Chapter 12: An Allied Force.
"You can hear the humans? What are they saying?", Jenna asked, standing right next to her husband in hopes of hearing what the wolf-dog said he was hearing.
Balto hesitated and refocused his ears, really concentrating on the voices on the other side, before answering. "They're talking about what they're gonna do when they get out of there. One of them's talking about how he's gonna go back home someday", Balto replied, grinning.
"Can you hear Dusty?", Kodi said hopefully, the half-breed's ears pricking up.
Balto's face fell, and he dreaded what he was about to say next. "No", the wolf-dog replied, before immediately gauging his son's reaction. As expected, Kodi's face fell, and all the life went out of his joyful expression.
"It could be because the humans are talking too loud. Or she could be further in", Balto said quickly.
"Or it could be because she's dead. She's been down there for almost two hours now", Kirby said flatly.
"We can't think like that! As long as the humans down there are still alive, then there's a chance she's still alive. And if she is, I know she's still fighting for me. And if she hasn't given up yet, we can't give up on her!", Kodi said suddenly, causing his friend to step backwards in shock.
"Well then, what are we waiting for?! Let's start digging!", Steele said, brushing past the hybrid.
"Wait! This whole place is still unstable. As far as we know, this pile of rubble is what's keeping the rest of the hotel from falling down. If we're gonna do, we're gonna have to do this slowly and carefully", Balto advised.
Steele groaned, and mumbled something that was undoubtedly ugly to himself, before he joined the hybrid and his family in digging.
"We're not gonna get out here, are we?", Connor asked quietly, as the hotel manager fought a losing battle against his heavy eyelids. He knew that once he fell asleep, it would all be over. He would freeze to death under his own hotel, and no one would ever know his last words except for total strangers.
"Probably not", Roger replied, as he felt the muscles in his arms and legs start to relax. It wouldn't be long now.
Lying not that far away from him, even John, the optimist of the group, was starting to lose hope. After all, he and his friends had been trapped down for hours, and no one had came yet. That goddamn storm was determined to be death of them, literally. And now their exhaustion, hunger, sleepiness, and lowered body temperatures were starting to catch up with them. "He came back you know. In the end", John said suddenly, out of the blue.
"Who came back?", Roger asked.
"Steele, he came back right before the hotel collapsed", John reminded him, his eyes drooping just his friend's.
"So? He came back inside because he knew the blizzard was getting worse, and he didn't want to freeze", Roger said indifferently.
"No, I don't think that's it. Steele could have found shelter anywhere in town. There are plenty of abandoned buildings in White Mountain that can still insulate heat pretty well. But he came back specifically to you, like how any good sled dog returns to his master in a storm. Not just for it's own protection, but to keep it's musher safe", John mumbled, his voice lowering from exhaustion
"If you're trying to tell me something, just come out with, we don't have time for riddles tonight my friend", Roger whispered.
"I'm saying Steele came back because he knew you worried about him. He returned to your side because he finally respects you as his owner, just like he did Gunnar. You…you didn't do such a bad job of taking care of him after all", John explained, as the Eskimo's eyes finally closed shut.
Roger opened his mouth to argue, but didn't have the strength to force any words to come out of his throat. Maybe it was for the best. If he was gonna die, he didn't want to spend his last words arguing with one of his oldest friends. And if John really was right about Steele, it meant he would finally done something right in his life before his last day on Earth. And that one comforting thought was enough to finally get Roger relinquish his grip on reality and lull off into sleep.
With his conscious thoughts now long gone, the middle aged man's body ran fully on automatic, but he was still running out of energy, The rising and falling pattern of his chest gradually slowed down, as he cast off into a sea of darkness, a kind of darkness that was completely different than the kind that was already surrounding him. This blackness was absolute and eternal. This was the kind of darkness that you never came out of. And the further you went in, the more it was impossible to find your way out. Not that Roger would ever want to come out of it, even if he was awake. Here, in the afterlife that so many men had dreamed of for thousands of years, he was finally at peace.
"Come on! Come on! Keep talking to me!", Balto shouted, as the hybrid threw chunk after chunk of wood to his friends. The humans had just stopped talking, all of them, all at once. And while the hybrid was no doctor, he knew enough about starvation and hypothermia to know that was never a good sign.
Finally, the half-breed found what he was so desperately looking for. Signs of human life - in the form of five bloody fingers sticking out of the debris.
"Oh my god", Jenna whispered, stepping backwards.
Ralph and Kirby flinched, the sled dogs' stomachs lurching. In all their days of running across the tundra, neither professional had ever felt the need to throw up before, until now.
Kodi watched horrifyingly, frozen with fear, as his father walked up to the man's severed hand, and started tugging lightly on his fingers. The salty, metallic taste of human blood stained his tongue, and despite what everyone thought about wolves being bloodthirsty, it tasted incredibly nasty to the hybrid.
"Is he?", Steele asked quietly, out of respect for the obviously deceased.
"No. He's still alive. And this hand hasn't been cut off, it's still attached to his arm. You need to clear more wood so I can pull him out", Balto explained, tugging harder on the man's hand. Now the arm that it was attached to was becoming visible, along with the sleeves that protected his appendage.
As the smell of blood filled the early morning air, Steele recognized the man's scent. "Roger", he said. In the blink of an eye, the malamute joined Balto in pulling on the man's sleeve, tugging his arm further and further out of the debris, while their friends continued throwing wood and glass out of the way, throwing caution to the wind now.
Finally, Roger's chest and head joined his newly freed arm, and the man unconsciously filled his lungs with air, the first fresh oxygen he had in hours. Once his legs were free, Balto and Steele pulled him towards the others, and laid his body down on the floor, allowing the wolf-dog to examine his condition.
"He's unconscious, but he's still breathing, even if it's a bit beneath his normal rate. He's freezing cold, and since we can't take him outside yet, you guys will have to keep him warm while Steele and I keep digging", Balto ordered. Sure enough two of Bane's wolves walked up to the man and reluctantly lied on top of him, sharing their fur and body heat with him.
Steele, who even now still had a bit resentment towards his wild ancestors (as to expected, a man couldn't just change his lifelong prejudices over night after all), had to admit he was a little impressed by how willingly Bane and his men followed Balto's orders, and the unspoken irony of their rescue mission. Wolves, creatures that everyone had always believed to be the enemy of men were now helping town dogs save men. This was what Balto had always meant when he said that wolves and dogs could achieve great things together, if they could only find a common cause. And this was what teamwork was really all about.
And so the digging continued. Balto and Steele were at the head of the group, cutting themselves on all kinds of broken glass and jagged wood as they went along, but paying the pain as little attention as they could. Well, Balto anyway.
"Damn glass!", Steele swore, causing a small grin to appear his former rival's face, one that went thankfully undetected by the malamute in the dark.
Behind them, Kodi and Jenna helped the best they could by covering the two alphas' sides, preventing the tunnel they were digging from caving in on them, while the other wolves and sled dogs monitored Roger's pulse and heartbeat.
After another minute or two, Balto found another human being. A man-sized leg was sticking out of another pile of wooding, and Kodi quickly recognized the scent as belonging to his own musher, John Simpson. In a matter of seconds, Balto, Jenna, Kodi, and Steele managed to extricate the Eskimo from his would-be tomb, and drag his body out of the tunnel.
With Kaltag and Nikki now lying on John's body, and the Inuit's vital signs remaining stable, Balto turned his attention back towards the rescue mission. So far they had rescued two humans, his son's musher and Steele's, but they hadn't found any dogs yet, something that was understandably putting Kodi and Griff on edge. The wolf-dog had assured them that Dusty and Blake had to be under their somewhere, along with the rest of sled dogs that had been in the hotel, but even he had to admit he was getting a little worried himself. The lobby's ceiling, which had looked sturdy despite the collapse all night, was suddenly looking a whole lot shakier. Balto had a suspicion that the wreckage really was what was holding up the rest of the inn, and that if they didn't find Dusty soon they'd risk destabilizing the rest of the structure and finishing what nature started.
"Hey wolf-dog!", Steele shouted, ahead of the hybrid for once.
"Yeah?", Balto asked.
"We've got our first dog", Steele said excitedly. Eagerness was strange expression on Steele's face. Balto had never seen the malamute excited about anything except tormenting him and showing up his rivals in a sled race. So seeing Steele this happy about something that didn't involve him still took some getting used to. But that wasn't important at the moment. What Steele had to say, that was important. "Tell Griff he can relax, he can spoon Blake to his heart's content tonight", Steele chuckled.
And no sooner had the malamute spoken Blake's name did Griff join them in the tunnel, forcing himself to squeeze inside the canine-made crevice that was already filled with four dogs. "Blake!", he shouted. He almost plowed Balto down to get to Steele, as he saw his boss drag Blake's body down the tunnel. Unfortunately, in Griff's rush to check on his beloved, he forgot that wide frame took up much of the tunnel, which had only been dug out by a much smaller wolf-dog.
"Move your tail Griff, you're in the way", Steele growled, his mouth filled with Blake's fur as he teammate unwittingly blocked his path.
Griff immediately complied, walked backwards out of the tunnel and into the lobby, with Steele right behind him, or rather in front of him. To everyone's amazement, Blake wasn't unconscious like the humans. Instead the husky was fully awake, and sporting a grin the size of Tennessee on his face. He opened his dry mouth, and chuckled softly as his boyfriend approached him.
"I told you you were putting on weight Griff. If it had been you stuck down there, they'd never have gotten you out", he joked, his voice no higher than a whisper, before he was suddenly silenced by two warm lips pressing against his. Even though he hadn't said anything, Griff had just volunteered to keep Blake warm, by lying on top of the husky's chest and kissing him like there was no tomorrow.
The tired husky didn't fight his mate as he breathed into his mouth, Griff's hot, moist tongue mingling with Blake's cold, saliva-less muscle. But this wasn't Griff's normal way of kissing, rough, hot-blooded and forceful. This melding of lovers was a lot more softer and gentler than usual, Griff seemed to be making an effort not to ravage his boyfriend's mouth like he had wanted to for the past two hours. Blake couldn't help but smile at how kind and considerate his mate was. The normally hotheaded veteran was afraid that if he wasn't careful was his frozen lover he'd break him or something.
Once Griff finally released him, Blake chuckled, and raised his paw into the air to rub Griff's neck. At first, he shivered and shied away from his boyfriend's ice-cold touch, before he started to relax into the feeling of Blake stroking his fur. "You always were a softie, and I've seen you with Roger long enough to know just what makes your tail wag. Big bad Griff loves a good neck rub", Blake teased lightly.
"You…you almost died, and you're still making jokes?", Griff asked, struggling to speak through the blissful moans and groans he was involuntarily making. The husky was obviously pretending to be angry with him, but Blake knew his better than that to fall for it.
"What do you think I did to keep myself awake while I was waiting for you? Thinking of what to say when you found me, that's what", Blake replied, before his tone suddenly became very serious, as more memories of his imprisonment came back to him. "Dusty's under there too. She was talking about Kodi, and she wasn't that far away from me. Have you found her yet?", the husky asked, concerned.
"No", Griff replied, his teasing mood disappearing as well.
"Tell the others to keep heading straight ahead, they should find her just a few minutes away from where they found me", Blake ordered.
Griff complied, and started shouting out orders to his teammates, while Blake took slow, deep breaths. Though the dry winter air stung his sore throat like crazy, the pain was counteracted by the relief he got from finally filling his lungs with fresh oxygen. He had never considered himself claustrophobic before, but after being pinned under there for two hours, he never wanted to be in another tight, enclosed space again, without Griff anyway. If Griff was with him, wrapping his big strong arms around him at night, he wouldn't mind sleeping under the snow again as usual.
Meanwhile, Balto, Jenna, Kodi, and Steele got back to work, running down the rapidly-growing tunnel to continue looking for signs of life. "I've got the scent of another human! I think it might be that hotel manager guy!", Steele shouted, as he sniffed the walls of the tunnel.
"And I've picked up Dusty's too", Kodi added excitedly.
Balto hesitated, looking at his son and then at Steele, before answering. "Right. Steele, you can dig another hole to look for the human, Kodi, Jenna and I will keep looking for Dusty. But just be careful, you know how delicate everything is right now", Balto advised. To his surprise, Steele actually listened to him, and nodded his reply before pushing some more wood and glass out of his way, heading in a separate direction from Kodi, Jenna and Balto.
"DUSTY! DUSTY! Can you hear me?!", Kodi shouted, desperately listening for any sign of a response. There was no answer, and Kodi was about to try shouting again when he heard a faint reply. He couldn't be for sure, what with all the blizzard wind still going outside (though in the back of his mind, he couldn't help but notice the storm was finally starting to slow down), but he could have sworn he heard his wife whisper three crucial little words - "I'm over here".
"DUSTY?! Can you hear me!", Kodi shouted, pushing more wreckage out of the way as he followed the sound of Dusty's voice.
"DUSTY?!", Balto shouted, the hybrid joining in with his son.
"DUSTY?!", Jenna added, following her two boys as the widened the tunnel of debris.
"I'm here!", Dusty replied from out of the darkness, her voice a little louder of this time.
"Tell me where you are!", Kodi said, as he honed in his lover's strained replies.
"Keep heading left", Dusty ordered.
Kodi did as his wife said, and forced his way through the wood and nails and metal and glass, ignoring the searing pain in his paws as he cut himself over and over again. His own safety and well being meant nothing to him anymore, heck, it wasn't even a topic on his brain anymore. He was giving his whole attention to one thing, and one thing only. Finding his mate.
Finally, all the hybrid's efforts paid off when he tore through one last layer of debris, and found his wife lying on the floor, pinned down by at least a dozen planks of wood. "Kodi!", she said, as her husband ran up to her and started throwing wood off her back. "Thank you! Thank you so much!", she sobbed, as her beloved finally freed her back and legs.
"No, thank you for waiting for me. I can't imagine holding on this long", Kodi replied, as his mother and father joined him in the furthest reaches of the tunnel.
"Blake said you'd come, but I had given up hope. If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't have lasted this long", Dusty explained.
"I gotta make sure I thank him later. Maybe arrange a date for him and Griff or something", Kodi mused, as he and his parents lifted his wife up off the ground. "Are you okay?", he asked, as he saw how Dusty struggled to stand upright.
"I'm fine. Nothing feels broken, but I won't be running anytime soon", Dusty said reassuringly.
"And what about him…or her, how's he/she doing?", Kodi asked concernedly.
"I can still feel him moving around in my stomach. He's gonna be okay too. He got a little shaken up down there, but his mommy protected him", Dusty said, talking more to the baby in her stomach than she was to her husband this time.
"Isn't that what moms do?", Kodi asked, grinning.
"Yeah, but not that many moms have days like these. Now come on, let's get out of here. If I have to stay down here another minute, I'm gonna die", Dusty groaned, her usual personality returning, as she followed her family back they way they came. As the walked back down the tunnel, avoiding all the glass and splinter that had tormented them earlier, Balto and Kodi supported Dusty on both sides, since the husky was still having trouble getting her balance.
"Oh, did you have to say that? That's like saying 'what's the worse that could happen?', or 'there's no turning back now', or 'nothing could possibly go wrong'. And whenever you say something like that, something bad always happens", Balto asked, the hybrid's ears flattening against his head nervously.
"Dad, I never knew you were superstitious", Kodi said, raising his eyebrows.
"I'm not. But when you've been doing stuff like this as long as I have, you know a jinx when you hear it", Balto replied.
Before Steele could reply, there was suddenly a loud creaking sound above their heads. Balto and Kodi groaned, as the familiar sound of wood bending and breaking echoed in their supersensitive ears. At least it was no where near as loud or painful as it had been before. But nonetheless, the sound of wood snapping was never a good sign.
Balto and his family didn't even need to look up, they could already guess what was happening. The tunnel they had dug in the wall of debris was collapsing, and there was no telling what effect that would have on the rest of the tunnel. "RUN!", the wolf-dog shouted. He didn't have tell them twice.
Kodi, Jenna, and Dusty ran ahead of him, while Balto stayed at the back of the group, wanting to make sure all his family got out safely before he did. As they moved through the labyrinth of twists and turns they had so painstakingly created, the canines sprinted as quickly as they could (which actually wasn't that fast, since they were all dead tired), as the wood and glass over their heads started getting lower and lower to the ground.
As they neared the end of the tunnel, Steele appeared out of nowhere, stopping the hybrids and their mates dead in their tracks. "Hey wolf-dog, good news. I found last that Connor guy, and some more dogs. We did a head count, and we've found everyone but Dusty. Ah, there he she is", Steele explained, grinning as he finally noticed the husky standing next to Balto and Kodi.
"Good, that's good news Steele. Now run!", Balto shouted, before pushing the disgruntled malamute ahead of them as a sign for him to start moving. As all five dogs ran out of the tunnel, Balto tried to focused on keeping family safe, and rather than worrying about how seriously pissed off Steele was going to be with him later.
Balto, Jenna, Kodi, Steele, and Dusty just barely dove to safety in time, before the wall of wood behind them gave way, and the tunnel they had spent half an hour digging sealed shut. Balto panted heavily, and sighed in relief as he realized everyone had made it out safely. In the back of his head, he noted he shouldn't have been that tired. He used to run distances that were dozens of times longer than that without breaking a sweat (if dogs could sweat that is), he really was getting old (he was nine years old now, which made him middle-aged in dog years). "See? I told you it was a jinx", he muttered to Dusty, who was lying on the floor next to him.
Balto looked up, and was relieved to find the lobby's ceiling was still holding up above their heads, for now. Apparently the rubble wasn't what was holding up the rest of the foundation, but Balto still wasn't going to take any chances. Steele said they had found the rest of the survivors, and now it was time for them to get out of that death trap, snowstorm or no snowstorm.
As his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law got to their feet, Balto walked over to his buddy's side for information. "Kaltag, how are the others?", the wolf-dog asked.
"Well, Blake can still walk, along with most of the dogs here. But the humans weren't so lucky. Roger's out cold, and even if he was awake, he's got a real bad broken leg. John's not that far off, and if we hadn't found Connor in time he was gonna freeze to death. The rest of the hotel guests are doing okay…considering", Kaltag reported.
"Humans, they think they're such tough, rugged survivalists, but they're one of the most fragile species on this planet", Steele scoffed, voicing his opinion.
"Hey, cut them some slack. I think it's amazing they've held on this long. Even the hardiest of sled dogs would have a tough time bouncing back from something like that", Balto said defensively, as he glanced down at Roger's unmoving body. Color was slowly returning to his pale white skin, a sign that the wolves' attempt to warm him up was paying off. He and the rest of the humans would be waking up again pretty soon, so what would they would think when they found themselves surrounded by sled dogs and wolves?
"Kal, do you think we can move them anytime soon?", Balto asked, as nervously he looked up at the ceiling again. The newly-risen sun was just beginning to break through the storm clouds, and the more Balto could see of the lobby, the more he wondered how that raggedy wreck of a building had held up that long.
"Maybe. It's freezing cold out there, but the blizzard is just a snowstorm now, so it shouldn't be fifty below or anything like that. But what if we just make their injuries worse when we're dragging them?", Kaltag asked, concerned.
"We don't have a choice. We can't stay here and risk this place falling in on us again. None of us would have a chance of surviving that a second time", Kodi reasoned, he and Dusty deciding to join in his father's conversation.
"I have to agree with the half-breed and his kid on this one. I'd rather take my chances with the snowstorm then this place", Steele said, grinning as he saw a look of surprise flash across Balto and Kodi's faces for less than a second.
Kaltag hesitated, before nodding in agreement. Behind him, Nikki, Star, Jack, Kirby, Griff, Jake, Hal, Ron and the rest of Bane's wolves mirrored the sled dog's actions. If the hybrid really thought that moving the humans was the right thing to do, they all agreed with him. After all, his good judgment and quick decision making had gotten them that far. "Alright, whatever you say. You're the boss", Kaltag said trustingly.
And so the great canine/human exodus began. Dogs and wolves alike starting grabbing pieces of human beings in their mouths and dragging them by their none-broken limbs out the lobby doors. Once outside, they were greeted by expectedly cold temperatures, and frigid wind that whistled in their ears, amplified by the sheer emptiness of the street. Still, it was no where near as bad as the raging torrent of snow, ice, and hail that had bombarded White Mountain the night before.
Despite it being dark and gloomy inside the powerless hotel, it was bright and almost sunny outside. You could see every house down the street, and even some of the trees that lined the mountainsides off in the distance. In fact, it was too bright. From the safety of their house, you could every last dog that was dragging the humans out of the hotel. Even the ones that weren't dogs. They no longer had the cover of night to protect, and Bane's pack knew their part in Balto's adventure had come to an end. It was time for them to return to the forest, before any humans came out of their houses with shotguns and started firing on them.
"It was good seeing you Balto", Bane said, shaking his half-breed friend's paw. Behind him, Nikki, Kaltag, Star, Jack, Kirby, Ron, Hal, Griff, and Blake were all curled up around the humans they had rescued, keeping them safe and warm from the snowstorm in the same their fur coats protected them. But unbeknownst to any of them, Roger's eyelids were slowly starting to crack open.
"You too Bane. Take care of yourself and your family", Balto replied, smiling as he bowed his head in a sign of respect to his alpha friend.
"Will do. And I haven't forgotten the promise I made you Jenna. The next time we see each other, I will take you to see your daughter Aleu. This entire night has been a time of reunions, and it's time you finally have yours", Bane said, shaking Jenna's paw next.
"Thank you", the red husky said gratefully, before bowing her head too. But Balto and his friends were so busy saying their last good-byes, that no one noticed when Roger turned his head around and stared at them, trying to convince himself his sleepy eyes weren't playing tricks on him.
After he was done talking to Balto and Jenna, Kodi and Dusty were the only ones left. Kodi gripped his uncle's paw excitedly, and shook it as hard as he could, taking the old wolf by surprise. "I can't wait to find Aleu again. From what I've heard, my sister's has been busy", Kodi grinned, while copying his parents' gestures.
"That she has", Bane replied, chuckling, before moving towards Dusty.
"Thank you for everything you've done to help me and Kodi", Dusty said, before bowing her head.
"It was my pleasure. Even though we're not related by blood, you're a part of Balto's family now, which makes you a part of my family too", Bane said, bowing with Dusty before rejoining his pack.
Roger was completely silent as he laid on his back on the snow, he didn't dare make a sound, lest risk drawing attention to himself. Then again, he couldn't talk even if he wanted to, what with his stomach and chest being squashed by some heavy sled dog (though he couldn't see which one). It didn't take much to guess he was trying to keep him warm, but what he didn't understand was how he and the other guests got out of the hotel in the first place. Surely the dogs didn't save them, did they? Not to mention the even greater mystery, why was there a wolf pack in the middle of town? And why was a dog that looked a lot like Balto, the hero of his home town, and three other dogs bowing their heads to the lead wolf? Could they have something to do with his rescue too?
Kodi, Jenna, and Dusty walked back to Balto's side, and huddled next to each other for warmth, as their friends prepare to depart. But just when it seemed like the conglomeration of wolves had said their last good-byes, Bane turned back towards the wolf-dog and his family one last time. "Balto?" he asked.
"Yeah?", the hybrid replied curiously.
"Take better care the next time you're helping your family. There won't be always be helpful wolf around to bail you out when you get lost", Bane said, grinning.
"Who said I was lost?", Balto replied, smirking.
Bane laughed, the wolf's loud, throaty chuckle echoing across the street as it was carried by the wind. "Whatever floats your boat", he said, a surprisingly human expression, before the wild dog turned around and ran off down the street, followed by half a dozen barking, howling canines.
And in no time at all, the wolves were gone, disappearing the forests they had called their home for thousands of years. The only traces left of their existence, the only physical proof that they had ever helped Balto meddle in human affairs, was their footprints in the snow, and the wind would take care of that soon enough. Wolves, not only one of nature's top predators, but also one of nature's greatest enigmas.
Once they were gone, Roger breathed a sigh of relief, and lifted his head up, straining to see what dog was cutting off air to his lungs. What he saw next surprised him even more than seeing the wolf pack had. The dog that was lying on top of his chest was his own lead dog, the last person he had ever expected to see trying to keep him warm. "Steele…you came back", he said, shocked.
The malamute barked in reply, and bent over to lick his hand. Even though Roger didn't speak dog (no human could), he could tell, he could just tell somehow, that that meant yes. The musher slowly lifted up his hand, having to make a great effort to do so, and rubbed Steele on the head. It was a musher's way of congratulating his dogs on a job well, something he had never done before with Steele since he was worried the dog might snap at him or something. But he was doing it now, and it felt good for both of them. "Thank you. Good boy", he said, smiling.
That was the only thing Roger said to his beloved malamute for next half hour, but it was the only thing that really needed to be said between them. For the 30 minutes that followed, Roger allowed Steele to rest in his chest, relaxing under the protection of his most difficult dog. Pretty soon, Roger felt himself drifting off again. Steele was so warm, and the snowy ground was so comfortable. He couldn't help closing his eyes and letting his arms and legs go limp beneath Steele's belly.
By the time the street flooded with humans, and the local doctors lifted him off the ground, Roger Greensborough was fast asleep, dreaming of Balto, the fabled hero of Nome, the mysterious wolf pack he had caught such a short glimpse of, and the black and white malamute who had obviously saved him from oblivion.
Contrary to his near-death experience before, Roger found peace in his dreams for a different kind of reason this time. For the first time since he left Nome all those years ago, Roger felt like he had kept his promise to his friend. He had saved Steele, and Steele had saved him. The relationship that every musher dreamed of having with his sled dogs, but so few ever achieved. Despite everything Roger had ever thought about himself, the man had truly succeeded in finding what Gunnar had told him about so long ago. And it felt great. Or maybe that was just the morphine that the doctors gave him that was making him feel blissful and at peace. Either way, he was loving every minute of it. Him and his faithful companion.
Haha, another mission success for team wolf-dog. Except this time, their meddling in human affairs did have more than one effect, on a number of characters. Not only did they save dozens of lives, but they helped Steele find compassion again, convinced Roger he wasn't a failure, fixed Kodi and Dusty's marriage, healed a few old wounds between rivals, and rekindled some old flames, all in one night. Man, Balto and his friends do have crazy mixed-up lives, don't they? (and they wouldn't want it any other way). But this story is still not over yet. Balto and Jenna have one last thing they need to do before their lives can go back to normal (and I'm not just talking about that Aleu thing). Balto, Jenna, and Steele still need to put to rest that love triangle that had plagued all their lives for so long. It's time Steele finally got that much-needed closure that he never got before.