Harrow was the first to yelp and jump at me. I was still feeling weak, so Twister stepped in the way and puffed his chest out, saving me. I fell to the ground and put my head on my paws, subject to answer any and all questions. But, just as Maiara was about to ask me something, Twister stepped protectively in front of me and sat, his eyes narrowed and hostile. Maiara huffed and sat, snapping her nose into the air. Avalon's ears were down as she got low and crawled over to me, putting her head just before Twist's before he snapped his jaws at her. Harrow flicked Twist's face from behind and then jumped over him, muffled snickers erupting from her jaws as she tugged on my ears and my neck scruff. She knew I was fine.
"Harrow, I swear, if you don't…" She cut him off. She's the only one not intimidated by him. Even Altan submits when he gets feisty.
"What, Ranger Rick? You gonna chase me up a tree? She isn't wailing in pain. She's okay." Twist huffed and looked down at me, his eyes immediately softening. They asked me for permission and I nodded, licking his nose when he leaned down to touch his to mine. He nodded curtly once and then turned, trotting a few steps before he stopped, sat, and twitched an ear in our direction.
"Star, I don't mean to pry, but…" I'd flinched and Avalon stopped. "What'd I say? I'm sorry." I shook my head.
"Don't call me Star. Ever. My mother named me that. I named myself Scarlet and I want it to stay that way." I tried not to snap at her, but I couldn't help but let the hostility towards my mother seep into my tone.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't know." Her ears were down and her tail would be between her legs if we weren't laying.
"It's okay. Anyways, what?"
"What happened? Why'd you leave camp in the first place?" She stared at the floor until she finished speaking. I made a movement with my shoulders.
"My mother was taking me to go see another pack's prince. He wasn't at all what I was expecting. Then, she'd played innocent and called me her Star and only talked of how troublesome I could be." Avalon nodded slowly, sympathetic.
"Scarlet, you could've just come home, you know. You didn't have to go." I nodded.
"Yeah, but my mother scares me." A thought hit me and my mood was spoiled. I sighed, and I knew I had done something wrong because Twister was towering over me in less than a second and Harrow and Avalon looked ashamed.
"Scarlet, what's wrong?" Avalon somehow was still talking, even with Twist right above me.
"I- I don't know…" My voice wavered. "One minute I was scared of her, and the next…"
"That's enough." Twist's voice boomed over Harrows. She put her ears down and set her forelegs to touch the ground, a bow of submission. I'd never seen that before. She never bowed even to me.
"I'm sorry, Twist. She's my friend."
"She's hurt. She needs rest and quiet." Harrow sighed and nodded. I took it as my cue to stand, but I toppled sideways, catching a surprised Altan.
"Shut up and help me."
The two males distributed my weight and carried me on their backs the whole hour's walk home. I heard Altan's strangled breaths every now and again, but not even that distracted me from my thoughts. What would my mother say once we all got back and she saw, finally, that I'd already had someone all along? What would the reputation of this pack become once they found out that their own Alpha's couldn't even keep their own offspring intact? It made my stomach churn and I whined out loud. Twister had stopped to check on me, and I could hear him saying something, but I was already asleep, dreaming of the life I would live back at home. Once the black got a grip on me, I felt it tighten and yank me into something deeper.
"Scarlet? Please, wake up. Not now!" I woke up with a start, my heart hammering in my chest and a ringing in my ears.
"Wh-what happened? Where are we, Twist?" He sighed in relief.
"You've been asleep for at least a week and a half. You're heart beat was slowing and it freaked me out. You're with me, at my place. Everyone's outside." I nodded, my blurry vision fading into clarity.
I yawned and Twist led the way outside. Harrow licked my shoulder and Avalon pawed my chest. Maiara wasn't here, but I guessed she'd ran to the kill pile for food. Altan was busy licking his arm clean and Twist laughed at something Harrow had said.
"Hey, we're starving our heads off. Can we hunt?" Avalon asked. I looked at all of the wolves before me.
They all looked terrible. Twist's eyes were tired, as was his posture. Avalon was just overall exhausted, judging her eyes, expression, and the way she was holding herself up. Harrow's usually perky ears and tail were relaxed and in whatever way gravity carried them. Altan's thin layers of fur revealed what looked like purple bruises under his eyes, though I knew it was because he was tired. I'd bet everything I had right now that Mai was the only one who looked decent.
"Why are you asking me?" I asked. "You guys could've slept and hunted while I was out." I stated, though I knew exactly why none of them had done anything.
"I don't know, actually…" Avalon looked at the sky and her eyes drew out of focus. Harrow filled her place.
"We wanted to make sure you were still with us. We took shifts watching over you. We did hunt every now and again, but it was more like rabbits or squirrels." I was shocked.
"You mean you were waiting until you knew I was okay?" I asked, in denial and disbelief.
A true pack is only as good as its alpha. If the alpha is sick, the pack will sicken itself trying to put the alpha's needs first. If the alpha dies, unless there's an heir to the spot, the pack will kill itself trying to find new power.
I looked to Twist with the disbelief worn on my face and he snapped into my thinking, his eyes going wide. He realized what I'd realized.
"Avalon, go get Maiara. Now." She nodded without arguing, whereas maybe two weeks ago, she would've whined and told Twister to do it himself.
"Harrow, go get a rabbit for Scarlet." She nodded at Twist's command and sprinted for the woods. Altan groaned.
"Already going." He got up and trotted lazily in the direction of the medicine wolf's den. I took he knew to go there because he sensed what was happening.
Twist cornered me back into his small cave-like hut and toppled to lie on his side. He put his head on the floor and I stiffly walked over, dropping to the floor and leaning on him. He sat up and put his head on top of mine.
"Can we handle a pack of our own, Scarlet? We're barely old enough to be beta's!" He licked my ear. I sighed.
"Twist, we can handle a pack. If they learn what they are doing, they might be shocked and rebel against it for a bit, but only for a bit. It's in their instincts to follow the leader." He nodded. I thought about the Nightshade prince.
"Twist?" I asked. He made a sound, confirming he'd heard me.
"Will you ever want pups?" Twist stopped moving. His breathing quickened and his tail started thumping on the ground.
"Do… do you want pups?" He asked, careful. I didn't know how to answer. After a few moments worth of silence, he shifted. "Right now, Scarlet? We aren't that old yet, and I'm sure that if we waited…" I laughed.
"Not now, Twist. I'm just asking for future reference. I don't want it to be 'spur of the moment' and then there's three little ones running around that you hadn't planned on in the first place." He let his breath loose and I laughed.
"Oh. Well, yeah. I want pups of our own, but only once we settle." He laughed. "Hey, at least now we can move faster because we're living by our own rules now." I laughed and nudged his chin with my muzzle. My chest tightened.
"I love you." I said quietly. My eyes went to the floor in front of my paws and my face felt hot. After a moment, Twister licked my cheek. "I love you, Scarlet."
"Hey! What is so important?" Mai's booming voice interrupted Twister and he shot up, spooked. I laughed lightly, standing steadily.
We walked out of his cave together and stood firmly side by side, our entire pack standing before us. I smiled and looked to Twister. He turned and his eyes were gleaming with excitement.
"You tell them." I stated, licking his cheek. Avalon squeeked.
"Pups! How many? What are they? What're their names?" Avalon was bouncing with energy and some of her color had returned.
Twist's ears went down. He glanced to me, laughter in his eyes. "No. No pups, yet." They all caught it and Altan smirked. "But, we do have something to ask of you all." They all stepped forwards.
I took a mental picture of my future pack. I wasn't sure what we would call ourselves, but I knew we were a true pack, made up of friends and laughter and love. We would stick together through the good and bad situations, no matter how much they tested us. We were a forever pack.
"Scarlet and I have been observing all of your behavior." Mai snorted. "And, we've seen some significant stuff. I don't think that even Orion and Larkin have over, or between, actually, the pack that we have with you guys." Avalon muttered something under her breath and Mai smiled, her expression brightening.
"Get on with it!" Altan muttered. Twist shook his head.
"Do you want to become a pack on our own?"
Each wolf looked to each other, shocked beyond disbelief. They'd been under the rule of my parents' horrible governing their whole lives, just like Twist and I, yet they had much to learn about what being a pack was about.
"I'm in." Altan said, sitting. Maiara followed suit.
"It'll be fun. No more obnoxious decisions made for us without consent." Harrow sat.
Avalon's lip was quivering and she jumped to put her forehead on the shoulders of Twist and I. It was a submissive, respectful gesture i learned from other packs.
Here stood our newly formed pack.