It was a very early morning. The low, rising sun filtered through the fall leaves to wash the Holt in gold and crimson light. It was late enough that Rainpace didnít expect to see anyone else, most of the tribe had probably gone to their furs for the day. He had just finished setting new traps on a few of the smaller game trails that ran past and all around the Holt, but he didnít feel quite like bedding down for the day, yet. In fact, he had the oddest itch to fish.
Since he wasnít tired, he headed down to the river, carrying with him a small basket to take back anything he might catch. The water would be cold this late in the year, but it didnít bother him much. It was still water, and he still loved it, even when it brought a chill to his bones. When he got close to the Holtís River, he sat down on a rock and pulled off his boots, rolling up his breeches to just under the knee. He preferred fishing bare-handed, since that method got him in the water, but the method wasnít always a guarantee. Climbing down the low cliff edge, he proceeded wading into the clear, cold water with a shiver, but stopped when he heard a sound coming from the trees behind him. Rainpace looked over his shoulder to see what it was.
Chicory ambled through the underbrush easily, pausing as she broke through to look at Rainpace. An eager smile spread her lips and she readjusted the fishing net slung across her shoulder. When Chicory had decided to go out for a last-minute fishing run, she had assumed everyone was asleep. But, she was glad she had been wrong. Chicory was always more than happy to have Rainpace as a companion.
"I thought everyone was tucked up in their furs at this time. Now, it looks like I'll have to share the river," she teased, resuming her forward stride. She settled at the water's edge, setting her net carefully to the side. She rolled up the ragged edges of her pants, reassured herself that her necklace was securely fastened, and stepped into the chilly water. "Though, you're not much competition. I'm fairly certain I'll be all right," Chicory added with an impish grin.
Rainpace grinned at Chicory when he saw her. He pushed his long, dark hair behind one shoulder and looked back down at the smoothly flowing water, looking for a little eddy or a rock he could use as a natural trap. Ahead of him, he saw a large-mouth panfish in a shallower part of the river, probably hunting for its own food near one of the large submerged rocks. He moved carefully toward the fish, taking care not to let it see him, and started to pile up a few rocks between the shore and the rock to block the fish from swimming away.
"I thought I'd be here alone too," he tsked jokingly and added, "It's too bad." His wolf, Bristlepelt, was lounging in a shady spot on the grass nearby. She yawned and lifted her back leg to scratch behind her ear, wolfishly grumbling at the itch. "Doubt I'll be able to catch anything with you splashing around." The trapper grinned over his shoulder at her.
Chicory huffed and rolled her eyes, though it was all in good fun. Slipping deeper into the water, a peaceful calm swept across the fisher. The cool, autumnal water was delicious against Chicory's skin and she relished the sensation. It seemed like it had been forever since her last visit to the river, though it had only been the previous day. Humming her happiness, Chicory flitted over to Rainpace, careful to not scare away the panfish. It also seemed like it had been forever since the last time she had spent quality time with Rainpace, and it had been, for them, anyway. It had been nearly three hands of days.
The missions to learn the humans' language had pulled Rainpace away, but, here and there, Chicory had managed to spend time with him; though not as much as she would have preferred. The past hands of days had been especially hectic, for her at least: cub sitting, gathering, fishing, poison planning, harmless pranks. When Rainpace had finally returned, Chicory just didnít have the time or energy. The human-language lessons allowed for minimal time together, but when it came down to it, she, again, didnít have the time. Other things were placed first in Chicoryís mind than learning this strange language: thus creating a gap.
The hole that had been created in Rainpace's absence throbbed and Chicory partially submerged, the baubles in her hair floating atop the clear water. She watched her friend for a moment, eyes running across the length of his hair and the curve of his spine as he toiled. Where had that time gone?
Chicory lifted herself just enough so she could speak. "I haven't seen you in a while," she commented gingerly. "How has your fishing gone since you haven't needed to worry about my splashing," the fisher added, attempting to lighten the mood of her previous statement; no reason in implying something Chicory wasn't completely sure about.
With a quiet snicker through his nose, Rainpace finished the small dam he'd been working on and moved around the larger stone to block off the other side. He managed to look over at Chicory just at the moment she was lifting herself out of the river water like some kind of ethereal apparition. He swallowed nothing and looked back down at his panfish with determination.
"Ah, truth be told, I haven't had much chance for fishing," he said quietly as he piled up the small rocks. Rainpace hadn't really thought about it until Chicory mentioned it, but since he had begun studying the humans and their language, he hadnít seen her privately as often as he used to. Chicory had been his first, many moons ago as that was. They had stayed friends over the turns, and it wasnít as if they hadnít seen each other at all. But lately it seemed to Rainpace that their agendas just hadnít coincided. He watched the fat panfish obliviously munching on small creatures and lifted his shoulders. "And I only just started today, so I haven't caught anything."
Chicory lifted herself even more out of the water, mulling over Rainpace's words. Her head tilted gently to the side, beads clinking together while her water-dark hair spilled across her face in congealed strands. But, before she could completely form an idea, Chicory frowned and glanced down at her clothing. She hadn't thought about it when she had dipped into the deeper water. It felt so natural to go in the water, even though her original plan had been to stay in the shallows.
Sighing, Chicory made her way back to the shoreline. She stripped herself of her clothes, leaving her as bare as the day she had been born. Tossing her clothes, Chicory watched with slight horror as her clothing missed their mark. Instead, the water-heavy leathers landed squarely in a patch of mud a good distance from the dry land Chicory had originally been aiming toward.
"Those were my only clean clothes. Now, I'll have to bother Greenweave again so he can help me clean them," Chicory grumbled. "I can clean my clothes about as well as Crackle can keep neat," she added, lips pursed in a faintly sour gesture.
Rainpace looked up and laughed quietly through his nose, when he saw where Chicory's clothes had landed. "Well they are fairly wet. You could always just dip them in the water again. Your leathers would be stiff, but at least they wouldn't be mud-caked." He looked down at the fat panfish, which was still ignorant of his careful planning. Spreading his legs to give a better brace against the slippery rocks on the riverbed, he lifted his arms, preparing to grab it.
"It has been a while since weíve had time together, hasn't it?" he said quietly, without looking over at her. He didn't often get lost in the Now. Rainpace had always figured he had too much elf in him to allow for that. Lately it seemed like things were just moving faster, the moons and seasons spinning far out of his control. "I never meant for that." Rainpace licked his upper lip and paused like that, looking up through his thick fringe at Chicory.
Then, he exhaled, braced his foot against a nice-sized rock, and plunged both hands into the water, closing them on the slippery, silky fish tail. He grinned as he pulled it up out of the water, but it flailed and slid out of his hands, landing with a large splash on the other side of the dam he'd built and swimming upstream. "Puckernuts."
Chicory paused at the earnest look Rainpace cast her, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. But the bashfulness dissipated as Rainpace turned back to his work. Chicory watched him appreciatively, meting her time between her companion's fine figure and the fish he was attempting to catch. When he came up, Chicory matched his grin with one of her own, though it continued its sunny life even after the fish got away.
Chuckling warmly, Chicory waded over to Rainpace, inspecting the miniature dam before glancing over at him. "Let me give you some advice," Chicory began, her face a mask of seriousness. "You want to hold on to the fish when you catch it; not let it go," she continued, her serious-facade fading into a large grin. "It's quite simple. Do you need a demonstration?" the fisher continued, amusement painting her words. Chicory batted her eyelashes girlishly, arms twisting as she dipped a little to the side in mock-innocence.
With an annoyed snort, Rainpace kicked his hip out to one side and bumped Chicory. "Oh, is that how it works?" he asked, amused sarcasm tingeing his voice. In the same tone, he continued, "Well, maybe in that case I should pay more attention... considering there's a master standing right here offering her assistance.Ē Rainpace grinned and stepped slightly backward, in case his ribbing had a fiercer outcome than he expected. "Considering that lowly I cannot even hold onto a fish," he made a gesture of mock defeat. "Perhaps I should just give up now?" From under his hand, he winked at her, but at this point Chicory would probably have guessed he was kidding her.
For a moment, Chicory wobbled precariously, having not expected the bump whilst perched atop a pair of algae-slick stones. She leaned this way and that until her balance had been regained, casting a small glower in Rainpace's direction. But, Chicory quickly shifted moods, grinning broadly as she accepted the fact of her masterful skills. Placing her hand self-importantly upon her chest, she gave her best, haughty look.
It didn't last very long, for she soon burst out in giggles.
"My dear Twig, apparently I have taught you something. For a moment, I was beginning to doubt my teaching abilities," Chicory quipped with a smile. "After you lost that fish, I was beginning to wonder... But you have learned that I am the best. So, to answer your question, yes, just give up. You have no hope to ever surpass me."
With that, Chicory grinned even broader, grabbed Rainpace by the hand and tugged him hard in an attempt to topple him into the crisp water. Scrunching up his nose, Rainpace laughed with her, managing to speak between gasping breaths, "I guess I'll have to do that." Then she started tugging on his hand. Since he hadn't been expecting it, he lost his balance and fell into the shallow water with a sploosh. "Wai-" He didnít get a chance to finish that thought since he had to close his mouth against the water. But Rainpace wasn't going to let it end like that, oh no. You didn't spend your entire life with Notch as a best friend and not learn a thing or two about wrestling. Twisting his arm in her grip, Rainpace locked his fingers around Chicory's slender wrist, fully intending to bring her down into the water with him.
A brief and startled cry slid from Chicory's lips as she was tugged forward. For a moment, she thought she could catch herself, free arm waving frantically in an attempt to off-set Rainpace's pull. It didn't work. Chicory fell forward, mouth clamping shut at the last minute, and tumbled into the cool water.
Breaching the surface to breathe, the fisher cast a grin toward her companion before propelling forward. Chicory splashed in Rainpace's direction before pushing against his shoulders. "You little sneak!" she laughed before diving away into deeper water. When Chicory came back to the surface, she grinned and splashed a bit more.
Rainpace grinned underwater, all he could see was hair and limbs. Bubbles escaped his mouth where he was trying to hold back laughter. When he surfaced, a few moments after Chicory, he covered his face with his hands as she splashed him in earnest. When she pushed against him, he went back down into the water. The rocks were too slippery, and he was too buoyant to stop himself.
He pushed back up out of the shallow water and spun to see where she had gone; catching the trail of ripples she'd sent as she dove away. He swam after her, not minding the splashes considering he was thoroughly drenched at this point. "Oh, I'm the sneak, am I? I was just trying to have a nice, quiet fishing trip!" He wore a mischievous grin as he considered what he was going to do once he got to her. Chicory paused for a moment, treading water and laughing. She swam easily backward, not hurrying even though Rainpace was closing the gap between them.
"As if you could call that fishing," Chicory teased, making sure to keep her tone light. "You could barely hold onto that panfish, how are you going to catch me?" she added with a warm laugh, weaving small circles in the water. Chicory dove under and retreated a few more lengths before brushing sopping strands of hair from her eyes.
Rainpace kept a quick pace as he moved towards Chicory. He stopped momentarily, floating so he could answer her. Shaking his head, he groaned, "I might have done a better job if I hadn't been so distracted." He started swimming again, this time matching her leisurely movements. "Then again, I hope you aren't quite as slimy as the fish." After he spoke, he dove faster for her, intending to catch her round the middle.
The grip about her stomach set Chicory to squirming. Warm peals of laughter slipped from her lips as she challenged Rainpace's hold. Though, after a moment she paused, thinking back. Chicory stilled and turned her head over her shoulder to glance in her captor's general direction. "Distracted?" she mused wryly. "Do I distract you?" she inquired, brows arched with amusement.
Thanks to the buoyancy that the water gave them, Rainpace didn't have much trouble lifting her once his arms connected with her waist. His face breached the surface of the water, his long hair almost black as it fanned out around him.
He grinned at Chicory as she looked over her shoulder at him. "Exceedingly," he managed to say before his mouth dipped back under the clear water. Grudgingly, Rainpace loosened his hold on Chicory so he could float more easily. "But so far, not in a bad way."
Chicory laughed and managed to turn in the circle of Rainpace's arms, lacing her own about his neck. She leaned forward, setting her forehead against his. "In what kind of way, then?" she murmured coyly. Chicory placed a quick kiss upon the tip of Rainpace's nose. Then, with a splash, she kicked herself upward and dunked her comrade into the cool water.
Grinning and laughing, Chicory dove the opposite way. She lounged in shallower water, leaning against a jutting overhang from the embankment. Its side was slick with rich river mud and cattails. Chuckling, she inspected her nails in mocking boredom; though the smile never left her lips.
Rainpace surfaced a few moments later and grumbled low in his throat. He shook out his hair, sending a spray of droplets in all directions that turned the sun's low rays into a kaleidoscope of color. Shards, the slippery female was worse than the fish. He winced at a tinge in the nerves of his arm, but shook it away. Then he headed for the shallows.
"In the best and worst way," he said softly, moving to the embankment. His pants were soaked through, heavy with the water's weight. Rainpace briefly wished he'd taken the leathers off, but his attention didn't waver from Chicory's lithe, sprawled form. He moved to cover her, looking down through wet bangs to find her eyes. "I hope you know what I mean," his voice was low and heady.
As Rainpace moved nearer, Chicory glanced around; hoping to escape being trapped between him and the land; but her strategy came too late. She backed up, the teasing smile falling from her lips to be replaced by a thoughtful expression. Chicory reached out, skimming a slender finger down the plane of Rainpace's cheek. Her touch moved upward, brushing the sopping tresses from his gaze.
Chicory took a moment, choosing her words carefully. "I do know what you're saying... And, what do you think about it? Is it a good thing?" she inquired, testing the so-called waters.
A strong wind, icy with the promise of the coming cold season, stirred up the leaves on the bank above them. Rainpace smiled gently, tilting his head. "Chicory, you will always, always be a good distraction." He leaned in near to her, inhaling her rich scent that carried on the chilly breeze. Catching her warm, honey-brown eyes again, he intended to close the gap between them and press his lips to her neck. He intended to open his mind to send his clarification. He intended to make it clear.
But for all his good intentions, he had never expected what actually happened. Rainpace would never, could never have anticipated feeling like his middle was torn out and rearranged, like a whirling cyclone of thought, color and emotion had sprung up inside him with a single, lightning-bolt of clarity piercing all the way through the confusion to take hold deep within him. Knowing the possibility existed still didn't mean he could have been prepared. Eyes wide and unblinking, he tried to remember how to breathe, tried to understand the clarity with which he was suddenly seeing. How could he have known and cared for her all this time and yet still not ever really known? "Vru...?" he whispered, finally exhaling.
by Gina S.
The soft words that rang in Chicory's ears made her stomach tie into sweet, aching knots. She wanted to close the gap between them, to hold so tightly to that person she held so dear. Though, what occurred took the breath from her lungs. It felt like she was being quickly submerged into hot and cold water, barely able to catch her breath and only capable of tiny sips of oxygen. Spiders crawled across her skin and she shivered at the sensation, chestnut eyes wide with shock. It felt like it took seasons and seasons for the feelings to subside, but it was merely a moment.
When Rainpace next spoke, Chicory felt herself melt. The gentle utterance of her soul-name made her freeze, her chest aching. She shuddered briefly, glancing downward and then upward at Rainpace. Sudi... the name flickered through her head like a fish, there and then gone in quick silver flashes. "Did... Rain?" Chicory mumbled, insecure and feeling barren to the core. **Did we... just...?** The question was half-formed and hesitant, though it was sincere. Her mind-touch was gentle, unaccustomed to the barrage of emotions that accompanied the new Recognition. **...Sudi?...**
Rainpace shivered at Chicory's send. His head still felt made of fluff, but it felt right at the same time. Shaking his head and smiling, Rainpace reached down to brush a wet lock of hair behind Chicory's ear. **I'd say so.** He pushed up and lowered himself to her side, then stretched his arm out over his head. His eyebrows came down over his eyes as old insecurities resurfaced amidst the whirl of emotion. **Are you... happy about it? Recognition...?** He let out a breath. It seemed they had come full circle. Chicory had been his first furmate, after all, although it seemed an oak's age ago now.
Chicory didn't respond for a few moments, her head filled with boiling water. She stared incomprehensibly at the water behind Rainpace, lips parted slightly as she thought. But, finally, she blinked and glanced up. A smile spread Chicory's lips as now it was her turn to assuage the doubts. She jumped forward, twining her arms about Rainpace's neck. Chicory squeezed him as tightly as she could, taking in his warm scent. Joy rippled through her stomach, a delicious feeling in the pit of her stomach that made the world seem that much brighter. **How could I be anything but happy?** Chicory sent excitedly, the full spectrum of her cheer echoed in the mind-touch. Rainpace smiled, letting out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. Relief washed over him at Chicory's send. He wondered if he'd ever stop worrying that he wasn't brave enough, or bold enough, or anything else enough, and he didn't really know how to voice that uncertainty. However, he found it much easier to ignore it, for the first time in his life. Rainpace trailed his hands through her hair as she squeezed him. He nuzzled her neck, kissed beads of water off her skin.
**Good. I... don't want you to regret it being me,** he sent, honestly as it could only be in sending. Smelling her and feeling her soft body pressed so tight to his was making it hard to ignore the burning sensation in his gut. **Ah... do you want to go to my den... or yours?**
Chicory shuddered at the kisses, delight cascading through her system like too many dreamberries. She pulled, back though, addressing more than just the question. Tilting her head slightly to the side, Chicory cast Rainpace a quizzical look. **Why would I ever regret being with you?** she questioned, concern replacing the joy that had been there just moments before. Desiring to echo her sentiments, Chicory sent once more, though there were no words this time around. Sharing stories, exploring, pranking, laughing, holding each other tightly, warmth and love and happiness. Even when images of their rare arguments appeared, there was a thin layer of joy. How could Chicory ever regret sharing such a momentous thing with the elf she held closest? She reached up, pressing her hand to Rainpace's cheek and stroking the smooth plane.
Squeezing his eyes tightly shut as the images and memories flooded through him, Rainpace tried not to get caught up in the emotions as they came and went. He'd always had a soft heart when it came to his furmates, whenever and whomever it happened to be at the moment. He couldn't stop the romantic impulses even when it was meant to be casual.
In response he could only shake his head and blink back the emotion from spilling out. Acceptance and affirmation went straight to that soft heart, filling it up. **Appreciation** His send was wordless too, just filled with gratitude.
Chicory leaned in again, nuzzling Rainpace's neck and squeezing him tightly. The warmth of his send sent a twist of delight through her stomach. She nipped gently at Rainpace's ear before smiling broadly. "Your den," Chicory murmured, running a hand through his dark, water-soaked hair.
Grinning, Chicory retreated a step, all sorts of mischief running through her brown eyes.
Thankful, and honestly happier than he'd felt in a good long while, he pressed close to her once more. A low, husky laugh bubbled out of Rainpace at her quiet comment. He moved back to let Chicory get up too, fully intending to chase her mischievous smirk all the way there.