The Pack: 1

Kiba and Tsume rebelled against it. They rebelled against each other, trading long looks and growls and the silent subtle challenges that alpha males cast each other. Being both loner and alpha were hard things to overcome when trying to come to the understanding of Pack. But deep down, instinct called and instinct kept them from departing. Instinct said that Pack was safety and Pack was comfort and Pack was valued above all else in the hierarchy of things. Even to stubborn lone wolfs to whom safety and comfort were vague memories and rebuffed the offering of it with stiff fur and angry growls.

Hige and Toboe were different. Hige and Toboe welcomed the prospect of Pack like the warm comfort of mother’s fur and mother’s milk. Hige had known something of a pack long ago, just enough to desire it and work towards the forming of this tenuous new one. Toboe only had instinct to go on. Toboe could only rely on what the call of his blood urged him towards, knowing nothing of mother’s milk and Pack’s protection, having been raised by humans. Hige and Toboe were unrestrained in demonstrating their pleasure at being free and being of a Pack, nipping and tumbling in their play, kicking up snow in their zeal and generally behaving like puppies. Which Toboe still was, gangly and starting to get long legged but smaller than the other three young males. And being puppy and omega it was Toboe who Tsume or Kiba would snarl at and tumble when the play got too annoying or led them too far off the track that Kiba was determined to follow. And Hige was smart enough for the most part to back off without raising his hackles, while the puppy whined and thumped his tail in the snow, all the while presenting his throat and vulnerable belly to the larger wolf crouching over him. Then he was up, apologetic and desperate to squirm his way back into their good graces. And they always allowed him, touching noses and rubbing long bodies together in affirmation of Pack, even if Tsume and Kiba sometimes had qualms about the unity.

They traveled and they rested in what shelter they could find in the wilderness, huddled together for warmth, thick fur shielding them from the ice that crusted at its outer edges. Before dawn they would be up again, hunger eating at their bellies and prowling for breakfast. Breakfast was as scarce here as it was in the city of men, but it was cleaner to come by it. Kiba was the stealthiest hunter, having had more practice living in the wilds than the other three. He brought down a fat winter hare and bloodied the white fur of his muzzle tearing into it, then growled ominously when Tsume lunged in to tear a haunch away. They refrained from breaking out into an skirmish – – barely, and Kiba tossed the remains of the hare towards Hige and Toboe when he was done and trotted out to scan the whiteness for signs of more prey, but it was scarce in the depths of winter. But, one hare was hardly enough to satisfy the hunger of four wolves, so they set out again with growling bellies.

It didn’t quell Toboe’s desire to romp. He nipped playfully at Hige’s rump, evicting a startled yelp, then darted past when the other wolf gamely took up the chase. The puppy pelted around Tsume, evicting a growl, then swerved across Kiba’s path as Hige’s teeth snapped shut in the air where his tail had been. Kiba changed course to accommodate, making a snapping pass at the puppy himself and then quite suddenly yelped and stumbled, tumbling head over tail to land in a heap in the snow. The yelp had not been one of anger or surprise, but of hurt and he didn’t rise to shake the snow free from his fur. As they gathered around, Kiba shifted, trying to turn himself over and another yelp broke the still air. There was red staining the white of the snow and the white of Kiba’s pelt. It stained one of his front legs, as well as the cruel metal teeth that had snapped closed around it, biting into flesh and bone.

Kiba growled, inching forward to bite at the metal with his teeth. Hige moved closer, trying to lick away the blood but Kiba snarled and snapped at him, golden eyes wild with the hurt.

Kiba, let me help. Hige pleaded. But Kiba wasn’t of a mind to let them near, primitive animal panic overtaking calmer sensibilities.

He’ll take your throat out if you try again. Tsume’s dry observation.

Toboe whined, crouched low to the ground, half hiding behind a fallen tree, tail tucked in fear. Sorry sorry sorry sorry was all that emanated from him, as if he blamed himself for Kiba stumbling into the trap.

We won’t get it off like this. Tsume added. Wait till he calms down.

Yes. Yes. Hige agreed with that sentiment, crouching with desperate concern wrinkling his brow while Kiba slowly began to get his breathing under control. A sharp crack permeated the woods and a chunk of dead wood from the fallen tree splintered into the air.

Tsume cursed. A human curse and crouched eyes scanning the wood and finding the tall, lumbering forms of men, dressed dark against the snow. One had a rifle and had lifted it again to his shoulder to aim. There was no getting Kiba out of this now, without the lot of them falling to bullets.

Kiba, if you value your hide, make them see a human and now! Tsume blasted that advice at him even as another boom split the air and Hige yelped, fur flying as the bullet passed over his neck, just grazing him.

Run. Tsume barked at them.

We can’t leave him. Hige argued stubborn and desperate.

“Run” Kiba hissed at him and it wasn’t in wolf speech, but the pained tones of a human voice, just loud enough for the approaching men to hear and ascertain that it wasn’t a wolf that lay in their trap but a young man sprawled in the snow, his arm tangled in the bloody teeth of the trap, his skin almost as white as the snow. He was trembling and wild eyed, face showing little more reason now than it had when it had been furred and long snouted and full toothed. But it was only an clever illusion after all. There was a wolf beneath it. A frightened wolf. A pained one.

“Go – -” he gasped at them even as a third boom rent the air and this time they scattered, running full out and low the ground. Which left Kiba trembling in the snow, bleeding profusely, feeling the cold so much more acutely now that the blood seeped out of his body, pooling around the frigid clamp of the trap’s teeth.

They clomped through the snow towards him and he heard the rasp of their breath and the sound of their low curses when they realized it was no animal they’d caught in their vicious trap. He growled at them instinctively when they crowded close and tried to twist away when they laid hands to him, but that only made the bones in his arm shift under the grip of the metal teeth that had shattered them and he saw red, then white, then dim gray which stayed with him some little while and saved him the agony of them prying the jaws of the trap open around his mangled flesh. He came back again propped up in the arms of a man that smelled of blood and death, with another one looming over him. Thick arms tightened around him when he started to bolt and they were uncommonly strong for human arms or he was uncommonly weak from the shock.

“Ho there, boy. Settle down. Let me take a look at that arm.”

They wore the pelts of a multitude of animals, not least among them wolf, across the shoulders of the one leaning over him, trying to take his mangled arm in his big hands. “How you caught an arm in the trap is a mystery. Lucky it wasn’t your head, eh or we’d might as well left you for those beasties to devour.”

“Still might.” The other one observed. “Trap meant for a bear mangles a man right good.”

“Nothing for it, but to take him back to the post and see what the old man can do.” They hauled him up and Kiba’s legs trembled. The instinct to bolt was strong enough to make his vision tunnel – – but some small kernel of reason warned against that. He was lame now and an easy target for their guns. So he endured their touch and their stench, focusing past the hurt to the knowledge that the pack had escaped unscathed.


They took Kiba to what seemed a rustic little outpost of humanity in the midst of the wilderness. A few squat, log buildings nestled in the snow. A smokehouse from which billowed clouds of gray. A small shed attached to a circular corral on one side and a long kennel on the other.

It’s a trading post, I think. Hige crouched between Toboe and Tsume, lower body hidden in the snow, golden eyes intent upon the activity outside the buildings. There were other humans there. Two that came out to greet the ones that supported Kiba’s listing form between them, maybe more within. All of them thick and rugged and hard from life outside the sheltered cities of men. Hunters. Trappers.

What do they trade? Toboe asked, tail thumping nervously.

What do you think? Tsume jerked his nose towards the side of the main building where racks of pelts sat stretched out between poles.

Oh. Oh. The puppy’s ears flattened. They won’t hurt Kiba?

Not if they think he’s a man. Hige felt assured of that.

Tsume snorted. Don’t hold illusions. Men hurt men all the time.

Toboe whined. Hige bared his teeth, not happy with that observation. We need to go down there and get him.

How? Toboe asked – – whined – – still unnerved by the pelts.

“How do you think?” Hige asked, crouched beside them in skin now instead of fur. Cloth covered human skin with a soft mop of human hair upon his round human face. Tsume growled, not liking the idea, but Hige was already pushing himself up, brushing snow off his bare hands and tromping down the hill towards the human trading post.

Tsume – – what do we do? Toboe asked, a young wolf dependent on an older, tougher one’s guidance.

“You stay.” Tsume said, rising in his human form, sleek with black leather and narrow hips and pale, cropped hair.

But, Tsume – – Was all of the complaint that Toboe got out before Tsume spun and grabbed the fur and skin at the back of Toboe’s neck yanking him off his front paws and fixing him balefully with eyes that were too intent and too feral to belong in a human face.

“You stay, understand? You’ve no guile about you and these are not soft men.” Toboe whined, flattening his ears, thumping his tail in the snow. Tsume let him go, satisfied.

“And keep an eye out for traps. If there was one, there will be others.”

Kiba saw lights. Like teasing, flickering fireflies at the edge of his vision. They came with the pain. He ground his teeth and held back the growl that wanted to spill up his throat and let the old man with his old man smell and his leathery skin and yellow, rotting teeth take hold of his injured arm. They’d brought him here to this place that stank of death and given him over into the hands of this old human, who looked at him grunted and said why bother setting the arm when it would probably fester and go bad anyway. Just as well take it off now, he said and Kiba had panicked then and struggled, all reason gone, replaced by the desperate desire to escape before they could butcher him. The other ones, the younger, stronger ones caught him and held him down while the old one shook his head and muttered.

“Fine. Have it your way. The infection’ll kill you when it comes. Not much in the way of medicine out here.”

That capitulation calmed him somewhat. It let him lie still while the old man, who seemed to know a thing to two of basic doctoring, set about straightening the broken bones of his arm.

“Young.” One of the broad figures hovering behind the old man commented. Kiba could not make out anything but a blurred silhouette, nothing but the overwhelming smell of blood and human stench. He was beginning to feel sick.

“Clean.” Another one said, as if cleanliness were a foreign thing to them, but his voice was nothing but an echo.

Almost he lasted the procedure, having a higher tolerance for pain by far than any simple human man would have – – but perhaps it was the form he wore that lent the weakness – – for though he uttered not a sound as bone grated against bone and fresh blood spurted from torn flesh twisted in efforts to set the arm straight, he fainted near the end and only came back to himself later, with his arm a pounding point of pain at the end of his shoulder, but not as intense as it had been. They’d covered him with blankets and put him on a narrow bunk within the confines of a small dark room. No windows. No stream of fresh air, just the stench of pelts and the odor of malt liquor and flour and various other dried foodstuffs. A storage room then, that they’d spared a corner of for his wounded self. It was too small and too cramped and he felt the panic – – the urge to flee rise up. It threatened to choke him and he trembled on the verge of changing back into his wolf-self. He fought it back, aware that the panic was pure animal instinct and that pure animal instinct would get him nothing but killed here. It was human instinct that would get him out of this – – and though he distrusted it himself, Hige was always saying that if you wanted to walk among them, you had to think like them, no matter if it left a bad taste on his tongue. Sometimes you had to listen to what Hige said and respect it, even if Hige oft times played the fool. Hige had survived longer among men that Kiba had, had done it more surreptitiously than Tsume – – so Hige knew things that were maybe more than instinct and gave out his wisdom sporadically, knowing very well that defensive alphas didn’t always like to take it.

He heard a disturbance beyond the door. A creaking of old floorboards then a louder squeaking of rusty hinges as a door opened. There were voices, muffled by the wind that he’d only been peripherally aware of outside the thick timber walls of this structure. And with it, familiar scents picked out from amidst the distasteful ones.

Hige and Tsume. Fools to venture in here after him. Fools not to have left him and gone on their way, which was only practical. He would have. Well – – perhaps. Perhaps not. Not if it had been Hige – – or even, he supposed grimly, Toboe, who needed watching, being still half pup. Tsume could fend for himself. Tsume damn well could, and had said so, up in Kiba’s face, more than once. Tsume was competition and Tsume was alpha and pack instinct said that there was only one alpha.

Yet, that was Tsume’s scent permeating the crack under the door, as well as Hige’s, which meant Tsume had come here after him, all competition aside – – so Kiba had to wonder if maybe he might not have left Tsume in the same situation after all.

He pushed himself up, unsteady even with the good arm, and his head spun dizzily and his knees threatened to give out beneath him when he stood. It took a moment to find his balance, to clear his head of the spots of red pain, but he managed it and staggered to the door, putting a shoulder against it and pushing it open, and leaned against the frame, staring out at a confrontation of sorts.

Three large humans blocked Tsume and Hige from advancing into the main room of the post. The door stood open behind them, letting in snow and fresh, cold air.

“That’s him. That’s him.” Hige said, excited, trying to brush past a man and having an arm curl out and block him. Tsume didn’t attempt anything. Just stood there, with his arms crossed and his golden eyes narrowly accessing the room. He spared hardly a glance for Kiba, more intent on the men and the weapons they carried and the weapons within their easy reach.

“Friend of yours, huh?” the old man that had tried to butcher Kiba limped forward. Now that pain didn’t color his vision quite so thoroughly, Kiba noted that he smelled like the younger ones. Related, all of them. The old one the sire of the others. He’d once been as burly as his sons, but time had withered the muscle from his bones. Now he was stooped and walked with a limp, but there was intelligence and speculation in his eyes that the younger ones didn’t have. Still leader of his own little pack then. With humans it wasn’t always about physical strength.

“Rough country to be hiking through with no supplies.” The old man observed.

“We have supplies.” Hige said, trying to cover up their lack of by lying. Kiba winced and Tsume’s mouth tightened. A lie would only bring them trouble when silence would serve just as well. Hige had a hard time with that concept. He had a harder time with convincing lies, the skill not coming as naturally to wolves as it did to humans.

“Where?” the old man asked, greed in his eyes over what they had that he might covet.

“Let’s get out of here.” Kiba said, starting forward. Two steps past the support of the door and his vision went watery, his legs strengthless. He saw the grain of the floor coming up at him, half saw the flash of Tsume avoiding the bulky forms of the humans and darting towards him, catching him before he connected with the floor. The world narrowed then to the black of Tsume’s vest and the unique, not displeasing odor of Tsume’s scent. Even that faded away . . .

It happened so fast after that. The humans were too slow to stop Tsume from catching Kiba before he fell, but they laid hands on Hige and shoved him back to the wall beside the door that lead to freedom.

“You’re not going anywhere. You owe us. We patched him up and we didn’t have to.”

“It was your trap that hurt him.” Hige protested and one of them grabbed the collar that circled his neck and dragged him nose to nose, angry at that all too reasonable observation. Tsume was about to get into it, when there was a yelp from outside. A plaintive, frightened yelp followed by a chorus of angry growls from beasts that were not wolves at all, but the trained dogs of men.

“Damnit – -” Tsume growled, getting a grip on Kiba, ready to haul him up and out right through the men, if he had to. But there was the alarming click of guns being readied, the long barreled rifles that could kill even a running target very efficiently at a distance in the men’s hands.

“The dog’s ‘ve cornered somethin’ out there.” One of them cried. “Go find what it is and shoot it.”

“No!” Hige was huge eyed, torn between staring at the guns and the slice of the outside world visible through the door. “Don’t shoot anything!”

He got dubious stares for that. He held up his hands, tucking his head and playing submissive so well that Tsume growled in disgust deep in his throat. But Hige got the human’s attention.

“Why in hell not, boy?”

“Out there – – its our – – our dog. Please don’t shoot our dog.”

Tsume growled louder, pale eyes flashing in annoyance at Hige. Hige met his gaze momentarily, before his own skittered away and back to the men.

“I don’t trust you. None of you, come into our territory with no packs and no explanation. I think you’re bandits out to rob us.”

“No. We’re not.” Hige insisted. “We’re just – -”

“Shut up.” The old man snapped. “You go on out there with Seth and find your dog if ours haven’t ripped it to shreds already. And you – -”

An ominous gun barrel turned towards Tsume and Kiba. “You strike me as being shifty – – and dangerous – – mite more dangerous than this one here.” The man jerked his head disdainfully towards Hige, keen enough to sense the difference between them. Which only confirmed Tsume’s assumption that the old one was the one to be most wary of. “You take your hurt friend there back into storage room and you stay put till they get back and I can figure out what you all are up to.”

“No . .” Tsume said low and angry, absolutely not wanting to be driven into that small dark room that Kiba had staggered out of.

“Or,” the old man said, and another gun leveled towards him. “We could just shoot you all right now and not have to worry about it.”

“Tsume . . .” Hige said, trying to sound reasonable, trying to avoid bullets being fired at any of them.

“All right.” He growled, low in his throat, and got an arm around Kiba, levering him up and edging backwards towards that room. “They shoot our – – dog,” he said, staring the old man unflinchingly in the eyes. “I’ll kill you first.”

It might not have been the smartest thing to say, considering who had who at the point of a gun barrel, but the old man looked away first, ushering two of the others outside with Hige.

The door slammed shut behind them, before Tsume could dump Kiba on the narrow cot. He heard a bolt dropped. He turned back towards it with a snarl and a driving urge to tear it down. He could break through it with little enough trouble, he was certain – – the only problem was, Kiba was effectively lame. No matter how much heart he put into it, he wasn’t running anywhere on that leg. He’d heal quickly, it was their way – – but it would still be days before he did anything but limp by at a walk.

Hige tromped through the snow, a half dozen steps in front of the men from the trading post. The growling of the dogs was growing louder, the hysteria of hunting instinct making their barks shrill and meaningless. He had to hope that these men could control them or they’d turn on him the moment they sensed him, dogs being no wise as gullible as humans when it came to wolves in men’s clothing.

And there, proceeded by a few tell tail traces of blood in the snow, the gathered pack of mongrel dogs snarling and snapping at one very frightened, very sorely disadvantaged young wolf.

“Call them off!” He cried back at the men, hardly hesitating as he waded into the mass of snarling, snapping bodies, getting a hold of a thick neck and yanking back before they realized what was among them. If he’d have stopped to think for an instant, he might have balked, never having had that much of a fighting instinct. When they turned on him, he went down in the snow with a yelp and only kept the jaws from his throat by the grace of a forearm thrust up in its place. That hurt, but the men pulled the mongrel off before it could rip his flesh and he sat on his knees afterwards, thankful that he’d the presence of mind to hold onto the illusion in the midst of that painful confusion. He held out his arms and Toboe crept close to him, tail tucked, muzzle bleeding, tongue lolling in exhaustion, trembling from fear or reaction, or hurt, so bad that Hige hugged him close, glaring up at the men and the growling dogs they held back from the both of them.

“That’s no dog.” One of them said. “Looks like a wolf to me.”

“He’s tame.” Hige insisted. “Raised him from a pup.”

“Dogs don’t much like you either.” The other man said.

Hige dipped his head, not having much of an answer for that, scared and starting to catch Toboe’s convulsive trembling. Even the dogs had the scent of death to them. They were huge scarred creatures with thick leather collars around their necks and the glint of feeding frenzy in their eyes. Bred and raised by men to be killers in a way that no Wolf ever was. Tsume or Kiba wouldn’t have backed down, wouldn’t have showed fear in the face of them, even with the contagious fear leaking from Toboe – – but Hige didn’t kid himself. He wasn’t Tsume or Kiba – – so he’d have to use his head to get them out of this, if these men were so inclined to listen to a little logic.

Kiba woke up with a snarl and a convulsive lunge at the closest living breathing thing. He hurt too much to separate the scents of men and death that permeated this room from the more familiar smell of Tsume. Tsume smacked him down, growling as Kiba raked his arm in his panic. Kiba rolled off the side of the bunk and onto the floor, addled from more than Tsume’s blow, trying to back away and get a solid wall at his back.

“Calm down.” Tsume warned him, low voiced, bristling still from Kiba’s unprovoked attack.

“Why – -” Kiba shook his head, forcing down the hurt that radiated up his arm, making himself ignore it and gain a little focus. “Why are we still here?”

Tsume sat there, pale hair, pale skin in the dark. He was angry and upset – – but there was also the taint of worry. Something was wrong.

“What?” Kiba hissed, bolting up, wanting out that door regardless of consequence. Tsume pushed him back down, palm to his shoulder, weight bearing him back against the wall he’d just left, and loomed over him, eyes gone focused and sharp, bared teeth very close to Kiba’s face.

Kiba growled, hating the injury that made him weak – – hating being on his back with Tsume over him, with Tsume’s jaws so near his throat and Tsume’s dominance threatening his own.

“Calm down, Kiba.” Tsume repeated. “The dogs are after Toboe. And men with guns. Hige’s out there with them, trying to find him. There are more men with guns outside that door. If we run with them on our tails – – only three of us will get away. If we’re lucky. Understand?”

It was more than Tsume usually said. More than he usually took the time to explain. It sounded dismal. Kiba knew which one of them wouldn’t make it. The one that couldn’t run.

He stilled his breathing, forcing calm and willed Tsume off him. Tsume backed off in his own good time, and sat across from Kiba, his back to the abandoned bunk. “They think we’re bandits.”

“You told them otherwise.” Kiba hissed, low and indignant. To be mistaken for scavengers was humiliating.

Tsume shrugged silently and after a while said. “They’ll believe what they will.” When Hige gets back with Toboe, we should walk out of here.”

“I can.” Kiba said, willing to endure the pain.

“I know.” Tsume said. “Its running you’ll fail at. So we walk and we don’t give them reason to chase us.”

There was a commotion from beyond the door. The mindless, excited barking of dogs, the grumbling of men, a shuffling of movement as the outside door opened and let in a blast of cold air that Tsume and Kiba only caught the barest hint of as it seeped through the cracks of the storage room door. Still it was enough to scent Hige. No Toboe. Tsume’s brows drew a little at that, but Kiba ignored him. Even without Toboe the three of them could take these men. More than easy inside the confines of this building . . . but there were the dogs outside to contend with and it sounded like a large number of them. A healthy wolf could outrun them . . . it was painful admitting that his leg would prevent him from doing so. Painful admitting that Tsume was right and that walking out of here seemed the only option for him.

“Your friend is back.” The door swung open under the hand of one of the men. Kiba pushed himself up, ignoring the pain in his leg, following Tsume to the door and the fresher air beyond it. Hige was in the open doorway, one of the men behind him, one standing warily just inside the door holding a rifle by the stock. The old man sat at a table in the corner, another gun within reach, one leg propped up on an empty chair. There was a shuffle at the door and a desperate young wolf tried to nose his way in to press close to Hige.

“Damn dog. Out.” The man at the door cursed and swung the butt of his rifle down, smashing Toboe across the snout. A pained yelp and a scramble backwards into the legs of the man behind Hige. Kiba snarled. Tsume did more, flying in the face of his own reasoning and lunging across the room faster than human eyes could easily follow, latching hold of the man with the gun, snapping a forearm with his teeth and flinging the howling human away.

It was all jumbled confusion then, men yelling, the low growls of wolves with a purpose. Kiba pounced on the table, the hurt of his leg fading to a distant echo in the face of adrenaline induced purpose. He caught up the rifle before the old man could reach it, crushing the barrel in his jaws, meeting the old man’s rheumy eyes with his own predator’s gaze. What the old man perceived of what was happening was debatable; whether he saw a cold eyed young man staring him down or was able to pierce the illusion and looked upon a white wolf. Regardless there was fear in his eyes. Being a hunter himself, this old human knew another of his kind when he saw it.

A shot rang out, but it hit nothing, and was soon followed by the muffled cry of a man and the clang of teeth closing in on metal. Tsume had disarmed a second man and rendered the weapon useless. Toboe was standing over the one outside the doorway, growling.

“Come on. Come on. Come on.” Hige urged them out, hovering just inside the door. “We need to go now.”

“Go then.” Tsume snarled. “I’ll catch up after I make sure they won’t follow.”

“Are you insane.” Hige cried. Toboe swung large frightened eyes his way. Kiba stared, trying to read the intent in Tsume’s eyes. Tsume was never so easy to read. But Tsume was practical and Tsume would do what needed to be done to insure survival.

“Kiba go.” Tsume said. “Get a decent head start.”

“Come on, then.” Hige said, having enough sense not to stay and argue the point. He latched hold of Kiba and urged him for the door. The hurt was back. Kiba felt it lancing all the way up his leg to his shoulder. It didn’t matter. It didn’t stop the fact that he had to move. Toboe loped ahead through the snow, casting wary looks over his shoulder at the lights of the outpost and the frantic barking of penned dogs. Hige paced Kiba at a slower pace, offering support which Kiba refused.

“Will he . . . kill them, do you think?” Hige asked very softly, so Toboe wouldn’t hear.

Kiba growled low in his throat, concentrating on moving through deep snow.

“Kiba?” Hige wouldn’t let it drop.

“I don’t know. I would. They’ll kill us if they have the chance.”

“Oh.” Hige said and drifted into silence. Then, after a bit. “Maybe he just scared them into leaving us alone.”

“Maybe.” Kiba said reflexively to avoid being asked again.

There was the soft crunch of snow behind them. And out of the shadows a silver gray wolf ran. There was no obvious blood on muzzle or coat to indicate one way or another what he’d been about. Kiba didn’t ask. Just kept going as Tsume slowed his pace to lope beside them.

“Tsume . . .?” Hige started, but Kiba swung a warning glare his way that said very clearly ‘let it be’. And Hige did for the moment, though Kiba had no doubt that his curiosity would get the better of him sooner or later.

“We’ll find a den somewhere in a while to rest for a while.”

“I don’t need it.” Kiba said.

“The rest of us do.” Tsume said. “It’ll be okay. Just a little rest, then we’ll be on our way.”

Kiba didn’t argue. He wouldn’t admit the weakness but he had only so much energy to fight against the chance to heal. So they’d find a hidey hole somewhere where he could curl up and lick his wound and let time help repair it, where they could drape against each other to repel the cold and act for a little while at least like a real pack.