(This story is part of the "2013 Family Time Contest"; click to see more fiction and art entries!)
“So you’re not going to be the youngest in your family anymore.” Foxtail lay on her stomach still but managed to twist her neck so she could look over her shoulder at her tribemate. “Doesn’t that make you, I don’t know... Doesn’t it bother you?”
Beetle blinked at the redhead and her hands paused over the basket of odds and ends she had been sorting through in one of her random attempts at organization. That task had quickly faded to a scavenger hunt as she remembered something her mother would like. Then Foxtail had made her appearance and the younger elf never proved encouraging when it came to returning to a task half-done. “Bother me?” she repeated. She tipped her head to one side and her gaze shone with confused curiosity. “Why should it bother me?”
“Because...” Foxtail heaved a sigh, twisted, and rolled over onto her back to stare upwards at the night sky through the branches of Father Tree. “Because you don’t even like cubs,” she finished.
Despite the immediate flash of shared memory sent by Foxtail, a grudging Beetle and a tiny but trying handful of chief’s daughter, Beetle knew that had not been at all what the other elf had been about to say, but she also knew that trying to get Foxtail to admit to something she didn’t want to was... Well, it was easier to get Notch to hand over a choice trinket for one of her experiments. Foxtail was more stubborn and thick-headed than a bull moose, most days, and age hadn’t improved the situation; it had only changed the tenor of the tantrums. Beetle merely shrugged and returned to her task. She just knew this basket held what she wanted. It was just a matter of finding it before her mother needed it.
The silence stretched out between the two and, for a while, Beetle thought Foxtail was going to let the matter drop. She hoped, at least. She had a lot on her mind without the redhead vocalizing any of the worries inadvertently. Her fingers caught on the sharp edge of a rock and she bit her lip to counteract the sting as she lifted her hand from the basket and studied the small wound. Her movement drew Foxtail’s attention and the other elf flowed to her feet in the easy grace that seemed the strange result of her coiled energy. She bent over Beetle’s finger. “Doesn’t look bad,” she commented with a slight nod. Her hand wrapped around Beetle’s wrist and she twisted it into better light from the moons above. “It’s not even really bleeding.”
Then she released the brunette, sank back into a crouch, and sat back on her heels, eyeing Beetle. “Your mother really likes being with cub,” she suddenly announced and a strange smile barely curved the corner of her mouth. “She really likes it. She goes around like she’s got the best secret in the world growing in her belly. Do you think she knows?”
“Who the sire is.”
Beetle looked down into her basket to hide the faint frown the question brought to her expression. She sure as spit didn’t know who was the sire of her soon-to-be sibling and the entire situation raised all sorts of insistent questions in her mind that she thought better than to ask her mother. She didn’t want Starskimmer to think she was making judgement calls, after all. But a cub conceived outside of Recognition? It was at least as rare as a spirit bear. At least. How did it happen? What did it mean when it did happen? What would the cub be like?
Finally, she shrugged. “If she did, she would say but it doesn’t really matter. A cub is a cub,” she answered with a pragmatism that belied her itching curiosity, “and it’ll be a healthy cub and we’ll all love it.”
Foxtail’s nose wrinkled but she let the declaration go with strange passivity. Instead, she stood and stretched lazily. “Mother’s been working on the wraps,” she commented. “It’s been a while since we had a cub and I think she likes the challenge of getting things soft enough for their skin.” She looked down at her own shirt and idly rubbed the fabric between her fingers. Daughter to the tribe’s primary weaver and niece to their secondary seamstress translated into her own wardrobe experimentation and challenges. “This is actually stuff she decided wasn’t good enough.”
Beetle considered rising to the faint sulky tone in Foxtail’s voice, knowing full well that the redhead was allowing the too-familiar bleed of her own feelings of parental dismissal over being “not good enough.” Only for a moment, then she reached out to mimic Foxtail’s gesture. “It’s soft, though,” she commented mildly. “It’s really soft.”
“I know. Wolf undercoat woven through it.” For some reason, Foxtail smiled at that and Beetle looked at her in surprise. Expression turning on a twist of wind, she giggled then. “Don’t give me that,” she said. “I helped. It’s the only way to get Mother to pay attention to me sometimes and, well, it’s better than going down into the storage dens with Father. That’s enough to send an elf howling, trapped in that room with him and counting capnuts. At least, with Mother’s weaving, there’s some fresh air.”
“Mmhm.” Foxtail nodded. “From Wasp. I asked Blacksnake if I could brush it off the crafty brute.” Her smile widened but she still rolled her eyes dramatically. “He said I had to ask Wasp so I did because I wasn’t about to tell Mother to go jump in the river... Or to use a lower wolf’s fur. Can you imagine the hollering? Nothing but the best for the new cub!”
“That’s nice of her... And you.”
Foxtail shrugged but her reaction to the praise showed clearly in her warming expression. “But the weaving is boring,” she admitted. “All of those little threads and all of the sitting. I end up getting chased from the weaving den in the end as Mother threatens to throw the loom at my thick skull.” Another eye-roll hid any unhappiness at the perceived rejection. “That’s after about the fourth time I have to pick something out because I did it wrong.”
“Oh.” Beetle did not even bother to manage her growing smirk as she pictured the scene. She knew the younger elf was playing it up for laughs — most likely a habit picked up from Beetle’s brother Notch — but the image really was too easy to bring to mind. Foxtail only helped by sending a vivid memory of Whispersilk, flushed pink with frustration and trembling as she resisted tearing the threads in her hand. “That’s not funny.”
But Beetle was laughing and Foxtail joined her, sinking back to sit on the hard-packed earth and wrapping her arms around her own torso as they giggled themselves to breathlessness.
“Now that is a welcome sound.” Starskimmer was all smiles as she slipped through the doorway, one hand to her swollen belly. “And just what is so funny in here?”
Beetle flushed pinkly at being caught but Foxtail, unrepentant as usual, simply gave a cheeky grin and flopped onto her back to look up at the brewer. “Oh, nothing at all,” she answered blithely. “Did my mother find you?”
“No.” Starskimmer looked surprised. “I didn’t know she was looking for me.”
“She doesn’t know it either.” Foxtail shrugged lazily, still in her prone position. Then she lifted her arms and folded them behind her head. She closed her eyes as if resting. “But she’ll come looking for me before long and then she’ll see you and remember that she needs to talk to you about the swaddling cloths.”
The mention of Whispersilk’s craft brought a sparkle to Starskimmer’s eyes and she nearly clapped with pleasure. “Oh, is she doing that? For me? How wonderful!”
Beetle looked at her mother with surprise. Always warm and effusive, her reaction seemed beyond the normal excitement of a future present. Seeing the brunette’s expression, Starskimmer chuckled. “It’s going to be something special,” she explained.
“Mother’s done it for every cub born since she became a weaver,” Foxtail added, manner off-handed as usual when discussing her mother’s passion. “Every single cub and the stuff lasts. I don’t know how but it does and so it ends up being used in other things. My old wraps are the lining in my winter coat,” she added blithely.
“And yours are in that sweetgrass pillow you love so much.” Starskimmer lowered herself carefully to sit beside the other two elves and her hands absently stroked at her stomach as if settling the growing cub within, reassuring it of the position change. She looked at Foxtail. “Are you helping?”
“Mmhm. Once Mother is finally happy with it, I guess. I like the dyeing part best, anyway. All of the colors and being outside. The weaving is almost worse than anything else with all that sitting and counting and working. It’d be different if you could stop in between but...” Foxtail paused, nose wrinkling, eyes still closed. “Hello, Mother.”
The dark-haired weaver paused in the den’s opening, thrown off-stride by her daughter’s calm greeting and the presence of the others. When her light eyes settled on Starskimmer, though, her expression resolved into an eager smile. “Just who I was looking for!” she exclaimed. She crossed to Starskimmer and held out both hands, clearly hopeful that the other elf would accept the offered assistance and stand once more. Starskimmer only hesitated a moment before placing both hands in the weaver’s. The slight form of Whispersilk belied her strength and, with little trouble, she helped Starskimmer stand. Then she gave her friend’s hand a warm squeeze. Her eyes glowed with excitement at the project the pregnant elf reminded her of and she seemed all the more eager to return to the weaving den. “I think I almost have the cloth ready. If you would like to come and see it...”
Foxtail opened one eye and shared a small smirk with Beetle as if to say “I told you so.” When the mothers had finally disappeared from the den, wandering back towards Whispersilk’s domain, she rolled onto her side and propped her head upon a braced hand. “I hope Starskimmer picks a fun color,” she said mildly. “And not something that smells awful when we brew it.”
Laughing, Beetle shook her head and turned her attention back to the basket still in front of her. As Foxtail began a long, rambling story about a recent hunt for branch-horns and Beauty treeing Notch and Blacksnake dismissing them all as half-wits, she tucked her chin more to hide her smile. It looked like she would have company for a bit longer, after all.