Part of the In The Shadows series.
I've heard the question a thousand times before, so don't be shy. What did I see in Tigerstar? Well, it's a long story, and trust me, there's more to it then anyone knows. If you've got a moment, I don't see why I can't tell you. I need to get it out. Yes, I know about Sasha, and I know who they say he loved more. But my little tiger, the tiger I loved when it was practically treason, will always be in my heart.
"This is the last time I will visit you Goldenflower." It was a deadly promise, and the pale golden tabby shrank back from it despite all that had happened. But she couldn't back down now. Not when he was staring at her with those familiar, yet scary blazing amber eyes.
"Good," she said. How could she say what she longed to say? The truth was, as she had watched him die that day, over and over again, she had felt the wounds in her own heart. She had longed to cry out, to run to him and try to save him. But she hadn't. Because she could never forget all he had done and tried to do. He was the reason Swiftpaw was gone, the reason Tawnypelt had fled ThunderClan. The reason Brambleclaw slaved to prove every day that he was nothing like his own father. It was all this tom's fault.
"I don't want to see you." The memories helped her put more meaning to the words. He raised an eyebrow.
"Really?" he inquired, his tone as silky and elusive as ever. "I don't believe that. Remember all our moments, Goldenflower. I love you."
"I loved you," she shot back, her fur beginning to puff up like a field of golden wheat. "That's gone now, and it'll never come back. Besides," she couldn't resist adding, "You have Sasha now."
The tabby flinched slightly, and Goldenflower felt a thorn-sharp claw pierce her heart at the thought of this she-cat who could bring him to show such emotion. Had he ever felt that way about her? Had he ever cared at all?
"Very well. I didn't want to have to do this, but it looks like you've driven me to it. I won't give you the pleasure of joining us."
"Us?" she snapped. "Where?"
"In the Dark Forest," he said mysteriously.
Her jaw fell open. "You would kill me?"
"If you actually cared about me, and wanted to spend eternity together. But I can see you don't care about me. You'll regret it. They all will." And with that, Tigerstar turned and walked away.
The stars were bright overhead, but not as bright as the light shining from Tigerclaw's eyes as he gazed down at her, his smooth tabby fur pressed closely against hers. "It's perfect nights like this that remind me of you," he mewed softly, and she said nothing, just forced them closer together, as if she could crush her doubts, and the look on Fireheart's face whenever Tigerclaw was mentioned, between them.
"Do you ever dream..." she began hesitantly, "That someday we'll be up there, together."
He laughed, a harsh yet powerful sound. "The only star I'm planning to be any time soon is Tigerstar." Seeing her look of surprise, he had added, "But not for a long time."
"Yes," she agreed. "You would make a great leader."
He smiled. "Thank you Goldenflower."
And that's where it all went wrong, she thought to herself as the camp began to awaken. Around her, the protective walls of the nursery offered comfort and relaxation. Gazing down at the two bundles of fur nestled in her nest at her stomach, Goldenflower smiled gently. "You two are the best things Tigerclaw ever gave the world, my little ones," she meowed.
Tawnykit yawned and met her mother's gaze with dreamy green eyes. "G'morning Mama."
"Good morning dear," she said softly, nudging Bramblekit awake. "Come on. Let's get something to eat."
Outside, the ThunderClan camp was alive, awake, and bustling already. Bluestar stood outside, talking with Tigerclaw quietly. Goldenflower's stomach clenched when she saw the tom, but she turned away, and met a pair of green eyes. Fireheart. Ignoring the suspicion in his eyes, she led her kits towards the fresh-kill pile. Was there no place she could escape?
"Hello Goldenflower," Runningwind meowed, his blue eyes friendly. She gave him a tight-lipped smile and nodded a greeting before hurriedly picking up a shrew and taking her kits back to the nursery to eat in peace.
After her meal, she glanced up. "Brindleface, will you watch Bramblekit and Tawnykit for a bit? I'd like to take a walk."
"Sure," the pretty tabby answered, smiling warmly. Cloudkit was playing with her tail, and Ashkit and Fernkit frolicked about her paws. She looked like the perfect picture of a contented queen; nothing like what Goldenflower felt. She didn't doubt her kits at all. They were as precious and innocent as freshly fallen snow. It was their father she worried about, despite herself. Something wasn't right about Tigerclaw. She had attributed it to when he had become deputy, but now Goldenflower found herself wondering if perhaps it had stretched on much past that, and she had been too lovestruck to notice.
Slipping out of the nursery, she paused to enjoy the fresh air, before turning and padding out of the camp. Tigerclaw's intense amber eyes followed her movement; she could feel their sharpness on her fur even after she was out of sight.
Once in the woods, the tension in her shoulders began to ease out. Soft newleaf grass was soft and cushioning underpaw, and birds flitted from tree to tree, twittering new songs to herald the new growth and warmth. On a day like this, how could anything go wrong? Goldenflower wondered.
A comfortable, dream-like silence hung over Goldenflower as she padded back to camp, a mouse in her jaws. As usual, her thoughts had become more pleasant and clear. She recalled the bittersweet memory of Featherkit and Stormkit, the two RiverClan kits she had taken care of temporarily after Fireheart and Graystripe had rescued them. Glancing up, she spotted the two toms together. The ginger tom looked up and gave her a quick nod; she bristled instinctively and turned away.
"Goldenflower, Goldenflower!" An excited yelp came from outside the nursery, where Cloudkit stood with his adopted littermates and Brindleface. "I'm going to be an apprentice! Bluestar said so!"
"Really?" she purred, smiling into his happy blue eyes. "Congratulations!"
He nodded, laughing with sheer joy. Ashkit piped up crossly. "Why can't we be apprentices?"
"Not yet," his mother soothed, wrapping her tail around the little gray tom.
"I'll go get Bramblekit and Tawnkit. They'll want to see a real apprentice ceremony," Goldenflower explained. "That'll be them soon." Just the thought of her two kits becoming ThunderClan apprentices, and later warriors, made her heart swell.
"Bramblekit, Tawnykit," she called. "Come on! Bluestar's holding an apprentice ceremony."
"For us?" said Tawnykit excitedly. Goldenflower laughed and licked down a tuft of fur on her forehead.
"Not yet, but someday it will be you. For now, let's just go and watch, not to mention cheer Cloudkit on." She led them out of the nursery.
"I want to be an apprentice too," Bramblekit grumbled, sitting down on Fernkit's tail. She gave a yelp and batted him on the ear. While the two of them wrestled, Goldenflower glanced around. Despite all their doubts about Cloudkit's kittypet origins, more and more cats were emerging into the ravine, eyeing Highrock expectantly. Longtail and Darkstripe snickered together, while Thornpaw whispered something snidely into Brackenpaw's ear. Finally, Tigerclaw strutted out of the leader's den and took his place at the bottom of Highrock. Goldenflower strained to catch his gaze, but it swept nocommitally over the whole Clan, before turning back to Bluestar, who emerged from her den and scrambled up to the top of the rock. Goldenflower sighed. I tried.
Bluestar called Cloudkit forward, and Goldenflower smiled as she saw how happy and confident he was, blue eyes bright against his snowy pelt. After he agreed to the time-honored words of the ceremony, the leader scanned the clearing, a defined set to her lips. "Your mentor will be Fireheart."
"Sure," sneered Darkstripe. "Give the kittypet his kittypet kin to teach more kittypet ways. That fleabag will never make a good warrior."
"Your mother said the same thing about you," retorted Graystripe. "So shut up."
As the two toms sized each other up, Goldenflower pushed away her nagging doubts over the Clan's reaction to her adopted son's mentor, and joined in the cheering. "Cloudpaw! Cloudpaw! Cloudpaw!"
Stopping briefly to touch his nose to his mother's, the newly-named apprentice charged after Fireheart. Tawnykit gave a wistful sigh, and Bramblekit looked mutinous. In an attempt to cheer her kits up, she mewed, "Guys, who wants to play a game?"
"Me!" they chorused, racing after her.
Smiling, she grabbed a moss-ball and began tossing it around to them. As she did, she felt a prickle on the back of her neck; turning, she saw Tigerclaw watching her, a sadistic smile on his face. He arched an eyebrow, as if what she was doing was degrading or something. Curling her lip, Goldenflower faced away from him again, but not before she glimpsed the tiniest hint of longing in his amber eyes. A longing which her own heart echoed.
"You're having kits?" Tigerclaw asked with a warm smile. Goldenflower nodded, feeling a blush creep down to the roots of her gold pelt.
"That's wonderful," the tom purred. Every trace of the macho front he presented to the rest of the world disappeared, and suddenly he was an ecstatic father. Goldenflower's heart began to quiet her doubts as she envisioned tiny versions of themselves, broad-shouldered and sleek-furred, playing in the golden sunlight as she and Tigerclaw looked on. But then he shattered her vision, excitement entering his voice as his amber eyes glowed with hungry delight.
"We'll teach them to fight, to protect their Clan, and even lead it one day." He gave a rough laugh. "I can't wait to see them made apprentices. Since I'll be leader by then, maybe we can each have one to mentor, if there's two. Darkstripe can have any extras."
She stared at him wordlessly, unable to voice her thoughts in the face of his joy. Extras? How could he call our kits extras? "You've got it all planned out, huh?"
"You bet," he laughed. "Come on. Let's head back to camp."
"Extras," she said softly to the sleeping pile of kit-fur beside her. "Far from it, my darlings."
Well, there had been two. But thankfully, Tigerclaw wasn't leader yet, so his plans couldn't come true. Goldenflower wasn't sure why she was so convinced that was a good thing, only that she would never, ever allow either of her kits to be mentored by their rough-hewn father. She would mentor them both herself before she let that happen.
However, she was sure that they wouldn't escape Tigerclaw's rule for long. Every time she saw him eyeing Bluestar's position with that hungry look in his eyes, a shiver coursed through her. What is he planning? Knowing Tigerclaw, it was something dangerously big.