"Excellent work today, Rovers," the Master commended the team before him. "You're good, good dogs."
He could see them watching him closely, tails twitching anxiously as they waited for what he would say next. He smiled, glad for the chance to give them good news this time.
"For now," he finally continued, "the world is safe and can rest easy. So I think you've all earned some time off."
They breathed a collective sigh of relief, and the man could hardly blame them. The past week had been nothing but missions for them – averting crises, rescuing people, battling Parvo's cano-mutants…protecting the world in general was difficult enough, but continuously for days was pushing even the Rovers' strength.
"Head on home and rest up, Rovers," the Master said. "You deserve it."
"Thanks, Master," Hunter answered for all of them. They all waited, though, until the man disappeared into the veil of light behind him before heading for the Transdogmifiers.
"Finally!" Blitz exclaimed. "I needed a vacation."
Exile snorted softly, rubbing the back of his tired neck. "For once, I am agreeing with you," he replied. "I am like empty dog without other wind."
Too tired to try translating, Colleen simply said, "It 'as been a tough week. It'll be nice takin' a break for a while." Shag mumbled an excited agreement.
Hunter nodded, though he seemed distracted as Muzzle hopped over to them. "Yeah, but that means poor Muzzle'll be all by himself for a while."
The Rottweiler grunted, hopping up and down in his spot. With a grin, the leader gently scratched behind the other's ear.
"C'mon, 'unter, let's go," Colleen said, grabbing the retriever's attention. As he looked, he could see that the other three had already transformed back into regular dogs and were heading for the transport tubes.
Giving Muzzle one last pat on the head, he said, "See ya in a few."
Muzzle watched as Hunter and Colleen entered the Transdogmifier chambers, the smoke covering them as their forms shrank and changed. Soon, the canines stepped out on all fours and, after one last look from the retriever, the two made their way to the transport tubes for home.
Muzzle watched them go, and could hear the low hiss of the tubes as his friends departed. When they were gone, he hopped toward the platform where their master usually stood when addressing the Rovers, and waited patiently. Though he did enjoy being with his friends and helping the Rovers out on missions, Muzzle didn't mind the time of peace, when they all headed home. After all, he wasn't as alone as they thought.
The bright light suddenly dimmed, revealing a metal corridor never seen by the other Rovers. Eagerly, Muzzle made his way through the passage, hopping along until he reached the end of it and entered the familiar setting.
The room was modeled much like the old lab as he remembered it, although this was much bigger than the one before. And sitting at a computer consol that stretched along the far wall was his master, looking up at the large monitor. As Muzzle barked, the man looked over and smiled.
"It's been a long day, huh?" the man said as he got to his feet and approached the canine. Whatever was left of the Rottweiler's tail began to wag as he noticed the regular human warmth in place of the 'special effect' lights in the man's eyes, for it meant that the presence of the 'Master' was now replaced with the comfort of the man he'd always known; William Shepherd.
"You did good today, boy," the man added as he gently rubbed the top of the dog's head.
Muzzle seemed to grin as he replied with a proud bark.
Reaching up, Shepherd began loosening the mask covering the dog's snout. "You ready for a break too?"
Normally, when Hunter or one of the others removed his mask, Muzzle's heart would start racing, pumping fire into his blood in anticipation for his attack. He would rip through the jacket in a fury and charge, his mouth foaming as a delirious strength and hunger shrouded his mind.
But now, as his master gently lifted the mask away from him, he felt none of the sensations that made him Muzzle; all he knew now was a satisfied calm as he patiently waited for his other restraints to be removed. Instead of tearing the white coat that bound him, he waited until Shepherd finished unhooking it, and he dropped to the ground on all fours. Then he shook it off and stretched his body, glad to be out of the harness.
Shepherd knelt down to his level, scratching behind the canine's ears in warm affection. "Feels much better, huh, Scout?" he asked with a smile.
It was only in rare moments like this, when the two of them were by themselves and as relaxed as the world that was rescued, was he ever called by the name given to him so long ago; the name that expected none of his power, none of his strength, none of his unpredictability…only the closeness of a family member that happened to be a dog.
Scout replied with an excited bark, gently licking his master's hand. But the sudden beeping image on the computer screen got his attention, and he whined in soft curiosity.
Rising to his feet, the man led the Rottweiler towards the computer and sat in his chair again. "It's just some research I'm working on, to develop a new weapon for the Rovers," he said, typing some commands into the keyboard.
Scout sat beside Shepherd's chair and rested his head on the man's lap. This was the part of their master that the others never saw. No matter what, Shepherd was always researching, always working, always trying to find new ways to help and make things better.
He was still the same master Scout remembered.
Recognizing the long night ahead of them both, the large canine settled into a comfortable position at the man's feet. And for the moment, it felt just like the old days – days before the other Rovers, before Parvo, before the world needed them both, before all the craziness. Back before he was known as Muzzle, the Rovers' crazed friend and secret weapon; back before he was known as the Master, organizer of the world's elite crime-fighting team…
Back to when a young, hopeful scientist, determined to change the world, was working late in his lab for the third night in a row; and his loyal dog sat as his only company, listening to the sounds of the computer's electric humming and his master's thoughtful murmurs.
And Shepherd and Scout had no problem with this.