Warnings: Little angst, mostly sap, touch of citrus, OOC, Heero POV.
Sequel to 'Doubts'.
Little ficlet in honor of DeeEzBee's birthday!
Standard disclaimers: You guys all know the drill... don't own; wish I did.


Duo named the dog Ranger because, he'd told me, Rin-Tin-Tin just sounded dumb, and Lassie didn't fit because the pup was a boy. It has something to do with 'normal'. I'm not entirely sure I understand, but Duo had laughed when I'd suggested 'Spot', so I guess I understood well enough.

I had started to have my doubts about the wisdom of buying Duo the beast on his very first night in our home. For some silly damn reason, I had assumed the dog would sleep in the kitchen, in the bed that I had purchased for him. Imagine my... lack of enthusiasm when I'd gotten out of the shower, only to find the thing in our bed. Duo had been lying on his side with his back to the bathroom door, and resting in the concave between his ribs and hip... had been a furry brindle head, soulful eyes watching my every move.

I'm rather fond of that concave, and had been entertaining thoughts of crawling into bed and kissing my way from ribs to ankle bone... until I'd imagined the dog drool.

'Duo,' I grumbled. 'What in the hell is that dog doing in our bed?'

My partner twisted his head around to look at me, and soulful violet joined soulful brown. 'Ah, come on, Heero... he's just a baby. It's his first night in a strange place.'

'We don't want to get this started,' I informed him. 'He's going to grow up to be bigger than both of us.'

'I know,' Duo sighed, turning over a little bit more, to face me, his fingers rubbing around puppy ears in reassurance. 'But I thought just for tonight...'

'If you let him sleep in here once,' I scolded. 'He'll get into the habit and you'll never get him broken from it.'

'I know...' he mumbled again, looking somewhat crest-fallen, and it took everything I had to stand firm in the face of his disappointment, but I knew it was for the best.

I think he'd half been expecting the eviction, had half known on his own that it was a bad idea, because he caved fairly quickly. Rising, he picked the dog up and carried him back down to the kitchen, whispering gently as he went.

I felt like a real jerk, but knew I was right. I was actually rather proud of the fact that I had withstood Duo's 'please?' look. That look should be outlawed.

I was not, however, able to withstand his 'Oh God, Heero; please!' look, when the damn dog began to whine loud enough to be heard all the way up the stairs.

I was to learn over the next few weeks, that I might hold out against one or the other of them, but I was seldom victorious when they ganged up on me.

They quickly learned that they worked well together.

So Ranger had spent his first night in our home sleeping in our bed, cuddled up next to Duo like a pup with his mother. I was dead set against letting that habit take root and the compromise had ended with the dog bed in our room on the floor by Duo's side of the bed. Duo seemed happy that the puppy wasn't alone, Ranger seemed happy if he had Duo within sight, and I was happy that the beast wasn't actually in our bed.

And though we called him 'our' dog, it was obvious from day one that the mutt was all Duo's. While my coming and going elicited little more interest than the dog checking to see who had come into his territory, Duo's leaving was met with a whine, while his returning home was greeted with enthusiastic barking.

If I wanted to find the one, I only had to know the whereabouts of the other. If Duo was in the shower, Ranger would be on the floor of the bathroom. If Duo was watching television, Ranger was as close to 'in Duo's lap' as he could manage.

I won't say that I ever regretted buying Duo the pup; how could I, when faced with his absolute delight in becoming a pet owner? But I had been rather broad-sided by the sudden realization that Duo was not entirely mine any more.

Dog walks had inserted themselves into the parts of his day that used to be all mine. Evenings on the couch in front the television now found Ranger's head in Duo's lap instead of mine.

I wouldn't call it jealousy, but it was rather disconcerting.

I'm not exactly a stupid person. I had anticipated the dog hair and the chewing. I'd realized that our expenses would go up and that the yard would need to be fenced before the dog got too old. I'd understood that adjustments would have to be made to our life style.

I guess I just hadn't understood the scope of the adjustments.

Not that all the changes were difficult to make. Duo had... I don't know what to call it; blossomed? Opened up? Relaxed? I really don't know, but having that dog in his life had tapped some depth of emotion in him that I'd not seen before.

His lovemaking developed such a level of tenderness that he damn well left me breathless.

Though that too had been complicated by our new acquisition, and our... discomfort, sharing intimacy with the beast in the room. It wasn't until after the fence had been installed though, and for the first time in a while we'd lain down together knowing that there was no chance of an inquisitive pup joining us, that I'd really realized it.

With Duo astride my hips, giving voice to his passion like I'd never heard before, I understood just how much we'd been abstaining without even thinking about it.

Suddenly leaning down, arms braced on either side of my face, he looked deep into my eyes and whispered, 'Say it?'

'I love you,' I responded without hesitation, and by some wonderful coincidence, my words coincided with his release and I got to stare into his eyes as his passion shook him like a rag doll. His almost out of control bucking and writhing as he came, gave me what I needed to follow.

Spent and exhausted, he lay across me, trying to kiss my neck and managing only to pant against my skin. 'I love you so much,' he told me when he could.

'I know,' I smiled against his over-heated flesh, cradling him to me to keep him from pulling off just yet. 'Forever and always.'

He shivered as the air began to cool him and I pulled the sheet across us.

I can't really explain how owning that dog had heightened his feelings, but it seemed to me it had. If I'd had any fears about sharing his love with the new creature in our life, he laid them to rest by finding untouched depths to his feelings.

His love somehow became... unfettered.

I don't really understand it, and I suppose I should stop trying to explain it. I only know that from the day I brought Ranger into our home, Duo had flourished somehow.

Not that there weren't days I didn't curse the notion that had led me to that dog pound as crazed. Like the time we came home and found that the beast had gotten bored and dug a hole in the backyard big enough to bury a body in.

But my Duo has never been a slacker, and he took responsibility for what was obviously 'his' dog. Doing the research, and training the beast like he'd been doing it for years. And Ranger proved to be an apt pupil. He was skittish sometimes, from whatever abuse had led him to the pound in the first place I suspected, but he was not a dumb animal. He learned well, and was quite responsive to Duo's commands... which was probably a good thing for everyone involved since he did indeed turn into the 'monster' the clerk at the pound had promised; topping out at damn near two hundred pounds.

Just as well the dog was willing to follow orders, because forcing him to do anything was pretty much out of the question by the time he was full-grown.

Dogs grow at an alarming rate, or at least Ranger had, and I have pictures of Duo and him together that are almost comical in their progression. Watching the two of them go out for their evening run is... amusing. The top of Ranger's head is almost as high as Duo's hip and it has struck me more than once that Duo looks like he's walking a pony and not a dog. Though where you would find a pony that devoted to a person, I don't know. Duo doesn't even need to use a leash to keep Ranger at heel.

Those runs have become part of our evenings, inserted somewhere after the dinner dishes are done and before showers. Not that Duo needs the exercise by any stretch of the imagination, not with his physically demanding job in construction, but a dog the size of Ranger needs to be worked out to avoid the horrors of dog boredom.

I leave them to their jogs, generally going through the mail or doing the laundry while they're gone, though Duo sometimes asks me to go along. It usually seems a token offer, and while I've gone once or twice, it feels a little like Ranger's time with Duo and I don't really like to intrude, if that makes any sense.

So I was a little surprised one evening when Duo asked me more than once, seeming almost a bit disappointed when I declined, though it could hardly have been a surprise.

'Are you sure?' he asked once more from the front door, Ranger fairly dancing around wanting to be away. 'It's a really nice evening for a run.'

I grinned at the sight of Ranger, looking like he could knock Duo on his ass if they weren't careful. 'That's ok... I need to get these bills done anyway,' I told him.

An odd little, almost wistful look came into his eyes, but he just shrugged and gave me a cocky grin. 'Your loss then!' And they were off, Ranger's tail waving like a banner behind them. I stood at the window and watched them head down the street for a moment before going to sit at the desk with the unpaid bills.

There really weren't a lot, and it wasn't going to take me long; power, water, credit card and veterinarian. I wrote the checks and filled out the envelopes, my mind half on Duo and the possibility of showering together when he got back. When I got to the vet bill, I idly glanced over it, wondering just what Duo had taken Ranger in for, and saw it was just an annual check-up. Looked like simply his first year shots.

I had the envelope sealed and stamped before that thought kind of trickled down into my brain. First year check up.

We'd had Ranger a year.

Which meant...

I glanced at the calendar and realized with a guilty pang that it was the actual anniversary of the day I'd brought Ranger home to Duo. The anniversary of the day I'd hung that gold ring around his neck and made it plain I meant to spend the rest of my life with him.

Technically... it was our anniversary.

I forgot the rest of the bills and went upstairs to change into my running shoes and shorts. I knew Duo's route, and if I cut across the next block and took a short-cut through the school yard, I could get down to the park in time to meet them and finish the last half of their run with them.

I couldn't help smiling as I ran, thinking about the pleased look that would come over Duo when he saw me.

Or maybe it was just thinking about that whole anniversary thing. A ridiculously romantic notion perhaps, but one that had obviously occurred to Duo. And somehow I found that it pleased me.

My shortcut brought me out on the very path that Duo and Ranger would be on, just going in the opposite direction. I was still in the wooded area at the north end, and I tried to look ahead around the curve and down into the open grounds where Duo would appear. I would meet them and we would finish the run together, and maybe find some way to celebrate our first anniversary together after we got home.

I wasn't quite clear of the trees when I caught a flash of red on the path ahead of me. Duo was just coming out of the trees on the south end and would be entering the open park a few moments ahead of me. I couldn't help a grin, seeing those red shorts, and I remember thinking that I would have to tell him how good he looked in red.

And that was when I saw the other man come out of the trees just behind Duo. He wasn't dressed for jogging and every alarm I owned went off in my head. Instincts told me something wasn't right, and I never ignore my instincts. I went from jogging, to a flat run and shouted a warning, but I think I was too far away yet. Duo was just registering my presence, not yet understanding what I was trying to convey, and the man was suddenly on them. I saw something metallic flash in the fading light and thought my guts had turned to water. Duo turned, ducking as he moved, but clearly taken by surprise.

And that was when Ranger moved.

Duo had trained his dog. Had trained him to come when called, and not to chew on shoes. Had house trained him and taught him to heel. But not once had he ever entertained the idea of trying to turn Ranger into a guard dog. By Duo's way of thinking, that wasn't normal. Normal people had dogs that fetched and rolled over. They didn't have dogs that attacked people.

But that's just what he did then. Barking and snarling enough for three dogs, he went after that man like a seasoned police dog. Inserting himself between Duo and his attacker and leaping to take the threat down. The mugger was a big man, but he didn't stand a chance against two hundred pounds of pissed off mutt.

I felt like I was running through molasses getting down that path, and I watched the most of it play out before I ever got there, my trained agents eyes taking in every detail even while my heart tried to climb out my throat.

Duo lost a moment, as Ranger shouldered his way between his master and the threat. Shocked, I think, not only by the sudden appearance of the man with the weapon, but by Ranger's reaction as well. He recovered quickly as the dog took the assailant to the ground, moving in to disarm the man with a harsh kick to his knife hand.

It was effectively over before I came pounding up to the scene.

The mugger, or whatever in the hell he had intended to be, was balled up on the ground with his arms wrapped around his head yowling like a banshee.

Ranger stood over him barking madly, hackles up and tail as stiff as a board. It was hard to look at him and see the normally rather laid-back animal that lived in our home. The one who would lie at Duo's feet in the evening and beg for treats by rolling over on his back, presenting his belly to be rubbed.

Duo, though he'd kicked the man's knife well out of reach, just seemed kind of dazed. I think he was watching his dog more than he was watching his attacker. Still trying to figure out how his 'baby' had turned in to the snarling beast in front of him.

I caught him by the shoulders and moved him back, taking my place between him and the man on the ground. Though the mugger didn't seem like much of a threat any more.

I had to wonder about the intelligence of a robber who would attack someone in the company of a dog the size of Ranger in the first place. But maybe the man had been expecting one of those 'normal' dogs as well.

A cell phone call brought the police, and when it was obvious even to dog senses that his master was no longer in danger, Ranger left off barking at the cowering man and went to lean against Duo's leg, looking up with those soulful brown eyes, watching as Duo gave his statement to the officers in a voice edged with tension and disbelief.

I gave my own statement, perhaps quickening the process just a bit once I'd shown my Preventers' badge. It was all rather cut and dried, a thing I'd been through a thousand times... just generally on the other side of the note pad.

It was full dark by the time it was all over, and when the last police car pulled away, I didn't hesitate to go take my lover into my arms right in the middle of the damn park.

'Are you all right?' I breathed against his hair, feeling the expected tension in his muscles. Feeling the faint tremble of a body still dealing with an adrenaline over-load.

'I'm ok,' he told me, arms squeezing tight in reassurance. 'It was just... all so sudden...'

I pulled away and looked down at Ranger, still leaning against Duo's leg and watching everything, as though wishing he had some sort of human to animal translator that might help him truly understand what was going on. I let go of Duo and knelt on the ground in front of our dog, on impulse throwing my arms around his neck.

'Good dog,' I whispered into his brindle, tattered ear. 'Good dog... good boy... thank you. God, thank you.'

I got my faced licked for my trouble, and almost knocked to the ground as he finally pulled away from Duo, tail wagging frantically.

I think Ranger had surprised even himself, and had needed to be told he'd done the right thing.

I stood and slipped my arm around Duo's waist, tugging gently to get him moving. 'Let's go the hell home,' I told him and he nodded. Ranger fell into step on his other side.

'Hey,' Duo said after a moment of walking in silence. 'What the hell were you doing out here, anyway?'

I grinned sheepishly at him, giving his waist a little squeeze. 'I finally figured out what day it is.'

I could feel him relaxing just a bit as we walked, and he chuckled. 'Oh yeah?'

'Yeah,' I agreed. 'And I was thinking we should give Ranger some sort of treat for his first year.'

There was a moment of silence while Duo tried to make up his mind if I were serious or not, and I couldn't hold out, chuckling at his consternation.

'Jerk,' he grumbled affectionately and I pulled him to a stop under the trees.

'Happy anniversary,' I told him, and when my lips found his in the dark, I could feel him smiling.

'Happy anniversary,' he echoed, meeting the kiss that was fueled just a bit by fading adrenaline.

'God I love you,' I moaned in his ear, when the kiss was broken because we had to hold each other tight. Duo shivered convulsively and I rubbed a hand briskly up and down his arm.

'Come on,' I soothed, letting go to start us moving again 'Let's get you home out of the chill.'

There was an odd tone of amusement in his voice as he agreed, and we started walking again, arms still around each other. 'Yeah, I guess it is... chilly.'

I tried to look at him, to understand his mood, but it was too dark under the trees. We walked in quiet for a bit, the only sound the pant of Ranger's breath.

Taken with another whim, I let my hand drop from Duo's waist to brush the furry, ever-present head that walked beside us.

Maybe I did share Duo's love now, but it went the other way as well, and I knew I could trust that Duo would be protected even if I wasn't around.

'Happy anniversary, Ranger,' I said, and Duo chuckled, his hand joining mine to touch the soft fur of our dog's ears.


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