(This story is part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers - Background" series of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
A chill spring shower misted down over the holt, turning the pale dawnlight filtering down through the branches into a filmy veil woven through with half-formed rainbows. The elves and the creatures that shared the night with them had long since returned to their dens and even the earliest-rising birds kept silent in their hideaways, leaving only the soft, arrhythmic patter of raindrops on leaves to greet the day.
Fewer than four hands of days had passed since Honey had gone into wrapstuff. Every night since her loss had seen Greenweave and Dreamflight sharing the same den, their grief binding them together with a closeness that they had not shared since his daughter was a small child. They had held each other, seeking solace in what remained of their little family, shedding tears even as they tried to comfort themselves with the knowledge that the future held at least the hope of reunion.
Now, sitting with his back against the east-facing bole of the dentrees, Greenweave breathed in the solitary peace as if just taking enough of it into himself might soothe his troubled mind. The damp of the rain sinking into the shagback cloak sitting heavy on his shoulders brought the ghost of the long-dead beast to his nose. The faint musk was not nearly enough to erase the feminine scent still clinging to the inner lining of the cloak, sweeter than shagback, but still with the sour understench of fevered sweat, even after airing. The cloak had warmed his lifemate as she lay on her sickbed, wracked with increasingly weak coughs, her hair matted by unceasing cold sweats and sticking to itself in clumps. The Preservers had been a mercy.
Greenweave heaved a deep sigh and let his eyes slip shut.
So short a time and already relief was creeping in. Relief and a yearning that was not for his lifemate, an older emotion and more hopeful now than it had been in turns upon turns. These feelings mixed badly with the tight ball of grief tucked beneath his breastbone, leaving him restless. He loved Honey. Even before Recognition, she had been his adored cousin, old enough to learn from, but not so old that she could not be a playmate as well. Knowing her as Ahla, knowing her down to her soul, had been both wondrous and painful. To know so much more of her than surface deepened his existing affection for her to a breathtaking degree. To know that he could not be her happiness, to know that even as he held her and murmured her soulname over and over in love, he was not capable of filling the need in her, to feel her nips at his shortcomings underlying every send that proclaimed love...there was the pain. He'd entered into a lifemating confident that he could be what she needed, that they could recreate the harmony lingering in childhood memories of family for themselves, and, instead, he'd only failed, leaving his lifemate wondering in what way she did not measure up to her own ideals and resenting him for it. There was an unspeakable relief in a respite from that cycle, a slinking, deeply buried gratitude that circumstance had broken him free where he'd not had the will to do so on his own. Guilt came hard on the heels of that realization. Honey had deserved better. And yet...
Greenweave twisted about, looking over his shoulder and up at Cloudfern's den overhead.
He'd left Cloudfern for Honey, but the plantshaper had never lost his place in Greenweave's heart. What he wanted now, more than anything, was the comfort of his long-absent lovemate. He wanted to bury his hands in that seemingly endless fall of moongold hair. Cloudfern's hair, for all its abundance, always looked insubstantial somehow, even up close. Even knowing the illusion of it, it had always seemed as if trying to grasp it would be like trying to hold on to an armful of mist. He remembered how that illusion always made him want to embrace his lovemate that much closer, to confirm his reality. He remembered dusky blue eyes teasing him from beneath an eave of pampas blond bangs, almost more daring him into joining than inviting.
Greenweave flexed his fingers, burying them in the sodden warmth of the shag.
Would he be warmly welcomed if he went up to the den? Would he be welcomed at all or turned away? This was all his own doing; he'd chosen to pursue Honey and his romantic fancies and left his lover to heartache. If Cloudfern greeted him coolly or even with anger, he would not be able to blame him. Perhaps it was foolish to even think of such things; they'd barely exchanged more than pleasantries since their separation, after all. He could still go back to his den or perhaps walk the bank of the river until the urge to sleep took him over. Why risk piling new misery atop the old? Why not just wait and see what happened? As usual.
Except that he knew better now. Even if it had taken him turns upon turns to learn the lesson, he knew now that the heart wanted who it wanted and there was nothing to change that. Time alone would not make him a better match for Honey or change his longing for Cloudfern. Even if they could not go back to what they'd had before, perhaps Cloudfern could help him to move forward.
Greenweave rose to his feet, shrugging off his cloak as he climbed the stairs, seeking Cloudfern.