Dragoncrest Cliffs in a tidal wave of [m]ystery
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She hadn't slept well but she'd managed to catch a few winks and then groom herself a little bit. Meerkat probably looked a little haggard when she arrived on Sapphique's doorstep but that was nothing new. The thought made her snort, though she quickly fell silent as she pondered everything she'd come here to tell @Njord. She was equally anxious and excited, her pulse fluttering in her throat as she raised her head and howled.
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Mireille was nowhere to be found. Njord had searched for days in the surrounding territories without a trace and returned to Sapphique empty handed. He only briefly touched base with @Chacal… enough to let her know there was no update. He was blissfully unaware of Rosalyn’s episodes and the turning of Erzulie’s season. He had become reticent and preoccupied by both the grief of losing Mireille and his budding relationship with Meerkat. Setting boundaries was a difficult task, and Njord had not learned the best way to manage all the complex relationships in his life.

Already, the seafarer day-dreamed Mireille’s green eyes and freckled face were right around every corner. He returned to his solitary den for a long, overdue sleep to ease his mind. Nothing woke him – except the tune of a familiar voice. He sprung to his feet, smoothed out his bedhead, called back, and hurried to greet Meerkat at the border.

The nearer he drew, the faster his heart raced. He had thought back on their night together many times and replayed moments in his mind over and over. It gave him light when the world was dark. However, just enough time had passed to drunkenly wonder… is what’s happening, actually happening? 

Njord’s eyes set upon Meerkat and let no time waste to close the distance between one another. He swept in like he had just found a pearl on the beach and hovered close without actually smothering her. There was something electric about the space between them – like the air before a rainstorm. It had been a week apart and now they could further discover their connection. It was a rubicon Njord wanted to cross.

“Meerkat,” Njord greeted her. Yet, being this close he could plainly see her taxed expression. He wondered if it was Duskfire’s plight or something more on her mind. He nosed her cheek fur, taking her in. "I 'av missed you."
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His familiar voice sang back to her, letting her know he was on his way. Meerkat inhaled sharply, smiling in anticipation. While she waited, it faltered when an intrusive thought forced its way to the forefront of her mind. "I will fight this man for your honor." Another she-wolf—her own mother, for instance—might've loved the idea of two men fighting over her. But even with the sexist implications aside, she loathed the thought of Issorartuyok trying to hunt down Njord and harm him.

Surely he could hold his own, though just thinking about it reminded her of his bruised face. It seemed well on the mend when Njord appeared just then, her unwelcome thoughts vaporizing at the sight of him. The instant he came within reach, she stared at him for the length of a heartbeat before flinging herself at him, graceful forelegs snaking around his neck as she pressed her nose to the corner of his eye. She left a kiss there, then released him and stepped back.

Maybe soon, they wouldn't have to miss each other like this. But for now, Meerkat could only murmur her agreement. "I've missed you too. How are you? Any word on Mireille?" There were so many things piled up inside her she needed to toss onto the table, but she wanted to simply linger in his presence for a few moments before she grabbed his hand and took that plunge.
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Njord’s gentle approach was greeted enthusiastically by Meerkat, who happily slung herself round the seafarer’s neck. He loved her forwardness and welcomed her embrace. A relationship without hesitation allowed confidence and trust to build. Was this what an honest connection felt like? There was no trace of doubt in his mind of Meerkat’s feelings, and so his admiration for her only bloomed.

His red tail wagged doubletime as he chuffed a joyful laugh. Being loved on felt so good. Njord nearly popped into a playbow, but Meerkat stepped back before he could mind.

He breathed a sigh and shook his head. “No,” he said on an exhale, “we canna find ‘er. The whole pack’s been lookin but… I think Mireille’s in tha hands of tha sea. Or… whatever spirits ya think watchov’r us,” his eyes flicked to the distant horizon. “But… Sapphique’s children ‘av a tendency to come back eventually.” Chacal had returned, hadn’t she? “Mireille’s a strong lass. I ‘av ta be ‘opeful she’s alright wherev’r she is. I canna bring myself ta believe she’s gone of this world.”

His eyes dipped downward before they refocused on Meerkat. Despite his tribulations, looking at her was like he staring straight into the future. With a view like that, how could one not be optimistic?

“It’s been hard, but… I ‘av the breath in my lungs an’ I’m lookin at you, aren’t I? So, I’m feelin’ blessed.”
His gaze flicked across her face. Already, he was beginning to understand the subtle expressions across Meerkat’s face and could glean that she had a lot on her mind. “An’ what of you, my bonny lass?”
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Her lips pressed together when Njord reported that Mireille was still missing. She'd never met the girl, though her stomach dropped when he mentioned she was in the sea's hands. Did that mean she had likely drowned? But no... he seemed optimistic that she might've simply been swept away to some distant shore. Meerkat bit her lip, hoping it was true, for Njord's sake.

"Then let's hope she finds her way back someday," she murmured, wishing she could think of something better to say. She hoped another gentle nuzzle would suffice.

She allowed him to capture her gaze when he dipped his head down, gently turning the spotlight onto her. "My bonny lass," he called her. Meerkat liked the sound of that. It made her toes tingle. She smiled softly and took a deep breath, wondering where she should even begin.

"Remember how I told you about the diseased herds and my leaders' decision to relocate? Well, they've picked somewhere to move. I didn't actually get the specifics but I was told it was going to be quite the journey, across two mountain ranges."

She paused, heartbeat suddenly racing. There was so much nuance to this, yet Meerkat didn't want any of that to loom over the two of them and their future. They would decide where she would go from here, not Issorartuyok and his ultimatum.

"I know this is new," she said, gesturing between them with a fond look, "but if it's going somewhere, then... I don't really want to go anywhere." Breathe in, breathe out. "I was thinking that if you feel the same way, then maybe I could stay back," Meerkat concluded before pinning on the most critical words, "stay with you." And now she wouldn't breathe until Njord gave her his answer.
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Njord’s instinct that there was more on Meerkat’s mind was correct, so he followed her words closely. At the suggestion that Duskfire was relocating far away, the seafarer’s expression tightened, but he remained steady and he didn’t interrupt. He had just found her. How could he stand to lose her? A number of solutions ran through his mind as Meerkat slipped into a lull, his blue eyes darting across her face as he searched for her intentions.

She continued on. If Meerkat was any other wolf, Njord might have felt a pit of anxiety in his stomach. However, so far, she had only given him pure and genuine affection. Even now, there was no sense of deception upon her countenance and so Njord received her words and felt secure.

I was thinking that if you feel the same way, then maybe I could stay back. Stay with you. Njord beamed and brushed his muzzle against hers. “Aye, I do feel tha same way, Meerkat,” he said. “An’ I don’t want ya to go anywhere either. I want ta be with you. Here, there, where ev’r we choose. ” He took a moment to kiss her forehead and then wrapped a paw around her leg to pull her close. He paused, taking in their predicament and savoring holding her near. “S’funny… as you were talkin’ it crossed my mind ta journey with you an’ Duskfire. Are you sure you dinna want ta stay with yer pack? You looked so ‘appy with ‘em.” It also crossed his mind that Meerkat wouldn’t be fulfilled by a coastal life in a pack with a history that outreached her own. Suddenly, he felt an urgency to expedite what would come naturally while courting. 

Njord leaned back and gestured with his head, as if to say walk with me, and began to lead her round the southern border towards the shore south of Dragoncrest, following a well-worn path.
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"Aye," Njord said and Meerkat's breath left her in a happy squeak. More came after that, of course, and her entire body felt like it was vibrating when he brushed his muzzle against hers. When he took it a step further by tenderly smooching her forehead and tugging her against him, she let out a second happy squeak, feeling almost foolish in her giddiness.

His mention of Duskfire was like a tiny pin piercing her ballooning joy. It didn't pop, though it definitely began to slowly deflate. She knew she didn't want to keep her involvement with Issorartuyok from him, though she also didn't want it to overshadow whatever decisions they made today. A breath whistled through her teeth as she nodded, legs a little jellylike as she strode beside Njord toward the shore.

She'd considered this possibility: that he might want to join her pack. But Issorartuyok had made it pretty damn clear it wasn't actually an option. "You must decide if you will go or stay with the man you court..." Even before she'd approached him to tell him about Njord, she'd already concluded that bringing him to the glacier pack probably wasn't the best idea. Now she knew that for a fact.

Meerkat sighed, glad they were walking so she had an excuse to look ahead as she slowly explained, "I was happy with them... but now I'm not. A big part of it is because a little while back, I was flirting—for lack of a better term—with a man named Issorartuyok. But the more I got to know him, the clearer it became we wanted very different things. So I called it off. It was never serious but I had a hard time with it," Meerkat admitted. She nibbled at her lip and glanced at Njord, wondering if this information would change anything between them. But he'd asked and she wanted to be perfectly honest with him.

"I was in a better place with everything by the time I bumped into you that night," Meerkat continued, knowing he would know which one she meant, "and everything just sort of clicked for me. When I went back home after that, I wanted to tell Issorartuyok, as I was hoping we could remain friends. But he summoned me before I even had the chance. He told me he wanted to try again. I told him no. I reminded him we're too different. I also told him I'd found you. He wanted—he wanted to fight you, like I was some kind of prize or something. I told him no again."

Once again, she glanced at him to gauge his reaction to all of this. She worried that she was spoiling everything with this drama. But it would be worse to lie, so she concluded the story by saying, "Issorartuyok is the Alpha and we didn't part on good terms. Besides, he lives a very different way of life." Meerkat rolled her shoulders a little restlessly. "My time with the glacier pack is over."

That hung in the air between them a moment when she drew in a breath to remind them both, "I still have to say my goodbyes to those I care about there, but..." Meerkat nosed the curve of Njord's neck, getting him to stop, so she could reach out and clasp his paw like she'd done before. "If I can still have this, then everything will be okay." This time, she raised their joined paws and gently kissed his toes, brown eyes raising entreatingly to his face.
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They ambled together, side by side, as Meerkat laid her cards on the table. It felt good to walk together in this way and it made Njord feel truly level. He appreciated her sincere honesty and, though his emotions did travel through small peaks and valleys, he was eager to hear her out.

"You are brave for holdin' yer ground and bein' true to yerself," the seafarer complimented. "It's attractive. An... I consider myself verra lucky to av turned yer eye." Njord admired her ability to follow her heart, and couldn't help feeling special by being the chosen one. 

Meerkat had turned down Duskfire's alpha to be with him. This man sounded like he wouldn't go down without a fight -- but the sandy emissary had shut that down, too. It was possible this Issorartuyok would return with ready fangs, regardless of her refusal. Fighting was one of Njord's weakest skills and, though he had the grit to spill all his blood to keep her, his stomach couldn't help but flip like a flapjack at the thought of losing Meerkat the same way he had lost Valmua.

Another thought crossed the redtail's mind. A similarity linked Issorartuyok to Njord's rival Kigipigak. They had the same harsh constants of a Northerner's name. If they were anything like one another, this man would be large, strong, and a good fighter. His face, though healed, stung anew. A chill ran down his spine, but he resolved to stand a little taller. "I would fight for you," he assured (even though it was a non-issue) with a serious face as his sea-colored eyes fell upon her.

Meerkat's mind sounded like it had been made up. Her touched stopped Njord in his tracks and her doe eyes and kisses softened his thoughtful expression. If I can still have this, then everything will be okay, she said. If Njord were human, he would have clasped her hands tight in return, roused like kindling turned to bonfire. Her candor was like his personal kryptonite. "Yer words.... you dinna ken what you do ta me," he alluded as he pressed his snout into the fur beneath the bulb of her ear and breathed deeply. In that moment, all he wanted to do was pull her down into the fresh snow.  

He lingered for a few seconds, but rocked back and resisted the urge with a small, sultry grumble. There were more things he needed to say.

"I like tha you want what is good fer you, an you ken the difference. Sometimes, its 'ard ta understand. I had a... similar revelation myself." Njord inhaled, gaze tracing Meerkat's face once again to measure her reactions. "I've been lookin' for a connection like tha one I 'av with you fer a long time. Last year, Rosalyn an' Erzulie wanted ta 'av children, and Erzulie asked me, and another man, ta be the sires. I agreed, thinkin' my heart would be full. That I could be tha father." A small smile feathered his lips but it quickly faded and his head shook. "I dinna ken what I was thinkin'. They know me as Da, but its not tha same." How could he explain the intricacies of their relationship? "I love em. I canna regret it and am 'appy they're in my life.... but in the end, they're the alpha's children. Rosalyn an' Erzulie 'av eachother... an' I was left alone." His lips stiffened. "I think fer a long time I was convincin' myself otherwise." 

A sigh whistled out his nose as he reflected back. He turned back to Meerkat. "I mean ta court you fully. When I look at you I see my future... but I understand if this changes 'ow ya feel fer me," he said. Maybe Meerkat was the type of woman who didn't want to deal with these kinds of complexities in her life. She was young, and deserved a full life.
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He seemed to appreciate her candor. Meerkat's breath hitched as she exhaled. It was hard, showing vulnerability at this crucial step, yet hearing nothing but acceptance and affection made her want to wed this man on the spot. Her lips curved at the thought and she shook her head lightly, leering at him when he said he would fight for her. She appreciated the sentiment and the look was playful, though the image of Issorartuyok and Njord fighting still turned her stomach in several different kinds of ways.

A wordless murmur escaped her mouth when Njord snuffled at her earlobe. It was surprisingly sensitive. No, that wasn't the right word. It seemed the shell of her ear was some sort of erogenous zone. Such a simple touch made her belly swoop. She felt several degrees warmer. He didn't even whisper anything, just breathed. Meerkat hadn't realized how literal her needs were here and chortled to herself.

When Njord grumbled and sat up again, she fell silent, brow furrowing as she looked at him questioningly. It was his turn to put his cards on the table. Heart thudding, Meerkat leaned in as she listened. Hearing that he'd been intimate with Erzulie stirred an unbidden jealousy in her. But she wasn't exactly a blushing virgin herself, was she? Her eyes danced away for an instant before quickly returning to his face. She processed the rest of what she was being told. He was a father. He had children. Except... he kind of didn't.

"Mireille is yours," she realized in a small voice. Meerkat realized she wanted to learn about the others. How many were they? What were their names? Her interest was partly jealousy, of course, but these were wolves that meant so very much to Njord. And he meant a lot to her, so they were important to her too. But it was more than that. Meerkat understood. She had grown up in an unorthodox arrangement herself.

"I bet you're a great dad," were the next words she spoke, eyes soft. "Do you remember the first time we met? I'd only just learned who my father was and then he passed away. I never got to know him. Of course, I had my adopted dad, who's actually my uncle, as well as two mother figures." She paused, shaking her head. "Point being, I'm no stranger to unusual family dynamics. And those kids are lucky to have you as part of their life," especially since it was so hard on him.

The cry of some seabird caught her attention for a heartbeat. Meerkat looked skyward, then quickly dropped her eyes back to Njord's face to tell him, "It changes nothing, Njord." She smiled before continuing, "I do think I'm interested in a slightly more  traditional arrangement..." There was a bit of a mischievous look in her eye now, though her quick breath betrayed some nerves too. "Meaning... I'd like to make babies with you someday."
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Njord waited in suspense as he watched the gears turn behind Meerkat’s amber eyes. However, with every word of her reply, another brick was removed from the last wall that threatened to come between them. She understood – really understood – and Njord felt completely disarmed by it. He thought of Kukutux and her auspicious pink stone. Had the universe truly made the two of them bespoke for one another?

Meerkat continued and explained with a story. No longer would the fear of choosing between his past and future haunt the back of his mind. “Yer words mean everythin’ ta me,” Njord said with a shake of his head and a small laugh, as if in disbelief. A great dad. Lucky to have him. Changes nothing. She saw positives where others might have not. “In my heart, I feared I couldna have one without tha other,” he admitted, fearing his paramour would test him with ultimatums. “I’m thankful you are who you are, an’ that ya found me. Chose ta be with me. I feel accepted.”

A small pause between thoughts. “Would it please ya to live with me in Sapphique as Duskfire moves?” he prompted. He had already gotten the all-clear from Erzulie to court and, though Sapphique was unique in structure, he was certain Meerkat would be welcome with open arms. She was a woman, after all. “It would give us time ta figure out our what we want ta come next,” he added.

Overhead, a reeling gull called. The distant waves hummed. A small breeze blew through Meerkat’s hair as she alluded to their future children. In that moment, the seafarer knew he would love this woman for the rest of his days. “That would make a happy man,” Njord responded with a smile. “We want tha same things. I mean ta be yours, an’ yours alone.” 

Something about the cool winter air (and the talk of making babies) made Njord feel especially frisky. He leaned in close. The Tourmaline’s neck bowed like a crescent moon, ears pressed forward as his red tail waved. There was nothing more in the world he wanted than her – so much that the tension in his body was almost debilitating. He postponed jumping her bones by reaching over her shoulder to groom the long, umber hair of her hackles.“M’think we should practice someday soon,” he teased in a quiet voice.
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Especially after hearing about his role in his progeny's lives, it might've been a foregone conclusion that Njord wanted to be a dad. Nonetheless, she held her breath again until he gave his affirmation. Yes, that would make him happy. Meerkat thought a lot of cheesy thoughts in response to that little declaration, though she tried to tamp down on her girly excitement to focus a bit harder on the logistics of the situation.

She opened her mouth and nearly asked him if he was sure about the idea of her moving here with him. Would it be too much, too soon? He'd just said he meant to be hers, and hers alone. Meerkat pressed her lips into a smile at that. Despite how tempted she was to seal the deal right here, right now, she reminded herself that relocating was a big step, but it wasn't an irrevocable commitment. That would come later, though hopefully not too much later, supposing cohabitation was smooth sailing.

"Yes, I'd like to come here to be with you, if you think your leadership will permit it." And by "it," she didn't only mean her own acceptance. Meerkat liked to think Erzulie would welcome her, especially with what she had to offer both Njord and the pack, but what about breeding privileges? She would love the opportunity to earn the right, though Meerkat knew her season could come at anytime now that she was approaching her second spring. Would they have the leaders' blessing based on Njord's merits alone?

Njord's flirtatious attentions punted that concern right out of her head. Towhee had predicted her heat would come sooner than later. Hormones might explain some of her mood swings lately, along with all the emotional duress. As he groomed along her backbone, fire licking down her spine along with his tongue, Meerkat did wonder if it might be right around the corner. Something akin to a purr rumbled in her chest and she gently sashayed her hips toward him.

"Someday soon as in... today?" Meerkat teased hopefully.
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Meerkat accepted his proposition with a smile. “I know they will,” Njord affirmed with a sunny face. “Erzulie had given me her blessin’ before tha winter came,” he added, as if they were reading the same chapter of a book. “An’ if Sapphique ends up not bein’ the place for us – if we want ta chart our own path – well, we can do that too. Together.” His chest puffed out, rife with optimism and proud of their newfound connection.

She leaned into his affectionate preening. The purr in her breast only made Njord more enthusiastic. He chuffed in response as her nosed the lines of her body, eyes tracing features one might miss if they weren’t close enough. The curve of her cheek, the ochre banding of her fur, or the dip of her waist… A romantic at heart, the seafarer knew he wanted to give himself fully and worship her physically. He followed no timeline or agenda when it came to courting Meerkat – things just seemed to fall into place naturally, though the season certainly heightened these sensations.

Her consent put him into motion. “Follow me,” his brogue words whispered into her ear, a glint in his eye. Njord turned their direction towards a private copse of conifers against the tall cliffs of Dragoncrest. He was eager to chart both her mind and body, to learn all the ways to please her… but there was something especially heated the first time two became one, and he would savor it like a one-in-a-lifetime delicacy. A stingy lover, he would never be.

Dip/Fade to black?
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Aye! And I'll be tossing up another soon.

Njord said some pretty, pretty words that would certainly delight her later, when she had the presence of mind to process them. At the moment, though, the heat ramping up between them distracted her wholly and completely. "Follow me," he burred in her ear and Meerkat felt electricity arc through her midsection like a bolt of lightning. It sent her heart skipping.

He led her somewhere more secluded and she pressed nearer to him as they walked together, drawn like a magnet. She reveled in his heat, his masculine scent. Meerkat arced her neck and nipped sensually at his shoulder, then his ribs and, finally, his hip. She couldn't get close enough, couldn't stop touching. Soon they were hidden away beneath the shelter of the trees and she could finally pull him even closer.