(Ed. Note: This story is related to the final scene in "After the Storm").
**It's tonight! The fish-run starts tonight!**
Once, Greenweave's voice in her head as Honey woke would have been expected, a little brush of intimacy to start the night.
Shaking off the wrapstuff of her dreams, Honey wondered for a brief, confused moment why that intimacy seemed strange. Recalling that Greenweave was no longer her lifemate, and had not been for so very long, brought her fully awake.
Honey blinked in the dimness of her own solitary den as other tribemates woke and responded to Greenweave's open send with excitement and anticipation. She could hear them calling to each other and feel the mental brushes of cheerful open sends. She added her own to the mix.
The sun was barely down, and Honey dressed herself in her oldest leathers. Her den was quiet, but it didn't feel lonely. She traced a finger down her bow, unstrung in the corner and gleaming with fresh oil, and picked up the fishing spear from beside it.
So much had changed, slowly, and at the same time, so quickly. She shuddered, thinking about the swift alterations the Fierce Ones' return had brought so recently.
She fitted her hands onto the spear, rubbing her fingers over the familiar knots. It felt different than it had, and she drew back her hand to look at the skin on her fingers and palms. The callouses she once had there were long gone; new callouses from bowhunting had taken their place over the long seasons since she had called herself a fisher. Every tool had different kinds of wear on her hands: a hammer, a bow, or a spear. She hoisted the spear experimentally. Her muscles still knew what to do with the weight of it.
The smell of spring waited beyond her denflap, and Honey climbed down the tree and joined the merry stream of elves and wolves carrying nets and spears and baskets out of the Holt, past the Thornwall — shaped aside by Evervale and Cloudfern — to the river.
It would have been easy enough to go with Moss and Goldspice to haul in the big net that they were preparing to set, or go downstream a little further and fish by herself. She could have stayed at the smaller run at the Holt's River, rather than joining the larger group going to the Braided River. That was what Honey had done, several of the previous springs; no one could avoid the spring fish-runs entirely. But when the huntress caught sight of Greenweave sharpening his spearhead at the edge of the Braided River, close to the rocks they had favored so long together, she caught herself smiling at the sight of him. It made her pause, to recognize a glimmer of the affection that had been buried for so long. They had enjoyed a peace these last years that had become easy and familiar, but Honey had kept her heart protected, like a callous protects tender skin. When had that callous softened?
Dreamflight, hoisting her own spear, came from behind to consider the busy, festive tableau.
"We used to be a pretty good team," Honey told her with a sidelong look. "Bet the three of us with spears could beat those two with that net."
"Three?" Dreamflight said in astonishment. Then her face brightened in understanding. "Oh yes, three!"
Honey was already walking past Greenweave. "I'll start on the center rock," she said, with merriment. "You can take that big granite slab to the west."
She didn't look back to catch his expression, but Honey thought she could guess what it would be: astonishment, probably, and then his usual mild cheerfulness. Both of them joined her, and the fishing took all of their attention.
Otter joined Moss and Goldspice to balance their competition, and Kestrel, Snowfall, and True Edge joined the fray with their dipnets. Longshot, bowfishing, offered laughing encouragement, and his lovemates kept a running tally from the riverbank as they ferried the silvery prizes to the shore where Cloudfern worked with the Preservers. It was easier than Honey had feared to fall into the dance of fishing with her daughter and estranged lifemate; in no time at all, they were repeating the patterns they had spent a tree's lifetime perfecting and she found herself calling her dibs and sharing her spots without hesitation. The three of them together wrestled a monster to shore than none of them apart could have handled.
Long into the morning they worked, until they were all stumbling in weariness, and finally willing to concede the competition to the fishers with the net.
"Our biggest fish ought to count for more," Dreamflight groused good-naturedly as they stumbled up the gravel beach back towards the Holt. "If we tallied by weight we'd have won for sure."
"We'll even the score tomorrow," Greenweaver said peacefully. The full fish-run would last for several days.
There were baskets along the beach full of Preserver-wrapped fish, waiting to be hauled back to the Holt. Honey and Dreamflight moved to grasp one between them, but when Honey unwound her tired fingers from her spear, they stuck. Blisters had burst along her palms and bled; her hands had been too numb from the cold river water to notice.
"It's not worth calling Willow," Honey protested, as concerned elves gathered around. It stung, now that she had seen the damage, but she knew it would be a temporary discomfort, like the burn of muscles that were decidedly different than the muscles she usually used for hunting. She couldn't help wincing when Cloudfern cautiously took her hands and recognized the ripple of quiet anticipation in the nearby elves. Though there had been truce between herself and Cloudfern, there had also been careful distance, too. The others were waiting for her to pull away, or snap, or... any of the angry, hurt things that she had too often reacted with. But it didn't hurt, looking into Cloudfern's face. She didn't see the elf who had stolen her lifemate while she slept, she saw only a healer who was offering comfort to a tribemate.
She let him clean her hands and wrap an odoriferous poultice across her blisters.
"You shouldn't get these wet," Cloudfern cautioned. "If you want to fish for the rest of the run, have Willow give them attention."
"Thank you," Honey said simply, and she meant it. It wasn't a grudgingly polite expression, she was grateful to Cloudfern. She flexed her hands experimentally, and found that they didn't hurt as much as she expected them to. Not having callouses meant new opportunities for pain, but she found that she was grinning to remember the fun that the three of them had enjoyed while she earned her blisters.
Cloudfern looked a little confused by her broad smile and unexpectedly direct look.
Protecting her heart with callouses had done nothing to keep it from hurt, but at some point, Honey had stopped doing that. It meant the skin was tender and vulnerable, but also that it could feel the touch of friendship and affection again.
Honey didn't explain her thoughts, only repeated firmly, "Thank you."