Year 762 of the New Age, Late Fall/Early Winter
Featuring Aarushi and Aedan
The first snows had begun to fall upon the ground. A light dusting of the frost across the leaf laden ground marked the first signs of change amongst the forest. With a particularly wet summer, worries about the winter nagged at the back of a certain grumpy healer’s mind. She’d already thrown herself into every last bit of work that could be done in each of her glades. Rebuilding dens with her increasing magic, storing and organizing herbs, helping the sick and wounded- anything to keep her mind off of the dark stag who had shattered her daughter’s future. Breathing in a crisp breath, the feeling of the morning air filling her lungs, Aarushi slipped out of the den. Dawn had just begun to settle across this glade. Already clouds stormed the skies above it would seem. Today would not bring the beautiful weather that helped the plants with their patterns of growth. Once her sides had sunken in- but only for a brief time. Meadowgrass had begun to supplement her diet and return her to her husky, round state.
Reaching out with her magics, feeling the vines that ached beneath the frost, Aarushi sighed, a puff of breath billowing around her maw. She’d constructed this new frame for her den last night. Now it just needed to have the vines wound between the young saplings and bushes that had begun to grow. Encouraging the vines to slowly snake out from their place of peace to wind between the young trees and bushes, binding them together tightly, bit by bit. It was a process, but by midmorning, a thoroughly tired doe had accomplished her goal. The den’s walls were tightly pulled together so that no wind or rain could wiggle it’s way through them. There was a wall on each side, with a wide opening on one side. The leaves had been twined together above, the branches twisting together to form a canopy of it’s own. Where grass had once been, a divet formed with earth magic, making a shallow dip. New mosses had begun to grow on the cleared floor of the dwelling.
Her stamina had been getting better, looking around her, Aarushi was filled with pride at her newest creation. Each glade had a little different home- but this one had been her best yet. Walking from flower to flower, the silver cream gently encouraged little blooms of each one, nosing this one and that, tail swishing contently. Busy busy busy, the doe took a small roughly hollowed piece of tree limb that had been carefully been filled with honey- it’d cost her plenty of bee stings for it. But removing the leaf “lid” and placing it outside under the morning light, basking in the cloudy, frosty morning, while lapping at some of the sweet liquid. It’d been a delightful morning thus far. So far she’d managed to avoid rut. As though jinxed for even thinking it, the doe heard a stag bellowing in her direction, crashing towards her scent.
Ears pinning as she lifted her amber liquid smeared muzzle as the great brute pranced into her clearing. Eyes narrowed as the silver cream clamped her tail between her legs, staring at the intruder with venom. “Can I help you?” She asked rather rudely, even for her. His eyes had ran over her whole figure, settling for a disturbing amount of time on her rump. “Most certainly honey.” The bright bay purred, sliding a few strides closer.
Everything he knew was in turmoil. Though he hadn’t been present at the great upheaval that autumn, the after-effects still reverberated through the herd. The Guard was split between those who had defended their King and those who branded him a traitor even before his lineage was called into question. Between that and the loss of their stoic, level-headed bear of a Captain… tensions were high. The Kingly candidates all tried wooing guards to their camp with promises of favors and promotions, which only fractioned the Guard further.
Aedan had given up his title because he so loathed the games of politics and alliances. Now such nasty business had followed him to the guard. Why couldn’t he escape it? Why couldn’t he just keep fawns safe and make does happy and have the occasional friendly spar and have the world leave well enough alone?
To that end he went to visit Sunny. He couldn’t keep her fawn safe- he’d already failed at that- but he could try to make her happy. She’d finally recovered some spark of herself and he would give everything he had to see it grow into the flame it had once been rather than flicker out. The stag suspected there was a long day of hauling branches and pulling weeds ahead of him but it was worth it.
Aedan pinned his ears as he approached and saw a big bay looming over Sunny in a way Aedan didn’t like at all.
“You think she’s your honey?” he growled, coming up behind the stag. “I’d have to disagree, and I think she would too.”
The sharp eyed doe watched the normally cheery guard approaching with his ears pinned, surprised by the growl that left him. The big bay must have been surprised too as his head lashed around to stare at the other stag, his own ears pinning. “I don’t think she’s spoken for- so it doesn’t much matter, does it, pastycoat?” The bay growled as the silver cream scowled, before nodding in greeting to Aedan, glowering up at the bay. “I do happen to disagree, I’m no stag’s “honey” rutbrain.” She growled, moving to push the leaf back on her honey and going to tuck it back into a safe niche while the thick bull’s ears pinned, snapping at her. “You ought to know your place, doe.” Whipping to face Aedan he glowered, “and you? You ought not to interfere with matters that have nothing to do with you.” He hissed while the healer turned back towards the pair.
Snorting, the bay stag began to nudge Aarushi, pressing his shoulders to try and herd like one would sheep. “Don’t touch me.” The silver cream growled, ears pinned flat against her neck, teeth bared in a warning. The bay didn’t pay heed still, and as he went to nudge the heavy female along, he ended up with a nasty bite to his neck, the doe rearing up angrily and stomping her hooves while the stag stared at her, rage filling in his eyes.
Shoving past him before he could retaliate, Aarushi trotted over to stand beside Aedan, tail still tightly clamped, though the tip lashed like an aggravated cat’s. This was why the doe hated the thought of belonging to a stag. Or one of many. They were rude and pushy and well, dumb as they were big. Not to mention those attitudes? Why couldn’t she just have a peaceful morning pulling weeds and working on her glade with her pale friend? He had promised to help her remove the weeds from around the blackberry bush, and to help drag some of the heavier limbs out of the way on the path. They didn’t bother her- but if a wounded fawnling tried to maneuver them..
Aarushi glanced to the stag at her side, “I know this is just how you wanted to start your morning.” she grumbled under her breath grumpily, ever sarcastic before muttering, “I didn’t think it would do to have him spreading rumors if I left him tied up in thorny vines.” She frowned, almost pouting. The thought seemed more and more appealing as the oaf stared, pawing the ground angrily.
Aedan snorted wryly in response. “Oh I’m always happy to start out my day by proving to idiots that they’re idiots.”
He took two steps towards the big bay and lowered his rack. As one of the lighter officers on the force, he had spent a great deal of time training against opponents with the advantage of size over him and this rude fool didn’t intimidate him.
“Consider her claimed, brute. Do you plan to challenge me for her?” he barked.
He saw the stag weighing it over in his mind. Clearly he didn’t like the fact that Aedan showed no signs of being intimidated. Aedan held his cocky attitude and hoped he wasn’t making a miscalculation himself. He didn’t think he recognized the stag as a royal, and he knew he wasn’t a lieutenant in the guard. Chances were, he outranked this stranger. But if Aedan was wrong about that…
Evidently the stag had decided that outweighing Aedan was advantage enough, and he charged forward faster than his bulk seemed like it would allow. Aedan danced aside, landing a scraping blow across the stag’s shoulder as he passed and whirled around to face him again. That kind of speed probably indicated training, so this stag could very well be a new guard that Aedan hadn’t met yet.
The stag forged ahead again, and this time Aedan stood his ground. There was a sound like splitting branches as their racks collided, and the bay surged forward. Aedan let him push forward, forward…. and angled him into some exposed roots, catching a hoof and tripping the heavier stag. The bay landed sprawling in the dirt, the wind knocked out of him.
Aedan placed the point of a tine against his neck in the universal signal of ‘consider yourself defeated’.
“The doe’s not yours for the taking. Move on.”
The doe watched, ears pricked in interest. If she had to deal with rut- the only piece that the healer had ever taken an interest in was the fighting. Her father had been a guard, and her granddaddy had been a guard before he turned butler. Tilting her head in quiet intrigue as she watched Aedan and the bay brute clashing, the sound of racks colliding like that of tree limbs snapping, but never once did the heavyset fawnling bat an ear. A smirk touched her maw as the pale guard claimed his victory- before lifting her head proudly, ears pinning back to her neck and a firm frown replacing the amused smirk. Watching as the bay sprawled before bowing his acknowledgement, frowning like a colt who had been told he had to stop playing with his friends, “Very well.” He muttered, tail lashing as he slunk off, casting angry glowers over his shoulder. Sunny vaguely wondered if he was looking back to see if his pride was still in the dirt where he’d left it.
“Shall I practice my gleeful squalling over your endless bravery?” the doe snorted, cocking an ear before turning back to the work at hand. “Thanks anyways.” Tail lashing as an end to the subject, the silver cream looked over her neatly kept glade. Still not just as she would like it.. Wandering over to the blackberry bush, lowering her muzzle to begin fussing and pulling up the crab grass near it, or any other weeds that she could sink her teeth into. Redirecting the nutrients towards the blackberry bush before she plucked the stubborn intruders. “You don’t look like you got hurt?” Came the hesitant question. Aarushi would have been beyond angry if the fool had gotten himself hurt protecting her “honor”- personally thorny vines probably could have done the same job, in her opinion. Yet, already the intoning of her Grandfather Faust echoed in her ears about being considered tainted. Then again, when had she ever given a single f- flying squirrel, yes she definitely meant flying squirrel and not any other cuss word. Dirty little vermin..
Lifting her muzzle, wandering over to assess the pale guard, ears pinning as she ran her eyes over his limbs, pausing to double check here and there, her mane a tangled mess occasionally falling in front of her scarred face and eyes.
Aedan tossed his mane in that way that was either endlessly alluring or very princesslike depending upon who was commenting. “Worry not, I’m fine. I know you could have shown him a thing or two yourself but he looked like he would taken it rather badly. Besides, I think we both know that the outcome of you healing my injuries after a scrap is superior to what I can do in tending to yours.”
He glanced her up and down but she seemed to worse for wear. She didn’t even seem shaken by the encounter; if anything she looked like she might be annoyed that Aedan had stepped forward to her defense.
In an attempt to silently atone for what she surely considered an overstep on his part he followed her lead and began pulling crab grass from between the cultivated herbs. After a few uprooted mouthfuls he decided that he should probably offer an actual verbal apology, but before he could utter it he realized that he’d gone after the same bunch of grass that she had and that their faces were in rather closer proximity than they’d ever been previously.
Just as the does teeth clamped onto the grass, warmth brushed her face and suddenly bright blue eyes were right next to her. Releasing the pesky weed in haste, moving to release it she brushed her muzzle against the pale guard's and warmth flooded her cheeks and ear tips. Pulling back abruptly, bright blue eyes going wide as the healer stared at the pale guard in something that might have been akin to shock or confusion or downright embarrassment. Opening and closing her mouth a few times trying desperately to find words. Stags were a new thing to her even after her daughter, brushing muzzles with one? Never happened. Nope. It had completely caught her off guard. Clearing her throat, trying not to look as though that accidental occurrence was the first time that had ever happened. The healer steamed herself, expecting laughter or some sassy remark from the stag as her blue eyes shyly darted away from his face, head lowered uncertainly. "I-uh.." Blinking, trying to force her mind to work Aarushi flicked her tail tip, fidgeting.
Despite her flood of emotions and confusion- a faint inking of.. Enjoyment? Seemed to follow in the incident's wake and stealing herself for the worst the doe hesitantly reached out, ears flicking back slightly as the silver cream tried to gently reach out towards him- that's what you were supposed to do right? It ended up resulting in her promptly bumping her forehead into him in something that was more similar to a head butt than a cute "it's okay" gesture. Trying to save face the doe dove for the crab grass out f embarrassment, sure her cheeks would catch on fire at any given moment. Ah she probably looked stupid- he was probably thought this was just a stupid joke..
What did it matter? So they had brushed noses- Aedan had brushed plenty of does muzzles with his she was sure. didn't mean anything to him probably- so she shouldn't let it get to her.. Right? Looking like an awkward yearling, staring hard at the ground as she forcefully yanked the pesky weeds up, though her ear tips were bright red by now, and the doe couldn't bring herself to meet his eyes.
Aedan blinked as Aarushi pulled away- he wasn’t surprised that she moved away from the intimate closeness, but rather by what she did next. She didn’t yell at him or snap or jerk away. In fact she seemed at a loss for words.
He was about to make an effort to fill that verbal emptiness that was yawning between them when she leaned forward and bumped heads with his.
If it were any other doe he would have sworn she was trying to say “It’s okay,” but this was Sunny.
Of course, he would have expected Sunny to move away or explain herself. The doe standing before him was blushing and averting her gaze like a bashful filly with a crush.
But Sunny… Surely not. Surely. There was no one in his acquaintance less likely to have a crush on someone. A crush on him.
And yet there she stood, eartips pinkening by the moment.
If she didn’t look so damn uncomfortable he would have laughed.
Instead he smiled and closed his eyes, lowering his head as well. “Funny thing about rut. It makes everyone do strange things sometimes. Things they didn’t mean to do… or things they wish they could do but otherwise wouldn’t.”
He’d given her the out; she could blame it all on the hormones of the season if she wanted. Or she could tell him what she was thinking; that was up to her now. He just barely allowed himself to hope that he might be reading this right and he might have, somehow, earned her attention as something other than a student and friend.
The doe listened to him, mulling over her words for a long moment. Processing, the thoughts churning like murky waters after a stormy night. But the stream of thoughts running through her head seemed to be crystal clear. Sortof. Close enough for her.
Looking away, the doe’s ears flicked back against her neck, scarred maw frowning, “Not everyone needs rut as an excuse to do something they want to do.” She muttered, blue eyes sharpening, as though expecting him to laugh at her, to ridicule her or announce she was acting like a dopey filly. Her voice had sounded firm- though inside her stomach might as well have been made of worms and rotted wood for how flimsy she felt with nerves, waiting his words and response.
Taking a deep breath, the silver cream forced herself to continue weeding away the crab grasses about the bushes. No matter how the doe looked away, Aarushi couldn’t deny right now he was all she saw. Her tail tip lashed, ready to guard herself, her feelings. They were fragile, and just newly accepted- though perhaps they had been growing to buds and blooms for a longer time than she’d liked to have admitted.
Losing her daughter had made her see the other silver linings in her life. Aedan had happened to be one of them- as much as she allowed herself to think of it of course. Sunny was an independent doe- didn’t need no stag!
But the scarred doe peaked up at him, ears flicking back, looking beneath her lashes, the feeling of vulnerability in her own glade something so unusual to her that she had half a mind to turn and promptly leave the stag standing there by his lonesome.
But no. Aarushi waited, looking vulnerable and utterly dangerous all at once. Ready to pounce if he flared her temper, curious to see his reaction. The doe couldn’t bring herself to move or to say anything else, but stood waiting. He’d proven his loyalty so oft, among other things.. Pushing the lingering whispers in her mind away- waiting to see what the pale guard truly thought.
Aedan watched her carefully for a moment, trying to tell if she was jesting. Her answer was so unexpected… and yet he’d come to expect the odd bit of unpredictability from the doe. It was a part of what made her so interesting.
And now she looked strung tight as a tendon. Evidently she wasn’t sure if he was joking either. Or perhaps she was unsure about where to go from here as he was. Well, if she was uncertain right now she was in good company. She was so different from all the other does he’d met he mulled for the thousandth time. He couldn’t tell how she’d react.
“Very true,” he said finally. “I don’t need the haze of rut to see you for the talented, interesting, capable doe that you are. I certainly don’t need it to notice your blue eyes and your pink nose and your long lashes…”
He stiffened, instinctively preparing to be popped in the nose for that last remark until he remembered that she wasn’t brushing off his attention. In fact, she seemed to be doing the opposite. He cracked open an eye to peek down at her and see what expression graced her face.
Sharp blue eyes widened as he spoke of sweet things, her ears pinning back suspiciously. Her cheeks felt like they might have been on fire. Tail lashing, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to bite him or not. What was that.. weird.. heart racing thing. Why? Aarushi was in perfect health. The silver cream had never been one to fall prey to any stag and their words. Snorting uncertainly, pawing the ground, Aarushi stared at the ground as though it might mystically give her the words she wanted. Giving a small nod, the doe swatted him with her tail instead, “You missed some crab grass.” Came the stiff scolding, before grumbling, “That’s good to know you think I’m capable- considering I was the one who taught you.” Surely any other doe would have been appalled to hear her defensive sarcasm to the poor pale stag.
Slowly however, her expression softened as she decided the stag was being genuine. Aedan wouldn’t try to use her like a joke, would he? Nodding to herself, the female gave a slow, hesitant smile and lifted her head a bit before pausing, muttering grumpily. “uh. You’re nice to be around.and.. I don’t get sick of you.” Close enough to a compliment right? The whole.. feelings thing wasn’t exactly the doe’s strong suit. “I like your face too.” She muttered, before promptly turning towards something she knew much better than feelings- plants. Plants were good. Plants were simple. She didn’t headbutt plants and get confused when they spoke to her. They didn’t make her heart beat faster. Yes. Plants.
Offering him a genuine smile over her shoulder, looking unguarded for a fleeting moment, it brightened her whole face as icy eyes glanced to the building she had made that very morning. Stiffling a yawn, the healer stretched. “We have work to do inside still whenever you finish your weeding. We have to organize. I might need a nap.” the silver cream was beginning to feel the pull of exhaustion of so much ongoing this morning. She’d been “claimed” by Aedan. Rather saved. Though Sunny expected the pale stag wouldn’t speak of it to anyone. Most of the morning had been spent exhausting her magic and toiling away at the overgrown glade, while tearing apart her old den and building a new one in it’s wake. Aillia would have been proud, and more than amused at the thought of her mother’s silliness. Feelings had always been the pale youngster’s speciality, she’d been sensitive and sweet. Luckily having gotten her father’s calm disposition it seemed.. A pang in her chest reminded the healer of her longing to bring her little one back. But being with Aedan.. he’d done so much for her..
Sunny’s entire demeanor was as conflicted as he’d ever seen it. Was she unsure about him? Or just about how to respond to the situation?
Evidently it was the former rather than the latter because she responded with sarcasm rather than violence and something that might have eve been a compliment. He almost giggled aloud at hearing that she ‘liked his face’, but for once in his life was wise enough to let the thought go unspoken.
As was her wont, she immediately moved on to the business at hand. He should have noticed her tiring earlier, and he kicked himself for the oversight. Not that she would have backed down or anything had he pointed it out.
“You go take your nap,” he told her, not bothered a bit at being bossed around. It was her den after all, and she was the one with the master plan in her head. He had no doubt it was more sophisticated and orderly than anything he could dream up. “I’ll finish up the weeding and await further instruction when you wake up.”
Any other day he would have promptly taken his leave and gotten to work but today he paused first, and offered her a goofy conspiratorial smile. “Sleep well, Aarushi. I’m not going anywhere.”