As Xena peered out of the den, she brushed away the feather-light snowflakes that raced into her face, and looked around with squinted eyes.
Winter's wind was like a howling beast, hungry to eat away the tragedy that had taken the forest, replacing it with heavy silence, and the cleansing visage of pure white snow which covered all in sight. There was no sign of life anywhere as the year's twilight days took full hold of the forest, bringing almost everything to a standstill. The trees stood bare and naked. The birds that usually occupied them, gone. Snow still fell, covering the land in a blanket that concealed everything; there was no colour to speak of the life she knew lied beneath it. The world was completely frozen in white.
As the freezing wind bit into her exposed flesh, Xena moved away from the opening. It had been like this for days, and it was only getting worse. Being human, Xena had been forced to remain within the depths of the den while the others were out hunting. Autolycus had stayed behind. Not completely healed after the ambush, he and Xena were deemed unable to be of any use to the pack. She understood, but it didn't stop it from hurting.
Callisto was hunting with the rest of the pack. Akan always made sure that the she-wolf was always within his sight at all times. He refused to let her go somewhere within the den without constant supervision, and whenever she engaged in conversation with Xena, there was always a chaperone nearby just as a precaution. It didn't seem necessary to Xena. Callisto had been helpful to the pack, and an insightful addition when it came to exploring new places within the forest. The wolf's extensive experience of exploring beyond the territory they were accustomed to since being an outcast added a bittersweet advantage that the pack couldn't deny.
The wolves still treated her as an enemy. As she'd watch them, Xena couldn't help but be reminded of her time as the outcast of her own pack because of her difference in species. She empathised with Callisto, but the wolf's face was a constant reminder of the one she missed the most.
Xena missed her mother so much. Kaia would know what to do. She would know exactly what to say, and what to do to make everyone feel better. She would know what to say to Akan whenever he bristled at the sight of Callisto, or whenever the pack snapped at her heels whenever she walked by. As a human, and in her own injured and weakened stare, there was only so much she could do.
Hearing a snore, she glanced down at the human curled into her side. Gabrielle had been sleeping for longer than usual. Xena had originally thought it was because of winter; outside of the forest, she had no idea how humans coped with the increased hours of darkness, and the constant freeze that always forced Xena to take refuge somewhere warm. Perhaps this was how Gabrielle managed it?
Xena couldn't help but worry though. For days since the attack, Gabrielle had been less and less talkative, and whenever Xena had managed to get some words out of her, they had been half hearted, or they would trail off into a barely audible mumble. Gabrielle was becoming weaker too. She rarely moved. Xena had to carry water to the human and practically force her to stay awake long enough to drink it. Her breathing was becoming laboured. Out of everything, the torturous thought of the result of Gabrielle's weakened state left Xena more terrified than she could ever remember being.
Xena tightened her hold around the human. She kissed her clammy forehead and brushed her hair with her fingers of her good hand, hoping that she could transfer some of her own body heat to her human to fight off winter's deadly chill.
Autolycus watched from the corner. He was still a dishevelled mess, but he still retained the confident air he had always had, albeit slightly damaged. 'She will be fine, Xena. I'm sure of it.'
Xena didn't answer. His words gave her some comfort, but as her wolf brother rested his chin on his paws, and closed his eyes to the world, Xena couldn't help but think. What if she won't be?
Gabrielle shivered in her sleep, and Xena held her tighter, unwilling to let go of the other half of her heart that gave her own life renewed meaning.
Hey! :) Even though I'm happy the first part of this journey has finished, I'm kinda sad too. Writing Wild Heart has been a great experience for me as a writer. This project has enabled me to improve my writing skills, and allowed me to dare to try things I never would have before this.
For all of you that have been there with me I want to say thank you. The story wouldn't have made it to the end without you turning the pages.
I'm sorry to have left Wild Heart like this, but don't be sad. There is a sequel I have planned to write, but that might not come to fruition till next year :P You'll have to endure till then. Any news I'll have about it will be on my Facebook page, so head on over and "like" so you won't miss out or be left hanging. I will also be posting about my other stories and their progression :)
Thanks for reading. Until next time! :D