, and he laughed. His eyes turned to Knight again, who watched in wonder as the bats swarmed him. He looked like he was seeing fairies.
The bats seemed to think it was time to find a quieter resting place, and moved as one to swoop out of the cave, taking off and leaving the two men alone and bewildered. Knight's jaw hung open, eyes wide, and Nikko could only laugh.
They headed back toward the main trail after exiting the cave. Nikko took the lead, and this time was extra careful when passing through the thicker brush. He roughly estimated that they would get to the mountain's peak in less than two hours, and looked forward to reaching that goal.
"Nikko! Nikko, help!"
Nikko stopped in his tracks, instant fear gripping him in icy fingers when he heard Knight's distressed voice. Whipping around, he followed the cry as his heart pounded.
That damned tree had caught Knight, his horns stuck in the tangle of branches. Each time he tugged, they only seemed to tighten around him, refusing to let his head free no matter how much he pulled. And though there were tears in Knight's eyes, Nikko couldn't help but smile at his hopeless fox.
"Hold still," he said gently as he began working at untangling the wood from bone. He had to stand on his tip-toes, stretching to reach Knight's head, but with a little care and patience, they were able to free Knight from the trap. Knight looked at him like some kind of hero, but Nikko just turned back, cheeks going pink. "Be careful..."
"Thank you, Nikko!"
The trees ended near the mountain's top, giving way to rocky gravel that was near impossible to get any decent footing on. But they powered their way through, skidding to the top, helping each other in teamwork and laughter. For every step they slid back, they advanced two, until they stood together at the peak with the world spread out before them.
It was beautiful. Tracts of mountain and forest surrounded them; birds flew lower than they stood. Nikko felt like he could see forever; the horizon must have been worlds away. He was in Heaven.
Strong arms fell around him; Knight's chin rested on his head. "We're really high up, aren't we?"
"Yes," Nikko answered. "We're on top of the world."
A chuckle rumbled through Knight's chest into Nikko's body. "Are you happy, Nikko?"
"I am." Nikko reached a hand up to tangle his fingers with Knight's. "I'm very happy."
Going down the mountain was far easier than going up, and took half the time and energy. They let gravity do most of the work, hopping from one boulder to another. Nikko's feet slipped and Knight caught him; Knight's tail caught on everything, and Nikko worked it free any time Knight couldn't do it himself. They were a team. They were partners. They smiled the entire time, and were pleasantly and thoroughly exhausted by the time they made it back to the cabin.
It was hard for Nikko to decide what he wanted most when they were back in their temporary home – food, or a shower. He opted for a shower, scrubbing himself down, washing away the dirt and soil of a good hike. His muscles were sore – would be for days – and he spent a long time standing under the hot spray of water, letting the warmth ease his aching body.
Knight had dinner started when Nikko came out, three lumpy-looking hamburger patties roasting in a pan, a pot of tomato soup heating on the stove's second burner. Nikko took over so that Knight could get in a shower of his own, and he called out "Use the conditioner on your tail" before the bathroom door closed.
Knight sang back "Okay," and then disappeared. He rarely thought to condition his tail, only ever doing it at Nikko's suggestion. It left the furry appendage softer than usual, the hairs becoming silk that took a great deal of restraint for Nikko to not bury his face in.
It took a long time, though, almost half an hour ticking by before the water was turned off. The burgers and soup were long done, kept on low heat so they would stay warm, and a blazing fire burned in the fireplace. Nikko began to dig around the cabin's cupboards for dishes, finally setting everything out as Knight emerged from the bathroom. Laden heavy with water, the tip of his tail almost touched the floor, and dripped everywhere.
"Nikko!" Knight called cheerfully as he rubbed a towel over his head. "I want to check my book!"
Grabbing his own towel, Nikko went to work at Knight's tail, trying to get it at least partially dry. As expected, even after being washed, it was still infused with burrs, twigs, and leaves. Next time they went hiking, they should probably consider covering or tucking the tail away. "We'll eat first, then you can. Okay?"
They chatted about the hike as they ate, Knight going on and on about how fun it was and how much he really wanted to see bats again. Nikko mostly just smiled at his cheerful fox, Knight's happiness seeping into him, warming his heart. Once they were sated and cleaned up, Knight jumped for his book and phone, ready to continue his research.
"Let's sit in front of the fire," Nikko suggested, and Knight cheerfully complied. Lying out on his stomach, propped up on his arms, Knight studied the pictures he had taken, finding their counterparts in his book, putting a name to all the new things he had seen. He chattered at Nikko almost the whole time, usually thinking out loud, commenting on whether markings or wing shape or body size were the same as what he was looking at in his book, and sometimes other random thoughts that ran through his head.
Nikko sat behind Knight, taking a comb to the still-damp tail, picking out the sticks embedded within. The conditioner had helped quite a bit, allowing most of the twigs to be pulled free easily from the strands of fur. Some things were stuck more tightly and had to be worked out; the burrs pricked at Nikko's fingers, and a pinch of fear shocked through him when he found a tick matted in the hair, strangled to death before reaching its target. He checked the tail thoroughly after that, making sure there were no other stowaways, and breathed a sigh of relief when there were none.
By the time he was finished, there was a pile of twigs and leaves off to the side. The comb ran easily through Knight's tail, and Nikko allowed himself a moment of simply combing and running his fingers through the soft strands. He hadn't even realized Knight had stopped talking until he looked up to see Knight's head down, resting on his folded arms, his book a rough pillow. His eyes were closed; he looked incredibly peaceful.
Nikko smiled as he ran his fingers through silken strands again, and then whispered "I love your tail."
Knight's head lifted, half-turning to look back. Nikko hadn't even realized he was awake. Knight's eyes were wide and shining as he asked "Really?"
His hand paused, but in the end, Nikko didn't take it back. "Yeah. It's pretty."
"Thank you, Nikko!"
Faced with a smile so bright, a wave of affection crashed over Nikko. He rose to his feet, gasping for air. "I- I'm going to get ready for bed." Then he scurried away before a response could come.
He brushed his teeth slowly, completely overwhelmed.
When he came out of the bathroom, he found Knight had pulled both mattresses off the beds and laid them in front of the fireplace, making one larger bed. It was just like his thoughtful, intelligent, adorable fox.
"This way we'll be warm!" Knight said.
Nikko smiled, even as his cheeks pinked. Knight had every intention of them sleeping together; Nikko didn't even feel like arguing it. "That's a good idea." And as Knight slipped away to brush his own teeth, Nikko did some preliminary packing and set the alarm on his phone. They wouldn't have time for hiking the next day, and that was okay. He would be sore for days as it was, and he and Knight had... Well, they still had a few years in which they could go again.
With the rest of the wood on the fire, Nikko snuggled under the covers and waited. He felt nervous, as if they hadn't slept together a hundred times already – as if they hadn't shared a bed just last night. And when Knight joined him, after flicking the cabin's lights off, leaving them bathed in the orange glow of the fire, Nikko said to him sincerely "Thank you, Knight. This was the best present ever."
Perhaps it was the flickering fire, or perhaps those were tears in Knight's eyes. The sudden hug was expected; the kiss was expected. Their mouths opened together, tongues frolicking against each other. When they finally pulled back, they were both blushing, and Knight said quietly "Nikko... I feel funny."
"Funny? Like how?"
"I don't know..." His ears drooped, confusion drawn across his features. "I feel like I want to be even closer to Nikko."
Nikko's heart clenched so hard, it was painful. If Knight were human, he would guess that feeling was love. Romantic love. But that wasn't something an animal was capable of, and Knight was an animal. "Probably, it's because..." He didn't really know what to say. "Because we're good friends."
Knight's eyes turned away. He didn't look convinced, but he didn't say anything. The cabin was mostly silent for a while, the occasional popping of the fire the only sound, and then Knight's hand came up to tug at Nikko's pajama top. "Nikko... Can I taste you?" He had already started to rise up, hand sliding towards Nikko's pants.
"Knight, we... We shouldn't..." Those words had become meaningless by now.
"It will be our secret," Knight said as he tugged Nikko's pants and underwear down. He pressed a kiss to Nikko's hip bone, just above the patch of dark hair. "Nobody will know." Then he took Nikko's quickly hardening erection in hand, delivering a long lick from base to tip.
Nikko moaned, not even bothering to hold his voice back. Here, in this world of their own, he let loose, using his moans, his gasps, his loud, panting breaths to tell Knight just how good it felt. When Knight's mouth swallowed him down, Nikko's hands went to his head, sliding along soft fox ears, gripping caramel hair. Then he pushed Knight back a bit, slipping a hand down to touch himself, going further back to cup his balls. "Here, too," he gasped. "It'll feel good if you touch me here."
Knight chuckled. He was a quick learner, pushing Nikko's hand away, letting his own fingers take its place. His mouth went back to work, licking, sucking, while his hand kneaded Nikko's balls.
God, it felt so good. Nikko's hands went back to Knight's head, hips thrusting to fuck up into Knight's mouth. Knight's name was repetitious on his lips, crying out how good it was, pleading for more. The tidal wave of pleasure swelled, riding higher and higher, and then it crashed.
Nikko screamed. His back lifted from the makeshift bed as he came hard, holding Knight's head to him. Stream after stream of seed poured from him, his balls emptying themselves completely into Knight's mouth, and it was only when he was totally spent that his body crashed back down to the bed.
Knight pulled off, took one last lick to gather escaped drops, then crawled back up to lay at Nikko's side. "Nikko tastes good," he said in a low voice as he wrapped himself around Nikko. His obvious and heavy erection poked against Nikko's side.
Nikko overwhelmingly wanted to return the pleasure, for real. Here, in this place – this romantic little world of theirs – he wanted to repay Knight's thoughtfulness. He wanted to show Knight his feelings. Even if it was wrong, even if it was against the rules, it would be another secret for them to keep. So, in an unsure whisper, Nikko said "You can... put it in me. Knight..." He clenched his eyes shut. "Let's- Let's do it. I want you." He was scared, but he said it, and he was ready for the consequences.
No reply came from Knight. The cabin remained silent for a length of time, and finally Nikko cracked open an eye and looked over at Knight.
The fox was sleeping. A silly, pleased smile curled on his lips; his chest heaved slowly with deep breaths of slumber. He hadn't heard a thing.
Nikko couldn't decide if it was a good thing or not.
It was definitely a good thing.
When he awoke to his singing phone, sunlight streaming through the cabin's windows, Nikko immediately smacked himself – both mentally and physically – at what he had almost done. The solitude of the mountain had gotten to him; the orange glow of fire light had made him forget that Knight was his student and an animal. The new surroundings had tricked him into thinking they were a couple, or something, instead of a human and his science experiment.
It would have messed Knight up, confused him.
Nikko stretched for the phone, swiping to turn the alarm off, and Knight stole the chance to wrap his arms around Nikko's body. "Good morning, Nikko!" Knight chirped, happy as a clam, completely oblivious to Nikko's torment.
"Good morning," Nikko returned the greeting, petting Knight like a pup. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes! I dreamt about bats!"
Nikko forced a smile. "Sounds exciting."
It was late afternoon or early evening when they arrived back in the real world. The sun was still out when they began to ascend the steps to their apartment building, but just barely.
Nikko stopped dead in his tracks, heart and mind frozen, when he saw Jack waiting by his apartment door.
This was it. It was official. Those long rabbit ears, folded as they were, had heard everything that had happened the night before. They had heard the magnificent blow job, heard Nikko announce that he was willing to let a fox fuck him, and now Knight would be taken away from him.
He wasn't ready. He wasn't ready for the consequences at all.
"Jack!" Knight greeted with a smile, unsuspicious.
"Good evening," Jack replied, polite smile in place. "What have you boys been up to?"
"We were on a trip!"
"Just up to Vino Mountain," Nikko added, trying to keep his nerves in check. The large dog-man standing just behind Jack with his hands folded over his chest didn't help. Pricked ears stood straight up from close-cropped black hair, two blond spots in front, eyes that looked ready to tear someone apart. Doberman. "We- We didn't leave the province or anything."
"You must have enjoyed yourselves." Jack's statement sounded innocent enough – Nikko couldn't tell if it truly was or not. "I'm sorry to drop in like this, but there is a matter I wish to discuss with you, if you have the time."
"S-Sure," Nikko said, reaching for his keys. "Come on in."
He flicked on lights as they entered the apartment. Knight excitedly told Jack all about their trip. "We saw deer and wagtails and bats!"
"Really?" Jack replied, indulgent.
"Yes! Did you know bats are rodents, like mice? But they can fly! Nikko told me that." Knight's exuberance was contagious – Nikko was pretty sure even the doberman's lip twitched up, just barely.
"Sounds like it was an educational experience."
"It was! I looked up all the animals in the big book Nikko gave me! Look!" Knight dropped his suitcase on the living room floor, digging into it for his book.
Jack's strange, red eyes turned to Nikko, searching for something, though his polite smile didn't falter. When Knight held up the book with a sound of triumph, Jack's gaze moved back to him, smile deepening a touch. "Wow; that is a big book."
"Yeah!" Knight flipped to some of the pages he had marked off during his research. "We saw these, and these! And these too, but I still don't think they look like bananas."
A chuckle sounded from Jack. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves." Then he clasped his hands in front of him. "Well, then. If I may...?"
"Of course," Nikko responded. "Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? Tea? Coffee? ... Carrot juice?"
Making no move toward the offered seat, smile perfectly in place, Jack replied "No, thank you."
"How about... Ah... Your friend?"
"He's fine." Jack didn't even spare a glance at the intimidating dog standing just behind him, and Nikko had to wonder what exactly the doberman's purpose was. Was he there simply to scare Nikko into submission or in case Nikko tried to put up a fight if they really were there to take Knight away? Or maybe he was Jack's bodyguard, protecting the rabbit from perverts who might want a piece of that cotton-tail. Without addressing it further, Jack said "There's been a potential incident, and I just wanted some information."
"What kind of incident?" Nikko asked slowly.
"One of our students and his teacher have disappeared. We would like to find them."
Nikko's heart pounded. This couldn't be good.
Eyes lifting, Jack addressed Knight. "Do you remember Roco, from your work experience?"
Knight moved, hands coming to grip Nikko's arm, seeking comfort. His voice had lost its cheer as he replied "Y-Yes... Roco is... missing?"
"Yes, and though I know it's been a while, you are actually the last person to have seen him, Knight." Then his gaze dipped, glancing to where Knight held on to Nikko before coming back up. It was a quick movement, but Nikko caught it nonetheless. "Actually, I'd like to speak to Knight privately, if I may."
His polite bid for permission was a farce. Jack was a representative of the company, and the company owned Knight. Jack would speak with Knight privately if he damn well pleased, but Nikko played along anyway, saying "Sure, no problem."
Jack's smile turned up again, still lacking sincerity. "Then, Knight, why don't you show me your bedroom?"
"Okay..." Knight replied, and then stepped from Nikko's side to lead the way. "It's over here."
Nikko was left alone with the doberman. "Would you... like some water?"
The dog only stared at him with intense brown eyes, until Nikko slowly side-stepped his way over to the couch and sat down on the very edge. He didn't dare move a muscle from that spot.
It didn't take all that long. Eventually, Knight appeared in the hallway entrance, brows knit together and voice low. "Nikko, Jack wants to talk to you now."
Nikko stood from his spot on the couch, trying to be as un-obvious as possible as he skirted around the silent, canine sentry. "All right," he said, and then put a hand on Knight's arm as he passed by. "It'll be all right."
Jack was perched dainty on Knight's bed when Nikko went into the room, and gave a welcoming smile. "Come in; have a seat," he said like this were his apartment instead of Nikko's. And as Nikko moved to sit in the computer chair leftover from when the room had been his office, Jack continued with "I do apologize, again, for the intrusion."
"It's fine," Nikko returned carefully. "I just hope you weren't left waiting for long."
"Not too long." Jack smiled, showing off his slightly buck teeth. "And it was my own fault besides. I should have called first." He sighed then, giving a tired look that made Nikko drop his guard the tiniest bit. "Honestly, this whole situation has me rather stressed out. As the chief coordinator, it's my responsibility to find the missing student, but this is the first time anything like this has happened, and I really don't like working with no precedents or guides to follow."
"It must be hard on you..."
"Yes, it is. And so, any information you can give me would be very helpful. Anything at all."
Nikko's heart thudded again. "I... don't really know anything about them."
"Have you ever met Roco or his teacher?"
"I saw Roco every morning. I dropped Knight off during his work program, just because it was on my way to work, so I saw Roco, but I never met him or talked to him. And I never even saw his teacher." He would lie through his teeth if he had to, to protect his own secret as much as Wendy's.
"Did Knight ever mention them, even in passing?"
"Yes, he talked about them sometimes, but... nothing really important."
"Anything is fine," Jack prompted. "Tell me everything he said, even the trifle things."
Truthfully, other than the slip about them kissing, Knight really hadn't said anything special about either of them. Most of what he said was just anecdotes of what happened each day while he worked. "He said Roco is very quiet and straightforward," Nikko answered. "He said he worried about whether or not Roco and his teacher got along, and that Roco didn't like her cooking. He said that Roco was very good at park maintenance and was good at teaching Knight about it." He shrugged then.
"And about the teacher?"
"Mmm... Knight just said that her name was Wendy and that she was even shorter than me. He said she was nice and..." He felt his face go pink. "And he said she had a soft body."
"But you never met her?"
Another heart-thud. "No, I only went in the mornings and she only went in the afternoons. I don't think I ever even saw her at any of the social gatherings."
"Ah, they stopped coming to picnics a couple years ago."
Jack fixed him with a gaze. A year ago, those red eyes might have unnerved Nikko, but after spending all this time staring into Knight's just-as-strange yellow eyes, they didn't seem so striking anymore. "Sometimes teachers get too attached to their students, and don't want them to graduate. Generally when that happens, one of the first things they do is cease contact with the company, assuming if we can't see the students and judge their progress, we're more likely to believe they're not ready. Though we've never had anyone flat-out disappear before, I suppose it's a possibility this is an extension of that. What do you think?"
"I... I really don't know. I don't know anything about Roco's progress or their relationship."
"If you had to guess, what would you say could be cause for their disappearance?"
"A-Anything is possible," Nikko stuttered, anxiety flaring. He felt like he was being trapped, caged by words trying to rip some kind of confession out of him. "Maybe Wendy had a family emergency and took Roco with her and just forgot to check in with you. Maybe they were killed in a mugging attempt. I- I don't know. I've never even met them."
The room went quiet, Nikko's words a silent echo.
Then Jack stood up. "Well, then." His smile was back in place. "Thank you for your time. If you can think of anything that might help, please let me know." He started to turn then, but paused. His head moved slightly as his eyes seemed to look around the room as though seeing it for the first time just then. "This room is very clean."
Nikko's heart twisted; he felt sick. "Y-Yeah. I make sure Knight keeps it tidy."
"Indeed." Jack's eyes sidelined, glancing at the head of the bed. "There isn't even a single hair on the pillow."
Chapter 20: Judge, Jury, and Bishop
He was guilty. The number of charges that should have been laid upon him continued to climb, as he hurt everyone he came into contact with out of his own selfishness.
His premier victim was Knight. After taking in the fox to alleviate his own loneliness, Nikko seemed to immediately set to confusing him, always cold and hot, indecisive. One moment he was telling Knight they shouldn't – shouldn't sleep together, shouldn't kiss, shouldn't have any sexual contact – the next he was being an active participant in their hands and mouths roaming all over each other. He had even gone so far as to teach Knight how to pleasure him even more. It was no wonder Knight had come to think it was okay, that as long as they kept it a secret they could repeatedly break a rule that could tear them apart. It was all Nikko's fault – everything was.
His newest victims were Wendy and Roco, for there was no doubt it was Nikko suddenly confronting her that made them flee. He had scared her – terrified her – because if one person found out, who else would? She didn't know him, didn't know if he were the gossiping type who would love to dish the info to others, or the malicious type, there to rip on her for having a relationship with an animal. If he could re-do that afternoon, he would have started it better, announcing first that he was like her, and had no intention of revealing what he knew. Or maybe in the re-do he would just stay in his fucking classroom and leave her be. Instead, he had said the worst thing, and now she was on the run.
He knew his life was one mistake after another, yet if he were brought before a judge and jury, he would plead not guilty, because he was absolutely not strong enough to face the punishment.
Jack's words had frightened him.
While at the time he played it off perfectly, saying they had changed the sheets on Knight's bed just before they left on their trip, so that he could come home to a clean room, it had scared Nikko to the core. All of his mistakes hit him at once, and he could already feel himself pull away.
He couldn't continue playing with fire, even if Knight's fire burned him the exact way he needed.
He couldn't push Knight away like he had before; he had already learned from that mistake. He had said Knight could come to his room and sleep with him at night if he got lonely, and he held to that, but he had to squash the habit Knight had gotten into of automatically going straight to Nikko's room at bedtime. He reminded Knight, strictly, to at least try to sleep in his own room.
There were other little things Nikko held to in his attempt to put their relationship back to proper. Closed-mouth kisses were okay; open-mouth ones were not. The first time Knight tried and failed to deepen a kiss, lapping at Nikko's lips uselessly, he got mad, asking why it was okay before but not now.
"It wasn't okay before," Nikko had told him, then reminded him of the rules again, reminded him of how Knight got hard when they kissed like that, which made them break that important rule.
"But, if it's a secret-!"
"If it has to be a secret, then it's not okay."
That day, Knight stormed off to his bedroom in a huff. He still slipped into Nikko's bed at night, though.
Snuggling on the couch was fine; running fingers through a soft, caramel tail was fine; tugging affectionately on long locks of hair was fine. Blow-jobs were not fine. It caused a slightly bigger problem, as somehow his confused fox really was deriving satisfaction from getting Nikko off, and being denied that satisfaction left Knight frustrated again. He became grumpy, like a moody teenager, quick to anger and snap when he was annoyed.
At first, Knight tried to coerce Nikko into giving in, dropping to his knees while Nikko washed dishes, sliding his hands up Nikko's leg when going over his homework, pressing against Nikko and rubbing their bodies together in bed. Each time, Nikko was able to push Knight away, which was easier to do when he remembered the suspicion in Jack's voice noting how unused Knight's room looked. The one time Knight tried to do it while Nikko slept was the one time Nikko really did kick him out of the room for a night.
Knight apologized the following morning.
Socializing was out of the question. Knight had already said he didn't want to try anymore, so Nikko wouldn't suggest it again. It probably wouldn't have worked anyway, as stuck on Nikko as Knight was.
The most effective tactic Knight tried was sprawling out on the couch bare naked, save for the necklace he had received for Christmas. His tail was flopped over his hip to cover his dick in a coy fashion, putting himself on display. The clever fox had finally figured out that Nikko was attracted to his body, and seeing all that toned flesh laid out and waiting for him had Nikko's cock begging to break the rules again.
Instead, Nikko stuttered "I- I have a meeting after work today, so I'll be home late. You can eat dinner without me." Then he dashed out the door.
He didn't have any extra meetings that day, but he needed to get away from Knight for a while. He loved Knight with all his heart, but he wanted at least a few hours to himself, to sit and think and not have to fend off an overly amorous fox. So he lingered at his desk long after the last bell had rung, catching up and getting ahead on every bit of work he could, which wasn't much, considering the school year ended in just a few weeks.
He would have to figure out what to do about Knight before summer vacation started.
The last remnants of his Starbucks cup had gone cold ages ago, but Nikko continued to linger longer. He had hit up the café to further prolong his alone time, but he was starting to feel like a nuisance, like the staff would start subtly hinting with their eyes that he was creeping them out if he didn't get going soon. His mind was blank, though, not a single idea coming to him, and he was reluctant to leave empty-headed.
Heavy hands fell over his eyes, blackening his vision. No "Guess who?" was forthcoming – the mystery person not wanting to give themselves away with a voice – but a nostalgic scent hit Nikko's nose. He pulled away and turned to face his attacker.
Axinite eyes smiled at him. A perfect smile gleamed. A honey voice said "Hey."
"Darryl," Nikko said as he stood to greet the other man, but then he froze.
Darryl was the one who told him. A little random tidbit of information that answered some of Nikko's questions and gave him an idea at last.
He grabbed Darryl's arm. "You're brilliant!" Then he let go to scramble for his bag and garbage.
"Nikko?" Darryl's expression was confused, yet familiar. "Are you okay?"
Nikko spread his arms out wide. "I just got my worst idea yet." Then he bolted out the door.
The small room was the same as it had been over a year ago. Even the potted plant was the exact same, making Nikko wonder if it was fake.
The biggest difference was that this time Nikko knew what he was getting into. Probably.
Knight sat by his side as they waited for Jack – that was a difference too. It had taken a bit of convincing to get Knight to agree to the idea, and he absolutely needed Knight's help to pull it off. The fox had pouted when Nikko told him he was thinking about taking on another student, asking if he wasn't good enough.
"It's not to replace you," Nikko had said, taking Knight's hand. "It's for you. I worry about you getting lonely, sitting around here by yourself all the time. If we had another student around, you would have someone to talk to and play with."
"I don't get lonely," Knight sulked. "As long as I know Nikko is coming home, I'm never lonely. And summer is coming..."
"Ah, about that..." Nikko glanced away, unable to hold Knight's gaze. "At work... I've been told I'll have to teach summer classes this year." Or rather, he would go in and volunteer for it tomorrow. He could use the extra money anyway. "So, I won't be around so much like I was last year."
Knight's frown deepened, even as his lip quivered. "That's stupid. You're supposed to get summers off."
"I know. That's why I'm worried about you. It would make me so much happier knowing you weren't lonely."
"Of course. If I'm worried about you, I'm sad, but if I know you're having fun with a new friend, I'm happy."
Knight's tail began to curl slightly, considering. "I want Nikko to be happy..."
"Knight being not alone makes me happy." Nikko smiled. "And, hey, you could help take care of the new student. You would be like a tutor or a big brother."
"Yeah. I think you would be a great brother."
Knight's tail wagged. "I would?"
Then, finally, Knight smiled. "Okay, let's do it!"
Darryl had said, as he spouted off the things he had learned for Nikko's sake, that fennecs mate for life. It explained why Knight was so attached to Nikko – he was seeing Nikko as his mate. And why wouldn't he? They were always together, lived and ate together, made the once-empty apartment a home together. They kissed, they slept together, they were family. They may as well have been married.
But they weren't, and they never could be, heartbreaking as it was. And having his 'mate' suddenly pulling away was hurting Knight – again – something Nikko never wanted to do.
If – If – there were someone else around, another student to live with and focus on, perhaps that would change Knight's feelings. Diversion. Maybe Knight would take a new, more appropriate mate.
And Nikko would be left alone.
But maybe – or so Nikko continued to tell himself – it was better to watch Knight be happy with someone else than to lose him altogether.
So they headed to the facility as soon as the weekend hit. Jack wasn't there to greet them, but the girl who was said he was in the building and she would fetch him. They were put in the barely familiar waiting room, and Nikko took a moment to squeeze Knight's hand after the door was closed.
Jack was either very busy or liked making Nikko wait, as it seemed to take an eternity for a knock to sound and then the white rabbit appeared. Nikko stood to greet him, with Knight following, and once the typical pleasantries were out of the way, Jack asked "So, to what do I owe this visit?"
"We were... interested in taking on another student, if possible."
A fine, white brow rose curiously. "Is that so?"
"Most teachers don't take on additional students until they've been in the program for several years. You've just barely been around for one."
"I know, but..." Nikko's hands fiddled with the cuffs of his jacket, pulling at a stray thread. "As you know, unlike most other teachers, I don't own my own business or work freelance. I can't be home quite as often, and it's not going to get any better this summer, as I'll have summer school classes. I've... been worried about Knight being lonely."
Jack's brows furrowed. His soft spot for Knight was definitely where Nikko needed to aim. "Can you afford another student?"
"Yes, I can. That was one of the first things I considered, and it shouldn't be a problem." He would just have to be a little more careful with his budgeting; fewer trips to Starbucks, more walking instead of taking the bus, a new computer could wait until next year.
Then Jack looked to Knight. "Is this something you want?"
"Yes!" Knight was more cheerful than he had been in weeks. "I want to be a big brother!"
Jack's lip quirked up. "All right, then."
And Nikko breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
It figured. "However?" Nikko echoed.
"You may have to wait. The only students we have here currently are some wolves, so unless you would take one of them, the only other option would be to find someone in another district."
"Oh..." Well, it shouldn't take too long. A few extra days or weeks weren't such a big deal. Yet, surprisingly, it was Knight who looked down about it. He pouted, ears going flat. He looked like he might cry, and Nikko thought perhaps he had gotten Knight a little too excited about being a 'big brother'. "I suppose..." he began, against his better judgment. "A wolf might be okay..."
"No," Knight snipped, making even Jack raise a brow. "Wolves are stupid, and Nikko is scared of them."
Nikko and Jack looked at each other, and Nikko only shrugged. He had promised he wouldn't report Gus for his little feral slip, so kept his mouth shut about the comment, saying only "It's true that wolves can be... intimidating."
Jack gave a tiny sigh, but was silent for a long time. He seemed to be thinking, eyes locked onto a random spot on the wall. Whatever it was, Nikko didn't deign to interrupt his thoughts, simply waiting for a conclusion. Then, eventually, Jack's focus returned to Knight and Nikko. "There is... one other option, if you really want to take someone home today."
"Yes!? Yes!?" Knight sat up straighter, more into the idea now than Nikko, which was a good sign. Hopefully his enthusiasm for the new family member would only grow.
"I'm... not supposed to do this," Jack continued. "But we recently had a batch of dogs arrive. Puppies, really. They're still quite young and not technically ready to go just yet."
Nikko's brows drew together. "Are they... babies?" That wouldn't do at all.
"Oh, no," Jack answered. "All of the students' bodies are equivalent to human teenagers before they leave the laboratories. It's just... they haven't had any experience with the human world. Usually we do preliminary training, teaching them the things that are likely to frighten them, so that they don't go into shock or lash out, but these ones haven't had any of that yet. It could be risky."
"Do... Do they bite?"
"I can't guarantee that they won't."
Knight spoke up then, a determination in his eyes. "I can do it."
Nikko said a simple, questioning "Knight?"
"I remember going through the training. I can teach them. And... And if they bite me, it's okay."
Jack smiled despite the strange situation. Not even a professional business rabbit could resist how cute Knight could be when determined. "I would prefer if you didn't get bitten, but I do believe you could do it. In fact, I'm now curious to see you try." His smile deepened and he nodded. "All right, then I will pull some favors and set you up with someone."
"Thank you, Jack!" Knight was radiant.
"One moment, please."
Before Jack could disappear, however, Nikko stopped him with an "Ah-" And when Jack turned back to him, Nikko said "We'd prefer a male, if possible." It sounded wrong to him, but Knight got along better with boys – he was certainly very interested in Nikko's dick – so a girl wouldn't work for this idea. "I mean... Since we're both guys, it might be awkward for a girl, and the students will have to share a room..." Still sounded wrong.
But Jack only smiled. "I'll see what I can do." Then he disappeared again.
Knight immediately turned to Nikko, face a portrait of glee. It was good to see him in high spirits again. If nothing else, this idea was keeping his mind off his erections for a while. "We did it! We convinced Jack!"
Nikko chuckled. "It was because of you. And now you'll get to be a brother."
"Y-Yeah..." Knight's excitement died down by measures.
"Knight?" Nikko reached to take Knight's hand. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, but..." He paused a moment; Nikko waited. "But more than becoming a brother... I feel like Nikko and I are... having a baby."
Nikko's face went bright pink and he started choking on nothing. A coughing fit prevented him from responding right away, which was good, because he really didn't know how to reply to that. It gave away why Knight was really so excited, but was the complete opposite of what this plan was supposed to do.
Knight began patting Nikko's back, asking "Is Nikko okay?"
"Yeah," Nikko answered, clearing his throat one last time. "Just swallowed some spit wrong."
"Should I do CPR?"
Nikko laughed. "No, it's okay. I'm not dying and you don't know how anyway." He smiled, and Knight did too. "But, Knight..." Then Nikko got a little more serious. "This new student... He won't be lower than you."
"I mean, of course you can help him when he needs it and take care of him if he has trouble, but you're both still students. He won't be a baby and you won't be allowed to tell him what to do or punish him. That will be left to me. Okay?"
Knight's ears drooped, but he nodded. "I understand..."
"But he will be your friend and companion, someone to play with." Nikko turned his smile up a notch.
Another nod, and Knight's smile deepened too.
They continued to talk, deciding how Knight's room could be re-arranged to fit another bed – the desk would have to be moved to Nikko's room – and plotting out new study schedules. Even small stuff, like who would sit where at the kitchen table and a reminder that an extra set of dishes would need to be picked up, was discussed, making conversation until Jack came back. Nikko loved talking with Knight, and he quietly sent a wish that that never changed despite the new addition they were about to get.
A century later, there was a knock at the door, and Nikko's heart leapt into his throat, anxious to know all about his new family member.
Jack came in with a small young man leaning against him. Still taller than Nikko, of course, but at least a head shorter than Knight and quite slender. His hair was a glossy jet black and was combed forward to cover the right half of his face, making Nikko wonder if it was styled to hide something. He had black, folded ears on top of his head that were beyond adorable, and his tail was long, as fluffy as Knight's, and also mostly black, with a stripe of tan along the underside.
He also had most of his visible face buried into Jack's shoulder, eyes closed. He looked dead.
"Is he... okay?" Nikko asked.
"They're very sleepy at this stage, still adjusting to the new body. He will probably spend the first few days sleeping, so you'll have to wake him to make sure he eats."
Nikko nodded. It was interesting, made him wish he could learn more about the process. All he said, though, was "I see."
"This is 047C-TCS08-D. He is a tri-color sheltie, pure-bred." Then Jack smiled. "Not that you require pedigree."
Nikko smiled back. "Character is more important than pedigree."
"Well..." Jack shifted, pulling the pup to stand upright. The poor little guy's head flopped forward, still fast asleep. "Unfortunately, since he's still so new, we don't yet know what his personality is like. He has been rather calm during feeding times, but I can't say for sure what he'll be like once he's fully awake."
"Oh... Well, it should be okay. I work with all kinds of kids, so I have experience managing all types of personalities."
Jack's smile turned up. "I know you do." Perhaps he trusted Nikko more than Nikko thought or gave him credit for. "To be honest, I chose him for you because he was the runt of his litter. He won't get any bigger than he currently is."
Another jab at Nikko's size; hilarious, coming from a rabbit. "Is he- Ah-!" Nikko's hand flew up when the dog's knees gave out and his body dropped. Even Jack didn't have time to react and catch him before he fell.
But then Knight was there.
Arms reaching, Knight dived to catch the dog. He stood, his bundle safely gathered in his arms, and gave a little sigh. "That was dangerous!"
It took a moment for Nikko to snap out of the shock of the sudden activity, but when his brain started again he said "Way to go, Knight."
Even Jack looked impressed. "Your reflexes are impeccable."
Knight chuckled, though his cheeks pinked. "Thank you!"
The dog stirred, his face scrunched, and then his head turned to Knight's chest and he relaxed again. He had slept through the whole thing.
Nikko caught sight of a small, black spot on the dog's face, and he stared at it for a moment. It was a mole – the guy had a mole on his chin, just left of his mouth. Too cute. He was very adorable, even if he was channeling Sleeping Beauty, and Nikko's fingers longed to scratch at those folded ears.
"He's had his medical checks and is overall very healthy, despite his status as a runt." Jack answered the question Nikko hadn't gotten to ask. "He may have some problems with his eyes, though. He's scheduled to have further tests on his vision next week. Can you keep the appointment?"
"Yeah," Nikko replied. "Either Knight or I can bring him in."
"Great. Then, if you'd like to take him..." Nikko nodded, and Jack continued. "Then the last things we need to do are ask his permission and fill out the contract."
The surprise Nikko felt about needing permission from the student was very brief. Of course they wouldn't force the students to go with someone they didn't feel they could trust or like. It had been different with Knight, who'd had the ability to say something or walk out of the room at any time. Knight had shown clear enthusiasm at the prospect of going with Nikko, but this sleepy little pup couldn't do that. Hopefully they could wake him and ask him directly; hopefully he would have the wherewithal to give his consent properly.
Nikko nodded once again. "Please."
With his professional smile, Jack turned to the dog, still in Knight's arms. He reached up and shook the dog-boy's shoulder, saying softly "Hey. Wake up, Little One. Wake up." When the dog stirred, Jack patted him on the head, and then shook his shoulder again. "Wake up."
Finally, slowly, the single eye not hidden by a fall of black hair cracked open, winced, then opened further. It was a brilliant, beautiful violet eye, glancing tired around the room. When he looked up, squinting at Knight's face, Knight smiled. The dog just stared, confusion touching his elegant features.
"I know it's a bit soon," Jack said, drawing the dog's attention. He gestured to Nikko as he continued. "But these two would like you to go home with them. Nikko will be your teacher, Knight, your peer. What do you think?"
The dog's gaze went to Nikko, squinting again, making Nikko realize he was still on the other side of the room and the boy had vision problems. He carefully stepped closer, then held out a hand. As expected, the dog began to sniff at his fingers, and then his eyes turned back to Nikko's face. "I'd love if you could be my student," Nikko said in a gentle voice, smile deepening at the way the dog's ears twitched when he spoke.
A moment later, the dog looked back to Knight, and his eyes stayed there even as Jack asked "Would you like to go home with them?"
His gaze moved back and forth between Knight and Nikko again, and then the dog nodded. It made both Knight and Nikko smile, even as the dog then promptly closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
"All right, then," Jack said. "I'll go prepare the contract. Please wait here."
Alone again, Nikko took a moment to look at his new family. The dog rested so easily in Knight's arms, he really did look like a beloved child, though Nikko refused to think of himself as anything like a father. He gestured to the chairs, saying "You should sit, so your arms don't get too tired." There was a good chance Knight was going to have to carry the pup all the way home.
"What will you name him?" Knight asked cheerfully after he had sat.
"Me? I think you should name him."
"Animals can't name other animals!" Knight looked shocked by the very idea.
Nikko chuckled. "Why not?"
"I- I don't know. But we don't."
"Well, I'll think about it. And if you get any good ideas, tell me, and we'll think about it together."
Knight smiled broad. "Okay!"
Sometime later, Jack returned with the usual clipboard and papers. Everything went down much the same as before, except that this time Nikko already knew all the rules and what would be expected of him. He didn't need to read the fine print, since the contract itself was the same, the only difference being where Jack had written the student's type, breed, and serial number. Like before, the box for the student's name was left blank.
When all was said and done, they all stood. Jack gave his most professional "Thank you for your continued assistance" and a bow, then moved to open the door for them.
Nikko thanked Jack in turn, and then stepped out of the room, ready to face his new life with two animal students.
The door to the room across the hall slammed open to let loose a storm of blonde hair and red lipstick. Nikko froze, so did the storm, and simultaneously recognition dawned over both of them.
Starbuck's was empty for a Saturday, but Nikko knew from experience that it was simply a matter of having arrived in between rushes. No matter where it was, East or West, the general population suffered from a subconscious hive-mind, which was why cash registers at a store could be dead one moment and slammed the next. It was only a matter of time before everyone in the area decided in sync that they needed coffee.
They took a table outside, the weather being fairly decent even by Nikko's picky standards. Noella had driven them there and had offered to drive them home as well, for which Nikko was grateful.
"He is so cute," Noella said, smiling at the sleeping pup. They had initially sat him up in a chair, but he kept falling over, so eventually just ended up on Knight's lap. "I just might have to branch out from rabbits one of these days."
Nikko smiled, though he was dying to know what went down at the facility. "Maybe when he wakes up he'll be a terror, and won't be so cute anymore."
Noella laughed. "I doubt that. But I had no idea they were so sleepy at this stage. It's fascinating. You're getting to experience something no other teacher has."
"Yeah..." The thought gave him butterflies. "I just hope I don't mess it up."
"You'll be fine." Noella's smile was sure, confident for Nikko, who wasn't quite so confident himself. "Have you thought of a name yet?"
"No," Nikko answered. "I'm not so good with that kind of thing."
"Nonsense! Knight has a fantastic name." At her words, Knight perked, chirped his thanks. Then Noella continued with "You could continue the chess theme. How about 'Rook'?"
Nikko's eyes drifted to the side. "Eeh... That sounds like the kind of name you'd give a vampire."
Noella laughed again. "Alright, then... Not 'Pawn'; that would give him an inferiority complex." That one made Nikko laugh. "But... Maybe 'Bishop'?"
"Bishop...?" Nikko weighed the name on his tongue, glanced at the sleeping dog. "Bishop..." He liked it, a lot. "Yeah, that's really good." He smiled and turned to Knight. "What do you think?"
"Yes!" Knight smiled. "I like Bishop!"
He knew it wasn't meant like that and that was the point of all this anyway, but it made Nikko's heart squeeze. His smile tightened. "Then, Bishop it is." His gaze turned again to the dog – to Bishop. Jealous as he was, as he would be, he looked forward to seeing those violet eyes again; he looked forward to talking with Bishop.
"Do you have a bed for him?" Noella asked next.
"Not yet. I'll have to have one delivered."
"I have an extra one you can have if you want."
"Really?" That would be such a big help – Nikko was almost afraid to accept it, having nothing to repay her with except gratitude, which he didn't feel was nearly enough.
But Noella just gave a "Yeah!" and flashed her bright red smile. "Since my boys share a bed, we have an extra. If you'd like it, it's yours. Or, well, it's Bishop's."
"That would be great. Thank you so much."
"No problem. We can swing by my place before we take you guys home and pick it up."
"Sounds great. Thanks." Nikko smiled at her, forever grateful. Noella was cool and kind; Nikko was glad for this chance to get to know her better. Her smile and attitude were glowing, making it hard to believe just a half-hour ago she was ready to skin someone alive.
Noella hadn't said anything yet about why she was so furious when they ran into each other. Nikko didn't know if she would, but he figured it was her business, and if she wanted to talk she would. Just in case she would rather forget, he didn't bring it up, even though he was brimming with curiosity.
"Ah, you've got that look in your eye," Noella said, drawing back Nikko's attention. He had barely noticed the conversation had dwindled to silence. "You want to know what happened, don't you?"
"Oh, no. It's... It's not..."
"It's normal to be curious, you know."
Nikko blushed. "Well, I mean... Of course I'm curious, but if it's none of my business..."
Noella shook her head. "It's fine." She paused a moment, seeming to consider her words. Her smile fell. "It's that... They want Ruka to graduate."
"Oh. Well, that's nice. Congratulations."
"They want only Ruka to."
"Oh..." That made all the difference.
"I refuse." She was heating up. "I refuse to let them separate Ruka and Toto. Those two need each other. I'm not even sure they could live without each other."
"I'm... I'm sorry to hear that." Nikko didn't know what else to say. All the words he knew felt inadequate.
"I told them he wasn't ready, but... I don't know if they'll force it."
An uncomfortable silence fell; apparently neither of them knew how to further address the issue. Nikko's eyes slowly moved to Knight, who was looking down at Bishop with a crease in his brow. It seemed he at least understood the situation, even if there was nothing anyone could do about it.
What if Knight did fall for Bishop? It was Nikko's plan for the short term, but what would happen when Knight, who was older and much further along in his studies, had to graduate? Would Nikko have to go through the same thing; would he have to fight for them to not be separated? Could he?
He didn't even want to think about it.
Chapter 21: Wake Up, Little One
For a few days, everything was about Bishop.
Honestly, Knight was a little bit jealous. Even though Bishop did little more than sleep and eat, Nikko was really focused on him, and seemed to want Knight to be too.
The first night Bishop was home, Nikko requested that Knight stay in his now-shared room, just in case the dog woke up and needed anything. Knight thought about going to Nikko's room anyway; Nikko wouldn't kick him out – not if he didn't try anything that was against the rules – and he didn't think Bishop would wake up. Just as he had climbed out of bed, though, he paused. What if he was wrong? What if Bishop did wake up and was scared or lonely? Knight had said he would help take care of Bishop, so he would. He would show Nikko he was a good boy, and a good big brother.
Instead of leaving that night, he padded over to Bishop's bed and watched the sleeping dog. He remembered what it was like going through this time, body still aching and feeling tired all the time. He remembered waking up sometimes and being alone. Always alone. He didn't want Bishop to go through that.
He ran a hand through Bishop's hair, scratched behind his folded ears, like Nikko always did for Knight. Even in his sleep, Bishop's tail started to wag, his blanket rising and falling in a few lazy beats.
He wanted to do right with Bishop, but it still kind of hurt when Nikko, fresh and clean and damp from the shower, greeted him with "How's Bishop?" instead of a 'good morning'.
"He's sleeping, but I think he's okay."
"Did he sleep through the night?"
"Yes," Knight answered as he placed Nikko's coffee in front of him on the dining table.
Nikko said "That's good" without looking up as he pulled on his socks.
And Knight was still for a moment, trying not to feel ignored. Nikko had a lot on his mind, probably stressed as always with preparing for summer classes at work on top of a new student at home. Knight knew that; he couldn't be selfish. Yet, he still found himself calling softly "Nikko."
When Nikko looked up, Knight bent down and kissed him, holding their lips together until he'd had his fill. He wasn't allowed the lover's kiss anymore, which made him sad, but this one was okay. He would take it; it made his body warm.
When he pulled away, Nikko's cheeks were pink. He looked surprised and extra cute, which made Knight smile. "Good morning, Nikko."
The first day and a half, Knight had to help Bishop walk quite a bit, sometimes even carry him, but it wasn't long before he could walk on his own. He could feed himself, at least, though only by using his hands. Using the bathroom was a much bigger problem, as Bishop didn't even know what a human toilet was, much less how to use one. At first he would just squat wherever he was, soiling his pants – which were actually borrowed pants from Nikko – and the carpet. Knight had to be vigilant and watch for Bishop to start getting into position, then scoop him up and carry him to the bathroom to strip him of his pants and set him on the toilet. It was kind of embarrassing, but Bishop learned really quickly. After only a few times, Bishop figured it out, and then was able to shuffle himself to the bathroom when he needed to go. Knight was happy for him.
Bishop ambling around on his own two feet did pose a problem in itself. The pup's vision must have been worse than anyone guessed, because he often walked into things. He had yelped loudly the first time he tripped over the coffee table, scaring the life out of Knight, and once walked straight into a wall, missing the bathroom door by a lot. Knight hoped he got a first-aid lesson soon, because Bishop was likely to get hurt at the rate he was going.
The morning of Bishop's third day, they heard him speak for the first time. It was just a simple "No. Meat," when Knight asked if he wanted pancakes for breakfast, but it made both Knight and Nikko excited. They looked at each other, gazes snapping to meet, and broke out into wide grins, proud parents cooing over baby's first words. Bishop's voice was a little strange, but cute. Knight gave him extra servings of breakfast sausage that day.
Though he slept quite a bit, even Knight was able to see that Bishop was intelligent. He picked up on things quickly, only having to be shown once or twice before he got it. When he was able to keep his eyes open through an entire meal, they finally showed him how to use silverware, the lesson a simple matter of putting a fork in his fingers and guiding him through the motions. He quickly pulled his hands away from Knight's touch, and then showed them that he could do it.
The more Bishop woke up, the more he was able to do, and mere days had passed before Knight didn't really need to take care of him at all. He could be left to his own devices, which usually involved sleeping in their room or on the couch, and it gave Knight more free time to get his chores done.
He was in Nikko's room, gathering laundry, when a spat of loneliness hit him. It was kind of silly, perhaps, because he had spent less time alone in the past few days than he had in months. Bishop was always around and even if he was asleep or didn't respond, Knight could still talk to him. There was now a constant presence in the apartment, a persistent scent, yet Knight felt alone.
It wasn't the same. If it wasn't Nikko, it wasn't the same. Knight missed Nikko, even if he didn't see him any less often than usual.
He picked up one of Nikko's work shirts that had been dropped over the bedroom chair and pressed it to his nose. It smelled like Nikko – probably needed to be washed, but Knight didn't add it to the basket right away. Instead, he held it to his face and inhaled that clean scent of Nikko. He could smell small nuances in the cloth; Nikko must have been stressed the day he wore this shirt.
Knight's body began to tingle. He also missed getting to taste Nikko. It had only been a few times, but he wanted it again so badly. He loved the flavor of Nikko, sweet like the purest honey, intoxicating. Even more, he loved making Nikko feel good, loved the little sounds of pleasure Nikko made when Knight used his mouth on him. He missed how close he felt to Nikko afterwards, as they lay together, like it was part of Nikko's soul he had swallowed, and eventually they would become one.
He got hard. Taking in Nikko's scent, remembering the time when they could kiss like lovers, when Knight could fill all of his senses with Nikko, it made his penis grow erect, yearning. He wanted Nikko, but he couldn't do anything about it.
Knight pressed a hand against his painful erection. That made it throb even more, though, and it frustrated him. He didn't get why he couldn't have Nikko. Why was it bad? Why was that stupid rule there? Why couldn't they just keep it a secret? Why!? Why didn't Nikko let him do it anymore!?
He threw the shirt into the basket by his feet, then kicked it, sending the clothes flying. He could feel the frown pulling at his lips as he glared at the overturned basket, but he was unhappy. And when his eyes moved up, catching his reflection in the long mirror, his unhappiness deepened.
It was because he was a fox. Because he had these ridiculous fox ears and a stupid tail. And he wasn't even a real fox; he had these awful black horns that looked demonic. He wasn't human, so he couldn't be with Nikko, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He wanted to run away and take Nikko with him.
Knight turned away from the mirror, sick of himself. Reaching back, he grabbed his tail and began to stuff it down the leg of his pants. He needed fresh air; he wanted to move, to stretch his legs. He wanted his erection to go away, and for that, he needed to be away from Nikko's scent. So he left the room, intending to go on a walk. He should be allowed to do that much, at least.
"I'm going for a walk," he told Bishop as he passed through the living room, not that the sleeping dog would have heard him.
The fresh air felt good, relaxing him as soon as he stepped onto the sidewalk. His mind and body eased as he walked, and eventually he began to feel peace again. He had places he liked to walk to now, favorite parks to visit and stores to window-shop at. There was a street where people played instruments or sang songs, and sometimes groups of people danced, and there was a river Knight could walk along where he sometimes saw fish.
He visited all of those places, mind wandering as his feet did, lost in thought. He thought about Nikko a lot, and it made his heart hurt. He thought about Roco and Wendy and hoped they were okay, wherever they were. He thought about how he secretly hoped Jack never found them, even though Jack was his friend. And he thought about Ruka and Toto, how the company wanted to separate them, which made him think about his own graduation. They would force Knight to graduate eventually, wanting a return on the money they invested in creating him. But then he would have to leave Nikko, even though he had promised he wouldn't. He would have to figure out a way to stop that from happening.
Knight was grateful to the company for giving him this body, but sometimes he really hated them. He hated their stupid rules that he didn't understand, and he hated how they decided things for him without asking what he wanted. He hated that he was just a product to them.
He kicked a stone into the river, sighed, and then turned to go home. He felt much better now.
When he got to the mahogany door of the apartment, however, he found it unlocked even though he was sure he locked it when he left. He sniffed the air carefully as he cautiously entered, but he didn't smell anything. He didn't smell anything at all, not even a dog.
"Bishop?" Knight called softly as he stepped to the living room. There was no response, and there was no Bishop. The couch was empty. "Bishop?" Louder, this time. He went to their bedroom, the bathroom, Nikko's room; Bishop wasn't in the apartment.
Knight's heart began to pound, gripped with fear. He had no idea where Bishop could have gone. Terrible things flashed through his mind as he ran out onto the balcony and looked over the side. No Bishop splattered below – it barely made Knight feel any better.
If the dog had gone out for a walk, there was no way for Knight to know. Bishop couldn't write, so there wouldn't be a note, and they hadn't gotten him a phone yet. If someone broke in and kidnapped him...
It would be all Knight's fault. If anything happened to Bishop, it would be all Knight's fault, because he was supposed to be taking care of him.
He was a bad big brother.
Knight ran from the apartment, feeling no peace when he reached the sidewalk this time. He called out loudly. "Bishop!" As expected, though, there was no reply. So he tilted his head back, raising his nose to the air. He couldn't scent as well as a dog could, but perhaps if there were even a tiny chance, a bare hint, it would give him a clue as to where Bishop went.
And that in and of itself was perhaps the first clue, Knight realized. Bishop could scent as well as a dog. If Bishop went out looking for Knight, he would have followed his smell. So Knight began to trace his steps from before, looking for the missing dog. It may not have been the right way, but it certainly couldn't have been any worse than running around at random.
He was scared.
Bishop didn't know anything about the outside. He didn't know what a car was and that he shouldn't stand in front of one. Even if he did, he could hardly see. It was too easy to imagine Bishop walking into traffic or off a bridge, unable to see or assess the danger he was heading towards, and as he ran, tears began pouring down Knight's face.
"Bishop! Where are you!?" Knight yanked the hat off his head as he ran, freeing his ears. He didn't care if people stared; he needed to be able to listen.
There was no Bishop at the park or around any of his favorite stores. Knight ran through a troupe of dancers, getting scolded for breaking their formation, but he didn't stop. No Bishop among all the musicians either. Knight's heart squeezed harder and sobs broke louder as he headed for the river. He didn't know if Bishop could swim.
He ran down the bank with the wind to his back, going in the direction his scent would have travelled, but he didn't see Bishop. The awful, yet likely, thought occurred to him that maybe he had been wrong. Maybe Bishop hadn't gone looking for him at all; maybe Bishop was sick of him and went in the opposite direction. Maybe Bishop wanted to be away from him.
Knight tripped over a stick hidden in a tuft of long grass and fell to the ground, scraping his face and bruising his knees. He didn't have the energy to get up, though. Instead, he buried his face in his arms and cried. He had lost Bishop, had failed to keep his word and take care of him. Jack would be mad; Nikko would be disappointed. He would be punished for losing a student – he deserved to be.
Wiping his face one last time on his arm, Knight pulled himself up onto his knees. He may as well go home, admit his failure, and accept whatever happened to him.
But when he glanced around to get his bearings, his eyes went wide. He hadn't tripped over a stick at all, but rather, a leg. A thin leg, clad in black. As Knight's eyes travelled up the dark form, his heart pounded.
Curled in the overgrown, green grass was Bishop, sound asleep.
"Bishop!" Knight whirled on the dog, gathering him up in his arms, tucking his face into Bishop's neck as he began to cry again. Relief flooded through him; Bishop was okay, safe and found. Everything would be okay.
An annoyed 'woof' came from above, and Knight pulled back to see violet eyes staring at him, dazed and sleepy, a tiny frown on Bishop's lips.
"I'm so sorry!" Knight said. "I didn't mean to leave you by yourself. You must have been lonely. I'm... I'm sorry."
The world was still for a moment while two animals stared at each other, and then Bishop began to wiggle out of Knight's arms. He crawled away a few feet, then sat on his haunches with his back turned to Knight, tail lying flat and motionless behind him. For a while, Knight thought Bishop was angry, until the dog turned his head to look over his shoulder. It was only for a moment, and then he turned back. His tail thumped once. "I... wasn't lonely."
Knight broke into a smile, because somehow Bishop's words convinced him even more that he had been lonely, had gone out looking for Knight, but his attempt to deny it was oddly endearing. And so Knight stood up, walked around to stand in front of Bishop, and extended his hand.
"Let's go home."
Knight had never spent much time in the medical rooms of the facility. He was pretty healthy, so he never saw the clinical rooms aside from his occasional checkup. It had shocked Nikko, though, that the nurses were also animals, mostly rabbits, though the doctor was human.
"I see," Nikko said as he analyzed a pair of sample frames while Bishop was fitted with his chosen glasses. "So the little combs hold them up."
"That's right," the doctor replied. "Since they don't have human ears, it's either this or a sports wrap-around style. His hair is thick, though, so these will work well for him and still look natural."
Knight saw Nikko turn a suspicious eye to Bishop's hair, and he wondered what he was thinking. Nothing more was said, though, so Knight took the dawning silence to ask "Should I get glasses, Nikko?"
Nikko turned to him, lips curling up into a smile. "Do you have trouble seeing?" he asked as he went to Knight, lifting the lens-less frames.
"No." Knight held still as Nikko slid the frames on him, fixing the combs in his hair so they stayed up properly.
"Then you don't need glasses." As he stepped back and stared at Knight's face, however, Nikko's sweet scent began to waft up lightly. Bishop must have noticed it too, as his nose began to twitch, his eyes focusing on the back of Nikko's head instead of the doctor's finger.
Knight pouted. Nikko must have liked glasses, but he didn't get to wear any. "I want glasses."
"Oh, Knight." Nikko reached up again and pulled the glasses away. "You should be grateful to have perfect vision."
"Does Nikko have perfect vision?"
Nikko snorted. "No, I'm practically blind."
"No." Nikko laughed softly; Knight loved that sound. "I am supposed to wear glasses, though."
"Why don't you?"
Nikko only shrugged. Knight wanted to see Nikko wear glasses some day.
"You're all set," the doctor said as he stepped back, revealing Bishop as if announcing him at a ball. Bishop looked good in the rectangular, black frames. They suited him well. "There shouldn't be any problems, but if there are, just call and we'll fix you right up."
"Thanks, Doctor." Nikko's smile was small and polite, shy.
The doctor's smile, on the other hand, deepened as he studied Nikko for a moment. Then he said "You're really good with them."
Nikko's cheeks went pink. "N-Nah... I'm... average."
The doctor only smirked, one side of his mouth pulling up. "Well, thank you for bringing him, and have a nice day."
The greetings were returned and the doctor left. Nikko's cheeks remained pink, but his voice was mostly normal as he asked Bishop "You can see?" and gave a little 'thumbs-up' sign.
On the street, Knight took Nikko's hand, and then offered his other to Bishop. The dog didn't take it, only looked away shyly, but Knight didn't push it. He was just happy that Bishop was awake, walking on his own, safe, and now with corrected vision. He felt like their family had grown bigger, and the smile on his face was unending.
"Nikko!" Knight squeezed the warm palm encased in his own. "Let's get ice cream!"