Chapter Twenty-Three

Starbuck was lying down with her eyes open. As soon as the door opened she craned her neck back to see who had come in. When she saw Brett enter the room, her tail started slapping the table excitedly. Brett's face lit up as he walked over to the table and rubbed Starbuck's head, kissing her affectionately as Dr. Samuels stood by with a grin holding her file. Zach stood by, a smile materializing on his face as he watched Brett love on Starbuck.

"Do you feel better? Hmm? You feel better, baby girl?" Brett asked, sounding as if he were talking to a baby. Starbuck started licking him in the face as Brett smiled and laughed. Dr. Samuels padded over to Zach, leaning towards him as he whispered something in his ear. Brett was too preoccupied with Starbuck to notice them talking, but Zach's face went from bright and cheerful to grim and serious. Dr. Samuels pursed his lips as he patted Zach on the shoulder and left the room. Zach stood watching as Brett played with Starbuck, his heart feeling hard and heavy in his chest.

"She seems to be feeling better," Brett said, laughing as Starbuck pawed at him. "That has to be good, right Zach?" he asked, glancing back at him. When he saw Zach's face, he froze, his smile fading. A lump formed in his throat. "What's wrong?" he asked, standing up straight as he turned to face Zach. "What is it?"

Zach breathed a heavy sigh, closing his eyes as he rubbed his arms, biting his lip.

"She's better," he said, hesitantly. "But..."

Brett stared at Zach long and hard, his jaw clenched tight as his eyes became glassy.

"But what? Just spit it out," Brett said impatiently.

Zach opened his eyes and looked Brett in the face.

"With the state her other kidney is in, Dr. Samuels gives her approximately a year to live," Zach stated.

Brett blinked, narrowing his eyes as he cocked his head. He appeared to be turning the news over in his head, processing it, trying to make sense of it. He looked back at Starbuck, who was sitting up now, panting happily.

"But you... you said..."

"I know what I said. But I didn't know the extent of the damage then," Zach said, his eyes frowning. "Brett, I know you're probably upset now, and I understand. Believe me, I do. But this is just the beginning. If Starbuck's going to have live the happiest, healthiest life possible, she's going to need the proper diet, medication, exercise... regular vet visits. The bills are going to start piling up, and I know what your situation is right now. Even if you got a decent job, you may still wind up over your head in debt. I don't think you want that."

Brett's lip trembled as he glared at Zach with contempt.

"What, then? What am I supposed to do? Are you suggesting that I just let her die? Put her down right now? Is that what you're saying?" he demanded.

"Don't put words I didn't speak in my mouth. That's not what I'm saying," Zach said.

"Then what?" Brett hissed.

Zach shifted weight from one foot to another, putting his hands on his hips as he breathed a sigh.

"Let me take her," he said.

Brett opened his mouth, only to gasp in surprise. He wasn't expecting Zach to suggest that. He stood there gawking at him, mouth hung open like a fish. Zach was unblinking, his eyes watering up as he and Brett stood facing one another.

"You... want me to give her to you?" Brett asked in disbelief.

Zach swallowed hard, nodding.

"Yes. I want you to give her to me. I promise I'll take care of her, make sure she gets the care and treatment she needs to live as long as she can. I don't want her to die anymore than you do, and all things considered, you don't exactly have the resources available to do that. You can still see her whenever you'd like. But I'd like you to let me take her. I don't want her to suffer, and I don't want to see you have to make any decisions you aren't ready to make," Zach said. "That choice is up to you. I just want you..." he trailed off, his voice catching on itself. Brett's brow furrowed furtively as Zach licked his lips, clearing his throat.

"What did you...?"

"I said... I want..." Zach said, clenching his teeth. "I want you."

Brett was dumbstruck. For a moment he wasn't sure he was hearing right.

"Did you... just..."

"I know, I'm an idiot. I don't care if you're gay or not. I want you, and if it'll help make things any easier for you," Zach said, suddenly grabbing Brett by the shoulders as he pulled him close and closed his mouth over his. Brett's eyes grew wide in surprise, but as he felt Zach's strong hands caress his face, he melted into the moment, closing his eyes as Zach's other hand grabbed Brett's belt loop and pulled him even closer. Their tongues touched, their saliva mixing into one another's to create an oh-so-sweet concoction.

When their mouths separated, they lingered mere inches apart, breathing against each other. Their eyes met, wandering searchingly. Brett swallowed hard as he felt a white hot burning sensation just beneath his chest. Zach put a hand on his cheek, fingering his lips as they touched foreheads.

"So... did that help?" Zach asked.

Brett licked his lips, still tasting some of Zach's saliva on them. He smirked, looking up at him as he ran a hand over Zach's scruffy goatee.

"Yeah..." he said, putting his index finger on Zach's lips. "It helped."

Zach's face lit up as he leaned forward, their lips locking once again. The door opened and Starbuck jumped up, barking wildly.

"Zach, Dr. Sam-Oh dear sweet Jesus!" Candace exclaimed as she walked in on Zach and Brett during their intimate moment. The two of them looked toward the door, faces beet red and smiling as Candace covered her eyes and looked away.

"I didn't know we had become a Love Shack," Candace remarked.

Zach chuckled, one arm wrapped around Brett's waist as Brett leaned his head on Zach's shoulder.

"What is it, Candace?" he asked.

"Um, right..." she said reluctantly. "Y'all are in the middle of anything now, right?"

Zach and Brett laughed.

"No," Zach said.

Candace looked over, uncovering her eyes and breathing a sigh of relief.

"Oh thank the Lord," she said, shaking her head. "Uh... anyway..." she said, collecting her thoughts. "Dr. Samuels said that Starbuck will be ready to go home later today. He just wants to keep her for observation and make sure she's stable."

"That's great, Candace. Thank you," Zach said.

Candace looked sharply at both Zach and Brett, nodding slowly.

"Yeah... sure..." she said, shutting the door and leaving.

Brett sighed and turned around to find Starbuck staring at them, tail going a mile a minute.

"So... you wanna take Starbuck?" he asked.

Zach shrugged, putting his arm across Brett's shoulder.

"If that's what you want," he said, licking his lips. "If you want... you can come with her. I'm sure Porthos would like having his sister around. And you wouldn't have to worry about paying so much rent by yourself..."

Brett turned toward Zach with an eyebrow raised.

"Are you trying to get me to move in with you already?" he asked.

Zach chuckled, looking over at him.

"Kinda soon, yeah, but just tell yourself its for the dogs," he said.

Brett thought for a moment and smirked.

"You have a point," he said. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to give it a try."

"That's what I like to hear," Zach said, squeezing Brett's shoulder.

"Yeah..." Brett said, leaning his head on Zach as he stared down at Starbuck. "Me too."

The End

Author's Note: So there you have it. The final chapter of Paw Prints. What did you think? I was thinking of doing a little different for the ending, but tacking that on to the end of it just didn't work for me. The ending I wound up going with is a little sudden I think, but it works. That's kind of why I went with it, because it just felt... right to me. Don't know if you'll agree, but... anyway, this was a rather odd story for me. I mean, in the end, it was kind of unrealistic. But then again, sexuality can be a very confusing thing. We aren't always sure what we want or what's right for us, but eventually, in the end, we figure things out and realize that what we want is right there in front of us.

Anyhow, now that this story is done, expect Life Sentence to (officially) start up soon. And I mean soon as in tomorrow. Be sure to check it out. Oh, and if you've read this entire story and haven't reviewed, don't you think it's high time you share your thoughts with the class? :P 'Till next time.