The Hunter Returns

It was approaching sunset as Runeclaw stood silently behind the large tree, one hand braced on the trunk as she peered around it. The sweet-scented Mulgore breeze ruffled the feathers in her hair as the sky blossomed red and gold behind the distant mountain ridge. Not too far away stood a weary Tauren. His muscular shoulders were hunched under the heavy burden of exhaustion and grief, but a large, ornate bow at his side seemed to keep him propped upright. Runeclaw had been watching him for the better part of an hour. She had arrived in time to see him throw the last shovel of dirt and commence his vigil.

Neither of them had moved from their positions in all that time, and she finally took a deep breath and decided to approach. Her hooves moved with same quiet quickstep she often performed while donning her druidic cat form. As she came to rest at his side, her eyes fell on the small mound of fresh earth his bulk had been shielding. A tiny totem crowned with a carved wolf's head was stuck in the ground at the head of the grave. It had been a long time since she had seen The Hunter, not since he discovered her duplicity on the Isle of Giants, but she had kept one ear to the wind and followed his exploits from afar. It had taken all of her courage to come today when she knew he would be vulnerable and hurting from yet another loss. She fully expected him to lash out at her in anger born from heartache.

He didn't so much as glance at her while she stood debating how to best offer her condolences. She was beginning to wonder if he even realized she was there when The Hunter blindly reached out and caught her hand firmly with his own. She turned her head, first with surprise to gaze at their linked fingers and then with sympathy as her eyes shifted to his tear-stained face. Now wasn't the time to question when he had forgiven her. All that mattered was that here, now, he accepted her again. Her heart soared on the wings of an eagle.

She squeezed his hand as her body fell in line with his own, her shoulder to his biceps, her too-long tail lightly brushing his ankle with its constant motion. He hadn't changed very much in the intervening years. His mane was longer and she noticed a few new scars, but he still smelled of wood smoke and ripe berries. A second silver ring now adorned his left horn, and his once uniform black fur was now decorated with single strands of white here and there.

He drew a shaky breath and then released it one long sigh into the wind. Her scent…Runeclaw's scent…invaded his senses as she clung to his hand. It was floral and spicy and sweet and it drew forth memories of nights eating popcorn and gazing at the stars. She was still dying her mane, but now ropes of bright turquoise tresses were threaded throughout her braids. Her horns had grown much longer, rivaling those of even some males, and much like her tail, they seemed too large for her otherwise small frame. He could sense her sneaking glances at him, and he worked hard to keep himself from looking directly at her.

He had thought about her every single day since she stalked off across the beach. At first, his thoughts had been turbulent, anger and bitterness mixed with longing and loss. Over time, he would find himself suddenly smiling when he smelled popcorn or saw a bag of rice. He would bet they were still talking about "the rice incident" back in Pandaria. As the years went on, he caught himself actively looking and listening for traces of her. Was she here on Azeroth? Had she moved on to Draenor? Or perhaps she had remained in Pandaria?

As for himself, he had grown used to working with a companion while in Runeclaw's company and ended up with quite a menagerie at the local stables. His most trusted friend was a smoke-colored wolf he had named Lunaki, or Moonmist. They hadn't been together very long, but their innate ability to communicate reminded him of Runeclaw, and so, he traveled almost exclusively with the wolf despite a host of other animals to choose from. He had grown a little more cautious after what happened on Isle of Giants, but he had been unable to resist some of the greater challenges on Draenor. Once again, his own folly had put his friend in danger, but this time it had ended in tragedy.

A single tear slid from his eye. Of course, how could he have expected anything less than at the moment when he lost Lunaki that Runeclaw would appear. He squeezed her hand in return. How odd it felt to be holding her hand instead of a paw, but how infinitely right it was as well. They had saved each other. He had been a fool not to see how much they belonged together.

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

He turned and a brief smile touched his lips before he uttered a familiar phrase. "We can handle it."