Snowflakes drifted between the whitened branches of the trees, landing silently upon the forest floor. The Espeon stared out from beneath the pine that was offering a temporary shelter while she and her daughter rested. Looking back at the Eevee huddled and trembling from cold and hunger against the tree's roots, the Espeon gave a low growl, temper sparking again as she recalled the beasts that had put them in this situation.
Mightyenas. Practically a whole pack of them from what she counted, had decided that she and her daughter didn't need the food they had gathered for the winter and were more than happy to take it for themselves. She tried reasoning with them at first, explaining that the two of them would starve if they took everything, but it was clear they weren't going to listen, or even care. One of them even said that if they were going to die anyway, their pack may as well kill them along with taking the food so they'd get some fresh meat out of it. The Mightyena had said it casually, and with enough focus on her daughter at the time, that the Espeon reacted on a combination of instinct and anger that resulted in a psybeam strong enough to take the bitch's head off.
Which, considering how many were nearby at the time, was the worst thing she could have done. The two of them barely managed to get away, unintentionally falling down a cliffside and giving the impression they had fallen to their deaths being the only thing that saved them.
Of course, after almost two weeks surviving on what little they could find this time of year, she was beginning to wonder if getting away even mattered. As it was now, they wouldn't last another week. Maybe less in her daughter's case.
The Espeon's ear twitched as she sensed the subtle shift in the wind. The snow was going to get worse soon, and where they were now wouldn't offer much protection. "Come on, Lyn. We need to get moving."
There was a small whimper as the Eevee pushed herself away from the tree, but it was more from the strain of movement than a complaint.
"This part of the forest isn't one I'm familiar with, so be careful. We have to find..." She trailed off, a faint crunching of snow in the distance catching her attention. It was hard to tell where the sound was coming from, until an energetic voice joined it.
"I'm gonna tear your limbs off, tree!" It yelled. Something burst through another pine near the one they were sitting under, got caught on a branch mid-leap and hit the ground under it, getting buried under a mound of snow and pine needles.
The Espeon stared at the pile, dumbstruck but keeping her guard up.
The mound shifted as whoever was under it forced their way to the top. "Too cold!" They cried as their head emerged. "Way too cold even for me! How do those trees manage without fur?" There was a flurry of snow as the stranger shook himself off. He noticed the pair of them a second later.
Lyn stumbled backwards a step when she got a clear look at him, but the Espeon held her ground.
"Oh, hey there!" He greeted them, his tone cheerful.
The Espeon watched him cautiously. A Poochyena, that was all they needed now. She certainly didn't have the strength to fight or outrun another bunch of them. "Where's your pack?" She asked, thinking it strange one would be alone.
The Poochyena just blinked at her. "Pack?" He tilted his head a bit, eyes drifting toward the sky as he thought.
Thinking it was some kind of distraction, the Espeon gave the forest a quick glance. There was no sign of them being surrounded, but that didn't mean nothing was out there.
"Not sure." The Poochyena told her. "They're off doing whatever they do in the winter, it's just me and my Dad out here right now."
She gave him a suspicious look. As crazy as it seemed, it didn't really sound like a lie. Before she could question him about it, a thump at her side as Lyn collapsed wiped those thoughts from her mind.
"What's wrong? Are you sick?" The Poochyena asked, hurrying over.
Attacking before he got too close crossed her mind, but she decided against it. He seemed harmless enough, and might even be of some help. "She's weak. We haven't had much to eat for a long time." The Espeon explained.
"Food..." He looked up at her, hesitating. From his expression she could tell he was having conflicting thoughts of some kind, but when he turned back to her daughter they ended quickly. "Alright, follow me. I'll get you two something to eat." Turning to the tree he had torn through not long ago, he took off at a sprint.
Knowing that going along was the only real option she had that at least gave them a chance of survival, she took it, hoping it wasn't some kind of trick.
The snow was coming down harder and the wind was picking up by the time they arrived at a small hole in the side of a hill that would have been easily overlooked by anyone that didn't know about it. It looked like it had been dug out, tree roots keeping the dirt above them in place. The tunnel curved from the entrance and opened into a chamber that sloped down into a shallow pit that had been half-filled with an assortment of food.
The Poochyena just grinned as Lyn suddenly found enough energy to half-lunge half-tumble at the nearest edible thing in the room once she was set down.
With a relieved sigh, the Espeon sat down to get something for herself. "Thank you for this. I don't think she would have made it another day."
"It's not like I could leave you out there like that... I just hope my Dad doesn't find out. He's..." He considered for a moment, then changed the subject. "So, what're your names?"
That suspicious feeling came back again, but she didn't press on it. "I'm Serene. That's Lyn."
Lyn took a split second to raise her head enough to smile at him, before plunging her face back into what she had been munching on.
"I'm-" The Poochyena yelped in surprise as he was abruptly pushed to the ground by a heavy paw planted firmly between his shoulders.
"In very big trouble." The Mightyena pinning him finished, before turning his attention to Serene and Lyn, who were both staring at him in shock.
Serene didn't stay still for long, though. She dashed to the side, putting herself between the Mightyena and Lyn before it could attack.
He didn't budge, instead just giving an irritated growl. "Damn it, Alex. How many times are you going to let yourself be tricked?"
"But Dad, they really did need help! The Eevee could barely stand up!" Alex explained, not even trying to struggle against the weight on his back.
"Is that right?" The Mightyena looked from one to the other, calculating.
Serene wasn't sure what was going on in his head, but after her last encounter with his sort she doubted it was anything good. Getting out before things got ugly wasn't really an option with the only exit blocked, but she could try what proved useless last time if nothing else. "We were in trouble, but I think my daughter will be okay long enough for us to find our own food elsewhere. Please, just let us leave and you won't see us again."
He stared for a few seconds longer before snorting and taking his paw off Alex, stepping toward her. "Nobody will see you again. At least not while you're still breathing."
She tensed, ready to fight her way out.
"You're in no condition to go out in weather like this, especially if you don't know the area. You'll end up dead from the cold or hunger in no time." He glanced back at Alex, who was still pressed against the ground even though he wasn't being held there. "In spite of my son's attempts to give away our stored food to everyone claiming to need help, we actually have more than enough for just us. We could work out a deal."
"What sort of deal?" Serene wondered, relaxing only by a fraction.
"Food for warmth. It gets a lot colder at night, and the extra body heat would be very welcome. In return, you both can stay with us until spring. What do you say?"
She glared at him, not liking the implications in his tone a bit. Though she couldn't deny he had a point. The now howling of the wind outside echoing down the tunnel made it clear the potential blizzard she sensed coming earlier had arrived and they wouldn't last long if they did leave. Even so, being given an ultimatum after everything they'd been through simply infuriated her. She blew away a Mightyena before when there was a pack around, now there was just one... but with what little strength she had compared to then-
"You're thinking about attacking, aren't you?" He said, interrupting her thoughts. "The last couple of thieves that got in here tried that too, and they were in better shape. You know what happened to them?"
Serene flinched as he took a step closer and leaned down so his face was by hers, his voice lowered to a whisper. "I killed them, and I ate them. Which is also why we have the extra food. You shouldn't pick a fight you can't win." His eyes drifted past her to Lyn for a moment. "Especially not when there's someone relying on you."
His tone had suggested it was more of a simple fact than a threat, and though she didn't visibly relax, the urge to try ripping him apart lessened. Once again, as annoying as it was, he had a point. "Alright. We'll take you up on the offer. It's not like we have much choice."
"Glad to see you have good sense." He smirked. Turning around and walking past Alex, who had gotten up at some point during their standoff, the Mightyena sighed. "We've got guests now, I hope you're happy."
"Very." Alex replied, grinning.
"Mind your manners, then."
"Me? I bet you didn't even introduce yourself!"
The Mightyena stopped to scowl at his son for a moment. "Reeve." He growled, before continuing down the tunnel and out of sight.
The next few days passed without anything strange happening, which in Serene's opinion was strange in itself. Sharing body heat like Reeve mentioned had apparently just meant sleeping next to each other, since that's all that happened. Though she wasn't at all convinced he didn't have something else in mind. His fur seemed to be so much thicker and warmer than hers that he shouldn't have any problems with the cold on his own. Not to mention she had noticed him staring at her more times than she could count, usually at night when pressed against his side. Figuring out exactly what he was thinking at the time was next to impossible since a cold, distant expression was normally stuck on his face.
Alex, thankfully, was much more cheerful and talkative. So much so at times she found herself wondering if he was really Reeve's son. Lyn had become more energetic after having food and a mostly-comfortable place to sleep regularly. Alex proclaiming he'd keep the Eevee's spirits up any way he could during their second day there had been a big help too. Even if she'd been wary of him at first, the pup was persistent enough that now the pair of them were acting like good friends, even if Alex was the only one doing the talking.
"Hey, Dad. We're gonna go out to play in the snow for a while, okay?" Alex called out from near the mouth of the cave.
Reeve gave Serene a questioning look, which she had learned over the last couple of days to interpret as a silent "Do you care?" and "Is the weather going to turn ugly anytime soon?"
She nodded. "It's fine."
"Don't go far." Reeve added as his son dashed outside, Lyn right behind him.
Shortly after they departed, the cave filled with a tense silence. Serene shifted uncomfortably as something dawned on her. Ever since arriving, she hadn't been left alone with Reeve. Which meant if he did want another type of body heat, now would be the best time for him to try and get it. Reeve glanced at her and she braced herself for the worst.
"Your daughter is very quiet." He commented.
Taken off guard, it took her a moment to respond. "Y-yes... she hasn't spoken for a long time."
Reeve sat down, watching her intently. "What happened?"
Serene's forked tail twitched uncomfortably. The topic wasn't one she liked to think about normally, but talking about it with a Mightyena that was staring at her with such apparently rapt attention was ten times as unsettling. She began to think him just trying to maul her would be less nerve-wracking.
The silence must have stretched longer than she thought, since Reeve made a thoughtful sound and turned his gaze to the tunnel outside. "Right, none of my business. Easy enough to guess, anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"She doesn't have any scars and still makes a noise when my careless son gets too rough, so it's a fair guess she can talk, but chooses not to." He said, glancing back at her but keeping one ear poised to listen at what was going on outside. "My guess is something bad happened after the last time she spoke."
Serene stared at him for a moment, then gave a stiff nod. "Her Father... he was..."
"Don't go into detail if you'd rather avoid it." He interrupted, looking away again. "I understand enough from that."
Glaring at him, annoyed he'd bring up the subject and drop it so quickly, she didn't have the chance to complain before he continued.
"I take it that's why you're out here in the middle of winter as well?"
"No." She said, the word escaping her mouth with a low growl that caught his attention. "The reason we're out here is because a pack of Mightyena took everything we had stored for the winter. I had to fall off a cliff just to lose them."
"That explains a lot." Reeve muttered. "Tell me... from here, would you have to follow the sunrise to find them?"
Thinking back, she clearly remembered running headlong into the sunset, hoping it would slow down the pursuing Mightyena. Of course, it kept her from seeing that cliff until the last second as well. "Yes."
"In that case, you're lucky you made it away alive." Reeve growled. "Those bastards don't have any problems with killing anyone. Even members of their own pack."
Serene watched him cautiously. "You... were in it?"
"A long time ago... and I don't want to talk about." He said quickly, turning and heading toward the mouth of the cave. "Now if you'll excuse me, it sounds like Alex got himself stuck in that rotting log outside. Again. Stupid pup."
Serene frowned as he rounded the curve in the tunnel, wondering why after everything she'd been through she had to get stuck dealing with yet another confusing, short-tempered Mightyena. Making her way outside to check on Lyn, she wished she could read other Pokemon as easily as the weather.
It was another week before she couldn't take it any more. Ever since their little chat, she'd noticed Reeve staring more often, and something in his expression changed. Before it felt like he was sizing her up for something, but now... now he had obviously made a decision and was simply waiting for an opportunity to spring whatever he was planning. Tired of the suspense, she moved to the open chamber, waiting for Alex and Lyn to head outside.
Once they did, she spoke up before the Mightyena could follow them. "Reeve, wait."
Stopping, he glanced back and gave her a curious look.
"What is it you want?"
"I think that's my line, you're the one that told me to wait."
"Don't give me that." She growled. "You've been staring at me almost every time I've looked at you lately. You're planning something. What is it?"
He turned to face her, his tone turning a little frustrated. "I was going to wait a while longer, but I suppose it's better to just do this now."
Serene glared at him, noting that he was blocking the way out. "Do what? What exactly do you want?"
"It's simple enough. I want you-" Reeve stated, which is what she'd been expecting. What she wasn't were the next three words out of his mouth. "-and your daughter-"
"Never!" She snapped, the gem on her forehead blazing to life as she unleashed a psybeam at him on sheer instinct. Unlike last time, this Mightyena must have been expecting it, since he bolted out of the way before it even grazed him. She hadn't had two seconds to recover from her attack before Reeve slammed into her side, sending her sprawling onto the ground. Trying to get up, her body went rigid as the black and gray blur swept up next to her and she felt his jaws clench around her throat.
Heart pounding as she waited for the twist or tear that would be the last thing she felt, she wondered what was going to happen to Lyn, left to the mercy of these two. Fortunately she didn't have time to consider the possibilities. Reeve removing his fangs from around her neck was enough of a surprise to make her focus on him instead. Of course when she tried to look at him, a heavy paw pushed against her cheek, pinning her head against the ground.
"No, no, you can just aim that thing at the wall." He told her. "No more trying to kill me in the middle of a sentence. I have a bad habit of killing on reflex and you really don't want to test my ability to stop in time again."
"F-Fine..." Serene stuttered, voice shaking. "...just leave Lyn out of whatever you're going to do. Please."
"I couldn't do that, you two come as a set after all. Now, if you'll let me finish telling you what I'm after?" He asked, waiting a second and only getting a low growl in reply, which he took as an okay to continue. "I want you and your daughter to stay in the area once spring arrives."
She stopped growling, wondering if she'd misheard. "What?"
"I know you're not hard of hearing, Serene, so don't make me repeat myself." He said, removing his paw from her head and walking toward the entrance of the cave. "No need to rush a decision, think about it for a while. Still plenty of snow and cold ahead of us."
Slowly sitting up and staring at him, she couldn't help wondering if that's really all it was. The way he had been looking at her... had it not been as sinister as he'd thought? Were her past experiences with his type making her jump to the wrong conclusions? Her mind muddled by confusion at the event, it took Reeve's voice to snap her out of it.
"Hey, I know I said to think about it, but could you lend a paw here first? This is your fault, after all."
Blinking, she finally noticed he had been digging at the tunnel out since it had collapsed after taking the hit from her psybeam. She went over to help, but the unexpected question was still gnawing at the back of her mind. "Why do you want us to stay?"
"You really have to ask?" Reeve sighed, starting to dig again. "You've been here long enough to see how much energy Alex has. If Lyn wasn't around to keep him occupied, he'd either be driving me crazy all winter or running off and making me worry. Someone around that's actually active this time of year and closer to his age is something both he and I need."
Eying him warily and wondering how she should interpret the last bit, she began digging next to him. "You make it sound like he's calmer during other seasons."
"Don't be ridiculous, that pup never stops. It's just that the rest of the year he has more than just me around." Reeve told her.
She looked curiously at him, recalling that Alex had said something similar when she'd first encountered him. "What kind of strange pack do you have?"
Making a sound that was somewhere between a growl and snort, she guessed it must have been laugh since his tone lightened lightly. "I wouldn't call that bunch a pack, they're too laid back for that. They seem to go off in pairs, either sleeping all winter, heading south or just disappearing. The two that disappear are bound to be causing trouble somewhere though."
"I see." Serene muttered, not having the slightest idea what he was talking about. Either he was dodging a real answer to the question or was more focused on getting a way out opened up again instead of talking. The latter, she thought, is what she should have been doing too. Chatting and considering the idea of staying there could wait until there wasn't a wall of dirt between her and Lyn, who was probably worried that something had happened to her.
Although she eventually got some information about the seemingly random Pokemon that made up Reeve's mismatched little pack, it didn't help Serene come any closer to a decision about whether or not they should stay. Even though he didn't seem too bad compared to others, he was still a Mightyena, which put her on edge just being around him.
Eventually the snow had gone, temperatures had risen enough to be comfortable most of the day and the grass returned to a healthy shade of green. Still, Serene hadn't been able to think of a solid reason on why to stay, so one sunny afternoon in the beginning of Spring, she and Lyn departed.
Alex laid on his back at the mouth of the cave, staring up at the trees with a bored expression on his face. The sound of a snapping branch made him roll onto his side and look for where it had come from. It only took a moment to spot the Mightyena coming out of the bushes nearby. With a disappointed sigh, the Poochyena returned to his tree-staring position.
"Expecting someone else?" Reeve asked as he approached.
"Maybe." Alex replied blandly.
Reeve sat down next to his son, looking at him curiously. "Li?"
"Maybe." He repeated.
Silence lingered for a few moments before the Mightyena leaned into Alex's view. "Lyn?"
Alex didn't answer, he just tilted over onto his side away from his father and the question.
"Thought so. You've been moping for the last three days, just like you do just before winter when everyone leaves." Reeve said, starting into the cave.
"This is different." Alex told him. "I know Li, Phay n' them will all come back."
He hesitated, glancing back. "Best not to dwell on things you can't change."
"Right, right." Alex grumbled, getting up and stretching. "You can't tell me you don't miss Serene too though. Even if you were mister stony face around her."
Turning away again, Reeve scowled. Overlooking the whole trying to kill him once thing, he did miss the company even if they didn't talk much. "The clouds coming this way look bad, it's probably going to start storming before long." He said, changing the subject and heading further inside.
"There is?" Alex wondered, sniffing the air. "Maybe those two didn't get far... if they're still around-"
"Don't bother looking." Reeve told him firmly, disappearing around the curve in the tunnel. "I already checked our territory, there was no sign of them."
Thunder rumbled and the ground trembled. Reeve yawned, opening one eye and peering around the dim cavern. Who he was looking for was nowhere in sight, but he figured the Poochyena was staring outside into the rain, which he'd done before claiming it was relaxing. Besides, not even Alex was crazy enough to go out in weather like this.
Closing his eyes again and trying to get back to sleep, thunder sounded again and Reeve thought he heard Alex coming into the main chamber over the pounding rain echoing down the tunnel. The scent of wet fur met his nose and he sighed.
"Alex, did you actually go outside in that storm?" He wondered, not even bothering to look.
The Poochyena answered him in a tone much more cheerful than anything he'd heard over the past few days. "Yep, but only for a minute."
A damp, chilly weight pressed against his side. "Why would you do something like that?"
"Because I had to."
Reeve opened his eyes, ear twitching. Alex's voice hadn't come from anywhere near him. He quickly looked from the spot Alex was sitting by the path out to the waterlogged mass of pinkish fur laying against him.
"If he hadn't come rushing at us out of nowhere, we would have walked right by. This den of yours is pretty well hidden." Serene said, pressing against him harder and shivering.
Reeve just stared at her for a few seconds before speaking. "What brought you back this way?"
"After about two days of heading west, I suddenly got a reason to turn around and take you up on that offer to stay in the area."
Serene looked across the cave at the Poochyena that was now curled up and content to be a cushion for the Eevee sprawled happily over his back. "Lyn said she missed Alex. It was the first time I'd heard her speak in so long... I had to come back. Maybe he can get her talking again." She said, before facing Reeve. "For her sake, I'm sure I can learn to deal with you."
The Mightyena chuckled. "If you're going to be living around here, you'll find I'm not that difficult to put up with. Especially once you meet some of the others in the area."
"What do y-you-" A sneeze cut her off.
Reeve shook his head. "Not important. Let's just try to make sure you don't end up getting sick right now." Adjusting a bit, he awkwardly tried to curl himself around the Espeon, ignoring her nervous movements as he did. By the time they'd settled his tail was draped over most of her back and her head was resting on the back of his neck.
"Never thought I'd be in a position like this with a Mightyena." Serene commented, the warmth soothing enough to overpower any discomfort she had about the situation.
A quiet laugh was the only response Reeve gave to that, closing his eyes and yawning. He was probably just as glad as Alex the two of them had come back, but didn't feel the need to voice it. "Good night, Serene."
Idly wondering why this Mightyena seemed so different from the others even though he'd claimed to have been part of the same pack, she sneezed again and decided it wasn't worth thinking about until she was rested and felt better. "Night, Reeve."