Although there is still an epilogue that ties everything together I’m going to put this here anyway.
This is a fictional ending to a fictional story. It is not meant to be glorified or taken seriously. It is not romanticizing anything. It is not promoting anything. I’m aware that this ending might call forth mixed responses and I entirely understand, and encourage, everyone’s honest opinions. But please do not take this book as a representation of my personal views. It is not such.
Also it’s written in present tense on purpose. It is meant to be a “present” event.
Everything was in place long before the wolves returned.
I watch from Zacharias’ bedroom window as they all flood in from the forest, earthly hues racing against the rising sun. Their muscles lock and relax as they run on four limbs; free, careless and wild. The wind blows their fur messy, dishevelling them the way it dishevels the trees. Everything is disordered.
I recognize Zacharias as he leads his wolves, ebony fur glinting like metallic strands in the early morning light. His head is elevated and proud, ears flat, emerald eyes flashing brilliantly. I’m so mesmerized by his beauty. I know it will be the last time I see him in this form. I need to take it in while I can.
I look for James and I find him not far from Zacharias. He runs, undisturbed, his tongue drooping from his mouth. It’s a silly image, one I’d never expect to see from someone so powerful. It’s such a puppyish, puerile thing to witness that I smile to myself. I’m thankful he doesn’t look up, not that I expect him to. I’m just glad he doesn’t.
My eyes dart back to Zacharias. He’s halfway across the expansive field as he slows into a jog, no longer sprinting. I wait for his tongue to drop like James’ but it doesn’t. From where I am I can see the fog that billows from his nose as he exhales. The morning is crisp, chilly. Ideal for a run. It carries the same kind of cold from the full moon yesternight.
The wolves begin to disperse, returning to their respective cabins. Zacharias slows further, walking a few paces before he stops completely. He looks up to face the sun and he stays that way for a few moments, ignoring James as he pulls up to his side. Zacharias treats the moment as if he is alone, and I’m sure that within his own head he truly is.
I watch as he closes his eyes, puffing more fog from his nose. James watches him in silence, reverently. It’s such a personal encounter that I feel like I’m intruding and I will myself to turn away but find I cannot. My eavesdropping proves to be one of my most grievous faults to the bitter end.
Zacharias snaps out of his trance suddenly, appearing dumbfounded as he drops his head and shakes his body as though it is waterlogged. I can’t help but wonder if his sixth sense is rustled, if he can feel that something is off...if he can feel what I have planned. He has already said goodbye to the moon. Has he just said goodbye to the sun?
He turns and faces his Beta. For a moment it looks as though they’re going to fight; their spines curl and their tails swat the air like a silent warning. I press a hand to the window. They are the only two left in the field. They eye each other like they’re going to battle. My heart races. I know James hasn’t told him, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s going to. I wait for them to shift to their human skin, but they don’t.
They stay like that for a few too many moments until James dips his chin to display his respect. Zacharias stays in his position, keen and alert, as James takes off to his cabin. When James is no longer visible from the window I see Zacharias bow his head, returning the respect behind his back. He doesn’t move yet, facing the sun once more, before he continues running to the cabin I occupy.
As he does this I step away from the window and plop myself onto the edge of the bed. I still wear my sweatshirt and my jeans. They will be easy to strip away later. I know I’m going to need to. I will not be remaining clean for long.
There are two shot glasses; one on each side-table. They’re filled to the brim with moonshine I had purchased from the liquor store after paying off my student loans—just a little jars worth. I thought our last shots should’ve been, unpractically at least, dedicated to the moon. I know it’s going to hurt, and I know it’s going to burn, but it will not be the worst pain we’ll feel this morning.
It was noon somewhere, right?
I hear him come in through the front door downstairs. My stomach is doing somersaults and I have to swallow the feeling of wanting to vomit. My palms are clammy, slippery as I wipe them against my jeans. My heart is racing, rushing the blood through my veins. I’m afraid of what I’m going to do. But I know it has to be done. I can’t back out now.
His clothes await him by the front door and I listen to him as he dresses. I wish I could turn my enhanced senses off. I don’t want to hear him go about everything so normally—not when everything is so far from it. But he doesn’t know this, only I do. His obliviousness, inevitably, is what gets to me. He doesn’t know what’s coming. I’m going to blindside him.
I hear him as he walks up the stairs. He knows I’m up here, of course he does. His steps are rushed and eager. He wants to see me. I wish he would turn around, shift, and run again. I want him to disappear and sprint as far and fast away from me as he can. But it doesn’t end that way. It can’t end that way.
He’s walking down the hallway now. I look at the shot glass on...my side of the bed. My stomach continues to somersault. I feel as though I should take my shot of liquid courage now. The longer it sits the more uncertain I become. Can I do it? I have to. Don’t I?
He steps into the threshold and it takes me a few seconds before I’m able to look at him. When I do, I’m overwhelmed by guilt. He looks at me as though he can sense something is wrong. I don’t doubt that he can. He can likely hear my heart racing, yearning to be freed from my ribcage. I’m certain he can smell my perspiration, too. All I can smell is his wildness, his masculinity.
“Hello, Edie.” He says, not moving from his spot in the threshold.
I look at him, speechless. I envision where we might be ten minutes from now and, on top of being speechless, I’m rendered breathless. It seems so far away, so nonviable, but it’s a harsh reality. I know that no matter how uncertain I feel I will get the job done. I need to. If I don’t I will never find the beauty of grey.
He quirks a brow, resting his shoulder against the threshold. My jaw is dropped as I struggle to utter sound. My vocal cords have been cut. I cannot speak. So he does. “Are you alright?”
I may be unable to speak, but my limbs are still able to function. Thoughtlessly I stand up and make my way over to him. I’m nearly running, my curls bouncing as I throw myself at him. I wrap my arms around his neck and balance myself on the tips of my toes. I bury my face in his crook, melting in his arms.
For a second he’s so taken back that he stands there frozen in shock. It’s not the reception he expected from me, clearly. But I can’t say I blame him. I never expected myself to greet him this way, either. I remember after he marked me I threw myself at him and kissed him, but this feels entirely different. It’s more intimate, more desperate, more emotional. I’m raw when I hold him, shedding light on the feelings I had kept in the dark for so long.
He thaws, suddenly, his arms wrapping around my waist. He doesn’t know how to hold me in this moment, grasping onto me like I’m a stranger. Despite our connection there’s a blatant feeling of disconnect, like maybe we hadn’t fit together all along. I had felt it before, but now Zacharias feels it too. He’s perceiving me differently.
But I don’t care. I don’t care that he’s not perceiving me the way he usually does—if anything it makes me feel grateful. It limits any soft feelings that might have been growing on me. I cannot become soft to him. I’m already far too malleable, even though I attempt to come across as iron-willed.
I cup the back of his head, briefly pulling away to plant a fervent kiss on his lips, before replacing my face in the crook of his neck. My eyes sting with the constant need to cry, but I suppress it. I cannot cry. Not now. I can cry later so Zacharias doesn’t see it. I will not break my promise to myself.
“I’m fine.” I mutter into him, although my actions prove otherwise. I know he can sense that something is different with me, that something is off. But he doesn’t know what it is. He probably thinks he’s being paranoid and that I’ve accepted my position in both his life and in my own. He thinks I’m ready to embrace it.
“You’ve never greeted me this way,” He says lowly, suspicion slowing his words. “Why are there shot glasses filled with moonshine?”
“It’s a way to help us settle,” I lie smoothly. “Look at it as a gift if you must.”
“You’re making me nervous.” He says.
I know I have to play along. I can’t break my facade now. I pull my face from his neck. “You’re beginning to make me nervous, too,” I laugh softly. I’m being uncharacteristic. We both sense my fragility. “Don’t be, please.”
“Why are you acting this way?” He asks, eyes narrowing as he scans my face. I’ve never been a good actress. I can sell myself, somewhat, but I can’t sell my plot.
“Because I’ve missed you,” the words taste sour. “Zacharias, I’m so sick of pretending that I don’t need you. I do. I’ve needed you all along. I’m done fighting against nature...I’m done fighting against you. I want to love you the way—”
I suppress a cringe.
“I want to love you the way you love me.”
His eyes widen as he looks down at me, warmed by joy. He’s pleased at my admittance. He believes it. I nearly buckle with relief.
He kisses me, but it doesn’t give me the same thrill as when I kiss him. I still close my eyes, however, feeling lethargic as he pulls his lips from mine and presses me flush to him. He holds me the way he used to, and it feels natural. We fit again. A shudder trails through me as his palm moves up my back, kneading the valley between my shoulder blades.
He massages out knots I hadn’t even known entwined. I wonder what caused them. Perhaps stress.
“I’ve waited for you to say that to me for so, so long, Edie,” he breathes into my hair. My scalp prickles in response. “I always knew you’d eventually came back. You lived the same kind of misery I did.”
“Maybe we should continue this conversation after a drink?” I suggest.
He pulls away. He looks down at me with the enthusiasm of a teenage boy, cupping my cheeks in his hands as he kisses me once more. He doesn’t try to align our lips. I still taste the same no matter which angle he attacks me from.
He grabs my hand and pulls me to the bed, letting me go as we move to our respective sides. I place a knee on the bed before turning onto my rear. I pull my knees to my chest the way I always do. It makes me feel safe and secure, like no one can infiltrate themselves into my comfort. I wrap one arm around myself and grab the shot glass with my free hand.
Zacharias mimics my posture, giddy as he holds the shot glass in the air. It’s weird watching him sit the same way I do. He seems too big.
I offer him a small smile, elevating my shot glass in the air. Our glasses clink together, echoing like a gunshot, and just as we’re about to pour the fiery liquid down our throats Zacharias stops. Instantly I do as well, my eyes widening.
He gives me a cheeky smirk, like he knows something I don’t. It’s ironic, however, because it’s the other way around. “Are you trying to take advantage of me?” He asks playfully, holding the glass in front of his face to observe it. “Did you taint this in some way? Is it drugged?”
I look at him, the glass still touching my lips.
“Yes.” I answer seriously.
He laughs lightheartedly. “Ah, I figured.”
He watches me through the tops of his eyes as he brings the shot glass to his nose and inhales. I can’t suppress my cringe as he does this. I’m not breathing through my nose, the smell of the moonshine too pungent. I’ll throw up for sure. My stomach is still doing somersaults, but I’ll be okay. I need a shot.
Once he’s content that it’s not drugged he brings the glass back down to his lips and pours it down his throat. I’m only a second behind, but some hits my tongue and evaporates. It’s not as strong as the moonshine Zacharias had let me try once all those years ago, but I still imagine that if someone could drink lava and survive this is what it would feel like.
We rest our shot glasses on the side tables. I exhale warm air, tasting the moonshine a second time before I grimace. Zacharias snickers at my expression before laying down. He lays on his back, hands laced over his stomach as he crosses his ankles. He’s on cloud nine. He’ll be on a different cloud nine soon.
He looks at me, eyes full of mirth. “Come.”
I listen to him, unfurling myself as I scoot next to him. He removes one arm from his stomach and wraps it around me, keeping me close to him. I lay my cheek on his shoulder, facing him. I try to take in his handsome face once more. I know it is the last time I will see it so alive. There isn’t much longer. Now, even in his territory, I’m the one in control.
“Your Beta once compared you to a school principal.” I blurt.
He’s so caught up in the moment he can’t muster jealousy. I’m glad. “Did he? In what context?”
I offer him a small smile. “The day you sent him to pick me up to take him to your office I inquired about what you did. He asked me what a principal did. When I answered, he said that you weren’t much different. You watch over your pack the same way a principal watches over a school,” I lick my lips. “Looking back on it, its strange to have him comparing running a pack of wolves to a profession that’s so human. When you think about it, they’re really not similar jobs at all.”
“No, I suppose not.” he agrees, kissing my forehead.
“Your Beta and I dated.” I blurt again.
“When you guys met at the outreach?” I nod. I feel like I need to confess these little secrets to him. “You’re taught a completely different curriculum than we are taught.”
He’s not jealous.
“I never loved him, but I liked him. He was so enigmatic. When he disappeared it stung,” I laugh air through my nose. “It’s weird, I didn’t even recognize him when I saw him. He was so small and insignificant to me then. You influenced everything. For a little while, Zacharias, it was only you. It still kinda’ feels that way. All the decisions I’ve made these past five years have been in spite of you.”
He’s not jealous, but he doesn’t know where the conversation is going. Neither do I. I don’t know why I talk about James. It just feels right.
“I can’t help but wonder how different our story would be if your Beta hadn’t been in the picture before I met you,” I swallow. ”Would he still have been in your ear, trying to convince you to let me go? Would I have ever left? Would you have come to the decision to let me go by yourself? If Beta James had never been a character in our story, would our ending still be the same?"
He doesn’t want to spoil the calm between us. But now there’s tension. He’s gritting his teeth. But he’s not jealous. I can tell by the glint in his eyes that he doesn’t want to envy his Beta. So he doesn’t. He just becomes silently resentful.
“He came about so suddenly, out of thin air, like the way he disappeared. But when we talk it’s like talking to an old friend. I feel more comfortable with him than I ever felt with you,” my words are rampant, degrading. “He stopped by my home not long after you left. We talked. He thinks I’m fearless. But I think he’s wrong—I live in constant fear. I don’t even know what I fear anymore. I just fear everything.”
“Edie.” Zacharias says, a hidden warning. He doesn’t like what I’m saying.
I notice the way he slurs my name. So does he.
His eyes go wide and recklessly he pushes me off of him. I allow him to, sitting up as I scoot to the edge of the bed. He can’t hurt me, he’s long past the point of being able to, but I still have that dash of paranoia. If something goes wrong after this point...
“James,” I refer to him without his title for the first time around Zacharias. “Is a good man. But he is not a loyal man.”
Zacharias lets out a growl and I stand to my feet, further out of reach. Everything begins to unravel. “What have you done to me, Edie?” He cries, stirring. He’s beginning to panic. He’s always been so composed, even in the midst of conflict. It’s weird to see him shatter his persona to reveal his true infirmity.
“I wish James had been my mate,” I confess to him. It doesn’t feel good to admit it out loud, but it’s true. “It doesn’t even matter that he’s the same age as you, and it didn't matter before. He is nothing like you.”
“Edie!” He yells, trying to sit up. He manages to do so, but the muscles in his arms twitch and shake. His weight is too much to bear and he collapses under pressure. He tries to elevate himself again but is unsuccessful. “What have you done?”
“I had James translate in advance for me during his visit to my home,” I place a knee back on the bed. Suddenly I’m in my element. I know it will only be brief, however. “Remember when I stabbed you in the neck with adrenaline because I couldn’t understand the labels? I wasn’t going to make that same mistake again. I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s.”
He looks at me sluggishly, the effort of turning his head too exhausting. He’s not going to be unconscious. He’s going to be paralyzed. I want him awake for what I have planned. “You don’t understand what you’re doing.” He slurs.
I place my other knee on the bed. I crawl towards him, looking down at him, before I straddle his stomach. I realize in this instance it is I who is the villain. And I’m okay with that.
“Your drugs are scentless, Zacharias. I put a vials worth of some sort of tranquilizer in your shot glass,” I smile, but it is not an evil smile. It is sad. Zacharias’ demise is coming too easy. It doesn’t seem real. “And your Beta knew my plan. And he helped me put it into action. Only you, him, and I will ever know that. He betrayed you.”
“Th-they’ll kill you.” He breathes as I lean over him, sliding my hand underneath the pillow I once rested my head upon.
“I know they will, Zacharias. I know that once I kill you I only have minutes,” James filled in the blanks Simone had left behind. “My scent goes rogue and they will kill me once I’ve killed you. I accept that. I know my death will be ugly, and it will be painful, but I asked for it. I’m prepared for my downfall.”
“James will succeed me,” Zacharias mumbles breathily. His eyes are glazed over, impersonal, as he stares up at me. If he blinks his eyes will stay closed. “He’s not capable of taking over my title.”
I remove my hand from under the pillow, the knife heavy in my hands. It’s a chefs knife, the handle made from wood. The blade is long, shiny, suffusing into a wide edge from the needlepoint tip. It’s going to hurt if I don’t hit my mark the first time. But I know I won’t miss.
“I don’t care what happens to your pack,” it’s a cruel, selfish thing to say. But it’s true. I don’t. Something tells me it will all be okay—that they will be okay. I have faith in James. “I know he was cruel to you when you were kids, and even I can agree that he doesn’t have the right to take over your title, but you have no choice. I’m taking away that choice, the same way you took away mine when you marked me.”
“I didn’t—” Zacharias tries to take a deep breath, but he’s too torpid. “Mean to hurt you.”
His response elicits a sharp reaction from me. I hold the knife over his heart.
“It’s not what you meant,” I holler. “It’s what you did.”
“It doesn’t need to end like this.” He pleads quietly. His eyes already look dead.
“But it does. Oh my god, it does,” I shriek. My hand shakes around the handle of the knife. “I can’t live like this anymore. Life is so bleak and it is all because of you. I hate that I can’t feel whole without you. I hate that you complete me. I cannot be with you. I can never be with you. That’s why you need to go.”
“But it doesn’t work that way,” I begin to tremble. I’m no longer in my element. I feel like a villain making my final speech, dragging it out too long. I am dragging this out. I’m not ready anymore. “You should never have come looking for me. That was your biggest mistake. If you had just stayed away we wouldn’t be here. My body aches for you, Zacharias. It needs you. I need you. I don’t want to need you, but I do. And it’s such a gross thing because you are a horrible, horrible man.”
“I’m...sorry.” His voice is faint. If I was still a simple human I wouldn’t have heard him.
I straighten my back. “It’s too late for sorry, Zacharias, the damage has been done. My mind is made up. You need to go. I need to go. You’ve ruined me, and now I’m going to ruin you,” I take a deep breath. “I’m going to make sure there’s no temptation to be with you. I’m going to kill you, Zacharias.”
It feels strange to admit it out loud. Even with James I had beat around the bush. To be so blunt and brash sets it in stone. I’m going to kill him. He’s going to die by my hands. I’m going to slay the beast.
“Don’t be fooled, Zacharias,” I tell him gently. “I know that what I’m going to do next doesn’t make me strong. It makes me weak.”
This puts me back in my element.
“Murder is selfish.” He murmurs to me, his final words.
I nod. “I know. But I am also selfish, Zacharias. I’m not strong enough to walk away from you again.”
There’s no hesitations. Zacharias’ eyes are unable to widen but they go black as I draw the knife high into the air. He knows it’s the end. He thinks he’s lost. And he has. But that doesn’t mean I’ve won. I’ve lost too.
And I plunge it directly into his chest.
But I’m not satisfied. What seemed like a crime of mercy shifts unexpectedly to a crime of passion. I’m blinded by sheltered rage.
I scream as I pull the knife out and plunge it back in. Blood splatters onto my clothes, my face, my hair. I can taste it in my mouth. I remove the knife, plunge it back in again. I can’t stop stabbing him. I’m not even remotely close to the same spot. I stab him at random, desecrating him. He’s long dead, but he doesn’t feel dead. I expect him to wake up and grab at me. His impression is still so alive.
I must stab him over two dozen times. Wounds litter his chest, shoulders and neck. There is blood everywhere. It soaks the bedding, his tattered clothes, my clothes. Maroon splatter dots the walls. I drop the knife onto the bedding beside his dead body, appalled it was my doing.
I get off of him and stand on the floor on his side of the bed. I nearly slip, his blood having pooled everywhere. Numbly I step away from the puddle but my bloody footprints follow me. I grimace, uncomprehending as I remove my clothing and drop it to the ground. I stay idle in my bra and underwear, shivering. I wonder if James will come to kill me along with the rest of the pack. He never agreed nor denied. I never forced an answer. I will find out soon.
I know that I only have minutes to wait.