(Ed. Note: Mouse was the cubname of Pathmark.)
The movement of air announced a visitor into Fadestar’s and Leather’s den. The young girl looked up quietly and saw Mouse enter. Her pale grey eyes shimmered when she recognized who he was, but she hardly moved as Mouse hesitated to come any further. He seemed as unhappy with the situation as she had been before.
“I’m sorry Snowflake didn’t want you along today. I tried to convince her to let you.” Mouse bowed his head. The girl immediately felt sorry for him. Snowflake had a strong character and was dominant, while Mouse was much younger and Fadestar much weaker. Fadestar knew that if she would physically ever be able to challenge Snowflake, she would probably lose anyway.
The girl shrugged. It wasn’t the first time that the older, wolfish girl had forbidden her to come along. It probably wouldn’t be the last time, either. “It’s all right. Father probably wouldn’t let me, now that there’s snow in the air. I’ll get sick.” As if she could feel the sickness responding to the upcoming snow, she coughed and then sneezed immediately afterwards.
Mouse came closer and snuggled up to her. He buried his nose into her shoulder.
“We’ll always be friends, right?” His bright, soulful eyes looked up to her, and she pulled him close.
She could hardly breathe, and she felt so warm that she thought she might catch fire. Fadestar’s eyes couldn’t focus on anything in particular as she coughed heavily, sometimes falling half-asleep. Delirious, she was barely aware of the people surrounding her, grieving for both her father and for her. Then, Fadestar suddenly grew cold. Shivering uncontrollably, she made a nearly pointless effort to pull the leathers closer. Her chest burned as she coughed again.
Then — a soft, warm hand on her forehead. “You’ll sleep soon,” she heard a young, soft voice say. “I’ll be there when you wake up. But you have to go to sleep now. Sleeping will make you better.” She heard a sob in the voice, but it was hard to register who it was exactly talking to her.
Mouse touched Fadestar’s hair and took her hand for a bit, before Cloudfern nodded to Bowflight who scooped up his son. The cub’s voice and sobs died away, or perhaps it faded into the background with all the other voices which Fadestar couldn’t hear. Closing her eyes, she felt as if her father bent over her, inviting her to close her eyes. Then, she slowly sunk away into a deep sleep.
The skinny cub looked outside the window. After her unwrapping, she was still reluctant to go outside. She had made some progress, though. The tribe had held a howl for each unwrapping and in hers, they had told her stories about what happened while she had been sleeping. Still, it was hard for the cub to grasp. She was barely starting to open up to Kestrel, Snowfall, and Nightstorm, but the howl had been awkward, to say the least. So many new faces, so many older faces gone. She missed them. She missed how it was. A tear escaped her eyes, and she didn’t bother to wipe it away. She missed her father so much. For all of them, it had been ages. For her, it still felt like yesterday.
A familiar send touched her mind, and she looked up, wiping the tears away. Moments later, a scent both strange and yet familiar tickled her nose, as a grown-up version of her childhood friend appeared on the branch before the den she now lived in. With large grey eyes, she looked at the figure standing in the entrance. “M-Mouse,” she whispered, which he took as a gesture to come in, albeit carefully. He smelled different, now. He had aged while she had not. Mouse used to be smaller than her, now she was the younger one.
“I’m not Mouse anymore, Fadestar,” he softly said, “I’m Pathmark now.” He hesitated for a bit, unsure about how to go on. She bowed her head, nodding in defeat.
“I know. It’s just…”
“Weird? I know,” he said, and it seemed as if she heard a smile, so she lifted her head. But the smile disappeared quickly. “I had wanted to come and visit you before, but…” He made a helpless gesture and his words hung in the air. “I was outside the den when you woke up, but I wanted to give your family… And then I just…” He couldn’t finish his sentences because the young girl hardly seemed to acknowledge him.
Fadestar looked past him, to the den’s entrance. She hadn’t wanted to see anyone, not even her best friend. Was he even her best friend now? Mouse, or Pathmark, had grown up. They differed in age so much now. She didn’t even know if she could call him a friend anymore.
“I waited for you. For such a long time,” he continued, almost whispering now. Fadestar thought she saw tears in his eyes, but she turned away her face.
“No you haven’t,” she said, and it sounded a little bitter. It felt like even her best friend had left her behind. It wasn’t fair, she knew that somewhere, but at this moment, she didn’t want to see it like that. Everyone had moved forward except her.
For a moment, there was only silence between them. Fadestar wanted to wallow in her misery, but apparently, Pathmark didn’t want to let that happen. “I want to help you. You know, getting to know everyone again. Fill in the gaps. Tell you about what’s happened.”
But the cub shook her head. “But I don’t want that,” she whispered, before turning her back on him. “Please go away.”
“You can’t stay here forever, Fadestar. There’s so much you don’t know yet. Let me help you. I promised you we’d always be friends.”
“No.” The answer came firmer than ever. “You can’t say that. Not anymore. Too much time has passed, at least for you.”
Pathmark tried to hide his surprise. He didn’t leave immediately, but he didn’t seem to know what to say anymore. For what seemed like a lifetime, Pathmark lingered in the den, until he finally sighed deeply and left. “Maybe another time. When you’re ready.”
Fadestar didn’t answer as Pathmark slipped out of the den.
“Fadestar? Are you done with your sewing?”
The girl looked up from her work when she heard Pathmark’s voice come from the den’s entrance. Truthfully, she had still lots of stitching to do, but Pathmark seemed enthusiastic and it triggered her curiosity. The normally level-headed elf must have something special to announce, otherwise he would have contained himself.
Besides, it would be nice to catch up with her friend again. Ever since Copper was born, Farscout had done fewer long range scouting trips and Pathmark had filled in for him. She missed Pathmark when he was out for a long period of time.
“I can take a break, if Nightstorm doesn’t mind?” She tilted her head to face her mentor. Nightstorm shook her head.
“You’ve been working all morning. Go out and see what Pathmark wants.”
The tanner hadn’t even finished speaking, but Fadestar was already on her way to the den’s entrance, where Pathmark was waiting. **Whirl’s litter is outside. The cubs are already there, and we should go and see, too!**
Fadestar smirked. “Why are you so happy about that?”
Pathmark shrugged. “It is a beautiful day, the cubs are outside, and I’ve just returned to my friends and family. I should take a little rest, but I am too awake for that. You coming?”
Her friend seemed determined enough. She had seen the determination which he could express over the years. Since she had been unwrapped, Fadestar had sent Pathmark away countless times, but he had proven to be very persistent. Sending her bits and pieces of the Holt during the time she had been sleeping. Sending images of the elves she didn’t know. Sending her feelings of friendship, long-lost and new. And over time, Fadestar couldn’t do anything else than believe that somewhere inside, Pathmark was still Mouse and that he had indeed kept his promise to wait for her.
“Yes, I am.” Fadestar looked up to him. “And I want to hear about your trip before Longshot and Evervale return. Otherwise I know I won’t see you for another night or two,” she teased with shimmering eyes.
He poked her gently with his elbow, but she saw his cheeks turn pink and grinned sheepishly. The smile would not leave her face until they arrived at the clearing where the young wolf and elf cubs had found each other to play.
A giggle woke Fadestar up and it took a little while for her groggy mind to understand what, or rather who, she had just heard. It appeared to come from outside, and she realized it had been Evervale. Curious as to what her neighbor was up to, she crawled towards her den’s entrance with a fur firmly wrapped around her body. The wind had been chilly these past days.
Daylight shone around the den flap and she had to narrow her eyes to the bright light. Blinking, she stepped out of the den because she couldn’t really see what was going on, but when she looked around the corner, she saw the scene. Longshot had climbed down to greet Pathmark, who had come back from one of his longer scouting trips, while Evervale leaned over the branch to follow both males with her eyes. She giggled while the two hugged each other. The two males looked up to her and smiled to their female companion.
Longshot and Pathmark started to climb the Dentree to reach their den, clearly communicating with each other and probably exchanging stories of past days, and Fadestar withdrew a little. She didn’t want to spy or eavesdrop, but couldn’t help wanting to follow Pathmark with her eyes.
For the past few moons her eyes seemed to search out Pathmark wherever they could. Her heart had jumped a little when he greeted her as he passed by. A funny feeling crawled around in her belly when he smiled.
She had talked about it with Newt, and they had giggled about her crush. Because it clearly was that, she knew that. But she would rather die than to ever admit it to Pathmark.
He was sweet, she thought. After waking up from the wrapstuffed sleep, he had given her some room, but he had always been near, trying to make her feel comfortable. At first, she had refused his kindness, but over time, she had gotten used to it. Despite their age difference, some of the friendship they’d once had, had returned. And it had grown to be so much more — at least from her point of view.
She did think the threesome was cute together. Both Longshot and Evervale were very fitting for Pathmark, Fadestar believed, but she couldn’t help to feel a little jealousy. Newt had said that they would accept her with open arms if she’d ever get the courage to step up to Pathmark, but Fadestar felt too nervous to do so. And the only time she had told herself to say something about it to him, she’d started to blush and stutter, so she had excused herself and had made a run for it.
A soft snort pulled her back into reality. Evervale had pushed the den flap to the side to let the two males enter, and right before she closed it up again she lifted her head and met Fadestar’s eyes. She winked, before she withdrew in the den. Fadestar felt her cheeks burn and it was not from the cold, before she turned around and fled to her own den.
A soft, cool breeze made the new leaves rustle on the branches. Grey eyes followed the movement of the leaves until the wind laid down and the rustling stopped. For just a heartbeat she pondered about going inside her den, but decided against it at the same time. Her spot was too comfortable to leave.
She had been watching the dawn, and the sunrise. Most of her fellow tribesmates had vanished into their dens to sleep, but lately, Fadestar hadn’t really wanted to go and sleep until the sun had come up.
After her stay at Bluestone Cave, she had been thrilled to be able to return to the Dentrees and to return to her family. She had longed to see them, especially her sister after her gliding magic had made its appearance. And Fadestar had been so busy practicing with Kestrel, that she had hardly any time to think about something else. But in these spare moments, after the sun had risen halfway in the sky, she took the time to just sit, watch and listen, and appreciate all that was around her.
Both her new ability and the trust that Windburn and True Edge had had in her during the stay at Bluestone Cave had given her some peace of mind and also, confidence. The fact that she had been allowed to be the link between Crow’s Ridge and Bluestone cave, and that she had succeeded very well in that task, had made her self-esteem grow. With that and after long talks with her friends while they were up at Windy Ridge, but with this extra boost of being able to fly, she had been able to accept her past and really leave it behind her. She wasn’t that sickly child anymore. She was a strong wolfrider with potential.
And now, she had to prove to Windburn, Farscout and Kestrel that she would be able to replace her sister when her nephew or niece had arrived. There was still much work to do, and she would leave with Farscout on another long-range scouting trip tomorrow.
The thought made Fadestar reconsider staying up. She well remembered how Farscout hadn’t held back the first time, and she needed the rest. With a soft sigh, she got up her feet and made her way to her den’s entrance.
A soft mental touch made her tilt her head, just before she reached for her den flap. Pathmark was only a few branches away from her. She smiled. “I was just heading to my furs,” she said.
“I can see that,” he replied, returning the smile. “Heard that you’re going off with Farscout again tomorrow. Are you nervous?”
She shook her head. Well, actually she was, a little bit. The first time around had raised major issues for the tribe. “I just hope we won’t run into any more Fierce Ones this time around.” She still held the den flap, but her fingers cramped at the thought and she noticed so too late.
Pathmark moved closer. “Well, that would make me nervous, for sure,” he told her. “But I am sure that you’ll manage. And Farscout and Windburn share that confidence. If not, they wouldn't allow you to go with Farscout a second time.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed softly to show his support and understanding.
The young female blushed at those compliments. “I need to gather some stuff for tomorrow. Do you want to come inside?” She raised the den flap, and he nodded. As he passed her by going inside, she couldn’t help but inhale his scent deeply. And when she tilted her head to follow his movements, she saw that he stared at her. Intensely. Immediately, she felt nervous and slightly uncomfortable and not because the trip she would be making tomorrow... and Pathmark seemed to be picking up on that, as well.
Fadestar’s breathing became quicker and she felt slightly uncomfortable, not really knowing what to do when Pathmark moved in closer. “Fadestar…” he quietly mumbled and she heard that his breath was faster, too. Without even realizing it, she had taken a step towards him as well. Her blood sang when he let his fingers run down her arms and it took her a little while before she acknowledged the words he had spoken: “Do you want me to stay?”
“Yes,” she mostly breathed, and took his hand. And while their lips found each other, Fadestar let go of the den flap…