Just Like Cats and Dogs (Sanctuary Book 1), page 3
“Do you have a mate here? Ma and Pop never said.” He brought them to the city at least once a year for a long visit. It was one of his favorite…. Had been…. Shit.
“No.” The word came out flat and hard.
“Sorry.” He really wasn’t. It wasn’t like he had one. The others of his kind shunned him. He smelled of dog, no matter how long he lived away, and he wouldn’t deny the wolves who raised him, loved him.
Gus sucked down the last of the beer. “I have Hostess cupcakes.”
“Go for it.” He couldn’t taste sweet. It was a feline thing.
“You don’t like cupcakes? Dude.” Gus shook his head. “You want more casserole?”
“Thanks.” He took the meat, the salt and spice good, the rice filling. Dogs.
“No problem.” Two cupcakes disappeared in short order.
God, Gus was pretty. No. Studly. Big and broad and toothy and strong. Lickable. Whoa. Where did that come from? No licking.
“You’re staring at me.”
“Sorry. I’m a little wild-eyed.”
“Yeah. I get that.” Licking his fingers, Gus moaned a little. “Your loss.”
He shook his head. “Not really.”
“No? Is this like a cat deal?” Gus ate one more cupcake. The man could put away the food.
“Yes. We can’t taste sweet.”
Gus raised a brow. “The human thing doesn’t override it?”
“Nope. I mean, I can tell it tastes different than spicy, but I don’t get sweet.”
“Weird. That sucks.”
Sam chuckled. Actually, it helped in the sucking arena. He had a thing for salty and bitter.
“What?” Gus was the one staring now.
“Hmm? I was just thinking about sucking.” Wait.
“Yeah? Do tell.” Now Gus was staring at Sam’s mouth.
“Now, now. You are too much of a pup for that information.”
“A pup?” Gus snorted. “Bullshit. I been all over town, Puss.”
He chuffed softly. Like this town was a challenge.
“I don’t mean our town.” Slapping his back, Gus rose and stretched.
Uhn. Pretty. Sam stood himself, spine popping as he arched.
“You about ready to head back?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d better. Mom will need me.” He sighed. “I don’t suppose there are any clothes I can borrow?”
“Yeah. I got some. They’ll be a little big.” Gus looked him over with a surprisingly expert eye.
“That’s okay. I can handle that.” He tried not to preen.
“I bet.” There were some sweats and a T-shirt, and Gus handed them over.
Sam only hoped there was transport.
Gus grabbed the keys from the office, leading Puss out to one of the old trucks they used to haul shit around the mine area. He was kind of amazed he and Sam had gotten along for the whole time they’d been together. Sam had to be stunned by grief. That was the only explanation.
He’d never actually seen Sam furry before.
Naked? Sure. They’d stripped the man down and tossed him in the pond a lot when they were teenagers. Sam would just yowl, hissing and spitting and cussing them. Cats hated water, after all. At least sudden immersion water.
He’d have to try it again one day. Maybe. Oh, damn, that would be fun. Naked Sam, lots of sunshine…. Shit, when did naked Sam become a good thing and not something to be mocked?
Sam curled into the truck, so lean, so fine. Gus shook his head. No thinking of the kitty as fine. No.
“Huh? Nothing. Back to your mom’s place, huh?” He started up the truck and eased out onto the dirt road.
“Yeah. The service is tomorrow night during your gathering.”
“Okay. Did I say I was sorry?” He was. Really.
“You did. He was a good man.”
“He was.” Well, that used up all of his conversational skills that went beyond “Suck me.”
They headed back to the farm, and Sam’s eyes got bigger and bigger as they drove. Gus kept glancing at the man, finally unable to hold it in. “What? I’m driving good this time.”
“Huh?” Sam jumped, looked at him. “Oh. No. You’re fine. It’s just… we went so far.”
“We did?” Maybe he was used to roaming. The mine was a run he made a few times a week, honestly. At least when he was home.
“Oh. Oh, okay.” Yeah, he guessed he got that. Of all of them, Sam was the homebody, sorta. Then there was the whole thing where Puss lived in the city. Really, what did he do during the moon? Did the kitty just crate himself? “How do you deal with it? The change? I mean, in the city?” Whoa, way to blurt it out.
Sam chuckled. “Just like I always have. I just have a much bigger space. I have a lovely loft, tons of room and places to jump and climb.”
“Ah. Like a kitty tower.”
“Yeah. Safe, comfortable.” Sam chuckled softly. “Incredibly expensive.”
“No shit. I can’t see how you do it. The smells must drive you crazy.”
“Sometimes. Yesterday was wild.”
“You need to get out more.” He winked over.
Something flashed in Sam’s eyes—something fast and angry and ugly and pained—but it went quick, and then it was good. “Moon’s coming tomorrow. No one will have a choice then.”
“True.” Gus tilted his head. “You need someone to run with, you holler. I can keep the pack straight.”
They pulled into the driveway and parked, the place mostly empty. Gray was on the porch, strumming a guitar, with a half-dozen puppies milling around him.
“No problem. Look, it seems like my people went on home, so I guess I’ll head out.” He didn’t want to get snarled at again.
“Thanks for the ride, man. I appreciate it.”
“No problem.” What was he supposed to say? Call me? Gus watched Sam get out of the truck and go to stand next to his brother on the porch.
Then he peeled out of the Finns’ drive in a spectacular cloud of dust, like only a rebel would.
He had a reputation to live up to, after all.
The pack was coming as soon as the moon came, so Sam went to the barn, rested his hand on the coffin. The wolves would mourn Pop tonight, bury him tomorrow before the moon turned again. He needed his minute to say good-bye.
“Gonna miss you, Poppy. You and Ma are the best of your kind, and you raised some good pups.”
“Some shitty ones too.” Helena’s hand landed on his back. “I hate the full moon.”
He nodded. “Me too.”
“I can’t believe he’s gone.”
He nodded again, his head hurting so badly. “Me either.”
She rested her forehead against his shoulder, sniffling a little bit, and they stood there. Sam wasn’t surprised at all when Gray wandered in, slow and careful.
“Knew I’d find you together.”
Sam smiled. “Knew you’d come find us.”
Gray wrapped his arms around them both, the man huge, strong, and so gentle. “Where else would I go? You’re my sibs.”
Helena sobbed once, then stomped her foot, refusing, as always, to show weakness. “I need a beer, boys, in the worst way.”
Sam nodded. “Let’s do it, then, before the sun sets. They’ll all expect you to be out there with them.”
Gray growled under his breath, teeth baring. “You’re his oldest son. You, Sam. Not me. You’re the first. You should have always been allowed to be there.”
It was an ancient argument, one that had left Gray bleeding from a bite more than once.
“I’m not, though, and you know it.” Not with the pack, not with his own kind. Three nights a month, he was an outcast. He was used to it. Mostly.
“This is not getting me a beer.” Helena sniffed again, but this time it was more of a snort.
“Picky old bitch.” They laughed together, and he kept o
Gonna miss you, Poppy. Tons.
Then they headed inside.
The pack gathered at the Finn place, all of them silently padding into the clearing behind the house, the moon shining down on them like the mother she was. Gus tucked his ears a little, curling his lip at a big male he’d hated since they were pups. He didn’t want anyone sniffing around tonight. He was feeling uncomfortable in his fur.
The family was standing around the coffin, wolves and humans and some caught in-between, mourning. Gus stayed back, making his own peace with it, saying good-bye to the wind instead of the corpse.
The alpha went to Mona, touched her muzzle, then touched Gray’s, acknowledging the male as the head of the family. Gray turned his muzzle away from James, toward the house, toward where Sam was locked away.
Gus almost howled. The urge surprised the hell out of him.
Gray did howl, the sound sharp, angry, fierce. Gus answered, drawing surprised stares. He got it. Sam was the oldest son. It wasn’t fair.
The alpha growled, and Gray bristled, his family surrounding them.
It was Helena who snapped, her still-human voice flashing out. “Stop it. Right now. You’re hurting Mom’s feelings.”
Everyone backed down, Gray still bristling but going to put his muzzle against his mother’s.
Gus couldn’t handle any more. He wandered off around the back of the house. He could smell Sam, on the porch, on the door, everywhere. His nose vibrated, and Gus started to follow the smell, just wandering. Inside, through the kitchen, up the stairs. He wandered deeper into the old house, paws padding on the floor. In the back, down a long hall. There. A door.
A heavy, scratched door.
He’d never been up here. Unlike Pete, he’d never been in the charmed circle of the Finn oddball kids. He’d always been the bully. Sam’s scent was strong, sunk deep into the wood, and he heard a low warning growl.
Gus gave an answering bark, not aggressive, just a greeting. The sound of claws on the door hit him, then Sam’s voice, calling to him.
They’d locked him in. Or maybe they’d locked themselves out. Didn’t matter. Puss shouldn’t have to be alone.
A heavy, heavy black paw pushed under the door, claws stretching.
Tongue lolling, Gus laughed a lupine laugh. There was no way he was going to be able to change back right now, not during the gathering. He could surprise the kitty, though. He pounced on that paw a little, growling playfully. The paw disappeared, the wild, rolling purr making him bounce. His butt went up, his head went down, and he wagged, waiting for the paw to reappear. Gus saw the shadow of the motion before the paw itself. Oh. Playing. He loved playing.
Barking like mad, he bounced some more, then nibbled at the offered paw. Fun!
Sam yowled, claws scrabbling on the floor, reaching for him. He slammed against the door without thinking about it. He wanted to chase that tail. The door trembled on its hinges, and Sam yowled again, paws slapping the inside. Gus threw himself against the door again, just howling. The wood was going; he could hear it ripping. Sam was yowling, making these guttural, amazing sounds. He could hear those big paws battering at the other side.
Out! Out! Play!
He hit again, and the door splintered, the huge, sleek cat standing there, covered in wood bits.
Gus chuffed out a wolfy laugh before pouncing on Sam’s head. Bam. The sleek body twisted under him, then disappeared, appearing again on his back. Oof.
Gus shook, sending Sam flying. Then he took off, tearing into the room that had just opened up to him. The feline smell was everywhere, and he ran around, sticking his nose in corners, jumping on the big bed.
He barked, looking back beyond his tail to see where Sam had gone. He heard Sam’s yowl just a heartbeat before the huge black flash jumped him.
Oh! Oh, too fun. They rolled off the bed, banging into the wall. Gus nipped at that lashing tail before taking off. He heard Sam’s pads chasing him around the room. Then there was a huge thump on the tall wardrobe. Gus blinked, turning to look, hoping Sam hadn’t run into it and hurt himself.
Where was he? He sniffed, frowned, searched for Sam. The scent was too strong everywhere. Gus couldn’t figure it. He caught the flicking tail in the corner of his eye.
Up. The bastard had gone up. Gus backed up, his butt right against the wardrobe. The angle would be bad that way to jump him.
He looked up into a wedge-shaped face peering down. “Rowl.”
Gus barked, taunting a little, his tail waving like a flag. Those eyes latched on to his tail, watching it. Gus turned in a full circle, letting Sam get a three-sixty view. Silly Puss.
He saw those muscles tense, felt the buzz on the back of his neck that meant he was being hunted. Gus wiggled, pushing the limit of any cat’s patience. The sounds Sam made were amazing—wild and huge and fierce.
He finally sprang out of the shadow of the cupboard, giving kitty a target no one could resist, and Sam hit him square on, slamming into his flank and taking him down. A yelp slid from his throat before he could hold it back, and his butt hit the floor with a thud. He tried to get up, but someone was gnawing on him.
It was more meditative than aggressive, Sam’s huge paws wrapped around him.
If he was his human self, he would probably like it.
He wasn’t, though, so he spun and pounced, growling happily as he nibbled on Sam’s soft belly fur. Pretty kitty. Tasty too.
Heavy paws swatted his ears, batting at him, playing. They spilled back out into the hall, both of them rolling to their feet.
A sharp warning bark sounded, two of the big males standing there in the hallway, bristling. Sam went still, staring, a low, eerie sound filling the air. Gus’s hackles rose, and he pushed his way between Sam and the two wolves, growling low. Sam was allowed to fucking play in his own family house.
He heard Sam’s momma howling, heard Gray’s big voice answering her. This was fucked-up.
Terrance bared his teeth, eyes intent on Sam. Another growl came from behind, then a yowl and a screech as someone attacked Sam from the opposite side of the hall.
Shit. Shit. Gus set up a howl, calling for the family, before he laid into the one who had Sam in his teeth.
Fur was flying, teeth and claws and howls, the entire pack in an uproar. The alpha waded in, along with Gray and the others, and suddenly Sam leapt, settling on the top of the wardrobe. Terrance yowled when the alpha took him down, and silence fell on them like a ton of bricks. Everyone but their alpha went deathly quiet.
Bright green eyes stared down, and Sam screamed, the sound making Gus’s hackles rise.
Goddamn, but it was ugly until Sam’s momma walked into the room, human as anything, wearing her bathrobe, cheeks streaked with tears. “Out. All of you who are not my children. I want you out.”
Helena was right there, a shotgun in her hand, cocking it. “You heard her. You assholes go away.”
One by one, herded by James, they all left.
Gus didn’t want to go; he wanted to make sure Sam was okay. He went to the wardrobe, yipping. Come down now. Sam looked at him, mewling softly. Gus barked sharply, his tail wagging.
“Samuel, you come down. Gus? You need to let Helena patch your side.” God, Mona was fierce.
Gus turned to look at his side, and sure enough he was bleeding. Huh.
Sam hopped down, a bite on the black face, another on the shoulder.
“Oh, Son.” Mona came to Sam, vocalizing softly.
Gus had to fight the urge to growl at her a little. He wanted to go clean Sam’s wounds, which was silly. Okay, ow. Helena was a sucktastic nurse.
Sam danced away when Mona came at him with the peroxide, and Helena chuckled. “No biting, puppy.”
Puppy? Gus snorted, nudging her hard with his shoulder. Silly girl. Just like her brother.
Helena rubbed his ears. “Tha
Oh. Oh, that felt good. His eyes crossed, his back leg lifting to thump on the floor.
“Oh, right there.” Helena chuffed softly, kept petting him.
Yeah. Yeah, there. A sharp bite to his tail had him yelping, and he turned whip fast to stare at Sam, who looked like a smug kitty. Sam chuffed softly, one huge paw brushing over the flattened nose.
Gus let his tongue loll. Asshole. Pretty damned cat. No wonder Pete liked him so much.
“I’m going to have to stitch your shoulder up, Son. I’ll leave your face for the morning.”
Ouch. Gus let Helena have at him, finally, figuring he was lucky he didn’t need stitches. He hated those.
Sam sighed and slumped down, idly mouthing his tail. Gus rolled to his good side and let Helena work on him, his nose on the floor next to Sam’s face. Those eyes were so big. Sam was talking to him too, but he didn’t get it. How bad did that suck? To grow up where no one could get you?
Gus just went with it, murmuring in wolf in return. Poor guy was grumpy. A pink rough tongue swiped over his muzzle. Gus chuffed, nipping at one bent whisker. He could make today easier, and that was something, right? It was the first time in their whole history together that Gus felt some kinship with the guy.
“Okay. Pain pills for both of you, and napping. I’ve got to help Gray and the rest.” Mona popped a horse pill in his mouth, held his muzzle closed, and rubbed his throat.
He swallowed, his eyes crossing at the hugeness of the pill. Luckily, Mona gave Sam a whole different med.
A blanket fell over him, and Sam was given a huge pillow. Puss rowled softly. Gus felt his eyelids drop, his vision going cloudy. Tired. He was so tired. Sam scooted closer, purring so loud that it was all he could hear.
Gus snuggled with his brother’s best pussy friend and decided not to think on it too hard. Tomorrow they might go back to kicking each other in the face, but today they were warm and safe, and it was all good.
Sam woke up sore as a boil, but at least he wasn’t cold.