I've been quite side-tracked. Sorry about anyone who was waiting for this chapter, it's extremely short. :(


II. Midnight Confusion

The robust build of Tino deeply stabbed Soto's mind. He'd been aggressively approached by his father twice before - once for the still visible fight scar running along Zeke's small forehead, which was presumed to be an accident due to a lack of attention by his younger brother, and thus, disregarded as a general action falling into Soto's demeanor. However, the second instance, an implied lack of respect for his mother's well being shown by his unforgiving need to have a larger share of the meal brought home by his father, passed the line. But even then, he'd been forgiven for transgressions.

"...I'm giving you the chance to learn how to hunt like a real tiger does. If I don't show you this, you will starve..."

Soto could not help but wonder what message his father was trying to send him. Was he being true to his words, or was there a threat between the lines? Regardless of the situation, there was no reason to push Tino past a breaking point when their first hunt as a family was announced. Even Marie had plans to participate in the hunt, which sent mixed ideas through his mind.

Soto envied his brothers, motionless, savoring every bit of sleep. And while he was more restless than ever, his lack of energy didn't faze him; the night was long and recovery would be easy even with the smallest of breaks, and he was the strongest of the four by a considerable margin. He quietly walked over to Diego and put his paw on the sleeping cub's body with his claws only partially retracted, enough to catch Diego's attention without inducing an audible reaction.

Diego squinted to see his older brother hanging just above him, signaling for them to relocate slightly further away from their Marie and the other sleepers, to avoid any sort of unrest. It wasn't entirely odd to see Soto awake at this time, but to see him approach any living thing without hostility was far from common.

"Now you probably don't see eye to eye with me knowing that I'm not exactly fond of you, but I didn't call you here in the middle of the night to argue." To top it off, Soto knew -- everyone knew, that Diego was the most intelligent out of the four, despite how young he was; his lack of arguing with any living thing was a testament to this.

"Well, what's up?" Diego couldn't help but wonder why he was called away from his slumber.

"Am I the only one who finds it strange that we're all being told to hunt?"

"Being that it was supposed to be a 'surprise', and you're still coming with after what you did...I don't get it."

"Not only that, but Mom is coming too. And why would Zeke or Oscar be allowed to come? Oscar's so out of shape, and who knows what the other one is thinking."

"Well, Zeke wouldn't be so..." Soto almost instantly turned his body toward Diego's, with their eyes meeting each other, perfectly leveled.

"You don't want to finish that sentence, Diego."

Rather than causing more conflict, Diego sat there, and pondered the situation some more. Contrary to Soto's thoughts, he wasn't the only one who was confused about upcoming events. An unannounced hunt? Sure, they hadn't been invited to any previous hunts because they were still "children", but even so, Tino had always given the entire family a heads-up when he was out for his bi-daily hunt, quite possibly for the purpose of motivation for himself -- either bring home a meal or force your entire family to combat hunger.

"Well, it is our very first hunt, Soto."

"But we're the ones capable of a hunt, not Oscar or Zeke. That still doesn't explain why she's coming with."

"Maybe there's more to it being that it's our surprise."

"That's your problem, Diego - you always try to find a positive in everything, even when the negatives are so obvious."

"If you were so sure that something bad is going to happen to us, then why did you wake me up in the first place? I'm going to sleep. Better for the hunt that I'm in good shape because we're not all as strong as you, and if you want to stay the strongest out of us all, you should do the same." Diego, initally enjoying his fairly deep sleep, found himself slowly trailing back toward his mother, groggy and cranky, knowing that his immovable brother only came to him for another one of his immature rants. And as much as Soto wanted to talk, he knew that chat would have to wait for the morning, as waking up Diego once more would only lead to him telling his mother -- the luxuries of favoritism and being the youngest one, such a bother to their older brothers.

He'll learn. Nothing ever comes without consequences. With all of the troubles that Soto had gone through, he would definitely be the most suitable to give that kind of advice, even to the earless night sky. Being shunned by his own parents, his meals taken away and given to others, all situations that could drive a naive attitude to insanity; but, he'd never lost his temper in front of his parents when it came to his brothers. Envious, yes. Angry? No need to be - in a few moments, this space would be his to hunt, that is, once he proved to his parents that he wasn't entirely as useless as he seemed.

Soto paced back and forth in the grass. He knew full well that something was amiss, but couldn't put a picture to the problem. He didn't mind that the entire family was going to hunt, and he wouldn't have as much had Diego not verbally indicated that he wanted to prove wrong, but with the thoughts sinking deep into his fur and his brain, what else was there to do? Reality was a distraction.

Whatever. I know I'm right anyway. He paused himself mid-thought.

"That's the best part. I'm always right." He turned himself toward the rest of the family, sitting alone, isolated from the rest of them.

"And soon...you'll be mine to lead."


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