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A Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates

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Cover by hermine.

Earth. Possible not-so-distant future.

Sheppard always showed up out of the blue, which infuriated Rodney sometimes. Just because he would put his life on hold without warning to spend a few days with Sheppard didn't mean he liked making it obvious by doing it. He did have some dignity, he reminded himself as he pulled into the small part of the driveway Sheppard wasn't hogging with his huge truck ("Your dick isn't that small," Rodney had said the first time Sheppard had come chug-chugging into the driveway with it, though he didn't have the heart to give him too much crap, because they both knew it was a poor substitute for a puddle jumper).

Later that night, when Sheppard was grinning in his lap and Rodney was biting his lip so he wouldn't beg, Rodney decided dignity could take a flying leap.

Sheppard always left out of the blue, too. It was inevitable that sooner or later, Rodney would come home from work one evening and Sheppard's truck would be gone, along with his beat-up duffle bag and his few measly belongings. He never left anything behind. No toothbrush, no books, not even a single T-shirt (unless one got mixed up with Rodney's in the laundry, which was completely an accident, and Rodney only slept in it because it was comfortable).

Sheppard came and went, and when and where he went exactly was a mystery. He just disappeared.

So Rodney wasn't really surprised when it happened this time. It didn't bother him.

Rodney set his briefcase on the kitchen table and thought about microwave dinners; he'd planned to actually cook something, but with Sheppard gone again, it seemed pointless to spend that much time making that much food. Maybe some macaroni and cheese instead, or a can of Beef-A-Roni.

He was searching for the can opener when the door banged open and Sheppard walked in, carrying a puppy.

"I got a dog," he said, in the casual way most people would say, "I changed my shampoo," or something else that didn't involve a huge time commitment and inevitable heartbreak involving euthanasia. He held up a floppy-eared bundle of yellow fuzz and grinned.

"I don't want a dog," Rodney said, clutching the Chef Boy-R-Dee. It was inconceivable that Sheppard would travel around doing his lonely, wandering hero act with a puppy, which meant he intended to leave it with Rodney, which was maddening. Sheppard was impulsive and unpredictable, and he was never around for more than a few days at a time, and now he was going to dump this dog here and Rodney would have to feed it and walk it and take it to the vet….

"This is Rodney," Sheppard told the dog, right before he shoved it at Rodney's face, so close they both went cross-eyed. "Give Rodney a kiss." The dog immediately and enthusiastically started licking Rodney's nose.

"God!" Rodney retreated, flailing, and nearly gave himself a black eye with the Beef-A-Roni. "Do you know how many different kinds of bacteria are found in a dog's mouth?" he asked, rubbing his face with the back of his hand.

Sheppard set the yellow fuzz down on the floor, where it sat crookedly on its haunches and looked up at Rodney.

"I suppose it's too much to hope it's already house-broken," he said.

"It's a she, not an it," Sheppard said. "Her name's Summer."

Summer tilted her head and barked once at Rodney, high-pitched and full of reproach.

"Just what I need," Rodney sighed. "Someone else around here to give me attitude."

"See? She fits in already," Sheppard said, pleased. He sat down on the floor and immediately began instilling bad habits in the animal by allowing it to chew on the sleeve of his jacket. After he left, it would take Rodney weeks to undo the damage.

He sighed again and put away the Beef-A-Roni.

Sheppard had been considerate enough to buy a small fortune's worth of supplies and toys, which he unloaded from the truck while Rodney made dinner and the puppy destroyed a stray sock she found in the bathroom (Rodney's, of course).

When the beef stroganoff was done, Rodney broke Sheppard's heart by insisting they put Summer in her kennel while they ate. Sheppard and the dog spent the meal gazing longingly at each other, and for a while Rodney was curious to see who would break and start whining first.

It was the puppy, but probably not by much.

Once the dinner mess was cleaned up, Sheppard and Summer were finally--noisily, joyously--reunited. If Rodney hadn't known better, he would have sworn they'd been separated for days.

He slumped on the couch, staring unhappily at the TV as Sheppard played with the dog on the floor. Summer was already wearing her new pink collar. It was decorated with rhinestones, incredibly tacky, and absolutely the kind of thing Sheppard would choose for her.

Sheppard kept looking at him expectantly, and twice invited Rodney down onto the floor with them. "Sure, because I was just thinking this morning how much I'd love a backache," Rodney said the first time. He didn't bother to reply the second.

When he'd pulled in the driveway, he'd expected to find the usual note on the kitchen table ("See ya"). He hadn't expected this at all, and was honestly questioning which was worse.

Not taking the hint in the least, Sheppard flopped down on the couch, Summer clutched under one arm like a football. His T-shirt was peppered with tiny puppy teeth holes. "What's your problem?" he asked, as he and the puppy looked at Rodney with matching expressions of guileless curiosity.

"My problem is a dog is a lot of work," Rodney said, glowering at them both.

Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "And?"

"And she's not sleeping on the bed," Rodney added, knowing that particular battle was probably already lost. Sheppard nodded at him with an air of badly feigned innocence, and buried his face in the puppy's neck.

"My dog ran away when I was a kid," Rodney said, quieter.

Sheppard's voice was muffled by puppy fur. "This one won't."

It was a stupid thing to say, and even stupider that Rodney wanted to believe it. "Really? Did the two of you discuss it in the car on the way home?" He glared at Sheppard, but Sheppard wasn't looking at him. Was purposely not looking at him, and Rodney thought he knew why.

A dog meant giving up on ever going back to Atlantis. They both knew it was already a fact, but neither of them had faced it, not really. They were still acting as if life on Earth was only temporary.

Sheppard in particular had been treating it like some kind of extended leave. He didn't have a place to live or an actual job or even a phone number. He just drove around in that ridiculous truck, rescuing stray cats, or defending the honor of the rancher's daughter, or whatever it was handsome drifters did. He had no ties here at all, except the tenuous one between the two of them, and sometimes Rodney wondered if even that was anything more than a fantasy.

But if Sheppard had bought this dog, he probably didn't intend to leave the planet without it, if the complete adoration on his face was any indication. He was staying. He was giving up.

And even worse, he was acting like Rodney's refusal to give up, and Rodney's ambivalence toward the dog, were somehow a rejection of him. Which was just ludicrous, because even Sheppard--who, now that he had seen Atlantis and met aliens and flown spaceships, seemed to view happy committed relationships as one of the last remaining urban legends, along with Bigfoot--had to know how Rodney felt.

Sheppard scratched Summer's chin and cleared his throat. Then he cleared his throat again and said, "I just thought. You know." He ended with a shrug, and looked sort of ... crushed.

And that was when Rodney started to suspect Bigfoot was on his own.

He reached for the puppy, which clambered into his lap and nestled against his belly with a happy sigh as he stroked his hand down her back. She felt good. Warm and soft and trusting. Sheppard was watching him, waiting.

Rodney's heart felt like it had seized up and would never beat again. "You got us a dog," he said hesitantly.

He wasn't wrong. Sheppard grinned at him and wrapped puppy-bitten fingers around the back of Rodney's neck. "I got us a dog," he said against Rodney's mouth.

The End