The blades swung in an arc up above her head as she leapt, throwing her full weight behind them. In one hand was a sword coated in blood and fire, in the other a sword of ice and night, raised high above her and ready to bring down upon her enemy. She knew this was going to hurt, knew this could do very bad things to her. But they were so close.
The creature glared up at her, its face twisted into a rictus of hatred. Its knotted fingers were still scraping and pushing against the edges of the bloodstained gate as it desperately held open the gap. The swirling vortex of energy pulsed and glowed behind the shadowed form of the Outsider, barely containing the creature that hung halfway between worlds as it frantically tried to open the gates and free its people. Julia reached inside herself, channelling all the rage and desperation she had left. It opened its mouth in a snarl of fury as she brought the blades down and plunged them into its eyes.
There was a blast of energy as the swords sank into its face, driving deep into the dark hollows of its skull. It gave a piercing scream of rage and pain, and then both blades shattered, throwing Julia several feet away. The Outsider reared back, face shredded by the explosion as its body seemed to sink further into the vortex, leaving only its fingers still visible in the suddenly rapidly closing gates. The terrible light became a sliver as the gates swung in, dark wood stained with blood.
Behind her she could hear Annie talking quietly to Sura, encouraging the little Crinos to keep doing what was needed to get this finished. Cal was beside them, focused on the spear as between them they worked to drive the gates closed. She groaned in pain, shrapnel from the broken swords buried in her arms and chest. The gap was so close, just the thinnest strip as fingers remained wedged and just about holding it open.
Julia staggered to her feet. Her hands were red raw and bleeding, but she couldn’t worry about that now. She reached to her belt, pulling the silver dagger that had started this all. It burnt her open wounds, but she paid no attention to it as she stumbled forward. Slowly, ignoring the screams of unfiltered rage and despair echoing through the gap, she leant against the bloodied gates and sawed the fingers off one by one.
The gates shut.
She stood in the fragmented remains of the umbral pocket, in the ruins of the doorway to the prison that Cal had helped the Outsider build. The tear into Arcadia behind her was slowly closing and she didn’t have that long left now. In the end, she had known it was probably a futile search. He had been at the heart of the explosion, one that had shaken through into the fae realm – and likely the deep umbra too, wherever the prison was based. They had seen the blast in the sky from the middle of the woods and she knew he couldn’t have survived this. Yet a part of her had hoped, prayed that she would find at least something, even if it was just a body. After all, if this pocket was still here, then that meant he could still be alive, the bargain still holding fast.
She had found ash, tiny slivers of wood amid dirt and dust. She’d scraped through the rubble as best she could with Nahuel’s help, whilst the others waited outside. But they found nothing of him, not even a trace of fur. It seemed his body had been utterly obliterated. From her experiences with close proximity to raw wyld energy, it wasn’t that surprising. A mortal form simply couldn’t withstand that.
The edges of the realm were beginning to fray and fade. She took a deep breath, looking around one last time. Behind her she heard the clatter of rubble as Nahuel leapt back through the gap. She half wanted to call out Cal’s name, as if he might answer.
Get it done. Finish this.
She didn’t call for him. It would be a disservice to the sacrifice he’d made. He was gone from the pack link, had died to fix his mistakes and stop their enemy. In the end, just once, he had listened to her. She knelt at the centre of the blast and buried the silver dagger’s blade down in the ground. If the pocket survived, it would be the closest thing to a grave marker she could offer. If not, it would be swallowed into the void with everything else, the last fragment of the creature that had haunted their steps for over a year finally gone.
She turned and left the realm, squeezing through the tear in reality back to Arcadia. It sealed behind her, as if it had never been.
The battlefield was soaked in blood, littered with corpses. It made her nauseous to see it. But they had won. The closing of the gate, the explosion in the Arcadian sky as Cal had severed the last link; it had turned the tide in their favour as the enemy had realised their leader had lost and their fight was in vain.
It would be up to the queens to deal with the traitors in their own ranks – and she supposed up to her to deal with those among the Garou. She had people on either side of the tear, checking those who came back through to ensure that nobody who bore the mark could slip away. But that would be something for another day. There were too many people here to easily round up, too many bodies to sort through. The fae queens had agreed to preserve the field as it was, so that they could return for their dead and bring justice to those who had helped to devastate the world.
You shall take no action that will cause a caern to be violated.
She stood with her people, smiling as best she could. There was an air of disbelief, and of jubilant victory as the adrenaline surged through the air once again. They had won. The world wasn’t ending… or at least, not yet. The Garou had fought in the glorious battle they had waited for, and come out the other side. She knew of course that it wasn’t that simple. In their weakened state, if the forces of the wyrm or weaver decide to make a move…
But for now, she wanted to savour the victory, as bittersweet as it was. She wanted to be there with her pack and her kin, those who had survived. She watched as her people filtered through; healing each other where possible, carrying those who needed help and the bodies of friends and packmates who had not been so fortunate. They nodded at her, jubilation turning briefly to appreciation and respect as she acknowledged them all. When it was done, when the last few had passed through and all that were left crossing were her own pack, she turned to the queens.
“You have our thanks for what aid you were able to provide, at the time when we needed it most. I know if you hadn’t been under siege, it would have been easier-”
Gwendolyn smiled wearily. “We’ve just won a war. The siege is broken, the enemy shackled. You don’t need to be so formal, my dear. Besides, in the end I think we did very little.” She sighed. “You have our eternal thanks… once again. I had never thought we would be looking to the Garou to defend our own lands. But it seems we have called on your help more often than you have needed anything from us.”
Lyandra nodded. “It is a sign of changing times, dearest. We must move forward too, lest we become irrelevant.”
Behind the women, Julia could see a fae soldier jigging a little from foot to foot. He was unbloodied, holding a pole-arm like it was a baseball bat. The helmet covered the face entirely, but she could easily guess who was beneath the ill-fitting armour. He waved slightly when he saw her gaze upon him, tilting the helmet up slightly to show his face behind the queens’ backs. Julia kept her face as straight as she could, relieved that another friend was confirmed alive.
“We will return for our dead, as soon as we can. In the meantime, I… uh…”
He was making bubbles.
Gwendolyn smiled. “Is our son being distracting?”
Lyandra turned with a frown. “Orion, you are supposed to be within the castle walls.”
“Moooom…” He shoved the helmet back, shuffling away as the bubbles petered out. Lyandra moved towards him firmly, one hand outstretched for the pole-arm.
“You can’t protect him forever,” Julia said quietly.
“We know dear,” Gwendolyn said, her smile becoming sad. “But perhaps just a little longer.”
Julia breathed deeply, inhaling the taste of blood and magic in the air. “Then I suppose I should return.”
“Indeed. Your people will want to celebrate the victory, no doubt, and bury their dead. You will need to send word to the rest of your world that the foe is vanquished.” She looked a little wistful. “You are so young, and your lives are so fast. Celebrate while you can. Age and experience will…”
Julia looked at her expectantly. The queen had trailed off, seeming to get lost in her thoughts. Behind, Swizzlesticks was apparently being berated by his mother, but it suddenly turned to laughter from them both. Lyandra ruffled her son’s hair and he let lose another stream of bubbles from his hands, sending them flying up into the sky over the battlefield.
Eventually Gwendolyn seemed to remember herself. “Ah, forgive me. I was… Go. Enjoy yourself.”
Julia nodded, bowing her head a little. “Your majesty.”
There was a knowing look in the fae queen’s eye as she bowed her head in return. “Your majesty.”
The crowds on the other side of the portal were large, an army gathered in the sept. As she stepped through, there was a cheer from the waiting Garou, and then they seemed to kneel as one. The rift sealed up behind her, leaving her standing in the centre of the sept, surrounded by her people. For the first time, she felt like she could truly call them her people, that she really was their queen in more than just name and a passing allowance by the elders. Even after everything else she had done in these few short months, it still hadn’t properly hit her the way it did now.
She looked around the sea of faces, searching for her mother, her friends, her pack. There were so many people, gathered here in the glade and more between the tents, standing and watching. She didn’t even know how much time had passed since they had left, although it was still night. Had it only been a few hours? Or perhaps days, weeks?
“What day is it?”
“Wednesday, my queen. It has been two days since you left.” A voice came from somewhere in the crowd. “We have held fast as your ordered, with the mages as our allies. Word has already been sent through the connections they have of your victory.”
“Yes.” She took a deep breath, a slow smile spreading across her face. “We are alive, and we still stand. Please, stand. Celebrate with me, at least for tonight.” She glanced around. “There must be something to drink around here.”
There was laughter, movement as people began to rise and talk amongst themselves. They quickly seemed to gather around her, like she had some sort of luck that might rub off if they were nearby. She glanced around again, looking for familiar faces. And then her eyes were drawn like a magnet towards movement by the tents, as her heart beat faster and she just knew.
He was held by the guards, an arm on each shoulder and weapons at his back as they pushed him forwards. She noted with surprise that he was unchained. People were moving out of the way, curiosity on many faces. Jake looked irritated, and perhaps a little panicked. She didn’t know why they had taken him out of the cell, who had decided and authorised this. Had they brought him out to do something to him? Or was he here to see her? It didn’t matter really. What mattered was that he was here, and her heart was singing.
He turned his head and their eyes met across the glade. Instantly the look on his face changed to one of relief and uncontained joy. She couldn’t stop a wide smile from spreading across her face. Faster than she could properly track, he shrugged the guards off his shoulders and broke free. They seemed to panic a little, lunging towards their apparently fleeing prisoner, but he was faster. He made a beeline for her across the clearing, followed closely behind by his armed entourage as people scrambled out of the way. And then he had scooped her up and spun her around and he was kissing her and she couldn’t care about anything else.
Eventually he put her down, pulling away as she slid back to the ground. She laughed a little breathlessly, resting her forehead against his. Behind him she could see the guards seemed to have pulled back and were keeping a wary distance. People were watching, but she didn’t care about that either.
“Fuck me, you’re alive.” He shook his head. “I was… thank god. Thank Gaia.”
“I told you I’d come back.” She laughed again as he cupped her face with one hand, the other holding tightly around her waist.
“I know… I…” He kissed her again. “I can’t believe how ridiculously fucking lucky I am. I can’t believe you keep coming back.” He leaned in again and she put her hand up to cover his mouth with her fingers.
“You know we’re in public, right?”
“I don’t care. I’m not letting you out of my sight again, not for tonight. They can’t make me go back in.” He kissed her fingers.
“I… OK,” she said softly. “I’ll keep you by my side then. I just stopped the apocalypse, I think they can give me that.” She glanced over at the guards, making pointed eye contact and receiving frowns and small nods in return. Then she paused. “Ah… my mom is here.”
He shrugged. “So? You think she’d going to stab me or something? She can join the queue.”
“No, but I should check if she’s doing OK. I don’t know how long they were there, what she went through-” she turned her head and then realised Silvered Tongue was standing behind them. The woman bowed a little, a faint smile on her face.
“My queen, your mother has been taken with the others you rescued to a quieter area. They are being attended to as we speak, and she will be well looked after.”
“Ah, thank you.” Julia stayed where she was, arms still wrapped around his neck. The sept was filled with people and noise as the Garou searched out friends and booze to begin celebrating. “I should go to her.”
“If you wish, your majesty. We will have the guards accompany you, from a discreet distance.” The woman’s voice was smooth and calm as she looked between them. “For both your safety, of course – at such a time as this, it would be an ideal moment for an enemy to strike.”
“You think I’d let anything get near her?” Jake’s voice was amused.
“For both your safety,” the woman repeated. She bowed again, meeting Julia’s gaze. “We have let him free this evening, under the assumption that he is as little threat as he claims. It was felt it would be likely our queen would appreciate having her mate by her side, and that few would be in a position to complain in the aftermath of these events. A goodwill gesture, if you like, to show trust. Nevertheless, I suggest you keep him close. It will make any complaints more… challenging, if he is clearly near your side.”
“I will.” Julia smiled in thanks, and led him away by the hand. She knew there had to be more to it than that, but right now she didn’t need to know.
Lucille was sitting in what Julia had come to think of as ‘the hospital tent’, being attended to by several others who moved away when their queen arrived. She was wrapped in a blanket, holding a mug of something steaming tightly in her hands. Vivian was asleep on a bed nearby, and Emma was slightly further away. Her mother’s face was a little blank, staring off into the distance.
“Mother…” Julia crouched down, resting her hands atop Lucille’s on the mug.
“Hello darling.” Lucille’s voice was quiet, subdued. She paused, the moment of silence hanging in the air between them. “…Tell me, is this a common occurrence in your life?”
Julia didn’t know what to say. ‘Sort of’ didn’t really seem like an adequate answer. After all, nobody had ever gone after her family like this before – but then, none of their enemies had been aware of who her family was. It hadn’t happened before simply because she had nobody that they knew to take. Now… it was a real possibility that her mother could be a target again in the future. She decided to be as truthful as she could under the circumstances. “This is the first time it’s happened to me, but not to others.”“I see.” She sighed and shook her head. “It has been a long time since I have been in a position where anything supernatural dared to so openly… I had forgotten how terrifying these things can be when meddled with.”
Julia blinked. That had not been what she expected. Her mother frowned. “Don’t stare, Julia, it’s not polite.” She slid Julia’s hands off and took a sip from her mug, her face hard. “This last week has been… uniquely challenging. But a week in the woods with some demonic creature that invades dreams is hardly difficult for me to handle. It seemed to realise that quite fast. Perhaps not so easy for the poor girls with me and the little… wolf thing.” Lucille’s eyes flicked up to meet her daughter’s. Then, briefly, they glanced over Julia’s shoulder to a few metres away where Jake sat waiting. There was a flash of distaste and anger fleetingly on her face, and then it faded as she looked back down at her daughter’s stomach and the growing bump. It seemed like whatever she had been going to say faded.
“You were there for a week?” Julia’s heart sank as she looked across at the sleeping Vivian. The woman looked exhausted, dark circles below her eyes and tables in her hair. “It wasn’t even two days for us. I’m so sorry mother, I tried to-”
“I know. I will have to be more careful, more attentive.” Lucille frowned again. “I had already been a target before because of who I am, for those who sought to try their hand at a power grab. If I am now to be a target because of who you are as well… it will require extra precautions. But nothing unmanageable.”
Julia shook her head, her fists clenching a little. “It won’t happen again, I promi-”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Lucille interrupted, taking another sip. “I’m sure you can explain all of this to me later. For now, I would like to rest. I assume I will be safe here?”
“Of course. Are you sure you don’t want to go home though? It will probably be rather loud tonight.”
“I was taken from the apartment, and I do not wish to return yet. I have had enough bad dreams throughout, and I would like to be near people. Besides, if I could sleep through your father’s snoring then I can sleep through anything.” Lucille’s voice softened as she looked down at her daughter. “Thank you for coming for us, darling. But I need to rest now. Go and…” She glanced back over at Jake and sighed. “Is he going to be-?”
Lucille looked down at the bump again. “When are you due?”
“I think June. It’s a bit hard to tell with these things, but probably June.”
“Have you thought about names?”
“No.” Julia took a big breath. “It still doesn’t quite feel real, and I haven’t really had time.”
“Please don’t name it after anyone on your father’s side of the family.” Lucille’s voice was tired. “I think there are enough ‘Fanny’s in the world.”
“Your mother was called Hortense,” Julia said a little wryly.
“Don’t name it after my side of the family either.” Lucille waved a hand. “You have months yet. You have people to talk to, things to do. Go. I need to sleep.”Julia smiled, leaning forward and kissing her mother’s forehead. The woman looked surprised for a moment, and then smiled wearily as she watched her daughter leave the tent.
Raven found her when she was talking to a small group of mages and werewolves, giving some instructions. They hadn’t found Sophie, and whilst Julia knew she wasn’t exactly in a position to go running off into the Umbra right now, that didn’t mean she was just going to abandon the woman.
“- as to the how, I’ll trust in those of you with more experience hunting in the Umbra. If you need to take the mages with you, great – she’s not had a good start in our world, and having a positive interaction with her own would be good. If that’s not possible, just work together however you can to find her and bring her back.”
“It’s possible that she is already dead, your majesty,” one of the Garou said quietly.
“I know. But I won’t leave anyone behind if I can help it. I’m trusting in you all to do this, to find her.” There was a slight collective straightening among the small group, pride at being given this responsibility. As she finished speaking, she saw a familiar red flash of hair bobbing slightly behind them. She smiled, reaching for Jake’s hand and leaving the little expeditionary force to work out its logistics.
“Hey,” Raven said, smiling a little awkwardly. Julia laughed and opened her arms, and then her friend was hugging her. Raven’s voice was muffled, buried in Julia’s shoulder. “Holy fuck, I can’t believe we did it.”
“Where’s Annie? I thought you two would be glued together.”
“She’s off putting Sura down to sleep and having a few cuddles. Little thing has had a few hard days, needs her mom.” Raven pulled away with a big smile. It seemed to harden as she saw Jake standing behind them, and then she looked back at Julia and her face softened again. Clearly that reaction was something Julia was going to have to get used to.
“Did everyone make it? Are you all OK?”
“Yeah, we’re intact, mostly. Jason got himself the scars he wanted, scared the absolute piss out of me. He’s going to be stiff and slow for a while, but I expect I’ll be hearing about it for years to come. We all got a few licks actually, my leg is still healing.” She hesitated. “I saw… you guys didn’t all come back through. Where’s Cal?”
Julia felt the lump in her throat again, the one that she had been fighting against ever since things had happened. Now wasn’t the time. “You remember the big light, towards the end?”
“Yeah, felt it too. It was like something explode-” A look of realisation dawned on her face. “Oh.”
“Oh Julia. I’m so sorry.” Raven shook her head, reaching forward to take Julia’s hands. “I really thought you would all…”
“I didn’t,” Julia said sadly. “I’d hoped we’d all make it back. But I knew there were good odds that at least one of us wouldn’t. It was…” Her voice cracked a little. “It was a good end, as much as one can be. It was his choice. And I suppose only losing one of our pack is better than many could have hoped for, given what we were up against.”
“You’ll have to fill me in later. But are you OK?” Raven asked. “Do you… it’s OK to cry, you know.”
Julia gave a wan little smile. “Maybe later. Right now I’m not just me, I’m ‘the queen’. I represent everyone and I need to be on my game, not crying in a corner. It’s a time to be celebrating.”
“I… sure, I guess you’ll know more about this stuff than me. Don’t push yourself too hard.” She turned to Jake, her gaze fierce. “Make sure she gets time to sleep and grieve later. You know she bottles this stuff. Look after her tonight.”
“Every night,” he said quietly.
“Good. Because if you don’t, you’ll have a whole lot of werewolves ready to rip your dick off.”
“And fae, and probably mages soon enough as well.” His voice was dry and amused. “They’ll have to join the queue. It seems to be building up fast.”
“You know I’m still here right? You’re literally holding my hands,” Julia remarked.
“I know, sorry.” Raven sighed. “I just feel like… if I let go, then I’m probably not going to get to see you again. Not like this, anyway.”
Raven gave her a slightly disbelieving look, eyes watering. “We both know you aren’t going to just sit around and do nothing. You’ll be going all over, getting stuck in and trying to fix things. I have a life and a pack here, but you’ve got a whole world to keep saving. What time will the queen have to hang out and talk shit with little old me?”
“I’ll make time. Maybe not immediately, you’re right. I’ve got things to do. But you know I’ll come back.”
“OK, I’ll hold you to that.” Raven let go of one hand to wipe at her eyes. “But this is a party, right? We’re celebrating that we’re alive. You’ll be needed to give speeches and stuff. You should go back into the fray.”
Julia laughed and started to turn, still holding the other hand. “Sure, come on.”
“What? No, I-”
“I can’t drink right now. So, you’ll have to get drunk and have a good time for me.”
Raven paused. “… I could do that.”
She stood near the centre of the sept, a cup in her hand and her head thrown back in laughter. It was getting very late, but few people seemed to have any appetite for stopping. Overhead the night sky was clear, the sliver of moon hanging high above. The sound of celebration trailed into the woods, laughing and shouting and drinking.
She had seen a few of Cal’s mother’s pack, although not Karen herself. It was possible the woman was elsewhere and grieving. Perhaps she was just avoiding Julia – an easy task amid the throngs of people that spilled out of the sept and into the surrounding forest. There had been others she hadn’t seen yet either, that she hoped were just busy somewhere instead of… After all, if they wanted to find her it wouldn’t be hard.
It felt like she had been at the centre of a constantly moving whirlpool of people, as the tides moved them in to greet her and then away again to be replaced. Everyone seemed to want to say something, or to hear words from her – to say that they were there and that they had spoken to the queen, been part of things. Even the handful of elders that always seemed to be nearby were rotating, each looking for a turn in the spotlight. The only constants were Jake, always near enough to touch, and the guards nearby.
Now she stood with Sees-All-Strands, Cheryl and Nicholas. The man had been relieved at her success and survival, although now he was clearly somewhat uncomfortable at Jake’s presence. She wondered in amusement if it was the ‘former spiral’ thing, or if it was the knowledge that this was the man who had impregnated his daughter and all the resulting discomfort that brought. But Cheryl was bright and happy, if a little bloodied. Her joy and relief were infectious, and Julia found it challenging not to get swept up, part of the atmosphere that imbued the whole sept.
As she looked up at the clear night sky, there was a little flash of light. She laughed in delight, lifting her hand to point at the small unexpected meteor shower. It was a calm and beautiful moment, as fragments of stars seemed to tumble and spark across the sky. She could feel the Nemeton, far away and peaceful on the other side of the forest, a low warm hum of contentment in the back of her mind. She reached behind, feeling Jake’s fingers twine with hers. It seemed like a sign of hope somehow, out here in the quiet clarity of nature.
“Isn’t it beautiful? Do you think this a sign of things to come?” she remarked, turning to look at the theurge elder. As she did so, heads seemed to turn across the sept to look at her. She realised she had not been alone in looking up at the sky, that quiet had fallen until she had broken the silence.
“What do you believe it to be, your majesty?” the elder said quietly.
Julia looked around. Everyone was watching expectantly, waiting for her to say something. She took a deep breath and raised her glass.
“To the fallen. To those who gave their lives so that we can stand here tonight, and make our future… whatever we want it to be.”
There was a collective clinking sound as drinks were raised across the sept, a low hum of approval rumbling through the air. She didn’t drink, looking around and continuing to speak.
“It’s going to be hard. We’ve lost so much, in such a short space of time. There are many who will want to use this as a chance to topple us, to strike while they see us as weak. And there are some who will say we should give up, that it was a losing battle before and we have no hope now.” She glared fiercely around the clearing, meeting gaze after gaze. “But I am not going to give up! We are not going to give up, because even when we are ‘weak’, we are still stronger than any of them. We can’t keep doing things the way we always have. It’s time to look to the future, the one we still have because we were able to work together with our own and with others in this world. Change is coming, and we will stand proudly and embrace it.”
People were listening attentively, drink all but forgotten. Her voice rang through the sept, out into the forest as she stood tall to prove that she was a Silver Fang, she was their queen, she was her mother’s daughter.
“I have no intention of sitting idle. We will rebuild those caerns we have lost, and find new ways to strengthen and protect them. We will retake ground we have lost to the wyrm and its allies. I can’t promise to always be ‘conventional’-” there was a ripple of amusement throughout her audience at that, “-but convention is not what we need right now. We will do better, because we have to. We walk a hard path, but I am proud to call myself your queen, proud to have you follow me. Let us not waste the future that has been bought for us with so much loss.” She held her glass a little higher. “Tomorrow, we take the first step in our new world. Tonight, we celebrate our victory, and our glorious dead!”
They cheered. It echoed through the sept, through the forest, a vibrant sound of fierce joy. She smiled, looking up to the stars and holding the feeling fast in her heart.
She lay beside Jake in the tent. She was exhausted, very aware that she hadn’t slept in two days. But she hadn’t been able to tonight – she’d stayed up with her people into the wee hours to keep celebrating, and then as soon as she’d felt like she could get away with it, she’d dragged Jake back to her tent and instructed the guards not to let anybody in without her permission.
His arms were warm and comforting, and she never wanted to leave. But the sun was going to be coming up in a few hours and her internal body clock had kicked in, trying to insist that it was time to wake up and go for a run. The baby was also very insistent that she should go to the bathroom, and was busy using her bladder as a beanbag.
She knew her pack were still here in the sept. Where else could they go right now? Their territory was ruined. Annie had Sura with her; taking the poor little Crinos back to see the remains of the nursery would be cruel and pointless when they could stay here and be safe. Nahuel wouldn’t want to be alone, after losing both his packmate and his brother within minutes of each other. It was comforting to know they were nearby, and bittersweet as well. She knew she would have to…
She stood up with a sigh, wrapping a sheet around herself to head to the small corner where her ‘bathroom’ was. Jake made a grumbling murmur as he slept, an arm reaching to where she had been and finding nothing. She smiled, leaning in to kiss his forehead, and then made a face as her body reminded her that the baby got to decide when she went to the toilet and it was deciding right now.
When she came back he had rolled over onto his back, lashes fluttering a little as he dreamed. He looked so peaceful that it made her heart hurt a little. She hoped they could always have this. Another wave of tiredness hit her as she sat down on a chair and just watched him. There were quiet noises outside, the morning wind rustling through the sept in accompaniment to the sounds of more sleeping breaths than she could count.
She wasn’t just tired from lack of sleep. She was… drained, physically, emotionally. She knew she should rest, but she couldn’t just yet. It was so hard to switch off, and finally it all just came swirling to the top as she sat awake and alone in the quiet early morning hours.
Nerzuul was dead. In the end, the brothers had fought, and Nahuel had killed Nerzuul. She felt perhaps that it had all been for nothing; that Nahuel simply hadn’t had the will to try and push back against the ‘fate’ he had been given. She understood why Nerzuul had fought – he had been in the control of a greater power, had given himself to it for a chance to save someone else. In a strange way, she was almost proud of him for it. But a part of her was also very disappointed in her packmate for not seeing that, for not trying to help. Hell, she knew Nahuel wasn’t stronger than his brother, that if it had been a true fight then he should be the one who was dead. To realise that Nerzuul had likely been holding back, that perhaps he had given in and let his brother kill him…
She wanted to rage at them both, for not listening to her when it had mattered most. But at the same time a part of her knew that Garou held fate in such high regard that even after a year she probably couldn’t have undone a lifetime of ‘learning’. And if he had decided that this was a good way to go, that this was worth dying for…
She could feel the lump in her throat that had been waiting all night for its moment, making it hard for her to breathe. In the end the Garou had lost fewer than she had thought, working well with the fae to surround their foes and effectively massacre the enemy. But still, there had been many lost. She’d seen plenty carrying bodies back through the portal. She’d had a lot of Garou come up to her in the aftermath, and many of them had mentioned packmates who had not made it. She knew that they didn’t blame her, that they were proud of their packs and the glorious deaths those who had gone had met. So many had felt this a cause worth dying for. But it was hard not to feel it now, to know how many packs were one or more members fewer.
Cal was dead.
She buried her head in her hands and cried.
Julia sat quietly in the back garden of their territory. It was Friday afternoon, a cool spring day. They had just said goodbye. She was no longer the alpha of the Stormbringers.
She leaned back, letting the sunshine warn her face for a moment. Behind her in the house she could hear movement as Nahuel padded through the remains of the kitchen. She knew there were guards waiting just beyond the wall of the garden for her to return. She knew there were so many things to do, that the world was waiting for her as well. After all, things didn’t stop happening just because they had won a battle. But just for a moment, she wanted to sit here.
They had talked. She had said her piece, told them the choice she’d had to make and the choice they would have to make as a result. She’d explained that she didn’t expect them to follow, that she understood. And they had agreed with her, agreed that the life they wanted simply wasn’t possible if their pack remained as it was. They had said sweet kind things that had made her so very happy and so very sad all at once. There had been hugs, a few tears, and a quiet moment together one last time. And just like that, she no longer had a pack.
It wasn’t truly goodbye. They would still be friends, still be kin, still always have that connection. How could you go through all the things they had been through together and not come out the other side with a special bond?
But at the same time, it was goodbye. She knew their paths had now forked, that it was unlikely they would get to spend much time together in the coming months… maybe even years. Neither of the others had much incentive to leave the city right now, if ever. Annie had her girlfriend, her child and her father all here. Nahuel had a job, his girlfriend, the remains of his pack – it had been clear that the two lupus intended to at least attempt to stay together, to join another pack or build a new one. She knew that any pack would be lucky to have them, that it would be likely that many would actively seek out the opportunity. It made her a little happier to know that they wouldn’t be alone.
She sighed, breathing in deeply and trying to hold as much of the moment as possible. Behind her she felt a sudden cold wet nose on her neck and she laughed, reaching to scratch Nahuel’s ears. He gave a gentle huffing sound, resting his head on her shoulder.
“You’ll do just fine without me,” she said softly. He huffed again, blowing oddly cold air into her ear. “I’ll send Annie a cheque to do up the house. And I’m sure I’ll find time to come and visit once things have settled down a bit.”
She could hear footsteps behind them, Annie standing in human form in the doorway. Her little packmate still seemed to favour that form, despite being lupus. Julia wasn’t sure if that was just how Annie was more comfortable now, or if she was just more aware of living in human-occupied area and the problems wandering around in her wolf form could cause. Nahuel had never quite seemed to get it – or perhaps he had never cared.
She laughed suddenly, a loud happy sound ringing through the air. The wolf head pulled away in surprise, Nahuel shuffling back a little as she turned. She smiled, a few tears in the corners of her eyes. “I’m going to miss you guys. Be good, OK? Cut back on the Chinese food, it makes your clothes smell funky.” He huffed indignantly and she gave him a knowing look. “You’ll get fat. You know you don’t get anything out of most of it anyway, if you can even call it meat at all.” She glanced up at Annie. “And look after each other. I’m sure without me and Cal around, things will be much more boring. But you know how bad things always did like to show up at the front door…”
Annie raised an eyebrow with a small smile, leaning against the doorframe. Julia ruffled Nahuel’s head, getting a sloppy lick for her trouble. “Just… be happy, OK? Do me proud.”
Then she stood up, smiled one last time at them both, and walked away.
“What happens now?”
“I’ve got a lot to do… I barely even know where to begin.”
“I heard you crying last night, Jules. Are you doing OK?”
“I am. Really. It’s a just… a lot of things ending at once, and I’m sad about that. But I’ve learned it’s OK to be sad, I need to feel it. Things have to end before the next big adventure can start, right?”
“That’s kind of cheesy.”
“Fair enough. Will you look for a new pack?”
“Not right now. Maybe one day. Right now I’ve got caerns to fix. I’ve got deals to make, alliances between tribes and species. I’ve got a lot of people waiting for me to do things, and probably just as many waiting for me to mess up. I’ve got to be alpha to the entire Garou nation, to protect the entire world. And I’ve got a baby to have as well, which scares me more than any of that. But I know I can do it. I just… know.”
“I love you. So much.”
“I know. That’s why I know I can do it. Do you think we should get married?”
“I don’t know. Which would be more likely to give your mother a heart attack: her only grandchild is a bastard hellspawn, or a shotgun wedding between you and the man she hates most in the world?”
“You don’t have to put it like that. It’s not funny, stop laughing. I don’t care what my mother thinks.”
“Clearly. But I think it might be pushing it a bit, given the situation we’re in right now as far as the Garou world is concerned. The elders have enough trouble with me as it is. Besides, I don’t need a ring and a piece of paper to tell everyone you’re mine and I’m yours.”
“Now who’s cheesy. You’re just… mmmm. Stop it. That’s very distracting.”
“I know. As much as I wish we weren’t having a little abomination, I have to say it has made your breasts amazing. Even more than they were before.”
“We should probably think of names.”
“I don’t want to. We can do that when it’s born. For now, let’s just…”
“Jake! I have things to do!”
“So? The world can wait a few hours before you get back to saving it.”
“… OK. We have time. What’s a few minutes more?”