“Have you seen Daggoo?” Scully asked, coming out of the kitchen to where Mulder was lounging on the couch. He folded back the top corner of his newspaper and dropped his head to look up at her over the rim of his glasses.
“Tan and white,” he said. “About a foot high and a foot long? Barks incessantly at the gophers.”
Scully ignored Mulder and went to the front window. She put her hands on her hips and stood on one foot to scratch the back of her calf with the top of her sock-clad foot. He admired the view of her, the hem of her, correction his t-shirt sweeping the back of her thighs.
“He was curled up in that sun spot on the front porch half an hour ago,” she said.
“He didn’t come back in?” Mulder asked.
“I didn’t hear him scratch at the door. Did you?”
“I didn’t even know he was out on the porch.”
Scully turned from the window, a worried expression pulling her brows together. Mulder closed the newspaper and pulled his glasses off before he pushed himself up from the sofa. He gave her neck a light squeeze as he moved past her to the door. Before he went outside, he slipped on a pair of running shoes.
It was a warm spring morning with a light breeze that rustled the dry grass. The porch chair was empty. Mulder went to one side of the porch and looked out at woods. He called Daggoo’s name several times, but there was no answer. He walked to the other end of the porch and tried again. The screen door screeched as Scully opened it and stepped out. She still had Mulder’s t-shirt on, but also a pair of sweats and slippers.
“You don’t think something could’ve gotten him do you?” she asked.
“I don’t think Big Blue could travel this far.” His grin turned into a grimace when Scully frowned. “Sorry. No, I think it’s unlikely. I haven’t seen anything wilder than a possum out here.”
“There are coyotes though.”
“I’m pretty sure we would’ve heard something if a coyote had...been in the area.”
Scully stepped down to the bottom of the porch and crouched, sifting her hand through the grass and dirt. There were a few faint pawprints in the more patchy areas that were more dirt than grass, but the direction could not be determined. Mulder called the dog’s name a few more times, hands cupped around his mouth.
Scully stood and clapped the dirt off her hands. Mulder came down beside her as she scanned the fields of tall grass surrounding the house.
“I shouldn’t have let him out alone,” she murmured.
Mulder shook his head and then rubbed her shoulders lightly. “He’s probably just exploring. He’ll be back when he gets hungry.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
By lunchtime, Daggoo still hadn’t returned and Scully’s concern turned into full blown anxious worry. She couldn’t sit still and couldn’t stop going outside to search for the missing dog. Mulder had discretely checked for reports of any wild animal attacks in the area, but couldn’t find anything. He’d made a few attempts to distract her from her ominous thoughts to no avail. She wouldn’t eat the sandwich he made for her and after a few bites, he couldn’t eat either.
“Come on,” Mulder said. “Let’s take a walk.”
“I don’t want to take a walk,” Scully answered.
“Call it a search party. We’re going to go looking for Daggoo.”
“Where would we even start?”
“Let’s head towards the pond and then we’ll take it from there.”
Daggoo was not at the pond, nor the old shed at the back of the property or the woodpile he sometimes nosed around in. When the crickets and bullfrogs started chirping and croaking at dusk, and still no Daggoo, Scully actually burst into tears on the porch, covering her face with her hands while Mulder drew her into a tight hug and rubbed her back.
“We’ll find him,” Mulder said. “I know it.”
“You don’t know it,” she argued. “This is the second damn dog I’ve lost. I shouldn’t even be allowed to look at another dog as long as I live.”
She was right, of course, he didn’t know if they’d find the dog. It was certainly unlike him to run off, even if he found a squirrel or rabbit to go after, he always gave up the chase pretty quickly and stayed by the house. His biggest concern was that the dog had gone poking around in the woods and got caught in some sort of trap or was too injured to return on his own. He sent Scully inside, grabbed his jacket and a flashlight and headed back out.
Reluctantly, Mulder headed into the woods. The trees around the property weren’t terribly dense, but he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of traipsing around and searching for a possibly injured dog. If he was lucky, maybe he’d find Daggoo and a crash landed UFO.
“Daggoo!” Mulder called, swinging his flashlight beam over the forest floor. “Come on, boy!”
Fifteen minutes of stomping through dead twigs and leaves, Mulder reached the other side of the woods. In the distance, twenty yards away in Mulder’s estimate, was a not so sturdy-looking wooden fence. Beyond that, somewhere past the field grasses, was his nearest neighbor.
Mulder eastly slipped through the broken rails of the useless fence and called Daggoo’s name a few times. In response, he received a few barks from somewhere east of where he stood. They were too high-pitched to be Daggoo, but Mulder jogged towards them anyway, calling for the dog a few more times. The high-pitched response bark was joined by a second bark, one that sounded more like Daggoo.
Mulder changed course. The barking was a little more to his right than he’d initially thought. He whistled and called for the dog a few more times and then his flashlight hit on what looked like a barn up ahead. He slowed his jog to a walk and whistled again.
Daggoo darted out of the barn, but stopped just outside of the entrance and barked at Mulder. He wagged his tail and then ran back into the barn as Mulder ran towards him.
“Dammit, Daggoo,” Mulder muttered.
The barn was clearly no longer being used. The doors were missing and it appeared empty inside. He waved his light around, unable to spot Daggoo in any of the corners but there were a few stalls towards the rear, also missing doors.
“Where are you?” Mulder called. “Daggoo?”
Daggoo yipped. Just as Mulder suspected, the dog was back in one of the former horse stalls, but he wasn’t alone. What looked like a miniature collie was lying by the door, panting softly. When it saw Mulder, it barked a few times, but then starting whining and then went back to panting. Daggoo sat down next to the little collie and stared up at Mulder.
“Who’s this?” Mulder asked the dog, knowing full well he wasn’t going to get an answer. He set his flashlight down, beam up, and knelt down by the collie. Tentatively, he reached out and put his hand down by the dog’s nose, letting it sniff him before he scratched it behind the ears. Daggoo barked once and stood up to circle around Mulder to his other side.
“I think your friend is sick,” Mulder said. “We’re gonna have to go get Scully.”
Daggoo barked again and the collie whined. Mulder wasn’t sure what was wrong with it, but it didn’t seem to be able to get up. He didn’t see any wounds or blood anywhere, so he wondered if it had eaten something toxic or had a broken bone. Stupidly, he had forgotten his cell phone and he wasn’t sure what to do. If he left it behind, there was no telling if precious time would be wasted in helping it.
“Okay,” Mulder said, taking off his jacket. “We’re gonna get you some help, little guy.”
As gently as possible, Mulder transferred the collie onto his jacket and then wrapped it up and picked it up. Daggoo supervised the process. Mulder grabbed the flashlight and got to his feet, arms full of swaddled dog.
“This should be fun,” Mulder said.
Daggoo led the way back home, crawling under the broken fence and sniffing his way through the woods.
“Next time you want to play rescue dog,” Mulder huffed, “you should know there used to be this dog named Lassie. Looked a lot like a giant version of your friend here. And you know, when Timmy fell down the well or whatever, instead of standing around for twelve hours and going missing, she actually went and got help. It’s way more effective. And less upsetting for your mom. So, you know, if you have any other friends out there in need of some doctoring, the best thing to do would be to come get us, not just disappear. We can work out a signal. You know, bark three times if Timmy’s in the well.”
As soon as they broke through from the woods, Daggoo barked and dashed towards the house. Scully was out on the porch almost immediately after she heard the barking and rushed down the stairs. The dog only stopped for a brief pat and then ran back towards Mulder.
“Mulder, what the hell?”
“I found him guarding a little friend in a barn the next property over.”
“What kind of friend?”
“Miniature collie, I think. It’s small. Maybe ate something bad. I don’t know.”
“Let me see.”
Mulder made his way up the porch stairs and then gingerly set the little bundle down so Scully could unwrap it. She started chuckling almost immediately and pushed Daggoo away when he tried to investigate the situation.
“Mulder!” Scully chuckled. “This dog is in labor.”
“Jesus, it’s a wonder she even let you move her without biting your hand off. We need some blankets, maybe a box. She’s got a tag. We should call her owner.”
“You think Daggoo’s the father?”
“Well, he’s neutered, so no.”
“I’ll go get some blankets. I think there’s a box in the attic we could use.”
An hour later, the little collie, Pippa, was as relaxed as she could be in a box in Mulder’s kitchen, bedded down on blanket. Her owner, a woman named Maxine, was on her way over to check on her dog. Mulder made a makeshift gate to keep Daggoo out of the kitchen by flipping up their dining table, which sent the dog into anxious pacing and barking. To get him out of the house, Mulder took him for a walk.
“You’re worried about your friend,” Mulder told Daggoo. “And believe me, I know how you feel. And you’re a good guy, stepping up like that, taking responsibility. Pippa will be fine and you guys can get up to whatever mischief you were getting up to before soon enough. You could’ve told us you had a girlfriend, you know?”
When Mulder and Daggoo got back from their walk, Scully immediately called Mulder into the kitchen. She had her hair tied up and a pair of surgical gloves on. “We’ve got one,” she said. “And another coming.”
“No, Mulder, a python.”
“Do I need to open an x-file?”
Mulder crouched down next to Scully by the box. Sure enough, a tiny, wet, ugly creature was curled up next to Pippa. Pippa whimpered and strained in the throes of delivering a second pup. Mulder screwed up his face in a bit of disgust. The process looked highly gross and unpleasant, but he also felt bad for the dog.
“Should we do something?” Mulder asked.
“She’ll do it all on her own.”
There was a knock on the door and Mulder got up to greet the neighbor he’d never met. “Twins,” he told Daggoo as he passed through the living area to the front. Maxine, an elderly woman in her late 70s or early 80s, barely cleared five feet, but had a firm handshake and a sturdy frame.
“Sorry for all the trouble,” she said. “I knew when I couldn’t find her this morning she’d gone off to nest.”
“No trouble,” Mulder said, guiding her towards the kitchen. “Our dog was keeping her company it seems.”
Daggoo was up on his hand legs, scratching at the table barrier preventing him from getting into the kitchen. He looked up forlornly at Mulder and Maxine when they approached, but wagged his tail.
“Ah, so you’re Daggoo’s parents!” Maxine said. “I always wondered where he came from and where he went off to.”
“You know him?”
“Oh sure, sure. He’s been coming around to play with Pippa for a couple months now”
“That’s about how long we’ve had him.”
So Maxine could get into the kitchen, Mulder held Daggoo back and slid the table aside. After she entered the makeshift delivery room, he slid the table back into place and stepped over the barrier.
“You must be Dana,” Maxine said. “I was just apologizing to your husband for the trouble.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Scully answered, glancing over at Mulder who shrugged. “We’re happy to help her along.”
“Oh my goodness,” Maxine cried. “We’ve already got two pups.”
“I’m sorry, it seemed to happen fairly quickly.”
“Her first litter was four.”
“She’s already had puppies?”
“Yes, only just at the end of the year. I was going to have her spayed thereafter, but she went and got herself knocked up again so quickly, little harlot.”
Mulder snickered at the unexpected bluntness of the older woman. Her grumbling was good-natured. He liked her.
“Well,” Maxine said. “I was getting everything prepared at home to take her back, but I’m afraid it’s a little too late to move her now.”
“She’s fine to stay here,” Scully said.
“Scully’s a doctor,” Mulder interjected. “She’s in good hands.”
“Doctor yes, but not a vet. I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what to do about newborn puppies.”
“Keep the area warm and dry,” Maxine said. “Pippa will take care of the rest.”
Maxine stayed for the birth of the third puppy and when it looked like there were no more coming, she went back home with the promise to return the next day to collect Pippa and puppies and transfer them home. As a token of her appreciation, she offered to take Daggoo for the night so he’d be out from underfoot.
“You’re sure about that?” Mulder asked.
“He’s welcome anytime at all,” she said, clucking at the dog when he licked her cheek. “Your Daggoo is quite the gentleman. Nothing at all like that little tramp that knocked up Pippa.”
Just before midnight, Mulder finally turned out the lights in the house and then went into the kitchen to join Scully, keeping vigil over the puppies. She’d already cleaned the box and replaced the blanket with fresh towels. Pippa had doled out tongue-baths and nursed her new brood and was resting fitfully, waking every few minutes to check the puppies and then lay back down.
“Quite an eventful day,” Mulder said, drawing Scully into the crook of his arm as he sat beside her and leaned back against the cupboards.
Scully sighed and leaned against him. She yawned and her eyes drooped shut. “I didn’t really start the day thinking I’d be searching for a missing dog and then ending it with a litter of puppies.”
“No? That’s so weird, because that’s exactly how I expected this Saturday to go.”
Scully chuckled and snuggled a little closer into Mulder’s side. She yawned again and he gave her shoulder a squeeze.
“Why don’t you go up to bed?” he asked.
“I’m okay,” she mumbled. “Want to be here just in case.”
Mulder gave her another squeeze and then released her to get up. She seemed startled, but was too sleepy to really react. He went upstairs and a few minutes later, came back down with pillows and quilts.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Setting up camp.”
She helped him spread out one of the quilts on the floor and then ran upstairs while he finished setting up the makeshift bed. She came back down wearing her, no his , t-shirt that she’d been wearing that morning and she turned out the light before settling in beside him.
“At least it’s more comfortable than some of the motels you’ve booked us into over the years,” she said, wiggling backwards as he turned to spoon her.
“I choose to take that as a compliment,” he answered.
“Hey.” He thumped her hip a few times with his middle finger. “You can add dog midwifery to your resume now.”
She smiled and huffed a short laugh. One of the puppies made a squeaky, mewling noise and they heard Pippa stir. Scully lifted her head for a few moments and then lay back down. Mulder remembered, fleetingly, the first night with William, both of them startling at every snuffle and squawk the baby made. He held Scully a little tighter and she put her hand in his as she fell asleep.