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Heartstrings


Heartstrings





"I need you, Softfeather..."

"If you love something you let it go"


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Chapter One -Prince Charming

When I was a kit, my mom would always tell my siblings and I fairy tales. I loved it when she did. Sometimes she would tell us about Beauty and the Beast. This horrendous tom kidnaps the Heroine’s father, and she decides to take his place in prison. Throughout the story, the she-cat and the tom fall in love, and live happily ever after.

My favourite story was Cinderella, which was about a beautiful she-cat kept from her true love because of her step mother and step sisters. When the Prince holds a ball to find out who will be his mate, Cinderella somehow shows up. At Moonhigh, she has to leave, but a tuft of her fur falls out. The Prince spends the next day looking for the cat whose fur matches the tuft, and then he eventually traces it to Cinderella. They live happily ever after.

I always loved the Prince Charming stories. I used to spend hours on end dreaming about the perfect tom. I wanted my mate to be as loyal to me as the prince was to Sleeping Beauty.

But that was when I was a kit. I’m an apprentice now, and my mom is dead. Dad has a new mate, who will never, ever replace Mom. The only cat who I could imagine being my mom is Dovefrost. She was beautiful, with shiny dark grey fur and light splotches. She had bright cyan eyes, like someone had taken the colour of the Greenleaf sky and transformed it into eyes. She always knew just what to say. Her voice was silky, and she was the best story teller. Our step mom (I learned that term from the stories) is named Fernfoot. She is coal black with speckles going down her back. She has dark green eyes, and white paws. She’s nice, but will never, ever be my mother.

Here I was now, curled around Oakpaw, my brother. I felt his shivers vibrate through the body. His amber eyes were wide with fear. His body was cold, and wet, ginger fur clinging to his skin. I could hear his teeth chattering. While Snowpaw fetched some thyme for his shock, I was supposed to keep him warm.

Wait, how rude of me. I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Softpaw, I’m an apprentice of StormClan. My parents are Dovefrost and Sharpstone. My step mom is Fernfoot, and my step brother is Brindlepaw. My brother is Oakpaw and my sister is Snowpaw. I’m eight moons old. Our Clan is bordered off by StreakClan and BrookClan. My favourite food is vole. I love stories.

I heard footsteps at the entrance. I craned my neck and saw my sister’s pale head enter the den. A couple of green leaves swung from her jaw as she crept in. Oakpaw looked over at her as she walked towards us, and dropped the herbs at his muzzle. “Eat,” she instructed. He obeyed, lapping them up. A mask of disgust covered his face as he swallowed them. I stifled a chuckle as Snowpaw settled down beside us.

Maybe I should explain what’s happening. It’s a Newleaf evening. We’re in the apprentice’s den, which is a large bush with a dip that has nests in it. Before this, Oakpaw and Snowpaw were training with their mentors. Oakpaw was hunting for a water vole, because I had told him it was my favourite. He sprung, it got out of the way, and he went tumbling down a small hill and into the river that separated BrookClan and us. Foxstep and Mintleaf rushed him back to camp, and now I was curled around him as he ate herbs to help him with shock. Guilt sat like a stone in my stomach. I wish I didn’t tell him that I loved vole.

At that moment, Maplepaw walked in, concern painted on her face. “Is he okay?” the medicine cat apprentice asked. Oakpaw’s eyes lit up when he saw her. “I’m fine,” he said, his voice sounding stronger. He coughed, and Maplepaw tipped her head to the side. She was rich brown, with white paws. She had white stripes on her back. “Sure?”

“Sure,” Oakpaw repeated. I smiled. Nothing like a pretty she-cat to make you feel like yourself again. The apprentice slipped back through the entrance without another word. My brother exhaled, and curled back up in a tight ball. I laughed.

“What?” he exclaimed.

Snowpaw giggled. “Too bad she’s a medicine cat!”

Oakpaw’s face turned a funny shade of pink. He hid his face in his pale brown tabby tail. “Shut up,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by his fluffy tail. He had stopped shivering, and he wasn’t as cold. He was still wet, but that was to be expected when you fell into a river not that long ago. I got up and shook out my fur, my belly dripping with water. “Nah bro,” I said, shaking my head. I climbed out of the small ditch in the apprentice’s den and burst out of the bush. I saw Aloestar start to climb up the stone pile, and began to wonder why she’d be calling a Clan meeting. Then I spotted Brindlepaw standing proud, his tail raised, and it hit me.

I forgot that he was 12 moons.

Call me a terrible sister if you must, but let me remind you that I’m not technically his sister. Fernfoot and Sharpstone just became mates one moon ago; do you expect me to keep track of how old her son is? Geez. I wish Fernfoot never became mates with Daddy. Maybe I’m being unfair; she had never done anything to me- she had only been kind. But he’s MY Sharpstone, not HER Stoney. It’s easier to ice her out if I bad mouth her.

“All cats old enough to predict a storm gather round for a Clan meeting.”

I was already in the clearing, so I sat down where I was. Oakpaw peeked out from the bush, and Snowpaw waddled out and took a seat beside me. Sharpstone and Fernfoot were sitting together, of course, tails entwined. It made me want to vomit. Traitor. The one word that came to mind when I saw them. I’m sorry, but you don’t get a new mate and act all lovey-dovey four moons after your previous mate dies. Dovey. Dove. A spear of sorrow pierced my heart.

“We’re here today to honour a cat who has completed his six moons of training. Brindlepaw, step forward.” The tom stepped close as Aloestar called his name. “I, Aloestar, leader of StormClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. He has trained long and hard and learned the ways of your code. I commend him a warrior in return.”

Brindlepaw’s eyes shone like stars and Fernfoot watched him, pride bright in her gaze. “Brindlepaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your own life?” Aloestar’s green gaze burned into Brindlepaw.

“I do,” the tom said solemnly, dipping his head.

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Brindlepaw, from this moment on you shall be known as Brindlespirit. We honour your determination and insight, and we welcome you as a full warrior of StormClan.”

“Brindlespirit! Brindlespirit!”

The Clan cheered his name, and I joined in half-heartedly. While Brindlespirit was enjoying his moment in the spotlight, I let my mind wander and dreamed of Prince Charming.


Chapter Two -Truth or Dare

Truth or dare... Softpaw!”

It was two moons after the incident with the river, and Brindlespirit’s ceremony. Oakpaw, Snowpaw, and I were lying in the apprentice den with the two newest apprentices, Sunpaw and Badgerpaw, playing truth or dare. We used to play it all the time in the nursery, but our questions and dares were innocent, like: “eat that bug!” or “what’s your favourite colour?” But once we got older, the questions took a turn.

“Truth,” I replied to Badgerpaw.

The black and white she-cat’s eyes shimmered with mischief. “Who do you like?” Everyone giggled.

“Hmmm, let’s see. I like my mom and dad. I like my siblings.” I started. Badgerpaw shook her head. “You know what I mean,” she retorted spitefully. “Who do you have a crush on?” her dark blue eyes burned into mine. I sighed and shook my head.

“Nobody, Badgerpaw. My life doesn’t revolve around toms like yours does,” I said angrily. It seemed like the others were always trying to get this information out of me, and I sure as the Shadow Forest never gonna give it to them. They didn’t need to know. Of course they didn’t because I honestly don’t like anyone. That way of course. And if I did, like I would tell them. Maybe I’m starting to sound a bit repetitive. Badgerpaw glared at me like she thought I was lying. I held her gaze, staring dutifully at her as she narrowed her eyes. She exchanged a quick glance at Sunpaw, who looked embarrassed. “Y-your turn then...” the white tom stuttered, shrinking down when his sister glared at him. “Snowpaw, truth or dare?” I asked my sister.

“Truth.”

I crept closer to her. She had her paws outstretched and crossed in front of her, and her orange striped tail curled around her side. She angled her ear towards me, and I turned my head to whisper in her ear. “Do you like Fernfoot?” I asked. It was a question that I had been itching to ask.

Snowpaw looked surprised, her mouth getting smaller and her blue eyes widening in turn. She shrugged. “I don’t have a reason not to,” she said, which made guilt flow over me. Neither did I, but I did anyway... It was like she was trying to replace Dovefrost. “But... not especially...”

“What was the question?” Badgerpaw asked.

“Classified information,” I replied simply, blinking. I stood up and felt my legs being strained, but I didn’t want them cramp up. I stretched them and yawned. It was late. “I’ll be back soon,” I told them. I only wanted to feel the cool night breeze on my pelt. I padded out of the hole and stuck my head out. I felt the wing whip across my fur, so I stepped out a little further. I could hear Snowpaw asking Sunpaw truth or dare. His reply was muffled, and I didn’t hear the question.

As soon as my whole body had fully exited the den and I brought up my tail, raising my head to feel the breeze ruffle my fur, I heard shouting and laughing in the den. I poked my head back in, and I could feel how much warmer it was in the den than outside. The apprentices were generating body heat. A lot of it.

“What’s going on in here? I asked.

Badgerpaw turned to me with a grin on her face. The ends of her mouth were quivering, like she was trying not to laugh. “Oh, nothing...” she started. I narrowed my eyes, scanning them all. Sunpaw had his face buried in his paws, like he was trying to hide, and his orange tabby tail was coiled tightly around him.

“Yeah, I hear hoots and hollers and Sunpaw looks like he tripped during his warrior ceremony, and nothing happened? Sorry, but I find that hard to believe,” I spat. Snowpaw giggled. “I’ll tell you later,” the grey she-cat purred

I shook my head, suddenly wishing I was back outside. The air was so cool, and it was quiet. The night had set over the camp, and it was beautiful! The sky was pitch dark indigo, with multi-coloured stars spread across it. Some were big, some were small, but they all twinkled in the darkness. The moon was half of its fullest size, and glowed brightly. It cast moonlight on the earthy ground, like it was stained with silver. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it really was pretty.

In fact, I was so busy thinking about it that I barely heard Sunpaw say “Oakpaw... t-truth or dare...”

I felt kinda bad, because I hadn’t even noticed my brother. He was lying in his nest quietly, batting a ball of moss back and forth with his paws. “Dare,” he responded, sounding tired. “O-okay...” Sunpaw continued. “Tomorrow...” the tom squeaked and shrunk down while his sister glared at him, a cold, icy stare. “You h-have to... actual-ally talk with M-maplepaw...” he finished with a sigh of relief as Badgerpaw averted her gaze.

“Fine,” Oakpaw said carelessly, not really sounding like himself. “Truth or dare Softpaw.” “Truth,” I said. I never picked dare unless I had to. Couldn’t be bothered to get up, and usually my denmates dares involved doing something concerning your crush, and as I mentioned before, I don’t have one.

“Okay,” Oakpaw meowed. He thought for a moment. “How much do you miss mom?”

The question took me by surprise. It probably took the whole den by surprise, because as soon as the words escaped my brother’s mouth, the den went silent. You could hear a blade of grass drop. Heck, you could probably hear Aloestar snoring in her den, it was so quiet. Snowpaw froze. Sunpaw looked up from his tail, and Badgerpaw’s eyes widened. I stiffened as Oakpaw stared at me intently. I felt my heart stop beating as it was jolted by shock, and I felt sorrow travel down into my gut. It felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Everytime someone mentioned Dovefrost, I felt like I’d been stabbed.

I paused, and then opened my mouth to speak. “With all my heart, Oakpaw.” I felt myself starting to tear up, but I held Oakpaw’s gaze. I dropped my voice to a whisper, because that was all I could manage without the waterworks coming on. “With all my heart.”


Chapter Three -Training, or Lack Thereof

I yawned and blinked open my eyes wearily. The other apprentices and I had fallen asleep in a huddle after playing truth or dare late last night. I felt Snowpaw’s body pressed up against mine. I batted my eyelashes.

Light seeped in through the bush that covered the apprentice den, casting both warm rays and bright, yellow light onto the ground and bodies in the hole. I got up and stretched, arching my back skyward. I pushed my paws forward and unsheathed my claws, lifting my mottled tail. Another yawn escaped my lips when I shook out my pelt, small pieces of moss flying from my fur and onto the ground.

Smacking my lips together, I started out of the den. I walked out of the ditch and through the small wall of ferns, and then the light hit my face. I looked down at the ground, and slowly started to look back up once I had adjusted to the brightness. The Clan was alive.

Peltfeather and Maskface were sharing a mouse. Aloestar and Charcoalface were sitting with their heads bent together, talking quiet words that I couldn’t care less about. Foxstep, Mintleaf, and Alderclaw sat and discussed a training plan for today, while Brindlespirit walked out of the warrior’s den, talking to Breezefur. The air was full of chatter and the sound of paws upon the ground.

“Hey Softpaw, are Snowpaw and Oakpaw up yet?” Alderclaw called.

“No.”

“Can you wake them up?” Mintleaf asked, tipping his head.

I sighed and turned around. Flicking my tail, I stuck my head back in the den. “SNOWPAW AND OAKPAW, FRONT N’ CENTRE!”

The apprentices stirred in their nests. Snowpaw looked up, her blue eyes wide. “I swear I didn’t do it!” she exclaimed. Oakpaw stood up and stretched, Sunpaw bolted up, fear plastered on his face, and sighed when he saw it was just me. Badgerpaw opened one eye in annoyance, and shut it again as she pulled Sunpaw back down to his nest.

“Didn’t do what?” I asked Snowpaw as she got up from her nest, grooming herself. “Nothing. Just a dream,” the she-cat murmured, an edge to her voice. I noticed it and narrowed my eyes suspiciously. “What do you want?” Oakpaw said after a moment, followed by a yawn. I signaled them outside with my tail.

“Training. Our mentors want us,” she said. Oakpaw and Snowpaw formed a line and started to walk out of the den. I turned my head and meowed to Badgerpaw and Sunpaw, “don’t have too much fun!” Snowpaw tittered a bit, but Oakpaw said nothing. Badgerpaw waved her paw in annoyance. “Pff...”

As we left the den and my siblings looked at the ground, I turned to Oakpaw. “Are you okay? You’ve seemed mellow lately.” The tom nodded, but I knew his actions betrayed his emotions. I stepped closer to him. “Are you sick?” He shook his head.

I put my paw on his forehead. He felt warm. “I’m taking you to the medicine cat den,” I said flatly. My brother’s eyes widened, and he violently shook his head no. “I’m fine,” he insisted. Snowpaw was looking at both of us, her eyes darting back and forth. “Go tell Mintleaf that Oakpaw won’t be training today,” I instructed. “Tell Alderclaw that I’m just taking him to the medicine cat den.” She looked a little surprised at my authority, but she nodded and started off towards out mentors.

“Softpaw, I’m fih-fih-fih... ACHOO!!!” Oakpaw sneezed, and then coughed. “This is not the sign of someone who is fine,” I retorted.

“How are you?” Maplepaw’s voice sounded in my ears as soon as we walked in the den. She frowned and looked at Oakpaw. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Is Silkface here?” I asked.

“She’s out collecting herbs,” Maplepaw replied. “Here, Oakpaw, come and lie down.”

The brown tabby tom waddled over to the nest and plopped down in it, curling up in a small ball. The medicine cat den was chilly; walking in it sent a rush of cool air right at me. It was like the apprentice’s den, but bigger and dug down further. The thicket bush that covered it was sturdier than the one we had. “I don’t know what wrong with him, but he’s mellow and has been sneezing and coughing. He feels warm as well,” I told the brown cat.

“Sounds like allergies, or perhaps a slight case of whitecough,” the she-cat said.

“Okay. Thank you Maplepaw,” I said with a dip of my head.

“Maplestripe,” she corrected. “I got my full name last night.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. I turned to leave the den. Before my head exited, I craned my neck to look back and say, “congratulations.”

“Thanks!” she purred, and looked back down at Oakpaw. “How do you feel?” she asked him.

He rolled over in his bed and muttered, “I could be training. Softpaw didn’t have to take me here.” I have to admit, I stifled a chuckle. “Get well soon!” I called back to him. “Bye Maplestripe!”

I spotted Snowpaw waiting with our mentors. Her gaze flickered from them to me. “There she is!” my sister exclaimed, and the four of them started to walk towards me. “How’s Oakpaw?” she questioned.

“Maplestripe says that he might have whitecough,” I told her and she stiffened. “Don’t worry, if it is, she said that it’s only a minor case.” Snowpaw relaxed a bit, but I could see uneasiness in her gaze.

“Since my apprentice isn’t here,” Mintleaf began, “I’m going to go see Chestnutheart in the nursery. Excuse me,” the dark grey tom slipped out of the group, so only Snowpaw and I, and our mentors were still here. Alderclaw rolled her eyes as Mintleaf crossed camp, and the brown she-cat stuck out her tongue.

“So, how about we do some actual training?” Alderclaw suggested, and Foxstep nodded. She brought one of her black paws up to her muzzle and grooming. “We’ll do some hunting,” the ginger cat meowed.

“Okay,” I said. Alderclaw kinked her tail over her back, and Snowpaw and I fell behind the two of them as we walked out of camp. The only thing on my mind was Oakpaw, I even zoned out of our lesson plan. I know that he just had a mild sickness, but something just wasn’t right.


ChapterFour-Bird

Being out of camp made me feel happy. Whether I was training with my mentor, or just simply out on a walk, being in our territory made me feel... good, for lack of a better word. I was free of everything that made me angry. I didn’t have to see Fernfoot. I didn’t have to see Sharpstone. I didn’t have to see Brindlespirit. It disgusted me to see him and Breezefur together. Before you knew it, little BrindleBreeze spawns would be running around camp. It made me shudder. I wanted nieces and nephews, not step ones.

But out here, I was free of these things. Kind of like I was swimming through ice and finally broke into water. Or like I was a baby bird who is learning to fly and is spreading its wings for the first time. It’s finally free of its mother’s clutches. It can fly.

Then it probably dies . That has a nice ring to it- Softbird. I like it.

“Softpaw?” I heard someone calling my name, but I was so lost in my thoughts it sounded like I was trapped in the ice. Very hard to hear, like I was underwater.

“Huh?” I snapped back to reality.

Alderclaw frowned. “We’re you listening to anything I just said?”

I blinked. “Not really.”

Foxstep giggled. Alderclaw shot the younger warrior a disapproving glare. She whimpered and lowered her head between her shoulders. My mentor could be very intimidating, and she used that to her advantage. “We’re- more specifically, you two- are going to be hunting. Gather as much prey as you can. You’ll be warriors in a couple moons, so imagine this as training for your assessment.”

I nodded. “How long do we have?”

Alderclaw glanced at Foxstep, who shrugged in return. Alderclaw sighed. “Ten minutes.” She told us.

“Got it,” Snowpaw said in determination, and I nodded again. “Oh, I’m so gonna beat you!” she exclaimed, racing off. I took off in the opposite direction. Suddenly, I spotted a vole crossing my path. I halted movement, my paws plowing into the soft Earth. The breeze was blowing its scent towards me. I dropped into a hunter’s crouch. The Sun that shot down from above was caught in the leaves of the trees, leaving a checkerboard pattern. I fell on the vole’s brown pelt as I crept towards it.

It was innocently munching on a seed when I came up on it. I leaned back on my hind legs, and then lunged forwards. The vole turned and its bead-like black eyes widened. I dropped the seed and scurried out of the way. I followed it but it disappeared under a tree root. “Fox dung!” I hissed.

I gazed around and started to walk forward. I heard rustling in a clump of bushes a little while away. I turned and made a beeline for the bushes. The noise got louder, and it sounded bigger than a normal rodent. I crawled towards it, and spotted a break in the leaves. There was the tip of two rabbit’s ears.

Score! I thought. My heart stared beating faster. I paused, and wiggled my haunches. Then I leaped.

I crashed into the bushes. I felt small twigs stab my face and I winced with pain. I heard the rabbit spring off, but I felt my claws dig into the soft flesh of prey. I heard the squeal that erupted from the rabbit, but ignored it and sunk my teeth into its neck and held it down while it ceased all movement. My heart thumped in my chest as I stood up and rolled over the body with my paw. It was plump, and had blood trickling down from the wounds I inflicted. I felt a spear of guilt stab my heart. What had it done to me?

I jerked my head back and forth and leaned down, picking up the rabbit. I shook out my pelt, which was covered in small pieces of twig and leaves. I carried the rabbit back to where Alderclaw and Foxstep were waiting just in time to see Snowpaw drop a piece of prey and take off. In her pile were two mice. I dropped the rabbit on the ground, and Alderclaw’s eyes widened. “Very good, Softpaw!” She sounded impressed.

“Thank you,” I said with a dip of my head, trying to hide how proud that made me feel. “How much time is left?"

“About seven minutes.” It was Foxstep who replied.

“Okay,” I said. I headed in the same direction, but took a different path. My gaze swept the surroundings. I could hear pretty bird songs and the caws of crows. I heard a cardinal chirping. I spotted its red crest perched atop a branch low enough for me to attack it, but I didn’t dare. Their melody was beautiful, and cardinals are my favourite birds.

Instead a mouse scurrying about caught my eye. As it paused, I dropped back into a crouch as started to creep towards the dumb rodent. I looked around, but my paws were so quiet upon the soft ground that it couldn’t possibly hear me over the loud birdcalls. My tail was parallel to the ground and slowly swishing from side to side. The mouse started to slowly move away when I pounced, but it was too late.

I dug my claws into its neck and it died quickly. The birds that had been there had flocked away, except for the cardinal that remained on the branch. I could easily kill it, but it instead trusted me, and I didn’t even know why. I carried the mouse back to the pile and dropped it. I flexed my claws and groomed my toes which were dry with blood, and walked off into a different direction.

.-:~-~:-.

“You both did very well!” Foxstep exclaimed, gazing down at our piles. Mine had the rabbit and the mouse, plus two sparrows. Snowpaw had her two mice, a vole, and a plump raven. A warm feeling spread throughout her chest while she was praised. “We’ll help you carry it back,” the ginger she-cat continued.

“Newleaf is always a good time for hunting,” Alderclaw commented.

I gathered up my rabbit and mouse, while Snowpaw took the raven and vole. Our mentors took the rest. We trotted back to camp, and when we entered I felt gazes bore into my pelt. My flanks grey hot but my heart fluttered like a happy bird as I dropped the pieces onto the Prey Pile. I purred, but it caught in my throat when I saw Fernfoot approach me.

“Excellent job, Softpaw!” she praised. Snowpaw was off to the medicine cat den to check on Oakpaw, and Foxstep and Alderclaw had both walked off and started up a conversation with their friends. I glanced left and right before replying to her.

“Thanks, Fernfoot,” I said begrudgingly, trying to sound sincere. There was silence. During the pause, I felt my heart start to race.

Fernfoot stepped a little closer. “You can call me mom now, sweetheart,” she said kindly, and walked away.

Just walked away, like it was nothing.

My chest froze. Had she really just said that? Please tell me she just didn’t say I should call her mom. I will never call her my mother. She does not deserve the title. She will never replace Dovefrost. I hissed under my breath, and felt the hope that one day I would like her completely disappear. I felt my hate for her grow and burn like fire. It was the one rude thing she’d done to me (you know, except BE MATES WITH MY DAD), and I hated her for it.

My cheeks burned red. I was angry. I had planned on visiting Oakpaw, but instead I stomped off to the apprentice’s den. I hated Fernfoot. I hated her.

I curled up in a ball in my nest and covered my face with my tail. A growl escaped my lips. My claws unsheathed as I closed my eyes. I was hungry, but food was not something I wanted right now.

I sure as the Shadow Forest would not be calling her mom anytime soon.


Chapter Five -What Happens at Midnight

It was later that night when I felt the air start to wreath around me, soft like silk. It suddenly turned cold, like ice to my skin. I curled up and wrapped my tail around my body, trying to conserve body heat. I shivered, but didn’t feel... like I was actually cold. The cold didn’t feel legitimate. It was strange, but I shivered nonetheless. Real or not, it stung my skin.

I blinked open my eyes and shuddered. Starlight danced around me in a white mist. It cooled the air and cast a bright, luminescent glow on my dark pelt. I whipped my head back and forth. Snowpaw was sleeping peacefully, and Badgerpaw and Sunpaw were sleeping in a lump together. I looked back at the swirling stardust, and flattened my ears against my head. Was nobody seeing this? To be honest, I was kind of freaked out by it. I lowered my chin to the ground.

Then the starlight started to take shape. My eyes were bright blue because of the light, and my pupils were tiny slits as I stared. Sparkles light them up, and I have rights to believe that my eyes were as big as twin moons. That’s when I saw it.

It formed into the body of a cat. I stared in awe as the paws broke through the mist and the head started to take shape. I caught my breath when the fur took colour- dark grey with lighter patches. I felt my heart rise in my chest and grow about two times its size when her bright blue eyes started to sparkle. It was Dovefrost! A wave of emotions hit me as I gasped. Sadness. Happiness. Pain. Regret. Excitement. All at once. “Dovefrost,” I whispered.

The she-cat smiled. Now she had a motherly look that broke my heart. “Softpaw,” she breathed. Her voice was just as smooth as I remembered; soft and melodic like a lullaby. Her breath smelled sweet like cherries. My heart leaped in my chest. “Mom.”

Dovefrost purred, settling into a position with her paws tucked under her belly. “My sweet, sweet baby,” she cooed. “How are you doing these days?” the starlit she-cat asked, her gaze warm yet it made me shiver to stare into her electric blue eyes.

“Not so great,” I told her, gazing restlessly around the den. Did nobody hear us? “Oakpaw’s sick.” I secretly hoped that she would give me reassurance, tell me that my brother wasn’t going to die. “Fernfoot is ruining me,” I continued. Dovefrost watched me with calm eyes, the caring of a mother etched into them. Did you hear what she said today? Did you hear that? I thought. My mother gave me a look like she could read my mind.

“Oakpaw’s gonna be okay,” Dovefrost meowed. I felt relief flood my system. After I had stormed off to the den, Snowpaw informed me that he indeed had whitecough, but now I knew. I had to tell Snowpaw. Soon. The dark she-cat shook her head like I shouldn’t. “You don’t need to tell her. Snowpaw was always and optimist, she’ll know that he’ll get better.”

It just occurred to me that I’m talking with a dead cat in the middle of the night.

I nodded. Dovefrost continued talking. “Sweetheart, you can’t let Fernfoot get to you. I know that she’ll never replace me, and that she’s trying too hard to do so, but she makes Sharpstone happy, and that’s all I want. I want him to be happy, and if Fernfoot can do that, by all means she should.”

“Do you like her?” I asked.

“Excuse me?”

I repeated the question at a slower pace. “Do you like Fernfoot?”

Dovefrost inhaled a deep breath before answering. “As I mentioned before, she makes my once-mate happy, and I respect her for that. She’s also kind, and pretty.” She narrowed her eyes. “But I heard what she said to you, that dirty piece of fox dung, acting like that.” I wince at the ferocity that spites her ending, but I can’t help but agree.

“Anyways,” she continues, blinking and calming herself. “I think she’s a good cat. I remember her as an apprentice, sweet and happy.” She sounds a little far away as she reminisces, and a pang hits my heart. She shakes her head. “I can’t say that I like her.”

“You hate her,” I said, my voice light but with a fiery undertone. “You hate her don’t you?”

“Nooo...” Dovefrost began but didn’t meet my eyes. I smirked. I could tell she was lying. She collapsed into laughter, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. “Fine, I hate Fernfoot,” she admitted begrudgingly, flattening her orange ears.

“Glad we can agree on something,” I joked. Dovefrost smiled, but then her face got pasty. She felt my heart drop when she started to fade away. She scooched closer to me and licked my head. I could barely feel it, but I relished her touch. “Goodbye, my sweet butterfly,” my mother purred.

“So soon?” I asked, sorrow settling in, disappointment flashing in my bright amber eyes. Dovefrost curtly nodded, and with that, she vanished. But I heard her words echo in my mind, I’ll see you soon. The words calmed me, and I held on to them like a soft feather and let them cover me as I smothered into sleep.

.-:~-~:-.

I think I was asleep for about an hour before I was woken up again, but not by my mother this time. I craned my neck to see what was tip-toeing into the den at such a late hour, but then I saw Oakpaw silhouetted against the entrance. His eyes glowed in the darkness as he crept over to me.

“Softpaw?” he whispered my name. I made sure no light sleepers were awoken by the tom’s voice before I replied. “Yeah?”

“Can I sleep with you?” he asked as he reached me and sat down, looking down. His breathing was slow and his eyes were milky, but he looked like he wasn’t very sick, at least, enough to spread it to me.

“Why?” I questioned, my voice gravelly and eyes half closed. I was very tired. “And why didn’t you stay in the medicine cat den?”

“I got scared,” he said in a small voice, like I would be judging him. “The medicine cat den is big and scary. The shadows play on the walls and it’s pretty much silent in there. Silkface was sleeping in the corner. The only sound I could hear was Maplestripe’s snoring when she was curled up against me.” I wanted to tease him, but he was obviously upset.

“Come down here,” I said, flicking my tailtip in my direction. He leaned down, curling up in a ball, pressed against my white stomach. I felt his body tremble and he sneezed. His back was warm when I draped my paw over his side and coiled my tail around him.

“Do you think I’ll ever get rid of my fear of the dark? And loneliness?” he asked in a high-pitched voice, like he was almost about to cry. I stroked by paw down his flank, willing him not to. I paused before responding. I felt my eyelids start to drop.

“The dark is scary because our imaginations make it that way. Loneliness is scary because it’s a reality,” I told him. “This is something you’ll need to break through yourself,” I added, and closed my eyes. I heard Oakpaw squeak. “Now go to bed, I’m tired, I was already up tonight.”

Oakpaw didn’t reply, but I could sense his curiosity. He closed his eyes, so similar to mine. When he was talking about his fear, he seemed so small, so helpless, and I felt like it was my duty to take care of him. I owed that much to Dovefrost.

I dropped into a light sleep almost immediately, and let Oakpaw’s uneven breathing calm me and send me off to dreamland for the rest of the night.

Chapter Six - Just a Regular Night

“Go! Now! Softpaw, half-turn belly rake! Badgerpaw! Leap up and attack!”

I was exhausted as we sparred. It was me on Badgerpaw, and Snowpaw on Sunpaw. Oakpaw had retreated back to the medicine cat den early in the morning, scurrying out before any of us were up. Even though he didn’t want any of his friends to know he had slept with his sister because he was afraid of the dark, I could feel the warmth leaving my belly when dawn had barely broken.

I flipped around and raked my sheathed paw against Badgerpaw’s stomach, pinning her to the ground. She struggled to free herself from my grip,-understandable. She was younger than me and less experienced-but ended up leaping free and striking my chest.

She was attempting to pin me down when Wolfcloud called out. “Alright, I think that’s enough training for the day,” he declared, glancing over at Peltfeather, who gave a curt nod of approval. “Let’s wrap up,” the white and grey tom finished.

I sighed in relief as I broke apart from Badgerpaw. “Good fight,” the black and white she-cat purred, her eyes gleaming brightly . “I guess,” I mumbled. I was kind of grumpy from the night before, and seeing Fernfoot and Sharpstone sharing prey together had completely soured my mood. I know I shouldn’t feel this way about Fernfoot. I know, I know, I know, but I couldn’t shake off what she had said, and Dovefrost’s hatred had strengthened my feelings for her.

Badgerpaw pricked her ears, shooting me a glare. “Someone’s a Huffy Helga,” she said as Snowpaw bounced up to us. Her eyes were happy and reflected the Sunlight that streamed through the trees.

“That was fun!” she exclaimed with a purr. “I beat Sunpaw!” I glanced behind us and saw the orange and white tom lagging behind us, his ears flattened with embarrassment, his gaze glued to the ground in shame. I spotted a pale red colour paint his cheeks when he looked up slightly and saw my gaze.

Badgerpaw chuckled. “Can’t be hard,” she said coolly, which I thought was a little rude. I opened my mouth to retort when Wolfcloud brushed forward.

“No need to be impolite,” the tom said with a disapproving look. Badgerpaw turned her head and her gaze didn’t waver as she stared at him. I always thought Badgerpaw was brave, but she did put up a sweeter front when warriors were around.

“Alright, Wolfcloud.” She dipped her head as she said it.

“Yeah, Badgerpaw,” I meowed, going through with my original plan of telling her off. “You should be nicer to your brother,” I pointed out thoughtfully. Sunpaw raised his head, his bangs dipping to cover half of his eyes, but I saw from his smile that he was grateful, if not embarrassed.

“Sheesh, it was a joke,” the apprentice meowed, flashing a careless glance. “Lighten up a bit, Softpaw.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Snowpaw asked, concern clouding her gaze at my tone. “I was up a lot last night,” I told her, not wanting to specify on the reasons why. “And I saw Fernfoot and Sharpstone together this morning,” I added, a dry taste filling my mouth at the mention of the black she-cat’s name.

“Oh,” Snowpaw said softly as Badgerpaw intervened. “I don’t get it, what’s not to like about Fernfoot?” she asked, her head tilted at an angle as she spoke. The question sounded genuine as we burst through the ferns that guarded the entrance to camp, but I took it a different way.

“Are your parents broken up, Badgerpaw?” I spat, my amber eyes narrowed. “No, so don’t pretend like you think that Fernfoot has nothing that’s not to like about her.” I refused to call her my step mother, and never in a million moons would I be calling her my mother. I stomped off to the Prey Pile, rage bubbling inside of me, and snatched up a squirrel, swinging it around by its tail.

I headed towards the apprentice den. Sharpstone crossed my path. He was alone, and not with Fernfoot, not that it made me feel any better. “Hey, Softpaw!” the tom greeted brightly. I ignored him with a sniff, turning my head away and trotting down into the den. His gaze was laced with surprise as I disappeared into the bush.

“What’s wrong with her?” I heard him ask one of the apprentices. I honestly couldn’t care less who he was talking to. And honestly, I barely understood my conflicting emotions. All Badgerpaw had done was ask me a real question, and instead of the answer, I spited her. But she was being stupid, she should’ve known why I hated Fernfoot. She ruined my family. If she was gone, I’d be happy.

But she wasn’t, she was mates with my dad, but I didn’t want her. Sharpstone did, but I didn’t. Bitter feelings of betrayal swelled up inside of me. Hatred, sorrow, annoyance, and remorse hit me with a wave of exhaustion. I wish I could love Fernfoot. I wish she was a good mother to me. But I couldn’t, and she wasn’t.

Death was one solution, but tied to it was a string of consequences that I couldn’t bother to go over. Plus, murder was low, even for me. I would never stoop so deep as to kill another living cat-just like me-in cold blood. I buried my face in the moss, hating myself at that moment in time for having such horrible thoughts.

I could feel the tears start to flow down my face. I heard quiet talking outside, and then heard Sharpstone creep in. “Softpaw?” his voice just made me sob harder. I didn’t know why I was crying. I didn’t know why I was so angry. It was just a simple thing that triggered this violent storm of emotions.

His bristly fur brushed against mine as he settled next to me. “Softpaw,” he repeated. Putting his paw on my cheek, he turned my face towards him. His eyes-so much like mine-gleamed with confusion and worry. I was a wreck. My eyes were red around the edges. I fur, usually smooth and well kempt, was knotted. I had dark circles under my eyes from sleep deprivation.

“Softpaw.” He said my name for the third time when I finally responded.

“What?” I tried to hide my face in my nest, but he forced my head close. I looked down, not meeting his gaze.

“What’s wrong?” What’s wrong. Two words that seemed so simple but were impossible to answer. My face was hot as he looked at me.

“Ev-everyth-thing, i-it see-eems.” I struggled to get the words out as sobs wracked my chest. “F-fernfo-ot. Oa-oakpa-aw.”

Sharpstone scooched across the ground and sat closer to me, although he was pretty close as it is. His tail kinked around my side, and he put his white paw on my white paw, and locked his amber eyes with my amber eyes. Sure, even though I felt like I had been betrayed by him, he was still my father, and I couldn’t change that. Just like how Dovefrost was still my mother.

With his free forepaw, he pushed the squirrel towards my muzzle. “Eat,” he said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but you look awful. Food and rest will do you good,” he meowed. I hesitated, my throat tightening as I held my breath. Not trusting myself to talk, I nodded and tucked into the prey. I was starving.

“Breathe,” Sharpstone told me. “You always have to remember to breathe.”

I inhaled deeply, oxygen quickly racing to my lungs. I devoured the squirrel, basically leaving nothing left but the bones and a couple patched of fur. I felt much better, but fatigue gnawed at my bones. Sharpstone opened his mouth and continued to speak.

“So,” the tom began. “You look like you didn’t sleep well.” He dropped his voice. “Now, tell me the truth; did Dovefrost visit you?”

I must admit, I was taken aback by my father’s question. Astonishment painted itself on my face. “Erm...” I was lost for words. “Y-yes, D-dovefr-frost visit-ited m-me... l-last nigh-ght,” I spluttered, choked by sobs. Sharpstone didn’t look surprised.

“She used to visit me,” the tom said. I heard bitter regret in his voice as he continued. “She stopped when I became mates with Fernfoot,” he murmured. I nuzzled him. His face was warm, his cheeks squishy.

I nodded again, and felt myself holding my breath once again in an attempt to stop crying. I saw Sharpstone look at me, and I exhaled quickly, followed by a heavy intake of breath. My face hid no feelings. It was twisted into a sorrowful mask with a hint of rage. I looked like a big baby kit.

Sharpstone sighed. “I know that you have... an aversion to Fernfoot...” Yeah. Really dropped the ball there, daddio. “But I promise you she’s a good cat. Please just... give her a chance?” I looked into his bright eyes, which were pleading.

“I.... I...” I began. “Ok-kay.” I was lying, of course. I liked my dad, but after what Fernfoot and I had been through, I think he was asking too much of me. You might think it’s unfair for hating the she-cat just for who she loves and that one thing she said to me. But no. I was five moons old when Dovefrost died. Koileap wanted to care for us for our last moon, since we were decently independent, and she was already a queen in the nursery. Once I heard them with hushed voices, arguing outside of the nursery. I remember Fernfoot’s words from that night. “I’m their mother now, not you.”

Another time after my siblings and I skipped happily into camp, our mouths full of fresh kill, I had heard Fernfoot say to Sharpstone: “Look at the fine warriors our kits are turning into!” This may have been just a slip of her tongue, but I will still hold it against her.

Relief flooded Sharpstone’s gaze. He stood up, and licked my forehead. Without another word, he left the den. I assumed the nest cat that would come in and see me was Snowpaw, but it wasn’t. I heard another cat walk into the den. When I turned my head, it wasn’t my sister standing there. It was Sunpaw.

The tom rushed towards me wordlessly. He saw my face. He saw my messy fur. But he didn’t mention it. He walked towards me and plopped down beside me. I felt his body curl around me. My nest could barely hold me, but Sunpaw seemed to make it work.

His chin rested on the back of my neck, and I felt my head being lowered to the ground. My eyes drooped in exhaustion, and when I yawned, I heard Sunpaw’s soft voice in my ear. “You must rest now. You are tired.”

I had never seen Sunpaw in this tone of voice, but I didn’t object. I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the soft heat of the tom’s body pressed against mine.

In that moment, I had never been so grateful to know the tom.

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