An odd sound filled the room. He had never heard it before and now he wondered what it might be. The shelter was small, and it wasn’t coming from the room with the beds and table, so he figured it must be coming from the room where the girl slept and made handsome colours on sheets of rough cloth. He liked watching her stretch new squares of cloth. Her face usually turned red and she would swear when she thought no one was listening.
Tick tick tick his claws went as he padded quietly across the room to nose the door. It swung into the room slowly and the noise grew. Salt and sorrow. His soft black nose could smell salt and sorrow and his golden ears perked up with concern.
The girl with the strange two-toned hair sat curled in the far corner of her bed with her back pressed against the headboard and her knees drawn up to her chest. Both arms wrapped around her legs, and her chin rested on her kneecaps. Her shoulders jerked with each unusual noise and her face sparkled in the sunlight coming in through her parted curtains. She looked so miserable and he felt a tightening in his chest to see her so sad.
Next to her hip lay the big, sleek feline and the cranky one rested on her feet and stared at Bear when he pushed open the door. He just stared right back. Clearly they weren’t doing enough to make the girl feel better! Felines just did not understand that sitting there wasn’t good enough to make humans feel better. They needed more than the disdainful acceptance of their presence. He would show her what the human needed! Maybe when his human returned smelling like the Elf, he would give him a special treat if he made the girl smile and forget whatever made her heart sad.
It was such an excellent idea! With one giant leap, Bear bounded onto the girl’s bed, which sent the mackerel flying after an evil, cranky hiss, and licked her bouncing face. She kept moving! So he leaped to get a better angle for licking, causing them both to rock and bob on the soft bed. The sleek cat, who had told him his name was Olavi and that he was called a lynx, remained unperturbed and merely watched them both with half-hooded eyes.
“Bear! Bear, no!” the girl said, harshly at first. Her voice sounded deeper than normal, and scratchy. This made him sad, too, so he tried to lick her throat to make it feel better. Lick lick lick. Licking always made his hurts feel better.
The girl finally started laughing, though water kept leaking from her eyes. She started to pet his head between the ears and he stopped jumping to brace both paws on her legs to continue licking the salty water away. As her face cleared of them, she smiled. That must be what was making her sad! Maybe it hurt her, or maybe it just made her itchy. He got all of it now, though. She didn’t have to be sad anymore.
“Hi, boy,” she said as she stroked his soft fur. “Are you sad that I’m sad? It is okay. I will be fine.”
His tongue lolled out and he smiled at her as he panted in her face. Maybe she was cold, too. He’d make her warm!
“Oh, Bear, your breath is rather…warm.” Yes! “Here, get off me, boy. Sit. Sit. Good dog.”
The woman crossed her legs in front of her as he sat back on his haunches.
“Do you miss them, too? It is rather quiet with Abiorn up north and Eiri doing… whatever it is he is doing over at Eruviel’s all the time. You know, I’m surprised he does not take you with him. Maybe you could help him guard the place, hm?”
His head fell to the side as he listened to the human talk. It was nice when the girl spoke. Smooth and rich sounds, like the humming of his mum. He missed his mum and his brothers and sisters, but he liked these humans well enough. The one she called Eiri let him out of the box, after all. It was dark in the box.
“You know, sometimes,” she said in a low, conspiratory voice, “Sometimes, I wish I could have just stayed happy with Anric. You probably do not know who that is, but that is all right. You do not have to know him. Just that he was with me for some time. When I was not quite so alone.”
She scratched behind his ears and he closed his eyes in pleasure.
“But I just didn’t love him enough. He couldn’t handle that I loved Morty at all. But I do. And I guess that is why right now I am alone.”
He pushed his forehead against back of the girl’s hand. She wasn’t alone! Even before he barged in, she had that stupid cat, after all, and the sleek lynx.
The girl smiled and stroked his ears. “I know. Morty loves me. Morty loves me as much as he is able to love me. It is not what I pictured for myself, though. Living cramped here with my brothers when they have the time to think of home. Or going to Morty’s hoping each time to find him unoccupied. It would be nice to have something normal, don’t you think? Someone-no offense-to come home to every night. Who you know will be there.”
He sighed and licked her hand. It was all he could do. As her eyes misted again, he crawled into her lap without waiting for an invitation. Olavi raised his head to look at him lazily, then set it back down again. The feline came up slowly once he was settled, but he ignored her. He did not want to scare her away again. Her human needed her and he wasn’t going to prevent cuddles. Cuddles made the world a better place.
Vahan knew how to cuddle, Abiorn would give him that. The excited pup would leap about the surface of the snow barely seeming to break through far enough to give credence to his weight and then bound back into Abiorn’s waiting arms to lick and burrow into the boy’s warmth. The black and white husky runt growled at the falling snow and then made a crazy woo-ing noise that reminded Abiorn of off-key singing if there had been words. Each clump of white was a bird or a hare tempting the pup to go straight for the jugular.
Abiorn grinned as Vahan lept from place to place and then back to him. The pup might be small, but he was smart, Abiorn could tell. He brought out a pocketful of jerky and Vahan had already discovered that if he sat and waited patiently, he’d get a piece. Well, most of the time.
“Come on, Vahan,” he said and started back across the ice toward the hut he was staying in. He took several steps away and blinked down at the puppy who simply sat with his head cocked to the side. “Vahan! Come, boy! Come on, let’s go get warm!”
“Rooooo arroo arroo arroooooooo.”
Abiorn had the odd notion that he had just been told off.
“Vahan! Come on, boy, I’m cold! Let’s see if there’s any goodness to munch on inside.” Abiorn patted his thigh hoping the dog would follow the sound.
“Araaahgh arraaahghhh rrrooorrororrrrooooo.”
“Seriously?” Abiorn stared at the puppy and wondered what he could do. He could always pick the pup up and carry him inside. But then he pictured himself carrying a larger dog several years down the road and he just wasn’t interested in that. He could lure the dog with treats. But then, the future Vahan just turned into a huge, fat ball of fluff that he’d still probably end up carrying around in several years.
What if he just walked away? Said once more that it was time to go and then expected Vahan to follow. Did he have that sort of flair, that sort of leadership quality hidden somewhere inside of him? He doubted it. But before he resorted to leaving out a trail of treats for the puppy, he had to give it a try.
Abiorn spoke in a firm but gentle tone. “Vahan. It’s time to go inside.” He jerked his head toward the hut and tried to keep his body language relaxed and confident. He gave Vahan one last confident look that brokered no other option and turned to head inside.
A high, alarmed yip came from the puppy. Another woo-roo or two sounded from his white throat, and then he bounded after Abiorn and circled his feet at a respectful distance before falling into a trot beside him.
“Yeah, I thought so,” Abiorn mumbled to himself. “Didn’t want to be left alone, didcha?”
He smiled down at the little husky runt that only wanted in on harnesses and treats with the rest of his pack. Vahan would see no harness, but he would find a pack that would love him, Abiorn thought to himself.
Then he laughed loud and clear in the crisp air.
Anya was going to kill him.
But she knew he would love the newest addition to their growing menagerie. She was never one to turn out a member of the pack, runt or no.