The horses slowed to a halt with a huff and a jingle of their bridles.
"This is as close as I can get you, the cart can't travel through all the trees."
You nodded to the coachwoman and climbed down from the cart, taking your belongings from the back. You laid various boxes and sacks on the ground by your feet, along with guiding a few goats and chickens off the cart.
Placing a few gold coins in her hand, you thanked her and wished her safe travels. Turning to the forest, you walked the short, albeit narrow, path to your new home amongst the trees. Your goats and chickens followed suit, and, after a few back-and-forth trips, you stood in front of the worn-down cottage with a satisfied sigh.
It was a fixer-upper. It was far from the town, small, and was abandoned practically overnight by previous owners years ago. Something frantically mumbled about being too far from the rest of village, and livestock disappearing.
However, you rather enjoyed the compact size. Made things feel just a little less lonely. The size, combined with the distance from town, made it too unappealing for anyone to be interested in living there. Anyone but you.
It stood in the middle of a large clearing. The little cottage was in a charmingly dire state of disrepair. The garden had long-overtaken the fence and door, and the animal pens had gates and fences that were concerningly unreliable. Inside, layers of dust covered the old furniture, and cobwebs had taken over many of the home's drawers and cupboards. Windows hung ajar from their frames. In the living room, you came across a family of mice living in the sofa.
Nothing a little work couldn't fix.
You spent the rest of the day's light fixing fences and window frames, preparing for the coming seasons, and cleaning off old furniture.
By sunset, you'd made a considerable dent in your workload. While the rest of the house was still the same mess it had been for the past several years, you had a (mostly) clean space to sleep in, the windows and doors could close, and the small pens outside could reliably keep in your goats and chickens.
When you fell into bed, you were so tired from the day's work that you barely took notice of the howling of wolves in the distance.
Over the final few weeks of summer, you continued to work. Transporting remaining belongings from your parents' house, planting food in the garden, and fixing up the little cottage you had come to call home. When the leaves around you began to change from green to brilliant shades of red and orange, you harvested your crops and focused more on the home's exterior and the coming frost.
All the while, strange (and frankly confusing) occurrences kept taking place. Your pile of firewood outside was always bigger than you had remembered, and when you simply couldn't figure out how to fix the old well, you woke up the next morning to it working like new. You attributed the random strange occurrences to being scatter-brained, forgetful, or a basic case of zoning out during work.
But by winter, there were too many coincidences. You found footprints in the snow that you swear weren't yours. Wolf tracks dotted the path in front of you on walks through the forest.
You broke a fence post on purpose to see what would happen.
Sure enough, a few days later, a set of footprints in the snow led to the post (which was now fixed), and back through the clearing into the woods.
As you searched for your secret helper, they continued to fix things under your nose.
Firewood piles remained plenty high, despite you having not cut any trees recently. Windows that let cold air into the house were patched out of nowhere.
When a cougar began to terrorize your chickens, it was mysteriously scared away from the area.
You came close a few times. Glimpses of brown hair and tan skin behind trees, the sound of running through the frosted grass. One afternoon, you caught up, only to find a wolf staring back at you from where you could've sworn the person should've been. Cautiously, you backed away, back to your cottage, and resigned yourself to not exploring past the edge of the clearing again until spring.
The wolf instance didn't stop you from staking out. One night, you sat outside with only the light of the crescent moon to keep you company, your animals asleep and warm in their own little quarters. You took extra care to secure the doors of their homes and coops, it had gotten increasingly colder as midwinter approached.
At dusk, you had situated yourself at the edge of the clearing, with only your shoes, sleeping clothes, and a rather light blanket. You had overlooked how much colder it would get as the sun set. Far colder than you had prepared for.
Nonetheless, you remained outside, fearful of missing the stranger. As the night progressed, it began to snow, large flurries coming down and glimmering in the moonlight.
It only got colder.
By midnight, the crescent moon was at its highest, there was no sign of the stranger, and the snow was falling in clumps. You were so tired, and so cold. You knew you should get up, leave the edge of the clearing and walk back to your cottage. Go inside, where it was warm. But your hands wouldn't listen. Your mind had slowed by sitting in the cold, and drowsiness and confusion had taken over. You were freezing, weak, and just couldn't wrap your head around how to get from point A to point B.
Shivering, you laid down in the snow.
It had gotten so late and so cold that you thought yourself to be dreaming at first. A woman emerged from the trees, approaching the one thing that hadn't yet been fixed: the rotting wooden fence along your house's western side.
She saw you, and stopped in her tracks. Staring, her golden eyes glinted under what little light the partial moon gave off, and her dark brown hair was nearly black under the trees.
She ran to you, snow crunching under her feet.
Her hand was so, so, warm in yours, and you were so, so, cold. You melted into the warmth of her touch. She embraced you, and lifted you bridal style with ease, gentle but almost superhuman in strength. Before you registered what was happening, she had taken you back to your home and laid you on your couch. The fire had dulled to embers, but still warmed you to your core.
Wordlessly, she searched your house, bringing blankets back to your living room and piling them around you. She left the room again, and after a few minutes of sounds from the kitchen, she returned with a cup of something.
That night, she spoke only two words to you. "Drink this."
Her voice was warm and sweet, like the honey mixed into the tea she had handed you. You nodded, gratefully taking the cup and drinking. She cuddled close, wrapped her arms around you, and stayed with you until you fell asleep, the feeling slowly returning to your once frozen fingers and toes.
You woke up alone. The fence was fixed.
Unscathed, but having learned your lesson (the forested mountains were so much colder than the fields you tended to growing up), you resigned yourself to your normal routine of caring for your animals and tending to the winter cover crop. All the while, you replayed that night in your head over and over again.
About a week and a half later, you woke with a start. A scream. Or was it a howl? Something in between, out in the woods.
Whatever it was, it was in pain.
You scrambled to find your warmest boots, and tied your cloak around your shoulders. You ran outside, and under the light of the full moon, you saw it. A short distance from your house, a cougar scampered away at the sight of a human. The wolf you saw so many moons ago laid in the snow, its side bleeding.
You abandoned all better judgement and ran to it. With a rip, you tore off a piece of your cloak and began cleaning the wound. The wolf quietly growled at the sensation, but allowed you to continue.
The wound was partly-dressed with a fair bit of your cloak by the time you noticed. Its eyes. No, her eyes. Exactly like the golden ones belonging to the one who saved you.
It all clicked into place.
Carefully you helped her to her feet (er- paws?) and into your cottage. The inside of your home was dark, save for a few candles, and away from the light of the moon, she transformed before your eyes. It was her.
She collapsed on your couch, barely conscious. Her breathing was labored and shallow. Now a human in torn clothes, the wound remained on her side. Using damp rags, you dabbed at her wound. She inhaled sharply through her teeth and gripped your hand.
You had gotten the bleeding to stop, and had made makeshift bandages to cover her wound. Just as you did before, the two of you sat, embracing one another in front of your fire, until the sound of each other's breathing lulled you both to sleep.
You woke up with her at your side, and you gently shook her awake.
She gave you a weak smile.
You didn't know what to say. "It's really you."
She nodded. "My family left some months ago to give me my own territory to roam and hunt on. It was just me living in my parents' old den. Until you showed up." She took a second to gently massage her wounded side, which had begun the healing process overnight. "I saw you, and was captivated. I grew up with fellow werewolves, and had never seen a human so close, let alone one as beautiful as you. I just... didn't know how to talk to you. So I started helping out however I could."
You blushed, scratched the back of your neck, and said, "Maybe start with a hello?"
She laughed, her golden eyes shining like the morning sun. "Hi."
You smiled in return. "Nice to meet you. I'm y/n."
You got up, and helped Kira to her feet. "Stay for breakfast?"
She nodded and smiled, and you noticed her canines for the first time. Not quite fangs, but long nonetheless. Long like a wolf's.
Over warm stew made from vegetables canned in the fall, you and her talked and laughed until your bowls were empty and hearts were full. You couldn't help but notice the way her nose wrinkled when she smiled, and her laugh, loud and unapologetic. The sunspots and freckles on her face, and the slight acne scarring that dotted her jaw and shoulders. Her hair, full and dark, and her eyes, golden coins that caught every ray of light that hit them.
You stood up, ready to collect snow from outside to wash the dishes with. Kira grabbed your arm. For a moment, the two of you held eye contact, both faces turning red. She stood up. You leaned in.
Kira's lips were on yours, and they tasted the way her voice sounded. Honey and tea. Once the kiss had been broken, she darted her eyes and fiddled with her hands.
"I should get going..." she told you.
Ask me to stay, she thought.
You grabbed her arm without a second thought.
"Wait. You helped me rebuild this place. It's practically your home too." You blushed and looked to your feet. "Stay here with me."
Kira beamed, nose scrunching with her smile. She nearly knocked you over with the force of her hug.
It was all the answer you needed.