Julia breathed deep, inhaling the frosty November air as she walked into town. A year had passed now since she’d properly started living on the territory, since she’d started doing this walk. It never got any quicker, no matter how many times she did it. In hindsight, learning to drive probably would have been smart, especially after Annie had got a car. Or perhaps it would have been a good idea to work on getting a better understanding of the public transport options available, cramming onto the morning commute like a ‘native Third Cityer’. Still, for all the ridiculous amount of time it took on foot, she enjoyed it. It gave her time to think about things.
A small flake of snow drift down and landed on her foot. She glanced up at the grey skies. It had been threatening for a few days now, enough that Nahuel had disappeared off to the mountains for some Get of Fenris celebration. She’d smiled and waved as he left, encouraged that he seemed to have something to focus on for a little while. The hair he was shedding seemed less now, but it still also seemed to coat everything. In wolf form his little bald patches were starting to meet up and form bigger ones.
They weren’t a pack anymore, not really. Sure, they went through the motions. But the rift between Annie and Cal seemed too wide to ever be bridged at this point. There had been cracks between Julia and Cal for most of their relationship, despite best efforts on her part. They were too different – he was too volatile, she apparently not experienced enough to be able to handle him. The others were wolves, she was human. It had seemed almost inevitable that eventually something would happen. She had never thought it would be Annie who would be the one to initiate the break. But then, for all her apparent skill at ‘playing human’, when it came to this Annie was still a wolf and survival came first. She told herself it seemed hopeless only because it was so fresh, not even a week since it had all happened. But they had effectively lost their warrior, as much as Julia might have wished otherwise.
Part of her completely understood. Annie had chosen her blood, her child, over the man who was supposed to be family but had put that child in danger, put everyone in danger. The things Cal had done… she could understand why Garou called for death for things like that. That part of her would have happily given him over to the authorities, had him face punishment for his crimes. That part of her couldn’t forgive anymore.
Another part of her told her this was her fault. It told her she was his alpha. She was responsible. It was her job to teach, to guide and protect. Her job to notice these things, to do something about them before they ever reached this point and to take the blame for not having done so. Her job to hold them together, her failure that they were crumbling. She hated that part of her, but the voice would not be silent. It played the sword sliding into the man’s throat in her mind over and over, a slick of crimson blood on the blade. It played the spear attempting to fly from her grip towards Cal, the weapon he had created to destroy everything.
Yet another part of her, faint as it had become and fainter every time her trust was broken, still fought for her pack. She had to believe that they were good. She had to believe that this was fixable. She had to believe that they could still hold together, still work together, that it wouldn’t take just another small tip for them to fragment into pieces.
Another flake of snow landed on her nose and she blinked, pulled out of her reverie. She had made it further into town, moving on autopilot. It was almost lunchtime as she glanced down at her watch. Perhaps she should get something to eat. As she looked up, she saw a familiar flash of red hair on the other side of the street. Her heart leapt in joy at seeing her friend, someone who she could talk to and confide in. Raven was always up for a chat, always there for her.
“Raven!” she called. The other woman turned in surprise. She waved, crossing the street to catch up. It was too far to see properly, but for a moment she could have sworn she saw her friend glance around as if she was looking for something. For a brief second she could have sworn the other woman looked panicked.
She gave a huge warm smile as she caught up. “Hey! How are you?”
“I’m fine. You know, the usual. Super busy.” Raven shifted awkwardly.
“Do you have time now? It’s lunch, you must be hungry. We haven’t really talked in a while, I thought we could…” Julia gestured towards a coffee shop on the other side of the road.
“Sorry, I would stay and chat, you know I would. I just can’t stop today.”
“Oh.” Julia didn’t bother to hide the disappointment in her voice. “What are you up to?”
“Oh, this and that. Work stuff. Sorry, I really am in a rush. Some other time?” She mock-looked at her non-existent watch. “I’m paid by the hour, you know.”
“Go.” Julia waved a resigned hand. “Some other time.”
For a second Raven paused, opening her mouth as if she was going to say something. There was genuine conflict in her eyes, something Julia could have sworn was real and not imagined. Then she grinned, saluted and hurried away down the street. Julia stood in the lightly drifting snow, feeling dejected.
Raven sat on her sofa, staring at the answering machine. The little red light blinked, informing her of her ‘one new message’. It had been over a week since she’d accidentally bumped into Julia and, right on cue, here was another message. She had responded to the other ones, leaving messages of her own lamenting that they must have just missed each other and promising to chat when she could. She almost wanted to just delete it, but she couldn’t. With a sigh, she reached over and pressed the button to play it.
Hey, it’s Julia. We seem to mostly be talking by phone message these days, huh?
The tone was light, but Raven winced. Annie had mentioned that Julia had asked if things were OK between the two of them. She hadn’t said much else about the conversation, but they both knew the real reason. They knew the truth.
So, I’m guessing that since I’m on the answering machine again you don’t have time to hang out with me right now. Lots of music lessons in winter, recitals and all that. I understand you wanting to focus on work – things have been a bit shit lately and… we have a tendency to drag you into our bad things. I know that can’t be fun.
There was a pause. Raven put her head in her hands, feeling the lump growing in her throat.
I’ve got some free time later this week if you’re around. I know I can get a bit wrapped up in things, and you’re crazy busy at the moment. Annie told me you seemed tired. But if it gets better and you want to hang out sometime, you know my number.
There was another pause, so long that for a moment Raven thought perhaps the message had ended. Then the voice came again, quiet and unexpectedly vulnerable.
I could use a friend right now.