"No, leave us alone!" Alderheart started awake, as a cat cried out into the night. "Needletail, I beg you! Please." His ears pricked with alarm as he listened. What's going on? Is Needletail involved?
"Don't hurt her!" The cat continued to wail; though her voice had gotten softer. It's Twigpaw, he thought dazedly. Is she having a nightmare? Or is something else going on? Alderheart started to get up, but a voice interrupted him.
"Where do you think you're going?" Leafpool, also awoken by the cries, was watching him intently. Her amber gaze glinted as a moonbeam struck her face.
Alderheart flinched, and snuck a guilty glance at Jayfeather's sleeping form, in the back of the den. He shifted on his paws. "I. . . I have, uh, things to do."
Leafpool let out a small sigh. "You're going to see Twigpaw, aren't you?" She twitched her ears, but Twigpaw's wails had faded. "There's no need to lie about it."
"Jayfeather doesn't really like her." Alderheart pointed out, dropping his gaze.
"Twigpaw is young," Leafpool murmured. "And you are, too. These things take time, Alderheart." She closed her eyes for a moment. "Go, if you must."
Alderheart bowed his head. "Thank you." He rushed out of his den, and over to the apprentice's, nodding to Brackenfur, who stood guard at the bramble entrance to the camp. Alderheart poked his noise into the apprentice den, feeling his heart crack.
Twigpaw was alone; the older apprentices were out night hunting. The gray she-cat was curled in her nest, trembling, letting out little sobs.
I need to talk to her. Alderheart took a quiet step forward. What should I say?
Twigpaw looked up as he came in. "What are you doing here?" she asked. Her voice sounded numb.
He settled himself next to her, and stroked her with his tail. "I heard you crying out," he mewed with concern. "Is everything alright?" Alderheart could feel his friend shivering, both from the cold and her apparent stress.
Twigpaw looked confused for a moment. "I wasn't crying!" she said quietly, though Alderheart could still hear her sniffling. Her breath hung in the air, in a small white cloud.
"Yes, you were." Alderheart replied awkwardly. Am I saying the wrong things? "I could hear you from across the camp, and I wanted to check on you."
"Oh. I must've been talking in my sleep." Twigpaw gave him a distressed look. "W-what did I say?"
Alderheart scrunched his muzzle in thought, recalling his friend's words. "Something about 'don't hurt her!' and 'stop it, leave us alone', and Needletail." He gave her a curious look. "What does Needletail have to do with anything?" Has she threatened Violetpaw somehow? He brushed the thought away. I know time has passed since we last met, but there's no way she could've changed that much!
"I just had a nightmare." Twigpaw mumbled, not meeting his eyes. "Nothing to worry about."
"Tell me," he prompted, genuinely concerned.
"No!" She sounded alarmed. "No, I can't! I— no, I'm sorry, but—"
"Do you trust me?" Alderheart mewed gently, refusing to show his dismay. By all the stars! Why doesn't she trust me? Haven't I done enough?
"I suppose I do." Twigpaw took a deep breath; there was something in her eyes, something unclear, yet unmistakably there. Alderheart studied her, and pressed himself against her pelt for comfort. "Alright. I'll tell you the truth. Everything." At last, they made eye contact.
"All of it."