The cure has been found! Wolves on Anikira are recovering from the disease and life is moving forward with the promise of pups in many packs. And yet darkness looms on the horizon, daring the creatures of Anikira to relax and allow themselves to get comfortable once more.
So, it had come to this. Family, familiarity, monotony. Azazel consoled himself with the knowledge that it would not be permanent, and that it was necessary. The hounds of justice were snapping at his heels, and he could not run forever, not when the sting of his betrayal had cut them so deeply. They would not stop until they found him or found reasonable cause to give up. His father was that reasonable cause, that one lifeline. A lifeline he would not have sought out if he’d had any other option.
A howl, low and haunting, did not ring across Shyia’s plains, though he’d considered it. Instead, Azazel returned the same way he had left – silently, in the dead of night, with complete confidence and recklessness. If Arche wanted to kill him for trespassing, so be it. It was the fate that awaited him outside his father’s borders anyway. But he knew Arche would not, could not. Not his son, not Azazel. Whatever Azazel was, he would always be Arche’s son, no matter how far he ran. He was counting on this mattering more to Arche than it did to him.
This was, of course, assuming that Arche was still the alpha here. Azazel could still smell him, though it was possible he’d been demoted.
Regardless, his entrance was soundless. Azazel had no intention of letting Eponine’s soldiers know exactly where he was, even if they would find out sooner or later. He had no way of telling how close they were behind him, and if they got to him before he found Arche…
There were few sounds besides the rustle of leaves as he cut through the long grass that led into the dark forest, the moon’s light catching the outermost branches of the silvery trees and little else. Owls hooted distantly, causing his ears to swivel cautiously, but there was no cause for alarm. Not yet. Azazel was more or less safe now that he crossed the border into the forest, at least in a hypothetical, vague kind of way. Hypotheticals would have to be enough to stave off the fear.
Darkness enveloped him, and he became one with the forest, twisting lithely around it’s thick trunks and over its rugged foliage. Azazel was like a stream of water, rivulets of him running through the cracks and gaps, filling up the empty spaces for moments at a time. He seemed to hold his breath, though he knew that couldn’t be the case. Logically.
Logically, a lot of things he knew to be possible were impossible. Logically, there was a very low probability he could escape certain death, a very low probability he could find his way back to his father without being caught, and, of course, a very low probability that his father would find him out here, wandering in the dark like a lost newborn.
Azazel almost snorted aloud at the thought. Not lost. He was never lost, he was always exactly where he needed to be. Chaotic, yes, but never lost.
Luck would be on his side tonight, as it tended to be. He was not sure why life had taken a shining to him, but he felt invincible tonight. Perhaps it was the bright, full moon that hovered knowingly above the black canopies, like a watchful eye. Perhaps not. Perhaps he was just imagining things.
A sudden shuffle caught his attention. The forest was too dense for the wind to be that loud here, that disturbing, and he slowed but did not stop, stepped lighter and strained to hear any consequent noises. It was, he was sure, another wolf, but whether it was one that would save him or slaughter him remained to be seen, but he certainly hoped it was the former.
Something felt remarkably off that night. He did not understand how - and likely never would - but as Arche slipped out of the den he shared with Alina and their pups it was well into the night and the majority of the pack was asleep. The fur on his shoulders rose and his skin crawled as he stepped towards the forest, wishing he knew the reason that he was having so much trouble sleeping. Life was good, and his pack and family were safe. They were together and happy, what could possibly go wrong? But Arche knew better. Darkness had somehow always followed him, and he knew it was partially his own fault. He had let that darkness into his life, and it had taken most of his previous family from him. They had fallen away, one by one in the form of his first family. First Abaddon, then Harlot, then Azazel, and then finally Adelia had even disappeared. Only Asher remained, and he kept a careful eye on his oldest child as often as he could.
He moved slowly at first, but the further he got away from his sleeping family, the more his speed increased. He did not want to leave them for long, but something told him that he could not be at their sides at the moment. He needed to find out what was nagging at him, and eventually he found himself deep in the forest with his nose to the ground. He had picked up a scent, uncertain as to why it smelled so familiar. And yet, it was strange and foreign to him at the same time. He growled low in his throat for a moment as the scent grew stronger, but he swallowed in in order to keep the stranger from finding his location before he found them first. That was when he spotted him. At first the young male was a streak of fur in the moonlight, moving about as if chaotically to one that did not know the territory as much as Arche did.
But this wolf knew what he was doing and where he was going. At least to an extent. So Arche followed. At first slowly, but eventually he picked up his pace until the other wolf finally came to a stop and realized he was not alone. It was not that Arche was trying to hide, but he kept himself from being seen and instead allowed his approach to be heard first. But then the other wolf stopped and looked back, staring directly into the darkness that concealed his form. Azazel. He had expected some stranger, someone lost or perhaps with ill intent. But he had not seen this coming. For several moments he stood still, staring at his long lost son and wondering if he was truly in a dream. But then he breathed in once more, picking up the familiar hint on the other male's fur and exhaling while his muscles relaxed slightly. It was him. This realization moved him forward, and his paws carried him slowly out into the moonlight, his green eyes staring at the other male as his face remained obviously surprised, but at the same time suspicious about the entire situation. Where had he been? Why had he come back? And why now?
Although he did stop immediately, his slow gait gave him time to consider that he was being watched. If it weren’t for his self-preservation instincts, it might have been exciting. There was all manner of creatures it could be, wolf or non-wolf, friend or foe, predator or prey. Despite the possibilities, his hackles raised instinctively, and a shiver ran down his spine, his heartbeat quickening. He so hated having this little control. It was not right.
The forest shifted around him, speckled with silver where the moonlight shone through the canopy, but eventually he grew tired of postponing the inevitable. Azazel rolled to a halt, his head dropping as he let out a soundless breath. As his eyes slipped shut, the night fell away, but his ears caught the sound of movement clear enough. Azazel lifted his head and opened his eyes in an instant, twisting lithely around to stare into the gloom. There was little to be seen except – perhaps – his own green eyes staring back at him.
Soon the eyes grew a form of their own: a pelt of pale grey and tawny brown accentuated by dark lines. There was no mistaking his father. He was just as he remembered, if not a little more haggard than he once appeared. Perhaps he’d had more pups since Azazel was born – ones that were even harder work than he had been.
Surprise coloured his father’s face, and Azazel let relief wash over his. It was not particularly genuine, given how little he wanted to be here, but he was adept at acting. All it took was a little tapping into the emotion – the smidgen of relief that he had not been found by a band of wolves who wanted to kill him, adjusted accordingly so that it was more happy-relieved than fearful-relieved. Nothing to it.
“Father,” he whispered into the darkness, for fear of shattering his newfound safety. Azazel took a tentative step forward, eyes beginning to glimmer with wet sorrow. “I knew I would see you again some day.”
Arche could not help but stand and stare. He wondered for a few moments if he was just seeing things. Was all of this his mind playing tricks on him? But then the younger male moved, stepped forward and even whispered out to him in the darkness. "Azazel." He said softly, his tongue just making the sound as if he was unsure whether or not he was even capable. But this was real, his son had returned, almost just like he had when he was his age. The flash back came on fast, and for the briefest of moments he saw himself and his own father during his return to Airila so long ago. Had that much time really passed? Had he been back so long to drag his father's pack out of the ashes and have not one, but two litters?
Azazel was full grown, and he had no doubt gone through quite a long on his own like Arche himself had before his own return. But for some reason, the older male had not expected to ever see his son again. He had resigned to the fact that Asher was the only pup of his first litter that he would be able to hold on to, but here and now that was being proven very wrong. "You came home." He said softly, the words coming out as an airy whisper as if he did not truly believe that they were true even as he said them. He waited for a few moments, honestly not sure what he should do. Would it be wrong to rush forward and embrace the pup that he thought he would never see again? Should he instead wait for Azazel to come to him?
But the young male had come so far. He had done all of the work in returning to Aludri, and Arche could not keep himself away for any longer. He moved forward quickly, his fur rising in the excitement of the moment as he pounced at his son. But he did not land on him, of course. Instead he rushed forward to press his face into the fur of the younger male's neck, sighing heavily in relief as he breathed in his son's scent. The tiniest part of his mind told him to be suspicious, to be concerned, to wonder why Azazel had returned, but in that moment he easily ignored it. It did not matter to him why he had his son back, all that mattered was that he had come home. Everything else could be worked out in time.
The two brutes stood facing one another, staring. Azazel waited as his father appraised him, clearly attempting to discern whether Azazel was real or a figment of his imagination, little more than a dream. The moment could have been shattered by the slightest change in the air, and as soon as his father whispered his name, he breathed a figurative sigh of relief. Of course his father suspected nothing – it was not strange for Azazel to return to his home. At least, it was not strange in a bad way. He tugged a small smile onto his face, feigning quiet joy at the sight of his father.
The darkness that had previously engulfed Arche now seemed to shrink from them both, casting them in a spotlight, their own private melodrama. Arche spoke again and Azazel nodded, biting back a sardonic comment about stating the obvious, and conjured something more sentimental instead. “Of course,” he responded. “I wanted to make sure you all missed me. How is everyone – how are my siblings? How are you?” he queried, eyes lighting up. It was not far from his genuine arrogance, and he was truly interested to know how his siblings were faring. There had been nothing special about any of them, but he was curious to know if they were succeeding or failing – and how that might be used to his own advantage.
Perhaps he should have expected more of a reaction from his father, but the rush Arche made toward him was certainly a surprise. Immediately he tensed, the start of a growl tensing in his throat, and prepared to throw Arche off him. Once it sunk in, however, that it was not an attack, Azazel forced himself to relax into the embrace, forced himself to huff a breath of laughter and lean into his father. The scent was disorientatingly familiar, one that took him back to being a pup, and for a moment it felt as though the years he’d lived had rewound and he was right back at the start. It was not a pleasant feeling, but he could not shake it, and he felt earnestly vulnerable for the first time in a very long time.
To reorient himself, Azazel mustered his intellect and summoned another lie, this one more straightforwardly false than the others, but no less easy to utter. All his lies slid from his throat like water down a duck’s back. “I missed you, father,” he said, and buried his face further into the expanse of tawny-grey fur.
He was far too lost in his excitement and joy that his son hard returned to notice the tension that almost exploded from Azazel at the embrace. But he did notice when the other male reciprocated and buried his face into his fur. "Asher is the only one that remains of your litter, but I have taken a new mate and she gave birth to a litter last spring. Your half siblings names are Athalie, Albion, Arcane, and Aeris. They are still young, but growing fast." He said, his tail wagging and his eyes bright as he told his son of their family. "I am doing well. Alina has made me very happy. You will like her." He said, brightening even more at the mention of his mate. How would she react when she found out another of his previous sons had returned to him? She had gotten along alright with Asher so far, so he hoped the interaction between her and Azazel would go just as smoothly.
"How have you been? I am so glad you are home." He said, finally pulling back and sitting down in front of the full grown male he had never thought he would see again. "Please tell me you will be staying." He said, making the words sound more hopeful than he had meant them to. There was always a place here for family, right? At least that was what he wanted to believe. Azazel was welcome here, and Arche would take care of him just like he had tried to his entire life. His sons were a large part of his life, and he would not neglect them regardless of what had happened since he had left home. He himself had left Airila and returned to be welcomed back in by his own father. It was interesting how history was repeating itself, but thankfully in this case Arche was still strong and capable of taking care of the pack and the responsibility of pulling it from the ashes was not one that fell on his son's shoulders.
"Take your time getting to know the pack. There are many different members than when you left. If you need anything, you know where to find me. I will always be here for you and your siblings, I promise." He said, still unable to keep his tail from wagging happily. Although he had experienced so much loss in his life, he always managed to hold onto some hope. These were the times that he wondered if it was all worth it, but these were the moments that proved it really was. Finally he exhaled loudly, doing his best to keep himself calm and control his joy and excitement for Azazel's sake. It seemed clear that his son was glad to be home, but there was something in his eyes that let the tiniest prick of worry enter his father's heart. But for the time being, Arche ignored it. He had left Airila because he had thought his mother's death was his fault - and he still believed it to an extent - and he was certain that any reason that Azazel had stayed away so long was a good one and that he would come to tell him in time. But for now, he was simply glad that he was home.
Arche spoke in a flurry of excitement, and Azazel wondered if he had overestimated his father’s ability to think clearly. If he had been any of his siblings, Azazel would have understood why his father was welcoming him back without suspicion, but he’d thought it had been clear since his childhood that he was not a team player. Then again, pups change. Azazel had certainly changed, just not in the way his father would have wanted him to.
“Half-siblings?” he repeated, raising his eyebrows and smiling disbelievingly. No doubt they would grow up to be as banal as the rest of the pack, but if they were still fairly young, he might just enjoy their company. They would likely be the only company he would enjoy while he was in Aludri, especially if he could teach them how to be little troublemakers who thought for themselves instead of following their pack’s trite philosophy. “I can’t wait to meet them – all of them,” he informed his father. Azazel had to admit, he was surprised to hear his siblings had not stuck around. It was not disappointment, per se, as he cared little for them.
“I have been… well enough,” he responded, his chest deflating and his gaze drifting to the ground as he prepared to play the pathetic card. “I joined a pack, and it… it did not go how I had hoped. I just needed some time with my family again, to ground myself. I’m hoping things will be clearer…” Azazel shook his head, frowning, and returned his gaze to his father as he pleaded for him to stay. He exhaled a shaky breath, looking incredibly regretful. “To tell the truth, I don’t know if I will be staying. I know you want me to, I just—I don’t know if being in a pack is good for me.” Not wanting to leave his father dejected, he added, “We will see. Perhaps you all will change my mind,” with a bleary smile.
Azazel nodded slowly at his father’s words, pretending to process them carefully. “Of course,” he said. “Thank you, father, for—you know, for welcoming me home.” His gaze drifted toward the dark, dense forest, already feeling a little safer but still on edge. He wanted to get as deep into Aludri territory as soon as possible. “I know it’s late but could you—can you show me to the dens?” he queried, meeting his father’s gaze steadily once again, green eyes brimming with faux sentiment.
Perhaps if he had not been so overwhelmed with joy at his son's return he would have payed closer attention. Maybe he would have carefully judged the young male's reactions as he would any other wolf that came across his pack's borders. But he was blinded by his love for his son, and he could not let himself see any negative in the moments he was gifted with him. As Azazel told him of his adventures away from him, Arche could not help but think about his own past when he had left Airila after his mother's death. Perhaps he and Azazel were more alike than he had initially thought. "I will always welcome you home, son." He said, smiling at the young wolf lovingly. When he asked if he could take him to the dens, Arche was certain that it was not because he did not know the way. Azazel had lived here in his young life, surely he knew the pack territory better than he was letting on.
Still, the older male had his son back, and he was excited to pull him back into his life and his family. Alina would be overjoyed that he had returned, even though she was not his mother. She would be a mother to him now, whether Azazel wanted it or not. Alina was Arche's mate now, and he loved her almost as much as he adored his offspring. She was his world alongside Aludri, and he would protect her with his life. Her and Aludri. To be honest, the list of those he wanted to protect went on and on and on, and he doubted that it would ever truly end. "Of course, perhaps we will run into Alina there." He said softly, his tail wagging at the thought of seeing his mate again. "She is my mate and the mother of your half-siblings." He said, backpedaling to explain his excitement at the prospect of running into her.
She spent a lot of her time in the caves now, since the weather had been so terrible and cold. She was not equipped for it, and he hoped she would keep herself hidden away in the warmth in order make it through this long winter unscathed. His body turned away from his son for a moment, tail sweeping behind him in a relaxed fashion as he began to move towards the caves where he was certain he would find his mate. And, of course, it was a happy coincidence that Azazel wished to be shown there as well. Arche was certain that he could not be any happier in that moment, and it showed in the form of his tail wagging as he walked in the direction of the caverns.
(Azazel - sorry this sucks. My 'goodie goodie' character muse sucks today >.<)
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