There was nothing unusual about Charles playing the piano at four in the morning.

It had become a habit of late, one that Gizmo had readily learned to appreciate.

Though only a dog, he held a deep appreciation for the melancholic tunes that sang forth from the massive, black beast he had once feared as a pup. It made him feel special, as if he were the only creature worthy of being privy to Charles' melodic vents.

But tonight's rhapsody was tangible in a way that Gizmo had never before heard his master play. It was slow, barely faster than the beat of his softly thudding heart. The pressure with which the ivory keys were pressed lacked the strength to produce any lasting impression. Instead the keys were chosen with the delicate press of individual fingers, one soft note at a time. Charles seemed pay an almost delicate, yet carefully detached attention to each key, as if lingering too long would force him to make a commitment he did not feel he could keep.

All this and more Gizmo watched silently from his customary position on the space of carpet nearest to the feet of Charles.

As the gentle tune continued to fill the room, the sharp ring of the telephone in the next room brazenly rang out, startling Gizmo so completely that he barely noticed that his master had also jumped violently at the sound.

The phone rang shrilly, cutting through the sudden silence with the cruelly met mercy of clapping thunder on a stormy night. Somewhere in Gizmo's mind, he wondered why the machine was ringing in the first place. Most calls came during the day, not late at night.

Gizmo whimpered with disapproval as the phone continued to scream out. He nudged Charles anxiously near the man's ankle when the man failed to rise up from his seat. But no matter how much he whined and pressed his wet nose against the back of his human's foot, Charles would make no response. Gizmo was utterly perplexed at this lack of action. This was not the sort of business that normally occurred when a phone rang in the house, nor when his pet was expressing his distress.

Once again, Gizmo couldn't help but find the urge to blame Jane.

Around the exact time Charles had begun playing the piano late at night, his mate had disappeared one day and not returned since. Gizmo had huffed at this. Though not his main benefactor, Jane, or Janie as Charles sometimes liked to call her, had always been mindful of his needs and quick to reward him for his efforts to please her. But in particular he found himself missing her warmth, and the gentle ease with which she would sometimes speak with him as though he were just another ordinary human being.

With Janie gone, Gizmo had taken to waiting by the door each day. Not simply because he missed her presence, but because he regretted the loss that he was forced to witness in her absence. Charles had changed. His appearance was ragged, less clean cut, and he often bore the strong scent of alcohol on his breath. It was a scent that altered his master's behavior, in ways that Gizmo was not often pressed to stay in Charles' company longer than was necessary. He hoped to run across the green lawns and flee the hollow silence that could overwhelm the rooms of his home.

How long had it been, thought Gizmo suddenly. How long was it that Janie's presence, the smiles, and the laughter of happy hearts been absent from this house? Though he caught snatches of her sent on Charles' clothes each day, Gizmo had no idea where she could possibly be.

The telephone in the kitchen gave one last final ring before surrendering to the silence of the house. Gizmo held his breath, glancing up to gaze at the towering frame of the man remaining frozen above him. He dared not make a sound. Something palpable in the cool air of the room warned Gizmo that something wasn't quite right. He breathed deep his master's scent, only to flinch back, suddenly wary. Never before had he felt such unmistakable fear.

Before he could form a logical reason as to his master's unnerving behavior, Charles let out a strangled cry that sounded more dog than human. Alarmed, Gizmo shot up from the floor, only to leap back in sudden fright as Charles let out another much louder moan.

With a terrifying lurch, Charles raised both of his fists high into the air above him, trembling from head to foot. From afar Gizmo stood frozen, his heart racing faster and faster with each passing second. The hair on the back of his neck rising to stand in long, blonde tufts.

Charles brought his fists down towards the white keys of the piano.

NO! Gizmo thought desperately, his teeth barred with distress.

He barked loudly, his voice sharp and clear.

Midflight, Charles seemed to realize himself, and physically jerked himself back from the pristine keys of the grand piano, tripping over the bench behind him, only to crumple to the hard floor beside his golden retriever. Curled up, his breathing came fast and hard, as if the simplicity of the action tore what little courage he had stored away from the very confines of his aching heart.

Charles felt the warm lap of his dog's tongue move across his face just as the first of his tears began to fall. Reaching across the small space between them, Charles tangled his hands into Gizmo's soft fur, and buried his face into the hair of his dog's neck.

He breathed deep, his lungs shuddering weakly within his chest as sobs threatened to overtake him.

"I can't lose her Giz…" He whispered hoarsely. "Not like this…"

I'm here, Gizmo whimpered weakly as he listened to the broken beat of his master's heart. I'm not going anywhere…!

And then suddenly Gizmo understood that Janie wasn't coming back. She had gone to that place; the building filled with sharply pointed syringes, foul smelling liquids that were supposed to make a person or pet feel better. Where the smell of death hung like a dark cloud blocking the sun.

That was the smell Charles had brought home with him each day.

Death.