The Fox's Alternative

By Mell Eight

Prompt: when you're lonely

Warnings: slight M/M

The woods were heavy and dark even though the sun wouldn't set for hours. The leaves overhead were too big and lush and they stopped any light from penetrating all the way to the ground.

Cal sighed as he trudged along, following in the wake of his leader. The Pride master was a very large man, bulky with muscle and tall as he strode purposefully along the path. Finally they reached a river, shallow and bubbling over rounded stones and shale outcroppings.

"This is the end of my territory," the male werelion said. "Anything beyond this river is yours to claim." He waited patiently, looking down at Cal.

"But father," Cal whined. "I don't want to leave the Pride!"

Cal's father sighed, a large puff of air that had the hint of a roar. "You're too old," he explained, again. "You're a threat to my dominance of the Pride. My father did this for me, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. You need to go make your own way in the world."

He patted Cal firmly on the back, a much more stoic goodbye than Cal's mother had given him just a few hours earlier, and turned away. Cal was left alone, on the bank of the river denoting the only territory he had known his entire life. He took a deep breath and stepped forward, out of his father's territory and on to his new life.

Cal had known the end was coming for months. First his voice started squeaking. He had grown much taller as well. Then, he started waking up with wet stains on his sheets. Auntie had gleefully told Cal that his scent was changing too. Puberty had hit and that meant he was competition for the females.

Now he had his backpack stuffed with everything he theoretically needed to survive alone and was hoping to find somewhere safe to sleep now that true night was settling over the forest. He had walked quite a few miles during the day and was tired.

It took a while, but he finally found a clearing where he could lay out a blanket and start a small fire. He ate hard travel bread as the flames flickered and hints of stars appeared through the leaves overhead. The sounds of the night changed, birds swapping their chirping with crickets and bats squeaking overhead instead of squirrels. The scents had changed as well; damp and musty without the sun to warm away the dew heavy on the tree leaves.

There wasn't anyone to speak with, not like at home where his sisters and many aunts were always around chattering constantly. Even his father's constant presence was a comfort. Cal tried to listen to the bats flying everywhere overhead, imagining that their squeaks were just like his sisters'. He tried, but when he opened his eyes again he was still alone in a big, wide forest.

He was lonely and it sucked.

The fire started to dwindle while Cal fought not to cry. Finally he just curled up in his blanket and closed his eyes. Maybe it would be better in the morning.

The first thing Cal noticed as awareness started to return was the new scents. Something delicious was cooking and the smell of canine filled the clearing. A fox was somewhere nearby.

Cal sat up, blinking in the sunlight and looking astonished at the merrily burning fire where eggs were bubbling in a pan. Then he turned his head towards the fox. A boy about his age, thirteen or fourteen, was crouched next to the fire, digging through a bag. He triumphantly pulled out a loaf of bread before turning to look at Cal with a wide grin on his face.

"You cats," the werefox said scathingly. "Always throwing your boys out of your packs. Foxes are smarter than that, you know." Big brown eyes and brilliant red hair made his indignation all the more poignant. Cal just stared, entranced with feelings eerily like those that left stains in his sheets overnight rising in his chest. "Well, you don't have to worry anymore. We foxes don't have any issues keeping strays."

"Huh?" Cal asked, tearing his eyes away from the fox's face with extreme difficulty.

"We'll eat breakfast and I'll take you to my home," the boy explained. "It'll be fun!"

Cal blinked a couple of times in surprise. He didn't have to live alone? A plate full of eggs was gently placed into his lap and Cal looked up to see the fox's face much closer to his own. Cal was caught in those big brown eyes, staring helplessly.

To not be alone, to live with this boy who entranced him? It was the exact opposite of where Cal had been when he went to sleep and it was a great relief.

"Okay," Cal said, fitting his hands around the plate. His loneliness abated, Cal smiled tentatively at his new friend and started to eat.