Shaylin called Lon on her mobile. She didn't tell him what was going on, just that she and Fillin had found Andi and they needed help. Lon insisted on calling Lyall, but Shaylin convinced him not to bother Lyall yet. After she hung up, she addressed Fillin and I.
"Normally," she sighed, "I would avoid going straight to Lon for help, but we need him on our side first before we even consider reasoning with Lyall."
"Thank you, Shaylin," I said, "Thanks for trusting me."
Rolling her eyes, she moaned, "Call me Shay. Shaylin sounds too formal."
"Alright then, Shay." I tried to smile.
Andi's breathing had picked up, and our connection was stronger, but she was still in a bad way. Eying me occasionally, Fillin had taken his shirt off and was wiping the sweat away from her forehead with it. I held Andi's hand and tried to read any thought at all from her, but in vain; she was unconscious. Meanwhile, Shay paced back and forth, stressing about what to tell Lon.
When I saw Lon at the front gate of the cemetery, he rushed towards us, squinting in my direction and attempting to figure out who I was. Nita was stalking just after him, and Todd lagged behind as he struggled to keep up. Shay raced over to them, filling them in as Lon tried to charge past her.
"Keep your hair in your face and don't look him in the eye," Fillin whispered to me just as Lon reached us, "Let him have time to see you without prejudging you before he asks who you are."
I nodded and did as he said. Being with Andi mattered most, and I knew she cared about these people's opinions.
Lon knelt down next to us, Todd right by his side, but Nita stayed standing, glaring down at me with occasional anxious glances at Andi. Shay continued to explain that Andi was getting better, but we couldn't move her just yet, or so Fillin claimed.
"I'm an Akanian, Lon: trust me on this one," Fillin growled when Lon insisted we move her somewhere safer, "She's in no condition to be moved."
I was tempted to speak up and agree with Fillin, since Akanians were best known for their achievements in the medical field, but I remembered to keep my mouth shut and not draw attention just yet. Nodding, I kept to myself and continued stroking Andi's hand.
Lon finally agreed, but beat Shay to her point when he asked, "Well, why couldn't I tell Lyall about this? He'll want to see her."
Shay hesitated, "You see, there's a minor hitch. Andi will be fine, but there's something else we're worried about."
"Lon," Nita said, pointing at me, "be a little more observant of your surroundings."
Todd fumbled anxiously at the ground, daring not to look at me. Lon tried to peer around my long bangs to see my face, but I turned my head, my heart pounding in fear as I gripped Andi's hand. What if he wouldn't accept me?
"Are you this 'we' that Andi has mentioned?" Lon asked me.
I just nodded, fearing my voice would give me away.
He smiled warmly. "Thank you for helping her. She means a lot to us, especially Lyall."
I just nodded again and shrugged my shoulders.
"So what is your name?" Nita demanded impatiently.
I jerked, knowing she knew the answer. Todd was ripping the ground apart from stress. Shay and Filling exchanged a nervous glance. Lon's welcoming eyes waited patiently for me.
"Ethelwolf," I muttered, defeated.
In an instant, Lon's expression changed from warm to wary. I let go of Andi's hand for a moment to take out my contacts and looked each of them straight in the eye. The one thing that confirmed my identity was my eyes.
"So the kidnapper saves the kidnapped?" Nita growled, since Lon was speechless, "Is that what you want us to believe? You think we can't tell you have some ulterior motive?"
I shook my head. "I have no motive but to be with Andi."
"Then why didn't you keep her all to yourself?" Lon muttered, still in shock, "You had already kidnapped her."
"It wasn't safe there, obviously. Plus, she loves all of you," I explained, "Why would I let her become like this if she hadn't? I love her too much for that."
Lon snarled, "If you cared about her, you would have kept her safe! You wouldn't have let this happen to her! "
I hung my head. He was right; I should have protected her.
Suddenly, Todd stopped ripping the grass up. Tears were streaming from his eyes as he whirled and punched Lon in the face. His fist made contact with a smack, but Lon didn't recoil at all. Touching his hand to his face, Lon turned to Todd in shock.
Eyes still streaming, Todd demanded, "How could you say that? He hasn't let go of her hand but once! His clothes are just as worn as hers, and his wounds are still unattended. How can you claim he doesn't love her when he's stuck with her all this time? Can't you see he tried his best to keep her safe? He may have been her kidnapper at one time, but he loves her and has brought her back to us now!"
All eyes were on Todd, in complete astonishment. All I knew about Todd was what Andi had told me. He was supposedly a quiet, nervous kid who admired Lon like a big brother. That certainly wasn't the kid I saw now.
"Todd," Lon whispered, still holding his face.
"I'm sorry," I muttered into the silence.
After seeming to decide something with himself, Lon turned to me. "Todd's right. I'm the one who should be sorry. We've all been so worried; I forgot what to be thankful for. Let's call Lyall, and I'll keep him from killing you."
"Thank you!" I couldn't say the words fast enough, "That would mean the world to me, to us."
Lon hugged Todd, "Don't you dare hit me again, you nut case."
Todd nodded, wiping tears from his face. Nita sighed and messed his hair up.
Lon called Lyall and told him that they had found Andi, but she wasn't in any shape to move. Lyall said he'd be right over with Rebecca and that they weren't very far away. My sigh of relief was finished with that phone call. I had these people on my side, but even they might not be capable of protecting me from Lyall's wrath.
"It's a good thing Rebecca is with him," Shay said, breaking the tense silence after Lon hung up, "She can help reason with Lyall."
"Rebecca Sloan?" I asked, "I doubt that she'll side with me. She was in the same school as me when I was a kid, and our families were close until her family sided with the Phoenixes on some political issue. My family condemned hers and we weren't allowed to be friends anymore. She probably hates me and my family."
Fillin smirked. "Actually, she was the one who was most shocked by the kidnapping. She said she knew you as a kid and couldn't believe you would do something like that. She kept saying you must have been threatened to do it."
I didn't get to reply; Lyall was at the cemetery gate and racing over to us.
"Just like before," Fillin whispered to me.
I nodded and brushed my bangs over my face.
When Lyall reached us, I saw the energy drain out of his eyes as he dropped to his knees and kissed Andi's forehead. No one said anything or even dared to look at him. Rebecca held his hand as he stared at Andi in disbelief.
Finally, Nita broke the silence. "Hey, she isn't dead, remember? She's healing herself. We just have to wait for her to wake up so we know she's alright to move."
"Right," Lyall choked out, "How did this happen?"
"Melinda Rayner had been after them. A Nero caught up enough to take her down," Fillin explained, "She was barely breathing when Shay and I got here, but she's doing better now."
"Mrs. Rayner was taken out during the fight too," Shay added.
Lyall nodded, his eyes still fixed on Andi. "Alright, at least we won't have to worry about them for a bit. What about that disgusting cousin of mine? Was he after her as well?"
No one dared to respond. I gripped Andi's hand.
"No one knows?" Lyall assumed and growled, "I'll kill him. I swear I'll kill him for what he's done."
Rebecca rubbed Lyall's back as she glanced at me. "Don't say ridiculous things," she said soothing him, "There's no need for that. I told you he was probably threatened into doing it."
"Enough of that!" Lyall snapped, glaring at her, "I told you that I don't care why he did it! He did it, and now look what's happened to her!"
Again, no one dared say anything. I squeezed my eyes shut, fighting back tears.
"I'm sorry," I choked out, anticipating the worst.
For the first time, Lyall noticed me. His head snapped up, and his eyes locked on mine as I tried to turn away. If he attacked, I swore to myself that I wouldn't fight back. If I fought back, he would never trust me.
"You!" Lyall roared, and everyone cringed, "How dare you show your face here! After what you've done, how dare you! I'll kill you!"
I heard the voice just as Lyall launched himself at me and shifted in midair. Things moved in slow motion then. Everyone lunged to stop Lyall, but no one was fast enough. His teeth were at my neck when someone suddenly pulled me to the side. I realized I had still been holding Andi's hand, and she had pulled me down and wrapped her arms around me.
"I said I wouldn't let him hurt you," Andi murmured my ear, "I told Caleb I'd protect you from Lyall."
She pulled herself up into a sit, using me for support. I held her, overjoyed that she could move and speak again, and for a split second, forgetting that Lyall was trying to kill me. That is, until I heard the snarl from behind me again. I turned around to see Rebecca and Lon holding Lyall back.
"Cut it out, Lyall," Andi snapped, surprising me with her energy, "Ethel means a lot to me. I won't forgive you if you hurt him."
Lyall shifted back, though Rebecca and Lon didn't let go of him. "How can you say that? He's the reason all of this happened to you! He's the reason you got hurt, why you were taken away from us!"
"I've already forgiven him for what he did," Andi declared, "You all should too. What really matters is that he protected me as best he could and that I love him."
I managed a small smile and hugged her closer to me. She kissed my cheek and reached into her pocket. When she opened her hand to show the thing she pulled out to me, I saw she had kept the black choker from the Good Will. I had thought she got rid of it, because it was so uncomfortable to her. She put it on and stared defiantly at Lyall.
"I asked Caleb what he meant by collared when we visited him," she told me, "He said it was a symbol of commitment to dog shifters. I meant they would stick with one who gave them the collar or choker, in this case, forever. I stopped wearing it, though I knew that wasn't what you meant by it, because I wasn't sure I could promise that. I held onto it though, just in case. Now, I'm sure I can promise that. So don't you dare try to leave me, Ethel," and to Lyall she growled, "Don't you dare try to take him away either."
"How can you say that, Andi?" Lyall demanded, "He nearly had you killed!"
"But he's the one who saved me," Andi countered, "And besides that and that I love him, he's the boy in the prophesy, my second."
Everyone stared at us in shock. It hadn't even occurred to me that we should mention that. It didn't seem to matter.
"No way," Lyall growled, "How do you know?"
"I can read her mind," I told him, "When I shift, I can feel others' emotions. And when I fight, I don't think at all and can't remember what I did, which is probably the only way I defeated you guys."
Lon nodded. "I noticed that when we fought. Your moves were completely fluid, but you expression was blank the whole time."
"The timing does make sense," Fillin pointed out, "Ethel and his pack showed up right around the time I started hanging out with you guys. That's why we got mixed up."
"Can't we trust him if he's her second?" Shay asked.
Lyall shook his head. "Not necessarily. Not after all that he's done."
"All he's done?" Rebecca echoed him and continued, "Lyall, come back to us and listen to what you're saying. You aren't thinking straight through your pain. He's done more to help Andi than hurt her. He may have messed up, but he brought her back to us. On top of that, he loves her as much as you do. Why won't you accept that? Why can't you be happy?"
"If Andi trust him," Todd spoke up, "why shouldn't we? She's spent the most time with him."
Lyall surveyed the guard, realizing they all agreed with Todd. Andi offered him a smile and her hand, and he took it. Squeezing her hand, but keeping a distance from me, he sighed.
"If you love him, Andi, I'll try to be happy for you," he said, his exhaustion showing, "But that doesn't mean he's forgiven. I'm still watching."
Andi and I beamed at each other, and I squeezed her closer to me.
The week after that passed in a flash. Andi's parents, to my surprise, welcomed me with open arms. The rest of Andi's group began to accept me, with the obvious exception of Lyall. I highly doubted that I would ever win Lyall's trust, despite my efforts to please him. We convinced Andi to rest for a few days, but it wasn't long until she was begging me to go hiking again.
One day, when we came back from a hike, Lyall and Andi's parents were gone. We found Lon pacing the study. Uncharacteristically stressed, he frantically searched the bookshelves.
"Lon, where is Lyall?" Andi asked.
"Oh!" Lon exclaimed with startled eyes, obviously just noticing us, "Lyall went to pick up those farm dogs you told us about. He should be back tomorrow."
She smiled. "That's good. I can't wait to see Mars and her brothers again. Did my parents go with him?"
Lon didn't answer.
Did he hear me?
"Lon? Where are my parents?" Andi tried again.
He still didn't answer.
Irritated, I demanded, "Lon, where—"
"Let's let Lon do his work," Rebecca said, coming up behind us and putting her hands on our shoulders, "He's busy since Lyall isn't here."
Rebecca led us away, not answering any questions either. We asked around the entire house, but no one else knew anything.
In the morning, Lyall returned. While we welcomed Mars, Malcolm, and Max, Lyall escaped to the study to talk to Lon, who had been searching through the bookshelves all night. The pups were bouncing off the walls with excitement, despite the obvious tension in the house. They each introduced themselves to everyone. No one could resist their innocent charm; even Nita had a soft spot for them.
"I knew you'd remember us!" Mars beamed.
"Of course," Andi smiled back, hugging her, "You guys deserve better than that farm."
Nita waved Mars over and said, "Let's go get you guys situated. Shay will find you some old clothes to wear, and we'll all go shopping for new clothes tomorrow."
Fillin took the boys' hands. "We'll get you two in the bath first, okay?"
They led the pups away; little Max asking, "What's a bath?"
Once the rest of the group dispersed, Andi and I eyed the study door, where Lyall had scurried off to earlier.
I know they're hiding something from us.
Quietly as possible, we snuck up to the door and put our ears gently against the wood, barely touching it. All I could hear at first was shuffling about, most likely them sorting through books. Then, there was murmuring, but that turned out to be the air conditioning turning on.
Finally, we heard the slightest mutter. It was Lyall mentioning something about "Ondoren". Lon groaned, but I couldn't hear what he said after. Frustrated, I pressed my ear harder against the wood, only to feel the door give way and fall on my face into the study. Apparently, the door wasn't closed all the way.
Daring to look up, I found Lon and Lyall towering over me with their arms crossed.
"What are you doing?" Lyall demanded, "Eavesdropping?"
"Tell us what's going on!" Andi demanded, helping me up, "What is 'Ondoren'? Where are my parents?"
Lyall and Lon exchanged a worried look.
With a sigh, Lyall fell back into the desk chair and stared each of us down. "What do you think of Canada?"
It's done! This is actually the first story I've completed, so words can't describe how happy I am right now. Mostly, I'm grateful for those of you who have stuck with me despite my terrible habit of procrastination. Thank you so much, reviewers!