(This story is a sequel to "Untangled", and is part of the "Romance between Beetle and Willow" storyline.)
Dreamflight smiled to herself as she strung the last of the sailbacks she had caught earlier that evening onto a line. She had already gutted the fish. Now her plans were to take her catch back to the Holt and eat. She'd have a Preserver wrap up the rest for a meal another day, unless someone was hungry tonight.
She started in the direction of the dentrees, not following any set path, when she heard quiet voices to her right.
“…never expected… ” the first wafted in. Who was that? Beetle?
Dreamflight stopped. She supposed she could offer Beetle a fish for dinner after her hard night of work-punishment, but it sounded like she was busy, and she didn't want to bother her friend. She started to move on.
“...won't call you lovemate, though... always hated that word..”
The mention of the word 'lovemate' was enough to bring Dreamflight up short. That was Willow talking, and those were words she never thought she'd hear coming out of the healer's mouth! And she was talking to Beetle!
“…don’t really think sharing a den will work, either.”
Dreamflight was confused. Willow and Beetle? Lovemates? Had she missed something?
Dreamflight leaned forward and peeked around the trunk of the tree that was blocking her view of the two elves. Willow was sitting against a tree with her arms around Beetle, who was leaning comfortably back against the healer. She rubbed her eyes, then felt her forehead to make certain she wasn’t experiencing a fever dream. She wasn’t. She looked again. Beetle and Willow were still there. Together. Who would have guessed it?
“Father, wasn’t Beetle working with you today?”
Greenweave looked up to see his daughter standing in the entrance of the den he and Cloudfern shared. His hands were dexterously holding several locks of his lifemate’s luxurious mane. He nodded.
Dreamflight knew she was grinning, and she tried not to. She was bursting to talk with someone, but she also didn’t want to tell the secret, if it was supposed to be a secret. Dreamflight shuffled nervously, then sat down. She noticed her father and Cloudfern staring at her and she twitched, wondering if she should say something.
Greenweave’s eyes twinkled, and Dreamflight gathered from the look on his face that somehow he already knew. Still, she didn’t want to tell unless she was sure he knew.
“You look excited about something,” Cloudfern commented.
“Mmmhmmm,” she responded.
“Care to let us in on it?” her father asked. Silently, he lock-sent, **What do you know?**
She sensed hints of his thoughts about Willow and Beetle, and she gathered that the news wouldn’t be unexpected. “Well… you see… I saw Beetle and Willow…” her voice trailed off.
Cloudfern sat up a little, causing Greenweave to lose some of the strands he had been manipulating. Cloudfern responded, “They have been together a lot lately.”
Dreamflight smiled broadly, announcing, “They have! And now they’re lovemates. Though Willow’s not calling it that, and Beetle doesn’t want to share a den!”
Cloudfern smiled. “Well, good for Beetle. Good for them both.”
“Mmmm,” Greenweave smiled, too, going back to his work on Cloudfern's hair.
Dreamflight was stymied by their lack of enthusiasm. She was happy for her friend, though part of her was worried that Beetle might not have as much time for her now. She shook off the thought, then headed toward her den.
The herbalist, seated in her crafting den, stopped mashing dreamberries and looked toward the entrance when Cloudfern sent.
“I'm in here,” she answered, and her Recognized entered mere moments later.
“I just came to see if you had any skins of your last batch of honey wine left.”
“I have one or two,” she gestured toward a shelf with berry-stained fingers. “Yours if you want them.”
Starskimmer noticed the smile on the plantshaper's face as he thanked her and retrieved a wineskin. Suddenly, she got the impression that her Recognized knew something... interesting.
“That's not the smile of someone just in need of a drink,” she coyly said. “Celebrating something?”
Cloudfern grinned at her. “You might say that. And you might want to join us, once you know what it is.”
“Oh?” she arched an eyebrow. “What's the good news?”
“Rumor has it our daughter's taken a lovemate. They’re not denning together yet, but that’ll happen sometime!”
The thought of who it could be entered Starskimmer's mind, but she couldn't quite make herself believe it. She knew her daughter and Willow had been regular furmates of late, but lovemates? The Willow she knew wasn’t one to settle down. Still, she didn’t know who else it could be. “Willow?” she finally asked. Her tone conveyed her disbelief.
Cloudfern nodded, a grin spreading across his face. “So I've been told! Who’d have guessed it?”
Standing to go with him, Starskimmer paused a moment, sending the news to her other Recognized. One-Leg had mentioned his suspicions about the pair to her before. She’d been skeptical, but, evidently, he had been right!
When his father told him the news, Notch sat there, stunned. Sure, Willow and Beetle had spent a lot of time together...
But Willow and Beetle? Lovemates? Denning together? He couldn't quite bring himself to believe this news... it sounded more like the makings of an elaborate prank. But, if it was true...
He scratched at the skin covering Foxtail’s den and heard a low moan of pleasure. Judging by the scent, he guessed Rainpace was in there with her.
Gently moving aside the skin so he could peek in, he quietly whispered, “Mind if I join you?”
An open send of invitation came from both of his friends and Notch ducked inside. He wondered what his friends' reactions to this interesting hearsay would be. He'd tell them what he'd heard... in a bit.
“So, have you heard?”
Kestrel paused in her story at the sound of her grandson, Pathmark's, breathless voice. Crackle shifted her attention from the elder to the blond-haired tracker who had just arrived at Kestrel's side.
“Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt.”
“Never mind that, now. Hear about what?”
Pathmark grinned. “About Willow. And Beetle.”
Kestrel shook her head.
“Word is, they're serious now.”
Kestrel didn't look convinced. “Are they?”
“That's what Evervale heard,” Pathmark explained, clearly happy for his sister and his friend. “She said she overheard Foxtail talking to Chicory, and Notch had told her he'd got wind of it from someone who knew about it first-hand. They're going to move into a new den and everything!”
“One should be careful believing anything one overhears that came from Notch,” Kestrel warned.
“Well, Beetle and my sister have been spending a lot of time with one another.”
Kestrel shook her head. “I'll believe it when it comes from Willow's mouth.” She turned to Crackle, who looked like she was about to burst at the seams with this new bit of information. And one wondered why rumors spread so quickly...
The sun was low in the sky as Willow and Beetle, hand-in-hand, headed back toward the Holt. However, when they neared the gathering area in front of the Dentrees, Willow stopped and let go.
“Everyone will find out soon enough,” the healer explained. “But let's have them figure it out when we're not going to be separated for the whole day.”
Beetle was slightly disappointed. “All right,” she answered.
She felt better when Willow pulled her close. “I'll see you in the morning,” she promised. “Your den or mine?”
“How about yours this time? If it's nice like it was today, we can sit out on the ledge nearby and watch the sunrise. That is, if I get back from Hidden Lake in time.”
Willow let go and smiled at her. “All right. I'll be waiting.”
The pair went their separate ways. Beetle decided to visit her own den before going to meet One-Leg. She wanted a few pouches for gathering herbs along the way. She headed up the stairs to cut through the den her father and Greenweave shared, hoping she'd be quiet enough not to wake them if they were asleep.
However, her father and Greenweave were awake when she entered. She noticed that her mother was also there, sleeping, her arms wrapped around Cloudfern’s waist and her legs tangled with Greenweave’s. Cloudfern and Greenweave smiled at Beetle as though they had been drinking. They looked at her like they had been waiting on her.
Suddenly, Beetle began to feel more than just a little uncomfortable.
“Everything untangled now?” Greenweave asked cryptically.
Beetle blinked, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t I tell you last night that you’d be untangling something?”
She recalled his directions when he’d given her the hair tie and had left her alone with Willow yesterday. She hadn’t understood then. But now… the conversation between her and Willow…
“You knew?” she asked.
“It was kind of obvious, daughter,” her father chimed in happily.
She blushed, remembering One-Leg’s comments. “Does everyone know?”
“Everyone with eyes to see,” said Greenweave.
“Or ears to hear what Crackle has to say,” quipped Cloudfern.
“Crackle?!” Beetle asked warily, her voice breaking.
“Yep!” Greenweave smiled. “Rumor has it, you two are lovemates, but plan on lifemating soon. You're moving into a whole new tree together, and your father’s going to shape a den for you that’s bigger than any den ever shaped!”
Her mother stirred, then added groggily, “Don’t forget—Crackle pointed out that since Willow’s a healer, she’ll be able to make them Recognize, and they’ll both have babies.” The three laughed.
“Oh... Oh...” Not quite certain what to say, Beetle shuffled on both feet, then thought of Willow, who was, as of yet, unaware that everyone already knew. She smiled apologetically to her father, her mother, and Greenweave and, forgetting about the pouches, she turned around to head back down the stairs. She wanted to find Willow. She was so shocked, it didn't even occur to her to send.
Willow's sending reached her before she had even reached the Mother Tree. It was wordless, full of images and a warning. **Notch, Rainpace, Foxtail here. Teasing me. They know. Others know.** The undercurrent beneath Willow's sending, however, made all sense of Beetle's worry vanish. They knew, but Willow didn't care. **Let them tease all they want. Three of 'em and they can't give as good as I give back,** the healer finished, proud and amused. **They thought they had the upper hand!**
Beetle couldn't help but laugh at that.
“So, do the rumors floating around the Holt hold any water, or no?” That was One-Leg's voice. Beetle turned, and the elder was standing there, packed and ready for another evening of work at Hidden Lake.
Beetle felt color creep up her cheeks again and began, “Well, in a way... but maybe not quite how you heard it!”