(See "Linked Stories" for others related to this storyline.)
**Blacksnake, are you there?**
It was probably early by most elves' accounts, but Willow had been awake and busy since well before nightfall, checking her traplines and then skinning the handful of rabbits she'd managed to snare. It had been a good run, and she almost regretted that it had been, considering she wouldn't be able to keep any of the rabbit furs or the meat for herself. But a promise was a promise, and she was the one who got herself into this mess. As she waited for a response, she kept telling herself her prank had been worth the price.
Blacksnake answered with a wordless send that he was, indeed, inside.
**I've brought some rabbits. Do you want me to bring them in?**
**No, I'll come to you. Wait there.**
Willow shifted her weight to her other foot, and figured Blacksnake probably didn't want her anywhere near his things after the prank she'd pulled the day before. She'd ruined one of his good throwing spears and had embarrassed him during a spear-throwing contest. But it had been worth it just to see the shocked look on his face. Of course, he'd lit into her immediately once he'd found out, letting her know that someone could have been hurt if the spearhead had come off mid-throw instead of falling to the ground like it did.
She'd taken the reprimand and had offered rabbits as compensation, but that had been part of the plan, too. She knew he'd react strongly and knew she would need to compensate for a ruined spear. She also knew Blacksnake was too serious. He needed to loosen up, in her opinion, and she often grew tired of his remarks about her friends and her needing to act more their age.
One day though, she'd finally get him to laugh with her. She would keep trying until she did.
"Here, I'll take them now," Blacksnake said, finally emerging from the den.
"I skinned them for you, to save you some work," Willow said, holding out the items in both hands.
The silver-haired elf grunted an affirmation, then took the skins from Willow's left hand and reached for the rabbits she clutched in her right. His hand brushed against hers in the process, and, suddenly, at the point of contact, Willow's skin began to crawl. For the briefest of moments, she felt slightly dizzy, and could almost swear her knees felt stiff. Once Blacksnake had taken the rabbits, she carefully stretched first one leg, then the other, and finally shook her head to try to rid it of the strange fog that seemed to be creeping in.
Willow looked up to see Blacksnake still standing there, peering at her sternly, yet quizzically. "What are you doing?"
His stare made Willow feel odd, as though she had been caught doing something she hadn't been doing, but she couldn't quite figure out what that could have been. Confused, she replied, "Stretching my legs?"
Blacksnake's eyebrows lowered for a moment.
"These are enough to cover your debt. Thank you," he said as he turned and ducked back into his den.
Willow nodded, even though Blacksnake could no longer see her, then watched the Elder stoop slightly as he went back inside. Strange, he looked a bit stiff as he took that first step forward. Wasn't it funny that she noticed it when her own legs had felt so strangely before? Something pricked like a sharp thorn at the back of her mind about the improbability of that coincidence, but she quickly pushed it from her mind.
After all, stranger things had happened.