The Babe Magnet
by D.C. Logan
The competitive part of Heero's mind that usually kept track of such things noted that the time it took him to drive to the clinic was a new speed record for that particular run. All that Heero actually remembered was that the lights remained green, the traffic was lighter than usual for that hour, and despite all of his whispered prayers to any listening deities to keep her unconscious, she woke up before arriving at the veterinary hospital.
Trowa was waiting in the parking lot for him when he pulled up, braking slowly and carefully to avoid sliding the mostly standing dog into the back seat foot wells as he stopped the car. By the time he turned the engine off, Trowa was already reaching into the passenger side of the car and flipping the passenger seat forward to take a better look at his new patient.
"She's a lot bigger than I was expecting based on Wufei's call." He looked over at Heero's shirt and khakis, but didn't comment on his appearance or on the blood splatter on the rear window glass. "And she's being a very good girl so far."
"She was pretty out of it until just a few minutes ago. I think the rough road surface over on Wilson Avenue woke her up."
"Well, that would wake anyone up."
"She still looks pretty dazed though."
Trowa nodded in understanding. "Shock, probably." He waited until Heero got out of the car as well and faced him across the back seat on the other side of the dog. "Zechs should be out with the stretcher in a minute. She seems pretty tractable; we probably don't need to muzzle her, but it doesn't hurt to be cautious."
Heero watched as Trowa carefully fit the bright blue nylon and Velcro straps around the dog's head. She still didn't seem very responsive to human contact or to what was going on around her. Heero frowned. "You think she's going to make it?"
Trowa tested the fit of the muzzle with two fingers and tried to ease her into a more comfortable position. "Depends on how much damage she took to her chest. Generally the bruising to the chest cavity is what takes them down in the end, but that leg's not pretty, and we won't know about the rest of it until we get her inside and on the table." He looked over the top of the Mustang at Zechs who had approached while they'd been reviewing the patient. "How do you want to do this?"
Zechs raised an eyebrow at Heero. "How did you manage to wedge her in here?"
"She seemed a lot smaller going in."
Zechs considered the puzzle of the large injured dog, the small back seat, and the problem of not wanting to increase any of the existing damage, and looked over to Trowa for verification. "She's muzzled, so how about we get her owner to continue to talk to her to steady her while I take the hindquarters and leg out of this side of the car and you walk the forequarters through the car after me and onto the stretcher?"
Heero felt a protest rising. "Ummm... Technically speaking, she's not..."
Trowa nodded, preempting Heero's protest, and folded himself awkwardly into the back seat of the Mustang with the dog. "Heero? Next time, buy a minivan, will you?"
"Right. Next time. Sure."
Heero watched as the two men efficiently moved the dog from the back seat of his car onto the canvas stretcher and then began carrying her quickly through the side doors of the clinic. Heero followed in their wake, feeling very much like the odd man out. He stood to the side and watched as they moved her into a pre-surgical prep area, transferred her to another table, and a vet tech shaved her foreleg and inserted an IV needle.
Trowa nodded at Heero and explained, "Fluids to help her deal with shock." He indicated to the tech. "We'll be taking her in for her x-rays in a minute. Why don't you leave your contact information with the front desk and wait out in the reception area for a few minutes while we do a basic work-up on her and check to see if she has a microchip or not, okay?"
Heero nodded at his friend and turned towards the exit door. "You'll let me know what the x-rays show, right?"
Trowa, already working on evaluating his newest patient, gave an absent wave. "Course I will."
Heero found his way to the waiting area, currently empty of everyone including staff, and sat carefully on one of the plastic seats in order to spare the upholstered bench any damage his clothes might contribute. He sat quietly, elbows on knees, chin in his hands, and felt his heartbeat slow as the adrenaline slowly bled away from his system. After enough time elapsed for his logic functions to return, he checked the time and called the office--Wufei first, then Treize, to update them on his unexpected delay.
He was just hanging up his cell phone when Trowa walked back into the waiting area of the veterinary clinic, wearing his 'doctor's face,' the one Heero couldn't read.
"Heero? This is going to take a while. You may as well go home, clean up, and go on to work for the day. I'll give you a call later and let you know how everything went with her surgery."
Heero paused and took a good look at his ruined clothing, his scuffed shoes, the pants he'd temporarily forgotten were stained beyond all redemption. Another vet walked through the waiting area, tall, and very blond, the senior partner of the firm if Heero wasn't mistaken. The same man that had assisted with getting the dog out of his car earlier.
"Heero, right? Trowa's friend? Your dog is in very capable hands at the moment. Dr. Barton will do the very best he can for her." He nodded pleasantly as he picked up a new clipboard from behind the registration desk and continued on his way into another room, shutting the door carefully behind him.
Heero raised his hand in a partial objection. "Um..."
Trowa shrugged. "Go home. Clean up." He cracked a slight smile and waved a hand towards the parking lot. "Get the blood out of the upholstery of your alter ego and I'll give you a call when she's out of surgery. I'm going to go give Noin a hand in there with her and then I'll ring you later, okay? If I don't get a chance to call, you can assume that she made it through surgery with no complications and you can just stop by on your way home from the office and get caught up on all of the details then."
Heero winced at the thought of the cleaning job he had ahead of him, as she'd bled rather a lot. He hadn't thought she'd had that much left in her after what he'd seen on the pavement to have much to donate to his car's interior. He grimaced as he neared his car and saw the spatter pattern on the rear windshield... and prayed for an uneventful drive back to his home.
Although Trowa never got a chance to call Heero back later that afternoon, he had a good excuse in hand. As the main clinic in that part of the city, they'd had all manner of the usual emergencies to deal with that morning. In addition to scheduled appointments, the morning surgeries, and Zechs' orthopedic consultations, one young, hit-by-car dog, now quietly recovering from general anesthesia in one of the larger bottom-rack cages, hardly took anyone's time or notice. With the frantic pace of the afternoon schedule, and the number of emergency calls, she was hardly a high priority. Recovering well, temperature stable, the interns noted her chart and moved on to more critical disasters.
So when Heero walked through the front door of the clinic, this time at a reasonable and official hour of business, there were already a few other patrons waiting in the seats and benches in front of the reception desk. Heero took little notice of them, mission already in mind, and walked over to find out why Trowa hadn't called him, expecting bad news.
Quatre Winner, a new intern at the firm of Merquise and Merquise, more commonly referred to as Tallgeese Veterinary Hospital, took note of "Little Girl Yuy" on the patient log and politely informed Dr. Barton that Mr. Yuy had arrived to inquire about his dog.
"So she's not dead?"
"No, she's sleeping." Quatre smiled confidently up at him. "Dr. Barton is with another patient at the moment, but if you'll have a seat, he'll be with you in a minute or so."
Heero sat. And waited. And waited some more. And began to watch the other two people in the waiting room with their dogs. He ignored the woman with the cat in the carrier. The creature was yowling, and was soon put into one of the patient consultation rooms with its owner, much to the relief of the rest of the people in the waiting room and, Heero presumed, the present clinic staff as well. He turned his attention to the dogs. Small dogs. Not large dogs. He liked big dogs. Dogs you could wrestle with and thump their sides with your hand and not knock them over.
A dog like the one recovering quietly in the other room.
She probably had an owner already though. Definitely an owner, a pretty dog like that? And really, with the hours he worked, he had no business getting a dog. Fish maybe. He could handle fish. Nice. Simple. No bother to take care of. Feed them once a day and get those time-release block things when you went away on vacation.
You couldn't hug a fish though.
What the hell was he doing sitting here and waiting for news on a dog he didn't own? Trowa was right. He was certifiable. He probably should talk to a specialist about his problem at some point.
He didn't get up to walk out of the waiting room though.
Not even when it took nearly twenty minutes before Trowa opened the door to one of the examination rooms and waved him inside.
He took a seat and endured Trowa's flat look for what felt like a nearly unendurable few minutes before he noticed that Trowa was ignoring him completely and staring over his shoulder in the general direction of the reception desk long after the door had closed.
Heero politely did not remark on Trowa's fixed stare at the door. "So, tell me more about my dog."
Trowa slowly turned to face Heero. "She's not your dog, Heero."
Heero shrugged philosophically. "So?"
Trowa shook his bangs out of his face, and when that didn't work, reached up and moved them away from his face with the edge of the clipboard that seemed to be in constant use by every doctor of the practice.
Trowa didn't seem to be connecting all of the dots this afternoon though. Heero decided to give him another opportunity to wake up. "Trowa?"
"His name is Quatre." The drifting faraway look in his eyes explained it all. Heero had seen that look only a few times before while the two of them had been in their undergraduate years. That look did not bode well for Trowa's happy future if Quatre did not fall within a particular segment of the population.
Heero reached out and tapped the clipboard with a finger. "The dog, Trowa."
"Oh. Yes. Right. The one you brought in. Noin and I went over her post surgery. We think she's about seven months old or so, based on her teeth and the bone growth we saw in her x-rays. It's possible that she's a purebred puppy, but it's equally likely that she's a nice mix between a couple larger breeds. We eventually got around to scanning her for a microchip, but we didn't find one anywhere."
Trowa opened the door into the back holding room, the one Heero had only been in once before. "She's stabilized." He pointed to the door of one of the larger-sized holding cages at the bottom, and Heero had to get down on his knees to see where she was resting on her side on a bed of folded blankets, the blood and grime from earlier still matting her fur. What looked like a painful series of staples secured a tube from her nose back over her head. She lifted her head groggily at his approach, trying and failing to keep her head steady.
"So far, she's been super sweet to work with. It could be because she's so beat up from her injuries, but I get the feeling that that's just her natural temperament." Trowa opened the door to the cage, swinging it wide. He waved Heero closer to the patient, and Heero reached out a tentative hand to stroke her shoulder. She sighed and settled back to her blankets at the contact, dropping a surprisingly heavy head across his arm and absently drawing a tongue over Heero's hand as he moved to retract it.
Heero rocked back on his heels, and looked thoughtfully at the dog. "For as beat up as she was when I brought her in, somehow I thought she'd look more... I don't know... wrapped and bandaged and cleaned up by now."
"That's the reality of this, the business side, if you will. She has some major breaks that need orthopedic surgery. The hospital is prepared to stabilize her and cover for her basic care for a few days to give her a chance." Trowa knelt down and adjusted her fluid drip and gave her a careful pat in passing. "But the sort of care she really needs will cost a great deal of money, and if her owner can't be found, or if a shelter or rescue group doesn't step forward to cover the cost, well..." Trowa didn't continue the thought, but it hung unstated between them. "Zechs and Noin are really great about allowing owners to make extended payments for financial hardship reasons and such, but putting hundreds of dollars or more into care for a dog that could potentially be destroyed by a kill shelter in a few weeks... Well, it doesn't make good business sense. Most places wouldn't have done as much as we just did without getting a credit card number on file first." Trowa looked monumentally unhappy about the day-to-day operations of his chosen profession, and it showed.
Heero thought about it for a second or two, then shrugged. "Do it."
Trowa gave him that 'You're insane, and I'm not going to let you get away with it this time' look. "No way. Hell no, Heero."
Heero didn't have to re-think about his decision for very long. "I'm doing this. Give me a good reason why not."
Trowa counted off a number of them on his fingers. "One, she's not your dog; two, you can't be sure you'll ever get paid back for any medical care you pay for; three, she..."
Heero stood and carefully latched the cage door before facing his longtime friend. "One, she bled all over my car; and two, she just kissed me." Heero smiled at Trowa and dusted off his hands on ever-present khakis while patting his back pocket--double checking to ensure that his wallet was still in place. "I don't care if I get paid back. You take care of scheduling the work, and I'll leave all of the payment information up front with Quatre." He slanted a look at Trowa. "You know, that blond guy out front that you very carefully haven't been mentioning. That will give you a chance to interact with him some more."
Heero was rewarded with a soft laugh and a flash of green eyes as he left the back room.
It was payment enough.
It only took three days for Heero's new dog to become a running joke of sorts at Epyon. Small 'dog warming' gifts began appearing on his desk--a porcelain bowl with "Doggie Cuisine" written on the side in cursive script, a stuffed toy shaped like a monkey that shrieked evilly whenever it was squeezed, and a box of gourmet dog treats, all in anticipation of the day his "babe magnet" would move into his condo with him. If, and that was a big if, she wasn't claimed, and if, and that was an even bigger if, Heero decided that he wanted the responsibility of taking care of said large puppy, soon to be larger dog.
He hadn't actually confessed that second part to his coworkers yet.
Heero's manager rested an arm across the top of Heero's cubicle and leaned in to take a look at the current pile of gifts. "I have a message from the front desk for you. It seems that your girlfriend is feeling much better today."
Heero looked up from his monitor, briefly confused. "Girlfriend? Oh... right."
Treize crossed his other arm across the first. "So, I'm assuming that no one has stepped forward to claim her yet, right?"
"No, not yet. No one has called and left a message with Tallgeese Veterinary and they're," he paused to correct himself, "we're still waiting for any word from the SPCA."
Treize chuckled. "Well, the other part of the message is that you're supposed to stop by the veterinary clinic after work today."
Heero's face jerked back up with a freshly worried look. "Is she okay?"
"Your friend knows you better than you think. Remember, he told the front desk to tell you first that she was doing better, and second that you should stop by later." Treize paused and then thought to add. "In that specific order."
"Sounds like Trowa. Thanks for relaying the message."
"No problem. You'll have to bring in a picture of your girlfriend for your desk once you get her home and settled in."
The name on the index card in the slot on the crate door read "Little Girl Yuy"; the occupant of the crate lay sprawled across both blanket and potential owner while Trowa tried to convince his best friend to do something he probably already wanted to do anyway.
"Heero? She needs to go home with someone, and you're the logical choice. No one has come forward to claim her, you have a flexible work schedule and live close enough to your office that you can go home and walk her during your lunch hour, and you have a ground-floor condo that allows pets." Trowa shrugged. "Look at it this way. She seems to be a really nice dog, and she'll be great company for you until the right person comes into your life."
"What if her owner turns up?"
Trowa's look turned serious and he leaned against the bank of crates. "Sure, that might happen. And it might not. You want to throw away a perfectly good chance of personal happiness based solely on the power of 'might'? You always wanted a dog, right? She might not be that German shepherd you were dreaming of, but she's a lovely dog and you obviously have an attachment to her already."
The object of discussion at hand lifted her head and looked up at him. Heero looked back at her and sighed theatrically at the inevitable direction his life seemed to be heading at the moment. "Looks like I've got myself a girlfriend. Go ahead and write me up a list of the things I'll need, will you?"
Trowa reached into his pocket and extracted one of the firm's business cards with his own name embossed in raised type. He flipped it over and quickly scrawled the name of a local store in his patented doctor-illegible penmanship on the reverse. "Go here. It's over on Dublin Avenue across from the Starbucks. If you were into guys, I'd tell you to ask the cute one to pick out your supplies for you, but the truth is that anyone who works there will be able to tell you what you'll need in order to get set up to take care of a dog her size."
"The cute one, huh?"
"Yeah. He always wears black and has long..."
Trowa read the spark of interest in Heero's face, chuckled, and winked once. "You'll see." He carefully latched the door to Little Girl's cage, automatically checking her fluid levels again while doing so.
Heero frowned when no more information seemed to be forthcoming.
Trowa continued to smile and gave in, teasing him a little more. "When he asks you, tell Duo to set you up with a 500 and Nutros."
Heero shook his head in confusion. "Hang on, when who asks me for what?"
Trowa patted him on the shoulder in what was no doubt meant to be a comforting manner. "It will all make sense in time, Young Grasshopper." And pushed Heero, still mumbling something about five-hundred Euros, out of the front door of the building towards his car.
Howard's Pet Safari. Right. Or at least Heero was 70 percent certain that that was what Trowa's illegible scrawl read. In any case, there was only one store across from the Starbucks on Dublin that seemed likely, and here it was. He'd stopped and sat in an overstuffed chair in the back of the Starbucks first to fortify himself for the experience with a café americano prior to pulling into the parking lot of the establishment. Now that he was parked in front of the store, he wasn't so very certain that the caffeine was helping. There seemed to be an inordinate number of sun-faded advertisements for dog food, dog food supplements, and cat-related products in the front windows. Heero pushed the glass door open with a faint electronic chime and not a little apprehension.
The first thing that greeted him was a dizzying display of dog toys, an entire wall of fuzzy Technicolor anthropomorphized food, smiling farm animals, and stylized bones and balls. It was so blinding that he might have been forgiven for missing the person dressed in the bright Hawaiian shirt behind the counter to his right.
Heero stared in shock at the shirt, briefly captivated by the pattern of dalmatian dogs fetching... oh dear god, were they fetching what he thought they were fetching? Was that shirt even legal to wear out in public?
The store owner used the time to study the neatly dressed young man who had walked into his establishment. He acknowledged Heero's attention with a nod and a return of a level look over the sunglasses resting low on the bridge of his nose before dismissing him and returning his attention to the book he'd been reading before his customer had interrupted his chapter. "You'll be wanting Duo. He's in the back at the moment, but he'll be right out."
Heero shook his head and moved toward the service counter and the man he assumed was 'the' Howard of storefront name fame. "No, it's okay. I just need some dog supplies and..."
Howard held up a hand to halt his request and nodded somewhat vacantly. "You really want Duo. Trust me. He'll be right out. Or you can head towards the back of the store and find him. He won't mind."
Heero gave the man a decidedly puzzled look and decided privately that he would have to have a word with Trowa about the places he was sending him. This new dog thing was turning into more of an adventure than he'd expected.
He worked his way through crowded aisles with end displays of cat food and more dog toys and a prominent display of something called Nature's Miracle. The linoleum floor was checkerboard gray and white, but damaged tiles had been replaced with gray over time and Heero's mind calculated the wear pattern as he worked his way through Toys, Small Animals, Cats, Birds, and Fish in his meandering route to the back of the store, labeled simply with a large sign: Food.
A slim young man dressed entirely in black was bent over a stack of shiny bags of dog food. A rope-like braid trailed down the man's spine and over the curve of firm buttocks hugged tight in silvered black denim.
Long. He finally got the joke.
A slow, genuine, sweet smile drifted to his features at the memory of Trowa teasing him over this, and remained in place as the man turned and noticed the stranger standing in the aisle behind him.
Duo took a long look at this new customer, then a second one. Then slowly rebalanced himself and removed worn gloves, reaching back to tuck them in the edge of a back pocket before offering a smile in return and slowly approaching the stranger. "Hello there. How can I help you?"
Heero's train of thought derailed for a moment, then two. Oh hell... there was something about that voice. He really liked that voice. He patted his jacket pocket absently as he tried to find an appropriate direction. Dog. Little Girl. Trowa. Card. Right. "I need some help."
If anything, Duo's smile broadened a little more. "Well then. What can I do for you?"
Once started, semi-articulate speech became easier. "I sort of have a new dog. Well, as soon as she can come home from the vet, and as long as no one else claims her, and..." Heero stopped once he realized that he was rambling. It was the other man's smile, it was disarmingly engaging; it made him forget his reason for being in the store. It didn't do great things for his powers of speech either, apparently. Hell... there was a thought, one that temporarily halted him in his tracks. He couldn't be attracted to him, could he? After all, he'd been best friends with Trowa for years and hadn't felt a twinge of attraction for men in all that time. Not a one. Still, there was something about this one... something oddly compelling that was luring him closer.
Duo nodded as if rambling psychotics who both had and didn't have dogs and needed supplies for both states of being was a common occurrence in his daily routine. "So congratulations both are and are not in order then?"
Heero found himself trying to evaluate the expression on the man's face and missed the question entirely. "What?"
"Just trying to determine whether this is an auspicious event or not." Duo paused, considering something. "I mean, is this a dog you actually want? Or just one you're taking on as a sort of an obligation to someone else?" When there was a significant pause while Heero sorted out how his situation fit that question, Duo reddened slightly and backed off a step. "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ask so many personal questions. What can I help you with then?"
Heero found himself shaking his head. "No, it's just..." He found himself laughing at the uniqueness of the situation. And then he found himself giving in and explaining the whole story to this friendly stranger.
A few minutes into the recap, Duo leaned back against a pallet of dog food bags and verified his knowledge of the facts so far. "So this dog of yours is at the Tallgeese Veterinary Clinic, and may or may not have an owner but no one has turned up so far, right?" He waited for Heero's nod before continuing. "And she's had orthopedic reconstruction on her hind leg and her shoulder?" Heero nodded again and Duo let out a long low whistle. "You deserve the good Samaritan award of the year then. That sort of work, even with the best-friend-of-the-new-vet-at-the-clinic discount, doesn't come cheap." He gave Heero a slow evaluating look, the sort of look that made parts of Heero's insides sit up and take notice. Part of Heero's outside started to wake up as well, come to think of it, but before he had barely registered the thought, the interview had moved on to the next question. "So, have you ever had a dog for a pet before?"
Heero shook his head in apology, spilling his bangs over his eyes. "Not really, no."
"Not even a family dog when you were a kid?"
Heero shrugged. "We lived in an apartment. No pets allowed."
Duo rolled his eyes in sympathy. "I love dogs, especially big dogs. Always had a dog around when I was growing up." He waved his hand. "Now I live in a tiny apartment with a pet restriction; the best I can do is thirty gallons of fish." Duo cracked Heero a commiserating grin. "I think I envy you your maybe--maybe-not dog at the moment. So, you're going to need some supplies, obviously, or you wouldn't be here." He sat back down on the edge of the nearest sack of dog food and patted a neighboring bag to indicate that Heero should do the same.
Heero, for his part, found himself oddly willing to go along with the impromptu interview. "Trowa said you'd be able to set me up, yes."
"Set you up? Ah, really?" Duo offered a hesitant smile in return. "Tall guy, new vet in training who works at your veterinary hospital, right? Cat person?" At Heero's odd look, Duo chuckled and explained. "Sorry, professional hazard, referring to someone by their primary animal of interest. Anyway, that would be your Trowa?"
There was a slight emphasis on the 'your' that Heero wasn't quite sure he'd heard, but for some reason, he didn't want any misunderstanding here. "We met in high school and have been best friends ever since then, yes."
Duo thought about that for a moment, and decided to pursue another direction for the moment. "Ah, well, so tell me all about this important new girl in your life then."
"She's black with brown markings and looks sort of like a Doberman with longer hair, and Trowa says that she's probably about six to eight months old." Heero went on to tell Duo about how he'd picked her up, quite literally off of the street, and taken her to Trowa. And how she'd managed to charm the socks off of the staff at the veterinary clinic and was making a remarkable recovery. As Heero told his story, he leaned back against the sacks of kibble and, though he might not have noticed, Duo saw how his face relaxed and his expression softened when he talked about his new dog and it was obvious how simply charmed he was by her already.
Duo stood and smiled. "She sounds like a real sweetheart. You'll have to bring her in once you get her home and on her feet, alright?"
Heero looked briefly confused. "I can bring her into the store?"
Duo nodded. "It's encouraged." He added a slightly embarrassed shrug. "It usually gets people to spend more money on their pets or more time in the store if they bring them along, but I just like to see how people match the pets they have. You know, how they fit each other."
Duo shrugged again in that charmingly disarming way, and Heero watched, oddly spellbound. Heero shook his head and chuckled at himself, 'Focus, Yuy.' Damn Trowa for putting ideas into his head that shouldn't be there. He turned his scattered attention back to Duo, nearly missing what he'd said last.
"Most people that come in here seem to have longer relationships with their pets than with their significant others, when it comes right down to it." He stood up and dusted off his jeans before leading Heero down the aisles toward the dog section. Now that he had a better idea of what age and size dog Heero was dealing with, he knew which part of the store to take him to. "An average marriage lasts what? Seven years? A medium-sized dog can live eight to fourteen years or better. There's a nasty little ancient toy poodle that comes in on the first Saturday of the month whose owner swears is twenty three." Heero followed his guide and instructor, his mind and eyes oddly fixated on a portion of the male anatomy he'd never taken much notice of before, drawn there by the gentle sweep of a long braid across worn denim pockets.
"Most people seem to give up on partners before they'll give up on their pets." Duo looked briefly disgusted before he turned and looked at Heero, and colored a little. "And I've been preaching, haven't I?"
"Umm..." Heero tried to find that part of his brain that worked at linking words and sentences into conversational units. It seemed to be failing him at the moment. Duo's proximity seemed to have a definite impact on the process. And the man was standing close... And looking concerned...
Duo tilted his head forward. Heero had a fleeting, but very strong impulse to reach forward and sweep away the long bangs that danced in front of those bright blue eyes.
Where did that come from?
He never had the urge to reach out and touch any of his friends before. Not Wufei. Not Trowa. Though casual touching happened all the time between friends, he'd never had the urge to touch like this before.
This time he had wanted to initiate the contact.
He was very definitely going to have to talk to Trowa about this.
"C'mon. You'll need a crate and some other things to get started with." Duo took a few steps away before tilting a look to the side and catching a glance of Heero still standing absently in the center of the aisle and distractedly brushing his hair away from his eyes. 'Gorgeous,' came the unbidden thought, but he let it slide by until he knew whether the man ran to his game or not. "Did your friend say anything about what size she'd grow into?"
You'd think a simple shopping trip wouldn't drive his brain into spasms. Yeah, you'd think that. C'mon, Yuy, think. His brain scrambled to remember anything Trowa had mentioned. "I think he said something about a 500 and Nutros."
Duo nodded as if that really meant something, and Heero blinked in surprise. "What, you guys have some sort of code system figured out?"
"Us guys?" Duo cracked a grin. "No, they only have so many standard size crates, and that gives me a good idea of how large she'll get." He tossed a smile over his shoulder at Heero and continued down the aisle. "I hope you like big dogs."
Heero paused and stopped again in his pursuit of Duo; he hadn't really taken the time to consider that. Little Girl was Little Girl, and that was that. He'd been taken in by her personality and charm and hadn't really seen her size beyond, perhaps, the initial impression. So it was with some trepidation that he asked, somewhat apprehensively, "Just how big are we talking about here?"
Duo raised an eyebrow, then discarded the easy risqué answer and returned a negligent shrug. "Based on what you've told me so far about her, she sounds like she looks a lot like a cross between a collie and a Doberman, so she's not going to be a small dog when she grows up." He added a smile to soften the news. "Bet she'll be pretty though, given that coloring." He pointed to the second largest in an assortment of crates. "That's your size."
Heero eyed the plastic crate with some hesitation, as it looked much larger than he'd expected. "I have no idea where I'm going to fit that. I need this, why?"
"Think of it as sort of a playpen or crib for your puppy in order to keep her out of trouble when you're not there to watch over her. It's a lot less expensive and much safer to have her confined to a crate instead of letting her decide that your electrical cords might be suitable chew-toy material while you're at work." Duo grinned, obviously much used to this argument. "It also makes house-training much easier, as most dogs consider their crates as den-like substitutes, and have deeply ingrained instincts against soiling their own beds."
Heero raised an eyebrow. "Most dogs?"
"It usually doesn't work for puppies raised in puppy mills and pet store environments." Duo looked briefly troubled and moved on. " I'm assuming that your dog won't have any difficulties, since you said that she seems to be doing well at the veterinary clinic."
Heero hadn't known, or thought, to ask Trowa about her bathroom habits. "I'll have to double check about that, but I'm sure Trowa would have said something if she was having a problem."
Duo chuckled. "Okay, on to interview question number one hundred seventy-two. What do you drive?"
"Mustang Cobra coupe," he replied absently. He looked up from the assortment of crates to catch Duo's reaction. If it was possible for Duo's smile to widen any further, it did, with a predatory gleam that Heero recognized and instantly felt a kinship to. "You like?"
Duo returned a tight nod. It wasn't just interest in the car, not really, but he could safely limit to that if he had to. "I like. Is it parked out front?"
"He is, yes."
Duo noted and tucked the pronoun away for later reference. "Let's pick out the rest of your gear then, so I have an excuse to take a look at him while we load all of your stuff."
Heero pointed at the crates. "Why did you ask what kind of car I drive?"
"Some crates collapse for convenience in transporting them. If you drove a minivan," Duo paused while Heero snorted in less than polite disbelief at that thought, "it wouldn't be an issue. Since you drive a rocket sled with minimal cargo space..." He pointed out a metal crate with its folded and boxed counterparts stacked neatly on the shelf next to the display unit. "That suitcase-style one is the one you'll want."
Heero deftly moved the bulky and rather heavy box to the aisle with an ease that had Duo blinking. "You work out, don't you?"
"Yeah, keeps the brain working at peak capacity."
Duo granted him a sly look. "Somehow, I don't get the feeling that you're joking about that."
"I'm not." Heero balanced the box on end and waited for Duo's next directive.
"So, what do you do for a living?"
"I work for Epyon in their software interface group." Heero shrugged. "The company designs custom software for large corporations. Mostly Fortune 500." Heero poked at a end-aisle display. "It's a job. Pays well enough."
"Uh, huh... Right. Let me get a cart for the rest of the stuff."
Heero was starting to look doubtful that all of this equipment was necessary. "There's going to be that much?"
"For the initial set-up, yeah. Crate, food dishes or buckets, food and supplements, brushes and grooming tools, collar, lead, pick-up bags, cleaning solutions, chew toys, play toys, a chew deterrent like Bitter Apple. You'll need to order identification tags and pick up a couple of good basic how-to sort of books. You'll probably need some first-aid supplies as well, given what she's been through, but your vet friend should be able to help you with all of that." He shrugged apologetically. "I know it sounds like a lot, and it can be expensive to start with. The crate is the worst of the lot, though keeping her out of trouble is a lot less expensive in the long run than replacing your sofa or removing pieces of your video collection from her stomach."
Heero gave him a thoughtful look. "You really seem to know a lot about this."
Duo smiled back at him. "This is what I do. I love my work." He looked directly at Heero, met his eyes and looked deeply into them for a moment before asking, "Don't you?" He turned on his heel and started towards the dishes and food pans as that question continued to wind its way through Heero's mind. Love? No. That word was reserved for something more personal and... tempting. And then he realized that his guide was getting way from him again.
An hour later and significantly lighter in his personal finances than when he'd entered the establishment, Heero paused at the threshold of the store, holding the front door open wide enough for Duo to ease the shopping cart through. There was no need to ask which car in the lot was Heero's, and Duo gave it the full minute and a half of silent appreciation it was due before allowing a long low whistle to escape as he slowly approached it. "And I even like the color."
Heero looked up from where he was digging through his pocket for the keys, tilted his head to the side and chuckled. "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg, 1989."
Duo cracked a very wide smile and rested one of the bags of supplies on the pavement near the rear of the car. "You are definitely my kind of guy."
Heero held out his hand to him. "I'm Heero. And given all that I've just learned in the past hour or so, I'm definitely in your debt."
Duo accepted the offering in the spirit of the moment; the handshake was one of the good ones, not too long, not too short, firm, warm, and utterly memorable. "Duo Maxwell, currently and always at your service."
He stood back from the side of the car as Heero finished loading the crate and the rest of his purchases, and eased into the driver's seat.
"Come back soon and bring your girlfriend, okay?"
Heero nodded and waved at him. "Roger that."
Duo watched as the car slowly backed out of the parking space and moved out of the lot.
Heero drove away with a smile on his face that even the thought of a weekend of programming couldn't dent. Two things had happened that had improved his day immeasurably: Duo had also referred to Heero's new dog as his 'girlfriend'; and more importantly to Heero's way of thinking, Duo liked his car.
His life was looking up.