It was cold, and something told him it would grow colder still, even though the sun held back from setting just a little bit later with each passing day.
That was as it should be. The body he was in now was not the one he was born with, but his knowledge of the cycle of the seasons was something that went deeper than memory and into the realm of instinct. Light followed dark followed light just as cold followed warmth and cold once again gave over to the warmth.
He didn't so much wish for warmth as remember a time when he could stretch out on a sun-baked wooden floor and nap while his Yuzuriha and her grand-dam spoke to each other about things he did not understand. He might recognize one word in twenty, his ear twitching every time he heard his own name, or the name of another in his pack. In an orderly world, the season for napping with the sun on his flanks would come again, and so until then he would sleep curled up in his Yuzuriha's lap, tail wrapped tightly across his nose. Safe from cold, breathing in his scent and hers intermingled, he was content; his world was as it should be.
True, things had changed. Many things. And they had changed recently enough that he was still keenly aware of the changes. The air was no longer so full of the sharp smell of exhaust, and his ears weren't constantly assaulted by the whine of metal and crackle of electricity. This was a good thing, as far as he was concerned; the occasional snap and spark of a downed wire would make him tuck his tail between his legs for reasons he did not care to think about. Even better, they were leaving the stone and metal canyons of their most recent home for higher ground where the rising sea could not reach them, where the trees grew thick, where fresh water ran unconfined by pipes and culverts, and where he could feel the living earth under the pads of his feet.
Yes, Inuki was content. His world was as it should be.
Inuki lifted his head, took a deep breath of cold, crisp air, yawned, and tucked his nose back under his tail with a huff of self-satisfaction. "Good dog, good Inuki," his Yuzuriha crooned as she scratched behind his left ear.
There was a not-unpleasant tickle as his Yuzuriha's mate reached over and rubbed the tip of Inuki's ear between thumb and forefinger. On general principle, Inuki flicked his ear out of the man's grip, and was not unpleased at the deep rumble of laughter that followed this. Inuki wasn't sure he enjoyed sharing his Yuzuriha's attention, but he had decided that he approved of her choice of mate. The pack was stronger because of him, and that was good.
Other changes were not so good. At least, Inuki didn't think they were good, because his Yuzuriha didn't think they were good, and that was all the verdict Inuki needed.
Even now, his Yuzuriha would at odd times howl in the manner of her species, tunelessly and gracelessly, and with water running from her eyes. So many members of her pack were gone, and cursed as she was with her species' freakishly sharp memories, she felt their loss as bitterly as if it had just happened that morning. And bound to her as he was, Inuki felt her grief as if it were his own.
So many gone, so many to howl for. The one who smelled like a summer storm, and his mate along with him. The young cub who had been their alpha for such a short time. The female whose warmth reminded him of lazy days spent basking in the sun. All gone. And as they left the city in search of a better hunting ground, the air was filled with the scent of many others who had died, so many that Inuki wanted to stop and howl even though he recognized hardly any of the scents.
So, Inuki and his Yuzuriha's mate shared the job of comforting her during the times when she felt the loss of her pack the most strongly. Her mate held her, and Inuki licked her face and snuggled close. It wasn't much, but it seemed to help.
Other pack mates had survived. One had rejoined their pack along with his mate and cub, and the cub's presence had done much to lift his Yuzuriha's spirits. (Inuki was less certain about the cub--her shrieks of laughter made his ears want to turn inside-out, and she ran around wildly, heedless of sleeping puppies who wanted to nap without being stepped on. At least she couldn't see him very well, which was a great relief; she looked like a natural-born tail-puller.) When the man and his pack had found them, his Yuzuriha had howled and yelped, but it was a joyous sound, like the songs his pack brothers would sing to greet the moon in its fullness. Even the wind itself had seemed to join in the celebration, kicking up leaves and a scattering of snow into a frenzied dance as the pack re-learned itself, touching each other and asking each other if they were really there and if they were really real.
Shortly after those three had found them, they were joined by two strong young males whose scent Inuki recognized from their most recent home. The pair seemed to form a pack of their own, and from the lingering scent of another that clung to them and the way they constantly tuned to look for one who was not there, Inuki knew that their pack of two had once been a pack of three. And if one of them kept vying with his Yuzuriha's mate for the position of pack leader, it didn't matter; every person who joined their pack lifted his Yuzuriha's grief a little.
No, that was not entirely true. Inuki shifted and snarled, and his Yuzuriha said "oh, look, he's having a bad dream," and smoothed down the hackles that had risen between his shoulder blades.
Inuki shifted so that his nose was pressed against her thigh, and he breathed deep of her scent, chasing away the memory of one who had smelled of stale, acrid smoke, and who now smelled even more strongly of flowers that had gone rotten and of all the corpses they had left behind in the place of metal and stone. When they had encountered the man on the outskirts of that place, his Yuzuriha had at first been glad to see him, but her scent quickly went sour with fear. Her mate had stepped in quickly, speaking to the now-lone male in tones that were soft but that had a definite warning in them. "I'll bite your throat out," the growl hiding in his voice said, so clear that even a three-day-old pup would have understood. Inuki was poised to leap, and another pack mate set the winds to pulsing in a circle around them. A few more things were said, and while Inuki could not understand the words, he could hear the threats behind them.
In the end though, no one was bitten or mauled, and the lone one slunk off to hunt somewhere else. Inuki was so relieved he leapt up to lick his Yuzuriha's face, and was surprised to taste saltiness. She was howling silently, and he whined in confusion. Didn't she understand that their former pack mate was a threat? Shouldn't she be glad that he was gone and had left them unharmed?
Even so, Inuki suspected that his Yuzuriha mourned for the lone one as much as she mourned for the ones who had died.
In time, though, maybe by the time the sun came back to make warm places for him to nap, his Yuzuriha wouldn't howl quite so often. More and more, her attention would turn to the living, to the small pack that had grown up around her and her mate. And eventually, Inuki knew, she would have cubs of her own, and the living world would assert its claim over her even more strongly.
That was the way of life. Death followed birth followed death. People left the pack and joined the pack, but the pack would always survive. That was the way things were, and the way they should be.
For Inuki, as long as he had his Yuzuriha and she had him, the world would never come to an end.