"Why does it hurt so much?" Nora had asked Josh after her first transformation. Even having seen him go through it, she had never thought it was possible for it to hurt that much.
Josh had sighed. "I asked Aidan about that once. He said: 'Curses are supposed to hurt.'"
On the day of the full moon, Brynn whispers in her ear, "Tell me what you feel."
Nora closes her eyes. She feels Brynn's hair tickling her neck, and it's amazing, electric. "It feels like an hour before the thunderstorm begins," she says. "Everything charged with energy and anticipation. Makes you want to jump and shout, run through the fields, have sex." She opens her eyes, and Brynn is smiling.
"But in a few hours…" Nora says, and that elation gives way to a dirty feeling, something creeping under her skin, being tainted, dread, powerlessness.
"In a few hours, the thunderstorm begins, and we're the thunder," Brynn says.
"But the pain," Nora says. "I don't know how you can love anything that hurts like that."
"For me, it's more like setting a bone," Brynn says. "It hurts, but there's this instant feeling of…of rightness. Of healing."
"But you're a purebred. I'm not."
"The wolf is smart, you know," Brynn says. "It doesn't trigger changes in infants or small children. They couldn't survive it. But before we're born, we change with our mothers, because we're connected to our mother's bloodstream. We survive then because our mothers bring us through. So the day on which we're born writes our destiny for the first few years of life. Connor and I were born on the full moon. Then one terrible day, as the moon set and the sun rose, we became humans for the first time."
"I wish that I could have been born a wolf," Nora says.
"Every transformation is like a birth," Brynn says. "You give birth to your true self. And that wolf wants to be born, she won't take no for an answer, which is why it hurts so much." She kisses Nora, lightly, fleeting, and Nora is left wanting more. "When the pain comes, think of it as labor. Don't fight it. Push the wolf out."
It still hurts, of course, bright, piercing, splitting. But somehow, this time Nora feels less like a victim. As a nurse, she knows that pain is in the mind, and how you think of it can make all the difference in the world.
Nora wakes first, because she's a bit better at being human than the twins are, and finds herself tangled between their bodies. It is with delight and wonder that she gazes into first one face, then the other, until she feels Brynn's hand brush along her thigh, and Connor's kiss on her shoulder, and she feels as though this is the exact center of the universe, stars and galaxies all wheeling around her, in this moment, and she feels loved.
She knows, somewhere in the back of her mind, that her body is flooded with endorphins, and even that can't quite mask the soreness. Her body feels strange, muscles and tendons all loose, a soreness that hurts when she moves yet somehow it is also satisfying to do so. Like she's run a marathon, or helped someone move.
And there's a part of her that's still in motion, that knows only swiftness and freedom of movement, and as she kisses the twins she remembers them running by her side, remembers feeling, more than thinking, friends, love.
There is one strange moment, locked in the twins' embrace, when Nora doesn't recognize herself at all. And maybe that's her last chance to feel remorse instead of freedom about the taste of blood in her mouth, and maybe it's her last chance to say no. But she honestly can't remember the last time she was this happy, and when she tries to, she sees for the first time how miserable she had always been. She doesn't even know how she had carried on in her old life, how she had kept from breaking down every day.
Brynn licks the tear off her cheek. "Why are you crying, Nora?"
"I don't know who I am."
"Should we stop?"
"Never," Nora says, caressing Brynn's beautiful body. "Never ever stop."
Nora never would have called it healthy to be half a person. But Brynn and Connor were two halves of a whole, and somehow together they seemed more whole than most supposedly whole people she knew. She looked at them and thought of things that belonged together, so the sight of one without the other is inherently broken. Salt without pepper, a single bookend, one hand, one eye, one lung.
In the cabin by the sea, Brynn cries and howls. And Nora cries too, for the other half of the person she'd fallen in love with.
They have to rediscover everything. Sleeping, making love. It seems almost as though Brynn has to be re-taught how to breathe. If Nora tells a joke, Brynn will laugh for a moment through her pain, then glance over her shoulder to see if Connor laughed too, as though for a moment she'd forgotten. And there are the pauses in conversation where she waits for Connor to speak, though lately Brynn will get that sad look, and say, "Connor would say…."
She's healing. But she won't ever be able to forget that she was once, with someone else, whole.
Finally, when she's ready, Brynn asks her, "Will you help me get revenge?"
Nora knows that revenge doesn't take back the bad things that were done. She still bears scars, and Connor will still be dead. But she also knows now what revenge does do. It closes an old story, so a new one can begin. It helps you to let go.
"Of course I will," Nora says.
They lie naked in the shadows and wait for the moon, for the weapon that's better than a stake or a bullet. Nora hopes they don't have to fight Josh, but if they do, she won't hold back. She pities Josh. Death would be almost a kindness to him. But if he can, she hopes he will find his way.
She holds Brynn's hand, and Brynn squeezes back.
Something is about to be born.