(This story takes place just after ”The Lesson of the Last Healer”, and may not make sense without having read that story first; it is part of the Consequences of Willow's Rogue Healing storyline -- see the listing for more related stories.)
Just like that it was over. True Edge sat in silence for a long moment, the last echoes of the tribal lock-send lingering in his mind. Nearby Snowfall sat, eyes still a bit out of focus as she listened to another mental voice. Standing then, he made his way to the flap that kept the night breeze out of their den and pried it back. After a long moment's wait he saw Willow moving away, alone, to face her punishment. Something about the sight helped the blond elder to refocus his thoughts and return to the comforting now he craved.
It could be such a simple world, he reasoned, but sometimes he, or others, had to go and complicate things. The wolves had it easie,r he believed. Their world could be as simple as he'd tried to tell Windburn things could be earlier this evening. With a sigh, he let the flap slide shut and put a hand to his temple that suddenly throbbed with pent-up tension.
The simple mind-touch was both welcomed and dreaded at the same time. He felt the need for his mate's understanding just then but couldn’t quite put into words why that was.
**It’s all right, Yuki. Kestrel will need us to be strong for her tonight.**
Snowfall was there then, arms wrapped tightly around him to offer comfort. **We will all need each other, beloved. She is talking to Windburn now. Give her some space, though. She might need to be alone tonight.**
He nodded, thoughts still pulled in a dozen different directions. A part of him wanted to follow after Willow while another just hungered for the company of his mates. The biggest part of him, though, just wanted to make sense of it all. Snowfall seemed to understand this, or at least that he was troubled about what they had witnessed in the lock-send. She always seemed to know what to do to calm him when he couldn’t reconcile his elf and wolf-blood.
**You're still angry at Willow?**
He didn’t reply for a moment, trying to put his thoughts into words.
**Yes, but not so much as before. I mean… she was wrong, but she is still a headstrong pup. This is all a lot to carry… for her and the tribe both.**
Snowfall didn’t say or send anything. She merely let him say what was on his mind and offer comfort while he tried to make sense of it. There was a lot in the sending they had experienced to try to understand. A healer was no different than the rest of them. They just had a gift that most elves lacked. It came at a high price though, especially for one so young.
True Edge leaned into Snowfall's embrace, letting his mind sift through the bits and pieces of what they had seen. Elf had killed elf, and that was the way it had to be then. Owl’s madness was understandable considering everything he had been through. It was all a terrible waste and a horrible shame. With luck, though, they could make something good come of it now by trying to help Willow not make the same mistakes.
A movement distracted them and they looked up in time to see Kestrel fly away. Snowfall tightened her embrace around him and True Edge wondered briefly if she was more afraid he would call out after Kestrel, or was holding on more tightly to keep herself from doing so.
“She’ll be all right. You knew she would need time alone,” he said in a quiet voice. “When she gets back we’ll all three be ready to help welcome Willow back.”
“Let’s give Beetle the privilege of greeting Willow first,” Snowfall added. “That might do her more good. Are you sure your anger will pass by then, though? I thought you were going to chew her head off after what happened with Brightwood.”
She was exaggerating, but not by much.
“It will pass,” he said after a long moment's hesitation. “She is one of us. The only ones I can hold a grudge against forever are humans.”
Snowfall shuddered a bit. Nothing could set True Edge into a rage as badly as the humans who had killed his family could.
**There were enough misunderstandings and mistakes for everyone,** True Edge sent so that she could hear the sincerity in his words. **Maybe not so much as One-Leg believes, but we all could have done better. All of us get a chance to start over when she gets back.**
Easing into the embrace again, he tried to let the images fade from his mind, but they were stubborn. He knew the signs. All of this would haunt him for several nights as he worried it to death and thought about it from many angles. That Willow had dared so much with one of his family still galled him, but now he had a slightly better understanding of why she had done it… and maybe she did as well. Like he had told Windburn, it was better to learn the truth. Knowing the things they did now, maybe they could all grow and forgive in turn.