Disclaimer: I own nothing but Sakari. Everything else is Kipling's, for the most part.
A/N: commissioned by EarthPatriot117 on deviantART.
"The stream is shrunk - the pool is dry, and we be comrades, thou and I."
The Truce rung aggravatingly in his ears, a harsh and constant reminder that he could do nothing to sate his hunger right now. All those that he would consider game were safely surrounding the drying out river, knowing their natural predators could do nothing to them, so long as the Blue Rock showed itself. He glared at them from his place on a rocky ledge above the river, pacing like a wolf caged. And in a sense, he supposed he was, and that only made him all the more irate, even if the bars that held him were proverbial.
Akru turned his glare skyward childishly, damning the heavens for this mess. Had it not been for the weather, he would not have been doing this right now, of that he was sure. He most likely be sleeping off his catch of the day – one worth mentioning, unlike the few field mice he had caught earlier in the evening. They had hardly been enough then, and they certainly weren't enough now.
And on top of the ache settling in his stomach, he couldn't help but notice just how dry his throat was. Another cruel twist of fate, he supposed, because the only water was down there, with the very animals he longed to sink his teeth into. He was very much aware that following the need to drink would only make his hunger worse, but he also knew that in this heat, he would dehydrate all too quickly. And that was a death he was not looking forward to.
Mustering whatever composure he had left, he started the slow walk down to the watering hole. With every step closer, he was sure he would lose whatever control he had managed keep a hold of. However, that was not the case, something for which he was idly thankful for; he certainly didn't want to shame the pack, or risk being banished for breaking one of the more sacred Laws.
He felt a small sense of self-satisfaction swell up in him when he noticed the smaller animals wake and scatter, bleary-eyed and clumsy. He tried not to think about how easily he could have caught them, and focused more on his thirst and the shallow water in front of him. As he bowed his head to drink, he couldn't help but notice the larger once-prey barely moved an inch, cocky and full of themselves, knowing one wolf was nothing against their mass herds. He tried not to let it get to him, tried to ignore their misplaced, demeaning stares and hold on to the satisfaction 'd felt just seconds before. He refused to let them get the better of him, for in no time he was certain all would be rightfully restored, and once again they would fear him and his pack, as they should have.
She saw the Truce as an opportunity. Or, at least, that was what she liked to believe, choosing to ignore the near-instinctive skittishness inside her that tried to will her back to her family. While her parents, brothers and sisters huddled at a far end of the riverbed, confident they were safe but still on guard, she had an urge to wander, to explore. How many more times in her life would she get the chance to get up close and personal to a predator, and not have to fear for her life? Droughts didn't come too often, and her kind weren't known to live very long, so the answer to that question was probably never.
If she didn't get a move on while the Truce was still in affect, she would more than likely never get another chance to get this close to something as dangerous as, say, a jackal, or even a wolf and live to tell the tale.
She looked over at her siblings and parents, then back toward the array of other animals in the distance. She could see other, smaller creatures like herself, things that would be easy prey for the predators strewn into the mix. She watched closely, noted that most of the larger, more dangerous beasts seemed tense, as though they had trouble containing themselves, and felt herself shudder inwardly. But regardless of that, she was determined now, to go out there alone. Her parents hadn't let her earlier, and made sure her older brother kept a close eye on her when they couldn't. Now, however, they were all sleeping and she was unattended, and it was all up to her at this point. All she had to do was take that first step, then keep going.
"I'll be alright," he chanted to herself, a mantra meant to inspire some sort of confidence, to assure herself of the promised safety that awaited her. Heart hammering in her chest, she repeated the phrase once more before she crouched, braced herself, and took that fateful hop forward. After that, she just kept going, adrenaline surging her forward, blinding her of her surroundings until her small, frail body collided with another beast's much bigger one.
On her side, she shook her head clear of any haze, then looked up to see the creature's hind legs. Then she noticed the tail, and a sense of fear gripped her again as she recognized the body's build to be a wolf's. Only once her sense came back to her was her fear confirmed, the canine's scent flooding her nostrils.
The wolf looked behind him, brow arched as he regarded the rabbit, frozen in place. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head before turning back to the shallow water, intent on finishing his drink. Of course, that was easier said than done with those two, incredibly intense eyes staring him down, seemingly unblinking. His patience was already worn thin, and she was doing nothing to better his mood.
"Knock it off," Akru snapped, turning around to face her, scowling down at the smaller animal.
More staring ensued and he couldn't suppress the growl, even if he had wanted to.
"Staring is rude, you know," he chided mockingly, then walked right over her, and he may or may not have intended for his back feet to come down so close to her in the process.
The rabbit avoided being stepped on just barely, and slowly got up on her feet to watch the wolf walk away. She glanced back toward where her family slept, brow furrowing. She had literally run into a wolf and already she was fearing for her life, even though the Truce promised her safety within the riverbed. She could turn back if she wanted, forget this whole thing and leave bravery to those it was meant for. But Sakari was a stubborn rabbit, and even if fear begged her to return to her family, curiosity and bravado demanded she follow the wolf.
He tried to ignore her, tried his very hardest to, but her mere presence grated on his nerves – and the aggravation just seemed to be trailing him. Literally; he could hear her tiny paw-falls behind him, a safe distance but not far away enough in his opinion. He would have rathered if she had stayed where he had left her, but of course that was far, far from the case. She was taking advantage of his predicament, abusing the Law of the Truce by following him like this. Brave, he had to admit, but bothersome nonetheless.
He stopped, turned his head to look over his shoulder at her, and rose an eye ridge at her curiously. She stopped, balanced on her large feet, staring at him with a mix of fear and wonder. The look on her face, the posture of her body, and the smell of her fear were all idly amusing things, but he was not in the mood to be played with.
"Why are you following me?" he asked through a growl.
The she-rabbit trembled, but stood her ground. "I – I don't really know," she admitted.
He rolled his eyes, then looked ahead to the edge of the river. He felt a sort of sick sense of humor overcome him as he nodded into its general direction.
"Well, if following me is what you really want to do," he mused, "by all means, go right ahead. I won't stop you."
Sakari was quick to catch on to what he was saying and felt her blood run chill through her veins for a split second. "N-no, that's okay."
"You sure?" he crooned teasingly, tail even swishing behind him a little, indicating his playfulness, despite how dangerous it was.
"I'm sure," she assured him quickly, nodding quickly.
"Aw, too bad," he sighed, though his lips pulled back in a sort of grin, showing off his sharp teeth. "But if that's the case," and suddenly his airy tone was dropping, and a growl was lacing his words once more, "get lost. I'm not in the mood to play games with vermin."
"I – I bet you wouldn't have said that if things were different," she dared to blurt out, unwittingly taunting his hunger and instincts.
His grin darkened, taking her unintentional bait. "If things were different, I wouldn't have said anything to you. I don't like conversing with my food."
The rabbit became visibly shaken by his words, and he laughed as he started to walk on ahead again. "Get out of here, rabbit," he urged her, for her own safety in spite of himself. "Before someone hungrier and bigger than me finds you."
"But – wait," she said pathetically, ducking her head a little as she approached him once more. "You're the first – I mean – and I – "
He rose an eyebrow at her and let a smirk cross his lips again. "Thrill-seeker, are you?" he teased, turning to face her completely and sitting now. When she came too close, he used a front paw to urge her backward a little, keeping a good distance between them.
When she didn't respond, he chuckled lowly. "Wouldn't a real rush come when there's an actual threat of danger?"
"I – I suppose so," she mumbled, flushing beneath her fur. "But, I never could – before now – "
"Obviously," he said, cocking his head to the side. "With your audacity, I'm surprised you hadn't found your way into some predator's stomach by now, honestly."
"Just lucky, I guess," she chuckled softly, trying on a weak sort of smile for him.
He regarded her curiously, not really understanding why she was trying to add pleasantries to this encounter by smiling. Thinking about it, he wasn't even sure why he had allowed the conversation to get this far. He should have just left as he had planned to from the beginning, because there was no way she would have followed him out of the riverbed. She was daring, but he could tell she wasn't stupid.
"Why am I even having this conversation with you?" he asked, mostly to himself, but thought he wouldn't mind if she could, somehow, provide an answer.
"I don't know," she chuckled softly, dark eyes glittering with amusement now.
"Well, it ends here," he huffed, glaring down at her.
"But – " she insisted and he growled, even gnashing his teeth together to make his point.
"Leave me alone, or I swear I'll remember to hunt you down when this is over."
"I would! What do you get out of this, other than some cheap thrill, rabbit?"
She swallowed hard, knitting her brow together as she stared up at him, trying very hard to suppress the shivers and shakes surging through her small body. If she were being honest with herself, this was nothing more than just that: a cheap thrill, a way to interact with something she normally would have fled from. There was a powerful feeling to it all, being able to be this close to a wolf, to stare one down, and know for the moment she was safe. She liked this, and felt no need to deny him the truth.
"Nothing more, wolf," she shot back.
He let out a hollow bark of laughter, shaking his head. "You're sick, you know that?" he informed her, a wry grin on his face. And whatever sort of sickness she had that was wrecking her mind, it had to be one worse than Tabaqui's Madness.
Before she could utter another annoying word, he growled at her. "I'm not here for your amusement, you know."
"I know," she said, shrugging one shoulder, "I didn't want you to amuse me."
"Oh, then I suppose you just wanted my company?" he inquired sourly, not even daring to believe that.
"Maybe," she replied, and he growled again.
"Learn your place," he snapped, and idly thought of the panther and how he sounded a little like him at the moment.
"What if I don't like my place?" she asked, cocking her head to the side.
He stood again, and bowed threateningly toward her, tail raised and swaying. "I'm sure I could find you another, but you may not like that one much better."
That set her off again, and she jumped back and quivered in her new place. "You wouldn't."
"I would," he assured her again, "and I think I will. When this Truce is over, you're the one I'm coming after first."
"You can't – "
"I can. Now get lost," he snapped, and was pleased to see his scare tactic work as she jumped back again.
"I'm going," she whimpered, easing back ever so slowly by the second. "I'm going."
"Good, and stay gone."
"Then how will you hunt me, wolf?" she taunted, and the urge to just pounce on her then and there was insanely hard to resist.
"What?" he asked, gnashing his teeth once more, fur bristling.
"If I stay gone, how will you hunt me?"
He growled, not in the mood for her games or her any longer. "Just, go!"
And with that, she scampered back to her family, much to Akru's relief. However, as he made his way back to the ledge, he didn't doubt in the least that this would be the last time he would be seeing that rabbit. Creatures like her were hardly so easy to get rid of.