(This story takes place at the same time as the events in "I Am Not Him". It is also part of the "Consequences of Willow's Rogue Healing" storyline -- see the listing for more related stories.)
Afternoon Beetle hadn’t slept much since the shared sending. Images from the old memories, coupled with fears for how Willow was handling the shunning made her restless. When the storm rolled in during the third day, Beetle had moved from Willow’s den to find a place where she could watch it. Maybe the sights and sounds of the storm would offer enough distraction for her to rest.
Beetle headed to the Holt’s River and paused at the ledge next to a gnarled old oak tree. She peered down at the water, which would soon be rushing, if the storm dropped enough rain. Beetle decided not to stay there, but to move onward. The wind at her back, Beetle hurried upriver to a point around the bend of the river, where she could climb an even taller tree.
She knew the danger of being so high up in a tree during a storm, but she wanted to see the skyfire, to feel the rain and the thunder. And with the storm’s fast approach, there wasn’t time to head further away, to a spot out on the meadow. No… this was a perfect point for watching the storm. And, if the High Ones were with her, she would be safe this time.
Same day, early evening
The rain had started slowly, but it had not taken long for it to pour in earnest. Beetle was shocked by the chill in the rain and soon wished she had thought to bring her poncho, and maybe a blanket. Still, she didn’t want to leave while the storm was passing. Arcs of skyfire captured her attention, and she was hard pressed to follow one fork of light to its endpoint before the next came.
The thunder shook the trees. Beetle shivered when one flash occurred the same time as its thunder. Then, it started to pass. Beetle stayed in the uppermost branches of the tree, arms wrapped around herself as she tried to watch the storm move into the distance. She was glad she had watched it, but as usual, it had not answered her question. What, exactly, was skyfire?
Deciding she had seen enough, and knowing that she wouldn’t get answers tonight, Beetle slowly and carefully made her way down the soaking tree. It was dark now, but she could go by feel as well as by sight, as long as she was cautious. Wet mosses and molds could make a tree slippery, and Beetle didn’t want to fall.
Reaching the ground, Beetle realized she was shaking from the cold. She was grateful the rain had passed, but knew it was time to return to the Dentrees and get warmed up. She knew Willow wouldn’t be there, but at least she knew Willow was safe and warm in the wrapstuff den. That’s where her lovemate had been holed up for the duration of the shunning.
Or so she thought.
Rounding the bend, Beetle caught Willow’s scent, mixed with something else… the pungent scent of a cider made Beetle’s nose crinkle. What was Willow doing out here? Beetle knew that she was not supposed to see or speak to her lovemate until Windburn decreed that the shunning had ended. Still, Beetle could not stop herself from moving toward the gnarled oak where she could tell Willow was. ‘I need to make sure she’s safe,’ Beetle told herself, justifying her actions to herself by pointing out that no one wanted Willow to get hurt!
She moved slowly and quietly forward, not wanting to disturb Willow. She would just take a peek, make sure her lovemate was safe, and then keep going. She wouldn’t make contact, not really.
Beetle got closer and closer, and finally, leaning on the trunk, she peeked around the tree. Willow was there, leaning against the other side. Her legs were outstretched, and her arms were limp at her side. The Healer was covered in mud, and soaked to the core. ‘She could freeze!’ Beetle thought with alarm, then checked the thought. It wasn’t really cold enough for Willow to freeze, but it was cold enough to be dangerous to her in her uncaring state. At that moment, Beetle wanted nothing more than to defy Windburn, to move around the tree and to rouse her lovemate, who seemed to be in a stupor, and move her to dry ground.
Watching the rise and fall of Willow’s breath, scenting the cider, Beetle pulled herself together and wrapped her arms around herself. ‘I’m sorry, Willow. I can’t warm you up right now. But I can’t leave you here, alone, either.’
Beetle considered getting a blanket from Willow’s den to drape over her lovemate. ‘No,’ she decided. ‘That might be going too far.’ Wondering what else she might do, Beetle thought of something, and hurried off to the Wolf Dens.
Rooter saw her coming and ran toward her. Beetle paused to nuzzle her wolf-friend, then sent to a different wolf, **Sky?**
Willow’s wolf-friend lifted her head, then stood and made her way over. Beetle was careful not to touch the wolf – she knew that she should not be interfering in Willow’s shunning in any way. Still, she would not let Willow stay cold and alone on the bank of the river.
Sky’s stance made the wolf appear puzzled, as if she didn’t know what Beetle was doing. Beetle imaged, **Willow, against a tree, cold and wet. She needs you! **
Sky woofed, then trotted off.
Beetle knew she could trust Willow’s wolf-friend to take care of her. At that moment, Rooter nudged Beetle. She looked at her own wolf-friend and asked, **What?**
Beetle laughed. She was cold, and wet. But she had forgotten about it in her determination to help Willow. “All right,” she laughed at Rooter. “I’m going.”
Rooter nudged her again. She wanted Beetle to ride.
Beetle laughed, but welcomed the offer and climbed onto Rooter’s back. Together, they made their way toward the Dentrees, where Beetle would find a change of clothes and warm up beneath some furs. Perhaps Rooter would stay with her and keep her warm, just as Sky was surely warming up Willow.