Chapter 36: Being Alpha

In a pack, there are always Alphas, one male and one female. They are the leaders, the arbitrators, and judges. — Salamos Kerimudir, Pack Mentality

Kanéko was cold and miserable. She looked off the back of the raft to the rolling river behind her. White ridges of foam rolled in the gray waters and the raft left a ragged wake behind it. She lifted her head to feel the wind buffeting her face.

Yawning, she rubbed her eyes. The sky was bright but gray, it looked like early morning. Lowering her gaze, she took in her surroundings. On the other side, Maris leaned on the mast, staring ahead without moving. Next to her, Ruben slumped forward, mumbling as he tried to remain sitting up.

“Maris? Ruben?”

Maris’s ears perked up and the dalpre rolled to her hands and knees. “Kanéko! You’re up!”

Ruben grumbled and slumped forward before jerking back into a sitting position. “Keep her up… we need to keep moving.”

Kanéko frowned with confusion but Maris hugged her tightly. Burying her face in Kanéko’s shoulder, the other teenage girl whimpered. “You yell at me whenever I pass out, but then you fainted on us.” The wind died down. Kanéko watched the sail grow slack, and then patted Maris on the shoulder.

“Wind, Maris.”

“Oh, sorry!” exclaimed Maris. The wind rose up again, filling the sail and the raft lurched forward.

Water welled through the gaps of the raft and soaked Kanéko’s rear. She lifted one hand and watched the river water dripping from her fingers.

Maris was exhausted, with dark-rimmed eyes and puffs of air fluttering her black ears. Her tail slapped weakly on the wooden raft, splashing on the water welling between the gaps.

Kanéko frowned. She leaned over to look at the drowsing vomen.

Ruben slumped forward, nodding off and starting with the effort to stay up. His tiny body rolled to the side before curling into a ball.

“What happened?”

Maris whimpered. “We’ve been going all night.”

“Couldn’t you find some place to moor?”

“Moor?”

“Stop. Tie off.”

Maris shook her head. She reached back and grabbed Ruben. Pulling him into her lap, she pointed down river. “We tried twice. The rope snapped the first time, and then Ruben fell off.”

“Oh,” Kanéko yawned again, “How did I sleep through that? Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You needed sleep more than I did. And I could keep going. And Ruben kept me company, but then he got tired.” Maris giggled, and then yawned widely. Her long tongue flipped at the end before she closed her mouth with a snap. “And now I’m tired.”

Kanéko reached out and stroked Maris’s head. Maris leaned against her palm, her body trembling softly. The wind sputtered. Kanéko shook her head sadly. “Look, I’m sorry I’m pushing you so hard.”

Maris clutched Ruben in her lap and held him tightly. “You’re in trouble. And you are…” She stroked Ruben’s head like she was petting a dog. “You’re my alpha.”

“I, um, I don’t know what that means.”

Maris tugged on Ruben’s ear. The vomen groaned and flailed at her hand, but Maris just rested her wrist on his arm to hold him down. “With dog dalpre, we always know where we are compared to others. You are either above me or below me. The elders are usually above me and my daddy is the alpha at the mill, the one in charge. And if he says do something, I do it.” She took a deep breath. “And now, your daddy is my daddy’s alpha. And so… I guess you are in charge of me,” she looked up at Kanéko with an anxious smile, “you’re my alpha.”

Ruben lifted his head. “Technically, alphas don’t exist. There is only… breeding pairs…” He slumped back.

“But, I never asked you to stay up, just to get me home.”

Maris stroked Ruben’s head. “You would have stayed up for me. You keep pushing yourself, trying to get home. And if my alpha does that, and then that is what I do. And I can’t do anything else.”

“I don’t want you to hurt yourself, Maris. I don’t want you or Ruben to get hurt.”

“I fell off a cliff. And I got hurt. But not badly. And we are so close, and I-I just want to go home, Kan. And I want you to be home.”

“I know,” Kanéko smiled and patted Maris, “but I can wait another half day if I have to. You need to sleep.”

“But—”

“Now,” commanded Kanéko.

The wind shifted, and Kanéko crawled up on her knees to turn the mast, bringing the raft up to the edge of the ravine. Moving slower, they found a shallow beach of gravel and rocks. She jumped off the raft and used the remaining rope to tie their makeshift vessel to some sturdy branches, testing each knot before moving to the next.

“Maris, I think you can…” Kanéko’s voice faded in her throat as she saw Maris lying down on the raft, her eyes already closed. Maris reached out and grabbed Ruben, pulling him close and curling her body around him.

Finding a small trail, she decided to give Maris and Ruben a chance to sleep. She crawled up the ragged rocks and dirt until she found a knot of short trees and leafy plants. Remembering the gaps in the raft, she gathered up materials to reinforce their vessel and returned.

Seeing her two friends sleeping, Kanéko felt a strange sense of protectiveness for them. Padding quietly, she set the branches and leaves on the end of the raft and began to repair and reinforce it as the two slept.