Dirty Little Secret

Big Bear Diner 

It was cold, and it was raining, two things that Natasha was more than used to, having grown up in London, but not necessarily meaning that she enjoyed it either. It was simply there, and causing the young woman to crave the warmest hot chocolate she could find, but with a bear residing within her, she knew that cocoa was not going to hold her in the slightest, and so a hot meal was definitely needed as well.

She could have gone to just about any diner, but she was determined to come to this particular one, despite Cliff's warnings for her to stay away from North Glenn. Curiosity was just much too strong for that, and she had been having a rather harsh feeling of needing to come here, a nagging feeling in the back of her mind pulling her there.

Checking it out just once wouldn't cause any harm, and then both the nagging feeling and her curiosity would be sated. Heck, maybe she would finally get why Cliff was so obstinate about this town in general, and so here was, seating herself into a booth, eyes roaming the menu in anticipation for more than just a hot meal.


Big Bear was sometimes problematic in its placement. Rogues of whatever sort--not always bear--could turn up there and be gone well before Levka could hope to arrive. Living some thirty minutes up the canyon did him little favor at those sorts of times. It was easier now, with Esperanza often there to catch those he couldn't get to himself, gave him less to worry about. But still, he liked to be there in person.

So it was convenient then--from a certain perspective--that he'd only left Big Bear himself ten minutes before he caught the sensation of an unaffiliated bear on his awareness, and had turned back around from his intended path to head back the way he'd come.

Today was no day to be cooped up at home, anyhow. It was beautifully wintery, snow falling more heavily up the slopes away from where they were now. It would probably warm up again tomorrow, but today would be cherished for what it was. And so, good mood meant more curious than annoyed at the rogue bear taking up space in his diner. The presence was weak and tinny in a way that screamed inexperience, and it took him a moment to find her, tucked in a booth and seemingly well enough at ease.

Was she new enough to be oblivious to the likelihood of his showing up, he wondered? One of the waitresses eyed him a little funny--presumably because he'd just been here and left--but ultimately said nothing as it wasn't the most unusual thing they'd ever witnessed from him. For his own part, he ignored all else, honing in on the young stranger.

Why were so many bears young women these days? Not that he was against it, he just... barely knew how to start.

Well, today, feeling content and secure and still riding high off the cold outside, he approached the table she was at, and instead of just inviting himself to sit down asked, "Mind some company?"

Of course, whether or not she minded might not actually matter.

She didn't have to wait long at all, in fact, just as she placed her order, she noticed the familiar scent of bear, the man now standing in front of her radiating it from his body. He was tall in size, about as tall as Indra, and had a bit of a hard look to him, but nothing that really sent Natasha into a panic. No, she had come here to meet another like her after all, and strangely enough, this man before her seemed pretty strong, stronger than Cliff even, and that meant a lot to the rather ignorant girl.

If anything, he seemed about the same as the girl at the bar, and it had Mary eagerly pushing to the front of her mind, curious about this new bear. At the mans question, Natasha waved a hand towards the seat across from herself, a smile drawing onto her lips. "Not at all, sit."

Good for them both--she proved to be agreeable. Maybe even eager, and he'd dare say she may have very well come here with a purpose. This piqued his interest more, and so he could forgive her for being visually peculiar. If anything, she seemed less nervous than Wren had, so perhaps it was a point in this young one's favor.

Or hey, could have just been sheer ignorance. New enough to probably have no group experience, it wasn't like Wren coming away from drama to make her wary.

Either way, he didn't need more than that. He sat, arms folding on the table as he leaned slightly into it, watching her. His own bear pushed forward eagerly to hers, to sniff at her and to press his head into hers if she didn't shy away. Like any color of black bear, she was diminutive compared to the sheer mass of a polar bear--but bear was bear, and with increasing vigor over the months, he'd craved that sort of presence around.

Weird, what a year could change.

"I trust you have already ordered?" he asked, to be certain she was getting the most out of her time in the diner. She wouldn't pay for a dime of it--as far as he was concerned, bears ate for free... provided they were welcome here in the first place.

Mary was more than eager to return the head bumps and snuffles in stride, marooing in absolute bliss in being around another, as if her time with Cliff, Indra and Riley were not enough. Natasha held back a roll of her eyes at the bear, in case the man might think the attitude being directed towards him, which she definitely did not wish for. At the mention of ordering, Natasha quickly offered the nod of her head, jerking a thumb back towards were the waiter had walked off towards.

"I can call him back if you'd like?" Was he here for food, or had her own bear caused him to come over to her, either way suited her just fine.

"No, no, no, this is fine, I was here and ate a small time ago." The one and only time he was inclined to decline food, really. And good that she had ordered--meant that she would be less likely to find a reason to bail on him if for some reason she did not like how the conversation went. A little anchor to make his life a fraction easier.

"Simply wanted to be sure that you are taken care of." He tapped the spot on the table that was between them, some fashion of emphasis before he offered, "I own the place. Well, my friend Esperanza as well." Who he... didn't believe was here at the moment, seeing as it was a holiday and she had a daughter to mind.

A soft pawed way to see if he could figure out what she already knew or understood of the situation she was in.

If he had already eaten, then he was certainly only coming over here because of Mary, not because of her charming good looks, which was to be expected she supposed. At the mention of him owning the cafe, her eyes widened just a bit, glancing back around the shop once more. "Well you both certainly got a nice place going." She hummed, before looking back towards the man.

"I doubt you came over just to tell me that though." She smiled at him then. "We are similar."

Alright, alright, maybe appearances were a bit deceiving, she seemed smart enough to pick up on the obvious. To be willing to call him out on it.

Compliments towards the diner pleased him, and he found himself smiling back, easing up a little even as his bear got quite comfortable right here. "You are paying attention," he commended. "Similar is a word for it, I suppose. Perhaps we share some information about ourselves, mm? " And feeling both confident today and amicable, he offered first. "My name is Levka. You?"

It was a tad bit amusing how he spoke, almost as if he were a father praising a child, but she was no such thing. The only thing that stopped her from taking offense being the thick accent he held, telling her that this, perhaps, was not his first language and that maybe he wasn't intending to come off as such.

"Natasha." She answered, only then the name coming to mind, as she had heard it once before.

"Ah, I've heard about you from Abraham." She exclaimed, perhaps a bit more excited than intended. "Well, I say heard, but your name was only mentioned."

Even her name was a good one--Slavic, even if she didn't otherwise meet the criteria. She didn't sound exactly American, either, however. A common enough name he wouldn't put stock into it, but it was nice to his ears regardless.

Abraham, though. There was a name he'd not anticipated hearing in this conversation. "Know Abraham, do you?" he queried somewhat rhetorically. The jaguar he'd met, practically right here, just down at the counter, nearly a perfect year ago. "Then perhaps this is easier. Did he make you aware of what North Glenn is?"

You know, no reason to retread something she'd already heard.

She shook her head, not considering herself to particularly know the gentleman, only having had one conversation in total with him. The conversation had been insightful though, when he wasn't staring at the hair product, and she had learned stuff that Cliff hadn't taught her so he was all good in her book. "I met him only once actually." She answered, a sheepish smile playing on her lips as she clasped her hands together.

"But Cliff did tell me that a group of bears stayed over here." She wouldn't mention the fact that he had told her to steer clear of it either, because that wasn't very nice Cliff.

She knew Cliff... and yet here she was?

Suspicion pounced on him at first. What was this, a spy tactic? But no, she was too articulate and not nearly daft enough to walk in here, announce Cliff's name--and besides, why would Cliff want to spy. And he already was friends with Esperanza and okay this immediate conspiracy theory needed to die. Taking a slow breath, he found himself with his brows slightly up at her for the mention of the kodiak, a quick drum of his fingers on the table as his smile faltered.

"Ah, and you know Cliff, I see. Afraid that he and I do not exactly get along."

He wasn't going to pretend otherwise. Even if his good mood and Cliff's lack of presence at this exact moment made it easier for him to not go straight to teeth-baring about it, the fact stood that he was not a fan.

"But you are here? Why is that, then?"

Ah, so that explained some of why Cliff had told her to steer clear. It seemed that the two had some beef, and god knew that men with beef hardly ever got over it, or themselves. Still, she could hardly see Cliff as the type of guy to cause trouble, and this guy seemed friendly enough, and so she couldnt quite peg what went wrong.

It didn't much matter she supposed, and since this guy was very open on his opinion of Cliff, she would do the same with her own. 'Yes, he's a good friend of mine." She answered, giving a small frown. "I hope that my liking him does not put you off, but he has been more than just kind with me since my change."

Cliff was cool, get it right friend.

"I came here out of curiosity in all honesty." She gave a small sigh at that, fingers linking together. "All this stuff is still very new for me."

Good friend. Typical. He reigned in his ire about that, knowing it would be terrible of him to hate on someone just because they didn't dislike Cliff Douglas in the same way he did. Thanks Esperanza for that small bit of good grace. Faulting her was impossible, and he doubted anyone was as good to someone like Cliff as she was.

So suck it up, sunshine, friends of Cliff aren't immediate lost causes.

"Esperanza likes him, also," he said with a shrug that was probably dismissive, but dismissive was kind when it came to this subject.

If she had been a kodiak instead of a bitty black bear, he might have dared assume Cliff had fucked up royally and changed her himself. Luckily, those lines did not add up, and so he would persist in a more reasonable line of conversation.

Curiosity, he could work with. "If there are things you feel you do not know... you would be better off with the sleuth. Many minds to learn from. Lots of experience and support."

She seemed reasonable, and he hoped that would maintain.

It was nice to hear that not every bear in this area hated Cliff, a small smile appearing on her lips at the mention of his possible friend. He was a nice guy, and while she didn't know the history between this man and Cliff, she didn't like the thought of everyone hating on him, just as she wouldn't want everyone hating on this man. It went against her nature to leave anyone out on just the word of another.

At the mention of the Sleuth, Natasha gave her head a slight tilt, brows coming together as she opened her mouth to ask about it, only for the waiter to come by with her hot cocoa, and a large stack of strawberry topped pancakes, bacon and hashbrown. The bear in her begged for it all to be shoved in her mouth the moment the waiter walked away, and while she would have liked to ignore the call, she couldn't resist fully, placing a strip in her mouth before continuing with her question.

"So what exactly is a Sleuth?" She couldn't recall if Cliff had mentioned it or not, but better to ask again either way.

Heaven help him, the fact that she didn't know that was enough to baffle him. He'd known what a sleuth was from moment one of his own bear life, and while he acknowledged that that wasn't always the case with others... The fact that she was apparently dealing closely with Cliff and he hadn't even bothered to explain it to her--

Just, no. No, no, no, this just wasn't going to do.

"Group of bears," he explained. "Has Cliff not explained groups to you?" Probably not, actually, now that he thought about it. If Cliff did that properly with any new bear, the smart ones would want it.

"There is more to it than just being together. I can explain if you want to eat," he decided. Part of him wished he'd ordered something for himself, in spite of being distinctly unhungry for once, but he ignored it.

Mentorship was not his favorite part of the game, but it wasn't like Esperanza or someone was on hand to do this for him, and these kind of information gaps were dangerous.

Oh, she would eat alright, Mary wouldn't allow her not to, but not before clearing one thing up.

"Oh, I know what groups are, they've been explained a few times now." She answered, raising a single hand. "I wasn't aware that it was called a Sleuth however" She paused for a moment, brows crinkling just slightly.

"It is a strange name... Why is it called that?" After the question was asked, she proceeded to toss another piece of bacon into her mouth, Mary already begging for more. Demanding actually.

How the fuck do you talk about groups but not mention it specifically by what it was called? Levka sincerely didn't understand, and he was a little baffled by the question in general. "It is like... how you say... pack for wolves? Sleuth for bears. I do not know where it comes from." It was just what it was. Much like Kings and Queens were what they were, despite a lack of hereditary lines. Why did they call anything anything at all?

Etymology was not exactly something he dwelt on. He liked words plenty well, but he never considered picking them apart when it didn't seem much to matter.

So he wouldn't dwell long, and though he would prefer that she just sit and listen to some of this, he did dislike retreading ground already worn down. "What have others told you already, then?"

Ah, she handn't known that bears in the wild even lived in groups! What a strange fact to learn that they werent these solitary beings that just traveled around eating berries and terrorizing campers for their picnic baskets. "I see, thank you." She answered, slicing into the pancakes now, as Levka went on.

As she chewed on the pancakes, she mulled over the question, trying to remember everything that she had been told about packs. There had been quite a bit explained between Cliff, Abraham and Alina, after all. "Uh, I've heard its difficult to become leader. Easier to understand Were ways, and that there is a certain territory of safety?" The last one tilted up in a question, unsure if she was correct in that assumption, but she thought she remembered Cliff mentioning it.

"There were a few other things, but they sort of all led up to those three points."

Ugh, so vague. He didn't understand how rogue newbies even survived.

"Okay, so yes, King. That is me." In case that were unclear--which he supposed it probably was, given how little she knew. "Or Queen, depending on who leads. Difficult--I suppose that is true, but it is important, you see? Here, North Glenn is mine. Ours. This is why I knew that you were here. I know when there are others like us in the territory, and for those who are bonded to me by being part of the sleuth, I can know when they are in distress. So if there is trouble, I can go to them."

He'd let her keep eating, and he'd just keep talking, at least for a moment. She'd be hard pressed to interrupt if she even wanted to. "Within a group you have the collective knowledge of the members. Guidance, mentors, medics, protection. It is like... what is the word. A club? There are perks for it, a few rules to mind in return. Being with others like yourself will make you happier, easier to get through the months until you know better what you are doing on your own."

Was he making a sales pitch? Maybe a little.

"If you were with us, if you were hurt I could help you. Speed recovery. Make sure that you do not shift if you are in distress and do not want to. Give you space in the territory to do so if you did."

Really, were there downsides to this? He still didn't know exactly why anyone had left in the first place.

He could sense when other bears were not only on this land, but when in distress as well? Natasha was a little more than just surprised at these powers, eyes widening in impress as she gave her head a bit of a nod, swallowing down the pancake she had stuffed into her mouth as he had been speaking, hand still clutching the fork.

"That's really interesting." She started, leaning in just the slightest as her curiosity grew. "So is it every bear in your... Slueth?" Was she saying that word right? "That can sense one another, or just you?" Why couldnt she sense Cliff then, Riley or Indra as well, was it a learned trait, or just a gut feeling that was developed over time. Could Indra and Cliff sense her and Riley?

"I am among other bears, but I cannot sense them?"

"Just me, feeling them. You can... see other bears, yes? Not really see, but... if they are close enough, your bear sees theirs." Seeing wasn't really the right word, but feeling wasn't, either. It was a lot more complicated than that, but second nature for him. "What I have is like that, but broader. Further. Helps me to track down someone who cannot call who needs me or a rogue like yourself who I want to speak with."

Something he'd not really understood in full until it had been a power he'd had in hand. It was pointless to try and explain more than that, to try and quantify the sensation of even the barest awareness of someone else's feelings when they were miles away.

"It is a comfort. to have a King. I know this because I grew with one. And I suppose I am asking if you want that opportunity as well."

She seemed curious and willing to listen, and he thought... surely she could see she really had nothing to lose.

Ah, so it was a King/Queen sort of thing then.

Did that mean Cliff could sense her? Was Cliff even a King? He certainly did not feel as powerful as this man before her, but she was pretty sure he was the leader of their tiny group. She could here the invitation in the mans voice before he even confirmed it with her words, Natasha biting her bottom lip in thought, before giving her head a slight shake.

"At least not now, I rather like the group I'm with, and I can't imagine leaving them just yet." She enjoyed Cliff, Indra and Riley company, and she doubted it would be the same if she were to join this man.

"Could you give me some time to think it over though?"

Her denial irritated him a bit more than he'd like, but he kept it to himself for a moment, hearing her out instead of doing what his pride wanted him to do. The group she was with... surely she didn't mean a bunch of bears. He knew she wasn't the only rogue out there, of course, not including Cliff. Esperanza had served one here a while back. The idea that anyone would willingly remain rogue without reason--without having even met him, at that--was so absurd to him he couldn't get his brain around it.

"You can think about it, da," he agreed with a shrug that was perhaps a little shorter than it should have been--some sign that her tepid refusal bothered him. "But I am not asking you to leave friends for this." Even if he wanted to, it was impossible to draw that line when Esperanza was in play. "I do not think that Cliff can serve you half as well as I can, but this does not have to be like that. You can have both."

Unless Cliff had bigger plans... but Levka wasn't even sure that was possible. There had never been any divides like that back home, never a second group of bears so close to his own home turf. More than that, Cliff had struck him starkly as... not the type. Perhaps Maxine would have fumbled through it in a clueless manner, hopelessly idealistic, but with her seeming absence... And it was a very firm belief that Levka held in thinking that there was no other bear in Mountainside who could hope to contend with his own presence.

Still, the notion of another group, even in the faintest fringes of possibility, did make him uncomfortable.

Dipping her head, Natasha offered the man a wide smile.

"Thanks, I really will give it some thought." It wasn't really that she felt she needed Cliffs permission, but his advice was well wanted, and she dreaded the thought of loosing his friendship by joining a group that was led by someone who he clearly did not get along with.

"You've definitely bestowed some well needed knowledge. I'll be the first to admit that this way of life has completely caught me off guard." She giggled, although she wasn't quite sure if he could really help her more than Cliff already was... That was beside the point though. She had meant what she had said, and she truly meant to mule over the offer.

She seemed sincere, and so where he could have easily been swayed into telling her to get the hell out and never come back if she had shut down on him, he instead found himself amenable to giving her some time. If in the long run she denied herself the support he'd write her off as a fool, but she was new, and she needed... ugh, friends. Not that he was opposed to friends by any stretch, but it echoed the same frustrating argument that had put a rift between him and Maxine in the first place.

Friends first--for all the sense that made. To him, it never would. Bears were bears, friends or not. Kinship trumped all of that for him.

So this little cinnamon bear before him, for all she could prove to be trouble, could also prove to be something else entirely, and for today his good impression of her offered him the patience he often lacked.

"Here, my number, in case you are ever close by and need a hand." As much for his own security as anyone's--he could not afford rogue bears running around anywhere and making a bad name for his own. Already he was reaching for the ballpoint pen tucked to the side of the table from whomever had last signed a receipt here, and a napkin to write it down. Still oldschool enough to not pause for her to get her own phone out.

The offer was sweet, a smile lighting up her face as she gave a dip of her head. "Thank you." She said again, grasping the paper and carefully tucking it into her purse so that she may put it into her phone later. She was notorious for forgetting such little things like this, but having put it where her lipstick lay, she knew that she'd get to it at some point throughout the day.

"I'm really glad I met you, maybe our bears can play together some time." She wouldn't remember it of course, but she could feel Marys desire for company almost as if it were her own.

Regarding her, her smile, her genuine... whatever this was. It was just continually odd to him how many soft, small people harbored bears. He knew full well appearances had little do with it, but the idea that they'd survived their first attacks always made him marvel somewhat. His own had practically killed him, and he'd been a rough and tough teenage boy who knew scuffles like they were a part of his daily breakfast.

Ah, well, even if he would probably never relate to her as people, as a bear... that was another story entirely. Scrawling down his number, giving it to her, he felt a satisfaction that he never would have felt otherwise if he were simply some strange human, talking to a young girl in a diner.

"We should," he agreed, feeling that urge again to try and push her into making that bond something more than what they already had, but a drum of his fingers on the table and sat back, as if he could literally distance himself from the compulsion. "Anytime, any moon--you just say."

She would be more than happy to take him up on that, chewing away happily as Mary marooed in bliss at the fact there was yet another friend in their midst. She honestly couldn't see why the warning had been put in place by Cliff, deciding then, that Levka seemed kind enough to her, and that she felt more than comfortable in coming back around.

"Sounds good." She beamed after swallowing her food, already excited for the next time they met.

"Alright," he said. He knew a bit of distance from the moment, he'd probably be mildly more annoyed by it all. There had been some troubling implications about Cliff and maybe other bears in mountainside. If that man was dividing the species... Well, those were thoughts he'd not dwell on now, wanting to leave this first impression as a collectively good one.

He stood, and he reached to pat her on the shoulder as he passed, adding. "You, eat as much as you want. On the house. I will be sure your waitress knows this."

And then, if that was all, he'd take his leave, wondering how his life had become this.

She was saying thanks a lot to this man, but it wouldn't stop her from offering another one as he passed.

"Thank you so much." She chirped, even more eager to eat til she was absolutely stuffed.


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