(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Honey emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
"I want to join the hunt."
The chief was composed enough not to knap too much off of the spearhead he was working on in the generous light of dawn, but only just. Honey could tell from his expression that this was the last thing Windburn wanted to hear from her and it made her bristle inside. Why did no one ever think she could do things, just because she hadn't yet?
He laughed a little, as if hoping it was a joke. When Honey didn't laugh, he put down his tools. "Are you sure?" he asked incredulously. "It's... hard work. Messy."
"I know," Honey said defensively, mildly stung that he thought something like 'messy' might keep her from an important job. "I'm not a sheltered cub, and I'm not afraid to work hard." There was challenge in her voice, and she kept her chin high. She'd promised herself she would not cry for any reason, though tears were her usual defense of choice.
"Of course not," Windburn said soothingly. He offered a diplomatic smile. "You are an excellent fisher and you never shirk your fair share of a task."
Honey was not appeased in the slightest, and knew a polite back-pedal when she heard it. She thought a wounded look might be to her advantage... then decided she needed to give a tougher image than that, and allowed it to slide. "I need a... a change of pace," she explained neutrally.
She couldn't fully tell Windburn her reasons; she couldn't even tell Dreamflight how she really felt. It was too much idle time, too much time doing things she was used to doing with Greenweave, to continue to be a fisher. It had been years for him, but only months for her, and the hurt was still too raw. That hurt was no mystery to her tribemates, but further below that hurt lurked darker things. Guilt. Anger. Even hatred. Wild, terrible feelings that an elf shouldn't feel. Especially for her own tribe.
She drifted through her days, no focus, no use, and felt dismally sick inside, with a fever that Willow could never heal. She wanted to be busy. The make-work of weaving or tanning was unfulfilling - she was tired to the bone of the gossip and staying quietly in the holt.
"A change of pace?" Windburn appeared to consider, but Honey could feel the doubt in him.
It wasn't unusual, among wolves, for rank to fluctuate. With confidence and self-assurance, even an omega wolf could bully its way into the ranked wolves of the hunt. Honey projected as much of that as possible. It was only restlessness, she told herself. Too much sleep and stillness for too long had to be balanced with action.
"Aren't there other changes of pace you might be better suited for?" If Windburn was too diplomatic to say it, Blacksnake was not, and Honey felt her heart sink as she heard his voice cut in as the huntleader approached from behind.
She was going to have to face him at some point, if this was her path, so Honey turned to him with her chin high. "Who are you to know what I'm suited for?" It was not the most logical argument, but Honey suspected it was more about show of strength at this point.
"I've known you longer than you've known yourself," Blacksnake returned pointedly, and Honey suspected a dig at her own self-awareness in the statement.
Honey returned her gaze to Windburn with a deliberate snub. It was, after all, the chief who would make this decision, not the leader of the hunt. "I can do this," Honey assured him, pleased by how even her voice sounded. "This is something I need to do."
Windburn glanced at Blacksnake, and back at Honey. "You don't have a wolf," he suggested.
Honey smiled slowly. "I will get one," she promised. "It is time."
"Another cub we'll have to train?" Blacksnake sounded no grouchier than usual, and Honey had anticipated this argument as well.
"There are other choices," she said with just a hint of bite to her voice. She said it to Windburn again, as if Blacksnake did not matter.
"Might get some new leathers while you're at it," Blacksnake growled, referring to her impractical white clothing. Honey did look at him then, and smiled sweetly. "Of course," she agreed. "I've already asked Nightstorm about something more practical in green." Rather than let Blacksnake continue to badger at her - knowing that he could make her cry without much effort on his part - she turned her attention back to Windburn. "I'll let you two talk about it," she offered generously, as if she were doing them a favor. It was an effort not to simply flee, and it was everything that she could do to keep her hands from shaking as she walked regally away.
They had no argument to keep her from the hunt, Honey thought. She would train hard and do well, and maybe the fire of the hunt would burn away all the bad things inside of her.
Early the next evening, before the sun had quite finished setting, Honey walked to the wolf dens. She was greeted by wolf sentries as she approached, and allowed to pass without much interest. The hunt had not yet left for the night, and the pack was just rousing from their daytime naps. Roly, poly, unnamed pups were old enough to be tagging along after Whirl, who was encouraging independence by snapping them away from her. Honey watched them from a distance for only a moment, and turned her attention to the wolf she had come to see.
Mooncrier had claimed a comfortable high spot on the knoll, enjoying the small bits of late sun that filtered through the late summer canopy, and she growled at one of the pups who came too close. She was the only high-ranked wolf without an elf bond, other than Duskgreeter, who hunted with True Edge (almost, but not quite to the point of being a bond). The silver and white-pelted wolf maintained a certain aloofness from her elf cousins, permitting no one to ride her, barely tolerating and never inviting casual touch. She was only in the pack because of her stubborn nature, her thirst for the hunt and her littermate Longtooth's continued support - having no elfbond was usually an invitation to an ambitious wolf to move on. The betting amoung the tribe said that Brightwood would bond with her, when Willow came around to healing her.
That was before the disastrous opening of Fletcher's cocoon - all bets had fallen silent after that point.
Honey wondered idly if they would think she picked Mooncrier only to keep Brightwood from her. Would her tribemates think that poorly of her? She pushed the thought from her head... especially the idea on its heels that she would deserve such suspicion. That wasn't why she was here.
**I would hunt with you,** she sent to Mooncrier, standing, out of necessity, some distance below the regal wolf.
Mooncrier's body language was not hopeful - ears and steady eyes betrayed only scorn, and she did not reply by mind.
**Hunt with me?** Honey said, trying to feign a confidence she did not feel.
Mooncrier cocked an unimpressed head at Honey's tone, and the elf felt unwelcome tears sting. The eyes of the rest of the wolfpack seemed entirely upon her. Even the pups were quiet, watching this unexpected interaction. **Please?**
The wolf sneezed, dismissive, and when Honey still stood, as unsure of how to leave as how to stay, growled a warning.
Honey fled, the tears overflowing her eyes.
The second night, Honey wore the new leathers Nightstorm had put together for her. They were a hunter's practical clothing, but trimmed with just a touch of soft, dark fur. Windsong's weaving skills had already supplied the shirt that would go under the fitted vest as the late summer merged into cooler fall.
It was later in the evening than the previous visit, and Honey had spent the time working herself into a fine mood. She hadn't asked to be wrapstuffed, or later healed. She hadn't asked to be abandoned by her lifemate, or thrust into this tribe of the future where she had no place! She deserved better, and if Mooncrier wouldn't bond with her, she could find a better wolf to hunt with. Because she could hunt, and she would hunt, and she'd be better at it than anyone else in the tribe...
Mooncrier was standing to leave with the rest of the hunt - greetings and goodbyes were being exchanged throughout the milling pack as Honey arrived, and she growled when Honey - full of false bravery - dared to put a hand at her shoulder.
**Hunt with me!** It was said with all the force that Honey could muster, clear images of victory in hunting and the thrill of the kill in her mind. She focused her thoughts on a cub, growing up, learning to control its flailing paws, on sharp, controlled motion, on the thrill of the hunt, and the bond that a wolf and elf could share in a kill.
Mooncrier shrugged off Honey's hand. She sent scornfully back - thoughts of bumbling cubs too sensitive to survive their first winter in her thoughts. Honey was a cub that Mooncrier would not have nursed, was the impression, too weak to invest effort into. She left, tail high, and dissolved into the forest after the rest of the hunt. Only den guards were left, and bumbling puppies.
Honey sat down where she was, and was swarmed by puppies. Four of this litter still lived - it had been a prosperous summer. **Maybe one of you would suit me better,** Honey thought in defeat, but they were more interested in licking her face and chasing anything that moved (toes, tails and leaves included) than they were in bonding. After a short while, Honey slunk away to her den, where she cried herself dry again.
Such things were impossible to keep quiet from the rest of a tight-knit tribe.
"Poor Honey," Notch teased her. "Can't get the wolf that matches her leathers to bond with her. Whatever will she do without a matching wolf?"
He might have meant it only in good-natured teasing, but it cut Honey to the core. Honey had folded her new hunting leathers and put them under her furs. Her white outfit seemed more fitting for her gray, defeated mood, but now it felt like conceit. She tried to laugh good-naturedly with her tribemates, but knew that it sounded flat, and she left the howl as soon as she possibly could, avoiding Dreamflight and Thornbow, who both tried to catch her attention as she escaped.
Mooncrier had her ears back. She was puzzled by Honey. The elf had been coming to see her day after day - an endless time in the wolf's short memory, to cajole, persuade, command. Then yesterday, she had not come. Mooncrier had vaguely missed the visit, without really understanding what she missed. As usual, she growled at the elf's approach, but it was not with anger.
Honey did not press forward this time, and did not offer to touch Mooncrier, but sat down a respectful distance away, hands limp in her lap.
**You are right,** she sent to the wolf, with all of the humility she had found in her chest. **I am weak. I am undisciplined.**
Mooncrier was not impressed. She circled away and lay down looking in the opposite direction... but did not leave.
**I want to run with the hunt,** Honey told her honestly. **I want you to teach me to live in the Now and leave my hurt behind.**
The large white wolf found something interesting on the bottom of a paw and licked at it.
**I want to hunt, with you.** Without reserve, Honey shared what she couldn't explain to the rest of the tribe - that bone-deep loneliness that even a daughter's love couldn't ease, that sense of not belonging, that urge to flee - to run and run away under the night sky forever, so strangely mingled with a desire to belong.
The tip of the big tail gave a brief flicker, but Mooncrier did not relent enough to look at the elf. After an appropriately lofty silence, she sent something conditional, uncertain, something that could only be translated as, **Maybe.** Then she stood up and melted away into the underbrush.
The following night, after a restless day with little sleep, Honey picked her way through the trees to the wolf den with her heart in her throat. Mooncrier stood and greeted her without growling. **Acceptance,** she sent to the elf. There was a sense to the sending of condescension, and limits to the agreement - Mooncrier was too proud and independent to bound recklessly into a bond with an elf like a clumsy young cub, and it was clear that she would be with Honey only so long as the elf hunted with her - and respected her. She allowed Honey to put her arms around her neck and bury her face in her ruff.
**Thank you,** Honey sent, and she murmured it out loud, as well. There were tears on her cheeks again, but this time, they were tears of relief, and joy. She had forgotten the completion that a wolf bond could bring. Mooncrier licked them away from one cheek. These were tears that the she-wolf could accept.