Thornbow turned his head away and stared at the flowing grain in the den's wall. It was better than looking at the gouge running down the length of his leg, red and raw-looking and oozing ever so slightly with infection. He had a strong stomach but his sensitive nose told him far too much of the risk he faced. The smell more than the growing pain brought him to the plantshaper for help. If it had just been pain, he could have borne it quietly and without interference. He had been hurt before, after all, and knew that most injuries healed on their own in time.
Some simply took much longer than one would like.
"I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?"
"What?" Surprised by the sudden break in the silence, Thornbow looked back at Cloudfern. Pale violet eyes met his and he blinked. Had he been daydreaming? Had he spoken out loud? What had he said?
Cloudfern frowned and glanced down at his hands. Then he switched focus to the pots of ointment and the bowl of water and the scrap of cloth and the archer's leg. His hands moved with swift grace and delicate care as he brought the cloth to the wound and dabbed gingerly. "You sighed," he finally answered, his voice quiet.
“Ah.” Thornbow stared for a moment at the top of the other elf’s head before lifting his own gaze to focus on a middle point in the distance. Something close to a feeling of shame crept over him and he bit the inside of his cheek. “No, I’m alright.” He paused again. “You’re very good at this. I barely felt the cleaning."
“Thank you. I try not to make things worse, you know.”
And what could he say to that? Nothing. For something that went without a single trace of sending, Cloudfern’s words held layers that made Thornbow uncomfortable. It was all too complicated. He liked things simple, none of this doubting and double-meaning and things unsaid and unsent. Since his father decided to wrap Honey, though, everything seemed much harder. He spent more time out amongst the trees, hunting or practicing his archery. When he was back at the Dentrees, he made a point to be there for Birdcatcher and Dreamflight. He worked on another bow or sat around the fire with his fellows or…
Avoided Greenweave and Cloudfern. The realization of his unconscious actions brought his mind to a sudden halt and he frowned to himself. It made so little sense and, worse yet, it ran counter to the counsel he had provided as gently as he could to Dreamflight. Why would he do such a thing? He did not blame either one for the loss of Honey, after all. Nor could he blame Greenweave for seeking solace and comfort with his former lovemate. He could not blame Cloudfern either. Still, when he thought of Honey and how desperately she wanted the perfect lifemating with Greenweave…
Thornbow shook his head. That river would be crossed when his sister awoke and worrying at it beforehand would only bring more poisoned blood to the surface. Much like his rutting stupid wound, things tended to fester when an elf poked at them too much. He was no healer but even he had the sense of a pup. Now was now and he himself was not in wrapstuff. He had his niece and his father and all of the rest of the tribe. A tribe that would need to stay strong and healthy so that, when they had a Healer again and his sister awoke, she would have as many loving arms to hold her as she needed. If those arms weren’t to be Greenweave’s, well… An elf could not force another to do his or her bidding. That was something his beloved sister always had trouble accepting.
Bringing his attention back to Cloudfern’s quiet, shuttered expression, he smiled a bit. The twist of his mouth was crooked and more than slightly uncertain. “Cloudfern… I know. I… Well, I don’t really know but I think I understand.” He paused, swallowed, and sat back, his arms dropping behind him to brace his new position. “And I know you tried.”
Silence greeted this offering as the plantshaper continued to treat the archer’s wound. His fingers moved quick and sure and gentle and his face revealed none of his thoughts on the topic, eyes downcast to focus on his work. Finally, he took a length of soft, clean silk in hand and bound it around the limb. He covered the bandage with long strips of tanned leather to protect the wound from further infection. Then he sat back on his heels and raised his chin, meeting Thornbow’s eyes. He smiled softly. “Thank you.”
“Right. Yes.” Not quite sure where to go next with the conversation, Thornbow pushed himself upright once more and, careful to avoid bumping Cloudfern in the movement, scrambled to his feet. His leg protested slightly when he set his weight on it but the sharp pains had receded to a dull ache. He ducked his head in a warming nod of recognition. “Thank you.”
There was one more momentary pause and then Thornbow turned on his heel and strode from the den, already feeling lighter and better for the visit. Instinctively, he knew something had shifted in that brief time but, as it slipped past his consciousness, he felt himself settle back into the Now. This was his comfortable skin and, somehow, Cloudfern had helped with more than just the gash in his leg. As he stepped through the door and felt the cool night breeze touch his face, he let go of one more thought, one more layered complication.
**Thank you, Cloudfern. For all of how you try.**