There's a dog, resting on a patch of wet grass, near a duck pond, with a ball between its paws and a man sitting silently nearby. The dog keeps guard against the squirrels and the rustling leaves while the man turns page after page.
The dog rests its head against its paws, enjoying the challenge of picking apart the many fascinating scents which the wind brings with it. The man turns another page, then lifts his hand to remove his glasses. He rub his fingers in tiny circles on each side of the bridge of his nose, then sighs. The dog notices, like it notices most things, and knows it to mean that the man will soon want to leave.
So it stands, taking note of its stiff legs and aching back but only very vaguely remembering a time when things had been different. The yellow vest crinkles as it moves, as if to remind the dog that it's on duty. It is, of course, a needless reminder. The dog is always on duty. That too had been different once, back when the pack had been larger and guard duty had been split between them. That had been a long time ago though, before the fur around the dog's nose had turned grey and its legs had begun to ache with the changing weather.
"Yes," the man says, closing his book, "you're right, Bear. It's time to go."
The dog doesn't answer, just waits patiently for the man to clip the leash to his collar and smooth out the vest. The hands reaching down shake a little and the metal pieces of the leash and collar scrape unpleasantly, but they're steady enough when the man scratches behind his ears and down his neck. The man knows all the good spots by heart and, for a while, the dog allows the tension to bleed out of its body.
"Good boy," the man says, and the honest appreciation in his voice feels nearly as nice as the scratching. Inhaling deeply, the dog considers dropping his head into the man's lap. Instead it jerks its head up, raising its nose and sniffing the air. The scent is impossible. Should be impossible. But, yet. The dog knows that scent. Dreams of it sometimes, legs twitching and tail hammering am excited staccato against the floor.
"What is it?" the man asks.
The dog whines, frustrated at the man's inability to understand. It doesn't take off running - it might have done so once, but with stiff legs and grey fur comes a greater understanding of things and besides leaving the man behind unguarded would be unthinkable - but stands instead at attention, head high and every cell of its body alert and awake.
"We should go," the man says, his voice anxious now. "Bear, c'mon, boy. Let's go."
There's a tug at the leash, but the dog doesn't move. It can hear the approach now. Steps on the path. Branches breaking. Gravel displaced. The dog barks, loud and clear. On the other side of the pond, a flock of grey and brown birds launch themselves up into the air at the sound. A squirrel freezes half-way up a tree and stares at them with beady eyes.
For once, the dog doesn't care.
"Bear," the man says, reaching down to grab hold of the dog's collar. "I don't know what's gotten into you, but we have to..."
The hand holding the collar lets go. The leash falls to the ground. It's not quite permission, but it'll have to do. This once, it'll have to do. The dog known as Bear launches itself away from the man it has spent such a long time guarding, moving across the yellowing grass and the muddy leaves and over to where He stands, smelling as good and right as He had all those years ago when the pack had still been whole and strong. The dog jumps, paws resting on His shoulders and slamming its head into His nose.
"Good boy," He says, laughing and looking Bear straight in the eyes. "Good boy."
His voice's soft and harsh all at once, which is exactly how the dog remembers it. Wagging its tail, it licks at His hands and dances around His feet and barks again. It runs back to where it left its other human, barking and nudging his hands gently to make sure he has finally understood. And even though the man's nose doesn't work any better than his ears or eyes or legs, he nods down at the dog and runs his hand down its ribs and says;
"Yes, it's John. I know. I know."
The man smiles as he speaks, the skin around his eyes wrinkling. That hasn't happened for a long time and the dog licks his hand too, generous with its love, before racing back across the field.
John, it thinks as it runs. John. What a strange human word for happiness.