(Ed. Note: This story follows ”Against Better Judgement”.)
Pathmark was very pleased with himself — he had found some tracks of a herd of clickdeer on the hunt today, which, in turn, the hunting party brought down easily.
When the group returned to the Holt, his father, who had also joined the hunt, patted his shoulder and told him, "You really lived up to your name, son.” It was how Bowflight would say, 'I am very proud of you.' After the uncomfortable times following the moment when Bowflight had walked in on Pathmark and Beetle rolling in the furs in his den, it was pure pleasure for Pathmark to hear his father say such things. He knew after hearing that, all would be good between them again in the end.
Once the kill had been tended to, Pathmark, smiling, headed back to his den — his own den that he had just moved into when his lovemating with Beetle came to an amicable close. However, when he climbed up the tree and he saw his sister leaning against it in wait for him, he could not help but frown. Willow had that look about her like she got when when she had something to say. And Pathmark didn't know if he would like to hear whatever it was about this time.
"Hey," came Willow's usual, familiar greeting as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other. "So, how's your new den working out? You enjoying the quiet, little brother?"
Enjoying the quiet? Pathmark blinked confusedly. He was more a sociable elf than one searching for quiet places. Everybody, especially Willow, knew that. "Come in and make yourself comfortable," he told her before he disappeared into his den. It was a mess, chaos everywhere.
Willow did as her brother asked, and walked in behind him. She found an uncluttered spot on his bed to sit down and leaned back against the wall.
Pathmark turned and looked at his sister's face, still pondering over Willow's strange greeting.
He didn't have long to mull over it, before Willow revealed why she was there. "Was it hard getting used to having a place all to yourself since you and Beetle went your separate ways?"
Ahh. That's what this was all about — his failed lovemating with Beetle. He sat down and answered, "No, it wasn't. I have to say... I am enjoying having my own den, finally. You know, the last time with father... it wasn't easy. He was always so..." Pathmark sighed. "I didn't mean to hurt his feelings anyway." He hesitated a moment before he continued speaking. "The time with Beetle was quite nice. But in the end I think it's the best thing for both of us to stay just good friends. ...and here I can just do want I want to do. I can bring anyone I'd like to..." He smiled. He just tried to see the best out of the failed lovemating with Beetle, like he always did. "I think it was just time to have my own den."
"Mmm hmm," Willow agreed through pursed lips, and the response sounded smug — like she had known something all along that her brother did not. "Sure was a lot of work to realize you just needed your own den. I could have told you that a long time ago, little brother. I thought you were going to live in the old one forever." She put her hands behind her head to make leaning against the wall more comfortable, and as she studied some pattern in the wood above her head, she off-handedly stated, "Could have told you that your little den-share with Beetle wasn't going to work out, either. But I figured you needed to learn that little lesson all by yourself."
Pathmark could only roll his eyes at that. "Oh thank you, sister, for allowing me to have my own experiences. You know what? If you don't dare try some things, life would be boring, wouldn't it? I am, for my part, happy that I gave lovemating with Beetle a try...otherwise I would always question myself how it would be!” He pointed his finger at her. "You're just too afraid to try things like lovemating. You shouldn't be. It's a good thing to do, even a good thing to try."
"Afraid?" Willow brushed off her brother's accusation with a smirk. "Hardly. You said it yourself — now that you're not attached to anyone, you can come or go as you please. You can be with who you want without some lovemate's jealous eyes following you around when you step inside someone else's den, or when someone besides your lovemate wants to roll in the furs with you. That's not fear." She looked at him directly for the first time since she entered the den. "That's wisdom. I value my freedom in not being tied down. Why'd I ever want to throw that away?"
"I only said that it was the right thing for me, right now." Pathmark grabbed his hat and laid it down in his lap. Then he ruffled his hair. "It wouldn't be the right thing for everyone, every time." He shook his head, and grinned. "That's ridiculous, Willow. Jealous eyes following you around? Why should that be? If you lovemated, you would — of course — want to spend most of your time with your lovemate... but that doesn't mean you can't roll in the furs with someone else if that's what you want to do." He paused a moment. "That's not wisdom, sister. You are just too afraid to take responsibility for someone else." He really didn't mean to argue with her but he couldn't leave that point alone. Just because Notch had instilled in his sister's head that an elf was better off without ties to someone, didn't mean it was true for her or anyone else!
"There you go using that 'fear' word again," Willow said, rolling her eyes at him. "Just because I don't want to take responsibility for someone else doesn't mean I'm afraid to. I just don't want to! And don't tell me that lovemates don't get jealous of one another. I've seen more than one who didn't want to share once they were attached to someone. Don't tell me that Beetle liked coming back to the den to find you and someone else rolling in the furs."
Pathmark opened his mouth, but stopped before saying anything. She was right about one thing — Beetle was indeed not happy with him bringing others to her den. But Willow didn't understand the difference he tried to tell her. It was just that he was not ready for lovemating right now. Beetle was not the right one for him, and neither was he right for her. Despite the fact they weren't meant to be lovemates, she still remained one of his closest friends. And they had managed to break things off without drama or arguing. He could really imagine how he and Beetle would laugh about their attempt at lovemating in a few turns of the seasons.
Finally, Pathmark said, "Sister, you don't want to listen to me. However... you seem to not be ready for lovemating, anyway. So, enjoy your freedom and fur-fights without those really jealous eyes following you around...." He made a goofy, big-eyed face and then jokingly wiggled his fingers at her. When Willow was too stubborn to listen, Pathmark's last resort was to tease her.
Willow could only roll her eyes again at her brother in return. She knew he'd run out of things to argue about. "Oh, you know I will, or you don't know me," she snickered. "And I'll expect you to do the same, now that you know what freedom really is." With that, she got up and let herself out of her brother's den, grinning at him all the while.
When Willow had gone, Pathmark sighed deeply — relieved to have soothed the situation with her. His sister was not always easy to handle, especially in those moments where she thought she was right and needed to prove it. But some day, he knew, he would tell her she was not. Not when it came to love.
It was snowy – outside of the warm dens, the environment laid under a thick blanket of shimmering snow. Pathmark was outside with his lovemates. They wanted to go to the Near Hot-Springs to take the advantage of a warm bath when it was not too stormy outside for wandering around.
Pathmark was just happy to be with Longshot and Evervale. Since he was scouting more often, Evervale was away so often with the team to learn the Human-speak, and Longshot was on longer hunting parties, moments for the three together were rare and always precious.
Longshot started a snowball fight with him as they walked through the forest. As Pathmark rolled some snow into a projectile to throw back, he recognized a reddish shock of hair nearby. **Sister!** He changed his intended target and welcomed Willow by throwing the snowball at her, laughing.
Willow managed to duck out of the way — mostly. The snowball just grazed the top of her head and exploded into hundreds of powdery bits that sent both the Healer and her lovemate, Beetle, sputtering. "That's some welcome!" she said, and immediately bent down to make her own snowball to send back in Pathmark's direction.
The air was filled with laughter, as everyone exchanged some snowballs. After some time Pathmark raised his hands in a pacifying gesture. "You wanna join us at the Near Hot-Springs?!" he asked.
“Why not?” came Willow's response.
Pathmark approached his sister. He grinned and put his arm around her shoulders. "You know what occurred to me?!" He smiled from her to Beetle and then to Longshot and Evervale, and then the group began to walk to the Springs together.
Willow looked over at her companions, to see if they might offer some clues as to what Pathmark was thinking, but when they offered none, she turned back to Pathmark. "No," she replied. "What's that?"
"All of those years ago..." Pathmark began, and his grin became wider and wider, "You were so wise and full of advice for me." He poked his sister in her side. "...telling me the fault of trying lovemating with Beetle, because lovemating was nothing but nonsense..." Pathmark stopped walking and looked into Willow's face. He never had forgotten that conversation. Willow was so stubborn and self-secure, and now, seeing her happy with Beetle... He couldn't help himself, and began laughing out loud. It was so wonderfully ironic.
He continued, in a send full of mirth, **You were so sure you would never ever fall in love, because of those jealous eyes of a lovemate following you around.** Then, he stopped teasing his sister and, instead, stopped and gently touched her cheek. **I am so glad you weren't right, my dear sister.**
Willow's answer was an exhaled snort of sorts — it sounded like a mix between a cough and a laugh. Then, she smiled at him — an expression that seemed to accompany her more and more as of late. Her gaze shifted, momentarily, to Beetle, and then back to him. **Me too.**