In the shadows of the deepwood, alongside the cool waters of Silverrun Creek, the lifemates lay entwined in the afterglow of lovemaking. It was a humid summer night, so that the sweat slicked their skin and did not dry. Flameflies blinked languidly through the forest shadows, lazy without the promise of rain to stir them.
Brightwood lay with her head pillowed against Farscout's chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart. Every day back together had become a day of discovery, as she found the small and subtle ways in which Farscout had been changed by the years that had passed for him, yet not for her. And sometimes, he had changed in ways not subtle at all, in ways which left on him physical maps of their time apart.
"This scar," she said as she trailed a fingertip along an old scar on his shoulder. It was faint with age. "This came from the humans when you and Father rescued us, didn't it?"
She felt, rather than saw, his nod of confirmation. Brightwood pressed her lips against that scar, shivering at the memory of his having gotten it, only a handful of days ago for her, as she remembered it. "And this?" she asked, touching a much fresher looking scar on his forearm.
"Wolf bite." Farscout's breath stirred her hair. "That was two autumns ago. My wolf-friend and I encountered a pack of outsider wolves just over the border of our hunting territory. I killed a few, but they got Bracken."
Brightwood frowned and pressed her lips against the mark. "And what's this a trophy of?" she said, caressing a scar that lay midway between the other two, on his upper arm. "Another wolf bite?"
"No. That was Quick Fang."
Brightwood looked at the scar again, then propped herself up on one elbow and looked expectantly at her lifemate. "My new cousin -- True Edge's daughter? She did *that*?"
Farscout smiled faintly and ran his hands up Brightwood's bare back. "Quick Fang is not much for conversation," he replied. “She won't protest with words, she'll just go for you.”
Brightwood snorted at that warning, thinking of her first impression of Quick Fang being of surprise, that her uncle True Edge's child should be so tiny. But then, most of the new tribe seemed tiny – Brightwood had always been tall for her generation, but she had grown up among elders a hand or more taller than herself, so it was strange to find herself suddenly head and shoulders above so many. With a shiver, Brightwood took a closer look at the scar under her fingertips. "Sounds like a story to me," she said. "Tell me about it."
Farscout hesitated for a moment, then touched her mind in a sending that was layered rich with remembered detail. **It was spring...** he began. **Late spring, when the first of the blood salmon start to swim upstream, and I had found something new in the forest...**
Farscout had followed the rumble and hiss to its source: since the winter snow had vanished around Crystal Springs, a new geyser had been born from the earth. Farscout had found three raw vents clustered close together just below a ridge near the shores of the lake. The vents were puffing with steam, so he had waited and watched for several days to see an eruption. He had to wait for two days before it did -- but when the geyser blew, he found his patience rewarded. The geyser sent up several great simultaneous spouts of scalding water, which combined overhead into a fierce plume that roared up higher than even the trees that grew on the ridgeline above it, much much higher than any other geyser Farscout had ever seen. For three days afterward, the geyser continued to steam, but when the steam had lapsed without any suggestion of the faithful constancy of the old Constant Geyser, or even of the younger Growler at Rainbow Springs, Farscout had left to carry his observations back to the Holt. The blast seemed to have emptied the comfortable bathing pool of the southern-most crystal spring; maybe when the springs refilled, the geyser would have ammunition enough for another great blow.
A day out from the new geyser, he intercepted Blacksnake and a party of hunters, who were headed south toward the Rushwater River. The Hunt Leader's curiosity was piqued by the report of a new geyser, so Farscout had agreed to lead his four tribemates back to where the geyser vents had broken the earth.
They traveled at a wolf-trot until well past dawn. The wolves' tongues were lolling, and the hunters followed stoically after Farscout, knowing he'd keep traveling until Blacksnake took pity on the rest of them and called for a break to rest.
As they crossed a meadow near the lake, the hunting party came across a newborn fawn hidden among the tall grass. The creature was only hours old, and still damp where its mother had licked it clean of scent. Does commonly gave birth to two fawns late in the spring, and dropped them in different hiding spots, keeping them separate until both fawns were three or four days old and strong enough to keep up with her at a run. In the instinctive way of such creatures, the little fawn lay perfectly still, its dappled hide camouflaging it among the sunlit grass. It was only chance that led the hunters to it – a wolf's-length either west or east, and the entire hunting party would have trotted past it without noticing it.
At the head of the hunting party, Farscout was the first to spot it. He hesitated for only a moment, then stopped beside it, blocking the wolves' avid attention with his body.
**Move on,** he sent. **Leave it be.**
Blacksnake gave his old friend a knowing look and passed by without comment. Thornbow and Nightstorm glanced at one another, then followed after the Hunt Leader without question. But Quick Fang looked at the newborn fawn and licked her lips. It had been a long time since their last meal; she was hot, she was tired, and a newborn fawn was a rare, tender delicacy. She swung off her wolf and stepped toward the fawn, lifting her spear in one hand.
Farscout shifted to block her way. **Leave it be,** he sent firmly.
Quick Fang growled at him, annoyed at his interference. **Hungry,** she sent back, just as firmly. She was confident of herself and her place in the pack – if her elder wasn't going to eat it himself, she wasn't fool enough to let it go to waste. **Mine.**
**I said move on,** Farscout ordered her directly. **This one isn't yours.**
Quick Fang tried to side-step him. Farscout was more than a head taller than the white-haired huntress; he reached out and snatched her back easily. Quick Fang snarled at him and snapped at him, her teeth scoring the leather of his coat sleeve. Farscout cuffed her across the ear. **Leave it be!** he locksent sharply.
Eyes watering from the blow, Quick Fang growled at her elder again. Farscout wasn't her chief, and he wasn't the Hunt Leader – she wasn't about to back down to the quiet scout and submit. **Mine!** she insisted in a wolf-send fierce with threat. She gave him a fair moment's warning to back down, and then lunged. This time, when Farscout failed to step aside, she hit him with her full weight and sank her teeth deep into the first part of him she could reach.
Farscout had turned his shoulder into the attack. He had expected the thick leather of his coat to be shield enough from his temperamental tribemate's teeth, and the pain in his arm was surprise. Furious, he grabbed Quick Fang by the hair and ripped her away, and when she swung on him, he jerked her back again by the hair and then hit her once in the belly, hard enough to knock all of the wind from her lungs. He dropped her then, watching warily as she collapsed to her knees in the grass.
**Mine,** he locksent to her, blasting with his send as he might a sulky yearling wolf. **Teeth at your throat** and **show belly** were hard in that sending, a promise of further violence if the feral huntress wanted to continue the dominance fight.
Quick Fang wheezed for breath. She spat a scrap of leather at him, and wiped the blood from her lips. She was not going to show throat to the scout, but neither did she have the stomach left for continuing the fight. Instead, she fixed her elder with a narrow-eyed, malicious stare, showing no submission but likewise, showing no further challenge toward his claim on the fawn.
“Get up,” Blacksnake said. He grabbed Quick Fang under one arm and hauled her to her feet, giving her a helpful shove toward her wolf-friend Growler when she showed no sign of making a retreat. “Move on,” he told his hunters. “We'll camp at the springs.”
Thornbow took the lead; Nightstorm delayed to put her niece Quick Fang between Thornbow and herself, then followed at Growler's heels. Blacksnake stood for a moment, eyeing Farscout and the fawn.
“You're bleeding,” he with a gesture toward Farscout's arm.
Farscout inspected the tear in his coat, and the deep wound exposed beneath it. He pulled a length of suede from him carrybag and tied it around his arm as a makeshift bandage. It would need stitching later, but he could tend to that once they had made camp at the springs. The bandage was difficult to tie off one-handed, but Blacksnake stepped in to finish the knot for him.
“It's a silly thing to pick a fight over,” Blacksnake muttered as they strode away from the newborn fawn. Farscout didn't know if the comment was directed at Quick Fang, or at him. He simply shrugged the comment off, and when he glanced back again, the sun-dappled meadow grass had swallowed the little creature up, as though it had never been there in the first place.
The memory-send began to fade, as languid as the flameflies around them. "You can always count on a bite wound to fester," Farscout finished verbally. "I put marigold-and-garlic balm on it, but the wound still went bad enough to scar."
Brightwood chuckled as she stroked the scar gently.
"You know why I'm laughing at you, don't you?" she asked him.
Farscout smiled at her and laughed silently himself. He skimmed his hands over her skin, resting one against the swell of her belly. "Aye. I know. If you'd been there, you'd have gone for the fawn yourself."
"Sure as rain falls!” Her stomach chose that moment to rumble, and she squirmed with a sudden, story-induced hunger pang. "Tender young meat like that? I can almost taste it now! Why would you ever be so soft-hearted, with such a juicy little morsel right at your feet?"
Farscout nuzzled her forehead, and pressed his lips against his hair. "I guess I suppose I was saving it for you," he murmured.
Brightwood snorted. She knew her lifemate better than that, but let that explanation lie. **You are a fool,** she teased him. **But I love you for it, just the same.**