(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Newt emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
“You’re back! You’re back!” The homecoming welcome consisted of a single boy riding his yearling wolf headlong up the hunters trail, his moon-pale mop of hair flying. “And I found you!”
Lynx’s she-wolf showed her teeth in warning as the yearling rushed up; afoot, Farscout scooped Newt off of Brook’s back as she skidded to stop to greet the other wolves. Farscout swung the boy up across his own shoulders, safely out of harm’s way as the lupine greeting turned into a flash of fangs; Brook dropped and rolled onto her back, thumping her tail in submission as the two older wolves reasserted their dominance. Newt grinned and laughed in delight as he grabbed at Farscout for balance.
“You found us, little cousin,” Farscout said.
“Aye, you found us,” Lynx agreed cheerfully. “And you’re riding a great deal farther out of the Holt than you’re allowed to be, lad. What will your fathers say?”
“Turtle came with me most of the way,” Newt said. “He’s fishing down back at Nutmash Spring. I promised to go only as far as the top of the hill, but then I saw you both from up there coming up to the river, so Brook and I came to meet you and hear what you’ve seen! Did you ride to the bottom of Eagle Bay? Did you go all the way to Knife Peak?”
“We walked the length of Far River,” Lynx said. “Quite a bit of washout there after the spring floods, lots of unstable banks. Not the safest place for a hike right now.”
“So you’ll tell the Chieftess and Hunt Leader, and then everyone will know to be more careful or hunt somewhere else,” Newt said proudly. “I’m going to grow up and be a scout just like you, and Brook and I will warn everyone of any danger and keep everyone safe. Just wait and see!”
Farscout and Lynx exchanged a fond smile as they walked back toward the Holt, leaving their wolves to follow. Farscout continued to carry Newt on his shoulders, holding onto one of the child’s legs to keep the boy steady. “You might, light cousin,” Farscout said. “But you’ll have to prove to the chieftess first that you can be trusted not to act rashly.”
“That means you don’t run off on your father again,” Lynx inserted sternly.
“I’m going to be big enough to talk my Long Walk soon, and when I do, I’m going to go with you,” Newt said, hugging Farscout around the neck. “And I’ll walk farther than anyone else did, ever. Just wait and see if I don’t!”
Farscout and Lynx shared another smile, Lynx’s wry with knowing. “Not as if I’ve never heard those words before,” Lynx teased his fellow scout.
Turtle’s open sending reached them then, sharp with alarm. **Newt! Newt, where are you?**
“There you go, scared one of your fathers,” Lynx said to Newt with a stern shake of his head, while Farscout patted the boy’s leg and responded to Turtle’s frightened call.
**We have him, Uncle. Newt found us and is walking us home.**
Newt sat on the shaped wooden cradle which had once been his cocoon’s bier. The boy’s thin legs were drawn up to his chest, and he hugged himself tightly, his face hidden against his knees. Although the child made no sound, Farscout could see the shaking of Newt’s frail shoulders.
Farscout stepped out of the archway and down the last stair-step. He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the sleeper’s-shelf, close to the child but not touching him. He sat silently while the boy cried himself out. At length, Newt uncurled enough to drop his feet over the side of the shelf, and wipe fiercely at his tear-wet face with a sleeve.
“It’s not all right,” Newt finally muttered. “I know they’re just trying to help me by saying everything will be all right with time, but they’re wrong. Wrong! It’s not going to be all right, it’ll never be all right, and I’m never ever going feel normal, not ever.”
Farscout spoke softly. “Easysinger used to say ‘time heals all.’ I believed her in that, until I lost my lifemate and Lynx. You’re right, little cousin. You’ve lost the world as you knew it, and no matter how we try, the tribe can’t fix that for you.”
Newt began to swing his feet. He stared fixedly at his lap, the set of his jaw sullen. “Greenweave wants so badly to be my new father. He hurts so bad when I’m hurting, it just makes me feel even worse, like I’m being mean to him. He’s nice to me, and Cloudfern is nice. Everyone is so nice! But I don’t want them. I just want my own fathers back, and my own mother. But I won’t ever have them again, and it’ll never be all right that they’re gone without my getting to say goodbye.”
Farscout nodded slowly. “Aye, little cousin. It’s not fair. And it will never feel better. But you’ll learn to live with it.”
Newt looked up at the hunter, his pale eyes shimmering with tears again. But he nodded soberly at that. “Thank you for not saying it’ll get better. Because it won’t, will it?”
Farscout was silent for a time, and when he spoke again, his words were carefully chosen. “The hurt doesn’t ever go away. And nothing ever replaces the hurt. But you’ll find your heart will grow around it, and as your heart grows, you find you can love new friends and find new family. Like how a scar fades with time -– new skin slowly makes it something smaller than it was, but it never goes away.”
Newt grimaced as he thought about that. Then he took a deep breath and nodded. “Which ones are...” he asked falteringly, pointing at the mostly faded hand-shaped patches of paint that arched over the head of the sleeper’s shelf.
“The brightest yellow, those are your mother’s hands.” Farscout said.
Newt crawled up the bench to face the wall, with its fading patches of paint. Reverently, he reached out and placed his hands in the center of the yellow prints. The boy rested he forehead against the cold stone for a time as if communing with the departed, then sniffled and sat back.
“My fathers. Which ones are theirs?”
“The moss-brown are my uncle Turtle, and the faded blue, those were Strand.”
Newt reached after those in turn, measuring this size of his small hand against the width and breadth of those he had lost. “Tell me -– and show me -– everyone else,” Newt said firmly when he had finished. “I want to know everyone I lost and everyone I never met. Will you show me?”
Farscout reached out and rested a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. **Aye, little cousin. If you’re ready to meet them, I’ll show you.**