1 year ago, Canadian Wilderness…
Silas is far enough away from camp that no one should be able to witness his shame. He has gone full wolf very few times since his blinding. With no sight, the change is incredibly disorienting and he hasn’t acclimated himself to being a four legged animal with no sight.
He shifts now, and immediately wobbles and crashes to the ground. He lays there and feels sorry for himself for a while. He becomes reinvigorated when it occurs to him that this is possibly what his little Evie feels like when she doesn’t have her cane nearby.
He heaves himself up once more and widens his stance a bit for more balance. He’s made two rounds around a ten foot diameter circle when he’s shocked into shifting back at the sound of his phone ringing. Since he hasn’t changed regularly in so many years, his control over his forms has decreased.
Now on two legs, Silas gathers his bearings for another moment before weaving his way toward his bundle of clothing and his phone.
“Hello,” he says with his usual amount of inflection.
“Silas,” Alpha Jackson sounds...excited. “We’ve got a new lead.”
Silas straightens immediately. “Explain,” he barks.
“We’ve found Audra Baron--”
Silas’ growl rumbles deep in his chest. “She’s an old lady, Jackson. As much as she was apparently overt in her dislike of Richard, there’s no way she could pose a threat to him. We’ve discussed this already.”
“Yes,” Alpha Jackson persists, “but now we’ve found out she was also very close with the Holt children.”
Silas pauses. “The ones who’ve gone missing?”
“And how does this help our efforts?”
Jackson sighs. “You know any piece of the puzzle we can put back together is invaluable at this point, Silas. We’ve never known where the children have gone or why they left. If Audra Baron has answers, any insight at all on the Holt family, it is worth pursuing.”
Present day, Atwood Territory…
Brett rubs his forehead. Gray said she thinks the last time she’d been sighted in the public had been six months ago, and she’d been in and around their general area of Washington forestry for about three months before the initial sighting by his oldest three and Sage.
From what he’s been able to glean from the rumor mill, this mysterious gray-eyed wolf had been spotted sporadically, but generally seemed to be travelling north along the west coast. Brett had only been able to track down one person who had been healed by her and she was in the bay area of California and it had been a year since it had happened. If someone had all the information, they could reasonably put together that Gray would have made it to Washington within the last couple months.
As for the rogues, Gray had been noticing abnormalities only for a couple weeks before she met the Atwoods. She shares Brett’s reluctant suspicions that these rogues are being controlled by a right minded wolf somehow. No rogue wolf could actually be sound of mind enough to control a pack of its own ilk. Someone had to be forming these factions intentionally.
There’s only one other pack in Washington, and they’re further east on the border of Idaho. They’d noticed no such things with rogues.
Brett now has no choice but to believe someone is targeting Gray with these rogues--and it’s getting worse. Even the search parties hadn’t been able to collect any useful information. The rogues seem to show up randomly. Sometimes they can be found tracking wild game, and sometimes they seem to be lying in wait for the pack wolves to fall into their traps. Once they’d noticed a few patterns to the strategy of these attacks, Brett and Slate had been able to retrain all the patrolling wolves in how to spot these traps and how to safely react to them.
Brett fears all out war is imminent.
The third time they go on a run, Slate had told Gray he was going to be a little late that day; he wanted to spend some time with the kids at the big house. Slate had still managed to prioritize his weekly Saturday outings with the youngest three boys, but evidently it hadn’t been enough. Raven refused to let Slate go when it was time for him to leave and pick up Gray. Slate thinks the six-year-old could sense the tensions rising in the pack and was confused by it, unsure how to handle it.
Slate thinks the logic is going like this: when Raven was young, he had all of Slate’s attention almost all the time, and now that he’s older, Slate has moved away and doesn’t come by as much. Right after the death of their mother, Sara and Slate had stumbled through finding a new balance for picking up all the new responsibilities on them. They’d found that Sara was much more equipped to handle the business end of the orchards and Slate had a better handle on home life. For the first year of his life, Raven was almost always strapped to Slate’s front as he cooked or cleaned or played with Sage or coaxed Forrest into conversation. Even for the next two or three years, Raven was rarely more than a room away from Slate. Now though, Raven usually does okay with less attention from his oldest brother--he adjusted to having his father be more present and Asher take over some of the household duties Slate had handled with relative grace after a slow weaning process. Now that things feel like they’re constantly changing and everyone’s time is in so much less supply compared to demands, Raven has reverted to two years old.
He’s hanging onto Slate’s leg like his life depends on it, big crocodile tears rolling down his face. It’s breaking Slate’s heart, but he made a commitment to Gray. Maybe on another day, Slate would acquiesce and stay the night with his littlest brother, but he can’t break his promise to Gray. When Slate has explained this patiently to Raven three times, the little boy finally has an idea that he thinks will solve all their problems.
“The stroller! Take me in the stroller like we used to do!” he cries hopefully.
Slate sighs and wipes a hand down his face. “Bud, you’re too big for the stroller now.”
Deciding the path of least resistance is just to give in and take a short run before Raven inevitably becomes bored or uncomfortable, he nods his head. Raven’s crying turns suspiciously quickly into joyous celebrations, but all Slate can do is roll his eyes fondly and throw Raven over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold all the way to the garage where they still keep the too-small running stroller.
Gray received the apologetic bond message from Slate an hour ago--via Sara--communicating that he would have to be late for their running date, to which she graciously told Sara to reply, okay.
Sara had just gotten another message from him fifteen minutes ago saying that he was ready now, but he was taking Raven with him. Gray had made a face of confusion, but when he asked if she still wanted to come, she wasn’t going to say no.
So now she stands up from where she was waiting on the porch of her siblings’ house and has to choke back a laugh when she sees Raven’s too long legs sticking out of a stroller being pushed patiently by his older brother. She jogs down to meet them halfway. “We’ve got a little passenger for today?”
“Yep!” Raven smiles his cute little gap-toothed smile. It looks like he has to be endlessly uncomfortable, but you could never tell from the way he’s beaming.
Slate sighs, but it’s more fond than longsuffering, so Gray can’t feel too bad. “It’s going to be a short run today,” he gives Gray a meaningful look.
Gray grins and shrugs. “I’m along for the ride just as much as Raven is. We go how far and how long you want to go.”
With a roll of the eyes and a jerk of the head, Slate pushes his stroller toward the typical starting point and Gray follows dutifully behind.
The first few times Raven had complained, Slate just kept pushing and pretending like he didn’t hear anything, so Gray did the same.
“I can’t see anything! It’s too dark!” he said. Poor little guy with his human eyes probably really couldn’t see anything.
Next he’d said, “My back is itchy. I can’t reach it!”
Then it was, “My legs feel stuffy!”
“I’m bored, now.” They’d been out thirty minutes by then.
“Can we explore?” Even though he’d just complained that he couldn’t see anything.
“Okay, okay, Ray, We’re stopping,” Slate finally says with exasperation. Gray hides her grin, slowing in increments alongside Slate. “You want to get out and stretch your legs?”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
As the little boy struggles out of his cramped quarters, his leg gets caught and he lands on his hands and knees. Immediately he starts crying.
Slate sighs and picks him up. “That really hurt, huh?”
“Y-yes,” Raven wobbles.
“And you’re really tired, huh?” Slate continues. As an older sister, Gray realizes that’s probably ninety percent of the problem.
“Yes,” Raven whimpers, tears abating.
“Hey.” Something possesses Gray to interrupt. Once she’s done it, she panics a little, but soldiers on. “I can heal your scrapes if you want?”
When Raven starts crying again as though he’d forgotten for a moment he was supposed to be crying over a skinned knee and elbow, Slate rolls his eyes. Gray tries to disguise her amused smile as a sympathetic one. “Yes please,” he cries softly, leaning his head on Slate’s shoulder.
Gray reaches out with a gentle touch and strokes his arm up and down soothingly. The scrapes easily transfer to her and bleed for mere seconds before they’re gone. “There you go,” she comforts, “all better.”
“Thank you,” Raven says with a tiny smile. His eyes are drooping now. “Can we go home now, Slate?”
When Gray looks at Slate, he’s staring at her elbow, which...she realizes now had to have been in his direct line of vision while she healed Raven. She stops breathing for a moment. Slates gaze slowly drags up to her face and he meets her eyes for as long as it takes for Raven to get impatient and kicks his legs. “Slate,” he whines.
Without looking away, Slate slowly says to Raven, “Okay, bud. Let’s go home.”
Gray is arrested by his intense blue-green eyes that are more green than blue today for another long moment before he adjusts Raven on his hip and turns back to the direction of home.
When Gray stands still, unable to make her feet move in the face of her last secret being revealed, Slate turns back to her and stares for another long moment. Then he nods slightly and smiles the most gentle, private smile she’s seen him make before. All at once air comes back into her lungs and she follows Slate, a half a pace behind.
They walk a small ways back home like that, before Slate turns enough to raise his eyebrow at her and it’s such a familiar gesture that she can’t help but breathe that much easier and stand shoulder to shoulder with him, match his pace stride for stride.