Jasper smelled the rotting food before she found it. The faint tracks around the campsite were too faded to make anything out of. Even the normal wildlife smell had overwhelmed her brother’s scent. The farther way from the tent Jasper ventured the harder it was to smell him. He had clearly heard her step on something with an extra crunch, in spite of him being on the farthest northern part of the campsite. Also the campsite wasn’t near anything. No source of clean water, not even a game trail. Other than the stunning birches, hemlocks, and few sappy oaks Jasper couldn’t see why her brother picked here. Gradually making his way back to Zara, Jasper kicked at the fallen leaves and dead needles. Trying to ruffle a smell or two, possibly uncover a familiar track. The camp looked as though her brother had merely left for the evening. The only real sign that anything out of the ordinary had occurred was the opened, but untouched, ration meal. The flies and maggots were appreciating the gesture.
Returning to Zara’s side, he took a moment to listen. He focuses on the birds. Well, lack of rather. Not a one. Something had happened here. Something that made the wildlife weary of this area. Only the brainless flies seemed brave enough. That could explain why there were no fresh tracks, not even a raccoon or doe.
“Interesting.” Jasper murmured to himself. Gently taking Zara’s good forearm in his. Tenderly he gives her a warning squeeze, a habit he’d learned from his father. With his back facing the tent and the hair on his arms standing on end, he nudges her toward the worn path. They needed to go. Right that second. Something wasn’t right here. Every animal instinct he’d been breed with screamed at him to leave. A strong gust of wind picked up the tree branches and swayed the bushes noisily. A bitter forest smell assaulted him. His mouth watered with stench of hard granite and burnt pine. The classic stench of the others.
“Zara this place isn’t safe. We should go back up the path and talk.” Jasper big green eyes scan every shrub and tree shadow for them. This was still his pack’s territory, just the very edge. Normal everyday hikers were warned about venturing this close to the mountain, special guides had to be hired to take them in the mountains. Often members of opposite packs would meet half way on the boarder, handing off the hikers like children. Another way they remained hidden from normal humans.
There were words spoken but the young woman was not listening. She could hear her heart beat in her ear from the pain and excitement. There was also the swelling in her throat at the possible discovery that he was indeed dead and her heart was wrong that he was alive.
The tent flap was open, there was his bed roll and bag, the jacket thrown to the corner. It didn't look fresh though. He spoke again but she didn't hear him. Giving a soft sound, she poked through the tent before turning over the wrong item.
Reeling back from the maggots she stepped out of the tents. "No, he hasn't been here long enough for...this..." Zara said pointing to the maggots but not looking to it. He wasn't there but not a sign of a body.
Turning away from the tent she walked, the boots adding it's own crunching noise till there was an extra crunch sound. Leaning down she paled once again, seeing the sattelite phone crushed.
The same thing that had happened to her. Swallowing that lump in her throat she stood up. He was alive but had been taken somewhere. Her thoughts spun before feeling her shoulder burn painfully.
Giving a sound she placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Zara...” Jasper begins as she tramps passed him on the path. Even as familiar as he was with the path he still took his time. She had seen something he hadn’t. The faint smell of human drifted on the wind. Zara disappeared into the trees at the end of the path. He could see her bend and pick something up before venturing farther away. She moved faster than she had since last night. Since last night he’d grown used to her snarky tone. He couldn’t blame her though.
“That’s his lucky tent.” He could hear her speaking through the brambles. Finally pushing his way through, Jasper joins her in the untouched campsite. In the light breeze, the tent door flapped lazily. The fire was long dead. Towels, hung to dry, also swayed in the lazy breeze and smelled faintly of Zara. Somehow Jasper knew the not-quite Zara, Zara smell was her brother. Moving to her side, he reaches toward her offering comfort.
“He could have gone to the river or hunting.” Jasper’s words sounded hopefully. Deep in his chest he already knew what had happened here. Her eyes lock with his glittering with unshed tears and wide with hope. Undoubtedly her heart was full for the first time in weeks. The first real proof she had seen that her brother was alive.
“Let’s look around.” He offered, taking a step back and dropping his backpack to his feet. Groaning slightly, he rolled his shoulders and neck before moving to the edge of the campsite. He looked around the brambles and small sapling birches, looking for animal tracks or any signs of man. The rain could have washed away any sign or smell Jasper could have picked up.
When Zara was eight she had been too friendly with the neighbor dog and got bit. She required five stitches and avoided dogs for a whole year. During that entire time she hadn't remembered any bite or wound ever burning as much as this dead. It was the sheer determination and the fact her mind wouldn't stop till knowing, the twins had a connection.
Hearing the question for one too many times, she remained behind him but shot him an annoyed look. "Yes, staying hydrated and moving my shoulder often."
Hearing his words and looking to the path she sucked in a breath. This would be perilous. "Then let's hope this doesn't end up worse than it already is," Zara answered before taking one step at a time, her feet side ways in order to avoid slipping. Without incident she reached the bottom.
There seemed to be little left of people, she caught sight of a possible canteen buried in the dirt. Catching sight of something orange, she moved faster than the entire trip. There was an intact campsite sitting peacefully, and she knew whose it was.
Growing pale, Zara stopped, afraid of possibly seeing a body there. "That's his lucky tent and bag..." She whispered her throat feeling dry. Looking to Jasper with an expression of mixed emotions.
Jasper rose stiffly, several loud pops escaped his bones. Rolling his shoulder, left then right, he stretched. The throbbing in his hips has subsided throughout the night and eventually healed. Rising before Zara he pulls a new and clean pair of jeans from his bag. After some deliberation, he settles on an old dirt stained white tank top, tucking it into his jeans. He finishes his signature look with the same old fishing vest, one pocket bent open and missing a button. Rarely he puts anything in there. Shoving one arm through and then another he stretches once more, finally chasing the rest of the pops from his bones.
Mechanically, he starts a fire and starts to cook sausages. As the sausages are browning he scavenges around for a few eggs. Luckily, he finds three to split between them. Scrambling them he takes a small portion for himself leaving the rest of the sausages and eggs for Zara. True to her nature she gets up and semi ignores him. Dressing, picking at her food, and then bugging him to get his shit together so they can press on. Tearing down camp usually is enjoyable for Jasper. The morning air filled with a soft mist that cooled the skin and prepared him for the sun later, though with Zara he found that he devoted more of his attention to her, always wondering where she was and if she was okay.
Neatly packing everything away and stomping out the fire, he nods to her and begins the trek. Surprisingly Zara kept up well, in spite of her shoulder handicapping her. Everything about her surprised Jasper. Most normal people would have run the other direction after being attacked by wolves. By midday they reached the ledge overlooking the ridge. Tall Yukon trees reached for the sky and leaned toward the rising sun, trying to absorb every ounce of sun they could. The tress were getting ready for winter, when the sun would be covered by a near constant greyness.
“Have you been drinking enough water?” He questions her for the hundredth time, keeping his back to her as he started to the right of the ridge. Seeking the worn path down the side of the ledge that only the locals knew about. Many chose to repel down the steep face, but Jasper didn’t have the right equipment for it let alone was too lazy to. After a few moments of brief searching he finds the path and motions her over.
“Here’s the pathway down, careful there are roots here that will trip you, and it’s steep. Though less steep than that.” He points to the sheer drop off.
The morning after the attack was utter hell. The shoulder was stiff and sore, along with the cold, her mood was deplorable. Ever the soldier Zara pressed on- as long as there was not an infection she would not turn back at least until the ridge. While Zara was average height for a woman and slightly slender she was a durable creature that pressed on despite her body's dislike. At least there were no more wolves after that she knew off.
Jasper seemed a closed book on the subject of those wolves. The pain was a good distraction, thankfully for him, he knew what was going on. That was very clear and she was going to find out exactly what the hell was happening.
Close to The Ridge, it got steep and semi perilous. It was beautiful though, the dropping showed the valley below, covered in green, proud trees. She imagined there was a river somewhere down there.
"The last spot is just two hundred yards ahead," Zara said breaking the silence. Holding the GPS, she took a deep breath in. This would take a great deal of strength. "Let's go."
It was calm words, but underneath she was panicking even before getting close.
“It sounds like my childhood.” He murmurs softly. Quietly listening to the crickets and the nightlife. Now that the cause is over and the forest is once again it’s peaceful self, he finds that he’s able to drift into a restless sleep. Without much thought, he lays his hand against her ankle, like a faithful hound resting at his master’s feet. Taking a deep breath he lets his heavy lids finally close. His own blood dried on his skin makes him itch. Shifting slightly, he shift himself so he is able to sleep more comfortably.
“What is your favorite memory?” He questions.
Just the conversation was making her head pound. It wasn't as if she needed her head and shoulder pounding, it was truly inevitable, the medicine and the tiredness was beginning to do some work. Perhaps for a few hours she would not be as bad off, the thought made her smile just that much.
How she wanted her tent, with the sleeping bag and clean clothes. That did involve getting up and moving over. "Uh huh...you're a terrible liar," Zara answered. Drawing her back pack closer she used it for her head before giving a small sound.
Even if the ground was uncomfortable and she was partially cold, she was exhausted. Hearing the question she thought vaguely. "Anything a park ranger could tell you. What to eat, not to eat, tracks, make shift, survival..." she shrugged followed by a wincing. "Mom sure hated it when we'd come back all dirty with dirty items. Abulita thought he was trying to raise some mountain men."
“No.” he lied quickly, too quickly. Licking his lips, he backpedaled. “I was able to hold it off with a stick. I nailed it on the nose and it took off.” He amended. He laid back as she did, tucking his feet to the side. Sorely he places his own hands behind his head and tangled them in his hair. His eyes grew heavy as he drifted to sleep, the fire dying finally and draping them in the moon’s silver light. Through a hole in the tarp he could see the stars. A single shooting star dashed across the ebony sky, leaving a bright streak behind it as it did.
“What else do you know about the woods?” He questions suddenly from the dark opposite end of the makeshift tent.
Hastily, Zara placed on the over sized sweater. Her clothes was in her own tent, three pieces of clothing that was now destroyed. Lamenting the sweatshirt, she pushed it to the side before flexing her arm a little to get the blood flow going. Jesus, this was not a good first day, but she wasn't deterred, not yet.
"Thank you," Zara said afterwards. Throwing her long hair back she slowly laid down, not caring it wasn't her tent. Going back there didn't feel safe whatsoever. Like a toddler she didn't want to stray far from him in this moment.
Softening at the reason why he hadn't been there. She gave a soft sound, not accepting his reason of the wolf. It had been disgusted at her taste, that was strange. This had been what Zach had been researching and the reason she came, now it was here.
"I still don't believe you," Zara told him, in case her facial expression didn't do the trick. "But thank you...did you get hurt, Jasper?" She asked. If he was, would he even let her help. "I do photography and journalism, but I did try to be a nurse before I found out the smells are really gross."
Fuck. She wasn’t going to let it go like any other normal human being would. Jasper mentally cursed himself for letting himself get dragged into this type of situation. Why couldn’t she be normal? Why couldn’t she just let this go? The questions continued to race around his mind as he finished dressing the wound and gave her his own oversized sweater to wear.
“It won’t touch the wound as much.” He mentions passing the dark colored worn sweater to her. Gently he shakes it free from a tangle of clothes. “I’m not avoiding any subject.” He murmurs in response. He pulls away from her and sits, pulling his knees up and looping his arms around them. Tilting his head to the side he twists his bloody fingers together. The drying blood made them sticky. Politely he looks everywhere but directly at her. When he does look at her he is sure to lock his gaze with her eyes.
“It is different up here. For hundreds of years people have flocked up the mountain to see the beautiful landscape, the animals. The fear of humans has been breed out of them at this point. I’m sorry I didn’t protect you better. There was another wolf.” Like a child pouting his gaze drops to the pine needles and dirt below them. Three sets of paws stood out to him, among the scratches and long slashes in the earth. He could tell his paws from the other wolf’s easily. A scar running the length of his right palm set him apart from other paw prints. The scar was from a blade sharpened to gut fish. Jasper, being a teenager of sixteen forgot what his father had told him about moving with the grain of the fish. Naturally the blade slipped and bit into his hand in a fluid swipe. Jasper’s father smelled the blood before he’d seen it. In an instant, before the pain could register, Jasper’s father had ripped the bloody blade from his left hand and seized his right. Dragging a squirming teenager to the streams edge he threw his son’s hands into the water. The boy had yelped and begun to cry, though his pride and budding manhood prevented him from sobbing. Yanking his son’s hands deeper into the clean water he nearly dislocated Jasper’s shoulder.
Now the thin pale scar split the pads of his palm in half, the scar like other small details of his face were transferred to his physical wolf form. Somehow the scar was a happy memory for him. One of the few times his father nurtured him.
What was clear that the next few days was going to be the worse days of her life. The pain was clear and it was impossible to tell if it was going to be infected or not. Hell, if there wasn't even a small infection she'd be surprised. In that moment her mind went to the moment of the bite and how the wolf look disgusted and let go. That was unusual.
Returning back to the moment, glad to only hear the natural sounds of the woods. Looking to him, she was surprised of how polite he was being. "Well, that's your loss then," Zara tried to chuckle, but it was weak. Still, she was finding it easier to joke now. Right now she just wanted the answers, no crap.
Leering her eyes at him she gave a small sound. "Yes, not a lot, and some antibacterial stuff for redressing. You're avoiding the subject though. I'm only going to drop it right now because this really hurts and I'm cold."
Her natural humor surprised him. He would have thought her the last person to joke at a time like this. He gives her a smile in return though keeping his eyes adverted. Her humor couldn’t hide the pain in her voice and the grimace from creeping onto her face. Carefully he presses the bandage on her wound again, this time taping the edges down with one hand while holding it place with the other.
“It doesn’t feel right, checking out a wounded woman. Something about her being in pain is a huge turn off. Personal preference.” He smiles softly, securing another edge down with a strip of tape.
“Do you have any pain pills, have you taken them already?” He questions, returning the conversation back to the pain point.
As Zara looked down she frowned at the blood on the bra. It wasn't her good one, it was just the most comfortable for walking. Maybe it'd be fine...she had no clue. Keeping her attention away from the bad thoughts she looked towards him cracking a half smile.
"Under all that callouses is a gentleman who this morning was opening checking me out, what a surprise," Zara teased, though weakly. The touch alone made her wince. This was going to be horrible.
Listening to him talk, that smile disappeared as the wind picked up a bit. "Bullshit. That's not what is going on here. My dad is a park ranger, I've been around this since I was little. This is different up here. I don't care though, I need to see if Zach is just injured...or...you know..."
Her face and body grew quiet at the end of that, even slumping. If it wasn't for the stabs of pain she would have all but laid down and went to sleep right there.
“The wolves are…” He pauses ducking back into the tent and then quickly looking down at the soft needle flooring. A light red flush colors his cheeks briefly before his thick eyebrows arch. He hadn’t thought to prepare himself for her half naked figure. Keeping his eyes carefully away from her chest, he kneels next to her and pulls a clean bandage from the first aid kit she’d pulled from her backpack. Thankful she had it.
“Brave.” He finishes. “The more popular the mountain gets for hikers the worse they get.” He continues. The lie is smooth and well delivered. Things like this happened. Rarely. Occasionally, a rogue band of wolves would start attacking humans. Their reasons always varied, usually it would be something to do with protecting the mountain itself. Tenderly he pushes the bandage on her wound a little more, applying more pressure to mop up the blood and clean the skin around it so the tape would stick better.
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