Moss hadn’t even noticed his steps slowing down; he was only aware of the leaden weight in his stomach growing heavier as they approached their destination after days of travelling along the narrow, rocky roads of Roenden.
But Kit turned, worried. He’d been worried about Moss’ state of mind the whole trip, Moss knew, but he had respected Moss’ quiet. »Is everything alright, sweetheart?«
»Yes,« Moss lied before he thought better of it. He paused his step, and Kit came to stand close by him, still looking at him with that warm concern. »I mean, I…« He forced a deep breath. He still wasn’t used to being this open, with anyone, and it felt terribly vulnerable, even if he was sure Kit wouldn’t hurt him. »I’m just - what if - I’m worried they won’t like me.« He knew how important Kit’s family was to him - what would happen if they didn’t like him?
»Moss.« Kit kissed his forehead, no doubt in a bid to make him feel better, but it only helped so much this time. »They’ll love you. They - even if they don’t like you for your own sake - which they will! - they’ll like you because I love you, and you. You make me happy.«
»I’m a thief.« Moss barely got the words out. He’d never really hoped he’d leave his past behind… had he?
»You’re not, though,« Kit pointed out patiently. »You’re a hunter. We’ve been hunting together two whole seasons.«
Will they see it that way, though? Moss had heard the old »Once a thief, always a thief« so often he had been hesitant to even try to change, back then. And if Lachesis hadn’t stumbled across him and given him that chance - what would have become of him?
»It’ll bee fine, you’ll see.« Kit leant his enormous head against Moss’. »Come on, it’s getting late. We should get there before nightfall.«
For once, it was Kit leading the way, until, during sunset, up a still-green slope dotted with sheep, none of which seemed to be concerned by the approach of vayrons, the low wooden buildings of a little village came into sight.
Moss didn’t have time to make any closer observations before a blur of black and red barrelled down the mountainside, its enthusiasm too palpable for Moss to feel threatened even in his current state. »Kit!«
Kit immediately flung himself at the approaching mare, just about as massive as he was, with equal force, and in a moment they tumbled on the ground in a playfight that lasted mere seconds, ending with breathless laughter and Kit’s ear in his sister’s mouth. This had to be her - Charlie.
She caught Moss’ eye and grinned at him, and despite how nervous he still was, he found himself grinning back. If so much didn’t hinge on her and her family’s approval of him, he thought, they could have become friends easily.
She let go of Kit’s ear only to say, »You must be Moss, then.«
»That’s right.« He wondered how much Kit had told them about him in the many letters he sent home. But then, he had told him plenty about his siblings, as well. »Pleased to meet you.«
»Same. Come on, the others will be thrilled to see you two.«
She wound her tail around Kit’s and they made their way further up, eagerly chatting. Kit was clearly invested in the little goings-on in the village, and Moss was careful to pay attention to Charlie’s chatter, although he was sure he would be mixing up names before they even got there. He couldn’t be particularly worried about that, though; even his concerns about being introduced to his bonded’s family were suffocating under the warm joy Kit emanated at being reunited with his sister. Soon, the feeling was reinforced by the appearance of a sandy-coloured stallion who had to be Mel at the entrance of the settlement.
»Aw Kit, hello! And you’re Moss, then.«
If anything, Mel was even more welcoming, and Moss felt the tightness in his stomach start to loosen up for real. Mel walked beside him as he continued into the village, and soon they were engaged in polite smalltalk. Moss was a little on edge about whether Mel would question him about where he came from or what he did before becoming a hunter; but whether he knew and was too polite to mention it, or it just didn’t occur to him, he didn’t bring it up, and Moss found himself slowly relaxing.
At least until they entered the community hall. Moss wasn’t usually nervous around new people; but now, knowing those were Kit’s people, the ones whose opinion Kit valued most, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being judged.
Most were pullers, a few humans amongst them, and they did indeed zero in on Moss quickly.
Especially the pups. Moss could only imagine they hadn’t seen many runners before. And he had, he had to admit, not encountered that many puller pups. A group of four, the oldest not much smaller than he was, closed in on him swiftly.
»Who are you?«
»Where are you from?«
»Why are you so little?«
»Are you with Kit? Kit, is he your bonded?«
»Yes,« Kit said gently, shooting a worried glance at Moss. But Moss was almost relieved by the baby assault distracting him from the adult attention - it was more endearing than anything, and he gave Kit a reassuring tail flick. »Be nice to him.«
The pups all »ohhh«ed at the confirmation, looking at Moss with renewed curiosity but also fresh respect.
»We’re not in the habit of running off and bonding with the first cute runner we see ‘round here, you see, so you’re a bit of a spectacle.«
»Charlie!« Kit swatted at his sister, who only laughed and dodged effortlessly.
»I’m sure you were right, little one.« She nudged his shoulder and, to Moss’s relief, threw him a warm glance to confirm she was playing.
It only got easier from there. He was introduced to the rest of Kit’s closer family, and his mother immediately judged not only Kit, but both of them far too thin. »I trust you’ll make sure he eats, right?«
»Mom, stop it.« Kit turned away in embarrassment, to Charlie’s snickering, but Moss was more touched than he probably should be at such a silly little thing.
So this was what »family« meant, then.
The rest of the evening was spent over hearty dinner and easy conversation, and the last of Moss’ worries were dispersed.
»You must be tired,« Kit’s mother announced suddenly, when Moss was in the middle of a playfight with two of the pups who had accosted him first. »You’ve travelled all day. You can sleep in the hay if you want a bit more privacy, but of course you’re always welcome at the house.«
»Aw, just a little longer, please?« one of the pups whined, unwisely, because he drew his father’s attention - a cousin or something of Kit’s; like Moss had anticipated, he had not remembered all the names and details.
»Nope, and you should be off to bed too. Come on, leave Moss alone.« He smiled at Moss as he herded the kids - still whining - away, almost apologetically, but in truth Moss hadn’t minded the kids at all. He had asked them to leave his ears alone, and they had been mindful.
It felt like he belonged.
It was true he was tired, though, and soon they had climbed a narrow runway leading up to the family’s hayloft for those villagers lacking hands to climb a ladder, and curled up in the fragrance of winter may come.
»I like your folks,« Moss muttered as he rested his head on Kit’s big, fluffy forelegs, their tails as always wrapped around each other.
Kit gently licked his nose before laying his head down beside him, glowing with gladness.
You must log in to post a comment.Log in