She felt his eyes on her long before she scented him. He was far too painstaking to have allowed the wind to give him away but he either forgot how penetrating his stare could be or, she suspected, he had no idea about it at all. It always reminded her of their father, something she knew her brother would shy away from if she mentioned it. Silly, wonderful, darling brother. He would probably rather be like their mother — quietly wise and measured.
Chicory bit back her smile and resumed the low hum that the sensation had interrupted, her fingers sinking once more into the cool mud as she searched out anything of interest. It was too early in the season to hope for turtle eggs but there were always other things you could find hidden away. Just because something wasn't edible didn't mean it was value-less. She liked to think she knew that principle better than anyone, having tested more than her fair share of things as a cub. The elf watching her knew, too. He was usually the poor unfortunate who had to remove the object or rinse her mouth or rub her stomach to quell the resulting ache if she managed to actually get something horrible down her throat.
She felt something solid beneath her fingertips and bent her head to better peer into the muddy mess beneath her. Even as she focused, she heard the breaking of leaves and twigs behind her and knew he had grown curious. He usually did. No matter what their father said or thought, Chicory knew her brother was a thinking sort of elf. He truly listened when she talked and the late night conversations they shared still made her smile each time she thought of them. He held the slimy things she brought to him as a tiny cub and, in fact, still did. He helped her stop and think about things and showed her how to record things about what she discovered. On her little shelf back at the den, a fine bowl sat, covered with his carefully painted designs — frogs and lizards and water-weed. It was one of her true treasures, something special and decorative and just for her.
No, it was simply a fact as true and stable as the Father Tree. Awkward and quiet as he could be, an elf could not ask for a big brother better than Windburn.
Chicory waited until he shifted into the wind and she could properly claim to have sniffed him out before shifting her weight forward onto the balls of her feet and turning on them to grin into the surrounding greenery. **Windburn?** she sent, allowing her own natural curiosity to echo in the contact. **Were you looking for me, worry worm?**
Silence answered her for a moment and she wondered if she had touched some obscure nerve. Sometimes he did that — withdrew for no reason she could fathom, put a distance between them that she had no way to gauge. It was rare but it always bothered her. She fidgeted, digging her fingers deep into the cool mud to keep her hands from winding in her hair. Before she could open her mouth and ask, though, Windburn had picked his way through the brush and moved to crouch at her side. He squinted down at the small area of turned, wet earth. Chicory watched as he tilted his head to one side like a curious bird and she waited for his verdict as patiently as she could. Now that she knew it was not one of his blue moments, she could wait with better peace. It meant that something interesting would be coming in just a bit if she could only keep her quiet a bit longer. She wriggled her fingers deeper into the mud.
"... I give up."
Chicory blinked at her brother. "You do?" she asked uncertainly. She looked down at the mud oozing between her fingers. Then she tilted her chin up once more to study him. "What did...?"
"I have not a single idea of what you are looking for."
Windburn's sudden smile was like winter sunshine breaking through the clouds and his sister relaxed with a laugh. Abruptly, she tugged her hands free with a squelching noise and reached out for his nose. He evaded her nimbly for a moment until she made another gooey swipe and he overbalanced. Landing on his backside, he joined her giggles after an embarrassed huff of breath. He leaned back on his elbows and grinned at her, a smear of mud on his cheek now. "So are you going to tell me or should I just start guessing?"
Shaking her head, Chicory smiled. "I was just looking," she admitted. "I wanted to see if I could find another of those stripey lizards. Remember the one?"
Windburn nodded, face fighting another smile. "The one you lost in True Edge's furs, you mean?"
Her mouth turned down in a dramatic sulk even as her eyes sparkled with mischief. "I swear up and down and round-about that that was an accident," she insisted. "I would never do something like that."
"Mmhm." Shifting, Windburn brought his torso upwards again, folding his legs with the ankles together and resting his hands on his outflung knees. "So have you found one yet?"
She shook her head, expression relaxing into something far more cunning and sly. "No, but I bet another pair of eyes would probably help," she drawled.
Windburn glanced back the way he had come and, for a moment, her heart sunk as she realized he was thinking of all the chores he had and projects left to be done. When he returned his eyes to her, however, she risked a hopeful smile at what she saw there. There was a lightness and a looseness that she had learned to interpret as a conscious decision to indulge her. Still, she waited until her older brother pushed himself up onto his knees before scrambling to a crouch, balanced on the balls of his feet. Only then did she relax fully and rock her own body into a kneeling position as she returned her attention to the surrounding mud and brush and quietly lapping river. "I found it under a wide water leaf last time," she offered.
"Then I guess we'd better start closer to the water, hm?"
"Yes!" Before he could change his mind, Chicory sprang to her feet, grabbed his hand with one of her muddy ones, and dragged Windburn along towards the river's edge. "First one to find one gets first pick of Blacksnake's arrows."
The laughter that answered her ran warm through her, top to toe, and she smiled unseen as he trailed obediently behind her. It had been, she thought, silly to worry. Windburn was himself — her brother and her friend.