"Foxtail? Are you in there?"
The voice penetrated the wood and leather protecting her den and the sleepy redhead mumbled and turned to her side, tugging the sleeping-furs further over her head. It felt like she had only just fallen asleep and her body refused to do more than adjust positions. Who knew that actually working beyond the necessary could be so consuming? Her eyes felt dry and tired, her fingers sore, and, as consciousness began to assert itself, she registered that some sort of tense crick had developed at the base of her neck.
How on earth had her mother spent entire moonrises and then some bent over the loom? Just a few hours left Foxtail feeling as if she had been pummeled badly in a game of smackball... With Notch at his most vicious and accurate. No one even seemed to notice her hard work for the most part. Certainly not her father. Eyes still closed, she blindly tugged at the fur of her covering. Then again, her father noticed so little about her that it was no surprise. Though it brought discomfort to her stomach, as it usually did when Foxtail thought about relations with her Father, she had to admit that it was nice to be out of his view at times. Less mischief meant less humiliation and punishment.
Besides, just the fact that his mind had returned was enough. She curled up tighter in her furs and pushed that thought from her mind. She did not like to think on those long, tense days after her mother's death. It had been a taste of power but not what she had wanted at all. There had been too many eyes and lines and uncertainties. It had started her thinking and she had not even been able to explain her ideas to Notch. The twisting in her stomach worried her on that point, too. When could she not talk to Notch?
Suddenly, Foxtail was glad for the distraction of an intruder and, despite her body's protest, pushed the furs down and sat up. As she stretched, she shot a sharp send, impatient and edged with lingering sleep to buy time before the noise started again. **I’m up! I’m up! Stop your hollering before you wake every living thing in the Holt, Rainpace.** When her old friend’s response was a wordless mental touch shaded with guilt, she could not stop herself but burst into giggles. Quickly stepping to the entry and tugging aside the leather enough to poke her head out, she grinned down at the sheepish elf standing below, her breath misting in the cold air. **Just a flick,** she added.
As she drew back, she registered that Rainpace had not been alone and paused in her reach for tunic and leggings. He had brought the cub. Of all things to go and do when waking her this early, why would he do that? Cubs, in Foxtail’s opinion, leashed you so closely to the Dentrees that you might as well give it up and settle down. If you cared at all, that was. She imagined that her mother and father often went about their business as usual when she was tiny. Then again, her mother’s duties were generally Holt-bound, anyway. Bad example.
Foxtail tugged her undershirt over her head, then her fitted vest and pushed the hood back to hang heavy with its tail down her back. Just look at Farscout. In the days after Copper’s birth, he could barely be out of her sight. Forget his long, ground-eating travels that brought so many interesting stories back to them all.
Slower now, she stepped into her leggings, doing up the ties with absent fingers. Except Farscout had been forced to wait many long turns for the chance to hold both his daughter and his lifemate. Longer than Foxtail had been alive. At that chilling thought, she quickly snatched her boots and hair tie from the low shelf near the entrance, pushed back the leather covering, and slipped down the stairs emerging from the tree's sturdy trunk. The moment she was low enough, she leapt, bypassing the final few steps in the interest of reaching the expectant Rainpace faster.
Foxtail glanced at the little bundle in his arms and then rewarded him with a wry smile. "So now that you've gotten me up, what are you going to do with me?"
"Well, I was just thinking..." He hesitated and she immediately grew suspicious, directing her attention to his precious cargo once more. Following her look, Rainpace cracked a grin fit to split his face and adjusted the weight so he could wiggle a hand free and move aside a portion of the bindings. A small face came into view, sleepy and peaceful. "You haven't visited in a while," he continued.
She fought to keep her shoulders from drooping in reactive guilt and instead took another step closer. "How's Chicory handling you taking the cub out of her sight?" she asked. Without realizing it, her voice had dropped into a low whisper as if afraid to disturb the sleeping cub.
Rainpace laughed. "She's encouraging it now," he admitted. "I think she misses sleep and she's nearly had her fill of me, too."
Foxtail looked up with a raised eyebrow. "That's possible?" she teased. "I thought you two were still moon-mad over each other. Isn't it supposed to be every precious moment and all that?"
"Now you're just being a brat." With a little jerk of his head, Rainpace indicated that he wanted her to walk along with him. She rolled big green eyes in response and held up her boots. He sighed and instead moved towards the low hump of a protruding root. Foxtail watched him keenly as he settled himself, careful not to jar Glow as he found a comfortable curve. Glow? She blinked, realizing that she had just named the cub properly in her head and annoyed that it taken so long. Maybe she was a selfish, horrible elf, after all. Every cub was precious, every life a gift, and this one sort of belonged to her. In a way. Considering who the mother was. Almost panicking now, Foxtail hurried over to claim the spot next to him.
Rainpace looked up in surprise at her sudden movement but then relaxed into a smile and drew the coverings back even further. "Isn't she the most perfect cub ever?" he asked, warmth and pride evident in his voice.
Leaning further over to give Glow an obedient look, Foxtail noted the snub nose and tiny mouth like a little field flower bud, the way her pale eyelashes fanned out over chubby cheeks and cast shadows. At the further rearrangement of the coverings, a little fist popped free and hung in the air until gravity pulled it back down to rest on her stomach. She tried to remember Cinder looking so small and helpless and sweet. When she could only conjure bittersweet images of her brother held in their mother's arms, she gave her head a little shake and allowed her boots to drop to the ground. Reaching out, she touched a finger to one of Glow's fists. "She's pretty," she finally whispered. "Not at all like a mushed-up tree-wee."
An annoyed grumble slipped from Rainpace and she giggled. "Of course she's pretty," he answered. "She looks like her mother." Glow shifted a bit under the combined weight of their eyes and her father's words and Rainpace's smile again went lopsided. He disentangled one hand to stroke a finger against his daughter's soft cheek. Her fist loosened until Foxtail could see the tiny curves of her fingernails. Unaware, she made a soft noise at the back of her throat and nudged her finger against the opening fist until it slipped within the clutches of Glow's own fingers. "And she's already clever," he insisted. "You see how she holds your finger? Feel that grip."
As if just waiting for Rainpace's blessing, Glow's fingers closed harder on Foxtail and the redhead blinked in surprise. Then the corner of her mouth lifted with amusement. "She's strong," she agreed. She looked back up to Rainpace and had to swallow at the pride there. It was clear that this was a father who firmly had the moons rising and setting on his little girl.
"And impatient," he agreed, missing his friend's reaction as he watched their fingers twine together. "She can't wait for moon-rise before she wants to be up and about, fed and changed and played with."
Foxtail considered his words and then gently pulled her hand away. The sudden absence made little Glow's eyelids flicker and, within moments, slivers of amber-gold regarded the chief's daughter blearily. Her hand opened and closed, mouth trembling. Foxtail blinked. "Is she going to cry?" she asked warily. "I didn't do anything to her. You know I..." She paused, catching sight of Rainpace's bright eyes and the tight twist of his mouth that she knew too well. He was about to laugh at her and only his daughter's presence and memories of short-tempered snaps kept him in check. Foxtail scowled. It wasn't fair of him to make fun of her.
Glow's tiny fist waved again and Foxtail looked down at her sharply. The cub's eyes were fully open now and she stared back. Focus wavered for an instant and then returned with double the intensity. "... She's trying to stare me down," Foxtail near-growled. Amusement lurked behind the mock-angry noise, though; how could she be properly angry at something so small and fierce? Glow was very different than Cinder had been when he was this little. He was quiet and snuggly and smelled of the entire tribe. He would close his eyes and bury his face in her curls the moment she gave him a sharp look. Not fear, though, just his way.
Unless she was only just remembering it differently because of the other things that surrounded Cinder's first turn.
Shaking the thought from her head, the redhead bared white teeth at the cub who immediately blinked and squirmed her other hand free to reach and grab. Rainpace finally laughed and shifted his daughter into a more comfortable position atop his lap. "She likes you," he announced. At Foxtail's disbelieving look, he grinned more widely. "Otherwise she would be screaming at the top of her little lungs. Though I thought she might, for a moment, there. You're almost new to her and she has only a couple of basic reactions to things she doesn't know."
Foxtail greeted this reminder of her absence with a moment of silence. Then, abruptly, she held out her hands. "May I hold the little bug?" she asked quietly. "I mean, we can't have me being a stranger, right?"
Rainpace's look was sharp and searching for only the briefest of instants before he relaxed and scooted along the root so he could more easily lay his precious cub in his old friend's arms. Watching Foxtail hold her with absent ease, he sat back and braced his weight on arms held straight behind him, palms flat on the root. He nodded. "I forgot," he murmured.
"Hmm?" Foxtail looked up from Glow's face, head tilting like a curious bird as her expression showed her confusion at his words.
"I forgot that you know cubs more than you seem to," he explained. A nod of his head indicated the Chief's den. "Cinder," he added for further clarification. "I've seen how you are with him."
Feeling her cheeks warm, Foxtail made a face downwards, straight into Glow's line of sight. The cub gave a cheerful burble and reached her hands up again. "He's my brother," she answered guardedly.
Rainpace let the words lay and simply smiled. "Be careful of her hands," he cautioned, allowing her space to retreat on the subject of her family. "Once she has something, she won't let it go."
"Is that what happened to your hat?" Foxtail shot him a sideways glance. While it was true that she had not gone out of her way to spend time with Rainpace and his new family, there were some things that were too obvious and well-known to avoid comment.
"What can I say?" Rainpace lifted his hands in an expansive gesture of defeat. "Glow has amazing taste." He paused and then gave his eyebrows a little wriggle, one corner of his mouth quirking up crookedly. "She started chewing on it and who wants to wear a drool-soaked hat?"
Foxtail burst into giggles and hugged Glow closer, jigging the cub up and down a bit in her amusement. "What a father," she teased. "She's going to grow up spoiled rotten and then what will the tribe say about you?" A yelp interrupted whatever else she had been about to say and she looked down at the cub in her arms. "... Rainpace, your daughter is trying to strangle me."
Quickly, he slid back to Foxtail's side and squirmed his hands in between Glow and the trademark necklace at his friend's throat. "Glow," he began firmly, "that's not yours. You have to... Oh, come on. Please. Glow, let go. You're going to..."
Holding as still as she could, Foxtail watched him fight with his tiny daughter for her liberation. A smile crept over her mouth as the battle warred on, barely halted when the cord tightened just a bit too much around her throat. "Rainpace," she finally muttered warningly.
"I'm trying! I told you that she just... Come on, Glow, please... Foxtail won't want to watch you if you..." He paused in his words and looked up at the redhead, breath held.
The necklace fallen from her mind, Foxtail lifted an eyebrow. "Watch her?" she repeated.
Rainpace looked sheepish and his hands slid from her. "I was thinking... Well, what with me having to go out more and..." He hesitated, eyes dropping. "I worry about Glow and Chicory," he whispered. "When I go out on the word-hunt...." One of his calloused hands reached out to touch her shoulder as he said the feared trigger-words lowly. When she didn't draw away, he slid it further along to curve behind her neck familiarly and shifted closer. Neither noticed Glow abruptly release the necklace and tuck her head beneath Foxtail's chin. **I want to know they're safe and someone is checking on them. Chicory gets... You know how she gets. We'll be leaving before the cold breaks.** His look was pleading now. As if the emotion in his send was not enough to move her into agreeing to any point.
**I know.** Foxtail shifted closer and leaned against her friend, adjusting her hold on Glow so she could share the combined body warmth. She thought of her father, of Cinder... of her mother. Something low in her stomach twisted and chilled. Leaning her head against his and hugging Glow a bit tighter, she added, **I'll visit. I'll make sure Chicory and Glow don't go lonely.**
As his grateful send washed over her, Foxtail shivered and closed her eyes, cuddling in further. A proud, protective father - something precious and important and vaguely familiar to her suddenly aching heart. She would put her hand out for this, her friend and his family. Maybe Cinder and Glow would like each other, too, becoming friends like she and Rainpace had.
Maybe, she thought, as she felt Glow settling into the new position, fingers going into her mouth for a noisy suck, Rainpace as a father would become less strange.