Chapter 24 - Epilogue - Maddy's Final Fear

That drop has to be at least 50 meters. She can't…. Rhydian tensed up. His heart pulsed madly. He fought back the urge to panic. Black veins snuck up his wrists, so he shoved them up his sleeves. His wolf was urging with every glimmer of thought—Go save her!

He watched as Maddy plunged off the board. Her graceful dive ended with a tiny splash. Moments later she came up for air, face and hair glistening. She swept her clingy wet hair back from her face with a smile and waved at Rhydian. Rhydian pretended a smile and waved back.

Bollocks. This water park is going to be the undoing of me. Rhydian hated swimming. Hated it more than spiders or snakes or sharks or—well, anything. He was only here because today was the day of Maddy's mum's birthday. Seeing a new water park had opened up within a 45-minute drive of Stoneybridge, Jeffries had planned today's excursion to distract Maddy from thinking too much about her mum, or what could become a sad day.

The plan was working to perfection, so who was Rhydian to complain? He had to put up a brave front. You can do this. Just a few more hours. Maddy sauntered over, still dripping-wet in her pretty blue swimsuit. Rhydian would have appreciated the way the swimsuit hugged her curves, except his sky-high anxiety distracted him too much to think like a typical male. Maddy's cute face slid into a smirk as she leaned over to snatch her water bottle.

"You're sure you don't want to join us?" She threw him a pleading look. "I bet you really would have fun if you would give it half a chance." Rhydian stared down at his sketchbook, drawing feverishly, as if every time his pencil scratched the paper, it might save his soul from the clutches of a watery grave. He glanced up at Maddy again, trying not to look terrified—which was even harder when he saw in the distance Jana, Matei, Tom, and even Emilia climbing towards the high dive, one after another, without a care in the damn world.

"Really, Mads…swimming's not my thing. You go have fun. I'll just watch from a safe distance."

Maddy left her pouty look in place for just a few more seconds. She leaned over carefully, making sure she didn't drip on his sketchbook as she pressed her lips gently to his. "Suit yourself. Let me know if you change your mind. Matei brought along an extra pair of shorts." Maddy scampered off, eager to get in line before a gaggle of kids clogged up the queue for the high dive.

Rhydian stared down at his drawing—a double portrait of Maddy in human form and wolf form on one side of the page, his double forms on the other. He'd already decided this one would have to be in color. He rummaged up some colored pencils, sharpening one that would fit the chocolate brown of Maddy's wolf. Shan's laughter yanked him out of his focus. The wolfblood boy turned with a scowl.

"Is something funny?"

Shan lay back on the sunbathing chair with a good book propped in her lap. She grinned. "Funny? No. Hilarious? Yes." She stifled another giggle. "I've never seen you so frightened, Rhydian. Every time Maddy goes off the high dive I can practically see your heart leaping out of your throat to make a dive right here on the concrete. It's pathetic." She shook her head, clucking her tongue. "You really should have Maddy or maybe Jana give you some swimming lessons. Couldn't hurt, could it? It's better than living in terror, don't you think?"

"I am NOT living in terror," Rhydian said.

"Who's not living in terror?" Jeffries asked, walking up mid-conversation.

Shan opened her mouth. "I was just telling Rhydian how—" Her voice petered out as Rhydian's eyes glowed like hot coals.

"Rhydian, when Maddy's done at the high dive will you tell her that I need to see her?" Jeffries shuffled through some papers. He had already snagged one of the few shady tables at Sedgequinn's Water Park. Setting it up like his own personal outdoor office, Jeffries had laid out the reports from the guidance counselors, plus some homework assignments he still had to mark up. It was light work compared to grading exams, but necessary. The fact that Jeffries was willing to take care of it outside of his school office had raised more than a few eyebrows. Then again, it had been two months and a week since Maddy's half-brother Damian had gone back to Virginia. Since taking Maddy in, Jeffries had slowly changed. He'd become…less insulated by routine, more flexible. More resilient.

Jeffries was still the same Jeffries, only now he was something more. Rhydian finally put his finger on it. He's not the predictable Mr. Jeffries we used to know. A genuine smile tugged up the corners of his mouth. Then again, a few wolfblood disasters here and there will teach anyone to not be TOO predictable.

Things in Stoneybridge had settled into a much deserved stretch of normalcy ever since Damian's departure. Taking full advantage of it, Maddy's pack and Alric's pack had begun to mingle, especially with Matei and Emilia coming by to see Jana more and more. Next month, Maddy would fly over to visit Damian in Virginia. Rhydian wasn't sure how he felt about it, but then again, Maddy wouldn't be going alone. Ceri and Gerwyn were going with her, which meant that even if Damian's stupid pack did act up, Maddy would still be in good hands. A half hour later Maddy came over wringing water out of her hair, distracting Rhydian from his work.

"Mads, Jeffries wants to see you." Rhydian jerked his thumb in the direction of Jeffries' 'outdoor office.'

"Did he say what about?"

Rhydian shrugged. "Not sure."

Maddy walked barefoot, trying to avoid the hotter sections of blacktop where the water park staff had patched up damaged spots on the concrete. Finally she made it to the table where Jeffries sat, hunched over, poring over a mess of papers.

"Maddy. You're here. Good. Someone has something to tell you, and also a gift for you." Jeffries fidgeted with the pen in his hand. The pen swung back and forth as Jeffries' face clouded over in thought.

The teenage wolfblood waved her hand in front of Jeffries' face. "Hello? Why are you being so cryptic? Who has to tell me what? What's this about a gift?" Jeffries folded his hands together in a prayer-like gesture. He looked at Maddy directly, a sudden intensity to his eyes.

"I need you to be open-minded, Maddy. You don't have to accept the gift if you don't want it, but I want you to hear him out. That's all I ask. I think if you do, you will be glad you did. Agreed?"

Not sure just what she was agreeing to, Maddy slowly nodded. "Umm…sure."

Jeffries' face brightened. "Good. Wait here, then. I'll be right back."

Why do I feel butterflies as big as birds in my stomach? Maddy wondered. Jeffries was acting odd. It made her think that this 'gift,' whatever it was, might not be such a good thing after all. The wolfblood girl wrapped her bathing towel around her shivering body as a gust of wind rippled through, setting off lines of goose bumps across her shoulders. The longer she stayed out of the pool, the more her body temperature skewed out of balance. Jeffries, hurry up!

The brown-eyed girl nearly ran when she saw who Jeffries came back with. Maddy's face turned ashen.

Liam.

"Well, I'll leave you two alone for a few minutes," Jeffries said breezily. Maddy wanted to take a bite out of him as he walked away. She stifled the instinct to growl at Liam. Why shouldn't she growl, though? He had been the fundamental reason she had had to flee Stoneybridge with her family. He had been the one who had made her 'wolf out' by bragging about how his ancestors were 'werewolf killers.' When Maddy had discovered that there was evidence to suggest that Liam wasn't just bragging, she'd lost it…she'd wolfed out and his suspicions had led to her parents deciding that they had to flee Stoneybridge.

Now it was all coming full circle. The boy she wanted to avoid as much as possible standing right in front of her. If Jeffries was trying to test her self-control, he had a great way of showing it.

"Hey Maddy. I know I'm probably the last person you want to see."

Liam wasn't dressed for the water park at all. He had on a T-shirt and jeans with a rucksack over his shoulder. He looked away, clearly uncomfortable. He gave her a sheepish, regretful look.

"I came to tell you something, to give you something…and, believe it or not, to ask you for something."

Maddy resisted the urge to snort. Oh really? This should be good!

"What could you have that I might possibly want?" Maddy snapped. Liam flinched, but to his credit he didn't let it stop him. He managed to meet Maddy's glare.

"First, I have to confess something. Your parents' old house…"

"What of it?" Whatever Liam had to say, Maddy just wanted to get this over with.

"I hired someone to look after it, to upkeep the place. Maintain it for…when you, if you ever returned. Which you have, I guess, so that's good."

Maddy tried to process what he'd just said. "Wait…excuse me? What did you say?"

"I mean, I know my folks aren't rich or anything, but I work a part-time job now most evenings. It's enough anyway, so I hired a landscaper to make sure the place didn't look too un-lived in, and I paid a handy man to just check in on it once in a while."

Stunned, Maddy frowned. "Why would you do that?"

Liam sighed, looked away. "After you and your family left, I realized some things." There it was again, regret in Liam's eyes. "Look, it's easier if I show you." He rummaged around in his rucksack, shifting a few things before he drew out a weathered, battered old journal preserved in a clear, thick plastic sleeve.

"This is my family's journal. Every wolfblood hunter in my family going back generations has written in it." Maddy's eyes widened. "I read it after you and your family left…and what I realized, as I read more and more of the entries, was that being a 'wolfblood hunter' wasn't this great thing, like I thought. It's not…what's in these pages, it's not something to be proud of." Liam grimaced. "The things they did, to wolfbloods who were just trying to blend in and live along peacefully with people…in these pages most of my ancestors enjoyed what they did. It reads almost like they just enjoyed killing for the sake of, I don't know, killing. Like if there weren't wolfbloods around, they would have found an excuse to go after someone else."

Liam sat down and placed the journal on the table. He carefully drew it out of the plastic sleeve and opened it to the very back pages. "But then I read the last set of entries, by the very last active wolfblood hunter in my family. Her name was Rose." Liam stubbornly met Maddy's gaze as he turned the book towards her. "And you know what I found out? I found out that she decided that wolfbloods were people, just like her. She talks about becoming friends with a wolfblood boy and his family. At the very end of the journal, she talks about how she's going to be the last wolfblood hunter in my family." Liam gently closed the book, put it back into its plastic sleeve, and offered it up to Maddy with both hands.

"It's yours, if you want it. Destroy it. Keep it. Do with it whatever you want to." Liam cringed. "It's not something I'm proud of anymore. Please. Take it."

Maddy gingerly took the book from his grasp and set it aside close to her on the table. Liam stood up.

"For what's it worth, Maddy, I am sorry. I know now—you aren't a monster. You're just…different." He tried a sheepish smile. Her face softened, just barely.

Maddy would never have warm and fuzzy feelings towards Liam. There was way too much history there. It wasn't about forgiving or not forgiving. Liam himself was like a walking reminder of what she'd lost. Jeffries inviting him to talk to her on this day, of all days, meant that Jeffries thought she had grown much stronger than even she had realized. The thought hit her like a thunderbolt. Jeffries wouldn't have let Liam show me this if he didn't think I could handle it. To Maddy's surprise, she suddenly felt it. And you know what? Jeffries was right.

Maddy nodded at Liam. "Apology accepted, I guess. So…what about the third thing? What do you want from me?" Is it my forgiveness? Because that's not something I can just give away. It has to happen on its own.

Liam's face turned bright scarlet. He shifted awkwardly, looking like a shy puppy. It was almost hard for Maddy to dislike him now. In fact, she consciously made herself try to see him in a neutral way.

"Reading Rose's entries, it kind of inspired me. I've always wanted to write, so I wrote a story based on her experience. It's a story about a werewolf hunter who becomes friends with a werewolf. I changed a bunch of stuff so that no one can trace it back to wolfbloods. I was hoping…if it's okay with you, maybe I could have you take a look at it? Make sure it won't expose any wolfblood secrets. And maybe, I don't know, you can give me your thoughts on it?" Liam kicked at the ground, staring at it like he wanted the concrete to swallow him up.

Maddy was speechless. Her anger and hatred for Liam melted…he was just another awkward boy. Still kind of an arse, but at least a run-of-the-mill arse instead of the enemy he'd once been. It hit her hard, like a punch to the chest. Liam, of all people…has actually changed. She marveled at it. The right shared experience, the right story, had made him see things in this entirely new light. Mum, Dad, maybe there's hope for anyone. If Liam can become a better person, then I can definitely be a stronger and better person. I miss you guys so much, but I'm carrying you with me in my heart.

Maddy felt a surge of emotion…but also mischief. She noted that Liam was wearing typical clothes, whereas she was still soaking wet from her diving.

She gave Liam a dazzling smile. "Thank you, Liam. Yes, I would like to see your story very much. I mean it." With a cruel smirk on her face, she rushed up to give him a great, big hug, rubbing her wet hair all over him. Liam recoiled as the cold wet hair doused him in water as if someone had smothered him in a wet blanket. Maddy drew away with her vicious grin still intact. His clothes were completely soaked.

"I guess that was payback?" Liam said sullenly.

Maddy winked. "What do you think?" She began walking away with the plastic case holding the journal, then turned back. "I meant what I said, Liam. I really would like to read your story."

Liam nodded as Maddy turned away.

She ran into Jeffries on the way back to the diving pool. The head teacher's eyebrows rose as he looked at her, at the turmoil of emotion on her face.

"Did you and Liam have a productive talk?" he asked.

Maddy glared at Jeffries. "You set me up, didn't you?"

Jeffries gave her this innocent look. "I'm not sure what you mean."

Maddy fumed. "Well, you were right."

Again, Jeffries was all innocence. "Right about what?"

"Don't play coy, Jeffries. I know what you were trying to do. It worked, too. I'm glad I heard him out. Me and Liam have as good as signed a peace treaty, I guess. So there. I hope you're happy."

The head teacher shook his head with that Mona Lisa-like smile. "I'm happy if you're happy, Maddy Smith. Congratulations on facing down another one of your fears."

Maddy smirked…then turned serious. She started to give Jeffries a wet hug without realizing it. Jeffries jumped back.

"Whoa there, words will suffice. No need to thank me with affection."

"Jeffries, thank you for trusting me. To handle Liam, to not wolf out."

Now Jeffries winked at her. "I never doubted you, Maddy, not for a second."

Liar. Jeffries didn't see her grin as the wolfblood girl turned away and moved to rejoin the rest of her pack.

A/N - Hey Wolfblood sisters & brothers - there you have it, the epilogue. I will be shocked if anyone had predicted who was helping maintain Maddy's parents' house. Believe it or not, I had that planned in the story for quite a while… As annoying and awful as Liam was, I never got the feeling that he was nearly as bad as Dr. Whitewood. The main difference is that Whitewood is an adult who should have known better whereas Liam's problem was more ignorance than anything. Given the right knowledge, Liam could change, just like most people. Whitewood, well, she's another story :)

So I hope you enjoyed the epilogue. That concludes everything until I can start work on the sequel. I haven't yet decided how far in the future the sequel will take place, near future or a few years out. I've had conflicting suggestions from readers, so I'll probably wait for more ideas and see if I can get some consensus. Thanks again for reading, for commenting or reviewing! So glad to have fellow wolfblood fans who love and appreciate the wolfblood universe as much as I do.

OH, and one last thing: I do have a Matei/Jana/Emilia season 4 fanfic in the planning phase. Credit goes to Ember for that suggestion. Great idea, and it should let me cover some new ground :)