the 27 reasons of blackpaw
when we fall
"Freepaw, you in there?"
Firenose sticks his ginger muzzle into the apprentice's den, letting the sunlight assault my eyes. "Oh, there you are. Ready to go hunting?"
I mumble something intelligent, like "Aghhhhhhthahurtsowwwwwww", and roll away from the entrance, towards the darker interior of the den.
"Nope, you're not getting off that easy." Firenose comes into the den and scoops me up, grabbing my scruff in his mouth like you'd carry a kit - I'm not a kit! - and drags me up out of my comfy nest with a grunt.
"You've been putting weight on lately, Freepaw," he pants. "Maybe we should do more fight training to get you back into shape..."
"But why?" I protest, struggling to stay upright on my sleep-weakened legs. "ThunderClan hasn't attacked us in ages. There's no point in learning how to fight anymore, 'cos everyone's safe."
"Have you been listening to the elders' tales again?" Firenose shakes his head. "They're all full of mice, content with their lives and convinced that nothing bad will ever happen again. You know that's not true."
"But wouldn't it be nice if it were?" I pout.
Suddenly, Firenose sees through my ploy. "Stop distracting me!" he exclaims. "Come on, we're hunting, and that's final!"
He reaches out to grab me again, and I shiver away from his touch. "No, no, no. I'll go, but I won't let you carry me like that again!"
His eyes twinkle with amusement. "Good. You're heavy!"
"Hey!" I lash out with my front paws and push Firenose. He staggers into the den wall with an awful rattling sound, but he doesn't fall over.
Someone shifts behind us, the plants in their nest rustling noisily. "Freepaw... is something wrong..."
I straighten up immediately. "Ah, no, sorry! Firenose is just being a klutz. You can go back to sleep, Blackpaw!" My mentor snorts indignantly.
He peers up over the edge of his nest, wincing adorably when the sunlight hits his blue, blue eyes. "You sure?"
"I'm sure." I look down at my paws, too embarrassed to meet his gaze.
"Okay..." He sinks back into his nest, and within heartbeats, a soft snore starts coming from that direction again.
I sigh wistfully. Blackpaw is one of RiverClan's three apprentices, the others being myself and Dewpaw. But unlike my stupid little brother, Blackpaw is great. He's not annoying, he's soft-spoken, he's smart, he's fast, he's unique...
In other words, he's perfect.
"So... you coming? Or will I have to drag you out here after all?"
Firenose's voice drags me out of my happy contemplation. "Sorry, yeah, I'm coming!" I dart out of the den before he can carry through on his threat, careful not to rattle the den and wake Blackpaw again.
Firenose and I meet up with Reedfur and Dewpaw - argh - and then we all go out hunting with each other. As a training exercise, I have to go with Reedfur, and Dewpaw gets to hunt with Firenose.
So Reedfur sends me off to look for mice and voles on the mainland.
"This is so stupid," I complain. "We're RiverClan. Why should we have to hunt mice?"
"You never know when there might be a shortage of fish," Reedfur berates me sternly. "You should be proud that you're preparing to help the Clan in a famine."
"Yeah, yeah," I grumble, and drop into a clumsy crouch.
"Honestly, has that Firenose taught you nothing?" Reedfur exhales sharply, sounding frustrated. "Keep your haunches down!"
He slaps my rear end sharply with a heavy paw, and I growl. "That hurt!"
"Well, maybe it'll help you remember next time." Reedfur sits back, looking very proud of his arrogant self. "Now go catch a mouse."
"This is stupid," I mutter to myself, but I do as he asks. No point in having Firenose get mad at me later for not following directions.
I track what I think smells like a mouse - how should I know what they smell like? I'm a RiverClan cat - through the tall grasses on the RiverClan island area.
I find it - or some small ThunderClannish creature, anyways - and jump.
"You missed it, you missed it," Dewpaw laughs. "I can't believe you didn't catch it!"
"Shut up," I growl. Just because you caught a rabbit and I didn't doesn't mean you get to brag!
"Now, now," Firenose sooths, ever the voice of reason. "Don't argue, you two."
"I'll beat you back to camp!" And like the idiot that he is, Dewpaw sprints off back towards camp.
"He'll be exhausted before we even get to do any fight training," Reedfur grumbles.
"He'd do well to learn some self-control," Firenose agrees. "Freepaw, will you follow him and make sure he doesn't mess around too much?"
"Why me?" I protest. "Shouldn't Reedfur be the one to look after him? He's Dewpaw's mentor!"
"And you're his older sister," Firenose reminds me. He's trying to sound gentle, but I hate being reminded of that. "You of all cats should realize how hard life has been for him. After all, you've always been held responsible for your father's decision to take two ma-"
"Just shut up!"
I let them eat my waves.
Later, at night, in the apprentice's den, I roll over to stare at Blackpaw.
He blinks at me. "Do you need something?"
He nods, but neither of us looks away.
Finally: "Freepaw, are you okay?"
I shake my head. "No."
A pause. Then: "Wanna talk about it?"
"If you're sure." He rolls over, away from me. "I'm going to sleep. Good night, Freepaw..."
"Wait!" I blurt.
His tail twitches like a question, and he rolls over to face me again. "Hmmm?"
I feel really bad for doing this. He already sounds really sleepy, and I don't want to keep him up too late when he has dawn patrol in the morning. "It's just... Blackpaw, I..."
"Blackpaw... it's just... do you..." I swallow uncomfortably. "Do you... blame me for Goldfin's death?"
"No." His eyes look like big blue puddles in the moonlight that streams through the cracks in our den roof. "Do you?"
"It's just..." I sigh, realizing how much I've been going in circles here. "Firenose brought it up earlier," I confess. "And... it reminded me that I'm... I'm not completely innocent."
Blackpaw shuffles around a little bit. I can't see what he's doing, but pretty soon he's shuffling over towards me. He lies down by my side, making my already cozy nest suddenly feel really, really small.
"If you can't sleep, I can stay with you." He sounds so open, so honest and sweet...
I feel my face get warm, and I have to look away. "Sure... that's fine."
He nods, laying his head down on his paws. Within heartbeats, his flank is rising and falling steadily, his nostrils expanding with the rhythm of his sleep.
I watch him for a while, until finally my own eyes start to close and I fall asleep.
I wake up the next morning. I yawn and blink my sleep-encrusted eyes and find...
Blackpaw standing over me.
I yelp and kick out, not to hit him, but to get away from him. "B-B-B-B-B-Blackpaw, good morning," I practically shriek. "What - what were you - that was - hhhhh???"
He glances at his paws. "Sorry... I didn't mean to startle you..."
"N-no, it's fine!" I shake my head firmly and stand up on trembling legs. "Just... did you need something, or...?"
"Yeah." He kind of relaxes with my question. "Firenose was looking for you. We're both on the dawn patrol."
"Oh... really?" I wrinkle up my nose, confused. "I thought only you -"
"We changed our minds," Firenose announces from outside the den. "So hurry up!"
"Ach, fine!" I shake out my fur, hoping I don't look too nervous. We tiptoe around Dewpaw, who's still sleeping like a dead fish, and emerge into the camp.
I don't really mind being awake this time of day - I think it's kind of pretty, the way the sun barely peeks over the distant horizon, sending slanted shadows over the rippling water. But it's still way too early to be out patrolling, if you ask me.
We meet up with Firenose and Troutscale, Blackpaw's mentor. "Are you ready now?" the huge silvery tom asks us, his whole body practically buzzing with anticipation. But then, he's always been something of a morning cat.
"Yes," I reply. "I'm sorry for -"
"It's fine." Troutscale really doesn't look mad at all. "I just can't wait to get out there and feel the cool morning air, the breeze across the water..."
"What are you, WindClan?" Firenose scoffs. "Whatever. Let's just go before Pebblefoot gets after us."
So we set out, marking the ThunderClan border - even though no ThunderClan cat would ever be brave enough to swim the river. Even the stepping-stones are submerged today.
As we move out towards the border away from the other Clans - after all, we do have a rogueward border, even though they rarely stray this far - Blackpaw's nose twitches, and his ears perk up. "I think I smell a rabbit," he whispers. "Troutscale, can I chase it?"
His mentor considers the question thoughtfully. "We're not really supposed to hunt, you know," he points out. "But I don't think anyone would mind a little more prey. Go ahead, but if you can't catch it easily, don't keep trying."
"Right." Blackpaw scents the air like an expert - now who's the WindClan cat? - and slowly begins to track the rabbit in a well-balanced crouch.
We follow at a short distance, close enough to keep an eye on him but not close enough to interfere with his hunt. And, of course, we're very careful to stay downwind.
Pretty soon, black-tipped ears show up over the grasses. Sure enough, there's a rabbit there - I really have to admire Blackpaw for scenting it from so far away. He gets as close as he can without alerting it to his presence, and then he pushes off and races after it and -
It bursts out of the grasses with a frightened scream and runs away. I'd forgotten how incredibly fast rabbits can be - we don't see them very often, though lately they seem to be getting a bit more common. But Blackpaw, lithe and thin as he is, can keep pace with it pretty easily.
We run along behind him, since there's no point in being stealthy anymore. The rabbit climbs over a hill and disappears over the other side. By this point, we really are lagging behind, but Blackpaw doesn't give up.
"Blackpaw, that's enough!" Troutscale calls, panting. "That's far enough! Let it go; we've lost it!"
"Not yet!" Blackpaw sounds unusually determined. "Someone go around this next hill - try to trap it!"
"I'll go!" I volunteer, speeding up before either warrior can say anything. I follow Blackpaw's directions and skirt the hill. Somehow, I manage to make it around before the rabbit does. It's also slowing down.
I race after it, narrowly avoiding a huge dip in the ground. Thanking StarClan that I didn't fall into it, I gain ground onto the rabbit and I'm almost on top of it when an agonized yowl fills the air.
I whirl around, forgetting the rabbit in an instant.
Blackpaw fell into the dip.
I run back towards him, as his desperate cries grow louder and more tortured. "Blackpaw!" I shout. "Blackpaw, are you okay?"
Our mentors show up, managing to slow down before they fall in as well. "What happened?" Firenose demands, sounding breathless and very scared.
"He must not have seen it coming - he just fell right in!" I answer, unable to keep myself from sobbing. "I'm so sorry - I should have stopped him - warned him - it's all my -"
"Don't you dare blame yourself!" Firenose snaps. "Try to get him to calm down. You're his friend - he likes you, right? See if you can get him to stop screaming like that."
My face grows warm when Firenose says that Blackpaw must like me, but I can't think about that now. I crouch down next to Blackpaw, flinching when one of his flailing paws almost hits me in the nose. "Blackpaw, can you hear me?" I plead. "Blackpaw, please stop! You're going to hurt yourself more!"
Firenose and Troutscale work on keeping him from thrashing. "I think his back leg might be broken," Troutscale says grimly. "We'll have to get him to Ruewing soon, so she can set it straight."
"Blackpaw, please," I beg. "You have to stop so we can help you!"
He doesn't seem to hear me directly - the pain is probably consuming him - but his wails gradually die down to choked sobs, and he only twitches a little bit. The warriors ease up on him, and Firenose helps drape Blackpaw's limp body over Troutscale's back.
"Walk on the other side, and make sure Blackpaw doesn't fall off," Firenose orders me. I nod and do as he says, watching Blackpaw's tensed face with deep concern.
Blackpaw... I'm so sorry...!
I sneak out of the apprentices' den early in the morning and head over to Ruewing's den. The tabby she-cat's ears prick as soon as I push my way through her den's leafy barrier. "Hello, what can I do for you?" she calls, not looking away from the herbs she's sorting.
"It's Freepaw," I reply, stepping forward hesitantly. "Is Blackpaw... is he okay?"
She pushes some seeds into a pile before looking at me over her shoulder. "He was hurt pretty badly," she reminds me. "He'll need some time to heal."
"But is he okay?" I repeat insistently.
She glances away from me, her whole body drooping a little bit. Finally she answers, sounding reluctant to talk. "Physically... his body should be fine. His leg might never work as well again, but he'll still be able to walk, even if he can't run."
"What else?" I press, when she stops talking.
"Freepaw, he's..." Ruewing's green eyes slide back in my direction, full of sadness and regret. "He's... really upset about it."
"So what? You said he'd be fine." I sit down, my tailtip twitching impatiently. "So what's the problem?"
Suddenly the medicine cat looks angry. She stands and walks towards me, her pose stiff and almost aggressive. "You need to leave. You need to go away and not come here again, not unless you can understand how he feels."
"What?" I protest as she ushers me towards the den entrance. "What did I do?"
"Just go!" She shoves me backwards, and I stumble out of her den, confused and tripping over my paws. As I'm shaking out my fur, I can hear Ruewing, sobbing quietly inside her den. I wrinkle up my nose. What's she so upset about? She said he's going to be fine.
I shrug and walk away.