(This story is a sequel to "Love and Loss".)
"Beetle, why don't you at least go to the dens, and see the two new wolf cubs?" Pathmark asked, concern mixed with hope in his voice.
"I told you before, it's too soon. I'm not ready for a new bond. Plus I have work to do, and training a wolf cub would be very distracting."
"I've heard that before. But you managed with Crawfish."
"Not very well. She was a stupid wolf, and part of that was probably my fault."
“What about the older ones… the yearlings? They wouldn’t need as much training.”
“Why should I be in a hurry? Patience would be better… I’ll wait for the right wolf friend. I’ll not go chasing after one.”
Pathmark could tell he wasn't going to get anywhere with his friend—yet. And he knew from previous conversations that she was not going to let go of this newfound sense of responsibility toward whatever wolf friend she bonded with next.
He tried a different tactic. "That was just an idea, anyway. We could do something else! We could…" He stumbled for words for a moment, then found an idea he hoped she would like. "We could go and watch the butterflies hatching! Maybe you could get some of their wing powder!"
Beetle's eyes lit up at the idea, and she smiled, laughing. "You aren't responsible for cheering me up, Pathmark, but I'm glad you try anyway! All right, let me get a few supplies, and I'll meet you there."
"No way. I will wait right here. You're not going to give me the slip this time."
Beetle grinned. "Guilty as charged. I'll be ready in a moment."
Beetle went to the shelves of her den, carefully choosing the finest of instruments. A small brush, made of a slight twig and with a few bristles of a piece of down, fashioned for the purpose of touching the wings of the dainty creatures, was her first choice. Another object she took was a larger spoon-shaped twig and a jar which contained a honey and water mixture. Newly hatched fliers would want food, and Beetle would provide it for them. Finally, she took a vase of flowers, which Pathmark had brought her earlier that week, and carried all of the items to where Pathmark waited in her entranceway.
She handed him the vase and flowers. "They may want to eat from them," she explained. “I’m not sure if they’ll prefer honey-water, or the flower nectar.”
Together, they made their way to the bushes where Beetle had previously found cocoons of soon-to-be butterflies. When they arrived, nothing was happening, and Beetle sat on the ground, making herself comfortable. She knew it would be a long night, and she didn't mind. She'd studied the cocoons for long periods of time in the past, and she knew from experience that they would hatch any night now.
Pathmark still remained standing beside her. "Aren't you going to sit down?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Not much is happening."
"I know. But we have to wait. We can talk while we wait."
Pathmark nodded, plopping down beside Beetle.
They'd been talking for hours when the first of the chrysali began to twitch. Beetle sent an order for silence, then inched closer to the cocoon. She carefully removed the flowers from the vase and set them in the bush near the cocoon. Then, she dipped the spoon-shaped twig into the honey and held it with her non-dominant hand, positioned so that the butterfly would find it quickly. She held out her hand behind her, and Pathmark placed the small brush in her hand. She gently blew on the bristles, making sure that they were clear of dirt and dust, then waited.
When the butterfly emerged, its new wings shivered in the gentle breeze. It beat them a couple of times, testing, then an antennae twitched, and the butterfly moved to the spoon. Beetle held her breath, motionless as the butterfly landed near her hand on a dry portion of the stick. It lowered its “tongue”, sipping up the sweet honey-water. Beetle knew that the wings were not yet all the way dry, so she allowed the creature to partake of the food, and she began the wait for the moment between the drying of the wings and the butterfly’s first flight. Pathmark was equally still, not wanting to frighten the butterfly and ruin Beetle’s opportunity.
Mother moon had visibly changed position when Beetle sensed that the moment was right. She carefully and purposefully moved her other arm, bringing the brush nearer and nearer to the creature. Just before she touched the wings with the brush, they twitched, and the butterfly was flying away.
"You were so close!" Pathmark exclaimed.
"I know!" Beetle said, finally breathing. "Ugh… Just a moment longer, and I'd have had some of the wingdust."
The pair laughed, relaxing for a few minutes, not speaking, both thinking of how close she had come.
"You have a lot of patience, Beetle," Pathmark stated.
"What do you mean?"
"You waited from the time the butterfly hatched until its wings had dried! Not to mention, you've been getting closer and closer, for years, and you keep trying even though you've not been successful."
"I just know that one day, I will be."
Silence between them. Trying to take his focus off of her, Beetle spoke, choosing to take the conversation in a different direction. "You are very patient as well, Pathmark."
Pathmark sat up, looking questioningly at Beetle.
She remained lying on the ground, her face looking into the trees above them. Something flashed in the trees, and Beetle began smiling. I don’t know why, but she's up there, and she can probably hear us. Beetle felt grateful that the breeze would carry Evervale’s scent away from them, and that Pathmark would not guess that someone else was listening to their conversation.
Pathmark took the look on her face as if she was thinking of something, and he said, "Well? What am I patient about?"
Beetle sat up, looking directly into Pathmark's eyes. "Evervale." Beetle almost felt guilty, revealing Pathmark’s secret while Evervale was listening, but she knew that it was time to push her friend into admitting his feelings.
He paled, then stammered, "What?"
She smiled and continued. "Evervale. You have been sweet on her for turns upon turns, yet you have never approached her, and you continue waiting. Why is that?"
“You know her. I don’t think she wants anything serious, not even a lovemate right now,” Pathmark bit his lip. His hazel gaze fell to the forest floor and he started tracing abstract patterns in the forest loam. “As long as she doesn’t know just how much she means to me we can keep what we have casual.”
Beetle shook her head. "You should tell her."
“And if she turns away? I can’t face seeing her scared of what I want. If she started avoiding me my heart would break, Beetle. You can’t always go back,” he murmured, remembering their own attempt at lovemating. “I want this too badly to push when she’s not ready.”
Beetle remained adamant. "You should tell her. You’ve been waiting forever to tell her, and I think it’s time. She’s been spending a lot of time with Longshot lately, so maybe she is ready for more. If you don’t talk to her, you may miss out all together.”
Pathmark's heart was racing at the thought of approaching Evervale. He focused on breathing, then thought a moment. This was the perfect opportunity to help his friend, and to help himself. He sat silently for a moment. There were always countless reasons not to do something, as Beetle was so determined to show. Well, two could play at courage.
Beetle peered at him expectantly. "Well? Are you going to tell her?"
"…On one condition."
Beetle's eyes widened. "What condition is that?" she asked.
Knowing she wasn't going to like it, but knowing it was for the best—for both of them, he said, "You come with me to see the new cubs. And the yearlings.”
Beetle knew that he expected her to say no, and she resented that he was using it against her. She decided to surprise him. "I'll go to the wolf dens as soon as you have spoken with Evervale."
Pathmark shook his head. "That was not the way I meant it."
"But that's the way I took it, and that’s the way it will be. Now that's settled, I’m going to continue watching the cocoons. You can go and find her now, or you can wait. But I will not go to the wolf dens until you've spoken with her. My finding a wolf friend depends on you, dear friend."
They both knew it wasn’t that easy. Beetle could go to the cub dens for years, but still not find a wolf friend. Neither of them thought of that right now. Beetle was excited, hoping for Pathmark’s sake that the conversation with Evervale would go well.
Pathmark blanched. It wasn't going to be easy, he knew. But he was not going to put it off as long as Beetle expected. He wanted his friend to have a wolf friend, and if it meant putting his heart on the line, he was ready.
"I'll be back by the end of the night."
"All right," Beetle said cheerily. "I'll be here."
She watched as Pathmark stood and headed back toward the holt. She wondered if he would find Evervale that night. She looked up. The tree shaper had disappeared.