(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Newt emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
It was all so familiar, and yet so strange. Even the Dentrees were both the same and different.
Dens had been merged and separated, new ones created, old ones abandoned, and yet... it still felt the same, and smelled the same, and Newt found himself comforted by it. He could sit on a branch and run his hands over the smooth bark and close his eyes and almost expect to hear his brother's voice floating on the breeze to him from the river. But the voice wasn't Glint’s. It was... it was... he couldn't remember the elf's name.
Newt's eyes snapped open, his heart suddenly pounding in his little-boy's chest. He'd never forgotten the name of a tribesmate before. He'd always just known them, as sure as he knew his own. The fact that he was now so much surrounded by elves he didn't know that he could forget their names was terrifying. How many of them forgot his?
He frantically searched his mind for the name. He'd absorbed so much tribal history in the past few hands of days that he couldn't keep them all straight. Up until he woke up, it had come to him as naturally as breathing. This elf sired that one. That elf is descended from that ancestor. Those two are cousins through their mothers. But now? Now everything was different. He found he felt detached from everyone, isolated. He couldn't see their parents in them, because he couldn't remember who their parents were. In a couple of cases, he'd never even met their parents. How could he know who Willow was if he'd never even met Finch or Bowflight?
Willow was a complete stranger to him. He had no frame of reference for her, or for many of the strangers that were now his... family? They felt like replacements. Instead of familiar Easysinger, there was the stranger-chief Windburn. Instead of Strand, Turtle and Lacewing, it was his nephew who had taken him in, along with Brightwood's little brother, whom Newt had never met. And so many others... his whole tribe, almost, but for a small handful. Gone. Replaced with strangers. He felt alone, and strangely rootless, as though he might just fall away, and get washed downriver with nothing to hold him here.
Worse, the hole in his heart where Brook should be ached, and it felt like a gaping wound in his chest. He had just bonded with her – his first wolf-friend, after so long of being rejected by other wolves. It nearly broke him to think of her living out her life without him, and to now think of living his life without her. She’d been gone a long time, but that severed connection was still very fresh to Newt. It just wasn’t fair. He’d had so little time with her.
Rainpace. The name came to him all of a sudden. The voice belonged to Rainpace. Newt ran through as much of the family tree as he could remember. Rainpace was sired by Ringtail and Doeskin. He followed the branches as best he could remember—the Howl they’d held for him the night before had helped a lot, but there was still too much to absorb—and came up with Greenweave as one of Rainpace’s cousins, and so that made Rainpace Newt’s… nephew? Somehow? And Newt had forgotten his name. Newt watched as Blackber—Suddendusk talked and laughed with Rainpace, like a true uncle and nephew.
Ringtail and Suddendusk had been close as brothers. Newt saw the familiar, easy way of an elf with a favoured uncle as he watched them interact — Rainpace might think of Suddendusk's cubs as his cousins, maybe. He would have to ask. It felt so strange, having to ask folks how they related to each other. It made him feel more apart, more alone. More rootless.
From his perch in the tree, Newt surveyed the Holt. It had only been a single sleep for him, but so much had changed. He noticed Farscout standing among some other adults, and was surprised to see that he was the tallest of them. That was strange. Farscout had never struck Newt as particularly tall before. He watched the wolves that dotted his field of vision, and noticed that they, too, were bigger than he remembered. He eyed the wolves and where their shoulders reached on the elves standing near them. His mother's wolf, Hammerstrike, named for his size and strength, would still be considered large, Newt figured. But not as notably large as he had been back then.
Newt scanned the scene, picking out each wolf and judging its size. One in particular, sitting back on its haunches, watched him back. A relatively small one, brown and thin. They regarded each other for a few moments, their eyes locked. Newt felt strangely like he was being weighed for his worth, and was suddenly transported back in time — not too long a trip for him — to when he'd looked into Brook’s yellow eyes, and she’d accepted him, when no other would have him. This wolf was sizing him up, he could tell. Newt did not want yet another replacement for those he loved. He got up from the branch and slid down the tree to the ground, looking for Farscout, to ask more questions about the tribe and its parentage. He shoved the wolf out of his mind. Besides, what wolf would want to bond with a rootless little tree like him? He didn't want to be rejected by a wolf again, so he rejected the wolf first. It stung less that way.
For the first few days, Newt stuck close to those he knew best, which were few. It was strange to think of Greenweave as his nephew, but he could see his brother in him, at least, so he counted. Cloudfern, too — he could so strongly see Brightwood in him, and through her, Lynx and Frost, that it was almost like having them there. He missed them, and was glad that it was Cloudfern that Greenweave lived with. He could be at least somewhat comfortable with them, the most familiar of the strangers.
He also sought out the company of Farscout, Kestrel, and the three brothers — One-Leg, Blacksnake, and Suddendusk — although it was strange to think of the latter as all 'elders' now. It was even stranger to see the wooden peg, the eyepatch, and all that face-fur. It was Farscout and Kestrel he sought out the most, although now Farscout had left to go scouting again.
Bereft of his first choice, he sat next to One-Leg and Longtooth as the former mended a net. One-Leg may have been known for his rarely-quiet nature, but he was capable of being studious, and at this point neither he nor Newt felt the need to fill the air with chatter. The quiet company was enough; it made Newt feel less alone, even if all he was doing was sitting and watching the comings and goings of the Holt. This time, Newt watched Suddendusk play with Crackle, holding her upside-down by the waist and pretending to dunk her in an imaginary swamp while she shrieked and giggled. Newt had never seen him play like that with cubs. Newt had always felt like Suddendusk didn't like cubs much. He never had that kind of time for Newt, anyway. He was always too busy running off and pulling pranks and playing with his platforms and pulleys and rafts.
Kestrel's scent floated to him from above. He looked up to find her hovering there. At his smile, she settled down on the other side of him from One-Leg, who nodded a silent greeting, and turned her attention to Suddendusk and Crackle. She seemed to know what he was thinking. Or, at least, she made a good guess. "His oldest is only..." she counted in her head, "two or three eights of years older than Crackle."
"Evervale," Newt said, always looking for opportunities to reinforce his knowledge of the various new family trees that had sprung up around him while he slept, and his own tree withered away, branch by branch, root by root. "A plantshaper."
"That's right. It's still very new to all of us. He's changed so much in so short a time. Before Evervale, who is still very young, he was still the cubless, free-running elf you remember. Well, except for the eye, of course."
"When did that happen?"
She laughed. "Oh, cub, I can't remember. A long time ago. Closer to your wrapping than not, though." She watched his thoughtful expression. "You're wondering how it happened."
One-Leg piped up at that. "I think that's a story best told by the one who experienced it. You should ask him. He doesn't mind talking about it."
Maybe now that he had cubs of his own, he'd be a bit more welcoming to Newt than he had been before. Some changes weren't so bad, he figured. "I will." He let his gaze wander around the Dentrees. He found he just sat and watched a lot. There was a lot to take in. "Kestrel? One-Leg?"
"Yes, little one?"
“Did I grow? While I was wrapped?”
Before either elf could pull together an answer, Newt spoke again:
"And I think the wolves have grown, too."
Puzzled, Kestrel looked at the wolves among the elves, but they looked the same as they always had. "I'm not sure what you mean, Newt. What makes you think so?"
"I saw Farscout talking to Longshot and Moss and—” he had to think about it “—Nightstorm, and he was taller than all of them, and he was never that tall before, but he’s just the same as I remember. We both must have grown. And the wolves — they all come up farther on everyone than they ever did before. Look — um, is that Whirl? Her shoulders come up to Windburn's chest. I only ever saw Hammerstrike go up that far, and Hammerstrike was the biggest wolf I'd ever seen. Sure, Whirl is alpha, but she’s female, and not all that much bigger compared to the others." His expression was anxious. The idea of the wolves having gotten bigger distressed him. He was already different enough, small enough.
Kestrel put an arm around Newt and pulled him close, even as she scanned the elves and wolves that were around and mentally compared them to distant, fuzzy memories. It was difficult. "Do I seem bigger to you?”
Newt looked up at her with a scrutinizing look. "No," he finally said. "No, you haven't changed at all, either. You must have grown, too!"
“I don’t think I have,” Kestrel answered. “I don’t think you have, either.”
“Think about it, pup,” One-Leg pointed out. “Your clothes still fit the same when you woke up; they couldn’t have grown as well.”
“I inherited almost all of my mother’s height, but not all of it,” Kestrel explained. “And my father was much taller than both of us. Both Willow and Pathmark are closer to my height, and I was always shorter than most, when I was young. But now I’m not."
Newt frowned with the effort of keeping up with the logic. "So... we haven’t grown. It's just that everyone around has gotten shorter?"
"Every generation seems to get just a bit shorter,” Kestrel said. “It's hard to see when you live in it. I didn’t notice it for a very long time myself, but you have a unique perspective, Newt."
"But what about the wolves?" Newt asked, looking around warily. There was that small brown one again. Why didn't it leave him alone? "I'm sure they're bigger, too."
One-Leg shook his head. "If everyone else is shorter, they'd just look bigger," he explained.
Newt tried not to look too concerned when Longtooth stood and sniffed him. "I'm sure they're bigger," he muttered.
The lean brown wolf, hanging back in the shadows, took a few steps towards Newt, perhaps encouraged by Longtooth’s sniffing.
Kestrel, remembering Newt's difficulties with finding a bond-friend, said, "I think you may have a friend here, Newt."
He turned and glared at the wolf. "Go away!" he said.
"Hey now,” One-Leg protested. “Maybe you should give him a chance."
’No wolf wants me, only Brook did,’ Newt thought, but couldn't bring himself to say the words aloud. Instead, he turned his back to the wolf. ’Well I don't want them, either.’
All is white, too bright to see. Hands clasp his, hold him firm. Scent tells him it's his parents, all three. **We'll not let go,** they say. Their arms hold him, and his secret name locks him to them. They never tell him what it is, but he can feel it pull him to them. They know him, they hold him, they keep him safe, but they start to fade. They do not choose to, but they fade and slip away. He floats, and shapes form in the mist. Glint holds him now. **I'll not let go,** he promises. He does not choose to, either. **NESS!** Newt calls to his brother, and the name holds him briefly, but ultimately cannot keep him, too, from fading. Newt floats past unfamiliar faces, each trying to hold on to him, but none know his name, and he slips through their fingers. He tries to hold to them, strangers as they are, but they fade and disappear. He cannot hold them. They cannot hold him. Newt is alone, and calls for his brother, who does not and cannot answer.
Arms held him firmly, and stroked his hair. He was covered in cold sweat.
"It was a bad dream," Greenweave murmured. "Just a dream. You're fine. You're here. We've got you."
Newt could still feel the shape of Glint’s soul-name bouncing around in his head, and felt ashamed that he might have sent it out in his dream. He'd been trusted with a grave secret, and had betrayed it. Glint was long gone, but Newt still drowned in a flood of shame and grief.
**It's all right, Newt,** Cloudfern sent.
At the sound of his tribe name, empty, devoid of meaning, in his head, Newt pushed away. These people didn't know him. He didn't know them. Strangers, all of them, even the ones he recognized. Nobody knew him, not like his parents did, not like Brook did, not like he'd known Glint, right at the end. There was nothing holding him here, nobody to connect to, not like before. It was all different, all strange, all wrong.
He pushed away again, breaking free of Greenweave's arms. "Leave me alone," he cried. He threw off the furs and ran out of the den, shimmying down the trunk of the Dentree, out into the bright day, away from everyone, everything. Just away.
"Newt!" they called. **Newt! Come back!**
But that name could not hold him. He ran.
He ran until he couldn't run any more, until he had to lean against a tree and just concentrate on drawing breath, one ragged one after the other. Everything in this new world seemed determined to make him feel terrible. He wanted his family, that hurt more than anything, but he felt bad for yelling at Greenweave, his brother's cub, full-grown, wanting to build a new family with him. Newt was grateful for that, and felt awful for having pushed him away, but it just wasn't the same. Greenweave wasn't Glint. Cloudfern wasn't Turtle or Strand.
His parents had known him. Nobody knew him now. He was amazed at how much that hurt.
Movement startled him, and his heart sank. They'd followed, of course they had. They wouldn't let a cub like him, small and weak, run off into the woods in the middle of the day by himself. But it wasn't Cloudfern or Greenweave, it was the small brown wolf that had been shadowing his footsteps almost ever since he'd woken up. Newt just didn't have it in him to deal with this right now.
"Go away!" he shouted. But the wolf stood his ground.
He certainly was persistent; Newt had to give him that. What had Blacksnake called him? Browncoat? The wolf crept forward, his dark eyes locked on Newt's pale ones, but not in challenge—in question, expectation, hope. Newt wanted to turn away again, but found it a hard contact to break. He just didn’t have the strength to fight it. After struggling against it for a heartbeat, he gave up. He didn't believe it would go anywhere anyway. Maybe the only way to get Browncoat to go away was to let him look and decide that Newt wouldn't be a good elf-friend, just like all the other wolves before him, except Brook.
So Newt stayed still, and looked back at Browncoat, and didn't chase him off or turn away this time. Browncoat came up to him slowly, cautiously. When he was close enough, he sniffed Newt from foot to forehead. And then met Newt's gaze again.
’Please,’ Newt thought. ’Not Brook, too. Don’t make me replace her.’
But Brook had been nothing like this one. Both yearlings, yes, but Brook had been bold and upbeat and had made him laugh more times than he could count, even in the short time they’d had together. She’d known her place and was content there. She was going to be big and strong, everyone knew it, and Newt figured she’d chosen him because she wanted someone to protect. Browncoat was bold, but in a different way, a slippery way, he was canny and sly. He had a sharp mind, but was physically weaker than others. He knew his place, too, but wanted more. Brook had been straightforward and uncomplicated. Browncoat was wily and sharp.
Newt realized he wasn't breathing. Browncoat was staying. Tentatively, not yet believing that this was real, Newt reached out and brushed a hand down Browncoat's thick, rough fur. As though that was a signal that Browncoat was waiting for, he licked Newt's face once, and then pressed his side against him, bumping him playfully.
A wolf-friend. He had another wolf-friend. Realization washed over Newt like a flood—the hole that Brook had left was still there, and it still hurt, and he still missed her fiercely. Browncoat wasn’t replacing Brook — he wasn’t filling that hole — he was making a new one. Newt hadn’t realized that he could still mourn Brook and love her and miss her, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t form a new bond.
He had someone, here, now, who knew him and loved him and would hold him here, make him a part of the pack, of the tribe. A connection. He felt the same realization and relief in Browncoat, too — Newt was a connection to the pack for him, something to keep him grounded and included. Newt laughed, and dug his fingers into Browncoat's ruff, bringing the wolf's face back to his own. "We understand each other," he whispered. "It’s like you know my secret name. I know you don’t, but it’s like that, isn’t it? I know wolves don't normally have them, but I'm going to give you one, too."
Browncoat looked at him, not truly understanding, but patient all the same.
**You're Browncoat to the tribe,** Newt lock-sent to his newfound friend. **But you're New Root to me.**
Browncoat didn't understand the words, but he understood the sentiment. In wolf-fashion, he sent back the feeling **pack-home-belonging.**
And for the first time since waking up to a strange new world, Newt felt it too.