Julia took a deep breath, reaching up to touch her hair. They had smuggled her here in the night, travelling through the thick January snows with a hood covering her head so that nobody would catch sight of her and sneaking up the fire escape to get into the building. Now she was standing in the hallway of her mother’s apartment building, waiting for the lift to arrive and take her up the last floor. It was late, almost ten. She knew Nicholas had already sent word ahead, that her mother knew she was alive and back in the world. Still, she was nervous. How was she going to explain… everything?
She had been back on the mortal plane for a little over a week. In that time she had been announced as queen of the Garou nation, calmed the forest and the raging caern that had provoked it and then faced down an enraged totem spirit with her pack. It felt like she’d barely had time to breathe. But there was so much to do, so little time to do it in. This was the first chance she’d had to see her mother and she had to make it count.
The lift doors opened and she stepped inside, reaching out to twist the key and press the button that would take her up to her mother’s floor. Her stomach churned a little and she instinctively rested her hand against it. There was no sign yet, but the nausea was still very much a problem for her. They had assured her that it would fade soon, that she would start to show – but that was a whole other issue. The lift moved smoothly up and before she had time to really think and collect herself the doors were opening again.
Julia stepped out into her mother’s apartment. The lights were on and she could pick up the scent of Lucille’s perfume – her mother liked things to smell a certain way and had complained at how the property had too much ‘hotel’ scent to it. There had been no trace of her father here, he’d never even seen it. This place had only ever smelled of Lucille. But now she could pick up a faint scent of him coming from the bedroom – a piece of clothing perhaps, or the cologne he used to wear. She sighed and made her way into the lounge.
Her mother was sitting on the couch with a drink in her hand, watching the doorway expectantly. A faint smile lifted the corners of her mouth as Julia walked in. It faded quickly however as she took her daughter in, replaced with a frown as her eyes lingered on the bright white curls that framed Julia’s face and coming to rest on the crown.
“Hello mother.” Julia smiled weakly. “It’s good to see you again. I thought I might not get to-”
“What have they done to your face?” Lucille voice was quiet, slightly disapproving. “Is this… some werewolf thing I don’t understand? Do they always brand those they exile?”
“What? No,” Julia lifted her hand to touch the markings of the crown. “This is why I had to come in the back way. If people see that my head is glowing, they-”
“Your head isn’t glowing,” Lucille interrupted. “Unless you mean your new hair which is certainly… something. But I am referring to the mark in the middle of your forehead.”
Julia paused, frowning slightly. “I… what do you see?”
“Two curved marks. I suppose you might call them sideways crescent moons. It looks somewhat like a scar or brand, although a very cleanly healed one.” Lucille raised an eyebrow. “I’m guessing from your reaction that there is more to this than is visible to my eyes.”
“Yes.” Julia sighed, a small rueful smile on her face as she came into the room properly and sat down opposite her mother. “I guess it’s good to know that you can’t see the rest of it. Maybe it will make things easier.”
“The rest of what?” Lucille took a sip of her drink.
“The… crown.” Julia felt herself shrink a little under her mother’s gaze. “They made me queen. It wasn’t what I-”
“Naturally,” Lucille said sharply. “They would have to be blind not to see my daughter as anything but a leader. You should have never been sent away in the first place.”
“I… thanks, mom.” Julia sighed and laughed softly. “It’s good to be back.”
They sat quietly for a moment. Julia tried to gather her thoughts a little. She hadn’t slept that much in a while, and this hadn’t started quite how she’d expected. Then again, she didn’t know why she hadn’t expected this. Her mother had never been as affectionate as her father, always business-like and to the point. Lucille didn’t have time to delay, and that had increasingly applied to her family as Julia had gotten older. She simply took everything in her stride, brain working at lightning speed as she moved to the next thing. If you wanted hugs, you went to papa. If you wanted results, you went to mom.
Eventually Lucille spoke up. “Your… biological father informed me that you had returned, that his belief that you would die in exile had been quickly proven wrong. I am assuming your new rank has something to do with this?”
“Well, I had not had the opportunity to do anything with your holdings before the New Year,” she said crisply. “So you are still in possession of all your assets. I will return them to you-”
“How are you doing, mom?” Julia asked quietly.
Lucille paused. “I… am well.”
“As well as can be expected under the circumstances.” Her mother’s face was hard. “I will admit to considering retribution of some kind against this Nicholas in a low moment, but I knew it would not have been what you would have wanted. You were gone for such a short time anyway, I had barely had time to consider grieving.”
“Mom…” Julia said softly. “I… saw the empty tissue box in the hall. And I can smell dad’s cologne from the bedroom. Did you bring his things back here?”
“It isn’t nice to use your abilities to intrude on other’s privacy like that, Julia.” Lucille’s voice was stiff.
Lucille sighed and seemed to sink into her chair a little. “It has been a rough few weeks. I thought I had lost you again, for good this time, that I had to mourn twice over. On your birthday, I…” she seemed to catch herself, taking a sip of her drink as if to cover something she had been going to say. “When Nicholas came to tell me you had returned, I hadn’t felt a relief like it.”
Julia smiled weakly. “Surely it was like last time when you found me?” She paused as she realised what she’d said, what it meant. “Twice in a year is… I’m sorry.”
“Last time I still had your father.”
It was like being punched. The open and honest grief in her mother’s voice as she spoke was a knife in Julia’s heart and she could feel tears welling up in her eyes. Damn these hormones. But perhaps it was a good thing to cry. After all, they were family, and she was all her mother had left. Hiding feelings behind a mask wasn’t healthy, not when you were with the ones you loved.
“… I know.” Her voice wobbled. “It wasn’t my…”
“I know too. It wasn’t your choice,” Lucille said quietly. “And I am very proud to know that you were prepared for that eventuality, even as it kills me that you need to be prepared for it.” She drained the rest of her glass, the faintest tremor audible in her voice. “I’m so proud of the woman you’ve become.”
They sat quietly again, as if neither of them knew what to say to each other. Lucille shook her head, glancing at the empty glass and then standing.
“Well, I suppose I should make the most of this moment while I have you. It seems our paths cross all too briefly these days, and I don’t know if this will be my last. Would you like a drink? I have a good wine, one of your father’s favourites.” She began to walk across the room towards the drinks cabinet, scooping up a second glass that had been waiting on the side.
“Oh, I can’t,” Julia said without thinking.
“Why not?” Lucille asked sharply, turning.
Julia blinked as she realised what she’d said, remembered who she was talking to and the speed at which her mother’s brain moved. Dammit, she’d hoped to save this particular nugget and get to enjoy a moment of happiness with her mother. She swallowed. “…I’m pregnant.”
Lucille stood in silence for a while, staring into the distance. Eventually she spoke, her voice quiet and oddly careful. “Is it his?”
“Of course.” It was hard for Julia not to let a note of reproach slip into her voice.
“How far along are you?”
“Only a couple of weeks. It was an accident.” She hung her head slightly.
“Are you keeping it?”
“I can’t get rid of it. It’s part of being a werewolf – my body won’t let me.”
Lucille nodded, and then she sighed and seemed to deflate a little, coming over and sitting back down near her daughter. “Oh Julia. I thought we taught you better than that. Does he know?”
“I… haven’t seen him since.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I have a friend… she says she saw him, that he knows. But I haven’t… he hasn’t…”
“I’m not surprised.” The disdain was clear in Lucille’s tone as she carefully put the glasses she was holding down.
“Mother, please…” Julia’s voice caught. “Just this once, can you not…?”
“Oh sweetheart, I’m sorry.” The other woman sighed, reaching out to rest her hand on Julia’s. “I wish your father was here. He would have been so much better at this than me.” She shook her head. “A part of me always knew that this would come one day.”
“Of course. You’ve been with him for years now, no matter how I might disapprove of it. I hate him-” she held up a hand as Julia opened her mouth. “I hate him for taking you from me. I hate him for costing us our daughter, for the way hating him made me behave. I have hated him for all those years I thought he had murdered you, even when your father believed you were alive. How could I just stop feeling that way? He’s not a good man, as much as you might want to believe otherwise. But I know that doesn’t matter to you, that my words could never have swayed your heart. So a part of me always knew that one day you would come and tell me this, or tell me that the two of you had eloped, or that he would come to myself and your father directly to ask for our blessing.” She shuddered a little, her nose wrinkling as if the thought pained her.
Julia took a deep breath. She wanted to refute the things her mother had said. But what was the point? Lucille had admitted that she couldn’t change her heart on this matter any more than Julia could change hers. And as much as she wanted to defend Jake, she hadn’t seen or heard from him since she’d come home. She knew he was here in the city. She knew that he couldn’t exactly visit her while she was in the sept, especially given how many people were there now. But he could have got a message to her pack, her friends, the territory, something. She was beginning to become afraid that something had happened.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said softly, a couple of tears spilling down her face. “What if… I don’t want to do this on my own. I don’t want to be a mother by myself, and a queen, and-”
“You aren’t alone,” Lucille said sharply. “You have your packmates. I don’t doubt you have a whole support network at your disposal amongst these werewolves, for whatever that is worth. You have me.”
“Of course. Don’t be ridiculous Julia. We may fight and clash, but I’m still your mother. And this will be my first and possibly only grandchild.” Lucille held out her arms in a manner that could be best described as impatient. Julia hesitated for a moment. “Come on, I don’t have all evening. We both know that this is a rare occurrence, so don’t make me rethink it.”
Julia leaned gratefully into her mother’s hug. Lucille was small and somewhat cold, and it wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. But she would take whatever she could get.
“I love you, mom.”
“I know sweetheart. I love you too.” Lucille sighed. “You’re so much like your father.”