This story is rated R. (there is no sex in part 6)
It was Val who did the leaning now, as they sped along. Kara held him tightly, as if she would never be able to hold him again, arms aching tortuously.
Hours on hours, then she finally knew.
She was lost, careening aimlessly through the woods, inexpert at driving a dog sled to boot. Val had known where they were going, but he was unresponsive, breath ragged, body heavy.
The sled crested yet another hill, causing a large snowy owl to upset from the trees. It lifted into the sky with laborious wing strokes, flying above the dogs, brilliant against the blue sky.
Kara’s breath hitched as she slowed the sled, neck craning towards the beautiful sight. They should stop. The dogs were reaching the end of their energy, slowing willingly. They needed food, rest. The owl fresh from its perch raced ahead, bearing to Kara’s left gradually.
“Haw.” The word flew out of her mouth almost unconsciously. The dogs obeyed smoothly, pulling left and breaking through a sparse tree line. Branches whooshed by, making her wince, but the dogs pulled right through with ease, finding the openings. And if I crash his sled, hurt his dogs, what the hell am I going to do then? I need to get back into the open.
The owl was visible still, massive wings blocking out the gaps of sky with every beat. It must think they were chasing it. And I am, because I’m stupid and tired. The sled slowed even more, dogs reaching a consensus, it was time to rest. Kara squeezed Val’s wide shoulders, kissing the top of his head as they glided up a particularly bumpy ridge. His muscles twitched, face burying against her collarbone. She wished so badly that she could let go. But he needs me, I won’t let him down.
The trees thinned suddenly, dogs busting into the open with one last burst of energy, then grinding to a halt. The owl circled just above, swooping close to them, then taking off ahead. Kara followed it with her eyes.
That was when the shouting reached her. There were buildings up ahead and she’d been spotted already!
Two men hurried out into the open snow. One of them dressed in thick layers of fur, beard white tinged, shouldered Val with a grunt. Kara let go, relaxing and feeling the sweet sudden lightness of her muscles.
“Ay, what’s happened?” the other man asked, pulling off his knit hat and rubbing at a balding head.
“Wolf attack,” she informed him, feeling instantly foolish as the words left her mouth.
The man slapped his hat against his thigh to dislodge extra snow, giving her a strange look. “We’ll get him in then. You can bring the dogs over there if you’d like, give ‘em shelter and rest.” He swung his hat towards a group of buildings in the distance.
“Thank you sir.” Kara rubbed her eyes with a frown. “Where is he taking him?”
“There’s a doctor in room five. It’ll have to do.” He gave her a cold look and turned his back on her abruptly, catching up to the other man so that he could help drag Val in.
What’s his problem?
Her heart sank as they drag Val in. She wanted nothing more than to follow them, but the dogs were staring at her with curious blue eyes, pink tongues lolling. They’d done her and Val a better service than either of them could repay.
“Let’s get you guys fed then.”
After trudging tiredly through the task and making sure the dogs were secure, Kara headed up to room five. Before she got a chance to knock the balding man stepped out, closing the door securely behind himself. His bushy caterpillar eyebrows lifted when he saw her.
Not him again. “How’s he?”
“Doing alright, the doctor’s stitched him up fine. He’ll need some rest and hydration. You might come back and see him in a few hours.”
“No frostbite then?”
“Was he exposed that long?”
“Hours.” Kara took to looking sheepishly at her feet, scuffing a toe over the old wooden balcony planks.
“Really. Was this after the ‘wolf’ bit him?” There was a terrible acrid tone to his voice. “You might love the dog, but you’re doing no one a service blaming the wolves eh.” With that he pulled his knit cap back over his bald spot, taking off towards the stairs.
Kara’s fists clenched at her side as she took a very long deep breath. Being tired didn’t help her temper one bit.
“If it makes any difference, I believe you.”
She gave a start, not having noticed the man leaning against the railing. He was lean and young, handsome dark features accented by a touch of freshly fallen snow. He gave her a friendly smile showing rows of perfect white teeth. Like a model. I really need to get out more. If all the men I’m meeting look like models, I have to be imagining things.
“I’m Adam by the way.” He held out a large hand.
“Kara.” She shook it politely, already thinking about how to end the conversation. Staying awake any longer really wasn’t an option.
“That owl really likes you.”
“The owl. Yeah, I guess it liked me.” Was it even possible that he could see the owl from all the way up here?
Adam motioned out over the railing at the tree line. “It’s over there still.”
She followed his motion, eyes sweeping the frozen tundra and rugged pines. Sure enough, the owl was out there, perched on a pine, white feathers all puffed out comfortably.
“That your boyfriend in there?” He jerked his thumb towards room fives beaten door.
“I guess. Why?”
“You ‘guess.’ That doesn’t sound very serious.”
“What’s it to you?”
“Just curious.” He shrugged.
“I hate to be impolite, but I really need to rest.” Kara waved her hand at him, then took off for the stairs as quick as possible, but his voice caught her anyways.
“You should stay away from him.”
“From your not so serious boyfriend. He’s trouble.”
Kara swung around, not sure whether to be angry or frightened by such a personal and vaguely threatening comment. “It’s none of your-“
But there was no one there. Not even footprints that she could see. Shit, I really need sleep. I’m fucking hallucinating now.