There's pack, thinks Bear, resting his head on Harold's knee, and then there's pack. This is good pack.
The diner is loud, and that makes it hard to listen for danger, but John is with them this morning, and Bear trusts John to back him up. He doesn't move from Harold's side but he cocks an ear in John's direction from time to time, checking in, making sure all is well. This is a favourite place, a safe place, and the only person drawing close is the waitress with breakfast. (That's very good.)
"Is Bear working today?" the waitress asks after she's put down the plates.
Harold ruffles Bear's ears. "Not this morning," he says.
Bear likes her; she has good manners with dogs, she always talks to Harold before she offers Bear her fingers to sniff and then lick. She doesn't have a snack, not this time, but John will share when he's ready. That's how it is with pack.
Harold is eating – eggs, toast, tea – and has his precious book. Bear licks his lips and heaves a sigh. Books are forbidden, which Bear accepts, but sometimes they're made of leather, and they always smell of Harold. And Harold has so many of them back at home; how is it that he notices when Bear eats just one?
John's hand drops low holding bacon, and Bear stretches to take it, quietly so that Harold doesn't know. Not that they can ever hide anything from Harold.
"Must you?" says Harold. "He has a perfectly balanced prescription diet."
John doesn't answer but he leaves his hand under the table and Bear licks it clean for him. Harold might be pack leader, but Bear and John are teammates, especially when it comes to bacon.
Before, Bear's pack had been the angry men. It hadn’t been a good pack; their home wasn't secure, there was a lot of fighting, and Bear was never completely certain who was in charge. Then there was John, and John knew the commands, knew how to talk to him. Bear didn't know if John’s pack was better, but when he heard him whistle, he made the decision to go with him.
At first it seemed like a bad decision: John's pack was ill defined and in disarray, and Bear worried that he'd made a mistake leaving the angry men. The leader of this pack – obvious by his scent all over the rooms full of books – was missing, and John was anxious and snappish with the people he took Bear to meet. That night, though, after exploring the corridors and hidden nooks of the library, Bear found John sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, surrounded by shelves, staring at nothing. Bear swished his tail experimentally and John reached for him, pressed his face into Bear's side. That was when Bear knew that this pack, at its heart, was good. He could help it to be strong again, and it would do the same for him.
It didn't take long to settle in, for Bear to come to love the missing pack leader after John brought Harold back to the library, for the stairs and corridors and shelves of this place to become home. And now Bear knows each footfall on the stairs, can recognise each person just by the way they push that door open from the street. He made the right decision that day to follow John, because this is good pack.
John is a soldier and Bear is a soldier, and that makes the hunting good. John is quiet and sure, fit enough to run for a long while, and while he's not great with scent he's adept at door handles. Today, it doesn't take long for Bear to pick up the trail they're seeking and then the chase is on.
Bear likes hunting with John. His instructions are clear: Zoek! Voor uit! Rechts! Ga de in! Bear clears a building all the way to the roof, and finds the man they're hunting up there. He stares the man down, teeth bared and hackles up, and holds him in place with his gaze until John arrives.
The man is terrified, stammering and backing up to the edge of the roof. Bear waits until John has him under control, is talking to him low and angry, then the three of them leave the roof. When the man is pushed into a car with Fusco, Bear leaps up to lick John’s face, full of celebratory enthusiasm for a hunt well conducted. John allows it, just for a moment, before he tells Bear, “Pfui!” Bear drops to all fours and adheres to John’s side, ready for the next hunt.
Shaw is fun: she brings all the rollicking, fighting, tussling fun Bear remembers from when he was a pup. They don't hunt together as often as with John, but she shares her food and her bed, and Bear will defend her to the end of time. Unlike John, Shaw doesn't worry so much about muddy feet and dripping hair. In summer, she takes him to the dog park with the fountains, and they both get drenched and exhausted, then loll around on the grass sharing an ice-cream while they dry out.
Bear does not love Shaw's mate, at least not at first, and even now, not completely. Root was the danger posed to the pack leader, Root was the scent of fear and death on Harold’s clothes when John brought him home that first time. Root lived in a cage for a long time, and she doesn’t always tell the truth.
Bear goes with her, though, when Harold tells him to, and he walks politely on the leash up and down the subway underpass following a scent. As they go, he starts to learn her hunting style. She is solitary, unused to working with others, and she follows a trail to the very end, long after even Bear would have given up on it because the effort outweighed the benefits. When she drives the older man to ground, Bear stands between them, ready to defend her, but it’s unnecessary. Root is a solitary hunter and solitaries know how to bluff. Bear returns with Root to the library, and he feels they know each other a little better now. She may not be pack, not the way John and Shaw and Bear are pack, but she has the interests of the pack at heart.
Now, when she drifts homeward, always in new clothes, always with bravado and swagger, Bear greets her with a wag of the tail and a quick check for injuries. And maybe one day, she'll settle and stay and feel part of the pack at last.
Harold is the pack leader: older, injured but clever. He keeps the pack together, sends out his hunters when needed, and he makes sure that all are well provided for. John and Bear protect him; it's the most important role in the pack. The leader has the wisdom, the leader needs to be safe.
Bear walks with Harold to and from places, most nights he sleeps on Harold's bed, though he has to pretend to stay at the end of the bed at first. Once Harold is settled, Bear shimmies over on his stomach to rest his head on Harold's feet.
"I suppose you want a bed time story," Harold says one night, and opens his book. He looks at Bear over the top of his glasses, and Bear beats his tail on the coverlet. "You'll be surprised to discover that there is more than just edible material between the covers."
John steps out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, and huffs his laughter. "You never stop trying to reform people, do you, Harold?"
Harold flips the blankets back on the other side of the bed, and John slips in beside him. "You can't possibly blame me, when the first attempt went so well."
They're touching and talking, and everything in the room is good. Bear huffs in contentment and lets himself drift off to sleep.
Pack is not a place, but still it's hard to walk away from the library. Harold is bleeding, and the smell of fear and determination pouring from him has Bear on highest alert. It tells him they are in a battle for their lives.
They cross the street carefully slow so as not to attract attention. Behind him, Bear can hear men in the library, men toppling shelves and smashing glass. Bear can only stand so much of that before he breaks and looks over his shoulder, longing to go back. His body starts to turn that way, but the leash snaps taut at his neck.
"Volg!" John hisses under his breath, and Bear obeys immediately, but he whines, unhappy. John's anger is obvious, and Bear can't understand why they're not going back, why they're not tearing those men to pieces when John wants to so very much. A bark escapes his throat, sharp and full of anxiety.
Harold's hand brushes his head. "Hush. It's all right, Bear. We are all right." His voice is calm, though Bear can tell he's in pain. Still the calmness helps, and he draws close to Harold's leg, keeps pace with him, keeps alert and focused on the street.
Harold's new apartment is clean but small, strange and empty. Bear patrols it briefly, then finds Harold still standing in the middle of the living room with a lost expression on his face. Bear nudges him towards the sofa, gently at first, then with more force until Harold sighs.
"All right, I get the message," he says, and sits down on the creased and cracked brown leather, then presses his forehead into his palm. Bear steps from foot to foot for a moment then makes a decision that dogs are allowed on the furniture in exceptional circumstances, and leaps up beside him. Harold's other hand settles along Bear's back, and Bear props his chin on Harold's thigh. He'll keep Harold safe until the pack is reunited.
Bear doesn't understand at first why their daily walks take them to the underground place, but he puts up with it, keeps a wary eye out for danger while Harold does things with tools and electricity. He knows better than to insist Harold stays away from such dangerous places. If John were here, they'd share a frustrated glance and John would scratch Bear's ears in commiseration. He and John both know how hard it is to change Harold's mind when he's decided.
The next time he sees John at the park, after he's been hugged and wrestled and he's licked John's face all over, Bear is extra conciliatory, nuzzling into John's armpit, practically sitting in John's lap.
"I think he misses me," John says. This is true and Bear very much appreciates the fact that while he's talking, John's fingers haven't stopped combing through Bear's fur. What Bear is trying to communicate, though, is that he's taking the best care of Harold he can, despite the dangerous things that Harold always wants to do.
"I'm sure it's nothing to do with the scraps in your pocket," Harold says, then adds, "Of course he misses you. How could he not?"
John laughs, and feeds Bear bacon and sandwich ends and all sorts of things he's saved. This makes Harold happy, which makes everyone happy. The situation isn't ideal, but Bear and John are still a team, and the pack is still the pack.
In the subway station once the lights are on, Harold walks Bear around the place with a proprietary air, shows him all the exits and corners and places where rats have been.
"No books, I'm afraid. You're going to have to find some other form of entertainment," he says to Bear, standing in the open doorway of the train. Bear prances nervously; he knows these doors are prone to sliding shut unexpectedly, and Harold cannot move fast enough to escape.
Harold notices Bear's concern, and bends awkwardly to ruffle Bear's ears. "It's all right, Bear. This is our place. We'll be safe here."
Bear understands suddenly. Harold has made a new home for his pack. He bristles with excited joy, goes down low in a crouch then springs into a run, pelting up and down the platform at full speed, spinning around at each end to run back the other way.
"I know," says Harold. "I'm excited too. Shall we go and tell John?"
That first evening they all seem reluctant to leave the station. Bear patrols from place to place, checking in with each person. Shaw is sorting weapons into one of the lockers, but she stops to romp with him, her strong arms wrapped around his neck. She smells almost right to Bear: a little more perfume than is normal, a little less gunpowder, but she remembers how to wrestle, and she holds his muzzle in both hands while he licks her face.
Root isn't here yet, but Bear has no doubt that she'll find her way. Maybe this will be the place for her to settle and finally be still. Bear thinks she'll like it, the safety of it, as well as the potential for movement if needed.
Best of all, John and Harold are together in the train. They sit on the seats where hundreds of passengers have sat before, their arms linked and their heads resting together, finally safe enough to show their affection. Bear pads into the carriage and settles at their feet, rests his chin on his paws with a contented sigh. The computers are humming to themselves; everyone is calm and happier than they have been for weeks.
It isn't their home, not like it was in the library, but it will do for now. This pack is strong and full of love for all of its members, and it will endure. Pack is pack, after all, and this is good pack.