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Leading Up to Now

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                Birdsong didn’t notice anything going on around her.  Part of her knew that her fellow tribemates were moving around her; the other part could only feel the gapping hole in her soul.

                “Birdsong”

                A hand rested on her shoulder.  She didn’t feel it. She was numb. She didn’t want to feel anymore, she didn’t want to feel ever again.

**************** 69 years before ‘now’

                “This basket is marvelous Fireflower.” Birdsong turned the new basket over in her hands.  “This should hold nuts really well.”

                Fireflower smiled “I’m working on one that will have a cover so it can keep things better.” As she bent back to work on her current basket.

                Birdsong really liked Fireflower.  She was always working on things for the tribe.  With a parting grin, Birdsong stood and began walking back to the hold, leaving Fireflower to her work.

                As she got to the clearing, she was making a mental list of things she needed to get done.  She looked up as she bumped into someone.  It was Snapbranch. She started to fall backwards, but he caught her arm and pulled her back to where she could catch her balance.  Birdsong looked up from his chest to his face to tell him thank you, when her violet eyes were drawn deep into his.  She felt herself falling, but not a fast out of control falling; just the kind of falling you do when you know you are falling to a safe place. The safe place was….

                *Saf*

                *Tril*

                Her soul name was whispered back, an intimate caress of her mind.  She felt him begin nuzzling her neck; she almost nuzzled him back when she remembered the basket and the nuts that needed gathered.  Her hands came up between them and pushed him away.

                “Birdsong, its recognition.”Snapbranch whispered with a wry grin.

                “I know very well what it is.” She replied with a shaky breath. “We can answer it later, during the day.”  Birdsong pulled her shoulders back “Not now. Not when I have things I need to do.”

                Snapbranch’s smile grew bigger and he stepped closer. Birdsong stepped back, though it was very difficult.  She had never felt something so strong before.  She felt drawn to him, like she had never been drawn to anyone or anything. Birdsong bent down and picked up the basket, placing it between them.

                *Tril, do I not meet your expectation of a recognized?” He sent with a laugh as he stepped forward again.

                Hearing her soul name again only made the urge to be with him stronger. She took another difficult step back—No…I have responsibilities, after I’ve done my duty then we can…. --- her thoughts swirled in her head.

                *Your duty now is to make a cub.* Snapbranch grin never changed.

                “I know, I want a cub, but these things need to be done for the tribe.  The tribe comes first, then me.” She told him as she took another step backwards.  She knew that if he touched her, she would let herself go, but things needed to be done, later…later she could indulge herself. Her back came to a sudden stop with the trunk of a tree.  Snapbranch stepped closer and gently placed his hands over hers on the basket.

                *Very well, Tril* Birdsong felt her head go light as her name. *Would you like some help?*

                Birdsong felt her mouth open and close a couple times but no sound came out.

                Snapbranch smiled and let his hands side off of hers as he started stepping backwards. “No?” She still could not find words. “You’ll know where to find me.” *Tril*he turned and disappeared into the surrounding woods.

                Birdsong felt light on her feet, she slowly sank to her knees and sat at the base of the tree.  Her whole body was on fire! But tingly as well. She’d recognized!  She felt a thrill of excitement at the thought; her mind was still racing to catch up with her body.  For the first time ever, Birdsong was at a loss of what to do.  Snapbranch was right, her duty now was to make a cub; but it would be something she really wouldn’t have to think about for a least a turn of the seasons.  The tribe needed nuts for this coming winter.  –If I am pregnant, I’ll need them- That decided her mind. Nuts first, her recognized second.  As she attempted to pull herself together, she looked into the holt. She saw Snapbranch walking back into the clearing.   She wanted to cry out to him, but she couldn’t. –I need to gather the nuts!-

                Birdsong stood, giving her body a shake, gathering her senses and walked towards the nut trees, but her feet wouldn’t move. She needed him. –The nuts.  The tribe needs the nuts. -   After struggling for a time, she made it to the trees, she felt exhausted, she sank to her knees and slowly began collecting the fallen nuts.

                She felt him approach from behind her.  The hair on her arms and the back of her neck stood on end.  Snapbranch walked around to the front of her and poured nuts out of his tunic and into her basket.  Birdsong couldn’t help but notice how strong and muscular he chest was.  Her eyes trailed up his neck, past his smiling mouth and to his eyes.  She felt herself falling into their blue/green depths.

                His hand brushed hers, and all the energy drained out of her body. He stood and walked over to the base of another tree and gathered more nuts into his tunic. She just watched him. He’d emptied his tunic twice before she gathered herself together.  She began methodically gathering nuts.  Snapbranch emptied his tunic a fourth time; filling the basket to the brim, pulled it on and walked behind her.  He brushed Birdsong’s hair with his hand as he left the clearing.

                If Birdsong had not been kneeling, she’d have sunk to her knees at his touch.

                Walking back to the holt was much easier than it had been to go get the nuts.  But Snapbranch was back at the holt.

                She took the nuts into the den she’d converted into a storage area. The shelves were filled with baskets of dried fish, nuts, extra baskets and leathers, berries and herbs.  He was waiting there for her.  As she came in, he stood and walked past her; his arm and leg brushing against hers.  Her blood heated back up and she almost dropped the nuts to go after him; but she stopped herself.  –The nuts. -   She placed them with the other baskets of nuts in one corner. She’d shell them at the next howl.

                Quite suddenly she had nothing to do.  The list she had made in her mind was gone, she couldn’t remember it, or what had been on it.  All she could think of was him. –Saf, Saf- her mind repeated over and over.  She was ready.

                *Saf?* She called tentatively.  Her sending had never been very good.  Would he hear her?

                *Tril.* He’d answered almost before she finished calling.

                -Where was he?-

                *Come and find me Tril.* His mental send was laced with laughter.

                Come and find him? That would not be a very efficient way to get this done. She felt his mental laughter again.

                *I won’t be coming to you, beloved.*

                Beloved?!?!?

                *Yes, now see if you can find me Tril*

                I can’t track! I can barely hunt!

                *Tril.* his send caressed her mind. *Follow your heart, follow my soul.*

                She left the den and wandered into the woods, following the tugging of her soul, letting it pull her towards him.  She got to a clearing in the woods. She knew he was here but she didn’t know where.

                “Saf?”She called.

                She heard a rustle in the bush behind her. She turned to look only to see nothing.  She felt him, however, brush up against her as he disappeared to the other side of the clearing. She whirled to the direction the touch had come from.  Only he wasn’t there, he’d passed by her again brushing her hair. This continued for some time until Birdsong felt like she was spinning.

                The next thing she knew he arms were around her and though her world was still spinning; she was standing still.  As he ran he hands down her arms to her stomach, everything began falling back into place.  Snapbranch showed her a dance; she had never danced before. As the sun rose above the forest, Birdsong realized, she was complete and she never wanted to be without him. With him, she felt in ways she had never felt before and never would again.

********************** 65 years before now

                Everyone agreed Birdsong was much easier to live with now that she and Snapbranch were recognized and lifemated. The cub had also changed her.  She was still as efficient as ever, but Snapbranch would get her to go and have fun, to relax a bit.

                “He’s the best thing that could have happened to her.” Dawnfall commented to her sister as they watched Birdsong chase her unclothed son across the holt clearing.  Snapbranch was watching the whole thing laughing and holding his sides.

                Young Watermark was also laughing as well. “Catch me mother!”

                “Run faster cub! She’s gaining!” Snapbranch called to his son.

                Birdsong glared at him.  “You are not helping!” She made a grab for her son, but missed. “Watermark, come here!”

                Watermark danced just out of her reach.

                The two sisters smiled at each other when Watermark landed between them.  Dawnfall grabbed her grandcub as deftly as someone who had chased cubs often, and pinned the lad. She began tickling him until he was giggling uncontrollably.  Birdsong came up behind them and sighed.  Dawnfall looked up at her daughter and smiled.

                “You’d better grab him before he takes off again.” Dawnfall said as she stopped tickling.

                “Thank you, mother.” Birdsong replied, the relief evident on her face.  She grabbed her son and wrestled his leathers on to his squirming body.  “Now you can go play.” She told Watermark with a sigh.

                “Yippee!” Watermark chortled as he scampered into the forest.

                “I don’t know how you did it mother.” Birdsong said. “How did you chase both Daggermark and I?”

                Dawnfall smiled “I didn’t, you both were very quiet cubs.”

                Snapbranch came up behind Birdsong and wrapped his arms around her.  Birdsong leaned back into him and closed her eyes and sighed, contented.  Snapbranch nuzzled her neck and the two of them wandered off into the woods. Dawnfall smiled at her daughters retreating back.

************** 32 years before now and 2 days earlier

                Birdsong sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. “We should have more bough moss.” She told Snapbranch. “I thought for sure I’d asked Dreamseeker to get more on his last trip to gather herbs.”                 “What is it used for?”Snapbranch asked as he looked around the very organized storage den. Maybe she just doesn’t see it. He thought.

                “For cold bite.” She replied matter of factly.  “We should have a basket full but the basket is empty.”

                He almost asked if they really needed it but thought better of it.  Of course they did or his lifemate would not be so upset that they didn’t.

                She began pacing “It’s almost out of season, and with Dreamseeker and Half Moons both out on the hunt there is no one I could send to go and get it.” She muttered to herself.

                Snapbranch had learned much over the turns about his recognized and knew she would only worry and fret about the moss until it was gathered.  He grabbed her arm as she paced by him; and he pulled her into his arms.  “If you tell me what it looks like and where to find it, Little Feet and I will go and get some for you.”

                She looked up at him with a soft smile.  “Would you?”

                He chuckled as he nuzzled her neck. “Of course.”

                She leapt up as she started talking.  “It’s in the big needle trees of Far Boughs.” She told him as she gathered basket for him.  “It grows on the roots.”  She paused as she pulled up an image of the moss in her mind for him to see.  Even though she had difficulty sending, Snapbranch could always tell what she was thinking and she had no problem receiving his sends.

                “Got it.” He whispered in her ear as they walked out of the storage den together. Snapbranch called his wolf friend and as he stepped away from Birdsong he swatted her on the rump.

                “I’ll be back by dusk.” He called over his shoulder as he rode out of the holt.

******

                Birdsong cried out in anguish as she recalled those words.  She shouldn’t have sent him!  I should have gone with him!  Birdsong fought the hands that tried to restrain her as she fought to get out. Something heavy tackled her as she broke free. They fell to the furs she had been sitting on. The body wouldn’t get off of her. She was pinned.

                “Birdsong, Stop!” The voice said.

                She buried her face in the fur. His smell was mixed with hers and she sobbed. She couldn’t be here! He wasn’t gone; just so far away she couldn’t reach him. She began thrashing again, trying to get up.  She had worked around from her stomach onto her back. She began hitting the body on top of her with her fists.

                “I have to go to him! Let me up!” She screamed.

                Hands eventually grabbed hers, but it didn’t stop her from thrashing about. What stopped her was the slap to her face.

                The den went very still. All that could be heard was hard breathing.

                Birdsong finally saw with her eyes.  Dreamseeker and Grassrunner had her legs and arms pinned, Dawnfall was sitting next to her head, hand raised to strike again. Half Moons was kneeling beside her.

                “Drink this.” Half Moons commanded.

                Birdsong drank, the tears falling freely down her checks. The fight had gone out of her.

                “What happened?”Dawnfall asked as the two males climbed off of her.

                “He was there, in my mind.” Birdsong whispered. “Then suddenly….he was gone.” Dawnfall pulled her daughter into her arms as Birdsong started to cry again.  Not the hysterical cries of earlier, but the cries of loss. Dawnfall rocked her back and forth, letting her cry her grief out. Eventually Half Moons tea took effect and Birdsong slept.

                When she woke, she was numb.  The insanity had left, but the emptiness was still there.  Birdsong walled up her heart, never to feel again.