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Mar 18

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A Dog’s Life

Summary

Dale and Ari celebrate a very special anniversary.

Dale’s first thought as she entered the apartment was how stupid she’d been for leaving the lights on all day. Her second thought was how stupid she’d been to assume it was her doing. She stopped just over the threshold, mail tucked against her side, keys in her hand like some meager knife, and looked to see if the intruder was still around. The kitchen door was to her left, just beyond the coat closet, and Ari appeared in it moments after Dale’s entrance.

“Hey. Intrusive or sweet? I’ve been going back and forth on it.”

Dale finally closed the door. “Depends on why you’re here. You said you were going grocery shopping when you left the office.”

“I was. I did. I bought things to cook you dinner.”

“Then sweet.” She put down her things and took off her coat, pausing to kiss Ari hello before going into the kitchen. “What are you making?”

“Mac and cheese, with weenies and peas.”

Dale’s grin widened. “My favorite. What’s the occasion?”

Ari put her hands on Dale’s hips. “Our anniversary.”

“What?” Dale panicked, but then shook her head. “We haven’t been dating a year yet. And the months–”

“Not dating. Our real anniversary. I was the wolf, and some kids were hitting me with plastic pipes. You saved me. Then once we met for real…”

Dale smiled and stepped into Ari’s embrace. “Oh. That anniversary. Well, then.” She kissed Ari softly. “Thank you. It’s definitely sweet and not intrusive at all. Thank you. Do you need me to do anything to help you with it?”

Ari shook her head. “It’s almost done. That’s why I asked how long you were going to stay at the office when I left. I wanted to be sure I had enough time to get it ready. Go into the living room and relax. I’ll bring you a bowl when it’s ready.”

“Okay.” She stepped away from Ari and looked around the cramped kitchen for some small thing she could do, then surrendered to Ari’s desire to prepare the meal for her. She brushed her hand over Ari’s back and went into the living room. She sat on the couch and remembered coming home that first day with what she thought was just a bleeding, brutalized dog. She had cleaned it up as best she could, her fear of being bitten fading as it became ever more apparent that the animal was domesticated.

Sometime during the night, Ari had changed back into her human form. Confused and thinking she was just drunk and sleeping off a one-night stand, she stumbled down the hall and into Dale’s bed. Dale smiled when she thought about that initial shock. It was the fear that there was a stranger in her bed and the acknowledgement that said stranger was very, very attractive.

Ari had explained the situation as best she could while wrapped in a stranger’s sheet. The next morning…

 

 

Four years earlier

The diner down the street from Dale’s apartment was mostly empty after the morning rush, so they were able to get a table by the window. Dale was still wary of the woman sitting across from her. The story she gave was so bizarre, but how else could she explain appearing out of nowhere and the dog vanishing without a trace. They were sitting over their coffee, letting the steam rise, each of them waiting for the other to speak. Dale couldn’t stop herself from examining the woman across from her. The lines of her neck, the curve of her jaw. Her T-shirt, borrowed from Dale, had a gaping wide-V neck that showed the gentle waves of her ribs above the slight swell of her breasts. Collarbone and rounded shoulders, arched eyebrows…

“You don’t look like a dog.”

Dark blue eyes met Dale’s. “What?”

“I mean.” She waved. “I can’t see anything of the dog in your face. Your eyes are the same color, but other than that–”

“It’s a wolf, actually.” She moved her fingers over the curved side of her cup and looked back down into the coffee she had yet to taste. “And thank you. I guess.”

She smiled and Dale noted that her mouth formed more of a rectangle than a half-moon when she smiled. The corners were blunted by her cheeks, which dimpled vertically. She pressed her lips together and broke off a corner of her cookie. She popped it into her mouth and chewed it thoroughly before she spoke.

“I’m hearing you out because you’re beautiful.”

Ari blinked. “What?”

“If you weren’t beautiful, I would have kicked you out of my apartment and called the cops about a crazy woman who was running around telling people she was a werewolf. But since I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met…” She shrugged. “I’m sorry. I just wanted you to have full disclosure.”

“Oh. Thank you.” She pushed her hair behind her ear. Small ears, and a high forehead that she was trying to hide with bangs. “I don’t want anything from you, if that’s what you’re worried about. I have a home, I have work, I have… enough. I just got caught up in something bad yesterday and I’m very grateful you were there. As soon as I get back to my apartment, I’ll pay you back for everything. I’ll wash your clothes and get them back to you as soon as I can.”

Dale scratched her cheek. “Okay. But… I mean… you’re…” She looked to one side and leaned forward. “You’re a werewolf. Like a real, living myth.”

Ari cringed. “Look, you’re a sweet woman, and I owe you a lot for saving my ass yesterday. But I’m not going to be a sideshow or a tabloid story. If you say anything–”

“Are you threatening me?”

Ari pressed her lips together. “I’m asking you. Please. Don’t say anything. Don’t try to make this the story of the year, Werewolves Exist Says Local Crackpot.”

Dale leaned back in her chair. “I can’t believe you think I’d do that. I saved your ass–”

“I know. And I’m grateful.”

“–and you repay me by telling me to keep my mouth shut?”

“Who would believe you? And I’d deny the hell out of it.”

Dale was getting angry. She signaled to the clerk that they were finished and ready for their check. She took out her wallet and, in an effort to take out the money to pay for breakfast, ended up with two wrinkled singles. “Oh, shit.”

“Breakfast is on me. I cost you dinner last night.”

“Don’t do me any favors.” She pinched her credit card between two fingers and hesitated before she pulled it out. She sighed and dropped the wallet on the table. “Shit.”

“Is that all you have?”

“It’s none of your business how much I have.” She felt her face getting red. “Just… I saved you, you know where to send the clothes, so as far as I’m concerned, you’re just a crazy chapter in my life that’s ending.”

The clerk dropped off their check and Ari snatched it before Dale could.

“Cut it out.”

“I cost you dinner. Let me buy you a proper breakfast.”

“Don’t do me any favors.”

Ari said, “I’m not. You know what those kids would have done to me if you hadn’t come along? And even if I gave in and transformed, I’d be a naked, beaten woman surrounded by horny teenage punks. It would have ended badly for me, Dale, no matter which way it went. I could have died last night. I’m sorry that I threw the whole ‘this is a secret’ thing at you, but I’m having a hard time processing the fact you saved me from being tortured or raped. So let me buy you a goddamn plate of fucking eggs and pancakes. Please.”

Dale blinked, feeling ashamed of herself. She swallowed hard and said, “With hash browns?”

Ari relaxed and gave her oddly square smile again. “Sausage too, if you want it.”

“I don’t like sausage.”

“Okay, then.”

Dale put the money back in her wallet, returned the credit card to its slot, and she let Ari signal to the clerk that they were going to order again.

“So. You said you have work. What do you do?”

Ari hesitated. “You might find it harder to believe than the fact I’m canidae.”

Dale raised an eyebrow.

“I’m a private investigator.”

Dale rolled her eyes and dropped her head onto her folded arms. “Oy.”

 

 

 

Ari pushed the door open, leaned in to turn on the light, and stepped back into the hallway. “See? There you go.”

“Willow Detection Services. Really?”

“What? It’s my name.”

Dale sighed and stepped into the waiting room. “It sounds like you look for trees. Do you get a lot of calls for arboreal services?”

“No. Not… a lot.” Ari entered behind her and stuffed her hands into her pockets. They had stopped by Ari’s apartment so she could change into her own clothes, and the outfit she borrowed from Dale was now folded in the backseat of her car. Dale pointed at the empty desk.

“Your secretary sit there?”

“I don’t have a secretary. Usually I sit there to wait for phone calls, and I go in there to use the computer.” She gestured at the inner door with her chin, so Dale opened it and looked inside. It was a cozy office, very noir and spartan. There was a huge clock on one wall, more a decoration than practical, but Dale noted it was set to the correct time.

“I like the clock.”

“Thanks.”

Dale sighed. “Okay. So now I can say I’ve met a werewolf and a private investigator all in the same day. You have anything else going on? Are you also a superhero?”

“I’m Wiccan.”

“Big deal. I’ve met Wiccans.”

“I’m a lesbian.”

“So what? I’ve slept with lesbians.”

Ari smiled and chuckled softly. She looked down at her shoes and scuffed them against the floor. “Look… as far as I’m concerned, I owe you my life. Or at least my physical well-being. The least I can do is help you out a little. Two dollars isn’t going to get you very far. Are you working anywhere?”

Dale shrugged. “I’m doing okay. I have my credit card, and my father… if it ever gets too bad, he wants me to come home anyway, so–”

“Come work for me. Just for a couple of cases. You can answer the phone for me, you can do research for me when I’m out knocking on doors… I’ve been trying to do this myself, and it’s a pain in the ass. I want to hire an assistant, but my secret kind of makes it tough to trust anyone. With you, that’s out of the way. It would be a load off.”

Dale looked at the desk and then faced Ari. “So basically you’re saying you want me to save your ass again.”

Ari grinned. “Yeah, something like that.”

The desk had a laptop and a phone. There were notepads and a calendar. She ran her hands over the edge of the desk and tried to imagine sitting down behind it every day. “I haven’t had a desk since college.” She drummed her fingers on the wood and then looked at the door behind Ari. “The name has to go, though.”

“I was never overly fond of it, but I’m bad with that sort of thing. We can brainstorm about it if you want.”

Dale thought for a second. “I bet being a dog… or wolf… comes in pretty handy with investigating. Following people, watching them without being seen, getting into places people aren’t supposed to be. So we should mention that. And Detection Service? Who are you trying to impress?”

“It sounded classier.”

“Is classier what you’re going for?”

Ari sat in one of the waiting room chairs. “I don’t know. I’m a woman who is trying to convince people I can do the same job as a man. Female private investigators don’t get a lot of respect. Remember Remington Steele?”

“No.”

“It’s a classic.”

“I don’t watch a lot of movies.”

Ari sighed. “It’s a classic TV show. Laura Holt has a detective agency, but she doesn’t think people will take her seriously. So she invents a front man named Remington Steele. Then one day, a guy shows up claiming to be Remington Steele and he takes over the business. They end up working together, falling in love, blah blah blah.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Remington Steele was Pierce Brosnan.”

“Pretty is still boring. But you don’t want to hide under a guy’s name. You just want clients to know you’re tough enough to do what they need. You can do that with the right name. And I think you should hint at your, uh…”

“Werewolf Investigations.”

Dale shook her head, thought for a second, and said, “Bitches Investigations.”

Ari laughed. “I love it. Want something done, hire a bitch.”

“Bitches get things done. You think you could get away with it?”

“I don’t know. I’m willing to give it a shot at least.”

Dale grinned.

Ari stood up and moved to stand in front of the desk. “I’ll give you a chance to set up the desk how you like it. If you decide not to stay… I mean… it’s up to you when you leave. I’m not making you sign a contract or anything. And paychecks might be spotty, considering–”

“I understand.”

Ari nodded. “Well.” She held out her hand across the blotter. “Welcome about, Miss… uh. What’s your last name?”

“Frye. Dale Frye.” She took Ari’s hand, squeezed. “Thanks.”

“I’ll just be in there.” She gestured at the inner office and then went inside, leaving the door open a crack. Dale ran her hands over the edge of the desk and looked at the computer monitor. At the very least it would help ease the weight of her credit card debt, and it would give her something to do while she looked for another job. She rubbed her hands together and turned on the computer.

 

 

 

“Bitches Investigations, what can we do for you today? Just a moment.” She checked the date book and saw that Ari was going to be ‘observing’ for the next five days. It was Dale’s code for sitting around and waiting to see if someone was cheating, if they were really injured and deserved workman’s comp, or just keeping an eye on someone. “She’ll be available for a consult on Tuesday at five. If that’s not soon enough, we can… okay. I’ll put you down. Name?”

She wrote it down, thanked the caller, and then hung up. She filled out the information on the proper space in her book and then carried it to the door of Ari’s office. She stopped just before she knocked an announced her presence.

Ari was lying on the couch facing away from the door, one foot flat on the cushion with the knee bent while the other was resting on the couch arm. Her jeans were artfully ripped just under the left pocket, the cuffs worn and frayed. She was barefoot and wore a tight baseball jersey top that showed off the muscles of her arms and the flat plane of her stomach. Dale admired the line of her body, the way her small breasts rose and fell with each breath, and then she cleared her throat and stepped into the office.

“Another case?” Ari didn’t even look up from the folder she was reading.

“Yeah. Is that the affidavit the DA wanted you to read?”

“Is affidavit Latin for really boring crap? Then yes.”

Dale smiled and said, “Can I sit?”

Ari looked at her. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. I just wanted to have a business conversation.”

“Oh. Business.” Ari closed the folder and sat up. “Should I put on shoes?”

Dale chuckled. “Not on my account, no.” She turned around the chair usually reserved for Ari’s clients and sat down. “When I started here, we agreed it would be a temporary employment. That I would decide when I would move on and take other work.”

Ari’s expression changed. “Oh. Yeah, I remember.”

“It’s been three weeks. I’ve changed the name of your agency, I came up with that whole stash idea–”

“That’s genius, by the way.”

“Thank you.” She rubbed her palms together. “I don’t want to leave.”

Ari’s shoulders slumped and she sagged forward. “Oh, thank God.”

“You’re happy?”

“Are you kidding me? Dale, this place has come alive since you started working here. It’s turned into a real business. You bought a police scanner. You got the DA to contract me for a few cases. They seem pretty happy with what I’ve done so far, so I think they’re going to renew the contract when it comes time. If you left now, I would be… lost.” She slid forward to the edge of the couch. “I want to make a contract with you. Not so you’d be trapped, but so you would get fairly compensated for the work you do. It would just be to keep track of when you get raises and vacation time and all of that.” She shrugged and smiled that crazy almost-square smile again. “And so I could trap you.”

Dale said, “You realize you just destroyed any chance you have at negotiating the contract. I’d have you tied around my little finger.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well. Then we should negotiate immediately.”

Ari nodded and rubbed her knees. “How about we do it over lunch?”

“Sure.” They both stood, but Ari hissed through her teeth and put a hand to the small of her back. Dale waited until the twinge was over to speak. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Still just a little sore from the shift.”

“That was last night. You’re still hurting?”

“A little. It’s fine. I’m used to it.”

Dale stepped closer. “Here. Turn around.”

“Why?”

“Just do it, all right?”

Ari did as she was told. Dale lifted the hem of Ari’s shirt to bare the small of her back. She put the heels of her hands together on either side of Ari’s spine and rolled her wrists in small circles.

“Ah…”

“How’s that?”

“That feels amazing.”

Dale extended her thumbs and widened the coverage. “Here, or higher?”

“Right there.”

Dale looked down and saw the waistband of Ari’s underwear underneath her jeans, the dimples that marked the end of her back and the start of her ass. And it was a very nice ass, she had to admit. She pressed harder and dug her fingers into the soft skin.

“Let me know if I hurt you.”

“Okay.” It was barely more than a gasp, a whisper forced out because a response was required. “That feels amazing, Dale.”

“If you let me do this right after you change, it can help a lot more. Maybe you’d sleep better.” She wet her lips and said, “If you wanted to take off your shirt and lie down, I could do it properly.”

“Take off…”

Dale winced. “I know I told you I was gay when we met. But this is just business. I’m not trying to seduce you or make you uncomfortable–”

“Oh, I understand.” She was quiet for a second. “I’m just worried that you might get the wrong… that… I mean, because I’m gay, too.”

“Yeah. So?”

“That’s not awkward?”

“It’ll only be awkward if we make it awkward, Ms. Willow. I assure you, my intentions are entirely pure. I’ve seen the way you wince after you transform, how you measure your steps and you move oh, so carefully. I know it hurts you. I just got this job and I’m not going to lose it because you hurt too badly to investigate. Now take your shirt off and lay down on your stomach.”

Ari leaned forward and peeled off her top, revealing a tan bra. She bent her knee on the cushion and stretched out, crossing her arms and resting her head on them. Dale sat on the edge of the couch and resumed rubbing the small of Ari’s back.

“You do realize, in this contract I’m going to have you sign, that I’ll be the boss. Right?”

“Sure,” Dale said. “On paper, anyway.”

Ari sighed. “God. What have I gotten myself into?”

Dale smiled and dug her fingers into the skin, drawing a grunt from Ari. “Shut up and tell me where it hurts.”

 

Now

Ari stroked Dale’s cheek, waking her slowly. “Hey. You fell asleep.”

“Oh.” Dale blinked blearily and pushed herself up. She smiled shyly and then put her hand on Ari’s shoulder. “Kiss me.”

Ari didn’t ask questions. When they parted, she brushed her lips over Dale’s cheek and smiled at her. “Did you have a good dream?”

“I dreamt about how we met. Our anniversary.”

“Oh? How appropriate.” She had been bent over for the wake-up call, but she sank onto the couch and pressed against Dale’s side. She put her hand on the back of Dale’s head and toyed with the long strands of red hair. “Anything you’d change?”

“Yeah. I’d have made love to you the first time I got your shirt off.”

Ari smiled. “Well, what’s life without a few regrets?” She brought her other hand up and stroked Dale’s jaw. “But then it would have been just sex. I wouldn’t have had a chance to fall in love with you.”

“We’d have gotten there.”

“You think?”

Dale nodded. “I’ll love you in any circumstance, timeline, chain of events, alternate world or zombie apocalypse you can come up with.”

Ari smiled and kissed her. “Come on. Food’s getting cold. You’ll need your energy for part two of the anniversary.” She stood up and held her hand out.

“Oh? What’s part two?” Dale took Ari’s hand and let herself be pulled to her feet.

“It’s a recreation of the night we first laid eyes on each other, but with a twist. This time we’ll both be naked.”

Dale grinned and followed Ari to the table.

That was an alternate reality she could support wholeheartedly.

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