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The gift that keeps on giving

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Sally was a fluffy golden retriever with glossy fur and big eyes with a sloppy, lolling tongue that was never in her mouth and lips that were always pulled back in a smile. She wore a navy blue colour with the letters ‘BPD K-9’ written on it in bright yellow script.

She was a favourite in the city of Bludhaven. She used to be a stray, roaming the streets in search of food and shelter, but Dick had run into her one night and took her home immediately. Unfortunately, his apartment didn’t accept pets that weren’t therapy animals, so he couldn’t keep her, but he could do the next best thing. At first, he thought she would be perfect for the K-9 unit that the police department was building- she completed all the training and even went on her first shift, but... there had been a slight issue.

“What do you mean she’s, ‘too friendly’?” Dick asked fellow officer Gannon Malloy while he was crouched on the ground so he could give Sally the belly rubs and scratches she was begging for. “She’s a dog, all dogs are friendly unless you train them to be different. Believe me, I know- my little brother has enough pets to house a small petting zoo.”

“Listen, Grayson, you’re a good kid, and I know you’ve got a good heart,” Gannon said. “But I’ve already pulled enough strings to get a stray into the program at all. There’s nothing else I can do.”

“You’re joking,” Dick said as Sally licked at his hand. “What am I supposed to do with her? I can’t take her home, and I can’t just kick her out onto the streets again.”

For his credit, Gannon looked sympathetic and reached down to rub Sally behind the ears when she pushed up and rubbed herself against his legs. “I don’t know, Dick. As I said, your hearts too big for your own good. Maybe you can bring her home to Gotham? If your brother really does have a small petting zoo worth of pets, then I doubt Mr Wayne would refuse one more? I don’t know, give her as a gift? I just... I know that she’s not going to be able to stay here, and I’m really sorry about that, but if someone finds out that I let her stay when she was denied, then it’ll be my hide. You understand that, right?”

Sighing, Dick braced himself as Sally rested over her legs. “Yeah, yeah I do,” Dick said. Satisfied and apologetic, Gannon walked back inside the precinct, and Dick was left outside on the gravel with a slobbering dog getting drool all over his work pants. He ran a hand over her head. “What the hell am I going to do with you now, girl?”

He handed in the collar and the woman at the reception desk looked regretful that she wouldn’t be staying, but she gave Dick a plain blue-collar and a leash so he could walk her through town without getting a fine. Unlike the other one, this navy blue colour didn’t have any writing on it, and Dick liked it better that way.

Honestly, Dick couldn’t help but feel a little bitter about the whole thing. He’d gone through all the trouble of filling out the paperwork- so much paperwork!- for a dog he’d never met before and put his faith in the so-called “professional trainers” that the precinct had employed to train the new, up and coming K-9 unit, and they hadn’t even given her a second chance. All that work for nothing.

There was a pet store near his apartment, and he made a pit stop there to get some things before he walked them both back home.

His apartment didn’t allow pets because the last thing anyone needed was a visually-impaired person walking out their front door and then tripping over a dog and falling down a flight of stairs, but Dick checked the car park to see if any relatives were over to dob him in before he picked Sally up and darted up the stairs to his apartment on the top floor.

She didn’t smell the best after living most of her life if not all of her life on the streets, so the first thing he did was run her a nice long bath. He was soaked by the end of it and his bathroom was covered in dirty water, suds running over the side of the tub, but she was clean and she smelled like lemon and roses because he needed two bottles of bath soap to get rid of the smell.

Sally sat still while he dried her and almost fell asleep with her legs in the air when he dried her tummy. He took off the blue-collar from the station and replaced it with a pink and blue plaid bandanna around her neck. He filled the bowls he got from the pet shop with food and water and left them on the floor for her near the door, and managed to get her comfortable with the nice plush bed he had brought for too much money in a panic, but he ended up sleeping on the floor with her when he went to bed and she started scratching and crying at his bedroom door.

He didn’t know what to do with her. He couldn’t keep her hidden in his apartment forever, and despite what Gannon said, he knew that Bruce and Alfred would actually be annoyed with the fact that Damian had another pet- the cow, the cat, the dog, the goose and the giant demon-dragon thing were bad enough. He didn’t know what to do.

But then he reconsidered Gannon’s words. Maybe his brother would find joy in a pet- but maybe that brother wouldn’t be Damian.

He woke the next morning with Sally resting her chin heavily on his chest. "Hey girl," he murmured groggily as he rubbed behind her ears. "How about we get you home, huh?"

Once he was sure that the coast was clear, Dick hurried down the staircase with Sally and all the things he brought from the pet store. After he gathered everything into the car, he drove across Bludhaven, over the bridge and through Gotham to the outskirts of town. It was weird seeing Gotham after being away for so long, even now.

The Outlaws closest safe house was located on the outskirts of Gotham City, hidden amongst thick woodland and lush grasses, and Dick hadn’t been here often, but he remembered what it looked like as if he lived there himself. When he knocked loudly on the door, holding Sally’s leash in one hand, Jason opened the door, looking very frustrated. “I need your help,” Dick said before Jason could answer.

“What?” Jason asked, frowning before Sally jumped on him and he was nearly taken off his feet. “Oh no, don’t you fucking-”

“Jason, it’s a gift,” Dick insisted. “And it’ll be rude to refuse a gift, and especially from your big brother.”

Jason looked horrified as Sally rolled over and wiggled on his feet with her legs in the air as she begged for a belly rub. Reluctantly, he obliged. “Dick,” Jason said. “You can't just gift someone a dog like this. I can’t take her.”

“Jason, she’s a stray,” Dick said, and that caught Jason off guard as he looked at Dick in surprise. “I found her in a shady part of Bludhaven on patrol and I tried to get her into the K-9 unit, but she failed. You know why? Because she’s too nice to be a K-9. I can’t put her back on the streets Jason, I just can’t.”

“Can’t you keep her with you?”

“No pets in my apartment,” Dick said. “It’s dangerous for the blind.”

Shaking his head, Jason stood up and Sally flipped over again. “I still don’t understand why you live in that place.”

“It’s the perfect cover!” Dick protested. “They all know I’m a cop, so if Nightwing comes home in the middle of the night, covered in blood and beaten half to shit, they just think it’s officer Grayson coming home after a long night of keeping their city safe. I don’t even have to go through windows unless relatives are over.”

Sighing, Jason ran a heavy hand down his face. “Listen, Dick, I understand, I really do, but I’m not the only person who lives in this house, and I can’t just say yes to something like this.”

“It’s a gift, Jason,” Dick pleaded. “She needs a good home, and I’ve seen you with the animals back at the manor- you’re good with dogs. I’m the only hero in Bludhaven, but you’re not the only hero in Gotham. I can’t... I can’t do it. I wish I could, but I can’t. It’s not fair to her.”

Jason wanted to refuse, he really, really did, but when he looked down at Sally’s face, constantly smiling, her tongue hanging out of her mouth, he couldn’t do it. If he was being honest, she reminded her of Dick. Always happy, desperate for attention, starved for touch, ‘too nice’. And really, he missed Dick more than he would ever admit. Maybe having this dog around would be a good thing after all.

Slowly closing his eyes, Jason looked up. “What’s her name?”

“Sally,” Dick replied, letting the dog rub her nose against his hand. “Does this mean you’re going to take her?”

“Maybe,” Jason answered, eyes still closed.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, don’t think of it as a gift for you,” Dick said. “Think of it as a gift for Lian. She’s always wanted a dog, right? If Roy and Kori ask why you’ve got a dog, say you brought it as a surprise for her.”

Now, Jason did open his eyes, and it was to stare at Dick with a disbelieving look. “Whoa, hold on, now you want me to pretend that I brought a dog for my boyfriend’s daughter and your old friend, without telling him?”

This time, Dick couldn’t help but laugh. “Why not? It’ll be fun- a nice surprise for the whole family.”

“God, Roy is going to kill me,” Jason groaned as he dropped his face in his hands.

“Don’t worry, you can just use me as an excuse,” Dick laughed, placing a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “Just tell them that I dropped her at your doorstep and didn’t give you a choice. I have no problem with you throwing me under the bus for this.”

Jason looked up. “Oh, don’t worry, I will be. You’re staying right here and you’re going to wait with me until they get home.”

Frowning, Dick looked past Jason and into the darkened interior of the house. “Uh... where are they? Roy and Kori are usually with you at all times.”

“They’re picking Lian up from school,” Jason responded, turning his back on Dick and marching back into the safe house. “You want a beer?”

Blinking, Dick went to follow Jason inside and paused just at the threshold. “Um, does this mean you’re going to take her?”

“God, yes, fine,” Jason grumbled, somewhat impatiently. “Bring it- her- inside and shut up about the damn dog.”

Quickly, Dick locked his car and brought everything inside, including Sally who was really the one pulling Dick in after her, nearly making him trip over her lead and almost pulled his shoulder out of his socket in her haste to follow her new best friend deeper into the house. Dick didn’t even feel a little bit guilty about all the slobber she was flicking on the floorboards. “Shit- Jay, close the door to Roy’s workshop. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop her if she goes in that direction.”

Jason moved over to shut the door just as Sally’s nose pressed against the cold metal. “This is going to end in disaster,” Jason said, monotone as he watched her.

“No, no, it’ll be great,” Dick insisted. “What did you say about that beer?”

Roy and Kori arrived a little later, with Lian squealing in Roy’s arms, and Dick had to keep Sally still between his legs on the couch to stop her from jumping on her new friends. When they caught sight of the giant furry addition to their home scratching up Dick’s legs in their lounge room, they paused, but Lian only squealed louder. “Puppy!”

“Jason,” Kori said calmly. “What is this?”

“You brought a dog?” Roy exclaimed, much less calmly. “Are you insane?”

Shaking his head, Jason held his arms up in surrender. “This time, this is not my fault. Golden Boy though we needed a pet, and come on, you guys know how hard it is to say no to his puppy-dog eyes.”

“Yeah, this is great and all, but can I let her go now?” Dick grunted through a mouthful of dog. “She’s very hard to hold onto and very heavy.”

Roy looked a little startled, but Kori laughed and bent down as Dick let Sally go. She jumped into Kori’s arms and began eagerly licking at her face. “Oh, Roy, she’s precious,” she laughed.

Standing from the couch, Dick dusted dog fur off his pants. “I thought she’d make a good baby sitter,” he explained. “You know, so when you guys go on patrol, you’re not leaving her here alone or calling up Wally or Connor or the other Titans to babysit her. She’s a gentle giant, but she’s scary when she wants to be.”

Kori seemed to consider it. Roy looked aghast as he held a squirming Lian in his arms. “We are not leaving my daughter in the care of a dog.”

“Why not?” Kori asked, running her hands over Sally’s head when it was pushed against her palm. “We leave her with Garfield all the time, and he’s often a dog.”

“No, Kori, that’s different,” Roy insisted. “Gar is a boy who takes the shape of a dog, but while he may look like a dog, he’s still a boy. This is... just a normal, everyday dog.”

“A stray,” Jason said and Roy looked heartbroken. “Yeah, I know. I had that same reaction when he hit me with that bombshell too.”

Roy slowly turned to face Dick. “You took in a dog when your apartment doesn’t allow pets? Why would you do that?”

“She was supposed to be a part of the new Bludhaven K-9 unit, but she didn’t make the cut,” Dick explained, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Apparently, she was too nice. As if any criminal wouldn’t want to be loved to death instead of being beaten up every night, but they wouldn’t accept her, and I couldn’t just dump her out on the street. It’s getting cold. It’s a miracle she survived as long as she did.”

“Does she have a name?” Kori asked.

“Sally,” Dick said, trying not to smile.

Scoffing, Roy turned to Jason. “Obviously, you didn’t name her. You suck at naming things. No offence, Jaybird.”

Jason rolled his eyes. Dick just laughed. “So... are you going to keep her?”

Roy looked exasperated, but he nodded. “I mean, yeah, we kind of need to now. It’d be different if you’d just brought her at a pet shop, but now I know that she doesn’t even have a home for the winter, I can't just let her get abandoned at some shelter or on the streets. I wouldn’t do that to a person who can fend for themselves let alone a dog. So yeah, we’ll keep her.”

“Then... why are you holding Lian like that?” Dick pointed out.

“Because that’s a big dog and this is a little girl,” Roy retorted. “I doubt she’ll bite, I trust you that much, but I don’t want her to jump on Lian and knock her on her ass.”

With her back to him, Roy couldn’t see it, but from where Dick was, he saw Kori smile. “Don’t worry,” she said gently. “I’ve got her.”

Slowly, gingerly, Roy lowered his daughter to the ground and she made a beeline for the slobbering dog in Kori’s arms. “Fluffy,” she giggled as she ran her hands through Sally’s fur and gently fondled her ears in her palms. She turned to Roy. “We can keep her?”

Roy was silent. “Dick already brought everything,” Jason tried. “Food, dog bed, bowls, toys, leash, collar- everything.”

“Just don’t leave you door shut,” Dick said, “Unless you want her to scratch the hell out of the wood.”

Sighing, Roy eventually gave in, just like they always knew he would. “Alright, fine. Yes, we can keep her. Now we’ve got a god's damned dog to look after when we can barely look after ourselves.”

“Princess!” Lian squealed as she threw her arms around Sally’s neck and the dog responded by resting her head heavily on Lian’s shoulder.

Kori wasn’t even holding Sally any more, and she ran her hands through Lian’s hair instead. “Her name is Sally, darling.”

“Princess Sally!” Lian corrected like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Even Roy was laughing.

At the end of the night, when they were watching the taillights of Dick’s car fade into the distance, Kori turned to Jason, who was leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. “You agreed to take her because she reminded you of him, didn’t you?”

“I hope that’s the reason,” Roy said from where he was watching at the window with a coffee. “Because you’re impulsive, but you’re not reckless enough to accept the gift of a dog without one.”

“I guess I miss my brother, so what?” Jason said. “Sue me.”

In the background, Sally rolled over onto her back and exposed her belly to the ceiling, and Lian, overjoyed and very, very happy, copied her movements and both of them kicked their legs in the air and laid there on the ground for a very long time, content with each other's company, and Jason decided that Sally was the best gift he'd ever been given.