The moon and stars were rising in the sky as the Beta Warden made his way through the hustle and bustle of Aryn’s main den site. Every wolf was resting, all recovering from the explosive conclusion to their Cold War with Blutwald. Alcatraz himself was limping from a nasty bite on his back leg, but it felt better since it had been treated.
There had been something on his mind ever since the battle had ended. He had seen several bodies strewn about the ground. His Alpha, Athena, was not one of them. How relieved he had been to see her sleek black form slipping from wolf to wolf as the battle was done. How that moment of terror had been when the unknown had forced Alcatraz to face the possibility of the worst scenario. But it was over now, and everyone was safe. But if anything had been a wake up call, it had been that.
Alcatraz had never felt romantically for another wolf before, but Athena had snatched his attention from the moment she had taken down that doe in one swift blow. Awed by her calm confidence and abilities, he had been even more impressed by her strength and courage as he learned of her tragic past. His affection had grown only stronger as he joined her pack, determined to support her however he could. And that determination had come from something… something that he had suspected for a while, and only just recently known for a certainty. I love her.
But there were so many questions and so much uncertainty. She was his Alpha. Yes, their friendship was undeniable. But… what did she think? What if she did not feel the same way? What was he to do then…? Nothing. He asserted to himself. This changes nothing. Whatever she says, my life is still hers, and my place is always by her side. That thought gave him courage as he pushed his way through a pair of wolves to see his Lady resting by her den.
He stopped, feeling his nerves swallow him up once again at the sight of her. Her fur was as black as the night sky above them and ruffling softly in the breeze of the late summer night. So beautiful… the question manifested again; what if she did not feel the same? How could he bare to watch those lovely cheeks snuggled up again another? See the love in those icy blue eyes shining for someone, but not for him? Stop this nonsense. the Warden snapped at himself. What had happened to him? Before he had joined Aryn, before he had received his scar, he was on top of the world. He would have scoffed at such uncertainty. Of course she would love me back! How could she not love me back? He would have thought. But he was a changed wolf. He no longer wore the arrogance he once did. He knew better now. He was no better than any other wolf. He was as fallible as any one of them. That was scary.
He forced himself forward, his eyes finding the bite on her flank and he frowned, wishing he had stayed closer to her… wishing he could have caught the one responsible and clobbered them senseless. It was in his nature to be protective of her. He was big and strong, after all, it was his responsibility to protect her. But at the same time, he had to remind himself, that she was not Alpha for nothing. Despite her size she could fight on his level easily, and she could and would take care of herself regardless of what he thinks or says.
”How are your wounds, my Lady?” He asked her, relieved that his first words were out, and they were casual yet concerned. The conversation had started, and there was no turning back. Surely she would not sense his anxiety…?
The end of the war had not yet become real to her. Athena felt as though she were floating, suspended in the past and still braced for an attack. There hadn't been time for her to really come to terms with what had transpired; for now she took respite in the late hour. From her resting place, it was easy to survey the wolves gathered around the main den. The moonlit clearing was much more crowded than usual, wolves which would otherwise be patrolling or hunting were now confined to the cave while their injuries healed. Athena's pale eyes watched as Aryn came together to heal, glad that, if nothing else, they did not have bodies to bury. Blutwald had not been so lucky.
A soft smile lit her face as Traz approached, one even Athena's exhaustion could not dull. Something about his manner now stirred her senses and she felt a tug in her gut, a familiar ache that she usually did her best to ignore. Infatuation was not a new sensation for Athena, but with the Warden, it was different. She hadn't felt this way since... since Fallon. Perhaps it was this very reason that made her so reluctant to make her true affection for him known. How could she ever be ready to devote herself to that again.
An ear flicked back as Traz's gaze shifted to her flank and Athena gave a quiet laugh. He sounded almost frightened. "No permanent damage, I'm told." To prove her point, she pushed herself up into a sitting pose and stretched. Her silvery gaze fell on his leg then, and she titled her head, "And you? Is everything alright?" She meant his injury most certainly, but there were waves of tension rolling off the he-wolf's glossy pelt, and Athena worried that something more serious might be unsettling him.
Alcatraz smiled as her icy eyes were on him. Such good friends they were, those eyes usually filled him with comfort and belonging. But today it was difficult to feel such things… he was afraid of the rejection, and that this would be the last time they looked upon him with such warmth. But he could hear it in her voice, she could tell he had something big to say. Yet she seemed nothing but worried. That reassured him a bit.
Alcatraz nodded, ”Good, I’m happy you will make a full recovery.” He said, then answered her question, ”Yes, I will recover as well.” Although that recovery could not come soon enough. The enemy’s bite had gone straight to the bone, and it was quite a bit of pain to deal with every step in such a thin yet crucial area.
Now the pleasantries were over, it was time for him to gather his courage. ”My Lady, will you join me for a walk?” He asked her, gesturing into the forest with a respectful dip or his head.
"I'm glad." She replied, although now Athena was certain something more troubled her Beta. Figuring it could hardly be worse than the events of the last few weeks, she stood slowly and nodded. Even if it was more bad news, a walk might do her some good. And besides, she hadn't had much time one on one with Traz lately. That would be something, at least. A small comfort. "Of course."
Rising fully to her feet, she flashed Alcatraz a lighthearted smile and brushed past him toward the moonlit forest. It was more an act of motion than genuine excitement, even though the pleasure she took in being near Traz was real. Athena hoped her relaxed manner might put him at ease, even though she was sure her deeper exhaustion wasn't missed by the Warden. He knew her too well for that. "Is everything alright?"
Alcatraz stepped back, giving her room as she slowly rose to her paws. He could tell she expected bad news. He hoped that what he had to tell her would not be considered bad. Still, his tail tip twitched nervously until a light smile lit up her face as she brushed passed him, more graceful than a doe, and lead the way into the forest. Alcatraz followed with a smile despite himself.
The moonlight filtered serenely through the trees, a faint silver tinge that gave the sylvan haven an almost magical feel. Or maybe that was just Alcatraz’s mind making things feel magical as he watched his Alpha. Her slender ebony form was frosted with starlight, dancing and shimmering through the shifting tussocks of her fur. She glanced back at him with silver eyes reflecting the dim light and making them glow like dual moons. Calm and tranquil as the still night air.
Alcatraz felt the need to assure her immediately that nothing was wrong. He could see her exhaustion clearly, and he could tell she was bracing herself for even more burdens on her lovely white-slashed shoulders. ”Yes, everything is fine. Perfect, even.” He realized after he said it that he had suspiciously overcompensated with his answer. They had just come out of a war with many injured and some, even if thank the One not their own, dead. Nothing was perfect.
He went on before she could try and guess herself what his queer behavior could mean. ”Listen, Athena.” He paused again. Realizing now that he hadn’t even thought of what he would actually say. He figured he would just say it. After all, Alcatraz was never one for fluffy words or beating around the bush. But now he felt like he should have some fluffy words, or some sort of introduction first, or a way to lead into it somehow without just blurting it out so unceremoniously! This was a big deal! He spoke again, just to fill in the silence that was beginning to stretch longer than it should. ”I’ve been thinking for a long time… about you. You are a she-wolf unlike any I have ever known… I respect you greatly. More than I have ever respected another wolf. I am proud to be your Beta.” Yes, perhaps that was a good start. See how she would react to that and go from there.
Athena nodded quietly, eyes focused on the ground ahead of her as Traz made his assurances. His demeanor was perplexing, for clearly something had him on edge and it was unlike Alcatraz to make light of anything. Was he trying to lie to her? But why? She didn't think it was possible to misread such blatant signals... Unless she was gone mad, which, after everything that had happened, was always a potential.
Pausing in the cool summer grass, Athena turned to face him once more. He was, as always, a captivating visage. Alcatraz's dark, splendid form rippled under the moonlight - scar cutting across his shoulder and marking him as one wise in the ways of the world. The Warden's eyes were liquid suns, burning brightly even in the darkness. Why was he looking at her... like that? Sensation stirred in Athena's chest once more, and she hardly dared speak for fear of revealing it. Now she knew she must be mad, to be imagining such warm affection in her beta's gaze - and fantasizing about what it might mean!
Listen to what? Athena wondered, waiting with bated breath for him to find his words. Every second he delayed tripled her anxiety, and she was about to prompt him when Traz finally spoke again.
"Oh..." Athena felt as though she had been pushed from a high place. Despite herself, her countenance fell slightly. "I, thank you..." With a wry smile, she tilted her head and tried to make it seem as though her heart had not been crushed by her own tired delusions. " After everything we've been through, I'm proud to call you my Beta as well. But you didn't need to bring me all the way out here to say so, you know."
Alcatraz’s tail tip twitched as he noticed her expression fall, as if she was disappointed with what he said. He felt frustrated with himself. Athena was exhausted, and her own respected Beta was acting like a child who had done something wrong. No more of this nonsense. Just say what you need to say or get out of her way, he growled to himself. ”I-I know,” he said, ”That’s not why I brought you all the way out here…” Alcatraz paused for another few heartbeats, before looking her right into her eyes of silver stars and saying. ”Athena, I love you.”
"You..." Athena felt dizzy suddenly, as the excitement which had evaporated so quickly came crashing back. Quite unceremoniously, the Lady fell back on her haunches and laughed. The first was hoarse, almost harsh. But a lighter trill quickly followed. He loved her! How outrageous! How wonderful! Trembling, she wondered if maybe she misheard or... misunderstood. "You meant that?"
Alcatraz had zero idea what that meant…. she was laughing? Was it that amusing to his Lady that a lowly wolf like himself should love an accomplished Alpha like her? That was his first assumption, and it filled with with shame and even anger. He should have know that Alphas like her did not take wolves as mates who was once a life-long rogue. He immediately regretted everything and was about to just storm off until he managed to reign himself in. That was Athena! His best friend! There was no way she had such a ridiculous mindset! Simply no way that was what she was thinking! But then what is it? He searched her face desperately, wishing with everything in the world that he knew what was going on in that beautiful mind of hers.
She was shaking now, looking almost unsure, as she asked him if he meant it. Alcatraz gathered his thoughts, he needed to make this very clear to her. ”My Lady,” he began, ”you mean more to me than anything else in this world and the next. Although I may not be your former mate, I wish nothing more than to give you everything I have to give. I do mean it, Athena. I love you.” He asserted.
There could be no mistaking his meaning now. Athena's heart fluttered like it had grown wings. His sudden look of shame only brought another twitter of laughter from the Lady, for that, more than any of his words, proved Alcatraz's sincerity. "You ruddy fool!" She yipped, springing forward with reckless abandon to embrace him. "I love you, too!" It was as though she had been freed from a great weight, being able to tell him so at last. Her soft tongue ran over his nose, his cheek, his lips.
Athena's ecstasy was palpable as she pulled her head back, long enough to smile gently at Traz. "I love you." She said again, more softly. Seasons of feigning indifference and making light of her feelings, but no more. How Athena had longed to look at him this way!
He recoiled as she jumped forward, his yellow eyes wide and now full of hope and joy as she sprang into his arms. Her words sent a fire through him as she licked his face. His skin prickled with pleasure all over his body as he gathered her in his large paws and pressed his head against her soft black fur, licking her ears as she drew back to look at him full in the face. His smile split his face nearly in half as she said the words again, the love in her silver eyes clearer than the night sky above them. How had he not seen it there before? It filled him with the warmth of midsummer as he gazed back at her, too happy to speak for a moment, drinking in her dark beauty. He could not imagine being more lucky… he loved the most incredible she-wolf in the world, and she loved him too!
He took a step back, ”In that case, my sweet Lady.” Alcatraz bowed deeply, ”Will you do me the deep honor of being my mate.” He glanced up at her hopefully, his yellow eyes glowing with puppy-like giddiness and love.
Warmth spread through her to feel his touch and see him smile at her, and Athena was giddy as a spring hare as Alcatraz gave his graceful bow, proposing to her like a true Lord of Aryn. They had just survived a war, both of them had been wounded and it would take weeks to recover from the damage left in the wake of the battle with Blutwald. But none of that worried Athena now, not as she looked into her lover's eyes, and knew she was no longer alone.
For a moment, Athena drank in the sight of him, realizing more with every passing second just what it would mean to call Alcatraz her mate. Wind whistled through the grass around them. Pale starlight danced through the shaking trees like fireflies, giving the woods an enchanted glow. Very near tears, she padded forward, wagging her tail and stood as tall and regally as possible. "The honour... would be mine." Came her lighthearted reply, and the ebony she wolf touched her nose to Traz's.
She wanted nothing more than to have him by her side for the rest of her life. It was a dream so fantastic - no, more than that - it was a leap of faith. Athena needed only to meet Alcatraz's gaze to know it was leap she was more than ready to make.