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#1
All Welcome 
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Days passed, nearly a full turn of the moon, since he and @Meerkat had found @Peregrine and returned him to @Mou and @Maegi. Meerkat had been off elsewhere searching while Phox had remained nearby. Or at least that was what he had assumed since he had not seen her in some time.

Presently, he was laying down, having just woken from a more-restful-than-usual sleep. He felt groggy, like one does after a particularly good midday nap. Provost was still nowhere to be found, and his hopes of finding his wayward daughter dwindled as the days went on. Searching endlessly for an adult was one thing, but for a child? Phox felt like he had to bring the search to an end at some point. With @Vesper and Peregrine here, he felt he should focus on them—work on getting to know them.

So it was those two he sought out right now, and perhaps their adoptive parents and Meerkat so that he might inform them of his decision to put the search on hold.
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Duskfire Glacier

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The weather dried out by the time Meerkat followed the river to the foot of the plateau. She hesitated for a moment before entering the territory, too exhausted from her search efforts to speculate about proper etiquette in this situation. She hoped to find her father and perked up significantly when she caught a fresh scent. Despite running on fumes, she made a beeline to him.

"Dad!" she called out when she spotted him, quickly moving closer. As was her trademark greeting with anyone lately, she immediately sprang the latest headlines on Phox without any real preamble. "Tierra is missing now too. I've been searching for her along with Prevost. Mom's back at the caldera but she's really ill. She was evidently bitten by a snake..."

Letting out a defeated breath, Meerkat plopped down beside him and then sprawled on the grass, still slightly damp near the roots. She paid it no mind. She hadn't even realized how weary she felt until just now. It wasn't just physical depletion but also emotional and mental fatigue catching up to her after so many months of wandering, wondering and worrying about this or that missing loved one.
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He wasn't sure what led him to get his hopes up when he saw Meerkat moving toward him. Maybe it was that she had always been upbeat and seemed to see the best in everyone. How did she manage to do that? And... Tierra? Who is that? Then Meerkat was telling him that Towhee had been bitten by a snake and—well, thanks for the whiplash, kiddo!

Meerkat, hey, are you okay? he asked when she flopped down on the ground. She looked like she was about to wither away in front of his eyes, and Phox was pretty sure he could not handle anything like that right now. And now he was wondering about Towhee's recovery, too. What about your mom? Is it bad? Is she going to be alright?
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She exhaled as Phox pressed her for more details, breathing out an apology. "I keep doing that," Meerkat admitted sheepishly, pushing upright a little and settling her weight on her elbow. "I feel like all I do lately is pinball wildly from place to place, from one person to the next, picking up and dropping bombs. I'm sorry," she repeated.

Meerkat drew in a deep breath and explained, "Tierra is one of the twins," before pausing and adding, "Mom's kids from this year." Her gaze lingered on his face, something unreadable on her own. He had never met them, which was a crazy thought. She didn't blame him but it was still a shame. "Mom was missing for a few days so I wonder if she went looking for her." It was equally possible she'd gone after Reyes, though Meerkat didn't even feel like getting into all of that.

Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, Meerkat reached up with her free paw to rub at her forehead. "It's bad, dad," she answered. "You should go visit her, meet her kids. She's in a lot of pain and beside herself because she can't do shit about Tierra. I know it'd mean the world if you showed up."

Better yet, they should go home to the caldera, taking Peregrine and Vesper with them. Meerkat did not voice this thought, though her lips pressed together as she wondered about Phox's next move. She knew it was more complicated than simply uprooting them like that. Honestly, she didn't particularly care what Maegi or Mou thought—she still couldn't get past their deception—but she most certainly did care if her younger siblings got hurt.

Thinking about it made her feel even more tired and a little pensive too. If they tried to take the kids away from the Blackfeather pair, that would upset the children and almost definitely cause a fight among the adults. And it wasn't like they could simply invite Maegi and Mou back to Redhawk Caldera to become one big, happy family, not with their history with Towhee. The more she thought about it, the more impossible the whole situation felt. And for better or worse, Meerkat didn't even get a say; it was entirely up to Phox how he wanted to handle it.

Meerkat couldn't bring herself to ask him what he planned to do, even though these thoughts really got under her skin. Maybe she was afraid of the answer.
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Phox frowned, wishing like he did so many times that he could be there more for his children. Not just Meerkat, but Figment, Fennec, Alyx, and Quetzal, too. Not to mention the three newest ones. And to hear who Tierra was only made him feel worse. Again he felt he had missed so much in such a short amount of time. So much had been lost these past few months, and at times it felt like and endless whirlpool. He wanted to be there for Towhee just as much as he wanted to be there for all his children.

I want to, but Vesper and Peregrine… they don’t even know me yet. I have to give them my attention now. I haven’t had any luck finding Prevost, and she’s still so young. He left unsaid what he knew that meant. It was unlikely she was alive.

What about you, Meetkat; what will you do?
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M E E T K A T : ' )

His words made her frown thoughtfully. She didn't answer his question right away, thinking over what he'd said and reading between the lines despite herself. It sounded like he didn't particularly plan to take the kids back to the caldera anytime soon. Meerkat followed the logic there, though there was something she didn't understand.

"You could go and visit her, just you," she said, "just for a few hours. Maegi and Mou can look after them for a few hours, can't they? Dad..." But she didn't really know what she wanted to say. She felt disappointed and heartbroken on Towhee's behalf, though she had no desire to make Phox feel bad. This whole situation was so impossible.

"I'll keep searching for Prevost and Tierra," she said in reply to his query, "but... after I get some sleep. I'm dead on my feet." It was more than that; out of the blue, she felt so incredibly defeated, and beyond exhausted.

Was it really out of nowhere though? For months now, Meerkat had dedicated most of her time looking out (or out looking) for her loved ones, trying to pick up all the broken pieces and hold them together. She had willingly committed herself to this endeavor, because she loved her family and wanted them whole.

But everything continuously, inevitably fell apart. A sense of hopelessness suddenly threatened to overwhelm her. The timing didn't particularly make sense but, honestly, it was a long time coming. Phox and Niamh; Towhee and Reyes; their (missing) kids; even Bronco and Fennec: it was a lot. And there was no end in sight, much less a happy one.

She hung her head for a moment before lifting it and reaching out to kiss Phox on the cheek. She stifled the urge to repeat what she'd said about visiting Towhee. Instead, Meerkat promised, "We'll catch up s'more later, dad," and then turned to find someplace to rest.
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Yeah, I... I'll think about it, he said, though he already knew the answer. With Vesper and Peregrine here, he could pull himself away. How could he? Towhee meant a lot to him, but his children would always pull rank on her, no matter what. It was why he had eventually left the caldera and run after Niamh. If it had been just her, he would have been able to let her go, to steel his heart against her. But it hadn't been just Niamh, and now he had the last remaining pieces of her to take care of.

Meerkat promised to keep searching for Prevost and Tierra, and it wasn't as if Phox could tell her not to, despite his own speculations on Prevost's fate. Tierra had not been gone near as long, and it was likely she was still alive and well. He felt himself at a loss, but also wishing to spend time with Peregrine and Vesper. They were his, at least in a sense, and he need to get to know them.

Get some sleep, kiddo, he said, knowing even now that Meerkat was far from a child at this point. As for him, he'd have to go track down Mou and Maegi and let them know that Meerkat was still out searching, but he had decided to stop the search for Prevost.
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