You Might Have To Excuse Me

Crystal Springs 
outfit but like minus the shirt because dude

It had been a restless night. A lot of things on his mind, not the least of which was the strange phone call that had seemed to hint at some malice--malice rather than mischief because of the clear 'silver' drop--but had come without voice he recognized. Unsettled by that whole thing, but without anything to grasp on about it, between that and the knowledge that Katya was still outside his scope, on top of really putting his heels into the whole Big Bear thing and the Hollis thing as a side note and just...

Yes, out, away. Early morning drives usually were without purpose, but today he was parking at the springs right when they opened for business around dawn. Apparently people liked their pale light soak, which made this a perfectly reasonable time to open to the public. And for him to take advantage of while he was tired and definitely irritable.

So it was, shortly after six, the Bear King lowered himself into rather warm water and sighed at the strangely welcome feeling. He'd been skeptical, really, not a warm-weather sort of person, and definitely having nothing against cold water. But if he could enjoy a good warm shower from time to time, maybe this was worth at least a try. So far, so good.

Even if now he had nothing to do but doze. Not really looking to fall asleep here, aware that just about anyone could come in and ruin the solitude, he aimed to keep alert enough by listening to the birds in the surrounding area. They were up in full force at this time and making a hell of a noise. Wondered idly if vampires ever went out and joined flocks and acted like actual bird brains.

Though was that even possible, with the whole nighttime thing?

Curious in these thoughts, he still didn't miss the sound of footfalls and he cracked an eye open and wondered how long this would last as a viable way to spend his morning.


Lee had established something of a morning ritual, visiting the springs whenever he had a day off. Although he was healed from his accident and had been for a while now, the man still felt achy every now and then. There was no telling whether it was an actual ache or the kind of anxious ache that one imagined after being in a high-speed crash, but Lee would take the excuse to treat himself any day of the week.

Upon his arrival, however, Lee found himself in unlikely company.

This would be interesting.

Now, few words could really describe a man of Lee's stature and appearance trying his damnedest to sneak up to the pool in which his King rested, Pink Panther style. Alas, Levka proved as perceptible as ever, opening an eye in Lee's general direction.

"Mornin', chief."

Tipping his hat to the man, Lee helped himself to the opposite side of the pool, sighing as he sank into the waters.

Quirking a little brow at Lee, he was actually a little please to find it was a familiar face rather than some uninteresting stranger. Normally people watching was something he could get behind, but today was not that sort of day. Or at least, this morning was not that kind of morning. Lifting a hand to scratch at his own collarbone, he kept his lax posture but watched a little more intently as Lee made his way to a spot that wasn't far but wasn't exactly cuddly, either.

What was Lee wearing?

Too worn to take the needling, inquisitive route he normally may have, he would settle instead for the comfort he took with the grizzly as his companion. Stretching a foot out in the water, he finally spoke after a moment.

"Pleasant surprise." And it really was. It was just nice to see Lee up and about, reasonably normal and well and whole and... still here. There had been a brief period after Maxine and Cliff left that Levka had feared his Second was going to use it as ample reasons to pack his own bags and maybe just ditch on mountainside altogether. He'd known he'd not left, of course, but confirming it with eyes-on was good.

"You a regular? Feeling better?" he questioned, pulling his one arm from the lip of the pool and down into the water and shivering a little for it as skin soaked up fresh heat.

Lee was of the opinion that people watching was for the birds, usually the kind that expected to be fed. Granted, Lee didn't find people to be altogether that interesting as a general rule, the few that he actually knew to any extent being the exceptions.

Levka expressed his surprise, and the Texan gave a gravelly hum. Lee would take it as a compliment.

In light of Maxine and Cliff taking off, the temptation to do the same had certainly been there for a while; however, Lee wasn't in the habit of biting the hand that fed him. The man had grown tired of the rogue's life and being pissed on by anyone who wanted to get a kick out of poking the bear.

Most importantly of all, North Glenn was his home. He was content here.

"Yep," he said to both questions, reclining into the waters. "Showing up early means beating the tourists." Lee generally found people uninteresting for the most part, but he had a special dislike of tourists.

"Fancy seeing you here, though."

Beating the tourists was smart. Levka grunted briefly in acknowledgement of this bit of wisdom, wondering how crowded it got later in the day. Levka, himself, was far from a frequent visitor. As previously mentioned, cold water was his preferred life. But cold water didn't take the tension out of your lower back quite like this, and... well, such as it was.

Lee seemed to realize this much about his King to at least some degree and the older man shrugged a shoulder, offering a smile that wasn't incredibly effective. "It was a long sort of night. Figured the morning could stand to be made better, so I thought to try something new."

Frankly, other than the birds that could learn to shut the hell up, this was pretty damn pleasant. "You are doing well, Lee?"

Lee and his problems were probably a lot easier to deal with than his own strange set of circumstances. Between Katya's continued lack of presence on his radar and then that phone call...


Beneath the Texan accent and handsome beard was in fact a man who had accumulated at least some practical wisdom over the course of his life, one example being how to avoid tourists and other such nuisances when they gathered in large numbers. They were like pigeons, except Lee couldn't shoo them off.

Speaking of birds, the younger of the two men also noticed how noisy the feathered vermin were today.

They reminded Lee of another bit of wisdom he had acquired during one summer spent at a cherry orchard in Washington, east of the Cascades; birds avoided trees if you strung up a handful of dead ones in them. It had worked like a charm to keep the birds away from the orchards, and Lee applied the same tactic around his cabin to scare off any morning birds whose songs he had no interest in hearing at daybreak.

Lee couldn't make this shit up.

He also didn't get many visitors.

At any rate, Levka's response quickly drew him out of his nostalgic musings, the Texan arching a brow at the mention of a long night. "Trouble in paradise?" Whether his King's troubles were personal or official business would help gauge how interested Lee was in them.

However, Levka beat Lee to the punch and asked if he was well. A shrug much like Levka's own was given.

"Everything's great," he said in something like a hum. "New job, new phone, new truck—all courtesy of yours truly."

Suffice it to say that Lee was happy, for the most part. He missed his friends and his old truck, but at least his new truck was shiny and had that new smell. The man had even ordered a custom plate for it.



"Always," Levka gave in swift answer. Absolutely true while also perfectly vague. If it wasn't one thing, it was going to be another. The number one reason he'd always avoided this sort of position in spite of the power that came with it. No regrets, but not much sleep, either.

But Lee's answer was a placation of some of those lingering laments, and in spite of his rough mood, he did feel a fraction of the weight slip off. "Good, good. I am sincerely very glad to hear it."

It was difficult to deny that he wasn't sure what to talk to someone like Lee about. Their common ground hadn't been plotted out much before now. It wasn't really Levka's talent, making friends. Either he clicked or he did not. He had... half-clicked with Lee. Found him agreeable and sufficiently like-minded, but simultaneously, different people. Lee had undoubtedly been closer to their defectors than he was their King, and yet his loyalty was worth noting.

Mulling on a particular sentiment for a moment, he was quiet as he watched Lee, wondering how was best to put it.

What an answer—Lee chalked it up to personal business, then.

He couldn't blame the man for wanting to keep his business his own, but Lee also couldn't help but call to mind Maxine and Cliff's plights with their King. Was this what his friends had a problem with?

Lee, decidedly against ruining his morning with useless speculation, dismissed the thought.

What's done is done.

Rolling his shoulders, the Texan turned his head until a pop released some of the tension in his neck. This operations manager work at the marina paid well enough, but Lee wasn't exactly accustomed to sitting at a desk for any length of time. Fortunately, he was able to stay on his feet most days and keep the desk sitting to a bare minimum.

Then he noticed Levka watching him, and Lee simply watched him back for a few moments before lifting his brows.

"Somethin' on your mind?" He could see the gears turning behind those blue eyes.

If Levka had been outside of his own thoughts, he might have noted this was an interesting twist on a familiar scenario. Getting caught in that sort of stare was not exactly new.

Still, the prompting did seem to help him stop mulling and just go for it. "Just thinking that I... hrm. I know that you were friends with those two," better than calling them the number of things he called him in his own head to Lee's face, and he was certain Lee was smart enough to realize what he was on about. "But you have stayed and I do not pretend that that is nothing. Hoping you can tell me how to make that worth it for you."


Lee supposed this conversation had been a long time coming, even though he had his doubts if it ever would. Listening to the older man as he spoke, Lee considered what Levka had to say about his decision to stay behind after Maxine and Cliff flew the coop. The King's confession ended in something that almost sounded like a question, and all the Texan could do at first was sigh.

"I miss 'em." It seemed right to lay all the cards out on the table. "But, they weren't happy here. Whether there was anything we could have done to remedy that, I guess we'll never know for sure."

That said, Lee met Levka's gaze and held it. "What I do know is that I've spent too many years on the road to give this up."

It was the simplest truth; the man was tired of not belonging anywhere. While he had hoped that North Glenn would be the same sort of sanctuary to Maxine and Cliff as it was to him, Lee couldn't convince them to feel the same way he did. He had thought he could, but he knew now that he couldn't.

All it took for him to grow up was nearly breaking his neck.

Now, as for how Levka could make staying worth it to Lee, the Texan shook his head.

"I have all I could ask for."

It was astoundingly refreshing, just how much Lee understood the whole thing without having to have it spelled out for him. Perpetually the right choice as Second, he proved it time and time again. Even without Maxine here to demand that Second position be filled by someone she trusted, Lee still very much deserved to retain it, and Levka had zero inclination to take it away from him.

Maybe there would be new bears in the future that would take to Lee's demeanor easier than Levka's anyway.

Speaking of... a thought for in a moment. First.

"If this changes. If for some reason you begin to find me or our group or anything intolerable--please make sure I understand this before you count it a lost cause. I would do much to keep you as Second."

It was a fresh insecurity, still not knowing exactly what it was that had inspired Maxine and Cliff to such an abrupt and determined termination of their association.

That Lee had almost passed up the opportunity of Second was such a distant memory that it easy to forget most of the time. For better or for worse, there wasn't much responsibility associated with the title he carried, which made forgetting easier. Although, sometimes Lee wondered if this was how it was meant to be; his friends didn't seem to think so.

When Levka expressed his hope that the Texan would come to him if ever he had a problem with how things were, Lee lifted his brows in a contemplative look.

A nod was given shortly thereafter. "I'll be sure to let you know."

It was an easy thing to say, but the more he thought about it, the more Lee realized that he really didn't know how Levka ran things on the daily. Lee existed in his own cut of the territory, commuting from home to work and back again. He was none the wiser to what went on within the Glenn at large.

"What was it like in the last posse you ran with?" There weren't that many people at the springs this early in the morning, but he wasn't careless with his words.

Maybe it would help to get a feel of the ursid social life the chief was used to.

It was as much reassurance as Levka needed. He could handle people having an issue with him. What he couldn't handle was people having an issue with him and then not saying anything particular about it in a way he could work with and then blaming him. He would take the blame happily for a lot of things, but certain cases were... not so flattering and very frustrating. The sort of trouble he neither embraced nor asked for.

Regardless, Lee asked an interesting question, a bit similar to one Maxine had asked ages and ages ago. Lee, however, would probably get a clearer answer, being previously privy to certain concepts that some of the others had not, and being inherently more trusted at this point. Still, not a conversation to be having across the slight divide of the small pool, so with a thoughtful hum, Levka would make aims to move and settle a little closer to the grizzly.

This afforded some eager bear sniffs on the metaphysical plane as polar bear checked out his much darker cousin with not inconsiderable warmth.

"It was, well, mafia," he offered with a shrug as if it were an obvious explanation, even as his voice went low to keep this between them. "Very structural, very purposeful. I did thrive there," he admitted after a thoughtful moment. "But I could have never lead it as it was. There were many of us. A lot of recruitment when needed. Easy to get lost on the sidelines if you chose to."

He'd chosen to.

Naturally, this wasn't exactly the most comfortable discussion to have in public, even in hushed voices. Lee remained relaxed as his King moved to lessen the space between them, watching Levka settle in the corner of his eye. Their proximity also piqued the grizzly's interests within Lee, that hunchbacked beast crooning out to his sleek, pale kin.

The mention of mafia wasn't exactly a new discovery, but Lee didn't know that the mafia was like outside of the Godfather and other Hollywood works of fiction. Fortunately, Levka was generous in his description of the life he hand his left behind.

It sounded so alien to a loner like Lee. It sounded awful.

"Hmm." It was a thoughtful sound, the best Lee could do on the spot. "Sounds like a different beast entirely to what I know." Lee's solitary past wasn't exactly a revelation to his King.

"I could count on one hand how many of our folk I've met before y'all. None of them really made for good company."

The whole thing, their complete opposite ends of perspective, made Levka laugh briefly, roughly.

"I do not know how you did it, I can say honestly. I have never been alone for this, not really." Perhaps a little insight into why he was the way he was. "It was not easy at all to break ties. I suppose this is part of why I ended up as I am now, after finding Jackal and Kroc were already here." A little shrug, uncertain now that he'd said this out loud if Lee was even aware of the Sleuth's origin concerning the trio of polar bears.

Unlikely. Kroc nor Jackal would have said anything, and Levka could not recall any precise storytelling moment.

Maybe a touch more clarification.

"We are much closer now than we had been in Russia. Perhaps an irony."

To Levka's rough laughter, Lee gave a gravelly chuckle—two old men laughing among themselves.

Well, one slightly older than the other. If only Lee knew how old his King was.

When Levka expressed his bewilderment with "how Lee did it," the man in question shrugged. "Luck, mostly." Knowing when to walk away and when to run—Lee could easily describe his life in terms of country songs. At any rate, he lifted a brow in Levka's direction when the more powerful bear went on to talk about his own experiences.

"Going back to being alone is tough once you're used to having people around." This, Lee knew firsthand. "I guess it's even worse when you've never not had people."

At the last bit of irony, the Texan huffed and smiled. "Sometimes I wonder if I should try getting to know 'em, Kroc and Jackal."

They kept to themselves, much like Lee did himself. Still, he knew next to nothing about them beyond their names, homeland, and history with Levka. That Lee had just learned the third item on that list less than a minute ago, it was safe to say he didn't know the other polar bears much at all.

"Ought to," Levka agreed to that idea, personally fond enough of the the pair of them that he didn't understand how no one else had made the effort. He supposed maybe their more introverted natures combined with the whole 'Russian' thing chased your average American off. Levka knew he got away with it largely because he wasn't afraid to make a mess trying to find pearls among the rabble. Talking to people wasn't difficult. But try telling that to Jackal.

"If nothing else, reliable. That is them." More than Levka himself, in a lot of ways, but the King wasn't about to say that himself. "Our last sleuth did not suit them much, in the end. I have to be careful in not making the same mistakes."

Tempting as it sometimes was to follow bad examples when he had no other examples to follow.

Ought to indeed.

Nodding along to the sentiment, Lee idly thought of the handful of times he had encountered the Russian ghosts—what he had come to think of them as. Given their shared origins with Levka in the Russian fucking mafia, he saw their reclusive nature in a new light; perhaps they were hitmen, formally or otherwise. At least Levka made it sound like the lot of them had severed ties with their past lives back east.

"Always good to have people watching your back." They might have been strangers, but Lee couldn't argue that Kroc and Jackal hadn't been there when the Texan was beaten to hell and back after the wreck.

The Russian ghosts had been at his bedside when Lee's own friends hadn't.

Quickly dismissing the thought, Lee arched a brow at Levka's mention of their last sleuth. "All work, no play?" From what little understanding Lee had been able to glean, the Russians' sleuth was far more strict and structured than the grizzly could ever tolerate himself.

Levka appreciated people who were some fashion of beneficial. His two closest bear friends were definitely that, and it had been easy to fall into a life where he lived and worked with them. It was one of the many reasons he'd struggled with Maxine--he'd just not seen the point to her. He'd thought that Cliff had struck on something with Big Bear, but... too little too late?

But that was not really where he chose to dwell today, thinking as little about the traitors as he could. Not worth his time--he didn't even know where they were at this point, and he didn't care to.

Anyway, fresher questions, less hurtful to think about than current events. "That," he agreed, then added, "But also there were many plays of power. The sorts of leadership who would beat you down for failure." A thoughtful pause, as Levka tried to consider what his own behavior had been, or perhaps would be. But honestly? He felt like he'd been being rather nice.

Shoulda smacked Maxine that one time, though. Taught her a lesson or six before she'd wussed out. At least then her complaints may have made some fashion of sense.

"It did not always feel so safe."

Power plays and abusive leadership—no wonder Levka and his friends had left.

Facial expression indicative of his distaste, Lee shook his head. "Sounds like hell." It sounded like the mafia. "In the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I'm just a simple kind of man." Not only was it such an American thing to say, but it was also an incredibly Southern thing to say.

In short, your Second was a redneck, Levka.

Lee smiled.

"You've got them beat," he said, heaving a sigh. "North Glenn is the safest I've felt in a while."

For better or for worse, they had a good thing going that Lee had benefited from. While he regretted that the sleuth didn't serve his friends like it did him, there was an instinctual pull not to fuck it up for himself.

Honestly, Levka really rather liked this weird-ass redneck, regardless of what he sounded like when he opened his dang mouth.

Raising a hand from the edge of the pool, he reached across the short distance to at least make some gesture of patting at Lee's face, pretty chuffed by what had just come from the grizzly-man's mouth. Earned him a grin and a very earnest, "I am glad to hear this. It is the whole point."

The world around them was relatively fucked most days, to one degree or another. If Levka could keep his own kind reasonably secure... well, that was a key ingredient in happiness. He knew that. Very few truly thrived in constantly fighting for rights and life.

Lee was quite the likeable redneck in his own head.

The grizzly-man gave lifted a brow and chuckled when Levka reached over to pat his face, endeared or otherwise amused by what Lee had said. While some might not have taken to the touching, it was nothing nothing their kind; neither Lee nor his beast took offense to the contact. It was the stuff that kept their ilk from going for each other's throats.

It was also interesting to see the King grin so earnestly.

"Then job well done." Lee knew that the mere acknowledgement of having done a good job could go a long way when times were trying.

Thriving off of praise, no matter how simple, Levka settled back with a genuinely uplifted mood. Lee didn't need to know about the weird phone call until something came from it, and damn straight he was doing a good job. A phone call meant nothing if there was nothing to show for it...

A long, low sigh of the pleased variety, and Levka decided, "We should do a thing sometime. Like a hunt or you can show me how you camp in Colorado."

He'd meant to figure that out with Katya, back in the winter before he'd dashed the opportunity. Though this way would not be quite so entertaining, perhaps it would be ultimately more productive in the long run. Getting to know Lee, sharing some of their skills and stories... Lee had the benefit of being the sort of bear who Levka felt a fashion of understanding with, despite cultural and personality divides.

Honestly, Lee didn't need to know every little thing in Levka's life, or want to for that matter. It would be nice if the sleuth were a little more... together, he supposed, but things were comfortable and easygoing for the most part. Life could continue like it had since the wreck, and Lee wouldn't mind it at all.

His King gave a pleasant sigh, uplifted by Lee's kind words. Smiling a bit himself, the grizzly-man arched a brow at what Levka said next.

"Yeah, we should," Lee said with a nod, "I'll have to check the season dates, haven't gone hunting in a while."

Unless Levka meant the kind of hunting that didn't involve guns and tags.

Camping would also be good since it was more up Lee's alley. "I know some great fishing spots too. We could head out for a couple days, catch some brook trout on the fly." The thought of teaching Levka fly fishing was both amusing and concerning.

Hunting of any sort would do. "Imagine the season is in the cooler months," he mused, vaguely aware of how this worked since he lived and breathed North Glenn. "I think that would do perfectly." A bit of time between now and then to sort out the details. No pressure to jump straight into the plan.

The other kind of hunting they could absolutely do whenever.

And while Levka had done some ice fishing in various ways over the years, fly fishing was definitely outside his wheelhouse. All the same, he wasn't opposed and if it was something Lee loved and something Levka himself didn't find abhorrent at first brush... "Yes, whenever is best. You know how and where, and I can make the time. I am curious as to how you live, Lee."

Knowing that Lee lived far removed from most people--slightly different from the way Levka did similarly at the lodge--made him curious.

"Sounds about right." Although Lee had always been more of a fisherman, he was pretty sure that all the important hunting seasons were in the autumn, which worked well. It meant he had time to dust off his hunting gear, maybe even practice his shooting.

Regardless, Levka was plenty receptive to the idea of them going on a little outdoors trip. His enthusiasm—Lee considered this degree of positivity from his King to be some muted form of it—gave the grizzly-man cause for excitement himself. While he was comfortable being a loner, it seemed like occasion he couldn't pass up.

Then the man expressed a certain curiosity for how Lee lived. "The woods keep me sane," he began with an aloof expression, a lopsided smile, "I'd lose my mind living in town, working a desk job from nine to five."

"Convenient for you, then, that I did not set up home somewhere with more buildings and demand you join me, da?" A little bit of humor at the fact that all the bears had conveniently flocked to North Glenn for the most part. Not so convenient for those who had been essentially exiled now, but well... the price they paid for defiance.

Levka had a feeling these woods were as much a reason for Lee to stick with his King as anything, but Levka wouldn't begrudge him his personal interests. Loyalty was loyalty, however it was earned.

"You know, though, I do not know how anyone does desk jobbing. I have to sign a paper or two a few times a week and that is already more than enough for me." Well, more than a few papers when he was doing serious business stuff, which sucked, but on the day to day he kept his involvement minimal. Voice lower, he added, "I think we would all turn to bears and then we could not do anything anyway."

A quick chuckle, his own joke quite funny to him, as usual.

Lee chuckled at the bit of humor, giving Levka an incredulous look. "Then we would've all been miserable together." Besides the fact that cities weren't a very hospitable environment for bears, his King hardly seemed like the urban type. As if to prove Lee's aforementioned suspicion, Levka then went on to add how he couldn't understand people who worked at a desk for a living.

When he mused on the idea of them all shifting into bears to avoid working in such conditions, Lee grinned from ear to ear.

He imagined an office full of giant bears, and it nearly killed him.

"Then we count our lucky stars," he said, grinning still. Nodding once more to Levka, the man then reclined a bit more into the soothing water.

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