The pale light of the moon filtered down onto the Twolegplace. It scarcely ever reached a narrow alleyway, where three cats were huddled together on a beaten-down box. It was on this night Julie's kits were to be born

The pale tabby yowled in pain. Her mate half-expected them to bring all the Twolegplace cats slither hissing to them, but that never happened. Tonight was still, stiller than a frozen pool and no cat seemed to be roaming the Twolegplace tonight. The other cat, a sleek tortoiseshell, was urging Julie on with silent, unspoken panic, her green eyes frantic. The other cat, a silver tom and probably Julie's mate, was licking her ear over and over as if it would make her kitting pain-free.

Then, the first kit came. It was a little tom, a strong one, with his fur wet and plastered over his tiny frame. After a couple of vigorous licks, he started caterwauling shrilly, but the kitting was still far from over over.

Another damp bundle slipped out. It was another little tom, less strong but more lean, his dark tabby fur giving a faint, lustrous glow in the bright moonlight. The silver tom had stopped licking his mate's ear now, and settled on the kit, licking his fur as devotedly as he had been licking his mate. Julie gasped for breath, and yet there was far more to withstand. Just one more kit and her fate would be settled.

Kitting was exhausting and painful, the sharp pains stabbing her belly like claws. Still, she had to survive, she had too...

The last kit was on its way now, a lovely silver tabby with a white muzzle, chest and paws. Almost unconsciously, Julie bent down and nipped open the delicate kitting sac, and licked her daughter with all her remaining strength. She was tired, so tired...

"Julie," her mate's urgent mew sounded as if it was from miles away. "Wake up. You need to wake up. For your kits."

Julie attention jerked back to the world. Moonlight still filtered down onto the dark alley, but it gave her kits' pelts a lustrous glow in it. "Oh, Gullfoot, they're so beautiful." Her grey tabby mate's attention was fixed on the kits as he gave a limp nod, his amber gaze brimming with love and pride. Julie's heart seemed to soar, and her paws felt light. Suddenly the exhaustion of the night seemed to vanish. "They're so beautiful," she repeated, her voice barely more than a whisper. Julie looked contentedly into her mate's eyes. Was that sadness in his gaze? Her blood froze to ice and her heart seemed to stop. Oh no...

"Julie, I'm so, so sorry," Gullfoot mewed softly, his voice heavy with grief and regret. A sense of lurking horror flooded Julie, blood pounding in her ears. She opened her mouth to say something, but it was dry and she closed it without uttering a word.

"What's going on?" the sleek tortoiseshell she-cat blinked, her voice filled with bewilderment. The other two cats ignored her completely, as if she was from another world.

Gullfoot blinked remorsefully at his mate, and glanced at the kits. His gaze rested on the silver tabby she-kit with the white paws, muzzle, belly and chest and mewed, "I'm taking the little she-kit with me. Her name is Moonkit."

The world was falling apart.

"Alright," Julie answered, numb with grief. "But... Gullfoot? Wait a little, will you?"

The gray tabby blinked his amber eyes sadly. "Yes, Julie?"

"Let's name this little gray tom Ash, can we?"

"Of course. He's all to you now."

"W-what do you mean?" Julie had to choke the words out. It couldn't possibly....

Then her mate voiced the worse of her fears aloud. "We can't be together anymore," Gullfoot's voice was cracked and flooding with grief, like the final breaths of a dying cat. "We -- can't. We just can't. I won't let -- I can't let anyone in EmberClan, or BoulderClan, or RippleClan or any of the Clans find out what's going on between us... because if they do... well, you know what'll happen."

"If you mean get banned," the tortoiseshell she-cat mewed angrily, lashing her tail. Gullfoot blinked at her as if he'd just realised she was there. The she-cat was quivering with rage all over, for her sister and for the kits. She started again. "If you mean get banned, then what's to say you don't come here?"

"Shush, Teasel," Julie meowed softly. "Please stay out of it."

She looked at the other little tom. Then at Gullfoot. "You may go now," she said sadly."

Gullfoot nodded, whisked around and disappeared into the night. Julie bent down to lick the little brown tabby tom between the ears. "Your name... your name will be Pine," she mewed in an almost inaudible whisper. Pine and Ash, she thought silently, burying her nose in their soft damp pelts. I'll die for you. I'll make sure you're safe, no matter what.

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