[P] And though I'm feeling blessed, I get weary in my chest
p. Thread | Northern Wildwood
The yearling stared into the pond near their camp, her face reflected back in the brownish water. All of Marten’s markings muddled together in the water, and when she let a drop of spit fall from her lips, they distorted beyond recognition in the ripples. That was kind of how she felt lately; muddled and distorted and not quite there all the time. Thread seemed worried, but she was used to feeling like this, and she had bigger things to think about anyway.

Marten saw the way Thread looked at Kohl, and the way Woodsmoke and Jonk looked at each other, and the way her parents… Well, you get it! She knew what “romantic love” was supposed to look like, but she didn’t know what it felt like. And Marten, not known for questioning her own emotions — that was her animal guides’ job — was nonetheless starting to wonder if that was strange.

Supposedly, there were different kinds of love. The kind that you had for your friends and family, and the kind that you had for people you wanted to become mates with, and the kind you had for yourself. Marten had a lot of experience with the first one and the last one, but not the second, and she wanted to! She’d seen so many canines on her journey falling in love, showing off their love, loving being in love; when would it be her turn?

Marten sighed and folded her paws over each other, changing her reflection in the process. The only canines she knew on the peninsula were Thread, Kohl, Blaise — who were practically family — and Quincy, who was just her secretive, mysteriously injured friend. Everyone else came and went, and while her gut instinct was to call them friends too, she doubted she’d ever seen them again.

Maybe she wasn’t meant to fall in love yet. Maybe she hadn’t met enough canines, or gone to enough places. Or maybe she wasn’t meant to fall in love at all.

And as unlikely as that was, the thought made Marten sad.
Thread wandered near, tilting his head at the sight of his water-watching ward. He wondered what was bouncing around in Marten’s mind. She was an odd creature, whose worries and waries were often cast to the wind. She’d saunter up to a stranger and ask them a thousand questions as soon as she’d do the same to him, and they were great friends. Of course she considered anyone she spent a few hours with a friend. Thread did not, it took a long time for him to lend any trust to anyone, unless they either earned it, or truly proved they harbored no ill intent.

Perhaps he was too guarded, and Marten was far too open for her own good. The two made up for each other's extremes. They were a good pair. Thread watched as his ward just kept staring. Not one peep came from her, and she peeped quite a bit. Alone she would talk to herself and speak what she was thinking. Compliments to rocks and trees, and yet the water was not receiving anything like that.

Something must’ve been amiss, and so he mosied on over to her. “Are ya droolin’ over a fish?” he asked as he approached. The man tilted his head and offered a gentle smile. Thread hadn’t spent much time in his children’s lives as a parent, he lead the pack and let his family do that. It was better that way, at least, that’s what it felt like. The man had his whole pack on his mind, he was better at strategy than he was and being a dad. Lo and behold, however, even escaping the one place where he had progeny, he found a daughter. At least that’s what Marten felt like to him.

Of course there were no pond minnows swimming about in the water as he approached. He did note some water insects though, and while they were interesting, they were not drool-worthy. “Need someone ta sit with ya?” he asked, standing by the water’s edge and near his ward.
”No,” Marten said, but she looked for one anyway. Sometimes there were fish in the shallows of the pond — small, squirmy, tasty ones — but she couldn’t see any today. Not that she was really looking. ”I… I don’t know. I’m just feeling really sad today.” Marten didn’t talk about her sad feelings much, or at least it didn’t feel like she did. Homesickness, disorientation, the kind of wanderlust that hurt instead of feeling good. The need to move, to explore, to learn that almost consumed her sometimes.

It had been easy to ignore all of that when they were looking for their island, but now it was hard. There were too few canines here, and not enough new things that didn’t look like all the other things she’d seen before.

When Thread didn’t sit down, she patted the dirt next to her and scooted over. ”My animals guides have been really quiet since I got back from New Caledonia, and I don’t know why,” Marten admitted, and it had made it hard for her to feel comfortable exploring as far as she usually did. She was still tired from travel, with scrapes and bruises she couldn’t remember getting beneath her fur, and as soon as they went away others seemed to take their place. ”Have they talked to you?” Marten asked. They didn’t always tell people when they were possessing her, but maybe they’d told Thread.

When they got harder to talk to, her memories got fuzzier and she had less control of where she went at night. Marten used to take it in stride, but ever since she’d woken up in the woods hours away from home, she was scared of it happening again. And they wouldn’t even talk to her about it! Not since she’d gotten back from New Caledonia.

And then, before Thread could even answer her first question, she asked another, probably less expected one: ”When was the first time you fell in love?”
Thread took a seat next to Marten, letting his feet get wet in the pond. There’d be sand clinging to his paws afterwards, but he didn’t care too much about that. “I don’t tink dey have,” he told her. The man wasn’t entirely sure what her guides were still, but he didn’t make it a debate. Whatever they were, Marten found a good way to explain them, and that was all he needed to know. “Never fun ta be sad,” he told her. “But it’s normal and bound ta happen ta all of us.” Her melancholy would pass, he knew that much at least. How long it would take was unknown, but a gentle hand on her back, rubbing her shoulders in a circular pattern, hopefully told her that he’d be there for her.

He put his arm over her and pulled her close, his chest rising with a heavy sigh at the last question. Thread’s love life was incredibly complicated, and its details were not for anyone’s ears, lest they draw a weapon on him. He doubted Marten would take it well, but he could tell her some of the truth, at least. “Probly when I was yer age, about, maybe younger,” he told her. The man could have left it at that, as he had answered her question, but he knew there were more inquiries from his ward, deeper ones. “I got many sisters, and I wanted to be deir mate, ‘course all dat is very… complicated,” the man elaborated a little.

He petted Marten, no longer just to comfort her, but to calm the building anxiety inside of his gut. Back home the taboo was unheard of, but out in the world it seemed to be vilified. The man teetered on the edge of something important here. He knew the dangers of inbreeding, at least, he figured that’s why he and so many of his family were so messed up. Yet, he also felt the legitimate bonds of love and companionship he had within his family. How could you deny people the love they felt? “Dere’s also my brudder, Loops,” he added. Their relationship seemed more acceptable to Thread, out in the world at least. No one really cared back home. “He’s a good man, and I tink I loved him more dan jus a brudder.”

He didn’t love his concubines, nor did he love his mother, despite her designation of being his bedmate. That title was kept when he usurped his father’s rule. He saw just how much she feared and hated everyone in the pack, and it was understandable as to why. They captured her when her ship ran aground on the isle. He did nothing to her, but when he took power did her motherly care seem to stop. He kept her safe though, knowing no one would touch her if they thought she was his. It wasn’t the love Marten was asking about, but it was some sad, twisted form of care. Thread wondered where she was now, likely owned by Loops. He was good, he wouldn’t hurt her, and that was the only solace he could parse from where he was in the world.

Thread rested his head atop Marten’s. He was now a little melancholic too. “Do ya have anyone, lil' one,” he asked. “Ya like anyone ya met out dere?” He asked, knowing it was only natural for her to have found someone by now. Let the pup’s sort themselves out, that was important. He wouldn’t interfere nor invade her privacy, unless he knew something terrible was brewing.
It was disappointing to hear that her animal guides hadn’t talked to Thread, because it meant that he couldn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know. ”That’s okay,” she murmured, not sure what else to say or do beside agree that being sad wasn’t fun at all. At least him rubbing her back helped; it almost always did. It was one of those special, adopted dad things like that.

Marten listened, and she didn’t judge. Who else would Thread have had except his family? Until he was an adult, there was no one except blood relatives on Isle Royale. It was outside of Marten’s limited experience with the world, just like almost everything else, because she’d always been taught to disperse and find a mate far away someday. But if it was all she’d ever known? She’d probably have felt the same way Thread did, and there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that.

”You sound embarrassed about all of that, and I don’t think you should be,” Marten said, bypassing his question entirely. She remembered stopping at a rest stop just beyond the giant lakes, and someone had made fun of Thread under his breath for “looking inbred.” It was really mean, and while they hadn’t really talked about it, even the younger, less worldly Marten knew it had hurt him.

She didn’t want to make Thread move when he’d only just gotten comfy, but she just had to look at his face. ”They probably wanted to be your mate, too. You loved each other.” Marten had heard about his sisters, whose many names she always got mixed up in her head, and Loops before, but Thread talked about Loops way more. If he loved him as more than just a brother, that would make sense.

Then, confronted by the knowledge that she had to answer his questions now, Marten looked away and encouraged Thread to rest his head on hers again. ”I don’t think so. I’ve met some pretty people, and some handsome people, but it never made me feel… It never made me feel anything more than thinking they looked nice, I guess.” Marten sighed, and then she laughed. ”Like you! You’re really handsome, but I’m not in love with you. I just love you, like…” The girl trailed off for a second. ”Like a second dad. One that isn’t so far away.”

Now was probably as good a time as any to say it, wasn’t it? In a moment where she felt no fear or embarrassment thinking about it, no hesitation, nothing bad at all.
Embarrassing? No, not quite. Perhaps if they had joined a pack and the incestious cat was let out of the sack, then maybe it would have been embarrassing. This was simply just something he had no idea how to convey while out in the world. To Marten it was fine, but to anyone else, it wouldn’t be. It was resigned fear, the worry that always sat inside his gut; a sour, bitter pit stuck in his stomach. Marten should live a life a lot like those around them, she’d be better off with that, or so he figured. Why complicate everything with his taboos that were entirely normal in his insular community. No one left, very few came in, washed up by the tide. It was safer for everyone that way, so declared Old Grey. Of course, everything was shaken up now.

He worried about Marten’s future, and his own. Kohl’s too, as well as Blaise’s. He also thought quite a bit about his birthpack’s future too. He could see them returning to the old ways, the ways of Old Grey. He could also see Thunder Bay launching a counter attack. Perhaps his he could actually make a safe place out on the peninsula, then maybe whatever was left of his family would find him, and could live happily beside him. So much terrible things in that better-than-most outcomes. “I’m not embarrassed,” he told his ward. “Jus… no one out here seems ta be okay with… all dat.” The man gestured vaguely, both at himself and then to the West. Of home, and of him.

At least the young girl loved him, despite his strangely taboo taboos. When she told him she loved him, Thread ruffled up Marten’s ears. “I know,” he told her, “and I love you too.” Thread’s eyes cast from Marten to the pond as he gathered up his advice. “Sometimes ya gotta get ta know someone,” he told her. “Udter times ya feel it, so strong ya can’t ignore it.” Thread was pulling at what made up his heart. Sewn together with sinew from others. Strangers added to it, Marten had too, though her bonds were a different familiar closeness than he was used to. He knew that they were better off like mainlander parent and child pairs tended to go.

Thread fingered through grass blades. Long, bright-green, vibrant. It was rough, grabby, had he rubbed his nose against it, he might have got a cut. He plucked one of them, and pinched it between his forefinger and thumb, his middle finger pressed it against his thumb muscles. Once pinned and held taunt, the man replaced his middle-finger’s anchoring with the bottom of his left forefinger. With a few more deft finger placements the man was left with a simple grass whistle. He blew once, creating a sharp whine from the blade, before it broke. He looked at it, and then tossed the remnants into the pond. “Dey don’t have ta be preddy, or hansome eiter, sometimes ya end up lovin’ a fren. I guess sometimes it jus happens, udter times ya gotta work ta get it.” Thread elaborated, before grabbing another blade to make another grass whistle.

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