The Wolf and the Lamb

by Failte200

Chapter 16

Gordon swallowed and almost choked as Teesah snuggled down naked beside him, laying her head on his chest. This was happening awfully fast... EVERYTHING was happening awfully fast!

Okay – so he would go to her village with her. No sweat. Not like he'd had any other plans, anyway. Besides, she seemed to think he'd go over big there, once he kicked a few asses to prove he could. That'd be a new experience for the cougars of Akkelah – and her people thrived on new experiences, she said. Plus, she wanted him to meet the village bow-maker, who'd made her long-bow. He was kind of looking forward to that, and wondered if the he'd have a kiln. Gordon might be able to do a lot with a real kiln...

For instance, he could experiment with new bow construction techniques he'd been thinking of, like using layers of wood instead of one solid piece. The most exciting part about going to Akkelah was that he could teach his own fighting techniques and learn the cougar's style for himself. He might even try to spread some Blood and Teeth – apparently Akkelah was all cougars. A whole village of people to get to know... Gordon knew a lot of stuff, and he'd done a lot of things.

But he'd never had sex. Ever. With anyone. Oh, he knew how it worked, insert tab A into slot B and so on... Using the equipment wasn't a problem - but, how did it work with another person? He'd never so much as kissed anyone before! He'd never thought he'd have to.

Or, for that matter, want to. It still kind of seemed like a weird thing to do... although the idea was becoming more appealing all the time..

It was just that he never thought he'd have a "partner" in the first place. He was such a loner – which was weird enough for a rabbit - but now, as of four hours ago, he did have a partner, and a cougar-partner, at that. A cougar? How the hell did that happen? Oh, well, yeah, she was the most... amazing... Yeah. That's how that happened...

He looked down her head on his chest. He could feel her breath on his fur, her soft breasts against his ribs. Breasts were cool – he had only just recently realized how much he liked them. But he couldn't very well just roll her over and start playing with them, could he? Because that's what he wanted to do...

Well – he was going to have to do something, and soon, because it was getting ridiculous just lying here like this. He was feeling far too much anxiety to even get an erection - and no doubt Teesah was waiting for that. Counting the minutes, was she? Gods, how embarrassing...

Then something happened that took his mind off things like "embarrassment", or erections, or what he was supposed to do next, or what was going to happen when he got to her village, or anything at all, in fact.

Teesah began to purr.

It was a low, rumbling, staccato sound – lower than he'd have expected. And it was loud! He could feel it through his entire body. And it was...

It was -

It made him feel -

Let's just say that Gordon did not, in fact, "curl up and die". Quite the opposite, actually.

And Teesah was just going to have to figure out something to do about her damn claws! Ouch!

Tristan and Taylor – the December after their arrival in Civilization.

"What'd ya get me!? What'd ya get me!?"

"Well thanks, Taylor. My day was fine. It's nice to see you too..."

"What'd ya get me!?"

Tristan grinned. He just loved seeing the lamb so excited. Whoops – strike that: the sheep so excited. "In honor of you finally becoming an official 'teenager', I present you with – this." He dragged it in from the hall of their apartment in the newspaper building.

"It's... uh..."

"Here, lemme set it up," Tristan said. The rather odd-looking box was actually an artist's easel, the kind that folds up, probably just so they could call it 'portable'. He opened the drawer containing the paints, "You'd better check out that everything's there... I had to take the guy's word for it."

If "everything" meant every possible variation of every possible color, then yes, it was all there. There were 14 variations on the theme of "blue", for instance.

Taylor jumped onto the wolf, nearly toppling him over, "I love it!" he cried, adding only a little later, "And I love you, too!"

"Gods, Tay... you're getting big, y'know that? Ya nearly knocked me over just now!"

"Sorry. I'll be more careful - I don't wanna hurt ya," Taylor said, grinning and lowering himself onto his own feet again.

"Very funny."

"Now if I only had some canvas..."

"Like these, ya mean?" Tristan brought in four stretched-canvas frames from the hallway.

"Tristan!" Taylor cried, jumped right back up. But this time, the wolf got a lengthy kiss – and some nosing as well - out of it.

After Taylor had sufficiently melted his partner, he proceeded to check out what else was in that drawer - paint, thinner, large tubes of black and white to mix in with the colors - everything he'd need. Taylor had only used charcoal before - never paints. This would open open up a whole new world. Look at all those different brushes!

"So... uhm... Tay? Can I ask you a favor?"

"Sure!" the sheep replied, not really listening. Who knew there was a color named "lima bean"?

"Well... If you can... Could you paint me a picture of you?"

That got Taylor's attention. "Me?"

"Yeah. A self-portrait? You do drawings of me all the time... but I don't have any of you."

Taylor's grin took on a "sheepish" aspect - it had never occurred to him that Tristan might want a picture of him. He only drew so much of the wolf because... well, he liked the way Tristan looked. "Okay, Tris. Does that mean I'm still cute?"

"As a bug's ear..."

The next day, Taylor set a mirror next to the easel and thought about what kind of picture he'd do. This was so exciting! All these colors... of course, as a sheep, Taylor was mostly white, but still- Wait a minute. Wolves couldn't see all those wonderful colors anyway. If this was to be a picture for Tristan, then...

He took the black and white tubes out of the drawer, then closed it.

He was just about to touch his charcoal to the canvas to start an outline, when something occurred to him, and he reached back in the drawer and pulled out one more tube.

"Sky Blue #3. Yeah."

Gordon enters Akkelah:

Standing in the center of the Great House, with cougars all around, was making Gordon just a little nervous. It wasn't so much how they were staring at him as it was listening to Teesah tell them all about her walkabout – and him – and the fact that he could only understand one word in every ten she said. His name was coming up an awful lot...

And almost all of these cats were warriors just like Teesah. That's how the people of the village made their living – as mercenaries. They were hired to protect the caravans as they crossed the Desert and wilderness. The few of them that weren't mercenaries were armorers or weapon-makers. This was a village of soldiers.

Well, in a way, that was good. At least he had something in common with them. It was just that being in the same room with four hundred predator warriors at one time was... well, he wouldn't win, that was for sure.

Then Teesah's monologue stopped, and Gordon looked over at her to see what was going on. She was grinning at him – which was kind of scary, since he didn't know why – and an old, haggard-looking cat was coming toward him from the front-row of the bleachers. He had small geometric designs branded into the fur on the left of his chest. Just little brands – but a lot of them. Gordon guessed he must be an old veteran of some kind – maybe Teesah's Dad?

General Veetax looked Gordon over, up and down, walking around behind him as well. Gordon could feel that he was being inspected. Coming back in front of the rabbit again, the General looked him in the eye, long and hard. Gordon stared back unblinking.

The old cat turned his head and barked out, "Backoh, Fah!"

Another cougar stood up and made his way forward, facing the general. He stood there at attention, with his hands to his sides, back straight, looking straight ahead at nothing. This cougar had a few brands of his own, but not nearly the number the General had. He was about equal to Gordon in build, if just a little shorter. Animals were impressed with the size of their foes – for people to think that size was an advantage - was a mistake, and Gordon knew it.

The General stepped back and took a position off to the side of the soldier and rabbit. "Gordon", he said. Getting the idea, Gordon looked at the old cougar and nodded. The General then looked at the other cat and said, "Backoh." The soldier snapped his head towards him and and said loudly, "Too!"

"Tekko-saymin," the General said calmly. Almost before the last syllable left the old cat's mouth, the soldier leapt for Gordon, trying to take him by surprise. He knew that the rabbit had no idea what "tekko-saymin" meant.

Gordon simply stepped aside, an amused expression on his face. He knew a few things too - like that the soldier would see his expression as he went by. Such was the way fighters communicate. Oh come on – is that all ya got?

Gordon expected the cat to land flat on his face – but he didn't. Instead, as soon as he saw Gordon preparing to step aside, he bent forward while still in the air, curling himself into a ball. He landed on the back of his shoulders and rolled forwards on his back, coming right back up onto his feet in one smooth motion. Then he spun around to face the rabbit again. He bowed slightly.

Gordon followed suit. So this was what Teesah had been doing... These cougar's idea of "combat" was highly formalized, it seemed. Good – he kind of liked it that way, too. But this soldier hadn't shown Gordon his teeth or claws – apparently this contest wasn't about doing damage. Chances are – if that was the case – it was about simply getting one's opponent to the ground. Ah.

Now the soldier was just standing there, as if waiting for something. Maybe it's supposed to be my turn now... Gordon thought, All-righty then... cat... gotta think like a cat... Cats were all about staying on their feet. Animal-cats liked to use their hind claws to rip open their prey's belly – but these guys didn't have foot-claws, so that was out. They were pretty good jumpers – or at least Teesah sure was - but not compared to a rabbit. They were fast, though. Yeah – that made sense. That's what they probably concentrated on – speed. Agility. Balance. Teesah had certainly shown him some of that, during the trip up. Okay then...

Gordon cautiously walked up to within arm's reach of the soldier - and then a step further, as if daring him to make a move. Backoh didn't, but the rabbit could see that he was very much focused. The soldier was staring into Gordon's eyes. The eyes give everything away - both the fighters knew that. Gordon wondered if it had ever occurred to the cougar to use that knowledge in the way he was about to.

Fake to the left - the cougar fell for it, and threw a wild punch - or possibly a swipe, not that it mattered - from his right. But Gordon grabbed it at the wrist and pulled that arm over to the left, out of his way, and then twisted himself against the right side of the cat, getting one of his legs behind the soldier as he tried to shift his weight from side to the other. Before he could finish, Gordon's foot kicked at his weight-bearing leg right behind the knee, and the cat had no choice but to put his weight upon Gordon himself. Gordon accepted the weight - and added to it as he continued turning around behind the cat, pressing down on his shoulder - and throwing the cat to the ground. Onto his back. Ungracefully on his back.

All the cats were hissing loudly, and Gordon looked up to see if he were about to be attacked en masse. Four hundred cougars had just been humiliated... this could be bad. But - while it was true that they were hissing, and their mouths were gaping open to show their teeth - they were also nodding their heads up and down enthusiastically. Apparently hissing was considered a form of applause in cougar circles...

Gordon had only glanced at the crowd long enough to see that, then looked back down at his foe - but he was already up again. Damn! These guys ARE fast... And now it was the soldier's turn.

And this time, the soldier threw him down.

And so it went, for nearly an hour. A total of twenty-five contests, before the General barked another order, "Pah-ko!"

It had been pretty much a draw up to now, and the crowd had been boisterous and animated with their hissing and swiping. Backoh had more throws, but Gordon had shown some spectacular techniques. With the new order from the General, everyone fell silent. The soldier, having just finished bowing, put out his hands, and extended his claws for Gordon to see. He showed his teeth. It was to get serious now... And it was the cat's turn.

Since Natural weapons were in use, obviously this contest was only going to happen once. But that was okay with Gordon - because when it came to claws, the rabbit had a secret weapon. He knew all about claws. He'd been playing with Teesah's claws almost nightly, for a month. He knew how they worked. They were fascinating things, retractable weapons carried between the knuckles of her fingers. Sharp, to cut; curved, to grab; long, to penetrate. There were times when even Natural weapons could be a bad idea, though. As a general rule – never bring a weapon into play that you aren't willing to have used on yourself. Gordon was about to teach the cougar that lesson.

Backoh circled Gordon for a long time, awaiting his opportunity. Finally deciding to make a move, the cougar tried for a swipe at Gordon's face, but the rabbit grabbed that hand in his own, bringing his other hand over to hold it as well. That would leave one side of his body un-defended - but that was a sacrifice he'd have to make. This was the time to engage his secret - everything just happened to be in the right place at the cougar's first strike. He was going to have to be fast about it though... he wouldn't get two chances at this.

He tried to twist his vulnerable side away from the cat - but wasn't quite fast enough, and felt the soldiers talons enter his shoulder. Blood immediately began to well up under his fur. The cat had hold of him now, and wasn't about to let go. Next, Gordon knew, he'd try to bring his teeth into play. He was already turning his head to aim his mouth for the rabbit's neck.

But Gordon had hold of the cougar, too, or at least one of his hands. He pushed with his thumb at a spot behind the cat's first knuckle. That claw was already extended - but now it was going to stay that way. In the same motion as the twist with which he'd sacrificed his shoulder, he brought the cougars own hand up to his neck, pushing that index-talon into the skin. All he had to do now was pull on Backoh's hand and it would slice right through the soldier's carotid artery.

The soldier - his mouth open and nearly to Gordon's throat - froze.

Gordon froze too. They stayed that way for several seconds in absolute silence in the Great House - then someone (Teesah, it so happened), began stomping her feet on the bottom of the bleacher upon which she sat. The rest of the spectators immediately picked it up.

"Too," the General said, "Dar ip-so."

Gordon felt the soldier's muscles relax as he began to unwind himself from the rabbit's body, so he carefully pulled the cougar's claw out of his neck and let go of the hand that wielded it. The cat, too, gingerly pulled his claws out of Gordon's shoulder, trying not to make the wound worse than it already was. The soldier returned to a position of attention, facing General Veetax. Blood ran from his neck down onto his chest, but Backoh paid it no mind. The crowd continued to stomp their feet, even louder than before, if that were possible.

The General turned to face Gordon and stood at attention himself. Everyone quieted down. Then, slowly, regally... the General bowed.

The spectators erupted into screams and hisses, swiping at the air with their claws. A few of them even howled like wolves.

Gordon was in.

Third year in Civilization - Taylor is 15 now, Tristan is 20.

"I brought you your lunch, Tris..." Taylor said, setting down the cheese sandwich next to the wolf as he worked at his typewriter. The newspaper office was small, and dusty, and gray, and hand-written notes were taped, stapled, and thumb-tacked to every inch of the wall behind Tristan's desk.

"Thanks Tay - fuck! I can't believe I did that again! I'm never going to get the hang of this damned machine..."

"Everyone else uses both hands, Tris – how come you only use two fingers?"


"That's what I thought. Hey, uh... Tris? Tristan?"

"I'm trying to write here..."

"Me and some of the other freshmen are going to the fair."

"The fair is stupid, Taylor."

"Yeah well – I've never been. So me an' some other people are going."

"Taylor... I'm tellin' ya – dammit! - oh, whatever. I gotta find someone who can teach me how to use this fuckin' thing... gods..."

This wasn't really how Taylor had wanted this conversation to go. He was still hoping that his partner would go with him – even if he wouldn't enjoy it. But that wasn't going to happen – and Taylor wasn't surprised.

The wolf and the sheep were both becoming quasi-celebrities due to the stories and drawings that appeared in the newspaper every week. They generated a lot of controversy amongst the people who considered themselves "beyond mere animals". Taylor, in particular, had to put up with a lot of public harassment in school. He'd never told the wolf about it – he could take care of himself now. But sometimes he'd find a note in his locker, supporting him and calling him brave for standing up to everyone. Public harassment, and private support. It made school-life hard.

As a result of all this, Taylor was only close to a small circle of friends at school. A handful - a bear, two rats, a cougar, another sheep, and a horse. Of them all, he liked the sheep-girl the most. Even sheep thought sheep were cute.

Taylor was growing incredibly fast now, and he was almost as tall as Tristan. Besides that – as they discovered during Combat training together – he was also at least as strong as the wolf. In only a couple more years, his horns were going to have curled all the way around for the first time – and Taylor would officially become a "ram".

Was Tristan going to notice that, if nothing else? Or would he be too busy with his new-found "profession" - which was growing ever more important to him by the day.

And as for Taylor; he was becoming more and more independent from his partner, and began to stray whichever way his curiosity took him - just as he'd done as a child. Taylor would soon be straying outside flock - so to speak - but this time there would no wolf watching to chase him back in.

Lahso the bow-maker was an old, old, old cougar – and he didn't need this shit. Foreigners and their fancy ideas. He'd been making quality weapons since before that damn rabbit had been born! Okay – the recurve design that Gordon had come up with was an interesting idea – he'd give the foreigner that. Lahso was still a man of science, after all. Gordon's bow was shorter and just as powerful as Lahso's long-bows. Facts were undeniable, regardless of ego.

Gordon's arrows, though, were laughable. Thinking about that always made him smile. The rabbit could learn a few things from him about that!

Not to mention that Gordon had a lot to learn about artisanship. He took Gordon's bow down from the rack and ran his hands along its limbs. It was utilitarian. It worked, but it wasn't a thing of beauty, as Lahso's own weapons were. Gordon's bow was ugly by comparison.

Still... it was considerably easier to wield because it was so much shorter. He put the bow back up on the rack – standing on tip-toes to do so.

Perhaps it was time to meet the foreigner half-way. Exchange some secrets. He'd talk to Gordon about it tomorrow. Arrows – straight and true – in return for a bow who's tips pointed entirely the wrong way, as far as Lahso was concerned. That was fair, wasn't it?

And as for Gordon's questions to him about how to make an even more powerful weapon – well, any idiot could surely understand that if it was impossible to draw the string back, then the bow was useless. The strength of the archer's arm was a limiting factor, and there was nothing to be done about that. The rabbit was such a fool about some things. So pig-headed. Gods.

(Translated) "Ah! There you are!" Gordon said, coming into the work-shop, "Look, Lahso - okay, I know that you're right about the different kinds of wood bending at different rates for the same load. I grant you that. But - I was thinking – if we could bond the different woods together, then we could take advantage of more than one kind at a time, see? It'll need some new kind of glue... something that will bend without breaking... but I just think that by-"

Lahso smiled as he pretended to ignore Gordon and look through his supply of wood for the perfect stock with which to begin another masterpiece. The rabbit always wanted to try new things... it almost reminded Lahso of his younger days. He'd invented the long-bow when he was 38, and become widely acclaimed. He'd then proceeded to perfect it, and made the production of them into an art... But as far as inventing - he'd stopped. He hadn't intended to stop... it had just worked out that he no longer had the time. That was the price of his success.

So - Gordon was going to need a flexible, strong, glue for his "laminated re-curve" idea was he?

Lahso had once thought of that too, actually – gluing wood of different types together. Did he still have any of the samples of what he'd finally come up with around? If he did, it was probably out in the store-house...

"Gordon. Come with me," he said curtly, interrupting the rabbit's monologue. The old bow-maker was suddenly feeling something he thought he'd forgotten. Excitement. Experimentation.


That damned rabbit... Lahso smiled. It had been a long time.

Fifth year in Civilization - Taylor is 17 years old, Tristan is 22.

Everything was going so great for Tristan - his stories about Roma had never been more popular, and his writing had come to the point where the editor would just put it straight into her "out" box now, without even glancing at it.

In the University, he was now finishing up his second year, and things there were starting to get a little hectic - he might have to cut down on his credit-hours, if that trend continued. He'd been taken under the wing of the Professor of the English department, who was grooming the wolf to be his star Journalism student.

And Tristan had finally mastered the damned typewriter, a year ago. So things were good, and only going to get better.

Except for the hole that Taylor had left in his life.

Just before his sixteenth birthday, they'd finally had it out - Taylor demanded that Tristan stop working so hard and spend more time at the B&T lodge with him. The sheep was also pissed that Tristan was still – in his opinion - "treating him like a kid". To the wolf, those were both unfair accusations - he had never treated Taylor as a child, and he would have loved to be able to spend more time with him... but things got in the way. Both of them were becoming more recognized all the time - the wolf for his writing, the sheep for his illustrations - and a lot of people wanted to meet them, hear about their adventures, invite them to parties. Time together had become a luxury - and other responsibilities came first.

Taylor had changed, too. He no longer needed a wolf around to make him feel safe. Taylor was bigger than Tristan, stronger than Tristan, probably smarter than Tristan... and of course, being a sheep, Taylor was now - and had always been - "cuter" than Tristan. Taylor had become a force to be reckoned with, rather than a lamb cowering in the woods. The wolf could no longer imagine why the sheep would even want him around. Taylor had lots of friends. Lots and lots. All kinds, too. Taylor had single-handedly brought over 49 new members into Blood and Teeth - more than half of them predators. And those new members had in turn brought in even more. It was on its way up again. Tristan thought it was all Taylor's doing. After all, who the hell could not love the teenage ram?

Actually, it was mostly Tristan's writing that was turning people back around to identifying with their species, but he didn't realize that – because he hardly knew anyone except for his editor and a few people at the University. He'd been a lone wolf as a teen, and he'd grown into a lone wolf as an adult. That was his "nature".

He had his work and career to attend to – it helped take up the empty space that Taylor used to fill.

Taylor himself took up that space with people. People and B&T. When he wasn't in high school, he was always at the lodge, or going there, or coming back from there, or making plans to be there. His friends were mostly all members now – all he could possibly convince to join. And Taylor – being Taylor – had no problem finding other people to sex with. Predators, prey, guys, girls, older, younger, one at a time... more than one at a time... He had boyfriends and girlfriends coming out his ears – and juggled them all expertly. Monogamy? Been there, done that - it was time to have some fun, for a change. Time to check out what was available. Time to party.

But not everything in his life was rose-colored – because the fact was that Taylor needed the company at night, and if he couldn't get it, he simply wouldn't go to bed. Sleeping alone was not something Taylor could do anymore. Every time he tried, he'd only feel nervous and uneasy, as if he'd forgotten something. At first, he'd known what it was – but by now, he'd told himself to forget Tristan so many times... that he actually had.


"Gods, Spirits,and Nature! Y'know that Backoh guy still hasn't forgiven me for drawing his blood? And it's not like I don't still have the scars where he drew mine, either!"

"He's a soldier. And a man, and a predator, Gordon. You're the first prey to make him bleed – and you know he respects you for that. But when you took his place next to the General's side... well, between that and you being a rabbit..." Teesah said, trailing off as she oiled her thick leather armor. They were going to have a job next week – the caravan of Salt Traders was coming back through on their way East, loaded up with food and goods for their village. They'd hired the Akkelah to guard their caravan all the way through the desert to the salt-lake by which they lived.

"Yeah... I can see that. But Veetax just wants to get everything out of me he can, is all. I have new ways he wants me to teach. That's the only reason he picked me. Which is all fine and well for him... but I was kind of hoping to pick up some Akkelahn techniques, too..."

"Why don't you tell Backoh that?"

"Uh... yeah... Yeah, why don't I... You're pretty smart – for a woman."

"Pee-head," Teesah said in Akkelah.

"Teaser," Gordon called her in English.

"Gordon... I wanna talk to you about something..." Teesah said, changing from good-natured ribbing to dead-seriousness.

"Yeah?" He finished hanging up his Combat Practice gear and sat cross-legged next to her as she worked.

"After this caravan – I want to go on walkabout again."

"But... I was kind of hoping we could recruit some of the caravaners... They're horse-people, right? Those guys are pretty damn powerful – we could use some of that to round out our Army. And the cougars are just now getting to the point where they'll accept someone who-"

"'Who may not be a fighter now, but wants to learn' – I know, bunny-man, I know. You really are bringing Blood and Teeth to my people – and I love you for that. You know my friend Cinpah? She's got her eye on your pet squirrel-girl. I was watching Cinpah watching her at our last Combat Practice – I think she's in love – or at least in lust," she giggled. Same-sex couples weren't unheard of in Akkelah – but they were rare. "Gord? You don't have to be here to take every new species under your wing anymore. They get it. It's the drive that's important, not the skill they have when they first come here. And it's been six years, bunny-man. I need another walkabout. I'm getting bored..."

Gordon thought about the things she'd said. It was probably true – the cougars were more accepting of other species now. When he'd first brought Chirie – the squirrel-girl – to the village, they'd turned up their noses at her. It wasn't until Gordon had finally convinced some of the soldiers to do Combat with her that they'd changed their minds. No one could touch her. Gordon had shown her how to use her tail as a counter-balance, rather than just a decoration, and she could pull off moves that no one – not even Gordon – could believe. Plus – she had truly wicked teeth, and unlike the cougars, Chirie did have claws on her feet. Non-retractable, perhaps, but deadly nonetheless - especially when she sharpened them. Chirie had eventually earned the nick-name "Ghost-Ripper" because - between her acrobatics and her claws - you could never be quite sure how she was cutting you. But you would definitely get cut. Put a sword in her hands and you would definitely die.

So now the cougars would pretty much take Gordon's word for it if he said that someone was worthy to join their village. Even Backoh had said that they could use more raw muscle-power in their Army, like bison or horses or bears.

Different species brought different strengths – they were starting to understand that. They didn't need Gordon around to prove it to them anymore.

And Lahso had finally committed himself to the laminated re-curve idea. The old cat was a genius with resins, turned out. He hadn't come up with anything that would work so far, no – but he was damn sure far ahead of where Gordon would be, if it were just him working on it.

But – a walkabout? Just wandering around in the Wilderness, looking for whatever they could find? Him and Teesah?

Just him and Teesah? Hey... just him and Teesah...

"Sounds like fun, Teaser. Let's do it."

Seventh year in Civilization – Taylor is 19, Tristan is 24.

"I'm sorry, sir – I just can't do this. I'll refund your commission... I really am sorry."

The wolf looked questioningly at Taylor, "What's the problem, Taylor? I've seen your other portraits – they're excellent. Why can't you paint me?"

"It's... Well, it's... because you're a wolf, sir. As long as you're sitting there, sure, I can draw and paint you in fine. But when you're not, and I'm doing the detail-work... well... I keep... uh... painting in someone else instead. I've started over on you four times now... I'm just wasting your time. I feel really bad about it..."

"Painting in someone else? Who?"

"Uhm... An old boyfriend, actually. You wouldn't-"


"... Yeah... How'd you know?"

"'Story by Tristan Wolf, illustrations by Taylor Sheep'. I've read every column the two of you ever did... Saved them, in fact. He's the same species as me – I get it. But you two have been apart for awhile now, haven't you?"

"Uh, I don't really wanna talk about-"

"Yes, quite right. None of my business," the wolf said, getting up from his chair, "Well, you have my card, Taylor. If there ever comes a time when you think you can paint me, please contact my office."

"I'll see you get your money back tomorrow. I'm sorry about this..."

Tristan hadn't been a part of the ram's life for almost three years now – while Taylor had been off partying, B&T-ing, and painting. Once he'd graduated from high school, the partying had really become a big part of his life.

But it had grown old eventually, and one fateful day – the morning when he'd found himself in bed with a wolf-girl – he'd finally decided that he needed to just grow up. The partying wasn't working anymore. The B&T wasn't working either... Only the painting was filling the void in Taylor's life.

And look what was happening now. He was painting Tristan. A paying client sitting for him – and he was painting Tristan instead.

Whatever else he'd been through, Taylor was still Taylor, and he didn't even try to hide from himself what that meant.

He knew where the wolf hung out these days. There was a coffee-shop just up the street and around the corner from the newspaper office where Tristan still lived and worked. Taylor had seen him there many times - just reading the paper and drinking whatever it was he drank. It couldn't be coffee - coffee was poison to wolves. Why in the world would he go to a coffee-shop?

He would probably be there this very evening...

"Mind if I sit down?"

Hearing that, Tristan's heart nearly jumped out of his mouth. He didn't put down his paper. He didn't even look up. Those things didn't occur to him. In fact, he didn't even breathe. "T-Taylor?"

The full-grown ram took a seat without waiting for permission. "Hey Tris. Long time..."

"Uh... yeah... long time... Taylor?" he asked again, still unable to believe it. Long time indeed... Finally Tristan had the presence of mind to put down his paper, and glanced at Taylor sitting across from him. There, sipping an espresso, he saw a young boy - a lamb. A lamb with bright, bright eyes.

He blinked hard – that was impossible. When he looked again, it was better. A ram. An adult ram. Bigger than himself, in fact – definitely more massive, and even a little taller. And yet... somehow, this grown ram across the table from him just looked exactly like the Taylor he'd chased into the woods so long ago. Different – but the same.

"So how's it going, Tris? Still writing murder-mysteries?"

The series about Roma had ended two years ago, and both Tristan and Taylor had moved on. Their names and talents were well-known enough by now that their status was assured. Tristan was a head-lining reporter for the paper now – although his one work of fiction, the murder mystery, had been rather disappointing. Taylor, of course, was a painter.

"Well... no, actually. There was just the one that-"

"I read it."

"Uhm... Oh - so you're the one, huh?" the wolf joked self-deprecatingly. He'd used that joke a dozen times – once for each person he'd ever met who'd said that.

"It wasn't that bad, Tris. But you can do better." Truthfully – it had sucked. Reading it, Taylor could tell that Tristan's heart wasn't really in it, that he was just doing something someone had told him he should do. The story was had a forced hard-nosed style and darkness that... well, just wasn't Tristan. Just wasn't Taylor's wolf at all.

"Oh. Well... Thanks," Tristan said, and then stammered, "What, uh, what... What brings... What are you-"

"Tris..." Taylor sighed heavily, "I said things... that I didn't mean." Boy had he. Looking back to three years ago, the ram of now saw what a brat the sheep of then had really been. He'd wanted Tristan all to himself – and he didn't have that, anymore. The worst part was – he knew that Tristan was excited about his new career – one he'd never expected – but instead of being excited for him, Taylor resented it. Because he was supposed to be at the center of his wolf's life. He simply didn't want to share. When it came to Taylor's drawing and painting, though, Tristan had been behind him, supporting him, urging him on, all the way. Taylor had been a teenage asshole.

Had he known, he would have never wanted to become a teenager at all. And now, at 19, he damn near wasn't anymore.

The wolf stared at him. Tristan had thought a lot about the things Taylor had said the day he walked out – and come to the conclusion that all of them were true. He had been spending all his time with his work. He did treat Taylor like a "kid". Taylor was a kid! Sort of. Tristan just couldn't think of him any other way!

Even now.

Even now, Taylor was a kid. A kid that Tristan loved deeply. He was only older, is all. In the wolf's mind, the grown ram across the table still looked exactly like the self-portrait that still hung in his living room. He'd never taken it down.

"Tay... you didn't say anything that wasn't true. You were right about-"

"Let's not talk about it, okay? There's nothing we can do about what we already did." Taylor took a deep breath.

He knew what he had to do... He even knew how to do it. What he didn't know was how the wolf might react – three years had been a longer time for Taylor than it had been for Tristan, just because of the difference in their ages. Taylor knew that he'd hurt Tristan. A lot. Would he want to try again? Who could blame the wolf if he didn't? Well... whichever way it went, now was as good a time as any -

"Tristan? Can I come back home?"

The word rang in Tristan's ears – home? Taylor waited five minutes for him to say something. He never did.

But they'd been through enough together - he didn't have to. Taylor took one of Tristan's hands, stood up, and said, "C'mon, Tris. Let's go home..."

And they did.

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