This was also posted to the Yuletide archive, as a New Year's Resolution story for Basingstoke.

written May 4, 2004


Soft on the Inside

by Arduinna


Charlie stared at the corner of his desk, repressing a shudder. "You want me to what?"

"It's only for an hour, sir, I promise," Eberts said desperately.

"I don't care if it's only for a minute, I am not watching that slimy... thing." The shudder escaped.

"Oh, no, sir, he's not slimy!"

"Yes, well, maybe not the shell, but all those other bits, the bits that stick out...." He flapped his hand at it in distaste.

"I promise you, sir, no part of him is slimy. And he probably won't come out of his shell at all, anyway. He's very shy." Eberts was stroking one finger along the curved shell in a soothing pattern.

"Shy, hmph. Can't you just -- stick it in a box, or something?"

"Well, you see, he's not feeling very well, and --"

"Eberts!" Not feeling well. Not feeling well. It was a reptile! "It's a reptile!"

"Oh, please, sir," Eberts begged. "I would feel so much better if you were watching him. I'll speed. I'll be back in forty-five minutes, tops. Please?"

Charlie sighed. "It won't come out of its shell."

"No, I'm sure he won't."

"It'll just sit there, until you get back."

"Yes, sir."

"And as soon as you get back, you'll take it away, and disinfect my desk."

Eberts winced, but nodded gamely. "Yes, sir, of course."

"Oh, all right. But if you're not back in forty-five minutes, I'm flushing it."

Blanching, Eberts made as though to pick the turtle up, then stopped and took a deep breath. "I'll be back by then, sir." He gave the shell one last stroke and leaned down to whisper something to it.

Charlie shook his head. There was something downright unnatural about a grown man getting so attached to a reptile, especially one that looked suspiciously like a rock. "Tick-tock, Eberts."

Eberts was upright and to the door in a flash, words spilling out of him faster than Charlie had ever heard him speak. "Thank you, sir, I really appreciate this, you won't regret it, he'll behave himself perfectly, I promise -- "

"Eberts! Shut up and just go, already."

The door snicked shut and Charlie heaved a sigh of relief. Silence, blessed silence.

The door snicked open. "Sir?"

Charlie shut his eyes and reminded himself about his doctor's latest warning about his blood pressure. "Yes, Eberts?"

"His name is Alonzo, sir." The door snicked shut again.

After waiting a minute to be sure that Eberts was finally gone, Charlie looked at the creature on his desk and grimaced. "God, you're ugly," he muttered. Morbid fascination caught him, and he reached out unwillingly to poke the shell with one finger -- dry and hard. He shuddered again. "Just... stay over there. Don't move."

Alonzo, indeed. Pfah. He reached for the stack of reports he needed to approve, scowling at Hobbes's writing on the top report. A glance at the one below it confirmed that that one was Fawkes's.

No way was he dealing with that pair's lunacy and a freakin' turtle all in the same hour. He slid both reports in at the bottom of the pile, then chuckled as a brighter thought occurred to him -- if he didn't make it through the stack today, he could yell at them tomorrow for getting their reports in late, and just point to the stack to prove it. Eberts's stacks never lied, after all.

Sometimes he just loved his job.

Whistling softly, he started in on Anderson's, cheerfully disallowing all of the expenses. These agents had to learn frugality if they wanted to get anywhere.

Halfway through Claire's report -- full of expenses and requisitions he couldn't disallow, dammit -- a flicker of movement caught his eye. He glanced over to the side of his desk, where a wrinkly head was starting to appear from one end of the shell.

"Get back in there."

The turtle paid no attention, moving his head slowly to check out his new surroundings. Apparently deciding he was safe, he extended legs and tail as well, and started exploring.

"Eberts, I'm going to kill you when you get back," Charlie muttered, watching nervously. "You said it wasn't feeling well, why isn't it just sleeping or something? Dammit!" He lunged and got a hand next to the desk before the turtle could fall off, bracing himself for the feel of a slimy body, but the turtle kept all four feet on the desk. "Heh. You're pretty smart for such a little guy, aren't you?"

He sat back and watched as the turtle moved slowly along the edge of the desk, tiny claws tapping steadily as it checked everything out, and chuckled as it made it around the corner. The turtle took no offense, just cut in to start moving slowly straight for Charlie. He glanced around the room, then put his hand down flat on the desk. The turtle walked onto it without fear, claws tickling across his skin as he picked it up. Eberts was right -- it wasn't slimy. Cradling it gently, Charlie brought the turtle up in front of his face so he could see it better.

"You know, little guy -- Alonzo -- you're actually kinda cute, in your own way." His head snapped up, eyes narrowing. Slowly, he put Alonzo down and reached into his top desk drawer. He pulled out the powerful pistol he kept there, then surged to his feet and started firing, sweeping the weapon across the room to hit as much as possible. Water droplets fell to the floor cleanly, with no accompanying sound of sneakered feet trying to get out of range. "Good." He looked down at Alonzo. "Let's keep that whole 'cute' thing just between us, okay?"

Alonzo lowered his head to the report he was standing on. Charlie sat back down and leaned in to get a better look, then glanced at him. "I know, it looks like way too much money. But Fawkes needs the counteragent, or he goes completely wacko." Alonzo raised his head again. "Good, you agree!" Charlie said, moving him gently out of the way and okaying the expense sheet. "You're pretty good at this, you know. Here, what do you think about this one?" He opened McCormick's and held it where Alonzo could see it. Alonzo turned his head away, and Charlie laughed softly. "Yeah, you're right," he said, reaching for the "refused" stamp. He held it up politely. "Would you like to do it? No? Okay, I've got it." He stamped the sheet and put it aside, then skimmed through the rest of the report, double-checking discrepancies with Alonzo, who seemed to have quite the instinct for them.

Alonzo helped sort out the next three reports as well before he lost interest and started wandering across the desk again. Charlie put the papers he was holding back down on the desk to watch, beaming as Alonzo met every challenge in his way.

"Hey, are you hungry? You've been working pretty hard. I bet you're hungry." He frowned around at his office, with its distinct lack of turtle-appropriate food. "You stay put for a minute, okay? Don't go getting into trouble. I'll be right back."

He strode to his door and stuck his head out, looking down the corridor. "Robbins!"

Wincing slightly, the agent turned and walked toward him. "Sir?"

"Go get me a green salad."

Robbins blinked. "Sir?"

"Salad, man, salad! Lettuce and things. Green! No dressing. And hurry up. And make sure it's fresh!"

Looking totally confused, Robbins nodded and walked away.

"Oh, good for you, sir!"

Charlie turned his head to find Claire beaming at him approvingly, hands clasped in front of her. "Don't you have work to do, doctor?"

"Yes, of course." Still beaming, she patted him on the shoulder and walked away.

Shaking his head, Charlie went back into his office and over to his desk, where Alonzo was investigating his nameplate. "Don't worry, partner, your lunch will be here in a few minutes. You want to see the rest of the office while we're waiting?"

Alonzo seemed to perk up at that, so Charlie picked him up and gave him the grand tour. They looked out every window, investigated Charlie's chair and gave it a gentle test twirl, admired the Fish and Game seal on the wall ("That means we're all here to keep you safe," Charlie told him. Alonzo approved.), and noticed that the floor would make a terrific racetrack, if Alonzo ever brought a friend with him.

Robbins, still looking confused, arrived with the salad after they'd made it back to the desk. He blinked at the turtle and opened his mouth. Charlie narrowed his eyes. Robbins gulped.

"Uh. Your salad, sir," Robbins said.

"Thank you, Robbins. That will be all."

"Uh." Robbins looked at the turtle again, then back at Charlie. "Yes, sir." He fled.

Charlie held his forbidding expression until the door closed behind the agent's back, then relaxed with a chuckle. "We showed him, didn't we, Alonzo? No one's gonna mess with us. Here, you want some salad?" He took out a few different leaves and put them down within easy reach.

Alonzo politely nibbled the nearest one, then moved on to the next, which he seemed to like better. Charlie was still watching him eat when another knock interrupted.

"Sir? It's me, Eberts."

"Eberts, get in here!"

Eberts slid in through the narrowest possible gap in the door, babbling. "Sir, I am so sorry, I know I said it would only be -- sir?"

Charlie beamed at him. "Look! He's eating! He's feeling better."

"I... that's wonderful, sir. I hope he hasn't been a problem?"

"No, no, he's been fine. Haven't you, Alonzo?" He stroked the tiny head, smiling.

Eberts watched wide-eyed, then shook his head. "I should probably be taking him back to my office, sir, get him out of your hair."

"Oh." Charlie coughed and straightened. "Right, right, yes. Take him. I should be getting back to these reports."

"Yes, well, thank you, sir, again, for watching him, I really do appreciate it." Eberts gathered Alonzo up.

"Here, take some leaves," Charlie said gruffly, handing over the salad. "He's probably still hungry."

Eberts smiled. "Thank you, sir." He walked toward the door, murmuring to Alonzo.


Eberts turned. "Sir?"

"If you ever need to bring him back, you know, for whatever...." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, you can leave him with me, if you need to run another errand. Or something."

Eberts's smile lit his whole face. "I'll do that, sir," he said. His eyes met Charlie's in a moment of perfect understanding. "I'll definitely do that."

When the door snicked shut behind him, the office echoed with silence.

Alonzo the turtle

~ fin ~

Feedback of any sort, from one line to detailed crit, is always welcome, at arduinna at trickster dot org.


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