Old habits, formed over so very many turns, died hard, Farscout thought wryly. An almost-smile on his face, he tipped his head back until it rested against the trunk of the sturdy tree which he and Brightwood called home and watched as the rising sun lightened the sky to periwinkle. All of the time on his own, out in the wide spaces, left him unable to tuck himself into bed come daybreak sometimes and, on those instances, he took himself considerately and quietly from their den to greet the dawn. Those moments were the quietest in the Holt. When everyone else turned in for well-earned sleep, Farscout found that he could hear for miles again. The peace that settled over everything reminded him of the unusual silence of the far-flung territories.
On the other hand, it also reminded him of the aching loneliness and the painful absence of his lifemate. Closing his eyes, Farscout sighed and trained his attention downwards until he fancied that he could hear the gentle sleeping breaths of his little family. Counting them brought him such peace; it made all of those long endless turns worth it, somehow. He relaxed further into the trunk behind him until he felt the edges of his own sleep creep over him.
So much for sleep.
Sitting upright with instinctive alertness, Farscout turned in place to greet the scrambling form of his young daughter. It took every ounce of learned patience to remain still and simply watch her when everything within him wanted to reach out, snatch her up, and keep her from any unfortunate tumbles from their high perch in the Mother Tree. As Copper’s small hand closed resolutely around a branch, he remembered such a fall a very long time ago. His expression caught between a smile and a frown at the memory of a small Fawn rocketing towards the ground. He hoped their cub had better luck than her mother.
Unless Brightwood’s luck had always been the best and the High Ones knew exactly what they were doing when putting a sullen young elf named Briar in the girl-cub’s way.
The smile won in the end and Farscout allowed himself to sit farther forward, arms draped over his raised knees, while Copper finished her ascent. Without a word, she moved across the thick branch he sat upon to crouch in front of him. For a moment, the two simply regarded each other, pale eyes meeting. Then, quite suddenly, Copper offered one of her shy, sweet smiles. Her father melted obediently, lowered his knees, and opened his arms and lap for her. Her smile grew, and she crawled forward to curl up close to him. Idly, he moved a hand to stroke over her bright hair. His mind brushed hers in a gentle wash of warm and sleepy thoughts, of curling up in the bed bowl with her mother and relaxing into the world of dreams.
The response he received in return from her mirrored his almost perfectly but his presence clearly lacked in his daughter’s version of events. Copper rested her head against his shoulder and tipped her chin up just enough to regard him from beneath her eyelashes. While no one in the tribe could ever accuse the cub of manipulation, she certainly got her way far more often than not. “Is that a hint?” he asked and, somehow, all amusement at her attempts to reproach him remained hidden in his voice.
Her bottom lip stuck out for a moment, and then she shrugged. Her smile returned, bemused this time, as she closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. “It’s bedtime,” she answered quietly. “Why don’t you come to bed?”
“Maybe I’m not tired.”
As usual, Copper listened beyond his words and through his deadpan delivery. She opened one pale eye and fixed a thoughtful look on his face. “You are.”
Farscout lifted an eyebrow but only shrugged in an eerily similar way to how his cub had done mere moments before. Then he drew her further against his chest until she obediently rested her cheek over his heart. **But you’re up here.** Copper’s finished thoughts touched his mind, and he hid his smile against her shining hair. When she continued, though, the smile melted into a wondering frown of concentration.
Discomfort, loneliness, wariness — how much longer, when, now, maybe never — impatience and resignation.
Lightness, sun rising, warm again, happy again, peace.
Farscout drew back at the sudden turn in his daughter’s sendings. His calloused hands curled around her shoulders, and gently he pushed her upright as well. He looked into her face for long moments until a new, soft smile finally curved his solemn mouth. “Just like that now,” he agreed. “You and your mother make me very, very happy. That’s why I’m not leaving the Holt like I used to. I want to stay here with the two of you. All of the time.”
“Most of the time,” Copper corrected. She sat back on her heels and reached up to take her father’s hands in hers and smiled. “You want to go walking again, Father. But it’s time to sleep now. It’s bedtime.” She gave him a little tug.
“All right, Copper, all right. It’s bedtime.” With little effort, Farscout rose to his feet on the thick branch. “Let’s go to bed.”
Copper nodded firmly and then, neglecting to take his outstretched hand, she spun on her heel. She scampered back for the way she had clambered up to him and began squirming her way downwards to the family den. Farscout sighed. One more test before bed… Letting his tiny precious daughter try her climbing skills again without his help. If nothing else, he reflected, that should exhaust him enough to sink into the bliss of their shared bed bowl.
In the end, though… Eyes still on his swiftly moving daughter, he smiled as he began his own descent. Everything was worth anything, and the long, endless turns resulted in the most wonderful of Nows. He and his lifemate and their cub. They would sleep very well indeed.