Author's Notes: This will probably not make much sense unless you've read my previous Fraser/Victoria story, Into the Wild. While I was writing that story, I felt that there was another obvious direction the story could have taken, and I finally had to write that down, too. (And that makes this story an AU for an AU, which is kind of crazy, I know.) Thanks to the Ficfinishing community, and to Mizface and Aria for feedback and advice.
SequelTo: Into the Wild
Victoria sat beside me by the downed airplane where we had spent the night. We drank our tea, and steam rose from our cups, but neither of us said anything.
I had refused to let her go. Last night as we lay side by side, she had tried words and reason, and when that failed, she had whispered of our freedom, hers and mine together. I had said no, although it was the hardest thing I have ever done.
But as I packed my things in preparation for taking her to the detachment at Haines Junction, she looked at me with new determination in her eyes.
"I can tell them about you. Did you think about that? What do you think your precious RCMP will do when they find out that you're a shifter?"
My hands slowed and stilled, holding my empty cup.
"Ben, don't you see? You have to come with me." There was hope in her eyes now, and it was painful to see.
Of course. Did I think it was possible to do this without cost to myself? "You could tell them, yes. I couldn't stop you."
"And that's why you have to let me go. Or come with me."
It would be the worst kind of hypocrisy, if I expected her to face the uncertain justice of the court when they knew she was a shifter, but could not myself face the RCMP the same way. It was only fair, I supposed. Or at least there was a kind of symmetry in it.
"I can't do that," I said heavily.
Victoria looked incredulous. "Are you serious? You're going to go back and wreck your career over this? When you could--?" She broke off, still shaking her head in disbelief.
"Apparently so, yes." It was, in some measure, a relief. I had lived a double life for so long, and I was heartily sick of it. Now my duty, of all things, would make an end to it.
She slumped, the final glitter of hope leaving her eyes. It left her face pale and set. "You're crazy."
Victoria said nothing during the drive down to Haines Junction, not that I could have heard her over the engine of the snowmobile. It was not until she sat cuffed in our sole interrogation room in front of me, Constable Larouche and Sergeant Steed that she spoke.
"Your Constable Fraser is a shapeshifter."
I had expected triumph or the satisfaction of revenge in her voice, but there was none. It was as if she spoke her alotted lines in some grim play. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye.
Sergeant Steed threw me a sharp glance, then he turned it on Victoria. "Why do you say that?"
"I'm a shifter myself. We know our own kind." The sergeant looked unsurprised at this--clearly the American police had told him of the circumstances of Victoria's crime.
Sergeant Steed looked cautiously at me. "Is this true, Constable?"
I stood straighter, automatically putting my hands in the position of parade rest. "Yes."
I heard Victoria's indrawn breath, and I met her eyes. I don't know if she had expected me to deny it, but I saw no point to that. It would only mean a period of delay while my blood was tested, and despite my subterfuge during my years in the RCMP, I didn't care for a direct lie to my superior officer.
I saw Constable Larouche move his hand slightly toward his gun, an unconscious movement, no doubt. Sergeant Steed kept his eyes on me.
"Constable Larouche, lock up the suspect. The extradition paperwork will probably come through tomorrow, and we can send her on to the Americans to deal with."
"So you never thought that this little detail was something you should tell the RCMP about?" the sergeant asked me.
"Not if it doesn't impact my ability to do my job," I said. "Do you have complaints about my performance, sir?"
"Your record is good," he said grudgingly. "But that's not the issue."
Yes, it is, I wanted to say, though I didn't. Sergeant Steed would not appreciate a direct contradiction--he was an officer of the strict, old-fashioned kind.
"No, it won't do. How do you think the public would react if they knew that the very force that is to keep them safe at night had shifters among them?"
"I would hope that the RCMP doesn't believe in old superstitions, sir."
His eyes narrowed. "They're not all superstitions, Constable. There was the case last year with a shifter running wild in Edmonton. And look at the suspect you brought in--she killed her own lover."
"Respectfully, sir, most violent crimes are committed by ordinary humans."
"Ordinary humans don't rip people's throats out." The sergeant surreptitiously rubbed his palm on his leg, as if his hands were sweaty, and although his expression was stern, he wouldn't quite meet my eyes.
He was afraid of me.
I wondered what stories he'd heard as a child: perhaps that shifters had unnatural strength, and that we could hypnotize with our eyes. Or perhaps even the old tale that we stole babies from their beds at night.
I sighed, and tried once more, although I was beginning to suspect that it was futile. "I assure you, sir, that I'm as loyal to the RCMP as any human could be."
In the end, I walked out of the sergeant's office stripped of my badge and my uniform.
My apartment had been provided by the RCMP, and that, too, was taken from me. I gathered my things, gave away what I didn't need, and camped out in the woods outside Haines Junction. I owed it to myself and to other shifters to try one more time, so I wrote a carefully-worded appeal.
I also called my father, although not because I wanted him to use his influence unduly, of course. We didn't speak often, but I wanted him to hear this from me, and not by means of gossip.
"There's a certain value in pragmatism." I could hear his sigh on the other side of the line.
"And you say that?" I couldn't count the number of stories I'd heard of his and Buck's relentless pursuit of criminals, no matter the obstacles in their way.
"Some things are hard to fight. Be careful, son." He didn't say 'or you'll end up like your mother', but the words hung between us nevertheless.
Winter had almost passed before I received the reply to my appeal, which despite its diplomatic wording was a denial of my request. Sitting by my small campfire, I looked into the flames, folded the paper and put it back in its envelope.
There was nothing for me in Haines Junction anymore, and my freedom left me at a loss. Always before when I had moved from one town to another, it had been on the orders of the RCMP.
I rose, fetched water from the creek, and hung the teapot on the tripod over the fire, feeling the need for something to warm me.
When I was younger, I would have asked Quinn for advice. He had taught me how to be a shifter, and how to strive for balance between my two selves. But I suspected that Quinn would never have joined the RCMP in the first place, wouldn't have pledged himself to something that couldn't accept him as a shifter. Well, I would just have to find myself something else to do. Perhaps I would move north again.
I sipped my tea while the evening settled softly around me. Somewhere in a treetop, a black-capped chickadee sang its short, repetitive song. The moon rose, a few days from full. There was no compulsion yet, only a gentle but insistent nudge at the back of my mind. I hadn't changed in a while, and for once, there was no reason I shouldn't. I gave in to it with something like happiness.
I pulled my clothes off, folded them neatly and put them in the tent. Then I set my feet on the cold earth and shifted, feeling my senses open to the world.
Putting my nose to the ground, I drew in the rich, raw smell of decomposing leaves. There were no new leaves on the trees and bushes yet, but I could feel them waiting. The land was awakening, unfolding itself to the warmth of spring.
I snuffled around the camp, noting the trail of a fox that had passed by last night, and a squirrel chattered at me from a tree, safe in the branches. Not much meat on it, anyway.
A few drops of rain fell, promising a heavy shower soon. I shook myself off and padded into the tent, curling up on top of the sleeping bag. No sense getting wet if I didn't have to.
When I slept, I dreamed of her. There were bars between us, and she raised one leg to paw at them impatiently. Are you coming? I'm tired of this. I want to run.
Her eyes gleamed in the darkness, and I poked my nose between the bars to meet hers.
I woke, and was confused that she wasn't there. Why wasn't I with her?
The patter of rain against the tent had stopped, and I rose and went outside. It was the hour before dawn, and tatters of mist lay between the trees. I stretched the sleep from my body, first my front legs, then my back, and sniffed around the campsite. The fire had gone out, leaving only the spiky smell of ash. There was nothing to hold me here.
I went southeast among the foothills of the mountains. The spring melt flooded every brook and stream with icy water, and as I ran south, I met the advancing spring. Day by day, the land was greener, and the birches went from buds to little mouse-ears to full green leaves.
Game was plentiful, and I kept out of the way of humans. I went to find my pack.
I passed the border between British Columbia and Alaska somewhere in the mountains. But there was nothing to mark it, and it didn't interest me in the least. As I came closer to the coast, the air grew heavy and wet, carrying the smell of salt.
I hung around the edges of the place called Juneau, careful not to be seen. This was human territory, and I knew she was trapped in a building in this town. But I didn't know where, and however I looked, I couldn't find her. Many houses had dogs, and they would smell me when I came close, barking angrily. I could have shifted, of course, but I'd left all my human things behind. Besides, I didn't want to go back to my other self--I was done with that.
It was evening, and I lay underneath a tree with my head resting on my paws. The sky was clear, and the dusk brightened as the moon rose, almost full again. It hung above the trees to the east, big and round.
I was alone. No, I was lonely, and I wasn't used to that. The humans didn't want me, and my mate was lost. I sat up, raised my head to the sky and let all my frustration out in a long, deep howl, again and again.
I fell silent, and the sky was silent, too.
And then, faint but clear, came an answering howl. It was not a dog. I ran toward the sound, desperate to find her before she fell silent. She didn't. She howled until the night was full of her song, pent in and furious.
It was a large building, a dark, square thing that looked black in the darkness. But she was not inside it. She was behind a fence, in a small yard with two trees. I ran up to the fence, but she barked in warning, and I stopped.
I waited for you. Her fur had lost its shine, but she was still defiant. Being kept in a cage had not broken her yet, but no one could stand it forever. I wanted the fence gone, and I lunged at it, but her snarl stopped me again.
I sat back on my haunches to think. To get her out, I had to change--I needed hands and words.
Changing was hard, like trying to find the end of a ball of yarn without fingers to do it with. Finally I got hold of it, tugged, and sat shivering and naked on the ground. Changing had never been difficult for me before, and it frightened me to have to try so hard. I'd spent a full month as a wolf this time, longer than I ever had before.
I looked at Victoria through the wire fence. She watched me steadily, a little wary now that I was human. The fence had a little lightning symbol on it, and I realized with a chill that it was electrified, and I could have gone straight into it. Bit into it, even, the current passing through my tongue. Victoria must have learned the hard way not to attack the fence.
The ground was cold, and I stood up, stumbling and uncertain at using two legs instead of four.
I looked around. So here I was, apparently just about to break into a United States prison and free one of the inmates. Oh, and I was also naked. I smiled a little, because I suppose it was funny, if you looked at it in the right way.
Victoria sat still on the other side of the fence. I couldn't read her as well now, but she was a wild animal in a cage, and I had put her there. I should have let her go.
Well, I would rectify that mistake now.
The skills of a law enforcement officer also served me well in breaking the law. I managed to short-circuit the electric fence, but I certainly wouldn't be able to lift her over it--the top of the fence had cruel-looking barbed wire that leaned inwards. I kneeled down and gripped the metal wire, as if that would bring me closer to her, and looked into her eyes.
"Victoria? You need to change."
She growled, low in her throat, and attacked the fence with her teeth. There was no humanity in her eyes.
"Please! You can't get out like this!" At any moment, a guard might come along.
"Victoria. Victoria." I repeated her name over and over, hoping that would rouse the human in her. Her ears flicked, and her gaze wavered. I stared into her eyes until she finally shifted, flowing into human shape. Pale and naked, she knelt on the ground on the other side of the fence, opposite me. Then her mouth set, and she began to climb up the fence. When she reached the inward-leaning barbed wire, she paused. I began to climb up on the other side, to see if I could do anything to help her.
An alarm began to ring, shrill and insistent.
Victoria took hold of the wire, and in one convulsive movement, she swung one leg over, then the other. I could hear her gasp of pain as the barbs cut into her. Then she was scrambling down the other side, and I dropped to the ground beside her.
"Are you all right?" I asked, but she was already changing back, stumbling as she began to run. I heard shouts behind us. As I ran toward her I shifted back, too, and it was easy, like water flowing downhill. We left the prison behind, running into the night.
Victoria's blood trail would be easy to follow if we did nothing to hide it. She found a small creek, and we ran up it, the water cold and soaking my fur.
At dawn, Victoria slowed, her flanks heaving with breath. She was not in good shape, and I could feel her ribs when I nudged at her side with my nose. We rested in a thick stand of trees, and I licked at her wounds. They were washed clean by the water, and had stopped bleeding, but they looked ugly, long gashes down the inside of her legs. Even after running through the creek, her matted fur still smelled of the prison.
I woke at dusk, hungry and rested. We hunted, then, and brought down a deer together. Victoria ate, but not so much as she would need to recover. I stood back from the kill. Eat.
No. We must run.
And we did. We ran for days, until we were deep in the mountains. No one seemed to hunt us, and I hadn't smelled a human for days. Victoria finally relaxed, and that night she ate her fill, gorged herself on meat until her belly was distended with it. Sated, we slept the next day, and only rose the next evening to drink the water that ran down from a peak nearby. It tasted flat and cold, like snow. Then we lay down to rest again, and I tucked my nose close by Victoria's neck.
It was spring even in the high mountains now. Birds sang all around us, although they meant nothing to me--they flew away too quickly to catch. Purple flowers dotted the dark rock, and only on the high peaks was there any snow left. We moved slower now that there was no hurry, stopping to get side-tracked by scent trails, or to roll around in play together on the grass, mock-snapping at each other. Victoria's wounds healed, and her fur grew healthy and glossy.
In some ways, this was the happiest time in my life. Time passed, and I didn't mark it. Summer came, and we moved with it, slowly making our way north. The land changed, from mountains to rolling hills to flat taiga. I knew this kind of land, and it felt good to me. We passed the markings of other wolves at times, and avoided their territory. There was plenty of space; no need to pick a fight.
Sometimes when we slept, Victoria's paws would twitch as she ran in her sleep. Perhaps she was chasing a rabbit. But I would dream of other things. Warm, flickering light: a campfire burned low, the coals glowing red. Beside it, Victoria and I would sit, telling stories. Or I would dream of skin, pale and hairless, and dark hair longer than any fur. I would dream of touch, of fingers spread wide, tangling together.
I would dream of words, written on a page or spoken aloud.
When I woke, my dreams faded away, the way scent dissolves in water. I would be back in the world of here and now, and there was no space for anything else.
The days grew shorter, and one night the air was sharp with the bite of frost, but it did not greatly concern us. When the first snow fell, we played in it, trying to catch the big flakes and feeling them melt on the tongue. On the thin layer of new snow, prey was easy to track.
The next evening, I smelled smoke on the wind, sharp and somehow familiar. We skirted the group of cabins, only seeing them from a distance in the night. But there was easy prey nearby, white animals that were soft and penned in by fences. They died easily when Victoria laid into them, their blood red and steaming. She didn't hesitate, bending her head to bite into the meat.
I laid my ears back in unease. It belongs to the humans.
But now it's mine. She bared her teeth, claiming the kill.
The flock was bleating and stampeding inside the fence, and a dog began to bark at one of the cabins. Victoria reluctantly left her meat, and we slunk into the forest.
But that was not the end of it. Victoria seemed to enjoy the easy killing, and we found another flock at the neighboring farm the next night. I hung back, but Victoria slipped under the fence, a dark shadow slashing at the terrified sheep.
The humans were waiting for us. "There they are!"
A dog barked, and there was a bright light. I ran, circling around the flock of sheep, desperate to see where Victoria had gone. I couldn't leave her here.
I saw her among the sheep, blood on her muzzle. Then she ran, low to the ground, toward me and the safety of the forest. I turned as she passed me, and gathered speed to follow her.
"They're running! Get them!"
There was a crack that hurt my ears, and a sharp pain in my side. I kept running, but my legs did not obey me. They faltered, even though I strove toward the forest, toward Victoria, with all my heart.
My sight seemed to go hazy, and I fell slowly, as if in a dream. The pain was distant, and there was red blood on the snow.
My last thought was, Victoria. Keep running.
End Another Way by Luzula
Author and story notes above.
Please post a comment on this story.