Shelby, Clark, Chloe
Warning: Major character death
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
It was relentless. It was unstoppable. It was a lot like The Girl when she'd had too much caffeine, perky and cheerful and never turning aside for anything.
It flung itself onto my back, grabbed my ears, and yanked hard.
I thumped my tail, managing to wince only a very little bit. I was an old dog, but I'd gotten what I'd most wanted-- a human puppy to play with. And I was happy about it. Really.
I just wished it wasn't so determined to rip my ears off.
The Girl swooped down and grabbed Pup before it managed to pry off more than two handfuls of fur. "Hey," she said, giving me a sympathetic pat in passing. "Take it easy, okay? Be gentle with Shelby. Gentle."
Pup squealed happily, and I didn't need a translator to tell me what it was saying: Gentle? Never heard of that concept, Mom, sorry.
I heaved a deep sigh. I'd been playing with Pup all morning, and I was tired, very tired. The smart thing to do would be to get up and head for the porch, where Pup wasn't allowed to follow. But I was getting old, and I needed a nap, and I was just too exhausted even to get up and clatter my way across the kitchen.
The Girl put Pup down, and it toddled right back toward me, a small but destructive force on a mission. It wanted my ears, and it wasn't going to give up till it got them.
I decided it was time to pull out the big guns. I lifted my head and gazed at The Girl with big, sad, imploring eyes.
Save me. Please.
She took the hint. "Come on," she said, swooping up Pup again, so that it squealed and giggled. "Let's let Shelby get some rest."
A few moments later I heard her switch the picture box on, and the musical opening to a show Pup adored began to play. I dropped my head back on the floor, secure in the knowledge that I would be allowed to rest for a while.
All I wanted to do right now was to sleep. There had been a time when I could play all day, when I could run after balls flung by The Boy and never want to quit, but that time was far in the past. I just didn't have the energy I'd once possessed.
Exhausted from my morning of playing with Pup, I closed my eyes and fell into a restless sleep.
I understood dimly that I was a very old dog. I spent as much time playing with Pup as I could, but the truth was that the time I was able to spend romping with Pup grew shorter and shorter every day. And as happy as I was with The Boy, The Girl, and Pup, I found myself dreaming more and more often about people I hadn't seen in a long time.
In particular, I often found myself dreaming about The Man.
I'd always liked The Man a lot, and had never been quite certain what happened to him. He'd been there one day, and then the next day he simply... wasn't. But I was starting to think that perhaps, like me, time had just run out on him.
And then... what had happened to him, exactly?
I had absolutely no idea. I had no way of guessing what happened to people when they went away, or to dogs, for that matter. All I knew was that The Man was gone. Not just gone like The Woman, who sometimes returned for visits, but gone, unable to ever come back.
And somehow I knew that one day, quite soon, I'd be gone too.
I sighed and muttered in my sleep, thinking worriedly about Pup. Who would protect Pup when I wasn't there any longer? Who would protect The Home? How could The Girl and The Boy manage without me?
These were questions I couldn't answer, and they weighed heavily on me. Every day they grew heavier and heavier, pressing down on my old body until I felt like I was being crushed under their weight...
I woke up with a whimper. The Boy was patting my head, looking down at me with worried eyes. The Boy was still my favorite human in the world, the human I loved even more than Pup, and I was grateful to see him. He wasn't usually around the house this time of day, and I wondered if he'd come home early, or if he'd heard me whimpering from a distance, and come from wherever he was to see me.
It didn't matter. What mattered was that The Boy was patting my head and talking to me, just as he always did. The strange pain that had awakened me didn't ebb, but I found myself able to bear it, because The Boy was there.
"What's wrong, boy?" he said gently.
I tried to lift my head, and couldn't. Some strange force was crushing my chest, holding me to the ground. It felt like the time I'd been caught and pinned under a falling tree branch. It hurt.
"Good dog," he said, sounding oddly choked. His hand rubbed my ears. "Good dog, Shelby."
I struggled as hard as I could, and finally managed to turn my head. I licked his hand.
And then I closed my eyes, and darkness rolled over me.
A moment later, the pain and the pressure went away, as well as the gentle, reassuring sound of his voice. It all faded away, and there was nothing but a quiet, peaceful dark.
It felt good to rest. I don't know how long I lay there, motionless and peaceful. But at last I opened my eyes, and found myself in a bright place.
It wasn't The Home. It looked like The Home, but it wasn't. It didn't smell right. My nose didn't recognize the place at all. Warily, I got to my feet and stood sniffing the air. There was a sweetness to the air, like a spring breeze, but the scent was somehow more vivid and brilliant than anything I'd ever smelled before.
Slowly it dawned on me that my pain was gone. My weariness was gone. In fact, I felt... young. The stiffness in my joints had disappeared, and I felt exuberant youth rushing through me.
I stood there sniffing, searching for a hint of The Boy, The Girl, or Pup, but they were gone.
I was alone in this place.
At least I thought I was alone. But then the light grew brighter, and someone walked toward me. The light became so bright I couldn't look at it. But I sniffed the air, and knew at once who it was.
It was The Man.
Delighted, I bounded forward, jumped up, and put my front paws on his chest, just as I used to do. He rumpled my ears affectionately.
"Hey there, Shelby," he said, in the drawling voice I'd missed so much. My tail lashed of its own accord as he spoke. "How have you been, old boy?"
Where have you been all this time? I've missed you. I wagged my tail harder, trying to tell him everything. I still live in The Home, with The Boy and The Girl and their pup. I take care of them all. You'd be proud of me.
"You're a good dog," he said, patting my head. "You've always been a good dog, Shelby. You belong here."
I didn't want to be here. I wanted to go home. I dropped to all fours and stood watching him hopefully, waiting for him to tell me how to get back to The Home, and my people. But he only smiled, a little sadly.
"You can't go back, you know."
I stood staring up at him, and my tail began to droop. Whatever I'd expected him to say, that wasn't it. I had to go back. I had to. My people needed me.
But he snapped his fingers and whistled to me, just as he used to do. "Come on, old boy," he said. "Come with me."
I knew The Man wouldn't encourage me to go with him if there was any chance of getting back to my family. Slowly it dawned on me that whatever had happened to me, wherever I was... The Boy and his family couldn't follow.
"Come on," he said softly, and turned, walking toward the light.
I lowered my head in sorrow, and followed, my tail low and still.
"It's all right," he said, his voice gentle and understanding. "You'll see them again, trust me."
But they need me.
"Don't worry," he said, glancing back over his shoulder at the darkness. "They'll be here someday."
Are you sure?
He looked down at me and smiled, then dropped his hand onto my head.
"They'll come, I promise," he told me, solemnly but with great assurance. "Because eventually, everyone comes this way."
At his reassuring words, my tail waved, and I trailed after him with more confidence. I still wished I could be there to protect my family, but clearly that wasn't an option. And I wasn't so worried any more. I was with The Man again, and I couldn't help but be pleased to see him.
And sooner or later, if The Man was right, I'd see The Boy and my family again. That was enough for me. It would have to be enough.
I followed The Man into the light, my tail wagging expectantly.
When The Boy and The Girl and Pup came... I'd be waiting for them.