Following the good news,
Souhei and I had a decision to make together. We had to pick a date
for our wedding. I wanted it to be a special day that we could easily
remember. We kicked a few dates around, but there were few that stuck
out. Souhei soon snapped his fingers as inspiration hit him. “It's
late August now, right? And as I recall, Yuki, your birthday is on
December 20th, isn't it? Well, we could have it then,
“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Yuki,” my mother said. “I don't know if I told you this before, but that was the same date your father showed me his wolf form. It's a date with a lot of history in this family.”
It sounded like a wonderful idea. On that day, we would celebrate my birthday, my parents anniversary, and this year, it would become mine and Souhei's anniversary as well. I gave them a nod with a great smile. “It is a wonderful idea. December 20th will be our big day.” I took Souhei's hand for a moment.
“Well, go get your laptop and let's start looking at locations and foods,” Souhei said with a smile. After thinking a moment, I shook my head. I didn't want it to be a big extravagant ceremony with every person we'd ever met in our lives there.
“I just want a simple wedding, Souhei. You, my mom, a couple of our friends, like Shino perhaps, and me.” They both seemed a little surprised when I said this. “I grew up in a frugal house, and the only things we needed then were each other and a few kind neighbors. I don't feel a huge wedding would really suit me. That and I'm not 100% certain I could keep from turning into a wolf in the excitement with that many people around.”
Souhei nodded, showing his understanding. “All right. If you want a simple wedding with just a few of us, then that's what we'll do. To think, we graduate in early December, then on the 20th, the greatest day of our lives.”
“Then once you've got another day off I insist you come back to the country house and at least tell our neighbors the good news,” my mom said with a chuckle. “Grandpa Nirosaki actually cried the day you left. At least that's what the others told me. I guess he started to think of you like a granddaughter. He always acted gruff, but he has a heart of gold.”
I couldn't help but laugh. I never thought our neighbors actually thought that much of me. During my childhood, I tried my best to stay off the radar since I had very little control over my wolf form. “All right. Next time we have a day off, we'll come for a visit. We'll let you know when we find out. I have some vacation days saved up. I could probably use one or two to get this weekend off. What about you Souhei?”
He scratched his head a bit, wearing that goofy grin. “Well, my schedule's pretty spotty. The only one who's there every day is my local manager, and he told me he's got no trouble swapping shifts with me if needed. I bet if I talk to him, he'd be willing to cover my Saturday shift for me. And I know I'm off Sunday, so we could head over on Friday night if you can get Saturday and Sunday off, and we could stay the entire weekend.”
“I think we've got our plan set, then,” my mother said, hugging us both. “It's a shame to cut today's visit short, but I have a lot of potatoes that I need to harvest before the animals start digging them up. It's been more difficult to grow crops now that you and Ame aren't there to keep the animals away.”
I gave my mother a kiss on the cheek and a goodbye hug before she left. That week seemed to pass so quickly. Monday when I told Shino the good news, she squealed so loudly, I felt like my ear drums were going to burst. I had never seen her so excited, and never before had she hugged me that hard. Souhei told me I actually passed out for a moment, and he had to catch me when Shino let go. He made a great study partner, and an excellent cheerleader while Shino and I were practicing and playing volleyball. Sometimes while we were studying, though, I found myself too distracted to focus. He had a gentle hand to bring me back to my studies and he helped me keep on track, but even then, my grades started to slip a bit. I paid it no mind, taking the mentality that my grades were high enough to afford the loss of a few points. Either way, the week passed rather quickly, and as the weekend came, my mom came on Friday night to pick us up. Souhei and I sat together in the back seat. It was a fairly long ride, so I decided to get comfortable, lying down with my head resting on his lap. I don't know how long it was until I fell asleep, but the next thing I knew, he was gently shaking me awake as we pulled up to the large country house late that evening. It felt as though I was taking a step back in time to the days of my childhood, seeing that old house again. We made our way inside, and I found myself looking out the door at the stars with Souhei by my side. “It's been a long time since I've been back here. It brings back a lot of wonderful memories, both as a human and as a wolf.”
“Memories I would love to hear all about,” Souhei said. “Hopefully you'll have no problems sharing.”
“Of course not, Souhei. Now that I know you know about my wolf side, all my stories are fair game. I think perhaps one of the better stories to tell would be the first time it snowed after we moved here. I wasted no time jumping into the snow. It was a winter wonderland for me. Ame on the other hand was still rather timid, but he made his way in, then mom did a flying leap and caught both of us at the same time. We laughed in delight before we took off into the woods. Ame and I both turned into wolves along the path, and when we came to the big hill, we had a wonderful time sliding down, doing flips and showing off. Mom had a bit of a harder time on the hill, rolling more than sliding, until we hit the bottom. All three of us let out a howl. It was just such a fun time!”
My mom came over and joined us, laughing a bit. “Yes. That day was wonderful up until then. But on the way back, Yuki and Ame dashed out ahead of me. Ame spotted a crested king fisher on a rock by the river, and it was the perfect chance for him to practice his hunting skills.”
“He caught it, but then he tripped over his scarf and fell into the river. Mom was too far away to reach him in time, but I managed to dive in and get him out. I don't remember exactly how I did it,” I said, shaking my head. “I think it was instinct; the wolf blood in me driving me to save a member of my pack.”
My mom had a tear in her eye as she recounted the story. “That was the scariest moment of my life. When I finally caught up to them, I think my heart stopped until I heard Ame say 'Mommy, you're squishing me.' I was so afraid I had lost him.”
Souhei shook his head as he listened. “Sounds like Yuki was the real hero of that day.”
“Yes. She saved her brother's life, and on that day, it was a major change for Ame. That was the day his wolf blood really started to change him. He started wanting to spend more and more time learning about nature and the animals, instead of spending time in school, and I wanted to help him as much as I could. I was glad when he found his Sensei, who could teach him the things about the wild that I couldn't.”
“And you already heard how that one went; Ame choosing to live in the wild after Sensei died.” We all gazed out at the stars for a bit, until mom jumped up, hearing something from the garden nearby. She quickly ran down towards the garden, dropping her flashlight. As I looked, I saw an animal moving towards her. It looked hurt, and I began to worry it might attack her, my wolf blood starting to race as I changed completely to my wolf form. As I drew closer, Mom stood in my way, shaking her head. The animal came into the light, and I nearly felt myself pass out right there. “Ame...” The wounded creature in the light of the flashlight was a wolf, of which we knew only one was in the mountains. There was no mistaking his scent. Ame had returned, and he was badly injured. His time in the wild didn't seem to affect his memories of us as he looked up at Mom, his eyes asking for help before he passed out.
“Yuki, Souhei, quickly! Help me get him inside. He's hurt badly.” I moved closer, Mom hoisting Ame up onto my back. In my wolf form, I was easily the strongest compared to Souhei and Mom. The two of them ran ahead, getting a number of bandages, as well as some herbs to form an antiseptic. We soon had Ame in the house, Mom moving quickly to cleanse and cover his wounds. From a closer look, it seemed like the claw marks of a bear. He had lost a lot of blood, and he was lucky to be alive, though his leg had suffered the worst damage. It was amazing he had been able to walk as far as he did on a leg that bad. He opened his eyes, looking up at me. Years in the wild had all but robbed him of the ability to speak, yet his words came, slowly and brokenly. “Mom...Yuki...Thank...you.”
Worry cast its cloud over all of us as we watched over Ame. He seemed to be stable, but it would be a long time before he was well. Our hope was that he would stay until he was well at least, even if he left right after. Mom didn't sleep that whole night, and Souhei and I caught a few hours of sleep grudgingly. At the first sign of the sun, Ame awoke, Mom sitting with him quietly. Once Souhei and I were awake, we joined her as she rubbed Ame's side gently. “Please, Ame. Tell us what happened,” she implored.
His broken speech came slowly, but clearly. “I was...caught between bear and cubs. Was attacked, slid down hill. I landed near garden, where you found me.”
“Your leg is badly hurt, Ame.” I headed over, rubbing his ears gently. “You can't possibly survive if you head back out there before it heals. That's the same kind of injury that killed your Sensei. But he didn't have family to turn to for help like you do. I know we chose different paths, but please. At least stay here with Mom until your leg is better.”
He snarled as I mentioned him staying there. “Mountain needs a guardian. If not me, then who?”
“We're not asking you to stop being the guardian of the mountain,” my Mom said, holding his front paw gently. “We just want you to wait here a while. We're worried you might die if you go back out there like this.” He let out a frustrated grunt, but nodded. Even though mostly a wolf, he realized his situation and still had enough of a human mind to understand how dire it was.
“Will stay until better. Then leave.” Between the three of us, we helped him into the bedroom, closing the door so he could rest peacefully.
“I had hoped to see Ame again. I just didn't want it to be because he was injured. That's still my little brother.” With a sigh, I headed into the kitchen with mom, where we started work on breakfast. We saved some meat aside for Ame, assuming he wanted it raw like fresh game.
“The good thing is he survived,” Souhei said, coming over to help us. “Judging from how he looked when he came in, I'd say he's lucky we found him before anything else did.”
“His timing was almost astounding,” Mom said with a smile. “I didn't think he'd actually come back the same night you did, Yuki. I suppose that would be the up side to this. You actually have a chance to tell him your good news.”
I gave her a nod, focusing on the food on the stove. “But do you think it would affect him at all? That night before he left, we had that big fight. I asserted we were humans, while he maintained the position we were both wolves. I don't know if he'd care to hear about my time after that. I mean, he was going for the kill during that fight.”
“You were both going through some big changes,” Souhei said, wiser than I expected him to be. “You had the stress of school work, and you were a young teenager, that awkward time in a person's life when everything starts to change. He had the stress of his Sensei dying, and I'm no expert on wolf instinct, but when you argued with him, it probably triggered a need to prove himself an alpha male. As an alpha, he tried to bend you to his will. His determination as a wolf, and yours as a human were put to the test, and neither one broke. I'd find it hard to believe he'd be upset with you after all this time, especially after you just helped to save is life.”
“Souhei is absolutely right,” Mom said, putting her hand on my shoulder. “I'm sure of it. Why don't you go talk with Ame? You may have taken different paths, but you can relate to him better than anyone. You're the only other person to carry human and wolf blood in your veins.”
Heeding Mom's advice, I went to the bedroom, closing the door behind me. I change halfway to my wolf form, sitting beside Ame. It was easy to see how much he had changed, particularly from how dirty he was and the scent of the wild coming from him. “It's been 6 years since that day, Ame. That day we chose our own paths. I should have been more accepting when you said you wanted to live as a wolf. I'm sure it's been a life full of its own challenges, but has it made you happy so far?” He replied with a snort, which I assumed was a yes. “My life has had its own hardships as well. In a way, I envy the freedom you have in the wild. You don't have to keep your wolf side a secret like I do. Until last week, I had never told anyone, until I told Souhei.”
“You told? Why?” he looked up at me, though it was hard to tell if he was asking because he was accusing me or merely curious.
“I couldn't hide it from him anymore. He asked me to marry him, to be his mate and lover. You just can't enter a committed relationship like that holding back a secret of that magnitude.”
“He scared? You told him you hurt him? Was he angry?”
I shook my head with a smile. “Quite the opposite. He told me he knew ever since it happened, and he even kept it a secret.”
“A human not our mother who accept a wolf child. Surprising.” he looked away as I rubbed his ears.
“It was surprising to me, too,” I told him, looking at his hurt leg. “I don't think all humans are ready to accept that, but the fact remains there are those who will. Souhei accepted me. Mom accepted Dad. There may be someone out there who will accept you, if you give them a chance.”
“If someone accept me, I
want it to be me entirely as wolf, not half way.”
I simply shook my head as he said that. “Ame, I know you may not want to hear this, but you can never totally get rid of your human blood, just as I can never get rid of my wolf blood. We are both wolves and people, regardless of how we choose to live. Let me explain it another way. You and I are the only ones left with the blood of the Honshu wolf in us, blood which we can pass down to our children. I have a fiancee, but how will you pass down our endangered blood if there are no other wolves in Japan?”
He looked at me with a
soft gasp. Apparently the thought had never crossed his mind, but he
didn't respond. I decided not to say anymore on the subject. As I got
up to walk away, I heard his voice. “Yuki. When you have kids, find
me. I want them to know about wolf half of them.”
I gave him a nod. “I will. If I cannot find a place where we can live, where both our human and wolf sides are accepted, where we are free to assume whichever form we choose, I want them to have the same choice we had. The choice to be either wolves or people. That's still a time away, and I believe in my heart that such a place exists. A place where a wolf, or half-wolf, can walk among people and they can co-exist in peace.”
“Chase that dream, Sister,” he replied. I gave him a nod before I returned to the kitchen, and returned to my human form.
Breakfast was simple that
day, and I brought Ame some of the raw meat for his meal. After that,
Mom and I left to go see our old neighbors. A few were at the general
store, but they all seemed quite surprised to see me back. Even
Grandpa Nirosaki seemed to soften up a bit when he saw me, if only
for a moment. “So, what brings you back home, little girl? Couldn't
make it in the city after livin' out here so long?”
I just shook my head and gave him a smile. “I came back with good news, Grandpa Nirosaki. And Mom said I should tell all our old neighbors.”
“Oh. So you get some good news and ya gotta come back and rub all our faces in it, smilin' like an idiot the whole time?” His hard facade hadn't gone away, even after all those years. It was all right. That was just his way.
“No. Grandpa Nirosaki, I came back because I'm getting married.” I'll never forget what happened next. The old man with the exterior of stone and heart of gold had a tear roll down his cheek that he couldn't stop. The bag in his hand fell to the floor and for the first time since I met him, I saw him smile.
“Little Yuki. All grown up and gettin' married. Feels like it was a blink of an eye since you were just that little girl helpin' your mama in the garden. So who's the lucky boy?” He put his hands on my shoulders as he talked, looking as excited as if he were my real grandfather.
“You remember that boy Souhei? The one who said he got attacked by a wolf in the 4th grade? That would be him. Even after so many years away from him, he still remembered me when he came to my high school.”
“Well, you tell that boy if he ever doesn't treat you right, I'll have 'im rippin' up and tillin' the fields by hand til his arms fall off.” He gave me a pat on the head before he picked up his bag and headed off.
“Well, that was a happy turn of events,” Mom said with a chuckle. “I don't think he ever smiled in the whole time you and Ame were living in that country house with me.”
I returned a nod, still a bit stunned at what had just happened. “I guess Grandpa Nirosaki really did think of me like his granddaughter. Knowing him, he'll probably pass word along to everyone else. Most of the people here are his relatives after all.” With a nod of agreement from mom, we purchased some meat at the store and headed back to the country house.
The weekend seemed to fly with all of us back at the old house. We shared many stories of our time there. Souhei loved hearing the stories for the first time, and for Mom and I, it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. Ame seemed to be feeling better after a couple good nights of rest, but he knew it would take a while longer for his leg to heal. While he bemoaned his situation, he stayed put as he promised he would do. While we wished we could stay longer to make sure he was okay, Souhei and I had to get back to the city to return to school and work. Mom promised she'd keep us up to date on Ame's condition. When we were back in school, we found that Shino had already spread word of our coming wedding to everyone in the school, the teachers and staff included. I knew she was easily excited, but I didn't think she would go that far. Most of the people didn't seem to care or gave us a “Congratulations” with no feeling behind it. There were also those who were still quite immature and taunted us for it. We paid them no mind. Our decision belonged to us, and their reactions would not change that.
2 weeks passed rather
uneventfully. We continued to keep up with our jobs and our school
work for the most part. Though I didn't pay attention at the time, my
grades were starting to slip hard. I was too caught up preparing for
the coming ceremony to pay attention, though at the end of the two
weeks, we got a call that both relieved and mystified us. It was from
Mom. “Yuki, Ame left today. His leg was well enough for him to walk
again. Before he left, he said something I thought you might want to
hear. He said he heard whispers among the mountain of a town that
highly honors the Honshu wolf as guardians and even maintains a
belief that they're still alive. I don't know where he heard that,
but he said he wanted you to look into it. The last thing he said
before he left was 'Sister, I hope this makes your dream come
“He must have been referring to our conversation 2 weeks ago,” I said, looking off to the horizon. “I told him I believed there was a place where people, wolves, and half-wolves could live in peace together. A place where your grandchildren would be free to embrace both their human side and their wolf side. The animals of the mountain seem wiser than I expected.” with a smile and a confident nod, I knew my mission. “All right. I'll look into it, Mom. If there's any truth to it, I'll find it. You had a dream and you gave everything you could to make it happen. Now it's my turn.”
Souhei assisted me in my studies on the matter. Running down leads and stories, and gathering as much information as possible about the Honshu wolf from books in the library and articles online seemed to support the claim Ame had made. A few towns were listed as having the Honshu wolf in their folklore and legends, but little evidence turned up of any that still maintained such a belief. There were times when I got discouraged, but Souhei was always by my side to help get me back into high spirits. Things seemed to be going well until one day when Shino caught me on the way into the classroom.
“Yuki, what's going on?”
she asked, a concerned look on her face. “You've been missing so
much of your work and so much volleyball practice. I've talked to
some of the teachers. You've been cut from the team for academic
suspension, and you're in risk of failing most of your classes.” I
looked away. The thrill of my new life made me forget about my
responsibilities to my classes. “You need to go talk to the
teachers, and quickly. Find out what you need to do so we can
graduate together!” With a nod, I quickly headed off to find and
talk to each one of my teachers. After some lengthy discussion with
each of them, I knew what I needed to do. I had to score at least an
80% on each of my finals, a 95% minimum in calculus, my worst
subject, and I had 1 month to put together a senior project that I
hadn't even started to work on yet. It was a daunting task, but I did
come up with a way to make the senior project easier.
“Mr. Thatcher, the past few weeks, I've been doing a lot of research on the history of the extinct Honshu wolf. I think I've compiled enough data that I could easily make a project out of that.”
“Interesting. I don't think anyone has ever covered the Honshu wolf. Have you found out anything particularly interesting?” He looked to me with curious eyes, as if my suggestion was completely alien to him.
I gave him a nod in return. “Through my research, I've learned much about the Honshu wolf. Enough that I could easily put together a report detailing all the areas it once lived, its hunting habits, and even legends and lore about it that have been all but lost to time.”
He took some time to think, before giving a nod. “Very well. I'll allow it for your senior project. I certainly hope you can put together a good report and not just some facts slapped together from an encyclopedia.” With a nod, I took my leave of him, heading home to compile all my researched data thus far into a very strong report for my senior project. It was at least 12 pages long. Of course, I had an unfair advantage over anyone else who could have tried to make a report on the Honshu wolf. That was one crisis averted, but there were still 5 other final exams I had to prepare for, or face a repeat of my senior year in order to graduate.
“We have one month left, Souhei. My only hope to pass is to ace my finals.” I shook my head, looking down. “I think I can do it for most of my classes, but calculus is my worst by far, and I have to get a 95. I don't know if I can do it.”
Souhei grabbed my hand, looking into my eyes. “You can do it, Yuki, and I'm going help you. You tend to focus too much on me during our study time in the past. Well, I'm going to make sure you keep on track this time.” I gave him a nod, breaking out the books. We set to studying, him quizzing me any chance he got. Even throughout the day if we had time off, time together was study time. Any time we were studying in the apartment, he always wanted me to be in my half-wolf form. It didn't make much sense at first, but I soon figured out why. To keep me on track if I started to drift off topic, he'd give my tail a tug. Luckily, it was not a hard one. Just enough to bring me back off whatever rabbit trail I had started down. I had to keep myself on track when he had work, and though it was hard, I managed to keep myself going.
At last, finals came
around, and it was the moment of truth. I managed to easily get 80s
and 90s in my other classes, and my senior project passed with flying
colors, but next came the beast; calculus. Souhei had already
finished his finals, so he was free to come with me. My nervousness
was plain for him to see, so I was very thankful with what he did
next. We met with the teacher before the exam was to begin. “Mrs.
Carol, would it be all right if I sat in with Yuki during her
calculus final today for moral support?” I looked over at him with
a bit of surprise as he said that.
“Well, that's an unusual request. Are you sure you're not just asking so you can help her cheat?” Souhei rolled up his sleeves and emptied his pockets.
“You can even gag me if you want to make sure I don't say anything. It's just that I know how hard she's been working, and I want to be there for her.” Mrs. Carol just shook her head.
“All right. You can sit next to her, but I'll be watching you very carefully. If you say so much as a word to her, I will fail her without a second thought.”
I gave a nod, taking my seat. I took my time, working through the problems one by one. I managed to get through a few before I stopped to take a short breather. Souhei reached over, holding my hand with a smile. With a reassuring nod from him, I turned back to my paper, continuing with the rest of the problems. Just having him with me made me feel so much more confident. I took a deep breath as I turned in my paper and we waited for the grading. After what felt like hours, Mrs. Carol handed back the paper upside down. My heart pounded out of my chest as I flipped the paper over, dropping my pen. “I got...a one hundred.” a smile on my face, I looked over at Souhei. “Thank you so much. For all your help the past few weeks, and for being here for me today.”
“You're the one who did this, Yuki. I just tried my best to help you along.” We headed out and returned to our home. Finals were done. We had both passed, and it was time to put high school behind us. We had plenty to look forward to.