(This story is a sequel to ”Bitter Knowing”, and is a part of the ”Developing Feelings Between Otter and Newt” storyline.)
Farscout looked up from his crafting toward the door of his den as he heard the scuff of footsteps on the broad branch-shelf outside hesitate. His visitor paused for a long moment before making a decision.
"Farscout? Are you there? Can I come in?"
**Little cousin,** Farscout responded, along a pulse of welcome and an image-send of his daughter nestled among the furs of the bed, sound asleep. Newt slipped past the hide door-curtain and lashed it tight behind him, and the hood he pushed back from his hair glittered with cold drops of rain. The youth tip-toed across the den chamber to sit on the hide-padded lid of the shaped trunk-bench that held Brightwood's clothing, so that he sat facing Farscout. Farscout himself was sitting cross-legged on the floor, with a rabbit hide spread skin-side up across his lap to catch the dust and debris from his handiwork — he had carved the flat bone of a deer scapula down into the blunt-headed replica of a kestrel feather, and was now etching in the finer lines of the barbs running parallel to the fine centered shaft. When Farscout looked up from his carving to look at Newt perched on the bench-seat, he smiled to find the slight youth's face level with his own. Newt was frowning, and his pale eyes were intent on the polished bone in Farscout's hands, both fixed on the carving yet equally distant and preoccupied with his own concerns.
Farscout restrained his smile. Newt sometimes came to him for counsel, or simply for a willing ear. Farscout had never been gregarious, so it was an unfamiliar role Farscout found himself in — few beyond his soul-brother Cloudfern, or on the rarer occasion Blacksnake, ever sought him for such a thing. But he was always willing to listen without judgement to his cousin's troubles, and Newt had no reason to fear his private concerns would turn up later in tribal gossip. The stoic hunter kept the youth's confidences, and as high up in the Dentree as Brightwood and Farscout's den was, there were no ears close enough to eavesdrop. **Does something trouble you?** he asked, although it was obvious to see that the youth carried some heavy weight on his shoulders.
Newt looked toward Copper, who was curled up on the bed with her stuffed fox Bearkiller under one arm and her wolf-friend Flea stretched out beside her, between the child and the den wall. Only when Newt seemed assured that the girl was soundly asleep did he speak.
“I... Something happened last night that I... I just don’t know...” The youth winced at his own struggle to find his words, then blew out a heavy, soul-burdened sigh. “I don’t even know how to say it.”
Farscout gave Newt an encouraging look and simply waited, still etching his cautious, careful lines of barbs on the polished bone feather. The primary vane of the feather was complete, and he was putting the last touches of the irregular shape of the downy barbs of the afterfeather, near the base of the quill.
Newt took a deep breath, as though steeling himself for a leap off a height. “Last night, Otter came to me and asked me to be his lovemate.” The words began at a halting pace and ending in a downhill rush. Newt chanced a look up at his kinsman, and his expression was bleak.
Farscout regarded the youth steadily. Newt’s confession was no surprise — Otter was as transparent as a fast-moving mountain stream, and his desire for Newt had been obvious to the tribe’s elders for seasons now. Farscout was only surprised it had taken Otter so long to make his move, and that Otter’s request was not for a simple roll in the furs, but an immediate plunge into commitment. He had not realized Starskimmer’s shallow-seeming son had a need for such depth — but he kept that particular opinion private.
**You don’t welcome it,** Farscout sent, knowing the youth was waiting for him to say something. Newt shook his head miserably, but said nothing more. Farscout gave the youth a gentle smile. **Why not?**
Newt gusted out another soul-deep sigh. “I was so happy at first the other night, when everyone started saying that the mystery was over and agreeing that Greenweave was Otter’s father. Because that made him my brother. Well... not really, I know — Greenweave’s my nephew so really Otter’s my grand-nephew. But I don’t think of him like that. I never have. When I first woke up, Otter wasn’t shy about being my friend. Crackle was — she was scared of me, I think. But Otter was quick to make me feel welcome, even when I didn’t much feel like being welcomed. And he was another boy. I never had another boy to play with. And...” Newt signed heavily again, his arms wrapped around his middle as he sat hunched over his knees. “I missed my family so much. I missed my brothers. I missed them so, so much. And Otter was like a burr I couldn’t shake. He wanted to be my friend so badly, he made it easy. And I... I wanted everyone I’d lost. I know, I know, Otter isn’t my brother-by-blood. But I wanted him to be. I wanted it so badly. I latched onto him that way and let him grow into those holes in my heart that my real brothers had left. And now...” The youth hugged himself tighter. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Farscout nodded. The tribe’s middling cubs had grown into yearlings — it was their time for exploring their maturing bodies and maturing emotions. It wasn’t an easy time of life for everyone. Even after his centuries of living, Farscout could well remember his own troubled yearling-years. **When Otter asked you, what did you tell him?**
“That I didn’t think of him that way. That I couldn’t.” Newt gave an abortive shrug. “I told him I needed time to think about it. But I thought and thought and thought about it. I haven’t been able to sleep, I just think about it instead. And I know... I can’t give him what he wants. I can’t. I don’t even want to be his furmate, because he’s too much of a brother in my heart. I can’t share furs with him and still feel he’s my brother. And even if he weren’t what feels like my brother-in-blood... he doesn’t just want to share furs. He wants me all to himself, he wants to settle down and share a den or something like that! And I’m not ready for anything like that. I don’t want to move out of my den with my fathers, and I’m not ready to be steady-serious about anyone as a lovemate, I don’t feel anywhere near ready for big steps like that about anybody!! But it’s what Otter wants, and I do love him as my brother. How can I hurt him like this? I hate myself for hurting him, but I don’t know what to do! I wanted to wake up and have it all just go away like it never happened, but it won’t go away. Otter’s still clear about what he wants from me. And now every time he looks at me, I see that he’s just waiting for me to come around to what he wants. And I just don’t want that. Maybe I will someday a long time from now, when we’ve both gotten old. But I don’t right now. But I hate hurting him. I hate it! I just don’t know what to do that could make this right.”
They sat in an expectant silence, as Newt scrubbed at his eyes with a sleeve and waited for what Farscout would say. Farscout took his time, composing his thoughts.
**When I was Otter’s age, I asked the same of Brightwood.** Farscout etched another delicate barb into the bone feather. He thought of his own years as a yearling. It had been a hard time, in some ways maybe the hardest years of his life. When he sent again, his mindtouch was wistful with those old memories, and the heartache of waiting. **I knew too young what my heart wanted, and no one else but her ever interested me. But I also knew it was wrong of me to make such a demand. Lynx was like a father to me, and Frost had always been more nurturing than my own mother. I was always a strange child. I was too much like my mother —** Farscout smiled again, ruefully now as he saw Newt wince at the memory of Ice. Newt could well remember the sharp-tongued, unfriendly smith — she had never been tolerant of young Newt. **And that worried the tribe. I, always on the outside, always the lone pup who didn’t want the company of the rest of the pack. I was always happiest alone, or traveling with Lynx. All except for Brightwood. And after the winter of the plague, I was the only playmate Brightwood had left. I was a yearling myself and old enough to have outgrown her games — but for her, I played them with joy. She was precious to all of us. But she was more precious to me for another reason. She saw me. I don’t know how else to describe it than that. She saw me and accepted me for who I was, when others watched me and worried. Brightwood was always somehow different, and when we were both old enough to be furmates, there was never anyone but her that I wanted. We had years of feast and years of famine between us before Brightwood decided to choose me as well, and for all those years I could do nothing but wait for her to run her course and hope that she would return to me again.**
Newt’s expression grew even more wretched as he thought of that, no doubt associating himself with Brightwood, and Otter with Farscout. “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way about Otter — I could take anyone as a lovemate, but I’ll never have anyone else to call my brother!”
Farscout nodded and put another fine line into his bone feather. **No. I don’t compare Brightwood to you, and Otter to me. Otter is many things, but he is nothing like me. He’s never been a lone wolf. My mother shaped me, just as his mother has shaped him. I always knew Brightwood to be my better self. She has always been the parts of me which have never grown and thrived. But Otter is not like me in that. Otter has a free spirit and an open heart. He may pine for you for a time, but he’ll find other loves. He cannot but find others. They will certainly find him.**
Newt sat and thought about that for a time, and slowly, his miserable expression softened. Farscout sat and finished his carving, while in the bed behind him, Flea woke and yawned hugely. The black she-wolf sat up, scratched at her shoulder with a hind leg, then rose and circled three times before settling back down to sleep. Copper made a soft sound in her sleep and rolled over, carrying Bearkiller with her as she nestled closer to her wolf-friend.
“I’m just so afraid of losing Otter as a friend,” Newt finally said. “I have already lost my real brothers. I just can’t bear to think of losing Otter, too.”
**Otter will be unhappy for a time,** Farscout sent gently. **It always hurts to be told ‘no.’ But remember that he is Starskimmer’s son, and Greenweave’s as well. It’s not in his blood to hold a grudge for long.**
Newt sighed again, but this time, the exhalation sounded as though it were a pushing-out of burdens, not struggling to contain them. He fished something — a freshwater pearl, Farscout thought — out of the pouch at his belt and rolled it around in his palm, gazing at it soberly as if it could produce the answers to all of his problems, if he could only find a way to decipher the answers found in its iridescent luster of its surface.
“You really think Otter will forgive me?” the young elf finally asked.
Newt scowled for a moment, knocked off his stride by his elder’s shift in conversation. “A... feather of some kind?” he guessed.
Farscout nodded. **Even finished, it will look half-done until I paint it. But I can’t paint a carving until I’ve shaped it, and finding its shape takes time and patience. To do this right, to make it look indistinguishable from the real thing, I have to take the time and give it my patience. To rush it, to force it — will be to ruin. Sometimes love is like a bone feather. If you know what you want, you must be patient enough to let it take its shape naturally. And what you get in the end may well not be what you thought you had started with.**
Newt’s fist closed over the freshwater pearl he held. The youth nodded to himself and put the treasure back into his belt pouch. Then he raised his face to Farscout again, and gave him a grateful smile.
“Thank you,” he said, as he rose to his feet and moved silently toward the door. As he let himself out of the den and lashed the door-hide closed behind him, his movement seemed looser and freer than they had when he had entered.
Farscout smiled to himself, and eyed his carved feather carefully. He thought it was finally done and ready for painting.