"Okay then. We'll eat and then I'll escort you to the perimeter," Doc confirmed.
"My friends will be waiting for me and know not to be seen. I won't change until I'm far from here, so that the hunters are sure I'm gone. If I run or disappear too quickly, they'll think something's wrong."
"Ere boss. Rabbit backs," said the rifleman through the tent door flaps, offering two plates of meat. Toboe jumped from his sudden intrusion and had to suppress his yelp.
"Thank you, Cal," Doc replied with a slightly annoyed look.
"Yer welcome." The rifleman withdrew from the tent.
"Ready," Toboe said. Both wolves stood up to leave the tent. Doc walked out first.
"I'll be walking the kid back home now."
"Sure you don't need any help?" asked the trapper.
"Don't think so."
"My cabin isn't too far away. We'll be okay," Toboe reassured.
"Alright then." The trapper went back to cleaning off his devices of blood.
The man and boy headed off into the woods.
Cal was alone gathering wood for the coming night when he heard voices. He laid down the timber quietly and snuck in the direction of the noise. Peeking from behind a tree, he saw Doc and the kid heading away from the camp. Jus' takin' em ome I s'pose, he thought. He was about to return to his chore when he saw something interesting…
"Guess I'll head out now," said the boy.
"Alright then. Take care of yourself, now," said the boss, as he scratched the boy's head.
The boy hunched down and began to focus on the ground, as if he was trying to see something barely visible. To the trapper's shock, the boy's form faded into a Red Wolf sniffing at the ground.
"Lookie ere!" Cal stepped from behind the tree. The wolf wheeled around to stare incredulously at the rifleman before them. "What's goin on ere den?" The hunter reached behind him for his ever present rifle.
"Hold on Cal," Doc tried to intervene. "He's just a pup." Cal leveled his rifle at the boy. "He's not even that big. I'm letting him go. He'll be a much greater prize in a year or two. We'll be coming back and can lay some traps. Besides, we know what his human form looks like now."
Cal wasn't convinced. "Run," Doc whispered.
"Heard that!" Cal swung his gun and fired at Doc's arm.
A brown wolf fell to the ground.
"Doc!" Toboe screamed.
"Now you, ya litta trick," announced the rifleman. The young wolf froze, unable to decide whether to run or stay with the fallen elder.
"Don't you dare!" Cal and Toboe looked up just in time to see a fox attach itself to the hunter's face after jumping from a tree.
"Ana!" Toboe snapped out of his paralysis. The gun went off, which gave Toboe enough courage to charge the man. His fangs pierced into the man's calf.
Cal screamed as he flailed in an attempt to dislodge the vixen from his face and aim a shot at the wolf on his leg at the same time. But before he could pull the trigger, he saw something white blur past his vision and the gun was retched from his hands.
Kiba crunched down on the gun, splitting it in half. "Hige!"
"Got it!" A giant of a yellow wolf crashed into the back of the man. Toboe released his hold and let the man fall.
Before the man could even try to get up he felt the sharp, wet fangs of a fourth wolf on the back of his neck.
Tsume crunched down on the man's neck and glorified in the hot blood he felt on his muzzle. Once he was sure he was dead, he let go and licked his jowls. "Huh, bastard," he panted.
Toboe stood, shocked by what had just happened. Then a small red thing slammed into him.
"Toboe! You're okay! I'm so happy you're okay!" the fox squealed.
Toboe laughed and hugged her back. Then his face got serious and he looked over at the old wolf. The others followed his gaze.
Kiba walked over to Doc and sniffed him then placed his ear near his muzzle. "He's alive."
Toboe, somewhat relieved, walked over the Doc as well. "Doc?" He waited. "Are you okay?"
The wolf stirred and opened his eyes. Toboe's tail began to wag hopefully.
Doc tried to stand. He held up his leg. "Well, that hurts," he said.
Toboe quickly got up alongside him to offer support. Everyone was staring at them. "Uh, this is Doc. My friend."
"Greetings," Doc added.
Kiba approached. "Thank you for saving him."
Ana also approached. "Yes. Thank you." Tsume only blinked.
"So what do we do now? The old man his injured. How are we going to explain that to his buddies over there?" said Hige.
Ana thought for a moment. "I've got an idea."
A girl rushed forward from the dark of the woods and nearly crashed into the hunters. "Oh, thank goodness!" she exclaimed. "Please, are you Doc's friends?"
"Yeah," the trapper replied.
"Please, he's hurt!" She turned to lead the way.
"Wait! Who are you?"
"I'm Toboe's sister. I went looking for him last night when he didn't come home. I heard a gunshot and ran to it. Toboe's alright but your friend, Doc, was shot by accident. He said that before he and my brother split up a wolf came out of nowhere and attacked them. His buddy, Cal, was nearby collecting firewood and was there in time to defend him. But the wolf went after him, causing Cal to misfire, hitting Doc in the arm. The wolf got Cal from behind and killed him. Doc managed to fire at the wolf. It's gone now but I don't know when it'll be back. We have to get them to safety!" Ana was breathless.
"Geeze! Come on, guys!" the trapper commanded.
The hunters and the girl found the boy and Doc kneeled on the ground, Toboe supported the old man.
The trapper fell to his knees, "Are you okay, Boss?"
"I'm fine. But Cal didn't make it." The men gazed over at the bloody body.
"Let's get you back to camp." The hunters gathered around him and got him on his feet.
"Wait," Doc said. He turned his head. "Will you two be okay on your own?" he asked the wolf and fox.
"I think so," Toboe said, dusting off his pants.
"Just make sure not to run. It might attract the wolf's attention. Keep your eyes open," Doc advised.
"We will," Ana assured.
"See you round, Doc."
"See you, lad." The boy and girl headed into the woods as the hunters escorted their leader back to base.
Three wolves stepped out from behind the greenery once the pair were far from the sight or hearing of the hunters.
"Can't believe that worked," Tsume said.
"I know," Toboe said. He faced Ana. "Thanks."
Ana blushed. "It was nothing."
"We should be going now," said Kiba.
"Uh, yeah." Toboe said. He turned to face Ana. He hesitated for a moment, then embraced her in a big hug. Ana froze and blushed a deeper shade of red. She could see Hige and Tsume's stunned looks, though neither did or said anything. The boy let her go. "I'll miss you," he said.
"I'll miss you too." She realized she was starting to cry as her voice broke.
Kiba and Hige had already started walking off. Tsume was about to when he saw something that sent his hackles up with a growl.
Ana wrapped her arms around Toboe's waist and gave him a hug of her own. Then, to the boy's surprise, she placed a kiss on his lips. Tsume, having none of it, charged the vixen who quickly leaped away and climbed up a nearby tree with a chuckle. Tsume placed his paws on the tree as he barked and snarled at her up in the canopy. The fox took one last glance at the Red Wolf. "Bye," she whispered. Then she took off, leaping from branch to branch, far from the glare of Tsume's eyes.
"Bye," Toboe replied. He lowered his head to stare at Tsume. "Tsume, she's gone." Tsume snorted and got down off the tree to follow him as they rejoined the others of their pack, unaware that a Red Fox continued to watch from the treetops.