Last one, guys. Hope you've enjoyed reading this story as much as I have writing it! I deliberately left some links so I could carry the story on if I wanted to. If I think of a good enough storyline, maybe I will! Thanks for everything, and all of the lovely reviews that people have left me. Bon voyage! :)
"So, that was some pretty impressive fighting you did when I was out of it." Bryn said lightly.
I grinned at her. "Did I do you proud?"
"Of course you did. You always do." She smiled back fondly, and a warm glow of happiness kindled inside me.
Me, Alex, Lily, Devon, Lake, Bryn and Chase were sitting in the meeting house; the same place that all of this had started. All of us were clutching hot, steaming cups of coffee, which was bliss in the biting autumn/winter chill, and all of us were gathered for the final- well, debrief, if you will- before putting another file in the Successfully Accomplished Missions section of our minds.
After the pack had come for us, around a week ago, things had happened very quickly. I'd practically fainted on the way back home, and once delivered to my bed, had slept like the proverbial log for about three days solid. Now, a week later, the silver's poison had all but vanished from my body- though my ears were still sore, and extremely scarred. I still had a faint silver sheen over my irises from that (which I kind of liked) but with time, Chase, Mr. Medicine, had said that that would go as well. After that, we'd been so busy with extra patrols, moving the Stone River camp back to their original position, getting rid of the body of the traitor Snake, helping Maddy recover, etcetera, etcetera that this had been the only time we'd managed to snatch- at about ten thirty, just before night patrols started. The important thing was, though, that we were all safe, and (relatively) unhurt. The only bad thing was that Jaimes had vanished after the fight with Devon; obviously, he hadn't been that badly hurt. He'd be lurking in the shadows for the rest of our lives, but Bryn thought that alone, he wouldn't pose a serious threat. We'd just have to keep a close eye on Snake Bend for the time being in case Shay tried anything nasty.
But that was a matter for later. Now, we were just enjoying being alive, and knowing that the pack was safe, and stronger than ever.
"Well, I fought like a boss." Devon said loudly, waggling his eyebrows at the hurt. And then- "No, no Katie, don't hit me, don't hit me!"
He pulled up his shirt (I tried not to stare) to reveal the thick bandages still wrapped around his torso from the fights with Jaimes and Snake. "See? Respect the injured veteran, if you will."
I pretended to think. "How much respect are you asking for?"
A wicked smile was his response, and he leaned closer until we were almost nose to nose. "I don't know. A kiss? Here?- or here?- or perhaps..."
"Stop, stop!" Alex pleaded, throwing up his hands just as Devon's lips brushed my collarbone. I frowned in irritation. "Don't leave us all mentally scarred, please!"
"Talk about it." Bryn muttered. "I can't believe I didn't see this coming. I mean...my sister and my best friend? Ugh!"
"Shut it, Bronwen." Devon stuck his tongue out at her, and wrapped an arm around me from where we sat on the old, squashed sofa. His smell- coffee and cool earth- enveloped me. I bit my lip on my smile, but it leaked out anyway.
"You can't talk, Al. You're currently going steady with my best friend."
Lily flushed a delicate scarlet to match her curls.
"Anyway." Lake said quickly, putting her endlessly long legs onto the table and leaning back in her chair nonchalantly. She took a thin blade from her pocket and began flipping it aimlessly through the air. "I wasn't here for half of this epic. Katie, tell me everything. Matilda and I can't believe we missed out!"
So, for the first time, I told them all everything I could think of to say. The earrings, Snake, illness, the journey to Stone River, the Challenge...everything.
After I'd finished, there was a long silence.
"I didn't know you were Wolf-Sighted." Lily said finally. I looked up at her; she looked away, disappointment radiating from her. I heaved a sigh- I'd have to talk about it more later- and sent her a mental blip of apology.
"I'm sorry, Lil. I don't really like telling people about it. It's a bit...well, private."
"Do you reckon it's got anything to do with what you did to Snake in the fight? You know, the blind thing?" Lake butted in, sounded extremely interested.
Everybody looked at Chase, who was by far the most academic of the group.
"Maybe." He said lightly. "If Katie puts her consciousness into somebody else's head- who doesn't have Wolf Sight- then it could be enough to overload their sight. It's only a guess, though."
"Sounds intelligent enough to be true. Katie, you are now a superhero!" Devon declared, sweeping his hand through the air. "Solve mysteries. Fight crime. You know, do the superhero stuff."
"I already do that." I said happily. "Can I be called WonderWolf?"
"How about Silver Sorcerer? Or the Groovy Greymeister?" Everyone groaned at the last one, and Devon held up his hands in apology. "Hey! Blame my brain, okay?"
"How's Maddy?" I asked the group at large. Bryn stilled, her finger drawing slow spirals in her cooling coffee and her mahogany hair shielding her face from view. Chase put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly.
"We...had a look at her. She was..." she swallowed hard "...she was really weak. Plus the wounds...Mitch gave it a 'maybe'."
There was a small silence in the hut as everyone thought of Maddy. I sent Bryn a mental hug, cursing my stupidity. She hadn't seen Maddy for sixteen years, had spent the whole time blaming herself for Lucas' death, and the first time she does meet her she's injured and close to death! Clever, Katie!
"It's okay." She said, flashing everyone a small smile as she registered my mental discomfort. "I...er...offered her a place at Cedar Ridge if she ever...recovers. We can offer her protection from Jaimes that she wouldn't have otherwise."
"Did she say yes?" Lily asked eagerly.
A flash of grin flitted across Bryn's face. "Yeah, she did. As in, she's stay here for a while, and be free to travel whenever she wants to. But I think we can deal with that."
Lily punched the air celebratorily, bouncy as a rubber ball. "Yesss!"
The atmosphere in the cabin rose like bubbles in a champagne bottle, as we all contemplated the rosy future of Cedar Ridge.
Until Bryn spoke up again.
"Katie, Callum wants me to tell you that he's extremely grateful for all everything that you've done for Stone River. He says that any time you want to join Stone River..." She left the words hanging there. I stared at her, appalled.
"You were joking, weren't you?"
"Yes." She conceded. "I was."
"Good. Because I would never, ever, ever, ever join Stone River. No offence to Callum, but being in the same pack as Casey would be my personal hell on earth."
"Just as well, because Casey is fuming that you left him in the lurch last week when you came back from Maddy's cottage. I don't think he's going to be rolling out the welcome wagon any time soon." Bryn shrugged.
I followed suit. "Mitch is my father, not Casey."
"Sweet. Same for me." She grinned. "And now, folks, it's time for evening patrols. Who's patrolling tonight, Chase, darling?"
Chase darling answered in his usual way: monotone, quiet. "Eric, Lily, Lake¸ Mitch, Alex."
"Good stuff. To it, pack!"
"See you, then."
"Whatever you say, Alpha-Goddess Bryn."
I levered myself out of the couch- I'd sunk about thirty centimetres into it during the conversation- and walked out of the hut to where Alex was standing, alone for once, his breath painting fog across the twinkling night sky.
How's it going, Al?
We breathed out together, the cold like a knife in our lungs, sharing minds- sharing bonds- like we'd done so many times before, growing up. I smiled ruefully; whatever he did, he'd still remain my brother, still the same cautious, caring Alex, but now we were going our different ways.
"You on patrol tonight?"
He smiled into the night- I recognised that particular expression as his lovestruck goofy-grin. "Yeah...with Lil."
"You really like her, don't you?" That was a statement really, not a question, and I was unsurprised when he nodded. "A lot, yeah."
Well, then. I punched him on the shoulder- not too hard, though he winced. Go out and get her.
Love you, KitKat.
Love you, too, you ninny.
He leaned in for a swift hug- I breathed in lemon and pine- and then disappeared like a flash into the night. I listened to the light pitter-patter of his footsteps until they disappeared, and breathed out slowly into the night, listening to the breath rushing in my ears like the sea. All was still, peaceful.
"Holy-" I lashed out, grabbing behind me and spinning around, using my momentum to slam the attacker into the hut wall. When my breathing had calmed down enough, I saw Devon laughing down at me.
"Well...you could be Jaimes. Or a serial...something. Who wants to attack me for my good looks."
"If anyone attacks anyone for their good looks, darling, I'll be the victim."
"Quiet, Bachelor Big-Head!"
"Bachelor?! Right! I'll show you bachelor, Miss Bachelorette!"
The next thing I knew, my legs had flown out from underneath me and he was holding me in the lift I'd rather become accustomed to. The embarrassment! I pounded his shoulder. "Let me go, or I swear to God you'll regret it!"
"God'll have to wait. Come on."
And he started jogging towards the forest.
About five minutes later (I'd given up fighting by this point!), we were at the place where the tree line kissed the edge of the lake. A waxing moon hung above the surface of the water and in it, tugging my blood with need to shift, to run, to race. It'd be full soon, and then I wouldn't be able to resist the urge. The stars sprinkled around were clear points of light in the black sky.
At that point, I was unceremoniously dumped in a pile of spongy pine needles. My swearing probably would have woken up the entire camp if I hadn't been planted face down. Struggling upwards onto my bum, I spat a couple of needles out of my mouth and smirked at him.
"Is that the best you've got?"
He flumped down next to me and leaned against my shoulder, ignoring my heart kicking its beating up a notch. Together, we stared out across the calm surface of the lake, shimmering grey- or, okay, blue- in the silver light. It was perfectly still; perfectly peaceful.
"You know, this time a month ago, I didn't think I'd fall for the sister of my alpha, who couldn't tell blue from grey."
Adrenaline thrilled through me. "I thought the same vis-à-vis a wisecracking guy who wanted to be a furniture salesman when he was younger."
He smiled. "You're not gonna let me forget that, are you?"
"I'll tell you every time I beat you in a fight."
"You fight dirty."
"I wouldn't win otherwise."
"Well, you've won one fight already." He leaned forwards and raised an eyebrow.
I moved in this time and kissed him, his mouth soft against mine.
And in that moment, even though there was a Rogue Were who had a grudge against us, a pack that needed protecting, a strange and scary gift that I'd have to learn to deal with-and a crazy, dysfunctional pack that I would die for-to contend with, I wouldn't have changed places with anyone for the world.
Why would I?
We'd just face it together.