Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

by Ursula

Title: Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Author/Pseudonym: Ursula

Fandom: X Files

Pairing: Mulder/Skinner/Krycek

Rating: NC-17

Status: Finished

Date Posted: June 26th, 2004

Archive: FHSA, DIB, RAT B or Warm Thoughts, WWOMB, Okay to Gossamer

E-mail address for feedback: Fan4Richie or Ursula4X@aol.com

Classification: Slash, post series, established slash romance threesome

Series/Sequel: Is this story part of a series: Gone to the Dogs

Web Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/stories/Ursula.html

Disclaimers: No profit, fan fiction for fun

Notes:

This is for Maddie, who told me that the first slash story she read was Gone to the Dogs.

Thanks to Mama Beast, one of our new list mates for speedy beta

Warnings: Brutal scenes of dog fighting

Time Frame: Afterwards

The dog stared out at me with a familiar look in his eyes. It expected no pity nor would it give any. It looked at me for pain or death and only asked for a chance to get a bite in first. It was a pit bull. I recognized that. It was not a Staffordshire Terrier nor was it an American Pit bull Terrier. This was a street bred dog, bad medicine. Its fate was early death. If it was lucky it would die at birth. Even being taken by the humane society and put to sleep as part of the dogs who they would not even try to place was a lesser evil. If it had no spirit, it might be used as bait in the so called game, but if it was game; its life would be hell. It would die fighting or be used as a man killer by some drug dealing bastard.

I looked at this misbegotten canine and saw myself.

"Alex, I didn't mean for you to see Chance," Gina said.

"Chance?" I asked.

"He looks like the dog in the movie," Gina said.

A smile flickered across my face. Recently, I had ended up babysitting Scully's kids. Doggett and Reyes were at a conference. Walter was body-guarding Mulder at a book signing. Naturally, disaster senses an opportunity and Maggie Scully, who had been visiting her daughter, had tripped over a toy, turned her ankle, and needed a trip to the emergency room. Scully found no one else and the children loved me, don't know why, but they do. I was drafted. I had walked in the door, armed with popcorn and a movie that I had borrowed from Gina, The Incredible Journey. That made me a very popular uncle. I can still feel William's sweat damp head against my chest, little boy smelling hair tickling my chin. I had felt so very ordinary. For me, that was paradise. Missy had tried to mother us both, lecturing us about the movie as she played with Miracle, the puppy she had saved with her healing powers. Miracle thinks she owns the kids; that dog is the smuggest looking bloodhound I ever saw.

I guess Walter and I had too much influence on Missy. She sounded like a little dog rescuer when she told William and I exactly what the family in the movie were doing wrong with the two dogs and the cat.

"Alex?"

I pulled myself from thoughts of that pleasant evening and back to the here and now.

"Alex?" Gina said, her voice sounding softer than usual. "You want me to call Walter or Mulder?"

"No, I'm a big boy," I said. "I lived a long time without help from them. From anyone. Like that dog."

I was drawn back to the kennel. The dog just stood there, big paws apart in a stance that looked like nothing could have moved him once he set his feet. Big, stubborn, hurting dog.

"What's he doing here?" I said.

"He's evidence," Gina said. "He was taken in a drug bust. They found him stuffed in a freezer. The dealer said the dog failed to stop a couple kids from breaking into his house to steal some puppies. He was `putting him out of his misery'. The cops want to get Rogers on an animal cruelty charge on top of the drug stuff. Rogers is a creep, a very bad customer with ties to everything from dog fighting to meth manufacturing."

"What's going to happen to Chance after the trial?" I said, feeling like I knew, but needing to hear it.

"Alex, he's a pit-bull," Gina said. "Not a well-bred dog. Look at the scars on his coat. He's been through too much. It would be better to let him go to the bridge peacefully."

"Look at the scars on me," I said. "A lot of people would have liked me to be put down too, not so peacefully."

"Alex, it's not the same," Gina argued.

"I want him," I said. "I'll take responsibility."

"Alex, please listen," Gina said. "I understand how you feel."

"No, you don't," I said. "You don't understand. How could you? If anyone, anything understands . . ."

Kneeling, I looked into the kennel and the dog looked into my eyes briefly. He whined and there was a thump as the undocked tail thudded against the wire. Amber eyes started deep into my soul for a moment before confusion set in and the dog growled at me.

"I know," I said to the dog, "I understand. There are bad people out there. The world hurt you a lot. It's easier to growl. Easier to bite. Hard to trust."

Spender's face floated through my mind. It had been months since I had thought about him. Months since I remembered the pain I had experienced from the man. Now it all came back, making me want to curl up in my bed at home, preferably with both my lovers and all of the dogs.

I remembered when I was a kid that the only hope I had was that I would grow up to be tough enough, mean enough to be one of the big fish. I had tried damn hard.

I knew the expression that crossed my face was not much like a smile; it was more like a grimace of pain.

"Give me what I want. We're gonna rule the world!"

That's what I said to Marita as I tried to prove to myself that I was still a man, that someone could desire me. What happened between us was not love, it was not lust, it was hate and rage and pain. That was the dance we danced that dark day in that freighter. It was why I still had trouble looking Marita in the eye to this day. She betrayed me, but I always felt what I did was worse.

"You and I," I said to Chance, "We have things to prove."

Standing up, I said, "Gina, you can help me or you can fight me, but I'm going to do this."

"Oh, Alex," Gina said. "Alex, talk to your lovers. Talk to Karen. You have to think this through."

"Sometimes it's not about thinking," I said. "Sometimes it's about doing the right thing even if there are risks involved. Mulder understand that. Walter does, also."

OooOooO

"Gina called us," Walter said. He was waiting for me on the porch with that expression on his face. Ah, I knew it well. I love Walter; I really do. I love him when he's playful and sexy . . . spending hours to seduce me, long minutes to drive me out of my head until I am whining like a bitch in heat for him to fuck me. I love it when he's tender, enfolding me in his big, strong arms like he's going to keep the world from ever hurting me again.

I don't love it when Walter becomes a control freak, not when he's trying to control me. Hey, if it's Mulder, that's okay. Most of the time, I'm there at his side, trying to reel our lover in off some ledge.

I'm not saying I'm not wrong half the time. I'm a mule-headed, guilt-ridden, overly analytical son of a bitch. The thing is that half the time I am right and I'm not going to take the chance that it's not one of those times unless someone persuades me otherwise.

Walter's boss man act doesn't work on me, but he tries it all the same.

"Alex, we have to talk," Walter said.

I sighed. I couldn't help it. Ah, shit, Walter, let's not fight. I love you too much to fight, but this is something I'm going to do.

I could see Walter processing my expression, my stance. I had one foot on the stairs, but I was instinctively balanced for him to rush me. Part of me knew that Walter would never physically confront me unless it was to save my ass, but part of me is the rat bastard that will never trust anyone.

There we were, all that testosterone just dripping off us. This relationship we have . . . we make it look easy sometimes. People say, how do you do it? How do you avoid being jealous?

They miss the point. How can you be jealous of two people you love more than your own skin? It's like being jealous of your beating heart, the breath that moves in your lungs.

No, it's not the love that's difficult or the lust. We do that well. We do it perfectly.

Honestly, it's being three men, none of us queens. There's very little that's feminine about us. I know I'm pretty, almost too pretty to be a man was something I heard all my life. My looks never meant much to me except trouble. People can't see the real person behind green eyes and cute nose and it invited attention I didn't want. I'm pretty, but believe me, I'm a guy. There are things I just don't do well like backing down when one of my partners is going to the wall with me.

In the end, the only way it would ever have worked was with the three of us.

Sometimes it's Mulder and me. All too often, it's Mulder and me. We're alike, yin and yang, light and dark. Well, some people say . . . hey ya, Scully, that we're gasoline and fire. So yes, we fight. We fight over stupid stuff like whether Mulder should eat Twinkies . . . you know I want him to live forever because I can't imagine one day without him. We fight because we both want solutions and there are still times when my idea of how to get to the right answer is pretty damn ruthless.

Walter evens it out for us when Mulder and I fight. Sometimes, it's by being our Walter. Big, kind, tough marine kind of guy who has done things almost as ruthless as I have done without ever getting too dirty to make it back into his knightly armor. He listens to us both, weighs the options, and comes up with that middle road we can all walk together.

Of course, there are also the times that Walter forgets that he is no longer Assistant Director Walter Skinner. He steps between Mulder and I, barks an order, and stand there waiting to be obeyed. He gets Mulder and I back in line, all right. Back in line, shoulder to shoulder, both of us pissed as hell at him. Maybe he knows that's the result of trying the daddy act with us. Maybe not.

Here we were, Walter and I. We love each other, but Walter had that look that he wasn't going to be able to discuss this with me like reasonable adults should. Of course, Walter's version of being an reasonable adult is that we do it his way. He had that stance of his, the one that tells me that he doesn't want to budge from his opinion. I don't know what the hell Gina told him, but I am going to have a word with that girl. It's too bad he feels that way because I can't give into him.

"Alex, it's a pit bull," Walter said. He looked over his wire rims at me as if I was a petulant school boy. I hate that look.

"Yeah, it's a pit bull. I'm an assassin, a traitor to everything but the human race, and I'm so dirty that all the soap in the world will not wash me clean," I said.

"Shit, let's not start this again," Walter said, taking my arm.

"Don't get physical with me," I said, shrugging his grip away.

It might have gone further, but suddenly there were dogs, a flood of dogs, big well-trained dogs that were suddenly acting like idiots. I looked up and I saw Mulder grinning at us as the dogs swirled around us, licked us, knocked me off my feet so I would have fallen off the porch step except that Walter caught me.

I ended up in Walter's arms. He sat down with me, wrapped his big body around me, and said, "I just don't want you to get hurt. I can't stand it when you get hurt."

God damn son of a bitch loves me. He loves me.

"Let me do this," I said. "Walter, I understand you trying to protect me and everyone else, but I have something to prove."

"Not really," Walter said, but he still held me tight.

Flopping down beside me and Walter, Mulder extended his long arm around us both. "Use those words, Alex. Tell us what's going on behind those green eyes so we understand why we should risk setting our lives on end and risking some damn good dogs for a junkyard dog."

"You know, Mulder," I said. "Remember what they said when we were at the security hearings to clear us? What they said about me?"

"Can't teach an old dog new tricks," Mulder said, wincing. "They were wrong. You know I don't know as much about dogs as you and Walt. Humor me. Tell me why you think you can save this dog. All I read about his breed is that they're born and bred killers." Mulder smiled wryly. "Yeah, yeah, and spare me the trip about how you are one of those too."

Mulder knows more than he says about dogs. It's just a game he plays where he pretends that the dog thing is all about Walter and me. Maybe it's to help point out the things Walter and I do together that are apart from our separate and joined relationships with Mulder. In any event, Mulder is a smart man. Hell, he's a brilliant man, a fucking genius. He couldn't be immersed in this world that Walter and I share with dog rescue people meeting in our library, a vet and a dog trainer as our best friends outside of the people we count as family, Jeff, Scully, Doggett, and Monica without picking up a lot of information about dogs.

I guess we all have our games we play to make relationships work. I leaned back into Walter's embrace, wrapped my one arm around his two. "This is not about my problems," I insisted.

I didn't have to be looking at Mulder to know he rolled his eyes. He does that just like a teenager. Drives Walter and me nuts. I said, "Mulder, I mean it. What I feel for this dog is compassion and brotherhood . . ."

"Alex, I may call you a son of bitch now and then," Mulder replied in that laconic tone that makes it impossible to get pissed at him, "But I can assure you that pit bull is not your brother."

"Mulder . . ." I said. Oh, hell, I shook my head and said, "One, I am going to train this dog and make something out of him. Whatever I can, law enforcement, service dog, some kind of work that will give him a purpose."

Scowling in a way that would have made weaker men piss their pants . . . I knew that for a fact from the bad old days, I pulled away from Walter and stood up. I tromped over and leaned out on the railing as if I could sense my enemy somewhere out there. "The other thing I'm doing is I'm going to find the dog fighting ring of which Chance's owner was a part and I am going to put each and every one of those assholes in jail." I turned around and stared defiantly at my lovers.

Mulder was looking down, shaking his head. Walter was biting his tongue. I mean his jaw was clenched so hard he was probably going to end up wearing that night guard again when he goes back to the dentist.

"You see this dog and that makes it your fight?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah," I replied. "tell me that you can't understand that, Mulder."

I watched Mulder think about it and think about it. Finally, he shook his head again and that lush, wonderful mouth of his started to smile. The smile lit his face, making his soul shine through his hazel eyes. My Mulder is so beautiful when he smiles.

"I got you, Alex," Mulder said. "What can I do to help?"

"Nothing right now," I said, "Except let me bring the dog here. I'm going to keep him separately from the other dogs until I see how he does and I'll be careful handling him."

"How do you intend to find the dog fighting ring?" Walter asked.

"Same way I did with the puppy mill," I said. "I'm going under."

Walter shook his head. I was ready to argue when he said, "We're going undercover. You're not doing this alone."

There were all these arguments against it, but my gut told me that there was no way I could stop Walter. Besides without Mulder, it would be nice to have the only other backup I could trust.

"What about me?" Mulder asked. "I get left out of this deal?"

"Chung," I said. "Jose Chung."

"Oh," Mulder said. "Oh, shit."

Yeah, Chung had a new book. It was about the quiet, dirty war that we had won nearly at the cost of all of our lives. Chung has his own spin on things. Walter bored him . . . the man has rotten taste in some ways. Me, well, I keep a low profile when I can even if it means a late night visit with some men in black dramatics to intimidate a famous writer. Mulder and, of course, Scully were the ones who saved the earth alone in Chung's mind. A new wave of publicity couldn't hurt Mulder's new book and nothing could stop the journalists from having a field day with him. Mulder's picture was all over the media again. He could no more go undercover than Santa Claus could walk through a day care without causing a riot.

"Bad timing," Mulder said. "I guess I get to be the base camp this time."

"Yeah," I said. "You'll have to bail Walter and me out if we get in over our heads."

OooOooO

Matt Nolen is a member of my fan club. He's a local detective and he's the one on Chance's owner's case. Matt has one of the dogs I placed from the shelter. It's a big funny looking mutt, but smart. Matt is a big funny looking guy, but he's smart too. They're a good match. Matt's hoping to get a search and rescue dog out of him. I'm sure they will make it. Anyway, I had no problem persuading him that I could get him a bust if he could find me any leads.

Meanwhile, I had permission to work with Chance. First thing was a temperament evaluation. The dog is not in bad shape. Billy Rogers' statement as to why the dog ended up in the freezer was a pretty good clue to the dog's actual character. He was somewhat dog aggressive the first few times I had him out on lead. However, he needed to know who was boss at the same time as he needed to know I would not hurt him. A few corrections, a gentle leader head collar that works like a horse's halter, and a lot of treats soon had Chance ignoring our other dogs.

Finally, I came to a conclusion. The scars that Gina thought were the result of dog fighting were not the proof that Chance had won a battle. I was sure that Chance had been used as a bait dog. He didn't have the temperament to survive in a real dog fight. It was not that he wasn't game. I never saw him afraid and he once worked through an entire session before I realize he had a piece of glass embedded in his paw. Chance was a big, soft hearted dog without the high prey drive that was a problem with most of his breed. He had been tough enough to live through a mock fight, but must have been a disappointment to his owner even before the incident with the kids.

"You going to keep that dog, Alex?" Matt asked.

"No," I said. "Not unless I can't place him once he's trained. Why?"

"You know Matilda Madison?" Matt asked.

"The detective that was shot a couple months ago?" I said. "I think I met her once."

"She could use a service dog, but she's having a hard time with the idea that she's not going to recover," Matt told me.

My arm, the one that isn't there, ached in sympathy. I knew all about not accepting the shit fate hands you. "Why don't you see if you can drag her to a class? Chance is not ready to place yet, but maybe you can hint around about what might happen if he doesn't have a home after I trained him. It wouldn't ever happen, but sometimes you get more out of trying to help than accepting it for yourself."

"Anyone ever tell you that you were manipulative?" Matt asked.

"Manipulative, devious, deviant, difficult," I answered. "And that's my better points."

"Not hardly," Matt said. He shook his head. He has these big ears, freckles on his freckles, and carrot red hair. His hands are the size of dinner plates, but he is so gentle. He volunteers out at my institute. I think he and his wife are thinking about adopting a couple of the kids. His wife is an abductee. We haven't found any children created from her ova yet, but she thinks that maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe she and those children are related through the project. The wonder of it is that either Matt or Emily, his wife, can look me in the eye without spitting on me.

"Matt, don't get any illusions. My hands are dirty. I have never been an angel. Spent a good part of my life working for the other side," I replied. I feel a lot more comfortable sometimes when people do spit on me.

"You know what your problem is, Alex?" Matt said. "You've been kicked so many times you can't deal with is when someone likes you. I know about the Project. My wife was taken by it. I was just lucky enough that she was one of the ones that Jeremiah Smith helped or I might not have a wife now."

"All the more reason why you should hate me," I said.

"I know what you did to help bring it down," Matt said. "I'm a cop. I know it's not all black and white. I know you. I've seen you with the kids, the dogs, your partners. You are a good man; face it."

Some days you can't win. I smiled at Matt and said, "Just bring Madison when I'm working Chance. We'll see if it works."

OooOooO

Matt was never late for training. Today, however, he came into class just as I was about to start. I scowled at him not being the easy-going teacher of the year. Then I saw the reason. Emily, his wife, helped Matilda Madison, the officer who had been shot, to a seat. She was on crutches and her legs were in braces. She had taken a bullet in her brain. She was lucky to be alive, but I could tell from her face that she wasn't sure about that.

Matt's dog, Noble, was mostly German Shepherd, but the remaining parts were puzzling. He had a white chest with liver spots that might have come from a collie ancestor. His coat was short and his legs were longer than a shepherd's; Gina thought he might have a touch of Doberman Pincher in his ancestry. Whatever the mix, Noble was honey-sweet and had a great nose. He was a great therapy dog and he would be a good search and rescue dog.

This was the first time that I worked Chance in an advanced group. Normally, I would not have worked any dog, but since Matilda was here, it was my chance to show off this protegee of mine. Besides, when I worked with one of my five students, I planned to ask Emily to watch Chance and Emily was sitting with Matilda.

The hardest part of teaching for me was praising my students. I learned to reward the dogs with my happiest voice that I normally reserved for family, but Gina reminded me repeatedly that human students work better for praise too.

It was an alien experience to me. I worked for good grades when I was a kid because I had an inborn drive from the day I was born. I knew it made my parents proud, but they had a hard life and my achievements were seldom noticed as we ran from place to place to hide from the project. Afterwards, when I had fallen into Spender's hands, I learned that being the best meant avoiding pain. Flunking out of the project classes meant that you were worthless for anything except genetic experiments, a fate not as clean as death and infinitely more painful than a bullet in your head. I was determined not to fail and I did things to succeed no child should experience. Yeah, it was a long road for me to walk to learn how to accept and give praise.

Now, I smiled at Matt and said, "Good work. Praise your dog."

Moving from student to student, I watched them complete the exercise. They were almost ready to start field training. I loved that part of the class. I liked being outdoors, liked the intellectual challenge of hiding the mock victims or finding a setting that would emulate a disaster area for advanced exercises. Maybe it was the excitement of the teams as they practiced for the work to come. Gina had asked me to teach the class as a favor, but I had continued because I loved it.

Sparing a glance for Chance, I noticed that the dog was gazing up into Matilda's face with a soul deep expression of love. One blindingly white paw rested daintily on her knee. He looked as if he was courting her. Hell, he didn't know it but he was.

Somehow or other, I `forgot' to work the dog through the rest of the class. I glanced in that direction from time to time and Chance never returned to Emily. Even when Matilda struggled up to use the restroom, Chance stayed at her side. He hadn't been formally trained as an assistance dog yet, but when she swayed, his huge head and strong shoulder were bracing her. They were a team. All it required was for Matilda to realize it.

After class, I usually visited with the students for a brief period. Tonight, I spent the time chatting with Matt, Emily, and Matilda. Somehow, Chance's story was told, piece by piece, until the piece de resistance.

"I still have to find him a home with someone who could use a service dog," I said. The court will only have an evidence hold on him until the trial and I've been told that Rogers may be making a plea."

"Can't you just keep him if you can't place him?" Matilda asked.

"My partners are beautiful, loving men," I said, giving Matilda one of my patented `wounded child' expressions, "but they are afraid to have a pit bull around the other dogs. They are really one dog kind of pets, I agree, but Chance is an exception. If only . . ."

"I'm not impressed with your partners at all," Matilda said sharply, her hands holding Chance's boulder of a head close as if to protect him. "They shouldn't be prejudiced. I think it's terrible."

"Look," I said, "I printed out all these articles on great pit bull service dogs. I've been giving them out to anyone who might be a potential owner, but so far, no luck."

"Idiots," Matilda said. Her hand caressed Chance's head. "Someone said I could have a service dog when I go back to work . . . to a desk job." Her face screwed in a distressed expression. "I couldn't see myself with a lab or a retriever. I'm not that kind of person. I'm stubborn and bull-headed. Maybe I could train with Chance? I don't expect to need a service dog for long, but this is a way to save his life."

"That would be doing me and the dog a great favor," I said.

"No problem," Matilda said. "I know what it's like to be judged because of your breed." She smiled at me, white teeth gleaming in her black face. "I'm old enough to have to have fought my way to becoming a detective. Fought against people who didn't think it was possible for a black woman to do the job. Fought against people who thought I didn't earn the job. They were wrong. I earned it and I am going to have that job back. I'm not ready for a desk job, but I'm willing to accept the help that this dog can give me. When I am back on my feet, he won't lack for a home. I can promise you that."

"Thank you, Matilda," I said. "You don't know how much this means to me."

I felt guilty over the little white lies I had told . . . I was reasonably sure that my partners would try to accommodate me if I found a live dragon, put a leash on it, and told Mulder and Walter that it was my new pet. However, if a nagging conscience had ever stopped me from doing what I thought would work, most of the human race could be incubating alien spawn right now. At least, that was how I lived with my memories.

After setting up a beginning training schedule, I let Matilda know that Gina would cover for me. I knelt, petting Chance, and said, "I promised this guy that we would bust the dog fighting ring that bred him. I keep my promises."

"You go get them," Matilda said. "I wish I could help."

"I understand you are going to be trained to analyze crime reports," I said. "Don't underestimate that as a useful job. Seeing a pattern between unrelated crimes is a job for someone with a good and open mind. That's why Mulder ended up using his friends, the cyber geeks instead of relying on FBI crime analysts. I've been going over all the busts for the last two years that might have anything to do with dog fighting. I could use a hand if you would like some on the job training."

I could tell that Matilda was deciding whether I really wanted help or was offering her sympathy. She guessed right. I'm not a sympathy kind of guy. I do things to fix the problem. That's as close as I come to sympathy.

"I'm your person," Matilda said.

"Good," I said. "I'll be down at headquarters tomorrow. The police chief is cooperating with my research."

The police chief is scared shitless of me. I like it that way.

OooOooO

Bright and early, Matilda showed up to work with Chance. We put a service dog vest on him and took him with us. I had him out in the usual situations, a mall, a park, a busy street. Once you put that harness on him, he was focused, a dead serious working dog. This was the first time he was with his human partner and he looked as if he understood or maybe he just knew that Matilda was the one. It was love at first sight.

Walking into the records room, I saw people stop and look. It was the dog to some extent and Matilda's return. The damage that had been done to her was the hardest thing for a cop to take. Being killed was part of the job, but living the rest of your life in a wheelchair or on crutches was something no cop wanted to consider. Matilda was going to face people who didn't want her back in any capacity because she made them confront the odds of being in her condition.

Taking a seat, I went through the steps for setting up a search perimeter. I saw Matilda was keeping up with me and worked faster. She settled next to me, working the queries on the statistical program as if she had been doing this most of her life. She was like me, like Chance, a survivor, who could and would adapt to any shit life threw at her.

By the end of the day, Matilda was tired. She leaned more on Chance than she had on the way into the building. We had garnered some leads, a radius that included the Roger's farm. I knew the old man was dirty again. It was a matter of proving it.

Her hand resting on Chance's collar, Matilda said, "Let me take him home with me."

"He still needs training," I said.

"I'll bring him back for it," Matilda said. "If work with him at home, I can come back with a list of jobs I need help doing. You can tell me how to train him to do them."

It was a good idea. I knelt to say good-bye to Chance. He leaned his body into me, looked me in the eye, soldier to soldier, and slurped a wet kiss down my face. Don't knock it. It wasn't the first time I had a kiss from a comrade . . . Chance just wasn't my type.

I felt something watching him go, sadness, but also like I had wings on my heart. Every time it worked out for a kid or a dog, a little more of the shrapnel of grief flew out of me. I missed them, I worried for them, but I was happy for them. We support each other, we wounded creatures.

OooOooO

A few days later, Matilda had my lead for me. She threw a file on my desk at the house. I opened the file and my lovers appeared out of no where . . . no where that involved Mulder having a red mark on his neck and Walter having a fucked stupid look on his face. We don't always wait for a three way connection.

I opened the file and took out a jacket from Arkansas. It was a dog fighting bust and I recognized Billy Rogers' name. He had been a kid at the time, too young to be charged. His father was the one who had gone to jail. His picture looked out of the file at me, a gaunt man with a big nose, deep sunk eyes, and a thin slash of a mouth. He looked as if life had kicked him hard, but he had bit back twice as hard. It couldn't have been easy growing up with a Dad like that. His rap sheet including a man slaughter charge, numerous assault convictions, child abuse, and domestic violence. He was a real nice guy.

Someone nudged me. Mulder never was one to wait. He leaned over my shoulder, breathing down my neck to read over my shoulder. He smelled like rut. I was perve enough to take a deep whiff. Couldn't bottle that scent. The only thing wrong was it was that my cum wasn't part of the mix this time. Mulder nuzzled my neck before flipping over the page. I was done with it anyway. Mulder and I match on reading speed. He may have been faster when we were partners in the FBI, but a good spy better have good retention and speed reading skills. I did. I was a good spy. One hell of a good spy.

"Nice guy," Mulder remarked. I guess we were at that stage where you start to sound like your partner or partners, in our case.

"He still has kids," I said with a grimace. "Matt said Billy Rogers told him that Chance was his brother's pup until Dad said he had to go. Dad won't tolerate a dog that won't fight."

Walter scratched at the growth on his chin. He was getting ready to go undercover. Although not as famous as Mulder, Walter had his picture in the media too. However, he had been his proper, buttoned-up self. Walter needs to shave twice a day or he has five o'clock shadow at noon. Now, he was sporting a passable beard and mustache ... a fact to which the tender skin on my ass sported faint red scrapes testifies. That hair scratches! He didn't resemble the Walter Skinner that the media knew.

Sounding sulky, Mulder said, "It's not as if I don't know how to wear a disguise."

"I know, love," I said, "But your face is very distinctive."

"I knew there was a reason you keep your face out of pictures," Mulder bitched.

"Price of fame," I said.

The snort from Mulder's nose wasn't pretty sounding. He said, "I'll have the Gunmen check and see what other characters we have around here. Might be someone else with a history of dog fighting."

"That would help, Mulder," I said.

Another roll of the eyes. The man really has to knock that off, one of these days.

OooOooO

"Walter?" I yelled. It was time to get the show on the road. Gina had agreed to work with Chance and Matilda while I was gone. She had seen enough of my unlikely protegee to agree that he had great potential as a service dog and she liked Matilda too.

In the distance, I heard a stunned, "What the fuck?" from Mulder.

Moments later, I just about fell down. The disreputable character who stomped down the stair bore no resemblance to my Walter. Not only did he sport a disreputable beard, but he had shaved the remaining hair off his head. He was bald as an egg on top, but the fur over his lip and on his chin more than made up for the lack on his head. He had left his glasses behind and the contact lenses he was wearing were green.

My lover grinned from ear to ear and with his big ears, that's quite a grin. Walter enjoys shaking us out of our ideas about him. He may be a rock solid guy and the one that grounds Mulder and me, but that doesn't mean he isn't capable of his own creative surprises.

I had to go over and run my hand over his now totally naked pate. "Sexy," I said, "Although I want you to grow it back. I need something to hold onto and you hate it when I grab your ears."

"I don't think anyone, but my mother would recognize me now," Walter said smugly. He was wearing clothing he normally saves for fishing, disreputable jeans, an old plaid flannel shirt, and battered kennel boots. There were subtle differences in the way he was walking and standing, his shoulders bunched forward as if he had a grudge match with the world, his walk lacking the trained balance that years of boxing and physical training had given it.

Before I could duck away, Walt grabbed my ass and said, "How's that purty li' half-brother of mine?"

"Laying it on thick there, aren't you?" I remarked.

Walt just grinned at me; not a bit of guilt in his expression.

Walter's next surprise waited in the yard. We were now the proud owners of a twenty year old Ford truck, primer gray in color except for rust colored accents. I nodded. We were going to blend into the people we were trying to infiltrate very nicely.

It hadn't taken long to set up our identities. We were half-brothers, Walt and Lexi Sergeant, me fresh from prison and Walt fleeing child support in another state. I had rented a run down place near the Roger's place. That also gave us a good excuse for the first step in our plan.

Kissing a still sulky Mulder goodbye, Walt and I climbed into our disreputable vehicle and we were on our way to Walt and Alex's big adventure. It was funny. I have been in the field with Mulder many times from the brief period when we were junior and senior agents in the FBI, to the disastrous trip to Tunguska, to our later exploits when we took the fight to our foe, the daring duo against the world. I had never worked in the field with Walter and, honestly, it had me thrilled. I was half-hard at the idea and wondering if the Sergeant boys indulged in some good ol' corn-holing fun from time to time.

Whee ha!

OooOooO

After poking around the new Sergeant place, Walter and I had a good idea what was needed. A good burning. Barring that, it needed hammer and nails, paint, plumbing, and furniture. Where do good old boys head when they have a short supply of money and a long supply of needs? The swap meet. Yes, Walter and I were going to a swap meet.

We didn't approach the Rogers' booth right away. Mr. Rogers sold odds and ends almost every weekend, canned jam and terry cloth bags in which to keep your grocery bags, old tools, and, when he had them, litters of puppies.

A litter swarmed around a rusty wire pen today. I approached and squatted down to look at them, poking at them like I was considering them for sausage making.

"I need a game dog," I said, "a real game dog."

"These are game," Rogers said. He gazed at me in disinterest. He had on a straw skimmer, overalls, and an old shirt. His boy was dressed like him, minus the skimmer, and a rock tee shirt substituted for the plaid shirt.

The kid, Mervin, was about thirteen, a skinny boy with the saddest eyes I have ever seen. He was the one that took care of the pups, picking them up and loving them when he thought his dad wasn't looking. He sported a bruise on his cheek. I knew the look in his eyes. I had worn that myself after Spender got his hooks into me.

Handling the pup roughly, I narrowed my eyes and said, "I'm not buying a pig in a poke. Dog's a big investment. I don't want no cast off culls. I want to see the dogs you got in keep."

Keep is what dog fighters call it when a dog is in training to fight.

"Mister, I don't know what the hell you are talking about," Rogers said. "These are good dogs, game bred dogs. Straight up red nose lines."

"I can see what they look like," I said, "Looks don't tell the story."

Spitting onto the cracked tar surface of what had been a drive in, I said, "My brother and me are living at 132 Orchard Road."

"That's just down the road from us," Rogers said. "Maybe I'll drop by with the bitch so you can look."

"That would do," I said. I hitched up my pants and walked away. "Might be interested in that biggest pup if you don't have anything better. I'd pay good money for a dog with some game."

"We'll see," Rogers said.

OooOooO

It took about a week to warm Rogers up to us. We hired him and his boy to help us fix a hole in the roof and brace up the fence. He must have thought that law enforcement wasn't going to invest all that time and money into busting dog fighters. He was right, but he didn't know how far I would go to stop him.

Walt made a great good old boy. He had the gift of going hours without talking. He reeked of manly pheromones that made Rogers trust him on instinct. Meanwhile, I flashed a fair bit of cash and talked a good game about dog fighting. He must have had his sources too because he suddenly knew about my record of conviction in Indiana for dog fighting. It pays to make sure you set some deep background when you are going undercover.

The next weekend, Walt and I had an invitation to watch two dogs spar. It wasn't a formal fight. It was a backyard kind of thing to test the mettle of a pair of young dogs. I sat on a hay bale while Walt had a leg up on a rail, chewing a straw of hay and looking bored.

Billy Ray Rogers brought out the dog he was fighting. It was healthy, a big mostly white male that was in prime condition. He had a younger pup of the same breeding that he wanted to sell me for a thousand dollars. I made noises as if I was interested and showed him the cash. I thought I could keep stringing him along until I was invited to a real dog fight.

It was bloody and terrible even if it was just a trial match. The two dogs didn't need any encouragement to go at each other. They were bred to do this. Dogs like Chance who didn't have the `right stuff' were culled. A lot of them were used as bait dogs and died after being virtually torn to pieces. These two young dogs were held by their owners until they were ready to fight. The surprising thing was how silent they were and despite the eagerness they showed to be at the other dog, they made no attempt to bite their owners.

Once released, they went straight for each other. They were swift despite their stocky builds. They lunged into combat, testing each other at first. Finally Rogers' dog had a grip on the other. It took a special tool to get him to loose his grip. Rogers used the breaking stick to pry his dog away and the other owner dragged his pup away.

Rogers said about the other pup, "He got game, but you need to put some weight on him and muscle. Put'em on the treadmill and have him pull more weight behind him. He might do."

"What do you think?" Rogers said. "You want my pup now?"

"Thinking hard on it," I said. "I want to see a real fight with that Brutus dog you have and have a look at some of the other fighting stock around here. I like the way folks mind their business around here."

"Yeah, they do," Rogers said. "You be here at around dawn next Saturday. I'll introduce you around when we get to the fight. I was watching you and your brother during that practice. I can see you are real dog fighting folk. You didn't even look away when my Brutus tore the ear off that pup."

"The man didn't dock that ear close enough," I said. "Foolishness to leave enough for another dog to bloody. A torn off ear is sure to distract a dog."

"You have that," Rogers said. He was definitely buying what I was selling now.

After some more talk, I took my leave of him, getting in the car with Walter.

"Sick son of a bitch," Walter growled as we drove off.

"Yes, he is," I said. "You see his kid take off during the fight? Mervin isn't much of a dog fighter. I think the best thing for him is a clean start in a new home. The mother doesn't look as if she has a grain of sense in her head. The record shows that she keeps going back to the bastard even after he put her in the hospital."

The images of the bloody sparring were still crawling through my head. What I really needed was to be home. I wanted to see our dogs. I wanted to see Belun's laughing gaze looking up at me. To see Spooky as golden and lanky as Mulder, dragging one of his master's jogging shoes out the door to destroy it. I wanted to crawl between Pluto and Mars as I did when I thought I was going to die and let their wise, warm bulk comfort me.

I wanted to hear Mulder's laugh. I wanted to be between both of my lovers, maybe being fucked by both, but maybe just being held. I used to worry about it making me soft, but it doesn't bother me as much any more. That's more of Spender's crap, thinking love makes you weak. Bull shit. I used to be afraid and I made my share of mistakes, thinking of myself over the job. Now, I think in terms of the men I love. Now, I look at myself with their eyes and I want to be the guy they see. That's strong. That's how love makes you.

We couldn't go home right now, couldn't risk that someone was watching. Dog fighting is a felony in Virginia, everything from owning dog fighting equipment to being caught at a dog match will get you time. It's serious business and modern day dog fighters have ties to other dirty games. Rogers had bitched about his son being caught manufacturing drugs, but it was the being caught part that had him mad. He described Billy Jr. as pure worthless. He grumbled that if either of his boys had been his dogs he would have culled him both. Like Mulder and I said, he was a nice guy.

The first thing Walter and I had done was make sure every room in the house had blinds. We had left them pulled down when we went to Rogers'. Now, I was glad. We walked in and Walter started to undress before he even hit the bathroom. I felt the same way, peeling away the clothing I had worn as if it was contaminated by what I had seen.

There was no question about what we intended. We both climbed into the shower and we washed each other. What soap and water could not remove, our kisses soothed. I wanted to make love to Walter. I needed what he could give me, the release of the feelings that overwhelmed to the point that all I could think about was doing things the way I used to do them.

I wanted to kill Rogers and all of his kind. I had a fantasy about going to that dog fight and culling every low life there. I wasn't going to do it. I would use the law the way that I had promised Matt and my lovers, but part of me was raging at the idea that they might escape justice.

When Walter and I tumbled into the bed we had bought, we weren't gentle. Our kisses fought for domination. He held me down, his brutal strength subduing me as his mouth plundered mine. I nipped at his lip, dug my fingers into the swell of his shoulders. He cursed and growled in response, tossed his head like a bull brushing off a fly. His lips took mine again as his hand guided mine down to his cock. He was hard as I was. I teased him harder as we writhed against each other, his leg between mine, his hands moving over me, claiming me. His fingers pinched my nipples until I yelped then he soothed them with suckling kisses.

His head moved down my chest, down my belly. My hand caressed his shaven head; it felt strange to my touch as if this was not my lover. His beard and mustached brushed against my skin. By the time, he reached my groin, I felt as if all of me was burning from his touch, his kisses. His beard followed everywhere his devoted mouth explored until I was squirming, torn between begging for more and trying to escape the rub of his stubble.

Definitely more, I decided as he held me open to thrust his tongue into my hole. He and Mulder can make me come like that. It's embarrassing the way they can work my body, make me whine and moan. No one can compare, no one . . .

I didn't think that Walter had any intention of prolonging anything today though and I was right. I didn't need the full treatment, but he's always so careful with me, his big finger working me until I want to jump on his cock and make him fuck me.

"Walter," I begged. "Now, not some time tomorrow."

"Patience, Alex," Walter muttered, "A little patience . . ."

There was nothing little about the cock he thrust into me. Mulder is longer, but Walter is thicker. Either way, I get what I need from them when they make love to me.

Walter's hands on my hips are nearly enough to push me over the edge. I know that sounds stupid, but it's true. His big hands, his hard, callused hands hold me like I was the most precious thing he ever touched. He holds me tight as if he would never let me go. Oh, he holds me and he loves me.

I rocked as he fucked me, rocked with him surrounding me, my back against the thick wool of his chest, my ass pressed tight to his groin, my one hand back to hold onto him, to urge him closer to me although that was impossible. Sweat lubricated our bodies, but we had all the traction we need. Our gasps, our moans, the way we said each other's name, this was not fucking. This was sacrament; that was what we do when we make love like this. We cleanse each other; we take away the pain, we become one being that is composed of wild, perfect pleasure. We don't always come together. Sometimes one of us will not come at all, but ah, ah, when it happened, it is bliss. He's my mate. That's how it is. When he is ready, all it took was one more touch and we come, and we come.

We laid together, our chests heaving, our sweat drying and cooling. He kissed my neck and I turned to embrace him. We were love; that was what we were.

OooOooO

When we woke up from our fucked to bliss stupor, we called Mulder on a line that the Lone Gunmen vetted. Mulder was our contact point. He sounded lonely. There was a time when each of us was trapped in our own lonely hells, but we have gone beyond that point. We seldom are alone these days and I could tell that Mulder was wishing he was with us. I wished so too.

I gave Mulder the basic information while Walter checked our equipment. We would be taking pictures at the dog fight. We had surveillance equipment, state of the art micro cameras, and we would be packing. I had to forgo my Glock and Walter had to give up his Sig Sauer. We both had what looked like Saturday Night specials, but I retooled them. Hell if I'm going blow off the only hand I have for the sake of authenticity on an undercover job. Now, Walter had them both apart, cleaning them, oiling them, his brown eyes calm as he works. Walter and I have that in common. We like our weapons, both the ones between our legs and the ones we packed in holsters. We take excellent care of them and they take care of us. I would have liked to have known Walter when he was a field agent. We would have been one hell of a team.

After the discussion with Mulder degenerated down to phone porn, Walter shook his head as if he was too grown up for that and went to fiddle with the surveillance equipment. Walter isn't as comfortable talking about sex as he is doing it. Funny thing about my man. It's kind of cute in its way, but I have a lot more fun talking to Mulder on the phone.

My eyes closed, my hand resting on my cock, I told Mulder I was taking his clothes off him, unzipping his jeans with my teeth, sliding my hands down his ass and I dragged them off. I told him how much I loved his ass, the soft skin of it, the firm glide of muscles, the way he kept twitching every time I touched him. After the way I had come, I wasn't really jacking off. I was just keeping it company while I guided Mulder through a detailed description of what I intended to do to him when we were back together. I could tell from the way his voice dissolved into grunts and then a deep groan of relief when I had completed my work. God, I love him. I love my sexy son of a bitch Mulder.

We made loving sounds at each other for a while, segued back to the back up plans for next week, and then we hung up. Walter had returned to the room and said, "There's something sick about the way you and Mulder go from phone sex to commando planning while you're still breathing heavy."

"Can I help if I find men of action sexy?" I said. I grinned at him.

"Seems to be another thing we have in common," Walter replied. "How's Chance doing?"

"Chance can fetch Matilda's files without even leaving a tooth mark," I said. "He's learning how to drop them in a drawer, but she can't teach him to file alphabetically."

"If she succeeds with Chance," Walter said, "Let's hire her to work with Mulder."

Hey, it wasn't Mulder's fault he had an eidetic memory. When you have a picture perfect image in your mind of where you put something, you don't really need a system. Except to help poor mortals like Walter and I, of course. And Dana. Dana once told me that the reason she had never married Mulder was that he wouldn't file anything. I think that she was joking, but I wasn't one hundred percent sure.

"Matilda wants to be in on the bust," I said. "She gets pissed every time she looks at Chance's leg."

One of the many injuries that Chance had suffered was called a gloving injury. The skin of his left hind leg had been gripped by another dog until it came loose and fell around his ankle like a sock. Someone with a fair amount of skill had stitched up the injury, but he must have suffered hell in the process. My stump twitched at the thought of pain. It remembers even when I try to forget.

"I just hope I can survive another week of looking at Rogers' face," I said, "without pounding it into the ground."

"Me too," said Walter. "But we will get our chance to revenge those dogs. We can put Billy Ray Rogers away right beside his son."

"Maybe something will happen to him once he's inside," I said. Shit, I really was starting to sound like Mulder.

The way Walter looked at me, I knew what I had to say and quickly, "Not anything I arranged . . ."

For good effect, I ducked my head and slowly fluttered my eyelashes at Walter. He stared in disbelief and then roared. "All right, all right," he said, "Come here, Beulah Mae, Walter Joe is your man."

Hmm, there was a sex game in there somewhere screaming to get out.

OooOooO

Walt and I had hired Mervin to help us paint the house. I noticed him put a box in the truck, but I wasn't going to say anything. I just nodded to him and waited for Walter to finish talking to Billy Ray. You have to admire Walter. You would have thought Billy Ray was his good old buddy watching them. Walter can do his job. In my book, that said a lot. Walt clapped Billy Ray on the shoulder and nodded . . . so very macho. I was going to have to top next time just to put an interesting mince in that all-male swagger.

Once we unloaded the extra ladders that Billy Ray loaned to us, I kept my eye on Mervin. He headed for a shed that we didn't use much with his box. It didn't take much skill to follow him or to come up silently behind him.

The boy took two puppies out of the box. He held them while they licked his face and then fed them some handfuls of the cheap dog food that Billy Ray fed his yard dogs.

"Your father cull these?" I asked.

"Oh, shit," Mervin said, cringing. "Sir, I'm sorry. I was just going to . . . I thought since you didn't use this shed."

Sitting beside the kid, I resisted putting an arm around him. Adult attention didn't mean comfort to this child. I remembered that from my own experiences. I said, "It isn't a problem. I could probably find a home for these puppies."

"As bait dogs?" Mervin said. "No thanks."

"No," I said, "Real homes. Raise them up as pet dogs."

"Are you lying to me, Sir," Mervin asked, big eyes bigger in his gaunt face.

"No," I said. "I know people who just like dogs as pets or use them for things like search and rescue. Do you know what that is?"

"Kinda do," Mervin replied. "My cousin has cable and there was a show about it. Pretty cool. That's what I'd like to do with dogs. Dog fighting sucks. I don't know why you want a fighting dog, Sir. All that happens is that eventually they meet the meaner dog and they die. My dad cried once when his champ dog, Old Blue, was killed. More'n he'd cry if me or Billy was killed, but he still fought him until some other dog killed him. I hate my Dad. I hate all of those guys."

"Well, these pups can be our secret. You'll be over every day for a week anyway because you're working for Walter and myself. You can take care of them until I find those good homes," I said.

"I'll pay you for their food out of my wages," Mervin said.

"Deal," I agreed. It might seem wrong to take the kid's money, but I was giving back something he would appreciate more, respect.

After settling the pups, Mervin and I went to work on the house. As much work as we were putting into this place, I thought that Walt and I would buy it. There would be a deserving family after we had repaired and remodeled it. Meanwhile, I was enjoying looking at Walter with his shirt off, nothing but worn denim jeans, a cowboy hat, and that strong back. If it wasn't for the kid, we might not have been getting much painting finished.

OooOooO

I looked out the window and grinned. Mervin was doing a pretty good imitation of a trouble free kid. He was playing with the pups. We named the girl, Nette, and the boy, Ned. They were adorable, but most puppies are. I had given Mulder the job of contacting pit bull rescues. They were all full, of course, but a liberal application of money could get some dogs to new foster homes. I was planning ahead. Some of the dogs would have to be put down. I knew that. I had lived with worse in my life, but, damn, if I was going to let every dog taken in the raid be put to sleep. Those capable of being retrained and placed in educated home were going to have a chance.

The puppies were going to be placed locally. Hell, I was going to arrange for them to be mascots at one of the cottages at my institute. There was an opening in that cottage for an older child. Mervin wasn't a child of the project, but he had his horrors to live through anyway.

The lawyer Mulder contacted didn't think filing a petition would do much good. Myrna Rogers did not have a record. She would have custody of her son. However, I planned to offer her some money to resettle. I had found out that she had a sister in Seattle. That was far enough. The condition would be to sign custody of her son over to the institute. Walter didn't know about the plan and I wasn't telling him. Sometimes, I still do things the Alex way.

When I went outside to show Mervin how to train the puppies to walk on leash, he hugged me. It surprised the hell out of me. I had been so careful not to touch him. He said, "I know who you are."

Oh shit, this could mean serious trouble. I said, "Sure you do, Lexi Sergeant, your neighbor."

"No, you're the guy who runs that place on the hill," Mervin said. "I saw you drive a bunch of kids to school one day."

Oh, shit! The kid floored me with that comment. One fucking time I drive those kids! Most of them go to the self-contained school at the institute, but Jeff and I encourage any of them who express an interest to give public school a try. Two of Jeff's adopted kids go to the middle school in town. Usually we have a van driver to take them, but that day, he called in sick at the last moment. Jeff had a fund raising meeting and I was over for breakfast so I ended up driving.

Mervin was a smart kid, observant. He would make a good cop if he chose.

"All those kids say what a great man you are," Mervin said. "I'm friends with Paul Spender. I told him I wished I was a project kid. I'd rather be some alien's kids, not my Mom and Dad's."

"You wouldn't miss your Mom if you didn't live with her?" I asked.

"I know I'm supposed to love her, but all she thinks about is Dad," Mervin said. "She likes my sister, Lucia, and she was crazy about Billy when he lived with us, but I don't think she wanted another kid when I was born. Don't worry, Mr. Krycek. I won't say a word. You're going to stop the dog fighting, aren't you?"

Mervin was a sharp kid. I wasn't going to try to lie to him. I nodded and said, "You can't tell anyone."

"No one listens to me anyway," Mervin said. "I won't tell. I wouldn't tell even if it was my brother. Not since he killed my dog."

That was right. Chance had been Mervin's dog. Whoops. I knew Chance was working out with Matilda and she needed him. Hell of a deal when Mervin found out his dog was alive. Life is God-damn complex.

OooOooO

In a way, the dogs that barked, growled, or stared from where they were caged or leashed in the back of pickups, stuffed into Econoline vans, or sat in the back of old station wagons looked, as if they also were victims of the project. They were missing ears, missing toes. One dog was so scarred that his face looked worse than Jeff's used to look. A lot of the dogs were either missing eyes or looked out of hunks of scar tissue. By choice, I wouldn't have looked at them, but I was still playing a role. I stood there and discussed the merits of some poor suffering brute just as I had lit cigarettes for military commandants from hell or fetched coffee for CSM Spender.

Walt and I knew this was going to be hard to take. We were going to have to sit through some matches, document the betting and everything else that was going on.

The picture in my head of the dog fighters was of guys like Billy Ray, but there was a mixture of people. Everything from rock and roll types to people who appeared to have money. There were women at the match and kids. One of the women had a dog she planned to fight. She was full of bull shit about improving the breed. She dressed like people I knew at dog shows I had attended with Gina. Fortunately, I hadn't met her or Walter and I could be in big trouble.

The thing that amazed me was when a football star swaggered into the place, a bunch of sycophants in tow. He was waving money, talking shit about athlete dogs as if he and these poor beasts had anything in common. I wondered if he would care to have to fight to the death instead of running around with a helmet and padding. I hoped he would get his ugly mug pasted over every newspaper in the United States. If I had my way, he would be suspended from play and lose some of that cash he was throwing around.

We were in a big barn that was set up with a dog fighting ring in the middle. It was a roped off area with bales defining it and a line down the middle. The floor was covered with sawdust to sop up the blood. I saw blood lust on every face, reminding me of the way the old men would look at us when we practiced fighting at the school. I wanted to kill these assholes just as I used to dream about taking out the bastards who ran the Project.

Walter sat down next to me. It was crowded, giving him a good reason to lean into me. I know he was trying to comfort me, but I didn't want that kind of comfort at the moment. I wanted revenge. I wanted to see these assholes marching out the door in handcuffs at the least.

Pushing against Walter, I gave him a meaningful look and said, "Bro, find me a beer."

Scowling, Walter said, "Lexi, you have one lazy ass. I should make you get your own."

Walter wandered off, seemingly walking around without purpose. I knew he was catching as many of the participants on camera as he could.

My stomach churned as the first match started. They were young dogs. Their handlers were what Rogers called punks, urban dog men who were jumped-up street fighters. Rogers and the old time handlers didn't think much of them. They considered the men without class or science. One thing I could say for Rogers, he carried a medical kit for his dog and could stitch them up like a pro. These men didn't carry a bandage for their dogs.

The two dogs slammed into each other without warning. They knew their job just as Belun knew his. They were dogs and would do as they were bred and trained to do. The slightly bigger dog rolled with the smaller one on top. They were amazingly silent even as blood and drool splattered from them. The smaller dog tore loose, but instead of running, he whirled back, trying to go for a death grip on the larger dog.

Bile rose in my throat, but I stayed where I was, recording everything with the silent camera concealed in the cooler case slung over my shoulder. I noted who was taking bets, managed to pan what looked like a drug transaction off to the side, and caught the avid expressions, the excitement as if what was happening to those dogs meant nothing more than a cartoon, a video game. They say they love their dogs!

I think I could have stood it until Matt arrived with back-up. What made me move wasn't the dogs. It was the kid. Rogers had forced Mervin to come to the meet. When one of the dogs tore away most of his competitor's face, Mervin had enough. He tried to go out quietly, but Billy Ray was drinking. It didn't make him less alert, just meaner.

Billy Ray started hitting his kid right in the middle of the dog fight. He took out his belt and his arm was rising and falling, rising and falling. I had been beaten like that as a teenager. The snarl that rose from my throat was less human than those from the dogs. I moved quickly. The belt went flying and Billy Ray hit the floor.

"You go out now, Mervin; go to my car," I said.

"What you trying to do with my kid?" Billy Ray shouted.

Billy Ray rushed me and I side-stepped. As he skidded past me, I put my foot in his ass and shoved him into the ring. The two dogs bowled over him before their handlers ran in with breaking sticks. Meanwhile, Mervin had good instincts and had jetted out of the barn.

The gun came from no where. I hadn't known Billy Ray was packing. It was in my face before I could draw mine. I heard the click of a trigger and then Walter's quiet voice, "I think you should put the gun down, Billy Ray."

"Your brother is an asshole," Billy Ray said.

"Yeah," Walter agreed, "But he's my asshole. Put the gun down."

We had planned to get out of there before the raid started anyway, but we didn't plan to leave, walking backwards, guns out, and ready to shoot the next man who moved.

Our emergence signaled the raid. They waited until we had reached our truck and started it then all the shit hit the fan. It was a combined raid, everything from armed animal protection cops to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. I don't know what Mulder had said to them to get this much action, but it must have been one hell of a story.

The first one out of the sheriff's van was Matt Nolen. He hit that barn with his gun drawn, his generally affable face set into a fierce mask. I knew how he felt about dogs. This was personal with him.

We were supposed to keep out of it, especially with Mervin hiding in our truck, but that did not include letting our truck be jacked. Walter and I drew our guns as a group of men ran to us. I had to shoot one of them in the leg before any of them would listen to reason. Walter plugged another one and they all decided to go belly down as we told them. We were standing over them like deer hunters when the local police came to collect them.

Matt sighed and said, "Couldn't keep out of it, could you? I'm going to hear about this."

"Don't worry about it, Matt," I said.

"I still have influence," Walter chimed in. "We'll make our reports and there won't be a problem for you."

"I hope not," Matt said. "It was a good bust. Did you get video of them as you planned?"

Both of us held up our spy cams. "Enough to nail a lot of them on half a dozen charges."

"I need one more thing," I said, as the medics took away the guy I shot. "Get me a custody hold on this kid. This is Billy Ray Roger's son. I need some pictures of his back. His dad beat him with his belt. There are bruises."

Once we had Mervin's shirt up to take pictures, there was no doubt he was going to need a foster home. He not only had old scars in the shape of daddy's belt buckle, but he had the classic round burns from cigarettes. This kid had been tortured.

OooOooO

I checked Mervin into Jeff's house. Jeff has a foster care license and we don't. Sometimes we do things by the book. Jeff took the kid inside, puppies and all, introduced him to the other kids. The boy he knew, Paul, was Jeff's adopted son. Paul is part Mulder, part a lot of genomes. He has some of the healing traits, but some fluke had handed him extra fingers on his hand and some other minor physical mutations. He was normal by the standards of Jeff's family, but he was attached to another boy that Jeff adopted so he joined the family when Jeff adopted Tommy, the boy with the fused limbs.

I intended to tell Mervin about Chance, but I didn't have to. Matilda was at Jeff's house. It made sense. Jeff visited Gina almost as often as I did. He had met Chance and was the back-up plan for him. Apparently, Mulder's baby brother found Matilda very attractive and she had been spending a lot of time at Jeff's house. Well, that was interesting. I suppose time will tell whether Mervin gets to get his dog back along with a Mom who had a lot more going for her than the one who gave birth to him.

By the time, I had dropped Mervin off; I was reeling on my feet. Walter drove us home. Mulder was at my side before I was out the truck door. Dogs swarmed everywhere, but Belun took my free side. Walter sat down on the porch, his arms around Pluto and Mars. He buried his face in the loose folds of skin at Mar's neck. I guess he felt more affected by what we had seen than he was willing to let on. Mulder and I sat down too, waiting for him.

I pretended not to see the gloss in his eyes when he looked up. He said, "Well, it was a good bust."

Nodding, I said, "Got some of the big guys."

"Matt said there are lots of leads back to other dog fighters and some of the little guys are already squealing," Walter replied. "It was worth it."

"Yes, it was," I said.

"But I never want to see a dog fight again," Walter said. His hands were shaking when he stood up to extend them to Mulder and me.

"I don't think we have to," I said. "We wouldn't be able to pull the same trick again. I don't think we stopped the problem, but we put a dent in it. That football star is going to make this bust hit the media with a vengeance. There will be a lot more people reading about dog fights. I hope they use some of the pictures we took."

There was one dog whose picture I had taken. It was a bait dog, used to train other fighting dogs. Old scars and raw wounds defined what should have been a dog's face. Out of that wreck, brown eyes stared as if wondering how it had come to this. He had only asked to be a companion. He had obeyed his owner. Why had this happened to him?

I have no answers for that dog. I have no answers for any of the cruelty I have seen and experienced. I just know that one day I realized that the end does not always justify the means. I started to take my fight clean and one day, I looked up, and I had Mulder by my side. I walked out of hell and darkness and I found a home.

That mutilated, suffering animal will never be Belun or Spooky. The court is allowing the worst off dogs to be put to sleep. They will at last know a gentle hand and a kind voice even if it is the last thing they experience.

They say there is a bridge where animals wait. They say that each one plays happily until his or her owner arrives. They say that the dogs who we try to rescue, the ones like that suffering animal will wait too. Someday when Walter and I pass, that dog will travel with us. He will finally have a person, someone who loves him.

I'm not much for sentimental stuff, but I want to believe that.

Here on earth, we have a lot to do before we think of rest. Mulder, Walter, and I have a lot of loving to do. I have kids to rescue, dogs to train, and bad guys who need a kick in the ass.

Anytime I have doubt, I just look at Belun or Spooky. If I need a refresher to remind me that the world is worth saving, I go over and visit Jeff and Matilda. I ruffle Chance's ears and put an arm around Mervin.

I'm healing.

The end


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