[P] And Relent
OOC: for Peony! WC: 516

Gaucho Prompt Wrote:Help clear some grassland of harmful plants for a prospective grazing patch, or maintain a current pasture.

Just because there was snow on the ground did not mean Notch could skip checking the fields to make sure they were safe for the horses. In fact, he thought that it was even more important to maintain the pastures because dangerous things could be hidden by snow, like sharp sticks or larger broken tree branches, or ice. The snow did not make it all that pleasant, but at least it was not like the previous winter. Notch was half certain at the time that the snow was never going to melt, or by the time it did, it would be winter again. He had never even heard of that much snow happening before.

The relatively low snow meant that Notch and Auger were planning a trip outside of the pack lands for a bit; Notch was excited about it because they had not been away for a long period of time. He was glad to have a place to come home to, but he also missed traveling. So far, they were not planning to go anywhere specific; Notch thought that Auger may like to visit his family in Portland, but so far his mate had not suggested it. It would be nice to just wander a little.

Today there was light snow falling from the overcast sky as Notch walked along with his eyes on the ground in front of him. His fjord horse cross, Loom, plodded along behind him, probably hoping for treats, which Notch did not have for him. The snowfall was turning into a pretty layer of fluff on top of the existing snow, which was not all that deep, so he did not have too much trouble walking in it. What he did have trouble with was his company for this task: Peony. His brain always went to the terrible day when he had volunteered to take care of minor wounds, and the whole thing ended in disaster and tragedy. Even though Notch knew logically that there was nothing he could have done to help, he still felt that he should have been able to do something more. It meant that he felt awkward around Peony, even though she seemed to be moving forward. It wasn't often that Notch found himself at a loss for words, but he just did not know what to talk with her about now.

As he walked, he dragged his feet a little so that if he found something buried in the snow, he would bump it, rather than step on it. The strategy worked well because his foot soon ran into a stick, which he stopped and pulled out of the snow. It was just large enough that he found it, and the ends were fairly dull.

"Eh, this one is probably fine," Notch said, but he broke it into a few pieces for good measure before tossing it back onto the ground. He was glad that they did not have to worry as much about dangerous plants during the winter months. He still had a difficult time keeping them straight in his mind.
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Notch was there whenever Peony was in labor from the battle field.

She didn't blame him, hell- she didn't even blame anyone but herself at this point. It wasn't like Notch knew what to do, it wasn't like they could magically cut her open and try to save the babies lives. There was no such thing. It wasn't like anyone but Peony knew exactly what was going on with her own body besides her.

After all, she was the one who knowingly put herself and the children into harms way.

Why hadn't Notch spoken to her? Why hadn't he even so much as looked at her? He seemed to be more concerned with his horse Loom than anything else and honestly, she was itching to break the silence but was afraid if she did so he might leave or worse. Get mad and then leave. Hosea and her had many fights like that, and while it wasn't that big of a deal with some pack-mate. It was to her. Pack-mates are what made the world go round, without them, you had no one. Well, most of the time anyways.

So, they both walked in silence, and before too long- she watched him kick around in the snow and pick up a stick. Tossing it aside he continued onwards.

Peony's ears flickered on her skull as she watched Ares' own irritation and uncomfortable actions mock her own. Patting his butt she then was suddenly caught off guard by Notch's words and tilted a head to him. Her own words were drawn for a blank, before she hurried up with Ares and caught up to him, so they were walking practically shoulder to shoulder. You seem quiet, Notch. Is something the matter? Her ears twitched on her head and the sing-song voice that came out of her mouth actually seemed concerned.

Probably fine? It either is, or is not. her voice hummed and the question hung in the air like flatulence might linger for too long.

I am glad we are doing this together, Notch. I didn't get to thank you for whenever you saved my life, and my las child's life. Even though that last child was dead now, he had become a fatality of the harshness of Mother Nature. And of the wintering months. After all, winters were harsh for a family- let alone a child who almost drowned and miraculously lived. Only to become a stilled child by the end of the week. Hurtful as it was, such was the way of the North. Her eyes shifted over the grounds and she watched the flakes fall to the earth. The sudden eerie stillness, a bit unsettling.
WC: 505

Notch knew that he should tell Peony what was going on in his mind. He was worried that he was just going to put his guilt on her, or make her feel like she needed to make it better for him. She did not; it was his own job to manage his emotions. That was something he learned early on after meeting Auger. Auger was willing to listen and help, but he could not (and would not) tell Notch how to feel or how to change it. That was up to Notch. Normally when Notch failed at something, he would sulk for a little while and then move on. It had never been that big of a deal before. It had never involved lives being at stake.

He did not immediately answer Peony as he moved on from the first stick, still keeping his eyes on the ground. Her thanking him, though, was what did it. He had to swallow a couple of times as emotions welled in his throat. He worked not to clench his hands into fists in his distress, trying to figure out how to say what needed to be said. Notch took a breath, and the words lodged in his throat again as his eyes swept the snow in front of him, continuously looking for things that could be dangerous.

Notch shuffled his feet through a small dip in the pasture where water sometimes collected when it was warm enough. It was not quite a pond; more of a puddle, but he searched it for ice that could have formed there anyway since he could not remember what state it had been in before everything froze, or if melted snow could have collected. There wasn’t any, thankfully. It was a pain to deal with breaking up ice. He took a breath and when he finally looked at her, his eyes held the guilt he felt, and the regret.

“I could have done better,” Notch finally said, swallowing hard after forcing the words out. “I should have.” He had hated feeling so helpless. “I just...” He looked away as he trailed off with a one shoulder shrug, not wanting to be making excuses, even if the truth was that he had nothing near the amount of training for that--he was not even sure it was possible to have saved her pups. He had gone around and around with Auger about this very topic. Auger was always willing to provide reassurance, but it did not actually fix anything.

“I’m just really sorry that it happened like that, and then that you lost the last one, too.” These words came easier for him. “And I’m sorry that I haven’t said anything sooner.” The pup’s survival had been the one bright spot, even though it wasn’t to be in the end. Having never had a puppy, let alone lost one, Notch could only imagine what it had been like for her. He should have been a better friend.
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Why did Peony always have to be the one to push a point across the board?

Taking initiative and making her poised and proper reaction the best she could, Peo simply stared into his eyes. The pain and hurt that she felt was suddenly reflected in another’s eyes. Notches to be exact, and her own throat felt dry- and her hands sweaty. Quickly running them over the front of her blouse he broke eye contact with her and got back to work. Her own hands mimicked his, her heart beating faster in her chest. Ears listened and the sound of his voice breaking made her own heart break in her chest. His half-heart shrug she caught out of peripheral and she couldn’t help but bite her own tongue to stop herself from sobbing.

Notches next words were what made the female simply stop, and stare.

Daylight was with them, but it never felt so dark and grey surrounding her. As she heaved a couple of breaths in to breathe again- for she was holding her breath. Peony glanced at Notch and then stared for a long moment. He blamed himself? For once, the Braithwaite female felt relief. Not because someone else felt guilty too- okay, maybe a little bit- but because for once; the weight she felt there was suddenly lifted by the “I’m sorry” for this brute. It wasn’t his fault though, it was hers.

Instead of speaking right away the Braithwaite female lunged forwards and hugged Notch. A tight and firm hug, balancing on her heels.

You have nothing to apologize for. You were doing your job And the topic of Hezekiah was brought up, and some how it felt easier to speak about. Hez was a great boy, but our God had other plans for the sweet soul. Her unwavering voice suddenly cracked and she held him tighter in her arms. I shouldn’t have gone that day being pregnant to the battle field. She pulled back and kept him at arms length staring up into his eyes with pale lavender ones.

How could she make him understand?

One thing I learned is you cannot change the past, simply learn from it. It’s a hard lesson to learn- and the what if’s, should or shouldn’t, could or couldn’t’s- are just that. There is no sense in beating yourself up over it because you can only change your future. not your past. None the wiser, Peony simply spoke words her grandma once said to her as a child. Peony aches for the family she lost, but her friend beating himself up was no way to go about it. My friends are always with me, in my heart. You’ve always been there Notch. Truthful and yet surprisingly sweet.
WC: 558

Notch felt raw as he waited for a response from Peony, still searching the snow in front of and around him, doing his best to keep enough of his attention on it that he wouldn’t miss something. It was difficult with his brain stuck on the conversation, if it could be called that, instead of looking for debris. Thankfully it did not seem like much had changed since the last time he had walked the pasture. Loom was still behind him, although he had let some extra distance form, probably sensing the way Notch and Peony were both a little upset

Had he said the wrong thing? It was the truth, but... was he making her situation about himself? It felt like he kind of was, even if he was involved with it at the time. It was her puppies that were lost, after all. Sure he was upset at the whole situation, but she was the one grieving. Maybe it was not fair for him to say all of this to her now, and yet, it somehow felt right even as it felt like it could have been wrong. The guilt was still there, not that he expected her to absolve him of it or anything. It still felt good to have it out in the open, rather than a giant invisible pressure hanging around all the time.

The last thing that Notch expected after all of that was a hug. His eyes went wide and for a moment his shock kept him from immediately reacting. He blinked several times and after a beat, he hugged her back just as hard. It took a few seconds longer for him to really hear what she was saying. Notch did not really believe in any sort of deity, but he was not about to tell Peony that; it helped her, and that was what mattered.

He released her reluctantly when Peony pulled back, keeping his hands on her elbows because he still needed the contact. He was going to be cuddling with Auger for a long time when they both got home for the night. Auger was always good about that. It was true that she should not have been on the battlefield, and he nodded a little in reluctant agreement. If he was being honest, that was one part that he was angry about right after everything happened, though the anger had faded. He had said as much to Auger one time. Auger had agreed, but after that Notch tried to let it go. There was no reason for him to say anything else about it; Peony had suffered the consequences of her decision. Notch was just collateral damage where that was concerned.

“Thank you,” Notch choked out, words still difficult to get out. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to you for... well, since it happened.” Some days it felt like ages ago, and others it felt like it was yesterday. “I almost did a few days after the battle, but then Hez...” He trailed off. “I’ve missed you.” Notch knew that Peony had closer friends than him, but he had liked spending time with her. Maybe he could start doing that again now without it feeling stilted. “And, if you want to talk about Hez, I’d like to listen.”
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