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Indistinct Knowledge

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There are always whispers when a new act joins: the newcomers might be accepted within a month, but at the start they are strangers. After the Flying Santellis joined there were louder whispers around Lambeth Circus than usual. Coming from a higher-tier circus can be understood, with little more than nudging at those who might know the story. But there was the fact that all three of the Santellis were wolfbrothers.

The wolves formed part of the act themselves, of course. The mysterious bond could not exempt them from the rule that all, from elderly to child, earn their keep in the circus.

All three wolves had a focused dignity when they ran and turned together on the ground. They leapt in eerie time with the flyers so many feet above them.

The lean, dark wolf who was brother to Angelo stood rock-steady as the youngest wolf leapt towards him. The two touched noses and front paws, delicately and perfectly timed, as above them Mario completed his flight from the trapeze to Angelo's extended arms.

* * *

Tommy was fascinated by the wolves, of course. All the children in the circus were, and less openly most of the adults. But he didn't try to get close to them, a politeness all the easier once he was allowed to practice under Mario Santelli's teaching.

It was one of the early days, after Tommy had taken a particularly hard fall into the net, that Mario said it was time to introduce him to his wolf. Tommy wondered if Mario planned that as consolation or distraction.

Tommy knelt at the base of the rigging, the fresh rope-burn on his elbow smarting, and nodded with as much dignity as he could muster to the wolf's steady gaze.

"His name is Futuro. Future," Mario said, as he touched between the pricked ears. "Right name for the pup he was."

* * *

The first winter Tommy spent in the Santelli house acknowledged as belonging to the act, he adjusted more easily than he expected to. He had thought the mysterious pack-sense would have the family knowing everyone's secrets. But like the circus, people could know something and yet turn their thoughts away from it and never speak of it.

"The history," Mario started to explain once. "Papa Tony or even Angelo can tell about that, if you want to ask them." Tommy didn't expect to ask either of them. He accepted that those who could talk about the tradition of the Santellis could also tell about the past generations of wolfbrothers.

"But now," Mario said, "when you can't make a public declaration—we don't, that's all. We can't—matter quite that way to one another, even with the wolves."

Tommy was troubled, dimly sensing already that Mario did matter that way to him.

* * *

Tommy had worried that after the months apart before this second winter Mario no longer wanted to matter to him. His inviting Tommy to his apartment, rather than simply driving him to the house, lifted a weight.

Then Tommy nodded towards Futuro, who was curled waiting in Mario's car. He didn't know how to ask, and started, "They won't—"

"Know through the pack-sense?" Mario supplied, before he explained that it wasn't as precise or as prying a connection as that.

"Futuro might let them know I'm happier today," Mario said, awkwardly, but Tommy felt a warmth go through him at the implied admission. So Mario was happy to have Tommy here, the secret time alone. He did want him.

* * *

That winter in the house there were three part-grown pups. Stella watched them with hurting, hungry eyes. Tommy hardly dared, convinced he would overstep some rule. He wished there was another set of rules in the big practice room that would tell him (outsider claimed as family) how to be around the young, unbonded wolves. Or even—especially—that Mario would tell him, as he had recited the written rules that first day last year.

But Mario had, almost from when they came to the house, been in one of his withdrawn and easily-angered moods, so Tommy did not ask.

It was Barbara who reassured him. "Go on, play with them. They're still puppies, nearly, and anyway they'll want who they want," she said, looking wistful but quickly covering that. "Wolves bond where they choose."

Tommy started. He hadn't been thinking of things in such a way; the very idea left him startled and yearning. As was his way, when nervous, he joked. "We haven't been introduced yet."

Barbara laughed a little. "You understand, there's a lot of wolf pups born in the family. Sometimes... Well, you see the wolves themselves don't care much what we call them, since they have their own scent names."

Tommy nodded encouragingly. He'd asked about those before and Mario had tried to explain.

"Anyway," Barbara said, "These three, what we called them stuck as names."

She pointed out each pup to Tommy in turn.

Rapido was sliding about the room as befitted his name, his dark brown fur ruffled from play.

Breve was a solid youngster, also dark-furred, with a sleepy look to his pale eyes.

Tre was smaller, his fur a dusty grey with browner sides that made Tommy think of the polished floor. His eyes were a bright and surprisingly vivid yellow. Tommy wanted to keep looking back at him.

* * *

There was no one overwhelming moment of recognition, no space between two heartbeats when Tommy stared into bright wolf eyes and knew.

There was only a gradually increasing awareness that slowly became certainty.

Then the day when Papa Tony looked over the gathered family in the living room, and said, "All of you as I said, be ready for auditioning the act. Angelo, ask Notte to work especially with Tre, since he'll be coming with Tommy."

Tommy stretched his hand down to touch Tre, who was lying placid at his side. As his fingers touched soft fur, the sense came from the wolf mind to his: of course they are both going. Tommy belonged at Tre's side. The scent that named Tommy (steadied rope on a cool morning) fit with Tre's (resin warm on reaching hands).

The conversation around Tommy faded as he felt Tre remind him, from a wolf's awareness, of who would be working together. Tommy recalled how last year he had shyly asked Mario about scent names, and heard some of them in words.

But it was only now, as his Tre told him mind to mind, that he truly knew them. Papa Tony was nose level to a newly polished floor. Angelo, rain high around the dampening tent.

Mario was the air scent of soaring.

* * *

When Mario shrugged his agreement that he would stay in the house, that he and Futuro could fit into the room Tommy was using, Tommy immediately worried his own quiet agreement would say too much. Then, as his Tre went romping up to Futuro, Tommy felt sick and shy and scared.

But Futuro wrestled casually with Tre, and Tommy remembered that of course the two wolves had known each other all the younger's life, touching through the pack-sense even when Futuro was with Mario on the road or staying elsewhere.

It was not the attitude of their wolves that would betray them.