Steve jerked awake - the lack of warmth beside him feeling wrong and alien as he nearly threw himself up out of the nest of covers that served as a “bed”. The spot where Bucky should have been was long since cold, and looking across the room, he could just barely see tendrils of smoke coming from a dying fire. The alarm bells began ringing even more intently, and Steve could feel his heart start pounding faster.
Not only was Bucky awake, he was gone.
Expletives had never been his thing, but at the moment he was sorely tempted. Wasting no more time, he threw the covers off the bed, barely acknowledging the chill in the air as he headed for the door. Unpredictable, yes, but Bucky hadn’t tried to pull a disappearing act like this since he and Steve had moved onto their own little bit of Pack land. They had made a ridiculous amount of progress, and now this.
The change came immediately as Steve opened the door, his body changing into that of his comforting four-legged silver one. His fur was a welcome relief to the chill from a few seconds ago, and the snow was bearable like this. Casting his gaze around sharply, he spotted the tracks made by the other. Steve took off, little comforted by how far apart the prints in the snow where. Wherever Buck had been going after (or running away from) he was doing it in a hurry.
Coming to the riverbank where Pack land stopped, Steve could see that the pawprints now slowed down and continued on the otherside. But the pattern was that of someone less in a hurry. That at least gave Steve some hope he could catch up with his mate in a reasonable amount of time. Splashing through the river (and almost instantly regretting it), Steve followed after the footprints, keeping his eyes peeled for any signs of trouble. So far, there was nothing but the bareness of the winter landscape. Gray-brown, leafless trees and a the expanse of white snow, untouched except by the pawprints Steve was following. It was a stark, calming beauty - and it was almost the same feeling in the springtime. Its why they had moved out here, to get away from it all…
And maybe Bucky is trying to get away from y–
That train of thought was cut off as Steve nearly tripped own paws coming to a stop. There, up ahead, only a few feet away stood his mate. The distinctive black of his coat, and large frame was unmistakable. Breathing deeply, Steve could tell there was no blood, so Bucky wasn’t hurt. In fact, Steve couldn’t quite tell what Bucky was doing. He seemed to be looking up at something in the sky, or maybe the tree..? Steve spared a glance upwards, but he was more concerned about his mate more than anything.
“Hey, Buck…” He tried gently, not wanting to startle the black wolf. He took a step forward, readying himself incase the other ran.
As it were, Bucky just swiveled his head to look in Steve’s direction. He looked distinctly unimpressed, as though he wasn’t surprised in the slightest that Steve had found him. “Sssh.” Bucky growled quietly, one ear flicking back.
“Is there something out here?” Well Bucky seemed calm enough. Steve sniffed the air again, and blinked in surprise. There was another wolf here. A wolf whose scent he didn’t know. Steve looked at Bucky, wide-eyed, his stance tensing. Where?
But Bucky seemed unconcerned with the potential threat. Understanding Steve’s silent question, he tipped his head back and looked up once more. “Look up.”
Steve blinked, but did as he told, this time more carefully than the last. And there he was in all his glory, somehow having made himself comfortable on one of the higher thick branches. The strangest thing was just how natural and comfortable he looked, like it wasn’t some freak accident, he was up there on purpose.
“Theres a wolf in that tree.” Steve murmured almost too himself, awestruck. Then he looked at Bucky. “Did you chase him up that tree?”
“And then he fell asleep?” Bucky’s voice grumbled deep in his chest. But he was more annoyed than angry at the accusation, considering it wasn’t entirely unfounded. “He was by the river this morning. I could smell it. Then I tracked him to here. He’s been asleep all this time.”
“Wow.” Steve didn’t have much else to say. The wolf’s reddish-brown coat did look thick, but sleeping in the unprotected winter chill couldn’t be healthy. Especially since… “He’s a Beta, Buck.”
The black wolf just gave him another looked through narrow eyes, clearly thinking ‘I too have a sense of smell, Steve’.
“So, uh…” Steve said, eyes flicking between his mate and the tree-dwelling wolf.
“I’m waiting for him to wake up.” Bucky stated. “I want to know how he got up there.”
“Lots of practice, I’m guessing.” Steve had doubts about sitting around waiting for a strange wolf (very, very strange) to wake up. Not only was he pretty sure they would scare the poor guy half to death, but they had no business waiting around like creeps anyway. They weren’t even on their Pack land anymore. “C’mon, Bucky, we ought to leave him be.”
“No.” Bucky replied petulantly.
“Okay, well there goes my nap.”
Both Steve and Bucky snapped to attention, as the unfamiliar voice came to them. Bucky was suddenly on his feet, ears perked in ill-contained interest. Steve couldn’t help but observe the way his mate was acting. Ever since they had found each other again, the other never shown interest in much other than Steve himself. He tended to react to everything with the same, unmitigated blankness and at best a bit of unease or annoyance. And at worst, well, it was bad…
The wolf in the tree sat up, sitting primly on the treebranch and looking for all intents and purposes like he belonged there. It was rather impressive actually, if the wind told any tales, he was holding his own from being knocked right out of the tree.
“Why are you in this tree?” Bucky barked up to him, sounding more aggressive than intended.
The strange wolf looked affronted at the sudden outburst, before ducking his head and looking annoyed. “Well I was trying to get some sleep. Then the two of you decided in all this open space, right there was the best place to have a conversation.” The brown wolf titled his head. “I was pretty sure this was unclaimed territory.”
“It is.” Steve was quick to assure him. “Our territory is just beyond the river. And we don’t get many visitors. Especially not the climbing type.”
Steve could have imagined it, considering how far above the wolf was, but he swear he saw a flicker of a smile.
“Hold on, this is kind of awkward. Coming to you.” Then the strange wolf was on his paws, and nimbly making his way from branch to branch, a quick push off the side of the trunk and he was in front of Steve and Bucky. It happened so fast, neither of them really comprehended what just happened. But there the other wolf was, standing in front of them, looking completely unfazed by what he had just done.
He was definitely smaller than both Bucky and Steve, though given that he was a Beta to their Alphas, it wasn’t that big of a shock. The mix of brown and reddish fur was much more evident up close. His face and ears were rounded, and beneath his thick winter coat, Steve could make out a lithe form, built for speed and agility. But he had no doubt there was muscle in those legs, of the prior demonstration was anything to go on.
“The name’s Sam.” The wolf said. “I’ll admit I did go by the river. I haven’t eaten for a while, trying to make some progress. I have been hoping I could get lucky and find some fish under the frozen ice, but..” Sam let out a sigh.
“Hasn’t been quite cold enough for that yet.” Steve sympathized.
Bucky had yet to say a word since Sam had gotten close. It put Steve on edge, considering Bucky had fairly predictable ways of responding to others. He either ignored them, attacked them or watched from a safe distance. It might have freaked him out a bit. Sam closing the distance before Bucky could make that choice himself. Steve was worried, but considering Bucky had yet to raise his hackles or back away, it was going pretty well.
“How far is the closest Pack to yours?” Sam said, looking off into the distant snow covered lands. “As they say, where there is Pack, theres food. Hopefully I can get lucky around someone else’s borders.”
“Unfortunately it will be a bit of a hike.” Steve frowned, thinking of how big a buffer their actual Pack land got. As it turned out, no one wanted to get to close too a Pack of stronger than average, avenging wolves even for the extra hunting territory. He would have loved to invite Sam to have some of their kill from a few days prior, but…
“Come to our cabin.” Bucky stated, he wasn’t looking at Sam or Steve. His eyes were focused on the tree the brown wolf had previously been in. “We have food. Too much of it.” He looked at Sam sharply. “If you’re out here when a storm hits, you’ll die.”
“Hm. Didn’t seem like there would be a storm for a few days.” Sam looked at Bucky now. “I’m pretty resilient, if I do say so myself.”
Steve wasn’t about to argue that with a wolf who climbed and slept in trees, and it looked like Bucky wasn’t going to either.
“We have food and a fire.” Bucky stressed. “Its not for free. You have to show me how you climb trees. Like an exchange.”
Steve couldn’t believe his ears at this point.
“You want to exchange food for tree climbing tips?” Sam asked incredulously.
Bucky nodded solemnly, looking to Steve as if to say ‘Agree with me. This makes perfect sense.’ Which it didn’t at all. Anytime Tony so much as made noises about coming to visit them, Bucky would storm off in the most childish fashion possible. He tolerated Clint and Natasha, only because they usually brought gifts and never overstayed their welcome. Now here he was, inviting a stranger into their Pack land, basically into their den.
“I’m okay with it.” Steve could hardly believe the words he was saying. “And I’d rather have you eat a meal, then know you’re out there starving and hiking across the snow.”
“Aren’t you a charmer.” Sam laughed. His tail wagged a little bit as he spoke. “Lead the way.”
And with his compliance, Bucky turned and started off towards their cabin, keeping a slower pace than Steve had ever witnessed as though he were trying to be courteous to their guest. Sam followed after Bucky, and it took Steve a moment before he loped after them, still trying to wrap his head around what had just happened.
He supposed they would come to subject of what one lonely Beta was doing on some sort of crosscountry marathon later.