(This story is a sequel to "Brightwood", and is part of the "Brightwood emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storyline -- see listings for related stories.)
They were running for their lives through the deep snow, pursued by riders who were certain death. Tailchaser was laboring through the drifts; between her thighs, Brightwood could feel her wolf-friend's heaving ribs as he struggled gamely on. Snow was flying all around them — that was a good thing, in that it might hide their tracks from the riders, but when the gusts whipped up, the flurries of snow threatened to swallow up Farscout, who fought to break trail ahead of them. Brightwood clutched her little brother tight to her chest, her winter coat wrapped around them both. Moonmoth had lost his hat and his gloves, and no matter how often she tried to tuck his hands up within the heavy fur of her coat, she kept finding them out again and grasping Tailchaser's ruff, going blue from the cold. **Brother! Your hands!** she protested, her fears all tangled as the blizzard gusted a fresh flurry around them. **They'll frostbite!**
Behind them there suddenly came the distant thunder of galloping hooves — impossible for sound like that to carry through a snowstorm, or for round-hooves to run so fast in such deep snow — but the thunder was there, relentless in its increasing volume. Brightwood reached after her bow, forgetting in that moment that it was lost, and looked behind them to see a herd of riders grown visible as a dark shadow on their trail. More snow whipped between them; when Brightwood turned back around, it was Farscout who was lost from sight, with not even his tracks left to lead the way.
**Aya, I am here,** her lifemate sent. But Brightwood still could not see him. She reached for her belt knife, knowing it was not weapon enough to fight off what pursued them, but determined just the same to make their enemies pay. She had already killed at least one of the terrible not-trolls. Brightwood vowed to kill at least two or three more —
**Aya,** Farscout called to her, his mindtouch firm and bright. **Aya. I am here. You are dreaming. Wake.**
At that summons, the dreamscape simply evaporated around her. Brightwood blinked open her eyes and found herself tangled in sleeping furs, her arms fast around her swelling torso, her hands made into fists. Farscout lay beside her, his arms around her as he held her tight. He was nuzzling her sweat-damp forehead, the brush of his face-fur strange against her cheek. Moonmoth — no, Cloudfern now — crouched at the bedside, his blue-violet eyes enormous in his anxious face.
“You were having a nightmare,” Cloudfern said, his voice unsteady.
Brightwood blinked at him, her pulse still racing with adrenaline from the dream. She stared at Cloudfern, fascinated by his maturity, when by all rights, he had been only a boy yesterday. Her yesterday. The nightmare had been as much raw memory as not. Only yesterday, human blood had been hot on her hands, and she had seen most of her family murdered. Yesterday for her... and yet for Cloudfern, most of a lifetime had passed. Shaking, Brightwood clung to her lifemate. Farscout's embrace anchored her, as the surreality she faced threatened to otherwise overwhelm her.
**You are safe, Aya,** he locksent, soothing her with his thoughts as well as his touch. **We are all safe.**
Something stirred the door-curtain, and Cloudfern rocked back on his haunches as he looked toward that disturbance. “Just a bad dream,” he said in a deliberately cheerful tone. “Nothing to worry about.”
Two faces were peering into the room. Brightwood glanced toward them apologetically, aghast to realize that her nightmare had not been private — apparently she had broadcast some portions of the dream, just like a cub who couldn't control her sendings. It was not the first impression she had intended to leave on new tribemates —
“Newt!” she exclaimed then, startled to recognize the boy's albino-pink eyes and colorless hair. She sat up, delighted to see the child. Farscout and her brother had told her, the night before, that Newt had come out of wrapstuff, too — but it was one thing to hear the words, and something else altogether to see the once-familiar face, which had been lost for an aspen's-age to the tribe before her own near-brush with death.
Newt regarded her solemnly and didn't enter the room. He regarded her with something akin to suspicion, then looked up at the elf whose hand he clung too. The brown-haired elf smiled down gently at the boy.
“Newt was last to wake, before you,” the stranger said.
“Except for Fletcher. But he died,” Newt said soberly.
Brightwood looked at her lifemate. She didn't ask who Fletcher had been. She didn't want to know, not yet. Cloudfern reached out to pull the brown-haired elf into the room, using introductions as a way to blaze through the awkward moment. “This is my lifemate, Greenweave,” Cloudfern said. “We'll be raising Newt.”
“Glint's son,” Farscout added.
Brightwood nodded numbly at that — she could see the family resemblance between the elf she had known, and Glint's son.
“We should go,” Greenweave said, turning his gentle smile to Brightwood. “You'll want to go back to sleep, we can go back down to the Gathering den —”
Brightwood caught Newt's troubled eyes again. The boy looked distraught, and by more than just whatever fragments of her nightmare had escaped her fraying mental shields. “No,” she said, “this is your den, don't let me turn your lives upside down. Maybe I'll sleep easier, with my brother nearby,” she added, when she saw the uncertain look that passed between the lifemates.
Greenweave nodded. “Go to our bed,” he said, giving Newt a gentle push toward what was clearly the boy's empty bed-shelf. “I'll be right back up with all of our sleeping furs.”
Brightwood watched for a moment as her brother helped guide Newt to bed. Brightwood closed her eyes and laid back in her own lifemate's waiting embrace.
**That was kind,** Farscout locksent. **Newt's stomached too much change this past moon. My little cousin has had a rough time dealing with the loss of his parents, and in accepting Greenweave and your brother as their replacements. He’ll welcome you back full-heartedly in the days to come, once he sees your waking up doesn’t challenge his new family arrangements.**
Brightwood turned that observation over in her mind for a moment, trying not to compare Newt’s solemn demeanor to the cheerful, open-hearted boy she had known. **I can understand his not having the belly for swallowing down any more change,** she locksent to her mate. **I’m feeling a bit that way myself.**
For a long while, Farscout said nothing in response. He simply held her close and nuzzled her hair. **Many things will have changed,** he locksent softly, as Brightwood drifted back to sleep. **But not everything, love. Not everything.**
Brightwood slept for a time without dreams, and when she woke, she found herself still in her lifemate’s arms. Farscout was asleep beside her, and in the den beyond, she could see the pale flow of her brother's hair, draped across the furs he and his mate had piled up to make their bed.
Brightwood listened to the quiet of the hometree around them. The sunlight filtering past the window-curtain suggested afternoon, with tiny, golden motes of dust drifting through the bright shafts that split the room. Somewhere in the distance, Ice was hammering on her forge, taking advantage of the daylight for her work. It was a familiar sound, so familiar that for a time Brightwood hardly thought of it. But then dimly, Brightwood remembered Farscout telling her that his mother had died while Brightwood slept, but that he had a half-sister now, and that his sister had taken up Ice’s craft. So it wouldn’t be Ice… no, it would be the sister, whose name she had been told but which Brightwood despaired of remembering… She began to drift back to sleep as she struggled after that name, with the half-conscious fear that they would meet when she woke and she would embarrass herself by not knowing her lifemate’s closest kin…
The baby in her belly moved then, coming awake in a sudden burst of movement. Brightwood rested her hands over her womb and enjoyed the sensation of her child doing a lazy somersault inside of her. There was a fiercely rueful pride flavoring that joy. Brightwood knew her enemies had scarred her. They had stolen away many of those she had loved. But *this* one, Brightwood had kept safe from her foes. She had survived them, and her baby had survived them. That was a victory she was proud of.
**Little sprout,** she locksent to the mute presence within her. **My little bud. You’ll be a tough little wolf, won’t you?**
It was a rhetorical question, but for the first time, Brightwood felt the child within her respond. Her sending was absorbed like water into a root, and then something brushed back against her mindtouch, as insubstantial and delicate as a moth’s wing.
Brightwood grabbed after her lifemate’s hands, and Farscout jolted awake beside her. **The baby!** she locksent joyously, pulling his hands to her belly. **Our child!**
Farscout’s long-fingered hands rested gently against the swell of her womb, and his gray eyes turned to her in question. Brightwood beamed at him and pressed her hands down over his. **I just heard her name!** Brightwood cried. **Vuna. Our daughter’s name is Vuna!**
Farscout was shaking his head in disbelief. **It should be months yet,** he locksent. **Months yet before the baby is old enough to share —**
Brightwood laughed in delight and shared the moment in memory, stilling her lifemate’s argument. **Vuna,** she sent proudly, while the unborn child within her did another lazy turn, like a wolf circling before it settled down to sleep.
Farscout stared into her eyes, and she watched as his bewilderment shaded into pure joy. **Vuna,** he repeated, with a fierce joy as deep and victorious as her own.
Within her, Brightwood felt the baby go still and quiet with sleep. But the lifemates lay awake together in each others’ arms for some time, celebrating their discovery in silence.