Yawning, Willow stretched her arms high above her head before toppling backwards without looking. An indignant yelp answered her, the landing cushioned, and she laughed. “I told you to move, numbnuts,” she offered without an ounce of apology. “I’m exhausted and it’s cold outside. I almost froze my tail right off. Now shift over and let me under the furs.”
Another grumble drifted from the bedbowl’s occupant. “You’ll let all the cold in here,” came the muffled whine. “Why don’t you go back to your own den?”
“Because it’s going to be colder there.” Willow turned her head, suspicious now. “Why all the complaints? What’s going on, Notch?”
“He’s just being a jerk.” An unexpected head topped with a wealth of riotous red curls appeared from beneath the furs and Foxtail grinned whitely at her tribemate. Encouragingly, she lifted the corner of a particularly heavy pelt and motioned for Willow to join them. “Come on. There’s plenty of room.”
Lifting an eyebrow and glancing again at the lump that was Notch, Willow deliberately hesitated until a noise of complaint rumbled from his throat. Only then did she slip beneath the furs and into the warm hollow, sparing a wicked smile for Foxtail as she did. The chief’s daughter suppressed a giggle and immediately shifted to allow Willow space. Then she paused for an instant before stretching out her arm and slipping it beneath the settling elf-maiden. The smile that followed was borderline defiant but Willow made no sharp comment and only snuggled closer. The body heat was far too welcome to make a fuss over where it came from, after all. Besides she and Foxtail had long since reached some sort of understanding between them about the delicate balance in power, in attention, and, most importantly, in dealing with the males.
She squirmed again until her head rested more comfortably in the cradle of Foxtail’s arm, cheek to the other elf’s shoulder. “So why’s he being such a puddle of piss, anyway?”
“Don’t know. He was nice as bee-sweets to me earlier tonight,” Foxtail answered as if Notch was in a completely different den and not a warm lump against her other side. “Maybe it’s the snow starting and the cold getting worse.” She closed her eyes and snuggled further into the cozy bed, taking full advantage of the body on either side of her own. “I don’t know. When he pulled me out of my den, he was half-soaked through and grumpy as a bear after the Long Cold. I’m betting he was up to something and the snow got in his way and made him stop.”
“I’m right here, you know.”
“So answer for yourself then and don’t let Foxtail here do all your talking.” Willow tilted her head just a bit to share a smirk with the other redhead who had opened one eye at the sound of Notch’s plaintive whine. She thought about stretching an arm across to give him a good whack but it struck her as far too much effort. The lure of leaching body heat proved much more tempting and she squirmed further into Foxtail’s side. “Or don’t,” she added. “See if I care.”
And, just as she knew it would, that proved the straw to Notch’s sulky pride and the furs on the far side of the bowl erupted with an annoyed scramble, his dark hair appearing above the edge and a scowl on his face. “See if you care?” he repeated. “Sure because you’re not at all into sticking your nose into my pranks and seeing if you can’t beat me to the snap. Hmph. You’re just jealous that you didn’t think of it first.”
Willow exchanged another look with Foxtail. She did not even bother trying to hide her amusement but simply propped herself up on an elbow and looked across at Notch. “Think of what?” she asked with absolute sweetness.
His mouth set stubbornly. “I’m not saying but, believe me, it’s going to be the best prank anyone’s ever seen.”
“When it’s done. So no warning at all? We just have to sit on our tails and wait. Figures. I bet you messed it up and that’s why you’re so sour.”
“Haven’t! It’s the snow and the cold. It froze the water and —” Notch’s expression fell and he sank back into the the bedbowl with a sigh. The smile on Willow’s face immediately revealed his own slip to him. Reaching up, he pulled the furs back over his head. “Go jump in the river,” he muttered.
“Can’t. Like you just pointed out, it’s pretty cold out. Bound to be getting close to freezing up in places.” She laughed and lowered herself back into the warmth of Foxtail’s hold. “Anyway, you know you want to tell someone about it. It’ll cheer you up.”
“She’s right, you know.” Foxtail stretched out her other arm to draw the resisting male closer. “Or maybe we can come up with something to help fix it. I mean, you came back here looking like a wet wolf. Absolutely pathetic.”
Silence answered their suggestions and teasing for long moments but, surprisingly, neither maiden interrupted with impatience. Instead they snuggled in further and closed their eyes. The soft sounds of the snow falling outside barely penetrated the cozy little den; the heavy hides at the window and doorway kept it snug. It was enough to be warm and comfortable, Willow thought. If Notch wanted to spill his guts or sulk, it was his choice. She was more than pleased to simply be out of the cold and wet. She listened to the steady breathing of her cuddle partners and felt her muscles loosen with each beat of the heart, eyelids growing heavier until sleep seemed just a moment away.
That, of course, was when Notch decided to break the peace with a snort and an abrupt shuffling of bodies put him directly between herself and Foxtail with a lucky minimum of thrown elbows and hair-pulling. Glaring at him, Willow reached out to deliver a sharp pinch to his side.
“Owwww! What was that for?”
“So what are you planning?”
Notch’s smile grew to worrying proportions, curling up at the edges, and he stretched out both arms to pull his favorite redheads close again. “Well, you see, I was thinking —”
Notch ignored the quip while Foxtail giggled. “I found this stash of dreamberries in the back of the storage dens that weren’t wrapped properly and I wanted to see what would happen if they were crushed. Wine’s not going to be an option because, shards, they smell awful when you squish them down and mix the paste with water. I guess they went rotten. Who knew that happened with dreamberries?” His teeth flickered white in the dimness of the den.
“But the water’s freezing because it’s so cold.”
“Right which means that I can’t do what I want.”
“So we have to stop it from freezing.” Willow turned her gaze towards the roof of the den and considered sights unseen with a thoughtful expression on her face. She nibbled at her lower lip as she brought up every trick and prank the two had pulled, every substance and its reaction. Finally, a smile grew on her face to match Notch’s. Foxtail sat up a bit on his other side to peer across at her expectantly. “But do you remember when we went far out to the waterfall and it was still flowing even though the river was almost solid? And the hot springs and… What if we put something…”
“If it’s moving or warm…”
“What keeps things warm and moving…”
“Remember what Farscout said about the big waters and the rocks he brought back?” Notch looked beyond delighted.
Foxtail laughed and settled back down into the furs. “Alright, you two. Now that you’ve figured that out, how about we catch some sleep before we have to go find some salt-rocks?”
“Lazy bones.” Willow giggled herself, though, and reached down to tug the furs up even higher over their tangled bodies. “First thing,” she promised. “Foxtail, you can raid the storage dens while Notch gets his mixture.”
“Me?” She yawned and closed her eyes. “I’ll keep watch. Naturally. As the only one with sense…”
The resultant wrestling match left very little time for sleep in the end but, Willow thought, who was she to complain?