Home for the holidays

“You’ll be fine. Stop fidgeting.”

“Easy for you to say,” Seb groused, twisting the end of his braid around his fingers. He leant his head against the window, glaring at nothing in particular. “Nobody’s likely to tell you you’re too city.”

Viola rolled her eyes, barely resisting the urge to kick her twin (gently) in the shins. “It’s not like you suddenly turned into a bloody furless, Seb. You’re as much a part of the clan as anyone. We both are.”

“Even though we were born in Sacaan proper?” He pulled a face. “You know what they say about-”

“I do. And if they try anything, I’ll break their sodding noses.” She grimaced. Seb was supposed to be the solid rock – the anchor to her storm, the unchanging point at the centre of the compass – and yet, every year, when it came to the journey back to the Spring Fair, she found herself suddenly thrown into the role of older sibling and hating every second of it. “You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone, Seb. Least of all a gang of wet-behind-the-ears puppies who wouldn’t know a good idea if it jumped up and bit them in the face.”

“And yet every year I find myself having to. If Mother and Father were still here…”

“Then everything’d be different, I know.” The train rattled around a sweeping curve of the track, following the river out of the forest and into the wider open spaces of the caldera proper, and she sat up straighter in her seat, the phantom taste of the wind already catching in her throat. “C’mon. We’ll go talk to them at the spirit house when we get to Grandmother’s, how’s that?”

Seb smiled, though the expression looked shakier than Viola’d have liked. “Sounds like a plan. Are you going to tell them about the latest developments in your lovelife, or would you like me to do the honours?” 

Viola felt the skin of her cheeks start to burn. She’d managed to distract him, at least, which was something, but… “Could we just… not? You know Granmamma’s going to ask me about it anyhow.”

Her brother raised an unrepentant eyebrow. “Best to get the practice in early, then.”

“Rat. You know the only reason you’re not getting it nearly as bad is she thinks you’re not interested in anyone.”

“And maybe she’s right. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right person. I don’t know.”

“You realise if you do find someone I reserve the right to tease you abso-bloody-lutely mercilessly about them, right?”

He actually laughed, which was a good sign. “I know, sister of mine. I know. And when you find the girl you’re actually going to end up settling down with, I get another sister to tease. I call that even.”

“Who says I’m looking to settle down?” Viola fired back, though there was barely any heat in it. She couldn’t be annoyed at the moment – not with the moon glinting off the water and the clouds scudding across the sky and the whole wide span of the steppe racing towards them as though it could hardly contain its excitement to welcome them back. “Maybe I’ll just spend the rest of my life with a different girl in my bed every couple of months.” She grinned. “Or me in theirs. I’m not picky.”

“As long as they all know what they’re getting into, I suppose.”

She snorted. “Not everyone’s as serious-minded as you, Seb. There’re girls aplenty who’re just after a roll in the furs and someone to share kisses with for a few weeks.”

Spirits and ancestors, but he actually looked mildly appalled at that. Oh brother of mine. You’ll never understand me, and I’ll never understand you, and I’m bloody glad we’ve agreed that we’re better off not trying. 

“Station soon,” he said, after a brief moment. “You’ve got your things?”

“Under the seat. Yours?”

“Same. Do you think anyone’ll be there to meet us?”

Viola frowned, considering the question. There’d always been someone from the clan at the station when they’d come up as cubs, but now they were old enough to make their own way to the campsite it wasn’t a given – if there were cubs to be watched and meals to be prepared, there’d likely not be anyone spared to come meet them. “Don’t know. If there’s not… race you to the main fire?”

“Two legs or four?”

“I’m not even dignifying that with a response.”

“Easier to carry the bags on two.”

“Easier to do everything else on four. And you can’t tell me you’re not itching to get out there and run.”

“If I did, I’d be a liar.” He stood up, hooking the strap of his duffel and slinging it across his shoulders in one smooth motion as he did so. “Ready?”

“And here I was thinking I’d be the one asking that.” The single lamp-post marking the station swung into view as they rounded another curve, golden light pooling around its base. “Looks like we’re on our own. Unless-” She pressed her nose against the glass, cupping her hands around the sides of her face to shield out the light from the interior of the carriage. “No, wait. There’s someone by the lamp. Can’t make them out at this distance, but-”

But the train was slowing already (and how it knew to do that was a mystery the brightest minds at the University had yet to unravel), and the figure by the lamp-post was briefly forgotten in the whirl of grabbing bags and running for the door – while the trains did stop at the stations, they didn’t always stop for long. 

They were the only two passengers getting off at this stop – unsurprising, given ‘this stop’ was a lamp-post and a bench in what was otherwise the middle of nowhere – and, when they’d tumbled off the train and landed, laughing, in a heap on the cold, wet grass, Viola was hardly shocked to see that the figure she’d noticed from the train was walking towards them.

When the figure in question stopped a few feet away and pushed back the hood of their coat, however- 

“Granmamma! What in the name of my favourite ancestors are you doing here?”

The elder werewolf rolled her eyes (as piercing blue as Seb and Viola’s own) and stomped across to the pair of them, pulling Viola upright and folding her into a tight hug. “Am I not allowed to come meet my grandchildren, hm?” 

“That’s not- I mean- I thought you’d be busy!” Viola spluttered. 

“Bah. Busy nothing,” Granmamma snapped. She pushed Viola away, not unkindly, and grabbed hold of Seb’s arm, yanking him off-balance and into an equally tight embrace. “And as for you, youngster, you can dress yourself up in all the city finery you like, you’ll still smell of the steppe before anything else.”

“I-” Seb began, looking down self-consciously at his waistcoat. 

“I trust the pair of you were clever enough to bring bags you can carry four-legged?” And, before either of them could get a word in edgeways, she added “And don’t you mind my coat. Your uncle made it for me, and it folds down small as you like.” 

“I- That is-” 

“We did, Granmamma,” Viola said, already shrugging out of her clothes. Even if werewolf culture hadn’t had more than a few things to say on the subject of arguing with your elders, Granmamma was something closer to a force of nature. As well try to exchange words with a hurricane or a blizzard than try to change her mind. 

“Excellent,” the elder werewolf said. She smiled, showing her fangs. “Race you to the fire, then.”

Copyright © 2021 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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