Glory huddled, shrouded in the shadow of the burrow mouth. The mound of earth above the main burrow entrance, the heartmound, was dark against the sky, lit by the full moon. The stars were little claw-pricks in the distance and as Glory craned his sharp snout they had never felt farther from reach.
Glory, a niggling voice snickered in his ear, you can’t ignore us forever.
Don’t listen to him. Another insisted, tone gentler. You’ll come to accept your gifts in time.
“Gifts!” Glory spat as he snapped at the empty air beside his head. “I don’t have gifts, only curses.”
Now, now. The first voice began again. Stop, Glory, before you hurt our feelings.
Silence! Ordered the second. I apologize, Glory. Sadly, your abilities to commune with the dead include the vile as well as the helpful members of The Before Us. I will try to send the trouble-maker back to the Catacombs, where he belongs.
“I don’t care where you go!” Glory hissed, his heart pounding and fur on end. “The wonderful Starlands or the dreary Catacombs, it doesn’t matter. Just leave. Me. Alone.”
“If that’s what you want.” A smooth voice carried through the tunnel behind him.
Glory swiveled around, his bulk making the tunnel seem narrower than before. “Wait, Slate!” He called, suddenly desparate for the presense of his mate. “I didn’t mean you.”
Slate’s whiskers twitched, her tawny brinded pelt dim in the low light as she padded to his side. Together they faced the tunnel opening, wedged tight to each other, but somehow comfortable despite the confines. Slate was warm, coarse fur mingling with his, their tails overlaying each other. Glory sighed and sagged against the smaller meer.
For several moments they stayed like that, then Slate seemed to rouse from the pleasant stupor of their proximity. “What’s wrong, Glory?”
Glory blinked, trying to pull himself from a relaxed daze, the voices hadn’t given him peace for this long in turns. “Nothing’s wrong.” He muttered groggily.
Slate nuzzled the patch of dark fur that spread from his chest to his shoulder, her black nose cold. “I know that’s a lie. Do you forget how well I know you, Glory?”
Glory sighed and licked the fading scar on the side of her neck. She tensed at his touch and Glory flinched away, unbidden memories of their turbulent past flooding his mind. He laid his head on his outstretched forepaws without answering. Slate nibbled his small, round ear but her body remained rigid. She pulled a fat earthy orange tick off him and popped it between her teeth. It sounded like thunder in the calm passage.
“Is it the pups, Glory? Are you scared to be a father?” Slate questioned. “Or is it…what happened to Blister?”
Glory glanced at the slight weight in Slate’s belly, his mate was barely showing at only a moon in. Was he scared of being a father? His own father, Growl, hadn’t been the best role model. He was fierce and mean, and Glory steered clear of him when possible. It was his mother who raised him. She was a proud dominant female, and she had pushed Glory and his littermates to be the strongest and most cruel. In fact, if it weren’t for Blister’s viciousness to Slate when she was young, he probably wouldn’t have targeted her as much as he had. Glory was a bully just like Blister. Wouldn’t that effect what kind of father he was?
And what about Slate, could he trust her to be a good mother? He watched his mate as she continued to groom him. Blister had evicted Slate’s mother right in front of her for having pups as a subordinate female. For awhile Slate had earned Blister’s favor but when Blister betrayed her, Slate had snapped. It led to a challenge for leadership, which had left Blister dead at Slate’s paws.
What a pair you make, the first voice crooned.
I must admit, you are an odd couple. I thought for sure that Slate wouldn’t take you as her mate after ridding the group of your mother, not after you attacked her as pups. The second voice agreed.
“I’ve changed.” Glory bristled and rumbled low out of the side of his mouth. If Slate heard him, she ignored the statement.
Do you even love her? The first voice wondered.
Of course! Glory thought to himself but didn’t say aloud. “Its not the pups, or Blister.” He admitted to Slate. “You know I don’t blame you for the way you took leadership.”
Slate paused the grooming and stared at him with clever umber eyes. “What is it then?”
Glory inhaled sharply. “I think I need to leave the family.” Then he waited, heart hammering with shock that those words had even left his jaws, but he realized as soon as he said them that they were true. He had too much bad blood with the Zeros, with Slate. If he stayed, especially with the voices plaguing him, he wouldn’t be able to care for his family.
Slate was stunned silent for a heartbeat, then she rose. She regarded him coldly, a glare he was familiar with from the days when he’d relentlessly picked on her. Part of him wanted to take back the words, to confess his devotion to her, but he couldn’t. A larger part of him knew that he didn’t deserve her, not after all he’d done. She’ll be better off without me.
“Then go.” Slate said before turning and vanishing into the darkness of the tunnel.
Sudden exhaustion enveloped him, and he sank, resting his chin in the cool sand. He shivered just slightly but didn’t dare follow Slate to the heartchamber where the rest of the family would be sleeping, cuddled together for warmth. As his eyes drifted shut the second voice assured him quietly.
You’ve done the right thing.
He hoped so, come morning he’d be alone, with only the voices for company. His dreams were empty when he finally submitted to sleep.