Breathing Again   2504.08.03*  
Written By: Holly H., Ellen Million
(2010 Summer Time-Jump Fic Contest) Honey finds that the end of being needed leaves room for other things.
Posted: 10/14/10      [11 Comments]
 

“You’ll have some breathing room again,” Windburn said, before he left with Cinder, and it set off a logjam of tangled emotional response in Honey’s head.

It was the same story as always: no one wanted her, once she was no longer necessary. Windburn was ready for her to go back to her own den and leave him in peace, just as everyone else had discarded her. There were other nursemaids, now, and the minstrations that Willow had soberly performed on her had run their course; motherless Cinder no longer came to her for food, and his father no longer needed Honey’s presence.

Honey didn’t feel like that gave her breathing room again, it felt like she was holding her breath, waiting for the next rejection in a turn of the seasons that had been nothing but rejections.

Honey sighed and fought back stinging tears of defeat. It was time to seek her own den again. Foxtail clearly thought she was planning a coup of her dead mother’s bedfurs; the two of them no longer snipped at each other outright, but there was no denying the wary circling between them. But Honey’s comfort of Windburn, though tactile, had not strayed beyond warm friendship and motherly affection, despite the fact that she had not had a tumble in the furs for so long she’d forgotten what it was like, and Windburn might have welcomed it from her. Certainly, she’d had the opportunities to turn Windburn’s flesh towards her, if not his grief-fragile heart, but it didn’t matter that their touches had never drifted towards the carnal — others at the Holt probably made the same assumptions as Foxtail; they all expected the worst of her at every turn. None of them could credit her for doing something selfless because her friend and his child needed her. They all thought she was self-centered, shallow and power-hungry and looked for some terrible second purpose in her every action.

Windburn’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Evervale was out with the human-chasers in a pointless attempt to learn their barbaric language, and she was the only plantshaper Honey wanted to ask for assistance in shaping her den open again. She’d eat nettles before she asked Cloudfern for help, and Brightwood was nesting with her new infant, Copper. Honey’s heart hurt in her chest, remembering how it had been when Dreamflight — then Goldfinch — was small, and more recently little Cinder. She’d been needed, then. They had loved her, because babies didn’t judge, and weren’t old enough to realize how flawed and despisable she was.

With a second sigh of defeat, Honey went for the opening of the den. Maybe the opening to her old den hadn’t been fully shaped shut. Perhaps an animal had gotten in and enlarged it for its own purpose; it would be fitting to have a den of droppings and filth to live in. Even as she acknowledged the unlikeliness of that possibility, Honey decided to climb up and see. If nothing else, it would be nice to sit up high in the Mother Tree and think about the time she had been loved as a mother and lifemate.

As she stepped out of the den, she ran into Moss, who was climbing in without announcement, and it was only her sharp, “Watch it!” that prevented a complete collision. He was startled, clearly not expecting her presence — probably everyone prefered to forget that she existed entirely — and dropped the painted ceramic bowl that he was carrying to return to Windburn. They both watched in dismay as the chief’s handiwork bounced down the knotted roots of the Father Tree and smashed on the ground below.

“Whoops,” Moss said, and he was starting to grin sheepishly when something in Honey snapped.

“Whoops?” she echoed incredulously. “You think it’s just ‘whoops’ when you break someone else’s things?”

The grin faded from Moss’ face as he backed away from Honey’s sudden assault. Honey followed, the difference in their elevation giving her superior height for once. “You just barge in like everyone else should get out of your way, and destroy precious, useful things without a care in the world!”

“I…”

Honey didn’t let him offer defense, snarling in disgust. “You have no sense of responsibility!” None of them did! She was aware of the silence in the trees around them; the other elves were probably loving the show – this was the behavior they were expecting of her, and knowing it couldn’t halt Honey’s tirade.

“You’re so wrapped up in yourself and your own petty thoughts that you just don’t care about something that someone else spent hours and effort creating! You just want to laugh and brush it off. ‘Whoops!’ Nevermind about anyone else or how much this meant to them. ‘Whoops!’” She wasn’t sure, in fact, whether Windburn would be angry or hurt, or not – he always seemed strangely diffident about the things he painted – but she knew how she would have felt if it had been something she had made.

Moss, clearly baffled and surprised by her fury, made a motion as if to pick up the shards of the pot.

Honey darted between him and the remains, baring her teeth. “Don’t bother,” she snapped. “I’ll take care of that, too.” And in one smooth motion, she picked up the broken pieces of the pot and retreated back into Windburn’s den, where she realized she was shaking and crying, and she hated herself a little more for that.

That Honey had reached the point of snapping — literally — was not a surprise. If anything was surprising, reflected Blacksnake, it was that it had taken her this long.

Certainly, he had been one of those who’d raised an eyebrow when, after Whispersilk’s sudden and shocking death, Honey had moved in to offer her support to the bereaved Windburn and his motherless cub. His nephew Notch, ever the gambler, had offered wagers on Honey’s motives and how long it would take before her true colors showed through… but not even Notch’s own father wanted to take that bet. He was only saying what other elves had to be thinking, the prankster had argued. One-Leg was more inclined to wait and watch, pointing out that Windburn needed all the support his tribe could give him, seemed in his own way to welcome it, and no one should burden the chief with petty squabbling at a time like this. The right of that was perhaps what had kept most from voicing their suspicions too loudly, and, following his brother’s lead for once, Blacksnake had kept his misgivings to himself.

Honey's own brisk and no-nonsense approach also hadn’t hurt. She wasn't the only female in the tribe who had stepped forward and taken up nursing Cinder, with Willow’s help. But, she was the one to move into the chief's den, to be there at any time of the day or night. For all her love of attention and desire for admiration, those traits of hers had been more subdued than at any time Blacksnake could remember. He was sure things hadn't always gone easily or smoothly. His granddaughter Foxtail, too, was on far better behavior these past moons — but the tribe was under great stress, the chief's daughter one of those most affected, and he couldn't believe that she had always held her sharp tongue when it came to Honey's persistent intrusion into what Foxtail might well have seen as her own territory.

If Honey had designs on replacing Foxtail's mother in the chief's life, she was playing a far more subtle game than Blacksnake had ever seen her play — or thought her capable of playing. It was a reminder that Windburn and Honey had grown up as near-agemates, and had been friends from their youth. If she had set her sights on Windburn once, long before he wore the chief's torc, long before either of them experienced Recognition to others, that meant nothing for the Now except that they were, still, friends.

Interestingly, when it happened, the event that caused the explosion had not come from the quarter Blacksnake would have expected, either. It wasn't Notch or Foxtail who had put Honey's back up with an ill-timed remark; instead, it was a simple accident with Moss that had broken the dam. Blacksnake hadn't seen it himself, but he heard about it almost as soon as he'd returned from his errand to the craft-dens — the Holt was buzzing with the way she'd pinned the drummer's ears back. He wondered what Windburn would make of the entire thing.

Maybe nothing. Windburn had known Honey since childhood, after all. He should know her moods and their ups and downs as well as anyone. If he chose to deal with this by ignoring it, no one could blame him, and maybe it was the best thing to do, at that. But Blacksnake had another idea, and perhaps he could do his son the favor of defusing some of this problem for him.

He followed his nose to the chief's den, and pushing the hide covering aside, found what he'd expected — Honey sitting by herself, mending by the light of several candles even though it was still light enough outside for such work. By sound and scent, the rest of the den was empty of either the chief or his son; Blacksnake wondered who had care of Cinder at the moment, but it didn't matter. It was fortunate the baby wasn't there. There was nothing left for Honey to hide behind.

Honey looked up at him, a flash of surprise on her face followed by irritation that quickly became wariness. "Windburn isn't here," was her tired greeting. There was a redness around her eyes and nose that she couldn’t hide.

"I'm not looking for Windburn," Blacksnake replied. "I was looking for you." Her expression became, if possible, even more wary. Eyeing the pile of green and brown in her lap, he cut right to the point. "You haven't worn those leathers in moons. You should be out getting them dirty, not sitting inside petting them."

With an air of wounded dignity that was so very familiar on her, she reminded him, "I've been busy with other things."

"Yes, you have," Blacksnake agreed, "and very commendably, too." He saw her eyes narrow as she tried to decide whether he meant that sincerely or sarcastically. "But if you stay cooped up here much longer, you're either going to gnaw your own leg off, or take someone's head off — which, unlikely as it seems, is looking like an actually credible threat." At that — definitely ironic in tone — she flushed and looked down. "When was the last time you went out hunting?"

"I don't remember," Honey muttered, and he could hear the weariness in her voice and see it in her posture. She only looked up again when he crossed the room and bent down, hands on knees, to get a glimpse of her face.

"That's your problem right there, then," he told her. He knew that she could have turned to others to spell her vigils, as others had spelled her in the task of nursing. He knew that even Windburn had been coaxed away from the Dentrees on short hunts — Thornbow and True Edge had managed that a few times, hard as it was to get the chief to leave his son out of his sight these days. But not even her own brother had managed to do the same for Honey.

"You made at least some progress over the winter," Blacksnake continued, standing upright again. "Even if it was slow, you were coming along. But you let all that go. I wonder if Mooncrier even remembers your scent."

That did seem to sting her. "I've practiced since then!" she protested.

"Shooting at targets around the Holt." He let himself sound scornful, even though he actually felt some admiration for her refusal to abandon her ambitions entirely. He wasn't here to soothe her, but to get her up on her feet and moving, and the way to do that was to make her want to prove him wrong. "That's not the same, and you know it."

"It's just... hard," she said, sighing deeply and sounding helpless against the way life was conspiring against her — and that was something that Blacksnake emphatically did not want to hear. That sounded like the old Honey, not the one who'd worked and struggled this past year trying to become a hunter.

It had surprised him as much as anybody, to see how much good it had done her to try and succeed, even if the success came slowly. But she'd become trapped again inside this role she'd imposed on herself — Windburn's friend and helpmate, the warmth and source of nourishment that Cinder needed — as much as she now seemed trapped within the circle of the Dentrees. It wasn't just a matter of her skills withering. He'd seen a better elf emerging during that time when she'd been struggling to learn, out of the Holt and riding hard in partnership with her wolf-friend, bending her mind to the challenges of the hunt.

"Of course it's hard," he countered, deliberately misunderstanding her. "You knew it would be hard when you decided to become a hunter. It won’t get any easier just by sitting here and thinking about it, either." He tapped her lightly with his forefinger, right in the center of her forehead. "Stop thinking, and get up and start doing."

"I —"

"Come on," Blacksnake said impatiently. "Get up. Windburn is out somewhere, and someone else is watching Cinder. You have your hunting leathers right there. Let's go."

Several expressions chased themselves across her face. She looked a little stunned that she didn't have any argument to muster. "With you? You want me to go hunting with you?"

Blacksnake was already at the den's door, holding the hide curtain open. "Can you think of anyone better?"

Anyone would have been better than Blacksnake, Honey decided, chewing on her lower lip. Even One-Leg’s roars were better than that judgemental, calculating look that Blacksnake always gave her. “Rabbit,” she finally said, pointing at one of the only clear footprints. “But small. A few of them, or maybe just a common trail.” When Blacksnake gave her no signal of approval, she justified, “You can’t see any back footprints, but the pads aren’t distinct enough for weasel, and it’s not webbed like otter. Too big for squirrels.”

He continued to watch her until she snapped, “What, then?”

“You tell me,” Blacksnake returned, no hint in his expression. “What, then?”

Honey let her breath out in a rush, not aware she’d held it in. She was right, then, and Blacksnake was waiting for her to make a next move. “It’s not much for prey,” she said, trying to guess what kind of a decision he was looking for. “But, if it’s a trail they use a lot, something better might use it, too…” She stood up and Mooncrier stood as well, looking down the trail with interest, but graciously falling back to let Honey go first to scout the trail. The scents were too layered for useful information, but Honey kept her nostrils open anyway, picking along the faint game trail through the thick forest.

She lost it several times, and had to backtrack, gritting her teeth against Blacksnake’s mocking look of amusement when she did. He was waiting for her to fail this, too, and Honey wasn’t going to— She froze suddenly, mid-thought, as a chance breeze brought a new scent to her. Mooncrier didn’t notice it, and a quick glance showed that Blacksnake hadn’t either, though he was watching her carefully.

Abandoning the rabbit trail entirely, Honey took a bold step into the underbrush, fighting through a tangle of wild roses to a crushed path that dwarfed the tiny trail they had been following. Something large had passed here, not long ago, leaving an unmistakable trail of damage through the forest.

Blacksnake inspected the damp ground in the center of the path, and Honey knelt beside him.

“What do you make of it?” he asked her, and Honey knew better than to think he was asking her opinion as an equal — she was here as a student and this was more testing.

“I make dinner of it,” she said, defying the role with a flash of teeth and anger. Giving no other answer to his prodding question, she howled a hunting call at Mooncrier and swung up onto her pale shoulders without waiting for Blacksnake’s response.

The direction of the path was clear, and the breakage of the underbrush was unhurried and within a day’s use — Honey let Mooncrier follow her own instincts, pausing her only to inspect a place the giant creature had rubbed its still-new antlers against a tree, to confirm her guess as to the animal’s nature.

“Marshbeast,” she told Blacksnake, daring him to refute her. They smelled too much like the more common branch-horn to her to know by scent, but marks on the tree trunks here were broader and higher than any branch-horn would make.

She felt him draw in mentally, clearly preparing to call the rest of the hunt – a marshbeast could be brought down by two hunters, if they were lucky, but would take more elves than only them to butcher and salvage. Honey stopped him with a quick, determined send: **Call them after I take it down. This one is mine.** She wouldn’t admit that she wasn’t sure if she could, and let no trace of that idea enter her mind as she spoke to him.

Half-expecting him to overrule her, Honey scrambled back onto Mooncrier and led them both away along the trail. Marshbeasts were lazy and slow, and though their legs were very long, they tended to ramble and eat along the way: a quick chase should cut the distance between them in short order.

She had missed this, cooped up at the Holt in her self-imposed imprisonment to care for Cinder and Windburn. Mooncrier surged beneath her, happy, wolfy thoughts only for chase-and-find-and-interesting-calling-smells, and trees fell away beside her as they closed the gap between predator and prey.

Forest opened onto swampy marsh, favored feeding grounds for the giant deer. Rather than pursuing the trail onto the soft ground, Honey looked at the moisture still pooled in the fresh hoofprints, shot Blacksnake a look of challenge, and led them along the relatively high ground downwind. She was just beginning to doubt her choice, and was considering turning them back to find the trail again to follow directly, when she was rewarded by a glimpse through the high scrub of an enormous, hump-backed monster of a marshbeast, feasting, oblivious, on the swampy greenery.

Mooncrier wanted to charge, but Honey firmly willed her back, and dismounted, stringing her bow with a smooth, practiced motion. Wordlessly, Blacksnake did the same.

It didn’t hear them over its own determined munching, and Honey was able to creep forward to find a clear spot where she could stand, plant her feet, suck in a deep breath, and draw an arrow back on her string.

She held it, waiting for the right breath of wind, the right angle, the right presentation of the animal. She’d brought down deer before, but those ribs were the size of a pair of fingers – a marshbeast had ribs thicker than her bow. Where her arrow would splinter the ribs of a normal deer and find the heart right through them, she had to get her shot between a marshbeast’s ribs, or it would shatter her arrow instead, and they’d spend a long day chasing the beast trying to get another shot.

Honey waited, watching the ripple of hide on the beast, willing her pounding heart to slow. This was her chance. This was her shot. She loosed the arrow, and could breathe again.

Though he wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, Blacksnake was holding his breath as well — from the moment Honey’s arrow left the bowstring, followed a heartbeat later by his own, until he saw the moose bull stumble and go down — first onto one knee, and then crashing onto its side. The howl he let out from that pent-up breath was relief as well as delight.

“Ayooah! That’s done it!” It was pure reflex to clap his huntmate on the shoulder, and he only felt a little badly when it staggered her. Probably she hadn’t been expecting it; the look she gave him was equal parts affront and surprise. He ignored that and returned her scowl with a grin. “Come on – let’s get a look at this prize of yours.”

He was willing to give her that — only fair to call the prey hers. She’d picked up the trail, after all. For all he knew, her arrow might have been the one to kill it. It had looked like a good shot, and High Ones knew, a marshbeast presented a big enough target, and they’d managed to get close enough to it that anyone could have hit it with a child’s bow. Getting that close, though, had been admirable enough, as green a hunter as Honey still was. And getting an arrow between the ribs to hit the heart took skill and a steady hand, so if she’d hit her mark, that counted as a triumph.

They’d see in a moment whether his arrow had been necessary or not. He’d let her shoot first, but had been unwilling to leave the outcome to one lone shot. He’d been on too many hunts, too many to remember, spent tracking prey for hours before it finally fell dead, to change repeating that if they didn’t have to. To tell the truth — and he planned not to admit this to anyone, either — he hadn’t been sure that the two of them would succeed this time, even with both of them shooting. A marshbeast was bigger prey than a pair of hunters usually went after, and dangerous prey, at that. But Honey was learning, and if they’d missed the target and the young bull had gotten away, then she would still have learned something from this night’s work.

Wasp and Mooncrier were now circling the mountain of a carcass eagerly, while Foamspray spiralled overhead, trilling to itself about what a big wrapping job it had in store. Long habit made Blacksnake approach the beast from behind, his knife drawn, and when Honey began to move as if she intended to go around the other side, his hand on her arm held her back.

When he had her attention, he shook his head. “Don’t get near its hooves. And mind its head.”

She stared at him, brow furrowed. “It’s dead!”

“You think it’s dead,” he corrected her, and when she opened her mouth to argue, he said, “So do I — but it’s a better idea to make sure of it from an angle where it can’t kill you, just in case it’s not.”

“I know that,” she snapped. “But we saw this one fall — we know it’s dead, this time.”

“Just because it fell doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some kick left in it — and it would only take one. Believe me,” Blacksnake told her seriously, “I know. Let’s just make sure.”

Its antlers were still growing and covered in half-shredded velvet, but he approached them with respect as well. When he put one hand on the sweep of the upper antler, there was no jerk of movement; a good sign. If there was truly life left in the young bull, all of Blacksnake’s strength wouldn’t be enough to hold it; and he knew it could kill him by throwing him against a tree as readily as any other way. But there was no risk-free way to do what had to be done. With one steadying hand on the antler, and his knee planted on the beast’s neck, he leaned in and sliced through as much of the thick neck as he could.

Now Honey circled around, to get a better look at what he was doing, and he let her. “Open up the throat — cut its airway, and the big blood-vessels that run along here — and you’ll be sure of the kill,” he instructed her, though he was sure she had heard it before. It did no harm to repeat the lesson. “There. Dead for certain, now.”

“If you say so.” She said that with such peculiar emphasis that he looked up immediately, and saw her regarding him with irritation, arms crossed.

“What?” Half his mind was on the task of wiping his knife’s blade on the bull’s pelt, but at least half was ready to start wondering why the younger elf still seemed edgy and tense as a drawn bowstring, when she should have been celebrating what had to be the biggest kill she’d ever made. His brows lowered. “What’s the matter?”

“I could have done that!” Honey exclaimed, flinging her arms wide. “I would have done it if I hadn’t known the beast was dead already, because I shot it, and I knew it was a good shot, too!”

She was close enough to him now to thump him on the arm in emphasis, and Blacksnake looked down at her, bemused at this sudden tirade. Where had this come from?

“Yes, it was a good shot — “ he agreed, but she didn’t let him go on. Her hand fisted in the front of his tunic and tugged, trying to bring him down closer to her level, or pull herself up closer to his, he wasn’t sure which. He was leaning down already, and she still had to stand on her toes to snarl in his face.

Illustration by Holly H.
“If you thought it was such a good shot, then why did you shoot, too?” she demanded. Then, she supplied the answer herself, “You didn’t think I could do it!”

**I shot,** Blacksnake sent to her, very patiently, wanting her to know the truth of it, **because only a fool would bet everything on a single arrow bringing down a big bull like that.** He was truly baffled by her anger — didn’t she understand that he wouldn’t have let her pursue this prey if he hadn’t had at least some confidence in his hunting companion? He would have taken that shot no matter who he’d been hunting with, even with one of the best archers in the tribe.

**My single arrow did bring it down! It hit true, I know it did!** she blazed back at him, all indignation. **You just didn’t trust my aim! You didn’t trust that I could really do it, and do it right! Nobody thinks I can do anything right!**

Moons above! It was worse than being caught up in strangleweed! She probably didn’t even realize how much she was revealing in her sending, how far beyond this one incident her distress and insecurities went – she wasn’t listening to him, she was well beyond anything he could say to try to make her see things from another point of view. She was panting in his face, eyes blazing, teeth bared, looking for a fight — and he had to admire her willingness to do that, with him of all people, even if the fight she was picking was a foolish one.

He also couldn’t shut out what his other senses were telling him. Her scent was a heady combination of the thrill of the hunt, her current anger and frustration, and an unmistakeable need and arousal that he wondered if she recognized herself. It wasn’t unexpected, he felt it too, it was the best thing about a good hunt: how alive it made you feel. And by the High Ones, he’d known she’d been cooped up too long, known she needed to get out and get her blood pumping.

Stupid to waste that on a silly fight like this.

She was still pulling at him, so he let himself be pulled further, closer to her so that they were almost nose to nose. And when he was close enough, Blacksnake bared his teeth in return, growling low in his throat — a warning, but not an angry sound. He waited just until he could see the look in her eyes shift from outrage to question, then dropped his head to nip at the curve of her jawline, teeth closing with a snap just short of her earlobe.

He did it, he mused later, in large part just to see what she would do, what she would make of that response from him. He wasn’t the flirt his brothers were, this wasn’t what she would ever have expected of him – so what would she do with it? That was what he wanted to know. He knew he wasn’t wrong about what her scent said she wanted, needed right now, and it wasn’t a fight — he wasn’t wrong about that, either.

Honey’s first reaction was to rear back from his lunge and the sudden noise by her ear, eyes going wide and shocked. Watching her, the start of a smile on his lips, Blacksnake didn’t move, and certainly didn’t withdraw. The next move had to be hers. Would she run, or stand her ground? He had to admit it, he was impressed so far, but it would be disappointing if —

A sharp tug on his tunic drew them close together again, and her responding growl had an entirely pleasant whine of hunger to it. Her lips and teeth grazed his throat, her other hand hooking around the back of his neck to help pull herself up against him. Laughing softly, he took that as agreement, lifting her entirely to swing her up and over the carcass of their kill. She shifted in his grip, her hand running down over his skin until she could reach and work on releasing his belt buckle.

He carried her only as far as the first clear bit of ground, away from the blood that had already been spilled. She pushed his tunic off his shoulders, trapping his arms and interfering with his own attempts to pull even with her in the race to divest each other of clothing, and when he growled at her again she growled right back, unheeding of his protest. This was not, he realized, what he would have thought she would be like, so fierce and bold and determined —

Growls and whines and snarls of another sort reached his ears, then, and he had just enough attention left to spare for the thought that the wolves would not be very patient with their bonds’ distraction — but if something wasn’t done, they’d ruin the beast’s valuable hide tearing at it, and its spilled guts would only increase the danger that the kill would attract trouble in the form of other predators. Knowing the wolves wouldn’t like it, Blacksnake still took the time to gasp out, “Foamspray — make wrapstuff!” He waved a hand in the kill’s direction, hoping the bug’s sense of duty would override what he was sure would be its fascination with what the elves were doing.

**Forget that,** Honey sent to him, demanding his attention. **I want —**

**I know.** What Honey wanted, for once, was simple — primal, carnal, insistent, and completely of the Now — and that, he could give her.

Honey breathed again, feeling the air at the very bottom of her lungs, deeper than anything had touched her in a turn of the seasons. It hadn’t been the kind of lovemaking she usually demanded — there had been no tender words, caresses, or courtship, only raw need and rough play. It was a wonder none of the nips had drawn blood — there certainly had been no thought for gentleness in her mind, and the bruises she suspected she would find the following night said that hadn’t been high in Blacksnake’s thoughts either. Though it was nothing like her usual furplay, somehow, it was exactly what she needed.

She didn’t feel like napping, despite the comfortable exhaustion in her limbs, and she wriggled out of Blacksnake’s arms and stood to look at her kill, muffled in white silk.

The kiss of cool wind on her bare skin was pleasant, and she felt more like she had just emerged from wrapstuff than when she actually had. She felt alive again, like a real elf and less like a doll, playing out a role in a drama that she wanted no part of but was powerless to resist.

Mooncrier was glaring at her, ears back with displeasure. A hunt that ended in wrapstuff and out-of-season distraction was no kind of hunt to her mind, and she wasn’t nearly as impressed by the kill as Honey was. Honey was used to letting things bubble up in her throat and spill out — mostly angry things she usually regreted later and never apologized for, but she was happy to find laughter this time, as irresistable as breathing. She nudged Blacksnake with a foot as she pulled her leathers on. “Come on,” she said in reply to his grumble. “Let’s dress my kill,” she said cheerfully.

The raised eyebrow and knowing look he gave her would have hurt her feelings, only earlier that night. Now it only caused more laughter.

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