Starskimmer gleefully rubbed her well-rounded belly on the way to One-Leg’s den. She scratched at his door-cover with a rhythm which announced that if he was alone he wouldn’t be that way for long. Pregnancy-joining was definitely the best joining!
She opened the drape when she heard a somewhat welcoming sound, but she did not step inside. What she saw made her heart weep. He was slumped against a wall, draped in darkness, all the candles out. In the scant moonlight all she could see clearly was his left leg, and a floor in mangled disarray. The sharp, sweet cloud in the air told her very clearly where the last of her honey-wine had gone off to.
He surely was not in the mood for company, but she would at least deliver the news. She hoped it would cheer him up. “You wanted to know when I knew if it was a boy or a girl. Well, it’s a boy!”
“I know.” An empty wineskin slapped against the floor. “Lousy dung-diving blabbermouthed Preservers don’t know how not to ruin a surprise.”
“Oh.” Starskimmer could guess now what had driven him to this sad state. Too many questions, and too much drink leading him to unlikely conclusions. “I know his soul-name now, too. But I don’t any have any other answers to give.”
One-Leg’s reply to that was a voluminous belch. “It’s me or Cloudfern. Has to be. And he has Greenweave to keep him company now… Again…”
”Don’t.” For several moons after she announced her pregnancy, One-Leg had made overtures – some sweet and romantic, others less than delicate – to be a father to the child if she wanted one, as he had been and was for Notch. “I just… can’t. You know that’s not who I am.”
“But you will know. Some day. You will. Maybe a healer will come and do tricks. Back when Newt was up and around, the elders would say soon as a healer came along we’d all know which of Lacewing’s mates helped make him.”
Starskimmer had heard tales about healers performing feats other than mending wounds or curing ailments. A few of them sounded like great fun beneath the furs! But that? ‘No, it’s not possible!’ A brief speechless moment passed between them.
One-Leg didn’t rise, but his silhouette became more animated. “Or maybe the answer’ll come some other way! Maybe it’ll shout out to him when he finds his soul name! Or maybe Quick Fang’ll match scent to scent when he’s of the age to go sniffing around her!” Starskimmer couldn’t quite tell, but she got the impression he was groping around for a fresh wineskin.
“He’d be an adult, or close to it, by then! What would it matter? No, I suppose I can’t say he’ll never know who his father is. But that time is so far away if ever at all! Why are you drinking yourself blind about it now?”
One-Leg stopped moving. ”What if it is me?” One-Leg’s question sounded faraway and haunted. “What could I to say to him? How can I excuse being there but not there? A ghost-sire with a ghost-leg passing him off to others to take turns filling the hole. How do I apologize for not being there when it mattered? When his mother needed help with cleanings and burpings and singing lullabies in the middle of the day and soothing the scrapes he gets during the night? When he needed someone to teach him how to track or fish or best his brother at toss-stone or find a lovemate or be a father to his own cubs or any other of the other things?” His voice lowered to a coarse whisper on the knife’s edge of shattering into silence. “What if he never forgives me?”
Starskimmer bit her trembling lip, and walked inside. She sat down across from her once-Recognized. She wanted to hold him, to comfort him, but she couldn’t bear for him to get the wrong idea.
“All any of us has is the Now. To look too far up front or too far back, that’s not the Way.” She rubbed her belly again as she spoke further. “This cub will learn that from all of us, as he will know the love of the whole tribe. And he’ll know that I am the one who decided to go it on my own, and that you respected my choice. There is nothing to forgive. And no reason to punish yourself.”
“I could… I would…”
“I know. And you will again, I’m sure. But not his time.”
One-Leg inhaled loudly. “Not this time.”
Starskimmer sat with him for a while in the dark. She'd find a way to cheer him up before the dawn came.