Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

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Chapter 53: Pursuit

Author's Notes/Warnings: A challenge laid down, physical violence, perilous situations, running, erotica

Hey, All! Just wanted to remind everyone that my third e-book for this series, Super: Exile, is available for sale! The link for Amazon is here, and you can find links to other e-retailers in the section for Book 3 in on the Introduction page. Please note that if you want to get a jump on this story, the e-book includes up through chapter 57. :D Also, I'd very much welcome if anyone who's been reading wants to leave a review!

Thanks in so many ways to my editor-in-chief, gwoman for helping me perfect this story.

Back to Chapter 52

The day outside the windows looked clear and cold as Lex awoke, the sun shining bright but appearing remote and powerless as its rays lighted but didn't heat. She got out of bed to move to the shower with silent footsteps, unwilling to wake Rolf since he looked so peaceful.

They went into town later that day to do some shopping so that Lex could start picking out some gifts to bring to everyone back home, and for a walk in the woods that afternoon, but Rolf seemed so distracted that any attempts at conversation ended up unfinished. Lex fell silent after a while, holding his hand whenever she could.

Later that afternoon, as dusk began to approach, Rolf brought Lex up to his room and closed the door. He sat on the bed, the set of his shoulders tense while one hand kept picking at the seam of his trousers, so Lex sat next to him, facing him, and took his hands in hers. He made an attempt to smile as she did, then just met her eyes, and the gravity in them made Lex's stomach drop. “I'm going to have to leave you now,” he said, the words seeming too loud in the quiet room. Lex nodded, squeezing his hands as she did. “I don't want to, but...” he continued, pausing for a moment before he picked back up with what he wanted to say. “Someone will come with food for you and instructions around the time the sun sets. Have something to eat, but not too much, and follow what the letter says. I swear that this will turn out all right. I swear it.”

He clutched her to him then, forcing the breath out of her, and Lex hugged Rolf back with just as much fierceness. “It will, don't worry. Everything will be just fine.”

She could almost feel the force of Rolf's gaze as he stood then, one hand still hanging on to hers until he stepped away to the door, watching her until it closed. Lex sighed, wondering what to do next. Prowling around the room, she'd been reading through the spines of the books on the shelf for about twenty minutes, tapping her fingers on the side of the shelves, before a knock on the door sounded. As Lex opened the door, a servant entered with a tray. The woman didn't speak but left it on the dresser with haste, then retreated just as fast.

Lex took the tray and placed it on the bed, careful that the steaming bowl of soup on it didn't spill, and ignored everything else to pick up the letter sitting on the bottom right corner, right next to a plate with what looked like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on it. The envelope sat heavy in her hands, the cream-colored stationery stiff and unyielding until she took the butter knife on the tray and slit it open.

My dear girl, the letter began, I've gotten the impression that you know more about our family than most who are not like us. Therefore, I will be brief in my instructions. At six tonight, the entire family will begin its pursuit of you.

Whipping her head around to see the clock, Lex found that it said five minutes after five. Taking a deep breath that she let out in a sigh, she continued reading.

Your task will be to evade us until the sun rises tomorrow morning. Normally, this is a task of outdoorsmanship and tracking, but I understand that you were raised in the suburbs, so in your case I guess it will be a game of survival. You may begin moving at any time after you receive this letter, but I'd recommend at least eating something, since you may be on the move until morning. If you succeed, you will receive no further argument from the family about your proposed union with my son. If you lose, however, I cannot guarantee your safety, since it seems you've made some enemies in this family already. Good luck to you, young lady.

Richard had signed the letter off in a large, decorative hand. Lex folded the single sheet before putting it back in the envelope, feeling her heart in her throat as she picked up the hot soup to eat while she thought through what she'd read and planned her next moves. Once she'd finished it, she moved the tray back to the dresser and began pulling clothes out as she tried to eat half the sandwich. She settled on a garment she'd borrowed from work, and Lex felt herself blushing as she stripped down to her underwear before she stepped into the insulated coverall.

The color was a navy blue, as usual for their work uniforms (which the captain always encouraged them to wear if out of the building on official business, although he didn't seem to care what they wore if they worked in the office), but the type she'd grabbed had been specially adapted for missions in cold conditions. Unfortunately, the tight fit meant she couldn't wear anything else underneath, but she'd discovered when she'd tried it on before that no other layers seemed necessary to keep warm.

As she rummaged further in the drawer, she found the canvas bag she'd stuffed away, not knowing if she'd need it. Lex took the gloves and boots she'd brought out of it, pulling them away from the canvas since they'd both stuck to it. She could feel her heart hammering through her then and closed her eyes for a moment to give mental thanks to Victor as she laced and tied the boots he'd made for her and arranged the webbing of the gloves he'd designed over her shoulders. Lex rolled her back against the nearest wall and heard the velcro she'd sewed on the rear of the jumpsuit fasten to the webbing attached to the gloves strung across her shoulders.

She took the gloves off a moment later to let them hang from their webbing as she continued to search through her luggage to find her thermal hat and scarf, and headed to the bathroom to finish getting ready. As she looked in the mirror a minute or so later, Lex felt a brief shiver of sensation run down her spine as the idea hit her that her future father-in-law was threatening to murder her or, more likely, to have someone else do it. Karl, I'd bet, she found herself thinking. Looking herself in the eye as she put the hat on and pulled it low over her ears, Lex found herself smiling dangerously at her reflection. There's no way he'd have a chance. The thought came, unbidden, and Lex shook her head and turned away, reminding herself never to underestimate an opponent.

Lex came back into the main room and looked at the clock, noting that she had a few minutes until half-past five, and sat for a moment, trying to ignore her churning stomach. While Lex glanced at the clock every few minutes, she also began to plan what she should do. It seemed to be the wrong choice to just get into the car and drive away, Lex thought, but she shook her head for a few seconds at the idea of finding someplace to hide in the house.

She got up to pace as she mentally reviewed the routes that Rolf had run her over several times during their “walks” in the surrounding forest. Lex knew that wolves could sustain a running pace for longer than humans, and since the forest outside represented their home territory, Lex felt it wouldn't be that difficult for them to find her. I just have to figure out how to get somewhere they can't follow me, she thought, and then recalled a rock outcropping she and Rolf had passed as they'd walked to the house he'd grown up in. It hadn't seemed too large to her at the time, just a jutting outcrop set on a larger hill, but it had a steep pitch that loomed a story or more over their heads and looked too treacherous for anyone except a skilled rock climber to attempt to scale. From her recollection, it would take about a half-hour to get there, so she guessed she could make it before the pack set out after her. Lex grinned to herself as she took a final look at the clock, then walked out the door.

As she crossed to the stairs and began to descend, however, Lex knew something had gone wrong. What looked to be a grey wolf with light markings across its back, one that stood about twice the size of any wolf she'd ever seen, stopped ascending the stairs about halfway up the flight below. Lex felt a warble in her stomach, then it dropped as she took a breath, her muscles loose and ready for what she now knew would come next.

“Karl, I'm guessing?” she asked, then smiled as the wolf seemed to glare at her as he growled in a way that sent a skittering feeling down her spine.

“That's what I thought,” she said as the pace of her thoughts began to speed up to a blinding speed. “I see you're not a stickler for the rules.”

As her mind mapped the change of plan, Lex shifted her weight from her front leg to her back one, beginning to ease up the stairs in reverse. It occurred to her as she pulled her leading leg behind the other one, Karl's snarling form keeping the same distance from her, that this was probably a strategy Richard and Karl had agreed on.

“Let me guess,” she said, an odd feeling of elation growing in her chest as she realized what she'd do next, “you and Richard had a little chat, and he told you to come at me when no one else could interfere. Too bad that everyone else, including Rolf and I, were told this contest begins in a half-hour.”

She heard Karl's growl increase in strength at the same moment time seemed to slow down around her. Lex yanked her leading leg back and pulled her left hand from where it had been resting on the handrail to the flat newel post that marked the landing she now stood on. She kept her eye on Karl, who'd leaped forward the moment she'd picked up speed, but to her he seemed to be coming at a slow walk up the stairs, his lips curling back to expose sharp, white teeth as he opened his mouth.

Lex took advantage of that and braced both hands on the post, pushing down with her arms at the same time she bent her knees, then leaped up. Karl stood at the base of the post a moment later, snapping at the air where her legs had been a split-second before. As he did, Lex braced one toe on the top of the post, digging it in so that the micro hooks that Victor had designed attached themselves to the wood. By the time Karl had recovered himself and started a lunge for where she stood on the post, Lex's sharp front snap kick with her free foot had been launched in his direction. He gave a yelp of pain as her boot connected with the side of his nose and fell back to the floor, stumbling.

Time seemed to jolt back to normal then, and Lex turned her head to see two smaller wolves racing up the stairs, their movements closely synchronized and the only discrepancy in the pairing being their coloring. She smiled as she recognized Rolf, but it took a moment for her to recognize the wolf beside him, a couple of inches shorter and the markings across its back a light grey, almost making it look like an arctic wolf. Lucy, Lex realized as she watched the two of them rush Karl. The roar Rolf gave made a substantial chill run down Lex's spine, and he charged Karl, pushing him back to the floor with a shove of his shoulder as the other tried to rise. Lucy stood just behind him, snarling and snapping at Karl's feet, as if threatening to break one of them should he stand.

Lex paused, trying to decide if she should attempt to bypass the group and run downstairs and outside as she'd planned, but then she heard a growling, snapping sound that changed her mind. A second later she could see the rest of the family begin piling up the stairs, a number of them snarling and fighting each other as they did. Lex had begun to move as her gaze swiveled back to see Karl still staggering but growling now, seeming determined to continue to press the attack despite the blood dripping off his muzzle.

Turning as fast as she could, time seemed to slow once more as Lex dug her foot deeper into the post, using it as a launching point for her next foot to get purchase as she started to run up the stairs' handrail. She turned to look at the wolves again and found the nearest three regarding her with quiet surprise, then she turned back to give her full attention to balancing and running. Due to the growling noise behind her, Lex thought she'd acquired a pursuit again but tried to forget that in favor of figuring out her next move.

As she reached the newel post on the next landing, she looked up at the floor above to try to see what might make sense. The open sitting area she saw there caused the tension in her stomach to wind tighter, and Lex began to look in all directions as she continued up the handrail to the third floor, trying to figure out where she could possibly go to avoid the wolves chasing her.

She spotted a sturdy brass chandelier overhead that caused her heart to pound with hope, and Lex craned her neck to scope it out as she ascended. It looked as if it had been made to mimic something that once held a multitude of candles, with several layers of looped brass sconces now sporting small light bulbs, and it hung almost her height distance above the staircase. Mentally keeping her fingers crossed, Lex increased her speed as she sprinted up the handrail, then dropped to a slight crouch just as she reached the newel post at the top.

In the next moment, she leaped as high as she could, trying to let her momentum work for her as she reached for the chandelier. Her fingers twitched as she thought she would miss entirely, but then one hand clamped onto a brass loop and she swung her body over enough to grab a second. She heard a slow growl beneath her, and Lex tried to forget how much she felt like a piñata at that moment and focus on getting her entire body on the light fixture. The chandelier swung so hard that it neared the walls as she struggled, and Lex used the jerky movements to pull herself ever higher, grabbing one handhold after another on the higher tiers of sconces. Finally, she had enough of her torso up and enough momentum to swing a leg up and scramble the rest of the way onto the light fixture.

She found it disorienting to look down once she’d clambered to the center of the chandelier. As it rocked from one side to the other, she felt her stomach lurch when she saw how far away the floor looked, not to mention the steep drop-offs of the stairs beneath her. The dozen-strong wolf pack below her fed her unease as well, even though she knew she had allies among them. It felt odd to see them standing or sitting there on the Persian carpet, every eye watching her movements. Lex realized she'd spent enough time around Rolf in his other form when she became aware that she could read the emotions in their eyes as easily as if they'd been in human form. She had just locked eyes with Rolf, and his gold eyes seemed full of worry for her, but she broke her gaze off as a noise distracted her.

Looking up, Lex pulled her head to the side to avoid a small cloud of plaster that had become dislodged as one of the fixture anchors came undone. The unsettled feeling in her stomach grew to a veritable storm as her eyes cast about, trying to determine her next course of action. The landing below seemed out of the question; even with the pack divided, it remained likely that the few who wished her ill would be able to perpetrate something horrible on her before she could get away. Fighting them effectively would be difficult, since she'd only become used to fighting one wolf, so if a number of them acted in concert, she knew she'd at least get injured. As always, she vowed only to use her voice weapon as a last resort, so she continued to look for another way out.

The stairs seemed to fall away underneath her as she looked at them, causing Lex's stomach to pitch again, and she discarded that as an option. She looked up the chain the light fixture was hung by, wondering if she could climb it. It might be possible, she concluded, but considering she'd have to try to punch through the ceiling once she got there and hope it was just drywall, Lex thought it wouldn't be the best option.

Looking about wildly, she felt some of the tightness in her chest relax as she saw it: a small, stained-glass window opposite her position on the chandelier. Right away, she started moving her body, trying to rock the light fixture like a swing on a playground. As she did, Lex considered how she would get through her escape route. It looked to be affixed to a wooden frame that went through the wall to the outside and had probably been sealed in place long ago. Time seemed to slow once more as a massive jolt shot through the chandelier and it fell to hang lower on one side, but Lex managed to keep her feet through that and continue swinging the unwieldy piece.

At length, she decided that she should lead with her feet but tuck her upper body so that she could be prepared to slide through the empty space once the window broke or try to punch at the window as a last resort, in case she hadn’t broken it with kicks. If that didn't work, she figured she could try to break her fall along the wall, hoping that the boots or gloves would eventually stick before she slid all the way to the stairs. With a big breath and an attempt to shove away the picture of her broken body on the staircase below, Lex began to anticipate the right moment to leap, readying herself as best she could.

After several seconds, when she’d gotten as close as she thought she could, Lex jumped, both feet aimed at the stained glass window. Time seemed to be moving so slowly then that it felt like she hung in the air for a full minute, and she had plenty of time to turn her head to see Rolf before she hit the window, but she immediately turned forward again because the look of anguished worry in his eyes had been hard to bear.

She squinted as she hit the window, then blinked as her whole body jolted and lurched. The next set of nervous breaths saw her crouching and trying to balance as the entire scene changed. It took a moment for her to realize she’d made it outside, and she glanced around at the forest in the distance, made silver-edged by the nearly full moon, and then tried to figure how she’d come to be surfing down three stories of slate roof. The still-mostly-intact stained-glass window now stuck to her feet seemed to be the explanation, and Lex couldn’t help a fleeting glance at the courtyard below, coming up fast. Yanking her gaze away from that, she found her attention caught by something that caused her to raise an eyebrow and slew her body to one side, slowing her descent somewhat and making her line of travel more diagonal to the roof.

Bringing her arms out from her body, Lex tried to keep her balance as she slid down the uneven slates and began furious mental calculations about what to do next, until in her next breath the moment became now. She’d already managed to peel one foot away from the stained glass, so she used that one to kick the remainder of the window away as she flew through the air for yet another time that evening, the free-fall causing her stomach to sink even faster.

She hadn’t been able to get as close as she'd wanted to her target, so as she began to fall, Lex had to try to grab onto it. Branches flew past her and smacked her in the face and limbs as she flailed, trying to catch hold of one and failing. Lex felt her breathing start to come in gasps as she contemplated the distance to the ground, but suddenly a long limb loomed out of the silver-tinged darkness under her feet, and somehow she managed to land on it.

The momentum she’d gathered as she slid down the roof still remained with her, however, and Lex found herself propelled forward on the huge tree limb, trying to expend the last of the force. She put her left arm out as she neared the center of the tree, trying to curve it around the trunk and retain her position by holding her other arm up to catch onto some other branches, but she ended up wrenching her shoulder anyway, cringing as it bent backwards in a way that sent a bolt of pain straight through her.

Easing herself back into a standing position with her right arm, Lex tried to take stock of herself and her surroundings as the adrenaline rush caught up to her, causing her to shake as if she'd been attached to an electric fence. She didn’t have time to do anything other than realize she’d made it into one of the trees next to the main Kaiser house before she saw wolves begin spilling out of the house onto the lawn, a number of them snarling and growling at one another, and one pair actively fighting.

Though she'd seen wolves many times before now, it had always been on television or in the zoo, so the sight of such a large pack freely roaming sent a shudder down Lex's spine, especially since she knew what they searched for, although the group seemed focused on their infighting at that moment. Casting her gaze about to determine more about her situation, Lex saw that she'd kept far enough off the ground that the wolves wouldn't be able to get to her, but not far enough if any of them changed back to human form and had any skill in climbing a tree.

She struggled to slow her breathing as she craned her head, trying to see the best way out of her current situation. If I climb higher, it should put me farther out of their range, but the tree I landed in seems to be one of the shorter ones, at least compared to the rest in the forest, she thought. Sighing at her predicament, Lex then found herself looking at a pattern in the tree limbs just before a feeling of elation ran through her as she came to a solution. A second later, she eased herself onto a nearby limb in order to cross over to another large limb on the other side of the tree. Lex walked out on the branch until she could step up onto a similarly large one from a different tree that had grown across the limbs of the tree she'd landed on. Her heart lightened as she looked for her next connection, moved around the tree, and eased onto another neighboring tree branch.

When she paused to look back at the house from about a hundred yards away, Lex saw that the wolves' group had become looser but they still congregated around the yard, some sniffing the ground and others examining the side of the house. Relieved that they hadn't found her yet, perhaps due to the wind blowing away from the house, Lex picked up the pace as she moved through the forest, using the tree branches like a series of roads, something she could remember having seen squirrels do when she'd been a child in the suburbs.

As she'd moved farther from the house and her mind had treated her to several replays of the wolf pack now following her, she tried to go even faster. The moon had passed overhead and then headed back down the sky by the time her foot slipped and Lex slowed down. The whole thing felt like it happened in slow motion; she'd taken a step forward onto a branch, not seeing a bump in the wood that had been hidden in shadow. Her foot slid, and for some reason, the toe of her boot didn't bite into the surface of the tree, instead sliding off the rounded part of the branch. Lex flailed her arms around and she winced as her right upper arm slammed into a nearby branch, but she sighed with relief as she caught onto another branch with her left, only to wince a moment later as her injured left shoulder held too much weight.

Carefully undoing herself from the tangle of branches and twigs she'd fallen into, Lex eased back onto the limb she'd slipped from, moving backwards until she rested her back against the trunk. Trying to calm her stuttering breathing, Lex surveyed her surroundings. She noted that the trees surrounding her stood quiet, only swaying when an infrequent breeze passed by. Lex spotted a small stream to the southwest, but none of the rest of the landmarks she noticed told her where she'd ended up. Nodding at the idea that she had probably gotten lost, Lex sighed out a breath but tried to make no noise, watching as the moonlight turned her exhalation into clouds of silver.

It doesn't matter, she thought. I'll just keep moving until sunrise, then figure out where I am. Small fingers of worry had started to move up her spine by then, however, and Lex began to wonder why she'd slipped in the first place.

She let out a disturbed sound as she examined the sole of one boot. It didn't surprise her as she thought about it, but Lex bit her lip in frustration as she realized she should have expected that running along the branches of a large number of fir trees would gum up the micro-hooks on her boots and gloves with miniature pieces of bark held in place with sticky sap. She ran her hands down her thighs and her boots across her shins in an effort to dislodge some of the gunk, with some limited success after several tries.

It was then, as she realized that the cold air entering her lungs felt like daggers, that maybe she'd underestimated her future father-in-law. Not being able to continue moving would be dangerous, maybe even more so than the wolves following her. Lex cursed then and began to pace along the branch she stood on, pulling her scarf across the bottom of her face and trying to think. After a few long minutes, something occurred to her and she began to survey the area in all directions.

After a few tense minutes, Lex saw what she'd been looking for, perhaps a mile away. The stand of trees there seemed to tower above all those around them, even more than the rest on the same rise.

“All right,” Lex murmured, readjusting her gloves and hat, “you'd better be what I'm looking for.”

She moved with stealth then as well as caution, since she'd gained direction and purpose. As she jumped from one tree to the next, she tried to climb higher with every move. She also paused to take frequent direction checks, attempting to get ever closer to the large stand of trees she'd spotted in the distance.

By the time she'd reached the grove she'd been aiming for, the moon had dropped towards the trees, and Lex guessed it would take another hour or so before the tree branches would start touching the moon. She surveyed the trees as well as she could in the weak silver light and found one that seemed even taller than the rest. Lex walked around the trunk, moving from limb to limb, until she settled on her favorite branch, a particularly wide one that had grown out next to another that had been shed at some point, perhaps blasted away by lightning. The arrangement had left plenty of room for walking on the large branch she'd chosen but also an uneven section of wood along the trunk that Lex could sit on without too much discomfort.

She sat with a sigh, enjoying the first inactivity she'd had for hours, and began scanning the woods around, seeing nothing but silvered clearings and the dark shadows of trees. Suddenly, she sat up with a gasp after catching herself nodding off, realizing that sitting down would be bad if it encouraged her to fall asleep. Jumping up, Lex rubbed her arms with her hands, trying to warm up again. The shivering that shook her frame had nothing to do with adrenaline, and Lex did her best to move all of her limbs as much as possible without losing her balance. Pacing back and forth on the branch seemed to warm her enough to bring the shivering down to a manageable level, but she found she still had to wiggle her fingers and toes every time she headed to the end of the branch, to try to bring warmth to them. Though Victor had invented some superior gloves and boots, she thought, she doubted he'd planned on them having to be low-temperature survival gear.

Lex breathed through the scarf across her face and blinked more than usual to keep the siren song of sleep at bay. She began to recite nursery rhymes in her head, old song lyrics, the preamble to the Constitution, or old film plots in an attempt to keep her attention sharp and to stop herself from drifting off. Even with that going for her, Lex almost missed the first wolf that passed underneath her tree.

The furry figure stood too far away to determine its identity, besides being half covered in shadow, but when Lex spotted the wolf fifty or more feet below, she froze on the tree limb, afraid to continue her walk lest she be heard. Daring a look at it, she saw that the moon had become about halfway caught in the tree limbs and wondered how long it would take until the sun lit the sky again. Forcing herself not to think of that, Lex watched the wolf pass, sniffing at the ground, and continued her walk a few minutes after it had moved out of her vision.

The shivering had become more pronounced and more frequent by the time a larger group of wolves arrived. She looked to see the moon completely caught in the tree branches by then, and due to the lower light, Lex had some difficulty identifying how many wolves had appeared. Satisfied at length that maybe three or four had arrived, she continued pacing on her tree limb even as they circled below. She'd begun to stumble sometimes as she walked, and she realized it had become harder and harder to feel her toes. Her fingers had become stiff and unresponsive, and when she moved them the sensation ranged somewhere between pins and needles and fiery discomfort. It seems my worst enemy has become the weather, she reflected, pulling her chin down to cover more of her face with her thermal scarf as the wind picked up again.

As she stumbled badly enough to have to yank herself upright or be flung off her branch, Lex paused in place, flexing her toes inside her boots to restore blood flow. The moon had sunk enough that it had become only partially visible from behind large trees, so Lex's field of vision had dropped as well. Although much of the forest floor below seemed shrouded in shadow to her, what Lex could catch a glimpse of in the occasional patch of moonlight seemed to be full of wolves pacing back and forth.

She'd expected to be panicked or at least worried when the pack finally located her, but all Lex felt by then was a half-frozen, low level dread. Despite her sluggish body and feeling of unreality due to the sleep that kept trying to creep up on her, one thing seemed clear to Lex: if things kept on as they'd been going, she would die of hypothermia or a fatal fall before the sun came back up.

She'd eaten the last of the snacks she'd packed into her jumpsuit pockets hours ago and it had helped at the time, but now Lex felt as if she had no reserves left. Forcing herself to continue walking, Lex staggered down the branch again, trying to think of something to do before she slipped that last time and took a greater-than-fifty-foot tumble, hitting numerous branches on the way down only to be eaten by wolves at the foot of the tree.

Then, through the haze of her half-functioning body and fuzzy brain, an idea hit Lex that seemed to make her heartbeat catch up to normal again. She smiled to herself as she began to take her time walking, considering music composition for a few minutes, then cleared her throat once and murmured to herself to check her voice and make sure it hadn't gotten too frozen. Walking to the midpoint of the branch she stood on, Lex looked down for a few moments to check on the group below. The failing moonlight didn't show much, but as her vision adjusted to the darkness of the forest floor, she could see the reflection of numerous pairs of eyes gazing back at her.

The more the better, she thought, just before she found the perfect spot to stand and then began to sing.

Once upon a time, long ago, a woman was born to a tree
Daylight showed her kingdom to her, spread out at her feet
But at night in dark silence she'd cry aloud, send my love to me

Send my love to me, wolves
Send my love to me
The night will be ours evermore
Send my love to me

Lex focused as she sang another verse, having no challenge in getting her voice to follow the simple tune she'd chosen. Instead, she focused on using the Voice of Persuasion and conveying the idea of having Rolf change and then climb up the tree to her. She wrapped the idea in many possible feelings: attack, victory, or even that he could help her. Before she finished her song, she put in a final plea to Rolf to come and to bring a blanket.

As she finished singing, she looked down, squinting to see what she could of the wolves below. The majority of them seemed to be sitting back and still looking up at her, their ears swiveled in her direction as if to better hear the song. She began to walk with care after that, watching the wolf pack to see if she could determine whether they'd take the bait or not. There appeared to be some sort of conference going on, but with the lack of light she couldn't quite tell what, if anything, had been decided.

She tried to ignore them after a while, picking up her pace but trying not to walk too fast, worried that she'd fall. Although the brief kick to her system she'd received from singing seemed to have thawed her out a bit, her feet and hands still felt stiff and less responsive than normal, and Lex was as careful as possible as she walked, trying not to think of whether Rolf would come.

By the time full darkness had come to the forest and Lex had gone back to reciting nursery rhymes to herself as she staggered along in order to keep from drifting off. In the middle of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Lex paused, hearing a soft snap somewhere farther down the tree. Moving to get hold of another branch, Lex squinted as she looked over the edge, trying to make use of what starlight there might be, and she saw something move. Her sluggish heart seemed to restart itself, and Lex waited, her feelings somewhere between anxiety and excitement as she tried to determine who was headed in her direction.

After a few minutes, Lex got a good look at the person headed her way. Her heart jumped as she realized the person seemed to be about Rolf’s dimensions. “Rolf, is that you?” she said, trying to keep her voice low and wondering how far her words would travel in the silent forest.

When she saw his face turn towards her through the murk a moment later, Lex couldn’t help but smile. “I’m right up here,” she added with more volume, taking off one of her gloves and waving so that part of her other than her face wasn’t covered in dark clothing.

She wriggled in place as she watched his slow, steady progress, then offered him a helping hand from the branch a few feet below hers. “You actually came,” she said once they stood face to face.

He gave her a smile. “I heard you, you know. Everyone did. For some reason,” he added, unzipping his jacket and taking it off, “I had a terrible compulsion to bring a blanket along with me.”

Rolf unwrapped it from around his torso and Lex grabbed the thin blanket, throwing it over her shoulders in a moment and cuddling into it. “Thank you so much,” she said as she freed a hand to hug him. “You’re a lifesaver, probably literally.”

Shaking his head, Rolf replied, “You know, you didn't need to run off like you did. We could have held Karl back for you while you made it outside.”

Lex returned his disapproving look with an uncertain one of her own. “I don't know, Rolf; I acted on instinct. When I got the letter from your father explaining, it said that he couldn't vouch for my safety or something like that. I think it might have been his idea to have Karl come for me before anyone else knew about it, when he'd told everyone to be somewhere else.”

The black expression Rolf took on following that made Lex take an involuntary, stumbling step back. “Like hell he would have gotten away with anything,” he growled, then stepped forward to take Lex's arm. “Come on; is there a place you can rest? You look like you're about to fall asleep standing.”

Jerking in dismay at the idea of staying still, Lex replied, “I can't sit down for long or I'll fall asleep and freeze.”

The jerk had caused her to overbalance to the left, however, so her body automatically moved her to the right. As Lex watched, the spastic movement of her arm pushed Rolf's hand up and away. To her horror, Lex saw the unbalanced movements she'd made seem to be transmitted to him and he stepped back to balance, without the benefit of boots that would grab the branch. He made no noise as he slipped, just gave her a shocked look as both of his feet slid off the rounded edge of the branch.

The moment of suspension just before Rolf started to fall to the ground seemed to last forever, and Lex felt like she would remember every detail of his dismayed expression forever. Faster than she could think about it, however, her feet dug into the branch and her arms whipped out to catch Rolf's. In her next breath, Lex had hold of both of his forearms and hauled him back onto the branch with her.

Heavy shudders ran through Lex's body by the time she and Rolf had stumbled to the base of the branch and rested against the trunk and the seat she'd found earlier. “I nearly lost you,” all she could think of, was what she found herself mumbling through chapped, half-frozen lips.

“Now you know how I feel,” Rolf said, and Lex could feel him shivering as well from where she clutched him and where they'd pressed their bodies together. “When I saw you up there, swinging from the chandelier like a pendulum...” He stopped for a moment and turned his face into her neck. She bowed her head, ashamed to have worried him so much. “Do you know it's only holding onto the ceiling by a couple pieces of wire now? It all but fell to the ground once you jumped off.”

“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry,” she muttered into his hair, trying to kiss him and talk all at the same time. “I know, it was really stupid. I just panicked.” She moved her body then, letting the blanket fall from her arms as she grabbed the corners so she could wrap it around the both of them. “But what about you, coming up here with no climbing shoes?”

He raised his head then, giving her a shaky smile. “You forget: you called.” Dropping his face against her neck again, he murmured, “I was so worried about you up here. It's something you can bear in the form of a wolf, but as humans we're not well equipped to spend a night in the freezing cold.”

Her shivers had begun to subside, but they started up again when Rolf nuzzled her, pushing her thermal scarf lower so that he could kiss her bare neck. She'd expected to feel chilled, but each touch of his lips took her pulse soaring higher. Panting now, she leaned back against the stump of the old branch, digging into the wood with her gloves and smiling up at him as he kissed up her jaw to stop at her mouth.

“You know,” she said, glancing at him through half-closed eyes, “I think I know a way where we could both warm up.”

He gave her a dubious look, eyebrows raised. “Do you remember when we almost fell off this branch not too long ago? Besides, then we'd both feel like falling asleep afterwards.”

“I can anchor the both of us on the branch,” Lex suggested, giving him a sly smile in return. “You'll have to do most of the moving around, though, and you'll have to make sure you've always got your hands on me.”

She brought one arm back around him then, pressing the two of them closer as she tried to make her argument more convincing. He growled as she did and she met him as he brought their lips together, the kiss feverish and searching. Lex stood panting, just as out of breath as Rolf when he pulled back, growling, “All right, but you've got to promise me not to take risks like this in the future. I belong to you now, Lex. Don't leave me behind.”

Her breath shuddered into her lungs then as she smiled and felt like crying at the same time. “I won't,” she said, blinking to keep her tears at bay. “But since I'm yours now, the same goes for you, Rolf.”

She dropped her eyes, not waiting for an answer as an idea hit her. When she'd finished rearranging herself, Lex stood with her legs spread, feet braced into the branch below them, and her arms down and spread back against the tree trunk, fingers dug into the bark. Once she'd finished, she smiled wickedly. “I don't think I'm going to be able to undress myself like this, though.”

Rolf cursed under his breath as he moved forwards, draping the ends of the blanket over his shoulders as he did so but letting it hang loosely, creating an area between them that seemed to trap some heat, feeling warmer than the open air around them. “I can't believe you actually want to do this. It's going to be pretty cold, you know.”

Lex shrugged as well as she could, attached to the tree. “If you don't want to, we don't have to,” she said, now breathless as she considered what they were contemplating. She arched her body towards him, unable to help her quick intake of breath. “Do you want to?”

He muttered something under his breath as he surged forward to meet her, their bodies suddenly pressed together from groin to lips. She was moaning into his mouth by the time he leaned away, taking his gloves off and shoving them into a coat pocket before reaching for her jumpsuit zipper, which Lex had pulled up to her neck. Rolf began kissing her body as it appeared, his lips cold at first but the tremors running through Lex had little to do with the temperature. She barely felt the cold as Rolf unzipped her far enough to admit one icy hand to cup her breast, then tease her nipple through her bra until Lex had to bite her lip to try to keep her groans in the back of her throat.

“Don't,” Rolf said, lifting his lips from her neck, his eyes so close and dark that they made the night in the forest around them seem brighter in comparison. “I want to hear you. Make as much noise as you need to.”

The tweak he gave to her nipple then almost made her shout, and Lex felt him chuckle against her collarbone as a result. “Oh, so you like the idea of your whole family hearing us together up here?” Lex asked, her voice breathy to the point that she realized the idea had affected her too.

“You have to admit, it does send a certain message, with all of them down there, unable to do anything about the two of us up here,” he replied, his voice a low growl that sent a rush of heat right through her.

Lex just smiled in response, then hissed as he peeled the top of her jumpsuit to one side so that he could put his mouth on one breast, breathing warm air over her until he finally closed his lips on her nipple, sucking it through the thin covering of her bra.

She couldn't manage many more words after that, so she arched her body under his touch, moaning as he moved his mouth to her other breast while he worked her zipper ever lower. His hands on her belly sent shudders through her, the heat seeming to rush through her skin straight to her spine. She couldn't help but gasp, wanting his hands to move lower, wanting to touch him and not being able to do anything about it. Forcing her eyes open, Lex instead watched Rolf's dark hair as he sucked on her breast, longing to tangle her fingers through his strands. She made herself watch what he did as much as she could, mentally marking everywhere she could feel his skin on hers and biting her lip as she craved more.

She couldn't help but close her eyes as her breath stuttered when he pulled the zipper open to her left leg and knowing fingers danced along the inside of her thigh. Lex had found it odd when she'd gotten the jumpsuit and found that it unzipped from neck to ankle, but hadn't thought much about it as she'd stuffed it into her locker. Now, however, she found herself thanking whoever had come up with this ingenious design when Rolf had plenty of room to put the heel of his hand under her navel and move it slowly down.

“Do you know how beautiful you look?” Rolf murmured, moving his lips down her neck, then progressively lower.

Lex could hear her own breathing becoming harsher, couldn't help the groan of longing as she felt warm lips on her stomach. “I could see you even if it was pitch black, Lex. I could see you through the ends of my fingertips and on the tip of my tongue.”

She moaned out loud as she felt his careful fingers push the crotch of her underwear to the side, and shivered as cold air slipped into her jumpsuit as he knelt, then trembled as she felt his tongue on her clit. Lex struggled to keep herself upright as her legs shook, biting her lip as she fought her shudders and dug her feet harder into the branch underneath them.

“No, I want to hear everything,” Rolf said, leaning back just enough for her to see his wicked smile in the dim light. “Be as loud as you want. I want to hear it.”

Choking on a moan and a gasp as he lowered his head to her again, Lex couldn’t stop the sounds she made. She wanted to tell Rolf how good it felt, how much she wanted him, but she couldn’t form words any more, just helpless moans and choked gasps. Lex guessed Rolf liked it, if the vibrations of his growl were a good indicator, but due to the reality of being focused on holding herself upright, Lex got closer to the edge in the following minutes but couldn’t quite come.

At the moment Rolf thrust two fingers inside her, Lex knew she must have at least yelped or maybe shrieked as that sent her tumbling over the edge, but the only thing she could hear or see for a moment was the white light that took over everything. When the rest of the world returned, Lex could still feel her body shuddering to the aftershocks of her orgasm while she miraculously held fast to the tree, still groaning from the sensation. Rolf straightened then, murmuring under his breath as he fastened his lips to her neck. She let out another loud cry of satisfaction as he thrust inside her.

Still shivering through the last waves of her orgasm, Lex managed to remain attached to the tree and couldn’t keep silent as Rolf started a quick rhythm. Her entire body felt so sensitive that it seemed she just continued coming, but now she had words again, even if they were simple. “Yes, Rolf, yes,” she mumbled through gasps, craning her neck so that she could kiss whatever part of him she could, his hair, his cheek, or his lips when he moved to meet her. “Come for me.”

The noise he made when he did was muffled against her neck, and a delicious shudder ran through her as a result. After a few moments, their heaving breaths seemed to be all that could be heard in the quiet forest. Lex slumped as Rolf pulled out, glad that she'd anchored herself to something that held her upright. He adjusted both of their clothes with care, then Lex freed one hand to pull him close, smiling as she buried her face in his dark hair and felt the strength of him beneath her fingers.

He turned to kiss her then, and she could feel his lips smiling against her own. They remained like that for a while, long enough for Lex to realize that she'd started to nod off when she felt Rolf nudge her. “Don't fall asleep now,” he said, turning his head to force hers to look up.

Lex blinked as she saw that her earlier fleeting impression of the sky becoming lighter seemed correct. She took a glance around the horizon to spot the top edge of the sun as it came over a hill in the distance, shielded by a multitude of trees but still visible. “Come on, let's get moving,” Rolf said, pulling back to look at Lex. “By the time we climb down to the ground, it'll be up for real. Besides, Karl and my father have already gone.”

She looked down at the knot of wolves below, and although there didn't seem to be as many as before, she didn't recognize all of them but thought she didn't see the one she'd faced off with on the stairs, at least. “All right,” she agreed, stepping forward and flexing her cold fingers and toes.

Lex could only remember flashes of the trip down the tree and the several-miles hike back to the Kaiser house that morning. She did remember that somehow she'd made it down the tree in one piece, and that she'd had trouble walking all the way back to the house. By the time she’d spotted it, Lex remembered leaning on Rolf, being half-carried and half-dragged by him.

The last memory she had of the experience was Rolf tucking her into bed, his face relieved and his smile fond. “Just get some sleep, Lex,” she’d heard him say. “We're all safe now.”

Forward to Chapter 54
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!


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