XIII. Darkest hour

Story by Vexxus on SoFurry

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XIII. Darkest hour

As told by Nina

I was woken up by the sound of someone crying. At first, I thought Kaeden was having a mental breakdown, until I realized the source of the sound was much closer to me. I switched on the small lamp on the nightstand, then turned to my boyfriend, finding him in a state I had seen only once before. Droopy ears, watery eyes, and a heartbreaking facial expression.

He was sobbing, whimpering and crying. Evidently, something had severely unsettled him, and he was in dire need of comfort. He needed me. Sitting up, I put my plushie and my pacifier aside, then pulled Milo close. With one arm around him, I supported his upper body, rubbing between his ears with my other hand in the meantime.

"Shhh... don't be afraid, angel. I'm here for you."

Unfortunately, Milo didn't show any signs of calming down. Of course, I valued his emotions higher than the night's rest of our guests, but ideally, the Shepherds would stay asleep.

"Mommy..." Milo said between two sobs.

"It's okay, mommy's here," I reassured.

He never called me 'mommy', but I didn't know whether he was in his puppy mindset. Perhaps he was in a state of regression so deep he thought I was his mother. Hence, I estimated it wiser to play along. However, I was proven wrong when Milo slowly shook his head.

"You're not mommy," he whispered with a sad voice.

"O-oh... I'm sorry. I thought you..."

I didn't finish my sentence. Instead, I hugged my tense boyfriend tighter and gave him a lick on the top of his muzzle. We sat like that for a while, and he slowly calmed down as I was whispering in his ears how much I loved him, and how he was safe with me. Eventually, Milo stopped shedding tears.

"Nina?" he spoke in his grown-up voice.


He cleared his throat.

"Mommy... she's really gone, isn't she?"

"I'm sorry, Milo, but I'm afraid she is."

"And daddy too?"

I nodded, afraid speaking up would hurt him more. A short silence lasted.

"I had a bad dream. A really bad one," he said after a while.

"Do you want to talk about it? It usually helps when you do," I suggested.

My boyfriend hesitated for a moment. He looked to his left, apparently searching for something on the ground. I then realized Sharra wasn't under the covers with us. Milo picked his shark plushie and held him close. Leaning back a little, I patiently waited for him to answer the question.

"Dunno... It was about my parents, y'know. I-I miss them so much. Not every day, though, but I still do. I'm so glad I met you."

"The feeling is mutual, angel. Now, are you going to tell me about your dream, or do you want me to tuck you back in?"

"Maybe I'd better tell you."

"You don't have to, if you don't feel like it. Do whatever you think is best, okay?"

He nodded.

"I... I can't remember much of it, but what I do know is that it was about my parents. They both... it was about their car crash, which is strange, 'cause I've never seen that happen."

"Did they, y'know... die, in your dream?"

Milo closed his eyes as new tears welled up. I gently pet his back until he calmed down again.

"Not just them," he said with a hoarse voice. "My grandparents were in the car as well."

"And they them too?"

"The car hit a tree and exploded. Then everything was burning, but I could still hear them calling, and..."

He didn't finish his sentence, just sobbed, and vacantly stared for a while.

"It's probably the rain and all those loud noises from the storm that made you dream about the crash," I mused. "But you're awake now, and you're safe with me. It was all just a bad dream."

"I know, princess, but they all... wait, my grandmother died too!" he said, suddenly sounding scared again.

"What do you mean?"

"She shouldn't have!"

I cocked my head.

"Grandpa died last year," he started, but he tensed up.

"But not Trisha," I filled in, understanding his concern. "I know that, angel, but it was only a dream."

He sat up and shook his head.

"I don't believe it. I want to know for sure."

"How? Are you going to call her or something?"

"You bet I am. Could you hand me my phone, please?"

"Milo, you can't call an old lady in the middle of the night. I don't think she'd appreciate that," I argued.

"This is not just any night. I need to know if she's alright."

"I hate to break it to you, but there's a big chance you still don't have any reception."

"But you switched the light on, so the power grid is operational again."

I furrowed my brow, then turned to the lamp on the nightstand. Without saying another word, I passed Milo's cell phone to him. He selected Trisha's number from his contacts.

"Angel, I understand you're concerned, but can't you wait a few hours? It's five o'clock!"

"So? What if it's a premonition?"

I gave him a confused look, and he sighed.

"On the morning of the day my grandfather died, a bird hit the window of my aunt's living room. It died from the impact. I'm not superstitious, but I don't believe that's a coincidence either."

"And you think dreaming about Trisha's death might be a similar freak accident?"

He slowly nodded.

"I don't want to take the risk. Are you going to let me call now, please?"

I leaned in and licked his muzzle.

"Alright, go ahead."

Milo pressed the dial button and put the phone to his ear. It took a while for the call to get through, and I figured he might interpret that as a sign his grandmother was already dead. A more logical explanation would be Trisha's age. Elderly people aren't as fast as young adults, and she might also be a deep sleeper.

Besides, as far as I could remember, she only had a landline, and that phone was in her living room. She might not even be able to hear it in her bedroom. My suspicions were proven wrong when I heard Trisha's voice emanating from Milo's phone.

"Trisha Larkin speaking," she said with and audibly groggy voice. "Who's calling?"

"Hi granny, it's me, Milo."

She yawned.

"Sorry 'bout that, dear. Why are you calling me this early? Did all the commotion of the storm keep you up?"

"N-no, I've been asleep for quite a while. Nina is here, so I manage. It's just... I wanted to hear your voice because I-"

Suddenly, Milo couldn't get another word out of his muzzle. He was clearly trying to fight back his tears, so I gently rubbed between his ears. My boyfriend tightly clutched his shark plushie, hoping to find some comfort. After a few seconds, I gently took his phone.

"Milo had a nightmare," I explained. "He dreamed something bad happened to you, and he wanted to make sure you're okay. The phone is on speaker now, by the way."

"Oh, hello Nina. Ignoring the early hour, I find it very considerate of you pups to give me a call. I'm actually surprised the power is back on. Did the blackout strike you as well?"

"Yush, it did sometime yesterday evening. Milo was scared for a while, but it turned out well in the end."

"How good to hear that. Milo, are you still there?"

"Yush," he answered with a shy voice.

"I love you very much, dear. You're the most precious person I know, and when we're together, I feel like a part of your mother is still with me. Money can't buy such feelings, and I'm glad you choose to spend time with me."

"Thankies," Milo said, now fully in his puppy voice.

"Don't you worry about me, dear. I'm still alive, and I don't plan to leave you anytime soon. Even if I should pass away, I'm sure Nina will be there for you. I've seen the kind of love she has for you, and I know it's powerful enough to keep you on your paws. Besides, I believe we'll meet each other after we die. You'll get to see your parents again, too, little one."

"Lotsa thankies for being so kind, Granny."

"It's okay, pup. Sometimes, you need someone to tell you just what you need to hear."

"Thanks a lot, Trisha." I added. "I, um... I didn't know you valued me so highly. It's truly a blessing to have met you the way I did."

"That's okay dear. Will you two visit me again soon, by the way? I'd love to have you over."

"I'd have to check my agenda to seen when I'm here in Northshore, but it shouldn't be a problem. Is it okay if we call you back later this week to set a date?"

"Of course. I'm already looking forward to seeing you dogs. I had a lot of fun with you on Milo's birthday, you know."

I smiled, then gave Milo a quick lick on his muzzle.

"So did we. Sorry again for calling in the middle of the night."

"That's okay. Just don't make a habit out of it," the old Indian replied half-joking.

We exchanged goodbyes, and then Trisha ended the conversation.

I put Milo's phone back on the nightstand. When I turned back to cuddle him some more, he surprised me with an affectionate lick on my muzzle.

"Thanks, Nina," he said in his grown-up voice.

"What for?"

"For being there for me, and for loving me. You never fail to calm me down, y'know? I... I feel so safe with you, even when I'm not playing puppy."

"Angel, I'm hopelessly in love with you. It's a pleasure to take care of you, really."

"I know you like it, but I want to do something in return. I'm way more often the puppy than you are, and I don't want to take advantage of you."

I cocked my head.

"You want to be taken care of too, don't you?" he continued. "I feel like I'm not doing that frequently enough."

With a smile, I let out a content sigh.

"Of course I do, but-" I said, but he interrupted me.

"No buts, princess. I don't want this to become a strain on our relationship. Even though I'm not good at it, I like to take care of you as well. The way you depend on me makes me feel wanted, needed even. Besides my grandmother, there's nobody else who does."

My ears folded flat against the back of my head. Why did Milo's words make me shy all of a sudden? He noticed the sudden change in my expression, and decided to cuddle me, instead of the other way around.

"And when you're playing puppy, you're even cuter than you usually are." He whispered. "I love your grown up side, but it's 'little Nina' I fell in love with first."

I chuckled. "That sounds a bit weird, y'know that."

"Oh hush, you're spoiling the moment. It just that... the first time when you were playing puppy, I got to see a side of you I've never seen you show in the company of anyone else. You said it yourself that there has been nobody you dared to be little with."

"Except for you," I said, putting my head on his chest.

Hearing his heart beat while his hands caressed my back was the most soothing thing I had experienced in a while. I made a mental note to do that with Milo next time he got scared.

"That's just what I meant to say, princess. Especially now Lily and Kaeden are here, I want you to have some puppy time as well."

"But the storm," I argued. "You were scared, and I-"

"Nina, hush," he said with a stern voice, but gently so. "I know I was, and it's still unsettling, but that doesn't mean I have to be the center of attention, does it? Of course, I appreciate that you take care of me, but do you think it should always be like this? Lily was right when she said Kaeden shouldn't be like he is during storms, and I don't want to be like that forever either. I'll have to learn to be a grown-up regardless of the weather, else I'll never be able to fully deal with the loss of my parents."

"Angel, don't talk down something as serious as that," I said, somewhat taken aback.

"I'm not," he replied calmly, "but can you imagine me being like this at age fifty? Besides, when people get married, they'll have to let go of their parents too, although in a different way."

I pondered for a few seconds.

"Maybe... I think I understand what you mean. Now that you mention it, what will we be like when we're fifty? Would we still be playing puppy?"

"I don't know, princess, but I can assure you that I'll love you regardless of that."

A big smile took over my muzzle. We remained silent for a while, but the lack of conversation wasn't uncomfortable. After what must have been a few minutes, I spoke up.

"Milo? I suppose we should go back to sleep. It's too early to get up, and I think Lily and Kaeden would like to sleep in as well, after all the buzz of last night."

"Yush, that'd be good," he said as I sat up. "What're you doing?"

I grabbed the zipper of his sleeper, and took it all the way down to the bottom, revealing Milo's diaper. Three full stars had appeared on it already, and the other two might not have needed as much effort anymore. Milo usually sleeps on his back, which means the front of his diaper doesn't get soaked as fast as it would if he were sitting or standing up.

"Just like I expected," I said. "You could use a change, angel."

Like he usually does, my boyfriend hid his muzzle behind that adorable stuffed shark of his. Milo didn't cover his entire face, however, which he would if he were truly embarrassed. I then remembered his pacifier being gone, so I searched for it. Eventually, it turned out the object had strategically hid itself between our pillows.

"There you go," I reassured my boyfriend as I slipped the pacifier back in his muzzle.

Milo began to slowly nurse it as I helped him off sleeper. This time, I didn't even have to urge him to let go of Sharra when he needed to. Wearing only his diaper, my puppy waited for me to take his 'toy box' from under his bed. I took out his changing pad, wipes, a clean diaper, and - of course - puppy powder.

After more than half a year of changing my big puppy, I had become quite adept at it. Usually, I took my time, but I knew I could better go with 'quick and efficient', given the early hour. With the soft waterproof pad under Milo's bottom, I was good to go. Within a matter of a few minutes, I had changed my boyfriend's soggy diaper for a clean one.

With the smell of puppy powder still in our nostrils, I held up Milo's sleeper. With some 'help', he soon had it on, and I zipped the front back up. I took the pad from under his bottom again, then tidied up the supplies I had used. A quick trip to the bathroom to get rid of Milo's used diaper was all it took to finish the process.

When I came back to the bedroom, I found my boyfriend laying in the same position as I had left him. It made me think of a feral puppy, although I found Milo a lot cuter. With a faint grin, I crept on the bed and put myself on top of him, with my knees between his spread legs.

As my hands found their way under his shoulders, he wrapped his legs around my waist. Milo put his plushie aside and pulled me up close, until my ears touched his chin. Once again, I found myself listening to his heartbeats as my head was on his chest. I could've laid there forever.

"Um, pwincess?" Milo mouthed around his pacifier. "Don't you's need fhanged?"

I smiled.

"I'm still dry, angel."

He whimpered, but I knew he was just playing.

"Don't worry, puppy. You'll get to change me in the morning."

Milo took his pacifier out and gave me a lick between my ears. I hardly ever changed myself, because I knew he liked to do it for me. Besides, getting changed beats doing it yourself, even when ignoring the fact it makes the 'changee' feel very little.

"That's fine. I'm going to take good care of you tomorrow, got it?" he promised in his grown-up voice.

"Yush. I'm already looking forward to it," I replied, getting off of his chest.

"Nite-nite now?"

I nodded, then took my pacifier from the nightstand and switched the lamp off. As soon as I laid back down, Milo folded the blanket back, leaving only our heads uncovered.

"Hold hands?" I offered.

My boyfriend lisped a 'yush' around his pacifier, then turned to his side with his back towards me. I returned the gesture and snuggled up close. With our backs against each other, we could hold hands, while cuddling our respective plushies with the other. I fell asleep to the soft fuzzy feeling of Milo's body against mine, and the steady sound of our breaths.

The apartment was at rest. _We_were at rest.

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