This story is rated R. (although part four contains no sex)
They were racing, wind to their backs, dogs arrayed ahead, sleek spines arching with wild exertion and excitement. Kara pressed herself into Val’s side, watching the vast snow fly below them. Feeling safe for the first time in a long time. Every once in a while he would press his stubbly chin against her head, strong hand caressing her shoulder. Kara liked that more than she could say.
It was almost a solid day (by dog sled) to the nearest real town, and if you were going to go anywhere the easy way, you had to go there first. Kara could count the number of times she’d been to the nearest town on one hand, and was slightly afraid that Val would find that out sooner or later. What he must think of her, living like Some lonely savage out in the tundra.
Once it was time to stop and feed the dogs, they took up yipping and howling excitedly. Val served them, roughing each ones head affectionately. Kara watched from a nearby sun soaked rock. He was a man alright, grinning as dogs licked his fingers and wagged.
He cares for them, like children.
Kara looked down at her own hands with a frown. Did he even know she trapped for a living, that her father had done so before her? Some people just didn’t take well to the notion, especially city people. They couldn’t understand killing to live, but that was natures way, you had to kill something to live, even if it was just a plant.
Val slogged back, throwing the sack of food back in the sled. “You have rings under your eyes. Do you want to make camp early?”
“I’m fine, we’ll make camp at the end of the day.” Kara shifted on the rock, brows furrowing at the question.
“I won’t think you’re a sissy.”
“Sissy? Really?” Kara shot him a deadly look, but he deflected it with that charming smile. “Why would you even say that?” Kara’s voice echoed off the sparse trees and white sky, so much louder than intended. Are we seriously going to get into a fight already? Maybe this wasn’t the good idea I thought it was.
Val opened his mouth to say something undoubtedly cocky, but was interrupted by an eruption of snarling. His head swung towards the team to see if some of the dogs were getting into it. As a consequence Kara saw the wolf first. Her throat clenched up, and for a second she thought she might not be able to say anything at all.
“Wolf, wolves, there’s wolves Val!”
Five, no, seven wolves, more than Kara could even count, were flanking them, hackles raised, heads low and intent. She hadn’t heard them or seen them coming, and it made her skin prickle under the layers and layers of her clothes. Wolves weren’t something you saw, they feared people just as much as people feared them.
Val’s large hand shoved her unexpectedly toward the sled. “Get in,” he commanded with a growl. “Stay low, they’re here for me, not you.”
Kara didn’t argue, getting in the sled behind a team of dogs that was now going insane, tangling leads and crying bloody murder.
Val scooped a large stick off the ground, standing spread leg and strong as the wolves circled. They were hesitating, put off, hoping for a chase, but Val wasn’t going to give them what they wanted. Instead he thumped the stick against his hand and gave a loud guttural whoop. A few of the wolves flinched back, fading into the edges of the pack. The rest stayed, drawing the circle closer and away from the sled dogs, who despite their best efforts were still only rocking the sled that Val had tied to a tree.
Then all hell broke loose.
Several of the wolves lunged, one to clamp its jaws around Val’s leg, another going for his throat. Val shook off the one on his leg, but struggled with the other. The wolf tore at his bicep, bringing the cloth away with a gush of blood that bathed its crinkled snarling nose. Val gave him a good swat with the stick, but his eyes were elsewhere, running quickly over the pack, then settling on the largest wolf that teetered restlessly back and forth, apparently waiting for the right moment. Val lunged at him, coming very close, but whacking the stick down in the wet snow. Undeterred he pressed forward, pursuing the wolf, even as another latched on to his thigh. This time his aim and speed were true and the big wolf yelped and snarled, answering the attack with a row full of fangs. Val took the chance to grab him by the nape, fingers cruel. They struggled, each viciously gripping, but Val didn’t seem to feel pain like the wolf, who took up a sharp prolonged yelping. Val let go. The wolf fell, flailing to right itself, then retreating, the others following.
They broke after that, tails low, taking off into the tundra, dissipating like a flurry of snow.
Kara stumbled out of the sled, rushing to Val’s side. He was kneeling in the snow, shoulders shuddering slightly. He cussed in a low voice, then pulled off his shirt. Blood coated his smooth chest, making a panic rise in Kara’s belly. The wounds were deep, deadly.
“Stem the bleeding, here use my scarf.” She held it out, not even sure she remembered taking it off.
Val shook his head, giving a pained grunt. He scooped up a handful of snow instead, mashing it against the wound on his chest, using another handful to cleanse away the blood.
“You’re going to get frostbite!”
Val huffed. “Cold doesn’t bother me.” He looked so tired as he said it. “Not like it bothers you.” He bent over, bowing deeply, forehead touching the snow and gritted his teeth.
Kara’s hands hovered over his wide shoulders. “Val? What do you need me to do?”
The grinding stopped, followed by more puffs of breath. “Untie the sled, straighten out the dogs, we need to go.”