(This story is a part of the "Honey emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storyline -- see listings for related stories.)
Beetle saw Honey emerge and was shocked—what happened to Honey’s hair? Part of it had been chopped off! And she looked angry... why was she so angry? Wasn’t she glad to be awake, and not sick any longer?
Windburn, Thornbow, and Dreamflight followed. Windburn and Thornbow looked worried, Dreamflight, hurt. As Greenweave appeared and Cloudfern moved to his side, Greenweave’s defensive posture made her wonder. What had Honey said after she was unwrapped?
She kept watching the entrance to the tunnel leading below ground, waiting for one other person. When Willow didn't emerge, Beetle slipped inside the entrance to the Mother Tree and headed down the stairs to the wrapstuff den.
Her eyes adjusted the the darkened area, and she saw Willow, who was bent over, head resting on the cold floor. Beetle hurried to Willow's side, kneeling beside her and putting an arm around her back.
A long, exhausted sigh escaped from Willow's lips, but she didn't say a thing. Instead, she managed to find the strength to push herself up to a more upright position, and then lean against Beetle.
**Glad that's over with, glad you're here,** she sent in feelings more than words. The sending was bogged down with an exhaustion so deep it felt like the pull of the ground itself. “Want sleep,” she groaned.
Beetle guessed that Willow wouldn't be awake much longer and knew that she wouldn't want to sleep in the wrapstuff den. And Beetle didn't want to ask questions... not now. She knew they would talk later, once Willow had rested.
Helping Willow to her feet, and allowing her to lean as heavily as she needed, they used the underground passage to reach the Child Tree. When they reached the foot of the steps, Beetle paused, asking, “Can you make it up to my den?”
“Mmm,” the healer replied in affirmative, nodding her head. Beetle felt Willow lean more and more heavily as they slowly made their way up the stairs leading back to the surface.
It was a slow process, but they made it. Passing through her father and Greenweave’s den, Beetle saw the pair talking quietly. Cloudfern looked up and met her eyes. “Some tea?” he asked quietly, and she nodded as they passed through to the den that had, at some point, become as much Willow’s as it was hers.
But Willow was asleep before Cloudfern even had a chance to finish the tea; she was breathing rhythmically once she was prone on the bedfus. Beetle did her best to make sure her lovemate seemed comfortable while she rested. Once that was settled, her mind drifted back to the earlier events of the day. What had Honey said, exactly?
Certain that Willow would be asleep for the rest of the night, and probably most of the day to follow, Beetle quietly made her way to the adjacent den. Her father hadn’t returned yet. She sent to him, **Willow’s out. She won’t need the tea after all.**
Greenweave spoke, “Is she all right?”
“Exhausted’s all, I think. What happened down there?”
Greenweave sighed. “You saw Honey when she came out, right?”
Beetle nodded. She’d seen Honey – angry face, old clothes, tense, ready to strike out at anyone that came near her. She had also seen the stricken faces of those who came up after her. She recalled the few words she’d heard wafting up from the wrapstuff den, but none of them made sense.
“I could guess she’d be disappointed,” Beetle started, “maybe even a little angry… at you and Father, but at the rest of the tribe?”
Greenweave’s head dropped a little. Cloudfern re-entered the den, then moved to his lifemate’s side, and then Greenweave leaned into him.
After that, Greenweave relayed the story of Honey’s unwrapping. As he did so, Beetle found herself increasingly frustrated and angry. What right did Honey have to attack those who cared about her? When Greenweave shared what Honey had said to Willow, Beetle couldn’t sit any more. She stood, pacing.
“Honey has always been like this,” Cloudfern said after a few moments. “We knew she wouldn't take this situation well, and we shouldn't be surprised she's lashing out at everyone – even when it's not their fault things are this way.” He looked over at Beetle, and she stopped pacing. “She wants the attention – wants everyone to view her as the victim. I think the best thing we could do about that is to not give into it. If we do, it will just feed that desire she has and make things worse.”
Greenweave nodded. “Your father’s right. Honey thrives on being the ‘victim.’”
Beetle heaved a frustrated sigh. She knew what her father and Greenweave were suggesting was probably right, but it did nothing to make her anger at the situation dissipate. Though Beetle couldn’t remember a time when Honey wasn’t as her father and Greenweave were describing, she’d never really felt it personally. “So I’m supposed to stay silent? I’m supposed to let her get away with hurting the ones that I love?!? It’s not right!”
Cloudfern left Greenweave’s side and moved to stand in front of Beetle. Placing a hand on each shoulder and touching her forehead, he sent, **Rasha, it’s hard to let others find their way, and it’s even harder when it raises your hackles. I’m not asking you to let her get away with anything. I’m asking you to think before you respond. Consider it an experiment. Watch what she does and says, pay attention to how she acts. Recognize what makes it worse. Don’t ‘reward’ her by giving her a reason to be that way. You’ll find she won’t be as bothersome if you can show you are stronger without playing her games.**
Beetle didn’t like it, but her father had a point. She agreed, aloud, to try to not react rashly, for the sake of her father and Greenweave. She was afraid if she sent that agreement with all her doubts slipping through, she wouldn't be able to follow through with her promise.
Walking toward the river, Beetle heard Honey before she saw her, and stifled a groan. Despite repeated attempts to not fuel Honey's flames, the recently-unwrapped elf seemed to be able to find – and use – any excuse to play the victim. The raised voice was coming from near the fishing weir: Honey was at it again, and this time, by the sound of it, with Dreamflight.
Beetle wasn’t worried about whether they would notice her. In fact, she hoped that Honey would notice her, so that she’d stop the tirade against Dreamflight. She approached the pair, and when they came into view, she shook her head at what was being said.
“You were never loyal. You didn’t protect our family! What kind of daughter are you?”
Beetle, who had been Dreamflight’s friend throughout Honey’s time in wrapstuff, knew what Dreamflight had gone through and how she had grown over the turns Honey had been asleep. She was lost in those thoughts and wasn’t paying attention to Dreamflight’s response as she tried to defend herself against the onslaught, but when Honey started in again, the herbalist heard every word.
“How could you, why would you!? You were in their den today! What about our family? What about me? You’re a coward, Dreamflight. A coward. Go, then. Go and visit with your father and his 'Lifemate.' I don't know why you would want me unwrapped. It’s obvious no one missed me!”
Beetle noticed Dreamflight lift a hand to her face and guessed she was wiping a tear from her eye. Dreamflight straightened and looked at her mother. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Mother.”
At that moment, Beetle stepped forward. Honey’s attention turned from her daughter to Beetle. “Here comes the plantshaper’s daughter now. I bet you’re thrilled to have an almost-sister now.”
Beetle moved to stand beside Dreamflight, hoping to present a unified front against Honey’s force. She tried to recall what her father and Greenweave had said before… something about not giving Honey any reason to lash out, so she said nothing.
Honey moved. Her motions seemed cat-like as she walked around Beetle and Dreamflight. ‘She’s looking for a fight,’ she reminded herself. ‘Don’t give her the satisfaction.’
“You’ve been busy, Beetle. While I was gone, you even managed to find yourself a lovemate in Willow. Willow! What the Healer sees in a bubble-brain like you would be anybody’s guess.”
‘Don’t respond…’ echoed in Beetle’s mind, but Honey was getting personal, and the wolf in Beetle needed to assert herself. She tensed.
Dreamflight must have sensed what was about to happen because she called out, “Mother, stop!” and moved to stand between her mother and Beetle.
Beetle was tired of standing there. ‘This is pointless,’ she thought. “This is pointless,” she said through gritted teeth. Taking a deep breath she said, more evenly, “ If you don’t want to be happy, Honey, fine. But don’t make the rest of us miserable with you.”
Beetle watched as Honey burst into tears and ran off. Dreamflight turned and looked at Beetle, exasperated by her mother, but also frustrated by her friend. “You didn’t have to say it, you know.”
Beetle shook her head. “I did have to say it. Someone needs to tell her the truth. She’s wrong, Dreamflight, and you know it.”
The look in Dreamflight’s eyes acknowledged the truth of Beetle’s words, but she said nothing. Instead, Dreamflight took off running in the direction Honey had taken, calling, “Mother, wait!”
Willow sat at the base of the Child Tree, just outside the common entrance that led inward to both Beetle's and Cloudfern and Greenweave's den. Hints of tiredness leaked from her posture; she was slumped more than usual, and there were dark circles below her eyes – she still hadn't quite recovered completely from healing Honey, and she was more tired than she cared to admit, even though she had insisted she wanted to go sit outside.
Beetle had gone to fetch Willow some broth to drink, and she was just returning when she spied Honey and Dreamflight walking past where Willow was sitting. Evidently mother and daughter had made up after their argument from the night before, because both of them were all smiles and chatter... that is, until Honey spied Willow as the pair walked past.
Honey looked suspiciously concerned for Willow, and her voice matched her name. "Willow, you look so tired! Still moping from healing me the other day? Think maybe you should have waited?” She leaned down slightly – but not too far. “Maybe you aren't really the healer you think you are. Don't worry, I'm sure the others in wrapstuff don't mind waiting and waiting and waiting while you play your little romance games and laze around."
“Mother,” Dreamflight snapped. “That's not fair!”
Honey straightened and ignored Dreamflight's comment, “Lazy! Why are you just sitting there when there are others who are waiting on you? That's not how a healer should act. Seriously, why someone so irresponsible and incapable got to have a healer's power is beyond me.”
It was all Beetle could do to keep the bowl of broth balanced. She wanted to hurl it at Honey’s head. She bit her lip – hard. So hard that she could taste blood on the inside of her mouth. Setting the bowl on a step, she reached out to Willow, **Are you okay?**
Willow's answer came not with a sending, but with a low, warning growl that started in the pit of her stomach and worked its way up her throat. Willow's temper was rising, and from the looks of it, it was going to quickly explode.
Despite the growl, Honey laughed.
Beetle shook her head in disbelief—Honey should have known better than to push Willow!
Several possible retorts flooded Beetle’s mind, but she pushed them down, reminding herself—again—that a verbal exchange would not help anything. Willow was rising, her body tense, and Beetle could sense it was only a matter of moments before her lovemate would strike.
Beetle held her breath and watched as Willow stood and glared at Honey. There could be no mistaking the intent of that glare – it was a warning as pointed as the growl from before to stop or there would be consequences. Willow's right hand balled into a fist. Honey glared back in return, daring Willow to do something. Dreamflight was trying everything she could do defuse the situation. Tense moments passed.
Then, Willow abruptly turned, meeting Beetle's eyes for a split second. **If you hadn't been here...** There was struggle, anger, restraint in the healer's sending. She was bristling as she stormed away toward Beetle's den.
Beetle was confused. What had just happened? Why was Willow so angry – at her? Beetle ignored Honey's 'I win' smirk and turned to follow her lovemate inside. Remembering the bowl of broth, she stopped to pick it up. She thought for a moment about picking it up and hurling it at Honey, thought better of it, and left the bowl sitting where it was as she hurried up the stairs.
**Willow...** Beetle sent.
The healer had lain back down on the bed, and even though her back was turned to Beetle, it was obvious she was fuming. The only response Beetle got was an exaperated sigh.
Beetle didn't like the sound of that. **Willow...** she began, and then was interrupted.
**Next time I won't just walk away. I won't!** Willow sent, in warning.
The tone of Willow sending irked Beetle more than just a little. **No one said you had to!**
Willow inhaled deeply again, probably in an effort to calm herself. Beetle had never seen Willow quite so angry.
**I did it for you!**
**For me?** the reply was full of disbelief. **I never told you to do any such thing! I'd have been happy if you'd have punched her in the nose!** She added, **I was biting my lip so hard I’m bleeding, and I almost threw the soup at her — twice!.**
That took the fuel right out of Willow's fury. Suddenly, the healer rolled over, eyebrow raised, so she could look Beetle in the eye. **I thought you promised your father that you wouldn't react to her – to help keep her from lashing out at him!**
**When was this?** Beetle, feeling a little more calm herself, sat down on the bed next to her lovemate.
**When you left after you brought me in here to sleep the other day. I heard you and Greenweave and Cloudfern talking.** She then relayed what her exhausted mind had overheard from of the discussion from the next room.
Realization dawned on Beetle and she laughed. **Father and Greenweave say Honey wins if we get upset…. But she’s not learning to do anything different, either. It’s almost like she feels entitled to treat us this way, and by letting her get away with it, we’re agreeing with her. We can't just walk away.**
Willow chuckled. She seemed to have calmed down some, too. **Punching her would have felt good,** she sent, without words.
“I wish you would have,” Beetle laughed.
“I think I'm a bad influence on you,” Willow said. She scooted over on the bed platform and curled herself around her lovemate. “You don't really want me to hit her, do you?”
“Well… maybe. If she’d learn something from it, then yes!”
Willow nodded. “She never learned anything from it during her feuds with Flash… but that doesn’t mean she can’t learn.” There was a pause, and when Willow continued, Beetle could hear mirth in Willow's response. “So, you think she needs to be taught a lesson?”
At that, Beetle smiled. She leaned into Willow, nodded, then mumbled, “Mmmhmm. Something could happen to her... something that would make her learn.” Suddenly, she was feeling more playful now than angry. “Only I’m really not good at coming up with those kind of lessons.” She walked her fingers up Willow’s arm. “Know anyone who is?”
“Mmm. Maybe I do,” came Willow's whispered reply, moments before she began nuzzling Beetle's neck. She switched to sending. **But I just asked, and she says she's got plenty of time to plan. Right now, she says she needs to make up to you for getting so angry. Want 'to laze around and play romantic games?'** Her tone went sarcastic as she repeated the words Honey had spat at her earlier.
Beetle felt warmth rising through her as she responded to Willow’s nuzzling with her own. Thoughts of Honey had been replaced by much more enjoyable ones. The lesson would wait.