(This story is a sequel to ”Bitter Knowing” and ”Carving Feathers”, and is part of the ”Developing Feelings Between Otter and Newt” storyline.)
Silence had never before been awkward between them.
The gurgling of Den’s Creek seemed so much louder to Otter than usual. The young archer heard everything with the sharp ears of a wolf listening for danger: the owls hooting in the distance, the cracking and creaking in the trees around them, the rustling of the leaves in the wind, Newt’s breath and the squeaking of his leathers whenever he slightly shifted his position. Everything seemed louder, except for the silence that seemed to scream at him.
But as hard as the lack of words between the friends was, Otter preferred it over talking right now. When Newt had approached him and said he wanted to talk to him alone, Otter knew it wasn’t good news. He had seen it in the way Newt moved, how he had rubbed his shoulder and the way his friend could barely look him in the eyes. None of those were good signs. If there was one elf Otter had learned to read it was his friend, the elf he loved and wanted around.
Otter found himself in limbo between wanting to cling to the last bit of hope and knowing very well that all hope was in vain. Since he had confessed his feelings to Newt, things had changed between them. The easy friendship had turned awkward and at times he felt that what should have made them become closer only had caused a rift between them. It had made him regret his step forward at times.
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard Newt clearing his throat. Immediately, Otter felt how every muscle in his body tensed and his heartbeat sped up like the beat of Crackle’s drum when she came to a dramatic finalein one of her scary stories. Otter felt two impulses going through him: One that told him to get away, the other to dash forward and interrupt Newt before he could say a word. The impulses jolted him into two different directions with about the same pull, so in the end Otter stayed exactly where he was, only feeling the almost physical pull in his chest.
Newt’s translucent pinkish-blue eyes met his gaze for a brief moment. Yet it was long enough for Otter to see that Newt was troubled too. A part of Otter refused to accept that. That was the part of him that just wanted to be mad and angry at his friend.
“I — I’m sorry, Otter, but, I can’t be your lovemate,” Newt said, finally breaking the thick and heavy silence with a verbal blow.
Even though Otter sensed that this would happen, he felt the sudden reality of his friend’s words crush down on him. He always had thought that “breaking someone’s heart” was just a very poetic term; something storytellers came up with to make it sound more dramatic, but at this very moment, he could feel how accurate it was. His heart was breaking and it didn’t feel like fancy talk anymore. It felt painfully real.
“Otter, listen —" Newt spoke up, hastily this time.
The slightly older elf felt a very strange sense of shame towards Newt when he realized that the other must have seen his utter dismay about this answer. He never had had that much problem with showing his closest friend the more vulnerable side of himself, but right now it just felt degrading.
“Otter, please. Let me explain.”
The younger one reached out to him. However, as soon as he felt Newt’s hand on his arm, Otter was overtaken by so many different feelings: anger, disappointment, shame, sadness and pain, all rose in his chest at the same time. He brushed Newt’s hand off with a harsh snarl.
“What’s to explain?! I’m not stupid. I know exactly what you just said,” he snapped at Newt, when all these feelings finally boiled down to anger. “Just leave me alone.”
Otter refused stubbornly to look at Newt, yet from the corner of his eye he saw how the younger elf drew his hand back as if he had burned his fingers. And, what was worse, he saw the same misery he felt written clearly over Newt’s face. Otter couldn’t take this look of shock and fear, so he closed his eyes and felt how tears started to burn behind his eyelids.
**Please,** Newt sent, and after a moment he seemed to muster up the courage for another try to touch his friend again. First Otter felt his slim, calloused fingers on his shoulder. Then, with another sending full of regret, affection, and fear, he put his hand on Otter’s cheek, gently turning the other’s face towards him. Otter followed his lead even if unwillingly and didn’t brush him off like he’d done before. **Let me explain,** Newt pleaded with him.
His friend's eyes seemed wet as well, or maybe that was wishful thinking on Otter’s part. He still couldn’t look his friend straight into the eyes, and neither could Newt.
**It’s not because I don’t love you,** Newt sent as gently and full of sincere love and care as he could. It made the whole thing even more confusing and painful, even if there was a part of Otter that was touched by it. **I do love you. A lot! But not in that way. Not at the moment.**
Newt paused, which gave Otter a moment to filter what his friend tried to tell him. He pressed his lips together, then lifted his hand to cover the pale hand on his face. Newt had already told him more than he probably was aware of.
“You love me as a brother,” Otter said, surprised by how raspy his voice sounded. He also felt the first tear roll over his cheek and their hands on it. “You just love me as your brother.”
Newt’s hand pressed tighter against his face and his lean body showed a determined tension as he sat up straighter next to Otter. “It’s not just like a brother,” he insisted with a firmness that almost sounded like anger. **Listen, really listen, all right?** There was a punch in his sending now, something that actually did make Otter curious about what his friend had to tell him. **I love you for what you gave to me: the love of a brother, the feeling that I still have someone to be there for me. Someone who is close to me and can still be there to just have fun with and do stupid things you are supposed to do as a cub.** Newt sighed, struggling to find the right words. **I don’t want a lovemate right now. I don’t need a lovemate right now. What I need is a brother. You’ve been a friend and even more importantly, you are this brother. I still need you to be my brother. If we became lovemates, or furmates, I…** Newt stopped in his sending, and now he was the one turning his eyes away and fighting something deep inside him. “I don’t want to lose another brother. Not right now,” Newt confessed in a small, breaking voice.
A sense of guilt joined all the other jumbled feelings in Otter’s stomach, and he reached out to wrap one arm around Newt’s shoulder. Suddenly he saw the little boy again, who just had come out of his long, timeless sleep. Confused, hurt and lost. The urge to protect his younger friend rose in him again. After a moment of hesitation, Otter leaned his forehead against Newt’s temple and gave a deep sigh.
It was hard, almost unbearably hard, to accept, but he rather would be a brother for Newt than to lose him as his friend over this.
“Fine,” he said, his voice still hoarse and thick with tears. “I’ll be your brother, as long as you need one.”
Newt’s eyes met his with disbelief. “Really?” he asked insecurely.
Otter closed his eyes and searched his heart for the true answer to this question. Finally, though, he gave a nod and linked his mind to Newt’s, sending his honest and sincere will to be what his friend needed the most.
As soon as his sending buried into Newt’s mind, Otter felt Newt’s arms wrapping around him and giving him a tight hug. An equally wordless sending of relief and gratefulness washed over him, underlaid with a thick layer of true love and affection. It wasn’t the love Otter longed for at the moment, but now he was willing to accept and appreciate it. Pushing aside his own injured feelings, he fiercely returned the hug.
For the moment, Otter would have to deal with his broken heart, hoping that at some point in the future, Newt would change his mind.
When the two youngsters released each other, a couple of minutes had passed. Their eyes met, and for a heartbeat, everything seemed like it had been a week ago. Both could hold on to their hope and what they wanted and needed the most for a perfect moment.
Then, the moment passed. Probably forever.