(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Fletcher emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
The silence in the Holt seemed pressing as the time progressed after Fletcher’s death, and after everyone had said their goodbyes. Fadestar had watched the body being laid down on the raft, and saw how the raft floated away on the water, until it disappeared from sight. Then, she had quietly found her way back to the den she shared with Kestrel, Snowfall and True Edge. She had been quiet when the threesome returned, hoping they would think she had fallen asleep.
Two days had passed since then. She felt ridden with guilt. Not for Fletcher’s death, but because what she had confessed to Newt, just a couple of days before. She had told Newt that sometimes, she thought it would have been better for her to die, because then she would have been reunited with her father again. And even though Newt had countered her words, she hadn’t been able to shake off the feeling. Had Fletcher felt sad for leaving, or relieved because he was now reunited with his family? What if it had been her?
Over the last couple of days, especially before Fletcher’s death, she had been progressing. That’s what she had overheard Snowfall saying to Kestrel. She had been speaking again, had went out to see Newt, and had even reluctantly been near to Otter and Crackle. First steps, Snowfall had said. Fadestar sighed, her breath shaky. She withdrew even further into the den, and crawled between her sleeping furs.
Kestrel heard the sound of Fadestar’s moving. She had kept an eye on her after Fletcher’s death, and all three of the elders had noticed that Fadestar fell back. She still spoke, albeit less than before, and participated in the den, but she had been reluctant to go out.
It pained her to see her little sister like that. Kestrel could only guess what was inside Fadestar’s mind, and bet that it centered around what had happened to Fletcher and that it could have happened to Fadestar, too.
She debated with herself for a moment -- would she wait until Fadestar came to her, or would she seek her sister out? Only a little time passed as she found herself on her way to Fadestar's sleeping place. Large grey eyes looked up -- distrustful at first -- but after realizing it was her sister, the cub lowered her gaze.
Kestrel sat down beside her sister, who curled up next to her. The elder ran her fingers through her sister’s pitch-black hair, almost relieved that Fadestar hadn’t turned her back on her instantly as she had done when she had just been woken up. Moments passed as Kestrel tried to find words, while she kept on stroking Fadestar’s hair.
“You’re troubled, little sister,” Kestrel finally broke the silence. Fadestar stirred, but didn’t say anything. The elder continued, softer now. “Is it because of what happened to Fletcher?”
The silence was pressing between them, as Fadestar didn’t answer for a while. Kestrel let her breath slip slowly, and opened her mouth to say something else.
“Why did he die?”
It was probably one of the few questions impossible for Kestrel to answer, but the elder tried anyway. “I don’t know, cubling,” she softly said, “maybe he was wounded too badly. Maybe he didn’t want to stay in our world, but wanted to join his loved ones in the spirit-world.” Silence followed again, until Fadestar finally sighed.
“What if… what if I had died?”
Kestrel’s eyes widened. “Don’t think that, Fadestar,” she spoke firmly, “You didn’t die!”
But Fadestar was persistent. “Tell me,” she almost demanded, and she shifted her position so she could watch Kestrel’s face. Kestrel looked into the grey pools that were her sister’s eyes. “I…”
Kestrel didn’t want to imagine that it could have been Fadestar. The thought had slipped through her mind, of course, but since it had not happened, she had pushed it away. Wolfriders lived in the Now, and not in the “what if” past. Her sister, however, demanded an answer, and Kestrel didn’t even realize that her hands, which had continued to stroke to Fadestar’s hair, had fallen quiet. **Waiting, hope, sadness, heartbroken,** she then sent in feelings. She tried to picture what it would have been like, waiting for so long to have your family restored to you and then, at the last moment, to have them slip away . It was what Snowfall probably had felt when Fletcher died, along with so many of the others. That, she sent to Fadestar.
Fadestar gasped, and her eyes filled with tears. She tried to blink them away, but one escaped. The intensity of the feelings Kestrel sent were honest, but they lacked true intensity because Kestrel only imagined them. Fadestar realized that if it had really happened, Kestrel’s send would have been triple as intense. She swallowed hard. “Before… I wished you had let me die. So I would be with Father and Mother again. I told Newt… and now it happened to Fletcher.”
Abruptly, Kestrel shifted her position, which made Fadestar roll over and get up on her knees, to prevent her older sister from getting close again. "High Ones, Fadestar...I wish you had mentioned this to me." Kestrel realized that Fadestar had not told her everything she was feeling, but she hadn't wanted to believe that her sister's feelings could go this far.
“I didn’t want to make you sad,” Fadestar said as she wiped her tears away. “And it didn’t feel fair to wish for it.” The cub wanted to get closer to her sister again for the comfort and warmth Kestrel had to offer, but she didn’t dare to move. “I just… wonder why I am here and Fletcher is not.”
Kestrel didn’t answer for a long time, because she was trying to cope with what Fadestar had told her.
“I don’t want it anymore.”
The elder looked at her sister’s face, slightly alarmed. “What?”
“To die. Not anymore.”
A sigh of relief escaped Kestrel, and her muscles relaxed slightly as she sunk back to the wall. Fadestar kept her distance, observing, obviously still waiting for an answer.
“Willow said that Fletcher pushed her away, that he didn’t want to be healed,” Kestrel then said slowly and softly. “He wanted to move on.”
Fadestar thought about it, rubbing the final tears away. Seeking words, she wrapped her arms around her shoulders and her eyes wandered around the den, looking everywhere but at Kestrel’s face. “Maybe… maybe then I didn’t mean it enough.” She heard her sister shift, but refused to look at her. “Maybe I knew I had to wake up…” The fact that she hadn’t pushed Willow away, it could mean something, right?
“And… And I think I’m glad. Even though it’s so difficult.” Fadestar closed her eyes but heard Kestrel move, and was not surprised to feel her sister’s arms around her. The cub sighed, and leaned into her sister’s embrace. “It’s so hard, Kestrel. Everything is different. I’m sorry I wished for…” Her voice died away, and Kestrel just rocked her cub sister.
“I cannot even begin to imagine what you are going through, Fadestar,” she softly said, “But I want you to know that I am here for you, all the way. Whenever you need me, I’ll be there.”
Another silence passed between them, but this was one of comfort.
“I think I know why I didn’t die,” Fadestar whispered then.
A shiver run down over Fadestar’s thin body, and she hugged her elder sister even closer. She recalled what Kestrel had sent before, that had impressed her so: the grief and sadness if Fadestar hadn’t woken up. The cub included the feelings in a sending, but they faded when she reached the final words: **Because I have you.**