Sunday School (The Guardian Pt. 2)

Story by ArgoDD on SoFurry

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#2 of The Gaurdian Series

Chen, a virgin panda, has invited the school whore, Alex, to his house and gets more than what he bargained for.

Alex is at a crossroads with his guardian, Joji, and they are about to find out that they're more alike then meets the eye.

NOTES TO READERS: This is the long awaited sequel to The Guardian that I have been promising all of you. I hope you enjoy it as much as you did The Guardian and I hope to make this story the second installment in a series about Joji and Alex.

Thank you for your support! Enjoy!


Sunday School

By

Argo D.D.

Candles. Food. Cologne. Wine. Chen checked his waistline for the umpteenth time. Shirt tucked in, but his belly hadn't receded. Of course it hadn't, but it never hurt to wish for a miracle. He checked the clock: 10:17am. His company would be there in less than an hour. What was he going to do? The house was far from ready. He breathed into his paw and ran his finger through his tight waistline again. It just wouldn't cooperate.

"Dammit!" he shouted. The rigors of being a panda. It was kind of a requirement to be overweight. The teasing came with the package and he imagined it wouldn't stop if he tried losing weight. Even he'd snicker at a thin panda. Chen could understand why his kind were getting scarcer: they wouldn't even have sex with each other.

He looked at the clock again and wondered if there'd be time for a short bamboo stick. They never failed in calming nerves. But then his breath would be thrown off again.

"Oh, God," Chen puffed with his paws over his head. "It had to be today."

***********

Joji squeezed the wheel of his pickup truck. He was fuming. He and Alex had gotten into another fight. It had been only three weeks since he moved in and now it seemed the daily fight would disrupt the fabric of the universe if it failed to occur. But most of them Joji could shrug off with a laugh or an eye roll. But this got his blood boiling, because they'd fought about God.

Joji had only asked Alex to come to church with him. No commitments or evangelizing or even praying, just to keep him company. He wouldn't be serving Mass this morning and he hated to go alone. Joji struck the wheel every time Alex's response repeated in his mind.

"Go to hell. Metaphorically of course."

It kind of escalated from there. The yelling and swearing ensued and what bothered Joji the most was that he couldn't even remember what he said.

_ What was it?_

************

Chen's heart dropped when the doorbell rang.

He looked at the clock. 10:43. Early.

The panda looked around helplessly. The bell rung again, like the door was taunting him. His heart was throbbed as he grinded forward. In an instant, Chen thought that he'd rather be going to take his SAT than answer the door. Again, the bell rung out.

"Coming," he gasped. As he put his paw to the nob he felt for a moment like drawing back. Perhaps he could just run upstairs and...

He opened the door and burden was lifted. A sudden pint of confidence injected into his body as he looked at the slender Dalmatian in the doorway, with the sullen face, black patches on his ears and eyes, swarms of tiny spots around his muzzle, and dark blue eyes. He was wearing a hoodie that was as black as his patches.

"Hey..." Chen sighed. He felt so stupid.

The Dalmatian leaned his forward. "Are you going to let me in? Or would you just like to hang in the snow?"

"Oh. Yeah."

The Dalmatian stepped right past him, his thin tail rubbing against Chen as he did so.

"Can I..." Chen's voice trailed. "Take your hoodie?"

The Dalmatian looked at him with some distain.

"You could take more than that, you know?"

Chen was taken aback. The Dalmatian's dark blue eyes seemed to penetrate him.

"I was just...I mean...I didn't want you--"

"Nervous?" The Dalmatian interrupted. Fine. I'll let pull yourself together." Then the Dalmatian took off his hoodie, revealing a tight red shirt underneath. He shook his head and paraded around the living room. Chen couldn't believe it, not only was such behavior incredible insulting in his country, he was going to screw this guy. At least, that's what he thought. Of course, he could expect this, after all, the school's whore was in his house: Alex Lamar. He'd heard rumors that some of guys at school were getting some "needed" relief from him and Chen couldn't believe that he'd actually got the courage to ask Alex to come over. Only

Alex rolled his eyes as Chen staggered into the living room, shielding a dumb smile.

Remember, he's just a little skank. Don't let him get to you.

Suddenly, Alex's eyes gleamed at the piano in the corner. "You play?" he asked.

Chen shook his head. "Not really. I'm mean, I know a couple of things."

Without reservation, Alex sat down. "Come on. Show me."

Chen played a simple tune of four notes, first played to the right and then to the left; it was one of the few things he remembered from his mother's lessons ages ago.

"Huh," Alex huffed. "Is that all you know?"

"Well," Chen shrugged, "I'd like to hear what you know."

Alex's fingers replaced Chen's, sounding off the same notes and then moving into ragtime tune. Chen's eyes widened. His playing was incredible and he could almost lose himself in the music. He also felt a bit fear, he told himself not get too close.

Alex abruptly stopped playing.

"Please," Chen whispered. "Just a little more."

"I'm not here to be your personal musician," Alex said with a condescending grin.

"No, of course not."

Alex inched his slender muzzle close to Chen's, who pulled back with a shudder.

"What's your deal?" Alex chuckled.

"What?"

"Are you gay? Curious? Or a just a virgin?"

Chen was silent. He didn't know how to answer.

"Really?" Alex said sarcastically. "That's good enough for me."

His face flushing, the panda looked away embarrassed. Alex sighed, "Alright, don't take it personally, it doesn't matter to me. We'll go at your pace." Then he went back to playing, even directing Chen to contribute a few notes.

************

The smell of incense never failed to fill Joji with a kind of bliss; it was heavenly intoxicating and always hit him immediately after entering the church. The church was of gothic build with 19thcentury furnishings, blue and red stained glass window, and a marble high alter. As the people gathered in the sanctuary, men and boys in suits and women and girls in dresses and veils, only the chants of the choir resounded through the church. It all harkened back to ancient times, something that Joji found comforting, because it was timeless.

Like most Sundays, he made his way around the back to the vestibule. Usually it was to get his garments, but today it was just to see Father Andrew.

"Joji," the priest beamed in his Irish accent.

"Father, where are the boys?"

"You're the only one today?"

"Why? I mean I didn't think I was serving today."

Father Andrew grinned. "Well you are now. I decided that it wouldn't be best from them to be around me right now."

Joji understood as he stepped closer to the priest, an Irish Wolfhound with his graying fur and glistening brown eyes. His breath was full of liquor. "Oh...: Joji said.

Father Andrew patted Joji on the shoulder. "No need to worry. I've come down hours ago."

"Why?"

The priest sighed looked down. "Some bad news from the home country."

"What happened?"

Father Andrew lowered his head, retaining his somber smile. "A death."

"I'm sorry," Joji said. "Aren't you gonna go?"

Father Andrew shook his head. "And leave my flock untended for over a week? No. Besides, I'm not going to ask the church for sizable allowance to fly over seas. And...I don't think it would be appropriate for me to be there."

Joji inclined his head curiously, but Father Andrew only waived him off. "Get dressed. It's almost time." Joji complied and didn't press further.

"Anyway," Father Andrew's voice light up again. "How's the boy. Er...Aaron?"

Joji removed his jacket and flung his garments over his head. "Alex. We're...getting by."

"Getting by? Are you two not getting along?"

"He can be pretty stubborn sometimes. And...Father?"

"Yes."

"I need to make a confession."

The priest looked around. "Kind of haphazard, don't you think?"

"Please, I don't want to go to the altar without being in a state of grace."

"Very well," Father Andrew signed. "Kneel."

As Joji prostrated himself, Father Andrew placed his paw on Joji's head.

"How long has it been since your last confession?"

"Two weeks."

"What have you done?"

"I've been having...these thoughts," Joji drawled. "Really, really strong ones. Inappropriate. Anyway, they make me...more aggressive. Sometimes I can't control myself. Today, I said something to hurt someone else. And I don't even remember what it was." Joji closed his eyes. Thought it never happened, this was the moment he thought he would be pressed by the priest. "That is my confession."

"Is that all?"

Joji paused. "Yes."

"Very well."

Joji said the confessional prayer and Father Andrew made the sign of the cross.

"God absolves you of your sins. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

"Amen."

Just then, someone burst into the room. Joji looked up to see a young coyote, perhaps his age, dressed in vestments he recognized as those of a deacon (just below a priest).

"Oh," the coyote said softly. "Am I interrupting?"

"No," said Father Andrew. "We're just finishing."

"Joji," said Farther Andrew, "this is Xavier. He's gonna be our deacon for a while he prepares for his priestly ordination."

Joji's beamed as he reached out his paw. "Xavier? I have a nephew named Xavier."

"Huh," said the deacon passively. When he grasped Joji's paw, the Shepkita was put off by how soft and abrupt his sake was. The deacon turned to Father Andrew, almost as if he forgot Joji immediately. "I think it's about that time."

Father Andrew nodded. "Very well, let's go."

Joji didn't like this deacon, they didn't get off on the right foot, but blunted the thought out his mind immediately. There was no time for another confession. He felt better when the three of them passed into the sanctuary, with the air filled with chants and intense. He knelt down at the foot of the Altar as Father Andrew began the mass.

"In nomine Patri, et Fili, Et Spriritue Sancti. Amen. Interibo et tarre dei."

(In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. I shall go to the alter of God.)

Joji responded.

"Adem qui latificate juvetutem mea."

(To God, the joy of my youth.)

**********

When the panda looked cooperative again, Alex went on. "As fun as it is to school you in piano, I don't run a charity here. So why don't we get down to business?"

"Huh? Oh, right. Well, my parents have a wine cellar downstairs, I'm sure they won't notice if one was missing?"

Alex drew his head back like he was avoiding a punch. "No. I don't drink."

Chen looked around helplessly. He was sure that would sell it but he hadn't put much thought into backups. "What do you want then?"

"Ever hear of cash?" Alex scoffed.

Chen temple tightened. "Cash? But isn't that like...you know..."

Alex laughed. "What? A crime? You try to bribe me with wine and it's something else, but when cash comes in it's a crime?"

Chen shrugged. "I guess I never really thought of it like that."

"Well, it doesn't look like you think of much."

The panda's jaw dropped and he skirted off the seat.

"Just get out!" he shouted in a whimper.

Alex sighed. He had to admit, he did feel bad for the kid, something he never allowed himself to feel for the johns back in the city. But these high school breeds were different. Many of them don't think about how these things work, and with money being scarce they reverted to trade. Like Raul who gave him a new watch; or Chris who offered his unused gift cards from last Christmas; or Brent who from time to time gave him some protection, the big jaguar he was. This kid was no different.

Besides, it wasn't just money that Alex craved.

"Wait," Alex got up in groan. The panda had wandered into the kitchen and was hunching over the island in its center. "Lighten up, I didn't mean it. You're just a little nervous and..."

"Just leave," there was a repressed sob in the panda's voice. "I don't need one of you in my house."

"One of you?" Alex retorted. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"All of you. At school. You think I don't know the things you guys say behind my back?"

"You do know that I'm the new kid, right?"

"I get! Okay?"

Alex took a small step backward. "That's more like it, kid. I like a little aggression."

"It's Chen, my name is Chen!"

"Alright," Alex's voice soothing as he stepped forward and place his paw on the panda's arm. "We don't have to think about payment now. I'm sure you'll think of something." He ran his finger of up the panda's arm. "Maybe after?"

Chen trembled. He couldn't think of the last time anybody other than his parents ever touched him before. He drew back, but the Dalmatian didn't let up, smiling deviously as he inched his nose up at Chen.

"Hey, cut it out."

"Why do you think I'm here?" Alex scowled.

"Can't we just wait until I'm a little more comfortable."

Alex grinded his chest against Chen's. "Where's my tough bear? He was here a minute ago. Maybe you'll get a little more pent up with these clothes off."

"No!" Chen shoved Alex off of him. The little Dalmatian looked up bewildered then smiled. "Looks like he's back."

Chen rubbed the back of his head. "Actually, I think I should find something to give you first."

"Oh, come on!" Alex pouted. "You're just stalling."

Chen started for the stairs. "You like music? I got a lot of foreign stuff from Asia." When he reached his room he scrabbled through his old disks. Not much of a trade since all his music had been downloaded onto his computer. As he tossed the Techno Kata Drums in with the Eclectic Fung Shie, he heard a ruffling behind him.

"Please don't laugh," he said. "This stuff is really good. Kind of like 70s dance with amplified--"

He was struck silent as he turned. Alex was standing in the doorway, naked. He was grinning and stroking the top of his expanding cock. Chen's jaw dropped.

He's not fair.

"Get up." Alex commanded. Chen slowly rose feet; his eyes locked the Dalmatian, whose tough was hanging from his teasing smile. Chen eyed Alex's silky fur stretched tightly against his slender curves. Alex leaned against the door's frame, his hips rocked, his leg sliding upward, and his tail rubbing against his side. He looked so feminine, in a way Chen had never seen from Alex or any girl for that matter. And his dark blue eyes gleamed in excitement.

"Come closer." The slender Dalmatian said mockingly. Then he snickered as he looked down at Chen's waist. "I see part of you is already on its way."

Chen froze. Alex finally got annoyed and moved up to him. "You now," he said looking into the panda's wavering eyes. "You can touch me if you want." Chen gasped a little as Alex rose his nose to about an inch from his. But he gave no resistance as Alex took his paw and placed it on his chest, running down the side of his waist and to his thigh. Chen spurred. The feeling was so unimaginable that he scoffed at himself for his own ridiculousness.

"Are you just going to sand there, or take charge?" Alex huffed. Chen placed his other paw on Alex's waist and slowly inched down until he reached the Dalmatian's cock. Alex grinned.

"See, it doesn't bit."

The feeling was so unsettling to Chen as he ran his paw down Alex's length and to his balls. He shuttered as he felt Alex's paw on rubbing against his covered sheath.

"Well, Chen, you've progressed. Now what do you want to do?" Alex motioned toward the bed. "You want get in? Or take off your clothes now or...have you ever kissed someone."

"No." Chen whispered.

"Want me to show you?"

Chen drew back at first, then he closed his eyes shut, puckered his lips, and lowered his muzzle. He felt so foolish. What if he missed? But it wasn't so bad when he touched Alex's cool, moist mouth. It wasn't like he'd expected. He didn't realize how wet it would be even at the slightest touch. But he did it! He could at least say that! He did it!

His moment of triumph, however, was short. As he began to raise his head, Alex pulled him back down into his face. The Dalmatian wouldn't let go, not until he forced Chen's mouth open with his tongue and slid it in. Chen quivered, it felt like a snake, but he couldn't pull back. He couldn't test the Dalmatian's patience anymore.

"That wasn't so bad, huh?" The Dalmatian murmured.

Chen nodded. "Yeah. I-I mean, no."

Alex ran his paws around the panda's wide frame. "Okay, kid. Now it's your turn." Chen froze as he felt the Dalmatian slowly unbuckling his belt. Chen whimpered as his gut was freed from his jeans. When he heard his pants fall to the floor, he sucked in his stomach with a deep breath; it only made the Dalmatian snicker.

"Relax bud," said Alex as he worked his fingers up Chen's shirt. "You'll feel better once everything is off." Chen offered no resistance as Alex lifted his shirt over his head, but as his head slipped out of his collar, he covered his bare chest with his paws. His head hung, and Alex tried to meet his eyes.

"You okay?"

Chen held his lip tight and averted his eyes.

"Look," Alex continued. "You don't need to be shy."

"It's not that," Chen panted. He could still taste the Dalmatian on his lips. "I'm not exactly...you know..."

Alex shook his head. "I know. You're a little subconscious about your size, huh?" With no pride left in him, Chen nodded. Alex smiled. "Well honey," he said with an exaggerated lisp. "There's just more of you to play with."

A chuckle broke through from Chen, which enticed Alex. He went on with the lisp. "You've ever seen a really thin panda bear? Creeeppppyyy!" Chen's chuck was now bouts of laughter. His glistening eyes finally met Alex's.

Alex leaned against Chen until his small, slender frame was completely encompassed by the panda. Standing on the edges of his feet, he stretched upward until his black nose rubbed against Chen's. "You like it when I talk like that?"

"Yes. But could you...kinda...I don't know..."

"What?"

"Tone it down."

Alex knew exactly what he wanted. Experience allowed him to adjust to just about anything in the bedroom.

"How's this?" he said with a tender, effeminate tone. He could feel the panda tremble a little. He pressed him further. "What do you think, boy?" Chen couldn't believe how real it sounded. The Dalmatian could sound just like the real thing--a girl.

"Perfect," Chen said.

Alex nipped and lapped at Chen's mouth "Great..." and then he worked his way down Chen's chest "...then I guess..." then past his waist line "...that's enough foreplay for now..." Chen shuttered as he could feel the Dalmatian's teeth working his boxers down to the floor. He almost panicked as his felt Alex's cool, moist nose stroke his erect cock from its base to its head.

_ He can't possibly?_

He just couldn't believe that anyone, even Alex, was going to do it to him. He felt so inadequate.

"You have a nice bearhood," Alex gloated as in his seductive effeminate voice. It was of no comfort to Chen that he sounded sincere. Alex huffed as he brought in the panda's aroma. The heat beating off of his cock made Alex's own blood race red hot.

"Please!" Chen gasped as he felt Alex's paws wrapping around his balls and his cock's base. "Please, just keep talking."

"Alright," Alex snickered as he ran his paw up and down the panda's length a few times. "I guess you're one of those guys who like hear a voice." Then he give Chen's bearhood a steady lick from its base to its head, swilling his tongue around a few times before letting it go. Chen could've screamed, but the throbbing in his throat kept him silent. "But for now, you're gonna have to let me save my breath for the dive."

Suddenly, without warning, Chen felt his bearhood engulfed in a sea of wetness and sliminess. He gasped as he could feel the back of the Dalmatian's throat and the coolness of his black nose bumping against his hanging waist. His round belly prevented him from seeing, he could only feel. Feel the Dalmatian's canine tongue run down his cock, suck at his retracted sheath, and work its way around and under his balls. He'd heard that the canine tongue was especially good for blowjobs considering its length and flexibility, but he cringed at thought of the downside. Canines have trouble wrapping their lips around their sharp teeth, increasing the risk of scratching. At least, that's what he overheard from some guys at school. But Alex seemed to have no trouble. In fact, he like a master, not that Chen had any experience to compare it to. The panda held back a wale as he felt Alex's paws apply pressure to his length and sack. The mixture of pleasure and embracement made the panda feel sick to his stomach.

"Take...a little control." Chen heard the Dalmatian gasp.

"Wha...?"

The Dalmatian directed Chen's paw to the top of his head.

Chen grabbed onto the Dalmatian's ears and held tight. Alex gave a grunt of approval and continued with his rhythm. To his surprise, Chen felt his stomach beginning to settle as he cupped the Dalmatian's head, pretending to force him down. The involvement kept him at least partially focused. Beneath him he could hear the Dalmatian's slurps growing more intense and his tongue all the more eager. For a little while, Chen finally thought he was gaining some control over himself...and his little partner.

But then he felt his fluids rise in his body and flow toward the tip of his cock.

NO!

Visions of fireworks exploded in his mind.

NO!

He held back with all his might.

NOT NOW!

Alex could feel the panda's legs weakening. Like with all virgins he's dealt with, he expected this to happen prematurely. Still, he appreciated the panda's attempt to hold out. He also appreciated the kid's preparations because his body smelled like some kind of fresh lime, which Alex never would have guessed would complement the natural smell of a male member. He giggled to himself as he teasingly withdrew his mouth and nuzzled his nose against the tip of the length, savoring its aroma.

"You can't hold back forever, kid," Alex slurred.

Chen grinded his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, but his paws pushed the Dalmatian back onto his cock with greater force. His chest was filling with heat, of pleasure and of rage. When the panda let the Dalmatian catch his breath he only continued his toughing.

"Isn't this your house? Isn't your job to please your guest?

"Shut up!" Chen blurted as he again forced the Dalmatian back down. It was exhilarating and shameful all at the same time.

When Alex surfaced again, his was gasping.

"That's it! Come on! I want you to take control!"

The panda complied with the request, holding him down longer until he would feel the back of Alex's throat. When the Dalmatian gagged, he hissed and him come up for air again.

"Is this how you treat your guest?" Alex panted, his was voice straining.

"You're not my guest..." Chen responded.

"No? Then treat me like a prisoner!"

This time, Alex grasped onto the panda's cock, jerking it furiously with his paw. The pain Chen felt in his crotch was numbing, unlike any pee he'd had to hold. But when he felt Alex's head start to fall back in his paws, the panda force it back toward his cock.

"That's right, kid!" Alex exclaimed in a near shout. "Keep me in place." Chen could feel the Dalmatian's mouth smile as it hovered just at the tip of his head, his moist nose sizzling against the red heat building up on it.

"Come on!" The Dalmatian demanded. "I want you to do it!"

Then, almost missing it, Chen let go.

The final firework in the panda's mind went off and it was followed by a whole waterfall shooting upward into his partner's face. As it happened, every part of Chen's body felt like it was suspended in time. Still. Then when it passed, the panda sucked in deep gasps of air. He looked down to see the Dalmantian looking up at him with those dark, illustrious eyes. His face was smiling as Chen's fluids dripped down from it.

"Well..." Alex chuckled as he cleaned himself off with one sweep of his tongue. "I guess you've got more stamina than I would have expected. This should make Step 2 all the more interesting."

Chen found the sight revolting and stimulating. He couldn't understand what was coming over him; it was like some kind of darkness. But it didn't matter, because whatever it was, it had gotten ahold on him. He pulled the Dalmatian up swiftly by the head and with a flash of his voice he said:

"Get in my bed, now!"

**************

When the mass was done, Joji mingled with the other petitioners in the lobby of the church. They were a fairly diverse crowd: cats and dogs mostly, the Dawsons (who were a squirrel family), and the Mouliks (a lion family). There was a kind of bliss that Joji got after coming out of mass, something like a private peace and the jibber-jabber of the company sometimes annoyed him. Still, he smiled as he paraded around the room, shaking hands, sometimes exchanging hugs, and ruffling the fur of children. The guys would talk about the upcoming Super Bowl or ask him about how things were going at the station. The women would grasp their embarrassed children and talking like their spokesperson on recent achievements. This Sunday's news was little James Dawson getting on varsity football, unusually for a squirrel even at that age. But with the church's new addition, most of the attention was centered around. Oddly enough, Xavier seemed to sincerely enjoy his notoriety.

Joji still couldn't make out his feelings toward the new deacon. Perhaps it was envy, after all, it was a little unsettling that someone his own age would have any kind of authority over him. Of course, he was certain many of the older officers back at the station felt the same way about him. Maybe it was the way he carried himself, but snootiness didn't usually bother Joji. Whatever it was, Joji knew he had to come to terms with it. This church was like his first home when he moved out here after active duty. Holding ill feels toward its clergy could only lead to worse things.

As the crowd thinned, the Shepkita shook off his thoughts and returned to the vestibule. As he was in the middle of changing back into his casual cloths, a voice from behind startled him.

"You'll have to forgive me for being so formal earlier," said Xavier as he glided across the room toward Joji. "I don't think there should be anything between us."

"What do you mean?" Joji asked in a low voice. Standing only half dressed, he felt naked and small next to the coyote with his shiny vestments.

Xavier's smile widened. "Father tells me that you've become a real pillar to the community. You've just become the sheriff of the neighboring county?"

Joji nodded.

"Good," Xavier continued. "We need people like you to be our eyes, ears, and voice on the ground, so to speak. We, men of the cloth I suppose, can only do so much. But what this world is in so despite need of are those who can set a good example."

Joji swiftly snapped his body straight as he pulled his pants on, a habit that went all the way back to boot camp all those years ago. Xavier looked at him as if expecting an answer, but Joji gave none.

"We need each other, you and I." Xavier continued. "You to set the example, ensure that the people have a companion on the path of faith, and I will...ensure that you stay on that rightful path."

Joji's face went cross in confusion. "And how am I doing so far?"

Xavier lifted his paw defensively.

"Oh no. Please don't think that I am accusing you of anything. All I am saying is that I value you for your virtues and my only concern is for you to stand guard against any vice."

"Well I appreciated it" Joji said as he pulled his leather jacket on, "but I think I can manage." As he passed Xavier to collect his wallet and cellphone, the coyote deacon called from behind.

"Father also tells me that you've taken a youth into your home."

Joji felt the fur on his neck stand on end. "Yes."

"And that you live by yourself."

"Right. Problem with that?"

Xavier held his exhausted pose. "Of course not. But there are rigors in raising a boy yourself."

"I'm not raising him. I agreed to prepare him for the real world before his agency has to let him go."

"That is raising," said Xavier shaking his head. "It takes two for that business. And please excuse me for being so forward, but personally I think the circumstances come off as rather...inappropriate."

Joji returned his glance to Xavier. "Look, deacon. With all due respect, you're not our priest yet. So until then, I think it's best to leave each other to our own devices."

"Just beware, Joji. Our lord works in mysterious ways, but the devil can slither through the cracks. Sometimes the things we do thinking they are out of charity and love can deceive us into sin."

Joji shrugged and wandered out of the church as slow as he could force himself. When he got to his truck, he didn't care how many stop signs and street light he'd have to blow, he wasn't stopping until he got to Genesco Park.

************

For a moment, the panda was back to his nervous self as Alex showed him how to put a condom on. But that nervousness morphed back into a fire as the panda flipped him over onto his stomach. As Alex reached for his lube, the panda abruptly snatched it up.

"I'll do this!" He billowed.

The evolution in the panda demeanor was so rapid that it made Alex a little nervous, which he liked. The bear was out of the bag. Whatever had been built up inside him was now out and running. Alex wondered how far the panda could take it. The prospects looked pretty good. He arched his back, spread his legs, and lifted his tail. With a sly smile, he turned to look back up at the panda, whose mouth panted and bore teeth.

Chen swiftly spread the lubricant over his cock and poured it down onto the Dalmatian's ass. Then he lowered himself on Alex's slender frame, trying to direct the end of his member to the point of entry. He was caught off guard as Alex leaned back and wrapped his arm around his neck. Their eyes met, Chen's flooded with anxiety and Alex's full of beckoning.

"Let's make a little deal, hmm?" Alex whispered. "Let's try to make this a little rough."

Chen couldn't respond, but as the Dalmatian lowered his muzzle back down on the pillow, holding onto it with his teeth, he knew that he'd be able to return the favor. The dimensions of his body compared with Alex's him filled his mind with possibilities. He was bigger. A lot bigger. And it was...not shameful. In fact, for once in his life, he felt like his weight was a force to be reckoned with.

"You'll be tearing up that pillowed by the time I'm done."

"Excellent!" Alex whimpered through his teeth and the fabric between them.

*************

"Allahu akbar."

Joji's voice purred as he lifted his paws and his head to the cold sky.

"Allahu akbar."

His knees ached against the asphalt.

"God help all those who are lost. Send peace and blessing on mom and dad, on Helen, on August...and Alex. So him the path to your mercy"

Suddenly, a pain shot through his temple, like an ulcer. Joji gagged and heaved until he coughed uncontrollably. For moment, he felt like his head was going to explode. Finally, it subsided and the bright light came back to Joji's eyes. A white light from the snow was followed by a fazy empty vision of the barren trees and the vacant pavilions.

But then something else appeared.

It was a women sitting on one of the benches little more than twenty feet away. She was young, maybe in her twenties, and a canine. She was wearing a dark coat and her face was obscured by the hood drawn over it.

Still wavering form the pain, Joji called to her.

"It's alright," he said rubbing his head and getting to his feet. "I'm okay."

She was looking in his direction, but Joji couldn't tell if it was at him. "It was just a bad migraine. They come without warning sometimes."

The woman didn't move, even as Joji came towards her. With her nose inclined downward, Joji couldn't even see her eyes, but now he could tell that she had long raven hair that blended with her hoodie. She was so detached. Joji slowed his pace and approached with more caution.

"Look," he went on softly, "I don't know how long you've been sitting here but... I was praying the Muslim salat. I'm not a Muslim but...it's something that I do for someone I knew."

She gave no sign that she even knew that he was there and he felt like a muttering fool. "Listen, if you recognize me, I am the county sheriff. And I know that things like these..." his eyes pointed toward his carpet "...can so easily be misunderstood. You think we could keep this between us?"

Still, he only got a silent stillness from her; it seemed her further wouldn't even acknowledge the breeze.

"Are you okay?" Joji allowed himself to move a few inches closer to her. "It's okay. You can trust me."

Finally, her head began to lift. Joji's mouth creaked into a half smile. "Is someone bothering you? I can..."

Joji's voice was cut off into stark muteness as her eyes finally met his. Her hair and hood brushed to the side to reveal two haunting dark blue eyes. Joji gasped and stumbled backward. A second later, he felt the hard cold snow against his backside, he didn't realize that he had tripped.

"No!" he screamed.

She stood up, letting the rest of her hood fall away and her long hair sway in the gusts of wind. Joji was right. It was here.

She was Michaela Lamar. Alex's photo of her only did her half justice and Joji could see where Alex got his slender frame and his supple face. Ten years dead and she stood before him not a day over twenty-five. As she stepped towards him, the wind exposed her face in its entirety: snow white fur stained by hundreds of small spots spread sporadically around her muzzle.

Joji's paws clasped onto the snow as he tried to pull himself back inch by inch. His chest erupted in pain, like he was having a heart attack. Now she was staring right at Joji, her dark eyes glistened in the light reflecting off the snow. They were filled with enough anguish to slice through air. Suddenly, another color crossed her face. At first it looked like black tar, but as it slid across her muzzle and down her neck, Joji could see the red.

It was blood. Her skin was opening up.

She reached out for him, but she was stuck in place. Something was holding her back. Her mouth opened wide and her cheeks trembled, as an invisible knife slit her neck and advanced back up to the side of her muzzle.

She was trying to scream.

Joji's paws squeezed down on his head. A piercing static filled his ears. Still, of all the pain that throbbed in his chest and rung in his head could not keep him from holding her glance, even as the unseen blade continued to work its way around her body, tearing at her cloths and fur. Her mouth began to cough up blood.

"Leave me alone!" Joji cried.

Then she was gone, and like a pillow that was smothering him being lifted off his face, Joji let in a deep gasp, choking on the air and his saliva. No sooner did he climb back to his feet did he charge back to his truck. He swung open the door and rummaged through the glove compartment.

"Fuck! Where is it?"

A panic sank in his heart.

No, I couldn't have thrown them all out.

Salvation!

Between a wrinkled map of Chemung and the trucks manual, Joji felt a cool cylinder.

When he lifted it to his face, a relief swept over him again and he shook the cylinder and felt the pills drumming inside. His medicine! The kind he'd though he could finally forget about. He should have known better, because everything was coming back with a vengeance.

As several pills spilled into his paws, Joji had to fight to keep himself from gobbling down an entire paw-full. Instead, he managed to sneak just three down his throat and almost as soon as they passed Joji felt a warm in his stomach that was strong enough to make him smile.

His eyes closed, he repeated "She's not there...she's not there..."

The warm in his abdomen began to burn. It was strange to him that in such short time he could have forgotten who powerful the stuff was, strange enough to make him start giggling. When he opened his eyes, nothing was straight. The tingling numbness in his paws synchronized with the wavering of his sight. The hefty Shepkita climbed into the driver's seat, smoked a cigarette, and let the warm numbness engulf him until he was laughing. He laughed so hard that when he was done he was crying.

*************

Chen had heard from an online chat group that the first time you have sex it passes by so quickly that when it is done you're not quite sure what just happened. Others said that the opposite was true and that it goes by so slowly because it is awkward and you can't wait for it to be done.

For Chen, it was a flash.

As he lay on top of Alex, both panting against the pillow, Chen could recall only glimpses of the last five or so minutes, like was trying to remember a dream. The first thing he could remember was pushing his cock into Alex's warm, tight body. He could still hear the sounds of the bed bagging against the wall and Alex's groans ringing in his eyes. There was no escalation, Chen just went right in and started ramming the Dalmatian with all the power in his body. He knew Alex was enjoying it, because he rapped his legs around Chen's and pushed his hips back with each of Chen's thrusts.

Did he really push Alex's muzzle into the pillow? Was Alex really gasping for air? There was no way for Chen to tell if this was a memory or a fantasy as it all was meshed together. He tried not to think about it.

There were shouts. He could remember a lot of shouting between them. Though he couldn't remember exactly what was said, he knew it was violent and a lot of it coming from his mouth.

What's wrong with me?

Was he really pulling on the Dalmatian's tail that hard? No. How could it not have hurt him badly?

Did he bit him? Chen tried to scope Alex's body for teeth or claw marks, but closed his eyes instead. Ignorance was bliss.

There was some comfort in Chen's recollection that Alex was encouraging him, egging him on the whole time. Then again, there was something that Alex said that did disturb him; something that he shouted shortly before they climaxed.

_ "Fuck the life out of me, panda!" _

_ _ Chen pressed his face deeper into his pillow, trying to avoid touching Alex's ears right below his nose. Whatever was making him fly high a few minutes ago, it left him low now. _ _

After he pulled out of the Dalmatian, all the venom and aggression drained out of Chen with the force of a tsunami. Now he was a hallow shell, an empty sack lying there. When the Dalmatian was finished, he got up and asked which CDs he could have. The whole thing was so mechanical that it made Chen sick to his stomach. It couldn't end like this.

"A-are you going now? Chen slurred with alarm.

Alex looked at the panda, whose body was shivering. "You'll be okay, kid. It was your first time. It's awkward, so you get the jitters." But Alex had never seen something this bad before. It was like the guy had killed someone and was sweating out his confession.

"It's okay, man," Alex sighed, "where do your parents keep their liquor?'

"I-I thought you didn't drink."

"No, but you could use one."

Chen told him where to find it and the Dalmatian quickly returned with a tall bottle of vodka.

"Here," Alex said as he poured some of the clear liquid down the panda's throat. "Okay, now just let sink in."

Chen lifted his arm. "Please, come here."

Alex drew backward. "Kid, the game is over."

"No, please. Just stay a while."

The panda was trembling so bad that once again Alex could feel the specter of sympathy crawling out of his soul again. "Fine, but only if it will calm you down."

Alex lowered himself next to Chen's side. Chen encompassed the slender Dalmatian's frame under his thick arms.

"Thank you," he whispered.

He really was shaken.

"I guess we all need some tenderness once in a while," said Alex as he grabbed ahold of Chen's arm. Then he smirked. "You really were going at it back there. Wouldn't have guessed that you had it in you."

Chen closed his eyes and looked away.

"Hey, come on," Alex said as he pressed against him tighter, "I wasn't bad, for your first time." Even though Alex was being honest, the panda still looked away. "It's nothing to be ashamed of," Alex went on, nuzzling his muzzle into Chen's chest. "You just had a lot of anxiety pent up and you exploded. That's all. Just jitters."

"They're not jitters," Chen snapped.

Alex raised his head. "If you got something to say to me, then say it."

Chen breathed deeply, and then asked him. "Why did you say that?"

"What?"

"That you... wanted me to_fuck your life out_?"

Alex's ears perked up. So he did say it (or shout it) out loud. "What's it to you?" he said in a kneejerk snap.

"It's...it's just that..." Chen's eyes fluttered as he searched for words. "You just threw me off." The panda wiped his eyes. "I didn't think it would be that rough."

"Well," Alex huffed. "You get what you pay for."

"I know. I just thought it might be...I don't know. Something intimate."

"Intimate?" Alex's eyes widened in rage and in wonder. "You said that you're not gay and you just paid a guy to fuck you. What did you expect? Some kind of romance."

"No, I..."

"Good! Than stop complaining!"

Chen lowered his head. "I'm...sorry."

Alex rolled his eyes, again. "It's fine. Just stop working yourself up."

Chen lifted Alex's face to his. "I just want you to know that I am not like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I really wanted to hurt you."

Alex drew his head back with some astonishment. Just about every virgin he'd broken before acted bigger than their game. But this panda was indeed different. He wasn't a wimp, at least not now. He was being humble and sincere.

"Well," Alex said let out a relaxing breath, "if it makes you feel any better, I don't think you're the violent type. You just got a little scared and didn't know how to react. And for the record, I don't think you're a wimp or anything like that."

Chen smiled; he was finally feeling some relief. In fact, felt a little bigger than he'd been only an hour ago, like he had grown a little. But he couldn't let the question on his mind go. His virgin self might have, but not now.

"Alex..." Chen said with a firm but calm force in his voice. "You still didn't answer my question. Why did you say it?"

Alex's face tightened and his eyes flared. In any other circumstances, Alex would be braiding this panda until he ripped him a new one. But the force, confidence, and sincerity in his voice put Alex into some kind of ease. He did, after all, liked it when a guy took control.

"If I tell you, will you be good enough for me to go?"

Chen nodded and the Dalmatian pressed his face tightly against his side.

"Alright, but promise me you'll understand...how hard...well I'm sure you can imagine."

Chen placed his paw over Alex's head. "I promise."

Alex paused for a good long while, almost hoping that Chen would lose interest. Of course, it was no use, and he was forced to begin.

"When I was little...well...my mom was very young. She had a hard time settling in one place. I never knew my dad, he wasn't in the picture and neither was her family. We were on our own, just the two of us. Fuck, it was the time."

Chen stroked Alex's head. "Go on."

"When I was five, we ended up in this town. I don't remember where. I all remember is that it was cold and that there were mountains and a lake. It was around Christmas time. I think she got a job as a waitress or something at this restaurant because we moved in the apartment right above it." Alex gasped through his teeth. "Am I boring you?" He demanded.

"No," Chen shook his head puzzled.

"She met a guy. Some kind of wolf. He was really attractive. Muscular, bright eyes, dark fur. Even then, I knew why she liked him. One night, he invited us to stay at his place: a cabin near the lake. It was Christmas Eve because I remember the decorations and the music in his home. My mom told me that there would be something very special under the tree tomorrow." Alex wiped warm wetness from his eyes.

"What happened, Alex?"

"I woke up in night. I was scared because I didn't know where she was. So I went down the stairs. Things were out of place. Pictures were on the floor and pieces of furniture were knocked over. But...that fucking song was playing. Silent Night. Over and over. Somewhere in the dark..."

Alex's throat contracted, cutting of his voice. Chen massaged his neck. "It's okay."

"I founder her," Alex blurted out, almost in a shriek.

"Shhh..."

"Dead! Her throat cut and her body full of slashes. Blood was everywhere. The Christmas tree was lying on top of her and lights were wrapped around her throat. Then...I saw...I saw..."

"What the hell!" Shrieked another voice, snapping Alex out of his flashback. He looked up to see two other pandas

"No!" Chen cried. "Dad! Mom!"

Alex's heart turned.

_ Poor kid. _

************

Joji stormed up to the house of the Hung's, the panda family who moved to Chemung a few months ago. He had welcomed them to the place when they came. As the Shepkita approached the door, he slowed himself, forcing control over his body as his police training kicked in.

Consent is what he needed.

He knocked and a panda opened the door shortly afterward. It was Jed Hung, the one who called his cellphone. He had a gloating look on his face, like the kind of a tattletale cub.

"Sheriff," he said in a foreign lisp. "Please come..." But Joji spared no moment. He charged past Jed and into the living room, where he found who other pandas and his Dalmatian. The female panda, Joji knew her as Lei, was standing in the corner with a paw to her mouth. She was pale and shaken. The younger panda, Chen, sat in shame on the couch, lowering his head when Joji entered the room. Joji could pity him, but all sympathy was lost when he looked at Alex, who was sitting beside the piano. The Dalmatian's arms were folded and he slouched back, but his eyes locked on Joji's without the slightest sign of intimidation.

The room was like a silent crime scene. Joji's stomach was turning and his head was woozy. The sunlight reflecting off the snow outside didn't help. Still, he was good at faking it.

"Well?" he billowed in Alex's direction.

Alex held his pose and said nothing.

"Either you explain,"Joji twirled to face Chen, "or he does."

Chen's lower lip trembled as the Shepkita's icy brown eyes looked at him.

"I can explain it enough myself!" Chen was relieved to hear his father's voice boom from the other side of the room. But Joji kept his bearings on the kid. The mix of emotions was beginning to make Chen feel sick to his stomach. The Shepkita stepped close, ignoring his father's bantering.

"I want to hear it from him," Joji said under his breath. The Shepkita's voice was becoming more pleading. The young panda was trapped, he couldn't face the Shepkita or at his parents. He looked at Alex.

"Leave him alone, Joji!" Alex shouted. "We were screwing around. There! Happy?"

Joji continued his slow advance on Chen, clearing his throat as he did so.

"Didn't you hear me?" Alex continued to yell. "I said--"

"I said," Joji panted, "that I want to hear it from him."

"All this is a waste of time!" Jed exclaimed.

Joji, unfazed by any of the shouting in the room, was now hovering over Chen. "How..." he whispered to Chen, "...did you touch him?"

"This is ridiculous," Jed kept on yelling. "It's not his fault that your little whore..." But his words were cut off as Joji turned and seized Jed by the color of his shirt. Lei screamed, Chen gasped, and Alex's mouth dropped.

"Now you listen!" Joji shouted in Jed's face. "I saw nothing. And neither did you, your kid, and no one else here! Understand?"

Jed nodded his head, reluctantly. But when Joji released him, and after a few gasps of air, Jed went on like nothing had happened.

"You see?" Jed turned to his wife as he massaged his neck. "We leave our country to escape police that were corrupt and coercive." He then pointed to Alex. "And we come to one were corruption is protected by coercion."

Joji dug the nails on his paws into Jed's shoulder, who let out a yelp. "If that's the language you wanna speak, Jed, I can speak it fluently."

Joji pointed at Chen. "As far as I'm concerned, he solicited prostitution. And that ain't no cakewalk misdemeanor." Chen's jaw dropped in panic.

"And neither is prostitution!" Jed was screaming now.

"He didn't pay me!" Alex shouted.

"Shut it!" Joij flared to both of them. "Let's not forget that it's my word against yours. And if you dare try anything stupid, I got eyes all over this county."

"You'll have nothing to use them on." Jed straining voice was beginning to whimper. "You can't convict us of anything."

Joji returned a ghastly grin. "I don't need a conviction. I take you haven't heard of civil forfeiture."

Jed's eyes widened in rage, it was all he could do now.

"Let me explain it," Joji continued. "It's a little favorite of cops and, oddly enough, pretty unknown. Basically, if we suspect anything of being involved in a crime, like a house, we are permitted to seize it. Sure you can get a lawyer, but you won't be guaranteed one, and it won't do much good anyway. All we gotta prove is by preponderance of the evidence that whatever we seized was part of a crime and it's ours for the taking."

"You won't do that..." Jed's voice hissed and trailed off.

"Oh yeah?" Joji gloated. "Watch me, because this house was involved in solicitation. So it might be best that you keep things under wraps." Then Joji turned to Alex. "Come on, kid. We're going home."

Alex paused, which was in itself too long for Joji. The brawny Shepkita snatched the Dalmatian's slender neck, pulled him up, and hauled him down the hall and to the door. Alex squirmed and hissed, but gave no resistance; it was then that he noticed the smell on Joji's breath, like alcohol mixed with plastic.

But before they were able to pass through the door, Jed called out.

"You filthy Japs! Damn Akitas! You're all the same!"

Joji stopped dead and released Alex's neck.

"Rapists! Thugs!" Jed continued--foolishly.

Alex heard a loud whack and a shriek of the female panda. When he looked, he saw Jed tumbling to the ground and throwing his paws over his face in terror.

"Joji!" Alex screamed.

Joji narrowed his cold, deathly eyes on the Dalmatian. Alex felt like a worm had entered his body and was having a dance party. The Shepkita's eyes were glazed and empty.

They were unfamiliar.

But before Alex could move, Joji charged him and again seized him by the neck. Then he pulled him passed the door and into the snow.

"Fucking let go of me!" Alex shouted as he tried to wrestle from Joji's grip. The more he fought, however, the more it wore at his body. Joji squeezed the back of his neck tighter and Alex felt faintness swept over him, followed by darkness.

************

Alex was awakened by a jolt.

Dazed, it took some time for things to fade into perspective. But when they did, he saw Joji's face stuffed into the airbag as well as his own. Alex bit down and the airbag deflated, freeing him. The truck had crashed into a telephone pole, which was about a foot into the truck's engine. Smoke was everywhere. Alex's paw searched for the handle, still only half conscious of what he was doing, but when he found it, he had enough sense to pull it and step out into the cold snow. Suddenly, he felt his foot caught on something. It was Joji's paw.

"Let go of me you son of a bitch!" Alex screamed.

For some reason, all the rage evaporated from the Shepkita's eyes. Joji looked up at Alex in a wave a sorrowful pain, but Alex only saw an opportunity to escape. With one jerk, he broke free from Joji's grip. Like a pouting pup, Joji made a couple of clumsily grabs at him, but they easily missed the Dalmatian.

"Please..." Joji hissed through the cloud of smoke. "Come b..." But before Alex could do something, there was a flash of blue lights and a siren. A police car. Instinct kicked in and Alex ran. Before Joji could hear the police car himself, he saw his Dalmatian running away, abandoning him.

Once Alex had faded from his sight into the cold winter mist, Joji was soon face to face with a familiar cougar in a police uniform. It was Cheryl, one of his deputies.

"Joji," she said in her usual stern but motherly voice. "Are you okay?"

Joji nodded. His body stretched across both sides of the truck, he had to jerk a little to get free from under the airbag. Cheryl grabbed him and pulled him out through the passenger side. For a cougar going on fifty, she had quite a grip that even scared some of the boys in the department.

"Come on!" She demanded. Joji complied by trudging to his feet and resting his back on the side of the truck. He didn't to look to see how badly the engine was damaged. All he wanted to do was search for Alex.

"Joji. You look terrible."

Joji's nose and muzzle was dripping in mucus and drool. His eyes were puffy and glazed. His breath stunk of a stale, potent fragrance. Cheryl shook her head.

"Joji, have you been taking those pills again?" Joji's deep breathing and trembling of the jaw was enough answer for her. She looked at the smoking engine and back at Joji.

"Alright, Joji. It was the fog, right?"

Joji inclined his head in confusion.

"It was the fog," Cheryl repeated sternly. "It obstructed your view, right?"

Joji nodded. "Cheryl? I need to find Alex."

"Don't worry, Joji. We'll keep an eye on him. But right now, we got to get you home."

************

11:17pm.

Even though Alex's jaw was chattering by the time he made it back to Joji's house, he still hesitated before going inside. He had spent the entire day in town trying to avoid Joji like a plague. He even considered hitch-hiking a ride back to the city (or someplace). Alex knew that the Shepkita would be okay because he saw one of his cops take him home. But it wasn't just the police cars that seemed to follow him wherever he went that kept him from making a break for it; it was a forging, tearing feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Guilt.

Another cold gust pushed Alex into Joji's warm house. The lights were on and the sented candle was lit, but the place was quite, as if it was waiting for him. He went into the kitchen and found his dinner in the refrigerator, alone with a note.

"Eat up," it read, "and don'tcome downstairs. See you tomorrow."

Alex looked at the basement door and sighed. He knew how cold it could get down there. When he was done with his meal, he boiled some water and saturated it with green tea leaves. Then he descended the steps into the basement where he found Joji was sitting in the corner of the room, gently blending the paints on a canvas before him. Alex stood on the ends of his feet as he walked to the Shepkita's side.

"Can't you read?" Joji snapped. Alex almost scurried back up the stairs, but he had set himself on this and slowly extended his paw, presenting the cup of tea.

"I thought you might be cold."

Now Alex had a clear view of what Joji was painting: the spirit a grey canine woman hovering over a Japanese fishing village. Like everything Alex had seen Joji paint, the attention to detail was breathtaking. The women's eyes sparkled grey, light reflected off the bristles of her fur as well as off the water below her. Even the shapes of the people in the village seemed to have character. The woman's eyes looked sad as she hung just out of reach of the village below.

"It's a very nice piece," said Alex with a pleading grin.

Joji said nothing as he took the tea from Alex and for once this bothered the Dalmatian. "If you're going to be up a while, I don't mind playing a little for you while you work." Alex said, pointing at the pianos in the other corner.

"Dammit, Alex!" Joji slammed the tea cup into his paw. "Stop pandering!"

Hot tea stilled onto his paw and his convulsions on his face were from pain as much as anger. Alex twirled around and stomped away.

"Wait!" Joji called. "Hold on. Come back."

Alex hesitated, but turned and returned the to Shepkita's side. Joji whipped his paw on his leg and thanked Alex, who nodded and asked Joji who he was painting.

"That," Joji huffed, "would be the bitch of whom I am the son of."

Alex lowered his head. "Look, I'm...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you there. The siren just--"

"I never knew her," Joji went on as if he didn't hear Alex. "Only by a few pictures. She died not long after I was born." He rubbed his paw and proceeded to pick up the brush and blend the spots around her eyes. "My dad never told me so, but I think she was just too weak to give birth."

Alex pointed to the village below. "Is this were she was from?"

"Sakana," said Joji, "a tiny fishing village off the southern coast of Kyushu, Japan. She never saw her village again after she was sixteen. That's when she was kidnapped."

Alex lifted his head. "By who?"

"Body snatchers from Kawaku. I take you know who they are."

Kawaku was a large island nation in the Pacific populated mostly by Kuri dogs and ruled by a dictator.

"They would go and kidnap little girls from all over Asia," Joji continued. "Sell them into slavery."

"How she get out?"

Joji huffed. "A long story for another time. But basically she was force to work as a servant to this general. My dad was on a business trip to the island and happened to stay in the mansion of this general where he met her. Anyway, they kinda hooked up and he was able to get her out of there before her pregnancy became apparent. But I think the years of near starvation got the better of her and she just couldn't..." Joji's voice trailed off into sobs. Alex put his little paw on the Shepkita's broad shoulder.

"I guess," Alex said softly, "we got something else in common."

Joji nodded.

"Is that why you picked me?" Alex asked.

Joji put the brush back into the cup of water and stood up. "The insurance company called," he said brushing off his cloths. "They said that they're not going to cover the damage to the truck."

Alex's jaw dropped. "What?"

"Yeah. It's strange. I mean, it was my fault. But Cheryl was going to make things look good on the police report." Joji shrugged. "I guess after three previous accidents, they're beginning to see a pattern and it doesn't matter what the police report says."

"But that's..."

"What I say, kid? I wasn't exactly in my mind."

Alex could remember the smell on Joji's breath and the puffiness in his eyes.

"I guess I'll just have to..." Suddenly Joji's his voice trailed off and his eyes widened as he straightened his back and his neck tightened. His eyes were pointed directly toward the stairs. Alex looked but there was nothing.

"Joji?"

Three dark figures came down the stairs. When they stepped into the light, Joji knew that they were only here for him and Alex couldn't see them.

"Joji?"

They were three jackals, all covered in blood, all with their fur torn open. The first one was missing his lower jaw and blood dripped from his upper fags. The middle one was missing an eye, the other dangling from his left socket. The third was worst of all. His head was badly burned, his ears were gone as well as most of the flesh around his mouth and eyes, what was left was charred black.

Alex was getting scared. Joji had been looking in the same direction for over a minute and his face was pale and his jaw was trembling. It looked like he could collapse on him.

"Joji, what is it?"

The Dalmatian's words were an echo, like he was in a distant room, leaving Joji alone with the three jackals. Their mouths moved, they were trying to say something, but it was garbled gibberish. Then they started to move towards him, their bodies swaying as they walked, their mouths still moving. The first jackal, however, could only manage to move his tongue around, which hung from the edge of his throat. The third jackal, his lips being burned away, could only contort his jaw bones and flap what was left of his black tongue. The middle jackal's single eye bounced around like a loose yoyo as he came closer. But there was something about the middle one, something about what he was gargling. Perhaps it was because, unlike his companions, he had more of his lips left to make some clear communication. Joji, though he dared not take one step towards them, still strained to listen.

Then he realized what it was. The jackal was not trying to speak English, he was struggling to pronounce Arabic words.

"Look what you did..."

Joji shook his head and backed up. He kept on repeating "no" through his juddering mouth.

"Look what you did..."

"Please stop!" Joji cried out as his back hit the wall. The jackals were now parallel with his Dalmatian, who only stared obliviously at him. "Stop!"

"Look..."

Joji slid down the side of the wall.

"...what..."

When he reached the floor, he squeezed his paws against his ears. The three jackals were standing over him now. "I don't know who you are," Joji whimpered.

"...you did..."

Joji, tears trickling down his eyes, looked up at the three specters. He could feel the blood dripping on him from the jaw of the first; he could smell the burned flesh of the third; and he looked into the one eye of the middle jackal. Then he knew who they were. They were the three jackals who were caught in the crossfire of a shootout in Baghdad in the spring of 2003. The Iraqi Army on one side, Joji and his friends on the other, with three jackals right in the middle, begging for both sides to stop as they were riddled with bulletw. Finally, someone, Joji never knew who or on which side, threw a grenade at them.

"I'm sorry..."

The middle jackal bent down and reached for his arm. Joji grabbed it and pulled it back towards him. But when he did, the jackal had disappeared and he was face to face with a Dalmatian.

"Get my pills!" Joji shouted into Alex's face. "Get my pills!"

He let go and Alex charged up the stairs. When he made it to the kitchen, he looked around frantically.

"Pills? What pills?"

Joji's cellphone was sitting on the counter. Alex snatched it and scrolled through the contacts.

August.

Joji's brother. Without thinking, Alex pressed it.

The other line rang three times.

"Come on, an--"

"Joji!" a jovial voice sounded on the other side. "Sup bro! We haven't--"

"Is this August?"

There was a pause. "Of course," the voice said. "Who is this?"

"This is Alex."

"Alex? Oh, you the one--"

"Look! Joji is freaking out right now. He keeps shouting for his pills. What is he talking about? Where are they?"

"Oh no," August gasped. "He's talking about his Dermitine. He said he kicked it."

Dermitine? Alex felt that he heard of that before, no details, but that it was a powerful anti-depressant. Now it was obvious why Joji looked and acted the way he did at Chen's house.

"Well he had some today, I'm sure of that."

"How?"

"He got into a minor accident today. He was acting strange and...his breath smelled like some kind of..."

"An accident?" August cried. "How b-. Never mind. Alright, then there's got to some left over. Is the truck still there? Did you check the truck?"

Alex absentmindedly shook his head. "No. I must be in a shop or something."

There was a long pause.

"Hello!" Alex yelled. "Hello!"

August's voice returned. "Did you check his box on his dresser in his room?"

"No," Alex said, already charging up the stairs. "What makes you think--"

"Take it from a former addict, kid," August reassured. "When you try going cold turkey, you leave just a little bit behind in a place you are ashamed to go."

"What?"

But Alex didn't press the question. He ran into Joji's room, found the tin box on his dresser, and torn the lid off. It didn't take long digging through the contents for him to find what he was looking for. Sitting on an old photo was a white cylinder container of Dermitine. Alex grabbed the container and for a second he saw the photograph, just long enough to make out the important details, and his jaw dropped.

"Alex, did you find it?" August's static voice snapped Alex back into place.

"Yes, it's here. Thanks."

Alex dropped the phone and dashed back to the basement.

***********

It only took a few minutes for the pills to take full effect, but it felt like forever. Joji went from convulsing to sobbing heavily and then to whimpering. At that point, Alex helped Joji up and they walked up the stairs together. It made Alex wonder how he could possibly be helping a guy twice his size up two flights of stairs, but Joji was trying to pull as much of his weight as he could, plus, to Alex, certain times called for extra strength. By the time they reached the bedroom, Joji seemed to be mostly lucid, though pretty tipsy.

"I'm...I'm sorry I scared you," Joji slurred, his head swaying.

"Just be quiet," Alex said as he began to undress the Shepkita down to his boxers. Joji gave a drunken smirk.

"I bet you're enjoying that, kid."

"Shut up," Alex moaned. "You could at least give me some credit. A 'thank you' would be nice." Joji took Alex by the muzzle and lifted his eyes to his, then gave a thankful wince.

"Alright," Alex said as he helped Joji to lie down, "you need some sleep. You gotta work tomorrow and I can imagine that the shit I gave will give you quite a hangover."

As Alex turned out the light, Joji reached out his paw. "Come, stay with me a while." He was almost giggling.

"I got to get up for school tomorrow," Alex whined.

"I'll drive you in my police car. So you can sleep an extra hour."

"Joji, you shouldn't be--"

"Please, Alex!" Joji sat up, his face grim and his eyes cold in terror. "I-I don't want to be alone right now. Just until I fall asleep. Please."

Alex sighed. "Okay. Until you fall--"

Joji grabbed Alex and tossed him across his body on the bed beside him. He was giggling again. Alex held back from swatting back.

"Thanks, kid." Joji smiled, the smell of the pills on his breath was strong than ever.

"God," Alex said in disgust. "Why do you need that stuff?"

Joji narrowed his eyes on the young Dalmatian's blues. "Why you gotta whore yourself around like that?"

Alex scoffed. "Cause I'm a fag whore."

Joji inched in closer. "Come on, Alex. We both know that ain't the reason."

"Why?

"Because you got brains, and I can tell that you undercharge."

It suddenly hit Alex that he never got the chance to really answer Chen's question about why he said what he said in bed. Now this Shepkita was about to hit the nail on the head. Well, at least Joji might forget it in the morning after the pills wear off.

"If he fucks me hard enough," Alex said, almost taunting, "It helps me forget about... certain things. I feel like I can just disappear and not have to think about...about her anymore. I think you know what I mean."

"You're right," Joji leaned against his paw. "The pills were prescribed to me not long after I got out of deployment. I get these...visions. Strong ones. God, they can be so fucked up. The past literally comes back to haunt me, and sometimes..." Joji remembered Alex's mom in the park, "actually, quite often it isn't my own past at all."

"Okay, Joji," Alex said as he guided Joji back onto the pillow. "Let's try to at least get a couple of hours in."

Joji continued. "The pills are anti-depressant's and they help reduce...hallucinations."

Alex's eyes perked up. "Okay, big dog. How about you at least get under the comforter?"

Joji ignored him and only grinned widely as he pressed his head deep into his pillow. "I know you don't like it when I talk about the God thing, but the more we get to know each other, the more I'm convinced that we were destined for each other."

"Why do you mean?"

"We've both been dealt a bad paw in our lives. Now at least we have someone to bleed our past into. We've both tried to cope in..." Joji yawned. "In very _peculiar_ways. Now maybe we can shake off those ways, yours especially."

Alex bit his tongue. There was no point in arguing now. Joji had finally closed his eyes and his breathing was slowing.

"Yup, kid," Joji whispered. "We're the ultimate odd couple."

Alex looked across the room. Through the moonlight coming the window, he could make out the tin box on Joji's dresser directly across from the bed. He thought about the photo he saw.

"Joji?"

"Hmm?"

"When I got your pills, I saw the photo you have in your box. The one with you and your brother standing together with the World Trade Center in the background."

"Mm-hmm."

"The date on it says September 10th, 2001. Were you there the next day?"

"Yeah," Joji said after a disquieting pause.

"You never told me that."

Alex could feel Joji's broad shrugging.

"I don't like...to dwell...on the past...or the future. I just like...the stillness...of the present."

It only took a few minutes for Alex to be sure that Joji had fallen into a deep sleep. The entire time, Joji's words kept echoing in his head.

Destined for each other. The ultimate odd couple.

The young Dalmatian slid up to the Shepkita and laid his arm across Joji's muscular frame. A few times with his paw, he traced the Japanese character tattooed over Joji's heart, until he felt himself starting to doze off. He held onto the Shepkita's firm, naked abdomen as he reminded himself to try and wake up before Joji did. He couldn't let him see him snuggling up to him like this, or else Joji might be getting some more ideas. Still, his words wouldn't stop echoing in Alex's ear.

Believe what you want Joji. I just hope you find what you're looking for before I have to go.

The End.

The Unmasking

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Wreck of the Generation

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