by The Inimitable Pooh Bah
Date: July 2, 2000
Summary: Dexter is stranded . . . with Pinocchio. (No, no character death.)
Disclaimer: "Harsh Realm" and its characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013, and/or FOX.
Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.
Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance, and the first big, chilling raindrops plummeted down onto Pinocchio. The mercenary cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted. "Hobbes!"
No response. He shivered, wishing he hadn't left his warm jacket in the car on the assumption that it would be a warm, clear day.
Nothing. Damn it, where did those two get to? Maybe they'd be in the cave they had passed a few hours ago, before they got separated. Pinocchio turned around and started walking in that direction.
The rain got impatient, and gave up drizzling in favor of pouring. Pinocchio ran.
He stepped into the cave and looked around. Nobody there. Pinocchio sighed, and dropped the damp sticks he'd gathered into a pile on the floor. He held his lighter to them and soon had a passable fire going. He sat down and pulled off his cold, soggy boots and socks, then leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes and waited for the fire to make him dry and warm again.
Pinocchio was just drifting off to sleep when a tiny noise made him jump to his feet and whip his gun out of the holster. He scanned the cave tensely, seeking out the source of the sound.
It happened again, a little scratching noise. Pinocchio whirled around to face the direction it came from. "Come out!" he hollered into the darkness. "Right now, or I blow your head off!"
Tiny, rapid footsteps clattered, and a little white doggy shape came running at Pinocchio, standing up and pawing the soldier's knees urgently as it barked. Maybe Pinocchio would be perked up by some canine attention.
But Pinocchio wasn't so easily manipulated. He put away the gun with an irritated snarl. "I don't suppose you brought Hobbes and Florence with you."
Dexter whined, hoping to arouse Pinocchio's sympathies and be picked up.
But Pinocchio wasn't so easily manipulated. "Get lost, Dexter," he snarled.
The dog was crushed. He slumped dejectedly over to the edge of the firelight's glow. Pinocchio wouldn't notice him there--not consciously at any rate. A subliminal display of sadness could work wonders for Dexter's situation.
But Pinocchio wasn't so easily manipulated. He stared at Dexter from his seat across the fire, pointedly and knowingly.
Dexter wagged his tail and rolled over onto his back, tongue hanging charmingly out of his mouth. Maybe Pinocchio would go for cuteness.
But Pinocchio wasn't so easily manipulated. He rolled his eyes, and produced an MRE from his soggy pack.
Dexter whined his most heart-rending whine. He was hungry. He hadn't eaten in almost two days. Never before had he felt--or looked, he thought--so rejected.
But Pinocchio wasn't so easily manipulated. "Dexter, boy, you look a lot tastier than this . . . um . . . " He consulted the outside of the packet of ambiguous food-mush he was spooning into his mouth. "Pork chow mein. Can't even tell what damn thing you're eatin' if you don't read the label."
Dexter retreated to the shadows behind a boulder, yelping in terror. Pinocchio looked like he really meant it this time.
When Dexter dared to peer cautiously out of his hiding place, Pinocchio was sound asleep. The fire was dying. The pork chow mein pouch was still in the human's hand--he'd fallen asleep before he'd even finished dinner.
Dexter's stomach rumbled, and he belly-crawled over to the sleeping man, peering intently at him to see whether his slumber was legitimate. The dog took a corner of the food packet in his teeth and pulled it out of Pinocchio's hand and over to the other side of the fire to eat.
The dog finished the food--he couldn't see why Pinocchio wouldn't want to eat such nice stuff--and licked the residue off of as much of his face as his tongue could reach. He stared at the mercenary, who grunted in his sleep and shifted position slightly. Dexter crept back over, and dared to lie down three feet from Pinocchio's knee.
Pinocchio didn't wake up to make supper out of him, so Dexter inched closer. He was now two feet away.
When Pinocchio didn't object to that, either, Dexter scooted over to a twelve-inch distance, then six inches, then three. The dog developed a downright-cocky bravery and plopped his head down on Pinocchio's knee. When no terrifying and painful consequences appeared, Dexter's boldness became absolutely stupid and he crawled into Pinocchio's lap. After a moment of self-congratulation, the dog fell asleep.
Dexter was awakened rather rudely the next morning when Pinocchio jumped up, knocking the dog off his lap and onto the ground. The dog barely had time to realize what had happened and right himself, before the gun appeared and cocked and Pinocchio began swearing a surprised blue streak. Dexter yiped in terror and ran back to the boulder.
Pinocchio's shouting stopped, and Dexter heard him stoop down and pick up the licked-clean MRE packet to examine. The dog quaked in fear--surely Pinocchio would kill him for finishing off the chow mein uninvited. He heard the human's boots stepping across the cave floor, and braced himself for the end. Would it be a bullet in his chest? A knife in his side? A hard, quick boot in the head? A . . . a washcloth?
Dexter opened his eyes, wriggled his head out of Pinocchio's grasp, and backed away.
"Hey," said the mercenary. "You want Hobbes to see you with chow mein all over your face? He'll think I was feeding you or something."
Dexter looked at Pinocchio.
"Well, come on," Pinocchio bade, trying to sound short-tempered. "Unless you got a lint roller back there that you wanna fetch for me," he added after a glance down to his hair-covered lap.
Dexter crept cautiously forward and let Pinocchio finish wiping off the chow mein sauce.
Pinocchio got up. He went back to his wall and sat down to open a vacuum-sealed brown packet from the MRE.
Dexter sat down by the boulder, watching for the slightest sign of amiability.
Pinocchio broke off a rectangular piece of the cracker and held it in one hand while he used the other to paw through the pile of MRE components. Damn, it was jelly instead of peanut butter. Pinocchio suspected an intricate and far-reaching conspiracy to force him to be kind to Hobbes' dog.
The soldier sighed, resigned to his fate. He leaned forward and patted the floor in front of him. "C'mere, Dexter. I got some cracker for you."
Dexter approached warily, certain Pinocchio was planning the old "stick a cracker to the roof of the dog's mouth" trick. But Pinocchio didn't pry his mouth open, he just held the cracker out for the dog to take. So Dexter took it and lay down to crunch on it.
Pinocchio scratched the dog behind the ears. "If they'd given me peanut butter," he informed Dexter, lest the dog get any ideas about him having a nice side, "that would be stuck to the roof of your mouth right now." He broke off another piece of cracker and squeezed jelly onto it for his own consumption.
Dexter had just licked up the last crumbs of his cracker and was about to beg Pinocchio to share another piece, when he heard familiar footsteps outside and went running to the cave's mouth to greet the owners.
"Dexter, boy!" Hobbes cried as he walked into the cave and picked up his barking, licking, tail-wagging pet. "I was afraid a bear had eaten you!"
Pinocchio tried to look like he'd been restraining himself, with great effort, from making dinner out of the dog.
Florence walked into the cave, too, and looked at Pinocchio. Her expression made him wonder if she could read the past right out of his mind.
"Pinocchio, we've been looking all over for you," said Hobbes as he turned Dexter loose.
The dog ran over to Florence and launched a tongue assault on her face when she picked him up, tail wagging furiously all the while.
"Don't wander off like that again," Pinocchio growled. He had gathered his stuff into his pack, and shouldered it. "Come on, let's get moving."
Pinocchio walked out of the cave. Hobbes relieved Florence of Dexter, and they followed.
As they walked, Hobbes scratched the ears of the dog under his arm, and his fingers encountered something wet and squishy. He picked it off of Dexter's fur, and held it up to give it a visual and nasal inspection. "Pork chow mein?"
Pinocchio didn't quite catch that mutter. "What was that, Hobbes?"
"Nothing." Hobbes set Dexter on the ground to run alongside them.
[ END ]
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