Two days. Two days of riding. It was perhaps the first time Drake began to truly appreciate Kye’s presence. When he had insisted everyone else part ways with him, at least for the time being, and perhaps meet up in Dragon’s Lair, Kye had insisted on staying with him. Why, Drake wasn’t sure – but it was true, he supposed, that Kye had avoided the werewolf once before… That is, if he had been telling the truth when he claimed he’d been transforming during his ride to the Forest of Shadows that now felt like so long ago.
The sun was just rising again as he hoisted himself up on Ghost, ready to continue the ride. Every night, he woke up not knowing where the hell he was. Drake rubbed his eyes with one hand, despite how it stank of blood. He felt sick…
A rush of air gusted by his face, and he quickly looked up to see Kye landing gracefully nearby. He looked worried, even scared. Drake could smell it – but, somehow, he didn’t want to ask.
“Hey, Kye,” he murmured simply, sounding far more tired than he had expected. Emotionally, not physically, despite how the saddle was seriously starting to chafe, especially wearing just a pair of tattered and highly insubstantial trousers.
“Greetings,” Kye replied tentatively, approaching in such a way that he half expected Drake to suddenly eat him. Drake had put up with this since he left the others, but it was a small price to pay for company, even if he really didn’t appreciate how starkly it kept him reminded of the truth – the same way as did the taste in his mouth and the blood on his person.
So instead of commenting, Drake simply reached down with an arm and helped Kye sit behind him on Ghost’s back.
For a moment, Drake merely sat there, staring into space. Kye peered at him.
The instant Drake opened his mouth to ask, Kye said quickly, “It was just a deer.”
Tension flooded from Drake’s body, and he found himself relaxing so heavily he almost slid right out of the saddle. He leaned forward on Ghost’s neck, laying there, taking a few breaths. He still felt sick, but it was receding now, knowing the absurd weight in his stomach wasn’t human flesh.
After a second, Drake felt Kye’s right hand on his shoulder, but the demon didn’t say a word. Drake couldn’t help but breathe an odd, almost mirthless laugh at all the irony.
At first, Kye didn’t answer. Drake sat up again, glancing over his shoulder at the demon-kin, who sat there looking somewhere between touched and confused.
“You’re welcome,” he finally answered in a small voice.
In spite of everything, Drake grinned back at him as he set Ghost off at a walk. “I just can’t figure you out.”
Kye shrugged, his tail twitching and annoying Ghost, who snorted. “What do you mean?” Kye asked, sounding wary of the answer.
Drake shrugged right back. “I don’t mean anything. Just the truth. You’re weird as hell.” He paused. “Puns intended.”
Kye looked still more confused. “I… guess. But I still don’t really get it.”
“Well, look at you. I just said ‘thanks,’ and you looked like an abused puppy someone pet on the head for the first time.”
He looked over his shoulder again and saw Kye looking at him, violet eyes blinking.
“Oh, gods,” Drake declared. “Do you even know what a puppy is?”
Kye licked his lips, probably just to delay saying anything. At length, he answered slowly, “I’ve heard the word.”
“A baby dog. Right?”
“Yeah. You know what a baby is, right?” Drake asked with a laugh, unable to resist. And yet, glancing back at Kye again, he was a little red in the face.
“I know,” Kye said firmly… before adding, “But I’ve never really seen one. Not up close, anyway.”
“Not even a baby baby or anything? Gods, Kye. Did you grow up under a rock?”
“Under a lot of rocks,” Kye muttered darkly. Drake winced at the sudden change in tone.
“Demons are spawned in pits, okay?” Kye muttered, embarrassed. “They aren’t… young – or old. They just are.”
“But you weren’t, because you’re only half demon, right?”
Whining. Distant, but high-pitched, and very squeaky. Drake paused, silently stopping Ghost in his tracks and straining to listen. The instant he did, Kye pricked his ears up as well.
“What is it?” he asked in a whisper.
“Shh,” Drake prompted, holding up a hand slightly.
The whining sounded like it was coming to their right somewhere, and Drake saw a shallow cave in a bottom. Kye sat up straighter when he saw it, too.
Without a word, still listening to the whining, Drake turned Ghost about, trotting him toward the cavern. Kye’s grip around his waist tightened.
“Wait, a cave?” he blurted.
“Yeah, a cave. What, you got a cave phobia now?”
Kye neither confirmed nor denied that.
So Drake replied instead, “Sounds like some dogs or something. I’m just curious.”
Ghost reached the cave quickly enough, stopping just shy of the mouth and twitching his ears. He snorted as if to say this was a bad idea, but Drake simply patted him on the neck and helped Kye dismount, quickly following after him and putting Ghost’s reins in his hand.
“Stay here, if you want,” Drake said. “I’ll be right back.”
The smells that came to him from the cavern were strangely familiar, and they certainly reminded him of dogs. In fact, if anything, they reminded him of Moonlight.
Although the cave mouth was relatively small, Drake ducked inside easily, and his eyes quickly adjusted. Looking around, he saw some fur here and there… and then something cool and wet nudged his bare leg. It was sudden enough that it made even Drake start back and hit his shoulder against the hard, stone wall.
A puppy had nudged his leg with its nose, and it waddled toward him now, staring way up into his face with adoring, blue eyes. But this puppy had pointed ears and all the hallmarks of a young wolf.
Drake paused, watching it blankly. The wolf pup came over to him again and nudged his leg before reaching up with its slightly oversized paws as if trying to climb him. Of course, it simply stumbled forward instead and started nuzzling harder against his shin, just above his foot. That was about as high as the little thing could reach.
“Well, you sure are friendly,” Drake said as he carefully crouched, letting the pup sniff his hand. “Bet your parents wouldn’t be, if they found out I barged in here, so…”
And then more puppies appeared. They came from everywhere – from behind rocks, from crevices in which they had hid, or simply out of shadows Drake hadn’t managed to investigate before he was distracted. Six altogether came waddling and trotting toward him, all of the same age, but some apparently taking to their legs a little more readily than others.
For some reason, they flocked to him as if for comfort, whining and poking their little wet noses against his bare skin. Drake scratched his head, at a loss as he watched the pups try to scramble up his legs and snuggle against his chest, their tiny claws lightly scraping his skin.
Slowly, he lowered himself to the floor to sit, making sure no pups got underneath him in all their tail-wagging, whining excitement to climb him like a tower – for some reason.
Several of them quickly piled into his lap, climbing up his legs. Two of them quickly set about pawing at his abdomen, one trying to jump up and reach his face. Drake occupied himself trying to pet them all, and all the while, they whined and squeaked.
“Or maybe you don’t have parents…” Drake murmured. “Where’s your pack, little fellas?”
“Drake?” Kye called tentatively from outside the cave mouth. Drake couldn’t resist a grin.
“Hey, Kye!” he answered. “C’mere! I got something to show you.”
Kye seemed to detect the levity in his tone and take that as a warning sign, as it took him a second to comply, but enter he did, ducking to get into the cave just as Drake had.
But once he appeared, the pups lost their composure. They whined louder, in fear now, and Drake’s senses were almost overwhelmed by the terror they exuded. Some of them scrambled quickly toward their hiding places from before, though one stayed doggedly in Drake’s lap, even if it lowered itself flat between his legs as if trying to hide.
Drake frowned. “Don’t think they like all that brimstone, Kye,” he said, scratching on the head the pup still in his lap, its blue eyes wide and staring at the demon.
Kye looked utterly befuddled – and also like something inside him had melted and covered his heart in warm, sticky goo. He looked infatuated and fascinated and so many other things. Drake grinned again at the absurdity of seeing a demon – half demon or not – look the way Kye looked now.
Finally, he asked hoarsely, “Are those… wolves?”
“Baby wolves,” Drake replied. “Pups. Puppies. Whelps. Whatever. And they’re adorable.” He gently scooped up the one now burrowing awkwardly deep into his lap and held it up in front of his face, touching noses with it and adding sweetly, “And the poor little rascals are all alone!”
“So, um… You’re a dad now?”
Drake arched a brow – and then laughed. Kye rubbed the back of his neck.
“No! Are you crazy? I can’t take care of a bunch of wolves. Hell, I don’t even know why they like me. This is Magnhild’s thing. I mean, if these were ladies throwing themselves on me, it’d be one thing, but, y’know, most animals snap at me…”
Kye stared at him for a moment, rubbing his neck even harder as he said as gently as he could, “You really can’t figure out why they like you?”
Silence. His pointless attempts at denial had been shattered. The disgraced knight made an odd noise in his throat, almost a growl. The pup in his hands squirmed – and licked his face.
That drew Drake out of his dark trance, and he held the puppy against his chest instead, giving a sigh. “Yeah, alright, I get it. Maybe I can even get them to like you, if they love me so much for being a damn monster.”
The demon didn’t even look hurt, but he didn’t move. Drake looked deeper into the cave, at all the little pairs of blue peepers peeking out from various hiding places. Meanwhile, the wolf in his arms started licking his chest before discovering a nipple and sucking on it.
“Whoa, hey, pal, we just met,” Drake remarked, moving the pup away with a snort. “Besides, that’s… really not gonna work for you.”
“I guess I should, uh…” Kye gestured vaguely over his shoulder, “leave you to it.”
“Really? Just what do you think is gonna happen in here? Kye, it’s not right that you’ve never held a puppy in your life. C’mon, sit down – and get out some jerky or something. I bet they can learn to like you, especially if you’re the one with food.”
“Iiii really doubt it…”
“Aww, uncle Kye wants to leeeaaave,” Drake said in a saccharine tone to the pup as he touched noses with it again, prompting it to start licking his face. He mocked an even cutesier voice and added, “Maybe Tom should tell him to sit his demon ass down before he drags him over by his tail…”
Kye sighed and trudged over next to Drake, taking a seat, though he kept his wings curled close on his back, even if his tail resumed its waving back and forth by sliding around on the floor. The instant he approached, the wolf pup turned and stared at him… and started to whine and squirm, trying to get away.
Glancing between them, Drake noticed with a frown that the instant the puppy started to freak out, Kye looked like his soul had been absolutely crushed.