Do You See Who I See (Chapter 3)
A/N: Had to get this finished and out of my head before the holiday…
For a moment after the Sninja exploded, the only sound was the tinkling of glass from the windows of the battered Jeep. Jo was the first to react, running to the spot only the Sninja's stick arms marked where it and Zane had fallen. He wasn't there.
"Try the Tool Shed!" Fargo shouted, pointing to the open door of a hardware store across from the Jeep. The group moved as one into the building. Snow was scattered across the entrance floor. Beyond it were muddy footprints which vanished behind rows of shelving.
"Zane, are you in here?" called Jo into the dark room. A squeak caught her attention. Turning, she saw the female botanist staring behind the first row of shelves, mouth open. She seemed frozen to the spot, unable to speak.
Pulling their weapons, Jo and Carter stepped forward. Jo's eyes were on the footprints that trailed off into the gloom while Carter's height allowed him a view over her head. So he was the first to see what the woman had found so captivating.
His feeble effort not to laugh failed. At the sound, the others pressed forward. Their appearance did nothing to improve the mood of the man before them.
Zane glared at the group and shifted the snow shovel he was holding to a more strategic position. It didn't help much to hide the fact that he was naked, except for a few patches of snow clinging to his hair and a streak of mud along his side. Everyone except the botanists and Jo stepped back quickly. Their concern wasn't so much for Zane's modesty—most doubted he had any. But dealing with an angry Zane wasn't anyone's idea of a peaceful Christmas Eve.
Grabbing a sleeping bag from a shelf, Jo stepped forward, only to find her way blocked. The female botanist continued to stare at Zane, eyes glazed. Her companion stomped away, snorting in disgust. Any hope he'd had of ending the evening on a romantic note had clearly been dashed by his partner's sight of greener pastures.
Jo cleared her throat loudly. With a jerk, the woman came to, eyes reluctantly moving toward the sound before she finally scuttled away.
Shaking her head, Jo walked to Zane and handed him the bag. As he wrapped it around himself, she saw he was shivering and stepped inside the fabric, pressing against him. They stood for a moment until both became a little too warm for their surroundings.
"Break it up back there!" yelled Carter from the front of the store. "Time's ticking. Stockings to stuff, presents to open."
Grinning, Zane pulled back. "Sounds like Santa's about to put you on the naughty list," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "You wish," Jo fired back. "Besides, we have a lot of talking to do—starting with why you were in my house today."
"Lead the way and all will be revealed," Zane said, waving his hand toward the door. Jo bit her lip at the sight of his hand, which was covered in deep scratches and dirt.
"We've got to get this cleaned up," she said softly, turning his hand in hers. Tracing one of the cuts, she added, "I guess this wasn't all just a dream."
"More like a nightmare," muttered Zane as he followed her onto the street. "I haven't gotten around on all fours since I was 6 months old, and I don't intend to ever do it again."
Henry, Fargo and Vincent waved as they drove away. Henry was off to pick up Grace and her young niece from the airport so they could welcome Santa, Eureka-style. Fargo and Vincent each headed home for a well-deserved sleep. The former hoped to shake off a hangover, the latter needed to rest up for the next day's Christmas dinner marathon at Café Diem.
Carter was waiting for them by Jo's car, smiling broadly. "You two ok? Need anything before I go? Holiday cheer? Bag of dog food?"
"Funny, Carter," growled Zane. "What kind of cartoon were you—Gumby? Tall, skinny, never says anything-".
"That's enough," Jo broke in. She pushed Zane to her car and turned to give Carter a quick hug. "Thank you for the party and the help. I hope it's not too late for you and Allison to have the kind of holiday you wanted for the kids."
"Nah," he answered. "This has already definitely been a Christmas none of us will forget." He nodded his head toward Zane. "When he warms up and gets human again, tell him thanks too. It took guts to jump into that thing."
"Or stupidity," said Jo. But she said it with a smile.
Later, Zane stared at his reflection in his bathroom mirror. Other than the cuts on his hands and a nasty bruise on his hip from his slide across the road, he'd survived life as a canine fairly well. What hadn't survived the day was his confidence about asking Jo to join him at his mother's house for the holidays. Now she sat in his living room while he stood in the steam from his shower, trying to convince himself that she would welcome the idea. Instead, the memory kept surfacing of her repeated insistence that there was nothing between them.
When he found himself eyeing the room's 3 foot wide window and pondering escape, his resolve returned. If she shot him down, at least he'd know there was no reason to hope that their relationship could become more than it was. They could both move on.
Somehow, the thought wasn't comforting.
After dressing, Zane checked his email for the flight details. Two seats on a flight from Portland, Oregon to Boston's Logan Airport were booked for 11 am, Christmas morning. His plan had been to spend Christmas Eve with Jo in Eureka. They'd spend Christmas night with his mother before driving along the coast to New York for New Years' Eve. By the end of the trip, he hoped their next step would be clear—rebuild a relationship together or say goodbye. If the latter, he had a vague thought of not returning to Eureka at all.
For the first time since he'd come to the little town, leaving for good wasn't an appealing idea.
With a click, he shut down his PDA and headed for the living room. Jo was on the couch, wineglass in hand and feet tucked beneath her. He returned her smile but continued on to the kitchen to grab a beer. Zane rarely drank, but this suddenly seemed like an excellent time to indulge.
"So," Jo's voice came from the kitchen door. "Do you want to start with why you were in my house today, or work backwards from when you went through my front window?"
Forcing a grin onto his face, Zane turned. "I was naked when the fur came off today. I think you can work backwards from that little fact to figure out why I was there this morning."
Jo frowned. "Let me see if I have this straight. You broke into my house, stripped and decided to wait for me to come home—whenever that might be. And you expected I'd respond by jumping into bed with you rather than kicking your ass to the curb. Is that it?"
It was Zane's turn to frown, but he didn't answer. As brilliant as he was, he suspected his mouth sometimes forgot to check in with his brain before speaking. This may have been one of those times—the conversation wasn't going anywhere near the direction he'd intended.
"Sorry, don't buy it," Jo continued. "Is this any closer? You came by this morning—for reasons unknown—and found I'd left for work early. Rather than leave, you broke in—again, for reasons unknown. Before you could do whatever it was you came to do, we all got animated. Sound about right?"
Zane shook his head. "I didn't have to break in. You set your locks to respond to my voice. Which, by the way, raises another question—why would you do that for a guy you didn't want in your house?"
Jo flushed. "Busted," Zane said. "Shut up," he told himself.
She ignored him. "With the locks open, the shielding was down. So I'm guessing you got turned into Rin Tin Tin after you were in the house. And—you really are crazy—that was after you'd gotten naked. So far, so good?"
"Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd. I was a Husky," he shot back.
"Point taken," she conceded. "Why the hell did you take your clothes off? For all you knew, I wasn't going to be home for hours. Not to mention the whole kicking your ass to the curb possibility."
Zane shrugged. "I had things to share with you." The wattage on his grin turned up. "Several things. So I planned on calling you as soon as I got settled. But before I could do that, I found paws where my hands should have been. Hard to dial with those."
"When the animation wave hit, it activated the locks and the shielding?" Jo asked.
Zane nodded. "Seems your voice recognition system doesn't respond to barks. Go figure."
"OK. So we have you locked in my house, running around as a dog." Jo gasped, a look of worry crossing her face. "You are…were…housebroken, yes?"
Zane just glared.
"Moving on. Let's go back to question number two—it's the easy one. Why did you crash through my window?"
Sighing, Zane answered. "I'd been stuck in here all day. I'd started to think you weren't coming home—maybe you'd gone to visit someone for Christmas." He looked away. "Anyway, just after dark, I saw your car come down the street, or what I thought was your car. Turns out it was that woman on your staff driving. When the car didn't stop, I just took off running. I'd gone through the glass before I stopped to think that maybe the window wasn't my best option."
"That super genius IQ of yours on vacation today?" Jo asked.
He shrugged. "I really didn't want to be in there until New Years, or whenever you came back. By the time I realized it wasn't you in the car, it had nearly flattened me. You know the rest."
Stepping forward, Jo shook her head. "Not all of it," she said. She gently ran her fingers down the side of his face. "Why were you here in the first place? Fargo told me you had plans to spend Christmas with your mom."
With a deep breath, Zane walked Jo back to the living room. After they sat, he started to speak, eyes on the coffee table.
"Fargo's gotten chatty. He told me that you and I went to my mom's for Christmas a couple of times, before." Jo nodded. "I never had that chance. Not with you, not alone." Zane raised his eyes briefly to hers before dropping his gaze again. "Except for a couple of research trips—with an armed guard on hand-I haven't left Eureka since I got here four years ago."
Jo leaned forward, but Zane didn't look up. "Not surprising, I guess. I was on parole. If I'd still been in prison, I'd never have left the building, much less the town. I know I'm lucky but…" he trailed off, then straightened.
"Anyway. Thanks to the pardon, and you, I can go home. See my mom. It's been too long. I didn't want her coming by the prison. Bad enough she had to watch me screw up my life bouncing between the Ivy League and jail without having to see me in there. And it's been hard for her to get out here."
"Zane," Jo breathed, reaching for his hand. He let her take it before pushing a printed itinerary toward her.
"I need to see her. But I figured if I was really lucky, I'd get to spend this Christmas with the two women I care most about." Jo dropped his hand and picked up the paper. She scanned it and looked at Zane.
"The naked thing was my back-up plan." When she didn't say anything, he nodded. "Or not."
He started to stand until Jo grabbed his arm. "Not much time," she said. He raised his eyebrows questioningly. "2 am now, flight's at 11." She stood.
"It's Christmas, so I don't want to choose. That means we have to use our time efficiently." When Zane didn't move, she explained patiently. "I'll take both options, please." Pulling him with her, she headed to the bedroom. "A week with you and the back-up plan."
"Really?" asked Zane, looking slightly stunned at the rapid turn in the conversation.
Looking back at him, Jo grinned. "Huskies are known for their endurance, right? Let's test that."
He laughed, relief washing across his face. "Knew it. This is going to be the best Christmas ever," he answered. There was barely time for him to pull the door closed behind them.
Outside the living room window, a man nodded and smiled in satisfaction. As he strolled to the street, his shadow, cast by a nearby streetlight, seemed curiously round. A team of sled dogs awaited, bells jingling on their collars. He ran a hand over the nearest dog before jumping into the sled behind them. "Always liked Huskies," he chuckled.
Looking back toward Zane's home, he whispered. "And to all a good night." A light snow began to fall as the sled pulled away.