They are strange, but they are her pack.
On the eve of the migration deeper into the woods, Survivor is done with her
double-checking that everyone is ready—everyone other than Courageous and Gentle.
She walks over to them, as they do their own double-checking, taking last
glimpses of the lights, and last sniffs of the scent of their neighbors. They
turn to her, but she gives them a moment longer.
Gentle backs away towards the rest of the pack first, and Survivor tucks his
snout under her jaw, or what small part of his snout fits. He presses back,
carefully. Hers is the second jaw he has put his snout under, and he is still a
little awkward about it, since the first one was that of his pack leader and
mate, but he lets himself be comforted, with this gesture that right now is not
really about their places in the pack's hierarchy like it could be between
adults. He knows how to comfort his own children like this, he just never had a
bigger raptor put their teeth between him and scary things when he was a child.
Courageous turns around, to touch snouts with Survivor, then with Gentle, who
gives her chin a small lick. They're ready, she says, so Survivor signals for
the pack to begin moving, as the two of them go gather their chicks from where
they are sitting with Survivor's grandchildren. She doesn't put her jaw over
Courageous—it wouldn't be appropriate, with each of them being leader of their
own half of this pack and their agreement about it remaining so still being
relatively new. But she understands, Survivor believes.
Any younger raptor in her pack is at least a little bit her child, and free to
see themselves as such to any degree they are comfortable with.
And it's her children she is doing this for, taking them farther away from
humans, like she has many times by now—her children as grown as her biological
daughter, who is only three years younger than her; children as young as her
currently smallest hatched grandchild; children as unexpected as these two
strange, young adults she now considers to be under her protection; children not
yet hatched, like those her son is expecting, and others they will hopefully be
safer to have where they are going. She knows Courageous and Gentle consider
this to be for the best for theirs, too.
But they are strange, in ways that have nothing to do with Courageous' very
different markings and Gentle's very different size, and these are the ways most
of the pack can't understand, beyond that it's something important to who their
new packmates are.
Humans are a threat, and they can be food if they can be discovered to not be a
threat. Raptors are family, and raptors are us. To Courageous, humans are a
little bit of all of that, or at least some humans are. She is an adult, but she
misses her parents, like Survivor still misses hers, and unlike Survivor,
Courageous knows hers are still alive somewhere out there. She doesn't know if
they can still be her pack, but they have been.
Gentle wasn't loved by those who raised him, but something has to be us to a
raptor, and humans is what he had. There is more, but Survivor doesn't know what
to think about it, and he doesn't seem to know, either. Some part of what scares
him about them isn't that they can hurt him.
Survivor doesn't know what it's like to feel the way they do, but she has seen
humans as us, if only briefly. She remembers large, warm hands holding her, and
those hands were there before her parents. Out of the pack she has brought from
their island, she is the only one who does remember them, as they were already
gone by the time the others in the nest with her hatched. She remembers faces,
and maybe she would recognize them if she saw them again, but they aren't family
to her now. Maybe they wouldn't be food, either, even if they weren't a threat,
if she did see them again and was sure it was the same faces.
But she has her children to protect, and if the humans with warm hands could be
a threat to them, she would feel no conflict about who she belongs with.
Courageous and Gentle likewise wouldn't let the pack come to harm—she wouldn't
have invited them into her family if she thought they might—but for as long as
it doesn't come to that, there is conflict.
They have her now, but she wasn't there first.
Survivor leads her pack to what she hopes is safety, and what she hopes is a
chance at peace of mind for her strange children. But a raptor remembers, and
out of sight is never fully out of mind.