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A Dog's life (Reboot - made a fresh start of it) Pt.1

"Is this what you truly want, Wolf?"

Rebecca watches the Wolf's eyes, his face. There's no hesitation there.

Her hand rests in the fur of his neck. She feels it brush leather as she stands, to walk a few paces and turn, look down and lock eyes -

"Show me."

And waits....

***

She'd been afflicted with wanderlust from childhood. What part of this was her blood calling and what part circumstance she would never know. If circumstance didn't light the flame, it surely fanned it. Her family owned an inn at the last major port - and thus last major settlement, in those days - before one left civilization behind for the wildlands, and the stories heard from trappers coming through(and a few who'd settled in town)set fire her imagination. Especially the Wise - beasts by look and habbit, but wise as men.

One other thing may have fed her passion: Mother.

She'd likely never had a nice thought about Wise in her life and thus didn't think much of her daughter's fascination with them, and by proxy the wildlands which fed it, actively and even angrily discouraging her daughter's 'unhealthy' interest.

And the more her mother did so, the more her sense of wanderlust grew, the greater her yearning when she looked to the fire of the dying sun. So when one week in her seventeenth year a trapper laying up for several days before heading west, into the wildlands, took a fancy to her she sweet-talked him into dragging her along.

Gods, but he must have been madder than she was! Twice the burden with damn little to contribute on her end. And it HAD been rough for her, at first. But she adapted...and the compensations had been worth it. What began as teenage wanderlust(among other things)had become a hunger, images of those months etched and burned into memory: her first glimpse from high in the 'Teeth of the land spread out beneath them, vast and open, her town lost somewhere far beyond the horizon; her first encounter with Wise - and his constant teasings about it - the nights....they planned to marry next time through her village.

Plans change.

He'd taken sick that winter as they headed to her village and died, hand in hers', a week out. She spent ten days finishing the journey. Alone.

She hadn't spoken of those ten transformative months since.

Mother had been furious, of course, when she returned; the moreso when it became clear she planned more treks into the wild...and wouldn't hear otherwise. It wasn't just her defiance - and concern for her safety - that had angered Mother; Rebecca's father died in her childhood, and two older brothers notwithstanding, every extra hand was a help. But if you traveled light and knew your trade - and truth be told luck was with you, often as not - there was money in trapping, and the savings she brought home with her led to - well, call it acceptance of her choice, though Mother still constantly asked during stints at home when she planned to 'settle in.'

Maybe someday.

Not soon; The Wilderness...to watch the Autumn sunrise crest the Dragon's Teeth like Creation's dawn, silhouettes against a burning sky; to walk the hidden trails carved by beast common and Wise, unmarked by humankind - to feel yourself first to walk the Earth, stranger to the world; It was in her - a longing, a thirst that broke no denial.

You lived at the boundaries, your boundaries. There was clarity in Necessity; your preconceptions meant nothing to Her.

Take, for instance, patronizing village attitudes toward the Wise.

Trappers learned better; It was their world they must often travel through. It paid to be on good terms with the Wise, and it's hard to disrespect those you spend time and effort knowing. And far side of the 'Teeth, having friends among the Wise could save your life.

Gods knew it saved her ass.

She'd taken a risk, last trip, starting back late; game was better far side, especially late in the autumn season. Still, barring disaster she'd been well on pace to make the pass with time to spare.

Yeah... ' barring disaster....'

Her horse spooked, sending her flying in it's panic and she'd snapped an ankle. She hadn't seen it since.

Losing the horse was bad.

Losing an ankle....

She'd managed to hole up, get wood for a fire and one burning - ten times the work and hurting like hells; real problem was food - gone with an outing's take with her horse. And without horse or two good legs, her bow could be a plow for all the good it did her..

But to try the pass half-crippled, with Winter coming on? She was out of options -

- no, not every option; hoping she guessed right, she'd raised a cry for aid.

A cry carried on a howl to send a shiver through the folks back home.

And Gods-be-praised she'd been right - the pack crying in the night was Wise.

They had her gratitude. Really, they did; Wise seldom hunted Wise(human included), but why divert time and resource in the lean season from real obligations? Fortune smiled on her that night. She'd known the pack that saved her.

Including Gray....

They had her gratitude, yes -

- but Gods, what misery!

She didn't think she fell sick during those nights and days of endless waiting, but she couldn't be sure of it.

No fire once Winter settled in, so - confined to the Wolf-den, inactive save to answer Nature's call(her fortune for a thrice-damned pair of crutches, instead of what she must do with). Weeks and months of half waking from half-slumber to cold, to pain, to hunger dulled but never quelled by raw meat, blood and pap(Ahhhhhhh Necessity....).

Sometimes waking to warmth, a presence(the same?)beneath her soft and comforting, barely noted as she slips again beneath the waves...

...to sleep, to wake again to the hunger and cold, to stiffness and exhaustion, to the waiting waiting waiting through the long dead months for the coming of Spring.

Overjoyed at its arrival. Elated just to be outside the den beneath a pleasant sky. Walking...weak and unsteady at first, but oh to walk freely, skin bare to the wind and stretch her legs; to find a stream and rinse away the months of grime, sweat and blood.

Well, she did still have her flint when spring returned at last; there had been that, at least.

***

She was exhausted.

Her legs ached. Her body, protesting exercise after weeks of innactivity. She fealt the stirrings of a headache behind her eyes.

In a few moments, Rebecca thought, she'd be as happy as she'd been in her entire life.

"C'mon" she muttered, willing the kindling nestled on the ground between her hands to catch.

Puff. Was there the briefest glow?

A couple more breaths; and again.

"Yes." as the kindling came to life. Shifting back to her knees, she picked one of the smallest twigs from the pile beside her and held it to the kindling. After a few moments it caught. "Yes, yes yes." Adding more and bigger pieces to the pile, she soon nursed it to a blazing fire.

With a whooop of triumph, she looked up at the Wolf - being Wise, a good hand-n-half taller than it's 'cousin'-kind - turning to stare at her from the direction of the den. "Roast beef tonight!" she cried, grinning.

Well, leg-of-elk, anyway. Could be bladder-of-elk all she cared at the moment.

Cooked food again!

Maybe if she had the energy in the next few days and weather permitting, she'd hike up to check on the temp-shelter she'd holed up in before winter fell.(Damned if she'd huddle in that thrice-damned DEN one moment more than she had to!) Dangerous to have a fire inside or too near one, but the buckskin she wore made good insulation, and with limited space reducing heat loss she'd be fine most nights now Winter was past.

She hoped.

Sigh. Well, worst case and Winter cold makes a late comeback, there was always the bleedin' den... Maybe heated stones....

She sheathed the knife in her belt - used to spark the flint Moving carefully, she slowly took to her feet; wavered, and paused a moment to steady herself. "Not", she muttered, "that I don't enjoy the company."

She was looking at the Wolf.

-----
-----

Rebecca held the slice of meat in front of her, eyes closed, and breathing deeply took a long, appreciative sniff.

"Mmmm-hummmh". She tore off a bite, torn between savoring her first hot food in weeks and filling her stomach at best speed.

Wasn't as good as she'd hoped....

It tasted better!

She smiled, and eyes still closed began slowly chewing, chewing and chewing untill, stomach winning out at last she swallowed, eyes opening to reveal twin orbs of ocean blue.

Setting the remainder on her lap, she took up her knife again and began cutting off bite-sized(relatively speaking)chunks, to spear them with the tip, bring them to her mouth and swallow almost before they so much as saw her teeth.

'Hells with appreciation!' she thought. Savor it later.

An hour yet 'till sunset, the fire allready cast dim inconstant shadows around and on the bank behind her. Catching with the corner of her eye, she turned toward the den, grinning at the Wolf she saw standing there watching.

"'Ey!" She made a motion with her arm. "C'mover here."

After a moment's delay, he began trotting toward her. Yes, she saw as he came closer, he was the same Wolf.

She started cutting at what remained of the Elk's leg as he approached. "You're the one what carried this back for me, aren't you?" she smiled, carving right on through the bone. She looked up to meet eyes that stared back with steady, measured appraisal. "Yep; not that I'm not good enough to be pretty sure've it when I saw you standin' over there, but" - she gave a grunt as the knife sliced through the last fibres of meat, severing the piece in two - "those eyes are a sure giveaway." The usual color for wolves of either kind, including the other members of this pack, was amber. Far less common was that of the pair before her;Gray.

And...with a slight start of surprise, she leaned in for a closer look. She'd never noticed before, but seeing them up close, was there a trace of ocean blue as well?

Yes indeed; there was no mistaking that pair of eyes.

Pulling back again, she picked up one of the pieces of leg. "Anyway, whatever reason it was you that bought it, thought I'd return the favor!" And so saying she drew back and let fly as best she could from ground level.

She'd aimed to send it a bit past the Wolf but in a move that surprised her, with a running jump he snatched it from the air before it struck the ground.

"Huh, nice catch!" She said, laughing to look at him standing proudly, tail held high. With a sweep of his tail, he crouched down to dig into his 'take'.

"Wow", she chuckled as she watched his piece vanish before her eyes. "Looks like I'm not th' only one who likes a lil' 'home cookin'!

She stood up, walked over and tossed another branch onto the fire, turned and stood for a minute, just watching the Wolf staring up at her, knawing on what remained of his portion. Something'd suddenly begun eating her that she couldn't put her finger on, teasing the recesses of her mind.....

Finally dismissing it with a shrug, she resumed her seat. Ah well, sleep on it, she thought. It'd probably come to her if it was anything important. She looked to the sky; great good fortune, it looked to be another pleasant evening. She stretched. Her fire should keep well into the night. Tonight, she'd sleep out here! Full stomach, clear skies and a pleasant breeze - THIS was living!

~~~~~
~~~~~

Howls woke her.

"Unhhhh." she groaned, shifting. 'You'd think I'd've learned to sleep THROUGH the damned things by now!' she thought blearily.

They came again. With a sigh, she sat up and slowly opened her eyes to look around.

The fire was low but not yet out; life enough yet to blunt the evening chill. Looking in the direction of the howls she saw a Wolf standing at the farthest edge of the fires' light;he was turned away, twin candles looking back to her. Silent. Somehow, she thought she guessed it's identity;and that he wasn't staying to watch over cubs.

"So, you goin' with 'em or not?!" .

The candles dissappeared, the shape gone like a shadow, and only then did the Wolf add it's voice to the chorus.

***

Rebecca woke in a sweat.

For long moments she just lay in darkness, waiting, for her pulse to slow, for breaths to come slow and steady. For the ache to again lose it's edge.

Jack...

Bending knees and pushing with one arm, she sat up, bringing a hand to her face.

She'd been due of course; It had been longer than usual - weeks, really - since she'd dreamt of him, dreamt about -

"Shit."

There was faint, flickering light from the entrance to her shelter. 'Merry f'ing moring', she thought. Grabbing her belt - the leather strap holding her blade and tinder-box was the only article save her boots she hadn't worn to sleep - she crawled through the opening. Got her feet under her to stand...and fealt something impact from behind, sharp points prickling her neck as she went to her knees. Reaching up over her shoulder with both hands, she grabbed and shrugged her attacker to the ground, then lunged -

- but the Wolfling was quicker than she was.

"You brat!" she called after him as he ran back towards the den, though she chuckled as she said it. She saw Gray Eyes looking at her with an open-mouthed grin and snorted.

She breathed in deep, the dream fading to the background of her thoughts as she pulled on her boots. All around, the woods were waking with the coming of Spring, a thousand bird-calls echoed through the budding trees, a near cacanphony to greet the not-yet-risen sun.

The time for depending on the Wolves was past, she thought happily. She'd string up the bow and do some hunting of her own soon. Not today though; there was a stream she meant to visit, if memory served - no line or net, but all she'd need was speed....

And, she thought, looking at the Wolf trotting her way, she might
have help, too - though she wondered what he'd actually offer save the pleasure of his company.

"Pack ever hunt fish, Grey Eyes?"

He gave her a sideways look.

"No? Well, you come along 'n I'm sure you'll be some use, anyways."

She chuckled at the look he gave her.

Since the night of that first fire, he'd been spending more and more time with her, not just around the den but accompanying her when she ventured out to gather wood, or whatever other reason. Evidently, he found her company better than the pack's when not on a hunt.

Looking at the Wolf trotting beside her, she wondered at that. Was it more than just her company? Pack politics, maybe? He wasn't exactly low rung on the ladder last she knew....

No; He didn't spend all his time with her, and she'd seen nothing to change her impression. Besides, he'd never looked like he'd been whupped.

Some, she thought, just dance to their own tune.

***

'Gocha!'

Rebecca lunged at the salmon - catching just enough tail to feel it slip through her fingers as her bare foot slipped out from under her, sending her splashing face-first into the water.

She came up coughing. "Okay -" she sputtered at the Wolf when she'd regained her footing, looking insufferably amused from his perch on the near bank"- so I'm outta practice. You jus' make sure th' ones I do manage to get don't end up back 'n the river!"

She crouched again and waited.

Lunge. Splash.

"Yeeasss!" She cried triumphantly, sending the fish flying through the air in the Wolf's general direction. Lunging, he caught it just before it hit the ground, growling as he gave it a finishing shake. He looked at her and gave a sweep of his tail before dropping it for the next one.

Rebecca just grinned and shook her head.

'Damn crazy Wolf....'

***

Whatever else you might say, one couldn't fault Mother as a cook, Rebecca thought as she drew the three skewered fish from the fire.

Still, she thought with an appreciative sniff, fish was fish, The predomminant cullinary staple in her town, it was a favorite in allmost any form.

"Uh uh." she told the Wolf, staring intently at the fish she'd removed and just drawn her knife to begin slicing in her lap. "You had two allready an' I don't hafta know th' season to tell huntin's good for yu'all right now."

Glare

"If ya couldn't wait 'till they cooked it's yur own damn fault."

He gave a low growl, turned to walk several paces and lay down, directing his gaze elsewhere.

Humph. 'That's th' trouble breakin' bread with humans.' she thought with a chuckle. You couldn't fight 'em for it.

Which meant nothing, she soon realized, for what one didn't happen to have in one's posession at a given time.

She was on the second fish, with one left on the skewer stuck end-first in the ground. Sensing with the corner of her eye, glanced up and leapt to her feet - "HEY!" - to grab the stick just ahead of the bolting canine. Not that she could do a damn thing if he grapped the fish....

They both froze. "Go ahead." she said, locking eyes, challenging. And she'd....well, what exactly?

"Well?" she asked when he didn't move. "Second thoughts?"

They stayed locked for a few moments more, then - to her surprise - the Wolf backed down, looked away, trotted back to where he'd been laying and gave every appearance of settling in for a nap.

Rebecca stared at him. She blinked.

Wait a second - what'n Mothers' was she thinking, challenging a rottin' Wolf that way?! One good-natured and friendly with her to be sure, but still - Go ahead and try it??? What stupid, moronic....

And she called the Wolf crazy! Feeling vaguely unsettled, she returned to the meal.

A childhood memory bought a grin to her face as she watched him; Curled by the fire like that, he really did resemble an oversized mutt, she thought with a chuckle.

'Mother would certainly approve.' She thought with a stab of guilt.

Finishing the fish, she slid the third and last from the stick. For a moment she stood holding it, looking at the Wolf. Then, shrugging and giving a theatrical sigh, she resumed her seat, retrieved the knife and, with a few quick slices, cut it neatly in half.

Bringing fingers to her mouth, she gave a sharp whistle; "HEY, GREY EYES!"

He turned to look at her.

She tossed him his half. "Here ya go, brat!" she said with a wink.

He leapt to his feet with a chuff, grinning at her. She grinned wider.

Yes, no question, she thought as he tore in; She would miss him when she left.

***

One day, and she missed him allready.

Rebecca shrugged, re-adjusting the shoulder straps of the pack on her back, little more than a few beaten-rawhide straps to hold her bow and what-not and some smoked meat anchored between a pair of sticks whose top and bottoms also anchored the shoulder straps. It was, she thought for the dozenth time that day, about as comfortable as you'd expect it to be. She was still in forrest country, cool and soft-lit in the noon-day sun.

'C'mon girl, not like e's the first Wise you've ever met.'

Shrug. Damned, she was gonna have to rework the straps wasn't she?

Hells, she told herself, resuming her pace; decent chance she'd even see him again next time she came through the area. And other side she planned on making best speed to home for a nice long layover. 'So quit bitchin'!'

She drew up for a moment.

Did she hear rustling in the undergrowth just ahead? She stood listening, and hearing nothing further soon resumed her walk.

She'd been surprised at the strength of her reaction sitting with Gray last evening, feeling her throat tighten a little as she said her goodbye. She never fealt quite that way even when leaving home, not even the first time -

'Especially th' first time, prhaps.' she thought, smiling briefly.

She turned a corner - and stopped, staring in surprise.

'Gray Eyes???' Whathehells he doin' here now?

She started to ask just that, then caught herself. After several long moments she resumed walking, the Wolf falling in beside her.

He knew where she was going, that she wasn't turning back. Either the Wolf would turn back before the 'Teeth or he wouldn't, simple as that. Why question the obvious?

***

Several days later, she sat resting - or, at least, she told herself that was all she was doing - looking at the jagged ridge that towered before her. Finally, she struggled to her feet, reaching for her pack. 'Well, no more delaying it I guess.' She turned to the canine beside her.

"You sure 'bout this, friend? She looked to the 'Teeth as she spoke, then back to him.

He nodded. She turned, and together the two set off toward the mountains a half-day's jouney to the East.

***

"Y'know furface, there's a reason Wise don't venture East o' the 'Teeth."

The Wolf laying a few feet to her right looked up from the hare's-leg he was devouring, eyes catching the inconstant light of the fire as the last dregs of Sunset faded in the West.

"My kind...we're not all trappers." Rebecca continued. "You think other Wise never roamed in the East? Hells, some still do if you believe the rumors; never more than that though. Do a prime job keeping near to ground, can't imagine why...."

Stare

"Alright alright...if you wanna know, aside from statin' th' obvious my point is, in a few weeks we'll be somewhere I can lighten my burden a little, prefrably in exchange for at least a horse"-

'ANY horse.' Rebecca flexed her shoulders; buckskin gave her skin some protection from the ropes, but rot did it chafe anyway!

-"and with any luck, lodging as well; and that could make things difficult."

Truth be told, she'd intentionally avoided thinking about the problems his accompanying her back might present, but now they were other side of the 'Teeth she had to face up and start planning how to deal with them.

And Gods but was she GLAD to be other side of the 'Teeth! Every step upside seemed to add another Stone to the weight on her back and shoulders - only adding to effects of the thinning air - topside was cold even in Summer, the pass - some parts nothing but rock and no good camp, for three days on foot - was more 'fun' than usual and, in higher altitudes, her ankle throbbed incessently. It always would, now; hidden scars were just as real. And just as permanent.

"I mean, think about it; sight of you could be enough to clear the market! Don't laugh!" she grinned "I'm being serious."

She finished cutting the last leg from the hare and tossed it to the Wolf. It was already cooked; easier all-around that way, though it must try Gray's patience! 'Hah! Still worth the wait ain't it, furface!' She sniffed, took a deep breath. 'mmm mmmmm'.

"An' tellin' 'em you're Wise won't help either." she continued, still cutting. "People find a cousin' scary enough; just wait'n see when we tell 'em behind them big scary fangs there's a mind lookin' back from behind those eyes."

"No, no sense in bein' the center of attention an' scarin' people half t' death 'n th' process; be more trouble 'n it's worth." She popped a slice of meat in her mouth."Humans can be funny 'bout other kind that way. Liver!" Switching the knife now burried in the hare's gut to her left hand, she pulled the liver with her right and tossed it to him.

'Would've shuddered at the thought of eatin' that once' she mused wryly as he caught it in the air and tore in. Hells, she still wouldn't eat it if she had any choice! Blech.

"So what then?" She rubbed her chin, thinking. Maybe they could split up, meet up again other side of town. Problem was unless the plan was 'in an' out' there were some obvious headaches with that idea.

"But whatever we say or do, people 'r still gonna be intimmidated by the likes o' you;it's human nature." Unless...if they thought he was 'under controll'; Maybe if-

She winced at her thought, but it did make sense...

"What if...what if we make out you're not even cousin - not wolf at all?"

She looked up to meet his quizical look.

"We could" - she emphasized the word - "could make out that yer jus' a mutt, a dog; uh - close kin to yur cousin, 'cept usually a lot friendlier and more controllabe, least to us. We use 'em for herding, nightwatch an' protection, or sometimes jus' because we like having 'em around."

Gray tilted his head to the side; he looked dubious.

"'Ey! We're pack creatures to, remember? Mutts can be lots o' goofy fun - an' damned usefull, too."
.
She looked at him. "Ehh, maybe not." She chuckled. "Showin' you as jus' another mutt! Heh! No worries, sirs, nothin' to look at here - jus' another pet!" She rolled her eyes. "And tryin' to pull this at every town we go through....I mean, whatever we do you're still a Wolf; big, toothy - and a sight t' scare th' piss outta damned citybound!" She rubbed a hand through her hair, unbound for the evening, leaving the knife in the hare. "Maybe pull it off if we put a collar on that neck-"

She stopped; 'Oh...real nice, jackass....' For a moment, she just looked at him, then waved it off. "Uhh, yeah; forget it, bad i-" Seeing his nod, she stopped short once again.

She blinked. Did he really mean.... "A collar?" She brought her hands to her neck, tracing around front to back. "You're joking; You even know what a collar is?"

Nod. Wait - how'd he know what a 'collar' was?

Same way they picked up her tongue, she guessed....

"You're serious?"

Nod

"You're not serious!"

Nod

"Come on, you can't be serious. Look, this isn't a big deal either way, jus' inconvenience, that's all." She chuckled. "It's more about everyone else's comfort than ours, really." She stood to stretch her legs.

Her eyes came to rest on her knife, inlaid handle glinting in the firelight; a circle trisected by lines that swooped back as they curved away from center, the three sections so outlined like teardrops stretched and bent, each curving 'round the one behind it and the flat bottom and straight sides of the teardrops and circle defining the rim laid in silver plait. Other trappers, now...she wasn't sure she wanted to try explaining....

"Okay" she said, looking at him, "so you know what it is; but you don't get why wearing one should bother you?" Was he smirking at her?

She glared at him "Y'know furface, a lotta my kind wouldn't think twice about you wearin' a collar even knowin' that yer wise. An' if you had the experience to understand you'd see why that should bother you. For too damn many of my kind, the Wise're nothin' more'n a rotted cousin with a few more tricks and a bit o' extra wits thrown in. Cute 'n entertainin' diversion, maybe, but it's not like they're human, though. Not like they're persons, deservin' a person's respect." Her voice began to rise; she didn't notice. "My own damn family's that way. Oh, they'll listen ever so politely, almost like they give a damn about it. But they won't get it, same as half th' damn human race - I'm feelin' generous - an' it's nothin' to do but shut your trap an' move on to other things, grit yer teeth and promise yurself to never be like that!" She turned back to him "So your pardon, Wolf, if I'm less than amused at the thought of leadin' one of those Wise around collared like some GODSDAMNED STREETMUTT!"

She couldn't've been five Hands from where he lay holding a leg he'd been worrying, glaring down at him, eye-to-eye. And he turned, backed off.....

Shit

She could feel her pulse racing, her quickened breaths. Damn; Where'd that come from? She consciously relaxed the hand gripping her knife, clenched hard enough to tremble. Past year must've frayed her more than she realized.

She shook her head; 'And the Wolf's still crazy....'; brought a hand up to rub her neck.

"Sorry. I'm -; Sorry." She turned back to the still-unfinished hare. "Just bothers me, that's all. Feels wrong;. But-" she knelt down and began cutting a length of intestine "- you're probly right, much as I hate to admit it. Good idea, if we're tryin' to hide you in plain sight."

She turned to toss the piece she'd cut to the Wolf; stopped. He was standing right behind her.

Looking at him, she had a sudden impulse; she took the knife and cut off a smaller piece;held it out to him. He took it, threw back and swallowed...then nosed her palm and gave a lick.

She reached out, feeling again the sense of vague disconcertion, stronger this time as she rubbed his shoulder; he pressed into it, back arching.

She reached out, hesitant almost, to scratch his neck. His back sank to the ground; his tail was still.

Her heart beat a little faster, a discomfort prodding from beneath, pushed aside. She cupped under his jaw with her other hand, brought his face up to meet her gaze, locking eyes again....

"Y'know, furface," - she said a bit tightly - "this could get interesting.'"

So whaddya think? Again, thoughts/suggestions/ideas(!)always appreciated! Especially if you like it! :-P (Great motivation to keep writing. :-) ) Thanks in advance.