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Leading Up to Now

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                Birdsong sighed. “I don’t think you understand. This HAS to be done!”  She stomped her foot for emphasis, causing her black, curly hair to bounce.

                Greenstone shook his head, “Birdsong, he’s not going to be in the mood, you can’t ask Fisher to go after the silver slippers right now. That would be cruel, especially now.” The green eyed elf awkwardly sat on a root, rubbing his damaged leg absentmindedly.

                Birdsong closed her eyes for a moment, as she opened her violet eyes with a roll.  “Fisher is the best at catching the silver slippers. We need them so that we can start drying them for the winter! It needs to be done NOW!” She crossed her arms over her chest, and flicked her eyebrows up once and then back down, while tilting her chin slightly to one side.  “Just because Tall Wood and White River couldn’t listen to our chief, doesn’t mean the whole tribe must stop functioning. Things still need to be done and if I am the one who needs to get it going, then I’ll just have to do it. No matter what.”

                Greenstone rubbed the bridge of his nose.  He turned to look at Evenhand, who had walked in partway through the conversation.  Evenhand was conveniently looking anywhere but at the two elves.  He never did like a confrontation, especially with his head strong daughter.  He was slowly easing back the way he had come.  *You’re lots of help.* Greenstone sent.

                *Well…..* There was a mental shrug of Evenhand’s shoulders.*I think it is something Edgewalker should really be dealing with.  It’s not really for me to say one way or the other. * He had managed to disappear without his daughter noticing that he had been there. Except she had.

                Greenstone rolled his eyes in response and turned back to Birdsong.  Her eyes had narrowed.  “Well, if the two of you are going to send over my head and not speak to me directly…..” Greenstone winced at her tone. “…Well….I’ll just have to see about this myself!” With that she spun on her heel and made a beeline for Edgewalker’s den.

                “Puckernuts.” Greenstone muttered under his breath. Since the avalanche that had maimed his leg, he had found himself more and more in the center of arguments among tribemates, trying to smooth things over. Sometimes he was successful, and had gotten rather good at smoothing tempers and helping to settle disagreements, but sometimes he missed the mark.

                *What is bothering you Menk?* Dawnfall’s send was like a caress in his mind.  His lifemate was keenly aware of his moods, and often fretted about him.  *What has your mind so tied in knots?*

                *Your daughter.* he replied.  Daughter like mother were both very headstrong when they put their minds to it.  His lifemate’s mental snort brought a smile to his face.  Greenstone sighed and with a groan pulled himself up to a standing position, leaning heavily on his walking stick, and limped towards his den.  He had his own den of worries, he had a lifemate and a recognized, Glittermorn, to care for; along with the soon to be newest member of the tribe.  Maybe Evenhand was right. Let Edgewalker deal with it.

********

Birdsong was furious.  She hated it when tribemates sent over her head. She had never been very good at sending and had to work really hard to send at all.  Nothing infuriated her more than elves sending instead of talking.  She worked hard and pulled her own weight or more in this tribe.  Was it too much to ask for others to do their share too?  She didn’t think so.  Besides Fisher had been moping around for almost two eights of days.  It was time he started working. She didn’t know how many times he and Rainfall had gone to Bluevale and had come back with nothing. NOTHING! Birdsong stopped short at her chief’s den.  She took a deep breath to compose herself and pulled the fur aside.  Edgewalker was lying on his stomach facing away from her.  He turned as she entered.

                “Birdsong…” he started with a puzzled look on his face.

                “Edgewalker, you need to talk to Fisher.” She interrupted.  “He hasn’t been doing anything since Tall Wood and White River died….” She paused when she noticed the dark cloud that quickly came and went over her chief’s face.  “There wasn’t anything you could have done.” She said toning her voice down a notch.  “They were very independent and…”

                “No.  I should have watched them a little more closely.” Edgewalker quietly said as he turned away from her.

                “YOU shouldn’t of had to. THEY should have listened to you. It was THEIR fault. IF they wanted to be stupid enough to get themselves killed well…” Her voice trailed off as Edgewalker turned back to her and regarded her with a puzzled look on his face. “….It’s not your fault then. You are the chief and we do what you ask.” She finished.

                Edgewalker’s head had tilted to one side as she had spoken, pondering her words. “You are very perceptive.” He finally said.

                It was Birdsong’s turn to give her chief a puzzled look.  “I wanted to talk to you about yourself too.” She switched subjects as she pushed on. “You need to pull yourself together, there are things to be done and you are the only one who can make them happen. Elves will die while you are chief Edgewalker, but the rest of us must still hunt and howl without them.  That is the Way.  I know it, and you know it and nothing will change that. So what will you do about Fisher?  We need at least eight eights of silver slippers for the winter, maybe more with Glittermorn most likely to give birth to her cub by then.  So, will you tell him or must I?”  She pulled herself up to her full high and pointed her chin at him.

                Edgewalker gave her a long thoughtful look then stood and faced her.  “I never realized you were so on top of things.” He closed the distance between them until he was almost touching her. He looked intently into her eyes.  “Why don’t you stay and I’ll talk to him later?” He said as he reached out and gently grabbed her hand and gently pulled her to him.

                Birdsong got her hand between then on placed on his chest before he got her any closer.  She knew what he wanted.  Rainfall had been spending more and more time with Fisher these past days.  It was easy to tell that her chief was currently without a lovemate and was fixing to make her his companion for the time being.  Not that she minded.  First things first though.  Birdsong cocked her head at him.  “We can do this after Fisher knows he is to fish and I have finished storing the white roots.”  Edgewalker’s head jerked back in surprise.  “If you are still in the mood later, I’ll be in my den.” She gave his chest a pat as she stepped back and left the den.

                Edgewalker felt a grin creep across his face as he watched the fur fall behind Birdsong’s retreating form.  He had never had a female brush him off so deftly. It was….alluring.  He was defiantly going to be waiting in her den later.

*******

                Birdsong paused as she reached for one of the new baskets Fireflower had been experimenting with.  They were very handy and made her job much easier.  Very efficient. She liked efficient. She looked up in time to see Fisher and Rainfall enter the holt clearing.  She scowled as she noticed their empty hands. It didn’t look like Edgewalker had spoken to him.  Birdsong pursed her lips in disappointment.  Well, she could just do it herself.  With that thought she slung the basket on her hip and walked over to the couple.

                “Fisher, what are you doing?”  She asked evenly

                Fisher sighed as he brushed past her.  “I’m doing nothing, Birdsong.”

                Rainfall moaned under her breath and covered her face with a hand.  That was exactly the wrong thing to say.

                “Nothing?” Birdsong asked with a raised eyebrow as she whirled and grabbed his arm and yanked him around so they were face to face. “Nothing?” Fisher you have responsibilities just like everyone else! We need the silver slippers and we need them NOW.”

                Fisher’s head snapped around as he faced the dark haired elf, he took a threating step towards her, Birdsong was a little surprised to see the furry in his face. “Responsibilities??  I have things on my mind so just let me be.  Birdsong GO AWAY.” He voice was dangerously quiet and his eyes narrowed at her.

                Neither elf noticed Rainfall’s eyes darting from one to the other.

                Birdsong took a deep breath through her nose and pulled her chin up and narrowed her own eyes at Fisher.  The temperature dropped in the clearing as the two elves faced off.  “Do you want me to name the reasons we need them or will you just do it.”  Birdsong didn’t back down.

                “You’re not the chief, Birdsong, so I don’t have to do a thing you say. So close your mouth or I’ll get Lightshade to show me how to sew it shut.” Fisher’s voice never got above a whisper, but his intent was clear enough.

                Birdsong sharply inhaled as Fisher roughly pushed past her again and disappeared into the woods.  She whirled to yell after him, but only caught Rainfall’s disappointed and pitying look and she followed Fisher. Birdsong eyes widened and she took a few quick breaths through her nose and worked her jaw by grinding her teeth.  She carefully placed the basket of tubers on the ground grabbed a rock and threw it with all her might after the two elves.

                “They don’t understand.” She whispered to the empty clearing.  “Things need to be done. Why am I the only one who seems to see this.  The tribe will be glad we have those fish when the snow is so deep hunting is difficult.  Why don’t they understand???”  She ran her long fingers through her black curls.  With another annoyed sigh, she reached down and grabbed the basket of tubers and took them to storage den.

                After settling them, she stormed up to her den. She flung the fur covering her entrance back and was startled to meet the silver eyes of her chief.  “I was waiting.” He said deep in he throat.  He pulled her into his arms and started nuzzling her neck; wanting more. Birdsong took a deep breath.  Her mind whirling so fast that after a moments pause she put her arms around Edgewalker and pulled him into her furs.

 

Later, as she was lying next to Edgewalker, her mind caught up with her.  –I don’t have time for this.  I don’t have time to have a lovemate. I have too many things to do to have one following me around.-  She sighed  feeling the need to be up and getting stuff done, but Edgewalker rolled over and pulled her closer to him. – But if you are lovemates to the chief…maybe…- A little part of her mind that she rarely listened to said. She was usually too busy making sure things got done for the tribe that she didn’t often think about herself.  She was more often than not occupied with better and more efficient ways to get things done.  –It had been a long time.  Grassrunner was the last and that had been long enough that she couldn’t recall much about the time they had spent together. – That same little part of her mind whispered. Birdsong ran her hand down the arm around her waist until she reached Edgewalker’s hand.  She gently pressed her fingers between his. –We’ll give it a try. - She finally decided. –At least for a time. -  Then her practical side screamed –But what would everyone say??-  Birdsong pushed that voice away as she snuggled closer to her chief, -I guess I’ll just have to be the envy of the tribe and they can just deal with it.-

Chapter Text

                Fisher rested his chin on top of Rainfall’s head. Her brown curls tickled his nose almost immediately as he breathed in and out.  He smiled and pulled her closer.  She was sitting on the ground between his legs; his arms around her shoulders.

                *It certainly took everyone long enough to notice that Joyheart was gone.* Fisher sent to her.

                *Yes, I would have thought Lioneyes would have noticed sooner.* Rainfall replied leaning back into him.  They had noticed Joyheart’s absence days ago, but when Edgewalker had refused to answer their sends, they had let them be figuring that the couple was working something out between them, but that had been three days ago.

                Fisher sighed and held Rainfall tighter. Both their eyes drifted across the clearing where the tribe was gathering.  Straightshot and Wild Berry were leaning on each other.  The eyes of the four friends met and Fisher remembered back on the past few days, back to the time they had last seen Joyheart….

************

                “GO! GO! GO! GO!” Rainfall yelled as she shoved Fisher in front of her. They took off running, Straightshot and Wild Berry behind them and Edgewalker and Joyheart ahead.  Rainfall grabbed his hand as she came up beside him matching his pace. Fisher glanced to the side to look at her.  She was smiling and laughing, her curly brown hair streaming behind her as she ran.

                Fisher looked head at his chief and Joyheart running ahead of him, they too were laughing as they ran.  They put on burst of speed as they saw how close he and Rainfall were.  The challenge was not to be the last elf to Bluevale.  Fisher gave Rainfall’s hand a pull as he too put on a burst of speed. The couple leapt over a fallen log in their dash.  Edgewalker and Joyheart arrived first, shucked off their leathers and dove into the cool waters, just as Rainfall and Fisher arrived.  By the time Straightshot and Wild Berry arrived, Fisher Rainfall had joined their friends in the water.

                Laughing Rainfall called out, “The tree-wee’s have arrived!”

                Wild Berry stood with her hands on her hips.  “Tree-wees? Tree-wees? I’ll show you tree-wees!” With that she dropped her dress off her shoulders and stepped out of it and with a grin jumped into the water with a splash.  Straightshot had stopped a few paces behind her and had been admiring the view of his lovemate’s backside.  His loopy grin stayed on his face as he watched the group play in the water.  Wild Berry swam under the water and grabbed Rainfall’s ankle and Edgewalker’s calf and pulled both elves under the water.  All three of them came up, Edgewalker and Rainfall sputtering and Wild Berry laughing.

                “You all are like 5 turn old cubs.” The group turned to look at Straightshot still dry on the shore.  He was shaking his head from side to side. 

                The five wet friends shared a mischievous look with each other, then turned to Straightshot, they all had matching grins on their faces.

                “Oh no, Oh, no you don’t!” Straightshot started backpedaling as the five friends swarmed out of the water towards him.  Straightshot started jogging backwards attempting to keep ahead of the five dripping wet elves.  He spun ready to sprint out ahead of them, but unfortunately his feet hadn’t gotten the message and were still trying to turn around.  Straightshot’s left foot caught behind his right ankle and he started falling.

                “*Puckernuts!*” He muttered and sent, but it changed as he saw the thorn bush that would catch him. “PUCK…..!”

                The rest of the group stopped abruptly and looked at Straightshot.  He had landed spread eagled in the bush on his back.  He groaned, his five former friends all burst out laughing.  Edgewalker was leaning on Wild Berry’s shoulder, gripping his stomach; Fisher was holding Joyheart, the two barely keeping each other upright.  Rainfall, was giggling as she reached out a hand to help pull him to his feet.

                “Thanks.  I really appreciate that.” Straightshot said with a grimace.  He hissed as each movement caused thorns to poke him, and move the one already in his skin and leathers.  He tried to brush some of them off but they wouldn’t cooperate. The five friends were able to get their laughter under control enough to help the poor elf pluck thorns out of his hide…. eventually.

                It wasn’t until much later in the day that they paired off and wandered off.  Fisher and Rainfall left Edgewalker and Joyheart in the vale.  Wild Berry had left earlier with Straightshot to get some cream from Half Moons for his thorn scratches.  Rainfall could feel something building behind her as she and Fisher left.  She couldn’t help but glance over her shoulder at the chief and the gold-haired elf leaning against his side.  She turned back to Fisher as the couple disappeared behind a bush. She smiled at him as they walked back to the holt.

**************************

                Fisher snapped back to the present as Rainwalker called the tribe to order.

                “We can’t start yet, Edgewalker isn’t here.” Slimarrow called out.

                “That is one of the reasons for this council.” Rainwalker quietly answered.

                “What do you mean? Is he gone?” Goldpool asked.

                This statement caused an outburst among the tribe.

                “Gone?”                

                “How long has he been gone?”                

                “How did this happen?”

                “Will he return?”

                “When?”                

                “Why?”

                “This isn’t just about him!” Lioneyes yelled over the group.  “Joyheart is gone!”

                The silence was deafening. Rainwalker sighed and rolled his eyes.  Summersky gave him an encouraging smile as he stood and faced the tribe.  “Lioneyes asked me to call the council when he noticed Joyheart was missing.  The two of us went to speak to Edgewalker but he is holed up in his den and would not talk to either of us.  We need to know what happened.”

                The collective heads of the tribe turned to look at Fisher, Rainfall, Straightshot and Wild Berry.

                “There is not much to tell.” Wild Berry finally said.  “We last saw her and Edgewalker at Bluevale three nights ago.”

                “Us four had left them there not long after Mother Moon had set.” Rainfall added.

                “Do you know what happened after that?”  Rainwalker asked.

                The four friends were quiet and none of them would meet Rainwalker’s eyes.

                *Is there something you would rather tell just me?* He asked sending just to the four friends.

                He was met with silence.  Rainwalker lifted an eyebrow at them.

                Straightshot broke the silence. “We’ll talk to him. Don’t worry.”

                The small group got up and went in search of their friend and chief.

******

                “Edgewalker?”

                The elf gritted his teeth at the soft voice and curled into a tighter ball with in his furs.

                “Edgewalker?” A second, gentle voice joined the first.

                The elf grabbed the edges of his furs and pulled them tightly over his head.  His head throbbed in sudden pain. A pain he’d thought had dissipated a day ago.

                “Edgewalker!” A deeper voice joined the other two and a tugging began on his furs.

                Edgewalker squeezed his eyes shut and forcibly swallowed a furious growl.

                The tugging became a yank and Edgewalker felt his lips skim back from is teeth.  Why couldn’t they just leave him alone?!?!  Still, he clutched the furs tighter.

                With a sudden jerk, the fur flew off of Edgewalker, leaving his hands stinging.  The Wolfrider’s chief sat upright, his hair on end, his eyes glittering dangerously, and his teeth bared.

                The four friends looked at him.  Wild Berry’s pert red mouth formed an ‘O’ and Rainfall raised a gently curved eyebrow.  Fisher’s brow was furrowed and Straightshot’s eyes narrowed and his fingers curled even more around Edgewalker’s fur.

                Deep down Edgewalker knew his behavior was making no sense, but he hardly cared.  HE snapped his hand out towards his fur and focused his furious eyes on Straightshot. The archer held the fur a moment; his own eyes darkening, but then released it to his chief.

                “Edgewalker.” Wild Berry said softly, as he wrapped the fur around his shoulders, “Joyheart is gone…”

                The chief’s furious silver eyes settled on her.   Wild Berry gasped and quickly turned away from the intense fury there.

                “Of course she is.” He growled, his eyes swinging away from Wild Berry.  Straightshot moved to his shaking lovemate, wrapping his arms around her and leveling a cool gaze at his chief.

                “Do you know where she went?” Fisher asked carefully; avoiding Edgewalker’s eyes.

                “No.” Edgewalker snapped, glancing only briefly at Fisher.

                “Do you care?” Straightshot muttered under his breath, pulling Wild Berry closer.

Edgewalker stood and swung around to meet the archer’s gaze, unblinking.

                “Don’t!” Gasped Wild Berry.

                “Stop!” Rainfall stepped between the couple and their chief.  She turned to Straightshot. “I don’t know what you are thinking, Straightshot, but save it.  He’s hurting.”

                She turned to Edgewalker, reaching out her hand to touch him, but he leaned away from her.  “What happened, sweet friend?” she whispered.

                Edgewalker stared at her; his eyes still snapping.  Far below, deep inside, Rainfall could see his agony.  She knew Edgewalker better than anyone.  He had been a part of her life since her birth and the two were closer than any of the others.

                *Sweet Friend…* she gently sent caressing his mind when he wouldn’t let her touch him.

                Edgewalker shook himself; the stiffness leaving his body and his eyes clearing somewhat.

                “She left.” He whispered finally, his voice cracking.

                Rainfall felt Straighshot and Wild Berry shift behind her. She looked over Edgewalker’s shoulder and met Fisher’s eyes.  He shook his head in disbelief; his own eyes full of pain.  She looked back at Edgewalker and nodded.

                “Yes…” She prompted.

                “I drove her away.” He almost sobbed.  He eyes closing against the words.

                Rainfall blinked.

                Fisher took a step back his face going very still.

                “Oh…” Wild Berry cried softly.

                “WHAT?!” Straightshot’s voice hovered between shock and outrage.

                Edgewalker opened his eyes and looked at them.

                “I Drove Her Away!” He screamed at them, not in anger, but in agony; Rainfall realized.  “She simply wouldn’t give in!”

                “Give in?!?!” cried Straightshot, letting go of Wild Berry and pushing Rainfall out of the way and grabbing Edgewalker’s arm.

                The chief’s eyes slid to Straightshot’s fingers where they were curled around his arm and then slowly slid them up to the archer’s eyes.  For moment their eyes met and the air seemed to freeze.

                “Edgewalker,” Fisher said as he tried to pry Straightshot’s fingers from Edgewalker’s upper arm.  Both chief and archer turned surprised eyes towards the mild-mannered elf.

                Edgewalker blinked and Fisher saw the smallest smile touch his lips. Then the chief pulled away from both elves.  Edgewalker pushed past Rainfall and Wild Berry; and ran from the holt.

                “How could he have driven her away?” asked Wild Berry as her chief disappeared into the forest.

                “I don’t know.” Said Straightshot, “But I am going to find out.”

                As the elf left the den, Rainfall caught Fisher’s eyes and they shook their heads in dismay.

****

                Fisher watched as his chief left the den. As Rainfall caught his eyes, he saw something there that he couldn’t quite place.  Did she know something? Fisher was very sure Edgewalker would never intentionally drive Joyheart away. But Fisher didn’t know what could have caused Joyheart to leave and Edgewalker to think that he was responsible for it.

                The three remaining friends quickly followed Straightshot out of the den and caught up with him at the edge of the holt clearing.

                “Well, what are we going to tell Rainwalker?” Wild Berry asked.

                “Nothing.” Straighshot replied.  “Nothing…yet.”

                Fisher looked over at his friends face.  The shadows cast by the leaves of the forest caused a dappling effect on the faces of all the elves, but there was something else in Straightshot’s eyes.  Something Fisher had never seen before.

                Rainfall took a deep breath. “We should go after him.  He shouldn’t be alone right now.”

                *Do you know what is bothering him so much about this?* Fisher sent to her.

                *I think so but I need to talk to him a little longer to be sure.* she replied.

                “I agree” Straightshot said oblivious to the sent interchange.  “We should go after him and find out exactly what happened.”

                The group followed the archer out of the clearing and began following Edgewalker’s erratic trail.

                Even though Fisher wasn’t a good tracker, he could tell that Edgewalker had wandered from one end of the holt territory to the other; Fisher had an idea where he might be heading…towards the grotto.

                As the two couples climbed the hill to the grotto Fisher had a feeling of the calm before a storm, a big storm, a storm that changes everything.

                As they neared the pool at the tip of the cliff, the moons were bright and high above them and casting shadows upon shadows. One such shadow was near the pool. It didn’t acknowledge their presence even when they stopped behind their chief.

                Edgewalker sat slumped, his head dipping low, his shoulder’s bobbed with a deep sigh and then he slowly stood and turned to face his friends.  His silver eyes shone in the moonlight as he quietly looked at them.

                “I drove her away.” He barely whispered; his voice hitching.

                Rainfall moved toward her friend, but Straightshot’s voice stopped her.

                “Why?”

                Edgewalker blinked.

                “I don’t know.”                

                “You don’t know?” Straighshot half asked half snarled.

                Edgewalker turned away.  He stared up at the stars for so long that the others began to shift behind him.

                “I just drove her away.”

                “And you don’t know why?” Straightshot snarled as he stepped closer.

                Edgewalker said nothing.

                “It’s ok.” Wild Berry’s voice seemed to come from a very long way away. The two simply ignored her.

                “You don’t know why, or you don’t care why?”Straightshot stepped forward until he was right behind his chief.

                Straightshot paused, waiting for a response when he didn’t get one, he spun Edgewalker around so they could see face to face.

                Edgewalker’s eyes snapped.

                “Don’t.” the Chief’s voice was strong and cold.

                And it had no effect.

                Straightshot and Edgewalker’s eyes met. Time seemed to stand still.

                For the three watching elves, it was red-hot agony.

                Straightshot growled deep in his throat.

                The two combatants trembled, as if their bodies could not hold the tremendous forces racing through them.

                Rainfall sobbed softly, covering her mouth; Wild Berry stood quietly her eyes wide and her mouth in an ‘O.”

                Fisher stared at his friends.  It took him a moment to realize what was going on.  Straightshot was challenging Edgewalker!  Part of Fisher was excited, his wolf blood heated and surged through his veins at the prospect; his elf mind cried out in horror as he watched two of his closest friends begin a challenge that would forever break the friendship into pieces.

                Suddenly, Straightshot’s growl faltered, only for a moment, but it was telling.  Edgewalker stepped forward; pressing his advantage.

                Fisher couldn’t handle it.  They had lost Joyheart already. He couldn’t have the group broken and splinter when there could be something he could do.

                “Hey….” Nothing. “Look a tree-wee the size of a wolf!” Fisher knew it wasn’t good but it was all he had.  He looked past the two combatants to where Wild Berry and Rainfall were standing. They both had these looks on their faces….

                Fisher shook his head and set his jaw; he was going to stop this.  Even though it went against every unspoken rule of a challenge.  He took a step forward and placed a hand on Straightshot’s right shoulder and Edgewalker’s left.

                “Stop it!” He yelled as he touched them.

                It was like the world exploded.

                Straightshot and Edgewalker turned their full force of their mental battle upon him, if only briefly.

                Fisher staggered, but he’d done what he set out to accomplish. The challenge was broken.

                Edgewalker stood stalk still.  His eyes cold. His face expressionless. Straightshot stared at Fisher, his glare cutting into the younger elf’s soul.

                “You should not have interrupted.” Edgewalker finally stated in a neutral tone.

                Fisher looked at his chief and glanced at Straightshot, who was still glaring at him.

                “I couldn’t see us destroyed.” Fisher whispered as he turned to back off.

                Straightshot grabbed Fisher’s arm whipping him back around.

                “Never break up a challenge.” He snarled. “It’s not your place.”

                “My place?” Fisher said his voice changing growing more aggressive. 

                Edgewalker said nothing.

                “Don’t get in the middle of a challenge that you could never win, child.” Straightshot snapped.

                Fisher didn’t know what to say.  –Could never win?!?- Why would… how could they… He was so mad.  He heard one of the elf women say something but he wasn’t hearing or seeing anything but red.  All he saw was the two who had challenged him. –Well, we’ll see who’s a cub!- Fisher set his jaw and made eye contact with both males, growled deep in his chest and pushed through them both, giving each a hard enough shove they both stumbled on their feet.  As he passed the two women, he grabbed to his left, found a hand and pulled Rainfall after him.

                “Fisher!” A female voice cried behind him. He ignored it.

                He was back in the holt before he knew it. As he climbed into his den he pulled her into his arms.

******************

                Straightshot and Edgewalker stared at the retreating elves. Then, almost as one, the turned to the elf-woman standing close by.

                She blinked, blank faced.

                Straightshot and Edgewalker started towards her, and then seemed to realize that they were both moving.  They turned to face one another again, eyes snapping.

                “NO!” cried the huntress coming between them.  She captured Straightshot’s hand and gently pushed him before her, toward the trail.

                At the last moment, Rainfall turned back; her eyes met Edgewalker’s.

                *Be strong, sweet friend.* she sent. *Someday she shall return.*

                Edgewalker slowly sank onto his knees in shadow dappled grass.

***********  

                Wild Berry was watching the challenge with conflicting emotions.  Fisher’s interruption was completely unexpected.  She never would have thought he would be the one to break a challenge.

                What had caught her even more off guard was when he brushed through the middle of it and grabbed her hand instead of Rainfalls.

                When Fisher had pulled her after him, she tried to talk to him, but he wasn’t listening.  So when he pulled her into his den and into his arms; she could tell he needed to be comforted and so she did.

*********

                Fisher was staring at the smoothness of the tree above his head.  Why?  Why had this happened?  Why had their friendship ended this way?  He rolled over and pulled Rainfall into his arms. As he looked at her sleeping face; he realized it wasn’t Rainfall.

***************************

                As the sun touched the ground the mists covering the grass disappeared and the elves moved into their dens.

                Birds began to sing and the elves snuggled in. A bright new day as here and everything had changed.

Chapter Text

                *How’s it going?*

                The soft send touched Lightshade’s mind. She turned toward the quiet footstep approaching behind her, pushing a sweat soaked strand of hair from her brown eyes.

                The elf-women approaching her grinned, her own grey eyes twinkling.  The wind tossed her gently curled, golden brown hair about as she crouched next to the tanner.

                *Good.* Lightshade answered her elder half-sister. She picked up the sharp scrapping stone and turned her attention back to the hide she’d been working on all evening.

                “It’s beautiful,” Dawnfall said smoothly switching to the spoken word. “What do you plan on doing with it?”

                Lightshade cocked her head and glanced at her sister.  Dawnfall had long ago shared the secrets of tanning with Lightshade, but the sisters had vastly different tastes in style.  Lightshade loved to experiment with color and cut. Dawnfall had always liked naturally tanned hides and practical designs.

                “Dye it purple and make a skirt with an attached halter top for Glittermorn.”

                Dawnfall groaned.  “Isn’t it a little small for that?”

                Lightshade grinned.  “Yup. It’ll be pretty skimpy.”

                Dawnfall raised an eyebrow at the laughter lurking in Lightshades voice.

                The younger elf-woman broke into giggles.

                “She wants to wear something special for Edgewalker.”

                “Ah.” Dawnfall said waggling her eyebrows.

                The two sisters burst into laughter, drawing stares as well as a few gentle smiles from those who had opted out of the night’s hunt and remained at the holt.

                Suddenly, Dawnfall grabbed Lightshade’s arm.

                “Let’s go,” She whispered excitedly.

                “Where?” Lightshade asked.

                “Bluevale. Let’s go for a swim Bridsong’s out with Fireflower gathering tubers. If we go now, she’ll never know.”

Lightshade hesitated, looking at the almost cleaned hide.

                “I’ll help you with it later.” Wheedled Dawnfall. “Even the dying.”

                Lightshade threw her stone down and grabbed her sisters hand.  Dawnfall turned briefly and sent a quick message to her lifemate, Greenstone.  He winked and waved to the two of them. Giggling like cubs, the sisters ran into the forest.

*****************

                Lightshade sighed with delight as she sunk below the cool, clear waters of Bluevale.  Bubbles danced up around her head, escaping the surface. She almost giggled as the tiny silver slippers darted around her legs, taking quick nips at her toes.

                She opened her eyes and peered at the wavy, shifting world below the surface.  Water plants bent back and forth, swaying to the unseen currents. The silver slippers seemed to glide through the water like they were flying.  Lightshade could even see the disturbance Dawnfall was creating as her sister kicked her way towards her.

                Waiting until Dawnfall was very close, Lightshade kicked her legs hard and brought her arms down to her sides in a swift motion.  As she shot from the water, she heard Dawnfall’s shriek. Then, as she came down, Lightshade grabbed Dawnfall and dragged her underwater.

                The sisters plunged deep and then surfaced, clinging to one another, laughing and coughing all at once.

                After catching her breath, Lightshade turned to her sister.

                “I love this.” She said twisting in the water floating on her back.

                “Mmmmm.”  Answered Dawnfall, treading water. “The summer’s warm, the hunting’s good and the water is plentiful. It is good.”

                Lightshade quickly righted herself. “Yes, but I meant acting like a cub…with you.”                 Dawnfall grinned. “That too.”

                The two elf-women were quiet for a time as they took turns diving below the surface trying to catch silver slippers. The small fish eluded their grasping fingers each time.

                *I don’t see how Fisher does it.* Lightshade sent, as the two made their way to the edge of the pool to rest.

                Dawnfall nodded as she hoisted herself up onto a large, sun-warmed rock. She gazed down at her younger sister, and Lightshade watched her expression go thoughtful.

                “Speaking of cubs,” Dawnfall said, laying back on the rock. “When are you and Lioneyes going to have one?”

                Lightshade’s eyes widened. Dawnfall was famous for her quick shifts in conversation and mood, but no well known for her candor.  It was very odd for her to come right out and ask such a question.

                “You must really want to know.” Lightshade said aloud before she could stop herself.

                Dawnfall shrugged.  “Leaf is getting older. It’s time for a new cub. I think it’s your time.”

                Lightshade sighed. “Recognition hasn’t seen us fit, I guess.” She said softly.

                “High Ones,” Gasped Dawnfall. “I was talking about a love child.”

                Lightshade gave a small sad laugh.  “Glittermorn was the last love child and I don’t remember who before that.”                 “Sharpridge,” Dawnfall said. “Her father.”

                “See! They’re so far apart. It’s best to wait for Recognition.” Lightshade glanced over at Dawnfall, “You did.”

                Dawnfall sat up.  “It’s not like we didn’t try,” she said grinning. “We just got lucky with Straightshot.”

                Lightshade nodded.  Dawnfall and Greenstone had been lifemates for hundreds of turns before Recognition struck them.  The product was their son, Straightshot, a fiery elf with eyes as sharp as a hawk and an excellent shot with his bow.

                “And, it wasn’t easy,” Continued Dawnfall. “Especially with Evenhand.”

                Lightshade nodded. Dawnfall had recognized Evenhand after she was lifemated to Greenstone.  The recognition had been difficult, mainly because Evenhand also had a lifemate, Fernhands.  In the end, Greenstone and Dawnfall had raised the cub, Birdsong, as their own, at the time they were careing for Daggermark.  Evenhand and Fernhands had been supportive enough, but had already raised their own son, Tall Wood, and were in the middle of dealing with Fernhands’ out of control daughter, Dewstar.     

                Maybe that explains Birdsong, thought Lightshade.

                A small roused her.  She looked up in time to see Dawnfall flying at her.  Lightshade tried to get out of the way, but Dawnfall landed right on top of her.

                The two bobbed to the surface, giggling and splashing each other. All thoughts of their conversation banished from memory.

*************************

                A moon later, Lightshade lounged with the gathered tribe at Howling Hill.  Mother Moon sat high in the night sky, and Child Moon chased her across the stars. Lightshade snuggled deeper into Lioneyes’ arms and turned her face into the warm, sweet-scented summer’s night breeze. Lioneyes nuzzled the back of her neck. Lightshade gave a soft purr of contentment.

                A sudden yelp on the other side of the clearing broke Lightshade’s reverie.  She felt Lioneyes jump and tense, then relax as a cub’s laughter filled the darkness.

                Leaf was laughing at Rainwalker, who was standing, rubbing his rump, and glaring at the stick his lifemate, Summersky, was gingerly holding. Lightshade watched as Treestar, Leaf’s mother, grabbed the cub and began hissing inaudible words at him. The cub bent his head, put his hands behind his back and stirred his toe through the grass.

                “He’s not going to listen.” Lightshade whispered. She felt Lioneyes nod, but someone else answered.

                “He never does.” Both Lightshade and Lioneyes turned to regard the newcomer.

                Shadowdancer, Treestar’s lifemate, stood behind them.  His blue eyes glittered as he reguarded the cub as the wind stirred his silky, midnight black, waist length hair.

                “His jokes are getting more and more cruel,” Shadowdancer said with a helpless shrug. “Nothing as bad as a couple turns ago when he put the redspot leaves in Dreamseekers’s tea but…”

                Lioneyes nodded, he amber eyes sympathetic.  Lightshade reached up and gently squeezed Shadowdancer’s hand. He looked at her, a slight smile curving his lips.  She felt a warm, wordless send touch her mind.

                Lightshade smiled.  She and Shadowdancer were age mates. They’d also been lovemates for quite a few turns before his recognition to Treestar and the subsequent birth of Rainfall.  The two of them still shared a quiet empathy for one another.

                Lightshade’s eyes roamed the circle of Wolfriders as Shadowdancer joined Treestar.  Dawnfall sat quietly next to Greenstone, her head on his shoulder. Half Moons sat talking with Snapbranch and Birdsong.  Rainwalker was still frowning, rubbing his behind as Summersky grinned and poked him in the ribs. Their daughter, Fireflower, sat bundled with her lovemate, Dreamseeker, in a bear fur.

                They’ve got to be hot, Lightshade thought.

                A screech of laughter drew her attention to the entwined forms of Glittermorn and Edgewalker.

                Well, at least Fireflower and Dreamseeker grabbed a fur, she smirked as she continued her scan of the tribe.

                Slimarrow was whispering in Daggermark’s ear, running her fingers across his chest.  Straightshot and Rainfall sat next to one another, their hands intertwined.  Not far away, Watermark gazed at Rainfall and once in a while she’d look over at him and smile.  Wild Berry lay on her stomach, giggling with her two lovemates, Grassrunner and Fisher.

                What’s gotten into us? Lightshade thought. It must be these warm summer nights!

                Even her mother, Goldpool, sat with her arms wrapped about Evenhand.  The two of them watched as Leaf danced about Songsinger like a dreamberry drunk bee.

                “But Songsinger,” Whined the cub loudly, “I want to hear about Suncatcher and the long-tooth!”

                Evenhand rolled his eyes.  “Son,” he said, regarding his cub, “you had that story told last time.”

                Leaf began to whine even more loudly, calling up huge, fake tears.  Lightshade shook her and grinned.

                That cub needs someone to keep him under control, she thought.

                “I’ll tell you a shortened version of it, Leaf.” Songsinger’s warm, musical voice floated across the clearing to Lightshade’s ears.  “Then, I’ll tell another story for the rest of the tribe.”

                “Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” Hollard Leaf, drawing a disapproving glance from Treestar and an exasperated sigh from Evenhand.

                Lightshade felt Lioneyes chuckle and relax against the rock behind him.  She reached back and twined her arms about his neck, but kept her eyes on Songsinger.

                “Our chieftess, Suncatcher, was just a youth when she left her father’s camp to go hunting…” Songsinger began.

                Lightshade let the words of the story wash over her.  She hardly even paid attention to the tale.  Songsinger’s voice was memorizing. It rose and fell in a soft, singsong fashion that seemed to relax, yet capture the imagination of the entire tribe. It was deep and musical and she could almost detect a sensual purr as he spoke.

                Lightshade’s breath caught.

                Her eyes scanned the storyteller’s body, taking in the dark leathers – Dawnfall’s design, a funny part of her brain noted – that clung to his leanly muscled legs.  His waist was slender and his chest strong. She could see the lines of definition smoothly shaping them.

                His face was beautiful, with a strong chin and turned up nose. His black hair clung to his high cheek bones except for a wide silver stripe at his temple.  That fell over his black eyes obscuring them.  At the moment, he lifted, long slender fingers and pushed the lock aside.

                Lightshade met those eyes and her world froze.  They were like a starless night sky that she was rising into.  The feeling was at once frightening and exhilarating.  She flew into darkness, and it was like coming home.  She stretched her arms wide, gathering darkness to her until it turned into a silver essence.  The silver danced about her limbs and into her mind.  Glen it whispered.

                Lightshade was not even aware that Songsinger had stopped talking. She didn’t hear Leaf’s loud protests or Lioneyes’ quiet questions. She didn’t see the many pairs of eyes looking at her or note the sudden silence on Howling Hill.

                She did see Songsinger stand and disappear into the forest behind him.  She did feel herself stand and slip after him, knowing he was waiting for her just within the tree line.

                And she did hear Lioneyes’ voice say, just once, “Lightshade” but something much more powerful was calling her.

***************

                Lioneyes watched with his heart in his throat, as Lightshade slipped into the forest after Songsinger. The blood in his veins was frozen, numbing his entire body.  His mouth was dry and there was an awful clutching emptiness in his chest.

                “What about my STORY!” yelled Leaf, heading for the spot where the two elves had disappeared.

                Treestar jumped up and caught her son. “No cub the story is over.”  She glanced back at Shadowdancer. Leaf started complaining and whining as he, Treestar, and Shadowdancer headed towards the holt.

                Other tribe members were also leaving Howling Hill, but Lioneyes couldn’t move. He met Dawnfall’s soft eyes briefly. Her face was somber and her gray eyes gentle.

                A sudden touch on Lioneyes’ shoulder caused him to turn about. Edgewalker stood there, gripping his shoulder.  The chief neither spoke nor sent, just simply stood.

                Lioneyes quickly glanced behind his chief to where Glittermorn stood. Her chocolate brown hair tumbled down her back in luscious waves and her sparkling violet eyes were veiled by long dark lashes.  One side of her ruby lips were nervously caught in her pearl white teeth.

                She really is the most beautiful female of the tribe, Lioneyes couldn’t help but think.

                At that moment, Glittermorn glanced up and met his eyes. She gave him a small, sad smile.  Lioneyes nodded and the two lovers quietly left him alone.

                Lioneyes turned his eyes toward the grass at his feet. His heart had returned to his chest, but now is was full of a stinging ache.

                It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy for Lightshade.  He was ecstatically happy.  He could think of no one better suited to raise a cub then Lightshade and no one more deserving.

                And, a cub!  Lioneyes leaned back against the rock a smile tugging at his lips.  Lioneyes loved cubs.  They weren’t simply the future of the tribe, they were the wealth of opportunities.  Showing them how to hunt, track, and live the Way was what made a Wolfrider’s life full.  Furthermore, a cub made the whole tribe come alive and gave an excuse to be more lighthearted.

                So, Lioneyes had no problem with the idea that a cub would join himself and Lightshade.  He could even accept Songsinger joining them, either as a parent, lovemate, or if it came to it, Lightshade’s lifemate.

                Lioneyes closed his eyes, trying to stop them from stinging.

                The agony that was swirling through him wasn’t for the changes which were going to sweep his life.  It was for what he had lost this night.  Recognition had yet to touch him, and someone else had Lightshade’s soul.

                The warm, summer night breeze blew across his face, cooling tears on his cheeks.

************

                Lightshade watched the stars dissolve and the clouds color with silver, pink and purple through the canopy of leaves.

                She lay, her arms wrapped around Songsinger’s waist, her head resting on his chest. His heart beat softly, urging her to go back to sleep.  But she simply couldn’t.

                *What do we do now, my sweet Glen?* She gently sent.

                Songsinger stirred and gave a soft sigh.  Lightshade smiled and settled closer to him.

                *We were both content before.* Lightshade jumped as Songsinger’s send touched her mind.

                She shifted, and propped herself up on an elbow so she could look into his eyes.  His dark eyes were warm and he raised an eyebrow.

                *What?* she asked.

                *Our lives were full before recognition, Riel,* he sent quietly, he send a lyrical as his voice. *Now, it will be even more so.*

                Lightshade’s heart thumped.

                *I know you, Riel,* he continued, *Your heart is only for Lioneyes.  I would never seek to change that.*

                Songsinger smiled up at her.

                *All I ask, my soul, is that you let me raise the cub as well.* He finished.

                Lightshade felt her eyes flood.

                *I’d never seek to stop that.* she sent him.  She then slid her fingers through the soft silver hair at his temple.

                “I don’t believe anyone will miss us, my sweet Glen.” She said softly smiling.

                Songsinger grinned and the two of them tumbled together.

***********

                The following night, Lightshade found Lioneyes sleeping against his rock at Howling Hill.

                “Have you moved since last night?” she asked.

                His amber eyes flickered open and focused upon her. A small smile played across his lips, but disappeared.

                Lioneyes shrugged.

                “Where’s Songsinger?” He said instead.

                It was Lightshade’s turn to shrug.

                “I don’t know.  His den, probably.”

                Lioneyes blinked.

                “Not yours?”

                Lightshade gave a soft laugh.

                “No, I share that den with my lifemate.”

                Lioneyes blinked up at her again and looked deeply into her eyes.  Slowly he nodded.

                Smiling Lightshade came to him. As she wrapped him in her arms, the warm summer night breeze swirled about them.

Chapter Text

                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.