The growling of Ruki's stomach roused Nika from her half-sleep. The sky had already taken on a reddish tint, signalling that sundown wasn't far away. Ruki stirred as she turned her head to look at him.
It seemed that he'd fallen asleep. He'd snuggled further into Nika's warm fur and was now clutching it lightly. His lips weren't blue like before, so she guessed that he wasn't cold anymore.
When his stomach produced another growl, Ruki frowned in his sleep, and then his eyes blinked open. At first he was disoriented and startled when she moved, then he relaxed.
"You didn't eat me in my sleep."
Was he still going on about that? Nika huffed. "Rabbits taste way better than you."
A small lie... Ruki's blood had been delectable, but she wasn't going to tell him just how much she'd enjoyed it. He was already afraid of her and fear seemed to make him do stupid things, which she had no patience for.
Also, it would be a waste of time and effort if she ate him since she'd have to go to the trouble of finding another intelligent, non-smelly person that could help her. Besides, she liked the taste of his blood and a few sips of it every now and then would be a real treat and she couldn't drink it if Ruki was dead.
Ruki got up and checked whether he could wear his clothes again.
Apparently they were dry, because he put them on after he'd removed Nika's tailcoat. She could see several dark shadows and some more cuts on his naked body and offered to heal them, but he refused.
Once he had his clothes on, Nika stretched in her wolf form before she changed her form. Then, she approached Ruki and leaned in to sniff at him.
The boy stiffened. "What are you doing?"
"You don't stink anymore!" Nika announced happily and smiled.
That was a true blessing. Nika could only smell Ruki's own pleasant scent mixed with the smell of smoke from the fire as well as her own scent on him. She liked that since it would signal others that Ruki now belonged to her.
"Hmph." Ruki crossed his arms but his stomach growled again.
"Are you already hungry again?" Nika asked him.
"That's weird. Humans should eat three times a day to stay healthy. But... considering that you aren't human... maybe your body works more like that of a wolf? Your sense of smell is unusually strong, too," Ruki mused.
So Ruki couldn't smell as well as Nika could? "Maybe?"
"You were also able to hear this stream from afar, and you caught up to me fast without seeming out of breath."
"That's because you're really slow," she said matter-of-factly.
"You're just inhumanly fast," Ruki retorted. "You were also able to spot me and hunt rabbits during the night. Can you see in the dark, Nika?"
"Yes, I can." Wasn't that normal? She tilted her head. "Wait, does that mean that you, that humans, can't see in the dark? Is that why you sleep during the night?" she asked in turn.
"We can't see as well in the dark as we can see in the light. It's one of the reasons why we sleep at night," Ruki confirmed her suspicion.
She hummed. "That sounds troublesome."
Another growl from Ruki's stomach reminded Nika that she had to get him something to eat, so she walked to the stream. She took off her gloves, boots, and socks, and pulled up her sleeves and the legs of her pants before she strode into the water. Nika had spotted fish in the river when she cleaned her gloves earlier that day.
"What are you doing?" Ruki asked her.
"Your second rabbit got stolen, didn't it?"
Ruki's curious eyes were on her as she patiently waited for a fish to pass her. When one did, Nika grabbed it and quickly pulled it out of the water. However, it was slick and wriggled out of her hands.
She growled in frustration but got into position again. It took her a few more tries before Nika caught another fish. This time she threw the animal in Ruki's direction, to the riverbank, before it could slip out of her hands.
But she aimed a little too well.
"Gah!" Ruki exclaimed as the fish met his face and then fell wiggling to the ground. "Did you really have to throw it right at my face?!" he complained and glowered at her.
She snickered in response and got out of the river, shaking off water on reflex when she was on the riverbank. Meanwhile Ruki pinned the fish down with a mildly disgusted face. Nika quickly gutted it with one of her knives and stuck it onto a sharp branch that she then gave to Ruki, so she could lit a fire again.
"...Thank you," Ruki said quietly as he held his fish over the fire.
Nika smiled at him, feeling proud of her abilities. Since she'd decided to keep him and she was obviously the stronger one between them, she was responsible for him.
When Ruki was done with eating, he suggested that they could start searching for more clues about Nika's identity at the place where he'd woken up. The wolf-shifter agreed and got up from his sitting place.
"Alright, let's go then."
"I didn't mean now. I meant in the morning. It's already dark, and, like I already told you, I can't see well during the night."
Ruki didn't want to move away from the fire either. He was glad that he felt warm for once. Maybe he should have slept in the forest from the beginning instead of lying on the cold cobblestones in the streets.
It was definitely more comfortable here. If only he knew how to make a fire.
Nika pouted. "But the moon is out again and it's not that far away."
"It's getting colder by the minute though, and I'd rather not risk getting sick. I can't help you if I get ill."
The white-haired boy frowned and mumbled something in his strange native language. "What do 'sick' and 'ill' mean?"
Ruki couldn't believe that Nika didn't know what 'sick' and 'ill' meant. Has he never been sick? "It means that I might start to cough or sneeze and that my body becomes weak–"
"–Becomes weak?! But you're already so weak now!" Nika was shocked.
"I'm not weak," Ruki hissed. "I'm a perfectly normal human."
The wolf boy seemed to mull over his words. "...Fine," Nika reluctantly agreed. "We'll go in the morning. But what am I supposed to do the whole night?"
"Sleep like we humans do," Ruki suggested grumpily, not feeling sympathetic in the least.
Nika's frown deepened. "Bah. We just slept earlier!"
"That may be the case, but I'm not a nocturnal animal like you."
Nika let out an inhuman growl in response that made the hairs on Ruki's arms stand and sent a shiver of fear down his spine. "I'm not a mere animal!"
"Then what are you?" Ruki asked once more.
"The best, the most powerful species," Nika seemed to respond without thinking and furrowed his brows at his own words.
"What kind of species?"
The white-haired boy thought hard about it and looked frustrated when he didn't have an answer to Ruki's question.
"Maybe it'll come back in time."
Nika crossed his arms, appearing to be mulling over it for a bit longer.
During the night, while Ruki was sleeping, Nika explored the surrounding area and took a dip in the river herself. The water was of a refreshing temperature in her opinion, she didn't understand why Ruki was so affected by it. He really was like a pup.
For this reason she didn't move too far away from Ruki's resting place, just in case she needed to protect him or add more wood to the fire to keep it going. Nika feared that a fox might kill him and eat him in his sleep.
That would be very inconvenient.
As soon as the first light of morning shone through the tree branches, she shook Ruki by his shoulder to wake him. She was growing impatient. He grumbled irritably but got up while giving her the stink eye.
His mood immediately brightened when she shoved another freshly caught, gutted and roasted fish on a stick in his face.
"Hurry up and eat. I'm tired of waiting," Nika said impatiently.
Ruki shot her a mildly irritated look at the command but since his stomach let out a low growl at the sight of the fish, he accepted the treat and began eating. Once he had consumed his breakfast, Ruki went behind a tree.
Nika wondered what he was doing as she put out the fire when she heard the telltale sound that told her that he was relieving himself. Ruki washed himself at the river afterwards, though he didn't go in this time, and also drank some of the water before he was ready to go.
"Follow me," Nika told him as she trudged through the forest with confident steps.
The sun hung high in the sky by now, but Ruki was shivering because of the cold wind and low temperatures. He couldn't feel his feet anymore and was stumbling along the path, getting slower and slower.
His ankle hurt, throbbed with every beat of his heart, and he suspected that it was swollen. They'd been walking for hours, but Nika didn't slow down and he refused to admit his defeat to someone who was younger than him, even if Nika wasn't human. So, he bit his lip and continued limping forward, his breath coming out quickly in white puffs.
However, a few minutes later, Nika finally noticed that Ruki was lagging behind and returned to his side. The wolf boy inspected him.
"You're a mess."
"Shut... up," Ruki wheezed as even more heat crept into his cheeks.
Nika sighed. "It's gonna take forever to get to that place if we continue at this slow pace. Why is your ankle still not healed yet? It's been hours since you hurt it!"
"Humans... need a few... days to... heal something... like this... if they... rest properly," Ruki said between breaths, too exhausted to argue at this point.
The other boy frowned. "Does that mean that your ankle became worse because you've been walking instead of resting?"
Ruki nodded in response and leaned against one of the trees that grew along the path. Nika seemed to mull about something before turning into a wolf. Ruki startled at the change and tensed, but didn't move when Nika approached him.
"Get on my back," the wolf said and laid down in front of him.
Ruki stared at the young white wolf that was as tall as the stuffed adult wolf he'd once seen in the house of one of his father's business associates. Nika was certainly large enough to comfortably carry Ruki, but...
"Why?" he asked the wolf boy suspiciously.
"You won't heal if you don't rest, right? Besides, you're slowing us down."
Ruki threw him a dirty look. However, after a moment of hesitation, he sat down on Nika's back, holding onto the thick fur of the wolf-shifter when he got up.
Ruki had ridden a horse and pony before, but never did he think that he'd be riding a wolf one day. His life had truly taken a bizarre turn, he thought, when the wolf began to trot comfortably along the path and he huddled against the warm fur.
Ruki should be trying to get away from the supernatural creature that had scared him to death just yesterday, but, somehow, he felt more alive with Nika around. The fact that he was actually doing something worthwhile instead of wasting away in a stinky back alley helped, too.
Later, he told himself. He'd find a way to escape from the wolf boy later.
A/N: I hope whoever reads this enjoyed the chapter and the Ruki & Nika shenanigans!
Leave me a comment/review to tell me whether you like(d) this chapter/story so far, or if you have suggestions for improvement etc. since English is not my native language. I'd really appreciate it!