LOOK A LITTLE DEEPER
Cole Stanton & Dia Mantenega
prompt: happy birthday, ten!
It wasn’t uncommon for the training fighters, those who had not yet earned the right to go out without supervision to defend the pack and its territory, to watch those already qualified while they sparred and practised their skills. There was a lot they could learn, little tips they could pick up just through observation, a certain trick or technique, a way they could turn and twist in combat or a new way to use an opponent’s weight or momentum against them. The younger wolves would gather around the fighters and talk quietly among themselves throughout the course of the afternoon, some of them staying for the duration with others coming in and out depending on what was happening.
Cole was used to it by now, there had been a time when it had bothered him but by now he barely even noticed them. Going through the motions and focusing more on his opponent than on those watching he could get through the entire day without even realising he was being observed at all. Even when they laughed or shouted or cheered from the sidelines he barely noticed them.
It wasn’t until he and several other fighters came to practise their skills with bow and arrow that he started to take notice of those watching. One in particular caught his eye more than any other, the confident and steady way in which she stood on the sidelines without saying a word, taking it all in, keen-eyed and attentive, never missing a thing. It was still strange for him to see her as a woman, as a grown female, he remembered very clearly when he had first heard her cries echo through the pack’s home on the day of her birth, when she had spent an entire day as a young child following him around wherever he went, when she had first taken the form of her wolf when the moon was full.
Dia was not a child anymore. She stood there now as a grown woman, mature and confident, knowing exactly what she wanted and quick to figure out just how to get it. Cole had recognised early on the potential she had as a fighter and he had not been alone. Dia knew it too, he saw it in the way she moved whenever he watched her train. In no time at all she would be a fully qualified and highly skilled fighter. Before long they would be fighting side by side, training together, and as he stood there with the bow in his hands he couldn’t be sure how he felt about that.
When the time came to shoot he did so without thinking more than the bare minimum, his mother had always taught him that too much thought could ruin a perfectly good shot and it was about gut feeling and instinct more than anything else, a steady hand meant a lot more than any amount of forward thinking. The arrow struck the target dead centre and he was already drawing another to make his second shot. There was movement off to the side but he kept his focus forward. Just as with the first he made the second shot, taking only a moment to aim before releasing the arrow, hearing the way the shafts grazed together. Still the movement to his side persisted and still he ignored it. Sometimes those watching became restless, jostling one another and moving to find better angles. Cole thought nothing of it.
Only when he drew back his fourth arrow, the third clustered with the first and second, did he realise who it was that had moved and why. It wasn’t until he felt her blow a breath through the hair behind his ear that he noticed she was so close to him at all. Dia had waited until the split second before he released his shot and when he did it went wide, missing the target altogether. Lowering the bow he turned to look at her standing close behind him as those watching fought against laughter and cries of surprise, many of them failing miserably. His fellow fighters didn’t even try to hide their amusement, he heard their voices clearly enough as he looked down at the female who had crept up to him. It was her he had seen moving in the corner of his field of vision, he felt foolish for not realising sooner.
She was smiling. No, not smiling. Grinning. Cole wasn’t sure whether to hate her or love her in that moment and settled in the end for neither, just shaking his head a little with a quiet and incredulous laugh. Dia only grinned wider, bowing a little before she backed away, one step at a time, the crowd breaking for her so she could turn and stride back towards the pack home.
Cole tried not to watch her go, the way her hips swayed when she walked, the way her dark hair flowed over her back and shoulders. He failed miserably.