Paltry reflections
For Sol!
[342] • All dressed up and ready to stumble upon - at the North Shore, right at the border between Sticks and Stones/Northern Tides
• • •
It had been his third fight in as many months.

This time, at the very least, he’d gotten some bandages to patch himself up. Or more truthfully, Ralyn had managed to steal some from a passing trader when they weren’t looking. Kronin didn’t have the luxury to consider the ethics of that, focused as he was on survival. The boy only hoped that they wouldn’t be missed.

Then again, bandages were paltry change to someone with any worth to their name. They only meant the world to those who had nothing.

He wasn’t cut out for this life. His muscles were too lean, and his body too frail. It was a shock that he hadn’t broken a bone yet. Stunted by malnutrition and neglect, he’d never be a great fighter - nor did he even want to be. But when life saw someone as little as he was, they had no problem on stepping on him like he was an ant. A small, pitiful ant, who had no desires other than to find food, to provide for their family, and to get home safe.

The canvas was soft against his midriff, its tightness comforting, even as his side itched. The bleeding had stopped a couple days prior, much to the relief to all. Now, Kronin only had to deal with the annoying scabs that had started to form.

It could have been worse, he supposed.

The boy let out a small, tuneless hum as he lay in the half-shade, waiting for his siblings to return. He did this to best ignore the pang of his stomach. His brother and sister would be back soon with food...or so he hoped. They’d had to go out farther since the rivers had flooded with sour fish, rendering their situation even more precarious. Having busted his side, Kronin was left on guard duty - if watching over a couple of packs could be called that. Truthfully, he’d been benched. He was useless.

Yet another situation that he didn’t want to have to think too hard about.
my mind's this cave
so dark, no moon, no stars

Solomon wasn't a bad hunter, not by a long shot. In fact, he'd once been rather proficient. True, his muscles had suffered from the winter and its subsequent thaw, but he wasn't skin and bones by any means. He wasn't the sort to be pushed around.

It wasn't a question of strength. It was the fog that held him back. He would be stalking a deer or a mustelid, he would blink -- and he would be somewhere else, the game no where to be found.

By now, the Amaranthe was used to the sense of disappointment and confusion. It was the only constant he could hold onto.

Other times, though, he would find himself with a kill he never remembered scoring. Those instances, while eventually accepted once the initial shock was over, scared him the most. They were small mammals, they were prey, so no harm, no foul.

But what if it was a luperci, one day? What then?

Solomon tried not to give this thought any mind as he nibbled at the hare -- the one that simply showed up at his blood-stained paws, the one he caught in that fog -- savoring the metallic taste while he could. Any one of these meager meals could be his last, after all.

His semi-pricked ears caught the sound before he saw him. A song with no tune. A boy lounging about, bound up at his chest.

Probably a sign this wasn't the sort of stranger Solomon ought to have been associating with, but -- he was a boy, very obviously so. What harm was there?

But then it occurred to him that he wasn't the aptest at striking up conversation, and so he stood there for a moment, blank-faced, crimson all over his pale muzzle and hands, before he cleared his throat unceremoniously. The limp neck of the half-eaten rabbit in his palm still, dangling.

Not the most reassuring sight for a young man, if he had to guess.
• • •
hello little boy uncle solo is here to make it all better
[372] • owo
• • •
That idyll wasn’t meant to be: for not a moment later did a figure stumble its way out of the bushes. Kronin was mildly surprised - it had only been a few minutes since his kin had left him; was one really back so early? - but that surprise only grew when he realized this was a new face entirely. He took in the man’s broad shoulders, his long muzzle, and his striking navy-and-orange pelt with a frown.

And then he saw the entrails dripping from the man’s hands.

Neither of them spoke for a moment as they stared at one another - one with mild expectancy, and one with utter confusion.

Kronin was the first to break the silence. “Uh... can I help you?” he asked, his tone halting and hesitant. The coyote cocked an eyebrow in a show of good sportsmanship. This man was an absolute stranger to him, there was no doubt about it; and yet there was a glisten his eyes that made him look like he expected Kronin to know what this was all about. It was bizarre. What on earth could this wolf want with him?

Ever so slowly, Kronin dragged his open pack closer to his side, growing increasingly on guard. Inside, his kitten mewled, having been woken from its nap in the warm sun. He carefully placed his hand on the top of its little grey head to keep it from jumping out.

Clay-red eyes swept down to better inspect the half-eaten carcass in the stranger’s hands. Rabbit. His stomach betrayed him at the sight of it, letting out a loud gurgle. He clenched his belly, hoping that would keep it from making more noises. Vaermina and Ralyn would be back soon, he reminded himself. They’d find food.

Perhaps this was all a grand ploy to test him. Maybe there were others waiting in the bushes, hoping to rob him blind. But why go through all the fuss of sending someone out like this, covered in blood, if they were trying to appear normal? Everything about this was the opposite of normal. The coyote had met plenty of strangers on the road by now, and none had quite left an impact like this. He waited, brows furrowed, for some kind of response.
my mind's this cave
so dark, no moon, no stars

It went over about as well as he'd expected.

The boy didn't seem to recognize him, so that indicated they'd never met. Okay. At least he had that bit of knowledge going for him. Solomon licked his lips, about ready to prepare his answer, before he heard a little voice pipe up -- not a canine one, though. He could see the kitten's sleepy eyes peer out of the pack before the lad pushed them back inside. Okay.

"Sorry, I just... " Cut off again, this time by the other's impressively loud stomach wailing. For just a moment Solomon had forgotten about the bounty in his hands, what little there was of it left.

And then it hit him just how starved this youth looked. A few more days and the Amaranthe would be right there with him.

"I'm just passing through." Wrestling with himself, he finally decided to take a step closer, holding out the rabbit like some sort of peace offering, in spite of his bloody state.

"You look hungry," Solomon said, stating the obvious. Seemingly unaware of the dubiousness of his actions.
• • •
*heavy breathing*
[297] • scared boi
• • •
This was not what he was expecting. Far from it. 'Passing through?' Through to where? The answer sounded deliberately vague, even if it were exactly what he'd say in the same situation. Kronin only half-listened to this odd traveller as he watched the forest behind, his blood-red eyes searching for any other signs of life. Nothing seemed to immediately jump out. This didn't make him feel any more safe.

He was so focused on this task, in fact, that he almost missed the observation posed his way.

The boy blinked, looking down to his clutched stomach. It still panged, albeit more dully. It had been so long since he'd last eaten. "I..." He couldn't lie - not when his stomach had betrayed him. "Yes. I am." This he said under his breath, hushed. He hated to admit weakness to anyone - and especially to a random stranger. But what else was he to do? Lying would get him nowhere. And if this man were seriously looking at having some kind of trade, he'd appreciate knowing all the details as soon as possible so that he could get on with his life.

Kronin let the silence play out for a beat, then another. The only sound was the rustling of the leaves in the trees, and the occasional cry of a bird. This man seemed completely alone... or he had some very well-hidden accomplices. He shuddered, tightening his grip on his kitten's soft flank for comfort. The boy had no intention of letting his guard done just yet.

Just as the silence was tipped from weighted to just plain awkward, he spoke once more. "What do you want in return?" Kronin asked, increasingly dubious. He made no motion to invite the man any closer into his space.
my mind's this cave
so dark, no moon, no stars

The youth looked down at his stomach, no doubt forsaken by it, but there wasn't any way for him to sidestep this observation. If he lied, Solomon would instantly see through it, but still probably end up respecting his reasonings for doing so. A strange man walking up to boys in the woods striking up conversations whilst covered in blood -- yes, this seemed like a cliched beginning to a horror story if he had ever heard of one. Except this time the weird guy had no intentions of harming anybody, if anyone could believe it.

What did he want? Nothing material to gain, from the looks of it. It was just a boy and his kitten. But did he even want anything in return? It paid dearly to be gracious and giving to strangers, especially when there was no reward in sight for doing so and it was already a questionable decision to begin with. But Solomon deduced that he wasn't looking for a fair trade. This was more charitable.

Or maybe he was just that lonely. He still craved any form of communication, even if he'd forget it the next morning and crave it again, like an addict. Either way, the wolfdog just hoped he wasn't being played, that this wasn't some grand ploy to squeeze him out of a kill he wasn't even sure he made.

"Your name." Carefully, as though the boy were a scared deer, he placed the stoat on the dirt, taking a step back from it to maintain that distance. "Go on. Have some."

His own stomach roared at this utter betrayal, but he swallowed whatever saliva foamed at his mouth.

"I'm Solomon," he said lamely, as if to lull him into some semblance of security.
• • •
this has literally nothing to do with this thread but i thought about this song while writing for this reply in particular
[311] • HEY I WROTE A THING FOR US ty for being so patient!! LOVE these two
• • •
Something about this all still read as odd. Instinctually, Kronin couldn’t put two and two together. He’d never been offered something before without paying for it in some way, and wasn’t about to start believing in the kindness of strangers, now. He’d had no proof to think otherwise.

But there was something… well, Kronin wouldn’t call it trustworthy, say, but honest in the man’s offer. And hungry - both literally and figuratively. He could hear the stranger’s stomach rumble audibly, even as he set down his stoat. It confused the coyote, having never met someone the likes of this ever before. Why would he give up something so readily? Did he really look like such a charity case? How was he supposed to react to this?

However, the rational part of his brain supposed he wouldn’t mind entertaining this little moment, if for a bit - though he still expected the man’s true intentions to bleed through at any time. There always had to be another boot to drop.

The boy paused a moment longer, his eyes shifting from the wolfdog - Solomon, he’d said - to his offering. The stoat sat squarely in no man’s land, equidistant. He’d have no trouble reaching forward to claim it as his own. He looked back up, blood-red eyes making contact with gold. “…Kronin,” he offered after another moment’s hesitation, his hand still on the little bundle of fur in his pack.

Still, he didn’t move forward. Not yet. A strange feeling of… guilt? sat low in his stomach. It niggled at him, winning over his antisocial tendencies. He cleared his throat. “We can, uh, share, you know,” he said, pointedly not looking at Solomon. “I, uh, can’t take it all. Wouldn’t be right.” And slowly, Kronin let go of his charge, using his free hand to gesture for the wolfdog to sit down.
my mind's this cave
so dark, no moon, no stars

The boy's sight wouldn't reach his face, but he didn't have to. Even with his gaze fixed on the dirt, a confused battle waged behind those crimson eyes, and it was a fight that Solomon knew all too well.

In fact, the more they stood in this uncomfortable silence, the more he could see more of himself in this stranger. It unsettled him that there was someone else in the world that looked like him — not physically, not in their pelt, but in their eyes, in their body language.

He really didn't expect the other male to even take him up on the offer; there were too many unknowns that left them both open for attack, too many variables to make what felt like an honest trade nefarious and dangerous. And yet, in the end, a compromise was reached.

Share. Yes, come to think of it, they could share, couldn't they? They were both starving and timid and scared of their own shadows, from the looks of it.

When he began to move, it felt like his joints were made of concrete, and it took the wolfdog several anguishing seconds to settle beside this boy, this Kronin, and he made sure to leave a respectable distance between them. Maybe too much of a distance for them to comfortably pass the stoat back and forth, in hindsight.

"Sure." He managed to pull the carcass closer, but instead of bringing to himself, he left it in Kronin's grasp. "You can go first."

He wanted to reassure him that there was no funny business here, but like the boy, he couldn't look at him in the eye for long.

Shifting, his body didn't really feel like his own, like his skin belonged to another. It was just nerves, he knew, but that didn't make it any better.

"Are you living out here alone?" In vain, he tried brushing away some of the stoat's blood on his arms away.
• • •
my bbies
[399] •
• • •
Even with the permission that Solomon had given him, it still felt odd to take the first bite. Not that he was concerned that this stoat would be off - he’d seen enough blood on the other’s maw to know that it was edible, probably even tasty. He’d just grown used to being the smallest of the litter, a status that left him with the scraps. Someone bigger and stronger than him waiting for his leftovers felt incorrect, somehow. But how could he deny this hospitality? His silt-red eyes flickered over to his eating companion once more, expecting to hear he’d changed his mind, before his teeth finally met flesh. His stomach growled in appreciation at the sudden tang of blood on his tongue.

He was careful to take a modest bite, even as his starving body begged for more. Sharing was all about making sacrifices. He did, however, bite off a small piece for his kitten to have, assuming that Solomon wouldn’t mind. The little grey lump of fluff squeaked as the scent of meat hit her tiny pink nose, and Kronin had to stop himself from melting right then and there. As it was, she gobbled up that piece in seconds, clearly also hungry.

Reaching forward, he tried to pass the stoat to the other hybrid, stretching to cover the distance between them.

”I’m travelling. Me, my brother and sister. And this one,” he added, just as the kitten tumbled her way out of the sack. Her keen green-blue eyes darted around, taking in the scenery, before settling once more on the stoat. With a confidence unlike anything he’d previously seen from her, she darted forwards, clearly bent on grabbing a bit more food. She came straight up to Solomon’s side, her lithe grey body sniffing the bloody, half-eaten corpse. Kronin fought the smile that threatened to rise to his lips at the sight. He hadn’t seen her this energetic in a long time. ”She likes you.”

There was something almost familiar in his new companion - a sense of calm that eased the boy, somehow. He couldn’t place exactly what it was. There was an honesty to him that read differently than other travellers he’d encountered on his way, and a cautiousness that made him feel less paranoid. It was strange, but… for once, Kronin found himself relaxing. Making eye contact. Asking questions. ”What about you?”
my mind's this cave
so dark, no moon, no stars

So he wasn't entirely alone. This was good, Solomon thought. Especially since he was barely a youth yet; it would've been nigh impossible to live off of these lands with such little experience, regardless of instinct and intuition. He gave a little half-nod, reaching out to grab hold of the stoat again, when a blur of color bound its way over to him.

The kitten. She was spindly, too, clearly craving that first taste of meat; he would've been a monster to deny her. His lips twitched in a sort of grin as he tore off another small piece for her and placed it in the dirt, ripping off a piece for himself before handing it off to Kronin again.

Did she? He considered this, his body still, before he tentatively reached down to her to run a weathered paw over her back as she ate; it was a ghost of a touch, really, just barely there, in case she decided to dart away again, but her fur felt plush and soft under his fingertips.

He returned his gaze to the other, and he was measured in his response. "It's just me," he said forcibly, his mind wandering back to a simpler time. Simpler in comparison, anyway; even when he had first left home, he had been more or less alone, but, "I had a horse, once. But she..."

Solomon sighed, his shoulders slouching. "Got stolen." Or he had lost her, but the former was easier to handle. Truthfully he never did know what happened to the beautiful blue-gray mare, and it hurt his heart to think about it for too long. Of all the things he could've wanted to forget, but this pain did not part from him once.

His eyes drifted to the kitten again, and the wolfdog tried again to pet her, if she'd even entertain it when he wasn't the one holding the stoat captive anymore. "Does she have a name?"
• • •
my bbies
[391] •
• • •
When the stoat came his way the second time, he didn’t hesitate to reach out for it. Hunger was a more powerful motivator than fear. No longer apprehensive, he tore a hind leg off for himself, having always weirdly enjoyed the stringiness of tougher meat.

The kitten shirked away from the sudden touch against her flank, her spine liquid, but she didn’t move away. Instead, her pink nose came to sniff at the edges of his fingertips, familiarizing herself with the man’s scent. Then she ducked down to chomp on the scrap of meat he’d left for her, seeming to find that more interesting. Kronin chuckled under his breath.

He nodded at Solomon’s mention of his stolen horse, sympathetic. ”I’m sorry to hear that.” He knew horses to be valuable commodities, even if he’d never had any experience with them himself. Sometimes companions, even. If the traveller’s response told him anything, he’d cared for his horse quite a bit.

The boy had just taken his third big bite when Solomon asked a question of his own. He swallowed, momentarily caught off guard. ”Uh…” A name? His gaze glanced towards her, but she seemed too busy sniffing the bottom of Solomon’s feet to notice. ”She doesn’t.”

That sounded kind of sad now that he said it out loud, didn’t it? But that was the truth.

At first, he’d had been afraid that his father would force him to get rid of her. That monster had had little time for his son’s dalliances, nor did he appreciate having another mouth to feed. So Kronin had slipped her whatever scraps he could here and there, keeping her well-hidden within the confines of his bag.

Even then, he could tell that wouldn’t be enough. It wasn’t a way for a kitten to live. So why would he name something he wasn’t sure would even survive? His heart would have hurt too much.

At least they didn’t have to worry about that any more.

He took a moment to consider the man in front of him further, his head cocking. “You can name her if you want.” A spontaneous request, sure: but for Kronin, that kind of spontaneity was unheard of. Maybe, he reasoned, it would give him a memory of this man’s kindness long after he’d left his side. That didn’t seem all that bad.

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