"Dreamflight!“ Newt’s chipper voice echoed through the Holt.
The elf in question turned around to look for the cub flying toward her on his bond’s back. Though she had agreed to teach Newt birdcalling, she'd been avoiding him for various reasons. The foremost of those was, of course, she wasn’t sure if she was up to teaching him yet, with her feelings toward him still so conflicted. On the one hand, it was maddening to watch him taking her place in her father's affections day by day; on the other hand, he was just too open and friendly a cub, even toward her, to really hate him for her father's choices.
Still, she was not really up to teaching him birdcalling today. She lowered her fishing spear to the ground and waited for the pale boy to catch up, her face an indifferent mask as Newt boldly swung from Browncoat’s back in mid-stride and stumbled the last few steps toward her. He pushed his hood back as he came to a stop, laughing in delight. The corners of Dreamflight's lips twitched uncertainly upward in the face of his enthusiasm, but she managed to hold on to her forced neutrality.
“What is it, Newt?” she asked.
“I wondered...” Newt said, catching his breath and straightening up. “Cloudfern said today I could come with you and listen to the birds. See?” He held out a little cup full of a salve that smelled of crushed plants and tallow. “He made me this to tend sunburns if we're out too late, but he said it’s unlikely since the weather's so mild. He thinks it'll be fine. Greenweave agreed as well. So will you take me with you today?” he finally wrapped up his rambling question, his pinkish eyes gleaming up at her.
Several times already Dreamflight had turned Newt down with ready excuses. Often, she had not even needed to do this, so long as she kept up until the daylight hours, because then his precious foster fathers wouldn’t let him go anyway. Many times, she'd been able to put him off simply by telling him to go and ask them first, but it seemed that Newt had already anticipated such a response this time.
“I've been practicing my calls, but it still sounds a lot like an elf trying to whistle. I though that we could search for birds today and you could show me how to do it right.” He beamed up at her again. “Greenweave said we could probably find a flock anywhere that berries are getting ripe. He said that we only have to keep our eyes open.”
Dreamflight’s hesitant smile fled completely, and she turned a much cooler stare on the cheerful cub. There was this ugly tugging, a bitterness that made her want to punish Newt for talking to her father, and Greenweave too, for giving Newt the same easy bits of advice he would have imparted to her when she was the pale cub's age. She sighed and shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Newt. I promised to help One-Leg with the nets.” It wasn’t even a lie. She had promised the elder that she'd lend him a hand.
Newt’s excitement rapidly turned to disappointment. “But... will it take that long?” he asked. “It’s still early.” He was hoping to salvage the evening, but Dreamflight was as prepared as ever.
“I don’t know. It seemed like a real mess.” She sighed and shrugged one shoulder. “If I have enough time, I'll come and find you.” She didn’t intend to, but she didn’t want to be rude. Besides, turning him down outright would probably earn her a talk from Cloudfern or Greenweave, and she didn't feel like hearing again just how unfair she was being... especially not from those two.
Newt bit his lip and looked aside. For a moment Dreamflight feared he’d offer his help or, even worse, tell her to ask Greenweave to help. There was this hint of an idea in his eyes, but finally he dropped his shoulders in resignation.
“All right,” he said, his voice low and sad. “I'll wait for you.” He turned to leave. He called for Browncoat but didn’t hop on his wolf’s back, starting back to the Holt at the wolf's side in a dejected walk.
The blonde fisher felt a little guilty as she watched him go, but shook off the feeling quickly. It wasn’t as if Newt made her feel so overjoyed, after all. She turned to go help One-Leg like she had promised.
Lightjaw grunted with pleasure as Greenweave raked the narrow-toothed comb down her flank, then flopped fully onto her back on the cool earth at the base of the Craft Trees, legs twitching in anticipation of the next stroke. Her bond laughed at her antics, even as he leaned in to get at her stomach.
"All right, all right, but it's not as if you actually have any winter coat left, you know. Not that it matters to you. I'm sure you'd have me keep this up until you went bald, wouldn't you?" The wolf snorted at him and pawed the air impatiently until the grooming resumed.
"Soft as gentleberries," Cloudfern teased, dusting off his hands and rising from his freshly-cleared work spot to "rescue" his lifemate from the demanding wolf. He crouched down behind Greenweave and pulled him backwards into his arms. "Next she'll have you hunting for her."
"Hey!" Greenweave laughed as he was captured. "If I'm that soft, you'd better be careful with me or you'll wind up with a handful of squish."
Cloudfern chuckled huskily in Greenweave's ear, nuzzling hopefully under his jaw as his hands roved lower. "Well, perhaps not so soft as that..."
The moment was interrupted by Browncoat bounding up to Lightjaw from the forest and striking an assertive pose before the older wolf. His posturing earned the youngster nothing more than a yawn and an unconcerned ear-twitch, effectively deflating his hopes that there would be any vying for rank. A few moments later, Newt wandered in on his bond's heels, shoulders slumped and face downcast. Without a word, he wriggled in between the two adults, leaning heavily on Greenweave.
Cloudfern and Greenweave exchanged raised eyebrows over Newt's head, but Greenweave responded to the tacit request for comfort by putting an arm around Newt's thin shoulders.
"What happened, star-top? I thought you were going to try and catch Dreamflight before it got too late."
"She was already busy. I think she's going to make sure to stay busy until sunup." Newt's voice was muffled against Greenweave's vest, but the words drew a frown from the older elf. For all that Newt was adjusting much better to his new place in the world these days, Greenweave knew that there were still underlying uncertainties within him about this new life, and the continued rejection by one who the boy saw as his sister had to sting even more as a result. "I don't think Dreamflight likes me very much," Newt confessed softly, as if saying the words made them true.
**And I think Dreamflight's had her head wedged under her tail for far too long,** Cloudfern sent tightly to Greenweave, his eyes flashing. **If she thinks that her self-pity is an excuse to keep hurting Newt...!**
**Dreamflight's made up her mind that her hurt is the most important thing in her world,** Greenweave sent back, even as he carded his fingers soothingly through Newt's hair. **If eight hands of turns and more of the tribe trying to get through to her haven't changed that, taking her by the scruff again won't either. She needs to come around in her own time.** His frown deepened as he glanced down at their son. **But that doesn't mean that we have to treat her hurt as if it's the most important thing in our world.**
"Newt," Greenweave said out loud, "you know that Honey and I were Recognized, don't you? And that we used to be lifemates?"
The boy looked up, confused at what this had to do with matters of the here-and-now, but nodded.
"We weren't happy together, not truly. And a lot of that was my fault for not taking a stronger stand when we Recognized." He gave Cloudfern a look that, even after all these years, still held apology. "Both of us... we saw what we thought we wanted much more clearly than what we had in front of us, and we caused each other -- and those around us -- a lot of heartache before I finally got my head turned around right. Cloudfern was one of those, and the one I regret hurting the most. But when I treed with Cloudfern again, Dreamflight took it very badly. I can't blame her for that -- she and Honey always seemed to understand each other better than she and I did. I truly think she lost her closest friend when Honey went into wrapstuff. And then her world got another shaking up right on the heels of that when I showed that Honey had never had all of my heart the way a lifemate should. So, for a long time, she's been very angry at me for going back to Cloudfern and at Cloudfern for 'stealing' me away." Despite the moment, there was some amusement in Greenweave's voice at that last idea.
Newt frowned a little. "That... doesn't make sense. If you chose to go back to Cloudfern..."
"We don't always snap at the targets that make the most sense when we're hurting," Cloudfern said. "Unfortunately, where you fit into this whole tangled mess is a situation as old as the trees. Almost every older sibling starts feeling replaced when there's a new pup in the den, and Dreamflight's gotten herself doubly stuck. She likely feels like you're here to take her place, but she can't really say anything about it because she's the one who chose to keep herself out of Greenweave's life start with."
"And saying that this is upsetting her would mean admitting that she wants anything to do with me. Hey...!" Lightjaw, Browncoat, and Spirit, apparently tired of being left out of the attention completely, crowded in around their bonds, jostling the elves until they found comfortable places to flop down near, and, in some cases, partially atop them. "All right, now I'm berry squish," Greenweave muttered, shoving Lightjaw's grinning muzzle off of his shoulder.
"What?" Newt blinked, resettling himself from where Browncoat had practically pushed him into Cloudfern's lap.
"Never mind." Greenweave gave Newt a little squeeze. "Anyway, what I was saying is that showing that she wants anything to do with me means admitting to a number of things that Dreamflight really doesn't want to fess up to." Greenweave sighed. "And on top of it all, she probably thinks that forgiving me also means that she valued her relationship with her mother as little as she thinks I did mine."
Newt had long since lifted his head, but his expression was now as troubled as it had been melancholy. "I didn't mean to make her feel as if she'd been replaced. If I'd known..."
Greenweave and Cloudfern spoke up at the same time.
"Dreamflight's sulk isn't because of anything you could help."
"You didn't do anything wrong."
A moment's pause, then Cloudfern continued the explanation. "I know from experience that it doesn't feel this way when she's taking her hurt out on you, but this is Dreamflight's problem, Newt, not yours. She's had a very long time to work out the tangle in her heart and mind, but she's shut her ears and eyes to everything that doesn't feed into the idea that she's been wronged. Trust me... almost everyone in the tribe has tried to talk about this with her before, and she won't hear. Only Dreamflight can change things, and so far she's decided that she won't."
Newt rested his head on Greenweave's shoulder, his feet propped up on Browncoat's ribs. "It's so sad," he murmured, "that she's stuck like that."
"I suppose it is." When Greenweave spoke again, his words were slow and considered. "In a way, she's as much trapped in time as you were, and it is sad that she's chosen to do that to herself while the people who love her are still at-hand and relationships can still be mended." Greenweave's last words were steeped in regret.
Cloudfern reached over and squeezed his lifemate's hand, both reassurance and a quiet warning against unpacking too many old sadnesses in one night. In some ways, the plantshaper thought that Greenweave was very like Dreamflight in terms of long memory. The difference lay in which of them was more tractable, more willing to learn lessons from the painful past that went beyond the personal hurt. "But she chose to put herself in her current position, Newt, so don't feel as if any grudge she's holding against you is because you've done something wrong. Cloudfern's right -- this is Dreamflight's problem."
Newt sat contemplatively for a time, his pale eyes distant as he digested this new information. "But... you won't be upset if I still want to learn how to do birdcalls?"
Greenweave cocked his head to one side. "No, not at all. I don't have Tossfur's skill for mimicry, but..."
"No, I mean with Dreamflight," Newt said, gripping one of Greenweave's braids insistently. "She has to say yes at some point, doesn't she?"
"She doesn't," Greenweave cautioned, "but if you want to keep trying to hold her to her word, we won't stop you. Just don't expect much to come of it right away."
"If ever," Cloudfern added, only half-joking. "But the usual rules apply, Newt. Let us know first, especially if you think you'll be out past sunrise."
"I will." At this point, Newt would normally have bounced to his feet in pursuit of his newest goal, but instead remained snuggly in the heart of the bundle of elvish and wolvish affection, his thoughtful expression lingering as he turned Greenweave's words over in his mind. They'd both been trapped in time, even if one had been by choice. He'd never heard it explained that way, but the idea that maybe he and his sister weren't as dissimilar as they seemed after all resonated. It meant he had a stronger point of connection than birdcalls to consider.
It meant that maybe he could help.