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Man's Best Friend

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He'd never much liked dogs. If pressed, he'd say they were too loud, or that they called for too much attention, traded that attention for loyalty, but the truth of the matter was that dogs made better people than people, and Clyde didn't need to be reminded of that every stinking day of the week.

He'd left Thamasa to cut ties, to start anew. He'd wanted to stay there, to settle down with his wife and his newborn daughter, but it was hard to settle down when you were haunted by the ghost of your dead friend. Every night it was the same dead corpse and the same old question: What should he have done? Stayed and died alongside Baram? Or should he have cut his throat and left? Was there a good option, or were they all bad?

Whatever the answer, the only thing Clyde knew was that he hadn't made the right decision. He couldn't have, if he was waking up, night after night, drenched in cold sweat, soaked in terror and guilt and shaking shaking shaking.

He didn't deserve peace, not after what'd happened, and so he did the only thing he knew how to do: He ran.

It was supposed to be a clean break. He told himself things were better this way: nobody deserved a murderer for a father anyways, and he'd never been good with children. She'd raise her up well, he thought, and if she needed help, he knew the village would give her a hand.

Better this way. A clean break. He didn't have any plans when he left, hadn't thought that far ahead. He'd walk, and keep walking, until something happened.

The dog followed him out of the village.

Clyde thought Interceptor would crawl back to Thamasa in a couple days. Starvation and hard living could do that to an animal, but he underestimated the loyalty of dogs. It baffled him, too, how an animal he'd hardly doted on back in Thamasa would pick him over his wife, his daughter, and the promise of an easy life.

Maybe it was pity, if animals could feel pity. But if dogs could feel loyalty, it wasn't too far a stretch to believe that they could pity someone like him.

Clyde didn't know how that made him feel. Had he fallen so low as this, to be pitied by a dog? But then, as he watched Interceptor chew on a piece of gristly bone across the campfire, he thought: A dog would've stayed by Baram's side. A dog wouldn't have left, not in the time of Baram's greatest need. They would've died together.

He said, out loud: "I'm not worth this. You should've stayed with the girls."

Interceptor's ears flicked forward, and he raised his eyes to Clyde's, across the fire. There was something piercing in that look, a dog's simple perspective: You could go back.

"It's not too late for you," Clyde said. "There's nothing for you here. Go home to Thamasa. They're waiting."

Interceptor cocked his head, licked his chops, then lowered his head again to the bone.

Clyde watched, then snorted and shook his head. He dropped down onto his sleeping bag. "Don't eat me while I sleep," he said. "And don't wander off and get yourself killed by a monster. I don't know if I'd ever be able to look at myself in the mirror again."

The only response he received was a huff and the harsh sound of teeth scraping against bone. It made him sneer. Dogs. What had he expected? Would that he were a good enough man to deserve any of this. Would that he could go back and change things.

He didn't want the reminder, didn't like it. He had enough of the past in his dreams to last him a lifetime, and true to form, there was a dead man waiting for him when he closed his eyes that night. But when he woke the next morning, there was a dog standing guard over him, all attentive ears and watchful eyes, and Clyde found that his fingers had buried themselves into Interceptor's fur, holding tight.