The coming dawn trailed a line of faint light along the eastern horizon, outlining the distant mountains in pale silver. Crickets and the long-hibernating cicadas hummed in the grass, their song flickering in and out with breezes warming with the deepening summer.
Greenweave hummed along with them, his eyes closed and he lay stretched out on the wolf hide spread over the cushioning grass of the meadow. His shoulders and back ached down to sinews and bone. The smell of fish still clung to his hair and skin, despite a good sand-scrub. He was utterly exhausted...but the last of the salmon runs had finished. There had been better years and worse years, but the storage dens were full of fish and the tribe's well-being was shielded against the distant winter. That was what mattered. For the moment, he was content to lie half-stripped under the stars and retreating moons and just drift for a time. He inhaled deeply, then shifted position just to feel the slide of fur against his skin, slid his fingers against the nap of the hide. Thoughts kept trying to bob up through the pleasant haze of Now, despite his best efforts to melt into relaxation.
If Lightjaw had been there -- living, not simply an empty length of skin and fur -- he would have been listening to the gurgle of a belly full of purloined fish guts and the satisfied grunts that came with a wolf digesting an over-large meal.
He was trying not to think on that. It would have been easier to do if he had gone back to the den he shared with Cloudfern and Newt. Even the distraction of other scents would have helped. Lavender and mint, favored ingredients in balms to soothe sore muscles. The feel of Cloudfern's hair through his fingers as they tended each other. Their son's cheerful chatter. Even Browncoat grumbling at Crowsong would have helped to keep him in the present.
But perhaps that was the point.
The four-beat rustle of paws trotting through the grass drew his attention, though with no sense of urgency. It was Browncoat, arriving as if summoned by thought and -- so his nose told him -- with Newt on his back.
**Looking for me?** Greenweave sent, reluctant to add his voice to the retreating night.
**You hadn't come back from the beach,** Newt sent back, sliding off of Browncoat's back before the wolf had even come to a full stop. **If you were going to vanish, you should have sent; you'd scold me for that.** Despite his words, the youth was grinning as he dashed over to flop at Greenweave's side.
**You didn't send to me,** Greenweave countered, reaching out blind to ruffle his hair. Easy love, long-since familiar now, slipped down the mental link between them. **I suspect, star-top, that you have your own reasons for being out and about and on my heels.**
Newt grinned, though they retained the silence between them. **The Holt and everyone in it smells like fish.** The send danced with humor that faded to contemplative embers of thought as Newt brushed his cheek on the fur beneath them, whisper quiet. **How long are you going to keep Lightjaw's pelt?** Concern and curiosity, still touched by a faint sadness.
Greenweave considered his answer for a few moments. **Until all of me knows she's gone,** he sent finally. **It was so fast...there really wasn't much time to say good-bye. It happens like that sometimes and it...can help to find something to hold on to. At least until I stop being startled that she isn't there.** The very act of taking the pelt had helped, to an extent. It hadn't been Lightjaw...just fur and meat. But Greenweave had been through this before, and he knew that certain knowledge would fade as soon as he was clear of the body. He'd needed the reminder.
**I know...** Mutual losses, recent and aged, brushed against each other. A wolf-friend's hide, a set of ragged leathers, an old carving. They served a similar need. The two shared that current of wordless empathy for a moment more before Greenweave finally broke the silence with words.
"I don't think it will be that much longer, honestly," he murmured. "It doesn't even really smell like her anymore. Almost more like someplace that she'd been lying for a while." Newt snuggled up; Greenweave slipped an arm around his shoulders. "I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to hold on, so long as you know when to let go. A splint removed too soon means everything heals all wrong, but so does one left on too long."
"And if you're like our whole family and don't know when to let go?"
Greenweave laughed softly at the teasing; there was too much shared history and understanding between the two of them for Greenweave to mistake the humor there for cruelty. "Then you should hope to be lucky enough to know good healers. I've been lucky in that respect." He finally opened his eyes and turned his head to see that Newt was stripped down and in his oldest leggings, ragged at the hems, many times patched, and stopped just short of the ankles. "One-Leg probably would say our whole line walks around tail-first and head-backward. We have to chase down the Now rather than let it come to us. But we're not alone in that, right?" He stood, stretched, and offered Newt a hand up.
Newt gripped his hand and hauled himself up with ease. **Not for a moment.**
The note of fierce protectiveness underlying Newt's send gave Greenweave pause. Even after all this time, part of him was still used to thinking of Newt as that confused cub just out of wrapstuff, trying to acclimate himself to the loneliness of a nearly unfathomable loss and the idea of meeting tribesmates he didn't know. Newt wasn't that cub anymore. His grip was strong. He was almost able to look Greenweave in the eyes without turning his head up now. And Newt was ready to protect him now, if he needed it.
**I've been very lucky.** He gave his son a fond smile. "Come on. Cloudfern must be waiting on us."