Julia collapsed to her knees in front of the stump, unable to hold back the tears any longer. She didn’t remember the last time she had cried. Not when she had thought she’d killed Jake. Not when she’d been forced to abandon her family and everything she’d ever known. Not at any time in the last year when she would have had cause, not even when her father had died a mere week ago. Some part of her had just closed off, shut down and refused to let it out because tears were a sign of weakness, of failure, of losing control.
She cried now. Great gulping sobs wracked her body, so hard that she could barely breathe. She sat naked in the dirt and snow as the rain pattered around her, arms limp by her side and head slumped forwards as it finally overwhelmed her.
She wasn’t entirely sure why she had come here first. It had just been force of habit, a familiar path. She had come here on instinct – a Caern was a place of safety and healing, even a hidden, growing one like this. She couldn’t go to the sept, there would have been too many people and she’d have had to explain herself. Right now what she needed was to be alone, instead of crying in a public place surrounded by guards and elders and other werewolves. This was a place of sanctuary that only a few others knew, that was supposed to be hidden from the outside world. She had wanted to go somewhere he couldn’t follow.
“Jules.” His voice was quiet.
She didn’t turn, didn’t ask how he’d found her. Of course he had. He always knew where she was. In hindsight, thinking that coming here would keep him away had been foolish.
“No.” She heard him walk forward and then stop. “We should… we should talk about this.”
“I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to see you.”
“Jules, please …”
She turned sharply, face messy and tear-stained. His eyes widened, guilt and panic and shock running over his features. She saw his hands raise and then fall back, fists clenched slightly on the other side of the clearing; shoulders tensing and his mouth open as he struggled to find words.
“Are you happy? To have made a fool of me all this time? To finally get to see me break?” Her voice was choked.
“Please, I didn’t-”
“Didn’t what? Didn’t think I should know that the man I love and my packmate had a secret child behind my back? Didn’t think it was IMPORTANT?! You knew all this time and you NEVER-!” She staggered to her feet, rage and pain rising in her voice.
“How was I supposed to tell you?” He stayed quiet, distant from her. “How could I admit to something like that, knowing what it would do to you? I love you too much to-”
“To hurt me? Too late,” she spat. “And then you fucking LIED TO MY FACE!”
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare lie to me again! I saw the look on Annie’s face, when you said that. She knew you were fucking lying too!” She shook her head furiously. “Don’t… don’t lie to me.”
They stood across from each other in the clearing, rain pattering around them. Her fists were clenched, shaking with anger and despair. The cold water whipped at her skin, but she didn’t care that she was naked. She let him see her, vulnerable and weak, see what he had done. His eyes were hollow as he stared at her, body hunched and defeated.
She wanted to fling herself across the clearing and batter him, let out all the rage until there was nothing left and she was empty. She wanted to collapse on the floor again and sob until there were no more tears left to cry. She wanted to turn away and never have to look at him again. She wanted to reach out and have him hold her until all the bad things just… went away.
“I… Jules… please… how can I-”
“You can’t,” she said softly, bitterly. “You just… can’t.”
“I love you. I want to… I have to make it right. Please.”
She stared at him, tears running down her cheeks. “Why her? It could have been anyone, but one of my packmates…?”
“I didn’t know. She didn’t know, not until I saw her wolf form back in my apartment, I made the connection… She wasn’t your packmate then, when it…” He gestured helplessly, running a hand through his hair. “We agreed… Shit, I thought… it was so stupid-”
“Since your apartment, when we…Why would you lie?” She shook her head again. “You should have told me. I… I would have been angry. But I could have understood, if you had trusted me.”
“You…? What?” He stepped towards her without thinking and she held up a hand.
“We weren’t… I thought you were dead. You thought I had tried to… we weren’t together then. Even though you knew I was alive, you still had no reason to think I would want to…” She breathed deeply, voice cracking. “Oh god. If it had been anybody but her… it would be easier. Still tearing me apart inside, but easier. But you couldn’t have known…” She swallowed another sob. “This is so fucking stupid. I guess… that’s why you hid it.”
“Yes,” he whispered. “We knew how much it would hurt. When I realised… I thought it would be the best way to… to… Oh God, Jules, I’m so sorry. I thought if I said it was more recent, it would be less of a blow, that maybe I could… I panicked, Jules. When the kid said those things, and you looked at me and her and I could just… see you doing the math, I panicked.”
She breathed in deeply again, staring up at the grey sky as she tried and failed to compose herself. “It always hurt to know that I couldn’t choose to have a family with you, couldn’t ever… but I’d accepted it. At least I still had you, right? That was enough. And now… every time I see Sura, I’ll see you… know that somebody else got to be the one who had… Annie had…”
“Jules, don’t blame her, she didn’t want to-”
“Of course I don’t blame her!” She shook her head. “How could I possibly blame her, she was just a wolf, she wouldn’t have known – oh god, this is why she’s been so… And I told her I…”
She stared at him for a second, before her face crumpled and she began to sob again. She collapsed in the dirt, shoulders shaking as she buried her face in her hands and cried.
“Jake… it’s… late. I’m…” Her voice was muffled.
His eyes widened in panic and he crossed the distance towards her at a run, crouching down and pulling her hands away. “No! It’s not too late! I promise, I’ll do better. We can work through this Jules, I love you.” He grabbed her face, pulling her closer and kissing her desperately. “I love you so much, I’ll do anything. Don’t say that, don’t-!” He kissed her again.
She clung to him urgently in the rain, responding to his frantic kisses. She felt like she was breaking. Her heart was in agony, tears still dribbling down her face and mixing with the raindrops. Despite it all, she couldn’t not love him, couldn’t not want him. She knew that she should be screaming and ranting and hurting him the way she hurt, repaying the pain tenfold. She knew that if it were anybody else in this moment, she’d be telling them to stop being a fool, turn away and go. But she couldn’t. That wasn’t what love did, the choices a heart made. She kissed him fiercely, hands running over his back and through his wet hair as she clutched at him.
He pulled away, cupping her face, voice choked. “I love you, I… please, don’t… don’t say it’s too late.”
She looked up at him, wet strands of her hair clinging to her face. Gently she reached up and brushed a finger down his cheek over his scar. He stared into her eyes, a mixture of fear and pain and hope in his expression.
I can’t not love you. No matter how much you hurt me, I can’t.
My heart isn’t strong enough to lose you.
She leaned forward and kissed him softly, arms wrapping around him. She knew it was a bad idea, but right now she just needed to feel wanted, to feel loved. She needed to know that he meant it. It was too late now to worry – it probably didn’t matter anyway. He shivered at her touch as she began unbuttoning his shirt.
“Shhh…” She pulled him closer, fingers tracing his mouth. Her caress was tender, questioning. “Don’t speak, just…”
“God, I love you,” he whispered hoarsely.
He leant down to kiss her. She closed her eyes and gave in.
She was falling through stars. It was difficult to describe the feelings that flowed through her and out into the ether – bliss, despair, hope, fear, anger, love, ecstasy, every emotion pulling her every which way until she wasn’t even sure where she began and the world ended. Darkness and light mixed, exploding into colour and fading again, over and over. Her vision was blurred and perfect all at once, filled with… everything – the world around her in the pouring rain as he moved with her, the world beyond beating like a raging heart, pulsing with chaotic force.
She could feel the spirit of the Wyld around her, the one that she was connected to that lived in this ancient Caern. She could feel its power rippling through her, like fire and sound and life. It was as if she was connected to the Caern in the sept again, but more. That had been peace, a sense of healing and belonging, but power that belonged to something else. This was violent, joyful, vibrantly explosive creation in its rawest form, erupting forth from it and her, a part of her still. It consumed her utterly, remaking her over and over.
She could feel him, holding her, loving her until she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. His breath on her skin, his voice in her ear…the idea of ever being without him was unthinkable, a pain that she wasn’t willing to comprehend. He could hurt her more than words could describe, but nothing would compare to that. When he told her that he needed her more than anything, it made her heart sing. When he touched her, everything was right. When he kissed her, there was nothing else.
She could feel the sensations overwhelming her, so much more than ever before. The world was impossibly vibrant and detailed, sharp colours and sparks of life flowing through everything. She could almost count his eyelashes, every bead of sweat on his skin mixed with the rain. It grew brighter and brighter, light flowing from her body and the tree in silvery white ripples and beams. She heard him call out her name as if from a distance, her nails tightening on his back.
When he loved her, she was whole.
She threw back her head with a gasp as the light consumed her.
They lay tangled together at the base of the tree. She rested her head on his chest, staring into the distance as the rain continued to patter around them. It was cold and wet and muddy, but it didn’t matter. Little stars still sparked in and out of her vision.
“What was… that?” he asked, his voice quiet.
“I don’t know.”
He looked behind him at the stump they were resting against. “This… isn’t just a tree, is it?”
“I thought it was strangely hard to get to you. This is a place of Wyld energy, of-” He sat up straighter. “Is this a Caern?”
“Not anymore.” Her voice was quiet, a note of bitterness in it. “This is the tree that the druid was trying to sacrifice me to. I’m still connected to it somehow, even after…”
“This is the Nemeton? And you’re still…? Well, that explains some things. You don’t do anything by halves, huh?” He breathed deeply. “Well, that was probably the trippiest sex I’ve ever had. Shit, I bet anyone within a ten-mile radius felt that. I… think we might have woken something up.”
She sighed. “No, it was already awake. Gaia, today has just been so _awful_… When you came over, I never thought… It’s Christmas.”
“I know. I’m so sorry.”
They sat in silence for a while. Eventually she moved to pull away, but he stopped her. He tilted her head up to look at him.
“Jules… I know that you’re hurting right now. When you hurt, I… It kills me that I can’t just… kiss you and make it all go away. I’m hurting too, seeing what I’ve done and feeling the pain I’ve caused you. I know it’s going to take time for you to forgive me, for us to deal with this and work out what we do now. I don’t think your packmates ever will. But…” He sighed. “This was a stupid accident. It’s not Annie’s fault, it was my idea to keep it from you. I handled this really badly, and I’ll take full blame. If you want to be angry at someone, choose me. I’ll… accept that.”
He kissed her lightly on the forehead. “But we can get through this. It’s not too late, I promise.”
She looked up at him silently.
“Please, say something,” he said softly, his voice faltering.
“I… love you. I…” She paused.
He kissed her gently, gratefully. “I don’t deserve you. I’ll do better, Jules. I love you. I love you so much.”
She stared up at him, her voice quiet with apprehension.
“Jake… I’m late. I’m not sure yet, but…” She swallowed. “I’m late.”