The day was promisingly clear. Half the mountain valley remained shrouded in shadow, where the high stone in the East still hid the sun. Athena had not strayed far from the falls where Riley had been given to her. The territory was speckled all over with small caves and crevices, perfect for hiding the young pup while she hunted.
It was strange to be caring for another. Athena had had only herself to think about for so long; the new routine left her with a sensation of emotional vertigo. Riley’s strange tendencies did not help. He didn’t pay attention well, and she worried constantly that the cub might not even realize he was in danger if an unfriendly stranger stumbled across his hiding place. She went to great lengths to keep that from happening. They moved almost every night, and the she-wolf kept well away from any potential shelter bearing the faintest scent of another predator. Athena’s days were spent patrolling the valley floor, never straying so far away that she could not hear Riley’s call.
Though she had quickly grown fond of the peculiar child, Athena knew neither of them would last the winter at this rate. She’d end up too weak to hunt, or Riley would get sick. It took a pack to raise a pup. But there was only one of her, and she was exhausted.
Loping higher up to a rocky overlook, she surveyed the white forest. The wind was quiet today, but the black female almost thought she could detect a faint, familiar scent. It was too thin to be certain of more than that. Lifting her head, Athena howled into the sharp crisp air, announcing her presence for miles around. It was as much a challenge as an invitation - hopefully any would-be trespassers would have the good sense to beat it. Ears pricked, Athena sat back on her haunches and waited. Who knew, maybe someone would answer.
Snarling unhappily, Charaka snapped at the raven in the air above her. The stupid bird thought it funny to drop a pebble on her head as she tried to practice tracking on a badger. However, the bird merely cackled and flapped out of reach. Charaka glared at it until it was out of sight then sighed heavily. Life as a loner wasn’t exactly full of fun, but lately she felt bored and lonely. She had met quite a few people her second time living outside a pack. With each wolf she met and said goodbye to, the more she missed having others around her and having a responsibility to provide for more than just herself. Looking down she kicked the snow at her feet moodily. Winter sucks…
She put nose to ground again sniffing furiously, before a familiar sounding howl made her head shoot up. Charaka didn’t recognise it at first but it sounded like Athena? Maybe? She couldn’t be sure since she had only met the black female once.
Shifting indecisively Charaka debated howling back. In the end she decided not to. She couldn’t be 100 percent sure it was Athena and Charaka felt unsafe notifying every wolf in the area of her presence. Besides, the howl sounded close enough! She could just take a quick look and if it was who she thought it was then she’d say hello! Abandoning her badger trail, Charaka pointed her feet towards the howl’s origin and trotted swiftly off.
The dark loner stalked through the snowy forward. It had been recently that his childhood friend, Gabitrix, and he had decided to part ways for good. She was happy where she was in Chandor, and Alcatraz could see no future for himself in such a friendly pack. And so, after filling up on a kill he had made earlier in the week, he left his makeshift den and headed north east. He had no reason for this directional choice, perhaps because it was a way he had not gone yet. If he had gone the other way he would have been backtracking, and he would not want to do that. He had no aim to his travels anymore, and his paws were getting more and more weary with every step. He was exhausted, and unhappy. He was glad to see Gabitrix where she belonged, but it had made him take a good look at himself and where his life was going. He had no plan, no goal, no real reason for waking up in the mornings even. The thought had been peeking in his mind recently and had been unsettling for a while, but the discomfort was growing with each passing day as the dark winter trudged endlessly onward.
A howl cut through the cold winter air that caused Alcatraz to freeze in his tracks. Athena. He had met the black she-wolf several times, and even nearby here once. It had not been long since their run in with the coywolf pack, but still Alcatraz was surprised to hear that the loner was still in the area. But why was she howling? He rolled his eyes and let out a low, impatient grunt under his breath. What trouble has she gotten herself into this time? he thought to himself. But his outward reaction was not an accurate representation to his true feelings about meeting the she-wolf again. In truth there was very little he would rather do than help her out with another one of her misadventures. He enjoyed Athena’s confident, friendly personality and he found that he was even quite fond of her. The prospect of seeing her again, of not being alone, it was a welcomed thought.
The dark loner took off at a steady lope, lifting his head as he went to let out a booming howl of his own to alert her of his approach and assure her that whatever she needed this time, help was on the way.
It was not long before Alcatraz caught the familiar scent and glanced up through the trees, spotting her sitting on a rocky overhang. He picked up the pace to a gallop. ”Athena!” he called, climbing up the snowy slope and up onto the outcropping. He glanced around suspiciously, his breaths coming out in curling white clouds that wafted over his head and disappeared into the sky as he caught his breath. ”Everything alright?” He shifted his pale amber gaze to the small she-wolf. There was something strange about her scent… something different. Was someone else with her? His ears were cupped forward as he waited for her response.
Athena was on her feet in an instant, even before she’d consciously recognized the voice. “Alcatraz!” She barked, though he was much too far away to hear her. An uncharacteristic excitement claimed her. Of course! It had not been too far from here when they last met. The prospect of seeing the fierce warrior again was more than a little appealing. Athena called again, more insistent than before.
She still jumped when he barked her name. Tail wagging, she smiled widely at his approach, taking a few steps forward until they were face to face. He seemed to realize something had changed - maybe he could even smell Riley. “Better than alright, actually!” Athena laughed, amused by his serious tone. Hopefully it would assure him nothing was wrong. Gaze soft, she looked the he-wolf over. Alcatraz appeared to be in good health. That pleased her, even though it wasn’t surprising. “It’s good to see you.”
Backing up again, Athena perched closer to the edge of the cliff. “I’m glad you heard me. I honestly wasn’t sure anyone would!”
The sound of Alcatraz’s familiar howl and then the probably Athena’s second howl, set her legs into a full blown sprint! Though she didn’t know if Alcatraz knew Athena or not it sure sounded like they were meeting or something! Bull rushing her way through leaf and branch until she could finally see and smell the two wolves on a cliff above her. They were Athena and Alcatraz! Super excited to see her old friend and more recent friend again, Charaka’s tail whirled around and she reared up and yelled, “ATHENA! TRAZ! HI! HELLO UP THERE!” She purposefully used the nickname the grumpy male disliked to make extra sure he knew she was there. She waited just enough to sort of be sure they saw her before dashing off to find her way up to where they stood.
A few seconds later, Charaka skidded to a stop in front of the two of them. Her eyes shining and tongue lolling and her body wriggling with barely contained excitement! Alcatraz looked just as grumpy but as healthy as the last time she saw him! As for Athena, she kinda looked a bit strained but happy! For a moment she was torn, biting her lip and dancing in place as she looked at the both of them, trying to decide who to ‘greet’ first. Then promptly pounced with paws outstretched towards Alcatraz, whom she hadn’t seen longest, and immediately started fussing over and nuzzling him regardless of his reaction! Then abruptly detached and did the same to Athena, although more gently since the female was kinda close to the edge and Charaka didn’t know how she would react to being exploded happiness on.
Finished, for now, Charaka backed off. A broad smile still on her face and her tail wagging furiously! “I didn’t think I’d see you guys ever again!” she yipped excitedly. It felt so good to see familiar faces again she thought she would die!
The slow wag of Alcatraz’s dark tail indicated the big male’s silent contentment as they greeted each other properly. It seemed nothing was wrong after all. He smiled a bit, ”Yes, it is good to see you again as well.” he said, watching her as she padded back to the edge of the overhang.
Alcatraz joined Athena, padding forward to stand beside her, looking over the dark forest below them. Well, sort of below them. They were at eye level with the mid branches of many surrounding trees. ”It is a quiet day. And a strong howl like yours travels far.” Alcatraz knew well that the confident, fearless she-wolf knew how to speak strongly. His thick pelt was an inch from hers, but he was careful to ensure they did not touch, as he looked over the landscape. ”So… better than alright, hm?” he rumbled dryly, ”Then why am I here?” He looked at her, his pale yellow gaze abnormally gentle as he awaited her response.
A familiar voice cut through Alcatraz’s inquiries and he looked over quickly, his tail beginning to wag as he instantly recognized who was approaching. He would have called her name as a greeting, but the clearly deliberate use of his given nickname turned the call into a sigh. ”It’s Alcatraz.” he muttered under his breath as he turned in place, careful to not bump Athena with his bulk, ”If I wanted to be called ‘Traz’ I would have introduced myself as such…parents didn’t name me ‘Traz’... stupid nickname...” his grumbling continued as he took a few steps away from Athena and toward where Charaka approached so he could greet her. Even by the way he grumbled it was clear that by now he found Charaka’s playful insistence on his nickname as more endearing than actual annoyance.
Charaka was there in an instant, her brown eyes alight with joy at seeing two friends. She started with Alcatraz, which caused Alcatraz to recoil slightly at such an enthusiastic greeting but he managed a smile and stretched out his paw to give her an affectionate pat or two on the back. Charaka was the only one he had ever admitted he had lost his fight with Ivan to. Well, he had told Athena as well, but he was trying to teach Athena a lesson. With Charaka she had managed to somehow break his stoic front and cause him to fess up. And she had not even been trying. But Alcatraz could not have appreciated her supportive reaction any more. He even gave her ear a few licks, something he really never did. But Charaka was a different kind of friend to him than most others, and someone he felt quite comfortable with. ”I didn’t even know you two knew each other.” Alcatraz mused as Charaka moved on to greet Athena in her playful affectionate way.
A faint smile tugged at her lips as Alcatraz came up beside her. For a moment they were quiet, and though Athena seemed to be watching her horizon, all her attention was trained on her companion. He was intentionally avoiding her touch, acting with an almost zealous caution she hadn’t expected to find in the burly lone male.
Finally, or perhaps too soon, Alcatraz turned his gaze back upon her, and asked the question that she’d been waiting for. Before she could answer, another voice broke through the quietude. Athena’s head jerked in the direction of the call, exclaiming “Charaka!?” And then, “You two know each other!?” At the same time as Alcatraz. As Charaka rushed to greet the he-wolf with pupish enthusiasm; the two were clearly very... close. It gave the black she-wolf time to brace for her own greeting. She returned the affection as best she could, still feeling overwhelmed by the display after Alcatraz’s stoic greeting.
Her ears perked with curiosity at other’s banter. “Traz?” Athena remarked wryly, eyes glinting with mischief. She would have to remember to use the nickname sometime. Or else forever from here on out. “We met not long ago. Charaka showed me a few things about hunting buffalo.” She laughed, tail wagging at the memory.
Looking to Charaka, Athena explained, “Traz and I met a while ago. I might have stolen his kill.” Clearing her throat, she continued, “And then the next we met he… saved my life.” The remark carried more weight than either of her friends could possibly know.
Now… where to begin? At first she’d only intended to ask for a hunt, assuming anyone even came. But maybe that was thinking too small. Maybe this encounter wasn’t an accident. Maybe none of this at all was an accident.
Athena eyed her friends again, more critically than before, as if looking for something specific. There were few wolves she held in higher esteem than the two before her. For some time the small black she-wolf had been meditating on Felidae’s parting words. The old she-wolf had left her grandchild to be raised under Aryn ways. Athena’s homeland was nothing but bones and dust. Her people were scattered to the winds. The wolves of Aryn had derived their strength from unity. To truly fulfill her promise to Felidae, Athena needed more than a few generous companions to help her hunt from time to time. She needed a pack.
Her paws had been leading her in this direction for some time, Athena realized. The mist was clearing, and the path before her was finally beginning to take shape. Doubt had plagued her for so long, it had been seasons since she’d dared to even look for the will of the One in things. And now, it was almost as if he stood before her, beckoning. By the love of the Great Spirit, she hoped she wasn’t wrong about this. It might not be easy to sell.
“Listen. I might have a favour to ask. It’s not exactly… a small one.” Her lip pulled back as she tried to decide what to say. Athena hadn’t given anything that might remotely be considered a motivational speech since Aryn’s exodus, and she was embarrassingly rusty. “There’s someone you should meet. Riley, he’s - my son now, and the pup needs more than I can give him. He needs a pack. He needs a family.”
She paused to let the words sink in, trying to gauge their reactions. “It’s a lot to ask, …I know. But this can’t be coincidence. You,” Looking between them, Athena hoped they would understand, “Both of you. There are no other wolves I’d rather have by my side. This territory is rich. We could thrive here.”
Charaka nodded along as Athena explained how they met to Alcatraz. It hadn’t been too long ago and the memory of the two of them brought a pleased expression to her face. It wasn’t really a winter without a bison hunt~! She was glad Athena was there to help Charaka keep her family’s tradition alive if just for one more year. Then as the black female went on to tell how she and Mr. Grumpy met, Charaka’s eyes flicked between Athena and Alcatraz. There was something… there… Obviously they had trust in each other as one would expect after he saved her life… However, Charaka put aside the thought for now. It was too vague anyway. Although it would be nice if Alcatraz found himself a cute girl~! He was such a grump-butt a little energy would do him some good! But as far as she knew he still didn’t have anyone he…
Suddenly, Charaka’s face turned into one of mild shock and confusion as she remembered something that happened a minute ago. The big male just patted her on the back, fondly! And licked her ear, fondly! She was so happy meeting him and Athena the gesture escaped her before. Feeling embarrassed, Charaka quickly scratched a spot on her shoulder to make up for the weird face she was probably making right now. She knew he didn’t mean it in that way; he didn’t know that much about the Sky Walkers to realise what that particular gesture meant. But still… It felt nice to be told that she was loved even if Alcatraz meant it in a big brother kind of way! More than a little happy Charaka closed her eyes and smiled into her chest fur.
She recovered from her thoughts just in time to catch Athena’s next words. Charaka tilted her head in curiousity asked for a favor, a not small one apparently, and then hesitated. What in the name of Charaka’s pawpads would be a huge favor? Was Athena in trouble? Did she need help? She was about to ask when Athena continued.
Athena had a son? Charaka didn’t smell anyone like that when they met! Oh… ‘He’s my son now.’ Athena must have adopted him. Wondering where the mysterious pup had come from Charaka started to sniff the other female’s fur as she continued with her speech-thing. There was definitely a pup’s smell on her. Then backed off as Athena paused. Charaka looked at her in confusion, still unsure what Athena needed help with? Did she want help finding a pack to join or… Charaka waited in polite but puzzled silence as Athena continued speaking.
Charaka stared at her as she stopped talking for a few seconds. Then the true meaning of Athena’s question came through and Charaka’s jaw fell open in surprise. “Y-You! You want me? For your pack!?” she chattered in amazement. Charaka had been wanting to try and join another pack for a while now. For her to actually be invited to help start one seemed almost too good to be true! “Sure!” she said before really thinking about it. Sure Athena had said ‘here’ but all that was here is a grove of trees and mountains. Where were they going to live and hunt? This gave Charaka pause for a bit, but then she dismissed the worry with a smile and a tail wag! If Athena and Alcatraz were going to be in it she would be fine regardless of where they lived! “I’d love to!” she finished.
Alcatraz gave Athena a warning glare that said, if you ever call me that…, although he found himself unsure of what actually he would do. Probably nothing, now that he thought of it. He let out a small sigh at what a pushover he was these days. Although he was a pushover with Gabitrix as well when they were younger. He supposed it just came with caring about someone. You tolerated it, so long as at least they enjoyed it. Which they both do apparently, since they both choose to call him that. He pushed the thought away as Athena went on.
He was going to protest when she used that dreadful nickname during his introduction to Charaka, but he held his tongue, and forgot about it all together when she went on and claimed that he had saved her life. He looked at his paws, feeling a bit bashful, and gave her a curt nod. He had never really thought of it that way before...
At the initial mention of a ‘son’ Alcatraz felt an odd sinking feeling. As if disappointed. Although he did not quite understand it. Even more did he not understand the hope that came with registering the word ‘now’, which indicated that the pup was not biologically hers. But that too he did not have time to mull over before she went on with the true meaning of her beckoning. He stared at her, silent.
Charaka was the first to respond, and she sounded delighted at the idea. Alcatraz was not so enthusiastic. All he had known was the life of a loner… for years he had wandered on his own. How could he just leave everything he had ever known in favor of such a drastic change? What if he didn’t like it? What if he didn’t make a good pack member? And of course, his biggest fear, the one that had driven him from his old pack, was that he could not protect them. How terrible he would feel if history repeated itself… and something bad happened to Athena and Charaka and this mystery pup… and he had not been able to do his self-appointed duty as a guardian to them… he could not put himself into that position. He could not risk the pain.
But what if he did not join? What if he continued on his wanderings, forever to wander alone and at his lonesome, avoiding others in fear of letting them down. Without his protection, what if Athena and Charaka did run into trouble? What if they did need help and he was not there because he had been too afraid to take the risk? No… he could not let that happen. If he walked away here he would forever be worrying about his two dearest friends, wondering what had become of them, and he would never forgive himself for resigning when they had called upon him. Athena had given him a great honor, and a great opportunity. He needed to take advantage. He needed to try. They needed him to.
Alcatraz hardly noticed the long silence that had spread between them as he had mulled over his choice. And his pale amber eyes looked puzzled as they flicked between Charaka’s and Athena’s expectant gaze. ”Uh…” Just say yes. You’ve gotta do this… they need you. He looked away, toward the distant mountains that would soon border their new home. His pale yellow eyes were narrowed as if it was no big deal. He wouldn’t want them to know of his fears, ”I guess I ought to stick around. Wouldn’t want you running into another coywolf pack without my help.” He said, glancing back at Athena with a gentle smile. He felt his heart beating rapidly. He had committed. This was going to happen… he would soon be the member of a pack. He felt nervous and excited at the same time, but he tried to force himself to calm down. Everything would be okay. Charaka and Athena were his two dearest friends. Never would he let anything bad happen to them. He would see to it with his very life.
Perking up, Athena grinned widely at Charaka’s quick acceptance. “Of course! I wouldn’t have asked otherwise!” Char was a capable hunter, and a skilled fighter besides. She would have been an esteemed member of Aryn, had she been born to it. And she would most certainly be one now, at its rebirth. Tail wagging, the reality of what was happening finally began to set in. Feeling very like a pup, Athena looked over at Alcatraz, gaze wide and hopeful.
He was silent.
Smile morphing into a frown of concern, she watched his face carefully. Athena’s ears twisted down as a throb of worry jolted through her. Was it fear in his eyes or disgust? Why did he have to be so damnably hard to read? As the quiet stretched out, she began to think that he might refuse. He would say ‘no’ and leave her.
But Alcatraz had that right, didn’t he? It would be unfair to expect him to take such a leap, wouldn’t it? And why would he, anyway? The entire thing sounded absolutely crazy. If Riley had not been hers to look after, Athena wasn’t sure she would have considered even trying to carve out a new home. And Alcatraz had no such obligation.
It made no sense for her to expect so much from him. Still, Traz’s silence stung like fangs in her belly. Finally deciding she had all the answer she needed, Athena was about to say that she understood, and it was fine. Neither was entirely true, but then Alcatraz could go and keep his honour all the same.
Except he beat her to it.
“Stick around?” She asked stupidly, realizing belatedly that Alcatraz was actually and in fact truly going to stay. His smile made her want to smile back, she probably could have kissed him. Instead, Athena sat down forcefully and arched her neck back, eyes narrow and tail curled - the very image of offended dignity. “Well, I’m certainly glad you could find it in your heart to stick around.” She replied, trying to sound serious despite the excitement in her tone. To his credit at least, he seemed genuinely happy with his decision, however halting it had been. That did not excuse the fact that he’d frightened her half to death.
Flitting back to her feet, her ears coiled forward as Athena stopped with their noses scarcely an inch apart. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you, Traz.” She was ecstatic to have the he-wolf at her side, far more so than she would ever let him see. And she was also going to push him off a cliff at the nearest opportunity.
At first Alcatraz felt satisfaction at her echoed answer. So relieved she was that he would join her! As she should be. But the satisfaction quickly dissipated as Athena’s expression changed from shock to indignant. Alcatraz felt guilt claw at his belly. He had not meant to upset her. It was just… a big decision! He watched her in dismay as she sat down with an offended glare in his direction. ”I’m sorry… Athena… I didn’t mean to offend… I just… it’s a big change...” he stammered, feeling flustered as he tried to defend himself. Alcatraz was not easily thrown off, but facing those icy blue eyes, he was beginning to regret his less-than-gracious acceptance to her invitation.
Alcatraz drew his chin back into his mane as she approached him, meeting her eyes with his pale yellow ones. He felt hot under his fur as he waited for her to respond. Would she reject him now? No… she was proud but she knew that he was a force to be reckoned with. She would know that having him in her pack would significantly increase the chance of survival for her… pup. Pfft, of course she would not reject him! But for some reason still he felt his belly alive with nervous butterflies as he waited for her response. He was surprised at how much he suddenly really wanted this….
But her words… were they sarcastic? Were they the truth? He could not tell. He narrowed his eyes, unsure. Either way, it looked like he was in. And he didn’t know if it was him or not, but he was pretty sure he could read the joy deep in the she-wolf’s eyes. He let himself smile, a smile of relief and affection, ”Well, Athena. You can start by referring to me by my true name.” He said with a wide smile, his pale eyes glowing as they met her light blue ones.
Charaka’s grin died as suddenly as it came as Alcatraz hesitated and said nothing. Did nothing. A jolt of fear raked through her nerves as she thought ‘He’s going to refuse.’ No… No no no no no NO! Suddenly the image of Gypsee’s grey back leaving her and disappearing into the dark woods forever stole the breath from her throat. No. No. No. No. No.
She had just found one of her friends… After all this time… And he was going… to…
She wasn’t going to let that happen! Not again.
Gasping a lungful of stinging air, Charaka forced herself to adopt a ‘normal’ amount of disappointment, and sidestepped next to Athena’s downcast form. Dipping her head so she looked up at him, she widened her eyes and flattened her ears pitifully. She didn’t have to act for her to go teary-eyed. She was about to break down already. But she couldn’t stand it to see him walk away! She would make him stay by force if she had to!
However, Alcatraz eventually agreed and smiled at the two of them. Relief spread through her and Charaka had to hang her head to hide her face, as she quickly blinked the wetness out of her eyes. He would be staying. She would be okay. Everything will be okay.
Breathing and emotional state returned to some semblance of normality Charaka looked up to congratulate Athena on her new pack, when the scene before her made in pause and her eyebrows raise. An indignant Athena holding a panicked, stammering Alcatraz captive with a harsh stare. What on earth happened during that short time? Why wasn’t Athena as happy as she was about his decision? A bit stunned at what was going on Charaka simply looked at one and then the other until the same ‘something’ she had felt earlier reappeared. A sly smirk spread over her face as she watched Athena come nose to nose to, dare she say, a more timid looking Alcatraz. It looked like this time there would be an Alpha pair and possibly pups in their new pack! Tail happily wagging, Charaka smiled at one dark wolf to the other as she patiently waited for their tender moment to end.
And waited. Charaka was starting to get the impression the two of them had completely forgotten about her! Puffing up her cheeks in a silent pout, Charaka glared just a tiny little bit unhappily as Alcatraz smiled and Athena smirked in the other’s direction. Well… Looks like she would have to fix that~!
Picking Alcatraz’s comment about proper name calling as a perfect time to interrupt, Charaka snuck forward and slung a a forepaw over each of their shoulders and stuck her face in between theirs. “Traz! Athe!” she exclaimed, giving neither of the two proper timing to answer the male’s last statement. “And your pup’s name is Riley right? When can we meet him!?” she asked, grinning from ear to ear. Charaka was genuinely excited about meeting another pup to fuss over. It’s been so long since she encountered another pup. Not since Rhaegan had found her in the woods last autumn.
Athena jumped when Char’s paw draped over her back. Swallowing back a witty retort to Alcatraz, she leaned playfully against the other she-wolf, throwing her own paw up and laughing again. The excitement bubbling out of her could no longer be held back. “Come on! I’ll introduce you!” Athena exclaimed, bounding forward through the virgin snow.
This was it. A new beginning.