Sun Mote Copse What a fool believes
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All Welcome 
For @Niamh!

It was early evening, the stars just starting to twinkle against the slowly darkening sky. It was the sort of night that was perfect for astrology, which was exactly what Phox planned on doing. He'd left the trio (Towhee, Figment, and Fennec) back at the rendezvous site and traveled to a clearing that was free of overhead branches. One-by-one, he picked out the constellations he'd memorized so long ago, reciting their stories in his head so that they wouldn't be lost to time. Each story he had been taught while he was younger, between the time at the caldera and the plateau. It seemed a lifetime since all that had happened.

He was reminded of Nellie, and how he probably wouldn't have wanted anybody to know where he was when he'd run away. Phox's reasons had been different, and his return had not been exactly warm and welcoming. Still, he respected her for the young lady she was. She wasn't that much younger than Figment and Fennec, and those two were practically adults now. Crazy to think about.

The Redhawk let his mind drift this way and that, all while craning his neck up to the night sky above.
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There were few places in the copse where the stars could be seen clearly. She was well aware of where those places were, and had already come to the conclusion that those places would therefore be Phox places, as out of all the wolves she knew, he knew the stars the most. She had once witnessed a strange phenomenon with Colt- the night the moon had turned red- but otherwise, wasn't terribly attentive to the night sky. Like most creatures, she didn't bother to look up unless she was worried about the weather. She did remember an enchanting Northerner who had once told her amazing stories about colours that swirled in the night skies in the Arctic- but she'd never seen anything like it this far south, and had given up on the possibility. 

She had not yet completely handled the whole issue with Phox hiding the truth from her- but it was begging to be released. As happy as she was to have Nellie back- and she had forgiven her daughter, who seemed to know by now that witholding that information had had terrible consequences (and hopefully she would not pull the same trick again)- but Phox could have told her. It was within days that she'd complained to Phox about how she missed her daughter, how she'd fretted that she'd been dead...And he'd known the whole time. 

So when she returned shortly after he had pretended to know nothing...The soft words he'd spoken about having feelings for her had turned brittle. 

So when she attended the clearing where she knew the stars would be, and saw him, she approached. Niamh was not the cleverist wolf, nor was she one to come up with quick-witted statements. But somehow, she managed to find something to say, to catch his attention, that she felt might have just the right effect. 

"I remember you telling me about that constellation," She said, as she approached, before she quietly sat down at his side. "That one's called the 'lying dog,' isn't it?" She did not deign to meet his gaze, but stared, jaw set and eyes unshimmering as she stared up at the night sky.
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Phox hadn't exactly been looking forward to meeting up with Niamh again. He knew she would be angry—furious, even—but he stood by what he had done. So when she approached from his blind side and made a remark about a lying dog, he knew she was talking about him. Is he better or worse than the piece-of-shit coward dog? he asked. He had been both, and he strongly preferred being the liar. At least then he wasn't letting anybody down. Sure, he might make others angry, but he wasn't setting any expectations.

I've broken a promise before, a promise to Towhee, and I told myself I'd never do that again. If that means it's off between you and me, I'd be deeply saddened, but I'd understand. And I wouldn't change a thing. For once in his goddamn life, Phox was standing up for himself. It was hard, but he had to. He couldn't be walked over again like he had for the majority of his life. He couldn't continue to be subservient to anybody (except Towhee, Figment, and Fennec, because reasons). He had his code of honor, and that put promises above revealing information that did not wish to be revealed.
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He made a remark about the fake constellation she'd named, and it seemed then that he was prepared for this. Maybe he hadn't expected for Nellie to turn up- and maybe he'd expected that Niamh would somehow never find out that her daughter was either alive, or that she'd been living with the Frosthawks. Either way, he'd made a decision which had essentially meant that he'd not only witheld information from her, but which had perpetuated a very painful belief. She gritted her teeth and still avoided eye contact with him. "One in the same, really," She gritted through her teeth, intending for him to believe that he was not only a liar, but a coward too. That was fine with her. 

He gave his excuses, which she wasn't really ready to hear or believe. Keeping promises was one thing- but keeping hurtful lies was another. She gritted her teeth and it took every bit of resolve that she had to keep herself from punishing him physically. When he defended his decision she shrugged. The fact that he really believed he'd done the right thing really hurt her. "Your choice," She said simply, but she didn't find that satisfying enough. She wanted to spit so many other assusations at him- but she wanted him to really egg it out of her.
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Well, there it was. He was glad now that nothing had happened with her. Thinking it made him even more sad, but it was the truth. If they disagreed on such basic things, maybe it wasn't meant to be. Another hard truth that was hard to swallow. He still couldn't see her out of his bad eye, but he didn't turn to look. This was not the sort of thing that he wanted out of a partner, and he could feel that now, deep down. Perhaps he had been foolish to think it would work. Perhaps he had been foolish to think that they could remain friends after he had admitted his feelings for her.
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Niamh was not content with the fact that Phox not only defended his choice, but that he refused to apologize to her for having made that decision. She wanted more from him than just silence. Maybe he was happy with the decision he'd made- maybe he adamently felt it was the right one...But everything about it still felt wrong to Niamh, and she had never been one to keep her trap shut when she felt that an injustice had occurred. 

Once the silence between them had gone on long enough, she spoke. "Guess you just like my daughter better'n me, then," She said, implying that his choice had been made not at all because of his faith to promise-keeping, but due to the fact that he failed to over-ride his promise with morals, than might have otherwise urged him to at least let her know her daughter wasn't dead. The high road was not one Niamh tended to take. "I'll thank you to wait at least until she reaches adult age. Even then I wouldn't advise that you come looking to me for consent," Added the increasingly petty woman.
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Phox held back an eye roll, as much as he wanted to do it. She was being childish, trying to get a reaction out of him, and he simply wasn't having it. She waltzed up speaking in riddles, refused to say what she actually meant, and then she went on to insinuate that he had a "thing" for her daughter. I mean, really Niamh. Really. Phox couldn't bear it. He had never seen this side of her, but he was really glad that he had seen it now, rather than later.

He was done trying to garner her affection, and he couldn't believe he had ever been so foolish to go after such an obvious choice. No, he really couldn't have such a vindictive person around him frequently, let alone around his children. Had Towhee seen this side of Niamh? He wondered, but he knew he wouldn't bring it up. Whatever wind had set sail on this crush now faded into nothing more than stillness on a quiet, suffocating summer afternoon.

Without another word, without even actually seeing her, Phox turned a literal blind eye and began to walk away.

She's still welcome to yell/chase/tackle/whatever, lol. WHY ARE THEY TERRIBLE.
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And he was just going to WALK AWAY ON HER??

Niamh didn't think so. She didn't take silence. She didn't handle being ignored. She wanted to get what she could out of him, and clearly, she was fishing in a pond that had nothing but water lilies and tadpoles. Still, she knew that she could catch him and make him burn- the way she'd made just about every other wolf she'd ever met kindle some sort of flame that would then engulf them both. This was her specialty. She put her long legs to use, boldly strutted past him and wheeled, directly blocking his path, and flicked her ears forward as she stared him down. In wolf language, Niamh was employing an alpha position- one that left very little to question. She herself, though, had at least one more question to ask. 

"You walk away, Phox, an' we're off. For good."
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I'm not crying, you're crying!

Instead of letting him go, letting him stew like he had let her stew over the past several weeks, she confronted him. Niamh stood before him and let him know that, if he walked away, it was over. Niamh, he said, exasperated, We were never on. This—whatever it is—doesn't work for me. I don't want to just take a lashing from you while you refuse to see my side of it at all. That's not how a partnership works. I won't subject myself to that. And he certainly wouldn't subject his children to it, even if she wouldn't be Figment and Fennec's mother.

If this relationship starts with ultimatums, I don't even want to know how it will end. And I can assure you that any relationship that starts out like this won't last. If there was one thing Phox knew, it was that he wanted to choose carefully. Even if Niamh had seemed like the perfect, most obvious choice before, it was clear now that it was going to take a lot of work, probably from both of them, if they wanted that to happen. Phox just wasn't sure he wanted to put in the work when he could spend that time being a father to Figment and Fennec.
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Haughtily, she refused to believe that he was admitting to losing his feelings for her just because she'd come up to him in a tiff- because he'd done something wrong! Of course, it was her oversight that it was something that she perceived to be wrong, and that that didn't make it a universal truth. While Phox had conviction and self-worth, Niamh something along those lines too- except where her self-confidence came from was a place of entitlement and selfishness, and she did not like being told that she was doing things wrong. 

So she snorted. Also, being a wolf who was inclined toward selective hearing, she naturally only really clung onto the parts of his speech that pissed her off the most. So, while she did at least allow him to finish speaking (only one of her minor flaws which has been corrected to date), she had kept a list of things she wanted to address, and then set them out before him with a tone of contempt. 

"First off-" 

But then she clamped her mouth shut. She could just lust off everything she'd interpreted wrong, as she had originally planned. She fumed. That wouldn't make her feel any better, and Niamh wanted, more than anything, to wean some sort of apology, or sign of regret out of him. That was what she wanted. She was quiet for a few moments, before she exhaled darkly. 

"I keep my promises. You better fuckin' believe that." She admitted ruefully. "But I ain't gonna lie an' let someone believe their child is dead when I know they're not." She said. She focused her energy on him intently. "The only reason I'd do that, is if I thought the kid was better off away from their mother. For good. Nellie made the mistake of thinkin' that, but she's a child. You....You shoulda known better." She said. "And you should'na lied to me after you said you cared about me."
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She started, and Phox braced himself for a tirade, but she stopped herself. It was a sign of restraint he wasn't sure that he would see. When she began again, she was more clear, more honest, and more truthful about why she had felt betrayed, which was more than he'd been able to get out of her before. She had expressed before that she was worried for Nellie, that she wanted her back, but Phox hadn't known that she thought Nellie was dead. If he had, he probably would have fessed up to her whereabouts.

I'm genuinely sorry, he replied, lowering his eyes. I didn't know you thought Nellie was... you know. I knew you were worried about her, but not to what extent. That much was true, and he wondered if anybody had thought he was dead when he had been at the Frosthawks. He'd had plenty of thoughts about Fennec, but she was blind and couldn't actually fend for herself.

Phox could have debated the semantics of lying, considering he only withheld information, but that was not a fight worth picking. And... thank you, for telling me. And communicating. He genuinely meant that, too. Just tossing insults at him without giving the full story didn't sit well with Phox, so this was a big step. It wasn't the end, or even a resolution, but it felt like a small move of the pendulum from the beginning of something unkind to at least neutrality.
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He apologized, but she still did not feel that he understood to what extent she had truly believed that Nellie was gone. Why shouldn't she assume Nellie was dead? Why would she have run away on her own, that young? None of Nellie's reasons really made sense- but given the fact that she was a puppy, she could have been excused for making the wrong decision. She was a child. She hadn't been thoughtful enough to realize exactly how much it had hurt everyone else to lose not only Colt, but her too. She bared her teeth, slightly, at his insufficient apology. "What was I supposed to think, after my mate was attacked so savagely at the borders that he died days later?" She asked. "Of course I thought she was dead. Kidnapped, tortured, I don't know...And even if she had chosen to run off- she was too young to make it on her own unless someone took her in, and thankfully, they did." She said. It was fairly apparent that even then, she still held a grudge against the Frosthawks. Both Raven and Quixote had kept Nellie's secret too. "It's taken everything I have no to go straight to the Frosthawks and tear a strip off Raven and Quixote for not sending a message the minute she arrived." She grumbled. 

She wasn't about to take his offering of peace, either, and stepped back, shaking her head slightly. "I don't forgive you." She said. "I can forgive her for making a bad choice, 'cause she's a kid, and her Dad had just died...But you?" She asked, and shook her head, and exhaled sharply. "I appreciate that you respected my daughter's wishes. But as long as you still believe that you did the right thing, in keeping your promise to Nellie, rather than saving me from believing she was dead- I'll never forgive you."
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She explained more surrounding Nellie's disappearance. He bristled a little at the not-so-veiled threat against his sister. More information he lacked up until now. How was he supposed to know all this? He'd been busy with the grove, looking after his own family (distraught about Fennec!), and she expected him to know everything. He hadn't even known how old Nellie was when she'd left them. It wasn't as if she had told him all of this. Phox had made polite conversation with her while with the Frosthawks, but nothing deep. It was clear that Niamh wouldn't—maybe didn't want to—forgive him, no matter how much he explained. For everything he said, she had a reason to turn it around on him. Even after he apologized, admitted he was wrong, she rebuked it.

Then I guess that's that, he said bitterly. It was a shame. He didn't even want to begin to think about how Towhee would react. Phox loathed putting her in a spot where she had to choose, but something told him Niamh would be sure that she was on her side, not Phox's. Already, he was bracing himself for that.
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Niamh's ears turned back when Phox seemingly resolved things- and like him, her thoughts immediately flew to the same question about Towhee. Whose side would she be on? Naturally, selfishly, Niamh hoped that Towhee would talk some sense into Phox- but unlike instances like this before, when Niamh had gotten into dramatic arguments and squabbles and run off to the alphas before, she wasn't going to turn and run to Towhee. She'd let Phox do that- she was his sister, after all...And it pained her to think that Towhee might somehow choose to empathize with her brother. Towhee had lost siblings...Surely, she knew what it was like to think someone was dead, and then to find out the opposite. 

"Guess so," She said, and meant to sound more satisfied than she did, but the fact of the matter was that she wasn't satisfied at all. Phox wasn't supposed to be this way. He was supposed to be on her side, no matter what, and it made her sulk to think that he'd chosen his own thoughts- and a promise he'd made to a child- over making her feel better. He couldn't have wanted her very much then, she thought, if he wasn't willing to admit that he was wrong, even if he wasn't truly wrong. She failed to see the fact that Phox wasn't a doormat. She failed to see that Phox was being noble by keeping promises he'd said he'd keep. All she saw was how those things, in that small situation, made her world miserable- and her world was the centre of her universe. If he wouldn't align himself with her self-riteous stars...Then he wasn't a part of her constellation. 

She thought she'd be able to walk away with her head held high, or maybe even with him in tow, continuing to apologize to her...But Phox wasn't some love-struck pup who was so in awe over her that he didn't see right past her pretty features to the flaws which were more deeply imbedded in her skin than her own fur was. When she looked into his one clear eye, she saw a reflection of herself, and in it, she looked differently than she'd always imagined. She wasn'ta treasure formed with polished gold- she was nothing more than a cape of beige and cream cast over a tall frame, cloaking its ugliness. And this reality tasted more sour than anything else she'd ever experienced.
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She looked at him in a way he hadn't seen before, but then again, this night had proven that there was a whole side of Niamh that she hadn't shown him until now. It wasn't a pretty side, and he was reminded that she was, like everybody else—including him—flawed. (Except his children. They were perfect and could do no wrong, DUH.) Even Phox was flawed. He had shown that when he had run away as a child. He had shown that when he'd let himself become Camilla's husband and bend to her every wish. But for both of those things, he had tried to course-correct. Niamh seemed to recoil at even the slightest hint that she might have a flaw.

Phox kept his gaze steady on hers. He'd already tried to walk away once, and she'd made it clear she was having none of that. If she wanted to be the "winner" and part first, she had all the room in the world to do so. But the Redhawk wouldn't be playing her games.
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This wasn't something Niamh was used to. At least with the others she'd had arguments with- Screech, Towhee and Colt- they had had words for her. She felt as though in ten words or less, Phox had more or less shot down her opportunity to get her feelings out, and that he could possibly have stemmed from a place that simply didn't care. What she didn't realize, was that not every wolf was simply going to feed into her insecurities and allow her temper permission to flare. The end result was that she felt her feelings weren't valid enough for him to ask her to air them, and she felt snubbed. Even now, he didn't try to walk away, and she was too stubborn to go, or to tell him to go. 

Her temper was still flaring, as she tried to come up with things to say, or trying to do. It was damn near impossible to simply stay silent, given the fact that he wasn't fuelling the fire whatsoever. If anything, his silence had a smothering effect, but Niamh had become so accustomed to creating wildfires that she had no idea what to do when an actual firebreak appeared in front of her. Couldn't she just slam him into the ground to solve her problems? She'd given Screech a life-altering concussion for doing less. She wanted him to see things from her point of view- and to realize that his view was wrong, as she refused to think that he still thought he'd done the right thing. 

Unable to take her frustrations out otherwise, she continued to match her gaze with his, even though his was much calmer, and only one of his eyes was clear. Still, she bore her gaze into his one clear, bright eye, and daringly, took one step toward him, simply wanting to see what he'd do, and because Niamh had absolutely no idea what else she was supposed to do now. Niamh was only used to being in one of two roles- a clear victim, or a clear victor. This whole stalemate thing was new territory for her.
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He half-expected her to lunge at him. Eye contact at this level was more than just a glance. This was a full-on stare down. When she took a step forward, Phox braced himself, but he held his ground. Clearly, he was hitting a nerve. That hadn't been his intention (never had, throughout this entire ordeal), but maybe everything was hitting a nerve for her right now. He knew that she was still working through her feelings about Colt, about Nellie, and now about him. Apparently that meant picking fights with him. Verbal so far, but he was acutely aware that she was able to pack a punch if she wanted to.

Phox didn't back down, but he didn't make a move toward her, either. He intended only to do as much as would match her. Hopefully it wouldn't get physical, but he had every reason to believe it would at this point. This was one of those times when having Sequoia around might have been nice. Maybe she could have talked to both of them and helped them resolve this. Not much she could do from the Frosthawks.
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She thought she saw him brace, or tighten in preparation for impact, but she couldn't attack him, not without an excuse. What would Towhee say then, if she'd attacked her best friend's brother simply because he didn't agree with her? She'd for sure lose Towhee's empathy. She gritted her teeth together, and cursed the unshakeable feeling that there was nothing else she could do here. She wanted him to raise his voice and yell at her, and she wanted for him to be ruthless, selfish and aggressive- but there he was, calm but assertive, draining the hostile energy from her which was something she absolutely dreaded. He would not back down- but he would not attack her, either. She doubted very much that he'd even defend himself if she did anything. 

And so, without another word, she cast her glance past him- now more blasé than anything else, and walked past Phox's shoulder (on the side where she knew his vision was best) and set off for the borders, needing to leave this whole situation far behind her. 

Same to you- feel free to have him stop her, otherwise, it'll be Niamh-out. <3
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Finally, she slid past him. Phox didn't stop her, but instead shook his coat to ease the tension (and his head, because he was kind of at a loss on this whole thing). Because they were still near the middle of the copse, he didn't know that she was planning on actually leaving here, but he probably wouldn't have done anything differently anyway. With a deep breath, Phox closed his eyes and sighed, once again trying to shed the mountain of feelings that were upon him.

When he finally reopened his eyes, he set off toward Towhee and the kids. He wouldn't disturb them, but he would absolutely give his sister the lowdown once the kids had left them alone the following morning.
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