(This story is part of the Consequences of Willow's Rogue Healing storyline -- see the listing for more related stories.)
Normally, he'd be gone by now. It was usually important to Rainpace that he go set his traps well before dusk. Instead, here he sat on a branch about halfway up the Mother Tree, with a bag of string and sticks and knives packed and ready to go, unable to move. He couldn't muster the energy or the drive to get going; there was a heaviness in his heart weighing him down. He was sitting here for a reason, and that reason was the healer who was in a den directly above him — a den he didn't dare enter at the moment.
The sending of Owl's misdeeds had been almost two hands of days ago. Willow's shunning had begun directly after that, and then Willow had returned to the tribe submissive and sorry, with a vow that she would do whatever it took to make up for the wrong that she had done to all of them. Rainpace had no doubt she would. Willow might be stubborn and stone-headed sometimes, but she always kept her promises.
Rainpace was worried about her, though. The healer was not the same. The experience of the sending and the shunning had done something to her. She was not all right, and he knew it. And so did others who were close to her, but they — Notch, Foxtail, even Beetle — seemed to be at a loss of what to do about it. Just like him.
Notch and Foxtail argued that Willow just needed time – just as they had after their own shunning – to figure out how to adjust to what she had learned from her punishment. Notch had even stated, “She has a lot she needs to digest right now.” That made it sound like the healer had been fed a big meal and just needed a long nap.
Beetle seemed to think that steadfast devotion would eventually brighten Willow's spirits. Beetle had been through a shunning, too, and she agreed with Notch and Foxtail that it took time afterward to recover. But devotion and caring didn't seem to be working on the healer either. The fact was, in Rainpace's mind, that no one seemed to have been able to come up with any good ideas to help get Willow out of her depression yet, and the only thing Rainpace could do to ease his mind about the situation was to keep watch over Willow to make sure she was all right.
His thoughts were interrupted by noises overhead. He heard the den flap being pulled back and scented, before he saw, Willow step outside. He glanced up just in time to see her sit on the branch outside her den and lean back against the Mother Tree. She was wearing her pants and her old poncho, but her body and hair were soaked and sweaty, as if something had frightened her out of her sleep.
His heart went out to her. He wanted nothing more at this moment than to go up there and comfort her, but his instincts told him not to. After nearly two turns of trying to help his friend through the drastic changes going on in her life and being pushed away he knew better than to go up there, uninvited, when something was bothering her. A part of him still feared being pushed away again, even though Willow had apologized for having done so before. Apologies or not, what she had done in the past still hurt him.
What could he do, then? He could send for Beetle — Willow's lovemate could comfort her… But he didn't want that. He wanted to comfort her. He wanted Willow to turn to him for support as she had in the past, when overly complicated things weren't clouding her life, and when things were like how they used to be between them. Still, he was hesitant to move.
Rainpace realized, She knows I'm here. Willow was probably growling under her breath right now because he was there, hovering around her, “like an overprotective bear watching her cubs,” as Willow put it once before. He knew the healer wanted her space, but how could he leave her alone when something troubling was obviously on her mind right now?
Rainpace waited a few moments, just to be sure the growl or warning-off he suspected might come actually would come. It didn't. Another glance above him showed that Willow had not moved, and that she was still acting, at least, like he was not there.
He wasn't going anywhere, then. He'd let Willow be until she asked him to leave, or until she went back into her den, but for now, he was going to stay put and keep watch. At the very least he could tell his friends how the healer was acting. He reached into the bag he'd just stuffed full of supplies for his traps, and pulled out a knife and a long section of thin rope. He began to cut it into smaller sections that were better suited for snares.
Rainpace kept his eyes on his work and his ears focused on any sounds that might come from the perch above. He heard the healer shift a time or two, and he resisted the urge to look upward. There were long moments of silence after that. An intake of congested breath finally surpassed Rainpace's resistance and drew his gaze from his rope. Willow had curled herself up slightly, like she was chilly, and he noticed her wiping the back of her hand over her eyes.
'That's it! I'm going to go up there right now!' he determinedly told himself, at the very moment his knife slipped off the rope and embedded itself into the side of his index finger.
Rainpace yelped and immediately put the side of his painful, bleeding finger into his mouth and sucked on it. The cut was deep. He could feel it both in the finger itself and with his tongue. A large flap of skin had almost been filleted off. He took his finger out of his mouth so he could actually see the damage. He could see bone.
“That's not what you're supposed to do with a knife,” came the smart-sounding comment from above. Willow was peering down at him from her perch, shaking her head. “Too busy trying to babysit me to cut rope properly?”
Rainpace glared up at Willow and sucked on his bleeding finger again. Her tone rubbed him the wrong way. Didn't she know he was worried about her? He wouldn't even have cut his finger if he hadn't been watching over her! Why did she always have to shut him out when he was trying to help her? Nothing had changed about that at all! He angrily stuffed his knife and his rope back into his pack, pausing intermittently to put his bleeding, aching finger back in his mouth.
Willow made her way down to where Rainpace was sitting and plopped down next to him. When he removed his finger from his mouth again, Willow looked at the injury and flatly remarked, “That looks bad.”
“It's nothing I can't have Cloudfern or Starskimmer stitch up,” he replied, and hastily drew his pack closed.
“You want to wait for that to heal with stitches? It's going to be sore, and it will probably fester. That cut is not in a good place.”
It was somewhat ironic that at least smart-mouthed Willow sounded more like the Willow he used to know, but her attitude was doing nothing to assuage his hurt feelings right now. He thrust his hand out to her. “Heal it, then!” He regretted how that came out before it left his mouth.
Willow drew back and suddenly seemed at a loss for words. “I— I—,” she stammered first, then stopped.
Rainpace cleared his throat and looked askance. They had both said the wrong things to one another. It was time to clear the air. He pulled his hand back and cradled it against his chest. “I'm sorry,” he began. "I didn't mean it like that. It's —”
“Let me? Please?” Willow interrupted him before he could finish his statement and gave him a questioning glance. It was she who extended her hand to him this time. Rainpace nodded and placed his hand in hers. Her fingers were cold.
Willow closed her eyes and, without a word, took in a tell-tale deep breath. Moments later, both of them were bathed in that warm, golden glow, and the pain in Rainpace's hand immediately disappeared.
The trapper sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the Mother Tree while Willow worked her magic. There was something strangely comforting, soothing, and slightly sensual about the whole healing process. She had only healed him one other time — when she had been anxiously in need of practice to hone her powers, and she had approached him about healing his always-aching arm. Her healing him again made him remember that time, not so long ago, quite clearly.
There was no more pain. The near-constant throb in his arm melted away like ice on a warm Spring day. He could feel muscle and joints being shifted back into the places where they should have properly been, and it felt strangely nice. His whole body felt good — almost as good as after joining. He relaxed. He felt like he could doze off any moment.
He grabbed her wrist and yanked it away from his face. “What are you doing!?”
Willow's eyes snapped open, and her healing powers retracted immediately. She seemed shocked at his question. “I'm taking those scars off that handsome face of yours.”
Rainpace reached up with his other hand to feel the all-too-familiar marks on his cheek. They felt smoother and less prominent. “I didn't ask you to do that!” he cried. He felt his irritation intensifying. Why had she tried to heal his scars? Those were important to him!
“You didn't have to ask.” The corner of Willow's mouth shot up in her usual self-assured smile. “Healing those is a lot easier than healing your arm was. It's good practice.” She went to reach for Rainpace's face again, but he kept a firm hold of her wrist. Willow frowned. “Hey! Let go!”
“I want those scars,” Rainpace answered, eyes narrowing.
“Why in the name of Badger's blood would you want to keep those ugly things?” The tilt of her head told Rainpace that her thoughts were churning, and then something akin to realization spread across her face. “It's so you can be like Notch, isn't it? You think that chunk out of his ear makes him look tough? Oh, c'mon, knucklehead. You don't need scars for that. I can't heal that chunk out of his ear, but I can take those gash-marks off your face. You'll look so much better without them.”
Rainpace tried not to wince. Willow's words hurt. She didn't understand what those marks meant to him. They were something he didn't want taken away. To her, they were just scars that made him ugly on the outside — but to him, they were reminders of a triumph. He had found confidence when he received those scars.
He tried, instead, to smile in spite of her words — he didn't want Willow to know how much her words stung — but his true emotions must have been present on his face.
“What?” Willow sat back. Confusion painted itself across her features. She had no idea.
“What is it?” she asked again when Rainpace didn't respond, save for letting go of the wrist he had been holding onto so intently.
The older elf shook his head and pushed himself to his feet. “I need to go,” he growled, and left it at that. He was too hurt and angry for conversation at the moment.
As he stepped out of the den, he heard Willow call after him, “Let me know when you want me to finish healing those up for you!”
Rainpace shook his head. She couldn't — no, wouldn't — understand....
And they hadn't talked any more about it since.
Rainpace's hand shot to his cheek, and his eyes popped open. The familiar marks were still there; they hadn't changed. Willow hadn't bothered them. He looked over at his friend. She wasn't in any physical contact with him at all. The healer-glow was nowhere to be seen. She was sitting back, observing him much as he had been observing her just a while ago.
“I didn't touch them,” she said quietly about the marks on his face.
Her words took him by surprise, and suddenly he felt guilty for his actions. He removed his hand from his cheek and glanced down at it. His finger had been healed, but Willow had left a scar for him there, too. This was not the same Willow who had, that evening not so long ago, assumed she knew what was best for him.
“If you want me to take away the one on your finger, I will. Just tell me what you want me to do,” she said, and then she waited.
**Confidence,** Rainpace sent, and he guessed that wasn't what his healer-friend had expected to hear. **The scars on my face remind me that while I might not be bold and self-assured like Notch, I have the confidence within me to succeed when things get challenging. I wish I could be like him, sometimes, but I'm not. I'm me. I get by my own way. That's why I don't want them taken away.**
Willow paused, in thought. She swallowed a large lump in her throat, and then nodded. “I'm sorry I tried to heal them before when that wasn't what you wanted. I didn't understand. I do now.”
Willow spoke instead of sending, and Rainpace wondered what emotions she was trying to keep from him. He wanted Willow to understand. What he didn't want was to make her feel bad.
He realized, too, that it had been wrong to be angry with her the way he had been that day, even though what she had said and done had been hurtful. He was sorry. He wrapped his arms around Willow and pulled her to him. **It's not all your fault. I didn't tell you why I felt the way I did. You didn't know the scars were important to me. I should have told you then instead of walking away because I was angry. I... think it made more scars — scars between us.**
**Understand,** the healer sent, in impressions moreso than words. She did understand – Rainpace knew without a doubt. And it indicated a deeper knowledge that surpassed the contents of their current conversation. Willow settled against his side and rested her head on his shoulder. **I'm sorry I said what I said that night. I'm sorry if there are scars between us. I don't want there to be.**
**I think we're healing them right now,** Rainpace replied and gave her another squeeze. Willow nodded.
They sat silently for a while, until Willow flashed him the slightest hint of a smile. **You do know you are handsome just the way you are, right?**
Rainpace smiled back at that. The healer curled in next to him again, and he thought he could sense the tension that had been rippling like waves from the healer's body slowly recede as moments passed. He watched the bright colors of day fade into night, and listened to the last sounds of singing birds faded into the gently rhythmic sound of crickets chirping. For once, for now, at least, things seemed like they were a little bit more like they should be.