The sky was painted various hues of orange and purple, with hardly a cloud in sight to mar the beautiful image. A light breeze had served to temper the late summer day, making the weather pleasant rather than unbearably hot. The relative quiet was pierced only by the occasional call of a bird or buzz of an insect passing by.
"What a perfect day!" Fadestar sighed, lying back contentedly.
Kestrel had to agree. It was not often that everyone in their little family didn't have some prior commitment or responsibility, and with today being one of those rare days, they had decided to spend it together. Now, following an afternoon full of swimming, wolf riding, and berry picking, Snowfall and True Edge rested together on one fur laid out over the grass, with little Flicker nodding off in his white-haired mother's arms, while Kestrel and Fadestar shared another fur. The two of them watched over Spark, who was lying on his stomach and drowsily playing with his favorite carved wolf toy.
"I'm glad we got the chance to do this — I want to enjoy their baby days as much as I can. They're growing up so fast," Fadestar spoke again, turning to her side. She picked up Spark's toy, making it dance in front of him. He giggled at the sight and clapped his little hands.
"Yes, they are," Snowfall agreed, holding the auburn-haired boy just a little bit closer.
Kestrel looked at first one boy, then the other — had it really been more than half a turn since the two had come into the world? Spark had become so active, always pushing the limits of what his small body could do, and she had no doubt he'd be walking soon. Flicker, while less eager to explore physically, had an insatiable curiosity, his eyes taking in every detail of his surroundings, and he was always sending thoughts and images to his parents. Though she made certain to cherish every memory of their cubhood, the elder also found herself looking forward to seeing who these two little boys, with such different interests and personalities already, would become in the future.
She had been thinking about far-off days often lately, usually while drifting off to sleep or working on something that didn't require too much concentration. It was hard to imagine now, but eventually the day would come when the cubs would be grown and want dens of their own, just as Fadestar had. Snowfall, Kestrel, and True Edge had come together in the first place for the very purpose of raising Kestrel's younger sister, and had only been together for a relatively short time before she came into their lives. Then, after she had grown old enough to want her own den, their thoughts had been consumed by the long process of trying to create cubs outside of Recognition. Always, their mating had revolved around waiting for and raising children.
But what would their lives be like when it was again just the three of them, their child-raising days behind them? Kestrel had admitted to herself many times over that they were an oddly-matched pairing, a mating of two who were Recognized lifemates, with the third a lovemate of both, but knowing the soul of neither. Kestrel had often thought about what it would mean to call the two of them lifemate, and the three had discussed it on more than one occasion; the last time she had used that name with another elf, she had been Recognized to him, a bond that ran deeper than she had experienced with any other…or so she had thought.
Kestrel gazed over at Snowfall now, a smile crossing her face at the peaceful sight of the white-haired elf holding their son lovingly. It was reminiscent of another time, and another cub that had been held in much the same way. Half a lifetime ago, now, the two of them had realized the depth of their feelings for one another, and the glider's love for the younger elf had done nothing but grow in all the many turns that she had known her since then, even during the time when they had no longer called each other by the name "lovemate". Sometimes, in the midst of sending to one another, Kestrel almost felt as though she could reach Snowfall's soul, so connected were their hearts and minds.
Her eyes turned then to True Edge, who rested beside his Recognized…the only one whose love for the huntress equaled Kestrel's own. If someone, years ago, had told the eldest elder that she would one day end up in a lovemating with the surly elf, she probably would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea. Outwardly, they were as different as night and day. But, she had come to see, they complemented each other as well. If it weren't for both of our willingness to please Snowfall, Kestrel realized, he and I would never have come together the way we have. And the thought made her chest ache. For all the arguments they had had, and the differences of opinion, through this journey they had all taken together she had come to love him exactly the way he was.
For all that the two younger elves didn't always understand, they still accepted Kestrel's bouts of introversion and need to be without anyone else from time to time. They never demanded more than what she wanted to give, and Kestrel always found that she was happiest when she could come home from her time away and be close to those who loved her unconditionally.
These were all things that Kestrel thought about, lately, as she watched their precious cubs grow older day by day. And today, she knew she was finally ready to admit something to herself — though she didn't know their souls, and couldn't know for certain if she ever would, she couldn't imagine living a life that they weren't a part of. And if that wasn't reason enough to call another elf "lifemate", what was?
The glider was shaken out of her deep thoughts when she noticed True Edge begin to stand up. "The daylight is nearly gone — are we ready to head back?" he asked, glancing around at his mates and receiving nods of approval. With all being in agreement, the adults began packing up the food and the furs. Fadestar scooped up Spark and his toy.
"I've sent for the wolves — they're nearby," she said, slinging her pack over her free shoulder and heading towards the trees. Kestrel lingered a bit, slowly folding up the fur she and Fadestar had been using.
"Are you all right, beloved? Has your head taken to the clouds instead of the rest of you?" True Edge teased good-naturedly, and Kestrel, too, had to laugh a bit. She felt lighter, somehow, almost the way she did when she was using her magic.
"Yes, I believe that it has," she answered, tucking the fur away and slinging her own pack over her shoulder.
The elder stood and made her way over to where her mates were standing and waiting patiently for her, Flicker asleep against Snowfall's chest. She reached out and took a hand of each of them.
**May I share something with you both, to end this lovely day?** Kestrel asked through sending. The other two seemed surprised, as the question was rather out of the blue, but nodded their assent. Smiling, Kestrel closed her eyes and opened her mind to both of them, letting go of all of the feelings and thoughts that she had been experiencing over the past few weeks; her lifetime's worth of love and attachment to Snowfall, her short-term, though no less fierce devotion to True Edge, her gratefulness at the family they were able to build together, and lastly, her desire to leave behind the name of "lovemate."
"Oh, beloved," Snowfall gasped, her voice thick with emotion.
"It's about time," True Edge added with a grin, though Kestrel could see that his eyes had gone a bit misty. She pulled the two of them into a tight embrace, no one willing to let go until Flicker began to fuss, irritated at having been woken up from his nap.
"I'm sorry, little one," Kestrel said, all three of them chuckling as Kestrel leaned in and nuzzled him on the forehead.
At that moment, Fadestar and Spark reappeared coming through the trees beside Autumnleaf, Slychase, Branch and Starlight.
"What took you all so long?" the teen asked, perplexed.
Kestrel smiled. It was fitting that Fadestar should be the first to know the news, and the three of them headed towards their adopted daughter and the wolves, ready to finish the day as the family that they were and always would be.