The Battle of Heart and Mind 3.03

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[Wolves Camp | Spiritus 2nd, 2526 | Early Morning]

“I can’t believe I’m the one saying this for once: that’s a terrible idea.”

Lena hummed into her cup of tea. She hated eating breakfast in the dining hall; too crowded, the only reason she’d gone was to talk to Dani. “I can’t stall it much longer, you said it yourself.”

“Yes, but not today.” Dani shook her head, poking her oatmeal with her spoon. “You really want to upset the kid on her birthday? And she starts training tomorrow.”

Lena leaned back in her chair, letting her gaze wander the room, examining the familiar faces, hunched over their bowls of porridge and oats, before falling back on her sister. “We always tell her we’ll talk about things when she’s older. She’s older today and, hey, maybe when we get back there can be, I don’t know, something really nice waiting. Like her favorite cookies and some hot chocolate….”

Dani grinned. “Ah. I see why you need me now.”

Lena rolled her eyes. “The kitchen staff doesn’t like me much after the whole, you know, the raccoon infestation. They’re not going to do me any favors.”

“I can’t believe I covered for you and you won’t tell me how you made that stink bomb.”

“If there’s one thing I learned from that endeavor it’s that some evils should never fall into mortal hands, little sister.”

Dani hummed, poking her oatmeal again. “But you need my help, right?”

Lena raised one eyebrow and inched closer. “Daniela, are you going to risk leaving our baby sister without a birthday party just to blackmail me?”

“When you put it like that it makes me sound like a horrible person.” Dani sighed. “ Damn it. Alright. I’ll talk to the kitchen staff and ask some of the workers to put something together. Just… Go easy on the kid, alright?”

“I’m not going to traumatize her, Dani. Twins!”

Dani shot her a look of pure skepticism.

“I’m not!” Lena chuckled. “You have no faith in me.”

“None whatsoever.”

Lena finished her tea and while setting her cup down, reached out to nudge Dani’s bowl with her index finger. “You should finish that. If it gets cold, it’s only going to taste worse.”

Dani pulled the bowl closer to herself. “Maybe I like it cold, what of it?”

“Cold oats. Delicious.” Lena got up, offering her sister another smirk. “Could use some raisins though.”

Dani glowered. “You get out of my table right now.”

“Raisins are delicious. You have no taste.”

Dani pinched the bridge of her nose. “I can’t believe we’re related.”

“Dani,” Lena laughed softly. “We technically aren’t.”

“Oh.” Dani snorted in amusement. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Underneath her amusement, Lena could see the worry plaguing Dani’s mind. And she understood why. “Hey, kiddo. Remember what we talked about? Spring.”

“It’s still months away.” Dani muttered, but drew a deep breath and took a spoonful of oatmeal. “She’s growing up too fast, is all,” she admitted. “Things are going to change, the world’s going to start looking different and…”

“She’ll be okay. At least she’ll be okay most of the time. And when she isn’t, we’ll be here.” Lena reached out to squeeze Dani’s shoulder. “You’re going to be alright too. And if you’re not…”

“I know.” Dani forced another deep breath and managed a smile. “I know you’ve got me.”

“That’s right.” Lena gave Dani’s shoulder another squeeze and lowered her hand with a sigh. “Alright, I’m going to wake up the birthday girl. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck.” Dani smirked. “You’re gonna need it.”

******

The door to the Alpha’s cabin was unlocked, but there was no one in the office. The bedroom doors were shut and if it weren’t so early, Lena would assume no one was home. Without disrupting the silence, she set her bag down on the chair across from her mother’s and crossed the office, stopping in front of Sarah’s door and slowly cracking it open to peer inside. Gentle snoring filled the room. Sarah lay on her stomach; a mess of blankets draped over her sleeping form, arms and legs sprawled. Through the slivers of sunlight creeping through the gaps in the walls and the partially open door, Lena could see that Sarah’s mess of drawings and art supplies had finally taken up the space Dani used to occupy. 

She entered the room, careful not to step over any drawings, and crouched next to the bed. “Hey, sleepyhead,” she called, her tone gentle, “time to wake up.” Sarah didn’t move, or open her eyes, but Lena could tell she’d heard from the small frown creasing her forehead. She sighed, reaching out to stroke her sister’s messy hair. “Come on, Sarah.”

Sarah opened one eye, inhaling sharply, and peered at Lena from behind a curtain of brown locks. “No.”

Lena chuckled, brushing the hair away from Sarah’s face in order to get a better look at her. “It’s your birthday, squirt. You only have one day to enjoy it. We should get an early start.”

“Why?”

Curiosity was already overcoming the ten-year-old’s stubbornness. Lena smiled. “I asked Dani to try and charm the kitchen staff, so we’ll see what she can do, and I have a gift for you, but first I’d like to take you somewhere. It’s a bit of a walk, so you should get up and get ready, okay?”

Sarah groaned, but relented. She sat and rubbed her eyes, mumbling, “go wait outside. I can get ready on my own, thanks.”

Lena held back a chuckle. “Alright.” She stepped out of the room and closed it, raising her voice to make herself heard through it. “I brought you a sweet roll for breakfast. It’s not very healthy, but I’m hoping mom will excuse me spoiling you today.”

“Just today?” Sarah teased.

“Oh, I’m sorry, are you implying I spoil you too much? Because if that’s the case, maybe I should fix that.”

“I wasn’t implying that. Not at all!” Sarah said a little too eagerly. The girl was silent for a couple of minutes, then opened the door. Considering her unwillingness to wake up, Sarah made quick work of getting ready. Yet, all the buttons on her jacket were fastened correctly and her boots were neatly laced as though she hadn’t rushed. Even her hair; previously messy and sticking out in every direction, was perfectly untangled and smooth, loosely bound in a ponytail. “So, where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” Lena smiled, offering the promised breakfast roll. “Breakfast first.”

“You’re stalling, Lena.” Sarah took the sweet roll and bit into it, letting the accusation hang in the air while she chewed.

“Maybe a little,” Lena admitted. “Do you remember asking me some things a while back?”

“I ask you a lot of things. You’ll have to be more specific.”

“You asked me about Lucille, remember? You also asked about where my birth mother is buried.”

Sarah hummed, taking another bite. “And you’re telling me today?”

“If you still want to know. Yes.”

Sarah frowned, chewing on the rest of her roll slowly as she pondered the question. Once she finished the last bite she nodded. “Yeah. I do. Is that where we’re going then? Her grave?”

“If you’re comfortable with that, yes.”

Sarah wiped the crumbs from her fingers and started towards the cabin door. “Sure. Let’s go.”

******

“Sarah, don’t run across the bridge, it’s slippery.” Lena warned. Their walk down the path leading to the graveyard was silent. Sarah continuously ran ahead and if Lena wanted to say anything to her, she’d have to shout so she took the opportunity to just watch her sister instead. The girl’s eagerness to reach their destination spoke volumes on the fact she’d never suffered the type of loss that would make that walk dreadful. That would make her hesitate—stall—the same way Lena had when faced with the prospect of being there.

“It’s not.” Sarah argued, but stopped to wait for her anyway. As soon as Lena caught up to her Sarah looked up and then back to the snow-covered bridge. “See? No ice. It’s perfectly fine.”

“Suppose you’re right,” Lena admitted. “Still, no more running from this point on. Be respectful.”

Sarah crossed the bridge, step after cautious step, and hopped onto the frozen earth on the other side. Then turned to face Lena as her sister crossed as well, walking backwards to match her pace. “So, I was right. And if I was right, that would make you…?”

Lena snorted. “You can still slip even if there’s no ice.”

“Possible but unlikely.” Sarah grinned.

“Alright, you brat. I was wrong. Are you happy?”

If Sarah tried to hide her satisfaction, she’d failed miserably. The girl was smiling ear to ear. “Dani’s right, you really do hate saying it.”

Lena shook her head, unable to hold back a smile. She did hate being wrong and she hated admitting it even more, but she also didn’t know how to stay mad at her sisters; Sarah in particular. Even when she went out of their way to provoke her. “Does anyone enjoy being wrong, really? she asked.

As they proceeded down the path Sarah continued to walk backwards, her attention fully on Lena. “Not everyone cares as much as you do. It’s normal to make mistakes, isn’t it? And Dani says you, uhm…” she paused, trying to remember exact words, “…you hold yourself to impossibly high standards and that she worries about you.”

“Does she, now?” Lena smiled. “Has she ever said you are incapable of keeping secrets, Sarah Jane?”

Sarah glared—much like Dani would when addressed by her full name. “Don’t middle name me, Helena,” she complained. “And yes, actually, she has.”

“Mhm. Thought so.” They’d reached the edge of the graveyard now and Lena could see the first line of graves were fast approaching. “Do you worry about me?”

“Sometimes. You always—” Sarah yelped as her left foot caught one of the graves and she lost balance, falling backwards on her butt. “Ow!”

Lena held back the laughter bubbling in her chest and rushed over to offer a helping hand. “That’s what happens when you don’t watch where you’re going, squirt.”

“You could have warned me!” Sarah muttered, angrily accepting the offered hand pulling herself up.

“And you would have ignored me.” Lena pulled the angry girl in and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, continuing to lead her down the path. “You can’t ignore consequences, though, can you?”

“I can’t believe you’re giving me consequences on my birthday. I feel betrayed.”

Lena couldn’t hold back laughter this time. “You are so dramatic, Twins. It was just a little tumble.”

Sarah glared at her. “Betrayal.”

Lena’s laughter softened, and as they ventured deeper into the burial grounds, it faded altogether. The graveyard wasn’t as lovely in winter as it was the rest of the year. The trees that bordered the clearing were bare, the previously green fields of grass were now dull, brittle, tufts of grey peering out from a thick mantle of white. The snow from Creation Day still covered the headstones and paths. For a moment, Dani’s thoughts on the winter season rang truer than ever. Everything’s dead. She didn’t come here every year like her sister. It had been six years since she’d last visited—on a whim, after a particularly rough bout of nightmares. Still, she knew the way as if no time had passed. Sarah had fallen silent as well, her hand now clinging to Lena’s as though she worried she might get lost. “Are you alright, squirt?”

“Yeah. This place is just kind of… Eerie.

“A little, yes.” Lena took a deep breath, puffing out a cloud of condensation. “Most people don’t come here in winter. It’s much nicer when it’s green. The last I’ve been, it was fall.”

Lucille’s grave was at the edge of the graveyard, it sat solitary under the white covered branches of a weeping willow. Apart from the rest of the clan, but still a nice spot. Particularly lovely in springtime. They stopped right underneath the tree and Lena let go of her sister in order to walk closer to the grave. She crouched down to wipe the snow from the stone, revealing the name underneath: Lucille Edison. “There. Here she is.”

Sarah hesitated, but walked closer as well. Lena didn’t turn to look, but she could hear her recite the name under her breath, fall silent, then quietly gasp. “She was your mom! That’s why no one wanted to talk about her!”

Lena managed a wry smile. “Lucille is—always was—a bit of a controversial topic. When I was your age no one wanted to tell me about her either.”

“Dad said I shouldn’t ask mom, that it’d upset her. He said she had to,” Sarah hesitated, and in the end the proper word didn’t come out, “that she had to enforce the clan’s laws. Like Eddie.”

“Not exactly like Eddie. Not as public as Eddie. Lucille left and never came back. She’s not really buried here, this is just a stone.” Lena sat on the snow, shoulders dropping. “She’s buried in the plains. In Rosefeld. That’s where she died. I think mom never brought her back because she needed to just end it. It was too painful.”

Again, Sarah hesitated, then sat beside Lena. “What did she do?”

“Her first crime was to become romantically involved with her target, and then try to disappear. Mom sent Actives to find her. She wanted her to come back, expected to be able to talk the situation through, but when someone eventually found her, she fought them. Killed them. That was the worst crime she could possibly have committed against the Wolfpack. You don’t, you can’t, get away with killing another Wolf. There could be no talking after that. She was good though. It took over a year for the clan to finally track her down and mom wasn’t going to risk sending another Active, wasn’t going to risk her getting away again, so she went after her and enacted punishment where she found her.”

Sarah fell silent and even though Lena kept her gaze fixed on the gravestone, she could feel her sister’s eyes on her. Finally, another question: “Was that where she found you?”

“Yes. That’s exactly where mom found me. She couldn’t bring her, but she brought me back instead. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, but… Nothing about that situation was easy on anyone involved.”

Sarah answered with a soft hum and more silence; a lengthier silence, then moved from her spot on the ground to curl up in Lena’s lap. Something she hadn’t done once in the past two years, deciding on her eighth birthday she was too old to be coddled.

“Is the ground too cold for you?” Lena quipped, not wanting to directly call her sister out on her behavior.

“Freezing.” Sarah’s tone, unamused, as though she expected Lena to know she was lying. “Do you know what she looked like? Do you look like her?”

Lena frowned and for the first time, looked away from the grave to meet Sarah’s eyes. Her sister was watching her curiously, as if trying to imagine exactly where she’d come from and how. “I saw her in mom’s memories once. And yes, I do look like her in a lot of ways. More so now. She was around my age when she died.” She sighed. “There were times, when I was younger, when I thought I could remember her voice, but… If I did, I probably lost it.”

“I thought you didn’t forget things.”

“No one remembers being ten months old that clearly. Not even me.”

“You always hide it.” Sarah muttered, resting her head on Lena’s shoulder, no longer watching for her reaction. “That’s what I was going to say, you know, before you let me trip and fall, you traitor.”

Lena snorted a laugh. “I always hide what?”

“When you’re sad, or hurt, or something’s wrong. You always, always, hide it. And you’re usually way too good at hiding it. That’s why I worry about you. Because if you’re that good at hiding it how’s anyone going to help you ever?”

“You’re too smart for your own sake, you know that?” Lena said, resting her head against Sarah’s. “I’ll ask for help when I need it, I’d just rather be the one to decide when I need it. Instead of other people doing it for me because I look upset.”

“You can’t always know when you need help, stupid.”

It took a moment, but eventually the scolding sunk in, and Lena was forced to admit, for the second time, that the ten-year-old was right. “I know. I promise I’ll try not to hide it as much if you promise not to worry. How’s that?”

“Are you upset now?” Sarah asked. Her tone was almost accusatory.

“Coming here is always a little sad. It used to upset me a lot, but time passes and feelings change. So now it’s just that; a little sad.”

Sarah nodded and fell into thoughtful silence again, before mumbling. “Dani’s been sad too.”

“Dani is just dealing with something right now. It might take a little time, but she’ll come around, I promise.”

Sarah picked her head up to once again look at Lena. “Were you this upset after your first contract?”

“I was, yeah.” Lena smirked. “I was just a lot better at hiding it.” When Sarah frowned she chuckled. “It’s just a big scary change, Sarah. Dani isn’t exactly sad, it’s just a lot to think about at once, and it’s never easy, but she’ll figure it out.” It was her turn to watch her sister’s expression more carefully now. Sarah’s frown hadn’t faded, there was something worrying her beyond Dani’s upset. “Are you worried about training?”

“Maybe. It’s…” Sarah’s smile was weak. “It’s a change.” Lena raised an eyebrow in question and she groaned. “I just… I hated tutoring. Dahlia hated me. I hate Dahlia. I’m just worried about getting an Instructor. What if they hate me? What if it’s Eldric’s dad?”

Lena laughed a little too loud and had to make an effort to contain herself. “Sarah, mom isn’t going to pull names out of a hat!” She let another soft chuckle slip. “And she would never, in a million years, assign Reuben Fletcher to handle a child’s basic training; even less her child.”

“Who do you think, then?”

Lena hummed. There were four Instructors who were available to take on a new Recruit, but this was Sarah. And Lena knew her mother well. “It’s going to be either me or Emmett.” She hadn’t thought about it until just then. Her mother had threatened her with a new Recruit a few times since Dani’s graduation, but hadn’t assigned her anyone yet. “I hope it’s not me.”

“Why not?” Sarah didn’t even try disguising a note of hurt. “You trained Dani.”

“I did. And she didn’t exactly love me for it most of the time.” Lena sighed. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it if that’s what mom decides. Just that it’s a change.”

“Is Emmett nicer?”

“Than me? Absolutely. Don’t think that means you’d have it easy, though. He’s a lot more competent than he makes himself seem.” Lena couldn’t help another laugh as Sarah mulled over the information with another concerned frown. “Hey, squirt, do you want your present now?”

“It’s a book, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but not quite.” Lena gave Sarah a gentle poke. “It’s in my bag and you’re crushing it. You’ll have to brave the snow for a second so I can get it.”

Sarah nodded and moved back to her spot on the ground. “Is it smushed?”

“No, it’s fine.” Lena reached into the bag and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in cloth and decorated with a ribbon. “It’s not the most impressive thing you can get, but I think it’ll be good for you. Considering all the changes about to happen.”

Sarah took the wrapped gift off Lena’s hands and set it down on her lap, carefully undoing the ribbon and unraveling the layers of cloth. Within, as predicted, was a book bound in dark brown leather. It was small and unremarkable. The cover was unadorned and bare, void of even a simple inscription. She pried it open carefully, almost as if afraid to cause a single crease, and skimmed the empty pages. “It’s a journal.”

“Very observant.”

Sarah smiled. “It’s so pretty and new.”

“You’ve never seen a freshly bound book, huh?”

Sarah shook her head. “All our books are pretty old and worn.”

“I’m sure this one will be too one day.”

“What should I write on it? What do people write in journals?” Sarah asked, closing the book as carefully as she opened it.

“Whatever you want. You can write stories, or you can talk about your day, you can write about things you want to remember forever, or even things you want to forget.” Lena stood up and held out her hand. “Come on, I’m sure we’ve been gone long enough for Dani to work her magic.”

Sarah jumped to her feet with renewed enthusiasm. “I’ll race you there!”

Lena chuckled, grabbing her sister by the shoulder before she could run ahead. “Nah-ah. What did I tell you? Be respectful.”

Sarah let her shoulders drop, the excitement dwindling momentarily before she looked up at Lena with a smile. “From the bridge, then?”

“You know you’re going to lose, right?”

Sarah raised one eyebrow. “You don’t know that.”

Lena held back another bout of laughter. The defiance in her sister’s expression was like staring at herself in the mirror. “I’m objectively faster than you.”

Sarah’s expression set. “I’m about to prove you wrong for the second time today.”

“Third,” Lena admitted. She shook her head when Sarah shot her a questioning look and calmly led the way back to the bridge, “but we’ll see about that.”

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