(This story takes place a short time after "Picking Your Prey".)
Gritting her teeth as she and Willow made their way from the Dentrees, Foxtail waited until the sounds of the Holt's activities faded into the distance and all that broke through the quiet chirps of nature were their heavy footsteps. The air smelled of a recent late-summer rain and clouds skidded over the twin moons, shifting the light which guided their path. All in all, peace reigned as if in direct and deliberate opposition to the tension existing between the two elf females. Glancing sideways at her companion, Foxtail bit her tongue harder. They were still too close.
When they finally cleared the first rise and plunged into the deeper woods, though, the younger redhead gave over to the simmering rage and stopped short, dropping her basket to the ground. "You," she hissed at the back of Willow's head, the other elf not having stopped at all. "This is all your fault. If you weren't so oak-headed and just stopped acting like I'd lit your tail on fire, we never would have been stuck here."
That made Willow stop short, and when she did, she laughed scathingly. "My fault? Mine? Oh no -- don't think you're going to shift the blame from yourself when you're as knee deep in this dung as I am!" She gazed at Foxtail derisively. "If you want to play with the big wolves, cub, you have to learn to accept that sometimes you get caught -- and when you do, that's when you own up to it."
Foxtail made a face that conveyed her impatience and annoyance far too well, an expression that the chief's daughter guessed Willow was learning to be completely sick of. She was four hands of turns old, and already growing sick of still being called a cub. "I didn't get caught," she pointed out with a haughty tilt of her head, brushing long curls back over her shoulder with a practiced gesture. "You did. You got sloppy and," she bent to pick up her basket and shook it in Willow's general direction, "so the redroots got ruined but, no, then you have to go and bring me into it." Slipping the basket over her arm, Foxtail began a ground-eating stride deeper into the forest again. If she could get far enough ahead, maybe she could lose her unwelcome partner; they may have been set the same punishment but she'd be rotted if she took that to mean they had to be leashed together for it. "I think you have to learn about being a big wolf yourself, cub."
Willow merely laughed again -- and loudly at that. "Oh, please! Really? You think the grown-up thing to do would be to take all the blame and let you run off unscathed?" She couldn't help but laugh all the more. "There's a difference between being a big wolf and being a smart big wolf, sprout, and you're far from being the latter. I'm not going to let you wrap me around your little finger like you think you can Notch and Rainpace. Oh, no, you helped dig this hole we're in whether you want to believe it or not, and if I have to suffer over it, sure as a white-stripe stinks, you're going to suffer over it too !"
Gritting her teeth all the harder, Foxtail told herself that responding to such nonsense was pointless. Willow had been against her since this past New Green Bliss -- Foxtail's first participating as an adult in all the festivities -- and Willow's picking and sniping was doing nothing but proving her to be one utterly jealous elf. Maybe even threatened. The thought brought a smirk to Foxtail's face, mood abruptly lightened at the notion that Willow was just seething over how neatly she had managed to capture the interest of both Notch and Rainpace. She adjusted the basket on her arm and her stride changed into something less aggressive, more light-hearted. "Think what you like, Willow," she called over her shoulder, putting the false sweetness into her voice that usually signaled trouble, "but I don't have any interest in wrapping you around my finger. Why would I bother?"
"Good question," Willow snorted, "because you wouldn't be able to, anyway." Foxtail noted that Willow made no effort to change her tone at all. It was all the same arrogant, better-than-you attitude as before, with maybe an extra heap added on this time. And, to make matters worse, Willow had picked up her pace. She'd caught up to Foxtail and was now starting to walk a little bit ahead. It felt like a challenge. "Let's just hurry up and do what we have to do."
Foxtail only barely managed to bite back her groan. "You can go in a different direction to find the roots, you know," she pointed out tartly, fussily adjusting her basket again. "You don't have to follow me... Yet." Turning her head, she showed Willow the renewed smirk and the slight upswing she placed on "yet" made her intentions of future chief-dom clear. "And, if you think I'm going to run off, don't worry. I'll get my roots and head back to the Holt without you sniffing around me like a fretting mother."
Willow rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't follow you if someone dared me to do it." And, with that, she stopped, letting Foxtail get paces ahead. "You're so intent on trying to sound and look like you know it all, you can't see what's right under your nose." With that, she jammed the edge of her sharpened digging stick into a patch of ground Foxtail had just passed over and lifted the soil to expose a few pale roots. "I don't want to be out here all night, especially if I have to listen to you."
Feeling her cheeks flush with the potent mixture of annoyance and embarrassment, Foxtail did not turn back towards Willow fully. She gave her a sideways look, though, to watch Willow liberate the roots with expert movements. Then she lifted her chin and squinted at the sky through the leaves above them both. The wind tossed them about and she sniffed more rain coming on it. This was the last place she wanted to be on so many levels. With a faint huff, she drew her own digging stick from the basket on her arm and cast her eyes groundwards to search for the tell-tale traces of the roots. "Two baskets," she half-asked. "That should do it, right?"
She had decided that the best way to deal with Willow being jealous and superior was to ignore it for this moment. She could change tactics later.
"Give him three, if we can," Willow said as she absently shook the dirt off a clump of roots and tossed them into her basket. "No one can complain any more about the stores being ruined if we put back more than were ruined in the first place." That would mean they would have to come back out to search for more roots once these two baskets were full. Wonderful.
Foxtail merely answered with a wordless noise of agreement, bordering on a grunt, as she squatted a short distance away. She settled the basket on the ground and jabbed into the earth, quickly loosening the top layer and shifting it away before digging further down. After a few long moments of silence, she sighed loudly. "These things don't even taste that good," she muttered sullenly.
That brought an unexpected snort from Willow. "Finally, something we agree on." The older elf flung another of the roots into her basket and then pushed herself to her feet to scan the forest floor for more of the ugly red objects. "Honestly, I don't think anyone would have cared they got ruined if your sire didn't care for them so much."
"No one ever said Father had taste." Hearing the laughter in her reply, Foxtail frowned down at the dirt beneath her stick. What was she doing? She was mad at Willow. Willow was the reason they were stuck out here, digging in the muck and missing more interesting things back at the Holt. Dredging up the flickers of misery and anger, Foxtail scowled at the root she managed to free. She dropped it into her basket and then paused to lift her head again. "I don't think we're going to find enough of these right here," she offered. "Most of them would've been picked out long ago, I bet." She stood and stretched, sniffing the air. It smelled wet, more wet. "Puckernuts," she muttered. "Come on, you. Before the rain comes back."
Willow arched an eyebrow at Foxtail and didn't budge. "What are you talking about? There's plenty here." She pointed to a spot on the ground about five paces away. "There." Then, she swept her hand off to the side. "There, too." She put her dirt-laden hand on her hip and tucked her basket and digging stick beneath her other arm. "Unless you think you have some bright idea for a better place?"
Foxtail shot her a sharp look before turning away to offer her shoulder deliberately. "Nothing more important than getting further away from you," she returned tartly. But she regarded the indicated area for a moment before going to it and squatting again. Without another word, she began digging once more.
From the corner of her eye, Foxtail thought she saw Willow shake her head and drop her basket to the ground. In no time came the tell-tale thumps of the older elf tossing one, two, three, roots into the basket, and from the sound of dig-stick breaking ground, and the new smell of freshly-turned soil, there would soon be more. For a moment, the briefest moment, Foxtail exasperatedly wondered how Willow was able to find the redroots so quickly. However, that thought left her mind as she remembered the other elf's suggestion of bringing back three baskets of them. At this rate, Willow would bring back two baskets to Foxtail's one, and since it was Willow's fault for getting them into this mess, it was only right that Willow do the majority of the work.
With that cheering thought in mind, Foxtail began a soft, gentle hum beneath her breath as her hands sought out the required roots. Before too long, the words to the tune came and she lost herself to the old song, half-remembered. Her roots piled up in the basket slowly but she hardly paid attention. Between the song on her lips and the dirt beneath her fingers, she ignored the shame of punishment, Willow's jibing presence, and the growing clouds scuttling over the moons. Slowly, new pranks began to grow in her mind and the next time, she knew, there would be no catching her.
"I'm done with this one," Willow said, rather loudly and seemingly rudely, over Foxtail's singing. Foxtail looked up and the older elf was standing over her, root-basket full near to the point of overflowing. She seemed to be judging the amount of roots that were in Foxtail's basket, and didn't appear to be happy with what she saw there. "I'm going to take this back to the Holt and empty it and come back for some more." She paused for a moment, then added -- definitely not as an afterthought -- "Unless you have the bright idea you're going to run off."
Foxtail showed her teeth in what could only be technically called a grin, too toothy to be friendly. "Oh, that's nice," she replied lightly. "With you gone, I can get some real work done in peace and quiet." Rocking back on her heels, she dropped her stick into her basket and dusted off her hands. She did her best to resist the urge she had to bury her fingers in Willow's hair and pull fiercely. Instead, she waved one of her hands dismissively. "Don't forget to come back, though," she added with more bite.
That comment only garnered a mild eye-rolling from Willow as she turned on her heel and began to make her way -- at a too-casual pace -- back to the Holt. And as Willow's form crested a small rise and disappeared from view, it seemed the skies began to grow darker and the wind began to grow more fierce.
So fierce, in fact, that Foxtail kept looking skywards as she worked, song forgotten the moment Willow had disappeared and boredom won out over absent noise. The basket finally filled up, she tossed her digging stick on top of the roots and rocked back on her heels again. She dusted her mucky hands against her thighs to clean them before she stood and grabbed at the handle. She probably should take the basket back to the Holt but, if she went back without Willow, then she would undoubtedly have to find her, walk all the way back out, and share a third basket with her. That would be too much work by half. She shifted her basket to better look inside, counting silently. Then she shrugged and pulled out a root before walking to settle herself on a fallen branch snap bits of the green, leafy top away. She would wait here for Willow's return.
Glancing at the sky above again, she hoped the rain would hold off until they were done. A shiver crept up her spine. Neatly, she settled the basket between her feet and wrapped her arms around her torso. She hoped Willow got back soon so they could finish this ridiculous punishment... Or before a storm came on and she ran back to her den without a by-your-leave and burrowed beneath warm, cozy furs - maybe with a furmate or two. Not even the wrath of her father or Willow's annoyingly sarcastic tones would keep her out in a storm. Closing her eyes, Foxtail began humming again to drive away thoughts of the coming rain.
However, no amount of humming could stop the approach of the rain and the wind, and Willow hadn't been gone for long at all before skyfire began to flash and thunder began to rumble in the distance. An involuntary yelp escaped Foxtail and she pressed her lips together hard, fingers scrabbling momentarily at the bark beneath her. She hated these loud, powerful storms. Ever since she'd been a tiny cub, they made her nervous.
Taking a deep breath, she forced her head up and her shoulders back. Then she stood. "Hmph. She can go jump in the river," she muttered. "I'm not going to stand here and..." Another jagged tongue of skyfire lit the sky and Foxtail jumped again at the closely following thunder. She looked skywards again - just in time to get the first drops on her upturned face. "Oh, shards," she hissed. Snatching up her basket, she began looking for shelter; there was no way she could make it back to the Holt before the storm fully broke.
The rain was coming down in sheets in-between flashes of skyfire and deafening thunderclaps when Foxtail heard Willow calling for her.
"Foxtail?" There was a pause. "Foxtail, where in the name of the blister-butted High Ones are you?" As the older elf continued, there was no question that Willow was becoming more and more angry by the minute. "If you've left me out here by myself in this shards-forsaken dung pit to scrape out the rest of these cursed roots, I'm going to hunt you down and force a hand of them down your bloody throat!"
The flash of skyfire and the thunder that followed sent more shivers down Foxtail's spine than any shouting Willow could ever do and she shrank back further into the hollow she had found in the trunk of an ancient oak. Still, the presence of another elf - even one so snooty and ill-tempered as Willow - promised an element of comfort. Carefully, Foxtail poked her head out and fought the immediate wincing reaction to the bone-chilling rain that plastered her hair to her forehead and cheeks in wet tangles. "I'm in here, mash-brain!" she called, voice brittle in its bravery. "Some of us have enough sense to come in out of the rain." Almost immediately, she retreated back to the halfway-dryness of her refuge.
"Phaugh, think you're so delicate that it'll make you melt?" Willow asked, wiping rain out of her eyes. "It'll make the roots easier to dig out of the ground, and we can get finished faster now. C'mon!"
Foxtail didn't budge, however, and that appeared to do nothing for Willow's temper. The older elf threw her empty basket on the ground and stormed through the mud to the tree-shelter, more than likely determined to pull Foxtail out into the rain. "C'mon!" Willow demanded again, extending a cold, dripping-wet hand toward the hollow.
"No!" As if shocked by the fierceness in her own voice, Foxtail drew even further back into the hollow until she felt the unforgiving wood at her back. She closed her eyes tightly and held perfectly still as another round of thunder and lightning cut through the rain. She hoped that Willow lacked the perception that Notch or Rainpace already had when it came to her emotions. She bit hard on her lower lip to focus herself and then, as the echoes faded, managed to grate out an explanation somewhere between the truth and a lie. "There's no point in digging when it's still raining. The ground will still be soft if we wait until the storm passes. So what if it takes longer? Do you have something better to do?"
The anger on Willow's face had somehow morphed into a smirk in the time it took her to drop into a crouch at the hollow's entrance. And Foxtail just knew Willow had made a discovery -- she'd seen Foxtail flinch at that last skyfire arc or something -- and was ready to use that ammunition against her. Before Foxtail could do anything to potentially deflect what Willow might say next, the older elf draped her arms across her bent knees and grinned wickedly.
"What? Are you afraid of a little thunderstorm?" The tone of Willow's voice was oh-so-irritating. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed again, just at that opportune moment, emphasizing Willow's accusation. "Is the skyfire going to seek you out the second you step out here? You do realize, you know, that the lightning is more apt to break that tree in two and take you with it than it is to hit you when you're standing out here, right?"
Foxtail's upper lip drew back in a snarl but she barely kept herself from actively snapping at the other elf. Instead, she inhaled deeply through her nose and closed her mind against the sharp, acrid smell the storm brought. A sick twist of shame worked at her stomach, making her nauseated, but she blamed it on Willow's presence and jibe. She was strong, she told herself. So what if storms made her nervous?
Realizing that too much silence had passed, Foxtail drew her shoulders back and lifted her chin as she edged her way to the opening, still just inside the protective makeshift den. "Why did you even bother coming back out here, Willow?" she asked tightly. "Can't you leave an elf in peace?"
"Because I don't trust you." Willow's response was both too quick and too blunt. "I've learned, over the years, to not turn my back, especially when someone else is in my territory and at my throat." She folded her arms across the tops of her legs and shifted position slightly -- probably to ease a cramp in her leg. "And I also know when I have to step up and do my part, too." She looked Foxtail square in the eye. "I might not like you, but I know that to leave you out here to get the rest of what we need, well... that's not fair."
The returned look was dubious and Foxtail lifted an eyebrow momentarily. "So you want to be fair to me now?" she asked quietly. Another bolt of skyfire split the sky but she managed to keep her shudder to a bare twitch. Instead she focused on Willow, green eyes narrow and glowing in the dim light. "Are you telling me it matters now? After treating me like dung for all these turns and telling Notch and Rainpace how useless I am and how stupid and..." She ground her teeth together. "I'm not some stupid day-old pup, you know."
"Sometimes you sure act like one," Willow shot back, like she couldn't help but throw that jibe in. "Always assuming that what you want is going to just be given to you, and never even considering how hard the rest of us had to work to get the same thing." She wiped the rain out of her eyes again and opened her mouth to speak when another bolt of skyfire tore through the sky.
... and then the wind picked up and it started to hail.
"Piss and dung!" Willow swore as she started to get pelted, and then, without even asking, she squeezed herself in right next to Foxtail. There was a moment of struggle but, to the surprise of both, Foxtail's movements resulted in just the opposite of an unceremonious ejection from the shelter. Instead, slim arms slipped around Willow's neck and Foxtail buried her face in the other elf's shoulder. Tension tightened every muscle but the chief's daughter kept her breathing slow and shallow. Even as she kicked herself for grabbing, she told herself it made no difference; Willow already knew about her fear and this closeness would help. She squeezed in tighter and drew a lungful of the new, half-familiar scent that was Willow wet with rain.
"--Hey!" Willow near-yelped, and she tensed as Foxtail's grip tightened. "Hey!" For the briefest of moments, the older elf struggled, trying to shake Foxtail off, but the chief's daughter held fast, to the point of clinging even more tightly when the next peal of thunder rolled through. But, all too soon, for whatever reason, Willow's arms wrapped around Foxtail. "Hey," Willow said again, but this time the edge was gone from her voice. Her tone had become soothing, and her embrace drew tighter in an awkward, yet effective, attempt at comfort. "C'mon, now. It's all right. You're safe here, and it'll blow through quickly. Storms like this always do."
Foxtail drew a slow, careful breath and pushed her focus onto Willow - the other elf's scent and warmth and solidity. She was surprised at the change in Willow's voice and body. Softness slipped into her words and the bristling defensiveness melted as Foxtail cuddled further into Willow's arms. "You so certain about that?" she asked, voice muffled again. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to believe in the safety for a moment. Strangely, it was not hard, something that ran completely contrary to their earlier antagonism.
After a few more moments, she sighed. The rain still came, hard and cold, outside the snug hollow and jabs of skyfire kept splitting the sky with thunder following fast, but somehow it seemed distant. Foxtail loosened her hold and drew back slightly. The dim light and the flashes outside provided Willow with quick glimpses of a pale face with too-big eyes and bitten lips. The redhead seemed calmer, though, and there was no more fear-scent. Foxtail studied Willow carefully, still silent as she weighed her thoughts. She remembered every dig and taunt and all the humiliation and near-misses in front of Notch and Rainpace. It made her blood roil again but she bit her lower lip to stop herself. "Why?" she finally asked. She wanted to ask for more but there was nothing powerful enough to make her finish with why do you hate me, why do you want to take Notch and Rainpace away from me, why don't you like me?
Willow raised an eyebrow. "Why what?" she asked, and it seemed like the older-elf's former self was creeping back into her voice -- all the smug confidence that oozed "I'm better than you are," from seemingly every pore in Willow's body and made Foxtail feel so.... unwanted in her presence. It was almost enough to make the chief's daughter forget that Willow had even tried to comfort her in the first place.
Foxtail felt herself bristle. She refused to break eye contact, though. "Why," she paused to consider her words, her focus letting the storm outside fade into the background. She sighed. "Why are you so piss-angry that Notch and Rainpace like me? You've had them for turns."
It wasn't quite what she wanted to say but she had no patience with Willow's bad temper and stubbornness to frame the right words.
Willow didn't answer right away, which was a little surprising. Foxtail half-expected to be told to shut her mouth or mind her own matters, but, instead, Willow's brows lowered. The older elf's gaze was unwavering. Finally, Willow firmly said, "Earned." When Foxtail shot her a confused look, she continued. "Maybe I have had them for turns, but I have their friendship because I worked my tail off fighting to earn my place there. White-stripe to the face. I got it. Beating them at their own game -- I did it. Risking my hide doing things they thought I'd never be able to do -- well, I did that, too. I knew I wanted them to be my friends, and they didn't want it at first. But I earned it. I didn't walk up and have it given to me. I earned it. So, fine. You're pretty and, according to them, you're fun to roll with in the furs. So what? Notch likes to rut anything that moves. Sometimes Rainpace is little better. I should just step aside and like you because my friends are suddenly smitten with you?" Willow shook her head.
Foxtail's jaw set as the words penetrated, refusing to crack an expression that would show Willow her annoyance and anger at the dismissal. Her eyes sparked, though; no amount of her heated, untried control could mask the insult taken. Even the crash-bang of a skyfire-struck tree in the distance failed to draw her attention from Willow, very nearly staring her down in challenge. Willow was wrong, she thought. She was jealous and wrong and selfish. She ground her teeth a bit and sat back as far as the cramped hollow would allow, spine pressing against the unforgiving wood. "No," she finally replied in cool, quiet tones that strained with the urge to snap. "Do what you like but don't think you're going to get rid of me either."
Foxtail narrowed her eyes at the other female and another flash of skyfire turned them glowing with reflection. "I've got them both and you can go piss up a tree." Her tone changed, cadence quickening, as her temper frayed even more in the face of Willow's disbelief. "I'm more than enough to keep them! They like me! For more than just a roll in the furs because I'm smart, too, and I would do anything to prove it."
"Would you?" the older elf replied, her all-too-characteristic smirk forming once again on her lips. Was she taking pleasure in Foxtail's anger? "You would do anything? To what? Prove that Rainpace and Notch liked to be with you? Don't have to prove that, cub... they've been following you like bears after beesweets for moons, now. But you seem to think that I need to to the same, just because those two do? I don't care who they roll in the furs with, and they don't care if I find someone else for the day, either."
Another boom of thunder rolled past, and with it came a new sheet of rain and a gust of wind that brought gooseflesh to both elves' skins. "This isn't about jealous furmates. This isn't about you or me, or who those two dander-heads choose," Willow continued, matter-of-factly, as she shivered and rubbed her still-soaking-wet skin. "This is about you and me, and why you think I should like you." Her gaze hadn't left Foxtail's face. "So tell me why I should, when you've been nothing but a thorn in my side since Notch laid eyes on you? What makes you think I should accept that you're a part of the pack when I've never been shown any kind of respect? Seems to me more like you think this is some kind of competition, and whoever wins it will get Notch and Rainpace as a prize, while the other one has to go find a new pack elsewhere. But this pack is mine -- I've earned my place in it. What have you done to earn yours -- with everyone who belongs to it?"
A low snarl in the back of Foxtail's throat answered Willow's tirade and the redhead drew her head further back, lip curling. The anger flared hot now and she hated the way Willow had found the soft spots in her underbelly, how true her barbs flew. She felt the too-familiar brush of dismissal and had to fight the instinct to draw back and leave. The lashing storm helped but so, too, did the knot growing low in her stomach. "What have I done?" she repeated in tight mimicry. "What have I done? Only put up with your wolf-piss attitude and snide mouth!"
Her fists tightened at her sides and her look grew even sharper. "And why should I show you respect when you've never shown me any?" she continued in a low hiss. "No one ever shows me any respect. Not my parents, not the tribe, not even Notch and Rainpace! You're right. I'm fun in the furs but that's only for now. They're going to have to listen to me or they won't get so much as a sniff anymore." Abruptly turning her head away, Foxtail ground her teeth and her final words were almost inaudible. "I don't care how nice Rainpace thinks he's being or how clever Notch thinks he is."
Willow laughed again -- another unexpected reaction. Foxtail was trying to be serious, and Willow thought this was some kind of joke! The chief's daughter opened her mouth to retort, but before she could say anything, mirthful Willow said, "So, little fancy-britches does know that the boys have a one-track mind." She stopped laughing, but the smile that remained on her face was still wide. The look she gave Foxtail was all confidence. "You want them to respect you? You run with that. Make them work for what you want, and make them think it's what they've wanted all along. You do that, and you might have some promise, yet."
From gape-mouthed confusion, Foxtail's expression now melted into wary study. What Willow said was reassuring, almost supportive, but why now? All of her attention focused on the other elf, the storm receded even further into the background as she considered the import of the words. Finally, she nodded slightly. "I'm going to do it," she answered lowly. "I'm not just going to be their little toy. No one is ever going to use me." A thin, wicked smile curved her lips. "Well, not unless I'm in the mood." She paused then and the smile faded. After a half-heartbeat, Foxtail squirmed a bit closer to Willow even though her new expression betrayed her uncertainty at the gesture. "They really are... kind of simple, aren't they?" she asked and her head tilted curiously.
"As predictable as the seasons' changes," Willow responded with a snort. "Food, a place to sleep, a bit of a hunt to gloat over, and any chance to roll in the furs... Well... there's more to it than that," the older elf added after some thought, "but sometimes it seems like that's all it boils down to." She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered again, but she was still grinning.
"And you don't think so." It was half-statement, half-question. Foxtail gave another wriggle and shift until, carefully, she was shoulder to shoulder with Willow. Tension vibrated through her body but she held still and seemed to be waiting for a reaction to her move. As if to excuse her new positioning, she touched minds briefly and Willow found herself with a terse sending of **warmer, less damp, close space.**
Willow didn't move though, save for a shrug, and it was clear once the older elf began to talk that the shrug was in response to Foxtail's spoken question-statement. "Doesn't boil down to that for me, no. After a long time, you can start to see that there's more to it than that. There's got to be, or I'd have stopped paying any attention to them a long time ago, and probably them me, too."
"Hm." Foxtail stared out the makeshift den's opening at the falling rain as she considered this new point of view. Part of her felt flattered that Willow would share such things with her. After all, this had turned into the most civil conversation they had ever had. A flash of lightning outside jolted her slightly and she unconsciously leaned against Willow's shoulder more firmly. She pushed her mind after the words and concepts shared, thinking for a moment. "Notch is a terrible fur-stealer," she finally announced, apropos of nothing. She looked at Willow out the corner of her eye. "But he's woken me up with beesweets for a treat... And Rainpace offered to show me how to make his favorite type of snare."
"Beesweets he stole from me, I'm sure. That bonehead," Willow muttered as she rubbed the gooseflesh from her arms. "And yeah, Rainpace is a good one for snares. He's good at tying the knots." Rain continued falling down in sheets outside, so much now that water was starting to creep inside the tree-hollow shelter. "Oh, and about Notch. Next time, tuck the fur underneath you, and it'll be harder for him to pull it off."
"I'll keep that in mind. Better to stop him from it than have to kick him for it when I wake up blue, I suppose." A few heartbeats passed and then, moving slow and careful, Foxtail slipped her arm around Willow's shoulders and cuddled even closer. "Though kicking him never does any good, anyway," she murmured.
Willow smirked. "Nope, he might as well be a rock when he sleeps. Better to tuck the blanket or have an extra one handy, for all you'll be able to wake him. Or, if you're really lucky, yank 'em off and leave his butt hanging out to turn blue. If you're lucky, you'll get him to cuddle closer."
Foxtail considered this suggestion, turning it over in her mind, and found herself smiling at the sense in it. Her smile widened, though, as she realized that high and mighty Willow was giving her advice and trade secrets. So the nose wasn't always in the air, after all! "You know," she began carefully, wondering if this mood shift would continue, "I'm going to have to figure out a way to put that wolf in his place. Can't have him sitting back and thinking I'm here whenever... Or you there, too. You know?"
Willow's response was an, "Mmm," followed by a silent period of thought as the older elf stared ahead, out at the rain still falling incessantly, and sighed. She seemed to lean into Foxtail slightly -- very slightly -- and was quiet for so long that the chief's daughter wondered if Willow was going to clam up again. "Don't chase him," Willow finally said, her eyes still focused on the continuing downpour. "Let him chase you. And then, don't let him catch you until you want. Keeps him both interested and at arm's reach at the same time."
"That sounds like an awful lot of work," Foxtail answered before she could think better of her criticism. Biting down on her tongue, she looked at Willow sideways for a reaction. Everyone else immediately jumped at her when they thought she was being lazy. Willow gave a minute shrug, though, as if to say "suit yourself," and Foxtail relaxed again into the cuddle. "But I suppose he could be worth it. As much of a pain as he can be, he's fun. Never boring... And he likes you." That non-sequitur struck her as an awkward transition but she had no better idea of trying to introduce one of the reasons that Willow's opinion and antagonism bothered her so much. Notch valued Willow. Rainpace valued Willow. Even in the depths of her annoyance and anger, Foxtail knew Willow was clever and quick. The fact that she showed nothing but her back to the younger elf was the real problem in Foxtail's thinking. Hate her, fine, but don't ignore her.
She sighed and snuggled in further. "Do you think we gathered enough before this rain?" she asked quietly.
"Don't know," Willow blurted at first. But then she seemed to think better of it and added, "Probably not. But I've half a mind to let Windburn come to me and say it's not enough than go out in the damp and the mud to get another basket-full. These leathers are going to be ruined if I can't tend to them soon, and I'm tired of being cold and wet."
"Me, too." Lifting her head, Foxtail regarded the rain for a moment. Then she slipped away from Willow's side and crawled the minute distance to the opening, nearly sticking her head out to get a full reading on the weather. When she pulled back, the expression on her face said it all. The shiver she gave just reinforced it. "It's not going to stop any time soon," she answered Willow's unspoken look. Scrambling back, she cuddled against Willow's side once more without seeking permission. "Father won't worry and we'll find out if we're done when we get back." She considered the distance they had come in her head, body slipping absently to press against Willow's more effectively. "We could run back or call the wolves," she suggested, but it was a half-hearted idea.
"Eh," Willow grunted in response to the suggestion, the muttered syllable making it more than clear that she had no desire at all to set foot back out in the pouring rain, whether it be on wolfback or not. She leaned against the back of the little cubby, and her body language said she wasn't about to go anywhere anytime soon. "Don't want to smell like wet wolf the rest of the night, either."
"Me neither." Foxtail smiled a bit, one corner of her mouth crooking up high and mischievous, and closed her eyes. Without thinking, her body adjusted for Willow's in the small space. It was strange, she thought. Things felt far more comfortable now; she had very little fear that Willow would lash out at her. Oh, sure, she was still insufferably know-it-all but, somehow, it helped to know that the lads drove her just as batty some days. She gave a little unconscious sigh and settled further into the little hollow, turning warm with their shared body heat. "Guess we'll just stay here then," she murmured. "Roots can wait."