I was lying on something soft.
That was the first thought that appeared in my mind when consciousness began to creep back into me. I could smell the outdoors. I could hear it, too. And yet, I was lying on something far softer than the cold, hard ground I had grown accustomed to sleeping on.
In direct defiance of my soft bed, my entire body ached. Images of that night began to appear in my head. Running away from Bastian. Coming back to find Bastian. Being attacked by the boar. Being rescued by Bastian. Bastian…
I was not in a good position. My time as a human was growing shorter with every passing minute, and I was probably hurt very badly. Despite this, my heart began to beat faster in excitement as I thought about the wolf-boy who had come to my rescue.
“You know, I can tell that you’re awake,” a voice said to me. “Your heart is beating a mile a minute.”
My eyes sprang open. Just as I’d suspected, I was lying in the middle of the forest. Someone had set a bed of soft, fresh moss underneath me, which explained my comfort. Herbs of some sort were pressed against my stomach where the boar had gotten me. I noticed all of this later, though. The first thing I saw was that Bastian was sitting by my side, his back pressed against a tree.
“Hi,” I whispered.
“Hi,” he replied.
Suddenly, I felt very self-conscious. Was I a mess? Did my clothes stink? How did my hair look? Odd… I’d never worried about this things before. I blushed, and turned to look away. My body didn’t appreciate this, though, and my ribs and stomach flared with pain.
“Be careful,” Bastian ordered, getting up and kneeling over me. As he gently rolled me back into a comfortable position, I couldn’t help but notice that the look on his face was one of genuine concern, which made my heart beat even faster than before.
“How long was I out?” I asked when he finally leaned back.
“About three days,” he answered. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something else, but quickly closed it again.
“What?” I pressed him, a pit forming in my stomach.
“The boar’s tusk skewered you pretty badly there,” he answered.
“Will it leave any permanent damage?” I asked quickly.
Bastian sighed, “Yes and no. Your wound will heal just fine, but the rest of your body…”
“What about it?”
“That boar was a Feral,” Bastian explained. “That means that… well, just look at your arms.”
My body went cold with terror, and I slowly raised my arms so I could look at them. Just as I’d feared, they were both now covered with a fine, shiny coat of black fur. It ended at my wrists, leaving my hands bare, but my fingers were now tipped with sharp black claws nonetheless.
“I know it’s not what you wanted,” Bastian said gently. “But for what it’s worth, I still think you’re beautiful.”
Tears stung my eyes, and I began to breathe heavily. It was finally happening. My humanity was receding, bit by bit.
“I’m sorry that this is happening to you,” the wolf-boy went on. “And I’m sorry for being so blunt with you the other day. I should have realized that this wouldn’t be as easy to accept for you as it was for me. After all, I chose this. You didn’t.”
Hearing his voice had a calming effect on me. I still wasn’t happy about turning into a panther, not in the least, but Bastian’s presence lessened the pain, even if just a little bit.
“It’s okay,” I replied. “It’s not your fault.”
We sat in silence for a minute. Something was weighing on my heart as well. It soon made its way to my tongue.
“I’m sorry about your sister,” I said at last, unable to meet his gaze.
Bastian sighed again, “So am I.”
Suddenly, I felt his hand on my chin, and he gently turned my head to look at him, “But I want you to stop thinking about it,” he said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“But I’m the one who did it,” I reminded him.
“Yes, but you did it in self-defense,” he reasoned to me. “You didn’t mean to wander into our territory. You were only protecting yourself.”
“But…” I stammered, “She was your sister!”
“I know,” Bastian said, leaning back again. “And I’ll miss her. But I can’t blame you for what happened.”
I couldn’t think of anything else that I could say, so I just lied there, looking at him. Bastian wasn’t all that bad looking, I soon came to realize. There was enough human in him that I could see that he was handsome, but the wolf he was turning into gave him a rugged, wild side as well.
“You’ve got a lot of healing to do,” he said at last. “You need to rest.”
“All right,” I agreed. I wanted to ask him to stay and keep me company, but he had his pack to care for. It would be wrong of me to distract him any longer.
Bastian rose from his seat, but instead of standing up and leaving, he suddenly leaned in and planted a light kiss on my cheek. My eyes went wide with shock, and all I could do was stare at him.
“Sleep well,” he said with a sly smile before turning and leaving.
Sleep? Now? Yeah, right.