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Booker stood in front of the door to the safehouse he’d been sent the address of – just the address and the note We’ll be waiting. It was a mid-century building on the outskirts of a Danish town in the middle of Jutland, close enough to amenities but remote enough for the team to be anonymous. He fisted his hands nervously on the strap of his dufflebag – just essentials, really, he’d left most of his belongings back at his Goussainville house – and tried to summon the courage to knock. Would Quynh be fine with the dogs? Madame Fluffy needed her medication twice a day, and you needed to remember that Georgie was blind on the left and tended to snap if he was startled on that side.

Would Booker still have a place on the team? Copley, then Copley’s replacement, had taken over the technology side of things Booker had tended to keep his hands on, keeping the accounts, forging identities and so on. Booker had barely kept up with technology – oh, sure, he was on the internet and everything, but he’d spent all his time caring for dogs and keeping the property standing, rather than researching new surveillance technology or weaponry. Besides, there was Nile now – he hadn’t been around to see how she had integrated into the team, and he wasn’t sure if she’d filled the space he left or carved out her own niche with the others.

And yet – the time had come. He’d been asked and he’d come; Quynh had promised to message him updates about the dogs (once she understood phones, that is). He couldn’t bury himself in Goussainville forever – not when he was still, deep down, a soldier; not when he heard about injustices and disasters and knew he could be helping, could be the person who made the difference.

That was perhaps the biggest difference of all – that Booker found himself excited, genuinely hopeful, at the prospect. Not just looking at missions as a way to distract himself from endless, wearying grief, hope for success balanced against a niggling voice that said maybe this time he would be killed and this time, please god, he wouldn’t come back.

Marisol leaned comfortingly against his thigh and he lifted his hand to knock. The speed at which the door was flung open made him realise the others must have been on the other side, waiting for him to knock, but his momentary embarrassment was washed away in the welcome – first Andy and Nile, then Nicky and Joe pulling him in for a rough hug or slapping his shoulders, all talking at once with the kind of buzzy cheer that comes from excitement. Dinner was on the stove, would he like a drink – oh, sorry, was his still drinking, or would he prefer coffee? His room was down here, here, let me take your bag….

It was overwhelming and soothed the nervous places inside him and he felt his shoulders relaxing. The best part, the part that made him feel like he’d really come home to his family, was when they showed him the spaces they’d set up for Marisol – a soft old rug in the living area for her to lie on, and a proper wicker doggy bed in his bedroom. (Not that she’d actually sleep anywhere but on Booker’s bed, but it was a nice thought.) A pet door had been installed in the door that led to the fully fenced back garden, and Nile proudly showed him the shelves in the pantry she’d stocked with three different kinds of dog biscuits, the shelf in the fridge with top-quality chopped meat, and a basket with pig ears, rawhide bones and tough toys.

Over the years the team had, of course, looked after animals here and there – Nicky and Joe tended to let themselves be adopted by cats, and Andy always looked cheerful when they stopped somewhere with horses. But, it was never anything too long term – especially once airplanes meant modern travel overseas so easy, it was impossible to settle anywhere long enough to keep a pet. This whole-hearted embracing of Marisol, understanding the role she played in Booker’s life now – that was something that made Booker’s eyes prickle with hot, grateful tears, made him feel like this was home.

The thing that really cemented it for him was the packet of papers that waited for Marisol. There was one for him – a set of passports, ID cards and so on. Then another just for Marisol – a variety of certificates and cards giving her official status as a companion animal, a service dog, an emotional support animal, a trained search-and-rescue dog – and with suitable vests where necessary. There were also forged papers for quarantine facilities in several countries with a hand-written note that more could be obtained where required. It was everything he needed to bring Marisol with him wherever he went, to keep her by his side.

His family understood.

Marisol took to her new life like a duck to water. She already knew the others, of course, from their visits to the old church, but she hung back for a few days, sticking close to Booker, assessing. At Goussainville she’d been, literally, the top dog, always at Booker’s heels, taking it on herself to keep the rest of the pack in line.

Booker had to laugh when he saw the way she was acting. She’d evidently decided that this was the new pack. She started each day with a quick patrol around the house, checking in systematically with everyone – a quick sniff, nosing at their faces and hands, maybe a moment of play. Then, throughout the day, even when she was at Booker’s side, she would keep an eye on the doorway, and trot off to investigate the movements of the others before returning at a trot with her tail held high.

It was exactly how she had behaved with the other dogs. She was reassuring herself that they were all behaving, making sure she knew where they were. Sometimes she would even herd them around – if she felt that someone needed company they would find themselves tripping over her until they were in the living room; someone who had been holed up inside every day would find her in front of them with leash in her mouth. She had looked at the team dynamics and decided they were all hers, and by god she was going to keep them in line. Booker loved it.

Booker didn’t know why Marisol started bringing them strays; it wasn’t something she’d ever done at Goussainville. She’d never been a particularly maternal dog – any time puppies had been brought to the church, she’d politely sniff them and then keep her distance until they were rehomed.

Now, however, it was an occasional thing. They’d be in a safehouse or hotel, Marisol would go out for a walk (Booker had found that as long as they weren’t in a city with an active animal control service, Marisol was happier coming and going as she pleased – she always came back) and come back with some scrawny, flea-bitten puppy in her wake, either carrying it or herding it in front of her.

She would deposit it in front of the humans, and sit back with a satisfied doggy grin, clearly of the impression that she had done her part. They got it down to a fine art, wash and de-flea the animal, feed it, find a local home or shelter for it to go to. Marisol seemed satisfied with this result, and every few months would bring home another. (A few times it was kittens, which Booker avoided – cats simply did not like him, and just because the scratches healed fast didn’t mean they didn’t sting like hell.)

They were laying low in the area that Booker had known as Transylvania, but was now Romania. It felt like Transylvania, though, a low stone cottage at the end of a dirt road from a village barely qualifying for the name. The cottage was at the edge of a field backing into a wild, dark forest – the kind that gave Booker chills just to look at. Even though it was the end of summer and the weather still mild, the forest just looked cold, sunlight barely penetrating the trees.

Marisol loved it. As soon as they arrived, she leapt out and raced in a huge arc around the field, and made darting attempts to explore the forest. Booker, nervous, called her back. Of course, he couldn’t keep her inside all the time, and when she went out to relieve herself that evening, she went straight to the woods. Booker sat at a window at the back side of the house, a book propped in front of him, unread, peering out the glass into the gloom until Andy pulled him over to help with the dishes with a rough, “She’s immortal, Booker, she’ll be fine.”

It was Nile’s cooing that alerted him to Marisol’s return. “Marisol, did you bring us back a puppy again? What a big boy he is, aren’t you a clever girl?” Booker turned to look and froze, echoed by Andy, Nicky and Joe.

“Nile,” said Nicky, keeping his voice low and calm. “Get back here, please.”

Nile didn’t look up, and hadn’t registered the reactions of the others, too focussed on the confused looking pup. Marisol was holding it by the scruff of its neck, even though it was half her size, with huge paws and ears showing more growth to come. “Aww, look at him, he’s a sweetie! What do you think he is, a huskie? No, they don’t really have those out here, do they. A German Shephard, maybe?”

“That,” said Joe, also keeping his voice calm, “is a wolf.”

Nile looked up at that. “What?”

Booker nodded, and snapped his fingers to call Marisol. She shook her head, and took a firmer grip on the wolf pup’s neck as it squirmed a little.

“Okay, that’s weird, but aren’t wolves more afraid of people than we are of them? Can’t we just make sure it’s healthy and put it back out in the forest? I’m sure it could use a good meal-“ She was reaching out to pat the pup and stopped, both at the stifled protest from all the others, and the fact that the pup’s lip lifted in a scared snarl at her movement, revealing small but sharp teeth.

“American wolves, maybe,” said Andy. “European wolves have no fear of men.”

“Maneaters,” shuddered Nicky.

Nile was looking appropriately cautious now, backing away from the two canines. “Like, for real?”

“I, myself, have been killed by a wolf,” said Joe. “Fortunately, my Nicky was able to rescue me before it tried to eat me.”

“During the Little Ice Age,” said Nicky. “Times were very lean, for people and animals. Predators grew bold.”

“Russia, for me,” shuddered Booker. “I remember when we went with the army into that dreadful winter. We would huddle around the campfires, and hear the howls all night. They’d pick off the occasional sentry, and it was almost a relief because the howling would stop for a little while.”

“So,” Nile breathed. “We don’t want a wolf puppy in our house. Or to, um, encourage it to think of us as a source of food.”

Marisol was starting to look confused that her stray wasn’t being taken care of. She released the scruff of its neck and pushed it forward a little with her nose. Everyone shrank back. Andy sighed, and straightened her shoulders. As devoted as Marisol was to Booker, she did seem to understand that Andy was the pack leader. “Marisol,” Andy said in a low, firm voice – speaking French, because that’s what Marisol responded to best. “Let go.” Marisol whined. Andy just looked at her and raised an eyebrow until Marisol stepped back. “Go to Booker.” Marisol obeyed and slunk over until she was at Booker’s side. He reached down and rested a reassuring hand on her head. Andy looked around the room. “The door is still open. Perhaps if we just…made a lot of noise it might run out?”

That was pretty much the only option. They watched as the pup got to its feet – god, it was huge even only half-grown, Booker had no idea how Marisol had got it down here. Then, at Andy’s signal they all started yelling, clapping and stamping their feet. The pup looked alarmed and turned tail. Nile slammed the door after it, and the others ran to the back window just in time to see its pale shape disappear into the woods.

Booker knelt down and took Marisol’s face into his hands. “Marisol, ma chérie, no more wolves. Okay?” Marisol huffed, but licked his chin, so he assumed he was forgiven for not accepting her delivery.

That night, the oppressive silence of the forest was broken by the howling of the wolves. Booker shivered, feeling the cold of those long-ago winters in his bones, and pulled Marisol further up the bed. He wasn’t ashamed to admit he wanted the comfort of cuddling his dog like a giant, protective teddy bear.

Booker knew that, emotionally, he was in a far, far healthier place that he had been last time he was with the team. Sure, he still enjoyed a nice whiskey every now and again…alright, most evenings. But alcohol wasn’t the crutch that it had been.  He found himself pleasantly surprised at how much he genuinely enjoyed the company of the others, the easy camaraderie.

They’d been his team, before. Now it felt like family.

He wondered at first if the difference was Nile. She was so fiercely caring and loving, was it her addition to the group that changed the dynamic? Having someone who was, if you took a generously long view, a contemporary to him? He thought about it a while and had to conclude no, it was him. He’d changed. The part of himself that he’d held tight, focussed on his family who had died so long ago, gripped it until it was black and bleeding – that part had been worn away, released and washed clean by the years and his time with the dogs. Without realising it, he’d given up the bitterness, let himself love again – and, crucially, lose again, until he’d carved a new channel for what grief looked like.

Booker still missed his family, still loved them, but he found that he had room in his heart for his team. He’d been wrong for so many years; he hadn’t realised that he could love exponentially. It was like he’d told his oldest son when the next was born and the boy had worried that Mama and Papa would love him less – the heart grew, love expanded.

Andy, who knew him best, saw the change in him. They’d always been closest, balancing the couple that was Joe and Nicky, spending many evenings drinking quietly together or travelling as a pair while the other two took one of their regular romantic holidays. She didn’t say anything to him, but one evening, where they had all played cards and drank and told stories and laughed, when he had felt himself relaxing into the joy in the room for its own sake, she had paused before heading to her room to pull him into a hug – not a quick thing, but a long, fierce embrace. He’d let himself bury his face in the crook of her shoulder and hugged back. “I’m glad you’re here, Book,” she’s said softly.

“Me, too,” he’d said.

Andy had snorted. “I know. That’s why I’m glad.”

He wasn’t surprised to find that he still felt envy looking at Nicky and Joe. Sure, he was happy for them that they’d found one another, and he’d never really begrudged them for it, but it had always been a knife twisting in his side – a reminder of all he’d lost, his lovely wife long turned to dust in the ground, his occasional trysts and short affairs always more about satisfying a physical urge, just a shadow of what he’d once shared.

Even the occasional fuck with Andy hadn’t softened the ache. With her it was fun, something to do when they were bored and she had an itch that needed to be scratched. She was always very, very clear that’s all it was: Friends With Benefits, they called it now.

Then, one evening after he had returned, he’d looked at Nicky and Joe where they were sprawled on a sofa, Nicky’s head in Joe’s lap as the latter leaned over and pressed a lingering kiss to Nicky’s lips – nothing overly sexual, just sweetly devoted – and Booker realised that the envy he felt was just…a twinge. A wouldn’t it be nice instead of an oh god I’m going to be alone and miserable forever.

It was, of course, because of Marisol. Not that Booker found his dog to be the equivalent of a romantic companion, because that would be both disgusting and a new level of emotional incompetence, even for him. No, it was because he had come to believe, deep down, in her affection for him. Its constancy. That was the difference. Having someone at his side, loyal to him – and he was jealous of Marisol’s attention, he’s not proud of it, but there you go, he’s still only human – who gave him a sweet and uncomplicated affection…well, it set some part of his mind at ease, and made it easier to accept the love of his friends and family.

Booker was apprehensive the first time Marisol came on a mission with them. The first few times they’d gone and left her locked or tied up in their safehouse or base. It was awful. She had looked at him so sadly as he’d left, whining then barking in alarm as the door closed between them. The team would get back to find the door scratched, carpet or furniture chewed and worried in her distress and anxiety to get out. As soon as Booker got back she would cling to him, walking so much under his feet he kept nearly tripping over her, and she would even growl a little at the others if they got too close.

She wasn’t like this if he needed to pop out on other dog-free errands. Then she would be quite happy to stay, good girl, and wait patiently for his return. It was only missions that she could evidently feel the difference, and Booker was racked with guilt.

He was getting his guns ready for another mission, when Marisol’s literal puppy-dog eyes undid his resolve. This was going to be a raid on a hopefully-deserted warehouse complex, looking for drugs waiting for shipment, hopefully with evidence about the people paying and being paid for them. “Maybe she could be useful?” he suggested to the others, when Marisol followed him out to the front door, tail held high and doggy grin on her face.

Andy sighed. “You know she’s not like an actual trained drug-sniffer dog, right?”

Booker shrugged. “This place is only a rental. Last time she nearly made it through the door; surely we want to get the deposit back?”

Andy threw up her hands. “We can afford the deposit a hundred times over!” She looked down at Marisol, who promptly neatly sat at Booker’s feet, looking alert and obedient. “Fine. But she sticks with you, and if it doesn’t work out this time, she stays home next time.”

Booker nodded and let his fingers trail over Marisol’s head. “Agreed.” The others looked at him with fond exasperation, but he didn’t think they were really displeased. He didn’t fail to notice Nile slipping Marisol one of the strips of jerky she kept in her vest pocket for snacking on (Nile tended to get hangry, it wasn’t pretty), or the way Joe and Nicky let Marisol sprawl over their laps on the car ride there instead of relegating her to the boot.

It wasn’t until they were standing outside, preparing to go in that it struck Booker that he was about to put his dog into a dangerous situation and the apprehension set in. What if she got hurt, or killed? Even if that was temporary, the idea was awful. Would she understand enough to follow him, and behave? What if she barked at the wrong time and got them all killed? Oh god, this was a terrible idea.

Andy must have seen his expression, because she thumped his shoulder with a grimly gleeful expression on her way past. “Too late now! We’re going in.”

Booker had never trained Marisol with the intention that she would join him on a mission – had never, actually formally trained her at all. But, she was a smart dog; Booker he tended to keep up a running commentary to her and he was positive she understood almost everything he said. Certainly, from the moment he knelt next to her and said, firmly, “Marisol, heel. And quiet,” she had obeyed, instantly, as if he had trained her for this exact thing. She kept perfect form, sticking to his side with nose level with his knee; stopping when he paused and pacing forward carefully when he advanced. Her ears were pricked, tail held high, and she quivered with attentiveness.

She proved her worth when, halfway through the supposedly empty warehouse, she stopped in front of the door that led to one of the offices and stood, legs stiff, one front paw lifted like a pointing breed. She didn’t bark, but gently huffed to ensure she had the humans’ attention. Andy quickly motioned the others to the sides of the door and went through – as always – first. Booker paused to give Marisol a rough, grateful pat and an instruction to sit and stay before following – to help the others take down the very sellers they’d been hoping to find a trail on.

The next morning, Marisol got a whole cooked breakfast for her very own, courtesy of Nicky, and Nile and Joe were pouring over some training guides for various working dogs, plotting what Marisol could do if she were really well-trained. Booker just lounged on the sofa, a stuffed and satisfied dog snoozing on top of him, and smiled quietly to himself, feeling supremely pleased with the world.

The team tended to split their time between safe houses - generally comfortable, if not somewhat dusty, depending on how long since they'd last been there - hotels, and the in-between places. These were less safe houses than bolt holes, or where they snatched sleep on their way to or from or waiting for missions.

The sleeping arrangements in these kinds of places tended to be utilitarian. If there were anything like a bed or space long enough to stretch out, Nicky and Joe tended to get it. Not because they were selfishly claiming it, but because they would fit together in a space usually meant for one, spooning on a single bed or making the most of some old blankets on a hard floor. Booker and Andy - and now Nile - made do. They were all used to sleeping where they could, Nile from the military and Booker and Andy from long experience. This meant making the most of furniture not meant for sleeping, twisting in chairs or leaning against walls.

Marisol changed that. It wasn't that she was claiming beds for herself, but that she always wanted to sleep where Booker was, and that meant Booker was taking a second longer to figure out how and where to sleep. She was quite happy to curl up in a corner, and for Booker to use her as a warm and comforting pillow. Even if he fell asleep sitting up or awkwardly leaning into a corner (turns out immortal healing doesn't help with a crick in the neck), Marisol would lie next to him with her head on his lap, and he invariably found himself waking having slid down and turned to curl around her, sleeping warmly and more deeply than he had before.

He hated to say it, but the regular rest did wonders for his mood.

He woke once to find he'd curled up behind Marisol, arm slung around her chest. They were snatching rest in a van, Nile and Andy in the front seats with Nicky and Joe joining him to stretch out in the empty cargo area. He blinked into wakefulness to find Marisol still asleep, and caught Joe's eye across the floor, where Joe was awake and spooning a still-sleeping Nicky. Joe silently and eloquently flicked his gaze down Nicky and himself, deliberately did the same to Booker and Marisol and raised his eyebrows, smirk not hidden by his beard.

Booker caught his point - the similarity was ridiculous - and he tried to muffle his snigger. He managed to keep quiet - right until Marisol and Nicky let out snuffly, sleepy sighs at the exact same time. Booker caught Joe's eye and it was all over, both men sniggering then laughing, waking everyone else in the van. Nicky complained groggily at being woken and rolled over to bury his face in Joe's chest but Marisol was delighted by whatever had her pack laughing, and joined in by jumping on them and licking whoever's face she could reach.

There were worse ways to wake up.

Today is a mission day. I like mission days. Booker-who-is-my-favourite always gives me an extra yummy dinner first. Sometimes Nile-who-has-treats gives me another dinner too, if I sit by my bowl and look sad. If Booker figures out I had two dinners, his face looks funny and he throws up his arms a lot.

Sometimes on mission days I wear a vest. Once I had to wear shoes on my feet too. That was when we went to a building that had fallen down and Booker asked me to find so I climbed around and smelled where there were people hidden under the building. Mostly they were alive and when I found them I barked a lot and then other people got them out and told me I was a good dog. Sometimes they were not-alive (but they were also not-food even though they smelled like meat) but the other people still told me I was a good dog even if they were sad. I didn’t like the shoes, they felt weird on my feet and when I tried to kick them off my pack laughed at me. But Nile gave me an extra treat so I decided I didn’t mind.

Today I don’t have to wear shoes, but Booker did put a vest on me. It’s the dark grey one and it has pockets and my pack put things in the pockets for me to carry. Booker calls it my tacvest and when it’s on he strokes my ears and tells me that I look very smart and brave and who’s such a good and useful girl? (I am! It’s me!)

We all ride in a car together. Andy-who-is-the-boss drives the car. Andy is fun to play with and she can throw a ball very, very far. But she is also the boss of the pack, and I have to listen to her, even more than Booker-who-is-my-favourite. Nile sits next to her in the front and pokes at one of their glowing screens. Booker and Joe-who-gives-good-hugs and Nicky-who-drops-food are in the back seat. Booker put me in the very back of the car at first but that was silly because there are no windows there so I climbed over onto Bookers lap and he sighed but he opened a window so I could stick my head out. There are lots of interesting things to smell. I am happy so I wagged my tail. Joe’s face is where my tail is and I hear him say some of the funny growly words.

(I am a very smart dog and I know because Booker tells me a lot and I know lots of the words my pack say when they are talking to me. They are the same words that Booker talks in. Sometimes they use words I don’t understand but I can usually tell if they are happy or sad or angry or telling me I am a good girl.)

Anyway, we drive and we drive and after a while I get tired of the smells so I sit down on Booker and Joe and Nicky. Booker scratches behind my ears and Nicky scratches my rump and it is very nice so I wag my tail and Joe tells me I am a terrible beast but I can tell he didn’t mean it because he doesn’t really sound angry and Nicky laughs at him and they do a kiss.

When we get to the place, we all get out of the car and we have to listen to Andy because it is a mission. Andy tells me to stay with Booker and be quiet and then she gives me some clothes to smell and says enemy. This means that the clothes are from a not-rescue and I should not try to find them, but if I smell them I need to tell Booker but not barking because this is be quiet.

Then we all go into the buildings. They are big and dark and I do not like them because they smell yucky, like old meat and people who are scared. They are not there now though, they are old smells. Also there are smells like cars and some cats and pigeons and rats but I do not chase the rats even though they are squeaking. Nicky and Nile go up and up and up some stairs. Andy and Joe go into the building, and Booker and me go another way in.

Then two things happen at once. I smell the enemy smell, so I stop walking and nudge Booker’s hand with my nose. He goes to use the voice-in-a-box thing but there are some loud bangs which I know are guns. I don’t like guns, they are very loud and they make people hurt. I have been hurt by guns and it made Booker cry and Nile cry and Nicky cry and Joe and Andy got very angry and went away and came back with lots of blood on them so I had to lick the tears on Booker and Nile and Nicky and then I had to lick the blood because they were very dirty and Booker pulled me back down and told me that I was awful and disgusting but he was crying more happy tears while he said it so I just licked him again.

The guns aren’t near to us, but I can hear Nile made a hurt sound and the voice-box clicks and Joe says “I’m heading up,” and Booker says an angry word and we all run to the stairs. Booker tells me to hide and stay and points to under the stairs where it is dark and shadowy. He runs up and up and I can hear the stairs banging and there are more sounds of guns and then someone who smells like enemy runs up the stairs too, and he has a whole pack and I want to bark but also this is be quiet so I don’t. There are fighting sounds and I can hear my whole pack fighting and they are angry. I hear Nile yelling “They have tranqs, they’re firing tranqs!” and then in a little while there are no more fighting sounds. Then there are more bang-bang-banging on the stairs and the enemy are carrying all of my pack. I growl even though that is not be quiet because I am scared and angry and all my pack look like they are asleep and they have blood on them and they smell bad like a chemical smell.

The enemy carry and drag my pack and put them in a big cage in the middle of a big room next to the stairs. The cage is metal and it smells like old blood and piss and scared people and I do not think it is a good place. All my pack are asleep.

I do not know what to do. Booker told me to stay and hide, but my pack should not be there.

The enemy pack mostly go away. I can hear cars driving away, and they leave two people in the big room. They have guns which I do not like, but they also are tired and one has a hurt leg so he sits down and isn’t watching my pack. The other one is mean and he sticks his gun into the cage and uses it to poke Nile on her soft bits and he laughs but it’s not a nice happy laugh. Nile should be making him stop. Then the mean man uses his gun to poke Booker’s face, hard, and I smell fresh blood, and then I am very very angry.

Booker told me to stay and hide, but Andy-who-is-boss told me to stay with Booker. And when I run out I growl but I do not bark so really I am still be quiet. The man next to the cage is very surprised when I run out and he is still turning towards me when I do a big jump. I bite at his neck and he tries to push me off but I am very fast and I shake my head and his throat comes out and he falls down and he is not-alive.

The other man is standing up from his chair and he has a knife in his hand. Knives can make me hurt too, but I remember I am wearing my tacvest and it makes it hard for knives to hurt me. This is the man with a hurt leg, and it’s bleeding so I run in fast and bite it. He says an angry word and tries to hit me but his leg doesn’t work well so he falls down onto the chair and the chair breaks so he is on the ground. I bite the arm that is holding the knife and he tries to hit me with the other hand but he is not very good at it. I bite very hard and I can feel the bones crack and he screams and drops the knife. He says that I am a bad fucking dog but I think I am a good dog and I bite his face where he is screaming and then I bite his throat and he tries to crawl away but then he lies down and he is not-alive.

Now there are no enemy but my pack are still not awake. Booker’s hand is right next to the bars so I go and lie down next to the bars and put my chin on his hand and wait. After a little while I feel his hand twitch, so I lick it and Booker is waking up. The others are waking up too. They say lots of the growly angry words. Andy does not sound happy at all. Booker starts to stroke my head and then he stops. He says, “Marisol?” and then he looks at his hand and it is covered with blood from the bad men and he is worried and he says “Marisol, did they hurt you?”

And Nicky is looking at the men who are not-alive and he says “Booker, I don’t think you need to worry about Marisol.” And then all the team look and tell me I am a good girl but Booker is trying to wipe the blood on his hand onto his trousers. I lick my chops. It’s true, I am very dirty. I am going to need a bath. I hope Joe does it, he always puts something in the water that smells very nice and spends extra long cleaning me very gently and then uses the hot air blower to get me dry.

Andy is looking at the door on the cage and says to me “Marisol, find keys”. I know what keys are! The not-alive man close to the cage has some on his belt. I can’t get them off with my teeth so I use the belt to pull him closer to the cage and Nicky says “Oh, that’s just gruesome,” but he has the longest arms so he reaches and gets the keys and then all the team are out and giving me lots of pats. Booker tells me I am the best girl.

Andy tells everyone to go back to the car. She is happy with me but she is not happy about the mission. She says something and it has the word “No idea how we’re going to find them now,” and I know find so I follow the smell of the enemy until it stops and there is a car smell and wait because the team are following me.

Joe says, “This is the one vehicle I managed to get a tracker on before they ambushed you.” Then Andy looks happy again.

We go back to our car and Booker gets out some water and my special water bowl and I have a lot to drink. He has an old towel in the back of the car and he uses that to wipe my face and my paws and my fur feels less sticky but I still hope Joe gives me a bath.

Then we drive and drive and drive home. Joe and Nile are passing their glowing screen back and forth. Booker lets me sit right up on his lap and he gives me cuddles. Back at our house, Andy puts down her big, shiny axe which means that the mission is over. I’ve already given Booker a good sniff but it’s my job to make sure everyone else is all right too. This takes a while because they all want to give me lots of strokes and pats and tell me I am a good girl. That’s good, because I am a good girl!

Then Nicky tells me that he will get steak, which means nice meat, and Nile gets me a treat of some cheese and Andy rubs my tummy and lets me lick her chin. Then she wrinkles her nose and says “Would someone please clean this dog?”

So Joe says “Come on, Marisol,” but Booker still smells a bit sad and worried so I am not sure. I want a bath, but I do not want to leave Booker-who-is-my-favourite. So I get the edge of his sleeve in my teeth and pull so he can come with me.

Joe sees what I am doing and laughs. “Ah, Marisol,” he says. “Should I give Booker a bath too?” I bark and wag my tail, because Booker and bath is a good idea and Booker laughs at Joe which is all right because then Booker is happy.

When we get to the bathroom, Booker goes to sit down next to the tub which is silly because a bath is in the tub. Maybe he doesn’t know that? So I pull at his sleeve again until he half stands up and falls into the tub. And that’s silly too because when people have baths they take off their clothes so I pull at his pants.

That’s when Joe comes back in with the nice-smelling bath stuff and he laughs and laughs and laughs and falls over so the others come to see and they laugh too. (Nicky smells like meat so I think he’s getting my steak, which is good.) Booker laughs but pretends he’s not and he says “I’m sorry, have you never seen a man taking a bath with his dog before?” And then he says to Joe, “I think you offered to bathe me.” He takes off his pants and Nile screams and leaves the room laughing, but Joe turns on the water which is nice and warm and puts in the good-smelling stuff which has bubbles which tickle my nose and then he washes Booker at the same time he’s washing me. He even does the nice rubbing on Booker’s head and Booker’s face goes a bit pink but he also relaxes a lot. I understand, Joe is very good at that.

After the bath I am clean and Booker-who-is-my-favourite is clean and my whole pack are in our den. Nicky and Joe sit together because they are mates, and Andy sits in another chair and puts her feet up on them, and Nile sits next to me and Booker sits on my other side and I get my steak.

Today was a mission day and it was a good day.