Cloudfern, who had been working diligently to bead the newest incarnation of his white leather necklace, had taken a short break from his work, both to relieve himself, and to stretch his limbs. When he'd left his den, Laughter had been asleep, but as he strode upwards, he could hear her laughter as she played with her mother, who must have roused herself to care for their daughter in his absence. He smiled to himself, pausing just outside the door of the den just to listen and take in the sound. Starskimmer, though still groggy and a bit hung over, was quietly chatting with their cub, her voice low and soft, but happy. Laughter was not nearly as quiet, but as the moon was high above, he did not concern himself with hurrying to quiet her.
He peered through the entryway to look at his Recognized and his child. Starskimmer was propped up against the side of the bed bowl, her head peering downward outside of it, looking at Laughter. Starskimmer laughed softly as their daughter played with her cascade of hair.
Cloudfern entered as quietly as he could, trying not to disturb the mother and daughter in their private moment, but Starskimmer's eyes perked at the sight of him, and silently pleaded for a bit more sleep. Cloudfern, who had been awake since before sunset, nodded to her, then scooped up Laughter into his arms, causing her to squeal with glee. He loved the sound of her voice — the joy at simply being with him. Moments like this were precious. He carried her over to where he'd been quietly working, took a few of the cub's toys from a shelf, and sat down, setting Laughter next to him, and giving her the toys.
Cloudfern watched as she set to playing with the small, shaped figures, lining them up one by one, and then seeing what else she could do with him. She tried stacking them, chewing on them, throwing them — likely to see how far each would go — and then retrieving them. She did this over and over. Proud father that he was, he encouraged her tiny experiments and made comments as she played, and after a while, he set back to his own work.
He didn't realize when she had stopped playing with her toys and started watching him, but when he looked up to stretch his neck, he realized she was sitting, eyes wide, looking at him. He blinked.
She spoke, "Gone, Papa."
He wasn't sure what she meant. Her limited vocabulary, though it grew every day, left a lot to be desired in the form of effective communication. What did she mean? What was gone? He looked around. Starskimmer was still nearby, sleeping soundly. She hadn't left. No one else had come into the den. So what did she mean?
Again, Laughter spoke. "Gone!"
Her toys were still there, one atop the other, making a tree of sorts. He looked to where he had set his spare beads and gasped — they were gone! All of them. Where could she have put them? She hadn't left the den — he hadn't been that absorbed in his work. Somehow, the beads had disappeared — not just the blue ones he had set aside after he'd decided not to use them — it was other beads too, some crafted out of gems, which he sometimes had Greenweave put into his hair.
"Oh, cub," he groaned, "Where are they?"
"Gone!" she said, laughing. "Papa find."
So his precious cub wasn't going to give him the answers. But surely she couldn't have hid them outside of the den. He took a whiff... there was not really a trail to follow. Laughter's scent had been everywhere to begin with. So he got up.
First, he began by looking around him, then by looking around his daughter. He remembered her chewing on her toys and asked, "Did you eat them?"
She said, "One!" and he gathered that she had swallowed only one of the beads — which would turn up later, he was certain — he just had to wait for the tell-tale smell of soiled moss. But where were the rest?
Cloudfern spent a good portion of daylight looking under and over and between every cranny he could think of. Laughter laughed as he searched, and he almost wondered if she realized what trouble she had caused him.
Starskimmer roused from her sleep when he disrupted the furs. "You should probably get up," he grumbled to her. **My mood is much less forgiving at the moment, and our daughter has been causing some mischief. You might want to take her out of the den for a while.** With the sending, he summed up what had happened.
The mirth in Starskimmer's eyes betrayed her attempts not to laugh, and he growled at her. She dressed quickly and scooped up their daughter. The sound of beads hitting the floor caused Cloudfern to whirl around, eyes wide and disbelieving.
Starskimmer laughed at the look on his face, and Laughter's delighted peals echoed her mother's. Starskimmer bounced the cub on her hip, and more beads fell to the ground. Cloudfern moved closer and reached out for the little one.
**Don't shake her,** Starskimmer said warningly.
"I won't," he grumbled, though the thought had crossed his mind.
He took Laughter into his arms and looked into her eyes. "You have them, don't you?"
Laughter giggled, then reached to where tiny pants held a mossy diaper on. She pulled at the pants and moss, and a few more beads fell out. She smiled at him. "Find them!" she announced proudly.
Shaking his head, Cloudfern wondered why he hadn't thought to check there sooner. Laughter had sent him searching for quite a while... and they had been right there with her the whole time. Taking her to a fur, he laid her down and removed the pants, and the moss. Thankfully, she hadn’t messed in it yet. He shook the moss onto the furs, watching as the beads fell from the moss. Separating them would take a good portion of the night — he was glad he still had time.
Sensing Laughter’s curious presence at his side, he turned and looked at her. Her face was lit up with pleasure and he couldn’t help but laugh. She had enjoyed her little game — even though he had been frustrated by it. She would most gladly “help” him sort the beads if he let her. As amused as he felt at the sight of her happiness, he wasn’t amused enough to allow her to help.
**Take her, please?** he sent to Starskimmer. **Get her out of the den while I sort through this mess — she had her fun with me… it’s your turn.**
“Gladly,” his Recognized replied, scooping up their daughter and tickling her. “Let’s go, little Laughter. We’ll see what else we can find for you to do tonight.”
Cloudfern paused at the tone of Starskimmer’s voice. Had she encouraged Laughter to…? He whipped his head to look at Laughter’s mother. The smile in her eyes was more mischievous than usual. He sent, **Did you?**
Starskimmer winked at him, and then left the den before anything else could be said.