(This story is a sequel of sorts to "Just a Storm".)
Sitting up higher on Rooter's back, Beetle lifted her hand in greeting and gave the approaching fire-haired elf maiden a sunny grin that belied the rain dampening her hair and clothing. She thought some of the others might eye Foxtail's erratic rides to greet the returning Word-Hunters with suspicion but, honestly, Beetle decided to accept it for what it appeared to be - a friend greeting a friend. Besides, it was nice to have a happy face if and when Willow wasn't able to come.
As Foxtail drew up beside her, Beetle smiled more. "Even in the rain?" she asked, leaving the real question half-said.
Foxtail laughed. "I was getting den-mad," she explained. "While you all were out, wherever you were out... Well, I don't know what it was doing there but it's been pissing down here since forever." She offered a comically exaggerated expression of disgust with a hint of deep sulk. Then she wrinkled her nose and rolled her eyes. "If I had to count another nut or berry, I was going to run off howling, so why not?" She noticed Beetle's sneaky attempts to look past her and huffed a sigh before bending forward to cross her forearms atop Briarfoot's head and lean into it. Her hood shifted downwards over her forehead, further protection from the rain. "Willow's not behind me," she added with a touch of resignation, dropping her eyes with a practiced ease that Beetle found herself responding to despite knowing better. "You know, you could give me a couple more words before you start looking to see if she's on my tail."
"Oh." Nudging Rooter closer to Foxtail and her bond, Beetle managed to reach out and snag one of the other elf's dangling hands. Quickly, she laced their fingers together and tried to peer into Foxtail's face. "I'm sorry. Really. It's sweet that you'd come out like this and I didn't mean to..."
"Mmhm, sure you did." Foxtail brought her head back up and her green eyes glittered with laughter. Beetle started and shifted but Foxtail kept her hand firmly in grasp as she giggled. "Simmer down, Beetle," she suggested. "Believe me. I'll tell you if I'm really upset."
Reflecting on many, many turns of tantrums and piercing shouting matches, Beetle immediately conceded the point; even this new, changing Foxtail still could not keep full control over her strong opinions and flash-point temper. She had just learned to count, breathe, and retreat. Beetle sighed but her smile was real when she answered, "And I hope you're never that upset with me."
A flash of lightning brightened the night sky above them, even shining in white brilliance through the canopy of leaves, and Beetle sent a swift, wary glance at her companion. Foxtail met the look evenly for a moment and then looked away. Her face had lost the laughter, stilling to something as close to expressionless as she ever got. Beetle waited for a few moments, listened to the following thunder, and then squeezed the hand in hers. **Does it still bother you?** she lock-sent. **The skyfire, I mean.**
"No" came the too-quick answer. The mere fact that it was said out loud, though, caused Foxtail to pause and then shake her head. Annoyance showed in the motion. **Not really.** The switch to the more personal and honest flavor of sends spoke of one of Foxtail's new realizations; she resorted to speech when avoiding a question that she found too personal or prying. **Not like when I was a cub,** she continued, sharing a quick-fire memory of a tiny Foxtail clinging to an older Beetle. **Don't worry about yourself.**
The redheaded chief's daughter looked off into the distance and suddenly prodded her mount into motion. Beetle quickly brought Rooter's attention to the task and paced beside the other elf. **It's funny how things change when you actually know why they should scare you witless. Before it was just the brightness and the noise. Now...** Foxtail gave a little shrug and made a low noise in the back of her throat. Then she shot Beetle a knowing sideways look, a smirk growing. "Willow's sleeping through this all somehow," she announced. "I don't think it's right she misses all the fun, do you?"
Beetle shook her head slowly and earned one of Foxtail's glorious smiles. "All right, then. Back to your den for you and, for me... I'm going to hide from all those nuts and berries." A sharp yip and a nudge of Foxtail's heels urged Briarfoot into a faster trot and Beetle watched the two pull ahead. Maybe, Beetle reflected as her own smile grew, Foxtail hadn't changed quite so much, after all... But it was something, she supposed. Even strong oak trees had to start from capnuts.