(This story is a sequel to Not Fishing for Fish.)
A cool evening breeze floated into the den, waking Chicory. She stretched, careful not to disturb Rainpace, who still slept peacefully next to her. Peeling back the sleeping furs, Chicory grinned at the smile that covered his face, even in sleep. She couldn't blame him, of course; she'd had a lot of fun herself last morning. They had retired quickly to his den to see to the needs of Recognition, then spent a good deal of the rest of the day celebrating before falling asleep in an exhausted, happy tangle. Speaking of which...
Chicory cautiously slid herself out of bed, lithely twisting and slipping her arms and legs out of the confused knot they were still in with her lovemate's, barely breathing so as not to wake him up. 'Let the poor boy sleep,' she thought fondly, reaching for her clothes and filling her lungs deeply again now that she was up. 'No one tossed me out of bed onto my head before I was ready to wake up this evening!' A small frown crossed her face as her seeking fingers found nothing. Turning her gaze from the face of her sleeping lovemate, she looked around the den in a moment's confusion, trying to remember where she had put her clothes
With a small groan, Chicory dropped her forehead into the palm of one hand as she suddenly remembered: her leathers, laying in a disgraceful, wet, muddy heap on the riverbank where she had tossed them hours earlier. Well, she supposed she had reason enough to have been distracted! Getting ruefully to her feet, Chicory made her naked way out of the den, past several knowing smiles of her early-risen tribesmates, and back to the river to get her clothes back.
The gentle weaver looked up from the beads in his lap he was busy stringing together, and suppressed a laugh at the sight hovering in the mouth of his den. Chicory stood there, stark naked, with a stiff tangle of leathers in her arms and an expression of chagrin on her face. "Again?" he asked, setting his work aside and throwing the sleeping-fur off of his folded legs and onto his sleeping lifemate. "How do you do it? It looks like you made an especially wonderful mess of your clothes this time, too!"
"I brought you a sailback," Chicory said hopefully, pulling the small fish out from between her clothes and her chest and holding it out in offering. "You know I'm helpless when it comes to washing my own leathers! Will you help me?"
"Of course," Greenweave agreed readily, shaking his head in amusement. He took both fish and leathers from his relieved tribemate.
"Thank you!" Chicory grinned, throwing her arms around his neck and planting a kiss on his cheek. Woken by the movement next to him, Cloudfern blinked and sat halfway up, examining the spectacle before him: his lifemate, being hugged by a still very-naked Chicory. With a grin, he joked, "Lifemate, why didn't you wake me up, too, if you're going to play?"
Chicory wrinkled her nose and laughed. "Sorry, I'm not here to play. I got my leathers dirty, and just came to ask Greenweave's help with them."
Cloudfern raised an eyebrow at her, still grinning. "What, again?" he asked.
With a melodramatic sigh, Chicory dropped her head to her chest.
By the time Chicory got her leathers back, clean but still damp, it was well into night, and word of her and Rainpace's Recognition the day before had, of course, spread long since through the tribe. She caught her father's eye briefly across the clearing at the base of the Dentrees, and could feel Blacksnake's sense of contentment and pride in the glance he returned to her. Whispersilk would soon very soon bear his third grandcub, and in another two turns of the season now, Chicory would be giving him another. She knew he loved cubs as much as she did, and had delighted in not only raising his own cubs, but helping them raise theirs, and those of the rest of the tribe. After only a brief moment, though, the practical hunt leader turned his attention back to the work-concerns of talking with his hunters Now. Glancing about, Chicory saw Rainpace encircled by his friends Notch, Foxtail, and Beetle, who were all eagerly teasing and congratulating him. Chicory quickly headed into the Dentrees and up to her den before she was caught in a similar situation herself. She couldn't avoid it forever, of course not that she wanted to, really but her head was still swimming a bit with excitement and she wanted to keep it all for herself for now.
Flopping down onto the edge of her bedbowl with relief, Chicory took in the soothingly familiar sights and scents of her den and tried to gather her thoughts. Her mind was awhirl with the joy of becoming a mother, the wonder of suddenly knowing her dear friend's soul, and the vulnerability of knowing that he had her secret soul-name in his heart, too. She trusted him completely with it, but she still felt awkward knowing that her deepest self was no longer a secret known only to her and her parents. She supposed her Recognized, and everyone who ever had Recognized anybody, probably felt about the same way. A sharp scent tickled at her nose, making her frown in distraction. Now, what was that...?
Of course. Crushed capnuts, dried and powdered puckernut leaves, and redleaf root, all mixed and ready to steep together in bloodberry juice. In her past experiments, she had found that something about the bloodberries often drew out more of whatever she was using into the mixture than water did, and besides, it helped cover a number of unpleasant smells and flavors. Usually not enough, of course, but she didn't mind, because she was used to the type of uniquely foul tastes she usually discovered.
Yesterday, she had meant to try it the next time she had a good chance. But today... The very thought of putting that mixture in her body along with her cub made her recoil. Most of it was probably harmless, but the capnuts and especially the puckernut leaves made her worry. What if she had put too much in? Best to just get rid of it. She was willing to risk herself, but not her tribemates, and especially not her unborn cub!
Leaving the bloodberries she had been planning to squeeze the juice from on a shelf for later snacking, Chicory deftly gathered up her toxic supplies, dumping them into the bowl on top of the mixture she had already so carefully measured into it the night before. Flakes of frogskin, snowberries, dried pieces of spotted mushrooms, chokecherry seeds, and a tiny clay bottle of freshwater eel's blood she had saved to find something to do with all of it went into the bowl to be discarded. Once she was certain she had gathered everything, she picked up the bowl in both hands and went outside, heading into the woods surrounding the Holt while still trying not to draw too much attention to herself in the process.
Rainpace was more than happy to put up with the attention from his tribemates, if a little self-conscious about it all. His joy was shaken hard, however, when he saw Chicory out of the corner of his eye, sneaking off into the forest and away from the Dentrees with an all-too-familiar bowl in her hands giving off a faint whiff of an ominous mixture of scents. 'She wouldn't,' he told himself nervously. 'Not now.'
"Hey!" Notch waved a hand in Rainpace's face to get his attention. "I just told you I hoped your cub got its mother's smarts and not yours, and you didn't even blink." It was a favorite jibe at newly Recognized fathers-to-be, and everyone knew it was never meant seriously. But Notch was right; Rainpace hadn't even heard him.
"Sorry," Rainpace mumbled, still distracted with a gnawing sense of worry. He fidgeted for a moment as his friends exchanged befuddled looks, then he added, "I'll see you later, all right?" and hurried off in the direction he'd seen his lovemate go.
Giving a sniff in that direction, Beetle grinned. "Chicory's scent," she said unnecessarily. "He must still be feeling the pull from yesterday!"
"Well, they shouldn't get to have all the fun," Notch pouted meaningfully, sidling up to a laughing Foxtail.
Chicory's trail was devious to follow, of course, but Rainpace had had a lifetime of learning how to track his tribemates. She managed to stay ahead of him, but after a only a relatively short distance of travel she stopped, and Rainpace was able to catch up to her. He saw Chicory standing, looking around speculatively, holding her mixing bowl of assorted poisons.
Startled and confused, Chicory whirled around to meet her lovemate's eyes. "No, what?" she asked.
Rainpace's gaze dropped to the bowl of ingredients in her hands. "I know I can't stop you from taking risks," he said, his voice tight, "but how could you think of testing those now? Our cub "
"I'm not," she retorted angrily, turning her back on him again and crouching down to begin digging in the soft dirt at the base of a tree. "I'm getting rid of it, of course!"
"Of course?" Rainpace echoed disbelievingly. "How can it be 'of course' when you're always sneaking off, worrying half the tribe... I never know for sure what you're planning to do."
Chicory didn't answer him for a while, digging angrily through the soil with the point of her gutting knife. She would no doubt have to chip a new, clean edge on the blade after the way she was treating it, but she didn't care. Studiously continuing to ignore her Recognized, she carefully scraped the contents of the bowl into the half-arm-deep hole, then packed the unearthed soil tightly back down on top of it. Finally, she stood, resheathing her knife and brushing the dirt from her hands with satisfaction, and turned to see Rainpace still watching her quietly.
"What if I hadn't followed you?" he asked quietly, uncertainly, searching her face for answers. "Were you really coming to get rid of it all?"
Chicory could feel his worry, and it cut her like a knife; both the worry itself and the fact that he thought he needed to worry. She felt her face reddening in embarrassed annoyance. "You know," she said, a little testier than she meant to, "I do know I'm pregnant now."
"I know," Rainpace replied, a little guiltily. "I just can't help it."
**I know, Sudi,** Chicory sent, instantly sorry for snapping at her lovemate like that. **It's who you are.** She still stung, and it showed through her sending, but she couldn't blame this soul she was still reeling from getting to know better than the Twig-Rainpace she had known from the outside all his life. Recognition was still new for her, and it was hard to get used to. **confusion, at a loss** she sent out without meaning to, before realizing the mind-link was still open.
Rainpace moved towards her, taking her hands in his and looking into her eyes. **daunted, head still swimming** he agreed with his feelings.
Chicory moved their hands to cover her still-flat belly. **love** she assured him, sharing her own feelings of horror at taking any risks that would involve their child. She sent images of herself, healthy and well, swollen with pregnancy nursing a baby chasing after a growing child neither of them knew yet... **I do feel like I need to see my project through,** she admitted, but went on to promise: **but I won't go back to it until after our cub's Very Long Walk.**
Smiling, Chicory allowed her Recognized, the elf she had known since he himself was a baby, crush her to him in a protective, loving embrace.