A little AU story with my favorite characters.

I own nothing. Nothing.

Chapter One

Laughter floated from around the corner. The light peals of joy rang as he sighed softly. He crept forward and glanced around the crystal wall. He watched the easy comradery with a pang of regret. Regret that he'd ruin this moment if he walked into the hall. Regret that he did not have what so many others gained easily.

"My fault," he berated himself, backing away from the happy scene, "No poking reason to whine. Let it go. You've brought him to his people. That is what matters the most."

Slowly he walked back the way he'd come. Back to a small room that was known as his. Back to the only place he belonged now. His belly panged from hunger. He'd go hunting on his own later. The smells of the Sun Villagers bread and cooked meats gave him pause. How nice it would be to sit among friends and comrades if he still had any, but he had wrought his own loneliness. This was his fault. His for listening to Zey. His for turning on his true chief—on Kahvi. How easily he'd been forgotten once others were near.

"Stop it," he groaned, entering his den and dropped down on the raised bed to brood, "Jethel has his tribe again. He is home."

He was a Go-Back. It had been drummed into him hard that his life was just a temporary one. That you fought until you finally died. He'd lived a long time. Longer than many of his tribemates that he'd grown up with. Now his tribe was different. All the old faces were gone and he would no longer be welcomed back once the truth was known. He was the betrayer, the stab-back. He was alone and the pain of this ate at him. If he was no longer a Go-Back, then what was he? Where did he belong now? Growling, he snatched up a spear he'd made while alone in this cold tomb of a room.

"No use wasting time," he thought, stalking out to reach the palace door, "I was raised a Go-Back so I'll just adjust. Always have before. Time to eat so time to hunt. You are your own tribe now. Deal with it."

Biting cold hit him once the crystal of the palace opened to allow his exit. Long had it been to feel cold like this, but how comforting to feel that biting wind. Numbed the body. Numbed the pain in his chest.


He turned to see Jethel jogging his way. He still marveled at the changes from that cub from long ago. Jethel was grown and had blossomed in his role as a leader.

"Where are you going?" Jethel demanded, glancing out at the snowy forest, "Brother, we have plenty of food here. Don't hunt in that. It's not safe."

The concern warmed him some, but he couldn't help the snort that escaped him.

"Jethel, you do realize that I grew up in the Frozen Mountains, right?" he chuckled as the one in front of him blushed, "I've hunted snow bear in cursed blizzards before. This cold is not so bad and I need some fresh air. A hunt will do me some poking good."

"Chief Cutter wants everyone to stay indoors," Jethel argued.

"That elf is not my chief," he snarled before sighing, "Jethel, I'm fine. I'm going snow crazy being cooped up here. I'll just go past the creek. If I don't see anything to track I'll come straight back, okay?"

Jethel groaned, but nodded reluctantly. It had not been good to snap at his brother. Brother. It was nice to say that. Nice that Jethel still thought of him with that title. He just needed…he needed out of the suffocating palace. Out of a world that he didn't belong within or…a world that he had no place to call his own. A warrior with no one to fight. A caregiver with no one to care for. An adviser with no one to advise. An elf with no tribe to belong to. He blinked to find himself at the creek's edge not even realizing that he had left the palace's safety and simply pushed some snow off a boulder to perch on as he watched the gentle snowfall.

"I do believe I saw you there when I gave the orders to stay inside."

He knew that voice. Cutter, Kinseeker, chieftain of the Wolfriders.

"You are not my chief, Cutter," he breathed enjoying the look of his breath puffing in the air as he turned to the shocked Wolfrider, "I've not joined your tribe so your authority does not govern my actions. I mean no offense, but I know what I can and cannot handle. I think I just needed some cold. It has been too long."

"Too long to freeze your puckernuts off?" Cutter teased as he couldn't help, but flash a smirking smile at the blonde's jest, "I'd not want that."

"The cold can be enjoyable, you know," he pointed out as Cutter took a seat on another boulder nearby, "Cold can hold you close while keeping feelings you don't want to feel at bay. Can allow you to get some clarity to deal with troubling emotions later."

"Are you troubled?" Cutter inquired leaning forward.

"Perhaps," he admitted, "My mind cannot settle. There is something, but I don't know what."

"Something," Cutter repeated, "Does this something have to do with not claiming a place within my tribe, Chot? I'd welcome you gladly. You cared for my son within the forevergreen. He told me all you did for him. You have my thanks, Go-Back."

He smiled and dipped his head in acknowledgement to the words and offers. It was nice to hear.

"I cannot believe that tall buck is the pip that I once called Suntop," he laughed as Cutter joined him, "I was amazed to see Sunstream when we finally called to be brought from that poking land of hot, humid, nastiness."

"He is my pride with his sister," Cutter glowed while he winced inside at the pull of emptiness at seeing the Wolfrider's happiness, "Why are you here alone?"

"Where else, Chief?" he countered, watching the Wolfrider frown, "I've always been alone. It is the way of Go-Backs. We are a tribe, but independence is a must. Stand on your own two, poking feet or die. Provide for yourself or starve. I'm going hunting."

"I don't want you to do that, Friend," Cutter insisted, "There is a storm rolling in and you are not familiar with these lands. I do not question your ability to withstand cold or be able to provide for yourself. Your mind is filled with too much and I fear for your focus. My hunters have just brought back a fresh stag. Come eat with us and join the hunt tomorrow. I know Go-Backs need more action than the palace can provide."

The surprise at the title of "friend" was large. He also had to agree with the chief. His focus was off and that could get an elf killed. Raw deer wasn't so bad. He had grown a fondness for meat either cooked or freshly killed like the Wolfriders ate. Fine.

"I don't hunt well in a group," he stated with a pang of regret as he stood to take up Cutter on his offer, "Always hunted alone. I feel I'd be more of a double-cursed hindrance than help."

"Yun was the same at first," Cutter blurted, making him pause in confusion, "Dart told me. Took a bit of time for Yun to get used to working as a team. Didn't Go-Backs work in packs?"

"For certain ventures," he agreed quickly, "Big prey was hunted in groups, but not all participated in hunts like that. I've occasionally hunted in groups of two, but I've not worked with more than one other.

"You'll learn," Cutter insisted, leading the way, "I think you are good at rolling with whatever comes your way."

"I have a rotten temper and get frustrated too easily," he blurted, halting as Cutter turned to regard him, "None put up with me long. Why should you?"

The Wolfrider chief studied him for a long time. He stayed still under the scrutiny.

"That's it," Cutter hummed, making him blink, "That is your something. Chot, why did you not mention this before? Did you think that you'd be abandoned or left out for being who you are by nature?"

"Don't speak on what you don't know about," he snarled, turning to stomp back to the palace, "Thanks for the offer of food, but I'm fine."

He heard the wolf chief call for him to stop, but he didn't. He heard Jethel call to him as he shoved past to get to his room, but he didn't stop. He crawled directly into his bed after dropping his spear to the floor and turned his back despite knowing that Jethel had followed him.

"Brother, what is wrong?" Jethel asked, sitting next to him despite his back facing the other, "You are upset."

"I'm not," he denied quickly, rolling over, "I'm tired and ended up not hunting after all. I'm just a bit worn out today and in another bad-poking mood. Sorry to shove past you."

"You are not being truthful," Jethel voiced, "You never come down to eat with everyone. You stay in here too much. I can see you're not eating right. I'm worried, Chot."

That was not what he wanted. He was upsetting his adopted brother. How do you voice the truth? How do you say that there is no place for you among the others? How do you tell one who sees you as family that it is time for you to leave?

"Jethel, I'm just a bit out of sorts," he explained, "The palace feels strange and you know that I don't do well with magic about."

"Come stay in the Father Tree."

He and Jethel looked up to see Cutter framed in the doorway.

"I couldn't stay here all the time either," Cutter continued, "You have many worried for you, Chot. I should have seen that you needed out of the palace. Come stay within the holt. It will feel more like the lodges that you are used to."

"Yes," Jethel agreed, looking so relieved, "Let's tree together, Brother. I feel stifled in here too. Won't that be better?"

"Aye," he offered, feeling a bit lighter at the idea of being able to work out all of his thoughts away from the palace, "I'd like that better."

It was a bit funny to see how quickly Jethel grabbed up his "brother's" belongings and jerked him from the room. Cutter exchanged an amused look with him as the younger elf led the way. He was surprised to feel the Wolfrider's lock-send

-He worries for you, Chot.-

-I know. I'm truthfully not trying to worry anyone. My mind just won't stop and I'm poking worn.-

-Come eat and then get some rest. You can work through your thoughts better out of the palace.-

It did feel good to fill his belly. It also felt good to sit among Cutter's tribe and laugh at the silly story that Pike was telling. It felt almost like old times within his tribe. The pang that he'd never feel this way among his old tribe again made him sigh.

"Come," Jethel urged, pulling at his arm, "Let's go get some sleep. The sun will be rising soon and you've looked tired for a few days."

"Have I?" he inquired, allowing himself to be led along, "Do you even know where we are staying within this bush?"

"Tree," Jethel chortled, "I do know because Cutter sent me the location when you started looking like you were about to nod off. You're tired, Brother. Let's rest."

He did sleep well. Much better than he had since his arrival. No dreams. Just blessed, deep sleep. He blinked awake to see Jethel watching him with a worried face.

"What's wrong?" he yawned out as Jethel sat back looking relieved.

"Two days, Chot," Jethel huffed, making him startle, "You've slept deeply for two whole days. Leetah said that you were weary in spirit as well as body and needed the rest. I've been worried sick."

"You bet we have been," a familiar voice growled as Yun stuck her head into the den, "You scared the grease out of us, Chot."

Yun. His tribemate from the Go-Backs was worried. About him? Really? The thought was surprising.

"Chot?" Yun called as he blinked back to focus on her, "What is going on with you? You're not yourself."

"I'm not quite awake," he tried, deflecting that his mind had wandered, "I can tell you that I'm poking starving. Got any food on you?"

"Now that sounds like you, Brother," Jethel grinned out, handing him his furs and leathers, "Yun and I will go get some food together. Dress warm. The weather is pretty…never mind. You're a Go-Back. We'll be right back."

He snorted as he rose to dress. The air within his den was chilly. Probably snowed some more which was why he was eating here instead of outside. Jethel and Yun returned quickly and he gorged on some dried meat and fresh bread.

"Shenshen made that for you," Yun pointed out as he raised an eyebrow in surprise, "She's been worried too."

"Ah," he breathed, munching on the treat, "Tell her 'thank you' for me."

"Why don't you tell her?" Jethel asked as he glanced at the younger elf, "Chot, why are you avoiding us?"

"I'm not," he denied quickly before growing silent for a moment, "Am I?"

"You're scaring me," Jethel confessed, making him blink, "Are you sick? What is going on, Brother?"

How to answer? What to say? He had no clue.

"Chot?" Yun called once again before giving him a shake, "Chot, answer Jethel. Are you sick? Chot? Jethel, go get Leetah. Something is wrong."

Wrong. Nothing was wrong with him, was there? He needed to stop Jethel from getting the healer, but speaking was too much. He was so tired. He knew Yun was talking, but he just didn't care anymore.

To be continued…