Phoenix Maplewood canaid lia fáil
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All Welcome 
Her eyes twinkled with amusement as she sat in a sun dappled clearing and watched her brother roam in and out of view as he explored the woods. She had offered to take him further south to meet their neighbors but Caracal seemed a lot more interested in sightseeing than diplomacy. He hadn't really shown much interest in her own pack mates, either. Meerkat found this a little baffling, especially since he was so personable. But she would never discourage him from chasing his dreams—she fancied herself a life coach, after all—which evidently included becoming some kind of globetrotter.

"Let me know if you get hungry," she called out to him when she caught a glimpse of red fur in the distance. Caracal acknowledged her with a whoop, then vanished into the trees again. "And I'll find us something to eat," she finished to herself, though she smiled.

Rising onto all fours, she took a moment to stretch, breathing in and out the way Towhee had demonstrated during her recent visit. She laughed quietly, remembering her mom calling her new practice "yogurt." Meerkat didn't fancy herself much of a practitioner, so as soon as she felt limbered, she began to mosey around the maples too, admiring the splendid fall foliage.

Caracal will be an NPC in this thread. It's open to anyone. :)
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With the remnants of ash beneath her paws and the bright red, orange and yellow in the canopy above, this time of year it almost seemed that the Phoenix Maplewood was still aflame. Lane drifted through the airy woods, amber eyes scanning the trunks as she walked. She was on the lookout for the sap that the maple trees occasionally leaked, hoping it might be the missing ingredient to finalize her apple cider recipe. 

She caught Meerkat's scent and immediately changed course, following her nose to the gamma's position. They had a lot to catch up on, especially given the other scout's rather impromptu trip and the similarly unannounced arrival of her younger brother. 

"Hey," she greeted Meerkat. For some reason-- perhaps it was the way Meerkat looked when Lane arrived?-- Lane came to the realization that perhaps her and Meerkat's recent distance had been intentional on the part of the Redhawk. What could Lane have done? 

Oh shit. Oh no. Realization dawned, and guilt wrote itself across Lane's expression.

"Hey," she repeated, "Umm.. I think it's been a little weird between us, and I think I know why. I never checked in with you after I visited Redhawk Caldera." Lane winced. 

"I'm so sorry. I'm such a shit scout. It's just, I didn't really learn much. Your mom wasn't there, and your dad.. I dunno, I guess he wasn't up for talking to some stranger. I spoke with my Aunt Ruenna--" Lane still couldn't believe her call had been answered by the woman who raised her! Wasn't it crazy what a small world this was? "--And she said your mother was due back soon, and you should visit." Which Meerkat already had done, at this point. 

"I meant to check in with you, but when I got home it was just one thing after another. Veteran got beat up, and then Wintersbane.." Lane met Meerkat's gaze apologetically.
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Someone else approached through the trees and Meerkat instinctively scoured the nearby woods for her brother. Caracal was nowhere to be seen, though it turned out it was only Lane. The yearling felt relieved for a moment, right before her stomach tightened and sank.

When Lane brought up the sense of weirdness between them, Meerkat felt her whole soul cringe. Was she that obvious? "...and I think I know why." Now her soul left her body, though it thankfully didn't get far by the time Lane went on to apologize about dropping the ball on her scouting task.

"Oh, uh," Meerkat said, blinking a little stupidly, "it's fine." Her voice came out slightly squeakier than usual. Unable to meet Lane's eyes, she turned away to glance through the trees—where was Caracal when she needed him?—before clearing her throat and facing her new Alpha again, gaze still indirect.

"Really, though, don't worry about it. I just went by there myself." By myself, a little voice in her head amended. She thought of Issorartuyok and whether he and Lane might have some sort of connection, one which they would surely foster as they led the pack together, side by side.

A flare of jealous heat in her stomach prompted her to say, "I asked Issorartuyok to come with me when I take Caracal back." She took it for granted that Lane knew about her younger brother's visit via her fellow leader. "We were actually planning to go together the first time but that was before everything happened."

Meerkat had the presence of mind to stop herself there. She fidgeted a little, wondering what was wrong with her. Why was she so jealous of the two of them? Why did she feel so possessive of him? Of course, she could admit to herself by now that she had feelings for Issorartuyok. But that's all they were: feelings. And she kept them to herself. He probably didn't feel the same way. He almost definitely didn't, especially now with Lane being his partner.

She felt her heart sink and let out a long, breathy sigh. She had no right. She had no chance.
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Lane was garbage at all this interpersonal stuff, but even she could tell that it still wasn't fine, no matter how much Meerkat insisted it was. Although the Redhawk was a long way from appearing convincing, Lane answered, "Okay.. I won't worry about it, I guess." Tension poured off Meerkat in waves. What was Lane doing wrong? 

"I still really appreciate you watching out for the kids. You and Issorarti..Issory.." Lane gave up on the name with a defeated sigh. "..You and Tatkret are all Veteran talks about." Lane winced. Now that Meerkat had witnessed her shameful inability to recall her co-alpha's name, Lane felt compelled to accept those pronunciation lessons that Veteran had been offering to her (rather aggressively).  

On the subject of Issorartuyok, Meerkat noted that she planned on asking him to scout with her. Lane couldn't help but notice the giant, breathy sigh that Meerkat emitted. ..What was that about? It almost seemed.. impatient? Was Meerkat annoyed? Lane was really out of her element here. 

"Oh, um, okay," Lane emitted, unsure of exactly how to proceed. After a moment, she landed on honesty, which was her usual go-to. "I'm jealous. I wish it were me going.. But my kids would raise absolute hell if I left them behind again." She shook her head regretfully.

"It's good you're taking Tatkret though," she allowed. "Maybe you could stop by some of our allies and introduce him. Let them know the leadership situation here, and ask around about our missing wolves." Lane shrugged. It was just a suggestion. Meerkat was the Master Scout after all, and she certainly knew better than Lane how to coordinate a scouting trip.
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"I'm jealous." Meerkat didn't really hear anything after that, her eyes narrowing as she wondered what Lane meant by that. (Never mind that she might've had her answer had she simply listened.) She felt suspicious at first, which quickly gave way to a twisted sense of pleasure. Lane was jealous of her? Of them?

But then she reminded herself that there were no grounds for that, no matter how possessive she felt toward Issorartuyok. She was being foolish and petty. He didn't belong to her. He never would. Her heart squeezed and she stared at the ground, momentarily unaware of how terribly she was upholding this conversation.

When she did finally catch herself, Meerkat's head swung upward and she looked at Lane. She could see how awkward she'd made things. And that was really a shame because she liked Lane. They were friends, of a sort. They weren't close, but they could've been. Maybe they still could be...

"I'm sorry," the yearling blurted, apropos of nothing, "I'm sorry I've been so weird lately." She looked around, now hoping Caracal wouldn't choose this moment to reappear, then took a step closer to Lane. She hesitated, then lowered her voice to confess, "I have a stupid crush on him. But don't worry," she went on in a hasty whisper, "I'm going to work on getting over it because I know. I know..." Meerkat swallowed.
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Lane wasn't sure exactly what it was, but something did the trick. Meerkat finally copped to her weird behavior, citing a reason that Lane would probably have never guessed. 

"You have a crush on.. who now?" Lane questioned, feeling a step behind. ... Oh! Tatkret! "Tatkret?" They had just been talking about him, so that's who Lane had to assume Meerkat meant. 

"And to get over your crush, you're going to... take him on a long, one-on-one trip to meet your parents?" Lane couldn't help but poke a little fun at Meerkat. She fought down the urge to chuckle. 

But wait just a second here. How did that explain why Meerkat was acting weird around Lane

"Hang on-- do you think I want Tatkret? Is that the issue? 'Cause I have a crush on Rye. A married guy." She sighed. "Talk about hopeless crushes. " Lane let that sink in for a minute. It felt amazing to finally admit that out loud. And.. Maybe now, instead of avoiding each other and acting weird, she and Meerkat could commiserate and bond over their shared pain.
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Lane seemed a little befuddled by her confession. Meerkat merely nodded when she said his name, feeling another pinch of annoyance at what she felt was a pet name of sorts. Her cheeks went hot at the woman's next few words, a flush of embarrassment sweeping through her. She hadn't really thought that through, though Lane made a valid point...

But that didn't address the real issue here. Lane went on to guess why Meerkat seemed out of sorts in her presence. She felt another flush of warmth, bracing herself for Lane to confirm that yes, she and Issorartuyok shared an intimacy now further corroborated by their shared responsibilities as Alphas.

Lane made an admission of her own and Meerkat was just as thrown in turn. Her jaw actually dropped and she stared at Lane for a few beats before shutting it. Her mouth opened and closed again as she tried to process what she'd been told and react appropriately.

"I didn't—I guess I just assumed—" she began, only to cut herself short and huff a breath. The yearling started over. "I... had no idea you felt that way about Rye. That—that sucks." Meerkat frowned sympathetically. Just like that, the bonds of commiseration tied them together. "How do you get rid of them?" she asked quietly, then realized how that sounded. "The feelings, not the men..."
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Meerkat's response confirmed Lane's realization. The Redhawk pointed out-- extremely accurately-- how much Lane's crush sucked, and the corner of Lane's mouth twitched in wry humor.  Just like that, she and Meerkat became confidantes, side-by-side in the trenches of star-crossed love. 

"How do you get rid of them?" Meerkat questioned, and Lane gave her a sideways look. Meerkat corrected herself a beat later, and Lane scoffed in amusement. "Tell me if you figure it out," she replied in resignation. 

"Although in your case, I'm not sure why you'd want to get rid of them. Has he said anything to make you think the feelings couldn't be returned, on his part?" Lane couldn't really understand the rush to squash a crush that could very well work out... unless Tatkret had been very conspicuously friend-zoning Meerkat.
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Her ears folded a bit at Lane's honest answer. Meerkat chewed at her lower lip, though she released it when the Alpha questioned her reasons for wanting to be rid of her feelings. Just because there wasn't anything going on between him and Lane—a realization that made her stomach swoop hopefully, despite herself—there were other reasons why the yearling didn't want to feel this way.

It took her several moments to organize her thoughts in order to articulate them. "I have no reason to think he looks at me that way at all. And I have no interest in making a move, much less the first move. I've put myself out there before and, well..." Meerkat drew in a deep breath through her nose and shook her head. She had been through the wringer with Atlas and wasn't eager to repeat any of it.

"I want to get rid of them," she continued, "because, as I'm sure you know, crushes hurt. I didn't mean to catch feelings. It just makes everything so complicated and messy. And I'm not... I don't know." Meerkat caught Lane's eye, wondering if she was conveying her feelings well, knowing there was a very good chance Lane understood what she was trying to say.
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Lane did understand. She was, at her core, a straightforward and down-to-earth creature of simplicity. Everything would be simpler if decisions were made according to principle and logic rather than feelings. 

"I don't know what the last guy did to you, but he sounds like a tool." Before Meerkat could interrupt to defend the asshole, Lane continued. "Issorytor.. Issar.. --damnit-- Tatkret isn't like that." She really needed to get a handle on that name. "--He's a good guy, and he's single. Having a crush on him should feel good. If it doesn't, it's not the crush's fault. You're inflicting the torture on yourself." Really though.. hadn't Meerkat just admitted to behaving weirdly for weeks due to some misplaced sense of jealousy based on essentially nothing?

Because she was kind of on an advice kick recently (Lane, a counselor? Who knew she had it in her?) she continued. 

"You weren't here last breeding season, so you don't know how fucked up it got. Just.. trust me on this, a guy like Tatkret is gonna be a hot commodity." Lane's expression twisted wryly as she thought of Wintersbane's prolificacy. 

"..If you don't lock him down, someone else will. And I know how shitty that feels. I lived it. If I could do it all again, I'd make a hundred first moves on Rye if there was the tiniest chance I maybe wouldn't have to lose him to Imaq."

Oof, that advice got a little personal. And a little bitter. Lane felt instantly guilty, remembering belatedly that Imaq and Sikuliak were still missing. How many times had she angrily wished to herself that they would just disappear...?
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Lane fed her quite a bit of food for thought over the next few minutes. Meerkat opened her mouth once or twice as if about to say something, only to clap it shut. She wasn't really sure what she wanted to say, anyway. As if her emotions weren't already mixed enough, now her leader sprinkled several more ingredients into the recipe for heartache. Of course, she didn't hold it against Lane. She was only keeping it real. It wasn't her fault these sorts of things could get so dang spicy.

She looked away into the forest and caught a glimpse of Caracal's red fur through the trees. He vanished again. Meerkat stared at the spot for a long moment, processing Lane's words and her own thoughts, before facing the other woman again. She couldn't help but wonder if Imaq might be gone for good and whether Lane might still have a chance with Rye in the end. That was kind of a terrible thought. She wondered if it had crossed Lane's mind too.

"I get what you're saying," Meerkat eventually said, "but if he wanted me, he'd make sure I knew it, right? And he hasn't. And that's fine. I'm not going to fight over him, either." Her nose wrinkled. "He either wants me or he doesn't. Does that make any kind of sense at all?"

Of course, acknowledging this didn't make it easy to live through. She had been jealous of the perceived intimacy between him and Lane, she could only imagine what it would be like if she still felt this way about him come spring. Meerkat decided she really needed to work on getting over him before then, otherwise she was going to be in for more heartache. She didn't want to find herself in Lane's position.

"Maybe I shouldn't have asked him to go on the trip with me," she muttered, a sort of afterthought in response to Lane's earlier pointed question. Meerkat frowned thoughtfully.
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Meerkat wanted to know if she was making sense? 

"Yeah," Lane allowed, "Or it would make sense, IF men were actually capable of thinking about what they wanted before it smacked them in the face." She shrugged. She thought it was likely that if Meerkat admitted her feelings to him, it would take Issorartuyok about two seconds to decide that Meerkat suited him just fine. But Meerkat wasn't going to settle for the easy way, apparently. 

Lane thought that Meerkat was being far too idealistic. But then again, perhaps if Lane herself had been a little more principled (and a little less slutty) she wouldn't have had to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. It was probably better for Meerkat to wall herself up based on this lofty ideal, than it was for her to sleep around and end up like Lane. 

She did hate to see Meerkat sounding so lost. "I think if you do the trip with him, things will probably be clearer after that, one way or the other. And.. maybe your mom will have better advice than me." 

Lane squinted through the trees. "Is that your brother?" Had Caracal been out there the whole time? How much had he heard? She and Meerkat didn't need their secrets being spread all over the Glacier and the rest of the Taiga...
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Lane told her that spending time with Issorartuyok might clarify matters. Why did she have a feeling such clarity would come at a cost? Meerkat was pretty convinced he wasn't interested in her romantically, yet their lack of communication on the matter lent it ambiguity, allowing her to harbor some hope despite herself. The internal conflict was becoming rather frustrating.

Happy to seize on another topic—though she did feel better for having told someone and finding a kindred spirit in Lane—she followed the Alpha's line of sight. She didn't see him now but Meerkat nodded.

"Yeah, he's recently discovered he loves exploring," Meerkat shared with a laugh. "Or, as our mother put it, 'oh great, Caracal has the scouting bug up his ass now.' I'm not sure he's going to live at home much longer..." She felt kind of bad for Towhee but Meerkat definitely understood her little brother's fascination. At least he'd waited until he was older.

"But, anyway," she said, steering the topic back to matters that concerned Lane, "are you cool with it if he does come with me for a week or two? Issorartuyok, I mean." They were both so new to their roles, it was entirely possible Lane might not want her co-leader gallivanting off into the wilderness, even if she wasn't interested in getting in his nonexistent pants.
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Lane scoffed, understanding exactly how Caracal's mother felt. One of her children had the same bug. "I think Wayfarer is going the same way, I hardly see her anymore. I think I named her too aptly." 

Lane shrugged. She was not altogether unhappy about Wayfarer's proclivities. It was a bittersweet feeling; she was proud that she had raised such an independent child, but also a little hurt that her child might wish to depart from her family as soon as possible. 

"Oh-- um, yeah. Of course. We'll be fine here." Lane was a little taken aback that Meerkat had asked her permission. 

Lane glimpsed Caracal's light-colored pelt between the trees. "Hey bud!" she called out to him. "Do you see any trees leaking sap..?" 

Lane turned back to Meerkat, a thought coming to her. "If I don't get the chance to see you two before you leave, please let the kid know that he's welcome to stop in here anytime for a visit." It was what she would want for her own children, if they happened to find themselves in need of a safe place when they were away from home.
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Meerkat could only frown in sympathy when Lane joked dryly about her wayward daughter. The yearling had never been able to connect with the girl, despite her efforts. She certainly didn't share the closeness with her that she enjoyed with Veteran. And perhaps might also forge more deeply with their mother.

Lane reassured her that they would be fine while Meerkat stole half their new leadership away for a few weeks. Although she still had some reservations about that, she nodded, taking the Alpha at her word.

"What?" Caracal shouted from somewhere nearby. There was quite a lot of noise in the brush before he came crashing into view. "What about sap?" he asked a little breathlessly, shaking a leaf loose from his ear.

Meerkat grinned fondly at her brother. "She asked if you saw any trees leaking sap," she said, eyes cutting to Lane, curious.

Once Lane had an opportunity to explain that—and Caracal verified that he had, in fact, seen such things around the maple woods—Meerkat said, "We should head back to the glacier and get some lunch. You can't keep running around all day without stopping for some fuel. C'mon, Cal."

Leaving no room for argument, Meerkat began to move away, though not without bumping the other she-wolf's shoulder in invitation too.
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Lane also smiled at the rambunctious boy. She wagged her tail when he confirmed that he had seen what she was seeking. 

Noticing Meerkat's glance, she explained. "I was originally making cider for your harvest feast, but.. I thought that given all that's happened, people might not be feeling too celebratory." Lane's face was sympathetic. She hated to be the bearer of bad news, especially if Meerkat's heart had been set on her event. 

"So I tried the cider out on Wintersbane as a medicine, and it's really helped keep him calm. With the extent of his burns, he needs to be sedated most of the time." Belatedly, she remembered to explain the sap part. "The sap's just for taste," she hurried to explain. "He's been fighting his doses recently, and who can blame him when the stuff's so bitter.."

Meerkat made the rather sudden remark about going to get lunch, and Lane realized that she probably shouldn't have gone into such detail about Wintersbane's condition if front of the boy. She had forgotten that most kids weren't raised on this kind of talk, as she was. She hoped she hadn't scared him.. no wonder Meerkat was jumping at the chance to hurry him away. 

"I'll be right behind you," Lane promised, feeling a little sheepish. She had some sap to collect, and then she would follow the Redhawks back to the Glacier.