When I wake I take a few moments to keep my eyes shut. I breathe in and out a few times. When my eyes blink open I scramble to my paws in surprise.
"Good morning," the tomcat sitting before me mews. "Did I scare you?" he asks.
"No, just... you just startled me," I manage through my ragged breaths. "Who are you, anyway?"
His eyes gleam. "I'm just travelling through. I noticed you sleeping in this tree. This is Clan territory. You could be killed if you're found," he warned me.
I cough. "I am a Clan cat," I tell him, finally getting over my shock, "or, at least I used to be." I do not want to tell him any more.
He stares at me. "So you have nobody," he concludes slowly.
"Correct," I tell him, feeling somehow that I am being judged every heartbeat.
His eyes light up. "Perfect," he mews, "I've been looking for a travelling companion for a while now."
I snort. "You think I'm going to just leave with you? Think again!"
"I know you'll leave with me," the tom mews patiently. "You have an adventure waiting for you."
My mouth opens and closes. I don't want to go! I tell myself, but I find myself nodding.
We are walking side by side in silence. With every step I regret this decision, but something about this strange tom makes me afraid to open my mouth and say that I will turn back.
"Who are you, anyway?" I ask him, "and don't tell me you're just travelling through."
I hear his ragged purr beside me. "My name is Sawyer. I've spent my life travelling around and I'm looking for a place to settle down."
"Pleasure to meet you," I say to him. "I'm Sunstripe. I'm mates with- er, nobody."
Sawyer catches on. His voice seems all-knowing as he tells me, "Don't let your mate, or lack of one, define your life."
I shake my head. "She has since my kithood." For the first time since my affair, I feel truly alone.
Sawyer is silent. He and I walk on until he stops suddenly.
"Tomorrow we tackle the mountain," he tells me, "and it may take a few days. Be ready."