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The Mountain Path

Chapter Text

Through the valley and beyond the trees were the sounds of laughter and crying. A father ran playfully, and a son yelled after him sprinting, as fast as his little legs could carry him.

Fast as he was, snufkin could not catch up. The little panic in his chest was unabated and forthcoming, it could only be considered little because it was just enough panic to fill his entire heart, and his body was in fact quite small.

"Papa! please!" Snufkin cried as loud as he could, but his father didn't slow down. he felt like he couldn't call quite loud enough, and his father would continue running without ever having noticed Snufkin's lagging behind. Then snufkin would be lost in the valley, without a father. forever.

"Daddy stop! please!" Snufkin wheezed, barely above his normal speaking voice. His father laughing loudly, full of life, nearly skipping as he traveled further ahead. Snufkin tripped and fell.

He wailed with a hoarse voice then, so scared and tired.

Suddenly a warm hand encompassed Snufkin's back, he looked up at his father's sympathetic face and wailed with new found vigor. The bright sun touched his cheeks and made his fat tears warm as they dribbled downwards.

The Joxter smiled sadly and cocked his head to the side, "I was only playing, sweet little one"

Snufkin wailed a little louder.

You see, the little boys father was in the bad habit of continuing a joke long beyond any true sense of humor. To a child, this could become, at times, distressing. Just as it was as Snufkin grabbed onto his father as hard as he could, with all his little strength. He wrapped his little arms around the man's neck and scrambled for a hold in his father's hair.

The Joxter laughed sadly then, and hugged his son back, cooing and leaving soft kisses on the little boys cheek. He seemed to admit to himself that perhaps he had gone a bit far. The father was a sly and lazy man, he seemed almost too lazy to end a joke because it would take too much effort of him. This had always worked in the past with little issue, or if there was issue it wasn't any that he had had to care for. But the addition of a small boy with a wobbling lower lip and an endless well of tears was new and uncharted territory. It had made him think twice on many occasions about the quality of his tricks.

Perhaps pretending to run away from a baby was a bad idea, The Man thought briefly as he picked his son off the ground and held him to his chest.

Snufkin’s shoulders stuttered as he tried to suppress his own crying, an act that he abandoned readily after his father quietly told him ‘there there’ and to ‘let it all out’.
The father’s hands covered most of his son’s back, and that which was not covered was supported by his many sleeves and scarves. It was by all means too hot for little Snufkin, but there wasn't a chance that the boy would let go. The Joxter mulled silently how tiny his son was, something he did quite often when holding the child. Snufkin had grown very little in the time he had been apart from his mother, but he would no doubt go through some sort of growth spurt any day now.

The Joxter, upon learning of his child’s existence in a letter from his beloved Mymble, had returned to her and borrowed their son to travel. The boy had at first hissed and scratched, unaware of who The Joxter was, but his mother with her infinite kindness embraced the man and had therefore proven he was of some respectable character.
That was three months and three days from the current, and in that time Snufkin had grown fairly attached to his father. Terrible jokes and all. The Joxter found much of his own personality in his son, the boy disliked park keepers, spoke smoothly in most cases, and had a wanderlust to match. But the boy also had some of Mymble’s warmth, her approach, her acceptance of what could not be changed. Beyond all that Snufkin was also all his own, cut and dry, lovable and mysterious, a long winded old soul with wisdom that neither The Joxter himself nor Beloved Mymble hers’ seemed to possess.

And the boy hated swears.

He detested them to an almost comical degree. If there was anything to force Snufkin from The Joxters side, it was a ‘darn’ or a ‘shoot’ that would cause the boy to furrow his brow and storm off. Who he had inherited that from was anyone’s guess, because even Mymble in all her infinite love and kindness, was known to let loose a unwomanly word when she was given cause.

All such oddities bundled themselves into Snufkin, his quirks made him just that much more lovable to his father, despite the mans odd way of showing it. That wasn't to say that The Joxter wasn't forthcoming with his love, in fact he often grabbed Snufkin up to spin him around and embrace him randomly, much to his sons chagrin. It was only that The Joxter at times played with Snufkin like he was a bit older than he was, the man assumed certain wisdoms of the boy that he simply did not express. To himself, The Joxter made sense in his ways, he didn't see much wrong with conducting himself like he had since he was young. To Snufkin, his father was tricky to a fault, flighty, and at times downright rude.

The type of man who would scare a child by pretending to leave them behind, all the while laughing and skipping to himself.

In the defense of The Joxter, who’s previous defense had reflected quite poorly in his own eyes when held up to a light, he was not a bad person. The baseline was that he loved his son, he had not wanted to scare him that badly, he would never truly leave the boy alone, and he had nary a problem with holding his child while he cried. It seemed that in presenting a defense of the man as neutral as could be made, he didn't quite look like the best father, so it had to be said plainly; The Joxter had good intentions… at times.

You see it's just so hard to defend someone neutrally when they do things they are told not too.

“Snufkin..” The Joxter spoke softly, with a upward tilting note towards the last syllable, as if he were asking a question.

Snufkin, who had since ceased crying although his shoulders still shuddered, refused to look up at his father. Burying his rather large nose a little deeper in his fathers many scarves, Snufkin made only a little noise of affirmation. The sound caused little vibrations that seemed to travel to The Joxter’s heart.

‘Oops’ thought The Joxter again, reflecting for perhaps the fourth time that he had made a mistake. Although the guilt was digging at him just a bit, Snufkin’s father still wore a little smile and began to sway.

He rocked the boy in his arms and took in the valley. The grasses were no taller than his ankles, greenish yellow, and coarse. In the distance there was a town, behind him there was a forest, in the forest there was a river, beyond the river was a tent. Little orange flowers had begun to emerge from the ground in the week that they had been camping, signaling the beginning of summer. Of warm nights and hot days, singing bugs and swaying trees.

It wasn't a valley that Snufkin would come to know, mind you, only a small stop on a long journey. There are more valleys in the world than just the one.

“If I were to lose you-” The Joxter began to sing, his tired son groaned pitifully in his arms, “I'd be a four leafed clover. For you see I'd be over, picked in October.”

The song didn't make much sense, for the joxter was only making it up on the spot. Not only that he had no singing voice, despite or perhaps in spite, the man sang anyway.

“If I were to lose you! I'd be a fly in a forest, bane of a florist, for you see I'd be gather-ring rust!”

He continued on like that as they departed into the forest, his voice became scratchy but he still sang. He was drawn to all things you mustn't do, and his son had begged him relentlessly to stop, so there was that.

It was perhaps midday at that point, or a little bit later. The two mumrik’s had been playing most of the day away, and before that they had made a small trip into the town. They had done so only to see the sights, for the people, both father and son had decided, were very annoying. young men and women made little passes at The Joxter, although he shut them down quite readily. All the attention had given Snufkin the urge to be all by himself. which was another thing,

Snufkin quite liked to be all by his lonesome, frequently he wandered a bit from their tent in the middle of the night just to walk and to be alone. It was similar to his father’s urges but different, Snufkin could be overwhelmed by nearly anyone at a moments notice. The Joxter chalked it up to his sons young age, although the man found it odd that snufkin tired of even him for he had never once tired of Snufkin.

Snufkin’s father took no offense though, he remembered being perhaps a bit exaggerated in his own youth, and regardless of if Snufkin never grew out of it, his father would love him unconditionally. Either way, Snufkin had no desire for distance as his father walked them back to their small campsite. He had not even wanted to let go as his father attempted to start a fire. The Joxter, being a bit of a dubious parent, started the fire with his son attached to him anyways.

“Snufkin dear, could you please get the bowls?” The joxter tried.

Snufkin shook his head no, and his father huffed fondly. certainly the child had to let go at some point, his father couldn't exactly do everything safely with him attached. not that The Joxter was a stickler for safety, honestly, he had started a whole fire with a child hanging off his neck. it was simply that the more you did dangerous things the more likely you were to injure your two and a half year old son.

“Ah that's too bad, I fear without food I will waste away forever..” The Joxter sighed forlornly.

“whatever liar.” Snufkin said.

The Joxter’s eyebrow twitched fairly involuntarily and he found himself huffing significantly less fond. Weren't those types of things supposed to work on children? how could one child be smart and ignorant at the same time? smart mouthed more like.

“Now I simply fear you are doing this to spite me.” The Joxter let his hands fall to his sides as he deadpanned. His tone turned a bit sardonic.

Snufkin didn't grace that with an answer, the child only rubbed his face back and forth into his fathers scarves. like a burrowing animal, rather than an animal that walked upright with the decency for clothes. The Joxter did not want to say he was acting like a pest in both mannerism and spirit but he was acting like a pest in both mannerism and spirit.
The Joxter sighed and steeled himself before prying snufkin off of him, much to his despair Snufkin let out a singular pitiful cry then curled in on himself like a pill bug. ugh. seriously. The Joxter quashed the guilt inside him that threatened to drown him like a wet rat and laid snufkin’s pill bug performance down close to the fire.

The older man then walked over to his pack and retrieved two wooden bowls, lovingly carved and imperfect. One's bottom was very thin, and could burn the sensitive palms of one’s hands, the other was unevenly carved and had notches covering it do to inexperienced carving. The first was smaller than the second, though it belonged to The Joxter his self. The plan had been after seeing snufkin's poor attempt, The Joxter would give his son a better version, but he had accidentally made a bowl that wasn't really usable for a child. oops. at least his looked nice, and it was usable for his own weathered paws, it was only Snufkin who's pink palms were too soft and weak.

The Joxter returned to his sons tantrum to find it unchanged, the child had not moved an inch. Such a thing was secretly a relief to a parent, despite snufkin's sorry state. While his often wandering was expected it was no less worrying to wake in the night and find your one and only child missing.

“You'll feel much better after eating my dear, would you help grab the food we gathered?” The Joxter spoke with a soft tone.

“M’not hungry.” Snufkin lied quite obviously.

The Joxter fought not to put his hands on his hips, and instead remained sympathetic. He nodded his head and mumbled something about Snufkin's appetite, then began to cook a stew in the pot over their fire. It smelled very good to the Joxter’s credit, not that it didn't always. You didn't tend to live as a wanderer and not become a good cook. Out of the corned of his eyes The Joxter could see Snufkin uncurl and peak over at the pot. He smiled to himself at the idea of a new joke he could try. it seemed his common sense was overridden by the pieces of him that said ‘do it’ as those pieces of him were very influential. Snufkin padded softly up behind his father and gripped a pant leg, no longer hiding his interest in the good smell.

“oh! snufkin, sweet child. are you hungry?” The Joxter feigned surprise.

Snufkin nodded his head yes and reached his arms up to his father. At the end of those arms were hands that made little grabbing motions, as if to say. ‘please pick me up’. The Joxter pretended not to see and turned back to his food, “That's a shame, since you said you weren't hungry, I only made enough for one of us!”

There was a beat of silence, and then.

Snufkin began wailing again.

The Joxter cursed himself briefly, he hadn't expected such an emotional response out of the boy. Maybe some whining at most! His son was not often this, well, sobby. Usually the boy was only cross with The Joxter in quiet ways, it seemed he was in some type of mood recently.

The man swiftly grabbed snufkin up in his arms again and rocked him back and forth in an attempt to placate him, “Sorry! I was only making a joke, there's more than enough for us both little one!” He smiled a pinch nervously.

Snufkin was completely tuckered out, he didn't attempt to quell his cries, allowing them to rock him further into exhaustion. The father swayed with his son until the tears nearly dried up, then held snufkin an arms length away from him to get a look.

Snufkin's face was red and splotchy, his eyes were puffy and his nose was running. The Joxter made a drawn out patronizing little ‘ohh’ noise and brought the child back to his chest.

“Come on Snufkin, sweet thing, you really will feel better after you eat.” The joxter said and sat down with his son on his lap.

From their seats he dished up two bowls of stew and began to eat. Snufkin seemed to tired and upset to even lift the bowl to his lips, and stared down at it with exhausted eyes. The Joxter sighed and put his bowl down to pick up his sons, raising it to the boys lips.

Snufkin pouted a bit in annoyance and looked away, The Joxter could guess what he was thinking. ‘I am old enough to feed myself thank you!’ ‘then do it!’ he thought back.
The Joxter hummed in thought then bent at the hips to lay a loud kiss on his son's cheek, making the boy gasp in offense. In that time The Joxter tilted the bowl up to Snufkin's mouth feeding the boy anyways. Snufkin seemed outwardly very disgruntled, although The Joxter knew his son well enough to understand what he felt most was hungry.
The Joxter titled the bowl back to equilibrium and let Snufkin chew the potatoes and little bits of fish in his mouth. After the boy swallowed he opened his mouth to say something snarky so the Joxter just tipped the bowl back again.

Mumriks grew quite quickly, and matured nearly to match, so The Joxter had never had a very long amount of time to baby his son. He had fed Snufkin before, when they began traveling together. He used to open his mouth and go ‘ahhh’ even when there was no food around. It had just meant he had been hungry.

The Joxter remembered these times and tilted his head with fondness, he couldn't help but reflect on how adorable Snufkin was. So this opportunity was pleasant for The Joxter, and he decided to feed Snufkin his whole bowl, much to the annoyance and grudging acceptance of his son.

The Joxter turned back to his own meal which had cooled considerably. He didn't mind that, and only watched as Snufkin debated on getting seconds. His father would no doubt attempt to feed him the second bowl as well and Snufkin would not be sure if he could survive the embarrassment of such a thing twice.

In his moments of deliberation a surge of affection happened upon The Joxter, as it did at times. He smiled and scooped Snufkin up in a hug, which the young child spoke out against vehemently. None of the protest succeeded in making the father release his son, instead he rubbed his scratchy face against his child. Snufkin whined about the feeling while The Joxter put his nose to the crown of his head and inhaled.

“Eugh! why?” Snufkin batted at his father.

“Because I love you.” The Joxter said against his forehead, then gave him a kiss in the same place that caused Snufkin to shut his eyes comically hard.

Everything was a little bit softer after that, the light began to fall below the ground and Snufkin had begun the process of nodding off just so. The Joxter himself was chronically lazy and could barely be trusted to pack up a tent after it had been put down, so at times to save the trouble he didn't even put the tent down in the first place. This night was not one of those times, although the tent wasn’t perfectly pitched.

No, The Joxter simply hid the food high up in a tree, covered it and packed together the rest of their things. He would wash the bowls in the river the next day, he decided, but at that point he simply scooped up his son and placed the child in the tent.

The Joxter brushed some hair out of Snufkin’s eyes and let his paws smooth down the crinkles between his eyes. An unconscious smile played out across his lips as he repeated the motion, that time feeling his child’s soft cheeks. The Joxter held one palm on Snufkin's cheek and snuggled his own face to the other, causing the child to complain about the scratchiness.

The Joxter remembered being a bit furrier when he was Snufkin’s age, it seemed his son took after his Beloved Mymble in that aspect. Smooth, very smooth. Other than his ears, paws, and tail, Snufkin was a bit like a Mymble. Not that mymbles didn't have tails or paws at times, The Joxter supposed he was generalizing a bit.

After more complaints, The Joxter went to sit by the fire and watched it until it died down a good amount. He watched it pop as the crickets sang around him, he hummed his little impromptu song again mindlessly. It became truly dark out and The Joxter curled up into a little ball near the fire, his eyes felt heavy so he looked away from the curling flames.
He felt a little weight dip onto his back and looked up, no surprise to see Snufkin there, kneading his paws. It seemed it was a rare night where Snufkin would rather be with someone rather than alone. The Joxter smiled and turned on his back, grabbing his son close to himself. He wrapped Snufkin in his scarves until all that was hanging out was the boys toes and his nose. Then, The joxter turned and curled again, this time around Snufkin, shielding the child from the forest. The Joxter pressed his lips to Snufkin’s forehead again but said nothing, only held the boy there until they both fell asleep next to the useless tent and the dying fire.

Chapter Text

The Joxter was woken by a loud snap, which was in itself disturbing as he would most often wake long before anything got close enough to make a sound. Instinctively, he went to clutch Snufkin closer but found his hands simply grasp his empty scarves. The second of panic was all consuming, The Joxter drew in a small shaky breath and his eyes widened as he looked down towards his empty arms.

“Papa?” the boy quietly asked, Snufkin had an air of guilt, most likely at waking his father

His foot was raised above a broken stick, frozen in time, a testament to his guilt.

The Joxter released his breath steadily and rubbed a hand against his eyes, attempting to remove the hazy sleepy feeling from his mind. He really should have known, but his mind had been dull and sharp at the same time, and it said ‘panic’ so he had obliged it.

“Snufkin sweet thing, good morning,” The Joxter said as he went back to sleep.

Snufkin huffed neutrally, he wasn't really and early riser but he still woke up at a reasonable time. Nevertheless, there really was no waking his father up, any attempts would get him grabbed and stuffed under his father’s scarves. Snufkin cleaned up the campsite for yet another morning, picking up the bowls with hardened food as well as the stilts that held the metal pot above the embers and taking them down to the river. On the way over, Snufkin found a snail. He smiled and took one finger to gently caress it's shell, the snail scrunched up and left little trails in the absence of its body. The shell was thin, snufkin didn't know how it was supposed to protect the snail from anything, and reserved to ask his father, but did no more than lightly tap the snail again. The boy moved on.

By the river there were frogs, none close enough to snufkin for him to touch as he had the snail, but still observable. They were small, their croaks were bright and sharp. Snufkin wondered what the difference between frogs and toads were, but he question didn't burn too adamantly in his mind. He was distracted by the fish, which had been small but not too small, swimming downstream.

Snufkin wished he had brought his fishing pole, what a shame, and they would no doubt be spooked away by his washing. Snufkin washed anyways, drying the items on his pant legs, for he had forgotten the cloth. Snufkin, for a moment, admired the fish, they could swim nearly anywhere after all. And then Snufkin stopped admiring them, because they were river fish, and they could not swim anywhere after all. They must have thought they could swim anywhere, but they only swam with each other and the only swam to the same places each point in any given year. Snufkin sighed a bit as the wandering feeling made its way in his heart again, causing the child to pick up the items and move aimlessly.
The child did not mind towns, but many towns looked very much the same, they had the same stores, same people, same attitudes. There were some wonderful stand outs, but there was no need to visit such places twice. The forest though, there was a lot of that, and it was all very different, and it was lonely, which was something Snufkin prized above most everything else. The forest was quite constant, as was the ocean, and both were lovely places to escape.

Snufkin smelled something strange in the forest, if he were his father he might know what it was, but his own senses were more Mymble than Mumrik at times, or perhaps he was a Mumrik through and through and it was his father who was the odd one. Either way, he smelled something he had not quite smelled before, and the fact that he had begun to smell it meant that he was closer to it that he might like to be.

Snufkin, against reason, traveled a bit closer. Believing he would hear anyone before they heard him, but unfortunately it had not been a someone which he had smelled.

At that moment a rope closed around the child’s foot and hoisted him up causing the stilts and bowls to thump his chin before falling out of his grasp. He was high up now, but his brain had not caught up with him, perhaps it was still on the forest floor, confused and bewildered.

Snufkin felt the soreness of his chin and decided the emotion he would feel was annoyance. The rope had closed around one of his hands as well as both of his feet, but he did not panic. No Snufkin was only upset that he was caught indiscriminately, like a rabbit. How embarrassing, it caused his face to flush a bit. Snufkin saw he was suspended a good ways away from the trunk, and too low to reach the branch. He attempted to hoist himself higher on the rope, but fell back down, the rope pulling taut quite painfully. Snufkin looked down below at the forest floor, it looked much harder now that he was so far above it.

“I'll just have to cut the rope it seems…” the boy said quietly, unsure of himself.

Perhaps he could catch the trunk of the tree near halfway down, perhaps the ground was not as far as he had seen it. He had looked up at the branches not too long ago after all, and they hadn’t seemed dangerously high then. But now they did, and Snufkin hesitated to run his claws across the rope.

“Hello?” He called out, “You've caught me in your trap although I don't believe you've meant too”

Perhaps whoever was hunting was in the area, waiting to check their traps. When did people check their traps, Snufkin pondered, most likely at the end of a day. That settled it, Snufkin could not wait a full day to be cut down, he still had to clean up his and his fathers campsite, as The Joxter often told himself he would and yet never did.

“Hello!” Snufkin tried again, more annoyed this time.

Snufkin huffed to himself angrily and swiped at the rope, surprised to see his claws had done no damage. They were not dulled, at least not completely, so they should have been doing some sort of damage. Snufkin decided he had no applied himself quite fully and attempted for a second time. Low and behold, the rope did not budge.

“Ugh!” Snufkin was quite peeved, what type of animal did these hunters hope to catch?

Snufkin began to hack at the rope repeatedly, but he had only exhausted himself with very little damage to the rope. Very little was still more than none, Snufkin knew, so he would just have to continue at that pace should he want to make it back to his father before lunch. The problem was the soreness in his arms, so Snufkin began to bite and gnash at the rope. The twisting and curling left Snufkin more and more tired, and he had not even had breakfast.

How long had it been? Snufkin was beginning to think he might have to truly wait till dinner. He swiped again at the rope but in his exhaustion, missed fairly fully. Snufkin uncurled and hung downwards, trying to regain some strength. He was sweating and the sun had risen well into the sky by now, but Snufkin wanted to sleep. He wrestled with the pros and cons, did he want to keep working? Or wait till someone let him down? If only he had had his father’s knife with him. He didn't even understand why his father carried a knife, the mans claws we're much sharper than the metal anyways.

These thoughts rocked Snufkin to sleep slowly, the more questions popped up in his head, the heavier his eyes became. The child hung quite limply, arm stretched towards the ground.

And he woke at an agonized cry. Swiveling clumsily, Snufkin faced his father, whose face was ashen and dropped jaw covered by his paw. The man changed near instantaneously upon seeing Snufkin wake, his other hand clutched his scarves and his eyes widened and watered a bit.

“Snufkin, sweet child, what happened?” He sounded gutted.

“I got caught, the rope is too tough to cut though and I got tired.” Snufkin felt a bit too embarrassed to say sorry, so he hoped his tone conveyed it.

The Joxter seemed brought out of his stupor and he rushed over to the rope tied around the base of the tree and cut it in two swipes, although he seemed angry that he hadn’t been able to do so in just one. Snufkin cried out at the unexpected loss of altitude, reaching out in any direction searching for something to grasp. He was caught like a sack of sugar, although upside down. Quickly The Joxter righted him and held him at a distance, checking for injuries.

Only Snufkin's arm felt dead, he couldn't move it to shake the blood back into it because it had been restricted for so long. He said as much to his father and the man gave it a couple light slaps,“To return the blood flow” he said,

There were distinct rope marks on Snufkin’s ankles and his wrist, which The Joxter massaged with the pads of his paws. After doing so he brought the child back to his chest and Snufkin groaned internally. If his father had been this spooked there was no way the man would be letting him have any personal space all day. Snufkin did not enjoy scaring his father often, although the inverse was true of the other man, but he had done so before. Snufkin enjoyed swimming and fishing and had been swept away by a current before. The Joxter, with all his infinite hate of being cold and wet, dove in immediately although Snufkin didn't claim to be in any danger. The rest of the day the man traveled with all the supplies on his back and his son held against his neck.

Now would be no different, Snufkin reasoned, next time he would find it in himself to wander a little closer to his tent. The Joxter’s heart was beating wildly in his chest, Snufkin could feel it with his little palms, that were crushed past the scarves too his father’s dress.

“...papa?” Snufkin questioned.

His father seemed to snap out of whatever rumination he was trapped in, and began to walk briskly away from the trap. His father walked straight towards their tent rather than the roundabout way Snufkin had wandered. Snufkin wondered for a moment if his father had followed his scent to the stream after he had taken too long to return. Probably.

“I wasn't in danger you know.” Snufkin said calmly.

This seemed to be the wrong thing to say as The Joxter scoffed, Snufkin peeked up at his father's face despite the hand pressing him close. The Joxter’s brows were furrowed and his mouth was scrunched up.

“How can you even say such a thing, hanging there!” His voice was stern.

“I would have gotten down eventually, the same is true of you daddy.” Snufkin tried to reason.

“And if you hadn’t?” The Joxter’s fingers tightened, then more quietly he said, “If you hadn’t. And I had not come. Then what.” His voice seemed brittle and private.

They came up upon the back of a wooden sign, The Joxter in his curious nature stopped to face it once they had walked past. Snufkin could not quite see as his head was situated in the crook of his fathers neck. He only felt The Joxter stiffen and heard the man grind his teeth.

“Ill be back later.” He spoke lowly and turned with a fury.

As he walked away with angry foot falls and furrowed brows, Snufkin saw the words of the sign and felt a bitter taste in his mouth. The sign was painted white with red lettering, ‘all critters stay out, future park, violators will be collected by the end of the week.’ A park? How awful. The forest belongs to everyone, the construction of a park was nearly antithetical to that.

Snufkin was very hungry, he had almost forgotten, so as the thought hit his head it brought a painful pang with it. The child was not afraid to tell his father so, but speaking to a Joxter as angry as he was against the good knowledge of most, and Snufkin was unfortunately one who suffered in silence where his father might outwardly complain. There had been nights where he felt a little translucent over at his mother’s house, being one child out of so so many, it wasn't quite possible to be seen all the time.

In the time walking back to their tent Snufkin remembered leaving the stilts and the bowls where he had dropped them and made an audible ‘ah!’ In realization. By this time The Joxter hadn’t had such a fierce grip on his son to prevent the child from extending himself to propel his upper body away. Firm hands came up to Snufkin’s back to gently press him down again, which succeeded in pissing snufkin off more than anything else. The child did not fold back into his father, but leaned backwards to catch his father's attention.

“I dropped the bowls, over near the rope.” Snufkin said.

The Joxter pressed his hand harder, this time successfully pressing his son into his neck, causing a little ‘oof’ to come from the boy. Snufkin pursed his lips in annoyance and began to say something snarky before his father cut him off,

“I’ll be back to get them later, don't worry yourself dear thing.”

“I want to come with.” Snufkin muffled out.

The Joxter seemed to want to say no, perhaps two pieces of him were arguing with each other. His desire to protect his dearest child and his desire to have a kick ass time destroying a park with his dearest child. He couldn't quite discern which part of him was being unreasonable. Was he being too protective? Or perhaps bringing his son to a trap filled future park was the crazier part.

He did want to keep his son with him, there was no telling what Snufkin would get up too while The Joxter was gone. For that point, there was also the fact that Snufkin would likely tag along no matter what The Joxter said. Not that the Joxter didn't enjoy his sons likelihood to break rules. Rules were meant to be broken after all, The Joxter wasn't one to create rules in the first place either. Hm. What was he to do. What would his Beloved Mymble do?

She would also let Snufkin do as he pleased.

That didn't help at all, how was The Joxter supposed to know which was the better choice?

“The better choice is the one I choose.” The Joxter sighed heavily and said, “yes I suppose you may come with me, we'll do so under the cover of night.”

Snufkin seemed a little dully shocked at his father’s acceptance, and settled fully into the crook of the man’s neck. Until his stomach growled quite loudly.

The Joxter breathed in to make a joke at his son’s expense but before he got the chance, Snufkin dug his little sharp teeth into the skin of his fathers neck, causing the man to trip over his own feet and yowl. Snufkin let out little huffy aborted chuckles, the warm air of his breath coasted over his father's poor bite. The Joxter too, then smiled, and laughed deeply, his laugh was just like Snufkin’s, but more confident. It took up more space.

“How painful to be betrayed by my most darling child, Snufkin.” The man smiled over his name.

“I am your only child, papa.” Snufkin put the same emphasis on his words to mock his father.

“Yes and you are so sweet and dear to me, a piece of my heart is with you lovely child.” The Joxter ignored, or perhaps was endeared by, his sons teasing.

This brought another question to Snufkin’s mind, though he put it at the bottom of his mental list and instead asked another. So The Joxter and his son talked of snails until they had reached their tent, at that point The Joxter fed his son the rest of the leftovers, cold, as a punishment for wandering too far for too long. Such a punishment was ridiculous to Snufkin for he had traveled further and there was no way they could heat the food until they had retrieved the stilts from the park-to-be anyways. It seemed like his father was just playing some sort of trick.

Snufkin had been doing a lot of being carried in his past couple days, and at times was anxious to get back down on the forest floor. His father was once again the inverse, and held fast to Snufkin’s wiggling form. Snufkin concluded that he had only to wait his father's clingy spell. Certainly a parent couldn't be so attached to their child for their whole lives? No certainly not. As soon as snufkin grew up a little, his father wouldn’t feel so obligated to take care of him. Certainly.

For the rest of the day they snacked on berries and some bread that The Joxter had bought from the day previous. Joxter was excited despite himself. His anger was nearly overpowered by the glee of defacing another park, although due to it's unfinished state there most likely wouldn’t be much too it. Neither the Joxter nor his son wondered who it was who was building a park, it could’ve been the a townsperson or it could’ve been a Hemulan. That didn't matter much to them, the simply saw signs that said ‘do not cross’ and read them as dares.

This isn't to say he wasn't angry. No he was enraged. They hadn’t even put up a fence and they were still attempting to punish forest creatures for ‘trespassing’ it was disgraceful. Plus the fact that they had hurt his son, which was the main source of his anger. He was also angry that he was even angry in the first place, it wasn't an emotion he cared to have. It all balled up into a little package that he decided he would deliver to them personally.

And yet the anger gave way to fear again, as The Joxter let himself remember what it had looked like. his son, sweaty and pale, hanging limply upside down with a single arm reaching downwards. An image that had before only persisted in his nightmares brought to life with terrifying realism. The Joxter knew he had suffocated his son enough for the day, but the fear in his heart urged him to pick Snufkin up again and hold him close.

He resisted that. Snufkin was drawing lines in the dirt of snails and frogs, no reason to bother him. Especially not when he was right in front of The Joxter, no danger in sight.
And yet... The Joxter picked his son up while the child was mid snail, causing Snufkin to flail and strike out with his stick, catching The Joxter in the thigh. The man sat in the dirt with his son between his legs. with both hands around his son’s stomach, The Joxter motioned to the forest floor again. Hesitantly, Snufkin began scratching more pictures into the ground, this time conserving more of the space he had due to his now limited reach. The child began to trace a circle, it became a head with a hat on it. The Joxter smiled till his eyes crinkled.

“I think I like this one the most, sweet heart.” The Joxter spoke in a private tone.

Snufkin, rather than calling The Joxter on his obnoxious attitudes, tucked his head into his shoulders. The Joxter made a noise of surprise and bent at the hip to see a glaring blush coating his child’s face. The Joxter laughed then, not unkindly, and rubbed his son’s stomach a bit.

“It's wonderful work, little love, won't you finish it?” The Joxter prompted.

Snufkin nodded and returned to his drawing with a more steady hand now, it seemed to be of more import. At times, the child was very eager to accept compliments from his father. He was more likely to accept them if the source came more from his accomplishments rather than his childish inadequacies.

The drawing looked very good to Snufkin, he was fairly proud as he laid down on the thigh of his father to allow the man a better look. The Joxter was tempted to say he’d seen better, if only for the part of himself that told him not too under any circumstances, for once though, he acted like a normal fucking person.

“It's me isn't it, my darling?” Joxter asked

Snufkin nodded sleepily against his father, little hands grasping at his pants.

“I think you've captured my likeness. Would you draw a little you next to me so I'm not lonely?” The Joxter petted his son’s hair.

A high pitched yawn could be heard coming from the younger, but he nodded again and began to work on the ground next to his previous drawing. The Joxter grinned a bit mischievously now, it would seem that he could probably tucker Snufkin out without having to bring the child into anywhere incredibly dangerous. Which was honestly almost a shame.

The Joxter’s smile faded and he worried the scruff of his face, hadn't he wanted to bring Snufkin? So they could bond over destroying a park-to-be? Hm. Would it even be fair to bring along a sleepy child? probably not. The Joxter found himself slightly disappointed, despite somehow getting his way.

While the Joxter pondered, Snufkin had since begun to rest on his father again, this time his eyes were too heavy to open back up. The Joxter looked down at his son, who had begun to drool a bit as well, and sighed with no particular emotion. The man picked his son up with minimal fuss and deposited the child in the tent, tying it off, then making his way back towards the park to be.

The muted feeling of mischief came back in full, The Joxter felt like a quiet piece of him began to yell. His small smile became a terrible jagged grin, The Joxter came upon the sign he had walked past previously and uprooted it with a single, violent, pull.

Chapter Text

The Joxter and his child left quite quickly after that, as one often did after committing an illegal act. After trotting a good half days away from the scene of the crime, The Joxter let his son down to walk by himself. An act that Snufkin appreciated greatly as he had been annoyed on and off by the doting of his father. Snufkin was only made to carry a few things in his backpack, though The Joxter had pondered once or twice adding some blankets just to make the child more used to traveling. Regardless, Snufkin had energy enough to run forward a good ways and explore while waiting for his father to catch up.

The Joxter had at one time had a stringed instrument, but as a vagabond such things were left behind often. He almost yearned to play something now, maybe a tune to match his Song for Snufkin, or maybe just to mess around. Snufkin had never had a chance to inherit a good singing voice, as neither The Mymble nor The Joxter were standouts, but he could pick up instruments quite well when given the chance. The Joxter considered picking up an instrument again, perhaps a guitar, something with strings.

Snufkin stopped ahead of The Joxter and bent down to look at something, behind a bush, obscuring the child from his father. The Joxter did not change his pace, he only walked with an air of amusement until he once again caught up to his child.

“What is it you've found, wild thing?” He asked.

Snufkin looked up with that subdued look in his eyes, vaguely curious. He held up a beetle with the most gentle grasp he could muster, it's back facing his father.
The beetle was chromatic and green, with purple undertones and swirling glints of pink. It's little feet wiggled wildly, clearly the gentleness Snufkin had practiced did nothing to soothe the creature.

“Very nice, Sweet Snufkin, although some things prefer to be admired without being touched.” The Joxter stated, getting a good look at the bug.

“Oh oops. Sorry.” Snufkin spoke to the beetle as he released it.

The beetle instantly drew its wings and flitted away, it's bulky body did nothing to hinder it's escape. Snufkin watched it unblinkingly, admiring it, this time without touching.

Many assumed The Joxter to be someone who took what he wanted and did all manner of terrible things, but in truth there was a method to his madness. While things that one should not do enticed him, there was a difference between what people tell you not to do and what people ask you not to do. At times this could interlace, in the past, his old friend The Muddler had told The Joxter not to hide his buttons, this could be interpreted as asking and yet guess what The Joxter had done anyways. This was because many times when a large number of people ask for something not to happen that thing becomes something you should not do. So it ended up case by case many times, a bug preferred not to be touched, but that didn't mean you should not touch it.

There was also the fact that The Joxter wanted to nurture a sense of kindness in Snufkin, to himself and also others. Yet also a sense of justice, which at times required you to hurt the feelings of others. Parenting was odd, The Joxter believed, and he preferred to allow Snufkin to come into his own right.

Snufkin ran ahead again, The Joxter brought himself upright at a lazy pace and walked forward.

They walked for the whole rest of the day, but set up no tent at night. The Joxter only picked up his son and kept walking, for he was not in the mood to stop. Snufkin didn't not fall asleep easily, he was restless despite having walked through half of the day. Tossing and turning was not easy while sleeping in someone else’s arms, so he played a word game with The Joxter until it grew mind numbing, then laid in silence. He would be cranky the next day, The Joxter knew, but decided to keep walking anyways.

On their next day of traveling Snufkin was cranky indeed, he struggled from his father's grasp and hit the ground running. The Child said nothing, but ran further before waiting for his father to catch up. Snufkin had never been one to burst out in a fit, again he was one to suffer in silence. The sun had risen a small amount over the horizon when The Joxter sat down for breakfast. He found a nice log to sit on and opened the bag that he had been collecting berries in. Whistling out, The Joxter called for his son, who didn't answer with words but called out to let himself be known. The Joxter shook his head and put a furry hand under his chin, and thought about where they we're going next. He hadn’t thought he would encounter a park at the last campsite.

Surely those towns people who had enjoyed his company so, had had no idea of who he truly was. Had they known he was The Joxter, they would probably have known his family was at war with all park keepers. They might have been less fond of him then. It was odd to have a reputation that proceeded you, it wasn't something that The Joxter particularly minded, but he never found himself quite enjoying it either.

Snufkin did not like it, to be known was unpleasant to him. He did not like to be seen by people and hid in his father's scarves when the situation called for it. That wasn't to say he way shy, he was just private.

The Joxter called for his son again, “If you come too late I won't have berries left for you, dear heart!”

Snufkin called back in a monosyllable noise again, this time further away.

The Joxter did not particularly want to move from his log, a nice patch of sun had fallen on the place, he had a desire to curl up and lay. He would like even more to share it with his son, but the child was a free spirit, and The Joxter disliked discipline.

Ah. But manipulation was quite easy.

“Snufkin sweet thing, I'm having trouble on deciding where to travel next! Could you be a dear and lend wisdom?” He called.

This time there wasn't a reply, The Joxter waited with his ears trained. The forest was a little stiller for a moment, before the sounds of scurrying made their way towards him. Snufkin burst through the bushes and slowed to a walk, approaching his father. The Joxter patted a nice warm spot in the sunlight, and motioned for the child to come sit. Snufkin did, and The Joxter began, “We're to come upon a decision soon, love, I know not whether we should chance the mountains or travel along the river.”

In truth, it did not matter which way they went, they were wanderers and choices had little consequence. It was only one or the other, no matter The Joxter’s preference to an easier journey. The destination mattered very little in the grand scheme of things, they were in search of the experiences to come. That didn't mean Snufkin was not eager to prove himself to his father.

The boy pondered a bit, the decision meant much more to him than it did to The Joxter. To Snufkin the question required quite a bit of thought, on which would be more fun, which would be safer, which would be more pleasant, which would be a challenge. In the end, he remembered the river fish and chose the mountains.

“Not the river.” Snufkin said after much thought.

“Ah I was thinking the same thing, dearest, I'm happy you could affirm my choice! I already feel much better about it.” The Joxter smiled and tapped his chin in a display of thought, "While you're here Snufkin, smart thing, wouldn’t you like to eat breakfast?”

“I suppose.” Snufkin spoke softly.

The Joxter opened up his bag again and allowed his child to reach in and messily grab a handful of blackberries, blueberries, and a single strawberry. While The Joxter might toss them in his mouth indiscriminately, Snufkin picked off leaves and stems. They had all ripened considerably since being picked, they probably all had to be eaten at that very meal. A father stared out into the forest, cataloging the light and how it fell choppily onto the forest floor, cut up like an angel chain, as far as he could see. The son looked at his father, seeing the way his face changed based on the way the light cast itself.

Snufkin reached for his father’s hat, an old ratty thing with more notches than it had seen years, burgundy with a odd circle of flowers, the brim was wide and steady. It was perfect for The Joxter, who looked away from the forest and down at his son.

“Would you like to see it, dear heart?” He asked.

“Yes.” Snufkin answered simply, with a neutral tone.

“Why’s that?” The Joxter smiled in that way that made his eyes crinkle.

“I would like too.” Snufkin said, believing it to convey all he needed.

The Joxter accepted this easily and laid his hat on his son’s head, righting it when it fell a little low. His fussing didn't amount to much as the hat fell forward over Snufkin’s face regardless. The child put his hands on either side of the large hat and tilted it back, not letting go or else it would only end up the same way.

Snufkin looked back up at his father, the man's eyes were no longer covered by shade, and he looked a little less mysterious to Snufkin then. His smile didn't seem to be private anymore, his eyes were much bluer in the sun. His hat hair was a mess, it stuck up in odd places.

“You look very serious, wild thing, I feel as though you've grown before my eyes.” The Joxter smiled softly, tilting his head just so.

“You look silly. Papa.” Snufkin struggled to say anymore.

His father laughed loudly then, slapping his knee and closing his eyes in delight. He ran a hand through his hair before placing it back down between them. The man sighed as though it was an honest moment of catharsis, letting the tension that had built up inside of him without his knowledge pass.

“You should have your own hat Snufkin, they suit you well.” The Joxter spoke a bit dreamily, and did not add any ‘sweet ones’ or ‘dearest things’ to his statement.

The change had not been lost on Snufkin, who in a moment of uncertainty spoke, “I love you. Daddy.”

The Joxter turned to him and smiled, “I love you. Snufkin.”

And it was true.

Before they set out for the mountains they would be traveling along the river anyways, and The Joxter decided it was a wash day. Not for himself of course, he was perfectly fine washing himself the way The Joxter ought to have done. Snufkin preferred the river. It was odd, he almost preferred it to a bath. Not to say he did not like baths, they were fine when the opportunity arose. Even The Joxter had no special distaste for bathing, so long as the water was warm and the day was warmer, he would be fine for it.

At the risk of becoming too off topic it could be said that water was a complex relationship. The point was that Snufkin was trusted to do his own washing, the only way The Joxter would wash him was with his tongue, and how Snufkin despised that. They set down a blanket beside the river bank, on the edge of the grasses, Snufkin sat in front of his father with his arms up.

The Joxter unbuttoned the back of Snufkin’s dress, one button at a time, though they were tricky little things. While his dress was free flowing, it was near impossible for Snufkin to get out of by his own. The sleeves and the neck we're secured snugly, purposefully so that little wild children could not take off their clothes. Not that Snufkin had much of a problem with that, he would jump in a river whether or not his father could stop him to take off his clothes first.

After undressing, Snufkin ran down to the river, tripping on the last step and falling fully in. The Joxter watched neutrally as his son popped his head up out of the water, looked around as if to see who pushed him, then traveled further into the stream. Snufkin was more careful now not to swim into the deeper parts, as they could sweep you away without your noticing.

The Joxter’s eyes were trained on Snufkin’s small form, his dirty hair wading in the shallows. After a sufficient amount of watching, The Joxter turned to the mountains and thought about what might come. He laid down in the sun, curled up into a ball, and stared silently.

“Papa!” Snufkin called after a while.

The Joxter turned his head lazily towards the river, where Snufkin had emerged back onto the banks. The child was sopping wet, his hair clinging to him with water falling down into a puddle at his feet. In his hands, a fish, about as big as The Joxter’s shoe, suspended above his head. The Joxter smiled and clapped as his son ran up to him, depositing the fish in the grass next to their blanket. Before he could ask his son if he was done yet, Snufkin ran back down to the river banks and waded back to the shallows. It was likely he had scared off any more fish, but Snufkin was eager to make his father proud.

The man hummed and retrieved a wooden board from his back back, he began to cut the fish with his claws, gutting it. The smell of blood was fairly potent, not that it had any effect on The Joxter. He was sure in his short long life, he had probably smelled much worse.

Hours passed and The Joxter had bagged up the fish, washed the board, and packed all but the blanket back up. Snufkin was still playing in the river, though he had not caught anymore fish. A bee floated lazily through the man's fingers, he found himself chastising it.

“If all your life is to work then it's hardly a life at all you know.”

The bee said nothing, so the man began to hum a new song for the busy bee, one he would surely annoy Snufkin with later.

“Snufkin, water lily, would you like to be wet as we travel the mountain?” The Joxter called down.

“There aren’t any water lilies here.” Snufkin called back up.

“Are you sure? I see one with big brown eyes.” The Joxter shifted in his stomach and spoke with a smile in his voice, “you did not answer my question Snufkin, lovely child.”

“No.” The child spoke with a nearly imperceivable whine.

“Then you’ll want to come dry in the sun, won't you?” He asked.

“Perhaps.” Snufkin said, only to be a pest.

A warm breeze coasted under The Joxter’s hat, through his hair. He breathed it in and turned again on his back, shifting the article over his eyes to block out the sun. He listened for the sound of Snufkin shaking the water off himself and running up the hill through the short grass.

“Help me get into my clothes now please. I want to start traveling.” Snufkin said, tapping his father's knee with a wet hand.

The Joxter frowned at the wetness, but only peaked out from under his hat, “So that you can get your dress and pants soggy?” He asked.

Snufkin pulled a face, “I don't want to sit here and do nothing right now, I'm not in the mood.”

“Come now, dear child, lay down for a while in the sun.” The man began to sing.

Snufkin did not lay, he ran away through the grass and chased butterflies. The Joxter had been the same way when he was young, though now he could appreciate a good lazy nap in the sun no matter how he felt otherwise. And he was guessing that Snufkin was only half not in the mood to lay down, half cross at having to get out of the river. Eventually, as the child saw his father was unchanged by the rowdiness, Snufkin laid down next to his father. Moving every once in awhile when the wet spot under him became uncomfortable. Snufkin crawled partially underneath his father’s hat, causing The Joxter to hold it over them both as he turned his head to face Snufkin.

“Hullo my dear.” He said.

“It's too hot.” Snufkin posited, rubbing his shoulders.

Ah, that was right, Snufkin was not covered in hair like his father was, the boy was fairly susceptible to sunburns. Especially when he was entirely naked save bloomers, laying out in the sun.

“Oh poor thing,” The Joxter said not unkindly, “here you are.” And he took his hat off, depositing it once again over Snufkin.

Snufkin sat up so that the shade could cover him all, the hat fell down over his head again but he made no move to adjust it. The Joxter retrieved Snufkin’s clothes, which would be washed the next time they came across a town, for they had run out of soap. Suddenly an idea happened upon The Joxter, and he took out a clunky camera from his back pack. the thing was not long for this world, it would have to be fixed or simply left behind.

“Snufkin, little love, look up here.” He said and took a picture.

The picture, as he shook it, developed into a scene of snufkin, knees drawn to his chest, holding the hat just above his eyes. The Joxter was pleased with it and put it in a special pocket in his backpack. He then helped Snufkin into his little pants and buttoned up his tiny dress.

Even after they we're ready to go, The Joxter lazed in the sun. Snufkin accepted that they would be traveling by dark, it was possible they might even climb the mountain in the night. It was hardly a problem to do so as both father and son could see quite well in the dark anyways. It just puzzled Snufkin that his father so often preferred to travel in the cold and sleep in the warm.

Snufkin had not yet traveled with his father in the winter and did not know how the man preferred to travel then. Supposedly, from the stories he had been told, snufkin knew that The Joxter traveled to warmer places in the winter and fall, as some Mumrik did. But The Joxter had been with his mother, The Mymble, in cold months before, and it wasn't quite possible to always outrace the winter seasons when traveling.

“What do you do, when summer turns fall?” Snufkin asked, peaking up at his father.

“What do I do? Or what do you do.” His father replied.

“You.”

“Well I move, dear one, same as all other seasons.”

Snufkin sighed at the disconnect, “But you must stay in one place at some points right?”

“I mustn’t do anything I don't wish.” The man smiled.

“So than you wished? to have me that is.” Snufkin asked, now looking skywards.

“Hmm.. I'm quite happy to have you but I had never wished, though you are correct, smart child, before you were born I stayed in one place with my beloved Mymble.” He said thoughtfully.

“I thought so,” Snufkin spoke slightly stoically, “mama would not have liked you so, had you spent no time with her.”

They paused for a moment to watch a light cloud travel in front of the sun. It was wispy, all rained out. The shadow of it sent a momentary shade over Snufkin and The Joxter, cooling the air briefly.

“So then what did you do? When you stayed in one place.” Snufkin asked the sky.

“I was frankly so busy it hadn’t occurred to me I was in the same place at all. Not until it did, and I bid Beloved Mymble farewell.”

“You were busy?” Snufkin said confused.

“Yes my dear, love is a very busy thing.”

The man said no more, the child didn't ask. They both laid amiably in the sun, letting their minds wander away from each other. They fell into the comfort of being alone together. The Joxter took out his pipe, which he did rarely around his child, and began to smoke from it. Snufkin was tempted to ask if he could try, but the smell was always overwhelming when his father began to smoke. It wasn't that it discouraged Snufkin, it only intimidated him a bit. He knew if he were to ask, then his father would allow him it easily, though he wasn't sure if he wouldn’t choke.

Time stretched as did the sky, until warm tones started to turn the blue sky red. The Joxter stood randomly and began to roll up the blanket, his son quickly scampered off so as not to be rolled up. The Joxter seemed to think objectively for a moment before saying,

“I wish to love you, little one, though I did not mean too.”

Snufkin said nothing, looking up at his father. Remembering that The Joxter did not do anything he did not wish too.

Accidents were very little in the grand scheme, they were about as inconsequential as choosing a path while being a wanderer. But those choices did send you a certain way, they created a fork in a road that you had to travel one or the other. And those paths lead to more forks, so that every choice you could make sent you somewhere wildly different. Yes, Snufkin’s birth was the mountain path, a thing that happened. Something that sent The Joxter to a fork, inconsequential.

That was, at least, for the short term.

Chapter Text

It had begun to rain a bit, as they traveled in the night. The Joxter held his son so that they could both be shielded underneath his hat, Snufkin did not complain about this. It was almost eerie, both father and son were quiet, it seemed neither had anything to say. The ground began to incline and the Joxter walked out of the forest, and towards a man made path, forging their own through the mountains would be saved for another date.

The ground was firmer, and still dusty, as the sprinkles of rain had yet to truly stick it down. Trees became hardier and less frequent, the land seemed to say ‘you must be tough to pass through me’.

The Joxter disregarded that sense of warning, he forced his mind not to worry over Snufkin as the child was as close as he could be. He told himself that Snufkin may have been softer than he in nature and in experience, but he was no helpless thing. The mountain path began to wind, curling in on itself to climb higher, higher still. Until one could see the tops of all the trees in the forest and the meadow by the river.

Nerves were non existent, there was only the sense of anticipation. Should anything jump out, should danger arise, the father and son only anticipated it, they did not fear. The Joxter took steady steps, he did not count them, he felt no need too. Snufkin’s breathed normally, he did not pant, he felt no need too. They were confident in themselves, not to a degree of cockiness, but to jettison any fears.

The path was steady, both in pace and structure, it presented few overhangs, most of it was touching at least the side of a rock wall. That was, as far as they had been. The Joxter, having never traveled that specific path before, knew not what to expect, so he played by ear. There were not many birds to be seen, although when one flew by and interrupted the stark silence with it's call, Snufkin watched it with dedication. Some birds circled in the distance, seemingly around something, the implications seemed odd to Snufkin. What was there here in the near empty mountains for them to circle. Perhaps their nests? Or some poor creature who had met their doom.

The Joxter found little interest in the birds, it was as if he had come into a trance, most interested in putting one foot in front of the other. Snufkin probably could not have spoken to him even if the child had tried, not that Snufkin was keen on trying. He was interested once again in the world around him.

The mountain path, which had before seemed to mundane, had a certain energy to it, Snufkin realized. It was separate from the places they had traveled before, it felt like an adventure, and yet not quite. Because to Snufkin, adventures were exciting, they consisted of him and his father getting in and out of trouble, meeting people, seeing things. The mountain path was anticipation, more of the feeling and drawn out for longer than Snufkin had ever experienced it.

What was supposed to happen? He wondered. Nothing logically, it was not even a hard path to follow, nothing was slated to happen at all. Though The Joxter and his son both had a certain sense, a feeling when they knew something big was going to happen. It was a feeling that we all have, but they could listen to it more closely. If Snufkin were to describe it, he would say he could feel the air had a different pressure to it, The Joxter would say he could taste it.

The path began to rise again, and the air was colder, the rain became harder, the night was darker. Father and son pressed on, neither paid the circumstances any mind.
They had suddenly walked into a clearing of sorts, the whole mountain range was visible from this place. The Joxter stopped finally, pausing as he took in the sight. Snufkin leaned away from his father a bit so that he too could see, but didn't get much of a good look in before his father began to walk again. Snufkin had thought that perhaps his father might set up a tent, but the man continued moving.

There were no other travelers, on the mountain path. Only the rain and two Mumriks. Although the rain could be considered a traveler of sorts, it was freer than the river fish. It could go virtually anywhere, but it was never alone. And it had a certain distaste for deserts, not to mention it's affinity for the ocean. The rain was a traveler sure, but not the type of traveler that Snufkin considered himself.

The rain beat down on his father’s hat and Snufkin forgot his anticipation as he fell well enough asleep. Through the night The Joxter traveled along and said nothing, no whistling or humming, no singing or laughing. He said nothing and traveled the mountain path.

When Snufkin awoke again he was in the tent, which was dutifully zipped up from the inside, meaning his father was- yes laying right beside him. Curled in a ball, his dress abandoned somewhere, laying in his striped pants. Snufkin looked at himself, he was not wet and his dress was still laying rumpled on his body. A miracle in it's own right, though not surprising, The Joxter pulled such odd things out of his hat near constantly.

Snufkin quietly unzipped their tent and peaked outside, they had made it out of the mountains. The child regarded the dew covered spruce trees neutrally, though on the inside he admired them. There was no fire, but the stilts had been put up and his fathers dress, scarves, and hat lay on them to dry. The Joxter must have been confident it would not rain as he slept, though he may have been right seeing as day was just beginning to break. He would probably sleep the whole day, Snufkin knew, so he hopped out of their tent to explore.

It seemed upon closer inspection that The Joxter had set up camp the second he exited the mountains, and Snufkin was still near them. He could see a small river that had been formed by the rain, it ran further back than he could see, though he theorized it probably ran through the whole mountain range. Snufkin walked up to test the dampness of his father's clothes, seeing that they had not dried much in the night. Further evidence that his father would not be getting up today, he would shrivel up and perish if he were made to put on wet clothes. No he would wait for the sun to dry them.

Snufkin was hungry as he so often became. He was due for a growth spurt he knew, though he still harbored a childish insecurity that he might always stay this little, and then his father would never stop doting. No matter that, Snufkin began to search the woods for berries, though they were easily found . He held the ends of his dress to make a pouch, and ate one berry then put two his dress for later. He continued like this until his pouch was full and he traveled back to his and his father’s tent.

Snufkin slipped back through the little opening and walked up to his father's face, The Joxter did not budge, but there was no way he wasn't aware of Snufkin’s presence. The old cat was only pretending to be asleep, Snufkin knew, and huffed. The child walked outside and dumped the berries in a patch of short grass, plopping down beside it. He considered eating all the berries but decided against it, it would be a cruel thing to do, and he wasn't keen on cruel jokes like his father could be at times.

For the last time, Snufkin walked back into the tent and puffed his face up, he wanted to go soon, and he missed the company of his father. Snufkin walked up to his father’s stomach and delivered a kick, that had very little force. The Joxter didn't even flinch, he made no noise, he didn't even smile a bit. This disheartened Snufkin, who frowned and decided to try to amuse himself once more outside. As he turned on his heel something caught his leg and he flopped onto his belly, letting out a shocked cry.

Before Snufkin could even discern what had tripped him, he was being pulled backwards, which caused him to let out another frightened cry. It only occurred to Snufkin as he was being held to his father’s neck that he had fallen for another nasty trick.

Snufkin tried desperately to wiggle free, he yelped and kicked at his father's grabby hands, but the Joxter was steadfast and only really allowed for his son to free his face and look up. The Joxter looked down with a single cracked eye and smiled so slyly Snufkin swore it was devilish. He closed his eye again and pressed Snufkin’s head back to his neck.

“Good morning.” he said as he went back to sleep.

“Let go!” Snufkin was muffled by the fur of his father, making his response quite inaudible.

“Mhm.” said the father, without really consciously saying so.

Snufkin meant to make more annoying attempts, thinking that eventually the pestering would outweigh the delight that tormenting him had, but the warmth of his father was making him drowsy. While it was better than staying awake trapped like that, it had a certain sense of failure, being unable to separate himself, like he had let The Joxter win. These thoughts came and went as Snufkin found he couldn't particularly focus on them for very long. He fell asleep as some small creature made off with the berries he had gathered outside.

Chapter Text

Life was more than waking, sleeping, and then waking again, though those were good markers of how life passed. Snufkin and his father walked into the night again, it seemed that the rhythm of their travels would follow that pattern for a while. Snufkin had little preference for when he traveled, but he did enjoy to play with the world when it was awake rather than when it slept. His father thought days we're perfect for napping and could get carried away at times.

Snufkin walked this time, but did not rush forward as there wasn't much he felt the need to explore. They were walking across another meadow, sunflowers turned where the sun last fell. There was a town in the distance, it was undetermined whether or not they would visit. It looked like a little cobblestone town, there was a tower that rose higher than the other houses, with a big fire at the top.

“The world is asleep right now.” Snufkin stated.

“Not the whole world, darling.” His father said simply.

“Not the whole world.” The child repeated in the same tone.

Snufkin skipped a bit, the grass was soft from the rain and the dirt tugged his feet slightly. It didn't seem it would rain so much anymore, with spring ending and summer beginning. Even the nights were warmer, and much louder than they had been before, with the new insects hatching and singing.

It made one a little stir crazy at times, when Snufkin traveled at night. He considered his father his home, and at times he had to wander from home because it was in his blood. When it was nighttime, animals slept, and Snufkin stayed near his father. The cycle of sleeping the day away and going towards his father at night, became a little anxiety producing.

Snufkin knew the way to break this cycle was to stay near the town for a bit, he was sure there had to be something there worth seeing. There was always something worth seeing when one looked hard enough, and talking to no one but his father for such a long while had to be remedied.

So Snufkin came of a mood that he acquired rarely, the urge to speak to other people. Not a lot of them, and certainly not all at once, but a few people with nice stories and kind dispositions.

“I’d like to go into town.” Snufkin said.

His father made a little noise of surprised acknowledgment, “then we may go, Snufkin, lovely thing.”

“What are you thinking about?” Snufkin asked, the question occurred to him as they had previously walked in silence.

“I was thinking about forevers.” His father replied wistfully.

“What about them?”

“Neither you or I can know forever in the traditional sense, but we can feel forevers.”

Snufkin tilted his head as he skipped on, “I don't quite understand.”

“I'm not sure I could explain it.” The Joxter admitted. Though perhaps he was too lazy to try.

Snufkin hummed with acceptance, he would just have to think on it if he truly wanted to understand. Snufkin understood his father better than most, but no one could know what was going on inside a man’s head at every moment with every thought.

“And you? My lovely child?” The Joxter asked.

“What about me?” Snufkin said to be a pest.

“What’s on your mind?” His father said without annoyance.

Snufkin paused and thought back to what he had been thinking of previously. His thoughts were looser than the typically shared thought was, he gathered them up and wound them together.

“I would like to hear some stories, is what I was thinking.” Snufkin said.

“Dear one, I could tell you a story if you’d like?” His father replied thinking of lassoing clouds and flying boathouses.

“No no. Stories from someone new.” He clarified.

The Joxter ‘ahh-ed’ in understanding, and nodded his head sagely. He seemed to get what Snufkin had meant, and was not offended by it. To hear a new perspective, a story of someone's life, such a thing could not be told from anyone but a stranger.

They continued to walk and skip, The Joxter and Snufkin respectively. Snufkin’s small strides did little to propel him ahead because his father’s legs were much longer. The town seemed to come slowly closer, it was still and quiet.

The meadow was long, with soft hills coated in sunflowers and short grasses. In the far far distance was the beginnings of a forest, though it was grey and faded by the distance. Behind them was the mountain, in front of them was obscured by the little cobblestone town ahead. The Joxter did not know where they might set up their tent, his curiosity urged him to check what was on the other side of the town, so that was what he would do. He didn't know though, whether to walk through or around the little cobblestone town. Through it would be quicker sure, but would it be safer? There are different worries to take into account with a town versus a forest. Not that danger had ever stopped him before, with or without Snufkin. Oh but now that he thought about it, perhaps the forest would be more dangerous and therefore more lively, and they would pass through town eventually. Did it matter when they passed through?

This line of questioning was silly, so silly The Joxter didn't even try to flatter snufkin by asking his advice, for the child would surely think he was making fun. The Joxter shook himself. Of course such a choice did not matter, wherever he went, there he was.

“The right decision is the one that I make.” He reminded himself again.

The Joxter had become slightly more fussy after taking care of Snufkin, he was by no means fussy enough to be a quote unquote good parent, but still a level that was surprising to hisself. He would have probably just taken the path of least resistance had he been traveling by himself. But, oh! That was his original question, what was the path of least resistance?

Perhaps The Joxter had not changed in ideals but in practice alone, being a parent made one think twice it seemed. Appearances could be deceiving, sometimes the shortest path was not the easiest one, but there was no way to know for sure. So perhaps they should take the forest, but then again.

What would be the point of that? To go into the town the next day, with the same imagined dangers. But then again, would a town be different during the day than the night? It could be that criminals leapt from rooftops in the night, if that was so, then The Joxter quite wanted to meet them. So wait.. which one was he deciding on again? It might have been best if he had asked Snufkin anyways.

The Joxter opened his mouth to speak and then realized they had begun walking through the town without his noticing,
“Ah.” He said.

Snufkin paid no mind, still skipping, now his shoes made little clacks against the roads. They walked through a square that seemed to be a center for business, one had a sign that said ‘closed’ and The Joxter walked up to it. He tried the door which was quite obviously locked and hummed in contemplation.

“Come here Snufkin, sweet darling,” He said and picked his son up.

The Joxter began to climb the little outcroppings of the building, hooking his clawed hands on ridges as his child held on around his neck. There was little effort put into the break in as The Joxter had years of practice, he was what one called an expert. As expected, the windows on the second floor were not locked as no one had known that The Joxter would be visiting.

He climbed into what looked to be a coffee shop, the second floor had tables and chairs as well as a nice bookshelf. It was odd being there in the silence for Snufkin, but it made no difference to his father.

That was not to say that Snufkin had never been with his father when he got into one of these moods, they had happened upon many a town before after all, it was only that most times were during the day. Snufkin wasn't quite used to the extra feeling of caution that accompanied an act of crime carried out at night.

The Joxter shrugged and dug a blanket out of his backpack wrapping it around him, over Snufkin’s head, covering them both. The Joxter hadn’t the grip on his son that he usually preferred, but made no move to maneuver the child into his arms. Snufkin laid on his father’s back as the man curled up, opening his sharp mouth in a yawn, and promptly fell asleep.

Poor Snufkin was restless, he was used to sleeping during the day and traveling at night, and yet now his father wanted him to adjust his sleeping schedule yet again. It wasn't happening that night, it would be easier for Snufkin to stay awake the entire day and then truly fall asleep during the night, he had decided. So the child carefully wiggled his way out of the blanket and went down stairs.

There wasn't much of interest, there were menus, cups, ingredients, odd machinery. It wasn't the way his father made coffee, Snufkin knew, but that didn't make it wrong he supposed. Only boring.

Snufkin found a cup and carried it to the door, unlocking the heavy thing and wedging the cup between the door and the frame. He slipped out into the night and looked up, trying to memorize the look of the building so that he could return to it later. Then set off into the night. ‘Why this building specifically’ Snufkin wondered, then thought it was most likely the presence of the only visible closed sign.

His father was mysterious but at times oh so predictable.

This town looked different but the same, like most towns tended to look. The mind could only see so much without pressing it out of the memory, and there were quite a few of the same here. But there was a lantern in the distance, that swayed and became bigger. With his night vision, Snufkin could see a form attached to the light, holding it. He broke from his skipping to sprint to the source of his interest.

“Hullo!” Snufkin called, startling a scream out of The Lantern Bearer.

The Lantern Bearer looked at Snufkin as he entered into the range of his light, and put a hand over his heart in a sigh of relief. He muttered something before grunting in an odd tone.

“Little pest. Terrifying!” He spoke to no one in particular.

Snufkin took such a comment in stride, he had been called worse, and his father had been called even worse than his worst. He had even been kind of a pest to be fair, Snufkin knew that most were not in possession of night eyes.

The Lantern Bearer sighed again and addressed Snufkin, “Why would you be out so late?”

“And you?” Snufkin fired back.

“Fine then!” The Lantern Bearer said quickly and then repeated, “Fine then! No fine, really fine then! No really fine!”

“Stop already I'm only exploring.” Snufkin gave in grimly.

“No. Fine then!” The Lantern Bearer said.

Snufkin looked around and found no one else to speak to, he briefly re-evaluated how much he wanted to talk to someone other than his father. He found, sadly, that it was very much and resolved to try to speak to The Lantern Bearer again. No matter how disastrous that might prove.

“What are you doing out this late?” Snufkin asked.

“I am waiting for my friend, The Gatekeeper.” The Lantern Bearer was snapped out of his huffing easily, as if it was no true fit in the first place.

The Lantern Bearer was a slim person, furry and yet not tall. He was in possession of no tail, but his face and ears were similar to Snufkin’s, that's where the differences ended though. His paws we're long and gripped his lantern as if that was what they were meant to do, he had a slight hunch to his shoulders. When he spoke his teeth were mostly dull minus the front ones. His eyes we're almond shaped, and smaller than Snufkin’s. He was not wearing shoes, and his feet were of similar length to his hands, but resembled a koalas. He couldn't have been a Mumrik or a Mymble, too many differences.

“You are friends with someone who guards a gate?” Snufkin asked with a tinge of disgust.

“Oh no, a gate has nothing to do with it, he does no such thing obviously,” The Lantern Bearer had a teasing lilt to his voice, but it was mostly monotone.

Snufkin realized dully that the man had probably been messing with him the whole time but his tone of voice did not convey it. That was the problem with a monotonous voice, Snufkin knew the problem well as he mostly had to give up on having his words interpreted correctly.

“His name is only The Gatekeeper.” The man said in a false tone, as if it were obvious and yet not obvious at the same time.

“Well I'm happy for him, surely you would be miserable to keep a gate.” Snufkin spoke, “What are you two to do tonight?”

“Only talk, we meet in the night to converse, though he hurries off to his job much earlier than I would like him too.” The Lantern Bearer smiled.

Snufkin thought about asking if he could accompany them, and then thought better on it and decided he would not get in the middle of two friends who wished to speak. Instead Snufkin nodded to the man and skipped back into the night, probably leaving a confused Lantern Bearer behind him.

It had been interesting to speak, the man was very different from his father. For one he had not addressed Snufkin as ‘dear child’ or ‘beloved heart’ or ‘sweet thing’ once, nor had he scooped Snufkin up and spun him round. And while The Lantern Bearer had been a bit confusing he was not mysterious, he was open and it seemed happy enough to just say what was on his mind. Perhaps his thoughts we're more collected than The Joxter’s, or maybe he was better at voicing them.

As Snufkin skipped towards a running source of water, a fountain he noticed as he came closer, he thought of how The Gatekeeper might act. What type of friends did a bearer of lantern keep? There was only one way to know, and it wasn't something that Snufkin was going to figure out on that night specifically, so he put it out of his mind.
He sat on the edge of the fountain and looked at his reflection in the running water, distorted as it was he smiled big. His reflection smiled back, showing off it's impressive missing teeth and thin lips.

He put his feet in the fountain, and kicked them lightly, sending waves towards the center of the rippling thing. The water was cool, it felt nice on a warm summer evening. Snufkin might have preferred to put his feet in a lake though, because if he kept them there long enough then little fish might swim close and blow bubbles.

This was nice in a different way, it felt more like solitude. Just a body of water in the middle of a sleeping town, although Snufkin had no doubt that it would be a different story during the day. He wondered if it got cold enough in the winter to freeze the fountain. Then journeyed to think that it didn't particularly matter, he would probably never see this specific fountain during the winter anyways.

It was still very nice to be there, all alone at the fountain, even though he had to swat mosquitoes away from himself. Snufkin had problems with mosquitoes that his father just didn't have, as the man’s hair made it nearly impossible for them to bite him on the arms like they so often did to Snufkin. Snufkin wondered if he would grow hair like his father, and most Mumrik, (but not all).

Snufkin remembered sitting in a puddle, his back held gently by his mother, The Mymble, a host of tadpoles would scatter every time he twitched a toe. Her hands were firm, they held his whole back when he tilted from one side to another. Her smile was so knowing, though Snufkin felt at home with it rather than uncomfortable. She gave the impression that everything might be alright, which had helped to soothe Snufkin’s fears on a number of occasions.

She could do so like no other, but she was also busy as the devil. You tended to be when you had so many children, not every day could be for Snufkin, and he was a different type of child. All of The Mymble’s children were, but that was part of what made it difficult to always soothe Snufkin’s fears.

He hadn’t wanted to be on his own all the time.

And for him, that was the difference between his father and his mother, Snufkin craved attention with her and solitude with him. Both could offer what Snufkin wanted quite easily, but not at all times. Snufkin supposed that part of growing up was accepting that your parents are not perfect, and would never be able to give you everything you need. That didn't stop him from needing those things though.

He kicked his feet a bit while sitting there in thought. It was refreshing in the spiritual sense, Snufkin felt almost ready to return to his father's warm embrace.

Almost.

Snufkin gave in to his desires and slipped into the fountain with a quiet plop, a tiny droplet of water displacing itself from his envelopment in the pool. The water was cold, but it removed the sleep from his eyes, and as soon as he emerged from the pool for air, it felt like he was breathing in deeper now. Snufkin’s hair floated around him as he sunk into the water just so, eyes and nose above the line.

The child kicked his arms and legs out, his tippy toes barely touched the bottom of the fountain, he used them to push himself around. The mosquitoes would leave him be now, he was sure of that. Snufkin let his legs float upwards and balanced on his back, arms outstretched. Every time he let go of a breath he sunk a bit until he took the night air back into his lungs. He looked up at the sky, the beautiful stars which he loved so dearly. They were like little twinkling eyes, squinting like they were smiling, staring down at him. Snufkin smiled up at them, breathing out, sinking, breathing in, floating.

He began to propel himself a bit like a frog, blindly around the body of water, the waves created by the nozzle in the center pulling out the fountains stream displaced him a bit, the rocked into him more the nearer he drew.

Finally Snufkin reached a fountain wall and climbed out, shivering with his little teeth chattering. He held his arms, before taking his dress in his hands to squeeze and twist the water onto the cobblestone. He wished he had the ability to take it off and dry it more efficiently, but those were the consequences of doing as you pleased. Snufkin had long since learned that you must face your consequences and be brave enough to take them as though they are rewards.

Snufkin walked slowly back in the direction he came, he didn't see The Lanternbearer, nor his friend The Gatekeeper. He only snuck back in through the door propped by a cup, taking the cup with him to return to its rightful place, and walked upstairs to where his father slept.

Snufkin smiled a little smugly before walking towards his father cautiously. Like clockwork the man snapped his arms outwards and snatched Snufkin into his arms. It took all of two seconds for The Joxter to open his eyes in alarm, holding Snufkin a ways away to inspect the child, who was dripping onto the floor with a little smug smile.

“Snufkin, my darling, sopping wet, child. What exactly have you been up too?” The Joxter asked good-naturedly.

“Things I was not supposed to do,” Snufkin said causing his father to smile along.

“I see,” The Man said as he unbuttoned the back of Snufkin’s dress

Snufkin took off his pants and bloomers himself, almost as soon as he was done his father wrapped him up in a blanket, snuggling him close. The younger groaned a bit, his father then blew a raspberry on his cheek, causing him to groan a lot.

The Joxter put his son down and hung the dress on the windowsill outside, as well as the pants. The bloomers, he twisted till dry and handed them back to Snufkin. After Snufkin changed, his father held out a hand to him. Snufkin looked at it dubiously, then walked up to it and hugged it. His father’s palm spread out across his chest feeling his heartbeat, then hooked under his armpit and clutched Snufkin to his father's chest.

The Joxter’s eyes had softened as his son hugged him, he tilted his head and looked onward with a ghost of a smile at the corners of his mouth. As The Joxter held his son, he rubbed his scratchy face to his sons soft one, the child didn't complain this time, only rubbed back. Snufkin grabbed his father's scarves with small hands, and breathed in slowly, lowering his head onto his father’s shoulder.

“I looooove you.” Snufkin relented, muffled as he spoke into his father’s shoulder.

The Joxter snorted, surprised, and said “I looooove you too.” Then chuckled kindly.

The Joxter curled back onto the floor, his back arched and his hands tucked underneath him to hold Snufkin. He reached out to take hold on the blanket and throw it over both of them. They didn't fall asleep for a while, both were smiling into each other’s cheeks, puffy breathy huffs of laughter. The air was warm as it blew through Snufkin’s wet clothes outside the window.

Chapter Text

“Great goodness!” A distinctly female voice pierced Snufkin’s ears.

He looked upwards at a young woman with long hair that curled into little puffs at the tips. She had thin paws with small pads that were fixed to the sides of her face in shock.

“Good morning madam!” His father smiled and removed one had from holding up Snufkin’s neck to wave at her.

It seemed that The Joxter had woken up long before his son and was just sitting cross legged, holding the child. How long before Snufkin he had woken, the child was not sure. The young woman grabbed the fabric of her pants on both sides and got an annoyed look in her face, she stomped one heeled boot to the wooden floor. She was much taller than The Joxter, making her a giant to Snufkin.

“I do hope you have not squatted in my shop.” She warned, knowing quite obviously that was exactly what they had done.

“Oh but we have.” The Joxter smiled.

“Why pray tell?” She spoke incredulously.

The Joxter spoke without missing a beat, Snufkin had already known what his answer might be. It was the answer so typical to the question, ‘why have you broken in?’

“Why because you had locked it of course.”

The woman deflated with a bored look, she had perhaps seen his type before, or maybe she hadn’t the energy to deal with one so early in the morning. She shook her head and pulled a pair of big wire held glasses from her pockets, putting the round things on her face. She turned, leaving father and son alone, with a shake of her head as she clunked back down the stairs. She was sighing heavily all the way down.

Snufkin looked up at his father, and then out at his clothes hanging on the windowsill, they still hung fairly heavily. Snufkin hoped they were not still wet, although he was sure his hopes did nothing to change their state of being.

The child wiggled out of his fathers hold and hopped up onto the windowsill, with just a light touch he tested the fabric. Yes, it was still very wet, but at least his bloomers had dried almost fully while he slept. It was probably the body warmth from hisself and his father that did it. Even though the nights were warm, they had not been warm enough to dry soggy dresses and pants. They would probably take the day to be wearable again, Snufkin sighed thinking about staying in. Perhaps he could just wear the soggy clothes anyways, he really did not want to stay inside.

The smell of coffee wafted from downstairs, it had been present before but it was much stronger now. The Joxter was suddenly quite interested in the smell, he smiled at Snufkin and walked down the stairs quietly. Snufkin thought for a moment, looking towards his clothes and the stairs, and followed his father downwards.

The Joxter had since sat down at a backless stool, the woman behind the counter quirked her mouth and looked at him with a bored expression. ‘Really?’ It seemed to say. The Joxter smiled quite pleasantly anyways, spinning a coaster on the counter.

“Truly?” She asked, without prompt.

“Why yes,” he smiled, understanding her question.

“Do you intend to pay?” She sighed, already brewing up a pot for him specifically.

“Do I?” He spoke.

She shook her head and chuckled, it seemed perhaps The Joxter’s mystery or maybe his charm had earned him something for free, as it did quite often. He gave the air of someone who you wanted to impress, or at times someone who was enriching to be around. He could slip easily into a caravan, or a campsite, if only because he was very intriguing to those around him.

It didn't seem that she was cross, it seemed as if she was annoyed simply for the show of being annoyed. Because that was what you might feel when someone had broken into your coffee shop and slept there, not because that was what she really felt.

The Joxter realized this and was intrigued himself, he thought he might pull at this thread, “Are you in the business of acting?” He asked.

she quirked a single eyebrow, “I am in the business of coffee quite obviously.” She replied.

“Well,” he said goodnaturedly, “you are fairly good at acting as though you wish I were not here!”

The woman gaped her mouth and smacked a hand on the table. She really looked annoyed then, narrowing her eyes at him. She shook her head as Snufkin climbed up onto a stool next to his father. The woman said nothing as she walked around hurriedly and went back to making the coffee. She readied a cup and asked, “You have nerve, sneaking into a ladies place of business and claiming she wants you there!”

“I do, don't I.” He smiled.

The woman twisted her mouth to stop it from smiling back, “What a pest, terrible influence I'm sure,” she spoke to Snufkin, “how exactly do you want your coffee.” She turned back to The Joxter.

She did an awful lot of turning, she seemed to be quite the busy body. With only one customer in her shop she already acted like it was a full house. Perhaps she was just one of those types of people who had to be moving at all times, not just her legs but her whole body. Tapping her fingers on cups and metal, tapping the toe of her boot on the worn floor, swaying as she walked too and fro.

“Black is how I make it on the road” He said.

“Black it is then” she replied.

The woman placed the cup in front of The Joxter, saying, “I'm Meander, by the way.” And walking away to clean her machinery.

“Joxter.” The Joxter replied.

The Joxter’s son reached out his paws to the cup before he had a chance to take a single drink. He smiled a bit and pushed the cup towards his son, as he always did when making coffee. Snufkin didn't particularly like the taste, his father knew, but wanted instead to taste it and see what made it so desirable. Many adults drank coffee, and yet it tasted very bad to Snufkin.

Predictably, The Joxter’s child scrunched his face up and stuck out his tongue. He might have an easier time of liking it had The Joxter ever made anything with cream or sugar, but the man did not often. Only when the mood struck. The Joxter snorted quietly at the exact reaction he had expected, and tilted his head fondly at his son. He took a dark blue scarf from his neck and wrapped it along his son, tying a knot to make a little poncho. The Joxter smiled and pinched his sons cheeks before taking the coffee back into his hands and taking a sip. In the background Meander snuffled a little in laughter and began grinding beans through a pretty looking brick red grinder.

She took the grounds and placed them down a bit too hard, spilling some onto the table, she regarded them with exasperation and spoke with a silly tone, “no no, damnit.”

At which point Snufkin gasped in horror, frozen in place. His display caught Meander’s attention and she fought a smile while looking at him with bewilderment.

“Quite sorry, Son of Joxter…” She tried, though it was too late as Snufkin had already hopped off the stool and run to the door.

The Joxter watched his son go, pushing the heavy door open and running into the morning air outside. He turned back to Meander, who shrugged with an apologetic look. He shrugged back and sipped slowly at his coffee. Snufkin would be alright, he knew, The Joxter rather wanted to stay sitting and finish his drink. Meander walked from behind the counter to flip the closed sign to open, and readied herself for actual paying customers.

“Do you think maybe you should give chase?” she said, peaking through the window as Snufkin ran further and further away, “he's far now.”

“let him be far. He always returns, it is particularly charming.” The Joxter said.

Meander sighed and let her shoulders slump, a bit of her sweater falling a little lower before she pushed it back up onto her furry frame. She muttered something about charm and returned to behind the counter, busying herself once again. The Joxter thought of a trick, as he did at times. He finished his coffee a bit quicker at the price of it and knocked on the counter to catch the woman's attention. Meander turned to him easily, pausing in great confusion.

The Joxter quietly slipped his hand beneath the counter while raising the ceramic cup above his lips. Meander seemed to catch on too slowly to do much more than widen her eyes and begin to shout. The cup fell downwards, Meander let out a cry of outrage. there wasn't a single sound of breaking cups, for The Joxter had caught it quite simply in his other hand. Meander leaned over the counter to look, and upon catching sight of it realized that it had been a joke in her expense. She furrowed her brow, not laughing at all in the slightest, although The Joxter seemed more than enough amused for the both of them.

“Alright! Out with you. Go catch that wild child of yours, return much much later. I can't bear to look at you now.” Meander slammed a hand down on the counter, causing everything set out there to jump a millimeter into the air.

“Yes of course,” The Joxter said not moving at all.

All his charms did not save him then from the ladies anger, she puffed up her cheeks with a dark look on her face and stomped up to The Joxter. She shoved him out of his chair before grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and dragging him. The Joxter felt much younger then than he had in perhaps years and he yelped in surprise as she tossed him out of her store. The Joxter looked up at Meander and she blew a raspberry at him before shutting the door quite loudly.

He sat for a moment and tapped a finger to his chin, would it suit him to break back in? He tried the door knob and found she had not locked it to keep him out so The Joxter shrugged in disinterest. He opened the door and tipped his hat to her with half lidded eyes before closing it again and walking into the town. He looked a little more carefully than he usually would, as this time he was looking for someone and not just looking to admire. Snufkin had made good time, he was nowhere to be seen, but that didn't mean The Joxter could not find him.

For a parent, usually this would be a nightmare, but for The Joxter all he had to do was sharpen his senses a bit. The Joxter tilted his head upwards a tad and sniffed the air, much to the amusement of a few early morning passerby. The scent of something new and flowery was easy to find, plus The Joxter’s own scarf was being modeled by Snufkin, and that was a smell the man knew well enough. Snufkin wasn't too far, it hadn't been so long since The Joxter had been thrown out like a kitten after all, so he found no reason to rush.

The Joxter walked idly, eyeing a few vendors who had begun to set up carts. They seemed to be selling all sorts of things, it might have been a special day for that type of thing. He would not have been surprised, as The Joxter and his son often had that type of luck. Although it could be that when you are a wanderer every day is a bit special.
There was nothing that really caught The Joxter’s eye, no one seemed to be selling instruments though they had many trinkets. Such things were of temporary joy, they didn't make one happy for long, that was unless they were truly treasured in the first place. Perhaps if they were given to a loved one as a gift, as The Joxter had loved and cherished many gifts from his Beloved Mymble.

It seemed that no matter how you cherished something, to truly love it was to wear it down, nothing lasts forever. And if you had everything in ship shape, there would be no need for new gifts. Everything was temporary, everything. That did not mean you could not let yourself love. Guarding your heart was the same as letting a camera collect dust upon a shelf. If you were not to use it, then what would it matter? You might as well have no pictures, no love, nothing.

The more the man thought on it, the more he found that the heart was like a camera.

The Joxter found Snufkin standing at the front of a cart filled with fabrics and clothes. His eyes were trained on something big and green. The Joxter sidled up to him but Snufkin did not look up at his father, only hummed in thought as the cart keeper watched him with complacency.

The cart keeper had a defined hand under her chin, her arms were muscular and thickly furred. She didn't turn to The Joxter when he approached, she just seemed quietly interested in the tiny child who had run up to her cart.

“Snufkin, curious child, what's got your eye?” The Joxter fake whispered to his son, causing the cart keeper to cover her mouth as she smiled.

“The hat. It's a bit like yours.” Snufkin said simply.

The cart keeper ‘ahh’-ed in understanding and took it down to hand over to the child, who reached up on his tippy toes to take the garment into his paws. He felt it with an air of importance, it was a nice enough material, it didn't look very new despite never having been worn. It seemed that the newness of the hat put Snufkin off as he had only worn hand-me-downs for his life till this point, and enjoyed them much more than anything brand new he might receive.

“Your thoughts?” asked the cart keeper, speaking seriously, although, not harshly.

Snufkin was not finished deliberated yet, he hummed out and scrunched up his face in thought. The hat was of course much too big for Snufkin, but he was due for a growth spurt any day now, as he told himself often. And it was a wonderful hat, well made and wide brimmed.

“It is very nice.” Snufkin said, more to pay a compliment than to give his verdict.

“Thank you, I hope I don't alarm you with this but you may have it for free.” The cart keeper said noncommittally, “To tell you the truth I had accidentally stolen the fabric, I did not know what to do with the color, for it's my sisters favorite not my own.” she said.

Snufkin looked up at his father who shrugged, dully surprised at their luck. He took the hat from Snufkin’s hands and deposited on his head. Like his own hat had done, this one fell down on Snufkin’s head as well. The child held it at the brim to prop it up and began to wander around, straying just a distance away from his father. The Joxter looked back up to the cart keeper.

“You did not make such a hat for your sister?” he asked.

“Oh I could not, she’s been missing for quite some time now.” The cart keeper replied.

It made sense then, why she might give away such a nicely made hat for no profit, it must have been a bit of a sore point to make after all. The Joxter found that he respected that she had stolen the fabric in the first place and put out his gloved hand. The keeper reached out hers in return and the shook. Her grasp was much firmer than The Joxter’s own, even though she was a small person.

“The Joxter.” he said.

“The Kiivensisar.” she replied.

A warm breeze blew some of the fabrics lightly and displacing some of the downy feathers that crowned her face, The Joxter spoke with empathy, “I am very sorry for your sister, Kiivensisar.”

“Don't be traveler, we'll see each other again some day.” She said without the air of wisdom one might have saying such a thing.

The Kiivensisar was straightforward, and her smile was resolute, perhaps admirable. She didn't seem to be someone who spoke of maybes and somewhats, nor did she seem to be completely literal. She was of solid character, that much could be told.

Her smile, was familiar. It wasn't as carefree as The Joxter’s Beloved Mymble, but it had the same quality of strength. It was a smile that caused him to smile back, perhaps if The Joxter were ever keen on staying he might become her friend. Alas they would not stay long, and there were many people out there with a smile like this, though it was pleasant it was not rare.

“What makes you say such a thing?” The Joxter rested an elbow on her cart, he was slightly intrigued.

“That's just the way of things. Do you understand what I mean?” she asked.

“Never truly, but I can guess.” He said airly and turned.

“Safe travels.” she said. Her disposition was not unlike a rock.

“Who would ever wish such a cruel thing.” The Joxter laughed out.

“Then be careful, the road behind is unstable.” she called out.

Snufkin, who had been wandering, snapped back to his father’s side as they walked away together. Snufkin idly taking his father’s gloved paw.

The town was nothing particularly special, The Joxter and Snufkin walked all the way through to the other side, on which there was a great big forest. In the distance, The Joxter could see a tree bigger than all others, towering high into the sky beyond anything he had seen before. It excited him, but also made him inexplicably weary. Not of the tree of course, he was positively psyched for that, it was instead something unnamed. An odd feeling in his heart, a light twinge of something nostalgic although he had never been here nor there before.

What was it about this tree that seemed so familiar?

Though it wasn't only the familiarity that caused such a forlorn feeling, it was also some sense of longing. To go back somewhere, to be somewhere where he recognized the people and the places. It was an off and foreign feeling, though he was not a complete stranger to it.

Suddenly The Joxter placed the feeling, but did not voice it. Instead it was as if Snufkin had read his mind,

“Do you miss Mama?” He asked.

The Joxter hummed and breathed in. He did. He had been for a while now, though he had been doing so without truly realizing. The thought made him give a sad chuckle, he should have known, when he started seeing her in everything was when he knew to return to her. He saw her old Oak tree, the one he used to sleep in when the children were too much to be inside for, even on cold nights. Though he would at times wake up to her in the night smiling up at him so brightly, arms outstretched, she would say ‘The little ones are asleep, silly.’ but she wouldn't have too, one look at her smile was enough to coax him down.

Yes he missed her fiercely, he saw her in the strong Kiivensisar, in Snufkin’s round eyes, in the giant tree before them. He saw her in the busy bee, he saw her in the amusement of Meander, in the stars. He remembered her doing so similarly as Snufkin, tucking The Joxter’s head under her chin and saying so softly ‘I looooove you.’ Yes, he was not sure how he had not seen it before as it was glaringly obvious to him now.

“Do you?” The Joxter asked.

“Yes.” Snufkin replied.

The father and son looked at each other then, their eyes met and a little sad smiled played out on The Joxter’s lips. While they were not the same, they were very similar in small ways. At times the smallest ways were the most important.

“Then let's go back tomorrow.” Said the Joxter.

Snufkin looked distractedly out into the distance and sat, his father left him there to retrieve their backpacks. Snufkin changed back into his sun dried clothes and the Joxter wrapped his scarf back around his neck. They set up camp and watched the stars, which both had always thought looked similar to eyes. That night,

The stars looked like someone very specific.

Chapter Text

Looking out onto the giant tree again reminded The Joxter of an old adventure, and Edward, a certain Booble which he had known previously. Not a friend nor an enemy, not really an acquaintance either though they knew each other well enough. The early morning air caused him to reminisce.

The Joxter heard someone approach, and swiveled his head to them in the still dark morning hours. His eyes reflected what little light there was at the figure, who it seemed to be was The Kiivensisar. She did not spook like most would, just tilted her head in the darkness and continued to approach.

“Traveler Joxter, I assume that is you?” She asked.

“Certainly.” replied The Joxter lazily.

She nodded then and looked in the direction of his bright eyes, she had a backpack with her and little else, “I see, I wish to tell you goodbye. But that's only a passing desire, for it matters little either way.”

“A bit callous of you.” The Joxter remarked.

“I'm not sorry.” She said neutrally, “I'm continuing on this way and as pleasant as you've been I don't think you will be a good traveling partner, so pick another direction.”

Even the burning desire to do the opposite of what he was told did not turn The Joxter away from the stronger desire to see his Beloved Mymble again. He simply nodded to himself, his eyes bobbing in the darkness for The Kiivensisar to see. She smiled and laughed a bit before walking a bit past his tent.

“What brought on such a desire?” The Joxter asked, for it would be his last chance to ever do so.

“Yourself, though don't become too full of it. I simply had not thought of my sister in a long while, why stay here and wait for her? I think I will go out to meet her.” The Kiivensisar had a proud tinge to her voice, and then added “The rains tear away at the rocks, Traveler Joxter, I should hope to pass over the rocky plains before any more erodes them. Goodbye then, forever perhaps.” and she tossed something heavy to The Joxter, which he caught.

“I have sold all my possessions, but in pity an old man gave me this, I need it not.” and she disappeared into the trees.

The Joxter, amused and a tinge saddened by such a bittersweet goodbye, looked over that which had been thrown to him. It was a wicker basket, inside was a blanket and a mouth organ. The blanket was soft and thin, the mouth organ was fancy, shining and silver, cold and inviting. He tried the thing and found it to produce a pleasant sound even when you could not play it. He hummed a farewell for The Kiivensisar, but made no attempt to play it on the mouth organ, such a thing would yield no real song, and The Joxter found himself a bit too work-shy to try to figure it out at that moment.

The wind whistled through the tips of swaying trees, dancing between their branches. This morning was a little cooler than others, but the inside of the tent was warm as The Joxter unzipped it and crawled back in, he debated on whether or not to wake Snufkin, who was sound asleep. The Joxter himself did not often wake so early, it was a different story when he could feel his heart ache out of his chest for his Beloved Mymble. He found himself switched with Snufkin, for once he was almost eager to move along. To return. The notion was odd to say the least, for he had only returned to his Beloved Mymble thrice before. Already much more than he had ever returned to anything else, and here he found he had become almost addicted to it without knowing.

The Joxter laid absentmindedly next to his son, staring at the ceiling of their tent, and indulged a sickeningly paternal thought. How lucky was he? A cliche question to ask, but The Joxter found himself thinking so beyond his control. He had never meant to have a family, he was sure he would not find someone to love him for who he was. Laziness, aloofness, twisting mind and all else, he had been content and accepting of the idea that these were not lovable traits. And yet there were two who loved him all the same, as well as many of The Mymble’s children who liked The Joxter immensely. (If they had not then why would they yank on his tail so often?)

The Joxter laid his hand over Snufkin’s sleeping form and rubbed his back, all the while deep in thought. The Mymble traveled sure, all the time she traveled. It was no guaranteed fact that The Joxter and Snufkin would catch her at home when they had finally returned, but would she mind traveling with The Joxter? He wondered for a moment, if he could travel with all his family, but dismissed it easily. Snufkin did not get along so well with the rest of his siblings, and The Mymble was so free and easy going, she might not even care to travel with The Joxter. Perhaps she was just too, well, careless.

No, it seemed that The Joxter would have to put some effort into this one, for he loved The Mymble dearly and wanted to be around her. He sighed with no particular emotion and let his mind wander. It shifted words around in his head, and while he was no poet, song writing was of a similar vein.

The Joxter had the innate ability to do many things, balance in any tree, eat fruit with the skins still intact, see the world quite differently. Most of all, he could fall asleep, at most times when nothing was disturbing him, on command. But for some reason he didn't feel the need too, almost like he would prefer not too. His mind was certainly active, it was almost disturbingly out of character for him.

So he woke Snufkin, who yawned and rubbed his eyes, and began to unfasten their tent. Snufkin was not upset at the earliness of their rising, though he was slightly perturbed by his father’s busy mood. He hadn't known the man to act this way ever before, and thought that, ‘perhaps this is just how he gets’.

And maybe it was, there was no way to know as The Joxter himself had never noticed such a thing, and Snufkin had yet to travel with him until recently. Certainly the Joxter’s old friends had never known him to fuss, but they had known him to be very enchanted with The Mymble. The Joxter wondered idly if they had thought him silly in love with her, but never said a word about it.. Not that any of them would have room to judge him, other than Hodgkins that was.

The Joxter rolled up the tent, deep in thought all the while. Snufkin at the same time picked up the wicker basket with both hands, he liked the hand made thing, it was homely and looked well loved. As all things should have been in his opinion. The basket was a bit big for him to carry in addition to his hat, blocked his vision near completely. Still, he wanted to hold the thing, so he pushed his hat down inside the wicker basket and walked up behind his father, who had finished packing.

The act of putting away a tent went much faster when you were fully grown, Snufkin noted, as his father was rarely one to do so so efficiently and so early, save to mention at all. Snufkin’s father turned back to him with a smile and a bit of flourish, as if to say ‘the journey has begun.’ Which was an odd sentiment, because by all logical means the journey had ended.

Still, with this attitude, Snufkin found that it didn't really matter either way to him which way they were going, he was still eager to see his mother again. The timing felt very odd to him though, they would have a faster return sure, but they would still arrive in the late summer, possibly even the fall. Then they would be cooped up all winter. It seemed impractical to Snufkin, but he knew his father never really cared about whens and wheres.

“Are we going now papa?” Snufkin said, his voice a little rusty from just waking up.

“Yes we'll be on our way very soon, little love.” The Joxter spoke distractedly.

The Joxter then began to walk, his son following him. In the dark Snufkin reached for his father's tail and grabbed onto it. He was felt starkly lonely in the wood all of a sudden, It seemed the act of retracing his steps left him feeling oddly vulnerable. His father didn't seem to mind and slowed the swish of his tail so that Snufkin could hold it easier.

The pair approached the town again, they could see a figure holding a lantern walking with a taller more broad figure. The lantern raised and swayed back and forth in the dark morning air, it seemed The Gatekeeper indulged his friend in a talk that was much longer than usual. The sun had begun to inch just a sliver above the ground as Snufkin and The Joxter walked away from the other pair, who in turn waved them off.

“If trees could talk, they would have the wildest stories, don't you think, sweet Snufkin?” The Joxter said out of nowhere.

Snufkin debated it for a moment and agreed, but said, “yes and a lot of terribly boring ones.”

“You're right my dear heart, but it is that way for everyone.”

Snufkin scrunched his nose up in distaste, “Trees cannot travel anywhere, I think they would have a lot more boring stories than us.”

“You'd be very surprised, my sweet child, by what one can witness just by standing still forever.” The Joxter said in a terribly cryptic way.

“Neither you or I can know forever.” Snufkin said to himself, remembering the words loosely.

The Joxter nodded to himself and continued to walk. Unlike when they had entered he town, there were more people awake in the earlier hours. Meander stood outside her shop and waved Snufkin and The Joxter off, though none of them said a word as they passed. It was another goodbye, between those who knew each other loosely. It was sad but only slightly, a particular feeling that one might come across after losing a nice shell they had found to the ocean. It was a part of life.

The birds sang as the sun rose higher, the sun flowers faced the sun. The fire in the tower was put out, the atmosphere had begun to put The Joxter in a lighter mood. He hummed his Goodbye to The Kiivensisar, and Snufkin joined in. Snufkin let go of his father’s tail, digging bread out of his bag to eat while he sang. Such a thing was dangerous, especially to do so while you walked. It was a triple threat of choking hazards, but what did that matter to The Joxter who had not even been looking that way to allow such a thought to cross his mind.

The bread was sweet and had a swirl of cinnamon, it was slipped into his pack by Meander, it seemed. Who was perhaps much more fond of the two of them then she had even been pretending not to be, either way it made Snufkin smile into his snack.

Snufkin began to skip a bit, he was happy. To say the least, he was relieved to go. It wasn't what he thought he’d feel by any means, he was sure that if his adventures with his father ever ended he’d be grieving them. Instead he was quietly pleased, he had missed his mother, it was as simple as that.

“Papa.” Snufkin said to catch his father’s attention.

The Joxter hummed and looked back, the shade caste over his eyes did nothing to hide a glint. He always looked pleased to see Snufkin, at least that was what it seemed to Snufkin himself. The look made him blush a little, sometimes even the undivided attention of his father made him bashful. Snufkin looked off at the sunflowers.

“Yes, dearest?” The Joxter replied.

“Are you, um.” Snufkin tried to gather his line of thought.

The Joxter paused, causing Snufkin to bump into the back of his legs with a soft ‘oof’. He turned to kneel at eye level with his son, and brushed a finger under Snufkin’s eye. The Joxter then sat, criss cross, and waited for his son to speak to him. The focus only did more to fluster Snufkin who stuttered a couple ‘ums’ trying to ask what he really wanted to say. Perhaps The Joxter knew that this caused his son to fall out of sorts, and that was exactly why he did it. Regardless of his reasoning, he felt the display was cute in it's own right.

“Slow down, brave boy, your mind is running ahead of you.” The Joxter said calmly.

Snufkin looked a little uncomfortable but forced himself to breathe in and out, then walked closer to his father. Snufkin slapped his hands on either side of his father’s face and gathered his courage to ask,

“How much do you love me?” He asked.

The Joxter blinked at the intensity for a moment, then broke out into an uncontrollable grin. He leaned in nose to nose with Snufkin and sighed like he could impart the absolute blooming love inside him with that breathe. Snufkin took one hand off his father's cheek to wave in front of his nose, while he scrunched up his face.

“That's got to be one of my favorite questions ever, Snufkin.” he said privately, for just the two of them to hear, “It's indescribable.”

“Will you try?” Snufkin said with a pinch of hopefulness.

“It's not in my nature, but for you I would throw away all that.”

Snufkin blinked and tilted his head, he climbed forward to sit in his father’s lap. The Joxter leaned back and looked towards the sky, his son looked up at him.

“You’d throw away nature?” He asked confused.

“My nature, that's how much I love you.” The Joxter said, and then continued, “I want to give you everything, every experience, every lesson. I want you to know how to love yourself and I want you never to feel lonely. That is, when you don't want to feel lonely.” he chuckled.

“Say more?” Snufkin asked, too enraptured to be bashful.

“Of course,” The Joxter spoke, and laid down.

Snufkin crawled further, to lay on his father's stomach, his pointy chin resting in heaps of colorful fabric. Snufkin knew that his father would not make any joke out of this, and the fact that he had laid only meant he didn't plan on moving for a while. The realization made Snufkin’s heart lift a little bit.

“I love you more than a pistachio loves its shell,” The man said quite oddly, “I love you more than a moth loves a lamp.”

Butterflys dipped up and down around them, but Snufkin did not notice. He was captured by every word, each new analogy, no matter how strange, was like a net that caught Snufkin’s mind. He was intent on listening with all of his power, and understanding with all of his heart.

“I love you so that I would give everything to keep you, and yet, if you wanted to go then I would give everything to let you go. I love you more than Hemulans love rules!”

They both laughed at that, so contagiously that The Joxter’s own hat fell off. And yet somehow Snufkin knew it to be true, he could see the shining honesty in his father. In the way the man’s eyes hazily looked everywhere but Snufkin himself. Like the truth was so obvious and readily given that it was no secret, that it could be said to the entire world. Snufkin didn't want it to be told to the entire world though, he wanted to hear it only for him. Not because he was stingy, but because he didn't need a show. All he needed was his father’s words.

“There's no measure to it, my most treasured,” he said with a different air than before, “but I feel I must say… I love you Snufkin. To the moon and back.”

They sat for a bit, so content with each other, before Snufkin replied,

“But I don't want you to…” he struggled for the words.

The Joxter looked at him then in surprise and Snufkin motioned to shush him, he shot a look that said ‘don't interrupt. I'm not quite finished.’

“I don't want you to give up your nature.” Snufkin said with determination, “because I love you too, and I never want you to be unhappy.”

The Joxter’s face fell a bit slack, he mouth parted and he let a sharp intake of breath pierce the air. He froze like that for a moment, the kind that always felt like much longer, and then tears welled in his bright blue eyes. His mouth wobbled and he sniffed, the large droplets fell out of his eyes as he blinked hard.

“Oh, Snufkin…” he said weepily, and gathered his son softly into his arms.

Snufkin worriedly put his hands back on his father's face, squishing it around and checking it to see what was wrong with him. He hadn't ever seen his father cry, not for any reason. The more he squished it around, the more The Joxter cried. Snufkin pulled back his hands and made a little noise of overwhelmed distress.

“Papa are you in pain? What's wrong?” he asked desperately.

The Joxter did not answer, he only shook his head no and smiled behind the tears. He was so lucky, he knew, so so very lucky that it caused him to cry. His smile faltered and he thought again about the times where he had told himself that he would never be loved. How he had fooled himself into believing that he was okay with that, that he could live with never being loved this way. He was foolish, he had put his camera up on a shelf.

And now he had a picture. So everything was so different, he had not known how he ever got on in life before. With only friends who he kept at arm's length, with no one to share himself with, with no one to wear him down. He had a picture, and he wanted another. He wanted so desperately now, more than he had ever before, a picture of himself, his Beloved Mymble, and his dearest Snufkin.

The Joxter laughed and hugged Snufkin a little tighter, “Nothings wrong. Everythings right.”

“Then why-?” Snufkin tried to say before his father rose to the ground and spun him like his life depended on it.

Snufkin couldn't quite keep up a worried heart while he was screaming in terror, his father laughing and crying like a mad man. They spun and spun, until The Joxter became too dizzy and fell down in the soft grass laughing. Snufkin then too, could not help himself but to laugh out those tiny huffy little noises. It was contagious, and as they got up and walked back towards the mountain path, they walked hand in hand.

They stood before the opening of the path, where they had set up camp only a couple days prior. It was a triumphant feeling then, that overpowered all others. Snufkin had taken back the wicker basket and had begun running forward to inspect and explore as his father caught up to him behind.

The cool stone beneath Snufkin’s feet felt smooth, all the dust had been washed away. He ran up an incline, his father not far behind him. On one side was the mountains side, the other was a nothing but the river running so so very far below.

Snufkin saw the birds clearer now, the ones that had been circling so long ago. One landed on a wiry tree, and Snufkin ran up to inspect it. The thing was very unlike any bird the child had ever seen before, and it was not afraid of him getting closer. He stood on the edge to peek at it, then called back to his father.

“Papa, look.” he said with an odd tone. Transfixed with the thing.

“What is it my darling?”

Snufkin inspected the bird, it had a bright white circle on it's chest, other than that it was blackish purple with specks of white.

“It's the moon…” Snufkin said dazed, Then fell.

As the cool stone beneath his feet,

Crumbled.

Chapter Text

Everything was falling. Everything had been steady for a second and then chaos in the next. Snufkin’s center of balance was like butterflies, as he toppled backwards they stayed in place. It was like he was being ripped from the ground and thrust into space.

Then suddenly his shoulders pulled taut and he snapped to stillness, Snufkin’s hands burned as he strained to keep hold on the wicker basket which had caught by the handle on a root. He opened his eyes and took in a choked breath, with it, all sound returned back to his ringing ears.

“Snufkin!” The Joxter screamed down at him, panic filling his voice.

Snufkin couldn't find it in himself to reply, he only whimpered as the root pulled, causing the basket to jostle. He fumbled to get a better grip but it only caused him to slip a little further. Snufkin screamed and looked up at his father, eyes begging for help. This wasn't like other times, this wasn't like being swept up by a river or caught in a rope. Snufkin was scared now, he wanted his father.

“Climb into the basket! I can reach you from there!” The Joxter spoke quickly for he was terrified.

Snufkin’s breaths were shallow and he said nothing as he attempted to lift himself into the wicker basket. The basket slid a little further off the root and little pieces of eroded rock came loose, pelting Snufkin. He cried out again and lost a hand hold on the basket.

“I can't! I can't do it!” Snufkin began to hyperventilate.

“You can! Please Snufkin trust me my heart, you’ll be okay!” The Joxter pleaded desperately, putting forward more confidence than he felt.

Birds whistled past them both, high an low. How Snufkin wished to be a bird in this moment, he could hear them, but the noise blended together in his panicked state. It all became ringing in his ears, so loud and disorienting, he could barely hear his father crying out to him. Don't look down, he heard, whistling, indiscernible yelling, the crumbling of rocks, the creaking of the old wicker basket, he heard. It all blended together and made him nauseous. Snufkin looked down.

Everything quieted.

There was no sound as Snufkin looked past his toes to the steepest fall he would ever take. There was no sound at all except the distant gurgling of water.

Snufkin’s eyes widened and stopped breathing, he couldn't even feel his hands anymore. His vision swam as the warm breeze rushed past him, so calm, carrying the little moons that whistled silently past. Snufkin let out his breath and shrieked.

“Snufkin.” His father said, deathly serious, “Please. You must climb into the basket.”

Snufkin looked up again and saw his father curled over the edge, reaching for him. His father was so so close, but couldn't grab the basket. Snufkin knew he had to, he absolutely must climb into the wicker basket. Snufkin wanted more than anything else to hold his father's hand, the urge was the only thing in his mind. It was as if he had forgotten he needed to be saved, the only thing that mattered was holding his father’s hand.

Snufkin hoisted himself into the basket, the shaking and breaking root did nothing to stop him or even cause him to scream. Snufkin focused on his father only, as a result, his dress became snagged on some of the exposed straws. Snufkin stood in the basket, on his tippy toes, even as one foot slipped into the gaps.

The Joxter had such a look of relief on his face, the man made a swipe for Snufkin but only succeeded in grabbing the extra fabric of his sleeve.

“I've got you. You’re okay.” The Joxter said.

The basket slipped off the root not even a second after. Suddenly The Joxter surged forward beyond his control, but hooked a hand and exposed ledge. Blood, stark and red, had begun to ooze from the place he caught himself. His face showed no pain, and Snufkin didn't look anywhere other than his face. They were frozen there, both knew what Snufkin’s fate would be, as his father's grip on his sleeve was slipping. Snufkin thought of what to say, but nothing came, his mind was blank and he hated himself for it. He wanted to say something. Why couldn't he say anything? What was wrong with-

“You’ll be okay.” The Joxter said, out of breath, “You're going to be okay.”

For a moment, Snufkin believed that. Then time slowed and he realized that his father was fooling himself. His father would not say goodbye even though Snufkin would be gone no matter what. His father would live through the rest of his life without ever having said goodbye. Snufkin’s mind simplified itself and thought in basic terms. He didn't want his father to go on through the rest of his life suffering, Snufkin wanted to do anything he could to ease the man's pain. The least he could do was to say goodbye.

“Papa.” Snufkin said simply, stopping his father’s rambles dead in their tracks, “I love you.” He smiled as his sleeve ripped, casting him forever downwards as a scream that was not his own followed him all the way.

The water was cold and swept him away quite quickly. The rain had caused all manner of debris to fall into the river, making the water murky and hostile as well. The wicker basket crashed into rocks and jerked Snufkin’s semi conscious form round and round. He was traveling quickly down the river with no true idea of where he was going. The sound of rushing water was all encompassing now, it was everything that Snufkin knew.

He had no idea of whether or not the basket would hold, it had become banged up on the fall down, but it didn't seem to be taking on any water. Snufkin curled up and held his head, death could come in a moment. He did not know what fate had in store for him and the game of waiting to see was agonizing. He was at the total mercy of a river and a wicker basket.

The river tossed his basket into the side of the mountain, jostling Snufkin and the other basket dwelling items. He made no noise, did not move. He remained silent as the grave. The river began to run faster and wider, the roar of the water became too much to even hear himself think anymore. The fear was too much for Snufkin, who’s breaths began to come out in short huffs, his compressed form did nothing to help him.

He didn't cry out then, he couldn't even if it had occurred to him, there was no air in his lungs to do so. No, Snufkin let his blank mind race a mile a minute. He was afraid to consider the fact that he was still alive, it felt like giving himself false hope to be ripped away. More ammunition to fire at his pounding heart.

The wicker basket fell a good distance, causing Snufkin’s heart to raise into his throat, then crashed into the water. Droplets sprayed over Snufkin’s curled form, he buried his head into his chest and shut his eyes even harder than before. It did not even occur to him that he should see where he was going as it did not occur to him that he would survive this ordeal, no, nothing entered Snufkin’s panic blank mind. He only felt, the sensations did not make it to his mind, there was a disconnect between the two.

The rushing of the water was impossibly loud now, he was traveling faster and faster, every wave crashing against the basket caused the beat of his heart to resound in his ears. It went on like that for ages, practically torture. Children were not meant to endure so much stress and for so long.

Snufkin didn't even notice when the river became quieter and spit him out into a wide expanse of water. It still sent him quickly ahead, but the waves no longer bounced off rocks and debris, they no longer tormented Snufkin with the possibility of capsizing him. He only laid there, clutching his head, eyes scrunched up, shaking.

He stayed that way for hours, until the wicker basket jostled on the banks of the river, and turned his head to the side. Snufkin looked around and took the hat, placing it over himself. Everything was thankfully dark then, Snufkin pretended that he could be under his father’s scarf, the thought sent a dreadful pitfall through his stomach.

Where was he? Where was his father? What could he do? What was he going to do?

“What am I going to do.” Snufkin whispered, and then his eyes widened.

Tears bloomed in the corners and he clutched the blanket beneath him.

Snufkin screamed and wailed like a true child then, writhing and kicking his feet like it wasn't fair. Because it wasn't. It was the most unfair thing that had ever happened to Snufkin in his life, and god forgive him, he couldn't control his crying.

“Papa!” Snufkin screamed for his father.

And continued like that until his voice was too raw to say a word.

His father did not come, but someone else did. Two someones to be completely honest, holding each other’s hands and glancing around curiously. One called out a cautious ‘hello?’, it was a woman’s voice.

Snufkin was exhausted mentally and physically, but he forced himself to call out weakly, and raise his arm out from beneath the hat to wave it. The sound of harried footsteps approached him, and a man called out now. A simple hello, but for some reason it meant the world to Snufkin. The words caused new tears to breach him, he was relieved not to be alone.

“Oh! A talking basket!” The woman said, with a confusing amount of genuine surprise.

The man hummed thoughtfully and lifted the wicker basket, peering at the contents. He lifted the hat just a bit and gasped when he met eyes with little Snufkin, it seemed that he himself had also been under the impression that the little voice was the basket. He put the hat back down, which Snufkin was thankful for, the sun was too bright for him to take.

“My dear. It's a little boy.” He said quietly, though not too so that Snufkin could not hear him.

“How terrible,” she said, “To be abandoned like that…”

Snufkin bristled and hissed at the words, causing the man to accidentally drop his basket. Snufkin yelped and came tumbling out of the wicker basket onto the wet ground, partially obscured by the hat that had come with him.

“I wasn't abandoned.” He said weakly. “I lost my father.”

The hat was picked up gently, just a bit, and a furred snout came into Snufkin’s line of view. The woman had such a sad expression, her head tilted slightly before looking back towards her husband.

“We’ll help you, won't we dear?” She said.

“Of course!” The man said with a young voice.

Snufkin was scooped into his hat and cradled in the arms of the man, who smiled down at him with a frankly innocent smile. His wife picked up the basket and they locked arms, beginning to walk in a seemingly random direction. They talked quietly together, and became distracted quite easily. As they walked through the forest they tugged away from each other at times, and laughed lightly after it happened. They seemed to forget the other was there at times, Snufkin realized that if they had not been locked by their arms they would probably have wandered off from each other. The scatterbrained couple had been walking only a short distance before they stopped in front of a large red coffee tin.

“Oh! How forgetful of us,” The woman said with a sweet smile, “I am The Fuzzy.”

“And I'm The Muddler.” The man matched her.

“Snufkin.” He sniffled.

“We had heard you yelling! It really scared the devil out of me…” The Muddler admitted bashfully, “But even if you had ended up being a ghost, those are not so truly terrible.” The insight made no sense to Snufkin, it just felt like more silliness from The Muddler, of which the man had demonstrated plenty of already. He just nodded mindlessly and sunk deeper into the green hat. The Muddler released The Fuzzy’s hand briefly so that she could climb into the coffee tin, then lifted Snufkin’s hat so that she could lean over and bring him up.

The action caused no small piece of anxiety in Snufkin, who was reminded by the reaching hands of The Fuzzy of his father’s which had not reached him. Snufkin rolled over and bared his back to the world, clutching himself so that no one could see him cry. He was safely held again soon enough, but it did nothing to help him uncurl, no, he very much felt he would stay this way forever.

“Hmmm well, um, Snufkin. Would you like to tell us some things? So that we can help you find your papa?” The Fuzzy asked.

The two of them were very obviously out of their depth, neither was incredibly well equipped to comfort a child as upset as Snufkin was. All they had were their sweet dispositions and their genuineness. Snufkin paused and said nothing, he wanted to, but found he could not. He wanted to find his father so badly that it caused him to shake, yet still, he could not force his mouth to open. He shook his head no and whimpered.

“Oh! Okay well…” The Muddler said quite awkwardly, “Whenever you’d like too, my ears are open!”

The man wiggled his floppy ears, even though Snufkin could not see it. The Fuzzy did and she smiled at the gesture, before wiggling her own. The two of them were distracted by each other briefly wiggling ears, then noses, back and forth. They came back from their wiggling after awhile and The Fuzzy dumped Snufkin out of his hat down on a ratty old blanket. Snufkin shook his head, confused by the suddenness of it and looked towards the off couple, taking them in properly for the first time.

The Muddler had a pot over his head, the handle held a bouquet of flowers in it. His face was round and genuine, he had a near permanent blush and shaggy dusty ears. He wore a mismatched array of coats and scarves. Perhaps he had forgotten that he’d put on one before adding the next. The Fuzzy was more creature looking, brown snout and broad ears that flattened shyly as Snufkin looked up at them. She wore a simple sundress with a couple tears near the bottom, her smile matched The Muddler’s near perfectly. They were sweet, it was the most accurate way to describe them.

The Coffee tin was small, and filled near to the brim with just the most random things. Zippers, push pins, bottle caps, shoe strings, but most of all buttons. You almost could not see the bed under all these items, but The Fuzzy and The Muddler sat on it easily.

“Very sorry for the mess.” The Fuzzy said, as if it were just a little thing, “We’re in the process of reorganizing. By size this time.”

Neither elaborated on that, only turned to pick up all sorts of buttons and laid them out on the floor. It had begun to become darker, but The Fuzzy and The Muddler only brought out a lamp and continued organizing the buttons. Snufkin found his eyes drooping as he watched the curious display, he pulled the hat over him again and curled up to sleep. It came easily with the small and simple giggles that wiggled free from the odd couple.

Chapter Text

“Oh I do hope he'll be alright..” The Fuzzy’s voice was quiet, but Snufkin could hear her perfectly anyways.

Snufkin huffed quietly and replayed the day previous in his mind, it was surreal to him, all that had happened just yesterday. He was laying in the sun, chin rested on his father’s chest, then suddenly he was here with complete strangers. Nice strangers, but strangers all the same, and Snufkin was not incredibly inclined to speak to strangers at the moment. The sun had surely risen by then, Snufkin could see a sliver of light from under the brim of his hat. He found he was not ready to start the day, to accept the cards he’d been dealt.

It was much easier to lay there and pretend to be asleep, but then again Snufkin knew, the easiest path was often secretly covered with pitfalls. Realistically, he would have to start looking for his father, the man was far too silly to be trusted with the job himself. No, Snufkin knew, his father would mope and mope and fret and despair and, well, the man couldn't quite be trusted to be rational as Snufkin could, Snufkin was sure.

Gathering his courage, the child lifted the brim of his hat and looked around. The sun had in fact risen, but much higher than Snufkin had originally thought. It seemed to be midday, rays of white sun flitted through the trees that hung over the odd couple’s coffee tin house. The spots of light swayed over the floor as soft breezes pushed through the branches overhead. At times, they reflected off of The Muddler’s pot, making Snufkin squint.

“Oh I'm not sure what may happen…” The Muddler said anxiously, “I wonder if he intends to keep this basket?” he mumbled then, a little distractedly.

Snufkin cleared his voice, catching the attention of the odd couple easily. They turned and offered little smiles, the undivided attention caused Snufkin to falter a bit. He inched onto the edge of the table and sat, his hat resting behind him now. He opened his mouth to say something and let out a choked noise.

“Uh.” He whispered, “Hello.”

The Fuzzy offered a cheery ‘hello’ in return, then walked up to the table where Snufkin sat. He was a little startled by her quickness, it showed in the way he jumped, but she didn't seem to quite notice as she was reaching for something beside him. She pulled away a pretty metal bowl, covered by foil, and handed it to Snufkin happily.

Snufkin uncovered it cautiously, then set the foil aside carefully and respectfully, even though it was already fairly crumpled in the first place. It was just his inclination to do so, especially in the face of two almost perfect strangers. The bowl held sliced fruit of many different kinds, with a dollop of cream on top. Snufkin widened his eyes and looked back to the odd couple, who had been watching him intently until they became bashful under his eyes.

“Thought you might like something nice for breakfast! I peeled them and dear Fuzzy sliced them.” The Muddler beamed quietly.

The Fuzzy let out an ‘oh!’ before rummaging through oddly organized piles of nonsense, after some searching and of course some wiggling, she produced a single spoon. They sat back then, very awkwardly, waiting for Snufkin to take a bite. He did so and nodded in approval, not quite understanding what sort of reaction they really wanted. It seemed to please them enough as The Muddler nodded back and climbed out of the coffee tin without much of a word. He continued to munch through the fruit, waiting for The Fuzzy to say, well, anything.

They were such confusing people, very eclectic, but Snufkin found that he appreciated their ways. They were just downright sweet people, nearly sweeter than the fruit and cream that they had prepared for Snufkin. Nearly.

“Is it a little easier to speak now?” The Fuzzy asked in a curious tone.

Snufkin was surprised that it was, he wasn't so choked up anymore. He traced a finger along the grain of the table, which to him looked like a big finger print. Finger to finger, he had thought, the focusing helped him to speak easier as well.

“Do you know The Joxter?” Snufkin asked the table.

“Why yes!” The Fuzzy replied, shocked.

Snufkin was not surprised by this, many people knew his father, or at least knew of his father. The man traveled quite a bit and met a long list of people, but it reassured him somewhat. Perhaps it would not be so hard to find the man again.

“I knew him maybe… three.. Or maybe four years ago?” she scratched her chin, “My dear knew him better though, I met my husband while he had been going on adventures with your father!”

“Really?” Snufkin’s eyes widened, “But… you must not know where he is..” he said, not despairing, but not celebrating either.

“Ah I'm afraid not, but! Um… well.” She trailed off, seemingly deliberating.

Snufkin waited, looking directly at her now, “yes?” he asked.

“Hm, but nothing actually, I was trying to think of an upside but I don't quite know one…” The Fuzzy’s ears drooped.

Snufkin was not disappointed, he knew much better than to expect an easy resolution, instead he was grateful. Grateful to The Fuzzy and The Muddler, not only for housing him, but for looking for him when he called for help. They were kind people, he was proud to meet them knowing that they had been honest to goodness friends of his father.

“Do you know my mother?” Snufkin asked then.

“The Mymble? Of course! Oh! I see! I shall send a letter to her!” The Fuzzy dove again, into a pile of organized chaos, and retrieved a pencil and some paper, “He must live with her right?” She asked with excitement.

“Well.” Snufkin said, and thought about it a little more deeply.

Would his father go back to his mother? The man was flighty of course, but it would only kill him further to isolate himself. Which meant, he might just do that exactly. A sinking feeling made itself at home in Snufkin’s chest, he worried for his father. Would the man be alright? He wouldn't be able to make it to The Mymble for two more months at least, that was if he was even intending to return.

“Please send the letter, but um.” He deliberated on how to say what he really meant, “I have to look for my papa.”

The Fuzzy looked a little surprised, she tilted her head just so with a blank expression. She began to draft a message onto the page choosing not to question Snufkin, for which he was thankful. No one would trust a child to travel the world alone, no one would even listen to his reasoning, but The Fuzzy did not ask, she seemed the type to trust one to know what was good for one’s self. From what Snufkin could see, her hand writing was very poor.

The Muddler then peeked over the coffee tin house, speaking with a friendly tone, “How odd that The Joxter’s son should be staying with us.” he said.

“Oh dear,” The Fuzzy said conversationally, “you heard?”

“I’ve only been sitting outside this whole time.” He spoke simply back.

Snufkin did not find himself to be the odd thing about their situation. No, he thought, looking around at the clutter, the silly Muddler, and the scatterbrained Fuzzy, he was most definitely not the odd one.

“Do you know a town by a big tree?” Snufkin asked.

The Muddler hummed in thought, putting a hand under his chin and subsequently slipping a bit from the edge of the tin. The Fuzzy didn't seem to know much as she only tilted her head and fiddled with some buttons.

“Do you know the town by name?” The Muddler asked, having recovered from his slipping.

Snufkin wrinkled his nose in distaste and ran his claws over the wooden table absentmindedly. No, he did not know it by name, he didn't know any of the towns they had traveled past by name. Snufkin didn't particularly care to know the names of places he had traveled through, and he did not stay in them often enough to know. It was a shame that such a thing could come back to bite him, it hadn't ever occurred to him before that it might. Then again, it had also never occurred to him that he might lose his father like this. Snufkin drooped fairly visibly, he wanted more than anything to do this the quick way, but he didn't give up hope at the notion of hard work. His father might wilt away from it but he was a separate case, yes, Snufkin could do it. He knew he could. He looked intently at The Fuzzy’s shoes while he spoke.

“I know what it looked like, there was a tall building with a watch fire. And on the other side of the town was a giant tree…” Snufkin answered her.

“Hmmm. Well, neither me or dear Fuzzy would be able to remember a place like that… But the people in the next town over might know!” The Muddler said brightly.

As he spoke, The Muddler tilted his head in thought, a bright white flower slipped from the end of his pot hat. The little white thing floated easily down like a paper plane might coast on the wind. The Muddler seemed surprised by it's residence in his pot hat, as he reached up to the rest of them, feeling blindly for the stems. He pulled some of them down to examine and hummed curiously.

“I hadn't known these were still here!” The Muddler remarked, bemused, if only a little bit.

The Fuzzy laughed in a friendly fashion and tapped her own head to check for flowers. After finding none there she smiled and gathered the petals that had begun to shake free from The Muddler’s messing. Snufkin reached out for a petal and received a whole flower instead, and then another. The Fuzzy seemed to be deliberating on giving him a third as she picked through the gathered petals, but Snufkin retracted his hands and just looked.

There was the little white flower, which was a bit bigger than previously thought upon inspection, it was soft like paper that had been crumpled too many times, and thick with a little yellow center. The other was white as well, but bigger still, and more dainty. It had many petals sweeping out from the center. Snufkin regarded them both curiously.

“An orange blossom, I believe.” The Fuzzy pointed to the yellow centered flower, “and ah, a gardenia.” she pointed to the other.

Snufkin nodded and held them gently, didn't want them to crumble and they were very delicate things. He hadn't the faintest clue where they had come from, and it seemed that The Muddler and The Fuzzy didn't quite know either. They were just happy that such a thing appeared.

“Snufkin, you should keep the gardenia. And we'll keep the orange blossom. That way on your travels we'll be connected.” The Fuzzy mused almost airily.

The Muddler nodded after a moment of thought and let himself slip from the ledge of the coffee tin, sliding back down outside. He seemed to have taken the pondering of his wife very seriously, although Snufkin didn't blame him for this, it was a very nice thought. Snufkin, who had always resigned himself to keep necessities, found that he thought the gardenia quite necessary. He reached out for the wicker basket, which sat on the odd couples bed, The Fuzzy understood easily and handed it to him. Snufkin placed the flower delicately into the basket, then put the hat on top of that. The mouth organ rested still, untouched under the blanket.

Snufkin looked up then, and asked, “How would I get to the next town?”

The Fuzzy brightened and dove for the third time into a pile of silliness, digging around for a long while. She finally pulled a hand out, raising a slip of paper resting between two fingers. She turned to Snufkin smiling, shockingly determined, and spoke.

“By train.” she said, “If you must go today, then me and my dear Muddler can walk you to the station.”

Snufkin thought for a while but answered, “I must go today.” he hadn't any time to lose after all.

“All right.” The Fuzzy nodded and helped Snufkin out of the coffee tin house.

The Muddler had been sitting a ways away, fashioning something out of twigs. As Snufkin dropped to the ground, he stood and smiled. The Fuzzy came out afterwards, wicker basket in one hand, train ticket in the other. She slipped the ticket into the basket and took Snufkin’s hand.

Snufkin did not like to hold hands unless he was feeling like it, much less with people he did not know very well. But the odd couple had been immeasurably kind, and Snufkin found he trusted them enough to take The Muddler’s hand in his other. So they walked again through the forest, every once in a while the odd couple would tug Snufkin one direction or another then chuckle bashfully at their forgetfulness. The child did not mind so terribly much.

The station was a small building, unattended and dusty. So Snufkin and the odd couple waited on a bench outside. Eventually a train came, and upon showing the conductor Snufkin’s ticket, he had said that it was a very old ticket, and not even for his train, but he did not particularly care, and had allowed snufkin on anyways.

Snufkin leaned out a window to wave off The Muddler and The Fuzzy as the train began to move at a snails pace.

“Thank you.” Snufkin spoke in a strong tone of voice, “You've both been very nice to me.”

The Muddler smiled, “Of course, you were in need and the son of a friend. Not to mention I have a child around your age.”

Snufkin tilted his head curiously as the train picked up it's pace.

“Where are they?” Snufkin said a little louder to be heard over the increasing amount of noise being produced by the train.

The Muddler paused for a moment, and turned to The Fuzzy, “Dear, where exactly is Sniff?”

She blanched white as a sheet, then followed The Muddler with a gasp. They odd couple stared at each other with ghastly expressions as Snufkin’s train traveled out of hearing distance, and down the winding tracks ahead.

Chapter Text

Snufkin sat down on a cushioned seat, to his knowledge the booths had assigned seating, but he didn't really have a proper ticket. Nor would he feel very inclined to adhere to such a rule if he had. Instead Snufkin sat by himself while the occasional passenger walked by and glanced curiously at the lonely child. He didn't pretend not to see them looking, because if he didn't stare right back at them then they would never stop.

The child rested his chin on the cool table, it wasn't textured and homely like the one that had been in The Muddler’s coffee tin, it was all smoothed out. It was not very much fun to trace the grain. Snufkin shifted his eyes to the window, still cracked open, he hadn't the strength to close the thing, for it was too heavy. Snufkin considered asking one of the other passengers for help, but dismissed the idea. His stomach turned beyond his control and Snufkin clutched his dress. He was afraid sure, who wouldn't be? He had to do this though, there wasn't any sense in getting worked up over the whole ordeal- finding his father, that was, he was very content to leave the window open.

The train had since burst through the forest and into a stretch of grassy plains, Snufkin could see that in the distance there were hordes of butterflies sweeping over them. Many more than he had ever seen at one time, perhaps hundreds of them. Butterflies were free creatures, but they had not always been. Snufkin knew that even a butterfly had not always been able to go where ever it pleased. It had had to survive, inch across the forest floors, melt down and reform. There was a lot of work that went into being a butterfly, they were not as carefree as one might have you believe.

Snufkin smiled at the sight, it was beautiful, and he hadn't seen anything like it in his life. He released the grip on his dress and eased back into the red cushioned seat, facing the window now. It occurred to him that there were many things in life that he would never see, and that a cloud of butterflies beating wind between their wings was a sight that he had to see then and there. Had he not split from The Muddler and The Fuzzy, he would not have seen this, and if he had not split from his-

No.

No Snufkin didn't want to think about that, it felt wrong and unreal. Like it wasn't something he was meant to want, forbidden and guilty. Snufkin reached for his basket to observe the gardenia again, but paused. He looked at his own hand in front of the basket and felt a wave of confusion wash over him, although he didn't quite know why.

Snufkin gently took the hat, blanket, flower, and mouth organ from the basket and set them on the smooth round table. He blushed a little at his silliness before stepping into the wicker basket.

Oh. Snufkin sat snugly. Which was new and unusual. Though if he thought about it, it wasn't truly that odd. Snufkin had grown some, if only a little, and had filled out the basket a bit. He was just about to climb out of the pokey thing, as it was without a blanket it could be fairly uncomfortable, when the conductor stopped by his booth.

Snufkin sat there as if he had been caught red handed, but the conductor did little more than chuckle and sit down next to him. The child couldn't decide if he wanted to try to leave the basket and clearly show that it had embarrassed him, or just stay there awkwardly as a broken piece of straw poked his behind.

“As a young thing travelling alone, I thought I might check up on you.” said the conductor. “Your name is..?”

Snufkin regarded them suspiciously, did one really have to announce the reasoning behind their approaching you? They were less hairy than many people Snufkin had met before, and had lazy eyes with a careless smile.

“Snufkin.” He said quietly.

“Nice to meet you,” They tipped their hat, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“How long is this train ride.” Snufkin said, to be a pest.

The Conductor took out a golden pocket watch and checked it slickly, then snapped it shut with a swish of their wrist and deposited the thing back into a shirt pocket in their uniform. Snufkin waited for The Conductor to tell him the time, or even how long was left in the ride, but they just sat there and plopped their chin in one hand.

“...Do you know?” Snufkin asked.

“Oh no, the watch has been broken for years.” The Conductor said easily. “Anyways, I sincerely hope you enjoy the ride Snufkin.” They smiled like they had a fun secret, and walked away from Snufkin’s booth.

Snufkin realized belatedly that he could have asked them to close the window, and shook his head at his own forgetfulness. Perhaps the company of his father’s friends had rubbed off on him in the worst ways possible. Still, as Snufkin stepped out of the basket and scooted onto the plushly carpeted floor, he found he was grateful to have met them.

The air blowing in through the window was loud and abrasive, the breeze was much too cold to really relax next too. Snufkin put his possessions back into the wicker basket and paused briefly.

Where exactly had his backpack gone? Snufkin thought back to the day previous, he knew he had had it while walking the mountain path, he felt it on his back while he was staring into the eyes of the moon. He had felt everything then, it was one of those little moments where the world around you stilled and all that was was the area within an inch of yourself. His father had faded away, as had the bird, Snufkin had just felt his heart beating, the weight of his backpack, the wicker baskets straws poking his arms, and the ground beneath his feet shifting ever so slightly.

But what after that? It was blurry and unsure, Snufkin remembered knowing that he would die and the calm surrounding that thought. It terrified him now, causing him to reach up and clutch the edge of the table. He had been so sure…

Snufkin heard the tears hitting the carpet with a muted sound. He realized their sound before he felt the warmth on his cheeks. His knees wobbled a little bit as he took in a shaking breath, and wondered briefly how his father might be feeling. Perhaps he should have reassured his father that he would be alright, after all, what had he invoked? letting his father believe that he would die? But then again, Snufkin had been so sure. He had been so sure that he would never see his father again.

The child’s wet sniffling was drown out by the rushing air, as it forced through his train window. So Snufkin allowed himself a few good sobs, retracting his hands to his chest and sitting with his back to the cushioned booth. The air reminded him of the river, rushing so loud he couldn't hear himself think.

But Snufkin was not in the river, he knew that he was not, so he wiped his tears and snotty nose on the sleeve that had not been ripped and stood abruptly. Snufkin bonked his head fairly hard, and clutched it while biting his lip to silence a yelp. Such an occurrence was new to Snufkin, he had never been tall enough to bonk his head on much of anything.
He extended again, slower this time, and stood only slightly crouched beneath the table. He had definitely gotten taller, but not by much.

A young man walked by Snufkin’s booth, glancing his way as he traveled further down the train. The man seemed to trip a bit over his shiny shoes, which held mismatched socks. Perhaps he had not expected Snufkin to be looking straight at him, but that served him right for staring.

The walkway between booths was not incredibly wide, so Snufkin resolved to walk the direction opposite the man with the shining shoes. If he remembered correctly, The Conductor had gone that way as well, so Snufkin wanted doubly to walk the other direction.

The train wasn't excessively nice, it was dulled and worn down in places, but Snufkin still didn't quite like the formality of it. It was uncomfortable to be there, walking past a few well dressed people. He had really hoped to avoid them all, but it seemed that they had spread themselves out along the cars of the train. Snufkin kept walking briskly, he had to for his small legs to get him anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. Finally, Snufkin walked to through the empty last car and out onto the balcony, by the time he had reached it he was near running.

The air smelt sweet on the caboose balcony, and the clacking and rushing of the wheels on the track felt wistful. Snufkin watched the distant forest become even more distant, until it was engulfed by the endless green hills, dotted by orange flowers. The sky was turning a bit darker, though it had yet to become pinkish, and Snufkin threw himself down between the bars of the balcony rails with a thud. There were two thick yellow candles sitting perched ever so precariously on the rails, too high for him to reach. He huffed a sigh of relief to be outside, he hadn't realized how truly stuffy the train was, strangers constantly watching him.

The train pushed past hordes of butterflies, leaving them behind. Snufkin traveled forward as they were frozen in place, he sighed as the air rushed past his hair. It blew hard enough to lift the corners of his blanket just so, but not hard enough that it should dislodge the hat in his basket. Snufkin wondered briefly what the concept of ‘forward’, entailed, then ventured to think that it meant whatever he needed it too. Such a question was more his father’s style of asking.

The air began to smell of salt, like a caramel, and Snufkin wondered if perhaps the train was nearing the ocean. The sky began to fade pink, and the door opened behind him. Out walked The Conductor, who had a neutral look on their face, that faded to amusement when Snufkin looked up at them. They took out a match and tried to light the candle on the left about three times before remembering to cup the fire against the wind, once lit, the flames burst out in huge blooms of light. After igniting both wicks, The Conductor sat next to Snufkin with the basket between the two, their legs poking through the rails. They kicked their feet absentmindedly as the candle’s flames whipped around wildly like streamers.

“I had wondered where you ended up running off too.” Said The Conductor conversationally, “This is a nice place to hide.”

Snufkin bristled a bit and moved his basket closer to himself, spitting out a petulant answer, “I’m not hiding.” he said.

“I see,” spoke The Conductor, “how are you then?”

Snufkin did not answer that, only looked off at the darkening sky, and all the hordes of flitting butterflies. After a moments silence, Snufkin rested his head against the rails, he felt exhausted truth be told. Not physically, but mentally, and he wanted to be alone.

“That bad huh? Very sorry.” The Conductor said softly.

Snufkin felt a pang of guilt then, for the petty way he had treated The Conductor thus far, despite them being nothing but amiable to him. They seemed maybe to be the disconnected type, but made the effort to check in with Snufkin either way. He supposed that his distress was kind of obvious, though the thought had not occurred to him previously.

Snufkin looked down at his ripped sleeve, and then at the dirt all over his body. His hair was unbrushed and he knew his face probably did not look very refreshed. No wonder all those people were staring, perhaps they too had been concerned as The Conductor was.

“How are you?” Snufkin asked, in attempt to make amends.

“Absolutely terrible, someone has stolen my pocket watch.” The Conductor said without sounding like they cared to terribly much.

Snufkin looked up at them, eyes widened in surprise. They stared blankly into the distance, dark hair falling to their shoulders. Had their pocket watch really been stolen? Snufkin wondered the truth as The Conductor didn't seem to miss the watch at all, they just kept a simple expression with a hint of a smile at the corner of their mouth.

Surely if they carried the watch everywhere in their pocket, despite it being unusable, it must have meant something to them. Snufkin wondered about what type of person The Conductor was, and then thought further about how many different people existed in the world. It was a odd and challenging to describe feeling that the thought gave him, he felt no positive nor negative emotions, though he felt as if he had learned something. Something important.

“I’ll look around for it.” Snufkin said.

“Oh you don't have too, thank you though, you are really too kind.” The Conductor offered.

Snufkin didn't think so, he hadn't said he would find the thing, only that he would keep an eye out, but with that The Conductor stood and turned. They tipped their cap in exchange for a goodbye, and opened the door gently before slipping through it.

Snufkin sat there longer, waiting as the sun dipped below the horizon, and then still after that. The smell of salt became stronger then, and the sweetness that had been in the air previously dissipated. Snufkin stood and wiggled a little bit, his behind had become a bit numb from sitting in one place for so long, then reached on his tippy toes to turn the handle. After propping the heavy door open, Snufkin returned inside the train with his basket. It was so drastically quiet that it nearly shocked him, the wind and the clacking of the trains had become background noise in his ears. Now it was dulled by the posh walls of the train, and Snufkin walked slowly back to his booth.

Most people were asleep but Snufkin sat there awake, looking up at the rising crescent moon. His father was somewhere, looking at the same one, perhaps through a heavy window as well. The ground beneath Snufkin’s feet felt unsteady again as his shoulders shook. He only let a few tears slip out and then grit his teeth and laid down. He could do this, he thought as he was falling asleep.

He was sure of it.

Chapter Text

Snufkin woke to the sound of harried footsteps, he looked up just in time to see the coattails of a man with mismatched socks. Even after he disappeared past Snufkin’s sight, the sounds of rustling and searching for something persisted. How odd. Snufkin found himself wishing not to have to interact with much of anyone on this train, of those he had seen, he was a bit wary.

A hemulen man for one, which his father had always warned him of, as they were very fond of rules. A tall and nervous looking woman in a striped dress, for two, whom could always be seen clutching her hands. A busy looking man in mismatched socks, for three, who had been looking for something for seemingly two days now. And a sniffling, short, woman who was nearly completely smooth for four. Being completely smooth was not an untrustworthy trait mind you, it was only a bit unnerving when almost everyone Snufkin had met was some level of furred.

It may have been some level of bias but Snufkin found he hadn't wanted to talk to much of anyone on the train. He found that his desires to speak to anyone decreased as a shriek ripped through one of the other cars.

Snufkin’s ears flattened to his head at the sound, he felt a twist in his stomach that nothing could could come of. The feeling of anticipation again, he wondered what might come of it this time, the pressure in the air. Snufkin, against his better judgement, walked into the next car where he had heard the woman’s shriek come from.

As he walked in, the man with mismatched socks pushed past him and looked around frantically. He jostled the hairless woman, who gasped in offense as she tried to make her way out of the car, mumbling something about not being able to stand the screaming. Snufkin felt especially small next to such a group of people, the hemulen man, the tall striped woman, and the man with mismatched socks, they didn't even seem to notice him standing there shuffling as not to be stepped on.

The hemulen man tried to calm the striped woman, “Ms. Peony!” he said to catch her attention.

She would not stop sobbing and wringing her hands, she sat down huffily then stood not a moment later. She, being much taller than the hemulan man, was almost comically able to rip herself away from any calming hands he might place on her. Not that this would stop the hemulen man from trying and nearly chasing Ms. Peony around in a tiny circle as she worried herself into a frenzy.

“Mr…” The man in the mismatched socks asked,

“Hemulan Banker.” The Hemulan Banker replied curtly.

The man in mismatched socks blinked owlishly, and scratched his cheek embarrassed. Perhaps he had been expecting the same level of a cordial reply from the banker as he had offered Ms. Peony. He shook his head and let his shaggy hair fling any which way, then put one hand out in uncertain questioning. He attempted to tap The Hemulan Banker on the shoulder unsuccessfully, for he was much too preoccupied with calming the panicking woman.

“Mr. Hemulen Banker,” he tried nervously, “what exactly is going on?”

Snufkin found himself asking the same question, what was going on? He looked around at the car which he had entered, and found not much to be out of place. That was, other than a bag which had been rifled through, a small open box on the table beside it. This car was more roomy, there was more space in it and it seemed to be some sort of dining car. Nothing of interest to Snufkin though, he was not upset that he had not explored it the day previous.

“My ring!” cried Ms. Peony, “It is my ring! Mr. Punainensilli!”

At crying such a thing, the woman threw her hands up in hysterics, startling Snufkin as well as the other two. Snufkin found he wanted off this train, as the air became heavier and heavier, his sense of anticipation thickening. The Hemulen Banker let his hand thud down on a table as the hairless woman peaked her head back into the car. She looked quite shocked, a stark contrast to her earlier annoyance.

“A damn thief then.” said the hairless woman, causing Mr. Punainensilli to stiffen and Snufkin to gasp in horror.

“Don't say such words!” Snufkin admonished her.

His outburst caused all of the train goers to look towards him, making Snufkin intensely shy. To be trapped in a small room with so many people staring directly at him, this was practically a nightmare. It was as if they had only just noticed Snufkin was on the train, much less in the car with them, despite all of them having walked past his booth to stare at one point or another the day previous. The action caused a little smoldering flame of anger lick at Snufkin’s stomach, he wished very strongly for them to stop looking so much.

The Hemulen Banker scoffed finally, breaking the painful silence with an accusation, “How ridiculous of us to be so up in arms as the thief is right in front of us.” he gestured loosely to Snufkin.

Snufkin stiffened in horror. He hadn't stolen anything, why would The Hemulen Banker accuse him?

“I did no such thing” Snufkin spit out weakly.

The hairless woman rolled her eyes and brought herself fully into the dining car with the air of someone who was very annoyed. Perhaps because she was very annoyed. She stood leaning slightly against the table Snufkin had backed himself under just so, and threw her arms up in exasperation.

“How could this little animal steal anything? He hasn't anything to hold a ring in. Do you see pockets?” She spit out.

It didn't seem she was trying to help Snufkin in any way, she only gave off the air of someone who was trying very hard to let you know they were smarter than you without saying it outright. She screwed her face up in a venomous sneer as The Hemulen Banker stuttered out offended half words.

“He could hide such a thing in his sleeves, Ms. Syyllinen.” said Mr. Punainensilli in a small voice, then looked down at Snufkin and amended his sentence, “Sleeve, I mean."

Snufkin knew what would happen next and found himself backing further under the table in fear and discomfort. Ms. Syyllinen caught one of his feet and yanked him out from under, causing him to his his head on the floor as he was dragged. Snufkin cried out as she held him upside down by one foot and shook him up and down, his dress fell over his face and he began to flail out in any direction. Next she yanked his one functional sleeve up his arm and unbuttoned the cuff to show nothing could be hidden there either.

After making her point abundantly clear, she dropped Snufkin to the floor with a heavy thump. Snufkin was in tears at that point, with his dress flipped over his head and his limbs strewn in any which way. He was embarrassed and hurt, he had never been prepared to be handled in such a way. His little sobbing noises only served to embarrass him further and he did not want to face all of the adults in the room like he was.

“Yes well, that's all right and good, but did he not have a basket as well?” said The Hemulan Banker.

Snufkin felt dread all over again. He flipped his dress the right way and glared up at The Hemulan banker through tears. His face was red and his nose had begun to drip in a pitiful way, but Snufkin glared all the same.

“I suppose he is a mumrik…” reasoned Ms. Peony, then continued, “and he is so dirty! Who else would steal my poor diamond ring.”

Snufkin tried not to let the words pierce him to the core, he had heard much worse, but in his vulnerable state they affected him the the worst possible way. Snufkin stood and yelled through his tears, “I do not need a terrible ring! Would you leave me be? Where is The Conductor?!”

This cause them all to pause, Snufkin included. Where on earth was The Conductor? Why hadn't they come running after the first shrill scream from Ms. Peony’s lungs? Certainly they would have heard such as thing, as everyone else.

“We should find them probably…” Said Mr. Punainensilli, nervously, “They would know what to do with a little thief…”

“I already know what to do with a thief!” declared The Hemulan Banker, “Lock him up.”

The man jumped at the intensity of the banker’s cry, and clutched at his heart to soothe his frayed nerves. Snufkin felt less than no pity for Mr. Punainensilli, in fact he was nearly gratified that the man had such a weak heart, and Snufkin was not a vengeful person. Though all of those feelings had become second to the fear, for what could Snufkin possibly do? They seemed fairly intent on believing it to be him based on no evidence at all.

“Well!” yelled Ms. Syyllinen, “Are we to check the little animals basket or what?”

This caused the man with mismatched socks to nearly jump out of them. Out of the two yelling people, everyone in that car seemed to agree The Syyllinen was scarier. They all moved to the car where Snufkin’s basket resided, though Snufkin himself had to be dragged by the hand by a certain hemulan banker. The man had not been gentle with Snufkin, yanking his arm along like he could not walk himself. Snufkin struggled not to lash out and bite and scratch, he reminded himself that that was what the other passengers had expected him to do, they all believed him to be a wildling and a thief. He couldn't prove them right, but he couldn't prove them wrong either. He was stuck, along for the ride of this terrible mystery.

They convened around his booth and The Hemulan Banker shoved him forward. Snufkin scowled and climbed up onto the plush seats, retrieving his basket and putting it onto the table before shoving it forward at the other passengers.

Mr. Punainensilli startled at the basket before calming himself and opening it and rifling through the small list of things inside. He took the hat and put it on the smooth table, sliding it back towards Snufkin who grabbed it with anxious fists. Next he delicately placed the flower some ways away from the rest of the prying eyed passengers. He took the mouth organ out of the basket for the first time since it had been put in there, examined it for it was of good quality, then put it down as well. He then took the blanket out and threw it down on the table, seemingly more interested with what was under it. He dug his hand in one last time, to Snufkin’s utter confusion and dismay, before pulling out a golden pocket watch.

“You had taken this?!” Mr. Punainensilli gasped out.

Snufkin felt the ever present dread in his stomach grow just a little more dreadful, and began to protest before a chorus of accusations shut him up. This seemed to be all the proof needed for them, though they had not found a ring, the pocket watch was enough to name Snufkin as the thief. The yelling turned louder and louder, even placing his hands over his ears could not deafen the other passengers accusations. Snufkin felt it would only be a few moments before they really did grab him and lock him up, his heart was racing, his mind was blank. All he could think to do was shout,

“Mr. Punainensilli! When did you last see The Conductor!”

The passengers stilled in curiosity, each one in turn, looking towards the man with mismatched socks. He paused as well, scratching his chin and looking towards the ceiling deep in thought.

“Well you know,” he began, “I knew not the exact time of course, there isn't a single clock on this train… which is just ludicrous don't you think? How terrifying, never knowing when you leave nor when you arrive-!”

“Would you get on with it?” Ms. Peony stomped her foot.

He at least had the good graces to appear bashful as he continued, “Right, yes, you see, I, well-!”

Snufkin at that moment realized something, and with it he snapped to awareness. He pointed a finger at Mr. Punainensilli as the man held the golden pocket watch in his hands.

“You must have taken the pocket watch.” He said, deadly serious.

The other passengers all stiffened at his words and turned to Snufkin slowly, they had most definitely never expected such a young child to stand up for himself and hurl an accusation back. No, Snufkin was assumed to be the easiest culprit for such a crime, to the rest of them it had seemed like clockwork. Well, Snufkin was eager to throw a wrench in their gears.

“I spoke to The Conductor yesterday, they showed me their watch then and walked off in Ms. Peony’s direction. You followed and I went to the caboose, later that night they said their watch had been stolen!” Snufkin explained in a hurried way.

Ms. Syyllinen scratched her chin and said, “He’s right about himself and the conductor going to the caboose, I saw that.”

Ms. Peony nodded quietly to affirm the other half of Snufkin’s story, and The Hemulan Banker nodded jerkily and annoyed, much to the dismay of the man and his damn mismatched socks. He looked around, in a second everyone had turned on him, and let out a cry of defeat.

“Yes! Okay I stole the watch! I’m just so afraid of not knowing the time! I was going to return it too, and I never stole anyones ring!” He said feeling awfully sorry for himself, “And I went to bed right after instead of returning it-, i'm sorry! It was simply so late… and when I woke up! It was gone!”

Snufkin’s head turned in confusion, something didn't feel quite right about that, but he hadn't the courage to press the man on it. Instead he sat and thought for a moment as the other passengers regarded Mr. Punainensilli with chiding and admonishments. They didn't seem to quite trust that he hadn't stolen the ring either, but what could they do to him? He wasn't a small thing like Snufkin, it would be much harder to turn him upside down and shake him by the ankles.

"So then how did it end up in the basket?" Ms. Peony asked, genuinely confused.

There was more quiet bickering going on, but Snufkin was deep in thought, he couldn't quite fit together what was forming in his head. He decided to ask another question, “Did any of you see anything last night?” He addressed the other passengers.

Ms. Syyllinen held her elbows in each hand and looked down on Snufkin with a very annoyed face. She sneered before saying, “It was so early in the morning, but I spoke with Mr. Hemulan Banker. I'm not sure how it helps though, it only clears our names of the crime.”

The Hemulen Banker brightened and said, “Well that narrows it down to two doesn't it? Seems pretty helpful to me.”

The sound of a hand hitting the table startled nearly everyone, including the owner of said hand. The man and his mismatched socks seemed unnerved by his own outburst, but quickly regained his shaky composure and spoke out.

“How does that clear you of any guilt?” He said, causing The Humulen banker to scoff.

“Because I spoke to the conductor only a stones throw in time prior! Just a couple moments before 2:14 in the morning.” The Hemulen said. “It must have been the little Mumrik, the thing must’ve lured The Conductor back after that time, straight to the caboose for some reason or another, and pushed them right off! Have you no order in that scruffy little head of yours?”

Snufkin huffed, used to the slander and hurling of ridiculous accusations. He was already exhausted to be frank, he never once had had to advocate for himself so much in his entire life. Though he knew he couldn't slack now, or The Hemulen banker might really take the legs off of the tables and construct a little jail for him. The thought of such a thing threw a shiver up Snufkin’s spine and caused his tail to puff out just a bit.

The sound of Snufkin’s little feet hitting the carpet made very little sound, but all the passengers were hyper away of it anyways. Snufkin began to walk towards the caboose and looked back at the adults with a glare. They all blinked owlishly then, even Ms. Syyllinen, before following Snufkin like a line of ducks, leaving the items and the basket behind.

“I couldn't have caught The Conductor at the caboose.” Snufkin said with as much conviction as he could muster.

He pushed against the caboose door, but in his flustered state, forgot to press the handle. Reaching over Snufkin’s head, Ms. Peony pushed the thing down, allowing him to burst through the door. He rubbed his exposed arm with a hint of a blush on his cheeks before preparing to launch into his point

The Caboose balcony was almost exactly like it had been the night previous, but with the addition of two things. The candles were burnt down to the bottom of the wick, and the wax had melted all over the rails. There was a conductor's cap caught between the rails as well, a bit ripped up. Snufkin was less concerned with the hat, which the other passengers had picked up and were gasping about. Instead he pointed towards the candles.

“If I had tricked The Conductor to come out here, they would have put out the candles, instead look! They’ve burnt out completely so they must have been going the whole night!” Snufkin asserted.

“That's all conjecture!” Ms. Peony said back.

No it wasn't. Well, Snufkin sure hoped that it wasn't, as it was the entirety of his plea for innocence. He wasn't even sure he knew was conjecture meant, but it didn't sound good for his case.

“Yes, and who’s to say you didn't relight the candles?” Mr. Punainensilli said, sounding awfully proud of himself.

“Does he in any sense look tall enough to do so?” Said Ms. Syyllinen, sounding hateful and spiteful all at once.

Her tone cowed the man with mismatched socks fairly easily, who tucked his head and shut up promptly. Snufkin had to shake his head at the display, he needed to focus and think. If they could not be convinced by the candles, what else might help him to prove his innocence. The only thing he could think of would be to find the actual thief, but he hadn't much faith that he could do so. The situation was already to massively confusing to him, Snufkin breathed in a big gulp of salty air and let the wind whip his hair around without much contesting it.

“If I had done this in the morning, then the candles would be put out. It must have happened earlier in the night.” Snufkin said.

Ms. Syyllinen looked at him like he was the dumbest person in the world and rolled her eyes. The other passengers looked even less convinced, if that were possible. Snufkin dug deeper, messing around his hair in concentration. The added action didn't really do anything to help him, but he thought to fall back on what had gotten him this far in the first place. Asking a question.

With a fairly neutral tone, Snufkin asked, “Why do you think it was so early in the morning when you talked to The Conductor?” to The Hemulen Banker.

He paused and thought for a moment, as they all did. The passengers were silent on the caboose balcony, some resting against the rails, other standing stock straight. Snufkin stood there, unsure of his fate, with a muted and determined look on his face.

“Well I was told of course! I even asked to the minute marker, things must have the maximum order after all.” He finally replied.

“By The Conductor?” Snufkin asked, leading him further down the line of reasoning.

The Hemulen Banker scoffed and righted his dress clothes, smoothing down all wrinkles. He looked downright insulted at the incorrect assumption, and with any luck, he would be determined to detail just how wrong Snufkin was. At least, Snufkin hoped he was.

“Of course not. I was told by Ms. Syyllinen.” He said.

Snufkin’s head whipped around then, but not to her. Instead he had turned to the man with mismatched socks, who blanched at Snufkin’s determined look. He seemed to realize something as well, and it caused him great distress. He inched towards the door because he had realized exactly what Snufkin had. He finally realized the culprit was standing on the balcony with them.

“When you looked at the pocket watch,” Snufkin asked Mr. Punainensilli, too dire to be shy, “what time did it say?”

Predictably, the man stuttered out, “2:14 about.. In the morning…”

“I don't like to talk so much as you've all forced me too,” Snufkin said petulantly, “so please don't make unnecessary fuss, but I believe The Syyllinen stole the watch after The Punainensilli went to sleep. And then later stole the ring because she believed everyone to be asleep.”

A ring of gasps broke out between all of them but Snufkin, who narrowed his eyes in exhaustion at all the fuss they were about to make. They turned to Ms. Syyllinen who looked furious and confused, she stomped up to Snufkin who backed away frightened. He backed up until he hit the wall behind him, and curled up as She towered over to bark at him.

“What a ridiculous supposition! How can you say believed? Was it not really that time? Idiot animal! What does it matter that I told him a time? So what if it matched up with that- that- thief!” She threw an accusatory hand out to point at Mr. Punainensilli who of course jumped at the sudden action. “How can you infer anything based on that?!”

Snufkin was shaking beyond his control, he wished desperately for someone else to get it and just blurt out the truth, but no one else stepped in to help. They all just stared as the hairless woman became closer and closer to violence, seemingly waiting for Snufkin to lay it all out for them.

“After you stole the watch from him… you- you ran into The Hemulen Banker…”

She did not wait to let him finish, raising her hand to hit Snufkin who curled up in anticipation for the blow. Snufkin waited, shaking violently, for a hand to come crashing down. To his surprise, It didn't come. Snufkin looked up and saw the woman struggling against Ms. Peony’s iron grasp, who didn't look Snufkin’s way as she dragged the culprit further away and into the train car.

As she was passing through the door she spoke to Snufkin, “The watch. It was stopped wasn't it?”

He nodded with a pallid look on his face, his stomach was upset from the stress. He hadn't known that none of them knew the pocket watch was broken, he thought they might have figured it out by then. Looking up at the rest of the passengers, both looked surprised to hear it. He shuddered and went limp with his little back against the metal wall of the caboose, finally he didn't have to be in a constant state of anxiety trying desperately to prove his innocence.

Snufkin looked up once again and was unnerved to find both The Hemulen Banker and The Punainensilli staring at him still. He almost wanted to shoo them away, but found he didn't quite have the courage to do so. To his luck, they seemed to break out of whatever trance they had put themselves into and walk back into the train cars as well.

With a little jolt of realization, Snufkin wondered once again where The Conductor was. The culprit would know for sure, as she had been the one to do… whatever she had done with them, but would she honestly tell anyone? Snufkin didn't think so, it would be a task to just get her to tell them where she hid the ring. While Snufkin began to work himself into another fit of worries, a loud metal knock sounded from above him. Snufkin jumped about out of his skin and looked upwards.

No… Certainly not…

“Hullo?” called The Conductor from the roof of the train.

After the other passengers, minus Snufkin and the culprit, had helped The Conductor down, they thanked them with a disinterested tone. They didn't seem too miffed to be knocked out and tied to the roof of a train, Snufkin thought that at least that might cause them a little distress. Seemingly not, as The Conductor only chided Ms. Syyllinen with a unremarkable ‘tsk tsk’, much to her rage, and went about their day.

Snufkin had to fight himself out of his booth after he had settled down, not only was he exhausted, he absolutely did not want to talk to any of the other passengers ever again. Still, as The Conductor walked past him one last time before the train stopped, he scooted off the edge and ran up to them. His little feet padded dully once again, on the plush carpeted floor.

“Um.” Snufkin said quietly, his voice a little raw from all the talking, “Do you uh. Know um, well,”

“What happened? Sure enough I do. I heard Mr. Hemulen Banker and Ms. Syyllinen speaking and went to ask what might be the problem, but instead the Miss ran right into me on her way to the next car. In her panic she dropped my watch on the floor, what happened next though? well I'm not sure as I was knocked unconscious.” They said.

That was mostly in line with what Snufkin already knew, he shook his head at the useless and unprompted recounting and resolved himself to speak with conviction. It didn't particularly work as his voice came out just as soft as before.

“No. I mean, is it possible that you could know my father?” He asked.

The Conductor paused at that and really looked at Snufkin, finally some inch of pity played on their face. It was the first expression Snufkin had seen them emote other than neutrality and slight amusement. They looked off towards the next car door wistfully for a moment, then kneeled to Snufkin’s height, looking him in the eyes.

“It is quite possible, what is his name?” They asked.

“Joxter.” Snufkin replied.

“What a troublesome thing, I've only ever heard of the man. He has a bit of a reputation you know.” They said quietly.

Snufkin nodded and resolved himself to once again not be upset, he knew this would happen, it was a long shot that anyone would really truly know his father. The closest he had gotten was The Muddler and The Fuzzy, who hadn't spoken to his father in around four years. Still, despite all his logic and his reasoning, Snufkin felt his face heat and tears pool in his eyes.

Suddenly, Snufkin’s face was smothered in the shoulder of The Conductor’s worn uniform. The fabric was scratchy and uncomfortable, and Snufkin did not like to be touched by strangers, but just this once he let himself cry and be comforted. The day had been too exhausting not to, so he let himself finally say nothing and just weep.

After The Conductor let him separate, Snufkin wiped his face and thanked them. They tipped their cap with no particular emotion and continued on their way. Snufkin made his way back to his seat and sat, the thing was uncomfortable to him now. He laid down with his eyes scrunched closed and tried to fall asleep with the sun still above, as the train neared the station.

Chapter Text

Snufkin was ever so happy to be standing on land again, feeling the pulse of the earth beneath his little shoes. Speaking of little shoes, his own had become much tighter over time, and were teetering on the side of unwearable. As was his torn dress, it was more of a long shirt then.

The train creaked to life behind him, and Snufkin turned to it without much thought. The Conductor stood in the space between two cars, staring at nothing, leaning their shoulder against the side wall. Snufkin gave them a small wave, basket in one hand, his hat that was too big falling back on his head.

The Conductor was seemingly too absorbed in their nothingness as they didn't see Snufkin wave, and leaned there as the train pulled away from the station. It was loud, there was the unbelievably loud sound of the train and little else. Yet Snufkin didn't cover his ears, he stood there watching and waving, even after The Conductor had disappeared from his sight completely. Then eventually, there was no noise other than the quiet whistle of the wind and distant waves crashing up onto a beach.

Snufkin looked around at the open station, it was only an overhang with a concrete platform, but it was nicer than the one he had entered the train on. On one side there seemed to be a glass door to the ticket booth, but it was on the side opposite Snufkin, and he had no need to board another train. So he turned and trotted down the stairs into the forest, passing a sign that pointed him towards the next town, then backing up and tearing the sign from the ground.

If Snufkin kept travelling with the ocean to his left where would he end up? He wondered about how truly incomprehensibly big the entire world was, and how full of mysteries it could be. He hadn't ever seen the world this way before, and though it was a slight shift, it meant the everything to Snufkin. The world was beautiful, he knew, but how beautiful? He couldn't even begin to guess.

A little prick of fear entered the child’s mind then, and he reminded himself what he was really looking for. Snufkin would not forget about his father, world be darned, they would find each other again.

But...

But as Snufkin walked into a small clearing of trees where the wind had blown sand up to his very feet, and he could see the flat looking beach where two larger that life cliffs towered out of the ground, he stopped. He had been telling himself all this time that he had to keep moving, and yet he had stopped to admire. Saving the experience in his mind, the smell of salt and the feather light spray of cold mist, the way the ocean permeated everything. The air, the trees, the dirt beneath his feet, the way it stiffened his clothes and sent billows of wind underneath his hat. Snufkin clutched the thing to prevent it from flying away, and it made a flapping noise in protest.

Oceans were chaos, and Snufkin loved them. They changed everything, they were everything, and somehow they were just a little piece of the world as well.

The basket creaked a bit, as it was wont to do, and snapped Snufkin out of his reverie. He stood a moment longer and turned back to the forest, purposely stepping on twigs just to hear the sounds of their breaking.

He could see the tops of some tall building in the distance, but as Snufkin drew nearer the trees became thicker and obscured most things. From behind, some other soul had been breaking sticks and twigs, Snufkin could hear them trot closer and closer. He paused and looked back as a horse glided into view, not stopping as she neared Snufkin. Instead she just leaned to the left and trotted in a circle around him, much to Snufkin’s confusion.

“Oh I wouldn't.” said the horse.

“Wouldn't what?” Snufkin asked curiously.

She was very tall with wavy hair and skinny legs, she had the disposition of a passerby and the sweet looks of a flower. Snufkin did not know what to expect as he had never spoken to a horse before, he wondered if it was something many people did. She continued to circle him as she spoke.

“I wouldn't go on up there,” She nudged her slim nose in the direction Snufkin had been traveling, “a small thing such as yourself? were I you, oh I wouldn't.” and continued on her path elsewhere.

Snufkin screwed up his face, how unhelpful could one horse be? What right had she to call him a small thing? He only came up to her shins, not even remarkably as small as he used to be. He nearly stuck his tongue out at her as she crunched leaves and sticks beneath her hooves, the sound of it becoming further and further away. Instead Snufkin walked forward on his own chosen path. He hadn't been too disturbed by her poor warning, it was so hard to take any advice from a floral printed creature after all.

No, Snufkin did not take her advice at all as he walked up to the gates of a tall cobblestone building, perched up on a hill. The gates we're spiked and placed upon ten good feet of a grey brick wall. There was an entrance, but it wasn't open, there seemed to be a large ornate lock that prevented it from opening one way or another. Snufkin knocked on the loud creaking gates, their metal was cold probably due to being hidden from the sun. He found he had some level of distaste for the place already, with such high gates. What an obnoxious thing to do.

Everything but the cobblestone house was shaded over by the willows and evergreens surrounding the place. This was no town, it was only a single large building, but Snufkin found that there was no specific need to go to one or the other. He was only looking for people to answer a question, and those usually lived in houses. Despite all this, no one answered the knock, nor the call that Snufkin let out afterwards.

The child kicked around some upturned clumps of moss and dirt around the perimeter of the wall and paced. As much as Snufkin didn't like the idea, he really had to get inside for the night. He no longer had any tent nor anything to cook with, and had been skirting by the seat of his bloomers since he had lost those items. It was a good thing that it wouldn't be nightfall for a while, Snufkin had only been walking for about an hour after disembarking.

Clumps of moss flew through the air, crumbling smaller the higher they rose, Snufkin sighed and sat down in the damp area of ground he had disturbed. He was a bit surprised to find he had sat on something that was definitely not dirt. Looking behind him, Snufkin saw he had mistaken and old and worn rope for the dirt it was covered in.

“Oh!” Snufkin beamed.

He shook out the length of rope, which seemed to have been resting under the ground for quite a long while as it was frayed in some places and rotted in others. Snufkin was quietly thankful to the earth and the moss for the little present, and began to swing the thing in a circle. He tried at first to launch the rope around one of the gates prongs, but even when he got in around, it slipped off just as easily. He then felt the rope in his hands as he thought about it further, what could be done? Snufkin hadn't his father's skills for climbing, he wasn't bad at it per say, he just couldn't quite do ten feet in one sitting. So the rope was going to have to be the answer one way or another, until he learned to break and enter as well as The Joxter could.

Snufkin wandered a bit into the forest and brought back a sizable rock, then tied the old rope so that it could hold it. Swinging the rope after that took much more effort, but Snufkin finally managed to hook it around a prong. The rock swung around and began to ease downwards as Snufkin let the rope slide past his hands ever so slowly. Once it had done so, Snufkin secured his basket to the other side of the rope and hopped in. He no longer fit very well, it was a bit of a balancing act not to crush his gardenia, at least he could wear his hat on his head then. All the same, Snufkin began to hoist himself up with the other side of the rope, further and further upwards.

The breaks in trees became visible then, through them was the ocean. At the top of the wall, Snufkin could see over all the trees in every direction. All it could be described as, was breathtaking, he smiled and breathed in through his nose. The whistling of summer willows sang to him, the tune was so obvious to his ears. It sounded like something his father might sing very poorly, but with that thought Snufkin’s smile faded a bit. He found that he missed his father's scratchy voice and nonsensical lyrics, the songs that the man used to sing were so dear to Snufkin now.

Snufkin hopped out of the basket and slipped through the prongs of the gate, he had begun to pull the rope free when a voice jolted him back to reality.

“You there!” said a girl.

Snufkin tumbled backwards, but held fast to the handle of his basket, the thing had caught between the bars. The child yelped and tried to bring himself closer to the edge, his feet had been balancing on just the corner of it.

A sigh of relief made its way from Snufkin’s lungs, even as the blanket, mouth organ, and gardenia had spilled out and fell to the ground below. He was about to tell the girl down there off but a terrible creaking noise permeated Snufkin’s very being. He looked back up at the wicker basket, which had seen it's last day, and whos handle snapped right off the body.

Snufkin went careening backwards, this time with nothing to catch himself on. He did not let out a single peep on the way down, he only prepared himself for the impact. Perhaps if the voice that had caused him to fall belonged to a kinder person he would have been caught, but Snufkin fell and fell and fell until he hit the ground. All the air was knocked out of his little lungs and Snufkin clutched himself as the urge to vomit seized all of his insides in a sour grip. He wheezed on air he didn't have and laid stock still.

“And what is so wrong with you now?” The voice mocked, quite clearly knowing what was wrong with him.

“Could you not have caught me?” Snufkin huffed out, looking up over his own nose towards the girl, who now appeared upon closer inspection to be a woman.

She wore baggy clothes and had long messy hair that clumped together like straw towards the bottoms. Two pale feathers peaked out from her head, and a thick feathered tail thrashed in annoyance near her feet.

“Could you not have caught yourself? What sort of question is that?” she mocked him.

It was a sensible question, Snufkin knew it to be a sensible question and none of the woman's sass could make him doubt that fact. She sighed in clear ire and picked Snufkin up by the scruff of his dress, then took his other possessions in her other hand. She began to walk towards the tall building.

She was a young woman, Snufkin noticed, and she smelt quite poorly. She was also quite cross as she opened the heavy, old, and grainy double doors without even first knocking. The woman paused for a moment, tossing her head left and right, looking for something, before taking a large gasp of air in to scream.

“Miss Matron! You’ve another darling angel!” She yelled and dropped snufkin on the hard uneven floor.

Snufkin bit his lip not to cry out at the agitation of his wounds, then barked out a noise of anger as the woman began to hurry away with Snufkin’s possessions. The woman was in an awful haste to scramble up the winding stairs, she pushed past a dark figure as they began to amble downwards. The Figure, as it came into view, was tall and skinny, not to mention covered in dark clothes coated in mothballs and all other such things. She spoke with a sickly sweet voice and half knelt to place a spindly hand on Snufkin’s head.

“Oh hello.” She said in an incredibly awkward way of speaking.

She had such an alien way of pronouncing things, Snufkin was momentarily shocked by her words, he did not think to run as The Figure picked him up under his arms. The movement caused him to wince and cry out, and The Figure cooed and smiled at the noise. She didn't seem to understand she was causing him pain.

“You are so full of holes.” She commented, her voice was ghastly.

Snufkin checked himself briefly, truly believing that he had become covered in holes, before realizing that she had been referring to his ripped clothing. She held him closer with her sharp boney arms and Snufkin winced at the pain and the wrongness of it all. He did not want to be held, he did not want to be near this woman. Snufkin began to beat his fists against her chest.

“Please let go! You're hurting me!” He yelled.

The Figure only rocked him back and forth.

“She can't hear you, you know.” Said the woman from before, seemingly materialized out of thin air beside them.

At her speaking, The Figure turned to her and cooed some more.

“Baby.” Said The Figure

“Yes, ‘Baby’, give it here.” The woman mocked with a nasally voice and reached out her arms.

To Snufkin's relief and surprise, he was handed over quite easily to the other woman, who did not clutch him so hard as to hurt him. She turned away from The Figure and walked back up the stairs. Snufkin braved a glance down at the spindly woman as they ascended and found his gut frozen in place as she stared him down. Eye to eye, it was as if Snufkin could not break contact until he was out of her sight.

The woman's flat shoes made dull noises across the wooden upstairs floor, she stopped in front of one of many doors. This one was marked forty two. She seemed to struggle a little before bending down to take the handle in her teeth and tilt the door open, which was all manners of unsanitary.

Inside the room she let Snufkin down and turned to leave, though the child stopped her with a confused ‘um’.

“What?” she asked with a frankly pissed off tone.

“What is… going on?” Snufkin said.

The woman huffed and rolled her eyes before turning again and spitting over her shoulder, “I'm not your mother idiot, figure it out yourself.”

Snufkin had done quite enough figuring for one lifetime, he was not in the mood to do anymore. He himself was angry now, which he tried to become quite rarely, and felt his face grow red. Snufkin didn't shout or cry, for he had had enough of those things as well, he only spoke quietly.

“Who was that down there?” He asked, deathly serious.

This gave the woman pause, who stared at Snufkin with wide eyes. It was so common that an adult did not expect a child to be so serious, it only made it easier to shock them into taking oneself seriously. She turned fully after having recovered her composure, and cocked a hip.

“I don't know, I've only been stuck here ten whole years.” Then cackled and walked out.

Snufkin felt all of his seriousness fall right out of him like water down a storm drain. He panicked first, then calmed himself, then panicked again. He could not spend ten years here, he had no idea what might happen in that time. Not to mention he might wilt and die in the process. Staying at home as he had done previously was hard, this would be unbearable.

No.

No no no no no.

Snufkin could not possibly stay here, he had to escape.

Chapter Text

It had been almost a full month since Snufkin’s first touching down onto the grounds of The Figure’s family house. In that time she had sewn Snufkin new clothes with little lace trimmings and nicely buttoned cuffs. He hated them. They were much too big for him, though The Figure had said ‘You will grow into them.’ quite absentmindedly upon presenting the clothes to him. In that time he had also learned that he was not the forty second child there, but the seventy fifth. He had not seen the woman much in that time, she disappeared to all manner of places during the night, and stayed in her room refusing food and water in the day.

All of the children were younger than Snufkin and they adored him. He hated this immensely, they would hang off of him and ask him for wisdom and stories. The Figure would watch and smile with an unsettling tilt to her head, at times, mending clothes with her slim hands.

The place was more like an orphanage than anything, only you weren't quite allowed to leave, so it was technically just a house. Or maybe it was a prison, although that description didn't quite fit either as the inmates roamed free whenever they chose. They also talked far too much for Snufkin’s liking, they were happy and chatty as healthy children should have been, which was nearly mind boggling to him.

How could anyone, child or no, enjoy themselves in such a place? Not only that, the children liked The Figure, and The Figure loved the children. It halved each of their names to something shorter, and stood over them as they drew or played. Not Snufkin though, he didn't play or talk or laugh or draw, he crept and whispered and was in all rights too high strung for any child to be.

He had once tried to sneak into the little shed on the other side of the house for he knew that The Figure kept a ladder in there. Almost as soon as he had fiddled with the decrepit handle on the thing, she was there, towering over him, blocking out all sun. Snufkin couldn’t help but run away as she began to reach down.

So he went along, until he could find something. Anything to get away. He went along with brushing the other kids hair and setting the tables for dinner, he went along with washing clothes and playing jump rope. He went along with so much that his brain became addled with entirely hateful things, he was at the end of his rope. So it wasn't any wonder that he snapped one night.

It was the first dinner that Snufkin had seen that other woman attend, she had been dragged by a horde of children to the long table, and she had been kicking and screaming the whole way down. Snufkin looked up at her as she glared down darkly at her plate.

“Good evening Sitruunan!” called a gaggle of children.

She snapped up from her plate, and if looks could kill there would be no one left in the whole entire room.

“Don't call me that.” She glowered, “It's not my name.”

The Figure walked in then and both Snufkin and the woman who was not named Sitruunan put their heads down. All around him excited chatter bubbled up from the children, talking about inane things and fake worlds. The Figure brought in a large dish of some sort of food, but Snufkin wasn't hungry, he never was and he had lost a sizable amount of weight because of it.

The Figure didn't notice things like that, it was almost as if she could not. Children would scrape their knees or twist their ankles, and no matter how much they wailed at the pain of it, The Figure would watch them and coo, delighted. She could hold a bag of bones that only just resembled a child, and she would rock it back and forth dutifully. So they took care of themselves most of the time, and if any injury was really honestly too bad for them to treat, a child would knock warily on door number 2. The room that belonged to the woman who was not named Sitruunan.

She could be trusted only to sew stitches and clean blood from a wound, anything less would get the door shut in one’s face.

The other children had begun to serve themselves up food but Snufkin just sat there and felt the exhaustion in his bones. He could feel the tired pull to his eyes and the chains locked around his gut. He was not hungry, he was much too sad to eat. Even the other woman had sighed and gave in, dishing something onto her plate, but Snufkin sat there and did nothing. There was no one to tell him not too, no father to hold a bowl up to his mouth.

Snufkin had not been distracted by food when he saw a little flash of white under the table in the hands of a child called Gilly. Snufkin blinked and looked up at his face, he was very obviously distracted by the thing in his lap. Snufkin began to feel suspicious and a bit dreadful, he called to Gilly who’s eyes snapped up to him in the matter of a second.

“What are you playing with?” Snufkin asked with a twinge of disapproval in his voice.

Beyond his control, everyone stiffened a bit in the tall dining room, pausing to hear what Snufkin had to say, as his little voice was so rare those days. It almost felt surreal, Snufkin swore he could hear the wallpaper fraying from the walls behind him it was so quiet. Gilly looked back down at his lap slowly before regarding the rest of the room.

“Nothing.” The child lied.

Immediately, before anyone could call the child for his fibbing, the girl next to him called Fia snatched the white thing out of his lap and yelled in triumph. She waved it around for everyone to see, a dried Gardenia, Snufkin felt his insides freeze up. Gilly grabbed her wrist and stood on his chair, making the old thing wobble a bit, and shook her as hard as he could to take the thing back. Soft white petals wilted off of Snufkin’s flower, he snapped out of his shock and screamed.

“Stop! Put it down now!”

This only served to make Fia wrench her fist away, splaying more white petals onto the table and into her food. Gilly grunted and made a grab for the flower itself, grabbing it from the middle and ripping it in half, destroying it for good.

He seemed to notice what he had done not even a moment later as his eyes widened and shifted slowly to Snufkin, who was frozen there. First there was no feeling, then Snufkin looked down at the circle of white petals and his mind shifted back to his father’s friends. The Muddler and The Fuzzy, who had been so silly and yet so kind. He found that so much mind numbing time had passed, their faces were obscured to him now, and with the destruction of the flower, it was as if their faces disappeared completely. He felt a spark of anger then, that balled tightly within himself then exploded into a fit of rage.

“How could you.” He spoke rawly, as if he had been the one ripped apart and not the flower, “How could you be so stupid?! How could you do such a thing!” Snufkin screamed.

Gilly and Fia had become white as sheets, neither even attempted to stutter out an apology. Snufkin stood at his chair and breathed heavily, ready to start screaming. He had had it, this was it, this was the end of it. He did not know what ‘it’ was precisely but whatever it was! It was over right then and there.

“That was given to me! By my papa’s friends!” He shook with anger.

Then a voice, so matter of fact and disconnected, spoke in a way that froze all feeling out of him, “Your father is dead.” Said The Figure.

Snufkin’s face went limp and his hand fell down to his side, he was confused, so, so confused. But most of all he was empty, empty of all rage and hatred, or any resentment this place had built up inside him. He was empty of any happiness, curiosity, anything at all. He couldn't feel anything, the tears that welled in his eyes were foreign to him, he didn't understand them.

Snufkin stumbled a little and sat down in his chair, then scooted off the edge walking to the door. It felt like ages getting there, with the eyes of so many children boring into his back, he was incredibly aware of their stares, swaying to the door frame, hitting his shoulder as he tried to pass through it. With the slight nudge, feeling rushed back to him and Snufkin felt his face spasm and crinkle up. He tucked his chin to his chest, and let out a gasping sob, then ran like his life depended on it.

He pushed past the doors onto the dew covered grass and tripped over himself on his mad dash. It meant nothing, he picked himself up and ran like a bat out of hell with not a single thought in his mind. When Snufkin slammed into the stone wall he felt next to nothing, he only clawed at it and let out panicked sobs. His lungs were tripping over themselves too, he couldn't make himself take a single deep breath, the air just kept coming out in quick aborted whimpers.

His father was not dead. He knew the man could not be dead, there was no way, it was impossible. Snufkin let out a warbling sound and told himself over and over again, his father was not dead. Except-

Except Snufkin didn't really know anything did he? That was the whole reason he was in such a rush to get back to his father, because he didn't know anything. He hadn't been able to send any letters to The Muddler or The Fuzzy, he had no idea if they had heard back from his mother. He did not know if his father ever returned to her, he had no idea where in the entire world the man could be, and with that little seed of nebulous doubt, came fear. Because Snufkin did not know, he could not truly trust. It only took a little push from The Figure to cause the shadowy and undefined feeling to seize him.

Everything was crashing down around him, Snufkin began to give into the dismay, began to indulge the worst thoughts just because he was feeling so low. Perhaps his father had died, and he himself would die here. Snufkin stopped scratching at the wall and rested his forehead against it. Maybe this was it, whatever ‘it’ was.

“I hadn't had you pegged for the materialistic type.” Came the voice of the woman who was not called Sitruunan, behind him, “I am, I would have torn those little idiots up had they touched anything of mine.”

Snufkin did not answer her, though she continued on anyways.

“Don't mind the Matron, she doesn't know what she’s talking about.” Said the woman not kindly, but not unkindly either.

Snufkin felt the exhaustion take hold of him again and he flipped so that his back rested against the cool stone wall. The woman did not sit next to him, but she did sit a ways away, criss-cross with a backpack in her lap. Snufkin wanted desperately for her to go away, and then he wanted for himself to disappear. He glared at her in attempt to tell her as much.

She didn't appear too worried, she only kept that vaguely annoyed look on her face. Snufkin was beginning to suspect the thing might have just been for show, but that didn't matter anymore, nothing mattered anymore.

“She could be right.” Snufkin said, his voice wobbling beyond his control.

“She’s not, stupid. Didn't I just tell you she doesn't know what shes talking about?” The woman spoke like he was the densest person in the world.

“You don't know either.” He spat.

The woman paused for a moment, then looked like something flicked into place in her head and she slapped a hand to her face. The noise rang out at the bottom of the empty hill, only cicadas replied with their own noise. It was beginning to be a quiet night, prevented only by the woman’s patronizing words.

“No idiot, I mean she doesn't understand. She’s deaf.” The woman gestured vaguely to her own ears, “She only reads your lips and strings sentences together. If you speak with your mouth in her line of sight sometimes she thinks things together, more often than not she just says exactly what you don't want to hear.”

Snufkin looked up in confusion and the woman looked away a little bashfully to her own embarrassment, perhaps she didn't like to talk so much as she was in that moment. She had never been very concerned with anyone before, at least to Snufkin’s knowledge, he didn't understand why she had even come out to speak with him. He would have assumed it to be to taunt him, but she hadn't ever even seemed very interested in that either. She sighed before leaning backwards with her hands planted firmly in the wet grass. She tore up a few strands absentmindedly and sprinkled them on Snufkin’s lap. He let her.

“I guess no one really.. Ehm. Ever taught her to understand. But I wonder sometimes, what she thinks.” Said the woman, “She loves the children enough I'm sure. I don't know it doesn't really matter does it.”

The woman paused, seemingly waiting for Snufkin to say something, but he didn't. She kept tearing up grass and placing it in his lap, he had a sizable pile by then. Snufkin looked at the woman’s face, and she looked everywhere other than his.

“I don't like children.” She said, “I don't know what to say to a baby like you.” and scowled.

Snufkin furrowed his brow a bit at that then let himself fade back into neutrality, “I’m not a baby.” He said simply.

“Oh yes…” She pondered, “You're much older in mumrik years are you not?”

Snufkin looked at her in confusion then screwed up his face, “What are you talking about?” He asked.

“It's like dog years right?” She said in a sort of silly way.

Snufkin huffed out a tiny laugh in spite of himself and ran his fingers through the pile of grass. It smelt fresh and felt soft, he took a single strand in his paws and split it down the middle, then in half until it was nothing. He repeated this process and sighed, breathing easier now, although he felt a little bit of a headache beginning to form. It was probably in part due to all the yelling and hyperventilating

“I don't like old people,” Snufkin mocked her, “I don't know how to deal with an old woman like you.”

She looked offended and shocked, “I'm only nineteen you know!”

“You would be dead in dog years.” Snufkin said very seriously.

She then looked gutted in the most hilarious way, it caused Snufkin to lose himself in a fit of huffy laughter. He brought his knees up to his chin, displacing all the grass that had been piled there. Snufkin sniffled a little bit, he didn't feel happy, but he wasn't so scared anymore. His previous worries seemed just a little foolish, he felt a bit silly at how quickly he had lost his cool. It simply spoke to how on edge Snufkin had been and for how long, now he just sat there and chased the last couple giggles out of his system. Snufkin had not been feeling like himself for a while, ever since he left his father’s side he had felt like he had to be much bigger than he was. More talkative, argumentative, he had had to question things instead of letting the world work itself out like it tended to do. It had been draining, but he realized something then as he watched the woman who was not called Sitruunan take mock offense if only to cheer him up.

Everyone in the entire world was a living being with their whole life ahead of them, and their entire past behind them. What use was there to be scared of The Figure, who simply did not understand what a child in pain looked like, or to hate Gilly and Fia, who were curious to a fault. What use was there to wonder why someone might not like you, because everyone walked a tightrope called life. You couldn't possibly reach inside another mind and understand them completely, no, every individual being was an incomprehensible one. The main thing in life, would be to know your own self. All the rest came second.

“Perhaps you could find another white flower?” The woman said, after a moment.

Snufkin shook his head and spoke quietly, “I remember it perfectly, I don't have any need to carry such a thing anymore.”

The woman regarded him simply and shrugged. She stood, groaning at the cracking of her joints, put the back pack on her back, and slipped her tail around Snufkin’s waist. He made a little noise of confusion before she lifted him off the ground and began to climb the wall. As they ascended the cold grey wall, Snufkin could see the sunset which he had missed so dearly.

They sat down together on the edge of the wall, the woman a distance apart from Snufkin. He didn't mind, he only watched the sky, and the way it reflected off of the ocean. Snufkin felt himself begin to cry again and he let it happen, he was relieved, oh so relieved to see it again after all this time. The woman patted him quite awkwardly on the head, knocking his hat back a bit. He didn't pay it any mind, Snufkin just sighed in shuddering relief.

“You could have left this whole time?” He asked her.

She shrugged in the corners of his vision, “I’m kept here by more than walls. I’m kept by fear and memories and- well. I don't know.” She let out a big world weary sigh as she was not a woman who was afraid to take up space, “I’m afraid to leave the good times behind.”

Snufkin did not understand this in the slightest, he rested his chin on the ball of his hand and looked out onto the world with half lidded eyes. To willingly stay in one place, to be trapped by the ghost of only a memory of a good time, he thought to himself a moment. This woman was really childish.

It was a hot night, there were no cooling breezes coasting through the trees. It made everything all the more still and quiet, other than the chirping of summer insects that was. The world, seemed so still. Not the whole world though, Snufkin knew, there would never be a consensus like that ever. Everything changed too much for such a thing to exist, and Snufkin found that he loved that.

“You used to like it here.” Snufkin said, the realization was easy to imagine.

“I loved it even.” She said, “I loved her and all of them. That's why I'm so afraid to go.”

Snufkin looked at the woman, she had little tear stains on the knees of her pants, where she had pressed her eyes to them.

“You could always come back?” He reasoned, “Even if you left you could always come back.”

“It’ll never be the same.” She spat.

“It’s already not the same.” He replied.

She hummed at that, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, and stretched her arms upwards towards the heavens. She stood carefully and motioned for Snufkin to do the same, and walked with her arms out to the sides. Snufkin balanced like this too, even though he didn't really have too, it was just a little more fun that way. He followed, putting one little foot in front of another little foot, until she stopped in front of him.

There was his rope, from all that time ago, mossy and yet more clean from the rain. Snufkin slipped through the bars and stood on the other side carefully, looking past the woman to The Figure, who stood at the top of the hill and waved. Snufkin paused and tilted his head a bit, then waved back. She was very far away then, smiling a small smile, perhaps she had always been far away and would always be far away. To be someone who understood nothing and loved so deeply anyways, it must have been scary.

The big green hat on top of Snufkin’s head displaced itself a bit as he took the backpack from the woman, through the gates. He righted his hat and slipped the pack on, nodding at her. She shook her head and rolled her eyes before crouching to his eye level.

“Take care of that hat, it's a lovely color.” She said instead of goodbye.

“I will, thank you Sitruunan.” He said back.

She scoffed and made a gagging noise in the back of her throat, “Not you too, My name is The Sitruunansisar idiot. If you must address me at all then do it right.”

Snufkin had a feeling then, that he was on the right path. He knew not where the feeling stemmed from, something far away and buried deep, but the voice still sprang from the dirt and told him. ‘You will be alright.’ It said. He believed it and smiled a small little smile. The Sitruunansisar hopped down the opposite side, out of his view seemingly for the last time. Snufkin followed her lead and took hold of the old rope, sliding down for a few seconds that felt like ages. The sky disappeared from view as well, but Snufkin knew it was still there, just above the trees, no amount of not seeing the sky would ever make it go away.

His father was alive, he need only find the man.

A distant trotting rolled in the distance, Snufkin walked on towards the source.

Chapter Text

“And then what?” asked the slim horse in a friendly tone.

Snufkin sighed a bit, he couldn't quite make his brain work hard enough to deal with The Primadonna’s Horse. She was an endless well of unwanted well-meaning, she had too much lovely wisdom for one person to bear. Snufkin had never thought someone could be too lovely, but he had been proven wrong on many accounts before, he was beginning to think he would be proven wrong in this instance as well.

As the young man walked forward The Primadonna’s Horse trotted in circles around him, she had agreed to accompany Snufkin to the next area of civilization. Perhaps it was because she felt bad to leave him to travel alone, little did she know Snufkin was beginning to wish he were by his lonesome.

“I am not too sure, the memory escapes me.” Snufkin half lied.

He wasn't in the mood to detail a story that had only just stopped being his reality, and the more he spoke of it the more dramatic and embarrassing he felt it was. The horse did not seem to think so, upon hearing any old detail she would point her nose upwards in thought and really really consider what he had said, before offering a little anecdote of her own. She was a wonderful conversationalist, much too wonderful.

“I see, you wouldn't happen to be uneffusive would you? Not, introverted per say, but a little… self-effacing?” She quipped in a bright little tone, as if she were ringing the bells of a canterbury flower.

“...How long till we reach the place you spoke of?” Snufkin replied.

She hummed and trotted ahead a bit, out of Snufkin’s sight and down the midsummer path. The sun was setting easily and slowly, as it tended to on the longest days. The air had just begun to cool and all manner of creatures rustled through the underbrush, preparing themselves for sleep. Snufkin would have no such relief, he wanted to arrive to somewhere he could send a letter as soon as possible. Being stuck in one place for so long had really kicked his butt into gear, so to speak, as he hadn't the faintest idea what had happened outside those cool grey walls while he idled.

Should his father have returned to his mother, than he would travel homeward. If not, he might return to The Muddler and The Fuzzy, if only for a little while. Snufkin had two conflicting urges inside of him, one was restless from a month wasted, the other was homesick for familiar faces. He sighed again at the choice and found that either way was little more than a fork in the road, life worked itself out.

The sun cast little beams on the sides of trees like a movie projector, Snufkin tilted his hat down to the side in order not to be blinded by them. The sounds of trotting found their way back to him and the slim horse resumed her circling.

“No more than a nights journey, the mountains are just up ahead. It is a very nice place, although it flooded fairly recently” She reported.

Ah. The mountains. Snufkin was not incredibly eager to face them, though he tried to tell himself all sorts of things in defense of them. They were not the same mountains he had fallen from, and even if they were, how silly could one be? Afraid of a mountain? He told himself this over and over again, and yet the little pearl of fear lingered in his stomach.
Snufkin trudged on in his too big shoes, The Figure had been a talented seamstress, but she was not a shoe maker. All that there was for Snufkin to trade his little shoes for, were big shoes. They were not even the type that he could grow into, he would have to find some sort of replacement soon enough.

“So you had been accused of stealing the ring?” Asked The Primadonna’s Horse.

Snufkin furrowed his brow and hunched his shoulders, “Yes.” he replied.

“But you had not done it?”

“Yes.”

She tilted her nose up and hummed, trotting little contemplative circles around Snufkin. He prepared himself for her words of wisdom, but they did not come. He looked towards her in confusion now and saw that she was distracted by the approaching mountain line.

“I suppose this will be my last chance for the night to partake of some flowers…” She voiced, and then disappeared off somewhere seemingly to do just that.

Underneath his feet, the ground became tighter packed, and began to incline. Snufkin walked on without The Primadonna’s Horse, knowing that she would catch up with him more easily than he could ever catch up with her. The sky had darkened now, but the ground did not continue to raise. To his relief, Snufkin found that the trail of these mountains was lower to the ground than any he had traversed previously. In darkness, Snufkin saw everything in gray-scale, but it wasn't yet dark enough to bleach the world of its color, only enough to dim it.

Patches of grass thinned out and became more coarse, not to mention few and far between. They weren't soft an easily swayed by the wind, nor did they dance nimbly. They stood stock straight and when the breeze blew them, they all went together and pointed deftly in one direction or another. Nothing on a mountain was pliable except for that which visited and passed through, like Snufkin himself. Not that Snufkin would describe himself as soft or unweathered, not anymore at least. He found that his second pass through a mountain path was not so anxiety riddled, perhaps in part due to his new worldly experience. Or perhaps it was just that this mountain was not so dangerous as the last.

Whatever the reason was, it did not change the tread of Snufkin’s big shoes, or the loud footprints he left in his wake. Nothing could change the undeniable fact that he was traveling forward, whatever forward truly meant. Snufkin peered into the night and walked on.

He swished his tail to shake the restlessness from him, he was unsure of how restless you could become as you moved near constantly, and yet he had still done so. At least in the silence, Snufkin could have a few thoughts to himself, although he wasn't eager to reflect. Snufkin had had enough reflection of course, the horse had reflected it all right out of him, he was more inclined to think of the world and its complexities.

For one, he thought about how he was nearly taller than a snapdragon and what exactly that meant. Nothing, in the grand scheme of things, but quite a fair deal to himself. Did the height of a mumrik really matter to anyone other than the mumrik himself? Snufkin was doubtful, and yet he was still proud of the inane little fact. He thought about the question again, did the height of a mumrik matter to the ocean? Of course not, it would knock one down all the same, and still Snufkin was proud. He smiled at the thought of finding his father again, the man might pick him up to swing him round and find that he was much too big to do so anymore.

Knowing The Joxter, he would try anyways. Like the ocean, what did height matter to him? Yes, as Snufkin walked through the mountain, he knew he had so much to tell his father, so many things to share, and even a few things to keep to himself.

For two, he thought briefly of love, which he hadn't thought so much about before. Previously, he knew only that he loved his father and mother, and that his father and mother loved each other. That was before his journey, before he had spoken to so many and learned so much. He knew then that love was a bit like a cup, or maybe even a mug. It had to be strong and reliable, and it was meant to hold the object of affection snugly within itself. It could be stored for years, and all it would need upon coming out again was a little wash.

It could be full of buttons, it could hold a pocket watch, it might harbor mothballs, maybe even lemon juice. Love could hold many things, but different cups were homes for different items. A mug with a crack in it would not spill out if it held little squares of fabric, but hot chocolate would be another story.

Yes, love was like a cup, Snufkin decided and walked further and further.

Thirdly, he thought about his mouth organ, which he hadn't once touched so far. His thoughts turned a bit more tangible at the realization, for he had no snapdragons to philosophize with nor cups to examine, but he did have the instrument. So he stopped for a moment and fished the shiny thing out of his backpack.

To his surprise, inside was not only the blanket and the mouth organ, but camping supplies and a sealed letter. Snufkin resolved to check the thing later, with a grateful swell in his heart, and took the mouth organ to his lips. It sang a chorus of notes and Snufkin couldn't quite help but smile into it, it was pleasant sounding and he found he only liked it more as he tried to figure it out.

He wiggled out a tune by trial and error, it was similar to one his father would sing about busy bees, but different as it was remarkably worse. Snufkin let out a little huffy laugh in the dark, before placing his lips back to the instrument. Eventually the sound of trotting sidled up beside him and The Primadonna’s horse swayed her head to the music. She didn't seem to mind when Snufkin would blow flat notes or misplace a finger, she said very little at all as their path opened up into the calm little valley.

“Here we are,” Said she, “I must get going in the other direction though, I’ve been apart from Miss La Goona for a very long time.” and turned.

“Goodbye.” Snufkin said simply.

“Farewell and ta-ta, enjoy Moominvalley!” She called over a shoulder and turned around the other direction.

Snufkin looked around for a moment before continuing on a bit, he found the forest to be one of his favorite so far. He was in an undeniably good mood as he brushed branches and vines away, Snufkin breathed in the comfort that the place exuded. In front of him then was a nice little patch of clear grass, so Snufkin for the first time in a long time, set up a tent and lit a fire.

He would go fishing in the morning, and cook a stew. Maybe he would even hunt for mushrooms, or skip a few stones. He couldn't get too ahead of himself though, he still had to find whoever inhabited this place and ask to send a letter. The thought of it made Snufkin eager to meet the next day, as he closed his eyes. Yes, for the first time in a long time, Snufkin was ready to fall asleep, if only to wake happily soon after.

Chapter Text

Snufkin woke quite late in the day, for he had been up so far into the night previous. He stretched within his tent and opened the flaps to greet the world. It was hot outside of his little campsite, the sun beat down onto the grass beyond his shade. Snufkin ached to fish, but had no pole, so he would just have to do it the old fashioned way.

That wasn't of any consequence, Snufkin was fine catching them any way he could, he just preferred the calming act of casting a line and laying back. He would have to be an especially good predator to catch them with his hands, and it wasn't that he couldn't do such a thing as he had done so many times in the past, it was only that he wished to relax more than anything, and he had missed fishing oh so dearly.

After rifling through his back pack for a knife, Snufkin exited his tent and walked towards where he could begin to hear the rushing of a river. The further he walked the stronger the smell of running water became, until Snufkin had pushed past a few bushes and onto the banks of the shallow river. It traveled on in another direction for seemingly miles, perhaps it connected to Snufkin’s beloved ocean. In the opposite direction, it narrowed and deepened. He took his shoes off and laid his hat under them, so that a renegade breeze should not blow it away while he swam. Snufkin waded into the gently gurgling river and stood very still with his bloomers rolled up.

Many fish came by, sure, but they were all small, and if Snufkin missed them he would scare away most everything without having caught anything at all. He would wait for a bigger fish, with his hands tensed above the water and his pupils narrowed. He did eventually wrench a fish of sizable weight from the river, it struggled and beat him with its tail but he did not let go. The act of keeping hold was harder than he remembered, he was not as strong as he used to be, for his time in The Figure’s care had left him skinny and weak. All the same, Snufkin knew how to keep hold of a fish, and so he did.

One trip back to his tent with a couple of mushrooms picked along the way, Snufkin had begun to make some stew. He watched the world beyond his pot, it was by all means much too hot out to be making stew for lunch, but Snufkin didn't mind it. It gave him a good feeling inside, as most everything had been doing that day, and after finishing his meal, he packed the rest up for dinner.

Snufkin began to wander from his campsite, he walked along the river where it narrowed and followed the stream around for a long time. His mind wandered to the dragonflies that dipped so close to the water that their wing beats sent little ripples this way and that. Eventually he came upon a bridge, beyond it was a tall blue house, quite a handsome one at that.

Snufkin walked up to the door to knock but no one answered, so he trudged near a window on the second floor where he saw three figures standing. They ogled him as he stood there shifting from one foot to another and he spoke up to them a bit confused,

“Hullo, If you could help me send a letter?”

The oldest of the three, spoke back in a gruff official sounding voice, “Tell me the honest truth! Are you a monster? You've left such terribly big footprints!” his fear was only betrayed by the uncertainty in his last word.

Snufkin paused and looked down at his shoes, then behind himself at the large tracks he had left behind. He hummed a bit and kicked his toe to the ground.

“No, I’m only Snufkin. In boots that are too big.” He said neutrally.

All three of the figures let out deep deep sighs of relief, the one in the top hat with the gruff sounding voice visibly sagged. He then leaned further out the window and spoke to Snufkin directly, without the wary tone he sported previously.

“Oh! Why didn't you say so! My wife will give you smaller ones.” He said conversationally.

Snufkin tipped his hat and watched the man disappear from the window, he was about to follow to the front door until someone up there caught his eye. Perhaps he was the son of the man in the top hat, for they looked very similar, a young Moomin stared at Snufkin from the window. He matched his gaze, frozen in place, although not unpleasantly. They regarded each other with curiosity before Snufkin tore himself from the moment and walked towards their front doors, which had been opened so graciously by the man in the top hat.

“Hullo Snufkin, I’m Moominpapa. Pleasure.” He said.

Snufkin nodded in thanks and walked into the cluttered home, which was cool and friendly. He sat in an open chair and watched, a bit overwhelmed, as the rest of the family sat around the table and waited for him to speak. Other than Moominpapa’s wife, who sat calmly with a pair of black boots in her hands, untying the laces deftly.

“...And you all are?” He asked, snapping the two younger to attention.

“Moomintroll!” replied the one who Snufkin had shared a quiet moment with not a couple moments earlier.

“Sniff.” said the other, who squinted at Snufkin suspiciously.

The lady stood and walked at her own pace to where Snufkin was sat, and knelt to slip off his shoes. Snufkin felt a bit of blush grace his ears and pulled his hat down to hide his crinkled nose, he felt silly for not taking them off previously. The lady slipped on the new boots, which perhaps almost miraculously, fit like a charm, and laced them back up firmly before tying a nice bow at the top.

“Thank you very much.” Snufkin said quiet and bashful.

“It's no worry dear, I’m Moominmama, by the way.” She smiled gently.

Moominpapa cut in then, seemingly being able to wait no longer, “So you are an adventurer?” He asked, entirely intrigued.

Snufkin thought about it for a moment, he was not an adventurer by his own standards, only a vagabond or a traveler. Perhaps a tramp by hemulen definitions, but not much of an adventurer by any means. Still he did not see the word being completely inaccurate, and possessed none of the will nor the care to correct Moominpapa.

“I suppose.” Said Snufkin.

“What's that supposed to mean?” asked Sniff, who looked very familiar to Snufkin for some reason.

Moomin himself smacked Sniff on his arm, causing him to cry out quite dramatically. No one paid it much mind, to Sniff’s own dismay, and he began to sulk not so quietly as Moomin turned back to Snufkin.

“I’m sorry Snufkin, Sniff can get a little silly sometimes.” Moomin said, ignoring the offended ‘hey’ that he prompted from his friend.

“Well… I don't really mind…” Snufkin found any intelligent answer he might give fade away as he was quietly fascinated with Moomin’s round eyes.

Everything about the other boy was very round, his stomach, his eyes, even his ears were rounded off at the tip. Snufkin wondered idly if Moomin had round pads on his paws, then mentally shook himself free of the little distraction. He tapped his new boots to the wooden floor underneath his chair just to alleviate the silence. Inside him, a camera took a picture quite beyond his own control.

Snufkin remembered quite suddenly why he had entered the Moominhouse in the first place and tipped the brim of his hat up just so, regaining what little composure he had. Everyone other than Moominmama just about held their breath waiting for what he had to say next, the attention caused him to wilt.

“You see… It was… I wondered if I could ask your help?” He stumbled.

Moomin nodded quickly before his father could even ask, “Of course!” he said louder than he had intended, “What exactly do you need?”

“...A letter.” Snufkin spoke lamely.

Moominpapa cut in before his son could break his eardrums with the shouting, “Oh yes! You said something about that earlier, did you not?” He leaned back in his own chair.

Snufkin nodded and stood to follow Moominpapa as he jumped to attention and hurried to the creaky staircase. He followed the older moomin to his study which was piled high with lovingly bound books of all different sizes. Many had papers sticking out of them or abandoned pens on top, some remained open but untouched. It was an organized mess, and Snufkin wondered how long such a thing might take to build up.

Moominpapa pushed a few papers off of an open drawer and dug in there. Not incredibly long, Snufkin was sure. He stood on his toes with his hands clasped behind his back to see what was inside of the drawer, but quickly fell back on the heels as Moominpapa burst back up with a stack of blank papers and a lovely looking pen. Snufkin accepted both things, he was a little disorganized because of the hurried way Moominpapa had thrown them into his hands. The older moomin seemed excited to help, he was gentlemanly like that.

Snufkin thanked him and walked out of the study, shocking Moomin and Sniff, who had been waiting there spying on him. For once, he didn't feel very suffocated by the attention, only a bit meek. The Moomins and Sniff didn't seem curious for curiosity's sake, they were friendly and well meaning. Though they were well meaning in a way separate from others, they seemed only to want to know Snufkin out of the goodness of their hearts, or perhaps the need to alleviate their own boredom in the case of Moominpapa. Still though, he did not mind it, in fact, Snufkin was nearly warmed by each odd question thrown his way. Even if he could only muster one syllable answers for most of them.

Moominvalley was a lovely place, Snufkin realized, not only was the environment so set apart in its loveliness, so were the people. Snufkin didn't know if he had ever enjoyed being somewhere so much, and that thought frightened him a bit. Like The Primadonna’s Horse, would this place become too lovely?

Snufkin shook his head at that thought as it was particularly mean spirited, The Primadonna’s Horse was very pleasant in small doses. It was only her nature to be so utterly, well, like herself. He needn't let his slightly abnormal need for a bit of quiet time poison his experiences with anyone who wanted to have a conversation longer than fifteen minutes. But at times it was just his own nature to be annoyed.

“Thank you all, my tent is only about an hours walk from following the river. I think I should go there to write and ah… retire for the evening.” Snufkin spoke as politely as he could.

“Snufkin!” Moomin said, again much louder than he had hoped too.

Snufkin turned, startled, and they stared at each other, “...Yes Moomin?”

“Would you mind if, well, if I walked you back to your tent? If it is so far away surely you would like some company?” Moomin struggled to say.

Snufkin found himself absorbed in Moomin’s words regardless and nodded, “Yes Moomin.” He said without really thinking twice.

They went off that way, after accepting a snack from Moominmama. The sun was very clearly still in the sky, which was beneficial to Snufkin as he would have liked to begin on his letter as soon as possible. Snufkin nodded a bit as Moomin spoke to him about little things, places he should visit, things he should try, people he should meet. Snufkin found himself agreeing to all manner of things, they all sounded very nice when described by Moomin

Upon reaching Snufkin’s tent, Moomin was in the middle of a story about how he and Sniff had once explored a cave by the beach, so they sat down instead of parting ways. Snufkin rekindled the embers of his burnt out fire and began to reheat his stew, enraptured in Moomin’s words. He said little else in return, but smiled very genuinely whenever Moomin would laugh at some mishap as he recounted the tale.

They shared an early dinner and ate Jam on bread for dessert. Snufkin allowed Moomin to try on his hat and Moomin let Snufkin look at his paws. They were fast friends, both were enthralled at the others presence. Moomin talked and Snufkin listened with occasional little quips until the sun had begun to set.

Then Moomin asked, “Snufkin?” after a moment of silence.

Snufkin poked the fire with a stick before throwing the thing in there and looking up, “Yes Moomin?” He rifled around for another stick.

“Could you tell me a story of yours?” He asked.

Snufkin gave pause and thought. He didn't know if he could tell a story so well as Moomin could, it would be quiet and without much humor. He gathered his words to try,

“There was a trick,” Snufkin began, “a, single, violent, pull, and then they went-”

“They?” asked Moomin.

“We went,” Snufkin corrected himself, “there was a light bringing longing, but also disaster. Then came flowers and candles, yet taking a ring. Then there was a woman. And a horse, and she led me, to you, Moomin.”

He looked up to Moomin’s round eyes and found them widened and in awe. Snufkin tilted his hat back down over his eyes again, which he had been doing a lot of lately. He hadn't thought the story was very good, most of it was boring and nonsensical.

“That was beautiful Snufkin…” Moomin said a bit sleepily, “It was like a song. What comes next?”

Snufkin stoked the fire with the other stick he had picked up off the ground, it's little flickers of light swirled up into the darkening sky. He watched them instead of Moomin, who had fallen asleep quite quickly. It had become darker so quickly, which was an odd concept to the summer, which drew days out for ages. It seemed that the time had passed so quickly talking to Moomin, it was another thing that frightened Snufkin slightly, he hadn't even noticed with how easy it was to focus on the other boy.

“I don't know.” He said truthfully, although he was sure that the world, in all of it's mysterious ways, did.

Chapter Text

Snufkin woke in the middle of the night, or perhaps the early morning, to the sounds of shivering and the chattering of teeth, and realized he had made the same careless mistake as his father, falling asleep outside. He didn't let himself become too self-conscious of it, seeing as his new friend Moomin had made the same mistake. He opened his eyes to the dying embers of his fire and resolved to go fetch more sticks from the forest around him. At his rustling, Moomin turned to him and cried out in shock,

“Oh! A monster!?”

Snufkin paused and turned to Moomin slowly, the other boy was unnerved and backing away on his hands ever so slightly. It was a confusing scene to Snufkin, who had only woken moments prior. He stopped for a moment and blinked.

“No…” He spoke, “It is still only me, Snufkin.” and paused before adding, “This time in fitting boots.”

The other boy sighed and sagged in relief, putting a soft hand over his heart. Guilt followed the revelation that Moomin did not have night eyes, Snufkin reassessed how the situation might look to someone who wasn't of his same ability. To wake in the night so a shadowy figure and two bright eyes, sure, it would scare any sensible creature, and Snufkin already thought Moomin to be quite sensible.

Snufkin turned instead of stumbling through another assuredly painful sentence, He picked through the fallen branches. The texture of which was dry and rough, for they hadn't come from the type of tree that shed its bark. They would create a fair bit of smoke, Snufkin knew, but didn't mind so much as all he was hoping to produce was light. He filled his arms with sticks that lay upon each other in an orderly stack, and began to place them carefully to build back up the fire.

Slowly but surely, it shed light around his little campsite, making it easier for Moomin to see and shedding some color back into Snufkin’s vision. The flickering of the fire cast lovely yellows and oranges onto Moomin’s white coat, Snufkin admired briefly before speaking.

“You can take my tent if you wish, it's very early in the morning and I’m quite sorry to have made you sleep outside.” He said.

“It's quite alright, I’d rather stay out here with you.” Moomin replied.

Snufkin’s tail fuzzed out a bit behind him, It wasn't something he had heard many times before. If it were someone less pleasant, Snufkin might have insisted, but he allowed them to sit in silence, watching the fire grow as he stoked the flames. So they sat, for an hour perhaps, in perfect silence. It was very nice, especially to Snufkin, who had not felt there was any need to drive up a conversation where one was not necessary.

Though after a while, Moomin did speak, “Your eyes are like the moon right now.” He said.

Snufkin was all together taken aback, and couldn't help but look right up at Moomin, who was already peering quite intensely. He hadn't ever thought about the state of his eyes before, Snufkin realized that they bared him more than he had ever thought originally. If they could be seen, then they were most likely the only thing that could be seen. Snufkin had never thought about how they made him so easy to pinpoint, to focus on.

He looked to the side before remembering that Moomin could see that too, and pulled his hat down. To have eyes like the moon, Snufkin was not sure he really qualified to be described that way. The moon was so grand and lovely and far away, it pulled the ocean and lit up the night. It was locked into the earth’s orbit, it was in love, perhaps, with that pull especially.

Were the earth and the moon lovers? Snufkin wondered this for a second then dismissed the thought, it was a bit to wispy and complicated for him.

“You are a bit like the moon yourself.” He said instead.

“How is that?” Moomin said so easily.

“Well, you are round and pale.” Snufkin said, then wanted to slap himself not even a second later.

Moomin took no offense and only laughed, “I suppose I am.” He said, really contemplating the comment.

The sun had begun to rise not soon after a comfortable silence blanketed the two boys, the world came back to color in Snufkin’s eyes. He stopped messing with the fire, it likely wouldn't even be needed in a moment or two, for the sun was hot enough as was. Instead he took out his paper and the nice pen that was loaned by Moominpapa, and began to draft a letter. The writing did not come easily, Snufkin barely knew what he wanted to say, and more than that, he hadn't a flat surface to write it on. He supposed it was a good thing that he had received multiple papers.

“I think that we are the same age, Snufkin.” Moomin said conversationally, “We speak very similarly.”

Was that all it took to match someone's age? Snufkin hadn't the slightest clue, and resolved himself to ask The Muddler and The Fuzzy in his letter. Though, knowing them, they would probably not know either. He thought about including his journey so far, but then decided against it as it was tedious and nearly unreadable, it would surely bore the odd couple to tears. He hadn't any interest in including some long winded tale either, for it would make the odd couple worry very unnecessarily.

There was a new smell around, Snufkin had been too distracted to pay it much mind until the rustling of leaves caught his attention. Although when he caught wind of it, he was easily very distracted by the bushes nearby.

“Who’s this then?” Asked a abrasive little voice as a young girl popped her head from the leaves.

Moomin furrowed his brow and slumped in disappointment, Snufkin noticed the change in attitude immediately. He was curious as to what might make the young Moomin deflate so easily.

“Don't go ruining this My!” He warned, “He is my new friend, Snufkin!”

My blew a raspberry and fully hopped out of her little hiding place, She was much smaller than Snufkin himself, which almost didn't seem possible. She really only came up to Snufkin’s knee, though she was loud enough to be taller than The Joxter, in Snufkin’s opinion.

“He looks silly, he hasn't even a wreath for his hat.” She criticized.

Snufkin paused and put a hand up to his wide brimmed hat, by all means it was perfect for holding one, and yet it had no wreath. His father at times, wore such things in his own hat, for the man would pick flowers he liked as they walked along and added them to his collection of sorts. Although, after coming to know The Muddler and The Fuzzy, Snufkin had redefined what he considered a collection.

“Little My!” Moomin raised his voice in offense for the sake of his friend.

“I suppose I do not have any such thing.” Snufkin said, slightly distracted by the memory of his father, “I am a bit busy now though unfortunately, so I should have to make it later.”

Moomin looked to Snufkin in sympathy, perhaps he perceived some form of sadness that Snufkin would not express outwardly, although logically the mumrik felt no such thing. Moomin was shaping up to be quite sensitive for his sake, Snufkin almost wished to tell the other boy not to be offended on his behalf. He did not though, only felt the blank space up on his hat as he looked down at the scribbled lines of his wrinkled papers.

How had he not noticed such a thing before? Now that he had it was almost too apparent, a blank hat was such a travesty. He wrote as much on his paper, it was a thought he wished to reach his father if the man should have the letter passed on to him. Yes, it was a bit easier to write then, Snufkin’s thoughts fell onto the paper in a stream of consciousness, he hadn't really the mind to write any more poetically.

“Now look what you've done!” Moomin shout whispered to her, “You are just! too childish!”

“I’m much older than yourself!” Little My berated him, “I’ve been adventuring since before you were born.”

“She's quite right though,” Snufkin voiced absentmindedly, then turned his head to face her, “I hope you are not in the business of being right too often, it might become troublesome.” He huffed out a little piece of laughter.

“You're out of luck buster.” Little My smiled only a bit darkly, before turning her nose up and walking through their campsite.

She seemed to be on her way, she did not even part with a goodbye. That was just the person Little My was, Snufkin supposed. He took his mind off of it and composed his letter, finishing it with his signature. The words were wobbly in some places, but it was about as good as any letter was going to get and Snufkin did not feel like being a perfectionist on this front, So he folded the thing and stood, kicking a bit of dirt onto his fire.

Moomin snapped out of his own little world then, and blinked up at Snufkin, “Oh, Snufkin, if you're to send that from the house, why don't you move your tent closer to us?”

The boy thought on it for a moment and found it to be a good idea, he enjoyed long quiet walks but to travel an hour each way any time he wanted to go was tedious. Snufkin felt the canvas of his tent, smooth and heavy, then began to unfasten it's hold to the ground. Yes, he would set up just across the river from Moomin, there seemed to be a nicer place around there anyways.

The rest of Snufkin’s items were packed uniformly into his bag, underneath all was the letter which he had yet to open. He figured he might send his own first, it was just his priority to do so, it had been a long time coming after all. Perhaps even too long, were The Muddler and The Fuzzy worried for him? As Snufkin began to walk side by side with his new friend he thought on it, surely he himself would be worried were he in their position.

“Oh dear…” Snufkin muttered and lifted his boot to hop over a particularly prominent root.

After the moominhouse had began to come into view, the two boys realized that a certain Moominmamma had as well. She sat on a checkered blanket beyond the comfy bridge, and as soon as she caught sight of them, waved slowly, welcoming them home. Moomin ran forward, past Snufkin and across the bridge. His feet made soft thumping noises as he bound over the wooden structure, almost skipping back to his mother.

Snufkin followed at a languid pace, walking through the soft grass and over the bridge. As he drew closer to the picnic Moominmama had set out, Snufkin heard his new friend spilling all manor of things to his mother, which was surprising to him as he hadn't thought he had given Moomin much to talk about at all.

At his approach, Moominmamma patted a spot on the blanket, so Snufkin set his backpack down into the soft grass and sat with them.

“I'm sorry for keeping Moomin all night,” Snufkin began.

“It's no worry, I had thought as much might happen.” Moominmama smiled.

Had she? Was Snufkin that transparent? Or maybe it was Moomin whom she predicted might stay, he was her son after all. Snufkin supposed he was just a little shaken by his revelation that morning. He hadn't ever thought about how he might be perceived by others, but it made sense to him once he thought about it. He made assumptions about others all the time, it was just what one did, he knew this and yet- he hadn't thought that others might do the same of him.

For Moomin to compare him to the moon, the words stuck with Snufkin far longer than he had anticipated they might. Even he himself wasn't quite sure why he was still thinking about them, what exactly was going on in his mind?

The three of them ate a breakfast of berries and toast, Moominmama reached over and buttered Snufkin's toast for him, which made a little happy feeling bloom in his chest. She was so incredibly caring and thoughtful, it was almost unbelievable the amount of tenderness she put into every one of her actions.

Moomin seemed to be rushing through his breakfast, he finished it very quickly and stood before announcing, “I’m going to get Sniff! Then we can go to the beach together Snufkin.” He smiled and ran up the hill to the moominhouse.

Snufkin was startled slightly by the declaration, he hadn't known that they were going to the beach at all, let alone with Sniff, whose familiarity still eluded Snufkin. But Moomin was so eager, Snufkin didn't know how he could not go, though the thought left him feeling a bit uncertain. His hesitancy must have shown on his face as he shifted from sitting on one leg to the other, Moominmamma tilted her head and spoke quite kindly,

“You mustn't go anywhere you do not wish to go.” She said firmly, “You are your own person, Snufkin, Moomin would understand that.”

Snufkin snapped his head to her shocked at the accuracy with which she understood him, then waved his hand a bit.

“I’m really alright. I would like to spend some time with Moomin and Sniff.” He said.

Moominmamma crinkled her eyes and smiled at Snufkin, her gaze making him tilt his hat down again. She laughed a little, just softly, and asked,

“Could you put your paw out dear?”

And Snufkin did, allowing Moominmamma to take his hand in her own. Her grasp was firm but soft, Snufkin knew that he could slip his hand away if he really wanted too, but he let it rest there, not looking into her eyes. She nodded a bit sagely, she seemed to understand something deep within Snufkin that he couldn't even begin to parse himself. She did not address the photo in his heart thought, she spoke on terms that Snufkin understood.

“Moomin likes you a lot,” her words caused butterflies to ruffle their wings in his stomach, “he really wants to spend time with you, but he would never ever want to hurt you. So for his sake if not your own, tell him when you feel like you need to be away.”

Snufkin nodded but did not say anything, he had a lot to think about. He was thankful to Moominmamma, the advice was perhaps some of the most helpful he would ever receive. As he contemplated, Moominmama noticed the letter in his other hand and nudged her snout towards it.

“Is it alright if I send that for you dear?” She asked.

Snufkin nodded again and held his other paw out to give it to her, he thanked her quietly as she stood and dusted off her apron. She replied with something like ‘Nonsense it's my pleasure’ as Snufkin had expected her to do. As she walked away a breeze picked up at blew the grass at her feet as well as her apron. The red and white stripes pillowed outwards and over themselves, pushed gently by the wind. Moomin had come out of the house and passed her, dragging Sniff along with him.

“I don't want too!” Sniff said in a whiny tone.

“Come on Sniff, you could find pearls in the ocean and sell them.” Moomin dragged the other boy further along.

“-Really?!” Sniff said, and then began to drag Moomin forward.

Snufkin hefted his bag back into his shoulders and trotted behind them, though he didn't break out into a full blown run as Moomin held Sniff back just enough to avoid it. Eventually though, the strain of running as well as the added weight of a moomin dragging him back tired Sniff out and Snufkin was able to slow back into a walk, just a distance behind the other two. At least, that was till Moomin slowed them even further so that he could stand side by side with Snufkin.

As they walked towards the beach, Snufkin realized he would be staying in moominvalley for a bit, if only to wait for a letter to be returned. He found he didn't mind, he didn't even consider himself ‘stuck’ per say, for moominvalley was a perfect place to stay for a bit. The young mumrik wondered if his father might like it here as well, he would most likely, but it comforted Snufkin just to wonder.

He knew his father would probably not yet be at his mother's, if that was where the man had headed, Snufkin couldn't imagine the man would not drag his feet. Whatever The Muddler and The Fuzzy might relay to his mother, The Mymble, would reach her still long before it would reach his father. For it had only been a month and a half or more since they had been seperated, which yes, was enough time to mosey home if one hurried, but The Joxter did not hurry. Not to mention he would be in such a sorry state, Snufkin once again reminded himself that his father might not wish to face his mother at all, despite how truly forgiving the woman was.

For a while, at the beginning of Snufkin’s journey, he spent nights hoping and nearly praying for an easy resolution. Hoping for his father to come wandering out of the brush, waving a vibrantly green branch out of his way and opening his warm arms for Snufkin to throw himself into. Now though, Snufkin knew the world to be more tricky than that, it swirled with possibilities and the ones considered lucky were just that, lucky. It was a thing of probability, if you thought of one scenario as lucky and only that one scenario, you’d be very unlikely to come across it.

To be really happy with the way of the world, one would have to accept many options that they might see as the poorer, and think of them as blessings. They were forks, less traveled paths, all such other things, and they were just the way the world worked. Snufkin had never wanted to lose his father, no, but if he had not he would never have met Moomin he was sure. The thought caused him to color a bit and he dismissed it, it wasn't as if he was trading one for the other after all. He only- well, he was only appreciating the way of the world.

Yes. That was what he had meant.

Eventually they made their way to the beach, where the breeze that rolled off the gentle waves cooled the air but none of the sand beneath their feet. For Sniff and Moomin, who did not wear shoes, it was quite painfully hot. They ran to the sea as soon as they had touched down on the beach, Snufkin stayed behind and gazed out onto the ocean. He stood a while longer before setting down his pack and fishing the old blanket out from it to shake the thing open a couple of times.

It floated on the gusts on breeze that came Snufkin’s way, he watched the old blanket as it flipped airily, fluttering in and out of the way of the sun. It cast brief shadows over his face, seconds of shade and warmth alternating in a little flittering dance. Finally he set the thing down onto the sand, it hugged the bumps of sand hills underneath it for it was a thin blanket, and Snufkin sat down.

Sniff played at the edges of the water calling to Moomin about how he could not swim before correcting himself to say that he just did not want too. Moomin paid little mind as he dove and resurfaced multiple times, Snufkin watched with an unsure feeling inside. He wanted to swim, but could not unbutton his own dress for it went up to his neck behind him, and he had always had his father help him.

He could ask for help sure, but he found himself a bit to shy too, he didn't want to ask Moomin to do such a thing. Or Sniff, he thought quickly afterwards. He didn't want Sniff to do it either. So Snufkin pulled out his mouth organ and played something of his own. A song for the ocean, it changed it's pace and it's tune so frequently, yet it remained happy and quick.

The sweet tune drew the attention of both Sniff and Moomin who came up out of the ocean, running when the sand began to singe the bottoms of their feet. Sniff slid by the end of his mad dash, over turning a good portion of Snufkin’s blanket in his rush. Moomin jumped from one foot to the next, waiting for Sniff to right the fabric so that they could sit. When Sniff did so, Moomin still ended up sitting down next to Snufkin anyways.

Music was a lovely thing, Snufkin thought, and was quite happy to share, this song at least, with his new friends. Wispy clouds blew by lazily overhead, none were big enough to provide any real relief from the sun beating down on them, but Sniff and Moomin were not to hot after being in the water, and Snufkin had his hat at least. It was a nearly picture perfect day, and to spend it near the ocean, chaotic and life bringing, Snufkin could not think of a finer place to be.

“Who was the other person Snufkin? The one you traveled with?” Moomin asked curiously.

Sniff looked confused as he hadn't much knowledge of who Snufkin was, nor was he really the type of person to think any deeper on the subject. All the same, Snufkin stopped playing his instrument and hummed in thought.

“My papa.” Snufkin replied.

“Is he a great adventurer?” Sniff asked.

Snufkin thought on it a moment, “Not at all, he is a very lazy person. I think adventure might have made him wilt.”

“Made him?” Moomin asked.

“Yes, I was separated from him not too long ago, though it feels like it's been ages.” Snufkin tried not to sound to wistful.

“I see, I was estranged from my parents from, well.. a bit after birth I believe.” Said Moomin.

“Me too!?” Sniff looked between the two of them.

Snufkin couldn't help but laugh out loud, what a trio, how had all of their parents somehow lost them? It seemed the world loved coincidences, the thought only furthered Snufkin’s suspicions that everything might work itself out. Snufkin did not know how he had ever been stressed or upset before, he found himself laughing incredibly hard about everything right then. So hard that his laughter wasn't huffy or small, it was like his father’s then, or perhaps The Sitruunansisar’s, he wasn't afraid to laugh loudly. He took up the air around him and practically guffawed, Sniff looked at him like he was crazy. Moomin snorted and began to laugh along.

“What!” Sniff said, out of sorts.

Snufkin only laughed harder, trying to pick his mouth organ back up and play. He was simply smiling too hard to truly form the notes, they all came out flat and half made, which served to make Moomin laugh harder and harder. Sniff smiled wryly and crossed his arms, the scene had tickled him a bit too so he fought himself not to begin giggling.

“You're all being stupid!” Sniff said with a wobbly smile.

Yes, they were. And it was delightful. Moominvalley was delightful.

Chapter Text

Not two weeks later and Snufkin received a fateful letter back, it was one of those summer downpours where the rain pelted his tent so densely that it was more like the skies had dumped a pitcher of water on him. Moominpapa had braved the storm and ran from his tall blue house to Snufkin’s stout green tent.

“Snufkin young lad! I’ve got your reply!” He shouted above the torrential rain.

Snufkin was startled and crawled on his knees to open his tent flap, though as soon as he did so Moominpapa pushed right past him. Outside was gray, it was pouring down from the clouds like they had to cry, perhaps someone had said something particularly rude to them. One might have described it as dismal or feasibly miserable but the only regrettable thing about it to Snufkin was that he was cooped up inside. He was not incredibly wary of becoming sick in the rain as he knew it was only a wives tale that wet hair caused illness. It was undeniably uncomfortable to be wet and cold though, and Snufkin was having a lonely streak, he hadn't wanted to go to the moominhouse to dry off.

The tent flaps closed tentatively because Snufkin had shut them ever so slowly, for he was looking at the rain. After he turned to the shivering Moominpapa, the man straightened up and held out a sopping wet letter, which slumped downwards as it was thrust forward. Snufkin looked at it dubiously for a moment before accepting the thing and opening the envelope gently.

Inside was a crudley written letter, Snufkin struggled to read as it had been written oh so poorly. So many words were misspelled, it almost left him squinting at the text, it was no help that some of the ink had bled due to the rain. Essentially, it said,

‘Snufkin! Hello from Muddler and Fuzzy,
How odd that you should come across (the words were questionable here) an old friend of mine and your fathers, Moominpapa. I should tell you (unintelligible) mother had sent us word back, she hadn't seen your father. Sorry to say (? perhaps sand had been written here instead) so, don't give up hope though (spelled tho) we'll send updates to Moomin’s address, er Moominpapa! We hadn't known he’d had a son!’

Snufkin was saddened but not surprised, at least for the first sentence, as he read on further he looked up at Moominpapa in disbelief. The man looking confusedly back at him and scratched a bit at his head, displacing his top hat.

“You know The Muddler and The Fuzzy? And my father The Joxter?” Snufkin asked.

“What!? Is that who the letter is from?” Moominpapa asked nearly astounded.

“Did you not read the address on the front of the letter?” Snufkin was quietly shocked by all manner of things.

“Of course not! I had wanted to respect your privacy to the utmost young lad!” Moominpapa tooted his own horn, “ And yes of course I knew your father, we had been on many an adventure.” He reminisced happily.

“You're joking… I have been looking for my father this whole time.” Snufkin stared blankly at the letter, how ridiculous was this?

Moominpapa at least had the good graces to look cowed then, “No really? How unfortunate, had I known I might have spoken to you about him!” He tugged at a necktie that did not exist, “Me and my dear Moominmamma truly thought you might be running away… heh heh… we wanted to respect you and your individuality! It is not too strange for a young man to strike it out on his own now is it?”

Snufkin found himself wanting to slap his face quite desperately, in all his supposed growing he had decided that it was foolish to ask strangers for his father. That just went to show him there was wisdom in childishness, what a painful and stupid lesson to learn.

“You mean to say that Moomin never told you I was sending for my father?” He tried weakly.

“Afraid not, he must have wanted to respect your individuality as well.” Moominpapa spoke apologetically.

Snufkin did slap his face then, what an honest to goodness disaster, and it had been going on for nearly two weeks by then. Summer was at the brink of its ending and Snufkin had been that much closer to finding his father the whole time. He shook himself and breathed in a big sigh, the constant pelt of droplets outside lessened just a bit. The past was unchangeable, there was no use in worrying about what could have been done, for it was done and over, Snufkin had been presented with a lead and that was the gist of it.

“I suppose it is good to know where poor Sniff’s parents are after all this time!” Moominpapa said gesturing to the opened letter, if only to look on some sort of bright side.

“Good God!” Snufkin shouted.

Moominpapa jumped at the noise as he had never heard Snufkin raise his voice above speaking level. There wasn't much to escalate above the level of slapping one’s face, so Snufkin just sat there and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. How unapologetically ridiculous, almost laughably so. So Snufkin did laugh, just once or twice, and sent a tired look Moominpapa’s way, the man tilted his head sympathetically back.

“Later tonight why don't you come to the house and we can compose a letter to Sniff’s parents, they may be forgetful but they would be awfully happy to see him again.” Moominpapa offered.

“I’m alright, it seems more Sniff’s personal situation. Thank you.” Snufkin said feeling tired.

He nodded at the young mumrik and took the envelope for Snufkin’s letter, in order to find an address to send the letter from Sniff to his parents. Moominpapa promised to speak more on the topic of The Joxter later, in fact he promised an entire books worth of a story. He hadn't said if it should merely include his father or fully feature the man, Snufkin found he would really rather hear one centered around The Joxter. With Moominpapa’s typical type of embellishment, Snufkin began to realize that it would not be any help to hear it. Not meaning that Snufkin would not want to hear it or wouldn't enjoy hearing it, only that it would be a waste of time at the moment.

Time was moving too quickly again, Snufkin felt anxious at the rush of nothingness he began to experience then. The fear of being too late, of leaving his father out there on his own, the man had had no one while Snufkin had met all manner of creatures. He had been enjoying himself here, becoming close to Moomin, loving the valley. Had he forgotten what he began travelling for in the first place?

Surely not, Snufkin told himself, but couldn't help the undeniable guilt that followed him, looming like something dark and ominous. Snufkin panicked briefly at remembering The Figure’s thoughtless words, his father was-

No, no no. His father was alright, Snufkin knew in his entire heart that his father was alright. The man would be silly and lonely at his worst, but it didn't mean Snufkin could meander anywhere any longer. He should retrace his steps, starting with The Fuzzy and The Muddler, they would know what to do. Snufkin breathed in through his mouth and out through his nose, which felt odd as he had done it backwards, then righted himself and breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth.

He was so frazzled he was even messing up his anxiety practices, but that did not matter. As soon as the rain let up, Snufkin would have to pack up and head away, he only had today to say goodbye though. His heart ached a bit at the concept, it had set roots in this place without him much noticing. His mug held the moon, so to speak, even though he had yet to realize it, so he stood in his tent and nodded to himself.

He braved the rain, which was not so bad anymore, and ran to the ladder beneath Moomin’s window. Snufkin could not avoid becoming positively soaked as he climbed, but the determination fueling him didn't pay it much mind.

No, as he put one hand on the wooden plank, which had become much darker brown being soaked as well, his mind was very singular. His boots had gathered a little puddle of their own, with enough rain water to support a goldfish. They sloshed back and forth with each step upwards, it was an unpleasant feeling to surmise.

Snufkin paused at the fogged up windows, it must have been very warm inside Moomin’s room. He did not doubt that, Moomin was a very warm person inside and out, metaphorically and physically. The glass was thick and held in a old wooden frame, it had been dusty before the rain, it had been creaky as well, but Snufkin was sure that it had remained that way at least. Snufkin shook his head hard, nearly dropping his hat all the way down the ladder, and knocked on the glass hard over the sound of the rain.

Nearly immediately Moomin threw the window up, causing Snufkin to lean back a bit. Moomin smiled and dragged Snufkin in by the shoulders of his dress, the other boy falling on the homely wooden floor in a wet puddle. He closed the window behind them.

Moomin’s room was clean, but it was also disorganized. It was sparse and yet it felt just comfy enough to warrant wanting to live there. It was nearly removed from the rain outside, Snufkin might have forgotten it was even raining at all if not for the pittering of droplets on Moomin’s window. Snufkin thought it was a very good room, but what made it best was perhaps Moomin himself. What use was being anywhere if not for him?

That was a bit dramatic. Snufkin shook his head from that thought and looked up to Moomin, who offered him a blanket.

“I wouldn't want to soak the thing through.” He said.

“Take off your dress and it will be fine.” Moomin replied.

Snufkin turned very red, although thankfully he was already hiding behind his hat. He did not move to do anything though, which prompted confusion from his friend.

“...Could you help me?” Snufkin asked turning redder still.

Moomin smiled and sat behind Snufkin, undoing the buttons from bottom to top, saying nothing at all. As he reached the ones at Snufkin’s neck, his paws brushed the space there and Snufkin shivered at the contact. He was so very aware of everything that was happening in the entire room at that moment, so incredibly unable to ignore the hot blush on his face.

Why exactly was he acting like this? Snufkin supposed he had never had another friend his age, so perhaps this was just something friends did. Right? Right. Snufkin slipped off the sleeves himself and grabbed the thick and fuzzy blanket from in front of him, covering himself up quickly. Moomin twisted his dress to wring out the water and laid the thing flat over a chair before turning to Snufkin and sitting down in front of him.

“What has you here on a day like this Snufkin?” Moomin said, very very hopeful.

“Truthfully I have to say goodbye.” Snufkin said, crushing the other boys world.

Moomin leaned forward then and held Snufkin’s shoulders through the blanket, shaking the young mumrik lightly.

“No! Must you? You should stay!” Moomin said desperately.

Those words were like poison to Snufkin, they made him feel a little spike of bitterness, which faded into fear soon after. Fear that Moomin might try to trap him, fear that he might hurt Moomin, fear that he had already hurt Moomin, fear that the need to not hurt the other boy might be the very thing that trapped Snufkin. In his panic he wrenched himself bodily away from Moomin, averting himself and hunching over. Snufkin clenched his arms together inside of his blanket cocoon, it was probably a pathetic sight, he was embarrassed to be acting such a way in front of his friend.

“I cannot.” Snufkin said, gutted, before he could accidently say something else.

“I'm sorry…” Moomin whispered, it seemed he understood why Snufkin had reacted in such a way, or perhaps he was just simply sorry, “It’s your father isn't it?”

Snufkin almost replied yes, because it was the easy answer, it was one that did not have to be explained. But it wasn't the full truth, he realized then, as the initial need to leave and be by his father’s side faded. Snufkin needed to be free, he had always needed to be free, and just because he didn't feel that undying need to leave then didn't mean he would not feel it later. He recognized the start of it from his time with his mother, even as little as a half year, he had needed to be away from that home. He could not possibly stay in one place for so long, and Snufkin did not want to lie to his friend. He could not lie to his friend.

“Only partially,” Snufkin began, startling Moomin, “I am a traveler first and foremost, even if I had not lost my father I would need to leave you.”

Moomin’s eyes became watery, he inched forward a bit, and when Snufkin did not show signs of avoiding his touch, hugged the other boy. The embrace was like little else Snufkin had ever felt, no hug he had received had made him feel like this. Like his heart was on a train moving away, and he was a swarm of butterflies, coasting in place. Snufkin did not reach his arms out to return the hug, he could not, for he was too caught in the moment. Moomin was just as soft and wonderful as he looked, his fur was smooth and ghosted along Snufkin’s face as he pushed his cheek onto the other boy’s shoulder.

“I’ll come back, I promise.” He said, face buried in white fur.

Moomin’s shoulders began to shake a bit and Snufkin realized belatedly that he was crying.

“I like you too much not to come back. I swear it.” Snufkin said to comfort him.

Moomin released him and wiped a tear from his own eye, Snufkin found that he wanted to do that much for the other boy. His hands were frozen though, behind the soft and fuzzy blanket.

“Mama once said that it is the nature of dreams to end. But I’ll still fall asleep again tomorrow won't I?” Moomin smiled a small little smile.

He had put it much better than Snufkin ever could, yes, the moon would rise over them again. They would always look up at it, that same moon, and perhaps one, or maybe both, would enjoy a nice cup of tea. In the summer they would dream, and dragonflies would swipe over the surface of the river. Mama would make bark boats and Papa would crack open an especially thick story that he claimed to be entirely true. There would be some sort of tune for the birds, who might gossip and chitter about him, but Snufkin. Snufkin had to wake up now.

The rain outside was lighter then, light enough so that there was no excuse to stay any longer, and Snufkin, quite guiltily, had found that he no longer wanted too. It may have been earlier than he chose, but he had that feeling then and knew that it was time to go. He knew and yet, he still sat there with Moomin for just an hour longer, because Moomin said that his dress was still wet.

In that time they found a list of things to do together, Moominmamma trimmed Snufkin’s hair as he sat with his paws in his lap. Moominpapa carved him a pipe and winked beyond Moomin’s line of sight. Sniff offered to share a coin or two, although when Snufkin refused he admitted to not wanted to give them away anyways. And Moomin could think of many things to do together, but settled on painting their claws. Snufkin had never done something like that before, his grip was shaky and he got Mama’s green polish all around the fur of Moomin’s paws. Moomin was better, but not by much, he got tired of it after nine nails and left the pinky without any white polish. Neither used a top coat, they had forgotten to in their rush.

They stood in each others presence after Snufkin had broken down his tent, his dress was still damp and he had messed most of his nails up by packing away everything before they were fully dry. He smiled at Moomin, who smiled back.

“See you in the spring.” Moomin said like he was trying to ignore his longing.

Snufkin nodded but said nothing as he turned and walked into the forest. He walked quickly and made it through the lonely mountains in one night just as he had before. He began to feel poorly, while walking on past The Figure’s house. He did not stop there as he had no time left to stop anywhere. Snufkin would never know, but the rushing and the anxiety and the constant pressure of his thoughts had made him weaker, they turned his stomach and caused cold sweats. He could not figure out then, why he had to keel over and throw up his lunch when he nearly ran the whole way to the train station. He felt despair raise his hackles upon seeing the ocean had come out so far as to have destroyed the station. Had it been the rain that provoked it so?

To hurry and hurry and hurry was not in Snufkin’s nature, he was never someone to press the horrible feeling of lateness onto himself so consecutively and for so long. One must have had to be out of their right mind to decide to walk along the tracks when they could not board the train. So it was par for the course when Snufkin became truly ill, his immune system weakened by days of stress and nights of barely sleeping.

He realized it when he stumbled over the root of a tree and fell face first into the softly packed dirt below. Snufkin hadn't the first clue of just what it might have been that he tripped on, after all, how could a tree root find itself so closely to the train tracks? It couldn't, that was the thing, Snufkin had wandered away from the tracks without noticing it.

“I must be awfully sick.” He said aloud, shocked to find his voice breaking and crackling.

Hunger was foreign, Snufkin had not felt the feeling of hunger gnawing at him for a while by then, and it was scary. He was afraid that he might die, that his illness would fog his head over so soundly that he would forget to eat and fall over with no energy to move anymore. Snufkin tried to keep roots and berries down but they all came up perhaps a little under an hour later, he was thirsty, and could not drink for the turning of his stomach was too intense.

He kept moving straight, for Snufkin knew that backtracking would leave him more lost than he had ever been, and he had been quite lost before. He moved for days and his sickness would not dissipate, because he would not let himself rest. Because he could not let himself rest. The mumrik boy lost track of how many days he had been walking for, some nights he could not even muster the strength to set out his tent and he would wake at all odd hours overheating and yet chilled to the point of shivering.

“At least it was not wet hair that did me in.” Snufkin laughed to himself, wincing when it hurt his chest.

When one did not pay attention, they found themselves in all manner of odd places, so Snufkin did not falter too badly when he looked around him to realize he had entered a town. He kept walking even though he could not feel his legs plodding in front of each other. It was really no wonder someone eventually knocked into him. He should have expected such a thing and yet it sent him sprawling to the hard grey bricked floor.

A man turned with a swash of clothing and apologized heartily, “So sorry young lad, I-”

He paused and Snufkin reached out for his bag to hold it, the sun was too bright and his hat had fallen off in his tumble. He looked up at the man who was staring so shocked down at him.

“Snufkin….?” Said his father, in a small and amazed voice.

Snufkin looked and saw.

“Papa?” He asked, and fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

Staring was all he did for a moment or two, for the shock of an unpredictable reunion was, predictably, far more than one might expect. The Joxter stared at his son, who had changed so much in the time since they last saw each other, and didn't quite know what to do. Then all sense rushed back to him and he fell to his knees, holding Snufkin’s neck and cradling his head. The Joxter’s child was burning up, his forehead was hot to the touch.

He almost began to speak to his unconscious son, for the urge to tell him so many things was deeply rooted in The Joxter then. He wanted to ask what Snufkin had been doing, how he had grown so much, if he was okay. Most of all though, The Joxter wanted to tell his son that he loved him. The man said none of this, instead he picked his child up, to the confusion of some onlookers, and walked out of the town and to his tent. He almost stumbled, holding Snufkin, it wasn't as easy as he remembered it being, and the realization of that sent a pang of something painful through The Joxter’s stomach.

The way through the forest was easy, the ground was level and compact, the earth held nothing but the trees. High, high above, birds chattered and sang, gliding from one branch to the next as though they could not make up their minds. There were spots of sunlight that cast themselves down in speckles, slipping through the branches and pines. Other than that the forest floor was coated in shade and pine needles, like an old torn blanket.

His tent was just as it had always been, it was unchanged since Snufkin had last been in it and it was unchanged since The Joxter had left it in the morning. He entered and gently placed Snufkin down among a pile of soft things.

The Joxter then sat there by his son for a while, taking in his sleeping face, memorizing the changes. Often, when a parent was to watch their child grow, they might claim that the phenomenon had happened right before their very eyes without them so little as noticing, but for The Joxter it was different. He lost his child for a moment and then found him again so differently, he hadn't had the time to acclimate slowly to the changes. It had all hit him at once.

So as he brushed stray strands of hair, away from his child’s face, The Joxter startled as a tear fell down onto the boy’s cheek. Snufkin’s hair felt more coarse now, it was soft still, sure, but it was different, and that was what made the tears unable to stop falling. The Joxter couldn't pull himself away from his child then, all he could do was wipe his own tears off Snufkin’s face.

“Oh darling, I’ve got you.” The Joxter whispered, his shoulders shaking.

And he was right, in all senses of the word, he had his child. Yet Snufkin seemed so very far away in that moment, eyes shut tightly, brow furrowed as he overheated under a blanket. It was like he was worlds apart from anywhere The Joxter could reach, and the distance was suffocating. The Joxter had known a silly little thing, a child that might have hidden in his scarves and yelled about being snuggled. He still knew Snufkin of course, but what else had his child become while The Joxter had not been able to look. He couldn't even ask, Snufkin was deeply unconscious, there was no way to answer all of the burning questions that The Joxter had.

And he had been so sure, and yet so uncertain, that they might meet again. Some nights the idea of seeing Snufkin gave The Joxter hope and caused him to sleep restfully, others it tore him apart. It had kept him wandering, unable to decide what was to be done, and he felt so foolishly in that moment. Sitting by his son surrounded by all manner of messy blankets and pillows, with the sides of his tent closing the two of them in. Of course, of course Snufkin was alive. How had he even doubted it before?

Because how could The Joxter ever be happy. That was the problem. He had never thought for a moment to truly believe that anything he loved might last, he hadn't believed like that woman he had met so long ago. He hadn't considered honest the thought that he would meet Snufkin again just because it was the nature of the world, and The Joxter almost couldn't quite believe then that he hadn't. With his son so tangible in front of him, it was obvious to him then that Snufkin would always persevere. Although hindsight, The Joxter supposed, was always twenty twenty.

The more The Joxter thought on it, the more he was thankful. To have met his son again that way, to have met him before anything truly awful happened, but then, The Joxter had to wonder.

Had something truly awful happened? Had the world tossed Snufkin around? Had it done so without The Joxter to be there to pick his child back up again? He found himself not wanting to indulge that thought for any longer than he had too, it caused him to clench his hands to the sides of his dress. The Joxter grabbed his pack and retrieved a canteen of water, then ripped a sizable piece of his scarf. The sound was drastically louder than anything else in the quiet tent, the man ignored it and wet the fabric before putting it on Snufkin’s forehead. It wouldn't be cold, but it would be much cooler than himself. The Joxter hoped that it might ease some of his child’s suffering.

At the feeling of wetness Snufkin cracked his eyes open. He looked progressively more and more miserable the longer he held the heavy things up, and as much as The Joxter ached to speak to him again, he could never do anything that might leave his child in pain. At least not purposefully, as The Joxter had played all manner of poorly received pranks.

“Sleep Snufkin, my heart, I’ll be here when you wake.” The Joxter smiled down at him.

Snufkin looked around in the tent, shifting at the heat. The Joxter’s tent had been set up in the hollow of a large sequoia, it was nearly dark inside except for the bits of light that peaked through. The ground outside was dusty and tightly packed, no grass grew in the forest of giant trees. To take shelter in something so ancient, with flaking bark that withstood thousands of years, gave one a deep sense of peace. It was peaceful, yes of course it was, to Snufkin at least. He let his heavy eyes close for a moment then looked again at his father.

“Come on now, you'll feel much better after sleeping, sweet thing.” The Joxter was a bit unused to running his hands through his son’s hair.

Snufkin shook his head, feeling his father's nails graze over his scalp lightly, it was a nice feeling, one that reminded him strongly of home.

“I don’t want to leave you alone anymore.” He whispered, through it hurt his throat to even speak.

The Joxter’s eyes widened just a bit before scrunching, his breath hitched and he brought the sleeve of his dress to his eyes. He had been so painfully alone, yes, but he could bear it. He did bear it, although one might say he did so poorly. Then again, when he thought on it, he did not truly have to be alone, did he? He could have gone back to his Beloved Mymble, and yet the guilt he had felt was overwhelming. The Joxter had wanted to say that he could not have returned to her, but the truth was that he was too scared to.

“I’m not alone.” The Joxter laughed slightly through the tears in his eyes.

Snufkin would shake his head again but the pulsing muddy feeling that had made it's home there prevented him from doing so. Instead he kept his eyes open, and rasped a bit as he tried to speak. His father took another pillow and placed it under his neck, lifting him slightly so that he could drink from the canteen easier.

“The longer you stay awake the longer I have to do something you don't like.” The Joxter smiled.

“I don't know what you mean by that.” Snufkin said, feeling quite miserable.

“You’re about too.” The Joxter said and then licked the crown of his son’s head.

Snufkin let out a very obvious noise of displeasure, oh he hated that. His father’s tongue was rough and annoying and gross as it always was, and out of everything Snufkin had missed about the man, he could not bring himself to make grooming one of those things.

Still though, Snufkin did not give into sleep, he only used what little strength he had to push his father’s face away. It was scratchy, just as Snufkin had remembered, and in fact, most everything was the same about The Joxter. From his clothes to his face, he hadn't aged or changed, not that he should have as they were only separated for perhaps two and a half months. It was only that Snufkin himself had changed so much, and yet he as well had stayed very much the same.

Was a caterpillar always a butterfly? The obvious answer was no, and yet if one thought themselves into a circle they might come to wonder if who you are meant to be is always who you are. Were the same innate traits that you possessed as a child the ones that you might keep into adulthood, or maybe it was deeper than that. Perhaps it was that a caterpillar had never once known it was to become a butterfly and yet the code in every fiber of it's being allowed it too. After all, in its cocoon, a caterpillar turns into liquid and reforms, how could it possibly know how turn into a butterfly? What told it to be that way? Itself most likely.

And when a monarch butterfly migrates, it dies in it's chosen place. So then, how do it's children know where to fly for the winter? Some things were meant to be, that much Snufkin knew. That which had meaning to some and was nonsense to others, fate, the way the world was, it was a force that wasn't particularly a force. Perhaps believing in it was what gave it power.

But then, he was becoming too abstract, fate and butterflies were flighty things. Snufkin turned to what was solid and tangible and spoke upwards to his father.

“Have you been moping all this time?” He asked.

“Not the whole time. What about you?” His father leveled him with an unamused smile.

Snufkin thought on it for a moment and replied, “Not the whole time, although very much in the beginning.”

The Joxter hummed in acknowledgment and laid down, curling into a ball with his face towards his son. His eyes were closed lightly, when he spoke he slurred his words sleepily.
“What was it like? To travel alone.”

“You would know wouldn't you?” Snufkin asked quietly.

“For myself yes, but sweet Snufkin your mind is very much a mystery to me.”

It seemed that saying such a thing had little or no impact on The Joxter himself, but it was a quiet moment of revelation for Snufkin, who had always thought that his father was the mysterious one. Even as he felt sore and twisted from his illness it made Snufkin brighten just a little bit, He had forgotten once again that as much as one perceived others, they were perceived themselves.

Snufkin paused and searched within himself for the honest answer, “It was… Delightful.” He contemplated, “And sad. But it's very nice to see you again.”

The Joxter smiled warmly, “It's a pleasure to see you as well.” he joked.

Snufkin lifted his hand up to his face and felt how hot it burned, he looked at the chipped mess of while polish on his nails there. His father took his hand lightly and tucked it back under the blanket, Snufkin was quietly quite annoyed at the action.

“I learned. All sorts of things.” Snufkin’s voice broke in emotion then, surely it only added to the already pathetic quality of his speaking.

He had learned so much, about so many people and all sorts of different things. He had said goodbye to so many and they had said goodbye back, he had exchanged little waves of the hand that displaced tiny rushes of air that could set in motion a hurricane. He learned about himself, how he didn't like to yell, how he was so easily exhausted by those around him. He learned about his heart about what it might hold, and most of all he learned that in the grandest possible scheme of things, he knew nothing.

“Did you know that a broken pocket watch is right twice a day?” Snufkin said and huffed out terribly scratchy little puffs of laughter.

The Joxter chuckled along with him, not quite understanding. The sound of his son’s laughter had made his heart ache, the same was true of Snufkin for he had not heard his father’s laughter so closely to his ear in a long while.

“Perhaps we should drop you off another cliff if that's all you learned.” The Joxter said slyly.

“What a terrible joke.” Snufkin side eyed the man, “I wish you would pick up a different sense of humor.”

“I cannot, it isn't my way.” The man was entirely too tongue in cheek.

Snufkin sighed and smiled, his eyes drooped slightly before he forced himself to open them again. Everything about him ached, his head worst of all, it was nearly pounding by then. Yet Snufkin knew he couldn't take any more water. His stomach turned at the thought of anything, no matter how light. Snufkin was the type of sick where one forgot what it felt like to be healthy, he couldn't remember waking up without pain, but he wasn't scared anymore. For one reason or another, Snufkin felt he would be okay, he knew it deeply, like a caterpillar knew. Snufkin turned for the last time that day, to face his father.

“Then don't change it. I love you anyways papa.” Snufkin closed his eyes for he could barely keep them open.

The Joxter was quietly shocked by such an openhearted statement, he was snapped out of his slyness with widened eyes. He opened his mouth to say something but the words died on his tongue, Snufkin had already fallen asleep.

What did it matter? One way or another, awake or asleep, The Joxter loved Snufkin all the same. He closed his eyes slowly and breathed out of his nose, blowing air onto Snufkin’s burning face. The coolness of it eased his son’s features just a bit.

“I love you too, sweet child.” The Joxter said, and stayed awake through the night to wet the cloth on Snufkin’s head.

There was a point in the night when The Joxter stood and stepped out of his tent, and almost immediately upon doing so, kicked the bag that he had left outside in his haste. It was Snufkin’s bag, much bigger than the one he had had in the time before being swept away. The Joxter leaned down so that he may touch the canvas, then smiled. Snufkin had found his way, The Joxter knew, no matter what trials the child had faced he was alive and walking forward in the world.

The sun no longer shone down onto the dusty floor, for nights had been ending sooner and sooner by that time in the year. In a forest of pines, sometimes it was harder to tell that the seasons were turning, but one could see it if they tried hard enough. Yes, the sweetness of the air had gone from saccharine to snappy, the world smelled much different. The Joxter could tell, but he knew not many others could. It was odd that he, who was so uncaring for time and it's passing, could tell it's change innately, but then again, the gifts that one needed were never the ones they already had.

To make a shelf to put your heart up on was to strip the bark from a tree, perhaps bark that had withstood thousands of years of trials previously, and build it from the core. How curious, that something could exist for so long without being touched at all, that it could witness stories the likes of which one might never understand, and then, end so suddenly, if only to be made into a shelf. How curious that some things must come to an end. Thousands of circles, wrapping around the core of a tree, towering hundreds of feet into the sky. What would a tree say, if it could speak? What might it tell you if you wished to hide your heart away?

The Joxter did not know, for it was a lesson that he learned so many times, and yet still forgot. The most valuable part of being alive was giving your heart to love over and over and over again. For, unlike a sequoia, most creatures had so little time to do so. Heartbreak was inevitable, but while the heart might splinter, it would not shatter.

And if when giving one’s heart away, it became hopelessly lost, one was to remember that the heart would always return. Not for any scientific reason, only because this was just the way things were. The way of the world, which to the dismay of many, worked in impossibly silly ways.

The Joxter brought Snufkin's backpack inside the tent.

Chapter Text

Restlessness was a hazard of illness, and one to be wary of as it often caused Snufkin to do very stupid things. Not to say that he had done anything yet but the urge was there, seeing as he was on his sixth consecutive day of laying down and doing nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, he had been doing a fair amount of sleeping so he wasn't hardly aware of the time in the first place, and he had been playing word games with his father on occasion, but neither of these were conducive to very much interest. He was by all means ready, at least mentally, to get a move on.

If only he could convince his father, who thought him just a bit too sick to stand. The man was partially right, Snufkin could not stand for long, but he could still stand. He could walk a little too, it that meant anything.

“Can we go yet?” Snufkin asked, annoyed.

“I'm not sure, can we?” His father replied.

Snufkin breathed in deeply and held it for a moment before sighing. It wouldn't do his voice any good to really tell his father off, he had just gotten the thing back after all.

“May we go yet?” Snufkin asked.

“What an awkward way of phrasing it. Try ‘may we go soon’.” The Joxter said without any hint of humor, despite the awful joke he was playing.

Snufkin lifted his paws to his face and pushed the palms into his eyes. He was getting awfully sick of this, no pun intended. He debated with himself for a moment on whether or not he was really going to walk straight into it, and found that no matter what he had to at least try.

“May we go soon?” Snufkin said, nearly at his wits end.

The Joxter tapped his chin in fake pondering before saying, “We might.”

“That's it.” Snufkin threw the blankets off himself and crawled out of the tent with his backpack in hand, hat on his head, his father’s laughter behind him then.

While the tent’s interior had been warm, the air outside was almost shockingly chilly, Snufkin rubbed his arms a bit but refused to go back inside. He might never hear the end of it if he walked back in to retrieve a blanket. Instead Snufkin chose to walk through the forest, stopping every once in a while to rest and catch his breath against a giant tree. Perhaps bringing the pack was a bit of an oversight, he didn't quite know what he would be using it for anyways, he didn't plan to go very far.

Still, Snufkin walked until he could no longer see the green tent behind him. At times he would drag his feet in the old dead pine needles, pushing them along into a pile, leaving long lines of dusty forest floor in his wake. Snufkin sat against the log of a downed tree, it had splintered into many dry and dusty pieces, but out of it's rot came ferns and flowers. By then his lungs were tired of the strain, Snufkin’s walk had him nearly wheezing with his pack in his lap. He sighed as best he could and reprimanded himself, Snufkin did not know if his father might have laughed or cried, seeing him like that.

The cool air was like a salve though, it seemed to dispel the last of the clinging feverish heat from Snufkin’s head and he felt clearer than he had in weeks. Although he was not tricked into thinking it might stay gone, those types of things lingered for a while, no matter what kind of temporary fix one might whip up for them. For a while, Snufkin disregarded it all and looked at the sky overhead, that which could be seen of it was covered in clouds.

Snufkin’s breathing slowed to a more comfortable pace and he laid his head back onto the time weathered log. He felt blindly into his pack for his mouth organ, keeping his eyes trained on the overcast skies. Instead of the cool touch of metal, his hands reached something more fragile, the letter, he realized. Well, then was a better time than later on, Snufkin thought, and took the thing into his hands.

It was addressed ‘To Little One Who’s Name Escapes Me…’, Snufkin had to roll his eyes. He opened the letter gingerly and slid out the lined paper from within, it was coated with barely legible handwriting. At least, this time the sender knew how to spell. He read on.

‘Dear Who’s Name Escapes Me,
Good luck with whatever you were doing again, at the time of writing this I must say I can't quite remember. I don’t think I’ll remember to give this to you at a reasonable time either, so don't expect me to know when this may find you. I’ve spent perhaps… A bit of time getting together some things for when you leave, they have all been found mostly in the attic, although I have had to improvise just a tad. The fact that we don't ring any bells around here for breakfast, lunch or dinner is ridiculous don't you think? I never remember when any of them are. Anyways, if this letter should reach you when you’ve become some sort of man, I’ve enclosed a gift. Don’t expect me to ever say hi to you if you are a man though, the only thing I like less than children are men.
Warmly, although not incredibly so, The Sitruunansisar.’

There was a small paper packet in the envelope as well, Snufkin guessed that it was the woman had been talking about. He was no man by any means, but found that the temperament of The Sitruunansisar had always been odd, and he didn't quite care about whatever mental hoops she had jumped through to write the letter. He opened the packet carefully and found it to be filled with thin brown bits of some sort, had she sent him pencil shavings? Certainly not, she was odd but she was not silly, Snufkin brought it up to his nose and sniffed.

Ah, of course. It was tobacco, tried and true. Snufkin sealed the packet again and put the letter back into the envelope. He would have tried it, he even had a pipe to go along, but unfortunately his lungs were in no shape. Nor had he a match, for that matter, he hadn't had any for a while, although it hadn't been of any consequence to him. He was burning in sickness by the time he had run out of them, so he hadn't lit a campfire for a while by that point.

Snufkin took the mouth organ out from his pack and began to play, surprisingly he wasn't as shaky as he thought he might be. It seemed that playing the instrument was like riding a bicycle, one never truly forgot how. Even though Snufkin himself hadn't ever ridden a bicycle per say, but he knew the saying to be true. The point of the matter was that even with his sickness and his not practicing for so long, Snufkin played a lovely tune.

It drew the attention of a low flying bird, who perched behind Snufkin in the ferns and hopped ever so lightly to inch closer. Snufkin paid it little mind and only continued to improvise his song, it hadn't any specific feeling to it yet and he hoped to remedy that. The bird tried to land on Snufkin’s hat without realizing that the surface was by no means a sturdy place of landing. Predictably it fell downwards and flapped its wings in panic before setting off into the sky again, the whole ordeal gave Snufkin a start. He blinked, confused for a moment, before slowly putting his instrument back to his lips and laughing lightly, eyes turned up at the sky to watch the bird go.

Snufkin decided to add a lighter tone to his song, something unknowingly childish and soft, like a bird who did not know where to land. It was the perfect tune for a bit of time spent alone, although, Snufkin doubted he would be fully alone for too much longer, for The Joxter had been predictably clingy as of late. He didn't know what his father might consider an appropriate amount of alone time, but he didn't assume it was much longer than what he had. The mouth organ fell into his lap limply as he dropped it there.

Ferns were not particularly soft plants, they had a dry texture to them and tough stems. Snufkin ran his fingers through them, reaching backwards to stretch and yawn, the pads of his index brushing the underside of a smaller seedling. Little clusters of seeds were hidden there, deftly under each frond, Snufkin’s felt them ever so lightly as he drew his paws back to himself. Snufkin could not reach the bush of blue flowers that sprouted further back, so he chose only to admire it. Soon enough, Snufkin could smell that his father was nearer, although without the other man’s more acute senses he knew not where. He scanned the forest floor like any good predator might, thinning his pupils and looking past the spots of shade, back and forth, waiting. He spotted nothing even as the scent became stronger.

“Hullo little love.” Said The Joxter, from right behind.

Snufkin fuzzed a bit in alarm, he had been so absorbed in his watching that The Joxter’s voice had caught him largely off guard. He looked behind him to find the man peeking over the fallen tree, arms bent as he hung over, backpack sliding just a bit up his back. It was a familiar scene, Snufkin knew it very intimately for he had seen it and committed it to memory on that fateful day he left his father. Now though, it only made him sigh in relief, had it been some sort of stranger to greet him like that, he might have yelped in fear.

“You're being very rude to the ferns papa.” Snufkin said, looking quite pointedly at the greenery his father had crushed under his knees.

“Oh.” Said The Joxter, “Pardon me.” and slid off the log to avoid tamping down anymore poor ferns.

Before sliding down completely, he took most of the few flowers growing there in his paws. He sat down next to Snufkin and marveled a bit at how he no longer dwarfed the child in size. He was still taller, of course, and in fact The Joxter quietly theorized that he might always be taller than Snufkin, but the child wasn't just some small thing anymore. It caused The Joxter to sigh and smile a little tiredly, he didn't like to trouble himself with what if’s, but it seemed his son often brought them out of him. What if he had been there? For one.

“What has you huffing so loudly?” Snufkin asked, smiling slightly.

“It is only good to see you so coherent.” The Joxter prodded him with a gentle nudge.

“I was fairly coherent before as well.” he said, feeling particularly annoyed.

The Joxter hummed, unconvinced, loudly and obnoxiously, to make it known that he believed quite the opposite. He thought about playing around with his child’s tolerance of him, but found that if Snufkin got truly annoyed and walked off, he might have to give him another hour or two of lonesomeness, so instead he decided to answer quite directly.

“You were absolutely not. You probably don't even remember what you talked about.” The Joxter said plainly.

Snufkin looked like he might have wanted to argue, but said nothing, which was really about as good as admitting his father’s word-perfect assumption. He couldn't prove that he did remember much of anything defined as ‘coherent’ because he really didn't. Instead Snufkin gave in and hummed a bit himself, just neutrally, without any particular meaning.

“What exactly did I say? When it was really bad that is.” Snufkin asked, looking forward at the branches that swayed with the wind.

“Little things. You spoke of my friends, Moomin and The Muddler. I don't suppose you met good old Hodgkins as well?” The man said.

“No I don't suppose I did.”

“That's unfortunate, he might have been my favorite of the bunch!” The Joxter let out a couple hearty chuckles.

Whatever the joke was, Snufkin did not get it, and he didn't try too either. The Joxter would not explain it terribly well, even if he were to ask, for the man was one to cut corners on explanations. Really it made him a terrible direction giver, Snufkin did not want to see the day when it came down to The Joxter and a map. Instead he sat still, not moving even when his father began to thread the flowers the man had picked into Snufkin’s hat.

“What said my friends?” The Joxter asked vaguely, before amending his question, “Of me that is.”

“The Muddler? Not much, and I hadn't any time to speak to Moominpappa on the topic.” Snufkin replied.

The stems of purple Iris flowers and blue hydrangeas interlocked into a wreath around Snufkin’s hat. His father had decided to make it very carefully despite the random ways he had pulled them. Snufkin drew his knees to his chest and rested his chin onto them, giving his father an easier angle to work from.

“Probably for the best, old Moomin tended to bloviate most everything he said.” he spoke lightly, “You also-, well, maybe I shouldn't say.” The Joxter toned smugly, in a way that Snufkin could practically hear the smile in his voice.

“You're going to tell me either way aren't you?” Snufkin asked vacantly.

Indeed The Joxter was going to tell him anyways, it had been his intention from the moment the words came out of Snufkin’s mouth. The urge to mess with his son was too much not to, The Joxter was gleeful to share. Not just gleeful though, he also wanted to share because it had put him over the moon hearing it, it was almost a thing of pride.

“You said you love me just the way I am.” The Joxter laughed outright.

Snufkin colored and crossed his arms roughly. Of course he loved his father, wasn't that a normal thing? He didn't know why the man had to go bringing it up like that, and laugh as he said it for that matter! How rude could one Mumrik be? Fairly rude if one were to count by standard of The Joxter.

“So what? It's true.” Snufkin huffed, and furrowed his brow further when it only caused his father to laugh louder, “What exactly is so funny about this?”

Wiping a tear from his eye, The Joxter replied quite honestly, “It is only funny because it makes you so out of sorts. I love you too, after all.”

“Odd way of showing it.” Snufkin snipped.

His father made a mockingly sympathetic noise and slumped down to Snufkin’s level, who knew it was only to get a rise out of him and yet could not help but turn his head away. The Joxter watched his son for a moment before opening his arms and grabbing his son in a hug, pulling the boy close to him. It seemed he was done playing tricks, for then at least, and instead just wanted to sing with his son in his arms.

He was bad as always, in Snufkin’s humble opinion, although the young mumrik found he didn't mind it so much. Snufkin hugged his father back, it was the first time he had ever been able to reach his arms all the way around to meet each other at his back. Snufkin wouldn't try to sing along, he only hummed into his father’s chest, and the two stayed like that for a while. Sharing a bit of warmth on a cool day.

“We won't be able to outrun the winter by this rate papa.” Snufkin said at one point.

The Joxter’s singing tapered off lightly and he considered it, “No, dearest child, I suppose we won't, although I’m not sure we could have anyways.”

“You could have,” Snufkin looked up and leveled his father with an unimpressed stare, “I wonder if mama is very cross with you?”

Nervous laughter filled the otherwise quiet forest as The Joxter released a paw to rub the back of his neck. He could have, yes, but there was no use in fretting the past, nor the future for that matter, it simply took too much work. But. But would she really be that mad? The Joxter hoped not, and yet he already found the prospect to cause him grief. Wasn’t that all good horror was? Anticipation? The Joxter slumped a bit and let the inevitable wariness wash over him.

“I wonder.” The Joxter voiced, trying quite adamantly to ignore what Snufkin had said.

His Beloved Mymble, The Joxter hadn’t the slightest clue how to do anything much more than love her, so the fact that she might indeed be quite cross with him was distressing to say the least. He almost couldn’t even imagine her mad, she hadn’t ever been truly outraged in The Joxter’s presence before. Even, all those years ago, when her eldest daughter had claimed her mother to be quite angry, the woman never did so much as frown in her daughter's direction.

The Joxter took out his pipe and almost began to smoke from it, before remembering his sick child and putting the old thing down. Snufkin watched him do so with a blank face.

“By all means papa.” Snufkin said.

“Don’t be silly.” His father scoffed, and then remembered to ask, “But it reminds me, you’ve a pipe of your own?”

“Have you been rifling through my things?” Snufkin asked instead of answering.

“You aren’t the only one who gets bored, my sweet child.”

The man had said it with a grin so contagious Snufkin himself smiled lightly. It was a silly situation they were in after all, not many could boast bumping into their lost father while they were nearly on death's door. Or, perhaps death’s front lawn, Snufkin didn’t like to be dramatic and he hadn’t thought he was doing that poorly. Although Snufkin also hated the concept of a lawn in the first place so he might as well of just used the original phrase. Still, he separated from his father to go digging around his back pack for the nice wooden pipe that Moominpappa had carved.

“It hasn’t been used, but here it is.” Snufkin held it out for his father to inspect.

“I could tell that much, it doesn’t smell of anything in particular.” The Joxter observed, “Very nice craftsmanship.”

“I can't tell one way or another.” Snufkin shrugged, “I did receive tobacco though, from a… well.” Snufkin couldn’t really call her a friend.

“Save it for when your feeling better, little darling.” The Joxter advised, “In the meantime, let’s get a move on.”

Snufkin watched with widened eyes as his father stand and dust the old brown pines from his bottom. He smiled slightly and stood himself, grabbing his backpack from the forest floor.

“Does that mean were going?” Snufkin asked hopefully.

“It does.” The Joxter held out his elbow.

The young Mumrik looked at it dubiously before hooking his own arm around his fathers. They walked like that, and Snufkin found it wasn’t as bad as he thought it might be, for then at least, he enjoyed the closeness. The only downside was that his father could tell fairly easily when Snufkin needed a break to sit and rest, and made the boy do so frequently. It was better to be moving than be stagnate though, and Snufkin was happy to once again travel with his father. He had missed it dearly.

They walked out of the forest of giant trees and into a field of goldenrod, who’s bright yellow had been dimmed by the fast approaching night. Still, as they walked, The Joxter took clusters of flowers. He flicked off a sleeping spider or two and tucked the little blooms into Snufkin’s hat.

“Why don’t we stop here for a while.” The Joxter began to unroll his folded tent.

Snufkin had no objections as he was exhausted himself. He neglected to help his father set up their tent, although the man had not asked him too. Snufkin sat in the soft grass on that cool night and shivered a bit, watching the moon begin to peak out from the clouds. It was beaming that night, as Snufkin watched it with big bright eyes. He wondered if Moomin was watching it somewhere in the world, just as sleepily as he.

The Joxter placed a heavy blanket on Snufkin and smiled, “Just a moment longer, little one.”

Snufkin nodded at the moon and inched slowly to the ground, eyelids falling with him. That night, his father carried him into the tent for he had fallen quite heavily asleep.

Chapter Text

They indeed, did not beat the winter to The Mymble’s house, they weren’t really even close. The seasons bled into each other and it had begun to snow by the time they got within a weeks distance, and continued to fall harder as they traveled on. Snufkin found a great distaste for the blankness of winter, and while he had always harbored some small grudge, he found that after seeing so much of the world and its beauty, it wasn’t the same looking at barren trees and covered grounds.

The Joxter found little problem with one season in comparison to another, he only wished that not everything looked so much the same, for it could be quite dull to travel in. There was only so much teasing The Joxter could level onto his son, so most of the time he had to resort to word games, although after a while those turned into teasing his son anyways.

“The letter ‘U’” The Joxter said as the two mumriks trekked through ankle deep snow.

“Universal.” Snufkin replied tiredly.

They had been playing that same game for perhaps the entire day by then, and it had really begun to grate on Snufkin’s nerves. His father won every time, and the winner got to be the asker of questions. It was skewed very obviously in the older man’s favor and Snufkin had began to wonder if his father had made the game up.

“The letters ‘Un’”

“Under.”

Snufkin wondered idly if his mother would be in her home, and forced himself not to worry about the matter one way or another. Of course she was the whole reason that he and his father were suffering through boredom and snow, so her not being home would be a ‘real bummer’, in Snufkin’s opinion, but it would not be the end of the world. After all, if she had not moved the spare key, and Snufkin knew she hadn’t for she did not remember where she had put it in the first place, then Snufkin and his father could simply wait a while. It wasn’t at the top of the list for his favorite things to do, and the thought of waiting anywhere didnt quite sit right with him, but Snufkin missed her quite dearly. Still, he thought about how far away from Moomin he was, and thought further on their promise.

“The letters ‘Uni’”

“United.”

There was no winning trick that Snufkin had found for his side yet, but could think of many that his father employed. Still he played, because what else exactly was he supposed to do? Snufkin felt his father could probably come up with better topics of discussion if the man wished but by then it seemed they were both too exhausted by their journey to really expend the effort. Snufkin thought that it might have been better time spent in silence, but The Joxter was not one to leave the quiet well enough alone, or at least he wasn’t in this instance.

After all, if the man was bored then he would just nap, but he couldn’t quite do that without a tent anymore. It kept them on a constant move over hidden tree roots and shrouded pit falls, and it bored The Joxter almost to tears.

“The letters ‘Unip’”

“There’s no such word.” Snufkin moaned, stumbling just a bit.

“There is.” The Joxter said tiredly, “Uniphonous.”

Snufkin sighed in near agony, “I’m done, all you have to do is think of an obscure word and spell it out till I give up!”

The Joxter shrugged and snickered a little, running his cold fingers through Snufkin’s hair. The feeling caused Snufkin to lean away, almost falling into a pile of snow as he lost his center of balance. His father steadied him and they then paused for a moment, looking at each other. Both looked frankly miserable, although not nearly as miserable as they had likely felt.

Snufkin huffed out some tired laughter, he couldn’t quite help but poke his father’s cold cheek. The Joxter tilted his head in confused amusement and laughed along, then took his son’s paws and cupped his own around them, breathing hot air onto the cold things.

“Were being a bit dramatic, aren't we, darling dearest?” The Joxter admitted.

Snufkin gave a small nod of his own and looked down at his paws, smiling at the temporary warmth there. The two began to walk again, over the flat swaths of empty slumbering forest. There was seldom the noise of a snapping branch beneath their feet, it was all buried and softened by the faint crunch of snow. Winter put a film over life, one that quieted and blurred it, one that hushed all manner of creatures to sleep. It was this lens, which had been slid into place, that Snufkin disliked the most. Neither he nor his father hibernated, for their own reasons, some silly, some reasonable.

The Joxter liked to nap more than he liked to sleep, and to hibernate, the man felt he might miss out on quite a bit of napping if he ever did that. It wasn't a reason that made much sense to anyone but himself. More than that The Joxter at times had places he wanted to go, and things that he wanted to see. Shutting himself off to such things just because in some places it got a little chilly, well, it just didn't seem very logical to The Joxter.

For Snufkin, he found that it simply wasn't his way. He could do it in theory, but to become dead to the world for one fourth of an entire year? Every year? The younger wasn't as ignorant to the flow of time as his father, and to stay in one place so long was torture. It mattered very little whether Snufkin remained awake or not, he had only ever found one place that he could tolerate being for very long.

As much as the endless piles of dainty snow bored The Joxter and quietly annoyed Snufkin, both would much rather have traveled through it than slept under its embrace. There were of course advantages to all seasons, and necessity to them as well. Without winter there would be no spring, without spring there would be no summer. It went on like that, the world had obviously had itself figured out long before any free thinking thing could critique it. One had to appreciate the level of intricacy there was in the world, every single random thing, down to the smallest worm in the deepest ground, was part of an interconnected line. It could be compared to the threads of a fraying glove, locked over one another, woven so closely.

And yet,

So small that one could never truly understand if they looked at the individual threads. Even so, creatures were really only capable of looking at those threads individually anyways, for there were simply too many of them to truly look at all at once. The entire history of everything presented far too many threads, but there was no worry, for the world kept track of itself.

The world kept track of it's smallest worms, it's migrating butterflies. The world kept track of it's chipped cups and broken cameras, it kept track of it's little mumriks and it's big mumriks. The world remembered it's gardenias and orange blossoms, it's most powerful trains, even as they traveled so far away. The world kept track of it's lover, the moon, and remembered all these things. The world watched and made one forget, that the world was made of up all of those little things in one.

“The letter S.” Said The Joxter.

“I’m not playing this game anymore.” Snufkin replied quickly.

A benefit of the turning of the seasons was that smoke from nearing houses could be seen through the branches of the trees. Snufkin let out a weary sigh at the sight of it, his feet were numb and cold. Moominmamma had given him a very nice pair of shoes, but they were not of the type that might protect against the winter chill. At least they were waterproofed, Snufkin did not know how he might have coped otherwise.

The Mymble’s home came into view soon enough, warm and bright. While it was still far away, it gave The Joxter and his son no small amount of relief.

“Just out of curiosity,” Snufkin began and then paused.

“Shoot.” The Joxter told him.

“What word had you thought of to trip me up?”

The Joxter didn't even look his son’s way as he spoke, “Scabrous.” the man replied.

“That's not a real word.” Snufkin mumbled neutrally.

“It is, it means as it sounds, sweet child.”

“It doesn't sound like anything.”

The Joxter was a bit too distracted to reply with any remark, snarky or not, his heart was focused on his Beloved Mymble. No matter how much he had tried to put the worry out of his mind, it had remained painfully present. Especially as they grew nearer, it seemed the little spike of stress in his heart became larger and larger. So close to his Beloved Mymble, the worry was almost unbearable.

As they approached the door, Snufkin stepped out first, knocking on the thing loudly and repeatedly. If it were anyone other than his mother he might not have made such a ruckus, but The Mymble was most likely busy with her many many children. As expected, it wasn't her who opened the door but one of the little ones, who stared up at Snufkin and The Joxter wide eyed before stepping aside to watch them come in.

The Joxter knocked snow from his boots before beginning to unlace them, he set them down in a pile of dozens of pairs of other tiny shoes. His son did the same a moment after, admiring the nice bow Moominmamma had tied there before untying them and taking them off. The child who was chewing a fingernail absentmindedly snapped out of her wonder and jumped up to take Snufkin’s paw. The young mumrik looked at her warily as she tugged him gently, and eventually with a parting glance to The Joxter, he followed her away.

The Joxter himself laughed silently behind a paw, knowing that Snufkin’s half siblings had probably missed him more than he understood. Or at the very least they were stupefied by his taller stature. When the older man turned back there were more little children, laughing and rushing past his feet. The Joxter looked in the direction they had come from and steeled himself before walking that way.

In the living room, there was a huge plush, worn down, single person couch, and his Beloved Mymble sat there, reading to a gaggle of children who had laid themselves in all manner of places. She read the story book with an animated voice, acting out all the characters, even though her grand smile tilted the tone of her words towards warmth each time. It didn't make for a very suspenseful tale, for nothing was ever very hard to bear with his Beloved Mymble at the helm.

The Joxter stood under the arch of her doorway and clinging to the side, listening to her lovely voice, and longing for it even though he was nearly in the same room as her. His worries hadn't been forgotten, no, but The Joxter was overwhelmed by his yearning. She closed the book, to the whining of her children, and looked to where The Joxter stood with a knowing smile.

“Hullo Joxaren.” She said with a tone that was almost neutral, if it hadn't been for her slight grin.

“Hullo.” He replied from the doorway, feeling meek.

The Mymble patted her children off of her lap and pointed them away. They all rushed out past The Joxter, in search of something interesting. Snufkin would be suffering at least seven more little angels soon enough, The Joxter supposed.

“Why don't you come sit with me dear?” She asked, padding the space on the one person couch beside her.

The Joxter obeyed without any protest, they squeezed onto the couch together and The Mymble leaned over him and rested her chin to the crown of his head. She sighed and wrapped her arms around The Joxter, who sat there a bit confused.

“Are you…” The Joxter began, though his voice petered out.

“Am I what? A Mymble? Why yes.” She laughed, the warm sound could be felt through all her soft clothes.

“Are you mad at me?” The Joxter asked, nearly pathetically.

The Mymble stopped laughing and pulled back with her paws on each of The Joxter’s shoulders. She looked at him with a quirk in her brow, it was very clear to him now that she had no idea what he was speaking of.

“What on earth are you talking about?” She asked.

“For losing Snufkin? For not coming to you even when I said I would? For spending so much time away?” The Joxter listed with a hint of hysterical fear peaking through.

“Oh! Well, I had forgotten about the first two... “ The Mymble retracted a paw to tap her plump lips, “The third one is a non issue though, isn't it sweetheart?”

The Joxter was taken aback quite thoroughly, he blinked up at her and she blinked back down at him. He supposed this had always been a possible outcome, although he had spent nary a second considering it. Yes, his Beloved Mymble had never been quite mad at anyone before, that was part of what had made The Joxter so frightened in the first place, the fact that he had truly messed up so royally that she might have honestly been done with him for good. That seemed not to be the case as The Mymble cupped her paws to her mouth and hiccuped out a couple of giggles, he eyes crinkling and upturned.

“Would you like me to tell you off?” She asked sweetly, and then batted him lightly on the nose. “Bad.” She said and then laughed.

Smiling was shared between the two, The Joxter’s own smile brightened the more he thought about how silly he had been. He sighed in relief and embraced The Mymble, who in turn wrapped her arms around him. She kissed his nose where she had previously touched her paw, and then she kissed his lips. It was a cliche thought that struck The Joxter then, he found he had begun to embrace such thoughts more and more frequently, but his Beloved Mymble tasted very much like home.

“Beloved, you are enchanting.” The Joxter spoke into her plush coat.

“Dear, you are thick headed.” Replied she, who laughed heartily thereafter.

Snufkin walked in then, heavily burdened by the amount of children hanging off of him, who all stuck their tongues out and made childish noises of abhorrence at the sight of their mother and The Joxter. To think that he was somehow the youngest of them all made The Joxter’s mind boggle a bit. He chose not to think about it too hard.

One of the children hanging off of his arm swung a bit as he spoke “Snufkin do you know what a sun dance is?”

“No. Please hush. Papa, mama I-”

“Can you teach us a swear Snufkin?” Asked another.

“Here's a swear, ‘I love you’ please hush now.”

The Joxter rested his chin on his paw and looked out with no particular emotion before speaking, “Fuck.” He said conversationally.

Snufkin stopped dead in his tracks and looked as if the life had been sucked out of him. The gaggle of children all gasped and smiled conspiratorially, they all chattered between each other for a second before quieting and bursting out.

“I love you! Fuck!” They yelled.

Snufkin’s paws snapped up to his ears, dislodging the children who hung there, he walked stone faced out of the room to the sounds of uproarious laughter. The Joxter laughed then too, his Beloved Mymble’s children were delightful at times, and dreadful at others. That time at least, The Joxter found that they were quite funny to him.

“They already knew that one, dear.” The Mymble commented.

He shrugged and got up to follow Snufkin, stepping carefully through the sea of giggling children. His tail was yanked only once before he wised up and lifted it well above their reach. In the kitchen, Snufkin sat very very grumpily on the cushioned window seat with his paws still covering his ears. He did not look towards his father as the man entered, he only shifted to turn away a smidge further.

The Joxter almost snickered at the sight, but then thought twice, for he had pushed Snufkin very far already. The world outside the bay window was dark, there were miles of clear untouched snowy land, illuminated so slightly by the warm light of The Mymble’s house. Snufkin stared there without really seeing, he was too absorbed in his displeasure to register the gradient from golden to blue as one looked out onto the snow. The Joxter pulled a stool with a curling wire frame across the tile floor and situated himself next to his son.

“You wanted to say something, love?” The Joxter tried.

Snufkin let his paws fall onto the cushions limply, but didn't turn to his father or really even acknowledge the man's presence otherwise. The man should have known it would take a little more than that. He sighed with a smile but didn't try to run his fingers through his son’s hair, or really initiate any type of contact, he knew it would only make Snufkin feel unheard. The Joxter had succeeded in really honestly pissing his son off, which was not a great feeling, but he couldn't quite help what he had done.

They sat there quietly for a while, until The Mymble walked in and sat down right next to Snufkin. He leaned into her after a moment and she put a hand over his head, looking down at him sweetly. Sometimes, The Joxter knew, he could not ease his child’s fears and sorrows in the way that his own mother could. Still, he tried again,

“Little heart, what was it that you wanted to say?” He asked.

Snufkin turned to The Joxter and looked a bit troubled. It was off putting to him, for he recognized immediately that Snufkin was thinking about more than a couple swears. Snufkin opened his mouth for a moment and then closed it again, whatever he had to say it was difficult for him to articulate. The Mymble turned her head slightly, she hadn't the worried look on her face that The Joxter himself wore. Instead she offered a little private smile and spoke like there was sugar on her tongue,

“You must leave, mustn't you? I recognize the look in your eyes, silly little Snufkin.”

“I only just got here.” Snufkin said sadly.

The Joxter quietly agreed.

“And still you must go, what have you got out there waiting for you?” She asked.

The cushions underneath The Mymble and him shifted as Snufkin moved to sit cross legged. He avoided looking at his parents as he spoke, instead admitting his truth to the tile floor, which was patterned in hexagons.

“I promised a friend I would be back in the spring.” He said.

“In moominvalley huh?” The Joxter asked him after a moment, for he knew his son quite well, “keep your promise then, I’ll join you there in the summer.”

It took a great deal to grant Snufkin that freedom, but in reality there was no way The Joxter could deny him it. Yes, his fears were still so present, The Joxter did not want to leave his son alone, but Snufkin was not wholly like his father or his mother. There was no way he could stay an entire winter in that house, no matter how much he loved his siblings and his mother and his father. On top of it all, the boy was growing and needed support. He needed to be able to choose what he wanted, to grow in the directions he so pleased, The Joxter knew this. Of course he knew it, but he hadn't expected it to be so damn hard.

The Mymble rolled her eyes briefly before grabbing The Joxter out of his seat to snuggle his son. He was momentarily surprised before settling into the seat at the bay window and wrapping his arms around Snufkin.

“I'm not surprised, child, you've always looked out this window with longing in your eyes. Why do you think I sent for your father in the first place?” The Mymble was a warm presence, encompassing her son.

“I had thought you wanted me to know about his existence?” The Joxter said a little put off.

“Have I ever sent letters out to any of my other children’s fathers?” She asked.

“Alright, noted.” The Joxter mumbled to himself.

The corners of Snufkin’s mouth wobbled and he tried to breathe in evenly, but it just came out as a sob. The noise startled his parents who looked back at him surprised, for they had not expected the reaction. New snow began to fall outside, floating ever downwards in a million little spirals. It piled onto the frames of the window, smothering the light that trickled outwards there.

Snufkin curled inwards for a moment, and then burst forward to hold his mother and his father. The three of them were drawn closely, the sound of Snufkin’s quiet cries filtered out over their shoulders. The Joxter met his beloved’s eyes beyond Snufkin’s tufts of light brown hair, he looked at her without really knowing what a good parent might try, he mouthed to her ‘what should we do?’. She looked back and shrugged, cocking half a smile and reaching to hold Snufkin better.

And sometimes that was all a parent could do. Because in the case of ‘good parents’ and ‘bad parents’ what really was the difference? Knowing when to let go and when to hold on? These were highly situational things, one could only hope to not have to be presented with the question, and yet it always happened anyways.

“Stay the night, baby, we can see you off in the morning.” Said The Mymble.

“Okay.” Snufkin blubbered, taking in a shuddering breath, “okay.” he said again, more quietly.

The Joxter said nothing, he only ran his hand up and down his son’s shaking back, for the last time until the summer.

Chapter Text

Being alone on his way back to Moominvalley hadn't been as unpleasant as Snufkin feared it might have been. It seemed that without the constant threat of time looming over him, it was pleasant enough, even with the blankness of the snow. He’d been traveling for a long while by then, without many breaks. To make it back on the first day of spring would be an awfully lofty goal if he hadn't. Snufkin didn't run, but he didn't walk either.

The sounds of running water came from beneath a thick layer of ice, Snufkin could hear it well over the silence of winter and it made him cautious. The wide river that he had walked only half over was not as frozen as Snufkin had originally believed, but it was no cause to panic. So long as he could stand evenly and not stay too long in one place, then he would be alright, so Snufkin watched his feet as he paced briskly forward.

Each step was padded by the same layer of snow that rested over everything, it made the act of telling whether or not Snufkin was still stepping over river especially tricky. In the distance another figure stood well enough out in the sea of white, as they wore a black dress with thin and pale pink stripes. They seemed to be walking the same way as Snufkin, he wondered if they too were headed in the direction of moominvalley. The other figure was walking well ahead of Snufkin, and had exited from the patch of naked white trees just perhaps three minutes prior. They made much better time than he had, perhaps they were a quick walker?

Their own hurry made no impact on Snufkin as he continued to walk at his same pace, if only tilting on the side of caution. Another step and Snufkin stopped, the sound of rushing water was louder then, he wondered if the ice was particularly thin in that place. Snufkin hesitated to divert his path, he wasn't incredible opposed to taking a longer route, though it felt like a waste of time. He had taken the gamble of just crossing instead of following along side the frozen river to search for a bridge, so to walk back and around would feel very wasteful. Then again, what exactly was there too waste? Snufkin lightly scolded himself for getting in the habit of worshipping time.

No matter what, he was free to his own devices, and that was promise to Moomin or no promise to Moomin. He was not his father, who might scoff at a clock, or perhaps even take it down in some half joke half protest, but he was not one to be obsessed with it either. He was himself, he would not lose himself to another, no matter how much he didn't want to disappoint that other.

Well, hold on then.

He of course would never lose himself to his dear friend Moomin, he knew that, Snufkin knew that! What exactly was he even trying to say? It was just unformed thoughts of fear and unknown trepidation. The turn in his stomach confused and alarmed Snufkin, he could not for the life of him understand why he was just then so unwilling to keep his promise to Moomin. He wasn't unwilling was he? No, of course not, he would meet Moomin in the spring, just like they had agreed! So why?

Why then was Snufkin aching to see him and yet so ready to turn the other direction forever. He did not know why the footing underneath him was so unsteady, why it was cracking and falling through.

Oh wait, the ice. It really was cracking wasn't it?

Snufkin looked down and cursed himself for being so trapped in his own head, he had not noticed the creaking of the overburdened ice beneath him. He lifted one foot lightly and brushed the snow out of the way to see the spiderwebs of damage that laid there. He put the foot down slowly and backed up just a hair, then tried to go a bit further.

The sound of splitting resounded behind him and then traveled further and further, it seemed that the ground had begun to web out in all manner of directions. There was no wind to ease nor tear at Snufkin’s nerves, he brushed his hair out of his face and watched the ice with wide eyes. If he’d kept moving or at least turned back, then perhaps he would have been alright, but staying in one place forever would cause him to fall through. Instead, Snufkin had foolishly pondered nothing.

If one did not know themselves very well, they might assume staying still was the same as staying in one place, but in reality they could not be more different. If one were to stay still then they would never be in the same place, the planet was rushing through the universe, orbiting around the sun. Staying could be a guarantee into going forward, and perhaps at times it was the only way to go forward, for if one could not stay still to admire the ocean, how would they ever find the will to go on?

Staying in one place though, it was a heinously deliberate act. When Snufkin could not make a decision, could not find a fork in the path to go down, when he stayed with no intention of ever choosing, he was staying in one place. When he could not decide to go forward or backward, when either choice in the end, would always be the mountain path. He set himself up quite nicely for disaster.

“You there!” called the figure in the striped dress.

Snufkin looked up from the spiders web at his feet and up at them, who wore red rubber boots and a scarf of animal furs, “Yes?” He called a bit preoccupied.

“Are you in a spot?” Asked they, with a hand cupped around their mouth.

“A spot?” Asked Snufkin.

“Of trouble?” they clarified “Sorry but it's such a terrible hassle to have to say so much, I'm in a bit of a hurry, not that that matters particularly! I don't care too much.” They spun their hand in a circle then, explaining themselves to an unnecessary degree.

“I am.” Snufkin admitted.

The figure nodded at him and walked to the edge of the river. Snufkin could see now that she was taller than him, and dressed in very nice clothing.

“Lay down then!” Said she.

“Pardon?”

“Lay down! Distribute your weight more evenly poor thing!”

Snufkin did as she said and the awful cracking below him ceased, he silently thanked himself for not asking anymore questions. The sound of rushing water was near deafening with his ears so close to the ice, Snufkin found that the sound still made him feel uneasy, even after all his growing.

“There is no basket to save me this time.” Snufkin joked to himself, very nervously and very quietly.

He began to crawl forward, shoving past the soft powdery snow that had likely fallen the night prior. Predictably, it got shoved down his dress and past his scarf as he crawled, the feeling was frigid and unkind, it chilled his very core. As he inched forward the ice began to make long groans under his pressure, but Snufkin did not make the same mistake of pondering, he did not even look up. Perhaps the young woman in red rubber boots had left, or maybe she was calling in soft notes of encouragement. It meant nothing to him at that moment for the ice was creaking, it was loud, and it was ready to accept him into it's frozen maw.

Quite suddenly the shocking color of red was right at Snufkin’s nose, he stared for a moment at the boots of the girl. He had not noticed that the sounds of running water had faded while he had been listening intently for the breaking of ice. Snufkin looked up just a tad at the woman who regarded him simply at first, and then got a confused look on her face.

Almost at once, she startled and crouched in front of him, taking his chin in her hand and tilting it from left to right. Snufkin was a bit to shocked to do anything about it, not to mention his body was tense and unprepared to deal with anything other than the potential falling into a river.

“Snufkin?! Is that really you?” The girl asked.

Snufkin blinked once, then twice, and felt a groan building in his throat, “Mymble?” He asked, long suffering.

“What on earth have they been feeding you? You’ve sprouted up like foxglove…”

What a thing to say, although his sister had never really posited the meaning of flowers, it made sense that she wouldn’t really consider them either. If she was as carefree as the last day Snufkin remembered her from, then it was a wonder she had stopped to help him in the first place. Not that Mymble was a particularly cruel creature, he was only surprised that she had noticed him.

“Thank you for your help, I’ve got to go then.” Snufkin said instead.

“Honest?” Mymble asked and stood from her crouch, “You wouldn’t lie to your eldest sister would you?”

Snufkin stood then too, brushing the snow off of himself where he could, for there was a great deal of it melting inside his dress. With his sister standing there and scrutinizing him, Snufkin did feel a bit dishonest even when he had told her nothing but the truth. Perhaps he hadn’t said the whole truth though, she picked up on those types of things very easily.

Yes, by all rights, Snufkin had to go quite quickly, but he was also just a tad shy to be standing in front of her. He wondered if she could tell by the way he tipped the brim of his hat downwards to avoid her big bright eyes.

Mymble had not changed in appearance at all, she was tall as he remembered, which wasn’t as tall then as when he hadn't come up to his fathers knee, but she was still taller than him. Snufkin averted his gaze again after she caught his eyes under his hat. It seemed she was waiting for some sort of answer, although Snufkin was sure she wouldn’t wait too long. She almost couldn’t wait too long, it would surely bore her to tears.

“Well?” She asked, proving him wrong.

“Yes, I do have to go, I’m meeting a friend in moominvalley.” Snufkin said quietly.

“Oh! What a coincidence, I’m also meeting a ‘friend’” She put emphasis there, “in moominvalley.”

Without much input from Snufkin himself, she took one of his hands and locked their pinky fingers together. She began to walk forward, her long legs outpaced Snufkin easily and he found himself tugged along without much care from her. Snufkin looked at their hands and found himself embarrassed, it was what Mymble would always do to children in her care, Snufkin remembered her doing it to him once or twice when he was very young.

Despite his size she still saw him as the youngest, Snufkin had never demanded to be treated as an adult but he didn’t know if he could quite stand his sister babying him. She didnt look to much older than him anyway, although she did try quite often to look like a grown woman. Mymble had no backpack but she was carrying a rather large purse that Snufkin had not ever seen her with before, though he supposed he couldn’t quite judge her for anything based on character. He had met her a number of times he could count on one paw. she liked to be away from their mother, Snufkin supposed.

“Keeping this pace will tire us out in no time, Mymble.” Snufkin called to her.

“Oh well, so what if it does? I know shortcuts anyways.” She spoke without so much as turning her head to him.

Certainly she could know no shortcut that would compensate for all that running. Snufkin thought about releasing his pinky finger and just walking at his normal pace, she might just continue on without noticing.

“Where in moominvalley are you going? And must you call me Mymble?” She asked.

“To the moominhouse, and what else am I to call you?” He replied.

Mymble tapped her chin with her other paw, perhaps wondering about the question, perhaps making her own inane assumptions about his destination. Either way, Snufkin was about as exasperated as he always was when it came to Mymble, she was simply too carefree, if one could be such a thing. Mymbles tended to be that way, Snufkin’s mother was carefree in a selfless way though. Mymble herself was a bit turned towards her own center.

Not that it was a terrible thing to have one’s own wants and desires, Snufkin knew the world was turned at times by wants and desires, he was just, well. He was a little less willing to understand when it came to his siblings, who had near tormented him from his first day being alive.

“I’m not sure, you’re a deep thinker though, aren’t you?” She asked.

“Should I call you Junior?” Snufkin asked, annoyed.

She gasped dramatically then clutched her scarves and laughed incredulously, “Oh please! Do not! I am so much older than you it isn’t even funny.”

How much older exactly, Snufkin wondered. She didn’t act much too terribly older, she was often dizzy at the prospect of love when Snufkin had seen her last. Love, being a princess of some sort, carving out a little place in the world all her own. She was a free spirit, sure, she was also a young woman who was very excited by material things, which baffled Snufkin.

No, Mymble did not act much too terribly older, so when she linked pinky fingers and led Snufkin along like he was still just a child he couldn’t help but feel a little patronized. Snufkin sighed and shivered a bit, trying not to let the damp feeling on his clothes bother him so much.

“Mymlan?” Snufkin tried honestly.

“Absolutely not, my girlfriend calls me that.” She scoffed and rolled her eyes.

Snufkin was a bit confused there, “A girlfriend?” He asked.

Mymble’s eyes brightened and she looked very pleased with herself, she actually turned her head back to boast to Snufkin that time.

“Yes, you see I had some boys around once, and they were okay, but there’s none like she!” Mymble practically sparkled.

Snufkin began to regret asking for he remembered Mymble’s rants on love more than anything else he remembered about her. She would go on for hours about some imaginary love that she would grasp one day, it was never very interesting to Snufkin. Perhaps after actually going out into the world Mymble had found that love, or some version of it. She spoke of more than just her current girlfriend, that was for certain.

“You see I had thought that my being a girl meant I would find a boy! I had completely forgotten about girls themselves, pretty silly huh? Though boys are still alright I’d say, do you like boys Snufkin?” Mymble rambled.

The question caught Snufkin very very off guard, “Pardon?” He choked out weakly.

Snufkin missed traveling with his father just a bit, the man would not ask such forward questions. As Mymble led them in an odd direction Snufkin wondered about the thing. Did he like boys? Well. Sure, who didn’t? He liked Moomin, and Sniff. And they were boys, they were his friends so of course he liked them.

He nodded to himself outside of Mymble’s line of sight, willfully ignoring the deeper meaning to her question. She was much to careless with what she said, she lacked any real tact, though that was some of the charm, Snufkin guessed. There was always something about an older sister than you loved regardless.

“Mymblesdottir?” He asked as they stepped through a winding path.

“A stranger might call me that, have you any care for your dear eldest?” Mymble asked.

They might as well have been strangers, Snufkin felt that Mymble perhaps overestimated the amount of time they had spent together. Snufkin took hold of a low hanging branch as he stepped down a particularly steep root. Mymble held her hands out and hooked him under his arms to let him down. Snufkin’s face burned as he waved her off a bit tersely, an abrupt jerk of his paws did nothing to stop her from taking his pinky in her own again.

“We’ll take a fairy path.” Mymble said eventually.

“I really don’t know how I feel about that.” Snufkin sighed.

“Figure yourself out then, there’s nothing wrong with them.” She released Snufkin’s pinky and took him fully by the paw.

Snufkin was surprised by her grip, he looked at their paws and then back up at the back of her head. They turned sharply and stepped down again onto a straight and dusty path, which was so unnaturally void of snow. He felt some nerves spark up at the change in atmosphere, he had stepped onto the path without really noticing. Mymble gave no change away if she had felt any, she only walked forward, tugging him along.

Almost as soon as the tense feeling had begun, it also ended, and the two stepped back into the winter light. Snufkin wondered if Mymble traveled like that often, she seemed to be quite capable of it. The pressure of her paw released and slipped easily back into the pinky hold, Snufkin allowed it even as they had begun to walk out into open ground. Without any chance of him becoming lost and she still held his paw like that, Snufkin wanted desperately to roll his eyes, she might have tied a rope to him if she had one.
Mymble had always been in charge of a lot of children, Snufkin knew that before he had come into the world she was with his mother much more often. She was very used to taking care of whole gaggles of children, it was no wonder she might’ve been treating him like that on reflex. Still though, Snufkin was annoyed by it, he really didn’t need to hold anyone’s paw.

So it was a wonder why he let her do it.

“Have you any news hobbies?” Mymble asked absentmindedly, and then added, “Other than staring longingly.”

“I don't stare longingly.” Snufkin said without any real heat, “I just like to look.”

She shook her head, tossing the little ribbon that rested in her hair from side to side, and then smiled wryly. Mymble clearly didn't agree, she put her paw to her mouth and let out a couple of chuckles, although Snufkin ignored them easily. A breeze picked up then, it threw the folds of their dresses in front of them and Snufkin grabbed his hat to prevent it from flying away. She muttered something about his not answering her question, her snark was caught in the wind and rendered unintelligible.

It became windier from then on, the sun disappeared from view behind the heavy clouds and it became bleak and overcast. The snow which had melted froze again, making the ground slippery and forming a little shell of hard snow on top of everything else. It caused a pleasant crunch every time they put their feet down and left distinct footprints in the open field.

Snufkin looked back on their hours traveled and saw it all summed up succinctly in one line that drew backwards beyond his line of sight. It was cold, the sun was falling quickly and Snufkin was already in damp clothing, it was no wonder he began to shiver quite violently. Without looking Mymble removed one of her furriest scarves and placed it on Snufkin, he was duly surprised at how honestly warm it was, though, perhaps he shouldn't have been. Despite everything, his sister had a warm heart, it was only natural that everything else about her be warm as well.

It reminded him a bit of Moomin, although the analogy didn't fit perfectly. Either way, Snufkin tucked his nose into the scarf and continued to walk behind Mymble, who broke a path of snow for him.

“Up ahead is a town, we'll sleep in an inn for the night.” Mymble said.

“I think I shall stay camping thank you.” Snufkin replied.

Mymble looked back at him with a disgruntled look on her face, “And let you get eaten by the groke? Right, what a great sister I am.”

“I’ve been quite alright on my own for a good while now.” Snufkin tried to keep the whining out of his voice.

Mymble stopped then, and Snufkin nearly bumped into the back of her before she whipped around. She took a moment to truly scrutinize him, looking him from tip to toe at least twice. She tilted her head with a quirked brow and rested her paws on her hips.

“You’ve only been traveling for a ‘good while’? I’d have thought you’d be gone as soon as I wasn't there to keep track of you.” She questioned.

Snufkin backed up a step at her in depth looking, he hadn't been prepared for such a thing and found himself once again paling at the attention.

“I have been traveling, just not alone.” He smiled out nervously, although he didn't quite know why.

There was nothing intimidating about Mymble, she had the disposition of a summer's day, and she wore little animal scarves with googly eyes instead of marbles. Then again, for a good portion of her life she had to wrangle and ever growing number of children, and that in and of itself was a bit of a herculean task. Perhaps the most frightening part was that whenever Snufkin had needed a bath as a child, Mymble would just put him under a hose.

“Oh? Who did you travel with?” She turned, without a single indication of remembering the hose.

“My papa.” He answered, following her again.

“Reeeeally?” She exclaimed, “You tracked the dumb cat down?”

“I wouldn't call him dumb, Mymble,” Snufkin grumbled slightly, “and no, mama sent for him.”

“You mean you wouldn't call him dumb right now, I’m sure you might if he did something really stupid though.” she spoke from experience, and Snufkin couldn't quite disagree with her, “Although I suppose that's surprising, I really, honestly, truly, thought mama would lose you somewhere! Almost can't believe you left on your own.”

The conversation had been nearing the territory of going on too long for a while by then, Snufkin had become almost annoyed by his own voice. As they began to descend further and further into a patch of forest, Snufkin refused to rise to any bait, even if he was a bit offended by Mymble’s suppositions. The snow was less dense as they traveled further, but it was more frozen and less powder. Mymble slipped almost immediately and would have fallen on her back if not for Snufkin rushing to prop her up.

“Oh Snufkin! Careful by your feet.” She said instead of thanking him.

Snufkin looked downwards and saw short little white flowers that drooped their heads as if it were in some show of bashfulness. Snowdrops, peaking around Snufkin’s shoes. Mymble pushed herself back up with her brother’s help and brushed her dress down, despite there being nothing there. She continued to walk forward, leaving an easy trail to follow, but Snufkin knelt and touched a finger to the soft petals.

It was a sign of bad luck, Snufkin had heard, to encounter a snowdrop midwinter for they usually bloomed on the first day of spring. Snufkin picked one and fit it into his wreath, which had dried then into a delicate crown of flowers. He thought about meeting his sister, out of anyone and everyone he could have met out in the middle of nowhere he had become her talking buddy.

Yes, Snufkin thought looking down at the little blooms, yes they’d warned him a bit too late. He’d already had the misfortune of traveling with Mymble.

The wind was broken by naked trees in the lowered forest, and the sun was blocked already by clouds and once again by blankets of snow covering the branches of the forest. The forest was deprived of many senses that had once made Snufkin feel at home there, it made him feel as if he were walking with a blindfold on. He touched the petals of the snowdrop one last time, feeling the waxy white veins of the thing, then stood and followed Mymble.

He couldn't see the other end of the forest beyond her dress, nor could he see the town that she had said laid there. But Snufkin followed for a little longer, catching up to his sister and hooking his pinky around her own.

Just until they reached the edge of the forest, he reasoned with himself, then he would set up his tent. He told himself this even though he followed his sister into town and they spoke quietly, long into the night.

Chapter Text

The world was very quiet in the early morning hours, the wind, at least to Snufkin, smelt overpowering and crisp. It was sweet, like it tended to be, and yet it was also an absence of any real smell. It was a hard to describe experience, and Snufkin didn't really have the energy to ask his sister what she might have thought.

Mymble had begun to whistle in some attempt to alleviate the silence, though she wasn't very good at it. Mostly, it was just a couple seconds of one note, stretching and yawning out into the plains of snow ahead of them, and then a pause before she repeated the process with another note. It was such a lonely sound, the song that she slowly strung together. It stuck a string through Snufkin’s heart and pulled him close to her, as if they were the only two in the entire world. It felt that way out in the snow, it looked that way as well. Snufkin might have felt less lonely if he were truly and honestly alone, but he was still in some small part grateful to have come across Mymble. Not that he would admit that to her.

Sometimes loneliness could be a good type of ache, one that reminded Snufkin of the times when he was not alone. There were so many wonderful things about solitude, it was one thing that Snufkin did enjoy about the atmosphere of winter, It tended to reverberate his thoughts back to him.

He released their paws briefly to reach inside his backpack, Mymble turned slightly and slowed a bit so that she wouldn't walk too far ahead. It was unnecessary in Snufkin’s opinion, as the path that she would break would always allow him to catch up to her eventually, and yet she did it most every time he lagged behind. Snufkin pulled out his mouth organ and put it to his lips. He began to play slow notes in time with his sister’s whistling. She turned and walked at a normal pace again, perhaps even a bit faster, but her simple whistling stayed the same.

Some quiet song met their own, spinning out in a thin blanket over the snow, invisible and nearly undetectable as far as they were from the source of it. The wind was light and blew weightless crystals of snow over top of each other like fog at their feet, at times it would cave and whirl in little spirals, exposing the unseeable wind for it's patterns.

“That’s her!” Mymble grinned brightly, without elaborating in the slightest.

Snufkin pulled the mouth organ down and strained his ears to hear above the gentle push of the wind. Mymble whistled out whatever notes she could copy from the light song, making it much harder for him to even hear what she was copying. To him, it sounded nostalgic, the same tune repeating over and over again, pausing every once in a while at random times and picking back up the same way. It didn’t match winter, it stood out like Mymble’s black striped dress, for it was much too warm sounding. It played like a humid, still, day, and yet the sound was covered by the distance between them, blending it easily with the lonely whistles of Snufkin’s eldest sibling.

“Is she a pipe organ?” Snufkin asked after a while, as innocent as he could drive his voice to be.

“Yes.” Mymble said, sarcastic and annoyed.

She began to rush forward, taking Snufkin by the paw and dragging him with her, much to his own dismay. They began to push through snow, which sloughed out of Mymble’s way like powdered sugar. Snufkin found that he did not particularly want to run the whole way to meet this person, their music sounded painfully far away after all. Yet what if the music were to stop?

Time, a silly word in it's own right, was not infinite. Things passed by whether one wanted them too or not, and to disregard it Snufkin would have to fully disregard it. To commit to not caring about the passage of time was a bit of a full time job, and it brought a whole slew of apathy with it. He did care if Mymble’s special friend thought that they were not coming, he did not want them to give up on him and his sister. Snufkin cared about reaching them in time, he cared about reaching Moomin in time, well. He cared, of course, but there was no expiration date on their friendship, of course.

Of course of course, Snufkin thought, and yet still he felt a little spring of butterflies tickle his heart with their anxious wings. He cared quite deeply for Moomin, that much he was sure of, and yet he could never know the inside of the other’s mind. He knew not what Moomin thought of him, Snufkin only knew what he was told, that he had eyes that were a bit like the moon, that he would meet his friend again in the spring.

As they drew nearer and nearer, and as the repeating song grew louder and louder, Snufkin was lost in a swirling depth of his own thoughts, but at the top of the pool was time. What if the music stopped? And so did the humid summer days? What if things were not as they should be, if only because he had wasted too much time.

Snufkin found his cheeks puffing out in a pitifully annoyed display, there he went on about wasting time again. He hated how unlike himself he sounded when such things arose in his mind, Snufkin was not obligated to be anywhere he didn’t want to be at any time that he did not want to be there. So why couldn’t he help but feel he had to get back to moominvalley as quickly as possible?

“What's causing such an ugly face?” Mymble spoke without facing Snufkin still.

“I'm making no such thing. You wouldn't know anyways.” Snufkin snipped back, for he couldn't quite control his tone.

Mymble sighed and gave up trying to drive the answer from him, she couldn't be bothered to engage in such a draining line of question when she was so excited with something else. The music did not stop as Snufkin had fretted it might, it stayed the same volume, tempo, and was nearly an unbreakable chain of the same notes over and over again. The sun overhead was frayed by a layer of thin winter clouds, it was indistinct and somehow it made Snufkin feel colder rather than warmer. He could not seem to work up any heat, even as he and Mymble were nearly running.

The chill had begun to make him shiver by the time that the song had become loud enough for them to follow. Mymble slowed and Snufkin followed suit, they came into a little clearing near a frozen pond, by which stood a woman. She wore a timeworn strap around her neck that attached to one wooden box that stood on one wooden leg. Inside of it were little metal pipes, and on one side her hand turned a little handle.

It seemed that the music was coming from her contraption, and broke into silence when she stopped turning the handle to look at them. She smiled warmly and Mymble snapped from her frozen state, bringing her hands to her chest and draggin Snufkin along with her by doing so.

“Mymlan.” The woman nodded, “How were your travels? You're quite early.”

To Snufkin’s exasperation, his sister batted her eyelashes and raised her hands higher, without really realizing she was dragging him with her, “I'm quite alright, my travels are of no import. You're fairly far away from home though aren't you?” She asked coyly.

It was as if Snufkin wasn't even really there, a strange scene to be sure, and he felt only as an observer despite being quite literally in the middle of it. Snufkin looked up at his sister, who often held her heart in her eyes and saw the world through rose tinted lenses because of it, and saw something that quite surprised him. She looked so clear, in the hazy snow around them and the permanent blur of winter, Mymble seemed to be completely crystalline. Snufkin cleared his throat and his sister looked down at him, for a moment, then, the world seemed a bit slower as he focused on her.

She peered blankly for a second, then smiled and closed her eyes with an apologetic huff of laughter. She released Snufkin’s hand and he thought for a while as the warmth that had made it's home there slowly seeped away. The feeling was a silly mix of things, respect, loneliness, love, exasperation, hope, as Snufkin took in the forest around him. It looked familiar although that didn't particularly register with him while he shivered out in the cold.

“Aye, I am. I knew you would be early though, you are every year.” The woman said and then smiled at Snufkin, “Hullo, I’m Too-ticky.” She said.

“Hullo,” he nodded back, “I’m Snufkin.”

Mymble walked forward and hooked her elbow in Too-Ticky’s free arm, she tilted her head into the other woman’s shoulder and both laughed like they shared a secret. Too-ticky folded up the wooden leg of her instrument and looked towards Snufkin again, who started just barely, realizing he had been standing there like a statue in the snow. He walked towards them and they turned, and for a moment Snufkin couldn't help the small dip in his heart, until Mymble held her paw out behind her. Snufkin debated with himself for only an instant before taking her paw and walking side by side with them.

“My baby brother,” Mymble told her girlfriend, motioning to Snufkin with a tilt of her head, “It is a good thing I take shortcuts, or he might have fallen into a freezing river.”

Snufkin sighed, he knew that she would have brought it up at some point, although he was surprised she hadn't boasted it to Snufkin himself. Perhaps Mymble hadn't any need to show off to her ‘baby brother’ but she was very excited to do so in front of her love. It was typical, and Snufkin found himself really feeling as though he should have expected it.

“I am not a baby for one,” Snufkin protested. "and I have yet to have been prevented from falling into any rivers."

“You quite are. When you are my age you might come to understand.” Mymble said haughty and full of herself.

Too-ticky did nothing but listen, she seemed to be content doing so as they plodded forward and towards the lonely mountains.

“I don't believe you have as much wisdom as you pretend to, Mymble.” Snufkin said in a level voice.

She didn't pay him much mind, and it caused Snufkin to wonder what she might have truly thought. It was a simple truth that Mymble did not have nearly as much knowledge of the world as she implied, but she must have known things that Snufkin did not. There were nearly an infinite amount of things that he would never be able to grasp due to the sheer size of the world. All of its complexities could be understood, sure, but not all at once and not by one person.

Not to mention, knowing was much different from understanding, and there was only one complexity that Snufkin would ever know for sure, that being his own mind. Snufkin could understand why the seasons changed and why the moon rose in the evening, but he couldn't ever know them like he knew himself.

As snow began to fall in plump, feather light flakes, Snufkin was deep in thought. His sister's speaking to her love did not rouse him from his thoughts, and neither did his own shivering. Living was such that one was fundamentally alone, in their own body they were alone, and for some it drove closer, for some it drove apart. Snufkin was in all rights a flake of snow, falling parallel to millions of other little flakes of snow, until they all hit the ground.

To fall from the sky, and see the whole world above the ground, living one's entire life so separate from all others, and yet being right beside them. Snufkin tried to imagine looking down on the twisting forests, on the chaos of the ocean, he tried to imagine looking through the curtains of others to the horizon. He thought about sitting atop the gray brick wall and looking out over the tops of trees, and wondered if that was what a snowflake saw. Most likely not, after all, had the snowflake a mind to watch with, Snufkin would not know it anyways.

As they approached a path, the trees had begun to thin and peter out, the sky was then in full view, gray and obscured by thin clouds. Snufkin looked directly up and let himself be led fully by the paw as he disregarded what came before him. He watched the snow float so softly down to him, individual flakes becoming bigger as they became closer. They were cold as they fell onto his cheeks, his warmth, although he couldn't feel it himself, melted them quickly.

They reminded him of Moomin, and Snufkin wondered if he could fill a cup with snowflakes, perhaps then they would not be so lonely. But then, of course, eventually all the snow melted anyways, they were such a striking example of the impermanence of everything.

Snufkin was confused by their passage through the lonely mountain, as they were walking quite obviously towards the ocean. Not that he minded, he supposed he didn’t really have any idea where Too-ticky lived in the first place. In fact, Snufkin realized that he did not particularly know anyone in moominvalley other than Moomin himself and his family. The place had always been quaint to Snufkin, who had seen very little of it.

Still though, he didn’t believe he had to see everything about a place in order to come to love it. If Snufkin waited until he knew everything than he would be waiting forever, needless to say he might miss out on a couple of things. Sometimes, coming to find more about such a place could be the reason why one loved it so, finding it was the gift that it gave. As the trio walked in a little line, towards the crashing sounds of the ocean, Snufkin thought, as he often did, about what he did not know.

He did not know what his father was doing at that moment, although he could venture a guess. The man was probably curled up with Snufkin’s mother, he wouldn't wake before noon on a winter day spent inside, if Snufkin’s impression of him were to hold up. Snufkin did not know how Mymble and Too-ticky had met, or when they had met. He did not know if Too-ticky was the love than Mymble had rambled on about for hours and hours in the time that they had known each other whilst Snufkin was very young. He did not know if Moomin would still want to be his friend after nearly a whole fall and an entire winter apart.

Snufkin did not know how many snowflakes had fallen onto the world from its birth to its present, although it was a number he was sure he couldn't comprehend. He did not know what caused the sound of a crunch of snow beneath his shoes and why he could hear it's softness. He did not know how many hairs lay in a creatures tail, nor if it held a bow, he hoped it did, obviously, but he did not know for sure. With the list of things he did not know growing longer as the sun began to stretch farther in the grey skies, Snufkin walked on to the idle sounds of his sister’s chatter.

By midday they had reached the ocean, although it didn't quite look so much like one, for a good way into the water had frozen over top in an icy casing. They walked on towards the moomin family’s bathhouse, much to Snufkin’s confusion. He spoke to Too-Ticky then,

“Whatever are we doing here?”

Too-ticky made a sound of acknowledgment and turned to Snufkin with a thoughtful smile, “This is where I spend time in the winter.”

Snufkin tilted his head, “In Moomin’s bathhouse?”

“Aye, you know the Moomin family?” Too-ticky asked.

“Yes, I do.” Snufkin said without much elaborating.

Too-Ticky left the topic there and did not pry as they walked above the frozen ocean, suspended over the dormant chaos. Snufkin tried to catch a glimpse of the ocean beneath it's blanket, but only saw his reflection, warped by the uneven ice. He was much older looking than the last time he had seen himself, he noticed, although he could not tell for sure just how he looked in such a poor mirror. He didn't particularly care too much either, for he already existed within his own self, to look at it and obsess over the small things seemed a bit redundant to Snufkin.

Spring was far away, although not too far, Snufkin figured that much and felt a bit silly for he had once worried he might be late. Perhaps he was a faster traveler without his father by his side, or perhaps he had truly rushed so much as to arrive sooner. Most likely it had had to do with Mymble’s fairy paths, which Snufkin had become unfortunately accustomed too after being dragged by the paw through so many of them. Though to risk becoming too off topic, the paths themselves were of an unknown level of danger, for Snufkin had never encountered anything truly terrifying on them. All he had ever felt were vague senses of pressure, not the type that he could smell nor hear, something that ran a bit deeper.

To the problem of spring, Snufkin was well within moominvalley without truly wanting to be there yet, he was sure that he had nearly three weeks of the season left. Spring was delicately beginning to turn over winter’s hand, but it was not quick enough to justify Snufkin’s being there. Overhead, just before entering the bathhouse, a streak of sunlight broke through the seemingly permanent film of winter, it coasted so gently over the warped frozen waves. Snufkin stopped for a moment to admire it while it slipped over the ice and onto the wooden planks, then in as little as a second, dwindled into a teaspoons worth of light, and disappeared. He breathed in the sweet air and shivered a bit at how it served only to chill him further.

“Snufkin,” Mymble called, “you're letting the warm air out.”

Snufkin went inside and closed the door behind him, then set his bag down carefully. He had never been inside the bathhouse as he had neglected to ever swim with Moomin. It seemed a bit silly to him then, he had always quietly blamed it on not wanting to ask anyone to unbutton his dress, but it seemed a bit more to him as he realized, standing there in the bathhouse. To deprive himself of the ocean he loved so dearly, with his closest friend to enjoy it with, he did not quite understand why he did such a thing.

Inside was warm, although it didn't do much to help Snufkin’s seemingly ever present chill, Too-ticky had lit a few earthy smelling candles and set a hearty fire in the heater. Snufkin’s nose pinched a bit at the scent, he could smell it better than either of the other two he was sure. The red green windows did not show much of what was outside, perhaps it would be a bit more discernible if outside we're any color other than fully that sad blueish white.

Snufkin sat at a thin bench and startled when something scurried over his foot there, he looked and found nothing.

“They're fairly shy, so they play there beyond view.” Too-ticky explained while putting a teapot over a little burner.

“I don't see anything at all.” Snufkin admitted.

“They are just that shy.” Too-ticky shrugged, “Mymlan dear, if you could borrow sugar from the moominhouse.”

Mymble smiled big and thoughtless before nodding, she stood and walked to kiss Too-ticky on the cheek before ruffling Snufkin’s hair and walking out the door. Snufkin sat in silence for a moment before asking,

“The moomins hibernate, don't they?”

“Aye, which is why we are borrowing.” She said sagely.

“I don't suppose they will mind will they?” Snufkin asked again.

“They may or they may not, for they may use it in the spring but in the winter only Too-ticky needs it.” She spoke, looking at Snufkin with a thoughtful quirk to her.

Snufkin found the statement to be true, and nodded, he felt that Too-ticky was a very wise person. She seemed to be the type with loose thoughts and the talent to express them, perhaps Snufkin’s father might be done good by a lesson or two from her.

“You must think it's odd right?” Snufkin said instead.

“I’d have to know what it is in the first place.” Too-ticky tilted her head amiably.

“I’m nothing like Mymble. Our difference I mean, do you think it's odd?” Snufkin couldn't quite gather himself in a way that mattered.

He flushed after thinking over what he had said, it came off as very self conscious, which he had not been feeling until that moment. He was not embarrassed of his differences from his other siblings, he did not envy their outgoing natures, but there was, well, there was just one thing. One thing that had begun to nag him as he shivered, and he could not quite place what it was although he felt it had something to do with his sister.

“I'm not one to tell people how they should and should not be.” Too-ticky said simply.

Snufkin put a paw to his cheeks and looked down at the grain of the old worn table, “Yes of course.” He said, dejected.

Too-ticky looked over at his slumped form and smiled a little to herself, perhaps she understood loose and noodley thoughts more than Snufkin thought she might. Whatever was in her teapot had begun to heat, but it was nowhere near whistling. She sat down across from Snufkin and tapped a finger on the table next to her music box, drawing his attention.

“In my opinion, Mymlan and yourself are more similar than either realize.” She said, “The way that you admire the world, you do so inside of yourself, she does so in action.”

“What do you mean?” Snufkin asked.

“Mymlan’s love for everything is so clear to me, she admires by placing a scarf on your shoulders or looking out for a little flower.” Too-ticky said, “You see the world, aye?”

It was a simple question, but Snufkin understood it for its complexities and drew the connection between his love and hers. Yes, Snufkin loved the world quite dearly, in a way that only he really understood. He loved it enough to not like it at all, for to love every piece of something was not possible. And yet he still loved those pieces which he did not like, for the world was a complicated thing.

Perhaps Mymble hooked their pinky fingers together, and Snufkin told his father to watch out for the ferns.

“I see it, yes.” Snufkin nodded.

“All things are so very uncertain,” The woman said as if she held galaxies on her tongue, Snufkin was wholly focused on her for he knew that what she had to say was important, “and that is exactly what makes me feel reassured.”

Snufkin felt better, if only by some small margin, for he understood a bit of himself then, which he had been denying up until that point. He could claim to embrace the world and how big and unknowable it was, but until he let himself be known and open his heart to what it so strongly desired, he would be doing no better than placing a camera up on a shelf.

“You are very young, and yet so am I, and so is Mymlan. You’d do well not to doubt her wisdom as she doesn't your own.” Too-ticky pointed a finger at Snufkin.

“She does doubt me though,” Snufkin said, confused, “she does nothing but doubt me.”

“Well it's like this,” Too-ticky said, “I can tell you none of who she is for it is not my way to tell.”

Snufkin nodded in acceptance, for he knew what she was saying to him, although she hadn't done so with much of a light hand. He didn't understand Mymble, he knew that much, and he had known as much before being told as well. Snufkin supposed he had only forgotten to make a better effort to wonder what she might mean.

He had been quite good at figuring it out in the past, but perhaps the fact that she was his sister had blinded him to her real intentions. It was just as likely that Mymble might have been trying to take care of Snufkin as much as he had previously believed she was only patronizing him. If it were her reflex to do so didn't matter so much, Snufkin presumed, and then wondered if that made her an even warmer person that she might snap to caring as if it were an instinct.

Yes, Snufkin supposed he had denied himself quite a bit for a while by then. He had denied himself his friend’s love and his sister’s care, without much of a clue as to why.

Mymble walked back through the door again, just as the teapot had begun to whistle. She held a whole bag of sugar up and smiled brightly, causing Too-ticky to laugh and hold her face in her paws. A shadow of a blush made its home there on the woman’s face, and Snufkin smiled too despite feeling like he had intruded on such a scene. He hadn't expected to see Too-ticky blushing, ever, and he thought on it as she poured three teacups.

What one expected and what one got were like siblings, they were similar and yet oh so different. Snufkin dropped a bit of sugar into his tea and drank it in small sips for it was really too hot. Mymble dumped a copious amount into her own and drank it easily, acting like the heat did nothing to her poor tongue. The lovers chattered again and Snufkin lost himself in wondering, he found after a while that he was wanting.

He wanted to speak with someone and make them blush, he wanted to drink tea with them and sit with their feet touching underneath the table. He wanted to chuckle after being startled by the little invisible things that lived there, and he wanted the other to pat his shoulder playfully.

Snufkin stood and picked his bag up from the ground, he found that the tea had warmed his chill, and he shivered no longer.

“Where are you going Snufkin?” Mymble asked kindly.

“I would like to sleep outside, so I think I will set up my tent somewhere nearby.” He replied, without snippiness.

“And be eaten by the groke?” She asked, exasperated.

Too-ticky spoke then, as spot on as she usually was, “It's his nature.” she said simply.

And it was, Snufkin exited the bathhouse and walked towards the forest. More beams of light had snuck out past the gloom of winter and they washed over the ground like they wanted to hold it's hand. Snufkin set up his tent as it became darker, and found that he wanted. His cup was empty and he wanted the moon,

With his eyes closed he knew then, Snufkin wanted in his heart so deeply. He wanted to love Moomin.

Chapter Text

Spending the last legs of winter in moominvalley was painful for Snufkin, not overtly so, but to a point where on some days he refused to exit his tent even when his sister called for him outside of it. Even as the snow began to melt and the world broke into spring, Snufkin felt heavy as he waited for the first day. Yet when it came, he could feel the change in everything, the waking of everything.

Snufkin had long since broken down his tent in anxious waiting, his sister had invited him to have tea again but he hadn’t any desire to wait at the bathhouse, Too-ticky would not be there very much longer. Moomin would be awake then as well, and Snufkin had not seen him in months, so he’d forgive himself if as he waved Too-ticky and Mymble off, there was a little skip in his step.

The ground was wet with melted snow but the branches that had fallen there to be laid to sleep by winter were stiff, and snapped under Snufkin’s boots. The sun rose just above the trees, which had begun to bud and regrow their leaves. The forest was by all means vibrating with activity, little creatures waking from hibernation made up the sneaking movements in the corners of Snufkin’s vision.

He welcomed them, and felt that they welcomed him in return, for the forest was for everyone. From the smallest little creep to the most anxious Snufkin, the forest welcomed them all the same. He remembered the lonely tune that Mymble whistled for her love and took out his mouth organ, playing the same notes. Snufkin followed the river to the little bridge by Moomin’s house, all the way, finding some mix between Too-ticky and Mymble’s songs. The result was a complicated thing, a mix of longing and promises, it didn’t fit perfectly on his own instrument but he played it anyway.

It stirred Moomin from a daze, who had been sitting on the steps of his house staring off into the distance. Upon hearing the music, he stood and called out to Snufkin, who looked up from the wet ground and waved a little wave.

As Moomin ran to greet him, Snufkin felt something new which he had not yet felt before, or perhaps he had but had just never understood it. He was afraid to embrace Moomin as the other boy came running, for when they met each other, what if Moomin could hear how loudly his heart sped? Snufkin knew it was silly, but he was worried, honest to goodness worried, to be around Moomin. Such a thing had not happened before, and it made Snufkin annoyed with himself.

Contemplating useless things always made Snufkin lose sight of the reality of his situation, so he was a bit shocked and caught off guard when Moomin finally did crush him in a hug. The other boy was soft and warm as always, and Snufkin remembered the feeling of his embrace more than he thought he had. The secondary squeeze that Moomin gave, locking his paws around Snufkin’s back, sighing on his shoulder. Snufkin found that he missed that sound dearly on his travels, he had never heard anything quite like it.

Snufkin slowly brought his paws up to hug Moomin back, although they couldn’t meet each other for Moomin was so round. He found he didn’t mind it so much, just resting his face on Moomin’s shoulder was enough to let go of some of the weariness that Snufkin clutched in his chest.

“I missed you ever so dearly!” Moomin said, his voice so welcome and lovely behind Snufkin’s ear.

“You only really missed me in the fall Moomin, you were asleep for the winter.” Snufkin smiled.

Moomin released him and furrowed his brow a bit comically, putting his paws on his hips, “How callous, the fall was so lonely without you.” He said petulantly, and then became softer, “I had many adventures that I wished you could be there for.”

Snufkin thought on his own adventure, which by all means should have brought some sort of enjoyment to him, and yet he had been much too sick to remember most of it. He was not jealous of Moomin, but did wonder if perhaps he might have some fond memories of that time had he stayed a bit longer. Still though, there was no use in wondering about what should have been done, for if Snufkin hadn’t taken off when he had then he never would have been able to meet his father at the time that he did.

“Come now Moomin, it's really not so bad.” Snufkin said instead, tilting his head slightly.

“If you say so,” Moomin gave in and then turned, “mama and papa are still waking up, lets have an adventure right now!” He called and then dragged Snufkin a bit.

“Hold on, couldn’t I set my tent up first?” Snufkin grabbed his hat to stop it from flying off at the force of Moomin’s pull.

The other boy stopped abruptly and thought about Snufkin’s request, then became a bit sheepish over his excitement. Snufkin walked back over the little bridge with Moomin on his heels, and although it was not an unpleasant presence, it was still a bit crowding. Snufkin went about pitching his tent with a fair amount of conflicting thoughts on his mind, unsurprisingly all centered around his friend.

Snufkin had never in his life been in love before, and then suddenly he had a few weeks to confront it before being thrown into the problem itself. He was not one to make a mess out of silence, and was neither someone to want to ruin anything. Would pursuing something with Moomin truly ruin something though? It sent Snufkin in circles every time he tried to think about it, it was a tailspin to be sure.

Would Snufkin be good enough? It wasn't a question he had asked himself often, for he had only ever lived for himself. His friends were brief and his travels were long, he had never had a relationship such as his and Moomin’s before. Was it even possibly for him to give his friend the energy that he deserved? That was if Moomin even wanted to, well,
Snufkin huffed and bit his lip as he began to drive the fastening stakes into the ground. What would they be? Boyfriends? Sure, that was the official term, but thinking about it made Snufkin’s head turn, the word made him put his paws to his cheeks briefly, if only to try to snap himself out of his worries. If there was no way Snufkin could even say it in his head then there was no way he could pursue it, he would wait. Wait for what though, he really had no idea in the slightest.

The tent was pitched as well as it always was, for Snufkin was a bit of an expert at that point in his life. The young mumrik steadied his breath and turned back to his friend, who had been sitting on a log, waiting patiently. At his turning, Moomin startled before smiling readily.

“Snufkin, I’ve a question.” Moomin asked a little shyly.

The tone of his words sent a swooping feeling of anxiety in Snufkin’s chest, he couldn't help the vaguest feelings of panic, “Yes Moomin?” He said as calmly as he could manage.

“You didn't find your papa in your travels did you?” Moomin inquired, leaning in a bit.

Snufkin breathed a sigh of relief internally, even though it was silly, for he did not understand why the smallest indications could panic him so. He did not even really know what he hoped Moomin would not ask, only that he was thankful that it had not been said. Snufkin hoped he didn't present himself as ridiculously as he felt on the inside.

“I did, actually.” He answered.

Moomin seemed to deflate a bit, for some reason, before saying, “Oh, I suppose you will be going off with him again?”

The morning air had long since turned midday, and coasted gently over long blades of grass. The sun peaked out from beyond the clouds and bathed the world gently, as spots of shade moved easily along. It was quiet for a moment, beyond the general shifting of the trees and the zephyr-like stream of the river. Snufkin thought for a moment, and found that without really consciously deciding too, he had not distinctly wanted to go off with his father again.

He had at one point in his life associated freedom with his father, for the man was by all rights, another free spirit in a world of free spirits, and had been Snufkin’s solace from a sedentary life. Snufkin had never known anything beyond his mother and his siblings and the little house they lived in, before he met his father he longed for The Joxter to take him on some sort of adventure.

Then though, after being alone, Snufkin realized that the one who could have whisked him away was himself all along. Of course Snufkin loved his father, but he didn't require him to be free, in fact he almost couldn't be truly free unless he was on his own. It was a sudden realization then, of things that he had already come into agreement without noticing.

“No, I may meet him on my travels at times, but I will go alone.” Snufkin shrugged with a neutral expression, for admitting it had not been as awful or wonderful as he thought it might be, “And I would much rather stay here for the spring and the summer.”

Moomin smiled so hard he nearly hurt his face from it, “Really?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Does it need repeating?” Snufkin huffed out a little laugh.

Moomin burst out in his own little laughing fit, jumping forward to take Snufkin by the paws and spin. Snufkin wanted to lose himself in it like his friend might have but he couldn't stop feeling the pressure of those paws on his own. Their warmth holding his so tightly, as he looked down at them and Moomin looked up at the sky, the two tripped over their own feet and fell onto each other. Snufkin colored as his friend blinked upwards, surprised by his lying on the damp ground.

“Sorry,” Moomin said slowly, getting off of his friend.

“Not a problem.” Snufkin spoke with the brim of his hat turned mercifully downwards.

“Would you like to go on an adventure now?” Moomin tried.

Snufkin did, but did not answer, for in his staring quite obviously anywhere other than Moomin, his eyes laid to rest on something by the other boy’s feet. There stood a creature of some sort, that was black and flickered away behind Moomin again after being seen. Snufkin was confused by it briefly, and in his silence Moomin posited an answer of his own suppositions.

“Sorry.” Moomin said again and shuffled his feet.

Snufkin snapped up then at the tone of his friends voice, which was regretful to a fault, “No, I would.” He said honestly, “My mind is other places is all.”

It wasn't, really. His mind was localized entirely in front of him, as it had been, by then, that whole day so far. Snufkin ignored the beat of his own heart, which was a task in and of itself, for the useless thing was just about roaring in his ears. He took Moomin’s paw in his own gentle grasp for he hadn't the confidence of the other boy to hold it so tightly, and couldn't help but run his thumb over Moomin’s paw so lightly he might as well have not done anything. Snufkin tried to convey it without saying, but he didn't know how to explain his odd behavior without entirely giving himself away.

It turned out that the two had wasted enough time that Moomin’s parents had woken up well enough to call them in for breakfast. Moominmamma stood at the old wooden railing, she called to them with her paws cupped at her mouth, and Snufkin found that he had missed her too. Everything he saw again was like an old friend to him, the creaking wooden chairs on the veranda, both of which were painted the same old white. Moominpappa’s poor old hat, which seemed to have aged more than he himself as he sat with a newspaper hiding his face from view.

Snufkin smiled a little smile as Little My stood on the table and switched her own ceramic plate with Moomin’s, supposedly hers had a crack of some sort. Moomin grumbled about it quietly but let her do so otherwise, for he was long used to her antics.

“Where is Sniff?” Snufkin questioned, seeing as one seat was left empty.

“Probably waking late, he’s slow to do anything, that is, other than run away.” Little My rolled her eyes.

“Couldn't you be a little good-natured?” Moomin asked, clearly annoyed.

Little My was not moved in any way shape or form, she leveled moomin with an impressive stare and sat down in her own seat. The impact of her expression was cut in half as she could only really be seen that much over the table.

“I can only be glad or mad, take your pick.” She said.

Moomin went back to grumbling so only he and Snufkin could hear, “I would rather pick you up and toss you away.” he said, head turned.

Smiles were shared between then, somehow private at a table filled with others. It was something Snufkin treasured about Moomin, the way that they could have a little place away from the world even when they were surrounded. It made him happy, it was the only way the young Mumrik could describe it. Just the fact that Moomin made him feel so at home, even in places that he would prefer not to be, it was almost as if Snufkin never had to go away.

But he knew that wasn't true. Snufkin would go whether or not Moomin gave him peace, for it would not last forever. Just as the white paint chipped from his chair in little pieces, no matter how lovely it was in the moment, at some point the old thing would have to be repainted and left alone to dry. Snufkin’s smile faded gently and he waited as Moominmamma brought out pancakes, Moomin was blissfully distracted, so Snufkin spent a bit of time watching him.

Why would Moomin ever want to love someone who left for half the year every year? Snufkin tapped his foot idly against the wooden floor, the sound was drowned out by the general noises of the family scrambling for their food. Little My of course had the first pick, she stole a few pancakes straight from the fork of Moominpappa, who only really reacted with a bit of huffing. She sat back down at her seat then and caught Snufkin’s staring to his own unease. She paused and screwed up her mouth, which was disquieting to say the least, for Snufkin knew she was a smart girl.

“Snufkin,” She said in her usual abrasive voice, causing Moomin’s ears to twitch although the other boy did not stop piling food onto his own plate.

“Yes?” Snufkin replied in his own calm voice.

“I believe I am your older sister.” She said.

Snufkin’s eyes widened at that, he couldn't help tilting his head a bit in confusion. Moomin put his fork and knife down in alarm and gasped, Moominpappa only quirked a brow.

“Don't say such silly lies, what a rude thing to do.” Moomin put his paws on his hips.

“Well, it's certainly possible,” Snufkin said, causing Moomin to whip his head back around to him in puzzlement, “If your mother is The Mymble, that is.”

“Have you any doubt of that?” Little My pointed to her bright orange hair.

“What makes you say older though? I really don't see that.” Moominpappa said in his usual gruff tone.

Snufkin answered for her there, “I am the youngest of thirty six, or, well, thirty seven I suppose. The number changes at times.” The Mymble had had children turn up at her door before, claiming to be long lost on some of her travels, perhaps Little My had just never come back.

Moomin looked shocked and awed of that which was not so odd to Snufkin, though he guessed that he had never told Moomin much beyond having a father of some sort. He leaned back in his chair as Moominpappa nodded, impressed, and Moominmamma seemed to contemplate the nightmare of some thirty seven odd children. Looking at the back of Moomin’s chair, Snufkin saw that little black creature again for just a moment. He paid it barely a modicum of his mind as he finally took two pancakes for himself and began to eat.

They were sweet, but not too much so, almost like Moomin himself. They were round and soft too, Snufkin forcefully shut his brain off then, for he knew if he continued he might think himself into a circle on the topic of his feelings. He would have to make an effort to be a bit more practical with his wondering, it could be helpful to let his mind wander at times, but around Moomin it only really wandered in one direction.

“That many huh?” Moomin said absently.

Was it a lot? Snufkin didn't particularly know, so he only finished his pancakes in silence as the rest of the family chattered about idle things. Snufkin looked out onto the valley, which was just as beautiful as he remembered it, if not a bit chillier. Spring flowers had begun to hide themselves in the taller patches of grass, braving the world as they so often did on the first days of the season. They all finished their midday breakfast without anymore shattering revelations and Moomin couldn't quite wait to tear himself and Snufkin away.

Moominmamma stopped the two boys on the last step of the stairs and told them to wait just a bit. So there they stood, not moving from the last step, and Moomin turned to face Snufkin fully. He looked intently at Snufkin’s face, causing the other boy to shrink back imperceptibly, and brushed Snufkin’s hair out of his eyes.

“What's wrong Moomin?” Snufkin asked, his heart bursting nearly out of him.

“Oh nothing, I suppose I just wanted to see your eyes.” Moomin answered.

If that didn't make Snufkin want to clutch his chest than nothing would, so he just rested against the rails behind him, fidgeting his paws without really answering. Moominmamma walked out to them at her own pace, which was agonizingly slow for Moomin who had wanted to set out hours before. She tied a blue scarf around Moomin’s neck and kissed him goodbye, he jumped off the stairs and ran forward not long after.

Snufkin began to step off after him but her voice stopped him,

“Snufkin, dear,” Moominmamma prompted.

He turned and looked up at her from the bottom step, and one honest look in her eyes told Snufkin that she must have known everything. It was her charm, that was for sure, that prevented Snufkin from running away at the realization. Instead, he waited as she dug from her purse a loose brown shawl, and then ducked his head so that she could wrap it around him. Moominmamma smiled then.

“You've already got a lovely dress, so I don't know how much you’ll need this, but you look darling in it.” She said in a soft voice.

“Thank you.” Snufkin mirrored her tone, but it came out more shy than anything else.

Moominmamma placed a kiss on Snufkin’s head as well and waved him off, he walked for a few steps, then couldn't help the light feeling in his heart telling him to run. So he did, past all the wet ground and the hiding buds of flowers, past the wooden bridge and the swaths of shade swiping down from the clouds. He ran until he caught up to Moomin, who had been waiting for him in the forest.

All of the snow had melted by then, there was not even a pitiful pile of slush left in the entirety of Moominvalley, and the sun had shown the world much of its warmth. It seemed that everything was awake now, except perhaps Sniff, and was carrying on in their lives.

Snufkin’s shoes scuffed up ground that was packed hard, it seemed he would be the first disturbance to their particular path since the snow had set it to sleep. It was a wonderful way the world worked, and he was quite happy to see the change for nothing made spring sweeter than waiting for it all winter.

They walked stiffly off the broken in path not long after, turning further into the forest as moomin looked for something he had seen before. Little drops of water collected in the dips of leaves, then became too heavy and dropped somewhere else. Some hit the brim of Snufkin’s hat, others fell onto Moomin’s head, making the other boy twitch his ears absentmindedly. The forest did not last long in that direction, and they came into a field, far beyond it seemed to be a cave.

“There!” Moomin exclaimed.

“What’s there? Or is that the adventure?” Snufkin asked him.

Moomin walked forward with a skip in his step, he faced his friend as they crossed the field of short grass and budding flowers.

“Last fall, I lost a very nice lantern deep inside this cave, with the two of us though, we'll find it easily.”

Snufkin nodded, “I don't suppose you have anything to light the way then?”

“There are plenty of openings at the top of the cave, during the day it's bright enough in most places.” Moomin answered.

At the very least, it sounded like a peaceful outing. As they walked the rest of the field in quiet, and entered through the mouth of the open cave, Snufkin had a little sense of anxiety within him. He ignored it fairly foolishly, for he had been feeling very anxious around Moomin in general. If he had spent a moment to really consider it though, he would have felt the difference in this sense of anticipation from any other that he encountered. The vague sense that something would be happening very soon.

The inside of the cave was remarkably cooler, though just like Moomin had said, it was light enough so that it only really cast them in shade rather than darkness. It was dry and the air was still, the place seemed untouched and lonely, so without really thinking Moomin took Snufkin’s hand in his own. They walked cautiously as if they were sneaking in somewhere where they should not have been, but in reality that was just the effect that exploring a cave had on most. The skylights came in the form of smooth little shapes, cut out of the cavern ceiling, around them little rock formations hung down like chandeliers, though they obscured light more than they gave it off. The effect was that as the walked forwards through the cavern, at times before walking into a spot of light, thin stripes of shade would wash over them first. It was peaceful watching the quick little turn from blue to white that Moomin’s fur would undergo as they went forward.

They walked for a long while, and at times they found themselves going in circles, it seemed that Moomin did not remember perfectly where he had left the old thing. While Snufkin enjoyed the peace and the quiet, his sense of anticipation had been wearing him down the longer they remained there.

“How exactly did you lose the lantern?” Snufkin prompted.

Moomin hummed and kicked a smooth rock along, “You see, I was searching for a little flower that lives here in the caves, and I had put off looking for the whole day, so I decided to go at night.”

“Couldn't you have just gone the next day?” Snufkin asked curiously.

“You see, I was to hibernate the next day.” Moomin emphasized.

“I see.” Snufkin nodded, “Go on then.”

“I am a brave Moomintroll you know.” Moomin said, waiting for Snufkin’s reply.

“I know.” Snufkin nodded again, “Go on then.”

Moomin cleared his throat and paused for a while, although not so long as to lose his friends attention. Though Snufkin’s attention was not a fickle thing and did not tend to fly off on a whim. Regardless of any of that anyways, he was pretty sure that Moomin could hold his attention for hours on the most menial conversations. It was all much more interesting when Moomin said it anyways, Snufkin knew.

“But the shadows you cast can look quite scary up on a cave wall, and while, obviously, I was not scared! I was startled all the same, and dropped it in a scramble to leave.” Moomin admitted.

Snufkin nodded as they stepped into another block of light, and then heard something small. He ignored it for he barely registered it in the first place really, but Moomin turned around, fitful and twitchy, before admonishing something at his feet.

“Who exactly are you who has been following me the entire day?” He asked the black creature at his feet.

Snufkin blinked in surprise and stepped back with an uncontrolled jolt. The little black creature was in full view then, it was hunched and wrung its hands guiltily.

“So sorry,” the little creature peeped out, “I only heard my name and peaked out to see.”

“Moomin stepped backwards a bit and the creature followed in perfect time, he stepped back again and again, trying to see if he could catch the thing out of pace. It held up perfectly much to Moomin’s annoyance, who had begun to hop from one foot to another and was looking fairly silly. He stopped and sighed with a furrowed brow before leaning down to observe the thing, which did not look smooth nor furry. It had a certain intangible quality to it, even its little tail was like this as it whipped back in forth in perfect time with Moomin’s own tail.

“Well?” Moomin asked.

“I’m your shadow.” The little creature said, “I've never been noticed before, how kind of you!” it smiled.

Moomin gasped and said “So you are the one who scared me here last fall?”

“My apologies.” The little thing had the good grace to look sheepish as it grinned, though not so much so as to convey any genuine feeling.

Snufkin had been watching the creature wholly, so when he looked back up to Moomin he felt his heartbeat skyrocket. The other boy backed up one more step and Snufkin gave up on yelling, he just ran towards Moomin who looked confused and alarmed before he backed up off a steep fall. Moomin’s shadow yelped out before following him over the edge. Snufkin ran to the edge of the fall without his mind really catching up to him, Moomin’s shadow had hooked itself on the edge and held Moomin with it's other little paw. Snufkin could only think about what a terrible idea it had been to run all the way there as he accidentally slid off the dusty edge and fell onto Moomin, sending them all tumbling the rest of the way down.

The fall had not been so steep that it was dangerous, but it still sent the three downwards in a painful heap. Snufkin landed this time on top of his friend with his nose crushed into Moomin’s own snout, and Moomin’s shadow crushed underneath both of them. Snufkin did not remember to feel bad for the little creature as he pushed himself up and looked down at Moomin.

“Are you okay!?” He asked.

Moomin did not answer, he only looked back up at Snufkin with wide eyes and a painfully red face. Snufkin did not understand the reaction and put his hand on the other boy’s forehead, trying to see if he had developed some sort of fever. He was hot, and only got hotter as Snufkin put his head down to listen to the other boys heart. Snufkin began to panic at the rapid beating there, he took Moomin’s cheeks in his paws and looked into the other boy’s eyes.

“What's wrong Moomin? What hurts?” Snufkin pleaded.

“I'm. Okay.” Moomin said with an alien tone.

“Oh please don't be tough, what's wrong?” Snufkin got off his friend, and began to check for injuries.

Moomin let himself be prodded as he stared blankly, Snufkin was terrified that the other boy had a concussion. He sat up slowly and his shadow scrambled from underneath him, not that either of them could see it for the creature was very thin in the darkness down there. They could only hear the sound of it's paws on the stone floors and it traveled somewhere far away, and still they paid it no mind.

“Are. Uh. Are, you alright?” Moomin said.

Snufkin took stock of himself for a moment and found that his wrist hurt badly, but admitted no such thing. Moomin didn't need to worry about him when he himself was in such a sorry state, Snufkin shook his head.

“I'm perfect, how many fingers am I holding up?” Snufkin put three up with his good paw in front of Moomin’s wide eyes.

“Three.” Moomin confirmed, “Snufkin you. Well.”

“Yes?” Snufkin said.

The other boy seemed to struggle with his words for a moment, he seemingly spoke without really thinking about what he wanted to say anyway. Instead of finishing his sentence, he took Snufkin’s shawl, which had fallen off one shoulder in their tumble, and righted it again. Snufkin sighed before giving in to a weary smile and fixed Moomin’s scarf. He huffed out a little chuckle then, that blossomed into a real peal of laughter, and then suddenly Snufkin could not help himself. While he was alone with Moomin at the bottom of some dip in an open cave, he laughed like he couldn't even hear himself laughing. It filled every little piece of still air in the cavern, moving everything to life, the sound was bright and bursting and everywhere.

Moomin seemed to have snapped out of his bewilderment then, and gave it only a moment more before he laughed along. Their insane little moment was only interrupted by the strike of a match, and then suddenly it was light again. Moomin’s shadow held a beautiful tall lantern in it's wispy little paw.

Snufkin’s laughter died down into raspy little huffs again, until they faded into a gentle smile. Moomin took the lantern and thanked his shadow before standing and dusting himself off, he offered his other paw to Snufkin, who took it with his good paw and stood. The incline of their fall didn't look very promising, but it didn't look unclimbable either, so Snufkin began to hook his shoes into the smooth outcroppings and hoist himself up. Moomin followed not far behind, occasionally bumping into Snufkin as he had a difficult time climbing with the lantern in his paw.

Eventually, they had made it back up and into the light, sitting cross legged and smiling among themselves. Moomin caught his breath and stood again, watching as Snufkin struggled to do the same without the use of both of his paws. Moomin let out a sad noise, helping Snufkin before taking his bad paw gently into his own.

“You are hurt.” Moomin said, emphasizing it so that he could be concerned and disappointed at the same time.

“It'll be alright Moomee.” Snufkin replied.

Moomin looked up at his friend face, surprised, “Moomee?” he asked.

Snufkin felt startled by the realization of what he had said, “Do you mind it terribly so?” He asked in an apologetic tone, remembering with a frazzled mind how Too-ticky called his sister Mymlan.

“Not at all.” Moomin replied and held the other boy gently as they walked out of the mouth of the cave.

The walk back was a straight line to the moominhouse, there was no need to wonder where they were as the cave had been the place of interest in the first place. Snufkin allowed himself to be sat in a chair inside again, and allowed Moominpappa to bring too many first aid supplies to the table. He allowed Moomin to fumbled odd things around before letting his mother take over and do it well.

She gave Snufkin a little splint and wrapped his wrist with gauze, before tying a perfect looking bow on top. It was a useless thing but Snufkin found that he loved it, and admired the bow before thanking them all. He kicked his boots against the legs of the chair just to alleviate some of his restless energy. Moominpappa eyed him and seemed he had something to say, the man couldn't help himself but ask it seemed.

“Tell us Snufkin, what news is there of the world.” Moominpappa asked.

Snufkin thought about his travels and all of the poor things that happened, no where was quite as nice as Moominvalley. That wasn't to say everywhere else was awful, but it was nothing as amazing as Snufkin was sure that Moominpappa thought it was. He waved his good paw to dismiss the question.

“Fuss and misery.” He said vaguely.

Moominpappa considered it with a contemplative grumble, then shook his head and spoke again, “No matter, young man, you see, if you should have any friends from all over I might have you invite them here for the midsummer festival.”

“Why exactly is that?” Snufkin asked.

Moominmamma cut in there, taking a seat of her own, “Sniff’s parents are coming then, and we wanted to throw a big party.” She explained.

“I see.” Snufkin thought about it for a while and found he only really knew one person he could invite. Instead he said “My papa is coming at the beginning of summer, he would know more creatures than I.”

“I’m doubtful that old Joxaren knows many who I don't know myself.” Moominpappa boasted.

“Except he kept traveling while you settled down.” Moominmamma reminded him, wounding her husband’s pride catastrophically.

Moomin cut in after looking between the two for a while, he had been on the edge of his seat for a while waiting to say something. Snufkin had been looking at the other boy out of the corner of his eye as he often did. Then though, Snufkin noticed the little black creature underneath moomins own chair, which he had never seen to clearly previously. Snufkin waved to it and it waved back.

“You see!” Moomin burst out, catching the attention of all, “Snufkin!” He clarified.

“Yes?” Snufkin asked.

“With your injury, well, it's much too dangerous for you to brave the wild in your delicate state!” Moomin said, causing Snufkin to blink in confusion.

“Why don't you have a sleepover with me?” Moomin finished, becoming more and more quiet with each word.

Yes, it had begun to darken outside, though it was nowhere near time to settle in for bed. Still, Snufkin’s heart leapt in response and he nodded, though he didn't quite agree that he was in any delicate state. Moomin once again took Snufkin by the hand, and took the boy up to his room. They played card games and shared stories, Moomin spoke more than Snufkin himself for the other boy had more to say. Eventually they settled into bed and spoke more quietly as not too cause Moominmamma to tell them to quiet down.

They whispered late into the night until Moomin fell asleep against his own wishes, and then, Snufkin was alone with his thoughts. The only thing he really knew for sure was that he was excited. He was nearly ecstatic to spend the rest of the spring and the summer with Moomin.