Lazarus looked up at the dawn sky, orange and pink bleeding into each other as the sun made its appearance. He was using one arm to cradle the branches as he picked up more with his other hand; the weight of them strained against his muscles. He hardly noticed.
‘We should go back to the cave.’ He said, turning to Melissa. He watched her balance another branch on her pile and smiled as it slipped, rolling off. He caught the wood as it fell and laughed. Melissa scowled at him over her firewood but nodded. They walked back to the cave, the sun on their heels as they did their best to stop their armfuls of firewood falling to the floor.
‘Will you please try to sleep this time?’ Melissa said as she stacked their wood against the wall of the cave near the fire. Lazarus stoked the fire, tipping the last shot of his alcohol on the wood to keep the flames going. He grunted and shrugged.
‘I’ll try.’ Though his stomach twisted, the protective fear that had gripped him the day before gripped him once again.
‘Lazarus, what’s wrong?’ she asked, concerned, sitting beside him. She reached up and stroked his cheek gently.
‘Just a bad feeling. Probably just paranoid.’ He muttered, eyes fixed on the fire. Melissa was taken aback by the resemblance between him and his wolf at that moment.
‘Lazarus, please get some sleep. I'll be okay. Promise.’ She kissed him lightly and pulled away, watching him carefully. He nodded slowly and turned away from the flames, pulling out a few of his clothes for them to use as pillows.
‘Sure. Sleep well,’ he tried to smile, but he hid the failing warmth in his expression, lying on his side, facing the cave wall. Melissa sighed, kissing his cheek softly. She sat back away from him, letting him sleep. As she watched his chest rise and fall in the rhythm of sleep, she began to think about her own wolf, what would happen during the next transformation, what Lazarus’ wolf would do to her. Suddenly the shadow twisted around her again, moulding her form into her wolf form again.
‘Damn it,’ she growled, glaring at the cave around her. ‘I’ve got to watch what I think about,’ she muttered to herself. Bringing up images of her in her normal form, she brought the shadow back around her, changing again. ‘Enough of that,’ she yawned. Lying down, she let sleep cloud her eyes, dreaming of Lazarus staring into the fire, his human and wolf forms merging. It was an ethereal beauty in her mind.
Lazarus’ eyes snapped open some time in the late afternoon, the deep fiery colours of the sky filtering through the trees into the cave. He got up stiffly, stretching the ache out of his muscles. I can’t wait til this settles down and I can live in a flat again. With a bed. He grimaced and rummaged around for something to eat. Taking a pack of biscuits from the bag, he walked to the mouth of the cave and sat in the dying sunlight, watching the sunset. He knew he should go to get something to numb the pain of the transformation to come, but he didn’t want to move.
Melissa woke up not long after. She sat up, rubbing her eye, looking around for Lazarus. She saw his silhouette in the dimming light, sitting and looking out over the woods, eating quietly. Alone. Cursing the sun silently, she watched him until the sunlight left the cave. Getting up, she walked over to him, her feet silent on the uneven ground.
‘Oh, hey,’ he said as she sat behind him.
‘Hey. Still didn’t sleep?’ she asked, her eyes searching his face.
‘No, I got a few hours in. You sleep well?’ he smiled at her, turning his head to her. His eyes were still tired, but the honesty in them swayed her.
‘Yeah... but I’m worried.’ She said, her mouth pulling down at the corners.
‘What about?’ his voice was soft, concerned and kind. She tried to smile, but her attempt was as weak as his before they went to sleep.
‘You. You’re not sleeping much lately and you seem so absent.’ She sighed, holding his eyes. He looked away, turning back to the darkening sky.
‘Sorry,’ he said after a while, getting up. ‘Moon’ll be out soon.’ He took his shirt off, throwing it aside, saving them from getting destroyed as he transformed.
‘It’s fine,’ she said, blushing slightly as he undressed. She looked away from his body and looked up at the moon peeking out from behind the trees. ‘You’d think I’d be used to it by now,’ she laughed slightly, feeling her blush grow as he sat close to her in his boxers.
‘I s’pose you’ll be used to it after a few more of these,’ he smiled, wrapping his bare arms around her, waiting, sober and trembling for the pain to hit. She returned the embrace, despite her embarrassment.
‘I don’t want you to change,’ she sobbed, holding him closer. His eyes widened, surprised that she was so upset.
‘Why are you so upset about it?’ he asked.
‘Because I don't like it. It puts you through pain; it forces you to do something you don't want to do.’ She shook her head crying, and Lazarus tried to comfort her, running his warm hands up and down her back soothingly.
‘I’m used to it, Melissa. I don’t enjoy it, but I get on with it. I get myself in a state sometimes, but it’s okay,’ his hand tightened into a fist on her back as his arm muscles went into spasm as the moon began to take over. He kissed her firmly and pulled away. Melissa closed her eyes, not wanting to see the transformation again. She wished that his wolf liked her like Lazarus did; she didn't want to stay away.
‘I love you.’ She muttered over his pained cries. His voice echoed around the cave and she winced, covering her ears too. He was louder than the night before, awake and sober enough to feel every tear in his muscles, every crunching movement of his bones reforming. His howls were cut short as his vocal cords snapped and reformed. They resumed, quieter as the fierce agony faded and the transformation came to an end. Melissa took her hands away from her ears and slowly opened her eyes. With a grimace, Melissa transformed, too, joining him.
She looked around, alarmed as Lazarus growled, his hackles up. It wasn’t her that the blonde wolf was snarling at, though. She followed his gaze and her emerald eyes widened as she recognised the dark figure in the cave entrance.