Déclassé

fancies

noun, plural  fan·cies

1: the mental faculty through which whims, visions, and fantasies are summoned up; imagination, especially of a whimsical or fantastic nature

2: an image or a fantastic invention created by the mind

3: a capricious notion; a whim



♔ fancies are like shadows... you can't cage them,

they're such wayward, dancing things 

                                                 - L.M. Montgomery Anne of Avonlea


"No, no, no!" Featherpaw exclaimed in frustration as another vivid scarlet petal fell off the rose in her paws. Scrambling backwards out of the prickly rosebush, she examined the flower as closely as possible, searching for any imperfections that might make it impossible to sell.

To her utmost relief, it seemed mostly intact. The shirred edges of the outer rings were the tiniest bit crumpled, but nothing too noticable. The vendor would accept them, and that was all that mattered.

On stiff paws that were utterly perforated with tiny dots of blood - from where numerous rosethorns had pierced the soft pads - Featherpaw limped back to the pile of roses she had left on the side of the meadow, laying her newest one on the top and stepping back.

Twenty. Twenty roses. That was all she had to show for over an hour of painstaking labor.

Casting an almost betrayed glance at the rosebushes clustered along the side of the meadow, she shook her head.

What had she been expecting, anyway? It was the middle of leaf-fall, and getting on towards leaf-bare. The roses were dying, and soon there'd be none left at all. Then she'd have to resort to some other way of earning a little extra prey for her family.

Reminding herself that there was no time to dillydally, Featherpaw bent down and bundled the roses all together in her jaws, ignoring the all-too-familiar pricks as the rosethorns shifted against her tongue and the roof of her mouth.

She would have to nearly jog, if she wanted to make it to Main and back home by nightfall. Not to mention once she got back, she'd probably have to go hunting as well. It was either that or starve herself in order to feed her family. There was no way twenty roses would buy enough prey to feed her, her mother, Nightkit, Daykit, and Morningkit.

Setting her paws on the well-worn path that led to Main - which was SunClan's central hub, where cats from all sanctions came to do business, converse, trade, and shop - Featherpaw cast glances at the dreary gray sky overhead. The overcast dreariness of the day was not the most motivational backdrop, but whenever she felt her pawsteps dragging, she merely had to pull up a mental image of her little brothers and sister's hungry, pitiful faces to get herself going again.

Of the four sanctions SunClan was comprised of, Featherpaw's own was the toughest one. The one that, given the choice, you did not want to be put in.

But it just so happened she didn't have a choice. And so she and her family were in the dreaded, poverty-stricken sanction of Déclassé. Out of the four divisions, not only was Déclassé the poorest and equipped with the least resourced, it was also where the criminals of SunClan were sent, cats that had gotten on the wrong hand of Sunstar's law. Which made it easily the most dangerous place on the entire span of SunClan territory. Featherpaw lived nearly every day in fear, and every night, she and her mother Dewpool would batten down their little den by rolling a boulder over the entrance- all in the effort to ensure that no harm would befall the kits during the night, when the lowest members of their society were on the prowl.

Going back to the matter of choice, if Featherpaw had been able to choose what sanction she wanted to be in, she would pick Apaisant. Without a doubt. Known as the section of healing and tenderness, Apaisant was also the smallest sanction. And, unlike the sanctions of Riche and Déclassé, one could not simply be born into Apaisant. You had to have connections, and had to undergo a rite of training and approval by Sunstar, to ensure you actually had some medicinal experience.

The same training process applied to Guerriere, the fourth sanction. Although, completely unlike Apaisant, Guerriere was the home of SunClan's warriors. Its soldiers. Protectors.

Featherpaw's father lived in Guerriere. She hadn't seen him for almost three moons.

And then there was Riche. Déclassé's polar opposite. The rich sanction. The one everyone secretly - or not-so-secretly - wanted to be born into. Home of the elite aristocrats of their society.

Today, when Featherpaw sold her roses to the vendor, he in turn would sell them to a Riche cat. A cat who had so much prey that they could actually afford to spend it on something as trivial as roses, rather than wasting the time to go and pick some themselves.

Unbelievable. Featherpaw could hardly imagine having prey to waste like that.

Oh well. If it weren't for the likes of rich snots like that, she would have no business, and then her family would have to depend on only her horrid hunting skills for survival. 

Since she really had nothing else to do, for the moment Featherpaw allowed her imagination to eclipse her common sense. As she padded along the dusty gravel path - made and marked by the dozens of paws that had trodden down it before - she let her girlish mind wander into the realm of fanciful thinking.

After all, despite the fact that the burden of being caretaker had been thrust upon her shoulders at an extremely young age, she was still just an apprentice. And it wasn't too late to dream. Not yet.

In a classic fashion, she started her dreaming with what-if? What if her father, Swallowtail, had never been recruited into Guerriere? What if she'd been selected for Apaisant? That would be a dream come true, but it would also be a nightmare. Because it would mean leaving Dewpool and the kits- and Featherpaw knew her family wouldn't survive without her.

And, the most delectable yet mockingly far-off fantasy of all: what if she'd been born into Riche?

Being born into Riche meant more than wealth. It meant power. If you were born into Riche, and had a son or daughter who wanted to get into Apaisant or Guerriere, it was pretty much a given that you would. On the other hand, it was near-impossible to be accepted into those sanctions if you were born into Déclassé.

So that's why I don't have to worry about it. Not to mention I know next to nothing about medicine and herbs, considering I never have time to learn, Featherpaw reflected bitterly. She felt guilty for being so harsh, but in the inner confines of her mind, she couldn't help it. Sometimes she just wished so badly that her life was different. That she could be free of the confines of her Déclassé life.

Sometimes she even thought she'd leave it. Leave them all - Dewpool, Daykit, Nightkit, and Morningkit. Just to fulfill her own selfish desires.

And then she hated herself for it, and told herself that she deserved everything wrong with her life for being such a horrible git.

While Featherpaw was still lost in her own thoughts, she hardly noticed the onward pounding of pawsteps. When a lone tom appeared, galavanting along the path straight towards her, she didn't even look up, still debating if as a member of Riche society, she'd buy white roses or red roses.

Coincidentally, and unfortunately, the stranger, in his headlong rush down the path, failed to notice her well.

Thus, the inevitable and extremely painful head-on collision.

"Ow!" Featherpaw screeched in agony as she half-choked on a rose, the thorns digging deep into the side of her cheek. The rest of her bouquet scattered along the ground in a flurry of scarlet, the delicate petals instantly disfigured by the rough ground and tumble of kicking limbs that she and the tom had become.

"Eee!" The tom whom she'd run into let out an otherworldly, almost humorously high-pitched scream. Of course, Featherpaw failed to find any humor about the situation at all, being that she was still crumpled on the floor, blood trickling out from between her jaws from a jagged cut inside her mouth.

Wincing, she stumbled to her paws and pulled the accursed rose out of her mouth; its thorns were still stained with her blood, and she flung it to the ground. Useless thing; the petals were sodden with saliva now, and it'd never sell for anything.

Tears of mingled anger and frustration sprang into Featherpaw's eyes as she surveyed the pathetic array of crumpled, wasted roses scattered across the path, seeing all her hard work blown away on the wind.

Wheeling on the tom she'd run into with considerable and uncharacteristic rage, Featherpaw yelled, "Look what you've done!"

Still in the process of righting himself, the tom stared back at her with surprise, and then a rage that equaled her own. "Me? You're the one who ran into me, mouse-brain!"

"No, you did!" Forcing back a sob of utter hopelessnes, Featherpaw reeled her paw back and - without thinking - socked him in the jaw.

She hit him so hard that his head flew back, and she gasped from the impact of her paw on his jawbone.

And then she gasped because she couldn't believe what she'd done. She, level-headed, meek little Featherpaw.

"I am so sorry," she whispered, staring at the tom.

"What in the name of StarClan?" he stared at her like she was a madcat, one paw on his jaw. "Are you absolutely insane?"

A tiny bit of defensiveness kicked in, and her hackles gave a momentary flare. "No! You... look what you did!" The first word was uttered forcefully, but gradually the anger seeped out of her voice, replaced by an almost pleading tone. Instantly, Featherpaw hated herself for sounding so cowardly. In an effort to make up for the show of weakness, she violently gestured with her paws towards the decrepit roses lying on the ground; unfortunately, in the process of demonstrating visually, she smacked the tom in the face once again. 

"Stop hitting me!" he yelled angrily.

"I can't help it! You deserve it!" she cried impudently, shocking herself by the outburst once again.

Then, as he continued to glower at her with scarily flinty gray-blue eyes, she felt all the fight seep out of her all at once. Deflating, she flattened her ears back. "I-I'm sorry..."

"You should be. Do you make it a practice to assault random strangers?" he asked harshly, but the austere curvature of his mouth softened a bit, and she thought she detected a brief glimmer of amusement in his gaze.

"Only when they ruin my days work."

His shoulders slumped, and he stared at the ruined bouquet of roses she'd collected, now completely worthless. "Oh."

Featherpaw closed her eyes and drew her breath. "I-it's okay. Just go on your way. I can handle this." She ducked her head, hoping he couldn't see the tears welling in her eyes. All her hard work. Gone. What the heck was she supposed to do now?

"Hey. I guess I should be apologizing now, shouldn't I?"

She remained silent. The tom bent down to meet her eyes, as he was a good half-head taller than her. "I'm sorry. I should've been looking where I was going."

"Me too. And you don't have to apologize. I already hit you in the face."

"Twice."

The corner of her mouth twitched in spite of herself. "Yeah."

"What's your name?"

Warily, she regarded him and flashed back to all the lessons her mother had given her on stranger-danger and keeping safe. "Doesn't matter," she said indifferently.

"C'mon. I'm not that much of a bad guy." When Featherpaw still didn't repond, he said, "My name's Stormpaw." He seemed to be watching very closely for her reaction to that, almost as if he'd expected her to recognize it. Which was ridiculous; there were plenty of Stormpaws around SunClan, Featherpaw was sure.

Finally, she muttered, "I'd better get going. Maybe I'll have time to collect some more roses..." She could hear the doubt in her own voice. There wouldn't be any roses left, and she had no time. 

Her family would go hungry tonight. She needed to hurry back to the den so she'd have as much time to hunt as possible- though she knew there was no way she'd catch enough prey to feed everyone on her own. And Dewpool would be away at work, so her mother couldn't help.

"I really am sorry," Stormpaw tried again, but she just shook her head and moved to walk past him.

"Forget about it. It'll be fine," she said, mustering a weak smile.

Obviously not believing her, Stormpaw blocked her way, which was an easy feat, considering how small Featherpaw was. "Hey, look, let me make it up to you."

Raising her eyebrows, Featherpaw said, "How?"

"Do you trust me?"

"No," she said bluntly.

He flushed. "Let me rephrase that: please trust me. Come with me to Main. I have prey there. I can repay you, and give you a little extra to make up for my blunder."

Shaking her head, Featherpaw said, "No." It was a tempting offer, but it was also too good to be true. 

"Please," he repeated, the look on his face boyishly pleading.

"Don't you have somewhere to be anyway? You were heading in the opposite direction from Main when we ran into each other."

"Oh." A visible coloration became apparent on his cheeks. "I wasn't exactly going anywhere. Like, I had no destination. I just... I just didn't want to be at home."

That was a feeling she understood. "I'm sorry."

Ruefully, he shrugged. "S'okay. So, how about it? Will you come to Main and collect your repayment?"

Ordinarily, Featherpaw would've refused. But she wanted to train herself to be more assertive. Not to mention, she needed to find a way of feeding herself, Dewpool, Daykit, Nightkit, and Morningkit. And if this tom was offering her food in return for ruining her collection of roses, then she might as well take the opportunity, and desperately hope she wouldn't get mugged or killed.

"Fine. I'll come. But only because you owe me," she said, attempting a stern, don't-mess-with-me tone.

Stormpaw gave her a gentlemanly smile. "Good. I hate feeling indebted to anyone," he added haughtily, starting off towards Main at a brisk pace.

Hurrying to catch up, she felt a wounded expression slip onto her face. "Hey, I'm not forcing you to do this-"

"And I'm not implying that you were," he said cordially. She cocked her head, puzzled by the uber-polite way in which he was addressing her.

"Are you okay?"

"What?" he asked, blinking. "I mean- I beg your pardon?"

Furrowing her brow, she said, "You're talking really weird. Why is that? Oh wait! I know why!"

Fear and nervousness appeared plainly on his face. "Y-you do?" he stammered.

"Yes. You're from Riche."

Oddly, he seemed relieved when she said that. "Oh. Yeah, I guess you could say that," he said, almost ironically. "I'm from Riche."

Figures. No wonder he can offer me prey so confidently. "I'm from Déclassé," she said quietly, instantly feeling herself shrink into nothingness. She'd just punched a Riche tom in the face. Good StarClan.

"Oh." Almost instantly, he ran his eyes over her ragged, unkempt gray fur. Featherpaw felt like digging a hole and burying herself in it till she suffocated to death.

But she couldn't do that. As ashamed and insignificant as she felt alongside this well-bred Riche tom, she had to keep going to Main. To collect the payment of prey, no matter how much it hurt her delicate pride and ego. For her family's sake.

"Why do you collect roses, anyway?" Stormpaw asked abruptly.

Incredulous, she said, "To sell at Main. I- my family needs the prey," she finished off weakly, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth. Featherpaw knew she was poor; she'd lived with the fact her entire life. That didn't make it any easier to admit, especially to someone like Stormpaw, who quite obviously had never had any monetary problems of any kind.

"Oh," he said quietly. "Don't your parents work?"

"My father's part of Guerriere; stupid horrid Sunstar drafted him. He didn't have a choice. And my mother works down in the coal mines. That's hardly any prey at all, but she's indebted to Sunstar's government, so she has to work there. So I sell flowers and hunt and-" She cut herself off.

Watching her keenly, Stormstar frowned. "Don't you like Sunstar?"

Mentally, Featherpaw delivered a solid beating to herself. Insulting Sunstar in front of a Riche cat? It was a well-known fact that all Riche cats were definitive Sunstar supporters; their sanction was very well-protected and favored by the government, and they had no reason to dislike their leader. 

"I- I don't... I..." She trailed off helplessly.

He frowned. "Go on."

Featherpaw ducked her head and remained silent. She could feel Stormpaw's frustration at her quietness, but she couldn't help it. Her upbringing had taught her to be cautious, and her natural personality supplied the immediate tendency to meekness and a subdued way of doing things.

"What do you think of Sunstar?" she finally said, for the purpose of breaking the wordlessness.

Stormpaw flinched. "He's really something."

He didn't offer any more, and she didn't ask.

She was getting the feeling that the sooner they got to Main, she got her repayment, and they parted ways, the happier everyone would be.

♔ ♔ ♔ 

About halfway through their journey to Main, abruptly and without any warning, Stormpaw said, "So, you ever planning to tell me your name?"

"Not really."

A pause. Then, "Why?"

"Why should I?"

Again, a pause. "Because I told you mine," he said hesitantly.

She tilted her head to the side. "I don't remember asking you to."

"What does that have to do with anything? Do cats only do something when they're asked to do it where you come from?" he retorted rudely.

Flattening her ears, Featherpaw snapped, "No, we only have time to do the things we have to do to survive. Which is why I was collecting those roses!"

That meekened him, and he gazed at her with a subdued expression- though a little flame of continued defiance remained in his eyes. "Are we really going back to the roses thing? I'm going to pay you back, aren't I?"

"I don't know. Are you?"

"Yes."

"Then pay me."

Utter exasperation combusted with disbelief on his face. "Why on earth do you think we're going to Main, then? It's certainly not because I enjoy your company or anything!"

"Then why are you taking me to Main at all?" she snapped back. "I'm just a Déclassé she-cat, and you're from Riche. You could never pay me back, and I could complain to an Enforcer, and not a single thing would be done about it. You could just get away with it, and you wouldn't have to deal with me, either!"

Stormpaw seemed to be fighting a hopeless internal battle with himself to not rip her head off- and Featherpaw couldn't blame him. She was being purposefully aggravating, and she didn't even know why. It was completely unlike her. Maybe it was because of her bad day. Or maybe this tom just brought out the worst in her. 

"Believe me, if my conscience would let me get away with it, I'd be out of here in a flash. I'm taking you to Main to pay you back because I know that even though I don't care if you suffer - and I really really don't - your family will probably suffer too, if you don't get enough prey tonight. And I don't want them to have to go through that for no reason. So don't yell at me for doing the right thing, you ungrateful little-" He cut himself short, a slight wheeze coming into his breath. "StarClan, you make me so mad," he muttered, almost to himself.

Despite the fact that she deserved a thousand times worse, that stung her a little bit. Featherpaw wasn't used to making cats mad. She never made anyone mad; she was always so quiet and meek. This was something new for her.

"Jerk," she mumbled.

Cynical amusement manifested itself into a grin on his face. "Is that the best you can do?"

"Yes. I'm not usually the type to insult cats. Congrats- you must be a real fox-heart to get me to do so."

"I feel very accomplished," he assured her snarkily. 

Take a deep breath. You'll be arrested for assuaulting a Riche tom- especially considering you already punched him in the face. Twice.

Once she'd steadied her frame of mind, Featherpaw said, "Look, we'll be at Main in five minutes. Then you can give me my prey, and we can part ways and never have to endure the gruel of being near each other again. Let's try not to kill each other till then, okay?"

Mournfully studying his claws, Stormpaw said, "Tis a shame. I could make your death long and painful. Bloody, too."

Speechless, she stared at him for a good minute before finally stammering, "Y-you're... the most messed-up cat I've ever met. Issues. You have issues."

"Thanks."

Fighting the overpowering urge to wrap her paws around his throat and squeeze - hard - Featherpaw let her eyes travel to the gloomy sky instead. "Four minutes. Four minutes till Main," she said under her breath.

"I'll give you an extra piece of prey if you promise to throw yourself off a cliff," Stormpaw offered.

Stopping dead in her tracks, Featherpaw gave him a horrified stare. Tears actually sprang to her eyes. "W- Why are you being such a dirtface?" she screamed, her voice rising into an embarassingly high octave. "What did I ever do to you?"

For once, he seemed honestly taken aback. "I- You... you were... you were mean to me too," he faltered lamely.

Hackles rising with pure fury, Featherpaw stalked ahead of him, quickening her pace so that she wouldn't have the utter curse of having to look at him standing next to her.

"Hey, wait up!" Stormpaw yelped, but still made no effort to catch up with her as they entered their destination.

Main was set in a large, gently-sloping valley, criss-crossed with dirt paths. Spacious dens used for trading or housing were nestled on every spare patch of land, and despite the chilly temperature, cats were still bustling about, engaged in barter or shopping or selling their wares.

"All right. So where do you live?" Featherpaw asked.

All the pigmentation drained from Stormpaw's face. "Where do I live?" he repeated numbly.

Impatience stirred within her. "Yes. Your house? Isn't that where you keep your prey?"

"Yes, but..."

"But what?"

He frowned deeply. "You can't visit my house."

"Why?" Featherpaw asked, then instantly regretted it. Of course she couldn't come to his house. It would be social suicide for him if neighbors witnessed him taking a Déclassé she-cat into his den. "Oh. I understand."

He seemed to be lost in his own world of thought. "You do?" 

"Yeah." Fighting to keep from sounding bitter, she said, "I'm Déclassé. You're Riche. It's okay. You can just bring the prey here or-"

Shaking his head, he interrupted, "Wait, wait. Do you actually think I don't want to take you to my house because you're Déclassé?"

Oh, he was a good actor, pretending that that was a surprise to him or something. But there was no way she'd fall for it. "Obviously. I can't blame you for it. All Riche cats are like that."

"Well, think before you judge," he snapped. "Because that's not the reason at all."

"Then what is?" she challenged.

He faltered. 

Ha. She'd known it.

Truimphantly, she said, "You're ashamed. Now, why don't you just bring the prey here, so you can be spared the embarassment of having other cats see you with me."

Stormpaw looked ready to tear his own fur out. "It's not that, okay? I can't explain why you can't come to my house, but it's not because you're Déclassé."

Likely story.

Seeing the unbelief written on her expression, Stormpaw sighed. "Fine. You want to know where I live? Come on."

Surprised that he'd actually changed his mind, Featherpaw quickened her pace in an attempt to catch up with him. "Y-you don't have to take me."

"Evidently I do, in order to convince you I'm not a judgemental jerk with a superiority complex."

"Well, good luck convincing me that you're not a jerk."

"Thanks. Good luck convincing me that you're not a rude she-cat with social interaction issues."

Ouch. "Won't need it. Because I'm not even going to bother trying to convince you. You can think what you want."

Secretly, Featherpaw wasn't as indifferent to his opinion as she pretended, but dying seemed a more optimable fate than actually admitting to that.

"We're here," Stormpaw said abruptly, coming to a stop.

"We are?" Featherpaw had been so busy imagining his unfortunate and tragic death that she hadn't even noticed.

Lifting her eyes to gaze up at the den in front of her, she felt her heart stop- then start up again at a rate of about a hundred miles per minute. Her breath caught. Her head spun. Her mouth went dry.

It couldn't be.

Repeatedly, she scanned the den, searching for some sign that said she was wrong. But it was all there. It was true.

Whirling to Stormpaw with a dumbfounded glare, she arched her eyebrows, asking him a question.

He gave her a rueful nod of affirmation.

Her eyes traveled back to the den in front of her.

When she spoke, her voice was accusatory, almost hurt at the news he'd withheld from her.

"You're Sunstar's son?"

"Yep." 

There were a thousand things she wanted to say about this revelation, but for some reason the first thing that came out of her mouth was, "You don't seem too thrilled."

Stormpaw shrugged. "Am I supposed to be?"

"Most cats would be. I mean... Sunstar's son. Doesn't that mean you have basically everything you've ever wanted?"

"Oh sure, it's just lovely," he said sarcastically. "Don't forget about all the calculating gazes, mindless meetings, and social restrictions they impose upon you. All the 'do-this', 'do that', 'don't even think about that'. Not to mention the fact that my dad basically told me to stop embarassing him yesterday. Told me that he cringed to consider the fact SunClan might fall into my incapable paws someday."

Wow.

A deep, angry flush spread across Stormpaw's cheeks. "I shouldn't have said that out loud."

"I'm so sorry."

"Don't be. Like you said, I have everything."

Featherpaw winced. "That's obviously not true."

"Yeah? What do I lack?"

Brains. Kindness. Manners. All the snappish responses she wanted to give died on her tongue. "Love?" she suggested softly. "Acceptance?"

He turned away from her.

Oops. Of course he didn't want some strange she-cat performing an emotional analysis on him- especially not her, since they obviously hated each other.

"Let's just get you your prey. And then you can leave," Stormpaw said icily.

"Look, I didn't mean-"

"Forget it. Now come on." He stepped into the huge sandstone den in front of them.

What else could she do but follow? After all, this might be the only time in her entire life she actually got to step inside Sunstar's den.

Inside, it was grand. The main room they stepped into was about five times the size of Featherpaw's own den, and moreover, it was completely empty. Totally uncrowded. "Where are your parents?" she asked.

"My dad's out on some important SunClan business," Stormpaw said scornfully. "And mom's probably in her bedchamber."

"Her what?"

"The den where she sleeps?"

Her jaw dropped a little. "You have separate dens for that?"

"Ye-ah," he said slowly, giving her a peculiar look.

Feeling the distinctive poverty line etching itself between them, Featherpaw ducked her head. "We don't. No one has that in Déclassé."

"Oh."

Shifting her paws awkwardly, Featherpaw said, "So, er..."

"Just wait here. I'll go get the prey."

"No, I'll come with you," she said hastily.

He eyed her curiously. "Why? Want a tour of the house?"

"A little," she admitted. "And I don't want to be left alone here. I don't belong. Your guards will probably throw me out."

Stormpaw shrugged, not denying it. "Okay. Come on. The food-place is this way."

What on earth is a food-place?

She soon find out. It was a den, entirely devoted to the purpose of food. All kinds of it. Herbs, fresh fish, poultry, and heaps of newly-caught mice and squirrels. Her mouth flooded with water just from looking at it. It would take her a year to collect and sell enough roses to buy all this prey.

Greedily, Featherpaw surveyed the scene of plenty. "That's a lot of food," she croaked feebly.

"Yeah, too much," he muttered in disgust, scraping together a giant heap of prey. "Here you go." He shoved the mountain towards her.

"I- That's way too much," she said. "Half of that would be fine."

"Nonsense," he scoffed.

"I can't even carry all of that," Featherpaw told him truthfully; she would've dearly loved to accept all the food he was offering, but she had no means of even transporting it back to Déclassé.

"Oh yeah, that's a problem," he said, considering this for a moment. "No matter- I can have someone come back with you and help you."

Her eyebrows shot up. "They'd just do that? You could order someone to do that and they would?"

"Of course." He said it without hesitation.

Wondering what it was like to have other cats to do your every beck and call, Featherpaw glanced at her paws. "I couldn't make you do that."

Stormpaw rolled his eyes. "It's no big deal. I just have to tell them."

Her jaw set in irritation. "Yes, but it might be a big deal for them. They'd have to walk all the way to Déclassé carrying all that prey, and then make the journey back. Not to mention the fact that they'd also have to cope with irritating old me for company."

For some reason, Stormpaw seemed surprised by this. "You're not that bad."

"Gee thanks. First you tell me to kill myself-"

"I wasn't serious about that, for StarClan's sakes!" he yelped in frustration.

"Oh, so you joke about that? Is that a joke to you?" she snapped.

Blue eyes darkening drastically, he lowered his voice. "No. It's not a joke to me. Trust me."

Something in his tone shut her up- there was something that betrayed a past hurt. Has someone he knows committed... Instantly, she cut off her own speculations. She had no business wondering about stuff like that. That was completely private.

"Look, I can just take half of this prey, okay? And then get out of here, before-"

"Stormpaw?" A shrill voice cut through Featherpaw's words. Turning, she saw a well-groomed, stunningly gorgeous cream cat standing in the entrance to the food-room. The she-cat's eyes flicked disdainfully over Featherpaw's bedraggled gray fur. "Who is this?" she demanded.

Looking distinctly displeased at the new arrival, Stormpaw muttered, "Hey Mom- I mean, Mother. This is, er, Featherpaw. Featherpaw, this is my mother, Goldflower."

Sunstar's mate. And it was no shock. Featherpaw was sure any tom would choose Goldflower based on her looks alone, with her silken fur and dazzling green eyes.

Yet, there was something almost lacking in those beautiful eyes... something cold where there should've been warmth, something hard where there should've been softness. And absolutely no trace of the motherly tenderness Featherpaw always saw in her own mom's expression.

"It's nice- lovely to meet you," Featherpaw said, attempting to sound polite and civilized(citizens of Déclassé were often viewed as crude and bad-mannered).

Apparently she failed in her attempt, because Goldflower's expression only soured further. "Is it, now? Stormpaw. Who is she? As in, what is she doing here?"

Featherpaw cringed at the obvious unwelcome in the she-cat's tone.

Stepping forward to face his mother, Stormpaw said, "I'm just giving her some prey. I ran into her on the road, and knocked over all the roses she was collecting to sell. She needs to feed her family, so I offered to make it up to her..." He trailed off as he realized Goldflower wasn't listening anymore.

There seemed to be an unbridled tension between mother and son that Featherpaw couldn't quite put her paw on. What had gone down between them? The atmosphere seemed taut enough to spontaneously combust, laced with hidden emotions that she didn't understand.

Beside her, Stormpaw emitted a sort of stifled fury, his blue eyes blazing like coals. And Goldflower, despite her austure features remaining passive, seemed to reciprocate a sort of unusual irritation towards her son.

And of course, Featherpaw felt caught in the middle.

"Er, so Stormpaw, I think I'll just be-" she began, but Goldflower interrupted her.

"And you call me a disgrace? You just brought a Déclassé peasant into our home, you silly tom." She spoke as though Featherpaw wasn't there, as though each of her words wasn't piercing the little gray apprentice to the core. "Is that how your father raised you? To hand out our precious prey to any street waif you happen to meet? That's disgraceful, if you ask me."

The rage in Stormpaw's voice nearly stopped Featherpaw's heart, and she wasn't even the recipient of it. "I didn't ask you. I will never ask you. What you did is far worse than what I'm doing. I'm just trying to make up for a mistake and be kind to her. You- you're despicable."

In spite of herself, Featherpaw gasped, drawing both cats' gazes to her. She flushed, but she hadn't been able to help it. Had he really just called his own mother despicable? Dewpool would have her head if she'd ever been that disrespectful.

Mouth tightening, Goldflower said, "You can call me names all you want, you wretched little ingrate. But you will not speak to your father of what- what you say. Understood? Or else I shall get my revenge." And with that, she left the food-room, not sparing a glance back.

For several moments, Featherpaw and Stormpaw remained silent. The young tom was shaking with rage; she could feel the waves of heat racking off his body, his claws shooting out and retracting, paws clenching and unclenching. 

"What was that all about?" she whispered softly, the hastily added, "I'm sorry, I know it's not my business-"

"Stop apologizing for stuff that you don't need to."

"Sorry-" She bit down on her tongue till she tasted blood.

But he didn't seem angry anymore, all of a sudden. Tired. He just seemed tired, tired much beyond his years.

Featherpaw knew about weariness. She lived in a constant state of it, nonstop. But that was physical, mostly(apart from the constant worrying about the kits). The fatigue she saw on Stormpaw's face was strictly emotional.

"Do you want me to tell you what that was all about, like really? Because I will."

She remained quiet, unsure of what he wanted to hear. Stormpaw was so unpredictable.

Laying down in the middle of the food-room, Stormpaw rested his chin on his paws and looked up at her wearily. Slumped over like that, he almost reminded her of Daykit, Nightkit, or Morningkit. She felt an odd maternal urge to wrap her tail around him and protect him- which was ridiculous, considering everything they'd said to each other.

"I have to tell you. I've got no one else to tell- she'll kill me if I tell my father."

Featherpaw sat down beside him, close enough so that she could feel the warmth of his body, but far enough so they weren't touching. "Tell me, then," she said gently.

He took a deep breath, then blurted out in a single breath, "I-caught-my-mom-cheating-on-my-dad."

Her eyes flew open. "What?"

Disgust curdled his features into an ugly mask. "She was cheating on him. I caught her with... another tom. His name's Firemask, and he's actually a close family friend. Or was, anyway. I can't believe they'd do that to my dad."

"I can't believe it either," Featherpaw murmured softly. How could Goldflower do that to her mate? He was Sunstar, for crying out loud.

Without thinking, she leaned forward and touched her nose to Stormpaw's forehead. "I'm sorry," she breathed softly.

Flinching, he pulled away from her swiftly.

Hurtful. Though she tried to hide her feelings, Featherpaw knew that he knew he'd hurt her.

And, for once, that seemed to bother him.

"I'm sorry too," he muttered. "That's no excuse for me being a jerk the entire day, but..."

"It's fine," she assured him quickly. "I get it."

He heaved another sigh. "I never... did catch your name."

What was the harm? "It's Featherpaw."

A small smile tugged at his lips. "Featherpaw. That's a pretty name."

"Thanks."

He jerked his head towards the prey at their feet. "Tell you what. How about I walk you home, and help carry the prey?"

Shock made her body stiffen. "What? Oh Stormpaw, I could never-"

"Trust me, you'd be doing me a favor. I hate this house. Dad's out of Main, and so I'm stuck with that horrid mother of mine. I'll help you carry the prey on one condition."

"What would that be?"

"You'll let me stay the night at your den. Not in a creepy way," he added hastily. "I just... really, really don't want to be at home right now."

Did he have any clue what he was asking for? "You want to leave your huge den, with your own comfy bedchamber, to stay in a place like Déclassé?" she clarified incredulously.

A chuckle rumbled through Stormpaw's body. "You make it seem more ridiculous than it really is, but yes. In case you couldn't tell, I hate my mother. Like, a lot."

"I could tell."

"Besides, I'll have you for company," Stormpaw said with an almost playful wink. "So what do you say?"

It was stupid.

But then again, it would mean more prey for the entire family.

And she was sure Dewpool wouldn't object to having Sunstar's son stay over- though she might fall over herself trying to make Stormpaw comfortable.

"It's a deal."

Stormpaw's smile sent an unfamiliar tingle up her legs. "Great. Let's get going, then?"

"Yep. Let's go."

The End

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