Monday, January 6, 2014


Recently widowed, with one dog now crippled and another about to give birth, Keith needs help. Problem is, he doesn't want it. When Spencer blows into his life, Keith does his best to shove Spencer back out. Spencer is everything his dead husband wasn't, and little too close to the wild side for Keith's taste.
Spencer can see that Keith is drowning in details, just as he can see how a little aid would go a long way. But Keith keeps refusing help -- for everything except the crippled dog. Spencer's way into Keith's house is through fur on wheels; finding his way into Keith's heart won't be so easy.


No one looked graceful running through knee-deep snow, and Spencer was no exception. But he was grinning like a fool, and it made Keith chuckle. "Get on," Keith gestured to the seat of the sled again.

Spencer peered at it dubiously. "You're kidding, right? How do you steer?"

"The dogs steer."

"How do you brake?"

Keith laughed, shaking his head. "I've got the brakes. Get on, would you?"

With great trepidation -- and a fair amount of fumbling -- Spencer lowered himself into the seat area of the sled, only a few inches above the runners. He had to sit on top of the safety bag, there to transport an injured dog or human, and there wasn't really anything to grip except the sides. He managed all right, long legs folding up so he could fit.

Keith pulled the snowhook out, lodged it on the rung behind Spencer's back, and started to push. "Let's go, dogs! Hike!"

They didn't need any more encouragement than that. As if they'd been waiting for the cue -- of course, they had -- they leaped forward, straining against the harnesses. The sled jerked into motion. Spencer slammed back, and Keith jumped quickly onto the foot rests behind the brake operator.

"Holy shit!" Spencer howled, his knuckles white as he gripped the sides of the seat.

Keith laughed. "They haven't even gotten going, yet!" Unless they were in phenomenal shape, three huskies would have had a hard time pulling two full-grown men, especially up the slight incline they were currently climbing. But king shepherds were three times a husky's size, and these three made short work of getting up the hill.

Sam, Keith noticed, fell back as he floundered up the incline. Just when Keith was getting ready to slow them all down, though, Sam seemed to find his footing and began to catch up. Keith called encouragingly, and Sam barked the whole way, a gleeful exultation in being able to run again. 

As they crested the rise and started down the other side, Sam caught up. Spencer let out a half-terrified, half-excited yell. The dogs tore down the slope, kicking up snow behind them while Keith rode the brake carefully so as not to overtake the team. "Stop being a pussy," he shouted, ducking low so he was closer to Spencer's ear. "They know what they're doing!"

"Pussy!" Spencer protested. "Shit, man, they're -- oh fuck, tree!"

"Gee, dogs! Find the trail!" Keith called. The dogs cut neatly to the right, around the tree, and started seeking, quickly finding the old route they used to take. It was little more than a flat space between small hills, and in the spring it filled with water and they had to find a new 'trail.' But covered in snow, it was a natural space with no plants to get in the way, where the dogs could pull easier. 

It also gave any new passengers time to calm down. Keith held off conversation until he saw the half-panicked tension leave Spencer's shoulders, and the white-knuckled grip on the bars loosen slightly. The noise levels had dropped, now that the dogs didn't have to dig into the snow quite so hard and weren't sending it flying back against the sled so much. Sam had quit his barking, catching up to Kara and settling in beside her as if he were helping to pull. Snow whisked under the runners, and the world was sheathed in the weighted calm that came with winter.

"This is cool," Spencer said at long last, settling against the back rest.

Keith chuckled, balancing his weight. "Yeah. When we had a bunch of dogs, Josh and I had two sleds and we'd take them out and race."

"Christ. How many dogs did you have?"

"Fifteen. Not all of them ran, though. Most of them were show dogs. Josh was big on the rare breed circuit." They'd spend weeks traveling from place to place, and between it all there was dog training and breeding. 

"And all the dogs stayed inside?" 

Keith nodded, then added, "Yup," when he realized Spencer couldn't see him. "He wanted them to be good family dogs for whoever got them. He wanted to help improve and promote the breed." He'd wanted so many things. For months after he'd died, Keith had struggled with trying to continue. Keith didn't know all the things about breeding and breed standards that Josh did, though. Keith didn't care like Josh had. The decision to stop was still one of the hardest Keith had made. 

The team was moving well, Kara and Sam keeping up easily. The skis instead of wheels on Sam's chair certainly seemed to work. "Hang on, Spence," Keith said, then added in a firm voice, "Haw, dogs!"

Kara and Sam swerved to the left, up the small hill, and Hughie and Mason followed, leaning forward in their harness to drag the weight of both men upward. Keith hopped off the sled and ran behind, lightening their load, jumping back onto the braces when they reached the top. "Gee!" The dogs went right, running along the rise.

"The sled's gonna slip!" Spencer yelped, trying to lean away from the hill.

"Leaning that way will encourage it to slide down." Keith laughed, trying to counterbalance what Spencer was doing. The dogs kept running, oblivious to the excitement they were causing. Slowly, they pulled away from the edge and Spencer settled down.

"Relax, Spence," Keith said, bending low so he didn't have to shout over the sound of the wind. "I'm not going to let you fall." 

Spencer snorted his disbelief, and Keith laughed.

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