(This story is also related to "The romance of Evervale, Longshot and Pathmark" - see listing for more related stories.)
"Oww! Stop it!"
Evervale made a tsk of sympathy. "Poor Crackle. He can't help it, cub, he's teething."
This might've sounded like a perfectly valid reason to Crackle, were she not, just at that moment, preoccupied with untangling strands of red hair out from between Rill's soft wet gums. The infant didn't bother hiding his displeasure at this mishandling, pressing down all the harder and cooing aggressively in the back of his throat. As soon as Crackle managed to get a hand in between her half-brother's jaws to get the hair out, Rill clamped down on her fingers with a triumphant "GYU!"
Crackle howled. "Evervale, make him stop!"
Though normally she would never have abandoned her sister in such dire straits, looking at Rill's determined little face – he looked an awful lot like Quick Fang from this angle – gave Evervale pause. She glanced to one side, then the other at the two elves she was sitting between; Pathmark looked to be struggling with a smile, while Longshot giggled helplessly. Neither of them looked like they were about to pitch in, comfortable as they were sitting back, keeping Evervale warm between them and watching the drama unfold. They exchanged a look over her head; it didn't look like a "let's help our lovemate out" look. She sighed and leaned forward to reach out for the squirming baby boy.
Unexpectedly, Longshot laid his hand on her back, stopping her short. "Don't, Evervale," he said with a smile, then spoke to Crackle in all seriousness. "That's not nice, Crackling-cub. Don't you want your brother to grow up to be smart?"
Crackle stared at him from under a layer of spit. "What has it got to do with biting?" she demanded.
To Evervale's surprise, Pathmark piped up. "Well," he said in his sweet and perfectly honest voice, "your parents might not have wanted to scare you, but everyone knows that a cub has to bite as it's teething so its teeth would grow outwards, not inwards into its head."
The girl's eyes grew as wide and round as the two moons. This was just the sort of thing that she was inclined to believe. "Really?"
"Really." Pathmark's nod was somber. Evervale almost spoke up, but Longshot's hand remained on her back, stroking in lazy, pacifying circles. "You have to let him bite so the teeth will know which way to grow, or he'll have a head full of teeth with no room left for smarts. And he'd best chew on you, because you're so young and tender," he added before she had a chance to protest. "Don't you wonder how you came out as smart as you are? It's because you could chew on Evervale here." He leaned down and nibbled on the hollow of Evervale's throat to demonstrate.
"You chewed on me quite a lot when you were teething," Evervale put in, distracted by the feel of Pathmark's tongue.
Crackle sat considering, no doubt matching up various elves' cleverness with the presence or absence of older agemates. She glanced at Pathmark, who smiled at her with that look Evervale was coming to know so well. I only want to help. Nobody could look sincere like Pathmark.
After another moment, she conceded with a sigh. "All right, Rill," she told her little brother and arranged him better on her shoulders and head. "Let's get this over with."
**She did bite me, all the time,** Evervale mused as both her lovemates' laughter rolled in gales into her head in sendings full of mirth. **Father made her toys, but nothing was ever as good as my hair…**
**It's only fair, then,** answered Pathmark, **though I still can't believe you talked me into it, Longshot…**
**I've ruined you,** Longshot returned idly, leaning back and pulling the two of them with him. **Kestrel will never forgive me. But it's worth it.** Pillowed on Evervale's stomach, he raised his head just a little bit to catch another glimpse of Crackle bravely protecting her little brother's brains from his growing teeth, and grinned. **The only ones who'll taste Evervale tonight are us.**