Faraday doesn't immediately notice when the two strangers wander up their driveway because he's locked in a battle of wills with Teddy.
"Okay, seriously? Seriously? Let it go. I can't throw the damn thing if you won't let me have it, kid. That's not how this works. Gimme it! Just gimme the damn Frisbee! Jesus!"
Teddy, because he's just as much of an asshole as the rest of his pack mates, chooses the exact moment when Faraday's mid-tug to finally release his grip on the toy, and the resulting absence of force from his direction sends Faraday catapulting onto his ass with a heavy thump. "Damnit, Teddy!" He barks, having landed mere inches away from a set of thorny looking bushes. "Think you're funny, do you?"
Not at all chastised, Teddy dances back and forth in front of him, yapping happily, and from off to the side comes a distinctive wolfish snicker - indicating Alejandro is enjoying the show.
Craning his neck around, Faraday glares at the older were. "Laugh all you want, fuzzball," he says darkly, "but I suggest you remember that I have more ways to get revenge on you than I do him."
From where he's lying sprawled on his side in the sun, Alejandro thumps his tail a few times and endeavours to look innocent. Faraday doesn't buy it for a second, and is about to tell him so when someone clears their throat in front of him.
"Huh?" Surprised, Faraday turns back around and finds they have unexpected company in the form of an older man and a woman about his own age. "Uh, can I help you?"
He looks around for a vehicle and his confusion only grows when he fails to spot one. They're far enough off the beaten track that no one would walk here by accident, and these two look more than a little lost.
"I hope so," the man says. He points back behind him, possibly to indicate the direction from which he and his companion had come. "We found ourselves breaking down about a mile away and both our cellphones chose a terrible time to die. Any chance you could help us call for a tow?"
"Uh, sure," Faraday says, only belatedly realizing he's still sitting on the ground. Blushing, he scrambles to his feet. "There're plenty of phones down at the house. I'm sure we can get you folks sorted out." He gestures with one hand, but neither of their visitors makes a move to follow him.
"Sorry," the woman says when he raises an eyebrow at them. "It's just - are the dogs friendly?"
Faraday blinks and then can't quite hold back a laugh. "You mean these two?" He asks, encapsulating both Teddy and Alejandro with a wave of his hand. "They're harmless, not a mean bone in their bodies. Hush, you," he adds when Alejandro makes an affronted noise behind him.
The man looks satisfied with Faraday's assurance, but he thinks the woman isn't convinced. Still, that's not his problem, so he shrugs and starts heading for the house, moving slow enough at first that the newcomers can catch up and fall into step beside him. "You folks from around here?" He asks in a weak attempt to make conversation.
The man shakes his head. "No, we're in town visiting my sister, or we're supposed to be that is. The car trouble's made us a little late, I'm afraid. I'm Thomas, by the way, and this is my daughter, Rosemary."
"Joshua," Faraday replies, tipping his head at them. He's not surprised to hear the two are related. There's a family resemblance now that he knows to look for it.
Thomas grins a little, "And what are your furry friends called?"
"Hmm? Oh." Faraday glances as back at where Teddy is now happily shredding his Frisbee into bite sized pieces - there went the third one this month - and notes that Alejandro has decided to follow them, slinking up close until he can nose at Faraday's arm, clearly seeking attention. "The young fella's called Teddy, and this big brute is Alejandro."
"He's gorgeous," Thomas acknowledges, nodding at Alejandro. "Though, if you don't mind my saying, that's a hell of a name for a dog."
Alejandro pulls up short to give Thomas the wolf equivalent of a glare, and Faraday bites back the urge to groan. Enough time in the pack's company always makes it clear they're not normal dogs, which is fine if it's someone they trust, and an entirely different story when it's a complete stranger. In an effort to subtly remind Alejandro of this, Faraday reaches back and tweaks one of his ears, earning himself the barest graze of teeth over his fingers for his troubles. "Jackass," Faraday says fondly, pulling away before Alejandro can nip him again.
Rosemary shudders from where she's watching the exchange with a wary frown. "No offence, but I wouldn’t want any part of me near that thing's mouth."
Her father gives her an embarrassed look. "How about you try not to insult the man who's doing us a huge favour, Rosie? Or his dog for that matter?"
"Sorry," Rosemary mumbles, her face flushing.
Faraday, who had in fact been about to protest Alejandro being referred to as a 'thing', deigns to accept her apology. "S'all good," he says. "Though you’re doin’ him a disservice. He wouldn’t hurt anyone unless provoked."
They've reached the house by this point, and Emma chooses now to materialize through the front door as if she's been summoned - or, as is more likely, as if she's been watching them approach through the living room window. "Who're your friends, Joshua?"
"Just a couple of lost travellers," he tells her, indicating Thomas and Rosemary with a wave of his hand. "They need a phone to call a tow truck."
"What, they couldn't get cell service?" She asks, and Faraday rolls his eyes. Some days paranoia and Emma went hand and hand.
"Obviously not," he replies, "and they need the number to call too. Just let 'em use the landline."
"Fine," she grumbles. She turns around and heads back inside the house. "It's this way." She calls over her shoulder.
"Right, thanks." Thomas says, hurrying after her. "You coming, Rosie?"
"I think I'll wait outside, thanks." She decides.
Faraday's a little surprised - if dogs make her uncomfortable, why stay out where there's one Alejandro’s size right by her feet - but doesn't comment, choosing instead to settle himself down on the porch steps and stretch his right leg out in front of him. It has a tendency to act up if he stays on it for too long, so he may as well treat it right while he's got nothing else to do.
Cautiously, Rosemary settles herself down beside him. "Your, uh, wife doesn't much look like she wants company."
Faraday lets out a choking noise against his will, one that Alejandro echoes from where's he's down on the ground and investigating something in Emma's flower garden. "My what?" He asks. "Lady, have you got the wrong idea."
"Oh, sorry," Rosemary says, clearly flustered. "I just assumed - she was wearing a wedding ring and everything."
"Well, I didn't give it to her." Faraday says sharply, more sharply than he'd intended to be honest. He's not about tell this woman he barely knows that Emma'd lost her husband little more than a year ago, but nor is he about to be confused for having entered into marital bliss with her either. "I assure you, Emma and I are certainly not together."
"Oh," Rosemary says again, less flustered and more ... something Faraday can't place. "But you live here too?"
Personal questions much, lady? Faraday thinks but doesn't say aloud. He shrugs instead. "We're cousins," he lies. "I got hurt at work a few months back, and she let me stay here while I was recoverin’."
Alejandro snorts from somewhere in the depths of Emma's sunflowers. Faraday has no idea what he might have found to interest himself in there, and distantly hopes whatever it is isn't alive.
"That was nice of her," Rosemary says, apparently determined to make polite if inane conversation until the end. "Are the dogs hers, then, or yours?"
Faraday shrugs. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Alejandro re-emerge from the garden, thankfully without anything in his mouth. "Depends on which dog you mean."
"So one belongs to you, and one belongs to her?"
Faraday gives her a sharp grin. "That would work if there were only two dogs."
Rosemary's eyebrows go up. "There are more of them?" She asks, not sounding happy about the prospect.
"There are more of them," Faraday admits, gleefully pleased as he does so. "Wanna guess how many in total?"
"Four." She suggests, and Faraday has the sense she thinks she’s going to one-up him with this.
He snorts in return. "Not even close."
"You're kidding." Her eyebrows now verging on connecting with her hairline, Rosemary shakes her head and looks around suspiciously, as if she’s half expecting to be jumped by rabid animals at any moment. "How many, then?"
"Eight." He says, and laughs when her eyes go wide.
"That is too many dogs." She says firmly, even though now she's laughing too. "Especially if they're all as big as this one." She adds, pointing a finger at Alejandro.
"They run the gamut, actually. You've seen the smallest and largest." Distantly, he notes that Teddy has vanished from his earlier position. Hopefully, wherever he is, he’s behaving himself.
Rosemary laughs again. Shuffling a little closer to him, she gives him a grin. "You still haven't answered my first question. Are any of them yours?"
Wishing he could move back a bit, but prevented from doing so by the porch railing, Faraday racks his brain for a suitable answer that won't have him sleeping on the couch tonight. "Well, I mean," he stutters. "It's such a complicated thing - dog ownership. Can any of us really say we own - Jesus fuck!"
He lets out a whoop as Alejandro scrambles up from somewhere and tries to bodily squirm into his lap. "What in hell's name?" He starts, groaning when a heavy paw digs into his kidneys. "Shove off, would you?"
"Thinks he's a lapdog, does he?" Rosemary asks, and for some reason she gives Alejandro a dirty look, even though he’s not touching her.
"Not usually," Faraday grits out, paying only a little attention to her because he's busy trying without success to wrestle Alejandro off him. He's used to Red and Teddy climbing all over him at the drop of a hat, but Alejandro doesn't do this and he weighs more than they do to boot.
Finally, with enough pushing and tugging, Faraday gets him mostly down, though he's still got his muzzle resting in Faraday's lap, big brown eyes looking up at him balefully. "S'matter, handsome?" Faraday asks, scratching gently behind his ears. "Somethin' got your back up?"
Alejandro makes a contented rumbling noise as Faraday keeps up his ministrations, and then casually flicks an ear in Rosemary's direction. It's a subtle gesture, one nobody who didn't know what he was would even think twice about, but Faraday can read it just fine. Apparently Alejandro wants their company to go away now.
Faraday glances over at Rosemary, who really is sitting too close for his comfort, and also seems to be gearing herself up for something.
"Will he let me pet him?" She asks, raising a tentative hand.
It's on the tip of his tongue to give her an affirmative, simply because he's used to the pack accepting pats and scratches and rubs like it's their due, so he's surprised to say the least when Alejandro's ears go flat and he lets out a short growl that nevertheless makes it clear he's going to bite if she tries to touch him.
"Hey!" Faraday snaps, startled. He grabs Alejandro by the scruff of his neck and shakes him. "What's with the attitude, big guy? Sorry," he adds, giving Rosemary an apologetic shrug before turning back to peer at Alejandro in confusion. "This is not normal behaviour for him."
Rosemary pulls her hand back like it's been burned and then scoots away across the steps for added measure. "Well," she says tightly, "I've heard that dogs can get jealous when their people don't pay enough attention to them. Maybe he doesn't like you talking to me."
Or maybe he doesn't like you talking to me, Faraday thinks as a belated lightbulb goes off in his head. He turns an incredulous state on Alejandro, who doesn't even have the grace to look ashamed.
You idiot, Faraday thinks fondly, leaning forward for a few seconds so he can bury his face in Alejandro's thick coat. "You're ridiculous, sweetheart" he says, hoping the fur is enough to muffle his words and keep Rosemary from understanding them.
Not bothered in the slightest, Alejandro pulls back from his grasp and climbs nimbly up the steps to where he can plant himself between Faraday and Rosemary, the entirety of his bulk providing a solid barrier that neither of them can get around. Since he has no desire to do so anyway, Faraday doesn't care, but Rosemary's resulting pout makes it clear she'd rather Alejandro was anywhere else right now.
"Let me guess," she says tartly, “this one is yours."
"He's mine and I'm his," Faraday chuckles, ruffling Alejandro's fur. "Even if he is dumb as a brick sometimes," he adds pointedly.
Alejandro nudges at him with one front paw, an obvious demand for Faraday to keep doing what he's doing, and then has the audacity to flick his tail up and catch Rosemary in the face with it.
"He's also somethin' of an unrepentant asshole," Faraday acknowledges when he sees this happen.
Rosemary gives him an unimpressed look as she climbs down off the porch. "I can see that. I think I'll give him some space."
Faraday shrugs and doesn't try to stop her. "Not a dog person, are you?" He asks as she goes.
"I prefer cats." She admits, and Alejandro lets out a dismissive snort, as if to show how not surprised he is to hear this.
"Well, you won't find any of those around here," a voice says. Emma raises an eyebrow when they all move to look at her. "Well, you won't," she says again. She holds the door open, allowing Thomas to follow her through it.
"The tow truck's been called," he tells his daughter, "and Emma here's been kind enough to offer us a ride back to the car. I figure we may as well head out now."
Rosemary wrinkles her nose. "How long of a wait are we talking about here?"
"I have no idea," he admits, "but I don't want to risk it showing up and us not being there so we should get going."
Emma shakes a set of keys Faraday hadn't realized she was holding, and points to where her car is sitting in the driveway. "That one's mine, and unless you want one of the dogs trying to climb in over you when they realize someone's going for a drive, we should get moving."
She and Thomas carefully make their way down the stairs - the care necessitated by the roadblock Alejandro is currently acting as - and onto the lawn. "I swear to god, I've never seen a bigger dog in all my life," Thomas says. "Oh, but you're a handsome fella," he adds, bending down and burying both his hands in Alejandro's fur before anyone can stop him. "That you are."
"Dad, don't!" Rosemary protests, but there's no need for it. Alejandro, the utter bastard that he is, takes the impromptu belly rub as his due, and his tongue lolls out of his mouth as he preens under the attention.
Thomas looks over at his daughter. "Something wrong, Rosie?" He asks.
Safely out of the old man's line of sight, Alejandro gives Rosemary a mocking look that's easy enough to decipher despite it being on a canine face, and Rosemary, her hand raised to pull her father back out of Alejandro's reach, slowly lowers the appendage in question. "No, nothing," she says after the silence has stretched on a moment too long. "I just didn't think he was overly friendly."
"Who, Alejandro?" Emma asks. She's jiggling her keys back and forth in her hands, obviously anxious to get going. "He's probably the friendliest one here, except maybe Goody, who you haven't met. Absolutely loves people."
"Huh," says Rosemary, and Faraday doesn't think he's imagining that she looks a little offended. "You could have fooled me."
"Rosie doesn't really get on with dogs." Thomas explains when Emma looks confused.
"Liking dogs isn't a requirement to go through life with." Rosemary says firmly.
"It is around here," Faraday shoots back. He still has one arm curled around Alejandro in a deliberate move to make his position known, and Rosemary gives him an expression that's much frostier than her previous ones.
"Some people have no taste," she says.
"And on that note." Thomas yanks his hands away from Alejandro's coat and nods at her. "We should head out before Emma decides she'd rather see us walking back to the car. Joshua," he adds, giving Faraday a friendly nod, "thanks for your help."
Faraday nods in return and watches as the three of them climb into the car and drive off. He keeps his eyes on the bend in the road where the car could last be seen, even as he feels fur receding under his touch. "You," he says smugly, "just made a jealous ass of yourself."
"Did not," Alejandro mutters. His voice comes out in a gravelly register, like it always does when he's recently shifted, and he rubs his cheek against Faraday's thigh where his head is still pillowed in his lap.
"Did too." Faraday replies, not bothering to hold back his laughter. He idly brings up a hand and lets his fingers trail through Alejandro’s hair, catching on the dark curls as they go. “And you weren’t subtle about it.”
Alejandro lets out a contented humming noise, but otherwise doesn’t react.
“You’re going to fall if you keep lying on the stairs like this,” Faraday says then, noting how Alejandro’s position has gotten more precarious now that he’s a different shape than he was before.
“You’ll catch me before that happens.” Alejandro determines.
“Are you sure about that?” Faraday asks. “What if Rosemary comes back and whisks me away?”
Alejandro looks up at this, both of his eyes narrowed dangerously. “If she comes back, I will bite her for real.”
“Not nice, sweetheart.” Faraday chides, poking him lightly on the forehead. “She didn’t do anythin’ wrong.”
“She was practically in your lap!”
Faraday huffs out a laugh and pokes him again. “Pretty sure that was you, big guy. Hell, I’m pretty sure that’s still you.”
Alejandro makes a face at him. “Yes, but that’s me. I am allowed be here. Strange women are not.”
“Well, I do know what one I prefer.” Faraday says, and then he falls silent, waiting for the inevitable response.
It doesn’t take long, as Alejandro lasts all of five seconds before he reaches up and prods Faraday in the solar plexus with a bony finger. “You prefer me, yes?” When Faraday doesn’t answer, he jabs him again. “Joshua!”
Faraday wheezes a little – the second poke had been fairly sharp – and catches Alejandro’s hand before he can repeat himself a third time. “Yes, yes, of course I prefer you, even when you’re tryin’ to crush me to death as a fuckin’ dog.” He says, and brings the captured hand to his mouth so he can drop a kiss on the back of it for added measure.
“You were not being crushed,” Alejandro says mulishly. He wriggles around until he can get into a more comfortable position, and then settles back with a sigh.
Equally content to lie back in the lazy afternoon sun, Faraday doesn’t say anything.