Bereft @ladyoftheshield
Bereft

All was still when Tullgrew awoke, the screams and shouts of battle ringing in her ears.

Untangling herself from the soft silken sheets, she half fell, half climbed out of her hammock and went to the window. The moon hung low in the sky. Dawn was but a few hours away. Only a few stars had the strength to pierce the grey mantle of mist coating Noonvale.

Already, the details of her dream were fading away, but the heat of the crackling flames still warmed her fur, the dark liquid from her kills still trickled down her paws.She took a shuddering breath and turned away from the window. Barkjon lay asleep in his hammock, but he twitched in his sleep, murmuring promises and comforts. In the pale moonlight, she noticed for the first time the deep wrinkles curving down his face and the heavy coat of silver frosting his fur. When had he gotten so old?

The recent tension probably hadn’t helped, she told herself with a pang of guilt, remembering the heavy silence that had settled between her and Keyla since…

This is your fault! You should have let me go with them!

Barkjon needed us here!

Martin needed us more.

What, do you think you could have changed his mind? He doesn’t listen to anyone when he’s-

Least of all you. And I should have done the same. Least my gut’s never let me down.

A bad taste in her mouth, she turned away from the window. Then she noticed Keyla’s hammock was empty, the sheets still folded neatly underneath it. For a moment she considered just going back to bed, but then she sighed. Leaving the room, she pulled up on the door so it wouldn’t creak and wake Barkjon. She padded down the hallway to the kitchen, noticing the faint glow of a lantern spilling down the hall. Through the doorway she saw him, still hunched over his papers as she’d left him hours ago.

Her keen ears caught a faint sound spilling from the kitchen and she stepped forward, expecting to hear muttering or quiet humming.

The sound of his rough sobs hit her like a slap in the face.

For a moment she stood, stunned. Keyla never cried, never, always grinned and took disaster with a smile and a laugh. She darted forward, all tension between them forgotten. He half turned at the sound of her paws on the wooden floor, silver tear tracks glistening in his brown fur. Keyla straightened up and began to scrub at his eyes with the back of his paw but she was already there, pulling him into a hug. She felt him stiffen in her arms before slowly relaxing and locking his arms around her shoulders.

“It’s almost dawn. You should be in bed,” she said, at the same time he muttered, “Sorry to wake you.”

His voice was so close to cracking. Her breath hitched. “You didn’t,” she whispered, pulling away gently but keeping her paw on his shoulder.

Keyla dug his paws into his eyes and slid them around to his temples. “I’m sorry about- earlier. What I said-”

“Me too,” she interrupted. Keyla straightened a little, gave her a small smile, then burst into tears again.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he sobbed, wiping at his face, “Just- I need a minute-”

“Keyla, don’t. This isn’t your fault.” She felt tears running down her cheeks, too and she tried to push them back, wipe them away, but everything-Felldoh, still warm but not moving, not breathing-

“He won’t be needing those, young one. Save them for the living-”

Martin, pale and still, lying on a stretcher please no no no not after Felldoh

“Let us care for him, we know him best.”

“But-”

A paw on her shoulder, a sunny smile belied by concerned grey eyes. “Martin will be fine, Tullgrew. We can’t help him now. We need to be there for Barkjon.”

Waiting, summer bleeding into autumn, days passing dread slowly growing in the pit of her stomachhe’s dead he’s dead seasons no

Figures on the horizon, returning home wreathed in fiery red leaves-none of them Martin

“Where is-" my son, he wanted to say - "he?” Barkjon voicing the question rooted in all their hearts

“He left for the lands to the south.”

He leftHe left

He leftHe left

He left

- overwhelmed her and she sank to the floor, trying to crush the sobs forming in her throat. She heard the chair scrape across the floor and then Keyla knelt next to her, wrapping his arms around her, their bodies shaking to the same rhythm of grief.

“He left,” she gasped out, unable to form any coherent thoughts, “He left.”Keyla tried to say something in response but his words were inaudible through the mangled sobs in his throat. Snaking her arms around his torso, she buried her face into his shoulder, feeling her body rock back and forth under the stress.

Keyla tried to say something in response but his words were inaudible through the mangled sobs in his throat. Snaking her arms around his torso, she buried her face into his shoulder, feeling her body rock back and forth under the stress.

Slowly, the emotion drained from her until only silent tears coursed down her face. Keyla’s body was still wracked with hiccupy sobs, jerking and gasping as he tried to rein in his emotions. She pulled him a little closer and closed her eyes, trying to stem the tear flow. She remembered the things she’d said to him, blaming him, and the things he’d shouted in response. It took a lot to make Keyla lose his temper, and under the stress of losing both Martin and Felldoh… they had both said things they regretted.

Slowly, the emotion drained from her until only silent tears coursed down her face. Keyla’s body was still wracked with hiccupy sobs, jerking and gasping as he tried to rein in his emotions. She pulled him a little closer and closed her eyes, trying to stem the tear flow. She remembered the things she’d said to him, blaming him, and the things he’d shouted in response. It took a lot to make Keyla lose his temper, and under the stress of losing both Martin and Felldoh… they had both said things they regretted.

“This has to stop,” he said, breaking the line of her thoughts with his unstable voice.

“I know,” she said, pulling away to look him in the eyes, but keeping one arm around his back. “Felldoh wouldn’t-”

“We’re all that’s left. The others… Felldoh, Hillgorse... Martin... are gone. We can’t change that, but we’ll be damned if we can’t make that squirrel happy in his old age. Out of all of us, he sacrificed the most.”

“And here we repaid him by fightin’ like rival vermin clans.”

She snorted and shoved his shoulder gently. “Always findin’ loopholes.”

 “Hey, we have to settle who gets the last piece of salmon somehow.” His voice sounded normal now.

She snorted and shoved his shoulder gently. “Always findin’ loopholes.”

 “Hey, we have to settle who gets the last piece of salmon somehow.” His voice sounded normal now.

Tullgrew glanced away. “…Keyla, about earlier-”

Rosy light had begun to filter into the room. Sharing a glance, they stood together and left the cottage. Making their way to the other side of the settlement, they sat against a tree, facing the east, and watched the sun return to them.

No words were shared between them. They sat in peace, wholly comfortable with each other for the first time since their argument nearly a week ago.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and could almost feel Martin and Felldoh beside them, good-naturedly arguing over weaponry or over whether Barkjon could beat Hillgorse in a fight. Even if her brothers were no longer with them in person, they would always be with her in spirit.

When the sun had completely risen, a mischievous grin spread across her face. She nudged Keyla, and he looked at her quizzically before she stood and shoved him down the hill, then took off in the other direction, shouting “Last one to the river is swamp scum!”

“Hey! Tullgrew!” but he was already climbing to his feet and tearing after her, a wide grin spreading across his face despite himself.

For a moment, she almost expected Martin to tackle her so Felldoh could get Keyla- but no, it’s just the two of them and Barkjon now.

But, she decided as she tripped Keyla with her rudder and he pulled her down with him, happiness wasn’t an impossibility for them. Not anymore.

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