Graupel Canyon Hibernate
Christmas had come and gone in relative quiet, compared to many previous years of her life. It had been warm enough, and cozy enough, at the inn, cooking too much food for residents and guests. But tamales were not quite the same when not made by many hands of cousins and sisters, and Christmas morning was nearly dull enough to bring tears without the clatter of children pulling wrapping paper into ribbons. And so, it had crept by like a stranger, here and then gone. The new year had fluttered along behind it in a similar fashion, taking down twinkling lights and garland as it went.

It was morning, just past the bustle of morning rush hour. Traffic thinned even further as the road unfurled into the canyon. Sharp walls stood with the heavy burden of layered snow and ice, bits that had fallen and frozen and melted and frozen, only to be hidden under new, fresh layers, and so on. Even now, the tops of the mountains were hidden away behind clouds that threatened more of the same any minute.

Esperanza drove without thinking much of anything, very nearly on autopilot until the boundary of the town proper hit, stirring life into her sense as if it were the smell of fresh breakfast. What a familiar path. How many times she had listened to the hum of tires on this particular stretch of pavement. It pulled her back down to earth, a reminder of where she was and where she was going. A house that was no longer her home, really. Unannounced, no less - a surprise, if not a bit of a rude one, to spring upon Levka. A visit where she had not even responded to the picture he had sent out well over a month ago.

The house peeked out between trees and sparse, cozy neighbors like it had been awaiting her return. She could feel the tell-tale twinge of a polar bear's orbit-like presence just seconds before she saw his car, comically small for Levka in many ways. She parked just behind it, and turned off the engine, but did not immediately get out. Just for a moment, she would like to sit, staring at the evergreens and the snow-burdened roof that held so many memories.
Relocating into a new space was not really something new to him.

Levka had moved and lived in so many different places when he had been in Russia. Having a 'home' that he actually put things into that he intended to keep was something of a foreign concept for much of his life. Not materialistic, not settled. It was only in moving here, just a few years back, that he had found some sense of loyalty to a place.

And now he hated to be out of Graupel, and he had been for many months now. So to say he hadn't left again since returning was accurate and certain to remain that way as long as possible. To that truth, he was here, and as the sort of person inclined to be awake by the sunrise at the latest...

Felt her coming. Only there was no way to be sure. He could hope, no doubt, as he felt the rogue signature draw near and with purpose. But at the same time as he was preparing himself for a bittersweet kind of reunion, he was also preparing himself to... perhaps try to not commit and ill advised murder. But heaven help any bear of Cliff's who thought to be cute and come see him now. He stalked the front room of the sparse but furnished home, Flint sitting guard at the front window.

A single bark alerted him to what he already knew--a vehicle in the drive, with a bear in it. Discreetly he moved to check, not peeking, aware of the fact that whoever was out there knew he was here. It could be no mistake.

All at once the uneasy tension filtered out of him, down his arms and out his fingers and he moved for the front door to open it, and a different tension kept him there in the threshold, not caring that was he was letting all the cold into the house. It was Flint who ran out to the car, tail wagging in curiosity at the unopened car door. Levka did not call him back.
A bark sounded from inside, an old-fashioned motion sensor, letting her know that she was known... even though she already knew that, really. She didn't quite catch him peering through the window; rather, what caught her eye was a flutter of blinds falling into place against the inside of the pane. Her eyes moved instantly to the door, and it opened as if in response to the touch of her gaze.

There he was. And there was Flint, bounding across the familiar snow-splotched yard. Levka stayed behind, and she grinned a little at the sight of him. Much better, this way. Comfortable, with the option of solitude. No guards, no gaudy jumpsuit, no haunting chains.

Esperanza popped the door open, stepping one foot out and then the other, giving the dog a moment of her attention. Smiling, cooing a greeting at him, offering her hand for sniffing and then for petting. Then, the other hand reached back into the Tahoe. It was not food this time, but it was fancy coffee, two too-tall cups in a cardboard carrier.

"Orange was not your color," she greeted as she ambled towards the door, feeling the stretch of an earnest bear taking up space in her head.
They'd said goodbye, once, at this very door. He'd not wanted to let her go through it that time. It had been one of the more difficult trials of his life. But he had let her go anyway, in spite of his more horrible impulses and his selfish needs, under the hope that it was the only real way to keep her.

And here she was, coming back. Willing, hopeful steps, that easy smile. The gentle attention paid to a dog who telegraphed the love better than the bear could. Flint danced around her as she approached but Levka only really had eyes for her. She looked well. Happier than he'd seen her in... a year, now. He felt like he'd lost so much time, and he blinked as the sensation filtered through him, the loss still clinging to his skin like a heavy mark.

"It was not," he agreed, and finally smiled. There was an urge to scoop her up and crush her to him, to hold her insistently, possessively in a way he was prone to. But she held the drinks and he respected her in a way even his own internal pressures couldn't overcome. Still, he itched to be near and he wanted her inside the space that was still hers, in his mind. He thought to make a comment about her not looking so sad, but it felt... incorrect, when the reasons for her sadness were so at the top of his mind.

He urged her inside, walking a sort of internal tightrope. It was close to the ground, any fall would be embarrassing at this point rather than deadly, but he was tired of showing her his lows.
She chuckled to his agreement, smiling at the dog that maneuvered around her, rustling inside with the two of them in tow. It was stranger still to be back inside this house. It was not quite the same, something plain to each of them, she was sure. No coffee table from Cliff. No family photos dancing along the accent wall. But the couches were the same, and the window dressings, and other little details that gave it all something of an uncanny valley effect.

None the less. She set the coffees down, thought to hand him one - turned instead to open her arms for a hug in lieu of any other immediate words. The kermode pawed through space just the same, wobbling and grumbling in greeting.
The unspoken offer was taken. The last time they had met, this had not been an option and he had pined for it--for any contact--only to be left with that feeling until it had been tucked away again.

But she was warm as he pulled her to him and held her not entirely unlike the time he had held her when he had confessed his sins and she had said goodbye. She was a rogue, an affront to everything he stood for. And yet--

"I missed you," he told her, and part of him still missed her, and would continue to until he could convince her back. But he would not take for granted this moment, where she came to him unbidden and was still real and still his friend.
It was a good hug. A bear hug! The pun never got old. She held him tightly, gruuuunting as if it took such great effort to do so. Things were not the same, and it felt like they never would be again. There was some edge of guilt cutting against the warm joy of seeing him safe and free. But this moment was better than many past, some fairly recent, and she was in high enough spirits to enjoy it, no matter how bittersweet.

"Oh, I missed you too," she sighed, patting him on the back with both hands. One hand would leave to reach down for Flint's head, patting him just as lovingly. Here, she laughed, and then pulled away, shaking her head. "I have this instinct to say to you, 'sit down and I will cook something.'" She lifted a finger, just one moment please! And turned to pluck one of the coffees from its carrier, handing it over to him. "This will have to do."
He chuckled with her, almost wishing it were so in spite of the fact that he was mostly just glad she was here. She'd won him with food in the beginning, but it hadn't been why he'd dedicated himself to her in the end. She didn't have to come with anything to offer him but her attention.

But, being who she was, she had not come empty handed. He shook his head at Esperanza, fondly. "I accept, but you must come sit." He made the move to do this himself as he took the coffee, dog seemingly still torn on who to follow. "And do not look in the fridge. I think it would frighten you." All but barren, as he was still working on finding some cadence that could be considered normal.
She laughed, and shrugged theatrically, as if sitting was such a chore. Taking her own coffee, she settled on a familiar sofa, crossing her ankles with a sigh. She cast Levka a look, as if she could scrutinize the contents of the fridge just by looking at his face. Her free hand moved to Flint's head again, offering scratches as he investigated some intriguing scent on the hem of her sweater.

"Do I need to drag you to the grocery store?" The question came with a playful sort of threat, and already she was leaning into the idea of it. If ever she might start to feel like she could not look squarely at him, then at least in the produce aisles she could inspect bulbs of garlic.
Levka sat with her, not eager to be far away from her. Still, that thread still pulled in his mind on repeat, the reminder that she was a rogue, that she was not exactly as he knew her to be. It felt difficult to entirely let it go, even as the mood persisted in positive trails.

He huffed a laugh, somewhere between offense and good humor. "You think I can not do this for myself after all?" He knew that was not what she was saying, really, but it was clear enough to them both that finding their way in this new world was hard. A lot had changed for them both that day. Indra had died in his jaws and that moment had altered their courses forever.

"Though perhaps you are good motivation, having you here."
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