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@Phox

Allowing Bronco to continue along the borders where she left off, Niamh went off her usual trail, following a set of tracks she knew would lead her to one of their newest members- and one of her oldest friends. She wasn't pleased with how the pack amalgamation had happened- but regardless, was plenty pleased that it had happened. She'd felt that something had been missing from her life when Colt passed away, and had hoped to remedy that by cowering from her feelings with Towhee and Phox...But they hadn't exactly welcomed her, pointing her back instead toward the copse which at the time, needed her. But they were all together now- and she was sure as hell not letting the two of them leave her anytime soon. 

So she tracked Phox down. She had a little feeling that Towhee would want to join the leadership of the pack- which pleased Niamh fine. She did not dislike Wraen, but found her to be a bit on the safe, and therefore boring side. Anyone compared to Towhee might seem a bit bland, of course, and there was no replacing the kinship she had with her former Person. Her brother, of course, had worked his way right in there as well- and Niamh liked to think that his rekindled friendship with his sister was at least in part her responsibility. 

"Hey, Phox, wait up," She called out when she saw him in the distance, having finally tracked him down. She picked up a trot so she could close the distance, and with a growl, bounced toward him fully intending to grab him around his neck with her long, elegant forelegs in a wolfish hug.
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breaking my own rules and joining more than three threads

Phox felt like he was settling back in pretty well. He spent his nights sleeping with Towhee, Figment, and Fennec. He spent his days familiarizing himself with the copse, his new home. Unlike Towhee, he had no grand plans to ascend into leadership. He just wanted to be a dad to his two wonderful children. Oh no, was he getting sentimental again? Yes, yes he was. He grinned to himself, heading toward the nearest cache to do what he did best: checking it and then figuring out whether or not he needed to fill it.

He could feel a migraine coming on pretty soon, so he'd need to be quick about it. Before he could put much more thought into that, he was hailed on his blind side, quickly tackled by a very vibrant Niamh. His bad foreleg crumpled under him, and the Redhawk went down with an OOF!

When he'd managed to recover, he held his right front leg closer to him, leaving him standing on only three legs with his head turned to the right so he could better see Niamh. It had been quite some time since he'd last seen her, and there was something different about her he couldn't quite place. Phox was reminded how... pretty she was. Huh.
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So maybe it wasn't fair that she did her tackle-hug, considering the guy had been initially stranded inside the grove, and then had been lost and injured when the landslide had moved- or whatever the full story was. Niamh wasn't entirely sure (being not terrbly engrossed in details of anything that wasn't revolving around her own life) nor was she being terribly empathetic, but she also didn't feel like she could do that much harm. Plus it felt like any other means of greeting wouldn't have sufficed. 

He was different- injuries aside, but he still looked at her with a sort of fondness that she was accustomed to seeing, but had possibly never really diagnosed. She moved forward to more gently nudge his cheek. "Glad you finally decided to join the cool kids, and by cool kids I mean a bunch of nutcases and me, the one cool kid."
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He grinned, glad to see her even if she'd literally run him over. She was the first wolf who had been his friend back at the plateau, even before Towhee had really forgiven him. They had spent plenty of time living their own lives over the past year, but that didn't feel like a bad thing. It just felt like... a thing that was. He was grateful for his children; grateful for the pack he had created in the grove, even if it was no longer there.

Hey now, I've got two cool kids here. Three if you count Towhee. The relationship between Phox and Towhee had always been close, but it had really been solidified when Figment and Fennec were born, specifically after Camilla had passed away. She had given him two beautiful pups, and she'd given Towhee the chance to raise them.

How've you been? How are your kids doing? Yes, Phox, deflect off of anything too personal. Don't bring up Colt, the milk toast that was once her mate.
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Oh, right. Phox clearly had a better head on his shoulders for math- and for considering others. Because all things considered, Niamh had basically excluded her best friend, her best friend's kids and her own son from the 'cool kids' club. She felt lightly ashamed, having overlooked those detail which she shook off with a shrug. "Guess that'll pass," She said, willing to admit Phox, Towhee, and their kids into her exclusive group. 

But her casual nature was soon to be forsaken for a slight cringe when he asked about her children. As in, plural. "Nellie...Nellie disappeared in the Fall." She said softly, averting her gaze and staring, hard, into the distance. "S'Just Bronco'n I. An that kid has been the biggest pill...But I think he's started to chill out again. 'Cept he's just about to go into that teenage phase so who the fuck knows what's gonna happen with him next," She said flatly, her voice thickening slightly. "Kids, amiright?" She asked hurriedly, to avoid the pain of the topic.
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Phox stuck out his tongue. It wasn't often that he was smarter than somebody else, and the feeling was a good one. This must have been what Towhee felt like around him, hah!

The mood took a sudden turn for the worse when Phox learned that one of Niamh's kids had disappeared. It sounded like it was right around the time Fennec had disappeared, if he had to guess. Being reunited with her (and Towhee) was a wonderful moment, and he didn't want to imagine what it would have been like if Fennec hadn't been here with Towhee. His ears flattened against his head in an apologetic matter, not having wished to bring up a sore subject.

Thankfully, Niamh was quickly on to happier subjects, like her son, Bronco. Phox hadn't even considered the changes that Figment and Fennec were about to go through, even though he'd already experienced some of it with Fennec. It was going to be harder for her (everything would be) than it would be for Figment.

They're the best and the worst, he said, nodding along in agreement. With the joy came the pain, but he was growing used to that and learning to roll with the punches. It seemed like the only way to get through this life without going completely mad.

You think you'll want more someday? he asked. Phox knew he certainly did, even though he had no idea under what circumstances that would happen. Niamh was a possibility, of course, but Phox wasn't the forward type, nor was he even sure they would get along in that way. Still, it was fun to think about.
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Understatement of the year," Niamh agreed, her tone bittersweet. Nellie had been the kind, gentle, sweet child- but she'd broken her mother's heart when she had disappeared. Bronco had remained, and had been obstinate, judgemental, tempermental and unruly- and the way he'd often snubbed her had broken her heart as well. But she loved them still. When Phox mentioned having more kids, she couldn't help but think of Colt. He'd broken her heart when he'd died...and what had been a bitter smile on her features, faded. 

"I don't know if I should," She said. "I had this idea...With Colt...That we'd have kids, and they'd be perfect...And yeah, I knew they'd be hard, but...I didn't think it was supposed to be this hard," She confessed, looking up at Phox. For a moment, she'd forgotten that he too had lost his mate- that odd one, Camilla. It seemed more natural to think of Towhee as the mother of Phox's kids, though she didn't associate the two together as mates, simply as a parenting team. "I wanted kids...Tonnes of kids...But it hurts too much to lose them." She admitted.
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He chuckled at her response. He was happy that his little family was back together, and he hoped that Niamh would get there one day with Nellie. Kids always came back home, right? Okay, that wasn't always true, but most of the time they did. At least in Phox's experience, they came back home even if it was for the worse. Titmouse was a prime example of that.

Unlike Niamh's hopes and dreams, he hadn't had some idea about how great his kids would be before they were even conceived. Camilla had more or less coaxed him into it along with Towhee. He certainly wasn't complaining, it just hadn't been a part of his plan that he'd really thought out. Phox had fallen into fathering two great kids, even if they had their moments.

But that made him ponder something else entirely. What about your parents? Are they still alive? He didn't think he'd ever asked about them. His own father had died before he was born, and his mother right after giving birth to his litter (or so the story went). I can't imagine it was easy for them to let you go, and you turned out alright. That was assuming Niamh had actually asked permission, which didn't seem like her style.
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Niamh shrugged when Phox mentioned her parents. She'd failed, until that point, to see things from their point of view- and as Phox assumed, Niamh had not asked permission to leave. She and Ambrose had set out together though, so it was obviously a matter of them wanting to be on their own, rather than a child being abducted, as Nellie might have been. She frowned. At least she'd had a partner, and they hadn't left so close to winter time, either. All she could do was hope that Nellie had found somewhere to live that was safe, and far from the famine. 

She couldn't help but roll her eyes when he made an honest attempt to make her feel better- but it fell flat. "I'm a basket-case widow who couldn't even keep track of just two kids, who has triggers out the wazoo and no fuse." She said. "But it wasn't their fault. I think I just kinda was born to be like this." She admitted. Her parents hadn't been absent, nor had they bickered or deserved any sort of resentment. "Maybe it's all futile anyway, if perfect parents can have such imperfect children."
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Phox chuckled when she described only her negative attributes. He wondered what that made him. Well, I’m a cowardly widower who produced a blind pup and was stupid enough to slip and fall and nearly kill myself. He didn’t actually think that Fennec’s blindness was a huge negative, but he did wonder if it would happen again. Was there something about him that had made her blind? The same thing that had made Towhee deaf?

I don’t think it’s futile. You love your kids, I love mine. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Isn’t that as much as we can do? Fennec has made me realize that I can’t fix everything for her, as much as it pains me, but I can be there when she wants a father to talk to. It wasn’t the easiest job in the world, especially when all he wanted to do was make things right for her. Some things just couldn’t be fixed, as annoying as that was. And maybe changing Niamh’s mind wasn’t something that needed to be done, as much as he was trying to do that right now.

I think you could make a good mother again, if you ever wanted to. It wasn’t fair that you had to do it on your own. At least I had Towhee to help me. Sure, the other Firebirds probably helped, but he and Towhee had the advantage of only looking after two kids while at the grove. The Firebirds had quite a few on top of Niamh’s Bronco and Nellie.
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Again, Niamh rolled her eyes, this time at his attempt to sully his own reputation. "That ain't your fault. You didn't cause Fennec to be blind, and you sure as hell didn't cause the landslide. I nearly went ass over tea-kettle down that same mountain of rocks 'cause your sister decided she was gonna try and climb it...That is stupidity, but we both know Towhee." She said, with a short laugh. There was no talking sense into Towhee when she put her mind to something. She'd esaped the grove- but trying to return to it had nearly killed not only herself, but Niamh too, who had been forced to go to her rescue. 

He seemed worried, still, about Fennec, and she still sensed that he carried a bit of guilt with him over her blindness. As far as Niamh knew, of course, the kid had been born that way- and that wasn't his fault. She shrugged. "Fen's a nice kid. Even Bronco thinks so- so if she can win him over, she'll have no trouble making friends who can be by her side for the rest of her life. And she'll have you too." She said. It felt odd, stepping from one side of the self-deprecating  conversation to be on the support-giving side, but at the same time, it felt natural to want to console Phox. He didn't deserve the punishments he was giving himself. He was a good guy- and there weren't many of those. 

Niamh shrugged when Phox spoke about the potential of her having kids again, but she remained quiet, and somewhat stiff. There had been too many other kids in the pack. Finley and Elwood had had foud, and Wildfire and Eljay had had two- and without many other adults to step in and help out, she'd been left on her own while her mate stepped up to lead...And had subsequently gotten himself killed in the process. And when she'd gone to the grove to beg Towhee and Phox to take her in...They had recommended that she stay in the Copse. "Maybe if I'd taken the kids and joined you guys, Nellie would still be around." There was a tinge of spite in her voice, and she refused to make eye contact with Phox for that point. "But who's to say. Maybe both of them would've been buried under that pile of rocks had I done that. Maybe me too. Who fucking knows."
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Phox was glad to know that Fennec was making friends (or at least impressions) on her peers. Figment had been the only one near her age for so long. He couldn’t even remember if Raven’s kids had been born before they left the plateau.

The Redhawk’s ears flattened then, remembering when she had come to them. Towhee had been adamant that Niamh stay at the copse, while Phox had offered her a spot among them. He couldn’t remember Towhee’s reasoning now, but he had come into that conversation later. As Niamh said, who knew how things would have turned out even if she had come to stay at the grove. It wasn’t much use dwelling on it now.

It sure would be easier to make decisions if we knew the outcomes, eh? was all he could think to add. At some point (hopefully soon), he did want to track down this Bronco and get to know him. It made sense to do that with all the pups (who were quickly nearing adulthood) who lived here. Perhaps he could round them all up for a stargazing lesson one evening. Even Fennec, who could at least enjoy the stories, if not the stars themselves.
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Niamh didn't want to lay blame on Phox- but part of her still did resent Towhee for not welcoming her, or even asking her to join their pack, and bail on the Firebirds. Neither she nor Phox had been happy she'd left, so perhaps it had been due to that grudge. Either way, things had happened and there was no rewriting history, and no way to see into the future. As per usual, Phox was right, and she tried to relax a bit. She looked at him then, and nodded. As hard as things had been over the past year, it did make her life significantly happier to have both Towhee and Phox in the pack with her. That was what she'd wanted, since Colt passed away- to have her best friends with her again. 

She moved forward to touch her nose to Phox's shoulder and lingered there for a minute, before she sighed. "Yeah." Never one to stay sentimental for too long, she pulled back, and put on a wan smile. "So...Next time you see a psychic, send 'em my way, may?" She asked, her tone dull, but with a small but sincere attempt at humour in it.
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He had to admit that he enjoyed the gesture, the small touch to his shoulder. It was good to be back in the same place. It was true that he'd resented her at one point for leaving to be with Colt, but Phox was learning it was easier to forgive and move on than hold on to grudges. That didn't mean nothing would upset him. He just tried to take a step back and understand it after his emotions came down a bit.

When she mentioned the psychic, he let out a dry chuckle. You think I'd let you get a hold of one of those? Something tells me you'd use them for ~nefarious~ purposes, he said, clearly joshing her about the whole thing. As for Phox, he wasn't sure what he would even ask a psychic. He certainly didn't want to know how he would die (or worse, how his kids would die), but for some reason that was the only question he could think of. Maybe he could ask if things between Niamh and him would ever move beyond the platonic, but that too he'd rather find out in real-time. Something about knowing would make it feel less authentic either way.
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Niamh raised one eyebrow skeptically, and huffed. "You're probably right," She said, with a shrug. "What's it to you?" She said, a bit of a playful challenge to her voice. She didn't expect much of a response to that, though, and sighed again, puffing out her cheeks a bit as she considered the topic. If there was such a thing as finding a wolf who could see the future, what would the point be, anyway? Wouldn't that mean that one could change the future by knowing what it was meant to be?

"What would you wanna know," She began, "If you could ask a psychic one thing...What would you ask them?"
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Okay, so I kinda led Phox right into that trap.

Phox suddenly felt put on the spot. His face took on a bit of a flushed expression, trying to decide if he wanted to tell the truth or make up something else entirely. The truth would mean admitting that he did have a bit of a thing for Niamh, which—let's be honest—he wasn't going to keep from her forever. But still, he hadn't even confessed this attraction to Towhee, his closest confidant. He wasn't even sure how Towhee would react (despite her off-color joke about them boinking after Camilla and Colt had gone missing). Then again, this wasn't really about Towhee, was it?

I guess... he began, trying to find the phrasing that worked best. I guess I'd ask if there was a future with somebody I've had my eye on. There we go, leave it vague enough that she'd have to really pry it out of him (or not). There were any number of ways this conversation could go, and Phox wasn't even sure how he would handle rejection if it came his way. Camilla had been so timid, so eager, but Niamh was wild and outgoing. A totally different beast, and he was still figuring out how to approach that without it backfiring in his face.
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Someone that he'd had his eye on. 

There was just enough bashfulness to Phox's tone to tell Niamh that this wasn't just anyone that he was thinking about...And there was just enough history between the two of them- egged on by her ego, of course- to flux her thoughts toward herself, and wondering if perhaps she was the one he was referencing. At once, she felt a pull toward two separate emotions, and wasn't sure which was stronger. Was she flattered, or did she feel guilt? And if she wasn't the one at all, that he was thinking about...Was she jealous?

She tried to play it cool, and perked her ears. A slight fidget of her facial features might have betrayed her anxiety. "So there's someone, eh?" She asked, trying to sound more teasing than anything, but her attempt fell fairly flat. "Someone in this pack?" She ventured, figuring that taking baby steps might be the easiest way to weasel the answer out of him.
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Phox grinned. She'd taken the bait, just as he'd hoped. So far, so good. His heart was beating a little more quickly than it had been before. So we're playing twenty questions now, eh? he teased. That was fine by him. But yes, this someone is in the Firebirds. No going back now, Phoxy boy. You've gotten yourself on this freeway, and there aren't any exits for miles and miles. A part of him did think of Camilla then, but only briefly. Their relationship had been abrupt, short, tumultuous, and ended in sorrow. Niamh had been his friend through all of it. If anybody could relate to his feelings about Camilla, it was probably somebody who had lost their mate to death, too.
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BAH I kind of regret naming the thread this, as this GIF just keeps ringing through my head the whole time [Image: giphy.gif]

While he didn't seem as though he wanted to answer her question directly, he did seem willing to give her some information- such as the fact that she was in their pack. At once, she felt conflicted again- and it made her a bit nervous, not knowing whether in the end she felt happy for him, jealous of whoever it was, or if she felt pressured by the fact that it might be her. She scanned over the women in the pack in her mind, and voiced her thoughts out loud, comfortable that Phox wouldn't mind her judgement. 

"Wellen. We'll start with Wraen, since she's at the top of the list, but I don't really think she's your type. A li'l too...I dunno. She ain't milk-toast like Quixote, but..." Niamh said, and shrugged. "I assume you'd want someone a bit spicier." She almost commented about Camilla, and how she had  seemed a bit too skittish for him- but she was also aware that Camilla had more or less attached herself to Phox, like a parasite, and that their relationship had just been...Different. "That just leaves Maia, Chanel, that one that came with Pippin, an' Clover-" She said. "So I got it." She said, examining his features as she spoke each name- hoping it might give her a clue. 

"Bad news for you, though, Phox. Finley's both taken, an' I think she's out of her child-bearin' days. But I totally see why you'd like someone like her."
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Phox leaned back a little, listening as Niamh went through all the ~available~ females in the pack. He'd known Wraen for quite some time as well, and he respected her, but he just didn't feel that same spark. They didn't have the same kind of connection as he had with Niamh. He smiled pleasantly as she thought out loud, listing off names left and right, not to mention forming her own opinions on who she thought his type was. She wasn't exactly wrong when she said he liked a little bit of spice.

The other names listed were ones that he knew, but not wolves that he knew well. Acquaintances at most. Maybe some wolves formed feelings for others quicker than he did, but Phox was certainly a slow burner. When she stopped, announcing that she had solved the riddle (if it could even be called that), Phox's ears pricked forward and his heartbeat quickened. When she started out with "bad news," he felt his face fall and his stomach drop... until he realized she was totally pulling his leg.

At that point, Phox made a gagging sound. She's practically my mother. Finley, Elwood, and Raven had been his caretakers as a pup, so trying to see Finley in a romantic light was... well, revolting. Some strange spike in confidence took hold of him then, and Phox decided that he couldn't contain himself any longer.

It's you, ya dingus!

Brace for impact.
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He didn't show much in terms of expression changes as she listed the majority of the pack's single female names, which made her wonder if maybe he was just better at hiding his feelings than she'd expected. His reaction to her suggestion about Finley made her laugh- and had he left it at that, she might have made some attempt at trying to convince him to seduce Finley just so she might have a chance with Elwood...But he was too quick to move on, and confess the truth. 

At first, her laugh faded slowly, and she regarded him with humoured skepticisim, and shrugged. "Yeh, right," She said, but her voice faltered, and her raised brown now creased and furrowed. "Right?" She added, her heart beginning to beat against her ribcage furiously. How was she supposed to react to this? She felt a bit faint, but part of her felt flattered as well- and relieved...Which simply added to the guilt which was quick to follow.
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Her laugh slowed, and Phox watched as realization slowly slowly washed over her. Phox's own body felt like it was buzzing from head to tail. Correct, he said, his throat feeling a bit drier than it had a few minutes ago. The Redhawk gave a little shrug, trying to convey a sort of "what can ya do?" vibe. It probably wasn't very effective, since it felt more like he'd convulsed than done anything smoothly.

I don't... know if... or how... or anything. But it's been there for awhile, and I know you're still working through your feelings. I don't want stuff to be awkward between us, and I'm not going to pine after you or anything, but. But what? He was rambling, and Phox stopped there, giving her a moment to process.
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Niamh pulled in a deep breath, and reminded herself not to show too much negativity. All she could do was ask herself a tonne of questions. Had she waited long enough? Was she jumping the gun? What would the rest of the pack think? Did she like him enough to do anything about it? Phox seemed to understand that she had trouble sorting through things, which she appreciated. She didn't necessarily like the fact that he refused to wait or pine away for her, though, and that thought influenced her decision too. Niamh was a highly jealous creature who liked being the centre of attention. And just because she wasn't sure how to feel at the moment definitely did not mean that she wanted Phox to be open to persuing other options. 

"I...Don't know, right now. There's just...Like...A lot," She admitted. "I dunno what everyone else'd think- like what Bronco'll think, and what your kids'll think...I mean, I think Towhee'll be jazzed....I'm pretty sure she'd be jazzed...But I dunno about everyone else." She said. "And before you say that doesn't matter, it does. I hate others talkin' shit behind my back." She said, ever-defensive. She had a reputation, and she was already aware that it was a precarious one. "But...I dunno. I dunno if I feel enough, Phox. I dunno if I feel much- I've just been kind of on quto-pilot for months. Only things I've felt have been anger and pain," She admitted. "I dunno if I really considered having someone in my life again," She said, with a shrug.
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It was about the answer he expected. As he had known, she was still sorting through feelings for Colt. That was understandable. She'd been with him longer than he had been with Camilla, and it sounded like their relationship was a lot less one-sided than his had been. He also believed that what others thought mattered, especially Towhee (who would probably be thrilled, like Niamh guessed), the kids, and Wraen. He wanted everybody's blessing, and he certainly didn't want to spring it on Figment and Fennec without some context and background.

The nice thing was, We don't have to make any decisions right now. I just wanted to put that out there. Chew on it awhile. If it's nothing, we'll still be friends. And he meant that. Phox wasn't going to go all bitter and hate her forever if it wasn't reciprocal. He wasn't the type to go fantasizing about some life until he was sure it was in the cards. And for now, this one was still up in the air. Phox gave her a genuine smile. He wanted to lean in for a hug, but he restrained himself, not wanting to come across as too eager.

I'm not trying to rush anything. Not with you, and nobody else is even on the docket. He planned on keeping himself available until the right one came along. He'd learned his lesson on that one with Camilla.
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#25
Niamh clenched her teeth together. Obviously, Phox was ready to move on after Camilla; and Colt had been ready to move on after Nell. It seemed like the sort of thing that was supposed to happen, but she couldn't help but feel as though something might be wrong with her- as she hadn't even begun to think about moving on. It had been just too easy to settle into life as it was- being lonely, but content enough, without putting a relationship back into her life as a goal again. 

She was troubled, and felt a bit pressured, when he suggested that they could simply be friends. She felt pressured, of course- even though he didn't intend to do so- to have feelings in return for him, as though it was some sort of moral obligation that feelings should not be unreciprocated. How could he really have feelings for her, if he was fine with being friends if she wasn't ready? Was this a male thing- the ability to compartmentalize feelings- that she wasn't capable of? Because for her, it seemed like things had to either be all in, or not there at all. 

She stayed quiet (quite a feat for her), and began to linger on another thought which bothered her. She'd thought about it even knowing that Colt had previously had a mate, and now knowing that she too might have the potential to move forward with another significant other, following her first. She was relieved that Phox wasn't going to be actively looking elsewhere- but she was distracted by a very secret idea that she had never pitched before- not even to Colt. She'd been too crazy for him to even consider bringing it up, lest it become some sort of deterrant. After all- had she brought it up to Colt, maybe he might have thought about things differently. 

"I just...I don't know how to feel about it. Seeing someone, as a widow," She said. "It's just...After you die, you go somewhere, right?" She said, and was beginning to feel a heaviness in her throat. She did her best to only glance at him, and then return her stare to the ground to try and avoid the tears which inevitably began to grow hot inside her cheeks. "Well...When we're all gone...What happens then? If...If Colt's there, and you're there, and I'm there...Who am I with? And he had a mate before me too...So what then? Is he with me or with her? And are you with Camilla or are you with me?" She asked, the vulnerability finally peaking in her voice.