Home Is Where
Everyone is home now. Finally.
When the silent alarm went off in the house I knew that meant Maria and Ramon were probably here, so I went out onto the front porch – we have a massive perfect-for-sitting front porch – to wait for them. A rental car pulled up a couple of minutes later, but to my surprise the only person who got out was someone I hadn’t expected: Agent Ben. “Dr. Luna is right behind me,” he said. “We did not all fit, so I got a car all to myself.” He patted the car’s muted gold finish. “I wish I could take this one home with me, it is very nice.”
“It’s a Lexus, it should be,” I told him. “If you came up with Maria and Ramon, does that mean her jellyfish mod issue is connected to Ancient Fire?”
“No, it was connected to stupidity,” he said. “I got to hear all about it at length in three languages, only one of which I could understand. I am with them because I have paperwork which needs to be completed, and it had to be completed here. We will do that tomorrow, however.”
A melancholy howl floated down over the hill, one I’m still not used to hearing since Danny’s only been back for a few days. “Um, Danny will be back down in a little while, he’s…Wu said he needed to get outside more to de-stress.”
“I have spoken to Dr. Sing,” Agent Ben told me, scent saying the excuse hadn’t been necessary. “I wished to confirm some things I had been told. He confirmed them for me, and then he spoke at length with Dr. Vargas as well. I believe it may be necessary for Dr. Darling and Dr. Vargas to spend some time at his research center in the near future, but we will make those arrangements later.” A small SUV pulled in, and he smiled. “Here they are.”
I was about to ask him why Jorge would need to go to China with Danny when a shift in the breeze brought his scent to me; it was full of anticipation and self-satisfaction tinged with more than a little worry. What the hell was going on? Pete came out of the house just then, and I saw his nose wrinkle; he came over to join us. “Dave, did you explain…”
“Wu apparently beat me to it.”
Ramon got out of the SUV, stretching, and rolled his eyes at the Lexus. “He flirted with the woman at the desk, and she gave him that!” he mock-complained. “It’s the accent, I know it is.” He gave me a hug, then gave one to Pete. “You live out in the middle of nowhere now! It would have been a very pretty drive if I were not so tired, though.”
“We have a room all ready for you,” Pete told him. “We even kept Danny and Sheena out of it so there wouldn’t be fur everywhere.”
Ramon snorted and waved that off. “I have gotten used to it; I keep a lint brush at my desk now, so that people do not ask what kind of dog I have.” What? Another howl sounded, and he made a face, scent reflecting concern tinged with anger. “Oh, poor Danny. I will never forgive los pendejos rusos for doing what they did to him, there was no excuse for it.”
And that was when another yipping sort of howl sounded…from really close by. “What the hell!”
“That is Dr. Vargas – Jorge’s cousin,” Ramon said. And winked. “He is also in our branch of the science, in more ways than one.”
I could see that, because he’d just gotten out of the SUV…and I could see his ears. Black, furry ears; he was tall enough that I could see them over the SUV’s roof. And then Maria dragged him around the back of the vehicle so we could see all of him; I say dragged, not because it looked like he didn’t want to come with her but because it was pretty obvious from his body language that he really wanted to go find the source of the original howl. And I knew that because I see villeluvu body language every day. “You can wait another minute!” she told him, and then let go of the sleeve of his lab coat to come give out hugs of her own. Her eyes were twinkling, her scent said she was feeling oh-so proud of herself…but also more than a little worried, just like Agent Ben and Ramon. “Dave, Pete…this is Dr. Iván Marco Amador Vargas, the colleague who has been working with us of late.”
Dr. ‘Vargas’ twitched his tail, scent and ears betraying his nervousness. “I…it is a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
Pete nodded slowly. “Likewise, Ivor,” he said. “Holy shit, you were bigger than I thought you were if this is all the mod knocked you down to. Or did Doc find a way to adjust your mod to let you keep more of your height?”
He shrugged, scent and posture losing some tension. “I did not get a chance to ask him for such details. He did not…stick around, as you say it. Possibly he was afraid I would wake early and eat him.” He flexed his handpaws. He’s nearly twice Danny’s size, so those nicely-buffed claws with the little sheen of conductive polish at the tips are not small. “I am still not sure how he got to Siberia in the first place, to be honest, and neither was anyone else. Which of course was a large part of why they would not believe me.”
“Nobody is sure how Doc does most things,” I assured him. “He gave you a choice?” He nodded, scent saying he thought we might not be okay with that, and I shook my head…and claimed a hug, which surprised the hell out of him, I could tell. “Go clue in your boyfriend before he decides one of the local wolves is hitting on him,” I said. “We’ll figure out whether or not we still need to kill Doc when Joey gets back home.”
Pete hugged him too, then gave him a push and he took off, white-tipped black tail flashing behind him. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “Please tell me the choice Doc gave him was just whether or not he still wanted to be with Danny?”
Maria nodded. “That is what he says.”
“His authorities did not much like the story he had to tell, however,” Agent Ben added. “They did not believe him, and his team was told that he had gone missing. He finally escaped their custody and went into the wilderness, then tracked down some of the Canadian researchers his lab had been working with. They hid him, and found a way to get him to Mexico as they knew their own government would not be able to help.”
“Ours was more than happy to,” Ramon said. “It just took some time, and we could not say anything to anyone because we did not dare let his own people find out where he was. And we knew we could not tell Danny, because we were certain they would question him at some point.” He made a face, scent shading into angry regret. “We did not expect them to attempt to blame him for it anyway.”
Pete waved that off. “That’s par for the course for us, you know that,” he said. “Everyone blames us for everything – hell, they tried to blame us for what Wu did to himself, too.”
Maria sniffed. “Idiotas.”
“Many of them, yes,” Agent Ben said. The sound of canine vocalizations in two different keys drifting down from the hill behind the house raised his eyebrows. “That…”
“Is how two villeluvu greet each other, apparently. They’ll come down when they’re finished talking.” I headed for the back of the SUV. “Come on, let’s get your luggage and get the specimens and stuff into the lab, then we can wait for them on the porch and talk supper. Considering how big Ivor is, large amounts of meat will need to be involved, I’m sure…”
I’d been sitting on a rock having my evening howl – it really does help, Wu had definitely been right about that – when I heard a car’s engine come up the road and then stop. They were here. I didn’t move, though. Something else Wu had been right about, I had to start putting my health first, at least when I was at home. Even if that just meant my mental health. So I stayed on my rock and smelled the breeze and howled, forcing myself not to care when I heard another vehicle join the first. These were my friends, they weren’t going to look down on me for taking care of myself – or for just being what I was. Moreso than in a fully human body, or even in a slightly modded body like the guys and Angela and Larry, I was enough animal that holding in too much stress could significantly shorten my lifespan. And I still had things I wanted and needed to do, a regular lifetime’s worth, so that wasn’t an option I was okay with. I was pretty sure none of them would be okay with it either.
The moon was already up, washed-out to a watercolor disk by the remaining daylight even though it was nearly full, and I let myself howl again. And almost fell off the rock when a few seconds later another howl answered me. My tail bristled and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. That hadn’t been Sheena, had Ramon gotten a dog? It hadn’t sounded like a dog, though. It had sounded kind of like me…but it couldn’t be like me, because I’m the only member of my species and we can’t – and even if I could, I wouldn’t – make another one. I shivered. Except for the occasional scent-curious domestic dog, other canines usually give me a wide berth. Had an exception to that just moved into my territory?
My ears went up; someone was coming. A person from the sound of it, moving pretty quickly, coming up from the direction of the house. And not Pete or Dave, because they would have called out to me already. I started to get down off the rock, thought better of it; the rock would give me a height advantage that standing on my own two feet wouldn’t, and it would also give me a jumping advantage in case whoever was coming was someone I needed to get away from. I yipped a warning with a question in it, almost immediately got an affirmative yip back…and then there he was.
I didn’t have to ask who he was, even though the last time I’d seen him he’d been…well, human and sporting a Siberia beard. He was sporting considerably more black hair than that now, and not just on his face. I couldn’t keep the half-howl with the high whine in it back, and he responded with a yip-cry of his own. “They said you were dead!”
He shrugged, tail lashing once. His was bristling a little too, although it was going down now just like mine was. “I escaped from them, and they could not find me in the woods, so I am sure that was the most convenient excuse they could come up with.” He moved a little closer. “In a way, they did me a favor – when Ivor Markovic died, Iván Marco Amador Vargas became able to freely live. They cannot now identify me without embarrassing themselves.” He smiled when I cocked an ear at him. “The Canadian researchers on the tundra helped me get to safety in Mexico. Maria wanted me for her little brother, but Jorge said that would have been too easy to see through so I became his cousin instead – his family tree has many unpruned branches, it seems. I have been helping Primera Genética for some time now as a ‘visiting scientist’ while all of the paperwork and formalities were straightened out.” Another step closer. “I am so sorry I could not tell you sooner, Danny.”
His scent, carried by the breeze, was saying he was very sorry, and very worried. I slid down off my rock, ears drooping, feeling sick. There was only one person on earth who could create a villeluvu, and that was the same person who’d created the first one. “Did Doc…do this to you?”
He shook his head. “Not as he did to you, no. He came to me, in Siberia, but the choice to be changed was mine. No consequence was offered if I were to have chosen otherwise – I am sure there may have been one, but he was adamant that he did not wish me to make this choice from fear. He may be a man of questionable ethics, and not entirely right in his mind, but I no longer believe him to be evil.”
My ears started to come back up. “No, he’s not.” I was feeling more than overwhelmed. Ivor had been given a choice…and he’d picked being with me over being human. Over everything, really. “You’re beautiful.”
“And you are too adorable for words.” He very cautiously put his handpaw on my shoulder. “I have missed you, Danny.”
“I missed you too, Ivor.” I let him draw me into a hug, and our scents mingling said a lot of things for both of us without words being necessary. So did the feeling of his fur brushing against mine. “How long can you stay?”
“As long as you wish me to. Agent Ben has paperwork to file here, with the embassy, that will allow me to remain here legally.” He pushed me back a little so he could look down into my eyes. “Villeluvu mate for life.”
I moved my tail so I could entwine it with his. “You’re right, they do.”
I went to pick Joey up in the helicopter two days after everyone else showed up. Angela too, she needed to be part of this. And I was going to need her there to smack Joey so I wouldn’t have to. Only if he was still acting emo, though.
No, we haven’t told either one of them. Yes, I know that if shit happens on one of the Interpol cases it’s Danny’s habit to send Joey back to Angela afterward instead of having him come back to L.A. Got no problem with that either, because it’s the right thing to do. Usually. Not so sure about this time, but it was his call and he made it so c’est la vie. This is why we have a helicopter, after all. Well, one reason.
They were waiting when I got to the landing pad at the research station, and I smacked Joey because he was smelling worried and then hugged Angela because she smelled worried and annoyed. “I gassed up on my way in, are you guys ready?”
I was already scooping up Angela’s weekend bag when I said that, and she rolled her eyes. “Was I going to get to not be ready?”
“Nope, because we’ve got to get back home, stuff is going on. We’re having a big meeting, Agent Ben is even there.”
Joey’s worry-scent spiked. “I thought you said the jellyfish thing wasn’t connected to Ancient Fire?”
“It’s not. It’s still pretty interesting, though. I ran some sims, let’s just say it’s a good thing somebody noticed them before they got too big. I’ll show you when we get home. Jorge has a couple of them in a tank at his aquarium, but he’s not sure how long he can keep them because of the growth thing – they’re short on tank space, I guess. You guys can go down and talk to Cabrillo, though, and if he wants one or two Danny said we’ll donate a special tank to put them in. They’re really pretty, they’d be a huge draw for visitors.”
Why aren’t we offering one to one of the big SoCal zoos with their huge aquariums and huger budgets, you might ask? Well, that’s because they’ve been kind of vocal in the media lately about their facilities being for preservation of existing species, not man-made ones. We’d have been okay with that – not every zoo wants a novelty mod section, it’s fine – if they hadn’t started getting nasty about it on social media, and kind of slamming some of the other facilities we’ve worked with. Danny’s response was to remind the very next reporter who called for a comment that we’d been given an award for our work in species preservation and to ask him to take a look at the current status of the three species GenoMod had brought back from near-extinction. And then he emailed over some of the unreleased photos from our files, because baby black rhinos are just the cutest chubby little things and almost no one has ever seen one; the story went viral almost immediately.
Someday, people are bound to start realizing that they shouldn’t piss Danny off. Hasn’t happened yet, though.
I spent most of the flight home talking jellyfish mods and tank specifications, and when Joey asked how Danny was doing I told him fine. Totally not a lie. I know he thought it was, though, even though I’m sure my scent didn’t back his assumption up.
He’s worried, of course, and so is Angela. They know I’m not telling them something. Actually I’m not telling them a lot of things, but some of that is going to have to come out slowly and I’d promised Dave I’d let him handle the pixie dust discussion. Possibly with Larry, since Larry apparently clued in on that before they’d even left China and made sure Danny knew he didn’t see it as a problem. And then we’ll be having a big meeting with everybody including Mike and Agent Ben so that everyone’s on the same page about that situation and several others. Sometime in the next few weeks Danny and Ivor are probably going to be visiting Wu’s island for a while, supposedly to put the finishing touches on the repair mod documentation before they decide where, when and how to present it, but also just because the two of them need a vacation and China is going to bend over backwards to keep them safe and happy.
We finally got back home, and I set my baby down right in the middle of her nice landing pad and started shutting her down. Normally I’d be doing the maintenance checks immediately, because it had been a long flight, but not today. As soon as the rotors stopped spinning I hopped out and then handed Angela down, letting Joey hop down on his own. The gold Lexus was still there, of course, and they both sort of did a double-take. “According to Ramon, Agent Ben flirted the lady at the rental desk into giving him that with his sexy, sexy accent,” I told them. “We’ll just have to take his word for it, I guess.”
Joey made a face. “Why did they need two cars?”
“Too many people and too much luggage for them all to fit in one comfortably.” We were walking to the house now, and I could see the door opening. “They had Dr. Vargas with them, you know.”
“No.” Danny came out, boyfriend/mate right behind him – they haven’t been more than a foot apart since that first night. “Ivor.”
Now, I am the first person who’s going to admit that Ivor is every bit worth the reaction Joey and Angela had to seeing him – and not just from the big reveal that he wasn’t dead. Because where on Danny Doc’s oh-so-custom mod looks like a beautifully-drawn anime character, on Ivor it looks like a fantasy painting of some wild god. He’s huge. He’s muscular – apparently he’d gotten bored in Mexico and started working out with Ramon, much to Ramon’s eventual dismay. He’s covered with thick black fur, he has really intense dark eyes, and his facial features are just ridiculously noble. I’m pretty sure seeing him angry would actually be frightening, and that we’re all going to get to see him angry if Ms. Perry ever shows up here because of the way her panties get wet over Danny – Ivor’s pretty territorial, he was like that even before the mod. Of course, when she sees Ivor she’ll probably have a spontaneous orgasm, the footage of which I will immediately pull from the security cameras and send to her boss, several lawyers, and a few reporters.
Yeah, pissing me off isn’t a good idea either.
Anyway, Danny took one sniff and gave me a dirty look. “Oh surprise,” he said, rolling his eyes. And then he came trotting the rest of the way over, patted Joey’s arm and gave Angela a hug. “Good flight, he didn’t try a barrel roll?”
“No, we had a very smooth flight.” Angela blinked at Ivor and sniffed, then smiled and held out her hand. “Glad you weren’t actually dead, although I probably owe your home country an apology for all the swearing I’ve been directing at them lately.”
He smiled, showing teeth that look really white because his fur is so dark, and took her hand in a grip that practically swallowed it up. “They deserved it,” he said. “It was the local authorities in Siberia who created the mess, though.” The smile became a grin. “It was interesting to smell them, as they were trying to be contemptuous because I like men but at the same time they were afraid of me – and one of them, he was trying not to be interested.”
Ooh, a little spike of jealousy from Danny. “We have one like that here,” was all he said, though. “If Ms. Perry ever comes around…well, you’ll smell her before she gets close. For some reason she wears perfume that makes her smell like a bitch in heat.”
“Yeah, even Hana had something to say about it the last time Ms. Perry showed up at the lab,” Joey agreed. He held out his hand to Ivor. “Doc somehow found his way to Siberia, I’m guessing?”
“Yes, although no one is sure how. And I could not let anyone know what had happened, even once I had made it out of Russia, as the authorities might have tried to cause trouble for those who had helped me get to safety or even demanded my return.”
“Not a problem anymore,” Danny said. “Moscow was actually sort of doing him a favor by declaring him dead and saying they’d ‘finally’ found his body, because now nobody can officially question the identity of Dr. Iván Vargas. Although some people may decide I’m three different kinds of a heartless slut for moving on so quickly.”
“So mainly just that one reporter with the furry kink.” Ivor almost growled, and Danny giggled. Actually giggled, which nobody has heard him do for literally years; it hit Joey pretty hard, I could tell. “We’re not inviting him to the wedding, I guess.”
Angela blinked. “We’re having a wedding?”
Danny rolled his eyes. “Hana insisted. She said as soon as she and Barry get back from Saigon, we’re having a wedding and that’s all there is to it.”
“Tell the rest of it,” Dave said, cutting past everyone so he could hug Angela too, and then getting out of the way so Maria and Ramon could. “We didn’t call Hana, Doc apparently called Hana and told her aaall about it – including the fact that villeluvu mate for life, which was something he hadn’t realized he’d done and felt pretty bad about, which was why he snuck up to Siberia to ask Ivor if he wanted to be furry like his boyfriend.”
“Yeah, we may eventually end up needing to protect Doc from the Russians,” Danny said. Ivor had an arm draped over his shoulders, Danny’s was around his waist, and their tails were twining around each other. “He apparently didn’t think that trait would carry over, because he realize some humans also had it. Oh, and we suspect he may have helped Wu turn himself into the living embodiment of cuteness, but Wu won’t confirm or deny that so we’re just going to leave it alone. The change did fix his arthritis and it made him happy, so it’s all good.”
We can’t discuss what else Wu’s mod did for him right now, not just standing around in the open like this, even though we are on our own property – Dr. Red Panda of Awesome Adorableness is going to be around for a while, is all I’m saying.
And quite possibly Danny and Ivor will be too. Thank god Ivor said yes.
I left some things unsaid. The man called Doc came to me in Siberia, yes, but he did not ask me to make this choice all at once. He first said he wanted to talk to me. I felt I had little choice in that…but that was just what he did want, to talk. But also to listen. He wanted to know what had happened in the woods during the Volkov incident, as the information he had been able to access had not given him what he wanted. He wanted to know what had happened, from one it had happened to. He wanted details.
So I told him. He stopped me only a few times, asking questions which proved he knew much more than he should have, but then when I was done he had a tale of his own to tell me: He told me the tale of what Danny had not told. He did not tell his friends of saving my life in the woods, did not relate to them how he swatted the owlbear with a stick to get its attention off of me when I tripped over a stone, did not describe to them how quickly it turned on him – bears may look fat, but they are not slow.
And he also did not tell them what happened once we were found. The owlbear, it would not come out, and we knew we could not leave it alive in the woods. And while our rescuers were trying to decide what to do, we heard the owlbear making its noise and he says, I know what will bring it to us. And then he walks away from us, into the woods – toward the sound of the owlbear, offering it the food it wanted. And it came for him, as he knew it would.
He faced it down, there in the trees, and it stopped for a moment, confused by this prey that did not run…and then they shot it and it charged, and I almost was not fast enough to push him out of the way. It hit a tree instead, cracking the living wood. And he rolled over to look up at me with wonder in his eyes. “Did you just…you just saved my life.”
I am not a…romantic man, or so I have always been told. But I wanted nothing more in that moment than to kiss him until we both ran out of breath. I did not, of course. Instead, I shrugged and helped him up. If my hand lingered on his..well, he did not withdraw from my grasp. “We walk away together or not at all, correct? I prefer together.”
And he had smiled, like the sun breaking through days of winter clouds. “Yeah, I prefer that too.”
Doc had absorbed this story with great sadness. “I made a terrible mistake,” he told me through his translator – who also happened to be the man holding a gun on me. “I didn’t realize humans could create that kind of bond at the biological level, I thought it was only certain animals. The mod is mostly wolf and fox, Dr. Markovic, to bond for life is the way of both of those species. But the human part had that capability too, and it had been activated before I did what I did. If I’d known…well, I wouldn’t have done it unless you’d been there too.”
It was obvious to me that he was telling the truth – he was deeply troubled by the harm he had done, and he wished to right that wrong if he could. But that was not why, when the offer was made, I accepted it. Nor did I accept it because I was afraid. I was, because only a fool would not have been, but I believed this man Doc when he said he did not want me to choose out of fear; strangely, or perhaps not so much given his obsession, he seems to care about Danny’s well-being. And so it was what else he said that made up my mind, because it was a truth as deep as a winter snow.
He said I would never find a man who could match me the way Danny could.
And I knew he was right, because I had considered it myself already. We were a match in every way save size. Man to man, strength to strength, science to science, passion to passion. And his bravery takes my breath away even as it fills me with fear. As it seemed to be the time for questions to be answered, I asked one of my own: What had not been told of what had happened in Mexico? He answered me, with much detail and many observations which could not have been his own, and once I had heard it all…well, my decision was made. The crazy man who calls himself Doc was correct in what he was not saying: One hero was not going to be enough to fight the tide of insanity which was already rising around us. Not that a person cannot be a hero, or fight, without the change. I could have, I know, with but a little work…but even then, my Danny would still have been alone.
He is alone no longer. And he is mine, as I am his.
Together, we are home.