(This story is related to "Suddendusk & Quick Fang's Recognition" - see listing for more related stories.)
One of Suddendusk's favourite things to do was watch Crackle sleep. It was such a rare sight. He would normally sleep himself, and wanted to do nothing more than curl himself around his youngest daughter and drift off. His restless mind and aching body wouldn't let him, however. His Recognition was too recent, too raw, and it stirred his blood and refused him rest. So he sat, and watched his wild little daughter, and waited for her to wake. The previous day had been spent following her all over the Holt, playing and laughing. He'd intended to tell her, but it simply... never came up. Well, he'd bring it up tonight. She would want to know. He suspected she would be thrilled.
It was almost midnight before Crackle stirred more restlessly and opened her eyes to greet the new evening.
"Why hello there, sleepy-head," Suddendusk said, chewing on a strip of dried meat. He wasn't hungry at all, but he knew he had to eat, even though it tasted like old boot-leather to him. "I was beginning to think you'd sleep till sunrise."
"Can't sleep till sunrise," Crackle said muzzily, "is'not stayin' up past sunrise f'you only just wo-o-o-" she dissolved into a yawn that threatened to swallow the room entirely, its furs and shelves and Suddendusk. The little cub raised a fist to rub her left eye, missed and rubbed her nose instead for a moment before realizing she hadn't quite attained her original goal. She yawned again and sat up, rubbing both eyes now just to make sure.
"Did I have any good dreams?" she half-asked, half wondered out loud, scratched her head, patted her hair down to no avail whatsoever and launched herself over to lean across her father's knees.
Suddendusk gently ruffled his cub's hair. "No dreams that made sense, anyway," he answered. Sometimes Crackle and other cubs would dream in stories, but other times it was just a jumble of images and sounds and other random things.
"Can we go baiting fish today too, father?"
"Yes, we can do that tonight if you like, but first, I'd like to talk to you about something."
He knew Crackle already understood where the young came from. Elves all grew up with the seasonal tides of the wolf pack. They saw how the wolves mated, and they saw the birds and the frogs and also the adults of the tribe. Elf children were no strangers to the idea of mating. Recognition, however, was a different matter. It was unique to elven kind, and painfully rare. The fact that the tribe had three members (soon four) all under fifty was a blessing to be celebrated. He always thought that Otter and Crackle were very lucky to have one another to play with. Some elves didnít get childhood friends at all. And they were both to get even luckier yet.
"So tell me," he started conversationally. "What do you understand of Recognition, Crackle?"
"Not much," Crackle said sadly, shaking her head, "nobody tells me anything important around this holt." Recognition came up every once in a while in talks, but Crackle had never seen one happen and was still not entirely sure what it meant beyond a new cub for the tribe, if the two elves affected glowed somehow or changed color like some animals did in mating season. She was rather sure she wouldn't ever find out, either; being the smallest was just her lot in life.
She pushed her head under her father's hand like Muddypaws did when he wanted to be stroked. "I know it makes cubs, and that you can't decide when it happens otherwise I'd have a little brother already. I don't need one as badly, though, I have Muddy."
Suddendusk nodded and stroked Crackle's hair. "It sounds like you know the basics," he began. "You're right, in that it does make a cub -- that is its whole purpose. And you're right again, in that we can't choose to bring it on when we wish -- nobody knows when or why it strikes. And you're also right," he said with a smile, "in that nobody tells you much of the important things around here, but that, at least, my kitling, is going to change."
He leaned forward and half-whispered in a conspiratorial tone: "I'm going to start telling you some important, adult things, Crackle. You're old enough to understand, I think, and you're old enough to help out, too. Do you think you're ready for the extra responsibility? Do you want to understand a few adult secrets?"
He had to keep himself from grinning like a wolf. He knew his daughter so well.
Sure as the river, Crackle's eyes went very, very round, bright as the sun on new leaves in the darkness of the den. She glanced suspiciously at her father from the corner of her eye. From any other adult, she would've been uncertain, maybe it was some sort of joke. Not all adults were to be trusted, especially when offering her some new and special responsibility - it could just mean she had to do some work, and work was never special.
Surely her father wouldn't, though? Not after having so much fun the night before. That would be too cruel a thought to entertain.
She leaned forward and caught her toes in her hands and rocked back and forth some. "I want to know!" she finally declared. "I like secrets." Then her voice dropped as she jerked a thumb towards the ceiling, "But tell it quietly, so Evervale won't hear."
Suddendusk smiled somewhat apologetically. "I'm afraid Evervale already knows," he said. Wanting to salvage the excitement of the secret, he added, "But she's one of only four other elves who know in the whole tribe. Your sister and mother know, and Quick Fang and Snowfall know. Nobody else. And I choose to tell you before even telling our Chief. And--" he continued, "once I've told you all about it, I'll let you decide who to tell next, and I'll let you tell them yourself if you like."
That Evervale already knew was a disappointment, but the idea of knowing something before the chief (even before Blacksnake!) was thrilling compensation. Crackle bounced a little where she sat and made sure to listen very, very carefully. Once the secret was told it would be up to her to tell it, she would become its keeper, and she could tell it any way she liked too. It was a wonderful thought.
Suddendusk sat back with a look on his face that Crackle knew well: he was about to start lecturing on something educational. "But first: Recognition," he said. "There are a few more things you need to understand about this particular adult secret. You're right in that you can't choose when it happens, but you also can't choose with whom it happens. Your mother and I didn't choose each other -- Recognition did that. We were very lucky in that we get along so well, but Recognition only chooses parents who are physically good for each other. It pays no attention to their personalities. Look at Moss and Nightstorm, for example. They Recognized and had Longshot, but they aren't lifemated. There's no ill will between them, and they remain very dear to each other, but they aren't lifemates. The same with your Uncle One-Leg and Starskimmer. They Recognized, having Notch, and they aren't lifemated, either. Often Recognition leads to lifemating, like your mother and I, or Snowfall and True Edge, or Windburn and Whispersilk, but not always, and that's the way of things. It's not good or bad, it simply is."
Crackle thought to mention that Snowfall and True Edge weren't really Recognized, but her father was sharing a secret now so it was proper to wait with her own. She nodded her understanding. Can't choose when, can't choose with who. But, she noted to herself, it usually chose right. No cub had been born with horns yet after all.
Suddendusk knew he could talk a lot. He hoped he wasn't losing his young daughter's attention, but she hadnít interrupted yet, so he took that as a good sign. He tried to rein himself in a bit. He took a deep breath. "And sometimes," he continued, "Two elves will be happily love- or lifemated to each other, and one of them will Recognize someone else entirely, and a whole bunch of different things might happen. They might make a three-mating, like what Uncle Blacksnake had with Chieftess Easysinger and Oakhand. Or the Recognized elves might lifemate together, ending the original relationship," -- he was not going to explain the whole Cloudfern/Greenweave/Honey mess to her -- "Or," he said, "The Recognized elves will simply answer the call, make their cub, and things will settle back down to the way they were before."
All right, he told himself, enough talk already. She'll be falling asleep again soon if you don't shut your mouth. "Do you understand so far, Crackle? Do you have any questions? I'll tell you whatever you want to know about this adult secret as truthfully as I can."
The cub nodded quickly. It was all a little more complicated, but still natural. These were adult things. All this about lifemating and three-matings and joining. Crackle had never really taken an interest in joining but since Otter was starting to, she knew it would come with time. Lifemating too. She didn't have to mate with anyone yet.
So why was father - ?
Something tickly appeared in Crackle's stomach, and it wasn't fuzzy-tickly, either. It was a little cold. It fluttered from the center of her stomach and upwards into her chest and towards her throat. Evervale already knows... "Father, did - did Evervale Recognize someone? Is she going to lifemate with him? Does she have to?"
Of all the questions he was prepared for his curious little cub to come up with, Was Evervale Recognized? was one of the last ones. The idea, however, struck him as a very good one. He couldn't help but run all the likely elf males through his mind, matching them up with his eldest and coming up with Favourite (Rainpace) and Absolute Last Choice (True Edge). But this was a moot point.
"No, little one, it's not Evervale who has Recognized someone." He took a breath to steady himself and smiled -- he couldn't help it. Although everything wasn't going as smoothly as he'd hoped (Quick Fang still hadn't returned to the holt), the thought of a new cub made him almost giddy. "I have." His smile grew to an all-out grin. "You'll have a new half-sibling in a brief two turns of the seasons."
The fuzzy-cold feeling in Crackle's stomach did a few turns about its axis then promptly soared up and exploded. Father Recognized someone - Mother, surely. There was going to be a new cub. She wouldn't be the smallest anymore. Someone was going to be smaller and that someone would be at least a bit hers. Recognition, real Recognition, not just a story, and there was going to be a real baby-cub, newborn and tiny and - whatever it was elf-cubs were like when they were just born. She'd never seen one before. Now she was going to, and it was going to be a little brother or sister all her own.
She was going to be a big sister.
The sequence of thoughts threatened to turn the cubling's face purple, so hard was she thinking about them and so fast they kept coming. "A cub that's smaller than me?" she gasped, and then before Suddendusk could reply his younger daughter had him in a bear hug and was squeezing the breath out of him with all the strength in her wiry arms. "Oh Father thank you thank you thank you I always wanted one!"
Crackle's exuberance and sheer glee overcame him and he laughed with her. "Yes, a cub smaller than even you!" He laughed again. She was reacting as though he'd brought her home a pet ringtail of her very own. She was trying to jump to her feet but all she managed was to get them both knocked back onto the thankfully padded floor.
That didn't deter Crackle. She was grinning ear to ear. "Kestrel always said if I just waited you and Mother would Recognize again!"
Ah. She'd misunderstood.
Reluctant as he was to ruin the moment, he felt he had to. He sat upright and adopted a more serious tone. "Kestrel was wrong, though, Crackle. It was a good bet, but it wasn't your mother I've Recognized this time." He hoped it might happen again at some point anyway. Stranger things had happened in the tribe in the name of Recognition.
That's what he meant by half-sibling. Crackle peered at her father for a moment, suspicious even though she was still hugging him. Someone else? It fit with Recognition, but it didn't fit... "Mother - " she began, then blinked and gave her head a hard shake. Of course he would have told Mother before telling her, it was firstly a grownup thing, Recognition, and if Mother would've been angry or sad he would've been too...
Suddendusk hastened to reassure her. "We're staying together, your mother and I. No matter what." That, at least, he knew. He didn't think Quick Fang wanted to lifemate with him -- but that, at this point, was an assumption.
"Of course you are," Crackle said firmly. "You've got to. You have me in your den, and you both like me too much to get out. The new cub can live in the den with us too if he wants. And his mother. If she's Chicory. Or Beetle. Then they can come live with us." That would be wonderful, that would be perfect. She'd have both her parents and Chicory or Beetle to share her little den-world with. The idea of her parents parting was beyond the scope of even her imagination.
"Can it be Chicory or Beetle, Father? Please? I prefer Chicory. If that's all right."
He chuckled, ruffling Crackle's hair affectionately. "If I had a choice in it, little one, don't you think I'd choose your mother? But no, it's neither Beetle nor Chicory. It's--" he wondered how this would go over "-- Quick Fang."
Crackle's jaw dropped, her eyes bugging out as only her eyes could. She was ready for a lot of things - Whispersilk would've been scary, Foxtail would've been a disaster, Starskimmer would've meant having to share her new sibling with Otter - but she was not ready for a little brother or sister who'd bite! ďIn our den?!Ē
The question of denning arrangements hadn't yet been addressed, and so he really didn't know what to tell her to expect. Would Quick Fang want to simply give the cub over once it was weaned for him and Windsong to raise? Would she want to be a more active mother? Would she go the other way and be a jealous mother, as unwilling to share parental duties as she was to share other things? As much as her soul-name resonated through him, as much as that made him feel he knew her well now, he still didn't really know what to expect. He wondered if Quick Fang herself did.
"I don't really know yet exactly how things will work out, when it comes to denning and things like that," he admitted, "But we don't have to worry about that for a long time yet. Let's just take this as the moons rise and set, hmm? One night at a time."
She closed her mouth and frowned. There was nothing to do about it. Recognition was Recognition. She felt her heart flutter a bit under her ribs - Quick Fang got angry quickly, she insisted on keeping what was hers - and she hadn't seen her around the Holt all day.
"One night..." she nodded and tried to echo, then bit her lower lip. "Did you join with her already, Father? Where is she?"
Initial shock, then acceptance. Good. Suddendusk felt he could breathe again. He had to grant, it would have been better for Crackle had he Recognized Beetle or Chicory, and there were likely to be some bothersome moments and a few snaps and growls in the future as the family dynamics resettled into something stable, but it was nothing that couldn't be overcome.
"Not yet," he admitted. "Recognition is a big and scary thing if you've never felt it before. It's familiar to me, I've felt it twice now and twice it has brought me unbounded joy," he reinforced his point by squeezing Crackle close. "But Quick Fang has never felt this before, and she's scared of it. She's taking some time to get used to the idea. She'll come back when she's ready."
He didn't know if he was reassuring his daughter or himself anymore. "She'll come back soon."
Glancing up at her father, Crackle couldn't help but look just a bit sceptical. Quick Fang was stubborn, always awfully stubborn, and though she could be nice enough, there was no denying that Crackle and Otter gave her a lot of trouble. No more than they gave all other adults... but a lot. She felt her ribs clench a little. Quick Fang couldn't just decide cubs were too much trouble, could she?
"I'll have to be nice to her now," she mused. "I don't think Chicory would like that..." But that wasn't important really. All that was really important was that Quick Fang came home. Crackle leaned against her father, wondering if she could feel the new life that wanted to be born inside him as well, when it wasn't inside Quick Fang yet.
"Recognition must be really scary if it scares a huntress like Quick Fang," she decided.
Suddendusk smiled and pressed his forehead to hers. "Yes, it is sometimes, if you're not ready for it. Your mother and I were ready for it when it happened, and it was such a wonderful event. And when it happened again, we couldn't believe how lucky we were. And although Quick Fang might take some time to see it that way, I think we're just as lucky, because we're going to have a new cub together, and I really can't think of anything more wonderful."
He looked down on his still-youngest cub with a frightfully serious expression, although the smile in his eyes was impossible to miss. "And you, my Crackling cub, will be a big sister, which is a big responsibility. In a mere handful of turns of the seasons, when the new life is born and grows and starts to explore the world, you will be expected to help teach, and watch, and protect, just as Evervale does for you now. This new cub will need you, and we'll need you to help us. Do you think you'll be ready for that, when it happens?"
The absolute truth was that when he put it like that, Crackle had no idea if she was ready for it. A new cub sounded like a lot of work. It'd be Quick Fang's cub too, probably with sharp teeth and a temper, who'd like Muddypaws better than it liked her. She could teach a younger sibling the best places to hide, or how to make up monsters, and even how to carve a flute, but these suddenly didn't seem like very important things.
It would be hard to be a big sister when she was still small. Evervale was older when I was born, she thought, trying and failing to imagine Evervale as a gangly cub staring with awe at the new life in her arms.
But she had to be good, now, she had to promise. Her father and mother would need help and she wasn't sure Quick Fang knew how to deal with a cub at all, while she, Crackle, was quite an expert on cub needs and behaviour, if she might say so herself. She searched her father's eye briefly, then gave a long, sombre nod. "I'm ready, Papa."
His youngest daughter was being so grown-up it pained him. He wished so much he could keep her just as she was forever. But he knew Quick Fang would be back, and he knew the new cub would come, and would change things, and he knew, even now, that Crackle would be one of the best big sisters in the whole world.
He accepted her solemn pledge with a nod. "It will be several turns of the seasons before we need you to do too much," he said. "Two turns for the cub to even ready itself for birth, and a handful more before it will be walking and talking and ready for you to show it around. You've got a little while yet, my Crackle, but I thank you for your readiness. I knew I could count on you."
Crackle took a breath and stood up, a little encouraged by the thought that she had at least a couple more turns before the cub was born. In a couple more turns she'd be as old as Otter was now, and Otter and she got along very well. "You can always count on me!" she announced, making a promise to herself that she would stop making trouble for him at once. At least for an eight of days.
He stood up, too, and stretched his bones and turned a grin to her. "You do have one immediate duty," he told Crackle. "As I said, you get to decide who we tell first! Should we tell your uncle Blacksnake? Chief Windburn? Uncle One-Leg? Should we call a gathering and tell everyone at once? Windsong, Evervale and Snowfall already know, and I'd be surprised if Snowfall hasn't told True-Edge yet. Rumors are already flying, I'd wager, so we've no time to waste if you want the fun of telling people the good news."
Oh rumors were flying all right. Crackle knew that. They weren't really rumors about Recognition but everyone had noticed that something was the matter. Her father was an active holtmate, and Quick Fang - well, Crackle didn't even know where Quick Fang was, and it didn't make her happy to think about it.
What next...? Crackle scratched behind one ear. She very much wanted to tell Chicory and Moss... especially Moss, who was a father too and would maybe have some good advice, but she knew that wouldn't be too fair. No, there was only one right answer. "I think we should tell Chief Windburn first, Father. He'd be very happy to have someone new in his tribe!"
Suddendusk ruffled his cub's hair and gestured to the mouth of the den. "A wise choice, little one. The Chief will indeed be happy to hear this. I think everyone will."
He followed her out into the cool spring night and breathed in deep. He still felt the deep soul-pull for Quick Fang, he knew he would until the immediate need was satisfied, and he knew he'd still share a bond with her beyond that, but he was happy, in the moment, that things were still going well with his family. He was proud of his youngest's reaction and relieved at that of his eldest, and still felt his lifemate beside him in whatever he did, and whatever came their way.
(This story has several sequels, which may be found in the "Suddendusk and Quick Fang Recognize" listing.)