We hiked back to HQ. Surprisingly, it was intact. The communications experts listened to the radio reports and relayed the information to the rest of us. With the news of Reuben's surrender spreading among both sides, the war was winding down. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. We were exhausted. There would be time for celebration later. Everyone retired to bed. I made my way to the infirmary, my paws heavy with fatigue. I felt sick with regret. What horrors would they put the kits through? I had to go back. I got up weakly and tried to make a run for it, but Crystal stopped me.
She looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, "It's too late. We don't know where they are. You're injured. You need to heal."
I sighed and stepped back into the room, my ears drooping in sadness. "You're right," I said.
"I know how you feel," Crystal said, standing in the entrance. "My mother gave birth to another litter after me. She never let me near them, though. All five of them were sickly. I looked all over for herbs that might help them, and I tried to get help from the village medic. But there was nothing we could do. I... they..." Crystal stopped, her voice choked with emotion. I limped over to her and leaned against her comfortingly.
"That's why you want to be a medic," I said with sudden realization. Crystal nodded.
"I vowed to never let another kit die like my siblings did. A year later, I found a cure for their disease. But then I was drafted into the army."
I felt guilty, like I was somehow responsible for her fate. Someone called her name and she backed up.
"Sorry," she said. "It's my turn to stand guard."
A week later, the Celebration of Thanks festival was a welcome break from the stress. The main room was decorated with colorful leaves and rocks, and some rabbit had fermented clover to make wine. The Celebration of Thanks was a time for joy at the end of summer, to remember what we have been blessed with during this time of prosperity. Winter would begin soon, but right now we were making the most of the last few warm days. There was loud, cheerful chatter and dancing. Somebody had found a drum and found out that it sounded good when you jumped on it. This, accompanied with the voices of several singers, further lightened the atmosphere. I found Crystal in the crowd and walked up to her. She had groomed her fur especially carefully today, and I couldn't remember ever seeing her so beautiful. Maybe it was the festive, happy atmosphere, or maybe it was the wine, but I somehow got up the courage to ask her a question that had been on my mind since the battle in the village.
"So you already know I love you, but how do you feel about me?" My face flushed under my fur.
"You're drunk, aren't you?" She tipped her head to the side. Ouch. This was not going well.
"No, I'm just crazy."
Crystal laughed. "I know that, too! Of course I love you, scat-for-brains!"
There was an awkward silence. I didn't know what to say or do. Then I felt paws push me forward. I stumbled, and my nose touched Crystal's. Her nose felt as soft as velvet. I staggered back, shocked and embarrassed. Then I heard familiar laughter behind me.
"You're welcome," said Cow. He had followed us back instead of going with the remnants of Reuben's army. I rolled my eyes, but couldn't stop my nose from twitching with amusement.
"Sometimes I wish I could handle problems like Roger: with explosives," I mused. A blue paw rolled a firecracker between us. It went off with a loud bang, temporarily blinding me. I blinked away the purple spot in my vision and saw Cow's face, now covered with soot and staring ahead with wide eyes.
"You're welcome," said Roger, laughing briefly before stopping and wincing. "So," the oddly colored rabbit continued, "do you still want to take over the world and overthrow the humans?"
I thought for a minute. "Not for a long while," I responded. Was that relief on Roger's face?
"What do you want to do then," asked Crystal. I recalled our conversation in the prison, how she said the war wouldn't last forever and that she knew what she wanted to do in peacetime.
"My mother was a storyteller. I would like to follow in her footsteps." I hadn't thought about civilian life since I joined the army. I didn't think I'd survive that long. Now that the army had dissolved, memories came flooding back to me. My mother would sit on a large, mossy rock surrounded by kits. She would tell them about our history and legends. There was always a faraway look on her face, and a slight smile. The kits would sit and listen attentively, one of the few times they behaved. It was her job to remember the stories, because only a few of our ancestors bothered to pass them down. She was the great-great-great granddaughter of one of those original storytellers. Her bouncy voice made the stories fun to listen to. I hoped I could do as good a job as her. Every time she told the legends, the mossy rock beneath us disappeared and we were trudging through the snow to escape the humans, or organizing the first village.
"Earth to Cottontail," called Cow, waving a black paw in my face. I swatted it away.
"Sorry. Memories," I explained.
"Good ones, I hope!"
"Yeah." Then I turned to Crystal. Okay, maybe I am a little drunk, I thought. "Crystal, will you be my mate?" I realized that she said the same thing at the same time.
"So I guess that's a yes," we said, again simultaneously. We laughed. Crystal's ears bounced as her head bobbed up and down. Roger tried to laugh, but he winced and stopped again.
"Roger," I said, getting his attention. "Why don't you take a break from the leadership stuff? You're severely wounded. You need rest."
He narrowed his eyes. "No. I will not live to see this organization crumble. I will avenge Mystic's death if it's the last thing I do!"
"Who's Mystic," asked Ferret.
"It's a long story."
"We have time," the curious kit insisted. She stretched her eyes wide and said a drawn-out "Please?"
"Fine," Roger said, rolling his eyes. Everyone crowded around him as he told the tale of his adventures on Mystic Island.
Author's Note: This story was co-written by Kaykneeps23. If you want to read Roger's story you should check out her series. I will be writing a sequel and a collection of stories that tell the history of the rabbits.