He heard the baby cry, and the sound of dogs, as he passed by the alley behind the old church. Leave a baby on the church doorstep; cliche, tried and true, and in many an old movie... only that particular church opened only on Sunday and the woman had set the baby back by the dumpsters, not the doorstep. Duo had managed to hear it, only because he had stopped to arrange the packages in his lap.
Duo was still barely managing to walk a few feet. He needed a walker and help. The trip to the corner store, for a few things for dinner, had seemed safe enough. People knew him now. They were willing to give him a hand if he managed to get himself into any trouble. Those helpful people were nowhere to be found, just then, and those dogs were going to get their courage up any moment, he was sure, to take advantage of something so small and helpless.
"Just freakin' wonderful!" Duo snarled as he eyed the garbage cans , the empty crates, and the piles of broken things in his path. His wheelchair wouldn't fit.If he wanted to rescue the baby, he had to walk.
A little voice inside of Duo wailed, the one that didn't want to face a fall, or confront stray, probably vicious, dogs. It didn't want to get hurt again. Duo was sympathetic to it, so much so, that he was almost swayed into keeping his seat and fumbling for his cell phone. The police would come. They would take care of it, he reasoned, but that was only a brief cowardice. He knew that they might come too late.
Duo kept hold of one package and levered himself to his feet, letting the rest tumble to the concrete. He panted with uncertainty, battling his shaking knees, and then leaned against the rough, brick wall next to him. Just a few yards, he told himself, using it as a mantra as he began to move forward, forcing one foot in front of the other. He kept a hand on anything he could reach to help support his legs, legs that began to fail him after only four feet.
"Stupid woman!" Duo panted. "Leave a baby behind a dumpster! What's wrong with nice, clean 'Services'? What's wrong with making sure someone's actually home? What's wrong with making sure guys like me don't have to do shit like this?"
One of the dogs heard him and came to investigate. A brown , big jawed, mutt, he had a notched ear and other battle scars. He growled warningly, but then was too afraid of losing out on the meal to stay and give Duo trouble. It slipped back behind the dumpster and joined a fight in progress. It seemed that the dogs were fighting over who was going to eat first.
Duo patted his knife, nestled lengthwise under his coat at his belt, to make sure it was there and ready. He didn't want it to come down to that, but he'd use it if he had to.
The baby began to cry louder. That cry was probably keeping it alive, confusing the dogs and maybe making them remember that people weren't for eating. Duo doubted that would last for long, though. He remembered the streets of L2, when he was a child, and how vicious a pack of stray dogs could be when they were hungry.
Duo slipped on something and went down on one knee. He felt bones grind and a sharp pain lance up from his knee to his hip. Cold fear, that he had hurt himself, made him lose precious moments as he levered himself back up and tested the knee. It moved and ached, but it didn't feel broken. It would keep holding his weight.
The dog fight ended with snaps and snarls. Duo began inching his way around broken crates, his shuffling feet catching on nails and jagged boards. He couldn't go any faster. He could feel his legs beginning to burn, the muscles beginning to fail. He wasn't going to make it in time. In fact, Duo thought, he wasn't going to make it at all.
"Hey, doggies!" Duo called loudly and leaned against a stinking garbage can to open up the bag he still held in one fist.
Several dogs came from behind the dumpster, skittish, and worried about rivals for their meal. Junk yard, back alley, mix breeds, all of them. Thin as rails and used to abuse.Their alpha snarled at Duo, hackles raised; a brindle, pit bull mix, that was ready for a fight.
"Here's something else to eat," Duo told it as he broke off bits of the steak, that he had bought for dinner, and tossed it back towards the street.
Wary, the alpha and his pack shied past Duo and investigated. Duo threw more hunks of meat and wasn't surprised when the fighting started all over again, the alpha insisting on first pick. Duo didn't stay to see if he won. He began inching his way to the dumpsters again.
His knees gave. Duo managed to go down easy, by bending over and catching the ground with his hands. It hurt, but it was better than the alternative. He sat, catching his breath, wiped sweat from his brow, and then began to crawl. It was disgusting, the concrete covered in slime and garbage, unknown things leaking from the dumpsters.
"You are so going to owe me, baby," Duo growled angrily. "And I'm going to demand pay back... sometime... when you're grown... and have a cushy job... and a wife... or a husband... and kids... and... have me to freakin' thank for it!"
Duo rounded the dumpsters and then started, knife coming out. One of the dogs, a shaggy, cream colored, hound with droopy ears and soulful eyes, was standing over the baby. She growled at Duo.
"Hey, there girl," Duo soothed as he ripped off more chunks of meat and tossed them aside. "Be smart and go eat. I don't want to have to gut you."
The dog didn't move, even though her eyes followed the meat hungrily. The dirty carrier, with it's tattered blanket, covering the crying, baby was a much bigger morsel, Duo supposed. She didn't make any move to take advantage, though. In fact, her stance was more defensive than frightened or aggressive. Her bloody shoulders, a rip along one hip, attested to the fact that she had been in the dog fight. It suddenly occurred to Duo that she might have been fighting for more than a place at the dinner table.
The other dogs came back, growling and hackles raised. The female dog snarled at them, taking a definite protective stance by the baby. Duo threw more meat, as far as he could, and the dogs took off after it. She stayed, though it was clear that she was starving. Duo tossed a few chunks to her, and those she cautiously gobbled down, never taking her eyes off of Duo.
"C'mere, girl," Duo crooned. "I know you're scared. I know you got something to protect. But I'm here, now. You can let the baby go."
Maybe she had been in a home at one point. Maybe a family had coldly dumped her when she had grown too large, or too difficult, but it was clear that she wasn't holding a grudge against the human race because of it. She still loved.
Duo crooned, and cajoled, and tossed meat, taking only enough time to use his cell to call the police. Finally, her ears came down and she crouch submissively, tail wagging hopefully. Duo inched forward until he could run a cautious hand in her fur. She wiggled all over then, ecstatic, and licked his face. Duo could get to the baby, then, and he let out a breath of relief when he saw that it was all right.
The police arrived, taking what seemed forever. It told Duo that he had made the right decision. The alpha would have driven off or killed the female quickly and the baby would have died long before help could come.
The first cop to reach the scene scattered the dogs, and hurried to where Duo was sitting, rubbing the ears of the dog almost in his lap. Measuring the difficulty and the distance between Duo's wheelchair and where he was sitting, now, he said in awe, "You should get an award for that one."
"Already have a few," Duo quipped back. "One for being a moron and the other for being a masochist."
The officer looked confused, but then kneeled by the baby and called for an ambulance. The female dog growled, but Duo calmed her.The officer looked nervously at the thin, filthy, and bleeding dog and said, "She's one of the strays, right? I'll call the pound."
Duo tensed, imaging that dog locked in a pen and waiting for her turn on death row. Who would want a notch eared, ragged, skinny... no one, was the simple answer.Abandoned to the streets. Starving. Hurting. She had still found it in herself to protect and to love. Death shouldn't be her reward. Heero was going to kill him.
"I'll take her," Duo heard himself say, and winced at all the consequences to that decision.
The officer gave him a look, clearly skeptical, but didn't offer a comment. When the paramedics arrived, they took care of the baby, first, and then briefly checked Duo over. He brushed them off irritably. "Just get me to my chair," he told them, "and I'll get home on my own."
"With a new dog in tow?" the officer snickered. "I'll drive you there."
The ride back was uneventful. Duo spent the time in the back seat,fending off the stinking, affectionate dog, and trying to determine if he'd harmed himself in his heroics.He wasn't completely convinced, though, until he was back in his home, the officer gone, the dog wolfing down the rest of the steak out of a bowl, and he was undressed enough to really look himself over.
Scrapes, bruises, strained muscles, but nothing worse. Relieved, Duo showered, glaring when the dog came to watch, cleaned out his minor wounds with antibacterial cream, and then called the one person he knew would help.
"Duo, is everything all right?" Quatre sounded anxious.
"Yeah, fine," Duo growled. "Why do you always jump to the conclusion that something's wrong with me?"
Quatre chuckled apologetically. "I'll let you think about that. I'm sure you'll realize why."
"Ha, ha," Duo retorted, but then had to admit, "Okay, so I do have a slight problem, Winner, but nothing that requires an ambulance. I just adopted a-"
"Duo?!" Quatre jumped to the wrong conclusion. "What were you thinking? How did you...?"
"A dog," Duo finished sourly. "She needs a bath, though, or Heero is going to kill me right away when he sees her. Can you send over one of your guys to help out? I can't manage her myself."
"Heero doesn't know?" Quatre wondered disapprovingly.
"No, but..." Duo fished for an explanation that didn't include, 'risked my health again for a rotten kid', and ended with, "She deserved rescuing so, either she's ours or she's going to a good home somewhere else. I'd like Heero to decide with a clean dog in front of him."
"Because...?" Quatre prompted with a smile in his voice.
Duo scowled, looking at the dirty dog in question as she looked up at him with her heart in her eyes, tail waving happily. "I kind of... well... I like her."
Quatre laughed. "All right, Duo. I'll send someone. You'll have to tell me her story when I see you next, though."
"Yeah, maybe I'll feel like telling it then," Duo replied. "Thanks, Quatre."
Duo closed his phone and the dog came up to him, nosing his scarred knee and then looking up at him hopefully.
"You have to be careful around me, dog, and you'll have to learn to walk next to my wheelchair, well, until I get out of it," Duo amended. "Use those big eyes on, Heero, okay, because he isn't going to like this at all, especially since you just ate his dinner."
"Duo, why is there a Maguanac washing a dog in our bathtub?"
Duo blinked open weary eyes, realizing that he had succumbed to exhaustion at last, somewhere between the burr and garbage removal and the actual bath. Heero looked worried. He was sure to have seen his filthy clothes, piled in a corner, his scum coated shoes, and the antibacterial cream and bandages on a table beside their bed.
Duo tried to formulate a coherent reply, failed several times, and then just asked, "Love me?"
Heero kneeled by the bed, taking his hand and looking at the scrapes and bleeding knuckles. "If you risked yourself for a dog, you're getting therapy," he warned."Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Duo replied, kissed Heero's hand, and then lay back again, still exhausted and not ready to deal with anything. "Just some scrapes."
"The dog?" Heero insisted.
"I didn't do it for a damned dog," Duo growled and then grimaced and sighed. "I hate kids. Let's never have them."
Heero's grip on his hand tightened. "I should call the doctor."
"Scrapes, Yuy," Duo insisted. "I'm fine."
Heero settled, still looking worried. "The dog," Heero repeated, once again.
"She's a hero," Duo explained. "She saved a baby, okay? She deserves better than the pound. If you don't want her, we'll find a good home for her."
"You're too damned soft," Heero sighed. "Kids, dogs.... next it'll be squirrels..."
"Nah. I do think I'm more important than a fuzzy tailed rat," Duo snickered.
The dog came out of the bathroom followed by Abdul, in rubber gloves and an apron. "Done, master Duo," he said.
The dog wagged her tail, nosed Duo, and then looked at Heero with her big eyes.
"She looks like a wet rail with fur," Heero commented, looking her over. "Labrador, I think, and some sort of hound dog mix."
"You're an expert?" Duo snickered.
Heero frowned at him and then continued to look over the dog. He let her sniff his hand and then he ran a hand over her drying fur. She panted, grinned a toothy grin, and wagged her tail.
"Good disposition. Calm. Steady, " Heero said as he ruffled her ears. "She didn't jump up, didn't claw. Do you have a leash?"
"I do, master Heero." Abdul offered the one that he had brought with him.
Heero took it and clipped it to the dog's new collar.
"Heero?" Duo wondered.
"Take another nap," Heero told him. "Abdul? Do you mind riding Duo's wheelchair while I walk the dog beside you?"
"Not at all, master Heero," Abdul replied as he climbed into Duo's wheelchair and wheeled towards the door.
Heero gave Duo a smile. "A test drive," he explained, and then they were out of the door, leaving a puzzled Duo behind.
They returned when Duo was getting bored, anxious, and about to try to make it to a window to look for them. They came in through the door, Abdul pushing the wheelchair and Heero leading the now dry dog. She went to Duo at once, nosed him happily, and let him rub her ears as Heero said thank you and goodbye to Abdul. When they were alone again, Heero turned to Duo and gave his report.
"She is a good, steady dog, with some intelligence." He reached to rub her ears as well, his expression softening. "I think she'll do well as a pet... and... besides....I've always wanted a dog."
"No, shit?" Duo laughed and then reached out to pull Heero closer to him. "Well, what do we call her?"
"Peace," Heero replied.
Duo blinked. "Peace?"
"She's very peaceful," Heero explained.
Duo stared. "I've never seen you so... sappy, Heero. You're scaring me."
Heero chuckled and stood up, as he said, "Enough about dogs, what's for dinner?"
Duo blanched. "Uhm... well... about that Heero..."
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