Foxtail bit her tongue hard and tucked the furs around the three cubs for what felt like the hundredth time. Rill squirmed away from the action and, before she could quite grab him, wriggled from beneath the confining warmth in an attempt to escape the bed bowl. For the fifth time. Casting a quelling look at both Cinder and Glow in a bid to keep them in place, the redhead turned and snatched at the slippery cub. She managed to grab the back of his shirt at the last moment and jerked back roughly, nearly scruffing him as she pulled him towards the bed bowl. “It is time to sleep,” she announced firmly.
Rill scowled and tried to twist out of her grip. Her fingers only tightened, though, and he yelped — more in annoyance than pain. “But I don’t want to,” he whined. “Not tired. Don’t want to.”
“Too bad, cub.” Using her superior height and weight and drawing on the memories of her own escapes and tricks, Foxtail countered his fresh attempts and shoved him back beneath the furs. “It’s time to sleep.” She was starting to feel like her mind was slipping; hadn’t she said those exact same words just a few moments ago?
“Because I said so.” The moment the words had left her lips, Foxtail froze in position, stared at the three cubs for a handful of seconds, and then burst into laughter. She rocked back on her heels and brought both hands up to cover her face. The giggles built until her shoulders shook.
Baffled, the cubs stared at her with wide eyes. When she continued to laugh unabated, they exchanged looks and Rill prodded Cinder meaningfully. “She’s your sister,” he hissed. “If she’s broken, you have to tell the Chief.”
“Nuh-uh.” Nonetheless, the gray-haired cub cast his eyes back in the direction of Foxtail. He took a breath, pushed down the edge of his sleeping fur, and clambered towards the curving edge of the shaped wood. Almost hesitantly, he touched a small hand to his sister’s knee. “Foxtail?” he breathed.
Dashing merry tears from her eyes, Foxtail grinned and slipped an arm around her brother’s narrow shoulders. She hugged him to her side. “I’m fine. It’s alright, cubs.” Another giggle escaped her but she managed to nip it from blossoming into another roaring fit of laughter. “I have a feeling you will know why I laugh some day. Just you wait.” Her smile grew even more, a flash of white in the dimly lit den. “One day, you won’t be cubs anymore. There will be little ankle-biters around smaller than you.”
Three pairs of eyes blinked up at her with clear bafflement at the concept. Foxtail shrugged, dropped her head to nuzzle at Cinder’s hair, and then nudged him until he moved further into the bed bowl once more. Picking up the topmost fur, she shook it out before laying it over the three now-cuddling cubs and tucking it around them firmly. “And you will have to tuck them in and tell them stories.”
“And tell them that it is time to go to bed.” Foxtail stretched out her hand to ruffle through three quite different mops of hair, one after the other. “Go to sleep, cubs. Dream big things. When you wake up, you can have as many adventures as you want to have. Of course, you might have to outrun your parents… Or the Chief or me.”
“Why me? Because I like the chase, of course.” Foxtail settled herself on the edge of the bed bowl. One hand toyed idly with a tuft of fur but her green eyes stayed on the cubs. Her voice lowered, her smile lingering. “Haven’t you ever run through the forest when the moons are high and everything has gone silver and the wind whispers to you? When everything is just cool enough that moving that fast warms you up just enough that you feel just right? Just think of those nights. Picture running so fast that you feel like you do when Kestrel or Fadestar picks you up and takes you to a treetop. Like you’re not even touching the ground. Like you’re just part of everything and that’s the Now and you’re so happy that you could howl but howling would take breath that you need for running.” She paused and dropped her words to an even more gentle whisper. “That’s the best kind of chase.”
Yawning despite himself, Rill rolled to his side, curled up, and let his eyes droop closed. “But what’re you chasin’?” he murmured, barely coherent. Beside him, Glow and Cinder had already slipped into sleep, their breathing settled into slow, parallel rhythms.
Foxtail smiled wide, unseen by the cub, and bent over him to better tuck in the fur at the edges of the bed bowl. She watched for a few moments longer until his breathing evened and she saw the first flicker of sleep beneath his eyelids. Then she leaned down further and ever so carefully nuzzled his cheek. I’m chasing a faster, better me.
And she was glad he was too asleep to register her answer because, really, she thought… How do you explain something like that when you barely understand it yourself?
Carefully, she eased away from the bed bowl and, humming under her breath, Foxtail slipped from the den. It was time for another run. Past time, in fact.