A/N: This is for all you whiners that demanded a sequel! :P
Sometimes it feels like she's still here; like she hasn't gone away. At times I can delude myself into thinking I can still smell her scent on my pillow, still hear her whisper's voice – but then I remember it's been nearly a month since she left, and those thoughts are nothing more than a fleeting hope. I miss her, terribly so. I know that she did not leave willingly, and I know that had she stayed, her life would've been jeopardized. The terrible wounds she sustained that afternoon could only be cured by a wolf's touch – by Keno's black magic and his keen intelligence.
I wonder if she thinks of me often. Often times it is that thought I cling to when my nights become so unbearably lonely that I cannot stand it. I've given up my other coping mechanisms – the blade, the pills, the drugs and the alcohol – all with the hopes that she will return. I don't want her coming back to the memory of my self-mutilations. I want her to return proud of me, proud that I've overcome those obstacles… proud that I've done so for her.
The snow hasn't gone away, but I expect it won't. Alaska's wild weather almost always guarantees fresh powder each morning. I guess I don't mind the cold so much anymore, but I know I'd be more obliged to love it if I had a thick coat like Saffron's to keep me warm. That thought strikes me like a hammer – that I would rather join her in her wolfy forever then have her return human. It's not possible, obviously, but it's another thought that fills the bleakness of my mind and distracts me from each long day I have to face.
My father has returned, but a new light shines in his eyes now. I recognize it as fear – that he is afraid of me. I see something else in his gaze now, too. No longer does he nurse a bottle of Jack every night, and no longer does he yell or strike me with closed fists. Somehow, the night Saffron protected my life from him sparked a change deep inside his heart. Alongside the fear I see respect, awe and possibly even… love. I think maybe the night Saffron jumped on him and threatened his life really opened his eyes to the possibility of losing his only son. Losing me meant losing the last tie he had to my late mother, and even though his head is seriously fucked up, I think that struck a chord in him. Things are still tense between us, of course, but we're able to have a somewhat civilized conversation each night at dinner.
After dinner, when I retreat to the darkness of my room, I lay next to Saffron's place in the bed and watch the moon outside my bedroom window. Cliché's aside, I know that she is watching that same moon when I feel my heart stutter in the pale light. She had been the only girl to ever make me feel that way – so warm and right that I felt like everything had fallen into place. And now that she's gone, I'm not sure that the feeling will ever return.
Even my old hookups don't appease me anymore. Greg and Alan can call all they want, pushing their supply at me, but the only out-of-body feeling I want is the one I get when I'm holding her; smelling the forest in her hair, looking into her endless eyes and knowing that in her young life, she has seen more than I ever will. Desperately, I long to see those fathomless eyes – eyes the color of sapphires so murky and dark they seem black. I want her touch, I want her gaze and I want her scent. Every fiber in my being cries out for it, my cells aching and nerves grating. Every time I hear a wolf's howl, my heart kicks into full drive, racing incomprehensibly. Each low wail sends me to the window, searching the trees for the flash of her eyes or her tracks in the snow. I know it's useless to hold on so tight – but her memory is all I have.
I swear to God my prayers have been answered. My father isn't home, but I can see someone else was. Well, something else. My heart leaps into my throat when I see wolf tracks circling the house several times. There's only one set leading from the forest, so instantly I know it is Saffron – returned at last! Hurriedly I rush to the back door to find it opened ever so slightly – an indication to me that I am not alone inside the house. I push through it eagerly.
"Saffron?" My voice, so hopeful, echoes back from the tall ceilings. Someone laughs in the other room and I freeze immediately, for it is not her high laugh I've come to expect. It is lower, more guttural and definitely male. A man, for that is what he is, wanders through the doorway wearing a pair of my gray sweat pants. His skin is Spanish dark, black hair long down to his shoulder blades. Yellow eyes dance as they size me up.
"I hope you don't mind I borrowed a pair of these?" The man gestures to his lower half. "I didn't think you'd appreciate my indecency," he chuckles at his humor and fixes me with a solid look. A slight accent colors his words. I remember the picture I'd seen pinned to the refrigerator back at Saffron's wolf home, remember the tallest man there – just a boy, then – and his name chokes me.
"Keno?" I manage fearfully. Keno smiles, flashing me a set of perfect teeth. God, he is perfect – in every way. Muscled far past my own and graced with fair skin, Keno stands before me the embodiment of a god. Jealousy twists in my gut before I can stop it.
"You humans are quicker than I thought," Keno grins satirically. "I thought I'd stop by for a little chat, Maddox. Does that sound like something you can manage?" His condescending tone has my hackles up, and I glare at him. As intimidating as he may think he is – okay, I can't lie, he's intimidating – I won't let him see my hesitation.
"Sure," I agree. "Go on and make yourself at home, since you've already helped yourself to my clothes," I add, gesturing to the living room. Keno smirks and stretches out on the couch, pulling the thick blanket from the back of the couch down to cover his half-naked body. I roll my eyes and settle in the armchair. Keno picks at his nails before he speaks.
"I'm here to talk about Saffron," he begins, leveling his gaze on me. Alarm springs through my body.
"What's wrong? Is she hurt? Where is she?" The concern in my voice is almost overdone. Keno shakes his head, sitting up and wrapping the blanket around his shoulders.
"She's fine. I'm guessing the only part of her that hurts is her heart. She misses you, and its driving me insane." Keno runs his fingers through his long, tangly hair. I grin, suddenly, elation speeding through my veins.
"What's wrong, Keno? Her love for me too much to bear?" The dark look he gives me tells me I've hit a nerve. It also tells me I'd better shut up. Even without his wolf teeth, I'm sure Keno could do some serious damage to anyone that crosses his path.
"My God, you're annoying!" he chastises. I don't care – obviously. "As I'm sure you're aware, Saffron's injuries were great. She nearly died, human, so take that into consideration. I figure you owe me one, really. I saved her life, after all. Without me, she would've died right there in the snow." Keno's voice is flint, exactly as I'd pictured it when I first laid eyes on the huge black wolf. Anger floods through me and I clench my fists. I knew Keno had laid claim on Saffron when she first changed, but I didn't figure him to be such an asshole!
"Look, Keno, this is the way it's gonna be. She loves me, dog, so I'd suggest you move along and go mate with some other girl, okay?" Keno's eyes flash, angry. His presence suddenly fills the room and I feel extremely small.
"Impressive bravery for one so small," he snarls. "Did you forget that I can rip your throat out as easily as tearing paper?" Fear jolts sharply down my spine, but I shrug it off.
"Nah, I didn't forget. If you'd wanted to kill me, you would've done it already. Without bringing your unwashed dog stink in my house." I smile serenely, daring him to act. Keno rolls his eyes and snorts.
"The point of this is I want Saffron gone. Well, it's not that I want her to leave – I'm sure my pack can function without their alpha female for a while. I just can't stand her constant thoughts of you." He spits out the last word like it's a bug in his mouth. "The whole pack wants her out." I smile, once more, knowing Keno is officially giving her to me. Then, I remember.
"She can't change back, you know," I remind him. "She used her time up."
Keno snorts. "Please. Phasing isn't a timed event. While it may be true that there are certain limitations to the length we can phase, we aren't completely ruled by it. Saffron can't change back until the full moon. And even then, she can only stay human until the moon sets and the sun rises." Hope fills me, pure and unfiltered. A smile dominates my features as I watch Keno roll his eyes in disgust.
"I don't care, I'll take it!" I exclaim.
"But," he interrupts, "only with my help can she become fully human." Those last two words scream back at me.
"Fully human?" I echo. "How's that work?"
"I guess you could call it a ritual of sorts, although it isn't as extravagant. The only time the ritual can be performed is on the night of the lunar eclipse, which, luckily for you, happens in just a few days. Usually, the wolf in ritual has to return to the place of first phase, but in Saffron's case, I think the caves will work. You wouldn't know, but there's an incredible amount of spiritual energy located there. You could call it a place of great importance to us wolves." Keno leans back against the cushions and pulls the blanket around his shoulders tighter. My eyebrow arches.
"Why at the place of her first phase?" I wonder. Keno's words have me intrigued. As much as I dislike him for reasons too obvious, I know he's trying to help me. He's trying to help Saffron, as much as I can tell it hurts him. Keno rubs his temple.
"It's kind of like an inner thing," he says. "In order to rid yourself of the wolf inside, you've got to have a complete connection, mind and body. It seems easiest for the mind to connect when it returns to the place it was first entirely consumed by the wolf inside, because it's the place where our total humanity was lost." Keno explains.
"How does the ritual work?" I ask, the hope in my voice strong. I want so much for her to return to me, to hold her in my arms once more – forever. Keno looks uncertain.
"That I don't know too much about. It requires black magic, something I've been gifted with, as it happens. Alphas have certain abilities that lesser wolves lack. Of course, it helps your case that Saffron was the alpha female – so she'll most certainly survive through it." A chill runs down my spine.
"Survive? You mean there's a good chance she'll die?" My voice nearly chokes on the last word, but I swallow my panic and fix Keno with a level gaze.
"It's difficult to say. Like I said, I don't know too much about it. I do know that on the night of the lunar eclipse, the wolf inside fights for total dominance with our human sides. Sometimes the wolf wins, and sometimes the human does. During that period of time, Saffron will be phasing back and forth so quickly, she'll seem transparent. What you've got to do is wait until her wolf form seems most dominant, and stab her in the heart."
My jaw drops.
"Stab her in the heart?" I gasp. Keno smiles, clearly amused.
"Yes. Stab her wolf heart, so that part of her dies," he elaborates.
"Oh," I say. "So it's not going to kill her?"
Keno looks uncertain this time. "I can't say for sure," he replies. "It's possible you could miss, and stab her human heart. Do that, and she dies, wolf and all."
I gulp. While the prospect of Saffron becoming fully human and never having to worry about phasing again is tempting, it's almost too much of a risk for me to bear. I know that if Saffron died, I wouldn't be able to carry on knowing I was the one that took her life.
Keno reads the uncertainty on my face easily and laces his fingers together, stretching them outward so his palms are facing me.
"I know what you're thinking, and it is dangerous. However, I don't think you'll accidentally miss. There's a strong bond between the two of you, more than there ever was between her and I, and that puts the odds in your favor. The stronger the love you feel for her, the more likely you are to succeed."
Despite knowing that Keno is only telling me this to abate my nerves, I feel a little better.
"So when can we do this? I'm ready." I say, making my decision in a split second. I can't bear another day without her. She's taken my soul, as well as my heart.
"The lunar eclipse. It's in a few days, so you won't have to wait too long. I'll need to take that time to get everything ready, but I'll come for you when it's time. Understand?" That rough, mocking edge is back to his voice, as well as his eyes. He's looking at me like I'm a child, and it's really getting on my nerves.
"Yeah, I get it. Now will you leave already? You stink," I reply, plugging my nose for effect. To my surprise, Keno grins broadly.
"I really hope this works out for you, Maddox. I really do. I think you've got enough guts to handle a woman like Saffron." With no final words, Keno rips my sweatpants off, tearing them in two, and takes off out the back door and into the woods.
Annoyance brushes through me as I pick the remains of my sweats off the floor and throw them out, but I can hardly be angry at him. After all, he is sacrificing his feelings for Saffron to help me… and I can only hope his words have been the truth.
Four agonizing days later, and there comes a knock at my window. It's late, and the sharp rapping startles me from sleep. I sit bolt upright and look out to find Keno's silhouette looking back at me. He urges me outside with nothing more than a hand gesture. My sleep addled brain wonders what he could be wanting, but then everything comes back to me with a sudden jolt. The lunar eclipse! Hurriedly I slip on a pair of pants and bundle myself up in a thick jacket, the same I had worn in the caves with Saffron, and slip out the back door without waking my father.
"Are you ready?" Keno asks. Blessedly, he's wearing clothes this time, and they're not mine. I blow on my hands and shove them deep inside my pockets, nodding.
"Yeah. Let's do this." My nerves are at an all time high, and my mind is a jumble. I'm ultimately dreading the task ahead, yet exultation flows through my limbs like a steady stream.
Keno is wearing one of the strangest get-ups I've ever seen. It looks to be no more than something like a poncho – for it goes over his arms and ends in a V shape down at his knees. He's wearing loose brown pants, and from what I can tell in the near complete darkness of this moonless night, the poncho and pants are covered in symbols and lettering that I don't recognize.
"All right, let's go." He's barefoot, and I can only cringe as he strides ahead through the fresh snow. Keno leads me through a different path to get to the caves than the one I had always taken. It seemed to be a longer way to go, but we get to the caves easily.
I see a fire lit right against the rock face, throwing shadows against the wall. The entirety of Keno's pack is present, sitting eerily still and uniform, watching our approach with solemn eyes. I know that they have full knowledge of what's going to happen tonight, and it can't be easy losing a valued member of the pack – let alone their alpha female.
Saffron lays by the fire, seemingly immobilized. She does manage to lift her head and fix me with a gaze that pierces straight through my soul – and in that instant, I know that I can do this. My heart stutters at the sight of her, even in her wolf form, she is breathtaking. She thumps her tail on the ground a few times and lets her head fall back to the ground, breathing fast and heavy.
"What's wrong with her?" I move to her side and run my fingers through her rough fur, watching uneasily.
"Nothing, really. It's just the lunar eclipse. It affects us each differently, and especially with being here in this sacred place, it's stronger." Keno kneels by the fire and pulls a rawhide bag to him, reaching in and pulling out several jars of colorless powder. The form of a running wolf is burned into the poncho he wears, which I can see is made of the skin of a deer, and I can only assume it's symbolic.
I watch as Keno unscrews the lids of each jar and reaches in with one hand, collecting a bit of each of the powders and pooling them in his free hand. He cups his hands together and blows the powder into the fire. The flames blaze to an enormous height, flickering wildly. The wolves around us squint against the brightness.
Suddenly, Saffron shudders violently and begins to tremble.
"It's time," Keno tells me, withdrawing a dagger from the bag and pulling it from its sheath, using his poncho to keep his fingers from touching the hilt. "Take it," he instructs, and as I wrap my hand around the metal hilt, I feel an insane presence taking over. It fills every root and core in my body, nearly overwhelming me as my eyes burn and my breath comes heavily. The wolves around us prick their ears forward, fixing their eyes on Saffron's shifting form.
I look down in disbelief to see her phasing so fast; she seems to be but a blur on the ground. I catch her human form, rolling onto her back and clutching her heart, her eyes screwed up in pain, as the heels of her feet scratch into the ground. Then her wolf form takes over once more, eyes glowing brilliant azure, flashing at me and daring me to bring the dagger near.
"Do it! Do it now!" Keno yells, leaning forward. "You have to do it now!"
Conviction swallows me and I raise the dagger over my head, hesitating.
"Maddox! Don't wait!" He cries. Already I can see the edges of her form beginning to blur, so I waste no time. I drive the dagger forward and plunge it deep into the heart of her wolf, gasping for air in panic. The instant she cries out in pain, the wolves surrounding us lift their muzzles skyward and howl. It is a sound so lonely and sad, filled with so much pain and mourning that I feel tears come to my eyes and I'm convinced I've waited too long. But instead of seeing the real Saffron thrashing on the ground, I see her wolf, gasping for breath and whining as she finally stills with a single cough.
"Pull the knife out, now," Keno orders, urgency rushing my hands. I grasp the hilt and jerk the knife out, trying to keep my eyes from the crimson blood that coats the blade and drips into the snow. Saffron's wolf is still for a long time as the wolves keep howling, and dread creeps up my spine.
"Did I wait too long?" I fix my eyes on Keno, who is staring at the dead wolf at my feet.
"No," he breathes, "look."
Saffron is phasing slowly, her entire body pulsing and glowing with an inner light. Her eyes finally open once she is fully human and find mine immediately. I pull her naked body into my arms, unable to believe that she is finally mine, without any hindrances. Once more I am stunned by her complete beauty, and I feel my heart leave my body as I had when I first saw her.
"You've freed me," she breathes, touching my face lightly with her fingers. In that instant it is just her and I, alone, in our own world. "I won't suffer anymore." She pulls my face down to hers and kisses me eagerly, her touch spreading fire throughout my veins.
The wolves rush to us then, interrupting our kiss and nosing Saffron's skin. She smiles and touches each wolf, greeting them by name and letting them lick her. It's the most affectionate I've seen them be, and one wolf in particular seems most eager to get close to her. I would guess it's a girl, by the way she's built, and she looks strikingly a lot like Saffron, yet she has Keno's eyes. This wolf presses her sturdy head against Saffron's bare chest, rumbling in her throat. Saffron takes this wolf's head in her hands and buries her face against her forehead, staying that way for some time.
"I'll always love you, Silver," she murmurs into the wolf's fur. The wolf whines in response and wags her tail feebly, clearly torn. Finally, Silver steps back with great sadness in her eyes, and watches as I stand, helping Saffron to her feet and shucking my jacket, giving it to Saffron to wear. Keno makes no move until Saffron goes to him, holding out her hand.
"Thank you, Keno," she says when he slips his hand inside. Keno stands, watching Saffron with a guarded expression. "Take care of Silver, will you?" Finally, he sighs, and his eyes melt.
"You know I will," His tone of voice is strikingly different than the one he used with me. It's gentle, loving, and sad. "I'll always be here, waiting for you." He wraps her in a tight hug, closing his eyes as he buries his face in her hair. "I'm sorry," I manage to hear him say. I see Saffron smile gently as she pulls back and looks in his eye.
"Don't be," she says. "You've given me everything; more than I could've asked for. I'm only sorry it wasn't the life for me," Keno wipes a tear from her cheek gingerly and smiles.
"I always knew you were special. Just remember that. I'll always love you, Saffron, so try not to forget about me," he gives her a lopsided grin. "Don't forget about us out here," he adds, touching his thumb to her chin.
"I won't," she promises, standing on her tip-toes and kissing his jaw. She hugs him one last time before stepping out of his embrace and returning to me, slipping her hand in mine and gazing up at me with complete love in her eyes.
"Let's go home," she says, giving my hand a squeeze. I smile, agreeing completely.
"Thank you, Keno," I tell him. The wolf-man isn't looking at us anymore, but I see him nod his head. I know it's about as much as I'll ever get from him, now.
Walking back to my home, I hear the most heart-wrenching howl I've ever heard. I look to Saffron, who has tears in her eyes, and I know instantly that it is Keno, mourning her goodbye. Instead of feeling the sadness she feels, I smile, for I don't have to worry anymore. My soul has returned to me, with a new addition – hers.