Rating: PG-13 for language
Note: Victor wanted a holiday fic, and it just ran from there. Was watching the episode of Samurai Jack that had the robot assassin and his dog while writing this. Lulu, sweet thing.
It was snowing again. It had been snowing all damn week long, and even if he did like the colder weather, he hated going out and scraping the stuff off the sidewalk or away from his truck tires. Plus there was always the chance that there was ice on the ground that existed for no other reason than to try and make him fall head over ass.
Not that he ever had; his balance was too good for that. He might have slipped once or twice, but he’d always righted himself.
He stared at the television screen without really paying attention to what the reporters were talking about. Same old shit, just a different day. People killing people, tragedies on roadways, blah blah blah. He snorted. They never did cover any of the stuff he’d done, but then again, he considered himself better than the average criminal. If people were going to die by his hand, then only the people that had paid him to do the deed were going to know. He’d never gotten caught once and he was going to keep it that way.
He took a sip of lukewarm coffee, the stuff bitter and sharp on his tongue. The newspapers were running ads on holiday gifts again. That’s pretty much all that came in the plastic bundle nowadays; the rolled up paper growing thicker and thicker since after Thanksgiving. He didn’t really see a reason for it, just someone’s bright idea to make a crapload of money during the winter months. He didn’t have anyone to buy anything for, and he wanted to keep it that way.
“Merry Christmas,” she’d whispered, running her hands through his hair. They’d been in bed, the sheets rumpled and warm against the cold wind and drifting snow outside their tiny apartment window. Her skin had been smooth under his hands, her body deceptively fragile looking. The auburn strands of her hair had fallen into her honey colored eyes and onto the crisp white of the pillowcase. On the floor near the bed, their clothes lay in a tangled heap, white and tan just as mixed up as they were under the sheets.
“Same to you,” he’d replied, stroking her arm, his fingers touching the wide red velvet ribbon that she’d playfully tied into a bow around herself earlier.
No, he didn’t like to celebrate Christmas at all anymore. It brought up memories that if he couldn’t forget, he’d like to keep buried.
He finished his coffee and reached out for the pack of cigarettes he kept the kitchenette table. The legs of the table were uneven, making the thing wobble every time he put something on the surface. It was cheap, but it served its purpose. He tapped out a cigarette and lit it, exhaling a plume of smoke, the movements familiar and comforting. His stomach growled and he got up to look in the fridge. Besides a box of unfinished pizza that was of questionable freshness, there was a box of baking soda at the very back. If he wanted something to eat, he’d have to go out and get something.
Leaving his apartment, he trudged down the long concrete sidewalk to the parking lot several blocks away. Another thing he hated about the holidays was that if he didn’t get there quick enough, guests of the people living in his complex would take all the good parking spaces, leaving him with no other choice but to park a block or more away. It was a pain in the ass, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He tucked his hands under his arms and lowered his head so the bottom portion of his face was protected by his heavy coat collar. The black leather might not be warm at first, but it absorbed his body heat quickly and retained it. He thought about how he should have brought a cap with him, especially since the wind had picked up and the snow was a mix of raindrops and wet flakes. He exhaled, a plume of frosted breath forming in front of his face.
People were walking by on the sidewalk, large packages in their hands and canvas bags full of either the same or groceries slung over their arms. He walked between them, ignoring the irritated grumbles that followed in his wake as the people were forced to step off the sidewalk to allow him to pass. He vaguely recognized a few as people in his complex, but past that, he didn’t really give a damn. He kept to himself and others gave him a wide berth, which was what he liked.
He finally reached the covered parking garage, shaking snow off his shoulders and rubbing his gloved hands for warmth as he searched for his keys in his pant pockets. The sound from under his truck was faint, but it immediately put him on edge. Standing straight, he stood still and listened. Around him were the sounds of everyday traffic; there were a couple talking excitedly about how little Timmy was going to love his new bike from “Santa” at the far end of the garage, someone was parking a car that needed a new muffler somewhere on the deck above where he stood. And there was that whimpering noise under his truck again. He quietly slipped off his gloves and flexed his fingers, ready to kill whoever was stupid enough to lie in wait for him. He sniffed; he couldn’t smell any type of chemical or explosives, so he was pretty sure that his truck hadn’t been tampered with. Crouching down in a fluid movement, he reached out with his arm and grabbed whoever was under the cab.
His fingers closed on cold, wet fur. He let go on reflex, especially when the whimpering grew louder at his touch. Puzzled, he knelt on the chilly asphalt and looked under the truck. What he saw under there made him let out an exasperated breath at how paranoid he was starting to get.
Big, brown eyes stared at him. The dog had to be less than a year old and was nothing but bones and tan fur. If he had to guess, he would say that it was a Golden Retriever, but it looked like it was more mutt than purebred. It was small for its breed, probably no longer than the length of his arm, if even that. Its entire body shook as he looked at it before it opened up its mouth and let out a pathetic sounding bark.
“Yeah, you’re really scary,” he muttered, reaching back under his truck. There wasn’t a collar to grab a hold of, but he dragged the animal out from underneath by the scruff of its neck. It yipped, but didn’t offer much resistance. Now that it was out in the garage lights, he saw just how scrawny it was. He guessed that if it wasn’t half-starved, it would be a decent looking dog. As it was, it just stood there in front of him and shook like crazy. “Just stay out of my way; I don’t want my truck screwed up if I wind up running you over.” He shoved the puppy to the side, where it instantly cowered underneath a nearby car. He didn’t give it a second thought as he got into his truck and pulled out of the garage.
Inside the warm grocery store, he kept on passing by pet supplies. There must have been a sale or a special or something, because his eyes were drawn to bags of dog food and chew toys and other crap that he just did not need. He didn’t need a dog; they chewed up stuff and left big wads of hair all over the damn place. He’d never had one himself, but he could only assume that they did.
He justified buying the ten pound bag of Puppy Chow by telling himself that he’d use it to lure the scrawny little thing out and then take it to a shelter. Someone would want it, and it was better than finding it frozen to death under his truck. He also justified getting the dual water bowl/food dish because he wouldn’t want to leave food on the ground for other animals to scavenge and the thing had been free with the dog food.
Going back to the parking garage, he halfway hoped that the damn dog wasn’t there. Maybe some kid – little Timmy, soon to get a bike – might have picked it up and begged their parents to keep it. Pets were allowed in the building, so that was completely plausible. He could leave the food and bowl in the front office, people did that kind of thing all the time, and then he could forget about it and go about his life.
A pathetic little whine from under a nearby car shot his plans to hell. As soon as he crouched down, the dog emerged, still shaking and looking even scrawnier than he had remembered it being.
He slipped his arm through one of the plastic bags containing makings for his dinner and shouldered the bag of food. “Well, I guess you’re coming with me,” he told the puppy. The dog just stood there and stared up at him.
He sighed and looked around. No one was in the garage. Unzipping his jacket partway, he bent down and picked the dog up. It weighed practically nothing and was surprisingly compliant as he tucked it inside his coat, its nose cold against his shirt. “You piss on my clothes and we forget about this whole damn deal,” he warned, holding the jacket closed with his free hand. The dog just closed its eyes and whimpered in reply.
He set the bag of food down in order to unlock his front door. He pulled the puppy, who had fallen asleep on the walk back, out of his jacket and set it inside the front entranceway. Immediately, its nose started quivering and it walked around, smelling everything in its reach.
“Yeah, I know it ain’t much,” he started, rolling his eyes as he caught himself talking to a dog that didn’t even understand him in the first place. “But it works for me.” The apartment was just temporary, he had a better place upstate that he had furnished using money from several bank accounts he had all over the country. He went into the kitchen, dumping the plastic wrapped container of steaks onto the countertop. He almost stepped on the puppy as it followed on his heels.
“You smell,” he declared, going to the bathroom and flicking on the light. He scooped up the dog and put it in the bathtub. He didn’t have anything specialized for pets, but figured that bar soap would work just as well to get the stink off. If he showed up at an animal shelter with the dog looking like it did, he doubted anyone would want it. The dog didn’t protest as he scrubbed suds and rinsed it off with warm water. It leaned into his hands as he rubbed it dry with one of his bath towels. He wrinkled his nose at the hair left on the thick white terrycloth before tossing the towel into the garbage bin.
Clean, the dog looked a little bit better. It was still shaking and all, but at least it didn’t look quite as bad. “Look, you’ve got to stop following me around,” He told it, shaking a finger in the dog’s direction. The dog sat down and cocked its head to the side in response. He tugged off his shirt and dropped it to the floor. The dog instantly curled up in it, its tail wagging contentedly. “Well, at least that’ll keep you in one place for a while.”
The scent of cooking meat drowned out the last traces of wet dog from the kitchen. It was snowing again, the window he had opened to get the smell out letting in the cold air. He took the steak out of the skillet and put it onto a plate. The tiny yipping bark the dog gave out had him pausing in the act of cutting the meat up.
“Hungry, aren’t you?” he asked, going back to the front door to pick up the bag of food. He poured a little into the bowl, which the dog sniffed before looking up at him expectantly.
“What? Come on, it’s good stuff. Damn bag cost almost twenty bucks, it’d better be good.” He nudged the bowl towards the puppy with his foot, who took a few hesitant steps backwards. He went back to the kitchen and grabbed the steak knife and fork he had abandoned.
The dog whined up at him, looking at the plate full of steak with hungry eyes. “Oh hell no. Eat your own food. This is mine.” The dog licked its chops and whined again.
He groaned. “If I give you a little, will you leave me alone?” He pulled off a chunk from his plate and went back to the food bowl. The dog followed, its tail thumping against Victor’s pant leg as it chewed on the piece. He rolled his eyes at the sound of kibble being crunched soon afterward.
He ignored the dog for the rest of the evening, spending it kicked back on his bed and reading a battered paperback novel. It was one of the Jeffery Deaver series and he had to admit that the lead character was one sharp detective.
He put the book down when he heard the now familiar whine coming from the foot of his bed. “What?” Didn’t dogs need to be let outside once and a while? He didn’t know, but he figured that was what the puppy wanted. He grabbed his coat and tugged his boots back on, watching as the dog shot out of the front door as soon as he had opened it. He lit a cigarette while it wandered the front bushes of the complex, sniffing at everything. He leaned against the wall, knowing that to a passerby, it would look like he was just hanging outside having a smoke instead of waiting for a scrawny little dog to do its business. And if it decided to wander away before he was finished, then it was no skin off his nose. He ground the butt of his cigarette out on the side of the building, leaving it on the ground that was already littered with similar butts from others that had stood there that day.
The dog, who probably knew that it had a warm place to stay with food for the night, came padding back up to him, letting out a sharp yip. It followed him back inside, where it curled up on the shirt he had discarded earlier.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” he warned, turning off the light. It was late and he was tired. The puppy’s nails clicked on the laminate floor and stopped at the entrance to his bedroom.
“Yeah, yeah. Merry Christmas, kid.” Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to keep it for a while, at least until it was fattened up a little more. People didn’t want bony little dogs, after all.