“I know, pal, I know I'm ridiculously late, I'm sorry! I'm so fucking sorry!” Gabriel dumped his briefcase, coat and jacket on the floor right beside the door, grabbed the leash from the coat rack, and immediately ducked back out of the apartment to the delighted barking of his four-legged companion. Gabriel snapped on the leash in the elevator, and a short trip later the small dog was happily conducting what was no doubt urgent business in the flower beds outside his apartment building.
Gabriel sighed. “I am the worst dog owner in the world right now, I know,” he mumbled, half to the dog and half to himself. “Hey, how about a late trip to the park, and some chili dogs to make up for it, huh?”
The word park never failed to elicit anything but an ecstatic response, so off they went. Ten minutes later Gabriel was making pornographic sounds around a chili dog with everything on it, and feeding consolatory sausages to his neglected dog. It really was late. The hot dog stand was closing, the park was almost empty, with only a couple of entwined teens still hovering in the dusk, and Gabriel felt nearly sick with how his poor dog always got the short end of the stick when it came to his work.
Speaking of sticks...
“Yeah, sure thing, buddy,” Gabriel smirked, took the branch he was offered and threw it as far as he could, snickering at the ball of flappy ears and wagging tail his dog was immediately reduced to. But before the terrier could close his teeth around the stick, a large, long-haired dog caught it in mid-air and lumbered off with it. Gabriel jogged up to his dog, who was looking forlornly at the stick practically walking out of his life.
“Aw, man, I'm so sorry!” came a voice from off to the side. “Bones gets a little over-excited about sticks sometimes.”
Gabriel turned to deliver a heartfelt “no shit” but the words died when he saw only a broad chest where he'd expected a face. In fact, his eyes had to travel quite a distance upwards before meeting apologetic eyes.
“Does your dog like tennis balls? I got this for Bones, but he couldn't care less.” Gabriel would have replied to that too, but before he got around to it his terrier noticed the ball in the tall guy's hand, and promptly forgot any sort of dignity he might once have had. He barked, drooled, jumped, panted and generally made it very obvious that yes, he would really really like that ball, thank you very much!
“Heh, I think you got your answer,” Gabriel smiled and raised impressed eyebrows when the stranger flung the ball halfway across the park. The terrier was off like a shot, but the larger dog only cast a brief glance after it, before proudly presenting Gabriel with the stick.
“Oh, you expect me to throw it again, do you? Thief...” Gabriel wasn't even very resistant to puppy eyes from his own dog, much less this shaggy oaf, who was obviously an Olympic champion. “All right, jeez, turn off those eyes, please, I'm begging you!”
The tall stranger laughed, watching the stick fly across the grass like a boomerang. “All's well that ends well, I guess,” he offered, looking down at Gabriel in a friendly way that made it seem to Gabriel like he wasn't being looked down on at all.
“Yeah, I guess. Gabriel,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Sam.” They shook just in time for both dogs to come bouncing back for another turn, this time at least returning their prizes to their respective owners.
“So what are you doing at the park this late? Sure, nothing like a late walk to help clear the study-funk, but I thought I was the only starving student dumb enough to have a dog,” Sam said.
Gabriel cast him a glance. “Starving? Hardly. You're like a goddamn mountain,” to which Sam merely shrugged. “And it's totally cute how you think I'm young enough to still be in school, but no, not a student. I'm sucking up.”
“Yeah. I got caught up at work. Got home almost two hours later than usual. I feel like a total shithead for it, too. A roommate or a wife I could at least have called and explained, but man's best friend? He's a freakin' champion for not pissing all over my apartment.”
Sam nodded. “What's his name?”
“Star Wars?” Sam asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Gabriel threw the ball again before answering. “Shoes,” and then added in an undertone. “...and Star Wars,” which made Sam grin. “And what about your shag pile carpet of a dog? Did you say his name was Bones?”
“So, what, he's into ribs?”
“No more than most dogs, I think. No, I'm afraid it's more me being into TV.”
Gabriel gave an exaggerated squint at the long haired, long eared dog. “Hmm. He does pull off Brennan's hairdo pretty well. You'd make a horrible Booth, though.”
Sam laughed. “And I suppose you're Han Solo, then?”
“Pfft, well of course! Just picture me with a blaster, kid! Plus, I got that roguish charm, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Sam snickered.
“So... how does a self-professed starving student end up with a huge mutt, anyway?”Gabriel asked a few rounds of fetch later.
“Well, he wasn't that big when I got him. I found him tied to a dumpster behind the coffee shop I work at, all dirty and thin. When I took him to the pound, they told me they would probably have to end up putting him down because they were way over capacity. Especially since he wasn't a pure breed of any recognizable kind, and he almost wasn't a puppy anymore... I just couldn't let them do that.”
Sam sighed. “I tried to find a home for him, but I was new in the city myself, and at the time calling my family was out. So I kept him. The pound was able to arrange for him to be neutered, but that was it. So he stayed with me. At least my roommates don't mind him.”
He cast a sidelong glance at Gabriel. “Not something a hard-working man like yourself needs to put up with.”
“Nope. But it does get lonely. Hence: man's best friend. Or more accurately, the shoe-eating monster from hell,” Gabriel smirked. “I lost so many pairs to his teething as a puppy. Thank god he grew out of it, mostly. Nowadays he only does it when he thinks I'm being a dick. I won't be at all surprised if I come home tonight to find my boots in tatters.”
“Well, one could argue that you deserve it this time.”
“Hey, whose side are you on, anyway?” Gabriel protested, pointing a finger at Sam in mock-affront.
“I plan to become a lawyer, so I side with whoever hires me,” Sam said smugly.
“Typical,” Gabriel huffed and threw the stick Bones yet again provided him with. Chewie, meanwhile, had apparently decided that Sam was his new favorite human, if how he was bouncing around his legs was any indication. When Sam crouched down to rub Chewie's ears, the terrier wagged his tail so hard his entire body followed the motions. Sam smiled at the dog's antics, and Gabriel took the chance to look Sam over since he was briefly at a more manageable height.
The guy was tall, but clearly young. Early twenties maybe. His hair was as shaggy as his dog's, but shiny and wavy in a way that caught Gabriel's eye. And considering he was in school, it was simply unfair how fit he looked. All in all, Sam was gorgeous, and Gabriel had to remind himself that he was way too old to make a pass at the boy to avoid spitting out something wildly flirtatious. Clearly, he desperately needed to get laid as well as cut down on his work.
“What do you do, exactly?”
Sam's question jerked Gabriel out of his musings, and he was pathetically grateful for the game of fetch having kept him from zoning out completely. “I run a company. Well, co-run with my brothers. I could spend an hour explaining how it works, but basically we make money into more money.”
“So you're loaded?” Sam shot him a dimpled grin from under his bangs, and Gabriel had to swallow and take a breath before answering. Sam really was stupidly handsome.
“I guess. Not that I really have time to spend much.” Watching Chewie squirm happily under Sam's hands, a thought suddenly occurred to Gabriel. “What do you do, then? You said something about a coffee shop?”
“Only part time. Not really enough to pay the bills. I have a part scholarship, but it's tough keeping afloat. I sometimes help out at an auto-shop too, but only when they're busy.” Sam shrugged and smiled, as if to say that it was okay, but Gabriel knew the deal. He'd never lacked for anything himself, being a complete trust-fund baby, but he'd had friends who were a lot worse off. Sam's jeans were worn and patched, the rest of his clothes were whole but looked second-hand. And while Bones seemed healthy, it was unlikely Sam would be able to afford a vet if something should happen to him.
The solution seemed so simple all of a sudden.
“Want a job?”
Sam blinked at him. “What?”
“Look, it's obvious,” Gabriel explained. “I need more time, you need more money, so let's join forces. Let me hire you as my dog walker. Chewie already adores you, and if you live nearby, it's not like you'll have a long commute.”
“Really?” Sam stood up and Gabriel could feel his neck creak slightly from how far he had to bend back to keep eye contact.
“Sure. Whatever you're making from the other places, I'll pay double. Triple if you'll pick up my dry-cleaning and stuff sometimes.”
Sam shuffled awkwardly. “Look, I don't need your charity–”
“Charity, my ass. My dog needs attention I can't give him, and he clearly thinks you hung the moon, so take the job and make everybody happy.”
Gabriel could see Sam wavering and couldn't help but roll his eyes.
“Oh, give it a rest kiddo. I know you're not stupid, so just accept that you have a commodity I need and take the offer of a ridiculously well-paid job. Besides,” he added as an afterthought, “if I pay you enough, maybe you won't steal my stuff.”
Sam huffed out a surprised laugh. “I promise I won't steal your stuff.”
“Then that's settled,” Gabriel stated firmly. “I'll walk Chewie every morning before I go to work. You get to earn your wages by feeding him and walking him twice more every day.”
“O...kay,” Sam said, looking a little shell-shocked.
“Awesome. When can you start?”
“Cool. If you got time now I can show you where I live and get you a key and stuff.”
Gabriel threw the stick one last time, and while Bones came back with it Gabriel clipped the leash back on Chewie, and started walking away. Sam was a little slow to catch up. Gabriel didn't turn around to look, but he suspected that Sam needed a breath or two to let it sink in that he'd just been head-hunted. Gabriel smirked to himself. He'd always had that effect on people, his mind and his mouth running too fast for others to keep up. But Sam was clever and seemed more than capable of fending for himself, so Gabriel decided to trust him to speak up if he had issues with Gabriel's way of solving their mutual problems.
A few seconds later he heard the crunching of the gravel path behind him as Sam's long legs caught up with him easily. Bones proudly carried the stick with him, and the trip to Gabriel's home was spent in comfortable silence. Sam looked up at the building with wide eyes. “Nice place.”
“Funny, I've gotten so used to hearing my snooty brothers rag on me for living in such a shitty neighborhood it's refreshing to hear some appreciation,” Gabriel snickered.
“Do you like it here?”
Gabriel pondered the question while they ambled inside and waited for the elevator. “Yeah,” he admitted. “I moved here straight out of college. The park is close by, all the junk-food places here know my name and... well. It's home.”
“Then screw what they think,” Sam smiled. Gabriel smiled back and told his suddenly thumping heart sternly to calm the fuck down. Just because Sam was a starry-eyed youth with simple views of right and wrong was no reason to get carried away.
When they exited the elevator and got to Gabriel's door, Sam stopped dead. “Woah!” He pointed at the name on the door. “You're one of the Miltons? The Miltons?!”
Gabriel winced. “Yeah. 'Fraid so. Don't hold it against me.”
“Oh, it's not that! It's just- Wow. I spend like 90% of my lecture time in the Milton wing. It's a little surreal.” He followed Gabriel inside, casting a last glance at the sign before closing the door behind them and taking the leash off Bones. “I'm guessing it was your dad who donated that?”
“Hah!” Gabriel huffed bitterly. “No, my dad never did much of anything. That wing was my brother Michael's idea.” He paused in the middle of the hallway, looking at his shoes, remembering. “You know... he donated that wing right after my graduation.”
“Oh. That's nice.”
“No, not really.” Gabriel swallowed hard. “He told me he'd donate that wing if I graduated in the top five percent of all my classes.”
“I'm sure he only meant to motivate you,” Sam said quietly.
Gabriel shook his head without looking away from his feet. “I could have bought that if he hadn't also told the entire school administration, my professors and anyone else who'd listen. The motivation was... more than adequate.” He had no idea why he'd suddenly told Sam this. Hell, he'd only just met the kid, and here he was letting out his sob stories. “Sorry, I didn't mean to go all emo on you,” he winced.
When he looked up, Sam's eyes were sympathetic, not pitying like he'd expected. “Don't worry about it. Though you'll have to forgive me for saying this, but Michael sure seems like a dick.”
Surprised, Gabriel laughed. “You have no idea. Between him and my other brother Luke, every day at work is pretty much Clash of the Titans. They both seem to think they're top dog so all I do is pretty much damage control. It's a nightmare.”
“Then why don't you quit?”
Gabriel stilled at the unexpected question, and for a while he just stood there, watching the dogs sniffing each other. “It's not that simple,” he said eventually. “It's family.”
“Yeah, I know all about that,” Sam said, a definite note of bitterness is his voice.
Something Sam said earlier suddenly made sense to Gabriel. “You ran away from your folks?”
Sam's eyes widened and he swallowed. Gabriel cursed himself for being so blunt, but Sam recovered quickly. “Yeah. My dad. He wasn't... abusive or anything, but he couldn't understand why anyone would want anything more out of life than a stint in the marines, an auto shop and small-town living.”
Gabriel nodded. He had suffered a similar problem himself, only in reverse, scripted as it was for him to join the family corporation regardless of his own wishes. He'd never had the balls to bail for real, though, so his admiration for Sam was only increasing. Starry-eyed or not, Sam was coping with the brutal realities of life to support his choice. And Gabriel could only applaud that.
“Well, I think that's enough sharing and caring for now, don't you think?”
Sam nodded firmly, and Gabriel congratulated himself on successfully lifting the mood.
“Moving on, then! Chewie will take his dinner anytime, he's not big on routine as long as there's a walk afterwards. Kibble is in this bucket here, one scoop a day. And before you ask, yes, I can afford better stuff, but he just won't eat it. Guess he's as big a fan of junk food as I am.”
“Well, people do say that dogs reflect their owners.”
Turning to look at the dogs, Gabriel snorted. “God, I hope not.” Chewie was busy licking his own ass, and Bones was following every tongue-swipe with his eyes as if it was the most interesting thing he'd ever seen. Sam laughed, and Gabriel cursed himself yet again, because those things in his stomach felt distressingly like butterflies. Sam had a really nice laugh, but dammit, Gabriel was too old for this. He should definitely go find someone his own age to play with. He decided then and there to accept the next invitation to one of Michael's uppity cocktail parties. And by god, he would mingle.
“I still think you're paying me way too much for this,” Sam muttered, cutting into Gabriel's introspection.
“If it bothers you that much, I'll write up a contract that says I own your ass, how's that?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Maybe not go that far. But having my employment on paper would still be nice.”
“Consider it done. I'll throw in some vague allusions to additional work duties for the sake of your sanity, okay?”
Sam looked so pathetically relieved that Gabriel nearly reconsidered paying him so much. But he could so very easily afford it, and dammit he couldn't help but care. Sam was just so nice, and he really needed new jeans, and maybe if he could afford some decent ones they would sit more snugly on his hips and-
Yeah. Gabriel really needed to get laid. Pronto.