Just before dawn, the powdery white flakes drifted slowly from the few dark clouds above to the blanket of endless snow below. It gave off the illusion of an inviting, warm comforter, but its reality was being the source of chills that sank to the very marrow of bones. The trees that sprouted tall and proudly from the sea of snow had bark that darkened with the lack of a more colorful scene; their leaves already buried and forgotten from the previous autumn drop.

The young snow leopardess enjoyed the quiet of the forest around her, the nonexistence of humans in the area. She bounced around a couple of times, sending snow back into the air for invading her land before it fell down once more. Some of them melted into her priceless coat, the rosettes giving off a smeared look against her white fur.

Her rounded ears perked up at the sound of a nearby bird, causing a pair of bright blue eyes to scan the area for the intruder. Her ears twitched, jerking slightly from in each direction to find the source of the noise.

It turned her attention to the east, where the sun was just beginning to awaken from his nightly slumber as dawn summoned him. He allowed warm colors to leak into the sky as though they were his guards searching for any form of danger lurking amongst the floating clouds before as he continued to make his appearance.

A small gust of wind, a breath from the earth, rustled against her fur from the north, attempting to push her away from the winged creature's song, but she stood her ground. Her eyes searched the treetops, waiting to spot a small figure amongst the dark branches.

Once she found it, she crouched low to the ground.

Her belly dragged against the blanketed floor, dampening her coat even more, as she prowled closer to the base of the tall tree that kept the bird. She circled the trunk, her gaze never leaving the critter as it ruffled its feathers and picking them clean of any debris.

She felt an amused, catty smile stretch along her lips, pulling her whiskers back a little, as she watched her prey clean itself for her.

She glanced at a thick branch closest to her, analyzing it carefully to decided whether it was able to hold her weight or not, but then she decided that it was when she heard the bird chirp again. It was only about eighteen feet above her, and her head was only a little over a foot and a half off the ground.

She quickly adjusted her hind legs, preparing herself for a jump as she crouched even lower to the ground. She sent a silent prayer to the sinking moon and rising sun that she would be able to make it without breaking something.

Pushing away any sense of hesitation, she sprang.

She was only in the air for second before the soft pads of her front paws met the rough feel of bark beneath them, her claws digging into them with a single crunch. She growled as her legs kicked, sending a few wooden chips and snow to the ground below, and her arms struggled to pull herself up.

The wind pressed against her left side, but she couldn't tell if it was trying to help her or make her release her hold on the branch. She didn't even care about the hunt anymore; she just didn't want to fall.

She could hear crows in the distance, cackling bird-like laughter that she knew was directed towards her as she finally settled her hind feet against the under of the branch. It make her furious that such small creatures as mere birds were making a mockery out of her now!

She glanced below her, measuring her fall and felt fear course through her as she noticed how far down it was. Her teeth, eyes squeezing shut, sank into the tree's arm as she focused in changing the fear of falling into a single shot of adrenaline.

Go.

When the voice in her head spoke, her eyes shot open, revealing the oceanic blue iris to have faded into an icy grey around her slit pupils. Her legs swung back in a swift movement, giving her enough leverage to heave herself up, and landed back against the side she was clinging on.

She shifted herself on the branch carefully so her whole body was on it now.

Proud of herself, she hissed at the crows, whose laughter had died away when she successfully landed. Her attention turned to the trunk again, crawling slowly towards it to avoid slipping on any possible ice hidden under the snow-patched branch. Most of it had been knocked down during her struggle.

Once she was almost nose-to-bark with it, she looked up in search of a miracle.

Sadly, there was none.

The bird was gone.

Defeated, she turned her back to the trunk, sat down, and shook her head due to the lost prey. She wasn't really expecting it to stick around with all the thrashing about she had done, but there had still been a small glimmer of hope that it might have been stupid enough to stay and be caught.

A sound sliced through the newly found silence, and it was a strange noise. It sounded somewhat of a wailing infant, but that was impossible.

It was early morning, so how could an infant be in the forest at this hour?

The smell of human swept into her nostrils as the wind brushed against her face, pulling her fur back. Nature's breath was growing stronger with each current, as though it was trying to tell her to go away.

Curiosity, of course, got the better of her.

She glanced down at the snow-covered floor beneath her and confidently leaped down, sending the white flakes into the air again as she gracefully landed.

The crying continued, growing louder as she moved north against the winds that continued to fight her. The snow was also becoming more of a problem for her, slowly causing the scent to fade amongst the freshly fallen snow.

Thankfully, as she grew closer, the trees became more tightly-knitted together. It gave her some relief against the weather by using the tall, thick trunks to shield her as she weaved through them with ease. She wasn't going to stop until she found the reason behind a child being left alone in a forest.

It wasn't very long before she met a break in the trees, which created a small, circular opening of a field with tall grass during the spring. With the lack of grass and the clear view from the flat snow blanket, it was easy to see a shadowy figured crouched to the ground near the center of the area.

She slowly crept over to a nearby shrub, one that had lost all its greenery but had branches thick enough to mask her physical form from the creature she was watching. Her eyes narrowed on it in an attempt to figure out what it was.

It stood up, leaving something that looked like a basket on the ground; she assumed that it must have been the infant from the loud volume of the crying.

Another gust of air brought the creature's scent to her, and her eyes widened when she realized what it was: a woman.

It wasn't just anyone woman, either... It was a new mother. She had only given birth about a week ago from the mixed smells of a new infant and mother's milk.

Was she out of her mind? Why would she bring a human child out in snow weather at the crack of dawn?

The leopardess shook her thoughts from her head as she caught the scent of a new figure entering the clearing, a much larger figure.

Her icy eyes grew even wider than they did earlier when she was having her near-death when she realized that a large grizzly was making his way over to the woman and child.

What in the world was a bear doing out in the middle of winter? They were supposed to be hibernating this time of year! What, was he on the hunt for a final supper before falling into the deep sleep or something?

She waited, expecting the motherly instinct to kick in the human female so the woman could grab her child and bolt away from the area.

She heard the woman gasp, then she ran just like the leopardess had predicted. Except, much to the large feline's surprise, she left the child behind. In the cold. With a bear approaching.

The grizzly drew closer to wailing basket, grunting with hunger. His awful breath came out in large, white wisps of steam in the chilly air. His fur shook with each step he took towards the child.

The leopardess took a quick look around, praying that the moronic woman realized that the child wasn't with her, but the coward was gone. That left it up to her to either do something and save the infant or leave it for dead just as its mother had.

Her instinct sent her bursting through the foliage and barreling towards the large beast, who roared in acknowledgment of her presence. She halted between the two, glaring at the bear, as she growled a deadly warning at him.

He stopped for a moment, beady black eyes watching her bristle in front of him. Why are you protecting a human child, young leopardess? He growled. Just give it to me so I may return to my den. I saw it first, which means that it's my prey.

Leave it alone, she snarled at him. It's mine.

His eyes flickered with slight curiosity, but it mostly reflected hunger and blood lust. What does it matter? The mother left it behind, so she no longer wants it. I'm just taking care of it for her. He stalked closer to her.

Back off! She swiped her paw at him, causing him to pause again. Leave it with me! It'll be my cub.

He cocked his his head slightly, almost as if he was amused. You take in a human child as a cub? My, leopardess, you're really defensive of this tiny beast, and it's not even yours.

She growled at him again, warning him to leave.

I haven't eaten at all today! He roared at her, foam appearing at the corners of his mouth as his dark eyes took on a red tinge. Do you really think that I'm just going to walk away from a free meal?!

He charged at her.

She whipped around, taking the wicker handle of the basket in her mouth, and leaped out of the way. She dashed across the field, carefully placing the now screaming child near the base of a tree.

The grizzly roared in rage as the ground beneath her paws began to shake.

She turned to see him coming towards her again, quickening his pace when she noticed him. She quickly pushed the infant away with her large paw then rolled out of the way, causing the bear to ram his head directly into the tree. A few piles of snow fell over him from the shaken tree's branches.

Swiftly, the leopardess lunged at him, sinking her sharp teeth into his tough shoulder. The iron taste of blood filled her mouth as she tore a chunk of flesh off of him.

He roared in anger and pain while she spat the hunk of fur and meat to the side. He began to thrash about, swinging his body from left to right, doing anything he possibly could to try throwing her off his back.

She clung to him, though.

Her claws dug into his sides as he ran around, blood dripping from her chin and staining her coat as the crimson liquid spewed out of his fresh wound. She was finally tossed to the side when it shot in her eyes, blinding her momentarily.

Her back slammed against the ground, knocking the air out of her, as even more of the white snow flew into the air. Some of it was was even red.

She rolled away from him as she attempted to gain control of her body again, feeling pain shoot through her left hind leg. She tried to stand, get back into a defensive position, but it only left her to fall over on her side.

A shadow loomed over her, causing her look up at her attacker to find him raising his paw for a final strike.

Despite her fatal situation, she snarled at him. Her eyes shut as she hoped that when his mighty paw struck, it would have been quickly and painlessly.

A powerful rush of wind ran over her from behind with the sound of a wolf's battle cry, causing the bear to make a confused grunt followed a bodily thump in front of her, and the impact she had been awaiting never came.

She dared peeked her eyes open to find a white wolf standing between she and the grizzly, much like she had with the infant. As she noticed his raised hackles and snapping, bared jaws, she recognized the canine. A sense of relief washed over her.

The wolf's ears were flattened as he growled warningly at the great beast. Return to your den, grizzly.

She has something of mine, the bear roared at him, and I want it back!

It was never yours to begin with! She snarled, wincing at the pain coursing through her body. It is mine. I told you that, you stupid beast!

What has been taken? The wolf barked, not daring to let his guard down. Despite the question floating for either one of them to answer, he was looking at the leopardess with a curious golden gaze as he asked, What is so valuable that you have to fight over it?

A meal, the bear growled. The foam at the corners of his mouth fell into the snow like a drool.

The child is not a meal! She hissed at him, feeling her our ears flatten and her fur bristle. She completely ignored the wolf's bark that told her to stay down as she struggled to stand, lifting her hind leg to ease the weight off it. I will continue to fight until you leave it with me!

I'll gladly leave it with you, the bear watched her with his raging, beady eyes, after my digestive system is through with it!

With a roar, he charged at her again, but she was prepared, ready to battle him again despite her obvious injury.

Unfortunately, the wolf took her turn, latching himself onto the grizzly's throat with his strong jaws. The smell of blood grew stronger as it stained the wolf's white coat to a bright red.

The bear started to thrash about again, trying to throw off his new opponent. He tossed his head then tried to slam the wolf against the ground, sending snow to go everywhere.

Fortunately, the grizzly hadn't paid too much attention to his movements when he was dancing combat with the wolf. He took a couple steps backwards, coming just into the leopardess's reach.

Quickly, she latched her jaws onto the tendon of his hind left leg, causing the brown beast to roar in pain again. She released him to prevent being dragged when he yanked his foot away from her before she fell over again.

Lorcan! The leopardess cried out when the wolf was sent into the air.

His back hit against the rough bark of a sturdy tree before his body fell and hit the ground, landing in a small explosion of snow ten feet away. White piles fell onto him from the branches above, sprinkling a few of the lasting leaves on top of him.

Bleeding and exhausted, the bear looked at her for a long moment before he snorted a steamy wisp of air from his nostrils and lumbered back towards the treeline he had come from. The grizzly had giving up, leaving victory to the leopardess and her companion.

Limping, she pushed through the pain and hurried over to the unmoving wolf.

When she reached him, she felt her body tensed.

His eyes were closed, and his tongue hung out of his mouth, growing numb from the cold snow. His fur was damp and stained with the bear's blood, especially around his muzzle because of the bite. The snow around him was taking on a pink-ish color from it trying to wash away some of the crimson.

Lorcan? She chuffed towards him, making sure that he would know that it was her voice speaking to him before she even considered touching him She brushed some of the snow away with the her front paw. Lorcan, sweetie, please...

After a long moment, she was beginning to wonder if he was dead. Fear spiked through her at the thought of the possibility. She craned her head, nudging his jaw with her nose in an attempt to get a response from him.

When there was none, she licked his cheek then gave a long, mourning wail in his honor.

She turned away from him, feeling the sting of tears prick at her eyes when the sound of the forgotten infant bawling reached her ears. She flinched at the sudden memory of the noise, of the reason she had been so desperate to fight.

The leopardess hurried over to the basket that was now pushed up against a piece of foliage, her eyes staring down at the pale human child that had a unique pair of almost golden eyes that looked like two orbs of amber. They looked like they should have belonged to a tiger rather than a human.

When the child noticed her presence, it gave a squeal of delight despite the chilly weather that surrounded it. A pair of tiny arms stretched out from behind the thin fabric of a blanket, reaching towards the large feline.

Slowly and cautiously, she lowered her head for the child, inhaling its scent as it roughly patted her nose. It smelled like a female, and it's scent consisted of the same as a campfire, milk, and mint. It was a peculiar scent for a human.

The infant's dainty hand held onto her nostrils, to which the leopardess wanted nothing more than to snort at the child, which she did. It giggled at her funny expression as she lifted a heavy paw to wipe the feeling away.

It was then that their eyes met, and a sense of sadness washed over the infant's eyes, mirroring the sorrow hidden in her icy blues. The small human's features twisted into an expression that seemed like it was going to start crying.

The leopardess, not knowing what else to do, nudged it with her nose, nuzzling the little one's cheek and earning another giggle. She felt a small smile stretch along her furry lips as she pulled away, causing the child to reach for her once more.

A high-pitched whine sounded from behind her.

Her ears perked up as she turned her head to find slight movement against the snowy mass of land. She quickly took the basket's handle between her teeth and dashed back over to where the wolf had fallen. She didn't care about the pain that send jolts through her hind leg.

When she got there, the wolf had been replaced by a boy that was no older than nineteen laying on the ground, his clothes growing wet from the melting snow and blood as it clung to his tall frame. He shuddered from the cold, which was quickly followed by a groan of pain. His eyes fluttered open when he noticed her presence, the golden eyes of the wolf fading into a pair of light brown orbs surrounded by white pools. His white mop of hair that matched the color of moonlit rays flooded with a deep brown color from his roots all the way down to the tips of his waves.

He chuckled quietly, as if amused, when he saw her carrying the basket in her mouth. His voice was strained, but it was clear that he was trying to make light of the situation, "You were willing to... risk your life against a... bear for a... basket? It really doesn't... surprise me very much, but you know... that it's not... Easter, right, Sonia?" He winced every few words, but he continued to smile at her.

The leopardess seated herself on her haunches as he struggled to sit up and lean his back against the tree's truck. She placed the basket on the ground, then she pushed it towards him with her forepaw before she shifted to her human form of an eighteen year old girl.

Long hair flowed down from her scalp like a waterfall down her back, darkening from white to a pale blond, as if the Sun had poured his own rays into her hair as his sister, Moon, had done with the boy; her fringe framed against her pale face and hung just above her piercing blue eyes that watched him, waiting for his reaction towards the child. Despite wearing only the boy's large, navy tee over a long-sleeved, white undershirt and a pair of blue skinny jeans, she didn't seem bothered by the cold.

"The mother abandoned her, Lorcan," she told him, falling back on her rump as her left ankle began to throb with an irritating pain. She didn't have to look at it to know that it was already swollen, so she pushed a small pile of snow around her barefoot to numb it. "That coward of a woman... She left her child to be devoured by that beast while she ran to save her own skin. I wasn't going to just leave her there to end up as bear crap."

"Well," he sighed heavily, taking the basket into his lap as he allowed the child to grasp his right forefinger, "you saved her, so now what are you going to do with her? Surely you're not going to send her to an orphanage, are you?"

Sonia shook her head, knowing that he wasn't even looking at her as she did the gesture, "She's going to stay with me instead."

He did look at her then, wide eyes shooting up to meet her gaze, "You're not serious, are you? What kind of mad woman are you, taking in a week-old infant with no skills as a mother whatsoever?!"

"I'll learn," she said flatly, looking down at the little one. "I'll tell you the same thing I told that blasted bear: she'll be my cub."

"You're insane," he groaned, face-palming at her declaration. "How do you expect to raise a child off the income of part-time waitress who's still in high school and a college boy working as a part-time mechanic? We can barely afford our own apartment, woman!"

He continued to rant and rave, but his words fell on deaf ears as she stripped off the dark blue shirt that nearly burned from body heat. She quickly took the basket from his lap and wrapped the mostly dry top around the chilled infant in an attempt to keep her tiny body warm. Sonia merely smiled, knowing that Lorcan was going to help her with the child regardless of his complaints.

"... And another thing—"

She cradled the basket in both of her arms before she finally decided to interrupt him, "Shall we go home?" She looked at him with a pair of big, innocent blue eyes that instantly shut him up and caused him to sigh again.

"Fine, fine," he said. He forced himself to stand, grumbling quiet curses to prevent the child from hearing him, but the blond was able to easily understand him.

She started to limp forward, nearly falling had it not been for a pair of strong hands grabbing hold of her waist to keep her from landing flat on her face with the basket under her. She quickly muttered to him, "Sorry..."

"You're not a hundred percent either, love," he warned her, causing a pair of ghostly ears to point downward in shame, but they perked up against when he pecked her cheek at what must have been a pitiful expression on her features. He easily wrapped one of his arms around her waist, allowing her to lean most of her light weight against him. His breath was against her ear as he whispered to her, "Plus, I get to keep you close like this."

She ignored the burning sensation growing in her cheeks as they slowly made their way towards the treeline, "So, how did you find me?"

"The car was gone," he smirked, wincing before he continued, "and Nix wouldn't stop pestering me, so I figured you had gotten yourself into some kind of trouble, and I was right."

"Lovely," she sighed.

"Hey," he nudged her temple with his chin, "now that we have her, what are we going to name the kid?"

She paused, looking down at the little one who giggled at her. They stared at each other for a few long beats before a soft smile stretched along the blond's lips. Only a single word escaped her smile, "Tora."

The infant squealed happily.

"Tora, huh?" he asked, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. He tilted his head from side to side before nodding approvingly, "Well, seems like she likes it."

"Mhm," Sonia hummed, nuzzling the little girl's cheek fondly. "Her name will be Tora, my little tigress."