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Take a Bite of my Heart Tonight

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Hardison figured his dog type would be the big chill kind, maybe, some kind of sheepdog who would go out on runs and have fun with Hardison and flop on his lap on the couch at night when Hardison wanted to play video games. Or maybe some kind of little terrier with plenty of energy who Hardison could chase around while waiting for his code to cycle.

Apparently Hardison's dog type is “probably actually a wolf,” because he sees Fang's cage and falls in love instantly.

“Oh, um,” says the girl who's escorting him around the shelter, who introduced herself as Amy. “He's a bit of a tough case.”

“I work from home,” says Hardison, staring at what must be the world's grumpiest probably-a-wolf (maybe with some pit bull mixed in, on second glance). He looks miserable and he's chewing on a rawhide. “And of course he's a tough case, you named him Fang. Not even White Fang, just Fang. He deserves something a lot more noble than that. Caesar, maybe. Achilles. Spartan.” The dog's tail thumps the ground once. “There, see? He likes it.”

“Maybe I can let you two get acquainted,” she says, a little dubious, but way more willing than before. “He doesn't actually attack people, but he intimidates them, we think he was rescue at some point. He was just surrendered here a few weeks back, left at the door. We've had a lot of those lately.”

She can't just give the dog a sad backstory and expect him to leave it here. Hardison crouches and sticks his hand through the bar until it's a couple inches from the dog's nose. After a few seconds of glaring, the dog lifts his head and deigns to nose Hardison's hand. It's definitely deigning. He has never met a dog who treated affection like it was doing the human a favor by accepting it. “There, see? He likes me.” He twists around to look at her when the dog actually licks his hand. “So what do we think? I'm liking Caesar. He's definitely regal.”

“If you're sure,” she says, but her face softens when Hardison stands up and the dog follows as far as he can in the enclosure when they walk down the hall.

*

Twenty-four hours later, Hardison walks back into the shelter to get his dog and sees a cat actually hanging upside down on the inside of her cage, glaring at everyone who passes by.

Amy, credit where credit is due, seems to have already figured out that it's useless arguing with him. “Cats don't have a mandatory waiting period like dogs do. Do you want to take them both home today?”

*

Hardison was a little worried about taking on a tough dog and a tough cat at the same time, but Caesar and Cleopatra actually get along. There's a little wary circling when they first move in at Hardison's place, but pretty fast they figure out that Cleopatra isn't going to touch the floor if she can help it and Caesar doesn't care as long as he isn't tripping over her.

Neither of them is very needy. Actually, Hardison could use a little more affection from his new pets, but whatever, he's patient. They both like to be in the room with him while he does his thing, Caesar flopped across the doorway so Hardison has to step over him whenever he goes to the bathroom and Cleopatra on top of whatever thing in the room is highest.

“Aren't you supposed to be man's best friend?” he asks Caesar when he tries to throw a ball and just gets the judgiest damn look he's ever seen a canine give. “You've got it made, dog, I am buying you the fanciest dog food in this world, you two probably eat better than I do.”

Caesar snorts. Hardison really does not want to be one of those pet owners who says that his pets understand everything he says, but he really did get some unnervingly responsive animals.

Cleopatra continues lurking on top of the kitchen cabinet, probably plotting to get into his sugar cereal again.

*

About a week in, Cleopatra seems to decide that maybe he's not the worst person in the world and starts following him everywhere. He can lock a door and she'll be through it in less than a minute to glare at him like he should only expect that his cat wants to be on the pillow with him or even in the shower, because she's the weirdest cat in the world. When he's using the bathroom for anything but a shower, she usually stalks right back out, and the third time she does it, he just yells “Serves you right, I have to smell yours at least once a day” through the open door and wonders when this became his life.

Now, when he sits on the couch at night, Cleopatra will drape herself across him somehow—the shoulder is a favorite spot, and she never sits on his lap, but she likes keeping him in one spot and purrs at him while he talks about whatever movie is going on. Caesar watches too, usually, sometimes thumps his tail when Hardison does something great during a video game or growls a little during an action scene, but he stays across the living room.

“You could come hang out too,” Hardison points out when he catches Caesar watching them, and Caesar bares his teeth and goes back to staring moodily into the distance. “Should have named you Bruce Wayne, all the brooding you do,” he complains, and goes back to scratching Cleopatra under the chin.

*

Hardison goes out to get some supplies for his latest job and gets a little roughed up.

It's not like it's the first time it's happened—Hardison's got a big mouth and doesn't take shit, and he's more used to doing all his work from a computer. Jogging doesn't exactly prepare him to get punched. Multiple times.

When he gets through his front door—no tail, thank you, Driver's Ed Lucille who taught him a few tricks—Caesar looks up from his sprawl on the floor, which is usual, and then gets up and growls, which is not.

“Man, it's just me, do not give me shit just because I probably smell like weird criminals. Sometimes I need equipment and information that can't be ordered online.”

Caesar barks a little, which brings Cleopatra into the room, hopping from piece of furniture to piece of furniture until she lands on the couch. Like that's some kind of signal, Caesar prods Hardison until he sits there and then props his head on Hardison's lap while Cleopatra climbs on his shoulder and glares until Hardison pets him.

“I cannot believe I am getting bossed around by my own dog,” says Hardison, but he keeps on petting, and sighs. “Maybe next time I'll bring you along. What good is a scary dog if I can't intimidate people with him?”

Caesar sighs and gets a little less glare-y, which Hardison decides is an agreement.

*

Hardison walks into his kitchen to find Caesar and Cleopatra making all kinds of weird gestures and noises and stands in the doorway for a few seconds before they notice him. “You two are weird, you know that?”

Cleopatra yowls. Caesar just scowls at him while he gets out his next orange soda and pokes around for something frozen to stick in the microwave for dinner. Midnight snack. Whatever meal he's eating. It's been about forty-eight hours since he slept and the only thing that got him to see daylight was walking Caesar.

“Yeah, yeah, not all of us can eat dog food,” says Hardison, because he's become that guy who talks to his pets and he's just going to accept that, and both of them trail him out of the kitchen and back to his computer.

*

Word gets around in criminal communities, and word right now is that there's a mansion right outside Hardison's city full of incredibly valuable artifacts that no one is willing to touch anymore because thieves have a habit of going missing there. Hardison mostly doesn't bother stealing physical objects, but there's some temptation there.

“What do you think?” he asks Cleopatra and Caesar one night, when Cleopatra is on his shoulder and Caesar has his head propped on Hardison's knee, which is just about the only affection he ever doles out. “Want to go see what kind of security there is on that mansion, get out a trophy? I am totally not believing the curse rumors.”

Hardison finds himself pinned to his own couch in under ten seconds, which is pretty sad, considering he just got taken down by a dog and a cat.

He sighs when neither of them looks like they're planning on going anywhere. “Fine, fine, I'll just do some hacking. I don't like it when people in my line of work go missing, and I do like this apartment. Don't want to move yet.”

After a few exchanged looks, which will never stop being disconcerting, they let him up, and Hardison goes to his office to figure his way around the creepy mansion's security system.

Child's play, honestly. Hardison is through all their security in six hours, figures out they're up so some seriously hinky shit within another four, dismantles at least half of the hinky shit in a haze of exhaustion and code (there's some kind of weird machine on their network with a lot of scary-looking government-project-level coding, and Hardison gives that a virus first thing), and collects enough digital evidence to get them turned in to the police before he collapses into bed.

Cleopatra and Caesar watch him the whole time, except when he feeds them and walks them. Tense, like maybe they're afraid he's going to run off and get cursed by a weird mansion even when he said he wouldn't.

*

Hardison wakes to the sound of arguing. It's not completely unheard of, in his neighborhood, but this is definitely in his living room, which is new.

“I don't want to clear out!” some strange guy is saying. “I'm just saying it's a little easier to explain missing pets than it is to explain us.”

“You made him breakfast,” says a woman. Hardison gets out of bed with as much stealth as he can and grabs for the baseball bat he keeps in his room. If this is a burglary or a pet-napping, he is going to be prepared. “How are you going to explain that?” When she talks again, her mouth is full. “God, I missed pancakes.”

Hardison keeps creeping down the hall. His house definitely does smell like pancakes. That's a first.

“I don't know, Parker, maybe we're really polite burglars. Would you stop that? He's been asleep ten hours, he's going to wake up soon.”

Hardison pokes his head around the kitchen door, bat in his hands. There's a blonde woman on his counter, wearing a pair of his jeans and a t-shirt, and a guy with long hair standing at his state-of-the-art mostly-unused stove wearing his sweatpants and Hardison's favorite flannel shirt. If he thinks he's stealing that, he's got another think coming. Both of them are unarmed, but they got past his security system and his scary pets, so he keeps his bat gripped tight in his hands when he steps into the doorway and clears his throat.

The woman on his counter beams at him. “Hi, I'm Parker! I was your cat. He was your dog. He's Eliot.”

That is definitely not the opening Hardison was expecting. “You know how much sense that makes, right?”

“Sit down,” says the guy he may as well call Eliot. “You're going to die of malnutrition, I'm going to get some fruit into you since you don't have any vegetables in this house.”

“So, just checking, you're not actually going to kill me before I get an explanation, right?”

“I wonder if I still like being scratched under the chin,” Parker muses.

Hardison sits down.

*

They're actually his pets. Well, they aren't, because that's impossible, but they really are. Eliot glares exactly like Caesar and bosses him around just as much, and Parker seems to dislike touching the floor just as much as Cleopatra.

“We tried to steal from the place a couple days apart, they had some really weird security,” says Parker. “They would round thieves up every once in a while, send us to the shelter. Probably there's a couple people having to make some quick explanations there this morning.”

“There is no security in this world that turns people into animals and then, I don't know, un-turns them when it gets hacked!” Except the weird machine he gave a virus to. Hardison cannot think about this. Magic or mad science or whatever the hell this is is way more fun in comic books.

“Apparently there is,” says Eliot, who's continuing to make blueberry pancakes like this is a totally normal morning. “Do you ever go grocery shopping?”

Hardison blinks at him. “No, I have it delivered, you know this, how often do I go out?”

“You are going to get poisoned. We'll go shopping later,” says Eliot, who seems to have given up on the whole leaving thing. Hardison isn't sure he minds, which is weird. He's a man who likes his privacy, but his dog and cat have turned into hot people and if this is a dream he's willing to go with it.

“Get cereal, I ate all yours,” says Parker, and actually hops off his counter. It feels like a momentous occasion. “So, I'm a great thief. Eliot is a pretty good thief. You're a good enough hacker to turn us back into humans. Are we going to ruin their lives or not?”

Hardison opens his mouth, shuts it again, and looks at them. Parker is beaming like she's expecting a yes, and Eliot is just raising his eyebrows, waiting on an answer. “Just so we're all clear, you know this doesn't make any sense, right?”

“I was a dog, Hardison. Of course it doesn't make any sense. We should get to the bottom of it.” Eliot pauses. “And ruin their lives.”

Hardison throws his hands up. “Okay. What the hell? Let's go steal all their shit and get them arrested.”

“Not very catchy,” says Parker, “but we'll work on it.”