(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Brightwood emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
**I can’t tell that story!** Crackle actually sounded scared. **It’s longer than I am! And I wasn’t alive back then at all!**
Snowfall chuckled, brushing her thoughts against the cub’s in a mental echo of running a hand through the leaf-strewn hair. **It’s still early in the Howl,** she returned. **No one will get tired of a long story. And Brightwood needs to hear this; when she’d gone into wrapstuff, Finch was still so tiny, some of us worried she wouldn’t survive, much less birth us a healer! It’s a perfectly good tale.**
Crackle fretted, glancing around her. No one around the Howl-circle was paying attention to the little exchange, captivated in the story that was still being told. Snowfall’s insistence that she tell a real story, something that actually happened, was not so bad. But this was double the challenge. **Mother should tell it, or Kestrel,** she insisted.
**I’ve asked them both. They’d rather you did.**
**Mother wants me to tell the story?** That made her change her tone, from fear into awe, maybe even a note of pride. Snowfall smiled at her. The tribe was falling into peals of laughter around them as One-Leg concluded his story, then gradually into a comfortable, expectant silence. It was a good time to take the stage.
Crackle took a very, very deep breath, and stood up.
It had been a good name, once; it had served her well for a good number of seasons. It had certainly been a good name for the cub she had been. When she emerged from her mother’s womb barely larger than her father’s cupped hands — the very tiniest cubling she had ever seen, Agate often said — and instead of a babe’s angry wail, made a little gasp and a satisfied gurgle, the name had come easily to her parents and adoring tribemates. When she survived that winter despite her tiny size, it had been almost a badge of honor, and suited her as she grew… and stopped growing.
Littlesong was in a huff, a state that was becoming increasingly common. Surely she had been grown for more than her share of turns now, and her little frame was full of sinew and spirit, strong enough to knock her much larger agemate Whitestag on his rear three out of four matches. But she was still Littlesong, always too little to do something.
“I’m much faster than you on wolfback!” she fumed at Blacksnake. “Flash is eights younger than me!”
“With arms near twice as long.” His voice was flat as he looked down at her. Very far down. There was no point to talking to him, she thought suddenly, if he could say it to her face like that, knowing the sting he delivered straight between her ribs. "We've been talking about this for near a season now. Thunderfeet aren't rabbits. You need reach and aim for a hunt like this, or you'll only get in the way."
She was just of a height to smash her fist into his soft belly, and she would have done so happily, if only to walk away feeling taller than grass. But that would have been a cub-fool thing to do. He was Hunt Leader, she was supposed to listen to him. “I can aim well enough.”
“True, but with what? You turned down the spear. Can you throw your axe with any skill yet, or will I have to worry for my hunters' skulls?”
Littlesong felt her ears redden. Her mother had suggested the spear — Sunlight's weapon of choice — and she had refused, wanting to stick to her own choice, despite Blacksnake's doubts. “Not yet,” she answered through clenched teeth.
“Then what do you want me to do?” the Hunt Leader returned with a raised eyebrow. “You need reach to kill thunderfeet. Practice your axe-throwing, Littlesong."
He patted Lightpatter’s ruff and the wolf turned round to join the others, falling into step beside Riskrunner’s Sheen. Littlesong closed her eyes and closed a fist inside the mane of her own wolf-friend. The hunters howled to announce their departure, howls rising behind them to wish them safety and luck. An eight-of-days’ ride to the plains and back, a last snatch of sunlight, speed and action at autumn’s wane, before winter sent them all to curl up in their dens. Once, just once, she wanted to be out there as well — ride where all her agemates had ridden, while she stayed behind to mix poultices.
Swallowing the thick frustration in her throat, Littlesong turned and walked back towards the Dentrees, holding her head up and stretching her small legs. On one root, Bowflight stared after the hunters as well, tapping the brace on his half-mended leg impatiently. He would be a while stuck in the Holt yet, and for all her stewing anger, Littlesong glanced at him in sympathy.
“There’ll be more hunts,” she said quietly. He looked up at her and a faint smile tugged at his face.
“For me, at least,” he answered. “Are you sure you won’t learn the bow, pretty bird?”
Always the same offer; always the same pet name too. Littlesong tried to imagine it — a small bow, to fit her small frame, the arrows would be more like darts. She would pull the bowstring and feel its power in her arms, short but never weak, and Bowflight’s arms would be safely round her little waist, anchoring her in place as she aimed and leaning to whisper directions into her ear —
“I’m no good with a bow,” she mumbled as she walked past him. “I’m just no good. I’ll go practice my axe-throwing.” She put a hand to the handle of the weapon at her hip. It felt small and cold, like her own hopes.
Even before the thrown axe flew a handspan shy of its target, crashing into the bush, Littlesong howled in dismay.
“Puckernuts and owl pellets,” she hissed under her breath. Birds leapt into the air at the dull crash and howl, but the practice dummy that she had aimed for stayed put and dumb, and she hadn’t as much as knocked it off its perch since the moons began to descend.
The tiny elf went on hands and knees beneath the bushes, reaching for her axe. The dull gray stone blade lay in a sad angle against the cradle of branches. What had possessed her to choose an axe for her weapon, anyway? With handle in hand she shone with it, showing a knack for getting the full measure out of the weapon with skill to rival Axehand's, but she was no good at axe-throwing. She had never improved.
“Puckernuts,” she grumbled again, slipping easily out — her size gave her that, at least, while another elf might’ve been scratched and pricked by eights of forays to rescue the badly thrown weapon. Perhaps she ought to take it for her tribal duty; name herself Creeper and spend her nights pulling the weapons of learning cubs from all sorts of places they happened to land in, or grubbing for roots and nuts like a ground squirrel…
Her rump had collided with something. Axe in hand, she whirled round and checked her blow just short of Bowflight’s shins. The archer’s hand flailed over his walking stick and he overbalanced wildly. “Littlesong!” He crashed down and she crashed on top of him and it was a good thing that she was so small.
“Don’t hunt me, pretty bird,” Bowflight panted.
Littlesong blushed and scampered back. It took the hunter a while to work himself up to his feet — especially, she noticed with surprise, since he had his yew short-bow slung over one shoulder and a quiver full of arrows on the other.
“Oh — thank you.” He grasped her offered arm and planted his walking stick firmly till he found his balance again, bad leg resting lightly against the healthy one. Littlesong picked up the yew bow. It was almost magically light; no elf in the tribe crafted finer bows. The string sang power to her.
Bowflight was grinning at her, she realized. “Do you like it?”
“It’s lovely,” she had to admit. It was smooth and suffused with his scent. She made no attempt to draw it, not as much as toying idly with the string, until Bowflight reached and put a hand on hers. He closed both their hands about the cord. Her fingers twitched under his. “Bowflight, stop it.”
“I can teach you,” he said plainly. “The bow is all about reach, and you’re strong. An archer can take on a thunderfoot all by her lonesome if she’s good enough.”
“I don’t want to hunt by my lonesome.” She slipped from his grasp and moved away, quicker than he could follow with his broken leg. She moved defensively towards her fallen axe. “I should master the axe before I take up another weapon.”
Bowflight followed her gaze. The axe lay on the grass, gray and unremarkable, and the grass-stuffed dummy stood past it all complacent. “You haven’t even scratched its hide,” he pointed out.
For the umpteenth time that night, blood colored her cheeks and she turned away. It took Bowflight a long gaping moment to realize that he misspoke, and another to grope for something more to say; even then he could do no better than “Littlesong.” And she knew that she was Littlesong already, she wasn’t bound to forget it.
“Go away, Bowflight.”
“I can't watch you pine for the long hunt anymore,” he said again, pleading, never mocking. "I want to teach you."
She was about to whirl on him, then, and shout — the words stood in her throat, sticking there at the last minute, when she realized that what she wanted to say was “I don’t want to learn”. He didn’t realize, of course, she saw it from his puzzled, rather than hurt face. Simple, straightforward Bowflight: he always said what was on his mind. But he also heard straight into the truth, always. If she threw his offer in his face now, he would see through that and know her for what she was — Littlesong the coward, content to go back to her mother's shadow rather than work to follow her own wishes.
He held out something to her — an arrow, one of his fine, white-fletched ones, and she blinked in the realization that she was still holding his bow.
She tugged on the string experimentally. “Will I be able to nock it?” she murmured.
“It’s a short-bow,” Bowflight answered with a shrug, hobbling forward. Their poses were awkward — she was too small for him to properly brace against himself and teach her the right set of legs, shoulders and arms with his body. Rather than crouch, as he would to teach a cubling, he circled her, studied and corrected her, shifting the set of her arms with a delicate hand. She obeyed his touch readily, and he seemed satisfied. “Oh yes. You’re a natural, pretty bird. Move your leg like so —“ She didn’t believe his compliment, but it was freely given.
The bow gave the good muscles in her shoulders no trouble at all. Bowflight nodded as she drew. She knew she was to focus on the target, but her eyes darted sideways to his face —
He grinned. “The tree is that way.” Then he put his hands on hers again, to help guide her to the target. “You’re strong for your size, you know that?” And maybe she really was a natural…
“It’s no good,” Bowflight said glumly. “She’s just not made for it.”
He braced himself on a root and dropped down to sit between Sunlight and Beesting, picking up a half-made arrow with one hand, a berry from the basket with another. Tallow passed him lines of sinew and held her son in check before Littlejab could tackle his favorite adult from behind. From over a taller root, Raven and Cloudfern appeared to lean into the conversation, while Easysinger’s words came from a branch above, where she nursed her tiny cubling.
“You’ve taught her two eight-of-days only, Bowflight; isn’t it too soon to tell?”
This was taken with some murmurs of assent. It was impossible to keep secrets in the Holt, even if an archer chose a remote training ground, made her own arrows. Everyone knew what Littlesong was up to. Everyone knew how Bowflight felt about it.
“A talent for archery shows clear if it’s there,” Beesting put in, sticking her hand into the basket of fletchings. She grinned slightly and Sunlight snickered as their fingers brushed within. “If it’s not — well, you’d only ever be so good.”
She passed the fletchings to Tallow, who snorted. “Droppings. Anyone can be an archer.” “As the seasons turn,” Sunlight agreed, her lilting voice soft with concern, “but Littlesong is impatient. I thought that she was happy enough learning herb-craft from me, but I sometimes swear that she'd been nurturing this hunt-longing for half her life.”
“She might have,” came Easysinger’s calm reply from above. Tiny Redfox gurgled sleepily in what sounded like agreement. “You know how Littlesong worries about not being useful; small wonder that she tried so hard to take after you even while she wished for other things. But even such a sweet soul as hers would brim over eventually, even if it's taken her a while. You don’t mind teaching her, do you, Bowflight?”
“I don’t mind teaching anyone,” Bowflight said sincerely, though in a low voice. He glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw Littlejab scoff, dropping to a sulky heap next to his mother. Though relatively young, he was well-liked as a teacher, he knew — the younger elves liked his plain honesty in both corrections and praise. Even Tallow’s eager son had conceded to wait his turn when simply shown that he couldn’t draw even Bowflight’s smallest bow yet. Littlesong needed to be told — that she could be a passable archer, but it would be many turns before she could ride out to the hunt she was barred from.
“I can’t tell her that!” he said in horror, realizing only a moment later that he’d spoken out loud. Sunlight and Beesting glanced at each other, while Cloudfern put a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault,” he said evenly. “Some have skill and some don’t. It’s no use chasing stags made of air.”
“Not everyone rides out,” Beesting agreed easily. Tallow, as always content to stay in the Holt bent over her craft-work, gave another little hum of mocking amusement, but nodded. Even Easysinger could say no more than that. “My granddaughter will just have to content herself with smaller game.”
“Littlesong is unhappy,” Raven said simply.
Bowflight abandoned his useless fiddling with arrow, sinew and fletchings and turned round where he sat to look at the older elf, as did the others among the roots. They usually did so when Raven spoke; his murmuring, thoughtful voice had a way of making others silent to hear it better. “The hunt is only the fin-tip of a larger fish,” he said. “Littlesong is unhappy with herself.”
Sunlight clicked her tongue at her Recognized. “We’d never have guessed.”
“And she thinks that we are unhappy with her, as well,” Raven added.
That got the golden huntress’ attention. She lowered the arrow she had just completed, shinnying a little closer to the root Raven was leaning on, to rest her shoulder against Beesting’s while she listened. Bowflight moved to make way for Easysinger as the chieftess dropped gracefully to the ground, cub in arms. “Why do you say that, my friend?” she asked.
Raven shrugged. “What good did her crafting-lore do her? She has six eights of turns, and we still call her little.”
Easysinger frowned. Around her, the others looked unsure, but Bowflight thought he understood what his elder was saying. It couldn’t be helped — Littlesong was little. Born too soon, Agate had said, lucky to survive her first snowfall. She would never grow bigger than she was.
And she could sing, the archer thought with a quiet warmth blossoming behind his ribs. Voice like the rushing of a clear stream, Littlesong, like the flash of the moonlight in a pool. The notes she could hold in her small chest weren’t long, but she could reach high, higher than any of the tribe, higher even than her mother Sunlight, challenging the birds, matching her voice to the thrumming of Moss’ harp and the hunters’ bows. Littlesong’s song wasn’t little at all, he thought.
“She is little,” Bowflight said sadly. “It’s just — it just isn’t all she is.”
Tallow’s louder, firmer voice rose over his. “You know there’s no shame in it, Raven, but what can anyone do? Littlesong won’t grow taller. I don’t think even a healer could change her. It’s the mark of an adult who learns to live with what can’t be changed.” She glanced back ruefully at her still-sulking cub. “Isn’t it, Littlejab?”
The cubling huffed. “I’ll be Bigjab one day!”
“But that doesn’t mean we want her to change.” Cloudfern sounded sincerely confused. “She's a good herbalist, she doesn't need to ride on a long hunt to prove anything to us.“
“If it's as your lovemate said, then it is more than the hunting, lad,” Easysinger said gently. “We might not want her to change; but if she wants not to be little — "
“No. No, I think…” Bowflight knew that just blurting out his meaning wouldn’t be enough this time. He had to say it properly. He breathed in and gathered his words. “She wants not to be Littlesong.”
He looked around him, unsure, judging their reactions. Beesting and Cloudfern looked confused; Tallow curious; Sunlight apprehensive and Raven deeply thoughtful. Then he glanced back to look at Easysinger, who cradled her infant cub with a tenderness that all of her tribemates had known to touch them from time to time. Redfox cooed contentedly and his mother slipped a finger over his cheek.
“My chieftess,” Bowflight spoke again. “I — I have an idea. I know what to do for Littlesong. But I need the tribe’s help.” A sending fluttered between them, truer than the words that the archer wasn’t talented to shape. He watched her anxiously, until — almost surprising him — he saw her nod in approval.
The archery practice made her shoulder hurt and her stomach was tense and rumbling. Littlesong was too tired even to mount up a proper bad mood. The sky was paling gradually, had already lost its smooth velveteen blackness, the stars winking out overhead with the wolfriders heading into their dens. She dived under a fallen log, nodded at Stormdancer who was preparing for a dawn’s vigil overhead, and came into the Holt proper thinking only of her pile of bedfurs.
Elves were scattered about, at the tail ends of their nightly routines. Doeskin walked together with Nettle, comparing two lengths of corded rope. Riskrunner, recently returned from the long hunt, trailed lazily behind his lovemate and her sister. He raised a hand to hail Littlesong as she passed. “Hullo, Finch.”
She gave an automatic reply and walked ahead. Only a moment later did it occur to her that something had happened that was out of the ordinary.
She turned round — “Riskrunner?” — but the chieftess’ son was already gone into his den and Nettle had gone in with him. Doeskin was halfway up the tree, heading for Axehand’s den. Littlesong stood aimlessly a moment, then her mind wandered back to the furs, and she slung the empty quiver of arrows off her shoulder with a sigh and continued on, almost dragging it.
A hand dropped on hers, and Snaptwig picked the quiver up. He smiled at her, all self-satisfied with his game-pouch full of ground squirrels. “I’ll take that, Finch, you look scrubbed and squeezed and flattened.”
Littlesong squinted at him, uncomprehending, her fingers gone slack. Snaptwig took that chance to take the quiver and sling it over his own shoulder. “What did you say?” she murmured.
“You’re tired.” He tapped her nose, then leaned in for a whiff of her. “And in need of a bath, but that can wait. Go rest those arms before they fall off.”
“No, you — “
“Ayoo, Father, your pouch isn’t hungry and we want to eat those.” Bearheart’s hearty laughter broke into Littlesong’s muddled thoughts again. Birdcatcher and Ringtail were behind him with the game from their own traps, chatting with Leather who was tossing and catching his skinning knife. Littlejab ran behind the small party like an excited tail, grabbing for his father’s shirt. “Finch!” he chortled when he saw Littlesong, “Finch, how did the shooting go? How did it go, Finch?”
“Now there’s enough of badgering the poor lass.” Birdcatcher hooked up the four-years-old’s shirt, slung him up and placed him under his arm. “Be good and you can get a nip of liver when we clean these. Don’t worry, Finch, take your time with your shooting. Patience makes all things good.” He smiled tenderly at her and hurried to catch up with the others.
Through exhaustion, thirst and confusion, Littlesong was a little bit dizzy.
Finch? A finch was a small bird, but clever, with a sweet trilling song and a wicked streak that had gained the elves’ respect. It was very nice, as names went…
But of course, she already had a name, and what had she done to earn another one? Even her shooting wasn’t any good. Bowflight worked with her nightly, and lavished praise on her, but he was too honest, the poor thing — he’d always been. No one in the tribe was fooled.
It was a cruel joke, cruel even for Riskrunner, or Flash, or Whitestag, whoever it was that came up with it. Why the tribe would play along in mocking her, she couldn’t guess. True that sometimes she felt unappreciated, but they only gave her her due, as little as it should be. She had never thought that she was not loved.
Littlesong wrapped her arms around herself, pressing Bowflight’s short bow close to her chest without thinking, smelling yew and smelling him. She knew that this was her tiredness and hunger talking, giving her foolish thoughts. The tribe was poking its usual fun. Two seasons past, a whitestripe hunting incident had earned Flash the name Finemess for three full hands of days, and only Easysinger ever said a word.
The chieftess was sitting at her den-mouth, rocking a whimpering Redfox, then passing him back to her lifemate, who accepted the precious bundle with a great happy smile. With the thunderfeet hunt a great success, Blacksnake had returned smug, cheerful and mellow. Perhaps if she spoke with him now, Littlesong thought, for a moment forgetting her confusion, perhaps if he saw she was trying…
Easysinger glanced down and smiled at her. “Poor Finch, you look good as spent.”
Littlesong’s world lurched, the bottom dropping out of her stomach. Easysinger was in on the joke — Easysinger? That couldn’t be. Not her respected, beloved chieftess, she would never mock an unhappy tribemate, could not be laughing at her expense. So if Easysinger was also playing the game, it had to be —
“My chieftess,” she half-whimpered, “I’m confused.”
"Why should you be?" Those tender mother's eyes studied her deeply, saw through her center. "The tribe knows you, and the tribe has decided."
"But I haven't — "
Her voice fled her throat. Littlesong glanced down at the ground, as ever far too close.
"You're somewhat larger than the cupped handsful your mother named, Finch, you've been that for some time," Easysinger said pleasantly. "But we don't always see a mark till we've looked right down the arrow. The tribe knows you. The tribe has named you. Take it and be peaceful, pretty bird."
That was all Littlesong needed to hear.
She found Bowflight in his den, where like the rest of the tribe, he was no doubt preparing for a good peaceful sleep. Her stomach fluttered unhappily when she tried to think of what she should say to him, clenching like a nervous fist. She waited an unordinary amount of time outside the den-mouth after his cheery "come in, Finch!", her feelings a tangle, unsure of whether she was furious with him or not.
She crept in and found him prone on his back, stretching his newly mended leg with a look of both pain at the tender muscles and pleasure at finally being free of the cast. Spotting her, he raised his head and offered her a bright smile. The next long hunt, he could already ride out, what held him back could mend. What held her…
"I'll never be good with the bow, will I?" she spoke softly. "Tell me truly."
The smile vanished. Bowflight tilted his head briefly, away from her eyes, then seemed to reconsider so that he turned his gaze again and met hers.
"There's something the matter with your eyes, I think," he said in a low voice. "That's why your axe-throwing never improved either. At a shorter range, it matters less, but in the range a bow is good for… no." Somehow, when he didn't try to speak false praise, his voice was softer, warmer, making truth sound not so bad.
Littlesong turned her head away, till her forehead was pressed against the wooden wall of Bowflight's den, finding it cool and living and pleasant. She was so tired… and it was growing brighter outside. She hadn't the strength to go back out, to climb up into her own den. One of her arms gave a violent twinge, and she thought to herself that it was a great relief, not to have to go back out into the woods tomorrow, away from the eyes of the tribe that knew all about it anyway, and practice that stupid bow. Slowly, she sank down until her rump found the soft bedfurs, and she leaned back into them, sighing gratefully, before realizing — in a strange flash — that she was leaning back into Bowflight's arms.
"Pretty bird," he whispered into her ear, his voice full of painful emotion he was helpless to conceal, "pretty Finch, why do you fight what you are? The tribe — "
"I know," she answered, her own voice as soft as the bedfurs, "I know. They've known that I can't for a while now… and it doesn't matter to them."
The tension in her muscles was melting into sweet relaxation, as though a large burden had been lifted from her small back. Finch, she thought, I'm called Finch, despite everything. Eyes, height and all.
Bowflight was silent, but she sensed warmth from him not confusion, soft ease and the scent of his closeness. He'd heard her and had also seen the truth that she found — seen it sooner than she had, the sharp arrow that the tribe had looked down to the mark. She did not even have to ask him if she could stay in his den tonight. She didn't take up much space, after all.
"You are strong, though," he murmured finally. "You could take a spear, maybe, but it'd be a shame to waste your gift with the axe… "
She offered back a mind-touch, gratitude and acceptance and you and me and right, not wanting to spoil the perfect, peaceful silence. But there was something to his words, still….
Sunlight shaped the axe of the sturdiest, healthiest branch she could find, working to combine supple strength with lightness and smooth beauty. She shaped small wing-shapes into the wood around its tip, and shaped the wood to loop around and hold fast onto the blade that Beesting had made. Bowflight decorated the bindings with the same white feathers he used for his distinct fletchings, and Raven painted the wing-shapes in bright green like new leaves.
Complete, it was as large as Finch herself. She hefted it up, awed at its balance, its swing. It was not light truly; but she was strong enough to wield it, easily strong enough.
"You arm is four times its length now," Bowflight said, with admiration rather than amusement. When he held out his dagger and she held out the axe, her reach was better than his.
The rains had grown steadily fiercer, but the first snowfall still didn’t show itself; true winter was coming late this year, affording the tribe some more precious time for the tail-end of their season’s hunting. For a hand of days now, Blacksnake and his hunters had been readying themselves for a second and final ride-out. All around Bowflight and Finch, elves stopped or slowed down on various little errands to watch the new weapon get its first few trial swings. Finch was less than graceful with the initial motion, but it was only minutes before her natural knack was reasserting itself. Even the Hunt Leader paused to look on.
"What a monster of a weapon," he said, impressed.
Finch flushed, planting the butt of the shaft in the ground to show the axe's full length, then handed it to Blacksnake to examine. He turned it over once and twice, then raised an eyebrow at her.
"How long would you need to master it?"
"A while," she answered truthfully. "It's different from my regular axe, I'll need at least a moon-turn."
He sized her up — looked her up and down, studied her pose and the set of her shoulders. She looked back at him and smiled.
"The thunderfeet’ll still be there," Blacksnake said finally.
Something in Finch's chest seemed to expand, spilling up into her throat and down into her belly and making her warm inside. She was sharply aware of Bowflight's presence behind her, of his own smile and bright eyes, of the hand he placed on her shoulder. Her fingers closed tight about the shaft of her axe. She felt as tall as the Dentrees.
With a sly grin of his own, Blacksnake shifted his gaze from her to Bowflight, giving the archer the same approving look-over. "Are you set to leave?"
"No, Hunt Leader," Bowflight answered, catching Finch by surprise. She glanced back at him, worried. Was his leg still giving him trouble? She'd been rubbing it every morning, pestering him to do his stretches and walk everywhere rather than ride. He should have been fine — "I'd rather wait for the next long hunt, so my lovemate and I can ride out together."
Finch was shocked into silence at the gesture. Blacksnake paused, quirked an eyebrow and gave a hrrmpf, the sort both younger elves knew to mean cubs and their antics. He tilted his head momentarily to one side — sending to Easysinger, no doubt — then shrugged. "It's your loss, archer." With a last look at the axe, he was off.
Bowflight put his arms around Finch even as she leaned back into him.
"You're better than I deserve," she laughed, her stomach warm where his fingers twined over it, feeling his chin on the crown of her head. He was laughing as well, but as soon as the words left her mouth, he spun her round to look her deep, deep in the eye.
"Pretty bird," he said simply, honestly, strongly, "I won't say it again: there's nothing you're not good enough for."
And as he pulled her close, Finch quietly thought that she never wanted to grow bigger when as she was, she fit so perfectly in his arms.