XIV. What comes around

Story by Vexxus on SoFurry

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XIV. What comes around

As told by Lily

I slowly blinked awake as the morning light streamed into the living room. I didn't hear any sounds of the storm outside, so it must have passed. Kaeden was still passed out beside me, so I quietly slipped out of bed to see how it looked outdoors.

The roads were a mess. Debris and wreckage would make driving hazardous, if it was even possible in the first place, until road crews could get things cleared. I didn't see any major damage to Milo's apartment, thankfully. At least all the damage would give Kaeden a job for awhile. Maybe the same firm would even hire him right back for construction work - he had rather liked the crew he had worked with.

I slipped back inside and sat on the bed, deciding to call the hotel since reception would likely be back. I was informed that normally a refund was not an option, since the check-in date had passed, but due to the storm they were providing two free nights instead to customers who weren't able to make it to the hotel. I mentally shrugged, and told them that would be acceptable.

About this time Kaeden started to rouse.

"Hey, puppy," I said, with a smile. "Morning's here. How you feeling?"

"Mmmm. Better," he said croaked quietly, rubbing his eyes.

"I'll be right back," I said. I grabbed a spare bottle from his diaper bag, and went to the kitchen to fill it up with water before returning to sit with him on the pull-out couch.

"For the dry throat," I said. He accepted the bottle gratefully, though I did let him feed himself. While he was distracted with that, I pulled his blanket aside so I could check the condition of his diaper. I knew he was wet, since I'd sent him to bed that way, but he definitely needed changed now.

"Why don't you lay back, hm?" I said, starting to get out his changing supplies. He complied, nursing on his bottle to distract him - although at one point he did pull his stuffed wolf closer to himself.

I heard Milo and Nina talking in the distance, and then a door closing. They came into the living room right as I started taping the front of Kaeden's new diaper onto him. We both gave our good mornings as I ran my paws along the legbands, making sure the leak guards were in place. I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable that our hosts had walked in while he was getting his diaper changed, so to cheer him up, I figured I'd let him cover up for today.

"Stay here, puppy. I'll be right back." I looked over at Milo and Nina. "Sorry about that, I didn't know you two were up already, or I would have changed him in the bathroom. Could one of you keep an eye on him for me while I go to the car?"

"No problem," Milo said, dismissing my concerns. "And sure, I'll watch the little guy."

Kaeden whined a bit, wiggling back and forth on the bed, but otherwise didn't protest, despite the fact that I hadn't dressed him in anything else yet. I went back out to our car - which thankfully had only suffered a few paint scrapes and minor dings from what I could tell - and retrieved our luggage.

I brought it back inside and rummaged through it until I found Kaeden's favorite footed - and mitted, in this case - jammies. I suppose they were my favorite, too. It was dinosaur-themed, including a hood, and a cover for his tail. It made him look just like a tyrannosaurus rex, or a velociraptor, or something. I knew some of the names but I couldn't recognize them like Kaeden did. Then again it was a fairly childish depiction, so perhaps it wasn't necessarily meant to represent something in particular.

I carried it into the living room, nodding my thanks at Milo. They'd been talking about something, and I felt good that Kaeden felt open enough to have a seemingly casual discussion while still laying on his changing mat. I thanked him, and he left for the kitchen to meet up with Nina.

My boyfriend blushed, of course, as I held up the outfit and helped him into it, but his tail betrayed his true feelings. I had trouble feeding the wagging appendage into the tail section of the garment. When I'd finally gotten him dressed, I grabbed the zipper, which went all the way down his leg, and zipped it up to his neck. I grabbed his fabric-covered paw and led him to the kitchen. I smiled as I heard his diaper crinkle the entire way.

"Oh goodness!" Nina exclaimed, when we came in. "That's so adorable! Where did you find it?"

Kaeden turned his head toward me and hugged me from the side, wanting to hide at all the attention - but his tail was still wagging. Even Milo was grinning at his outfit.

"I actually had it custom made from a place I found online. Kaeden is a huge dinosaur nut. Remind me after breakfast and I'll get you two the website."

We made small talk for a bit while Milo finished making breakfast. The power was back on, so that left us with more options. Bacon, eggs, and juice were up shortly. Kaeden got to don Milo's bib this time - as Nina was wearing her own. I noticed, for the first time this morning, that Nina was in diapers - there was a tell-tale line of white plastic above the waistband of her pajamas, and a very familiar rustle when she shifted position.

'Nina must be the puppy this morning,' I thought, as Milo sat down and began to feed her breakfast.

I got to follow suit with Kaeden this morning as well, since he had trouble gripping his silverware through the garment's paws. I may have more or less intended for that to happen. Maybe.

Kaeden didn't seem to mind as much as usual. Even when he is feeling very puppyish, he generally still prefers to feed himself. At one point during our breakfast conversation, the topic of how we met came up again.

"I know you said you'd tell us later..." Nina started.

"But I guess we're both really curious as to how you two met up. You've kinda made it into a mystery!" Milo finished, laughing.

"That's true, I suppose," I replied with a grin of my own. "Kaeden needs to make a quick phone call before we can do that. He wanted to ask someone something about all that, first. Can we use the other room?"

Both of them nodded, and we retreated back to the hallway. I got out Kaeden's phone, and dialed Ashleigh's number for him.

"Now, she might be busy, you know, with all she does. So we might have to call ba-"

"Kaeden? Is everything okay?" I could hear her voice from the speaker of the phone, just barely.

"Mommy!" he said excitedly, tail wagging back and forth furiously, diaper crinkling quite audibly. "I miss you."

"I do too, Kaeden. You're a special little puppy," she laughed. "But why the phone call?"

"I... well, I made some new friends."

"That's great! It's good to hear you're continually improving. But I sense that's not quite all?"

"N-no, not really Mommy. They're, um... p-p-puppy friends."

"Well, naturally. That's the best sort of friend for a puppy like you, isn't it?"

Kaeden blushed, but he was still smiling.

"They're really awesome. I like them. I-I was wondering if it was okay to tell them about the time I spent with you?"

"Hmm. I don't see any problems with that. Most of my charges go on to share their time with me with their families. You did explain things to your father, right?"

"Yup. He thought it was kinda odd, but he was glad I was better."

"Well, I think it would be a good idea to tell your friends, especially if they're like you."

"Th-thanks. I wanted to tell them how me and Lily met."

"Aww, that's sweet, Kaeden. Is there anything else I can help you with before I go? I have a new puppy on the changing table that is starting to get pretty fussy."

"W-well, there is one more thing... c-can Lily ask you?"

"Sure. Hand the phone to her, puppy."

I took the phone from Kaeden's outstretched paws. I already knew what he was talking about.

"Hey Ashleigh. Thanks for talking with us."

"It's no problem. I'm always available for my charges whenever they need me, even after they have graduated. What's going on?"

"Kaeden's got some severe phobias regarding thunderstorms. Last night was particularly bad, and it's really only gotten worse since I've met him. I was wondering if Chainbreakers might have psychologists or something available for us? I'd rather not go to one that is unaware about Kaeden's... particulars, since he's carried the whole puppy thing with him even after his rehabilitation and all.

"Oh, of course, I understand. And yes, we provide all manner of services to graduated charges. If you call the corporate number, and give them Kaeden's patient ID, that'll get you to someone who can match Kaeden up with a therapist or psychologist, or whatever he might need for his problems. He was a little scared of storms while he was with me, but I'm sorry to hear it's getting worse. How about the rest of his recovery?"

"He's doing much better, and continuing to improve all the time," I answered. "Sometimes I have to push him a little bit, but he does a lot of it on his own now without me prompting him to."

"That's good to hear. How's his potty-training going?"

"That's... a work in progress," I said hesitantly. "He's better during the day, but we're not seeing any improvement at night. I don't want to say we've given up on it or anything, but..."

I glanced over at Kaeden, who was blushing as he realized what we were talking about. "... I hope you understand why that might not be a very big issue for us."

"Seems like he's your puppy now, Lily," she said, laughing. "I won't lie, it concerns me, but I guess getting him potty-trained - or not - is something between you two now. Now, what about yourself? How have you been doing?"

In spite of myself, I blushed. After graduation, I hadn't retained the puppyish qualities that Kaeden had, but after spending a few months as a caregiver's puppy, I still had instinctive reactions to one. Ashleigh hadn't been my caregiver, but I still unconsciously recognized the authority.

"I didn't have many issues in, um... that area. It only took me a couple of weeks."

"Well, that's good, Lily, but I mean the problems you came to us for. How are you doing with those?"

"Oh! Uh... p-pretty good. I slip up sometimes with Kaeden, but I always apologize. I'm... a work in progress, I guess, but I'm moving in the right direction."

"That's good to hear. Don't get too down on yourself, Lily; nobody is perfect. Like you said, you're moving forward and improving. That's all anyone can ask for. You two seem to be working out great for each other. Now, was there anything else? I have a new charge who is getting pretty fussy," she said, laughing, as I heard some plaintive whining in the distance.

"No, that's all," I said, laughing.

"Bye Mommy!" Kaeden said, leaning up to the phone.

"Good to hear from both of you," she said, then hung up.

"Well, I guess that settles that." We went back to the kitchen and sat down. Nina was on the phone, and seemed to be surprised at something she had heard.

"So... you had to ask permission?" Milo said. "I-I mean I wasn't eavesdropping or anything, but I could hear just a little bit of it. What was all that about? Why would you need to ask someone if it's okay?"

"Well, like I said... it's a long story."

Before I could explain, Nina hung up the phone, having just finished with her own phone call, then walked over to us and blinked a few times, seemingly trying to figure out how to say something. "So... Do you remember that friend of Margaret I told you about? That arctic fox that went missing a few months ago?"

"You mean Sonia?" Milo asked.

Nina nodded. "She came back."

"Sonia's out?" Kaeden said suddenly, wagging his tail.

Nina gave him an odd look. "How do you... how would you know...?"

"I... think we have some explaining to do," I said, holding my paw up. "Why don't you tell them, Kaeden."

"I, um... I was part of a.... I went through a sort of..."

Kaeden huffed, frustrated with his stammering. I rested my paw on his back, gently massaging him.

"Deep breaths," I said.

"I went through a-a... an alternative rehabilitation, I guess you could say."

"Like... for drugs, or something?" Nina asked, raising an eyebrow.

"N-no, nothing like that. I was clean. My problems were more psychological. Poor self image, mostly. That led to a lot of problems. It's why I still kinda struggle with worrying about what you'll think of me, even though I know you're both really nice."

Milo nodded. "That's okay. But what do you mean by 'alternative'?"

"Well..." Kaeden said. "I guess that's where the puppy stuff comes in. That's how I learned that... that I like this."

"Lily said you two met through something like that," Nina interjected. "But how did that happen? And how did you know Sonia's name?"

"I-I... um..." Kaeden trailed off.

"Sonia was being cared for in much the same way he was," I said, picking up where he had left off. "He met her in that program."

"Wait, wait, whoah, whoah," Nina said, holding up her paws. "You I understand," she said, pointing a finger at Kaeden. "But Sonia? Nah-uh. She would never agree to something like that, judging by what my friend told me about her."

Kaeden gave a soft whine, folding his ears back and casting his gaze to a corner of the room. "I-I...d-didn't exactly agree to it, at first," he said quietly.

"What does that mean?" Milo asked, cocking his head to the side.

"Um...I-I'd rather not get into all the details, b-but... going in, I didn't know what it was all about, y'know? My dad was worried about me, managed to sort of unwittingly get a hold of this organization, and..."

"Your _father_was okay with that?" Nina asked, incredulous. "I mean, I guess we don't know all the facts, but, what parent would..."

"No, no, no, he didn't know the details either," Kaeden pleaded, holding up his hands. "It just sorta... happened."

"It sounds a little shady," Milo replied, offering his opinion.

"Uh-um...w-well, i-it's..."

Once again, I had to rescue my puppy. "They go about things in a pretty unorthodox way, but they get results. I didn't meet Kaeden until he had been in the program for awhile, but he's definitely a different dog as a result."

"How did you meet him, then? I thought you worked in astrophysics. How do you go from caring for... bigger puppies like us, to a complex science like that?"

Now it was my turn to blush and fold my ears back against my head. "I, uh... wasn't caring for him."

"She was a puppy too!" Kaeden said, quite cheerfully.

Given how many times I'd embarrassed him in the past couple days, I guess I couldn't begrudge him the chance to playfully return the favor.

"You were a... but I thought you said being a puppy wasn't your thing?" Nina queried.

"It's not," I said, shaking my head. "But... I didn't really have a choice. That's part of the program. Doesn't really matter if you want to be treated like a puppy or not, you are. And... well, it works. I have to give them that."

"Kaeden said he entered the program because he had poor self esteem... why did you need their help? And how did you get into it?"

"I, uh... I used to be a pretty nasty bully," I said, reaching an arm back and nervously scratching the back of my neck. I didn't like talking about my past in general, but if I had to, I'd much rather talk about wearing diapers and drinking out of baby bottles than what a horrible person I used to be. "A husky I'd been particularly awful to was in the program, and that's how they found out about me."

"So your parents put you in the program to fix you, then?"

I paused a long time, wondering how much of the truth I should tell. I hated the idea of lying to them but I didn't want to frighten my new friends with stories of some secretive organization kidnapping people off the street. I didn't begrudge them for what they'd done for me - I never wanted to go back to the person I was before I'd been forced into the Chainbreakers program. But, still, it was hard to explain things without making them sound... well, immoral. Perhaps it was one of those things you had to experience to fully appreciate.

"Well... not exactly. Sort of. I-I mean, well..."

"It's okay, Lily, you don't have to explain that bit if it's hard for you," Milo interrupted, and I just about jumped up and hugged him. Instead, I rubbed my temples in relief. "I'm curious as to how that's supposed to work, though. I mean, you're kind of implying that, at least at first, you didn't choose to be in this program. You were, well... made to. How do you get better if you never accept it?"

"People like us," Kaeden started, "... me and Lily... who need them the most, have very serious problems that have been allowed to build for a long time. They have to get down deep, to where we're vulnerable. And being treated like a puppy... when we were all at our most vulnerable... is the way they do that. You don't have to like being a puppy in order for it to work. I-I mean, I do, b-but...that's me. We're assigned to a caregiver and are basically re-raised, in a way that allows us to learn how to overcome our problems."

"That's who you called out in the hallway, then?"

"Y-yeah," Kaeden stammered. "I had to call my mommy to see if it was okay to talk about all that. She said if I trusted you two then she did too."

"Your 'mommy'?" Nina asked, confused.

"Kaeden's mother left him when he was very, very young, remember? Ashleigh... his caregiver... is the first real mother figure he ever had. He's still pretty attached to her."

Nina suddenly burst into laughter. Both of us looked incredibly confused. The Bernese didn't seem to be the type to make fun of anyone, so why would she be doing that here?

"I-I'm sorry," she said after she'd regained her composure, taking deep breaths. "I just... I'm trying to imagine Sonia... wearing a diaper... and being treated like a little kit by a 'mommy'. I just don't see her going along with it at all."

"Oh, she was a very fussy kit," Kaeden said solemnly. "She threw birthday cake in my face."

We all had to share a laugh at that one. I'd been there, and I could still see the smug, triumphant look on the arctic fox's face, the shocked look on Kaeden's... and the horrified expression on Ashleigh's muzzle.

"Now that does sound like her," Nina quipped.

"Well, but she was a lot better behaved by the time I graduated the program," Kaeden continued, "but still pretty strong-willed. I guess I wasn't exactly a walk in the park at first, either."

"How do they... I mean, how did you wind up deciding to go along with it? I mean, if you just spend the entire time fighting them, how would you get better?" Nina asked.

"Well, like I said, being treated like a puppy leaves you vulnerable and dependent... you have to trust your caregiver to provide for you. I think that's what they rely on to start helping us understand why we need their help."

"How long does it take?" Milo asked.

"Depends on the person," I replied, as Kaeden looked down bashfully. "I only took a few months, but Kaeden spent over a year with his caregiver."

"Is that why you have to wear diapers now? 'Cause you used them for so long?"

Milo's tone was curious, not accusatory.

Kaeden shook his head. "Mommy helped me get potty-trained again. I don't think I ever got reliably dry at night, b-but... I, um, I wasn't really trying very hard, either. For awhile I was improving during the day... but since Lily says I hafta stay in diapers all the time now, I kinda slip up every now and then while I'm awake, too." He started chewing on his lower lip, just like a nervous puppy would.

_ Don't ever change, Kaeden_, I thought, smiling to myself.

XIII. Darkest hour

**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...

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XII. No reception

**XII. No reception** _As told by Kaeden_ "Ow, Kaeden! Loosen up!" It took me a minute to get my wits back in the darkness. I hadn't even been aware I'd been squeezing my girlfriend's paw that tightly. With great focus, I forced myself to...

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XI. Dinner and a movie

**XI. Dinner and a movie** _As told by Nina_ A delightful scent of meat had filled the kitchen in the past thirty minutes. I hadn't fully mastered the secret recipe of my family's meat stew, so it had taken me slightly more time to prepare than...

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