(This story follows ”The Roots of the Problem”, ”Angry & Unreasonable”, and ”A Song for You”; and is part of the "Consequences of Willow's Rogue Healing" storyline — see the listing for more related stories.)
Willow awoke with a gasp and a start. She sat up abruptly, tucked her hands under her armpits, willed her healing ability to cease, and pushed herself tightly back against the wall behind her bed-bowl to make herself as small as possible.
“I wasn't trying to hurt—!” she blurted.
Halfway through her outburst, reality started to set in, and she cut herself off. She had been dreaming. It took long, painful moments for both her breath to come back to her and her panic to fade as she glanced around the dim room. The thin stream of sunlight filtering through her closed den-flap told her it was daytime — midday, judging from the intensity and angle of the light. Beetle was lying, asleep, next to her, and Willow — and her portion of the bed — was soaked in sweat.
She'd had the nightmare again. How many days in a row had she had it, now? Willow had lost count. It had been two hands of days since her shunning. Most of the tribe had forgiven her for her actions — save a few — and Windburn had even given her permission to go out by herself within the Thornwall again — provided she was careful. Things were supposed to be getting back to normal...to better than normal.
But she kept dreaming the same thing day after day — that she was sneaking, driven in a state of madness, into the wrapstuff den to heal Brightwood behind everyone's back, and that angry tribemates were violently removing her from the situation once she was discovered, mid-act. Why? She had sworn to herself, time and time again, that if she'd had it to do over, she would have waited to heal Brightwood until everyone was ready for her to do so. She would have!
The more she had the dream, the more it bothered her.
Owl had been a good healer — and a welcome member of the tribe — until something terrible had happened. The plague had crept into the Holt, and he hadn’t been strong enough to fend it off. He had pushed himself to the point of madness once his lifemate and children had succumbed to a disease he couldn’t cure.
Owl hadn’t been safe, and Willow wasn’t safe either, she knew. She’d managed to almost push herself to the point Owl had reached without there being extenuating circumstances; she had talked herself into doing something stupid and terrible. And even though she had learned her lesson and had vowed she’d never do something like it again, what if something like the plague ever came back to the Holt? What if something similar pushed her past the breaking point and she, too, went mad?
The healer drew in a deep, ragged breath and glanced over at her lovemate. Somehow, Beetle was still asleep, even after her sudden outburst. Willow tried her best to keep it that way as she crawled over her lovemate and went over to the pile of furs that was stacked near the den's entrance. She wearily sat down on the makeshift seat and drew the leather den-flap open wide enough so she could rest her arms on the lip of the opening and look outside.
It was bright out. Birds were singing happily, and the cool breeze that set the leaves on the trees softly rustling brought gooseflesh to Willow's skin as it blew the perspiration on it dry. Willow closed her eyes and exhaled slowly before opening them again. Her nerves were on edge. These dreams tended to do that to her. She didn’t like this feeling of being ill-at-ease.
Suddenly, arms wrapped around Willow from behind and pulled her close. She jumped.
"Another nightmare?" Beetle asked quietly. Willow couldn't see her face, but knew her lovemate was concerned.
The healer grunted a wordless affirmation and, after a heartbeat, allowed herself to fall back into Beetle's embrace. “The same one I’ve had for days,” she finally said.
Beetle held Willow for a long while, in silence, and Willow tried to settle her nerves. It seemed like an impossible task. Her thoughts kept wandering back to images that had been sent during her punishment; of Owl’s madness and the cruel things he did — and attempted to do — to his family and friends.
When Beetle finally let go, she reached up and grabbed a pouch of herbs and a cup of water from a nearby shelf. She poured some of the herbs into the water, mixed them together with her finger, and handed the concoction to Willow. "This won't help you sleep, but it might help you feel calmer. I drink it sometimes when I need to think through something."
Willow stared at the cup for a moment before she took it. She was trying her best to hide how anxious she was feeling, but realized she was doing a poor job of it. Beetle must have made the concoction herself, or else asked Starskimmer for something to help during episodes like these, since they had been happening more and more frequently. She sniffed the liquid. It smelled sweet. She took the cold mixture from Beetle and quickly drank it.
She felt Beetle's head lean against hers, and Willow absently squeezed her lovemate. She knew she was lucky to have Beetle, and lucky that Beetle had forgiven her after she had... well, she had done so much that had been wrong. She would never forget that she had been given a second chance to make things right. But this... the constant waking every day, making Beetle — and many others — worry over her, the constant battle with the doubts that were lurking in her head... that wasn't fair to Beetle. Her lovemate didn't deserve to have to put up with this.
Willow sighed and reached up to rub her aching, tired eyes. “I can't keep waking you like this day after day... I’m sorry.”
Beetle massaged Willow's scalp with one hand and stroked her arm with another. After a few quiet moments, Beetle whispered, "No need to be sorry — I could sleep elsewhere if I wanted to. I don’t. I want to be here with you and for you.”
Willow bowed her head and reminded herself again of how lucky she was, but those thoughts were, again, quickly replaced with worry.
They both fell silent again — until the silence stretched to a point where Willow couldn't take just sitting there anymore. Maybe if she got moving, got her blood circulating, she could come up with a solution to both of their problems. She sat up abruptly, making Beetle jump this time. “Do you want to go out for the rest of the day or something? I'm tired of laying here and not being able to sleep.”
They had packed for an evening away. A part of Beetle wondered what her father would think about their departure — if he thought about it at all. She knew it might take a lot of time for her father to feel comfortable around Willow — which meant it might be a while before Beetle slept in her den again. If ever. Beetle hadn’t mentioned it, even to her lovemate, but as long as her father remained angry toward the healer, Beetle would not sleep in her den. The night before, she had actually told her father she would have Evervale or Brightwood shape a new den for her.
She glanced behind her to her beloved. Willow was riding quietly, seemingly lost in thought. Beetle accepted the silence. She could only hope that this little excursion would calm her lovemate's mind. Beetle knew the healer wasn't telling her everything that was going through her mind right now, and Beetle wished she would. Knowing that Willow was keeping things from her just worried her all the more.
The sun was setting. The golden-orange colors of the sky promised a mild night to come, and good weather for sleeping the next day. At the Holt, the last few tribemates would be waking up. Beetle wondered how long it would take for any of them to notice that she and Willow were gone. They had only told a handful they would be out for the evening, within the Thornwall.
Beetle felt certain her father would welcome Willow’s absence from the Holt. No sooner had she thought it than she received a sending from Cloudfern. He was wondering if she wanted to go gathering with him. At the base of the send was a peace-offering — their last conversation had ended with her leaving in tears; he felt bad about that. The request to spend time with her, and to fix things, would have touched her if not for the undercurrent of without Willow. Beetle returned his send with an explanation that she and Willow were out of the Holt and not likely to return that night. His response didn’t feel supportive to her, but Beetle was thankful that he chose only to suggest that he and Beetle spend time together another time, again, without Willow.
She agreed, but she also included a reminder — yet again — that even though he was still angry with her lovemate, she was not.
He didn’t respond.
Beetle sighed. And that's when Willow drew up beside Beetle on Sky, leaned over, and put an arm around her lovemate.
**Are you all right?** Willow quietly asked, concern underpinning the sending.
Beetle didn't want to hold anything back from Willow, but she also didn't want to worry her. Not telling her, though, would hurt her more. "It's Father. Are you surprised?” Willow shook her head, and Beetle continued, finally saying what she hadn’t said — at least out loud — before. “I don’t understand him. I don't see why he can't just be happy to have Brightwood back, whole and alive. You didn't try to hurt anyone...in fact, you helped — and you were punished! I just don't understand why Father is still so upset."
Thinking about it, Beetle added, "I don't know how long it will take him to forgive you, and it makes me sad. But, if he were to force a choice, not that I think he would, I choose you." She added a sentiment, **not your fault and you can't change my mind because it's done and I've chosen. Father will have to make his peace with you before I sleep there again.**
Willow was quiet a few moments before she responded. “I'm sorry." She took Beetle's hand and squeezed it, and her gaze rose from its focus on Sky's back to meet Beetle's eyes. “But think on it — sleep on it, please — before you go off and decide to leave your den and have a shaper make you another one, all right? It's not good to make decisions like that when you're angry. I learned that the hard way.”
Beetle thought about it. Willow was right — sort of. "It's not just that I'm angry... it's just... I don't want to make Father, or you, uncomfortable. If he's upset with you, it won't make him happy to have you in the next den over. And... well, I wouldn't ask you to be somewhere where you feel any less than welcome. So... maybe temporarily I'll get a new den. But you're right. I'll sleep on it... later. Right now, though, we have a journey ahead. I don't want to spend the time worrying about what my Father, or anyone else thinks. I'm just glad to be here with you!"
Beetle thought she saw the hint of a smile touch the corners of Willow's lips for a moment before they continued on, hand in hand, following the Holt's River northward. They fell into an easy silence. Willow seemed to relax more as time passed; the healer had begun to look more at their surroundings.
When they came to a bend in the river sheltered by a thick-trunked tree, Willow brought Sky to a stop. “Hold up,” she blurted to Beetle, and then slid from her wolf's back and made her way to the water's edge. Sky followed. The healer leaned against the tree for a while and watched the dark-rippled waters at the bend. Eventually, she slid to the ground to sit.
Beetle dismounted and set down her traveling pack, then sent Rooter off. Her wolf-friend would return when the time was right — somehow, she always seemed to be ready when Beetle needed her. Beetle squatted and sorted through her pack, pulling out two travel cakes. She carried them to where Willow sat. Offering one to her companion, Beetle sat down and studied Willow's face.
Willow took the food, but she didn't seem very interested in eating it. She laid the cake in her lap, and when Sky reached in and stole it from her, the healer only offered an obligatory muttered reprimand before the wolf bolted away with her prize.
“Sorry,” Willow said to Beetle. She sounded frustrated, too, but Beetle was pretty sure it wasn't because Sky had stolen the travel cake.
**???** Beetle sent, not certain why her lovemate had apologized.
“If I told you why I stopped here, you'd laugh,” Willow said, not taking her gaze off the water.
**You really believe that?** Beetle asked, her mind-voice expressing her confidence that Willow did not.
Willow looked back out at the water again. She thought for a moment, shrugged, and then said, “This is where my soul-name found me.”
Beetle considered Willow's choice of words, then stood up. She bent, picked up a stone, and skipped it across the water. She smiled — normally it would have taken her a couple throws to get a pebble to skip like that. She picked up another and threw again, hoping to make this one skip even further. This time, the pebble hit the water with a plop and sank below the surface. Willow's words pricked at her as she threw pebble after pebble, until finally, Beetle turned and looked at her lovemate. "It found you — what do you mean?"
Willow shrugged again. “That's the only way I can describe it. I came here, sat down, and it found me. I wasn’t really looking for it at the time. It was almost like the river carried it to me. Suddenly, it was just... there. I just knew it, and that was that. So, I thought, 'Oh, so that's all?' and went back to the Holt. Didn't even take me half the night.” She pulled her knees to her chest and laid her arms across them, and then rested her chin on her arms. “That was that. As easy as drinking water. At least, the finding out was.”
The healer paused for a moment. Her posture changed; she seemed frustrated again. When she continued, she said, “Knowing my soul-name didn't tell me anything. It didn't tell me I'd be a healer in the future. It didn't tell me that I'd... make such a mess of things.”
Beetle dropped the stones and returned to where Willow sat. "You know, soul-names don't tell you everything. You didn't and couldn't know. What did you think you would find here today?”
“I’m really not sure,” Willow said. “Maybe, just some kid of confirmation — for me — that things are going to eventually be all right again. That the past won’t repeat itself.”
Beetle reached down, took Willow's hands in her own, and pulled her up into a gentle embrace. “I wish that, for you, that kind of confirmation could happen — but it can’t.” Beetle paused for a moment, then said softly, “I don’t think it will, Willow, but I also think that should the past try to repeat itself, you are stronger and wiser than you were, even a moonturn ago! It doesn’t have to be the same.”
Willow whispered, “What if it does? And what if it is?”
Beetle leaned into Willow, wrapping her arms around her lovemate and pulling her closer. "We both know that we can’t tell what will happen next — but you and I both know that all we can do is our best — we can be prepared. I think the shared sending was there to help you prepare — to give you a warning! And it seems like you’re taking it seriously, which is hopeful!” Beetle paused a moment, nodding to herself.
“In the end, only time will tell us. Aside from time, though,” she continued, “I don't think either of us knows what will help make you feel better. Whatever is bothering you — and whatever nightmares are haunting you — I think you'll find the answer when you somehow make peace with it all. And when you figure out who you want to be.”
Willow merely nodded, untangled herself from her lovemate, and stood. The way Willow’s arms were wrapped around herself as she stared over the water told Beetle the healer was wrestling with something. Beetle wanted her lovemate to open up to her — but it had to be on her own time. “Let’s stay here tonight,” Beetle suggested, hoping that Willow would agree. Maybe a night under the stars and away from the Holt would give Willow the space she needed.
They’d agreed to stay at a spot quite a way up the river, a quiet spot with a comfortable cave for shelter, and a nearby freshwater spring for drinking. Beetle had offered to go and hunt up something to eat, but Willow had said not to, unless Beetle was hungry. So, in order to occupy herself, Beetle had begun to set up camp and roll out their sleeping furs, even though night had just recently fallen.
Willow didn’t want to eat. But even more so, she didn’t want Beetle to go away. There was too much on the healer’s mind — things she wanted to get sorted out. And maybe, just maybe, she had come upon a solution to the worry that was nagging at her insides. Maybe... but it certainly wasn’t an easy decision to make.
From her seat near the large tree, Willow watched as Beetle set up camp just so. Beetle had her own way with things, and even though, at first glance, one might think some of her ways were unconventional, the things she did worked. Beetle had a way of breaking things down and analyzing the pieces to help put together a whole. That was something Willow both admired and envied at the same time. So...if the idea Willow had was silly -- Beetle would be the one to see that, and tell her as much.
After barely a pause in those thoughts, Willow took a deep breath and blurted, “Beetle, we need to talk.”
Beetle looked up from her organizing with a confused expression. “I thought we had been talking.”
“Yes... but....” The healer struggled with words for a moment, before settling on, “If you had found me in the wrapstuff den, tearing open Brightwood’s cocoon, what would you have done?”
Beetle’s expression went from confused to serious. “Honestly, Willow, I don’t know. What could I have done? I think... or I like to think, that I would have been there supporting you, hoping that it would work out. I’m pretty sure I’d have been surprised... and probably wouldn’t have known what to do.”
“What if I had told you what I wanted to do... before I did it. What would you have done then?”
Beetle bit her lip, thinking. “Honestly, I’d have told you it was a bad idea — to do it without talking with my father, or Farscout. And maybe... I might have tried to stop you. Not that I could have, but I would have tried.”
The answer was what Willow wanted to hear. She leaned forward, and furrows creased her brow. “I keep having dreams,” she blurted, suddenly. It sounded stupid once it came out of her mouth. Of course she was having dreams! How many nights had she woken up Beetle with her rutting, horrible dreams?
Beetle nodded. “You haven’t wanted to talk about them before... and I haven’t wanted to push you away by asking too many questions.”
Willow nodded. “I know.” She had sensed her lovemate’s hesitation during those times; had caught half-gasps before abruptly swallowed sentences that had been almost, but not quite, asked. She had felt comforting touches that were laced with anxious worry. ”I kept trying to tell myself they were just dreams, and that they’d go away after a while. I didn’t think I needed to talk about them.”
And Willow knew she had been wrong to keep those thoughts to herself, especially over a worry of what Beetle might think. She had learned that lesson just days ago, when Windburn had released her and allowed her to go hunting again. “I’m sorry I kept it from you.”
Beetle smiled softly. “If you’re ready, you could tell me about them now,” she encouraged.
Willow exhaled and thought. It was hard to find where to begin. “I know, if I had to do it over... healing the wrapped elves... I wouldn’t do things with the cocoons the same way I ended up doing them. I would have waited — maybe on all of them. I wouldn’t have been so selfish.” She picked up a rock and tossed it into the river. “But, in my dreams... I keep going back down into the wrapstuff den, and doing the same thing I did before. And... even though I try to tell everyone I’m not trying to hurt Brightwood, I can’t stop myself. And everyone rushes in and keeps beating at me until I’m forced to stop and let her go.”
Beetle thought for a few moments. “I believe you, Willow. I think... maybe the reason you keep having those dreams...” she paused. “You have to forgive yourself,” Beetle said simply. “Otherwise, I think you’ll keep re-living it, having dreams about what might have been.”
Willow didn’t pause long before responding, “I don’t think it’s about what might have been, though.” There was a finality to her words. She had been thinking about this ever since the shared-sending, and the shunning that had come after. “I know I wouldn’t do it again now, no. I’d never do it again in my right mind.” She shook her head. “Owl wouldn’t have done what he did, either, if he hadn’t gone mad. But when he did go mad, there was no one there to keep him from doing what he did. He tried to do something terrible — and when the tribe tried to stop him, he killed one of his best friends. Easysinger’s only choice was to stop him by taking his life, because he wouldn’t have stopped there. I...” she trailed off, at first not sure what to say. “I can’t help but to think that if his lifemate were there, or maybe even his parents, they could have stopped him.”
Beetle’s expression showed she was weighing Willow’s words — contemplating them before voicing what was on her mind. “You mean, someone who really knew him. Someone who might have been able to reach him through his madness?”
Willow nodded. “By the time Owl started hurting others — when he had taken Brightwood out into the forest to remove her wolf-blood, his parents had been gone for an oak’s age. He had just lost Wren. There wasn’t anyone left to get in touch with the elf that was still there beneath the monster he had become.”
“You’re right,” Beetle said. “Maybe, if there had been, things would have been different.”
“I’m in that same place,” Willow blurted after Beetle’s response. Her words came fast and furious now. “Maybe nothing like what happened to Owl will ever happen during my lifetime. But maybe it will. We still don’t know what made so many elves sick back then. And it’s obvious the mistakes I’ve already made are steps down that same path Owl took to his death. I took away choices, just like Owl did. I don’t want to be in that same situation again. I don’t want to be so far down a long, black road that no one can stop me except with an arrowhead or a blade. And I’m afraid of what will happen if that situation does arise.”
Beetle nodded, then said, “I don’t think you will be, Willow. I know I’ll do what I can if that day ever comes — though I don’t think it will.”
Willow shook her head and cast Beetle a worried look. “You can’t say that. No one can know for sure. The tribe didn’t know it would lose half its members to some strange sickness. It didn’t know that one day, long ago, a fire would wipe out a handful of us. We face danger every day. I could be needed any day, or I could be pushed past the limit at any time. And I know I’m not half the healer that Owl was. I think he held out for longer than I ever could before he went over the edge.” She looked Beetle in the eye. “But I think I know of a way to keep me safe.”
The healer paused then, mulling over her wording, making the one last decision of whether or not she should really share what she had been contemplating. Her next words were carefully chosen. “I don’t have my mother or father, and I’m not Recognized, but I have you. I know you care for me, and I love you. And I feel like, if it came to the point where I was teetering into a pool of madness, you would pull me back and keep me safe, if you could.”
“What do you mean?” Beetle’s voice sounded both curious and uncertain.
Willow kept her eyes glued to Beetle’s. “I trust you with anything. I’d trust you with my soul-name.”
Beetle’s eyes went wide with surprise. “You would?” she asked, almost at a whisper.
**I would.** The switch to sending made that absolutely clear. **I think if you knew my soul-name, maybe a situation like happened with Owl — or even what happened with me before with Brightwood — could be stopped. You could get in touch with the part of me that knows what’s right and what isn’t.**
Before Beetle had time to respond, Willow leaned back and added, **But I won’t just give it to you. I have to be sure first. Giving it to you to keep me safe is no small thing. Not just for me, but for you. It’d be a big responsibility for you. It may be too much to ask. I trust you, but I’d never give you that responsibility if you didn’t want it or if you didn’t feel you were ready for it.**
Beetle nodded, then responded, **Is that what you really want? To share your soul-name with me? I would guard it with my life — and the responsibility — I would accept that, Willow. But are you sure that’s what you want to do?**
**I haven’t been able to think of anything besides what I did — or what I could do — since I stepped back into the arms of the tribe after the shunning. I know it will take a while for some to trust me again, but I know you trust me, and I feel like this is the right thing to do... but only if you are willing to do it.**
Beetle nodded and then sent, **Yes. I’m willing.** Beetle paused, thought for a moment, then added, **Do you want me to share mine with you? willing to and trusting; uncertain, maybe not ready, don’t want it to be unfair**
**No.** Willow didn’t hesitate to reply. She took Beetle’s hands in hers and squeezed them gently. **I wouldn’t ask you to do that. I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair for me to ask for your name now. It would be selfish. Maybe, someday, there will be a time when it will be right for you to give me yours, but, right now, it isn’t.**
Beetle nodded in acceptance. **As long as you know that it’s not about trust — I trust you, Willow.**
Willow managed a smile at Beetle. Then, she swallowed hard. Even though she had made the decision and felt in all certainty that this was the right thing to do, the healer found taking the next step was difficult. This was her innermost self she was going to be sharing, and she never would have guessed or figured that this would be how someone else would learn about that part of her. It was... unconventional.
She took a deep breath, and the syllable she wanted to say sprang into her mind, just as it had that day long ago when she had found it for the first time, but she found she couldn’t quite share... not quite yet.
She swallowed again and looked into Beetle’s hazel eyes. She could see the trust and love Beetle had for her in that gaze — no sending was needed for that. And then, uncertainty crept in to Willow’s mind. What would happen once Beetle knew? Would that trust and love still be there, or would Beetle see something she didn’t like that sent her running away? The healer absently started squeezing Beetle’s hands quite a bit harder. She felt her pulse pounding so hard that it seemed like her heart was beating in her ears. Quickly, she looked away, before returning a worried gaze back to meet Beetle’s eyes again. “This is hard,” she whispered.
Beetle returned the squeeze, and met Willow’s gaze with a gentle smile. Then, to Willow’s surprise, Beetle laughed. “Of course it’s hard! If it was easy, we’d all know each other’s names.”
The joke wasn’t what Willow expected to hear, and it put the healer surprisingly at ease. She found herself chuckling, and then she took a deep breath. “I’m Jhie,” she whispered, then sent, **Jhie.**
A short intake of breath — Beetle's eyes were wide, and there were tears in them. "Jhie," she said softly almost reverently, then smiled. **Jhie! you have my acceptance, love, gratitude,** Beetle sent happily, throwing her arms around Willow.
Willow leaned into Beetle’s embrace. It felt strange to hear her soul-name from someone else. Her mother and father had rarely used it, and she didn’t quite remember it sending jolts up her spine like it did when she heard Beetle say it.
Mixed feelings washed over her. Relief was prominent. Beetle had made no indication that she disliked anything she had learned about Willow — if she had learned anything at all. Suddenly, as that thought leapt into her head, the healer felt naked and unprotected — despite the fact she was dressed She felt as if all the layers that made up who she was had been stripped away. She felt exposed. Willow swallowed hard, fighting an urge to suddenly hide. She couldn’t quite meet Beetle’s eyes. For the umpteenth time, she swallowed hard, and then asked, **What do you see?** She was almost afraid to hear the answer.
**You, Willow,** she responded, with a smile that lit up her face. **More clearly than before. You’re beautiful! Not just outside — your heart shines — you care so much for others. And there’s a weight on you — almost like a boulder — it threatens you with its enormity. But maybe I’m sharing that with you now, because already it seems lighter. You are Jhie — and I’m glad!**
It took a moment for Beetle’s words to sink in — once the little jolt from hearing her soul-name had passed again. There was nothing but truth in her lovemate’s words, and what Beetle had said warmed Willow’s heart — she hadn’t known what Beetle would say, and she hadn’t realized her lovemate’s response would mean so much to her. All at once, the doubts and fears she had about herself didn’t seem half as bad as they had before, and Willow was suddenly at a loss for words. She squeezed Beetle all the more tightly and bit her lip to hold back the tears that wanted to come. She hadn’t expected this, at all.
Beetle returned the hug, sending, **I love you, Jhie.**
Willow moved her lips close to her lovemate’s ear and whispered, “I love you, too.” The moment they had shared and the whole night itself was special. Willow breathed deeply of Beetle’s scent and began to gently nip at the side of her lovemate’s neck. There could be only one way to end such a perfect evening... and when Beetle pulled the healer closer, Willow more than knew her lovemate felt the same way.
Beetle sighed as she made her way back to the cave where they'd chosen to camp. She carried a bowl of warmed water and a pouch of dried herbs. When she’d left, she thought her lovemate had actually been sleeping soundly. Then Willow had mumbled something that had sounded like, “Where are you going?” Beetle hadn’t responded.
Stepping out of the cave, she had winced at the brightness of day, but her eyes had adjusted as she’d made her way to the nearby spring. She’d heated some fresh water and had gathered up a mixture of herbs to help herself relax and possibly lull her into sleep — Beetle’s mind was too full after the events of the previous day. The knowledge of Willow’s soul-name was incredible, and almost overwhelming, but in a good way. Still, Beetle knew she needed to sleep.
Beetle entered the cave, and Willow looked up from where she lay on the bedfurs. “I think I passed my inability to sleep on to you.”
“You aren’t the one that’s kept me awake today. My mind is running like wolves on the hunt. It’s exhilarating.” Beetle knelt by Willow and set down the items she carried, then reached out to Willow and lightly touched her face. “You’ve been sleeping soundly for the first time in over a moonturn. I’m so sorry I woke you!”
“It’s all right,” Willow said. Then she sat up and inspected what Beetle had brought back with her. “What is that?”
Beetle poured the packet of herbs into the bowl. Then, she held out the concoction to Willow, and the healer took a sniff before saying, “Apples? And lavender?”
“Something like that,” Beetle responded, then sent an image of different herbs. She took the bowl back and stirred the concoction with her finger. “I thought it might help me sleep.”
“I suppose,” Willow said. As Beetle tipped up the bowl and took a swig of the mixture, Willow motioned Beetle next to her. “Or maybe you just need to get your mind off things for now. Maybe I could help?” The healer held out an inviting hand.
Wordlessly, Beetle sat down and settled against Willow. The healer wrapped one arm around her, pulled her close, and rested her other hand against Beetle’s head. Moments passed, and Beetle felt Willow begin to gently knead her scalp.
Willow softly said, “Tell me about the humans? I never got to hear about your last hunt for words.”
Beetle didn’t respond immediately, thinking about how unsuccessful it had been. She didn’t want to burden Willow with anything else that she might feel badly about, so she knew she had to choose her words carefully. At the same time, she knew better than to attempt any form of deceit — Willow would surely pick up on it. "I haven't told you about it, have I? So much has happened since then, I had almost put it out of my mind. It was probably the least successful outing yet — although I did come close to a pair of humans."
Willow was quiet, but Beetle knew her lovemate was listening, even as the healer untwined her other arm from around Beetle and began to massage her neck and shoulders, so she continued. She told of the little hiding nook Evervale had crafted that she'd had to sprint to, of the amorous encounter she'd witnessed once the two humans had come into view.
**They said something,** Beetle commented, sending after a pause as Willow began rubbing her back. **Ina abārim ariāsh, ra’inta.** She could still hear the words as clearly as if they'd just been spoken. **And then...** She sent what happened next — how the humans embraced, and then how they had started removing clothing. She stopped once she got to that part. She didn't really want to share with Willow that she had broken down crying afterward. After all, it didn't matter. She and Willow had made up. They were together. All had been forgiven between them.
Willow suddenly stopped her backrub. "Beloved," the healer mumbled after a few moments pause, seemingly out of nowhere.
Beetle stirred from her thoughts. She didn't quite hear what Willow had said. "What?"
"Beloved," Willow repeated. "The one called the other beloved."
Beetle sat up straight and twisted around, making Willow draw her hands back. Of course that's what the human male had said! It made perfect sense. "How did you figure that out?" she asked, excitedly.
Willow shrugged. “Maybe, in the same situation, they’d understand us, too.” Then, with a smile, she pulled Beetle back against her. “And this is not helping you to fall asleep. Maybe you’d like to talk about something else, instead?”
“I don’t know.” Beetle was still smiling as she tipped her head back and looked up at her lovemate. “Like what?”
But, to her surprise, Willow’s expression was all seriousness. “Like what’s really on your mind,” the healer said. “Your father.”
“Oh...” Beetle’s expression fell. She was silent as thoughts of the last conversation she and her father had seeped back into her consciousness. She had made the choice to go with Willow. She didn’t regret it and she was glad she’d helped her lovemate. But she didn’t like that she and her father had departed on such a bad note. She hated that her father was so angry with Willow... and, in a sense, with her. The heart of her worries that she had held back for so many nights now sprang to her lips. "You lost your father so unexpectedly... I... don't want to lose mine..."
That clearly struck a chord with her lovemate. Willow squeezed her fiercely, like she didn’t dare let go. When the healer finally spoke, she sounded choked up. “I don’t want that, either, Beetle. So please, let me help. Tell me what I can do to make this better. He should be angry at me. Not you.”
Beetle shook her head. "He shouldn't be angry at either of us, really. But... he is. And I don't know what it will take to help him past it."
“I’ll talk to him,” Willow blurted. Her tight hold on Beetle relaxed. “I’ll go right to him when we get back to the Holt. Then let him rage at me a night and a day. I’ll take it, so he won’t be throwing it all at you. Maybe it’ll be what he needs. Maybe it’s just like a strong storm that needs to pass, and if he does that, he’ll blow all the anger out.”
Beetle found herself grinning at the imagery, and realized that it felt like a weight had been lifted. Willow’s offer made sense. Instead of feeling confused about her father’s anger, she felt hope that this tension between her and her father could blow over. Beetle sat up and twisted around so that they could see one another. “Yes!” she said enthusiastically. “I think that might be exactly what father needs.”
Beetle’s enthusiasm dampened, though, and she said, more earnestly this time, “It’s not fair, Willow. You shouldn’t have to do it... but if you’re willing to — thank you. I do think it’s what father needs.”
Willow cast Beetle a gentle, caring look — one that had been so rare to see of late when the healer had been suffering from her own worries. It warmed Beetle’s heart. “I started it, Beetle. It only makes sense that I’m the one to go and at least try to make it right. I just hope I can do something to make it better.”
Beetle offered, “I’ll go with you.”
Willow shook her head, then shifted so she was straddling Beetle’s back. “No. I’ll face your father on my own. That way, he’ll have no chance to misdirect his anger toward you. And hopefully, when it’s over, we’ll all sleep better.” Beetle felt Willow place warm hands on her back again before Willow continued, “Speaking of which... would you like me to help you sleep now? I could do that, if you wanted.”
Beetle thought for a moment. She knew Willow was asking permission to use her healing powers. She was tired, and it would be nice to feel rested for once before they headed back to the Holt. “I’d like that,” she finally said.
Willow pulled Beetle back to rest against her, and, once Beetle was comfortable, she saw the soft-golden light of Willow’s healing power envelop her. She felt it soothing her, making her pleasantly drowsy. Her eyelids grew heavy. It was just like a few dances of the moons ago when Willow would help her fall asleep with her powers after a long night of work-punishment.
**Sleep well, Ra’inta,** Willow sent to her. The healer wrapped her arms around her and squeezed her tightly. **Tomorrow we start making everything else better.**
Ra’inta. Beetle felt the word roll through her mind like a babbling stream. It felt right. She sighed happily, and was asleep.