(This story is a sequel to "Normal", and is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
Notch carefully extricated himself from the tangled limbs of those he had found some solace with. Something was bothering him, and he could not sleep peacefully as the others were. He had returned to Foxtail’s den as the night ended, and the two of them had sought out the others. Foxtail had thought it was all a part of New Green Bliss. Notch, however, had simply wanted to lose himself in the moment, seeking comfort in the arms of others after the what he had discovered. Beetle and Willow had been together the night before. Willow could touch others again. Had Willow really lied to him? The thought stung.
Almost without knowing why, he stalked toward Beetle’s den. He sent to her, but received no response. The sound of Willow’s moan echoed again in his mind, and he stepped in. It was empty. Confusion swept through him, and he thought about seeking Willow out then and there.
Recollection of Willow's words caused him to pause. Just go away. I’ll come to you when I feel like I’m ready. Apparently she wasn’t ready, but he still cared for her, and he wanted to understand. He calmed himself and decided to wait for Beetle. She had been spending a lot of time with Willow lately. Maybe she could help him make sense of it all. Making himself as comfortable as he could be, he sat down on her bedfurs.
When Beetle finally returned to her den, the sun was setting. Notch watched as his sister, unaware of his presence, entered the den, a light smile on her face. Willow’s scent, which lingered on Beetle’s skin, confirmed what he already knew. His sister had been with Willow—Willow was able to touch again. But that meant she had lied to him. Why?
Beetle’s startled gasp told him she’d seen him. “Notch? What are you doing in here?” She laughed, and said, “I would have thought you’d be somewhere sleeping off the effects of last night.”
He growled, “I would have been, but I couldn’t sleep. You were with Willow last night.”
He noticed puzzlement cross her face as she slowly nodded. “Are you angry about that?”
Her question made him realize it. He was angry. He was angry that his sister had succeeded where he had somehow failed. Where he would not have failed if he'd had the chance to show her what he'd come up with. “Not about that. You know I don’t care who shares furs with whom.” Really, he didn’t. What he didn’t like was being lied to by his best friend.
“So what is bothering you? Why are you angry, really?”
“You’re always with Willow these days. Seems no one else can get anywhere near her!” he accused.
Her face paled a little, but then she became defensive. “So that’s why you’re angry? Because I’m friends with Willow?”
“Smells like you’re more than friends, now! How’d you manage it?” ‘When I couldn’t,’ he added silently.
“Manage what?” she asked, her voice rising.
“She joined with you! I know that smell. But she told me last night that she couldn’t control her powers. Finally, I got it. I even came up with something I thought would help… but then, when I finally found her, you were with her!”
“Oh!” Beetle responded, her voice quieter. “It wasn’t planned, Notch.”
He wanted to believe her, and deep down he knew she was right, but months of rejection were finally boiling over. “Sure it wasn’t. She’s been avoiding me for moons, now, and she always tells me to go away! I don't care who she beds with, but she could have just told me. She didn't have to lie!”
“Notch, it’s not like that!”
He believed her, really, he did. But he was hurt and confused. The night before he thought he had understood, and he had wanted to help, but Beetle had gotten there first. Why couldn’t he have been the one to help Willow? His disappointment was coming out in frustration and anger, and that was made worse by his knowledge that it was his half-sister he was taking it out on.
He continued speaking, lost in the now. “Sure it isn’t. She hasn’t touched me in almost a turn. I was kicked out of her den. Windburn even burned my tail over it. And yet you—my own sister—you’ve been in her den several times. She’s willing to touch you! This past winter I watched as she touched you and smiled. And you’ve been with her so much while I can’t even get near her without being told to go away! Then last night, I got it. I understood. She couldn't touch me, or anyone else. And I wanted to help. But then... you were with her.”
“You’re jealous?” Beetle asked, incredulously. Her confusion brought him up short. It wasn’t about the joining. It was about disappointment.
Frustrated, he put his head in his hands and let it out. “She lied to me, Beetle. If she doesn’t want me around, then why doesn’t she just say so?”
Beetle reached out to touch his face. “Notch, what Willow told you when you saw her was the truth. For that time. Something’s changed.”
“What?” he asked, daring to hope that the season of winter between he and Willow was passing.
“I think that’s Willow’s story to tell, Notch. You should talk to her about it.”
“I can’t get near her without her snapping my head off,” he replied, but his voice no longer held its bitter edge. ‘I want Willow to be happy, and I want her to figure things out. I should be happy right now… but I’m not. I miss her. Why can’t I just say that?’
Beetle shook her head. “You said that you got it last night, right?” He nodded, and she continued. “Don’t you get that she has been more frustrated than you are? That she has been trying so hard for so long with no results? Last night… well, like I said, you’ll have to talk with her about it. But don’t give up on her, Notch. And don’t be angry with her, either. She needs her friends. She needs both of us.”
“You two have really gotten closer, haven’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, we have. And I hope that she and I will get even closer.”
He liked the idea of his sister being friends with Willow. Beetle didn’t have a lot of close friends. “I hope you two do get closer. But don’t think that I’m giving up just because Willow and I have had our differences.”
Beetle laughed. “I never thought that. Seriously, Notch, you should talk to her.” Notch was about to say something when Beetle quickly added, “When she’s ready! Let her come and find you!”
Inwardly, he growled. Though the talk with his sister had helped soothe him, she hadn’t given him any real answers. He decided to wait a little while, but he promised himself that if Willow didn’t talk with him soon, he would find her and they would talk.