Jake was not happy. At all.
Once, in his vague doggy memory, he had had an owner. A kind, loving owner that fed him tasty scraps and threw balls for him to fetch and scratched his ears. Jake couldn't remember his owner's face, but he did remember her voice and her scent, and some part of him was always on the lookout for those. They'd been together for a long time, Jake and his owner, on grassy fields, in metal hallways, in cold frozen mud.
And then his owner had gone away.
She just… left. Jake didn't know where she went. All he knew was she didn't come out anymore, and she didn't give him anything to eat or to drink or scratch his ears or play. No one untied him, and he was left in that frozen mud, tail thumping on the hard cold ground as he waited for her.
She never came.
Others came, though. Children who gave him things to eat, an old man who gave him water and patted him on the head. "She'll get out," the man kept saying. "They'll let her out or we'll get her out, when those toasters go." Jake didn't understand the words at all, but he did understand the kind hand on his head. But that man didn't play, didn't linger. He just kept Jake alive.
But there were others. A tall, big man and a smaller one, both who insisted on turning his water bowl over and who scratched his ears. The water bowl game was a strange one that Jake didn't really understand, but the ear scratching more than made up for it.
The big man didn't linger, but the smaller one did. He talked to Jake. Jake didn't know what those sounds coming out of his mouth were supposed to mean, except for a few, but he liked the way the man pet him and scratched where he itched, and he could tell that the man liked him. He'd sit, sometimes, hunkered down on a rock, and Jake would lay his head on his thigh and close his eyes as the man scratched his ears.
Then the noises and the confusion and the running came, and Jake was on his own again.
They were back in the metal. Jake didn't like the metal hallways or the stale air, but what choice did he have? Nowhere seemed to have grass or mud or dirt. But there were people, and Jake got by.
Jake did a lot of getting by.
The thing was, although he was fed and tolerated, there wasn't anyone who wanted him. Jake wasn't the brightest bulb in the bunch, but he knew that. And hey, that was okay, those people? None of them were his owner. And sometimes he played with children who threw balls, and sometimes he got special treats, and water was easy enough to come by, so after a while, other lives and other places faded into blobs in Jake's memory.
Then there was this guy.
Somehow, Jake had gotten a new owner. He wasn't sure how that had happened, but he was sure he didn't like the idea. Sure, the guy remembered to give him food and water and walked him, but it took more than that to be an owner. To start- no, to sum up- this guy smelled all wrong. The smell of him made Jake's hair stand on end and the growls begin deep in his throat, because this guy smelled like cat.
They didn't like each other. Jake could just tell that the feeling was mutual. He had his side of the room, and the guy- the guy who muttered a lot and smelled like cat- had his side. And as far as Jake was concerned, he could stay there. He lay on the cold floor, head in his paws, and glared.
"Come on, then," the man (not owner) said to him. Jake got to his feet and followed, because the man fed him and really, what could he do? It was a command, and Jake had learned that much.
He followed along the halls, and then into one of those tiny boxes. He didn't like that; too cramped, even more than a room. The man turned his face to him- Jake couldn't see the eyes- but there was no desire for Jake to put his head in his lap. More like a silent stay away.
"We're going," the man informed Jake when they got out of the box.
They were in a new place. Jake didn't know this place, and it smelled different. His ears and tail perked up, and he was interested in spite of himself. Someplace new had to be something.
The man led him through a maze of corridors. Jake didn't care; there was too much to sniff and explore. Lots of new scents, new people, new… new everything. His tail sped up, wagging.
Finally, the man came to a door and stopped. He made a gesture and Jake sat down, but he started whining. A door. What was behind that door? Grass? Mud? The outside? Doors were good, Jake remembered. They opened to world of sunshine and light and things to chase.
"All right," the man said to Jake. "When I open the door, you go in. Right? And then we'll be rid of each other. You got that, you mutt?"
Jake had no idea what that meant, but he banged his tail against the metal floor. The door was going to open.
The man opened the door, and there was no rush of air or burst of light. But there was something… a smell he recognized. Jake sniffed the air again, and then headed in. Yes. He knew that smell, from cold mud and scratched ears and the water bowl game. He homed in on it, heading towards it.
Yes. There was a man there. Jake bounded over. The man was lying down, but that was just as well. Jake jumped up to the bed, paws on the man's shoulders, licking his face enthusiastically. Yes, this was the same man.
The not-owner was saying something, but Jake didn't care. The man was starting to scratch Jake's ears. It felt wonderful. Jake sat down, reveling in the contact and the soothing of an itch. He leaned his head against the man, inhaling the right smell and the fact that there was no more cat. And while the man clearly wanted Jake to move, he didn't actually push Jake off the bed, like the evil cat-loving-not-owner would have done.
The door banged shut. Jake turned at the sound. The not-owner was gone. Without him.
The man looked at him. "Frak," he said.
Jake just thumped his tail on the bed and leaned on him. He was pretty sure he'd finally found a new owner.
It wasn't that easy. Jake didn't fully understand, but what he could sense was a terrible sadness coming off the man. But Jake understands sadness, and he doesn't leave the man's bed that night. The man tosses and turns and grumbles and swears, but he lets Jake stay.
The problem, of course, comes when Jake has to pee.
He knows not to do it in the man's bed. He might have done it in not-owner's bed, but this man… Jake wants his approval desperately. So he leaves his warm nest of blankets and jumps down to the cold floor, pads over to the door and whines.
"What?" the man mutters, and then sighs heavily. "You've got to be kidding me."
Actually, no. And now that Jake wasn't laying down, the need to pee NOW feeling was just getting worse. It wasn't like he planned these things out in advance.
The man sighed and struggled to sit up. Jake didn't understand why he was so slow. And why he was going for a stick. He needed to pee, not chase a stick. But the man didn't throw the stick. He leaned on it, dragging the rest of his body with him. And he moved slow.
Finally, he opened the door. Jake wanted to bolt and find a place, but… it was all just metal hallways and nothing else.
"Huh," the man said. "Well where….?"
It wasn't the bed, Jake figured, and he really had to go. And after, he felt a lot better.
"Oh, frak!" The man saw it. Jake trembled back, suddenly wary. Humans hit. But the man just sighed. "I should have… frak. I should have thought about that before."
Jake whimpered and thumped his tail against the floor, and the man sighed. He looked weak, Jake realized on some deep level. Weak and sick. "Not your fault, boy," he said. "I should have been able to move quicker. FRAK!"
The man moved slowly across the room. It took forever. Jake watched him anxiously. The stick kept him up, and he wouldn't let go. He looked worse as he moved, and he struggled. Jake could see that. He whined again, but the man ignored him. Instead, he continued to mumble under his breath. He opened a locker and pulled out a rag, and then moved so slowly over to where Jake peed.
It took forever for the man to lower himself to the ground. It didn't look like it was easy, either. Jake watched, whimpering. But finally, the man lowered himself and cleaned up the puddle. He was making noises, too. He threw the rag against the wall and it landed in a trash can.
"I suppose you need something to drink," the man said. He dragged himself across the room again and found a bowl. Jake sat up, interested. The man moved across the room, and then there was the familiar sound of running water. When the bowl was put down in front of him, Jake leaned over and lapped it up. The cool water felt so good, and it had been a long time since he'd had something to drink. He finished, then looked up at the man expectantly. The man stared down at him, not saying anything.
Jake put a paw on the edge of the bowl and knocked it over. It whirled crazily for a minute, and then he nudged it all the way over with his nose. Because this man had liked that game, right?
"Oh. My. Gods," the man said, and moved over to his bed. He sat down slowly, buried his face in his hands, and his shoulders began to shake. Jake watched him for a moment, and when he didn't stop, went over and nosed his way under the man's arms.
The man didn't stop crying. He just bent over, and now Jake knew exactly what was happening, because he'd seen his owner do this before. He nudged closer, licking the man's face and then laying his head in his lap. The man's arm dropped around Jake's neck.
Jake ended up sleeping on the man's bed, keeping his foot warm. It was a good place to sleep, and Jake was sure he'd found a new home.
He woke up in the morning to the sound of his new owner moving. Jake popped his head up, looking around the room eagerly. And to his delight, his owner had a new toy.
"All right," his owner said. "Let's see how this works." He didn't look happy at all, but he was sitting in a chair with wheels.
Jake ran over and sniffed the wheels.
"Don't pee on it," his owner told him. "All right. Let's see what we can make of this." He pushed on the wheels and the chair moved.
Jake barked approvingly, wagging his tail.
"Right. You would get excited about this." The chair rolled towards the door. His owner stopped it, and then turned one wheel. The chair turned. Jake barked again.
"Okay," his owner said, taking a deep breath. "I can do this. Right."
Jake dashed over to the door. Shiny new toys aside, he really had to pee. His owner came over in the chair and opened the door.
"Next question. Where do we get to?" his owner muttered, looking up and down the halls. He was silent, and then snapped his fingers. "Let's go, Jake," he ordered.
Jake fell into step beside the chair, happily trotting along beside his new owner. His owner was muttering things under his breath, but the chair moved and they moved together, and oh wow, Jake really had to- he lifted his leg.
"No!" his owner said sharply. "Not on the Admiral's doorway!"
Oh. Jake didn't understand what an Admiral was, but he certainly understood no. He backed away sheepishly, but now he really had to-
There. He dashed over and lifted his leg.
"ARGH! Who the frak let a dog in here?"
The person he'd peed on (their own damn fault- he was marking something else) looked around. If she was a dog, she'd be bristling right now. Jake backed away and growled at her.
"Hello, Starbuck," his owner said. "Having a good day?"
"Is this your dog, Gaeta?"
"Actually, yes. It is."
The woman growled at his owner. Jake growled back at her, and that made her start. She looked from him to his owner, and then started laughing. "Well, guess so. You can clean my boots, then, Gaeta."
"Can't, actually. Doctor's orders." His tone was a growl of its own.
"Whatever," she said, and retreated. It wasn't a concession of dominance, Jake realized, but a distraction. He growled at her retreating back, but was startled to feel his owner's fingers scratching the scruff of his neck.
"Good boy," his owner said, laughing. "Good boy."
By the time they were back to the room his new owner was tired. Jake could see that. He bounded into the room and jumped into bed, wagging his tail. But his owner didn't take the hint. Instead, he set about doing things. Human things. Whatever. Jake decided to enjoy the bed.
There was a knock at the door. His owner ignored it, but Jake perked up, ears forward, eager to see who was coming. Someone was yelling, and Jake barked happily.
His owner sighed and opened the door.
On the other side was a woman, who was carrying something that smelled like… disgusting, but Jake knew it was all he was going to get. This, then, was a friend. He bounded out of the bed to investigate.
"This is Jake," his owner was saying. "And it's more like he got me. Poor boy."
Jake sat down, eyeing the plates that the woman was holding. She was saying something to his owner, and his owner was talking back. But then she put one of the plates down, and before Jake could go to it, scratched his ears. "I'm glad you have a friend," she said. Then she let him go, and Jake could make for the plate. He gobbled his meal down, filling the sharp hunger lingering in his belly, and then gulped down the fresh water his owner set out for him.
The girl stayed a while to talk, but Jake retreated back to the bed. He turned around and found his spot, and settled down into it. He had food, he had water, he had an owner with a nice voice who didn't smell like cat and wanted Jake around. Life was going to be good.
He was sure of it that night, when his owner climbed into the bed and pet him. "You're a pain in the ass, you know that?" his owner said. "Because of you, I'm going to have to do this. I'm going to have to get better."
Jake didn't know what that meant, but he understood the affectionate tone and let out a little yip. The man laughed and patted him.
"Good night, Jake. Some day, I'll be really glad you're here."
Jake already was.