The storm has been blowing for days. The snows are silver shards, knives, spinning down sheer and sharp, needles of pain whipped up from rest by the merciless wind. He is struck from above and below by the heavens and the earth. The exposed parts of his face sting, then bleed, and his breath turns to frost on the stubble of his beard. He is heavy with furs and pulls the collar high, keeps on moving. The whole world is bitter steel and he draws his resolution from the ice.
On the second day he falls, where he never fell before. He slides implacably downwards, losing his pack, his hat, his icepick, everything. All his supplies are gone. He knows this terrain. He never should have fallen.
He tracks her through the wind, to a place called Fortitude Pass, and there he finds her. She's like a wounded animal, a foetus curled in a barren white womb. She is paling like the snow, shallow breath, near dead. He makes a lean to with his coat and his staff, crawls in next to her, and covers her body with his own.
And the storm closes in like a fist, and he holds her so tight that he forgets where his body ends and hers begins. He talks to her, trying to call her back with his voice, and when he sees her cracked dry lips he takes mouthfuls of snow and kisses her, feeding her water with his lips and tongue. Her mouth opens, and she drinks him in, and when she opens her eyes she's the most beautiful thing, even in the dim storm dazzle, that he has ever seen.
When he can no longer talk he takes her fingers in his mouth, to keep them warm, and she takes his hands and puts them between her thighs, to press heat back into them. But he's warm now anyway, despite the snow, for the world is dim and far away. He knows that he is dying. It's not a bad thing. It's only snow, he wants to tell her, only snow.
She holds him. She will not let him go. Her voice is music, spinning golden through the night. He grasps the thread of her chanting, follows it through the labyrinthine darkness, through the twisted jumbles of monsters and nightmares shadowing his path. Half man half beast, a shadow on the wall. Minotaur, he sees, and the sacrifice of virgins.
A day, a night, and another day.
And then the storm is over, and they know that they're alive.
They track back the way they came, over sheer snow. She asks him how he can track in this, there are no footprints to guide them. He can't explain it to her. He simply knows this country, it's in the guts of him. And he stops in an instant, and starts digging in the snow. When his provisions are uncovered they fall upon them, tearing with their teeth, eat everything, everything in just one meal.
And they're still so hungry that it hurts.
That night he builds a wall of snow to block the wind from the North, and they lie on the lee side of it. And he tries to close his eyes, but he can't stop looking at her. She presses in close to him, her breath silvering upward like incense, blue and gold and crimson against the Northern Lights. Warmth, and heat, and blaze. She is his siren, his Sybil, and then she is on him, and he can't breath.
Shush, she says, just let me, and he says, no... but she smiles, and bends over him. With tears of shame he rises, against his will. She feels it, smiles like a feral, and brings down her hand.
And she's pushing him, holding him down, and her kisses are so hard they must leave bruises. And he says no, and he says no, but she laughs and gives him yes. And she bites him, sharp white teeth, like a bitch nipping her puppy. And he's swallowing her fingers and he doesn't know why.
And it's not like he wanted this. Not like this. He's always been so functional, getting it out of his way when it bothers him, not seeing the point of sharing it. He'd always thought, maybe one day... but he can't let people in.
But she's in. She's in him and he's in her, and she's on him, and his body is a groan, and she's laughing from above him with her back against the sky, while all of iridescent heaven is dancing at her back.
In the pale light of day they come to the top of the valley. When they see the steeple of the little town they stop, and turn to each other.
Let me go, she asks him. Ashamed he drops his gaze, and tells her no.
I can turn you in too, she says, I have your mess all down my legs, I'll tell them it was forced.
Is that why you did it?
She laughs. What do you think? Shall I turn you in?
As you will, he says, still looking at his feet.
And you're really going to do it, even still? You'll really hand me over?
I have to, he says, it's my duty. It's the law.
Bastard, she says. She turns and starts to hit him, beating his chest, clawing his face. He stands there like a wall until her force is spent. She is weeping on his chest, and he puts his arms around her, closes his eyes.
All right, she says, all right. There's nowhere else to go.
And after all the paper work, when the wagon has come to take her away he realises.
He was her prisoner all along.