Even though she was awake, Beetle didn’t want to open her eyes. She just wanted to stay snugged up tight against Willow with the furs piled high over and around them. Her body felt completely boneless surrounded as it was by a luxurious cocoon of warmth. She softly stroked her lovemate’s hip, marveling at the silken smoothness of the skin beneath her hand. Sometimes she felt like she could never get enough of touching Willow’s skin. The healer shifted in reaction to her touch, sighing and snuggling closer. Beetle could feel her lovemate’s soft, sleepy smile against her skin.
Beetle smiled too, soaking in the warmth for a few moments longer, before she finally told herself it was time to start moving. She had big plans for tonight and in order to see them to fruition she would have to get out of her warm, comfortable bed. But she really didn’t want to exchange the coziness of the bedbowl for the chilly air of Willow’s den. The price for the privacy the two lovemates had wanted the previous dawn was being exacted now. Once the winter snows began, the dens in the upper levels of the Dentrees got downright cold, even with the most carefully lashed skins over doors and windows. Many nights were spent bundled together with friends and extended family down in the Gathering Den during the cold days of winter. And even though mates coupled or shared tender moments there, sometimes privacy was desired.
’Even this line of thinking is a delaying tactic,’ Beetle thought to herself.
She slithered to the edge of the furs where she gathered her will before sliding out into the cold air. She moved quickly and carefully to keep the frosty air from taking her place beneath the covers. Then, she plucked her first layer of leathers out of the bed furs where they had been stashed to keep moderately warm. Cold leather against the skin was almost as bad as being naked. Almost. She dressed quickly, but even so she was already beginning to shiver before she got that first layer on. She shrugged on her winter-weight poncho and put on her hat and gloves. She hesitated a moment before leaving her scarf where it lay on the floor. It was beginning to come unraveled and would need repair before she should wear it again.
Glancing at her lovemate before she left, Beetle found Willow watching her with half-lidded eyes.
“Looks like it’s cold out there,” Willow mumbled drowsily.
Beetle chuckled and nodded. She picked up the healer’s fur-lined poncho and tucked it under the edge of the bed furs. “Here. Let that warm up some and then you can get completely dressed under the covers. No need for both of us to have a shivery start to the night.”
Willow opened her mind to Beetle with a brief send of pure emotion, gratitude layered with love and softened on the edges by sleepiness. Then she asked, **We’re meeting halfway between midnight and dawn, right?**
Beetle’s sent response was colored with her own loving feelings, **Yes. I’m getting some supplies ready and seeing if anyone else wants to join us and then I’ll meet you in Broad Meadow.** She smiled and added, **This will be so fun!**
Beetle slipped out of Willow’s den and made her way around to the den Pathmark shared with his two lovemates, Evervale and Longshot. But she found that Evervale had used her magic to shape all the entrances closed to keep their body heat trapped in. Beetle felt a moment of envy that those three wouldn’t have the cold waking that she’d had. But then she thought about Willow’s magical hands and decided she had the better deal after all. The memory of those hands brought a flush to her cheeks.
’Oh, yes. Definitely worth waking up to a cold room,’ Beetle thought.
**Pathmark?** She lock-sent to see if her friend was awake.
**Hmm?** Came his response. She got the impression that all the occupants of the den were very much awake but that she wasn’t interrupting them just yet. **Oh. Hello, Beetle. Want to join us?**
She smiled even though he couldn’t see it, knowing her amusement would carry through to him. **Not right now. But I was hoping you all would come out to Broad Meadow tonight to watch the stars fall. There were several out last night and tonight should be the best night of viewing.**
There was a pause and, for a moment, Beetle thought she might have to ask him again later. But then he sent back. **We’ll see you there.**
She chuckled and moved on to find other friends. Goldspice and Dreamflight were both interested and excited for something different to break up the long cycle of winter busy-work. Soon she could feel the air buzzing around her with sends as others took up the invitation and passed it on. She was sure most of the tribe would be out there tonight. She could hear the plans for who would carry what out to the meadow. It sounded like there would be honey wine, warm cider, berries, wrapped meat from the storage dens, and maybe a small amount of warmed syrup from the sugartrees to be poured onto the snow. Beetle’s mouth watered a little at the thought of that soft but chewy winter treat.
She entered her father’s den. Cloudfern was bustling about preparing the ingredients for his spiced tea. She watched for a little bit as his long, pale hair swayed back and forth while he worked. Greenweave had obviously been busy recently braiding her father’s hair into intricate designs. Winter was certainly a time to renew ties with your loved ones. Long hours spent in close quarters while the weather raged gave everyone time to revitalize their connections with touch and scent.
Cloudfern glanced over his shoulder at her and smiled a greeting before turning back to his decoction. “So you think tonight will be the big fall?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered as she moved in to stand beside him, passing him ingredients as he needed them. Most winters there were a few nights in a row where the stars would shoot across the sky, each night heavier than the previous one, until they spent their energy on one last large shower. Sometimes the clouds were too thick though, and the tribe missed the spectacle altogether. But this year the weather had obliged and after a few days of snow showers, the skies turned clear but very cold. “I saw several shooting stars last night but not nearly enough for it to have been the final night. I think it will be magical tonight.”
“Even if it isn’t, the break in routine is welcome, and tonight will be full of music, food, and frivolity.” He paused in his preparations to hug her. “Now off with you to the storage dens. I need some dried fruit for this tea and you don’t have anything else to do right now.”
Beetle laughed and did as her father bid. Between the two of them they brewed several batches of spiced tea and poured them into skins to be shared once they got to Broad Meadow. Then they joined Greenweave and Newt on the walk to the best place to view the night sky unobstructed. By the time they got there, several piles of old leathers were already stretched out on the snow covered ground as the tribe broke into small groups of mates, families, and friends. Beetle spotted the place Willow had set up for them and took her leave of her father.
Snuggling under the furs again with her lovemate, Beetle looked up to the black sky full of tiny twinkling lights. The stars were just beginning to streak, leaving long white tails behind them. She heard the murmurs of her tribe around her, smelled the food and drink as it was passed elf to elf, and felt her lovemate’s smooth fingers as they trailed down her arm to twine with hers. She leaned her head against Willow’s shoulder.
“What a perfect night,” Beetle sighed.