(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Newt and Fadestar emerge from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
The night was warm, and the air almost pressed at Fadestar’s skin. She felt a drop of sweat running down her spine, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. For a moment, she opted to go to the river and swim, but she had done that three times already. Besides, the other cubs were there and she felt somewhat awkward around them.
A few days back, Kestrel had gently tried to move her to join Otter and Crackle for a swim, but it felt weird. The boy was a very experienced swimmer and had moved away a lot of times, giving her a familiar feeling; Quick Fang also had moved away from her, telling her she was too slow, or couldn’t participate because she wasn’t good enough. Fadestar could swim, but not that well. And then there was Crackle, who couldn’t stop talking and asking questions. It had just felt… weird. She was more curious about Newt, however.
She was told to give Newt time after he was unwrapped. She could relate to that, and she felt sympathy for the boy. She still had difficulties adjusting to her new surroundings, but at least she still had her sister and familiar faces even though those had changed relentlessly. She could somewhat imagine what it would be like for Newt, and at the same time, she couldn’t. Maybe she should consider herself lucky because of what she still had, but that was something which didn’t even cross her mind. To her, they had shared an experience.
She felt sticky when she climbed outside the den. It was still kind of weird to be encouraged to go outside -– Kestrel, who had been inside with her, didn’t even ask her where she was going. Most elves, after all, were to be found near the river; it was almost logical that she was going there.
However, Fadestar did no such thing. Instead, she carefully and slowly made her way to Greenweave’s and Cloudfern’s den. She still didn’t know exactly what she was going to do when she was there, but at least she might be able to give him the feeling that he wasn’t alone in what he was going through. That thought gave her a little bit more courage, and she sped up, swiftly arriving at the den in which she supposed Newt was.
To announce her arrival, she cleared her throat and softly said, “Hello?”, before she pushed the den flap a little bit away. Moonlight revealed only a strip of the den’s inside, and Fadestar couldn’t see if someone was inside.
A cold nose was greeting Fadestar. Flea sniffed at her face, then snorted and licked her cheek. The black wolf wagged her tail and tried to drag her in, happy to have another playmate around.
“What are you doing, silly wolf?” Newt’s voice came from inside. “It’s too hot to go out.” The rustling between the fur covers betrayed a movement. Skinny white arms reached out for Flea. The pale skin stood out from the black fur almost painfully.
When he lifted his gaze he looked straight into gray, somewhat melancholic eyes. Newt went stiff for a moment and his eyes searched over her with a haunted expression. He was thinking, that was visible, but obviously he failed to remember the name of the girl-cub.
“Hello…” he finally managed.
Fadestar didn’t know anymore if it had been such a good idea, after all. Newt’s gaze was filled with anxiety, and she couldn’t really say she felt much better. However, she knew she couldn’t just turn around and walk away right now, so she shifted her weight a little uncomfortably.
“I’m Fadestar,” she then began. That was weird; she never had to introduce herself before. Everbody had always known who she was. However, even though she had heard many stories about Newt, his wrapping, and his family, he hardly knew anything about the tribe. “I just…”
She broke off her sentence, wrapping her arms around her chest, a sign of defense. “I wanted to see how you were doing,” she then finally said. “I… was wrapped, too. I thought… maybe I could help?”
Suddenly there was curiosity in the pink-blue eyes. Sure, he had been told that Fadestar had been wrapped up as well. For a moment he measured her again; this time with less confusion but a keen interest.
Flea bucked under his arm and jumped off. Newt let her go. The lad wiped some sweat off his forehead; then hesitantly took her hand. It was a strange feeling. He never had had playmates his age.
“It’s too hot outside,” he said. “Cloudfern left me some bowls with water and some stuff in it. It’s cooler in here.”
Fadestar had not known that she had held her breath awaiting his reply, until she relaxed her chest, exhaling relieved. She watched her hand in his and looked at the difference of skin color. She had always been pale and still was, compared to others, but his skin was even lighter than hers!
She hadn’t much time to muse about it, because he guided her inside and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. He was right, it was cooler in here, and she was grateful for it. Newt let go of her hand, and she settled on some thick sleeping furs, before she lifted her head and looked in Newt’s eyes, which had strange dual colors. For only a heartbeat, she allowed herself to look at the boy, for she hadn’t seen him from such a small distance; only once, she had spotted his white hair in the distance. But she looked away quickly, knowing that it was not pleasant if someone stared at you.
However, she didn’t know what she was supposed to say, and she fidgeted with her fingers for a moment, when she heard him settle, as well. “Don’t you think the world is a stranger?” she then blurted out. She hadn’t been able to keep it inside; the question had been one she had wanted to ask Honey, but the blond female didn’t seem to be in the mood for questions. Ever. It hadn’t been her intention to ambush Newt with it, but she couldn’t take it back anymore, either.
Newt hadn’t expected such an outright question. For a moment he was stunned, then he turned his eyes down. “It’s a different world,” he said in a hushed voice, and played with the fur under him. It was the one Farscout used to sleep in. He had claimed it at some point. The scent of the scout was comforting to have around. He had tried to bond with Greenweave and Cloudfern, but on some nights he still slept in the small niche of his cousin.
After he had pulled out a handful of hair from the fur blanket he looked up to her again, trying to smile. “Does it feel like that to you?”
His initial answer had somehow satisfied Fadestar, giving her the comfort that she wasn’t the only one feeling so. His retort, however, was something she hadn’t really expected, and the glance in her eyes changed; it became cautious before she nodded. “Not just the trees, the sounds, the wind… but also the people. Father’s dead, Quick Fang and Pathmark are grown up and aren’t my friends anymore…” She shrugged, chewing her lip, and folded her hands tightly into her lap. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, “It must be even more difficult for you. I… didn’t come here to talk about me.”
Newt frowned and thought about it. “I don’t know if it is…” he said. “It’s different. I mean… you and me, we have lost loved ones. I – I somehow can start over but you cannot. You still see the faces and how they changed. I think that’s difficult in another way,” he finally said and shrugged his shoulders.
Chewing on his lip he tried to wrap his mind around it but failed. It was simply not possible to measure these things. He didn’t want to play who’s fate was worse, and moreover, he didn’t want to be the winner of that game.
The boy looked up at her again and went on with playing with the fur. If he went on like that, Farscout would freeze the next time he tried to sleep under it. For a time that felt like an eternity there was an awkward silence hanging between them and the fur of the blanket got thinner with each moment.
The boy’s words lingered between them, and Fadestar thought them over. He had spoken about the aftermath, but the pain was still real. His parents also had been alive when he had been wrapped, and in her mind, so had her father. Her tough illness had mixed up the facts in her head, and delusions had made her believe he was with her when she had been wrapped. Whatever the new world looked like, they both still felt the pain of leaving the old world behind. To them, it was like it happened yesterday.
She closed her eyes, because she felt tears welling up. She hadn’t cried anymore after that first day, but she hadn’t said anything for days following her day of waking up. She pulled up her knees, and rested her chin on them, firmly wrapping her arms around her legs, eyes firmly shut. “I miss my father. I miss him so bad. My sister, she means well, but…” Her voice broke, and she sobbed once. Continuing with a thick voice, she said, “Sometimes I think that it would have been better to die. I would be with him, then.”
Newt looked at her with wide eyes and then, he swiftly closed the distance between them, wrapping both arms around her and holding her tight. He knew how it felt to miss someone and not even realize how it all had happened.
“Don’t say that,” he whispered. Not that there hadn’t been brief moments he had wished he wouldn’t have woken up but he actually never had thought about dying. “If you had died I never would have gotten to know you. And I bet your father wouldn’t want you to talk like this. And Kestrel would be very sad.”
He backed up a little to lift her chin and look into the puffed red eyes. “I know how it feels to miss them so badly. I miss them every day. Greenweave and Cloudfern do everything to make me feel welcome and at home but … they are not like them. Though, sometimes, when I sit between them and let it happen I can feel comfortable, and then I have the hope that at some point I WILL feel at home again. Not like before, but at home.” Now tears were gathering in his eyes as well.
“You know…” he started again and wiped his eyes with his hand. “I am glad you do live. Otherwise … I don’t know. Otherwise … I don’t think Crackle or Otter could understand, and Honey isn’t that much help right now.”
Fadestar hiccupped, but she felt comforted. She snorted and wiped her sleeve over her face, believing it was ironic that Newt comforted her instead of the other way around, like she had intended to. His determination to fit in felt strange to the girl; all she had done so far was resist adapting as much as she could. Maybe Newt was right, maybe she should try. She knew she made Kestrel unhappy, because she could see it in her eyes. Snowfall too… they both desperately wanted to help her, and she resisted. True Edge… scared her a bit.
She returned the gesture of wrapping an arm around the boy, too, returning the comfort. Drawing from his body warmth, she closed her eyes for a moment, just enjoying his presence and the comfort she felt. He understood, she realized, even though they dealt with their situations differently.
Finally, after a long silence, she tilted her head and looked at Newt. She released her arm from around him. “You sound so determined to make it work. I don’t know if I can.”
Newt lifted his slim shoulders. “I just try to keep my head over the water,” he said, then gave a little chuckle. “But at first, I think I was a real brat,” he whispered, as if someone could overhear his confession. “Tried to sneak out and follow Farscout, but Greenweave caught me.”
She smiled, and leaned in closer, making a confession of her own, in the same whispering voice as Newt had. “I didn’t talk for days. Nightstorm made me. She also made these clothes. I like her.” Then, to lighten the atmosphere in a feeble attempt, she smiled a watery smile. “Crackle scares me,” she confessed.
He grinned and sat back. “I just saw her from a distance, but she seems like a squirrel in its White Cold preparation. Always up and running around,” he said, happily joining in with the lighter mood.
Fadestar grinned, and wiped the last tears away. “She talks like a squirrel, too. But I think she’s nice.”
“Maybe we should call her that, then,” Newt suggested teasingly, and felt very comfortable at the moment. All the time he never had had an agemate, or even someone close to his age, and it really felt nice. He had loved his brothers, and still did, but they both had been grown up, and sometimes he just couldn’t follow them like he wanted. With Fadestar now it was as if they were on the same level of thinking.
Fadestar sighed, and shook her head. “That would be mean,” she told him, remembering how Quick Fang had dealt with her. “I would like to be friends with her.” Weird. The word ‘friends’ had a whole new meaning. Earlier, she had been a playmate or someone who they had to pay attention to. Now, she was equal in health, and felt as if she had new opportunities. She leaned back to the den’s wall. “Do you think we will be all right?” she then asked him, staring to the den’s entrance.
Newt shrugged his shoulders. “Sooner or later. I think so, yes,” he said optimistically.
Fadestar seemed comforted by the answer, and the both of them fell silent, feeling a connection. They had never been meant to be cubs at the same time, but their experience had shaped a bond, even before their unwrapping. It would take time to heal, but they would get there, together.