"Joan Goes To The Moonlight Howl", Part Two
When Joan and John reached their pack's Howling Rock, they saw that they were early. Only one other couple was there - Shawn and Marcia, two of the Betas (they were mates). They hadn't taken their place on Howling Rock yet.
Shawn was the lead Beta, in charge of making sure everyone below his rank followed the orders of Joan, their pack-leader. He was essentially her lieutenant. He was fairly slender, but still muscular enough to handle his job without a challenge. His fur was the yellow-orange color of flame, with head-fur a shade darker going down the sides of his neck and down his shoulders. His eyes were a pale green, a vivid contrast to his fur. He had black lines above his eyes for eyebrows.
Marcia was the lead female Beta, and was support for her mate, if he needed it. She was deceptively small and slender, but she had surprising strength in her lithe body. She had nearly white light-gray fur. Her head-fur was white, going down past her shoulders in back. Her eyes were a deep, dark blue, almost looking black, sometimes. She had dark gray eyebrow markings on her light gray face.
Other packs might have different rules, but for this pack, the Moonlight Howl was all about fun. It was about enjoying the howl. The only set rules were that mate howled with mate, and pack members got ledges on Howling Rock according to rank, starting with the pack-leader and their howling partner at the top of the Rock. If you found the one whose howl matched and accented yours perfectly, then great. If not, no one thought any less of you if you showed up at each Moonlight Howl with a different howling partner. Or even no partner. Choices were pretty limited, even in a pack with fifteen members. That was why, at least in this pack, Omegas were allowed to howl with Betas, and even Alphas. Who knew who would end up howling well together? An Omega could even ask an Alpha to the howl. That didn't mean that the Alpha had to accept, though. Outside of the Moonlight Howl, the usual rules applied, though. Some order of discipline had to be maintained in day-to-day life to keep the pack running smoothly.
Since Joan was pack-leader, and John the eldest Alpha, the top spot on the Rock was reserved for them tonight.
"So..." John paused, frowning slightly with nervousness, ears down, shifting from front paw to front paw. He was hoping that he and Joan would howl well together. He wanted this night to be perfect for her. "Should we go on up and wait fer the others t' arrive?"
"Sure," Joan called over her shoulder, as she leapt up to the next ledge "I'll race you to the top!"
"Heh-heh,"John chuckled, "Oh, you're on!" as he began leaping up, too, and caught up with Joan.
Up they leapt, rock by rock, ledge by ledge, side by side. John put on a burst of speed at the last second and reached the top barely before Joan.
"Well, looks like you won." Joan smiled, then looked down at her paws, ears down, suddenly shy. "The winner gets a prize." She reached up and gave him a nuzzle behind his right ear.
"Oh-ho! Heh-heh," he grinned and chuckled, his face showing his surprise and delight. "Feelin' a little frisky tonight, are we?" He nuzzled Joan's left ear, so as not to take the chance of knocking her flower out of place.
Then they just sat close beside each other, each enjoying the other's company as they watched the other wolves arrive.
As soon as "Clumsy" arrived with his sister Lucky, he was shyly approached by Betty, one of the Omega triplets. Betty was somewhat short and stocky, but by no means fat, with fur the golden color of honey. Her head-fur was a light blonde, almost white, with straight bangs that hung over her forehead. She had bright crystal-blue eyes. She was normally shy and quiet, but she had worked up the nerve to ask "Clumsy", since she knew he probably wouldn't have worked up the nerve to ask her. She'd noticed the way that he looked at her when he thought she wasn't paying attention, and had always liked him, despite his innate clumsiness and rough looks. She knew that wasn't his fault, and saw beyond it to see the good-natured, kind heart inside of him.
"Ummm..." she began nervously, ducking her head and laying her ears back, eyes downcast, tail down. Her next words came out in a rush as she glanced up at him, "Swift, w-would you be my howling partner for tonight? If... if you don't already have someone else in mind, that is..." She smiled shyly and looked back down, waiting for his answer.
At first, "Clumsy" didn't know how to react. He was shocked, to be sure. No one had ever shown any interest in him as anything but the running joke of the pack before now. A lot of thoughts ran through his mind as he processed what had just happened, the first of which was "She called me by my real name!" He stood there, with his mouth open, his shock showing plainly on his face. "I..I..I..." he stammered, then a slow smile spread across his face. He straightened up, bringing his head, ears and tail up. His greenish-brown eyes shone with an inner light he'd never felt before. Was this... respect he'd just been given? He could grow to like this. He could to grow to like this very much. Especially since it came from a girl he liked. A girl he'd never hoped for anything but a kindly pity from.
Betty could see in his face what he was feeling. "Well?" she asked, cocking her head at him, but still a bit shy, ears still back, her gaze a little more direct.
"Clumsy" finally found the words he wanted to say. He laid his ears back and looked her in the eyes proudly. "Betty, it would be my honor to be your howling-partner tonight."
"Oh!" Her face lit up and she shyly brought her right front paw up to her mouth and giggled "Hee-hee!" suddenly grinning from ear to ear. She then gave "Clumsy" a quick nuzzle on the side of his face. "Well, then, I guess we know where our howling place will be. . . at the base of the Rock, like we Omegas always get. At least we'll be together, though."
"Clumsy" had a sudden thought, his eyes brightening even more. "I'll be right back, Betty." He turned and dashed off. Strangely, he didn't even so much as stumble. He returned a few minutes later with a bright yellow daisy in his mouth.
"Oh, Swift!" Betty gasped, her delight showing plainly on her face as she laid her ears back "It's beautiful!"
"Here," he said as he carefully put it just under her left ear, "for you. A pretty girl like you can't be without a pretty flower at the Moonlight Howl." That earned him a more serious nuzzle on the side of his face. "Thank you," she whispered in his ear. He grinned widely and returned the nuzzle, "You're welcome," he whispered in her ear, happier than he'd ever been before in his life.
Lucky, meanwhile, had found Jake, a Beta a year older than her, in the gathering group and approached him cautiously, respectful of his rank above her.
Jake was the lowest-ranking of the five Betas, relegated to support on hunts, but he was ready to work his way up when it was time. He was fairly long and lean, but strong. He had long legs and a muscular, yet narrow chest, ideal for cutting through the deep snow their climate brought in the Winter. His fur was a patchy combination of gray and black, almost like camouflage, with gray being predominant. His head-fur was a glossy jet black, going down to his shoulders and on each side of his neck to his collar-bone. His face was light gray with dark gray eyebrow lines above his golden eyes. He was serious most of the time, but still had a bright, ready smile, especially for the eligible young ladies of the pack.
"Uhhh... H-hi, Jake," Lucky began nervously, head, ears, and slowly-wagging tail down, glancing at him but not keeping eye contact, lest he become offended.
"Lucky, it's okay." He reached out with his right front paw, turned it pad up and brought it gently under Lucky's chin and raised it so that her eyes would meet his. "You can look me in the eyes. You don't think I'm that mean, do you?" Jake smiled at her, laying his ears back as she looked up at him, her eyes wide with amazement. He put his paw back down. His gold eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "I know you like me. I like you too, and I'd love for you to be my howling-partner for tonight."
Lucky was astounded. Jake had actually accepted her as his howling-partner for tonight! With his being a Beta, they were guaranteed a ledge on the Rock. The lowest ledge, since he was the lowest Beta, but a ledge, none-the-less. No below-the-ledges, on-the-ground howling alone for Lucky tonight! And that smile...that smile was for her tonight!
Then Jake sat for a moment, grinning and saying "Somehow, I knew you'd approach me tonight. I have something for you. He reached back into his neck fur with his right front paw and brought out a white daisy and transferred it to his mouth.
Lucky was completely taken by surprise. How did he know that white daisies were her favorite flower? She had a feeling that her mom had told him.
Jake stepped forward with the daisy in his mouth. "Here you go," he said, and placed it in the fur below her left ear.
"Oh, Jake! Thank you." Lucky looked down at her paws, suddenly shy again.
"You're welcome." Jake grinned. "Let's go on up to our ledge, shall we?"
"Yeah, let's." Lucky beamed as she looked up at him, her amber eyes glowing in the moonlight.
Together, they hopped up to their ledge on the Rock.
Soon, every available rock ledge was taken by a couple. Only Bathsheba, one of the Omega triplets, was left to howl alone tonight, but that didn't matter. Only the unity of the pack mattered. Besides, everyone was welcome to howl. And, if nothing else, there was always the next Moonlight Howl to look forward to. The Howling-Partner line-up would switch around among the singles, like it always did, unless someone found their perfect partner, then they would probably stay partners for each Howl until one or the other tired of the arrangement.
"Clumsy" and Betty sat at the base of the Rock. Bathsheba sat down by herself about ten feet away, to respect their space as a couple. She was happy for her sister, since she knew how Betty felt about "Clumsy". She herself liked him well enough, but just not in "that way".
Lucky and Jake sat on their ledge just above "Clumsy", Betty, and Bathsheba. They talked and laughed, obviously enjoying each other's company.
The howl started at the base of the Rock, with "Clumsy" and Betty, as well as Bathsheba down there, then ledge by ledge, the others joined in, all their voices mingling and overlapping in wild harmony, until everyone was howling except for John and Joan. They stood on their top platform.
After a short pause, John closed his eyes, threw back his head, and began howling - a wonderfully smooth bass. Two seconds later, Joan stepped close and joined in with her clear, sharp tenor. Their voices blended and wove together, each accenting the other and both accenting the rest of the pack's howls.
The entire pack howled and swayed together, enjoying the unity, and each member savoring their own personal contribution to their wild symphony.
After about an hour, the howling gradually tapered off, as one by one and two by two, the wolves started leaving the Rock. They were headed to the "After-Howl Party" behind Howling Rock.
John and Joan were the last to stop howling. They sat, gazing at each other, both happy for each other's company. Joan hadn't realized just how lonely she had been.
"Well, Joanie, that was a fantastic howl!" John was grinning again.
"Yeah, John," Joan sighed, "fantastic!" She reached up with her right paw and started ruffling the fur behind his left ear.
"Mmm..." he crooned, "Ya keep that up, yer gonna give this 'old wolf' some ideas. I'll give ya ten minutes or so t' stop that..." He sighed, his grin getting goofier and goofier by the second.
She chuckled at his expression, then stopped ruffling his ear-fur, suddenly serious. "I'm sorry, John. I didn't mean to... I'm just not really ready for anything more, yet. I hope you understand." She ducked her gray head apologetically, her ears down. She peered at him sadly with head down, eyes up.
It was his turn to be serious. "Of course, I do. Mark was m' brother, ya know. I miss 'im, too." John sighed, looking at Joan as he thought to himself "And he made me promise when he married ya that I'd watch out for ya if anything happened to 'im. I know he'd want ya ta be happy. Whenever yer ready, Joanie-girl, I'll be here for ya." Then his expression brightened. "Hey, we don't wanna be late fer the party, do we? Let's get goin!"
"Hmmm, hmmm," Joan chuckled, happy once again. "Race ya down!" She started down.
"Once again, you're on, Joanie!" John started bounding down the rock ledges close behind her, catching up at the last second.
They both reached the bottom at the exact same time.
"Darn!" Joan said, sitting down and hanging her head in seeming disappointment, "No winner means no prize." A smile played across her lips as she looked at him from the corners of her eyes.
"Oh, I've already gotten my prize, Joanie. A howl with the hottest girl in the pack!" John winked at her, grinning, tail high and wagging.
"Hmmm, hmmm. You old wolf!" Her turn to wink and grin.
He sighed and hung his head and tail, acting hurt. "Again with the 'old'." He rolled his blue eyes, shaking his head from side to side. "A guy could get a complex, ya know?" His head was still down as he brought his eyes up to look at her. The "sad puppy" look. But the sparkle in his eyes gave him away, as if Joan didn't already know he was putting on a show.
"I hear that parties are good if you're feeling down." Joan said, still grinning. In a low voice, she added "Let's go." She got up and trotted off.
John was instantly up and following. "Hey, wait fer me!" he called out, "I think ya need someone ta protect ya while yer there." He grinned, walked up to her left side, leaned towards her left ear, and added conspiratorially in a low voice "I hear tell there's gonna be a bunch o' wolves there."
"Ha!" Joan barked, her eyes shining, "Then you should feel right at home!" She trotted off around towards the back of Howling Rock, with John following closely, still grinning.