We had a especially hot summer, particularly near the end of it, in August.

I have to say we worked in the fields a lot. I have been allowed to be outside almost the whole summer, because there wasn't almost any rain to wash away anything… actually, I washed my hair very few times, less than once a week.

I didn't need to. Since the start of this summer, my school was finished and I didn't have to go there anymore. Now I was one of the adults, not fully but I had partly the responsibilities of one.

Everyone did it like that. Water was important, we couldn't waste it on a trivial thing like washing hair, otherwise we couldn't use it on the plants – and we wouldn't have anything to eat.

I regretted we cannot go hunt into the forest for maybe the first time. Even father acknowledged this is the worst for the past twenty years and that yes, we could do with a deer or a wild rabbit to help. There was no problem with fire or wood, but meat – yes. Afterall, we didn't have that much animals and to eat them all? Contraproductive.

But we weren't hunters, we were farmers. They were hunters, and always were. We… not so much. The most hunt we had was hunting for a runaway goat.

I don't think most of us would even manage it. Who wasn't taught so simply did not know, how to hunt. Although, I admit, they were born hunters, but us, heh… it wasn't much, to say at best. We worked our asses off to just eat and I was grateful when I got a fresh, even if small vegetable.

Good last years harvest was so good, otherwise…

But a good part of this was I gained my parent's trust and pride, working so hard. I liked being outside, so I helped as much as I could. On the fields the whole day, sun above us, light breeze from the forest, my little brother running around me… and no sight of any forbidden color.

They were gone so thoroughly I wondered if they didn't leave for good. There wasn't so quiet in a while… I was even afraid to go into the forest, I thought they might just jump at us all at once. I couldn't go there alone… he didn't go out to wait for me, and he warned me not to try.

I only got as close as the stump in front of the forest. The one that was still there – new trees started growing out of it, but the boys and some girls still played the game on it. Who lasts longer? Longest?

I was always there the longest, sitting for hours and just staring into the forest. How I wanted to go there!

I sometimes even got as far as setting up one foor to step in, but then I always hesitated and stepped back. There were no growls those days, no sniffing around or traces of red and claws wayy back between the trees…. But the tree line was there like a big yellow one between our and their ground.

The whispers I got didn't escape me, and because of that I tried to compensate with my work, proving I was loyal…

Or I just didn't listen to them. They didn't know everything too, afterall.

One day, a bit calmer one, I stayed in the field a bit longer, happy to be out and that it was a calm night. Mom, granny and brother were inside already, preparing some food for us. I stayed out with father, helping him get all things collected and preparing to go home. It was quite a success, it even seemed it will rain at night, and we were very happy about the day as a whole.

Then, the most unexpected thing happened, one that didn't in a good while. It was a faint sound, but everyone heard. Even here.

The bell rang.

Father frozed, his head going up at the sound immediately. I did as well. I almost dropped the can I was holding, looking there, wide-eyed. I turned to father, exchanging glances, and there was no need for words. We immediately took off, letting everything lie there and sprinted back to the village immediately.

,,Dad, but won't they go to our house first?" I gasped, barely keeping up with him.

,,We're not going home!" he called back. ,,We're running to your aunt's house!"

,,Oh, I- uh, alright!"

,,Don't speak, save air!"

I did as I was told and soon we got to my aunt's house – she lived alone with only animals, but close to other houses and closest to the fields. We got there in no time and practically jumped in through the front door.

She was waiting for us, briefly hugging father and me too, looking very relieved – and stressed.

,,Come into the cellar, quickly! Oh gosh, I'm so scared. They weren't in in so LONG! I wonder what set them off…"

,,Later!" dad almost barked on her, pulling us through the cellar doors where aunt's dog already sat, whining and waiting for us. She crouched to him and hugged him, shushing his sounds. I waited until dad locked the doors, then quietly crouched down at the stairs.

The door creeeeeeeeeaked.

It was long since I last heard the sound, at least like this. When I realized it was almost ten years, I stayed bewildered. The peace really lasted long… really.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

This was a more familiar one. Afterall, Ater never really cared if he was heard or not…

Wait. Who came?

When the idea struck me I straightened like a stick and climbed up the stairs.

,,GWEN! Come back down! Have you gone mad?" father hissed from below, but I still leaned to the keyhole to stare out.

I didn't see anything properly. Only the living room, alright… Then one of them came into view.

A quick examination of his cape, claws and stings right then and there told me it wasn't Aterulmen. His was always far more dirty; and it was a bit smaller. Furthermore, his claws weren't this slim. And counting the stings didn't give me the right number too.

Damn.

,,Gwen!"

But I was still ecstatic. I barely saw anyone apart from my friend, and since summer not even him, and maybe he knew this one! Heck, he surely knew him. There wasn't that much of them. Maybe it was even a family member. Maybe one of his parents, or a sibling, or-

,,GWEN!"

At this call, which was a bit too loud, the creature turned head. Breath caught in my throat when it sniffed our way, staring almost right at me.

What him. HER! Probably. I couldn't tell, but it seemed more feminine… at least by human standards. I don't know. It was like comparing cats. One never knew, which is which.

She then turned, heading out, again by soft tapping, and when she was out, we heard fast sprint through the grass.

I didn't dare move, I just gazed out until we heard the bell ring again, signalizing they were gone. I sighed a bit in relief, a bit from dissappointment.

,,Gwen, what were you thinking? Do you want to get into their way? You can't do that when they're in the village! EVER! Understand?"

Father was very mad.

,,But I only looked out, I did nothing! I didn't even make noise."

,,Do you think they're stupid and without senses? They could sniff you! They could hear your steps! God, Gwen, you're gonna be my death one day…"

,,But they didn't," I pointed out, stroking the dog's head.

,,Yes," he sighed. ,,luckily for you, they didn't, that is."

…..

As I expected, I couldn't fall asleep that night. I only lied in bed, heart pounding somewhere in my head, and I couldn't swallow the fact I had such a chance to go into the forest and I was missing it. I was too afraid to… When did I become so pathetic?

God, the absence from the forest was doing me no good…

Then there was a sound.

I immediately sat up, all awake, and ran to the window – naturally, I saw red by the edge.

,,Ater?"

,,How did you know?" I heard a frustrated growl.

I smiled from ear to ear, running to the backdoor to open to him.

Right on the first look I noticed some changes; he was more thoroughly washed than usually, his coat was… yep, bigger and cleaner, and he had a small red mark upon his forehead, it looked like a splash of blood. And he was grinning from ear to ear.

,,How did you like today's visit, my dear friend?"

,,So that was on purpose! Well, I was initially freaked out, but heck, nothing ever happened."

,,That I'm glad! It's a pity you weren't home, though. You should have seen me! Your family couldn't even tell I'm not that old yet! They were quite freaked."

I bursted out laughing.

,,Now I knew it wasn't you when I saw her! Got some practice," I winked at him, making a proud face.

,,I have no doubts about that!" he laughed, then caught himself being too loud and covered mouth. ,,…Sorry."

,,They will probably be sleeping already anyway. What is it, half past midnight?"

,,The best time to go for a stroll out!" he winked, pointing to the forest. ,,Come, I'll tell you everything there."

I nodded cheerfully, very quickly got dressed and then ran after him through the back door.

He didn't even need to wait for me, we both knew the path to his former training grounds that well. We stopped only there, and I made myself comfortable as if I was home.

,,So, great hunter, what was this visit about?"

,,Maturing ritual!"

I winked a few times.

,,Wait, what?"

,,To really be among the adults in our pack we had to past a certain test and a trip into the village was needed. Don't worry, almost no elders were there! It was all fifteen year olds… well, one eighteen," he admitted, a bit ashamed. ,,but you know that, hehe. And don't worry, we took no animals! Actually… your parents might find a small present in the kitchen in the morning."

,,You brought us something?" I literally lighted up.

,,Well, I noticed you were low on water, so I thought you might do with one."

,,Thank you so much!"

I didn't even know how and I was up, hanging on his neck, squeezing the air out of him. I felt the upper stings stand up under my hands.

,,Ouf- Gwen, you're choking me," I felt a tap on my back.

,,Sorry," I let go with a slight grin. ,,It wasn't intention."

,,Forgiven. So where were you the whole summer? I haven't caught even a glimpse of you in the forest!" he scorned.

,,I could ask you the same. Wasn't it YOU that warned me not to go in there alone?"

,,Since when do you listen to me?"

,,Since…" I winked in surprise. When…? ,,Never. It was just too quiet out there, I didn't know, if your kin were there or not."

,,Oh. We were deeper in, so you could go, nobody would find you, but I'm glad you waited for me."

,,Always," I modestly shrugged it off. ,,By the way…"

He raised eyebrow, sitting on the tree he chopped down in spring. And suddenly I couldn't spit it out. I opened mouth, closed it again, and mentally kicked myself.

Come on, Gwen. It's only a sentence. It's only three words. What is so hard about that? You say it all the time to your parents!

It's not even the best thing you can-

Before I spoke I found my face burning up and stuttering on simple words, not being able to say it properly. Now that's pathetic!

,,I-uh, missed y-you."

For my surprise he didn't laugh at it, not even grin, he only stared back on me (while I looked everywhere else).

,,Come here, sit."

,,Whe- EEK!"

He pulled me down to his lap, one claw on my back as to prevent me to pull away, and rested head on top of mine.

,,Relax, please. I won't bite. Unless you want, of course," he tossed humorously, at what I chuckled. What was I so nervous about? It's just Ater. It's just my-

,,I missed you too."

Now I remembered, and again felt a hot cloud around my face. And that weird thing… mom once tried to explain to me, how butterflies in stomach feel like. Now I knew.

,,Re-really?"

,,Of course." I felt him smile, then heard a sniff.

,,You know, Gwen, you shouldn't work so hard when you have that… female thing. Especially since you have so little water. You could collapse in the fields."

My eyes widened, not bieng able to blush more than now, and hid face to his cloak more.

It smelled of grass, a bit of blood, clay, and something I couldn't quite name.

,,H-h-ho-how do you know?"

,,I smell it, remember? And I mean it seriously. Don't hurt yourself."

I stayed burried where I was.

,,Hello?"

,,Yes, yes, I'll be careful… Don't worry."

He radiated heat again, but this time it was more peaceful and constant. I just wanted to stay there and sleep through the night. It felt so nice…

,,You're not really listening, are you?"

,,You talk too much."

I felt and heard a heavy sigh.

,,Well, and can I do more to persuade you?"

It was supposed to be a rhetorical question, yep. I knew. I knew well. I don't even know, what has gotten into me at that point, what was going through my head. I just swiftly leaned back and then to him again, catching him in a kiss.

He was so surprised he almost fell back at first, holding only on claws on one paw. Then he did fall, and I did on top of him.

,,What- Gwen! What has gotten into you?" he got out in a bit choked voice, trying to catch breath.

,,I don't have a clue," I said in a laugh, a bit of a mad one, before lowering head again.

I heard a deep growl this time.

,,Gw- don't." It was a warning tone.

,,Why?"

,,I- I can't hold back that-"

I lifted chin up high above him, sticking out tongue at him. He stopped in the middle of the sentence, staring on me with eyes wide open, probably completely forgetting, what he wanted to say. There was a animalish feel to that expression I have never seen before.

,,Are you wondering, if I lost my mind?" I asked, titling head to the side.

He sat up, pushing me a bit away from his lap – in vain, of course.

,,You don't know, what you're asking for," he gulped audibly – I could see he's trying really hard to stay like he is.

,,What if yes?"

He eyed me, closing mouth firmly and lifting chin up.

,,You have no idea, how is that going to hurt," he growled before rolling me down under him.