Suddendusk slumped and let the net he held in his hands drop in a heap to the ground. He didn't care if his carelessness tangled the net-vines more. He wasn't doing much good for the net, anyway. If anything, he felt his attentions were making it worse.
He glanced over at Feathertail, his wolf friend, who was lounging nearby. He still regretted that day he tried to make a snare that would catch an elf. Had he known that such an innocent-seeming prank was going to backfire and result in his frightened wolf lashing out and costing him one of his eyes, he'd never have tried it. He and his wolf had grown closer since that accident, but still... too much else had changed.
He wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm, then poked a finger under the side strap of his eyepatch to ease the discomfort the sweaty, tight leather was causing him there. He still hadn't got used to the Firstcomers-forsaken thing. It chafed when it was hot and humid like this, and for the life of him, he couldn't seem to get it tied right. It was either too tight or too loose, and he couldn't stop fiddling with it. It was going to drive him crazy. There were times he just wanted to rip the thing off and throw it to the ground, but he knew it made others more comfortable when he kept it on.
Was anything ever going to be right? He yearned for things to be normal, but, the more nights that passed, the more it seemed nothing would ever be normal again. Half the things he used to be able to do, he couldn't do at all any more. Forget shooting a bow or throwing anything to hit a mark. The world seemed flat; it had no depth now that he only had one eye. More often than not, it seemed like he couldn't make his hands go where he thought they were going, and his remaining eye always felt tired. Sometimes just looking at things made his head hurt.
As if he were illustrating his dark thoughts, he reached to pick up the net he had dropped, but reached wide and touched nothing but the grass by his right foot. Suddendusk sighed frustratedly and swooped his hand to the side to scoop up the abused vines.
“Having a hard time, Blac--Suddendusk?” Suddendusk hardly had time to look for the question's source when Starskimmer sat on the ground and scooted next to him. She had nearly called him by his old name before she corrected herself.
Suddendusk exhaled, then looked at the pile of knotted vines in his hand. “I think I'm doing more harm than good here,” he finally said. “I haven't been able to work out half the knots in this thing yet.”
Starskimmer's hand slipped over his. “I don't think your heart is in it. Maybe you just need a break.”
Suddendusk didn't move his hand, but he didn't exactly give in to Starskimmer's advance, either. The tone of his voice went as dark as his thoughts. “I'd feel better about taking a break if I felt like I had accomplished something.”
“Half the knots gone from that mess is something,” his companion replied bemusedly, and moved to put her other hand over his. It was only then that Suddendusk pulled away.
“It's probably half of what I could do before....” His voice trailed off.
“Before what? Before you lost your eye?” Starskimmer was quick to counter those thoughts. “You could have lost more than that.”
Suddendusk frowned. “I know. And I won't say that I didn't have what happened to me coming...”
“But, I'm starting to feel like nothing's going to be the same again! I can't do half the things I used to before, and I almost can't do the other half right because things don't look the same.”
“Things won't be the same,” Starskimmer replied. “You have changed. And, you may have to change the way you do things, but you can still do them.”
Suddendusk scowled. “What good is doing something if you can't do it right or well?”
“Stop that. I'm sure there are plenty of things you can still do well.”
When Starskimmer didn't answer, Suddendusk finally looked up at her. Strangely enough, she was smiling at him, and it irritated him that she was doing so. However, before he had a chance to growl at her, she spoke.
“Touch my face.”
“What?” the request seemed absurd.
“Go on. Do it.”
Suddendusk's dark expression dropped. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he lifted his hand and moved his fingers to do as Starskimmer requested. His reach was millimeters off, however, and his fingertips went just wide of Starskimmer's cheek. He growled in frustration.
“See? I can't even do--”
“Try it again. More slowly this time.”
Suddendusk almost barked, “No,” but something within him suddenly rose to the challenge Starskimmer offered to him. He moved his hand slowly this time, squinted his remaining eye, and turned his head to the side. When his hand drew close, the fall of shadows across his fingertips spoke to him – they told him he needed to move his index finger just slightly to the left, and he did so.
His fingertips came into contact with the soft flesh of Starskimmer's cheek.
Starskimmer smiled at him again and put her hand over his. “See? You did it differently and it worked. What's wrong with that? You're learning, and you might think you're slower now, but soon you won't be.” She didn't give him a chance to respond before moving to nuzzle his palm. “And your touch is just as soft as it ever was. That hasn't changed, my friend.”
Suddendusk found himself drawn in by Starskimmer's caresses. “I suppose I can still do some things,” he replied. He cupped her cheek with his palm, then, as she let his hand go, he slowly moved his hand up to her hair and ran it through her brown tresses.
“I'm sure there are other things we could have fun with while we taught you to take things slowly,” she purred at him.
The remark brought a smile to Suddendusk's lips. “I bet there are,” he agreed. “Maybe I'll take a break from untangling this net after all.”
Starskimmer stood, then reached down, offering to help Suddendusk up. Carefully, he reached out, accepting her offer, and placed his hand within hers without much problem at all.
As Suddendusk rose to his feet, the dark thoughts that had plagued him faded, at least slightly. He'd get through this, somehow, at his own pace. There was no need to rush. After all, berries didn't ripen in a day, and the leaves didn't change color and fall from the trees overnight, either.