Warnings: Eh... Slash. Not very graphic. Spots of violence, also not very graphic. That's it honestly, no real warning necessary except for those who don't like to read slash. *shrug*
Thanks to Heart of Soulz for beta reading (since my sister refuses to read slash because "Harry isn't GAY," to which I rebut "It's FANFICTION") and catching several embarrassing errors. Much appreciated! ;)
Inspired by the sheer AUness of What Are You Worth? by kati-kun (which stopped after 16 chapters on aff rather than the 10 here, if I recall correctly). Harry's silver wound is taken from some really old trio of books about Irish setters I can't remember the titles or author of and I found the tongue twister somewhere online. Honeybell oranges really do grow in Florida in the middle of winter (according to their marketing, they taste like candy). Aaand... I think that's it.
Let me know what you think?
Sometimes, when Harry woke in the middle of the night and just lay there, perfectly still, removed from hunger and ache and the small warm body beside him shrouded in darkness, he thought that he'd been special once. He didn't know if it was a dream or a memory, didn't care enough to try to find out, wasn't even sure what special meant. Deep night was the only time he let himself think of such things, brief moments suspended between yesterday and tomorrow before falling back asleep to rest his body enough to go out and find enough food to let him do it again the next day.
All he had to do was survive long enough for the cub to grow so they could leave the forest and find some place living was easier. He didn't let himself dream about where, or what he would do there. He couldn't let the cub die by taking off alone as his weary feet itched to do. They were safe, weren't starving, and it would surely only be a few more cycles of the seasons until the cub was able to help take care of himself.
Until another wolf invaded Harry's wood, and by its mere presence destroyed the balance he'd achieved. From the first faint whiff of it his focus was forced to shift from obtaining food to obtaining food while hiding his own presence, which took up more time and effort for less success. Harry resented it. He could never be sure when or where it would show up next, and the scant information he picked up from its scent whenever he stumbled on its trail proved he was right to hide, because it was an alpha. Harry stood no chance challenging an older, bigger, stronger wolf if it decided to claim his territory for itself. While it didn't know he was there, it wouldn't kill him or drive him out.
Winter came. Harry grew thinner making up the difference to the cub's share, and the alpha must have settled somewhere in the area because it still wasn't gone. Harry grew used to the extra lengths he had to go to ensure his and the cub's safety, a part of his mind always focused on where the unknowing intruder might be and how much distance was between them, but that focus became habit. And habit, he didn't realize because he didn't think about it, meant he didn't give full attention.
After the first snow Harry had dug out a well-buried clear space in a snarl of thicket to serve as an emergency den with several worming tunnels into it. Because it was his and hidden he wasn't on alert as he dropped in - and froze, eyes wide and startled.
The alpha on the other side of the tiny burrow met his stare calmly. In the dim bluish light strained through the layers of snow above, the other wolf's shape immediately registered as big, muscular, while his presence filled the entire bubble of air they now shared with musk and self-assurance. Harry realized he was growling and after a moment swallowed the sound when the alpha showed no sign of taking it as a challenge. He moved back against the far icy-packed wall, his breathing shallow in an instinctive effort to prevent himself from impinging on the stronger wolf's space.
Not nearly far enough for his peace of mind - their legs could touch if they both stretched them out. Harry sank to a sitting position and pulled his legs underneath him, keeping a wary eye on the intruder while his mind raced.
The storm that had driven him in prevented his leaving, though he was tempted to brave it anyway. But the worst damage was already done - the alpha knew he was here. Could he move, once he escaped the burrow? Almost impossible. The cub was too small, weather too harsh, and he didn't know anywhere besides his den that he could find adequate shelter and food enough to survive.
The alpha didn't seem concerned by his presence at all. He had made himself comfortable leaning back with a worn leather pack between himself and the wall and never moved, only studying Harry with half-lidded eyes in the hush and gloom. Harry was too on guard to startle when the alpha eventually drew himself up, grizzled head brushing the slope of packed snow and twigs overhead, and pulled his pack around into his lap. An orange emerged, small in the big wolf's hand, and Harry couldn't help staring. How could anyone find fruit in the middle of winter?
The alpha glanced at him, then casually tossed it toward him. Harry snatched it out of the air, disbelieving, never moving his gaze while his other senses rushed to savor their findings: weight, size, shape, warm pebbly skin of it cradled in his palms; heady sweetness so foreign he wasn't sure he'd actually tasted one before...
His mouth watered, where usually he scarcely noticed whether what he ate was appetizing anymore, but Harry held himself back from tasting it. Taste wasn't relevant - the cub needed the nutrition more; suffered more from a diet almost exclusively meat.
With heavy hands Harry stowed the orange away in his own bag, barely glancing away from the alpha as he did so, and then whipped his hands up to protect his face from a flying object and caught a second one.
Harry stared at it, then the alpha incredulously. The alpha grinned, pulled out a third, and took a bite.
Harry's self-control didn't extend to denying himself again in the face of such a sight. The cub would still have one. He dug a blunt thumbnail into the orange skin and tore a piece off, then chewed just that, determined to savor the fruit as long as possible.
The alpha finished sooner and watched him through half-lidded eyes again, which made Harry irritable with discomfort despite the treat he was eating. By the time he finished he'd decided that he didn't like any potential favor hanging between them and rooted through his bag for his knife and the corpse of the white hare that was the only product of the trapline walk he'd made before the storm.
The belly was the sweetest portion, with the added flavor of whatever the prey had last eaten, but that scant extra variety meant the stomach always went to the cub. Harry settled on a hind leg and thigh as an equitable return, as he didn't want to carve up the entire carcass until he was home, and pretended he wasn't interested in taking another portion for himself.
The alpha raised an eyebrow when Harry tossed the raw meat over, but picked it up and examined it for a moment before tearing in. Harry lay down with his back to the wall and closed his eyes, but didn't relax. The muted whistle of wind along with the gradual darkening inside the burrow told him the storm was still strong - and would probably go on through the night - so he was still stuck. He didn't have a choice but to sleep, even with the alpha there, but he would sleep in the most defensible position possible. He could curl up in the middle of the burrow with the other wolf for shared warmth, but no matter how dire the circumstances that was far too close to an alpha who could overpower him.
It wasn't much of a choice, as the snow at his back meant he would go into coldsleep - long, heavy, and slow and aching when he finally woke up - but he knew he could survive it, had before, and he was already too close to the alpha.
The sound of eating ended, and rustles indicated that the alpha was lying down again. Harry slitted his eyes open to be sure, and made out the whites of the alpha's eyes gleaming back.
Harry snapped his eyes shut again. He heard a chuckle, and rather than growling huffed and curled up tighter. Chill was leaching into his spine - for a while, as it spread, he let his senses slow and wariness fade because it was useless to fight the encroachment, and then when it finally crept into his brain he fell into sleep.
When he woke he was warm and alert and instantly on edge because everything was wrong. Spatial awareness told him he was somewhere much bigger than the burrow and scent missed snow and pine for the mixed musks of a pack, only traces of which he'd picked up before - on the alpha.
Harry sprang to his feet and opened his eyes with a snarl, furious that he'd been kidnapped while insensible and grappling a surge of panic as he remembered the cub. His bag was at his feet; Harry plunged a hand in and found the uneaten orange. It was softer than in the burrow but this room was warmer - he wasn't familiar enough with fruit to be able to guess by its state how much time had passed. Harry shoved it back into the bag in disgust and checked his hare.
The bag was his, and he felt territorial at the thought of other wolves near it, but nothing inside was vital at the moment and he didn't want it hampering his movements. He shoved it against the wall where he'd been laying and stalked out.
A female wolf met him just outside the sleep room and exclaimed a greeting that sounded friendly. Harry eyed her, wary and still angry, and offered a curl of his lip in return. She wasn't the alpha, but she was no doubt his turn, and at least complicit in keeping Harry here.
"Let me show you around," she offered, taking no notice of his sullenness, and assuming his interest. Harry followed because learning the layout of the pack's den would be useful for escaping it - although if he saw the alpha, he would be hard pressed to control his less than sensible instincts.
The den was new, the wood not yet weathered and whiffs of resin lingering in places. The pack members Harry met were all new too, and only self-preservation kept him from displaying open hostility. He'd been only too willing to abandon his sire's pack and never missed it once.
At dinner Harry was offered a portion as full as that of everyone else present even though he hadn't helped hunt it. The meat was cooked and seasoned a little better than what he managed, from what he could tell, but he still had to force himself to eat it. When the pack retired Harry pressed himself into a corner and growled at everyone who tried to invite him to join them. Too much, too close, the only small comfort was that the alpha didn't appear to sleep with the rest.
Still he stayed awake, staring long into the darkness, unable to relax. Aside from his own displeasure the cub was hungry, alone and vulnerable somewhere and he didn't even know which direction would get him back to it.
The day following Harry joined the hunters, only to return shortly with nothing to show except a lot of mutual snarling and glares because the pack wolves had had to concentrate almost solely on keeping him from slipping away. None of them seemed to realize that he wasn't a happy new recruit as reliant as they were on each other for food and shelter.
Inside he prowled, and getting pulled into playing with what appeared to be the pack's only cub made him more restless. The alpha looked in on him there, with a thoughtful expression, but was gone before Harry could do anything rash and the female prevented him from following by putting a hand on his arm. She chattered about her cub: "I wanted one even though I don't have much experience, and Fenrir did for me," and Harry scowled but suffered in silence. The cub had decided to play in his lap, and with a cub of his own Harry couldn't allow himself to pose any risk to the tiny thing. But internally he scorned all these wolves' devotion to their high-handed alpha, and squirmed with ever increasing need to be gone. By nightfall he was half crazy from being enclosed and inactive for so long, snarling at anyone who came near, convinced his cub must be on the verge of hypothermia and starvation. The pack had to bodily block the door of the sleep room to keep him inside; from the bewildered and half-fearful glances they sent him while doing so, he deduced that the action was under orders. Ire at his enforced helplessness channeled into biting anger at the alpha responsible for the threat to his cub's welfare.
Morning brought the alpha - with Harry's cub.
Harry flung himself between cub and pack the instant he recognized it, snarling continuously in agitation while running frantic fingers over the cub's face, head, arms and body to gauge its health. The child burrowed into him with a low cry, mumbling random words in his original tongue. Harry picked it up and turned away, still warning everyone off, then grabbed food without regard to how much was his share and stalked out to barricade himself in the cub room.
By the time the female with the little girl peeked in he was lying in a corner with the cub on his chest, considerably calmer, still fondling it ceaselessly while it drowsed, belly full. The female evidently decided that calm meant trustworthy and ushered her cub in. Harry angled his body protectively and growled low in his throat, but made no further objection to their presence. This den wasn't his and another cub and caretaker were the lowest threats he could find for his cub. But while one part of his mind was eased by the reunion, another was newly stressed - now his cub was vulnerable to all the other wolves here. And if that alpha had managed to find his den to bring the cub back...
The pack's persistent interest in getting familiar with his cub shortened Harry's temper while winter drew on. He couldn't stand to sit in one place on end every day babysitting and the cub was too small to be safe venturing outside with him. Saffi's cub was Fenrir's, so of course she was safe with the pack; but his was unmarked, and therefore weaker and a temptation to every brash wolf who nosed close. While he hunted Harry soothed his itchy feet and took out as much of his frustration as he could on the prey, and in the den he guarded the cub relentlessly and buried his aversion to all the constant company, but none of it was enough.
At night Harry dreamed of fur and snarls and an iron hand around his neck, memories spurned from his conscious mind but resurfacing twisted with stress. On waking he was grumpier than ever and resented the presence of a pack around him more and more, no matter how much they thought him one of them.
When he returned from a hunt to find his cub huddled in Saffi's lap, sobbing, reeking of blood and alpha, something inside snapped. In an instant Harry comprehended what had happened: the alpha had stolen Harry's cub - hurt it, trying to tie Harry closer to the pack.
Red rage overtook him. For a second Harry stood and stared, and then with a snarl of killing intent spun around and pounded toward the meal room where he knew the alpha would be with the gathered pack.
The sight of his enemy spiked Harry's fury. All the reason that had kept him sullen but submissive before was gone - he hurled himself forward with a roar, only to be struck to the side by someone else.
Harry closed with the new enemy blindly, both thrashing blows hard and fast that would maim weaker beings. His second real fight triggered a flashback to the first - he raised his heel and slammed it into the arch of the alpha mate's bare foot, splintering bone, and then rammed his elbow into the back of the falling male's neck. An ominous crack followed him down.
The rest of the pack watched in silence as Harry panted over his foe, trying to regain enough rage to charge his real enemy. But though the fight had lasted only seconds the weaker wolf had damaged him too: his head spun, his nose was clouded with the scent of his own blood and several spots felt weirdly floating in between flashes of pain.
And the alpha was still just sitting back with a faint, almost amused smile. Harry glared at him, filled with hatred, but common sense had returned and could not be silenced: if he attacked, the alpha could easily kill him. At the moment, any of the other wolves could probably kill him. The alpha's gaze was calm, daring, infuriating because Harry could not deny his own impotence against the greater wolf.
Stirring alerted him that the rest of the pack was starting to ease toward him and the dead mate, their expressions guarded and movements wary. Harry spat, turning his anger to a target he knew he could face. The alpha's turns were all older than him physically, but much younger as wolves. They clearly hadn't learned to fight.
"Ghett bhack," he snarled, rage vibrating in his voice, and they jumped and scurried to comply. Harry lifted his chin and stalked out, stiff-legged, even though each step hurt more than the last. He had survived - he'd heal. Until he did, memory and threats would keep the pack members cowed.
Harry hid in the sleep room until he was left with mostly only bruises, claiming one corner permanently for himself. After their initial shock the other wolves' fear of him faded, but the respect evident when they brought him his share of meals did not. Harry wasn't surprised none of them seemed to suffer from the lack of the alpha's mate; the male was obviously stupid, to have intervened in a challenge that posed the alpha no real threat. Harry felt a strange blankness whenever he thought that he had killed another wolf for the first time, but not guilt or regret - that was how most young wolves died, by overreaching themselves. Harry had gotten lucky; his opponent hadn't. He only feared - along with the anger now constantly simmering in his gut - that the alpha would decide to take revenge.
The alpha did corner him outside the sleep room once he emerged from seclusion. Harry stepped through the doorway only to find himself backed against a wall, trembling with the effort of containing himself, while the bigger male loomed before him, strangling the surrounding air with his presence.
"So you aren't deaf, and you do know our tongue," he mused, studying Harry without any evident anger or concern for Harry's reaction. "And you can speak - but you don't."
He was far far too close and Harry battled the overwhelming urge to snarl in his face rather than cower despite how foolish it would be to provoke him. Then he saw the alpha's hands coming up and knew in a flash of furious panic that he intended to find out what was wrong and that if he put those hands anywhere near Harry's face Harry would snap at them, probably with the aim of severing fingers. And from there his mind balked at imagining his punishment.
Only one self-preserving option occurred to him; so, seething but desperate, Harry stuck out his tongue. The alpha stilled, gaze focusing on it. Harry was acutely aware of every puckered speck scarring the organ, though he could only imagine how it looked. More coated the walls and roof of his mouth and when he swallowed his throat contracted on an ephemeral burning sensation.
For a moment both were silent. Then the alpha growled, "Silver."
Harry grimaced, closing his mouth when the alpha's hands twitched, and said shortly, "Trrap."
He'd assumed the bait was for pelt-bearing predators, and been hungry enough to raid it, only to discover that the rank meat hid poison inside. He was lucky. By biting into the greatest concentration of it he had an immediate reaction and only lost some of his taste, speech and sense of smell instead of being eaten alive from the inside out.
The alpha's hands twitched again. Harry read the expression on his face and decided it was dangerous - and, much as he hated him, common sense refused to let him try to goad. He ducked down and slid sideways against the wall, escaping the alpha's reach, and quickly surrounded himself with the rest of the pack. Grating though company was, it was safer.
The alpha's attention destroyed any last vestiges of reason Harry had to bow his head and keep with the pack. His feet itched and the den galled more every day, and now even the cub was not his own...
He lay awake at night and listened to it cry, never moving. Saffi's low murmurs soothed it. He hadn't gone near it since the alpha turned it - it reeked of Fenrir, would for seasons until it started growing up so, so slow now. It wasn't Harry's cub anymore. If he let himself accept it, adjust, then the alpha would win and he would be trapped, bound unbearably long to pack and place and the alpha who'd trapped him. His lungs burned at the thought, striving for one clear breath of open air, eyes straining for half-imagined horizons and sunshine and earth-laden tearing wind, and he laid in the dark hearing what had been his cub cry for him and felt his heart, like his tongue, rest in its a cavity a lead weight.
The cub had been the only thing holding Harry back from just leaving. Now he had no cub, so Harry brooded, festered his grievances in silence, and as soon as the next heavy snow began to fall, waited until the dead of night and walked out. The direction he picked was random - the only thing that mattered was that the weather would shield him from the alpha's tracking until he was too far away to find. Harry was stronger and healthier than he'd begun the season, thanks to the more frequent meals, and Fenrir's cub would soon forget him. He was free.
As the air grew warmer and spring trees budded Harry found a reasonably large human village in a dell and lingered, soothed enough after prolonged isolation to find their industries interesting. Humans were safer company for a young solitary wolf than unfamiliar wilderness even though there wasn't much chance of stumbling across one of the despotic alphas that would probably assimilate him forcibly at best. He lurked, observed, and improved his thieving skills while teaching himself to thatch together straw sandals - the confining leather boots he'd worn out of the pack den he'd abandoned as soon as the snow melted. Harry's feet were tough and he abhorred hobbling himself, blunting the feel of the land underneath him, but even the poorest humans seemed to wear at least weak sandals.
When he had a presentable pair (and had figured out how to walk and keep them on his feet) he borrowed a set of shears and painstakingly trimmed his loose hair up to his skull. Some wolves wore long manes as symbols of their age, since it grew so slowly; Harry had simply never bothered to cut it before.
The dialect of the village differed from that of Fenrir's pack, but still sounded like the same language. When he was ready Harry wandered in and found it easy to pass without too much question by playing softheaded. Labor jobs proved easy to get: he picked up a load that should be too heavy for a human his size, carried it a few paces while the owner goggled, then made shoveling gestures toward his mouth and smiled and nodded when the man offered meals in exchange for his help. They thought they were getting a bargain. Harry was busy watching and learning what they did for possible future use. When he tired of one job, he left it for another; when he bored of the village, he wandered on.
A shepherd took him on and Harry observed the behavior of domesticated prey, and how the sheepdog directed them, until the shepherd grew suspicious of what was picking off his flock every moon. Patient persistence in picking up needles and stabbing them into things in a shop convinced a tailor to teach him how to mend rips and sew shirts. In larger cities he encountered other wolves, usually not even acknowledging each other beyond recognition of shared race. Mostly he wandered wherever his feet took him, sweltering in lowlands and breathing ice on ridges, watching canopies of leaves burst into seas of color, and whenever he found humans, watching them - how they behaved in their various teeming hub-dens, and how to behave enough like them to blend safely in their assumptions for a while, even when he often didn't understand them.
Once he found a place where the humans seemed to speak his original language, and after some consideration ventured no further there. He'd been important once - there could still be people somewhere who knew whoever he'd been, and might conceivably recognize him although he would seem preternaturally too young. He was a wolf now. He didn't belong in human affairs.
The only other restriction to his wandering was whenever he encountered the running barrier of a sea. He would travel along it, but never across. Harry shuddered at the idea of being confined on a ship, no room to roam or place to flee if nature surged or the crewmen turned on him. It would be a long time before water voyage was his only option to find new sights - if ever. Humans changed frequently, along with everything they influenced.
In one port city he came across a child that reminded him strongly of an old cub, who stared at him in fascination when he haggled for a roll of bread and then followed him for a ways down the ramshackle dockyard street.
The boy chirped a phrase that made Harry stop and stare. Memory blurred recognition - for a second his cub had greeted him with the few words he'd passed on while surviving alone in the middle of a wood. Then the boy grinned and said, "I heard it from one a tha people on that ship - it sound like you, don't it? What's it mean?"
Harry said nothing, and turned away. He had no cub anymore. It surprised him, later, to realize how long it had been since he'd thought of that cub, as it did to realize he felt hardly more than a twinge of remembered bitterness to think of it now. He didn't miss it - didn't even feel guilty anymore for no longer missing it. Time had healed that wound.
A few safe interactions involving his accented and clumsy speech in one area made him less careful about it in another, forgetting the unpredictable variations of humans. He knew they were usually leery of wolves - he forgot that they could be even harsher to what they perceived as a separate sect of themselves. A gang started with slurs about his presumed race and egged themselves up to bludgeons and fists when he got lost and cornered in an alleyway. As soon as he fell Harry curled up to protect his vital parts and concentrated on simply enduring. The toughs probably weren't killers, and they were too many for him to have a chance fighting back.
When Harry revived it was in a surge of panic and crippling pain. A shape was bent over him in the darkness - Harry yelled and flailed, blindly hurting himself worse, while the stranger tried to hold him down and growled, "Keep still!"
Knocking his foot against something snapped Harry out of his fog. Pain so intense his vision fractured froze him in place until he could breathe again, while the stranger gruffly let up and said he was trying to make splints.
Both of Harry's legs were broken; that was his worst injury. If he was human he probably would have never walked again; as a wolf he sweated through convalescence of an inexpert healer aligning his shattered bones enough so they would knit straight. He and Viktor snarled over it whenever a rebreak or adjustment looked necessary, but Harry healed quickly and steadily, muscles hardly atrophying even without use.
He didn't question why the other wolf chose to help him, nor felt indebted for the extended care; Viktor wouldn't have done it if he didn't want to. They denned in a dark corner of a leaky warehouse, sleeping piled together like two members of a pack. Harry cooked what Viktor brought, played with knots the other wolf showed him how to tie, and on good days stretched on his back with his knees in the air, stepping against the wall over and over to feel like he was exercising until the workmen who ventured in swore a restless spirit had taken up residence.
Viktor was foreign to the humans of that town too, though his accent differed from Harry's. They practiced imitating the local dialect with each other, criticizing freely even when the reason for failure was physical deformity. In this place the skill suddenly mattered.
Outside, mostly recovered, Harry stuck to playing mute and simple anyway when dealing with the townsfolk. Most of them showed no signs of the attitude that could have killed him, but Harry was newly aware of how much he had unconsciously assumed with them before, and it would take time before he moved easily again here.
In the middle of a sea-facing street lined with fish vendors awareness suddenly stirred the hairs on the back of his neck, and he turned to spot Fenrir regarding him a stone's throw away at another stall.
For a moment neither of them moved. Harry had long ceased watching over his shoulder for that figure and briefly his mind scrabbled to fix on why he despised him and what reaction was appropriate. There was no cub, no pack here - the pack had probably dissolved. They were almost just two wolves who happened to have known each other, meeting again where neither had expected the other to be.
Finally Harry showed his teeth, more out of habit than real feeling, then turned and limped after Viktor. He wanted nothing to do with the alpha.
Restored mobility brought on increasing restlessness to wander again in Harry, a trait his companion shared. Viktor was a sea wolf - he worked and lived on scalloped wooden platforms that traveled for him. He coaxed Harry to come along, pick a new berth and voyage together. Harry refused.
Alone again, Harry kept to the wilderness for a while, avoiding any human settlements larger than villages until his caution sufficiently faded. Sometimes the only real connection between humans and wolves seemed to be that life for both consisted of making it through day after day; sometimes - for strange, rare moments - there was more. An incidental encounter with another wolf informed Harry of a yearly feast a particular human lord held for every serf and traveler in his domain, despite the expense, regardless of species. Even though he didn't quite believe it curiosity drove Harry to investigate, and he found bonfires and lines of sheep and oxen roasting, unpoliced. More appeared after the first carcasses were thoroughly picked over.
The wolves present congregated loosely with their own kind, without evidence of recognition on the humans' part, and Harry gorged until he could hardly move, and didn't care. He found a clear spot under a tree and collapsed gracelessly, not even moving to achieve a more comfortable position. Other presences sometimes wandered near, but Harry merely grumbled, too sated to care what anyone else was doing. His body wanted sleep but he lay with his eyes half-lidded to savor the experience. To be full - for hunger to have briefly become imagination, to be floating at the point of feeling slightly sick from too much rather than too little. This memory would be precious.
In contrast to rare decadence came occasional unexpected disaster. Harry arrived at one city with the intent to linger just as winter was setting in, only to find it razed by still-guttering fires because of some carelessness with an unwatched hearth, barred to all residents long-term or short. With the onsetting weather blocking all land routes elsewhere and the harbor in ashes, the displaced wolf population took a large cave riddled in the cliff face, and Harry joined them. He slept in a pile of warm bodies that staved off outside chill because blankets were few, hunted with whoever was near because more wolves had a better chance of taking down larger prey and shared without complaint because no one wanted to starve. There was no alpha figure, nor need for one; necessity directed them all.
Most of the wolves shared more than heat with each other at some point, but Harry ignored such activity. Once one even approached him and he declined without showing as much disgust at the thought as he felt before finding a new spot to sleep from then on. When the weather finally softened, wind blowing warmer and solid rock peeking through snowdrifts, then squabbles began and dislikes regained significance. And then the overlarge pack dissolved into a group of loners again, many of which took themselves off in every direction for fresh air, the chance to run until breathless without bumping into anyone else, possible hunger less important for a while.
Harry found a massive tree that had been struck by lightning long before and rotted hollow halfway up and moved into it. After an entire winter constantly surrounded by musk-heavy breathing and shifting bodies, he gloried in poking his head out into nothing but sky and leaves and branches. He played, by himself, learning how to clamber around and scaring birds and upper-level woodlife. Nests added to his list of food sources; several times he got into risky fights with birds of prey until he figured out which kinds always left one parent on guard.
Open, mostly uninhabited country left him relaxed enough to eventually look for humans again. A lone couple's work outside their cottage interested him, but they didn't react to his overtures the same as anyone before. Their tanning and leatherworking processes didn't seem to require much of the heavy lifting it was always easiest to jump in with, so for a while he contented himself to simply hang around and watch, while they went about their business with an occasional curious glance his way.
Finally he approached, slipping in to help one as he'd observed when the other was busy. The man let him, and once the leather was in the new vat Harry stood there looking as willing as he could, while the man frowned at him and grunted.
Harry kept up a blank smile through the words he couldn't understand, waiting for him to make any kind of gesture that might indicate another task. Eventually the man pointed to the vat that needed to be rolled away and emptied - Harry promptly set to it, while the man watched for several minutes and then went to the door of the house and spoke to the woman.
Neither seemed eager to make use of him. For the rest of the day Harry followed whichever didn't scowl him away, patiently working at any task they pointed to even though every one seemed to be among the most tedious and menial he'd seen them do. Once or twice they corrected his execution and Harry beamed, but their expressions remained dubious. As the sun sank the woman tried to shoo him away from the house and yard. Harry stood there and smiled, fairly certain that if he left now they would find it easier to dismiss him again, and affected not to understand. With her words, it was true; and he'd learned that humans were often more tolerant of him than otherwise when they perceived him as simple.
So it proved again. When he wouldn't go, the woman sighed and muttered but led him into the house. Over dinner the couple questioned him, about what he could only guess from conversations he'd overheard in similar situations: where had he come from, why was he there. Harry gave no reaction to the occasional word he recognized since he knew far too few to be meaningful, and just smiled and nodded eagerly whenever either human brought in an object related to their trades. Harry already knew how to hunt well; if he learned what they did he wouldn't have to worry about stealing or buying clothes anymore.
The next several days passed much the same, except they seemed to take more trips than he'd thought usual, for no obvious reason. Eventually the couple seemed to figure out what he wanted, and were convinced. By candlelight one evening the man laid out inscribed papers in front of Harry and began talking in a low, meaningful tone. Harry stared at the rows of tiny dark tracks on the parchment, unable to begin to guess what they meant. Idly he noted he ought to learn to read sometime, somewhere. But he suspected trying would irritate him more than divining meaning from spoken words he didn't understand, for probably less reward.
Finally the man wound down and pointed to blank lines under all the writing. He handed Harry a thin writing implement dripping ink he could only assume they expected him to know what to do with, then guided the hand holding it to press a heavy X over a line.
The next morning the man started demonstrating his trade to Harry, so Harry was satisfied.
The woman showed him to a shed behind the house and let him sleep there, and fed him every day even when he didn't bring back game for the table and racks. Once the couple figured out Harry was a reliable hunter they sent him out to do it often, though he quickly found he was supposed to kill while damaging the hides as little as possible. Harry mostly learned from the man; with Harry there the woman helped less, but some things were clearly her purview and Harry was willing to do whatever she wanted of him too.
The work was interesting, much more involved than the jobs he'd had before. The language barrier helped him avoid having to explain why he disappeared every moon, and even while drunk on furry freedom and power Harry was smart enough to avoid any actions that would cause suspicion in a place he intended to stay longer. For a while he used the moon to run out his itchy feet before returning, sated just long enough to resume the daily routine that he wondered might be how life felt for humans.
He picked up new vocabulary, skills, knowledge of another variation of human society and watched the seasons progress from one place, slightly different than everywhere else. Eventually his desire to wander again grew irresistible. Harry got bored.
He didn't just up and leave, though, as he always had before. The woman called him up to the house in the middle of the day to carry out the man's meal, and gave him a baked treat and pat on the head as he turned. Harry walked away slowly, munching and pondering how the couple might react if he disappeared permanently. He still hadn't learned enough of their tongue to properly converse, since that would open him to too many unwanted questions, but for the first time he briefly regretted the lack. He'd have to come up with something else.
Harry worked through the night for a little while, applying his new skills, and when finished left a carefully constructed vest and whole unmarked buck in the yard for them to find come morning. Then he set off, untroubled, to see where the road ended. Along the way it occurred to him to set on the next shoemaker he found and learn how to do that, so he'd have to worry less about boots for winters.
The only real inconvenience of visiting cities was money. Fortunately cities were populous enough to find marks that looked like they wouldn't suffer from a loss and borrow purses from them without great risk of being caught or recognized. Thus Harry never had money outside cities and so was never a target for the rougher gangs who made such a living.
He was in a marketplace, surrounded by shouts of vendors and cries of animals, spices, dust and rancid perfumes, when a brawny arm extended in front of him offering a small green fruit. Harry reached for it, glancing to the side, and blinked when he saw Fenrir. The alpha grinned at him and gestured toward a row of trestle tables outside a nearby inn, not bothering to speak through the hubbub.
Harry followed, the fruit in one hand. Hatred took too much energy for what seemed like little reason. He didn't think he needed to be wary - he tried to decide if he wanted to be civil.
Fenrir had more fruit which he shared and ate without ceremony, and the inn's ale was slightly better for quenching thirst than encouraging it. Harry's taste for such drinks had gradually increased over time, though he didn't know if it was just familiarity or because his mouth was ever so slowly healing. Even silver wounds weren't permanent, if a wolf could live long enough.
Harry remembered the cub, but it was more curiosity than lingering feeling that prompted him to inquire, "Phack?"
"Some split off," Fenrir shrugged. "A few stayed together with the cubs."
Harry chewed slowly, vaguely surprised. He'd imagined normal packs dissolved completely once the members no longer needed to rely on each other.
The alpha flicked an apple seed at him and Harry ducked, startled, teeth automatically baring even though they were wet and stained with juice. "You started it," the alpha said. For a second Harry was puzzled as to what he meant. "You upset them, leaving so suddenly. Then they realized they could do it too."
Harry frowned, resettling a little warily. He couldn't imagine why it wouldn't have occurred to any of them before.
The alpha studied him for a moment, then, strangely, chuckled. "You didn't understand why none of them were unhappy."
Harry scowled. The alpha picked up another of the dark green fruits and pierced it with a sharp fingernail.
"They didn't understand why you were unhappy."
Harry shrugged, uncomfortable, then decided not to be. This alpha was no longer a threat to him; Harry didn't care about him. "I'm not unhappy now."
Fenrir looked vaguely thoughtful. For some reason the silence between former enemies as they ate was comfortable, and Harry forgot his earlier considerations on how to act. When he finished he stood and wandered back into the maze of stalls, his eye caught by sunlight glinting off strings of jewelry, aware that the alpha ambled along at his shoulder.
Beads and stones were mildly interesting. Harry let the vendors explain what care and craftsmanship went into the designs, wondering why humans put such work into things that were pretty, but served no purpose. Neither he nor the alpha bought any of it. Fenrir spent an inordinate amount of time examining pottery while Harry drifted up and down the surrounding stalls, trying not to sigh with impatience. Just before he was about to continue on his own the alpha rejoined him, and they moved on to eyeing goats and chickens until a suspicious keeper glared them off. Harry satisfied himself with a chunk of raisin bread, Fenrir with a meat roll; but Harry's senses trained on every small hot-blooded prey animal that passed even after his stomach was filled.
As the market began to wind down with the setting of the sun the alpha showed him a tiny stair to a flat slate roof that removed them a little from the noise and crowd of the city. The air was still thick with vying aromas and heavy with heat welling up from below, but Harry lay down on his back and found it easier to let go of his instincts and a tenseness he hadn't realized was building up in the crush of humanity.
"You like to wander," Fenrir commented, stretching out beside him but opposite - feet by head and head by feet. "Any reason?"
Harry considered. Dirt gritted underneath him; his clothes would probably have dark smears when he rose, but in the oven-still air his lungs moved slowly and his bones baked. He closed his eyes and shrugged. "Nowere says stay."
A pigeon cooed and Harry mentally caught it, stripped it, and swallowed the worthwhile meat, then toyed with ideas on how to play with the feathers. More cooing, tick of claws and a burst of beating wings announced its departure.
"Flying rats," the alpha grunted.
Harry drowsed. The sweltering air gradually cooled, thinning to reveal a canopy of stars over the indifferent city, lowest edges of the horizon only occasionally punctuated by the silhouette of an owl or tiny flash of a firefly. Outside the manmade walls insect choruses hummed and swelled; inside cats yowled and skulking footsteps pattered from here to there. Harry rolled over and breathed in pitch and grime and sweat, flavoring his insensate collages of dreams. His feet twitched as he bounded over land he'd never seen under a moon not currently present. Beside him the alpha stirred, grumbled and subsided.
In the next city he visited were kernels of unrest - low-voiced talk about some other nearby king's actions, suspicious glances at Harry's accent and even sometimes when he played simple. Harry left, and stayed away from all but the most rural human settlements for a while. Wolves always made convenient targets for scapegoats or cannon fodder in human disputes, and he wanted no part of it.
He found when he tried visiting a distant city that he hadn't stayed away long enough. At first glance nothing warned of imminent danger - the complaints he could understand were petty and concerns self-centered, as usual - so he paid little further attention to staying on guard. Then an argument between a wolf and human broke into a fight - and then, strike to a match, rather than drawing small attention it escalated into a full-scale brawl. Harry joined in because he saw other wolves being attacked and instinct demanded he preemptively defend himself and his kind; presumably the other wolves and humans felt the same, for what had to be most of the population eventually split and battled on the racial axes.
Harry wound up in a lower quarter, ducking through the rat-like warren of streets until he realized the natives knew it too much better for safety and managed to escape into an open melee in a forum. Nothing to keep his back against meant Harry was moving continually, ducking and dodging blows from any direction while striking at any shape his brain identified as foe.
Fenrir was there, a deadly efficient warrior in the middle of a mob of clockmakers, street sweepers, bakers armed with billy clubs and refuse. Harry fought around to him, fell in under the broad sweep of the big wolf's arms to his back, and found he fit well there so stayed. Fenrir easily dealt with the mass around them using his size and unflagging strength, while his protection allowed Harry to concentrate on what threats slipped past the alpha's guard and the lucky ones that although downed weren't felled.
They fought for a timeless stretch of act react survive, greater ability against greater numbers, until finally the wolves achieved victory - temporary, but enough to get out of the city themselves before they were driven, splitting into ones and twos outside to disappear. After such an event the humans would soon summon reinforcements, and feeling would be riding high against werekind.
Harry and Fenrir stayed together, sleeping back to back for the best chance of defending themselves, avoiding all roads as much as possible.
"There's a princeling up north been calling himself Lord, and - they say - making pretty speeches to the Cold Ones and ferals," Fenrir said grimly. "While eyeing his neighbors."
Harry was sitting in a tree, because without scent to alert them most humans probably wouldn't notice him there and he knew there was only one direction from which he could be attacked. He threw a rock at a squirrel that paused nearby, and growled when he missed.
Feeling that he was hunted put him into a constantly edgy mindset, one he had almost forgotten. He wasn't vulnerable, wasn't a runt anymore - but there was a big, powerful wolf beside him when he sometimes woke up suddenly in the middle of the night, and he struggled and snarled at it until sense returned. The alpha never fought back, never even resisted, so after a few minutes Harry would calm, let sleep return, and curl up against him again. Time helped him relax and the dreams fade, but still Fenrir showed no inclination to separate.
"I've heard of a vast country across the ocean this might be a good time to visit," he said, burying a rabbit over a carefully dug smokeless fire to cook while Harry skinned its mate. "Big cats of some kind instead of wolves, almost all wilderness except for their civilization. Hardly any humans yet. There probably won't be many ships making the voyage much longer."
Harry hesitated. The thought of the country was attractive; the necessary means of getting there made his insides squirm. Fenrir waited, perfectly patient, while Harry traced the tip of his knife over the half-skinned rabbit's muscles and wavered.
"Can't move on ships," he finally muttered, getting back to his task with an unnecessary jab.
Fenrir leaned closer until he looked up, irritable, and then looked him steadily in the eye. "I'll make sure you don't get restless."
Harry had no reason to believe such a claim. Somehow he did.
Enforced close quarters with all the sailors immediately made Harry uneasy, despite the tiny private "room" he and Fenrir shared instead of communal hammocks. Within days he was certain he'd wind up jumping overboard and drowning himself, especially if it turned out he couldn't swim. But Fenrir kept his promise - quickly, cleanly, he snapped Harry's legs, and as healing prioritized Harry's body he lost concentration on how little space there was on deck and in hold. Before he could have no place to walk he had to be able to walk at all.
The crewmen soon proved to be out of sight out of mind, especially with Fenrir there - none of them could possibly hope to match up to the powerful alpha who took care of him. Harry himself sniped and sulked freely around the other wolf, who bore it with unending tolerance and only occasional hints of amusement. Amusement irritated Harry, and the alpha usually managed to show no sign that Harry's irritation amused him further. Convalescence irritated Harry, but by the time the ship finally reached its destination he was healed, only half wild to be somewhere new and else and didn't leave behind any irrevocable enemies due to his behavior.
The land the wolves entered was as wild and vast as Harry had imagined, parts of it even beyond imagination. The jaguars' country was thickly treed and shrubbed, like Harry's preferred terrain on the other side of the sea, but the trees soared higher, teeming with bird and insect and even primate life that was loud and colorful, and the air was wet and hot. Harry and Fenrir would have immediately been lost, if there had been any place to find; but since neither of them were concerned with such things they simply wandered, endlessly discovering something new.
Shifting form was strange to Harry the first few times when the moon wasn't visible. He always had a vague awareness of where and what size it was, but he'd never noticed how constantly he tracked its presence visually until the foreign trees' canopy screened the sky out, and he felt a new restlessness until he figured out how to shimmy up and break through the ocean of leaves when he wanted just to make sure the sky was still there.
The treetops were a different world again from the earth below. Up close Harry got a look at the specialized life cycles that needed no grounding except the trees' roots - fruits and insects that were eaten by birds and monkeys, that were hunted by snakes and little cats. Fenrir called Harry mad for developing an interest in such heights. Harry set to figuring out how to catch some of the most bizarre avians and massive insects and returned with them as prizes that even the older wolf had to admit were extraordinary.
Having a companion in the foreign land helped greatly in surviving mistakes as they adjusted. Harry had never before conceived of fish aggressive enough to swarm and bite. The floating logs that suddenly lunged with massive jaws agape were worse. Without Fenrir Harry probably would have taken to avoiding rivers altogether - and after watching a fat water snake-creature immobilize its prey with what looked like lightning, Fenrir agreed.
Unfailing wolf constitutions helped them adapt until the foreignness of their surroundings no longer seemed hostile. Some plants poisoned, some healed. The quick-strike logs' jaws had awesome crushing pressure, but were helpless to open against a mere hand holding them shut. Taunting monkeys could provoke showers of otherwise near-inaccessible fruit and nuts. And flowers of breathtaking, unearthly beauty bloomed for single nights under the rare silver glow of the moon.
The jaguars' civilization sprawled through their wilderness, far more impressive than the impermanent dens wolves constructed, greater even than anything human Harry had ever seen. They built in stone, paved roadways and cleared tracts for monuments cut slantwise instead of straight over which the stars were just as significant as the moon. Harry and Fenrir weren't the first wolves they'd met, so everyone was pleased to find they could communicate. Several jaguars had made a point to learn the wolves's most common tongue, intent that anything new that could be learned could be useful.
The reason for Harry's reticence intrigued them. He submitted to having his mouth examined several times, shortly explaining how it happened, and then one of the jaguars observed, "Your silver curses your nature - our jade blesses."
Harry focused with instant, unbelieving hope. "You can make it bhetter, now?"
The jaguar pursed his lips rather than replying immediately. "Internal wound is dangerous, but - yes. Will you try?"
Harry nodded eagerly.
The jaguars were quick and precise as they assembled the objects and individuals necessary for the moonlit ritual. Harry sat up straight in the middle of a small, high square room, flower-perfumed breezes drifting through the openings in all four walls. A white-clad female knelt behind him, rested cool fingers on the line under his jaw where it met throat, and bade him open his mouth. Harry did. Touch ghosted over the base of his skull and he lost all feeling in his throat, nor was able to move his jaw.
Harry felt his saliva increase in automatic response to the knowledge that he couldn't swallow. The male that crouched in front of him finished grinding an odd powder, then carefully stirred it into a bowl of liquid. Eyes intent, he tilted Harry's head back. Harry stared at planed stone ceiling, and still felt the light pressure on the outside of his neck.
The potion poured into Harry's mouth. For an instant, nothing - then his dead skin was on fire and the male's hand on the back of his head was shoving it forward, the flood of pain spilling into a tray between his legs so he didn't choke on it. Harry found some control remaining when he was able to gasp and spit - out, out, not back and in; and he could still breathe, his lungs weren't burning-
He knew exactly what the ritual must have done; it hurt too much to be anything else. The jade was somehow expelling the silver, all the trace remnants too minute to do any more harm than prevent him from healing, or maybe even just the aftereffect of the long-ago taint - all of it, ripped out completely and burning again with a last dying surge - burning him again while it left, but even as he gagged the pain began to fade. And in its wake, in crept sensation. He was healing - finally, truly, he was whole.
He panted a little, body still heaving with reaction. The fingers under his jaw moved down his neck, all the way to the collarbones, then back up to the base of his skull, then vanished. Feeling returned. The male handed him another bowl from someone else with a smile.
Harry tasted water. Plain, clean, sweet water, no longer just a liquid filling his mouth before a swallow. He tasted the flowers that had steeped in it not very long before. He tasted its coolness. He tasted the tiny, tiny trace infused by the white-veined bowl containing it.
Harry tasted a single, wondering teardrop with as much clarity as he'd felt it sliding down his cheek.
By the time he got back to the single-room house lent to him and Fenrir he was almost bouncing. The alpha snorted awake when he slammed the door behind him. Harry couldn't find it in him to be sorry. He flopped down beside the other wolf, squirming because he couldn't stay still, and ordered, "Look at my tongue!"
Fenrir chuckled. "It's too dark," he pointed out, raising a hand silhouetted against the window toward Harry's face. Harry let him poke two fingers into his mouth and probe gently, reveling in their feel and taste and texture. Tongue, gums, walls, roof - soft. Pliant. Living skin.
After a moment the alpha's fingers withdrew, lingering damply on Harry's cheek. "You're healed?"
"Jade," Harry said reverently. He could have tried more eloquence, but long-ingrained habit was to be as short as possible.
He saw the flash of Fenrir's teeth in the darkness as he grinned. "Try saying 'real rock wall.'"
"Real rock ra - wall. Real ralk wall - real, rock, wall."
"Guess you need some practice."
"Real rock ralk - raghh!"
Fenrir pulled Harry down to a prone position beside him, getting comfortable to go back to sleep. Harry muttered under his breath until his throat went dry, and went on shaping words soundlessly even after he grew so tired they no longer made sense. He could speak now, so he would, no matter how much practice it took.
Harry was fervently thankful when the jaguars didn't seem to regard their precious jade as proprietary or secret. An amulet or piece of the stone would be too easy to lose, even if they gifted him one; what he was hungry for was the information of where to find jade naturally, how to recognize it, how to use it. Knowledge could stay with him as long as his mind did. He was subtle, patient, polite in gleaning what he wanted to know, but that was more important than improving his speech or learning about the jaguars' culture.
Their society was so different compared to wolves that every time Harry began to think he'd wrapped his head around it he was freshly surprised. They had a society - the majority of their entire race lived in their city-kingdom, and rarely roamed. Of necessity, surely, their lives were therefore highly structured. Everyone had roles, though they switched those around regularly according to interest and health, and even statuses dependent on age and experience. They had few children, even fewer of whom died young, and birthed them like humans did rather than turning cubs with a bite. Blood was their god. Harry had never quite understood any religious devotion - worship of the moon was unnecessary; every wolf's existence both proved and celebrated her power.
The jaguars were fascinating, complex, but Harry didn't think he would ever be anything like them. "All the - tattoos - mean things," he told Fenrir after one day of discovery. "The shape, the color, the size, where they are, what others are near... they're like - scent, maybe." He straightened, considering the new idea, and found it reassuring. At their first meeting the jaguars had vaguely disturbed him because of their peculiar lack of personal odor, almost as if they had come from nowhere and just were. He wasn't much eased after learning that it was because they all washed themselves often. An occasional scrub or soaking was one thing, but to do it frequently on purpose... scents naturally accumulated and faded, layering into a history of where, how, and with who a wolf had been. He knew wolves by scent though he'd never spoken to them. Why try to erase that?
"The carvings, too," Fenrir returned, far less perturbed. "The little female in the cloth shop said something about them invoking things - rain, fortune, strength."
"What does that one do?" Harry asked, eying the new trinket curiously.
The bigger wolf shrugged. "Something beneficial, no doubt. Said it was a gift."
Harry glanced at it one more time, then lost interest. He was starting to think about wandering on after the next moon - one of the jaguars had informed him that there was an even larger land to the north, closer to his accustomed climate and effectively unpopulated.
Some of the younger males introduced him to several sports, part game and part hunt, that challenged and exhausted him. He crawled into bed on top of Fenrir whenever he finished playing hard through the day and they usually talked a bit, catching up on anything new they'd learned separately, before he fell into sleep quick, deep, and satisfied.
For the most part Harry found it easy to get along with the younger males, but the few words most of them could share usually hindered rather than helped them understand each other.
"I think they have a nudity taboo." He knew humans did, but it had genuinely never occurred to him as a possibility among almost his own kind. Harry alternated between naked and clothed at least once a moon, just like every other wolf, and both states were perfectly natural - to suddenly draw a distinction between them made his skin itch, no longer quite so comfortable.
Fenrir shrugged. "I'd say they just give it more meaning, so they save it more. Mostly for mates."
Harry shook his head - he hadn't known his semi-friends had any interest in such things.
Thinking about it himself made his insides squirm and spawned uneasy dreams of hot breath and jeering laughter, but the jaguars attached plenty of strangeness that let him regard this too as alien rather than personally applicable. "They have rituals for if they just like someone - things to do and say to prove they're serious and worthy and test whether they're compatible. Axtli is looking forward to being able to meet with his desired alone for the first time soon. Can you imagine?"
"It's structured," Fenrir acknowledged, "but some aspects make sense. Gifts, attention. You don't court by ignoring someone."
Harry frowned. "Well, the closest I can imagine would be something like... your oranges in the middle of winter. And you're not courting me."
Fenrir said nothing. Harry felt a stir of alarm inside, and flashes from sleep chased away upon waking returned. Suddenly he was aware of exactly how they were laying: side by side on the bed, Harry's head cushioned on Fenrir's arm while the big alpha's hand massaged the back of his neck. Just comfortable- "You're not courting me," he repeated.
Fenrir just met his gaze, whites of his eyes sheened in the ambient starlight, steadily. Harry pushed abruptly at his chest, too close, too big, a bubble of either anger or panic snapping. "Say you're not courting me!"
Fenrir said nothing. Harry pushed himself backward, fell off the bed and rolled to his feet. He bolted, out of the house and then out of the city, escape the only thing on his mind, until his legs burned and heart pounded and he finally had to stop. He took refuge high up in a tree, and with the break in physical exertion his mind looped inevitably back to the unexpected confrontation. He was fairly sure Fenrir wouldn't come after him.
He hoped Fenrir wouldn't come after him.
Surely Fenrir wouldn't come after him - because he wasn't serious, he wouldn't, he didn't mean it-
If the alpha came after him he would drive him off, run away again. Fenrir had stolen his cub to try to tie Harry to his pack, now was courting...
Too much, too close. Harry would never give any alpha that much power over him - he didn't need a mate, didn't want one, wouldn't take one. He'd hate Fenrir - have nothing more to do with him.
Time slowly calmed Harry. He didn't realize how accustomed he'd gotten to the alpha's presence until he was sleeping alone again, but he adjusted. He headed north, careful to cover his tracks, and lost himself in a wilderness that seemed endless. There were no human towns anywhere to wander into, no ferals to worry about meeting, and few of any other intelligent creature he found. He wasn't sure what they were - not wolf, not Cold One, not jaguar - they were retiring, and that suited him. When their paths crossed, very rarely, they skirted around each other and continued on. Harry saw new animals, new places. Climbed mountains, navigated reeking marshes just because; learned nothing, just was. Eventually the tight feeling in his chest whenever he thought of that began to ease. His dreams of alphas cornering him slowly faded. Viewed from a distance, abstractly, the concept of mating ceased to be repulsive - not attractive, certainly, but not abhorrent, and eventually even a little bit something like... interesting.
Harry did nothing to nurture or suppress the change in feeling, just left it to grow as it would. He was surprised one day to notice that his hair was long again, when he remembered one of the jaguars trimming it to resemble one of their styles. And the idea of company, other wolves and humans, began to seem bearable again. His dreams faded from monsters to a kind voice, bright skies, a tiny house on the edge between wood and field... and when he woke he remembered, for the first time in a very long time, and smiled.
He had no directions, and only the vaguest instincts of where he was compared to where he had been, so he continued to just wander. The strange creatures he acknowledged with a little more friendliness, which they returned with a little less wariness but no indication of wishing to make any stronger connections. Harry wandered away from them, through forests remarkably clear of underbrush into denser ones, toward the warmer peculiar wetlands. Finally he struck a coast and followed it for a while, reasonably confident that somewhere along it he would find a port or at least a harbor.
Instead he found groves of trees, guarded and cosseted by husbandmen who explained that it was an orange orchard, a special variety whose fruit grew during the rest of the world's cold season thanks to the particular local climate. Harry turned wondering eyes on the trees and agreed that they were marvelous, luxuries. The changing feeling inside kept to itself - Harry's liking of oranges had nothing to do with the alpha who must have found this place before.
The workmen pointed him to where their infrequent supply ship made land, though he had to forage to find enough worthwhile goods to barter passage. Stowing away wasn't even a possibility on such a long journey.
The voyage was long, endless, almost unbearable. Harry couldn't quite bring himself to break his own legs, so he bled off his edginess by picking fights with the sailors, crawling into his corner bunk to nurse his wounds while watching for any revenge attacks, then skulking out to spar again. None of the men managed to give him a long-lasting injury, though they certainly soon tried. The captain sold him to an arena master the first time they made port. Harry took petty satisfaction that he'd just broken the bosun's right arm and nose beforehand, which would give them a hard time going on.
Life as a pit fighter was new to Harry's experience, only slightly similar to the recent brawls on ship. He was treated well, though kept confined under the stadium. In the arena there was always room to move and a target to focus on - he was always cheered on to fight - and his treatment improved as he won his matches. The humans of this area seemed unfamiliar with wolves, but the audiences roared approval at his strength greater than his slight frame belied and the arena masters were quick to notice that even the worst blows he took healed rapidly. Harry gained familiarity with various weapons and opponents' fighting styles, and was almost able to subdue his restlessness at captivity. But he was less than pleased with the interest the arena masters took in his moon change. After the first time, when he was locked up all night and guarded by massive armed slaves, Harry became a special night attraction.
He despised the continued imprisonment and display when he dreamed of running, running, running; but taking out his frustration on whatever else was in the arena with him only increased popular demand for more and guaranteed a more dangerous opponent next time.
A maned cat as big as he was nearly proved his match, and Harry had enough. As soon as the moon sank he wrapped a ceramic goblet in his bedspread, smashed it, then swallowed several jagged fragments and staggered to his door, coughing up blood and gesturing frantically toward a corner that couldn't be seen without opening the door. The guards rushed in without first summoning a healer, as Harry's regenerative ability appeared to be well known.
Harry had been far more docile as an arena slave than he had on the ship that brought him there. The guards didn't expect him to suddenly lash out and crack their heads together. They dropped - Harry collected the weapons he felt most useful from them, locked them in, and proceeded out, dispatching anyone else who got in his way. Outside he coughed up the pottery shards before they could do any real damage in his system and made long tracks away from the city. His experience in the arena helped greatly in enduring his injuries until he was far enough away to safely den up and let himself heal.
As soon as he was hale Harry set out for more familiar country, falling easily back into his wandering habit. The war he'd avoided was over, with change left in its wake: people spoke different tongues in places he thought he recognized, and looked on strangers with more wariness or assurance. Harry trimmed his hair again and wondered, if he had stayed, what might have happened to him. Then he wondered, for almost the first time, how things might have gone differently if he was still human.
He ambled up the coast, feet not quite so itchy anymore but some other not-quite-restlessness stirring instead. He found himself evaluating wolves he met more critically, though he wasn't sure why, and wanted less to do with them even though he was more interested in seeking them out. He didn't brawl with anyone - he'd had enough of that, at least for a while, in the arena - even a particular older male he happened to encounter on a street and remembered. The male glanced back without recognition and bared his teeth sullenly, and Harry felt not the slightest bit threatened. He smirked, then sauntered past with a derisive curl of his lip, and the male growled but let him pass unchallenged. Harry was young, but strong and confident - the old male had already been beaten down long before meeting him.
Near the same time Harry found a row of old men sitting on the shore with long strings attached to thin poles, and curiosity enticed him into staying long enough to learn a new technique for fishing. He took particular vicious pleasure in eating fish ever since the ones in the jaguars' country had tried to eat him. His satisfaction was almost great enough to consider a pitch to hire onto a trawler that promised hard, constant labor and hundreds of fish netted, but he still had somewhere to go whose appeal was stronger.
In a further city he met Viktor again, and initially was glad to see him. Viktor certainly seemed pleased to see Harry, but his presence didn't inspire the same trust in a friend, and he didn't seem to realize it. Harry saw something in his eyes he hadn't before that made him uneasy and irritable. When he actually snapped at the sea wolf, he left.
In the low country where most of the people still spoke Harry's original tongue he kept to himself, saying nothing when interaction was necessary, and watched and wandered with a purpose. Many princelings here instead of a king, always vying for supremacy. Harry had paid little attention to news of how the war turned out; it didn't affect him. If he had grown up human, though... he probably would have been marched off to head one of the bands resisting the self-proclaimed Lord. He'd probably be chief, or dead.
He found the little house just outside a wood, straddling wolf terrain and human, humbler than his memory pictured with almost an abandoned look. Harry doubted that. Just unassuming.
A sense of mischief spurred him to skulk closer, making sure it was currently empty, before he let himself in. Rain poured down from the leaden sky moments after he closed the door behind himself and Harry grinned, ridiculously pleased that his presence would be a surprise.
He wandered while he waited, unselfconscious at being surrounded by someone else's belongings. The big loom fascinated him, even though it was still and empty; his mind filled in vibrant threads of color woven in great amorphous patterns. Click and hum, always soothing - not the same as the rain drumming down outside. Tiny hands on the shuttle, guided by larger, callused and warm. Bobbins of wool already spun, waiting in baskets along the wall. He hadn't remembered he could remember so much.
Harry smiled, more mellow at that moment than he'd felt almost ever. Eventually he wandered up to the loft and stretched out on the straw tick mattress to nap, dreams and memories intertwining.
The sound of the door closing roused him. The rain had subsided. Harry sat up, and met the startled gaze of a wolf he didn't quite recognize, though a few aspects tugged on right: thin build, sandy brown shading to gray. But scent enveloped him in a rush of familiarity that left no doubt, and Harry bounced down the ladder and hurled himself at the older wolf's chest.
"Remus!" he mumbled, nuzzling - imprinting what was now with what was then as much as possible so his new memories would be strong and clear.
Remus's arms came up around him hesitantly, as if he were touching a ghost. "Harry?" he whispered, and then they were hugging each other as tightly as they could, laughing and rolling around on the floor. Harry was a cub again, and couldn't have been happier.
"You're so big," Remus marveled, running his hands up and down Harry's arms and cupping his face while Harry sighed and breathed in his scent, over and over. "You've grown so much..."
Harry grinned. "You sound like a human," he teased, snuggling closer - Remus pressed him closer and inhaled with his nose pressed into Harry's hair. "Going to say you've gotten old?"
Remus laughed. "Only older than you, cub, and I always will be." They lay and hugged and breathed each other, and then Remus pulled back a little and scanned him anxiously while cupping Harry's face again. "And you're all right? You look well - I've always worried-"
"I forgot," Harry confessed, ducking his head in embarrassment, then defended himself, "I was so little-"
Remus smiled softly, tinged with old pain and pleasure. "You were." He held Harry close again, then his arms tightened and he murmured into the top of Harry's head, "After that filthy contender had you kidnapped..."
Harry squirmed, uncomfortable. Remus loosened his grip a little and pulled back again so they could see each other's faces. "I tried to find you, I swear I did, cub."
Harry relaxed a little, and after a second managed to smile as he found an answer that wasn't a lie. "I'm okay, Remus. I'm happy now."
After a moment of searching gaze the older wolf sighed, and some of the faint lines on his brow disappeared. "It's so good to see you again, Harry."
Reuniting with Remus was like getting to go to sleep after so long without it that dreams were coming while semi-conscious. Refreshment of good memories brought with them the following bad, but those had lost power over Harry, and Remus lived so isolated that no other wolves disturbed his equanimity.
For a while he was content. He relearned to play, unselfconscious, like the cub he'd so briefly been. All his usual concerns were negligible; Remus, deep-rooted where he lived instead of a wanderer, had earned and saved enough from selling his weaving for so long to easily support two wolves instead of one. Harry's feet no longer itched at the thought of staying one more day, and one more day after that; and yet he wasn't quite at the right place to stay. He enjoyed Remus's company, but he'd grown too much to need someone else's home, and Remus understood. They could always find each other again now.
So Harry left, wandering with a purpose until he found his den. The little cabin in the woods was unoccupied and in poor repair, but Harry was pleased to find it still standing. He set to teaching himself how to repair everything, driven by time though undaunted by failure. Winter was coming. He had to have adequate shelter before it arrived.
The first thing he did was check the condition of the trapline, and restore and bait as many of the traps as he could. With luck those would feed him while he worked. Then he hunted, and when successful trekked to the nearest village and traded with the butcher and tanner for necessary tools, some blankets, and tough cloth enough to cover a mattress. If he'd had enough of value he would have also bartered for foodstuffs to more resemble a human trapper, but he might have been treated generously already. He had no idea what the humans would think of him, especially since he'd never interacted with them before, but as long as they made no trouble he didn't care.
Harry stuffed the cloth with pine needles and put it on the floor inside the sagging bed frame in the cabin, and found it fragrant and prickly but sufficient to let him concentrate on getting the shell of the cabin weatherproofed. He decided he'd teach himself to build furniture once winter set in.
He thought in some ways he was growing up backwards - basic construction was one of the first things most wolves learned, while caring for cubs usually came late if ever - and the thought made him smile. He wondered what he'd do if he found another human baby left out by the woods from some superstition about only keeping one twin. He wasn't sure he was any readier to take care of another cub... but he wouldn't have to. Remus loved children.
The first snow was pregnant in the atmosphere while down among the trees remained only chilly with occasional gusts when Harry's solitude was interrupted. He'd been progressing decently in fixing the cabin up until a particularly strong wind brought a thin tree down on the roof, thus adding a new set of repairs necessary after chopping the trunk up enough to haul away. He was on the roof, stuffing thatch under newly laid tiles for extra insulation, when the wind turned and all his nerve endings came alive with awareness of the alpha less than a stone's throw away. His stomach squirmed, but without an accompanying urge to run - he'd been half expecting the appearance on some level for some time now, even though he had no idea yet what to do. So Harry kept working, without looking up, and concentrated on sound to determine that his visitor wasn't coming any closer, just standing - probably watching.
Harry finished layering the pile of straw he'd brought up with him and moved to the edge of the roof where he'd stacked more. Fenrir was standing below. Harry blinked startled eyes at him. Fenrir passed up the bundle of straw - Harry blinked again, took it, and moved back from the roof edge. A moment later the alpha climbed up with more straw and shingles and set to work without comment on the other side.
If he'd tried to tell Harry how to do it better, or even did it differently, Harry could have laid into him; but without such provocation he had to settle for grumbling internally about the older wolf's ability to softfoot even when Harry was listening. Not that the changing wind helped. He wasn't sure why he wanted to pick at the alpha, but instinct was the only substitute for experience he had in this situation and he didn't question it.
The two worked in silent accord until the hole was covered and both ran out of materials. Harry would have to visit the village again if he wanted to get more, but that was a tedious trip that would certainly wait until at least tomorrow. Harry dropped himself from the edge of the roof, landing lightly, and was momentarily torn whether to stay outside or go in. Inside would feel very, very small filled by the alpha's presence, but nothing sprang to mind to do outside...
Necessity outweighed preference. Harry went in, leaving the door open, and had wedged himself halfway in the chimney when he heard Fenrir enter. Necessity did indeed trump comfort. Harry was muttering curses and growling at his unwelcome discovery as Fenrir's steps crossed the floor behind him, then crouched at his side. Harry freed himself by dint of much forcible wriggling and sat up, scowling. Remnants of a bird's nest fell out of his hair.
"There's a branch in the chimney."
Fenrir leaned over him to peer in, squinting against the ash and rubbish Harry's investigation had knocked loose, while Harry tried not to notice his awareness of the alpha's proximity. He pulled his head back out. "Rope?"
Harry checked, and found not much but probably enough. Since he was skinnier Harry wound up stuck back underneath the branch while Fenrir tackled it from the roof, hauling on what Harry could get the rope around. The plan hit a snag when the branch proved larger than they thought - so they switched places, with Harry squirming halfway down the chimney to fish for the topmost twigs while Fenrir appropriated whatever he could find in the cabin to try to ram the whole mass higher.
Finally they succeeded, though Harry was far from elated as he was covered in soot and desiccated bark, shedding dust every time he sneezed. Fenrir didn't look much better when he emerged into open air, but since he hadn't gotten into a fight with a not-dead-after-all spider while trapped in a dark constricted space for too long Harry wasn't inclined to feel sympathy.
Fenrir shook his head, expelling a small cloud of dust, glanced at the nearby remains of the fallen tree and headed into the forest. Harry hoped that he had some idea how to determine if any of the other surrounding trees posed potential dangers, but took advantage of his absence to retreat inside instead of asking. He didn't have any spare clothes at the moment, but poking around - ignoring the worn bag that smelled of alpha on the floor near the makeshift bed - turned up a large rag he'd used to bundle supplies that was marginally cleaner than what he had on. Harry rubbed down his exposed skin, then shed his clothes and beat them against handy surfaces until they were almost passable again before redonning them. The creek would be freezing with the sun already headed down; easier to leave proper cleaning there until tomorrow.
The thunk of wood falling announced Fenrir's return. Harry started prowling around surveying the scant foodstuffs, not wanting to feel restless but unable to help it, and had his back to the door when it opened.
Fenrir crossed to the fireplace with an armload of dry deadwood, knelt, and busied himself starting a fire. Harry decided he wasn't hungry after all, flopped down on the mattress with his knees drawn up to his chest, and just stared at the alpha's broad back.
This should be comfortable, same as before, except he wasn't comfortable and he didn't want Fenrir to be comfortable either and he didn't know what he wanted. His stomach squirmed with conflicting messages.
"Looks like you're planning to stay a while," Fenrir commented after some time without turning his head, still working on the fire. Harry had lost his flint somewhere and not yet gotten a new one, finding it easier to just cocoon himself in the blankets as the temperature dropped. "Why here?"
Harry considered staying silent for no reason, and shrugged instead. "It's mine."
Then, since he'd spoken, he found himself explaining smugly, "The hunter who used silver had an accident, so I took his house and traps."
Fenrir turned to meet his gaze, and the laughing expression in his amber eyes was so strangely fascinating it drew Harry off the bed toward him before he realized what he was doing. Fenrir extended one arm and pulled him closer, gentle but irresistible, and Harry somewhat ungracefully folded himself down beside him. From that position he saw a tiny glow amidst the tinder and leaned forward to blow on it, uncomfortably aware of the alpha's arm still around him. When he straightened Fenrir tucked Harry against his side.
This is different, Harry's mind said, he's different, why isn't this not okay anymore, and yet for some reason the only resistance he made was a half-hearted show of teeth he doubted the alpha even noticed.
"You," Fenrir murmured affectionately just above his mop of hair, "are a remarkably independent, stubborn little cuss."
Harry stared at the slowly growing fire, uncertain how to respond. That sounded like a compliment. He wasn't used to compliments. Then he realized drawing into himself in this position meant leaning into Fenrir's arm, because the big wolf tightened it just a little around him and nuzzled his hair. Harry's belly squirmed again. This was very much not the same as before. After a moment he sighed, pulled his legs up anyway, and let his head rest on Fenrir's shoulder, still staring at the fire. He couldn't quite relax.
Before long it grew too hot to stay so close to the hearth, and Harry used the opportunity to break away and canvas the dinner options again. Still nothing appealed, but Fenrir had moved to the mattress and stretched out on it, so Harry was driven to prowling aimlessly while the alpha watched with half-lidded eyes. Harry decided he didn't like those eyes, for all they glinted in light and crinkled at the corners during unexpected smiles.
It was his house, Harry thought; he ought to just order the alpha off his bed - but he knew he wouldn't because how could he enforce it if the big wolf refused, which would then put Fenrir in control, and he didn't want to lose control in this situation...
Harry stopped pacing, then marched over and shoved at Fenrir's legs. "Your half. My half," he decreed, and burrowed under the cover and curled up, back to his bedmate.
He heard Fenrir chuckle, and the mattress shifted as the other wolf got comfortable on his assigned half. Harry still didn't relax until he actually fell asleep.
The temperature in the cabin dropped as the fire gradually died. Fenrir fumbled for Harry and pulled him close, both snuggling into the other source of heat, and they slept on.
Harry woke later than usual with Fenrir's face buried in his neck and brawny arms wrapped around him and immediately felt irritated because he was so comfortable. He started trying to work loose, only to freeze when the alpha growled sleepily and tightened his grip.
Harry lay still for a few seconds, considering his options. Then he turned his head and gently blew on the alpha's face until he growled again and rolled away from the irritation.
Victorious, Harry got up, and decided to check the trapline for anything to eat before his stomach woke up any further. Snow still hadn't fallen, so it didn't take nearly as long as it would soon.
When Harry got back and peeked inside Fenrir was still asleep. Harry skulked over and watched him for a moment; then, feeling mischief stir, bent over his unguarded face and blew - and Fenrir's eyes flew open and in one move he surged up and captured Harry's wrists, preventing him from fleeing.
"You tricked me!" Harry protested, momentarily too astonished to struggle.
"My bedwarmer left," Fenrir growled in his ear, tugging him down onto the mattress, then advancing deliberately until Harry's instinctual scooting away backed him into the wall at the head of the bed. "You owe me a morning's nap."
"Too much to do," Harry retorted, stilling, and found himself watching the alpha close him in as if mesmerized. He didn't think Fenrir would hurt him - not really - yet he couldn't tell if his sudden antsiness was from fear or excitement.
As the alpha's face came closer Harry instinctively showed his teeth, but still didn't move. Fenrir grinned for some reason, then dipped his head and flicked at Harry's teeth with his tongue.
Harry jerked his head back, startled, only to meet Fenrir's waiting hands. Fenrir's head followed his - their lips met. Harry forgot to struggle.
For an endless moment he was lost in sensation. Fenrir's tongue laved all the places his fingers had once before after the jaguars' miracle but this time Harry felt so much more - felt suddenly jagged and quivery like he was made up all of pieces that had just come alive. It made his hair stand on end and heat pool in his gut.
Without realizing it Harry responded, tentatively lapping at the busier tongue with his own. Then Fenrir made a low growling sound deep in his throat and pressed closer and awareness returned in a rush of just how close they were, Harry was trapped, and he instinctively wriggled only to hear the sound repeated. For an instant he froze - then his heart rate kicked up and he started struggling for real.
For an uneasy second the alpha only growled a sharper note; then he pulled back, just a little, and Harry slithered through the opening under his arm and hit the floor on his feet, poised for fight or flight. But he didn't move, arrested by what he saw on the alpha's face.
He looked so frustrated, so hungry... Harry could smell arousal. Fenrir'd never let that happen before. But he wasn't moving either; was letting Harry escape... As he watched the alpha closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and just like that somehow pulled the hunger back inside. When he opened his eyes Harry knew he was safe again, which was good, but Harry was still gripped by a sudden revelation. He had evoked such a reaction.
For the first time it occurred to Harry that although letting the alpha close gave him power over Harry, he had power as well over Fenrir.
An astonishing concept. Almost unbelievable. Harry retreated to the door, one step at a time, rather than return to the bed and let the alpha think it had been a test, finally tearing his gaze away as he left. The creek. Sunshine said this was the best time he'd get to go to the creek. But he couldn't help pausing just outside the door and glancing back to see if Fenrir would follow - and couldn't help feeling a shivery little thrill when he did.
Most of the day passed checking the soundness of the trees around the cabin. Harry shimmied up them, rapping on the trunks here and there to listen for hollowness indicating rot inside as Fenrir had suggested, while the heavier wolf watched below in case he fell. The trees were all tall and skinny and swayed in the wind much more than Harry had realized, but he was confident in Fenrir's ability to keep him from getting hurt.
The work was strenuous but hardly mentally demanding, so Harry found his mind constantly turning to his suitor as he shimmied back down. Some of the trees had managed to grow branches only a few human-heights above the ground, and on a whim Harry landed on one seemingly to rest, then pounced. Fenrir caught him, but instead of falling under his sudden weight he swung Harry around in a circle so that he yelped in surprise and clung tighter.
Fenrir laughed, and Harry showed his teeth and huffed. By the time he was climbing down the next tree he'd decided he liked the rush and started calculating how many trees had suitable branches and how long it would take him to get through the business in between each.
Before long he made a game of trying to catch Fenrir off guard, and his continual lack of success only made him more determined, and a little irritable even though he had fun. The irritability morphed into taunts instead; for some reason Harry couldn't resist prodding the alpha's control even though he wasn't positive he fully trusted it.
When he particularly enjoyed a spin he stretched up and planted a quick kiss on Fenrir's cheek, then sprang up the nearest trunk and took a deliberately long time checking it to get his own heartbeat under control and peek over his shoulder to see how it affected Fenrir. When he was particularly irritated by the alpha's lazy grin as he took his time letting Harry go he said without thought, "You know you're not the first wolf to want me."
Fenrir stilled briefly, which pleased Harry since it meant he'd succeeded and yet was disappointing because the big wolf's hands on his shoulders stopped the gentle squeeze that had been sending strange tingles chasing down his nerve endings. "Oh, really?"
"He convinced me to run away from the pack together." Which hadn't been hard, even though he hadn't liked the male. He stole a glance up at Fenrir's face and savored the possessive irritation he saw there, but there wasn't anything else to the story to tease him with so Harry finished, "Then we started fighting, so I broke his foot and went on by myself."
Fenrir's hand moved up to brush down his jawline, curiously gentle. "Was that the pack that made you so touch-shy?"
Harry shut down.
"Just so I know who to kill should our paths cross," the alpha said mildly, repeating the soothing stroke.
Harry shrugged uncomfortably. Fenrir let his other hand drop, but didn't move away. "I saw one of the old members in a city, so they must have dissolved by now. Most of them are probably already dead." He shrugged again and, just to prove he was fine, burrowed against the alpha's chest. Fenrir wrapped both arms around him and held him close. Harry found himself soaking in the big wolf's warmth.
The unusual exercise tired Harry sufficiently physically by the time the sun set that he let himself laze in front of the fire almost in Fenrir's lap without the newly accustomed uneasiness. Fenrir kneaded the muscles in Harry's neck and shoulders with strong sure hands until he felt almost boneless, far too contented to care when the alpha began interspersing occasional kisses. He wasn't exactly sleepy, though, so after a period of idly wandering thought mused, "How long do you suppose most wolves live?"
Fenrir's hands paused for a moment, though Harry still didn't mind how closely he had melted against the bigger wolf's frame, and then resumed with just enough firmness to prevent him from reacting to the voice so close to his ear. "Depends on how careful, and lucky, they are."
"I wonder if any's ever died of old age." He rumbled happily with eyes half-shut when the alpha's fingers pressed harder for a second into his shoulder blades, followed by a gentle nip on his earlobe that strangely didn't bother him. "Maybe if they lived somewhere completely alone and never left-"
"Hmm. Probably go mad from the isolation, paranoid, and when someone happens across them that'd be the end. Maybe the wolf could kill the first few, or many, but eventually the area would get a reputation, and someone would come along who'd kill them. Probably could take a very long time, though."
Harry hummed agreement, mind wandering on to whether a pack could stand a better chance, with more wolves for enemies to have to kill. But the wolves would probably eventually kill each other in prolonged forced company, if no accidents or loss of resources befell them.
Packs had never made much sense to Harry, not the feral-alpha-controlling-everything-around kind or the more common I-feel-like-teaching-cubs-for-a-while kind. He thought about it as deer roasted and he ate absently, still in Fenrir's lap. He'd always preferred living alone - except he'd been happy with Remus and the thought of spending all winter here with Fenrir was at the least not unappealing. If packs could be just a group of wolves who liked each other's company, then he wasn't doing too badly - three members already including himself.
"You'll have to meet Remus," he murmured, half to himself, lulled half to sleep by the meal and crackling flames.
"Another lover?" Fenrir grumbled, not entirely in jest.
"My sire," Harry corrected.
"Oh, I'll certainly meet the wolf who turned you so young, made me wait..."
"You'll be nice to him and like him because I'd be Vernon's turn if he hadn't," Harry instructed with asperity, twisting in the alpha's arms to scowl up at him. Then he blinked. "You...?"
"Idiot cub." Fenrir nuzzled so close into the cleft of his shoulder Harry would have squirmed in protest if he wasn't distracted by the husky voice in his ear: "I'd have claimed you the night you killed my mate in that pack if you'd had any idea what it meant."
Harry mostly felt small and surprised as he tried to imagine the alpha actually courting since that very first time they'd faced each other in the burrow, along with a flash of irrational jealousy at the reminder that Fenrir had taken mates before, then almost forgot it under of the skilled application of the alpha's lips and teeth and tongue. His mind scrabbled for reasons to remain displeased instead dipping into more unfamiliar emotions and came up with the accusation, "You stole my cub then."
Fenrir sounded matter-of-fact rather than patronizing. "You couldn't take care of it alone."
The older wolf's studied attentions made it increasingly difficult to think of any responses to such logic, or of anything at all. It wasn't fair, Harry thought petulantly, that he should be so much better at that - and pulled away before the last of his irritation faded, because he wasn't sure what would happen next if he didn't and he wasn't sure he was ready for it. Fenrir grumbled again but let Harry prowl the cabin. He was hardly out of arm's reach anyway.
In the middle of the night Harry roused. He felt rested, and once again restless, but couldn't decide what to do. Flakes of snow eddied silently outside the window, and for a while Harry just lay beside Fenrir's slumbering bulk and watched them fall, illuminated by distant moonlight. The scent of snow had been heavy in the air the last few days. It would probably continue all night.
Harry wished the moon shone full, so he could run with true freedom through the woods and be chased and taunt and trick and wrestle if he was finally cornered - challenge his suitor somehow, make him prove himself. He decided to get up and run anyway, then reconsidered the snow falling and decided it would be too cold. His lungs inflated against his rib cage with an indrawn breath of crisp, clean air not completely stifled by the old cabin walls; in his head he breathed it sharp and fast as his legs pounded, muscles pumping, and the moon flitted through the trees above.
A faint smell tickled Harry's nostrils, now when he was still and quiet, but he let it tease him for a while, more interested in the view. Eventually some internal balance tipped and he carefully stretched over the alpha, one hand propping himself up on the floorboards and the other groping for the neglected leather pack.
Harry found it, slipped his hand inside and rooted until he found what he'd been searching for. With a soft grunt he heaved himself back into place, snugged the cover over him, and then curled into Fenrir's side, smiling, prize in hand.
Oranges in winter. Even if Fenrir'd been bringing them to that foolish mate back then - if - he'd given them to Harry first. He admired it by moonlight for a while, then tilted his face up to the alpha's, studied him for a moment, and stretched up to give him a peck on one side of the mouth. Fenrir sighed a little but didn't stir. Harry settled back, pleased to have finally caught him unguarded.
Still wide awake, he craned his neck to watch the snow fall again. He ought to have stayed with Viktor longer after all, gotten some experience to be able to turn on the wolf beside him. He could go back - but now it was snowing. Hiking through snowdrifts was a lot of effort for little progress. Harry toyed with his orange, rubbing it back and forth against his lips without tasting, then glanced at the alpha. He was still fast asleep.
Fenrir asleep wouldn't move or do or say anything that would make him nervous or forget himself. Just a big body lying right there beside him, almost vulnerable... he was something Harry could practice on without the alpha knowing, to better handle Fenrir awake... and the thought of practicing on Fenrir was much more intriguing than doing so with Viktor.
The cold of the banked fire was both a safety check and small annoyance - it was too cold for even a wolf to be comfortable naked. Harry extended his free hand under the cover and let it rest on the alpha's clothed chest for a second, accustoming himself to the soft rise and fall and checking yet again that he was really asleep, before tentatively moving in search of an opening that would grant him access to the skin underneath.
Bare skin had never been fascinating before; restricted to only touch without sight, Harry was soon lost in exploring the contours of muscles, texture of hair. When his fingertips brushed across a nipple the big alpha drew in his breath slightly, and Harry stilled, but it was apparently an unconscious reaction. After a moment Harry did it again, pleased by the reaffirmed discovery of his ability to draw such reactions - then, because he felt pleased, shifted closer to peck Fenrir's cheek again.
Kissing opened a new realm of possibilities for touch. Harry was briefly annoyed by the clothing preventing him from finding out if the alpha's chest felt the same to lips as fingers, but dismissed it from mind and turned his attention to what skin was visible. Fenrir seemed to have an inordinate interest in Harry's neck. Harry inched up until he could reach over the mound of Fenrir's shoulder and, breathing shallowly, stretched until his nose almost touched Fenrir's jaw.
For a moment he simply breathed in Fenrir, the alpha's musk wrapping around his senses even though his body was still barely touching Harry's at all. Then, driven by curiosity, Harry flicked out his tongue to find out how the alpha tasted. Surprisingly... was that how he tasted to Fenrir? No wonder his persistence then. Harry was almost tempted to try licking himself but shifted instead to focus on the sleeping alpha's face. His gaze fastened immediately on his lips.
The first kisses were fleeting pecks, deposited as fast as possible for some reason in between seconds spent holding his breath. Then Harry grew bolder, slowed down, dared to linger enough to taste and experiment with the shape of mouth against mouth. Fenrir's jaw was relatively slack - Harry probed gingerly with his tongue, losing himself again in the new exploration. His own mouth had been a wonder after the jaguars erased all the silver scars' influence; it had never occurred to him that another wolf's could be just as absorbing.
Finally he tried again the motion he'd started last time before the alpha's reaction scared him off. Fenrir's tongue had been idly moving with his, responding. Harry teased it up and then tried sucking it into his own mouth. For a second he had the satisfaction of eliciting a low groan and stiffening - then Fenrir's hands cupped his head and the tongue contorted to mutter roughly, "Keep that up and we stop taking this slow."
Harry jerked away, then scrambled back until the wall stopped him and just stared, brain struggling to catch up with instinct. He'd been so involved he hadn't even noticed when the other wolf roused.
Fenrir shifted onto his side without sitting up, facing Harry, and watched him. Harry's hand contracted around the forgotten orange. For a second the weight and shape and feel of it grounded him, counterpoint to his hammering heart. Then he let out a soft breath, consciously relaxed himself, and slid down the wall until he was laying down again. Then he rolled back against the alpha.
Fenrir made a pleased sound and tucked them securely together. Harry relaxed further when he made no other move despite the warning he'd just given, and they lay awake together for a while, watching the snow fall.
Harry wriggled just enough to bring his hands up and free them from the blanket. Fenrir buried his nose in Harry's neck and nibbled while Harry concentrated on peeling the orange in the moonlight, separating it to his satisfaction. He arranged it in one hand, stretched his other up tentatively until he'd figured out precisely how the alpha's head was arranged beside his, and offered a piece of the orange skin.
Fenrir's warm breath ghosted over the skin he'd exposed at Harry's shoulder as he took it. Harry ate the next morsel himself, then repeated the process, inordinately pleased as he went on feeding his suitor and himself. Fenrir misbehaved only once or twice by licking Harry's fingers, which prompted a new burst of ideas on what else Harry also could try, and once finished they resettled even closer.
"Slow?" Harry asked, making sure of the promise, even though he was no longer sure it was so important. Vague ideas of tricking the alpha into restraints somehow so he could experiment at his own pace eddied around his mind.
He felt Fenrir's lips curve into a grin against the back of his neck. "The way that snow's coming down, I have all winter."
Harry couldn't argue that travel probably wouldn't be safe again until spring. And he didn't say that he'd escaped the alpha once before in weather at least as chancy. Instead he only pointed out, "I can den in deep snow."
Warm breath both warmed and tingled him. "That wouldn't get you far."
"I can tunnel," Harry persisted, inexplicably obstinate in the face of logic.
"So slowly I'd only have to stomp around to find it, and there you'd be."
Harry scowled. Then the low, teasing voice murmured, "I'd miss you," and at that he relaxed, all his ire gone as if it had never been. Harry twisted, wriggling until the alpha's arms loosened just enough to move, and turned around so they were face to face.
"Good," he muttered, newly assured by the confession. What had the alpha already done, after all? - fed him, protected him, followed him across an entire ocean without ever forcing his company. He'd already proven himself. And now they had all winter. And oranges. "But I'm not going anywhere."
Fenrir chuckled, the sound deep velvet reverberating from Harry's eardrums into his bones. "Good," he murmured, and gentle fingers tilted Harry's chin up for a far from unwelcome kiss. "I'm planning on keeping you for a very long time."