"Cascade Hill isn't too far on wolf back," Greenweave said as he untied the last of the braids from Cloudfern's hair. They'd both allowed him to indulge himself since they'd be separated for more than two hands of days, and Cloudfern's hair had been quite tangled up in strings and ribbons before it had become time to head for the furs. Newt would be spending the day with friends, so they had the den to themselves.
Cloudfern sat silent, allowing Greenweave's ministrations without comment. The tension in his shoulders spoke volumes.
"I'll have Longshot with me," Greenweave continued, letting his fingers run through Cloudfern's now loose hair. "If we see something, if, we'll be right behind the rest of you."
The sigh that Cloudfern let out sounded more like defeat than relief. Greenweave bit his lower lip and pulled back a little, unsure of what would be the wisest thing to do next. That evening he'd thought to tumble Cloudfern into bed, to give the both of them a proper, joyful send-off. The moment the sun had begun to rise and they headed for their den, he'd seen in Cloudfern's expression that the mood for such things was all wrong. So instead Greenweave had settled for hair braiding.
Greenweave's eyelids grew heavy. Sleep beckoned, aided by thoughts of long, cold nights on Cascade Hill. Cloudfern followed him into the bed-bowl when he pulled the furs back and gave him the shadow of a smile — Greenweave knew that expression all too well.
They ended up lying back to back as Cloudfern leaned to blow out the last of the candles and pulled the last fur over the two of them. The darkness of the den felt compact and suffocating, like a deep cave.
"I will be fine." Greenweave wanted to send his reassurance, but he wasn't foolish enough to do that. He could not guarantee his safety while on watch anymore than he could promise he'd come back unscathed from a hunt or a fishing trip to The Great Water. Shards, a storm could rush through the Holt any night and send a huge branch crashing down on him while he picked berries!
All such thoughts would bleed through in a sending. Not exactly the most soothing of farewells, no. So Greenweave kept talking, even though it felt as if a thornwall of silence was building itself between him and his lifemate.
"I wish I had more to do." Greenweave had almost drifted off to sleep when Cloudfern spoke. He choked back a gasp of surprise and listened avidly, waiting for Cloudfern to continue. And he did:
"Worse than foolish, I know. We've all had plenty to keep ourselves busy with since last winter ended. Far too much, some would say." Cloudfern sounded as tired as Greenweave felt. The thought of spending any amount of time away from Cloudfern and their warm bed-bowl didn't exactly make Greenweave want to get up and dance around.
"When Farscout, Brightwood and Blacksnake were stalking the Fierce Ones, I was too busy with Bluestone Cave to be afraid," Cloudfern said, as if he were talking to the den's walls and not Greenweave. "We were all scattered to the wind, scrambling to make things safer, to be more and more prepared. The warmer seasons that followed might not have been as full of panic, but we had so much work to keep doing. But now…"
Cloudfern's breathing had taken on a shallow quality. Not quite the panting, half-choked sort of gasping the worst of his bad dreams could force him into, but a prelude to such an attack undoubtedly. Greenweave knew those attacks far too well.
There were no promises to be given. No guarantees and no solutions. But, maybe, there was one thing Greenweave could do.
**I am Arn.** Greenweave's soul name was nothing new to Cloudfern; Greenweave had given it to him more than two hands of turns ago, as a promise, and received Cloudfern's in return. But now he didn't send it as a promise; he sent it as reassurance. He put as much of his love for Cloudfern as he could into his sending, along with his self-confidence; not in that he could take on the Fierce Ones, oh no, but that he and Longshot would hear, see and smell them coming before it were too late. They would have the high ground, they would be prepared.
The answer came out of the pitch dark not a heartbeat later: **I am Pryn.** Gratitude flowed along with Cloudfern's sending. Greenweave could feel the upset of his thoughts, but there was peace there too. Peace he had helped make.
The darkness inside their den at once seemed less cave-like. Greenweave went to sleep thinking of warmth and safety, Cloudfern held securely in his arms.