Alcatraz had been guarding Bloom for much of the afternoon. He was not particularly kind to her, but he was careful not to be offensive or deliberately threatening. If Athena managed to gain fair relations with Blutwald then he did not want to be the one to ruin it if Bloom ran home to her parents and cried about how mistreated she was. He would be civil.
But his paws were restless and his mind was a daze as he anxiously waited for an opportunity to talk to his Alphess. She was leaving tonight. To a dangerous land. How could he just let her leave? Wander alone into a place he knew held hostile wolves! The very thought was unbearable.
Alcatraz stalked across the main den site after his shift was relieved, where Athena’s slender form was resting, waiting for the journey to come. Alcatraz glanced around at the other wolves in Aryn. They were gathered in the clearing, but Alcatraz did not want to speak to Athena where ears could overhear him. She was his Alpha, and for him to question her authority and distrust her judgement in front of the others would surely displease her. But she was also his friend, and if they were alone perhaps they could speak of the matter in the way that friends would. He knew he would not change her mind, but perhaps he could convince her to let him come? He could only hope.
“Lady Athena.” he rumbled, dipping his head in a polite greeting, “May I have a private word?” Alcatraz was pretty positive Athena would know what he wanted to talk to her about. He just hoped she would hear him out. All he knew is that he could not let her go without expressing himself, even if in the end she was his superior. And what she said was the law.
Athena had been resting, by some miracle everything was in order before dusk, and she wanted a moment to sit and clear her thoughts before the journey ahead. At the voice of Alcatraz, the alpha lifted her head, sitting up once she saw him. Managing a faint smile, she gazed at him fondly. She was glad to have him here, and found that she trusted him to keep the pack safe, almost as much as she’d trusted Fallon, all those lifetimes ago.
“Of course.” The she-wolf suspected she already knew what he wanted to talk about; she would do what she could to assuage his fears. Leading him to a quiet spot out of earshot of the den, Athena looked to him expectantly. “Speak freely, Sir.” A tone of humour lightened her voice as she addressed him by his proper title.
Alcatraz followed his Alpha to the quiet spot and stopped before her as she turned around, her icy gaze resting on him, bright and expectant. Alcatraz met her gaze, barely managing a faint smile in return to her light-hearted address. He glanced quickly to the side, as if making sure one last time that no one was nearby.
He turned back to her. ”I fear for your safety in Blutwald, Lady Athena,” he said, ”you know those brutes are responsible for the scar on my shoulder, and when it was given to me there was no warning. I was not even treading within their markers,” he paused, ”I am aware that you are a capable and cunning Alpha, but regardless of strength and skill, one wolf cannot herself safely travel into a territory so filled with hostility. Please… at least allow for an escort for protection. I shall not be overcome as I was when I was young. I can help you.”
His words were formal but the worry shined in his pale yellow eyes as he searched her gaze, as if trying to see what she was thinking, and if trying to see if she would agree. He was unaware if he could handle an entire pack of Ivans, but he knew if nothing else he would fight with all of his might until his dying breath. And he was confident, at least, that perhaps he would have the ability to hold them off to allow time for Athena to escape.
She smiled, looking at him for a moment before turning her gaze toward the west, where Blutwald lay. Slowly the grin faded. Alcatraz’s concern was not unexpected. Nor was it unreasonable. Athena was touched by it, if she was being honest. Had it been anyone else she would have insisted it out of the question without a second thought, but instead she found herself wanting to tell him yes. This meeting would tense at best. At worst it could lead to bloodshed.
But even so, she remained resolved to go alone. It would be selfish to put him in danger for her own peace of mind. Blutwald was dangerous, but Athena trusted in her own ability to meet them and remain unharmed. Besides, she had no Rah’at, no Vicars, … no mate. Someone needed to hold the family together in her absence and there was no one she trusted to do that more than Alcatraz.
“I don’t doubt you.” Athena said finally. “But I must do this alone. There are too few of us to risk another life…” Especially yours... She thought, ears twisting back. “If Blutwald is as mighty as its reputation, one escort would make little difference. Alone it will be easy for me to avoid unwanted attention, and if things go badly I won’t have anyone else’s life to worry about. Besides.” Here the alpha looked back at Alcatraz. Her tone was commanding, but the glint in her eyes nothing more or less than a heartfelt request. “Someone must lead in my absence. However long that is. There’s no one I would trust to do this more than you.”
Alcatraz’s heart fell as she declined his request. He glanced to the side, toward the rest of Aryn lands. He had the rest of his family to protect, yes, but… he lowered his muzzle as he turned to face her again, listening to her rationale and trying to understand it. She was right… one wolf or two wolves, against a whole pack there was little difference. Athena is agile and quick as well as clever… she will work better if she is free to do whatever it takes to keep herself safe…Alcatraz tried to convince himself of this, but he could not find himself reassured. He knew that Athena was fully capable of taking care of herself, but… just the chance of a misstep… that she should be captured or wounded or worse on the enemies soil… that possibility made it very difficult for the dark Warden to cope…
He looked up at her as she added one more reason why he had to stay. It was an honor for her to entrust the care of her pack to him… and he felt humbled by her trust. The friendship glowing in her eyes was what made him finally relent. He let out a heavy sigh, sounding defeated in every way. ”Howl at any point you feel in danger… I will listen for your call and come as fast as I can. I will patrol by the southern border every day until you return.” Could her howl reach Aryn from Blutwald? Alcatraz didn’t know… he could only hope. ”You must return to us, Lady Athena,” he mumbled at last. And he wasn’t just talking about how necessary she was to her new pack. He needed her too.
She nodded, knowing full well that even if he heard her howl, there was no way Alcatraz would reach her in time should the worst happen. Her smile was more for him than for herself, and Athena replied with more certainty than she felt, “I will. I promise.” If her word proved false, well, the Lady would hardly be in any position to suffer for it.
Something else in Alcatraz’s voice made her pause, and for a moment Athena’s grey eyes lost themselves his pale yellow ones. Sharp and certain as the sunrise. She had come to respect and admire that stoic gaze. This could be the last time she gazed upon it.
What a shame it would be; and if he never… never…
The ebony she-wolf began to lean forward, making it the barest fraction of an inch before catching herself sharply. By the One but the nerves must be getting to her head. That would have been impulsive, even by her standards!
Turning quickly, Athena lo laughed airily, as if she hadn’t a fear in the world. “In fact, I’ll probably return with news that this is all a big misunderstanding and our packs will settle the whole issue over a hearty buffalo.”
The dark male nodded at her promise, trying his best to believe her, but he did not lift his gaze to meet hers right away, letting out a heavy sigh from deep within his broad chest. He finally glanced up at her, meeting those silvery eyes, the color of a pale raincloud during a spring shower. He was caught in the same moment that she was, staring deep into their ashen depths, relishing the moment as if it was their last one together. Which it could be…
Alcatraz watched her draw closer to him, the look in her eyes, it was something he had never seen before…
But it seemed before he could move forward to greet her ghost of a gesture, she withdrew with a laugh, confident and light, as she assured him that the most likely outcome was peace. Alcatraz was not listening to her words. In his mind he was still staring into her silver gaze, and he stepped forward quickly without thinking, as if afraid that in one more moment she would be gone. There was one thing he needed to do before she left.
Alcatraz leaned his dark, broad muzzle close to her and licked her cheek gently, a gesture of affection he would not have done if there were others, or if he was not so afraid this encounter could be their last, or if not for the budding feelings of love that he had for the elegant Alphess. He withdrew a few paces, his pale sand-colored eyes back to their stoic norm. He spoke before she could react, ”I shall await your return. Godspeed, my Lady.” He dipped his large, bear-like head in deep respect before taking his leave. He knew that leaving an Alpha’s presence without her dismissal could be a sign of disrespect, but he hoped she would not see it that way. If he had stayed much longer he would have ensured that moment would not be their last, at the expense of her authority over Aryn. He was no longer a lone wolf, but a member of a pack. One piece of a large unit that all needed to work together toward a common goal. Athena was the decider of that common goal. He was no longer free to make his own decisions and do what he believed was the best course of action. He needed to submit, and that was a difficult pill for him to swallow so fresh off the loner lifestyle.
He did not look back.
His approach caught her off guard. Or maybe Athena had expected it and was already in too deep to think of retreating. The air around them seemed hot and heavy; she felt as though the ground might give way beneath them at any moment. Alcatraz’s touch sent a jolt of fire through her veins but Athena held utterly still, closing her eyes and savoring the touch. It pulled her to the ground. The moment came into focus while the rest of the world spun.
Under other circumstances… but no, these were not other circumstances. Beneath all their banter and formality, both of them knew what could happen. What was at stake. And if this was the last time, she wanted it to be worth remembering.
Straightening as he withdrew, Athena nodded at the goodbye and watched Alcatraz turn away. Her eye lingered on his shape for a bare moment more before the Lady turned as well, coursing down the slope toward whatever fate awaited her at Blutwald.