(This story follows "Imperfect" and is a part of the "Honey emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
One-Leg entered his den alone; any plans of celebrating this very momentous night in the tender company of a female or two had left him. He lit a candle and rummaged through his stash of hidden things. He didn’t bother to pull the leather door cover back into place. He didn’t expect to be alone for long.
**Pay up,** came his son’s request. The feelings he sent were mixed; part satisfaction of a wager well placed, part sorry he had been right.
One-Leg produced a wineskin, one of a few he’d squirreled away to drink up after the celebration – and the public drinks – ran out. He handed it over to his son with a wry look. Some celebration.
“I thank you kindly, Father.” Rather than go away to enjoy his drink – or better yet, step in to share some! – Notch leaned against the edge of the entry. ”To be honest, I’m surprised you took me up on this one, really. You didn’t see this coming? You didn’t hear Flash’s spirit chattering in the back of your head, listing all the many ways tonight could have gone sour?”
Somewhere, Honey was up and about. Short of hair and mad at the world.
“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Either way I bet on peace,” One-Leg snorted back, hefting another wineskin into Notch’s chest. “And I’d do it again. Just like I’m doing with the humans now. A real gambler knows how to weigh short-term losses against long-term gains.” He put on a toothy grin, and gave a fatherly fist to the arm. “Not to worry, my lad, you’ll get there someday.”
Notch, unfazed by his father’s retort, tucked the second skin under an arm with the first one. “Well I suppose I would have earned this one too, in the short term, seeing how I was just about to bet that things will get worse before they get better. That Honey will set out punish Willow for being the one to bring her out of the ‘stuff. For owning the hands that brought her back to see ‘her’ Greenweave back in Cloudfern’s arms. ” He was talking slowly, teasingly, like that wasn’t even his real point. “And worst of all I’d bet that Windburn and Farscout and the rest of you elders will keep on keeping Willow tethered to the Dentress to endure it! Held out like a worm on a fishing line, dangling around until the Honeyfish comes to take another bite.”
“Those are your sister’s words,” One-Leg intoned, referring to ‘Honeyfish’, a nickname Flash had coined to deride her half-sister as a bottom-feeding pest. He pointed a finger. “Poke it all, lad, I’m warning you: do not go down her path. Consider all the things it cost her. The moons she spent ‘tethered to the Dentrees’ after she took things too far. Times you came bawling to me because she’d cut you out of some scheme. The long silences with Tallow. Oh, she was one to act like things didn’t bother her. But those of us who knew her knew better. It’s not an easy thing when parent and child run out of things they will talk about.” One-Leg put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Starskimmer’s not the stoic Tallow was. She feels things too deeply. I don’t want to see that hurt in her face.”
“Tallow had a daughter in each pot, a losing bet either way. Mother might just cheer me on, if I make it entertaining enough.”
“That kind of entertainment we don’t need.”
”So that’s it then? Keep Honey purring or see the claws? Same as it ever was?” Notch looked downward, working his jaw, and then stepped forward, closing the leather cover behind him. “What if maybe I can’t? Back in the day I didn’t speak up about how Honey treated others, even me. Didn’t have to, didn’t want to. Too much work.” He shrugged, best he could without displacing his prizes. “I’d show throat because I knew Flash was all too happy to fight for me.” Notch pantomimed a two-handed nudge. “Just a little ‘push’ was all it took. But my elder sister isn’t around anymore. It’s my younger sister who’s become Wil’s mate. If Honey goes back to her old habits, Beetle’s going to get dragged in and pulled down into the muck. Honey will push and push and push.”
Notch locksent the truth of his fears. **And Beetle can either bear the brunt of being Willow’s shield, and the guilt for not being around sometimes. Or be broken and walk away, like Cloudfern did from Greenweave. On such a day my mother would suffer. To see the pain in her daughter’s lonely eyes.**
One-Leg’s eyes narrowed. ”Flash’s spirit tell you all that, eh? Or are you just high-nosed enough to think you’re the only who can see storm clouds on the horizon?”
“The only clouds anyone else out there saw are shaped like Cloudfern and Greenweave! Rumblers so big and grey and loud they blot out the rest of the sky to those who aren’t of a mind to look.” Notch shook his head. “What I don’t see why so many outside just now expected Honey to wake up different from the way she was when she went to sleep.”
“Nutmash!” One-Leg was not willing to humor a debate on the whole tribe’s opinions. “Flash is dead and down the river. The conflict floated away with her bones. Honey herself helped tow it away. Don’t dredge it back up.”
Notch puffed some air out his nose. “It won’t be me that does. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wineflask to leave in whatever den Willow and Beetle went off to. I’m betting they’ll need it come next sundown.”