~*~ 1878.05.06 ~*~
There was that hollow look in Bowflight's eyes that made Pathmark feel so deeply guilty and regretful. He was remembering Finch, Pathmark knew. The twist in his stomach grew, knotting the rest of his insides along with his guts, clamping down on his heart as well. "Father… I-"
"No." Bowflight's voice was rough as he set his things down, carefully not looking at his growing son. "It's to be expected. I shouldn't… it shouldn't remind me…" Bowflight ended with a sad sigh. Pathmark knew at that moment that he'd never bring another elf for a roll in the furs into the den he shared with his father.
"Father…" Pathmark started again, not sure what else to say. He stood by the door, weight shifting from foot to foot as he struggled with the words. **I didn't mean to upset you…** Pathmark sent sincerely.
**I just miss her so much.**
Pathmark was half in shock, not certain he'd heard the sending right. Finch, his mother, had been killed eight and two turns ago and he’d spent half of his life without her. To the young elf it was an eternity ago, and she’d faded into a sweet memory. Apparently, it wasn’t so for his father, who had spent centuries with Finch as his lifemate. Bowflight didn't seem to move, backlit by the dull sheen of the moonmoss. He just sat at the edge of the sleeping furs, head bowed.
Pathmark bit his lip, unsure of what to do with his newfound understanding. The admission of deep emotions was nearly unheard of in this family. Bowflight looked up, and Pathmark realized the brief moment that he'd had to step in and comfort his father had passed before he realized it.
**You can find somewhere else to sleep tonight?** Bowflight's sending was phrased as a question, but there was a serious suggestion underlying the tender way he tried to cover it.
Pathmark nodded. When his father dropped his head again, the young adult bolted outside and away from the entire situation.
~*~ Later that night ~*~
Pathmark discovered Beetle near the bushes where firefly bugs and nighttime butterflies could easily be found. He saw her reaching out to pluck a berry from the bush as she concentrated on the patterns of flight and light.
She heard him before she saw him, and sent, **You can join me... just don't make any sudden movements. Don't scare them away!**
Pathmark joined her, plucking a few berries for himself. He watched the flying insects for a moment or two, then turned to study Beetle. Watching her watch them was more interesting than the bugs.
**You don’t usually manage to stay silent this long,** Beetle commented, surprising Pathmark from his thoughts. **Are you alright?**
**I’m fine…** Pathmark sent reflexively. He grew uncomfortable as Beetle’s attention turned from the night bugs and fixed on him. **Bowflight… was upset. He still misses my mother so much. We… we can’t use that den anymore Beetle. It hurts him too much, even if he won’t say so himself. But he’d want me to have the same kind of happiness that he had with Finch, I know it. I think I need to have my own den now that well, we’re sort of lovemates, right?** His words started to rush together. **I don’t think Bowflight and I can keep sharing a den, even if he is my father.**
Beetle, not realizing what direction Pathmark was taking, responded distractedly, **Well, Pathmark, what do you propose?**
**Well,** Pathmark hesitated between bites of the sweet summer berries. **Would you want to make it something a little more permanent? I mean that way I could leave things at your den and not have to worry about getting them later, or have to interrupt him with... well, whatever, and um, it wouldn't be that big of a deal or anything. It would be a lot of fun...** Pathmark hinted, passing a handful of berries over to Beetle. **I think I just need some distance from him, you know?** He caught her hands when she reached for the fruits. **And I wouldn’t mind getting closer to you…**
~*~ 1878.05.07 ~*~
Beetle blushed, remembering the moment the night before when Pathmark had shared that he wanted to be closer. As she sat contemplating Pathmark’s proposal and blushing at the thought of what it could mean, her thoughts were interrupted by her father’s voice. “What has my pretty daughter blushing this early in the morning?”
Beetle looked up. Her father’s grin let her know that he had the right direction but the wrong idea. “It’s not anything like that, Father.”
“Oh, really?” He looked at the crimson flush working its way down his daughter’s neck and seriously doubted her denial. Choosing not to make her utterly uncomfortable, he turned his gaze and began working as they talked. “If it’s not like that, then what is it?”
“See, I knew it had to do with that.”
“Not that, Father! Really! It’s more… well… Bowflight found us… well, you know, and it made him really uncomfortable. I feel really badly about that. And well, Pathmark suggested we… well… share a den.”
“That sounds wonderful! You two have been friends for so long—I was wondering when this would happen.”
Cloudfern almost got sentimental at the thought of his daughter with a lovemate. Almost. He decided to be more practical, knowing that would be more appreciated. “Your den is so small—do you want me to re-shape it for you?”
Beetle considered his suggestion, but declined. The den could comfortably fit two people, or so she thought.
~*~ 1878.05.09 ~*~
Pathmark's dull-blond curls appeared in the den door a half second before his grin. "I think this is the last of them," he announced cheerfully, rolling into the den with another rolled fur-blanket and a half dozen clay jars filled with his odds and ends. His winter clothing and carving tools had made it in a previous trip. Other blankets and accessories joined the piles of his stuff in Beetle's den. "There." He let out a deep breath with a laugh. "It's amazing how much you really have when you really think that it's nothing," the young tracker remarked.
One of the jars tipped as he bent to look back out of the den door at the new view of the forest. Unknapped stones about the right size for arrowheads fell and scattered across the floor as Pathmark looked bashfully back at Beetle. "Sorry," he quickly said and turned back to the task at hand - unpacking, since she'd recently agreed to let him move into her den with her. He started finding free space to store the rest of the jars, setting them down on any available surface.
When Pathmark's stones fell and scattered across the floor Beetle looked around at what was once her den, and felt her apprehension rise. Jars now littered the once-bare surfaces of her den. Carving tools along the walls gave her den a cluttered feel. The piles of blankets and accessories stifled her feeling of freedom. Knowing that Pathmark would not leave later on to go back to his den added to the feeling of suffocation. 'This isn't just my den anymore,' she told herself. Beetle felt shame at the possessiveness she felt toward her den--'our den,' she corrected herself, groaning inside. 'Why did I agree to this?' she wondered.
The answer was apparent—she and Pathmark had been playing at lovemates for some time, and now they were just making it official. Starskimmer and Cloudfern had both been supportive, each for their own reasons. She had felt a check in her spirit as early as Pathmark’s proposal of the idea, but she had allowed others, especially her parents, to allay her fears by pointing out how wonderful it could be to share a den with someone you loved. She had not been so certain. Did she really love h im in that way?
Turning from her thoughts, Beetle returned attention to Pathmark, who was busy tidying up the mess he had managed to make. "There," Pathmark said, looking triumphant as the floor was once again clean. He tucked the last vessel out of the way of the door. "That ought to do it," he laughed, not quite sure what to make of her expression. "I promise I won't be carving or knapping in here..." He teased Beetle a little, wondering what she looked worried about. Pathmark reached out for her hands, pulling her closer. "This will be great" he said tenderly.
And it was great. For a time.
~*~ 1878.07.29 ~*~
"How are you enjoying your denmate?"
Beetle looked at her mother, noting the wicked twinkle in her eye. "Hmph." she responded.
Starskimmer's teasing expression changed to one of concern.
Beetle knew she would not escape her mother without sharing what was going on. “First, he moves in with everything he owns, taking over what was once my space. I know that’s selfish, but still. He’s not as neat as I am, and it’s frustrating. When I go to look for something, it’s been moved and replaced by… well, by almost anything. He promised he wouldn’t do any carving or knapping in the den, but I still find shavings in the furs, and they itch!”
“Is that all that’s bothering you?”
Beetle groaned. She knew that the truth would come out sooner or later, so she decided it would be sooner. "Well, Mother, it would definitely be more enjoyable having a lovemate to share the den with if he didn't bring others into the den all the time. I haven't had a good night's sleep in a whole handful of days. My den was not shaped with roommates in mind! When I agreed to let Pathmark move into my den, I thought I was just allowing Pathmark--I didn't know I was giving leave to every--well, almost every--member of our tribe!"
Starskimmer raised an eyebrow. Beetle acquiesced, "All right, it was only one night, and it was only Chicory, but there's the potential for him to invite anyone he wants to! And he doesn’t even ask first!"
"Well, daughter, you could avoid that if you enjoyed the furs with him a little more. He's young, and so are you! You two could have a lot of fun together!"
Beetle's face turned a little red. Looking at her mother, she admitted, "We have had some fun..," she trailed off, hesitant to admit her feelings.
""But... I've realized that Pathmark's more of a brother to me than a lovemate! He's my best friend, but... somehow it just isn't right sharing furs with him. I would never share furs with Coyote. I'm not sure I should share furs with Pathmark." She decided to send. The images shared Beetle's feeling of discomfort and the awkwardness. Finally, she admitted, "It wasn't like this... before. But now... well... it's changed somehow. And... I just don't know what to do."
~*~ 1878.08.10 ~*~
Beetle couldn't sleep. Instead, she sat watching Pathmark as he slept. Her thoughts wandered over the day's events, and she smiled as she thought of his antics that day. She'd been particularly discouraged, trying to figure out how to make a powder into moving bubbles. She'd tried various combinations of herbs, dust, even some ground up rock minerals, all to no avail.
It was Pathmark who had sat watching, encouraging, telling stories to make her laugh, and encouraging her to keep trying. She'd come close a couple of times, but close never was quite close enough. Eventually, he had distracted her, pulling her away from her work and out into the forest for some fun. Now he lay sleeping, peaceful and happy as always. And she couldn't sleep.
She stood, and moved back to her experiment and sat thinking. Then, she gathered the ingredients. First, she reached for the cone-shaped mountain Starskimmer had made for her as a child. She sat it before her, then reached for a water pitcher, filling the cone half-way with the water. In a bowl, she used a pestle to ground up some grain into a fine powder. Taking the shiny flakes of metal she had gathered, she ground those as well, adding them to the flour. Mixing that, she paused to consider whether this might work. She hadn’t mixed the powders earlier in the day.
Taking the liquid that she used to clean her bowls, she poured a few large acorn capfuls into the water. Then, she paused, making mental notes about what she had done thus far. Deciding that she wanted the concoction to be red, Beetle again used pestle and mortar, this time crushing the petals of roses she had gathered earlier in the day. They had dried some, but once in powder and liquid form, they were certain to act as a dye. She added the coloring to the contents of the mountain and smiled.
Taking the white powder she had created earlier, she added that to the mountain. Satisfied, and more than certain that this would actually work, she moved the mountain with its contents to a ledge where she could watch the reaction from a better angle. Smiling, she knew it was time. She added the final ingredient—sour apple-water.
Suddenly, the reaction she had been waiting to see all day happened. She stifled a squeal of excitement, not wanting to wake Pathmark. Bubbles formed and suddenly spilled over the side of her miniature hollow mountain. The coloring she had added made it look like liquid fire, and Beetle enjoyed watching as it spread. Finally, the reaction stopped and Beetle happily stretched and yawned. Curiosity satisfied, she was finally tired.
Beetle moved back to where Pathmark still lay contentedly sleeping. Happy at her success, Beetle crawled under the covers and snuggled up next to Pathmark. Suddenly grateful for him, she nuzzled even closer.
~*~ 1878.08.11 ~*~
Pathmark woke early, having promised his tracking skills to the hunting party that would be heading out as the sun set. He stirred quietly for a few minutes, unwilling to leave the comfy warm nest that he and Beetle had fallen into. It was with great reluctance that he untangled his limbs from hers, and sat up. And sniffed. That was strange. He tested the air again. He definitely wasn’t imagining it.
It smelled like something Starskimmer had brewed, but left too long – sour, and almost fruit-like. Curious, Pathmark took the time to pull on his pants, then headed over to the ledge. This was new. He poked at the hard clay construct. Something red and crusty had dried over it… and over the rest of the shelf as well. Pathmark furrowed his brow in confusion and looked over at his sleeping lovemate. What had she done last night? He tentatively scratched at the substance, and hoped that it wasn’t anything poisonous as he sniffed at the red crust. Underneath it was still sticky.
And then he had to bite back a cry of dismay. He pulled his favorite necklace free from the residue. He hadn’t meant to leave it out, not again, not after Beetle had made such a point over her space, and what she wanted where. Pathmark sighed, and it fell from his fingers back into the mess.
Beetle stirred. Pathmark cringed. He knew he’d wakened her. **I’ll be back by daybreak if this goes as planned…** He sent, trying to season the words with care and love rather then the disappointment he was currently feeling. He left the den behind, and wouldn’t admit to himself that what he felt was relief to be gone.
~*~ 1878.09.04 ~*~
Beetle knew it wasn’t working, and wasn’t going to work, with Pathmark, and she felt badly for it. She missed him—Pathmark her friend. She thought of the times they had spent together, laughing, hunting, playing, and loving. She remembered pranks they had pulled and jokes they had told. She also missed having him encourage her when she got down. One of the most positive elves in the tribe, he had a way of making her smile.
Or at least, he had.
She missed him, Pathmark her friend, and she wondered what would happen if they tried to go back to that friendship. Would it be awkward, or would it be like old times? She knew it couldn’t get more awkward and uncomfortable than it was already, but she didn’t want to upset him, either.
When he entered the den, she was trying to figure out how to tell him what she was feeling. Sensing that she was not in a mood for talking, he suggested a hunt. Relieved, she agreed and together they left the den in silence.
~*~ Later that night ~*~
With Pathmark’s sharp eyes and Beetle’s quick, though hesitant aim, the tracker and archer had managed to return to the holt with a hand of birds and a small bag of powdery growth that had caught Beetle’s attention. It had taken them most of the night to scrape enough from the tree bark to satisfy her, but it had been well worth it. For the first time in weeks they were getting along effortlessly, laughing at a recent incident that had gotten Coyote in trouble, predicting what sort of odd pet Sparrow would try to come home with next. Pathmark realized it was the most relaxed he’d been since he’d moved out of the den he’d shared with his father.
Pathmark turned his eyes up to the home trees, finding the entrance to their den. He paused, suddenly wanting to drag his feet. “I think I’ll pluck the birds now. I’ll probably fletch tomorrow, do you want plain feathers or should I ask Whispersilk to dye them first?” He passed her his spear – it had been useless on this trip, as usual.
Beetle shrugged, and Pathmark started to pick up on the tension that was gathering around her. He raised his hazel eyes to the den again. He didn’t want to go back there, and from the looks of it, she was just as unhappy with the situation.
His stomach twisted, and he suddenly saw what they’d been dancing around for the last few moons with a new clarity. “This isn’t going to work, is it?” he asked quietly, staring at the ground.
“No,” Beetle agreed, in a tone just as soft.
Pathmark nodded in silent acceptance. “I think Cloudfern could open one of the other dens for me.” He stared at the upper branches of the tree, not wanting to look at Beetle, resigned to the fact that this brief attempt at lovemating was already over. But beneath the sadness there was also relief, and hope. Maybe this meant that they could eventually get their friendship back.
She, too, felt a mix of disappointment and relief. She, too, felt hope. Pathmark really was one of her closest friends, and she didn’t want to lose that. She offered to help him with the plucking and said she’d help him with the move. Making a teasing remark about how long it took him to move in, she smiled and then gave Pathmark a hug. The friendship was already returning.