It had been over a year since he had left. 15 full moons. The last time I had seen Rhydian had been from the back of my parent's Land Rover, driving away from him and his family. When I closed my eyes I could still see the look of shock on his face. He hadn't come to say goodbye to me; he had simply gone.
Rhydian was a wolfblood, just like me. Most humans would think of us as werewolves, people who changed into wolves on the full moon but we are different. We had been born this way, not made. We could also change spontaneously, sometimes when we were emotionally charged. As we got older the changes could be more controlled. We began the monthly changes in our teens but we were born with heightened abilities, clearer vision, exceptional hearing, an increased sense of smell and the ability to run faster than an Olympic sprinter!
I had never met anyone outside my family who was also a wolfblood, so when Rhydian arrived over a year ago, as the new boy at school, I was stunned. What popped out of my mouth wasn't the best of introductions; 'You smell like my parents' was never going to endear me to anyone and Rhydian spent months calling me smelly girl afterwards. But then he reaslised what I was when he had gone off on one at Jimi, a boy in our year, and nearly transformed into a wolf in front of half the school. Fortunately I knew what was coming, I bundled him into the photography room and calmed him down before he ripped the school apart. I knew what he was feeling. It was only a matter of weeks before my first transformation and to say I was twitchy was an understatement. Rhydian taught me that running helped with the jangling in my limbs and we ran as far into the woods as we could.
He talked to me like he was the expert! He had only transformed once before but it was fresh enough that his confusion still showed through. I had been surprised that I knew more about it than he did, but I was so lucky that I had my parents to help. He didn't have anyone, abandoned as an infant by his mother, he had been pushed about a care system that couldn't cope with anything out of the ordinary, numerous children's homes and foster carers, all over the country, until, eventually he had been shipped off to another set of foster parents, the Vaughan's, in our remote village of Stoneybridge, Northumberland.
It was a miracle that he hadn't ever hurt anyone. My parents wanted to take him into our pack, to make him more 'Tame' like us and to Rhydian's credit, he did try, but he had been a lone wolf for too long and the thought of being contained was sometimes too much for him.
When Rhydian's mother appeared out of the blue to find him he had been so angry, how could she have abandoned him? She had asked him to come away with her and his younger brother Bryn and join their wild pack but Rhydian felt more a part of my family that he did his own, or so I had thought. It turns out I was mistaken. When the real choice came, he chose his mother instead of us. Instead of me.
I know he had been to see our friends, Shannon and Tom, before he had left. Tom and Shannon had been my friends forever. Shannon was a determined red head who is more intelligent than Tom and I put together, she was the only child of older parents who wanted their daughter to have every educational opportunity she could. Tom, happy go lucky, always loved a joke but had had a difficult time after his parents had divorced and his father re-married and had a new family. Shannon had known that there was something on the moors and had been determined to find 'the beast of Stoneybridge', she had even set up a webpage to share he finding with others.
Shannon and Tom had witnessed the dramatic standoff between my family and his, when Rhydian's mother had nearly attacked them thanks to some artificial wolf scent Shannon had been liberally spaying deep in the woods in the hope of capturing the beast. They had got more than they bargained for. Tom and Shannon convinced my Mam and Dad that we didn't have to leave too, we wouldn't be exposed, they wouldn't put any pictures on the internet and they would keep our secret.
Tom had said that Rhydian loved me and that had kept me going all those months. He had loved me. He didn't now. It was as simple as that. I realised quickly that Rhydian had made his choice and that it wasn't me, so I had to get on with my life. I had been a dutiful daughter and a good wolfblood, I was working hard at school and obeying the rules of the pack, transforming locked in our cellar once a month on the full moon with Mam and Dad.
None of the good grades and the looks of pride from Mam and Dad helped inside though. As much as I tried, I still missed Rhydian so much. Each month, in the days before I changed, I had gone into the woods to run free. I had always ended up in the same place, by a stream that Rhydian and I had visited when we first realised what he was. Back then I had explained about how he had been born a wolfblood, how he would transform and about the need to keep the secret. I hadn't just been explaining our legacy to Rhydian, I had been explaining it to myself too, I had spent a lifetime keeping the secret and it had felt so good to share it with someone, anyone.
It was a relief to know that Shannon and Tom knew our secret now too. They had been so shocked and hurt when they first found out, shocked that I was an actual wolfblood and so angry that I had lied to them for years. After a few weeks they calmed down though and understood why I couldn't have told them. Tom let slip that he had nightmares for days after he had seen us transform so suddenly in the woods that day. The last thing he had expected was to see two of his closest friends, Rhydian and I, change into fully grown wolves.
For the first few months, Shannon and Tom both watched me anxiously in the days before a full moon; they would exchange nervous glances across the classroom at each other and at me, waiting for me to explode into a wolf in the middle of history class. (Mr Jeffries history classes could do with a bit of livening up, but not that much). I was being a good girl and a good cub; I had my emotions well and truly under control. Tom eventually started to relax more and slipped back into his usual jovial self, cracking inappropriate jokes and looking smug that he 'Had known something was going on all along'.
Shannon, of course, was fascinated by the science of it all. She wanted to know all the chemistry, biology and physics, and I endured endless questions ranging from 'How come you keep your clothes on?' (That I wasn't sure of, just an element of the magic of it all, was the unsatisfactory answer I gave her) to 'How does that entire wolf fit inside a teenage girls' body...?',
"Well", I had answered her, "How does a caterpillar change into a butterfly?"
"You hardly look like a Butterfly with fur and claws, Maddy" Had been her rather unscientific response...
Shannon was desperate to see us transform again, she pestered me incessantly to speak to my Mam and Dad and ask if she could record it. Capture the moment on film so that she could analyse every element of the process. I knew what their horrified response would be if I broached that subject. They trusted Shannon and Tom to keep the secret but changing is a deeply private thing. There is no way we would want to be filmed or photographed.
So, there I was, the spring full moon, following my nose again, running through the woods. The path I took was so familiar to me now, I could have done it with my eyes closed, following the scent that was so faint that I didn't know if I could smell it at all or if I was just remembering his smell in the deepest part of my heart.
I knew where I would end up, again. Sitting under the same tree near to the stream that we had collapsed under the first time we had skipped out from school at lunch time to run off some of the pre-change tension that came with every full moon. Again, my throat would feel thick and tight as I held back the pain of feeling so abandoned. I had nothing to complain about really. I had a Mam and Dad who loved and cared for me and who would always protect me. I had friends who loved me for who I was, no matter how freaky. And yet I still felt the sense of loss and deep down I knew why. It all began and ended with Rhydian. I would never find another wolfblood. To put my changes and temper on to a human would be an impossible ask. It's not as if wolfblood's are ten-a-penny, I was unlikely to meet another one just walking down the street. No-one had thought to set up a and putting 'Therianthropy' in the hobbies and interests section on a normal dating website might not fit with the whole 'keeping it quiet' aspect of the pack rules.
There was more to it that Rhydian just being a wolfblood though, I'd loved him for more than that. He had been my best friend in a way that Shannon and Tom could never be, and I had been his when he needed one too. Rhydian had helped me accept myself as much as I had helped him.
I came back to that same spot again and again to remember the few crazy months that Rhydian had been part of all our lives, to sit under that tree and feel the earth under my fingers, to look up and see the same wind blowing through the trees, now just beginning to come into leaf again. This month had felt more difficult than most. Maybe because I was about to sit exams, maybe it was because I was about to turn 16. Maybe it was the realisation that whatever path my life took I would one day end up alone. The thought didn't frighten me as much as I thought it would. It just saddened me that our history would end with me.
His scent seemed stronger this month, my mind playing tricks.
I had finished lesson and bolted out of school across the sports field, Shannon and Tom making excuses to the three 'K's', Katarina, Kay and Kara, our schools wannabe WAGS, caterwauling behind me.
"Where's she off to?"
"Running like that you would think she is in training for the next Olympics"
"Oy, Maddy, what monsters you running away from?"
They all yelled as I jogged across the field. Well, I thought I was jogging, perhaps I had let it go a bit and to a normal human it looked like I was running for my life. Still it felt good to stretch my limbs and move the spring air through my lungs. I let my legs carry me over the field and into the edge of the woods, and then I began on the same path I always took, darting between the trees and missing the dips in the terrain that I instinctively knew were there. I crossed the stream 3 times in giant high leaps, springing upwards to touch the branches of the trees that were sticky with the spring sap with my finger tips. Finally, I had arrived at that tree and sat down as usual on the damp ground. There were still the autumn leaves covering the woodland floor, and I could smell the stagnant smell of the rotting leaf piles beneath a few dried crisp ones on top. I could also smell the stream, clear and cool as it tumbled over the worn rocks, I could taste the water spray on the tip of my tongue. Wolf-sense was intense. Our scent was all over this place, crisscrossed backwards and forwards from the times we had run in the woods, if I closed my eyes slightly and let my wolf-sense take over then I could more or less see the threads of scent crisscrossing through the trees and undergrowth, backwards and forwards, like the ribbons tangled from a maypole.
Our scent was more concentrated here, where we had sat down together; the scent had rubbed onto the tree, leaving an intangible mark that only our kind could read. So much stronger this month. I made a decision as I sat there, my faced press against the rough bark closing my eyes to breath in that happy memory. This couldn't continue. I couldn't keep torturing myself month after month like this. It was in the past now. He was in the past now. I took one last deep breath and stood up. Throwing my head back I gave out a pitiful and agonising long howl.
The soft thud behind me cut of my howl in a strangled stilted halt. It had made me jump, I span around so quickly, already preparing to change into a wolf before my brain had even connected with what my other senses were feeling.
I couldn't believe my eyes. I couldn't believe my ears or my nose either, but there he was. Rhydian standing in front of me, smiling that same boyish smile that meant he was up to something. He had been up in the tree. A trick he had when he wanted to evade detection. I took in a deep breath.
"Hay wolf-cub" he said, a note of laughter in his voice.
Then I launched myself at him, covering the couple of metres between us so quickly I took him by surprise, "Woe" he uttered as I began pounding at him with my fists held tight. The howl had changed into a deep grief stricken growl; it came from within my very being, a wail that I had held inside for far too long.
It was all let loose as soon as I saw him. My voice sounded distant and I couldn't understand the words that streamed from within me, my eyes were blurred and my hearing lost in a roar of pain and grief. It was deeply disconcerting for someone so used to increased wolf senses to suddenly lose everything in bomb blast of pain, I struggled against him harder as I fort to keep from sinking deeper into the dark abyss that threatened to engulf me.
His hands had caught my pounding fists and swiftly transferred them to one hand, his other arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders crushing me to his chest, fitting my head under his chin, I could hear his whispers now, "Maddy, it's ok, I'm here, Maddy, shhh, shhh" Over and over until I realised I was sobbing steadily into his dirty t-shirt.
Time seemed to have stood still. I didn't know how long I had been crying. I took a steadying breath.
"You left"' I uttered, "You left and you didn't say goodbye".
I realised I'd been saying it over and over.
All the pain and anger and frustration that I had been carrying round for these many months had burst from me in a torrent of blows and wails.
He cradled me against his chest now, still quietly "shushing" me and crushing my body to his. He had let go of my flailing hands and my fingers had wrapped their way into clinging on to his grubby tee-shirt. I could feel his steady heartbeat beneath my cheek pressed into his chest. His scent was overwhelming, enveloping my mind, so much stronger that I had remembered it, comforting in his warmth, he smelt of the earth and the stream, and the fresh springs trees. He still smelt like my parents. Like a wolfblood.
I could taste the tears on my lips that were still flowing down my face, my throat thick and horse. I pressed my face deeper into his chest to cover my tear sore face. I was quieter now, and aware that my body was returning to its full human form, I must have begun to change while I was screaming and yelling at him. I could hear his heartbeat and his steady breathing. I could hear the stream nearby and the birds in the trees. I could hear the movements of animals further away, something large running deep in the woods. I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself, taking my own weight on my shaky legs that had been leaning against him. I eased away from his chest to look him in the eyes.
"Hi" he said, his blue eyes still smiling round the edges. "That wasn't the welcome I was expecting".
I didn't trust myself to speak coherently just yet, I hesitated for a few brief seconds to consider my response by wiping my face with my hand and pushing my bedraggled hair out of my face.
"Hi" was all I could manage.
He smiled down at me, "I'm sorry Maddy." His face was cool and intense. This was an apology he had prepared for. His voice was level and considered. The sentiment was sincere. "Please, Maddy, I'm sorry and I'll never leave you again."
His face was so close to mine, his lips inviting, his eyes feeling their way into my soul. "Rhydian" I heard myself whisper.
I could feel the warm of his lips so tantalisingly close to mine.
Suddenly a noise behind me made me whip around in horror.
"NO!" Rhydian roared. The word becoming a deep growl at the end.
In a split second I saw Bryn, Rhydian's younger brother lunge towards us, in the breath that it took for Bryn to change into a wolf, Rhydian had pushed me behind himself.
I could feel Bryn's hot breath as his teeth clamped down on Rhydian's shoulder, a deep scream of pain surrounded around the woods as Rhydian pushed Bryn off. Bryn gave a yelp as he hit the rocks by the stream. The world lurched sideways as Rhydian began to collapse taking me with him. I cradled Rhydian in my arms as we fell, he landed on top of me, groaning in pain.
"Rhydian" I begged as his eyes lost focus.
"Maddy" I heard him whisper.
There was another voice, "Rhydian!" it shrieked, I looked up to see Ceri, Rhydian's mother, looking in horror at what had just happened. Bryn was returning to his human form.
"Why did you do that?" yelled Ceri at her younger son.
"I wasn't going for him" grunted Bryn.
"We need to get him help" I screamed, wiping the mud and leaves from Rhydian's face, "Rhydian, please, wake up, Rhydian, stay with me"
His eyes fluttered but did not focus.
"No" yelled Ceri, "We will not have human help, we can manage this ourselves".
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry Mum" I could hear Bryn whimpering to his mother.
"Enough, Bryn!" snapped Ceri, "How many times have I told you to control your emotions?!" She growled at him.
I could see the colour drain from Rhydian's face; he was losing blood and clearly in a lot of pain. He needed medical help and quickly.
I eased Rhydian into his mothers' arms. The fastest way to run was in wolf form for as long as possible.
"Please stay here, I've got to get help" I begged.
"We will not stay if you bring human help" spat Ceri.
"Please, leave him here" I was desperate. My voice broke and trembled.
I turned and started running. Changing was easy now; I was more practiced at it. It felt less alien to my body and mind.
I ran as a wolf to the edge of the woods closest to home, then I would change back. My legs pounded the earth, my claws digging in and pushing me forwards with an urgency that I couldn't describe. I felt as though I was running for my life. No, more than that, I was running for his.