Wolf RPG

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For @Zane and @Stag

What was a thriving wetland in summer was little more than a snowy field in winter, one which Wylla passed through without paying any attention to her surroundings or even the time of day, as was typical for her lately.

Only this time, her mind was consumed with the itch under her skin, the infernal reminder that spring's fever was here. She reflected on previous years with a grim set to her jaw. Her first year as a woman, she had hardly noticed it until Raptor was already on top of her. The second year the pull was much stronger, but she'd been safe in Keokuk Glade and Lusca had ensured that nothing happened. The third year she'd been confident, seductive, and yet unsure. That had fallen to ruin, too.

This fourth year was marked by a crushing loneliness and profound lack of hope, where six months prior, she had imagined she might be a mother for a second year running with someone she actually loved. As she wandered across the frozen wetland, she was almost compelled to raise a crooning call for company, but resisted that urge and plowed on. She knew this monster, and she knew it could not cure her lonesome heart, no matter how much her body believed it could.
Zane's experience with Legion had gone about as well as anyone could expect, really.  Totally to his own doing, but he still insisted on blaming it all on the chick who was too high strung and her kid with a death wish.  See, this was why he was better off runnin solo!  No one to answer to, no one to get him killed, and no one to smack him down for trying to avoid bullet two.  But... fuck, it was still cold out.

At least spring was on the horizon.  And with it?  Endless possibilities.  His favorite time of year was when babes lit up their signals like flashing lights, ready for a good ol guy like this one to come calling.  It was called community service - Zane was all about charity.  Good deeds, high rewards, everyone wins.

He wasn't on the prowl for it yet when he crossed her scent, but the moment he did, it immediately pinged.  Someone was doubtless looking for some company and a good time, and if there was ever a time he'd get lucky, it was times like these.  With a jaunty flip of his tail and a charming (leering?) smile plastered on, he traipsed after the faint trace like a homing beacon.

If you're lookin for some time, I've got nowhere to be, he called out as soon as he caught sight of a shape in the distance.  He couldn't tell, from here, if it was the wolf he was looking for... or how many of them there were.  But he'd found it was better to yell from a ways away.  Sometimes things got a little... bitey?  And no offense but he wasn't much into that pain shit.
Since being accepted into Yuelong, Stag had stuck to Wylla like thistle to fur. He was not the most confident wolf before their shake-up in Sagtannet, and now, saddled with his own self-doubt and the dismaying sight of a gradually unraveling Wylla, Stag was slowly sinking.

He tried to keep his spirits and face up, but he wasn't sure what to make of these changes - most of all, in Wylla. It was not just her slowly worsening demeanor. There was something else about her that had changed, too. Stag was too young to recognize this change as a signal to being sexually receptive -- to the boy, it was just another confusing leaf to a whole bushel of very Confusing Things About Wylla.

He trailed after Wylla today at a distance. He was not in eyesight of her when a wolf approached -- in fact, he wasn't even aware at all of Zane's presence until he thought he heard a murmur in the distance. Compelled to hasten his approach, Stag began to make a beeline after Wylla's scent -- but it would be a while yet before he came upon them.
skip me next round, he's still quite a ways off/playing this by ear :o

wylla had come to see their children with that first glow still upon her.
mahler knew by now it had deepened into something true.
their land stood true, and he had become untethered from the land. it was several days' travel to the spread of wetlands where eventually he drew up the trail of her scent; it pierced him through needle-and-thread with angst and desperation and possessiveness, irrational against the hold of logic he tried always to have.
figures far in the distance, and mahler approached across the flatland with single-minded intent.
But maybe what comes of it could, whispered the voice in Wylla's head. She'd raised two litters now, in two different circumstances. Maybe she could take the best parts of both and raise a third litter with the proper support of a pack, a capable mother focused solely on them and not the pursuit of a man who might have been her mate, and maybe they would not grow up to hate—

A voice pulled her from her reverie. At the same moment that she mentally recoiled from male company, a thrill chased through the confused alleyways of her veins. She turned her tapered head to face Zane and was pleased to see that he wasn't hard on the eyes, and yet...

Biological imperative wasn't enough this time, not like it had been with Raptor. Wylla peeled her lips back from her teeth, despite the sparks of desire for attention that zinged through her, and snarled, fuck off.

It would only end poorly if she indulged in Zane, no matter what her body screamed. In the distance, another figure, and a third from behind; both unnoticed.
She wasn't exactly welcoming, but Zane had done enough of this to know some women enjoyed the ruse of "hard to get". He was too thick to notice if she was serious or not yet, so instead of heeding her warning, he took a few confident paces forward and raised his head, flashing her a winning smile.  It was her, definitely, now.

You don't gotta be like that.  I'm looking for trouble, sure, but not the kind you won't enjoy.  He gave a wave of his tail. I swear, I'm harmless as a flea on a tree.  He was intent on pushing his luck, but tried to look as impressive and simultaneously innocent as he could.  The effect was.... interesting.
His confident strut was meant to impress. He might have succeeded at it, too, if not for the terrible year she had and her determination to avoid a repeat performance. Her mind whispered that it didn't have to be anything like that, and she tried to wave the thought away like a buzzing gnat, baring her teeth again and curling into a half-threatening and half-cautious C shape away from him.

She had to admit, he was fairly attractive. What were the odds of getting pregnant from one little fling? Pretty high, she reminded herself, based on her experience with Raptor. On the other hand, that had resulted in a single child. If she wound up with a single child again, would that really be so bad? She could raise it better than she had Tiercel, without a man to hurt it like Phaedra and Thade...

She wrenched herself out of that reverie so forcefully that she physically shook her head. Harmless my ass, she spat, sidestepping away. Not interested. Except her body was, as the scent unfurling around her conspicuously announced, and she hated it. She had to get away from him, and that's exactly what she intended to do when she turned... and stopped dead at the sight of another wolf approaching from her rear, too far away for her to recognize yet.
monty python running gif

mahler might have noticed the presence of the pale figure in the distance were it not for the way that wylla bent herself away from the first male. it was the way of things. teeth and then pursuit. test for deference. an ageless sort of courtship, and the type that had defined their kind who came to walk the ancient land beneath them.
stronger strengthened the tendril that drew mahler across the snow-choked plains, warming his lips and spreading something rose-hued and delicate inside his head. he felt almost as he had the first year of arrival in this place, with the bypass rising behind him. and it reared again, the land he had taken and given to his wolves as an offering —
but the testament of wylla had lured him many days' hence; he accounted to no man. and perhaps that was the sum of it, the old pride of being lone head to those who followed. not so now;
now his flesh sparkled with electricity, and he felt a vital youth course him.
he saw the silverbow of wylla and the way the man sought her with assured steps.
not so far off, and yet too far to know more than that it was her, the gargoyle snorted bullishly and pressed on, for he did not appreciate the air of the first; that notion secondary to the fact that he did not appreciate the existence of the contender.
in the end she would choose and it would not be him, for he had squandered this a thousand times over; mahler did not yet know that this man had been the first to fall in legion. his steps were heavy, lavender eyes fixed hard upon the pair.
Each step came quicker now than the last, urged by a biological imperative Stag had only once felt before. Differently, then, too -- the night Phaedra had come close to drowning, and returned to him with the scent of urine surrounding her. Of that fiercely paternal instinct, Stag had only gotten a sliver of a taste -- but this one was distinctly different, though very much cut from a similar progenitor's cloth.

This type of instinct shared only one thing in common, and it was protectiveness -- the rest awoke something in the boy he had not previously been aware of.

Not interested, came Wylla's voice. Snow sprayed in a pale spume as Stag hit the brakes before them, ears splayed and tail held over his hips in alarm. A wolf stood before her, in many ways his superior; older, healthier, possessed of a silvery grey pelt with winsome cream and chocolate stippling it. And here Stag was, pumped with adolescent hormones, gangly as all hell and hardly more than a fresh cockerel in a yard full of roosters --

Still, his hackles flared as he assessed the situation. Something in his mind urged him to crowd Wylla, to snake her away from this man -- but he stayed the urge, for she was plenty capable of handling herself and wrecking his face in the process.

If he wasn't yet feeling entirely conflicted by his confusing feelings, the wolf that arrived shortly before him was enough to throw Stag's confidence to the sharks. Mahler -- that grim, loveless man -- evoked feelings in Stag even more confusing than Wylla's scent.

For one, Mahler had been the sole progenitor of all of their unhappiness in these long months. He had loved the man, but even then Stag could recognize how heavy a hand Mahler had played in the dissolution of his home. A brackish taste lingered on his lips as Stag aligned himself near Wylla self-consciously, teeth baring as a low growl sounded from his throat intended not only for Zane, but Mahler too.
And Zane was absolutely, blissfully unaware of the shit storm about to rain down.

Ouch, that hurts,  he answered with a slight pout to the tone that was clearly disingenuous.  You absolutely sure?  Because I got no strings, you got no strings, and I feel like nature's just begging two fine pieces like us to take advantage of what we got.  Yeah?  He did stop where he was, but the look he gave her made it absolutely clear he was interested.  He'd never taken anything that wasn't given willingly, but weirdly, this was probably the one thing Zane was more than willing to work for.  He had an itch.

Too bad he was apparently not the only one.  Fucking.... the hell?  He cursed, under his breath, as two other dudes materialized out of seemingly nowhere.  He'd been so focused on Wylla he hadn't even thought to keep an eye on his six... or his ten... or honestly even his twelve.

Shit.  The fur along his back stood up. He didn't like to fight, but this chick had said she wasn't interested.  If a fight went down... and he was on her side of it... well?  Surely she could make him feel better afterwords, if ya get his drift.  *waggle*
Wylla could have rolled her eyes, if she wasn't in such a humourless mood. No strings? Zane obviously was not aware of what happened when you stuck it in a fertile woman in the springtime. He would make an ideal donor, a man who would fuck off on the next wind, if she was looking for that sort of thing.
But she could hardly deny that every child she brought into the world wound up plagued by insecurity and instability. She had done the single mom thing with Tiercel, and that had gone poorly. She had tried for a family unit with Phaedra and Thade and that, too, had failed. She blamed Mahler for that, but for all her pretending, Wylla knew she played a hand in it as well. She left them.
Before she could snap her jaws at Zane in warning, there was another. Wylla felt Stag more than she saw him, the cascade of snow on the feathered backs of her legs, the tension that wound suddenly between boy and man. Only... Was he a boy any longer? It was not the first time Wylla turned her head to assess Stag's form, but it was the first time she did so with the appraising eye of a woman on a man, and she was unsure whether to be surprised or sickened by the amber desire that sprung up in her when he growled at Zane.
Gross, she reprimanded herself. He's like your son.
She didn't have much longer to dwell on that. A third was arriving, and his heavy tread put all other thoughts from her mind. Zane and Stag could have killed each other and it would remain in the background of her thoughts, for Mahler stole her attention.
She hated the way she wanted to go to him. She hated how her first thought was if he would leave that damnable pack and follow her if she carried his children once more, if that would finally be enough for him to care about her more than his pride. She hated the way he made her feel. She also hated that she had smelled how many women lived within his pack, and knew he would whet his appetite with all of them, and would gaslight her for taking issue with it. She hated that she knew how that story would end. She hated that she wondered if it might not.
Wylla pressed back against Stag, bolstered by his presence, entirely unaware of the effect she had on him or his feelings for her, and let her throat rattle with a warning snarl, aimed primarily at the man who had disappointed them both in every possible way, shattered her heart and thrown aside the chance to make things right, and still showed his face here.
Zane, well, he might as well have not existed with these two around. Poor guy.
mahler's brief admiration at seeing the son of his kill-brother burn to a new and powerful life was singed away by the boundary-line laid by the boy's throat — and wylla on the other side of it.
confusion collided with realization; he came to a hard halt, lavender stare firming to cold amethyst as wylla's pelt melded with that of stag;
he loathed the anger that scalded the inside of his throat, how his muscles fell to bear, to bunch with the tension of wanting only to move forward and punish the younger man for his daring, brainstem bewitched by the beguiling stipple of every instinct in her direction, heart aching with the same unwarranted want.
she did not wish him — her teeth were matched for his scarred face.
stag's tense figure, his high-flung alabaster plume, the way his long limbs promised capitulation to the eyes of the gargoyle.
low sound lifting the more savage cut of tones in the throat of wylla —
him? his lilac stare inquired, falling to her own as charcoal hackles stayed abristle. 
logic warred and lost within the shadowpriest — there must be some reason it would be stag, but the doktor only found himself enlivened with a new rage.
mahler tore his gaze from the silverknife and the snowbound, filled himself with the sight of the first man, and incredulity began to spread across his features into a wintry and humorless sigh; he caught the cur's eyes and held them.
a growl this one would remember thundering in his chest, translated into a vicious, territorial bellow; this time he leapt across the snow for the legion-wolf, and this time he meant to maim, not only take land.
a scapegoat, an example, a show of the hungry sorrowful power still left in mahler.

Stag would have quailed before the terrible sight of Mahler's burning gaze, were it not for Wylla besides him. Wylla, who encouraged him day by day to be better -- Wylla, who in this moment, was in more danger than she knew.

He didn't profess to understand that look, but it knifed him just the same.

Stag's limbs steadied from their shaking as Wylla's pelt pressed against him. Whatever he felt for Mahler then was stripped away as the man turned his sights to Zane, lurching ahead in a terrible snarl that even Stag struggled to resist flinching from.

He did not move -- his feet firm against the snow and his body firm against Wylla -- as he waited for Zane to either return the threat or fight. Stag did not trust either, and therefore would not turn away first -- better for him to bring up the rear than for him to turn his back to them (and Wylla) and all hell break loose.
For a brief and shining moment, Zane imagined it.  He saw himself at Wylla's shoulder, driving these other men away, only to have her fall gratefully and lovingly upon him at the end.  They'd have their fun and then he'd be off, victorious and riding high.  Free as the fucking wind.

Yeah... no.

The instant Mahler locked eyes on him, Zane felt a flash of recognition douse all of it like someone had just punted his ass into a frozen lake.  Grandpa?. The same age, but the nickname stuck.  It was the only thing he had time to think.

Zane had aspirations but he wasn't a complete moron.  He knew when to sound the bell.  Too bad, though, that he was also slow, and he froze for an instant too long.   For a dude who spent a lifetime chasing tail, he was abysmally bad at backing up his claims.  He was even worse at taking the knocks.

The instant Mahler caught him, he'd be twisting and fighting to get free.  There wasn't a lot of dignity to the gesture anymore... this encounter had gone south a hell of a lot quicker than he'd imagined and at this point he was good to take his shit and run for it.  

feel free to power play! Mahler def took him by surprise, so whatever he'd do, gopher it
Something passed through the pale of Mahler's gaze, something as loveless as the rest of him. Something cold and hard. An equally icy weight dropped into her stomach with the realization that she might have to fight him to protect Stag, but he turned to Zane instead.
She would fight him to protect Stag, she knew. She would lay down her life if she must. Not for the reasons Mahler assumed, despite the blip in her animal brain that marked Stag as not only a potential candidate, but possibly the very best one—she needed more than that to overlook his age, his friendship with her daughter, his status as Mahler's adopted son, although she suspected he no longer felt the same way about the iron general as he did when he was younger, before the betrayal. She would lay down her life for Stag because he was the only wolf in recent memory who had shown her any loyalty at all.
Wylla knew when the insufferable Mahler went for the equally insufferable Zane that she should turn and run, take Stag away from this bloodbath. Take him away before Mahler turned fangs upon him. She wondered if he would, if he really felt that he owned her so thoroughly that he would ignore that she was a thinking and feeling creature and try to win her with brute strength. Would he then use that brute strength against her to force her to his will?
The thought made her sick to her stomach.
Yet knowing they should get out of here and actually getting her feet to move were two entirely different things. Wylla was rooted in place, transfixed, almost curious to know how Mahler would fight for her now, if Stag's heart held as much hurt and hate for the man as hers did, and what bullshit Mahler would come up with to justify his actions, because she had already offered him this when she asked him to come away with her and rebuild from scratch.
He had as good as slapped her in the face, then.
What would he have to say for himself, now?
dimly, as mahler rained hailing blows down upon the would-be protectorate of the mountain realm, as the cur's claws and teeth caught his cheeks and eartip, blood arcing in multiple directions, he knew it was futile. a great part of him, a truly feral and wordless part, wanted to kill this man as he had slain no other, for the simply wholly unhinged glory of the act itself.
but he had seen the steel in wylla's eyes — she continued not to want him, and so ending this pathetic life in the snow would be a true waste.
tooth clacked against tooth; two more wounds opened over his own muzzle as his jaws bit deeper and then lifted away; he paced close with pelt from nap to tailbase standing high and terrible, a snarl burning through his words: "ich werde dich kein drittes mal verschonen!" and no translation would be forthcoming. let the coward take his tone as enough.
he did not back away; he flagged plume over his hips and advanced serpentine, giving the bare bones of a chance to escape now and only now —
wylla had not departed; he had half-expected her to flee while he thrashed his frustrations into the ribcage of the would-be opponent — but she had not. nor had stag, somehow suffused with a broadening strength — wylla, still so near to him, so near, so near.
stag would be a better choice than he. the boy bore a proud stamp of loyalty; he had come away from sagtannet without a thought for his own place in mahler's regard. it stung ever so much, but in a way, the careful boy had grown into a confident man. he would be faithful to wylla for the sake of her own powerful aura; he would cherish her as only one in the first blush of sweetfixed love could do.
thoughts at last. the cold wind here stung the open lacerations over his muzzle, the torn edge of his ear, the slice along one cheek. he passed his tongue across those of these could be reached, and turned toward the silvermore pelt and sunflower eye, most beloved in his heart.
and her scent came to him again, dragging him forward; he paused to cast a hard look in the direction of the first man, or for others that might come; a hardbit survey before he took two last heavy steps and stopped.
"you are the only vone vith whom i vould ever vish to be father again."
that, the end — mahler stood vined to the ground, tortured with budding masculine territoriality vying against the fatherly love he had for the young wolf guarding wylla from him.
every fibre of him etched with want and with sorrow it had come to this; thinking numbed slowly down and down until there was only her.
it did not matter if she had already chosen stag; he would pass beyond ability knowing that their pair had been the last sired, that there had been no arrangements or contracts after she had left him in anger and in pain, that in homage to wylla he had hung up the mantle of pater.
Transfixed, Stag could only watch in budding horror as an unseen rage sprung from Mahler like a serpent, encircling Zane. The ensuing scramble was more of a thrashing than a fight — but Zane did not for a minute earn any sympathy from Stag as he fled. 

No, Stag’s attention was firmly on Mahler; what would he do, now that the hound had been driven from them? Would he turn fang against Stag, whose heart violently opposed such an idea even though some animal instinct willed him it must be so; that he must stand and fight for Wylla — not just out of his own loyalty to her, but some other snaking reason too. 

All of this was barely recognized by the Sandraudiga, who tensed coldly for every step Mahler came towards them; towards her. Wylla had not moved either — like him, her focus had likely been taken entirely by the grim commander who now spoke, voice low and open. 

A flush came to Stag’s cheeks in rage. That he could come to them, that he could seek out Wylla now and not any other time when her season didn’t adorn her — and speak of unimaginables like fatherhood! As if that was all that mattered; not Stag’s displacement from his home (or hers), not the brokenness of the family Mahler had sired, not the shattered fields of Wylla’s heart — no, just fatherhood. Was Wylla’s uterus a clown car then? Only useful for one purpose, and to that end discardable thereafter?

Stag bristled immediately, a low growl slung from his throat; a scoff for lack of better term. His heart and tongue burned with the words he could not say — must not say — to the man he had long regarded as a father. 

He did not want to steal from Wylla her chance to speak, as much as he wished to rebuff Mahler immediately. As much as a very strong urge suggested he should push this threatening bachelor away, Stag remained for the most part motionless. 

A long look to Wylla then, surveying her mood before he made his move. If she wished for Mahler to be gone, Stag would step forward bidding the general leave — but if Wylla crumbled and accepted Mahler’s presence, Stag would give them their spaxe... even if it broke his heart to do so.
Fucking bitch... The thought wasn't directed to anyone in particular, but it came out a desperate snarl as Mahler tore into him.  The other two didn't join, but they didn't move an inch to help either.  Normally Zane wouldn't hold that against a wolf, but when it was him on the receiving end, he had a little different perspective.  What the fuck was their problem?

He got a few licks of his own in, but barely realized it. He'd been outmatched from the go, just like last time, and as soon as he managed to weasel his way out he took off without a single glance back.  No chick was worth that.

If she wasn't going to lend him the assist, she could deal with those two bastards solo.  Least he'd tried to help.  Zane's staggering start lengthened into a full out sprint.  For the second time in only a few months, adrenaline pushed him on.  He had some rotten fucking luck when it came to picking them, that was for sure.

last for me, zane out!! <3
The longer Wylla watched the scuffle, the more it seemed to be a personal matter, especially when Mahler began yelling in German. She wondered if he was fighting for her honour in some way, but dismissed the thought. He never did so before. If anything, he was fighting for her body.
Either way, he cares only when it benefits him, groused the voice in her head.
It was absurd to watch Mahler fight this man so viciously when he would not even stand up for her in front of his pack when it mattered. That was how she viewed it now—his. It was never hers, and all the loyalty she had given them was a mistake and a waste of time. She knew that now. The only one who proved to be worth any of it was Stag, and in return, she ruined his life.
The fight was over, quick as it began. Zane had the good sense to flee, leaving Mahler to drip blood in the snow. He came out of it better than his competitor, but he was still wounded enough that Wylla thought, if push came to shove, she could fend him off if he turned on Stag next. Once, she would have been concerned for his well-being in the aftermath, but she found she could feel very little these days, and nothing particularly positive.
She remained next to Stag, unable to move as Mahler stepped forward, waiting for the strike to come.
Then he spoke, and the spark in her turned to the molten fire of disbelief and clawed up her throat and out before she could stop herself. Are you kidding me? she choked. You wish? Was that what he came here for? Of course it was. He thought he could get his free enjoyment, get more kids out of her to make him feel better about himself, and then remind her again how she was good for nothing else. Did he even recall how he had weighed her wants against his own, and chose himself, every single time?
That he even dared to say it out loud was preposterous.
What about my wishes? Did she matter at all, or did he really see her as an incubator for the young he wanted, without valid hopes and feelings of her own? Was that how he viewed all women? That was a revelation she didn't want to swallow, because if he could think that of her, then he could think that of his daughter. Wylla would never forgive herself if she left Phaedra with a father who valued women by their bodies. She never thought that of him before, but she was disgusted now that that was what he chose to say.
I begged you, she reminded him, to come with me, to bring Phaedra and Thade, and we could start over and build something for us. All of us, as a family, as equals. You would have had your wish.
But, she went on, aware that Stag might have some thoughts on this, as she had deliberately kept her meeting with Mahler from him, you refused and cast my wishes aside, and now you think it's okay to speak to me of yours right now? Fatherhood? Is that all I'm worth to you?!
Somehow, this was worse than feeling completely worthless.
what about my wishes?
it rolled into his head as if it were a marble, striking roundly into the set of his jaw, which tightened as wylla spoke. he had not wanted adulation for his words, only recognition that perhaps — even so late that he had seen its futility before he had tangled with the man in the reddened snowbank. but he had spoken them like a charred curse into her presence, scorched by the fire of wylla, how her lips pressed in words between flashes of teeth — he wore her mark too, did he not — 
he desired her —
stag had not left; stag stood looking at him and he heard again the low steel of a growl that reminded the gargoyle at once of his parentage, how the winterwhite had made of her boy a more loyal man than mahler. he saw the breach of his anger boiling through the thin rein of control; mahler did not wish it, the way the heavy and seductive atmosphere charged with anger colored his view of the young wolf he had always loved, and of which had always been proud.
what about her wishes?
"yes. i did not come vith you."
why was he here, why did he continue to stand before her while stag grew greater and more imperious in mahler's addled regard: takiyok's polar wisdom over stigmata's assured bearing; or that was what he would become. mahler was beginning to grieve; each time he came upon wylla she laid out every reason he had failed her, and each time they met he had silently done more toward that end, ready to hand rivenwood to another if they be ready, retire into eldership and his last years.
ready, at last, too late, to seek wylla. he had not asked her to wait. but he had not allowed her to go.
the wind cut at the open flesh; the blood dried beneath its harsh lap.
mahler felt as though he must fight; she had punctuated every one of his senses.
but she was not a prize to be won — he had not driven off the stranger so that he might claim wylla as a trophy; he had turned his love into words that soured selfish in another's ear. 
yes. she had begged him to come away. and yes, he had not done it; he had set sagtannet above her want of him.
nobility over the ghost of an abandonment upon his consciousness.
"you spoke to me of your hurt. i did not do better. you chose to leave. and then you returned and begged me to leave at vonce vith you. i am not so spontaneous! it is not a frivolity for me. you are vorth more than that, a quick and impetuous decision. but that is alvays how you have measured my love for you, vylla."
he mulled the next, refusing to look toward stag.
"takiyok left vith taikon the same night you told me that you vould leave. vhen the morning came, sagtannet had died. and now i am ready to be leader no longer. it has only pained you since the beginning. and i forged ahead. but living each day vith the knowledge that you have been so maligned by me has made me realize my own selfishness. late, vylla. i am only, each time, too late. because i — i mean only, and badly, that for vhat vas between us, our four became a family, and that i lost it through my own sense of obligation. i mean to say, it has only ever been you."
he longed to speak of his love; he did not wish her to feel choked by it, his hurtful self pronouncing his truest heart amid such ardor. and so he was silent upon that.
"i do not say these things so that you — this is a — you should know that you are vorth everything to me, so much so i count myself as unvorthy." he stepped back, feeling as though he had spoken from his spirit but that in her mind it mattered not what he said, only what he had done, and mahler was indefensible to himself even for that.
"vonce more i have chosen a terrible time and the vorst vords," something no kin to humour limning his lilac stare, which he at last lifted to stag. if he was unworthy, if the fleeing dog had been the same, then there was but one noble among them. mahler still wallowed in his closed assumption that wylla had chosen the pale mountain-born; that he was younger than she mattered not, though in his heart of hearts he still wished strongly to know why even as he forced himself to accept it.
he felt the pull of wylla drawing him into helpless orbit — to hear her voice again — but made himself resist through willpower alone, half-turning but lingering there lest her voice sound; he must get away, get away, for the pounding ire was starting again and so long as he stood in the bloodlet snow, transfixed by agony and by ecstasy, stag's safety narrowed to a needlepoint, and for this mahler loathed himself.
Aware of his own peril, Stag kept quiet.

It surprised him to learn, or to even think, of Wylla begging. For this his stomach soured, to see his best friend, mentor, traveling companion (and so much more, though Stag hardly the words or the balls to say it) reduced to groveling. For this, Mahler earned a hard stare from the male who was hardly a boy on the cusp of manhood.

Learning Takiyok had left too, stung Stag for different reasons. He had no right to feel such as he felt, for he had left his mother -- but the little boy in him bucked at the idea that his mother once again left with another man, hardly more than a stranger in Stag's eyes.

He was being hypocritical, but he was not yet aware. Instead his focus shifted from Mahler to Wylla, measuring her carefully: he would let fangs fly the moment she commanded it, but he understood now was a time for words, not teeth.

How he wanted to butt in with his own hurts, and his own griefs -- but, it was not his time and not his place. Stag's claws clenched in the snow as Mahler half-turned, and his body tensed. For he sensed in Mahler a budding emotion that was too ugly to name, and woefully, felt the stirrings of it growing in himself too.
Mahler had a lot to say. It was possibly the most he had ever said at once. Wylla listened, too exhausted by this endless cycle of theirs to interject the way she normally would, and with too hard a grasp on herself to let her emotions run away with her this time. She had no tears left to cry for him, leaving anger the only option, and anger trended too close to passion to be safe for her now.
When he finished, she remained silent a long while, wondering why he bothered. She had no inkling that he believed she had chosen Stag over him. Stag deserved a hundred times better than the broken pieces of Wylla, who believed wholeheartedly now that she must have done something very wrong in her life to deserve suffering at every turn. It never occurred to her that sweet, loyal, kind Stag might want her, or that that was even an option, or that Mahler knew it.
She wasn't the only one Mahler had let down, after all. She assumed, somewhat obliviously, that was the true source of Stag's ire. The Sandraudiga said nothing with his mouth, but even a sidelong glance allowed her to read the tension in every youthful line of his body.
We cannot stay here much longer, she noted.
Why are you telling me all this now? Wylla hoarsely asked. She suspected it was only because of how she smelled, and wondered why she wasn't offended that this was the reason Mahler chose to bloody his knuckles and bare his heart for her, when so many times before, he had not. Or why she wasn't offended that he tried to justify his prior rejection by claiming she was worth more than a spontaneous decision, which had made her feel worthless instead.
Her throat no longer quaked with a growl, but her lips were still pulled away from her teeth, to remind Mahler that he stood on thin ice and would meet more than one set of teeth if he set his against Stag.
Is this you trying to say you've changed your mind? She loathed the leap of hope in her chest that that was what this was, because he didn't deserve it, and she couldn't cope with another blow. It seemed that Wylla's greatest weakness these days was a tendency to offer endless chances to those few she truly loved, even when she expected nothing but pain in the process, with the hope they would prove her wrong this time.
Because you're so... So good at saying all these pretty words to express your love, but I told you what I need from you and you would not do it before, and if this is just because you want fatherhood again, if you still expect... she broke off, drawing in a steadying breath to try to tamp down the anger she felt rising in her voice. It would do no good to get worked up, not for her and certainly not for him or Stag. She wasn't even really making sense, spitting out half-formed thoughts before moving onto the next one like that.
Mahler, she shakily breathed, gaze narrowing, don't tell me I'm worth everything to you if you don't mean to show me.
when praimfaya had come back from moonspear, she had told him of what she had discovered there. two, gone, and one remained. and still he had not gone back, had not searched for his elke-child, in numb sickness toiling ahead. seeking to build something after evoking their names, and perhaps thereby cursing them — mein gott.
"i have failed fatherhood too many times for this to be a vant of mine any longer, vylla," mahler said softly; she had heard his words, had spoken specifically to the sound of his passion in each — if there was a leap of hope in her small fierce self, it was a tsnuamic surge along every dried bank of his innermost heart, nile inundating with long feathered arms lifting to the sun of her eyes.
he had spoken something unrealized until now; mahler filled his softening lilac stare with all of her, all of her. 
"some days ago i told those in rivenvood who vanted to be mothers that they were free to search beyond the territory for fathers. i offered myself as a midvife. not a choice." and it had been a similar rivercoursing sensation, to free himself so willingly of what he had thought would be his obligation. "i mean to elevate praimfaya to leadership. she vill be my successor vhen she has gained her strength. she has come back and given me an apology and her loyalty, and it was vith her help that i set down the final roots of myself in noctisardor. i mean her to be my successor, to hold the rein of rivenvood vhen she has learned. but i will not father her brood. no contract vill ever exist in me again, süße taube." a stake through the unfolding stone wrappings around his heart; the breath he took filled him with a heady darkness, and he tightened the rein upon the urge to sidle, to shatter the new-made vow before it had a chance to be heard — to drive stag away. only the lash of tail behind him, unwanted but unstoppable, to evince the struggle between heartsickness and bloodshed.
"i have spent the last months reforming rivenvood into a place you may vant to come again, vylla. even if you do not," the stinging feeling of acceptance now dulled beneath faith, "it is good that i have changed things. bound to no vone. bound to no helm. i vant you back even if there are no more born between us."
denial of every fibre in him, and moreover wrapping a quell around the primal wrath burning swordlike within the forge of his heart. lavender eyes finally burning toward stag, though now a sense of how much hurt he had brought to bid his chosen son from his side — lancing his expression with understanding.
mahler brought his gaze back to her.
he must leave, now. now.
"if you returned in any vay, not even to rivenvood, vith his," the last word exhaled like cooling steel; an intake of breath after — "if you vanted, somehow, after all of this and all i have done — if you returned vith his children ready to be born, i vould raise them as my own. or only as mahler. i do not need the title of father again."
sunflower gilt and lilac gemstone vying; the swift-unraveling rope of his control caught by the swift hard hands of a years-taught authority, mahler bringing all his strength to bear to say the last: "vith them. not at all. i vould vant to give you the name of ehfrau. i vant to call you vife."
he swallowed, wheeled, pulled himself away and back; mahler swung his broad head reluctantly and tightly away from the assumed pair, and only if he was stopped by the sound of her would his trajectory stop, tall powerful limbs preparing to flee, not wylla, not stag, but himself, and the awful violence he would hand to his beloved son if he remained near the new-grown boy a second longer.
If Stag was smart, he would have left shortly behind Zane, urging Wylla to do the same. Yet, he was hardly a boy of more than two seasons -- his experience on this earth, while hard in many ways, had yet to make him more than average in cunning.

In time, he might recognize the eclipsing of his safety for what it was; for now, he remained focused on Mahler in growing incredulity, hating the way he heard (and simultaneously loathed) the hope in Wylla's voice. Please, anything but that -- as full of adolescent irrationality as Stag was, he still recognized Mahler was someone he had once (and possibly still did) loved and cared for deeply.

It didn't change anything, in his view, that Mahler was here now. As the once-couple continued to speak, Stag grew increasingly frustrated: his heart was saying one thing, while his instinct was roaring to drive Mahler off and back into the wilderness.

What undid it for Stag was not the hope in Wylla's voice or the way he got the sense that she was starting to get reeled back in -- it was the preposterous proposition of wife! How his fur bristled immediately, his ears flew forward -- wife?!

Nothing had ever gone through him with such imperial command -- no thought had ever occurred to him with such imperative urgency then, as the thought that commanded Stag drive off Mahler, now. He liked to believe it was because he cared a great deal for Wylla and had seen how she had gradually worsened these last few months (could she, truly, handle more heartbreak?) -- and in many ways, it was still true -- but the driving force here now was something primal, which forbid the very thought from being uttered. Mahler and Wylla, wedded -- Stag's lips curled and before he knew it he had signed his death warrant:

he drove forward with a silent snap of teeth, tail high and every bit unaware that Mahler could kill him easily if he so wished.
So much of what Mahler said simply didn't matter, because she thought she had made it clear to him that she could not return to Sagtannet, or Rivenwood, or whatever bloody name it went by now. That had not changed, but he seemed to think that it had. Once again, he proved that she was worth everything to him only when it was convenient for him. She discovered then, with a gut-wrenching finality, that whatever existed between them was conditional on her being complicit to his every want and whim, while he selfishly refused to give an inch in return.

She certainly could not return if she would be expected to bow her head to Praimfaya, of all wolves. She remembered keenly how that brat had no respect for authority when she lived with Sagtannet. Praimfaya was the last wolf who deserved one lick of Wylla's respect.

Besides, she thought sullenly, you can't trust this coward man to stand by you when his wretched pack treats you like shit. That was inevitable. Wylla had never enjoyed a moment of peace in her life, except when she was with her mother in Keokuk Glade. Whether she was leader or subordinate, it seemed she was doomed to sneers and disrespect—unwilling to acknowledge that this was her own doing, more oft than not—and so she had always aimed to lead, because if she couldn't enjoy basic decency either way, at least she could make her own fate that way. Leave it to the whims of Rivenwood's collection of women? Ha!

She opened her mouth, ready to deliver an ultimatum to shake his bones—if she was even to entertain the notion of returning with him, catering to his incredible arrogance and devaluing herself again in the process, then she would be in charge, and she would leave his ass the second he allowed that foundation to be rocked again—but snapped it shut when Stag broke rank and charged.

Wylla was prepared to defend Stag from Mahler even if it meant drawing her last breath if the former Eisen attacked his adoptive son, but she hadn't counted on Stag being the one to throw the first punch. That was not a fight she could rightly intervene on. She couldn't embarrass or insult Stag that way, any more than she could reinforce Mahler's preposterous notion that she was going to go fuck the boy by standing beside him, much less bringing the cubs back for him to raise, as though she had even a passing interest in bearing another child to a fucked up family situation. She could only watch helplessly, paws rooted, as the boy went for the man, and she knew it was likely one would kill the other...

Two wolves she loved, in different ways, but just as wholly...

How could she sleep at night in the vicinity of either one of them, if they spilled the blood of the other, right in front of her, like she was some meaty haunch to squabble over? Horror and disappointment laced together into an intricate weave that held Wylla in thrall, unable to step in on behalf of either wolf, for Stag had started the fight, and she had thought better of him than this.
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