blue / tiger


PRELUDE: One moon ago, ThunderClan apprentice Tigerpaw learned that her life was a lie. Her father isn't Blackfrost of ThunderClan. It's Oakstar of ShadowClan. Torn between her allegiance to the Clan that raised her and blood loyalty to her kin, Tigerpaw realizes she cannot belong to two worlds. She must choose a Clan for herself, and make a name outside of her half-Clan identity.

But if she does choose ShadowClan, it means leaving behind everything she's ever known, including her kithood best friend, a young tom named Bluepaw. Tigerpaw doesn't want to forsake their friendship, but will continuing it mean repeating her parents' mistakes?

Holding on to something fragile and precious is hard, but letting go is even harder.

No one can ever follow

No one can ever know

"If you go, you can't come back. We can't go after you, either."

I flick my tail once. "I know."

"We won't be able to see each other, except at Gatherings."

"I know," I repeat. My paws curl in the soft earth. I wonder what the ground is like in ShadowClan territory. I wonder how I'll adjust to the difference between ThunderClan's thick forest and ShadowClan's scrubby, shadowy brush. Will hunting be more difficult for me in my new home?

"We'll be in different Clans. We'll never play together again, never again have one of our long talks... I won't be able to turn to you when life gets too much. We won't be there for each other. The boundaries will separate us."

My heart clenches. "I know."

"We won't be able to be friends anymore. We'll be torn apart."

Finally, I raise my head so that I'm looking at Bluepaw. Leaning forward, I whisper fiercely, "Nothing can ever tear us apart."

Wind up the spinning top and watch it go, watch it go

Never gonna be easy, was it?

The tom that has been my best friend since we were kits merely gives me a sorrowful shake of his head. "You say that now. But do you remember how we'd make fun of ShadowClan warriors when we were kits? Our Clans are enemies. And that will make us enemies too, the instant you step across that border. You realize that, right?"

I flinch.

Bluepaw steps closer. "What happened to your loyalty to ThunderClan? You said you couldn't wait to be a warrior and serve under Quailstar."

Giving him a steely glare, I kick at a nearby branch. "That was before I found out that my father was ShadowClan. Bluepaw, I can't stay in ThunderClan. My father is Oakstar, the leader of ShadowClan. Surely I belong there."

"That's crow-food. Did that mange-pelt Ratpaw tell you that? I know he's a bit unaccepting, but what he thinks of you doesn't matter. You belong in ThunderClan."

"It's not just Ratpaw. If the rest of the Clan cares so much about me, why aren't they here to say good-bye?"

Swallowing hard, Bluepaw says, "Because they think you're betraying them." Seeing my expression of contorted pain, he adds in a softer voice, "I'm here. Aren't I enough?"

The lump in my throat makes it hard to respond. "Bluepaw..."

"Tigerpaw? D'you think, if things were different, that you would... that we..."

Heat creeps under my pelt. The last thing I want to think about right now is Bluepaw's feelings for me. I don't want to face up to whether I reciprocate those feelings either. After all, I know better than anyone what comes out of a multi-Clan relationship.

"I think we might've been," I confess softly, touching my nose to his soft blue-gray fur. "But that doesn't matter now, does it?"

Pain flashes in his jeweled eyes. "It matters to me."

You didn't think it'd be so much fun

Smile comes despite the danger; get some, get some

A quiet crackling sound comes from nearby. I jump as I turn and find myself looking into a pair of blazing golden eyes. The ShadowClan deputy, Mothleap. My mouth goes dry.

Bluepaw shifts, leaves crunching underneath his paws. "It's not too late to change your mind," he whispers.

I stare at Mothleap. She dips her head coolly. "Are you ready, Tigerpaw?"

Am I?

"Your father is waiting for you back at the camp. He looks forward to welcoming you into the Clan. I'll be escorting you to your new home." Her tone is polite but reserved. It's obvious by the scrutiny in her gaze that she doesn't trust me. Yet. I'm determined to change that.

I have to be ready, I realize.

Raising my chin, I say, "Let's go."

Then I step across the border.

A strange rush goes through me, curdling at my paws and speeding up my heartbeat. It's a bittersweet feeling, but I have no choice. I know that I can't ever feel like I belong in ThunderClan. I have to make a new home for myself in ShadowClan. It'll be hard, undoubtedly. I have no experience in dealing with what is rumored to be the fiercest of the four Clans, and I have so much to learn. But I have no choice, and I'm determined to become a true warrior of the shadows. If ThunderClan wants to reject me, let them. I'll show them that there is a place where I fit in, and if it's not on their side, then it's their loss.

Mothleap gives me an appraising glance, taking in my muscular build and sleek pelt. Something akin to approval, but a little harsher, glints in her eyes. "Come on then," she says, padding away.

Behind me, I hear Bluepaw whisper my name in a heartbroken breath. "Tigerpaw."

If I see his face, I know I'll break. I know his pleading eyes will render me incapable of leaving him behind.

So I ignore him, forging my way deeper into ShadowClan territory, towards my new life.

I don't look back.

There's something happening here

There's something here that I just can't explain

Stepping into the ShadowClan camp is the strangest thing in the world. As I take in my dimly-lit surroundings, I feel a rush of unfamiliar warmth. I've never set paw in this place before, yet there's this indescribable tugging inside of me, like maybe I've been here once upon a dream. All of it, from the overhanging hazel branch to the protective thickets, gives me a quaint thrum of nostalgia instead of a jolt of inquisitive unfamiliarity.

Beside me, Mothleap rattles off facts. "Over there is the nursery, where the queens are," she says, flicking her tail to indicate the biggest bramble bush. "That's where the warriors sleep, and over there is the apprentices' den--your new home."

My mind hitches onto the last word. Home.

Remembering my first night in the ThunderClan apprentice den, I wonder if the ShadowClan apprentices will treat me as well as my old Clanmates had (before they found out about my half-Clan heritage, of course).

A nudge at my shoulder jolts me back to reality. "Oakstar wants to speak with you before you go and get settled," Mothleap explains. When I only blink at her, she corrects, "Your father. Your father wants a quick word."

I raise my eyes and find a large red-brown tom strolling towards me. His chin is propped at a proud angle, round amber eyes appraising me in a cool once-over. "Thank you for bringing her, Mothleap," he says, nodding at his deputy. She starts to step away, but he shakes his head, indicating that she should stay. "Tigerpaw, I'm not going to play with tails here; I'm a direct kind of tom. Switching over from ThunderClan to ShadowClan is going to be hard. There will be many obstacles in your way. Do you think you're ready to throw yourself fully into the task of becoming a full warrior? You must cut all ties and memories of your old Clan."

Bluepaw's face flashes before my eyes. I swallow. "I am ready and willing."

"Good. You are strong, just like your mother-" He freezes, and his placid expression cracks to give way to deep pain. Taking a deep breath, he continues, "You are strong, just like your bloodlines would deem. StarClan go with you."

I dip my head, trying not to think about his mention of my ThunderClan mother. "StarClan go with you as well, Oakstar. Thank you."

As he and Mothleap disappear inside the leader's den, I square to face the bush Mothleap had previously pointed out as the apprentices' den.

I don't give myself time to hesitate before stepping inside.

I know I'm where I belong

Deep down inside I am no longer lost

Whereas the ThunderClan apprentices would be fast asleep at this time of the day, the ShadowClan apprentices are engaged in something a little louder. That is, quarreling.

Two toms stand in the middle of the little den, legs braced and tails twitching as they yowl loudly at one another. A bored-looking she-cat stands a tail-length away, licking at her paw as she watches the squabble.

At my arrival, every one of them goes silent.

It is a staredown, them against me. I hold my ground.

One of the toms, the larger one with a nicked ear and a coarse tabby pelt, mews, "Well, well, well. They weren't kidding 'bout the newest member after all. Stupid border-jumping mange-pelted... What happened, little ThunderClan she-cat? You lost or something?"

"Shut your mouth, Hawkpaw-" the other tom begins, but I beat him to it.

"I'll have you know, Hawkpaw, that I am not lost at all." I flash him a quick curve of my mouth, exposing my fangs. "Not anymore"

I won't let you go

(This is what you really want)

All three of my denmates are quiet again, watching as I pick out a nest for myself and sit down beside it. Finally, the other she-cat speaks. "I'm Thistlepaw," she says. "These are my brothers, Hawkpaw and Brownpaw."

They do look like siblings; Hawkpaw and Brownpaw share the same sage-brown shade of fur, although Hawkpaw is considerably taller than his brother. Thistlepaw's pelt is a darker hue of fern-brown, but she has her brothers' vivid green eyes. A queer twist appears in my stomach. They are all bound by blood ties. I'm the outsider. There isn't any way this can go over well.

But there's no hostility in Thistlepaw's gaze as she wanders over. "So you really left the Clan of your kithood for this?"

"Yes." I don't waver. I can't let them think I'm any weaker than them, not even for a second. "And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."

So don't let go of me

(This is what you asked for)

Thistlepaw and Brownpaw seem mildly impressed by my answer. Hawkpaw doesn't react, but some of the sharpness in his face fades--or maybe that's just my imagination.

"Well," Hawkpaw says gruffly. "Let's see how enthusiastic you are when your training starts."

"I'm not enthuasiastic," I say calmly. "I'm determined."

I wanted something more

(This is what you really want)

"What's the training like, anyway?" I ask the others.

"Hard," Brownpaw confirms. "Even for Clanborn cats." He winces. "I mean, er-"

"It's fine," I cut him off. "No need to worry if you offend me or not. I can take a few digs here and there."

When he stares at me in something like incredulment, I offer up a dry twitch of my whiskers. "ThunderClan cats aren't all soft-hearted, y'know."

"StarClan, she's definitely Oakstar's daughter," Hawkpaw mutters under his breath.

I prick my ears and regard him curiously, wondering what he meant by that. I don't know Oakstar well enough to judge if I'm anything like him. God knows we don't share any outward resemblance; my small frame and chestnut fur make it hard to believe I'm kin to him at all, let alone one of his kits.

Brownpaw is still talking about training, but I find myself tuning him out as I catch Hawkpaw's gaze. The tom regards me with a flicker of a smirk, his tail dancing back and forth. Aside from the notch in his ear, there is a silver half-moon scar above his eye. The marks only add to his appearance, giving him a rugged look that I can't seem to draw my eyes from. He is, for all the harshness in his mew, quite a captivating cat. 

"... and then for the final test- Tigerpaw, are you listening?" Brownpaw breaks off his lecture. Thistlepaw gives me a knowing look, and I'm glad she doesn't seem too upset about me blatantly checking out her brother.

Still, hot embarrassment collects beneath my pelt as I duck my head, hearing Hawkpaw's purr of smugness. What am I doing, letting a rude tom catch my attention for so long? Has my brain turned to feathers?

I wanted this right here

(This is what you asked for)

"Anyway, as I was saying," Brownpaw continues, looking a little miffed at my disregard for his words. I give him a sheepish look of apology. "Your mentor is supposed to be Cloverpatch--she's a grumpy old she-cat who-"

"-happens to be one of our best warriors, actually," Hawkpaw finishes, shooting his brother a glare.

Thistlepaw picks up the thread from here, and I fight back a mrrow of laughter at how the three siblings finish each other's sentences. "But she's in the medicine cat's den right now. Something about a bellyache."

"Must've eaten too much," Brownpaw mumbles grouchily. Hawkpaw bats him on the ear in a clear message to shut his mouth.

"Anyway, Mothleap came over before you arrived and asked us if we would be willing to take you on a tour of the territory, since your mentor's sick for the day."

I raise my eyebrows. "And...?"

"And Thistlepaw and I both have training," Brownpaw admits apologetically. "So you're stuck with Hawkpaw."

I deflate. "Oh."

Hawkpaw doesn't look too happy about this turn of events either, as evidenced by the brooding knit of his features as he pads towards the exit of the den. "Come on then," he barks impatiently. "We don't have all day."

"Actually, you guys do, since neither of you have further obligations," Thistlepaw points out, rolling her eyes. "Good luck," she mouths at me.

I stifle a chuckle. "Thanks."

"Are we going or not?" Hawkpaw bellows.

I don't respond, keeping my head high as I march past him and scamper out of the camp. Excitement is already coursing through me at the prospect of getting to know my new home, and I refuse to let Hawkpaw's attitude spoil that. 

After all, it was my choice to come to ShadowClan. It may not have been the best one, but it was my decision. And I'm going to make the best of it. 

No one can ever follow

No one can ever know

Two minutes into my tour, and I'm already behind. In ThunderClan, tree trunks were the only thing you had to dodge--and they were, as trees tend to be, quite obviously visible. Here, there are all manner of hidden debri to watch out for: thorns that prick at your pads, sneaky vines that coil around your legs, and thick brush that traps your tail as you go through it. 

Ahead of me, Hawkpaw lets his long, muscular legs do the work almost effortlessly. I know he knows that I'm struggling; with my labored breathing and constant stream of curses, it's impossible to miss. But he ignores me on purpose.

I can't tell if I'm grateful that he's not humiliating me by pitying me, or mad because he refuses to help me out. 

Either way, I can't make myself swallow my pride and ask to slow down. I clench my jaw and use one of my few remaining energy reserves to propel myself forward, catching up with Hawkpaw. The tom's ears twitch in surprise as my shoulder brushes his, but all he says is, "This is one of the most popular hunting places of ShadowClan. Lots of prey hides in the undergrowth patches."

I take in our surroundings and try to imagine myself flushing out prey, moving through the brambles as lithely and gracefully as a fish in water.

It's a nice vision. Someday soon, it will be true. I'll make sure of it.

Wind up the spinning top and watch it go, watch it go

Never gonna be easy, was it?

I'm so caught up in my thoughts that I don't notice Hawkpaw has stopped. At least, not until he squalls, "Great StarClan, Tigerpaw, you're as oblivious as a Twoleg!"

"Huh?" I freeze, crooking my tail over my back in surprise as I try to figure out what's got him upset now.

The tom stalks up to me and bends so his nose is a mere inch from mine. I narrow my eyes. One of my biggest pet peeves is my size: larger cats seem to think that I'll be instantly intimidated by them simply because they are taller. In an attempt to reduce this advantage, I raise my shoulders and lift my chin to meet Hawkpaw's advance--only that serves to put us closer together, so that I can feel the heat of his anger radiating through his pelt.

"You just scared away the prey that was hiding in a nearby thicket," Hawkpaw hisses, oblivious to the strange way my heart is pounding in my chest. "I could've caught it if you didn't keep on lumbering forward. Didn't you hear the sound of its pawsteps?"

"No," I admit, flattening my ears. "I'm not used to these surroundings. My ears aren't in tune-"

"Well, fix it."

I'm not proud of my mistake, but he's just being unreasonable, and I tell him so. This is met with an eye-roll and a scoffing, "Should've known."

"What should you have known?"

"Not me. What you should've known was that switching Clans wasn't going to be easy." He turns his back to me and begins stalking away. "You're not cut out for ShadowClan. You never will be."

You didn't think it'd be so much fun

Smile comes despite the danger; get some, get some

I wait till Hawkpaw is a good distance ahead before dropping my belly to the ground, nose even with the lowest layer of brambles. It takes a good two minutes of remaining motionless, even as grass tickles my nostrils, but the pain is worth it when I locate a small shrew shuffling about the undergrowth.

Failure is not an option. This isn't about prey. It's about proving myself. And no, I'm not pathetic enough to care for Hawkpaw's approval--but I deserve and am willing to earn his respect.

A spring, leap, and swift bite--and the shrew is hanging limply in my jaws.

I burst into a run, feeling ten times more energized. Of course, I do manage to trip over a vine and stub my paw on a rock, but I hardly feel the pain as I reach Hawkpaw. "Hey!" I shout. His hackles raise in annoyance, and he turns, obviously intending to give me some rude talking-to about being so loud again. When he sees the shrew in my jaws, he stops with his own jaw parted.

"Fresh-kill," I say nonchalantly, dropping it at his feet and looking up at him with an expectant look. "You gonna stand there with your mouth open all day, because I hear that's not such a great hunting technique."

My words jolt Hawkpaw out of his reverie. "You carry it," he mutters, nudging the shrew back to me. "You're the one who caught it."

"Okay, if you insist." I pick the shrew up.

"How'd you catch one at this time of the day? They're usually so well-hidden," Hawkpaw asks.

"Easy," I lie. "I just shut up for a few seconds and waited."

"Still," he mumbles, shifting from paw to paw. "It would take a lot of coordination and-"

I blink at him in complete surprise. Yes, I'd wanted to catch his attention and show him that I wasn't worthless as far as hunting went. But his reaction is above and beyond the grumpy "so what you caught an itty-bitty shrew" I expected. 

I guess I've already learned one thing about Hawkpaw: show him weakness and he'll show you how it's done, show him strength and you've got his respect. Good. If he dares to treat me as inferior because I'm small, a she-cat, or half-Clan, I'll-

"Good job, Tigerpaw," he mutters gruffly. "Really good catch."

I'll, um, stare at him like a feather-brain, stutter, "T-thanks?" in a squeaky voice, and manage to drop my shrew.

(But that's totally not what I do... not at all.)

There's something happening here

There's something here that I just can't explain

Despite the ThunderClan apprentices' den rumors that ShadowClan lived in a tiny swamphole with barely enough prey for one cat, my new Clan's territory feels endless. Hawkpaw leads me through it all with an obvious pride in his demeanor, his chest puffing out whenever he points out another one of ShadowClan's signature haunts or hunting spots.

"Over there, under that big tree, that's where us apprentices usually spend our free time," he says. "See where the bark's been scraped off at the base? Brownpaw did that."

I wrinkle my nose. "Seems pretty pointless to me."

He bursts out laughing. "That's what I said! He claimed it sharpened his claws, but all he really did was manage to get splinters and go whimpering to the medicine cat."

I chuckle as well. "That reminds me of something Bluepaw did. He tried to jump over this giant fallen log, but he got stuck on it and a splinter went into his back paw."

"Ouch." Hawkpaw pauses. "Who's Bluepaw?"

"He is--was my best friend. In ThunderClan." I carefully avoid his gaze.

"D'you miss him?"

Uncomfortably, I glance at my paws. "It's only been a little while. I mean, I'm sure I'll miss him a little bit in the near future, but I'll get over it." My heart gives a pang at the thought. I don't want to get over Bluepaw and I's friendship. I don't want to forget the tom who I shared some of the best moments of my life with.

"Between ShadowClan and Bluepaw-"

"No contest. I'm ShadowClan now. He's not. End of story," I blurt a little too quickly.

"Oh. Right." Hawkpaw sighs. "Tell me to shut up if I'm being too nosy."

"It's fine," I say, albeit a bit coldly.

"Do I make you regret choosing ShadowClan?" 

"You?" I halt in my tracks. "Hawkpaw, I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to be a warrior."

Hawkpaw stares at me for a long time. If he were Bluepaw, he would probably say something like "aw, but we can be friends anyway, right?" or "no need to be so harsh!". For a second I almost expect to hear my old best friend's voice, saying those very things, lightening up the situation and turning my determination into a joke.

But Hawkpaw isn't Bluepaw. And somehow, I have no time to be disappointed in that fact, because my stomach does somersaults as he blows out a long breath and says, with the slightest hint of admiration, "You, Tigerpaw, are something else."

I know I'm where I belong

Deep down inside I am no longer lost

"Yeah, well, Hawkpaw, besides being an arrogant furball who's managed to get on my bad side within the first five minutes of meeting me--new record, by the way, congrats on that--you're... something else, too."

He pauses. "Was that a compliment?"

"No." My whiskers twitch. "It was something else."

"Great StarClan, you're worse than Thistlepaw." He rolls his eyes upwards. "She-cats."

"Are so much cooler than you will ever be," I finish. 

"Your comeback game is on point. You know what I'm thinking?"

"What would that be?"

Hawkpaw smiles, a real, genuine smile. At me. It's funny how such a simple thing can transform his face, lightening his eyes and making me feel slightly less miffed at him.

"I think you might have it in you to be ShadowClan, after all."

"I knew I'd make you eat your words," I say triumphantly. Then I cease my crowing and mutter, "Thanks."

"Yeah, whatever. Let's get back to camp."

I won't let you go

(This is what you really want)

The rest of my day is surprisingly busy. I imagined that, given my new mentor is stuck in the medicine cat's den, and that I'm new to the Clan, I would be given a few days to acclimatize and maybe take it easy. I should've known better: the opposite of this proves true. Since neither of us has any training for the day, Hawkpaw and I are put to work. I lose track of the chores we're made to do: run errands for Oakstar, deliver fresh-kill to the queens, change the elders' bedding, deliver messages to the patrols, and so on. 

One of the downfalls of this hecticness is that by the end of the day, my legs feel like they're actually about to drop right off my body. However, I can also say that I now know ShadowClan's territory extremely well. Hawkpaw's tour gave me an overview, but after running countless trails through the woods in order to catch up with various patrols, I actually feel like a ShadowClan cat, instead of a tourist. 

As the sun begins slipping below the rise of the horizon, I crawl back into the apprentices' den. The rest of the Clan is gathered outside to watch the kits play (before they are inevitably herded away by their mothers for bedtime) and eat the remaining fresh-kill of the day. I don't join them, for two reasons. One, my aching paws cry out louder than my rumbling stomach, insisting on rest. Two, I don't dare. It's obvious by the sharing tongues and muted laughter that this is a Clan ritual every evening. Even I'm not confident to push my way into it yet, though I can't help a pang of loneliness.

Sitting alone in the den, with my worn feet tucked beneath me, listening to the sounds of familiarity and love shown by even these rough ShadowClan cats... it's now that I finally allow myself to miss ThunderClan.

So don't let go of me

(This is what you asked for)

Before I can let myself think too much about my old Clan or delve into the memories of Bluepaw that will immediately follow, a rustling noise distracts me. I look up to see a pair of bright green eyes startlingly close to my own. As I squall and tumble backwards, Hawkpaw lets out a mildly-amused chuckle. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."

"What are you doing in here?" I ask sheepishly, waiting for my fur to stop standing on its end.

"Thought you might be lon- hungry," he corrects himself. Lonely. He's right about that too, but I'm glad he didn't voice it aloud.

I blink in surprise as he drops a mouse in front of me. "Er, thanks," I mutter, tentatively snatching a mouthful. "You want some?"

"Nah, I already ate." He wraps his tail around his paws and gazes about while I eat. I'm grateful he isn't one for small-talk; he seems content with my habit of lapsing into thoughtful silence, which I appreciate. Bluepaw was great, but he could talk anyone's ears off. Obviously, neither Hawkpaw or I feel the same need to fill up the air with empty words--a refreshing change. 

I wanted something more

(This is what you really want)

Once I've finished eating, I glance up and say, "You don't have to stay in here, you know. You don't have to feel sorry for me or keep me company."

He scoffs. "Are you kidding? I usually come in here around this time."


He nods, getting up and padding towards his own nest across from mine. "I'm not exactly the type to go and be all warm 'n' cozy, in case you haven't noticed. Brownpaw and Thistlepaw can enjoy themselves, being social and everything. I like it better in here. Quieter."

"Oh." I shift my weight awkwardly. "So I guess I'm kind of disturbing your usual peace."

Eyes intently trained on me, he gives me an almost imperceptible shake of his head. "No. You're fine."

I wanted this right here

(This is what you asked for)

"In ThunderClan, I would never get any alone time. Not that that's such a bad thing. I loved Bluepaw's company," I add hastily. "It's just nice to hear myself think sometimes."

Hawkpaw mrrows in agreement. "Same with my brother and sister. They're great--they're just... noisy."

We continue in this fashion for who-knows-how-long, trading stories about our very different kithoods. Hawkpaw tells me stories about his escapades and past mischief that have me roaring with laughter. In turn, I find myself spilling the story of how I found out about my heritage: I tell him about the day my ThunderClan mother, Hazelfur, called me into the den with a dead serious expression on her face. I remember the graveness of her tone as she explained that I wasn't all ThunderClan, that Oakstar, the same tom I had made fun of on many occasions before, was my blood father.

"I just felt cold," I say, hating the way a tremble creeps into my voice. "Just... cold. Like there were blocks of ice around my paws. And I just remember thinking, if I'm not even one Clan, if I don't belong here... who am I?"

I expect to hear taunting from Hawkpaw, along with a few more digs about what a worthless excuse for a warrior cat I am. An acidic feeling curdles in my stomach; why did I trust him, of all cats, enough to spill this story to? The only other cat I've ever confided in is Bluepaw, and I've known him forever. Hawkpaw can't possibly begin to understand-

"Do you know?"

"Huh?" I stare at Hawkpaw in shock. After having braced myself for the sting of his jeering, the softness of his voice is like being hit in the face with a bundle of feathers.

"Do you know?" he repeats patiently. "Who you are?"

"Oh. No." I hesitate. Do I know who I am now? Is ShadowClan all I needed to find myself? 

"I don't know who I am..." I twitch my ears, raising my gaze to meet his. "Not yet."

Keep, laugh until it hurts

It hurts 'till we learn

Brownpaw and Thistlepaw take their sweet time in coming back to the den, talking in excitable voices about StarClan-knows-what. Hawkpaw raises his head and snaps, "Shut up, the pair of you, acting like overgrown kits. Tigerpaw and I are trying to get some sleep."

"Oh-ho, so sorry, Hawkstar," grumbles Brownpaw, bedding down in his nest for the night. "Didn't mean to disturb you two. Should've realized you needed your beauty sleep, you ugly mold-whiskered pile of-"

"Hush," Thistlepaw says, silencing both her brothers. The den falls to stillness, the only sounds that of my new denmates as they softly snore.

I'm not sure what makes me do it. But when I'm sure the apprentices and most of the rest of the Clan are asleep, I skulk out of the den. Evading the night guards, I slip out of the ShadowClan camp and make for the border.

What I'm doing is wrong, something that could easily have me labeled as a traitor or spy in my new Clan's ranks. I don't even know why I'm doing it; the attempt could be completely unfruitful. But something in me tells me it won't be-

-which is why, when I reach the ThunderClan territory border and see him standing there, I don't feel surprised. A bubble of joy wells up in me, yes, but I sort of knew he'd be there. He knew I'd come too; I can see it in his eyes.

"Bluepaw," I murmur softly, hesitantly stepping towards him.

"Couldn't keep away," he says with a trace of bashfulness, and then he crosses the border and rubs his cheek against mine, filling my nostrils with the warmth of his familiar scent. "Tigerpaw... One day and I'm already missing you..."

"We shouldn't- This can't be a thing."

He blinks in hurt. "But-"

"Okay," I hurriedly interrupt. I can't take my eyes off his face, the face I've known since kithoods: the kind, round blue eyes, soft tufts of grayish fur poking up behind his ears, that funny kink in the fur on his tail that refuses to stay down no matter how many cats groom it. How I've missed that face, without even realizing it, all day. "We... we can meet here every night. Just for a few moments. To talk and catch up."

This is wrong, an internal voice tells me. This is wrong and you know it. The warrior code forbids it.

It's not a relationship! It's not like we're in love or something. I just want to see my best friend! I battle with the voices in my own head, struggling to figure out right from wrong... Surely it would be wrong to forsake my bond with Bluepaw simply because of Clan separations...

"So, um, what's ShadowClan like?"

I tell him, and he listens wholeheartedly. He doesn't seem to fully like what he hears--"seems like ThunderClan's a lot nicer than those crow-food eaters, er, no offense"--but he's understanding in a way I could never be if our positions were reversed. Bluepaw has always been a far better cat than I have, more gentle, with a better heart.

There's always been a small part of my heart that worries that his caring for me will destroy him, that I will break him, that he'll cut himself on my sharp edges. Maybe, in the long run, it would be better for me to break everything off now, to draw an uncrossable rift between us. But a selfish part of me longs to continue these meetings, to connect with this piece of my old life.

So when we finally get ready to part ways, and Bluepaw says, "Tomorrow, same time?" I nod my head. He looks pleased, and he touches his nose to mine, a blazing look behind his cobalt eyes.

The fire in his gaze remains imprinted on the backs of my eyelids long after I've gotten back to my den, tip-pawing over the sleeping Hawkpaw and lying in my nest. I know what that look means. He's not letting me go. He loves me, I can't deny it. And he's determined not to let me go. If I was still ThunderClan, I might have given it another thought--I think it wouldn't be very hard to love Bluepaw in that way, to fall for him. Now, though, there isn't any question--we could never be, and if I'm giving him false hope through these meetings...

... but to cut it off, to lose him forever?

Torn in two, I fall from consciousness into a world of fitful sleep, tainted by nightmares and choices I can't make, questions I can't answer.

Down the point of fear

But there's joy somehow in me

Besides the large oak tree where Brownpaw allegedly got his paws pincushioned full of splinters, the apprentices have another favorite haunt: the Ravine. It's not that deep, but I'm not used to climbing over rocky terrain.

By the time we finally make it down to the bottom, my paws are scraped from slipping and clinging to rough stones, and my claws are torn and bleeding. I don't pay too much heed to the stinging sensation, doggedly trudging after my denmates, but Thistlepaw does a double-take when she sees the sloppy red pawprints I leave in my wake.

"Tigerpaw, you need to get back to the medicine den!" she says with a gasp, her eyes widening.

"She'll be fine," Hawkpaw says dismissively, his whiskers twitching in annoyance.

Looking disgusted, Thistlepaw gives her brother a shove. "No, she isn't. Look at her. She can't possibly walk on those."

"Funny, 'cause that's what she's been doing all this time."

"You're heartless," hisses Thistlepaw.

Not appearing offended in the least, Hawkpaw turns to me. "Let's ask her. Tigerpaw, do you need the medicine cat's den or are you fine?"

I appreciate Thistlepaw's concern, but she's treating me like a little kit. I can handle ridicule and rudeness for my half-ThunderClan heritage, but sympathy and overcompensation will ruin me. Raising my nose, I trot out in front of the others. "I'm fine, obviously." I have to fight to keep my voice from squeaking on the last word; one of my already-bruised toes bumps against an outcrop of rock and the pain nearly makes me shriek.

I can hear Thistlepaw muttering to Brownpaw behind me. Hawkpaw increases his pace to match steps with me. I glance over at him. "Can I help you? You're not here to make sure I don't stumble or something, are you?"

"Even you should know me better than that by now," he scoffs. "I'm here because there's no way I'm letting you lead the pack."

"Whatever. I bet I could beat you in a race, any time, anyday, even with my feet bleeding."

Ears pricking, he says, "Is that a challenge I hear? We'll have to test that sometime, Tigerpaw. Not with your paws bleeding, but y'know."

I mrrow in agreement and flick my tail against his flank. "Can't wait."

"Okay." He jerks his head. "See that cave over there?"

I squint and try not to act too surprised as I realize there's an opening in the rock ledge in front of us. In my defense, it's cleverly concealed, with ferns and creepers draping themselves over most of the entrance. "Yeah?"

"That's why we come here," Brownpaw explains. "We don't just spend our time daring each other to jump off the sides of the Ravine and seeing if we'd break our necks. Well, I mean, we do that too, but-"

"That cave is the secret apprentice spot for us. Every group of apprentices picks one. It's a ShadowClan tradition. Ours is that cave. Even if you get made into a warrior before your denmates, you never reveal where the secret spot was for you guys. Got it?"

Incredulous, I say, "You're letting me in on it?"

Almost scornfully, Hawkpaw says, "You're a ShadowClan apprentice, aren't you?" He bounds into the cave, parting the curtain of fronds with his broad shoulders. His siblings follow him, and I trail after.

Yeah, I am.

You're not as strong as I am

You're not as strong as I am

"I'm a ShadowClan apprentice, Bluepaw. That's why."

We stand in the same spot we met last night, only the air is charged with a very different kind of energy. Bluepaw is staring at me, ears flat and eyes wide with disbelief.

"How does that mean we're not friends anymore?"

"It means I need to be loyal to my own Clan, is what it means." And I can't do that around you, I add silently in my own head. But I can't say it out loud. Bluepaw doesn't know how I feel about him (StarClan, even I don't know how I feel about him) and telling him that I might have feelings for him will only make things a lot worse. I know how he feels about me, but it's the same deal: that doesn't help one bit.

Bluepaw shuts his eyes, as if doing so will shut out my words. "Please, Tigerpaw. I don't want anything more than to meet you. Not even every night, just sometimes... I can't let you go."

"You have to. We have to let each other go, before this hurts our future as warriors." My voice grows sharp, and although it's from desperation rather than anger, Bluepaw flinches.

"But you..." He struggles for a few seconds, searching for words. "You mean a lot to me, okay?"

I know. You mean the same to me. "More than your Clan?" I demand severely, hardly recognizing myself.

The old Tigerpaw was blunt, but she never would've asked him that. She never would've treated Bluepaw this way. And Bluepaw realizes it, now. I see it in his eyes: something changes. For the first time, a cat is fully seeing me as ShadowClan. And for the first time, I don't want this cat to see me like that.

"More than the Clan...?" Bluepaw echoes, but I think he's asking himself, not giving a response.

For me, the answer is clear. I stiffen my spine and say, "I choose my Clan. My Clan. ShadowClan."

This time, he doesn't flinch. He just looks at me with this emptiness in his eyes.

I tell myself that I'm strong enough to do this. I don't feel it in my bones, which feel as if they've turned to dust. But I have to be strong enough. Bluepaw won't break our friendship off this way. It has to be me.

Nevertheless, I can't bear to look my best friend in the eye; I turn my back on him as I whisper, "Good bye, Bluepaw."

I walk away.

Oooh oh oh, this is what you really want

Oooh oh oh, this what you asked for


I can be heartless. Cruel. I can cut others down like it's nothing, just to get what I want.

I've always been like that. I never understood why; my mother in ThunderClan, Wrenswoop, was a gentle cat if there ever was one, and there had never been anything to provide reason for the way I acted. Then again, I never would have dreamed my mother could betray her Clan. Cats can be ruthless and incredibly selfish. I guess it really made sense that Oakstar is my father. Like father, like daughter.

Maybe someday, following his pawsteps, I'll be the leader of ShadowClan.

The thought has occurred to me before, and usually I dismiss it because ShadowClan wouldn't want a leader who used to be ThunderClan.

Now, I dismiss it because I sicken myself. The thought of me getting any reward for doing what I've done is vile.

I don't return to ShadowClan camp, the camp I so confidently made out to be my home in front of Bluepaw. Instead, I run. I run till the wind whips my face so roughly that I can't smell boundries and markings anymore. There is no scent, no Clans, no divisions. 

There is no me. Only pain and loneliness.

Oooh oh oh, this is what you really want

Oooh oh oh, this what you asked for

When I finally stop, I'm on the edge of ShadowClan territory. I collapse into a clump of dead grass, sides heaving. Brambles prickle at my fur and graze my flanks, but I don't bother moving. There is a heaviness to my limbs and my heart.

Bluepaw's face is permanently seared to the back of my eyelids, so that closing my eyes is torture. Bluepaw. My trusting, caring, dependable kithood friend. Time and time again, I've wondered why he befriended me in the first place. Me, the scruffy little kitten who was obviously an outsider long before her heritage was revealed. I am quick to lash out, quick to build myself up. He is quick to listen and understand, quick to pick up the pieces when others fall apart.

And now? Now I have shattered him, and left him that way without a backwards glance. How can I live with myself?

My longing to belong to a Clan has come with a heavy price. It's like returning to what used to be a wonderful dream only to find it twisted into a nightmare. I can't wake up. I can't go back.

I won't let you go

(This is what you really want)

I eventually go back to the camp, but I feel like a different cat. It's not that I expected to always be the same. I know I changed the moment I found out who I really was. 

But after last night, everything feels ten times more real. I am faced with the reality of what I've done. I don't know if I like who I'm becoming. I don't know if I would do things differently if given the chance.

All I know is I must keep pushing forward. It's who I am.

So don't let go of me

(This is what you asked for)

"Tigerpaw!" Oakstar pads towards me, the early morning light shining off his russet-hued coat. "Can I enlist you for a border patrol? We're leaving in a little bit."

"Of course," I say, forcing back the waves of fatigue threatening to knock me off my paws. I give my fur a quick lick, noting with distaste that I'm studded with small twigs and pieces of grass. I look like something that just crawled out of the woods. Correction, I am something that just crawled out of the woods.

Oakstar gives me a sympathetic look. "Rough night?"

I hesitate. Part of me wants to nod my head and tell him how torn I feel. The expression in his eyes is so warm, so fatherly. I feel the beginnings of a link forging itself between us.

Then Mothleap calls Oakstar's name from across the clearing, and I snap out of it. He is the leader of this Clan. Showing him any type of weakness is foolishness. "My night was fine," I say. "A new den isn't enough to give me bad dreams; I'm a bit old for that."

He blinks, taken aback, but before he has a chance to reply, Mothleap engages him in what is evidently an urgent conversation.

I step back and wait patiently. Hawkpaw catches my eye as he steps out of the apprentices' den, and he strolls over. "Hey," I say, interrupting myself with a yawn. "I'm about to go on a border patrol."

His gaze is flinty, accusing. "Where were you last night?"

My blood freezes. "What?"

I wanted something more

(This is what you really want)

"I followed you."

"You did what?" I hiss.

"I saw you with him."

Stunned, I say, "You didn't trust me?"

Anger flares in his dark eyes. "Should I have? I didn't follow you because I thought you were up to no good, I followed you because I thought you might need company. When I saw where you were headed, I got suspicious. And I was right. Was that tom Bluepaw? Your kithood friend? The one you claimed you were over, the one you claimed to choose ShadowClan over?"

I flatten my ears. "Keep your voice down. If you were spying on me, didn't you hear what I told Bluepaw?"

"No. I was too disgusted to stick around, so I left."

"I told him we can't meet anymore. I made it clear where my loyalties lie."

Hawkpaw shook his head. "That's not what your eyes are telling me. If you keep caring for him so deeply, you'll ruin yourself by staying here. I was right. You don't belong in ShadowClan."

"I don't have to prove anything to you."

"You haven't proved anything to anyone," he mews harshly.

I've had enough. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go on a patrol-"

Oakstar chooses this moment to mew, "Hawkpaw, why don't you join the border patrol as well? You too, Silverleaf."

"Of course, Oakstar," Hawkstar says, shouldering past me to stand behind our leader.

I wanted this right here

(This is what you asked for)

My father looks grim. "We might end up needing more cats. Mothleap, have a back-up patrol prepared."

"What's going on?" I ask. 

"Mothleap just informed me that ThunderClan is at the border, rearranging the boundaries. They're pressing into our territory." His whiskers quiver with indignation. "It's clear what this is. Quailstar is angry about the drama and humiliation the tension between our Clans has caused her. She's trying to reassert herself, to show RiverClan and WindClan that between ShadowClan and ThunderClan, ThunderClan wins. But she's badly mistaken."

I try not to think that I am ThunderClan's humiliation. I am the reason this is happening.

Like he can read my mind, Hawkpaw mutters just loud enough for me to hear, "This has nothing to do with Tigerpaw, and everything to do with ThunderClan being good-for-nothing, arrogant dungbeetles." Beside him, Silverleaf gives a mew of agreement.

For once, I take comfort in the insulting of my old Clan. The fact that my new Clanmates consider my side to be one and the same with theirs is touching, and I'm absolutely shocked that it's Hawkpaw who takes the initiative and makes it clear that I am not an outsider. I meet his gaze, and he gives me a hard look. Unreadable, but not angry.

Side by side, we follow Oakstar and the rest of our Clanmates out of the camp.

This is that 1, 2, 3, 4

Now come back to carry us

The ThunderClan cats are simply waiting for us when we arrive, clearly having been listening to and scenting our approach. I recognize the look in Quailstar's eyes. The beautiful silver cat who was once my leader is fearless and proud. Her chin is angled high as she deliberately, fully aware of the watchful eyes of the entire ShadowClan patrol, marks a tree that is on the ShadowClan side of the border.

"Quailstar, what is the meaning of this? You're embarrassing yourself, and you're about to disgrace your Clan," snarls Oakstar. He is dauntless, all sharp teeth and claws. I position myself to mirror him, hackles raised and blood burning.

Quailstar wants a fight. She's got that do-or-die fire in her eyes, and no one is surprised when she gives the order to attack. 

If I had time to think about it, I would wonder why Oakstar had picked me for this patrol. Did he truly believe that his daughter would fight without a second thought against the cats she used to consider her family? Or had Mothleap's hasty revelation given him no time to second-think the cats he'd assigned for the mission.

Whichever one, I intend to make him proud and show that ultimately, I am a true warrior. I am ShadowClan, I think. I am ShadowClan, and I fight.

Now 1, 2, 3, 4 now, now

This is that 1, 2, 3, 4

Pelts of all colors flash past me, here the pale silver of Silverleaf, there the chestnut tabby of a ThunderClan she-cat. Dust and scraps of grass are churned up under flailing paws. Every now and again, a screech of pain rends the air.

I see Hawkpaw struggling with an opponent and race to help him. I launch myself into the ThunderClan tom, sending the both of us flying into a thornbush. I unsheathe my claws, hissing ferociously as I swipe at the tom's back.

He shifts underneath me. At the exact moment that I finish my first blow and come away with tufts of thick gray fur in my claws, I meet the tom's blue eyes.

Horror tides me over as Bluepaw whispers in hoarse disbelief, "Tigerpaw?"

Now come back to carry us

Now 1, 2, 3, 4 now, now

After a pause, he mews in a sort of dry humor, "You've really improved at fighting."

I feel like vomiting. I can't believe what I've done. I can't believe he isn't looking at me like I'm a monster.

I see clearly that we are too different. He is light and I am darkness, and I belong in ShadowClan or The Dark Forest or somewhere where I will be locked up and never, ever allowed to hurt anyone like I have hurt him.

"You need to stay away from me."

He stares at me for a long time, and I capture his beautifully kind blue eyes. And then he gets up and says, "I know."

Defeat. I have gotten him to give up on us, on the friendship that used to keep the both of us alive and sane.

"Good bye," I whisper.

Then Hawkpaw is at my side, and he's crowing, "We showed them! Yes, Tigerpaw! ThunderClan won't mess with us ever again!"

I look around, seeing that he's right. The ThunderClan cats are gone, leaving only ShadowClan, my Clanmates. Triumph is clear in Oakstar's loud voice, but his eyes are tainted with sadness, and I wonder if the flash of chestnut fur that I saw during the fight was Wrenswoop. I wonder what it felt like for him, fighting someone he loved.

I can't know, of course, what it felt like. But I do know that he is congratulating the rest of his warriors, encouraging them, ordering them to remark the borders and instilling in them an undying pride in ShadowClan.

And I know that this is what being a leader, what being a warrior means.

When I look back at Hawkpaw, his gaze is softer than I've ever seen it before. It looks strange on a tom I'm used to seeing so harsh, but in a nice way. "This is why. This is why we're ShadowClan."

For the first time, I understand what he means clearly. "We are," I agree.

He hesitates, clearing his throat gruffly. I twitch my whiskers teasingly. "Got a hairball?"

"There's that lovely claw-sharp tone of yours," he says a bit smittenly, and leans forward to touch his nose to mine.

I blink at the heat of his touch--and then he's not there anymore, bounding towards the rest of the patrol. "You gonna help mark the trees, or just stand there like a tree yourself?" His joy is as contagious as his moodiness can be.

"I'm coming," I call. I race down the border, just a pawstep away from ThunderClan territory. I'm not tempted to cross. And when I head back to camp with the rest of the patrol, it still hurts, but I know in my heart that I'm going home.

This is what you asked for

Bittersweet ending? But 'tis not the end!

Click here for the next installment in the story.

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