Chapter 13: Love's Labor's Won (Forbidden Fruit).

September 17, 1929.

"Perfect" by Justin Bieber begins.

You make me, You make me, You make me. Yeah.

A few hours later, two sled dogs sat inside a hospital waiting room, one with a bandage around her foot, and the other with several layers of gauze wrapped around his sides. Kodi and Dusty had been bruised up pretty badly by the cave-in, but thankfully nothing was broken. Once the blizzard was over, White Mountain's veterinarian had patched up all the dog's injuries, and the ones who could walk were all permitted to visit their owners in the hospital. The ones who were awake anyway. Most of the dogs, including Dusty and Kodi, were sitting inside the crowded waiting room, relaxing until Gunnar's anesthesia wore off. But who could relax when their husband kept tickling their slightly swollen belly with his ear?

I nearly lost my mind, tryna figure out a way to make you understand, I can't go on another day. Baby I was wrong. Been confused and led astray. Just give me one more chance. Cause I can't take what's happening. Have you ever lost someone? Tried to take it back, but the damage is done? Thought of losin you makes me feel so sad, how I'm gonna sleep when it feels this bad? I know enough's enough, it's goin to be tough to get through this.

"He's still moving around in there. Happy and excited like he always is. Just like nothing happened last night", Kodi laughed. The husky would never grow tired of hearing his mystery child flop around inside his wife's stomach. Thank god Dusty had protected him so fiercely throughout the night, huddling up into a ball to insulate her own body heat and kept her insides hot enough to incubate the baby. Kodi and Dusty would never have been the same again if their first puppy had somehow been harmed in the storm, or worse, they lost him to hypothermia.

Dusty laughed, as her husband continued to torture her by rubbing his fur against her skin over and over again, putting her in such a good mood that she barely even noticed the bandages around her feet. "She. When the doc was patching me up, he took a blood sample from the womb. He said it's a she", Dusty replied, between giggles.

"We're gonna have a daughter", Kodi realized, lifting his head up so he could look at his wife in the eye.

I'll never be perfect. I'll never be cool. I'll always be nothing, unless I'm with you.
Cause you make me perfect, tell me what can I do. The pieces are missing, when I'm not with you. You make me (you make me) (You make me). You make me (you make me). (You make me). You make me.

"What are we gonna call her?", Dusty asked, breathing a sigh of relief once she was sure Kodi's playful teasing had come to an end.

"I have no idea at all", Kodi replied, grinning. "Still, we have another two months to think about that. There's no need to rush. After what happened last night, I think we could all use a nice day off", Kodi continued, before rubbing his mate's stomach again, this time with his paw. Once he was finished, the husky sighed, and laid down next to Dusty, resting his head on floor. "You really came through tonight Dust, for both of us", Kodi said gratefully.

I know that I deserve it, but have you really lost our faith? You know inside that we're worth it. There's so much left for us to say. Baby I was lost, or maybe I was just afraid. Could ya please forgive me? And hold me in your arms again?

"Like I said before, I'm not sure I would have been able to do it if Blake hadn't been there to give me a push", Dusty said humbly.

"Yeah, me too. I'm not sure if I would have been able to hold it together long enough to actually get to you if Griff hadn't kept me calm. And dad. And Steele", Kodi added thoughtfully. He still couldn't believe that last person had actually been the voice of reason for him. He couldn't believe Steele was even capable of being the voice of reason to tell you the truth. But now it seemed he partly owed the sled dog his wife's life.

Have you ever lost someone? Tried to take it back, but the damage is done? Thought of losin you makes me feel so sad, how I'm gonna sleep when it feels this bad? I know enough's enough, it's goin to be tough to get through this.

"You want to know what the funny part of all this is?", Kodi said all of a sudden.

"What?", Dusty asked curiously.

"Right before you left Nome, you said that the next time we split up to spend some time with our friends, we should actually make sure we have some more friends first. Well, now we have a whole bunch of them", Kodi explained.

I'll never be perfect. I'll never be cool. I'll always be nothing, unless I'm with you. Cause you make me perfect, tell me what can I do. The pieces are missing, when I'm not with you. You make me (you make me) (You make me). You make me (you make me) (you make me). You make me.

"Then I guess it wasn't that bad of a night after all", Dusty replied, laughing with her mate, before her tone suddenly became serious again. "How is Steele doing anyway? I haven't seen him for hours now", she asked, concerned.

"I don't know. He hasn't left Roger's side ever since the humans took him here. He refused to leave even when they were patching him up. From what Uncle Kaltag told me, he actually snapped at one of them when they tried to put a lease on him", Kodi replied, chuckling. Kaltag always did like to exaggerate on a lot of things, but Kodi knew this was one of those rare times when his uncle's tall tales weren't so tall.

Don't say nothing's perfect, cause it isn't true. Everything I need is here with you.
Everything I see so clear with you. Everything I dream appears with you. Everything would be so-perfect…

"And your mom and dad?", Dusty inquired.

"Waiting outside. The humans would find it a bit weird if a wolf-dog that's supposed to be a hundred miles away suddenly turns up in the middle of town, right after a blizzard. Now that we're okay, they'll be heading back for Nome soon. But don't worry, I promised Mom and Pop I'd say good-bye before they leave, I just had to make sure you were okay first", Kodi explained.

"Well, I'm obviously fine, just as alive and kicking as ever, so why are you still here? Go talk to your folks. They just walked for miles to get here, the least you can do is give them a hello. Maybe a hug or two. And tell them I said thank you too", Dusty said, pushing rather tiredly on her husband's side.

I'll never be perfect. I'll never be cool. I'll always be nothing, unless I'm with you. Cause you make me perfect, tell me what can I do. The pieces are missing, when I'm not with you. Cause you make so… When I'm witcha baby.

Kodi smiled, and kissed his wife on the forehead. "Roger Wilco", he teased, before getting up and walking away. Once he was gone, Dusty closed her eyes, and laid her head between her paws, finally letting her hyper-sensitive guard down long enough to get the sleep she had been craving for so long. God knows she had earned it. They all had.

You make me perfect, so perfect, perfect…

((()-()))

"He tried to take a bite out of one of them?", John asked incredulously, raising his eyebrows skeptically at his friend. He had just woken up a few minutes ago, to find himself lying in a hospital bed. His old friend Roger and his dog Steele had a bed of their own, just a few feet away. Apparently, the doctors had decided it was best to place them in the same room.

"Honest, he did. I saw the whole thing when I woke up. For a minute I was afraid he was gonna get himself shot. Imagine how ironic that would have been, surviving a building falling on you, only to get shot in the hospital", Roger said, laughing at the first joke the musher had made in years.

Subconsciously, the man was aware there was a malamute lying on his bed, and that he was rubbing it on the ears, but he hardly paid the act any attention. It was purely instinctual for a man to reward the dog who was keeping him company. Roger never thought he would actually say this, but having Steele around in the room, keeping him warm by laying on top of his covers, was actually kind of comfortable. It reminded him of when he was a kid, playing with his father's trained dogs and dreaming of a day when he would lead his own team across the tundra. He had never been closer to any dog than he had since then, until now anyway. And he had found that childhood bond again in the most unlikely of canines.

"I told you, Steele really does respect you. You're his owner, and every dog has an instinct to want to protect his musher, it just took Steele a while to find his", John said, as he watched how affectionately Roger treated what was one his most unruly and uncontrollable of dogs.

"But what I don't get is, what changed? What made him start liking me? What did I do to earn his trust?", Roger asked, musing more to himself than John.

"What didn't you do? You fed him. You watched over him. You gave him a home when nobody else would. Steele, no matter how bad-tempered he is, is still a dog. And every dog, just like every person, really appreciates stuff like that, even if they don't always know it. So when Steele knew you were under there, that you were trapped and couldn't get out, his instincts to help kicked in", John surmised.

"You really think so?", Roger asked curiously.

John shrugged. "Who knows what goes on inside a dog's head. But judging by what I'm seeing now - the two of you just sitting there, acting like old friends - that's my best guess", John replied, grinning.

Steele lifted his head, and looked at the nearby window. He tilted his head to the side as saw a familiar red and white dog walk across the lawn outside, greeted by two other dogs (one brown and the other with the exact same fur type as her son), before he disappeared behind the bushes.

And just like that, Steele leapt off Roger's bed, taking the musher by surprise. He would return to Roger's side later, right now there was something important he had to do. Something he wasn't sure he'd have a chance to do later, especially if he let himself put it off again. It was time he made his first step towards moving forward, by righting some of the wrongs he did in the past. It was time Jenna Jones got her long overdue apology.

((()-()))

"This Moment With You" by Thomas Gomez begins.

"Thanks mom, dad. I don't know how you knew I'd need you, and I really don't care. No kid could ask for better parents", Kodi said speechlessly, as he hugged his mother and then father.

"So I guess I'm not a deadbeat dad after all, am I?", Balto joked, as he patted his son on the back.

"No, you have officially redeemed yourself", Kodi replied, laughing. The half-wolf and his parents, along with Nikki, Kaltag, and Star were hidden behind a bush next to the hospital, keeping just out of sight from any humans that may be passing by.

This moment with you oh... you were there when I was born and I was there when you were down and everyday we share this moment.

"So you're having a daughter?", Balto inquired.

"Yeah, the doc just gave us the news today. In a few months, I will be the proud father of a beautiful baby girl", Kodi replied, still finding it hard to believe any of the words that were coming out of his mouth.

Yeah, I needed you to be right by my side, nothing's gonna get in the way of us. It's just me and you and this is how we're going to face the world, yeah.

"You know what this means don't you? You're gonna have even less sleep these next few months", Balto said.

"What are you talking about? She's a girl, I thought she'd be all calm and mellow", Kodi asked, confused.

Dad, I will always be with no matter what, all I have to say is that there will be good times! In this moment with you (in this moment with you).

"No, that's just what the girls want you to believe. They want you to think they're all prissy and relaxed. But just look at your mother, can you really picture her just sitting around in the sun all day when she was a kid?", Balto asked him.

Kodi stretched his neck, and glanced over at Jenna, who was talking to Nikki, before shaking his head. "No", he admitted.

I'm here to stay, this made the test that I have to take with or without! No matter what, I will always stay right beside you oh... Whoa.

"Exactly. And you remember how hyper your sister Aleu used to be. Little girls are just as high-strung as boys, sometimes more, because let's face facts, even as kids men are kinda lazy", Balto said, whispering now. This was one of those 'confidential type' secrets that was only ever spoken between a father and son.

You would never let me fall, let me fall, every time that we spend our time together! You'll always be here right beside me, helping me up when I fall down, my scar's healed because of you. We have to do fight for what's right, even though we may think it's the end... when you're here it's like great times all over again!

"Well, at least Dusty and I only have one kid", Kodi said reassuringly.

"Are you sure? Jenna and I thought we'd only have one kid or two, but we wound up having a whole litter. You and your siblings snuck up on us", Balto joked.

There will be good times with you.. I need you right beside me! This moment you oh! As long as you're here with me nothing can stop us now! This is the moment the we have! I'll never let you down! This is our (moment).

"Wait, are you saying there's a chance we might have five pups or six? We couldn't handle that many kids. Nobody could handle that many kids!", Kodi asked, panicking now.

"Relax Kodi. Remember what Jenna and I told you. If a blizzard isn't enough to kill you, a few pups certainly won't", Balto said reassuringly. "Though it might feel like they are", the hybrid thought himself, as he remembered all those times he had woken up from one of his naps to find his kids chewing on his ear, or his tail.

There will be good times with you.. I need you right beside me! This moment you oh! As long as you're here with me nothing can stop us now! This is the moment the we have! I'll never let you down! This is our (moment). This is our moment for life!

"Thanks dad I love you forever, and always, this is our moment."

((()-()))

After talking for a few more minutes, the father, the son, and the mother all regrouped, and stepped out from behind the bushes, preparing to say their last good-byes (until John was well enough to walk again, and Kodi's team set out for Nome anyway).

"Are you sure you'll both be okay here?", Balto asked, worried.

"Dusty and I will be fine. If you're talking about Steele, there are far worse things that can happen to someone than just being stuck with a bitter sled dog", Kodi reminded him.

"Well, whenever you see him again, be sure to tell him we said thank you", Jenna requested. Even though she and husband never thought they'd be saying this, they almost wished Steele was around, so they could thank him in person for everything he had done. Little did they know they had just spoke of the devil, and the devil was due to appear.

"I will mom", Kodi promised.

"Jenna Jones, you still haven't changed at all in two years", Steele mused, taking everyone by surprise as he stepped out from the shadows. As usual, the malamute grinned ever-so-slightly out of enjoyment, as he watched his former adversaries flinch at the sight of him.

"You're still just as lovely forever. And still just as devoted to your family. You're always so willing to risk your life for them. Even when you're not even sure they're still alive", Steele mused, as he walked up to the red husky and her half-wolf husband, ignoring Kodi almost completely. Just like he expected, Balto and Jenna's muscles tensed and locked up, like they were unsure what they should do next, or what Steele would do next.

"Of course. Kodi is my son, and Dusty is my daughter. And Balto is my husband. I would do anything for them. Give up anything if I thought it would help them. It's what any good spouse would do", Jenna replied, eyeing Steele carefully as he stopped right next to her and Balto.

"And that's why I was never meant to be your husband, isn't it?", the malamute asked her, his calm, reserved tone suddenly changing into sadness and acceptance. "I could never make the kind of sacrifices for you and your kids that Bingo here could", Steele resolved.

"Steele, don't say-", Jenna was about to say, before Steele cut her off.

"Jenna, don't. Please, just don't. I've spent all these years here, wasting my life away thinking about what I am now and what I could have been…what you and I could have had together. But now I see there was never anyone else for you, nobody but that half-wolf. Even if you had chose me all those years ago, it would have been the biggest mistake of your life. After all, in all the time that you've known me you only ever asked me for one thing, and I couldn't even do that for you. So no, I'm not here to start anything with Balto. When you chose him over me, the better dog won-", Steele explained. "even if he isn't really a dog", the sled dog griped in his head. "-so let's just leave it at that", the malamute resolved, taking Jenna by surprise yet again by the bluntness and truthfulness of his words.

"I came here to apologize, for what I did to you before. I really do wish I could have kept my promise to you, and been that dog that you needed me to be. But I couldn't. And if there's one thing worthwhile that your son told me, over and over again-", Steele continued, grinding his teeth together in annoyance, as he remembered the previous night. "-it's that there's no point on dwelling on the past. I'll stay here and lead my team like I'm supposed to, you can keep on loving Balto and go back to your old life, and I'll leave you in peace like I promised you. I know I let you down, but I can still be the dog you needed me to be now, that is, if you can forgive me?", Steele asked hopefully.

"Steele, you helped me save my son. Of course I do", Jenna replied, speaking a whole lot quicker than she had expected herself to. If there was one thing about Jenna that hadn't changed over the years, it was her inability to hold a grudge. "I saw the way you rallied everyone together last night for the rescue mission, the exact sort of thing you should have done in the serum run. I'd said you've redeemed yourself", Jenna said, as she walked up to Steele, and against everyone's expectations, hugged him in a show of forgiveness.

A few years ago, Steele would have relished the idea of just touching Jenna, let along hugging her. But now, as he held her in his arms, he felt nothing. Nothing at all. The spark that he always felt whenever they touched was gone, like it had just fizzled out a long time ago along with his unrequited love for her. Yes, his heart still ached whenever he looked her, but that was mostly because of his guilt for what he had put her through. No, the part of him that used to think about her every waking minute of the day and spent hours trying to think of ways to woo her was dead. She was no more than a friend to him. And maybe that was the way it should be. Because after all, why obsess over forbidden fruit?

Once she was finished, Jenna released Steele, and looked over at something on her right - her husband of course. "But it's not just me you should be apologizing to", the husky reminded him, drawing Steele's attention towards her half-breed mate.

Balto had seemed surprised by how quickly his wife had forgiven their old tormentor, but even he had to admit he did owe Steele a debt of gratitude for what he had did the night before. The malamute had done more than Balto could have ever asked him to do, and he had done it in such a stoic, matter-of-factly way. So Balto didn't object when Jenna suddenly started embracing him, though he and Kodi had both looked clearly uncomfortable the whole time.

"Balto…I'm sorry for treating you the way I did. It was wrong for me to take my jealousy out on you, and I should have never tried to come between you and your wife. And that's about all I have to say to you in the guilt department. I could tell you that I like you now, and that we're all gonna be best friends from here on out. But I'd be lying. This isn't some make-believe story, and I'm sure as hell not gonna patronize a grown man. I know why Jenna never loved me now, but I still don't know what she saw in you either. But for whatever reason, she loved enough to marry you, and I'm gonna respect her decisions for once", Steele decided, but not without donning his usual frown.

Balto, who had been silent up to this point, now sported a frown of his own. The half-breed didn't know whether to be angry, or relieved. Steele was one of the only people in the world who could insult people and congratulate them at the same time.

"But…you do seem to make her happy. And so far you've been keeping those promises you made me", Steele admitted. "Which is more than what you can say about me", the sled dog thought guiltily. "You've managed to take good care of her and keep her safe. And this is Jenna we're talking about, so that's no easy feat. Not to mention you raised that pesky, annoying-", Steele rambled. "but insightful", the malamute added in his head. "-kid of yours over there. So I will give you that wolf-dog. You didn't do too bad", Steele said, resolving another one of his doubts by coming in a 360.

"Neither did you", Balto said, allow a small hint of a smile to appear at the edge of his lips. "Last night was totally out of character for you, but like Jenna said, the way you worked with your team is just the kind of relationship every good leader has with his teammates. I guess you found out what it means to be a lead dog after all. And if it hadn't been for you, I'm not sure we would have gotten everyone out of there in time", Balto said proudly.

"Don't thank me. Thank your kid. He was the one who didn't give up, no matter how much I begged him to. He's every bit as stubborn as his father", Steele replied, putting on his best fake-scowl towards Kodi, before softening his expression and looking over at Jenna. "And just as kind as his mother", the malamute added, allowing his sour expression to let up just a little.

"Ah, you're welcome", Kodi smiled, right before Steele groaned again, as he was hugged for the third time that day. It was official, any fear Kodi used to have of him was long gone. Along with any fear that anyone else might have of him…ever. What ever happened to respecting another sled dog's dignity? What kind of world do we live in where complete strangers can just ruin another dog's reputation whenever they felt like it?

"You're a real touchy-feely type of guy, aren't you?", the malamute huffed, once Kodi let him go a few seconds later.

"I suppose you could say that", Kodi replied, Steele's surly mood not diminishing the boy's cheery demeanor at all.

"You're real lucky I like you kid", Steele grumbled, before turning back towards Balto. There was still one last thing he needed to tell the half-wolf before he left. "Balto, you're been Jenna's husband for four years now, but you're only halfway out of the woods. It's still your job to make sure nothing happens to her. Or like I said before, I will find you", Steele reminded him, growling at the end.

"Will do", Balto replied, mimicking a salute by raising his paw to his forehead. But before Steele could growl out a reply, Balto thrust out his paw, extending it towards Steele in his own act of kindness. "Good-bye Steele", the wolf-dog said softly.

This time Steele didn't hesitate, reaching out and gripping Balto's paw with hardly any resistance from either party. "Good-bye Balto", the malamute said.

"I wish you and your team the best of luck. You already told me to take care of Jenna, so I want you to take good care of Roger", Balto said, as he released his rival's hand.

Steele nodded, giving Balto all the confirmation the hybrid needed, before walking past the half-breed and once again turning his attention back towards his wife.

"Good-bye Steele", Jenna said, a small ghost of a tear appearing under her eye. After his brutal assault on her husband, Jenna never thought she'd find herself crying over Steele ever again. But here she was, once again saying good-bye to one of her oldest friends/enemies, and fighting back tears doing so. History had cruel way of repeating itself.

"Still crying over me, eh?", Steele said teasingly, before laughing to himself and throwing his arms around the husky, patting her on the back. "Jenna…it's been real. Take good care of your family, and don't forget me", the malamute requested, whispering into her ear even though he knew her husband and her son would still hear him.

"I won't", Jenna promised. Despite all her hard efforts, a single lonely tear slid down her face, wetting her fur, and chilling the skin beneath her eye. Though she fought to keep her eyelids open, the burning, stinging feel in her eyes became much too painful, and she had to close them to protect them from the wind. But even after she had managed to warm them up, she still kept them closed, in fear of losing all control. This was really it. As hard as it was for her believe, given all the history they had shared together, both good and bad, that this was really the last time she would ever see Steele. And she didn't want to ruin the moment by crying. She wanted to be strong for their final moments together as friends.

"Jenna Jones…good-bye", Steele said, before taking a deep breath, and forcing his arms his let to go of the husky beneath him. He had finally let her go, for real this time. Now it was over for both of them. Now they could part and go their separate ways, with Steele's conscience finally cleared.

This was how he always wanted Jenna to remember him, on the rare days his face popped inside his old love's mind. He wanted her to think of him as Steele, the man who had managed to keep the hardest of promises for her. Steele, the dog who had made some mistakes in his lifetime, but finally did what he should have done years ago, helped her husband save her family. Steele, the dog she could always count on whenever her or Balto needed help. Because they both knew his true purpose in life now. While Balto had always been meant to be her soulmate, it had always been his rival's destiny to be her best friend (imagine that). Steele, the man who had always been the villain of the story, had finally become a hero in his own right.

Jenna's eyes were still closed when Steele let her go from his embrace, and she still kept them shut even when she heard him walk off and disappear down the street, leaving her standing alone by the bushes. It wasn't until she felt a different pair of arms around her, which she instinctively knew were Balto's, that she allowed herself to open her eyes, and nuzzle her lover on the neck. "I hate good-byes, they always make me cry", she mumbled, as she wiped away another stream of salt water from under her eye.

"I understand Jen. We'll all miss him too", Balto said sympathetically, ignoring how weird those words sounded while they were coming out of his mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, Balto could see his son going back inside the hospital.

Kodi decided that it was best if he left his mom and dad alone for a while, his parents would need some time to sort their feelings out. And so would he.

Kodi had succeeded in his mission. He had saved Steele, and given him a new chance at life. But he had never foreseen this. He could never have predicted that he would actually miss him when he left. But in just one night, Steele had become just as much as of a friend to him as he was to his parents, and the boy would never forget the sacrifices Steele had made for them that day. None of them would.

But despite what they all thought, including Steele, Kodi knew their ordeal still wasn't over yet. There was still one last thing that had gone unsaid. There was still one last person who hadn't got a chance to say their good-byes. Someone who needed closure just as badly as Jenna and Steele did. Which was why, before he went back inside, Kodi tapped on Kaltag's shoulder, and whispered something into his uncle's ear.

((()-()))

Later that day, around noon, Steele laid down on one of White Mountain's sidewalks, thinking to himself like he usually did. He didn't know what had troubled him more, saying good-bye to Jenna, or the fact he had to start all over again now. Kodi had said he could build a new life for himself if he wanted. After all, he already had an owner and a team. But what about love? What about finding a mate and starting a family?

Unlike most dogs who were only attracted to either members of the same or the opposite sex, Steele had had numerous encounters with both men and women over the years. However, after all his one night stands, Jenna was the only person he had ever truly loved. Or at least, the only dog he had ever been interested in loving. Once he met her, he had never even thought of pursuing any other dogs, except when he would hook up with other sled dogs for the occasional relief (sometimes his hormones got too strong for him to focus on his job, and we all know what that's like).

But now, Steele wasn't sure if he knew what love was anymore. He used to think it was all about mating. About finding a beautiful young woman and lying with her so she could have his kids, who would of course grow up to be healthy and strong, and pursue a future as sled dogs just like their old man. But his new revelation about how he used to be an arrogant fool just proved that everything Steele used to know about the world was wrong. So now that he had to start over from scratch, how he could possibly find a mate when he didn't even know where to begin?

"I thought I'd find you here, brooding", someone said from behind him.

Steele's eyes snapped open, and the malamute lifted his head to find Kaltag standing only a few feet away from him. "Kal, why did you follow me here?", Steele asked, annoyed.

"I saw what you did for Jenna back there, helping her out by saying good-bye to her and all. Let me just tell you, that was a hard thing to do pal. I never thought I'd see the day when you'd do something for someone other than yourself", Kaltag whistled, sitting down right next to the malamute in the snow.

"The kid rubbed off on me", Steele grumbled, blowing off Kaltag's question so he could act like the husky wasn't even next to him. He preferred to be alone right now.

"I've gotta remember to thank Kodi. He sure did a number on you. He changed you into the dog you were when I first met you", Kaltag noted.

"The last time I checked, Kodi's a half-wolf, not a wizard. And I'm pretty sure I'm not two years old", Steele said sarcastically, his tone growing more and more impatient as Kaltag refused to take the hints he was dropping. If Kal didn't leave soon, Steele would get up himself and find a new spot to sulk.

"Not like that", Kaltag frowned, slapping Steele on the back and taking the malamute by surprise with his boldness. Steele was about to growl at him, and just plain tell him to go away, but Kaltag didn't give him a chance to speak. "I mean you're a lot like you were when I first joined your team, before you got all cocky and full of yourself. When you actually cared about more about what happened to your team than winning races. That was the dog I pledged allegiance to, not the psychotic glory hound", Kaltag explained, smiling.

"Yeah, well glad to see I made your day back there", Steele muttered, his temper subsiding again as he thought about Kaltag's words, for now.

"You remembered the first day I joined the team? You whistled when you saw me, said I was the first dog you had seen in months that was just your size. You said I'd make an excellent wheel dog. I guess even then you knew I'd be the perfect addition to your gang, big, bulky, and didn't ask questions. If this was a mob movie or something, you'd have been the brains and I'd have been the muscle, right?", Kaltag mused, his tone surprisingly calm for someone who was looking back on what should have been their worst memories.

Steele hung his head down, not saying a word as Kaltag continued. He thought after he apologized to Balto and Jenna, he was done feeling guilty, but then Kaltag had to come along and remind him he still had some leftover skeletons in closet. Suddenly, the weight on Steele's shoulders got a thousand times heavier, as Kaltag unloaded a whole new ton of regret on him.

"Remember the first time you and I got together? I had only been on your team for about a month. You seemed distracted one day, even after Gunnar unhooked us, so I decided to talk to you in private. But when I asked you about it, you kissed me, right out of nowhere, right on the lips. I pushed you off me, and asked you if you were crazy. That's when you told me you knew about me, and how you had known ever since the first day you saw me. You had noticed just how nervous I always was around men. I was always worried I would say too much or do things the wrong way, and you picked up on how I would always babble on during conversations. I remember the exact words you said to me. They summed up my character perfectly, even now. You told me that even though I was the picturesque example of masculinity, I was also living proof that even burliest of men could be sodomites", Kaltag said, paying no mind to his remorseful ex-leader as recounted that faithful day eight years ago.

Steele lifted his eyes towards his friend, but let his head stay hanging down. He didn't want Kaltag to see his face. Not after everything he had done to him.

"And I was so scared. I didn't even try to deny anything you said, I just stood there until you got back up. I knew you probably weren't gonna try to blackmail me or anything, since you were the one who made the first move and not me, but I still asked you if you were gonna tell the other dogs, that's how afraid I was. Imagine that, a big guy like me, complete at your mercy. Of course, you don't have to imagine it, do you? You were there. You said no, but being the devil that you are, you had to come up to me and start putting your paws on me", Kaltag said, before laughing wryly.

"You rubbed my neck, shoulders and chest, stroking my fur like I was your girlfriend or something. God, your paws felt so good on me. I was so ashamed for letting you tempt me the way you did, that I was so weak I let you take away all my self-respect and dignity. But no matter how wrong it was supposed to have felt, I still wanted you to do so much more to me with those hands", Kaltag said, shivering as remembered the spine-tingling touches the malamute had teased him with that morning. He still couldn't believe the way Steele had reduced him, a big strapping jock, to quivering wreck with only a few well-placed rubs, the same way he had destroyed Griff's self-control without even breaking a sweat. The malamute was obviously some kind of canine siren. There was no other explanation for how just one dog, who wasn't even that likeable or inviting by the way, could have such an aphrodisiacal effect on both men and women.

"You said you had never had sex with a man before, and you were curious about it. You said you had heard from other sled dogs that it was pretty hot, and a quick way to blow off some steam. You had guessed I was virgin too, and told me that if I wanted to I could share my first time with you. You said you would understand if I said no, and that you wouldn't tell anyone if I decided not to go through with it. That's the kind of guy you were back then. You were still a prejudiced jerk, but you actually respected your teammates", Kaltag said, before glancing Steele, who was still keeping silent.

"I knew I should have said no. I knew I should have pushed you off me and told you you were sick. No, I should have done worse than that. I should you kicked your ass, and called you faggot or queer, like most dogs would have done. But by that point, all my common sense was gone. The only thing I was thinking about was how much I wanted you. And not just your body, your very essence. I wanted to feel you in my arms, and devour your mouth with all my might. I was a starving man, presented with the most irresistible of forbidden fruit. So when you kissed me the second time, the only thing I did was pull you closer. God, I never wanted to let you go", Kaltag finished, shivering again as relieved that day in his head. And to his surprise, Steele actually said something this time.

"I remember that. I told you that if you held me any tighter you were gonna break me", the malamute mumbled.

"And then we'd never get to the good part", Kaltag said, finishing his sentence. "And what a night it was", he said, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Of course, when the next morning came around you acted like nothing ever happened, and I was perfectly fine with that. You didn't touch me like that again for weeks, until the new year anyway", Kaltag continued.

"The night that Spike idiot picked a fight a with me", Steele said, growling a little under his breath as he remembered that new years evening, seven years prior.

He had been hanging out in the Old Mill, eating a few bones with his team and showing off for the ladies as usual, when this rival sled dog, Spike, had come up to him, wanting to start something. Steele's team had just beat Spike's in a race, and of course the losing team wanted to have a word with Steele about how he had supposedly 'snapped' at them during the run (which he actually had, a game-changing technique he had just learned how to use). Steele had had fights with other dogs before, wheel dogs and stray mutts that had tried to badmouth him in the past, so he wasn't scared at all when Spike challenged him and his boys.

In the fight that ensued, Steele and his gang came out of it the winners as usual, but this brawl with different than all the ones that had came before it. This was the first time Steele had beat the leader of another team, the first time the alpha dog had dominated over another alpha. The rush of power he got from seeing his rival be vanquished under his paws was incredible. He felt invincible for the rest of the night, and truth be told, he never stopped feeling invincible, not until the great serum run of 1925 anyway. That night was the first step he took into becoming the power-mad monster that everyone in Nome knew him as.

"Even hours after the fight was over, you were still so pumped up. You said you would never be able to go to sleep that night, and that was the last thing you told me before you tackled me to the ground, and claimed me as yours", Kaltag said, frowning now. "And what started out as a once-in-a-blue moon kind of thing turned into a once-a-week occurrence. You and I were tearing it up every other night, and I was loving every minute of it. The fun, the pain, the pleasure, having this secret that none of my friends knew. It was the kind of affair that girls like Dixie and Sylvie dream about", Kaltag said, laughing again, but laughing bitterly, as if he was condemning himself for how stupid he had been in his youth.

"But I knew it wasn't just the sex I loved. I loved you. And not just your good looks. I liked your sarcastic sense of humor, the way you dominated in a fight, the special kick in your step and the swagger in your walk. People always talked about how arrogant you were, but your confidence was one of the things I loved best about you, or at least it used to be. I loved you so much then. I knew I wanted to be more than just your friend or your teammate, or even your partner in bed. I wanted to be so much more than the guy you fooled around with. Even though I knew it wasn't possible, and our reputations would never allow it, I wanted to be your husband, your mate. And for a while, I thought you wanted the same thing, until you met Jenna. And that was the beginning of the end for us. Not that there was ever any 'us' in the first place. Our relationship was nothing but a creation of my own wishful thinking, as you were quick to remind me later", Kaltag continued.

"It was right around that time that you started to change. You started working Nikki, Star, and I harder and longer. You started getting more vicious in races. You went from a few nips and barks to plain-out attacking dogs and sabotaging their mushers. Not to mention you got completely obsessed with tormenting Balto, and even more obsessed with stalking Jenna. Even our love-making sessions changed. All the spark and passion that we used to have was gone. It was just sex, plain and simple. Hot-blooded and steam-charged as ever, but sex nonetheless. Completely empty, meaningless sex between two men, not two lovers. Like it was an activity, or a necessity to you, something that you wanted to get done up and over with as quickly as you could so that you could focus on new ways to get to Balto, or romance Jenna", Kaltag said sadly, with a hint of anger beneath the sorrow.

"At first, I tried to convince myself that Balto and Jenna were the reason you had changed so much, that it was all their fault you were so obsessed with them. But eventually even I had to admit you weren't the same dog I had met when I joined your team. And you certainly weren't the same Steele I had fallen in love all those years ago. I didn't know who you were anymore. But you weren't the man I wanted to be with anymore", Kaltag said, turning back to look at Steele, who's head was hung down even lower now than before. If he dipped his skull down any further, there was a good chance it would fall right off his neck.

"In the last year before the serum run, I told you I wanted to end what we had, and you…you just told me 'okay', and went on about your day. Like what I had just said meant nothing, at all. Like everything, all our history, all those cold nights we had spent together in bed were all just a lie, just a façade to get what you wanted. And me, the idiot who gave up his morality, his dignity, his self-respect, and his virginity, had given it to you. All in the name of 'love'", Kaltag said angrily, causing Steele to cringe as the husky's voice rose in pitch.

"For the first day since I met you, I hated you. I really hated you. Of course, you were still my lead dog, so like all the others I pretended to still like you, but really, I hated you to the deepest depths of hell. And when the serum run came, and I watched you practically murder dozens of children just because you were too selfish to accept help from a wolf-dog, my mind was made up. When I left you out there in that blizzard, all by yourself with no hope of ever getting back to Nome, I felt nothing. Nothing at all. Just relief, and wonder. Wonder about why I hadn't done that sooner. Imagine that, I had just abandoned the love of my life, and the only regrets I had was not doing it sooner", Kaltag said, calming down as his tone switched from anger to regret again, and then an emotion that sounded a lot like shame.

It was at that point that Steele had had enough listening to Kaltag wallow in self-pity, and decided to say something else. "I deserved it. You did what you had to do to save the town", he said softly, once again doing something else he never thought he'd do in his life, admitting his old teammate had actually done something right.

"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I had any right to feel glad about it. Nor did I have any right to be disappointed when I found out you had survived the blizzard. I hated you so much that I actually wished you were dead. It wasn't until days after you were gone that I realized I was turning into you. I had been around you for so long that your obsession with hatred was starting to rub off on me, corrupting me too. So I decided to forget about you entirely. To forget about you, and the nights we shared together, so I could focus on starting over. After all, we had a new team leader, who's wife was expecting pups, the old team had a lot to think about over that next year", Kaltag said, his mood lightening again, as he remembered the day Jenna gave her birth to litter of pups, and the full magnitude of him becoming an uncle had hit him for the first time. Oh, what a happy day that had been for all of them, with many more to follow.

"You tried to forget about me, and move on with your life? Well then, I hate to admit it Kal, but you were a bigger dog than I was then. When I left Nome, I didn't even try to forget", Steele said guiltily.

"Yes, I know. Only a year after the last time you showed your mug around town, the team learned firsthand from Balto about your little 'visit' to Jenna's house", Kaltag said wryly, his good mood disappearing as quickly as it had came. "You should be glad it was your own team who took you down that night. If it had been any of us we would have ripped you apart for what you almost did to that innocent pup", the husky growled.

"And I would have deserved that too", Steele replied, not even bothering to argue. What would be the point of arguing when everything Kaltag was saying was completely true? After all, denial was part of what ruined his life in the first place.

"Just when I was starting to forget you, you show up again, with your same old tricks and same old obsessions. But your little sojourn did have one good result. You reminded me why I was trying to forget about you, and why I had stopped loving you - just when I thought you couldn't stoop any lower, you always found new ways to horrify me", Kaltag said condescendingly.

Eventually, Steele couldn't lower his head any further, and snapped it back up to reveal his usual icy-blue eyes were now darkened with remorse and regret. "Kal, is there reason you came to talk to me? Besides trying to make me feel guilty? Because if that's it, it's working", the malamute asked, though in a calm, reserved way rather than his usual, impatient retort.

However, Kaltag acted like he hadn't heard him and simply continued on with his story, though Steele didn't proceed to stop him in any way. "I tried to act like I wasn't shaken up by what happened, but I guess I wasn't as convincing as I thought I was. Because three years later, just last week, Kodi asked me if I liked men. He was just a kid, no more than a few years old, but somehow he had guessed everything", Kaltag said in disbelief.

"Sounds like that meddling wolf-dog alright. Did you tell him anything?", Steele asked, sincerely interested now. He knew Kodi was good at reading people (he had seen right through his façade only a few hours after meeting him), an annoying trait he had no doubt picked up from his half-breed father, but he had no idea the boy was that good.

"Of course. I had no choice, the boy had me cornered. But I didn't tell him about you. When I didn't want to tell him anything about else, he told me we'd talk about it again the next time he saw me. Of course, I wasn't going to tell him anything else even if he asked again, he already knew too much as it was. But it's funny how fate works. We still ended up talking about it anyway, which is why I'm here, talking to you right now. He talked me into telling you something", Kaltag explained.

"Tell me what?", Steele asked, before his curiosity once again turned into frustration, as Kaltag ignored his question again and started recapping the previous night.

"I could try to tell you how surprised I was when I found out you were here, living so close to our home, but I can't. There just aren't strong enough words to do the feeling justice. But I guess the closest I can get is 'how the fuck can that son-of-a-bitch be here?!'. And for a while, I didn't realize there was something different about you, the only thing I could think about was how you had a lot of nerve showing your face around one of Balto's relatives after everything you'd done to all of us. Until I noticed the way you treated Kodi, how you growled at him and insulted him just like everyone else, but you listened to him nonetheless. I've never seen you take orders from anyone, not even your own musher, let alone the son of a half-breed. Even now I still can't really grasp what happened last night", Kaltag said.

"At first I thought you were just lying, putting on an act to gain our sympathies and stab us in the back again as soon as we got out of there. It was the sort of thing you'd do. But I couldn't be sure. Because when I looked at you, I saw something in you that I hadn't seen for years, not since I first met you. Kindness. Genuine kindness for another person", Kaltag said, placing his paw on Steele's shoulder in disbelief.

"So that's when you decided to 'test me'?", Steele guessed, raising his eyebrow.

"Yes", Kaltag replied, grinning shamelessly at the malamute. "I had to be sure my theory about you was right before I let my guard down and did some stupid. But when I realized I actually was right, I couldn't believe it was really true. You were back. The real you I mean. After all these years, someone had finally succeeded in finding the real you and bringing him back from the abyss. The kind, selfless Steele who had kissed me that summer morning and showed me true happiness, things I would have never even dreamed of finding by myself. Years after I had given up hope on you, the man I loved was really back. I wanted to scream, and jump for joy like I was a newborn puppy or something. I wanted to make a complete fool of myself and not care who saw. But since we had a job to do, I settled for a handshake. But even all that stuff I just told you was nothing compared to what I really wanted to do. And truth be told, I'm not sure I would have worked up the nerve to do it right now, if it hadn't been for Kodi, meddling as always", Kaltag said, laughing.

It was right around that point that Steele realized Kaltag was now only a few inches away from him. The sled dog had been gradually scooting closer and closer to him throughout the entire story, until they were now sitting side-by-side, less than an arm's length apart. However, even this still wasn't enough for Steele to get what Kaltag was throwing down. "You still haven't told me what 'it' is", the malamute reminded him confusedly, before he was suddenly pushed into his old teammate's chest. For the third time in under 24 hours, Steele found himself being hugged again by another man. And the only reason it didn't feel awkward or embarrassing to him this time was because he didn't have time to feel self-conscious, not when his lips were currently being melded with Kaltag's, something that melted away any other kind of distraction immediately.

"Oh My Love" by Thomas Gomez begins.

I got family somewhere around the world, thinking about you in my heart, this is where you belong oh, you're just my type of guy, we could have it all.

Sure, Steele and Kaltag had fooled around in the past. Whenever the malamute was bored and there weren't any females around he would get in the mood for something rough and rowdy, the kind of lovemaking you'd only ever get with a guy. And Kaltag was the perfect candidate. Like the tan husky had said himself, he was big, had lots of a muscle, and he didn't ask questions. And when they were together, they weren't gentle with each other, at all (if anyone had ever seen their lovemaking sessions, they would have probably described them as a pair sadistic masochists). Steele had always felt kind of guilty for using his own teammate afterwards, but that guilt was always overshadowed by his sexual needs (it sucked not having a girlfriend). And as the years went by, and his heart turned to stone, even that small amount of guilt ceased to exsist.

So even in some of their most heated, intoxicating sessions, they had never kissed. Not a real kiss anyway. A kiss was something tender and compassionate. Something that you gave someone you truly loved, as a universal sign of affection. And since Steele had never loved anyone besides himself, he had never really kissed anyone before.

This is it. I could be lost without you. This is our love together, forever. This is love forever!

Another reason for that was that even though Steele was pretty open-minded when it came to his sexuality, he was still a slave to male stereotypes just like most guys. Since kissing your mate was something that was generally associated with women, kissing a man and his holding his paw was something that Steele always considered 'too sissified' or 'too gay' for him (after all, this was the 1920s, not the 2010s). He was mostly into rough, no-bars-held sex with rugged, robust guys like Kaltag and Nikki, who fit the 'manly men' image of the time.

Sure he had kissed Kaltag during their mutual first time, but that was mostly as a way of seducing him, and he did the same to Griff later in order to humiliate him. But he had never kissed someone in the way you would kiss a lover before, man or woman (much to the disappointment of dozens of ladies). But to Steele's surprise, he loved the feeling more than he ever thought he would.

Oh my love, y-y-you got it bad, you're so my type, you're the guy, you're my love, we can do anything you want. Oh-h-h, m-m-my, l-l-love, we can have it all, we can do it again if you want. Welcome to my heart, yeah!

Steele loved the way their breaths mingled, their internal body heat swimming from one mouth to the next while their tongues interlaced. He didn't know how he was managing to move his lips in perfect sync with Kaltag's, and he didn't care. He was too busy enjoying the feeling of complete and utter bliss while it lasted. Perhaps this was how Kaltag had felt the first time Steele kissed him, and why the husky had become endeavored with him with so quickly. He had spent all these years waiting to do the same for Steele as Steele had done for him - give him his first real kiss. So all those times he and Kaltag had joined together on boring winter days, they had been missing out on one of the best parts of lovemaking. Which ironically, was one of the simplest. Apparently, this was what Kodi had talked Kaltag into doing. Giving Steele what he had always regretted not giving him before, before they said last good-byes.

Dude, don't think that you're losing your swag, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I got your heart, you got my beat, we got a heartbeat for life.

When Kaltag pulled away from him, a whimper actually escaped from the malamute's lips. The idea of him, bomb-ass Steele, begging someone to continue would have normally been humiliating and degrading to such a proud sled dog, but right now Steele craved his partner's lips so badly that he really didn't give a damn about dignity anymore. This was the first time he had ever kissed a man without feeling confidence, dominance, or even arousal, only happiness and content, and he didn't want to lose those feelings so quickly. He wanted go at it long and slow. He wanted to truly savor the feeling of his first kiss.

Yeah, I can make you dance, I can make you do anything in our life! This is what we got do in our life! We'll do it all over again!

This was something he never felt with Kaltag before. It was the spark. The spark of romance. It was something Steele had always thought he would feel with Jenna if they were together (he would feel a few wisps of it whenever they talked), but never a man, and certainly not Kaltag. Maybe the potential had always been there, but he had never allowed himself to feel it because he had never given it a chance. Until now.

Oh my love, nobody rocks it the way that you do, you are my world. I got the key to your heart!... Oh my l-l-love, you are my heart! Oh my world, nothing's going to stop me from loving, oh loving, you! This is love!

"Like I said, I really owe Kodi", Kaltag chuckled, before leaning forward again, and continuing what he started. For the first time since their first kiss all those years ago, Steele found himself becoming the submissive partner, relaxing his muscles and sinking into his lover's embrace as Kaltag straddled him in his arms. For once, just once, Kaltag was a leader and not a follower. Unfortunately, like all living creatures, they both had to come up for air eventually, so they forced their tongues to part ways for a quick oxygen refill.

Oh my love, nobody rocks it the way that you do, you are my world. I got the key to your heart!... Oh my l-l-love, you are my heart! Oh my world, nothing's going to stop me from loving, oh loving, you! This is love...

Kaltag laughed, and slapped Steele on the back, his boldness taking the malamute by surprise. Apparently, Steele wasn't the only one had found it in him to change overnight. Kaltag was a new man than the one he had been the day before. He was much bolder man now, who knew that life was much too short for him not to take risks. After all, he had spent his entire life pining over this man, and he sure as hell wasn't gonna let Steele walk out of his life again until he said and did everything he never got a chance to do before. "God, you have no idea how long I've wanted to do that", Kaltag said proudly.

And that was all Kaltag needed to say in order to kill Steele's buzz, and bring back all that guilt he had been harboring for the past thirty minutes. Suddenly, he remembered why he couldn't allow things to go any further than they had already went. "Kal…I'm sorry for using you, and treating you the way I did. I know you…you love me, or at least you say you do. And I can't deny that when you kissed me, that was the best goddamn thing I've felt in years. But, I can't do this with you. Not again. You deserve someone better than me. Someone who's into all that touchy-feely stuff you like, and will treat you right", Steele insisted, backing away from the husky as if to emphasize his point.

However, this didn't dissuade Kaltag. Far from it, he simply one-upped his lover's footsteps. Every time Steele took a step back, Kaltag took two steps forward. "Oh stop the heart-of-ice crap, you're not fooling anyone. Aren't you forgetting that I know you? The real you? The one that Kodi got through last night? So I know that you are the kind of guy who's good enough for me, and you will treat me right", Kaltag insisted.

"How can you know that? Huh? How? I turned on you once, who's to say I won't do it again?!", Steele barked, pretending to be angry now.

"I just do. The last time it happened, I knew you were being corrupted by your own greed for years, but I didn't do anything to stop it. I just stood by and watched as my own lover destroyed his life. Because that's what I was, a watcher and a follower, just like you said last night. But you also said something else that was true, and that's that sometimes you need someone to stop you. If someone had spoken up and done what Kodi had done, if I had had the nerve to do what Kodi had done, you wouldn't have turned out the way you did. But I can do it now. I can be there to stop you if you ever need me to. You said you can be whatever Jenna needs you to be now. Well, I can be what you've already needed Steele…a mate", Kaltag proclaimed.

Steele stood there, staring at Kaltag with an expression that was unreadable, before shaking his head in denial. "Kal, don't be ridiculous. By the end of today you're going back to Nome with Jenna and Balto, and Roger will keep on traveling. We won't even see each other again after this", Steele reminded him.

"We'll find a way", Kaltag replied, unfazed. Steele was about to argue again, when Kaltag placed his paw on his shoulder to stop him, his teasing mood becoming very serious again. "Steele, we've all done impossible things over these last few days, you especially. You've been alone for years now, saving yourself for the right person. And so have I. We've both waited years for this, and our chance has finally come. I know this means you'll never get to have pups like you always planned you would, but this is your chance for a happy life with someone who loves you and wants to spend the rest of their days with you. It's what every dog in the world dreams of. So don't let it pass you by again. Please, not this time", Kaltag begged.

This time, Steele didn't answer right away, which was a good sign, it meant he was actually considering what Kaltag had just told him. And the reason his words had stuck, instead of just passing through the malamute's ears, was because they perfectly mirrored what Kodi had told him the other evening. And it was impossible to ignore something once it had been said twice, even for Steele.

He had been fixated on Jenna Jones almost his entire life, dreaming of the day they'd get married and have kids. It had taken him years to realize it was only a fool's dream, nothing more than wishful thinking. And in all that time, he had never even considered anyone else, only waiting in solitude for his most desperate of wishes to come true. While his real true love, Kaltag, suffered mercilessly at his hand, his oldest friend a victim of his own cruelty and ignorance.

Now that he had said good-bye to Jenna, he had a chance to undo all that, and finally give what they had a second chance. The final step towards making a new life for himself. Or like Kodi said, he could keep living in the past and die cold and alone, his final thoughts in life being about why the world hadn't gone his way like he had wanted it to. This was the choice Kodi had been preparing him to make since the day they met.

Finally, after thinking for more than one nerve-racking minute, Steele made up his mind, and the sled dog opened his mouth, struggling to find the right words to describe what he was feeling. "Kal…if you really sure this is what you want, and if you really want a washed-up old glory hound like me, I'm willing to try this again if you are", the malamute conceded. And that was all he got a chance to say before overwhelming feeling of bliss returned to his senses, as Kaltag pounced on him and tackled his old lead dog to the ground, the complete opposite of how their old encounters used to go.

This is love...

This time, the kiss became heated much more quickly, and what started off as a few kisses and caresses of the fur turned into something else entirely. In less than a minute, the two dogs couldn't their paws off each other, grappling with each other in the snow, and wrestling each other for dominance without ever breaking their kiss. This was what Steele loved best about being with a man. The roughhousing. Something he could never do with a woman. With girls he always had to be gentle. He wasn't able tackle her to the ground and climb onto her chest like he was able to with Kaltag. Nor could he do many of his other favorite positions with her, most of which involved fighting for dominance. Whether he was a sadist or a masochist, Steele always did love a good dog fight, and when you mixed that with lovemaking, the malamute was really in his element.

Pretty soon, they decided to get out of the street with their mock-fighting (they were drawing lots of unwanted attention from the other dogs), and took their little soiree to one of White Mountain's many abandoned buildings. Where it lasted for the next two hours. But neither Steele or Kaltag noticed the time flying by, or the sun ghosting across the sky. The two soul-mates were having way too much fun enjoying what little time they had together while it lasted. But little did they know, there would be many more good times to come after this, and it was all thanks to one persistent half-breed.

((()-()))

That night, Steele sat on top of Roger's hospital bed again, listening carefully to his owner's conversation, while the others (Kodi, Dusty, Kirby, Ralph, Ron, Hal, Jake, Blake, Griff, etc) laid down on the floor. By now, Balto and the others were well on their way back to Nome, and would be back in their hometown by the next morning.

Steele had already said his good-byes hours before, but even now he still couldn't believe Kaltag was gone. He of course had known this would happen. He knew it would be the price he would have to pay when he let himself get close to Kaltag that afternoon, and he had gladly taken it. But even after all the time he had had to prepare himself, he still couldn't believe how much his heart ached for his new lover. It hurt so much worse than it had when he had said good-bye to Jenna. That pain had been nothing compared to this. He didn't just want Kaltag around, he needed him.

Still, the situation wasn't that bleak. The conversation Roger was currently having with John had managed to give Steele hope again (which was why he was listening so intently). But it had also given him a new set of problems.

"So you're still going back to Nome anyway?", John asked surprisingly.

"Yeah", Roger replied indifferently.

"Well, it's just that I thought you would want to keep Steele, since you know he loves you now", John reasoned.

"I said I was going back to Nome, I never said I was giving the dog back", Roger replied, causing John (and all the dogs in the room) to raise their eyebrows. After he saw his friend still wasn't getting it, Roger decided he better elaborate on his plan. "I've decided I'm going to keep Steele. It's what Gunnar would want me to do. But I'm still going back home once I get out of this hospital. Me and my team, we've been traveling all across Alaska for years now, and what happened last night just proves it's time for us to hang it up. We could all use some rest and relaxation", Roger explained.

"Well what about your job? Who's gonna deliver the mail?", John asked.

"John, you work in the postal industry. You knew there are plenty of mushers and their teams in this country just waiting to take my place when I leave. I'll probably take a job in the general store, and live out the rest of my days where I started out. Good old Nome, Alaska. Cold, snowy, but with beautiful beaches by the sea", the man said, sighing contently as he laid back in his pillow.

Steele glanced at his tired owner with a look of uncertainty. He had mixed feelings about this. A few years ago he would have killed for the chance to go back to his hometown. But now he didn't know how he could show his face back there again. Especially since, as he far as he knew, Nome was where Balto and his family lived. But on the plus side, this meant his one-day thing with Kaltag would definitely be extended into indefinite thing.

If Kaltag was here, the husky would no doubt be rubbing in it his face. "I told you it would all work out", he imagined his lover saying to him. Steele wished he could be as optimistic as his partner.

Author's Notes:

Boy, this one was a doozy. I would apologize for only posting one chapter today, but I think we can all agree that this chapter was more like two-in-one. I haven't written one this long since chapter 2. Hence, the reason why they both have Shakespeare titles (in chapter 2, Steele loses the love of his life, and here he finds true love again. Not to mention they're both around the same length, this one's only shorter by four pages). There was so much stuff to cover here, but as usual, I enjoyed writing all of it (when you write fanfics, all the hard work is well worth the end result, wouldn't ya say? And it's the same with music).

This chapter contains two more original songs by Kodiwolf321, "This Moment" and "Oh My Love", one written for Balto and Kodi, and the other for Kaltag and Steele (though it could have been written for Blake and Griff, it fits both pairings). Either way, they fit into the context of this chapter perfectly (though "This Is Love" was actually extended by a few verses). The songs here, instead of being presented in their normal 'bold/italic' format, are written in simple italic. Since none of the characters are actually singing these songs, they're intended more as background music than part of the actual scene (like incidental music in movies).

I've been waiting a long time to write the Kaltag/Steele pairing (since Tom and I agreed on the final draft of the script), but it's been well worth the wait. Just like Balto/Steele, I find there aren't enough fics about these two. Actually, there's no fics at all. In fact, I didn't always have this ending in mind for "The Revenge and Redemption of Steele". When Kodiwolf and I were discussing what this fic would be about, I thought a lot about what would happen to Steele. After all, I knew Kodi would come to town, Steele would try to fight him, and Kodi would get him to change his mind, while broadening his world view and trying to get him to be a better person. And then disaster would strike, and Kodi would talk Steele into helping his parents save Dusty. But what would happen to Steele after that? Where's his happy ending?

I knew I didn't want to this fic to end with Steele being alone again, cause that would just be depressing (even bad guys deserve second chances, especially after everything Steele has done to redeem himself). But for obvious reasons, he couldn't win Jenna's heart (that was never even an option in the first place. The whole point of this story was for him to move on from Jenna, besides I could never have her break Balto's heart like that and disrupt her family). I thought about introducing an OC for him to fall in love with, but I decided against that too. I felt it needed to be someone from the movie. Dixie was out as well, because having her end up with Steele anyway after she denounced him would just make her seem weak with no sense of self-respect (whenever I write for female characters, I like them to be both smart and strong-willed female, since a lot of guyxgirl fics fall into the stereotypes of women being weak and girly). And Sylvie…that was a real laugh.

Finally, I decided his true love didn't necessarily have to be woman. Like I said before, I've always wanted to experiment with Steele's sexuality, and I realized that this story was a big opportunity, since Steele is a main character here. In my previous Balto fics, Steele was just a supporting villain who appeared every now and again, popping up out of nowhere to harass Balto like a ghost. Of course, his true love couldn't be Balto, for the same reasons that it couldn't be Jenna. Luckily, I had the perfect candidate in mind.

I chose Kaltag as his lover for three reasons. One, the two are of them are actually pretty handsome for cartoon characters (kind of like how I'm not usually a cat person, but even I have to agree that T-Bone and Razor were impossibly sexy in their g-suits, masks, and bandannas. "SWAT Kats" forever baby!). Two, they're a cute pairing (Steele is always worried about people turning him soft, but Kaltag makes him realize he's already soft). And three, I loved the idea of Steele having an affair with his second-in-command and Kaltag having an unrequited love for him because it. Which then leads to him getting rejected so badly that he gives up on Steele entirely and hates his guts (like he does in the movie), until Kodi brings Steele's better side again, rekindling the old spark they used to have together.

I pitched the idea to Kodiwolf321, and he was okay with it, since it fit into the general narrative of the story. And that's how one of the first Kaltag/Steele pairings on this site came to be.