Zoe's Tale (Chapter Seventeen)

The four of us moved as silently as we could into the forest, from the place where Gretchen had seen Magdy, Enzo and their two friends go into the tree line. We listened for their sounds; none of them had been trained to move quietly. It wasn't a good thing for them, especially if the creatures decided to hunt them. It was better for us, because we wanted to track them. We listened for our friends on the ground, we watched and listened for movement in the trees. We already knew whatever they were could track us. We hoped we might be able to track them, too.

In the distance, we heard rustling, as if of quick, hurried movement. We headed that direction, Gretchen and I taking point, Hickory and Dickory fast behind.

Gretchen and I had been training for months, learning how to move, how to defend ourselves, how to fight and how to kill, if it was necessary. Tonight, any part of what we learned might have to be used. We might have to fight. We might even have to kill.

I was so scared that if I stopped running, I think I would have collapsed into a ball and never gotten up.

I didn't stop running. I kept going. Trying to find Enzo and Magdy before something else did. Trying to find them, and to save them.

"After Gutierrez left, Magdy didn't see any point in keeping our story quiet anymore, so he started blabbing to his friends," Gretchen had told me. "He was giving people the idea that he'd actually faced these things and had managed to keep them off while the rest of us were getting away."

"Idiot," I said.

"When you parents came back without the hunting party, a group of his friends came to him about organizing a search," Gretchen said. "Which was actually just an excuse for a bunch of them to stalk through the forest with guns. My dad caught wind of this and tried to step on its head. He reminded them that five adults just went into the forest and didn't come out. I thought that was the end of it, but now I hear that Magdy just waited until my dad went to go visit yours before gathering up some like-minded idiots to head off into the woods."

"Didn't anyone notice them heading off?" I asked.

"They told people they were going to do a little target practice on Magdy's parents' homestead," Gretchen said. "No one's going to complain about them doing that right about now. Once they got there they just took off. The rest of Magdy's family is here in town like everyone else. No one knows they're missing."

"How'd you find out about this?" I asked. "It's not like Magdy would tell you this right now."

"His little group left someone behind," Gretchen said. "Isaiah Miller was going to go with him, but his dad wouldn't let him have the rifle for 'target practice.' I heard him complaining about that and then basically intimidated the rest of it out of him."

"Has he told anybody else?" I asked.

"I don't think so," Gretchen said. "Now that he's had time to think about it I don't think he wants to get in trouble. But we should tell someone."

"We'll cause a panic if we do," I said. "Six people have already died. If we tell people four more people – four kids – have gone off into the woods, people will go insane. Then we'll have more people heading off with guns and more people dying, either by these things or by accidentally shooting each other because they're so wired up."

"What do you want to do, then?" Gretchen asked.

"We've been training for this, Gretchen," I said.

Gretchen's eyes got very wide. "Oh, no," she said. "Zoe, I love you, but that's loopy. There's no way you're getting me out there to be a target for these things again, and there's no way I'm going to let you go out there."

"It wouldn't just be us," I said. "Hickory and Dickory – "

"Hickory and Dickory are going to tell you you're nuts, too," Gretchen said. "They just spent months teaching you how to defend yourself, and you think they're going to be at all happy with you putting yourself out there for something to use as spear practice. I don't think so."

"Let's ask them," I said.

"Miss Gretchen is correct," Hickory said to me, once I called for it and Dickory. "This is a very bad idea. Major Perry and Lieutenant Sagan are the ones who should deal with this matter."

"My dad's got the whole rest of the colony to worry about at the moment," I said. "And Mom's in the medical bay, getting fixed from when she dealt with this the last time."

"You don't think that tells you something?" Gretchen said. I turned on her, a little angry, and she held up a hand. "Sorry, Zoe. That came out wrong. But think about it. Your mom was a Special Forces soldier. She fought things for a living. And if she came out of this with a wound bad enough for her to spend her night in the medical bay, it means that whatever is out there is serious business."

"Who else can do this?" I asked. "Mom and Dad went after that hunting party on their own for a reason – they had been trained to fight and deal with experiences like that. Anyone else would have gotten themselves killed. They can't go after Magdy and Enzo right now. If anyone else goes after them, they're going to be in just as much danger as those two and their other friends. We're the only ones who can do this."

"Don't get angry at me for saying this," Gretchen said. "But it sounds like you're excited to do this. Like you want to go out there and fight something."

"I want to find Enzo and Magdy," I said. "That's all I want to do."

"We should inform your father," Hickory said.

"If we inform my father he'll tell us no," I said. "And the longer we talk about this the longer it's going to take to find our friends."

Hickory and Dickory put their heads together and clacked quietly for a minute. "This is not a good idea," Hickory said, finally. "But we will help you."

"Gretchen?" I asked.

"I'm trying to decide if Magdy is worth it," she said.

"Gretchen," I said.

"It's a joke," she said. "The sort you make when you're about to wet your pants."

"If we are to do this," Hickory said. "We must do it on the assumption that we will engage in combat. You have been trained with firearms and hand weapons. You must be prepared to use them if necessary."

"I understand," I said. Gretchen nodded.

"Then let us get ready," Hickory said. "And let us do so quietly."

Any confidence that I had any idea what I was doing left me the moment we entered the forest, when the running through the trees brought me back to the last time I raced through them at night, some unknown thing or things pacing us invisibly. The difference between now and then was that I had been trained and prepared to fight. I thought it would make a difference in how I felt.

It didn't. I was scared. And not just a little.

The rustling, rushing sound we had heard was getting closer to us and heading right for us, on the ground and moving fast. The four of us halted and hid and prepared ourselves to deal with whatever was coming at us.

Two human forms burst out of the brush and ran in a straight line past where Gretchen and I were hiding. Hickory and Dickory grabbed them as they passed by them; the boys screamed in terror as Hickory and Dickory took them down. Their rifles went skidding across the ground.

Gretchen and I rushed over to them and tried to calm them down. Being human helped.

Neither was Enzo or Magdy.

"Hey," I said, as soothingly as I could, to the one closest to me. "Hey. Relax. You're safe. Relax." Gretchen was doing the same to the other one. Eventually I recognized who they were: Albert Yoo and Michel Gruber. Both Albert and Michel were people I had long filed away under the "kind of a twit" category, so I didn't spend any more time with them than I had to. They had returned the favor.

"Albert," I said, to the one closest to me. "Where are Enzo and Magdy?"

"Get your thing off of me!" Albert said. Dickory was still restraining him.

"Dickory," I said. It let Albert go. "Where are Enzo and Magdy?" I repeated.

"I don't know," Albert said. "We got separated. Those things in the trees started chanting at us and Michel and I got spooked and took off."

"Chanting?" I asked.

"Or singing or clicking or whatever," Albert said. "We were walking along, looking for these things when all these noises started coming out of the trees. Like they were trying to show us that they had snuck up on us without us even knowing."

This worried me. "Hickory?" I asked.

"There is nothing significant in the trees," it said. I relaxed a little.

"They surrounded us," Albert said. "And then Magdy took a shot at them. And then things really got loud. Michel and I got out of there. We just ran. We didn't see where Magdy and Enzo went."

"How long ago was this?" I asked.

"I don't know," Albert said. "Ten minutes, fifteen. Something like that."

"Show us where you came from," I said. Albert pointed. I nodded. "Get up," I said. "Dickory will take you and Michel back to the tree line. You can get back from there."

"I'm not going anywhere with that thing," Michel said, his first contribution to the evening.

"Okay, then you have two choices," I said. "Stay here and hope we come back for you before these things do, or hope that you make it to the tree line before they catch up with you. Or you can let Dickory help you and maybe survive. Your choice." I said it a little more forcefully than I had to, but I was annoyed that this idiot didn't want help staying alive.

"Okay," he said.

"Good," I said. I picked up their rifles and handed them to Dickory, and took his. "Take them to the tree line near Magdy's homestead. Don't give them back their rifles until you get there. Come back and find us as soon as you can." Dickory nodded, intimidated Albert and Michel into movement, and headed off.

"I never liked them," Gretchen said as they left.

"I can see why," I said, and gave Dickory's rifle to Hickory. "Come on. Let's keep going."

We heard them before we saw them. Actually, Hickory, whose hearing goes above human range, heard them – trilling and chirping and chanting. "They are singing," Hickory said quietly, and led Gretchen and me to them. Dickory arrived, silently, just before we found them. Hickory handed over its rifle.

In the small clearing were six figures.

Enzo and Magdy were the first I recognized. They knelt on the ground, heads down, waiting for whatever was going to happen to them. The light was not good enough for me to see any expression on either of their faces, but I didn't have to see their faces to know that they were scared. Whatever had happened to the two of them had gone badly, and now they were just waiting for it to end. However it would end.

I took in Enzo's kneeling form and remembered in a rush why I loved him. He was there because he was trying to be a good friend for Magdy. Trying to keep him out of trouble, or at the very least to share his trouble if he could. He was a decent human being, which is rare enough but is something of a miracle in a teenage boy. I came out here for him because I still loved him. It had been weeks since we'd said anything more than a simple "hello" at school – when you break up in a small community you have to make some space – but it didn't matter. I was still connected to him. Some part of him stayed in my heart, and I imagined would for as long as I lived.

Yes, it was a really inconvenient place and time to realize all of this, but these things happen when they happen. And it didn't make any noise, so it was all right.

I looked over at Magdy, and this is the thought I had: When all of this is through, I am seriously going to kick his ass.

The four other figures…

Werewolves.

It was the only way to describe them. They looked feral, and strong, and carnivorous and nightmarish, and with all of that was movement and sound that made it clear that there were brains in there to go along with everything else. They shared the four eyes of all the Roanoke animals we had seen so far, but other than that they could have been lifted right out of folklore. These were werewolves.

Three of the werewolves were busy taunting and poking Magdy and Enzo, clearly toying with them and threatening them. One of them held a rifle that it had taken off of Magdy, and was jabbing him with it. I wondered if was still loaded, and what would happen to Magdy or the werewolf if it went off. Another held a spear and occasionally poked Enzo with it. The three of them were chirping and clicking at each other; I don't doubt they were discussing what to do with Magdy and Enzo, and how to do it.

The fourth werewolf stood apart from the other three and acted differently. When one of the other werewolves went to poke Enzo or Magdy, it would step in and try to keep them from doing it, standing between the humans and the rest of the werewolves. Occasionally it would step in and try to talk to one of the other werewolves, gesturing back to Enzo and Magdy for emphasis. It was trying to convince the other werewolves of something. To let the humans go? Maybe. Whatever it was, the other werewolves weren't having any of it. The fourth werewolf kept at it anyway.

It suddenly reminded me of Enzo, the first time I saw him, trying to keep Magdy from getting into an idiotic fight for no reason at all. It didn't work that time; Gretchen and I had to step in and do something. It wasn't working now, either.

I glanced over and saw that Hickory and Dickory had both taken up positions where they could get clean shots at the werewolves. Gretchen had moved off from me and was setting up her own shot.

Between the four of us we could take all of the werewolves before they even knew what had happened to them. It would be quick and clean and easy, and we'd get Enzo and Magdy out of there and back home before anyone knew anything had happened.

It was the smart thing to do. I quietly moved and readied my weapon, and took a minute or two to stop shaking and steady up.

I knew we'd take them in sequence, Hickory on the far left taking the first of the three group werewolves, Dickory taking the second, Gretchen the third, and I the last one, standing away from the rest. I knew the rest of them were waiting for me to make the shot.

One of the werewolves moved to poke Enzo again. My werewolf hurried, too late, to stop the assault.

And I knew. I didn't want to. I just didn't. Didn't want to kill it. Because it was trying to save my friends, not kill them. It didn't deserve to die just because that was the easiest way to get back Enzo and Magdy.

But I didn't know what else to do.

The three werewolves started chittering again, first in what seemed like a random way, but then together, and to a beat. The one with a spear began thumping it into the ground in time, and the three of them started working off the beat, playing against each other's voices for what was clearly a victory chant of some sort or another. The fourth werewolf started gesturing more frantically. I had a terrible fear of what was going to happen at the end of the chant.

They kept singing, getting closer to the end of that chant.

So I did what I had to do.

I sang back.

I opened my mouth and the first line of "Delhi Morning" came out of it. Not well, and not on key. Actually, it was really bad – all those months of practicing it and playing it at hootenannies were not paying off. It didn't matter. It was doing what I needed it to do. The werewolves immediately fell silent. I kept singing.

I glanced over to Gretchen, who was not so far away that I couldn't read the Are you completely insane? look that she had on her face. I gave her a look that said, Help me out please. Her face tightened up into something unreadable and she sighted down her rifle to keep one of the werewolves squarely in target – and started to sing the counterpoint of the song, dipping above and below my part, like we had practiced so many times. With her help I found the right key to sing and homed in.

And now the werewolves knew there was more than one of us.

To the left of Gretchen, Dickory chimed in, mimicking the sitar of the song as he did so well. It was funny to watch, but when you closed your eyes it was hard to tell the difference between it and the real thing. I drank in the twang of his voice and kept singing. And to the left of Dickory, Hickory finally came in, using its long neck to sound off like a drum, finding the beat and keeping it from then on.

And now the werewolves knew there were as many of us as them. And that we could have killed them anytime. But we didn't.

My stupid plan was working. Now all I had to do was figure what I had planned to do next. Because I really didn't know what I was doing here. All I knew was that I didn't want to shoot my werewolf. The one, in fact, who had now stepped off entirely away from the rest of his pack and was walking toward where he thought my voice was coming from.

I decided to meet him halfway. I set down my rifle and stepped into the clearing, still singing.

The werewolf with the spear began to raise it, and suddenly my mouth was very dry. I think my werewolf noticed something on my face, because it turned and chattered madly at the spear carrier. The spear went down; my werewolf didn't know it, but he'd just saved his friend a bullet in the head from Gretchen.

My werewolf turned back to me and started walking toward me again. I kept singing until the song was through. By that time, my werewolf was standing right next to me.

Our song was finished. I stood there, waiting to see what my werewolf would do next.

What he did next was point to my neck, to the jade elephant pendant Jane had given me.

I touched it. "Elephant," I said. "Like your fanties."

He stared at it again and then stared at me again. Finally it chirped out something.

"Hello," I said back. What else was I going to say?

We had a couple more minutes of sizing each other up. Then one of the three other werewolves chirped something. He chirped something back, and then tilted his head at me, as if to say, It would really help me if you actually did something here.

So I pointed to Enzo and Magdy. "Those two belong to me," I said, making what I hoped were appropriate hand signals, so my werewolf would get the idea. "I want to take them back with me." I motioned back in the direction of the colony. "Then we'll leave you alone."

The werewolf watched all my hand signals; I'm not sure how many of them he actually got. But when I was done, he pointed to Enzo and Magdy, then to me, and then in the direction of the colony, as if to say, Let me make sure I've got this right.

I nodded, said "yes," and then repeated all the hand signals again. We were actually having a conversation.

Or maybe we weren't, because what followed was an explosion of chittering from my werewolf, along with some wild gesticulating. I tried to follow it but I had no idea what was going on. I looked at him helplessly, trying to get what he was saying.

Finally he figured out I had no clue what he was doing. So he pointed at Magdy, and then pointed at the rifle one of the other werewolves was holding. And then he pointed at his side, and then motioned at me as if to take a closer look. Against my better judgment, I did, and noticed something I missed before: My werewolf was injured. An ugly furrow was carved into his side, surrounded by raw welts on either side.

That idiot Magdy had shot my werewolf.

Barely, sure. Magdy was lucky that his aim continued to be bad, otherwise he'd probably already be dead. But even grazing it was bad enough.

I backed up from the werewolf and let him know I'd seen enough. He pointed at Enzo, pointed at me, and pointed back to the colony. Then he pointed at Magdy and pointed at his werewolf friends. This was clear enough: He was saying Enzo was free to go with me, but his friends wanted to keep Magdy. I didn't doubt that would end badly for Magdy.

I shook my head and made it clear I needed the both of them. My werewolf made it equally clear they wanted Magdy. Our negotiations had just hit a really big snag.

I looked my werewolf up and down. He was stocky, barely taller than me, and covered only in a sort of short skirt cinched up with a belt. A simple stone knife hung from the belt. I'd seen pictures of knives like it from history books detailing the Cro-Magnon days back on Earth. The funny thing about the Cro-Magnons was that despite the fact that they were barely above banging rocks together, their brains were actually larger than our brains are now. They were cavemen, but they weren't stupid. They had the ability to think about serious stuff.

"I sure hope you have a Cro-Magnon brain," I said to my werewolf. "Otherwise I'm about to get in trouble."

He tilted his head again, trying to figure out what I was trying to say to him.

I motioned again, trying to make it clear I wanted to talk to Magdy. My werewolf didn't seem happy about this, and chattered something to his friends. They chattered back, and got pretty agitated. But in the end, my werewolf reached out to me. I let him take my wrist and he dragged me over to Magdy. His three friends fanned themselves out behind me, ready if I should try anything stupid. I knew outside the clearing Hickory and Dickory, at least, would be moving to get better sight lines. There were still lots of ways this could go very very wrong.

Magdy was still kneeling, not looking at me or anything else but a spot on the ground.

"Magdy," I said.

"Kill these stupid things and get us out of here already," he said, quietly and fast, still not looking at me. "I know you know how. I know you have enough people out there to do it."

"Magdy," I said again. "Listen to me carefully and don't interrupt me. These things want to kill you. They're willing to let Enzo go, but they want to keep you because you shot one of them. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

"Just kill them," Magdy said.

"No," I said. "You went after these guys, Magdy. You were hunting them. You shot at them. I'm going to try to keep you from getting killed. But I'm not going to kill them because you put yourself in their way. Not unless I have to. Do you understand me?"

"They're going to kill us," Magdy said. "You and me and Enzo."

"I don't think so," I said. "But if you don't shut up and actually listen to what I'm trying to say to you, you're going to make that more likely."

"Just shoot – " Magdy began.

"For God's sake, Magdy," Enzo said suddenly, from Magdy's side. "One person on the entire planet is risking her own neck for you and all you can do is argue with her. You really are an ungrateful piece of crap. Now would you please shut up and listen to her. I'd like to get out of this alive."

I don't know who was more surprised by that outburst, me or Magdy.

"Fine," Magdy said, after a minute.

"These things want to kill you because you shot one of them," I said. "I'm going to try to convince them to let you go. But you're going to have to trust me and follow my lead and not argue and not fight back. For the last time: Do you understand me?"

"Yes," Magdy said.

"Okay," I said. "They think I'm your leader. So I need to give them the idea I'm angry with you for what you did. I'm going to have to punish you in front of them. And just so you know, this is going to hurt. A lot."

"Just – " Magdy began.

"Magdy," I said.

"Yeah, all right, whatever," Magdy said. "Let's just do this."

"Okay," I said. "Sorry about this." Then I kicked him in the ribs. Hard.

He collapsed with a whoosh and fell flat to the ground. Whatever he was expecting, he wasn't expecting that.

After he had gasped on the ground for a minute I grabbed him by the hair. He clutched at my hand and tried to get away.

"Don't fight me," I said, and gave him a quick punch in the ribs to make the point. He got it and stopped. I pulled his head back and yelled at him for shooting the werewolf, pointing at his rifle and then the wounded werewolf and back and forth several times to make the point. The werewolves seemed to make the connection and chittered among themselves about it.

"Apologize," I told Magdy, still holding his head.

Magdy reached out to the wounded werewolf. "I'm sorry," he said. "If I had known that shooting would mean Zoe got to beat the crap out of me, I would never have done it."

"Thanks," I said, and then let go of his hair and smacked him hard across the face. Magdy went down again. I looked over to the werewolf to see if this was sufficient. He didn't look like he was quite there yet.

I loomed over Magdy. "How are you doing?" I asked.

"I think I'm going to throw up," he said.

"Good," I said. "I think that would work. Need any help?"

"I got it," he said, and retched all over the ground. This got impressed chirps from the werewolves.

"Okay," I said. "Last part, Magdy. You really have to trust me on this one."

"Please stop hurting me now," Magdy said.

"Almost done," I said. "Stand up, please."

"I don't think I can," he said.

"Sure you can," I said, and wrenched his arm to give him motivation. Magdy inhaled and stood up. I marched him over to my werewolf, who eyed the both of us, curiously. I pointed at Magdy, and then to the werewolf's wound. Then I pointed to the werewolf, and made a slashing motion on Magdy's side, and then pointed at the werewolf's knife.

The werewolf gave me yet another head tilt, as if to say, I want to be sure we understand each other, here.

"Fair's fair," I said.

"You're going to let him stab me?" Magdy said, his voice rising dramatically at the end of that sentence.

"You shot him," I said.

"He could kill me," Magdy said.

"You could have killed him," I said.

"I hate you," Magdy said. "I really really really hate you now."

"Shut up," I said, and then nodded to the werewolf. "Trust me," I said to Magdy.

The werewolf drew his knife, and then looked back at his companions, who were all chattering loudly and beginning to chant what they were chanting earlier. I was all right with that. The difference now was that it was my werewolf who would do whatever violence would be done.

My werewolf stood there for a minute, soaking in the chant of his fellow werewolves. Then without warning he sliced at Magdy so quickly that I only got him moving back, not forward. Magdy hissed in pain. I let him go and he fell to the ground, clutching his side. I moved in front of him and grabbed his hands. "Let me see," I said. Magdy moved his hands and winced preemptively, expecting a gush of blood.

There was only the thinnest red line on his side. The werewolf had cut Magdy just enough to let him know he could have cut him a lot worse.

"I knew it," I said.

"You knew what?" Magdy said.

"That I was dealing with a Cro-Magnon," I said.

"I really don't understand you," Magdy said.

"Stay down," I said. "Don't get up until I tell you."

"I'm not moving," he said. "Really."

I stood up and faced the werewolf, who had put his knife back on his belt. He pointed to Magdy, and then pointed to me, and then pointed back toward the colony.

"Thank you," I said, and gave the werewolf a little nod of my head, which I hoped would convey the idea. When I looked up again, I saw him staring at my jade elephant again. I wondered if he'd ever seen jewelry before, or if it was simply because an elephant looks like a fantie. These werewolves followed the fantie herds; they would be a main source of food for them. They were their lives.

I took off my necklace and handed it to my werewolf. He took it and gently touched the pendant, making it twirl and glitter in the dim light of the night. He cooed at it appreciatively. Then he handed it back to me.

"No," I said. I held up a hand, and then pointed to the pendant, and to him. "It's for you. I'm giving it to you." The werewolf stood there for a moment, and then uttered a trill, which caused his friends to crowd around him. He held up the pendant for them to admire.

"Here," I said, after a minute, and motioned to him to hand me the necklace. He did, and I – very slowly, so I wouldn't surprise him – put it around his neck and fastened it. The pendant touched his chest. He touched it again.

"There," I said. "That was given to me by someone very important, so I would remember the people who loved me. I'm giving it to you, so you'll remember that I'm thanking you for giving me back people I love. Thank you."

The werewolf gave me another of his head tilts.

"I know you don't have any idea what I'm saying," I said. "Thank you anyway."

The werewolf reached to his side, pulled his knife. Then he laid it flat on his hand and offered it to me.

I took it. "Wow," I said, and admired it. I was careful not to touch the actual blade; I'd already seen how sharp it was. I tried to return it but he held up his hand or claw or whatever you want to call it, in a mirror of what I did for him. He was giving it to me.

"Thank you," I said again. He chirped, and with that he returned to his friends. The one holding Magdy's rifle dropped it, and then without looking back they walked to the nearest trees, scaled them at an unbelievable speed and were gone almost instantly.

"Holy crap," I said, after a minute. "I can't believe that actually worked."

"You can't believe it," Gretchen said. She came out of hiding and stalked right up to me. "What the hell is wrong with you? We come out all this way and you sing at them. Sing. Like you're at a hootenanny. We are not doing this again. Ever."

"Thank you for following my lead," I said. "And for trusting me. I love you."

"I love you too," Gretchen said. "It still doesn't mean this is ever going to happen again."

"Fair enough," I said.

"It was almost worth it to see you beat the crap out of Magdy, though," Gretchen said.

"God, I feel horrible about that," I said.

"Really?" Gretchen said. "It wasn't just a little bit of fun?"

"Oh, all right," I said. "Maybe a little."

"I'm right here," Magdy said, from the ground.

"And you need to thank Zoe you are," Gretchen said, and bent down to kiss him. "You stupid, exasperating person. I am so happy you are still alive. And if you ever do anything like this again, I will kill you myself. And you know I can."

"I know," he said, and pointed to me. "And if you can't, she will. I get it."

"Good," Gretchen said. She stood up and then held out her hand to Magdy. "Now get up. We've got a long way to go to get home, and I think we just blew all our dumb luck for the year."

"What are you going to tell your parents?" Enzo asked me, as we walked home.

"Tonight? Not a thing," I said. "Both of them have enough to worry about tonight. They don't need me coming in and saying that while they were out I faced down four werewolves who were about to kill two more colonists, and defeated them using only the power of song. I think I might wait a day or two to drop that one. That's a hint, by the way."

"Hint taken," Enzo said. "Although you are going to tell them something."

"Yes," I said. "We have to. If these werewolves are following the fantie herds then we're going to have problems like this every year, and every time they come back. I think we need to let people know they're not actually murdering savages, but we're all still better off if we just leave them alone."

"How did you know?" Enzo asked me, a minute later.

"Know what?" I said.

"That those werewolf thingies weren't just murdering savages," Enzo said. "You held Magdy and let that werewolf take a shot at him. You thought he wouldn't stab Magdy to death. I heard you, you know. After it did it, you said 'I knew it.' So how did you know?"

"I didn't," I said. "But I hoped. He had just spent God knows how long keeping his friends from killing the two of you. I don't think he was just doing it because he was a nice guy."

"Nice werewolf," Enzo said.

"Nice whatever he is," I said. "Thing is, the werewolves have killed some of us. I know John and Jane killed some of them trying to get our people back. Both of us – the colonists and the werewolves – showed we were perfectly able to kill each other. I think we needed to show that we were capable of not killing each other, too. We let them know that when we sang at them instead of shooting them. I think my werewolf got that. So when I offered him a chance to get back at Magdy, I guessed he wouldn't really hurt him. Because I think he wanted us to know he was smart enough to know what would happen if he did."

"You still took a big risk," Enzo said.

"Yeah, I did," I said. "But the only other alternative was to kill him and his friends, or have them kill all of us. Or all of us kill each other. I guess I hoped I could do something better. Besides, I didn't think it was too big a risk. What he was doing when he was keeping the others away from you two reminded me of someone I knew."

"Who?" Enzo asked.

"You," I said.

"Yes, well," Enzo said. "I think tonight marks the official last time I tag along with Magdy to keep him out of trouble. After this he's on his own."

"I have nothing bad to say about this idea," I said.

"I didn't think you would," Enzo said. "I know Magdy gets on your last nerve sometimes."

"He does," I said. "He really, really does. But what can I do? He's my friend."

"He belongs to you," Enzo said. "And so do I."

I looked over at him. "You heard that part, too," I said.

"Trust me, Zoe," Enzo said. "Once you showed up, I never stopped listening to you. I'll be able to recite everything you said for the rest of my life. Which I now have, thanks to you."

"And Gretchen and Hickory and Dickory," I said.

"And I will thank them all, too," Enzo said. "But right now I want to focus on you. Thank you, Zoe Boutin-Perry. Thank you for saving my life."

"You're welcome," I said. "And stop it. You're making me blush."

"I don't believe it," Enzo said. "And now it's too dark to see."

"Feel my cheeks," I said.

He did. "You don't feel especially blushy," he said.

"You're not doing it right," I said.

"I'm out of practice," he said.

"Well, fix that," I said.

"All right," Enzo said, and kissed me.

"That was supposed to make you blush, not cry," he said, after we stopped.

"Sorry," I said, and tried to get myself back together. "I've just really missed it. That. Us."

"It's my fault," Enzo started.

I put a hand up to his lips. "I don't care about any of that," I said. "I really don't, Enzo. None of that matters to me. I just don't want to miss you anymore."

"Zoe," Enzo said. He took my hands. "You saved me. You have me. You own me. I belong to you. You said it yourself."

"I did," I admitted.

"So that's settled," Enzo said.

"Okay," I said, and smiled.

We kissed some more, in the night, outside Enzo's front gate.