“I told you to stay put, didn’t I?” Beetle regarded her bonded wolf with an expression of dismay, hands moving to ball into fists at her hips. Too accustomed to Rooter’s habits, her attitude lacked any true anger but the current importance of silent obedience kept her from the usual bemusement. Despite the fact that the humans had moved on and her fellow word-hunters had likewise moved to their hidden campsite for the day, she knew the lessons had to be reinforced with Rooter again and again; just in case she decided to try such tricks at a less opportune time. “What if something happened? You know better than this.” She glanced at the other few wolves in their various poses of unconcern. Briarfoot caught her eye and offered a toothy grin, tongue hanging out in canine amusement at the situation, before she turned her head towards her own approaching bond.
Foxtail ran absent fingers through the scruff on the back of her wolf’s neck, tugging until the beast melted against her side with pleasure. “What did Rooter do now?” she asked curiously. Before Beetle could answer, Briarfoot shared a confused jumble of images, clearly eager to tell the story herself. But, as was common with her when excited, the story barely held together in translation and Foxtail shook her head and spared a frown for her wolf. Then she turned her focus back to her friend and fellow word-hunter. “So what was it this time?”
Beetle sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. “I told her to stay put with the others but I guess she thought that was more a suggestion than an order.” She made an impatient gesture with her hand and Rooter sank downwards, belly to the ground and a look of fresh contrition on her face. Beetle turned to Foxtail then with a helpless shrug. “That noise we heard that made us all take cover so the round-ears wouldn’t hear us? It was her. She climbed to the ridge to see what we were doing and knocked over a branch. That was the noise. The branch tumbling down the rise and hitting trees.”
Trying her best to squelch her smile, Foxtail nodded. She and Beetle both knew that her own bond was of a curious and nosey nature; Briarfoot never shied away from making her opinions known where Foxtail was concerned. However, Rooter brought the notion of curious to an entirely new level. Too much elf in her, they had agreed once. Maybe she had gotten Quick Fang’s portion of the stuff, the redhead had giggled. She repeated none of this, though, and simply continued to toy with Briarfoot’s fur as she listened.
“And it’s just a good thing that we were so far up under cover or we wouldn’t have been able to hide fast enough. The round-ears would have spotted us for certain.” It should not have been possible but Rooter hunkered down even further until her eyes seemed almost level with the ground. Foxtail quickly lifted her hand to cover her mouth, eyes darting between her friend and the wolf. Beetle caught the look, however, and rolled her eyes. “Go on and laugh now,” she muttered, “but it wouldn’t have been funny if we’d been caught.”
“Oh, I know, I know.” To her credit, Foxtail managed to keep her laughter to a bare minimum as she reached for Beetle’s arm. “But we weren’t, so it’s like spitting in the river to play that ‘what if’ game. I mean, you sound a bit like my father when you do that, you know.” At Beetle’s reproachful look, she sobered immediately once more. “Not that that’s a bad thing,” she admitted quietly. “It’s kept us all alive and fed. But you can chase your tail all night if you imagine too many things at once and sometimes you just have to take what you have and run.”
She reached out and settled a warm hand on Beetle’s shoulder. “You’ll just have to explain it all over again to Rooter. Very, very clearly. She’s a smart pup and will probably understand if you tell her why. She loves you, after all.”
As if sensing the conversation’s direction, Rooter lifted her head a bit and offered a tongue-out smile. Then she performed a neat belly-crawl to place herself directly atop one of Beetle’s feet. Beetle looked down at her bond, sighed, and crouched to scratch behind one pointed ear. “I’ll try,” she agreed. With a shift, she moved directly in front of Rooter and gripped the wolf’s muzzle, lifting the compliant beast’s head easily to look her in the eyes. “You and I are going to have a long talk.”
She reinforced her words with a sharply clear image — the two of them, sitting in the midst of the Holt trees, heads together, a sense of close attention overlaying it all. You me together be careful alert sounds Rooter cocked her head to one side, muzzle still in Beetle’s grasp. They held each other’s gaze for long moments until the wolf sent a warm wave of affection and agreement and Beetle relaxed. She laughed under her breath, released the wolf, and stood. Foxtail grinned, lifting a questioning eyebrow, and Beetle returned the smile. “You’re right. I’ll make her understand.”
Beetle stretched and Rooter mimicked her before bending to accept her rider. The brunette climbed atop her mount with the ease of long practice. “But we’d better get back to camp first and meet with the others before they send out a search party for us.”
“That’s my Beetle. Always thinking.” Foxtail laughed and quickly slid onto Briarfoot’s back. “Come on. I’m starving and so is Briarfoot. Race you to the camp!” Without another word, she leaned down and urged her wolf forward as the rest of the hangers-on set up a gleeful howl and gave chase.
Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, Beetle bit back her own laughter as she bent low and squeezed Rooter’s sides with her knees. “Let’s show them how to really run, Rooter,” she whispered into a cocked ear. “And then we’ll work on your obedience with some treats.” Sending up her own joyous howl, the wolf surged forward, closing on the others’ heels swiftly. Beetle giggled and held tight. It would be all right, she thought. They still had time to learn — both her and Rooter.