A Wolf Among The Sheep

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"Why Unc' Ro go with Deddy an' An-ers?" Tala piped up as she waited for a spoonful of stew to cool down, per Ronan's request as the male sat there gently blowing on the hot liquid. He paused, hesitating slightly as he glanced back up to Anders. He knew they had told Teddy, but he wasn't entirely sure how smart it would be to inform Tala of this new development.

The two-year-old would be spending a lot of time with Tate, and therefore liable to slip up and accidentally let the secret out. While she could hardly be blamed, because she was only two, until they were ready to tell everyone, it may be better to simply keep it a secret from the toddler too. Teddy could be reasoned with, and had been told to keep it a secret because they wanted to surprise the pack later on when things had calmed down from Tala's surprise arrival. However, Ronan couldn't be certain that Tala would fully understand.

"Because, sweet'eart, I... uh... think it's really important to make some friends here. It's nice to have friends, ain't it? So I thought if I could be friends with your Uncle Anders an' Teddy, then we can all do thin's together in the future, yeah?"

Tala paused as if considering the explanation given, only interrupting her contemplation when offered the spoon of stew which she happily took. She chewed thoughtfully, a little frown of concentration marring her expression before she eventually nodded, "Dat does make sense, yes." She agreed, trying to sound like a grown-up with her formal agreement.

Ronan chuckled, reaching out to ruffle her hair as he prepared another spoon of stew.

The male then looked back to his mate, smiling faintly, "That sounds great. Perhaps we could even go fishin' an' actually bring back what we catch this time." His smile turned into a cheeky grin, referring to the story Teddy had told him the first time they had met.

"I wants to go fishin'! Why can't I go too!" Tala whined, a small 'humf!' escaping her as she reluctantly accepted another spoonful of cooled food.

Ronan raised an eyebrow, "Because you'd be spendin' time with your Pa tomorrow, don't you want to be doin' that instead?" He reminded the toddler, who reluctantly nodded and looked back down at her bowl of food, "Maybe-- maybe Dada can fish too?" She suggested slowly, pondering, "I-- I ask. I ask later."
 

potassiumboron

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Being the father of a toddler himself, Anders knew he ought to have realised the inquisitiveness that Tala would possess. She had already shown herself to be astute, to display an awareness that he oughtn't overlook, but admittedly, the werewolf had somewhat ignored the fact that she would be listening in and inquiring why her uncle was suddenly forming plans to spend time with people she presumably thought were nothing more than strangers to him.

Teddy was prone of questioning herself, with Anders often caught out by his daughter piping up about conversations she had listened in on to his own obliviousness. The fact Tala seemed to portray the same awareness shouldn't have been surprising, but he immediately froze and felt a rush of panic sweep through him when she first spoke up. Ronan was on hand to deal with it, evidently knowing how best to handle Tala, but it didn't stop Anders from feeling a distinct nervousness swirl in his gut.

He felt anxious about revealing everything to the pack enough as it was - he didn't need such a vital moment in his life to be revealed by his niece and having his pack bombard him with questions borne from suspicion. There was no single correct way of telling everyone, but Tala inadvertently causing suspicion to root in the pack really wasn't it.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, given the nausea that hit him), the talk of fishing distracted him from the greater concern telling the pack had brought him.

"I-- I don't think I'm cut out for fishing, I made that obvious when I almost threw up last time we went," he snorted as he did his best to force the memory of the day from his mind - he wanted to enjoy his food, not be stuck focusing on a day fishing he would rather forget. He did shoot his daughter a glance once realising that she had obviously babbled about that day to Ronan, though he could hardly be annoyed with her. It was no secret to anyone, especially not to his own mate, that Anders might look tough but he was as sensitive and soft as anything.

The act of fishing, seen as comparably minute to the hunts for meat the other pack members went on, was brutal to Anders and it wouldn't surprise anyone to know he had struggled to see the act through.

"Tate likes fishin' - your Pa will go with us, I'm sure he'd love that. I... guess I could tag along, make a family day of it. Just don't go expectin' me to gut a fish or anythin', I'll-- nah, I can't do that--"

"I can! You don't 'ave to, b-but I wanna! I gotta... learn to do stuff like tha' if I wanna be big an' tough, right?" Teddy beamed as her interest piqued at the sound of the little adventure, her eyes shining at the thought of actually being able to fish with people who wouldn't start crying about the 'poor fish' and abandoning the activity before she had really had a chance to enjoy it. "C-Can we really go fishin'?"
 

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"Well maybe Anders could hold down the fort with a picnic? We can do the fishin', I can teach you how to gut it an' then your Pa can set up a fire an' we can cook it for us all to enjoy, how's about that?" Ronan suggested, glancing between daughter and mate with a soft smile as he offered up the compromise. That way Teddy got her satisfaction of learning a skill while Anders got to stay away from the grisly action of it.

Ronan smiled and reached out to ruffle Teddy's hair, chuckling at her strong desire to be an 'adventurer'.

"I-- I wants to go too!" Tala piped up, seeming slightly indignant at being left out... especially upon seeing the hair ruffle that had just been given to her cousin. The toddler was still sleepy, and therefore a little grouchier than normal, "I-- I can be big an' tough an-an' strong like Deddy too!"

Ronan raised an eyebrow to Anders, but didn't dare laughing, knowing that his niece, when in this state could be ready to erupt at any moment. He fed her another spoonful, nodding in agreement, "I know you can, sweetheart. I know you can." He soothed her, reaching out to stroke the back of her head. Tala was pouting by this point, little arms folded tightly across her chest. "Good. Cause I can. I can."

It was easy to see that Tala needed her bed time immediately after dinner had been finished, and Ronan only hoped that Luana wouldn't be much longer with her bathing. While the toddler hadn't mentioned her mother, distracted from the moment she woke with food, Luana still hadn't seen her daughter since the morning, and Ronan wasn't entirely sure if she would see her tomorrow either if Tate intended to take his daughter out again. He would never say anything, but he knew his friend needed to spend time with her child. Even if it was a particularly difficult time for her at the moment.

Glancing up to his mate as Tala took the spoon from him, now no longer needing her uncle to cool the food down before she ate it, Ronan smiled faintly, "How does that sound? It could be nice to do tomorrow, if the weather's nice."
 

potassiumboron

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Similarly, Anders felt the stirrings of discomfort arise in him at the idea of taking Tala along too. He wanted to spend time with the toddler, get to know her properly and develop that uncle-niece bond, but there was plenty of time to act upon it. Taking her out with them on their little picnic, with Tate inevitably desiring to join them, would just leave Luana the one left behind. She wasn't exactly welcome within the pack and leaving her back in the hut alone for the day while they all went out to have a family day out in the woods wasn't... the nicest thing to do.

In an ideal world, she would come along and they could have that day together even with Tate present. After all, they shared a daughter and her happiness ought to be prioritised, even if that meant plastering a smile on their faces and acting like everything between them was okay for her benefit... but Tate was stubborn. The likelihood of him agreeing to spend an entire day with his former girlfriend when he could barely stand five minutes faking niceties in her presence was rather slim.

"I, uh-- yeah, that sounds great. I wanna do that, it'll be fun. Just don't go gutting any fish around me 'cos I'll throw up," he eventually responded once breaking himself out of his moment of silent contemplation, that of which threatened to dampen his mood completely. He wanted to spend time with his best friend and have her be happy, and yet right now he couldn't get the image of her possibly spending the day alone in the hut out of his mind, such an image making him frown to himself at the unfairness of it all.

But he knew he couldn't wallow on it when it was just a potentiality right now, not even the concrete reality.

He watched quietly as Teddy planted herself on the ground near the fireplace to eat her portion of the meal - she had always striven for independence and to prove that she was capable of doing things without help or assistance so her not hesitating to toddle off wasn't that much of a surprise. Granted, Anders would prefer to have her settled on his lap so he could shower her with affection but if she preferred to show that she was 'grown up', he was respectful enough to let her have that moment.

"If we ever have the opportunity to have another child, I'm gonna wish to the gods that they take up nicer hobbies. Weaving baskets or-- or making daisy chains, I dunno. Gutting fish and wrestlin' ain't my sorta thing, I dunno where Teddy got it from. But at least she has you for all that adventure stuff, I'm awful at it."
 

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Ronan laughed at his mate's comment about another potential child with nicer hobbies, grinning in amusement. The fact that Anders was open to having another child didn't even bother Ronan, who was equally as happy to allow that to happen if the opportunity presented itself. Although he wasn't sure when or even if that would ever happen, since undoubtedly they would be orphaned children.

"Perhaps if we ever get the opportunity to have a second, then you'll just have to influence them from the get go. Or we take them to those thin's, guttin' fish and wrestlin', until they just get so sick of it an' wanna do somethin' else." He smirked, pushing his chair back as Tala finished with her dinner and crawled off her chair to clamber into his lap.

The little pup was still exhausted, that was clear to see, and now with a belly full of warm food, Ronan knew it would be difficult to keep her awake until her mother arrived back. Nonetheless, he knew that Luana wouldn't want him to purposefully try and keep Tala awake for her benefit, especially when they knew just how grouchy the little girl got when she was tired. So Ronan cradled her gently in his arms, a hand scratching softly and soothingly against her back as the pup nestled into her uncle.

He would keep her there, carefully held, for a little while longer until a scratching sounded at the door. With it being a pull rather than a push, it bounced back against the frame of the door a handful of times.

Ronan shot Anders a look, body immediately on edge, until he slowly stood to put Tala in her bed, the blanket drawn up over the child soon after. Ronan then approached the door, unlatching it and pushing it open. Instantly he was relieved to see Luana's wolf form on the few steps leading up to the hut backdoor entrance, "Tala's asleep and Teddy's not far off." He warned his friend softly, who clambered into the hut as quietly as she could.

In the light, as he turned to look at her after re-locking the door, Ronan frowned as he came to realise that this was her wolf form. She had gone to bathe and clean up with a towel and clothes... where were they?

"Lu... what happened?" Ronan questioned, voice hushed to avoid disturbing the little ones. The wolf turned her head to look at him from over her shoulder, ears flat, before facing back toward where a towel hung over the fireplace guard. Her shift back was almost effortless, only a few grunts of discomfort sounding from her before she was back in her human skin. She reached for the towel, body clearly still dripping wet, hair soaked. She pulled it around herself, skin immediately breaking out into goose bumps and she reached her hands out to warm besides the fire.

Ronan's frown deepened, and he stepped closer, coming up to stand beside Anders. He rested a hand on his mate's shoulder, eyes on his friend, "Lu, don't go all quiet-- what the fuck happened?"

"It's not that bad, calm down." She muttered, having turned around to pull a chair closer to the fire so she could sit but still get warm. A cut, nice and fresh, curved along the outer curve of her eye socket, framing her left eye rather cleanly. She was grateful that the water from the lake had washed more of the blood away than there was, lest Ronan and Anders have a fit. It definitely held a bit of swelling, leaving the cut raised and eyelid slightly more closed than usual. It had already started healing, but she knew it wouldn't be healed by morning.

Ronan growled, leaving Luana to shush him with a frown, glancing nervously to Tala and then to Teddy, "Bull-- That's stupid if you think we're goin' believe it's not that bad, Lu. What the f-- what the heck happened?" Ronan demanded to know.

Luana looked down at her towel, pulling at some loose thread at the one end, "I slipped s'all. S'fine. I'm fine. Just leave it."
 

potassiumboron

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As unlikely as it was given the circumstances that would need to neatly fall into place in order to achieve it, Anders didn't just want to give up on the prospect of having another child; not when he was eager for Ronan to experience everything he had missed out on with Teddy. It might be a far-fetched dream at this point but he still clung to the hope that it would one day become a reality for them - if he didn't put his energy into believing it could happen, then he doubted it would ever materialise for them.

The man was more than happy to ponder the future he and Ronan had together when it caused no concern or anxiety to spike in him. His mate and Teddy were his own little family and right now, when his pack were displaying the vilest of behaviours and divisively stood against his best friend, they were something he could focus his attention on, knowing that he could find happiness in them when other avenues for it were looking rather fragile at the moment.

Luana was part of the little family he envisioned in his mind. Even if she wasn't with his brother at the present moment (maybe not ever if things continued as acrimoniously as they currently were), she would always be family - he was always going to be Tala's uncle, and similarly, he would always regard her as the aunt to Teddy. Beyond that bond, she was his best friend and that alone made her family.

Her arrival back into the hut therefore, after contemplating the future he had with her forming a major part of that, made him smile and any residual anxieties cease. He was looking forward to just sitting back, eating dinner with his mate and best friend, just... casually talking and enjoying a moment of normalcy and peace.

Of course, any hope of that went up in flames the instant Luana transitioned back to human form and turned to retrieve a chair. The flames lit up and drew attention to the cut near her eye, which Anders' own landed on in horror. Even with his mate's hand on his shoulder providing a sense of calm and the acknowledgement of the support he presented, it wasn't easy for Anders to just take Luana's call for calm easily - how could he when his best friend was hurt and evidently attempting to cover up the actual events?

"...Fuck off, you didn't slip, don't-- don't you go lyin', alright? What happened, Lu?" He repeated with a little more intensity than he wanted, the growl within his tone causing Teddy to stir - albeit, fortunately, not to wake. It was a warning sign he needed to lower his tone but the anger remained on his expression regardless, his hands clenched into fists at his sides.

For however soft and gentle he was perceived to be, however sensitive he was at his core, Anders also had that temperamental side: he had once lashed out at his own brother and dealt him some damage, and Ronan just the previous day stood witness to what Anders' anger could result in.

"I ain't lettin' this lie, Lu. You're gonna tell me who fuckin' hurt 'ya, I... I ain't letting anyone lay their hands on 'ya."
 

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"Shush, you'll wake them." Luana hissed softly, eyes falling to Teddy as the little girl squirmed slightly in her father's lap before they darted anxiously over to Tala, grateful to see that both children were still asleep. She knew the two were going to react in this way, and she was only relieved that Daisy and Sasha weren't around to see the cut either. Daisy had taken it all so hard, and while Luana knew she was strong and more than capable, she wanted to avoid exposing Daisy to the full truth of what was going on.

Not wanting to remain in the towel any longer, the young werewolf stood to move across to the end of Tala's bed where their pack of clothes were. She rifled through them quietly, picking out some trousers, a shirt and a jumper to throw on hastily before returning to the warm comfort of the fire.

"You ain't goin' to be doin' anythin', Anders, you hear me?" She muttered, having shrugged off Ronan's attempt to stop her. She wasn't in the mood to be touched in that moment, and she certainly didn't want a fuss to be made in a pack where the majority of people would say she deserved it. "It'll be fine, I just need some of that paste that's all - y'know, the stuff I made an' taught Daisy about?" Some ice probably would help with the swelling too, but she wasn't about to be fussy, besides, she didn't even know where they could get ice. It wasn't winter.

Luana tucked her feet up underneath herself as she sat in the chair, busying herself with drying her hair as much as possible with the towel.

"Lu... just tell us, what the hell happened?" Ronan repeated, the hand on Anders' shoulder moving to the back of his neck to massage there gently, attempting to help keep his mate calm and relatively composed. "We ain't goin' stop badgerin' ya until you tell us, so might as well get it over with cause we all know that you slippin' is bull."

A muscle in her jaw jumped, her teeth gritting together as her head lowered to look down at the towel she had allowed to slowly fall back into her lap. She knew Ronan was right, that they would both keep on at her until she told them the truth. That didn't make her want to tell it any more though. She didn't want either of them, much less Anders, storming out to the pack to find the ones behind what had happened. She didn't want anymore fuss made.

Clearing her throat softly, she fidgeted in her seat and moved her gaze over to the fire, "S'really nothin'. I don't want neither of you doin' anythin' about it, you hear? I just-- I left my clothes and towel on a rock near the lake before getting in to clean myself up. I got out, to get dried, y'know, and found my clothes were gone. Wrapped myself up in the towel and when I did that about... four of 'em came out. One of 'em holdin' my clothes. I tried to get them back but there were... too many of them. Three of them kept pushin' me back, I called them out on what cowards they were bein' - y'know, three versus one at the least, an' the one just... socked me."

Luana shrugged, keeping her gaze averted from her friends, almost ashamed she didn't defend herself better. She could have landed a few hits on them in return, if she had wanted, it was what she was trained for. But what good would that have done? It would have just made them hate her all the more.

"I stumbled back, tripped over the rock my stuff had been on an'... for good measure they stole the towel from right under me. Literally." She laughed, but it was quiet and humourless. "So I shifted an' I... I ran. I could hear them... shoutin' after me... that the only thin' I was good at was runnin'."

She was forced to clear her throat again, attempting to dislodge the lump that had formed as she kept her expression neutral and almost cold. "So there, that's it. Can I sleep now?" She mumbled, pushing herself to her feet.
 

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Obviously, Anders wasn't in favour of anyone laying a hand on Luana. Hell, just trying to mess around with her, trying to intimidate her, went far past the line of what he considered harmless joking around. The fact someone had thought it appropriate to make things physical and land her a punch to the face was horrifying, but the news that there had been more than one member of his pack to turn up to intimidate her was what got under his skin more than he thought it ever could.

The pack were his family, his community, but knowing that a few members of that collective (probably people he was close to and thought to be thoroughly decent characters) had cowardly banded together for the sole purpose of messing around with and hitting someone who had personally done them no wrong enflamed that anger within him.

If he wasn't careful, he knew it would just fire out of control entirely and he didn't want to put himself in that situation again. He despised feeling such anger and particularly hated the effects that anger had on him physically and emotionally, but there were those few exempt situations where throwing his weight around seemed to be the only real way of resolving the tension within him.

Fortunately, he had his mate at his side to relax him. He had the sight of Teddy curled up tiredly near the fireplace, resting peacefully with a full stomach, to keep his anger in check. And importantly, he had Luana's precise wish for him not to do anything stupid. Doing so would naturally increase the hatred towards her - those that had hurt her would naturally assume she had encouraged Anders to act in such a way and if defending her in that manner would just make things worse for her, then he couldn't, in good conscience, go through with it.

However much he wanted to storm out into the pack and find out just who had hurt her.

"...Eat somethin' before 'ya sleep at least, you can't go skippin' meals," he eventually managed to mumble, voice tight with his own restrained emotion. He had been biting hard on the bottom of his lip in the effort to keep that emotion back, keep it beneath the surface, but Luana's attempt to do the same thing only made his effort weaken. His hard expression made way for sympathy and concern as he approached - he kept a little distance to avoid encroaching her personal space, but he at least wanted to inspect the cut up as close as he allowed himself to be.

"Ronan can go an' get paste off Dase, you need to help ease the swelling. An' drink plenty of water, it'll help the healing process-- I think. I dunno. Daisy's good with this, I ain't smart enough to be handin' out advice. I'll do 'ya more harm than good."
 

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Instinctively her body tightened upon Anders' approach, but Luana soon checked herself and forced herself to relax. It was Anders, and she knew that he would never even consider doing to her what the four at the lake had done. She swallowed thickly, eyes averting as he inspected the cut, her arms moving to fold tightly across her chest. The last thing she wanted to do was eat. She just wanted to curl up in bed with her pup and sleep it all off.

Then a sharp pain hit her in the chest, causing her to reach out to hold onto the mantlepiece of the fireplace. What if Tala had been there with her? What if she had taken the pup with her to bathe and get cleaned up? She couldn't be certain that those four cowards would have changed their minds and left them alone. She could have so easily have put her pup in danger, just as she had done on the first day she came back.

What kind of a mother are you?

"I ain't hungry." She breathed out, trying to get a hold of her breathing which had spiked harshly as the words spoken by a member of the pack came scuttling back. The wood under her hand starting to creak under the pressure being applied by the fingers that gripped it.

Ronan stepped forward cautiously, soon standing beside his mate and in front of his friend, "Lu, you ain't eaten all day, you can't tell me you ain't hungry." He answered, watching her carefully, "Now, Anders is goin' stay with you an' make sure you eat somethin'. I'll go to Daisy an' get her some paste - I'll say Teddy scraped her knee or somethin' if you don't want her to know what's goin' on."

Luana glanced up to her two friends, gaze flickering between them and her tongue darted out to wet her dry lips. Between the two of them, and their determined expressions, she knew she wasn't going to win. Her shoulders sagged and her hands slipped from the mantlepiece in her defeat, leaving her to nod and move her chair back to the table. Luana controlled her collapse into the seat, not wanting to wake either of the pups that were asleep because she accidentally scraped the chair or banged something against the table.

"If you hear anythin' goin' on, anyone sayin' anythin'... fuckin' ignore it. I don't need either of you gettin' into trouble for this." She murmured, pulling the last full bowl across to herself to pick up the spoon and stir the contents, "An' yeah... don't be tellin' Daise, or even Sasha, about this. Dase is a tough girl an' all but I know all of this is really eatin' her up."
 

potassiumboron

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Seeing how difficult it was for his friend just to hold herself together in that moment, with her tensing at his approach being all he needed to know just how deep-rooted this attack would be for her, Anders chose to stay quiet and remain frozen to the spot he was on just to avoid overwhelming her and -importantly- accidentally intimidating her.

After the attack, she was understandably going to be on edge and while he would never lay a hand on her or even seek to actively intimidate her, he couldn't be sure that he wouldn't give off that impression with close proximity if her mind and body were as tense as they now were. As much as he might want to take her close and properly reassure her that she would always be safe in his and Ronan's presence, that they were there to ensure nobody got to her again, he had to accept that right now, that might not be what she needed.

If it was, he would wait where he was for her to make that first approach.

Instead, he opted to take a seat back down at the table in the hopes she would join him to tuck into the meal left for her, though again, he couldn't encroach into her space and force her to eat if she didn't feel like doing so. It might be what she needed but he wasn't in charge of her; he couldn't enforce that on her even if he knew that it was the best thing for her right now.

He was content in sitting in silence until she next spoke, wanting to make the environment as peaceful for her as it could be, but when a sudden thought hit him, he found it difficult to just casually sit back and sit in silence; not when a coldness sunk in in the fear that the perpetrators of the attack were closer to him than an ordinary pack member was.

This was still his pack and any one person who had hurt and intimidated Luana would be an extreme disappointment to Anders who had grown up around them. He loved the pack like they were his family so knowing some members had acted so cruelly horrified him... but it would horrify him more if his actual family members had taken part in it. He didn't want to believe it to be true and he didn't think it was... but Chester and Lyle were the most vocal in their disgust with Luana, outside of Tate.

He didn't think they would go to such extremes - but the slight doubt that lingered would be enough to drive him further into his anger if he didn't have it quashed immediately by Luana.

"...You don't have to tell me who did it, Lu. Just... it-- it wasn't-- Chester or Lyle, right? They weren't... involved, were they? Just tell me that, 'cos I'll-- I can't sit here thinkin' they'd do that shit."
 

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Ronan had slipped out to find Daisy after Luana's last comment, hoping that the younger woman wouldn't ask too many questions about the lie he was about to tell and try to come and check on her niece herself.

Meanwhile, Luana began to scoop to bowl contents up and into her mouth. She moved rather quickly, not wanting to linger too long on eating since she didn't have the stomach for it anyway. The werewolf hoping that by eating it faster, she could get it over and done with sooner rather than later. Once again the thought of Tala needing her drove her to continue with her actions, to push through the motions of getting food down her neck. Like it had done so often in that first year of being away from Tate. Knowing that her pup, born or unborn during that year, needed her to keep fighting and keep living, no matter how painful it was.

She was grateful for the silence that Anders afforded her, not wanting to have to answer any more questions about the events of the evening. She had already berated herself for going alone, despite knowing it may not have been a good idea in the first place. She also wasn't particularly keen to relive the moment, shame beginning to fill her as she wondered if she should have fought back. The cut on her face and the scrapes on her back from where she tumbled back over the rock had that innate part of her longing to tear the four pack members apart. It wanted blood for such a cowardly attack. Yet the human side knew better. So Luana reined that side of her in.

Then there was the guilt for flinching upon Anders' approach. She had caught the look in his eye when she had done so, and she wanted to apologise. But the words were caught in her throat. The innate part of her stopping her, growling and fed-up of having to apologise for things that weren't her fault.

Luana blinked as Anders' voice broke through her troubled thoughts, a look of surprise flashing across her features as she chewed on a piece of meat in the stew.

Swallowing, she paused at his question, uncertain how to react to it. Chester and Lyle hadn't been present, but she was a little surprised the Anders had considered them as possible suspects. However, the more she thought about it, the more she realised how like Anders that was, to be worried and anxious that his family had been involved.

She reached out, hesitant at first, but pushing on with a firmer resolve to take hold of his hand. Stew finished and forgotten.

"They weren't. They weren't there an' they weren't involved. I promise. Please stop your worryin', alrigh'?" Luana answered softly, giving his hand a squeeze, "I-- I expected this. I weren't prepared but I thought this would be a possibility. Don't make it hurt any less, but it's just somethin' I gotta deal with, Anders, okay? It'll pass, eventually." She withdrew her hand, but averted her gaze too, now her own anxiety forming as she readied her next confession.

"I-- with all of this goin' on-- it's stupid, it really is. But in this past day alone I've been wonderin' if it would just be safer to leave Tala with Tate an' Leah. Let them raise her, y'know? I know they'd both be good to her. There wouldn't be any worry of-- of her getting hurt in the crossfire every time I have to bring her here." She glanced across to the sleeping form of her pup, a small smile on her lips, "But then selfishly each time I turn it down 'cause I know I just-- I wouldn't be able to leave her. I really-- I really couldn't. I just-- I'm terrified Anders. What if she gets hurt because of me? Everyone would be right, that I'm an awful mother."
 

potassiumboron

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There was no explaining the relief that hit Anders at hearing that his brothers weren't to blame for the attack. The guilt eventually settled at having thought them capable of something so cowardly and vicious, especially when out of all the siblings, it was only Anders that had really displayed a violent streak to that extent - so the guilt only confounded in acknowledgement of his own hypocrisy.

But he couldn't help but think the worst of them when their reaction to Luana had been so cold and unflinchingly callous, with no effort from either twin to see the difficulties she had been under. They made absolutely no attempt to understand her predicament either - an understanding didn't need to lead to forgiveness, not if they didn't want it to, but they still refused to offer that sympathy.

So how could he consider them free from blame when they were loud and clear about the hatred they now held for the woman that had once been a friend to them? They might be innocent, and he hated himself for thinking of them so poorly, but he wasn't in the wrong for considering it.

At least, he tried to desperately convince himself of that.

"You ain't leavin' her with them, don't even-- don't think that, Lu. You ain't-- a bad mother, you know that. Look at what you sacrificed for her, yeah? That makes you anything but a bad mom," the other wolf attempted to reassure as he lifted his head up to meet her eyes, the surprise at her words and the sympathy provoked because of them filling his own. He knew he couldn't just miraculously erase all of the hurt and self-doubt she was inflicting herself with by continuing to remind herself of the words from the pack - but how could she not when the pack members continued to confound their hatred of her with their cruelty and viciousness?

"...Hey, don't go saying this shit, Lu. It ain't helpful - an' you know it ain't true. You won't let anyone hurt 'er and-- and the actions of a few assholes don't mean everyone else here would do the same. They might be... pissed off right now but I refuse to believe that this pack would, collectively, seek to hurt 'ya. That's... nah. Tala's gonna be okay, ain't nobody gonna hurt her - an' nobody's gonna hurt you again, not if you stick to someone," he assured with a firm nod of his head, returning the comforting squeeze of her hand. It wasn't going to ease the fears, he didn't expect it to, but he wanted her to at least know he was there for her.

When she refused to tell him who was to blame for the attack, it was pretty much all he could do to support her right now.

"On a lighter note, how d'ya fancy coming out into the woods with us tomorrow? Teddy an' Tala wanna fish so Ronan's gonna help 'em and then we said we'd get a little fire going, have lunch out there-- I think you should come, Lu. Tate'll probably be there too but... it'd be good for Tala, yeah? Having you both there, form some nice memories for her-- I dunno. S'up to you."
 

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"You and Daise keep talkin' about sacrifice, but you're the only ones that do." Luana mumbled, unable to help but have to sniff as she swallowed back her emotions once more. She roughly wiped at her nose, only to wince as it caused a slight sharpness to shoot down from the cut as she pulled at the skin. "I-- I'm sorry. I don't mean to keep being such a-- such a downer. You an' Ro are back together, we should be happy, not fuckin'-- havin' to deal with me ruinin' the atmosphere every time." She snorted softly, attempting to lighten the mood.

She always felt guilty after unloading her thoughts onto Anders. It wasn't fair for him to have to listen to her misery when he ought to be spending time with his mate and relaxing in the bliss of his family being together again. Luana didn't want to keep interrupting that for him, and so kept flipping between her own angst and grief to the happier mask that she forced herself to wear for the sake of those who did accept her return, and for Tala.

However the attack on her that evening just raised the bubble of anger that had been lingering in her sternum since her arrival. Anders' words, of sticking with someone, only helped fuel that bubble in making it's way up toward her throat, so close to soon being released.

Not because of what Anders had said, but rather the connotations of it. She had been going to bathe. Nothing else. Why should she have to stick with someone for something as simple and easy as that? She shouldn't have feel anxiety every time she wanted to leave the hut, or when she knew Tala would be out with someone, around the very same people that had attacked her. She wanted nothing more than to go back outside and rip apart the people who had ganged up on her. But that would make them hate her even more.

The offer of joining them all in the woods had Luana pausing, considering the idea. Her first reaction was excitement, just at the idea of being able to do something together as a family. However, it was the thought of Tate being there that made her pause. Despite knowing how much he hated her, there was still that part of her that loved him fiercely, and wanted nothing more than to spend the day with him and their daughter. It was just the fact that she knew that she would spoil his day if she came along that had her hesitating.

Though she had to briefly wonder if the actions of that night were because she wasn't being seen to be with Tate and Tala. He could barely seem to spend five minutes in her presence, so perhaps that was reflecting to the pack that their alpha really didn't want her here. Perhaps they felt like they were doing him a favour, by trying to chase her out.

"I don't know, Anders. I just-- you know he hates me." She muttered, bringing a knee up to her chest and hugging it to herself, "I'm just conscious about that reflecting back to Tala, y'know? I don't want their time together soured by him not being able to enjoy himself with her because I'm there." She exhaled, shaking her head, "I'll think about it."

Panic then overcame her expression, leaving her to sit up and reach back for Anders' hand, "Don't be tellin' Tate anythin' tomorrow, whether I'm there or not." Luana asked of him, looking at him imploringly, "He can ask but he won't push for answers if I tell him a lie he won't believe. He didn't this mornin', so I doubt he will tomorrow. So just... please don't say anythin'."
 

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Anders didn't anticipate an immediate answer to the offer, not when he knew she would think over every detail once hearing that Tate was likely to be present too, but it didn't stop him frowning sadly at how badly things had deteriorated between the two. As understandable as Tate's anger was, Anders couldn't pretend it wasn't hurtful to see him regard Luana with such hatred. He knew he had harboured the same hate just a day or two prior, but it was precisely because of having harboured that hate that he knew how relieving it felt to just let it go; to understand Luana's perspective and while not liking the actions she took, forgiving her for them because he loved her.

And she was family, and forgiveness was something families did.

It just hurt that now they had Tala to consolidate that familial bond, Tate no longer considered her that. He had moved on and now he had realised that all his doubts over fatherhood were nothing to be so concerned of, what was stopping him from having a family with Leah? There wasn't anything doing that and even though Anders supported his elder brother, wanted him to be happy, there was always going to be that sore point reminding him that he would always prefer Luana to be at his side, ruling the pack with him.

And the fact she had to even think about spending the day out with them because of Tate's presence was just further confirmation of how unlikely that scenario was going to be.

He didn't want to think about it too much longer when he was just torturing himself over what could have been, instead forcing a reassuring smile as she proceeded to request his silence over the incident. Lying to Tate's face -or just going along with a lie- wasn't easy but he would do so for Luana if that was what she thought was best. He wasn't entirely content about letting those that hurt her go unpunished, certainly not comfortable letting Teddy interact with people from the pack and not knowing if she was directly engaging with those that had hurt Luana, but she had made a decision to let it go and he supported that.

However furious he might be about letting it go.

"...Course I won't say anythin', I'm good at keeping shit from him anyway. But he'll ask, Lu. He'll be furious 'bout you gettin' hurt 'cos he... he does care, y'know? He might not say it, but he does. I don't think he'll ever not care. He might not ever get back with you or accept the bond you have, I ain't giving you false hope, but he cares. So he'll ask about the, uh... the wound, if it still ain't fully healed. Be prepared for that, you know what he's like when he's lookin' for answers. He's always been stubborn as fuck."
 

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"He didn't push me when he wanted answers for why I changed my mind about letting him go out alone with Tala." Luana shrugged, reaching behind her to roll her shirt and jumper up slightly, feeling it begin to stick slightly to the grazes on her back. "I told him I owed him no explanation an' he let it go. Simple. Look, Anders-- as much... as much as I'd give anything for Tate and I to... I've already accepted that it'll never happen. You don't need to put a disclaimer on thin's. I... love him an' that ain't ever gonna change but I also know that ain't ever gonna be reciprocated again. An' that's fine. Now I know..." She shook her head, unable to finish that sentence.

Luana knew she wouldn't be able to move on. Even thinking about it pained her. She could see her life planned out ahead of her, leading her parents pack alone. She would have to get stronger and fitter and tougher, because undoubtedly there would be a few challenges along the way, from internal and external forces. Then eventually Tala would be ready to lead and Luana hoped she would be the one to unite the packs. Despite their short but violent history.

Her head lifted as the back door opened and Ronan reappeared, instantly grateful for the change of topic.

"She didn't ask anythin'. Just handed me the jar an' told me how often to apply it." Ronan informed the pair as he walked over, putting the jar onto the table for Luana to slide across to herself.

She studied it for a moment before popping the lid open, glancing back up to them, "I'm goin' need one of you to do my back, I ain't going to be able to reach it and I've no idea where the scratches are."

Ronan hesitated, looking to Anders before stepping around the back of his mate's chair, "I'll do it, s'fine." He murmured, causing Luana to nod gratefully and turn in her seat so her back was exposed to him. The scrapes and scratches only covered from lower to mid-back, and seemed to already be healing, but were still weeping slightly. They weren't deep, which was another thing to be grateful for.

The paste stung as it was applied, causing Luana to jolt upwards slightly with gritted teeth before settling back. She propped her head up in her hand, elbow on the table as she waited for her friend to finish applying the paste to the group of little cuts.

"Cheers." She mumbled once the job was finally done, keeping her shirt and jumper rolled up to her chest to avoid it accidently rubbing off any of the treatment. She gave them both a quick smile, taking the jar from Ronan's hand before moving to the sink and mirror in the corner of the room. After washing her hands, Clarissa made short work of applying the paste to the deeper cut around her eye. It stung a lot worse, and the area was a lot more tender due to the swelling. The cut would be closed by morning, but the scar and the some of the swelling would still remain, even with the quicker healing.

The young woman returned to the table to pop the jar back on the surface, "Right, now I'm going to bed. I'm bloody exhausted." She gently patted Anders, and then Ronan's shoulders before turning to tentatively climb into bed with Tala. Luana laid on her side to keep her back exposed to the air and her cut away from the pillow. Immediately her pup rolled over and buried herself into Luana's chest and stomach, causing the werewolf to curl protectively around her, taking in a deep breath and releasing it in a sigh. Her eyes closed, heavy the moment her body sunk into the mattress, and she was asleep within seconds. Body relaxing enough for her to do so, knowing that Ronan and Anders were nearby.
 

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Even if she said everything was okay and that she understood that things would never be like they were, Anders couldn't sit and believe that saying those words didn't bring immense pain to her - and so he wasn't going to continue trying to convince her that things would be okay, not when perpetuating the conversation was only going to hurt her.

He might want to assure her that Tate cared in his own way and that their new dynamic could end in friendship; not the romance she might want but something new and enjoyable, in time. He saw that as a possibility, at least: once Tate's stubbornness ebbed away alongside much of the raw anger he was holding onto, it wasn't impossible to see him developing a friendship with his former girlfriend, not when they would always be in one another's lives.

But convincing her of that brighter future after every dark thing that had happened to her since her return to the pack wasn't necessarily going to be believed; it would come across as wishful thinking, rather than any real potentiality.

And so, Anders fell silent and continued to eat in that silence even when Ronan returned and began to help Luana out with the injuries she had sustained. In honesty, he didn't know what else he could say to cheer Luana up when it all felt pointless at the moment, and such words of positivity in contrast to the overwhelmingly negative atmosphere. She had just been attacked by pack members who had once respected and cared for her in equal measure; people who she had undoubtedly seen as friends. That was bound to have its effect on her and so piping up with positivity when it was undoubtedly unwarranted under the circumstances was, Anders feared, a recipe for annoyance - and the last thing he wanted to do was be annoying; irk Luana rather than his actual intention of helping her.

So he kept quiet, offering a smile when she made her way to the bed and waiting a few minutes more for her breathing to slow enough to suggest sleep before letting out a heavy breath, desperate to ease his body of the tension it reluctantly picked up on and harboured. He was still furious at the fact the perpetrators of the attack were out in the pack and going to bed without fearing consequences for their actions, but if he focused too much on that, he knew he would be up all night, incapable of calming down enough to sleep himself - and he didn't want to spend the next day tired and grumpy because of it.

"...This is all fucked, Ronan. I don't-- like this, it ain't right," he eventually mumbled as he sunk back down onto the chair at the table, having only got up in order to adjust the blanket over Teddy properly. "How am I gonna go out for breakfast an' see everyone when a few of them hurt Lu? How am I gonna act like I'm alright when I know some of 'em hurt my best friend? H-How do I let Teddy around the pack when some of 'em are f-fuckin' assholes? I can't, right? It just-- it ain't fair for Lu to retreat like she's the one in the wrong an' they get to go about, livin' freely without fear. It's fuckin' unfair, there ain't no justice in that."
 

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Ronan didn't like it either, all for the same reasons as his mate. He remained stood besides Anders chair, a hand reaching out to rest on the other male's shoulder once he had sunk down into it. He breathed out softly, tearing his gaze away from their friend to look at him, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "I know... I know..." He murmured soothingly, finally taking a seat himself in the spare chair, pulling it closer to his mate.

His hand slipped from Anders' shoulder to slide across the both of them, hand gently holding the top of his opposite upper arm in order to bring his mate in closer to him. They all knew that Anders was a sensitive soul, and Ronan worried not just for Luana, but for what this would be doing to Anders too. He had been on the end of his mate's rage, and it hadn't been pretty. He was a lot stronger than two years ago, and seemingly determined to make amends for the two days he had been angry at Luana. For Ronan it was a worrying combination, since he wasn't sure what his mate may end up doing.

"You heard what she said, she wants us to ignore it, get on with it... besides, how can we bring justice about if she won't even tell us who did it?" He pointed out, pressing his lips to the side of Anders' head.

His mate's presence and scent was also helping him maintain focus. He had seen red when he saw the injuries Luana had received from a simple task such as bathing alone. Furious he was, at the cowardly nature of the act, and wanted nothing more than to go out there with Anders and demand to know who had touched their friend in such a way. Or demand, in Tate's face, that he did something about it as the alpha. But perhaps it didn't matter, perhaps he had only told the pack she was staying, not that she wasn't to be harmed.

That thought alone had his blood boiling again, the idea that the male may have left such a command out just on the off chance someone did try something to scare her off. He wouldn't be liable then because he hadn't ordered anyone to hurt her. A loophole.

It was cruel thought, and one he was instantly guilty of thinking, just as Anders was about thinking the blame laid with Chester and Lyle, but after everything that the alpha had said and done and how he had behaved... Ronan couldn't help it.

"We can avoid her bein' with them for tomorrow at least. Bring her here for breakfast with Tala, an' we can go fishin' straight after. No need for anyone to talk to her or have breakfast with her except the people you want her to see." He pulled back to look at his mate, free hand raising to brush his fingers over his cheeks, "Yeah? We just gotta take it one step at a time."
 

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If it wasn't for the reassurances that Ronan provided him with, Anders wasn't sure how he would manage to deal with the situation by himself. He would find ways to manage it, keep his cool for Luana's sake, but it would be a far more daunting feat if he was faced with the challenge alone. All he wanted to do, all he could think about, was storming out into his pack and finding the culprits himself, regardless of whether he had been told by Luana not to bother to do so.

He couldn't just sit back and let them get away with what they had done without facing repercussions, without knowing just how callous their actions were and ultimately detrimental to the pack that Tate had always said he wanted to lead - a pack that had one another's backs throughout it all; a community to look out for and protect one another through whatever storms came their way.

How could anyone live amongst such a philosophy and do something so opposing to Luana who had once been part of that pack? Who actually had a valid claim to remain in it now she had a child by the alpha, that alone giving her the right to stay put should she choose to. To cruelly make her feel unwanted and unsafe in what was once her own home went against everything Anders felt the pack represented - so sure, of course he wanted to storm out there and, singlehandedly should he need to, make sure each and every one of the perpetrators of the act knew how badly they had fucked up.

...But he didn't, and he wasn't planning to because he knew it would make matters worse and, ultimately, Luana didn't want him to follow such a course of action. Yet, if not for Ronan, such actions might have already transpired and it made him all the more grateful to have him by his side, guiding him through the rough patch and ensuring he didn't just lose his cool (as he was evidently prone to do) and make everything worse for the person he wanted to protect most right now.

"One step at a time-- yeah, I know. That's-- I can do that," he promised as he reciprocated the affection he was offered by running a hand gently through the other's hair, his hand coming to rest at the back of Ronan's neck. Were they alone, he would be tempted to use that to pull his face in close and kiss him, but he withheld such a desire when he knew he wouldn't be able to just stop at that... and with two sleeping toddlers and Luana in the room, it was best to just avoid the temptation altogether and reluctantly pull away.

"You should get some sleep, y'know. I'll... go back to my hut, I'm sure Teddy won't mind cuddling up with you for the night, get in some quality time or whatever. I'd love to, uh... be a part of that, share in it, but it's just not-- it won't be long before we can do that, Ro. We'll have our own hut and we'll... be a family, just-- it'll be real soon, I promise 'ya. But for tonight, I'll go back to the family hut an' I'll see 'ya in the mornin', okay?-- I'll be fine, I ain't gonna do anythin' but settle in bed and sleep."
 

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Ronan couldn't help but feel disappointed as Anders pulled away after gently taking hold of the back of his neck, having hoped his mate would just kiss him. After everything that had happened, Ronan was keen to remain with his mate not just to make sure he didn't do anything stupid, but for both of them to just be together. It made things a little more nerve-wracking, knowing that this had happened to Luana when she had once been a valued and respected member of the pack. It made him anxious about how people would react when they told the pack about them. He had no ties at all, except to Anders, and no one knew him. They undoubtedly still saw him as the enemy. If they did that to Luana with the ties and history she did have... what would stop them from doing similar to him?

However, he kept those fears to himself, not wanting to burden his mate with them when he was clearly teetering on the edge of losing it as it was. Instead, throwing caution into the wind, he reached out to hold Anders' face in his hands and do what he wanted to do: pulled his mate towards him to press their lips together. It was a short, fleeting moment, since he didn't want someone to walk in unannounced or for Teddy or Tala to wake and see. He was certain Luana wouldn't, not with how heavily she was breathing.

Reluctantly, the male werewolf pulled back, thumbs sweeping across Anders' cheeks as he studied his mate, understanding how difficult it must be for him. He knew, since Anders had come around and understood everything, that his mate felt the need to make up for the two days of anger he had shown towards both him and Luana. Not to mention, just how close the two had been before Luana had left. Ronan had to be blind to not see just how loyal and dedicated the two friends were to one another.

"You know I would love to have Teddy with me-- an' you too, obviously," Ronan started softly, hands dropping from his mate's face to his hands to hold them firmly, "I'd give anything to have you both cuddlin' up to me tonight, but... I'm not sure it's a good idea to leave her here with me tonight. People'll wonder why you aren't takin' her back with you tonight. They might... find it odd that you've left her with Lu an' me. It may be better to keep her with you just-- just until we tell people."

It pained Ronan to say such things, and that much was easily shown by the hurt on his expression as his eyebrows knitted together.

"There'll be plenty of time for me to make up for lost times, Anders. With the both of you. For now we've got to protect Teddy, an' each other. The night we tell everyone, that'll be the first night I spend with her. The two of you."
 

potassiumboron

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Anders might have been too wary to dare to kiss his own mate, but that didn't mean he was too wary to reciprocate one. The moment Ronan took the action upon himself and leaned in for the kiss, Anders eagerly pressed into it in return, the few seconds of the simple embrace being all he really needed to get him through the night without his boyfriend. It was a sad fact that he couldn't share his own bed with him whilst other mates and their bonds were celebrated so enthusiastically, but that was just the reality they had to accept.

Albeit not for too much longer. While he didn't anticipate anyone really showering them with congratulations and celebrating their union with the same enthusiasm as they did other partners in the pack, he hoped that, at the very least, he and Ronan's relationship was accepted and respected. He at least wanted their own hut that other partners were entitled to; that chance to have their privacy and build up a family home with Teddy.

He might not really see it happening anytime soon, anticipating that doubt and confusion would slow the process down, but he had to cling to the hope or the unfairness would just get too much for him to handle.

He had to make an extra effort to remain positive when Ronan reluctantly -but wisely- declined the chance to have Teddy remain with him for the night, Anders having, in his eagerness for them to bond a little, overlooked how it wouldn't make any sense for the pack members if she remained there without Anders present. As much as he wanted to just ignore and disregard what they thought, he didn't want Teddy being at the centre of that; he wanted to protect her and putting her in the centre of the pack's gossip wasn't something he would ever willingly do.

Even if it hurt to have to take her back to his hut and leave Ronan to rest alone without them.

"...I... I know, I just-- it's not fair, Ro. But it's only a few more days, right? Then everything can-- then we can be a family, so... r-right, yeah. I can be patient, we both can," he nodded firmly as he made his way to the bed Teddy had curled up tiredly on, gently lifting her up into his arms where she momentarily stirred, mumbled something sleepily beneath her breath before curling into Anders' chest for warmth and slipping back into subconsciousness.

"I'll-- I'll come back in the morning for breakfast, okay? We both will, just-- get some sleep an' we'll be back before 'ya know it."