Notes: For Eileen and Loki (at the Bridge)
Warnings: Threesome, no real sex.
Disclaimer: Carter owns them
The scream of alarms woke us instantly. We didn't pause to dress. Three guns pointed. Alex said, "The dogs..." as he started to run toward the door.
Walter stopped Alex and said, "the other door." He opened the closet. I could sense him fumbling for the catch that held the false panel shut over the secret passage.
The civil war era house had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad. It had taken weeks to get the entire system to work again especially when the three of us had not trusted anyone enough to help. I was the one who'd wanted the secret passage restored. Now I was happy that my precaution had paid off. I wasn't sure who had come after us, but I knew they were professionals by the way they had come through the alarms on what Walter and Alex called the perimeter. I called it the fence...but I never had been military or quasi military as Walter and Alex had been.
We silently lurched through the low passage, smelling our own fear mingled with the ancient traces of the escaping slaves that had huddled here to hide from the bounty hunters. Alex flinched and halted for a moment. I knew he had brushed a spider web. He had an irrational dislike of spiders and I made a point of looking for them everywhere in the house. I always removed the webs before they could bother Alex. He hated bugs even more than I did. I think it has something to do with the silo, but he won't talk about it. Anyway, it was the only housework I willingly completed. The rest of it I waited until Walter and Alex started to throw accusing looks.
I closed my hand briefly on his arm to comfort Alex and heard him whisper my name in gratitude. We moved on. It was damp now as we were no longer beneath the house. When we emerged, we were in the woods. Now Alex was pissed. I saw that mask come down over his face and I knew the killer was back. God help our enemies.
It was always a surprise to see how similar my two lovers were when they were focused. I could see how they had become lovers. I could see how they could hate each other with the passion with which they had. Both of them went cold with rage, whereas I was like mercury, heating quickly and violently to an explosion. I can keep my wits in a situation, but I fought in hot blood not cold as my lovers did.
Alex said something in Russian, cursing beneath his breath as one of the dogs bayed. Quickly, decisively, he whistled. A few moments later, Mars bounded toward us. Two men in stocking masks were trying to follow the excited dog, but Walter dropped one and Alex got the latter. I saw the movement off to one side and whirled to confirm it was another invader.
The last two men we took alive. One of them was wounded and screaming for a doctor. Walter and I took inventory while Alex had a talk with the man. By the time, we returned the man had blurted out a confession. The idiots were professionals but they weren't Consortium. They were, instead, connected to a South American drug family. It turns out that Cardinal was the favorite nephew of a drug lord. The fools were after Walter.
I could barely breathe. Instantly, I called Scully and was relieved to hear Monica's voice. Interesting household that one. Doggett, Reyes, and Scully made a great, not too typical, family. There had been an attempt on them too, but they had been just as a successful at repelling it as we were. The only nice thing about having faced liver eating monsters and human sized flukes, as well as aliens, you are blas about the plain old variety of hit men.
After the local law enforcement and the forensics team finished their work, we were left to reset alarms and look for our missing dog. I could see Alex winding up as he searched for Pluto. Pluto was not as focused as Mars or rather when he was on a scent there was no stopping him. There was every chance that he was wandering in the woods.
Alex came back from checking and said, "The main gate was left open."
We drove around for hours looking for the dog. Dawn was a red haze in the sky by the time we quit. I said, "The Humane Society opens at eight a.m. You can check there. I'll make up some flyers to put on the road so people will know to contact us if Pluto shows up."
Walter said, "I'll walk through the woods and just make sure he's not hiding or anything."
I didn't like the way his voice dropped at 'anything'.
Alex was busy on his computer when I passed by him with the pile of posters. He was intent, his jaw set, his eyes gone dark with hatred. I said, "What are you doing?"
"I have some contacts in South America that might take an interest in our new friends," Alex said.
"Alex, you can't do that," I said.
"You can't tell me what to do, Mulder," Alex said. "Those assholes might have killed us and they made Pluto get lost."
Behind me, Walter cleared his throat. He gripped my shoulder comfortingly. He said, "Don't fight. I have an idea. I know some honest drug enforcement agents down there. Alex, you get the information and I'll put them onto it."
Walter added, "Alex has a point. I took the moderate road all too often in the past. Some people only get the message if you hit back harder than they hit you."
Scowling, Alex faced off with Walter, eyes battling until I said, "Alex, that makes sense. You know innocent people get killed in drug wars. Children too."
I could see by his flinch that I had him. Alex doesn't regret most of what he did in his life. He's a hard man who had a difficult life. However, there are things he did that wake him gasping for breath and crying. He doesn't often talk to me about them, but sometimes I find him talking to Pluto and Mars, telling them what he is still afraid to tell me. The truth is that he fears needlessly. Somewhere in the events of the last few years I don't even pretend to myself anymore. I accepted Alex as the ruthless, flawed man that he is. I realized that I'm not a knight in shining armor either. It's a relief, believe me.
The sight of Alex processing a decision isn't as pretty as you might think. His face goes blank and his eyes go dark. When I used to say that Alex's moral dipstick was two drops short of bone dry, I was wrong. There's an Alex who hopes, feels, and reacts like a sensitive, kind, and intelligent man. That's the one I love.
Then there's the Alex who would do anything, say anything, and kill anything if he thought it would bring us two steps closer to defeating the aliens and their sympathizers. You know what? I love him too.
The dueling stares ended and Alex said, "Yeah, okay, Walter's way, but these guys better not be jerk-offs or I'll go after Tio Cardinal myself."
Walter nodded and said, "If they don't take care of Cardinal, I'll help you."
Alex said, "Do you mean it?"
Our lover smiled and said, "I do. Hell, I'll whistle Doggett and Scully up. We can go for broke. They'll never know what hit them."
The plastic covered posters flapped behind me from every surface that was wide enough to sport them. Mars leaned out of the car window, a faint drool trail marking the black polished sides of the ATV. I had ignored the crates in the back for once. I guess I hoped that Mars would spot his brother if I missed him.
It took all day to cover the county. Alex had hit the net and downloaded all the tips on finding lost dogs that he could. It said they can get much farther away than you think they could and don't assume that anyone will even get the color right if they describe a found dog. Always check in person.
Jimmy Barnes was watching the house. He was a college sophomore that Walter had met when he was taking care of his friend Gina's dog kennel. With all of us out of the house looking for Pluto, someone had to be there to take calls or in case Pluto found his way home. Jimmy had been glad to study in the quiet and comfort of our house.
My mobile phone rang as I fastened my last flyer in the feed store window. It was Alex again. He had finally slowed down on checking in with Walter and me. This morning he had called once an hour. I could hear his disappointment when I told him that we still hadn't found Pluto.
Sounding tired and sad, Alex said, "I'm at the last shelter. They don't have Pluto either. I checked all the found dogs and the dead dogs too." There was a brief silence and then Alex said, "What is with people? Why the hell do they get all these pets and not take care of them?"
"I don't know," I said. "Come home. I'll meet you there."
It was very dark when Walter came home. His footsteps dragged as he walked up the steps. Alex and I were rocking on the porch swing. He didn't want to talk. His head rested on my shoulder, taking what comfort there was from this physical contact. I had tried to persuade him that everything was going to be fine, but I could tell words did nothing for him. Poor Alex knew that happy endings were for other people. A year of love couldn't change that opinion. I think he kept waiting for god to punish him...the way I used to do. He told me once that when I hit him it was like taking some of the guilt away. It never stopped him from his stubbornly solitary pilgrimage, but it helped him deal with the regrets he couldn't help feeling.
I know every happy moment was hidden away in Alex's mental scrapbook. He stored them for the time when he was going to be an outcast again. I stroked his arm, kissed his hair over and over, trying to paint him full of love so he knew it would never be that way again.
We were still sitting on the porch when Walter returned home.
"I didn't see any trace of him," Walter said. "I called my search and rescue unit. They are going to meet me here in the morning if Pluto doesn't show up."
With a sigh, Walter offered us his hands, pulling us both close to him. I could smell the sweat on him and the woodsy smell. It was reassuring. Walter asked, "Did you eat?"
For once, Alex had not urged me to eat. We both had huddled here, hoping to see Pluto bounding before Walter as he walked from the woods. Mars had been at our feet all this time. He had stood and greeted Walter effusively, but I could tell he was wondering where his brother was.
"Come on, starving to death doesn't help Pluto," Walter said.
Going to the big freezer, Walter pulled out a container of frozen stew. We had all helped to make the big pot, peeling vegetables, watching browning meat, and stirring the fragrant stock. There were small individual portions put aside for times when work or interests kept one of us from the family table. I hadn't understood at first. Why not just buy frozen food? However, I had finally understood one night when I came in late from a lecture. Walter and Alex had been out on a search and rescue mission, but sitting there with a hot bowl of stew, I had felt not only the warmth of the food, but of the memories of cooking it together. I realized then that we were a real family, something I had not felt since I had lost Samantha.
Alex watched Walter for a moment and then shrugged. He took out the makings for a salad. I joined him, our hips jostling as we worked together. Alex asked, "Do you think we should move?"
Every instinct rebelled. This place felt like home. We had refurbished it together. We had made love in nearly every room. We had laughed here and cried here, on our way to finding a stable relationship out of our mess of mingled love, pain, and anger. I wanted to stay, but I swallowed my immediate reaction to hear what Walter thought.
Our lover glanced back at us, frowning. He took the hot stew out and poured it into a big china bowl that he had inherited from his mother. Setting it on the sturdy table with a thud, Walter said, "I'm not running any more. What's the use? We all have enemies. They have the means to track us. I say we stand and defend ourselves from all comers. This is our home and we shouldn't let them drive us away."
"I figured out a long time ago that there was no place on earth distant enough to keep any of us safe," Alex said. He looked at me and said, "Whatever you two think though."
"I'm not willing to give up another inch to the bastards," I said. It should be over. The aliens were gone, but some of the human collaborators resented what we had proved. It's hard to find out that you sold your soul to the devil for nothing. Then we had other enemies, each of us did. I smiled. I was willing to accept that dowry from my lovers. Their enemies were my enemies as mine belonged equally to my lovers.
"Then we stay," Alex said, a feral-edged smile crossing his face.
Walter frowned when Alex smiled like that. Bad memories don't easily dissipate. I don't think we would have been able to live past the agony of the last few years if we hadn't shared a passionate love before we became enemies.
It must have taken courage for Walter to touch Alex a moment later or maybe that was his way of reassuring himself that it was 'his' Alex not the one that played so many horrific roles in our past. Alex leaned into the caress until Walter put an arm around him, holding him close. "We stay and fight," Walter said, holding out his hand to me.
"God, Scully would laugh her ass off at me participating in a group hug," I grumbled, earning a swat at the comment. That didn't stop me from moving into my lovers' embrace. I wondered for a moment whether they might be persuaded to skip dinner for a quick session in bed.
"Come on," Walter said, "I'm hungry after tramping through the woods.
It was not a restful night even after we made love. Alex let Mars in before the last sigh of pleasure quivered from our bed. He had the window open a crack, in case Pluto whined in the yard. It was early spring and the night air was cold, but there was no use reasoning with him when he was like this. I nestled my ass closer to Walter and pulled Alex close to me. There was a snuffle and then Mars paced over to peer out the window. He whined anxiously and then came back toward us. I felt a faint weight on the bed and peered around Alex to see Mars looking at me dolefully. Alex reached out to rub the dog's ears and said, "I know. I miss him too."
A moment later, the bed was jostled. Walter said tiredly, "Alex, we've had this discussion."
"He's alone, Walter, all alone," Alex said.
I wasn't going to comment, but Alex sighed and said, "Mulder, you don't mind do you?"
I never had a dog as a kid, but I sure wished for one after Samantha was taken. I'd kept thinking if we had a dog, it would have warned us. I couldn't sleep well for years after my sister was taken. Really, I never slept a full night until I came here to live with my lovers. I used to shiver in my bed and listen for the sound of them coming. I don't know if I hoped they would come or dreaded it. I used to think that if I was very good, if I worked hard in school, if I was the perfect son who could keep my parents together, that one day they would bring my sister back. In my darker moods, I dreamed that they would come back for me. Now I had faced that nightmare and lived past it.
Thinking about it, I understood how Mars felt. He had been with his brother his entire life. Even the day they were neutered, after Gina decided they weren't breeding quality, he and his brother were in kennels next to each other. Pluto was the dominant of the pair. Mars was happy in his subordinate role. Now, he was confused and lost.
I said, "Walter, just for tonight? I'm sure we'll find Pluto some time tomorrow. I bet we'll wake up in the morning and he'll be pawing at the door."
With a grunt, Walter said, "All right, but I hope my brothers don't find out. They are half a vote away from tossing me out of the Skinner family without finding out I let a hound dog sleep in my bed."
"Thank you," Alex said. He patted the bed and Mars crept up. The ninety-pound dog took up as much room as a person. We had a big bed, but the addition of Mars to our already considerable bulk challenged the comfort of it. I moved closer to Walter.
Walter grumbled, "If I move any farther, my ass will be hanging off the bed."
"I love you, Walter," Alex murmured.
That worked. Walter said, "Yeah, me too." His lips caressed the back of my neck and he whispered into my ear, "You make very happy, Fox Mulder."
"Me too," I said, cuddling Alex close. "It's going to be okay."
I didn't really expect to see Pluto at the door although I know each of us checked and I heard Alex calling at the edge of the woods. He called until his voice was hoarse.
The search and rescue people showed up bright and early. They were very concerned, as concerned as I would be for a missing colleague. They were thoroughly professional, bringing detailed maps of the area. I tried to believe that they would find our dog. Mars was excited and acted like a wiggling puppy until they put his work harness on him. He immediately settled down and looked at Walter, as seriously ready to work as any junior agent.
Alex was getting ready to make his rounds again. He said, "I'll call right away if I find him."
I patted his face and then pulled his head down to kiss him. I said, "He'll be okay."
"Yes," Alex said.
Because Jimmy had an appointment today, I needed to stay close to the phone. I booted up my laptop, but instead of working on my book, I logged into all the dog lost and found boards I could find in the state. Maybe somebody would say they had found our big dog.
Walter was out until long past dark again. I baked a chicken and managed to steam some rice without more than a few browned edges. What can I say? Domestication is not one of my virtues. The chicken was a little on the dry and plain side, but I was proud of it. It was my best effort so far. Alex came home looking even more depressed than he had yesterday.
"Hey, Mulder," Alex said. "You made dinner."
"All by myself," I announced.
"Looks great," Alex said.
"You didn't ask me about Pluto," I said.
"He was just a dog. I don't know why we are making such a big deal about him," Alex said, eyes glancing away. "I'm sorry that I've been acting like a sappy kid."
"Alex," I said, "you don't have to pretend with me."
"Who's pretending? When I think about the things I've done...the things I've lost...the people I hurt, why do I think I have the right to carry on over a dog?" Alex said. He slumped into a chair.
There were no words. I just pulled him up and into my arms. "Everything I touch dies," Alex said. "I should leave before anything happens to you and Walter."
"You do and we'll come after you," I said, "Now stop it, love. You never whined about anything. Even when I wanted to kick your ass, I always admired you for that. You're going to believe that Pluto will come home and then you'll make it happen. That's who you are. That's who we are. We make things happen."
I said, "Alex, I want to hear you say it."
"We make things happen," Alex repeated. His breath was warm against my neck as he said, "I want to believe, Mulder."
The early part of the morning was spent watching Walter and Alex confer with their diverse colleagues in South America. I was again struck by how ruthless both men could be. For my part, I used the Lone Gunmen to strike at the drug overlord's system. Nothing like sporadic computer outages, phone breakdowns, which seemed innocent although frustrating, and confused supply deliveries to foul a system. My old friends were more than willing to help in this circumstance despite grumbled complaints about not being narcs.
Jimmy arrived to watch the phones so I could work. I had a deadline for the book I was writing on serial killers and both of my lovers had told me that I needed to focus on meeting it. I glowered at the screen flinching at every ring until Jimmy said, "It's Scully. She says she wants to talk to you."
I took the phone, glad of the distraction. "Hey, Scully," I said.
"How you holding up?" Scully said.
"I'm okay," I replied.
"No sign yet?" Scully asked.
"None," I answered.
"Walter taking it okay? I know he loves that dog," Scully said.
"He's okay. He's still looking for Pluto with his Search and Rescue buddies," I told her.
"Oh," Scully said. Her voice trailed off.
"Alex is the most upset," I said.
"I suppose. Well, I'm sorry," Scully said.
I heard the telltale sound of call waiting and said, "Hang on, I need to get this."
I didn't know the voice. It said, "I'm calling about that hound dog. I have a truck farm five miles down the road from you. I saw one of those posters."
"Pluto?" I asked.
"Whatever kind of Mickey Mouse name you Northern folk gave that hound,' the man said.
"His name is Pluto. Hang on for a minute. I have some one on the other line," I said.
"Scully, I have to call you back. There's someone who might know about Pluto on the other line," I said.
"Oh, fine, call me back and let me know," Scully said.
"You have two phones in your house like a business?" the voice asked.
I smiled. Three mobile phones and two phone lines were a reduction from the beginning of last year. Then we had lines for every computer! Cable and a server had taken care of that problem.
"Yeah," I said. "Now about my dog."
"I was wondering about a reward?" the man said.
"That's not very neighborly," I said. "That's the dog that found the Cleary girl when she was lost two months ago."
"I didn't know that," the farmer said.
There was a pause and the man said, "My kid brought him home. I figured he might be a good coon hound."
I winced imagining what Gina would think about one of her dogs being put to trail a mere creature. I said, "He's a bloodhound. He trails lost kids, criminals, not raccoons."
"I noticed he was no good. Stared at me as if he was plumb stupid when I brought him out. Howls all night too. Heard it right through the house from the shed," the farmer said.
"You made him sleep in the shed?" I said, wincing. Pluto didn't even like it when we made him stay out in the hallway when we made love.
"Sure, didn't want to leave an expensive dog chained up in the yard," the man said.
I think I deserved a medal for keeping my temper. I carefully wrote down the directions and went off to see if this was really Pluto.
The dirt road jolted Alex's jeep. He had borrowed the gas conserving Saturn that Walter and I drove. He was checking a few shelters two counties away. One had a large brown dog on the found list that might have been Pluto by a stretch of the imagination. I was glad that I wasn't trying to navigate the ruts in this dirt road with that low chassis. I suppose I could have slowed down enough to take the ruts without jolting myself, but I hope it was my lost dog at the end of that road.
The farm looked run down. I saw a weary looking woman peering from a lace-curtain covered window. There were several small children doing chores or playing about the yard. One of them came up, wearing only a stained T-shirt and a sagging diaper. The toddler stood staring at me, meditatively picking his nose. For a moment, I imagined Scully finding William in that condition. I bet she would have just about boiled him in horror of the germs.
The farmer opened the shed and started to bring Pluto out, but as soon as the big hound saw me, he bellowed in joy and hit the end of the rope so hard and fast that the farmer released it with a yowl, shaking his hands in pain.
"Stupid hound," the man said.
I couldn't respond, as Pluto was so overjoyed to see me that he knocked me down and licked me. It took me a full five minutes to remember to yell, "off"
"Why did it take so long to call about Pluto?" I said.
"Oldest boy wanted to have the hound," the farmer said. "I didn't see the posters myself until today. Today was market day. The boy will be punished. I'm an honest man. I don't need to steal. I keep my family fed."
Nodding, I held out my hand for him to shake. I said, "Thank you for finding him."
Looking around, I gave him two hundred dollars and said, "There was a reward, but don't say anything about it."
"I won't," the man said. To my surprise, he shoved a paperback copy of my first book and said, "Wife wants you to autograph this. Make it to Ellen if you please."
"Sure," I said, signing the book to "my friend and neighbor, Ellen..."
"Shiloh," the man said. "Thank you."
Pluto jumped into the jeep and sighed, instantly putting his heavy head on my knee. I don't think he liked his adventure very much. I rubbed the velvet ears as I drove a short way up the road. I called Alex first and said, "Alex, I have him. He's fine. Some kid took him home and his folks don't get out enough to have noticed the posters before today."
"You're sure that he's fine? Better have him checked. I'll meet you at Karen's. Have you called Walter yet?" Alex said in a rush.
"No, I'll call him now. Drive carefully," I said.
"Always do," Alex said snarkily. "I couldn't just flash my FBI badge you know."
"Asshole," I said with affection. "See you at Karen's"
Walter whooped. I had never heard such joy in his voice...outside of bed that was or when we were all three playing with the dogs. I could hear noises of celebration in the background a moment later. I said, "Walter, Alex thinks I should have the vet check Pluto. Why don't you meet us there?"
Karen was.... incredible. She had iron gray hair, usually hastily stuffed into an untidy bun. She was a thickset woman, with muscled legs and arms from a lifetime of lifting heavy dogs to examination tables. Her blue eyes could twinkle with humor or go cold in rage. She mothered everyone and everything. She was quick with a raunchy joke or a pat on the back. She managed to persuade some of the coldest hearted people in the area to support her animal rescue efforts. She was tough on people who tried to weasel out of paying a vet bill and soft with those who genuinely were struggling to care for a beloved pet. Gina had recommended her as a vet. She quickly became our first mutual friend as well.
I was sprawled in the waiting room when Alex entered the room like a zephyr. You could feel the energy in the room change instantly at the first step. He glanced about briefly and then was across the room instantly. His arms went around Pluto as the heavy tail flogged the air. Alex's face was buried in the folds of the dog's neck. He wasn't crying when he finally showed his expression, but I knew that was only his old training asserting itself. I could tell what he felt from the brightness of his eyes.
Alex pummeled me in his enthusiasm, saying, "Thank you, Mulder!" until I wished I'd had to fight off the Peacock brothers to get the dog back.
Someone failed to show up for an appointment so Karen had a few moments to have a look at Pluto. He stood for her examination with good-natured indifference. She carefully searched through the folds of his skin, peered in his ears, and checked him inch by inch to make sure that he hadn't acquired any ticks. He stared at her with his patented incredulous look as she took his temperature.
I snickered and said, "Maybe we should let him watch us sometime so he'd have a better attitude about getting that rectal thermometer up there."
Ducking back in time to avoid Alex's slap, I laughed at him and said, "Better brush up on those boxing lessons, lover!"
The door opened just as Karen pronounced Pluto's temperature normal. Before she was ready, Pluto caught sight of Walter and wiggled free of her. A moment later, the dog had grabbed one of Walter's legs with a front paw. He pressed his massive head against his master and cried for joy. I ended up blinking away tears as Walter sank to his knees to hug Pluto.
Master and dog communicated head to head for a few moments. Alex leaned on me, his fingers trembling on my arm. I looked at him, surprised that his face showed nothing. I slipped my arm around Alex's waist and then said, "I can only remember a few times in my life when I was this happy."
Leaning into me, Alex nodded, not trusting his voice. Walter stood up, flustered. He still had a difficult time displaying public affection, but couldn't resist giving us a quick hug.
As we all waited for Karen's verdict, she smiled and said, "He looks fine other than a few fleas. Why don't we bathe him here and save Mars from getting them? Of course, you need to check his stool for worms over the next few weeks. Fleas and tapeworms, you know."
I grimaced. That I left to Walter and Alex. The sight of those gruesome little creatures triggered memories of Flukeman. Alex can't handle spiders and I can't handle tapeworms. Walter on the other hand was as impervious to creepy crawlies as Scully was. Maybe he would have been a good pathologist too.
So that should have been the end of the dog part of our near tragedy. However...
"Where are you headed?" I asked.
Alex did most of his work by computer. He had founded an organization to track down the families of abductees. After the aliens were routed, we were able to reclaim hundreds of abductees along with children who were entirely human or human enough to live through the germ warfare we'd turned on the aliens. Alex had started his project to find families for the orphaned children. He felt strongly that we should first ask the biological families. The work continued, but sometimes extended to other areas where children had been separated by war and trauma from families. I think Alex found some degree of peace in his work.
When Alex started the foundation, 'Project Iustum', he often ended up in the field. Little pockets of surviving conspirators made life difficult for people investigating the smallest victims of their ill-fated betrayal of the human race. Walter and I didn't like Alex returning to any part of his past role, but you can't reason with him. The best you can do is to go along with him and put on the brakes. Can you imagine me in that role? Being the sensible one for Alex gave me some real sympathy for Scully!
Anyway, I asked, "Alex, is there a problem with the foundation?"
A flicker of a smile greeted my question. Alex ducked his head and said, "I'd tell you if it was something like that. I keep my promises when I can." He grabbed his jacket and said, "No, I just told this woman at the shelter that I would walk some of the dogs, try to train them so they will be more adoptable. You don't mind do you?"
Grinning, I said, "You bag of mush...no, I think that's wonderful. I hope it helps."
Alex returned with stories about stupid people and kind hearts, small puppies and senior dogs staring with confused faces out of cages. He said, "At least when I hurt something, it wasn't out of indifference. I always thought I had a plan even when I was dead wrong."
Rumbling from deep in his chest, Walter sounded like a mama bear as he said, "Alex, maybe you shouldn't go back. Give them some money instead."
"I already did give them money. No, I'm working with four dogs, large mixed breed dogs between the ages of five months and eighteen years. Those are the ones who are hard to adopt. The shelter has given them more time so I have a chance to train them," Alex said.
Over the next few days, Alex spent almost as much time either working with the shelter dogs or consulting with Gina as he did with his 'Project Iustum'.
Meanwhile, Tio Cardinal wouldn't be troubling us. He and most of his soldiers were arrested while meeting with another drug family. We were all happy to hear that. To make the news even more reassuring, Alex's misinformation had pointed a finger at a member of Cardinal's crime family as the source of the information that led to the bust. The remaining family members had scattered and gone into hiding. I had a feeling that Cardinal and company would be under a death sentence in jail imposed by the other drug lords. I can't say I was sorry to consider that. I'm not that good a guy. They came after my lovers and I. I didn't feel sorry for anything that might happen to them.
Alex virtually bounced in on day number five of his volunteer stint. He said, "Ginger was adopted!"
"Ginger was the brown lab mix or the black shep mix?" I asked. Alex had spent each evening detailing each of his four charges.
I felt as if I knew them all. There was Ginger and Girl, the two females. Butch and Brownie were the males. There were two brown dogs and two black dogs. I know Butch was the problem child and the one with the most breeds in his heritage. One of the dogs had a lot of golden retriever in the mix and two were shepherd mixes. All had a smattering of Labrador retriever.
"Ginger was the golden retriever lab mix," Alex said. "The sweet girl. They let me screen the family myself. They just lost a seventeen-year-old dog a few weeks ago. They had a vet reference from Karen and already had a list of dog training classes. They have a fence almost as good as ours. Ginger loved the kids and one of them is going to earn a 4-H ribbon by training her."
"Sounds great," I said. "I'm glad you had something happy happen."
"Someone came to look at Brownie too. I'm not done checking him out, but it sounds like a good home," Alex said. "I'm going to work a little with a few more dogs if these all get adopted. I just wished that Butch would settle down. He gets so excited when people pay him any attention that he acts stupid. I tell them he's very intelligent, but I'm not sure they believe me."
"You can't win them all," I said.
Alex gave me that scowl and then glanced at Walter who threw up his hands defensively. "I'm not in this discussion." He said, "I have to take Pluto and Mars out."
Grabbing my jacket, I said, "I'll go with you. I need some exercise."
Leaving Alex to his thoughts might not be the brightest thing, but I could tell where this was going.
Walter was already walking briskly down the driveway. It's long enough for a good walk or a quick jog.
I caught up and ran backwards a while. I said, "Walter, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Three dogs?" he said. "Pluto and Mars I can see. They're search and rescue dogs. They have a function."
Dear Walter...he might love Alex and I, but he still thought like someone who could have starred on some fishing show.
"So if Pluto or Mars suddenly couldn't work, we wouldn't keep them?" I said.
Staring at me as if I had grown a second head, Walter said, "I ought to wash your mouth out with soap for saying that. You think I'd dump my partner just because he was disabled? What kind of man do you think I am?"
"Just pointing out that it is not just work that make Pluto and Mars valuable to you," I said. "Walter, if Butch doesn't get adopted soon, he's going to be meeting a vet tech with a needle soon. Can you imagine what that will do to Alex?"
Walter's forehead furled. He shook his head and said, "Why me? I was just looking for a place to drink a few beers...retire in peace. I didn't ask for two lovers who keep springing surprises on me!"
Shit, I didn't realize Walter still dreamed about a quiet retirement. I always thought that was one of the things a guy could want, but was lucky not to achieve. Just like what Scully and I had realized we were to each other.
I imagine being with Alex and I felt like camping on a live volcano to Walter. My expression must have been telling for once. Walter sprinted to catch up with me and caught my arm. As I turned, he hastily kissed me. He said, "I didn't really mean it. I'm happy. I never really liked a predictable life."
Returning the kiss with interest, I started to forget what the discussion was about until Pluto romped up and crashed into our legs. I slammed into Walter and we almost fell.
After steadying me, Walter said, "So you think we should go have a look at this Butch?"
"I think," I said.
"We'll have to make sure he gets along with the boys," Walter said.
Of course, things didn't happen the way we planned. Walter had a search and rescue that took him days. The child was found, but not alive. Those are the kind that make Walter morose and stony-faced like he used to be most of the time. William was having his tonsils out and Scully needed me. Yes, she has a husband, but she's still the mother of my child and I'll always love her.
"Girl, Brownie, Poncho, and Buddy all have been adopted," Alex said. "Someone's coming tomorrow to take a look at Butch. It's his last day. They can't give me any more chances."
Poncho and Buddy were a pair of six-month-old Labrador mixes someone had left tied up to the shelter gate. Alex had added them to his program and had mentioned their intelligence and willingness to one of Walter's Search and Rescue buddies. I was happy that the Search and Rescue husband and wife team had agreed to take both. I crossed my fingers for Butch's sake.
"I'm sure the family will love him," I said. "Listen, Walter and I will take the day off so we can see your final triumph at the shelter. Would that be okay?"
"Yeah," Alex said. His smile was tentative, but I could see the love in his eyes. He held out his hand to me and I pulled him in for a hug before spinning him around for Walter's kiss. Nuzzling Alex's neck, I stretched my arms around both of them, caressing Walter's fine ass as my cock nestled happily against the plush bottom of my passionate and beautiful Alex.
"He's a Borzoi mix," Alex told the young couple.
Now, Butch might be a Borzoi mix. William had a book that if you flipped the sections around you could combine different parts of animals to make comical beasts. Butch looked as if God let a toddler be in charge of creation for a day. His hindquarters seemed to stand higher than his shoulders or maybe that was just the effect of the way his hair stood up. His back end boasted spikes and turf-like clumps of fur that looked like Alex on a bad hair day. He must have had one German shepherd ancestor as he had one perfect upright German shepherd ear. The other one drooped midway and both were outrageously large. He looked as if he was equipped to receive cable. His legs were long and he seemed to have managed not to master the art of moving them in unison as yet. He did have sparkling eyes and a huge grinning set of white teeth through which lolled the longest tongue I had ever seen. As a moose, Butch would have been a prime specimen but as a dog, well, he made great comic relief.
The couple watched Butch dance about and sprawl rump up, in invitation to play, with a kind of horror. The man said, "A borzoi mix sounded good, Mr. Krycek, but this dog is not a Borzoi! I'm only taking your word on it that he is a dog."
The woman said, "He's really ugly cute, Rupert."
The man ran a hand over the ecstatically wiggling dog and showed his wife the hand. "It sheds too."
Before the couple could say anything further, Walter drew himself up to his full imposing self. He marched up and said, "What is going on here? I thought that dog was reserved for me? I'm sorry, but I have to have this dog. I've never seen a dog with so much potential for service dog use."
Walter had Butch's rapt attention. For one moment, both ears stood up and all of his diverse parts seem to fit together. His long crooked tail wagged from side to side as he studied Walter.
Alex blinked rapidly and craned his neck in a gesture I seldom saw. He only did it when he was extremely nervous and at loss for words. My Alex was seldom at loss for words.
Walter said, "Well? I'd like to sign the adoption papers. I assume our home check was positive and I have a vet reference."
Now Alex smiled. He turned to the couple and said, "I'm sorry. I suppose that the shelter forgot to tell me that Mr. Skinner had made up his mind. Don't worry. Some day you'll find a dog almost as good as Butch."
Butch howled most of the trip home. He wasn't used to car trips and being locked in the crate must have reminded him of the trip to the shelter. Alex tried to reassure him, but the dog wasn't listening.
Walter said, "I'm not calling that dog "Butch". People will talk."
"I've been calling him, Belun. It's an old Slavic god, the god of happiness," Alex said in between the dog's barks.
"Belun?" Walter said. "Well, it's better than Butch."
Gina had suggested that the dogs meet in the pasture that Walter often used to meet other SAR teams for practice. It was neutral ground so Mars and Pluto would feel less territorial.
As it turned out, there was no problem. The moment Belun play bowed, Pluto returned the gesture. I had to laugh to see the huge creatures bounding about joyfully. Of course, Mars was fine as soon as his brother accepted the crazy puppy.
The dogs weren't a problem, but we had forgotten what it was like to have a puppy in the house. Pluto and Mars were well trained before we brought them home. Sure they had a mishap or two, like the time Pluto chewed off the handle of Walter's favorite fishing rod. Belun seemed to be teething or something.
As I rescued Walter's boot from his mouth, I said, "Hey, Alex? Can I e-mail pictures of Belun to Scully?"
"Sure, I'll send you some of them," Alex said. He smiled happily and said, "He's a beautiful dog."
I reminded myself to have Alex's eyes tested. I said, "Well, actually, Scully and I once met a circus geek, the Conundrum. I wanted to see if she thought Belun might be related."
Tousling Belun's ears, I said, "Hey, boy, did you used to work in the sideshow? The Amazing Beluni, eats anything."
The dog grinned stupidly and wagged his tail. Alex scowled and said, "He's not a geek. He's entitled to a few mistakes. He's had a hard time in life. He needs patience and guidance."
Patience...well, I have to say that Alex had me beat. He spent hours training that dog. Meanwhile, Walter was grouchy and I gradually learned to close every door behind myself. Talk about trust no one. That dog could counter surf off the top of the refrigerator.
It took a month for Alex to work through Belun's worst behaviors. Time and three special consultations with Gina gradually made Belun bearable outside of his crate.
It took me a while to realize that Alex really was serious about training Belun for search and rescue. I was suitably impressed when the dog passed his canine good citizenship. Hell, I still hadn't learned to stay and I tended to whimper at the very thought of separation from Alex and Walter.
Belun was slowly growing into his looks. He was never going to look like a Borzoi no matter what Alex said, but he did look a bit like a wolfhound of some sort. I liked Belun. Something in his heritage made him a good runner and he loved to jog with me.
Despite the fact that Belun was becoming a good pet, Walter didn't think that he'd make a good SAR dog. Playfulness was a good quality in a search and rescue candidate, but Walter felt that Belun was too motivated by play. I don't know why Alex felt it was important. Sometimes he and Walter still seem to play macho games with each other the way Alex and I used to do. I'm not innocent of that behavior, but I found that I did a lot less posturing when I was getting off on a regular basis. I guess sexual frustration kept me pretty bitchy for a lot of years. Now if I said "fuck you" to Walter or Alex, it was usually asking a question and followed by action to suit.
Anyway, Alex drove over to Gina's for lessons. He hit some all breed obedience trials and registered the dog with AMBOR. That's the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration. I'm the last one to knock a mixed breed. After all, I guess my biological parentage crossed the species line. I went to see Alex and Belun compete. They looked damned good to me, but I wasn't an expert.
So when Gina certified Alex and Belun as a team, she and Walter had words. I haven't described Gina. She's not pretty and she's not young. She's short, not quite as short as Scully, but not too much taller. She's squarely built and sturdy. The slight limp in her gait was compensated by an energy that seemed endless. She had hazel eyes that met you straight on no matter how tall you were. So, although it might seem like an unfair match when Walter and Gina had a shouting match, I can tell you who turned red and left the room first. It was Walter.
Of course, Walter marched back in there and apologized. He's a good man, my Walter.
After that, Alex and Walter had a long talk and Walter stopped making critical comments about Belun.
Was Alex right?
Did Belun make a good Search and Rescue dog?
I guess you would have to ask Mrs. Goulet. It was her father that Belun found alive when he wandered away from the nursing home.
I remember Alex standing there on the TV news with his hand on Belun's head, telling the story of how Belun was the unwanted dog at the shelter. He said that there were so many good dogs that died there each day out of indifference and ignorance. The only thing different about Belun was that Alex knew him and had to save him.
I can tell you something else about Belun...
When Alex looked into my eyes that day I saw something I never expected to see in my lover's eyes. I saw acceptance at last that Alex had survived where others had perished. If it was all right for Belun, it was all right for him.
When I look into our future, I'm not afraid anymore. I think we're going to have a happy ending.
Back to Gone to the Dogs
On to Old Ghosts