It was late in the day. Or at least, that’s what it felt like. What would be considered mid-afternoon just a few months ago looked more like dusk now, with the edge of the retreating sun just touching the hill-covered horizon. She was still mere miles from Chandor borders and honestly hadn’t made much progress in leaving since her departure many days ago. She couldn’t help herself, though. Even as a loner, Phen still felt more comfortable in its’ dense, secure oakwood forests, which she had become so accustomed to. Sniffing the ground uneasily, she hoped to track down a smaller meal, perhaps a rabbit or even a vole, before sundown. Phen found herself struggling to fit her priorities, mostly acquiring sufficient food, occasionally relapsing into laziness or relaxation. But she kicked herself awake every time she caught herself daydreaming. This was no time to pettily waste time on trivial matters. The dark recess of winter was already fast approaching, and she sometimes asked herself why she decided to quit her pack at so crucial a time.
Finally, after quite some time, Phen picked up the faintest trace of hare; It was distant, but it wasn’t exactly stale. Biting her lip, she surged forward, her dark and sleek body slipping through the undergrowth akin to a snake. The branches, still present even after their leaves had decayed, served as a modest shield against the bitter winds and made it a little easier to detect sound. But no matter how far she traveled, the tiny trail didn’t get any stronger. And it was, in fact, replaced by another one. A much stronger one, and quite familiar. Lifting her head out from the ocean of dead branches, Phen looked about, analyzing the air, but trees obscured her view from every side. She tilted her head back and gave a few short bursts of howls, forgetting about the possibility of scarring off her prey. Her voice was low-pitched and distinct, her call reaching out to any wolf within earshot. Phen swiveled her ears around, wondering if anyone had heard her.
Alcatraz was several miles away from the border to Chandor, a respectful distance from the pack’s territory but still rather close. He was digging into the side of an earthy cliff between a particularly large gap among a tangle of tree roots and slightly higher than ground level. He knew that a den here, with the ground held stable by the strong arms of the tree above, would be the safest in which to build a den. Rarely did Alcatraz make dens, but he had a feeling he may remain near Chandor for a while since he discovered his childhood friend, Gabitrix, among the pack’s ranks. But the weather was getting cold, and with no destination he had no reason to stay active and warm other than to hunt. But even the hunt was not an issue lately since he fell a deer just yesterday. Today was devoted to den making so he would have a way to stay warm.
The den so far was several feet deep and wide enough for two wolves. Alcatraz did not plan on it being too deep, for he still wished to see the outside from where he would curl up within. It had a slight upward slope to prevent potential flooding. In the end it would look a bit more like a deep shelf than a true den.
Alcatraz was clearing out pawfuls of earth when his ears perked. A familiar voice carried toward him. His first thought was Gabitrix and already he was several bounds away from the den, but it did not take long before he realized that the sound was not Gabitrix’s howl, but Phen’s. He furrowed his brow as he trotted along. She was close to Chandor, but farther than a casual pack wolf would travel from their lands with no purpose. He wondered what she was doing out here... He returned her howl with a short one of his own as he trotted toward the sound, hoping that she would meet him halfway. Whatever her reasons for being around, he was happy that he would get to see her again; he wanted to make sure she was okay after their last dramatic encounter. He only hoped that everything was fine now...
There! While her call went unanswered for the first couple of seconds, Phen got the reply she was listening for. And it’s strong resonance matched perfectly with the wolf she thought she had recognized through prominent scent lingering in the air. Alcatraz!
she thought, rather blithely. They hadn’t exactly been separated for long, but she hadn’t seen him since they had escaped the near-tragic fire incident. For a moment, she tried remembering the state she had left in. Tired, her ankle hurting from being crushed underneath a falling tree, and soaking wet inside a makeshift den. Not exactly the most reassuring situation to be in, but they had left on terms that they would see each other in the future. But what was he doing still wandering around Chandor? Was he waiting for her?
Phen rushed onwards, nudging her way past rough branches and jostling forest debris off her sleek pelt. The direction from which the howl came from was all she needed to find her way to him. It wasn’t long at all before the sound of heavy pawsteps reached her ears, getting closer with every stride. It seemed that her friend had been just as curious as she was. As Phen squeezed between two shrubs, she saw him, his bulky, vigorous form impossible to confuse with another’s. While she would usually be cautious when approaching loners, Phen was so eager to meet another soul after days of solitude that she surged towards him without warning. She was, after all, accustomed to the company of others by now. The life of a loner was distressing.”Alcatraz!”
she called out, grinding to a halt in front of him. Her leg had nearly completely healed by now, and the large scar on the male’s shoulder had faded. The passing of time seemed to have healed their wounds. ”It’s been a while. What are you doing running around here?” And why are you covered in dirt?
she wanted to ask him. Had he been digging for voles as well? The realization that her appearance outside of pack borders wasn’t normal either went completely over her head.
Alcatraz saw the dark shape of the female emerge from the bushes. ”Phen!”
he said brightly, his yellow eyes glowing as he examined her. Her leg seemed to have healed, and she sure was in a better state then how he had left her before. It pleased him greatly to know that she had made a full recovery, for he had worried about her after he left.
But her fur was ruffled and she did look thinner than usual… had she… become a loner? He wondered what could have happened… Phen’s bright question with her tail wagging drew him from his thoughts, ”Oh. I have found an old friend living in Chandor, so I have decided to stay nearby for now.” Until I convince her to come with me, anyway,
he thought, still confident that she would never chose her pack over her old friend. He lifted a dirt-covered dark paw, ”I have, uh, been digging a den.”
he said with a chuckle, realizing how silly and filthy he must be.
His pale yellow eyes narrowed and he leaned forward to better inspect the dark she-wolf. ”What about you? Why are you so far from Chandor?”
Seeing a familiar face was like a breath of fresh air. Phen returned his greeting, lowering her eyes to check for any signs as to what he had been up to. Besides the fact that he smelled earthy, he hadn’t changed a bit. His stoic aura was still as prominent as ever.
She was surprised to hear that Alcatraz had decided to stick around just to be close to an old friend. Wasn’t he someone who treasured solitude? The thought of him wandering around pack borders felt foreign to her. Whoever it was, they must have been important to him. Phen looked down at the dirt which caked his front paws. Pieces of it, along with scraps of leaf, were scattered on his thick chest. Alcatraz hardly looked like his normal, clean-shaven self. But the coldest days were yet to come, and loners needed a place to sleep as well.
Phen was just about to offer assistance when the male uttered a comment that stuck to her. She swiveled her head back and stared in the direction from which she had come. ”I left Chandor”
, she carefully admitted. ”I was looking for someone. I just... couldn’t stay there any longer”
. Phen gave her friend what she hoped looked like a reassuring smile and disclosed nothing more. She hoped that Alcatraz wouldn’t find it too surprising. ”Can’t say I’ve quite adjusted to the life of a loner, though. Maybe I could help you finish up your den? It’s almost sundown!”
It would become difficult to gather bedding once there was no light left.
Alcatraz shifted on his dark paws self consciously and shook off his thick pelt. He considered himself an attractive male, and the more those clear silver eyes examined him the more he wished he had cleaned himself up a bit before greeting her.
Alcatraz furrowed his brows in surprise. ”Hm. Is that so?”
he murmured thoughtfully. She wondered who this someone
could be. It then occurred to him that he knew almost nothing about Phen. He had no idea how long she had been in Chandor, or where she had come from before. He frowned as she said she had not yet adjusted, ”It takes time.”
he stated, recalling his first few months. They had been hard, after being so used to a pack to spend time with. ”But yes, why don’t you stay? I have a kill not far from here if you’d like to eat as well. And we can discuss some… tactics on survival.”
Alcatraz said. He was a bit anxious about Phen being out on her own, so dear he suddenly realized she was to him. Perhaps he can teach her a thing to two to help her odds out in the big wide world.
While Alcatraz sounded puzzled that she had withdrawn from Chandor, he didn’t seem particularly concerned about what had changed her mind. Slightly relieved that he didn’t push for any further information, Phen nodded and flashed her fleeting smile once again, this time more genuinely. The promise of a proper meal after many days of scavenging and feeding off tiny prey alleviated her worries about hunger, if only for a couple of days. And any wolf as experienced as Alcatraz when it came to living on one’s own was advantageous to listen to.”If I’m not being a burden”
, she said diffidently, “I’d be thankful for any aid or advice you can give me”
. Phen walked briskly past the male, urging him to follow at the same time despite not really knowing which way to go. She was eager to finally have something to do instead of wandering aimlessly like a lost pup. Once again, the weight of debt leaned on her shoulders. Alcatraz always seemed to show up out of nowhere whenever she found herself in a bad spot, whether it was being jumped by rogues, being cooked alive by a fire, or struggling to survive in her new life. Perhaps this was her chance to repay him. ”Care to lead the way?”
, she asked, offering him the leader’s position.
Alcatraz shook his head as Phen mentioned being a burden, ”It’s not like I can eat the whole thing.”
he pointed out with a teasing smirk. He watched her pace in front of him, clearly eager to get moving. She must be quite hungry. The dark brown male turned and bounded past her, taking the lead as he made his way to the kill. It was a good ways away, since he did not want to take Chandor prey. But at a brisk trot they reached it after not too long.
He stopped at the carcass. It was a small elk. He leaned down to take a few bites, glancing up at Phen as he swallowed the meat. It was only a day old, lucky for Phen. ”So tell me, Phen, what have you been up to? Any interesting loner stories yet?”
he asked as he watched her eat.
Phen had to jog to keep up with the strong male. As they approached the elk carcass, the tempting yet mild aroma of the kill filled her nose, drawing her nearer to the succulent morsel. Bending down, her pale eyes drew to the side, patiently waiting for Alcatraz to take the first bite before eating anything herself. Phen nibbled at the hide, spitting out bits of fur stuck to her tongue before tearing away a more satisfying mouthful. The deer’s flesh tasted sweet, and instead of swallowing it whole, she resorted to chewing it slowly while trying to think of a decent anecdote of recent events.
As she feared, Phen couldn’t think of anything. Her time alone had been too brief for anything interesting to have happened. ”Nothing exciting yet”
, she admitted, swallowing her piece. ”The herds grow sparcer this time of year, and I haven’t seen the trace of one for miles. I’ve just been living off what I can find”
. Though it wasn’t very safe for her to be eating so meagerly with the coldest winter days yet to come. In fact, it was probably a mistake to leave the safety of her pack at a time like this in the first place. Phen sighed. ”I remember living on my own when I was a bit younger; when I was too young to properly hunt. I ate so little that my health suffered”
. It may have been a grim time in her life, but she looked back at her mistakes with an irreverent humor.”And you?”
Phen questioned him suddenly. She turned to look at him. ”With your luck, I’m assuming you’ve had to fight off a couple bears while I’ve been gone”
Alcatraz let out an amused snort. ”Give it time. That’ll change.”
he said with a playful smirk. Loners often had interesting stories, but it did take time and experience to get those stories and live to tell the tale.
He nodded at her mention of the sparcer herds, taking another bite of the elk. He swallowed sloppily before saying, ”Yes… you will find yourself much at their mercy.”
he said, licking his lips, ”Following the herds if often what a lone wolf must do, watching for weaknesses in the herd. You gotta be careful, though. It’s dangerous until you get good at it.”
he said gruffly, ripping off a sheet of hide and dropping it in the ground.
He glanced at her as she mentioned her brief time as a loner when she was younger. It was true, she was more equipped to handle loner life now, but it was winter. A difficult time even for the experienced loners. ”Well… hopefully this meal will keep you going for a little bit. Maybe try to bring down your own in the next few days? Before you lose strength…”
Alcatraz suggested, ”In the mean time, you can howl if you are in trouble and if I’m in the area I will come help. Although hopefully you will find your friend soon so he can help you. It is always easier to hunt in pairs.”
The dark loner himself rarely hunted with another wolf, but even he admitted it was often much better that way.
Alcatraz flicked a dark ear at her question, hoping that she had not noticed his small but numerous wounds, mostly hidden by his fur, but in some places they were visible as they healed. He recalled the recent encounter with a vicious coywolf pack that had trapped him and his friend Athena. After a long battle the two wolves decided that fleeing was the only way to escape with their lives, so they did. Alcatraz was not proud of that, but he knew better than his companion the consequences of letting stubborn pride keep you from making wise decisions. He had been young and reckless before, but he had since learned of its potentially lethal results. ”Eh, not quite.”
he said shortly, burying his muzzle in another large bite of elk. He had just eaten recently, but for some reason he was already hungry again. This den digging in the cold was surprisingly exhausting work.
Phen simply grunted quietly as a reply and proceeded to dig further into the tough flesh of the deer’s neck. She forced herself to eat promptly, as it was important to grab any opportunities she could to fill her stomach, even if she wasn’t too
hungry at the moment. However, Phen still listened intently to Alcatraz’s lecture as she ate, as keenly as if she were a pup listening to an alluring tale. She face furrowed from time to time as she pictured the difficult life ahead of her that the male described. The thought of having to follow the herd wherever they migrated sounded like a big inconvenience, especially if she intended on building a den somewhere. And, just like he warned, a small wolf such as herself would be especially vulnerable to injury. She had been bold before; tackling large game by herself and even jumping onto a male buffalo once. But now she’d have to be picky about what she hunted.
Phen pulled her muzzle away from the kill and stared blankly at the laceration she had made. She was a relatively successful hunter, though she knew just as well as her friend that wolves worked best in groups. But ignorantly, she was one who prefered to hunt on her own; To be able to claim a kill for oneself. Plus, she wouldn’t want to trouble Alcatraz with her weaknesses. Bitterly, Phen tore off a large chunk of meat and swallowed it with haste, glancing to the side in time to see her friend taking another mouthful as well. His dark brown fur creased as he moved his muscles, giving her an impression of an experienced beast. Letting out an arid laugh, Phen heaved herself to her feet and sat down. ”Good”
, she murmured. ”You should try to avoid trouble yourself. If I ever find myself in deep trouble, I’ll see if I can find you”
. Knowing she had at least one ally wandering around gave her a bit more confidence.
After pondering whether or not she should ask or not, Phen continued; ”Speaking of which, just who is this friend of yours that you’re waiting for?”
She could think of any wolves that had migrated here recently. But the faces of her packmates from Chandor were still fresh in her mind. Phen wanted to know why it was so important that he settle here, in the middle of winter, for such a nomadic wolf like him.
Alcataz nodded, taking a last mouthful and backing up from the meat. He let out a yawn, ”I assure you, I do try,”
he said with a dry smile. Alcatraz never went looking for trouble, but it often seemed to find him. In his past it had been his fault for not handling the trouble well, as his large shoulder scar showed well, but he believed that he had learned quite a bit about that recently. He nodded his broad head, ”Yes, do that.”
he said. He had no help when he had first been a loner, but he knew many times he wished he had it. He had always been a talented youngster, but it was hard for everyone to be alone if you were used to depending on a pack. That was just how it was until you got used to it. Phen had a lot of strength and potential within her. He had known it ever since he had watched her slaughter that loner who had attacked them in Chandor. It would be a shame for a foolish learning curve to be the cause of her demise, before she was able to reach her full potential. ”You done? I gotta get back to digging.”
he said, getting to his paws. His ear flicked at her sudden question, ”Oh, erm, just an old friend. We were born in the same pack but were separated. I thought she was dead for many years…. Gabitrix.”
he said, his tail tip twitching as he waited for Phen’s reaction. It had just occurred to him that Phen was pack mates with Gabitrix. She would know who she was.
Seeing Alcatraz getting up quickly, Phen did the same, feeling just the slightest protest from her leg after injuring it before. Shaking it off with a bit of annoyance, she nodded diffidently at her friend and moved away from the carcass. ”Yeah, I’m not really starving right now either”
, she mumbled. Perhaps she could return to it after they had finished their work, probably after the sun had set.Gabitrix?
Phen tried digging for the image that matched the somewhat familiar name. She was pretty sure it was the white she-wolf whom she often found messing with the few cubs they had back at the nursing den. There wasn’t much she could remember about Gabitrix, but she recalled her being quite receptive and helpful.
Alcatraz flicked his ear, sensing her dissatisfaction, ”Well, you can keep eating, or feel free to return whenever you’d like. Not sure how much longer it will last, but until it is gone you are welcome to it. And I know you need to find your friend, and maybe you don’t want to hang around Chandor too much, but you are free to stay with me however long you want.”
he told her.
Alcatraz got the feeling that Phen did not know Gabitrix well, which was fine with him. He didn’t really like the fact that he was changing his long held lifestyle or her. Of course he wanted to keep Chandor safe, but he felt uncomfortable showing anyone that he cared about someone so much. He was happy they would not have an excuse to talk about it.
Phen glanced back at the half-eaten carcass and nodded at her friend, flashing an expression of gratitude for all his help. ”I think I’ll help you finish your preparations first”
she answered. ”If you’re going to wait for Gabitrix, you should get your campsite as neat as possible. Plus, it’s not like I’m going anywhere”
. Or was she? Phen knew that she’d have to head for the northern mountains sooner or later in order to become accustomed to the harsher landscape there, but it’s not like she was in a hurry now that her friend had indeed disappeared. Giving a small but despondent sigh, Phen walked a few paces in the den’s direction, trying to focus on the task at hand. Rich, musty smell of earth from freshly tilled soil was hard to mistake. ”Let’s get going”
, she called to him, licking the last traces of blood from her lips. Phen waited for Alcatraz to catch on before trotting onwards.
The den site was much closer than she imagined, and before she knew it, Phen’s nose told her that it was just up ahead. She could make out it’s shape already; He appeared to have been digging a hole under the protection of a giant maple tree, leaning just slightly due to it’s location on a small incline. The mass of gnarled roots encased the den’s opening, making it feel secure and unlikely to collapse, especially with the cold weather. However, the home was obviously unfinished, as the cavity within wasn’t deep enough to house a wolf, and the ground surrounding it’s entrance was covered in filth. Alcatraz obviously had some work to do. ”You’re lucky to have found this location”
, Phen noted to him in her usual calculating tone. ”The den site you’ve chosen is excellent”
Alcatraz dipped his head at her offer, ”Alright. Thank you.”
he said, getting to his paws and taking off after her. Alcatraz had to admit, he was happy for the company. Even if he had just recently seen Gabitrix, still he had the nagging loneliness that had been creeping in on him over the past few months. It was strange to him. He had always been so content as a loner, but now things were changing. He was sick of traveling from place to place without a purpose. He wanted something more. For the first time in his life he preferred companionship to solitude.
Alcatraz nodded. ”Thanks. I’ll admit, I’m proud too. I’ve never dug a den before,”
he said, trotting past Phen and to the earthy cliff side. He navigated his front through the tangle of roots and used a huge dark paw to scoop out another pawful of dirt before glancing back at her. ”Chandor won’t give me any trouble here, will they?”
he asked. He got the sense they were lax with their borders, but he sure did not want to run into trouble from being too close to the border.
Phen couldn’t help but smirk at her friend’s suspicion. The same question seemed to pop up every time he was found near Chandor. She would have expected him to feel a bit more relaxed after multiple encounters, but Alcatraz always seemed to possess a distrustful air of some sort. ”I doubt they would pay any attention to it. You’re not that important”
, she scoffed with a playful yet sincere tone.
Crawling forward, Phen tentatively prodded the loose dirt surrounding the den, as if she were an unwelcomed guest trespassing in another wolf’s private abode. As she scraped some of the soil away, however, she began to feel more comfortable, joining her friend in hollowing out the main chamber. With both of them working at the same place, a bit of prodding was inevitable. Phen squeezed past Alcatraz as soon as the size of the den’s entrance allowed her, and brought her muzzle inches from the den wall. The mineral smell of earth lingering around her was almost overpowering. Determined to fulfill her portion of the task, however, Phen pushed the cramped feeling aside and began excavating the left side of the cave, which was less hollowed out than the rest.
Barely a few inches in, her claws, instead of digging into dirt, slid across something solid and rough imbedded into the earth. Scowling, Phen brought both paws up to the cave, fiercely scraping at the object in an attempt to free it from it’s imprisonment. Unfortunately, the dirt proved to be packed especially tightly from the cold weather. Phen eventually lost her balance and flipped sideways, landing messily under Alcatraz’s paws. She glared at the ceiling with irritation before turning to him. ”I think there’s a root blocking up that wall”
, she grumbled, struggling to stand upright. ”I can’t seem to remove it”
Alcatraz nodded at her comment, having expected some sort of comforting answer to ensure him that he would be safe here. But then he processed her wording and shot her a glare, and then bumped her playfully with a huge shoulder in response. ”Hmph. Very funny.”
he growled, his voice dry but amused.
Alcatraz allowed silence as they worked, the dirt flying from behind them rapidly. At first the space was tight but as they worked they got more room to move. Each time he paused to examine their work he was more and more pleased. Having someone to help him was certainly a wonderful blessing. They were both rather covered in dirt by the time that Phen flew back into him. Alcatraz let out a grunt of shock and surprised as she bundled into him and he stumbled to the side, turning his head to look at her. His head was bowed and still pressing against the ceiling. His pale yellow eyes stared down into her gray ones, demanding an explanation.
Alcatraz glanced up at the root in question and frowned, tilted his head. He shifted to the side and then helped her regain her paws before turning in place to get a closer look at the offending root. ”Hmph… well, we can dig around it. It does not need to be much deeper. Just a place to keep out of the rain.”
he told her. Then added with a smile. ”Besides, how boring would a plain old dirt hole be? Now it has some character.”
He pointed out. Alcatraz could care less about what his den looked like, though. His words were mostly a joke.
Not expecting such an answer from him, Phen gave a look of bewilderment and turned back to the cave wall, the thick root still in it’s tight grasp. Perhaps it was her own sophistry that made her want to get rid of the imperfection. However, she couldn’t tell if her friend was being serious, or if he was simply jesting with her. ”I suppose we could leave it as it is”
, she agreed reluctantly. ”It would be a pointless to remove it anyways”
. Brushing herself off, Phen returned to her duties, this time carefully working her way around the obstacle as if she were excavating a precious object. For a while, the only sounds she heard were those of claws drilling into hard dirt, and the laborious sound of breathing.
By the time they had finished smoothing the interior of the cave, half the sun had already been swallowed up by the horizon. Phen blinked as she backed out of the den, trying to get used to the radiant, red and yellow colors whilst also getting a better look of their accomplishments so far. The placement of the den had ensured that it would look professional from the beginning. It turned out, ironically, that Alcatraz had been correct; The roots of the tree appeared again and again, encasing the chamber akin to the sturdy bars of a cage. Phen almost felt jealous that this wasn’t her’s to keep as she sat on the light blanket of snow, dirt covering her entire body.”Not too bad for a temporary camp”
, Phen murmured to him, padding towards Alcatraz. Something was still missing, however. ”Speaking about character”
, she continued nonchalantly, ”maybe we should gather a few leaves for bedding before the sun sets. I’d hate to sleep on frozen soil all night, if I were you”
. She looked at her friend, wondering if a loner like him would even need such gratuitous things.
Alcatraz watched her. She looked quite bothered at the root, but Alcatraz could care less. He wasn’t staying here for too long anyway. Hopefully. He watched her dig around it before turning and continuing with his own digging.
Alcatraz found himself pleased as he backed out after some time of digging and stood beside her He nodded at her words. ”Yeah, not bad.”
he agreed. ”I suppose we could do that.”
His thick coat usually made him able to sleep on basically any ground comfortably. But he didn’t mind spending a little more time with his friend. He turned to head into the dusky forest in search for the bedding, then glanced back at her. ”You got a place to stay tonight?”
he asked her.
As Alcatraz started in the direction of the woods, Phen promptly followed, stretching out her injured leg in the process. Her shoulders felt a bit sore from being bunched up in a cramped space for such a long time. Phen stared at her friend for a moment, not knowing how to respond to his question, and found herself burying her nose into a dried shrub to busy herself. ”No”
, she replied simply. ”I was going to settle down somewhere at the edge of this forest, but It’s a bit too late for that now”
. Was he implying that she stick around a while longer? Latching her claws around a bundle of dead leaves caught in the bushel, Phen flexed her spine and managed to tear it free from the thicket of branches.
Latching her teeth around the fallen twig, Phen turned to leave when she noticed a myriad of hydrangeas sitting peacefully to her left. Their discolored bunches of flowers still remained from the summer and stuck onto the shoots like balls of cotton. Trotting over to the plant, Phen prodded the clumps lightly, implying that he take some. ”Do you mind... if I rest here until tomorrow morning?”
she asked carefully, her voice slightly stifled by the leaves she held. She hoped that Alcatraz wouldn’t find her presence too officious.
Alcatraz’s ears were angled back to hear Phen’s answer as he dug through a snow covered bush, seeking dry bedding material within. He backed up with a mouth full of dry, dead branches. Luckily this was the kind of conifer bush with the soft needles. He glanced at her as she answered, ”Well, I apologize for spoiling your plans.”
He said, his soft voice teasingly indignant.
Alcatraz followed her directions as he saw the soft bedding, resting his branches on the ground and pulling off some of the cottony substance. He put it on top of his branches, arranging them in a bundle that he could carry back to the den in one trip. He glanced at her sideways as she asked if she could stay at the den for the night, ”Of course.”
Alcatraz said, ”especially after all the help you have given me, I would not want it any other way.”
His dark tail wagged slowly as he picked up his branches and cotton, flicking his tail for her to follow as he made his way back toward his den. Well, their
den for tonight.
Phen observed Alcatraz as he leaned over, placing his bundle of conifer twigs on the ground. Deciding to do the same, she let her bundle of dead leaves spill over the snow-dusted ground. Turning to the side, Phen sunk her teeth into a clump of dried flowers, twisting it about in order to free it from it’s place. It broke away with a loud snap
just as she heard her friend’s answer, the stem practically scraping her nose as it swung backwards at her. ”Thank you”
she responded with a happy swing of her tail, a tiny bit of relief in her voice. Still, she didn’t want to trouble him for too long. ”It’ll just be for the night, I promise”
, she added sheepishly. Reclaiming her pile of bedding, Phen flicked her head in the direction of the den, motioning him to follow.
Once they arrived at the familiar campsite, Phen increased her pace, fresh dirt flying behind her as she halted in front of the recess. Poking her head into the den, she deposited the load she was carrying, the flowers and leaves scattering around. Making note of Alcatraz working next to her, Phen piled on a few other leaves, and whatever else she could find. There wasn’t much foliage, even dead foliage, in this winter weather. They were lucky it hadn’t snowed recently; otherwise their hunt would be a lot more difficult.
With a bit of arrangement, the floor of the den was now covered with a thick layer of detritus. Phen stretched out her limbs one last time before backing into the shelter, watching the last of sun disappear over the horizon. Technically it was rather early, as there used to be less light during the colder months. But after days of discomfort and trekking in unfamiliar land, nothing felt more appetizing than a warm shelter and a companion to be with. Phen felt the springy material under her belly as her legs collapsed under her. ”Nice job today”
, she murmured quietly, but still alert. ”I’m drained from all that digging”
Alcatraz flicked his dark tail tip at her, ”Stay for however long you’d like.”
he said with a smile. He dipped down his head to pick up his bundle and quickly trotted after her.
Alcatraz laid his bunch down on floor of the den spreading his branches along the bottom, mixing it with Phen’s findings, and then carefully arranging the soft cotton on the top. Although as he looked at it he realized that he probably should have put the cotton below, or else they would both wake up with white puffs in their fur… oh well, too late. Phen was already crouching in the den, falling into a comfortable position on their little nest. Alcatraz followed suit, sliding in beside her and turning back to face the entrance before lowing carefully onto his belly. The den was large enough for two wolves, but with almost no additional space. He hoped he didn’t mind that his thick brown fur pressed against her black pelt. He personally didn’t mind. Phen was a good friend to him, and he had been getting more okay with social situations lately, he found, especially after he had found Gabitrix.
Alcatraz nodded at her comment, letting out a large yawn. ”Yeah, you too. Appears we did a good job; it’s cozy in here. Looking forward to a good sleep.”
Alcatraz placed his head on his paws, but found himself having to lean an awkward angle to get around Phen’s slender form. He shifted back a bit, lifting his head as he glanced around and assessed the situation. Well… there was one comfortable position he could see. He supposed they were close enough, anyway. What’s the matter of getting a little closer? Besides, it was the way he and his siblings would sleep to keep warm. And so the loner laid down his dark head on Phen’s side, letting out a final sigh as he got comfortable. He hoped she wouldn’t mind.
Phen didn’t respond to Alcatraz at first, and instead settled for gazing out peacefully at the dark, firey-colored sky. Their work had paid off just in time, as it would get noticeably colder now that the sun no longer warmed the ground. Disturbed by the shuffling of the male wolf behind her, Phen wriggled to the side a little to give him a bit more room and suddenly felt his muzzle fall onto her shoulders. For a moment she didn’t move, not used to the physical contact. She had always rested alone, and the last individual she was ever close to was Razor. Feeling her muscles slacken a little as she felt his warming aura, Phen shifted back one again, her back pressing against Alcatraz’s sturdy side. His bulky shape and thick winter fur differed greatly from her’s.
She felt so secure, so comfortable here. On the outside, she was constantly bombarded by chilling winds which easily perforated her thin pelt. For months, she had felt nothing but cold
. But now, Phen finally felt herself relax, not relying on solely herself, but living with the presence of another. Perhaps a break from the barren life of a loner wasn’t so bad at times...
Feeling a pall of exhaustion loom over her, Phen shuffled around one last time before allowing her body to go limp. The cave smelled like rain and a bit of light still shone at her eyes. But she barely noticed them. ”Night”
, she murmured quietly, too worn out to speak any louder. Phen felt herself lapse into a deep sleep, treasuring the momentary sense of security.