There was no such thing as real privacy during the deep winter, when tribemates whose own dens had grown too cold retreated to the crowded, shared warmth of the chief’s den, where hides and furs were lashed tight across the windows and doorways to seal in the shared heat of their bodies. But it was midday now, and those who were weren't sleeping soundly in their own piles of sleeping furs were polite enough not to notice the sudden, frenzied coupling that took place under the chief's own bedfurs.
Windburn gasped in release, and felt the echoing shudders in Whispersilk's embrace. He rested his sweating forehead against hers, and heard his lifemate's low, soft laughter. Neither of them spoke, silent in their mutual wonder.
It had happened again. Windburn had woken from a solid sleep to find his lifemate moving gently against him, preparing to withdraw from their shared furs. Windburn had stirred enough to reach after her, curious as to whether she was slipping away from the bowl of their bed to visit the middens, or whether she had been struck by a fresh creative fever -- most elves grew bored during the long winter, but Whispersilk always had new projects to tackle, or old ones to complete. **Where--** he had begun to ask, looking up into her face. The den was dark, but there was enough dim daylight to catch to catch the dust motes that had danced between them when their eyes met.
Recognition. Familiar and strange at once, the shock of it was searing. Whispersilk's sea-green eyes had widened with surprise, her lips parted in a startled "o", and Windburn had known his own expression was just as thunderstruck. But then she had smiled at him and slipped back under their shelter of furs, and Windburn had embraced her eagerly. All thoughts of sleep had been burned from his nerves. The demands of Recognition were immediate, and neither of the lifemates had any wish to deny it.
Now, demands met and fulfilled, the lovers lay together in silence for a time, exhausted from their physical frenzy, yet too filled with wonder and anticipation to sleep. Whispersilk lay on her side, pressed against her lifemate as Windburn lay on his back, their legs entwined. He stroked the curve of her waist and her full hip, knowing a new child had just been sparked inside her.
Their new child. The joy he felt at that acknowledgement was almost a physical weight, as solid and euphoric as his lifemate's embrace. A child. Another child. He and Whispersilk would be parents again. They would be bringing another child to their tribe.
**I hope it will be a son,** Whispersilk locksent to him then. **I want a son. I want a child with white hair like my mother's.**
**Black,** Windburn sent back. He twined a lock of his lifemate's ebony hair around a finger, and brought it to his lips for a kiss. **Son or daughter, I don't care -- just so long as the cub has hair as black as yours, and your seastorm eyes.**
Whispersilk breathed out a gentle laugh at that. **As if either of us have a say in the matter,** she countered. She nuzzled his neck, her breath warm and sweet against his skin. **High Ones know we do good work together,** she sent back at him. **I look at our daughter, and I’ve always known you and I together were good for another child, one at least. Hopefully more.**
Windburn thought of his own parents, and about how his mother Easysinger had always treated childbearing as the greatest of duties any of the tribe's females could perform. 'It takes two to make one. What Wolfsister knew was that cublings are too rare, and that we do not bear them quickly enough. If as a people we cannot replace our numbers, not even the strongest hunter or most skilled healer can save us as a tribe.' Windburn remembered, too keenly, of one caution he had overheard their mother make to his impulsive older brother. 'If you cannot live long enough to sire three cubs, you have failed us all,' she had said to Riskrunner sternly that night, after listening to his boasts of the perfection of his newborn daughter Sparkle, a perfection naturally inherited from himself. 'One child is a treasure, but is not enough. Two will only replace their parents. Only the birth of your third will ensure we have a future. You have to live long enough to sire three. Will you be clever enough to do so, my son?'
Goldspice had been Riskrunner's only child. Chicory had not, as yet, Recognized and borne a child. Windburn remembered his mother's words, and was deeply grateful for this second chance.
**You and I should be good for one more at least,** Whispersilk mused as she stroked him. **My mother bore three. Your mother bore four. I want four as well. At least.**
He breathed out a laugh at that, that her thoughts should run so close to his own. **You would be another Cubmaker?**
She smiled up at him with amusement. **Not so many as her, and not with so many different sires. I want my four cubs with you and you alone.**
**Aye.** He nuzzled her neck, enjoying the salt of her skin. **I would as well. Sari.** He could not send her soul name without flooding her with a tangle of his emotion -- his love for her mixed with his anticipation for this child, his awareness of how well they completed one another shaded with his intense desire for them both to leave a good and strong legacy toward the future.
Whispersilk absorbed his words and the love, gratitude and hope he shared with her. She continued to smile up at him, and the gentle, knowing look in her eyes left him hungry for another child-sparking embrace. But he knew from the small shift in her breathing, and the way one arm tensed around him that her thoughts had grown serious. When she locksent to him again, the twist of her thinking surprised him. **I pity my niece, with all that selfish nonsense she put herself and Suddendusk through.**
It was Windburn's turn to laugh softly. He knew his lifemate felt little of the wolf-blood the tribe shared, and that Quick Fang's feral behavior often frustrated her more than others. He sometimes wondered if part of her indifference to children was due to having watched her sister Snowfall's trials and tribulations in raising her niece. **Quick Fang hates to submit to anyone or anything,** he locksent. **Would you have expected her to submit to Recognition without a fight?**
Whispersilk sniffed at that. **The alpha she-wolf submits without question when she's in her heat. And as little of the wolf as I feel in my blood, even I never considered denying Recognition. Because Recognition isn't about choice. Recognition is not about a child's dam or sire. It's about the child who is waiting to be born.**
Windburn propped himself up on one elbow to look at her, moving carefully so not to pull on his lifemate's long, loose hair, which was tangled around their limbs. He idly stroked her hair free from between the press of their bodies, gathering it aside with the fingers of one hand as he studied her face in the threads of weak winter sunlight.
**Would you have so easily mated with another, if you'd Recognized him?** Windburn asked, knowing her answer even as he asked it.
**Yes. The mating is the easy part of it,** she retorted, with a teasing smile. But then her smile faded. **It's what comes after that's harder, and harder for me than for the cubling's sire. And I can't imagine Recognizing another and loving him as I love you. You complete me like no other could.**
Windburn gazed at his lifemate wistfully, thinking of his mother, and of the Recognized mate she had had before his father. **I would not begrudge any male who sired your cubs. I would welcome a three-way if you wished it,** he locksent. **But I am glad that instead it's you and me making this child. You own my soul, beloved. I would not want to share you unless he loved you as much as I do.**
The smile that lit her face seemed to glow, and he was helpless against the invitation he saw in her eyes. They made love for a second time that afternoon, this time slowly and languidly. Windburn dozed off in the afterglow of their coupling, only to wake again when Whispersilk stirred once more in his arms.
**Foxtail will be jealous,** Whispersilk locksent. **She already resents us, for the time we don't spend on her.**
Windburn frowned in exasperation at waking to that chronic reminder of his failure. He looked up to find Whispersilk's face above his; she was the one propped up now on one elbow in pursuit of discussion.
**Our daughter thinks we failed her,** Whispersilk sent, her locksending tinged with a mixture of annoyance and sadness. **Sometimes I wonder if she's not right.**
**Our daughter has never lacked for a moment's attention,** Windburn replied. **Blacksnake and your parents spoiled her daily. So did Snowfall, and my uncles – she was always the center of everyone else’s attention. High Ones know the sun doesn't rise and set on her shoulders. We'd have spoiled Foxtail to the core if you and I had pampered her as much as the rest of her elders did.**
**Foxtail was spoiled, certainly -- but she's always wanted what she could not have. Which was us.** Whispersilk smiled sadly, and twirled a length of her lifemate's red hair around a finger. **I didn't want to be her mother at the expense of all else. I was only too happy to hand her over to her grandsires or to Dreamberry or Snowfall. But I look at her now, and I do regret it. And this is my second chance. I don't want to look back again with regrets. This time, I want to be a better mother. I want there to be more of a balance this time, between mothering this cub and my weaving. I won't give up my weaving. But... this time, maybe I can find a better balance. I don't know if I can do it. But I want to at least try.**
He kissed the finger which toyed with his hair. **I will try as well. I know I haven't been the parent that my mother was. Wolfsister knows I've been at least as good as my own father was to me, but I look at Foxtail now, and I know I've failed her in some things. I pushed too hard, or maybe not hard enough at the right moments – I don’t know. But our daughter is too wild, too reckless, too much like a flamefly seeking heat and light. Responsibility is a burden she doesn’t want – there’s no thrill in it, so she avoids it like nettles. If I were to die tomorrow, I'm afraid of what sort of chieftess she'd be. The tribe might not even look to her -- if Blacksnake were to challenge her, my sire would win.** Windburn hesitated, giving his lifemate the chance to correct him, and felt a twinge of pain at the fact that Whispersilk didn't even try. **With Foxtail, I know I made mistakes. She’ll overcome those mistakes herself, if she can. Or not. Apologies can't correct them. But I can at least try not to make them again.**
Whispersilk nuzzled his cheek and twined both of her hands in his. ** I remember my first weaving, and how uneven the weft was.** Whispersilk kissed him sweetly and snuggled down beside him. ** We can’t expect perfection from a novice; any skill takes practice to master. This is our second chance, Vyc. Maybe, if we help each other enough, we’ll succeed better this time around.**
Windburn hugged his Recognized close, warm beneath their shared furs. **Sari, you have my promise to try. And it’ll be two winters until the cub is born. Time and Suddendusk’s next contribution to the tribe will give us opportunity enough to practice. Foxtail’s taught us lessons aplenty; do you look forward to what our next cub will teach us?**
His lifemate’s proud smile was answer enough.