(This story is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
Beetle led Willow up the steps and handholds leading to her elder brother’s den. “I don’t know why he wanted to see us. All he sent was that it was important, and we’d both want to see.”
“Whatever it is had better be worth it.” Willow had taken to avoiding the upper levels of the Father Tree for reasons that had nothing at all to do with Notch. Along the way up, she’d kept her eyes to the handholds, not wanting her gaze to cross that of a certain female. As Beetle tapped on the leather drape across her brother’s den, Willow cast a wary eye upward.
Notch’s smiling face them hailed them, “What are you two doing down there? Come on up!” He was perched merrily atop the branch leading to Dreamflight’s den.
“Oooooh no,” Willow called back at him. “I don’t want anything to do with her right now.”
Notch simply grinned. “Trust me. You’ll love this.”
Willow swallowed a curse or three. Ever since that day when Willow had found out that Dreamflight was hurting herself on purpose to provide the healer with practice, Dreamflight had been as good as her word. She'd not only stopped her dangerous accidents, but she had backed off, careful not to seem to pressure Willow.
But it didn't help. As quiet and helpful as Dreamflight tried to be, even when she left the healer alone and only tried to help when asked to, it was no use -- Willow still felt pressured. Whenever she saw Dreamflight, she couldn't help but guess what the other was thinking. Dreamflight didn't have to say anything, Willow knew that unwrapping Honey was always on her mind.
‘If only I could just get away from this place for more than a few hours! From everything that everybody wants from me!’ Willow gritted her teeth, and a low growl escaped her throat. She felt cooped up, and the constant reminder of why — her healing powers, the endless fretting that she might be needed, the insistence of some that she be held close against all possible threats, against the everyday realities of living a wolfrider’s life — had become more than a little grating.
Beetle looked back to her and gave a wordless sending of encouragement. Willow replied with one of love and appreciation. As long as she was stuck in the Holt, being around Beetle was a pretty good reason.
Beetle was the first to follow Notch into Dreamflight’s den. The absence of a third voice got Willow thinking maybe the den had been empty. Maybe Notch had a prank in the works. Maybe…
But Dreamflight was in there, all right. Laying quietly on her furs. Enveloped in a thick blanket of wrapstuff. Shy Dewdrop let out a shrill “EEEK!” of unease. Anxious about so many elven observers, its eyes darted about the den nervously. To Willow, it looked to be trapped between its instinct to guard the cocoon and desire to flee to the comfort of its fellow Preservers.
“Come on in, Wil,’ She’s not gonna bite.” Notch moved over to make room. “The way I see it, the sleepers have been… well, sleeping… for a long time. Now myself, after a good long nap it takes a while sometimes to get my head to wake up and catch up to the rest of me. Or my feet. Or my arms.”
Beetle’s eyes lit up with realization. “Oh, I get it! It’s like that time I had myself wrapped up! To see what its like!” She turned from her brother to her friend, “If there are any side-effects of being wrapped up so long, it would be useful to know them.”
“Yup. This way you’ll know up front what running those magic fingers of yours across someone who’s been stuck in time like an ant in amber feels like.” Notch said, slouching against a wall of the den with victoriously lax posture. “So it won’t get in the way.”
“Hey, who’s the healer here?” Willow asked with a put-upon scowl. “I’m tired of this. Everybody making plans around me. Deciding what I need to know and when I need to know it! And I don’t need you putting ideas into her head! Of all the elves you could have asked, why Dreamflight?”
“Hey, she volunteered. After I explained the merits of my idea, of course. She had every opportunity to say no.”
Beetle gave Notch a look.
“Thank you, Notch,” Willow groaned. “Thank you very much. You have just guaranteed that I’ll never get a moment’s rest from Dreamflight after this. Once she’s out, she’ll be more convinced than ever that I’m ready to get her mother out. And I’ll have one less reason to say no I’m not! What if she starts following me around again? Did you even think about that? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find your sire, so he can give your hide a proper tanning.”
“You were gonna hear from her anyway,” Notch countered, blocking the exit. “If not about her mother, than about you keeping your distance. I’ve been at the receiving end of you on a cold streak. I know the tells. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed. That’s why it had to be Dreamflight. See, when we were discussing this, we talked about her going under for a hand of days… But I was thinking, long as she’s already in there, might as well make it two hands. You know, so you won’t have to walk around with that burr up your tail.”
Willow scowled, but that Notch’s scheming grin came back shinning full force. “But that’s not the best part! See, when the tribe starts asking why Dreamflight’s sitting on her tail not helping get any work done, you can tell them why you needed a break from her. You tell ‘em it’s not just her, but just about everyone who’s looking for a piece of you. And you tell ‘em that at least Beetle and Foxtail and me did something to deserve being cooped up in the dentrees, but that you never did. Tell ‘em long enough and loud enough, and they’ll pack you up some travelcakes and boot you out for a couple days.”
Willow started blankly at him for a moment, trying to decide whether to punch him or hug him.
Beetle sent, **He’s got a point. It would be less tense for you if she’s in wrapstuff. And you don’t deserve to be kept cooped up in the Dentrees. You didn’t help us prank the humans. You never did anything but work hard to control and master your magic.**
Notch simply shrugged, “Consider it a gift? Or an opportunity?”
Willow chuckled. “Make it three hands.” Without another word, she climbed down the tree.