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Apr 08

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Mate for Life

Summary:

Years after the war between humans and canidae, and after years of traveling eastern Europe in pursuit of monsters, Johanna Brion and Agatha Westreich have finally settled down to a quiet, normal life.

Author’s note: This may be the final Johanna and Agatha story chronologically. There is still a chance I could go back and cover some of their monster-hunting or their first days on the road. I’m not closing the book on them entirely. But this story was requested by a very dear friend of mine, and I couldn’t resist exploring how these two ended up.

There was a time when Johanna Brion stood on a battlefield dyed red with blood, running her sword through people who intended to kill her and those she loved. Her arm had felt the pressure of dead weight falling against the hilt of her sword, the sudden stop of forward movement as her blade was buried in the guts of a person who was no longer alive. She had felt warm blood spray across her face as it was freed from someone’s veins.

She should be capable of striking fear into a stubborn child refusing to eat her dinner.

Delphine remained unmoved, arms crossed over her chest, glaring at her mother with a look more fiercely determined than Johanna had ever seen during the wars. Her tiny brow was knit together over the bridge of her nose. Her lips were pushed out. Even the blonde curls tied back with silk ribbons seemed to rise and fall with the force of her refusal. Johanna returned the glare with equal measure, but she couldn’t quite hold the expression before the corners of her mouth tilted up in a smile.

“Aggie,” she said, “your daughter is being a stubborn cow.”

The girl stuck her tongue out.

Johanna Brion, the woman who had disguised herself as a man to fight a war, the general who had fought a combined army of wulf and sapien, stuck her tongue out as well.

Agatha Westreich came in front outside. She blocked the sun as she stepped over the threshold and the sun caught in her hair. Agatha had the same golden curls as their daughter, and the light enflamed it with life as she gave Delphine a reproachful look. “Petit chou,” she scolded, “you have to be a good girl for your mama. Are you giving her a hard time?”

Delphine yapped, dropping her hands to grip the arms of her chair. She barked again, and Agatha aimed a finger at the two-year-old’s face.

“No! What have we told you? Speak properly. Speak French. You are a little girl.” She picked up the bowl Johanna had abandoned. “And little girls need their porridge. Mama cooked this up special for you. She woke up very early in the morning so you would have it to eat. Mama did it because she loves you very much. And she won’t stop just because you’re stubborn. But maybe just have a little, okay? For her. To show her how much you care.”

Delphine hesitated, then took the spoon Agatha offered her. She rolled it around in her mouth with her tongue and relaxed against the back of her seat.

“And what do we say to Mama? In French, please.”

“Thank you, Mama,” Delphine said softly.

Johanna leaned across the table and kissed Delphine’s curls. “You are very welcome, my stubborn petit chien.”

Agatha put the bowl down on the table and looked into the girl’s eyes. “Will you be a good girl and finish eating for Mama?”

“Yes, Mutter.”

“Good girl.”

Johanna said, “I think I can handle her for now.”

Agatha bent down and nuzzled Johanna’s cheek before moving to kiss her lips. “I’m almost done with the firewood. Let me know if she gives you any more trouble.”

“She’s your child,” Johanna said. “Trouble is her heritage.”

Agatha snapped her teeth at Johanna’s ear, aimed a warning finger at Delphine, and went back outside. Johanna picked up the bowl and scooped another bit of porridge onto the spoon. She held it out and watched Delphine’s face as the girl debated whether or not to take it.

“Come on. Do it for Mutter.”

That did it. Delphine opened her mouth and allowed Johanna to feed her another bite. She didn’t know when she’d gone from the warrior lying so she could serve in the army to being content with a quiet home life. Maybe it was all the friends she’d seen die, or all the times Agatha had been on death’s door. When she joined the army she had nothing to lose. Falling in love with Agatha changed that. She would risk her own life, but each time Agatha risked hers was like a needle in her heart. And risking her own life was no longer appealing, for she couldn’t imagine ever leaving Agatha behind like that.

She agonized for nearly three years as they fought their way through the Prussian countryside. A book of fables was their guide. A pair of brothers had written the stories as a way to inform without drawing undue attention to the truth of the world. Those with eyes to see had understood what the book was. The tensions between wulf and sapien were eased by Johanna’s marriage to Agatha, so the soldier in her had to find someone else to fight. The fairy-book monsters were as good a target as any, she thought.

Everything changed the night they encountered a pack of canidae trekking across the country to warmer climes. They wanted to see the oceans, feel the water on their paws, and the sun on their faces. Johanna and Agatha joined their camp for the night. Wine was consumed, and soon inhibitions were lowered enough for the conversation to turn to sex. One of the men asked if Johanna and Agatha were truly lovers; none of them had ever heard of a human of either gender having a relationship with a wolf.

Johanna was fuzzy on the details, but she remembered clearly leaning back on her elbows as Agatha crawled over her in wolf form. She could close her eyes and see the pack sitting around the fire watching with rapt attention as Agatha fitted her muzzle between Johanna’s thighs and began lapping at her with the long flat of her tongue. At some point she had gestured for one of the men to mount Agatha from behind, and soon the entire pack was naked and squirming on the ground. Some transformed while others remained “in their skins.” Johanna fucked a majority of them, straddling one man while a woman with unbelievably red hair sucked her breasts. She watched as Agatha was fucked by another canidae, a gorgeous male with a grey-and-brown pelt.

When a male canidae came in Johanna’s mouth, she spit the resulting fluids into the fire. When one of them accidentally spent himself inside of her, she directed another canidae to lick her clean. Agatha did the same, but the method was far from foolproof. In the morning the pack continued on to their tropical destination, while Johanna and Agatha continued their quest.

It was a few weeks before they were aware of the night’s consequences, and months before a doctor confirmed what they both knew was true: Agatha was pregnant. They received the news during a spring rainstorm, and they walked through the woods to sit on the banks of a flooded creek to discuss their options. Johanna knew wulves had lost a great number of their population during Simon’s war. Agatha’s pack needed more members born into it. But a child…

“We would have to stop fighting,” Agatha said. “We would have to stop… period. Settle down in a home. A child needs stability.”

Johanna nodded.

“I could return to my pack. If you prefer to continue without me, I’d…”

Johanna grabbed Agatha’s hand. “No. I will go back with you, if that’s where you want to be. Or we will find a place to make our home. You are my wife. You are my mate.” She put her hand on Agatha’s stomach. “And this is our child.”

Agatha said, “It will be a canidae. I’m uncertain who fathered it, but there is no doubt that the product of that night will be a canidae.

“And it may be a boy. It may have freckles. Why are we discussing this so early?” She touched her finger to Agatha’s chin, forcing her to look up. “I know with one hundred percent certainty that it will be our child. That is all that I need to know, my darling.”

“I love you, Johanna.”

Johanna smiled and pressed her lips to the corners of Agatha’s mouth. “Do you want to go home to your pack?”

“For the birth and the care afterward. But then I want to find a home for us. For all of us.” She kissed Johanna’s hand. “We will be a new pack.”

“Can I be in your pack if even I’m not a canidae?”

“I have seen you fight, Johanna Brion. You are a wolf in spirit.” They kissed and held each other as the water until the rain started falling again. Johanna put her cloak around Agatha’s shoulders and drew the hood up over her hair. Agatha glared at her.

“You will not treat me as a fragile thing, Johanna. I am with child, but I am not going to shatter.”

“No. But you are precious.”

Agatha rolled her eyes and reached out for her wife’s hand.

Delphine finished her meal and gave her mother a furious look, one that seemed to say ‘are you happy now?’ Johanna bent down and kissed the girl’s forehead and cheeks until the stubborn little wolf was squirming and laughing. Johanna laughed in victory and captured her daughter’s hands. Delphine wrapped her hands around her mother’s thumbs and squeezed. Johanna knew the little girl was more attached to Agatha. Yes, Agatha had actually given birth to her, but they also shared a heritage. They were both wulves, and Johanna was an outsider. Agatha never made her feel like one, but Delphine didn’t know any better.

Delphine was still just a baby and had never transformed, but the enhanced senses were there. She could smell that Johanna was different, and it made her wary. The only thing she could do was show the girl love and devotion during her formative years and hope it stuck. She was already dreading the day Delphine transformed for the first time and she could run through the woods with her Mutter. Johanna would be left alone in the house, waiting and worrying about what they might run into.

This was her life now, she thought as she cleaned out the bowl with a towel. The woman who waited at home. The worrier. She looked at the palm of her hand, remembering how Dorothea had felt when she wielded it against her enemies. Her fingernails caked in mud, the lines of her palms traced with crusty black blood. Some of the blood hers, most of it someone else’s. And now she had a bit of porridge stuck to her little finger. She popped it into her mouth and left the bowl to be cleaned properly later.

“Mama!”

When her back had been turned, Delphine had somehow managed to hurt herself. Her face was red and had collapsed in on itself in anticipation of an epic sob. Johanna crossed the kitchen in a single bound and gathered her daughter up, checked for visible signs of injuries, then cradled her to her chest.

“What is it, baby? What’s wrong?”

Between sobs, she deduced that Delphine had been kicking her feet and bumped the heel of one foot against the leg of the chair. She cooed and cupped the back of her daughter’s head, guiding her to the divan in the far corner of the room. She put her down and brought Delphine’s foot up, giving it a tender kiss where it had been hurt. When the tears were no longer imminent, she tickled the other foot with her fingernails and turned the tearful expression into a smile.

Johanna kissed Delphine’s heel again and gathered the girl back into her arms. Her battles might not be quite as bloody, but they were just as vital to win. She kissed Delphine’s cotton-soft curls and danced with her, hoping to make her forget the momentary pain. It was also the only battle she still considered worth fighting.

She carried Delphine to the window and looked outside, whispering for the girl to look outside. Agatha was finishing with the wood, stacking the last few pieces in the sling so she could move it closer to the house. She was nude, as she often was. Nudity was a big part of canidae culture, as it meant they could shift back and forth without worrying about their clothes. Johanna continued to hum to Delphine as she watched her wife move across the lawn. Her skin was tanned from being exposed to the sun so much, the muscles tight and moving like waves as she strode from the chopping block to the woodpile. Her scars stood out against the tan, a map of damage from wars and other skirmishes. Johanna knew how each one felt under her hand, and just seeing the marks reminded her of tracing them. Agatha was a true wild woman, a beast in every sense of the word.

“See Mutter?” she asked the girl. Delphine turned to look out the window and lifted her hand in a wide wave. Johanna knocked on the glass and Agatha turned to look at them. She smiled and blew them both kisses.

Johanna grinned and took Delphine’s hand. “She’s ours, ma petit chien. All ours.”

Delphine turned and put her face against Johanna’s neck, and Johanna smiled as she watched Agatha finish with the wood.

 

#

 

They made love quietly now, out of necessity. Gone were the days of sudden and primal couplings outside under the stars. They still occasionally went into the woods around their home for sexual liaisons, but for the most part they remained in bed. Johanna had built the bed with her own hands, and she’d designed it with their lovemaking in mind. Their room was by necessity right next to Delphine’s and, also by necessity, sound traveled very well between the two. Johanna was comforted by the fact they would be able to hear Delphine if she called for them in the night, but she missed hearing Agatha’s growl-filled dirty talk.

Most nights were simple affairs, the two of them huddled under the blankets and staring into each other’s eyes as they used fingers and strategic leg placement to get off. Johanna was on top at the moment, her hands tightly grasping the struts of their headboard. Agatha had her hands on Johanna’s forearms, moving up toward her shoulders and tightening her grip as her orgasm neared. She bit her bottom lip and pressed the back of her head into the mattress, rising up to meet Johanna. Johanna moved her mouth next to Agatha’s ear and whispered French words of adoration to her until her wife’s body went slack in her arms.

Johanna relaxed in Agatha’s arms and breathed the scent of her sweat. Agatha smoothed her hand down the center of Johanna’s back, then dragged her fingernails back up. Agatha’s skin felt like it rippled in the wake of Agatha’s scratches, and she turned her head to affix her lips to the other woman’s neck. She ran her tongue over the smooth skin and then chuckled.

“What?” Agatha whispered.

“I was thinking of the first time we met.”

Agatha laughed and moved her hand into Johanna’s hair. “Oh, how I hated you… how I wanted you dead.” She pulled up until she could see Johanna’s face. “I don’t easily admit I was wrong. But oh, how wrong I was my love. I am so glad I did not kill you.”

“Well. I did not let you kill me.”

Agatha tightened her grip on Johanna’s hair. “‘Let me’?”

Johanna grinned evilly. “Fine. We both chose not to kill each other at the exact moment, while both fighting in a sub-par manner because we were both already madly in love with one another from the moment we shared space.”

Agatha released her grip and brushed a hair out of Johanna’s face. “Believable. Because I look at you and cannot imagine a time I did not love this face or crave your voice.”

“My canidae,” Johanna whispered as she brushed her lips over Agatha’s. “I want my canidae’s tongue inside of me…”

“Then say it.”

“Change, my love.”

Agatha slid her hands over Johanna’s skin again, smearing sweat over the flesh as her body began twisting and reforming underneath her. Johanna pushed herself up and watched as Agatha twisted and changed into her bestial form. Johanna ran her hands over the thick fur seconds after it burst forth from her pelt, grabbing handfuls of it and then bending down to bury her face in the silky smooth coat. She moved onto her side, and Agatha rearranged her position to nuzzle between Johanna’s thighs. Johanna cursed under her breath as Agatha dragged her tongue up…

And Delphine shouted, “Mutter! Mutter!”

Agatha’s head shot up, her ears rising at the sound of her child in distress. Johanna grabbed the sheet that had nearly fallen off the bed and wrapped it around her. There was joy in their nudity, but she didn’t want to cradle a frightened child against a sweaty, clammy bosom. Agatha whined, and Johanna cupped her face as she hurried out of the room. Changing back to human form so rapidly after becoming the wolf could cause pain and disorientation, but Johanna could tell she was willing to risk it.

“I’ve got her, darling. It’s fine.”

She swept into Delphine’s room to find the little girl sitting up in her bed, her face scrunched up and on the verge of eruption. “Mama’s here, sweet girl. I’m here.” She took Delphine into her arms and hauled her up. “It’s okay, my sweet thing. It’s okay.” Delphine squirmed as if to get away, but Johanna’s grip on her was too strong. She shushed Delphine and walked her to the chair in the corner. Agatha had made the chair, and its legs were bumpy and uneven. The back was lopsided as well. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but a few clothes folded on the seat and draped over the back made it tolerable. Johanna thought it was the most beautiful piece of furniture they owned.

She sat and settled Delphine in her lap, stroking her sleep-tangled hair as she whispered assurances to her. The girl retreated from the cusp of sobbing and settled against Johanna’s side. Agatha padded into the room and settled next to the chair with her head on Johanna’s thigh. Johanna smiled down at her as she continued to rock Delphine, calming her back to sleep.

Johanna looked down at Agatha’s lupine head, her dark eyes focused on the baby. Their trek back to the rest of the Westreich pack had been long and arduous. Her belly grew with each passing day, and the canidae side of her went to sleep. She explained it was some biological quirk to protect the fetus; such a drastic change in its environment could cause damage to the developing child. Although the physical need to change was gone, Agatha was more irritable and grumpy. She had never gone more than five days without changing. By the fifth month in her sapien form she was scratching at her arms with her fingernails, gnashing her teeth, and snapping at anyone who tried to touch her.

In the end, as always, it was Johanna who helped her adjust. She massaged Agatha’s arms and legs every time they stopped for a rest. She washed her hair and worked the kinks out of her shoulders. And when they camped for the night, she spent hours exploring all the marvelous curves to show Agatha just how appealing she found her human form.

When they reached Agatha’s pack, Agatha was days away from going into labor. The wulves knew of a nunnery where they could get help, and a nun named Delphina helped bring their daughter into the world. Johanna had watched in awe as the tiny wailing creature was delivered into Agatha’s arms, and she wondered at how she could so instantly feel such a strong love for it. She didn’t even know if it was a son or daughter before she knew it was the most precious thing in her life. She knew she would do anything for the child.

Now the baby’s breathing had slowed enough to indicate she was asleep, so she carefully rose and returned her to the thick padding of her bed. Agatha nuzzled Delphine’s hand, licked her fingers, and then followed Johanna out of the room. They returned to bed, with Agatha curling up and Johanna spooning the canidae. Neither of them were in the mood to continue with their lovemaking, but neither were they disappointed by the loss.

Johanna rested her head on Agatha’s neck, her hand ruffling the fur on her wife’s chest and stomach. She listened to the deep breaths of the canidae in her arms as they both drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

 

#

 

The forest came alive in spring, with fresh vegetation bursting out all over their homestead. Agatha had her work cut out for her keeping it from overtaking the home. When Delphine was old enough, she was enlisted to help with cutting the grass. Johanna would make the three mile trek to the nearest village for whatever supplies they needed that month.

On one of these trips when Delphine was six, she happened to be in the general store at the same time as a stranger. He carried himself like a soldier, but he was dressed like a man ready for a hunt. Agatha needed rags, so Johanna was in that section most avoided by men, out of sight and unseen by the stranger as he approached Karl behind the counter. The stranger said he was looking for ‘two women, or a woman and a dog, and they may be living with a child.’ Karl pretended to think about it for a while before he decided he didn’t know anyone like that. Although, of course, there were a couple of women living out in the woods. He gave directions for a rough path that would take him to the place he was looking for.

The stranger thanked him and left the store, and Johanna took her purchases up to the counter. Karl slipped a knife into her bag after he loaded everything else up. Johanna had once provided him with enough meat to feed his family for a month when he got ill and couldn’t hunt on his own. Neither of them acknowledged the weapon, but Johanna made a special point of thanking him when she left and started out again.

The stranger had been directed to a path that wound unnecessarily around a lake. Johanna took a more direct route. She didn’t know who she was, but it was very clear what he was. Tensions between canidae and sapien were extremely good, but there were those who thought their marriage was an abomination. People believed wulves were possessed by demons, and making love to one was an affront to God. Their child would therefore be a demonic seed. Some men saw fit to ensure the child and her parents were sent to Hell for their sins.

Johanna caught up with the stranger on the shores of the lake and they had words. When their conversation was finished, she washed her hands in the cool water and made certain Karl’s knife was undamaged before returning it to the sheath. She would return it at her earliest convenience, but she knew he would be patient. She checked to make sure her clothes were unmarred and watched as the final ripples smoothed out on the surface of the lake.

She knew there wouldn’t be any air bubbles, no sign of life from below the still waters, but she wanted to be absolutely certain.

Finally she put the strap of her bag over her shoulder and checked the stranger’s supplies for anything they might need. Rice and grain, loaves of bread… a pistol. Karl would have more use for that than she or Agatha would. His bedding was soft and could be repurposed into something for the furniture. And clothes. Ah, clothes. A godsend for their curly-haired weed. She or Agatha would turn them into something that fit the beast when she inevitably grew out of her current wardrobe.

Her pack restocked and positioned comfortably on her back, she set out again. Agatha was on the edge of the property and stopped working when she saw Johanna approaching.

“That took longer than usual. Everything okay?”

“Everything is fine,” Johanna said. “I got some extra food. And clothes for the girl.”

Agatha read between the lines. “Did you have any problems?”

“None. Oh, I have Karl’s knife. And a gun for him. If you go to town before I do, kindly return them?”

“I will.”

Johanna put her hand on Agatha’s bare hip and pressed against her, burrowing her face under the veil of hair to nuzzle Agatha’s cheek. “She’s safe. We’re safe.”

“Thank you.”

“Always.” She kissed Agatha’s lips. “Where is the little pup?”

“Inside, not napping.”

Johanna grinned. “I will go speak with her.”

She went into the house and dropped her pack on the floor next to the icebox. “Delfie. Come help me put the things away.”

Delphine came out of the bedroom much too quickly to have been napping. Johanna narrowed her eyes at the girl, who was wearing one of Johanna’s old undershirts as a nightgown.

“Mutter said you were supposed to be sleeping.”

“I was.”

“Mutter also told you never to lie. Are you lying to me?”

Delphine bit down on her lips and wobbled on her right foot, the left curled up around her ankle. Johanna growled playfully and made claws to scratch her daughter’s stomach. “Help Mama with the supplies and then I will read you a story so you can fall asleep.”

“Okay.”

They stocked their shelves, and then went through the stranger’s clothes. “These smell.”

“We will wash them. Do you like the colors?”

“Yes.”

“Then these can be your summer dress.”

Delphine said, “I want pants. Like you.”

Johanna smiled. “We can make you some pants. That will be much more practical here in the woods. But when it’s time for you to attend classes, you’ll have to wear a dress.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” She sighed. “Did you know that Mama dressed as a man for a very long time? I pretended I was a male soldier.”

“Why?”

“Because women can’t be soldiers.”

“That’s stupid.”

Johanna smiled and bent down to kiss her daughter’s hair. “You are wise, my love. Come on. That will be your story. A long time ago, in another life, before your Mama and your Mutter even knew each other, we were enemies.”

“What?” Delphine chirped.

Johanna smiled. “Come, little pup. I’ll tell you the whole thing.”

She led her into the bedroom, where she sat on the bed and told a largely expurgated version of the story, detailing how she and Agatha met as enemies and then became reluctant allies. In the story they seemed to fall in love so quickly, so easily, as if it was a foregone conclusion. It certainly hadn’t seemed so at the time, but she was happy to polish the tale for their daughter’s benefit. She needed to know her parents hadn’t started as friends, but she also didn’t need to know how rough the road had been. Besides, she found it painful to remember those days. When she watched Agatha out of the corner of her eye, when she slept with her hand on the hilt of her sword just in case… Now she reached out in the night to make sure Agatha hadn’t left her side.

Once the girl was asleep, Johanna took a cup of water outside. Agatha was sitting on the edge of the porch, her feet in the grass, and Johanna joined her. Agatha took the cup gratefully as Johanna settled beside her. The wind blew through the trees, pushing their branches to one side before moving back to their original position.

“Is she asleep?”

“At long last.” She sighed and rolled her head. “Who would have thought putting a child to bed would be the day’s hardest-won victory?”

Agatha smiled. “So the other victory…”

“It was a discussion. We disagreed.” She took the cup from Agatha, sipped from it, and handed it back. “He won’t bother us again. I confirmed he was alone, rather than a scout. No one will be looking for him, I assure you.”

“Okay. And you are not hurt?”

Johanna glared at her. “I am not so old and out of practice that I have to worry about the likes of him. I am unharmed. But I like that you worry.”

Agatha put her head on Johanna’s shoulder. During her wars she never stopped to think about what she was fighting for, the world she wanted as her prize. She had never been inventive enough to come up with a moment like this, but being in it for real was exactly what she’d wanted in those days. When her clothes were covered with the blood of another person, and when she looked down to see bodies lying all around her, she always hoped it would amount to something good. Something beautiful. A woman she would die for and a child to usher into the next generation.

She put an arm around Agatha and leaned against her. She knew the wars may have ended, but there would always be battles. Other strangers would come looking for their “unholy” family, and some of them might get close enough to do harm. Johanna would be ready for them, whenever they reared their hateful heads. She would try to talk reason to them and, barring that, she would make sure her family was safe at all costs.

While she might not be a canidae like her wife and daughter, they were still her pack. She would die defending them. Until that dark day came, she would simply enjoy their presence as much as possible.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/mate-life/

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