Sun Mote Copse Won't you take my cane and hold my hand
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Tracking down someone while being upwind of them was not easy. For the first half of her border patrol, Niamh followed her son's tracks with the intention of catching up with him- but she could tell from his tracks that his pace had accelerated from a walk to a trot, and then to a lope and she could only assume that he'd spend up because her scent had gotten stronger. Unfortunately for the boy, Niamh's legs were longer, she was more fit, and better trained for endurance so though he'd put on a burst of speed to put distance between then, Niamh had managed to pace herself and eventually, managed to tire him out. She saw him ahead in the distance, huffing and puffing as he continued to trot along, though she could tell that he was tired. 

She chuckled as she trotted alongside of him, reaching out to nip at his ear when he finally slowed to a walk, breathless. She panted, but was not completely out of breath, so she had the air to crack a joke. "I like this form of jogging," She said. "But you need to get yourself in shape. You had at least a twenty minute head start on me, and look at us now," She said, with a playful growl and bounded a pace away only to rebound with more force, knocking her shoulder into his and laughing as he staggered.
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Great. Mom. 

She smelled different- more like herself- but he couldn't be too sure. So he'd done everything he could to try and outpace her, hastening his step when he realized her scent was getting closer- but he simply couldn't do it. He put on too much speed for too long, and ended up winded. He forced himself to keep trotting until she caught up, more for his own reputation than anythin else. And then his mother had the energy not only to poke fun at him, but to give him a shove too- which sent him tripping over his own feet for a second before he recovered. "Workin'. On it." He panted. "Cardio sucks."  He didn't want to explain himself any further, as he wanted to catch his breath- and fortunately, his mother let him do so. 

They'd walked a little ways when he finally drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then exhaled slowly. There. Better. "So I assume you hunted me down 'cause you want something?" He asked, casting his mother a skeptical side-eye. He hoped she was just asking for something- and that she didn't want to talk. He knew what'd been going on with her, and had purposefully avoided her. He hadn't avoided her for the week just to talk about it, afterwards. He read her expression, and winced. "Just don't...I don't want details."
So then find Dodge, then get out of it
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He was a funny kid. He put on this big, bold exterior, but he couldn't even handle the thought of reproduction. She hadn't had a serious conversation with him since she'd given him the talk, and had only really talked to him about basic things- patrolling and hunting. She noticed, then, the scars on his muzzle, having not seen those before. She'd wanted to spill things out at him- but she caught her words and stared at the healing wounds. Those were canine marks- and about the right size for them to have belonged to a wolf. 

He warned her, and she mock-stiffened, as though chastized. Alright. She'd put that on hold. "Can't a mother want to spend time with her son?" She asked, leaning into the guilt. She chuckled. "Spill the beans, Bronco- who done you your new, deadly-cool scars, and how do I sign up to kick their ass into tomorrow?!" She asked, voice filtering from calm into mock rage, before she composed herself again. "Hmm?" She asked, innocently.
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He groaned. How did his mother have to be so uncool? Wanting to spend time with him? Lame. Well, not that it was lame to want to spend time with him- he just thought that maybe a more important wolf might have something better to do with their time than chase their own kids around. He wasn't even a kid anymore. He was practically an adult. 

She noticed his wounds, though, and he'd almost forgotten about them. He lifted his muzzle, and smirked. "You don't hafta kick their ass into tomorrow. I already did." He said. Suddenly, given the chance to brag about his exploits, he reverted into a more childish state, his tail windmilling around and his voice rising with excitement. "I did, though, Ma, I really did kick his ass, I swear. It was a couple days or somethin' after I'd escorted Sugar to the Frosthawks, an' I saw her out prolly doin' some task for them, an' this stupid guy just up and attacked her!" He said, outrage seeping into his voice, making it crack. He cleared his throat hastily, but continued. "So I took him down, an' we fought, and he had a hold of my muzzle but I tore away from him an' went straight for his throat and I got him," He beamed, savagely. "I didn't kill him, but I got him, right by his throat, the way I'm s'posed tuh. An' I held him 'til he gave up, then let him go. Sugar'd run away by then...But at least I saved her," He said. He'd hoped that Sugar might have stuck around to see him in his triumph- but then again, Sugar didn't like violence, and probably would have been horrified. He shrugged. "So I won." He said, before he quietly, with some insecurity, asked: "But it looks pretty cool, huh?"
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She couldn't help but beam at Bronco when his enthusiasm got the better of him, and he detailed the fight to her. It sounded as though he'd nearly lost the upper hand, when his muzzle had been grabbed- but there was no doubting that a throat-hold would generally spell the end of a fight. He didn't mention anything about bloodshed, so she assumed, then- especially given the fact that he quickly volunteered the fact that he'd let the male go- that her son had sought to strangle the loner rather than kill him, and she was proud of him for it. Her facial expressions showed how impressed she was- and when he bared his teeth, she did too, showing just how invested she was in his story. And at the end of it, he looked up to her, with those sweet, beautiful whiskey-gold eyes...

And her heart hurt. Her little boy was defending his packmates, getting in fights and getting scars. And while yes, she- as a mercenary- could admire how badass his new wounds looked, knowing they'd give him a menacing but aesthetically pleasing look as they healed into scars, she couldn't help but see past those scars and gaze into the bourbon hue of his eyes...And there, she saw his father looking back at her. She remembered the way Colt looked when he'd been injured by Kiwi- but those scars hadn't simply been flesh wounds. She remembered the scent of infection...And she remembered the way his unseeing eyes had lost their gleam. She felt herself choke up a little, but she forced herself to swallow the lump her her throat, fight back the tears, and give her son a smile and a nod. "Pretty badass," She said quietly. 

In the stillness that followed, she wasn't sure what to say, given the painful memory that had just fought its way back into the forefront of her mind. She was sure Bronco picked up on it, so she tried to single out the positive elements of his story. "I'm glad you were there to protect Sugar. We're lucky to have a guardian like you in the pack," She said softly. She let the topic rest, and cleared her throat. 

"So I know you prolly don't wanna talk about this, but...I need to let you know that...I'm seeing Phox," She said. "I'm not...Replacing your father; I...I still love him...But I...We...Phox and I want to also be together." She said, waiting for the hammer to fall.
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He was confused, at first, why his mother looked so sad even though she was smiling. He figured it out by the time she praised him, and he felt bad knowing that he was doing more or less what his father had done...And he'd ended up dead. But it was different...That male hadn't wanted to kill him, and he hadn't wanted to kill the guy, either. There was a line between subduing someone, and killing them, and Bronco knew in his heart that he didn't have the spirit to cross it. Still...That didn't mean that everyone else felt the same way. He quietly accepted his mother's praise with a silent nod, distracted by the heavy fact that yes- he was growing up and that growing up meant getting closer to danger. 

What his mother spoke of next wasn't a dangerous situation, but it still raised red flags in Bronco's mind, and he stiffened, pulling away as though he'd received some kind of unwanted physical contact when she spoke. And she mentioned Phox. And she mentioned seeing him. And of course, his mind went right there and his features told it all. He refused to look at her, but stared, wide-eyed, off into the distance, as he sought to get the image out of his mind. She paused, and he gulped. He shrugged. "Yep." He said, and shrugged his shoulders. Presently, it didn't really register that his mother had an emotional attachment to Phox, and that the two wanted to be together. All he could think about was what them being together implied, so he forced himself to grate out something of a question, though he didn't want too much information, so it ended up being a statement. "So you're having more kids." His voice was a bit tight, and he realized it. He told himself to chill. He didn't think badly of Phox- he adored Towhee, but Phox...Eh, Bronco didn't know him well enough to really say much of anything as a comment. It had never occurred to him that anyone would ever be a replacement for his dad- and Bronco had been so young when he'd passed...That it seemed like ages ago. "Uhm. Congrats?"
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Bronco was about as cool as an ice statue about relationships and such, wasn't he? Niamh sighed, willing her son to relax so he could actually get a grip about what was going on, and stop fixating on the topic that bothered him the most. "Relax, hon," She said, and reached out to touch him- but thought otherwise, and pulled back. Now probably wasn't the time. "But yes, we'll be having more kids, probably," She said. "It's too soon to tell." She said. There was silence; and Bronco still hadn't moved an inch. 

"Do you have any questions?"
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He wasn't aware of the fact that he wasn't really breathing- but he managed nonetheless, even after having been so out of breath monents ago from running. If only he could conserve oxygen this well while he was running- then he'd be able to go on forever without running out of breath. When his mom opened the field for questions, he gawked at her awkwardly, as though to say Are you nuts?! I don't want to know anything else!!! Before he took a moment to think. 

He didn't assume that this would make Phox his family too- so he didn't feel terribly threatened just yet. But the kids...There would be more kids. He didn't really know what to think of that...But then again, he didn't hate the idea of being a big brother. That idea caused him to soften a bit. "Do you know how many?" He asked.
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There was something that perked his interest a little bit, and he seemed to relax- oddly enough, when he brought up the topic of siblings. He did love his sister, he doted on her and he truly did care about his packmates- particularly those he felt might be more vulnerable than others. Sugar was a peaceful soul, and he had protected her. From what she knew, he also had a soft spot for Fennec, which proved that while he did like to rough-house, he could also be surprisingly gentle and considerate when he needed to be. It warmed her heart to think about how loving her son was, despite everything he'd been through. 

"It's too soon. And there's...Really no way to tell, as far as I know, until they're born." She said. No details, she reminded herself- Bronco was too squeamish for that, so she decided against telling him she thought she'd had 7 or 8 pups when she'd only been carrying two, last year. "But...I'm gonna count on you, to be a good big brother. I'm gonna need you to help protect and guide them, and care for them the same way you love Nellie," She said.
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He was quiet when she answered his question, and simply nodded when she made a request of him. Of course, he would take care of them- that was a major part of who he was. And just because it meant babysitting, didn't mean that he thought it would be an uncool thing to do. Being a big brother was a big responsibility- and that, on its own, had a lot of cool points. 

"They're only gonna be...Half-siblings," He said, and looked up at his mother to see if he was right. "Does that make any difference?" He asked.
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She admired her son for being patient, quiet, and for actually communicating with her, and asking questions about a topic they had never discussed before. His next question wasn't one she was prepared for- but it was answered easily enough. "Not at all." She said. She used as calm of a tone as she could manage while speaking to him, knowing that should she go into too much detail or say too much that she'd lose him- and he was already concentrating deeply.  She was so proud of him, taking this all in. She wanted to say more- but she could tell he was still deep in thought, pulling together another question for her.
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So these new pups, they'd be just as much his siblings as Nellie was, basically. Half-siblings, but...He wasn't to consider them any different. He could do that. He was attached enough to his mother that any child of hers would be a sibling of his, no matter who the father was, but that was another role he had to suss out, so he thought for a few moments, before he finally looked up at her, waiting to see if she was ready for his next question. 

"Does this...Does this mean that I have to call Phox 'Dad'?" He asked slowly, reluctantly.
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And there it was. 

She would have expected Bronco, normally, to simply tell her what he was or wasn't going to do. But now, it seemed as though he was stepping into a new level of maturity, and was asking rather than simply making his own decisions. "Oh sweetheart," She said softly, and her voice hitched. She could tell that the thought of calling someone else Dad upset him- and that some part of him would do so, if she asked him to- but she couldn't. 

She drew close to him and leaned against her son, placing her head on his shoulder. "No, sweetheart. No, you don't. Your Dad...Your Dad is your Dad. And we keep him in our hearts," Cue the tears she'd held back previously, "And we remember him, and he'll always be your Dad, no matter what," She said. She pulled back, and wiped her foreleg against her cheek to sweep the tears away. "The new babies...They'll call him Dad. But they'll call me Mom, and they'll call you Brother," She said, and she inhaled deeply. "And then I imagine you'll teach them all the other words to call people but please, Bronco, wait until they're at least done teething to teach them bad words," She said with a sad laugh.
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UGH this is getting SO daytime televion-esque.

He was relieved when he learned he wouldn't have to call Phox anything other than Phox. He accepted his Mom's embrace, and he too weakened and sniffled when she mentioned his Dad. He bit his lip when she pulled away, and did his best to keep holding the tears that had pooled in his eyes from spilling down his cheeks, and he found that if he just stared hard enough, they started to fade back into nothingness. It was OK. He didn't have to forget his father- he didn't have to call someone else Dad. And the way his mom worded things...it made sense. The wolves he cared about wouldn't change; there would just be more of them. 

He snorted when his Mom tried to pull things from being too sentimental and make them funny, and he rolled his eyes. He motioned for them to continue the border patrol. "Yeah, yeah, I got it." He said. "Teach them bad words before they're done teething. I can do that." He said, twisting his mother's words. His heart still ached, but at least he didn't feel put out of place by the new addition to their family. They continued their walk together quietly, until eventually, he heaved a sigh, and they parted ways, each leaving with a lot to think about for the upcoming few weeks.