"Oh. God." Scarlett stared at the amount of food offered on the table - steamed rice, miso soup, curry, and a variety of fish, sushi, and vegetables. Her stomach grumbled agreeably. Tommy hid his amused smirk in his hand.
Junko smiled. "Hungry? I thought you might be."
"Jesus, Junko. Did you make all of this?" The redhead still looked awed. "My god, that's a lot of food."
The former geisha laughed and shook her head. "No, of course not. I had help."
"Still, this is pretty impressive." She grinned. "Lucky Tommy gets to eat your cooking every night."
"Only when I feel like cooking, which is only about once a week or so," she replied, her cheeks turning slightly pink.
"In that case, I'm glad you felt like it today. Everything looks delicious." Scarlett glanced at the door. "When is Snake coming? I'm starving."
Right on cue, the door slid open, and Snake shook off his shoes and put on a pair of provided slippers.
"... Really, brother? Really?" Tommy scowled as he watched the man carefully place three clean and fluffy pups in the room.
Snake didn't answer; Romulus had spotted the food and was trying his hardest to pull away from his Alpha. Remus, on the other hand, had noticed Scarlett and gave pitiful cries when Snake's hold on his scruff prevented him from running over and crawling into her lap. Even Timber looked at the food with interest, his loyalty and Alpha's gaze on him the only things keeping him rooted to the spot.
"What is he doing?" Junko asked, leaning back to look past her husband.
"Wolf puppy lesson number one: humans that Alpha accepts are higher-ranked and therefore get to eat first," Scarlett answered. A desperate high-pitched whine from Remus drew her attention. "Aw, I know, baby. Mama wants to hold you too, but you know the rules."
Snake slowly released Romulus, only to tighten his hold when the wolf lunged towards the table. The pup snarled his disapproval, but quieted the moment Snake started lifting him by the scruff.
"Is he going to bite him?" Junko's eyes were wide.
"Not at that angle." Tommy looked at Timber, who had been edging towards the table while Snake was preoccupied with his sibling. As soon as the pup noticed that he was being watched, he quickly averted his gaze and scooted back. Letting out a quiet whimper, he sank to the floor, begging for his superior to stop silently reprimanding him.
"... Awww." Junko smiled at the puff of fur. "So cute. So obedient. Tommy, stop scaring him."
The Phoenix Master made a noise that sounded like a cross between a sputter and a snort. "I didn't do anything!"
"Look at him." The woman held out a hand to Timber. "He won't even look at you."
"Actually," Scarlett interrupted, "That's a sign of respect. It's one of the main differences between a dog and a wolf - one will look in your eyes, and the other will not, unless you are being challenged."
"Oh." Junko raised both eyebrows at this new piece of information. "So does that mean I shouldn't look at them?"
"No, you're higher-ranked than they are, so you may look at them. It's when they look back at you for longer than a glance you should be a little concerned." Grinning, Scarlett looked at Romulus, who was still struggling against Snake. "You hear that, cutie? No staring at Alpha."
Romulus ignored her and let out a frustrated huff when the ninja finally released him. Eyes still on the stubborn pup, Snake moved Timber and Remus closer to their brother and walked over to the table to start dinner.
Junko watched in silent admiration as the three pups fidgeted but didn't dare move forward. When Romulus finally slipped and loudly voiced his protest, he was silenced when Snake made a quick, hissing noise. "Amazing," she breathed. "You have a lot of control."
[I need to,] Snake signed before quietly tucking into his food.
Timber tilted his head to one side, then to the other, then back again. Alpha and Alpha's female always ate good-smelling meals, but this one in particular smelled... interesting. There were bits that had salt-water scent and others with hints of earth. It was strange. But whatever Alpha and Alpha's female ate, he should be able to eat too. It was simple logic.
He sniffed the air. Beta wolf wasn't in the area, which meant he won't be able to bring tasty meat. Oh, well. Looks like food would be coming from Alpha today.
After half an hour, Timber decided to make his move. Ears angled slightly back in submission, he slowly approached his Alpha, his eyes on the floor.
Snake-Eyes set down his chopsticks and watched the wolf puppy come over. Once he was close enough, Timber whined and pawed the ninja's arm in a plea for food. When the man failed to respond, the whines increased in volume.
Junko was a little confused. It was obvious the puppy wanted to be fed, but the food was right there, easily within jaws' reach. "Why isn't he just taking the food?" she finally asked.
Scarlett looked pleased. "I knew you would ask that. Romulus, Remus, and Timber are a little over a month old; that's when they start eating meat. Except it's regurgitated meat. From adult pack mates."
"Yes, very 'ew,' but it's nature." Scarlett smiled as she watched Remus take tentative steps towards her. She patted her lap, and Remus happily bounced into her lap. His pink tongue flicked out, licking at her chin. "We don't feed them regurgitated food for obvious reasons - that's Dojo's job - but we do offer them scraps of meat small enough for them to eat and digest."
"Ah, I see." Junko looked at Remus fondly. "Hellooo..." she crooned, before offering a hand.
Remus's nose twitched as he sniffed. This was the female from earlier, the one with the white male's scent on her, but now she had Alpha's female's scent on her too. Tentatively, he nosed her hand.
"Awww..." Junko giggled as she carefully stroked Remus's head with two fingers. "What a sweetie."
"What a scaredy-cat," Tommy added, rolling his eyes. "That one peed himself when Snake introduced him to me."
"Tomisaburo!" His wife looked shocked. "Not at the table!"
"What? How come Scarlett can talk about regurgitation but I can't talk about the puppy wetting himself? Besides, we're done with dinner, so technically I can say whatever I want." He raised his hands in defense.
Meanwhile, Scarlett took a strip of raw fish and peeled it into small bits. "Here you go," she murmured as she offered Remus one bit at a time. The wolf pup's ears pricked up in interest and he licked the morsel of food out of her hand.
Timber, noticing that Alpha's female was giving food, didn't hesitate to go over and start whining to be fed. Romulus also joined, adding to the chorus. Scarlett stroked each of their muzzles as she offered a small piece of fish.
"Sorry, boys." She smiled sympathetically when they begged for more. "But I can't feed you too much of this. You're just going to have to wait for Dojo to come..." She blinked. "Hey, Snake, where's Dojo?"
[Eating the serow I caught, probably,] Snake signed before stacking the empty bowls and plates.
Her eyebrows rose. "You left him alone outside the compound? Isn't that a bit dangerous? He's not familiar with the animals in this region."
[He'll learn.] Snake started to pick up the dishes, but Storm moved in to stop him.
"I'll do it. You stay here and manage your wolves." He took the dishes from his brother's hands and left the room. Junko watched him go.
"So, Junko," Scarlett picked up the squirming Remus and started rocking him like a baby. "How have you been? Has Tommy been giving you a difficult time?"
"I'm fine, thank you." Junko eyed Remus in Scarlett's arms and swallowed hard. "And Tommy has been... sweet, as always. He's not giving me a hard time." She averted her gaze as she took out a small pouch and carefully poured its contents into her tea before quickly drinking it.
Scarlett stared at her. "What was that?"
"Hm? This?" She held up the pouch. "This is just some supplements Healer gave me. I haven't been feeling one-hundred percent lately."
Curious, Timber sniffed the pouch, then immediately sneezed, prompting laughter from the two women. "Silly puppy." Scarlett stroked the slightly stunned-looking wolf from head to tail. "That's not for you. That's for your Aunt Junko." She pressed a kiss to the top of his soft head before looking at Junko. "So what's up with this not feeling 'one-hundred percent?'"
And just like that, Scarlett felt her friend's mental walls go up. Her body language became defensive, and she chose to stare at Timber rather than her. "I'm a little sick," she answered a millisecond too quickly. "Healer gave me this to speed up my recovery. That's all."
The redhead's eyebrows went up. "Uh huh. And have you told Tommy about your supplements yet?"
"He knows I'm taking them," Junko answered hurriedly.
"Really." Scarlett looked skeptical. "Well, if you say so."
A quiet scratch at the door broke the uncomfortable atmosphere. All three puppies scampered to the door and began nosing and yipping at it. A gentle nudge with the foot, and Snake pushed the pups to one side before opening the door.
Dojo let out an audible sigh of tested patience as the puppies poured out of the building and began circling around him, licking his mouth in a plea for food. He had just finished stuffing himself with the recent kill, and wanted nothing more than to lay down and sleep. But, alas, as a pack member, his responsibilities included caring for the pack's young.
Junko watched in a mixture of disgust and interest as the pups practically stuck their heads in their sire's mouth, eagerly eating up the regurgitated meat. "How often do they eat?"
[I provide food every few days or so. Dojo is responsible for feeding the pups, so I mostly feed him. Of course, once the pups grow older, I will need to change my feeding schedule.] Snake leaned against a pillar as Dojo made small heaving sounds to bring up more food.
After a while, the older wolf decided that the pups had had enough to eat and wandered off, ignoring the puppies' yips and begs. "Hey!" Scarlett snapped her fingers, drawing the pups' attention. "Come!"
The wolf pups happily bumbled over. Food?
Scarlett pointed to the ground wordlessly; three behinds hit the ground obediently. A fingers-spread downwards motion got them to lay down, and a quick upwards flick of the hand got them to jump. "Good boys," she cooed, as she squatted to feed them meat morsels.
"Voiceless commands." Junko nodded in approval. "That makes sense."
As the puppies vigorously licked her hand to make sure they didn't miss a speck of meat, Scarlett beckoned to Junko. "Come." When the young woman complied, she carefully deposited a few bits of meat in her hand. "Your turn. Give them hand commands and reward them if they obey."
Junko yelped and giggled quietly when all three wolves simultaneously starts jumping up and down, trying to reach her hand. "And what if they don't listen?"
"Then poke 'em on the neck. Or pinch their muzzle. They hate it when you do that." Scarlett sat down on the ground and beamed when the pups eagerly obeyed Junko's orders.
From across the small courtyard, Storm Shadow crossed his arms and shifted his weight to one foot, watching the cheerful scene. Scarlett and Junko hadn't spotted him yet, but he knew Snake was aware of his presence. He watched as his wife made a circle motion with her hand and heard her laugh when the puppies stared at her in befuddlement. When she repeated the gesture, one of the pups - Remus, probably - rolled onto his back. A gentle nudge from Junko, and he was back on his feet and showered with praises and given a piece of meat.
Snake-Eyes turned his head slightly to look at his sword brother. Tommy looked troubled; his eyes were dark, and he was frowning slightly. He followed his gaze to Junko, then back to the him, and signed, [Something wrong?]
Storm blinked rapidly and looked at him, as if just snapped out of a trance, before shaking his head. [Everything's fine,] he signed, before turning around and disappearing down a hallway.
Thoughtfully, Snake stared at where his brother disappeared before whistling twice. Timber paused in his jumping and turned around to trot towards his Alpha, ears perked in curiosity. A finger-snap let the wolf know that a command was about to be given, and Snake pointed in the direction Storm went.
Without any hesitation, the wolf puppy ran after his given target.