Staring after the mysterious white wolf, Fraser thought. Her words made no sense. How had she found him? Where was she going? Was she really going to try and find his pack after years of them being gone?
It was obvious that she knew something he didn’t. Perhaps she could be the key to bringing them home.
He quickly hopped down, cringing as he landed on three legs and felt a jab in his spine, but for this moment, he didn’t care about his injury. As fast as he could go he hurried after the mysterious wolf, and by the time he caught up to her, his breath was coming in shaky gasps. It had been long since he had run so fast, and his muscles disagreed with him at that decision.
“What do you mean, essence?” he questioned immediately, pulling up alongside her. She was watching something on the ground, following it, tracking it. Fraser took a deep breath but couldn’t smell anything that she could be tracking. His mind swam as he tried to decode such a mystery. What could she see?
“All wolves leave behind an essence,” she told him, her voice painfully monotoned. “That is how I found you. You have quite balanced essence, very neutral.”
Fraser fidgeted his feet, chewing on his bottom lip as he stumbled along beside her. The flinty taste of blood that suddenly danced along his tongue was his cue to stop his nervous tick. “W-what does that mean? I don’t understand!” It was driving him crazy, being unable to understand or even register her words. He could understand everything. This should’ve been easy for him to decode.
Her ear flicked. “Those who do not understand aren’t meant to understand.”
That was his breaking point. “WHAT?” Fraser yelled, jumping in front of her and stopping her in her tracks. “What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense! How in all the stars is that logical? If someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, it’s up to you to help them! That isn’t… f-fair…” He trailed off as she stared into his eyes, silencing him with just a look that caused his body to tremble. This wolf was frightening- she was larger than any from his pack and certainly larger than him.
“It isn’t my responsibility to help you comprehend things,” she stated, sweeping past him and continuing to follow whatever she saw through the sand. Fraser looked side to side, tail sinking lower than before, and then hurried after her again. He couldn’t resist a good mystery, and this wolf was the most fascinating one of all.
Lume watched from higher up the creek as a tired old bear snatched one of the unfortunate salmon that had leaped past. It started to turn and lumber away before catching her eye and holding her gaze. There was no animosity, no silent threats between them. Each had seen something similar in the other and that was enough to give them an understanding that very few creatures could match. The grizzly grumbled lowly, and a small, fluffy cub poked its head out from behind a rock, quickly waddling after the mother as she disappeared down the hills.
"You see?" Lume asked, still looking at the spot the bear had once been. "You're safe here. There's no need to worry."
Voices from behind her caught her attention, and she turned to see familiar shapes rise over the pebbled ridge, laughing and chasing and playing with one another as a larger shape trotted and kept watch over them from behind. "Stop biting your sister's tail," Fraser scolded one of the pups lightly, shoving two that were shooting each other scorching glares further up the hill. Raising to her paws, Lume padded down to meet them halfway, a familiar tickling sensation at her heels.
"Have fun chasing rabbits?" She asked, a soft smile spreading on her face as the pups tumbled at her feet. "Yeah, yeah!" One chirped with excitement, "I almost caught one! I would have if Fawn hadn't gotten in the way," she grumbled, shooting Fawn another glare. The other pup simply stuck his tongue out in retaliation. "You tripped over your clumsy paws, Wildflower," he protested. "That rabbit could have taken a nap and still outran you."
Naming the two had been an instant matter for Lume. She'd insisted to Fraser that they be named after his fallen pack mates, the least she could do after the two had lost their lives because of her.
"Alright, alright that's enough you two," Fraser chuckled, placing himself between them. "Did you have any trouble back here?" He asked, looking up at Lume. The much less ethereal wolf shook her head before looking down and meeting the large eyes of the pup pressed firmly behind her. "We saw a bear and her cub. She gave us no trouble... I think we both recognized the look of a mother in each other's eyes." Doe had inherited a quiet and sometimes timid nature, and she was often inseparable from Lume. The other two were quick learners, and she trusted them to easily take care of themselves, but Doe brought out a protective side of Lume that hadn't been active in a long time. Perhaps because she saw the pup the same way she had seen Fraser initially, though somewhat different since she was a mother now.
The word still felt foreign to her... 'mother.' She was still in awe when she looked down at the trio of fluffy little canids that followed them gleefully (or rather shyly, in Doe's case.) Had she and Fraser done this, make these wonderful, funny, unbelievable little miracles? The days of violence and fear seemed like another life, a past that existed only in tales to be told to children.
Despite her reservations, Fraser still entertained the pups of the ancient Moon wolf, of her fierce wrath and graceful protection, of the days he had run from her and run towards her. Per her request, he never revealed the Moon wolf's true identity. In all honesty, Lume no longer felt like a myth. She had lived countless years and watched many lives raise and fade, but now every day was a lifetime for her. Some part of her knew that when the part of her that lived and breathed essence died, her eternal nature died as well. Just as with any other, she would grow old and sick and die.
But there was something else to be said with that: she would grow old with Fraser, and they would watch their children grow together. They would get sick together, and someday they would die and be reunited in the Forever Grounds together too.
So what if Lume was no longer immortal? Now, she was finally alive.
(Now I'm picturing us both watching this all unfold like a movie and you and I just bawling our eyes out in the corner.)
[P.S. This has truly been a joy to write, and though I'm sad the ride's over, I'm so happy with the ending (I feel like I rushed the end of Blood War, if I'm being honest, and this was my chance at redemption.) Thank you so much for the collaboration Pres, and for creating the Howlverse in the first place, but now that we're done, I'll kindly have to ask you...
ARE YOU GONNA FINISH BLACK GHOST AND ALH OR WHAT?!
For a long time Fraser wouldn’t have been able to answer that question. A powerful bond? Sure, you could say that. An emotion that fits right alongside joy and anger? Maybe that, too.
But he had come to learn that love was something that truly couldn’t be described. It was something to be experienced, to understand by living in the moment and learn by walking alongside another. Another who you loved, who you cherished, who made the world go round because they were all that mattered.
Contrary to what he would have thought for his life, Fraser finally had that someone.
He and Lume never stayed in one place. They didn’t have to. They traveled where they pleased and saw what they wished to see; forests of glorious trees that were high as the sky itself, wide-open plains filled to the brim with flowers painted colors as bright as the sunset. Brilliant sights of cascading oceans and peaceful valleys and bare mountaintops that made for the best sights of the sky and stars at night. But nothing, no matter how many places they went, was more brilliant to see than the white face that accompanied Fraser every step of the way.
And every day, no matter where they would run to and explore, they would share an intimacy so precious that Fraser had trouble keeping a smile from his face. He would say her name and she would say his, and they didn’t have to speak verbal words to understand each other completely. They would walk side-by-side across the banks of babbling brooks and listen to the birdsong high in overhead trees. They would look at each other and, for such a small moment, the world would fall still all around them as their eyes met and their heartbeats joined together into one sound, into one rhythm. And if there was such thing as a perfect moment, that would be it.
Because that moment? That moment was everything.
It was the kind of moment that gave the sun motivation to rise, the kind of moment that encouraged the birds to sing and the breeze to whistle and the rivers to rush. It was the kind of moment that made the stars bright and worth looking at, the kind of moment that made all other moments weak by comparison.
And it was their moment to share forever.
So Fraser no longer had to wonder what love was or how to describe it. It was a question that could remain safely unanswered, a question for others to wonder as they sought out a reason for their lives. But Fraser didn’t have to wonder anymore, and no longer did he have to spend nights alone in his old pack’s abandoned home praying for his company to return so he would no longer feel so abandoned.
No longer did he have to wonder because his prayer had been answered, and Lume had found him, and his world had flipped upside-down but in all of the right ways.
Now he wasn’t alone. He had a friend. He had a pack.
He had Lume. And that was all he needed.
(This didn’t take me nearly as long to write as I thought it would and I also adore this chapter/epilogue with a burning passion)
On trembling paws, Fraser slowly began to back away from Lume. The she-wolf loomed over him with open and slavering jaws, poised to strike like a venomous rattlesnake. The flight instinct that guided Fraser’s every move was swelling up inside of him again, and his instinctual reaction to the situation was to run. Run far away, run in any direction that he could to get away from her. Get away from the danger.
But Lume wasn’t a danger. For the first time in his miserable life, his paws hardened like stones and kept him from fleeing. His mind was directing him to turn tail, demanding for him to leave the moon wolf for good and save himself from inevitable pain. Only this time, Fraser’s mind and heart refused to align. His desperate effort to stay alive, to maintain his pack’s home until they returned, was gone now that he knew they weren’t coming back. His fight or flight instinct was, for the first time, conflicted.
He wasn’t going to run from Lume. Not this time.
“Fraser,” a voice that he had learned to belong to Milkweed called out from somewhere behind him. He kept his dark eyes trained on Lume’s contorted and snarling face, staring intently into the white and angry voids that she held for eyes. The ethereal wolf had taken her focus off of him and now looked up at the ridge behind him, the place from which Milkweed’s as well as others’ scents rode in on the breeze. He didn’t hear their footsteps approach, and among the smells of the desert he could taste their faint fear.
Lume let out a rumbling growl, her eyes narrowing dangerously the longer she looked back to where the others would have been. Fraser swished his tail, recapturing her attention as he lifted his chin toward her. He worked to steady his own breathing, holding her piercing gaze as he tucked his fear away into a far corner of his mind. He wasn’t afraid of her, he told himself. He knew her, he told himself. She knew him, he told himself. “Lume,” he uttered finally.
The she-wolf’s attention lasered in on Fraser as he spoke, snarl growing louder as it throbbed within her throat, contorted claws digging into the dirt underfoot. “Fra-a-aser,” her unstable voice growled, tone pinched. Behind the sweltering rage that burned like starlight in her eyes, he could see an underlying trace of utmost fear. The real Lume, the one that made Fraser laugh and that pulled him from danger at any given moment, was still there. She was a prisoner in her own body, but despite her possessor’s deadly hold, she was still there. And she was desperate to protect Fraser.
But today it wasn’t Fraser who needed protecting. It was Lume.
With a long breath, Fraser lowered his haunches down into the sand and sat. He held the she-wolf’s burning gaze, kept still when her snarling thickened. This dark side of Lume, the one that was holding her prisoner inside herself, wanted a challenge. It wanted to chase him through the sands as he fled for his life. It wanted to beat him in a fight that he would never be able to win. It wanted to rip him apart, slowly, effortlessly, all while he was pleading to escape. But Fraser wasn’t a fighter and he never had been; at least now with physical strength and the use of teeth and claws. He was a fighter of words, of wit, of wisdom.
“I’m not leaving,” Fraser uttered defiantly, refusing to let himself flinch when Lume let loose a throaty growl, her slavering jaws dripping with saliva that dripped down onto his snout as she loomed over him. “I’m not leaving you. Not again.”
The ethereal wolf let out a guttural growl, eyes narrowing tensely as she stared at him with blazing eyes. “I’m staying here,” Fraser said with certainty as he faced down the large wolf, shoulders tense and chin lifted. “Just me and you. I’m staying here with you, Lume. Even if you kill me.”
- President Loki
(This feels like an appropriate “I’m with you ‘till the end of the line” moment)
Lume's body took the words as a challenge and lunged at Fraser, jaws tearing open and welcoming the temptation of blood. True to his word, Fraser stood his ground, only being spared a quick and painful end by a pair of bodies crashing into her side. She skidded only for a short while before her claws caught in the coarse dirt, allowing her to ground herself and get back on her paws quickly.
She was met with the snarling faces of Boa and Harrier, bearing a few more scars than when she last met them, but alive nonetheless. Lume rejoiced inwardly that she hadn't killed the siblings, but she had little time to do so before her attention was jerked back to the present as a set of fangs dug into her hind right leg.
With a snarl, Lume's snout turned quickly, catching the attacker by the neck. She recognized them as Mushroom, another wolf that had repacked with Milkweed. The young wolf squirmed in Lume's grasp, whimpering as her grip began to tighten and her teeth began reaching deep below the skin, straining for the vertebrae. Another joint tackle by Harrier and Boa knocked her off balance, losing her grip enough for Mushroom to break free.
"En...ough!" A monster-ish growl escaped Lume's snout as a wave of red rolled through her coat. Her head turned to Fraser, who had started to approach Lume slowly.
"They can-not prot-ect you," the monster snarled, sending threads of red essence flying at the wolves around her. Lume knew that if she were allowed to keep talking, the unified group of wolves would begin to get lost in mass hysteria, tearing each other apart in seconds. Her mouth started to open again before Boa launched herself at the ethereal wolf once again, this time sinking her teeth into Lume's throat. "No!" she snarled over a mouthful of fur as she jerked her head back and forth, tearing at Lume's neck.
"Boa, stop!" Fraser was right next to Lume now, close enough that she could hear his heartbeat. If he was frightened, he handled it extremely well. "It's not her fault," he explained to the infuriated she-wolf, trying her hardest to finish what she'd started. "That's not Lume!"
"Then help me kill it," Boa snarled back, hints of red essence beginning to show themselves both in her and the other wolves, all except Fraser. Harrier leaped at Lume now, aiding his sister's attack as he attempted to tear Lume's neck in a different direction than Boa.
The monster shrieked, finally tearing itself away from the siblings, far from unscathed. The deep gashes in her neck oozed with blood, and Lume's heartbeat began to throb in her head. Then there was something else, itching in the gashes at first, then pain. The monster threw itself to the ground, convulsing as a feeling like a thousand barbs digging into the deep scars filled her body. The semi-circle of wolves backed away, ears flattening and eyes widening as they started at Lume. They seemed smaller now like her shadow could swallow them whole. The pain hadn't stopped, but it was beginning to fade, and she could tell something had changed drastically, enough that the brave warriors that had fearlessly attacked her before were backing away with their tails between their legs.
Fraser didn't budge, a train of panicked thought evident on his face. "I'm not giving up on you Lume!" he shouted. His voice sounded so ... far away. "I meant what I said. You are my pack!" It was getting harder for Lume to think clearly. She had to focus, she had a job to do; she had to kill Fraser.
No, no, that wasn't her. Those weren't her thoughts. It was becoming all too hard to keep solid lines in her mind to distinguish whose thoughts where whose, her's, or the monster's.
It dashed at Fraser again, and again the wolf planted his paws, prepared to stand his ground and withstand whatever it took to rescue her.
That's touching, she thought her own words becoming murky in her mind, but I'd rather keep you alive.
A snarl at her right snapped the monster's attention away from Fraser and towards Fawn. The young, steel-headed wolf was making a beeline to Lume.
It was only when Lume snatched him from the ground and held him up as something else began to tear his scrambling legs from his body and swallowing them did she realize just what that needling pain in her neck had been. She forced her eyes down, control becoming much easier as her thoughts became more poisoned by the beast in her head.
From the gashes Boa and Harrier made had sprung teeth, gnashing, cutting fangs that all ate away at Fawn while Lume and the others watched. At last, it was over and Lume dropped the wolf, now missing all of his legs and his tail as he shuddered on the ground. The gashes began to tear wider as Lume stretched her neck upward, her head no longer able to keep upright as the folds of flesh and fangs accordioned to one side or another. The monster turned back to Fraser, Milkweed now standing at his side.
[If you haven't read part one first or if this posts before part one, please don't read this yet. It contains spoilers for the first part and ruins the storytelling ;-;]
The beast took Milkweed's taunt to heart, lunging at the she-wolf. Milkweed remained planted in place, and then dashed to the side suddenly, leaving her pursuer to crash into and through the bark of the dead tree that she had been standing in front of. The monster was stunned for a moment, but by the time it had come back to its senses, the tree was already coming down on it, the pieces that hit its body breaking open and leaving it trapped under the heavy half-trunk that was left.
"Not finding a good place to die," Milkweed said through her panting, appearing in front of Lume, "Just thinking of what Fraser would do. Desert trees... not nearly as solid as the kind you see in the forest," she remarked in a way that would have been smug if she weren't so tired.
The beast tried to snap at her only a few times before it realized it was mostly immobile and too exhausted right now to get out of Milkweed's trap. "So what?" it snarled, "You kill me now?"
"No." Milkweed shook her head. "I just wanted you to see. Look Lume." She forced the monster's head to the side until it was facing Fraser, still lying on the ground in the distance. "Look at what you did."
"I know what I did."
"Do you, Lume?"
The monster snarled, "Lume is gon-"
"No, she isn't!" Milkweed snapped. "I know you're still there. I know you can hear me. LOOK AT HIM." She pushed its head again, and the monster snarled but cooperated.
"I've seen you," Milkweed continued. "The way you look at him and stand by his side. I saw how you watched over him when he was hurt. This isn't the loyalty of a pack-mate, it's something else. He's something more, isn't he?"
The monster roared and fought at the log again, but Milkweed shouted over the noise. "Isn't he? Is this what you want? Is this want you want for him?"
The roaring became screaming as the essence streak on its shoulder reappeared, shining a blinding white. Milkweed stepped back with her ears flattened for a moment.
And then the screaming stopped, and there was sobbing.
"No," Lume said quietly. "No, it isn't."
(How to win an overpowered bossfight: The power of love.)
[I'm sorry, I didn't want to do parts in a collab, and normally if it's too long I just shorten it, but in this case, this whole interaction would have either been a rushed fight or lacking a lot of emotional weight.]
Boa was fast. Maybe too fast, since the monster could hardly see where she was going. The smaller wolf zig-zag aged ahead, leaving the beast little room for error if it wanted to keep up. Then without warning, Boa ducked into a small opening made by a fallen log and several large rocks, a space too small for the monster to fully squeeze into. It snapped its jaws shut, just short of the she-wolf's tail as she pressed herself to the very back of the small opening.
It continued to snap for a moment, struggling to wriggle its body in but quickly gave up with a frustrated snarl. A deep, guttural cry like a roar broke from its lungs, and though Boa flinched a bit, she knew the beast could not reach her.
With a final frustrated snort, the monster fought out of the enclosed space, its eyes quickly landing on an immobile shape in the distance. The frown on its face quickly grew into a smile as it remembered why it was here. "Fra-ser..." it taunted singsongishly. Milkweed planted her feet at his side, staring at the beast defiantly. As it bolted towards them, Milkweed quickly tried to push Fraser out of the way again, but the monster had learned its lesson. It wasn't going for Fraser.
It bolted directly for Milkweed, ramming the stunned wolf and throwing her to the ground before turning back to Fraser, still frozen with his eyes widened in disbelief. Without Milkweed to pull him away again, It easily snatched him up, shaking back and forth ferociously for a moment before tossing him to the side.
He was panting and bleeding profusely, but he was faring much better than he had the last time Lume had tried to kill him... for now, at least.
"Finally..." it breathed with a crooked smile, stepping towards him as the toothy maws in its neck opened again, snapping at the open air in anticipation of more flesh.
It hadn't gotten far before it was thrown to the ground and pinned. Mushroom and Harrier stood over it with bared fangs, silva dripping down into its face. "Stay down, rot," Harrier hissed through gritted teeth. The monster snarled in response, and one of its pseudo-mouths opened, snapping down suddenly on Mushroom's ankle. The she-wolf whimpered in shock, and before Harrier could come to her aid the beast had twisted her head around, shutting its jaws around his neck and lifting him into the air slowly, picking up a scrambling Mushroom in the process.
"It's time..." it said to Harrier over a mouthful of his fur, "that I finish what I started with you." its eyes narrowed as it tightened its jaw, and the panicked wolf went into utter terror as he attempted to claw himself free.
"NO!" Boa shouted across the dusty clearing as she darted towards the beast. The monster wolf flicked an ear before swinging its head back and releasing its grip on both Harrier and Mushroom, sending them flying into a large overhanging rock in the distance. Their heads struck first, knocking them unconscious completely.
The monster then swung back to meet Boa fangs-first, intercepting the wolf's blow and slamming her into the ground on the head repeatedly before dropping her and preparing to finish her off.
"Hey!" a voice called from behind. It had only caught sight of Milkweed out of the corner of its eye before a set of claws met with its face. The monster roared in pain, turning and dashing after the fleeing wolf in fury. Oddly enough, Milkweed didn't seem completely focused on running. She slowed down to inspect the trees she was dashing past before bolting to another and doing the same.
"Finding a nice place to die?" the beast taunted. And then Milkweed stopped suddenly, turning and facing it with that same defiant look in her eye. "Today's not my day to die," she snarled.