(This story is a sequel to "Reminiscence and Reflections" and is related to the "Three-Mating of Kestrel, Snowfall, and True Edge" storyline -- see listing for related stories.)
Snowfall propped herself on one elbow as she gently stroked True Edge’s chest with her fingertips. He had such a look of contentment on his face as he lay there. She was quite certain that she also looked as content as she felt at the moment. The homecoming when one or the other had been away on a hunt was always a sweet time for them.
“It’s good to be home again, beloved. I see you missed me while I was away.”
He smiled and placed one of his hands over hers. No words were really needed. She did not go out on the long hunts as often as he did, but often enough. He had tried to make her homecoming a pleasant one and had succeeded. What he didn’t know though was that she had something on her mind that she needed to discuss with him.
“I’ve been thinking. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Her tone was such that it immediately commanded his attention. After so many turns of the seasons together he could tell when she wanted something. More to the point, he could tell when she was worried what he would think about what she was wanting. In response he rolled over, raised himself up on his elbow so that they were face to face, and waited for her to speak her mind.
“Soon Willow will be ready to heal our tribemates in wrapstuff. Once she does, there will lots of changes in the tribe.”
He nodded, smiling in encouragement so that she would continue. Thus far he wasn’t seeing where she was going with this.
“Well, anyway, I was thinking about poor Fadestar and how things will be for her. She’s going to need a lot of care, you know.”
This notion was hardly surprising to True Edge. His lifemate had a maternal streak wider than the sea. Her mothering instinct was so strong that she had raised not only their own children but had helped with half the children in the Holt. She had even taken in orphaned animals occasionally!
“I know she will, love. Most of them are going to need help and support when they awaken and we will all be there for them. You’ve always been very good about giving a helping hand with the cubs. Everyone appreciates that about you.”
“It’s more than that,” she said, looking away for just a moment before she returned her gaze to meet his. “She’s going to need a family and I want us to be that for her.”
He was a bit confused till he thought it over for a moment. Then he remembered that Kestrel was Fadestar’s sister, and what the glider had meant to Snowfall before she had Recognized True Edge. Had that not happened, it was very likely that the two of them would still be together. After the Recognition, though, Kestrel had encouraged Snowfall to leave her den and stand by his side. That had given them the chance they needed to discover that they truly belonged together. It was a thing that True Edge had not yet managed to do on his own.
It wasn’t from lack of trying of course. He had wanted Snowfall for ages before they had Recognized and had been overjoyed when it had happened. They were still too different though and while she bore his cub she was still Kestrel’s lovemate. Then, at the darkest point in his life, after having lost his parents and brother, Kestrel had urged Snowfall to come and stand by him in his grief. As she had predicted, the two of them grew together and their bond strengthened. If nothing else, he would always be in Kestrel’s debt for that selfless act.
“I see, then. You want for the two of us and Kestrel to be the girl’s family? For the three of us to join and raise the cub?”
Snowfall nodded quietly as she returned his gaze. That she also would want her former lovemate back in her life was understood and didn’t need to be mentioned. He rolled that possibility around in his mind, trying to come to terms with it. He could feel her love for him through their bond and it wasn’t as if she wanted Kestrel instead of him. She wanted to have her in addition to him. Did he have any right to deny her that? Whether he did or not, he still hesitated before committing to the notion.
“She’s joined us before, for a little while at a time. I’ve never begrudged you her company. Or anyone else’s for that matter. Do you think she would want to join us in a more permanent way?”
“I think so. I hope so. As much as I love you, I sometimes miss her. You understand that, don’t you?”
He nodded, because he did indeed understand. Still, he was holding back and he could sense that this caused her some distress. She could tell that something troubled him about the whole idea. Trying to ease the tension, she continued.
"She’s been so lonely since Bowflight died, and so full of grief. She is good at hiding it, though, and it shames me that I didn’t see the depths of it then. She has Willow and Pathmark, of course, but that isn’t all she needs. And now that she will have Fadestar back -- that will help, but I'm not sure she's up to tending the cub on her own. It will be so hard on them both, with their father gone. She needs me now, just as you did after your family died."
True Edge started to speak and took a long look into his lifemate’s eyes before returning to his silence. In truth, he wasn’t sure what to say. He had always known deep down that she would want Kestrel to join with them. It was only a matter of when it would come up.
**Zeik? What’s wrong?”
**Nothing's wrong, Yuki. I’m only at a loss for words. Have you told Kestrel what you are considering?**
A slight blush came to Snowfall’s face as she answered his question.
“No, not yet. But I think she knows I was thinking about her. We spent time together while on the hunt and she could see my desire if not the full form of my wish.”
To her relief, he smiled a bit at that.
“I’m not so sure she will want to stay with us as a lovemate,” he mused. “She’s never shared our furs for long before.”
“Maybe that’s because you haven’t asked her to.”
He had no answer for that. Kestrel would know full well that Snowfall would want her there. The key to this would be how he and Kestrel would feel towards one another. Again, he had no answers even for himself on that score. Seeing the look in his beloved’s eyes though he gave the only answer he could:
“Well then, I’ll just have to go speak with her.”
The sun finally rose and when it did it found True Edge prowling about the limbs of the Dentree. Snowfall had fallen asleep some time ago, reassured in the knowledge that he would at least talk to Kestrel. He was too restless to sleep though and as was his habit found himself wandering about in the daylight.
His wanderings by design brought him higher into the tree’s branches till he was just outside of Kestrel’s den. What would he say to her? He didn’t know yet but for Snowfall’s sake he would try to think of something.
He didn’t dislike Kestrel. On the contrary, he had always been fond of her. He could easily see what Snowfall had always seen in her. Still, though, there was a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that he didn’t yet dare give voice to.
As he considered this, a sudden motion caught his attention, and he froze in the branches and peeked upwards. Hovering there above him was Kestrel, who looked down at him with a mixture of amusement and curiosity.
“Had I been a hawk you might have been carried away.”
“Indeed. You always did surprise me with that whenever Bowflight and I were into something we shouldn’t be.”
She smiled ever so slightly. True Edge had been about ten turns of the seasons old when Bowflight had been born. It was a pretty sizable difference in age, at least until her own son had been old enough to run and hunt. Then he had started following the older Lightgaze around and the two of them managed to get into some pretty hair-raising misadventures.
“You both needed someone to watch over you then, as I recall.”
An uncomfortable silence settled between them as they both thought about and missed the departed Bowflight. He knew the mother’s grief would be deeper than his own but True Edge still missed his friend. The fact that before dying Bowflight had been mated to his own niece Finch made it all the more poignant. In a way, he had become family.
“You’re right, we did. But I’d like to talk to you about something else now. Can you land and stop hovering there, though? It’s hard to talk like this.”
Silently she obliged his request and landed on the limb beside him. Without a word she pushed aside the hide covering her den’s door and motioned for him to join her inside. As their eyes adjusted to the darkened room he could see that she still regarded him curiously. Her head was tilted at a slight angle and for just a moment she reminded him of the hunting bird she was named for. He was not yet sure what to say though but tried his best to get the conversation going.
“Snowfall and I were talking,“ he said uncertainly, “and she thought I should come talk to you.”
“When Fadestar gets out of wrapstuff. She wants to help you with her.”
Kestrel smiled but seemed puzzled. Her gaze was piercing and it seemed to True Edge that she could see his uncertainty, which only made him more nervous. Shards, but he hated being at the disadvantage like this.
“She could have told me that.”
“Yeah, well… that’s true. She wants more, though. She wants for you to den with us permanently.”
“Oh.” She blinked once and took a half-step back from him. Even in the dim light his sharp eyes could discern the slight flush in her cheeks and the sudden nervousness this statement had brought on.
“She wants for us all to be together as a family.”
Now he could feel the flush climbing up into his own cheeks. He was sure that his own sudden case of nerves matched the one that Kestrel seemed to be feeling. For a long moment they were both at a loss for words. She looked at him, perhaps hoping that he would say more. When he didn’t she looked away. To him she suddenly seemed very vulnerable. Finally she found her voice but it was so low that he had to strain to hear it.
“I had always hoped she would want me to join the two of you. You needed her so much, though, and she was your soulmate, not mine. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that you make her happy. Sometimes I just missed her so much.”
When she looked back at him he could see the tear in her eye before she wiped it away. He knew then that it was true what Snowfall had said. She still felt the grief of the loss of her son. He had looked the other way while she suffered, as he had suffered before. Kestrel had been very good at hiding it, but his shame at missing it, and probably keeping Snowfall from seeing it as well, was a heavy burden he hadn’t expected. Without thinking, he put a comforting hand on her shoulder and felt her trembling just a bit before she got herself fully under control.
“The two of you had two beautiful cubs and are so happy together. How could I intrude on that?”
“But you have joined us, sometimes. It just seemed that you never wanted to stay.”
She looked up at him, studying him so intently that he almost flinched from that penetrating gaze. After what seemed an eternity she finally spoke again.
“Because I wasn’t sure what you wanted.” The words streamed from her, as much a confession as an accusation. “True Edge, you’re her soulmate. You have a part of her that I’ve never touched. It always seemed like there was a wall between the two of us, though. I couldn’t stay if you didn’t want me to. It wouldn’t work then and it won’t work now unless it would be what you wanted as well. What is this that stands between us?”
He could no longer bear her gaze and looked down. He seldom showed throat like this and he could see that it confused her as much as it embarrassed him. Finally, after a long pause he decided that he had to regain control of the situation.
“I was afraid,” he finally said in a quiet voice.
“I was afraid, Kestrel. Not afraid that I would lose her to you. Our bond is strong so I stopped fearing that a long time ago. What scared me though was what might happen.”
“I don’t understand. What did you think would happen?”
He returned his gaze to meet hers. No longer was he uncertain as to what to say. Now he understood what had troubled him. He just had to finally say it.
“Some say I’m hard to get along with,” he said with a wry smile. “Stubborn, hard-headed, moody. I can’t disagree with any of that. I remember your arguments with Boar and how little patience you had sometimes for his tempers, and he was your soulmate. What if you couldn’t put up with me? If she had you back and then had to choose between us because we couldn’t get along, it would break her heart. Snowfall loves us both so well I was afraid to do that to her, or to you for that matter. It just wouldn’t have been right.”
Now it was Kestrel’s turn to be struck speechless. She merely studied him for several long moments and then, much to his surprise, she stepped closer and wrapped her arms around him in a fierce embrace. After a moment's hesitation he returned it and held her close. He could feel the tears on his chest and wasn’t sure what to think. Finally she looked up at him and he was relieved to see a smile on her face. Despite the tears she seemed pleased.
She wiped her face with the back of her hand but didn’t step away. Instead she kept one arm wrapped around his waist as she looked up at him. After a few moment’s thought she continued.
“I think you make a good match for our Snowfall. And you know what else I think?”
“What?” he asked with some confusion.
“I think you care about me too. Otherwise you could have just told me to fly off and not bother you anymore.”
For a brief moment he hesitated again. Not because he was unsure what to say but because she had struck a bit too close to home. The one truth he had held back from her, which only Snowfall really understood, was how hard it was for him to let down his guard enough to love freely. His bond with his lifemate was strong enough to allow him that freedom. That he was now on the brink of taking the same step with Kestrel had shaken him deeply.
“There is much I didn’t realize about you, True Edge. Do you know how much compassion you’ve shown for both Snowfall and me? You wouldn’t have been so worried about all of this if that wasn’t the case. Snowfall is always the one with love to spare. Maybe you’re much the same way. Now there is only one thing left to see.”
“I don’t understand.”
With a sigh Kestrel put her fingers up to his lips, silencing further questions.
**No more talking. No more worrying. You make yourself sick with thinking too much. Just show me what you feel. If you really want me to join the two of you, you should know how to make me feel it.**
Snowfall had awakened in the middle of the day to find her lifemate gone. That was not so unusual, since he kept such odd hours. She was well past the point where she got too concerned that he didn’t seem to sleep on any set schedule. He was probably out doing chores or thinking about what they had discussed.
Arising from the furs, she put her clothes on and stepped out of the den. Now that she was awake she had too much on her mind to fall back to sleep easily. While he was out doing whatever, maybe she would go talk to Kestrel first. That thought gave her a smile as she climbed higher into the tree towards her old friend’s lair. Maybe, just maybe, they could work this out. If she could have both of her loves then she would truly be blessed.
Moments later she found herself at the hide flap that kept the wind out of Kestrel’s den. It being the middle of the day she was most likely asleep. A mischievous smile played across Snowfall’s face. Maybe she could surprise her and wake her with a tender embrace. With this plan in mind, Snowfall pulled the flap aside and crawled inside.
Once there it only took a moment for her sensitive nose to tell her that Kestrel wasn’t alone. The smile on her face grew ever larger when she realized who it was that she was with. They were aware of her at about the same time she realized what was going on, so, instead of sneaking as planned, she crawled over and nestled herself into the furs with them.
“I see you managed to talk to her,” she said, with the biggest grin either of them had ever seen on her face.
“Aye, that I did,” he replied. “I think we made some progress towards your desire.”
Kestrel poked him in the ribs as Snowfall laughed at their antics.
“More than just her desire, True Edge. You had plenty of your own.”
He looked from one to the other. They both looked so happy that it was contagious. Even if it wasn’t, he realized that he was quite happy on his own. That it pleased them both so much was just an added bonus.
“All right, I admit it. You encouraged me, though. I don’t recall any complaints.”
“None here, lovemate. No complaints at all.”
Snowfall’s eyes grew a bit wider.
“Lovemate? That means you’re willing to stay with us? Really?”
“Yes, really,” Kestrel replied as she wrapped her arms around Snowfall. “As long as you’ll have me.”
Kestrel’s face shone with such a look of love and contentment that True Edge had seldom ever seen before. It made him feel all the better to see it mirrored on Snowfall’s features. He now knew he had made the right decision. The three of them would now be a family together. That thought, much to his surprise, filled him with a pleasure he couldn’t have imagined. Things were going to be different now, but in a good way. As he pondered this he suddenly realized that Snowfall was talking to him.
“So quiet all of a sudden, my love? Did Kestrel use up all your strength?”
The tone was teasing but that smile was still there.
“For a bit, but I imagine that I’ll be rested up soon enough.”
“You better be. We need you strong and healthy. We’ll have a cub to tend when Fadestar’s back. And maybe, just maybe, you can help us bring some more into the family.”
Both Kestrel and True Edge looked a bit taken aback but soon joined in her enthusiasm. It wasn’t unthinkable that they would have more cubs between them. Their family would certainly be ready for it if they did.