Andre walked out of the bedroom and went to the sink to clean up. Marie sat at the table and waited.
“I’ve drained her right lung. There is something else wrong, and I don’t know what it is. Her heart is okay but I think her kidney’s are damaged. She said she passed blood. Do you know when we’ll get the results of the blood work?”
“That Tilly went down this morning. She will be back soon. Maman, she…”
Andre walked over and hugged Marie. “I don’t know. I’m doing all that I can. It just may not be enough.”
“It will be enough. When this done. When we go back that Everette, we need work on a hospital for shifters,” said Marie trying not to sob.
“Aye,” came a voice from the door. It was Tilly. “I got the results, but it won’t help.”
“Why?” asked Andre.
“First, they thought they mix up lab reports. Seems they do the local Veterinary clinic. Then they say there nothing there except plain old type A blood. Last, this doctor come out say he doesn’t know, as they don’t have any big fancy equipment. If there is, they may not see it. He gave me the slides and said if I find out, let him know.” She handed Andre a box of slides.
“Damn,” Andre growled under his breath. He sat down and rested his head on the table.
Brian held Natalie. The anesthesia was wearing off and he was trying to keep her from shifting. He didn’t want her to tear the stitches Andre had put in her side. “Hold still,” he said softly.
“I try.” Natalie coughed and it felt like her body was shaking loose. Her knees, elbows and ankles were swollen. “When I go, you stay. Don’ you go runnin’ like that stupid Bizzet. Don’ you sleep on my grave. You do, I come haunt you. Kick your furry ass,” she said between coughs.
“Fine. You don’ die on me. I don go runnin’.”
“Too damn late think that. Andre don’ say, you don’ say, but that little Libellue, she say to me to be happy. Those big gray eyes. They see long.”
“You are not dying on me,” he said holding her as gently as he could as the tears streamed down his face.
“No promises. If I go, you put me that meadow. Our rock. That way, I near Bizzet and Wild Girl,” she said.
“Aye.” Brian knew he couldn’t argue with her. All he wanted was to hold her the rest of their lives. Deep down inside, he knew she was right. She may die, but he had to hold things together for the family. At least for a little while. He held her as she slipped off to sleep.
Andre came in to check on them. Natalie seemed cooler and her breath was regular. He stayed with her while Brian went to eat and stretch for a bit.
“Andre, you don’ be mad yourself. Bring me that Alexander. He and I need talk.”
“Natalie, your vitals are better. You’re going to be alright,” he said although in the back of his mind he wasn’t sure.
“Non. I am going. The wolf, she is quiet. Curl up, go to sleep. It won’t be long. Don; you tell Brian,” she whispered.
Andre looked at her again and saw that look he saw on men that died in the hospital. The ones that knew they were going, and nothing would save them. They were at peace with themselves. He nodded. “I’ll do so when Brian comes back.”
Natalie nodded and wiped the tears from his face.
Alexander and Jelka came a little while later. Jelka sat at the end of the bed while Natalie and Alexander talked quietly. “Are you certain you don’t want Brian here?” he asked.
“Non. He be here when I go. Bless me,” Natalie said.
“May your breath follow the wind, may the sun drive away the cold, may the pain flow away like water, and may the earth receive you in her arms. Run with your ancestors. Peace to you,” he said as he blessed Natalie. He kissed her and then stood back as Jelka hugged and kissed her. The two of them left and headed back to the kitchen. The rest of the family came in a few at a time to see Natalie. She’d told them that now was time and she didn’t want all of them crying around her when she went. Said it was better for the little ones too. While a few tried to change her mind, it didn’t work. Tilly was the last to kiss her good night and bid her rest. Natalie rested, knowing that the hardest part was over. Brian would be there to hold her soon and then she would sleep.
Brian thanked Alexander and then went to be with Natalie. He looked at his mate and realized that she was ready to go. It was only a matter of time. Crawling up on the bed, he pulled her into his arms and held her. “You want your wedding dress?”
“Aye. And one of your flannel shirts.”
“What? Why for you want that?” he asked.
“For I sleep with one when you not here, so I don’ go crazy. I gon; sleep long time without you, so I want one of your damn flannel shirts. One you wore and smells like you.”
“Fine. You get this one. I wear it two days.”
“Good. You get that Raphael and Tomas play that Lost Woodsman’s Jig and Red River. Toast me that ginger wine under the book case. Plenty there,” she said after she coughed.
“Aye. Now shush. Let me hold you.”
“I love you old wolf,” she said.
“I love you Natalie. Loved you since I first see your eyes, that meadow.” Tears streamed down Brian’s face as he rocked Natalie. When the coughing became too rough, he called out for Andre. Andre gave her some pain medicine, and kissed her good night. Then he went back to Marie and Libellue down the hall. Andre knew it wouldn’t be long.
Towards dawn, Natalie coughed and woke Brian. “I love you,” she said so softly he could barely hear her.
“I love you my mate.”
Natalie coughed and gasped as her breathing grew shallow. Brian nestled her to his chest and rocked back and forth as the sunlight began to light the room. Natalie turned her head towards the window to watch the sun rise.
A little while later, Brian came out to the kitchen. He looked at Jenny and just sat. Jenny hugged him and she and the rest of the women went to dress Natalie. When they entered the room, they found that Brian had set out her wedding dress and left his shirt as well. Jenny understood about the shirt. She still had Henri’s under her pillow.
Andre, Henry, Henri, Quintus and David went to dig Natalie’s grave up in the meadow. The ground was soft, so it didn’t take long. They returned to find Jelka, Marie and Libellue taking care of Brian and feeding everyone. They cleaned up. Kent brought the coffin he’d made. Brian and his sons placed Natalie in the coffin with his flannel shirt under her head. Then they placed it on the wagon.
It was a quiet journey to the meadow. When everyone had arrived and gathered around, the coffin was lowered into the grave next to the huge rock.
“We gather in the woods and beneath open skies to honor a woman loved by so many in our community. She was a matriarch. A leader, and a healer in our community. Natalie was mother to so many of us gathered here by choice or birth. She has been the heart of our community. Loved, respected and always there with just the right herb, cup of tea or basket of goodies,” Alexander said. “Her passage has taken all of us by surprise after such a joyous event. Her wish was that we not fall apart. Not let us trail off into the forest. Not forget that we are family. We must honor her wishes.” He lifted a small glass of ginger wine. “To Natalie Davy.” He passed the glass to Brian. In the background, Raphael and Tomas played The Lost Woodsman’s jig.
“To my mate. I will not run crazy too long in the woods.” He drank and passed it to Jenny.
“To Maman.” She drank and passed the glass after she refilled it. Toasts were given until everyone had said something. As they passed the grave, people tossed late summer flowers into the grave and a handful of dirt. The children followed their parents and then drifted back to the town and the Davy’s cabin.
Brian sat as Henri, Quintus and Andre filled in the grave. Henry and David brought rocks to cover it. Then the men walked home, Brian leaning on Quintus. They returned to people everywhere. The fiddlers played Metis tunes on one end of the porch. Libellue and the children played in the front yard while the adults ate and spoke quietly.
“Andre, thank you for all you did,” said Jenny. She hugged him.
“She was a good woman, and I’m sorry to see her go. I’m frustrated that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”
“You will some day.”
“Yes, I will. I’m also going to do what I can to make sure that shifters have a better way to receive medical treatment,” said Andre.
“Good. Maman, she told me to give you this,” said Alice. She handed Andre an envelope.
He looked puzzled and then opened the envelope. Inside was the deed to 100 acres of land.
“She said to tell you sell this. Use it to make a clinic for shifters. One that can save her grandbabies,” said Alice.
Andre hugged her as the tears streamed down his face. “I will.”
That night when the children were asleep, the adults shifted and ran in the forest. They stopped in the meadow and howled at the graveside. Wolf sat on top of the rock and watched. When most of them had left, he howled his pain for the loss of his mate.