Disclaimer: The Characters of Due South belong to Alliance Communications. No copyright infringement is intended.

This is Terrijo's fault...she asked for a plot for DS...and my musae bashed, in a major way...sigh.

Puppy Sitting


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Friday evening:

"Thank you kindly, Ray, for agreeing to take care of Diefenbaker for me while I'm in Ottawa." Benton Fraser had brought everything Ray would need for the week he planned on being gone. "Now, he doesn't need any junk food, Ray. This kibble provides all the nutrition he needs, two cups per day."

Ray Kowalski sniffed the bag and wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Smells like corn flakes, Fraser."

"Well, yes, corn is certainly an ingredient in the kibble, Ray. But the analysis indicates it is one hundred percent total nutrition for dogs and wolves." He had to emphasize the last, in order to be heard over Diefenbaker's grumble.

"Just two cups a day? That doesn't seem like very much, Frase." Ray was squinting at the label, verifying the information.

"Yes, well, he would be given a great deal more if he were, say, working. As he gets almost no exercise, I don't think he needs more than the minimum."

"Got it. The inspector drivin' you to the airport?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "Actually, Constable Turnbull is driving us. He will also pick us up on Saturday week. Are you certain you don't mind Diefenbaker staying with you? I know how you feel about his penchant for tormenting your turtle."

"We'll be fine, Frase. Won't we, Dief?" The wolf-mix woofed his agreement, wagging his tail and grinning. "See?" Ray looked up at Fraser and smiled.

"Very well. Here are his dishes, his collar and lead, and his permits." Fraser bundled everything into Ray's arms as though afraid he might miss something if he wasn't specific enough.

"Uh, collar and lead? I don't think I've ever seen Dief on a leash, Frase."

"Well, he can be... well, cantankerous. If you feel the need, you have them." He looked down at the animal and crouched. Taking Dief's face in his hands, he spoke directly to him. "Now, Dief. I want you to behave for Ray, understand?"

Diefenbaker's tongue reached out and licked his pack leader's face.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'." Fraser stood. Glancing uncertainly between his pet and his partner, he finally shook himself and prepared to take his leave. "Well, then. That's that. I'll see you Saturday next, Ray."

"We'll be fine, Frase. Dief and me'll take care of each other. You take care of yourself, and don't let the ice queen run you too ragged."

"Thank you, Ray." Fraser smiled gently and turned to go.

As the door closed behind the Mountie, Ray moved to the kitchen and dumped the supplies. Picking up the food dish, he filled it and set it down. Picking up the water dish, he went to the sink and filled it. "I'd appreciate you not drinkin' from the toilet, Dief. Okay?" As he set the water down, Diefenbaker came over and took a short drink, then picked up one piece of kibble, tasted it and spit it back in the bowl, looking mournfully up at the human.

"Sorry, pal. The boss says that's what you got to eat. Of course, that's only when we're here, right?" Diefenbaker woofed in agreement, then turned and ran into the living room to jump on the sofa, turned around three times before lying down and curled into a ball to nap.

"Make yourself at home," Ray muttered, grinning.

Saturday morning:

Ray was dreaming. Stella was snuggled against him, kissing his face. He stretched his arms to enfold her, but....

"Dief! Do not do that!" he sputtered, wiping the dog saliva from his face. "That is so gross." He pushed the animal away and threw back the covers, getting out of bed. His first stop was the bathroom in his morning routine. The sound of the shower had Diefenbaker whining. When Ray came out, he got dressed in some sweats and headed for the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Diefenbaker was right on his heels, whining and begging.

"Just let me get the coffee started and we can go, okay?" Dief woofed in reply and went to stand impatiently by the door while Ray set up the coffee maker and turned it on. Grabbing an extra sweatshirt, he pulled it on and with Dief ranging out ahead, left the apartment, locking the door behind him.

The pair headed to the park. It was still early; that early morning time between dark and full daylight. Ray couldn't believe he was up before the sun on his day off, but figured that Deifenbaker was used to Fraser's routine. At least the wolf had allowed him to sleep until almost six. He'd have been upset to have been roused at Fraser's inhuman hour of four-thirty. He guessed that Dief was enjoying sleeping in as well, except that his body was still on Fraser's timer.

Jogging through the misty morning, Ray's eyes kept moving, checking out the area. Even though he'd have enjoyed sleeping in longer, he loved this time of day. There were few people out, particularly in the park, at that hour. Still, being a cop, he kept his eyes peeled for any trouble. Dief happily trotted beside him, pleased with the speed at which they moved. He would dash ahead, sniffing at the bushes and trees, marking any number of spots. When he eventually paused to squat, Ray waited patiently for him and picked up the pile in a plastic bag as soon as Dief had moved away, dumping it in the next trash can they passed. Dief gave him an annoyed look.

"Hey, it's the law," Ray grumbled. "Fraser picks it up, too, right?" Dief huffed and hung his head in agreement. "Okay then, quit your bellyachin'." Ray stretched his arms out while taking a deep breath, then started running again, Dief once again trotting beside him.

They were on their second circuit when Diefenbaker woofed and took off across the park. Ray frowned and followed him, wondering what the wolf had seen, heard, or smelled, forgetting, as usual, that Dief was supposed to be deaf. Ray increased his speed, concerned that the animal might get into trouble. He had trouble keeping the bouncing white shape in sight through the patches of snow, as he hadn't thought to bring his glasses with him. Nor, on reflection, did he have his gun. Crap.

He managed to catch up only when Diefenbaker stopped to nose around on the ground. Seeing the raised hackles, Ray started looking around for whatever had set Dief off. Finding nothing suspicious, he approached the animal, who was digging at the snow. It hadn't actually snowed in a couple of days, and the area showed signs of several people having been there. Not being a tracker, Ray couldn't read the signs. Dief started whining and kept digging through the snow. Ray crouched beside him and waited.

Dief uncovered a cardboard box, the kind reams of paper come in. Ray helped by pulling the box from the snow and taking the lid off. What he found inside sickened him. He couldn't understand how people could be so cruel. Dief stuck his nose in the box, snuffling at the contents.

"Forget it Dief. We're too late." Ray stared at the tiny bodies. Dief kept sniffing, though, and then started licking at the forms. Suddenly, Ray heard a squeak. With a frown, Ray leaned over the box. Dief moved enough for him to see. One of the bodies moved and squeaked again. Ray reached in and carefully scooped the tiny form out. Cupping the creature in one hand, he brought it to his chest. It was nearly frozen. Dief went back to licking the other tiny creatures in the box and soon, Ray had three very cold but still alive puppies in his hands. The other six puppies had succumbed to the cold and lack of their mother. Leaving the box, Ray tucked the three tiny creatures under his sweatshirt, tucking the bottom into his sweatpants to provide a warm spot to carry the tiny creatures. Ray headed back for his apartment as fast as he felt it safe to move. He didn't want to run, for fear of hurting the little dogs. Dief pranced beside him, his tail waving proudly and his nose stretching up towards the makeshift pouch containing his find.

As soon as he got back home, Ray put the three puppies on his bed and tore off his sweats in order to take another shower and dress in street clothes. Diefenbaker had jumped up on the bed and curled carefully around the puppies, nuzzling them and cleaning them. The licking stimulated the three tiny creatures and they searched their new 'mother' for food. Dief, of course, was unable to provide it for them, but he certainly could mother them in other ways, which he eagerly did.

When Ray finished dressing, he went out to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. He added milk and sugar, then carried his cup to the table, picking the phone book up to take with him. He opened the yellow pages to the 'Vs' and started looking for a vet that would be open soon. Then he remembered the list of instructions Fraser had left him regarding Diefenbaker and got up to find it. There. Right at the top of the list, well, right under the 'don't feed him junk food', was the name and number for the veterinarian. Grabbing the phone, Ray punched in the number and waited, wondering if anyone would be there so early. It was just after seven.

On the fifth ring, someone finally picked up. Ray was just about to hang up when he heard the voice announcing, "Vet clinic."

"Yeah, are you open today?"

"Yes, the clinic opens at ten. What seems to be the problem?"

"Uh, I found some puppies in a box in the park. There were three still alive and I don't know what to do for them."

"How old are they?"

Ray paused, "Uh, I got no idea. How can you tell?"

"Well, are their eyes open yet?"

"No. I don't think so."

There were several moments of silence, then the woman asked "Is there any way you could bring them in now? Do you have any idea how long they were outside?"

"Well, the other six were kind of frozen, and the box was buried in the snow. Dief found them and dug them out."

"Dief? You mean Constable Fraser's Diefenbaker?" The voice grew noticably warmer.

"Uh, yeah. I'm takin' care of him while Fraser's in Ottawa. I can bring them in now. Uh, where are you located?" He reached for a scrap of paper and a pencil. The woman gave him the address and he wrote it down, then asked, "Is there anything I should do for them?"

"Just keep them as warm as possible."

"Okay. I can do that. I'll be there in about fifteen minutes." Ray hung up and went to gather up the puppies.

He stood by the bed staring at the wolf cuddling the puppies. Frowning, Ray thought for a moment, then went and got a pillowcase. Gently placing the three little animals in it, he again tucked them under his shirt. Grabbing his jacket, he buttoned it to keep them in place as well as helping to keep them warm. With Dief at his heels, he left the apartment and headed down to the car.

It took him almost twenty minutes to find the vet's office. He pulled into the parking lot beside the building and, after locking up the car, headed for the clinic. Dief ran ahead and was scratching at the door. Just as Ray caught up, the door was opened by a woman whom Ray assumed was the one he'd talked to. Dief wagged his tail at her, but wouldn't let her touch him.

She shook her head. "Some of them never forgive you." She looked up at him and frowned. "Where are the puppies?"

Ray unbuttoned his coat and untucked his shirt, pulling the pillowcase out from next to his skin. The woman's jaw dropped and then she smiled at him.

"Well, you said to keep them warm...."

"So I did. Come on and let's see what you have." She moved back to let him enter. Diefenbaker stayed right by Ray's side as she closed the door behind them, relocking it. Seeing his expression, she explained.

"Some of the drugs used for animals are very popular among the street addicts. When I'm here alone, I prefer to keep the doors locked." Ray nodded his understanding. She led him back through the darkened office to a treatment room where they unbagged the three puppies.

She gasped when she saw them. "Oh, my." She gently picked one up, turning it to examine the tiny bundle. "Okay, it's a female, no way to know what breed, yet. They can't be much more than a week old, if that." She pulled the puppy's lips back to see if it had developed any teeth yet. "Well, we'll be able to tell how old they are when their eyes start to open." She set the puppy down on a towel that lay on the examining table. Lifting a second puppy, she repeated her exam, smiling when the tiny thing tried to nurse on her fingers. The third was more lethargic, it was also the smallest.

"I'm going to give them all some warm fluids, IV. Then, I'll fix them some bottles and show you how to take care of them."

Ray shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, I don't know..." He stopped when she lifted her nearly black eyes to glare at him.

"Surely you didn't rescue them just to let them die?"

"No! It's just.... Well I don't know anything about animals; well, except for my turtle, but I've never...."

She stared at him in confusion, "Why would the constable let you watch Diefenbaker if you don't know how to care for an animal?" She cast a concerned look at the wolf, who simply met her gaze. She looked away first and Dief moved closer to Ray as though to protect him or, perhaps, to indicate his support.

"Dief's an adult. I haven't had a puppy since...." He looked away, swallowing hard.


"I was sixteen. He ran out into the street when I opened the door as I came home. He," Ray swallowed hard, again, it was a long time ago, but he still remembered, and it still hurt. "He, uh got hit. I took him straight to the doctor's, but they had to put him to sleep."

"You've never had another pet before or since then?"

"No. Well, except for my turtle. But I don't think that's quite the same, is it?"

She smiled, "No. Not quite." She looked down at Diefenbaker, who was craning his neck to see what she was doing with his puppies. "How does Diefenbaker like them?"

"When we got home, I put them on the bed and he jumped up and curled around them, licking them and stuff."

"Excellent! Tell you what, I'll get them warm and rehydrated, then I'll teach you how to fix their formula and feed them. If Diefenbaker is willing, he might be convinced to clean and void them."

"Void them?" Ray frowned, puzzled.

"Yes. Little puppies like this have to be voided." Seeing that he had no comprehension, she shook her head. Why on earth would the constable trust him with the wolf if he was this unknowing? "After they eat, you rub their tummies so that they can void...potty?"

Ray's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh!" Then he frowned again. "You think that Dief would do that?" he asked, uncertain but hopeful.

"Well, I'd be more secure if Diefenbaker was a female, but it's possible. You said he curled up with them and was cleaning them?"

"Yeah. They, uh, they were looking for breakfast, but that's kinda beyond Dief's capabilities."

She smiled, well, the man has a sense of humor, she thought to herself. She sighed. "They'll have to eat every two or three hours. Can you manage that?"

Ray looked alarmed. "Every two hours? Twenty-four-seven?"

"Well, they can go as long as five hours, if they get larger feedings before and after, but for now, every two hours would be best."

Ray was stunned. "Uh. I gotta work during the week. I don't know if I can handle it." She was frowning again, and he didn't like it when she frowned at him. "I'm a cop. I can't exactly stop a pursuit to feed 'em."

"No. Of course not. Shall I just put them to sleep, then?" She raised one eyebrow. She'd dealt with a lot of people who were ignorant of animal care...but he had rescued these three.... "I'm sorry." She shook her head. "It's not your fault. You don't understand. I don't have a full time staff, myself. My assistant is on maternity leave, and my receptionist quit yesterday. If you're willing to try, I can show you how to take care of them. Maybe someone where you work would be willing to help you with them?" He had to be single, from the way he talked. "Maybe your girlfriend would like to help take care of them?"

He blushed and hung his head. With a slight negative movement, he muttered, "I don't have a girlfriend. An' I know my ex wouldn't want to soil her hands on 'em." He looked down at Dief, who was looking from the puppies to him and back. "I guess I can try, though. Maybe someone at work would like to help out. Frannie, maybe."


"Uh, my sister, sort of." He nodded as he thought about it. Of all the people he knew, Francesca Vecchio was the one most likely to be willing to help him. At least during their shift. "Yeah, Frannie might help, at least at work."

"Good." While they'd been talking, she'd given each puppy several cc's of warmed saline solution through an IV. Removing the final needle from the smallest puppy, she was pleased to see the two larger ones starting to move around, searching for food. She rather doubted if the little runt would survive, but she had to try. She moved over to the cupboard in the corner and pulled out a cardboard canister and three doll-sized baby bottles.

"The instructions are on the label," she explained. "For each two ounces, you mix the powder with warm water. It doesn't have to be hot, but comfortably warm...If you'd bathe in it, it's probably about right." She showed him how the measuring scoop that came with the formula measured the precise amount. "Just dump it in the bottle and fill it with warm water. Straight from the tap is fine."

Ray watched closely. When she handed him the first bottle, he picked up the smallest puppy and tried to figure out how to hold her and get her to nurse at the same time. The vet positioned the tiny animal in his hand and he soon had the little creature sucking away at the warm nourishment. The runt was terribly weak and the vet managed to feed both of the others in the time Ray had been able to coax half a bottle into the runt.

"That one might not make it," she announced. Ray glanced up from beneath brows lowered in a scowl. His glare made her blink. "She'll be just fine. She's just a little smaller than the others is all. Her stomach's not as big." He looked back at the tiny puppy and rubbed its stomach with one finger from the hand holding the bottle. He almost dropped her when she immediately voided on his hand.

"Oh, that is so gross." He looked at the vet, who was laughing at him.

"That's voiding," she chuckled. "Here," she grabbed a paper towel for him to wipe his hand off. "Give her to me."

Ray reluctantly allowed her to take the now sleeping puppy from him. He first wiped the mess from his hand then, tossing the soiled paper towel in the trash, he washed his hands in the small sink.

When he turned back to the table, he saw that Dief had gotten up on his hind feet and was bathing the puppies, who voided for him. Once they were clean to his satisfaction, he got back down and sat watching the two humans, a pleased expression on his face.

"Obviously he's willing to help care for them. I suggest you feed them and then let him have them. Maybe put a blanket in a corner of a room so he can play surrogate mom to them," the vet suggested.

"Yeah. Okay. I think I can handle that part of it. Right, Dief?" Ray looked down and the wolf gave a soft bark in agreement.

The vet finally realized that, like Constable Fraser, this man was talking to the wolf...and the wolf seemed to not only understand, but respond. She shook her head in confusion. She knew a lot of people who talked to their animals, but the number of animals who replied she could count on one... finger.

"Any idea what kind they are?" Ray asked as the vet filled out some forms and made him copies of the care instructions for the puppies.

"It's hard to say. They don't really look to be more than three or four days old. They have fairly heavy coats, though, still, it's going to be a few weeks at least until we can even begin to guess." She didn't add 'if they survive'. They had been half-frozen and without food for quite a while. It was a miracle that they had lasted this long. She seriously doubted that the runt would live. She looked at the blond man and noticed how he kept petting the runt. Well, maybe. But the puppies had a big deficit to make up and maybe, just maybe, Diefenbaker would help enough to let one or two survive.

"Well, if you have any questions, just give me a call." She placed the puppies back in their pillowcase and handed them to Ray, along with the canister of formula, the instructions, and the bottles. She led the way back out to the reception area.

"How much do I owe you?" Ray asked.

She made out the bill and Ray paid it with a check. Thanking the vet, he headed out to his car. Opening the door, Dief jumped in and jumped across to settle in the passenger seat. Ray climbed in and gently placed the puppies on the floorboards in front of Dief. He then closed the door and fastened his seat belt.

Before starting the car, he leaned back, stretching his head to the headrest. He wasn't sure he could do this, but that one puppy, the little one. She reminded him of the stories his mum told about when he was born, three weeks premature and sick a lot when he was a baby. Weaker than he should have been, but he'd made it. He wanted that little dog to make it, too. He took a deep breath and let it slowly out. Opening his eyes, he leaned forward and started the car. Due to the nature of his passengers, he drove very sedately home.

Ray spent most of the rest of the day doing his weekly housework, laundry, and shopping. Dief reminded him regularly to feed the puppies, after which he would cuddle and tend to them. Ray was extremely grateful that the wolf was so helpful. He hadn't liked the idea of having to tend to the constant cleanup. Thankfully, Dief didn't seem to mind at all.

Even through the night, the wolf would come and wake him to care for their charges. By morning, Ray had almost gotten used to sleeping in two-hour increments...almost. It left him tired, though. Sunday was his usual day to wallow in bed until after noon. Not with the babies, though. Dief did let him sleep an extra fifteen minutes, but still roused him, insisting that he feed the puppies again.

Ray stumbled from his bed and prepared the formula. He'd figured a way to mimic the puppies' mother, he rolled up a towel and placed the three bottles between the folds, then gently attached each puppy to a bottle. That way, he could go back to bed, knowing that Dief would take care of everything else. Since it was daylight, Ray stayed up. He shuffled to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee, feeling the need for a lot of it. He went out to get the paper, leaving Dief to watch over the puppies. When he got back, he'd also stopped off at the bakery for some donuts. Dief's nose told him that there was at least one jelly donut in the bag and he sat expectantly at Ray's feet as he poured himself a cup of coffee and added sugar and creamer to it. Opening the bag, Ray took out a donut and placed it on a plate. Carrying his coffee and the plate to the table, he sat down, ignoring the softly whining wolf. Ray took a sip of his coffee and leaned his chin on one hand. Closing his eyes, Ray set his cup down and in mere moments, was asleep over his breakfast.

By Monday morning, Ray was unsure he was going to be able to survive. Sure, he was used to it...like he got used to twelve and sixteen hour shifts on stakeout. When he arrived at work, he had the puppies in a box not unlike the one he'd found them in, only sturdier. He'd remembered to call animal control about the rest of the litter in the park late Saturday afternoon and hadn't heard anything back from them.

His eyes were at half-mast as he shuffled through the bullpen with his burden, Dief walking sedately beside him. His napping had been curtailed as well and even he was beginning to suffer the effects.

"What's in the box, Ray?" Francesca Vecchio asked as he passed her desk. She stood up to try to see into the container.

"Dief found 'em Saturday morning. I gotta feed 'em every two hours. I was wonderin' if you'd be kind enough to help me with 'em during the day, in case I gotta go out." He lowered the box so she could see the three little dogs.

"Oh, Ray! They're adorable! Can I hold one?" She raised her shining eyes to him, excited over the babies.

"Sure. C'mon over to my desk and you can help me feed 'em." Ray headed for his desk with Frannie hot on his heels. Dief was already there, curled up and sleeping under the desk. Ray set the box on the small table next to his desk. He got the canister of formula out of the box along with the three bottles.

"I gotta get some hot water. Be right back." Ray headed for the break room while Francesca looked at the little dogs, hesitantly touching them and stroking their soft fur. When Ray came back, she asked him how she could help. He showed her how to mix the formula, then he handed her a bottle and picked up a puppy and handed it to her. He finished preparing the other two bottles and by the time the first, and largest puppy, had finished, the others were ready. Ray put the puppy back in the box and set it on the floor, where Diefenbaker, grumbling, got up and came over to clean them as they finished eating. Although Ray let Francesca help, he reserved the littlest one for himself to care for.

"If I get a call or have to go out, they need to be fed every two or three hours. Do you think you could do that for me, Frannie?"

Francesca looked up at him, seeing the tiredness in the lines around his eyes. "Sure. I can do that. That mean you'll be leavin' Dief here to help?"

"Yeah. He's not gettin' any more sleep than I am. Thanks, Frannie."

"You're welcome, Ray."

When Kowalski's partner, Ray Vecchio came In and saw what held most of his partner's attention, he laughed and told him not to expect any help. Kowalski grinned, even when Vecchio called him Stanley, refusing to get riled.

Typical of a Monday, there was a pile of new cases from the weekend. Ray and his partner got their share, consisting of a robbery, two burglaries, and a carjacking with injuries. They were in and out, with Kowalski managing to be there when it was time to feed the puppies, although, the lieutenant had almost said something to him a couple of times. He was just finishing their three o'clock feeding, with Frannie helping him, when Lieutenant Welsh came over to see what exactly was distracting his people.

"Would you mind telling me what's going on here? This is a police station, not a nursery."

Ray jumped and spun around, the runt in one hand and a bottle in the other. "Uh," he blushed, "Dief found them Saturday morning and, well, I couldn't just, you know, let them die, so I took them to the vet's and she showed me how to take care of them and stuff." He kept his focus on his puppy, not daring to look up at his boss.

Welsh was not a heartless man. Gruff, certainly, but he was fair and honestly cared for those under his command. And only someone truly heartless would have been able to resist the helpless little animals.

"Got any idea what kind they are?"

Ray shook his head. "Nah, the vet said it was too early to tell for sure. She thought they were less than a week old." Ray was trying to get the little runt to eat, but she seemed uninterested. He frowned and crouched down to hold her out to Dief, who immediately started bathing her. A few moments later, she voided and Dief cleaned her up. Then Ray stood back up and tried to get her to eat some more.

Welsh watched, seeing the concern on the detective's face, he knew that of the three pups, this was Ray's favorite. He sighed, knowing that the little runt probably didn't have much of a chance. But Ray was doing everything he could.

"I think you should think about taking it back to the vet's, Ray."

"Yeah, after work, I will." Ray knew that his runt didn't have much of a chance, but he really liked her, she was small and scrawny, like him, and he really wanted her to survive.

"Well, as long as they don't interfere with you getting your job done," Welsh conceded gently, "You can keep bringin' 'em in. If you need to, you can leave them with me," he offered. Kowalski looked up at him in surprise, a smile creasing his tired features.

"Thanks, lieutenant." He turned back to his puppy and Welsh returned to his office, feeling sorry for Ray, having seen how attached he was to the little runt that didn't look like it was going to survive. Vecchio, having quietly observed the lieutenant's tacit permission and show of support, stopped teasing his partner about the puppies.

After work, Ray took the puppies back to the vet's. He explained the problem he was having with the runt and became adamant when the vet suggested he have her put to sleep because she was so much weaker than the other two puppies. Despite her insistence that the puppy didn't have a chance, he insisted he was unwilling to just give up on the little animal. Finally, she showed him how to give the tiny puppy an IV and sent him home with special nutrients and the equipment to administer them.

When Ray got home, he went ahead and fed the puppies again, but kept the runt with him. As he moved around his apartment, he kept her cradled against his chest. He wasn't really hungry, but he did want more coffee. After drinking three cups, he became bored and turned on the stereo, selecting some good dance music. He waltzed around the room, still carrying his runt. Dief was nestled down with the other two puppies, watching him in concern.

Ray was up late, he'd been too agitated to settle down to rest. He even took his puppy to bed with him, unwilling to let her out of his sight. Several times during the night, between feeding times, he awoke and petted the puppy, unaware that the stimulation was exactly what the tiny creature needed to keep her going.

By Tuesday morning, he was unrested, but his 'little girl' as he thought of the runt, still lived, and took a greater interest in her breakfast. He gave her IV fluids, as the vet had instructed, as well. The two larger puppies, he put in the box he'd used the day before, but the runt, he carried under his shirt, close to him.

Frannie gave him a look of alarm when she saw only two puppies in the box. "Did...did the other one, uh, die?" she asked, hesitantly.

Ray blushed. "Uh, sorry," he pulled his runt from under his shirt. "The vet said she wasn't gonna make it, but I thought that maybe, if I keep her close, she might try and hang on. She ate all her breakfast, this morning." He smiled as Frannie took the little puppy from him, cuddling it to her face.

"She's so tiny, the other two are almost twice as big as she is," she murmured. She looked up at Ray. "You can't take her out in the field," she told him, "But I'll keep her with me, if you want?"

Ray nodded. "Sure, that might work. But I'll take care of her as long as I'm here." He took his favorite back from her, and left her to tend the two larger puppies.

Ray worked industriously on his paperwork, trying to avoid going out any more than necessary. Vecchio didn't like it, but didn't complain when Kowalski took on his reports to do, as well. Kowalski made calls and did follow-ups in the district house as much as possible, anything to keep him in the building so he could keep his little runt close.

Eventually, however, he had to give her up to Francesca in order to go out and do some interviews of various victims and witnesses. He reluctantly left her behind, knowing that Frannie would take good care of her. He was glad his partner didn't rag on him about his obsession with the puppies.

Right after Kowalski and Vecchio left, Lieutenant Welsh approached Francesca's desk. "He's pretty taken with that one pup, isn't he?" he asked, his voice low and gentle.

Francesca cast a worried look up at him. "Yeah. I think that maybe he kind of relates, you know?" Seeing Welsh's puzzlement, she explained. "He almost died when he was little. Three weeks premature, and he was sick a lot when he was a baby. He's tough, though, and he made it. I think he sees her as being like him, so he loves her more than the strong ones."

Welsh nodded. "Makes sense. Why don't you go ahead and have Dewey take the files down to records? Tell him I said to." Welsh turned away from Francesca's surprised expression and returned to his office.

Frannie did as instructed, but taking her cue from the way Ray had handled the dogs, she tucked the tiny runt into her bra to help keep her warm. The weak little thing didn't seem to mind, but didn't seem to have much life to her, either.

When Ray returned, she went into the ladies' room to take the puppy out to return her to him. She couldn't help but see how tired he was and wished there were something she could do to help. She did pull her brother aside and insist he take it easy on his partner, if he knew what was good for him. Ray Vecchio stared at her for a moment, then nodded his reluctant agreement. No way did he want to have to explain to their mutual friend Benny that he'd given Kowalski a hard time over trying to save some dumped dogs.

Ray examined his favorite when Frannie brought her back. She woke up and started to nuzzle his hand, seeking nourishment. Smiling, he fixed her a bottle and held her while she nursed. Frannie grinned at him and took care of the other two. When they were finished, they put the puppies down for Dief to take care of his part of the process. Trying not to watch the puppies too closely, Ray settled at his desk and started filling out his reports from his interviews. By the time he left, he was exhausted, but his little girl was finally beginning to show some signs of life. He had her tucked under his shirt for the trip home and she was wriggling a bit and making little grunting noises. She was tickling him and he had a little trouble, wanting to pull away from the sensation, but at the same time, he was happy that she was trying. When he got home, he quickly fed the others and let Dief take care of them, then the took his little girl to bed with him, completely forgetting, yet again, to eat anything, himself.

For the first time, the puppies slept through the night. So did Ray and Diefenbaker. Even the runt had slept through. When he awoke with the alarm the next morning, he was surprised, but pleased. He'd slept well, and his little girl woke up with an appetite. He realized that the puppies needed more food, now, as they grew, so each little animal got a second bottle, while he showered. By the time he was ready to go to work, the puppies had eaten their fill and been cleaned by Dief. Once more they were ready for the trip in to the station.

They had more outside investigations to do, so Ray had to leave the puppies with Frannie and go out and do them. He and Vecchio were gone most of the day and when they returned, Frannie was struggling with trying to feed the runt. The little dog was yelping in anger, it seemed. Ray, who was escorting a prisoner, paused and scooped the dog from Frannie's hands, cuddling her to his chest, while Vecchio smirked at him. His prisoner gaped as he watched the little dog immediately calm down. Ray pushed his prisoner into the chair by his desk and told him to relax while he took care of the dog.

Frannie had followed them and handed him the bottle. The tiny creature was already seeking nourishment against the hand cradling her. Ray grinned and gave her her bottle. She drank it all down and searched and cried for more. Frannie grinned and took the bottle, while he held his puppy down for Dief to take care of. He realized he was going to need to be careful, as the other two pups were under the desk with Dief already, and he needed to watch his feet, so as not to step on them. Vecchio headed off for the break room to get them both some coffee.

"Okay, Mr. Grackelstein. You were tellin' me how you weren't really robbing that gas station?" His prisoner looked from Ray to the space under the desk where could be heard the sounds of puppies.

"You startin' your police dogs out as babies, now?"

Ray waggled his head, grimacing in annoyed humor. "Yeah, you got a problem with that?" He turned to his desk, "Dief, watch this guy a minute, will you? I gotta get some more formula for the little girl." He rose and wandered after Francesca, leaving his prisoner at his desk, with Diefenbaker to watch him.

He came back and, while the puppy drank her second bottle, Vecchio pulled up the report form on his computer and began to slowly fill it in, while Kowalski interviewed their prisoner. Kowalski would ask questions, the perp (whom they had caught in the act of robbing the gas station; it was just Mr. Grackelstein's bad luck that Ray had needed to buy gas and chose that particular station for his purchase) would lie, both Rays would glare at him, Grackelstein would recant and tell the truth, then Vecchio would fill in the next blank. When they finished their report, Kowalski read it to the prisoner, then both cops signed it and Kowalski made copies. He placed three copies in a folder which he placed in Francesca's in basket, then, with his fourth copy in hand, he escorted Mr. Grackelstein down to booking. The entire time, except for the few minutes he'd allowed Dief with her, Ray carried his runt with him.

It was nearly eight that evening when Ray finally got to go home. The puppies were definitely more lively, now, although their eyes still showed no signs of opening. He again forgot to eat, and once more took his little girl to bed with him.

Thursday morning was cold and trying to decide whether or not to snow. So far, it was sleet, but it could either turn to rain, or snow. All depending on how the lake was feeling. Ray drove cautiously to the station and carried his box of puppies up to the bullpen.

Dewey, who hadn't realized what Ray was carrying around with him in the large box, wandered over to vex his coworker. "Hey, Kowalski, what you got for lunch today? Hotdogs?" Dewey laughed at his own joke, but Ray just scowled at him.

"Sure, here, take one." He handed a half-asleep puppy to the jokester. Dewey nearly dropped the little animal, causing Ray to jump to rescue it before it was hurt.

"Shit. What's wrong with you? Ain't you got no sense at all?" Ray snarled, cuddling the now crying animal. Diefenbaker had come from beneath the desk to snarl at the other detective, who backed warily away.

"Hey, uh, look. I was just kiddin' with you, is all. I didn't mean anything. I just thought..."

"That's your trouble, Dewey, you don't think. You go for a big laugh without knowing what you're headin' into. Why don't you just go...do some paperwork, or somethin', will you? Just, just get away."

"Kowalski!" Welsh's voice boomed from his office door. Dewey used the distraction to make his escape, looking back, worried that Ray just might come after him.

Ray hung his head, stroked the puppy a moment, then replaced it in the box. Head still down, unwilling to look at anyone, he almost shuffled over to the lieutenant's office.

"Yes, sir?"

"Inside, detective." Welsh waited until Ray had slumped down in a chair, before he closed the door and pulled the blinds. Ray flinched at the sound, knowing that pulled blinds meant at best a reprimand, at worst, the chewing out of his life. He figured he was due the latter. He'd been sloughing off on his work the entire week, trying to take care of his puppies, and he was tired, and his work was piling up, although his paperwork was at an all-time low.

"You look tired, Ray." Welsh sat down on the edge of his desk.

"I'm fine, sir."

"Yeah, and those are two-year-old rottweilers you have out there." He looked at Ray, seeing the dejected slump of his shoulders, the way his usually brash detective didn't look at him or defend himself. He sighed. "Why don't you take the day off, Ray?"

"I can't, sir. You're right, I'm a little behind in my legwork. I need to spend the day out on the street. I'll just leave the pups with Frannie and get my ass in gear."

"Ray," Welsh was hoping that the younger man would at least look at him, but was disappointed. "Ray?" Finally, the blond head lifted and he could get a good look at the man. He looked like hell. "Did you sleep at all, last night?" He asked. Ray nodded. "When's the last time you ate?"

Ray looked up, surprised. "Uh..." His face screwed into a puzzled frown.

"If you have to think about it, it was too long ago." He looked at the younger man and sighed. Dedicated, that's what Ray was. He threw himself into everything, body and soul. The puppies were taking up all his concentration, particularly the little runt. Well, the least he could do was help. He stood up and grabbed his coat.

"C'mon. Let's go get some breakfast."

"Huh?" Ray said, brightly.

"You do remember what breakfast is, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah, sure, but...."

"No buts. Come on, grab your coat and let's go." Welsh waited until Ray stood up, then opened and held the door for him and followed him to his desk to get his coat. While Ray pulled his jacket on, Welsh looked in on the puppies. They were all sound asleep. He noticed the runt was barely half the size of the other two, but other than that, didn't look too bad at all. He noticed Ray standing nervously beside him, waiting.

Welsh picked up the box and headed out, Ray anxiously following him. Dief got up and tagged along, as well, following the puppies anywhere they might go. Welsh paused by Francesca's desk and deposited the box in her lap. "We'll be back in a while, would you be so kind as to take care of them?" he asked her.

"Uh, sure, lieutenant." Ray returned Fannie's puzzled frown with his own, worried grin and a shrug, then had to scurry to catch up to the lieutenant.

Welsh drove. Ray had expected that they would just go down to the local caf or something, but apparently, Welsh wanted more privacy. Ray felt even more uncomfortable. Welsh, however, realized how nervous and uncomfortable Ray was about this. He was undoubtedly expecting a dressing down, if not a formal reprimand. Unbeknownst to Ray, though, Welsh had checked on his activities and although Ray hadn't been doing a lot of legwork, leaving as much of that as he could to his partner, his reports, were all up to date and what interviews and legwork he had done had brought results. Welsh was also aware that Kowalski had traded doing Vecchio's reports for going out in the field. He pulled into a Denny's near the highway. Ray was still silent as they entered the restaurant and were seated in a quiet booth.

Ray was pretending to look at the menu. Welsh glanced at it, then regarded his detective. "You'd better get something substantial and eat it all, or I'll force-feed you."

Ray looked up in shock, "What?"

"You heard me. You don't remember the last time you ate, so it's been far too long. The last thing either of us needs is you passing out from low blood sugar."

Ray blushed and looked away. "Uh, yessir." Ray looked at the menu again, and decided to go for something with pancakes. The waitress came by and poured them coffee and suddenly the smells of food got to Ray and his stomach rumbled in loud reminder that it had been ignored for far too long. Yeah, something with pancakes, and sausage, maybe. Or, maybe steak and eggs...

Welsh was amazed by how much Ray packed away. He'd ended up going for the Grand Slam breakfast and managed to eat it all, along with three cups of coffee. They hadn't spoken very much during their meal and Welsh was pleased that Ray managed to eat. As they lingered over their coffee, Ray glanced shyly up at his boss.

"Thanks. I forget to eat, sometimes."

"Yeah, I've noticed that." Welsh couldn't help smiling. Dedication to the tasks at hand was an admiral trait, but not when it put your health at risk. "Now, think back. When was the last time you ate? And I don't mean something from the vending machines."

Ray had started to reply and had to close his mouth to think. He frowned, tracing back through the days to find his last real meal. "Uh, Monday morning?" He thought some more, shaking his head, "Sunday night." He was sure. "Yeah, Sunday night."

"It's Thursday morning, Ray. You tellin' me you haven't had anything but coffee, donuts and crap from the vending machines all week? I'm surprised you're still standing." Seeing Ray's blush of embarrassment, he realized he needed to temper his chastisement with praise, or he was going to lose him. "I know how you feel about the puppies, Ray, but you're not gonna do them any good if you make yourself sick. Your work hasn't suffered, yet, but if you keep on like this, it will. You're a good cop and I don't want to have to come down on you." He could see that Ray was thoroughly chastised. "So, you will go back and work for a while, you will let Francesca take care of the puppies," seeing Ray look up in concern, he pressed on, hurriedly, "including your runt. You will take regular breaks for lunch and if you're around late enough, supper. You can have ten minutes an hour to relax and play with them if you need to. You will not let me catch you carting your puppy around with you either under your shirt or tucked under your arm. You will make sure you get enough sleep at night. If not..." He left it at that, seeing that Ray was becoming agitated. "Ray, you can't stop everything for those puppies. You have to take care of yourself, too. I'm willing to overlook some things, but not you exhausting yourself to the point of endangering you or your partner, you hear me?"

Ray looked down into his coffee and nodded. He knew the lieutenant was right, but he felt so responsible for the puppies. He abruptly got a picture of himself as a father and wondered if it was anything like this?

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry. I just..."

"I know. You're like a new father. I remember what that was like." Ray looked up in surprise, not sure he'd heard right. Welsh had just recently regained custody of his children, and Ray had been helping him to paint his house. He'd made friends with the kids, enjoying the contact with them, even peripherally.

"Yeah? Is this what it's like?"

"Constantly worried? Yeah. You don't get over it with kids, though. With a dog, well, they grow up and you train them, but you don't have to constantly worry about them."

"Unless they get out," Ray muttered, looking away.

"Yeah, sometimes you find one that's a runner. Some, though, you can train, like Dief." He smiled at Ray, who returned the grin.

"Yeah. Dief's smart."

"You know...the kids have been asking about gettin' a dog. Maybe when they're old enough, I'll take one of them. Then you'll only have to find a home for one of them."

Ray frowned, "But there's three of them."

Welsh laughed; a big, booming laugh, full of humor. "Ray, in case you don't realize it, that runt is yours, now and for always."

Ray stared, then thought about giving up his 'little girl', and realized that it was true. He would do his best to keep her. He'd have to talk to his landlady and hoped she'd let him keep her. If not, he'd be looking for a new place to live. He nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

"I know I'm right. If you're through, it's time for us to get back on the job. I won't have to speak to you again about this, right?"

"Right, sir." Ray grinned and stood.

A full stomach for the first time four days did wonders for Ray's mental acuity. He was more alert and able to think clearly. He couldn't believe he'd gotten so wound up in the puppies that he'd forgotten just about everything else. Frannie was perfectly willing and able to take care of the pups, and she had the advantage of not having to leave to do her work. Ray and his partner went out and did some more interviews and brought lunch back for himself and Frannie, who was surprised and pleased, much to Vecchio's amusement.

"Hey, it's the least I can do, what with you taking care of them for me," Ray told her. She smiled and thanked him. They ate together in the break room, with the puppies on the floor between them. Ray only ate half of his sandwich, and gave the rest to Dief, who wolfed it down and then looked hopefully at Frannie, who ignored him. Ray picked up the largest puppy and nearly dropped it when it looked back at him.

"Hey, her eyes are open!" Frannie stopped eating and looked.

"Great, that means they're two weeks old, now. Of course, that also means that they're gonna start moving around more, exploring and stuff. Gettin' into things and causing trouble."

"That's okay." Ray put the puppy down and picked up his 'little girl', who peered back at him through one open eye, the other one still sealed. Seeing him, in conjunction with his smell and touch, sent her into grunting and searching for her own lunch. Ray laughed and carried her with him to fix their bottles.

Friday Evening

He'd made it through the week and so had the puppies. All three had their eyes open and were starting to scoot around a bit, trying to stand up and walk. As he carried his box of puppies from the car to his apartment, he spotted his landlady. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself to ask. She spotted him and smiled.

"How are you, Mr. Kowalski?"

"I'm good. Um, I got a question for you."

She closed and locked her mailbox, then turned to him. She looked curiously at the box he carried. "What is it?"

"Uh, I don't remember the policy on pets, but I was wonderin'...."

"Pets require an extra deposit, for cleaning. They do any damage, you pay for it. What did you get, a cat?"

"Uh, no. I got..." Just then, the puppies started to cry, hearing his voice and wanting to be fed. Blushing, he opened the box to show her.

"You want four dogs? The big white one isn't enough?"

"Dief's just visiting, he belongs to Constable Fraser, remember?" The woman nodded and Ray hurried on. "I found them," Dief woofed in reminder, "Dief found them in the park last week. There were six dead ones and these three. I been taking care of them. Their eyes opened yesterday, so I'll have them another four weeks or so, then two of them are going to new homes. They already got adopted, as soon as they're ready. I was just hopin' I could keep one, for myself. If that's okay with you, that is."

She looked at the puppies. "What kind are they?"

"Got no idea. Sort of brownish and black. Vet says she'll know more when they're a bit older."

His landlady looked down at the three squirming puppies. She reached in and picked up the runt and looked at her. She glanced up at the concerned face of her tenant and thought about it. The big white dog never did anything bad, except an occasional bark when someone came in, that wasn't a bad thing. He didn't tear anything up, and neither did Ray. He'd been a good tenant, and she liked the idea of having a cop in the building, it helped keep the punks away, and since an incident the preceding year when he'd helped catch some dirty cops who had been shaking down the neighborhood for protection money, the punks had pretty much left this area alone.

He watched her anxiously, as she examined his puppy. When she looked up at him, he held his breath, hoping...

"Sure. Havin' a cop in the building has been good. The punks around here know there's a cop livin' in the area, so they steer clear. I don't suppose lettin' you have a dog's gonna hurt any, neither." She looked closely at the little puppy. "She's gonna be a big one, though. Probably bigger than your friend's dog, there."

Ray was taken aback, "How can you tell?"

"Grew up with dogs. My late husband raised shepherds. These look a lot like them, but I don't think they're German Shepherds. Belgians, maybe."


"Well, not the Belgian Shepherd, they only come in black. Malinois or Tervuren, maybe.


She place the puppy back in the box. "Hold on a minute. I got a book." Ray trailed her to her apartment and waited outside while she rummaged for the book. He couldn't keep the grin from his face. He could swing the extra cleaning deposit, no problem. He wanted to snatch up his little girl and dance with her, he was so happy.

"Here it is." She held the book out to him. It was a book on herding and working dogs. "You can give it back when you're through with it. It's got some good stuff, how to train them and such."

He took the book and smiled shyly at her. "Thanks. I'll take good care of it. Oh, uh, how much for the pet deposit?"

"Hundred dollars. Just put it with your rent next month."

"Thanks, for everything. I'll do that." With his box under one arm and the book in the other, he headed upstairs to his apartment. This time, he remembered to fix himself dinner. Dief suddenly realized that he hadn't had any junk food all week. He didn't even get a donut on the previous Sunday! He sat at Ray's feet with the big, sad, 'starving puppy' eyes, and was totally ignored. Ray was far more interested in the book. He turned the pages, looking at all the puppy pictures. When he came to the Belgians, he saw from one of the pictures, that his landlady had apparently nailed his puppies. Like she said, not the Shepherd, but the Tervuren or Malinois. Reading up on them, he was surprised to learn that all three could be born to the same litter, the only differences being color and coat length. The three puppies looked a lot like the Belgians, only whether they would become Tervurens or Malinois was in question. He rather hoped that his little runt would be the shorter haired Malinois, so he wouldn't have to constantly brush her. Reading about the breed, he couldn't help laughing about what the would-be gas station robber had asked. If these puppies were, indeed, Belgians, they were noted for their abilities as police dogs. He wondered if the canine unit could give him any tips on training her? When the puppies started crying for attention or, more likely, for food, he put the book down and took care of them. He'd called the vet and she had told him to start supplementing their bottles with solid food, just as long as it was soft and moist. He'd bought cans of premium puppy food, feeling that they'd had such a rocky start that he needed to give them every chance to catch up, especially his runt.

He opened the can and spooned out a small amount onto a plate and placed it on the floor for the puppies. He had to tell Dief to stay out of it and opened a can of adult dog food for him, to compensate. Dief sniffed at his food, frowned that it didn't smell nearly as nice as what the puppies were having, but decided it was still better than that nasty kibble stuff.

Watching the puppies trying to eat made him laugh; they climbed right onto the plate, sucking at the gravy the tiny pieces of meat had clinging to them. When the largest puppy finally figured out how to chew, she grasped her tiny piece of meat and plopped down in the middle of the plate, chewing and growling. The other two puppies watched her for a moment, then grabbed their own pieces of meat to chew on. Ray left them to play in their food as he went to prepare their bottles. He no longer had to feed them every two hours, four to five feedings a day seemed to suffice, providing he gave them between two and three bottles at a time. When he came back with the bottles, he grimaced in distaste at the sight. The three puppies had started playing and had rolled around on the plate, soaking themselves.

"Dief? Would you come here and take care of this for me, please?" Dief looked up from his own bowl of food. The canned food had been poured over his kibble, and he was picking out the pieces that had been sufficiently soaked with gravy. Curious, he came to see what was needed. Delighted, he quickly licked the plate clean, then started on the puppies. Their food definitely tasted better than his did. When he finished, Ray took the puppies, one at a time, and gave them their bottles. As usual, he finished with his runt, and after Dief again cleaned them, he carried her with him to bed.

Saturday Evening:

Ray was watching a ballroom dancing competition on cable, when Dief lifted his head and whined, just before there was a knock at the door. Ray, still cradling his runt against him, rose to let his visitor in.

He opened the door and stepped back to let his friend enter. "Hey, Frase. How was Ottawa?"

"It was...well, boring, Ray, to tell you the truth." He looked at the puppy in Ray's arm and frowned in puzzlement. Seeing Diefenbaker, he gave him a rather pointed look. "Uh, was Diefenbaker any trouble, Ray?"

"Nah. He was great. Helpful, even. In fact, can I keep him for another week or so?"

Fraser was taken aback. "Whyever for, Ray?"

"Well, last Saturday, he found this box of dumped puppies. This one is the one I'm gonna keep. Their eyes just opened on Thursday. Anyway, he's been helpin' me take care of them. He's been playing mama while I been feedin' 'em." Ray led the way into the living room, where the other two puppies were trying to follow Diefenbaker as he wiggled and danced for Fraser's attention.

"Uh, did you say Diefenbaker has been playing mother to them?" Fraser looked at his companion in shocked surprise.

"Yeah. The vet was surprised, too. He's been cleanin' 'em and playin' with them. I been feedin' 'em and carryin' them around, everywhere. According to the vet, I done pretty good with 'em. She didn't think Maedel was gonna make it, but she did." He proudly offered his puppy to Fraser, who gingerly took the tiny dog, which immediately started to growl and bite at his fingers. Fraser, shocked, immediately gave her back. The moment Ray crooned to her that it was all right, the puppy settled right down.

"I take it that you're keeping that one?"

"Yeah. She's the runt. There were six more in the box we found, but they were frozen. We only saved the three." Ray held Maedel up to his face and the little animal started licking his chin. Fraser smiled.

"Obviously, you've chosen one another," Fraser murmured. "What are you going to do with the other two?" At Ray's gesture, he sat down on the couch opposite Ray. Dief pushed his head under Fraser's hand and received a good scratch and petting for his trouble.

"Yeah. Welsh is gonna take the biggest one, and Frannie wants the middle sized one for Maria's kids. She talked to her ma, who thought it was a great idea."

"What did Ray think about the idea?"

Ray chuckled. "He made a lot of noise about the puppy chewing his shoes and getting hair on his clothes. But his ma told him that the kids needed a dog, and if they turn out to be those Belgian Malinois, like my landlady thinks, then it won't matter if Ray's there or not."

Fraser looked surprised and reached down to pick up one of the other puppies, who had finally managed to waddle over to them. "Hmmm." He examined the puppy, squinting at her, turning her about to look at her from all angles. "You may well be correct, Ray. They certainly look to be some sort of shepherd puppies."

"Yeah, they look just like the pictures in the book my landlady loaned me. Here." Ray reached forward to the coffee table and picked up the book, turning to the bookmark. There was a color photograph of a litter of Belgian Malinois puppies. He had to agree that Ray's puppies looked a great deal like the ones in the photo.

"Why do you want Dief for another week?"


Fraser looked surprised. "Voiding?"

"Uh, yeah. I give 'em their bottles, and Dief, uh, cleans them up afterwards. The vet says that in another week or so, they should be starting to go like dogs, and won't need to have their tummies rubbed any more."

"Ah. Understood." Fraser looked down at his wolf, who was gently playing with the last puppy on the floor. "I suppose, if he wishes to remain..." Dief looked up and woofed. "Yes, well, if that's how you feel." Fraser frowned, just a bit put out that the wolf would rather remain here with Ray and the puppies, than go back to the consulate with him. He looked up at a sheepishly grinning Ray. "Well, as you can see, he prefers to stay here, Ray."

"Well, he did find them, after all. He's got a sort of, what, priority interest in them?"


"Pro-proprietary. Right." Ray grinned. "Hey, you want anything? I was gonna call for a pizza..."

"Why, thank you, Ray."

"So, what do you want on it?"

"Anything is fine, Ray. You know that."

"Yeah. I know. Just like to ask, y'know?"

"Thank you, Ray."

"Thank you, Benton-buddy. And Dief."

"How has he been, Ray? Did you have much trouble with him?"

"Nah. We were both too busy with the puppies." He snagged his phone off the stand and punched in a preset. After he had ordered their pizza, he returned to the living room, still carrying Maedel.

"Why did you name her 'Maedel', Ray?"

"Well, I kept callin' her 'little girl' but she's gonna grow, so I thought Maedel would work. Not a lot of people would know that it means 'little girl'" He reluctantly placed his puppy on the floor to play with the others. She was considerably smaller, but despite her comparative scrawniness, she had enough attitude to easily cow her sisters.

Fraser looked from his friend to the puppy, seeing a resemblance. "You know, Ray, they say that pets and their owners tend to look alike."

"Yeah? I don't think either of us look like our pets."

"Perhaps not a physical resemblance. I do notice a definite attitudinal resemblance, however."

"Yeah? What?"

"Well, both of you are somewhat more slender than normal, yet you also both carry yourselves with a certain... air. Your 'I'm the baddest ass in town' persona."

Ray grinned, pleased with the analogy. "Yeah? Cool."

Fraser looked down at Maedel, who had put her larger sisters to rout and was now taking on Diefenbaker, who tolerantly allowed her to bite and attack him, ignoring her attempts to beat him up. "Yes, Ray. There is a definite resemblance between you in attitude." He smiled. He wondered what would happen when the puppy grew up, if any of them would survive the transition. Of course (he glanced slyly at his friend), it would be good practice for the possible future time when Ray became a father. He'd hold off judgment on Ray's suitability for either fatherhood or dog ownership until he saw more. But Ray seemed very happy with his new puppy. Very happy indeed.

EPILOGUE: One Year Later, in the break room.

Ray had been flirting with the lady lawyer for several minutes. She flirted back. His dog, standing beside him, moved to stand between them.

"Maedel, knock it off," Ray hissed in a whisper to his dog, who was growling under her breath. The tiny runt had grown into a beautiful animal. Her coat was a rich mahogany with black tips. Her muzzle was black and her underside and legs a lighter reddish-gold. Ray was happy that she had turned out to be a Malinois, the shorter-haired Belgian Shepherd dog.

Maedel cast a quick glance of concern up at him, briefly meeting his eyes. He frowned and looked at the woman he'd been about to ask for a date. With an internal shrug, he changed his mind. Maedel didn't dislike too many people and, although she didn't take readily to anyone, it was rare for her to take such an obvious dislike to someone. He smiled at the woman and apologized.

"Sorry. She gets this way, sometimes. Jealous, I think." He smiled disarmingly. The woman frowned, causing his smile to falter.

The woman shrugged. "Most dogs love me," she complained, reaching out again to try and pet the dog. Maedel growled loudly and showed her teeth. The woman reached in her purse for something, and the dog snatched her purse from her and backed away. "Hey!"

Maedel growled more fiercely. Her hackles weren't up, so she wasn't afraid, but she definitely looked angry. Jack Huey, passing by, paused to watch. Maedel, who knew him, dashed behind him and shook the open purse. When the contents hit the floor, the two cops stared dumbfounded for a moment, then turned to the woman. Maedel dropped the purse and stood guard over the contents.

"You stupid animal!" the woman shouted, enraged. She dove for the gun that lay on the tile, only to have Huey kick it out of her reach. She slid on the tile and ended up nose to nose with the annoyed dog, who simply 'smiled' at her. She didn't dare move.

"Uh, Jack, how do we handle this?" Ray asked, uncertain. After all, they hadn't actually searched the woman, but how would they explain what happened?

"Well, I think we can at least see if she has a permit," Jack said with a grin.

"You got a permit for that gun, Ms Gianelli?" Ray asked politely, leaving her on the floor with Maedel.

Lieutenant Welsh had heard the raised voices and come to investigate, himself. Seeing the woman on the floor in a staring contest with Kowalski's dog, he sighed. "May I ask what the hell is going on here, gentlemen?" He crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for an explanation.

"Maedel took a dislike to her. Ms Gianelli tried to pet her, and she growled. She reached into her purse, and Maedel snatched it and ducked behind Huey, sir."

Huey continued. "The dog shook the purse and the contents dumped out. She dove for the gun and I kicked it out of her reach. She landed right where she is now."

"Ah, and you're wondering how to handle the report?"

"Yes, sir," Both men chorused.

"Did she appear to be reaching for the gun when the dog grabbed her purse?"

Jack and Ray frowned and looked at each other. "Could have been, sir," Ray said.

Huey nodded. "Yeah, she was frowning and after Ray's dog growled and showed her teeth, she reached in her purse. She looked angry, I think. Then Maedel grabbed the purse...yeah, she could have been goin' for the gun."

"In that case, Maedel behaved perfectly within the scope of her training. Find out if she has a permit, then if not, read her her rights." Welsh bent down and patted the still 'on guard' dog. "Good girl, Maedel."

Ms Gianelli not only didn't have a permit, her name turned out not to be Gianelli. Nor was she a lawyer. When they ran her prints through NCIC, they came back with a long list of priors and requests for extradition from fifteen different states. It appeared that she was, in reality, a very high priced Mob assassin, noted for getting away with 'impossible' hits, generally in the midst of crowds and particularly within police stations, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of all. They never did find out why she was there, or who her target was, but Maedel was credited with the arrest, much to her 'partner's' amusement and pride.

"Man, talk about dumb luck," Ray Vecchio grinned that evening, as he had dinner with Stella Kowalski and told her of the day's events.

Stella shook her head. "He's lucky that dog didn't bite that woman," she cautioned.

"Nah. Maedel doesn't bite unless she's told to; although, I think if anyone tried to hurt him, she might be tempted." Ray was impressed with his partner and how well he'd trained his dog. She had shorter hair than Dief and didn't shed as much, so he didn't even mind her in his car.

"You sound like you envy him, Ray."

Vecchio smiled at her. "Nah. Maedel's a great dog, but she's all he's got. I got a lot more than him." He smiled smugly at her.

"Oh?" She asked, raising an eyebrow at him, "And what would that be?"

"Oh, well, besides a great family, I've got you," Ray said suavely, giving her a predatory grin and raising his wineglass to her. "To us?"

She smiled and clinked her glass with his. "To us."

Ray Kowalski was depressed. He was glad that Maedel had done such a good job, but he really was in the mood to go out dancing. He was still at the station, even though his shift had ended several hours earlier. He'd finished all his reports and was just leaning back in his chair, feet on his desk. Maedel sat beside him, her chin resting on his hip as his hand gently stroked the soft fur of her face.

"Hey, Ray? You gonna spend the night here or somethin'?" Frannie had stayed over to transcribe the interrogation notes for the Feds, who had come to claim Ray's erstwhile date.

"Nah. Just finished up my reports. How come you're still here? The Feds left over an hour ago." He didn't look towards her, almost dozing as he thought about what he'd rather be doing. In the background, almost inaudibly, his radio was playing something classical, not to mention danceable.

"Me, too." Frannie came closer, a bit uncertain. Maedel rolled her eyes to see her and blinked, then turned her attention back to her master. "Uh, you got any plans for tonight?"

"Nah." Everyone had heard that he'd been flirting with the assassin, angling for a date, when his dog saved him and made the 'arrest'.

"So, uh, you wanna go out and maybe grab supper somewhere?" Frannie was right at the edge of his desk, now. She reached down and gently stroked one of Maedel's ears.

Ray didn't even open his eyes. "I suppose we could. Where did you have in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm not exactly dressed for anyplace real nice. Maybe a pizza someplace?" she asked, hopefully.

Ray opened his eyes and looked at her. She was wearing a short black skirt and a crop-top version of her Civilian Aide's uniform shirt. "If you got another blouse, you look fine," he softly said, his eyes rising to meet hers.

She blushed. "I got an extra blouse in my locker," she murmured.

"Okay. You go get changed. You got your car with you?" he asked as he lowered his feet to the floor and stood up. Maedel sighed. She loved when he was pensive, he gave the best pets and cuddles, then.

"No. I rode in with Ray this morning. I think he forgot me. He's got a date with..." she trailed off, not wanting to hurt his feelings.

"With Stella. I know. It's okay." Ray's smile was sad, though.

Frannie knew he was still in love with his ex-wife and that her brother frequently took great delight in tormenting him with the fact that he was seeing Stella and getting pretty serious about her. "I'm sorry. I love my brother with all my heart, but sometimes, he can be a real jerk."

"Hey, he's okay. He's a good cop and a decent partner."

"Not as good as Fraser, though, right?"

Ray grinned. "Hey, nobody's a partner like Fraser. He's unique." They both laughed. "Come on. I'll have to stop off at my place to change and drop off Maedel, but then we can go. Hey, you want to go dancin'?"

His tone of voice was so hopeful, she blushed. They'd gone dancing a few times. He was wonderful, making her feel like she could dance like one of those old-time movie stars. "Sure. I'd love to." His shy, boyish grin tickled her and when he offered her his arm, she took it, letting him lead her from the bullpen, Maedel ranging out in front.

Maedel liked Frannie. She often smelled like her sister, Gina, named for Frannie's father. She didn't understand the joke the humans seemed to think about her name, but it didn't matter. Frannie was nice. Frannie was good people. Maedel liked Frannie, and liked it when she, on those rare occasions, came to visit. While Ray took a quick shower and changed, Maedel sat at Frannie's feet and gave her the 'pet me' look. Frannie automatically started stroking her face and Maedel closed her eyes and groaned in pleasure.

Ray finished dressing and was standing in the doorway to his bedroom. He watched the way Frannie was stroking Maedel, and the expression on the dog's face. For just a moment, he envied the dog.

Frannie looked up to find Ray standing in the doorway, watching her with a strange, almost hungry look on his face. She shyly glanced down at the dog and realized that Ray was envious of the animal. She stopped petting Maedel, who looked up at her and sighed. Blushing slightly in embarrassment, she stood up as Ray approached.

"Ready?" Frannie asked, suddenly unsure.

"Yeah. You?"

He encroached far into her personal space, close enough that she could smell the soap and shampoo he used. Something light and fresh, with the subtle undertones of his own masculinity. She took a deep, shaky breath.

"Yeah. I'm ready." The moment the words left her mouth, she wondered just what it was she was ready for? She nearly melted at his smile as he once again offered her his arm.

"Maedel, don't wait up for us, okay, sweetheart?" A year ago, had anyone tried to tell him that he would regularly carry on conversations with an animal, he'd have laughed at them. However, he'd discovered that he and Maedel had a rapport that rivaled Fraser and Diefenbaker's. Whenever anyone, most particularly his partner, would comment on it, he would smile and tell them that they didn't understand nearly as much as his dog did.

Maedel made a noise that sounded suspiciously like 'okay' and wagged her tail as she watched them make their way to the door.

"Oh, and stay out of the refrigerator, this time. I got plans for that roast, you hear me?"

Another mumbled sound of assent, more begrudging, this time. Frannie turned to see the disgusted look on the dog's face, and laughed.

"Ray, I swear she knows exactly what you're talking about."

Ray grinned. "She does." He reached in his pocket for his keys and frowned. "Hey, where are my keys?"

Maedel turned and ran into the bedroom, where she grabbed his soiled jeans from earlier, and returned with them. Ray, blushing, reached into the pocket and pulled out the keys. "Thank you, sweetheart. You're a good girl." He knelt down and hugged the dog, ruffling the fur on her neck, massaging. It was Frannie's turn to feel envious of the dog. Ray kissed Maedel between the eyes and stood. "I'll see you later, sweetheart. You be a good girl, now."

Again, the dog made that noise that sounded so much like 'okay' and sat down to watch them leave. Once the door was closed and locked behind them, Maedel listened for several minutes to make sure they were actually gone. When she was sure, she trotted into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She checked the shelves, sniffing at the defrosting roast, but knowing not to touch it. Finding a piece of leftover pizza in a plastic bag, she delicately pulled it out and closed the refrigerator door. She'd learned early that he didn't get nearly as angry with her if she closed doors behind her. Although, he'd been very angry the previous month when she'd taken the steak from the top shelf. He'd threatened to put a padlock on the refrigerator after that one, and when she saw what he'd had to eat instead, she decided that sharing was only fair. He always gave her some of whatever he had, so she should let him get his share first, as the alpha in their pack.

She took the plastic wrap off the pizza and put it in the trash bin under the sink, then settled down on the tile of the kitchen floor to eat. Ray blamed Diefenbaker for her junk-food habit, not understanding that she wanted anything he had. Even those bland, tasteless salads he loved, well, not the bell peppers, celery, or cucumbers he liked so much, or the onions! Well, not unless they were liberally coated with bleu cheese dressing, although, ranch wasn't bad, except for all the pepper in it. She had noticed that Ray tended to leave snacks for her on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. He'd been doing that since she was three or four months old, when she demonstrated that she could open the refrigerator door. Of course, she'd also bring him a beer or soda when he asked for one, although she didn't like to carry bottles. Cans were less slippery.

She finished eating her snack. Making sure she hadn't left any crumbs behind, she checked out the apartment. Finding it secure, she stopped by the front door and picked up Ray's dirty jeans. He could be such a slob. She carried them into the bathroom and added them to the pile behind the door. Finished cleaning up after him, she did one more pass through the apartment before heading for the bedroom, where she jumped up on his side of the bed and dug at the covers for a bit, to release his scent. Satisfied, she stretched out and lay her head on his pillow, her nose buried in the hollow where he usually slept. With a sigh and a wish she knew how to turn off the light he always left on for her, she dozed off.

"How come you left the lights on, Ray?" Frannie asked as they waited for the elevator.

"When she was little, she was afraid of the dark. I don't know if she still is, but I always leave a light on when she has to stay alone."

Frannie smiled. "That's sweet." She thought how her ma always left a light on for the last child home, so they wouldn't have to come home to a dark house, she also remembered her own special night-light from when she was little. She glanced over at Ray as they rode in companionable silence to the ground floor. She knew he usually took the stairs, but because she was with him, they took the elevator. He held the elevator door for her to exit, then unlocked, opened and held the car door for her, as well. She wished her brother was half as courteous. For a moment, she wondered if her brother bothered to get the door for Stella, but decided it wasn't important.

Ray wondered how much of her quiet was because of being tired after a long day, and how much because of him. He glanced at her, trying to figure out what she was thinking. She seemed kind of quiet, but then it had been a very long day, and a Friday, to boot. He hoped that she liked where they were going. He'd used his cell phone in the bathroom to make reservations. Lucky for him, they were having a late supper and the dancing could go on for hours, if they were so inclined.

"The Crystal Ballroom, Ray?" Frannie grinned at him. "How'd you get reservations?"

"Called and made 'em." He gave her a worried look, "It's okay, isn't it?"

"Well, I know it's your favorite place, so, no. I don't mind." She patted his arm as he pulled up in front. He tipped the valet and escorted her through the front doors.

He loved this place. The food was pretty good, but the band and the dance floor were excellent. Too bad Frannie liked such tight skirts. He'd love to bring her here sometime when she was wearing something long and flowing. Still, she didn't seem to mind dancing with him, and that was all that really mattered.

They made small talk over their meal. Frannie always loved how Ray could focus so tightly on her when they went out, like she was the only woman in the room. Tonight, she was impressed once again, as there were several women there dressed in extremely revealing gowns, the kind that had every other male eye in the place staring. Ray hardly even glanced at them, keeping his eyes and his attention on her, the woman he was with.

She was such a lady, Ray thought. He saw half a dozen women who wore extremely revealing gowns, and noticed her blush when she saw them. Funny; they who showed so much had nothing on the lovely lady he was with. She could be serious or funny, but she was always fascinating.

One of the revealingly dressed women noticed that Ray wasn't looking at her. With a frown, she rose and made her way to the ladies' room. She deliberately bumped into him, dropping her purse. He bent down and held it up for her, never taking his eyes off the drab little thing he was with. The woman was shocked, and when the the man's dinner companion looked up at her and smiled...she snatched her purse from the loathsome man and hurried off.

Frannie couldn't believe it. That rich society woman deliberately bumped into Ray and dropped her purse. She'd been in the middle of telling him about the Feds, and he hadn't even looked up, just bent down and picked up the purse and held it up over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off of her. She couldn't help smirking at the woman whose expression abruptly turned ugly as she snatched her purse from Ray and hurried off.

Every other woman in the place was watching them, now. She caught several envious glances from the more plainly dressed women whose escorts were practically drooling over the women flaunting themselves. She couldn't resist reaching out and touching his hand. Never taking his eyes from hers, he turned his hand over and held her fingers. For just an instant, she froze, wondering what he was thinking. He was smiling, and his attention never wavered for a moment.

Ray had always been the sort of man who only had eyes for the woman he was with. Of course, it used to be The Stella, but now...she was so pretty, and so sweet. At that particular moment, if Stella had come by, he wouldn't have even seen her. When she touched his hand, he took a chance and caught her fingers. They sat across from each other, holding hands. She didn't seem to mind, so he didn't let go.

They'd finished eating and had been chatting for several more minutes. Hearing the band starting up with a waltz, he stood, tugging at her hand, asking her to dance with him. Smiling shyly, she followed him onto the dance floor.

Except for the women who had the attention of every other man in the place, every other woman's eyes followed Ray and Frannie on the dance floor. They were a nice looking couple, her with her dark curls and he with the blond spikes, they contrasted and complimented each other, and their movements were fluid and relaxed. And their pleasure in each other's company came through their dancing.

He held her close as they danced. She followed him well, now. The first few times he'd taken her out had been a learning experience for them both. She'd learned to trust and depend on him to guide them through the steps. He was graceful and masterful, and she loved it. She noticed that the woman who'd tried to capture Ray's attention earlier was glaring daggers at her. She couldn't help but smile cattily at her, knowing that she had her date's exclusive attention. At this moment, she'd have been willing to bet that if a naked woman had walked up to them, he'd never have given her a first, let alone a second glance. She had his full, undivided attention, and when she looked in his eyes, she smiled and found her undivided attention captured by his mercurial eyes.

She floated in his arms. They fit so well together. She was light on her feet and graceful; and he loved to dance, particularly with someone who could follow him so well. The only thing that would have made it better, would have been if she'd been in a long, flowing skirt. Maybe he'd buy her one, just for going dancing in. Her eyes met his, and he smiled.

They danced several waltzes, but when the band began to play faster music, Ray led her from the floor, leaving it to the peahens who were trying to hold every man's eye. He never even glanced at them, much to Frannie's amused enjoyment.

Later, as he drove her home, she sat quietly beside him, wishing his car didn't have that stupid console thing in the middle. She'd have loved to sit close to him, but the bucket seats just wouldn't allow it. When they pulled up in front of her home, he parked and turned off the engine. Getting out, he was around the car and opening her door before she had time to try and do it, herself. He offered his hand to help her out. She could almost hear her mother saying 'such a gentleman! He knows how to treat a lady.' and she realized her mother was right. He held onto her hand as they walked up to the door.

"Thanks, Frannie. I hope you had a good time," Ray said softly as he waited for her to find her key and unlock the door.

"I had a great time, Ray. Thank you for taking me."

There was an awkward moment of silence after she opened the door.

"Um, well, good night, Ray," Frannie murmured, but didn't try to remove her hand from his grasp.

"Uh, can I ask you somethin'?

"Sure, Ray. What do you want to know?"

He blushed and looked away. Too embarrassed to meet her eyes, he looked around and spotted a face watching them from the bit front window. He smiled, recognizing Ma Vecchio, checking up on her youngest child. "Well, uh, do you like goin' dancin' with me?"

He uncertainty surprised her. "I love goin' dancin' with you, Ray. Why?" Her question came out slightly worried.

"Do you like the ballroom stuff? The waltz, stuff like that?"

"Yeah, why?"

He glanced at her and looked away again. "Well, would it be okay if I bought you a dress, or a skirt, or somethin', for dancin' in?"

She was surprised. Most men liked the tight blouses and short skirts she favored, "what kind of dress or skirt?"

"Somethin' long, and full...flowing." He looked up at her again, his expression worried.

"Long...and, and flowing?"

"Yeah." His expression looked hopeful as hers turned pensive.

She thought about it. Then it dawned on her. "You mean... like those old-time movies? The ones with Gene Kelly?"

"Well, I kinda think I dance more like Fred Astaire, myself, but yeah. Somethin' like that."

She beamed at him. "You don't have to do that. If that's what you'd like me to wear to go dancin', I can get my own dresses."

He smiled shyly. "Could I come with you?"

That stopped her cold. "You'd like to go shopping with me, for a dress?" She was so surprised, that she squeaked.

"Yeah. I can picture the dress. I know what would be absolutely perfect for you. I can see it, up here," he tapped his temple with his index finger. "So, ya wanna go shopping with me?"

She shivered with excitement. She didn't know of any man who would actually volunteer to go dress shopping with a woman. She beamed a huge grin up at him. "I'd love to, Ray."

"Greatness. You, uh, busy tomorrow afternoon?"

Her eyes widened in surprise. "Uh, no. No, I'm not."

"Cool. I'll pick you up, uh, say about two?"

"That would be lovely, Ray."

He smiled broadly, pleased. "Okay, then. Uh, afterwards, you wanna go dancin' again?"

She laughed. He wanted to dress her up like Grace Kelly or someone like that, and then take her out. She shook her head at his disappointed expression and reached out to hug him. "I'd love to go dancing with you, Ray. One request, though?"

"Anything," he rashly promised.

"Could you maybe dress up a little, too? A suit, maybe?"

He grinned. "Yeah. I could do that." He leaned down and lightly kissed her, then pulled away. "See you tomorrow."

He was whistling happily when he got home. Maedel was waiting at the door for him. He knelt down, ruffling her fur and giving her a hug. "Got another date, sweetheart. Frannie and me are going out again, tomorrow. Gotta get 'the suit' out. We are gonna put on the ritz." He kissed Maedel on top of her head and stood up. He danced his way through the room, turning off the excess lights as he made his way to his bedroom. In his dreams, he danced all night.

She let him choose the shop. She was a little surprised that he knew where to find the kind of dress she'd need for dancing in. He looked at her, squinting, his head tilted to the side, considering. He turned to the sales clerk and spoke softly to her, explaining what they were looking for. The woman nodded and left, returning a few minutes later with several dresses over her arm. She showed them to Ray, who chose three.

"Try this one first, Frannie?" He held out a dark ruby colored dress. It was snug through the bodice, with a full, flowing skirt. She took it and entered the dressing room. It fit her perfectly. She came out and shyly stood, awaiting the verdict. Ray smiled and motioned for her to turn around. She twirled and the skirt swung out. Ray looked critical and shook his head. "Try the green one."

She frowned and took the second dress into the dressing room and changed. She wondered why he didn't like the red one? It was low-cut, almost sheath style through the bodice, with spaghetti straps. She thought it was sexy, and wondered why he didn't like it?

The green one had long, bell-like sleeves. Again, it had a very low neckline, and a full-flowing skirt. Again, he shook his head. "Try the blue one."

The sleeves were chiffon, and snug from shoulder to wrist. The neckline was a delicate 'v' that didn't show a whole lot, but enough. It was also backless. The bodice came down to a 'v' across her hips, matching the neckline. It was a rich, sapphire blue, and made of something very soft.

The moment she stepped out, he smiled and nodded. She twirled and looked at him for approval. "That's the one," he announced, grinning at her. "Do you have anything similar in, oh, say, champagne?"

She never got to look at the price tags, he had them all removed and insisted on paying for them with his credit card. She was embarrassed, but let him. Something told her she could have maybe afforded one dress, but not three. All of them were similar, not too low a neckline, low-cut backs, and long sleeves, with full, flowing skirts.

"You want I should take you home and pick you up about eight?"

"That'd be great, Ray. Which one do you want me to wear?"

He thought, then grinned. "The blue one?"

Maedel was a little disappointed that not only was she left home half the day, but would also be left home for the night, again. She whined her displeasure. Ray bend down and tried to explain things to her. She seemed skeptical, but then, she'd been spayed at five months, before she ever came into heat, so it didn't make a lot of sense to her. She did understand, though, that her pack leader needed companionship from his own kind. She sighed and licked his chin, giving her permission for him to leave her again.

The Crystal Ballroom, two nights in a row. Frannie kept glancing over at him. She'd asked him to dress up, but she never imagined that he had anything like this! His tux fit him like it was custom made for him, complete with tails. After they ate, he led her to the dance floor. This time, it didn't matter what kind of music was played, they danced to it. She now understood why he'd never danced with her to the faster music. Her skirts had been too short, or too tight. But with this dress... she could let herself go. He twirled her, and even dipped her. Several times, other couples on the dance floor stepped back to watch them, but they only had eyes for each other. Neither of them noticed the one couple who glared at them in anger and near hatred.

"What the hell's he dressed up like that for? He plannin' on playin' maitre'd?" Ray Vecchio grumbled to his date.

Stella's mouth was in a tight line. "No. He's planning on dancing the night away." There was more than just a trace of envy in her tone.

They watched. Vecchio was angry to see his sister having such a great time with a guy he didn't like. But he had to grudgingly admit that Kowalski never did anything to indicate that they were more than just friends. He never stared down her cleavage, he didn't hold her too close, his hands never roamed. Worst of all, they looked beautiful together...then he noticed Frannie's expression. She was having fun, and she was laughing joyously as Kowalski twirled her out and then back in, the way her skirt flared making them look like something from the movies. He glanced at his own date, and realized that she was jealous of Frannie. After all, it used to be her with whom Kowalski danced.

"They look good together," he murmured, grudgingly, watching her closely.

"Yes, they do." Her eyes turned to him, and she smiled a bit wistfully. "He's a wonderful dancer."

"You miss that?"


"Come on." Ray stood and held out his hand. "I may not be Gene Kelly, over there, but I can hold my own." He smiled and when she took his hand and rose, he led her onto the floor.

Ray Kowalski was surprised to see them, but he caught Ray Vecchio's eye and grinned, giving him a wink; he threw Frannie into a spin, and when he pulled her back, dipped her, showing off.

Frannie giggled as she was dipped. It had taken a couple of tries to get it right, but he was good, making sure she knew what was coming next. When she came back up, she nearly tripped when she saw her brother and Stella. She paled, expecting her brother to make a scene. Catching his eye, she was surprised to see him smile, then he turned away, twirling Stella in a somewhat less polished manner. Luckily, Stella knew what to do, so it worked. Vecchio wasn't foolish enough to try and compete with Kowalski, but he could at least dance well enough to not make a fool of himself and have some fun, while not trampling his partner.

Kowalski watched Vecchio and Stella. They looked good together, but not nearly as good as he and Frannie looked. See them trying a couple of more complex moves, he danced over to them and softly gave a couple of hints. There was no animosity in his voice. He was having fun with Frannie. He didn't even wish he had The Stella in his arms. Frannie was more supple than Stella, and shorter, making her easier to dance with. He talked them through a couple of moves, then swirled away to let them practice his suggestions.

They closed down the place. Vecchio and Stella had given up an hour or so before, and most of the rest of the dancers sat out more dances than they participated in. Finally, though, even the band had worn out. Ray and Frannie were tired, but still not out of breath.

Once they sat down, however, Frannie realized just how much her feet were going to hurt in the morning...and her legs...and her knees...and...but it was worth it. Looking at Ray's face, shining with perspiration and a contented smile told her that he felt the same way.

She slipped off her heels and winced as she rubbed the arch of her foot. "I am gonna be so sore tomorrow..."

"Here." He reached down to take her foot into his lap and began to massage, starting at the toes and working all the way up to her knee. She blushed and glanced around, but no one was left to notice, so she closed her eyes and groaned in mixed pleasure and pain. He finished with that leg, then gently set it down and picked up the other, repeating the massage.

"You can do that forever, and I won't complain, she murmured. He chuckled.

"Yeah? Well, I had lots of practice," he murmured a bit self-deprecatingly.

"Well, you're good. Now, I don't know if I'll be able to walk out of here, but I don't think it's gonna be so bad tomorrow. Thank you for a wonderful time."

"You're welcome. Thanks for coming with me. I had a great time, too." He grinned at her.

They were quiet as he drove her home. When he walked her to the door, she paused, after she unlocked it. She looked up at him. He smiled at her. "Thank you for a wonderful evening, Francesca."

"I think that was supposed to be my line, Ray," she giggled.

"Well, maybe. But I had a great time."

"Me, too. She tilted her head and looked up at him. Standing on tiptoe, she reached up to kiss him.

He returned the kiss very softly, parting after just a few moments. Looking at her, he smiled a bit shyly and kissed her again. Her arms went around his neck and his went around her body, holding her close. When they broke apart, he smiled and pulled away. "Good night, Frannie."

"Good night, Ray." She returned his grin and turned to go into the house. He waited until she closed the door and he heard it lock, before he turned to go back to his car. Whistling happily, he danced down the steps and to his car. He grinned all the way home.

"Francesca? You are home very late." Ma Vecchio stood at the base of the stairs, looking worriedly at her youngest daughter.

"I know, Ma. Ray took me dancing."

Ma looked surprised. "Two nights in a row?" Then she noticed how her daughter was dressed. "Is that a new dress, Cara?"

"Yes, Ma." She twirled across the foyer, letting the skirt flare out, showing it off.

Her mother nodded, approvingly. "It looks nice, Cara. Very, elegant." Her expression asked the question.

Frannie blushed, knowing what her mother wanted to know. "Ray got it for me. He said he wanted me to have a dress just for dancing."

Her mother nodded, "Ray Kowalski is a nice boy, Francesca. He knows how to treat a lady."

Frannie turned to look at her mother, then glanced up the stairs to see her brother, frowning down at her. Raising her head, she smiled. "Yes, Ma. He does." Her eyes caught Ray's, challenging him to say anything. "He always treats me like a lady."

"That's good, Cara." Ma Vecchio turned to look up at her son. "Even if your brother doesn't like him, he's a good boy."

Ray realized that this was a battle he would not be able to win. His gaze went from his sister's challenging expression to his mother's. He nodded, unwilling, but accepting; then turned to go to his room.

Ma heaved a sigh of relief. Motioning to her daughter, they went into the kitchen to talk. She wanted to hear all about Francesca's date, and the dress...

Maedel wasn't at the door waiting for him, for the first time, ever. Ray frowned and went in search of his dog. He finally found her, in his bed, buried beneath the covers, her head under the pillow. Ray frowned.

"Maedel? Sweetheart? You wanna go out to go potty?" The dog didn't move. Worried, now, he hurried over to the bed and pulled the covers back. He jerked the pillow from the bed, afraid of what he might find. Maedel simply turned her head and gave him 'the look'. The one that said that she was displeased with him. She'd learned that trying to punish him by chewing up his things only got her in trouble, so she had decided to try his trick of ignoring her.

"Hey, what's the matter, little girl?" Ray whispered, sitting beside her. It wasn't often that he called her 'little girl' and she recognized his concern. She rolled over, still giving him that reproachful look. "I'm sorry. Was I gone too long?" The dog grunted and turned her head away from him, but remained on her back. He grinned. He reached out and gently rubbed her underside, scratching just below the ribs to tickle her and make her kick with her hind feet.

"Hey, come on. Tell you what. I brought you some bones from dinner...." She huffed, but glanced at him. "Yeah. Come on out into the kitchen. Come on." He spoke softly and in a slightly higher than normal voice, encouraging her. She rolled the rest of the way over, towards him, and stood up. She waited for him to stand, then jumped from the bed and followed him to the kitchen. Sure enough, there in her dish, were not only the promised bones, but pieces of meat and buttered vegetables, and...best of all, baked potato with sour cream and butter. She glanced up at him, her expression telling him that he was forgiven. Then she turned to eat.

He watched her. He didn't know a lot about dogs, but he'd never seen one eat as daintily as this one. She was always polite, waiting for food to be offered. There were very few people she would take food from, Ray, of course, and Fraser. Then there was Welsh and Francesca, and Ma Vecchio. But not Ray. He didn't like her, so she ignored him whenever possible. She also didn't steal food, like Diefenbaker did. Fraser would scold him, but the wolf-mix simply ignored him. Fraser was definitely the beta in that pairing, despite what his friend thought. He suspected that Maedel agreed with him on that, pulling things on Fraser she would never try with anyone else.

She took little, dainty bites, chewing each morsel completely, much like his mother had always tried to teach him. He found it amusing that she had better table manners than most people, himself included. While she ate, he changed into some sweats and a pair of running shoes. Maedel looked up at him and left the bones for later, recognizing his 'time to go outside' clothes.

This late at night, he wore his gun, not wanting to take any chances. It had snowed the day before and, even though it was officially spring, it hadn't melted very much. They headed to the park. Ray was tired, so they walked, at least, Ray walked. Maedel trotted and ran, playing in the snow. They were in the middle of the park, when suddenly, the dog froze, her head turning to look into the distance, her head cocked, listening. With a woof and a quick glance at her master, she took off. Ray, knowing his dog didn't do anything without good reason, followed her. He was just in time to see several kids dump a box and jump back in their car, which had been illegally parked on the grass. He was even wearing his glasses, for a change, and managed to get the license plate number. He fumbled for his cell phone as he went to investigate the box they'd dumped.

Maedel was already sniffing and pawing at the box. Curious, Ray lifted the lid, and had a sudden feeling of deja vu. He closed his eyes and shook his head, wanting to deny what he was seeing. He counted them, only six, this time. And, he'd gotten their license number. Turning his cell phone on, he called it in. Dumping puppies was only a misdemeanor, but lately, Animal Control had been cracking down on abuse cases. Dumping week-old puppies was definitely abuse. He waited with the box and the puppies until a patrol car arrived, identified himself and gave them everything he'd seen. His descriptions weren't the best, after all, it was dark. But he thought he could pick one or two of the four out of a lineup. When asked what they should do with the 'evidence', Ray asked for a ride home, he'd take the puppies, and they could have the box, in case there were any prints on it.

Maedel had no memories of her pre-eye-opening. She only knew Ray and Diefenbaker as her foster parents, but when he dug out the canister of formula left from when she was little and started fixing bottles, she watched closely. When he offered her a fed puppy, she licked it, and when it voided, cleaned it up and wanted to get to the others. Ray finished feeding them all, and made them a nest on the floor, where Maedel settled down with them and played surrogate mother. Ray grinned at her. She may have been fixed, but her maternal instinct was still very obviously intact. He wondered who he could give a puppy to, once they were old enough? He started making a list, even though he was exhausted. He hated two-hour feeding schedules. Maybe he could get someone else to take them, sometimes...he'd have to think about that. He fell asleep on the couch, working on his list of prospective assistants/owners.

They tracked down the kids who had dumped the puppies. It turned out that their parents had Belgian Shepherds, the black ones. When the first litter had come out brown, instead of black, their teen-aged son had 'gotten rid' of the 'mutts'. This time, there had been a few black ones in the litter, and they had kept them, dumping the 'brown ones' again. When the police arrived with the Animal Control officers, Ray was with them, and so was Maedel. When they saw his dog, they recognized her as a Malinois, and asked him where he got her.

"I got her a year ago, in a box of frozen puppies we found in the park. Three of them lived, and I spent five weeks taking care of them. Now, I got six more." His glare was matched by his dog's.

When they were told that Belgian Shepherds could have Malinois and Tervuren puppies in the same litter, the owners of the parents were shocked, and asked that the puppies be returned. Animal Control refused, and suggested that it would be in their best interest to give their dogs to someone who knew what they were doing. Since they were going to be impounded as part of the abuse charges, Ray asked if he could take the female and puppies home with him to take care of the rest of them. The owners willingly signed permission for him to take care of their dog, before they were taken down and booked.

Ray wasn't real happy. The mother dog wasn't nearly as well trained as his Maedel. He ended up having to lock her in the bathroom, as she had been a kennel dog, and wasn't even housebroken. He'd called in that morning and explained to the lieutenant that he was going to be late, that an emergency had come up. When he arrived at noon, Welsh was a bit surprised.

"I thought you had an emergency, detective?"

"Yes, sir. It's sort of taken care of, now."

"Sort of?"

"Yeah." Ray frowned, looking at his superior. "Uh, I don't suppose you know anyone who would like a dog, would you?"

Welsh looked surprised. "You want to get rid of Maedel?"

"No. Six of her sibs. Four boys, two girls."

"What?" Welsh wasn't connecting.

"Well, remember about a year ago? When I was takin' care of Dief?"

"Yeah, you found Maedel and Tara and Gina."

"Well, I took Maedel out late, last night, and saw four kids dump a box in the park."

Welsh's jaw dropped. Not much surprised him, but... nah, couldn't be, could it? "Don't tell me they dumped some puppies?"

"Yeah. Look just like Maedel did. I got the number of the car and called it in. I went with Animal Control. They had the one-nine arrest them for cruelty to animals. I got them to let me have the mother. Who isn't even housebroken, if you can believe that. Anyway, I got six puppies to find homes for, maybe three more, depending on what everyone decides to do."

Welsh shook his head and chuckled. "Well, the way Maedel and her sisters turned out, I suggest you call the K-9 unit. I wouldn't be surprised if they took them all off your hands, that is, if you're sure they're all related to our dogs?"

"Yeah. They were dumb enough to tell on themselves when we went to bust them." He smiled. "Well, I got some reports to fill out, so I better get to 'em."

Ray left Welsh's office and headed for his desk, Maedel at his heels, as usual. Pausing in the middle of the busy bullpen, he announced in a loud voice. "Okay, people, who wants one of Maedel's brothers or sisters?" Huey was the first one in line.

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all, Ray thought as he started explaining what had happened. Even his partner was making interested comments.

Maedel watched the humans, curiously. She wasn't quite sure what was going on, but they seemed excited, and they were all looking at her and petting her. That she could definitely approve of. Even Ray Vecchio. He was a bit more reserved, but when he reached out his hand to her, she moved closer, inviting him to pet her. His touch was tentative, but not fearful. She grinned up at him and winked. He jumped back, and she lolled her tongue out, laughing at him. He shook his head in confusion, then looked at her again. She winked again and watched as he stared at her. She stared back. He was the first to look away. He would never be an alpha, she decided, but he gave nice pets.

Ray Vecchio couldn't get over it. Kowalski's dog winked at him. Twice! Maybe there was something to the idea that some people could communicate with animals, and the animals could communicate back. Maybe. Maybe later, he'd ask his partner, or Fraser...nah, Kowalski didn't get quite as...long-winded. He looked at the dog again, who he would swear was laughing at him, and shrugged, reaching out a hand to scratch her behind the ears some more. She seemed to like that.

The End

This went on a bit longer than I expected. It also rambled quite a bit from where I thought it would go. Oh, well. I based Dief's actions with the puppies on a dog I had. Rascal was German/Australian Shepherd. A friend wanted his puppies, so she got a lovely shepherd mix to be the mother...we bred her, and she was terrible. She didn't try and hurt the puppies, but she had to be restrained to allow them to nurse. Rascal took over. We'd hold her down, when the puppies were finished, we let her go, she'd run and hide from them. Rascal would move in and clean them, cuddle them, sleep with them, play with them (as they got older)...and about a year later, he (yes, HE) adopted my orphaned kittens...five of them. At three weeks old, their mother leaped from my second story window and was never seen again. Rascal was a wonderful mother...

Maedel's actions were based on my Dingo/Whippet mix (hey, I didn't know she wasn't a dog...I got her at the pound. Had her three years before I found out she wasn't a dog. She did finally learn to bark...sounded like a beagle). Raffles loved babies...and adopted a bunch of wild kittens when the lady next door trapped all her wild cats and sent them to be destroyed...all she really needed to do was take the one, original, domestic cat and have her fixed...but nooooo... Never mind. Let's not go there. Anyway, Raffie would let the kittens dry nurse on her...and, the one I decided to keep, continued until he was 18 months old... which is why his name is Puppy... Raffles died just a very few months after Puppy was finally 'weaned'. She was almost sixteen, and we'd been together for fifteen and a half years. I don't really miss her, because I got Sheffield (collie and arctic wolf) about six months before she died, knowing that it was going to happen any time. He's done a pretty good job. He could never replace her, he's not an alpha female, but a zed male...ok, fixed zed male... You know you're low dog in the pack when the year old kitten beats you up... and you don't do anything about it. He and Puppy, however, have become best-buds. They even sleep together, sometimes. Raffles died in her sleep while I was at work...leaving my cousin, who hated her, to have to dispose of her remains. That dog always did have a mean sense of humor... Good thing she never could manage to hike her leg and aim with any accuracy. Not that the thought didn't cross her mind, I'm sure...

Finally, if you're wondering about the 'amazing Maedel', I had a friend, once, who had several dogs, during the time I knew her. We had gone to look at the Queen Mary, right after she was docked in Long Beach, California. She took one look at the filthy parking lot and said, "Okay, you guys, clean it up." Her five dogs scattered across the parking lot and started collecting trash. The dogs varied in size from a little Welsh Terrier to a Bearded Collie. They would pick up as much as they could carry and take it to the trash cans. The little dogs would hand it to the bigger dogs, who would put the trash in the cans. Within fifteen minutes, the only trash left in that ten acre parking lot was cigarette butts, none of the dogs would touch them.

Several years later, when I was visiting her, I was given another demonstration. She wrote, in big, block letters, on a blackboard, 'Genaro, Answer the telephone.' Well, Genaro was only six months old and was being rather obtuse that day. She finally slapped his face and said, "Dulcinea, do what I told Genaro to do." Dulcinea looked at the black board, and went and brought her the telephone. Jane wrote on the board, "Put your paws on the desk" Dulcinea looked at the board, went over to the desk, put her front paws on the desk, looked over her shoulder at us and grinned. Jane wrote, 'if you're thirsty, bring me your dish.' an empty dog dish appeared. "I can't find my keys" had Dulcinea leaving the room, only to come back with her keyring in her mouth. No explanation was given, but I did finally figure it out. Every time I had visited, she had words on the blackboard. Desk, keys, dish... the dogs would see their 'cue' and fetch the item. You can't drag the desk over, but you can put your paws on it and say 'here it is'.

She had a book by a man named Chuck Eisenmann, who trained movie dogs. London was his first, a german shepherd, who was in a movie called 'The Littlest Hobo'. If you ever get the chance, watch that movie. And, if anyone ever finds Chuck Eisenmann's book on training dogs...I would love to have a copy. I'm a firm believer in talking to my animals like I do people. That's why people have been impressed when I say things like, "I'm not moving, what are you supposed to be doing?" and my dog comes back from wherever they've wandered and sits, stands, or lies down at heel. I don't have to say "Come, heel, sit, stay." In fact, with Sheffield, I just have to ask, "What are the rules?" Which also works for dinner-time, when he's begging for what I'm having. In that instance, 'the rules' mean he's not to look at me or beg. And he's not as smart as Raffles was, or Rascal, his predecessors. Of course, he was somewhat older when I got him...

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