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The sky was a bad color, and Tony could feel the bones in his face telling him there was a big storm on the way. The others all knew it, too and were circling to make nests in the snow. He'd have to cuddle up in the middle of the pack because the furs he tied on himself weren't as warm as their natural fur. He hated doing that during a storm. He had to lie still and be cold and bored for so long. There was still time to look for some shelter. He stood as tall as he could and turned in a circle, three hundred and sixty degrees. He remembered degrees and numbers, they were good to think about when it was dark and there was nothing to do.
He saw something... it was a different white against the snow, a shape. Any shape was good, it'd cut the wind. He whined to draw the pack's attention and started off at the steady lope he'd learned to keep up with his friends. After a moment, the leader yelped in agreement and padded after him. Tony's height gave him the advantage in distance seeing, and they'd learned to respect that. They moved with quick efficiency over the hard-packed snow and reached the thing Tony had seen before the storm hit.
The shape was big and oddly regular. There was something strange under the snow. The pack sniffed around until the leader declared himself satisfied that it was safe by curling up close to the highest rise of the shape. Tony was curious, so he walked around the thing, letting the shape get put together in his mind, length and height and width. Something teased at him. It was familiar. It was...an airplane! Yes. He remembered... he remembered the bad men lying to him and taking him on a plane ride, 'just for fun'. He went because he was bored. Mamma had got Daddy to take him along while he looked for something he'd lost in the cold country, but Daddy ignored him.
The bad men ignored him, too, once they'd made him cry over the radio so Daddy could hear. Tony didn't want to cry, he knew that would be making trouble for Daddy; Daddy was busy doing much more important things than coddling Tony. Tony was a big boy, he should take care of himself and not need his nose wiped. But he fixed it. When they were saying bad things to Daddy, Tony got under the... he couldn't remember the words. He hadn't used words in so long; words upset the pack. He had got into the machine and he made it break. He'd thought they would just land and run away and he could call Daddy to come get him. But he broke it too good, and they fell.
He didn't remember much after that for a while. Crying and being cold and then the wolves came, sniffing nervously around the broken plane and the broken bad men. He'd thought they were big white dogs so he'd followed them, thinking they'd go home. At first they growled and snapped and ran away from him, but he kept following them until he couldn't walk any more, and then he sat down in the snow and cried some more.
And one of them came up to him and sniffed him all around. Then she licked his face and let him pull himself up by her shoulder fur.
Mamma wolf had died years ago, and so had all the other wolves he'd met that day, but the pack stayed, changing like he changed, but still the same. He was taller and stronger, and he'd learned how to kill things with his hands and teeth, and he had fur on his face now. Not a lot, but some. He liked it, it helped make him feel more like a wolf. Only he was a smart wolf. Smart wolves don't stay out in the storm when there's something they can get into and be warm. He thought about airplanes; they're hollow, and like metal caves. He dug around in the snow until he found a break in the metal big enough to squeeze into the plane. He looked around by the light coming in from the hole he'd made. There wasn't any wind or much of anything, really. This would do. He howled until the pack leader came into the plane, treading nervously. They didn't like people things. People shot at them, and put out meat that made them die. But there were no people here, just a place out of the wind.
After sniffing around and marking the doorway, the leader howled to bring in the others. The metal was uncomfortable to sleep on, but they curled up anyway and went to sleep to wait out the storm, Tony in the middle as usual, pillowed and pillow by his pack. He was quite pleased with himself.
After a while Tony woke up. He needed to pee. He went to the place the leader had marked and added his scent. He wasn't tired any longer, but the storm was still a muffled continuous growl outside so he couldn't go out. But it was a big plane; he could walk around. Maybe there would be mice. It wasn't likely, but you never could tell. Not much meat on a mouse, but enough of them would fill your belly.
He went toward the back of the plane, but didn't find anything good, just metal things tumbled across the floor. Big round metal... bullets? No, Tony thought back to designs he'd seen in Daddy's workroom; they were bombs. Bombs were made to hurt, so Tony didn't touch them. He didn't smell or hear any mice anyway. Maybe there would be something interesting in the front of the plane. He paused to look back at the bombs and wonder if Daddy had made them. It was funny to be thinking of him so much today. Daddy must have forgot Tony a long time ago. He was always too busy looking for the important thing he'd lost in the snow to look at Tony.
Tony passed the pack quietly on his way to the front. They were awake now, but didn't get up. They didn't like people things and wouldn't want to explore so he didn't invite them to come with him. Once the storm was over they'd leave and if there was anything interesting he only had this one chance to see it. All right, he admitted it to himself, he wasn't looking for mice. He wanted to look at the machine. He thought about machines a lot, made them in his head, made them do things, but this was the first real machine he'd seen since the bad men took him. Maybe there would be something small he could take with him to play with later.
The front of the plane was more broken than the back, and Tony had to be careful not to fall into holes. There was ice underfoot and over the walls. He got to the end of the plane where the front had broken and been open to the sky before the ice grew to cover the hole. Interesting. D...dials. And...levers? He was sorry it was broken, and quiet. He found a broken piece of metal and scraped around at random, until a bit of bright color caught his eye. Red. Red meant meat. Maybe there was meat frozen under the ice. He scraped the crusted snow away until he could see that the red was metal, with blue next to it and a white star inside the blue. It was pretty. He dug around the thing carefully. And stopped. There was a person under the ice, too.
This was the most interesting thing ever.
Tony dug and scraped until he had the body chipped clear of the ice and could look at it all over. The man was a soldier; Tony could tell because he had a uniform. Tony remembered soldiers. They were brave and important people, and Daddy made things for them. The man was very big, much bigger than Tony. And he was pretty. It was a shame he was dead. Tony couldn't ever be the leader of the pack because he didn't have a mate. He couldn't take a mate from the people who killed wolves; they were enemies, but this man's uniform said he wasn't an enemy. He had belonged to Daddy's pack. That's what uniforms were for, to tell you what pack of people you belong with. If this man wasn't dead, he would have made Tony a good mate.
Well, at least he could take the uniform. It would be big on him, but it would be nice to wear over his furs. He ran his hand over the stiff material. It might break if he took it off while it was frozen. He had a brilliant idea. He'd take the man back to the pack and they'd warm him up until Tony could get the uniform. He began pulling the man, which was hard at first, but got easier as the ice on his back smoothed out. Friction. Tony remembered friction. Friction was heat was thermodynamics was entropy was... Tony remembered things like that, he was careful to remember, at first because he was sure Daddy would find him and be disappointed if Tony had become stupid, and after that he remembered just because it was something he could keep and play with in his mind along with the numbers and the machines.
The pack didn't like him bringing in the man. And they were annoyed when he growled at them for trying to eat the man. People weren't for eating; eating people was bad. Even Tony knew better than that, and the leader agreed with him. They weren't that hungry yet, anyway. They'd killed big and eaten before the storm. Tony let them lick the ice from the man, but he watched to be sure they didn't tear the clothes. He went back to sleep next to the frozen man.
There were dreams. Steve floated along in them, uncaring. Distantly he knew they were dreams. Bucky wasn't laughing with him over a beer at the back of the 'speak' where they'd worked as lookouts when they were kids. Peggy wasn't dancing with him to a jazz band, so light in his arms, and him not clumsy at all. Howard wasn't spinning shields like a circus plate balancer. The Howling Commandoes weren't sitting with him atop Notre Dame Cathedral, laughing and telling crude jokes while he sketched Paris, laid out below them like a toy town, with tiny people waving French flags and cheering. He wasn't sitting on the stoop of his tenement in the winter with a puppy licking his face and whining at him. He was so cold. The puppy must be cold, too. That seemed important, somehow. He should take the puppy inside, where it was warm. Mrs. Donegan couldn't abide pets, but she was a good Christian woman, surely he could talk her into allowing the pup to warm up before he went looking for its home. It must belong to someone; it was friendly. Maybe too friendly. The pup was squirming in his lap now and it made him uncomfortable.
The warm tongue went across his lips and into his mouth. "Uh, no," Steve said as he recoiled instinctively, jolted up from the bland nothingness of the dream into a nightmare of cold and snarling and white fur in a dim cold room. He backed up, forcing unwilling muscles to move until his shoulders slammed into metal and that sensation was just too real to be in a dream. He was in an enclosed metal ... airplane... the Red Skull's airplane... but it was so cold, and there were white wolves all around, growling and snapping. And between him and the wolves there was a man dressed in a bulky and ragged assortment of hides and furs, crouched and growling and snarling back at the wolves.
"What?" he asked, completely confused. His mind was sluggish. He was so cold his fingers were like tough-skinned sausages and he couldn't even tell where his feet were. The man looked back over his shoulder at Steve. He was younger and thinner than Steve would have guessed, misled by the furs. His hair was dark and greasy, knotted into a rough club-shape going down his back to vanish into the furs. He had an unkempt sparse beard and enough dirt ground into his skin that Steve was uncertain of his race. "Who are you?"
One of the wolves took advantage of the young man's distraction to lunge at Steve. Before he could react the young man and the wolf were rolling over and over in a blur of fur and snarls. What was really horrible was that he couldn't tell which sounds were coming from the wolf. There was a shrill yelp and just as suddenly they were separated with the wolf backing away, tail and head both held low.
The young man straightened and put his shoulders back. He turned to look at the other wolves, one by one. One of the bigger ones growled before turning away. It walked toward a break in the fuselage that Steve hadn't noticed because it was full of snow. The wolf broke through the snow and disappeared outside, followed by all the other wolves. The young man took several steps after them.
"Where are you going?" Steve didn't want to be alone. He was confused and cold. The man stopped and turned back to him. He looked back and forth between Steve and the direction the wolves had gone several times and then he let out a soft huff and padded back to Steve. The man knelt next to him and gazed at him with large, dark eyes for a moment before lowering his eyelids and bowing his head. The man looked intelligent, and this close Steve could see he wasn't an eskimo or whatever you call the people who live in the arctic. People did live in the arctic, didn't they? He thought sluggishly, and he wasn't sure of anything. "Who are you?" Steve said slowly. Maybe the man didn't understand English.
The man whined. Actually whined. And then he buried his face against Steve's armpit and rubbed his nose there while making little soft growly noises. Steve almost tossed the man away before he realized this wasn't an attack. He patted awkwardly at the fur-covered back, finding lean muscle and prominent bone beneath. "You hit your head or something, mister?" He ran his hands carefully through the greasy hair, seeking bumps or soft spots. The man whined again, just like a dog enjoying being petted. "Do you speak English? Can you talk? At all? Sprechen sie Deutsch? Parlez vous Francais? Se habla Espanol? Parli Italiano?" Not that Steve was fluent in anything except Brooklynese, but he'd picked up enough during the war to make himself understood, sorta, most of the time. A smile and an offer to share food generally did more than any words to break the ice.
Speaking of food. He looked past the man, really taking in his surroundings. He'd crashed in the middle of nowhere. He had no idea where he was, but he was pretty sure he couldn't survive here for very long. He had to... Peggy! He had to get to the radio, call and tell them he was all right. He pushed at the man. "Let me up. I've got to see if the radio is still working."
Instead of moving away, the young man pounced on him and licked Steve's face. Steve grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him off. "What is WRONG with you?" he shouted, fear and frustration making him angry. Suddenly ashamed of himself, he released the man, who fell to his knees and then rolled over onto his back, whining and holding his head tilted back to expose his throat. "What are you doing?" Then something in the man's pose clicked, reminded him of the losing mutt in a street fight, overlaid by a dim memory of a library book he'd borrowed several times because he loved the drawings of the animals. The Jungle Book. Mowgli had been raised by wolves. "Huh. You think you're a wolf? That's... all right. Good boy," he said awkwardly. "I'll just go check on the radio. We'll... we'll get someone to come for us. It'll be all right." He looked around, trying to get his bearings. "Which way to the flight deck?"
The young man got to his feet and moved slowly towards Steve, glancing at him, and then away, and then back again. Steve sighed and patted him on the shoulder. "I'm not mad at you, boy. This isn't your fault. But I have to get back. They need me, don't you understand? They need me, and they must think I'm dead."
The wolf-boy tilted his head and looked confused, but he followed Steve who had figured out which way to go after a long moment of feeling really stupid. He'd run through this airplane only a few hours ago, of course he knew the way to the flight deck. When he got there he found his shield and frowned at the thick coating of ice on it, and really, everywhere. "Wow, that must have been some storm." He tried the radio, but what wasn't smashed was frozen solid and nothing happened, not even static. The wolf-boy watched him, head tilted curiously, and attempted to help, so Steve had to keep pushing him back away from the instruments. The only useful thing he found was a small compass swinging from a chain, probably a pilot's good luck charm. Steve took it and sighed. "I've got to find some people. Do you understand? You know, people? Like you and me?" Steve pointed at the wolf-boy and then at himself, which, as it turned out was a mistake because he wound up with an armful of affectionate wolf-boy, whining and licking and... rubbing against him. It was embarrassing. The only good part is that he discovered he was too cold to blush.
"Look, I'm glad you like me, and I think you're really a swell guy, but I'm not like you. I can't live here. You know?" He exaggerated a shiver. "I'll freeze, or I'll starve, or probably both." He managed to shake his way free, and went to search the plane for survival gear. There wasn't much. Finally he wrapped the tattered remnant of a silk parachute around himself and tied his shield onto his back. "Look, I'm going to go now. I can't stay here." He stepped out of the plane, blinking at the bright, sharp light after the dimness of blue light filtered through ice, and looked around. There was ice. There was snow. And... that was pretty much it. He started following the trail the wolves had broken in the snow for lack of anything better to do. At least the going was slightly easier that way.
Tony hadn't really expected to mate. It was the wrong time of year for that, anyway. He would have to court him first. He had made up his mind that this was his mate; he just had to keep trying until his mate knew it, too. He had hoped for a little more affection and encouragement, but he could be patient. He hadn't been bitten or growled at, not really. The barking wasn't all that serious, he could tell. The main problem was that his mate was loud and clumsy and not at all suited to survival. How did he get to be so big and not know how to walk on snow without wasting all his strength? And he would be cold. Tony hadn't considered all the problems of getting a mate to be responsible for, to start a new pack with. He'd have to hunt all by himself, and... his mate must eat an awful lot.
He scratched at his ear and sniffed the wind. No storms, that was good, but the storm had scattered the herds. And he really couldn't hunt enough on his own for the two of them. He did find a mouse run under the snow, but his mate didn't want any mice, and didn't seem happy when Tony ate them.
He really, really didn't like the idea, but sometimes, when things were especially bad, the pack had gone to the place where people dumped things they didn't want any more. There were open cans with food still in them, bones with some meat and marrow, all sorts of things you could eat if you were careful, and Tony had found clothes still perfectly good, maybe missing a few bits or with ugly marks on them, but still they layered well under his furs. It was dangerous. He'd almost been caught the last time. He looked sideways at his mate and decided to risk it.
His mate was slow. It would take a few days to get to the people place. It was lucky it was so warm. There were even places the snow was melting. It took a little tugging and growling, but eventually he convinced his mate to follow him. When the sun went down Tony had to show him how to dig a nest in the snow and even after he curled up on top of his mate and put his arms around him he could tell the big man was cold. He licked his mate's cheek for comfort. Well, it made him feel better even though his mate didn't seem to like it much. Tony tried to remember how people showed affection, but he couldn't remember Daddy and Mamma doing anything but shout at each other. Maybe people didn't like people? That was so wrong. He'd have to show his mate that he loved him and wanted him, and would do everything he could to make him happy. Tony was a good wolf, he knew what you needed to do to be happy. Hunt with the pack, care for your mate and the pack's cubs, chase off intruders in your territory, play when food was easy to get. It was all very sensible and the best way to live. Tony buried his nose under his mate's arm and dozed off, lightly, like a good wolf.
Steve slogged along in the snow, not wasting the energy to look where he was going. He didn't know how the kid was doing it but wolf-boy was leading him in a straight line, as near as he could tell by referring to the compass, so it seemed he had a definite destination in mind. He just hoped it wasn't to some gathering place of fat rats or something else that wolves would consider paradise. Which... he had no idea. He'd never even had a pet. He didn't have a whole lot of choice but to follow blindly. Wolf-boy couldn't, or wouldn't, talk, couldn't, or wouldn't, explain where they were going.
The more he saw of him, the more he realized just how young wolf-boy must be. As an artist Steve had studied faces and he wasn't fooled by a scruffy beard. Wolf-boy was old enough to hump against Steve's leg at every opportunity, but still not a grown man; probably in his late teens, early twenties at most. He wondered how long the kid had been living with wolves; long enough to have forgot how to talk, anyway. He should be thinking about survival, about the Howling Commandoes, about the war... but he was so cold and hungry, and the kid kept tugging at him, whining at him, even nipping at him when Steve sat down, just for a minute, you know snow's not really all that cold when you're used to it, he could just sit and rest for a while, gather his thoughts, make a plan, but the kid wouldn't let him stop not until it was too dark to see and even after they were lying in a hollow of snow, the kid kept waking him up with a warm tongue lick over his cheek.
His mate was slow, too slow. Tony tried everything he could think of but on the third day his mate just wouldn't get up. He tried dragging him, but even with that metal turtle shell on his mate's back to help slide him over the snow he was still too big and heavy. Tony howled in desperation, but if the pack heard him they didn't answer. They were so close to the food, they'd almost made it.
Tony padded around his mate and howled some more, but that was just venting his feelings. He knew what he had to do. When the people saw him, they always chased Tony, but he scared their dogs so they didn't try too hard to catch up with him. This time he'd go slow enough to make them think they could catch him, and then he'd lead them to his mate. They'd take him. Tony would lose him, but they would feed him and keep him warm. He knelt next to his mate and gave him a last lick across the nose, so he'd have Tony's scent with him. He took a moment to scent mark his mate with pee, too, just in case the pack came, so they'd know not to eat Tony's mate.
Then he turned his nose into the wind that already smelled faintly of the things people threw away, and started running.
Tony went straight towards the largest house, figuring that would have the most people in it. There were trees here and so they could build things of wood. It made him uneasy, the trees and the houses, so many places where things could hide, not like on the open flat land where he lived with his pack most of the time. He didn't have as good a sense of smell as the wolves, so he had to depend on his eyes more than they did.
One of the people's dogs rose from a nest of snow, and growled at him. Tony grinned and howled, shrill and mocking. It was chained up; they always were unless they were pulling sleds. He liked teasing them. The door of the house opened and a man stood there. He shouted at Tony and threw something at him. Tony dodged it easily. It smelled like meat, but he didn't trust it. He'd seen too many wolves die after they ate the meat that men left for them. He howled at the man and backed away, pretending to limp. He'd seen a summer bird do that, to trick him away from the nest. It was a good trick.
The man turned back into his house, calling to the rest of his pack... his people. Tony backed further away and howled again, even louder. All the dogs in the camp woke up then and howled back at him. People were shouting. It was going to be fun. Tony turned and ran away, limping and slow, but still faster than the heavy-footed people who treated snow as something to fight.
He got far enough ahead before they harnessed the dogs that he paused to pee on a tree that smelled of dog, just to make sure the dogs would be angry enough at him that they would forget they'd never caught him. He didn't want them to give up the chase.