She twisted and writhed within the furs, lost in visions of blood and horror, knowing that she was dreaming but helpless to pull herself free when every part of the dream had once been a reality. The scent was the worst, always, worse even than the echoes of screams returning to her from across the gulf of never enough seasons. That scent of roasting flesh, so thick, so heady. The horror of her senses reacting to it, her mouth watering, even as her mind recoiled from the reaction and her sanity scrabbled back with screeching claws. Twined through it, their smell, sweaty, overwhelming in its renewed freshness their smell against the smell of snow. Their rumbling bear-voices. Their laughter. It was twisted into her mind, gouged into her soul like a thorn disappearing into the flesh, like an abscess. Her lungs were full of blood again and her hand was trembling over her little brother's eyes, her ears ringing with the last that she would ever hear of her father's voice, while shadows danced on the walls and her grandfather screamed screamed screamed
There came fresher terrors, too, all again in the snow, growing young and strong new monsters from the shadows of the old. Bright blood in the copper of her daughter's hair, her brother and his lifemate over roasting pits, her soul's other half falling where he fought, and fire biting at the trees of her home
The most precious voice in the world broke into her whirling mind like a spot of starlight through roiling clouds. In its wake came another whisper, softer, but an anchor to all that was bright and loved and living, **Aya.** They found her. They held her and eased her through, back, up
Brightwood woke, panting and damp all over with cold sweat. She had worked her sleeping furs almost to a knot around her in her nightmare. Farscout was kneeling wide awake besides her, his forehead almost touching hers as he sent. On her other side was Copper, holding her hand in a bloodless grip, the cub's eyes vast and luminous in the faint light that came into the den. The plantshaper sucked in a breath and swallowed through a dry throat.
I'm fine, loves. I'm fine. She raised her free hand to cup her lifemate's cheek, and carefully sat up in her tangled nest. Just a nightmare. Nothing new.
**You were sending,** Farscout told her, very gently, anticipating her gasp of renewed horror. She, leaking dreams like a pup! **They are getting worse again.**
Brightwood swallowed once more and was forced to confirm, **aye, they are,** though she did it in a private sending. Copper was still frozen at her side, now stroking her palm and arm in small motions. The nightmares had faded over time after her initial unwrapping, until she almost thought herself free of them. Until the Fierce Ones had returned.
Rage would ordinarily be her first response, rage at this useless expression of her fear that she could not rid herself of, a bold huntress with a cub of her own to protect leaking dreams like that cub had only just stopped doing. She felt foolish and shamed. But too worn out for anger, too shaken by the return of her private horrors along with the tribe's own too-tangible ones. In the quiet privacy of the family den she lay back and leaned into her lifemate's stroking, soothing fingers running along her brow, her neck, working his way down to her shoulders that had become painfully taut in her uneasy sleep. Farscout said nothing, only let her feel his touch, his breathing and his presence, the wordless hum of his sending a constant flow of **love safe home Aya Seth Vuna home together.** Clasping his hand with her free one, Brightwood turned to her cub, where the greatest guilt came from.
**I'm sorry, kitling. That was not for you to see.**
It's all right, Mama.
Copper's voice was a tiny whisper, but a forceful one, tightly focused with emotion. She was still holding tightly onto Brightwood's fingers. She held them to her chest with both hands. Her breath came quick, hitching. It's all right, it's all right Grandsire Lynx, he he'll keep us safe, remember, he's chief of the Fierce Ones now remember? Grandsire Lynx, he won't let them hurt us, Crackle told us so it's all right, Mama, it's all right.
Brightwood stilled, the renewed ease that had been pooling in her body freezing. She stared at her pleading daughter. She knew that Copper didn't believe this story hadn't believed it when it was first told, and made her opinion abundantly clear on the matter. And the cub didn't believe it any more now, either Brightwood could hear it in her breathless, forced voice, in her reluctance to send. But it was the only comfort that she could possibly offer in her desperation, before this dreadful scene of her mother's nightmares, and she echoed it feverishly. Over and over it's all right, Mama, we're safe.
Brightwood exchanged a silent glance with her lifemate. Farscout was similarly lost. How to reassure the cub when she had resorted to that hated fiction just to reassure them how to say, don't be frightened, when they themselves were?
At last Brightwood could bear it no longer. Sitting up, she reached out and wrapped her arms around Copper, pulling her into her lap. Farscout sat opposite them, and leaned in, so that their daughter was nestled into a small space between both parents, a warm cocoon. **Vuna,** Brightwood sent, **My heart, there's some truth to this. Your grandsire keeps you safe. He ** she glanced up, and caught Farscout's encouraging gaze. **Your grandsire Lynx died, but he is in me, in my blood, in your father's spirit. He's kept us safe and made us strong, so we can do the same for you. Do you understand?** She looked deeply, unwavering, into Copper's eyes. **Even the bravest have bad dreams sometimes. But your family will always protect you. Your father and I, your aunt and uncle, all your kin always.**
She didn't know if it was enough. Copper bit her lower lip hard, but then nodded. She lay herself curled against her mother's lap, clutched Brightwood's hair and breathed slowly until the breathes were even, and perhaps that was the best that they could hope for. The truth was the offered comfort, not a story. But perhaps it was its own story, Brightwood reflected even her father's protection had not saved her from the wrapstuff, nor saved their other kin, nor Lynx's own life. Perhaps it was all just stories, so that cubs could sleep at night.
It didn't change her resolve, though, or her trust in her lifemate and her tribe. They would protect her child with their lives, just as Lynx had done. And not just from the Fierce Ones, but from any danger. That would always be true. Her fears, her nightmares, could never change that.
That was enough, she thought, closed in the warmth with her family. For now that was enough, to ease her back into a sleep without dreams.