JARVIS announces Pepper's arrival moments before his door slid open to reveal her. Tony pushed himself around on his swivel chair and kicked his heels up onto his desk, offering her a suave and flirtatious smoulder. She paused in the doorway, her head tilting as she observed him. She was dressed nicely today, short, thick kitten heels, a comfortable, slightly loose pant-suit and her hair swept back into a curled ponytail. She'd opted for minimal, subtle makeup. Mascara, perhaps a little blush. It made her freckles stand out and he wanted to poke them.
"Stylish" she noted, tapping at her lower temple as an indicator to his glasses. Tony hummed in agreement and swept them off with a lavish movement, observing them briefly before setting them down on his desk.
"They are a nice piece of A.S.S, aren't they?" He remarked in response, just to watch her brows climb. That my-ex-is-an-idiot expression slowly leeching onto her face. That kind of motherly exasperation.
"A.S.S?" She repeated, with the air of someone who really hoped they'd heard wrong. His dazzling, responding grin had her shaking her head, advancing into the room and settling on the other chair he'd taken to keeping in his office. He liked when Pepper stopped by.
"All-Seeking Sight" Tony clarified with a light shrug, fingers drumming on his desk. "I'm working on it. Maybe. It would delight me to see pretentious, rich people roaming around and talking about A.S.S" he revealed, looking wistfully off into a corner. What a world that would be. Although...This was another piece of tech he wasn't even going to consider releasing to the public. Or anyone outside of a select, trusted few. It was too limitless, had too many opportunities for abuse.
"You are a pretentious, rich person" she pointed out, and Tony clicked his tongue, head lolling as he pointed at her.
"Touchè" he remarked easily, accepting the jesting insult with dignity.
"Anyway, there's a reason I'm here. Since I'll be spending the weekend in Los Angeles on your behalf, I need you to watch Vali for the weekend" she announced, flicking her hair over her shoulder and crossing one leg over the other as she pulled out her phone, scrolling along. She didn't so much as blink when Tony flailed, almost kicking his glasses right off the desk. Nor did she react to the look of utter betrayal and horror that he gave her.
"Vali? As in, four legs, drools, a tail? Hairy?" He exclaimed, narrowing his eyes at her. Vali was a nice enough dog, when he was anywhere except in Tony's nice, clean Tower, or his nice, expensive cars. From what Tony could remember, the dog was a pedigree. Expensive, perfectly conformed, probably shit gold or something. Perfectly trained and well mannered, in any case.
"I'm so thrilled you remember what a dog looks like" she monotoned in response, her gaze flicking up to him witheringly, as though he could actually forget. Pepper brought the damned thing to work with her at least once a week, and Tony had sectioned off an entire floor as a 'doggy daycare' (quarantine) for the bastard animal.
"Can't you put him in a kennel or something? With professionals? Who have experience in being responsible for another living being? I'll even pay for it" Tony urged, voice tinging with slight panic. It was not that he was afraid of dogs. Or that Vali was ill-behaved. Tony was just...Hilariously not used to anything relating to a normal life. The closest thing he'd ever had as a pet growing up was a miniscule little spider that had made a home in the west-wing library. Tony had even bribed the cleaners into letting it be, and left the windows open routinely to ensure it had the opportunity for food.
Of course, like all good things in Tony's life, Howard had ended it, swiftly squishing the creature between his forefinger and thumb with a look of distaste, before firing the cleaners.
"I'd much prefer that Vali is with someone he trusts, and someone I trust. Besides. It will be good for you" Pepper replied with an air of finality, and that was how Tony found himself standing in the foyer of the Tower two weeks later, arms folded and staring down at this great beast, that eyed him back with an expression that was decidedly unbothered.
The fucking thing even came with its own bags. And a bed, all of which a gentleman in a suit was busy lugging into the elevator. The man wore an expression similar to Tony's, pained and like he'd rather be anywhere else but here. Pepper was standing before him, tapping furiously on her phone whilst furiously informing him of all the last minute details, as though she hadn't already forwarded Tony several 'Vali's Care' spreadsheets and documents.
"He eats twice a day, with two snacks in between. He'll let you know if he needs the toilet. He'll be fine without a bath for the weekend, but I've packed his brush, his dry shampoo, his eye wipes and his toothbrush, just in case. Don't let him eat anything on the 'No Eating' file, and don't lose him. Its only three days. Two, if you take away the time from me leaving to coming back. You'll both be fine".
Before Tony could argue, she kissed him once on each cheek, then stooped and did the same to Vali, who actually turned his head left and right for the attention.
And then, there was two.
Tony huffed and eyed the animal warily. Dogs were supposed to be one of the 'purest' things on Earth, weren't they? And relatively easy to look after, all things considered. Throw the ball, fill the food bowl, rub the belly. That seemed to be the general consensus for good dog care. Vali was extensively trained by the best that New York had to offer, and was a remarkably docile, quiet specimen.
It would be fine, right? Two walks a day, two meals a day. Tony was perfectly capable of that. On all his other visits, Vali was largely content to snooze in a comfortable spot for most of the day, and had been largely unfazed by Tony's Iron Man antics.
"This will be fine" Tony announced, as though to reassure the dog, which cocked its head at him and blinked demurely. "Right. Uh...Up to home, I guess. Heel?" It came out as a question as he spun on his own heels, marching for the elevator, but the dog pushed to its paws and followed him placidly nonetheless. Tony relaxed a fraction, eyeing the dog curiously as it sat at his leg once more on the journey up. This wasn't so bad. He could do this. Pepper had literally plotted out every single detail of looking after Vali.
The elevator doors opened, but the dog made no move to leave until Tony begun to walk forwards, following close on his heel as he strode towards the small stack of bags that had been left on his Italian rug. Vali was apparently fed a 'species appropriate, raw diet'. Pepper assured him she'd made up his usual meals into a 'grind' that he could just scoop from the tupperwares and into the bowl. It was around mid-day, so Vali wasn't due another meal until the afternoon.
Tony rummaged through the bags as Vali sat patiently, observing him as though assessing him. The tupperwares were in a thermo-chilled bag, and he cleared the bottom shelf of his fridge, stacking them there before he forgot about them and they warmed. Next was Vali's bed, a large and padded thing that Tony deliberated about for a while, before lifting and moving into his bedroom. The other bag was just a handful of toys and grooming supplies. Everything else Vali already had on the designated floor.
"Okay. Unpacked and...Well. Unpacked, I guess. What do we do now?" He mused, gaze shifting to the dog, which had taken to laying down in the same spot. It offered him a bland, unhelpful gaze. "Not the chatty type, got it. I guess a snack couldn't hurt. You don't exactly look overweight, and I can afford a muffin or two" he decided. Pepper had packed two tupperwares of snacks also, and Tony opted for a thick strip of reddish, dried meat. For the dog, of course. His own snack was a chocolate bar.
He paused in deliberation, before wandering to his en suite, grabbing a towel from the rack and draping it over a seat on the couch in the main area of his penthouse, before he took the seat besides it. "Up" he commanded, and the dog complied, hopping elegantly onto the towel and settling into a rather sweet looking laying pose. "If you bite my fingers off, I will be largely displeased" he warned, before offering the treat.
Vali lifted his head, sniffing at the snack before delicately and with utter care, grasping the very edge and taking it from Tony's hand. He blinked in pleased astonishment, and gave the beast a pat atop the head. "Good boy. Wouldn't you agree, J?" He asked, taking a bite of his own snack.
"Most behaved, Sir" JARVIS agreed.
By the end of the night, Tony was smitten. Mostly. He still scrunched his nose in disgust at the odd speck of hair he found, and scooping up fresh dog shit with a tiny plastic bag was not his idea of a fun time, but, still. All things considered.
Vali apparently knew the command 'bed time' and once the final meal and shit-trip of the day were done, Tony commanded the dog to lay in its bed whilst he showered. and it was still there when he stepped out. He offered it the tail-end of a cracker, just for being a good dog, before announcing it was bed time. The dog merely shifted ever so slightly to un-tuck a leg, and heaved a deep sigh as Tony settled under his own sheets.
"Rainy Day Protocol as per, or does our guest have a different preference?" JARVIS asked quietly as the lights begun to dim. Tony considered it for a short while. Rainy Day Protocol was the name of what was essentially a sleep/comfort setting. It controlled the lights, the soundproofing, a background track and temperature, amongst some other preferences, and could be set to the individual. Tony's own preferences included lights at 95%, a soft rainfall background, 85% soundproofing unless it was an emergency, and a rather cool temperature. He found this helped to keep the nightmares at bay, and afforded him a pleasant slumber, here and there.
"As per, J. Sleep tight. No sneaking out to get drunk" he mumbled into his pillow as he rolled over, burying himself away from the world. If JARVIS responded, he was already too far asleep to hear it.
Morning came with the vague notion that something was different, but Tony couldn't quite place it as he rolled out of bed, scrubbing the sleep from his eyes. It only hit him when he stepped on something lumpy and his room filled with an inhuman shriek. He flailed, twisting away from the sound with a panicked expression as he slowly realised he'd stepped on Vali's paw.
Ah, he thought, splayed out on the floor as the animal cast him a betrayed expression. That's what was different. He rolled over onto his knees, offering an apologetic shrug. "Sorry, bud" he cooed, patting him atop the head before leaning down to inspect the assaulted limb. Bar possibly being tender, it didn't appear he'd broken anything, and he blew a breath of relief. Pepper would never let him hear the end of it if he broke her expensive dog on the first day.
"I...Stay? For now. I'm gonna shower" Tony huffed, running a hand through his hair as he schlepped off to the bathroom. He didn't have much to do today. One video conference shortly before lunchtime, and the rest of the day was pretending to work on a project he'd finished two weeks ago. He took his time in the shower, choosing to trust the dog wouldn't chew up one of his Boutin's whilst he lingered.
Leaving the shower found him sitting on the floor of his workshop an hour later, staring across at Vali. "You can tell me" he insisted, holding out his hand. The dog obligingly offered him paw. "I won't tell anyone. Well, I might tell Pepper. But she's your Mother, and I feel like you being able to talk is something she ought to know" he reasoned. The dog made a soft soft chuffing sound and eyed him blandly, like a parent long-sufferingly entertaining their child.
Tony tried it again in Italian. Then French. Then Spanish. As a last ditch attempt he tried Russian, but the dog merely blinked at him demurely, taking its paw back after the third sentence. If the dog was capable at speaking human language, he was very good at hiding it. Tony harumphed and hauled himself to his feet, dusting off his ass and his thighs before checking his watch. The beast had eaten breakfast, and Tony supposed this would be about the time for taking it to the park.
"What do you say, hm? Time for a casual late-morning wander?" He hummed, and the dog gave several casual wags of its tail. It was probably the most excited that Tony had seen the dog since its arrival, and he counted that as a win. "Alright, then. Casual late-morning wander outfit" he muttered, heading for his closet. He settled on a pair of Louboutin sneakers, slim fit jeans and a thick jacket. After a pause for consideration, he added a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap.
His plan hit a bump when he realised he would actually have to put the dog in one of his very expensive cars. He and the dog stood in the middle of the garage floor, eyeing the vast array of vehicles. "Huh" he mused aloud, looking down at the dog, which stood patiently at his side. "Maybe I should invest in a piece of shit car, if this is going to become A Thing" he considered. The dog blinked up at him blandly.
Tony settled on the Lamborghini Spyder, because its interior was easier to clean, and was pleasantly surprised when the animal sat immediately, apparently content to doze away the journey to the park. Tony had expected paws and claws and drool. Instead he got the odd sniff or tail thump as he fired up the engine and the vehicle elevator took them down to the outside world. He drove slower than he usually would, idling in the traffic like a normal person. The last thing he wanted to do was send the dog flying out of the window or something.
The dog park wasn't overly far away, but Tony had time to hum along to several songs by the time they arrived. He drove straight past the dog park and doubled back to a covered parking lot, wanting to hide the vehicle and draw as little attention to himself as possible. Getting out of the vehicle and rounding to collect the dog was an odd sensation, and he stood there for a little while, holding the leash and staring as he tried to figure out what it was.
Normalcy to him was thousand dollar bottles of wine and artificial intelligence and technology embedded in his chest. Normalcy to others was walking the family dog at a public park.
Tony gathered the leash and took a leisurely stroll to the park, pausing at the entrance gate.
FRIENDLY DOGS OFF-LEASH ONLY.
Tony looked down at Vali, who was watching the park with perked ears, but otherwise looked like he might as well be stuffed. "Well. I highly doubt you're gonna run off mauling ankle-biters" Tony reasoned, and stooped to unclip the leash. Vali trotted off ahead of him a short distance, but never strayed so far as to be out of Tony's sight or reach. In fact the dog moved at quite a sedate pace, pausing here and there to sniff a bush or wait for him to catch up. The rest of the dogs were ahead of them by some margin, but Vali didn't seem overly desperate to dive into the fray.
"Ha, Pepper, eat your Louboutins. I can manage a dog" Tony announced to the open air smugly as they walked. It was not seconds later that his phone rang, and he leapt into the air with a yelp. It couldn't be...? Tony tore it from his pocket and regarded the screen suspiciously, before relaxing. It was nothing but one of his assistants. He lived another day without Pepper developing psychic powers.
"Y'ello?" He greeted, swiping the screen to accept the face call. He glanced over the rim of the device. The dog was sniffing at a bush.
"What? No. Why is Oscorp leaving me messages? I explicitly remember stating I'd rather go celibate than work with them".
Another glance. The dog was trotting on ahead, pausing here and there to watch him as he ambled slowly after.
"I don't know, send them a gift basket full of dildos or something. Anything that screams 'go fuck yourself' without actually screaming...Y'know. 'Go fuck yourself'".
Another glance. The dog was gone.
"I'm fairly sure you'd know where to find that many dil- Wait" Tony barked, lowering the phone to look around. The dog was gone.
The dog was gone.
"Just google the fucking dildos. I have to call you back" Tony wheezed, shoving his phone back into his pocket and reeling as he looked around wildly for the dog. Fuck. Pepper was going to kill him. No, she'd do worse than kill him. "Vali?" He called out, voice pitched in panic as he twisted ad turned, looking around. A nearby husky lifted its head to regard him cooly, before resuming its deed of digging a hole in the dirt.
"Fuck. Come on, dog! Here, doggy! Vali, come!" He called in quick succession, speed-walking through the grass towards the bulk of the other animals. Perhaps Vali had finally learned how to be a dog and had gone bounding off to sniff asses or whatever it was dogs did. He called again, and jolted in surprise when a wet nose shoved into his palm, looking down. He almost collapsed in relief when he met wide brown eyes and a lolling tongue.
"Damned beast. Its the reactor that's supposed to give me a heart attack, not a mutt" Tony announced accusingly, stooping to clip the leash on the dog. It danced away from him with a wicked look in its eyes. Tony frowned at it and stepped forwards, extending his hands once more, and the dog darted between his arms and legs, bouncing upon its paws behind him with a bark. Tony twisted, eyeing it warily.
It was definitely Vali. Sleek, groomed, black with brown eyebrows and brown eyes. The same red collar.
"Finally figured out how to dog, huh?" He asked it, head tilting. Vali wagged his tail furiously, and came diving forwards. Tony managed to avoid getting bowled over, and snatched the dog by his collar, attaching the leash with some modicum of desperation. "Alright, alright. Enough walking. Lets get back before I suffer an actual heart attack" he huffed, taking off his glasses to rub at his eyes.
The walk back was nothing like the sedate stroll they had arrived with. Tony felt a little less like he was walking a dog, and a little more like he was being walked by a dog.
The only thing that seemed relatively the same was that the dog sat with some sense of calm in the car, head lolling out of the window and nose twitching endlessly. Tony glanced across with a frown. Pepper hadn't mentioned anything about walks transforming the dog into...Well. What he typically thought of as a dog. He considered texting her, but he didn't want to bother her or worry her, and so he left it, letting the dog off the leash once they had parked in the garage once more.
He scraped a tupperware of Vali's food into his bowl, and watched in vague disgust as the beast consumed it in about three large, sloppy bites. Apparently giving old men near-heart-attacks was hunger building work, and Tony nibbled at his own sandwich as he watched the dog push he bowl around with its nose, licking the silverware until it shone. It immediately joined him at the kitchen island, sitting at his heel and gazing up with huge, hopeful eyes. Tony blinked down at it and the dog lifted one paw morosely. It looked so rather sad, and Tony found himself tearing off a crust, offering it downwards.
Vali damn near took his fingers off taking it, and the beast trotted happily away with its ill-gotten prize, no trace of the pitiful expression. "Swindled by an animal" Tony muttered, and guarded his lunch closely afterward.
Four hours later, Tony was regretting taking the dog outside. It was as though it had awoken something feral within him, or as though the dog had been magically switched through a portal. He missed the docile, silent animal from that morning. Now all Vali wanted to do was eat and play and steal his tools and chew at his shoelaces. Tony tap-swatted the dog away with a rolled up newspaper for the fifth time in as many minutes, waggling a warning finger at it.
"These shoes are worth more than your registration papers. I will have you gelded if you keep biting at them" he warned, and the dog eyed him mulishly before stealing his wrench from the countertop and hauling ass under one of the workbenches. Tony heaved a groan and turned for the elevator. He had long ago learned the dog had apparently acquired the skill of trade, and that if he wanted that wrench back, he would have to offer a treat.
The clack of paws followed him up soon after, when Tony had forgotten about his wrench and the treat and had instead made a mug of coffee, sinking down onto his couch and staring blearily into the distance. The dog was sans wrench, but it did appear calmer, tongue lolling as it approached and sniffed at his knee delicately, before hopping up besides him. Tony lamented the lack of towel between his $4,000 couch and the paws, but said nothing, grunting in greeting and reaching out a hand to fuss the dog atop its head. The beast gave a pleased huff and scooted closer, head dropping to his thigh.
"Back to the normal Vali?" He asked it tiredly, and the dog twitched an ear, eyes closing. It was, apparently, time for a nap. Tony passed some time scratching it around the ears, rubbing at his cheeks and giving it idle pets as he sipped at his coffee. The beast shifted as Tony rubbed at its neck, and the soft clink of the dog tag caught Tony's attention. He wondered what prim and proper message Pepper had left there. What kind of fancy calligraphy the dog's name was engraved in. He found the disk of metal with his fingers and twisted it, until the indented text caught the light and he could read the small, plain lettering.
I WANDER. PLEASE CALL MY DAD.
P. PARKER - 028475966
Peter groaned as an immediate and uncomfortable weight settled on his chest, frowning as he slapped at it. It was too early for this. The weight shifted with a deep, ragged bark, paws digging into his sternum as a decidedly unpleasant puff of hot air skimmed over his face. "Go away" he moaned helplessly, pushing in a futile attempt to shove the weight off him as a pair of bony elbows dug hard into his kidneys.
The only response was another puff of rancid air, another bark, and the weight jolting forwards so that the elbows moved from kidney to stomach. Peter curled over himself and abandoned any hope of further sleep, opening his eyes to stare into the big, dopey pools of brown that blinked at him. "So when I have classes at eight in the week, I have to tip-toe around and not disturb you, but when I get the weekend off an I wanna lay in, you've gotta be busting my kidneys at -" He paused to glance across at the clock on his bedside desk. "- Nine twenty-one? Really? You little asshole" he whined, reaching out to grab a handful of chubby, smiley cheeks and shake them lightly.
"Ugh, alright. Come on then, breakfast time" he announced, and Dog leapt from the bed with more energy than should be legal before 10am on a Saturday. Peter huffed and rolled over, twisting in his sheets to grasp at his phone. He evidently took too long scrolling through his notifications, because a head attached to a displeased expression poked back around his doorframe, and Peter met its gaze over the top of his phone. "Fine" he lamented, tossing his phone aside and clambering out of the bed.
"Get a dog, they said" he huffed, as he begun to stumble towards the kitchen. "It'll be fun, they said. Companionship, they said" he continued, heading for the cupboard where he kept the giant bin of food. "Nobody said shit about the early morning wake-ups". Dog was an impatient shadow as Peter took his bowl from the drying rack and then opened the cupboard, taking the top of the tall bin to grasp the scoop inside. "One day, buddy, I'll earn enough that you can eat properly. Big, juicy steaks. Fresh veggies, chicken feet to help your teeth" he muttered, scooping the kibble into the aluminium bowl.
He knew Dog didn't really care, so long as he was fed. Peter had spent most of Dog's puppyhood pulling him out of the garbage can. And that wasn't to mention the fox shit incident of '17. He made Dog a generous helping, drizzling a little chinese oil for flavour over the top, before setting the bowl down. He'd barely lowered it before Dog was diving, and he stepped out of the way just in time to avoid being headbutted. "You'd swear I fed you once a week" Peter muttered, shaking his head as he stretched and headed for the bathroom.
"I'm going for a shower!" He called over his shoulder as he switched on the water. He made sure to double check he'd locked the door, not wanting yet another invasion, and stepped under the warm spray with a delighted sigh. He tried not to take too long, rinsing himself off and scrubbing a towel through his hair as he pulled open the bathroom door. Dog was sat outside it, tongue lolling and tail wagging the moment he saw his Dad. "Hey, buddy. Breakfast time for me and then we'll head out someplace, yeah? Maybe go see Delmar, huh?" At the mention of his second favourite person Dog gave another of his weird barks, leaping up and down in the hallway.
"Alright, alright! Calm it a little, buddy, before downstairs complains again" Peter laughed, pushing past Dog to find some clothes. He settled on tight jeans, a NASA shirt and a loose zip-up hoodie. Peter always worried about Dog catching his collar on things when he was home alone, so once he'd eaten a quick sandwich and slipped into some sneakers, he approached the coat rack by his front door, where Dog's collar and leash hung from a hook. Dog trotted along besides him, bouncing on the toes of his paws in excitement. Days out were his favourite.
Especially no-obligation Saturdays, where they could go wherever they pleased. Sometimes they took the tube somewhere, and sometimes they just roamed the city close to home. Often they packed a picnic and went to the dog park, lazing away the day whilst Peter did homework or read a book. Dog was pretty good at entertaining himself, and when he became too tired or wanted to relax, he was more than content to sunbathe next to Peter in the grass.
"Alright, buddy. How about we go see Delmar first, pick up some stuff we can eat for lunch, then hit the park, yeah?" Peter hummed as he clipped the leash to the collar. Peter wasn't exactly rich, but he earned enough through his job to afford the odd deli sandwich on top of his bills and other expenses. The few odd jobs he did meant that he could keep his head above water, and that Dog got breakfast and dinner.
The walk to the deli didn't take all that long, though it was made longer by Dog stopping to sniff every other post, every other flower bed. A few people stooped to say hello, and a few gave him the stink eye, but Dog didn't pay it any mind if he knew the difference between looks. And Peter tried not to take it personally on his behalf. He knew that many people had prejudice against certain animals and breeds based on shitty media representation and bias news, so he did his best to smile at them and to usher Dog past.
Dog could sniff the sandwich shop out from a mile away, and begun to drag Peter eagerly through the streets towards the little corner building. Peter huffed a laugh but allowed himself to be walked, the door propped open when they arrived and Dog steamed on ahead of him towards the counter. Delmar was wrapping a sandwich when Dog did his best attempt at a loud bark for attention, and the man turned with a broad grin.
"Ah, el bueno perro! And his young padre!" Delmar greeted, abandoning his task and motioning for Marino to take over as he rounded the counter and stooped, ruffling the fur at Dog's shoulders. "Is it Saturday already?" He joked, scrubbing at Dog's ears before he rose. "The usual?" He asked, dusting his hands off his pants before he headed for the sink to wash them properly. Peter gave a nod, shortening the leash to avoid Dog leaping up against the counter. He needn't have worried though, because Dog merely roamed around to the open side and promptly sat, tail sweeping the floor and tongue out as he intently watched his meal being prepared.
"So, my favourite customers. What's the plan for today, huh? Terrorise the neighbourhood? Chase some sweet girls around the park?" He asked, glancing across at Dog, who wiggled a little and gave a soft wahwuff sound. Peter cast Delmar an awkward 'oops' look.
"I had him snipped last year, so hopefully he doesn't land me in dirty water for providing puppy support. But I think for now we're gonna hit the park, eat some lunch, maybe see about visiting Ned on the way home" Peter shrugged, casting a fond look across at his companion. It was only when he noticed an empty space on the countertop usually occupied by another four-legged character that he piped up again.
"No Murph today?" He asked curiously. The fat, furry feline was almost always lounging in a little cat bed on the far counter, surveying what he deemed to be his kingdom with only vague interest. Delmar glanced across, then shook his head.
"Not today. The little idiot decided to fall asleep against the space heater last night, and is now at home nursing a bandaged tail. And yet, he looks at me as though it is my fault" the man mused, finishing their orders. And, yeah. Peter had been on the receiving end of such looks before.
"Kids" he lamented, flashing a grin. "Always blaming their parents".
Ten minutes later they were on their way again, Peter tucking their lunches into his backpack as they begun the long stroll to the park. Along the way the Stark Tower loomed on the horizon, and Peter paused a while to stare at it longingly. God, Stark. He loved everything about that name. Always had. Or, well. Mostly always. Like many, the whole war mogul thing wasn't exactly on his list of reasons for admiring the man.
Peter stooped next to Dog, ruffling his fur and pointing towards the Tower. "Someday, buddy. We'll be living like that. Well...Maybe not exactly like that, but I'll be rich and we'll have the coolest house in Queens. You can eat all the food you want and have all the toys you want. Maybe I'll even get you a brother" he mused, and Dog gave a soft grunt in response, before tugging impatiently to move onwards.
The park was relatively busy when they arrived, but it wasn't crowded. Peter could see a husky and a golden retriever, some small white thing with a round face, a mutt-type dog that was busy shredding apart a ball. A few other dogs roamed in the distance, too far for Peter to really see them, and Dog begun to strain at the leash, making a series of whuffy sounds as they slipped through the gate "Alright, buddy. Remember: no biting, no stealing, no humping, no bullying, and no running away where I can't see you" Peter reminded him, ducking down to unclip him.
Dog immediately begun to leap around, running tight circles and doubling back on himself, running to each tree and post in their vicinity. Peter kept an eye on him but was mostly content to pull out his phone, scrolling through his emails. One of his 'odd jobs' was helping people fix their tech, and he had a response to one of his craiglist ads, a sweet sounding woman who needed help with software on her laptop. He made sure to keep an eye on Dog as he typed a response, and he found a clean space of grass a way aways into the park, settling there.
He glanced up to find Dog still trotting around, invested in exploring every inch of the park nearby, and he looked down, pulling up his latest Google tab. He wasn't ashamed to admit that he sort of stalked Tony Stark. At least in the way of keeping up with him on social media. But...Wasn't that just being a fan? In general? He found an article from yesterday that hinted the man would be attending a charity Gala in the upcoming week, and was invested in the following images of Tony's past outfits as the author guessed at what he would wear to the event.
It felt terribly like being a 2000's teenage girl, stalking Joe Jonas through gossip magazine articles, but Peter couldn't help himself. He almost forgot where he was, and looked up with a jolt. God, how long had he been reading? He had no idea, and panic begun to sour in his throat when he couldn't immediately find Dog. And then on another sweeping glance he found him, a little further than expected but still generally close by, and Peter relaxed with a groan. God.
This is why he didn't want actual children. Knowing his luck he'd leave it on the bus or something.
Peter tucked his phone away and shrugged his backpack on with a sigh, pushing to his feet and beginning the trudge over to where Dog was currently nosing at a bush. He was halfway there when (presumably) the husky he'd spotted earlier came barrelling over, ears up and tongue flopping as it bounced circles around him. It evidently wanted to play, and Peter offered it a friendly grin, stooping to extend a hand. He was always up for making friends, especially of the canine persuasion.
"Oh my god, Cooper" came a groaned voice from off to the side, and Peter looked up to see a frazzled looking man hurrying over, a leash tangling around his legs as he tried to catch up with his dog. "I'm so sorry about this, he's harmless. He just likes meeting people" he guy placated, and Peter shrugged his shoulders with an easy smile, scratching at the dog's ear gently.
"Ah, no harm. He's a pretty dude. Mine is terrible for running off in pursuit of friends" Peter soothed, pushing to his feet as the guy grasped at his dog with a look of fond exasperation.
"He's only a year old. Damned fast, though. I wanted something small, something quiet. As close to a cat as I could get, y'know? Easy to look after, don't have to walk it far because small legs tire out quicker. The wife wanted something sleek, something pretty. So we compromised. And by that, I mean we got something sleek and pretty" the man wheezed as he clipped the leash, giving the dog a fond clap on the rump.
"Yours run away too?" the guy asked, gesturing to the leash dangling from Peter's pocket. Peter shook his head and turned, making to point towards the bush. Except...Dog wasn't there anymore. Peter twisted, gaze brushing over a tall man in a baseball cap and his dog, before it passed on. Then doubled back. Hang on. That was Dog!
Peter opened his mouth to yell, except a blob of brown came into his vision, and he looked across, immediately relaxing. Dog wasn't being kidnapped. "That's mine" he replied, gesturing to where Dog was emptying his bladder against a tree.
"Big 'un" the guy whistled, wrestling with his dog. "Don't envy you how much that guy must eat. Well, it was nice meeting you. gotta get this one home before he runs away with another family or something". Peter said a friendly goodbye and shrugged off his backpack, keeping a close eye on Dog as he rummaged for their lunch.
"Hey, Dog! Come get!" He called, whistling loudly. Dog's head lifted, ears twitching, and turned to gaze at him, but didn't move. Peter frowned and whistled again. "Dog! Come here!" He commanded. Dog took a single step forwards, but didn't look to be coming any closer, and Peter sighed. So it was one of those stubborn moments again, huh? He made sure to keep Dog in his sight, but reached for the animal's sandwich and unwrapped it, before holding it out towards him.
"See? Lunch!" He coaxed, waggling the offering. This seemed to do the trick, because Dog came padding demurely over, head stretching forwards to sniff at the meal. Peter frowned slightly. Dog would normally bowl him over and maul him at the prospect of a Delmar sandwich. "Tired out, buddy?" He asked sympathetically, adjusting his gaze on the sandwich so that Dog could take a bite.
Perhaps he'd eaten something again, or wasn't feeling that great today? Or perhaps...? Peter's gaze lifted, but the man in the cap was gone, and then he shook his head at himself. No, that was ridiculous. Dogs weren't like goldfish, you couldn't just grab the wrong one. Besides, it was clearly Dog. He had the same wide, wholesome eyes and the same red collar. Peter had saved for months to get him a high-quality one.
Peter let Dog eat his sandwich before he dusted off his hands and clipped the leash, standing. "Okay, buddy. If you're tuckered out, we'll go home. Maybe we can come back out in the evening, yeah?" He hummed, and made to walk off. Except Dog refused to budge, head turned towards the gate. "Hey, buddy. Home time" he repeated, firmer, and Dog glanced between him and the gate a few times more, before reluctantly walking alongside him. Dog walked rather sedately, head up and ears alert but not his usual game of tug-the-leash.
Peter's frown deepened.
Dog was still rather demure when they got home, but he perked up a little more than before, roaming the house and sniffing everything, leaping onto the couch and then off. Peter figured that maybe Dog had just run around too much on a full stomach, and vowed to give him his dinner a bit later than normal, to see if it helped. "Maybe we outta start leaving more time between breakfast and going out, huh?" He suggested as he toed off his shoes, padding further into his apartment.
He grabbed a glass of soda and begun his sandwich, mildly surprised when Dog didn't immediately try to guilt him out of any. Instead, Dog padded in and lay down at his feet, jaw resting atop his paws. Peter watched him as he chewed thoughtfully. The only time Dog had ever been so sedate as this was when he'd gotten sick as a two year old. A gruelling internal infection that had left him morose and huffy.
Perhaps he ought to phone the vet? He could afford a consultation, at the least. And Dog had insurance, so if he was getting sick again, then they should be fine for it. But...Dog had been perfectly fine this morning. So why now, of all times? Had it been the walk?
Peter reached down and fussed Dog gently between the shoulderblades, dusting the crumbs off his other hand. "C'mon, buddy. Let's lay in bed for a bit, huh? Maybe you just have to nap off a heavy food baby, yeah?" He coaxed, rising. Dog rose with him and followed along. Did dogs get headaches? Maybe Dog just had a headache. Peter kicked of his jeans and hoodie and slid under the covers. He was half expecting Dog to do his usual, to leap up before he was half-under and to incite a wrestle for the duvet, but no.
Peter settled and rolled over, looking across at Dog, who was sat besides his bed, eyeing him with that bland expression. "...Up?" Peter questioned, and Dog blinked at him for a beat longer, before gracefully leaping atop the bed, settling near the bottom of it in a neat ball. Peter pushed himself up onto his elbows, his mind ticking over. After a pause, Peter crawled forwards, settling on his stomach opposite Dog, with his chin on one forearm as the other came up, fussing at Dog's face gently.
It was up close that he noticed them. The small differences. If Dog's behaviour hadn't been a clue before then the minute imperfections - or lack thereof - was enough to settle it for him. "You're not Dog, are you?" He whispered, and the animal blinked across at him, almost sadly. Peter let his hand slide from the dog's cheek to around his neck, feeling along the collar until he grasped at the tag, and pulled it gently around. Dog's collar wasn't engraved in neat calligraphy. And that was not his number.
My name is Vali.
If found, please contact my owner.