He has her.
She hitches her breath, the fall of her hair brushing his fingers, and he skims lips against her skin again. Teasing the same spot in the same fashion nets him the same sound and he grins. It's not often that he can elicit such a response in her, not often he can push her to this point, not often that they have time like this, but a storm rages outside and not even the wolf may hunt tonight.
Tonight is a time to retreat to their tiny cabin upon the edge of the Forest that has become their home. When he can prepare the venison that they hunted earlier that day, when the scent of snow hung heavy on the wind and they recognized the promise of a storm just beyond the horizon, and she can sit beside him as he works, cleaning their weapons and crafting new arrows to sit in the quiver she weaved from the harvest's leavings.
The cabin is a small thing, close quarters, and they brush against each other as they work. The touches are fleeting, almost forbidden, and carry a promise as potent as any storm. He prepares the stew, serves it, and coaxes her away from her arrows to eat just a few bites.
"The Wolf will not allow you weakness," he reminds, quoting her own words at her and making her laugh with the memory of it. "The storm has given us time."
Winter is a gift to the Forest and the village where once both viewed it as a curse. Now the Wolf must be cautious, his track is easily followed, and he will not venture so close to the path. They all have time.
Red, therefore, has time to rest, take sustenance, and even take her pleasure in her Huntsman's touch. It is a freedom she so rarely indulges in and that he pines for. Before winter's first brush, when the Forest is clear and free of snow, she is single-minded. Meals are an afterthought, rest is fleeting, the needs of her body ignored, and he is always relieved to feel the first touch of snow against his face.
It is a chance to breathe.
He watches her eat the stew, tentatively at first, as if forgetting the skill by which he can prepare their meals, then with vigor as the taste reminds her. "It's good," she says, reaching for her cup and laughing when she catches the look in his eye. "I'd forgotten."
He tries to stifle his laughter, but doesn't entirely succeed. The storm rages outside, but he notices barely any of it as she shakes her head, smiling still. "You wait for this, don't you?"
He's waited a lifetime, but she knows that so well as he. She was there after all. "Slow down," he says, instead, rising to refill her bowl. "The storm will watch over the Forest tonight. No one will venture out in this madness."
She hums an answer, her hair glowing red in the lamplight, and stretches her arms above her. Her fingertips, calloused from hours of work, brush his forearm as he passes and he resists the temptation of the teasing touch.
They both eat second and third helpings of the stew. They linger over the coffee, curled beside the fire, until the fleeting press of her hand on his arm or his fingertips on her hair is too much. Then Red rises and bids her Huntsman to follow.
He banks the fire and joins her in their bed. There he can press himself along her curves, against softness and muscle, and indulge himself in the beauty of her form and all its scars.
He is her Huntsman, forever at her side, following through the Great Forest and keeping watch for the wolf that stalks their village. The one who found pleasure in killing and satisfaction in blood for blood's sake. The cursed one shunned by men and wolves alike.
Wolves know the secrets of the Forest. They understand things that Man cannot. They have learned to shed their fur and cloak themselves in human flesh to walk amongst men. Doing so brought them into the village and the farms where they found those failed and abandoned by their kin. Children to whom they taught their skill, teaching them to shed their form and become wolves themselves. In the Great Forest they find new family, new kin, and a new life.
The Wolf was not one of them. He was not found by the wolves, he sought them out, he was not abandoned by his kin, he abandoned them, and he found nothing but what he already had.
The Huntsman does not remember those days. He was but a boy when the disappearances began. He knows of the the people who started out upon the path through the Forest and were never seen again. He has heard stories of what followed, of the blood upon the trail, and the Huntsmen who went into the Forest to kill the wolves.
He does, however, remember the wolves who came from the forest to speak with Grandmother and the elders. The man and woman who had walked from the woods, bare bodied and without shame, followed by a young pup with reddish fur and a high-pitched yip.
He remembers watching Grandmother escort them to the Forest's edge where they had fallen to the ground to become wolves once more. What happened next he's not sure, but he knows many days past before those wolves reappeared again with the pup by their side.
He can see the image of Grandmother approaching the Forest with the cloak in her hand. He can see bare legs and red hair as the pup rose to become a girl.
One would be cold, the Huntsman imagines, trading a thick coat of fur for bare, human skin. Still, he thinks as Red eases from him, her body flushed and lazy with her satisfaction, there are some small pleasures to be found in such a trade.
Sliding to lie beside him, Red looks at him. "The storm will pass by morning."
He nods once. "It's already beginning to weaken." The wind no longer pounding the cabin as it had.
She smiles, pleased by his observation. Reaching out, she runs a hand along his side and pulling him to her. "Then we'll leave for Grandmother's house at first light."
He presses himself against her, breathing in the scent of her skin, hiding himself from her eyes as he says, "And perhaps my brother will follow." Perhaps, this time, he will be able to ask his brother the question he has longed to give voice.
Perhaps they will at last know why.