Onestar sneaks them out of camp. They’re kits, but they’re five moons old now and can handle themselves, he says. (Heatherkit notices that he doesn’t tell Whitetail where they’re going, though.)
She sticks close by his side while Kestrelkit and Harekit lag behind, and Onestar rambles to her about the Clan history, giving her glances warm with affection, a special look that he reserves just for her. He must be the greatest dad and the greatest leader in all the world, she thinks.
He’s partway through another story - one she finds boring - when she interrupts him. “Daddy, tell us about when we were born.”
Onestar stops to let them climb over him before he speaks again. Finally he says, “Well, it was moon-high, and the moon was waxing, nearly full. Only a few nights later, I got to announce to the Gathering that you three - my litter - were the first kits born in WindClan’s new camp. The first kits born by the lake at all.”
“So we’re special?” Harekit says, apprehension wavering his voice.
“That's a good thing, dumbass,” Heatherkit says, and her brother flattens his ears.
“Language,” Onestar says lightly. “And you would have been special no matter what. Do you know how I know? Because StarClan blessed me with three perfect kits. One to be leader, one to be medicine cat, and one to be deputy. You’re going to lead your Clan… you’re going to be just like me.”
Heatherpaw and her brothers have their ceremony. At first, she’s the star of the camp, outhunting even the oldest apprentices like Willowpaw, Dewpaw and Emberpaw. Senior warriors greet her with praise and a nod normally reserved for the Clan’s leadership. Cats tell her she reminds them of Onestar and she takes it as a point of pride.
Then after three moons, everything changes.
As soon as Breezepaw is apprenticed, he’s all anyone cares about. Not that anyone has much of anything good to say, of course. But every day he’s screwed up something new and it’s all the warriors can do to talk about it with the kind of indignant shock that can only be mustered by adults with nothing better to do.
“Wandered off for the third time this week, without mentor permission, and your mother said he very nearly picked a fight with RiverClan,” Onestar mutters angrily one day, stalking through the camp.
Heatherpaw, scampering along by his side, narrows her eyes. “I wandered off yesterday when we were out.” She says it half to point out his hypocrisy and half in hopes of getting his eyes back on her.
He glances at her and registers surprise for almost a quarter of a second. “Yes, well, there’s a right way of breaking rules and a wrong way of doing it,” Onestar says. “It only really matters when somebody’s trying to do the wrong thing. Every cat breaks rules in their life. But Breezepaw, well, he’s just like his father.”
She slows down. “Hey, Dad? Have you broken rules?”
“Plenty,” Onestar snorts. “But obviously I wasn’t trying to do any harm, because look! StarClan’s gone and made me leader.” He leans in and whispers conspiratorially, “And ThunderClan can eat their own tails over it.”
(Heatherpaw happens to have learned from Crowfeather just whose side ThunderClan took when Onestar needed them. She also happens to know exactly how soft a spot that is for her dad. So instead of saying anything, she smiles and sticks her tongue out at him, and he laughs.)
The other apprentices don’t like her. They’re plenty friendly to her, they’ll play with her when she asks, but they don’t invite her along with them on patrols or ask her to join them at mealtimes. Even Antpaw in all his friendly good humor tends to search for excuses not to be assigned to her patrols.
Most of the time she manages to blame it on their being intimidated by how great she is or by her father. She tries not to pin it on her own jabs at them, sharp and teasing. It’s not her fault they’re so sensitive about her pointing out how much worse they are at hunting or how often they get into trouble with their mentors.
She especially hates admitting how Breezepaw, universally pitied and disdained as he is, has managed to make exactly as many real friends as she has, which is to say two. And if littermates don’t count, well, he’s got her trounced.
Breezepaw does one other thing that no one seems to like very much, which is to say that he follows her around like a lost kitten. Half the Clan mutters at him from behind their tails anyways, complaints that Heatherpaw never registers in full but which always seem to start with “lost cause” and end with “like his father.” Now they start including phrases like “looks pathetic” and “infatuated.”
And, maybe it’s because she wants half the attention they always seem to pay him or maybe it’s because she’s getting tired of having no friends but her brothers or maybe it’s because she wants to taint the perfect image the whole Clan holds of her, but she catches his eye and volunteers to hunt with him, once. And after that, he seems to always show up and offer his rabbit to share at mealtimes or ask if she can go on his patrols.
Unfortunately, everyone seems to think she’s being charitable. Whitetail actually sits down at one point and tells her she’s proud of her for “reaching out” to him. Which, okay, whatever. Not that she even needs to do any "reaching out" because he’s always there, looking at her like she hanged the moon in the sky.
The first few times they sneak out of camp at night, they’re careful and smart and they don’t get caught. The time they find Crowfeather waiting up for them, Breezepaw catches all the blame. But Heatherpaw doesn’t feel too bad about it. Breezepaw’s used to it, after all.
It takes her about five minutes, tops, to start needling Clan secrets out of Lionpaw like Russetfur tried to do to her earlier. And it’s easy, his eyes wide and his voice breathy and his words halting, and it’s intoxicating, without Crowfeather around to cuff her over the top of the head and tell her to focus up.
Ten minutes, and she’s convinced him to meet her in the old tunnels she found, after dark in a few nights. For once, she doesn’t wake Breezepaw up on her way out.
There are a thousand reasons she should like Lionpaw, from his strong build to his golden pelt, from his impressive heritage to his unabashed enthusiasm for their games, the sort of enthusiasm that can only be mustered up by an idiot like him.
But what she really likes is the way he looks at her, his amber eyes soft and unfocused like he’s dreaming about a future she knows will never come. Sometimes when he bids her goodbye he whispers compliments after her, and the thrilling part isn’t that he’s saying them about her but that he’s saying them in secret, for her ears only. If Heatherpaw asks him to, he’ll stay up all night and sleep through his warrior training the next day, just because she said so.
One night, as she sneaks out to go down to the tunnels, she smells Gorsetail’s scent, fresh and leading away from camp. She changes course and tracks her; Lionpaw will wait.
Reaching the crest of a hill, Heatherpaw can see the whole stretch out to the RiverClan border, and the brown cat waiting there, not having bothered to hide themselves in the ferns. And streaking through the grass goes a white shape that can only be Gorsetail.
But she says nothing, not even when Gorsetail moves to the nursery a few days later. Who is she to judge?
(“Hey, Mom? How did you know you were in love with Dad?” Heatherpaw asks idly one hot afternoon.
Whitetail smiles and sticks her tongue out, a rude habit passed from mother to daughter. “Oh, there’s no story. I wanted a mate and kits, and so did he, and we liked one another and decided to go for it. I guess I got lucky that he turned out to be such a decent cat, and especially that he turned out to be leader.”
That, Heatherpaw decides, is not love at all. In fact, it barely sounds like more than a matter of sensible convenience. With that as a point of comparison, she convinces herself that her and Lionpaw’s tunnel meetings are a passionate love affair after all.)
One night, Lionpaw comes down late into the tunnels with a shredded ear, crusted with blood - shortly after a skirmish between their Clans. Heatherpaw can't help but stop pacing and fuss over him, but the worried pit in her stomach is prompted less by his injury than the look in his eye.
And then, he confirms her fears, and tells her he doesn't want to meet her anymore.
Her irritated impulse is to say okay, then and stomp out and let him sit alone in the stupid tunnels and see what he’s going to miss. He’s just a playmate, and she can go back to sneaking out of camp with Breezepaw tomorrow night if she wants, and he would be grateful to be her friend. But something makes her stop and argue with Lionpaw. “We’re not hurting anyone. What does it matter?”
“It matters to me,” Lionpaw says, whipping his tail back and forth. “I need to be the best warrior I can be, and I can't do that if I have to worry about avoiding you in battle or trying not to fall asleep during training.”
“So that’s how it is, then?”
“Fine!” she snaps. “I understand now. I hope being a warrior is worth it!” And with that, she really does spin on her heel and stalk away. Lionpaw’s frustrated voice calls out after her, but she ignores him.
It’s not until she emerges from the tunnels, moonlight spilling over her shoulders, that she realizes what she’s said. I hope being a warrior is worth it. As though he should have chosen her over everything; as though being a warrior is worth nothing at all. Of course it is. Perhaps she really does understand him - if he had gotten in the way of her training, she would have done the same as he had tonight.
But of course she would - she hadn’t cared for him that much to begin with. He had loved her since day one, and she knew that. It was the knowing that he had loved her and chosen to stop of his own free will that felt like a thorn in her throat.
Tensions are rising between WindClan and its neighbors, and now the storm has arrived. Rain is falling, gently now but with the promise of later violence, as Heatherpaw thunders into camp on the heels of Ashfoot’s patrol. The deputy barely glances at the ThunderClan medicine cats standing in the middle of their camp before informing Onestar of what they had seen - RiverClan returning home, apparently after taking prey.
“And there was rabbit blood where they’d been,” Heatherpaw adds, padding up to face her father. This will start a war, she knows - but she could use a fight.
But before Onestar can answer her, there was a strangled shriek from somewhere behind Leafpool. “Are you sure it was rabbit blood?” Gorsetail says, eyes wide with panic.
Heatherpaw takes a step back. “What?”
“My kits have disappeared,” the queen hisses.
The revelation strikes Heatherpaw like a blow, but she finds herself frozen in place rather than reeling. “You think the RiverClan patrol might have taken them?” she manages to squeak out. The conversation between the warriors, urgent and panicked, moves on without her, but all Heatherpaw can think of is the brown cat who had been waiting for Gorsetail at the RiverClan border, and how no one else knows of him but her. If RiverClan really does have a right to the kits, one fight will not be enough to stop them.
She turns to Breezepaw, who is kneading the dirt under his claws as he watches the ThunderClan cats leave. “You have to come with me,” she hisses, and sprints out of camp before he can answer, confident that he will follow anyways.
Footsteps sound behind her, and Breezepaw calls out, “Wait up,” so she pauses. He arrives at her side, panting just slightly.
“What's happening?” he says.
“We’re going to find those kits before my father can start a battle,” she says.
“Er, why?” Breezepaw says.
She hesitates. Why is she doing this? Before she can think about it, she blurts, “If we can find the kits, maybe they’ll give us our warrior names early.” That will catch his attention, she thinks, and make him forget about her motivations.
Breezepaw’s amber eyes, glowing in the deepening twilight, narrow suspiciously. “Maybe Onestar will give you yours.”
She swats him, hard, and he ducks away with a yelp. “Come on. I know you think the whole Clan has it out for you,” she says, irritated, “but even they couldn’t ignore it if you came back with three missing kits.”
Breezepaw glances away, staring into space. “Do you really think..?”
“Yes,” Heatherpaw snaps. “Now help me find their scent trail before the rain washes it away.”
They make it most of the way to the RiverClan border. After a time, Heatherpaw can no longer scent anything - she’s always been a bad tracker - so she walks a few paces behind Breezepaw, watching out for coming battle patrols. But none arrive before Breezepaw stops short and goes, “Hmm.”
“Hmm?” she says. “What’s hmm?”
“Hmm as in, their scent veers off here, heading away from the border,” he says. “It seems like they went that way.” Pointing with his tail, he indicates a copse further up the hill.
Heatherpaw’s heart drops into her stomach. She’s been in that copse once or twice, while exploring. “Oh, shit.”
“What’s oh shit?” Breezepaw says.
She hesitates. “You have to promise not to tell anyone.” Apparently sensing her seriousness, he nods.
She leads him to the copse, and holds the branches of a bush aside to reveal the entrance into the tunnels. Cold air rushes out and causes them both to shiver. If the kits are down there in this rain, they could already be dead.
“Is this where their scent trail leads?” she says.
Breezepaw sniffs. “Yes.”
Trying not to show her apprehension, Heatherpaw says, “Then let’s go.”
Their time in the tunnels feels like a quick-paced, terrifying blur, water rising slowly around them as they walk in smaller and smaller circles searching desperately for an exit. But at the end of it, the kits are back and the war is averted and Heatherpaw and Lionpaw are kind of friends again, or at least friendly acquaintances, even if she’s not going to change his mind over meeting in the tunnels. And all of that soothes the uneasy feeling in her stomach. Obviously, they don't get their warrior names, but Heatherpaw can’t bring herself to care about something so small as that.
She doesn’t try to make friends in other Clans anymore, and she doesn’t go down into the tunnels, either. She’d just rather not dredge up memories.
(“Hey, Mom?” Heatherpaw says as she follows her mother back to camp at sunset, during the time when Crowfeather and Breezepaw are in the mountains and Whitetail has taken over as her mentor.
“Yes, dear?” Whitetail says.
Heatherpaw hesitates, unsure how to say what she wants to say. She knows what she will hear if she asks her mother how to handle heartbreak, not that her heart is even broken. (“I’m sorry, dear, I wouldn’t know. I’ve only ever loved your father.”) She knows what she will hear if she asks her mother about how to deal with loneliness, not that she’s even lonely. (“That’s what your Clan is for, honey. I’m sure your brothers would love to spend more time with you.”) She knows what she will hear if she asks her mother why they have to live by the warrior code. (“That’s how our society stays organized, Heather, and how we keep bad cats from doing bad things.”)
She loves her mother, but the gap between them feels so wide.
“Never mind,” she says, and Whitetail doesn't press the issue.)
There have been whispers among the warriors, which have turned to mutterings and then, uninhibited, into loud discussions. They’re saying that ThunderClan has its head up its ass. That the warriors there are cocky and stubborn and think they are the most important cats in the world, and that somebody could stand to teach them a lesson. In particular, Leaftail and Antpelt, with their brand-new warrior names and the arrogance to go along with them, seem keen for a fight.
And Onestar has never been one to back down from a battle when his warriors want one.
He calls a Clan meeting to plan an attack. Some cats hang back uneasily, but the youngest and most battle-hungry cats push their way into an inner circle, calling out ideas.
“We could sneak attack them in their camp,” Emberfoot calls out, eyes gleaming. “They won’t be expecting it, and it will get the message across that they need to be humbled.” Sunpaw, his brand-new apprentice who is barely six moons younger than him, looks uneasy and leans away from him.
Onestar’s eyes narrow. “Not a bad idea. But if we want to take that advantage, we need a simple, reliable way to sneak a lot of warriors into their territory without any cat noticing.”
“We could try swimming through the lake,” Willowclaw says.
“What are we, RiverClan?” Antpelt jokes, and a ripple of laughter goes through the gathered cats. Breezepaw, who is sitting between Antpelt and Heatherpaw, nudges the other tom, and she hears him mutter good one.
But she does not join in on the excited whispers. Her mind is racing. She knows a pretty good way to sneak a lot of warriors into ThunderClan without any cat noticing.
If she tells everyone about the tunnels, she will have to explain how she knows. At best, she will be admitting to sneaking out of camp and wandering by herself. But at the same time… every cat in the Clan will see her and know that their victory, when they reach it, was a gift from her. The thought quickens her pulse.
She stands and steps forward, feeling the eyes of the Clan on her pelt, and ignoring them, chin lifted, to look her father in the eye. “Hey, Dad? I think I have an idea,” she says.
They scout and plan the battle, always undetected, always at night, always in groups of three. Heatherpaw can’t technically lead patrols, as an apprentice, but she still walks at the front when they’re down in the tunnels.
And then the night of the battle comes, a whirlwind that feels like any other night until they leave their scouted paths behind and run straight into ThunderClan camp. Heatherpaw sends a tall, bulky red tom running back to the medicine den and feels powerful, and soon they are disappearing into the tunnels as planned.
The night drags on, the battle goes longer and longer and the air grows thick with blood. Heatherpaw is on her father’s patrol, which roves from place to place, avoiding staying at any single site of battle long enough for a cat to notice Onestar is among them and send their forces at him. For once, she sticks obediently by Crowfeather's side.
Then it all goes to hell.
Owlwhisker behind them hardly has time to yelp out a warning before some cat barrels Heatherpaw over and on instinct she dodges, not realizing it's Lionpaw until he’s staring into her eyes with a murderous look. Something like fear grips her lungs, but remembering her training, she rears up to swipe at him - only for him to sidestep her like it’s nothing, and grab her by the scruff. She shrieks, but every other cat is busy as he drags her away.
He’s going to kill me, she realizes. There is no other reason for him to be doing this.
He flings her to the ground so hard she knows she’ll bruise, and pins her down before she can stand up again, letting his claws prick her skin.
“You told them about the tunnels,” Lionpaw hissed. “I can’t believe you betrayed me. I thought I could trust you to keep your mouth shut.”
For a second, her bafflement eclipses her terror. That’s what he’s angry about? But his claws are pressing into her throat, and so desperately she yelps, “That wasn’t me!”
His muzzle twitches, betraying a concealed snarl. “So why is my forest filled with your Clan?”
Heatherpaw tries to breathe and calm herself, give herself time to think, but staring into his cold amber eyes seems only to panic her more. She shuts her eyes, willing herself to think of someone to blame, she doesn’t want to die here-
“It wasn’t me,” she growls, popping her eyes open and hoping she’s convincing. “It was Sedgekit.”
Lionpaw’s eyes widen. “Why would he do that? I saved his life!” He’s buying it, she thinks with a glimmer of hope. She is so lucky that he's an idiot.
“He was boasting to… Weaselfur, about the tunnels he found, and then every cat in the Clan knew,” Heatherpaw says, thinking fast. She’s unsure of whether her heart is pounding because of the lie or Lionpaw’s pawpad resting not-so-lightly on the curve of her throat.
He stares at her stiffly, and she stares back, willing him to let her go like the friend she thought he was.
“I don’t believe you,” he hisses, softer than the wind, and her heart stops. “You’ve never forgiven me for wanting to be a loyal Clan warrior.” He leans on her, and the pressure on her throat makes her start trying to wriggle away even as he leans in. His claws stretch and break her skin, and his breath smells of hot blood. “I’ll never forget this, Heatherpaw,” he says. “I will be your enemy forever.”
And then he’s gone.
Shaky, Heatherpaw hauls herself to her paws. She finds that her knees are trembling, and she hates them for it. She tries to put herself back together, to become once more the cat who can lead battle patrols and beat ThunderClan warriors, but when she closes her eyes she only sees the cold cruelty in Lionpaw’s amber glare.
He didn't kill her. He let her go, when he could have ended her life in a second. In some strange, unimaginably fucked up way, she owes him her life.
There was a wail from the other side of the ferns, and Heatherpaw realizes she’s needed in the battle. Forcing herself back into a warrior’s mindset, she bursts through the bushes. Lionpaw is not far away - he’s on top of some cat, tearing through dark gray fur, and Heatherpaw’s heart skips a beat as she recognizes distinctive blue eyes.
She grabs Lionpaw by the scruff, digs her claws into his flank, relishing the way he cries out just as she had done earlier. “What are you doing?” she screams at him.
He stares at her coolly, saying nothing.
Crowfeather splutters, and she runs to him. There’s so much blood. “Crowfeather,” she says, panic rising in her chest once more. What would Kestrelpaw do now?
“I’m fine,” he coughs out, managing to stand up.
She wants to run, battle be damned - Lionpaw is still right there, and though he didn't kill her before his treatment of Crowfeather shows that if she presses him, he won’t exactly be kind - and who knows, maybe he still does want to kill them, the both of them, and is just dragging it out. She nudges Crowfeather, desperate to make it back to a tunnel entrance.
Then the light changes.
The early morning air goes blue and cool, then dark and red. Birds and insects, which Heatherpaw had barely registered before, go deafeningly silent. Across the forest, the sounds of battle quiet as every cat stares at the sky.
A small black disk slips across the sun, blotting it out.
Heatherpaw opens her mouth, but she can’t seem to breathe. Her eyes sting. It’s all too much. She hears some cat ask, “What’s happening?” before realizing it was her speaking.
A familiar voice but one she has no mental energy left to place screeches, “StarClan’s killed the sun!” In a panic, every warrior starts to dash like rabbits that have been trapped in a warren. By her side, Crowfeather, still woozy, grabs her by the scruff and tries to haul her towards the border - but she jumps away, barely stopping herself from clawing him and not sure why she tried.
She turns to Lionpaw. He stares back, seemingly completely unconcerned by the disappearance of the sun, and for the first time she sees how powerful he is, has always been. There's not a scratch on him, even after all this fighting.
“I won’t forget,” he hisses, and finally, too frightened to stay frozen, she turns and runs.
After the battle, she doesn't leave her den for half a moon.
Onestar comes by to visit her as she lies in the dark, shivering and snapping at any cat that dares try and touch her.
“If you don’t start going to training again soon, Harepaw and Breezepaw are going to have their warrior ceremonies before you,” he says. There’s a disdainful note in the way he looks at her before leaving.
Somehow, the next morning she manages to haul herself out of her nest and go to the training meadow.
Emberfoot is leading the training session (and why? Heatherpaw thinks irritably. He’s only three moons older than I am.). He has invited Antpelt and Willowclaw along to help out. They don't need that many warriors; Heatherpaw, Harepaw, and Breezepaw are all more than old enough to handle themselves, and apart from them the only apprentice left is Sunpaw, who is too timid to disobey her mentor. Soon Antpelt and Willowclaw are bored by the lecture and start whispering to one another in amused tones, and as hard as Heatherpaw tries to concentrate on what Emberfoot is saying, their voices grate on her.
Finally she snaps, “If you two are so eager to do something else, perhaps you’d better, and leave us here to actually train!”
Willowclaw flattens her ears and gives Heatherpaw an irritated glare, but Antpelt just smiles like an idiot.
“Um, you know, that lecture was going on a bit long,” Emberfoot says awkwardly. “Here, let’s all practice the move. Sunpaw will practice with me, and Heatherpaw will practice with Antpelt, and then Willowclaw can oversee Breezepaw and Harepaw while they practice together.”
It doesn’t escape Heatherpaw’s notice that she’s being separated from her peers. Am I going to hurt their stupid feelings? she thinks bitterly. Antpelt leads her away from the group, still grinning his stupid grin.
“Well, as you pointed out, I wasn’t really paying attention,” he admits. “What am I supposed to be helping you with?”
Begrudgingly, Heatherpaw demonstrates the battle move to him, and he nods sagely. “Ah, yes. The sacred WindClan Half-Turn,” he says, putting on a goofy voice. He’s trying to get her to laugh and lighten up. But it’s not very funny.
Apparently realizing his jokes are going nowhere, Antpelt sighs. “Okay, well, go ahead and try it on me.”
She doesn't need to hear that twice. Heatherpaw lunges at him, ready to sidestep and turn on her front paws to kick him like she’d been shown to. But instead of reeling back from her lunge, Antpelt stands strong, and as she turns, she feels teeth sink into the back of her neck.
She has the sensation of dirt dragging under her paws and shuts her eyes and sees a dark red sky and amber eyes and she’s flailing, screeching without being fully aware of it, and the teeth in her scruff vanish and she falls to the ground, panting.
When she opens her eyes, Antpelt is standing over her, bleeding from a scratch on his side. She doesn’t look to check, but from the quiet in the training hollow, he’s not the only one looking at her.
“Heatherpaw, are you okay?” he says.
“I’m fine,” she says curtly.
“Are you sure? Because-”
“I’m fine!” she shouts. “Just leave me alone!”
She glances around, heart pounding, hating the bewilderment and fear in everyone’s gazes, and before she knows it she’s tearing off across the moor, and no cat is following her at all.
Crowfeather must hear of that training session, some cat must tell him, but he doesn’t mention it. Still, she knows he knows because for the few remaining moons that she is an apprentice, they train alone. He even manages to get them assigned to two-cat patrols most of the time. He doesn’t talk to her about any of what happened, but then, she thinks about the way he dismisses most emotional talk, even from his family. From him, she thinks, this gesture is enough.
Somehow, even though Heatherpaw can’t seem to concentrate anymore, even though she gets reprimanded every day for being too mean or too snappy or for hissing when some cat comes too close, she manages to scrape through her assessment and gets called up for her ceremony at the same time as Harepaw and Breezepaw. Maybe Onestar just doesn’t want to embarrass himself by admitting his own daughter is so far behind.
Later that night, when they all have their new names and are sitting at the mouth of the camp, it doesn’t take even an hour for Harespring to fall asleep. He’s got dark circles under his eyes now, and Heathertail thinks guiltily that with her shirking he must have been covering for her hunting and her duties with the elders.
She resigns herself to a long night of listening to his snores, but Breezepaw - no, Breezepelt - leans over and taps her shoulder with his tail. She shoots him a quizzical glance.
“Why have you been so pissed-off lately?” he whispers, his amber eyes glowing soft and unreadable.
She could ignore him, she thinks, and go back to staring at the moon - but then, he broke his oath of silence to talk to her, and that’s not nothing. But how does she explain the anger she can’t control that lives like a fire in her chest?
“Um, it’s about Lionpaw,” she says quietly, testing the waters.
His eyes narrow. “Oh. What did he do? Did you break up with him?”
“A long time ago, you moron,” she snaps.
Breezepelt blinks. “You never told me.”
Maybe she should feel bad about that, but that sharp irritation is rising in her chest again. “Well, that's what you get for asking after things you don’t know anything about,” she growls.
“Fine,” he says acidly. “I only thought since we were friends, that I should ask. But if you want to wallow in your own misery then you can go ahead and do it, for all I care.”
They sit in silence for a long moment, and finally Heathertail sighs. “Fine,” she says. “Do you remember how your father came home injured from the great battle?” Breezepelt flicks an ear in acknowledgment. “Well, Lionpaw… he had us both cornered. If that black disk hadn’t come and taken the sun away and sent everyone into a panic…” she swallows, remembering the cold glint in Lionpaw’s gaze. Her voice drops into a low, hoarse tone as she continues, “I think... I think he was trying to kill us.”
Breezepelt stands up so suddenly it makes her jump, and starts pacing. “To kill you?” he repeats.
She nods, mute.
He hisses. “That fox-hearted scum. I always knew he wasn’t as perfect as he wanted everyone to believe.”
“If you knew, then how come you never told anyone?” Heathertail challenges.
Breezepelt pauses. “Okay, fine, I didn’t,” he says. “But I could feel it. I can't believe he’s done this to you,” he adds, and his eyes meet hers, burning. Heathertail’s chest tightens and she holds his gaze for a moment before he breaks his stare and keeps pacing. “I won’t let this happen again. I promise.”
“I can take care of myself,” Heathertail snaps.
“Okay,” Breezepelt says, flicking his tail. “But if I ever meet him in battle again, I’m going to make him feel the fear he tried to put into you. You’ll see. If it’s up to me, Lionpaw is never going to fucking sleep again. That’s what he deserves.”
Heathertail has spent these last moons curling into herself every time she feels the heat of rage, avoiding the memory of Lionpaw’s glare and teeth on her scruff, trying to suppress her feelings and only making them bubble up more violently. But in that moment, something about Breezepelt’s righteous fury makes her dig her claws into the ground and finally feel her own anger until it dies down completely.
It doesn’t go away after that, but at least it gets a little easier to manage.
At first Heathertail doesn't know where to direct her rage when it comes other than hoping it dissipates into the air like it did the night of her warrior’s ceremony, but then one day when she tries to explain this to Breezepelt, he looks at her like she’s lost her mind and asks her why she isn’t angry at Lionpaw.
From then on, every time she sees Lionpaw at a border or a Gathering living his life as though he never tried to end hers makes her hackles go up. Had she really felt grateful for the way he left her, trembling and terrified, while he went off to murder her mentor? Was that what passed for saving a life nowadays? From then on, when she wants to snap at her Clanmates she digs her claws into the ground and imagines the way his blood is going to taste when she finally gets to meet him in battle.
Still, in the tunnels when he’s asking for herbs for his sick Clan, she doesn’t refuse and she doesn’t attack. Some part of her still wants to make him love her again, and some part of her still knows he spared her, even if the knowing makes her feel ill.
At first, that Gathering feels like some kind of revenge or karma. That isn’t fair and Heathertail knows it. She likes Hollyleaf and Jayfeather and their parents all perfectly well and they don’t deserve this. But the part of her that wants to see Lionblaze suffer feels satisfied.
The cost is Breezepelt. Sure, they still spend time together - but he seems to have less and less interest in listening to her when she speaks. He seems more and more distracted as the winter goes on. And soon the time he does spend with her wanes, too, as he starts sneaking off to bed early.
When they were apprentices, they would tease each other when they were mad, any underlying frustration carefully covered by an affectionate veneer. Now all of that falls away, and they just fight, anger suddenly unbridled. With every verbal jab exchanged Heathertail feels both worse about taking her anger out on him and more vindicated for it.
The loneliness that takes a deep root in her chest is both brand new and all too familiar.
She spends most of winter hunting with Antpelt instead, but hunting is bad in the snow and his jokes start to thin, replaced by bags under his eyes and a scar down his side that he refuses to explain.
“Maybe rabbits have got the right idea, hiding down in their warrens and sleeping all winter,” Heathertail says one day, shaking snow off of her feet.
Antpelt gives her a sideways glance. “Perhaps if you know where all the rabbits are, you ought to go fetch one and feed the Clan,” he says. His tone makes it clear he's not really kidding.
“I was just trying to lighten the mood,” she says, irritated. “Jokes, you know? You remember those? Or have they all fallen out of your head through those giant ears of yours?”
Antpelt rolls his eyes and doesn’t say anything.
“You used to be so fun,” she says. “What happened to you, Antpelt?”
“Winter,” he snaps. “And growing up. Maybe it’s time for you to do that, too.”
After that, she doesn't really hunt with Antpelt anymore.
(“Hey, Dad?” she says one early spring morning. Her and her father are hunting together again, something they haven’t done much since she was an apprentice. But the thaw has brought with it plenty feeding for the Clan, and so he’s taken to spending more time on the moor again. His silhouette against the sunrise looks as noble as she remembers.
“Yes, Heathertail?” Onestar says. He gives her a fond glance.
She hesitates. “You used to be friends with Firestar, right?”
He replies with a simple, “Yes,” but she cannot see his expression.
“When you… fell out with him, how did you feel?” she says. She’s not completely sure what she’s asking, how to put it into words. “What did you do?”
He glances back at her, his amber gaze unreadable. “I relied on the support of my Clan,” he says firmly. “Ashfoot, Morningflower and your mother, especially.” With that, he turns around again and starts walking, not checking to see if she follows.
Heathertail has heard the unkind words Ashfoot has for Onestar when he picks a fight WindClan can't win or when he makes ridiculous demands. She has seen the way Morningflower looks at him, like a fool and a coward. And she has noticed the hurt and betrayal that still resides in Firestar’s expression when he and Onestar get into it at Gatherings.
She wonders if her father feels the same way she does every day, and she wonders if he would ever tell her.)
When summer arrives, Onestar gives her one of Willowclaw’s kits to mentor, and gives the other to Breezepelt. Through the whole ceremony, her father has that look in his eye that he gets when he thinks that he’s solving all a cat’s problems for them, as though by the mere grace of his involvement their troubles will melt away.
But Heathertail has no idea how to train an apprentice, and when she thinks of the scratch she gave Antpelt training, she has no desire to try. She hangs back while Breezepelt takes the lead in teaching Furzepaw and Boulderpaw. And he’s good with them, witty and patient, even if he makes a few too many bitter comments about the Clan and its leadership. Within a few days, Furzepaw quits asking Heathertail if she can patrol with Breezepelt and Boulderpaw and just goes. Heathertail is satisfied to hunt alone.
It’s Crowfeather that pulls her aside.
“Don’t make the mistake I did,” he says.
“Your apprentice,” he says, nodding to where Furzepaw is play-fighting with her brother near the edge of camp. “You think by avoiding her, you’re doing what’s best for her, right? But that little cat thinks you’re the greatest warrior in this Clan. Even if you make a few mistakes, you won’t disappoint her. The only mistake she won’t forgive is the one you’re making right now - ignorance and neglect.”
“Fine,” Heathertail snaps, but something about the way he’s speaking bothers her. Maybe it’s the fact that, for all she fights with Breezepelt now, she still remembers how he never really wanted to go home when they snuck out of camp at night. Before she can stop herself, she says, “But don’t act like that’s the only mistake you ever made.”
Heathertail starts trying with Furzepaw again - not just trying but throwing herself into mentorship wholeheartedly. Her apprentice is quick to pick up battle moves and likes to fight ferociously, and Heathertail wonders if that’s instinctual or the result of unmitigated weeks learning from Breezepelt. Still, she manages to keep up with Furzepaw’s demands.
And it’s nice, the way Furzepaw and Boulderpaw look up to her and admire her, the way she’s always wished everyone else would. And it’s nice, having something to concentrate on that isn’t about how much everyone else hates her or how much she hates everyone else. And it’s even nice how she and Breezepelt manage to avoid arguing too much when the apprentices are around, for their sakes, though she hates how even thinking that statement makes them sound like Crowfeather and Nightcloud.
Winter arrives again, and with it comes an accident - Furzepaw sneaks out of camp and slips on the snow and bashes her face into a large chunk of ice, then comes back to camp and goes back to sleep like nothing happened - but her quiet cries of pain wake Boulderpaw up, and then the whole camp knows.
“How could you have been so stupid?” Heathertail asks her apprentice as Kestrelflight checks on her. She’s half annoyed at Furzepaw’s recklessness and half affectionate towards the dumb furball.
Furzepaw sticks her tongue out, a habit Heathertail’s passed on to her, but her expression isn’t very playful. “It was an accident,” she mutters.
Onestar pokes his head into the den. “Feeling better?” he asks Furzepaw. There’s a kind tone in his voice, but Heathertail knows her father well enough to know he’s putting it on.
Still, Furzepaw nods. “Good,” Onestar says. “Then you’ll be able to clean out the elders’ den for the next three moons, I imagine.”
Furzepaw’s jaw drops. “What?” she shrieks. “But - but I was supposed to have my warrior’s assessment this week!”
“Would a warrior make such a ridiculous mistake, or try to hide its consequences from her Clan?” Onestar says sternly. “You’ll earn your name, no worries. But after you’re finished with your punishment.”
He steps out again. Heathertail whispers a sorry, Furzepaw, and then follows.
Breezepelt and Boulderpaw are outside, waiting to go in and talk to Furzepaw. Before Heathertail can tell them what just happened, Breezepelt shakes his head and says, “We heard.” He almost looks worried, of all things, and her instinct is to mock him for it, but she holds herself back for Boulderpaw’s sake.
“Well, the upside is that you can lord this over your sister for all eternity now,” Heathertail jokes to Boulderpaw.
He smiles, but flattens his ears. “Is three moons really fair?”
“She should be so lucky,” Breezepelt mutters.
Heathertail shrugs. “If you disagree with it, you can always talk to Onestar about it.”
Boulderpaw glances uncertainly to the leader’s den. “I guess I’m just disappointed we won’t become warriors together,” he admits.
Heathertail thinks about when she was an apprentice and barely scraped though to her ceremony, how bitter she was about the prospect of falling behind her brother. She never thought about how Harespring must have felt about the whole thing. Her heart softens. “Well, if you want to delay your ceremony to wait for her, I’m sure he won’t mind that,” she says. “In fact, if you want, I’ll even help you talk to him.”
Three moons pass quickly, and soon she’s cheering Boulderfur and Furzepelt’s new names. Spring has finally arrived again, and there is peace on WindClan’s borders. Seeing the two new young warriors makes Heathertail feel like she's finally doing something good for a change.
But then the Clan’s good mood is shattered with a single ear-piercing scream.
Leaftail has discovered his brother Antpelt in his nest, half-shredded, barely able to open his eyes. Heathertail’s breath hitches as she catches a glance at him, then averts her eyes. There’s so much blood.
He dies a few days later, a long, slow, painful death. At the vigil, the Clan whispers urgent speculation over what could have killed him. Heathertail keeps thinking, that’s not what’s important. He’s dead, and all you’re asking is how.
Neither Breezepelt nor Harespring nor Furzepelt can seem to meet her gaze.
Life goes on, horribly. Events flash before Heathertail’s eyes - a tortoiseshell rogue named Sol arrives in WindClan, a cat from ShadowClan accuses Jayfeather of murder, and Onestar, caught up in his own ego and encouraged by Sol’s mysterious whispers, decides WindClan will enact the justice ThunderClan is avoiding.
But Antpelt is dead, and there's a throbbing wound in the Clan where he was. Whoever killed him ripped WindClan’s heart out. And now Heathertail is alone, and all she can keep thinking is that something dark and wriggling and slimy is growing beneath the Clans, like maggots under the pelt of a piece of bad prey.
Late summer starts to turn into a beautiful, golden autumn. Sol leaves again, chased off by ThunderClan. Peace seems to be spreading across the lake. But now that Heathertail’s seen that something’s wrong, it's hard to forget it, and a dark feeling of dread settles into her stomach at all times.
She and Breezepelt don’t fight so much anymore, less because they’ve made up and more because they’re too tired to keep it up. He sleeps every second he’s not on patrol nowadays. She keeps noticing new scars on him, ones she’s sure weren't there before, and remembers the same happening to Antpelt the winter before he died.
Hey, Dad? Heathertail thinks one night as she's unable to fall asleep, staring at her father’s flank rising and falling in his den. What do you do when you know the worst is coming?
The battle comes, and they survive.
But some cats don’t.
Every death feels like Heathertail’s throat is tearing itself out. But the worst is seeing Furzepelt, recently revealed as a Dark Forest trainee, throwing herself on her brother’s corpse and staring into his glassy eyes and begging him not to be dead.
(Onestar doesn't attend any of the vigils. He doesn't acknowledge the Clan's pain, just appoints Harespring deputy as though nothing had happened to possibly change his mind. Heathertail lets herself wonder what the hell kind of leader lets his Clan become such a mess in the first place.
All the death has made Onestar isolate himself out of guilt. It’s made Heathertail realize how chokingly desperate she is to be different.)
After the battle, Breezepelt spends most of his time alone, and the Clan is happy to let him. Heathertail is angry with him, too - of course she is.
But at the same time, when she looks at him all alone all she can see is the lonely apprentice who always shied away from his father, and the harsh words she directed his way even as she called them friends. It isn’t her fault that he did what he did, she knows. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel bad about it.
One day, when no other cat seems to be willing to be put on patrol with him, as Harespring grows more and more frustrated and Breezepelt seems to shrink into himself more and more, Heathertail steps up and volunteers to go with him and catches his eye. And from then on, he sticks with her. It’s not like how it was when they were younger. But they’re friends now, and that’s enough for her.
(In a moment of fury she asks him why the hell he betrayed their Clan, and he can’t answer her.
But he says that he would give his life in a second to save even one victim of the Dark Forest, and his voice is too soft and scared for her not to believe him.)
“Hey, Dad?” Heathertail asks on a chilly spring day. “Why do you love Mom?”
Onestar gives her a nostalgic eye that suggests he’s about to ask her about her experiences in ‘young love,’ before she scowls in warning. He shakes his head, reminding himself of the original question. “She seemed like she would be a good mother,” he says, “and a smart, calm presence, the sort of cat that a leader ought to have as their mate.”
That’s nothing, she thinks. Is every decision he makes in the service of some façade of respectability?
It occurs to her, before she can turn her thoughts away and avoid the realization, that maybe ‘so much like your father’ was never really meant as a compliment at all.
She starts to see his reflection in the water more than her own.
She starts hearing his voice in hers when she says something cutting and cruel.
“Hey, Dad?” Heathertail spits, after that particular piece of information is revealed about the invading rogues on the other side of the lake, the war WindClan thought would have nothing to do with them. “What the fuck?”
Harespring and Kestrelflight are quiet, their expressions slack with shock, but Whitetail is bristling beside Heathertail. Each of them is reflected in Onestar’s eyes as he cowers under their scrutiny.
“I can’t believe you would do this to me,” Whitetail hisses.
“Now hold on,” Onestar says, his gaze going steely, “This has nothing to do with you, it all happened before you were a glimmer- even a, a notion in my head.”
“Yeah, but I turned into a notion pretty quick once you got word of your kittypet son, huh?” Whitetail spits. “That’s why you were so eager to get your former apprentice pregnant-”
“You can’t accuse me of that,” Onestar interrupts, his hackles rising. “We were - we are both adults, and you wanted kits.”
“And you wanted an anchor in case the truth came out,” Whitetail snarls. “You fucking-”
Heathertail doesn’t stick around to hear the end of that sentence. She’s halfway across the moor before she stops to think, certain that she’s just learned more about her parents than she ever had any desire to know.
In the days after, Breezepelt is there for her, because of course he is, sticking by her side closer than ever. Whenever he catches anyone giving her a strange glance, he shoots them that Dark Forest look, the one that says ‘take one more step and die.’ And he doesn’t say a word about how he’s seen all this before and lived it.
She’s sure he thinks it, though, and how dare he think that this is anything like that. Everyone always knew Crowfeather probably had some bastard children out there somewhere, even cats who hadn't lived through the era when he ran away from the Clan twice in three seasons, and nobody had ever suspected Onestar of - well, she can’t even think it.
She and Breezepelt are like day and night, sun and moon. He was born to parents that didn’t love one another, out of convenience, to help cover up his father's illicit affairs. And she wasn’t.
Except that it turns out that maybe she was, and she has no idea how to reconcile that.
Has she always thought about herself as so much better than him?
She always thought the special treatment ended once she got her warrior name, but as soon as everyone’s remaining thin veneer of respect for her father drowns with him in the lake, she realizes how wrong she was. No one spares her a second glance anymore, and no one follows her orders, given without a second thought, unless Harestar backs them up. She wonders if this is how Crowfeather used to feel all the time, before he earned back his good name. At least he had a good name to earn back. She’s never gotten anything on her own merit.
Is she anything more than all the personalities heaped upon her by others’ eyes? Underneath the patchwork she made of whatever got a smile instead of a frown, sewn together by pieces of her father, was she ever anyone at all? Or is she just a ghost wearing a sheet?
For the first time since she was an apprentice she sneaks out of camp, alone, and makes her way to the lakeshore on soft paws. She stares at the reflection of the stars on the water wondering if her father’s soul went up when he died, or if he sank to the bottom of the lake like a fucking rock, and wondering if she hates him or if that’s too much like hating herself.
(Harestar doesn’t make her deputy, and she’s grateful for it even as she hears their father’s voice ringing in their ears.)
“When we were apprentices, I was pretty shitty to you,” she says one day on the moor. “And everyone, but.”
“It’s.. fine,” Breezepelt says. “I kind of deserved-”
“No,” Heathertail cuts him off. “It sucked, and I’m sorry.”
They’re silent for a moment.
“And for what it’s worth,” she says, before she loses her nerve, “I understand why you did what you did.”
He gives her an expression of utter bafflement, which is rare for him, and she would delight in the sighting if not for the way her heart is pounding. “You do?” he says.
“Yeah,” Heathertail says. “This whole system, all these stupid rules we make for ourselves - none of it means anything. It just makes us all hurt each other, over and over and over. I get… wanting to just watch it all burn.”
He doesn’t say anything. He just stares at her with that expression of bewilderment, looking totally lost, making her feel terrible. She wants to keep talking - say something to make him like her again - but the words catch in her throat. And he keeps not saying anything and Heathertail, having lost her nerve entirely, turns away to keep sniffing for rabbits.
“I understand,” Breezepelt says. She glances back at him, and he continues, “Believe me, out of all the cats in these Clans I’m sure I understand that impulse the most. And…” he sighs. “you’re right. The Clans are fucked up.”
“We could leave,” Heathertail says, resigned.
“No,” Breezepelt says sharply. Immediately he looks sheepish. “I-I love this Clan, and I’ve fought hard to love it, and I know you love it too. The Clans aren’t perfect. They’re barely even good. But burning everything down isn’t justice, it’s just destruction, and…” He looks away, staring down the moor towards the lake. “besides, where else would you get a view like this?”
She laughs, and follows his gaze. The water is calm in early leaf-fall, gentle waves lapping against the shore and reflecting the pale yellow light of the sun as it dips toward the horizon. As much as she hates the lake, hates looking into the water and seeing the reflection that shines back… she’s not sure she could ever feel at home anywhere without it. And even if she could, he won’t leave. And she’s not sure if she can feel at home anywhere without him, either.
She glances back at him, and he’s already looking at her.
“You know,” she says, “there's something else I never told you.”
Heathertail throws up for the third morning in a row and Kestrelflight gives her an exasperated glance when she asks what’s wrong and that’s all she needs to know to pull Breezepelt aside, panic rising in her like never before.
“It’s - we don’t have to do this, if you don’t want. I understand if you don’t want to, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it either. Whitetail said that she knows some old tricks queens used to- to deal with it, and Kestrelflight has herbs to try to stop it, or hell, I don’t know, we could give them to someone else-” Heathertail rambles. She stops herself, takes a breath. “We don’t have to, not if you don’t want.”
Breezepelt looks uncharacteristically pensive, for a cat whose emotions are usually so obvious even complete strangers can pick up on them. He seems to be making an effort not to glance at her stomach region, she notices. “Did Kestrelflight have a guess at how many?” he says.
His matter-of-fact tone throws her off-guard, forcing her to calm her racing thoughts. “He said two,” she says, “maybe three, if the third’s a runt.”
She can’t read him for the first time since he was in the Dark Forest, and it’s driving her half insane. Breezepelt just watches her. “I…” he hesitates. “I think that you should figure out how you feel about it before you ask me about my opinion. You’re carrying them. And whatever you decide, I promise I will be okay with it.”
In her haste to figure out what her options were, Heathertail had not even thought about which one she would prefer to choose.
She ruminates on it for half the day, and true to his word, Breezepelt leaves her alone on the subject, not even alluding to it in passing. Later that evening, she leads him away from the others, her heart set.
“I think I want to have them,” she says.
“And?” Breezepelt replies, and for half a second she thinks he’s being flippant and she has just enough time to get mad before realizing he’s asking whether she wants to give them away.
“And raise them,” Heathertail clarifies, “with you.”
His amber eyes glitter. “You really want to give this a go?”
She takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I mean, why not? I figure I can do at least as well as my mom and you can definitely do better than your dad, so between the two of us I think we can do a decent job.”
Breezepelt winces, so subtly she wouldn’t catch it if she hadn’t known him so long. “Crowfeather did a decent job,” he mutters. She taps his side gently with her tail, a reminder not to dwell on things. He gets too caught up in his own negativity.
“No,” Heathertail corrects, “Crowfeather did a terrible job. My dad did a decent job. And look at me, I turned out pretty great.”
He snorts. “Okay. So that’s a yes?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Heathertail says, letting her hope into her voice. They’re going to do okay, between the pair of them.
Breezepelt eases back, grinning wide - a rare sight, and one that warms her to her bones. “That's good,” he says, “because I may have slightly lied about being completely, one hundred percent okay with the other options.”
Heathertail swats him playfully, but he dodges, so she sticks her tongue out at him.
“I’m going to be a father,” Breezepelt murmurs wonderingly, like he's only now letting himself think it. He glances up at her. “You’re going to be the mother of my kits.”
“Yeah,” she says, beaming.
“I love you so much,” he says.
She bites back the defensive, deflecting reply that comes to mind first. The one that says I know and teases him for being soft and puts a distance between them. She wants to not shy away, she wants to be warm and loving, and so she makes the choice to be. Breezepelt nuzzles her, and she leans in, purring.