Intertwined   2500.03.03*  
Written By: Gills C., Sarah Clawfoot
Windsong and Suddendusk engage in a seasonal grooming ritual.
Posted: 02/01/07      [11 Comments]
 

High above Windsong's head, a drift of snow toppled from its branch and came down in a rush, turning her blond hair white and eliciting a sharp squeak of irritation and a squeal of laughter from Crackle. Windsong shook herself off, muttering, and pulled one of her braids forward to brush the snow off it. Melting time again. Soon the river would be warm enough to spend the day soaking in it. Wet, her hair looked like a pile of treewee tails tied together. "Puckernuts," she sighed. It was that time of year again.

"Crackle, go find your sister. Tell her she'll be in charge of you tonight night...and the night after, too." This was going to take some time. After the cub scampered off, Windsong went looking for her lifemate.

Suddendusk was where he often was in spring -- sitting on a large, dry stone, giving the tribe's fishing nets a thorough going-over. They didn't get much use in the winter, and he had adopted the routine of going through them looking for holes to mend or edges to fix, getting them ready for a new fishing season. And he preferred to do it when some else was watching Crackle.

He smelled her before he saw her, his head bent over his work. He took a moment to breathe in her scent, but didn't take his eyes off the net in his hands. Once he lost a particular hole, he found it difficult to find again. He sent a wordless greeting, more of a mental nuzzle than anything else; a brief and gentle touching of his mind to hers.

Windsong smiled softly and returned the greeting, her mental touch weaker than his by far, but more confident with her lifemate. She crouched next to him, letting him finish his task without distraction. They had all the time in the world...or for as long as Evervale could deal with Crackle.

When he was done, she touched his arm lightly. "Lifemate...The white-cold seems to be over, the water's getting more bearable...And my hair needs attention." Her eyes said 'I need attention'.

"When you're done untangling the nets, would you help me untangle this mess here?" She flipped a braid forward, displaying the problem.

He smiled. As much as it seemed Recognition was a completely random thing, he often marveled at the choices it made. Windsong's hair, for instance. Most other mates might run and hide at the prospect of spending the time needed to undo and rebraid Windsong's mane, but not Suddendusk. He enjoyed the hands-on puzzle, the patient untying and detangling, and looked forward to it as a ritual that allowed them some uninterrupted time together: A rarity in a buzzing, active holt.

"This net will take me a while," he said, putting it aside. "And it can wait." His eyes darted about, searching for their tousle-haired cub. "Is Crackle being watched?" Normally, cubs were often left to wander the holt, and the whole tribe kept a collective eye on them. But Crackle... Suddendusk always felt better if there was a dedicated pair of eyes -- and hands -- to keep her out of trouble.

"Oh yes," Windsong smiled again. "I sent her to find Evervale...and sent to Evervale to find her. Hopefully they won't get into too much trouble, and we're always a thought away." She was pleased Suddendusk was willing to join her now, but maybe..."I could help you finish the net, if you like. This will take time, after all."

"The ice hasn't cleared enough to do any serious fishing yet," he said. "It'll be a while before anyone will need them. But if you're willing, four hands will make much shorter work of this than two."

He shifted over to make room for her, and handed over one corner of the net that needed checking. "Could be that they survived the winter well, and we'll not have much to do. We packed them away carefully during the last death-sleep."

He enjoyed having her close, and found himself looking forward to the tasks ahead of them, even if they were tasks that would send most other elves up the river.

A fiddly, painstaking task like that would've sent Windsong up the river herself, but any work done with her lifemate proved more enjoyable simply because it was done together. Suddendusk's gentleness and ease as he guided her fingers made Windsong feel like she could fly, if only the both of them wanted it enough to work at it together. She trusted him enough for anything...as he trusted her.

Four hands did make quicker work than two, and the moons weren't past their apex when they finished. Windsong stood and stretched. "How does your neck hold up, sitting like that?" she asked with a smile. Hm...that gave her an idea for something to do while waiting for her hair to dry...

"Long years of practice," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. He folded the net, and watched Windsong. There were precious few things Windsong did that he didn't enjoy watching, truth to tell. He could happily watch her all day and never grow bored.

"Let's put this away," he suggested, "And then go find a nice spot to tend to your hair."

A nice, quiet, secluded spot, preferably. He was a social beast for the most part, and loved the tribe as much as any, but he cherished the quiet alone-times with his family, and especially with his lifemate. They came so rarely, especially with Crackle seemingly able to be everywhere at once. Rope and thread tended to tangle up as soon as one looked away. Sometimes, all it took was a certain cub walking by a neat pile of nets to cause a night's work of tangles.

There was a certain pond, with a lovely hot spring that ran beneath that was a favorite of Windsong's. It was among the first places to thaw out, and that was where they headed now. She hoped none of the others felt like early-melt bathing yet...but it wasn't a very large pond. Maybe they'd be lucky. She hummed as they went, casually slipped her hand into Suddendusk's, and nuzzled his neck. This spot was close enough that they could be easily found if they were needed, yet it was secluded enough to give them a real sense of privacy. It was perfect.

**The cubs can find us if they have to,** she sent as they reached the pond and found it free of ice and empty of other elves. 'But I hope they won't need to...this will take a while,' she thought. First things first. She reached for the fastenings of her pouch belt and removed it, then her bracers and boots. Might as well get comfortable.

Suddendusk joined his lifemate in disrobing -- some tasks were best done together, after all. He stuck a toe into the pond, and sucked in a sharp breath between clenched teeth at the cold. "Are you sure you don't want to wait until it gets a tiny bit warmer?" he asked with a smile. He knew she wouldn't, but he liked teasing her all the same.

It was chilly enough that Windsong retained her shirt and leggings for now. She smiled, watching Suddendusk brave the pool. "It'll seem warmer when we're too numb to feel anything. Besides...we don't have to go in quite yet." She pulled the small jar of soap and a handful of soapberries from her pouch, and found a comfortable rock to sit on.

"Let's get this mess untangled first. Getting wet comes later." She reached for the first braid on her right and worked off the bead holding it together. This time they would try to keep as many of the wooden beads as possible in one piece. She had new ones ready, but it was always nice to keep a few extras.

Suddendusk settled half-beside, half-behind Windsong and selected a braid to untie. He worked the bead off carefully, and his gentle fingers massaged the braid open from the end to the roots. The majority of it was still tidy, but little strands here and there had gotten their own ideas of where they'd like to be. It took some time to work it all free.

"Sometimes I can see the appeal of Moss' choice of style," he said with a smile. "Have you ever considered that?" He knew how much Windsong liked her hair, and although he very much enjoyed the shared task of untangling, washing and restyling it with her, he also enjoyed a little bit of teasing.

She grinned and smacked his hand lightly. "My hair is longer than Moss's." Even sitting on a rock, the undone braids brushed the ground behind her. Besides, she liked it neater, and cleaner...and she knew Suddendusk was only teasing. "Besides, oh lifemate, if I changed my hairstyle I wouldn't have this excuse for a few private nights with you every few moonturns, would I now? And that, you'll agree, would be a real shame." She was always more talkative around him.

He chuckled at her admonishments. "You're right, that would be a terrible shame. We'd have to come up with some other excuse." He kept unbraiding her hair, one tress after another, running his fingers through it gently to get the worst of the big tangles out. He didn't rush it, knowing that rushing such a thing was a recipe for disaster. Plus, he wasn't very interested in hurrying the task, either.

"Oops," he said when a wooden bead snapped in half as he tried to get it off. "You brought extra beads, yes?"

"Plenty," she assured him, talking as she untangled braids herself. She growled, pulling apart a particularly sticky mess with a vicious twist. "I swear, one day I'll just take a knife to this entire tangled thing. At least we know Crackle's not the only one who gets things caught in her hair." Windsong's hairstyle just made it far less visible, but they were both pulling out leaves, twigs and the occasional dead bug as well.

"I think you got some tree sap in this one." He laughed and presented her with the hilt of his knife. "Well then?" He knew she'd never take it.

Windsong took the knife and stabbed it into the ground. "I'm not angry enough yet." She hadn't cut her hair since well before her Recognition, and wasn't about to start now just because of some dirt.

"We all get stuff in our hair sometimes," he said. He scratched his face-fur. "Especially at meal time."

"I suppose it's my fault for only dealing with it once a season, then. At least I'm safe from the face fur trouble." She grinned at him. In truth, she liked the feel of his face fur.

For a while they lapsed into a comfortable silence. One of the nice things about the deep bond of Recognition was that he rarely felt the need to fill the empty air with words. He liked that Windsong spoke more freely around him than she did with others, but he enjoyed the familiar silence that engulfed a shared task almost as much. And with Crackle around, silences were rare enough.

Little by little they freed Windsong's long hair from its braids, picking out twigs and carefully slicing out sap and tangles. "I just realized something," he said. "I don't remember if your hair is naturally curly or not. It's always so kinked by the braids that I can't tell, and we braid it up again while it's still wet. I don't think I've ever seen your hair free and dry before."

"Really?" They were nearly done now, the hair a tangled mass of yellow spreading around Windsong's head and down her back. She thought about it for a moment while freeing another twig. "You know, I think maybe you haven't..." Braids had been her customary style for so long, and it was far easier to make them with wet hair.

"I'm glad I told the cubs we'd be at least a night, maybe two." She grinned at her lifemate. "If we do the washing now, and let it dry out in the sun when we sleep, you'll see it tomorrow. Then I'll just wet it again. It's...not entirely straight. I think." Suddenly she realized she hadn't seen her own hair dry and loose in many, many turns. For some reason, the idea was quite funny, and she leaned back into Suddendusk's chest, shaking with laughter.

"Actually, maybe I have," he said, sending his thoughts back, back, back, to when Windsong was still Whistle and she stalked around the Holt, practicing her sneaking and stalking on her tribesmates and friends. The memories were faint and fuzzy, though -- and he had no dreamberries handy to help them along. He shared the gossamer images with his lifemate. "But it was so long ago."

He smiled and wrapped his arms around her and pressed his cheek to her shoulder, enjoying the sound of her. Even in laughter, her voice carried a musical quality to it, one that tugged at him from inside and reminded him of the sound and shape her true name took. **Mytan.** He still -- after twenty-seven turns of the seasons and two beautiful cubs -- he still sometimes had trouble believing his luck.

Windsong shivered in pleasure at the mental touch and at the way her soul name sounded when Suddendusk sent it. She'd never thought things could be like this -- mate, cubs, it all seemed like a distant future until it became vibrant present. She leaned back into him and reveled in the contact. She'd had no idea how much touching could mean before Recognition.

**We could stay like this all night,** she sent with a smile. **But if we want my hair to dry out, we should do something about getting it wet first.** The pond still looked too cold for comfort, but the tangled mat on her head meant they couldn't back away now. Reluctantly, she left the warm circle of her lifemate's embrace and stood up, shaking her hair behind her. With a few quick motions she slipped out of the rest of her clothes and piled them neatly. Turning to Suddendusk, knowing he would enjoy the view, she grinned.

"Well, lifemate...If I start turning blue, tug me out." With that and a stifled curse, she started wading into the freezing water.

"I'll come with you. We'll both be blue," he said. He put a small amount of soap within easy reach of the water, and followed her, stepping into the pond himself and wondering why in the world Windsong didn't choose to perform her hair ritual in the hottest part of summer.

He took a deep breath and pushed off into the deeper water. It felt good to swim again, in spite of the cold. It meant that the white-cold was truly over and that the forest would start to wake up again. He may as well give himself a good cleaning while they were at it. It'd been a while. "Wh-what are you waiting f-for? It's as w-warm as summer r-rain!"

"Really?" Her laughter hitched as the water reached past her hips. "Repeat that in sending, why don't you?" She threw herself under water fully, into cold that took her breath away. 'High Ones, I should've waited another eight-of-days!' But there they were, both wet, and nothing to be done about it. She swam up to Suddendusk. At least the spring that fed the pool seeped some sporadic heat to their feet and legs.

"W-we'll stop f-feeling the c-cold soon. Or much of anything else." She snaked one leg to hook around his and pull a little. "We'll just have to keep each other warm, I suppose. What a terrible shame." She dunked herself again and let her hair float behind her.

"If I'm not careful, I'll get tangled myself, and we'll be tied together until next New Green," he joked. Carefully (and not without regret) he disengaged himself from his lifemate and fetched a handful of soapberries. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get out of the water and under some nice warm furs," he said, squeezing the berries and mixing the foam with sand from the pond's edge.

"That, I'm sure you can send without trouble." Windsong pulled the small jar of liquid soap closer. With a sigh, she pulled forward a handful of hair and started scrubbing it, from the roots outward, then back up. They'd both done it often enough that the work would go quickly, and without the need for too many words. She sent a longing look to the furs on the ground, the nice, safe, warm, and dry ground, and scrubbed harder.

It was hard work, scrubbing all Windsong's hair from root to tip in the cold water. Suddendusk's fingers numbed after a while. He thought fondly of the hibernating bears that put on layer after layer of insulating fat for the winter, and was momentarily disappointed that Zerran had chosen the form of a wolf instead. But then, bears don't move in packs. The life of a bear-bonded elf would be a lonely one, and he liked his pack.

Cold as he was, he wasn't going to rush through the work and do a poor job of it. It was a good thing Windsong had brought a full jar of soap; they'd need all of it. Once Windsong's hair was fully lathered and she was rinsing it out (another big task in and of itself), he pulled out his own ponytail and used what little remained of the soap to clean it.

"My head is numb," he complained when he surfaced from rinsing his hair. He'd been able to lather it and rinse it in the time she'd taken to simply rinse her own. "And my fingers are numb." He swam over to her and helped her squeeze the last of the lather from the ends of her hair, dunking it to rinse it out. "We're out of soap and it looks like we're all rinsed clean. I think it's time to get out and into something warmer, hmm?"

She nodded and dunked her hair again. There was nothing worse than the remains of slimy, frozen soap in her hair to make them re-do the whole thing the next night. Once, many years before, she'd tried washing only her hair without getting her body wet by hanging upside down over the edge of the pond. It had worked -- until she became very dizzy and fell in anyway, to the amusement of whoever happened to pass by. She ran her fingers through her hair to make certain, then scrambled from the pool, Suddendusk on her heels.

"Bringing extra furs was an excellent thought, lifemate," she noted as she stretched in the air which felt cold on her skin. "Now...I'll just wrap this up to dry, and then we'll need to find something to entertain ourselves with until it's ready." Her look said very clearly what her plans were.

"First thing's first, my love," he said. He squeezed excess water from her hair. "How does Whispersilk manage hers? She's got more than you, I think."

"It's odd, I never asked her." Windsong looked puzzled, then grinned. "Remind me later. She changes styles more than I do, though...Maybe it's easier to wash hair out in sections, or maybe it gets less dirty if you can comb it out every day." She liked her many braids, though, and as long as she had someone willing to help her out, why not do it?

Speaking of someone willing ... Her expression changed as she slid into the furs next to Suddendusk, their cold bodies shivering together until shared warmth started to thaw them out. "Whatever shall we do to get warm again, lifemate?"

"Oh, I'm sure we can think of something," he chuckled. After all, time alone without the cubs around was a rare thing for them, and although a couple handfuls of years had calmed the urgent fires of Recognition, they hadn't been extinguished; far from it. Suddendusk thought the long-term intimacy they'd found with each other was more intoxicating than the rush of their initial pairing (fun as it was at the time).

They spent the first night under the furs next to the pond, at times with gentleness and the caress of soft whispers, at other times with pounding sweat and snarls of urgency that rivaled springtime in the pack. They rode the waves together, both stormy and calm, until they drifted to sleep tangled in each other's limbs and minds and hearts.

The sun rose on the slumbering elves, and set in due course, leaving a cool, clear night. The first part of Windsong that came awake was her stomach, and the growling soon woke up the rest of her. She stretched, reveling in the deliciousness of her Lifemate around her and the warm furs. They still had the night all to themselves.

Her stomach growled again, and she nuzzled Suddenduck's neck. **Dhay...We can stay here as long as we like, but it'd be a lot more fun if we were awake for it.**

There was nothing quite like waking up to the soft sound of the breeze in the treetops and the echo of his own mentally-murmured soulname. Most nights he was woken by being landed on by an excited tousle-haired cub who'd grown impatient with waiting for her lay-about father to wake up on his own. He normally got up as early as the next elf, but there was no such thing as "too early" for Crackle.

The unexpected gentleness of waking reminded Suddendusk of where he was and what was on the agenda. Windsong's hair must be mostly dry, if not completely, and although it would normally have been braided up again by now, their experiment to see Windsong's hair dry and free was still in motion.

He allowed himself to wake slowly and luxuriantly. "I suppose our next task is to comb it all out," he said. His own stomach reminded him of its emptiness and the exertions of the day before. "But I think finding some food is a good idea, too." He sat up and stretched, enjoying the feel of the cool air against his skin. "I forgot to bring anything to eat," he confessed. "Did you?"

"No, I didn't bring anything. Puckernuts." They did have their weapons, and she could possibly go hunt something, but for once in her life she didn't feel like sneaking through undergrowth. Especially not with her hair down and free. She repeated the curse. "It's too early for anything."

She stood up, shaking out her hair. Loose, golden and slightly wavy, it reached almost down to her knees and made a fair cloak. Suddendusk reclined back onto the furs as Windsong stood up. He'd never seen her hair down and loose before. It looked slightly odd, not that it wasn't beautiful, which it was, but it just wasn't ... her, he supposed. He was too used to the braids.

"If we're lucky, maybe there are nuts left over from before the white-cold. It won't be much, but it'll tide us over until we can either hunt or get back to the dentree."

"Nuts are good," he said. "But I also know where I've laid a few snares not far from here. If we're lucky and they caught something, we could have an actual meal."

He stood as well, his hair also uncharacteristically down, out of the ponytail he usually wore. What's good for the alpha's good for the pack, after all. As much as he enjoyed being nude with his lifemate, the night was on the chilly side. He reluctantly pulled on his clothes again. "Shall we go take a quick look? It won't take long."

"Let's do that. There might be some frozen berries left as well." Having to lift loose hair through the back of her tunic was odd when Windsong pulled it on. Going into the forest like that was even odder. She hadn't done it in so long that she wasn't used to it, and it kept catching on low branches. "Let's just do it quickly," she added.

Clothed once again, Suddendusk led his lifemate deeper into the woods. The snares weren't far -- they'd either have a nice meal or know to start scrounging for nuts and berries soon. He smiled at her as they made their way through what little underbrush there was in early spring. "You'll have a lot more twigs in your hair when we're done," he teased, pulling one out. "It's a good thing we decided to comb it out after we eat."

They were in luck -- one trap he held the body of a lean rabbit, likely killed during the previous day as the other scavengers hadn't found it yet. There wasn't much meat on it, but considering the time of year, that was to be expected, and it would be enough for the two of them. The pelt was not as rich as it could have been. They could likely make a pouch out of it -- it wasn't quite big enough to cure for mittens.

He disengaged it from the trap and held it up. "I told you this wouldn't take long," he said with a smile.

"I never disbelieved you, Lifemate," Windsong's grin lit up her face. "I can always trust those clever hands of yours to keep us fed." She pulled close to him, slipping one hand around his waist.

When they reached the clearing again, she set to work. "I'll start a fire, or do you want me to deal with the rabbit?" It was still frosty enough to require a small fire for comfort's sake.

"A fire would be good," he said.

He took the rabbit and skinned and cleaned it, his deft fingers separating skin from meat, and meat from bone. He offered Windsong a few of the sweetmeats, and judged the intestines for suitability for curing for sinew. They weren't all that good. He put them aside for Icemane and Halftail.

When he was done, he brought the butchered rabbit over to the small fire Windsong had built. He chewed on a strip of raw meat. Lean as it was, it was good. Windsong arranged a few twigs to the start of a fire, then added larger branches once the spark caught. She chewed a wilted leaf as she waited for the fire to grow properly.

"You know something? Getting my hair all wet again just doesn't sound like a good idea."

He sat next to the fire and watched the flames lick at the wood. He enjoyed fire; it was beautiful in a terrible sort of way, and watching it (small, confined, contained) calmed him. He swallowed the meat and felt it slide down to his stomach. The grumble that had told him he was hungry quieted now that it had something to work on.

He looked at Windsong with amusement. "Do you think you can handle hunting and living with loose hair for a while? Or did you want to try a different style, perhaps? One big braid? Just tied back like mine? You know Crackle is going to have one of her happy-fits when she sees you. She's never seen your hair down, and the very first thing she'll do is get hopelessly tangled in it." He chuckled. "We may wind up having to cut her out."

"Oh no!" Windsong shuddered. "Never give her that idea, she might try it. No, I think I'll stay braided a few more turns. I've gotten used to it." A quick walk through thin underbrush had been quite enough to convince her that loose flowing hair was for other people. "She got tangled in the braids enough when she was crawling, and now she finds other things to be stuck in. Let's not give her more options, hm?" She chewed as she spoke.

"No, let's get the cold water part over with so we can be finished, before our cubs overturn the entire holt."

He smiled and tore off another small chunk of meat with his teeth. He knew that long, loose hair would drive Windsong utterly upriver, but he also knew that cutting it short and manageable would be just as bad. He was glad -- he liked her hair as she kept it. Long and pretty, but bound and manageable. Just like she was herself: whimsical yet rational. He leaned over and nipped the tip of her ear affectionately.

"We'll comb it all out, wet it, and braid it up again after our food," he assured her. "Who knows? Maybe one day Crackle will be the one to help you do this. She's got many, many, many more years before her than behind; she may yet learn a little patience."

He couldn't help but chuckle at the thought, though.

Windsong stretched back, grinned. "Maybe one day, Lifemate. Until then, you're the best help I could ask for. I rather think it'll take our little cub a few eight-eights of turns to learn that much patience. She has trouble sitting still for more than a few breaths, after all."

He nuzzled her neck as she stretched back. **I hope it takes her twice that long,** he sent. **I like sharing this time with you, and I'm not ready to share it with anyone else quite yet.**

Still chewing, she reached for a comb. "We should start, this is going to take a while." With that, she took up a handful of hair and tugged the comb down through it.

He sighed dramatically. "All right," he allowed in a mock-grudging tone. He picked up the other comb and selected a lock of hair to work through. Although they'd already untangled all the twigs and pieces of woodland detritus from her hair yesterday as they'd unbraided it, what little time they'd spent in the forest looking for the trap had renewed the supply. He shook his head, marveling at those elves who kept their hair long and free and loose. They must spend half their waking lives combing it all out. That, or they simply didn't sneak through the underbrush very much.

"Tell me if I get too rough with it," he said softly.

**Never rough, my love. You could never hurt me. ** Not with his deft, quick and careful hands; not in any other way Windsong could contemplate now or ever. She returned his love through the sending link, her combed out hair covering them both in a floating cloak of golden strands.

"At least this gives us a good supply of kindling for later," she joked, dropping another twig on the pile. With on last tug, she shook out her hair and let it surround her. "You know, this is worth the trouble. This and you." She turned so she could hug him properly, enjoying the extended contact.

He sat back and drank in the sight of her. This was the first time in ... a very long time that he'd seen her with her hair loose, dry and free. It did look somewhat strange, but still her, still beautiful enough to take his breath away.

"You know," he said, relaxing against a tree and enjoying the view. "If you ever did cut your hair, I think I'd just have to take up with Cloudfern or something."

"Why you!" Windsong's eyes widened, but she quickly turned away so Suddendusk wouldn't see the devious sparkle in her eyes. She pulled off her tunic and knelt by the pond.

He glanced at the small pond, only unfrozen because of the hot spring underneath them. "Are you ready for the water again?"

"More than ready, lifemate." She bent her head down, plunging it under into the frozen depths, then pulled it out sharply with a gasp and flinging the mass of her hair back, spraying a stream of ice-cold water directly at her grinning mate.

Suddendusk yelped and twisted away from the spray too late. "Ghaah!" He couldn't help but laugh, though. He stood and shook the water from his arms and wiped it off his face. "That is still pretty cold."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't help it." Windsong grinned and squeezed Suddendusk's hand by way of apology. "It wasn't that bad; over fast, at least."

He handed her a comb and a handful of ties, and fluffed up the furs they'd brought with them for a soft place to sit. "Make yourself comfortable, Windsong," he suggested. He took the time to arrange himself in a good position, as well, for the long haul. He also draped one of the furs around his lifemate's shoulders, so that she wouldn't be chilled by her own wet hair.

She gathered half of her hair up and out of the way, and gathered a strand of the appropriate thickness. "Ah, the beads." She stretched out and fumbled for her pouch with one hand, coming up with a handful of green. "There we are." Now, they could start. "What do you say, Lifemate? Shall we try to be done by dawn?"

He separated out a lock and gently drew the comb through it, separating it into three strands. "By dawn?" He eyed the position of the moon through the trees that hadn't quite yet burst into leaf. "Maybe if we hadn't dawdled so much at first," he said with a wry smile. "I think we may have to stretch our absence out another night, hmm? Maybe even two. My, but that would be a shame." His tone spoke of how utterly unconvinced he was of the shame of it all.

Windsong's face clouded slightly. As much as she'd have loved another night or two alone with her mate, leaving Crackle in the care of others so long seemed wrong. Even Evervale, near-adult though she was, had never been away from both her parents for very long. "They'll come looking for us if we don't show by dawn." She said, leaving her worries unvoiced. She reinforced the love and desire she felt for Suddendusk by sending it, but started another braid with more determination that before.

"Think though, if we work over-fast and do a sloppy job, we'll need to do it again in a moon-turn or two." She smiled a little.

Even though her back was to him, Suddendusk was very much in tune with Windsong. He could feel her hesitation to extend their absence, and as much as he did enjoy their time together, he, too, felt the itch to get back to the cubs: if only out of pity for their tribesmates. Crackle could be a real handful.

He nodded. "Dawn it is," he said with a smile. "And if we have to redo it later, well, I can think of worse things to do with my time."

**Good.** Windsong smiled slightly, happy that Suddendusk understood her, and went on braiding, concentrating on her work.

They worked with practiced ease, sending when they needed to, enjoying the closeness. Dawn was painting the sky pink when Windsong finished tightening the bead around the last braid. "There we are." She shook out her head, enjoying the familiar feel of the braids. "Thank you, lifemate."

He got up and stretched, feeling his limbs creak and ache. Sitting for so long certainly took its toll on the body. He yawned and leaned backwards, stretching out his spine. "Strange," he mused. "We didn't really do all that much, we didn't move much today, but I'm exhausted."

Windsong was now looking like he was used to -- long hair bound tightly into many small braids. He'd liked the loose and dry look, but it was highly impractical and simply... not her. "We'll get back to the holt in time to tell Crackle a story or two before bed," he said cheerfully. "Or let her tell us some. I'm sure she's bursting to tell us everything that happened while we were gone."

Suddendusk gathered their furs and combs, as well as the remains of the rabbit they'd breakfasted on. "I have a feeling that Evervale may have enjoyed the break from us just as much as we did from them," he joked. He knew he could be a bit... enthusiastic when it came to the safety and security of his cubs, even if one of them was just about an elf grown in her own right. He suspected Evervale may have enjoyed the respite from her father's occasionally overbearing protectiveness.

"But you're right -- let's go rescue our poor tribesmates from the clutches of our cubs." He tucked the bundle of their belongings under one arm and slid the other around his lifemate's waist, pulling her close and returning her nuzzle. "They'll think we've drowned in your hair if we don't get back soon."

"One day I'll wear it lose for an eight-of-days," Windsong suggested, grinning. "We'll see how many tribesmates manage to lose themselves in my hair. It'll be fair job untangling it." A job she didn't really want to think about. The sun was up, peeping over the trees, and she was as tired as she'd ever been.

"Maybe. Next time we do this."

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