Most of the time it didn’t matter. Most of the time Newt was just their son, the cub that had been born to the three of them, testimony to the strength of their love that didn’t need Recognition to create life, something that Lacewing never tired of being proud of.
With his unusual colouring, that none of his parents had expected, it was impossible to say who Newt’s father was. They had expected him to have brown or blond hair like Birdcatcher and Glint or Strand’s curls or that at least his appearance would be reminiscent, if not of themselves, then of some parent or grandparent of one of them.
But Newt had white hair, the lightest blue eyes anyone had ever seen with a touch of pink in the irises, and skin that was beyond fair. Nothing about him gave away who of them had sired the cub.
And most of the time it didn’t matter at all.
But sometimes, just sometimes, Strand watched Birdcatcher show Newt how to fletch an arrow – even if a cub of five turns was too clumsy yet for such a delicate work – and he asked himself whether the blood in their veins was the same, and sometimes, just sometimes, Turtle watched Glint playing hide-and-seek with Newt and wondered if they shared a father after all.
Both half-brothers were playing with Newt tonight, a dark, a blond and a white head bent low over some colourful stones they had found at the river and used to develop a game which, apparently, required a lot of concentration, at least from the little cub. As Strand approached he saw that Turtle was watching them with a thoughtful expression. Not hearing his footsteps, Turtle only turned his head when Strand’s smell reached him, together with a short sending announcing his presence. With a smile he greeted his lifemate silently.
Strand did not smile back. Instead he locked his gaze on Turtle’s, a searching expression on his face. His gaze was a challenge. There had been a lot of those challenges back when Turtle and Lacewing had Recognized and borne Glint, and they had struggled to find out how to accommodate this new relationship into the existing lifemating between Strand and Lacewing – there were threematings in the tribe, but it was not uncommon, either, that Recognized pairs did not lifemate. And it was not made easier by the fact that though once good friends, Turtle and Strand had become estranged when Strand had Recognized Lacewing. But in his own way, quiet but not submissive, Turtle had accepted and overcome all those challenges until they had settled into this stable threemating.
But now there was another challenge in Strand’s gaze. Turtle frowned for a moment but held the gaze, and after a few moments it was Strand who sent first.
**You are asking yourself if you are his father,** he sent, **sometimes.** The send was a statement rather than a question, a challenge in itself.
**Sometimes,** Turtle acknowledged, holding his ground. **You do, too,** he threw the challenge back, his brown eyes not defiant but determined.
Strand gave a short nod of his head without taking his eyes off Turtle’s. Lacewing probably did as well but in that moment it didn’t matter. It was something between the two of them only.
The challenge was broken suddenly by a weak but cheerful sending: **Father! Father!**
The elves broke their gaze and turned to see their small white-haired son come running towards them. **Father!** he repeated when he reached them. **Father!** Each sending was accompanied with a wordless feeling that clearly indicated who Newt meant – creativity, strength and stubbornness; cheerfulness, listening and gentle understanding. Despite his sending being weak and untrained yet, the cub had early on developed this way to indicate whom of his fathers he was addressing, made necessary by his unusual parentage and Turtle’s deafness.
Turtle bent to scoop up the lad and take him into his arms. When he straightened up, he met Strand’s gaze again. For a moment they held it, then Strand broke it. He smiled.
Newt chattered to both of them aloud and in sending, not even noticing that something was transpiring between his fathers. Eagerly he told them about the game he had played with his brothers, and when Turtle put him down, he pulled them towards Birdcatcher and Glint. Over his head, Strand sent: **He doesn’t care. We shouldn’t, either.**
Turtle smiled faintly. **Most of the time I don’t.**
They followed Newt to their other sons. **He is as imaginative as you are,** Turtle sent, **and as stubborn.**
**He listens as well as you do,** Strand replied, **and he understands like you do.** Despite having lost his hearing, Turtle was the one of them who listened – losing it had only taught him to notice and read other things than words in others.
Their eyes met again and they both smiled.
“Newt!” Strand called, looking around for the white hair of their son. Turtle at his side smiled as he spotted Newt sitting with Farscout at the foot of the Child Tree and pointed him out to his lifemate in a quick send.
Newt heard Strand’s voice but only gave them a look and a wave over his shoulder – nothing could draw the lad away when Farscout was home and agreed to tell him some things about his scouting trip. The laconic scout was a poor storyteller but Newt couldn’t care less.
Strand and Turtle went over to them and greeted Farscout. “Sorry for the interruption,” Strand apologized to him. “But could we have Newt for a moment? We wanted to give him something.”
Farscout nodded and rose to his feet. "I'll be down at the river," he said to a pouting Newt as he departed.
Turtle messed up Newt’s short hair and winked at him. **Really only a moment,** he promised, **then you’re rid of us again.**
**Alright,** Newt replied, pacified, and stood up to face his fathers. “What is it?” he asked.
Strand smiled and bent his knees until his eyes were level with Newt’s. “We want you to have this,” he said, sending his words as well as speaking like they always did to include Turtle. He drew from a pouch a piece of a turtle shell, cut in a neat hexagon, smoothed and painted in Strand’s bright colours. Though stylized and miniature, it was recognizable that the figures on it wore the faces of their family, Lacewing, Birdcatcher and Glint together with Newt, Strand and Turtle, each in one corner, their hands clasping each other.
The turtle shell was bigger than Strand’s hand, and Newt had to grasp it with two smaller hands. “What is that?” he asked, delighted at getting a present but not quite sure yet what to make of it as he turned it over and looked closely at the miniature figures.
“Originally we wanted to make something to wear for you but it’s a bit too big, so it’s just something to put up next to your furs,” Strand explained. He smiled, accompanying his words with the sending of a picture of Newt carrying the piece around his neck, exaggerating the size of it so it looked as if he was dragged down by its sheer size.
The cub giggled and shook his head. “I’m not that small,” he protested.
**Or it’s not that big,** Turtle interjected good-naturedly, earning another cheerful smile from his son.
More seriously, he continued: **It’s for you to remember where you belong and for us to remember what you were born from.**
Newt’s expression told that he felt there was some significance to this he did not really understand – he often got presents from his parents but them interrupting Farscout for it suggested that it was something special. However, with the ease of a cub concentrating on the joy of a present, he did not ask further but gave his fathers an enthusiastic hug. **Thank you!** he sent. **I’ll show mother later but first Farscout needs to finish his story!**
**Alright,** Strand nodded and they watched, smiling, as he ran off with his present to fetch back Farscout.
He didn’t know what it meant that in the image Turtle and Strand were right next to him, each of them holding one of his hands. But it was alright that he didn’t.
They knew, and they would remember.