(This story is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
Willow was drained.
She'd been holed up in her den for days, recovering from overexerting herself in her desperate attempt to heal her brother after he'd been mauled by that she-bear. She slept for such great lengths of time that whole days almost passed between the times she was awake. And yet, Willow was still tired. She was so tired that she hardly remembered the visit Windburn had paid her yesterday to discuss exactly why she had kept her healing ability a secret for so long.
She was starting to wonder if she'd ever not be tired again.
Going to Grizzle's Howl today only made her feel worse. Though she and her old wolf had never been the best of friends, it hurt that he was gone. Willow tried to take comfort in the fact that Grizzle had given his life in order to protect Pathmark from the she-bear's attack, but the thought brought little solace. If anything, she felt all the more guilty that she'd led her brother on that chase that day. If she'd just talked to Pathmark like he'd asked her to do, none of what had happened would have happened at all.
Now the whole tribe knew her secret. And she knew now that expectations people had of her would change.
No, they weren't rushing her. If anything, they were trying to treat her normally. It was just that...she didn't know if she could tolerate 'normal' any more.
After the Howl earlier, One-Leg had clapped her on the shoulder.
“He was a tough old wolf. I'm sorry he's gone,” he had said fondly and let his hand briefly rest on Willow's shoulder.
Before she knew what was happening, Willow felt that part of herself that had awakened not so long ago leap out and 'look into' One-Leg, searching...
The leg that's gone is there, like a shadow, plaguing like something that shouldn't be. Itching, itching, can't be scratched. Itching itching, constant itching! Enough to drive one mad!
One-Leg clapped Willow's shoulder one last time before he turned and left his own way.
Willow's stomach had lurched as she came back to herself. And even though half the evening had passed since then, she still felt nauseous.
She'd had another encounter since then, too – with Rainpace. He had come to her den to pay a visit after she had retreated back to her bedfurs following the Howl. They had talked for a while, which Willow enjoyed. She had avoided her friends for so long she hadn't realized how much she had missed being with them. But the enjoyment quickly left when Rainpace touched her hand.
Arm, arm, sore today. Have to keep the muscles limber, keep it stretched so it won't draw up on itself again. The wrong muscles are strong, the wrong ones are weak. Wrong balance, wrong equilibrium. Wrong.
“Don't touch me!” she remembered snarling at him, and drew her hand away from his.
That wounded Rainpace. “I'm sorry!” he cried at her, jerking his own hand back.
The encounter had drained Willow all the more, and she'd asked her friend to leave. He did as she asked, although he had stated, “I wish you'd just tell us what was bothering you instead of acting like this.”
More guilt piled on what Willow was already feeling. Somehow, though, she had managed to fall asleep despite how bad she felt, and when she woke later, it ate at Willow all the more.
She knew she'd offended Rainpace, and knew she should have offered him an explanation. She wanted to tell him that she was sorry; that she didn't like the way she had been acting of late, either. That, sometimes, those feelings and sensations came over her so quickly that those reactions were from the gut – visceral. She couldn't control those reactions at the moment any more than she seemed to be able to control her new-found powers.
After lying in the bedfurs for a while, mulling things over, she decided she'd apologize. If she could explain to Rainpace what she was going through, maybe he'd understand.
She dragged herself out of bed and out of her den. It felt good to get out of that hole again.
When she arrived at Rainpace's den, however, she found it empty. Sends to him went unanswered, but not because he was angry with her. He was just too far away. She figured he must be out checking his traps. She'd wait for him to come home.
But she was tired of being inside. She was hungry for the open air and the sky and the stars. She would go wait by the river. Chances were, if Rainpace was where she thought he was, that she'd be able to catch him on his way back.
“Uh...” The first sounds from Willow's lips made it clear she wasn't expecting anyone else to be at the riverside, but she composed herself quickly. “Hi, Evervale.”
The young plantshaper was sitting by the riverside. Her fishing spear was leaning against a tree, point down. Evervale had three fish of varying sizes laid out in front of her. A knife was in her hands, but she hadn’t started the task of gutting the fish quite yet. She looked up at Willow with surprise. For days, the whole tribe had worried over her and Pathmark. And, of course, the discovery of Willow’s magical powers had rippled through the tribe, accompanied by a wide range of reactions and emotions.
Evervale recovered from her surprise quickly and searched for something to say. “Nice time for a walk,” she said in a friendly tone. “Nice time for fishing, too.” She gestured towards her catch.
Willow slid down to sit at the base of a tree opposite the one on which Evervale had leaned her spear. Evervale thought she looked tired. There were dark circles under her eyes, and Willow just didn't seem like her usually spirited self. As Evervale took in that detail, Willow reinforced Evervale's deduction by answering with a flat-sounding, “Yes.”
Evervale looked at Willow for just a moment before turning back to her fish. She sawed at one with her blade, feeling uncomfortable at the silence between them. Evervale still had her first wolf friend. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to lose one and she didn’t look forward to the experience. In fact, Evervale’s wolf friend was lying nearby, contently resting under the shade of the trees. He wasn’t sleeping, though. He opened one eye to look at Willow, but didn’t move otherwise.
Evervale went over the events of the past few days in her mind. First she had heard that Pathmark had been gravely injured. She’d felt sick at the thought of losing her dear friend and was so relieved when he’d been returned to the tribe not just alive, but healed! That was when she’d learned the surprise news that Willow was a Healer. She knew she wasn’t the only one who’d felt incredible joy at the news! Yet, Willow lay unresponsive after her incredible efforts and, even now that she was awake and apparently recovered, she still acted distant and… well, strange! Still, she had lost her wolf friend and who knew what exactly she had gone through that terrible night? It shouldn’t be surprising that she was having a hard time dealing with it all.
Evervale wanted so much to say something to that effect, but it was hard to know how Willow would react. The shy plantshaper was afraid she’d only be rebuffed. Still, she couldn’t stand the silence… and Willow had sat down. Maybe she wanted to talk.
Finishing with the first fish, Evervale cleaned her blade and hands in the water, then wiped them off with a cloth. Setting her things aside, she moved to sit across from Willow. She’d looked up to the beekeeper in her youth. She’d always wanted to be friends. But Evervale had learned that you can’t force someone to be your friend. First you had to be a friend to them. It hadn’t been so long ago that Evervale had helped Willow retrieve honey from an ancient tree that was falling apart. Times had seemed simpler then.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” Evervale said, finally finding her voice again.
There was another long pause, and this stretch of silence seemed to make Willow uncomfortable, too.
“Thanks,” Willow finally managed to reply. “I...” She paused, watching Evervale finish tending to her blade. Then she sighed. “I just wish I felt all right.”
Willow’s response was encouraging. Evervale had half-expected her to clam up or even leave. The plantshaper grasped the opportunity with both hands. She knew she didn’t understand a great many things in Willow’s experience and feelings, but there was at least one thing to which she could relate. “When I found my powers…” Evervale ventured, looking at Willow’s face to read her reaction. “I felt confused and… scared.” She shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t include that she'd also felt excited and amazed. She had the impression those were feelings the two did not have in common, at least not yet. “I understand it’s difficult, especially if your powers are strong.”
Willow's brows furrowed momentarily. “Why were you scared?”
“Well, for one thing, I’d shaped my hand into the bark of a tree!” Evervale answered emphatically. She’d only related her story to a few people. The event had been slightly embarrassing. As she spoke, her hand touched the bark of the tree she was leaning against. “I felt these strange… no, it was more like hearing strange voices, almost. It’s hard to give it words. But the feelings were so intense when the powers finally decided to reveal themselves.” Evervale’s bright green eyes looked up at the treetops, the night breezes gently whispering through the leaves. “I’d always felt a closeness to the living plants in the forest, but that night… I knew the plants like I’d never known them before. The feeling was overwhelming.” She looked back at Willow expectantly.
“I can understand the overwhelming part,” Willow replied, but her gaze was focused on the grass near her feet rather than on Evervale, and she sounded somewhat distant. “It doesn't seem like anything is the same any more.”
“It’s not the same,” Evervale answered confidently, but with sympathy towards her elder. “You’ve changed. Your magic is a part of you, and in time, it will be a welcome part, I’m sure.” She reached out and touched Willow on her knee reassuringly.
Willow gasped. And that's when it all went wrong.
“No!” Willow snarled. Pain jumped into Evervale's fingertips, a pain that burned hot-bright. The glow that accompanied it was equally as bright -- reddish like a flash of heat lightning on a warm, steamy night.
Evervale jerked her hand back, just as much from the pain as from shock at the yell. Drawing in her breath sharply, she held her palm up with her other hand and stared at her burning fingers. She knew logically how she’d been burned, but she couldn’t believe it! She knew the old stories about Owl, the Healer who had hurt people. But she’d never even considered that Willow could follow that path… until now.
Evervale’s wolf lifted his head in interest, but didn’t move otherwise. Though he watched the elves curiously, he didn’t see a reason to interfere.
Willow came back to herself as contact between her and Evervale broke. When she had a moment to collect her thoughts, her eyes went wide and her jaw went slack.
She jumped up, seemingly in a panic. “I'm sorry!” she cried. “I'm sorry!” She tripped over the roots of the tree and fell hard as she tried to back away, but wasted no time in scrambling to her feet again.
Speechless for the moment, Evervale watched Willow’s movements with a wide-mouthed stare. She looked back at her hand, then over at Willow again. It was an accident. Willow’s reaction made that clear. Evervale felt a surge of relief and the desire to return to reassuring her friend. “It’s… it’s all right. My hand just…” She held it up for Willow to see. The palm side of Evervale’s fingers were still burning as though they had touched hot coals. “It will be all right. I know you didn’t mean to do it.”
Willow drew back from Evervale's extended hand as if it were poisonous. “Keep away!” she cried. “It's not... I don't want to hurt you any more!” She dashed back in the direction of the dentrees.
**Willow!** Evervale sent after her, but she knew it would do no good. She stared at the rustling tree branches as the healer tore away into the woods towards home. A heavy sigh escaped Evervale’s lips. They had been having such a good talk. It was the first time she’d been able to have a conversation with Willow in ages. She looked at her hand, bending the fingers experimentally and wincing at the pain. ‘I wish I hadn’t touched her,’ Evervale thought. ‘Maybe we could have gotten somewhere. Maybe I could have helped. Now… she won’t want me anywhere near her.’
She sighed again, stood, and walked to the river, then knelt next to the flowing waters and immersed her hand into its cool depths. She gritted her teeth at the initial stinging, but after a while the water felt soothing. She left her hand under the water even when it had gone numb from the cold. Halfmoon pulled himself up from the shade and joined Evervale, lapping up some water with his long pink tongue.
“I know it was an accident,” Evervale said out loud to her wolf friend, as if saying it made her feel better. She settled into a semi-comfortable position on the sandy river’s edge and let her mind wander while her hand soaked. ‘I know she’s not like Owl. Willow’s a good person. She’s just confused right now. I shaped bark when I didn’t intend to, she… she sent pain when she didn’t mean to. It’s not so different.’
Halfmoon sniffed at Evervale’s face, looking for a scratch behind the ears. Evervale patted him with her free hand and pulled her other hand out of the water to look at it critically. Her entire hand was red from the cold. She didn’t have any intention of telling anyone about what had happened. It was just an accident. Evervale nodded, a tense feeling in her chest. It was just an accident.