The shouts woke the young fairy from his fitful sleep, and for a moment he was confused, wondering why his bed was suddenly so hard, and why it was his father calling him to breakfast instead of his mother.
Then, the previous day’s activities hit him like a stone in his gut, and he remembered where he was, hiding and sleeping in the hollow log at the Rock Arch while staying as close to Luna as possible.
The shout came again. Recognizing his father’s voice, he realized that Emre had come looking for him. He crawled toward one open end of the log, noting that the sun had barely lit the sky, but it was enough that the bats would no longer be a danger. He also saw his father standing on the rock Fin normally shared with Luna, a distraught expression gripping his features. Guilt was added on to his downbeat emotions. He’d never even thought to alert his parents to all that had occurred.
“Dad!” he called out. “I’m over here.”
Emre turned, relief spreading over his face as he caught sight of his son. In moments, Fin was gripped in a hug, and his arms came up to embrace his father as well.
“Have you been here all along?” Emre asked, his anxiety evident. “You never came home after your meeting, and we thought you may have already been with your new mate, but then Jac showed up, desperate to find you and saying he was your mate, but you had disappeared. What happened, Fin?”
Fin, feeling very much like a young fairy-kin, buried his face in his father’s chest as he explained with muffled words. “Luna wasn’t the one I saw, Dad. The Bond Guard said it would be the first fairy I saw, and it wasn’t Luna!” he mourned.
“It was Jac,” his father murmured quietly in understanding. “Oh, Fin.” He said nothing else for a time; just let Fin cry and shudder for a few minutes.
When Fin calmed, Emre urged him down, and they sat side-by-side on the ground. “I know it’s not what you hoped for, son.”
Fin sniffed loudly. “It’s not, but even the Bond Guard can be wrong sometimes.”
Emre tensed and then gripped his son’s shoulders. “Wrong? Fin, the Bond Guard knows….”
Fin interrupted him with a shake of his head. “The Bond Guard could be wrong,” he insisted. “Luna goes to see the Guard in a few weeks, so we’re going to wait and see what she is told.”
Emre was flabbergasted. “Fin, it doesn’t work like that. Jac is your mate, and he’s a good fairy. A friendship with Luna is fine, but you need to connect to your true mate.”
“Which might still be Luna!” Fin insisted stubbornly.
“Oh no. Is this why you ran away from Jac?”
“I didn’t run away from him. I just,” and as he tried to explain, he realized that it really had been running away, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. “I just wanted to find Luna,” he finished.
“Son, Jac was frantic when he came to our home. Does he even know where you are now?”
Fin shrugged, his heart hurting, but now his conscience also making him ache. “I haven’t seen him. I didn’t mean to worry anyone, but I was so upset.”
“I know, but you need to find Jac now, Fin. He needs to know you’re safe, and you need to make a connection to him.”
Fin’s eyes welled. “No. I have to know what the Bond Guard is going to tell Luna.”
Emre looked sad, but he pulled Fin into another tight hug. “Son, what the Bond Guard tells her will be between them, but I can tell you what won’t be said. She won’t be told that you’re her mate, because you already have one.”
Emre shook his head. “It’s not a mistake, Fin. Now you have a choice to make. Are you going to accept the Bond Guard’s guidance, or forge a harder path?”
His head hanging, Fin wasn’t sure of his choice. “I thought it was going to be what I wanted, Dad.”
“I know. But Fin,” Emre tipped his son’s head up. “What the Bond Guard told you is very likely to be better than what you initially wanted.”
Tears welled again and slipped silently down Fin’s cheeks. “It doesn’t feel like that. I love her, Dad!”
“I believe you do,” Emre sympathized. “And I believe you want what is best for her, do you not?”
“Of course! I’d do anything for her!”
Emre looked sad. “Would you give her up into the arms of her true mate?”
For a moment Fin felt as if he’d fallen into a snow drift. The truth he faced was like ice trying to douse his love. Did he love her? Yes. Did he want the very best for her? Yes. Did he think it would kill him to let her go to the mate the Bond Guard guided her toward? Very likely.
He tried to stop his tears and his burrowed into his father’s arms again. “I have to talk to her,” he whispered.
Emre understood the decision being made with those words, and he kissed the top of Fin’s head. “Yes, you do, but that won’t happen until tonight. You should seek out Jac while you have daylight.”
Fin knew his dad was right, but he shook his head. “I cannot speak with him yet.”
“Because I may not have the courage to say what I need to Luna, and I can’t try to connect to Jac until I’ve spoken to her.”
Emre sighed. “I do understand that, but it is not right to leave Jac to fear for you.”
Fin tipped his head up. “Will you go to him, Dad, and….”
“Explain?” Emre asked when Fin paused.
Fin bit his lip and shook his head. “I need to explain to him. I would be a coward to have someone else do it. Could you just let him know that I’m safe, and that I’ll come to him when I’ve done…what I need to?”
Emre studied Fin’s face, then nodded, although a sigh passed his lips. “I will seek him out, but do not delay in going to him, Fin. I know things did not happen as you hoped, but what has happened since your Bond Guard meeting has not been fair to Jac either.”
Fin nodded. He didn’t want to hurt Jac. The other fairy was his friend…or had been. Truthfully, Fin didn’t know what to consider him now. But his dad was right. Jac shouldn’t be left to worry and wait.
Jac was hard-pressed to remain still. Exhaustion and heartache had caused him to sleep deeply during the night, but he’d awoken in the morning with a restlessness he couldn’t overcome. There was a need to find Fin, to seek him out and beg the younger fairy to not run away, to instead come and build a life with him.
However, he had no idea how to either find Fin or how to make the other fairy want to match with him. So instead he sat with Crill and Sera, picking at the morning meal Sera had made while he and Crill alternately told her what had happened.
“I’m sure you’ll find him, Jac,” she assured when they had finished explaining. “And I agree with Crill, that Fin probably just needs some time to think things through and adjust to what the Bond Guard told him.”
“I told Jac that you might have some ideas on how he could show Fin that he cares for him,” Crill informed his wife.
Sera’s brow furrowed at that, but it was clear she dipped into contemplation. Crill lasted about a minute into her silence before asking what she thought, and she huffed at him. “I’m thinking. I do not have an instant idea any more than you do.”
Crill rolled his eyes, but he waited more patiently. Jac still focused his thoughts on where Fin might be until Sera finally spoke.
“This is an unexpected situation,” she finally said with a sigh. “I do not know your Fin, Jac, so I truly don’t know what appeals to him. I can only make suggestions based on what you’ve told us. He is an Earth Reader, correct?”
Jac nodded. “He’s an excellent one. I told you about him stopping the landslide.”
Sera and Crill both nodded. “Earth Readers and Nature Nurturers often make good matches,” Sera commented. “I know you’ve been purposeful in how you’ve built and decorated your home here, Jac, but maybe something else you could do for Fin would be provide a garden, a special patch where he chooses the type of earth, and you work with him to grow the flowers or moss or vegetables.”
Jac nodded, liking that idea. “That’s good, but I still have to find him and bring him here. What can I do to convince him to come with me, to match with me?”
There was no answer forthcoming, and then a knock at Crill and Sera’s cottage door ended the conversation. Crill went to answer it, and there was some muffled exchange that happened before he opened the door fully and Jac saw Emre walk in. He rose quickly from his seat, simultaneously feeling hope, fear, and anxiety.
“What are you doing here? Is Fin okay? Where is he?!”
Emre sped his approach and put an arm around Jac’s shoulders. “Fin is not harmed, Jacoby. I found him this morning and he is safe, although…”
“Although?” Jac asked with clear worry.
“Although he is distraught.”
Jac felt his eyes well up again, and he murmured the words he feared. “He does not want to match with me, does he? That is why you’re here and not him?”
Emre’s arm tightened around him. “It’s not that.” He looked to his two hosts. “I’m sorry to intrude, and now to be rude on top of it, but could Jac and I speak privately?”
Crill hesitated for just a second, but then nodded and held a hand out to Sera. “We’ll take some time on the treetops. Jac, you’ll know where to find us.”
When they were gone, Emre and Jac settled on their hosts’ couch and Jac found he couldn’t quite look at his mate’s father. “He ran away from me.”
“Yes,” Emre agreed soberly.
When he didn’t expand on that, Jac tentatively looked to the older fairy. “Why did he run?”
Emre looked somber as he explained. “Fin wasn’t expecting you, Jac, so discovering you were his mate took him by surprise, and he didn’t handle that well.”
“But why? No one knows who their mate is before their meeting with the Bond Guard. Why did discovering it was me surprise him so? Unless…he was hoping it wouldn’t be me?”
Those words were choked out and hoarse, and Emre quickly shook his head. “It was nothing against you. Fin has…” Emre paused to think about his wording. “He has thought about what would happen during his Bond Guard meeting for a while now. I think he had created an idea in his head that he believed would take place when he went. Then, when it didn’t go as expected, it upset him. He had made plans based on his assumptions, and now he has to change those plans, and that is why I came to find you. Fin realized he worried you and he wanted me to tell you he was okay, and that he would come to you after he made some necessary changes.”
“What does he have to change?” Jac asked, feeling uncertain about what Emre was saying.
The older fairy shook his head. “That is not my information to share. It needs to come from Fin, and he said he wants to be the one to explain to you, but he didn’t want you to worry about him in the meantime.”
Knowing Fin was safe did help calm Jac a little, but he was still confused and anxious about whatever Fin had to tell him. “When will Fin come to me? Will he know where to find me? How did you find me?” he suddenly asked, realizing that Emre shouldn’t have known where he was.
“It took some doing,” Emre admitted, a rather cheeky grin appearing on his face. “I asked around at some of the other Nature Nurturers, but no one knew for sure where you were. Apparently, no one else even knew you’d been in our part of the forest yesterday, and the only answer I could get from them about where you’d been living was ‘somewhere north’. I kept thinking, If I was Jacoby’s parents, I’d be concerned if no one knew where he was. Then I realized, maybe your parents did know. So I called on them, and they told me where I could find you.”
Fin nodded. “They are the only ones who knew exactly where I was. I didn’t want to bring anyone else here before Fin. I wanted him to be the first.”
Emre’s grin faded somewhat. “You’ve known he was your mate?”
Jac nodded. “Uh-huh. Ever since my meeting with the Bond Guard, but I was told I couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t rightfully be my mate until his birthday and his own meeting with the Bond Guard.”
“Is that why you’ve stayed away and been living here?”
“Partly,” Jac admitted. “I didn’t come here thinking to do that. I came to help after a fire, but made some good friends while I was here, and it seemed like a good place to bring my mate when the time came. We’d have our own place, but be close enough to fly to our home forest whenever we wanted.”
“You’ve had good thoughts, Jacoby, and I’m grateful you’ve been making plans and preparations for when you and Fin could match.”
Jac nodded, as his thoughts swirled around the home he had built and what else he could do to make sure Fin wanted him. “Will he come to me soon, sir?” he ended up asking.
Emre’s shrug wasn’t what Jac wished for. “I do not know. I hope so. It wouldn’t be helpful to him to delay things, and I do not think it would benefit you either.”
Jac’s shoulders were slumped and his head hung low. “What should I do while I wait?” he asked Emre.
Emre patted his back rather firmly. “You continue your work as a Nature Nurturer, and be the best fairy you know to be. No one can ask more of you, and when the time is right, I believe Fin will come to you.”
It wasn’t what Jac wanted to hear, but Emre’s words were true. The rest of Jacoby’s life couldn’t be put on hold while he waited and hoped for Fin to appear. Still, that didn’t mean the delay of his matching was going to be made any easier. He nodded his agreement.
Emre’s tone was considerate in his next words. “I’ll tell Fin where you are and how to find you,” he assured. “Unless, perhaps you’d like to come back to your home-forest. Stay with your parents and have their support until Fin is able to join you.”
For a moment, Jac did consider that option, but he quickly decided against it. “My parents don’t know what happened yesterday, and they don’t yet know who my mate is. Crill and Sera are the only ones I told, and I think it’s better that way, until Fin wants to be with me. I don’t want my mom and dad to worry.”
“Alright, then I will make sure to hold my tongue. Will you be alright, Jacoby? I hate to leave you sad.”
Jac tried to give a believable smile. “I will be. I know that Fin is safe and will be coming to me soon. I’ll wait, and Crill and Sera are good friends to me. I’ll stay here with them.”
There was clearly still a bit of concern in Emre’s face, but he nodded and stood. “I should return home then. I’ll make sure Fin knows we’ve talked, and I’ll encourage him to come to you very soon.”
“Thank you,” Jac uttered, although his face heated as the words came out choked, clearly showing he wasn’t as okay as he wanted to portray.
Emre stooped and gave him one more quick hug, and then quietly left the house. Jac continued to sit in solitude, wondering if such a rough start to a match could truly bring a happy mating.
Fin stayed, as he said he would, at the Rock Arch all day. He filled his time by checking on the saplings that he and the others had rescued and brought there a few months ago, and by nurturing the health of the earth in which they were growing. He also gathered a supply of soft Lamb’s Ear leaves, and molted bird feathers to make a more comfortable bed for him in the hollow log.
While he worked, he tried to focus on the necessity to do the right thing for Luna. His heart still wasn’t sure it agreed, but his father’s words to him from that morning weighed on his shoulders. Fin wanted to be the reason for Luna’s happiness, and never wanted to prevent what was best for her. It still hurt terribly every time he remembered that it had not been Luna who’d been waiting for him outside the Bond Guard’s house, but he tried to convince himself that the heartache would ease…eventually.
As soon as dusk settled into the sky, Fin perched himself on their rock, waiting anxiously for Luna to show up. He tried to practice the words he needed to say, but he could only get so far before it felt like a wall built itself inside him, trying to keep out the pain of what he needed to do.
Unfortunately, dusk passed into evening, and then into darkness, and Luna didn’t appear. Fin should have prepared himself for this possibility. She never promised to come every night because she had to catch the dreams that called to her and deliver them to their recipient, and it appeared they were preventing her from coming to him this time.
He waited and continued to watch, even lingering on their rock a little past when he should. The bolt of adrenalin that hit his stomach proved that was a bad idea when he saw the shadow of a bat flap across the light of the moon. With a choked-back gasp, Fin darted to his hollow log and buried himself under the Lamb’s Ear leaves he’d gathered. It took several minutes for his heart to slow down, but the aftereffects of his rush of fear made the rest of his emotions rush to the surface. He shed several tears, wishing he wasn’t alone, before slowly crying himself to sleep.
When morning came, Fin’s eyes still felt heavy, but he was once again drawn out of his log by the sound of his father’s voice calling to him. Fin rubbed at his eyes and joined his dad in the sunshine.
Emre’s gaze at his son was openly affectionate and concerned. He carried a leaf-pack on his back, and set it gently down before pulling Fin into a hug.
“You do not look rested, my son,” Emre said honestly.
Fin sighed and let his head fall to his dad’s shoulder. “It was not a good night,” he confessed.
“Did you speak with Luna?”
“No,” Fin mumbled. “She did not show. Sometimes the dreams keep her away.”
Emre issued and audible sigh. “I am sorry your conversation with her has been delayed.”
“It can’t be helped,” Fin tried to say with pragmatism, although he was pretty sure he didn’t pull it off.
“I know. Perhaps you can rest a bit later. For now, your mother has sent some things to fill your belly.” Emre pulled up a flat stone and sat down, beginning to route through the leaf-pack. “She wanted to come with me this morning, but I asked her to let me have some time with you first. Sit, and have something to eat.”
Emre handed Fin a hollow acorn filled with berry juice, and pulled out a pastry—still warm—of honey bread filled with caramelized almonds and sweet plum jam. Fin’s stomach gurgled in appreciation of the lovely scent from the bread, and he relished the first few bites, swallowing them down the with provided juice.
“I found Jacoby,” Emre told him before munching on his own pastry.
Fin felt wary at those words, but looked to his father. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him that you were safe, and that you would come to him after you fulfilled some necessary tasks. He accepted my words, but Fin, he already fears you do not want to be his mate. He was quite distressed when I met with him, and I had to be very careful with what I said, because I too think you may yet choose to decline the Bond Guard’s guidance.”
Fin slowly ate another bite of his food as he tried to find a way to address his father’s concerns. “I don’t wish to distress Jac, and I’m sorry I’ve done so. I just didn’t expect him.”
“I explained that much the same way to him,” Emre informed his son.
Fin felt grateful to know that. “It might take some time for me to see him as my mate, Dad,” he admitted.
“But you will try to?” Emre asked. “Will you speak to Luna when you get the chance?”
“Hm,” Emre murmured. “I’m afraid you aren’t convincing me, and I do not think you’re convincing yourself either.”
“I don’t want to just let her go, Dad,” Fin admitted. “I love her, but you are right that I must do what is best for her if that is true. It’s just…it’s hard to accept that I’m not the one who is the right mate for her.”
“I know it’s hard,” Emre sympathized. “But I knew a fairy couple a long time ago who did not abide by the Bond Guard’s guidance, and I wouldn’t wish their struggles on you or Luna, my son.”
That statement grabbed Fin’s attention. “You knew fairies who went against the Guard? Who? What happened? Do I know them?”
Emre shook his head. “You don’t know them. I only knew them when I was a child. They lived very near to me and my parents. From what I was told at that age, it wasn’t that the two of them went against the Bond Guard; it was that they bonded themselves before their eighteenth birthdays, so neither knew who their true mate was to be.”
“Why not?” Fin questioned.
“Because the Bond Guard would not reveal that to them. It would have only caused more problems.”
“What kind of problems did they have?”
“Well, while I believe there was love between them, they greatly struggled to understand the inner core of one another. They fought often, and even with the help of a Cultivator, they found it hard to understand their differences or help one another grow.
“You see, Fin, that is a reason why it is in a fairy’s best interest to listen to the Bond Guard. That fairy is gifted in knowing who will come together to bring out their mate’s best. Being with your true mate doesn’t mean you won’t argue sometimes or that you’ll always agree, but it does mean that your personalities and inner qualities instinctively understand each other and mesh well together. Those two fairies I knew didn’t have that. And….”
Fin’s full attention was on his father, and there was something significantly sad and almost foreboding in that “And”.
“And there were no children for them, Fin,” Emre said with sorrow. “A fairy baby is the most vulnerable of our kind, and the most prone to taking in the emotions of everything around them. A couple has to have a love that is seen as a soothing and safe place for a child, and they couldn’t offer that.”
Fin had never considered that aspect of things, and his heart hurt for that couple, because all fairies yearned to pass their love to another generation, and being gifted with a baby was a highlight for every fairy marriage.
Emre’s story of this couple also brought another thought to Fin’s head, and although he asked, he was unsure whether he wanted to know the answer.
“Dad, do you know what happened to the two fairies who should have been matched with that couple you knew?”
Emre placed a warm hand on the back of Fin’s neck, a gesture of comfort his son was familiar with, as he answered. “I was told they remained unmated since their matches were taken from them, although I never met them those two personally.”
The look of aghast that came over Fin couldn’t be stopped. “They were alone forever?!”
“No, not alone,” Emre stated. “They had friends and family, and many fairies can live very happily like that if they have a good attitude. But no, they never had a mate or children of their own.”
The heat of tears came to Fin’s eyes. “It would be my fault if that happened. I could keep Luna from having her own children, or make another fairy live alone because I took his mate.”
Emre, not wanting to cause his son more distress, but feeling it was necessary to remind him of one more who could be hurt, spoke quietly. “There is Jac to think of too, son. Without you, he may face a mateless life as well.”
The tears did slip silently down Fin’s face then. “I don’t want to do that to him, or to Luna or anyone else.”
“And I don’t want that to happen to you either. I know right now it’s hard and it hurts, but so much more pain and heartache could happen if you choose to ignore those wiser than you.”
Fin nodded his understanding, and then latched onto his dad for a long while, neither of them talking, but Fin needed the embrace to hold him up until his heart felt a bit stronger.
Father and son spent most of the day together. Fin was glad of the company, and of the ready offer of a hug anytime he needed one. Fairies were naturally tactile creatures, and when his emotions were high, Fin usually needed a few extra embraces.
However, just as the sun began its descent, Fin asked his dad to return home. “I don’t know if Luna will be able to be here tonight or not, but if she does come, I need it to just be the two of us while we talk,” he explained.
“You don’t need anyone looking over your shoulder,” Emre said in understanding. “Will you come home afterward?”
“I’m not sure,” Fin admitted. “I think it will depend on how the night goes.”
Emre nodded, but his brow furrowed with clear concern. “Beware of the bats, son. Your mother and I worried the past two nights.”
“I’ll be careful,” Fin promised, although he made sure to reveal nothing of his close call from the previous night.
Emre gave him one more hug, said he hoped to see him at home in the morning, and then disappeared into the trees.
Fin sat on the familiar rock and waited as the sun continued to set and the sky darkened from sunset pink to nighttime blue. He tried not to think whether he wished more for Luna to show or not. His desire to not have the necessary conversation was equal with his desire to see her.
Just as the last bit of sunset faded away, he heard the barely audible sound of fairy wings, and moments later her petite frame was sitting next to him. Fin was saddened to see that for the first time in weeks she seemed nervous to be with him. Not able to resist, he reached to gently grip her hand.
“I missed you last night,” he said, trying his best to sound normal.
She blushed slightly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come. I promise I was not avoiding you, but the air was heavy with dreams last night.”
“That’s what I assumed,” he assured, and then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I need to talk to you…about mating.”
She looked even more nervous at those words, and Fin feared she’d hate him after this conversation, but he silently reminded himself of his father’s wisdom. If I love her, I need to do what’s best for her.
“My father spoke to me since the last time we saw each other. He counselled me on some things I hadn’t thought on. I…” He felt his throat tighten and had to give himself a minute for the words to come out. “I love you, but I think I am wrong to press you to be my match when the Bond Guard has said we are not fated for each other. I do not want to hurt you by taking you away from your true mate. I’m sorry,” he ended, and sniffed loudly while trying not to let any tears fall.
Luna’s hand reached out and a cool hand cupped his cheek. “Thank you,” she said simply but sincerely.
That response confused him. “Thank you?”
She nodded. “I wish to always have you as a friend, my Fin, but I never believed the Bond Guard would match us as you did, and I did not want to hurt you.” Her hand slid down to pat his chest. “You have a special heart, and I’m thankful you share it with me, but I wish us both to be happy with our own true mates. It is what is best.”
“I still feel strongly for you,” Fin said honestly, “but I know I need to try to connect with the mate the Bond Guard is guiding me toward. I’m not sure I can do it though.”
“You can,” Luna assured.
She said it so simply, but she clearly believed her words. Fin’s lips lifted in a small but sincere smile. “Can we still be friends?”
“I hope to always be your friend,” she replied, “but I do not think spending each evening with me is best right now. You need to be with your mate.”
Fin’s heart twisted a little. “Will I see you at all?”
She thought about it, and then nodded. “Send me messages through the fireflies. I will do the same. We can arrange to meet when it is right.”
With a small sigh, Fin nodded. “May I stay tonight until the moon touches the tree?”
“Please,” she agreed quietly.
And so they sat side by side on their rock, talking no more, but each silently adapting to their changing friendship.