(This story is related to "Suddendusk & Quick Fang's Recognition" - see listing for more related stories.)
Suddendusk honestly couldn't say for certain how long it took him to find his way back to the Holt. He was surprised he'd remembered to bring the few weasels they'd gathered from the traps. His mind was swimming, and for some reason his visual handicap was bothering him much more than usual. He'd been hit in the face by more tree branches on the return trip than he had in the past several turns of the seasons.
Once in range of the Holt, he lock-sent for Icemane. He didn't trust himself to send to anyone else -- Quick Fang's soul name was bouncing around in his head far too much; he worried that it might burst out of his mind if he contacted another elf mentally. Icemane came swiftly when called, recognizing the note of urgency and disorientation in his sending. Concerned, she sniffed him head to foot, and whined in confusion when she couldn't find any physical reason for his state. He climbed on to her back and they made their way to the Holt, though Suddendusk really didn't feel like talking to anyone other than Quick Fang. But that was not to be just yet.
His first order of business was Quick Fang’s safety. She couldn't be in any better shape than he was in, and he feared for her. Her friends -- where were they? Which of them would be best to send after her? He rejected the idea: forget her friends, where was Snowfall?
He found her alone, thankfully, in the den she shared with Quick Fang’s sire. He was thankful that he wouldn’t have to face True Edge just yet. Somehow, he wasn’t looking forward to that.
“Snowfall,” he said. At first, he tried to hide his shaking hands and quavering voice, but then gave it up for lost. It was too fresh, he couldn’t hide it. “I need your help.”
“Suddendusk!” Her expression melted into one of concern. “What’s happened to you? Are you all right?”
He smiled a bit ruefully. “Not really. But I need you to go find Quick Fang, keep an eye on her. We were out in the woods, checking the trap lines together, and…” He swallowed hard. He hated that this wasn’t as joyous an occasion as it should have been. “We Recognized, Snowfall. And she bolted like a clickdeer scenting a wolf.” He looked at his own trembling hands. “She can’t be in much better state than I am, and she’s terrified and running and I’m worried she might get hurt, and she’d only run faster if she knew I was following.” He looked up and met the storyteller’s worried expression with his own. “She needs you.”
Snowfall blinked, taking a moment to absorb and then assess the situation. Her daughter? Recognized? A grandcub! But she’s running, and frightened, and possibly in danger. And what had he said? Quick Fang needed her? Snowfall smiled, somewhat sadly, charmed on some level by Suddendusk’s inexperience with less-than-perfect mother-daughter relations, in spite of his long years. His own daughters and Windsong were close, and he didn’t seem to understand that, unlike his own cubs, not all elves run first to their mothers when frightened. Snowfall's practical side seized control – there might be no need to confront Quick Fang or even speak with her at all, but there was a need to keep her safe. She could follow her cub and mother her from a distance, whether Quick Fang liked it or no. Her daughter need not even know she was there. She nodded and grabbed a light cloak and her spear. “I’ll get Growler, if he’s not already on his way to find her.”
“Thank you,” he said. They both scrambled out of the den and down the Father Tree to the ground.
Snowfall gave Suddendusk a quick reassuring hug. “It’ll all turn out fine in the end,” she said with a newly-minted grandmotherly twinkle in her eyes, and then turned and ran into the woods to find her frightened girl-cub.
Otter was trying to whittle a new pair of dice for his older brother at the base of Mother Tree, and watched the exchange with mild interest. “Where’s Quick Fang?” he asked as innocently as he could. “She left with you earlier, didn’t she?” Notch would be most interested to hear about all this, and might even be so pleased with the news that he'd let Otter tag along on whatever misadventure he decided upon.
Suddendusk took a deep breath. He was surprised at how short his temper was at the moment. He had absolutely no mental reserves left. “Now is not the time for pranks, Otter.”
Otter simply nodded. He didn’t know what was going on but he was absolutely sure that Notch would know, or at least have a guess, and the idea that it might provide the opportunity to poke Quick Fang was too good to ignore. After a heartbeat or two, he sheathed his knife with an unsubtle grin and scampered – he tried to be casual about it, but there wasn't any such thing as a 'casual scamper' – in the direction of Notch's den.
Before he knew what he was doing, Suddendusk found himself towering over Otter and snarling through clenched teeth. "Now is not the time for pranks, Otter." He stared down the younger elf fiercely, issuing a rare and wordless challenge. Otter blanched, unused to discipline for pranking – harmless pranking! – coming from Suddendusk of all elves. He felt almost pressed into the ground by the unnerving one-eyed stare, and he instinctively lifted his chin a fraction as he yielded to the elder. What had he done that was so bad?
The instant Suddendusk let up, Otter scrambled away, breathless and shaken, and Suddendusk watched him vanish behind Mother Tree. He felt immediately sorry. That was a bit... harsh. He'll certainly get an earful from Starskimmer later on, he was certain, and he deserved it.
But there was no point in trying to fix it now. He kept a hand on Icemane’s shoulders as he walked, and tried to hide the fact that he was partially using her for support. He needed to find someone who could finish his snare trail, someone who knew the trails as well as he did. "Rainpace," he called as he spotted his fellow trapper pinning back his leather flaps to air out his den in the warm spring night. "Would you do me a favour and finish the Big Rock trail for me? It's halfway done. I can't finish it right now." He tried to keep a neutral but somewhat hard expression. He didn't want to be rude, but he also didn't want to explain. He had no trouble telling people what had happened, but instinct told him that Quick Fang would want him to keep it as quiet as possible for now. For her sake, he did not elaborate.
Rainpace cocked his head at Suddendusk curiously, wondering about and hoping for an explanation. But when Suddendusk remained silent on the issue, Rainpace simply nodded, respecting his need for privacy. "I'll get it done tonight."
Suddendusk returned the nod and turned away. "Thank you."
His first instinct was to return to his own den, but he couldn't bring himself to. Intellectually, he knew this wasn't his nor anyone else's fault, but there was a part of him that felt that he'd betrayed Windsong and jeopardized his growing, happy, stable little family. Instead, he and Icemane left the immediate vicinity of the Holt, and went towards the river. He'd sit and skin the weasels he had. If he couldn't be with Quick Fang, he needed to be alone.
Windsong awoke quite suddenly to a warm den, a warmer cub curled around her, and a faint sense of something being just a little bit off. Unusual, at least. She listened, but heard nothing more than the usual noises of a Holt waking up to a pleasant night. She untangled herself from Crackle carefully, patting her back to sleep, and climbed out of their den. She knew she had the space of maybe eight breaths before her overactive cub was up and hopping, but she meant to use them well.
Only, there wasn't anything wrong, as far as she could see. Holtmates were coming out of dens, the early-risers returning from hunts or guard-duty or...Where was Suddendusk? She knew he was an early riser, after all, and she'd stayed up with Crackle until well past sun-high, it made sense that he hadn't woken her...A questing mind touch fell short of reaching him- not in the Holt proper, then. Normally she'd leave him to his business, but the unnerving sense of wrongness nagged at her.
"Otter, could you let Crackle know I'll be back, and she should try not to get herself into too much trouble while I'm gone?" Futile orders, but she gave them anyway. Otter, having recovered somewhat, scowled but nodded. "What is it?"
"A burr stuck under Suddendusk's tail." He replied bluntly. "He growled at me, and I hadn't done anything."
"Did he?" That was unusual. "Did you see where he went?" Otter pointed out the right direction. "Thank you." With that, she whistled for Half-tail and trotted off in what she hoped was the right direction.
**Lifemate?** It'd be a while before she was in range, but she kept up a constant shallow search for him.
Suddendusk sucked on his bleeding thumb. One shouldn't attempt to skin anything when one's hands were shaking so much. It wasn't deep, and wouldn't even need a bandage. There was no sense in making a fuss over it. He tossed the half-butchered weasel to Icemane, who was delighted with the treat, and put the other three aside to give to someone else to skin. He leaned back against the tree he'd sat under and closed his eye, willing his head to stop pounding and Quick Fang's soul name to stop drilling itself into his core.
Windsong's quiet sending sent a mixed jolt of guilt and relief through him. Guilt for having gotten himself caught in what was shaping up to be a giant mess, and relief that she was here. She was his foundation, his rock, his haven of rationality and sense. This would hurt her, perhaps, but pushing aside "Dehn" and calling up "Mytan" reminded him of what they had. She would stand by him, he was sure of it.
"I'm here," he called softly. He did not send his usual mental nuzzle. He still did not trust his own mind to keep everything from tumbling out of it. Everything was still so fresh and raw and Now.
When Windsong came into view, he fought down a renewed surge of guilt, this time for wishing it had been Quick Fang that came to find him rather than his own lifemate. He loved Windsong deeply and truly, but his mind and body were utterly engulfed by the tidal wave that was Recognition. He could barely think of anything else.
He forced a smile. "It's a beautiful night."
Suddendusk's voice, and the lack of a sent greeting, made Windsong's tension shoot up a notch or three, and she hurried into the clearing. He was tense, she could see that immediately, and-
"You've cut yourself?" Unlike him, to be that clumsy. She walked up to him, brushing his shoulder in casual comfort as she went for the other weasels. "Is it very deep?" She could see it wasn't, but still, it was something to say. She turned, one weasel in her hand. "You're upset. What's wrong?"
He looked at his thumb and licked the blood away. "I did. And it's nothing. A scratch. It'll heal up fine in a night or two." He looked at his hands for a moment longer, willing them to stop trembling. It didn't work.
Looking at Windsong again, he felt crushed by a wave of sadness and grief, as though he were about to lose everything they had together. He knew that was folly, of course, but his family were so very important to him that he couldn't help but fear anything that threatened to change it. His overprotective streak did not end with his daughters; it embraced them all. And now it was about to change, and Suddendusk had to admit that he wasn't sure how it would, and that frightened him terribly.
It took a long moment for him to find the words. "Something's happened," he stated plainly. "Quick Fang probably wants me to keep it secret from everyone, but..." he took Windsong's hand in his, "You're a part of me, lifemate. I would not keep anything from you." He knew the buildup was probably making the anticipation of it almost unbearable, so he braced himself and plunged forward with it: "Quick Fang and I have Recognized."
The look on his face scared Windsong badly, and the fear was only slightly calmed when he touched her. When he explained, the words seemed disjointed to her. Quick Fang, Recognized, yes that made perfect sense. The 'I' in that sentence put it all out of order, impossible as snow in the middle of the hottest season. She kept her hold on Suddendusk's arm, holding on tightly to keep from falling, and swallowed hard.
"You- y-you and- Send it to me." It was the only way. The only way for her to know it wasn't a particularly cruel joke, the only way for her to even grasp it. She could deal with what it meant afterwards. After she believed it. **Send it.**
He winced and squeezed his eyes shut. He wished she hadn't asked that. Quick Fang's soul name was bouncing around in his head so much he wasn't sure he could send anything to anyone without it bursting out of him. But he was good with sending, he always had been. His mental voice was strong and sure, and just as he'd been initially frightened to send to anyone other than Windsong after their first Recognition, he knew that it could be done. He was quite practiced with it.
"All right," he said. He cradled his head in his hands. "Just... a moment. I have to... quiet her. Quiet her name. It's very loud right now. I don't want it to slip out."
Dhay, Dhay, Dhay... He called up his own soul name and wrapped Quick Fang's up in it, mentally wrestled it to the ground and locked it away, deep inside. He concentrated until he was sure it was held at bay from the forefront of his mind. The lock was his own soul name, though -- should Windsong use it against him, he'd unravel like a poorly-made blanket. She wouldn't, though. If he thought there was the slightest chance that she would, he'd refuse to do this.
**It's true,** he finally managed to send. His mental voice was strained, but the tumultuous hodgepodge of feelings behind it was summer-sky clear. **I've Recognized--** he stumbled. Nearly let it through. But he didn't. **Her. Quick Fang.** He shoved the thought of Quick Fang out of his active mind and let Windsong see just about everything else. How he wants so badly to laugh with joy but fear of how this will affect his family holds it back. How he feels stupidly guilty for Recognizing anyone other than her. How he secretly hopes that Quick Fang will shun motherhood as Whispersilk did and allow Suddendusk to simply add the cub to his current family with as few ripples as possible. How he also secretly hopes that Quick Fang will prove to be a better mother than that. How angry he is at the Recognition itself. How confused yet grateful he is that he could go cubless for nearly seven hundred years and then Recognize three times in such quick succession.
A deep, cold fear that Evervale will blame him for ‘abandoning’ her mother the way Dreamflight blames Greenweave for the same.
How much he looks forward to telling Crackle she'll have a younger sibling soon.
How much he loves them all.
Windsong's eyes widened as her lifemate let her into his mind. In the overwhelming flow of images, emotions and thoughts, she didn't even notice the part that was being kept from her. That would come later, and hurt later, but for now, the very core of her knew only that Suddendusk wasn't at fault. Nobody was. Recognition happened, as it would...By some cruel fate, they'd been allowed two of them, but denied a third. They'd had more than most elves ever managed. She had to hold on to that. And to him.
The Sending was almost too powerful for her to grasp fully, but certain things lasted in her mind. Crackle, Evervale, having a new sibling? He was right, Crackle would be overjoyed. She remembered her talk with Kestrel, asking about a younger brother or sister, and remembered her final conclusion. Had Quick Fang ever figured into those questions?
Really, of all people, Quick Fang?
Finally, she had to chuckle. Weakly, but she had to. She couldn't hold him back from this- she didn't want to. She just had to trust that he'd come back, and she'd never really doubted that. "She won't be able to keep it secret long." Was all she said, between chuckles. Then she touched her forehead to Suddendusk's, and sent as well. She was much weaker, but clear nonetheless.
Love, unconditional and unwavering. Joy for him, knowing how happy this would make him. Pride that he was granted a third Recognition. Acceptance of whatever he wanted to do- she'd welcome a new cub into their family den willingly...and accepted the thought of him moving out only because she knew it'd never, ever even come up. A touch of pity for Quick Fang, and for him, being thrown together like that. A touch of protectiveness, worrying about him with the sometimes-feral female. Hope, that this would change as little as possible. She knew the hope was faint- things would change, at some point. But maybe not soon.
"She has no idea how lucky she is, does she?" She said out loud at last, still holding onto Suddendusk.
Even as he held Quick Fang's name back from her, he allowed Windsong's sending to blow through him and over him, caressing his mind as a fresh summer breeze. The love, acceptance and hope filled him and buoyed him like a warm current. He drew her near and held her strongly, fiercely, as though he never wanted to let her go. And, he couldn't help it, he started to laugh. The same laugh he'd experienced with Evervale's beginnings, the same laugh he'd had for Crackle's, but this one was joy mixed with relief. Joy for a new life, and relief that he'd do it as he'd done the other two: with Windsong. She might not bear the cub herself, but she would be with him nonetheless.
Her question came out somewhat muffled against his shoulder as he held on to the hug. He nodded. "She's terrified," he said. "So terrified she tried to take a bite out of me." He chuckled to take the edge off. Snapping at him was just so... so... Quick Fang. "She ran off into the woods, half-blind with fear. I sent Snowfall and Growler after her. I need her to be safe, but she'd... she'd run from me." He pulled back to look at Windsong and attempted a bit of a joke to chase the sadness from his voice. "I'm not that repulsive a mate, am I?"
Windsong snorted. "I meant it, she doesn't know her own luck. She couldn't have wished for a kinder, stronger, or better elf to Recognize." She said it with utter conviction, but knew as she spoke that no Recognition, however good the chosen mate, was welcome when one wished for no Recognition at all. Still, she found herself just a little jealous, and mire than a little angry that Quick Fang had already tried to hurt him. "She'd better not try that again, or she'll have me to answer to." She half-smiled, but her tone meant business.
"Should I go talk to her, d'you think? Maybe...explain? Not right now, of course," She added quickly. "But later." Just so she wouldn't be worried on that count.
"I think that may help, yes," he answered. He nuzzled her ear. "Thank you." He still felt terrible. Here he was, his beloved lifemate in his arms and comforting him, saying wonderful things and being so understanding... and all he could think about was Quick Fang. He felt betrayed by his own mind and his own body. He didn't want to want Quick Fang, but he did. Oh, he did.
He heaved a sigh. "All we can do right now is wait," he said. "For Snowfall to bring her home, and for her to come to grips with it all."
"I hope she doesn't take too long." There was only so long one could deny Recognition, and it'd hurt both sides of it. She could see how it was already hurting Suddendusk, and a slow, hot coal of anger started burning in her. Quick Fang should be counting herself lucky, not hiding from this. Windsong pushed the anger away, though- neither one of them deserved it. "She'll come around. You'll see." And if she needed a swift kick in the tail-region, Windsong'd be happy to provide one. She sighed.
Suddendusk chuckled wickedly. "I have half a mind to let it slip to Crackle that I share a secret with Quick Fang, and that although I'd love to tell her all about it, I can't, because Quick Fang would get mad at me. But that's just cruel." He leaned his head back against the tree they sat under. "I'm happy to tell them, but Quick Fang needs a bit more time to adjust to things. She won't react well if she comes home and everyone starts congratulating her on a cub she hasn't even brought herself to accept yet."
He hoped she was right, and that Quick Fang would come around to the idea, and soon. Farscout's dilemma was never far from his mind, however. What if Quick Fang took so long to come to terms with it that she had an accident and was injured, and needed to be put in wrapstuff, like Brightwood? Or worse yet, died?
"Something like this won't stay secret for long, even if nobody says a word about it," he said, half trying to reassure himself. "The tribe has too many eyes and ears, and clever minds. I'll wager Blacksnake will know the moment he lays eyes on me."
"Don't tease Crackle." Windsong warned, shaking her head in mock-anger. "It'd be cruel to her...and crueler by far to Quick Fang. As you said, give her time to take it all in." An extended family composed in part of a too-bouncy cub would be a shock to anyone. She nodded, then.
"It'll be all over the Holt soon. Would- would you like to stay here? I can hold the questioning horde off for a while." Maybe throwing herself into the routine of the Holt would help things sink in more slowly and comfortably, for both of them. "And if Blacksnake dares laugh, you have my permission to feed him his own boots."
"I won't tease her," he promised. "She'd go running straight to Quick Fang, and then Quick Fang would snap her head clean off. I wouldn't do that to either of them." Although, were he a less scrupulous elf, he'd still think it would be funny.
Suddendusk took a breath and thought about going back to the Holt. Quick Fang wouldn't be back for who knew how long. And even when she did, what then? "I don't want to be too far away," he said. He looked at his wounded thumb, which thankfully had stopped bleeding, but was still red and angry-looking. "But I'm pretty much useless right now, and I don't really want to face any questions. I think I will stay here. Icemane will keep me company."
He drew Windsong back into a tender hug. "Thank you, lifemate. For everything." He smiled. "No matter what, you and I will get through this together."
"We will." Windsong nodded. Anything else was unthinkable. She nuzzled his neck, sighing a little. "It'll be alright. A new cub will bring joy to everybody." She stepped away. "Come back when you're ready. I'll be waiting…Always." She hopped on Half-tail and headed back towards the Holt. No matter what happened next, she'd be there, waiting for him.
(This story has several sequels, which may be found in the "Suddendusk and Quick Fang Recognize" listing.)