Now that Tristan had gained at least enough respect in the rabbit's eyes to be called by name, they headed into the field again, and Gordon explained what was about to happen.
"See, Tristan, there's a couple of reasons we're gonna do this now. First, just so you can re-acquaint yourself with your roots. We people tend to forget what we are, sometimes, or forget just how much we are like what we are, anyway. It's kind of a fine line – we are animals, yet we are not. You need to get in touch with both sides of your nature to be whole. See what I'm gettin' at?"
"I think so. But I thought the chasing exercises were supposed to do that..."
"To a certain extent, yeah. But there's more to being a wolf than chasing people. There's more to being a rabbit than just running, too."
"So what's the second reason, then..."
"The second reason, Tristan, is that because you haven't begun Combat Training yet, there's a pretty good chance I won't get hurt. Because you're going to be trying to hurt me. That's the point of this. Don't worry about it when you find yourself feeling that way – not that you'll have the presence of mind to notice. That's what's supposed to happen."
"You mean I'm not supposed to pull my punches or anything..."
"There won't be any 'punches', wolf-boy. I mean you'll be trying to kill me. Because I'll be trying to kill you – you won't have a choice. Now ya gotta understand – I've never had the chance to train with an actual predator before. So I'm gonna have a learning-curve here – but I have spent a lot of time around animal-wolves. I've been attacked three times. And I've watched how they operate for hours on end. I think I got a pretty good idea what to do. You've been in fights, I expect... with other wolves, I mean."
"Well, yeah... but I've never tried to kill anyone..."
"Then you weren't fighting like a wolf. That's gonna be the hard part for you. From what the Lady has told me about this, you may find out some things about yourself that you won't like. Okay, this is a good place. Now I'm gonna close my eyes for a minute or so, Tristan, and when I open them again I'll be a wolf. I suggest you think about what means. See these teeth?" Gordon smiled broadly at him.
"Well, they may not be meant for ripping and tearing flesh – but they'll still hurt like hell. You might wanna remember that. I'll be trying to bite you – and don't think for a second that I won't do it, either. Okay – here we go..." Gordon took two deep, deep breaths and closed his eyes.
Tristan watched him, and waited. This was the weirdest Blood and Teeth thing he'd done so far – fighting a rabbit who was trying to act like a wolf. Kind of ridiculous, really... Gordon didn't have the instincts, the nature, the... fur to be a wolf. There was more to being a wolf than a rabbit could comprehend! Just learning how to work with a pack took years! And as for killing – well, how much difference could there possibly be between killing a rabbit, and killing a rabbit who was pretending to be something else. Gordon was still a rabbit. No matter what.
Tristan saw him open his eyes, which then locked straight on his own. The corners of Gordon's mouth started to curl upward. It looked a little comical – was the he trying to growl?
Faintly smiling, Tristan asked, "So now you're a-"
Gordon lunged at his throat, and Tristan barely got out of the way in time, caught by surprise as he was. Gordon was right about one thing – those teeth looked pretty mean when they were coming right at you. That was kind of a shocker... And something in the rabbit's eyes told Tristan that he would use them, too, if he got a chance. Damn rabbit was out for blood. How weird was-
Tristan was forced to abandon that thought as Gordon whirled on him without pause, going after the back of his neck this time. The wolf ducked under as the Gordon snapped at the air, then turned his head and tried again. There was no more time for any thought whatsoever. Fucking rabbit was fast!
It was all Tristan could do to keep his neck away from Gordon's jaws – every direction he moved, the rabbit followed, as if he knew what the wolf was going to do next. It was... an odd feeling. If Gordon were to use his arms or legs, he could have had Tristan down long ago – but he wasn't. Gordon was all about Mouth now. Nothing else. That Mouth just kept on coming at him, and always, always those teeth snapping where Tristan had been only a fraction of a second before. Fuck! What the fuck kind of "exercise" was this? Those front-teeth were a good two inches long! Probably more! If he were to sink those into Tristan's neck...
Fuck that, man. You wanna play for real? Let's play for real...
Tristan began throwing punches – but Gordon only swiped them out of his way, as if he were trying to shoo away a bothersome bug. Nothing Tristan could do seemed to have any chance of connecting. On the other hand – almost every time the rabbit took a snap at the wolf's throat, it left his own throat exposed – for a very short time, right in front of Tristan's face. All he would have to do is turn his head slightly... and open his jaws...
And that's what he did – but never quite fast enough. He kept trying – it was hard watching for opportunities in between his twists and turns to avoid the rabbit's gaping mouth and bared teeth. It took concentration.
So he concentrated. And without time to think about it, without time to notice what he was feeling, with barely enough time to feel anything at all, Tristan finally started becoming a wolf – to a depth he wouldn't have been able to imagine only a moment before. And he really did believe that he was fighting another wolf, too. Fighting for his life. That is – he would see later that he believed that. Right now there was no time.
They spun around each other with blinding speed, snarling and growling, both of them working on instinct – one born, the other learned. There was no let-up, no backing off, no eying of each other. There was only action, reaction, an action again, melding into each other until the difference between acting and reacting had disappeared.
Gordon did manage to get his mouth on Tristan's throat – but that throat was gone by the time he could close his jaws.
And that was the last straw. Without thinking about it - without thinking - Tristan became a killing machine. What little was left of his conscious mind was filled with that one thought -
And... it felt GOOD! Lost in each moment, not thinking, pure instinct, a primitive dance, toward one effort, one goal, one all-pervasive, crystalline, thoughtless, embracing totality of purpose. Kill!
To kill would be... nirvana. It would be heaven. It would be fulfillment. To feel bone and sinew in his jaws, to taste blood, to rip and tear and crush... He wanted to kill! Tristan wanted to kill Gordon – The Other - with every fiber of his being: physical, mental, spiritual. It was the purpose of his life! It wasn't important anymore that The Other was trying to kill him... All that mattered was the killing itself. He was.. a killer! He was a killer! He was a KILLER!
And then Gordon ran away.
Only about twenty yards – but that was far enough. Tristan stared after him in bewilderment. What was going on? Tristan's mind was absolutely blank in the face of this new event. What was happening – where had The Other gone? Why was he way over there? What about the killing?
Gordon stuck out a hand, in a gesture of halt – give me time. A hand. A gesture. These facts filtered into Tristan's mind and felt alien, unnatural, somehow. Tristan understood the gesture... but he didn't yet quite understand the concept of "gesture" itself. He blinked.
The "Other" was a rabbit? The "Other" was...
They continued staring at each other for several minutes, in silence, as reality sunk back into their heads, as their conscious, rational minds moved back to the forefront, taking control of them again. Becoming themselves again.
This was Tristan's first taste of what lay behind that conscious, oh-so-rational mind. And just as the rabbit had said – there were things there that Tristan didn't like. At all.
Tristan wasn't the same, after that. Now that he'd felt a wolf's blood-lust in it's most pure form, he recognized it when it appeared much more diluted, too. Like pretty much any time he was around Taylor. The boy was a lamb, after all. He remembered what it had been like when he'd first downed the boy, when he'd had the lamb's throat in his mouth. Yeah, that's what that feeling was... and while it had led to something else that time, it was still just that one time. Whatever else had happened between them since, Taylor was still a lamb. And the wolf's mouth watered for him for more than one reason.
He found it hard to be around Taylor that day, and the next, and the next. Harder still to look him in the eye. Impossible to have sex. Tristan felt as if he were pulled apart by how Taylor made him feel. He loved someone that he'd also love to eat. Someone he'd love to kill. Knowing this part of his nature didn't make him whole – it was tearing him apart.
And Taylor could feel it. Something was wrong with his wolf – but Tristan would not talk about it. It was depressing, and frustrating, and maddening, and... what could he do? He couldn't talk to Gordon about it – the rabbit had made it plain enough he didn't want to hear about the two boy's love-life. And The Lady – well, she was a girl, while he and Tristan were both boys – so he didn't think she would be likely to understand... He was wrong about that, of course, but he was young, so he thought it made a difference.
One day, Tristan came back from a hunting trip with blood all over his legs. He'd been after rabbits, and had been fighting his way through brier thickets to get them. When Taylor saw him coming up the path, he ran immediately the other way – into the shack – and emerged with an armful of bottles and jars, a bar of lye soap, and rags.
He immediately ordered Tristan to drop his pack, remove his belt, and get into the stream to be washed off. The wolf was a little taken aback by Taylor's attitude. He'd never seen the boy like that. He'd never imagined the boy could be like that... It was un-nerving enough, in fact, that Tristan did exactly as he was told, and Taylor waded in after him – still giving orders. Sit, put your leg out, this may sting, now the other one, get up, turn around, and so forth. When the lamb was satisfied that Tristan was throughly cleaned – as evidenced by the fresh blood flowing from the scratches and cuts – he ordered Tristan out of the stream and into The Lady's chair, where he dried the wolf's fur and proceeded to treat each wound with some kind of liquid – that stung – and some sort of powder on top of it - that felt cool and good.
While Taylor bandaged up the worst cuts, Tristan stared at him smiling. "The Lady's turning you into quite a little doctor, isn't she..."
"Not so little. I'll be twelve next month."
"'Almost a teenager'," Tristan chided him, "Ow! Dammit, Tay – be careful with that... Gods. I guess I'm gonna need pants after all. I bet this was another of the Old Goat's lessons. Her way of teaching is... painful..."
"At least you get to go places. I'm stuck here all day. And now that you're doing the combat thing, I don't even get to be chased around the field anymore. I kind of miss that..."
It was the best conversation they'd had in a week. Usually, when Taylor had tried to talk to him, he'd start by asking him what was wrong, and Tristan would immediately get defensive and angry. Maybe it was a sign, Taylor thought. Maybe things could get back to normal now.
Taylor scooted himself up close to the wolf's face. "Maybe tomorrow?" He pressed forward to touch Tristan's nose with his own.
But Tristan turned away. It was the first time he'd ever done such a thing. Apparently Taylor had been wrong about things getting better.
"Not... not outside, okay? It's just... it's embarrassing."
Embarrassing? Tristan was worried about embarrassing!? Nose-touching was the first intimate thing they'd ever done. And sometimes, it was amongst the most intimate things they did, or even could do. Those times Gordon had called "giving himself". Taylor wasn't aware that it was called by that name, he wasn't aware it had a name at all. But if someone had told him that it was called "giving", he would have agreed.
"Giving" was something that came from Taylor, and affected Tristan. Taylor couldn't do it at will – in fact, he never knew when it was going to happen. It wasn't something he could control. It just sort of flowed out of his feelings towards Tristan from time to time. Tristan was his wolf. He was Tristan's prey. The "giving" was the embodiment of Taylor's acceptance of what that part of their relationship meant, at the animal level. I'm yours. Take me. It's okay.
For the predator – seeing that look in the prey's eyes was literally like being stunned. It went so deep, and in such an unexpected way - a way predators weren't built to handle - that it just shut their conscious minds down. Almost as if the predator's animal soul was saying, "Really?" And the aftermath of the act, when the prey finally looked away, left them feeling confused, and surprised, and even... vulnerable. Vulnerable in a good way, yes – but it was still something that predators weren't used to feeling.
"It never used to be 'embarrassing', Tris..."
"Well... it is now."
Tristan... do you still wanna be my boyfriend? Taylor imagined himself saying. "Okay, Tris," he said instead.
"Gordon? The Lady told me to come help you again this afternoon." Taylor said, coming up to his shack. The rabbit was outside going through his wood-pile, looking to see if he had any oak left.
"Yeah? Well good - you can boil up some leather then. We're gonna need it for snow-shoes. And get the knife - the long thin one - from my bench. You can sharpen it while the water's getting hot. I can also use it to steam these runners for the sleds, while we got a fire going."
"I don't have to boil it in pee again, do I? That stunk!"
The rabbit laughed - "Nah, Taylor - we have enough cured hide now. It's time to work it."
"Uh... Gordon?" Taylor said uneasily – he wasn't sure whether he should be talking to the rabbit about this or not, "What happened to Tris that first day of Combat?"
Gordon looked over at the lamb, "That's... between me and Tristan, kid."
"He's been... different, ever since. It's like... he's nervous around me or something. He won't tell me anything."
This was beginning to sound serious. Gordon didn't know how the wolf might have been affected by that experience - but he at least understood that he didn't know. "Different in what way, exactly?"
"I don't think you want to know..."
"Ah. Different in that way... Look, Taylor - I'm trying to adjust to that, okay? Now c'mon. Different how..."
"He won't hardly even look at me. He barely speaks to me. It's like something's wrong - like I did something - and he won't tell me what! And he doesn't want me to nose him anymore... he says it's embarrassing."
"Doesn't seem like he used to be embarrassed when you did that. Far as I could tell..." Gordon said.
"That's what I said. He says it is now. It all started that first day... What happened?"
"Uh..." Gordon put down the hardwood pieces he was carrying, "I think we'd best go talk to The Lady about this, Taylor. I'm over my head here - I don't have much experience with predators. C'mon."
"He's going to need the Blood and Teeth," The Lady said after barely a moment's thought. "I'd been wondering if it was going to work that way... Usually the predator partner involved has either already done it prior to Combat, or they're still single. You've fallen in between, Taylor. Not to mention that Tristan sort of already knows what it's like - but his experience is incomplete, so he doesn't understand it. Yes. Well, that's it then."
"Little young for that, isn't he, ma'am?" Gordon asked.
"I would have said so, yes - but there it is. I can't deny evidence right before my nose, bunny-man. Can you?"
"Not anymore, no, ma'am. Time was, not too long ago, I was real good at that, though. As I bet you know... don'tcha..."
The Lady smiled at him, but changed the subject, "You will coach Taylor, Gordon. I suppose I'll have to coach Tristan - at least I've known predators before, and seen it done. You remember what to do?"
"Bein' the prey coach is easy. Yeah, I remember. You are gonna double-check my work when the time comes, aren'tcha? That's the only part I'm nervous about."
"I'll keep an eye on you, Gordon."
Taylor had been looking back and forth between them while they were talking. It was a relief that The Lady seemed to know what to do about Tristan - but it would have been nice if they would tell him... "What are you guys talking about?" he asked.
"You'll find out later, Taylor, don't worry," The Lady said to him, "We'll tell each of you at the same time. This won't be a problem for you. It's the wolf who's going to be dead-set against it. You'll see. Now back to work, the both of you - we still have a lot to do before we leave."
That evening, as they finished up their chores for the day and were settling around the fire, The Lady said, "Tristan - can I talk to you privately for a moment?" She led him into her shack. Gordon got up from the steps where he was sitting and went to sit on the log next to Taylor instead.
"Okay, Taylor - there goes your wolf. He's gonna come outta there screaming his head off, I'm told, just so's you'll know. It's natural. He'll change his mind, eventually. Assuming he really does love you."
"He does. I think. So you're going to tell me what 'Blood and Teeth' is now?"
"It's simple and complicated at the same time, kid. Basically - your boyfriend is going to bite your throat. His canine teeth will pierce your skin, and your blood will flow into his mouth. It's gonna be a little like getting killed - but you'll be okay. How's that sound to ya?"
For some reason, hearing the rabbit state it all so matter-of-factly made it sound almost... scientific. "Uh... well, kinna scary, but okay, I guess. If you and The Lady say so."
"Yeah. See - from your point of view, it's not even that big a deal. Hell - you've even been there before - only he never broke the skin. But it's gonna be a big fucking deal - uh, sorry 'bout that - to Tristan. He ain't gonna wanna do it. At all. He's gonna be scared to death of even thinking about it."
"Because he won't know if he'll be able to stop himself from ripping your throat out."
"He wouldn't do that."
"Heh. You know that, Taylor. Even I know that. The Lady knows it too. We all know it but him, kiddo - and he ain't got no other predators to talk to about it. It's gonna be hard for him. He's gonna hafta-"
Gordon was interrupted by loud shouting from inside the shack, "YOU'RE FUCKING INSANE! THERE AIN'T NO WAY I'M GONNA DO THAT SHIT! I'M FUCKING OUTTA HERE!" The door flew open with a bang, and Tristan stomped his way out. Once the wolf was safely down the steps, he looked up at Taylor. The look in his eyes was... strange. Disbelieving. He let out another "Fuckin'... fuckin' FUCK!" and continued storming down the path that lead to the Chasing Meadow, as they'd come to call it.
Taylor looked at Gordon for instructions.
"Go after 'im, kid. But – do not ask him anything, or pressure 'im, or tell 'im anything I said. He's gonna hafta work this out on his own. Just be there for 'im. Might take weeks. 'Kay – go on now."
It was dark, so Taylor hurried so he could catch up with Tristan before he got too far away from the safety of the Camp. When he did, the wolf only glanced back at him to see who it was and kept on walking. Taylor didn't say anything.
But he did jog up beside Tristan and take his hand. How'd he know that was just what Tristan needed?
They eventually came to the meadow. Tristan stopped a the edge and looked around, just to make sure it was safe. With nothing to see, and nothing to hear, and nothing to smell, he pulled Taylor along to the middle of the field and sat on the grass. It was cold, but their fur and metabolism kept them warm enough. There was no moon – but there were no clouds either, and the starlight give the wolf more than enough light to see by. Taylor, on the other hand, was nearly blind – but that was okay, because his wolf was there with him.
"You know what they want me to do, Tay?"
"Yeah. Gordon told me."
"Fucking insane, isn't it... You ever hear anything so crazy in your LIFE? I haven't!"
Taylor didn't say anything. He was still holding onto Tristan's hand, though.
"I said, 'fucking insane, isn't it?'" the wolf asked again.
"I dunno, Tris. It... it doesn't sound so bad to me..."
"Sinking my teeth into your throat doesn't sound so bad to you?!"
"You wouldn't hurt me, Tris."
"You don't think that'll hurt?"
"No – I mean, yeah... I mean... I mean you wouldn't kill me or anything. They say it's something people do... it must be okay, somehow."
"Right. Something crazy people do, maybe. This whole Blood and Teeth thing... I thought it was cool at first, but I'm beginning to think it's some kind of weird cult or something. It ain't gonna happen, Tay. Not ever."
It happened sooner than that.
Because Tristan – even though he did try – just couldn't overcome his new fear of his feelings for the young sheep. Neither could he convince those feelings to go away, and neither could he overwhelm those feelings with other, more positive feelings. It was hopeless, and he was growing despondent about it.
Taylor's 12th birthday came up in the middle of December, but Taylor only found it depressing to still be a "pre-teen" even after everything that had happened. He felt like he'd never grow up – he'd always be a "kid" in the company of "adults". The old argument that he was "almost a teenager" had worn thin. He could see through that now. He was 12. Not 13. And no wishful-thinking was ever going to change that. Only time would change it, and to a 12 year old, a year was an incredibly long time. To a 12 year old in his situation – it was forever.
So when Tristan asked what he wanted for his birthday, Taylor told him. "Blood and Teeth, Tris. That's all."
Tristan sighed. He was desperate enough to do it by then, because even though he saw Taylor every day, and slept in the same bed with him every night, he still missed the lamb. He was ready to do anything to make things the way they had been before that fateful first day of Combat. Even if it was insane.
They were trained and educated for two weeks, and finally it was the day. It would be in The Lady's shack, at noon. Both Tristan and Taylor spent the morning preparing themselves: the wolf brushed his teeth four times, and used a special mouth-wash The Lady had prepared for him. Taylor's neck was carefully sterilized by Gordon with yet another potion from her shelves. At noon, both of them far more nervous than they'd even thought they'd be. They entered the shack, where The Lady and Gordon waited on them.
As had been practiced, Tristan sat in the chair, with Taylor straddling his lap, facing him. That put their heads at almost equal height. Every word that was about to be spoken to them they'd already heard a dozen times over in the past week – but still they listened. This time it was for real.
"All right, Tristan. Now open your mouth and take Taylor's throat, as you would for any kill. Remember – this is a Stage One bite."
The wolf did as he was told, and Taylor tensed at first, then relaxed. Gordon and The Lady both checked the placement of Tristan's canine teeth, moving his jaws just a little one way or the other, until they were absolutely sure that the wolf's teeth were in the right place. Then they each double-checked the other. Finally satisfied, The Lady continued.
"Good. Tristan - your teeth will penetrate a major vein running parallel to the carotid artery. When it is over, Gordon and I will be able to stitch up the holes in those veins without danger to Taylor. Now it's time for the Stage 2 bite, Tristan. This will be a shock to you, Taylor – but not quite enough to put you into death-shock. The idea is that when your predator bites and draws blood, you will not experience death-shock at all. Tristan – I know you can still hear me, but this will be the last time I will speak to you. Let yourself enjoy what your prey is feeling. Trust him that it will be all right. Trust yourself, too. He does. And remember – he is in control of this – not you. You'll only bite when he signals you. Taylor? Whenever you're ready."
Taylor took several deep breaths – he wasn't looking forward to this – and ran his hand up to the wolf's head, squeezing one of his ears. Tristan applied just a bit more pressure with his jaws.
The lamb's entire body arched at the feel of the sharp teeth pressing on his throat – an instinctive response that Taylor wasn't able to stop. His breathing became fast and shallow, and fear welled up in his heart. But – he'd expected that. It was only fear, it was only automatic responses. Taylor let it flow – not that he had any choice.
And the wolf did too, as the smell of Taylor's cold sweet sweat permeated his nose and spread like an oil-slick onto his tongue. His adrenaline rose. His senses sharpened. He began to "tune in" on the boy in his mouth, ready for the kill. The Lady left them like that for almost twenty minutes, and when she spoke again, Tristan could still hear it – but he wasn't paying the slightest attention to what was being said.
"Good, Taylor, good. Stage 3 will be the death-shock. You will get through it now, in order that it doesn't happen later. You may signal Tristan when you are ready."
Taylor was already helpless to move, or speak, or make any motion at all in response to what he was told – but he did hear, and he did know what to do. He steeled himself for something he already knew he wouldn't be able to steel himself against. He squeezed Tristan's ear again.
Tristan bit down not quite hard enough to penetrate Taylor's skin.
The lamb arched again, his head pointing to the ceiling, his mouth open, his jaws going up an down but no sound came out. He urinated into a towel that had been place over his lap for that very purpose. His breathing stopped, as did his brain. His body shuddered. Gordon and The Lady kept a close eye on the wolf's teeth.
Tristan lost himself. It was the feeling, the taste, the smell – even the sound that Taylor wasn't making – and his mouth watered furiously. He could feel the lamb's pulse against his tongue, feel it through his whole body. He could smell the blood beneath Taylor's fur. He could taste the death. It absorbed him totally – and he let it, welcoming the feelings, the tastes, the smells. Of Taylor. Part of him wanted to kill Taylor, and part of him couldn't live without Taylor. Those two parts warred with each other in the wolf's heart. Tristan began to whimper.
After a minute, Taylor blinked – he was conscious again. He still couldn't move – although the hand that held Tristan's ear began lightly stroking it, but he wasn't aware of that. He wasn't aware of much at all, except his wolf's teeth at his throat. HIS wolf's teeth. Tristan's teeth. Taylor's breath shuddered in and out of his lungs. He was going to die – his body knew it, but a part of his mind knew better. That part was too deep to come to the surface, though. Not yet.
"Taylor – I know you hear me. Tristan does not hear anything now. Gordon and I are going to leave – we will be right outside the door. We will return three minutes after you begin Stage Four. This is between you and your predator – we have no place here. You do not have to do this. If you do not wish to do this, you know the signal. Good luck, Taylor."
Gordon and The Lady went outside the shack and closed the door behind them. They stood on the steps and waited, listening for clues as to what was going on inside.
Taylor knew he was alone now. Alone with Tristan at his throat, ready and willing to bite into his flesh. To spill his blood. He could hear Tristan still whimpering – apparently in pain – below him. The wolf needed him, needed his pain, needed his flesh, needed his blood. His wolf. Needed.
And the wolf's prey wanted to satisfy that need. Wanted to! He squeezed Tristan's ear one final time.
The whimpering stopped as Tristan's teeth sunk into Taylor's throat, cutting through the veins on either side of his neck. Taylor screamed, and Taylor bled, and Taylor fed his wolf. It was the completion of an ancient ritual, from a time before people could even speak. It was a Union. And in some undefinable way, it was Right. For both of them.
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