After an immeasurable amount of time, I opened my eyes. John wasn't sitting in his chair anymore, I noted with surprise. I hadn't heard him leave. Jack, however, was still there. He was watching me, a strange mix of emotions brewing in his eyes. The biggest one was concern.

"I'm alright," I assured him. He grimaced. "What?"

"You don't look very alright." I heaved a sigh and put my head on his shoulder, almost without thinking about it. He stiffened. I jumped off of the couch like he'd shocked me- and he had- and started walking out of the room. I consciously kept my back as straight as I could, with my shoulders back and my head held high- this was my defensive walk. It told people 'I'm confident. I'm in control of the situation. You don't want to mess with me.' Meanwhile, I was trying my best not to cry.

I was almost out of the room before he called my name. I paused, weighing my options. Should I turn around and face him, or put off his rejection a little longer? Sure, he'd said he loved me last night, but that was before John came and told me I had to get married in… oh, Lord, three weeks. I didn't know from experience, but I'd heard that most men had commitment issues. I didn't want to believe that Jack was one of those men, but if he was, I didn't want to know. That would effectively shatter the perfect image I had of him and all of the hopes I had for the future.

"Riane, you'll have to face me sooner or later," Jack told me. He took advantage of my hesitation and walked over to where I stood. He stepped slowly, like he was approaching a wild creature. Like he wasn't sure how I was going to react.

"I know," I sighed. I sank to the floor, putting my arms around my legs and resting my chin on my knees. This, too, was a defense mechanism I used sometimes. I curled up as small as I could.

"Riane, this is never the way I thought this would happen…" Jack trailed off, seeming to think better of his words. He fixed his gaze to mine, daring me to look away. I knew that he was trying to figure out what to say next, what wouldn't upset me further. "Riane, I love you. Marry me?" he finally said. I gaped at him until he started turning pink. He stood and went back to the couch, sitting down and watching me. I didn't know what to say- I'd probably hurt him by not answering right away. But how could I? We'd never officially even dated!

Still… my heart was racing, and my breathing quickened. I was sure this was bad for my body. I was getting altogether too much oxygen right now. I'd better do something soon, before all of that extra air reaches my brain, I thought almost giddily. I walked over to him with shaky legs.

"Do you mean it? Really, Jack? I don't want you doing this because you feel like you have to." He looked relieved, and I instantly felt worse for taking too long to respond. That wasn't fair to him.

"Of course I do, Riane. I wouldn't lie to you, and I wouldn't joke about this." I sat next to him and took his hands in mine.

"Alright, then. I guess it's settled," I said. He looked confused until he realized I was talking to myself again.

"Are you going to leave me hanging?" he asked, forcing a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"Oh! Oh. Right. Yes, I'll marry you. I love you, too, you know." I wasn't thinking properly. He grinned and kissed me. It was several long minutes before I pulled away, having just had a shocking revelation.

I'd never told him before that I loved him. He'd proposed to me blindly, not knowing how I would react.

And that was the person that I got to have all to myself, for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, everything was looking up. Maybe pack life wouldn't be so bad. Besides, someone had to stick around and make sure there weren't any more ridiculous traditions that would force people into lives they didn't want. Someone had to make these people see that customs could change without disaster striking. I didn't know if I was up to it, but I was up for a good challenge now and then.

xxx

Thanks to every reader, every reviewer.

This… this is the end.

It's over.

Done.

Finito.

You get the picture.

So, over and out.

-Cait