It was an odd feeling. It was like a constant weight settled along the length of his whole body. The simple act of trying to stand was agony and it wasn't just because of his shoulder. Lawson was absolutely terrified of this unknown. An unusual hopelessness, guilt, confusion, turmoil... His happiness had completely disappeared. Nothing made sense; there was so much uncertainty and anger clouding his every thought with no relief in sight. He hated it, feared it, but kept the pain bottled up inside.
The war went to hell. What had originally meant to be a peace treaty ended in bloodshed and death. Why was that such a surprising result? It was a war
after all - it was like the word meant nothing when the thought of peace was just beyond the horizon. Lawson had been naive or plain stupid to think it would end well. Perhaps it was Alcatraz's speech about doing what was necessary or the desire to protect his family, but something deep inside made him volunteer to go to the front lines. Fighting against Blutwald made sense once Lady Athena's howl rang... When that wolf bit Alcatraz... Attacking him was self defense. If he hadn't bitten him in the eye, surely the Blutwald would have killed him. Hell, he almost did
. So why couldn't he shake the guilt away? No one else felt like this, or at least he had convinced himself that was true. Depression was a lonely, terrifying monster that had dug its claws into every part of him.
Purposely isolating himself wasn't helping the situation either. He spent what time was needed with the Vicars to treat his wound then he would disappear into the comfort of the aspen trees. Seeing his friends and family was the worst. Did they see him as the cruel creature he feared he turned into? Or, worse, did they think nothing was wrong? There was that feeling again - of desperately wanting to hide the pain, yet the desire to scream at the top of his lungs for help.
Why was it so hard to talk about how he was feeling? Aryn had fought, and drew blood, and changed lives and had theirs changed too. No, that was enough. No more. No more
. Not even the usual comfort of tbe aspen leaves trembling in tbe wind could relax him. The brown and black wolf blended in well into the soil of the river bank. A small cavern had been created by a tree's exposed roots and it had become his place of refuge the past few days. Before that, he was holed up in the main den to be treated. He breathed the cooling summer air in deeply and exhaled slowly, shutting his gold eyes to stare into darkness.
Alcatraz stalked through the aspens of Aryn territory. The newly promoted Alpha male had noticed some very strange things about his close friend, Lawson. He had seen a shattered look in his eyes when he had assisted in bringing Bloom to the main den site after the battle with Blutwald. Alcatraz had shoved it off at first. He was fine. Every wolf had difficulty coming to terms with their first battle. He would figure it out on his own.
But Alcatraz had noticed recently that Lawson may not be as okay as he figured he would be. He had been avoiding him and the rest of the pack. Rarely was he seen, and when he was his personality was noticeably changed. Alcatraz had chalked this up to his coping methods at first, but now it was becoming a concern of his. A huge concern.
Alcatraz followed Lawson’s scent trail to a river, but with the spray of the water he lost it. He glanced around and saw no signs of his friend. But he must be nearby... ”Lawson.”
His voice was strong and commanding. He had no idea that Lawson was actually quite close, only feet away in his little sanctuary on the riverbank below. ”Where are you? Come out.”
How he had hoped the feeling would go away. Despite not being a religious wolf, he even prayed to The One for some sort of help, but with no success. No matter what he did how much time had passed, the weight on his heart remained the same.
Alcatraz was the one he tried to avoid the most. That passionate speech they had during their first fighting session constantly rang in his ears. Laws didn't want to be a disappointment or, worse, somehow insult the actions the alpha took to defend his previous pack. The young wolf was caught up in the idea of being a hero and saving his friends and family. The price was too much and couldn't seem to pay up.
A voice called out and the wolf immediately froze. No one came looking for him and of all the wolves to do so... It had to be Alcatraz. Besides Seaver and Hani, he considered the large male to be one of his closest friends and, ironically, the wolf who could probably help him most with his problem. But that uncertainty came creeping back up. Maybe if he stayed perfectly quiet, Alcatraz would give up and go back to the den. Lady Athena was expecting soon; he didn't have time to play hide-and-seek. He tucked himself further inside his little hollow and remained complexity still and silent. There was a slight nag that the alpha was going to find him anyway.
Alcatraz was silent, his ears cupped forward and then slowly rotating around as he tried to pick up any response. But there was nothing but the white noise of the forest. The singing birds, the whisper of the leaves in the wind. He continued forward to the river and leaped down onto the riverbank. This was where the scent train ended… he frowned thoughtfully, glancing around. He must have crossed the river. The dark wolf waded into the river, and then using strong paws to make his way across.
He came into the opposite shore and shook off his thick fur. He spent a good time sniffling at the grasses on the opposite bank before deciding that he had lost the scent. He let out a snort of frustration and turned to cross the river again and head back, and that was when he saw the dark space between the tree roots on the other riverbank. Could he be….? The dark wolf narrowed his eyes, suddenly suspicious. He could not see if anything was in the space. But he was not surprised. Lawson’s dark fur would blend in well with the shadows.
Either way, the Warden was going to investigate. He swam back across the river, and padded along the shore until he reached the little den. His friend’s scent was strong here, affirming that he was within. He did not move any closer as he spoke with a rough, impatient voice. ”For the One’s sake, Lawson. You have me trekking after you across the territory and swimming rivers just to find you cowering in this hole? Get out of there.”
He demanded. He wouldn’t actually drag Lawson out, but he hoped that now he was discovered, Lawson would comply.
Damn it, he was determined. Lawson gritted his teeth and held his breath as the other wolf investigated the riverbank. His gold eyes moved with each step that Alcatraz took, his muscles tensing so much he began to grow stiff. Just as it seemed he was in the clear, Alcatraz turned and stared straight at him through the darkness off the roots. Damn it again.
There was no point in continuing to hide now. Ears pressed against his cranium, he slowly crawled out from the hiding spot, shaking the dirt from his fur once he emerged. Almost like a pup getting caught wandering too far, he refused to meet the Alpha's eyes, and instead stared at the ground while his paw moved absentmindedly, creating patterns in the soft soil. At least Alcatraz didn't drag him out by his neck scruff.
Normally he would've apologized or even make a snarky remark, but he still kept quiet. There had to be a reason the other males sought him out and he wasn't too excited to hear it. It was probably going to be a lecture about something... Missed courser duty, or possibly he needed him for a favor... Or, worse, Alcatraz came to see how he was doing. The internal battle between talking to someone and burying the feelings deep down were locked in a complete stalemate with no winner in sight.
Alcatraz watched him, an impatient scowl on his face. His yellow eyes looked over the male, assessing the situation. Lawson looked just terrible. He would not meet his eyes and he was drawing lines in the dirt with his claw. His sadness and hopelessness was clear. Alcatraz knew it must be because of the battle. What else could have happened to him? What other scarring experience could take in a jolly and high-spirited wolf and spit him out this broken mess that huddled before the dark Alpha.
It was apparent after a moment that Lawson was not going to speak. Alcatraz narrowed his eyes, ”You’ve been avoiding me. And everyone else. What’s wrong with you?”
he demanded gruffly. Of course he was concerned, despite his bluntness, that was why he had gone through the effort to get this confrontation at all. He would get to the bottom of this, and then he would fix it. If he could, anyway.
Lawson fought back a snarl. His friend's bluntness and forward attitude were not wanted nor welcomed. It wasn't like Lawson invited him out here! Alcatraz was the one who decided to track him down, so why was he getting yelled at? It didn't make sense and touchéd a newly sensitive nerve.
Finally, his gold eyes met the Alpha's, anger, hurt, and confusion reflecting in them. After a second, they looked back towards the ground. "I'm not avoided anyone,"
he murmured, sounding like an immature teenager. The lie was unconvincing, he knew that, but hopefully it would be enough to satisfy the Warden."And... nothing is wrong with me. Can't a wolf just be in a bad mood once in a while?"
he questioned. It felt like it was the biggest deal that he was short tempered lately. There were lots of wolves in Aryn that were grumpier than him! Why were they getting bothered? Deep, deep down, why did he hope his friends would keep bothering him? He broke eye contact and instead stared at the wound on his shoulder. It was finally beginning to heal, no doubt leaving a rather large scar behind. The red wolf's scream echoed in his ears and he stood suddenly, eyes pinned shut as if that would help drown out the noise.
Alcatraz was silent as he watched Lawson’s reaction. He saw pain, confusion, desperation. And Alcatraz knew, as any wolf could see, that he was lying. He held the dark Courser’s gaze coolly, until Lawson looked down, his eyes tightly closed. Clearly his mind was far away. Back in time. In the battle.
Alcatraz let out a sigh. ”Alright,”
his voice was considerably softer now. Speaking to him not as his superior, but as his friend. The trouble Lawson was going through was even worse than he thought. He had let it go too far… he hoped that the damage was not irreparable. ”Tell me about the battle with Blutwald.”
Alcatraz did not see what exactly had happened, but it must be bad. Something that could ravage a gentle soul like Lawson. ”Tell me what happened.”
He started at the request. His already tense muscles flexed beneath his shaggy coat, avoiding the Alpha's gaze at all costs. He hadn't talked to anyone about the battle; it wasn't a light topic by any means. Clearly, whatever had happened had a deep impact, so the topic was always avoided. Alcatraz was the first one to ask him point blank.
He inhaled a deep, shaky breath. "Well, you saw most of it. Y'know when that... one wolf bit you and I rammed him..."
The memory was clear as day. The wolf from Blutwald had his teeth in Alcatraz's leg when he charged. The two then were locked in combat for what felt like a lifetime. He could see taste the blood on his tongue, feel the weight of his enemy attempted to crush him, the nauseating sensation of his teeth puncturing his eyeball...
The nightmare was never ending. He sidestepped and shook his head. "No. No. I don't want to talk about it."
This was just dragging up memories he was desperate to forget. Anger was boiling from the depths of his stomach that was becoming a normal occurrence.
Alcatraz nodded, ”I do remember, if it were not for you, who knows if I could have recovered?”
he lifted his injured leg, now nearly healed. He pointedly included the fact that Lawson had helped him, a reminder that whatever had happened he had been doing in defence of his packmates.
Alcatraz took a step forward as Lawson stepped to the side, as if afraid he would fall, or worse try and flee. Alcatraz listened, and was silent for a moment, observing the anger and pain in his friend’s expression. Lawson did not want to talk about it. But shoving it to the back of his mind clearly did not work either, clearly, judging at his behavior. He now desperately regretted putting this confrontation off for so long. ”Lawson. We need to speak about this. You cannot go on living like this. It is eating you alive.”
Alcatraz exclaimed. Any other words Alcatraz could say would be lost on the dark Courser, unless he could first convince him to face this challenge.
A slow, sad smile appeared on his muzzle as the Alpha’s words sunk in. It was true… Lawson acted solely to save his friend. This must be Alcatraz’s tactic – remind him of why he did what he did. The damage could’ve been far worse if he hadn’t intervened. It wasn’t that action that action that had him feeling so miserable and guilty. It was for everything after.
There was no doubt in the young wolf’s mind that Alcatraz wasn’t going to let this go. As he pushed and pushed, the anger in Lawson’s stomach continued to grow until it had reached its boiling point. There was a gleam over his eyes as tears threatened to fall and his upper lip was pulled back in a snarl. ”What do you want me to say? Huh?”
he challenged, finally turning to face the Alpha head on. ”Do, do you want to know what happened? Fine, I’ll fucking tell you.”
A shaky, angry exhale followed his outburst before beginning his story.”After you left, it was just me and that Blutwald wolf. As you can see, he got me by the shoulder and I somehow got him where I rammed him earlier.”
He paused to collect himself with his gaze so focused on the ground at Alcatraz’s feet, it looked like he would burn a hole in the earth. ”All of a sudden, he started pushing me, trying to get me on the ground… I knew what he was trying to do. He wanted to kill me.”
Again he felt overcome with the memory and gave his head a good shake. It took him a minute before he lifted his head to look at his Alpha and friend, tears brimming.
His voice began to crack.. ”I didn’t want to die, Alcatraz. I wanted to live… He got cocky and I played dead.”
The look on his face was heartbreaking as he shrugged his shoulders, like the comment was meant to be a joke. ”T-then I… I…. bit him. In the eye. And, The One, he screamed like nothing I ever heard before. And just like that… It was over. He ran away.”
Taking a step forward, he snarled again. ”It wasn’t a heroic act or anything! I did it because it was me or him, and I chose me. I blinded him – he could be dead for all I know! You said to do it for the pack, to save my friends and family… That wolf couldn't have been much older than me and I did that to him. Even if he was going to kill me, I can’t…”
Again his voice cracked and he withdrew back into himself. That was enough. Please, no more.
Alcatraz listened, watching his friend lose control of his composure as he finally agreed to tell the tale. The Alpha blinked softly, acceptingly. But it was hard to see his friend this way.
He nodded as Lawson began the account. He had expected Lawson’s wound was from this fight. He frowned as he recalled that the other wolf was trying to kill him. A wolf should not kill another wolf unless he had to… unless death was called for. Alcatraz regretted leaving Lawson… maybe he had saved Bloom, but it appeared that by leaving Lawson alone he had put his life in danger. He had chosen the life of a Blutwaldian over the life of one of his best friends. Well, Bloom was of Aryn now, but still, Alcatraz wished he had known what would have happened… the battle would have been much different. He hid his own emotions as he looked at Lawson, nodding to show he was listening as his friend met his gaze. Tears were gathering in Lawson’s golden eyes, memories he had so fiercely buried for so long were resurfacing, and it was painful.
The wound Lawson inflicted on the enemy absolutely sounded painful, but after hearing that he had tried to kill Lawson and
he had been arrogant enough to fall for a play dead trick, Alcatraz felt very little sympathy for this wolf. He had earned his defeat and hopefully learned something from it. But he had a feeling that saying such a thing would not help Lawson feel any better. Lawson didn’t care whether the wolf deserved it or not. To Lawson, this wolf was just another living creature, a creature that he seriously injured and caused great pain. ”Alright…”
the dark wolf said when he trailed off. He had the gist, he did not need to push Lawson anymore… ”I want you to know that such feelings are not unusual for a wolf in their first battle. Especially because your experience was quite… unfortunate.”
Alcatraz explained. ”You cannot hold yourself accountable for what was done in the heat of battle. You are right, you had to choose. And you made the right choice. You chose yourself, and your family. If you had not sent him off then he would have hurt them too.”
he pointed out.
Alcatraz let out a sigh. How should he put this…. ”The truth is, Lawson, what happens on the battlefield is only the beginning of your war. You’ve dealt with the bloodshed and come out successful. But now you are struggling with the next challenge of combat, dealing with what you have done. You may have won your battle, but you are losing your war.”
Recounting that awful memory left him physically and mentally exhausted. He could feel the strength leaving his limbs as they trembled to hold him up. Even in his damaged state, he could appreciate Alcatraz staying silent until he was finished and even more so for him not asking him to continue. It was painful to bring up a memory he had spent weeks desperately trying to forget and bury in the back of his mind.
Lawson felt no resentment to his friend for leaving him on the battlefield. It made sense; Bloom was being gutted by that psycho and, with his training, the Alpha trusted him to defend their home. Of course, it would’ve been nice to have that assistance. They didn’t share their thoughts on the Blutwald wolf, however. While Alcatraz thought very little of the wolf for his tactics, Lawson couldn’t help but think that the red wolf probably felt the same. They were close in age, obviously both in their first real fight, and neither of them wanted their life to end so early. They both were inexperienced wolves thrown into a battle at the words of their alphas.
He slowly slid to his haunches and hung his head, eyes closed as a tear rolled down his fur. His friend’s words washed over him like cold water from Falcon Creek. They were the same thoughts he had over and over again. If Lawson hadn’t done what he had, then maybe the red wolf would’ve gone after his friends or family. No matter how many times he reasoned with himself, the guilt would not go away. Unable to say anything, he simply nodded at Alcatraz to give him some indication he was listening.
It took him another minute to muster up the courage to speak. ”The… war?”
Oh great. He lifted his head skyward and rolled his eyes, letting out a loud huff. ”Yup, I’m losing. It’s kicking my ass and I can’t do a damn thing about it.”
He blinked hard and sighed. ”What am I supposed to do? Alcatraz… I don’t want to keep feeling like this. I feel guilty for what happened but everyone keeps telling me it was the right thing to do, it was necessary, the same old, same old, but nothing helps! Nothing can help!”
Lawson stood and began to pace back and forth. The voices kept replaying over and over in his head though there was no relief in sight. He just wanted to it to be over! Was that so hard? ”Does that wolf even feel guilt for what he did to me? Did he feel the same when he sunk his teeth into my shoulder, pushed me to the ground? Why… why can’t I be like you, or, or Madam Charaka, or Lady Athena and not feel like this? Why me?”
he begged. What was it going to take to feel normal again? If the call to battle ever came again, was he going to be crippled from ever going to battle again?
Alcatraz remained seated, tracing Lawson’s movements with mild yellow eyes as he paced back and forth. ”It is you because you are not like Madam Charaka, or Lady Athena, or me. You are a gentle soul, who acted against your nature for the first time in your life. ” ”And there is always something you can do. This guilt you are harboring has no point or purpose. It serves only to destroy you, and hurt your current pack mates who have to see you this way. Forgive yourself, as everyone else has forgiven you, and let this go. You cannot change what happened that day, no matter how many hours you spend curled up in a hole. And now you can either let it torture you for the rest of your days, or you can become stronger for it.”
The dark Warden got to his paws as he continued, ”You need to accept that fighting and wounding and even killing sometimes is a fact of life, and there may come a time when you must do all three. Multiple times perhaps. Athena and I can withhold you from combat patrols, but a wolf must be willing to defend himself and his family or else none of us are safe.”
Although such an opinion is arbitrary, Alcatraz due to his past experiences firmly believes it. In the dark wolf’s eyes, no pack is safe unless each of its members can defend himself, and more importantly is willing and eager to do so. He glared thoughtfully into the forest for a moment and then looked back at Lawson, ”While I cannot take away what has happened to you, and I cannot promise that you will never be in such a situation again, I can help you learn to be more controlled in your fighting. We can work on where and how to attack that will inflict pain enough to discourage an opponent, but cause no lasting damage.”
It was a small suggestion, and said on the basis that the more control you had over your actions, the less likely you were to do something that you regretted. But Alcatraz knew that one course of action would not alone solve the bigger problem, even if Lawson agreed. Alcatraz could lecture him all day, but at the end of the day it was all just words to Lawson. A wolf was not just talked out
of a depression such as this. They needed to accept themselves that there is no way to change the past, while the future was ready for the shaping. Lawson needed to accept what he had done and forgive himself. But at the same time something also needed to be done, both to keep Lawson working toward a better future for himself and to give Alcatraz an excuse to keep a better eye on him. Ideally something to help Lawson better understand the situation, and something that will lead him to believe that next time there is a battle it will be different, and Alcatraz hoped that this special training may do just that. Because if Lawson expected each battle to land him into such a broken state than Alcatraz feared that Lawson would never lift a claw again, even if his own life was threatened.
One thing was clear, Lawson could not be left to fight this conceptual foe alone, or else one way or another it would spell his end.
Through the speech, the brown and black wolf continued to pace back and forth, as if somehow the repetitive motion would help. Every word hit him straight in the gut and he resisted the urge to flinch. Alcatraz was right - right about everything! He wasn't like the seasoned veterans of Aryn, so of course he would feel differently after his first battle. The crippling effect from the guilt was something he hadn't expected. During their training many moons ago, Lawson had made a point he didn't enjoy the concept of having to fight other wolves, where once again Alcatraz showed him the logic behind it as well as the justification to do so. Now, post battle, the Alpha was showing him again.
Eventually Lawson came to a halt with one front leg hovering in the air, staring straight into the Alpha's pale yellow eyes. It sounded so easy; let go of the guilt. But if it were so, he would've been rid of the weight weeks ago! Still, the idea of having Alcatraz help him... it seemed to lead to a brighter future.
He let his paw fall to the earth and turned his head, gaze downward. It was hard to find the words once his friend finished. All the logic, suggestions, and ideas swam around and around in his head. Maybe... maybe this could be the solution. Finding ways to change for the next battle. Lawson wasn't stupid - there would be a time when he would be called upon again to defend their homeland or, worse, find himself face to face with an unexpected foe. As much as he feared injuring another wolf, he worried about being paralyzed and sentencing himself to death. Lawson wanted to live! He was selfish that way, as most would be.
It was silent for another moment before he released a long, pent up sigh, and turned to face his friend. "You make it sound so simple,"
he said with a chuckle, voicing his thought from earlier. "I wish I could somehow tell you exactly how I feel but..."
he trailed off with his features twisted in concentration. "You're... right. If you work with me, and, and help me, well, then I could go back to normal. The One, I want to be normal. I don't feel ready to train and fight again but... Soon. I think."
Knowing that one of his closest friends didn't think differently of him for his actions on the battlefield eased his tired, sad heart. No one thought him a monster; he was trying to survive and did what was necessary. It was going to be a long, tough journey to rid the guilt and depression he had been fighting, though it seemed to be a whole hell of alot easier with someone by his side.
Alcatraz smiled, his tail wagging slowly as Lawson agreed to work with him, and said that it could lead to a brighter future, a future of normalcy. That was half the battle, Lawson deciding to try, and gathering the determination to overcome this undoubtedly crippling experience, and learn to embrace his life again. Alcatraz stepped forward, bumping Lawson affectionately with a broad shoulder. ”You are a gentle soul, but you are a strong soul as well. You will win this battle, just as you have won all your others.”
Alcatraz was a fighter at heart. Every challenge in life was a battle, and each treated the same way. There were different kinds of strength, and each kind needed to be built up with time and experience and even mediation in many cases. Muscle alone did not make a strong wolf. ”Now come on, if you are not ready to fight yet, then how about a hunt? You ought to be useful in one way or another.”
The dark wolf teased gruffly.
What would he do without a friend like Alcatraz? Probably still be curled up in that hole, for one thing. For the first time in weeks, it felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, something worth fighting for and trying. It was going to be a long journey to get back to where he was before - there was the possibility he would never quite be the same again - but he was willing to fight to get to a better place.
A true, genuine smile spread from corner to corner on his muzzle at the playful bump. It felt good to smile again. He closed his eyes and shook his head as he leaned against the older male, taking comfort in his presence. "Thank you. Truly."
Alcatraz had faith in him and was willing to be there every step of the way. This was the chance to make him proud.
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Lawson rolled his shoulders, turning his gaze back towards the main den. "Why am I not surprised that after all that, you still expect me to do some work."
Part of him was tempted to make some joke at the situation, but inside he felt emotionally exhausted. Hard to believe how words could make someone feel so drained.
Going back to a routine was a step in the right direction. Moping around wasn't going to help, Alcatraz had made that quite clear earlier. So, rather than argue, Lawson shrugged in defeat, grateful to have a reason to smile.