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two in the park, one in the hand

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Call it a fit of whimsy. Harold writes the craigslist ad like a personal. Single brown Malinois male seeks playmate for long runs in the park. Likes donuts, hot dogs, first edition Asimov. Speaks Dutch.

So maybe it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that he gets a headshot back--a big, grey dog, something a little shepherd, a little husky. The note attached says, Hardlopen is leuk. Dus is zwemmen, wilt u springen in de vijvers? Ik hou van fantasy meer dan science fiction, maar misschien kunnen we in het midden ontmoeten Frankenstein. Het spijt me, ik weet alleen een paar woorden van het Nederlands, dus gebruikte ik Google Translate, which Harold finds oddly endearing, so he makes a date for Bear to play with this mystery mutt one Saturday afternoon, wondering if its owner likes the Shelley or is more interested in filmic adaptations.

Only, the owner never shows. The dog shows--collarless, no tags, but clearly the same one as in the picture Harold received in email, if even larger than he had imagined; it's friendly and greets both Bear and himself with a sloppy tongue. Harold looks around warily but can't spot anyone watching him. He lets Bear off his lead to bound across the park and starts checking street cameras on his phone. He tracks the dog back several blocks to an apartment building--with less help from his system than usual; it isn't set up to track non-human faces--but while the dog was careful and friendly with everyone on the street, it was never obviously accompanied by anyone. Harold sets a search for common faces in the footage around the dog, and starts digging into the building's residents, but he gets nowhere fast, and a few hours later he is left eyeing Bear and the strange dog, feeling it would be irresponsible of him to leave the thing here on the street.

"I'm sorry about this," Harold says, "you seem very independent, but it's simply not safe for you to be on your own." He trusts Bear stay with him without the lead, so he clips it on, then unbuckles Bear's collar to fix around the other dog's neck. The dog is--not enthusiastic, but it could certainly resist far more than it does. Perhaps it helps that Bear, encouraged by Harold's soft request, "Bewaken," crowds in, nosing at the dog and nipping when it whines.

He calls Reese when he has both of them safely wrangled into the library.

When Reese comes in that evening, he looks at Bear and the other dog curled up together in Bear's usual nest, snorts, and says, "Harold, that's not a dog, it's a wolf."

"I beg your pardon?" Harold says. "No, you must be mistaken, it's far too domesticated for that. Even wolf pups raised in captivity don't--"

"No," says Reese. "A werewolf."

The dog lifts its head to look up at Reese.

"Oh," says Harold, feeling entirely out of sorts. That would--explain quite a bit, actually. "How can you tell?"

"Because he's far too domesticated," Reese says, wry. He drops down and holds out his hand for the wolf to sniff. He asks, "Are you military? Or family of?"

The wolf, between characteristic friendly licks, barks twice.

"Probably second generation, at least," Reese assesses. "You should let him go home, it's getting late. Unless you were looking for another pet."

The wolf growls at him, the first time Harold has heard him make that noise.

"I'm his first pet," Reese says, laughing. "Bear's more of a companion."

The wolf cocks his head consideringly, then noses Reese's hand again, apparently mollified.

Reese reclaims Bear's collar and leads the wolf downstairs. When he comes back, Harold says, "That was--foolish of me. If I'd known--I shouldn't have brought him back here."

"He made a playdate with Bear, I doubt he was trying to infiltrate our base," Reese says. "That picture he sent was pretty hi-res, wasn't it? You can run iris recognition against the program files if you want to be sure he's not a government dog."

"Even if he's not, that's no guarantee he's not working for someone else," Harold protests.

"Let me see that list you pulled up, people in the apartment building," Reese says. Harold complies, though he's not sure what he wants until Reese picks out a name and says, "There. That's probably him. Pull his driver's license and run iris recognition against him, too."

Harold frowns and does so rather than immediately demanding to know what Reese recognized with his own eyes. He's right, though, so Harold gives into curiosity. "How did you know?" he asks, wondering what connection Reese has to a decades-old top-secret military breeding program.

"Hale's a common wolf name," says Reese. "There used to be more than a few Hales in K-9 units."

"Did you ever work with one?" Harold asks. "A Hale or--any other wolf?"

"Yes," Reese says. He doesn't elaborate.

"You don't think it revealed too much, that we--that you knew what he was?" Harold asks.

Reese shrugs. "Wolves don't assume everyone who knows about them knows about the program. They have families. Big ones, usually. And they--adopt, too." A little smirk at that; Harold guesses he means how the virus escaped lab control and sometimes spreads via bite.

Reese seems inclined to trust the stray wolf and leave it at that. Harold, given a name, pokes around until he's also satisfied that there are no clandestine connections that will come back to haunt them. It's an oddity, but he files it away and tries not to let him bother it anymore.

And then one Sunday morning, about three weeks later, a young man with too-familiar hazel green eyes knocks on the library door, and then leans on it, waiting, waving a paper cup of some hot beverage at the camera. The beverage turns out to be green tea--"Peace offering, you were drinking some last time, at the park,"--and the wolf is there to ask if Bear can come out to play.

"I brought my own leash this time, if that makes you more comfortable," he says, holding it out to Harold. It makes Harold distinctly uncomfortable, in fact, but one works around these things. He accepts the nylon rope with a polite nod. "I'm sorry about last time, not introducing myself properly--a friend of mine was supposed to bring me, but he put off a paper he was supposed to write until the last minute, and I still felt like going out, so I--was a little uh, rude. I guess."

Harold assures him he understands and, nervously, allows him indoors to "change." He strips off his shirt in front of Bear but pauses, and Harold thinks it's perhaps a hint that he should avert his own eyes, except that then he says, "Your uh, pet. Could come too. If he wanted."

"He has other business today," Harold says, bemused. He still doesn't know why Reese described himself that way; he's never asked.

Hale shrugs. "Well, tell him I said, if you want. The offer's open." Then he skins out of his jeans and drops down and Bear is licking the wolf hello.

It's a nice day for a run in the park.