The street was deserted, as it often was, under the reluctantly sleepy sun. A dry black nose peered out from the shadows of an alley, then the shadow attached to it slunk into the open. It was a dog, albeit not much of one. Black fur stretched over a slim frame, but there were two large sections of skin that appeared to have been burned quite badly. In between a slim, pointed muzzle, and large, erect ears was one shockingly green eye set in a mask of onyx. The other eye gazed sadly at the world amidst another large burn that crossed half of its face. It wasn't very large, but it wasn't a small dog, either. Other than its pitiful wounds, it was the kind of animal you wouldn't remember by the time you looked away from it.

From across the courtyard, Spirit Albarn paused to watch the creature approach the fountain and cautiously take a drink. No question about it, it was rather pathetic. Something about the dog's nervous behavior and downtrodden appearance tugged at his childish heartstrings, and he found himself chewing on the inside of his cheek as he tried to think of a way to lure the beast over to him.

He dug around in his pockets but was only able to conjure up a piece of hard candy. It was better than nothing, though, so he thumbed the cellophane wrapper off of it and then whistled softly.

"Hey, boy," he said, quietly, and started to walk towards the black canine. "It's okay, don't run…."

The dog looked up from drinking, drool and water dripping from its lips as it considered the man approaching. While he seemed wary, he didn't run, even as Spirit tactlessly tossed the candy at his head. Without taking his eyes off of the human, the dog snatched the morsel up and swallowed it in one swift motion.

Encouraged, Spirit crouched down and snapped his fingers a few times. He certainly felt like an first-rate animal tamer, at this point, even though the dog hadn't even come one inch towards him. "Come here, you little thing, I think I know someone who can fix you up…"

Suddenly, the dog's gaze grew uncomfortable, as it cocked its head to one side and continued to stare at Spirit. It was almost as though the dog could honestly understand what he was saying. The Death Scythe felt himself swallowing hard, and then laughing nervously at what was clearly a foolish thought, even for him. His sing-song voice continued, but maybe with a waver in it that wasn't there before. "Good boy, you're just a normal dog, I know, but for a second there I thought you were about to answer me! Come here, be a good dog, I can get you something to eat, too…."

As if a switch had been flipped, the dog's intense expression faded and it's large ears folded back against his head. As it crept towards Spirit, his fluffy tail swayed back and forth apprehensively, but it allowed the human to pat its head like any normal dog would. Up close, its burn wounds were even harder to look at. Spirit felt his stomach turn and he shrugged out of his jacket to wrap the dog up in it.

"You poor thing. I wonder who did this to you? One of the shopkeepers, maybe?" Spirit gently scooped the slim dog inside of his suit coat, and then carried him with both arms as he started down the street. "No matter, I'm taking you to the only person who I know might have a chance at….patching you back up."

Spirit stopped talking when he realized he was conversing with a dog as though he would a child, and that just didn't feel right. But he still couldn't quite shake the feeling that his silent conversation partner could comprehend every single thing he was saying.

It was a bit of a walk to leave the city and get back to Stein's laboratory. Even though the dog wasn't terribly heavy, it was awkward to carry him and he worried about hurting the thing by touching its burns even under his jacket. As he mounted the steps, he used one foot to kick on the door, since his hands were otherwise occupied.

Moments later, it creaked open and Spirit was confronted with the sight of Stein, still shirtless, staring back at him from behind his wire frames. Green eyes roamed over the dog, and then locked onto Spirit's face.

"Well," Stein said. "I am glad to see you so soon, considering you just left ten minutes ago, but what is that?"

As he gestured at the dog, Spirit smiled weakly and tried to lay the charm onto his lover as best he could. "It's a dog, and it's a dog that needs your help. Really. Really badly. Someone's burned him, and his skin is basically peeling off, and he's starving and look at his face, isn't there something you can do to help him?"

Stein stared impassively at Spirit's sheepish smile for a few pregnant seconds, then shrugged and swung the door open wide. He locked it after Spirit and the dog were inside, and tried not to sigh too loudly. "Go…put it on the table or something."

Since it didn't look like he was going to score a third – or would it be fourth? – round with Spirit right now, Stein wandered into his bedroom to pull his shirt back on. It took a bit of searching, but he eventually found his lab coat amidst the wreckage of sheets that told the tale of precisely what he and Spirit had been up to all afternoon. The memory of Spirit wearing nothing but that lab coat brought a tease of a smile to his face.

His hands found his pockets as he walked down the hall to where Spirit was cooing over the dog. Even Stein had to admit that, out from the cover of Spirit's coat, the dog was indeed in a sorry state. The extent of the damage made his brain start whirring and clicking to life, and he could almost taste the pleasure of excising and replacing skin. Sure, he preferred human patients, but this could be a fun way to pass some time.

"You weren't kidding. Wonder who did this to him?" He said, as he started opening drawers and placing tools out in preparation.

Spirit threaded the dogs flexible ears through his fingers. The pup had started to tremble on top of the cold, steel table, and he draped his jacket back over the dog in hopes of calming it down. "You can fix him, though, right? For me?"

"I don't know. I'll try. It'll be a fun challenge," Stein replied. "Not sure what I can do about his face, though. But we'll see."

"…you're just going to fix him, aren't you? You won't try to make him into some…strange new creation?"

"No. I'll just fix him. For you," Stein answered. "Are you planning on keeping him, or something?"

"Well…maybe…" Spirit said. "Maybe he could be a present for Maka….?"

Stein paused in arranging a few extra scalpel blades on the surgical tray, and turned to face the redhead. "I don't think that's such a great idea. You know she prefers cats, and I can't guarantee this dog is going to look very attractive when I'm finished with him."

Spirit frowned and stepped backwards as Stein pulled his coat off of the dog's body and started examining the burns from a closer angle. He could tell that the other man had already slid into that state of mine where nothing mattered to him but the flesh beneath his blade. Knowing he would be of no more use to Stein, he shuffled out of the room and went to flop down on the couch. This was probably going to take a while…

-x-x-x-x-x-

"Wake up, sleepyhead. Your dog is as good as new."

Spirit groaned as something ruffled his hair, then opened one eye to the image of Stein looming over him. The backlight from the lamp across the room was tangled in a glare on the front of his lenses, and his hair was twisted and crazed as though he'd broken a sweat at some point and it had dried clumps of the grey mess into angry points. Spirit caught a whiff of blood and cigarette smoke, and much to his discomfort, he found it a happily familiar scent.

"You know. You're awfully scary-looking at the moment. Not the greatest thing to wake up to," he mumbled, then didn't bother to stifle a yawn as he sat up.

"I could say the same thing about your breath, in more or less words. Now, why don't you come see your new pet," Stein said. He straightened back to full height and waited for Spirit to drag himself off the couch.

"That's an awful lot of blood on your coat, Stein….are you sure this was a success?" Spirit asked, as he looked over the crimson splatter decorating Stein's now-rumpled jacket.

But the scientist didn't answer, he just moved off down the hallway, and Spirit had to hurry to catch up. However, he skidded to a halt at the sight of the surgical suite, which was still a mess. Bloody tools decorated most of the surfaces, and there were dark-stained towels in a pile on the floor. But, to his relief, the dog was still on the table, and appeared alive. He timidly walked to Stein's side to look at the animal.

"I have to say, Spirit, there is something decidedly odd about this dog of yours. I'm not sure what it is, but…" Stein trailed off and then shrugged one shoulder. "Well, just look at him. He's completely awake but it's almost as though he knows he needs to stay where he is. Most animals don't show that kind of intelligence."

It was, true, too. The dog was lying on his side, a green eye darting from Stein to Spirit and back again. When it came to rest on the scientist, its fluffy black tail thumped three times against the steel table beneath it. It didn't seem overly concerned about its physical state, though Spirit decided he wasn't too sure what to make of Stein's handiwork.

The damaged and burned skin was, of course, gone. Or so Spirit assumed. The bulk of the dog seemed to have disappeared under crisp white bandages, but what could be seen peeking out from a few places was not inky black fur like the rest of the dog. In between the jagged lines of sutures was grey pelt, and Spirit thought it best not to question Stein as to where it had come from. Still, it was a bit odd-looking as it was obvious that it was the result of some surgeon's hands and not genetics. He had a feeling that, like the scars Stein bore, the dog's incision lines would never truly disappear, either.

"It's…well. It's definitely better," Spirit said. He didn't want to touch the bandages, so he scratched the dog behind one ear.

"Indeed. He even has a brand new face," Stein said. There was no mistaking the pride in his voice, and Spirit winced for it. He squinted his own line of sight as Stein encouraged the dog to sit up and look in their direction. Spirit snatched his lower lip between his teeth as Stein peeled back a white bandage that was covering what used to be the angry red flesh on the dog's face. However, all of his apprehension was for nothing, because the only unusual thing about it was that it was grey, like the rest of his new patches.

"OH!" Spirit spat out a huge breath he didn't know he had been holding. "Well! That's – that's wonderful! You're truly a genius, Steiny. I don't know how you do it….but I don't really want to know how, anyway…"

Stein snorted out a laugh, and then replaced the bandage over the dog's eye. As he reached past Spirit to start picking up the dog, his slender hands were surprisingly gentle and sympathetic as they slid around the mutt's body and took care to avoid putting pressure on his incisions. The Death Scythe was taken back by this new side of the doctor, one he hadn't really seen before. Sure, Stein was capable of somewhat sweet moments, but they were usually post-lovemaking and not exactly what the general public would consider "tender." While having the emotionally vapid scientist cuddle him brought butterflies to Spirit's stomach, that sort of thing was pretty much a commonplace gesture in most normal relationships.

He followed Stein out of the lab and into the living room, and continued to stare in surprise as he carefully placed the dog onto the sofa. He even went so far as to shake out a blanket and curl it around the dog with such attention that Spirit actually felt a twinge of jealously. Before he could voice his vexation, though, Stein cut him off.

"I'd like for you to leave him here at least for tonight. Just in case. I don't think there will be any complications, but you can never be too sure."

"Uh…" Spirit scratched the back of his head at this. To be completely honest, he hadn't really even thought about the dog's future. As usual, he had just acted in the moment and wanted Stein to fix the problem he dumped on his doorstep. His comment about giving the dog to Maka was as feeble as Stein had suspected, and it wasn't as though he himself really wanted or needed a dog. But, of course, he couldn't just toss the thing back out onto the street. Maybe it was a good thing that Stein was apparently so taken with the damn thing. He shot Stein a tooth grin and nodded rapidly. "Great idea! He seems pretty comfortable here, already."

If his lover suspected he was being worked over, he didn't show it. Instead, Stein was staring down at the dog with his hands on his hips, seemingly deep in thought. "I wish we could feed him, I'm sure he 's hungry….but I don't want to risk it. Sorry, boy. You'll just have to wait until tomorrow."

The dog's tail ruffled the blanket as it tried to wag in response. Half a smile tugged at the right corner of Stein's mouth, then he returned his attention to Spirit. There was now something markedly predatory in his eyes, and his voice seemed to have lowered a few notches. "Well, seeing as how it's already so late, why don't you just stay?"

Spirit's stomach twisted under Stein's focused stare, and he shuddered out a trembling laugh. He had a point – it was quite late. The problem wasn't that Spirit didn't want to stay, it was just that their relationship wasn't entirely public knowledge, so it always took some effort to conjure the right story or front to offer to most of the outside world. And that outside world included Maka. Because of that, it was a rare occasion for Spirit to stay an entire night with Stein. However, this dog now created an absolutely perfect façade, and Spirit was not about to let that go to waste.

"Stay? Well, alright. If you insist. But only if you promise to get in the shower, immediately. I can smell you from here."

-x-x-x-x-x-