Cinnamon

Cinnamon peers at me from around the doorframe, blinking slowly. I blink back. I have no idea where Nutmeg went, but at least I can eat my salmon in peace – Cinnamon isn’t the type to try to beg food, just to lazily observe from the corner. I think Nutmeg is off napping somewhere, and won’t hear, but I try not to touch my fork to my plate, anyway. Just in case.

“Pris,” Perry says, softly, staring into her tablet.

This is not effective, because Priscilla isn’t even in the same room as us.

Perry looks up, blinking, and seems to realize this fact. “Pris!”

Still no answer. Huh. Okay, maybe she went out for groceries, or…?

“Priscilla,” Perry screams at the top of her lungs (not really, it’s just that I’m sitting right here woman let me get earplugs or something), and puts down her tablet.

I surreptitiously scoot farther away in case she yells again.

Which, a second later, she does. “Morgan!”

“For fuck’s sake, Perry, I am busy! Get it yourself!”

Okay, I guess she’s not out shopping, then.

“I don’t want anything,” Perry shouts back, “I found that video of the dog you were looking for! The LARPing one dressed like a wizard!”

Yay! More dogs.

Priscilla appears like three seconds earlier, suddenly standing between us, the tablet in her hands, whispering, “theonethatshootsfireballs?”

Okay, now I have to see this video.

Pris sets it up on the table and starts playing it, to awed silence from all three of us. A few seconds in, the dog does, indeed, spit out a fireball.

This would probably be more impressive if I hadn’t had a whole class full of them today.

Pris pumps her fist in the air. “This is it! This is the one! Watch.”

Ha! Like she could stop me.

The dog continues to bark fireballs at people – either they don’t really do much, or the people have some kind of protective gear or powers, because nobody catches fire when they hit – and brings down a fair number of opponents, culminating in what is actually an impressive feat of either cinematography or careful editing, because the dog leaps higher than any dog has a right to leap, and the camera manages to follow the entire arc with the dog centered perfectly in the frame, and without any camera wobbles either. The dog triumphantly pins…someone in a crown, I don’t know, I think the dog wins, even though its wizard hat fell right off.

“Amazing,” Priscilla says, then abruptly leaves the room.

“Wait, what the fuck, where are you going?” Perry asks.

“I told you,” Pris says, giving Cinnamon an ear scritch, “I’m busy, Perry, I was in the middle of doing something. Now I’m going back to doing it.”

“Doing what?” Perry says.

“I’m not explaining this again!” Pris calls from inside her office.

“Look, all you said was that – oh!” Perry says, turning to me, “speaking of explaining!”

“What?” I say, sharing a knowing look with Cinnamon, only she’s left, and I have no one to commiserate with in my confusion.

“We finally got an explanation for the Mesopotamian thing!” Perry says.

“I,” I say, “um, congratulations?”

Perry claps her hands, and finds something else on her tablet. “You know, the reference about those things, with the…you know, Mesopotamian superpowers.”

“The Lightning Plates?” I ask, because I can’t possibly think of anything else she could be referencing, and I don’t know why she’s suddenly interested in them.

“Yes! The,” she pouts at me. “You know about them already.”

“Perry, if you could’ve got through my major without learning about the Lightning Plates, you’d deserve to have a degree in whatever subject you wanted through sheer talent at cheating,” I say.

“Oh, right, I’ve suddenly remembered why I refused to talk to you all through college,” she tells me, “check out this video anyway.”

I watch it for a while. I mean, the information isn’t bad, “what is this in reference to?”

Perry sighs heavily. “Like three chapters ago, Copperbadge said something about Mesopotamia and we were all wondering if he was trying to introduce one of the museum villains –”

“Wait, is this the one where not-really-me is having graphic sex with the guy who attacked my kids on the roof a week ago, because I’m not really sure I want to hear about that,” I tell her.

“Okay, first, I’m not even sure this is technically set in our reality, and second, I thought you were happy that never made the news,” Perry says, “anyway, we haven’t gotten to the sex yet.”

“Well, that’s fine then,” I say.

“Is this,” Perry frowns, “sorry, I didn’t think that through. Here, let’s watch something else.”

“No, I mean,” I shake my head, “at least finish the story, will you?”

Perry grins. “So, no, it was not foreshadowing. Apparently, in looking up some things for the story, he got really into the Mesopotamian stuff?”

I stare blankly at her, wondering what exactly I’m missing.

Perry laughs. “So he decided to go full on Indiana Jones with Teke, and now he’s going to be a professor of this stuff, that’s amazing, right?”

“Eerie,” I say.

Perry cocks her head. “What, just because he’s studying something a little too close to your nerd interests? Come on, this is so much more fun than the standard narrative.”

I shrug. “Well, as long as he doesn’t end up getting a visit from the Men in Black.”

Perry grimaces at me. “Please tell me that’s not actually a worry.”

“I mean, hopefully he doesn’t accidentally write in other features of, you know, actual me, and I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I say, “he doesn’t happen to have reality warping powers, does he?”

“Not as far as I know,” Perry says, “but given the character crossover, I’m sure it’ll muddy the waters enough no one can actually find you, anyway.”

“Oh, no question,” I agree, “let’s just hope upstairs doesn’t get too antsy about it.”

“I hope he’ll still give you that puppy sidekick, anyway,” she adds.

“I,” I say, “what? Where did you hear about that?”

“We have our ways,” she says, mysteriously, and then hands me a press release with, wow, the mock-up looks even better now. Artists terrify me. “The dog’s named Chic, for the rhyme.”

“Okay,” I say, “not what I would’ve gone with, but fine.”

“I think it’s kind of cute,” she says. “Might end up a little embarrassing for everyone involved, but, damn, you’re going to get them to let you do the photoshoot personally, right?”

“Hell yes,” I say, “I saw maybe three dogs in costume today despite the fact that they had every excuse, come on, what is that? No way in fuck I’m passing up that chance.”

Perry grins at the picture. “I hope you get collector’s set action figures out of this.”

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Pepper

“How’s your day going, Teke?” Apogee asks.

“Haven’t got much done,” I tell her, “nobody has, I don’t think. You?”

She grins the widest I’ve ever seen her grin, although she doesn’t usually grin particularly wide, so I don’t know if it’s actually a particularly wide grin, or whether it just seems completely unfamiliar on her face. Either way, it makes me slightly nervous.

“Guess what,” she says to me.

“What?” I say, far more apprehensive than I typically have to be inside this building (or, at least, away from medical or the gyms).

“I got a dog,” she says.

I blink at her repeatedly for at least several minutes.

“Would,” she says, suddenly nervous, “would you like to meet my dog?”

“Um,” I say, looking around her, where there’s a conspicuous absence of dog, “yes?”

“Pepper!” she calls, and a huge Newfie – huge for a Newfie – comes bounding down the hall, ramming straight into my stomach and wagging her tail in every direction.

“Oh, hello!” I say, and then the rest of what I say devolves into nonsense, because I’m playing tug-of-war with my own sleeve at that point.

“She’s great, right?” Apogee asks.

“I thought you were afraid of dogs,” I say, although, yes, she is great. I scratch her ears, and she gives me a happy toss of her head.

“Okay, first, Cheese Toasties cured me of that,” Apogee says, “also, how could you be afraid of this big lump? She looks exactly like the beshy I had as a kid, look at that face!”

“Oh,” I say. “Okay.”

Apogee beams at me.

“When did you get a dog,” I ask her.

She laughs. “Well, I ‘always like’ to try to fit in, and it seems like a great way of doing that – you know, seeing new places, meeting new people – is to take your dog out.”

“That’s probably true,” I say.

She nods. “So, I thought, well, I’ll go pick one up from a shelter, right, they’re already housebroken, some basic training – I don’t really get how to train a dog, you know.”

“I imagine it can’t be that different,” I tell her, “I think it works the same on all animals.”

She nods agreeably. “Maybe so. Well, I get there, and this floof is staring me in the face, all friendly like, and they asked me was I sure I could handle a dog this big?”

I laugh. “You, really?”

“I know!” she says, “I picked her up and held her over my head to prove my point.”

I give her a skeptical look. “What, and she just let you?”

“Oh, sure,” Apogee says, demonstrating for me, “she’s actually very calm.”

Pepper turns her head to me, legs dangling casually on either side of Apogee, and gives me a soft huff of, what is that, is she humoring Apogee? Pepper’s tail wags several times.

“But, of course I had to bring her today,” Apogee says, “for your most important state holiday of Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”

I stare at her. I’m never clear whether Apogee’s joking.

“Anyway, the timing worked out pretty well, because they finished my paperwork over the weekend, and so Pepper’s getting used to everyone now,” she says, setting the dog down with a quick kiss on the nose.

Pepper yawns. I give her a pet on the head.

“This is Travis, Pepp!” Apogee says, followed by something that might be meaningful, or might not, I mean, Apogee speaks at least one more language than I do, and Pepper doesn’t speak any, so I doubt it’s particularly meaningful either way.

Pepper sniffs me curiously, investigating what particular scents I might have, and licking my hands a few times for good measure.

“Aw, she likes you!” Apogee boops me on the nose. “She’ll remember you for sure.”

“Remember me?” I repeat.

“Yes!” Apogee claps her hands together. “I’ve been training her to find people based on their names – it’s going pretty well. Pepper is such a good dog.”

“Who can she find?” I ask.

“So far, me, reliably, regardless of who tells her to find me,” Apogee says, fluffing the dog’s ears, “and Amos, and Kitty, and Chocolate more reliably than her, and sometimes Emma.”

“That’s pretty effective for just a couple days,” I tell her.

She laughs into her hand. “Since this morning, you mean? It’s a great trick, right? I had no idea that dogs could do all these things.”

“Um,” I say.

“What?”

“I mean, they can,” I tell her, “but not usually this fast – are you sure you don’t have some sort of dog training power mixed up in there?”

“Hmm,” she says, and adds nothing.

“Really?” I say.

She shrugs. “I could. I used to get along with certain kinds of domesticated animals, I mean, birds mostly, but I could train them pretty fast. Could be the same thing.”

“Is this,” I say, staring, “is this normal for your people…?”

She shakes her head, tips it, and nods slightly. “I don’t know, really. It was never a big enough deal for most people to make anything of it? I guess it’s a pretty common secondary.”

“Huh,” I say.

Apogee waves a hand. “It’s probably something to do with the extra senses, you know, you can use them for intuition or something. Boosting communication, but as a side effect.”

“Yes,” I agree, “that’s probably it.”

She rubs her neck, grimacing slightly. “Well, I don’t know, I’ll mention it to someone next time I’m down for testing and see if it means anything.”

“I doubt it’ll cause problems,” I tell her, “it’s just that I’ve never heard of it except as an outlier power. Mostly it really is parallels that have it.”

Apogee nods vaguely. “I don’t know. Pepper can do a lot of great tricks. Ask her anything.”

“Uh, Pepper, sit,” I say.

Pepper sits happily.

Apogee glares. “Something better.”

“Roll over?” I offer.

Pepper rolls onto her back, letting me scratch her belly.

Apogee makes a discreet sort of spinning gesture with her finger.

“Pepper…spin?” I say.

Pepper spins in a circle several times before stopping to grin at me.

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Many More Dogs

“Well, okay,” I say to Sensei Domino, “you get some dogs after all.”

Standing in front of us, neatly lined up, are six smiling faces next to six equally happy doggy grins. One of them barks. (A dog. Not a kid.)

Anyway, at this point, I have to mention that Pulis are my favorite breed of dog. Which is not to say that I don’t love all other dogs, because I do, but just mentioning that it’s the dog that’s my favorite; I’m not playing favorites with my students. I mean not that anyone could do anything about it if I were, but still, it’s not really the kind of environment you want to foster, is it?

The point: FiendPuncher has a Puli.

We race toward each other in excitement, meeting in the middle, and I get many licks on my hand as I try to engage in headpats. The kids laugh at me. I super don’t care. I mean, it seems good-natured enough, anyway – but I have more important concerns. (It’s a Puli.)

No, the incredible thing is that every single dog seems to have a power that corresponds to the student. I have to wonder which of them trained their dogs into it, and who picked out dogs who could do the exact same thing they could.

Well, no, Enigma Machine’s Dalmatian doesn’t seem to have any powers at all, other than knowing not to lick electronics, which I have to assume isn’t actually a power. I mean, service dogs know way better tricks than that? And show dogs can stand still for hours or something getting their picture taken, so that’s weird. Anyway, yes, Bran doesn’t have powers. Probably. Or at least they aren’t very good if they are.

Oh, yeah, the Puli, a very dark brown with a sort of lightish brown nose (not very light, really, just a little bit lighter) is named Horseradish, which is an adorable name for a dog.

Horseradish can float. And is floating, right now. What a good dog.

Caffeine has…a dog. I don’t know. I’ll figure out what kind once they stop running around the gym, this is – couldn’t he have waited until the end of roll call even, I don’t?

Psybeam has – oh my god I was looking at this dog a second ago – I turn back to the dog, who tilts curiously to examine me, tail happily thumping against the ground. A Puggle. It looks like a Puggle, anyway. I look away for a second, promptly lose track, and have to stare at the puppy continuously before the name stops blanking out in my head: Poffin. The effect is extremely pervasive and a lot stronger than Psybeam’s – or I’m just used to him, maybe. I don’t know.

Gatling, however, has given his dog a terrible name. Or maybe his parents have. I don’t know; I don’t know how you tell the difference. Sausage. I mean, not that it isn’t a terrible name in general (probably worse for a pig, I’d think), but particularly for a Dachshund, that’s not great, right? I might be overreacting. The little guy’s captivating, though; with every bark, a percussive sound wave slams against me, and I think if they could be aimed they could do a lot of damage.

Okay, I’m aware that’s not actually the same power as Gatling’s, but it’s surprisingly close for, you know, a dog.

Jailbait has a squat little bulldog radiating affection and a need for scritchies, which I know is not just how much I love this dog, but some sort of extranormal aura, because goddamn is that stronger than my usual feelings towards dogs, which are always affectionate as hell. Her name is Pecan Sandy, and both the humans and the other dogs gravitate toward her unconsciously. Her ears perk up and her tongue lolls out every time she greets someone. Proud mom Jailbait keeps feeding her crackers.

Horseradish floats to a stop in front of me, apparently jealous. I oblige with many ridiculous puppy-talk noises, and at least one kiss on the nose, which there’s no way any of the class missed, but they’re polite enough not to say anything.

Caffeine and company finally come to a halt. The dog is smaller than I expected – I thought I caught a glimpse of a medium to large sized dog – and sits patiently, white except for the curly brown fur around the eyes and ears, apparently not at all tired from their run. Caffeine grins, informing me the dog is named Ginger, which seems a fitting enough name for a Cav. I didn’t think they were usually about running, but, hey, a lot of dogs like to run, probably not this much, but some.

After the initial moments of stunned silence, Sensei Domino rushes over to the dogs, too, and I don’t think we’re handling chaperoning all that well. I mean, we’re supposed to be the responsible adults in this situation, right? Having…authority…and teaching…and stuff. Not – playing with everyone’s dogs, I don’t know, everyone actually seems to be getting along for once, and what do you do with dogs during a lesson?

Do they go sit in the corner? Do you set up a pen or a play area, or something? Do they need some sort of Dog Whispering teacher to help them use their powers? Or are we just keeping them next to each individual, or whoever’s lap they end up on, and letting them distract everyone for the whole class so nothing gets done, like we do in the meetings?

Because that last one definitely seems like the direction we’re going in.

And I think the dogs might be about to use their powers on each other.

With a sigh, I resign myself to giving them a half-listened-to lecture while they ignore me in favor of telling endearing tales of their dogs’ adventures, and Sensei Domino is absolutely no help, because I’m pretty sure he likes dogs even more than I do. Also, if I don’t step in, he might try to teach them karate, which, while hilarious, would probably not end well.

I launch into a discussion of how dogs manifest, and what kind of extranormal distribution you get there, and why it’s different from humans. No one bothers to tell me where any of the dogs got their powers, even though that’s the one dog story that would actually be relevant to the lesson. Horseradish senses my frustration, though, and repeatedly licks my hand while I talk.

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You don’t have a dog?

“You don’t have a dog?” Sensei Domino says in disappointment.

I shake my head.

“Aw,” he says, frowning. “I was hoping there’d be a dog.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I think I’m getting a dog sidekick in the webcomic?” I say, “or, at least, we have the mockup for one.”

“Ooh,” he says, “that’s fun. They won’t let me be in it.”

I make a confused face at that.

He shrugs. “I don’t know, they say it’s a security issue, I think it’s just because I’m not cleared for the field and they don’t want to explain who I am to the general public.”

“I mean…why?” I say, “it’s not like people don’t know we have instructors hanging around.”

“Right?” he says, “every now and then they do a shoutout to support personnel, but not in particular, just in the general.”

“Except for Sid,” I say.

“Oh, well, that’s different.” Domino shakes his head. “I think that’s because Sid knew the artist – one of the artists – he got someone to do it on short notice, who wrote him in as thanks.”

“He doesn’t show up that often, anyway, so I guess it’s fine,” I say.

“You’d be surprised,” he tells me.

“How often Sid shows up?” I ask.

He shrugs expansively. “I mean, I don’t follow it? But I have a couple friends who do, and apparently he’s a fan favorite, I can’t tell if he has his own side comic, or, I don’t know, maybe it’s a fan thing? But, yeah, he shows up a lot, and he acts nothing like Sid, also, so that’s weird.”

“Ooh,” I say, “your friends didn’t start a letter writing campaign, did they?”

“Thank god, no,” he says, “they managed to send off one note telling them to put me in the comic – you can guess how that turned out – but I got to them before they started a petition.”

“Hey, Domino?” I say.

He raises an eyebrow at me.

“We’re friends, right?” I ask.

“Uh,” he says, “weird that you didn’t use my real name if you’re going to ask a question like that. But, sure, okay.”

“Jeff,” I say.

He laughs. “You don’t have to use it, it doesn’t bother me or anything, but I kind of – are we about to have a heart to heart? Should I get hot chocolate or something?”

I sigh. “How do you feel about having people at your place?”

“In general?” he says, eyes narrowing slightly.

“In specific,” I say.

“Uh,” he taps his fingers against his desk. “I kind of – I have a personal policy against getting involved with coworkers. Sorry.”

“Wait, what?” I say.

He crosses his arms. “What, not overnight?”

“I mean, yes, overnight,” I say, “not like – I mean, I need somewhere to stay tonight.”

He frowns. “Short notice. Why?”

“I know, I know it is, sorry, I just,” I sigh. “Darren’s – well, he was mad at me, I assume he still is, since I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, what with all the dogs.”

“Oh, that’s why so many people are missing,” he says.

“What?” I say.

“Dog allergies, right?” he says, “or, I guess phobias or whatever.”

“Uh, sure,” I say.

“Sorry, I just realized – wow, that was, uh, sorry, go on.” He grins sheepishly.

“I, um, haven’t seen him? So I have to assume he’s still mad at me,” I say.

“What, since yesterday?” Domino asks me, “where did you stay last night?”

“With a friend,” I tell him, “I’m just worried I’m wearing out my welcome, or will soon, I don’t know, I thought maybe I should line up somewhere else I could go.”

“Oh,” he says, drumming his fingers again. “I mean, yeah, that’s reasonable, but my place is tiny. Like, I have a couch, but not one big enough to sleep on.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Sorry,” he says.

“No,” I tell him, “this is entirely on me. It was not a fight I should’ve started.”

Domino clears his throat. “Uh, okay, this may be overstepping my bounds, but, I mean, if you’ve decided we’re friends, and of course, can’t get more awkward than our failed flirting, so tell me if – well, do you…maybe want to talk about it? Or?”

“Why does everyone want to talk to me about this?” I snap, then clap my hand over my mouth.

“Wow,” he says, eyes widening, “sorry.”

I shake my head vigorously. “No, sorry, it’s not you. It’s. Okay, I don’t know, I’m bad at discussing things, that’s on me, I just don’t want to talk about it, nothing about you at all.”

“You sure?” he asks. “Kind of sounded like it was maybe aimed at me.”

“Oh my god can we discuss something a little less difficult,” I say.

He coughs into his hand. “You should’ve brought a dog. We could discuss the dog.”

“I could go get a dog,” I say, “almost the entire rest of my team has them, I could, I could get one right now, do you want me to get a dog.”

“At this point, almost,” he says.

“Fuck,” I say.

“Yeah,” he agrees.

“Let’s, uh,” I say, “maybe start with something less –”

“Fraught?” he offers.

I sigh in agreement.

“That’s probably a better idea, uh – do you prefer Travis or Fox, because I hear both.”

“Either is fine,” I tell him.

He frowns slightly.

“My name is Travis. I mean, my legal – whatever, you have my file.” I run my fingers through my hair. “Fox is a nickname I’ve had since I was little, and it catches on easy.”

“Is there a story behind that?” he asks, with a slightly tilt of his head.

“Yes, but it’s boring,” I say.

“Oh, well,” he says, getting up to get a cup of coffee. “I have time, if you want to tell it.”

“It’s not long,” I say, “it’s just boring.”

“Well, then, there should be plenty of time,” he says, with a shrug. “Or I have paperwork.”

I sigh. “My uncle has the same name I do.”

“Travis?” he says.

I nod. “When I was little, I got upset that we both had the same name, you know how kids get, so they had me pick a new name. I liked foxes. That’s literally it.”

He takes a sip of his coffee. “Are you named after your uncle, or are you both named after the same person?”

“No, I’m named after him,” I say.

“Huh,” says Jeff. “I’m named after my uncle, too.”

I nod.

He laughs. “You suck at small talk.”

“I do not suck at small talk,” I tell him, “you’re the one who assumes people are hitting on you when they so much as ask a question – fine. What’s your favorite book?”

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Chocolate and Basil

Chocolate and Basil greet me as I show up to the appointment. No, I mean Sass and Stranglehold, whatever, it’s fine, I’m definitely paying attention to my teammates. Anyway, the two dogs rush up to me (aww, Chocolate missed me! Aww, Bas is more excitable than earlier!) and lick my hands (one hand each), and it’s all very gooey and mildly disgusting. I love dogs.

My teammates, who are the ones I have the appointment with, not the dogs, keep trying to say something to me, but there are dogs instead.

“No, it’s fine,” the artist says, “he needs a quirk, right? His quirk is that all the dogs love him. All of them. In the entire world.”

“Yes,” I say, “I love all the dogs in the entire world. Wait, what?”

He laughs at me. “Your, uh, subplots, I guess, is the closest thing.”

“Oh,” I say, “sure, sounds good.”

“Do you even read the comic, Teke?” Stranglehold asks me.

“No,” I say, completely honestly. Then, because I’m in front of the artist, “I mean, here and there, but it toes the line a little hard for the communities I spend time in.”

The artist snorts. “It’s official stuff, there’s only so much we can say.”

“Well, as long as it’s not harmful to say he likes dogs,” Sass says, shrugging.

“Probably not,” the artist says. “Do you have a dog? Just out of curiosity.”

“No,” I tell him, “can’t. Allergies.”

He looks dubiously at two of my several new best friends.

“Not my allergies,” I clarify, “I don’t live alone.”

“Okay, well, that works out nicely,” he says, “let’s get you a dog. What kind?”

“Poodle,” I say, immediately.

He looks up. “What?”

“Poodle,” I repeat. “Everyone’s used to them being clipped and dyed in interesting patterns, so my poodle sidekick can look exactly like my suit.”

“Oh my god, that’s brilliant,” Stranglehold says.

“This is so clearly not the first time he’s thought of this,” Sass says.

Whatever. People have daydreams.

“That will work amazingly,” the artist says. “I mean, we may have to hire someone to design a poodle for some publicity shots – you okay with that?”

“Uh,” I say, “absolutely, unequivocally, yes, how would I not be?”

“Great,” the artist says, “I’ll do some mockups later, you can look them over. May have to rent a poodle for interviews, now that I think about it. It’ll go over. We’ll get approval first, of course.”

“Sure,” I say, “do a lot of people read these for the pets, or?”

Sass laughs. “So far, I’m the only one with animal sidekicks. I’ve apparently gained the power of communicating with cats or something? I have a dozen of them. They follow me.”

“I think those are former agents under a magical curse or something,” the artist says, “sorry, that was the last guy, I’m trying to mostly leave out magic.”

“That makes sense,” I say, even though it really, really, doesn’t.

He holds up a masterful sketch of a poodle. And I do mean masterful. This is – how quickly did he do this? And it’s clearly just a sketch, I mean, it’s not shaded or anything, but it’s – really fucking detailed? I’m impressed. I mean, I know we get about a page a day done, but I’m really impressed by the whole thing.

Oh my god, the colors though. It matches my suit exactly. I’m now even more excited for this hypothetical promotional photoshoot with this imaginary poodle, because I want to see this done in real life, it’s amazing. Poodles are amazing. I’m going to have to start reading the comic, probably.

My suit looks weirdly good on a dog?

Anyway, I think a lot of this hairstyle wouldn’t work on a poodle in real life, because obviously a lot of it is just in the drawing method, to stylize me and the poodle like each other, but still. I want to see this purple poodle with these blue accents, amazing.

“What about you?” the artist asks.

“What about me?” I ask back.

The artist shows me a sketch, not nearly as much detail as the poodle, but stylized the same way. I think they’ll look good together.

“Uh,” I say, “yes?”

The artist laughs. “No, I mean, are there any changes you’d like me to get in there?”

I shrug at him.

“Obviously this is going through vetting before I put it on the page,” he tells me, “but if there’s anything you’d like, you know, make the character better, tell me now.”

I hold out my boot for him to see, “make it cooler.”

He frowns at it a second, then fiddles the sketch.

I look it over. “No, what I meant was, the boots are always too practical, I mean, obviously, give it some sort of – I don’t know. Make it a cowboy boot or something.”

He considers it. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot. Let you know what upstairs comes up with.”

“Maybe make my hair a little bigger,” I add.

“Hmm?” he says, glancing up, “muscles bigger?”

“What? No,” I say, flexing self-consciously, “why, should they be?”

“Probably not,” the artist says, “we like to do the buff thing for the white hats. Support positions tend to be stylized smaller. Tekes usually go kind of lanky.”

I look down at myself. Lanky’s fine. I mean, I don’t know the comic. “Sure,” I say. “No, the hair. I keep it short. Make it a little longer?”

“But same style?” the artist says, peering at my hair.

“Yeah,” I say, “just a little bit longer.”

I mean, hey, if we’re putting me in a comic, I may as well have a nice haircut. Pretend me has a great poodle and probably much better powers (and social life) and fights – last I checked space monsters? I may as well be more capable of maintaining more complicated hair.

“Ooh,” Sass says, “don’t forget the sunglasses.”

I stare at her long enough that the dogs get upset with me.

Stranglehold grins at me. “The whole team wears sunglasses. For…I don’t know. Reasons?”

“Uh-huh,” I say, “and how prominently am I going to figure in this whole thing?”

Sass huffs. “It’s not a big deal, Teke, we only show up at random, anyway.”

“That’s why we have to all wear the same sunglasses,” Stranglehold adds. “I think it’s the only way the artists can keep track of us.”

“Not the readers?” I ask.

Sass laughs. “You’re obviously not familiar with our reader base.”

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Cheese Toasties

Cheese Toasties!

He gives an excited whuff and wags his tail really hard, enough that I can hear a fairly loud smacking noise each time, while Chelsea makes aggravated faces. Cheese Toasties pulls forward slightly, glances up, and then inches backwards until he’s parallel with Chelsea’s shoe again. He looks forlornly at me, then resolutely sits down, turning away from me.

“You will refrain from any indications of affection,” she tells me.

I nod, looking at his training vest and definitely not having to fight myself not to pat him on his nose, which is still determinedly pointed away from me.

“Good boy,” she says. To Cheese Toasties, not me. I’m not the one who needs reinforcement not to go against the training regimen. Because I am a professional and know better than to pet a dog in a service vest. Although, I do still have some maple sugar candies. You know. If I needed them.

“What brings you to my office?” I ask.

Chelsea pulls up a chair, letting the puppy lie down next to it. “This sweetie needed a little break. Too much stimulus for too long, I think.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “today was maybe not the best day to have brought him in.”

Chelsea grins, shaking her head, and makes a ‘stay’ hand gesture as she gets up to grab a cup of coffee. “Very best day, really. He’s mostly used to humans, by now, but sometimes he gets worked up around other dogs. We’re trying to get him to relax around them.”

“Well, as long as you have a plan,” I say, but Cheese Toasties looks perfectly content to lie by the chair and wait for whatever happens next.

“Where’s your sugar, Travis?” she asks.

Shit. That’s what I forgot. I walk over to the cabinet, trying to remember whether I stocked the sugar in the lower or upper cabinet.

No wait, I put it in the fridge. I grab the sugar shaker off the drying rack, make sure there’s no water in it, and put it right side up on the counter. It doesn’t take very long to fill the shaker. It does take very long to figure out where the ring that’s supposed to fit into the cap went (also the fridge, but this time by accident) and actually manage to get it stuck back into the cap, which then doesn’t want to go on properly. I get it to Chelsea in due time, though, and it would’ve worked perfectly well if she hadn’t stolen my maple sugar candies to use instead, how dare she.

I put the sugar shaker back by the coffee pod tree, where it’s supposed to go.

“Wow, you’re right, it does give a nice mapley kick to the coffee,” she says.

I sigh. “Now you try it. You couldn’t have picked a time I wasn’t running low?”

“I’ve actually been convinced you were trying to prank me, up until now,” Chelsea tells me, heading back to her seat. “I didn’t think there would actually be any available.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Prank? No, absolutely not, that would be a disgrace to both coffee and maple sugar candies. There are things we don’t joke about, Chelse.”

“Do you run the animated series?” she asks me.

“I,” I say, “what?”

“The animated series,” she says, “the one with the characters based on your students, come on, you have to watch it.”

“Uh,” I say. Come on, Fox, tell her something other than Perry doesn’t ship underage RPS.

“Have you ever watched it?” she asks me.

I shrug. “I think I saw that special they did, where Arsenal saved a cat or something.”

“Gods above,” she says, dropping her face into her hands. “Okay, I get that it’s terrible, but it’s the main recruitment strategy, and you’ve got to support local cable, right?”

I shake my head at her. “You say that like I want recruitment. Also? Those shows are a terrible recruitment strategy. They’re full of lies.”

“They’re full of harmless adventure stories for children.” Oh, she’s laughing at me now.

“It gets the kids’ hopes up. There’s not a single student who doesn’t complain about the lack of adventure for their entire first year.” Oh, actually, except FiendPuncher. Well, she’s the kind to actually read the informational packets, I guess.

“I bet it makes her feel better that she’s doing so well on the show, though,” Chelsea says.

Wait, what? Was I talking out loud, or –

“FiendPuncher? She’s a fan favorite right now?” Chelsea clarifies, “that was who you were saying is complaining about the lack of adventures, right?”

“It’s the tiny little bows, isn’t it,” I say, at last.

“I mean, it’s been long enough since someone wore that,” Chelsea says, “they had to do a whole new mold for her hairstyle. It looks great, though.”

“Ah,” I say.

“You have absolutely nothing to do with the animated series, Travis, do you?” she asks.

I shake my head.

She laughs. “Well, that’s some help, I guess.”

“What do you need it for?” I ask.

She waves her hand vaguely. “So, one of the organizations I volunteer with wants a special done about service animals, and the thought is since I know you –”

“Me, me, or Teke?” I ask.

“It doesn’t actually matter,” she says, “I’m the only one who knows anyone at the agency. I just thought you might know something about it, or at least who to ask.”

“Honestly,” I say, “you’re probably better off heading over to one of the UC’s and asking if any of the animation students work on it.”

“Ooh,” she says, “I actually was going to head over later. That’s not a bad idea.”

“I can ask around on the production end,” I tell her, “but I don’t think I know the right people.”

She drops her head against the chair. “How hard can this actually be to figure out? Everything but the holiday special has tiny viewer numbers, it’s not like they need security or anything.”

“Probably be easier if they had security,” I muse, “we could just follow home whichever local channel people had, you know, armed guards.”

“Travis, if I had the time to follow them around and study their lives, I’d just wait to see which one had Top Dog fly through their window in the early evening,” she tells me.

“You can probably ask him,” I say, “I think he’s around right now.”

She frowns and shakes her head. “With my luck, he’s not involved either.”

“Is it actually any good?” I ask her, “really?”

“Oh,” she says, “no, it’s awful, but in a really fun way. They still tell you what they learned at the end of every episode and everything. Here, let me show you this one, it’s really cute.”

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Potato

“Look!” Vector Analysis has a dog. Vector Analysis is not supposed to have a dog yet, she was supposed to have a dog in a month or two months or something. She has a dog now. It’s a border collie like I expected, but it’s still early – is this an extranormal dog? Can it time travel?

I stare at the border collie for a moment, who stares back at me, cocks its head, and tentatively wags its tail. Still suspicious. Then it reaches up a paw to gently pat my knee, and, okay, wow, yes, best doggo, wow, what a good dog. Amaze.

I’m making incoherent doggo-talk at the pupper by the time Vector tells me his name is Potato. Potato! The best dog name! What a good dog you are, Potato, yes you are, yes you are a good dog.

We have become the best of friends.

“Aren’t you going to ask me where I got a dog, Trav?” she laughs, setting down her tray and organizing it a little, whoa, when did she get food, have I been talking to her dog the entire time she’s been getting lunch, okay.

I look up. “Oh? Oh, yeah, where did you get a Potato?”

Vector gives Potato a soft pat, which is not very effective, because I’m afraid I’m monopolizing scritchie time, but we’re getting along really well, for sure.

“You remember the waiting list?” she says.

“Sure, sure,” I agree, patting this great doggo.

“Anyway, I’m not on the regular one,” she adds, “I mean, I wasn’t. It was for the reject dogs –”

“Who rejects a dog?” I ask her, staring wide-eyed in horror.

“Assholes,” she says, then shakes her head. “No, it’s for the ones that don’t conform to show standard. Some of them you can tell right away, some of them it takes weeks – you can even get a dog several months old if it turns out to be the wrong size or just not trainable.”

“Go on,” I say, fluffing up these pointy fluffy ears, and wait, wow, she got me to dogsit this entire time without even asking me, that is so rude, I mean, I was right here the whole time talking to her dog – actually, you know what, she probably did ask me and I just didn’t hear, yeah, that sounds like me, but, really, it’s probably fair to take it as agreement when someone keeps playing with your dog instead of talking to you, because look at this dog, look, will you lookit, what a good doggy yes.

“Anyway, right, I was on this list,” she says, “with no preferences, because you know, pet, what do I care what the breed standards are? Or what kind of junk it has?”

“Potato,” I say, softly, to much tail wagging.

“Which means I was also their go to if any of the older dogs were up for adoption,” she says.

“The ones that are too big or too small?” I clarify.

“Or don’t like being trained,” she agrees, “so they call me up and say they have this puppy, this somewhat older puppy, looking for a home.”

I regard Potato more closely (although I don’t stop with the fluffs and pats), and, yeah, I can see that, a little older than I might have expected for a new puppy. And so fluffy!

“So the story is, this was one of the overflow puppies, just not quite the right color they were looking for, so they sent him off to some family,” she tells me, “and they wanted to know if he’d get along with their other dogs, which he did not.”

I look up. “What? What happened?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know, apparently the other dogs were super happy to have a puppy around, but then Potato doesn’t like the attention? And doesn’t like loud noises? And their other dogs are super loud, so they say, one of them is a chihuahua, you know how noisy they can be.”

I make a sad face, and give Potato gentle pats.

“So they got along at first, but then later not so much, and they think he’d do better in a one-dog household, and you know, I don’t have any other dogs and needed one by Tuesday, so.” She grins.

“Aren’t their other dogs going to be sad the puppy’s gone, though?” I ask, barely managing to pay attention to my words over the puppy mlems.

She shakes her head. “I think they’re taking the puppy I didn’t, so it all works out.”

“Potato,” I say again, and Potato licks my hand.

“Oh, yeah,” Vector tells me, “that’s because he kept curling up, you know, into a potato, and would keep falling asleep like that when they held him. It was a nickname, but now he responds to it, and won’t respond to his old name at all.”

“What was his old name?” I ask.

“I know, right?” she says, “nobody remembered to mention, so I don’t even know, and I bet that’s going to bother me for days, not that it even matters.”

I rest my hands against Potato’s paws where he’s resting them on my legs. “Maybe it was something horrible. Like a slur. Or the brand name of some awful company. Or Juggalo.”

Vector snorts, almost dropping her juice as she struggles not to spit it all over me. I catch it and float it toward the table while she waves her hands in front of her face, turning kind of red.

“You okay?” I ask.

She shakes her head at me. “No, of course not, Travis, what the hell kind of name is that for a dog, why would you say that to me?”

I dip my head ruefully. “I’m sorry, Jules, I won’t do it again.”

“And in front of Potato no less!” she adds.

I nod at the puppy, too. “I’m sorry, Potato. I shouldn’t have said something so terrible.”

Potato gives me a happy little bark.

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No shark

“Travis,” Hunch says, clapping a hand on my shoulder, “come have lunch with me, would you?”

I try to give him a skeptical look, but he’s walking ahead of me, so it’s kind of difficult. “Look, Gene, I appreciate you checking in on me, but honestly my mental health is not that precarious right now, and I don’t need a babysitter.”

He throws a glance over his shoulder. He looks confused. Shit. What have I done now?

“You, uh,” I say, “you heard about what happened?”

“No,” he says, slowly, “what happened?”

I shrug. “Nothing.”

He looks like he’s about to say something about it, but changes his mind, turning back around and heading towards the cafeteria again. “Okay. No, I didn’t want to talk to you about ‘what happened’, I wanted to ask your advice on something.”

“Oh,” I say, and wonder if this is really the best time for him to be asking my advice, “alright. That’s alright.”

The cafeteria is full of dogs.

Hunch glances at me. “Unless you wanted to go out for lunch? My treat.”

I shake my head. “No, I don’t really want to be away that long. I have a lot of, like, paperwork and stuff to catch up on. You know.”

God, I can’t even sound convincing when I’m telling the truth.

“Okay,” he says again, and heads over to pick out some food, “you want to share some onion rings? Or mozzarella sticks, if you want.”

I shrug. “Onion rings are good.”

“Great!” He grins at me. “If I only get half a terrible fried appetizer I can have half a terrible sugary dessert, too.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how eating healthy works,” I tell him, but I had pie for breakfast, so I’m not really one to talk about nutritious dietary selections.

“Uh-huh,” he says, “did you want to split a cheesecake or a tiramisu?”

“Cheesecake,” I say, without thinking, because, again, I’m not one to talk about nutrition. I am one to talk about a good cheesecake, though, just try and stop me.

Anyway, the point is, our lunch selections are in no way healthy, and I’m probably going to feel sick later from eating junk food all day. Maybe I can have a vegetable for dinner.

“So,” he says, “you know about the kid?”

“You’re asking me for parenting advice?” I ask him.

“A little bit,” he says.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” I say. Okay, all these dogs are influencing my speech patterns. This is…all I can think of is ruff, goddamnit. (Life’s a bitch.)

He laughs. It takes a minute to work out that it’s not because of puns. “I mean, it’s not in the strictest sense of – you know I’ve raised three babies before, right?”

“Right,” I say. “What were you asking?”

“You know the kid,” he repeats.

I pick at the onion rings. “By ‘the kid’ do you mean the new baby or Lee?”

Hunch waves a hand. “Both. You know, I’m just introducing the situation, so you have context for my actual question.”

“Okay,” I say, “shoot.”

“Should we get a dog?” he asks.

I blink at him. Then I look around the room. Then I look back at Hunch. I have to wonder whether I heard a different question than he asked. Or whether he’s just as influenced as I am by the dog thoughts. Such pervasive thoughts. What good thoughts, yes they are.

I want to pet every single dog, I swear.

Anyway, because I’m a professional…

“A dog?” I ask.

Hunch nods. “Should we get a dog for Lee?”

I sort of half shrug and make a non-committal noise. “I guess?”

Hunch rolls his eyes. “So the therapist is convinced he’s going to have trouble adjusting, and you know, he’s been a little bit annoyed about it, but I think it’s mostly he doesn’t like how much talking we’re doing about baby things, not that he’s jealous or anything, but she thinks he’ll have an easier time of it if we can get him something of his own to take care of. Hence, the dog.”

“Oh,” I say. “I mean, that sounds reasonable. What do I have to do with it?”

“I mean, you talk to him sometimes, right?” Hunch asks. “Has he been jealous? Does he feel left out? Would a dog actually help?”

“I don’t,” I say, “he doesn’t talk about anything personal really? Mostly he sends me facts about reptiles. It’s not like he complains about you or anything.”

“Reptiles?” Hunch says.

“Reptiles,” I agree, “the kid’s huge into reptiles.”

“He hasn’t said anything,” Hunch says. “He doesn’t even bring up animals unless Mel does.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I say, “this has been a thing for at least a couple years now. I mean, he hardly ever talks about aliens to me, so what do I know. Maybe he thinks I like reptiles?”

“So you think we should get him a snake,” Hunch says.

I stare blankly. “I have no idea where you got that out of what I said.”

Hunch nods. “No, that makes sense. If he likes reptiles, needs a sense of purpose, we can get him a snake. I’ll need to find, uh, someone else to recommend snakes to me, though.”

Oh. I look around. He was planning to interrogate people about their dogs. Well, today’s a good day to do it if you’re going to.

“No emails about the baby?” Hunch asks.

I shake my head. “Like I said, they’re not usually personal? I mean, he sent me an essay he wrote, because the teacher ‘is bad at essays’ and didn’t like it, but that’s about all lately.”

“Was it any good?” Hunch asks.

“It was fine,” I say. “I think some of the teacher’s comments were fair, and some of them weren’t, I don’t know, typical school stuff, really.”

“Lee won’t let us help with homework anymore,” Hunch says, with, what is that, nostalgia? He’s not going to tell me kids grow up so fast next – “A pet might help him with that independence, anyway.”

“Okay,” I say. “Not that it’s probably relevant, and it’s waned a little in frequency, but he really likes sharks, still.”

“Travis, I am not getting my child a shark,” Hunch says. “Where would it even live?”

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All the dogs

So it turns out I didn’t actually have to worry about running into Darren today, because it’s Bring Your Dog to Work Day. I forgot. Which goes to show how fucked up I am today. Anyway, the building’s full of dogs. And I do mean full. What the fuck, does literally everyone have a dog, or…?

As promised, Arsenal has brought his Golden Retriever, an extremely friendly dog who walks right up to me as soon as I walk into the room, wagging and sniffing. What was the name – something sugary – I scratch her behind the ears.

“Marzipan,” Arsenal calls, laughing, “come back here!”

Marzipan, that’s right. “Who’s a good dog? Who is? It’s Marzipan!”

Arsenal is laughing even harder at the fact that his dog has completely defected, deciding to shower me in love instead of him, and is enthusiastically thumping her tail against one of the chairs, making a ping noise with each wag. She stands on my toes, in an effort to lean into the scritchies, but she doesn’t jump on me, so at least I have no trouble staying upright – I feel like she’d be a particularly excited jumper, honestly, and don’t particularly want to be knocked on my ass right now.

Stranglehold also has a dog. I guess he was telling the truth after all – I hope he got a dog because he was actually planning on getting one, not because we teased him about it – which means two thirds of us brought dogs. Damn. Maybe I should’ve borrowed one of P&P’s cats. (Why does no one ever organize a Bring Your Cat to Work Day?)

“He’s not mine,” Stranglehold says.

“What?” I ask.

Stranglehold laughs. “Bas. Basil. He’s not mine, he’s my cousin’s, and they’re just visiting for the week, but he said I could bring Bas in to meet you all. Right, puppy?”

Bas slowly raises one eyebrow in response to the question, but otherwise doesn’t move, contentedly flopped out next to Stranglehold’s chair. He’s a St. Bernard, and big even for one of those (or maybe just fluffy? and he is lying down all stretched out), so I would hope Stranglehold isn’t trying to keep him in an apartment long term. I mean, I don’t know how big where he lives is, but I can’t imagine it’s big enough for a St. Bernard. Don’t these guys need acres to run around in or something?

Marzipan’s gone back to rest her head against Arsenal’s knee.

I point a finger at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

He looks guilty for half a second. “Whatever. It’s just a pep rally. I don’t remotely want to be there, and it’s not like they write down who shows up, you know?”

“They’re wasting school time on a pep rally?” Bartok says, with a snort, walking in with a tiny bundle of curly fluff in her arms. I bet it’s a dog.

I reach out a hand. A tiny nose pokes out. Then two tiny eyes blink at me. It is a dog! Tiny ears perk up, and then a tiny pink tongue bleps out. I try to decide what color to call this sort of brownish-blond. Bronze? No, that’s too metallic. I want to say maybe ‘wheat’ or something, but I’m not sure if that’s actually a dog color.

“You can pet him, you know,” Bartok says.

I do. What a soft friend. I love this tiny dog. I think I’m making those little cartoon eyes, with stars in them and all, because that’s pretty much the face that both Stranglehold and Arsenal are making. Even Marzipan seems interested in the tiny ball of fuzz. (Basil seems to be asleep.)

Our teammates gather around to give the puppy (probably an adult dog, actually) pats and scritches, and it is adorable. It’s a very bonding experience. Even if I can’t quite reach with two other people in the way, very bonding. Bring Your Dog to Work Day is the very best idea for teammate bonding ever, and we should do it constantly. Every day.

“What’s his name?” Stranglehold coos.

“Champagne,” Bartok says.

“Champagne,” the other two repeat, enamored – wait, no, shit, I did it too. Fuck it, fine, this little Champagne dog is now my best friend. I can’t believe I didn’t know Bartok had a dog.

Anise walks in with Laces a minute later, but we all knew he had some sort of almost-Scottie-looking mutt, you can’t get away from the photos, so that’s not quite as surprising. Of course, she looks a lot more like a Scottie in person, which is a little surprising. Maybe it’s the haircut.

This pupper does jump up and down on my feet and legs repeatedly, but she’s tiny, so it’s cute, even though it shouldn’t be, because you’re really supposed to train that out of them aren’t you, but how can you say no to a bouncing doggo? I let her head bop into my hand repeatedly.

Okay, but, we’re seriously being overrun, though. I know for sure Hunch doesn’t have a dog. I’m fairly certain Sass doesn’t have a dog. I have no idea whether Boomerang has a dog. We’re not even going to have room for them all.

Boomerang does indeed have a dog. It’s a multicolored smallish-medium sized creature that looks like someone was brushing static electricity all through its hair, and it wags happily, looking around at all the other dogs, then goes to sit in the far corner away from them, thumping its tail against the wall. With a yawn, it relaxes onto its front paws.

“Everyone, meet Cayenne, the sweetest doggy in the whole world, she’s shy, leave her alone,” Boomerang says, grinning at his dog and tossing over a dog treat.

She leaps up into the air to catch it, wags again, and lies back down.

Ugh, now I want a dog even more.

Then, as if we weren’t outnumbered enough, it turns out Sass actually does have a dog, which is a lab, who is named Chocolate, and they wander in…late? I don’t know. The meeting is full of dogs. There’s no way we’re going to get literally anything done. How do you tell if someone’s late to a meeting where nothing happens? Is that even metaphysically possible?

Anyway, Chocolate the lab, who I did not expect to exist, is also very excitable, and jumps up into my lap to try to sit on me, so I have a dog in my lap the rest of the ‘meeting’.

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Nutmeg

I wake up to Nutmeg bopping my nose, and have to pick her up and set her on the dresser while I pull on, I don’t know, sweatpants and a shirt, I guess, not that my hosts probably give a shit. The shirt is the right size – it might even be my shirt – the sweatpants are too small for me. I don’t know. I’ll ask them where they put my clothes once I’ve had something to eat. Nutmeg climbs from my shoulder to the top of my head.

I carry her in my arms down the stairs, because she’s too lazy to walk down on her own I guess, and she purrs all the way, nuzzling her face against my t-shirt. I manage to trade her for a cup of coffee.

“Was she in your room all night?” Perry asks.

I shrug, sipping the nectar of the gods. Fuck, Perry has good taste.

“How many times did you wake up suffocating,” Priscilla calls, from where she’s making, what is that, French toast? I hope it’s French toast.

“None,” I say.

Priscilla laughs, shaking her head at Perry. “She was probably in with Cinnamon like usual.”

Perry gives Nutmeg a little kiss on the nose and calls her silly, then sets her down on one of the brightly colored pillows that this whole fucking apartment is designed around, I swear, they’re exactly the right accent color in each room, it looks like one of those home design magazines, it’s ridiculous, I’m ruining it with my clothes that don’t fit while everyone else is in designer pajamas. Nutmeg immediately leaves the cat bed and goes to sleep on my foot instead. At least I’m sitting already.

Priscilla brings over a plate of – yes, it is French toast – delicious smelling chocolate and bananas on fried bread, and gives me a kiss on the head. “Comfort food, right, sweetie? You let me know what else you need and I’ll whip it right up.”

“He’s only going to say he needs more coffee,” Perry says.

Priscilla ducks away for a second, and comes back with a carafe, filling both of our cups and giving Perry a kiss too. She’s gone for slightly longer before she comes back with her own cup.

I look at both of their breakfasts, which consist entirely of coffee. Not that I haven’t done that myself on occasion, but still. “Aren’t you eating anything?”

“I’m on a juice cleanse,” Perry says, smugly, then drinks the rest of her coffee like that isn’t even the point, what is she even –

“Honey bunny, it is far too late for breakfast for the rest of us, we ate hours ago, and also, that is not something I eat on mornings where I still want to be able to jog,” Priscilla tells me.

I try to look around for a clock, but it doesn’t fit the décor or whatever, so I settle for just having a pervasive sense of temporal unreality.

Perry frowns slightly. “You’re not going to be late to work, if that’s what you’re wondering. You’ve got some time.”

I look between them. “Why are you still here?”

Perry gives me a look even more scalding than my coffee (bless these two, they always have the very best coffee in the very best state). “I called off today.”

I glance at Priscilla.

“Don’t look at me, I don’t give a fuck about your mental health, sugar,” she says, “I’m just home because the new trainee doesn’t like me and refuses to learn while I’m there.”

“Yeah, I barely care about you, either,” Perry says, “but, whatever, we’re stuck with each other, so I guess it’s this or nothing.”

I wrap her in a hug.

She bumps her head against mine. “You want that piece of key lime?”

I consider it for a moment, stare at my empty plate (even of chocolate; I scraped off the melted chips), and think, fuck it. I’m not so not hungry that I’m definitely not hungry. I can eat pie.

Perry brings the pie. Priscilla brings the coffee back. Nutmeg crawls up into my lap and purrs, very loudly, much too loudly to be unintentional. I don’t feed Nutmeg any pie. At some point, some kind of throw appears around my shoulders. I don’t know who brought it to me.

“You want to talk about it?” Perry asks, finally, when I’m, I don’t know, several hundred cups of coffee in, and Nutmeg is asleep again.

I shake my head.

Priscilla shakes her head back at me. “You probably should, though.”

I open my mouth, close it again. My voice sticks. “Darren and I had a fight.”

“Sweetie. Baby. Cutiekins.” Perry closes her eyes. “That much was fucking obvious.”

I shrug at her.

Priscilla swirls her coffee with a stick of cinnamon. “Yeah, I don’t know, Fox, you show up at our place overnight, I got to think it’s because you don’t want to go home.”

Perry points an accusing finger at me. “We had to go and buy an entire new wardrobe. Literally rebuild your closet from the ground up.”

I look her right in the eye. “No. You really didn’t.”

“Well, you better hope they’re the right size –”

“No, Perry, they will not fit you, I made a point of checking that before I bought them.”

“We can have them tailored.”

They both burst out laughing.

I stare down into the abyss of coffee in front of me. It stares back. “How the fuck do you guys know my sizes in things, anyway?”

Priscilla snorts. “Oh, like this one here doesn’t make me keep a chart with everyone’s sizes, just in case, in case of what, you ask? Nobody knows.”

“It never hurts to be prepared,” Perry agrees.

“Is this why you steal my clothing?” I ask her, “to check size labels?”

“Oh, honey, I just eyeball that,” Priscilla tells me, “you think I could do my job if I couldn’t?”

I frown at her. “You do hair.”

“Oh, if only,” she says. “You do something well one time….”

Perry rolls her eyes at me. “How do you think I manage to buy you something that fits perfectly every single Christmas, then?”

I grin at her. “I’ve never checked to see if they fit. I return them before the sales even start.”

She blows a raspberry at me.

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