Old Ghosts
By Ursula

Notes: Dedicated to the very real struggles to defeat the puppy mill industry. Don't buy so much as a biscuit from a store that has a puppy or cat for sale.

Warnings: Schmoopy for the guys, graphic for the puppy mill

Time Frame: After, ever after

His screams ricocheted from every corner of the room. His thrashing limbs left aches sure to turn into bruises on my body. Alex's nightmare woke Mulder and the burst of adrenaline from post-traumatic stress reaction propelled him across the room and almost to the door before Mulder could wake to rational thought.

Not touching my lover, I said, in as calm and reassuring a voice as I could muster, "Alex, Alex, love, you're here with Mulder and me. You're safe. We love you. We'll keep you safe."

Belun, Mars, and Pluto barreled into the room. First they whirled around, barking ferociously at whatever made one of their masters cry out. Finally, apparently feeling they had routed the intruder, they piled onto the bed in rank order from Pluto, the alpha dog to Belun, forever the omega.

Alex was buried in furry bodies. I let the dogs work their healing magic as I went to rub Mulder's back until he stopped shaking. I felt the tension ebb. Mulder relaxed and then his back stiffened slightly, just enough to tell me that his pride would not allow him to accept further cosseting.

Shoving the dogs aside, Mulder got back into bed, pulling Alex between his legs and wrapping those sexy, long limbs around him. Mulder's head angled around to press against Alex's. Alex leaned back with a shudder and gave himself totally up to the embrace. I went to make the valerian tea that Gina sent over for Alex. It smelled like horse piss, but it did help Alex sleep after one of his nightmares.

"Where were you?" I said, steeling myself to hearing that it was either the balcony or that garage where I had enacted a horrific play I had wished was real before Alex came back to me.

"The silo..." Alex said, "trapped in a dark place, no food, no water, the stench of my own shit the last thing I thought I would smell."

Yeah, that and the arm were the worst of Alex's demons although he had more than his share of terrible memories from which to pick to stock his bad dreams.

I noticed that omega or not, Belun managed to weasel back onto the bed. He was wedged tightly next to Alex's legs, his long tongue lolling from his sharp-toothed mouth.

Handing Alex his cup of tea and giving one to Mulder who would be next to shatter our sleep after that abrupt awakening, I waited for both of my lovers to finish the unpleasant smelling drink before I took the cups back to the kitchen. Let me tell you; if you use valerian tea, get yourself some glass mugs. You don't want that taste underlying your morning coffee or tea.

Apparently, my job for the rest of the night was to play Walter Skinner, human teddy bear. My lovers arranged themselves on both sides of me, crossing my legs with their own. I didn't even comment about Belun keeping Alex's back warm.

Alex nuzzled my neck, not asking for sex, just taking a leaf from the dog's book and sinking my smell deep into his brain. Mulder turned on his side, away from me, but his firm ass maintained contact with my side. I smiled to myself. Mulder and I have so much in common, just as Alex and I share certain traits. Between the three of us, you could scrape together either one hell of a neurotic asshole or a clay-footed hero, but we suited each other.

I listened for them to subside into sleep and when the strong valerian tea did its job, I slept too.

OooOooO

Alex was dressed all in black again when we sat down to breakfast. I made waffles, one of his favorites. Mulder was overdue on the deadline for his latest book. His office door was open so I shoved a plate of waffles, already slathered with butter and honey onto the occasional table I kept there for the purpose. His giant mug of coffee with a logo of the dancing alien baby was already steaming at his side. I said, "Drink the juice too, Mulder. It will keep your brain sharp to finish the book."

Thump, thump came from beneath the desk. Mars was sprawled at his feet, belly up, jowls sagging towards the ground. I saw Mulder's bare foot caught in mid-motion on the offered stomach. No, he didn't like dogs...of course, he didn't.

Mulder reached up and kissed me swiftly, a taste of the good coffee, with which Alex kept us stocked, on his lips. "Knock 'em dead, champ," I said.

"I'll get it in. There's that exhilarating feeling when your publisher is threatening to make you return the advance," Mulder said.

"The same one that you used to get when a certain AD was going to put you on unpaid leave if you didn't file your case reports?" I asked.

"Might be similar," Mulder said.

"Bet you wish you had Scully to ghost write them for you," I remarked.

Mulder smirked at me before returning to intense scrutiny of his word processing screen.

Today was a study day for me. I didn't need the money from a law career, but Gina wanted me to pass the bar so I could represent certain of her cohorts in court. It wasn't that I let that feisty woman push me around, I just agreed that it was a shame to have a law degree and never really practice. As the date neared for taking the bar, I was more and more excited about the idea. I knew that it wasn't unusual to flunk the bar the first time, but I always expected more from myself, just as my parents had expected more from me. It was important to me that I pass with a good score when I took the test.

I went out to have breakfast with my other lover. Alex looked all right. There were a few lines bunching around his eyes and his eyes looked dark, always a sign that his past was riding him hard, but he didn't have that walled away look that meant either Mulder or I, if not both of us, better get him to talk it away.

"What's on your agenda today?" I asked as we sat down to our breakfast.

"Gina wants me to teach a few tricks to a friend of hers," Alex said.

"Yes?" I prodded. "What kind of tricks?"

"You know, skills for handling herself in a surveillance situation," Alex replied.

"Gina is playing a dangerous game," I said. "Her livelihood depends on keeping a good reputation with the law enforcement agencies that are her customers."

"She actually makes more money from the dog training part of the business," Alex argued.

"But her heart is in producing search and rescue dogs," I pointed out.

"Look, this woman isn't going to break the law," Alex said. "The situation is that she's observing a suspected illegal puppy mill. The people running it are truly the scum of the earth. All I'm doing is giving her the skills she needs to defend herself."

"You sure about that?" I asked, trying to get him to meet my eyes. His chin jerked up the way it did when he was looking for a fight. His eyes met mine with a hard look. I had pushed him farther than he was willing to let me. Sometimes I forget that Alex has a mind of his own. He gives in a lot, preferring to see what Mulder and I want most of the time. It's not a problem for him to let us take the lead; he's an expert at handling whatever life throws at him and he's the most adaptable man I ever met. That's why it's a shock when he plants his feet and turns mule headed. Forget changing his mind when he gets that glitter in his eyes.

I gave way although I couldn't resist saying, "Just be careful. You have two guys who love you very much here."

"Don't worry about me," Alex said. "I can handle myself. You know that."

Well, I knew that Alex was just as good as Mulder at getting in above his head. I poured him some more orange juice and said, "Make sure your phone is charged."

"I will. It's charging now," Alex said. He finished with his waffle, stood up, and gave me a maple syrup flavored kiss.

Listening to the murmur from Mulder's office moments later, I knew he was kissing our other lover goodbye as well. We try not to leave the house without a kiss and a hug. You never know, do you?

Sighing, I washed the morning dishes before getting out my law books.

OooOooO

The nightmare had me keyed up. I tried to hide it from Walter. I didn't know if I succeeded or not. He seemed worried about me, but my lover is good at worrying.

I hadn't told my lovers, but I more or less know why I had that nightmare. Gina had a meeting at the training center on puppy mills. The video she showed was graphic as hell. Dogs waded through shit and piss, sores on their bodies and dead looks in their eyes. Dead puppies lying on top of rusted wire cages.

I had seen worse. I had lived worse. I had ordered worse to my own kind.

It's difficult to explain how I feel. Yeah, me, Alex Krycek, who learned to lie with my body as well as with words before I was old enough to go to school, has trouble finding the language to express myself...

It was like I had spent most of my life numb with cold. Letting myself feel again hurt. At first, the pain was almost welcome. I remember thinking every time Mulder lashed out at me, 'Hey, I'm alive." If it hurt, it meant that I wasn't dead inside.

At first, when I got back with Mulder, there was no profound difference. Mulder and I were a pretty damned ruthless team back in the early days.

Then gradually one of the experiments that the old man had run on me started to eat me alive. Like any wild thing, I hid the pain at first. I was sure if Mulder found out that he would dump me. I was good. Damn, I was good at hiding the truth.

I used to hide in the bathroom once the pain got bad enough for me to need Dilaudid. Dilaudid was good for five hours of freedom from pain. One good shot and I could forget that my body was dying a bit at a time.

The night Mulder found out went as usual. We went over our plans, mouthed off at each other, and then fighting led to fucking. Afterwards, Mulder got up silently and headed for his own room. I waited long enough to be sure he was gone and went into my bathroom. I had my leg up so I could give use my leg to shoot the blessed stuff into my veins. Mulder walked in on me.

Later on, Mulder told me that he came back because he thought he hurt me when we were having sex. I thought I'd covered up the jolt of pain.

Mulder was sure I was shooting up recreationally. I guess he noticed I was ozoned in Hong Kong. That was another deep down low place in my life. I try not to remember any of it.

Naturally, Mulder being Mulder, he lit into me, batting the needle out of my hand, grabbing me and shaking me as he screamed what a dirty junkie I was.

The pain was exploding inside me. I hurt too bad to fight back. I just curled on the floor in a knot. Mulder picked up the kit to throw at me. You know how fast the man reads. He saw the prescription was for Val Arntzen and that stopped him. He stood there over me, staring at the prescription label until he finally pronounced what I expected to be my death sentence.

"It's cancer, isn't it, Alex?" Mulder had said. He reached down and picked me up, placing me on the toilet seat. He set the kit on the corner of the vanity near at hand.

When I saw the closed up expression on his face, I thought that was it. I wouldn't be of any use to him if I were sick. That's how I figured it. An invertebrate scum sucker like myself was only good for the work I could do.

After I gave myself the shot, I dragged myself to bed. Curled up around a pillow, I thought about the bliss of an overdose, just a sweet rush into death. It was just a rare moment of maudlin self-pity. I'm not the type for suicide. I'll go take my last breath, thinking I can beat death with one last trick. The pain let up and I slept.

When I woke up, Mulder was wrapped around me. I knew it was he. I knew his body better than I knew my own. I lay still, afraid to breathe; afraid it was only a dream. His voice whispered in my ear, "I'll take care of you. I'll find a cure. I promise."

I knew that if anyone could, Mulder could.

When I became so sick that I couldn't do anything but wait around, hoping Mulder could find his healer, that's when I started thinking about Walter. I just got it into my head that I had to see him before I died. I wanted to give him the controller for the nanobytes. I wanted him to forgive me. Funny how your mind will fix on the improbable when you are dying. Stranger yet when it happens the way you hoped.

Since we've been together, Mulder, Walter, and I, my emotions have been breaking loose a bit at a time. I was an ice floe dissolving at last into the ocean.

I guess I was really going soft. Seeing those suffering creatures, I wanted to do more than just teach an amateur how to use surveillance to get evidence.

I know that there's nothing in my life that can absolve me of my sins. I can't say I regret anything but the worst of my actions. As far as I was concerned, we were all soldiers, fighting for our world. Yet their faces float on the movie screen of my closed eyes. I tell them that their sacrifice wasn't in vain, but it doesn't make the reproach stop.

Mulder tells me that it's a good thing that the ghosts won't listen and go away. He tells me that it's my conscience speaking to me. I wished to hell it would shut up. I made do without it for a hell of a lot of years. Now that I had a chance at a good life, why wouldn't the damn thing remain mute?

So what does this all have to do with puppy mills?

I don't know. I just know that working with the dogs has been good. They don't care what I did before. They don't even think it's strange that I have only one hand to pet them. They love me, wounds, black heart, and all.

The work I do reuniting the children with their families makes me feel better. It's the best I can do to make up for what the abductees lost. It's still not enough. Every time, I wake up in bed with my lovers holding me tight, I know it's not right. The last thing I want to do is burden them with my troubles. They have enough baggage to weigh them down without that.

When I was looking at that video of those suffering dogs, I thought about Pluto and Mars, so happy with people to love them and a job to do.

Even Belun had it better than those poor creatures. Belun was typical of the mixed breed dogs at the pound. He must have been cute as a puppy, with that lolling tongue and the one ear up and the other down. He probably had a home with kids until he grew so big.

Belun was bright, but even an intelligent dog needs training. When he outgrew the stuffed toy stage, his family probably exiled him to the back yard. When the kids came out to play with him, he would have been bored and starved for attention. Without any training or regular exercise, he would have knocked his little friends down. Possibly he even nipped at them, grabbing onto a pants legs or shirtsleeve as they used to let him do as a puppy. Then one day, the mother or father hauled him to the shelter, telling them he was too big or that they were moving. If I hadn't chosen Belun, he would probably have been euthanised; his last vision on earth would have been the shelter worker with a needle in her hand. Still, sad as that would have been, it would have been a better fate than those dogs faced.

There was one scene in that video. One of the rescuers shone a light into a hulk of a trailer. The metal box was totally dark. When the flash light shone down, there was feces caked on the floor. Small dogs huddled in total darkness, eyes gleaming. The intense beam picked up the matted fur, the sores, and the puckered pit where one dog had lost an eye. A rat scuttled toward the camera and the operator jumped back.

There was more, but that was what did me in. I knew what it felt like to be trapped in darkness, thirsty, hungry, and without hope. I had to help some of the dogs. I knew that no one could save them all. The best thing I could do was to persuade Walter and Mulder to put their fine brains into changing the laws to prevent the horrors of those puppy mills and to help Gina try to educate the general population.

That all made good sense to me, but I didn't always make sensible decisions in my life. Take going to Tunguska with Mulder...that was the result of my crazy ass hope of getting Mulder to see I was on his side. That and my inability to tolerate confined places for long...

I knew I had to help Gina's friends with the puppy mill that was nearby. Maybe I could do more with my contacts, but I wasn't going to let human scum operate a piece of hell in my own backyard.

OooOooO

Gina's friend, Ellen, didn't look like a warrior. She was carrying a few pounds too many. Her glasses were scratched and she kept poking at them to push them up on her sweating nose. Mild, slightly dazed brown eyes stared out from a roundly pretty face. It was only when she started to tell me about the puppy mill that I saw the passion behind the befuddled exterior.

Ellen said, "I got some one in on the pretense of buying puppies for her store...as if Janet would ever so much as sell a goldfish in her pet supply shop. I'm sure they had the place cleaned up for her and they kept her away from the worst places, but she said it smelled like something long dead. She said even the dogs in their best facilities are suffering. We know that they usually only live a few years. As soon as the females stop breeding, they shoot them and bury them in the woods. We've taken pictures of the corpses, but we need more evidence."

"And you think that surveillance equipment will be the answer?" I said.

"I hope so," Ellen said.

I didn't know her last name. Not that I couldn't find it out, but I let her keep her anonymity. I said, "But you need advice on how to use the equipment?"

"Yes," Ellen replied, but she didn't look happy about it.

"Well, let's go have a look," I said.

We drove to her place. She had Australian Shepherds...four or five of them. They were loud when they saw my car, but all obeyed her command to settle. Most of them had one or two blue eyes. The intelligent, critical scrutiny reminded me of the way Dana Scully looked at me when she came to visit. I always felt like blurting out some confession just to get her to stop looking at me.

As dogs settled down into crates or onto mats, Ellen leaned down to pet a black cat that was winding around her ankles. She said, "Spirit was nearly the victim of a Halloween prank. I found some teenagers attaching firecrackers to his tail when he was a kitten. I always intended to find him a home, but now he thinks he's an Aussie. No kidding. If I bring him outside, he follows the dogs out to the sheep pens."

I liked cats. I reached down to pet Spirit. She purred and undulated at my touch. I laughed softly. She reminded me of Mulder. He does that when I make him feel good. As she raised her head to look at me, I saw she was not entirely black. She had a few sprigs of white on her chest and on her paws. She followed us into the room where Ellen kept her equipment.

As I contemplated the surveillance devices, I couldn't keep from sighing. Shaking my head and steeling myself against the answer, I asked, "How much did all of this put you back?"

"Five thousand dollars," Ellen said.

"You've been robbed," I remarked. I supposed I could have been more diplomatic but I had enough of lies and half-truths back when I was under the thumb of those evil old men.

"I paid too much?" Ellen asked, her pretty plump face crestfallen.

"You paid for shit you can't use," I said.

Swiftly, I sorted the stuff out into useless, serviceable if not ideal, and then the smallest pile...things I might have bought myself. Going through her receipts, I decided a few companies were going to give her refunds. They might think it was okay to screw people who didn't know better but I liked being the hand of fate. What goes around comes around and I was going to give them a taste of their own medicine. A man should have a hobby.

"I'll loan you some of my stuff," I said.

I spent the rest of the day teaching Ellen how to set up surveillance. She was intelligent and motivated. I tried not to think how Spender and his buddies could have broken her and remolded her to their devices. It pissed me off that my consortium masters still crawled through my head at times, evil old ghosts that refused to be exorcised. I'd be talking to someone like Ellen and would find myself wondering how I could use him or her. It sucked.

Finally, towards evening, I drove out with her to have a look at the puppy mill. Sad to say, even with the equipment, there wasn't going to be the kind of evidence that Ellen needed for proof. The closest she could get was a small hill that overlooked one side of the puppy mill. Using long distance lens, you could get pictures of some of the cages, but I'm not sure it would have persuaded me to close the place. Not if I was a government inspector who had to go by the letter of the law even if I was conscientious.

As we took the pictures, I asked, "Ellen, you ever try to get somebody inside to take pictures?"

"I told you about my friend, who was shown some of the mill." Ellen said. "They won't let you take pictures or see the worst of it."

"Not like that," I said, "Not as a visitor. I mean inside as an employee. They must have people that work for them even if they don't care for the dogs very well."

"Yes, I know they do. It's mostly a family operation, but they hire at least one local fool. I thought about that, but they haven't had a job opening since I learned about this place," Ellen said.

I smiled and said, "Don't worry about it. I'm sure that there will be a job opening. I'll take it. They won't be surprised that a one armed man will be desperate for any kind of work."

"Do I want to ask?' Ellen said.

Smiling again, I said, "Probably not."

Gathering up the equipment, we didn't say anymore. Ellen was intelligent enough not to ask questions that would have landed her in court as a witness.

OooOooO

Hectic was the only word that I could use to describe my lover when he straggled back home late that evening.

Before I could say anything, Alex wound around me, grabbed the back of my neck, and kissed my breath away.

Mulder asked, "Where the hell have you been, Alex? You weren't at Gina's. I called to see if you were going to make it home for dinner."

"I was helping out her friend, Ellen," Alex replied, transferring his greedy embrace to Mulder. His busy hand unfastened Mulder's jeans and pushed them down. A moment later, he had kicked out of his shoes and was shoving his own black denim Levi's down.

Mulder gave in. Alex always could jerk him around on a primeval level whether it was getting him to hit him or getting him to fuck him.

I glared and said, "Isn't Ellen the woman who was arrested on an illegal puppy mill raid? Alex..."

"Mmmm, later," Alex purred, blinking back at me with eyes that seemed to promise infinite pleasure.

Mulder said, "Yes, Walter, forget it. I can see her point of view. Sometimes you just can't wait to do it the bureaucratic way. Come on; Alex wants to go to bed."

Drawing a deep breath, I was ready to argue, but with both of them looking at me with lust in their expressions, I was doomed. I couldn't resist them. I helped Mulder undress Alex and let them pull my clothes off. The three dogs bounded around apparently convinced that our excitement meant a walk or a treat.

Alex tossed them each a pig's ear to bribe them to silence. Even if we are far enough from our neighbors for it not to be a problem, it was hard to keep the mood when Mulder got vocal and the hounds howled in misguided sympathy.

Licking and nibbling on Alex's neck, I muttered, "I know you're up to something, Alex. If you think you can make me think with little Walter, you're wrong."

Mulder laughed and said, "Come on, Walter. Whatever Alex is going to do, he is going to do. You know that. Just enjoy. Live in the moment. Isn't that what you say to me when I brood?"

I hate it when Mulder quotes my homilies back to me. Ah, hell, he was right. I let my hand drift downward. Before I reached Alex's ass, Mulder had handed me lube. We kissed over Alex's shoulder then took turns capturing his lips. Alex shuddered with pleasure as Mulder leisurely nibbled his way down his throat. I bit almost hard enough to break the flesh at the back of Alex's neck and then soothed the red mark with my tongue. Meanwhile, my finger slowly stroked him open. His sighs of pleasure deepened as both Mulder and I exploited every sweet spot we had found in the two years we had been together.

It didn't take the entire one finger, two fingers, and three fingers routine. Alex pushed back at me and said, "Fuck me now."

"Your wish," I replied, guiding myself into him.

Closing my eyes, I concentrated on my pleasure at being inside him. I could feel his hips surging back to meet my thrusts.

Mulder's voice teased me with a pornographic narrative as I thrust. It used to make me self-conscious, but now it was just my lover's kink, just Mulder playing.

I felt Alex pushing hard back against me and opened my eyes. My lovers were writhing against each other, thrusting against the friction of their sweating bodies. Forgetting his game, Mulder's face had an expression that could have almost been mistaken for pain. My hands stroked both of my lovers greedily until I could do nothing but thrust and hold onto Alex as my pleasure peaked.

The world burst. Shattered with pleasure, I fell away from Alex gasping, my mind wonderfully blank for long moments afterward. Somehow, I came to myself with both of my lovers tumbled around me, my hands stroking two sweat damp heads of hair.

The bed was an absolute wreck. A dog...Belun, by the lack of melody to his barks, was repeatedly pounding against the door. Mulder laughed as Belun pulled his trick of opening the door by pawing at the knob. Three canine bodies romped through our sheets, licking our faces and wagging heavy tails. It was a typical night in the Skinner/Mulder/Krycek household.

I was damned happy.

OooOooO

I knew that Walter would go to sleep as soon as we got the bed back in order. It was funny. Walter was always the one bitching that we should put down a towel or two, so we wouldn't have to keep changing the sheets before we went to sleep. However, he was the last one to think about that.

You look at my big bald sexy man and he likes to make you think it's all tightly zipped. He teases Mulder about the way I lead him around by his emotions. You want to know the truth? Walter's the one that gets totally wrapped up in sex. Hell, Mulder would jump out of bed if a Sasquatch mooned him from the window at any stage in our lovemaking. Walter wouldn't notice if the room was on fire once he was really into it.

Of course, I know that I was just putting off the inevitable. I knew that I had just aroused more than my lover's lust; he was going to be suspicious in the morning. Mulder would be cool. As long as I didn't lie to him, he was okay with me pulling some pretty interesting stunts. Mulder and I never seem happy unless we have our necks tauntingly stretched out over the chopping blocks.

As I lay in bed, thinking about what I planned, I knew I wouldn't be sleeping well without the sound of my lovers' breathing beside me. You would think that with all of our jagged edges that we would be abrading each other. It wasn't like that. Those jagged edges might look rough if you looked at each of use separately. Taken together, we fit like puzzle pieces. We were whole together.

Finally, I slept. The only thing I ever regretted about being with Walter and Mulder is that I had only one hand. I could never fall asleep holding onto them both.

OooOooO

The second part of my plan involved getting drunk. It wasn't a bad habit. Other than a little problem I had in Hong Kong, I never abused drugs or alcohol. Hell if I know why I survived my one experience with addiction, but getting caught by Mulder and then having an alien ride me cured any inclination I might have remaining to get high. No, I was drinking as part of my plan.

Oh, the first part, that was getting a friend of mine in law enforcement to pick up one of the puppy mill's yard men on an old warrant. That left an opening for a man who wasn't fussy about what kind of work he did and who was willing to work for less than minimum wage.

For my plan to work, I had to look like an alkie. You know when TV shows try to achieve that effect by splashing booze on someone's clothing? That's not the ticket. There's a certain smell from someone coming off a prolonged drunk. It's not the sharp smell of fresh booze. It's an acrid oozing from the pores, a stale stench from the breath. You have to ingest alcohol to get that effect.

I roughly shaved like a guy trying to spruce up for a job interview when his hand is shaking like a sapling in a hurricane. Of course, there was no competition. Ellen was taking the calls thanks to a little creative phone linetampering.

I was expecting people little more normal than Mulder's Peacock family. The Murray family looked reasonably average. There was a mother, father, and two teenage children. Mother Murray was thin, nervous, and a chain smoker. Father Murray was tall, with slumped shoulders, and was also very thin. Shari Murray reminded me a bit of Olive Oyl. I think she had ambitions to be a femme fatale. She wore tight fitting clothing although I think her curves were mostly padding. Jo Murray must have been a throw back as he was the only member of the family to have the girth to match the height. He was a high school football player, a fact that his father mentioned twice during our first conversation. The only other employee was Hal Clement, Mrs. Murray's cousin. He was lanky and homely, shy and stuttering. I don't think he was all there.

Once I was hired, I moved into the dwelling that was supposed to compensate me for my low wages. It was a rundown trailer, not a mobile home, one of those rectangular silver Air Streams that were intended for luxurious camping. The man I replaced didn't take any better care of the trailer than he did of the dogs. There was scum everywhere, caked on the small stove, thick on the bowl-sized sink, and growing thick in the claustrophobic bathroom. In character or not, that place was going to get a through bleach cleaning.

I had just finished when Mrs. Murray paid a visit. She looked around and said, "My, you really make a difference."

The woman fluttered mascara-laden lashes at me. She had caked the make-up on her bad complexion. Blush was a bright spot on her sallow cheeks. Red lipstick outlined her lips. I suppose that she might have been pretty in high school, but hard living had eroded her down to a skinny harridan with bleached straw hair and nicotine stained fingers. Even if I were into women, she wouldn't have attracted me.

"Call me Vanessa," Mrs. Murray said. She unbuttoned the top of her blouse and thrust her boobs out at me. What is it about some women that they assumed even flabby sacks were attractive to all men?

I turned around to grab my jacket and the bitch made a grab for my ass. She smirked when I whirled around. "Oops," she said, "I thought I saw some lint."

At that point, I angled out of the trailer and nearly ran screaming to the old truck I had borrowed from Ellen.

Damned if the fourteen-year old daughter didn't pull the same shit later that day....

Of course, when they invited me to have dinner at the house, the two of them kept talking about how they could get on the Jerry Springer show. Maybe they saw me as the key. "Mothers and daughters who date the same one armed man." I reminded myself to make Mulder stop watching that show...

OooOooO

Despite all my training and experiences, the puppy mill made me sick. The dogs were housed, if you can call it that, behind chicken wire. The Murray family had about ten different breeds. Most of them were small breeds and some of them were crossbred dogs that idiots bought at foolish prices from pet stores, dogs like cockapoos, pekapoos, and hyperactive crosses between Border Collies and Jack Russells. There was a pair of mastiffs; soulful eyes staring miserably from a pen that barely allowed room for them to pace two or three steps in any direction. The female was heavy with young, her thin sides betraying that her pregnancy was draining nutrients that she badly needed for her own body.

There was a pair of Australian Shepherds, as Ellen had feared. She had been told that a dog sold on a pet contract had disappeared. The breeder was almost hysterical. She had initially bought the story that the puppy was stolen until she ran into a fellow breeder who remembered the supposed pet buyer. She learned that the responsible show breeder had been contacted by Australian Shepherd rescue with news that a puppy from her breeding was in rescue. To her horror, the puppies were the offspring of a female she sold with a spay contract. The puppy had been bought from a pet store. The dam had supposedly been taken from the buyer's backyard before it was six months old.

A couple years ago, I wouldn't have understood what the problem was. Now I knew that responsible dog breeders had a creed that they were responsible for every dog they bred for life. Naturally, they didn't want their dogs or descendants of their dogs being bred in the tragic circumstances of a puppy mill.

I thought the Australian Shepherds were the most pitiful dogs on the premises. The male ran up against the chicken wire every few moments, bounced off, and then would pace in a well-worn path until he threw himself against the fence again. When we walked by the pen, John Sr. said, "You got to watch those dogs. They are the devil for trying to get out. The son of a bitch male tries to bite me. Soon as I get a good male from those dogs, I'm going skin that asshole alive."

Anyone else I would have thought to be making meaningless threats. Not John Murray. He said it as if it was next on his agenda and I believed he really intended to do it.

The dogs took shelter in everything from barrels to old washing machines. There was a crumbling shed stacked with small cages full of the cockapoos and small dogs. The unlucky dogs on the bottom endured the droppings from those above spilling over them. The pads of the poor creatures were sore and raw from walking on urine-splattered chicken wire. Their nails were growing in circles back towards their paws. I saw wounds on many of the dogs, abscessed eyes, and sores that needed tending.

Only slipping back into my old uncaring skin allowed me to endure what I saw. I listened without comment to the instructions and acted as if the dogs were no more than goods stacked for delivery.

The first few days I knew I was being watched. The Murrays weren't intelligent in a normal sense. No one having normal sensibilities could have lived in the circumstances in which the family carried out their daily life. The teenagers complained of the work and the smell, but they trotted past the suffering animals without any concern. Still, they had a low cunning that had kept them from being arrested....so far. I was looking forward to having that change.

The seventeen-year old son, Jr., was a natural born thug. He saw a one armed cripple and that aroused his shark like taste for blood. I endured his pushing, his insults, even being pushed face down into the muck of a dirty kennel. A lifetime of enduring worse abuse inured me to the bullying. It wasn't that I didn't make note of the acts. My revenge was second to the job. That was always the rule with me.

I had left a note for my lovers that said I would be gone for a week or possibly two. I knew they would be pissed, but that's life. You could say I was making progress. I knew my lovers would be angry with me doing this without discussing it, but I also knew that they wouldn't hurt me as a result and that they would never ask me to leave no matter how mad they were. I cared about how they felt, but I had my own mind about what's right. No one had ever beaten my independence out of me; Mulder and Skinner couldn't love it out of me either.

Missing them and surrounded by absolute horror, I had no problem acting withdrawn and morose. After watching me a few days, the Murrays decided I was as heartless as they were. I did have my moments...

Watching for moments when I was alone, I videotaped the conditions of the puppy mill. Jr. kicked a dog to death one morning. I had put up a hidden camera and didn't find out until I found the dead dog. The poor thing had been a golden retriever of sorts. I noticed the dog was a fear biter when I cleaned his pen. I barely avoided his snap when I walked in there with a broom. I don't know if it was temperament or if he had been beaten out of his canine mind. You can make anything vicious if you kick it often enough. Look at me.

OooOooO

"I could probably track him down if I tried hard enough," Mulder said.

"What would the point be?" I replied, setting down my newspaper. "What would we do? Grab him by the ear and drag him home? Build a balcony to cuff him to?"

"Might be fun," Mulder said. He smirked.

Mulder didn't take Alex's behavior seriously. Hell, if Alex had asked, no doubt, I would be sitting at this table alone...if I hadn't decided they needed me along to keep them safe. It bothered me the same way that it had when it was Mulder running off after will o' the wisps. It's not only that they are in danger. It's that they don't trust me. I know there have been times I hardly deserved trust, but damn it, that's all been put to rest.

Pushing my chair away, I said, "Clean up the kitchen, Mulder. I'm going to have a word with Gina."

0ooOooO

Ellen was there. I had met her a few times on search and rescue missions. She worked Australian Shepherds, Aussies. Not my kind of dog. They were all right. They reminded me of Mulder in a way, all intelligence, energy, and heart. I preferred a dog that was easier to read, a more straightforward dog like my bloodhounds. You set Pluto and Mars on the trail and you don't get drama. They follow their nose until it leads them to the prize. Ellen's Aussies weren't like that. They don't go from point a to point b. They think. A bloodhound will keep looking for a smell on a bank if the target crosses the stream. Ellen's Australian Shepherds will cross the stream to see if they could pick up the scent on the other side. That's Mulder again, making his intuitive leaps. I'm more of a bloodhound. I stay on the scent and don't try to guess. It's not better, just different.

The woman looked as if she wanted to cross a stream when she spotted me. Quickly, she started shoving pictures in a briefcase. I stopped her, looking at scenes from hell. Dogs standing in their own waste stared hopelessly through rusted wire. Dead puppies were tossed carelessly in rotting cardboard boxes. Stills traced the death of a golden retriever, kicked to death by booted feet. I had seen human deaths as bad as a soldier. I had seen horrors as a FBI agent. I guess this hit me because I thought I had left that all behind me. My lovers and I were living in a pretty world for the most part, safe and snug except when we worked for search and rescue.

"That's where Alex is," I said.

"Yes," Gina said. "Walter, no one else could have done it. They know us, even if we had the skills to make them believe we were on their side."

Shaking my head, I fanned the pictures, forcing myself to absorb the misery I saw. "Is this going to do it?" I asked.

"It went to the USDA and to Animal Cruelty yesterday," Gina said. "They've agreed to ask for a warrant. They won't be able to use the pictures as evidence, but I think they finally believe that it's more than a few bleeding hearts that have it in for an animal business."

"Is he all right?" Walter asked. His anger at Gina and Ellen had vanished as he looked at the pictures.

"He's fine," Gina said. "Or rather, he's holding it together. He said to tell you that he loves you and Mulder very much, but he's doing what he has to do."

"That's my Alex," Walter said. He sighed. "I just want him home and safe. How much longer?"

"He wants to stay in until we raid the place," Gina said. "That way he can do a little for the dogs without screwing up the evidence and he can let us know if anyone warns the Murrays. Two years ago, Ellen almost got them, but some deputy married to Mrs. Murray's sister warned them. The place was cleaned up enough that the judge said it wasn't animal cruelty. The commissioner fired the deputy later for evidence tampering. He was caught destroying videotape I had made. Now, unless there's someone else sympathetic to the Murrays, we have a chance of getting those dogs out and closing the place down."

There was nothing else to say. What's right is right. Alex had made the right decision. I said, "Tell him that I agree with what he's doing, Gina. Tell him that we love him, Mulder and I. Tell him I'm proud."

Gina smiled widely. She said, "He's a wonderful man, Walter. I wondered who was good enough for you and, now, I know."

OooOooO

I dropped off the new tapes when I went down to the feed store to pick up the dog's food. The Murrays bought food out of bins. I hated to look at the stuff. It was mixed with floor sweeping, birdseed, and bugs. Even if the Murrays fed more than they did, I doubt the dogs would have thrived on this shit.

The hardest thing about being undercover was not killing the Murrays. From what Ellen told me, it took extraordinary amounts of evidence to get a conviction and then half the time it was a slap on the wrist. I wasted a few valuable hours trying to make sure that puppy mills weren't a Consortium Project. Sadly enough, there's plenty of evil to go around in the world. I couldn't blame it all on the old men.

One morning as I stood on the steps of the rundown Air Stream, I found myself drawing an imaginary bead on Jr. At seventeen, he was a hopeless case. He was brutal, conniving, and had the tenacity of a shark. It would be a mercy to put him out of the world's misery.

"Hey, asshole, you gonna stand there all day or come and work?" Jr. yelled.

Silently, I stepped down and went to start the day. Jr. slopped water into dishes without rinsing. He didn't care if the water was instantly soiled. He didn't bother to rake out the kennels. His routine was to quickly dump a small amount of food, pour some water into the old pots used for it, and move on. If there were puppies, he was supposed to check on them, but seldom did. I made sure that I removed any dead puppies. Sadly, in some of the larger kennels, the newborns were more protein for starving adult dogs so there was nothing left for me to clean.

I didn't get it. Given that the puppies were a cash crop, why didn't they take better care of them? Of course, Murray said why put more money into the dog than needed? If he could still get pups to load on the trucks, then he had what he wanted. He said there were always more dogs.

Man, my heart went out to some of the newer brood bitches and sires. They still expected humans to pet and play with them. I asked Ellen where these dogs came from. They obviously had been family pets. She opened up a newspaper and showed me ad after ad for purebred dogs, free to a good home, AKC papers included. Papa Murray laughed when he drove up with another of these dogs. He bragged about the initial outlay being nothing. Each puppy brought in somewhere between fifty for the crossbred 'poos' to five hundred dollars for the mastiffs. An amazing number of the puppies went out the door. Some would come back from the pet store unsold to be breeders for him. Some would eventually recycle as families paid high prices for sickly, ill-tempered dogs and found they didn't have time for them. The puppy that left the mill for fifty dollars would be sold for five hundred and end up back as a throwaway, breeding new victims to human indifference.

As I morosely went through my chores, trying to wall off my heart to the suffering around me, I ran into Jr. The hulking full back shoved a thick finger into my chest and said, "I remember now."

"Your toilet training?" I snapped, unable to play the meek victim.

"What?" Jr. asked.

"Never mind," I said, "I have work to do."

"I saw you in town kissing some guy. You're a fag!" Jr. said. "I'm going to tell my Dad."

"You think your Dad cares what I do as long as I work?" I snarled.

"I'm going to beat your fag ass," Jr. said. He grabbed for me and I danced away, extending a foot to trip him. We had been in the mastiff cage and he landed face down in a huge mound of dog shit.

Cursing, Jr. rose up and I helped him down again. Without doing any major damage, I taught the kid that you couldn't judge a book by its package. When he finally got it into his thick skull that the one armed fag wasn't going to be beaten by him, he fell apart. "I'm going to tell my dad," he bellowed like a giant two-year-old.

Well, that was that. I didn't give a shit. The raid was supposed to be coming down today anyway.

Papa Murray might like cheap labor but sonny boy was his pride and joy. He fired me and gave me five minutes to vacate. I smirked at him and said, "I was quitting anyway. You don't pay enough to make up for your wife and daughter groping me."

I had already packed my equipment so all I had to do was grab my duffel bag and drive off in the battered truck I had borrowed for my role.

Outside, I called Gina and Ellen. They told me they were on their way, following behind the police and the animal cruelty people. With my information, they had already lined up breed rescue people to claim their breeds. Despite the fact that cockapoo breeders swear it's a breed, not one of the bastards showed up to claim the twenty or so matted specimens. So much for being reputable breeders. Ellen had found a generic small breed rescue to take the pitiful cockapoos puppies. They suffered the most, having been piled in chicken wire cages in a shed. There was a couple that I knew were blind. My heart hurt for them. I know what it is to be trapped in darkness. I wish they could have seen the light of freedom and love at least once before they lost their sight.

When I saw the caravan pull up, I saw a familiar truck. I took a deep breath as it stopped. Walter and Mulder got out, dressed like all of the volunteers in heavy boots, long sleeved shirts and carrying thick gloves. Despite my newfound confidence, I wobbled inside, afraid of what they would say.

Both spoke not one word of reproach when I slid out of the truck. I knew my eyes were fluttering and I couldn't meet Walter's gaze. My voice rough with emotion, I said, "It was the right thing, Walter." Looking at Mulder, I said, "I know you understand."

"Would have done the same thing," Mulder said. He slid his hand around the back of my neck to kiss me before nudging me toward Walter.

I was less certain of Walter. He said, "At some point, I'm going to give you my best Assistant Director Skinner lecture, but not right now. Come on. We're going to help remove the dogs, once the Murrays are served with the court order to allow the removal. " He kissed me and said, "I thought this should be a family project."

I know my eyes were shining as I looked at him. He patted my ass and said, "Better get in."

OooOooO

Knowing what I had seen in the pictures and what Gina and Ellen had told me, I thought I was prepared, but hell no! The place stunk. I thought a dump outside a Vietnamese village where I was pinned down for half a day was bad. That couldn't hold a candle to this stench.

I didn't want to deal with what I saw. I'd always liked dogs although until I acquired Pluto and Mars and started to work with them, I had not owned one as an adult. I remember Sharon trying to persuade me to buy some ridiculous ball of fluff from a pet store. That's when I told her I was being transferred again. We had an argument so serious that Sharon left for a week. When she returned, she didn't bring up a pet again. I know I felt like an ogre, unable to give her children and now denying her so much as a dog. It was hard to believe those clean puppies came from places like this.

Everywhere I looked; there was filth and horror. Alex led investigators to the woods to a dump of half buried dogs and puppies. What a terrible waste...

I come from farming stock. We didn't treat our livestock as pets, but we took care of them. I couldn't understand any of this. Why would they not take care of the dogs if they lived off them?

"There's the golden that Jr. kicked to death," Alex said. "You should have the vet confirm the cause of death."

The deputy with us nodded. He said, "Scum. Scum of the earth. I have a golden..."

Muttering, the deputy went to get some assistance in documenting the illegal burial site and to get someone to bag the golden retriever for an autopsy.

"I'd better help Ellen with those Australian Shepherds. The male is spooky, but he was starting to trust me," Alex said.

"No more dogs," I said.

"Yeah, I know," Alex said. "I'm just going to help."

When we walked back to the yard, the teenage son broke loose and tackled Alex. I collared him and bent his arm behind his back.

"Fag," the kid snarled.

"Shut up," I said, turning the thug over to a couple of deputies. He tried to fight and they put him down on the ground hard.

I followed Alex to the so-called kennel that comprised the Australian Shepherd's cage. There was a path worn in the muck three paces from one side of the cage to the other. The male, a blue spotted dog, was barking at the top of his lungs while the female cowered back in the meager shelter of a wooden packing box.

Squatting, Alex said, "Hey, hey, Scout, settle now. Settle. Just like I promised, boy, I'm getting you out of here. We're getting out of here."

Ellen Samuels trudged up. Tears had streaked trails through the dirt on her face. I remembered the look on her face. I usually made my agents go on vacation when they had that expression.

As Alex managed to get a leash and muzzle on the male dog, Ellen had her first clear look at the two dogs. She groaned and said, "Merle on merle..."

"What?" I asked.

"The color pattern. If you breed two merles, a third of the litter will be deaf, blind, have seizures, or will die," Ellen said.

"Then why would they do it?" I asked, looking at the heavily pregnant female.

"Because they can sell a merle puppy quicker than a tri or bi color Aussie," Ellen said. She was luring the female to her with bits of treats. Despite her high emotions, her voice was sweet and enticing as she crooned to the dogs.

"Come here, girl, come here pretty girl," Ellen said.

Food overwhelmed the dog's fear. She quickly snatched the liver treat from Ellen's hands. I left to help load the mastiffs. The male had problems with his hips and had to be boosted into the truck. I still prided myself on my muscles. I lifted weights every day to maintain them. It took three of us to boost the two hundred pound plus dog into the huge crate.

As I mopped the sweat off my brow, I saw Ellen leading the two Australian Shepherds to her car. They were following her with winged steps, eager to leave this miserable place. I walked over to open her minivan for her so she could crate the dogs.

"Be sure and leave those clothes outside when you go home," Ellen said. "Puppy mills breed disease as well as dogs. I'm going to quarantine these two until my vet clears them."

"I will," I said.

Ellen smiled and said, "Thank you for letting Alex help me. Gina and I could never have gotten the court order for the seizure without his help."

Mulder wandered back my way. He had a golden puppy in his arms. I winced and said, "No, no way in hell."

"Walter, you have Pluto and Mars. Alex has Belun. I don' t have a dog of my own," Mulder said. "Besides it's a foster, Gina said."

"God damned conspiracy," I muttered.

"Hey, isn't that my line?" Mulder said.

"Bring it to Karen first," I said. "If she says it won't infect the other dogs, I supposed I can't object."

Mulder grinned. He looked like a loopy golden retriever himself. "What do you think of "Spooky" as a name?"

"I hate it," I said.

Shrugging, Mulder said, "Well, I like it. Alex, I'm going to name the puppy 'Spooky'"

"Good idea," Alex said, rolling his eyes.

As Alex rejoined us, he leaned into me. I put an arm around him. He leaned into me wearily. "Tough time?"

Alex's body language answered. I put my arm around him and said, "Let's go home."

Mulder joined us, his puppy loaded into our vet's van. Karen had not been able to resist taking a day off to help. She said, "I have the puppy's tests put on a rush."

Karen's face lost its smile as she looked at the sick dogs loaded into her van. She said, "I'll keep him apart from these dogs. There a couple I'm going to have to ask for a court order to put down. They're suffering too much. Damn, I hate this. I just hate this."

Well, I had a feeling that Mulder wasn't going to be the world's best puppy owner, but hell, we could give poor little Spooky the best life possible. At least, this poor little Golden Retriever was going to know the best of humanity instead of the worst.

OooOooO

We had a dog bathing station out in the garage. We had also installed a shower. There were times we came back from a search and rescue looking like a pair of swamp things. Today, we walked in and peeled off the clothes we were wearing. By common consensus, we put our clothing and boots into a trash bag. Naked, I walked out to the can and tossed the sack into it. I wished I could forget the scenes I had seen as easily as I disposed of the filth in which the dogs had lived.

As we crowded into the shower that usually fit two, I could see Alex had shut down. He was expressionless until Mulder reached for him then he smoldered, all sex and winding around Mulder. Mulder started to react then frowned. He said, "Alex, I love you."

"Love you too," Alex said. "Come on. Let's wash up and then we'll fuck."

I didn't confront him, but I knew what was going on. Mulder and I exchanged glances. Although Alex in a slut mode was hard to resist, we both knew that if we let him distract us with sex that all we would be doing is confirming that we didn't care about his feelings as long as he played sex toy.

I guided Alex's hand back to his chest and took the sponge. Each time Alex tried to turn sex kitten, Mulder or I held him for a moment until he stopped. Finally, he went still on us. Mulder knelt to wash Alex's feet. I felt my cock jump despite my soul deep weariness. Mulder looked like molten gold in the strong light of the warmer I had installed. His hazel eyes gazed up at Alex as he washed him. The droplets of water anointed Mulder, sliding down his face like caressing fingers.

After the dogs had a chance to reclaim Alex, we went to bed. Mulder and I held Alex between us, reassuring him that we had him. He needs to be held sometimes. He's afraid that his fear of being loved will send him fleeing into the night. Our lover is sure that he isn't worthy of being loved.

There was a time that I secretly expected that Alex would somehow hurt us. I waited and then I finally figured it out. Alex was more afraid he would betray us than we were.

"You did a good thing," I said.

"It doesn't feel good," Alex said.

Mulder leaned over to trace the feathered brows in their winged curve. I know he was close enough for Alex to feel his words as puffs of air against his skin. "Doing the right thing isn't easy, Alex. I bet it was easier for you before you started to fight the consortium."

"They thought I could never fall in love," Alex said. "Watching those dogs, thinking about my own life, the way I was raised, I started to think. Needing to love, to be loved, it must be something natural in us. Most of us anyway. I know some of the those dogs never had a kind word in their lives, but when I talked to them and petted them, I saw them wake up like crocuses bursting from cold hard ground to bloom in the sun. I guess that's like me. The old men thought that they had bent and beaten all capacity for love out of me."

"But they were wrong," Mulder said, his hands cupping Alex's chin. "So very wrong." Mulder's kiss lasted so long that both of them gasped when they parted.

I let Alex recover his breath before I took his lips. I closed my eyes to concentrate. His mouth is so soft, lush like a firm strawberry and just as sweet. I didn't rush inside. I stroked his mouth with mine, kissed him softly from one end of his mouth to the other. My lips caressed his, sucked that heart shaped upper one inside mine. Finally, our tongues danced slowly together. My thumb traced the beating pulse in his throat. Sometimes when he's deep in sleep, I touch him there, making sure he hasn't slipped away in slumber to some place not even Mulder's gift of healing could bring him back.

Now Alex was ready to make love. He was back with us; aware of how cherished he was. This was more than sex tonight. Some nights are for fun, to toy with each other, tease and arouse to see how far we could fly. Not tonight. Tonight was a sacrament. We spoke in silent touch. So many lies were between us when we first we knew each other. Later, we spoke a language of hate even when we could not hide our desire. Even Mulder and I had savaged each other and deflected the caring into bitter harsh words. Now, our touch, tender, a symphony of love played skin to skin, declares how what we still fear to speak much of the time.

There was a momentary miscue. Alex often bottoms. It was his training for one thing. I think he lacks the same hang-ups that Mulder and I have about having a cock in him. He doesn't worry how people will perceive him. He just lives. However, Mulder wants him in him tonight. Mulder, being Mulder, was putting on a show. His attention was turned inward. His eyes were pure smoke, reflecting the fire within him. Looking at him, I could tell he was starring in his own porn show. All I have to say was that if any of the sleeze balls who made my lover's favorite videos could catch the erotic focus that our Mulder had, they would be the richest men on earth.

Although I knew that Mulder wanted Alex inside him, I was tempted. Mulder glistened with sweat as he prepared himself. Arched, his expression was of bliss and pain.

His fingers sliding out of himself, Mulder said, "Get over here, Alex. I'm ready."

Alex took a deep breath and looked at me for reassurance. I mouthed 'I love you'. He smiled back and then turned his attention to Mulder. I lay beside them, stroking them and myself with equal pleasure. It didn't always work with three lovers, but when it did...

Mulder pulled me closer, urging me to move with them. Alex was moving too quickly for me to thrust inside him, but his silken ass rubbing against me was enough for tonight. My hand reached around to fist Mulder over the edge. We were a tangle of limbs, an erotic starfish of human flesh. Mulder's head was flung back, his body arching to meet Alex's. I drove down with Alex. We were one creature, complete in this moment.

When I came, I fell winded over Alex. We panted together in recovery until Mulder yelped about us breaking his back. I suppose he had a point.

Exhausted, we washed only enough to avoid losing body hair from being stuck together. With Alex between us, Mulder and I would sleep better although I expected that he would wake us with nightmares.

Surprisingly, I woke with sunlight on my eyes. Alex was still deep in repose. Mulder sat cross-legged on the bed, watching us both with a gentle intensity. I reached for him and we exchanged a morning kiss, stale breath and all.

"He didn't have a nightmare," I said softly.

Alex woke then or he had been feigning sleep. He rubbed sleep from his eyes and stretched luxuriously. "I think my nightmares are on the run," Alex said. "I think I rescued myself by helping those dogs."

"I hope so," I said.

As we went through the day, I know how happy I was to have Alex home and he was equally relieved to be there with us. I saw him rub a banister; sit for a moment in the window seat in the kitchen to stare out at the hay baled in the pasture. His hand constantly caressed Belun's head. The poor dog had hardly eaten when his master had been gone. Now he was overjoyed, constantly wiggling in affirmation that all was right in the world because Alex was home. I think Mulder and I agreed.

OooOooO

Sitting out on the lawn, we watched Belun and Spooky play. Pluto and Mars were standing on their dignity if you can call sprawling on your back with your legs in the air as dignity. The bloodhounds were sleeping in the October sun. Spooky ran about, barking and romping. It was hard to believe that the puppy was the same one that two days ago had gingerly sniffed and pawed at the grass. He had never been outside of a filthy kennel. The first time he saw a squirrel, Spooky ran whimpering to Mulder. Now, he had learned to rush the impudent rodent with Belun.

Walter was wrong about Mulder. Not too often that Walter makes a mistake, but he underestimated our lover. Mulder was taking great care of Spooky. I hadn't doubted him. Mulder had shown me his tenderness when I was dying. He had let me see a part of him that he seldom showed anyone except Scully.

Now, Mulder lavished love on this tiny refugee from horror. He had never had a puppy as a boy. He let himself play in ways he had never been allowed as a child. I watched him teach Spooky to chase a stick, laughed at him as he lay on the cold grass to let the puppy run amuck over him. He looked as happy as I had ever seen him.

Walter's arm was around me. My arm was around Belun. I know what I did didn't make a lot of difference to puppy mills in the long run. Yet when I looked at Spooky and thought about the other dogs I helped rescue, yeah, it made a hell of a lot of difference to them.

I was happy. I was home.

The End

 

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