"Nightshade. Don't touch, it's poison."
"Dried blackberries, for keeping."
"And the funny fluffy things?"
"Cattail seeds. Now stop poking at the plants, crackling cub, I'm busy."
Crackle sat back on her haunches and watched him closely, making Farscout feel more than a little bit besieged as he carefully loosened the coat's two layers from one another. He picked a long, thin bone and tugged on the knots, peeled the fabric back with great care, then lay it out, the gap in the cloth open like a hungry little mouth. She watched him carefully shovel the seeds in, then sit, tongue poking out the corner of his mouth, to sew the coat back together.
She watched him miss a loop and prick his finger once, hiss softly and suck on the single drop of blood.
"Farscout?" She asked. "Why are you awake now?"
The quiet scout raised an eyebrow at her. "Should I be asleep?"
Crackle put a finger in her mouth and chewed on it a little. "It's daytime. I can tell because the sun is up."
"Then, shouldn't you also be asleep?"
"Ye-es." Crackle sighed. Farscout nodded solemnly. It wouldn't harm the cub to start sleeping through the day, really. It was about time she did, after eight turns…
She dropped back on her haunches again and ran her tongue curiously on the tip of her finger.
"You want to hear a story?"
Farscout brought the string up and bit it off, snapping it in his mouth. He spat out a stiff, foul-tasting bit, which the cub immediately dived for. "Not right now."
He picked up the coat and lay it flat on the floor before him. It bulged in odd places where the seeds bunched together for warmth. The scout frowned. If only they weren't so stubbornly sticky…
"Want to play animal guesses?"
A few spots felt ticklish under his probing hands. Sometimes the hairs from the seeds got caught in the fabric, and he had to delicately brush them loose, the frown turning deep between his eyebrows as he patted the coat here and there. Too few seeds for too much coat, perhaps…
"Want to see me do a handstand?"
A quick shake of the head. 'They are smaller this season. Perhaps if I laid them out in pouches the way Nightstorm does…' He pried at the stitching, pulling it and the two layers tighter, while moving his hand in circles about what would be the back of the coat. The fabrics were slow to align.
"Want to see how I pull enough dreamberries out of my ears to feed all of Cloudfern and Greenweave's eight newborn cubs?"
Maybe he should just have used furs. It was a lot easier…
Crackle's nose was, abruptly, touching his.
"I'm awake to see the day birds," the cub intoned, swinging an arm to gesture through the doorway, "and the butterflies. And the way fish shine in the sun, and, flowers that're only open in the daytime, and for my skin to get summer-brown. It's good reasons to be awake."
She bumped her forehead a little bit against his. "But you're just awake to work ."
She said that hated word with such outrage and spite that Farscout reared back from the sewing, blinking at the coat as though it had tried to bite him. A pretty yellow sunbeam crept past the hide at the opening and stretched out across the fur of the coat, making every hair stand in a slightly different shade. A soft late-summer early-morning sun, bright and well-meaning. And there was a scent as well, something tantalizing and sweet that crept into his nostrils, making him frown. He slowly put the needle down.
Something small and dark fluttered in the way of the sun, leaping between branches with a chirp, then gone.
"Oooh," Crackle said. She left Farscout alone with his half-done coat and crawled to the den mouth, peered outside, then swung herself onto a vine dangling past and slid inch after inch to the ground below. The sun blazed inside when she pushed the hide to pass through and colored her hair like a sunset.
Farscout blinked again, then found himself pushing the hide and looking after her.
High Ones, the world was bright.
The sunlight surrounded and suffused him, from his eyes to deep within his bones. No matter however many times he'd gone wandering in the daytime, the sun was still always a shock to night-born and raised eyes, and he dropped back on his knees, and breathed it in. The den was full of shadows at his back, but the forest gleamed a thousand and one shades of green, and the holt was shocking quiet, except for the chirping of birds, and the small noises of awe and delight Crackle made hopping from one daytime discovery to another.
Farscout watched her scuttle in the undergrowth, alone and happy. He watched past her at the trees with their various dens, where their tribemates were tucked away in many worlds of dreams. He saw a kingly butterfly go lazily by Quick Fang's den, and some loose strands left outside Greenweave and Cloudfern's home shimmer like poured honey. The last of the dew gathered on a forgotten hammock, low under a fallen branch.
The summer air was heady, too rich with scents. The last days of the warm season, Farscout knew, the sun was already early to set and soon he'll be needing that coat…
"Look, a purple flower!"
"That's feverease," Farscout called out from the den. "Learn the scent, Crackle."
He'd only just realized he'd spoken when she raised those great big green eyes of hers to him, and he wondered if anyone had ever thought to do something useful with the cub's bad sleeping habits. Catching the vine, he climbed down it carefully, hand by hand.
Crackle hated work and lessons. He approached her slowly, a bit like a hunter measuring up sizable prey, wondering which of them would really feed the other in the end.
The countless flowers were intoxicating. Busybody bees were about their work everywhere, and yellow butterflies did a mating dance. The brown earth and green grass gleamed in patches between soaring branches, and the beginning of a cool wind sighed across a sky of white and blue.
The cub's big bright eyes made it easy to track her moods, narrow as green almonds as she considered, wary, then perfectly round.
She dropped between the bushes, crackled a bit, her bottom sticking out, then emerged with a handful of ragged leaves, which she held up. "I never see them at night," she explained meekly.
Farscout nodded. "They fold up at night." He held out a hand, and traced minute veins in the leaf she handed him, delicate seams. "Their bottom side is much darker."
"You have to be smart to survive by day."
She dropped to all fours and buried herself in the flower patch, and the scout followed her, walking in color to his knees, wading through fresh and heavy scents, tinged with bitterness or wistful in the nose, tingling or as rich as a mouthful of honey. Occasionally, Crackle's head appeared, each time with more petals on it. Bees started to buzz around her curiously.
Farscout casually snatched one of the air. The cub gaped.
"You caught a bee!"
He opened his fingers just a bit; they sat absorbed in the fluttering transparency of tiny wings, the details of the insect's disguise.
Farscout let it fly. "Everything is smart in daytime," Crackle surmised with awe.
They walked, and found a frolicking fox cub and a pool that reflected the clouds with feathery perfection. They found a grove where the shifting shadows of the leaves made shapes like faces on the ground, and two robins arguing for territory. They reached the holt's borders, and Farscout had given up on trying to recall just what was so in his den important enough to bother him, and instead sat down on a rock and made Crackle a leaf whistle.
She giggled at the squeaky sounds she was producing. "But Farscout, this bush hasn't got any flowers now or at night, so when do they open?"
"In twilight," the elder replied, between one little melody and another, “when the bugs only have them to pay attention to.”
Crackle gave a solemn nod.
"I guess it feels good being the only one around for attention," she said pensively.
She looked at Farscout. She looked at him good. The green in her eyes danced merrily.
And Farscout realized, to go with all the days' other realizations, that he was smiling too.
"Yes," he said, "I guess it does."