Interlude 19 – A Long Night
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=::= Melanie's PoV =::=

I found a comfortable spot at the top of a small hill, and settled down there facing towards the lake.

The dark water reflected the light of the stars above, while a cool breeze whistled gently through the trees. Most of them lost their leaves back in October, but a few still clung onto the dried crinkly brown shapes. Still others were evergreens, and the wind made different sounds as it blew through their needles.

My right ear twitched to the sound of movement in the leaf litter a dozen meters away, and I calmly turned my head to check on my girlfriend.

A large blonde wolf was stalking noisily along the side of the hill. Well, I called her blonde but in truth her fur was more of a light brown with some darker streaks. My fur was mostly black, just like when I was human my hair was mostly black too. When Cerys was human her hair was a pale strawberry blonde, and as a wolf her fur was... not quite the same, but close enough.

Her ears were currently pointed forward, fixed on whatever her eyes were locked on. I was pretty sure there wasn't anything there, so she was probably just playing. An imaginary hunt, to hone her reflexes. She needed to learn to be quieter though.

I yawned and stretched, then glanced up at the sky. The full moon reached its peak about an hour ago, and I remembered that was supposed to happen just before four in the morning. This was Friday, the nineteenth of November. It was only the second time Cerys had shifted, and her second experience as a wolf was probably going to come to an end in under an hour. Which meant we should probably start heading back soon.

For now though, I let her play. I watched her pounce, she attacked and rolled then came up with a stick in her mouth. I'd have smiled if my face had the muscles for it. She looked cute the way she proudly held the stick up high, as if it was some fearsome prey she'd defeated.

And I was grateful it was just a stick and not something else. There were houses not far away from us, and some people let their pets roam free. There were also racoons about, and while that would have been less tragic than someone's beloved pet I knew from personal experience if she killed anything as a wolf it'd just make her feel even worse once she shifted back.

And the last thing she needed was a reason to feel worse about herself. The day or two leading up to last night had been rough, harder than the lead-up to her first change. Last month it was all uncertainty and fear of the unknown, this time she knew exactly what was coming and that was even worse. Same with the day or two ahead of us, once she shifted back she'd be a mess again, probably till tomorrow night.

While she was a wolf though, she was fine. Because in a way, the wolf wasn't really her. Not yet.

I hadn't forgotten what it was like, what she was going through now. The wolf was different in the beginning. It was Other. It was part of her, but also separate from her. Cerys was still in there, but for now the wolf was in charge. In time the girl and the wolf would come together and become one, but until then the girl would dread the full moons because she knew that's when the wolf would be in control.

She eventually lost interest in her stick, and I turned in time to see her lope off toward the trees behind me. Towards the houses.

'Stop!' I growled. 'To me!'

It wasn't really words, but there were tones and inflections in my growl. It was a warning, but not a dangerous one. Her wolf was in control of her body, but I was in control of her wolf. I was the senior, the leader of our tiny pack, and she would obey my commands. Or I would remind her who was the stronger, more experienced wolf.

Cerys lowered her tail and her head as she turned and sulked back towards me. She flopped over on the ground by my side and rubbed herself against me in apology, so I licked her and nuzzled her in forgiveness. Then I stood up and indicated it was time to go.

My girlfriend stood as well, then I took off into a light run. Cerys followed a few paces behind, and the two of us burned off a bit more energy as we raced along the trail. I led the way around the east end of the lake, then over the bridges and across the little islands. We turned west and continued our run towards the lights and sounds and smells of town.

We followed the trail as it turned north again, then cut west along the top of an earthen dam that held the reservoir in place. After that the path turned south once more but I led Cerys further west, a little ways into the trees before we also turned southward.

Our path took us places the public weren't allowed to go, through trees and meadows as we skirted around the west side of a small wetlands area. Then through some more trees, before we reached the town cemetery. We didn't enter it though, it was more of a landmark so I knew to turn west again.

Then we came to the single most dangerous part of our trek. We had to cross the highway. The place I preferred to do it had the benefit of being isolated and poorly lit, but the drawback of being on a bend so visibility wasn't great. Fortunately our hearing was excellent, and our vision at night was pretty good too.

With a quiet warning growl I instructed Cerys to stop and stay by my side as I watched, waited, and listened. A few seconds later a large truck passed by heading south, followed by two cars going north.

'Come!' I yipped as I dashed out across the asphalt, with my girlfriend right behind me.

West of the highway was some posh neighbourhood with big properties and plenty of trees, and we loped along the road before cutting between a couple large fancy houses. Our path took us through small areas of woodland, across fields, and around construction sites. We crossed a dozen little residential roads on our way to a small ravine, then followed that for a time before emerging at a primary school's playground.

From there we were near enough to home Cerys had already found the scent, and the two of us walked down the middle of the road as we covered the last few hundred meters of our journey. Once or twice we left the road for some cover as a car went past, before continuing on our way. And a couple turns later we finally reached our destination. I led her up the driveway past my dad's car, then along the side of the house and into the backyard.

Our clothes were waiting there in a duffel bag I'd left on a patio chair, along with a couple thick blankets. Cerys and I flopped down on the grass near the chair and cuddled as we waited. I could change back at any time, but my girlfriend didn't have that control yet. I hoped she'd learn it soon though. Sooner than I did anyways.

The two of us lay resting together for fifteen or twenty minutes, before the blonde wolf let out a soft uneasy whimper. It was starting, and I licked and nuzzled her face before moving back to give her some room. She whimpered again and her tail curled down between her legs while her ears folded back, and a moment later the first signs of her change began.

That was the other reason I hoped she'd progress faster than I did. Until she and her wolf merged, the change would hurt. I knew from experience it was like two parts of yourself were at war, but neither side could ever win. Either you both lost, or you made peace with yourself and became one.

The whimpering intensified as her body shook and her limbs twitched. Her eyes were closed tight and she curled up on her side as if she was trying to hide from the pain. My heart went out to her, but there was nothing I could do. Nothing but be there for her, and comfort her when it was over.

I shifted to my wolfgirl form when I saw she was past the tipping point, then got up and grabbed one of the big warm blankets. I kept my distance though, until it was all over. The blonde wolf was gone, and in her place my girlfriend lay naked on the cold ground with tears in her eyes.

"Hey," I said quietly as I moved to wrap the blanket around her. "It's ok Cerys, I'm here. I've got you."

I helped her to her feet, then grabbed the other blanket and wrapped it around myself. And finally I picked up the duffel, then with my other arm holding my girlfriend I quietly led her into the house. We went straight down to the basement, where I had the cooler waiting with some drinks.

After getting her comfortable on the sofa I grabbed us a couple bottles of water, then sat down next to her and pulled her into a cuddle. Cerys automatically snuggled in tight against my side with her head resting against my shoulder.

The physical contact was important for both of us, but her especially. It was doubly important at times like this, when she was feeling fragile and vulnerable.

I was never much for hugs and stuff before becoming a werewolf, and until me and Cerys became girlfriends I didn't have a lot of physical contact with anyone. Not even my parents. And after I became a wolf there was pretty much zero close contact from mom and dad either.

Then me and Cerys got together and the two of us started hugging and cuddling and stuff, but nothing excessive. Since she'd become a wolf though, we were both all about touching each other. Even if it was just our legs or shoulders.

She seemed to crave it, and even I found myself wanting that contact more than before. I knew our friends had noticed the two of us were more touchy-feely than we used to be. Heck even random nobodies at school noticed it.

The thing was it had a calming effect on my girlfriend, and that in turn made me feel better too. It was strong enough I actually texted my wolf tutor about it the week after Cerys's first change. My tutor wrote back that it was a normal wolf thing.

She'd never been that hands-on with me because I wasn't part of her pack, and our very different situations would have made it inappropriate. But according to her, me and Cerys were basically mates now. Pack mates for sure, but maybe more since we were girlfriends first. And she said wolfs can be very tactile with their mates, their family, and their pack.

It all made sense, but it was the kind of wolf stuff I hadn't thought of before and had zero experience with. And Mom-iji never really taught me that in the past since I said from the start I'd never turn anyone, and wasn't interested in joining someone else's pack either.

That drove home another point too. Back when Cerys asked me to turn her, she kept saying how it'd bring us closer together. She said we'd be like family, so I'd never have to be alone again. What I didn't realize until after the fact was that applied even more to her than it did to me.

It also explained why she didn't want to turn to Kaylee or Mrs. Underwood for healing magic. They might have healed her body, but that wouldn't have done anything for her heart. She'd have still felt alone, isolated, betrayed and abandoned. Getting me to turn her, the two of us becoming a little pack, solved all those problems for her as well as for me.

Now we had each other, we shared a bond closer than blood. So I held my girlfriend and pack-mate tight because she was upset, and I knew my scent and my hug would make her feel safe and protected.

And as I held her I asked softly, "How are you feeling?"

"I don't know Melanie," she whispered. She sniffed and added, "I don't know how you do it. How you did it. I spent the last eight hours watching someone... some thing take control of my body and turn me into an animal. I felt helpless and useless and terrified it was going to do something wrong and get us hurt or killed or worse. And the only thing that kept me from completely losing my mind was knowing you were there to look after me."

After a moment she sighed, "How in the world did you manage it all by yourself for so long?"

I held her a little tighter as I replied, "I didn't. I screwed up, a lot. I messed up bad enough that me and dad moved halfway across the country to start over, then I kept myself completely isolated. I didn't go to school, I didn't have friends. The only reason I had a job was because me and dad needed the money, to help make ends meet."

"I thought it was a curse, remember?" I added with a grimace. "I thought that's what my life was going to be, forever. Either that, or my wolf would do something stupid and get me shot, or captured. Then I'd end up in some government research lab or something, either a prisoner or I'd get dissected and studied."

Cerys shuddered next to me, and I knew she could imagine what those kinds of fears were like now, in a way normal humans couldn't.

I turned and gave her a kiss, "But my life got way better. Thanks to you, and thanks to Cass. You two reached out to me, you wanted to be friends with me. You saw me as a person, not a monster. And I'm not exaggerating when I say this Cerys? You and Cass saved my life. Thanks to you two I'm happy and my life is good. And I'm going to repay that favour. You helped me, and I'm going to help you."

She smiled weakly and let her head rest on my shoulder, "I'm glad things got better for you. But I'm so, so sorry you had to go through this stuff all by yourself for so long."

"Thanks," I smiled back. "That's past though. Let's focus on the future, ok? Last winter you helped me to make peace with my wolf. I'm going to help you do the same thing. And hopefully you'll do it way quicker than I did."

My girlfriend shuddered again, "I don't know. I can't imagine wanting to get closer to it. I remember talking with you about it, and trying to encourage you but... I really didn't know what I was talking about. You know?"

"Actually I was like that about a lot of things," she sighed. "I was so caught up trying to be someone else, trying to be Marissa, I did and said all kinds of stuff without knowing what I was doing."

That made me smile, "I know hon. It's one of the reasons I like you. Brave, brash, and bold. I know it wasn't an act either. You're brave Cerys, more than you give yourself credit for."

Her voice was barely a whisper as she admitted, "I also made a lot of mistakes. I've... I made mistakes Melanie. I screwed things up."

"Maybe," I shrugged. "But we all do that now and then. I mean, I drank a jar of werewolf spit because my weird uncle told me it was a potion that'd give me a magic transition. You know how stupid I feel about doing that? I knew the guy was a total flake and I still drank that stuff."

We were both quiet for a bit after that. I drank some of my water, and eventually Cerys did too. We lost track of time as we sat cuddling together like that, until the first hints of dawn were visible through the well-window off to the side of the basement.

"It's been a long night. We should probably get some sleep," I suggested. "I'm going to get into my pyjamas then go to bed. Why don't you put on your nightgown or something and join me?"

That was another wolf thing, or pack thing anyways. Originally I had my bed and she had the sofa, that's how it was whenever she stayed over. Then after her first change she couldn't sleep alone anymore. Or she could, but it wasn't great. And I discovered I slept a lot better when she was with me.

"Ok," she agreed as she stifled a yawn. "Thanks again Melanie. For everything."

A few minutes later the two of us were cuddled up together on my little twin-sized bed. She was always the small spoon, even though we were almost the same size now. She needed the extra comfort of being held, and I felt better holding and protecting her.

Then around the same time all our friends would be getting up and getting ready to go to school, me and Cerys shared a kiss and quietly wished each other a good sleep.

I stayed awake a bit longer though. I waited quietly, and made sure my girlfriend was asleep and resting peacefully first. Then I finally closed my eyes and let myself drift off as well.

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