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The Dog Days Aren't Over

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Charles could not understand why his mother was so irate this particular morning. The sudden cold was unexpected, but as far as Charles was concerned, not unwelcome by far. In fact, Charles couldn’t wait to catch some of the tantalizing white fluffs on his nose. Little things like that made his mother smile every time and she looked like she needed a smile this morning.

He trotted over to her, short tail wagging ferociously as he whined in excitement. His mother paused, distracted from the small box at her ear, and looked down, blue eyes widening for a moment before she swept her blonde mane from her face.
“I’ll meet you there, Raven, I just need to get Charles into one of his sweaters.”

Charles’ ears perked up at the mention of him and his sweaters and barked, even more excited now. If Raven was going on their walk, and she was Hank’s mom, Hank would be there too! Charles ran in circles around his mother as she crossed their living room and into her bedroom, crouching in front of a small chest on the floor. From it she pulled out a thick, tartan print sweater – thick and fuzzy and perfect for outdoor travel.

Charles sat down patiently in front of her, ready for the removal of his indoor sweater and having it replaced with his outdoor one. If she was pulling that sweater in particular out, it meant it was exceptionally chilly that day. Charles liked how it smelled.
He was a good boy, even when his mother had a moment of struggle with getting his second paw through the sleeve and he was left blind by the sweater being over his head. But he stayed still and she finished pulling his sweater down and scratched under his chin.

“What a good boy, Charles. Look how handsome you are, darling…”

Charles got a treat for being so good.

He loved his mother.

Hank didn’t need a sweater because Hank had one of the thickest, fluffiest coats Charles had ever seen. Atop that, he was large and well-insulated, so he often ended up shaved down when it was warm. Charles gave an excited bark when he caught scent of his friend and his mother, but obediently heeled when his mother tutted at him. Hank’s mother was very nice. She cooed over Charles’ sweater and gave him some nice scratches behind the ear before his own mother led them all down a trail.

:Hank! Hello my friend, how are you doing today?:

Charles wagged his tail and Hank wagged his own in response.

:Good. My winter coat’s finally in, but it’s a little chilly on my paw pads.:

Charles whined in sympathy and agreement. He had fluffy paws, but it wasn’t usually enough.

:Indeed! A bit slippery too, have you noticed? I don’t always catch the hard water in time to avoid—oh my!:

Charles barked several times, looking back at his mother to make sure he had her attention before barking at his original direction.

:Look at him! He’s running so fast!:

Hank was as impressed as he was and offered a bark of his own. The dog in question was running across the parkway, avoiding trees with the ease of waterflow around rocks. He—Charles could smell him even from this distance—was large and lean, sporting clipped ears and short fur. He had no sweater, though, so he must have been very cold.

Something must have been off, though, because both of their mother’s tones were not happy. Not mad, by any means, but like a whine – worried, perhaps.

“Oh my God! Did you see how fast that dog was running, Emma?”

“I saw a collar on him, but where’s his owner?”

Charles felt his mother’s grip tighten on his leash – she tended to pick him up whenever her territorial instincts kicked in, it seemed. Not that Charles truly minded. The other dog was out of sight in no time at all, but Charles could still hear him in the distance. Whatever the dog was running on now…it didn’t sound right to Charles.

More familiar scents joined them, distracting him, as Sean and his fathers appeared from down another path, waving. As much as Charles enjoyed all of them, he could not shake the feeling of wrongness. Charles was a good boy. He always listened to his mother but when a sharp noise, much like a vase shattering, shot through the area – he couldn't ignore it. Emma’s grip had gone slack, distracted by her conversation with Alex and Armando, and Charles was able to yank his leash right from his mother’s hand. He bolted, barking at the top of his lungs as he left everyone behind, bewildered.

“Charles! Charles Xavier! You come back here, young man!”

Charles did not like upsetting his mother, but there was no choice. There were other noises now, growing louder the closer he ran towards the source. Charles barely stopped in time to avoid skidding out across the hardened pond that appeared almost out of nowhere.

But it wasn’t all hard.

Just far enough from the shore was a hole in the hard water – with the dog he’d seen running earlier splashing in the middle of it. Charles’ bark raised to a tone that usually made his mother grimace. He could hear them running in the distance to catch up and, if he wasn’t mistaken, their speed increased at the change of pitch. His mother’s tone was frantic and it made him so very sad to think he’d upset her so much, but he’d known something was wrong. And he’d been right. He couldn’t wait for them, though.
Charles took a tentative step on the hard water, then another, and another. Each step slow, careful, and by the time Charles reached the other dog, he was convinced he would go under any second from exhaustion.

The dog snarled at him when Charles got close enough to properly inspect that hole, but he refused to be deterred.

:Friend! Just keep paddling! We’ll figure a way--:

But the dog was continuing to snarl and even went so far as to snap at him, caught up in his instinct to fight and run and escape. Charles could not get to him this way. He took a risk and lunged forward, taking ahold of the dog by the ratty, greyed collar around his and giving it a hard yank.

:Calm your mind, friend!:

The dog stilled almost immediately, entire body shaking heavily, his paws up on the edge of the hard water. The scent of blood was heavy in the air, the source clearly the other dog’s injured paws. Charles let go of the other’s collar gently.
:I’m sorry, my friend, but I need you to remain calm or you’ll wear yourself out.:

The other dog looked at him, panting, his grey-green eyes narrowed. After a tense moment, the dog huffed.

:You have a point…:

Charles gave a pleased yip and raised his head, barking a few more times to make sure everyone was still coming to him. There was some crashing of tree limbs in the distance, likely Hank’s doing as he had a tendency to just barrel through everything.
“Charles Xavier!”

And his mother was still calling for him. Good, she hadn’t given up on him. Not that Charles would ever think she would.

:Hear, bite onto this and I’ll help pull you out.:

He tugged his leash over and pushed it carefully to the other dog. The larger dog looked over Charles pointedly before he sniffed the leash.

:You do realize how small you are, correct?:

Charles simply raised his head in pride.

:We can do it, my friend, don’t you worry.:

His trapped friend nosed the leash one more time before he sighed.

:Alright, then, Charles Xavier. And for the matter, I am Erik. Not “my friend”. Much less your friend…:

Despite his attitude, Erik lowered his scarred muzzle and took the leash between his very impressive teeth. Charles yipped, pleased that the other was cooperating with his plan and turned, facing the shore. Just in time to see that his mother had reached them. Her voice, already hoarse, faltered when she saw the two of them.

:Alright, Erik…on three. One…two…three!:

Charles began to pull immediately and Emma stayed quiet, Sean’s fathers coming up to stand beside her. Raven was waving her hands and she spoke to them, pointing at the hard ice and Erik, a look of shock on her face. Hank and Sean stood closer to the edge, whining, unsure what to do.

He barked at them in warning. While their help would be greatly appreciated, what if they were too heavy for the hard water like Erik had been?

Charles’ mother crouched down and began to call him in softer tones, using sweet words that made Charles’ tail wag even more ferociously as he worked at helping Erik up. His leash was long and as he got closer to where the water would normally be quite shallow, patches of dirt and dead grass stood out amongst the ice. Charles made sure to use these to his advantage.

The first time Erik slipped, Charles was yanked back and his mother made a noise that hurt Charles’ ears.

:Come on, Erik! We can do it!:

Though larger, Erik was not as heavy as Charles had feared. Then again, Erik’s ribs had been visible when he’d gone running by them on the parkway.

The second time Erik slipped, Charles managed to maintain his footing. The parents sounded more anxious by the minute and Sean and Hank’s tails were tucked between their legs. And Raven was holding Emma tight against her. Charles was grateful – he really did not need his mother to run out on the ice and need to be rescued too, he was starting to grow very tired.

The third splash ended with Charles’ leash going slack and he whipped around, terrified that Erik had finally grown too exhausted to keep trying, but everyone was cheering and Erik was slowly limping over to him. Charles waited for Erik to reach him and walked slowly with him to proper land. At which point Erik finally did collapse. Charles found himself whisked up by his mother while one of Sean’s fathers, Armando, wrapped Erik in his coat and carefully picked him up.

Charles whimpered and nosed his mother’s cheek in apology, but he knew everything was going to be alright.

Emma went between admonishing Charles for not listening to her and praising her “little hero”. It wasn’t the first time she’d called him that.

Charles had been barely a year old when he met his mother. Memories of the grand house he’d been born in and his birth mother had long faded by that point, having been left in a box outside when no one wanted him like they’d wanted his siblings. Charles was a fighter, however, and had survived in the city alleys, finding food wherever he could and even being fed scraps by a kind person every now and then.

Charles met his mother when the smell of blood in one of his favorite alleys caught his attention. He’d found her, hidden by trash bags and cardboard set atop her, and it had taken him a good few minutes to uncover her face. As soon as he had, he nosed her, feeling her weak breath and hearing her heart beating. He knew at once he found the one meant to be his mother.

It had taken a lot of nosings, licking, and whimpering, but Charles managed to wake her up – if just barely. One of her eyes was hurt and couldn’t open, but she’d smiled at him and talked sweetly to him and even rubbed a fingertip against his small nose.
Charles barked at anyone and everyone for nearly two days straight. If Hank and his mother hadn’t come along when they had…Charles still refused to consider such a thing might have been possible.

But he’d begged Hank to help his mother and Hank had pulled his own mother into the alley after them, and Raven was able to help. There’d been a lot of flashing lights and Charles remembered wanting to go with his mother, but Raven took him with her instead. Hank reassured him, at the time, that he needed to get clean before they could go see his mother, whose name was Emma Frost. Hank told Charles, after hearing his mother talking to a friend, that she’d been missing for a couple days after revealing an illegal dog fighting operation that had made big news.

Raven took Charles to Emma after four days. He’d been groomed and was the most fed he’d been since he could remember. His mother was very tired sounding and he could tell she was still hurt, but when he was set on her bed, she let him sniff her and kiss her hand. Emma called him her little hero and named him then and there. Charles Xavier. A regal name for a little pup, but Charles grew into it with pride.

That was four years ago. Since then Charles had been happy, pure and simple and nothing less. His mother grew happier with time and truly appreciated having him. Rarely did she need him to hop in bed with her and kiss away her bad dreams anymore, but she will still pick him up and take him to cuddle with her bed anyways.

Charles has never once minded.

“He’s a handsome one, that’s for sure.”

Charles saw no reason to not agree with his mother’s assessment, wagging his tail against her ankle where she stood beside him. Where Charles was small with fairly short legs, Erik was large and lean with legs clearly made for running. Once fleshed out, Erik would likely retain his small waist, but he’d cut an even more impressive figure. Charles himself was fairly stocky and only regular walks prevented from him becoming excessively plump. Charles’ fur was a dark caramel, as his mother called it, short but thick with a smidgen of curl to it and with the help of a sweater, he was never cold during the winter. Erik’s fur was lighter with a red undertone and was much shorter and finer – he would definitely need a sweater. Especially to keep the scarred spots where his fur couldn’t cover warm.

“I’ll be going out for a little, so you take care of Erik, alright Charles Xavier?”

Charles licked her ankle in response and looked up at her with adoration in his big blue eyes as she scratched his head before she left, locking the door behind her. Emma found Erik’s name on the dented piece of metal that clung to his old collar, which she’d immediately removed as soon as they got in the car. It made speaking to Erik, who had been in and out of consciousness for the past couple of days, a lot easier.

Charles had fallen asleep by the time Erik woke up and the larger dog’s stillness had in turn woken Charles back up. When Charles opened his eyes, he found himself face to muzzle, a curled lip revealing Erik’s impressive set of teeth.

:Why are you--:

The dog was having a difficult time finishing his question and it took Charles a moment to realize it was because Erik wasn’t exactly sure what Charles was doing in the first place.

:You were having a bad dream, Erik. So I thought maybe you needed some company. You quieted down, so I just stayed with you.:

Erik looked away and Charles cocked his head; were dogs able to show a blush, Charles was certain there would be color across Erik’s muzzle.

:Alright, then. Where…am I?:

Charles wagged his tail and got up, stretching himself out and shifting under his indoor sweater. Emma put him in her favorite one, blue like his eyes, she always said. It helped with keeping Erik warm too, when Charles acted as his blanket.

:Home! Mother took you to the doctor first--: Charles nodding at the wraps around Erik’s paws. :--And got you your own food and bed when she brought you home! Feel free to explore, If you’d like.:

Erik raised a dark eyebrow and stood up, taking some time in doing so. Charles tilted his head back to keep his gaze locked with Erik’s, who in turn huffed and lowered his head and nudged Charles’ collar. It was blue, it sparkled, and Charles loved it.

:Not only do you refer to your owner as ‘mother’, you have no problem with another dog in your territory? And atop that, you tell me I can do what I please in here?:

Charles simply nodded again. Erik looked around warily before he set about, smelling everything – starting with Charles, who apparently bemused Erik when he rolled over without much thought and bared his belly.

:I’m only aggressive when I need to be, my friend. And that’s rare enough.:

Erik moved on and Charles jumped onto the foot rest in front of the love seat in the living room and contented himself to watching Erik move from room to room before he eventually made his way back to Charles.

:You’re allowed on the furniture?:

There was thinly veiled amazement in Erik’s voice and Charles stared at the other, quiet for a moment.

:You didn’t have many freedoms, did you? Is that why you ran away?:

Hank often said that Charles had this ability to read a fellow canine just by meeting him. Hank hadn’t had the chance to warm Erik about that, whose response was to stare back at Charles in a manner most taken aback.

:How did you know?:

Charles leaned over the couch edge and gently nosed Erik’s jaw.

:Your questions. Your statements. And you’re not quite like the dogs I grew up with on the streets.:

This gave Erik a means to pause and process Charles’ words and the dog slowly sat down.

:So. You weren’t born into…: Erik looked around. :This.:

Charles scratched himself under the jaw and adjusted his seating, laying his head on his front paws.

:My earliest memories are of a beautiful home. But I was not there long enough to get used to it. I met my mother when I was on the streets.:

:You’re very lucky, then. Not many humans will take a dog off the street without any show of pedigree.:

Charles wagged his tail in complete agreement. He was, indeed, an exceptionally lucky dog.

:Are you really going to leave, Erik?:

It had been nearly two weeks since Erik had been brought home. The first few days Erik spent in unconsciousness but since he’d finally awoken, everyone’s focus – everyone meaning Charles and Emma with Raven helping on occasion – had been on helping Erik get better. Healthier, stronger, and healed up.

Emma was careful around Erik, but remained as kind as ever. She had been on the phone non-stop with Raven and a few other names Charles recognized only as work related. She spoke of abuse, dog fighting, and how a particular branding of numbers on Erik’s front leg was familiar to her. Charles didn’t have to actually hear his mother say it to know that the brand was in some way connected to how he’d found her, battered and bruised, in that alley four years ago.

She’d told Charles to keep Erik company and do his best to make him feel welcome. Charles now wondered if he had taken the wrong approach. Erik stood silent in the partially open penthouse doorway, left as such from Emma coming home with armfuls of shopping bags and not having enough balance to kick the door shut behind her. Erik looked back at Charles.

:How long will it be before your mother tires of a second dog, Charles? How long before you tire of sharing? I have things to do--:

:By yourself, Erik? You’re not alone anymore, Erik. You don’t have to be.:

Erik continued to watch him and Charles sighed, ears falling down slightly.

:I won’t push. If you can get out and you truly want to, I won’t stop you. But, please. Believe me. Mother wants to help you just as much as I do.:

The larger dog looked back forward, at the open and inviting hallway and Charles turned away.

:I’ll be in the kitchen.:

Charles left Erik and went to Emma to take his place on the kitchen floor, watching her organize groceries in her refrigerator. When Erik joined them a few minutes later, Charles didn’t both to stop his tail from wagging as Emma produced a sparkly silver collar with a shiny metal tag reading “Erik” on it. She offered it to Erik, making a delighted noise when Erik sniffed it, sat down, and allowed her to put it on him. Charles nudged Erik’s side, giving a soft bark.

:Welcome to the family, Erik, truly.:

Erik’s tail quivered in a way reminiscent of a wag. Not that he would admit it anytime soon.

EPILOGUE

“Oh, Emma! You actually found a sweater in Erik’s size! Look at you, boy, you’re so handsome! And he matches Charles, oh Emma, they’re precious!”

Thankfully Raven didn’t try to pet Erik at that moment or he might have chomped down on her hand for all her squealing. Well, perhaps not – Charles suspected Erik was quite fond of Raven and the constant attention she gave him, but Erik wasn’t going to come out and say it.

:I still don’t see why I have to wear this.:

Charles leaned more so against Erik and wagged his tail in delight.

:Because your coat is thin to begin with and you still haven’t fully recovered from not having had enough to eat for a long time. Besides, I agree with Raven. You look very handsome.:

Erik looked at all the humans milling about Emma’s penthouse – a few of them also wore ridiculous sweaters, so it did make him feel a bit better. Both of their sweaters were red and green to match the Christmas season and had a delightful dancing reindeer print.

:True enough.:

Erik had fleshed out and adapted wonderfully to their daily schedule. Every now and then Emma would take him out with her to work and Erik would come back, tired and just wanting to cuddle. They’d done so again today, but Erik hadn’t had the chance to nap yet.

:Are you feeling well, Erik?:

Charles gave a small whine and Erik just stood up, stretching and shaking himself out. It was plain to Charles that his companion was starting to get antsy.

:Too many people.:

Without hesitation, Erik bit into the back of Charles’ sweater at the neck and lifted the smaller dog up painlessly and effortlessly. Apparently he’d seen that if Emma can carry him anywhere, he should be able to do the same. They both ignored the cooing noises and collective awws from the humans and went to the bedroom, where it was safe and empty of people.

Erik tossed Charles up onto the soft blankets and joined him, walking in a circle around Charles before laying down, curled around him. Charles stretched out with ease, legs atop Erik’s and yawned. He would never turn down an opportunity to nap - especially if it meant more time with Erik.

Charles tucked his head beneath Erik’s and nuzzled him.

:Sleep well, Erik.:

Erik snuffled against Charles and gave a low, contented growl.

:Always do, Charles.: