(This story is a sequel to ”Losing Father”.)
Something had to change.
Mouse was with Willow and Cider now, having spent the better part of the day with his grandmother, sleeping on and off. Though Kestrel should have been trying to get some sleep herself, she instead hovered outside of Bowflight’s den, mentally preparing herself as she often had to nowadays when visiting her son.
As she pulled aside the hide and entered slowly, the now-familiar sight still caused a sigh to escape her lips. Despite her last efforts at straightening up, Bowflight had once again allowed the den to fall into disarray: a few of his arrows lay scattered and broken, his bow lay haphazardly on the floor near the entrance. She had to wince at such disregard for his favorite hunting tools. Kestrel took the whole room in until her eyes finally settled on her son, sitting with his back against the wall. His long blonde hair fell in messy waves across his face and shoulders. He used to hate getting his hair in his face, Kestrel thought to herself sadly. He had obviously not slept at all that day, and was it just her, or had he grown skinnier than even the last time she had visited, not even a day ago? In all of her years, the elder had seen, firsthand, grief that could consume an elf. But never had she dreamed that such a thing might happen to her own son, who had inherited his zest for life from his father and his level-headedness from her. The longer this continued on, the more and more helpless she felt to pull Bowflight out of it.
Now, as Kestrel stepped closer, her son made no effort to acknowledge her presence, and instead appeared to be focused on mending something.
“Bowflight?” Kestrel asked softly, and as she lowered herself to her knees beside him, she realized he was holding the beaded quiver-strap that Finch had given him, mending a small tear in the side. He looked up, his eyes eerily unfocused, and Kestrel had the feeling that for a moment, he didn’t even recognize his own mother.
**Bowflight,** she tried again, this time using sending in hopes of getting some kind of response. **I heard Thornbow and Bearheart saying they wanted to gather together a small hunting party a bit later — perhaps you would like to join them?**
“Some other time,” Bowflight finally answered in speech, his voice hoarse from lack of use. As it had come so many times in this past month, a terrible thought again entered Kestrel’s mind — if things continued in this way, there wouldn’t be another time. She hurriedly pushed that thought aside, and frowning, reached out and held Bowflight’s active hand. His mending interrupted, he looked up, almost as if coming out of a daze.
“Bowflight, listen to me. You’ve grieved for Finch, as your children have, and now it’s time for you to stop losing yourself in your thoughts and begin joining the world again. You know that’s what she would have wanted you to do, not only for yourself but for Willow and Mouse, too,” Kestrel said, her voice hard but earnest. Bowflight flinched at the mention of his lifemate’s name, and for an instant Kestrel felt some regret at being so direct, but still she kept her expression rigid.
Bowflight seemed to be searching for a response to what his mother had just said. When he finally did speak, the words came slow and haltingly. “How can I join the world again... when the only joy I have now... is in remembering her. She was my life,” he said, gazing blankly into Kestrel’s eyes with his own expressionless and red-rimmed ones.
“I understand how you feel, my son. I’ve lost my Recognized, too. But it is the Way to eventually move on with our lives,” Kestrel responded, gripping his hand tightly. She was startled by his sudden, harsh laugh, jarring coming from a face that held no happiness.
“You understand nothing, Mother! I loved Finch more than anything else in this world. Father may have been your lifemate, but I know he never would have been so had it not been for me!” Bowflight snarled angrily, snatching his hand away and turning his head. “I doubt you even grieved for him when he was killed!”
Kestrel felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her. Some part of her knew that this was the grief and heartsickness talking, but another part of her couldn’t believe that her grown son had uttered such words. A mix of frustration, despair, and rage bubbled up inside of her, and she leaned forward, taking her son’s face in her hands and turning him none-too-gently back towards her.
**No matter what our differences, I did love your father because together, we created you. And when he died, a part of my soul went with him. Of course I grieved for him, but you were the best thing in both of our lives, and I knew that he would want me to be strong for your sake,** Kestrel sent fiercely, and finally she noticed a spark of emotion entering her son’s eyes. Desperate to keep that spark alive, she placed her forehead against Bowflight’s, holding firmly despite his attempt to pull back.
**Just as your children need you to be strong for them now,** she sent, and accompanying her words were images of little Mouse, only eight-and-two turns, being comforted by his sister, family, and tribemates, voicing his fears of abandonment by both his mother and father, sometimes sobbing uncontrollably despite his best efforts to be strong. Then, images of Willow, who remained her father’s little girl even now that she was grown, trying her hardest to console her brother but later crying to her grandmother that she, too, was afraid she would lose her beloved father. Kestrel knew that Bowflight had seen his son crying, had seen the weariness in Willow’s eyes when she came to tend to him during the past long month, but somehow none of it had ever pierced that shell he had built up around himself; rather than face the horrible truth of what he was doing to Mouse and Willow, he had followed the easier path of pretending it wasn’t there. Now, she was forcing him to see it all with piercing and painful clarity, and he gave a strangled gasp.
When at last Kestrel released her hold on Bowflight and drew back, she was almost relieved to see tears running down his face, though he seemed unwilling to voice his thoughts at first.
“I’m sorry, Mother. I want so much to be there for them, but... how can I when I just feel so lost and tired myself?” he said quietly.
Holding out her arms, Kestrel pulled her son into her embrace, where he seemed to nearly collapse, still crying silently.
“It won’t be easy, but you have so many around you who want to help. The first step is the hardest, but then you’ll take another, and then another, until you find you’re no longer lost,” she said soothingly. After a time, Bowflight seemed to relax, and he eased out of his mother’s embrace.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Bowflight said wearily, running a hand across his eyes.
Kestrel nodded in understanding. “There is still the hunt later on — go ahead and join them. Doing something you enjoy is a good place to start.”
Bowflight’s mouth turned down in a frown, but after considering for a moment, he nodded his head. “All right. I’ll give it a try.”
For the first time since the onset of Bowflight’s depression, Kestrel’s heart began to feel lighter. It was hard to tell from Bowflight’s emotionless voice and downcast face whether he would be good on his word, but the glider allowed herself some hope.
“Get some rest now, my son,” she urged, and though Bowflight looked doubtful that any sleep would come to him, he laid down just the same. “Would you like me to stay, or leave you be?” Kestrel asked, sensing that Bowflight was enough in his right mind now to make a rational answer.
“I think I’d like to be alone for now,” Bowflight answered in a weak voice, draping his arm over his eyes. For her part, Kestrel knew then that she had said and done everything in her power to help her son recover. Rising to her feet, the discarded quiver strap caught her eye, and she bent down to pick it up along with the mending tools. Then, taking one last long look at her tormented son, she turned to exit his den and return to her own.
Time seemed to pass quickly while Kestrel worked on mending the tear in the strap, but she was grateful for the distraction, however small. When at last it was done, she allowed herself some sleep, waking well after the sun had set.
**Grandmother, something’s happened!**
The send from her grandson jolted Kestrel out of her furs. Pulling her clothes on quickly, she hurried out of the den and saw Mouse standing below the Dentree, waving her down. The glider joined her grandson, concern apparent on her face.
“What is it, Mouse?”
“It’s Father! I saw him and Willow leave on a hunting trip!” the curly-haired boy said, grinning.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Kestrel breathed, hugging her grandson. Bowflight had finally taken the first step, and High Ones willing, he would find his way again.
(This story has a sequel: "Finding Father".)