The next three days went by as well as I could have ever hoped. Bastian and I rarely left each other’s side, and the pack seemed to have absolutely no problem with the two of us being together. He’d asked me to be his mate almost immediately, the animal equivalent of getting married, but I had to turn him down. Not because I disliked the idea, I just wanted to take things slow.
It wasn’t until the morning of the fourth day that something caught my attention again. When I stood up, yawning and stretching, I realized that something about me felt different. It wasn’t my new face, even though the fur had long since grown in over it. I quickly ran my hands over my whole body before realizing that it was my legs that had changed overnight. I really don’t know how to describe it to you. Basically, my knees were reversed, making my legs bend the opposite way they had used to. Digitrade, I think the term is…
Anyway, as you can probably guess, I wasn’t happy about this. I’d been able to cope with the changes with Bastian’s help, but I was still far from wanting to become an animal. The only solution to that, though, would be to return to my old tribe, where the medicine was. But that would mean abandoning Bastian and his family. I bit my lip in agitation. Bastian was happy he was becoming a wolf, excited even. I wasn’t sure if he thought the same of me or not, but I was fairly sure he wouldn’t back down from his changes.
With a sigh, I went to go find him. Walking on my new legs felt springier than before. I felt lighter, almost like I could leap over one of these trees with a single bound. Briefly, I wondered how fast I could run on them. Then I saw Bastian standing with his family, issuing orders in his wolfish language. I’d come to understand certain words they used, such as “hunt” or “come,” but speaking them was beyond my abilities.
“Bastian,” I called to him once the group had dispersed.
“Yes?” he asked, bounding over to me.
I gritted my teeth, knowing that there was no subtle way of asking what I was about to ask, so instead I simply said, “My legs changed last night.”
“I can see that!” the wolf-boy said, examining them with appreciation. He wrapped me in a hug, “They’re as beautiful as the rest of you.”
“Thank you,” I said, my purr vibrating from my chest to his.
We pulled apart, and I took a deep breath, looking him straight in the eye, “I’ve had an idea,” I told him.
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“We could…” I hesitated, but I knew that I would have to say this, “We could not turn into Ferals.”
Bastian’s eyebrows creased in confusion, “What are you talking about?”
“I mean,” I explained, “that we don’t have to turn all the way into animals. Where we are now is okay! You can lead your pack as a Hybrid, and I can… I can be your mate as one, too.”
Bastian sighed and clenched his eyes shut, turning away from me, “Eve, are you really still afraid of that?”
“I’m not afraid,” I retorted. “I just don’t want to lose my humanity.”
“Eve, look at yourself!” he asserted. “You’re more panther than human now. Would changing the rest of the way really be so bad?”
“I… I…” I stammered, trying to find the words to describe how I felt. Life as a Feral might not be so bad, I’d come to realize. But my remaining humanity was precious to me. I didn’t want to just give it up. Of course, though, those words failed to come to me then, when I needed them most.
“How would you even do this?” Bastian asked, turning to face me again. “You would need to…”
Suddenly, his brown, wolfish eyes went wide, “You want to go back,” he whispered in shock. “After everything we’ve been through together, you still want to go back to those humans!”
“Bastian, no!” I exclaimed. “It’s not like that! I love you, and I don’t want to leave you. We could…”
“Could what?” he interrupted me. “Go together? Both of us join the human tribe?”
“You could bring your family,” I suggested, begging for him to understand. “We could show the humans that we’re not monsters. We could join together, your pack and my tribe. We could all be one!”
“Do you actually think that will work?” Bastian demanded angrily. “Think, Eve! Think of how they treated you, year after year! Think of all the things you did for them, all the sacrifices you made. Did they ever once stop to think that you might not be a monster?”
“No, Eve!” the wolf-boy decided, dismissing my argument with a wave of his hand. “You need to choose, once and for all! Who is more important to you? Me? Or them?”
“Bastian, please,” I begged, “don’t do this.”
Bastian’s eyes softened for just a moment, but then he looked away, his jaw clenched, “Me or them, Eve. You can’t have both.”
I didn’t know what to do. My breath caught in my throat. Tears stung my eyes. If I left, I could save what little of my humanity I had left, but I’d lose Bastian. If I stayed with Bastian, I’d become an animal before the week was over. Neither were good outcomes.
“I need…” I stammered, “I need…”
But Bastian already knew what I was going to say. He turned and glared at me with his big brown puppy dog eyes. Tears were coming out of them.
“Fine, then,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Go.”
“I took a step towards him, “Bastian…”
“Just go!” he shouted, pointing away from him.
At that moment, my heart broke. I knew that I’d betrayed him. There was no denying that. But what he was asking me to do was… I just couldn’t do it. Call me selfish, call me a coward, call me whatever you want. I know it’s true, but I couldn’t do a thing to change it.
Without another word, I picked up my spear and ran.