Athena x AlcatrazShe felt as though a stiff wind might blow her over, as the fear gave way to exhaustion and defeat. The pack body still seemed to be rippling with shock. But how could they not? None of them could have imagined this might happen, there was utterly no warning. Like a venomous serpent hiding in the grass, their enemies struck from the shadows. It took everything in her to stand tall, to appear strong. But the venom in Raphael's words as he'd learned of her failure echoed through her mind, adding to the cacophony of snarls and threats and screams already swirling inside.
TAKES PLACE LAST SPRING
after the posse fails to rescue Merrill and Athena gives the news to the pack!
TAKES PLACE LAST SPRING
after the posse fails to rescue Merrill and Athena gives the news to the pack!
Athena could not help but blame herself. She could trace all of it, every tragedy that had transpired, back to the fateful day she had apprehended a daughter of the Red Pack. In complacency, Athena had forgotten that not all the exiles of Blutwald kept faith with Winema or made peace in the end. Many still blamed her for the destruction of their homeland. Whether they were right to or not, hatred had corrupted their hearts and now it was not Athena who suffered for her hubris, but the pack. Her family.
Her eyes were a dull grey as she finally caught sight of her mate. She was too exhausted to smile, but she doubted the pretense would have fooled Alcatraz, anyway. They knew one another better than that. Coming to stand beside him, she hesitated and shook her head. "It seems rampancy is all I can bring to our kin. I would have liked to think war would never again touch us while I lived."
It had been difficult for the Alpha male to stay behind while a large portion of his family and closest friends raced off to hunt down and annihilate the kidnappers of Merrill. He hadn’t been so anxious since Athena had journeyed into the heart of Blutwald. And now she was venturing into the Red Pack’s ranks again, leading a fighting force. His anxiety put him in the worst of moods, snapping orders this way and that as they secured the borders of Aryn against other potential attacks. His mate and children and friends were off, they could be fighting right now against enemies that had already severely wounded two of their own and kidnapped a third. If anyone can bring them down… it is the wolves out to face them. That was his only comfort because Alcatraz knew this to be true. Athena had a cunning skill that could match even his fighting prowess. His three sons had been paw-trained by himself and the best of Aryn’s Wardens. Lawson was an expert courser with swift paws and agility, and of course there was Raghaalr, who was perhaps his most trusted Warden, one of his most trusted friend. A loyal Aryni since the dawn of the pack. Still, It was harder than words could say to have to stay behind while wolves so beloved put themselves in harm’s way. But it was his duty.
So when the patrol returned, Alcatraz found nothing but relief. Despite the damage done to many, they all have come home. There was no a happy reunion, however. They had been unsuccessful, and Lawson and others seriously injured. The rescue mission had gone terribly wrong.
It was not long before the Vicars were tending to all the injured, and the pack began to settle down and try to cope with the shock of all this. Now Alcatraz could finally take some time to reflect on what had happened… this morning he had woken to a warm spring day, bright and hopeful, beside his proud and happy mate, among a healthy pack. That felt so long ago. How were they to know what was in store before the sun would set…
He stood on the top of Warden’s watch, looking out over the territory with dull yellow eyes, guarding against foes and reflecting on the day. This has happened before. I learned this lesson long ago, Alcatraz thought bitterly to himself. The pack he had been born into had been brutally assaulted by wolves who posed as friends. He had been furious at the time, so much so that he couldn’t bare to live in his pack any longer and struck out on his own as soon as he came of age. From there he had traveled the world disdainful of any pack that did not sufficiently guard their borders. Everything changed when Athena established Aryn. He had remained guarded and suspicious for a time, but soon these outsiders became friends, and Alcatraz had become Alpha, and learned that acceptance of new members was an important part of building a pack. But in the good fortune he had grown blind to his own past, blind to the risks of the unknown, and history had repeated itself. It made him angry with himself, hopeless, dismayed, and shook his confidence as a leader to its core.
When he heard soft pawsteps behind him Alcatraz knew exactly who it was. He lowered his head and looked back at her sideways as she walked up to join him. Her beautiful face was hollow with exhaustion and grief. He knew that he was not the only one who bore the burden of guilt in this. Athena blamed herself. But how could she have known?
Athena was quick to share responsibility for Aryn’s prosperity with her mate. But when hardship or disaster befell them? That responsibility she never seemed keen to share. “For a Lady to have failed, so must have her Lord,” he reminded her, looking at the ground. He felt it was mostly his fault, in fact. The point of a leader was to know things. But no wolf could know it all, and that’s why he was beside Athena, to know things that she didn’t know, to bring his own experience and together they could better lead. This situation was his responsibility to know, he knew this would happen, he had known it all his life! Yet when it mattered most, he had been neglectful, and now one of their own was gone, and many injured.
But of course what use was this? Now more than ever dozens of eyes looked to them for leadership and guidance. There was no room for moping!
He looked at her again with hard eyes, perhaps about to gruffly bark some truth, or propose a new path forward, or recite a philosophy that Aryn must now adopt. But seeing the look on her face again, the pain and guilt and just grief for what had happened mere hours ago, he ended up saying nothing like that. They were the Lord and Lady of Aryn, the pillars of order and prosperity, the guardians of justice and health. But they were also Alcatraz and Athena, just two wolves, and they were mates for life. There were times to be strong, to take charge, to act. But there were times when they needed to be wolves too. Times to be vulnerable, to grieve, to comfort. And if Alcatraz couldn’t offer that to his own mate, he had failed her in perhaps the worst way he could.
He turned to her and licked her gentle, then pushed his muzzle against her cheek, offering his comfort and gaining comfort from her closeness as well. “I know… I hoped the same.” he agreed softly, not masking the hopelessness in his own voice. “But think of our closest friends, who were once outsiders… It was a shock for us all.”
Athena studied her mate, the dullness in her eyes receding somewhat to make room for concern. She'd waited for his firm command to the pack, his sharp reproach against their foes, a plan to prevent all of this from happening again. Her ears flattened when none were forthcoming. When he - her indomitable mate - chose to comfort instead, "I must really look awful." She replied hoarsely, leaning into his touch and finding security in it. "But you always know just what to say, don't you?"
Resting against his firm shoulder, Athena considered what now lay before them. Merrill was in peril, and her trail gone cold. Fiercely guarded by foes who's true plans there was no way of discerning... not yet. Her family would need strength to cling to, to reassure them of hope. Things would be difficult now. Dangerous. She could have wept for that shattered peace - she might very well have, if Alcatraz's strength had not been there beside her in that moment. She felt as though his presence was all that stood between her and the abyss.
One step at a time. Athena reminded herself.
But the first step was no easier than any of the others. "How will I face Adrian?" She asked, guilt coating her tone. He was being tended urgently by the other Vicars, he may not have heard the announcement. Although if he were conscious, he would surely have seen the wounded posse come in, their faces drooped with pain and defeat. "How do I tell him that I could not bring his daughter home? That she is-" Athena's voice cracked, "She is in the paws of our enemy."
For all her cunning, all her prowess, all her promises... Athena had failed in that which was most important. She had not protected her family.
He draped his head over her slim shoulders as she leaned into him, nuzzling her fondly. He withheld a sigh. She truly did know him well, practically reading his mind… though he might have snorted in amusement at her self-deprecated interpretation. Awful certainly wasn’t the word he would use. “You have never looked ‘awful,’” he replied quietly.
They were silent for a time, and Alcatraz relished her presence, the fact she was still here with him, and alive. Not long ago he had been unsure if he would ever see her again, for all he knew each moment she could have been attacked, injured, dying, all as he stalked helpless and ignorant at the borders. In another reality he could have been facing all of this completely alone, without her, without anyone trying to keep control of a panicked pack who lost their great leader, all while struggling with his own unimaginable grief for his beloved mate who was gone forever. But The One had shown a great mercy, a desperately wonderful mercy, and Athena had come back to him. He had reflected on this many times today, but never as much as right now, as they sat together, alone at last, and he embraced her. He could feel her soft warm fur and sweet familiar scent, she was nuzzled into his fur and safe in his arms. He closed his eyes tightly, feeling as if he might cry.
Athena’s mind was on something else entirely, still focused on the actual events of the day and how to move forward. As a true leader would do. He tried to yank himself from the dark place his mind had been, as he thought about how he almost lost her. Truth was, he hadn’t lost her, that was all that mattered. He had to be strong now, like she was, he had to be a rock for her like she was for him, and together they had to find the best way forward “We will tell him.” Alcatraz assured her. There was no reason for her to stand alone, not now and not ever. He added more softly, “....and we will tell him just that.” There was nothing else to say to Adrian but the truth… however difficult it was. He paused before going on, “We can still bring her home. Hope is not lost,” he reminded her. As long as there was life, there was hope. And they had no reason to believe Merrill to be dead. She could still be returned to them yet.
Together. They would face this... all of this awfulness, together. Unbidden tears pressed against Athena's eyes as a wave of gratitude washed over her. Her mate, her cornerstone. He was right. There was still hope. "I love you." She said, barely a whisper. And in her voice she hoped those simple words might convey even the smallest measure of what she felt for Alcatraz in that moment.
In his embrace she found the resolve to push back against the abyss. So much was uncertain. But the One, with a mercy and generosity she could never have dared hope for, had given her Alcatraz. And she was not alone. She never needed to doubt it. Nodding slowly, Athena turned her gaze to meet his, "We can still find her. We will find her. You're right." They were not helpless. They would exhaust every resource. They would not abandon one of their own. Together, they could right this wrong.
"We should... check on the wounded." Athena continued after a moment, looking back towards the Vicar's enclave, which smelled of pain and fear. She leaned against Alcatraz a little more, knowing that he might be just as frightened and uncertain as her, deep down. But they had chosen each other, and they had chosen to have faith. Together, they were strong enough to face it all.
Alcatraz smiled softly at her whispered words, he could see the emotion and sincerity in her tear-filled eyes. Of course he knew how she felt as she looked upon him… he felt it too. And in the sea of despair he knew that there was a shining light that would always be shining. To love and be loved, there was no greater gift. “I love you too, Athena.” he murmured in return, licking her muzzle gently.
The resilience of his mate astounded Alcatraz each time he thought of it, and witnessed it. She was the wolf who could do anything. She was once an Alpha, young and beautiful and strong, who had everything. A loving mate, a thriving pack, a loyal family, a perfect home. And slowly, one by one, she had lost it all until she had nothing but her mind, body, and the One. For a wolf who crashed to such lows from such incredible highs… how could anyone endure? It was unimaginable. But Athena stood in the depths of despair and defeat and from nothing but her own will she rose up again. She created a pack and nursed it to one of the largest and healthiest in the domain. She had lead it in times of peace, in times of war, in times of plenty and little, hope and loss. All with a steady paw, a keen mind, and a fierce love for those she protected. And here her true rock-solid strength shone through again as her eyes of burning silver stars bore into him. She was weary and frightened and uncertain, yes, but she was unbreakable. And she would prevail. She was the wolf who could do anything.
There were times when Alcatraz felt like Athena’s equal. But there were times, such as this time, where he would wondered in shock how he, a rogue runaway from nowhere, had earned such a legendary heart. Yet here he was… standing beside her, the single chosen partner of the wolf who could do anything. And all the more shocking in these moments, she thought of him as her equal. She trusted him. She loved him. There was nothing more empowering to the dark Lord. When their eyes met, he too felt like the wolf who could do anything.
He nodded when she leaned against him for another moment, and he rested his head on top of hers, feeling her soft tufted ears against his muzzle. He soaked in the last moment of solace before they would once again face the many trials that loomed before them. “When you’re ready, my Lady.”