Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: through "Leapin' Lizards" A belated birthday present for CSIpal. Happy birthday!
He was hot.
And his feet hurt. Especially the right front one.
Dumbo kept walking, though. It was bright and noisy and smelly, and the deadly cars kept rushing past, but he wasn't going to stop for a while yet. Not until it got dark, maybe, or if he found something worth eating on the side of the road.
His idea of "worth eating" had gotten a lot wider, these days.
He didn't know what kept him going anymore; sometime, he wasn't sure when, he'd given up hope of finding his People. They were starting to blur a little, becoming less individual pack members and more a noisy group shouting at him from memory. They had disappeared on him, all at once, and he'd been wandering alone through strange and hostile territories ever since.
He had no pack, and no purpose, and for a dog that was a bad way to be.
The ground was dusty under his paws, and the dust and the smell of the cars made him want to sneeze all the time. Dumbo kept panting as he walked; the heat was brutal. Water was very hard to find, and the last two puddles he'd located had tasted metallic and faintly nasty.
Somewhere, deep in the center of him, he knew he was approaching an end. He was hungry all the time now, the sort of hunger that gnawed and whined, and the heat was just too oppressive. The sun had become an enemy, silent and relentless.
A scent wound its way into Dumbo's nose, a thin hint of wetness threading through the acrid tang of car exhaust. He raised his head, taking in the information, trying to pinpoint its location. Water.
Not fresh, but enough for him to smell it. Enough that maybe his tongue wouldn't scrape the ground when he lapped at it. Water--
He sat, heavily, and licked his nose. The source of the scent lay on the other side of that streaming flow of cars.
Dumbo didn't like cars, not in this quantity. They moved far too quickly for him to judge where they were or what they were going to do, and normally he would avoid them. Instinct urged him to go further up the road a little ways, where it might slack off, or even end.
But he'd been walking along it a long, long time without any sign of narrowing.
Reason stirred, offering its limited advice. If he kept going, he might have to go a far way before he could cross safely. Too far, maybe.
Thirst chimed in, making that sparse scent the most enticing odor he could remember smelling. It filled his brain until it became his only thought; he had to get to that water.
Dumbo sat for a long time by the side of the highway, waiting for the cars to slow, or at least become fewer. But they didn't, and finally he stood up again, pacing back and forth a little before making the plunge.
It was chaos, loud and terrifying. The river squealed and roared, dodging at him as he dashed. He stopped midway, confused and frantic, then saw something huge barreling down on him and sprang for the island in the middle. Terrified, shocky, he crouched in the uncertain haven of the median and trembled as the outraged sounds faded back into the normal rush of traffic.
His heart, overworked, simply wouldn't calm. Dumbo made himself as small as possible, tucking in his legs and tail. He couldn't go back, and he couldn't go forward.
He was tired.
Things got blurry for a while after that. He crouched and panted, passing into a space where he wasn't really aware of much; he knew he was still stranded, but it didn't seem to matter. Even the thirst got further away.
The sun was low and dark when something changed. Dumbo didn't hear the car stopping, but he did hear the footsteps in the gravel and trash of the median, and he raised his heavy head.
A Person was coming, slowly, eyes fixed on him. He snuffed the scent blowing towards him; it was a female, and not afraid or angry. Dumbo knew that People could be unpredictable, even cruel, but they were still People, and for the first time since his own pack had vanished one was paying attention to him. His tail moved slightly in wary hope.
"Hey, big guy," she said, her voice pleasingly low. "Hey there, how you doing? How'd you get out here, big fella?"
Dumbo wagged his tail a bit more, watching her. He knew this ritual, approach between strangers, each trying to see if the other was friend or threat. He pushed stiffly up until he was sitting, but he was too tired to stand.
The Person came even closer, one hand held out. The other rested near her hip, but Dumbo focused on her face and her smell, trying to decide whether he should greet her or try to run.
Then she was in front of him, and still there was no threat. He dipped his muzzle to her palm, and her scent was clean. Her voice soothed his ears, and slowly the hand came up and rubbed gently at the side of his head.
The sigh came from the depths of his heart. Dumbo leaned into her touch, half closing his eyes. This was a Good Person.
She crouched in front of him, putting her at eye level. "Oh, you're a good dog, yes you are." One hand was still rubbing while the other stroked cautiously at his throat. "You had a collar once, didn't you? I wonder what happened to it."
The hands went away, and Dumbo opened his eyes, but she was still there. The Good Lady pulled something out of her bag, and there was a little snapping noise, and then she was holding out her hand again--water was dripping from it, clean water. Dumbo snuffled his nose into her palm, licking at it, doing his best to get the droplets inside him, and more water appeared, and more--not a lot, but enough at least to clear some of the dust from his mouth.
"Okay," the Lady said, her voice a little rough. "Okay, good boy! Tell you what, you come with me and I'll give you some more, huh? Going to come with me?"
She stood up, putting one hand on the back of his neck, and when she started walking, Dumbo went with her. She was a Good Person and he would do what she wanted.
She had a big car pulled up to the median, lights flashing, and she opened up the back. Dumbo sat again, his legs aching, and watched as she moved things around. After a few seconds came the sound of water again, more water, pouring into something. The Lady turned and set the bowl in front of him.
It was so good, so good. Dumbo drank quickly, splashing, feeling the warm wetness ease the raw feeling in his throat. The bowl was empty too soon, but when he looked up at the Lady she just rubbed his ears.
"I think that's enough for now," she said gently. "Let's get out of here, okay?"
Dumbo licked his nose and watched her for instructions.
The Lady closed the car and then opened it again on the side, reaching in and patting the seat. "Can you get up here for me?"
He'd ridden in cars before. The jump was high, but he was tall, and he scrambled up into the seat. The air in the car was sterile and cool, and he lay down with a huge sigh.
The Lady shut the car and then opened it in the front, climbing in and starting it. Dumbo lay still for a little while, just feeling the coolness seep into him, but eventually he heaved back up so he could look out.
Cars everywhere, not very interesting since he couldn't smell the outside air. He concentrated on the Lady instead, snuffling up against her shoulder and then licking it. She laughed, reaching back to push gently at his head. "Hey fella, no kisses while I'm driving."
He got the message and desisted, savoring her scent. Clean sweat, kindness, an overlay of some sour fruit, and a hint of some other Person. Nothing alarming; no reek of rage or alcohol or even another animal.
After a while she pushed something into her ear and began speaking--not to Dumbo, but to the air. "Hey Gil. No, I'm on my way, I just ran into a complication." A pause. "I was on I-15 and there was this huge boxer stuck on the median. He's been on his own for a long time, Gil, he's a mess. Starving, thirsty--"
She shook her head. "No, he's a total sweetheart. Came right with me. Didn't even hesitate."
Dumbo saw her eyes in the little mirror as she glanced back at him. "Sure, but I'm thinking he was dumped. I mean, I-15?"
She sighed, a happy sound. "I thought you'd say that. Yeah, we'll be there in about ten minutes. Um...love you."
When the car stopped it was in a quiet neighborhood, lights coming on overhead as the sun disappeared. The Lady got out and opened the door for Dumbo, wincing as he limped on landing. "C'mon, boy, let's get inside and you can rest."
The house she led him towards didn't have much lawn, but unlike his People's house that was because it had many smooth stones rather than pieces of trash. Dumbo was too tired to sniff and investigate; he just followed the Lady.
As they approached the house's door it swung open. There was another Person there, a male, silhouetted against the light, who held out a hand. "Hey boy," he said easily.
Dumbo sniffed his palm. Like the Lady, there was no threat here, just kindness. He looked up, and the Man rubbed Dumbo's ears. "I see what you mean, Sara," he said. "Let's get him settled."
He stood aside, letting the Lady pass, and she patted her leg. "Come on, sweetie, come inside."
Dumbo followed. The house was echoing and cool and clean, and within moments there was a blanket spread out for him and more water, and after a while a bowl of meat and bread and milk all mixed--not too much, but enough to quiet the whine inside him.
Dumbo lay quietly while the Lady's hands examined him, finding his wounded paw and bathing it; it stung, but he didn't move. She was a Good Person and he knew she was trying to help.
The Man held Dumbo's head in his hands and looked into his eyes, lifted his hind leg to run a careful hand over his belly, and then rubbed his ears again just right. Dumbo pressed his head into the Man's hand.
The blanket was soft. Dumbo lay drowsy as the People talked, sitting on the couch. He didn't really know what "tattoo" meant, or "microchip", but it didn't matter. They were even calling him by name; it didn't sound quite right, but he knew they were talking to him.
He fell asleep to the sound of their voices. They sounded like home.
He was home.