This is a collab in between Rainy (Rainpaw) and Robo (Hailpaw). Special thanks to Ash for being the amazing creator of Hailpaw and our biggest fan, as well as one of our best friends and a wonderful person! Please enjoy!
The earsplitting screech rouses me from a deep sleep. I leap to my paws, turn in every direction, run into the wall of the apprentice's den, and stumble out into the clearing.
Two FlameClan toms are standing in the middle of the camp; as my vision clears, I distinguish the sheepish, guilty expressions on their faces. Well, on one of their faces. The other one just looks sullen. Darkfang stands facing them, his yellow eyes blazing. Beside him is Fishleap. The two mentors size their apprentices up angrily. Darkstar pads out, watching the fiasco with a raised eyebrow. Rosewing, who just recently became a warrior, watches while hiding a smirk.
"What happened?" I ask Northpaw, who's standing nearby. Before he can answer, the bane of my existence, Redpaw, butts in.
"Ewwwwwww. Rainpaw, what on earth happened to your pelt? It looks like someone exploded a bomb in it."
"Yeah, well at least my head isn't a hollow cavity," I snap back, lashing my tail and turning my back to her.
"Hailpaw and Lionpaw were out on a hunting assessment, when Lionpaw had an idea," Northpaw explains. I wince. Everyone knows about Lionpaw's "ideas." They never turn out good. "See, they stumbled upon a fox trail. But instead of leaving it be, Lionpaw had the brilliant idea of collecting the grossest things imaginable; river mud, fox-dung, rotten crow-food, and bile, and dumping it on the fox."
"To make a long story short," interrupts Driftpaw. "They miscalculated and dumped it on themselves. Then they got chased by a fox, embarrasing themselves and the whole Clan in front of a BirdClan patrol, and fell into the river."
I widen my eyes. "Yikes." Then I smirk. "I can't wait to torture Lionpaw about this."
Just then, the two apprentices pad by, tails drooping. We wrinkle our noses at their fur; the bath didn't wash out all the smell. "Shut up," Lionpaw mutters.
"We didn't say anything. Yet," I chirp with malicious glee. Hailpaw's blue eyes meet mine, and he looks genuinely sorry for the whole incident. Probably also sorry that he ever met Lionpaw. "Don't worry," I purr. "Someday Lionpaw will fall into a ditch, and you'll be free."
"Huh?" he blinks.
"Whatever," Redpaw says. "Rainpaw, when you finally get over treating toms like a kit would, maybe you'll snag one not covered in fox-dung."
I make my tone as sweet as possible as I retort, "And Redpaw, dear, when you finally get over yourself, maybe you'll realize that no tom has ever cared for you, or wants you for a mate." Turning on my heel, I stalk off into the woods to hunt.
It's not that I don't notice toms. Some are admittedly cute, and not half-bad. It's just... I only think of them as friends. Having a mate would be giving my heart away to another, and I prefer being independent. I don't need anyone, much less some tom. Maybe some day, I would find a tom who was worth it. Maybe.
Until then, I was fine with just me, and having everyone else as friends. After all, toms beat Redpaw and Driftpaw any day for companionship. That's all. Really.
The moonlight gleams off Red Rock, turning it to scarlet fire against the pitch-black sky. I smile with excitement, happy to be out for my first Gathering. Lionpaw wasn't allowed to come for obvious reasons, but Hailpaw was, since he's a newer apprentice, and this is his first time. Also, everyone knows it was Lionpaw who started the fox incident. It's always Lionpaw.
Glancing around the clearing, I look for someone to talk to. Almost all the FlameClan apprentices are busy. Redpaw is twirling in the midst of a bunch of BirdClan toms, Thunderpaw is sitting off to the side with a PetalClan she-cat(it's his first time too), and Driftpaw is chatting with Northpaw. Only Hailpaw is alone, his eyes fixed on the large red sandstone, reflecting it back in their sky-blue depths. Shrugging inwardly, I pad over.
"Hi Hailpaw. What did Fishleap do to you about the fox thing?"
His gaze travels to my face, and he smiles shyly. "Oh, hi Rainpaw." He flushes. "Nothing. I mean... we have to clean out the elder's den for a moon, but Lionpaw got the worst of it."
"As well he should-"
Just then, Spottedstar, BirdClan's leader, begins the Gathering. I face forward again, but my thoughts aren't on the leader's words. I watch Ashflight and Skymist purring next to each other, and two PetalClan cats, Roaringburn and Gentlewing, as they sit side by side. Will I ever be like that?
No, before you ask I did not want to fight the fox like Lionpaw did. I was completely innocent, without a single blame and Lionpaw just dragged me into a dumb fight with a dumb creature.
And made me look like a fool in front of all the other she-cats. Not that I really care for she-cats in the slightest bit. Having a mate was not at all in my interest zone. But still, one couldn't blame me for being the slightest bit embarrassed by it all.
And now I was confined to a moons worth of work in the apprentice den.
One really had to hate Lionpaw for being so excited at the prospect of getting in trouble. Not that I didn't know what he was really after.
And those of the she-cats.
I wasn't looking for attention though. I just wanted to be the best warrior that FlameClan could have and a mate was not going to interfere with those goals.
Gently I sit down next to Rainpaw, our pelts brushing as we listen to Spottedstar speak.
Rainpaw is pretty cool for a she-cat. Instead of spending her whole day grooming her pelt like some she-cats (Redpaw), she likes to come out to hunt and fight with us.
I'll admit, she always manages to surprise us. For someone who looks so soft and pretty she has a lot of fight inside of her.
She's beaten Lionpaw in training several times and it always drives him mad.
And usually ends with him cheating then returning to camp saying he is victorious while Rainpaw mutters cusses at him behind his back.
"This is so cool!" she whispered, excitement surging through her voice, "All of these cats!"
My eyes dart around as Thunderpaw leaves the side of a she-cat whom he was conversing with, probably too shy to approach a larger group.
In the meanwhile, Redpaw is working her way out of a group of BirdClan apprentices all of which are desperatly clingign to her pelt and I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
I can see a black she-cat looking sour as one of the black toms with blue eyes fawned over Redpaw alongside his clanmates. Her eyes were withering with an unimaginable fury which she seemed completely unable to control. Her body shook fiercely and her eyes plotted revenge.
And then Lionpaw asks me why I don't try to find a she-cat fit for me.
It's not worth it.
I turn back to Spottedstar as she calls out the names of new warriors and apprentices and chant alongside the rest of the clans, who are a little quiet due to how tense things are.
But that's fine with me. I'm excited for my first battle when I can finally show my worth to FlameClan and prove that I am loyal to them.
And only them.
"Okay," Ashflight says. "We're going to divide into teams. Lionpaw will be one captain, and Rainpaw the other. Lionpaw, you pick first."
The golden tom's amber eyes meet mine, and he says, "Thunderpaw."
I glance at the apprentices, about to pick Northpaw, when my eyes catch Hailpaw's. For some reason, a tingle runs through me; shrugging it off, I say, "Hailpaw."
Redpaw and Driftpaw burst into giggles, and I glare at them. "Do I have to have one of them on my team?"
"I pick Northpaw," Lionpaw announces.
Sighing dramatically, I mutter, "Driftpaw."
"I guess that leaves me with Redpaw," Lionpaw says. Why does he look like he's trying to look unhappy, but failing miserably? Those two hate each other. Redpaw sniffs and stalks over, while Driftpaw sulks at the back of our group.
"They outnumber us," I protest.
"Don't worry," Hailpaw says confidently. "We'll beat them. Together."
A warm flush runs through me, like nothing I've ever felt before. To hide it, I say, "Yeah. Driftpaw won't be any help."
"Hey! I could break a nail," the she-cat protests. "Imagine the horror!"
Rolling my eyes, I turn back to Ashflight. "So, what's our mission?"
"Since you have less cats, you'll be guarding that rock." He gestures to a large gray boulder nearby, and places a large leaf on it. "This is your kit. Don't let it get hurt. You four," he turns to Lionpaw's team, "are trying to invade and steal the kit."
"Kits already, Rainpaw? You and Hailpaw need to slow down," Redpaw smirks.
My face feels like it's on fire. "ShutupRedpaw." She is so going down. I work my claws into the dirt, waiting for the start signal. Beside me, Hailpaw shifts from paw to paw uncomfortably, trying not to blush, and Driftpaw studies her claws lazily. Lionpaw narrows his eyes, intent on me, and I return my frenemy's gaze. Redpaw yawns loudly, and Thunderpaw and Northpaw crouch down, staring at the "kit".
"Go!" Ashflight yells, then springs out of the way. Seconds later, Lionpaw and I collide in midair, and go rolling across the floor.
"Hailpaw!" I yell. "Stay back at the rock and guard the kit! Driftpaw, make your useless hide useful and do something!"
While Northpaw, Lionpaw, and I grapple on the floor, Hailpaw faces Northpaw down. Redpaw and Driftpaw chat with each other off to the side. I grit my teeth, but they're not my problem right now. Swatting Lionpaw across the face, I bowl Thunderpaw over. He lets out a squeak; I remember that he fought off a badger recently, and go easy on him. Bad idea. Lionpaw cannons into me, sending us both flying.
"Okay, okay!" Ashflight says. "Don't kill each other. Lionpaw, you did an excellent job leading your team. Rainpaw, Hailpaw..." He glances at Driftpaw, then continues, "Great job you two. Despite being outnumbered, you put up a great defense. You make a wonderful pair."
"Team," I correct.
"No," Redpaw purrs. "He means pair." She flounces off, probably not even caring that she did nothing to help. I curl my lip at her as Hailpaw and I pad back to camp together.
"What a girly-girl," I say.
Hailpaw laughs. "Yeah. Redpaw's pretty annoying, for all her popularity. But you're not like that." He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. "You're... different. More real."
"Um... thanks." Am I blushing? Shaking off the odd feeling that's come over me, I yell, "Race you back to camp!" We both go charging through the woods, a pair of reckless friends. Just friends.
Well after that wonderful training session I confined myself to the apprentice den.
Count on Redpaw to give me the embarrassment of my life. It was so annoying. I had never done anything to hint at a romance between me and Rainpaw, we were just friends and she is pretty cool, but she jumps to the most radical conclusions ever.
"Want to share a rabbit?" I looked up to see a mess of gray fur, messy and in big cloudy tufts, as some of it hides Rainpaw's deep blue eyes.
"What happened to your pelt?" Redpaw called across the den, a deep smile growing across her mouth.
"I was actually helping the clan," Rainpaw claimed, "Catching prey and feeding mouths. Grooming your pelt all day does not."
I can't help grinning at her comeback.
"And hanging out with your boyfriend does," she grinned and Rainpaw rolled her eyes.
"He is not my boyfriend!" she shrieked before whipping around and sitting down next to me before letting out a low sigh, "Sorry," she claimed, "You know Redpaw."
"Unfortunately I do," I claimed and I felt a small wave of victory wash over when she purred in amusement.
"A world without Redpaw would be too good to be true," she purred.
"I heard that," Lionpaw claimed as he stalked by the two of us, before winking, "Don't worry, though, Rainpaw. I won't tell her..." he paused, "If you agree to go on a hunt with me."
I felt my pelt strangely bristling and the urge to snap fiercely at him was loud as I willed Rainpaw to deny his request.
She snorted, "Don't get too hopeful. Go trail a she-cat who actually cares."
"Like you," he cooed before walking off.
The two of us were silent for a moment before I purred, "You did a great job guarding the kit. You would make a great mother. Kind but vicious when her kits were in danger."
She blushed for a moment, "Thanks."
We finished our prey in silence.
I stare at my reflection in the puddle for a long time. Fluffy dark gray fur, messy and tangled, with a burr here and there from the dawn patrol's expedition near the bushes by the BirdClan border. Wincing, I begin to see a glimmer of truth in what Redpaw says about my pelt. Yet, it's never mattered to me before. Why should it now?
Glancing up, I see Hailpaw chatting with Driftpaw; I can't help noticing how the she-cat's cream pelt is smooth and sleek, without a hair out of place. Biting my lip, I give my own fur a hestitant lick. That wasn't too bad, was it? And for the record, I was not doing this to impress any tom. At least, I didn't think I was. I hoped I wasn't.
Soon, my pelt is slick and shiny. It feels unnatural, but it does look pretty good. Taking a deep breath, I pad towards Hailpaw and Driftpaw. He glances up; his eyes pop when he sees me, sending a blush spreading across my face. "Hi."
"Rainpaw," Driftpaw nods. Then she glances up. "Gotta go, Redpaw's calling."
After she walks off, Hailpaw stares at me for several seconds. Uncomfortably, I say, "Uh... How's it going?"
"Fine," he says, snapping back to reality. "Er... You look- I mean, want to go hunting?"
"Sure," I say. "It's my favorite thing to do." Flicking my tail, I lead the way out of the camp, but not before Redpaw has a chance to open her fat mouth.
"Aw, isn't that adorable? They're going on a date! Too cute! And look Driftpaw, she even combed her porcupine quills for him."
Bristling(I probably do look like a porcupine now, but ah well), I grit my teeth and ignore her. Hailpaw hurries to catch up with me, then falls into step next to me. "Ignore her. She's an idiot."
"I know," I sigh. "But still-" I cut myself off, realizing I was about to admit there was some truth in what Redpaw said. There is never any truth in what Redpaw says. Especially not about Hailpaw and me. There was absolutely nothing between us. Granted, we had been spending a bit more time together lately, but that was because we were friends. I look at him out of the corner of my eye. He is really cute, with black-and-white fur and electric blue eyes. But as for me actually liking him-
"Let's hunt," he says, interrupting my thoughts.
Nodding in agreement, I look around, scenting the air. I pick up the trail of a shrew, and drop into a crouch, like I was taught. As soon as I assume the position, everything clicks into place, the way it always does naturally when I'm hunting. Everything else fades; I'm in a world all my own as I stalk forward. When the moment is just right, I spring into the air, landing directly over the creature, which I snatch up in my jaws before I land. Shaking it, I drop it on the ground and turn to face Hailpaw.
"Nice catch!" he exclaims. Is it just me, or does his voice seem a little unsteady as he watches at me? My knees feel weak suddenly, as I return his electrifying gaze.
"Thanks. Er... Let's get back to it," I say, padding off into the woods. As I hear him following me, I try to quiet the pounding of my heart. Great StarClan, what's happening to me?
Redpaw is such an annoying little brat.
I honestly don't get how she is so popular. She makes my life torture with every walking step and for a cat like that to be liked by everyone...
I just don't get some aspects of life.
Like the way my face would grow the slightest bit red whenever Rainpaw was around or how my ears would suddenly be alert if I heard her name.
It made no sense.
When we returned to camp Redpaw broke into another series of coos, annoying but stupid and completely random. Why couldn't I be friends with Rainpaw without getting embarrassed?
Sometimes the constant, stupid adventures of Lionpaw were enough to wear one out and a she-cat was needed to be spoken to in the dawn of the excitement.
And Redpaw was certainly not an option.
Speaking of Lionpaw, I didn't spot him anywhere around so I asked Redpaw who broke into a grin at the mention of his name as she replied.
"The stupid mouse-brain tried to get some eggs from over by the cliff," she claimed, "And, of course, he can never do anything, so he slipped, fell and had Darkfang save him."
Rainpaw giggled beside me and I felt a rumble of amusement rising in my throat.
Maybe a little bit from the pretty expression on her face.
But just a little.
Redpaw sent me a knowing glance which I avoided, looking towards the inside of the apprentice den where Lionpaw must be receiving a punishment.
Lionpaw may be a trouble-maker.
Redpaw may be an embarrassing, but rude brat.
And Rainpaw may be... undeniably gorgeous (lets pretend I never said that).
But this was still my clan.
And I felt a small rush of heat pass through my paws as I realized that I was home at this moment. There was nothing more I could ask for than a clan like this.
But why was there a small tugging deep inside my heart?
And what was it for?
Lionpaw is incredibly annoying, but today, I'm desperate for company. Besides, I can't wait to tease him about falling off a cliff. I walk towards him; he's sitting with Thunderpaw and Hailpaw(who had nothing to do with my decision to come over) and talking.
Just then, Lionpaw sticks out his paw, causing me to stumble. I turn on him angrily. "What was that for?"
An annoying grin comes over his face. "Nothing. Just buying you some time with Hailpaw. You should thank me."
My face goes red, as I glance rapidly between Hailpaw and him. I just want to rip his face off, the little- "Like I would even talk to you without being forced to," I hiss. Hailpaw blushes and stutters something about having to go, then shoots me a smile and heads into the apprentice's den. Just then, I hear Redpaw's cutting voice, causing my neck fur to prickle. After she's done making life miserable for me and Lionpaw(What on earth is going on between those two?), she pads off, and I head into the apprentice's den. Hailpaw looks up from his nest and smiles at me; I try to ignore the way my heart jumps.
"Hey," I say, sitting down in my nest, which is across from his. Funny how I never noticed that before. I could lean across and touch his shoulder with my tail if I wanted. Now where did that thought come from? Clearing my throat, I add, "Redpaw was being her usual annoying self."
"Isn't she always?" he grins, which just makes my heart beat faster.
"Yeah," I say, curling up in my nest and blocking out the image of his adorable face. I do not like the way this is going. Could I actually... Never mind.
The voices of my clanmates rouse me from sleep. I bound out of the den to find the camp in a state of chaos. A border patrol has just returned, and my heart clenches when I see the looks on their faces. Another run in with PetalClan. Tensions are high between our Clans.
Lionpaw is nearby. While the rest of us mutter things about PetalClan, he's raging about BirdClan. "... and then they called me a kit scared of a fox! And the jokes about my smell! It's so maddening!"
"You kind of deserve it," I chortle, coming up behind the toms. "You disgraced us before them."
He turns to glare at me. Thunderpaw is gazing up at the sky miserably, but Hailpaw gives me a warm grin. "Shut up Rainpaw," Lionpaw says.
"Make me," I retort, sizing him up. I can feel my fur bushing up.
"I would, but I'm much too chivalrous to hit a girl."
"Excuse me? I am every bit the fighter as you are," I snap. Hailpaw gets between us hastily.
"Guys, there's no need to fight."
"Exactly!" Thunderpaw says. "Why can't they see that?" Before we can reply, he storms off towards the woods. I blink. Lionpaw shrugs.
Then the ginger tom glances up. "Darkfang's calling. We're going to practice battle moves, so if we do end up fighting those PetalClan mange-pelts, we'll rip their faces off." He bounds away, leaving Hailpaw and I staring at each other awkwardly.
"We should practice too," I say. "If there is going to be a battle, all of us need to be prepared."
He glances about. "Just the two of us? Here?"
I nod, glaring at him, and painfully aware of Redpaw watching us. A burst of anger runs through me. We can fight-train if we want. It's not a crime, and it doesn't hint at anything romantic whatsoever. It's fighting, for crying out loud.
"Sure," Hailpaw says, his eyes twinkling. "That'll make you a great warrior someday Rainpaw. You're always preparing, and you're a great fighter and hunter."
"You too," I return the compliment, trying to sound casual, when actually, I'm dying to sing his praises. I may be busy training as well when we have our apprentice sessions, but I do notice how skilled Hailpaw is.
We face each other, and I wait for him to make the first move. He bows his ebony head and charges at me. I raise my paw, anticipating the blow, but at the last second Hailpaw swerves to the side, unbalancing me, then plows into my ribcage. I give a gasp as he pins me to the floor, and stare up at him with wide eyes. For a second he seems in a trance as he looks down at me. He leans in closer and- Pow! I lash out with all four legs, taking him by surprise. Getting to my feet, I swipe at his chest and forelegs, driving him back. Before he can retaliate, we both hear a low whistle from behind us.
Redpaw is watching, her eyes glinting. "You two just can't keep your paws off each other, can you?"
"Go cuddle with Lionpaw," I snap. "The rest of us will be actually training."
"Lionpaw?" For a second she looks shocked, but then her eyes narrow. "Please Rainpaw. Don't flatter yourself. That isn't training, it's you desperately trying to get a tom by pinning him to the floor. Don't you have any standards?"
I open my mouth to let loose a barrage of curses that would burn the ears off any listeners, but she's already gone.
"Argh!" I yell, pounding my paws against the ground. "She makes me so mad!"
The next thing I know, Hailpaw has his paw on mine, his tone gentle and soothing. "Hey, don't let her get to you. You're beautiful and great just the way you are, Rainpaw. No she-cat can take that away from you."
I want to say, No tom can either, but the words stick in my throat. Instead, I smile at him, turn to leave, trip over my own feet, and race away, my pelt burning with shame. Why do I always mess up in front of Hailpaw? What could it possibly be about that tom? I had to find out, because it was driving me crazy.
Why can't she just confess she is as into Lionpaw as I am into Rai- as she accuses me of being into Rainpaw. Because she is fooling no one with her act.
Not even Lionpaw himself.
And he appears to be making that quite clear, by flirting with her for a long long time everyday and I almost swear I can see her flushing beneath her red pelt, every time.
When I woke up that morning I quickly stretched before I was called out to practice for battle again. I would be jumping into the battle with Rosewing so she wanted to have a training session with the apprentices.
"The battle!" Redpaw screeched, "What if it messes up my pelt?"
"I'll protect you," Lionpaw promises, and for a moment I can see something other than arrogance and sarcasm in his eyes. He looked sincere.
Who would have known the two apprentices would finally be able to admit how they feel towards each other.
Speaking of couples...
Wait a minute!
Rainpaw has nothing to do with couples. Where did I bring that from? We are just friends, no matter what Redpaw says.
Darkfang has soon rushed over to us.
"The battle is going to be tonight," he announced, "I want you all to get your rest now."
We all nodded, excitement surging through each and everyone of us except for Thunderpaw who appears to want a place in StarClan at the moment.
What's up with him?
But this was my first ever battle and I was determined to prove my skills to both my clan and Rain... I meant the apprentices!
I had nothing to prove to Rainpaw.
We were just friends.
With a loud sigh I gently paddled over to my nest where I quickly curled up. Where was all this weird Rainpaw stuff coming from?
I hoped I would find out soon.
I glare mutinously at Darkstar. "Why can't I fight with the other apprentices?" I glance towards Hailpaw, Lionpaw, Thunderpaw, and Redpaw, who are following Rosewind out of the camp. It's so not fair!
"I told you, Rainpaw," he says firmly, with that annoying air of I-know-more-than-you-and-have-better-things-to-do that leaders have. "We need a backup patrol. You're an excellent fighter, and you'll be a good secret weapon."
"Obey him Rainpaw," Darkfang commands. "We don't have time for this."
Lashing my tail, I stalk over to Cherryheart, Acornfur, and Featherflow, the other members of the backup patrol. We leave once everyone else has gone, hurrying through the woods towards the sounds of fighting. I grit my teeth to stop myself from diving headlong into the fray when we get there. Screeches rent the air as PetalClan and FlameClan cats tackle each other angrily, shredding each other's fur. Lionpaw is tackling a tom much larger than him. Just then, I spot Hailpaw, wrestling with another PetalClan she-cat. Suddenly, the urge to fight beside him is overwhelming.
"Can we please go now?" I ask, never taking my eyes off his black pelt as he ducks in and out of the battle.
Cherryheart nods. "They could use our help! Attack!"
Feeling my clanmates beside me, I leap forward, only one goal in mind: reaching Hailpaw's side. I didn't know why, just that I had to. The only problem was, in the middle of a fight, no one really cares about your personal goals. Suddenly, a large dark red tom jumped on top of me. Blood drizzled into his near-black eyes, but he was still bellowing with fury as he tore into my pelt. The sight of my own thick dark gray fur in his claws spurred me into action.
Kicking out with my back legs, I score my claws down the soft fur in his belly, feeling satisfaction ooze up along with the blood that flows out of him.
"You'll pay for that!" he yells, his voice defeaning. I say nothing, just pin him down. My muscles tremble with effort; he's much larger and stronger than me, but I have determination on my side.
"Roaringburn!" A panicked she-cat headbutts me off of him, clawing furiously at my shoulder. "Leave him alone!"
Snarling at her, blood dripping off my teeth(I must look deranged, but who cares?), I claw back at her. Just then, I hear a call. "Rainpaw! Get out! All the apprentices are leaving!"
"What?" I spit at Ashflight, pummeling Roaringburn, and fighting back a screech as the gray she-cat leaves deep grooves along my spine with her nails. "Why? I can keep fighting."
"Darkstar's orders," he says. I look past him and see Lionpaw hauling Redpaw out of the fight. Driftpaw and Thunderpaw are already gone. I search the place for Hailpaw. That's when I see him. A limp, blood-soaked black body at the edge of the clearing. A loud, heartbreaking cry fills the air. It takes me a while to realize I'm the one screaming, as I sink slowly to my knees.
"Great job Rainpaw."
"Fought like a true warrior. You'll make a great leader some day."
"You sent that giant PetalClan baby packing!"
The praise seems hollow and bleak in my ears. I pad numbly towards Echoblaze's den, and poke my head in. "Is he all right?"
Her burning amber eyes are shadowed with weariness. "I don't know if he will be."
My gaze travels down to Hailpaw's body, swathed in cobwebs and poultices, and I let out a choked sob. "He has to be," I whisper, sitting down beside him. Somehow, there are much more important things than being the best warrior I can be right now. But why did it take me so long to realize it? And what has it cost me?
"StarClan," my pads floated over the clouds, "Have you called me to join you now?" I wondered if I should be feeling a little more remorse.
"Not yet, brave Hailpaw," a brown she-cat with a white muzzle gently paddled towards me, her whiskers twitching happily, "Not quite yet."
"Then what am I doing here?" I questioned, "I thought I died back in the battle. It was so fuzzy and there was so much pain. I can't remember anything."
Actually, I could. But there was a single thing that was stuck clearly to my mind.
"You remember the pretty apprentice," the brown cat's eyes twinkled with soft amusement, "Why do you remember her and nothing else?"
I found myself coughing a little bit as I failed to find the answer, "I don't know," I shrugged, "Maybe she screamed really loudly."
"Or maybe her scream was the only one you were listening for,"
I feel my facing turning slightly red and I sigh, finally letting go of the truth I have known but hidden from myself this whole time, "Yes, I do love her."
"Can you sacrifice something for her?"
"Anything," I'm surprised by how sure my voice sounds but the cat across me obviously isn't.
"Then return to her," she whispered, "StarClan intended for the two of you to meet and become mates. To love each other more than anything else."
"What if she doesn't like me back?" I whispered sharply.
The cat flicked her tail and the clouds beneath us suddenly cleared to show Rainpaw standing over my limp body, tears threatening to force their way out of her eyes.
"You think she doesn't care for you."
I felt a feeling of warmth sweep through my body, "Perhaps she does," I whispered, "She is so devoted and wonderful... I'm lucky to know her."
"Then go return to her," the she-cat flicked her tail, "And this time don't hide the truth. Take this as a warning from StarClan."
"Wait!" I cried, "Who are you?"
"I am the spirit that will one day be he reincarnation of one of your beautiful daughters. Don't let me down, father," she dipped her head at me and before I could ask anything further I was back in the medicine den, a gorgeous but kind she-cat standing over me.
"Are you okay?" her voice cracked.
"Rainpaw," I whispered, smiling.
My legs sway unsteadily, relief flowing through every part of me like a flood. "Hailpaw," I say softly, as if speaking loud will shatter the precious fact that he's alive. He's alive.
Echoblaze is out collecting herbs for all the other injured cats, so I figure the best thing to do for now is stay here and keep him company. Not that I'm sure I can do anything otherwise. "Rainpaw," he says my name again, his blue eyes glowing. I curl up beside him, pressing our pelts together, careful not to brush the cobwebs, and listen to the sound of his heartbeat against my ear. It comforts me, even if he's too weak to do anything other than rest his head on top of mine. I feel him relax, and I do the same, molding into him comfortably. It feels so amazingly right to be like this. Giving Hailpaw's ear one last lick, I drift off to sleep, without bothering to think about what I'm doing, and what the strange emotion blossoming in my heart is.
"Rainpaw? You'll have to leave now." I wake up to see Echoblaze standing over me, her gaze symapathetic and warm as she watches us. With a start, I spring away from Hailpaw, who stirs in his sleep.
"Where are you going?" he mumbles, not registering the medicine cat.
"I have to go now," I say apolegetically.
"Wait," he says, struggling to his paws. "I- I have to talk to you."
We both turn to Echoblaze, who purses her lips. "Five minutes. Then you're out of here." Giving me a wink, she turns and pads out of the den.
Hailpaw takes an unsteady step closer to me. "I have to tell you something. I was almost in StarClan, after everything that happened. And... there was one thing that brought me back. When I thought about it, I knew I had to live. Do you know who it was? It was-"
"Hailpaw!" Lionpaw barrels in, amber eyes glowing. I stumble backwards and stifle a hiss of frustration. Hailpaw isn't yours, I remind myself. Still, I can see my own irritation reflected on his face as Lionpaw babbles on and on about the battle.
Just then, Echoblaze reenters the den. "Everyone out," she orders.
"But-" I cut off my own protest, shooting Lionpaw a daggerish glance he doesn't catch. Bending close to Hailpaw's ear, I say, "Meet me outside the camp tonight, okay?"
He nods, purring. I walk outside. Cherryheart nods at me. "Is everything okay with Hailpaw?" she asks.
I smile, wondering for the hundredth time how a cat like Redpaw could have such a nice mother. "Yeah. They're just fine."
And they'll be even better tonight.
"It's a wonderful night," I murmured as we paddled alongside each other, our pelt brushing tenderly. I breathed in her soft scent, feeling myself float away.
"It is," she grinned at me, as our feet crunched leaves far too dark to see.
We were both silent as we continued to walk, our footsteps the only noises that reached our ears, as the moon shined brightly above us.
"So who was it?" Rainpaw finally asked me, gently turning her head in my direction.
I felt my face go red, and suddenly, I felt unsure of this all over again, just like I had before I met what would become my daughter.
"I..." I stammered for a few moment, my paws tingling with an odd sensation, that left me craving to be by Rainpaw's side. Gently, I placed my head against her shoulder.
"It's okay if you don't want to tell me," she claims, but I can hear deep curiosity edging through her voice, and I find myself struggling to open my mouth again.
What if she doesn't want to have kits with me?
What if she gets mad that I suggested she would become anything but a warrior?
What if she gets mad that I thought she would want to become mates with me?
We reached the base of a short tree, with smooth and soft bark.
I smile at her gently, even though I feel so conflicted on the inside.
This was supposed to be a wonderful night I realize, I am ruining it.
I wan't to make some offer towards the pretty she-cat beside me, prove to her that she means so much more to me than she could ever imagine.
"Want to climb the tree?" she asks me gently, breaking the tense silence.
"Of course," I smile, and follow her as we leap gently from branch to branch. I hadn't gathered the courage to confess my love to her yet.
But this was a start.
I lead the way up the tree, trying desperately to focus on climbing and not fallling, rather then the image of Hailpaw's handsome face, and the way my heart ached at the thought that I almost lost him. We reach the largest branch that will hold both of our weights, and sit down a comfortable distance apart, gazing up at the moon, which spills liquid silver down onto our coats.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" I breathe.
"It's not the only thing," Hailpaw whispers, then blushes and stares at his paws.
Softly, I walk over to him, making the limb sway gently, and sit down against him, nestling my head against his shoulder. I feel a purr vibrating in his chest, and smile up at him. "I'm so glad you're okay."
"You and me both," he jokes weakly. Then, as if he's doing something daring, he leans forward and gives me a tentative lick on the forehead. A rush of warmth unlike anything else I've ever felt runs through me, and I relax against him. The cool breeze sways the leaves around us, and they rustle and murmur, throwing dappled shadows across our pelts. "Rainpaw..." Hailpaw begins.
I turn towards him expectantly. "Yes?"
"Nothing. Just... this night is perfect, isn't it?"
"It sure is," I agree.
"Well, look what cat finally dragged herself out of bed," Redpaw smirks as I pad outside, fur rumpled. I glower at her as she continues, "Stayed out late with Hailpaw last night?"
"None of your business," I snap back. "Where is he?"
Lionpaw flicks his tail, ignoring Redpaw completely, which is unusual; they're normally at each other's throats. "Medicine cat's den."
I widen my eyes. "Is his injury bothering him again?" Is it my fault?
"Nah, I think he's just required to rest for another day or so," Lionpaw comments. I nod, relieved, and pad off without stopping to analyze the friction between FlameClan's two most popular(or so they think) apprentices. On the way to Echoblaze's den, I pick up a vole from the fresh-kill pile, then enter cautiously. To my surprise, the medicine cat is nowhere in sight. Hailpaw is listlessly batting a ball of moss around on his nest, but when he sees me he sits up and smiles.
"Hey," I say, enjoying the way he says my name. "Thought you might be hungry." I lay the vole down beside him.
He grins brightly. "Thanks, I am. Want to share?" I nod and crouch down beside him. As we eat, our noses brush, and I yank back, my face blazing bright red. Hailpaw moves back and lets me finish, then eats his portion. We stare at each other for a few seconds, embarrassed, before he breaks the silence. "So... I wish we could go out hunting, but I can't, or Echoblaze would have my head."
I stare at him in surprise. "You want to go hunting with me?"
"Yeah! I mean- If you wanted to. Rainpaw, there's something I've been meaning to tell you, for a while now."
Everything else seems to fall away, training, the voice of my mentor shouting my name, all of it, as I lean forward, closer to Hailpaw and his comforting scent. "Yes?" I pause, and have a feeling we're both collecting the courage to say the words that will change both our lives. Forever.
"I love you," I could hardly believe the words escaping my mouth, as we stood nose to nose for several long moments, short breaths cutting each other off.
There was a long moment of silence, as she pulled back and thoughtfully began to play with the prey, and I felt like a total idiot.
She doesn't like me after all! Now we can't even be friends, because it will be so awkward!
"I feel the same way," she finally murmured.
"Really?" I whispered, my throat dry as she starred at me silently, before she gently nodded, her head gently bobbing up and down as I purred.
"I never knew you felt that way," I whispered.
"Mouse-brain," she giggled, "Of course I feel that way! I was so worried when you got hurt in that battle. I felt like a part of me had died."
I purred softly, "That's wonderful!" I exclaimed.
"Well, well," the two of us snapped our heads up to see Driftpaw smirking at us, "Won't Redpaw absolutely love to hear about this incident."
I tried to comfort Rainpaw with my tail, although I could feel my blood pulsing too quickly.
And this time it wasn't from pure joy.
Instead it was terror.
Rainpaw quickly leaped to her paws, "You wouldn't dare," she snarled.
But Driftpaw just grinned, "You watch me!" she exclaimed, making a move to turn around, and run off to tell Redpaw, who wouldn't be able to stop teasing them.
Rainpaw snarled, and jumped to her paws, bowling over Driftpaw before she could escape the den.
All was silent for a few moment and I felt my breath growing short.
How could Rainpaw and I have a healthy relationship if no one could know about it because our pride was too great to lose for each other?
"Don't tell anyone," I hiss into Driftpaw's shocked face. "This was nothing. We were just kidding around. It meant nothing." Behind me, I feel Hailpaw stiffen, but the next second, I'm sure I imagined it, as he steps forward and speaks up.
"Yeah. It was a joke. Rainpaw and I could never love each other."
I give an involuntary gasp, but quickly mask it with a facade of hardness. "So you'd be feeding lies to Redpaw. Not that she cares anyway; she's always spreading untruths about cats."
Driftpaw looks uncertain now, as she scrambles out from under me. "Whatever. You two totally know you were meant together."
I hold her gaze steadily. "There are far more important things then having mates. My Clan and being a warrior means more to me then any tom ever could. Now leave."
"Hmph," she sniffs, trotting off towards Redpaw. I turn to Hailpaw, and freeze when I see the look on his face. I open my mouth to say something, anything at all, but he shakes his head slowly, and limps back to his nest, as if all his wounds from the battle have reopened.
There's nothing left to do. Turning, I pad slowly out of the medicine cat's den. As I go, a twig snaps under my paws. The sound it makes echos the cry of my own heart as it slowly splinters to bits.
"Argh!" I let out a soft hiss of frustration as the mouse springs out of my grasp. To my own shock, I find myself blinking back tears all of a sudden. I haven't been able to do anything right today. The mentors suggested I stop battle training and go hunt because I kept drifting off in the middle of practice. I couldn't help it. I could feel Hailpaw's eyes on me the whole time, like chips of ice, and all I could think about was all the time we'd spent together, and how I had completely ruined it. Why had I been so selfish? And yet... when I thought about the Clan knowing about us, together, thinking I was a weak she-cat who needed a tom to feel loved, I felt a spark of independence and hostility reignite me once again. But Hailpaw's eyes, his voice, the kind words he always had to say...
Tail drooping, I trudge back towards the camp, empty-pawed. Ignoring my Clanmates, I push through to the apprentice's den and flop down in my nest, grateful that Hailpaw is out still(he got out of the medicine cat's den today).
"Rainpaw? What are you doing here?" Northpaw asks, padding in.
"Resting," I mumble, turning my head inwards to block out his voice. He doesn't take the hint.
"Hailpaw was being kind of wierd today," he says.
I raise my head and glare at him, since he obviously isn't planning on shutting up any time soon. "Really?"
"Yeah. He was almost... sad. No, not sad. Heartbroken. Do you think you could fix that?" There's no mistaking the meaningful glance Northpaw gives me. I blush and stare at my paws.
"I don't know. I don't think I mean nearly enough to him to do that."
He rolls his eyes. "Trust me, you do. Now go and cheer him up, Rainpaw!"
Laughing, I spring to my feet, hope flickering a little bit inside me. Maybe we can't be mates, but can't we at least be friends? He doesn't mean nothing to me, he means a lot. Just not in that romantic way. At least, that's what I tell myself as I lope out of the camp to find him.
My heart felt sore as I wondered back to camp, a thrush in my jaws. It felt like the thrush was dragging me down to the ground as I wanted to close my eyes, curl up and fall asleep.
Why does love have to be so difficult?
I thought about my- our- daughter again and felt another sharp pang.
I thought she liked me...
And she had..
She had confessed being in love with me, and how I meant more to her than she could have ever thought before, and I had admitted I returned the feeling.
But then Driftpaw had showed up.
And everything had gone wrong.
I fought back more tears, forcing myself to continue moving.
"Are you okay, Hailpaw?" I heard Lionpaw asking me, "I was thinking about..."
"I don't want to get in trouble on another one of your stupid adventures," I mumbled, not in the mood to do anything at all, "Just quit it, Lionpaw."
He looked startled for a moment before he shrugged.
He hurried up, paddling away like nothing had happened but I could tell he was hurt. But it didn't really look like he was completely hurt by me.
Nobodies love life seemed straight lately. Except for Thunderpaw who kept grinning when he woke up every morning and would never tell us who the she-cat he was dreaming about was.
Although I can't see how a tom could be satisfied with any she-cat other than Rainpaw.
Almost as if on cue, I hear Rainpaw calling me and my heart fills with desperate hope as I life my head and see her approaching me gently.
For a moment our eyes lock, before she looks down to her paws.
"Hey, Rainpaw," I whispered softly.
We were both silent for a moment before she whispered five words that filled me up with new found hope and dreams as she gently swayed from side to side.
"Can I speak to you?"
"Of course," Hailpaw says, his eyes filling with hope. My heart jumps, and I squash it down. This is strictly friendly, I remind myself. There's nothing really between us. There never was. I just... don't want him and I to end up hating each other. He does mean a lot- I veer away from that thought. I don't know how I feel about Hailpaw anymore, just that I have to make things right.
Shuffling my paws, I gaze up at him. "Listen, I'm really sorry if- if what I said back there hurt you in any way. I didn't mean it like that. I just meant... Maybe we weren't meant to be. I have to focus on being a good warrior. I have dreams. And I'm not sure I ever want to take a mate."
An unreadable emotion flickered across Hailpaw's face. "If only you knew..." He seemed to shake himself. "So what are you saying?"
"Maybe we could just start by being friends?" I suggest.
"Friends," he agrees, linking his tail through mine.
"Did you hear?" Redpaw purrs coyly. "Rainpaw and Hailpaw broke up."
I stiffen and whirl to face her. "We were never together."
"That's not what I heard."
"What you hear doesn't matter, since most of the time you're too busy staring at your own ugly face to pay attention." I'm shocked at my own anger. Yes, Redpaw aggravates me all the time, but this is different. It's like... she has no right to be talking about Hailpaw and I. Especially when- Familiar pangs of guilt come up as I think about what I've thrown away, but I push them back. This is my life now. Without him. "Besides, I hear Lionpaw's moved on."
She gasps and glares at me, then stalks off without another word. I arch an eyebrow, but before I can contemplate her reaction, Hailpaw walks in, flanked by Northpaw and Thunderpaw, and the world seems to sway underneath my paws. I want to go over, but suddenly all of my natural good-naturedness with toms is gone. I can't bear the thought of walking over and talking to Hailpaw and his friends like nothing ever happened.
And yet, I have a strange need to be nearby, so I settle down within earshot and eavesdrop on their conversation.
"Seriously Thunderpaw. Who is it?" Northpaw says.
Thunderpaw rolls his eyes. "No one guys," he protests. "I'm a lone wolf."
"Yeah sure, that's what's got you all moon-eyed and dreamy all of a sudden." Suddenly, without warning, he turns to Hailpaw. "How about you?"
Involuntarily, I catch my breath and wait for his response.
"Me?" Hailpaw stammers. Almost like he can't help it, his eyes go up and fix on me; when he sees me staring at him he looks away. "No one. I just want to be a warrior."
"You guys are lame," Northpaw complains, getting to his paws. "I'm gonna find Lionpaw."
I pad into the apprentice's den, my cheeks still burning from being caught spying on Hailpaw. But I can't help it. It's something that comes naturally: when he's near, I instinctively turn to him. I've got to work on that.
This just-being-friends thing is turning out a harder then I ever thought it would be. Who knew I could ever let a tom bring so much havoc into my life, and still love him for it?
I hate how I can't feel the way I am supposed to. The way I need to. The way I want to. I can act like I don't but deep inside the truth is still the same.
I like Rainpaw as more than a friend.
I have tried so many things in the past moon since we agreed to be just friends. I've isolated myself, tried to stick around with her a lot to become more comfortable and tried to just plain ignore her.
But it's not possible.
Even Lionpaw and Redpaw have been able to sort out their relationship struggles, after a few hurdles and are now prepared to become mates as soon as they are warriors.
I never thought that I might come to obsess so much over a she-cat.
But with Rainpaw...
I keep thinking of the message from what was supposed to become our daughter. She had told me that Rainpaw was in love with me as surely as I was with her.
Then why didn't she say it?
Had my daughter lied to me.
Or had it just been her foolish hopes that we might bond so that she could come back to the Clans as a completely different cat.
After all, I couldn't imagine anyone not wanting Rainpaw for a mother.
She is so sweet and kind and beautiful.
Perhaps it was foolish to think I ever stood a chance.
But I know my heart is still beating for her and will constantly continue to do so for as long as I live. I love her so deeply now I know it will never pass away.
It will haunt me for my whole life.
I may have blamed love for this, but it appears to be so easy on Thunderpaw, Lionpaw and Redpaw. They had no serious struggle while finding cats that they really loved.
And maybe I hadn't either.
But I had troubles getting her to love me back.
Whoever said you can't die of a broken heart was seriously mistaken.
That's what I feel like, as I stare listlessly at the gray sky outside. Like I'm dying slowly. I can't stand it any longer. I've tried everything to get myself to forget about Hailpaw. I've tried every possible way, including, most painfully of all, being near him and acting like we were just friends, when all I wanted to do really was bury my face into his comforting coat of fur and hide from the world. None of them worked. The worst part was thinking that maybe it was only me. That he'd moved on, and was possibly even considering another she-cat. That I wasn't as special to him as he was to me. That... that was torture.
Darkstar bounds outside, his eyes scanning the camp intently. "Cherryheart," he calls to the reddish she-cat. "Take a border patrol out to BirdClan and remark the border. Just because we fought with PetalClan doesn't mean they're not a threat, peaceful as they are."
She dips her head. "Okay." Turning and spotting me lounging about, she smiles and says, "Rainpaw, why don't you come? Acornfur, and... Hailpaw."
My heart plummets to my paws. Hailpaw looks up, panicstriken for an instant, before coolly padding over.
"Okay," I stammer, getting up and walking over. All I'm thinking right now is: I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this. No way can I possibly be this close to Hailpaw, watching him live life without me, without falling to pieces. It just isn't physically or emotionally possible. But I have no choice.
You can do this, I tell myself as our patrol exits the camp. Hailpaw pads at the back, so I quicken my pace till I'm at the front. You're Rainpaw. No tom can throw you off your game.
Except one already has. Terribly. So this is what they mean by lovestruck.
Cherryheart catches up with me, her amber eyes sympathetic. "Are you okay, Rainpaw?"
"I'm fine. Sort of," I say.
She nods and gives me a lick on the cheek, but all she says is, "Hailpaw, Acornfur, why don't you go remark the border along that way?" At first, I'm confused, but then I realize she's getting them out of earshot. Once the toms are gone, her face becomes more serious. "What happened with you and Hailpaw?"
"A big mistake," I admit. "And it was all my fault."
"Are you talking about loving him, or denying it?"
"Both," I say, staring at my paws.
Cherryheart gives me a wise smile. "Rainpaw, there is no shame in falling in love. Love doesn't weaken you, it makes you stronger. It reinforces what you know and makes you all the more fierce, because you want to protect the ones you love."
"But that's just it. How can I grow up and be the best warrior of FlameClan constantly worrying about someone else?"
"Rainpaw," she says gently. "If you don't realize you need others, you miss the entire point of being a warrior. Everything we do is for our Clan. And if there's one special cat that stands apart from the rest, then there's no use denying it and making both of you miserable."
"You think he cares?" I say in surprise.
"I know so."
Acornfur and Hailpaw emerge again. My heart leaps at the sight of the apprentice's blue eyes as they focus on anything but me. "We marked the border," Acornfur says. "You done here?"
"Yeah," Cherryheart says, with no trace of guilt, though we did nothing but talk.
I glance at Hailpaw, and find that he meets my gaze for a few seconds. This time, I'm the one who looks away, afraid that if I keep watching him, I'll go nuts and fling myself at him, begging forgiveness. Even if I understand now what I have to do, I still want to keep my dignity. Only who could, with such a handsome-
I will follow Cherryheart's advice. I'm brave and strong. I can do it. Seriously.
That patrol I went on with Rainpaw was undoubtably the most difficult patrol of my life. Pretending to be just friends with Rainpaw while we ran along the border playfully.
And Skymist was watching us with this knowing feeling the whole time, like she knew exactly what had happened between us, that sent little shivers up my back.
After we split up, Rainpaw refused to come near me, or race when I offered. A part of me felt relieved that I wouldn't have to pretend to be just friends with her while the other part of me felt like I was losing her friendship as well and would soon be left of nothing of her.
The thought was horrifying.
When we reached camp around sunset, I gently paddled over to my nest, which was stuffed carefully with moss. A little further ahead of me Redpaw and Lionpaw were eating together, purring gently, their eyes looking deep into that of the other.
I never thought it would take me longer to sort out my love life than them.
It's been a couple moons, however, since they have confessed their love to each other.
It's not fair.
"Are you okay?" a quiet voice asked behind me.
I turned around to find Thunderpaw gently staring at me.
I was about to give the usual sigh and respond with a yes, when I realized that I was a little tired of lying, and pretending to be tougher than I actually was.
"No," I sighed, "Nothing feels right anymore."
"Want to go on a walk?" he offered.
I was silent for a moment before I nodded, "Alright."
"Is it Rainpaw?" he gently asks me, as we paddle through the grass, "Because I see the longing looks you send towards her everyday."
I sighed, "Yes it is. But I don't think she feels that way about me, and even if she does, being a warrior is too important for her to give up."
"Are you sure?" he asked me gently.
We were both silent before I nodded, "And I think I feel the same way."
Thunderpaw sucked in a deep breath, "Okay, Hailpaw. I am about to tell you a deep secret, which you can never ever repeat if I mean anything to you."
I twitched my whiskers, excitement taking over me for a second as I realized he was about to tell me the she-cat he had been dreaming about for so long.
"Lilypaw," he gently whispered.
I stared at him in deep shock, "But she..."
"If from a different Clan," he claimed, "And I still see her, because I love her too much to ever let her go so simply. Because I know that the bond between the two of us can never be broken by boundaries. By our ambitions and our dreams."
I stuttered for a few moments.
"Don't tell me you don't feel that way about Rainpaw," his eyes glittered, "I know from my own experience that you do. And if I am willing to break the warrior code to meet a she-cat, I am sure that you are willing to give up one of the most important things to you for her. If you really love her that much, you should be willing to let your pride fall."
I was silent for a moment before I dipped my head towards him.
"Thank you," I whispered, "And I promise that your secret will be safe with me until my dying breath!" I claimed before turning around and heading back to the apprentice den.
I would lose my honor, my sacrifice and my pride when I would speak to Rainpaw as soon as I reach camp.
But I would win something greater than all of them put together.
"Rainpaw! There you are," Northpaw says as I enter camp. "Hailpaw came in here looking for you."
"He did?" I say. "Where is he now?"
He shrugs. "He went back into the woods to look for you. You might be able to catch him, but it looks like a storm-"
"Thanks!" Without bothering to hear the rest of his words, I turn and lope out of the camp. I have to find him. Have to make things right. I can't believe I couldn't see it before, but I see it now. We were meant for each other.
I can't believe I was so blind. Why couldn't I just swallow my pride and admit that I care about Hailpaw more then anything else in the world?
Overhead, the gray clouds unleash a torrent of rain down onto the woods, pelting me with big fat drops that drench my coat in a matter of seconds. Head bowed, I fight my way through the storm. Somewhere out there, Hailpaw is looking for me, and I have to find him. Have to tell him what he means to me.
Suddenly, I hear a voice, nearly drowned out by the cry of the wind and crackle of branches. "Rainpaw!"
"Hailpaw!" I yell. A burst of lightning illuminates his black form, water running down his glossy fur in rivulets, as he runs toward me. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he pants. Right as we meet, something hard hits the ground before me. My jaw drops open. It's a small, crystalline hail-stone. Glancing around, I see that while it's still raining, hail is beginning to fall. "We've got to get out of here!" Hailpaw yells.
There's no time to get back to camp. A tree wouldn't be the best shelter under normal circumstances, but then I spot a large, leafy one, with a thick enough canopy to shield us from the storm.
"Follow me!" I call.
Hailpaw nods as I leap up and latch my claws into the wet bark. The wind makes the branches sway as I go higher and higher into the green, but I don't stop till we're at the thickest part of where the leaves are sheltering us. Finally, I scoot over so Hailpaw can sit down. With a jolt, I realize this is the tree that we climbed that moonlit night when he first got out of the medicine cat's den. Coincidence? Or something more?
Panting, I give my rain-spiked pelt a few quick licks. "That was close."
"Yeah," Hailpaw says. "What were you doing out in this weather? You could've-"
I blush and stare at my paws. "I was looking for you. Hailpaw, I'm so sorry for everything. I let you believe that-"
I break off as I see that his eyes are growing wider, focused on something behind me. Turning, I see, nestled in the crook of the branch we're on, a small puddle of rainwater. Inside it floats a clear cut ice cube. A hail-stone.
"It's a sign," Hailpaw whispers.
Linking my tail with his, as the mingled hail and rain falls around us, but never touching us, I know he's right.
We both sat silently for several long moments, the rain gently pounding ahead of us. My mind was screaming at me, while I took in several deep breaths, trying to gather the courage.
Let your pride fall...
"Hey, Rainpaw?" I turned to her gently, and her eyes were so soft, so sweet it was all I could do to keep myself from melting at the sight of her.
"Yes?" she asked me gently.
"I can't keep this up," I whispered gently, "Pretending not to care about you at all, as anything more than a friend when I can't imagine life without you."
"Oh," she was silent, her gaze meeting mine gently.
"I just need you to know I don't feel the way you want me to," I gently whispered, "And I understand if that makes you angry, or upset, or-"
"It's fine," she cut me off.
"Oh," I repeated.
We were silent for another few moments.
"I feel the same way," she whispered gently.
"Oh," I repeated yet again.
And then, a moment later the realization of what she said hit me.
"So then... does that mean?"
"I love you, and you love me," her tone was simple, "And I know that you mean more to me at the moment, than becoming a warrior. More than anything else."
I nodded gently, "That's true for me too," I whispered gently.
"Then there is no point in pretending that our feelings our something that they aren't," she whispered gently, her voice gently floating to my ears, through the deep storm, "It's obviously what was destined to happen. Look, StarClan even sent us a sign."
I was reminded of our daughter yet again.
I gently curled my tail around her, waiting for her to flinch. But she didn't. Instead, she gently relaxed and placed her head head against my shoulder.
"I love you, Hailpaw," she whispered.
"I love you too," I whispered back.
And for that split moment, everything was perfect.
Although a loud voice in my head was asking me what would happen when we returned to camp and we would have to face Redpaw's teasing.
Last time they had only lasted for a few seconds.
How long can we keep together this time?
After what seemed like forever, but still too soon to cut off our time together, the storm slowed down, and it was time for Hailpaw and I to head back to camp. I gulp, pasting a brave smile on my face as we scramble down the tree. But we both know what's coming. The ultimate test: facing Redpaw's taunts.
"It'll be okay," I say, pressing my pelt against his. Inside my chest though, my heart is pounding against my ribcage.
He nods and licks me on the cheek fiercely. "I know it will. You're too precious to lose, no matter what."
"I feel the same way," I promise, feeling his words strengthen me. "We'll face it together."
"Yeah," he says, laying his tail on my back. Side by side, we head into FlameClan's camp. As soon as we do, Redpaw raises her head. I brace myself, preparing for the final test. And this time, I swear not to fail. We're stronger then that.
"Oh look Driftpaw," the scarlet-furred she-cat coos. "They went out for a walk together. That is adorable! And I thought they were just friends." Her amber eyes widen innocently.
Hailpaw bristles. "Ignore her," he says.
"Right." But it's so hard, I long to say. Instead, I lead the way towards the fresh-kill pile and nose a mouse over to him.
Redpaw isn't done yet, and now she's targeting me specifically. "Rainpaw, you should really stop leading Hailpaw on just to break his heart. We all know you really don't care about him."
That's it. I spring to my feet, taking a step towards her. "What did you say?" I hiss through gritted teeth.
She cocks her head to the side in a falsetto of sweetness. "You know what I said. You call me a flirt for talking to other toms all the time, but really, you're the one who plays toms." Redpaw turns to Hailpaw. "Rainpaw doesn't really care about you. She's just using you as a stepping stool till she gets into whatever goal she has for her life; acting like a tom or whatever."
"I am not," I say in a low voice. "Redpaw, I don't care what you say. I... I love Hailpaw. Nothing is ever going to change that."
Her jaw drops. Then something that had never happened before, and probably never will again, happened. Redpaw walked away from an argument. She gives me a quick nod. I know what it means. We're equals. Glancing around the camp, I see Lionpaw watching with a glint of pride, and some other sappy emotion, obviously impresed with Redpaw's reaction. Those two drive me nuts, but I think their love for each other has bettered them. Don't tell anyone I said that.
Turning, I walk back to Hailpaw. My face is beet red, but all my embarrassment fades when I see the look on Hailpaw's face. He looks incredulous, shocked, and overjoyed. I lie down beside him and lay my head against his shoulder.
"I can't believe you said that."
"It's true," I say softly. "I can't deny it any longer. I'm your mate, and I'm proud of it." It feels inexplicably good to say it out loud.
"Thank you," Hailpaw says softly. "I- I would do the same for you Rainpaw. Really."
Looking up into his blue eyes, I know he means it.
I thought all I ever wanted was to be the best warrior FlameClan had ever seen, and that loving a tom would just get in the way of it. But now, I know better. I can only be my best with Hailpaw by my side. He's made me a better cat, and I love him even more for it.
And in the quiet evening, I tell him so.
As I gently opened my eyes I felt light reaching them, followed by the sweet scent of Rainpaw, who was breathing softly right beside me.
For a moment I was hardly willing to believe that she was sleeping so closely next to me.
Then I remembered the events of the previous day, how bravely Rainpaw had stood up against Redpaw and the sign by our tree during the storm.
It felt strange claiming the tree but in a way it did belong to us at the moment. It was where the first sparks of our love began and where we were finally willing to let our pride go and let a wild fire that had been sustained for so many moons burn freely.
It had been perfect.
And, better than anything else, it had lasted. I had never thought that it would actually happen. That all of my dreams might one day decide to become reality but at the moment that was exactly what they were.
And I was determined to keep them that way.
"You are awake?" I turned over to see Rainpaw watching me with amusement, her beautiful eyes dancing under the morning light and I purred gently.
I heard loud footsteps and turned my head up to see Redpaw fiercely paddling out of the den, in control as always. She turns to us and opens her mouth to sneer something.
I brace myself, but before anything can come out she seems to remember everything that happened the previous day. She pauses for a moment.
And then she does the strangest thing.
She dips her head at us and walks out.
Rainpaw and I exchange confused glancing before breaking out into deep grins, and the gently purring as she placed her head on my shoulder.
If I could have paused that moment I probably would have.
But it didn't seem like there would be a need to do so.
As many more moments, very similar to that one, were right around the corner.
Now that we had managed to let our pride fall.
For everything we get, we must give something in return. Nothing comes without a price paid, as balance must be kept in the universe for so to be done.
It is up to us to decide how much we are willing to give, as that is how much we will get in return.
And the choices will always vary. Some cats will chose power, some will chose honor, and some will chose full stomachs to accompany them in their dreams.
However, there is one, only one choice that is consistent among all cats. One that all cats are willing to give everything for.
Love may not make it all better, rather, it may make everything more difficult, but love is too powerful to deny. Too sweet. Too great of a blessing.
And even the greatest of things can't win against it.
Once there were two young apprentices, who loved each other dearly. But there was something that stood in their way; something they feared could ruin everything.
It was a choice they had to make, and yet their pride held them from realizing that.
But love's power is never to be doubted. Somehow, by putting experienced cats in their lives, to teach them what love was really worth.
How priceless is was.
And why everything was given for it.
And so, after some hesitation they were able to understand.
Surrender to it.
And let their pride fall.
As love prevailed, yet again.
Some say that it's a calling
Some say that it's your falling
A whisper through the trees
A breeze that never flees
Sweet yet fierce, quiet yet strong
The perfect ever-changing constant song
Rain falls and splashes like morning dew
The stars lead her on to you
Hail like pieces of light appear
And with the dawn's rays it becomes clear
That the fires of life and the rivers of pride
By lovers do they not abide
Sun moon stars and heavens shed glow
On lovers together down below
Pelts to brush and tails to twine
You'll tell me your secrets and I'll tell you mine
Silver moonlight calls my name
But I'll chose you over yet again
No dream beckons louder then your purr
No vision shines brighter then your fur
Keep me gently till I sleep
Let them not my soul to reap
Destiny is more then battles and fights
Life is filled with greater delights
For in one decision we must stand tall
When love is in question
Let your pride fall