Evervale and Longshot ran hand-in-hand through the forest within the thornwall, laughing like a pair of cublings. It was a rare cool evening in a very warm summer and the elves planned to take full advantage of it. Leaves rustled with their passing and the air was heavy with the scent of sun-warmed plants. The sweetvine climbed the arching limbs of nearby trees, decorating them with its small white and pale yellow blooms. Their thick scent, reminiscent of honey, perfumed the area, attracting bees. Longshot paused beneath a flush of fresh blooms and pulled Evervale into an embrace. The gurgling and splashing of the nearby Braided River mingled with their whispers and giggles.
Longshot ran his hand down Evervale's shoulder, sliding her sleeve down to bare the crook of her neck. He mirrored the motion with his lips and teeth, nibbling and licking his way down to her collarbone. He paid special attention to that soft ticklish spot below the bone and smiled against her skin as she laughed and writhed in reaction. He angled his face upward to whisper in the delicate curl of her ear. "What's your pleasure, love? Cool, mossy riverbank or open field of grass where the breeze blows through?"
Evervale, feeling dizzy from Longshot's attentions, leaned against him heavily. She snuck her hands under his vest to feel the muscles in his back. "Mmm, mossy riverbank sounds nice," came her breathless reply.
He grinned playfully. "I thought you would say that. I've got the perfect place picked out already." Loathe to lose contact with her sweetly-scented skin, Longshot scooped her up to carry her to the chosen spot.
Evervale squealed in delight, kicking her feet out as they lost their contact with the ground. Still giggling, she sent, **I can't wait to see!**
Halfmoon, Evervale's bond, followed the pair at a distance. His ears were perked forward and his eyes roamed, searching for Icestalker, Longshot’s wolf friend.
Laughing, Longshot carefully maneuvered along a game trail, avoiding the reaching branches that might scratch or pull Evervale's lovely hair. His grin took on a bit of a wicked twist as he plotted how he would muss her hair himself in a much more pleasant manner. He buried his face briefly in her red curls and breathed in deeply. Her scent was a gorgeous blend of warm, sweet skin with a tang of earthy greenness. He also caught a whiff of nearby flowers and a hint of the wolf pack in the air. Evervale smelled like home to him. He curled his arms around her a little more tightly as he pushed through the last of the undergrowth to reveal the secluded bower he had found earlier.
At the change in movement, Evervale lifted her head from Longshot's shoulder. Her breath caught in her throat. "Oh, it's beautiful!" she gasped as her eye took in the lush mossy spot. Her thin arms wrapped around Longshot's shoulders and she squeezed him tighter.
He gently set her down in the center of the bower and moved to recline beside her. The moss felt a bit like smooth fur beneath them. But the coolness of the moss eased the heat of their bodies just as Longshot had hoped.
A berryvine, heavy with plump, green fruit, twined itself among the young capnut trees that grew along the back of the small open area. Longshot reached up to pluck a few berries and gasped as Evervale's hands found a spot along his ribs. She giggled playfully then pulled him closer to blow into his ear. Grinning, he squirmed away.
Halfmoon stood and watched the elves with passing interest. Soon, bored with their antics, he moved to lie down nearby.
The two teased and tickled each other for a while, enjoying the time together. Then, a breeze playfully danced through the leaves. Evervale closed her eyes, reveling in the cool air against her face. Longshot took advantage of her distraction. He rolled her on top of him and grinned up at her.
"We have on too many clothes," he said. He reached up to untie the laces of her shirt.
A low growl froze his movement. It was quickly answered by a deep growl he recognized as Icestalker's. Longshot peered around Evervale and saw Halfmoon on his feet near where Icestalker had emerged from the undergrowth. The two wolves advanced on each other stiff-legged. The growling and snarling increased in volume as neither one backed down.
Evervale froze as well. She didn't need to turn around to know what was happening. It was fairly common for Halfmoon to challenge other wolves, especially Icestalker... who, unluckily, was Longshot's bond. Evervale sighed and laid against her lovemate's chest for a moment.
**Not now,** she sent to him in frustration, but her sending was also bright with fear. She glanced over her shoulder at the pair of wolves, slowly circling and snarling. Evervale swallowed hard and remained stiffly in place. She was afraid to move yet also afraid to stay near the fighting wolves.
Moving extremely slowly, Longshot sat up and carefully shifted Evervale's right leg over him to the other side so that she was marginally behind him. **Move back slowly,** he sent to her. He kept his gaze on their wolves as the two moved closer to each other, neither willing to give ground to the other.
The timbre of the wolves’ growling changed at that moment from threatening growls to open-mouthed snarls accompanied by snapping jaws. And then they were on each other.
Evervale squeaked in fear and her hands flew to cover her mouth. She couldn't tell where one wolf ended and the other began. Halfmoon and Icestalker were a swirling mass of fur and flashing teeth. She caught a brief glimpse of her bond biting down on the other wolf's leg. There was a muffled cry of pain. Then, suddenly, Halfmoon was pinned to the ground, his throat between Icestalker's teeth.
Evervale cried out and flung herself at Longshot's back, wrapping her hands around his waist and pressing her face against his shoulderblade. She desperately wanted to separate the wolves but knew she didn't dare interfere with a challenge fight. That just wasn’t the Way.
Longshot shifted in her grasp so he could hug her. Together they watched as Halfmoon struggled to escape a few times before going completely still and submissive. Icestalker growled his dominance without releasing his hold. Longshot stared intently at his wolf friend, shoulders tense as he waited for the winner of the challenge to make his decision.
Tears filling her eyes, Evervale whispered, "Please, no."
After a few moments, Icestalker tightened his grip as one last warning against continuing the fight and then released Halfmoon. The younger wolf gingerly rolled to his feet and slunk away, belly to the ground. The older, light-grey-and-white wolf stood his ground, warily watching the other go.
**One day all of this fighting will end badly.** Sadness blurred the edge of Longshot’s thoughts.
Evervale looked up at her lovemate, tears trailing down her cheeks. "I never expected to have such an ambitious wolf friend. I wish he wouldn't keep challenging Icestalker like that."
"I know. But it's the Way." He looked over to where his bond was laying down to lick his left foreleg. "I'm surprised he didn't kill Halfmoon this time. Next time Icestalker may be the one with teeth at his throat..." Longshot stopped when he heard the choked sound Evervale made and hugged her tightly.
Evervale accepted the comfort for a few moments and then pulled away. She glanced in the direction Halfmoon had gone. "I should go..." She paused and gazed sadly at Longshot.
He nodded. "Check on him."
**Come find me later if you would like.** Her send was accompanied with images of the two of them snuggled together, sleeping. She gave him a last lingering look and jogged after her wolf friend.
Longshot sent to her as she retreated. **I'll find you.**
He turned back to Icestalker, who was still licking his leg. The archer strode over and crouched in front of his bond, wolf-sending to him. **Icestalker standing tall with the pack surrounding him.**
The wolf looked up with a canine grin, tongue lolling, and sent back, **Cunning Icestalker sends whelps running tails between legs.**
The elf reached out slowly to examine the wound. Pushing the fur aside, he saw a few lacerations but the blood was already moving only sluggishly to the surface. Longshot buried both hands in the fur on either side of his bond's neck and scratched roughly, before pressing their foreheads together. He breathed in the scent of his friend, committed it to memory, knowing the next fight might be the last. Knowing Icestalker would not submit. He would die trying to keep his place.
Icestalker sent again as he started to lick his injury once more. **Pain twinge like stinging fly. Keep running, doesn't matter.**