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Dls cover

disclaimer: this story will, at times, use language that may make some readers uncomfortable.

allegiances ;

leader: Fawnstar - Slim dark brown she-cat with battle scarred ears
deputy: Sycamorebranch - Handsome, powerful brown and white tom
medicine cat: Seedwhisker - Pale brown she-cat with glowing green eyes
warriors:
Mistyrain - Grey and white she-cat with yellow eyes
APPRENTICE : BRINDLEPAW
Frozenfoot - Dark grey tom with white paws
APPRENTICE : BROWNPAW
Breezerush - Sleek black tom
APPRENTICE : ASHENPAW
Blizzardsong - Silver and white she-cat with bright blue eyes
Gentleflight - Pale, long-furred tabby tom
Rowanscar - Rough-furred ginger tom
Leafshine - Tortoiseshell she-cat with a white muzzle
Hawkwing - Dark brown tabby tom
Brightsky - Ginger and white mottled tom
Ivyclaw - Battle-scarred silver and white tabby she-cat
Strikestripe - Grey and white tom
Dewspots - Blue-grey tom with white appendages
Brokenstep - Grey-brown tabby tom with a pale underbelly and disfigured paw
Soilflight - Creamy brown she-cat
Whitepelt - Off-white tom
APPRENTICE: SWIRLEDPAW
Muddypelt - Brown and black tom
apprentices:
Brindlepaw - Grey tabby she-cat with blue eyes and a white underbelly
Ashenpaw - Dark grey flecked tom with dark blue eyes
Brownpaw - Brown and white tuxedo tom with bright amber eyes
Swirledpaw - Light brown classic tabby tom with one blue eye and one yellow eye
queens:
Clovermark - Black and white she-cat, mother to Stormkit and Vixenkit
kits:
Stormkit - Pale grey she-kit
Vixenkit - Ginger and black she-kit
elders:
Dustspeckle - Dusty brown tabby tom
Shimmerstream - Silver flecked she-cat
Duckwing - Golden tom with a stubby tail

prologue ; premonition

“wanted to be a better brother, better son,
wanted to be a better adversary to the evil i have done.”
-twenty øne pilots, polarize

Seedwhisker was not a special cat, by any means. She was a medicine cat at the young age of twenty-one moons who had been faring on her very lonesome since her mentor died before she completed her training.

So, for such an ordinary cat, why would anyone be out to get her? She hadn’t sinned. She took care of her Clan and provided advice to her higher ups. She did her job well.

Murder was usually committed against someone who had wronged the perpetrator, wasn't it?

Not in this case. And, whoever did this was incredibly messy- blood pooling around the victim’s chest wound, paw prints leading from the scene, and the scratches left were thin and jagged, obviously from a cat or similar animal. The murder clearly was a jittery act of instability rather than a premeditated crime done of pure malice

The body had been tossed to the side, hidden under a clump of foliage, like she was nothing more than a soiled piece of fresh kill. Above and around her, life still buzzed. Crickets hummed in time to the rushing stream and birds chirped in the trees. Mice skittered around in the soft, damp soil and bugs darted around in the air. Everything seemed so alive.

Unbeknownst to the singing birds and wide eyed voles, a story caused by an untimely demise was beginning to unravel.

chapter one ; whispers

“and i slept in last night’s clothes and tomorrow's dreams,
but they're not quite what they seem.’”
-fall out boy, uma thurman

Brindlepaw stirred awake early the next morning, bursting with anticipation. Her den was still dark but she could still make out the outlines of three other cats- Brownpaw, her best friend, Ashenpaw, her brother, and Swirledpaw, a young but promising former loner.

She shifted and jabbed Brownpaw in the side. “Wake up, Brownpaw! Wake up!” The tomcat grunted and tucked his nose further into his curled tail without opening his eyes.

With a sigh, Brindlepaw stood, shaking the dry moss from her pelt. She nudged her neighbour again. “Come on B, wake up!”

“Five more minutessss…,” Brownpaw grumbled.

“No, not five more minutes.” Brindlepaw paused her incessant prodding for a moment and thought. Then, with a slight grin, reared back and came down on her friend’s tail with all her might.

“Augh!” Brownpaw exclaimed with a yelp, immediately hopping to his feet. The fur on the back of his neck bristled as he glared at Brindlepaw, betrayal flashing in his amber eyes.

“Why’d you do that?” he snapped. “I was having an amazing dream, you and I were-” he was quickly cut off by and enthusiastic Brindlepaw.

“Newsflash, I don't care!” she quipped. “It’s our warrior ceremony today! Did you forget?”

Brownpaw looked at her blankly, and then his eyes widened. “Oh, yeah!” he took a moment to compose himself, quickly giving himself a groom behind his ears. After a minute’s time, he faced her again. “Burr, we’re gonna be warriors!” he meowed excitedly.

“That we are, B!”

Suddenly they were interrupted by a hiss. They turned and noticed a pair of blue eyes scowling at them from the darkness.

It was Ashenpaw. He snarled at the pair. “Can you guys be any louder? I don't think they can hear you in FrostClan!” he sounded angrier than usual.

With that, he whirled around and stuffed his chin deep into his moss, dismissing them both as if miffed.

Brownpaw’s gaze met Brindlepaw’s, and the two started giggling. With another glance in her brother’s direction, she headed out of the den, her best friend beside her.

The dawn light was mellow but it still stung Brindlepaw’s eyes as she faced the glowing sun, the warmth falling over her shoulders. Brownpaw looked at her, pride mingling with adoration in his gentle gaze. “It’s so quiet, Burr. Sycamorebranch must have just sent out the patrols.” he mewed.

Brindlepaw murmured some sort of agreement before she spotted three cats standing outside of Fawnstar’s den.

She made her way over to them, smiling. “Hello, Mistyrain, Frozenfoot. Hi, Breezerush.” She dipped her head respectfully in the presence of the warriors.

“Good morning, Brindlepaw,” Mistyrain responded. “How are you? Excited?”

“Very!” She grinned widely. “I’m also a little nervous. I’m going to be a warrior!”

“Don’t be, you’ll be an amazing warrior. You’ve trained hard,” Frozenfoot added. He flicked his tail and looked at his own apprentice, Brownpaw. “You as well, Brownpaw. You’re fast on your feet.” The tom straightened up slightly, pleased with the praise.

“Is Ashenpaw awake yet?” Breezerush interjected nervously. He was not a brash cat, and Fawnstar had made him mentor Brindlepaw’s hot-headed brother to balance out his stubbornness. He had tried his best but was unsure if his apprentice was satisfied with his training.

“He’s just waking up. He was a tad grumpy.” Brindlepaw batted an ear towards the den. Breezerush nodded slightly, shrinking backwards. Frozenfoot lightly tapped his back with his tail and gave him a small, reassuring smile.

Mistyrain nodded. “Maybe he didn’t sleep well? I know Frozenfoot was anxious the night before our ceremony.” She cast a glance towards her brother, who puffed up his chest in defiance.

“If I recall correctly, you were also up half the night, pacing around,” Frozenfoot added snidely. Mistyrain snorted.

“Yeah, but you-”

“Good morning.” A voice came from behind the bickering pair. They whirled around and Fawnstar walked out of her den, her soft eyes shining.

“Morning, Fawnstar.” Breezerush was the first to speak, dipping his head respectfully in the company of a higher up.

“Good morning, Fawnstar!” Brindlepaw sputtered. Embarrassed, she curled her tail around her back.

Fawnstar smiled fondly at the tabby. “Ah, Brindlepaw. Good to see you up and at ‘em. And you too, Brownpaw. Are you two ready to become warriors?”

“Absolutely!” Brownpaw exclaimed, while Brindlepaw chipped in with her own “yes.”

“It’ll be exciting to join Blizzardsong, won't it? I’m sure you'll be just an amazing warrior as she is,” Fawnstar added. Brindlepaw flushed with pleasure at being compared to her older sister. She really was great- A strategic fighter and a stealthy hunter. She wasn't one to focus on mates but she already had a strong suitor- a young tom named Gentleflight.

“Et tu, Brownpaw. Hawkwing is one of my most trusted warriors, I'm sure you'll follow in his pawsteps,” the brown molly continued, addressing her friend next.

“Aw, shucks,” Brownpaw mewed.

“Well, I think it's just about time to get this ceremony started.” Fawnstar indicated the dens with her muzzle, where bleary-eyed cats were emerging from the foliage. Ashenpaw had finally woken up and was heading towards them.

Nodding her head to the group, she began her ascent up the High Tree. A mixture of excitement and nerves bubbled inside Brindlepaw’s gut.

“All cats old enough to climb a tree gather under the High Tree for a Clan meeting!” she called.

With Ashenpaw and Brownpaw in her tow, Brindlepaw made her way over to the High Tree and took a seat on one of the roots.

“Today we are gathered here to honour three cats who have passed their respective assessments.” Fawnstar took a small breath and looked over her Clan. “Brindlepaw, Brownpaw, and Ashenpaw, please step forward.” Legs shaking, Brindlepaw moved to the front of the tree.

“I, Fawnstar, leader of ForestClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend to them warriors in their turn.”

“Brownpaw, step forward.” The tom edged in front his peers.

“Brownpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your very life?” Fawnstar’s green eyes bore holes into his own.

“I do,” he pledged.

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Brownpaw, from this moment forward, you shall be known as Brownfire. StarClan honours your steadfastness and loyalty, and we welcome you as a full member of ForestClan.”

“Brownfire! Brownfire! Brownfire!” chanted the Clan. Brownfire stepped backwards, bashful. Brindlepaw nudged his shoulder.

“Nice name,” she whispered.

“Thanks,” he responded. He was glowing.

“Ashenpaw, please step forward.” Confidently, he strode to the front.

“Ashenpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your very life?” Ashenpaw’s blue eyes were alight with fire.

“I do.”

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Ashenpaw, from this moment onward your name will be Ashenblaze. StarClan honours your cleverness and ferocity, and we welcome you as a full member of ForestClan.” Fawnstar smiled down at him.

“Ashenblaze! Ashenblaze! Ashenblaze!” Ashenblaze was flourishing in the spotlight. Brindlepaw itched with anticipation.

“Brindlepaw, please step forward.” The she-cat sprung forward.

“Brindlepaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your very life?” Brindlepaw flexed her claws.

“I do.”

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Brindlepaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Brindlefrost. StarClan honours your forethought and intelligence, and we welcome you as a full member of ForestClan.” Brindlefrost shrunk back to be beside her friends, teeming with pleasure.

“Brindlefrost! Brindlefrost! Brindlefrost!” she grinned broadly, tail held high.

Fawnstar looked as if she was about to speak again, but paused. “Ah, it looks like the patrols have returned just in time for-” she froze. Her eyes widened. “What is that?”

The crowd shifted as Fawnstar leapt from her perch, rushing up to the solemn patrol. Gasps rippled around the surrounding cats and Brindlefrost tried to push her way through the pressing Clan, attempting to see what had captivated everyone. Her heart was in her stomach.

“What is that?”

“Who is that?”

“Oh my, StarClan… Is that Seedwhisker?”

Brindlefrost’s blood ran cold, her fur stiff on the back of her neck. What had previously been a clearing of excited cats had a thick blanket of dread and silence now swept over it.

“That’s Seedwhisker!” someone shouted from the front of the crowd.

Wails of sorrow and screams of confusion circled Brindlefrost. She swallowed hard but nothing was able to push down the lump that had formed in her throat.

“Come on, B,” she grunted. Brownfire was on her tail, amber eyes slanted in concern.

“What happened?” he murmured.

Eventually she was able to push to the front of the cats and get a glimpse. And what she saw horrified her.

Seedwhisker’s body was caked in dirt, and dry blood matted her ungroomed chest fur. Her eyes, previously so gentle and full of life, were glassy and dull, devoid of light. The patrol had rested her body on the ground, and Brindlefrost caught sight of the wound that had caused her teeth- four claw marks from her chest to the side of her neck. She turned away, her nausea mounting.

“Brownfire…,” she wept. She looked up at the tom cat, who was staring straight ahead with a grim look.

Once the initial shock faded, panicked tones caused a kerfuffle amongst the crowd.

“How did she die?”

“Is the murderer still out there?”

“Who is going to be our new medicine cat?”

The last statement sent every cat into a flurry of distress. Without a medicine cat, the Clan would surely fall into disrepair.

“Who will teach the next medicine cat?” a worried queen inquired.

Fawnstar solemnly bowed her head. Though she stayed calm and collected outwardly, the fear and sadness glinting in her eyes was telltale.“Seedwhisker was a gifted medicine cat. She will be sorely missed.” As the leader spoke, her voice cracked and the Clan fell into a hush. “But we must move on. Our first priority is a new medicine cat.” Her eyes were misty.

“Stormkit and Vixenkit are our only kits right now, and they're much too young to undergo any training, especially medicine cat training,” she added, casting a glance at Clovermark, the mother of the two. Rowanscar, their father, had brought in the body.

“Is there anyone willing to bear this burden and receive medical training from a medicine cat from another Clan?” Fawnstar looked desperate. Her Clan averted eye contact, gazing awkwardly at the ground, holding their breath.

Suddenly something seized Brindlefrost. Her heart was drumming against her chest, her blood was racing. Seeing Seedwhisker’s body had been such a horrific sight, so maybe she wasn't thinking straight. Maybe it’s because the gravity of situation just hit her- without a medicine cat, the Clan would surely suffer. They needed one. Whatever the cause, whether her brain fused or no, there was no denying what she said.

With her stomach tied into knots and gaze fixed forward, voice cracking, she spoke.

“I'll do it.”

chapter two ; stings

“welcome to your life,
there's no turning back.”
-tears for fears, everybody wants to rule the world

ForestClan fell silent. All eyes turned to Brindlefrost, and she flattened her ears against her head, staring down at the ground. She wish she never spoke, and the fear slouching in the back of her throat came up to sit on her tongue, a feeling like bile burning her.

“Brindlefrost?” Fawnstar meowed inquisitively. “But you’ve only just become a warrior! Surely you can’t be serious?”

I’m not serious I’m not serious I’m not serious I’m not “Yes, I am.” The words were like acid. Brownfire stared at her, with a shocked expression that could only be described as hurt. Brindlefrost’s entire body shook, maw trembling, but she stood her ground. There was no way out of this mess. She couldn’t back down now, not with the expectant eyes of the entire Clan on her. “I…. I’ll be your m-medicine cat…”

“She’s not prepared.”

“She’ll kill us all!”

“This is a job for an adult, not a kit straight out of warrior training.”

Brindlefrost tried hard to block out the whispers.

“If you’re certain,” Fawnstar said cautiously, “I suppose it will work out.”

“I am,” she squeaked, throat dry.

“Well, then.” Fawnstar’s eyes went to Brindlefrost. “You will begin your training effective immediately. We will have a medicine cat come over and teach you.” She frowned. “This is truly… an awful happenstance. You are dismissed.”

As the Clan scattered, Brindlefrost was left frozen in the middle of the clearing. Ashenblaze glared at her as he passed, lips drawn back in a snarl.

“Useless,” he hissed. Brindlefrost stared at him as he retreated to his new den, confused. Brownfire shifted beside her, and her glance flickered over to him.

“What was that, Brindlefrost?!” he yelled. Taken aback, the newly named medicine cat shrunk into her shoulders. “You had so much potential and you tossed it all away like it was nothing!” Brindlefrost felt hot beneath her fur, skin prickling. She could feel hostile glares encircling her, suffocating her.

“I had to do what was best for my Clan.” Getting the words out without stuttering was hard enough. She couldn't even bear to face her friend for fear of the anger that may twist his gaze.

“What was best for your Clan? All you've done is thrown away the past six moons like it was crowfood! You worked so hard, for what? Only to thrust yourself into a position you know nothing about?” Brownfire growled. “Mistyrain will be so disappointed. She gave it her all to teach you, and now look what you've done. All of her teaching is worthless now.”

Brindlefrost flinched. His words stung like a claw slicing through her skin, twisting in the wound. She swallowed. “If you’re expecting me to apologize,” she said through shaky breaths, anger pent up inside her. “I won’t.”

Brownfire’s eyes narrowed into slits. “You’re a bit of a foolish one. I thought you were different.”  Without giving Brindlefrost time to respond, he turned on his heel and stalked away, tail slashing through the air. Anger seethed through the tabby she-cat’s veins. Brownfire was so selfish! All she had done was take one for the team when no one else was brave enough to stand up. She did it for the Clan- why couldn’t he see that?

Rage made her vision darken as she headed over to her new den. She was trembling as she pushed through the ferns that cramped the entrance to the cove. She set her jaw. Never before had she felt so betrayed by someone she called her friend.

How could Brownfire just… act like that? Brindlefrost had trusted him with her life, and he had gone and stabbed her in the back because she had tried to do the right thing. She fumed as the scent of herbs wreathed around her body. Has he… always been that two-faced?

As she stewed in anger, walking around the perimeter of the den to get a feel for it, the foliage outside of the pad rustled and a cat stepped in.

“Hi, Brinny,” mewed a calm voice from the entrance.

Lost in her thoughts, Brindlefrost barely heard the greeting. It was if it fell on deaf ears. She whirled around and saw Blizzardsong’s angular face and blue eyes staring at her, her soft footfalls making a ‘pap-pap-pap’ sound as she tread upon the compact dirt.

“Hi, Blizz,” Brindlefrost replied, distracted. Her eyes strayed from her sister’s figure to the herbs lining the walls, inserted into worn cracks in the stone.

“So… Medicine cat, eh?” Her sister wasted no time in closing the awkward silence. Brindlefrost winced. She padded in a small circle and sat down as Blizzardsong took a seat opposite to her, leaning against the gaping entryway into the main part of the den.

“I guess that’s what I am now.” Brindlefrost tried to manage a small chuckle, but it was strained and fell flat as soon as it left her lips. Blizzardsong’s eyes sparkled.

“That’s a pretty important job. You think you’re up to it?” Her words were like a challenge, and Brindlefrost instinctively shrugged, lowering her gaze nervously.

“If you’re only here to patronize me, you can leave. I have important matters to attend to,” she mumbled, twitching her whiskers.

“Not at all, sister of mine.” Blizzardsong edged closer and bent her neck to look Brindlefrost in the eyes. She grinned broadly. “Come on, Brinny, let me see your smile! You just got your full name and you get to have an incredible role in the Clan! Of course, the circumstances leading to your, uh, promotion weren’t exactly ideal, but still, congratulations! You should be happy.”

“I don’t feel happy,” Tears of frustration formed in Brindlefrost’s eyes. “I regret this decision with all of my heart. I want to g-go back to being a w-warrior. Then Brownfire won’t hate me.” Her words were dripping with spite as she hissed. “And Ashenblaze won’t think I’m useless.”

“Oh, Ash.” Her sister exhaled. “You know him. Always picking fights, bragging to other cats about the slightest scratch. He detested cats who didn't contribute to the Clan with tooth and claw and didn't have the blood to show for it. He hated Seedwhisker, and when he heard stories about Hushfeather, he hated him, too.” Blizzardsong rolled her eyes as she thought of her brother. “So I can't imagine him being all hunky dory with your decision to become our new medicine cat.”

Brindlefrost frowned. “But why…? Without the medicine cat, our Clan would die because of the battles he admires so!”

Blizzardsong shook her head. “I gave up trying to figure out what goes on in Ash’s brain long ago.” Her ear twitched and she leaned in closer to her sister. “And with Brownfire-” she started.

Just the mention of his name made Brindlefrost’s blood boil. “Did you hear what he said to me? He's so… so… entitled! I didn't see him stepping up to be the new medicine cat!” She tensed.

“Brownfire is a coward, Brinny. He didn't grow up with a mother that could teach him about the world,” Blizzardsong said. She looked thoughtful. “You know what? He's probably feeling the same way right now. He thinks you betrayed him. He thought you two could have future together. Be a family.”

“He basically was my family until he screwed it all up,” Brindlefrost growled.

“That's not what I- Oh, forget it. You're too dense.” Brindlefrost looked at her, offended, but Blizzardsong only snorted in response. “Listen, Brin. You were his best and closest friend. You two were never seen apart. And now, with this whole mess, he probably thinks you were the one who ‘screwed it up’ and broke his trust.”

“Ughhh,” Brindlefrost groaned. “I hate that you're probably right. But I… I don't want to apologize to him. He lashed out. He acted inappropriate to a Clan official.” Despite her misery, referring to herself with that title gave her a small surge of pride in her chest.

“Did I ever say you had to?” A smile quirked Blizzardsong’s lips.

“But I still think I made a huge mistake,” Brindlefrost meowed dejectedly, ignoring Blizzardsong’s last comment.

“Heyyy, chin up, lil pup,” her sister responded, raising her paw and resting the back of it against her chin. She tilted her head at her sister’s crestfallen face. “What you did out there was the bravest thing any cat could've done. It was more respectable than anything I've ever done in any old battle. You had guts and a voice when no one else did.”

“I’m sure that everyone was just in shock! If I had given them a few moments, I'm sure someone would've come to their senses-” Brindlefrost argued.

“But none of them did!” Blizzardsong said intensely, cutting her sister off. “What you did was amazing. No one can take that away from you.” The white tabby stood and glanced behind her. She flicked her tail. “I’m going hunting with Gentleflight now, but I’ll come visit you later. And I want to see a smile on that pretty face of yours.” She pawed her sister’s glum face emphatically. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Brindlefrost conceded, upset.

Blizzardsong gave her a sympathetic smile as she turned her head and headed through the tunnel leading to her den, her pelt growing several shades lighter as the outwardly glow touched her. The grey tabby frowned as she turned back to her den, surveying the area. There was a flattened stone balanced on the floor, worn from poultice making. Some herbs were scattered around though it seemed Seedwhisker mostly kept her den in proper order.

Brindlefrost frowned. Though her anger with Brownfire had seemingly subsided after her conversation with Blizzardsong, his words still ached like they left an open wound.

She sighed. Right now, she had more important duties to fulfill.

chapter three ; famous last words

“maybe if i continue watching,
i'll lose the traits that worry me.”
-panic at the disco, new perspective

The night following the discovery of Seedwhisker’s body involved a vigil where Brownfire and Ashenblaze stood guard, silently, and the rest of the cats quietly mourned the loss of the she-cat. Brindlefrost, however, was pardoned from the vigil. “You have a very busy day tomorrow. Go and rest.” Those were her orders from Fawnstar. With little arguing, she had went to her den where she fell into a dreamless, uncomfortable sleep.

She was prodded awake the following morning. “You. Wake up.” The speaker’s voice was thickly accented and hard to understand.

Brindlefrost turned over and opened her eyes slightly, stifling a yawn. As her blurry vision came into focus, she made out the face of an old, golden she-cat glaring at her.

“Ack!” she exclaimed fearfully, scuttling away.

“Straighten up, little girl,” said the cat. Brindlefrost’s nerves ebbed away as the recognized the molly from gatherings as an apprentice, and stories from the elders.

“Oh, er, sorry…” Brindlefrost scrambled to sit up, tearing up her nest with outstretched claws. “You must be Tulipheart. Fawnstar said you’d be coming.”

A low chuckle purred forth from Tulipheart’s throat. “Tulipheart, haven’t heard that title in a while. Mostly I’m referred to as ‘hey you.’ Not a respectful young cat nowadays.” The she-cat twitched her nose. Brindlefrost tittered anxiously.

“I heard about Seedwhisker from your leader. That’s awful. Upsettin’ that you were the only one to step forward. I suppose that’s the rub.” Tulipheart groomed her thick, golden fur unsuccessfully with her tongue. “Couldn’t have been easy. Whose heart did you break?”

“What?” Brindlefrost exclaimed. “No one’s! But... my best friend is a little upset.”

“There it is,” Tulipheart grunted as she checked out their herb storage. “Always someone left behind in the dust.” Brindlefrost was about to retaliate when the older medicine cat spoke again. “Don’t bother. I’ve heard it time and time again. ‘No, no, Tulipheart, I didn’t mean to, they’ll get over it, I’m sure.’ They never do, do they?” The question seemed as if it got a little personal nearing the end, and Brindlefrost was left with her mouth agape. Tulipheart barely granted her a glance in her direction. “Your tansy supplies are lacking.”

After a long, pregnant pause, Brindlefrost coughed. “So, what will you be teaching me?”

“Everything.” Tulipheart’s tone told Brindlefrost she should have already guessed that. “What these herbs are, what they do, and how to make ‘em work.” The she-cat was pulling out herbs from the wall and laying them on the grinding stone. She looked to the grey tabby. “What are you standing around for? Help me.”

“Oh,” Brindlefrost mewed. She shook her pelt out and padded over to the wall, gingerly taking the stems of unfamiliar plants in her jaws and placing them beside Tulipheart’s. When she had brought a few over, she leaned back on her haunches with a small frown.

“How many apprentices have you had?” Brindlefrost asked, attempting to break the awkward silence that had formed between the two.

“Two. Slimpaw and Hollowbreeze. One ran away and the other is manning the Clan without me there,” Tulipheart responded distractedly, sorting the herbs. Brindlefrost’s eyes widened but she kept quiet. “Come closer,” she ordered.

Brindlefrost did as she was told and leaned over to get a better look at the plants. Her gaze blurred. There were so many- how was she going to remember all of them? She gulped.

Tulipheart rested her paw next to a small group of purple berries. “This is juniper. It aids shortness of breath and stomach aches.” Brindlefrost nodded slowly. Tulipheart moved to the next thing.

“Marigold.” The herb had a thin stem and large, orange flowers. “In a poultice it can ease joint pain, and stop bleeding and infection. And this,” the golden she-cat continued, indicating a plant with pale blue petals, “is water mint. It calms bellyaches.” Brindlefrost was repeating the information over and over in her head so that she didn’t lose grip of the facts. “This is burdock root. It helps with rat bites. Many moons ago, long before you were even born, there was a rat infestation beside the Gathering place. Many cats lost their lives.” Tulipheart shuddered briefly, pain crossing her steady gaze.

“Did someone in your family…?” Brindlefrost trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought.

Die, Brindlefrost. The word is die. You better get acclimatized to using it, because you'll be hearing it a lot,” Tulipheart snapped. “And yes, I suppose you could say that.” She frowned. “Anyways, this is cobweb. Stops bleeding and keeps the wound clean,” she said, jerking her muzzle towards a white clump. “And this is goldenrod. Make a poultice with it and it heals wounds.”

“What is this?” Brindlefrost piped up, pointing out a plant with small, bell-shaped flowers and black roots.

“Comfrey. Mends broken bones,” Tulipheart said curtly. “Oh, and this is horsetail. You don't see this much on my territory. Treats infected wounds.”

“Tulipheart-”

“And this is catmint. You're lucky you have such a good stock.” The scent of the small green leaves was tantalizing. “The best and only remedy for greencough.”

“Tulipheart,” Brindlefrost mewed again.

“What?” the medicine cat responded, examining a flowering plant with pale violet blossoms.

“Can we take a break? You're going really fast and…” If looks could kill, Brindlefrost would be dead. “I mean, have you eaten? I could get you something.”

Tulipheart stared at her. The grey tabby averted her gaze.

“They don't make cats how they used to,” Tulipheart tsked. “Alright kid, we’ll take a small recess. Fetch me something good.”

Brindlefrost dipped her head respectfully and turned, her paw steps echoing on the stone walls of her den. She shivered, The sound was so hostile and empty.

She burst out from the plant cover and surveyed the camp. The sky was overcast, a dull grey promising rain later. Breezerush and Frozenfoot were sharing tongues, and she spotted Ashenblaze talking with a pretty, young tortoiseshell- Leafshine, Brindlefrost recalled. Sycamorebranch was walking out of camp with Mistyrain, Hawkwing and Brokenstep following them.

Brindlefrost sighed. The day felt so dreary. At this time the day prior, she had been fantasizing about romping through the forest with Brownfire until the moon was high in the sky. She was goimg to be a warrior. She shook her head. No use in reminiscing about times past.

At least, that was what she told herself as she wandered over to the fresh-kill pile.

“Oh, hello, Brindlefrost.” The she-cat looked up and found herself looking into Ivyclaw’s narrow, familiar grey and white face.

“Hi, mom,” the medicine cat replied. Ivyclaw smiled.

“How’s medicine cat duties?” her mother inquired. Brindlefrost rolled her eyes as she sorted through the prey, looking for something that would please Tulipheart. As she settled on a large vole, she responded.

“Complicated. There's so much stuff to learn, and Tulipheart goes so fast. I don’t know what I’ll do,” she meowed hopelessly, still feeling the stress and pressure of her new position pressing down on her shoulders remorselessly. “There's no way I'll be able to memorize it all.”

“Well, you did sign up for it,” Ivyclaw reminded her. “I'm sure you can do it. Believe in yourself.”

“Thanks, mom,” Brindlefrost grumbled. “Have you seen Blizzardsong?”

“In the dirtplace, I think. She'll be going out with Gentleflight soon, so if you wanna catch her before she leaves, better act quick,” Ivyclaw advised.

“Alright.” Brindlefrost turned, with vole filling her mouth, and headed back to her den. She pushed through the ferns and yelled to the elder medicine cat.

“Tulipheart! The prey’s up here!” she shouted into the dark tunnel. She heard a grunt of movement in response as she gingerly lowered the prey to the floor and stepped back out of the den.

She managed to spot Blizzardsong as she was greeting Gentleflight.

“Blizz!” she called.

“Huh? Brinny?” The she-cat swivelled her neck around, and a fond grin settled itself on her face. “Look at that!” she exclaimed, pride lighting her expression. “You’re smiling!”

“Oh. I guess I am?” Brindlefrost meowed, taking even herself by surprise.

“Yep!” There was a small pause. “Well, sorry, but I gotta blast. Gentleflight and I have something to discuss.” She exchanged a look with the tom, who beamed at her.

“What is it?” Brindlefrost asked as her sister nuzzled her affectionately. While she had an inkling already, she wanted to hear it from the cat herself.

“I’ll tell you later!” she bubbled as she skipped out of camp, Gentleflight pressed beside her. A surge of jealously stabbed Brindlefrost, but she ignored it.

“Whatever,” she murmured under her breath. “I'm sure she'll be in my den soon enough, if the news is what I think it is.” But yet she couldn’t fight the feeling of regret clawing at her heart.

chapter four ; waiting game

“the truth is the stars are falling, babe,
and i never ever thought that i would say, i'm scared of the life that i have made.”
-troye sivan, ease

It had been three sunrises since Tulipheart had arrived in ForestClan. Brindlefrost was learning slowly, and began to have a deeper appreciation for medicine cats as a whole. There were so many herbs to learn. She was certain it was more trying than any of her prior warrior training.

The grey tabby in question was leaning against the entrance to her den. The rain had come and gone the past few days, and now it was steadily pattering on the clearing’s solid floor. She felt calm as she watched the flow of water spiral down from the sky, the camp devoid of activity as most cats opted for their warm nests as opposed to the outside. She did see one cat standing guard, but other than that it seemed everyone was enjoying the resting period.

Brindlefrost padded out of her den, the cold rain sending shivers down her spine. Luckily the overhang of branches and leaves kept her relatively dry, but she still felt the water soaking into her pelt.

“Brindlefrost! You should be resting. You'll catch whitecough in this weather,” exclaimed the tom standing guard, a dark grey and silver tom- Strikestripe.

“It's alright, dad. If I did, I'd know how to cure it myself,” she said wryly. Strikestripe ruffled her cheek fur with a gentle nuzzle. “I’m just going out on a walk,” she explained.

Strikestripe’s eyes widened, then narrowed into slits. “I don’t think I want you out alone. Especially following what happened to Seedwhisker.”

“I, er.” It was hard to fight with the warrior, especially since he was her father, and would easily be able to send her back to her den. “I have to go get some horsetail? It only grows in marshy areas, and since it’s raining, there may be a chance of me finding some?” she mewed hopefully.

Strikestripe held her gaze for a bit, then relented. “Fine. But I want you back before Sunhigh, and make sure to stick close to the patrols.”

“Thanks, dad. I’ll head towards them,” Brindlefrost meowed gratefully, and pushed past him, through the arched exit out of camp. The grass beneath her paws was soft and wet, pressed down by the rainfall. She flicked her tail, her eyes wandering from the worn path to the curved trees and overgrown foliage. The last time she had been out of camp, she had been an apprentice. Everything seemed two shades darker- or maybe it was just a dreary weather.

Raindrops rolled off of leaves, feigning the sound of an attacker creeping in the bushes. Brindlefrost stayed alert, ears pricked, pawsteps light on the saturated soil. Tulipheart told her that horsetail would be abundant around areas where water was naturally occurring. She recalled a small spring near the diverging borders they shared with SlickClan and DustClan that would be a likely candidate.The tabby turned, tall grass flanking her side as she headed away from the path. Her paws sank into the softened mud.

The rain falling on her pelt reminded her of days when she was younger, having competitions with Brownfire as to who could catch the most frogs, or playing hide and seek around the camp and slinging wet dirt at each other. It was fun- at least, until Ivyclaw would shout at them to get inside.

Brindlefrost grit her teeth. Thinking of the tom made her stomach roil. The intrusive thoughts told her that she overreacted to Brownfire’s displeasure and was overthinking it, and she should make up with him. She shook her head. He hurt her, and she wasn’t ready to apologize yet.

Lost in her own mind, she barely heard the sound of someone rustling through the bushes, flicking dew from the leaves. She straightened, eyes flickering from side to side nervously. She bent her legs, getting into a semi-crouch. She may had chosen a more pacifistic life, but she wouldn’t hesitate to use her training to its full effect. Brindlefrost prepared herself as the rain pelted down all around her- when had it started pouring?

She growled as the noise drew closer and closer. She caught a flash of movement in the foliage, and then a shape burst out in front of her. Snarling, the tabby dropped her chin to the ground- and then recognized her ‘attacker.’

“Swirledpaw?” The older apprentice look terrified- eyes wide, legs trembling, with his fur standing on end. Not to mention his breathing was heavy and laboured. Brindlefrost stood. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a skirmish at the border!” he blurted out between exhales. Water rolled off his nose. “SlickClan won’t back down- and they’re fetching backup! They’re trying to invade!”

“What?!” Brindlefrost exclaimed. She suddenly felt weak in her knees- would she be tested with her minimal skills so soon? Then she was struck with another jolt of horror, ripping through her chest. Blizzardsong was on that patrol.

“Go back to the border immediately. I will warn the Clan,” Brindlefrost said in a rush. Swirledpaw nodded quickly, and sprinted back in the direction he came. Brindlefrost turned and ran through the plants, which she felt catching her legs and cutting her. The rain was coming down hard, battering on the tabby’s back.

A flood of relief hit her as she saw the entrance to camp. She burst through it, not minding the wounds she would suffer from the thorns lining the arch.

“Brin? What’s wrong?” Concern lighted Strikestripe’s gaze, who was standing under a low tree branch.

“Border skirmish with SlickClan that’s escalating rapidly,” Brindlefrost explained. “We need backup. Fast.”

Strikestripe’s concern quickly melted away and was replaced with anger. “Those foxhearts! I’ll go right now. You tell Fawnstar.”

Brindlefrost’s heart squeezed. Two of her family members at a potentially dangerous situation made her feel uneasy, but she had a job to do. She cleared the distance between the entrance and Fawnstar’s den in two bounds.

“Fawnstar!” she yelled. The leader, who looked like she was adjusting her nest, whipped around. “SlickClan is trying to invade. The border patrol needs extra cats!”

Fawnstar’s normally soft eyes grew a steely glint. “Alright,” she said authoritatively, pushing through the opening. “ForestClan! Everyone come to the clearing right now!” the brown molly yowled, her voice reverberating through camp.

Bleary cats and alert ones alike stumbled out of their dens. Murmurs of confusion were shared between them, but Fawnstar quickly silenced it with another bellow.

“SlickClan is infringing on our territory, and they’re getting violent fast.” Fear clouded the eyes of the surrounding Clan, and the whispers came back, louder than ever before.

“What wretched dung-lickers!” Brokenstep exclaimed furiously. Fawnstar ignored him and kept talking.

“Frozenfoot, I want you to go out and settle things.” The tom looked surprised, and turned to Breezerush, who wore a fearful expression upon his perplexed face. Frozenfoot gave his mate a comforting lick. “Ashenblaze, you as well.” Brindlefrost’s brother looked electrically charged, his dark eyes flashing with excitement. “Hawkwing and Leafshine, as well. Don’t let them invade. I’m trusting you.” The chosen cats quickly raced off, their pawprints trailing out of camp visible in the mud.

“Everyone else stay prepared!” Fawnstar’s voice was lost in an ominous clap of thunder rolling through the sky. Brindlefrost shivered. She was soaked to the bone, and her fur clung to her thin frame.

The tabby quickly crossed camp and entered her den. She shook out her pelt, water staining the sides of the cove like blood on a battlefield. “Tulipheart, start making herb bundles right now. We may have a battle on our hands.” Brindlefrost gulped nervously, and when she reached the inner part of her den, she spotted the golden medicine cat already sorting through their stock.

Brindlefrost’s anxiety was mounting as she picked up herbs, trying to remember everything she had learned. Cobwebs to stop the bleeding, goldenrod for wounds, and marigold for infection. As long as she knew the basics, she’d be fine. Right?

She had sorted out a few piles of herbs when she, with shaky breaths, tried to converse with Tulipheart. “Do battles scare you anymore?” she asked.

“Of course,” Tulipheart responded. “When you get to be my age, you’ve seen so many it’s like they blur together. But it’s always a life or death situation for the cats involved, and I’m what’s standing between those two polarizing opposites.” Brindlefrost’s lip trembled worriedly. “Don’t get distracted, Brindefrost. When you’ve devoted yourself to your Clan the way you and I have, your concentration is vital,” she growled. The tabby shuddered. Another crack of thunder rocked the sky- she could hear it even through the thick stone walls.

“Okay,” Brindlefrost responded uneasily. She leaned back and looked at the herbs- she didn’t want to chew them into poultices yet, in case they didn’t need to use as much as she’d gotten. She hoped not, at least. “Now what?”

Tulipheart’s eyes looked distant. “Now we play the waiting game.”

The waiting game, it turned out, didn’t last that long.

As Brindlefrost was pacing around the den in circles while Tulipheart complained she’d make herself dizzy, she heard a distressed wail from the clearing. The tabby burst forward, all of her pent up nervous energy released in one fell swoop. Rain fell across her pelt as she threw herself into the open.

Her blood ran cold when she heard what Frozenfoot was yelling.

“Blizzardsong’s been gravely injured!”

chapter five ; dark, darker, darkest

“i hope i’ll see the world as you did, ‘cause i know,
a life with love is a life that's been lived”
-ed sheeran, supermarket flowers

“No!” Brindlefrost choked. Ashenblaze and Whitepelt walked into camp, Blizzardsong balanced on their shoulders. The rain stained her white pelt grey, and mud marred her pretty coat. “No, no, no!” she screeched. The toms brought her body past the tabby, who quickly leapt away, towards her den.

“Tulipheart!” she cried. “We have an injury!” Brindlefrost turned to the cats carrying her, lips drawn back in a snarl. “Hurry!”

“We’re trying to support her injury!” Whitepelt retorted. Ashenblaze said nothing.

The two laid Blizzardsong on the cold ground of the medicine cat den, where Brindlefrost finally caught sight of the injury. She stepped back, feeling weak in the knees. The wound stretched from her right shoulder down her flank, torn fur matting the edges. It was a horrible sight. For a moment, the tabby couldn’t speak. She was frozen.

“Brindlefrost! We need to stop the bleeding!” Tulipheart hissed urgently. Her words brought the medicine cat back to reality, and she clawed a ball of cobweb, pressing it to the injury. Tulipheart started chewing up a poultice.

“Blizzardsong, can you hear me?” Brindlefrost shouted. “You’re going to be alright!” All she got in response was a thin, ghostly wail coming from the she-cat’s partially parted mouth. Brindlefrost was trembling as her paw smoothed the cobweb, trying to absorb as much blood as possible.

“Tulipheart! She keeps bleeding!” the tabby yelled worriedly, gently lifting the cobweb from the wound in horror. Quickly, she pushed it back into the cut. Blizzardsong squirmed under the touch.

“Apply more pressure,” Tulipheart ordered. Her gaze whipped around to the toms who had brought her in. “She needs water. Someone go get some!”

Whitepelt looked terrified, his whole body stiff. Ashenblaze’s eyes flashed, his shoulders tense as he watched the medicine cats.

Brindlefrost turned to her brother. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, standing around? Go get some water or her blood will be on your paws!” she lashed out, hissing. Whitepelt’s eyes widened, and even Ashenblaze looked taken aback. Then he shifted, took a clump of moss in his jaws, and headed out of the den, silently. Her fur still raised, the tabby went back to treating her patient.

“I’m alright,” Blizzardsong wheezed. She attempted to straighten, but when she tried to put weight on her shoulder she crumpled, letting out a strained cry of agony and gasping for air. Blood leaked from the wound.

“Don’t move!” Brindlefrost shouted. Blizzardsong’s ears were pinned to the back of her head, face contorted in pain. Her sister felt sick, like a live worm was wriggling around in her gut, winding around her intestines. She was shaking as she removed the clot from the white she-cat’s large injury. The bleeding had, thankfully, stopped.

“Tulipheart, we should put on the poultice now,” Brindlefrost advised. She bent over, putting her muzzle close to her sister’s ear. “You’ll live. I promise you, you’ll live.” Blizzardsong let out a lengthy moan in response, stretching out her neck. Unsettled dust leapt up to rest on the molly’s dry nose.

She winced and a tight exhale slipped through her lips as Tulipheart gently applied the poultice, securing it with a small cluster of new, unsoiled cobweb. Blizzardsong whimpered quietly, flailing her white paws as the juices from the herbs sank deep into the cut. Brindlefrost watched in amazement. She supposed she judged Tulipheart too harshly from their conversations and looks- she was a thick-furred, older she-cat with narrow eyes that had seen too much and broad shoulders unfitting for her body. But seeing her now, she realized that despite her sharp tongue, the she-cat genuinely cared for her patients, even though the one in question was from an enemy Clan. She worked quickly and efficiently.

Brindlefrost angled an ear to her right, hearing the telltale sound of someone entering the den. Ashenblaze stepped in, holding a soaking lump of moss. The sound of the water hitting the stone flooring was drowned out by the rain outside- though it had calmed, it still beat down steadily over camp.

He paused as he reached Blizzardsong’s splayed out body, leaning down to allow some of the liquid to drip into his sister’s mouth. Brindlefrost waited anxiously to see how the she-cat would react to having to swallow- if it wasn’t for the shallow rising and falling of her flank, she’d be certain that her sister had passed.

She shuddered and flicked away the intrusive thought as quickly as it came. Blizzardsong’s throat moved as she gulped down some of the water. Ashenblaze placed his moss beside her head so she could drink when she wanted to, and moved to whisper in his sister’s ear. He spoke so quietly that Brindlefrost had to strain her ears to listen.

“Hey, Blizz? Can you hear me?” he murmured softly. “You’ll… you’ll survive,” he said finally. “You’re the strongest cat I know.” Then he sat back, his demeanor never changing from his gruff expression. Brindlefrost’s eyes widened. She had never heard him talk like that, never speak so tenderly to someone, not even to his parents. She wondered if he really was gentle deep down, and his angry words to her and Brownfire, and basically everyone who crossed him was just an attempt to guard his true self. After all, Brindlefrost figured, you couldn’t get hurt if you never let yourself be vulnerable.

Maybe that’s why he detests medicine cats so much. Battling is the only thing that distracts him from his mind. Brindlefrost frowned. That didn’t seem like him. He was always so open as a kit… What happened?

She watched him as he left the den without another word. Whitepelt blinked at him and then followed, scurrying out of the area with his tail between his legs. The grey tabby shook her head at the two, and decided to distract herself from the crisis by making conversation.

“Tulipheart,” Brindlefrost started. “Do you have any littermates?”

“Why do you want to know so much about me?” she complained as she gave Blizzardsong’s pelt a thorough cleaning, freeing it of the dirt and mud that crusted her fur.

“Well, you met my siblings.” Brindlefrost waved her tail in her sister’s direction. “I wondered if you had any. Did they want to be medicine cats? How did they react to your role? Are they still alive?” the questions bubbled out, giving Tulipheart no time to answer.

“Slow down, little girl,” the medicine cat responded between grooms. “I have one littermate and two younger siblings. My sister’s name is Brightcloud, and the young’ns are named Nightpaw and Flutterpaw.”

“Brightcloud…,” Brindlefrost mumbled.

“Yep, she’s the Clan deputy.” Tulipheart flicked her tail. She looked like she was about to say more when Frozenfoot stepped into the den, sporting a gash on the side of his face. She could also see Breezerush in his tow, fretting nervously about the injuries.

“Hey, Brindlefrost. Fawnstar’s called a Clan meeting,” he informed her, and then ducked out the the plants surrounding the mouth of the cave. She looked back at Tulipheart.

“I’ll take care of your sister if you want to go join,” the yellow she-cat offered. Brindlefrost shook her head adamantly, and lied down beside Blizzardsong. She pressed against her sister. The tabby was so cold, her fur prickling and damp from the rain. Brindlefrost tried to put aside her growing worry as she attempted to listen in on the Clan meeting. Luckily, Fawnstar had a big mouth and even bigger words, and her speech came easily to her ears.

“...All of you fought like true ForestClan members at the battle. We’ve only sustained one bad injury.” Blizzardsong’s cold body made a shiver pass through Brindlefrost herself. “You showed SlickClan that if they want to get through us, they need to try a lot harder. I’m very proud, and for that reason, I believe there is a new warrior among us. Swirledpaw, please step forward.”

Brindlefrost could imagine surprise and confusion lighting the tom’s mismatched eyes. She could hear idle murmurs passing around camp.

“Swirledpaw, when you came to us, you were just a lowly kittypet. But I’ve seen you. You’re courageous and loyal, and you were the one who first alerted Brindlefrost of the danger. For that, we thank you,” Fawnstar meowed.

Brindlefrost heard cheers even though the ceremony hadn’t taken place yet. “Swirledpaw! Swirledpaw!” Fawnstar continued to speak. Brindlefrost tuned out momentarily as a cough wracked Blizzardsong’s body, and she groaned in pain.

“...From now on you shall be known as Swirledlight. StarClan honours your loyalty and bravery, and we welcome you as a full member of ForestClan.” Brindlefrost smiled in spite of herself. When Swirledlight- Swirledkit then, first joined the Clan, there were many cats who were less than happy to be harbouring a kittypet in their walls. He tried tirelessly to prove himself, and she felt a surge of pride for the tom and the warrior he had become.

As cheers for the new warrior drowned out her thoughts, she pressed her muzzle into the nape of Blizzardsong’s neck, losing herself in the fluffy scruff fur. “You will make it,” she said, trying to  reassure herself more than her sister. “I swear.”

☀☀☀

Drowsy morning sunlight fell upon the clearing of camp, sending beams of light through worn holes and cracks in the medicine cat den’s roof. Brindlefrost had just woken, and was clearing Blizzardsong’s wound dressing so that she could add a fresher one.

A sunset and a sunrise had passed once each since the SlickClan scuffle, and the only cats in the den other than Tulipheart and herself was her sister and Leafshine, who had a pretty nasty claw wound on her lower back.

Brindlefrost chewed up a second poultice and tried to lay it on as gently as Tulipheart had the day prior, but her actions seemed to jolt the she-cat awake. Her blue eyes flickered open, the light catching them and turning them a brilliant pale yellow.

“Good morning, Brindlefrost,” Blizzardsong mewed. Brindlefrost’s eyes widened. When she had tried to talk to her earlier, her speech was broken and her wound pained her every time she tried to speak. Relief flowed through the medicine cat. Her sister must’ve been getting better. She would probably be sending her off to warrior duties soon.

Cheered, Brindlefrost responded. “Morning, Blizz. How are you feeling?”

“A bit better,” Blizzardsong replied. Without her smile breaking, she continued. “Shame, really, that I’ll be joining StarClan soon.”

Brindlefrost’s blood turned to ice beneath her skin. “What do you mean? You said you were feeling better.” She felt her heartbeat begin to pick up, hammering against her chest. “Are you joking?”

“No. Feeling better won’t stop the ticking of time. It won’t stop death,” Blizzardsong murmured, gaze straying to the stone floor. She fiddled with her paws.

“How are you okay with this?” Rising panic fought through Brindlefrost’s voice.

“I’m terrified,” Blizzardsong told her. Her eyes flashed, but the gentle smile she wore never once slid off her face.

“You’re not going to die,” Brindlefrost said firmly, ignoring the fact that her stomach felt like it had dropped to her toes. “What do you need? Water? Should I bring in Gentleflight?”

“No!” Blizzardsong exclaimed. “He’s such a good cat. He… He doesn’t deserve to be left behind.”

“I’ll fix you,” Brindlefrost said in determination.

“I’m already broken.” The grief seeping through Blizzardsong’s words crushed Brindlefrost. Her nerves pulsed, spreading through her veins. Her legs began to shake, throat turning to sand as all the moisture left it. It hurt to swallow. “Goodbye, my dear, dear, sister,” the white tabby added.

It took all of Brindlefrost’s willpower to keep from screaming and waking the Clan. She twitched anxiously. “No, no, no!” she meowed in a hushed tone, fighting off tears. She feared that if she spoke for much longer, she wouldn’t be able to keep them at bay. “Blizzardsong, I can save you! I- I’m a medicine cat. My j-job is…”

“Your job is to treat cats to the best of your abilities and see them off to StarClan painlessly,” Blizzardsong interrupted with a sigh, her eyes flitting closed as she rested her cheek on the ground. “Really, Brindlefrost. You’re a smart cat. You should be able to figure this out.”

Brindlefrost’s eyes watered, and she said nothing. She wasn’t able to.

Blizzardsong spoke instead. “I… I have to go now. It hurts so, so much to stay alive for this long. It’s already getting so dark.” Her shoulders were shaking. “Give Gentleflight my best.” She meowed. “And tell him I’m sorry the kits couldn’t meet their father… Or their mother.”

With that sentiment, the light died from her eyes, and her whole body relaxed into the floor. But right up to when death wrapped its ugly claws around her, she never, ever stopped smiling.

chapter six ; bristling

“and the tears come streaming down your face,
when you lose something you can’t replace.”
-coldplay, fix you

Three days.

Such a short time to most cats, but to Brindlefrost, the days dragged on for eternities. Everything around her was covered in a haze of darkness, and she was exhausted day in and day out. Tulipheart was patient with the grieving molly, but even her kindness had limits that Brindlefrost was probing at. She didn’t want to learn, or listen, and if her lackadaisical actions as a medicine cat continued they could, and would, kill someone. Her mind was fuzzy, as if every task she completed or words she spoke were blurred.

In the period of time, she was forced to go to the Star Sleeper’s cove so that she could be recognized as a full medicine cat by the warriors of StarClan. Brindlefrost had nearly fallen asleep on her paws multiple times as the travelling herbs had done little to nothing to gnaw away at the pangs of tiredness wrapping around her body. She met the other medicine cats as well- they were okay, she supposed, but their sympathy made her sick. After a while, it just became so unreal, so… fake. Like they don’t really care and only give their condolences because they feel obligated to. Their words felt like acid.

Three days.

It had been three days since Blizzardsong’s death.

“Brindlefrost, you almost gave Leafshine stinging nettle instead of poppy seeds!” Tulipheart snapped angrily, her hackles rising. Brindlefrost frowned slightly, continuing to sort out her nest and weave soft sparrow feathers into the moss. “I cannot teach you any longer if you refuse to listen. Your incompetence could lead to an untimely death.”

“I’m sorry,” Brindlefrost responded lethargically, head bent low to hide her tired eyes. “Maybe I should just quit,” she added. “I’ve already killed one cat. I couldn’t even save my own sister.” Her eyes watered. Every day she promised to hold back her tears, and every day she failed.

“You’ve said that time and time again, Brindlefrost. If you expect my answer to change, I guarantee you it won’t,” Tulipheart said as she thrust her muzzle close to the younger she-cat, her breath heavy with the scent of herbs. “You can’t save everyone. That’s the first rule of being a medicine cat.”

“I could have, though!” argued Brindlefrost with no fire behind her words.

“No, you couldn’t have!” shouted Tulipheart. “StarClan wanted Blizzardsong!”

“But why couldn’t they take me?!” Brindlefrost started to sob, her claws unsheathing instinctively to graze the ground below. “Blizzardsong was b-beautiful! She-She had k-kits on th-the way!” she was shaking. She should have been over the pain, the grief, but she wasn’t. Even hearing her sister’s name was enough to reopen the wound that Blizzzardsong’s death left on her body- an ugly, jagged scar stretching across her entireform. “Sh-She was ama-ama-amazing, and I-I’m just use-useless!” She spat out her last words like they were a maggot-infested piece of prey, anger contorting her facial features. The tabby refused to make eye contact with her mentor.

Then she felt something strike her left ear, and she cried out in pain. Brindlefrost met Tulipheart’s steely gaze, looking flabbergasted. Her eyes were wide, mouth popped open like a baby bird’s.

“You… You clawed me!” she seethed in confused bewilderment, her eyes burning.

“Because you’re being stupid,” Tulipheart hissed. “And it’s not enough to draw blood. It’s a tactic all DustClan mentors use. When their apprentices are not listening to reason, it’s best to attack the root of the problem; your ears.” The golden she-cat flicked her tail. “You will be a fantastic medicine cat, but you need to put aside your sorrow and learn to control your grief,” she mewed as she raised her head slightly, as if she was gazing to the stars. Then she shook her head.

“I-I know…” Brindlefrost hiccuped, batting her newly-wounded ear. “I just n-need to be-be sad, I think.”

Tuliphear gave a curt nod. The two withstood a couple moments of silence, the only noise between them the pounding of their heartbeats and the obnoxious noise of birdsong from the outside.

Then the two angled their heads towards the den’s gaping entrance as someone stepped inside.

“Hello, Brindlefrost and Tuli-” It was Mistyrain. She began to greet the two when she paused, noticing Brindlefrost’s distraught face and Tulipheart’s grim expression. She blinked her pale eyes. “I’m sorry, is this a bad time?” she tentatively stepped forward.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Tulipheart meowed rushedly. “What can we do for you?”

“Alright,” the dark grey she-cat meowed nervously. Then she smiled widely. “I’m expecting kits.”

“Kits?” Brindlefrost echoed.

“That’s wonderful,” Tulipheart purred warmly. “It’s always a good time when new kits are born- especially when those two youngsters in the nursery are bound to rank up soon,” she added. Her demeanor had completely changed from just a few heartbeats earlier. Brindlefrost was impressed. Or, maybe she just had a soft spot for kits? She didn’t strike the grey tabby as the type.

“Oh, you mean Stormkit and Vixenkit?” Mistyrain asked. “Sycamorebranch said they’re due for their ceremony next moon.”

“Is he the father?” Brindlefrost questioned quietly, not daring to speak louder.

Mistyrain looked away bashfully. “Yeah,” she meowed. Brindlefrost’s whiskers twitched in amusement and joy for the young queen..

“Lovely,” the medicine cat responded. “You can head to the nursery, then. I’m sure Clovermark will help you with setting up a new nest. Congrats.” A pang struck her heart, like spears of ice through her chest. If Blizzadsong was alive, she would have been sending her off to the nursery for her own kits. She attempted to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat.

“Thank you,” Mistyrain said with a dip of her head, turning to leave the den. As the ferns rustled, signifying her exit, Brindlefrost turned to her mentor with a sad smile plastered across her face.

“It’s always nice to have new life in the Clan, isn’t it?” she mused.

“That it is,” Tulipheart meowed, sounding distant. She flicked her tail as her head once again tilted upwards and she aimed her gaze to the top of their den. Brindlefrost turned and continued to work on her nest, fluffing it up. She hadn’t had a decent sleep ever since she became a medicine cat, but it was progressively getting worse, so she wanted to do whatever she could to turn over a new leaf in her favour. The two sat in a less than comfortable silence as they worked on their respective tasks. Brindlefrost had begun to work on clearing away the old moss in Tulipheart’s nest when the golden medicine cat spoke.

“Full moon tonight,” she commented.

“Mhm,” Brindlefrost reply was pavlovian, barely listening to her mentor.

“Your first Gathering as ForestClan’s medicine cat,” Tulipheart mewed.

“Oh.” It clicked. Brindlefrost held her breath momentarily. “Do I have to go?”

“Absolutely,” Tulipheart grunted. “You need to represent you Clan.”

Brindlefrost frowned, letting the words hang in the air for a while. Then she stood and bundled the moss she had collected underneath her chin. “I’m going to dispose of this,” she said briskly. “Do you want anything from the fresh-kill pile?”

“Nothing with feathers,” Tulipheart requested. Brindlefrost padded out of the den without another word to the older cat. Her footfalls are quick, and the noise of her soft pawsteps were like slices through the air. It was only a gentle noise, like early Newleaf rain, but those days everything seemed loud to the inexperienced medicine cat.

She burst out into the clearing, where a pale blueish sky hung over her drearily. The light made her cringe. She had seldom went out in the stretch of time between her sister’s demise and right then, only to fetch food and of course, sit Blizzardsong’s vigil. There was a dull thump as the ball of moss was let go from her neck, and she tucked it into the thick greenery crawling up her stone den.

Brindlefrost set her jaw as she headed over to the fresh-kill pile, which was overflowing due to the late season heat. As she approached, she overheard a conversation between two senior warriors- Soilflight and Dewspots. The two had their heads bent together as they spoke, sharing a sparrow.

“Two deaths in the same moon? The families must be devastated,” Soilflight meowed quietly, shaking her head slightly as she swallowed a piece of her meal. Dewspots frowned in return. Apparently, cats were still talking about Seedwhisker’s mysterious death and Blizzardsong’s untimely one.

“It’s awful,” the grey and white tom agreed. “Do you think SlickClan is behind Seedwhisker’s death? After that border skirmish…” His green eyes flickered up and spotted Brindlefrost, and his mouth clamped shut.

She meowed a greeting to the two, adopting a strained, happy expression, and the pair dipped their heads in return. An awkward silence filled the space between them as Brindlefrost took a squirrel in her mouth and quickly bounded away. The quiet was suffocating to her. She didn’t want to be alone with her raging thoughts.

Squirrel swinging from her jaws by its neck, Brindlefrost hopped back into her den. She jaunted back to her nest and dropped the prey in front of Tulipheart. “At your request; no feathers.”

“Thanks,” Tulipheart meowed, tucking into the prey. Brindlefrost stomach grumbled as she looked at the animal, but she didn’t feel inclined to eat. Instead she frowned and frumped down into her nest. If she was expected to make a good show at the Gathering, she’d have to get some rest.

☀☀☀

Evening light faded into dark indigo and splashes of orange filled the sky as Brindlefrost stood with Tulipheart, waiting to head to the Gathering. She frowned. She had been to a couple as an apprentice, but she never liked them as much as Brownfire. Now she was going to be there as a medicine cat. The thought baffled her.

Out of the corner of her eye, Brindlefrost spotted a familiar brown and white pelt take the spot beside her. She straightened and kept her gaze ahead of her, blue eyes narrowed.

“Hey,” Brownfire meowed. Brindlefrost remained silent. Fawnstar called out to the group at the head of it, and the clump of cats shifted into motion. Brindlefrost paced, trying to lose the tom, but his ever steady pawsteps never left her side.

“Sorry about what happened to Blizzardsong. She was a good cat.” His apology sounded genuine, and Brindlefrost felt herself nearly break her stride. With a gulp, she continued on till she was near the front of the group.

“Yes, she was,” Brindlefrost said curtly. Brownfire’s eyes softened.

“Don’t be like that,” he said. Brindlefrost’s skin itched beneath her pelt, feeling her anger -and affection- for the tom beginning to reawaken. “I lost someone in my family, too, remember? I know what it’s like,” he murmured.

Brindlefrost did remember. Swanfur was Brownfire’s mother, who exuded elegance and had a gorgeous white pelt and bright, fiery eyes just like her son. Brindlefrost didn’t really know anything about her, other than her being pretty close with Ivyclaw. She died in the night, just like that, without any symptoms of illness. The tabby wondered if Brownfire felt the pain of his mother’s passing now as much as he did when it happened.

She didn’t reply.

Brownfire didn’t speak for a moment, opening and closing his mouth like he had something to say but wasn’t brave enough to. “Spit it out,” Brindlefrost growled.

“I made a mistake in losing you,” he sputtered. Brindlefrost froze, and Leafshine bumped into her. The she-cat snorted as she passed her, Ashenblaze beside her.

“You didn’t lose me,” Brindlefrost hissed. “You alienated me. You hurt me, betrayed me, when all I needed was reassurance.” She felt her tail rise in anger, the fur on it prickling.

“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed. “But… you hurt me too! You were so excited for our ceremony! I wanted us to be able to live together peacefully, side by side, but suddenly you had to become the hero. Your change in mood nearly gave me whiplash!” he lashed his tail.

“What about me?” Brindlefrost growled. “I did what I thought was right! Unless you were going to step up and be the medicine cat, you can’t say anything. Now you’re playing the victim card when you’re the one in the wrong.” Brownfire looked stunned, and Brindlefrost was suddenly aware of the hungry gazes lingering on them. Mind your own business! “I don’t have to put up with it.”

“I’m… I’m sorry. I never stopped to think about you.” Brownfire’s tone immediately shifted. His voice dropped at least ten decibels and his eyes fell to the ground, suddenly becoming very interested in the grass dancing around his paws. “I’m so, so damn selfish.”

Part of Brindlefrost thought this was just an act, a scheme meant to manipulate her. The other part wanted to scream forgiveness. As much as she wanted to leave the tom behind, she missed his friendship madly.

She slowed her pace and said nothing for the rest of the journey.

She entered the Gatheringplace with Brownfire still at her side- it was a small, wooded area with a thin stream running around the perimeter. It was already packed with cats from all three Clans- Brindlefrost expected hers was a tad late. Fawnstar and Sycamorebranch rushed to the Throne, a large, gemstone-like boulder that reflected moonlight out into the clearing. Through the crowds, Brindlefrost noticed Ashenblaze and Leafshine talking with a group of cats she didn’t recognize, and Clovermark chatting with a pregnant queen who smelled of FrostClan.

“Brindlepaw?” Brindlefrost turned. She saw a thick-furred brown tabby with a shiny pelt heading towards her. The she-cat’s bright green eyes were wide.

“Hi, Laurelpaw. It’s actually Brindlefrost now,” she mewed in greeting.

“That’s awesome!” Laurelpaw meowed. “You passed your assessment?”

“Actually,” she said in a low tone. “I’m a medicine cat now.”

Laurelpaw’s mouth popped open. “No way! How?” She sounded incredibly eager for information. Brindlefrost twitched her whiskers.

“Long story,” Brindlefrost meowed, sure that Fawnstar would explain it during the grace period.

“Cool,” Laurelpaw responded. “Well, I passed my assessment, too. Just barely, though. Gingerleaf is such a harsh mentor.” The tabby rolled her eyes. “You’re looking at the new and improved Laurelfang.” She flashed a smile.

“Congrats!” Brindlefrost meowed. Laurelfang’s eyes went from the grey tabby to Brownfire.

“Oh, hey, Brownpaw,” she said. “Didn’t see ya there.” The she-cat winked.

“It’s Brownfire now,” he meowed.

“Sorry, Browners.” Laurelfang stuck her tongue out. She looked behind Brindlefrost. “Where’s Ashes? Is he not here tonight?”

“Ashenblaze is over there.” She gestured with her tail to the clump of cats she’d seen previously. Laurelfang grinned, and flicked her fluffy tail.

“Thanks. I’m gonna go say hi. Talk to you later, don’t wait up for me!” she meowed emphatically as she skipped over to Ashenblaze and his posse- Brindlefrost realized two of the cats she didn’t know were from DustClan, and the other from FrostClan. They looked like they were Leafshine’s friends, as Ashenblaze was just sitting beside the tortoiseshell and nodding.

Brindlefrost turned back to the Throne, waiting for the leaders to begin the event. Brownfire shifted beside her.

“Cats of all Clans!” yowled a pale tabby from the top of the Throne. Brindlefrost recognized her as Sandstar, the leader of DustClan. The medicine cat craned her neck upwards. “It is time to commence the Gathering.”

A white and silver tom with scars crisscrossing his muzzle stepped forward. His name was Magpiestar, Brindlefrost thought. He was a newer leader, though, and he was unfamiliar to her. “FrostClan had been doing very well. Newleaf has been kind to us, and the nursery is filled with young kits.” The tom’s dark eyes lightened. “We’d like to welcome two new apprentices and three new warriors- Littlepaw, Rosepaw, Softwing, Dawnstripe, and Laurelfang.” Cheers went up from the Clans, mostly from FrostClan. Brindlefrost raised her voice to cheer for her friend.

Fawnstar stepped forward, taking Magpiestar’s place. “Prey has been plentiful in ForestClan. We have three new warriors as well- Brownfire, Ashenblaze, and Swirledlight.” Brindlefrost noticed Brownfire straighten in pride. “Our medicine cat, Seedwhisker, has passed away in an unfortunate accident.” Fawnstar bent her neck, and Brindlefrost noticed she had made a smart move in not telling the others of her murder. “Brindlefrost, one of our new warriors, took up the position.” She paused briefly as the crowd chanted her name. The grey tabby flushed. “We’d like to thank DustClan wholeheartedly for allowing Tulipheart to stay and teach her.”

“Of course,” Sandstar meowed. “It’s terrible what happened to her. So young, too.”

Fawnstar began to speak again. “We’ve also lost Blizzardsong in a border skirmish with SlickClan,” she said spitefully. Murmurs began to circle around beneath the crowd. Brindlefrost shifted uncomfortably, wishing her leader hadn’t mentioned that detail.

A slim, dark she-cat with eyes like the moon faced Fawnstar. “You have my sincerest condolences, Fawnstar.” Her gaze was sharp. “Rest assured every member of that patrol has been punished accordingly, and no member of SlickClan will step over your border unprovoked.”

Fawnstar’s eyes met the she-cat’s. Brindlefrost noticed something flash in their expressions, like a message had been shared between the two. “They shouldn’t have had to be punished in the first place,” the brown she-cat meowed, her tone adopting a snarl. “You should teach your warriors to be less violent and more respectful, Fogstar.”

The two maintained unbroken eye contact as the crowd below fell into a hush. It seemed the two were having a silent mental battle- and over more than just the death of a warrior. Brindlefrost’s interest piqued.

Fogstar broke first, bowing her head. “You’re right,” the she-cat meowed. “SlickClan is forbid from hunting or travelling near our border with your Clan and DustClan until further notice.”

Yowls of protest shot up from SlickClan cats. A young ginger and white tom sitting near Brindlefrost hissed angrily and unsheathed his claws. Fogstar raised her tail for silence. “SlickClan! You will stand down!” she shouted over the commotion. Brindlefrost winced. “Any cat who argues will be on apprentice duties for a moon!”

The yammering settled as quickly as it came, and the hairs on the back of Fogstar’s neck lowered. “That’s what I thought.” She grit her teeth. “Other than the aforementioned skirmish, SlickClan is prospering. We have four apprentices joining the ranks- Hollypaw, Grasspaw, Heartpaw, and Cinderpaw.” The cheers for the cats were flat, excepting SlickClan’s obnoxious chants. Brindlefrost felt a pang of sympathy for the apprentices who should have been experiencing a moment of pride but had it sullied by the confrontation.

Sandstar took the place at the front of the Throne. “We, too, are relishing in this year’s kind Newleaf. We have several new lives in the Clans, thanks to Heatherstrike and Gorsefeather’s kits. We have two new warriors- Thunderstep and Petaltail.” Brindlefrost cheered alongside the others for the two warriors- she spotted a grey tabby and a pale silver she-cat looking like they were about to burst, and assumed they were the newbies.

“You are all dismissed to mingle,” Magpiestar said abruptly, cutting in front of Sandstar.  

The mottled tomcat leapt down from the Throne and met with a she-cat sitting at the foot of the boulder. He bumped his head against her. She must be the deputy- and probably his sister, she thought, looking at their similar pelts.

Brownfire turned to Brindlefrost. “Wow. SlickClan really respects Fogstar,” he commented.

“Well, she is their leader,” the grey tabby pointed out.

“Hey, you.” Brindlefrost heard an unfamiliar voice, and she looked towards the source. A handsome golden tom with rippling fur and tabby stripes stood in front of her. “Are you the new medicine cat?” She had to look up to meet his eyes- he was tall.

“That’s me.” Brindlefrost flicked her tail, feeling an odd sense of embarrassment creep over her pelt.

“Thought you sounded familiar. You’re one of Laurelfang’s friends, aren’t you?” the tom asked. Brindlefrost nodded. “Mhm. Thought so.” He dipped his head respectfully. “That’s a tough job.” He stepped closer. “How are you faring?”

“Alright,” Brindlefrost mewed awkwardly. Beside her, Brownfire bristled.

“That’s good,” the tom grunted. “I’m Dawnstripe, by the way.”

“Oh, one of the new warriors?” Brindlefrost asked, warming up to the tom rather quickly, “Congrats.”

“Thanks,” he said coolly. “I’ll see you around,” he meowed suddenly, and turned to walk back to his own Clan. Brindlefrost stared after him, wide-eyed.

“He was really nice,” she meowed, sounding a bit out of it.

“He was okay,” Brownfire countered flatly. Brindlefrost turned to him, surprised. His amber eyes were crackling with some emotion… Anger? No, not anger. She had seen that expression on him enough to recognize it in the heat of battle. Annoyance? Maybe. Then she realized.

Jealousy.

chapter seven ; rekindle

“but you'll never see the end of the road
while you're traveling with me.”
-crowded house, don’t dream it’s over

There is a pause for two beats. The cat shifts her paws for one, and it takes five beats for her to raise her gaze from the dark ground.

“You know you must,” says a white she-cat standing next to her. Silence fills a couple more beats, and the she-cat pricks her ears, blue eyes solemn, gaze steady. She is beautiful, with a dappled white and silver tabby pelt.

“Does it have to be me?” Her voice is shrill and inexperienced. She scuffs the ground with a paw.

“Of course.” This speaker is new; his pelt is dark and his muscles fill out his thin fur. “It’s for the good of the Clan. You want that, right?”

“Of course,” the she-cat meows with a protective edge to her voice. She sighs. “I just wish it wasn’t me who had to tell her. I should be down there, protecting her, instead of here.” She gestures with her tail as frustration fuels her words.

There are four kits behind her, and their tinkering laughter fills the silence. The white she-cat wreaths around her. “I’m sorry. But this is your duty to her now. Will you do it?”

She clenches her jaw. “Yes.”

. *¸. ● ¸ .  ★  ¸ .   ★ °° ☾ °☆  

°  ¸. * ● ¸ . .● ¸    .

“Stormpaw! Vixenpaw!”

The two she-cats stood in the middle of the clearing with their heads held high. Brindlefrost smiled at the  new apprentices touching noses with their mentors- they were so young and full of life. And they would certainly have an easy early apprenticeship- Newleaf had faded into Greenleaf and the skies were a bright cyan colour over the treetops, below which were teeming with prey.

Brindlefrost turned and headed into her den. Plants that flourished in the hot sun had begun to creep over the entrance to the cave; the tabby figured she’d have to do something about it soon. She walked deeper into the cavern to go see Ivyclaw, as her mother was resting in a makeshift nest after complaining about stomach pains and a sore back.

“Hey, mom. How’s it going?” she asked, noticing Ivyclaw’s dark blue eyes had opened. She rolled over.

“Alright,” she said. “Still tired, though. Do you think I’m sick?” Concern lit her gaze.

“I don’t think so. Might just be your body adjusting to the weather,” Brindlefrost said. “Tulipheart, have you checked her out yet?”

“I figured you could do that. I’m going out for herbs,” Tulipheart meowed, brushing past her. A knowing look crossed her face as she left, tail waving gently from side to side. Brindlefrost pressed a paw to her mother’s flank, feeling around for any abnormalities or things of that ilk. Nothing. Then she took her muzzle and put it to her mother’s chest. Her heartbeat was strong and even. She drew back, slightly perplexed.

“Hmm,” Brindlefrost mumbled. She touched Ivyclaw’s stomach, and the she-cat winced slightly. She prodded further, feeling some swelling around the area. Brindlefrost took her paw away and stepped away from her mother. “Have you felt hungrier recently?” she asked anxiously.

“Yes,” Ivyclaw admitted, sounding shy like she sensed her daughter’s nerves.

“And you said your back has been hurting?” the medicine cat questioned.

“A bit, yes,” the silver and white tabby meowed.

Brindlefrost shifted, moving to the back of the den to sort through her herbs. “You’re expecting kits. Are they Strikestripe’s?” she asked, the words stinging her lips as they left them. She gave her pelt a shake and focused on the storage- Mistyrain would be due at the end of the moon, she assumed, and her mother’s revelation reminded her to fetch her some borage.

Ivyclaw’s eyes widened. “I…” her mouth was agape. “Yes, but… I don’t know if I can handle kits right now.” She looked away, pain in her eyes. “So soon after Blizzardsong’s death, as well. What if the Clan thinks they’re replacements for her? What if they have to grow up, listening to those cruel rumours?” The she-cat’s breathing became fast and shallow. “Oh, Brindlefrost, I’m not fit to mother them!”

Alarm gripped Brindlefrost. The borage leaves she had in her mouth fluttered to the ground. “Mom? Mom!” she shouted, placing a paw firmly onto Ivyclaw’s flank. “Calm down. Just breathe,” she meowed intensely. “No one will be able to replace Blizzardsong. It’s not your fault that she died when you were expecting,” she added harshly.

“What if one of the kits looks like her, Brindlefrost?” Ivyclaw whispered. Dismay twisted Brindlefrost’s gaze. She and Ivyclaw hadn’t talked since before the death of her sister, and had no idea that her mother still felt the pain so fresh and new. Brindlefrost swallowed. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to lose a child.

“Maybe you should talk about it with Strikestripe,” Brindlefrost suggested. She wasn’t good with advice.

“Oh, Strikestripe… He loved Blizzardsong like she was his own daughter,” Ivyclaw wept. “Brindlefrost, what should I do?” She turned to face the grey tabby.

Brindlefrost felt discomfort itch her skin. “Well, your kits won’t be born for a few moons, so don’t jump to any conclusions so fast,” she advised. “And, um, you should move your nest to the nursery and tell Dad about the kits.”

Ivyclaw’s troubled expression struck Brindlefrost’s heart. “I suppose. But Brindlefrost, I don’t feel ready.” She sounded kitlike and nervous, with no trace of the fearsome, battle-scarred warrior that struck fear into cats of all Clans. Brindlefrost nudged her mother to her feet and plucked the borage from the ground.

“Here, let’s get you to the nursery.” She allowed her mother to lean against her shoulder. It was a touching scene, really. A mother who had raised her daughter through her entire life and stuck with her during the rough patches was now the one who needed help.

Shafts of bright sunlight rolled over camp and the clearing was alive with cats. Mistyrain and Sycamorebranch were sharing a mouse, and Breezerush and Frozenfoot were talking with Brownfire. She spotted Ashenblaze and Leafshine playfighting like children. Fawnstar was resting in the shade near a small pool of water. She stifled a purr. Greenleaf always brought out the best in her Clan.

“This weather reminds me of when you and Ashenblaze were born,” Ivyclaw reminisced as they headed to the nursery, her voice airy. “That Newleaf was unseasonably hot and horrible, but you and your brother always insisted on playing outside. She sighed. “What happened to the two of you? You never talk anymore.”

“He’s angry with me,” Brindlefrost explained, not really wanting to get into it. “He doesn’t like medicine cats, and I can’t imagine he wants to make amends after I let Blizzardsong die.” She felt Ivyclaw stiffen.

“Brindlefrost, that wasn’t your fault.” The medicine cat suppressed an eye roll. That’s all she ever heard when she tried to place the blame on her own shoulders- she thought that would make the cats involved feel less guilty. “It was those mangy SlickClan cats,” she hissed. “Punishment, my tail. Fogstar may be respectable but her foxhearted cats will never change their ways.” Ivyclaw curled her lip, spite quickly rushing in to replace the sorrow.

“Mhm,” Brindlefrost murmured. Just talking about the cats who caused her sister’s death exhausted her. She led her mother into the nursery, and the dim light inside the bush was calming to her bright eyes. There hadn’t been many kits lately, and despite her mother’s worry, she was glad that the Clan would have new life breathed into it. “Here.” The tabby gestured to a corner near a mat of torn moss that had been there since she was a newborn.

Ivyclaw settled into a sitting position, her trembles still showing through her thin coat. “I’ll get you some new moss.” Brindlefrost dropped the leaves of borage and stepped back out of the den, stretching out her back legs as the sun fell over her body. She padded across camp, heading to the elder’s den where moss crept of the sides of the stones that rooted it in place. Claws scraped the rock as she tried to strip the plant from its home.

“Need help?”

Brindlefrost turned to find herself staring into Brownfire’s eyes. “Oh, yeah. Sure.” The tom plopped down beside her, uprooting grass from the ground and clawing moss off of the stones. He worked quickly and produced a clump of plant life that he began to roll into a ball. Brindlefrost followed.

“Is this for your nest?” Brownfire asked. Brindlefrost shook her head as she bundled the moss under her chin, pressing it close to her neck.

“Ivyclaw’s. She’s having kits,” the tabby answered.

“Wowza, big news! Is this her third litter?” Brownfire bent low to the ground and clamped the ball between his chin and chest. The pair started walking back to the nursery.

“Yep,” Brindlefrost said emptily. He was trying to get their friendship back on track, which she somewhat appreciated, but at the same time their conversations felt so boring. Devoid of real feeling or interest. They were just being polite to each other to avoid slipping back into an argument. She felt like they were walking on thorns as they spoke.

“We’re back,” the medicine cat meowed a greeting as she unfurled the moss dropped from her chin. Brownfire mumbled a similar hello.

“Oh, hello, Brownfire.” Ivyclaw blinked from the darkness. The she-cat still looked dazed, her gaze distant. “We haven’t talked in awhile. Are warrior duties good? They feeding you enough?”

“They’re fine, and yes, they are,” Brownfire purred. Ivyclaw dipped her head and stood as the two cats began to form a nest for the queen, fluffing up the grass Brownfire had collected and putting moss on the top.

“We can put some feathers in if you want,” Brindlefrost offered, but her mother shook her head.

“I’d rather not cause trouble,” Ivyclaw meowed, tucking her paws under her weight. She smiled weakly at the two, still struggling to hide the fear behind her eyes “Thank you.”

“No problem, mom.” Brindlefrost bent and gently nuzzled her mother’s ear. “You'll make it through this. Dad and I will be there every step of the way.” Her own voice wavered slightly as she whispered. She had spent the past days trying to get over her grief, and instead funnel the energy that took into her job- that was Tulipheart’s advice. But she still, like every machine undergoing instability, broke at times. She hated it.

“Oh, Brindlefrost. I know.” Ivyclaw’s head drooped down onto her nest. Brindlefrost bit her tongue and gently padded away, resting her tail on Brownfire’s flank. The tom jumped under her touch.

“Come on, Brownfire. Let's go.”

. *¸. ● ¸ .  ★  ¸ .   ★ °° ☾ °☆  

°  ¸. * ● ¸ . .● ¸   

.

White starlight gleamed around Brindlefrost’s paws as a hushed zephyr whispered through pale clumps of unnaturally coloured grass. For a moment, fear froze the medicine cat in place. Where was she? Was she in purgatory? Had she died? No, she couldn’t be dead. She heard her heartbeat drumming steadily inside her chest, and blood flowing through her veins and ringing in her ears. The ground beneath her paws was light and it felt like it would give way at any time.

Then it occurred to her- she was dreaming.

Brindlefrost relaxed slightly. But still, that didn’t clear up where she was. She gazed around. The sky was alight with stars of all different colours and shapes all around her, and flowers blossomed from the side of the path she was set upon. Her eyes widened. Could she be in StarClan? She was a medicine cat, and even kits knew they had a special connection to their ancestors.

“Hello?” she asked, unsure. Her voice bounced off impalpable walls. Surely she couldn’t be in StarClan… This place seemed horrible and lonely. Her tail wrapped around her body reflexively.

Then, right before her eyes, a shape of white dust came to fruition right before her eyes. It was a ghost, an apparition if you will. Brindlefrost took a small step backwards, her heart pounding. Her legs were shaking as the starlight took a familiar form.

“Brinny!” Blizzardsong purred. Brindlefrost’s mouth fell open. She tried to speak, but all she emitted was a high, squeal-like noise. Her paws were rooted to the spot. This couldn’t be real. She was dreaming. Just. Dreaming. Blizzardsong cocked her head to the side, eyes glittering playfully.

It sure didn’t feel like she was asleep.

Brindlefrost was overcome with emotion and she pressed into her sister’s neck. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed, breaths catching in her throat. While Blizzardsong smelled mostly of ice and stardust, there was still a trace of her old, piney scent. Brindlefrost inhaled it, feeling another powerful wail shoot through her mouth. Blizzardsong stood and smiled, tucking her chin around her sister.

“Oh, Brinny,” she mewed. Brindlefrost’s tears became louder.

“I-I m-missed yo-you so mu-mu-much!” she shouted, happiness seeping into her voice as a smile quirked her lips.

“Oh, Brin. I miss you and Ash more than you could ever imagine.” Blizzardsong’s eyes reflected pain in the form of moonlight, brief flickers of anger and frustration behind the sapphire depths. The grey and white tabby stepped back. “I’m not here just to visit, though. I have something to tell you.”

Brindlefrost stumbled back, sniffling. “Me?”

“Yes.” Her sister moved closer, and Brindlefrost shut her eyes. “Always be on your toes, Brin. Because fire can melt the frost.” Her words hung in the air for a bit, and the two felt heat approaching them. Pain seared Brindlefrost’s pelt, and she felt flames licking her side, burning and singing the tips of her fur. She cried out in pain, and her eyes flew open.

There was no fire, only Blizzardsong gazing at her with the intensity of one. Brindlefrost’s pelt prickled as she stared at her sister, only to notice the grey and white she-cat beginning to fade away.

“No! Don’t go! What do you mean?!" Brindlefrost yowled, but Blizzardsong was gone. She had faded into the navy sky once more, without a trace, never to return.

chapter eight ; throat ripped raw

“i know it’s hard to believe,
after them days and nights awakened, feeling lost, you’re losing it.”
-air traffic controller, blame

Humidity made Brindlefrost’s grey fur stick to her form as she prepared to head to the Star Sleeper’s Cove, chewing up a leaf of sorrel. It was the half moon, and while she would’ve preferred to stay in the den, she had to go as ForestClan’s true medicine cat. She stretched out her foreleg, letting out a grunt of disgust. The air was hot and heavy, and it was late in the evening. Most of her Clan didn’t leave camp unless they had to patrol or go hunting, and even then, they stuck to the shade. Brindlefrost had even had to deal with heat sickness- she had treated a particularly severe case in Fawnstar that afternoon.

Uneasiness flooded the medicine cat. Why did her leader feel as though she had to push herself beyond her limits? It had seemed like the brown molly was trying to prove something to the rest of the Clan- that she was strong and could endure the weather. Brindlefrost snorted. And look where it got her.

Tulipheart padded to her side, looking disgruntled. Her own fur was thicker than her apprentice’s, and despite her shedding she still had a coat that was less than comfortable. The golden she-cat tilted her head up. “The sun will set soon,” she meowed, relieved. “We’ll set out in a bit.”

“Brindlefrost.” The grey tabby heard a small voice behind her. She turned, and saw Stormpaw wearing a pained expression, holding up her paw. “I got a thorn in my paw.”

“How did that happen?” Brindlefrost inquired, narrowing her eyes as she looked at the injury. The thorn was large and angry, protruding through the young cat’s paw pad.

“Vixenpaw and I were doing a training exercise, because it’s a bit cooler now than it was this morning.” Stormpaw’s amber eyes shimmered and Brindlefrost licked the rough area around her paw. “She was the rabbit and I was the fox. I was so intent on stalking her I walked into a thorn bush! OUCH!” The last exclamation was directed at Brindlefrost as she took the thorn between her teeth and plucked it from her paw.

“Give it a good lick, and stay off your feet,” Brindlefrost instructed. Stormpaw nodded and gingerly lapped at the wound. “I won’t be here for tonight but if it keeps hurting or your paw starts bleeding, visit me in the morning.” The apprentice gave another dip of her head and called out a thanks as she hobbled back towards her den. Brindlefrost’s whiskers twitched in bemusement.

“Good job,” Tulipheart mewed. Brindlefrost warmed at the praise.

“Hey, Brindlefrost.” The brindled cat pricked an ear upon hearing her name a second time.

“Oh, hi, Brownfire.” The brown and white tom was heading towards the two medicine cats, eyes sparkling in the dying sunlight. He stepped close to Brindlefrost, like he was about to nuzzle her, then jerked back. An expression of bashfulness crossed his face.

“Where are you going?” he asked. “Can I come?”

“No,” Tulipheart answered, thrusting her muzzle in front of Brindlefrost. “We are going to Star Sleeper for the half moon, and as you’re not a medicine cat, you’re forbid from going with us,” she hissed. Brindlefrost’s eyes widened. Her mentor had a sharp tongue, but she usually wasn’t so aggressive. Brownfire noticed too, and he backed up slightly.

“Whoa, okay,” the tom meowed. “Can I at least accompany you to the border? Star Sleeper is past FrostClan, and I wouldn’t want you to run into trouble with a patrol.”

“We can deal with a couple of lousy FrostClannians ourselves,” Tulipheart muttered under her breath. Brindlefrost nudged the older she-cat.

“Sure,” the tabby conceded. Brownfire brightened, and Tulipheart shrunk back to her original position, falling silent. An irritated, somewhat troubled glint hardened her gaze. Brindlefrost’s interest piqued, wondering why she had been so hostile, but she held her silence.

“When will we be leaving?” Brownfire asked.

“Soon. Have you had anything to eat?” Brindlefrost asked. Brownfire nodded slightly, flicking his tail.

“Yeah. Do you want me to grab you something?” he offered. Tulipheart flexed her claws.

“Medicine cats can’t eat before they speak with StarClan,” the golden she-cat said pointedly, indicating a scrap travelling herb on the ground. Brownfire blinked.

“Alright.” He leaned into Brindlefrost ear. “Touchy, aren’t we?” The grey tabby stifled a snort. Tulipheart growled quietly.

“We should head out,” Tulipheart said abruptly.

“The sun isn’t down yet,” Brindlefrost meowed inquisitively as Tulipheart started off through the thickets that led out of camp. It occurred to her suddenly that her mentor knew the layout of her camp and territory, and could very easily tell Sandstar what she knew. She shook away the thought quickly.

“That doesn’t matter,” Tulipheart grunted. Brindlefrost leapt after her, and Brownfire had to keep quick pace to remain with the two. The sun’s low light danced over their pelts, casting long, dark shadows from their paws. The trees’ leaves glowed a soft yellow above them.

“Who made dirt in her fresh-kill?” Brownfire whispered as they fell behind Tulipheart.

Brindlefrost shrugged, head held high to examine the cyan sky seeping through the treetops. “She’s not usually like this,” she mewed nonchalantly.

“I guess she just doesn’t like me.” Brownfire’s tail drooped slightly.

“That’s easy to do,” Brindlefrost quipped, perhaps a bit to harshly. Brownfire looked at her with reproach.

“Hey!” he exclaimed with his anger fading into faux fury. “I thought we were friends again.”

Brindlefrost finally forced herself to meet his eyes. His amber gaze was sparkling, and she found herself unable to maintain eye contact. She dropped her head. “Acquaintances,” she corrected the tom. “Not friends.”

Disappointment crossed his face momentarily, then he perked back up. “That’s a start.” Brindlefrost frowned. Surely he can’t expect me to fully forgive him yet?

“Can you two hurry up?” Tulipheart shouted, a couple fox-lengths ahead of them. She was facing them, green eyes alight. Brindlefrost yelled and apology to her mentor and began to hop through the thick undergrowth.

“Go faster,” she hissed under her breath to Brownfire. The tom shot her a puzzled glance and quickened his jaunt. A thin sigh came through his lips.

Brindlefrost’s nose wrinkled as FrostClan’s scent drew closer and the trees around her thinned out. Tulipheart had slowed in front of them, paused near the border. Brownfire cocked his head to the side as the three became a group again.

“Well, this is where I bid you adieu,” Brownfire meowed, neck bent in respect. “Bye, Brindlefrost. Bye, Tulipheart.” The tom turned, flashed a grin at Brindlefrost, and took off in the direction of camp. The grey tabby allowed her gaze to linger on Brownfire a little longer, admiring his strong forelegs and warrior’s form. She grimaced. You’re a medicine cat now!

Tulipheart and Brindlefrost started through FrostClan territory at a slackened pace. “I don’t like that boy,” Tulipheart meowed after a few heartbeats.

“Really?” Brindlefrost snorted. A growl rumbled in Tulipheart’s throat.

“I don’t trust him in the slightest,” she said, lowering her head to scan the foreground, eyes peeled for FrostClan warriors. Her tail wavered low to the ground, kinked slightly at the end in a signal that was unfamiliar to Brindlefrost. “You be careful around him, alright? Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

Anger surged through Brindlefrost. “Do you think I’m that stupid? I’m a medicine cat, not a pining apprentice!” she exclaimed defensively.

“I think you’re young and naive,” Tulipheart said quickly. “Medicine cats before you have broken the code and so will the ones following you. We may be bound to walk the tightrope of law, but some of us slip and fall through the cracks.” The golden cat looked ahead stiffly. “Don’t let the heart lead you astray.” A deep sigh left the she-cat.

Brindlefrost felt insulted, her throat drying. “I wouldn’t do that,” she meowed quietly. Brownfire’s bright face floated into her thoughts. She grit her teeth. She didn’t even like him. They weren’t friends! Any feeling she may have had at an apprentice had surely faded by then. She flushed beneath her tabby fur.

Tulipheart looked at her knowingly and she averted her gaze.

They continued the journey in a tense silence. Brindlefrost felt the pressure of the quiet building on her shoulders. She could hardly take it. Her ears were flattened to her head when she spotted the Star Sleeper’s Cove on the horizon line.

“There’s Star Sleeper’s!” she yelled, breaking into a run.

Her paws thrummed on FrostClan’s hilly territory, tail waving behind her, footfalls thumping on the ground below. Wind whipped her fur, sending a shudder through her spine. The size of the stones leading to Star Sleeper’s grew larger until they were in front of her, reflecting what was left of the sun with a dull sheen.

She leapt off the ground, heart beating against her chest. The sudden rush of adrenaline that ripped through her was invigorating. Her medicine cat rank had stolen away the joys of being a warrior. She missed tearing through the trees and flinging herself at enemy cats. Her paws thudded on stone and she paused, waiting for Tulipheart to catch up.

“You could’ve gone slower,” Tulipheart snapped as she neared, jumping into the mouth of the cavern. She smiled wanly at her apprentice. “We’re early. We may have to wait.” Brindlefrost tipped her head to the side, walking through the tunnel. The sound that echoed off the walls of the cove was similar to her den at camp, yet it was different somehow. Her pawsteps felt lighter, the noise more ephemeral as it bounced off bright crystals growing in the sides.

They emerged into the open area of the cave. Brindlefrost leaned against a stone in the cavern, watching weak sunlight streaming through opening in the ceiling shift into moonlight. She blinked as the gems lining the perimeter dimmed with the light. One of her ears pricked, hearing scuffling in the tunnel.

“Oh! Hello Brindlefrost, Tulipheart!” Brindlefrost craned her neck to the side, seeing FrostClan’s medicine cat join them- a slick, tortoiseshell she-cat named Shatterlight. She smiled brightly at the two, amber eyes glittering.

“Hello, Shatterlight,” Brindlefrost meowed. Tulipheart gave her own greeting and began to make idle talk with the she-cat.

Slowly, the rest of the medicine cats began to trickle in as moonhigh neared. SlickClan’s medicine cats, Falconwing and his apprentice, Reedpaw came third, and DustClan’s medicine cat, Hollowbreeze followed the two. Tulipheart exchanged few words with her apprentice and nuzzled him affectionately.

Whilst waiting for moonhigh, the cats made chit chat with each other. Brindlefrost made conversation with Reedpaw- she hadn’t spoken with him at the last meeting, and he was still bouncing with excitement at being a medicine cat. It was so polarizing to her own experience- she forced herself into her position against her best interest and he knew what he wanted to be as a kit in the nursery.

Brindlefrost shook her head as moonlight seeped through the holes in the cave and filled the area with a dazzling light that danced off pillars of quartz lining the walls. The tabby’s eyes flitted open and closed repeatedly. The sight was gorgeous; if not a little hard to stand. She flicked her tail, shifting and crouching low to the ground.

She settled into a curled position near Reedpaw and Tulipheart, her eyes flickering shut. Her breathing evened as she slipped into a slumber.

Brindlefrost appeared in a blank, desert-like clearing. Heat wreathed around her, suffocating her until nearly the point of asphyxiation. She looked around, her breathing sickly and shallow, barely escaping her lips. She crouched as the sun beat down on her back and humidity gripped her. Discomfort pulled at her entire body and she wheezed, looking around for any signs of StarClan or shade.

“Blizzardsong?” she called her sister’s name but it was little more than a ragged wail. Brindlefrost broke into a fit of coughing. Her throat felt as if it was clogged with sand, ripping at the tender muscle. She choked, unsheathing her claws and digging them into the soft, burning ground beneath her.

“Help!” Brindlefrost’s shouts were muffled by by her sore throat that was ripped raw by her screaming. She hissed thinly, collapsing into the sand beneath her. The heat was unbearable, matting fur to her form. The tabby panted, resting her cheek on the ground. She bared her teeth, preparing to let herself be burned alive by the intense sun. She braced.

“Brindlefrost? Brindlefrost?” She shuddered as she overheated, her entire body going cold. Shivers wracked her body, and she curled around herself, letting out a weak cry of agony.

“Brindlefrost!”

The tabby’s blue eyes flew open. She was back in the cavern, darkness swirling around her. She blinked blearily, squinting through the blackness. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light and the cat calling her name shifted into focus.

It was Ashenblaze. His grey fur was windblown, muscles tense, eyes widened. Brindlefrost noticed a flicker of fear in the blue depths.

“Ashenblaze? Wha-?” She was quickly cut off by her brother’s urgent tones.

“You must come quickly. Fawnstar has lost a life.”

chapter nine ; sooner than i'd like

“with illusions of someday casting a golden light,
no dress rehearsal, this is our life.”
-the tragically hip, ahead by a century

Blood roared in Brindlefrost’s ears as her paws rocketed her lean frame across FrostClan’s territory. Her eyes were narrowed against the cold air as Ashenblaze ran a few fox-lengths ahead. She winced as wind whipped her face and her aching muscles screamed mercy. Her claws tore through the short grass as she panted.

Her thoughts raced. What if this was Fawnstar’s last life? She tried to focus the nervous energy into making herself run faster. She knew that her leader was older- Ivyclaw had even mentioned that she was leading ForestClan when she was an apprentice. Brindlefrost stumbled over a mound of dirt and shook her head fervently. No, no… That couldn’t be possible! The tabby would not let another cat die, not after her sister. Determination made her pawsteps feel lighter.

Brindlefrost launched herself forward as the foliage beneath her thickened and trees began to edge out the territory. Her throat was on fire, neck snapping back and forth to make sure she wouldn’t knock into anything and hinder herself. They were in ForestClan land now. Ashenblaze’s grey fur flashed between the trees and ferns in front of her as Brindlefrost’s shoulders ached, her legs shaking. Her eyes were still blurry on account of just waking up, and her chest burned as her heart pounded against it. She felt nausea and dread sitting in her stomach like a small rock.

“Brindlefrost! Hurry!” Ashenblaze yelled, disappearing into the thorn tunnel that led to camp. Relief flooded through the she-cat, ignoring the pain searing through her body. She crashed into the clearing with an exaggerated gasp, heaving laboured breaths. Ashenblaze looked at her incredulously, eyes narrowed.

“Fawnstar is in her den.” Brindlefrost nodded curtly and sprang towards her own den, slipping through the entrance and thinking of what herbs her leader would need. Thyme, perhaps, if she was in shock. Probably lavender or feverfew, since she was probably suffering from the heat sickness. Some water, too… Quickly, she bundled the herbs she needed into a leaf wrap and clawed up a ball of moss from her stash.

She tucked the moss under her chin and took the leaf wrap between her teeth gingerly, not wanting to puncture the herbs. She made quick work of leaving the area and soaking the moss in a small stream that ran behind her den. A shudder passed through her body as she pressed the moss back onto her neck.

Nerves made Brindlefrost tremble as she headed to Fawnstar’s den. The den was a large boulder like hers. Darkness and heat washed over her as she spat out her herbs and let the moss tumble to the ground. She moved to Fawnstar’s side and identified the cats with her- the deputy, Sycamorebranch, and Ashenblaze. She felt their worry weighing her down as she went to work.

“How long ago did she… die?” Brindlefrost asked. Sycamorebranch flinched at the question.

“I sent Ashenblaze to get you when she stopped breathing,” he mewed. Brindlefrost shifted and pressed her ear to Fawnstar’s chest. She was cold, but the warmth of her blood was starting to spread through her body. She heard a steady heartbeat, and her breathing was shallow, but still there. She shivered, wondering what it was like to witness someone die and come back to life.

The tabby leaned back, observing Fawnstar. She had never been a larger cat, but she looked tiny against her nest. Brindlefrost touched her pelt lightly. Despite her body growing cold, her fur still felt feverishly warm. A breathy sigh came through her lips. The heat sickness had killed her. She pressed a paw to Fawnstar’s head, above her muzzle. Heat still remained, trapped by her fur, even through death. The prospect of that terrified Brindlefrost.

Sycamorebranch’s amber eyes watched her expectantly. “Well?” he prompted.

“It was the heat sickness,” Brindlefrost explained. Sycamorebranch’s gaze flashed in the darkness.

“Will it take another life?” he asked.

I don’t know, Brindlefrost thought to herself. Not wanting to admit her uncertainty, she opened her mouth to speak. “I don’t think so. When she wakes, she’ll be weak, but she won’t have the sickness.” Her blue gaze went back to Fawnstar’s brown pelt, matted with sweat. “How many lives does she have left?”

Sycamorebranch shrugged. “Only medicine cats know that.”

A shudder raced down Brindlefrost’s spine. How was she supposed to know that? Was it subconscious? Would StarClan tell her? Did Tulipheart know?

Suddenly, a number flashed through her head.

One.

Brindlefrost froze as fear gripped her. Her leader was so close to death, and yet, she still led the Clan without showing signs of weakness. Instead, she paraded around the fact that she could handle anything. Anger surged through the medicine cat. The Clan need their leader! Why was she so irresponsible with her life?

“Brindlefrost? Are you alright?” Sycamorebranch concerned voice echoed in the darkness. Brindlefrost’s eyes snapped open, shaking herself free of the thoughts.

“Yes,” she affirmed. A loud noise startled Brindlefrost, and she looked down to see Fawnstar convulsing, rapid coughs shaking her body. The three cats stepped back as the leader sputtered to life, her milky eyes opening. She gripped the soft, sandy ground with her claws. Uneasiness filled Brindlefrost.

Voice roughened, Fawnstar spoke. “I’m-I’m alright,” she meowed, but the short sentence had her shaking. Her chin dropped to the ground.

“Take it easy,” Brindlefrost ordered. Fawnstar’s muscles relaxed and Sycamorebranch gently nudged his leader’s ear. He whispered something to her, and Fawnstar murmured a short response and nodded.

Brindlefrost glared at Fawnstar as she shifted, tucking her paws under her chest. “You’re confined to this den and the tree outside until further notice,” she meowed harshly. “You pushed yourself too hard and got yourself sick. You died because of the sun.” Defiance lit Fawnstar’s gaze. “You will stay in the shade until I give you my word,” the grey tabby said. She pushed the ball of moss she had brought towards Fawnstar’s muzzle. “Drink.”

The leader looked ready to argue, but obeyed and dipped her head, lapping up the water. “Great StarClan, that’s good,” she mumbled under her breath.

“Sycamorebranch, could you please stay with Fawnstar for the next couple of days and make sure she stays out of the sun?” Brindlefrost asked. The brown and white tom nodded his head slightly. Fawnstar looked up from her drink.

“I’m not a kit!” she interjected. “I know how to take care of myself!”

Brindlefrost wrinkled her nose. “You’re a cat recovering from a sickness that killed you,” she corrected. “Sycamorebranch is going to make sure you don’t disobey direct orders from your medicine cat,” she growled. She felt a rush of excitement roll through her. Her feelings over her position were mixed, but she loved having the authority to order cats around- even her leader. She felt like when she was treating someone, or telling them what to do, she sounded cold and professional. It was kind of a thrill.

Fawnstar lowered her gaze. “Alright,” she relented. Brindlefrost flicked her tail in satisfaction.

“Good. Now, eat this,” she meowed, nudging the feverfew towards Fawnstar. She sized up the leaf, and then bit into it tentatively. Her whiskers twitched. Brindlefrost sighed. “Sycamorebranch, Ashenblaze, can you stay with Fawnstar tonight? Make sure she stays hydrated. And fetch her some fresh-kill before she goes back to sleep, when she’s had time to settle.” The two toms nodded and Ashenblaze sat near the edge of the den, watching Fawnstar. She was struck with the idea that her brother would make a good deputy, though the thought made her nervous. Ashenblaze was intelligent, but he was rash and reactive, not to mention his distrust and aversion towards medicine cats.

Brindlefrost shook her head. She was certain that ForestClan would be picking a lot of fights if Ashenblaze was in command. Without another word, the tabby turned and left the den.

The night air enveloped her. It was still warm but compared to the cramped leader’s den, the outside was breezy and chilled. Her paws sunk into the soil, and she stretched out her back legs. A wave of exhaustion suddenly overtook her and she was left staggering- she didn’t realize how tired she was. It was understandable- it was a long way to Star Sleeper’s, she barely slept there and when she did it was troubled, and she had expended all her energy on the way back. Brindlefrost yawned and padded to her den.

Ferns rustled and cold stone pressed against the she-cat as she wandered into the cove. Her paws treaded lightly on the ground, and the silence in the den was eerie, save for the occasional echo from the walls. She was rarely in the den without another cat, and the loneliness was uncomfortable.

She slipped into her nest and made a note to change the moss in it, sooner than later. With another airy yawn she shut her eyes and allowed sleep to take her.

☀☀☀

The next morning Brindlefrost awoke to a prodding in her side. She glanced up, looking for who interrupted her slumber.

A familiar set of amber eyes met hers as her bleariness melted away. She moved slightly, curling her tail around herself self-consciously. The tabby frowned, gently pulling herself up on her forelegs. “Brownfire? What do you want?” she asked interestedly. The brown tomcat shifted his white paws.

“I was wondering if you’d like to go out. On like, a walk.” Brownfire sounded embarrassed. Brindlefrost cocked her head to one side, blue eyes glimmering with amusement.

“And why would I do that?” Brindlefrost challenged as she got into a half-sitting position, moss from her nest clinging to her pelt as she awoke.

“Because…” Brownfire started, and then drifted off. After a moment, the tom perked back up again. “I need to talk to you.”

Brindlefrost’s interest piqued, and she shot Brownfire a confused look. “Why couldn’t you have waited until I woke up?” The she-cat’s mouth gaped open in a yawn, and she pricked the ground with her claws as they unsheathed instinctively. “I had a long night, and not a lot of sleep.”

“Oh.” Brownfire’s happy expression faded. “Did you not have a pleasant dream at Star Sleeper’s?” he asked. Brindlefrost shuddered subconsciously as she remembered her horrible sleep at the Cove- She assumed it was an omen for Fawnstar’s death, but that didn’t get her back to camp fast enough to save her. Her train of thought was interrupted by another intrusion- did Brownfire not know of the life lost? Was it a secret? Could she tell him?

“Yeah,” Brindlefrost lied. Brownfire nodded sympathetically.

“Well, anyways… Would you be up for that walk?” he asked, adopting a desperate tone. Brindlefrost stifled a laugh, twitching her whiskers, bemused. She gave her pelt a shake and groomed her paw with an apathetic lick.

“Sure. I need to get more feverfew anyways.” The grey tabby kicked her back legs, scraping dried grass across the bottom of the den. She blinked as Brownfire began to lead her out of the den, tail slowly swaying back and forth behind him.

The two emerged into the humid clearing. Brindlefrost flicked her tail and gave a silent prayer for rain- at this rate, the river near camp would surely dry up. Her ears pricked as the entrance to camp rustled, and Ashenblaze walked in, followed by Brightsky, Soilflight, and Vixenpaw. They were clearly a border patrol, but Vixenpaw bounced at the rear happily, with a large squirrel in her mouth.

Ashenblaze crossed the clearing, pausing at Brindlefrost and Brownfire. He bent his neck and Brindlefrost did the same; their whiskers touched as the grey tom spoke in a low voice.

“Fawnstar’s recovery went smoothly,” he murmured. “She was a bit feverish when you left, but she slept through the night.”

“Thank you,” Brindlefrost mewed. Ashenblaze drew back from the she-cat and his eyes went to Brownfire. The brown mottled tom meowed a greeting but Ashenblaze only regarded him warily, the fur on the back of his neck prickling.

He stalked off to the warrior’s den without responding.

Brownfire watched him go, then his gaze snapped back to Brindlefrost. “There’s something… Off, about your brother,” he commented as they resumed their walk, giving a friendly nod to Hawkwing, who was standing guard.

“Tell me about it,” Brindlefrost snorted as ForestClan’s territory enveloped them, unruly plants growing from all sides, creeping up dead, rotting tree trunks and brushing against the cats’ flanks. The forest was alive with early morning birdsong- so much chattering filled the space between their gabs that it was impossible to distinguish what cry came from which bird.

The two fell quiet for a moment as Brindlefrost took the lead, breaking off from the path and lifting her head to scent for feverfew- usually a few clumps grew near camp. Tall grass mobbed her as she crept through the overgrown foliage.

“Did you hear that Leafshine’s expecting kits?” Brownfire asked. Brindlefrost paused.

“Is that what you brought me out to tell me?” She bristled. “What, are they yours?” She didn’t know why, but that idea- that Brownfire was fathering a litter with a she-cat she barely spoke to -rubbed her the wrong way.

“What? No!” Brownfire exclaimed defensively. “I would never be mates with that stuck-up she-cat,” he added with a lash of his tail. “I heard from Dewspots. Apparently, she doesn’t want to disclose who the father is until the kits are born.” Curiosity gnawed at Brindlefrost, but she kept from asking questions.

“She didn’t tell me that,” the grey tabby muttered. “I’ll have to get her some herbs and a place in the nursery.”

Another silence fell between the two as Brindlefrost recognized feverfew sprouting out in between a couple clumps of ragwort. She knelt and gently nipped the plants at their stem, taking care not to rip out the shoots and damage further growth.

“Actually, I had two things to tell you.” Brownfire broke the tension as Brindlefrost gingerly lifted her stock. She nodded at him pointedly, mouth to full to speak. “Firstly, I wanted to…” The brown tom looked like he was struggling to get the words out, looking uncomfortable. “Apologize,” he stammered out. “Truly, deeply, apologize.”

“I said you were a bad friend, but I was the bad friend.” He shuffled his paws as Brindlefrost brushed past him. “I was selfish. And I shouldn’t have acted out like I did.” Brownfire gulped, looking edgy. He seemed like he was trying hard to swallow his pride. “I… I know you probably can’t forgive me. I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing this for me.” He sounded so rehearsed, like he had practiced for days on end for this moment.

Brindlefrost felt like her heart was in her throat. In the past, Brownfire had tried valiantly to explain his side of the story, and why she was the one in he wrong. But now it looked like he had finally discovered the opposite was true, and Brindlefrost thought it admirable. She shook her head slightly, a torrent of conflicting thoughts raging through her head. Certain that she wasn’t thinking straight, she tried to hold back from answering, but even so...

“I forgive you,” she mewed simply through her herbs. Brownfire’s jaw fell open, and he was left gaping as he hopped after the medicine cat.

“Y-You do?” he asked in bewilderment. Brindlefrost felt like her chest would collapse in- she should’ve felt relieved, but instead, she felt a horrible feeling bloom within her, a premonition spreading through her body. She grit her teeth, feeling the feverfew in her mouth be ground by her fangs.

“What was the second thing?” she inquired, not wanting any of her true feelings to seep into her few words.

“What?” Brownfire was still reeling.

“You said you had two things to tell me,” Brindlefrost egged on, willing her voice not to shake. “What’s the other?”

“Oh,” Brownfire meowed softly, his confident exterior dying away. “I wanted to ask you something from a long time ago, you probably wouldn’t remember.”

Brindlefrost rolled her eyes at his charade. “Well, get on with it,” she said impatiently. Brownfire’s discomfort immediately showed through his face, and he opened his mouth tentatively to speak.

“Do you remember anything about Seedwhisker’s body?” the tom asked, quickly averting his gaze from the back of Brindlefrost’s head and letting it drop to the undergrowth below.

Brindlefrost froze, shocked. What on earth had made Brownfire bring up the young medicine cat’s murder? And right after apologizing to her… Did he have another end goal in mind? The grey tabby allowed a shiver to wrack her body. “I…” She didn’t know what to say. She had seen Seedwhisker’s body in her den, after her conversation with Blizzardsong. Simply cleaning up her body and hiding the scent of death was what was required of her, but she’d be lying if she said she didn’t check out the wounds.

“I remember claw marks,  slightly smaller than what an adult cat would leave.” Brindlefrost ran through her mind once more, trying to scrape up any details of the killing. “There was a lot of blood, too, like there was no attempt to clean it off. And,” she started cautiously. She had noticed something while looking over the body that she was certain most of the Clan missed. “There was a bite mark. The fangs were set close together,” she recounted, “and it wasn’t where a killing bite usually was. It was in the shoulder.”

Brindlefrost suppressed a shudder. A lot of cats suspected SlickClan as the guilty party in her death, and some even wanted to wage war on the Clan. For some reason, Fawnstar refused adamantly, and the collective thought soon became that she was killed by a rogue. Brindlefrost eyed Brownfire, who was paying rapt attention, suspiciously. “Why?”

“Because,” Brownfire meowed as he puffed out his chest, “I want to find the real culprit.”

chapter ten ; death can wait

“nobody said it was easy
no one ever said it would be this hard.”
-coldplay, the scientist

Another screech split the air as Mistyrain wailed in pain, her body convulsing. Worry and fear rendered Brindlefrost immobile for a few moments before she broke out of it. With a shaking paw and equally terrified voice, she massaged the grey she-cat’s stomach in attempts to get the kit the right way around. “Don’t worry,” she mumbled.

Ivyclaw was standing beside her- she was an experienced queen and would know what to do, since she didn’t have Tulipheart. Anger flared in Brindlefrost’s heart. Hollowbreeze had showed up in camp a few sunrises ago and whisked away their mentor, refusing to give reason. It stung that her mentor was stolen for her, but it felt even worse knowing she had more to teach her. Now she felt like an apprentice straight out of the nursery as she helped Mistyrain, who looked fearful against her nest. Leafshine stared at them from the edge of the den, where she was pressed up against the wall, her face twisted with pure, unadulterated horror.

“Come on Mistyrain, you can do it!” Brindlefrost said with false enthusiasm. Mistyrain’s yellow eyes were glazed and she looked exhausted- and hadn’t even given birth to one kit yet. Ivyclaw bent down and lifted a stick from the ground, gently placing it in her denmate’s jaws.

“Wait! I think one kit is coming!” Brindlefrost shrieked. With her paws, she attempted to push the kitten further down. She winced as she heard the stick in Mistyrain’s jaws splinter. Relief hit the medicine cat like icy water as a small sac slithered out onto the mossy floor. Brindlefrost scooped it up and passed it to Ivyclaw. “Get it warmed up,” she instructed rushedly. She went back to helping Mistyrain. “Two more, you can do it,” she mewed.

The grey and white queen let out a warbling scream as another kit slid out. Ivyclaw quickly nudged the one she had to Mistyrain’s belly. Despite her exhaustion, happiness gleamed in her eyes as she dragged the kit close to her and started to lick it tenderly. Brindlefrost took the kit and handed it to her mother. “One more,” she said softly, trying to get ahold of herself. You’re not the one kitting! What’s wrong with you? “Only one more, Mistyrain.”

The queen only screeched in response. “I-I can’t do it,” she said between laboured breaths. “This is g-gonna kill me,” she groaned, squeezing her eyes shut tight. Brindlefrost’s blood turned to ice.

“Death can wait,” she hissed through bare teeth. “I will not let you die!” she exclaimed fervently. Mistyrain’s muscles relaxed as another contraction wracked her body. She barely reacted. Brindlefrost’s fear quickly turned to anger. “You can’t leave these kits motherless!” she growled, fury seething through her words. “You’re stronger than this! Do you want your children to never know their mother?” she challenged. Mistyrain’s eyes flickered open. Brindlefrost’s blue eyes blazed angrily.

“The last kit is on its way,” she declared. Ivyclaw prepared herself, pushing the second kit to Mistyrain, who gathered it up in her paws. The queen flinched visibly as Brindlefrost tried to work her paws through her knotted underbelly fur.

Mistyrain let out a strained scream of pain and fear as the final kit tumbled out. With a heavy sigh of relief, the queen’s entire body relaxed and melted into her nest, panting heavily. Brindlefrost took the kitten in her paws and nipped open the sac that encased it. Roughly, she began to lick the fur of the tiny creature, who mewed loudly in protest. The medicine cat blinked as the tiny kit tried to get to her feet, wobbling towards her mother’s stomach. Brindlefrost purred with amusement. She could tell that that little she-kit was going to be a fighter.

“Two toms and a she-kit,” she informed Mistyrain. Tears pricked the queen’s eyes as the kittens squirmed all over her, trying to latch on to her belly so they could nurse. Love shone in her tired gaze as she looked at her kits, and Brindlefrost felt a pang of jealousy that she would never be able to bear kits of her own. A surge of bitterness ripped through her chest as well- her sister’s kits would have been denmates to Mistyrain’s.

Brindlefrost turned away from the she-cat and her children and padded out of the den, where Sycamorebranch was waiting worriedly, pacing back and forth in front of the nursery. His green eyes met Brindlefrost’s.

“Mistyrain! Is she okay?” he questioned nervously, like he was afraid of the answer. Brindlefrost only gave him a simple smile.

“Come and meet your kits,” she purred. Sycamorebranch’s face lit up with delight as he followed the medicine cat into the darkness of the nursery. “Be gentle, though, Mistyrain is very tired,” she warned gently.

“Mistyrain,” Sycamorebranch breathed, rushing over to nuzzle his mate. The grey queen raised her head weakly, and then let it drop to her nest. Sycamorebranch crouched near her and smiled, joy lighting his gaze. Brindlefrost felt torn watching the two. She was truly happy for her Clanmates, but seeing how much they genuinely loved and cared for each other, it reminded her of a life she left behind.

Quietly, she turned her back to the couple and padded out of the nursery.

☀☀☀

“What’s that?”

Squirrelkit bounced in front of Brindlefrost as she made her way over to the nursery. The little she-kit’s fluffy fur made her look twice her size, even in the heat. The grey tabby stifled a purr.

“It’s borage. It’s to make sure your mother has enough milk to feed all of you,” she explained through the herbs in her mouth. Squirrelkit’s bright green eyes widened, flicking her long tail.

“Wow!” she exclaimed in amazement. “It can do that?”

Cheered by the kitten’s genuine enthusiasm, Brindlefrost smiled. “Yep, it can. There’s a ton of different herbs, too, that can do different things- like heal your sick belly or help make your paws feel better when you get a thorn in them.”

Squirrelkit rocked back and forth on her paws. “Was it hard to learn all of those herbs?” she asked inquisitively. Brindlefrost nodded her head.

“Yes, there’s a lot of them, but I get to help out my Clanmates and that’s all that matters.” The grey tabby batted an ear.

“Wow,” Squirrelkit repeated, the concept of medicine otherworldly to her. “I’m gonna go play with my siblings!” she said abruptly. The brown and white she-kit hopped away like a rabbit, barrelling into Nettlekit’s side. The grey tom let out a squeak of surprise, and the two locked into a play-fight.

Brindlefrost approached Mistyrain, who was watching her kits fondly from the shade of a large tree. The medicine cat let the borage leaves flutter to the ground in front the the queen’s white paws, nudging them towards her.

“How are the kits doing?” she asked as Mistyrain chewed up her herbs, wincing slightly at the taste. She swallowed before responding, stretching her neck out.

“They’re doing well,” she purred affectionately, watching her kits rough and tumble outside the nursery. “Though Milkkit doesn’t play as much as the other two do,” she added, slight concern tinging her voice. Brindlefrost’s eyes went to the kits again. The white mottled kit was play-fighting with his siblings, but not as energetically as Squirrelkit or Nettlekit.

“I’ll check him out in my den,” Brindlefrost offered. “He might just be shy, though.”

Mistyrain nodded gratefully to her. The grey tabby returned the gesture and made her way over to the tree kittens tussling together in the clearing. “Milkkit,” Brindlefrost mewed as the pale taupe and white tomkit broke apart from his littermates.

“What?” he squeaked, looking up at the medicine cat with wide blue eyes.

“Your mother wants me to check on you, come with me to my den.” Brindlefrost nudged the kit gently forward. Milkkit looked perplexed, but got to his feet. His littermates meowed indignantly in protest, and Brindlefrost hushed them, promising his return.

“Don’t let her feed you any weird plants!” Nettlekit meowed loudly, and Squirrelkit pushed her brother down to the sandy ground. Brindlefrost rolled her eyes in amusement, and began to lead their sibling away.

“Milkkit, have you felt sick lately?” she asked as the two padded across camp. The little tom thought for a moment, then shook his head.

“No. Mom is probably just overly worried, as normal. She’s very smothering,” Milkkit chastised. Brindlefrost’s eyes widened- he was so young, but already sounded incredibly articulate with his words and sayings. The kit pointed his tail in the direction of the thorn tunnel.“Hey, there’s Uncle Breeze and Frozen!”

Brindlefrost looked towards where he was indicating. Frozenfoot and Breezerush were dropping off a couple pieces of prey at the fresh-kill pile when she caught Frozenfoot’s eye. The white tom nudged his mate, and the pair padded over to the medicine cat.

“Is something wrong with Milkkit?” Breezerush asked, alarm ruffling his neck fur.

“No, Mistyrain just wanted me to check on him,” Brindlefrost explained. “She’s really worried- who can blame her really? It’s her first litter.” The grey tabby peered towards the sky. “At least she had them in Greenleaf,” she pointed out. There has been a storm a few days prior, which had stolen most of the humidity from the air, and left for them blue skies and reasonable heat.

“That’s good to hear. Not the worrying part, but that Milk’s okay.” Frozenfoot crouched and nuzzled his nephew playfully. “Do what Brindlefrost says, okay, champ?”

“Okay, Frozenfoot,” Milkkit responded. The tom grinned at him.

“I’ll see you later,” he mewed, then faced Breezerush. “Let’s go get Mistyrain something to eat. She may be getting lonely, what with Ivyclaw so close to kitting and Leafshine not being one for conversation.” His black-furred mate gave a slight nod and they headed off together towards the fresh-kill pile.

Milkkit sighed. “Frozenfoot is so cool! I want to be a strong warrior like him when I grow up,” he mewed. Brindlefrost chuckled to herself. It was obvious how much the kitten adored his uncle.

Brindlefrost wondered if Blizzardsong’s kits would have idolized her, too.

updated allegiances ;

leader: Fawnstar - Slim, wiry dark brown she-cat with battle scarred ears
deputy: Sycamorebranch - Handsome, powerful brown and white tom
medicine cat: Brindlefrost - Thin grey tabby she-cat with blue eyes and a white underbelly
warriors:
Frozenfoot - Dark grey tom with white paws
Breezerush - Sleek black tom
Gentleflight - Pale, long-furred tabby tom
APPRENTICE: STORMPAW
Rowanscar - Rough-furred ginger tom
Hawkwing - Dark brown tabby tom
Brightsky - Ginger and white mottled tom
APPRENTICE: VIXENPAW
Strikestripe - Grey and white tom
Dewspots - Blue-grey tom with white appendages
Brokenstep - Grey-brown tabby tom with a pale underbelly and disfigured paw
Soilflight - Creamy brown she-cat
Whitepelt - Off-white tom
Muddypelt - Brown and black tom
Clovermark - Black and white she-cat
Ashenblaze - Muscular dark grey flecked tom with dark blue eyes
Brownfire - Brown and white tuxedo tom with bright amber eyes
Swirledlight - Light brown classic tabby tom with one blue eye and one yellow eye and a nicked ear
apprentices:
Stormpaw - Muscular pale grey she-cat
Vixenpaw - Reddish she-cat with black accents
queens:
Mistyrain - Grey and white she-cat with yellow eyes, nursing Sycamorebranch's kits
Leafshine - Tortoiseshell she-cat with a white muzzle, expecting [redacted]'s kits
Ivyclaw - Silver and white battle-scarred tabby she-cat, expecting Strikestripe's kits
kits:
Squirrelkit - Fluffy furred brown and white she-kit with bright green eyes (Misty/Sycamore)
Nettlekit - Dark grey and white tom (Misty/Sycamore)
Milkkit - Taupe and white tom with bright blue eyes (Misty/Sycamore)
elders:
Dustspeckle - Dusty brown tabby tom
Shimmerstream - Silver flecked she-cat
Duckwing - Golden tom with a stubby tail

chapter eleven ; a little party never hurt nobody

“if desire is your only food,
it can get you sick.”
-no doubt, waiting room

As Greenleaf dwindled down into Leaf-Fall and the chill in the night air became sharper and more prominent, Brindlefrost found herself talking to Brownfire more and more- she tried to justify it with the thought that as the cold weather grew closer, she needed to stock up on herbs, and four paws was better than two when collecting.

However, it was obvious that she enjoyed his company- something she’d rather not admit.

“Do you think I’ll get one of Mistyrain’s kits as an apprentice?” Brownfire asked as Brindlefrost gathered watermint and borage from her stocks. Ivyclaw had recently had her kits and was complaining about a sore belly, so the medicine cat decided on seeing if she just had a stomachache. Luckily there hadn’t been much sickness in the camp, and only Gentleflight was in her den, sleeping off a mouse and a dose of tansy.

“Maybe,” Brindlefrost meowed as she flicked the herbs into a leaf bundle, securing them with the stem. “I hope Squirrelkit will become my apprentice,” she admitted. “She comes into my den a lot, so I think that’s a good sign. I could use some more help around here, especially with Leaf-Fall approaching.”

“You have me,” Brownfire offered as he watched the grey tabby take the bundle in her mouth, her fangs only pricking the edges of the leaf. Brindlefrost flashed him an incredulous look as she headed out of the den. Brownfire bounded after her.

“You’re a warrior, mouse-brain. You may like to hang around in my pad, but you have duties,” Brindlefrost reminded him as they crossed camp. Her blue eyes wandered as they conversed. She spotted Dewspots talking to Sycamorebranch and Brokenstep sharing a meal with his brother, Hawkwing. Swirledlight was sharing tongues with Stormpaw as dreary sunlight fell over them.

Brownfire shrugged, changing the conversation at hand. “I’d like to have Nettlekit as my apprentice. He’s really fun. Though Milkkit would be nice, too- he’s smart.” The tom flicked his tail excitedly as Brindlefrost rolled her eyes, quietly creeping into the nursery.

“Jeez, it’s packed in here,” Brownfire commented. Brindlefrost nodded in agreement- the nursery was more full than she had ever seen it, and the stale, stuffy air that filled her nostrils made her sneeze. Her leaf bundle fell to the ground with a quiet thud. “I feel like this place used to be five times bigger.”

“And you used to be five times smaller,” Brindlefrost shot back. Brownfire twitched his whiskers as the grey tabby nudged her herbs closer to a silver and white flank with two small bodies mewling and squirming all over it. “Hi, Ivyclaw.”

Brindlefrost’s mother raised her head slightly, eyes glowing. “Ah, Brindlefrost.” Ivyclaw shifted, and spoke in a higher-pitched, softer voice to her kits. “Twilightkit, Sagekit! Say hi to your sister.” One of the kits moved- a dark grey she-kit with tabby splotches -and looked up with a familiar pair of blue eyes. Brindlefrost caught her breath.

“Her eyes,” she whispered to her mother. “She has Blizzardsong’s eyes.” She was struck with a wave of emotions that she couldn’t distinguish, except for a strong feeling of grief and love washing over her.

Ivyclaw gave a small nod, sadness reflected in her own dark gaze. She shared a look with her daughter, a gentle, knowing look. Brindlefrost allowed a tiny smile to cross her maw, while Twilightkit looked up at the two, blinking innocently. Her sister, Sagekit, started climbing on top of her, meowing loudly.

Brindlefrost let out a small purr and cleared her throat. “I brought you some, er, herbs,” she stuttered, pushing the bundle towards Ivyclaw. She sliced open the leaf with her claw and the herbs inside were released. “Some borage for your milk, and watermint for your belly.” The tabby queen eyed the herbs, and then took them in her mouth and chewed them up.

“I’ll be back later to check up on you all,” Brindlefrost meowed to all the queens. There was a muffled response as the grey tabby nudged Brownfire. “Let’s go, it’s so stuffy in here.” The pair began to head out when they ran into a cat standing at the entrance.

It was Ashenblaze, his chest fur slightly ruffled. In his mouth was the scruff of a squirrel, swinging from his jaws. His eyes flashed at the sight of the two cats, then he lowered his head.

“Excuse me,” he grunted and slid into the den. Brindlefrost watched him disappear into the darkness, and exchanged a bewildered glance with Brownfire. The brown and white tom shrugged.

“Maybe he’s getting it for Ivyclaw?” he suggested. Brindlefrost eyed him doubtfully. Her brother didn’t have the best relationship with their parents.

“Maybe,” she replied uncertainly. Brownfire gave his shoulders another shrug and frowned. Brindlefrost craned her neck and looked fondly at the fresh-kill pile, seeing Mistyrain’s kits kicking up dust as their mother and father plucked a piece of prey to eat. Milkkit grabbed himself a small mouse and started to tuck in, inviting his siblings to join in.

“They’re all so lively,” Brownfire commented. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had so many kits; before our time, even,” the tom mused as the kittens quickly finished their meal and hopped into action, flinging themselves across camp. Brindlefrost stifled a purr as they ran into the elder’s den, kicking up stray dirt in their wake.

“I should probably check on the elders,” the medicine cat meowed. She broke off, heading towards her den, expecting Brownfire to leave and go do ‘warrior things.’ To her surprise, the brown tom clung to her side like a burr. Beneath her fur, Brindlefrost’s skin prickled with heat.

She stepped into the elder’s den- a large dip in the soil covered by a thick brush, fortified with brambles. Brownfire entered after her, a musky scent drifting around her. The den was pretty roomy- enough for the three elders, three kits, and Brindlefrost and Brownfire to sit comfortably.

“Brindlefrost!” purred Shimmerstream. The old she-cat had a raspy voice and looked up from where she was playing with Milkkit, blinking. “What can we do for you?”

“I’m just here to check up on you,” Brindlefrost mewed. “Any fleas or aches?”

“The warm weather has been kind this year,” meowed a voice beside Shimmerstream. Dustspeckle turned his gaze towards the medicine cat. Squirrelkit and Nettlekit were sitting attentively at his paws, probably in the midst of a story. “I do feel an itch or two, though,” the brown tom admitted.

“And me as well,” Duckwing added. The golden-furred tom peered past Brindlefrost. “Brownfire? Is that you back there? Get your flank in here!” he purred affectionately. Awkwardly, Brownfire squeezed past Brindlefrost. The grey tabby felt something like electricity rushing through her as their pelts brushed.

Great StarClan, calm yourself! She winced inwardly. You’re a medicine cat, not a mooning apprentice!

“Let me look at you,” Duckwing mrowred playfully. Brindlefrost was reminded that the elder was Hawkwing’s father, and was therefore the grandfather to Brownfire. Duckwing sized the warrior up and down, grinning.

“My boy, you’ve grown,” said the golden elder. Brindlefrost looked at Brownfire as well- he was taller than her, with muscles filling out his thin fur, and a shining, eager amber gaze. The grey tabby she-cat averted her eyes, flustered.

“Thanks,” Brownfire responded flatly, sounding embarrassed. “The last time you saw me was as an apprentice, so I would hope I had grown.”

Duckwing smiled wanly at him. “Maybe you should come and visit more, then,” the tom said good-naturedly. Shimmerstream snickered lightly.

“I should,” Brownfire admitted. He shifted his paws as Brindlefrost twitched her whiskers, prodding him in the side.

“Well, I better get you guys some mouse bile for your ticks,” the tabby mewed. From her spot in the den, Squirrelkit stirred, ficking her all-too poofy tail.

“Can I help?” she chirped, blinking her bright green eyes. Brindlefrost looked fondly at the thick-furred kitten.

“Of course. Come with me, Squirrelkit.” The kit squeaked excitedly and leapt up from beside Nettlekit. She rocked backwards and forwards on her paws and looked up at Brindlefrost. The medicine cat stifled a purr and led her out of the den. Brownfire brought up the rear to the two.

Squirrelkit fell into step beside Brindlefrost. “So, Squirrelkit, do you know where we get bile from?” she asked the dark brown kitten. She looked puzzled for a moment, then perked up.

“From a mouse?” she asked. Brindlefrost nodded her head and Squirrelkit brightened.

“Momma told me,” she mewed. Brownfire purred quietly behind them. “Herbs are so cool,” she added dreamily.

Brindlefrost paused. “I suppose they are.” Squirrelkit hopped beside her as she realized that maybe she had taken her position for granted. It felt like she was forced into it -well, she was, but of her own accord- and she never stopped to actually think about her role as a medicine cat. It had been a whirlwind of emotions all the way through, and with Tulipheart shoving knowledge down her throat, she never appreciated the weight of her rank.

Maybe she wasn’t cut out for it, but she was stuck there anyways.

“Brindlefrost,” Squirrelkit chirped, snapping her out of her thoughts. She looked down at the kit wearily.

“What is it, Squirrelkit?” the tabby responded.

“We’re at your den,” Squirrelkit pointed out, gesturing to the cave with a white paw. “What do you want me to do?”

“Of course,” Brindlefrost meowed, cursing herself for being so scatterbrained. “At the back of my den, there’s a stash of moss in the corner. Do you think you can get some of that for me?” Squirrelkit nodded in determination, like this was the most important task she’d ever done. “Don’t disturb Gentleflight.”

She shot off into the den, ferns rustling behind her. Brindlefrost let out a mrowr of amusement and turned to go to the fresh-kill pile to fetch a mouse. Brownfire, who had been oddly quiet since they left the elder’s den, stuck to the side of her pelt like an unruly thorn.

“Think you could give me a little room to breathe?” Brindlefrost quipped. Brownfire looked to her, amber eyes widening slightly. He took a small step to the side and Brindlefrost relaxed- when had she tensed? “Thanks.”

Brindlefrost looked over the fresh-kill pile and plucked a plump mouse from the top, grasping it in her jaws. She shook out her fur and Brownfire followed her back to her den, looking conflicted.

Finally he lowered his head so that his muzzle was less than a mouse-tail length from Brindlefrost’s. She could feel his hot breath on her nose and instinctively held her own. Inside her chest, her heart skipped a beat.

“I want you to come to the spring at moonhigh tonight,” he whispered. “Can you do that for me?”

Brindlefrost stumbled away from him and looked at him, wide-eyed like a kit. “Wh-what? Why?” she sputtered out.

Brownfire stepped closer to her. “Don’t you trust me?” he asked, like the question was a challenge. Brindlefrost’s breath hitched. What did he want? Why was he asking her? Why did she have to trust him? Were they breaking the warrior code? Was she breaking the medicine cat code? The torrent of questions raged through her head, but yet she couldn’t find the voice to ask any of them.

“I-” she gulped.

Brownfire shot her a grin. “I’ll see you tonight.”

chapter twelve ; only us

“hey, a casual affair, that could go anywhere
and only for tonight.”
-panic at the disco, casual affair

Brindlefrost’s heart was in her throat as she plucked through ForestClan’s territory. Why was she doing this? The question that plagued her mind still wasn’t enough for her to turn back to camp, let alone try and answer it. Her legs were shaking as she headed towards the spring near their border with FrostClan and SlickClan, shafts of moonlight streaking through the trees. She shuddered, a current of wind blowing past her.

She emerged from the overgrown foliage and spotted a familiar shape flicking water out of the spring with his paws. The ferns around her rustled and thick weeds pricked her skin. “Brownfire?” she whispered. The brown and white tom’s head snapped towards her.

“Brindlefrost!” he exclaimed, sounding baffled. He nuzzled Brindlefrost and she jerked back. He blinked at her. “You came.”

“Yeah,” the tabby mewed uneasily. “Why’d you want to meet? Did you find something out about Seedwhisker’s killer?”

“Seedwhisker’s ki-? No!” Brownfire looked genuinely confused. “I just wanted to see you. Outside of the Clan rules that bind us. Out here, it’s only us.” His amber eyes sparkled as he looked up into the dark night sky, stars glittering hard and cold above them.

Brindlefrost gaped. “Are you kidding?” she stammered.

Brownfire tipped his head to the side. “No?” he answered, perplexed.

Brindlefrost’s scruff fur prickled. “Brownfire!” she yelled, voice trembling. “We can’t do this!” She lashed her plumy tail, brushing past the tom. “This- it’s against the rules!” Brownfire regarded her reproachfully.

“I don’t see what’s so wrong,” he replied, hurt.

“Yes, you do!” Brindlefrost said, exasperated. “I’m a medicine cat, and you’re a warrior.” She bristled. Can I make it any more obvious?

“Under the moonlight and the stars, we’re the same.” Brownfire ran his tail along Brindlefrost’s spine. “Would any onlooker see that we’re any different? And,” he continued, mischief sparking in his eyes. “It’s not like we’re breaking any rules right now.”

Brindlefrost stared at him for a few heartbeats, then dropped his gaze with a sigh. “I guess not,” she conceded begrudgingly. “One night of hanging out. That’s it,” she added harshly. Brownfire brightened, flicking his tail excitedly, looking as if he had no respect for the warrior code. Brindlefrost found herself shuddering at the prospect.

“Sweet!” the tom exclaimed, sounding victorious. Brindlefrost rolled her eyes. Brownfire looked at her devilishly, then his eyes went to the spring. “Want to learn how to swim?” He edged towards her, grinning wickedly.

“Brownfire,” Brindlefrost warned as he crept closer. “I will feed you herbs that will kill you, and I know how to do that, I am a medicine cat.” The threat didn’t seem to deter Brownfire, as he flung himself onto the grey tabby, batting at her with sheathed claws.

“Hey!” she exclaimed as she collapsed to the forest floor. Brownfire’s eyes gleamed above her. “Two can play it that game!” Brindlefrost swiped across Brownfire’s cheek, then kicked up with her back legs. With a grunt of surprise, the tom was thrown off-balance and Brindlefrost quickly leapt to her feet, defiance lighting her gaze.

Brownfire crouched slightly and narrowed his eyes. “Brindlefrost… I’ve heard legends of you. Some say you are the most ruthless, powerful warrior in the forest and there are rumours that you singlehandedly drove FrostClan out of their territory.” The brown and white tomcat circled around Brindlefrost. The grey she-cat felt her paws lighten and a familiar sense of kitlike wonder wash over her.

“Et tu, Brownfire,” she growled softly. “Your followers say you were kindhearted, and yet you fought without remorse. You have so many cats’ blood on your paws that to most cats, you are merely a nursery story, a cautionary tale to keep kits in line.” Brindlefrost’s tail whipped back and forth.

“Ah, but I am very real,” Brownfire meowed in mock patronization. “And I’d be able to die happy if you were the last cat to meet their demise under my paw.” With a yowl, he jumped towards Brindefrost, but she quickly darted out from underneath him. Taking the opportunity, she plowed into him and knocked him over. He struggled under the tabby’s death grip.

“Using the same tactic each time you attack? My, my, I thought the famed Brownfire would fight better,” Brindlefrost chastised. Brownfire went limp and then immediately tensed, lifting his head from the ground and barreling it into Brindlefrost’s chest. The she-cat stumbled enough for Brownfire to land a blow across her face.

“And yet you couldn’t hold me down,” Brownfire meowed. Brindlefrost reached out to bat him but he caught her foreleg with another swipe. He charged forward and bowled her over, pressing a paw to her soft chest fur. Brindlefrost shifted underneath him but he was stronger and heavier, and easily kept her pinned.

“Do you admit defeat?” Brownfire scoffed at her, moonlight painting the edges of his fur silver and casting shadows on his face. For a moment, Brindlefrost was scared. Looking up at the tomcat now, with his front enveloped by darkness, his amber eyes blazing like fire, he looked so much like the cats they were pretending to be. A couple heartbeats passed and she was unable to breathe.

Suddenly, a sense of hot shame made her paw pads prickle. She was a medicine cat. She had a Clan that she needed to take care of and duties that she was expected to perform. And even in the blackness of night, where the only things awake were curious birds and bugs, she was betraying those duties. How could she stay out here and play-fight with a cat she just rekindled her friendship with when the whole weight of the Clan could be on her shoulders?

Brownfire took her silence for her defeat. “Too proud to admit when you’re beat, eh?” he purred. Then he shifted, and the silver light streaming down from between the trees stole away the shadows on his face. “That is like you.”

Brindlefrost scrabbled to her paws, pushing Brownfire off. “Of course not,” she muttered darkly. “I will never be defeated!”

Brownfire’s eyes lit up. “Then I suppose this battle will have to be won another night,” he meowed mischievously. Brindlefrost looked away, gazing across the border to SlickClan and FrostClan’s territory. She wondered if anyone was out of their nests like her, romping around in secret.

She sighed. Probably none of them have to do it in secret. She remembered her friend Laurelfang getting close with Magpiestar’s daughter, Whitebreeze. It’s not like they would be scorned for meeting at night.

Brindlefrost shook her head fervently. Why am I even thinking of Brownfire in that context? She scolded herself. She was a medicine cat!

You seem to remind yourself of that a lot lately, said a tiny voice in her head. She grit her teeth.

“How long until sun-up?” she asked Brownfire. The tom shrugged, glancing up at the moon, which was high in the sky above them.

“A while more. We’ll just have to avoid nighttime patrols.” Brownfire padded close to Brindlefrost. The wind ruffled their fur and their pelts brushed. “What else do you want to do?” he asked.

“Sleep, mostly,” Brindlefrost snorted. Brownfire pouted at her.

“That’s no fun,” he complained.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Brindlefrost retorted. “Sleeping is genuinely the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever experienced. Brownfire purred beside her. Don’t get too close. Brindlefrost stepped to the side, shifting her paws.

“Well I suppose, since Mistyrain’s kits’ ceremonies are tomorrow…,” Brownfire started, eyeing Brindlefrost. “I should be well-rested, because I’ll be showing my brand new apprentice around the territory.”

“In your dreams” Brindlefrost purred. Brownfire nudged her playfully.

“Hey now,” he meowed. He fluffed out his pelt and stepped ahead of Brindlefrost. “Well, I guess we should make a nest.”

Brindlefrost stared at him, surprised. Is he suggesting we sleep in the same nest? Just the thought was enough for her face to heat beneath her fur. “Can’t we just go back to camp and sleep there?”

“And risk getting caught? No way,” Brownfire meowed, poking his head into a clump of ferns and tearing at the soft, long grass.

“Get caught?” Brindlefrost echoed. “This is strictly a friendly outing, so there’s nothing to get caught for.” The heat spread to her ear tips, and she found herself trembling nervously, flushing.

Brownfire glanced back at her. “Uh-huh,” he said dubly. “But cats talk, Brindlefrost.”

“I’m loyal to ForestClan!” she huffed indignantly.

“I’m sure you are,” Brownfire mewed. “But that won’t stop the rumours. Now, are you gonna help me build this nest?”

Shrinking into herself self-consciously, Brindlefrost padded towards Brownfire and started clawing out strands of grass and uprooting several other small ferns.

“Is this enough?” she inquired once they had pulled out a hefty amount of plant life. Brownfire looked at the pile thoughtfully, then grinned.

“Looks like it,” the tuxedo tom replied, and started arranging the grass into an oblong shaped nest. “Come on,” he mewed to Brindlefrost. The tabby bunched the grass around the edges, shaping the plants into a nest large enough for the two of them.

Once it was reasonably sized, Brindlefrost settled into the soft grass and Brownfire followed, his body pressing against her own. Her nerves crept into her throat, and she watched Brownfire through heavy-lidded eyes as her stomach jumped.

We haven’t been this close since we were kits in the nursery, she thought to herself, a twinge of excitement running through her.

“Night, Brindlefrost,” Brownfire mewed softly, licking her cheek. Brindlefrost stiffened with anxiety as Brownfire relaxed into her with a contented sigh. Her blue eyes were opened wide, facing the darkened sky.

Her worries plagued her mind as she moved in the nest, trying to fall asleep. It was hard when she was constantly aware of Brownfire sleeping next to her, and her nerves made her jittery. Brownfire rolled over and pressed his muzzle to Brindlefrost’s neck, and she flushed again.

No, no, no.

This couldn’t happen.

Could it?

chapter thirteen ; between kin, between clans

“please know that i’m not trying to preach like i’m reverend run,
i beg you don’t be disappointed with the man i’ve become.”
-ed sheeran, eraser

The morning of Mistyrain’s kits’ ceremonies came and Brindlefrost sat near the High Tree, watching the three of them skitter around nervously in front of their parents. Mistyrain looked at them proudly, love and adoration shining in her eyes, while Sycamorebranch looked like he was about to burst.

Brownfire shifted in anticipation beside Brindlefrost. The tom had his head angled up, eyes focused on the High Tree. Brindlefrost felt awkward as his pelt brushed hers, and stared stiffly in the same direction. Finally, Fawnstar emerged from her den and trotted towards the tree, digging her claws into it and beginning her ascent.

The branch slumped down under the leader’s weight as she leapt onto it. She gazed down fondly at the three kittens, who were sitting upright now. If they were any straighter they would have fallen over. Brindlefrost stifled an amused purr.

“All cats old enough to climb a tree gather under the High Tree for a Clan meeting,” Fawnstar boomed. Cats stumbled out of their dens and towards the tree, mumbling and meowing about being tired or prey or things of that ilk. Noise soon filled the once quiet clearing.

Fawnstar’s eyes glowed. “The time has come for me to perform one of my favourite ceremonies. There are three kits in this Clan that have reached the age of six moons and are ready to become apprentices.” Squirrelkit wriggled beside her brothers excitedly. Brindlefrost smiled as she looked at the kit.

Earlier that morning, as soon as dawn broke, Squirrelkit had asked if she could become a medicine cat apprentice. Brindlefrost had happily obliged, and she had never seen another cat so joyful. She had tore out of the den squealing.

“Nettlekit, it is time for you and your siblings to become apprentices. Please step forward.” The tomkit hopped forward and settled on a root of the High Tree. “From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, your name will be Nettlepaw. Your mentor will be Brownfire. I hope he passes down all he knows to you.” Brownfire sprang up at Fawnstar’s words and walked over to his new apprentice.

“Brownfire, you had excellent training in Frozenfoot, and you’ve shown yourself to be a loyal warrior of ForestClan.” Brindlefrost bit her tongue inside her mouth. “I know you will be a good mentor to Nettlepaw.”

“I will do my best,” Brownfire pledged, touching his muzzle to Nettlepaw’s. The young grey tom’s eyes shined brightly, and the two sat off to the side.

“Milkkit.” At Fawnstar’s command, the mottled tom stepped forward and dipped his head politely. “From this day forward, until you earn your warrior name, you will be called Milkpaw.” Fawnstar swept her gaze over camp. “Your mentor will be Ashenblaze.”

The grey speckled tabby strode forward, head held high. “Ashenblaze, your mentor was my trusted warrior Breezerush, and I’m sure he taught you patience and loyalty. These are skills I entrust you with passing on to Milkpaw.”

“You can count on me,” Ashenblaze meowed. I’m not sure Ashenblaze can teach Milkpaw to be more patient than he already is, Brindlefrost thought to herself as her brother his apprentice joined Brownfire and Nettlepaw.

“Squirrelkit,” Fawnstar meowed. The she-kit bounced forward, her pelt fluffing up. “From this day on, until you earn your full name, you will be named Squirrelpaw.” Squirrelpaw let out an excited gasp, and Brindlefrost heard her say her new name under her breath. “You have come to me and requested something other than the path of a warrior, and so, your mentor will be Brindlefrost.”

She knew she was going to be a mentor, but hearing it from Fawnstar sent a shiver down Brindlefrost’s spine and a feeling of shock flashed through her. She walked towards Squirrelpaw, who was teetering on her paws and staring up at Brindlefrost, wide-eyed, grinning broadly.

“Brindlefrost, you trained as a warrior under Mistyrain and then were taught the ways of a medicine cat by Tulipheart.” Brindlefrost dipped her head. “I am certain you will pass on all you know to Squirrelpaw.” Flattered, the tabby bent down to touch her muzzle to Squirrelpaw’s. The apprentice was shaking under her thick pelt.

“Nettlepaw! Milkpaw! Squirrelpaw!” The three apprentices held their heads high as the Clan chanted their name. Mistyrain and Sycamorebranch padded towards them.

“We’re so proud of you,” Sycamorebranch said, his mew dripping with pride. Mistyrain nodded, her eyes shiny.

“Squirrelpaw, my little girl, I know you will be trained well by Brindlefrost, and I’ll be honoured to be taken care of by you.” Sycamorebranch gently nuzzled the top of his daughter’s head. Squirrelpaw purred happily.

“What about us?” Nettlepaw meowed. Milkpaw twitched an ear in amusement. Mistyrain chuckled and padded close to her sons, bending her neck and pressing her head to Nettlepaw and Milkpaw’s.

“My handsome sons,” she murmured. “I will feel safe knowing you’re protecting the Clan.”

Brindlefrost stole a glance at Brownfire. The tomcat’s eyes were glistening sadly as he watched Mistyrain interact with her kits. He met the medicine cat’s gaze and nodded slightly. Swanfur. Brindlefrost’s heart ached for her friend who didn’t have a mother to see him become an apprentice.

Mistyrain lifted her head. “I suppose I should let you get to training.” She backed away from Nettlepaw and Milkpaw and retreated to Sycamorebranch’s side.

Nettlepaw hopped up. “What are we going to do first?” he asked Brownfire. His mentor lifted his amber gaze to look at Ashenblaze.

“Territory tour?” he suggested. Ashenblaze nodded slightly.

“Oh! Oh!” Squirrelpaw exclaimed, looking up at Brindlefrost with pleading eyes. “Can we go with them? Please? I wanna see the territory so bad!” She bounced on her paws.

“I suppose,” Brindlefrost meowed. Squirrelpaw purred loudly and joined her brothers. “I’ll show you where to get herbs.”

“Let’s go, then,” Ashenblaze meowed, flicking his tail and whisking Milkpaw away, turning his back to Brindlefrost. Brownfire shrugged and trotted after him as Squirrelpaw and Nettlepaw leapt ahead, charging into the forest. Brindlefrost snickered as she burst through the thorn tunnel.

“Nettlepaw, stay close!” Brownfire called as his apprentice and Squirrelpaw’s excited shouts faded and the two sped away.

“Squirrelpaw!” Brindlefrost yelled.

The two apprentices halted in front of them while Milkpaw chuckled from Ashenblaze’s side. The grey speckled tom watched them, gaze dark. Squirrelpaw retreated back towards the group, Nettlepaw stumbling after her. Squirrelpaw looked up at Brindlefrost, whimpering quietly with wide green eyes.

“Sorry,” she apologized. “I was just so excited to see the territory.”

“It’s fine,” Brindlefrost purred, amused by her apprentice’s enthusiasm. “But you need to stay with us so we can show you important things, or, for you, Squirrelpaw, where herbs are. Speaking of which,” the tabby meowed, flicking her tail towards a clump of bright flowers. “This is marigold. You can recognize them from their bright yellow and orange petals. They’re a very important herb in treating wounds.”

Squirrelpaw approached the herb cautiously, as if she was trying not to step on the stems and ruin them. She stuck her muzzle into the flowers and gave a hearty sniff. “Alright,” she mewed, staring at the marigold with a scrutinizing glare.

“We’re lucky to have a good supply near camp,” Brindlefrost told her. A tail-length away, Ashenblaze twitched his whiskers in irritation.

“Come now. We’ve no time to muddle about with plants,” the grey tom meowed, a quiet growl rumbling in his throat. “We must show the warrior apprentices around the territory.”

Brindlefrost bristled, stepping in front of her own apprentice protectively. “Squirrelpaw has every right that her brothers have to explore the territory as well as look for herbs,” she told Ashenblaze. Her brother narrowed his dark blue eyes.

“Doesn’t a medicine cat have more important duties than romping about with real warriors?” he sneered, his eyes boring holes into Brindlefrost’s. Ashenblaze’s gaze flickered down to Squirrelpaw. “Or perhaps this child would rather truly serve her Clan as a warrior apprentice?”

Indignation sparked in Squirrelpaw’s eyes. “I-I can help the Clan as much as my brothers as a medicine cat!” she exclaimed, her hackles raising. She lashed her tail. “You just think you know everything because you’re older than me!” the she-cat spat. “But in reality, you’re just a kid who has grown up!”

A stunned silence followed Squirrelpaw’s outburst, and the tension between the group was thick enough to be cut with a dull claw. Ashenblaze’s eyes turned to slits as he glared at the young apprentice.

“I see,” he said simply. “You won’t get far in life if you’re defiant like that.”

Brindlefrost flexed her claws. Was Ashenblaze threatening Squirrelpaw? She was about to open her mouth and give her brother a piece of her mind when Brownfire brushed past her.

“Ashenblaze,” the tom said cautiously. “She’s a child. Don’t speak to her like that.”

“Yeah!” Nettlepaw growled, coming to his mentor’s side, unsheathing his tiny claws. “That’s my sister you’re talking to!”

Ashenblaze ignored Nettlepaw and fixed a burning glare on Brownfire, one that chilled Brindlefrost to the bone. The two warriors stared at each other, not speaking, as if they were having a silent mental battle. Nettlepaw and Milkpaw exchanged worried expressions. Then Ashenblaze raised his head and turned away from Brownfire.“We have things to do and places to see.” He stood. “Come along, Milkpaw.”

Milkpaw looked dubiously at Squirrelpaw and shrugged apologetically. He hurried to Ashenblaze’s side and the two started walking. Squirrelpaw glared after them furiously, her jaw clenched.

“He’s got no right,” Nettlepaw meowed to his sister. Brownfire shook his head.

“That boy’s got problems,” the warrior murmured. Brindlefrost didn’t say anything.

Squirrelpaw shifted her paws. “Oh, I’d like to give Ashenblaze a cuff on the ear!” she hissed. She turned to Brindlefrost. “What does he mean, that I won’t serve the Clan as a medicine cat?” the brown and white she-cat asked. “Why would he say something like that? It’s not like he’s saving lives out there!”

As her brother and his apprentice became smaller in her sights, heading towards the FrostClan border, Brindlefrost let out a growl. “Pay him no mind,” she said harshly. Anger made her pelt hairs stand on end. “He’s just a whiny warrior who knows not what he says. He pretends like being a warrior is the true way to be of service to your Clan, but he has no scars to prove it.” Her voice trembled. “He couldn’t even save his own sister from dying!”

Neither could you, chirped Brindlefrost’s mind. She winced slightly, and Brownfire looked at her, stunned. Everyone did.

After a few heartbeats, Brownfire spoke. “Nettlepaw, we best catch up to Ashenblaze.” He straightened. “Are you coming?” he asked Brindlefrost. The grey tabby swept her tail around Squirrelpaw.

“Yes.” Brindlefrost shook out her pelt. “Let’s go, Squirrelpaw.” Brownfire and Nettlepaw set off in the direction of Ashenblaze at a fast pace and Brindlefrost and Squirrelpaw bounded after them.

Eventually they caught up with Ashenblaze and an icy silence formed between the group. Occasionally Brindlefrost broke it to comment on some herb or another but Squirrelpaw usually just gave a half-hearted glance in the herb’s direction and a glare towards Ashenblaze’s back. He never once turned to look at them.

“This is thyme,” Brindlefrost meowed to her apprentice. “It’s good for worried, anxious feelings or cats in shock.” She indicated a plant with small green leaves. Squirrelpaw examined it for a couple moments.

“Hey,” Brownfire suddenly said, his ears perking up. “Who’s at the FrostClan border?” Brindlefrost’s head whipped around from where she was looking for herbs and spotted four figures in the distance. Ashenblaze stiffened.

“Why are they just waiting? This could be an invasion!” he hissed, and bounded down the slope towards the border. Milkpaw broke into a run behind him and the rest followed. Fear crept into Brindlefrost’s heart. She didn’t have a good feeling about the figures.

Ashenblaze skidded to a stop in front of the cats. Brindlefrost’s blood ran cold as she recognized the deputy of FrostClan, Berryfur, among them. Surrounding her was a pretty black and white she-cat- Whitebreeze, Brindlefrost recalled, as well as two toms she didn’t recognize- a tall dark tabby tom and a smoky grey one.

“Greetings,” Berryfur sniffed. “We’d like to speak to Fawnstar.”

“For what reason would you have to need to speak with our leader?” Ashenblaze asked. He tensed his muscles.

“We don’t need to share that with you!” the smoky grey tom growled. Berryfur held up her tail, signalling for silence.

“Now, now, Pebbleclaw,” the deputy meowed patiently, eyeing Pebbleclaw with a hard stare. She turned back to Ashenblaze. “We’ve found ForestClan scent within our borders- a fox length in, in fact,” she explained calmly.

“What?” Nettlepaw exclaimed, neck fur bristling. “No ForestClan cat would trespass!”

Brownfire nudged his apprentice and gave him a warning look. Berryfur blinked at Nettlepaw, realizing how young he was. “Then why is your scent on FrostClan territory?” she inquired.

Nettlepaw looked down. “Don’t speak out of turn,” Brownfire meowed quietly to him. He looked at Berryfur with an even gaze. “Are you certain it was ForestClan scent?”

“Are you suggesting that FrostClan cats can’t recognize the difference between their own scent and your musky stench?” Whitebreeze stepped forward. Brindlefrost was surprised by her tone. She looked so passive, with a well-groomed pelt and soft face. Nonetheless her blue eyes were narrowed, and her voice was roughened.

“If that’s what you want to believe,” Ashenblaze responded condescendingly. Whitebreeze glared at him, and Brindlefrost noticed that she had unsheathed her claws. Berryfur ignored Ashenblaze’s comment and continued to speak.

“We’d appreciate it if you could escort us to your camp.” Berryfur flicked her tail.

“Why can’t we just settle this discussion here?” Brindlefrost meowed, stepping towards the border. “We will pass on a message for you but I don’t see why you need to see our leader.” Her blue eyes met Berryfur’s hazel ones.

The dark tabby plucked at the ground with his claws. “Do you need your medicine cats to fight your battles for you?” he challenged. Ashenblaze’s fur prickled, and Squirrelpaw let out a thin hiss. Brindlefrost felt her own ears grow hot with anger.

“If it’s a battle you want, it’s a battle you’ll get!” Ashenblaze hissed. The dark tabby looked amused at the tom’s frustration.

“Nightstripe, stop.” Berryfur flashed a look at the tabby.

Brownfire rested his tail in front of Ashenblaze’s muzzle, which was drawn in a snarl. “How recent was the scent?” the tom asked while Ashenblaze grumbled.

Berryfur shifted slightly and broke eye contact. “Well, a few days, at least,” she meowed.

“There you go,” Brownfire said, sounding satisfied. “If it’s a few days old, and there’s only one scent, it was probably an apprentice who was hunting and forgot about borders.”

Whitebreeze wrinkled her nose. “Is ForestClan so incompetent that they don’t teach their apprentices basic Clan morals?” she asked. Beside Brindlefrost, Squirrelpaw bristled angrily. Nettlepaw looked like he was about to protest again when Brownfire quickly gave his apprentice a hard shove.

“Does FrostClan not teach their apprentices to be respectful to others?” he replied simply. Pebbleclaw, who seemed to be the youngest of the four, lashed his tail stubbornly.

“Not to ForestClan scum,” hissed the warrior.

“In any case,” Brindlefrost started, feeling her anger begin to grow. She wanted to get away from these rude cats as soon as she could. “You have our word that we will pass on the message to Fawnstar, however, we will not allow you to accompany us back to camp.”

Ashenblaze glared at the FrostClan cats. “We will make sure each apprentice knows where the borders are,” he muttered darkly. Brindlefrost felt uneasy. Stormpaw and Vixenpaw were old enough to not make such a careless mistake, and the three apprentices with them hadn’t yet been out of camp. It worried her to think of who could be the culprit behind the trespassing.

Berryfur regarded them coldly. “Very well.” She turned and signalled for her patrol to follow. Pebbleclaw looked as if he wanted to protest, glaring at the ForestClan cats through slitted blue eyes. Berryfur glanced back. “Oh, and by the way,” she began, an ominous tone to her voice. Brindlefrost shuddered.

“Magpiestar will not be happy with this.”

chapter fourteen ; my dirty little secret

“i’ll keep you my dirty little secret,
don’t tell anyone or you’ll be just another regret.”
-all american rejects, dirty little secret

An odd sense of dread weighed Brindlefrost down as she plucked through the territory, Brownfire at her side. It had been a quarter moon since the border encounter with FrostClan, and they had been oddly silent regarding the matter ever since. The only indicators that they were still there had been their scent markers, that had grown incredibly strong along the border. Many members of ForestClan had taken it as a threat and wanted to go to battle over it, but Fawnstar refused.

Brindlefrost was worried. Her leader could only refute their claims for so long.

And so she blamed her grogginess on the fact that their was certainly an impending battle with the Clan coming their way. She had felt irritable for awhile, and was restless. Her insomnia was part of the reason why she continued to meet with Brownfire under the cover of night. This was their fourth outing.

“Do you think FrostClan will attack?” Brindlefrost asked Brownfire as he paused at the stump of a tree, gazing up at its tall branches stretching out into the blackened sky.

Brownfire shook his head. “They’re cowards,” he meowed. He gently nuzzled Brindlefrost, and she stiffened. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll protect you.” He sunk his claws into the tree’s bark.

“I can protect myself,” Brindlefrost objected. Brownfire threw her an affectionate look.

“Alright.” He pulled himself up the tree. “But let’s not talk about those things. We hang out to get away from the trials and tribulations of Clan life, don’t we?” he twitched his whiskers. “Climb with me.”

Brownfire’s claws sliced through the tree as he and Brindlefrost ascended, the latter following slightly below. Brindlefrost angled her head so far upwards that it nearly hurt, trying to gaze past the lean brown and white body of Brownfire.

“Any branches up there?” she commented. Brownfire’s tail slowly moved from side to side above her. Despite tree climbing being a trademark of ForestClan, Brindlefrost still felt uneasy without any solid ground beneath her.

“There’s one that looks big enough for both of us.” Brownfire leaned back slightly on his haunches and leapt upwards with a quiet grunt. His claws scrabbled against the wood as he latched onto a thick branch and hauled himself up.

He settled onto the branch and blinked expectantly at Brindlefrost. “Well?” he mewed as he shifted, making room for the grey tabby to get on.

“Hold on.” Brindlefrost clawed up a few more mouse-lengths and reached for the branch. She felt a rush of fear strike her and she sunk her claws into the wood and leapt off the tree. “Eep!” she exclaimed as she straddled the branch with her forelegs. With some difficulty, she lifted herself onto the branch with a drawn-out groan.

She finally took a seat beside Brownfire and shivered; the chill of leaf-fall was real and harsh against her skin beneath her fur. Brownfire edged towards her and pressed his pelt to hers. A wave of nerves passed through Brindlefrost and her mouth dried; they’d been doing this for awhile now, but it still made her so anxious.

She had clued in. She wasn’t stupid. She knew she liked Brownfire more than she was supposed to, and that absolutely terrified her. She knew she should distance herself from him, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

She was too weak.

“These aren’t friendly get togethers, you know.” Brownfire turned to Brindlefrost, amber eyes glowing, like he could read her mind. Brindlefrost shuddered. She nodded slowly.

“I know,” she said softly.

A few moments of silence passed. Brindlefrost spoke next.

“You’re in love with me.”

Brownfire sighed. “Yeah,” he answered, looking into the distance. Cold stars glittered above them, as if StarClan themselves were looking down on them disapprovingly. Brindlefrost’s skin prickled, nodding miserably.

“What about you?” Brownfire asked. He looked so… So defenseless. So afraid. But beneath the surface, way back in the amber depths of his eyes, lied an insatiable hunger.

“I- I don’t know,” Brindlefrost stuttered. She jerked away from Brownfire and faced him. She exhaled deeply. “We can’t keep doing this.”

“Doing what?” Brownfire questioned, until it dawned on him. “Oh,” he breathed.

“See?” She swept her head around and jutted her muzzle out towards the dark sky. “The whole of StarClan is above us, looking down on us, judging. We swore on their name to uphold the warrior code, and now-” she couldn’t continue. Her throat felt raw. “Look at us now,” she whispered.

Brownfire looked up at the stars. “Then I suppose we’ll be damned to the Dark Forest,” he chuckled darkly. Brindlefrost shifted uneasily, swallowing.

“We can’t go on like this. We can’t keep meeting,” she meowed, her stomach twisting itself into knots. It hurt her to tell him.

Brownfire himself looked hurt, regarding her reproachfully. “Why not? Who are we hurting?” his tone was even but he was struggling to hide the anger.

“Ourselves!” Brindlefrost exclaimed, exasperated.

Brownfire stepped closer to her. “The only thing that can hurt me, Brindlefrost, is being away from you,” he breathed. His hot breath was so close to Brindlefrost’s muzzle that she found it hard to keep calm.

“I- I-” Brindlefrost stumbled backwards, grateful she was caught by the sturdy wood of the tall tree. “But what about the warrior code?”

Brownfire let out an audible snort. “The rules are the least of my worries right now.” He pressed his muzzle to Brindlefrost and sat down in front of her. Their chest fur brushed and Brindlefrost caught her breath.

She wasn’t thinking straight, she was certain. They had different destinies, and they were fated not to be together. But Brownfire didn’t seem to care. And as Brindlefrost’s heart raced as they sat there, doing nothing, just pressed close together, she realized he didn’t believe in any fate.

All he wanted was her, and it seemed like he would do anything to get her.

Brindlefrost swallowed, hard, her forelegs trembling nervously. “Calm down,” Brownfire whispered. His voice was so close to her muzzle and she could feel the vibrations of his words through her own body. She stiffened against the tree.

She supposed she could keep one dirty little secret.

☀☀☀

“Squirrelpaw, could you please take this to Leafshine?”

The young she-cat head popped up from where she was organizing herbs. “Yeah!” she meowed and padded over, looking down at the herb wrap interestedly. “What in it?”

“You tell me,” Brindlefrost meowed. Squirrelpaw looked up at her, blankly, then a look of realization crossed her face.

“Oh!” she leaned down and sniffed the bundle, then looked at the herbs inside. “Well, that’s borage, for her milk, of course and…” She looked at the other herb for a little longer. “That’s… thyme. Isn’t that for cats in shock?”

“Very good,” Brindlefrost purred approvingly. Squirrelpaw brightened and flicked her tail proudly. “Thyme can also be used to quell anxious feelings. Ashenblaze came in and told me Leafshine was feeling nervous. I don’t know why he’d know that, or why he’d come get medicine for it.”

Squirrelpaw looked at her mentor in disbelief. “What are you talking about? Ashenblaze is Leafshine’s mate. Of course he’d know.”

That little bit of information sent Brindlefrost reeling. “What?!” she exclaimed. “Ashenblaze is the father?”

Squirrelpaw looked at her dubly. “Uh, yeah. You delivered them, didn’t you notice that Burningkit looks exactly like Ashenblaze?” she cocked her head to the side. “Or that he’s always hanging around them? He’s your brother. I don’t get why-” she broke off. “Oh, yeah.” She looked as if she was remembering the territory tour incident.

“He doesn’t talk to me about stuff like that,” Brindlefrost told her apprentice. But it did made sense- they had been close ever since Ashenblaze became a warrior. It was odd, though… Brindlefrost never thought that her brother would be the type to father kits.

“Yeah,” Squirrelpaw commented. She picked up the bundle in her jaws. “I’ll take this to her,” she says through the herbs. She was about to leave the inner part of the den when she turned and gave Brindlefrost a once-over.

“Brindlefrost, you shouldn’t eat so much prey in leaf-fall!” she meowed simply before she started off through the tunnel. Brindlefrost looked at her as she left, perplexed, and then looked down on herself. What could her apprentice be talking about-?

Oh, no.

The grey tabby’s blood turned to ice. Her breath hitched as a horrible feeling of dread unfolded in her stomach. This can’t be happening. She felt like she was going to black out. Or throw up. Or maybe both, in rapid succession.

It all made sense now. The tiredness, the irritability, her over-thinking and worrying, her appetite…

Oh, Brownfire, what have we done?

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