One cub at a time was hard enough to ignore but the two noisiest of the bunch plus their wolves plus the quieter presence of her own brother and the silent-but-ever-present Copper proved beyond Foxtail’s already limited store of focus. A low, warning growl slipped from her as she lifted her eyes from the intricate bit of weaving threaded through the spokes of the hand loom on her lap. “What in the name of the Ancestors is it now, you little tail-twitchers?”
Unbothered by the show of poor temper, Rill bounced from foot to foot. “Foxtail! Have you seen it? Have you seen him? Do you know what he’s planning?”
“Do you? You have to know. I bet you helped him or he told you and you should tell us because we can keep a secret, honest.”
Foxtail swung her attention from Rill to Glow in response to the girl-cub’s tumble of rapid-fire words and a new frown twisted her mouth downwards. She cocked her head to one side but her gaze never wavered until Glow paused to breathe and ended up making a small squeak as she struggled to calm herself again. As much as the annoyance lingered, Foxtail had to admit there was something a bit adorable and infectious in the cub’s enthusiasm. Still, she could not possibly allow them to escape this interruption unscathed. How would they learn to pick their battles otherwise?
So, despite the urge to grin, the redhead only allowed her face to reset to neutral and further lowered her work to her lap. “What should I see and why should I know?” she asked, voice a slow drawl. “Who are you cubs yapping about, anyway?” Though, by the feel of their excitement, she already had a good idea.
“Notch!” Glow bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. “He’s up to something! He’s got all sorts of things out and he chased us away when he saw us.”
“We weren’t even touching anything. Just watching.” Rill’s young voice echoed with the sort of long-suffering distress that Foxtail herself had used for ages of hands herself. She allowed herself to smile a bit at that until the pout he delivered proved too much.
Laughing softly, she shook her head. “That’s enough for him. You watch enough and you’ll learn things,” she explained. “How do you think we all learned the worst sort of tricks?” Which was only half of the truth but she really couldn’t reveal all of her secrets, right? The cubs had many seasons to go and learn yet. Such as how nice it was to get someone else to do your dirty work or be your eyes and ears. This was a chance she could not possibly pass up, not for all of the amber beside the Big Water.
“But now you’ve got me wondering about Notch. I haven’t seen him around in a night or two,” she admitted. Then she leaned towards them, eyebrow lifted. “So why don’t you tell me about all of these things he had and where you saw him last? Maybe we can figure it out together.”
Encouraged thusly, Rill and Glow launched into an elaborate recital of their adventures, complete with energetic gestures and overlapping words. Every so often, Cinder would break in at the pause for breath and calmly correct an error or add more detail to something. In between the louder attention-seekers, Foxtail stole glances at the silent Copper and, eventually, found a faint smile in reward. She winked broadly and focused once more on the growing story. The entire thing had her own mind spinning and, as the cubs related a series of highly suspicious lidded pots, Foxtail’s grin grew until it nearly stretched from ear to ear, wicked and all too familiar to the older members of the tribe.
“You know what I think?” she suddenly said, her voice low and conspiratorial. The cubs leaned in automatically, gone silent and attentive at her posture and the brightness in her eyes. “I think you all are clever enough to beat Notch at his own game.” The swelling of egos lifted little heads and Glow giggled. Foxtail lifted a hand and motioned them to come even closer. She waited until even Cinder and Copper relented and moved towards her. She again caught Copper’s eye, remembered the fake bet so many moons ago, and fought back a giggle of her own. “With maybe a little bit of help from me, huh? So I have an idea…”
Whistling under her breath, Foxtail made her way towards a very particular area of the surrounding woods three nights after her impromptu war council with the cubs. She took a moment to glance around her just before slipping around a particularly large old oak. Perfect. Not a soul around. She grinned. While she certainly planned on allowing the rest of the tribe to see the result of the cubs’ hard work, she felt that she deserved first laugh by virtue of her tutelage. It was only fair. Grin widening, she laced her hands behind her back and commenced onwards with long, swinging steps, making just enough noise to warn anyone that she was coming.
Her reward came drifting over the faint breeze, a low string of curses barely heard over the rustling leaves. She waited a moment and then, not even bothering to hide the smugness, she sent, **Notch? Is that you?**
It took nearly too long for the response to come and Foxtail had to bite hard on her lower lip to keep from giggling in anticipation. The forced cheer in it when it finally did come made her bite even harder. **Foxtail! Long time, no see. I’ll meet you in my den later.**
**But I’m here now.** With that sassy retort, the redhead picked up her pace until she jogged the final distance to her target. The sight which greeted her proved even better than her imagination and she stopped abruptly, wrapped her arms around her midriff, and doubled over in nearly hysterical laughter.
If possible, his face grew even more sullen. “Don’t ask,” he growled.
“But… But…” Foxtail could barely get a word out before she dissolved into a new round of giggles. Forcing herself to stand straighter, she loosened one hand and waved it a bit at him. “Notch, I… You look…” She gave up again and sank to the ground, hands moving to cover her mouth as her green eyes glowed. **ridiculous silly outfoxed**
“... What do you mean? You know something!” Notch unfolded his arms and wiped roughly at his face. He managed to dislodge a few feathers but only managed to smear the honey further over his nose and cheeks. “Foxtail! Get me down and tell me what you’ve done!”
She shook her head. “Uh uh.” She blinked hard and took a few deep breaths. Another giggle or two slipped out but she reined them back in bravely to pursue the conversation. “If I tell you, you’ll just get mad as a wet wolf and then I’ll have to leave you up there until you cool down.”
He regarded her for a moment. Then, slowly, he nodded. “Alright. I’ll have to promise. I can do that. You know I can, kitling.” A wry grin twisted his lips. “Just get me down and tell me how you turned this around on me because I know you did. It smells of you.”
“Liar.” Still Foxtail smiled and pushed herself up onto her knees. “It shouldn’t, though. I wasn’t anywhere near your little prank this time.” Her smile became a smirk. “I didn’t have to be.”
“... Okay, now you really have to tell me. This sounds too good to miss.”
“Alright, alright. I promise. I won’t prank you back for this.”
“And the others?”
“How many others?”
Foxtail shrugged and stood. Idly, she brushed leaves from her skirt and smoothed her hair. “Oh, just a few. Does it matter? I could just leave you hanging there, you know.”
Notch sighed heavily. “Fine. I promise not to prank them back either.”
She flashed a toothy smile up at him and then skipped over to the tree, knife appearing in her clever hand. Within moments, she was hard at work on the knotted rope. As she worked, she opened her thoughts to him, painting a vivid picture of four very busy, very clever, very curious cubs plotting to reverse the Master Prankster’s plot. Cinder and Copper and Rill and Glow — all working together with unerring determination and good nature… And taking a few tips from a certain redhead. By the time, gravity brought Notch down and the story wound to a close, he was laughing himself. Rolling onto his back, the trails of honey on his skin picked up leaf debris and twigs, coating him with new litter, but Notch did not seem to mind as he chuckled. Foxtail returned her knife to the sheath at her hip and padded over to crouch at his side, keeping carefully an arms-length away. “You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked finally.
“Just as long as no one gets hurt and my father doesn’t have to punish anyone, alright.” She stretched out a hand and prodded his shoulder with a finger. “But you have to jump in the river first and get cleaned up. Then you can tell the cubs how well they got you.” Bringing her hand back, she delicately licked a bit of honey from her fingertip and grinned at him over the digit. “Then we’ll teach them a few more tricks.”
Notch laughed and folded his hands behind his head, smirking up at the leafy canopy above them. “Sure. Just a few more tricks.”