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Before the Dream

I creep through the forest, stalking what could only be my meal for tonight. My stomach is rumbling, and Durin has always told me to go get what I want, instead of letting other cats make my choices for me. So I decided to hunt.
The mouse is underneath a leaf, searching for its meal. I watch it scamper around before I emerge from my hiding place with a bound. Training allows me to land- claws unsheathed- on top of the mouse. I have my meal.
I pick it up by the tail and head to my sleeping place for tonight- number two of three I have scattered around this area. I am always moving, always hiding, to avoid cats finding me and learning my ways of survival.
As I walk, I remember my family.
Durin- my father- was a strong, strong cat. He was smart, too, and taught me the ways of living on my own. He raised and trained me and taught me all I know.
Jazz- a former kittypet and my mother- wasn't much of a motherly figure to me. She left just after I stopped needing her milk, leaving Durin to take care of me.
Raven- my brother- learned with me. We shared secrets.
The day where the three of us- me, Raven, and Durin- all found Jazz again, was the day that the three of them were killed, and the day where I lost them.
Or, they lost me.
I came across their bodies later that day, and wished for a life with another cat, more cats like Durin and Raven.
I arrive at my sleeping place and indulge on the mouse, but it leaves my stomach mostly empty, but it doesn't bother me anymore. I am used to a life like this.
I curl up in my nest- made quickly- and fall asleep, allowing my eyes to focus on a single leaf before they shut for good.

The Dream

I am walking, alone, like always, since Durin and Raven's deaths.
But this time, I know I am looking for some cat to talk to, unlike always.
My gaze flashes at random places, like Durin trained me to, like I am looking for prey. I know I am looking wrong, but there is no other way.
I raise my gaze off the ground.
I see him for a split second. He is black, and his eyes gleam as he stares at me though the trees, too far away.
His black fur reflects the light from the sun, and his long tail waves back and forth.
"Raven!" I screech, desperate.
He shakes his head and slips away.
I race after and skid to a stop where he disappeared.
He is gone.
And I am hopelessly in love.

After the Dream

Chapter 1

Aiko

I gasp and open my eyes, Raventail's image stuck in my head.
Then I sigh: my consciousness has already named the black tom.
I stand up and stretch: time to move sleeping spots. It's been a quarter-moon since I last moved.
I absentmindedly shove the moss into a hole I dug in the ground and cover it, keeping a cat from finding my scent too easily.
Then I hunt. But my mind is on Raventail the entire time, and I nearly miss a fattened thrush. To my luck, however, it took a while attempting to take off.
I lay down where I am, not bothering to go to the next sleeping spot, like Durin would of made me and Raven do. Instead, I eat right away, absentmindedly ripping meat off of the thrush.
I think about if I've seen Raventail anywhere, but the only cat that resembles him was Raven himself.
Raven's dead, I remind myself.
I choke on sadness and want a cat to love me like Durin and Raven did.
So, so badly.

Raventail
(A/N: Raventail has just had a dream of Aiko, as well.)

I don't understand. A she-cat almost had my name right... in a dream?
I couldn't believe it, so I left her. I hid behind a bush. I saw her race after me, but...
I can't stop thinking about her. Her tabby pelt shone in the sun, and her eyes glowed with sadness. Do I remind her of another cat?
"Raventail! Organize the patrols," I hear Jaystar call, annoyed.
I sigh and pad to the cluster of warriors chattering about the Gathering the night before. Seedfur is musing over a RiverClan warrior- Reedstep- and how he had mated with another ShadowClan she-cat, Shadowclaw.
"Seedfur!" I call. "Lead a hunting patrol, pick your cats."
I think for a moment, and tell her mate, Heronpelt, to lead a WindClan border patrol.
They both glare at me, but follow my orders, and I can't help but smirk at the ground.
"Raventail!" Seedfur calls. "Where should my patrol hunt?" she asks.
I think. "By the ShadowClan border. Don't stray over," I warn to the cat behind her, named Gorseheart.
Gorseheart groans and his eyes gleam. "What if they stray over?"
"Go get the WindClan patrol," I advise, and turn away.
I have to think about this she-cat.

Chapter 2

Aiko

I have decided to find Raventail. Even if I don't know where he is, I can find out.
Luckily, I have just seen another rogue.
"Hey!" I call after them, "wait up!"
They stop, shoulders hunched, and wait.
"Hi, Aiko," the rogue says quietly.
I gasp. "Berry!" (A/N: NOT from Deathberries, but that's worth reading, too.)
I know Berry from when Durin and Raven were alive.
Berry looks over me, to the area from where I came from. "Where are Durin and Raven?"
"Dead," I mutter.
Berry stares at his paws. "Oh."
"Nevermind that," I declare loudly, "do you know where I can find a cat named Raventail?"
"Raventail sounds like a Clan name," Berry meows thoughtfully.
I had never thought about the origin of his name, but I disregard that for now. "I need to find him."
"StarClan sent you a message?" Berry snorts. "StarClan are... out-there."
"StarClan?" I ask, confused.
Berry's eyes dim. "I just came from the Clans," he explains after a while. "Actually, I walked in on their gathering."
I laugh. "Did it seem important?"
"There was a lot of yelling," Berry replied. "But, I can lead you back and you can find cats on your own."
"That would be great," I reply.
So it is done. I have a way to reach Raventail.
Thank StarClan, whoever they are.

Raventail

I have found a private place- finally.
In the abandoned Twoleg den, up the blocks. Now I can see past some clear stuff and see if a cat comes to find me.
I remember all the cats that fell in love with me- Raventail, the deputy of ThunderClan- and I count fatalities.
Freepaw died of greencough. Rushpaw was crushed by a falling tree branch. Willowstep was...
All the cats that fell in love with me have died. Except one. She was murdered.
I hope, for the she-cat in my dream, that she doesn't die.
Then, I wonder if she actually exists.

Chapter 3

Aiko

Berry leads me across a large field, bounding ahead of me every few heartbeats, obviously hoping I'll run with him.
But I don't. Instead, I keep going at the same pace, tasting the air for signs of prey.
The sun is high in the sky, and Berry squints to see me. "Are you coming? I see a forest ahead."
I race forward, whiskers twitching and purring, and run ahead of Berry. Time with Durin has made me a fast runner.
Berry yowls in disbelief and races to catch up with me.
The world around me is blurry, suddenly, and instead of Berry racing to catch up, Raventail is.
I skid to a stop, and the world is clear again, with Berry trying to stop a few fox-lengths ahead of me.
I glare at him, anger filling every single part of me. Why him, instead of wonderful Raventail?
I storm to the forest, aware that my legs are muddy and my eyes wet.

Raventail

The border patrol has seen me up here, so I run to meet them.
Heronpelt is guiding his apprentice, Birdpaw, in identifying approaching cats by their smell. "If you see them first, it might be too late. Always keep your nose with you." Then he purrs. "Always keep it ready," he amends.
"What's up at the WindClan border?" I ask him.
Birdpaw pipes up. "We caught Crowfur on our side, so Heronpelt-"
Heronpelt interrupted her. "I told him to go back to his side."
Birdpaw added, "He got all mad, and he had Crowfur pinned before he crossed again."
Heronpelt glared at his apprentice.
"Was it necessary? You know Jaystar, you never start a fight without a reason," I state smoothly.
Heronpelt shrugs. "He sure wasn't going to go across with no reason to."
I sigh. "Sometimes a gentle push in the right direction is enough."
Heronpelt nods, and beckons his patrol back to camp. I walk back with them.

Chapter 4

Aiko

I have found my sleeping spot, in a hollow bush. It's the best one yet, mostly because only I can fit in it.
Berry sticks his head in. "You haven't spoken to me since the moorland. Is everything okay?"
I almost give in to his compassion, mostly because I need to tell him about Raventail sometime, but then I realize that his head in my sleeping spot could be a threat, and leap up.
Berry murmurs, "Come out," and pulls his head out of my bush.
I sigh and push my body through the shrubbery, and see him sitting next to a tree.
I remember that tree. There's scorch marks on it...
I had entered the bush from the other side, so I didn't see them.
Jazz is the first cat I see. Her body hasn't started decaying yet, but I can still see the burn.
Durin makes my heart stop. I know it's him, because I remember seeing him first. His burn is smaller than Jazz's, but it was still enough to kill him.
Raven's fur is charred. But I don't see him, I still see Raventail. I imagine his body there instead of my brother's.
I take one look at Berry and run away.

Raventail

I let my paws sink into a puddle as I walk through the territory, leading the medicine cat, Birchfur, to ShadowClan. He needs catmint, but there is no more on our territory. Greencough has struck despite the season.
"Patrol," Birchfur murmurs to me and I halt.
The ShadowClan cat leading the patrol is named Smoketail, a hostile black tom with a knack for winning most fights that he starts.
Smoketail hisses at me. "What?"
"Birchfur needs to speak to your medicine cat," I explain slowly.
"Tigerstripe," Birchfur amends quickly, flashing an annoyed look at me.
"Tigerstripe's at RiverClan," Smoketail growls.
A cat pushes his way out of the bushes, and I leap back.
It is Tigerstripe, a ginger tom with black stripes. His appearance still surprises me.
"Hi, Birchfur," Tigerstripe says happily. He glares at me, his gaze piercing my heart.
Birchfur steps up. "I need catmint," he says quietly. "I'm sure greencough is going to break out soon," he lies. "I mean, we just had a case of whitecough and the cat hasn't recovered yet."
Smoketail smirks and I glare at him. "It's not a weakness," I tell him. But it is.
Tigerstripe looks confused. "It's greenleaf."
"I just want to be ready," Birchfur explains. "Please, do you have any?"
Smoketail coughs and dips his head, embarassed.
Tigerstripe glances at him, worried, but doesn't speak to him. "Sure," he says to Birchfur, "I guess you can have some catmint. Have free pick from this patch here," he adds, gesturing to a patch by a tree next to him.
Birchfur purrs. "Thank you."
Smoketail coughs again and Tigerstripe glares at him, then me.
As Tigerstripe leads Smoketail away, Birchfur shoves catmint into my mouth. "We'll need as much as possible," he tells me.

Chapter 5

Aiko

I hide and my body heaves up my last meal, covering the ground in front of me. I can't remember the last time that my heart was pounding at a normal pace, I can't remember anymore...
I faint.


I awake to Berry trying to tug me up.
"Hi," I groan. "Bye."
Berry stops trying and nearly turns to go, but then turns back. "Come on, Aiko."
I try to stand up but can't, and I collapse again. I realize how bad I must smell.
Berry wrinkles his nose. "You fainted into your vomit."
I struggle out of it, leaving a smear, and he goes out of my sight.
I let my eyes close, and I fall asleep.
My dreams are haunted by Raventail's corpse following me wherever I go, haunting me for life.
"Hey, you. Wake up. You're in my territory."
I heave a breath and wake up and look up and...

Raventail

I am standing in front of her. The cat from my dream, the one who followed me.
"Raventail," she breathes. Her stomach is covered in vomit.
I look at Birchfur and set down the catmint. We are on our way back from ShadowClan, and our mouths are stuffed with catmint, enough to save a Clans' life.
"Raventail," she breathes again. "I- I don't believe it."
A cat pushes through a bush. "Who are you?" it asks.
"Get out of here," I growl. "Stay away from my Clan."
The cat nods, says goodbye to the vomit-colored she-cat, and races off, surprisingly fast.
"Help me," I grunt to Birchfur. "I need you to see what's wrong with her."
"Shock," Birchfur says instantly. "From more than seeing you. How does she know you?"
"I..." I croak. "I'm not sure."
"Dream," the she-cat whispers. "We saw each other in a dream. And we fell in love."
Birchfur stares at her and pushes her out of the vomit.
"Get some water," he directs. "We have to bring her back to the Clan, where she'll recover until she leaves."
I nod and run to the lake, leaving behind the vomit-covered she-cat and a pile that can save a cat's life.

(A/N: Sorry if this was a creepy chapter.)

Chapter 6

Aiko

My eyes flutter open, and I am in a strange place.
Is that place that Berry referred to? SomethingClan?
I scramble to my paws, screeching in my head, I can't be dead yet!
I close my eyes and run. Maybe I can become alive again.
I am so caught up in my attempts to escape that I don't realize that I can't run anymore, and that I am being held by my tail.
I open my eyes. "What?" I snap.
"Sit down," the cat commands. "You're not supposed to escape through a solid wall." He snorts and covers his mouth with his tail before he continues, "You're in ThunderClan's medicine den. I'm the medicine cat, Birchfur."
I glare. "I thought I was dead."
"I don't let you die," Birchfur snaps, annoyed.
I sigh. "Where's Raventail?"
Birchfur shrugs. "Why?"
"I need to see him," I snap.
"Why?"
"He's the only cat I know!" I lie.
Birchfur stares. "I'm not too sure where he is, probably on a patrol. But I'll call him in when I next see him, okay?" His voice is soothing, and I slowly sit.
"Thank you."
"No problem," he replies. His ears perk. "I almost forgot- what's your name?"
"Aiko," I reply slowly. "Daughter of Durin and sister of Raven."
Birchfur nods. "Nice to meet you," he replies. "Do you have full hunting and fighting skills?" he continues.
"Durin trained me."
"Then you can become a full warrior of ThunderClan, if you wish." His voice is tempting.
"I'll think about it," I reply.
And I do.

Raventail

I swipe my claw across the leaf, hating myself.
"I shouldn't of let her come in the Clan," I say.
Birchfur shifts nervously. "Well, she wants to see you."
I'll have to break her heart. But I don't say that, I mutter, "Later."
Birchfur continues. "How does she know you?"
"Encounter," I grunt. I swipe my claw again, and the leaf is cut into smaller pieces. Can I do that in battle?
Birchfur puts his paw on mine, a gentle way of telling me to stop. "You're my brother, Raventail. And I'm your medicine cat. You can tell me anything."
I glance away, at a leaf under a rock, fluttering. It looks like it's trying to escape. Like I want to now.
"Raventail, trust me," Birchfur pleads.
I sigh. "A dream," I confess. I let my breath out. "I saw her and she saw me and we fell in love. And then I escaped and she followed me and I guess she found me." I say it quickly, and continue. "I don't know why or how but she found me and now I'm confused, as if I have to love her back. Which I do, but I know it'll distract me from my duties, and ThunderClan has always come first."
Birchfur sighs. "If you love her, let go a bit. Cats have said that you're a bit too serious."
I remember splitting Seedfur and Heronpelt and feel sorry. "Being deputy is serious."
"Go and talk to her," Birchfur encourages. "It couldn't hurt to let her know that you know she exists."
I nod, and regret it.

Chapter 7

Aiko

I stretch and sigh. I am still trapped in the medicine den, and Birchfur has gone to get herbs. He said he would be back by sunset, but when is sunset? Is it the same as sunfall?
I grit my teeth and tell myself to stop worrying. He obviously has a lot of work to do.
A black pelt glints in the sunlight outside, and I look up to see Raventail slip in.
"Hi," I whisper.
He whispers back, "I'm so surprised you're here."
Not happy. Not excited. Just... surprised.
I pad over to him, barely feeling my paws touch the soft ground. Many cats have tread here, I can tell.
"What's your name?" Raventail asks, still whispering.
"Aiko," I reply. I add, "Daughter of Durin and sister of Raven."
He twitches his whiskers at me. "Where are Durin and Raven? Where is your mother?"
"All of them are dead," I mutter. I feel myself grit my teeth again, and hate myself. Am I already losing control of my actions?
"I'm sorry," Raventail mews. He comes over and presses his thin black coat against my thinner brown one, and I can feel heat radiating from him. Is it me, or is he embarrassed?
I don't ask. Instead, I adjust to be closer to him, and prompt, "Birchfur says that I can join your Clan."
"That's up to Jaystar," Raventail mutters. His eyes shine, but his voice is cold as he moves away. "But I'm sure you'd be a great addition." Now his eyes sparkle. I'm so confused.
"Jaystar?" I ask.
"Our leader. He has nine lives. And star at the end of his name," Raventail explains.
"Was he born as Jaystar?" I ask.
Raventail laughs. "No, he was born as Jaykit. Then he became an apprentice to a warrior, like me, and his name got changed to Jaypaw, because he wasn't classified as a kit anymore. Then, our leader when Jaystar was an apprentice, Twistedstar, gave him a warrior name, like mine."
"Is that all part of being in a Clan?" I ask dubiously.
"Yeah. His warrior name was Jayclaw, I think. Then he became deputy, the next leader if they survive, and then when Twistedstar died, he became Jaystar at the Moonpool, where StarClan reside."
I stare.
"That was the same day I was born. Birchfur is my brother and littermate," Raventail explains.
I guess, "Your mother named you Ravenkit."
Raventail's whiskers twitch. "Yes. Then I was apprenticed to Raintail- an elder now- and became known as Ravenpaw."
I purr. "It's so confusing. I'm glad I have you to help me."
Raventail suddenly stands, and says curtly, "I have to go- um- organize the sunrise patrols. Bye!" He leaves the den quickly and swiftly.
I stare after him. What did I do wrong? I ask him in my head.
And to my surprise, he replies. I don't know. But it wasn't right.

Raventail

As I assign the morning patrols, my mind buzzes with Aiko's confusion.
I barely notice assigning Seedfur and Heronpelt together, but then I do and think about kits.
Oh, would Aiko and I's kits be able to communicate, too? Would they have the same dream connection?
No, Aiko thinks. She is next to me, watching me assign the patrols.
I stiffen and move away, directing Cloudclaw to choose his own morning border patrol.
Is something wrong? Aiko asks me. I can feel her mind buzzing in mine, and I try to block her out.
But I can't. So I reply, I don't know. I'm too confused!
Her sympathy mingles with my confusion and anger and she lets me go.
"Raventail." I hear Jaystep behind me.
I spin around, shutting Aiko out for now. "What?" I ask. I hear my voice tinged with annoyance, and I tune it down. "I was about to go get some fresh-kill."
Jaystar directs me to wait with his tail. "I want to discuss the prospect of allowing that she-cat, what's her name? Aiko? To join the Clan," he finishes.
I shrug. "You're the leader, Jaystar."
I open my mind to Aiko. Do you want to join the Clan?
She doesn't reply instantly, but then tells me, Yes. If you're here. Yes.
I shift uncomfortably. "I think she would want to."
Come over here, I direct Aiko.
I see her slipping through the crowd of cats and call her over out loud. "Aiko!"
Her eyes glint and she walks over, obviously struggling to stay the same pace.
When she is within hearing range of our conversation, Jaystar asks, "Would you like to join ThunderClan as a warrior?"
Aiko stares fixedly at me and nods.

Chapter 8

Aiko

"Aiko. You're on a border patrol with Cloudstorm," Raventail directs me. "And his apprentice, Stonepaw," he adds.
A white cat and a smaller gray one come up to me.
"This is Cloudstorm," Raventail mews, pointing his nose at the white cat. "And the other is Stonepaw."
I nod. "I'm Aiko," I say.
Cloudstorm gives me a look of scorn. "No Clan name?"
Stonepaw looks up at me. "Aiko is a great name."
I sigh. "Where are the borders?" I ask them.
Help me! I plead to Raventail. Cloudstorm doesn't like me.
Raventail turns to walk away, but replies, You'll have to do something on your own. I can't stick up for you all the time.
I look after him.
Stonepaw is prodding my leg with his tail. "Come on!" he protests. "We don't need a moony-eyed cat over our deputy."
Cloudstorm is already pushing through the way out, so I follow him.
Outside the camp, I realize just how lost I feel. I see leaves blow in the breeze and Cloudstorm glaring and Stonepaw looking impatient.
Help me! I plead once more.
Raventail's mysteriousness is obvious. You're the only solution to your problems.

Raventail

I am sitting with Birchfur again, in the medicine den.
He is cleaning Aiko's nest. I am watching him. I have always been calmed by watching him do his work. It seems so easy sometimes.
"Is something wrong?" Birchfur asks me.
I sigh. "Aiko." At the mention of her name, her mind suddenly seems concentrated on what I'm saying.
But I shut her out and continue. "I- I think our minds are connected, somehow."
Birchfur snorts and pushes Aiko's nest into a corner, where it becomes a pile of moss, a pile that doesn't matter anymore. I want to claw him, and then I don't.
"It's a state of mind," Birchfur tells me, disappearing for a heartbeat. He comes back and drops moss where Aiko's nest was. "I mean," he continues, "you think she's replying."
"I hear her voice," I protest. "And she obeys my orders and asks me for help," I add. My voice quiets. "Maybe I'm just imagining it..."
But I try to contact her anyway. Aiko. My mind seems to whisper to her, like a breeze.
She doesn't reply.
In desperation, I raise my urgency and make my call louder. Aiko!
Birchfur ignores his work when he sees my distress, and puts his tail on my shoulder. "It's a state of mind, Raventail," he tells me.
I let it go. Aiko!
She snaps, What?
My mind reels. Are- are you okay?
Yeah. Except I'm stuck with these two. Guess what they're doing now?
What are they doing?
She seems to laugh. Teaching me to hunt. Suddenly, she grows angry. They've just gone too far.
Show them that you can hunt. Then a thought occurs. You're on a border patrol. Tell them to patrol the borders, or you'll report to me!
She breaks connection to relay, then tells me, Okay. Now they're mad, and coming back.
I sigh and let myself break the connection. I think it's about time she becomes a Clan cat.

Chapter 9

Aiko

"Aiko!" I hear Raventail call. It echos in my mind.
"Yes?" I ask.
"Jaystar wants to see you in his den," he tells me. "He wants me to accompany you."
I nod and allow him to lead me up a ledge- called the Highledge by ThunderClan- and into a shadowed, cool den in a cave.
"Aiko, you're here," Jaystar purrs.
"Hi," I mutter. What's going on? I ask Raventail.
Warrior ceremony, he replies.
But to keep up an image, I have to ask, "What's going on?"
"Warrior ceremony," Jaystar tells me. "You're getting a Clan name."
"I like being called Aiko!" I snap. "Why do I need a Clan name to live in a Clan?"
"The other cats won't accept you," Jaystar explains. "I want you to be happy, but I know you know that I think my Clan comes first."
I want to claw him, but Raventail seems to sense my anger. Don't worry, he soothes. I came up with your warrior name- I'm sure you'll like it.
How do you know?
Because I know you, Aiko!
"Do the ceremony, then," I sigh.
"Okay..." Jaystar looks at me. He mews, "I, Jaystar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this cat. I am sure she will understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to you as a warrior in her turn."
Raventail gives a bounce of excitement.
"Aiko, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?" Jaystar asks.
Say, "I do," Raventail urges.
What if I don't want to say "I do"? I ask him angrily. But I open my mouth and mew, "I do."
"Then by the powers of StarClan," Jaystar continues, "I give you your warrior name. Aiko, from this moment you will be known as Nettleclaw. StarClan honors your strength and your spirit, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan.
Raventail yowls, "Nettleclaw! Nettleclaw!"
Nice name, I tell him.
I stand up and whirl around, and pace out of the den. Raventail's surprise pangs in my head, and I tell him, I need time alone.
Okay, Nettleclaw, he replies.
I flash annoyance at him and break the conversation.

Raventail

I stare after Nettleclaw in shock, hating myself.
"She didn't need a warrior name," I snap at Jaystar.
Jaystar just stares after her. "She doesn't even know that you came up with it."
Yes, she does, I think.
I tell Jaystar, "I have to find her!"
He nods and lets me bound of the den.
I stop running at the top of the cliff.
My paws don't touch the ground anymore, but I can feel pain.
Nettleclaw's voice screams in my head. No!
My eyes flutter shut.

Chapter 10

Nettleclaw

My heart pounds. But my mouth stays shut.
"Aiko..." Birchfur croaks. "You're so lucky he's alive. So is he, of course..."
"You know?" I ask. "I mean, about the whole mind thing?"
"Raventail told me, Aiko."
"It's Nettleclaw," I say, hating myself.
"Raventail!" I hear Jaystar call. "Oh, dear StarClan!"
Birchfur nods at me and says, "I think he was following her."
Nettleclaw? Raventail asks. What's wrong? Why do I hurt so much?
You fell off the Highledge, Raventail, I reply. I lean to Birchfur and whisper, "He's alive."
As a look of relief spreads across Birchfur's face, I feel Raventail's panic. Is anything broken?
"Just bruises," Birchfur whispers to me, guessing what Raventail is asking.
I relay the message, and his relief mingles with my worry. How can you be deputy?
All I'm worried about is if your position in ThunderClan is going to be threatened, with me not around, Raventail replies.
I'll be fine. At least, I hope I will. But I keep that to myself.

Raventail

The pain is enough to kill. My thoughts are confused, blowing past each other, quick as a morning breeze. They barely have time to settle before they are pushed aside by something else.
Help me, I plead. Nettleclaw, please...
She is annoyed. It's your fault you fell.
I was following you!
In reply, anger swells and our conversation is broken.


"Raventail," I hear. "Wake up."
Birchfur's voice mingles with Nettleclaw's forever-echoing one, and I try to open my eyes.
"Raventail," Birchfur mews again, his tone becoming more intense.
"What?" I murmur. I don't open my eyes.
Birchfur's sigh of relief echos through my head. "Now open your eyes."
"I can't."
"You can if you're speaking. Come on."
I open one eye. "There."
"Eyes means two, Raventail."
I open the other eye. Birchfur comes into focus.
I claw the cat next to him. "Get away, fox-dung!" I spit at him.
Tigerstripe bares his teeth. "You know I'm a fully-trained warrior, too."
I pull myself into a sitting position, wincing in pain.
You alright? Nettleclaw asks. Her worry comes with a pang.
Just- just bruises. I know my thoughts are strained, so it doesn't surprise me when she replies.
I'm coming to be with you. I scent her outside a moment later.
Tigerstripe is crouched in the back of the den, ready to leap on me.
As Nettleclaw enters, Tigerstripe relaxes, then crouches again.
"Who's this?" Nettleclaw asks.
"Tigerstripe," I mutter. "The ShadowClan medicine cat."
"Don't forget that I'm also your brother," Tigerstripe smirks. "And the former deputy of ThunderClan."
Nettleclaw stares at me. What...?
"Yeah," I retort, ignoring Nettleclaw, "but then you tried to kill Jaystar. What a wonderful first deputy," I add sarcastically.
Tigerstripe takes a hostile step forward. "I can kill you, too."
Nettleclaw's mouth opens at this, but she doesn't say anything. Instead, she tells me, I can't believe this. Why is he here?
He hates me but respects Birchfur. He must of heard I was hurt somehow...
Her confusion mingles with mine.
"I would of been Twistedstar's deputy," Tigerstripe tells me, "if it weren't for the fact that I were just an apprentice. Twistedstar told me himself."
I growl at him. "Lucky you still were, or ThunderClan would be dead by now."
"You're killing off ThunderClan," Tigerstripe spits. "Your entire life is revolving around that she-cat."
"No, it's not," Nettleclaw snaps. "I can take care of myself."
"And stay within the limits of the warrior code?" Tigerstripe retorts. "I became a medicine cat so I wouldn't have to follow the warrior code," he continues. "So I could escape Raventail's tyranny over me."
"He was bossy, so what?" Birchfur protests.
"He nearly forced me out of ThunderClan himself, when he claimed that I killed Thrushbelly," Tigerstripe continues boldly.
Our mother, I explain to Nettleclaw. Out loud, I say, "You know it's true."
But my heart is pounding. I can't let Nettleclaw know now.
"You killed Thrushbelly," Tigerstripe tells me. "And I know it. Why else would you blame me, your brother?"
"I didn't want to blame you..." There. It's out. "But you were the first cat I saw."
Memories flood back. When Thrushbelly's body was found, Tigerstripe was the first cat to run to her.
"She was murdered," Twistedstar had said darkly. "By who?"
My heart had been pounding. I yowled, "I saw Tigerpaw!"
Tigerstripe is growling angrily now. "You are so lucky Birchfur is here, or you would be dead," he spits.
Then he stalks out.
Nettleclaw's anger fills my head. I hate you! You lied, Raventail!
She stalks out, too.

Chapter 11

Nettleclaw

I follow Tigerstripe out of the den, my anger swirling through my mind. I am sure to direct some of it at Raventail.
'You don't understand.. Raventail tells me. She did something to me!
Was it bad enough to kill her? I snap back.
She abused me, Nettleclaw. Just- just ask Tigerstripe. I sense his hesitation, and that is enough to yowl, "Tigerstripe!"
The ShadowClan medicine cat turns around. "What?" he snaps.
"Raventail says that Thrushbelly abused him..." I state.
Tigerstripe stares at me. "What difference does that make?"
"How bad was it?" I ask.
"He has a scar on his side, he hides it," Tigerstripe says after a while. "Thrushbelly was angry when he didn't wake up as a kit."
A scar? I ask Raventail, nodding at Tigerstripe.
I- well... Raventail's voice is cut off as a memory floods through my head.
Blackness. He hears a noise. "Wake up, Ravenkit!" But he didn't wake up, he was so tired. Something sharp pierced his skin... when his eyes open they are in front of a strange tomcat, with two other smaller cats sitting beside him. "We're glad you're okay, Ravenkit," one mews. The other adds, "We would be sad if Thrushbelly would have killed you."
The memory cuts off as quickly as it started. I'm sorry, I tell Raventail.
Tell him I miss him, Raventail tells me.
"He misses you," I say to Tigerstripe.
"It's too late," Tigerstripe growls back. He stalks out of camp.
I don't relay the message.

Raventail

"I'm sorry," I whisper to Birchfur.
He knows- along with Tigerstripe and now Nettleclaw- that she abused me.
And Birchfur is the only one not angry with me.
"I understand," Birchfur whispers.


Three days later, I am recovered enough to stand long enough to go hunting with Nettleclaw.
We are crouched together, pelts brushing, when she says, I love you.
This stuns me.
She senses it. Do you not love me?
I do... I reply.
She purrs. Great! Let's announce it to the whole world! The say she says it, it seems as if we can announce it to the whole world.
And then a thought.
She thinks, I- I'm a distraction?
Love for me distracted every single she-cat... I tell her.
I'm a distraction?
Not if you don't want to be.
Then I'm not. Don't even think that, Raventail.
But the truth is- I keep this to myself- that she is a distraction.

Chapter 12

Nettleclaw

I snap my eyes open, breathing quickly and quietly.
I have had another dream. This time, Raventail is standing over me.
But I don't ponder it. I pad out to the main clearing, instead, where he is assigning patrols.
I'm not in one. I have a special assignment today, apparently.


Raventail

I watch as Nettleclaw padds to the top of the Highledge and wraps her tail around her paws.
I pad up to meet her, after arranging the patrols, and sit next to her.
She doesn't move, but her thoughts try to get to mine.
"D'you want to go hunting?" I ask her out loud. "You know... me and you?"
Nettleclaw is silent for a heartbeat, then she replies with a nod.
She is showing no emotion, and that confuses me.
She leads me to the Sky Oak, which she sits at the bottom of and stares at me. "Why are we going hunting?" she asks.
"It's a Clan tradition," I explain. "Cats ask the cat they... like... to go hunting with them, to get alone time."
Nettleclaw's confusion drifts away and she purrs. "Well, let's get some mice."
I shake my head gently and beckon for her to follow me.
I lead her to the Twoleg nest and up the blocks. She is more hesitant now, aware where this could go.
But I only brush her fur as I look around for prey.
Nettleclaw stars at me. Do you want to get close or hunt? she asks me, annoyed.
I sigh inside. She isn't getting it.
"I get it," she replies, moving closer to me. "But you're the Clan cat."
I float inside and let my body warm hers.
She leans and lets her weight be supported by me, and me alone.
I realize right then that I'm in love.
Nettleclaw's head turns towards me, and I hear her thought- I love you too. She purrs, licks my ear hesitantly, then steps away.
"What?" I ask out loud.
"We're hunting, remember?" Nettleclaw purrs. She makes a move to go down the blocks and I follow, slower.
Come on, she tells me happily, disappearing from my sight. We have prey to catch.

Chapter 13

Nettleclaw

My heart soars as I lay in my nest. He loves me! I think. He loves me!
I do love you. Raventail's thoughts pierce mine in more of a sleepy monotone. I hold back a purr, realizing that cats are trying to sleep, and try to stop thinking about Raventail.
Something weird happens. As I fall asleep, I feel my mind become a part of his. I can feel his dream.
He is dreaming of hunting. A normal dream, I think to myself, before I see what he is hunting.
Me.

Raventail

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