Grizzled Bear and the Old Wolf sit on the porch, drinking in companionable silence. Neither of them are close to being old men, but they wear the titles well. Very few pack leaders make it to old, though the current Old Wolf has held the position for at least twenty years. Grizzled Bear has it easier. There are fewer bears to challenge him, and most of those that come around aren’t looking to run things.
Old Wolf wears his hair long, grey streaks stark against the dark brown. His clothing is loose, as if he could mask how muscular he is. Or maybe it’s to make the changing easier, in case he has to do it in a hurry. I’ve never seen anyone who could rush the Wolf, and I’ve no mind to. Thing like that should send a person running before it was too late. Once he’d changed, you’d be forced to stand still and pray you didn’t get noticed.
That tactic never did work on the bears. They aren’t inclined to chase you, but if you stay where you are, they’ll come right up to check you out. They try to get you to do something interesting, like a little kid at the zoo egging on the monkeys. If you move, the bear will either take offense and swat you, or decide you want to play – and swat you. If you stay still, they get bored and still swat you. There’s no winning with bears. Unless they’re in a good mood. Then they just ignore you and go about their bear business.
At least most of them do. Grizzled Bear is a different story. He likes to stir things up a bit from time to time, just to see what happens. You wouldn’t think it to look at him. He presents as almost normal, with short cropped hair barely touched with grey, always dressed like a cross between a hippie and your favorite uncle – just a little disheveled. His clothes don’t hide what he is, either. Shoulders and chest like that, strong legs and more fur than most men allow practically advertise what he is. I still don’t know how he goes from tall, lean guy to six hundred pound bear, but maybe that’s because I never had the guts to ask him.
According to all the old stories, Bear and Wolf shouldn’t be friends. The wolves like to run off any other were-folk in the area, or at least keep them confined to territory the wolves don’t want. If they’d had their way, the humans would have been run off all together. They don’t like the way we smell, the things we do to the land, the way we treat women and children. There’s not much we do right in their eyes, and I can’t say I blame them for thinking that way. Personally, I think they keep us around because they like our liquor stores and the supermarket.
The bears don’t care about us one way or the other. They don’t much care about the wolves' territorial boundaries either. They expect everyone to get out of their way whenever they come around. It’s always the men as come to town. After you’ve been here a while, you start to recognize them. Not that they look alike. They just have a way of moving, deliberate, relaxed, and quietly dangerous.
Nothing quiet about the wolves, at least not when they’re in a group. The young men are rambunctious – before Old Wolf beats them into shape or kicks them out. The girls are a lot more laid back. Plus, they’ll talk to you without acting like you’re garbage. Or food. I never did like the way the boys looked at me. Still don’t. Well, except for Old Wolf. He’s not what you’d call friendly, but he’s generally polite. Maybe that’s why he and the Bear get along. They both know enough to pick their battles.
I’m not that smart. Standing in the street, looking up at them, I’d like nothing more than to shake the two large men and toss them out on their ears. But I can’t. For one thing, they weigh too much. For another, it’s their house as much as mine, on account of my letting them sleep there whenever they’re in town made it their de facto den. At least that’s what they say. I think they’re messing with me and just want me to think I have to let them hang out, because their other option is to go back and deal with their respective political situations, and they’d rather crank up my air conditioners and drink all my beer.
Come to think of it, I can’t say as I blame them for that, either. I do, however, want them to work for it. Last time I brought that up, they both told me how much they’d like to take care of me properly. By which they meant permanently. By which they meant they’d like to mate with me. At which point, I’d walked out and kept walking. I didn’t need the house. I’d lived without for most of my life.
Now I was back, and they were looking at me with twin amused expressions, waiting for me to pick which version of hell I’d like to spend eternity buying curtains for. I’ve always been able to find new and unusual ways to get into trouble. This tops them all.