Blue Goes to Obedience School


This story takes place after Defender Chimera and has mild spoilers for it. New to Protection, Inc: Defenders? Start the series with Defender Cave Bear!


Merlin had heard his first name yelled in all-caps by a whole lot of people, from his mom in her parrot form to an auctioneer announcing that he’d won an antique cuckoo clock with a pop-out pterodactyl instead of a cuckoo to a lion shifter having a snit fit (but not by his drill sergeant, who had yelled “MERRICK!” instead.) But no one could yell “MERLIN!” quite like his now-actually-a-teammate, Carter Howe.

What about by me? demanded his inner raptor. I yell in all-caps. MERLIN, MERLIN, MERLIN, MERLIN—

MERLIN!” Carter bellowed again. “Do you have any idea what just happened?”

No, but I’m sure you’re about to inform me.” But Merlin suspected that he did know who had done it, whatever it was. His beloved bugbear Blue was nowhere in sight.

Carter strode in waving a handful of gnawed-on paper, trailed by a guilty-looking Blue. The bugbear was trying to slink along the floor, but his legs were too long to slink properly. He pitched forward, his wet nose hitting the back of Carter’s leg, which was unfortunately covered by Carter’s trademark long black coat. Blue flailed, his enormous paws slapping the floor and Carter’s legs. A cloud of blue hairs rose up.

Carter yanked his coat away and shook the wad of paper under Merlin’s nose. Shreds drifted down, along with the hairs. “Your blue menace destroyed my wedding invitations!”

The golden dragonette perched daintily on his shoulder glared at Merlin and gave an angry screech.

I’m sorry—” Merlin began.

Blue rushed forward and began apologetically licking Carter’s expensive suede shoes. Carter’s howl of dismay could probably be heard from outer space.

Dali eyed all three of them from behind her desk. Her exquisite eyebrows arched. “Blue! Heel!”

Blue blinked mournfully and ambled toward her. Halfway through his path across the office lobby, he was distracted by the sound of footsteps from within. His absurdly tiny dragonfly wings buzzing, he rushed toward the door that was just starting to open.

Blue, stop!” Merlin yelled.

Blue did not stop. He did spot the opening door, but apparently decided that the best way to avoid the imminent collision was to leap through. Merlin winced as Blue slammed into Roland’s knees in a perfect football tackle.

The Defenders boss was too big to be taken down like that, but he staggered backward. Blue looked from Roland to Carter, apparently trying to figure out who he needed to apologize to most. Unable to decide, he sat down in the middle of the floor, completely blocking the doorway, turned his blunt snout up to the ceiling, and howled.

Roland patted Blue, who continued to howl, then managed a remarkably graceful step over/squeeze past maneuver that got him past the bugbear and into the lobby.

Blue!” Dali called. “It’s fine. No one’s mad at you.”

Speak for yourself,” Carter muttered. But the hand that wasn’t clutching the mangled wedding invitations was moving, apparently of its own accord, to scratch behind Blue’s round ears. Blue stopped howling and panted happily.

Carter noticed what he was doing, glared down at his own hand as it continued to scratch, and split the difference by shoving the chewed-on papers at Merlin. “These were very expensive. Fen and I commissioned a perfume to be created specifically for them.”

They smell delicious, put in Merlin’s inner raptor. Ask him if he has more that Blue hasn’t already chewed on.

Merlin sniffed at the damp mass of paper. Beneath the overlay of Blue’s doggy smell, it had a delicate scent of violets, rain, and something sweet that he couldn’t quite identify.

His raptor, however, didn’t have that problem. COOKIES! Delicious warm crumbly COOKIES! Let’s find the rest of the invitations and chew on them to see if they taste like they smell!

Carter,” Merlin said. “Your wedding invitations smell like sugar cookies just out of the oven.”

Carter glared at him. “That note was supposed to be subliminal.”

Not if you’re a shifter,” said Roland. Wistfully, he said, “I used to be able to bake cookies that smelled like that. I tried last week, but they burned and came out smelling like hot asphalt.”

A flock of kittens flapped out from within the office, meowing and play-fighting in mid-air. They flew over Blue, Batcat stooping to dive-bomb him on her way.

The rest of the Defenders appeared from within the office, creating a traffic jam behind Blue. Tirzah, barely visible in her wheelchair behind the mass of blue fur, called out, “This is some sort of ADA violation.”

Ransom leaned over Blue and handed Merlin a post-it with a phone number. “Here. Call sooner rather than later.”

Er… What is it?” Merlin asked.

It’s a dog obedience school run by a dog shifter,” Ransom explained. “It has special after-hours classes for dogs owned by shifters.”

Blue isn’t a dog,” Merlin said doubtfully.

Natalie took a graceful leap over Blue and landed lightly beside Merlin. A pair of husky puppies blinked into existence beside her. “He’s like a dog. It’s not as if you’re going to find a bugbear obedience school. This is the best Ransom could do, which means it’s the best you’re going to get.”

Blue’s obedient,” Merlin said defensively. He snapped his fingers. “Blue! Heel!”

Blue stood up, sparking hope in Merlin’s heart, then rolled over onto his back and paddled his legs in the air. Tirzah’s mate Pete bent down, scooped up Blue, straightened with a grunt of effort, and strode forward. As Tirzah wheeled into the lobby, Pete deposited Blue in Merlin’s arms. Merlin staggered. The bugbear was very big, very heavy, and a very awkward shape.

Blue gazed up at Merlin lovingly, licked his nose, then closed his eyes and began to snore.

We’ll call tonight,” said Dali.

Merlin had fully intended to show up early for obedience school. More relevantly, so had Dali. Unfortunately, Blue intuited that something was up and attempted to crawl under the bed. Only his head and front legs fit, but he got his claws hooked into the bed slats so they couldn’t pull him out.

Merlin tried becoming a cat-sized velociraptor to unpick the claws, but when he was small enough to fit under the bed, his forearms were too short to reach the slats. He and Dali had to lie on the floor and detach Blue’s claws one by one, then physically carry him to the car with a blanket draped over him. It looked, Dali remarked, as if they were disposing of a body.

By the time they arrived at the obedience school, in the trainer’s secluded backyard with high walls, everyone else was already there. Sweating and annoyed, Merlin and Dali deposited Blue, still under the blanket, on the grass in front of an interested crowd consisting of the dog trainer, a woman with a pit bull, a couple with a floppy-eared mutt, and a teenage boy with an Australian shepherd.

The dog shifter dog trainer, a man whose confident demeanor reminded Merlin of a football coach, gave him and Dali firm handshakes. “So this is the mystery pet. Let’s see him.”

Merlin whipped off the blanket. Blue gazed up gloomily at the staring crowd.

What is that?” the woman with the pit bull asked.

He’s Blue,” said Merlin.

I can see that he’s blue, but—”

The trainer interrupted her. “His name is Blue, and he’s a bugbear. A magical animal, like I told you all. Just like your dogs, he’s a pet who needs some training. Now let’s introduce ourselves and our pets, and what they need to learn today. I’m Bruce, and I’m a German Shepherd shifter.”

The woman with the pit bull said, “I’m Marie, and this is Teddy Bear. He’s a rescue dog and he’s afraid of my shift form. I think he doesn’t realize it’s me.”

The man of the couple with the mutt nodded. “We have a similar problem. Our Lily is a rescue dog too, and she’s very well-trained… except when I shift. We need to get her to continue obeying commands even when I’m a wolf. If I say ‘heel’ and then shift, she doesn’t keep following me. So what’s your shift form, Marie? Must be a big predator to scare a big guy like Teddy Bear!”

Big, yes. Predator, no.” Marie looked ruefully down at her pit bull. “I’m a capybara. Like a giant guinea pig.”

The teenage boy patted his dog. “I’m Rogelio and this is Dangerous Jam. Jam for short. I’m a falcon shifter, but that’s not why I’m here. It’s just how I heard about you. I want to train Jam for obedience trials, and I thought it would be more fun to bring him to your special shifter sessions.”

Everyone turned to Merlin, Dali, and Blue, who had gone to sleep on his back with all four legs sticking straight up in the air. Every time he snored, his legs paddled.

I’m Dali, this is my mate Merlin, and this is our bugbear Blue.” Hearing his name, Blue gave a snort, leaped to his feet, turned around in a circle, then collapsed to the ground and went back to sleep. Everyone was staring harder than ever. Dali continued determinedly, “Merlin and I work in an office with other shifters and their magical pets, and Blue gets into a lot of mischief there. He knocks things over, he chews on paperwork, he blocks doorways…”

Have you considered not taking him to the office?” Bruce asked.

We have, but he gets lonely at home. He howls. We’re worried someone might look through the windows and see him.”

And he’s magical,” Merlin put in. “Magical animals can get to where they want to go.”

Bruce gave a brisk nod. “Okay. Great. Well, every dog can be trained. First, let me introduce a little gadget that’s going to become your best friend: the clicker!” The trainer brandished a small device. “You click it every time your dog does the thing you want, and immediately give them a treat. We’re going to start with the fun part: click, then treat. Just to teach them to associate the two.”

As Bruce began handing out clickers, Merlin’s spirits rose. Blue was definitely going to enjoy this part of the training, and that had to bode…

Bruce paused as he started to hand Merlin and Dali clickers. “Where’d Blue go? He was right there!”

Merlin and Dali looked around. Sure enough, Blue was gone. They looked at each other. It didn’t take the mate bond for them to know they were both thinking the same thing.

Where are your dog treats?” Dali asked.

In the kitchen,” said Bruce.

Merlin sighed. “That’s where Blue is, then.”

He can’t be. The door’s latched.” Bruce shot them a suspicious glance. “Does he teleport?”

I don’t think so,” Merlin said over his shoulder. He and Dali were already heading for the house. “At least, we’ve never caught him doing it.”

The scene in the kitchen didn’t surprise Merlin in the slightest, but from the gulping noise beside him, it did surprise Bruce. Blue was perched precariously on a kitchen counter that was far too narrow for him, with his head and front paws inside a cabinet. Crunching noises emanated from within.

Don’t startle—” Dali began.

The treats!” Bruce exclaimed.

Blue, startled, fell off the counter. A swipe of a big blue paw took everything on the cabinet shelf with him. The entire sack of dog treats spilled out on the floor.

It’s fine, it’s fine,” said Bruce. “We’ll pick them up…”

Blue fled the scene of the crime in a slightly faster-than-usual version of his usual shamble. He nosed the door open, then halted in the doorway, his tiny dragonfly wings buzzing. Merlin lunged to close it, but too late. A river of dogs poured through.

Are three dogs a river? his inner raptor inquired interestedly, then was distracted by the open cabinet. I see a bag of marshmallows! Eat them all, all, ALL!

With help from the other dog owners, not to mention Merlin and Dali, Bruce finally managed to rescue enough dog treats for the lesson and remove Teddy Bear, Lily, Dangerous Jam, and Blue from the kitchen. In the backyard, Bruce regained his composure and gave the promised clicker lesson. Blue proved to be perfectly capable of eating a treat after they clicked the clicker, which encouraged Merlin.

Dali kept a firm grip on the scruff of Blue’s neck (collars mysteriously fell off his neck) as Bruce coached Marie in soothing and clicking to Teddy Bear.

Let’s try your capybara form now,” said Bruce. “Click and treat, then shift, stay shifted for my count of three, then shift back and immediately click and treat again.”

Marie, who had undressed inside and was now draped in a sheet so her shift wouldn’t destroy her clothing, petted Teddy Bear. “It’s okay, it’s okay…”

She clicked the clicker, then gave Teddy Bear a treat. Marie vanished and a capybara took her place. Teddy Bear gave a nervous yelp. Bruce said, “One…” And Blue gave a snort of sheer joy as he leaped straight for his new best friend, the giant guinea pig.

The capybara also snorted, but in startled annoyance. She swatted at Blue, who took that as an invitation to play. He flung himself on her, hugging her with all four paws.

Teddy Bear bolted, barreling into Lily and sending her flying. Lily scrambled to her feet and pursued him, barking angrily.

Lily!” called her owner. “Heel!”

Blue!” Merlin shouted.

Treats, Blue!” Dali called, clicking the clicker.

Lily reluctantly returned. Blue did not. The capybara and Blue rolled over and over, knocking down the obstacle course set up for Dangerous Jam’s training session.

Hey!” Rogelio yelped. “That took us ages to set up.”

Merlin, realizing that Marie couldn’t shift back as long as Blue was wrestling with her, hurried to drag Blue away. Marie chose that moment to jerk free. 175 pounds of giant guinea pig slammed into Merlin, knocking him down. Blue snuffled guiltily, then rushed to comfort and apologize to Merlin just as he was starting to sit up. He was immediately shoved back down by Blue doing a belly-flop on to his chest to anxiously drool on his face.

Merlin managed to dislodge Blue, sat up, and looked around. Marie, clutching the sheet to her body, was chasing Teddy Bear around the yard. Lily was chasing both of them, ignoring her owners’ commands to heel. Her owners were chasing Lily. Dangerous Jam was attempting to herd all five of them. Rogelio was grimly attempting to rebuild the obstacle course. Bruce stood in the middle of the yard, clicking in vain.

Wiping his face, Merlin turned to look to his mate for help. Dali was sitting down on the grass, weeping with laughter.

Chase them, chase them! urged his inner raptor.

Nah,” Merlin said aloud, and joined Dali on the grass. He whistled for Blue, who obediently lolloped to join them. On his way, he knocked down the one obstacle Rogelio had managed to set back up.

Bruce stopped clicking and looked incredulously from Blue to the ongoing chase to the fallen obstacle, then back to Blue.

I believe that every dog can be trained,” said Bruce. He stared at Blue, who snuffled at him. “That’s not a dog.”

As Merlin pulled out of the parking lot, Dali said, “I think you’ll just have to bring home-made goodies to the office more often, to make up for whatever Blue does.”

So long as Blue doesn’t snake them before they make it to the office,” Merlin said.

We’ll keep a very close eye on them,” said Dali. “We’ll lock them up at home, and one of us will hold them in our lap while we drive them to the office.”

Blue gave a tragic howl from the back seat. Merlin reached into the glove compartment, took out a sugar cookie he’d stashed for emergency raptor-fueled sugar cravings, and gave it to Blue. Simultaneously, Dali reached into her purse and passed him a dog biscuit.

Merlin glanced back at the happily chomping Blue. “Guess he’s got us trained.”