(This story directly follows the events of ”To Teach a Lesson”; see that story for more details.)
Thornbow ran after his sister, guided by the sounds of snapping branches and gasping sobs. He bit back the black fury that made the forest swim around him. Curse Willow! She of all their tribe should understand what it was to have the world around you suddenly shifted. To be uncertain of the feeling of the tribe and your place in it. It was not so long ago they had all been asked to be mindful of her and what she was going through, adjusting to her newly discovered powers. Could Willow not be considerate as well?
He slowed as he came to the edge of the woods, knowing the open stream-side lay just ahead. Hastily pushing aside the last of the lacy leaf screen he found Honey seated on the bank, head buried in her folded arms. Even at this distance the steady movement of air caused by the rushing current was not enough to dispel the putrid stench that clung to her. Thornbow took in a large gulp of air, steeling himself before walking forward. He was within a wolf-length before she noticed him, lifting her head and cupping some water in a half-hearted gesture to wash the stink and tears from her face. He gently rested his hand on her shoulder and she dissolved again in muffled cries.
“Why do they hate me?”
Thornbow stood quietly, at a loss. He was not one to go looking for 'whys.' For all the years older he was than his sister, he had never had her ability to probe beneath the surface of things. He had no insight to offer now, except what he knew to be true.
“No one hates you, Honey. You just need to give it a little time.”
Her sniffles stopped as she brought her head up abruptly to face him. “Time! I need to give — them — time? Haven't they had time enough! Time for my lifemate to go back to his lover, time for my daughter to abandon me, time for my father to die,” her eyes narrowed at him sharply, “time for my brother to turn against me. Time that was stolen from me! Where's my rotting time?” Again her eyes welled with tears and her shoulders slumped in despair. “Wasted in a dark hole in the ground, that's where.”
A vision of pale hazy bundles in the still depths of the Dentrees flashed before Thornbow's eyes, and he let out a sharp breath, willing his fists and jaws to unclench and release the anger stirred up by the confrontation with his tribemates, and the anguish of Honey's earlier send that had brought him into it. He crouched down at his sister's side, stroking the newly shorn honey-gold hair from her face. How many times had he comforted her like this when she was a cub, when bumped knees and childish injustices were soothed with a few cheerful words and soft touches? Honey, who gave in to her emotions with her whole heart, had long since outgrown his simple remedies.
“I haven't turned against you, Honey. I will always be there for you.” And he would. Even when it hurt. Even when it drove other tribemates away. Birdcatcher had always been protective of his daughter, and now Thornbow honored his memory in the best way he knew how, by trying to be the support that Birdcatcher had always been. But Thornbow was his mother's cub at heart, and he couldn't pretend that Honey wasn't at least partly to blame. “But you're not the only one who's suffered. Putting you in wrapstuff was hard. For me, for father, for Dreamflight... even for Greenweave. But we did it, because we thought the world without you would be a sadder place. We thought you were someone worth holding on to.”
He hefted his quiver over his shoulder, then paused before heading back into the forest. “Try to remember that.”