Leafpool stalked her prey, making sure she stayed far downwind. The scent of WindClan was in her nostrils. When she was sure her prey hadn't detected her, she leaped. The squirrel, sensing something was up, started to make a break for it. But Leafpool was too fast for it. She snapped its neck before it made it to the safety of a tree. Then she scraped earth over her fresh-kill.
"Good catch!" a voice called. Leafpool froze. She knew that voice! The former ThunderClan medicine cat tensed, ready to make a dash for the trees. While she stood frozen, she heard the splash of water as the cat splashed his way over to her. She inhaled his warm, familiar scent as it wreathed around her, then jerked back. We can't do this!
"What are you doing here, Crowfeather? I thought you didn't care about me anymore."
She saw the dark gray tom wince, and saw. . . What was it she saw in his blue eyes? Regret? Grief? Pain? It was hard for Leafpool to be sure.
"Leafpool, I had to see you." Crowfeather sounded pleading.
"Why? At the Gathering you said our kits and I meant nothing to you." She turned away, intending to return to the rest of the hunting patrol.
"Leafpool, please, listen to me." The desperate tone in her former mate's voice caused the light brown tabby she-cat to stop and turn. "Don't you see? I had to say that. There was no way I could tell the four Clans about my feelings for you at a Gathering. Nightcloud, Breezepelt, and Onestar, not to mention Firestar, would have me for fresh-kill."
I knew it! Leafpool was ecstatic. She had never stopped loving him, and now she knew that he felt the same way. The light brown tabby she-cat started purring and twined her tail with his, winding her slender body around his lithe frame. She drew in his warm scent, feeling warm all over. Leafpool felt Crowfeather tense, then relax. He started drawing his tongue over her ear with soft, gentle licks. Leafpool let out a sigh of contentment. She didn't care what the rest of their Clans did if they saw them together. She had Crowfeather back, and that was all that mattered.
Suddenly, she heard the rest of the ThunderClan patrol: Brambleclaw. Berrynose, Cloudtail, and Firestar. They were hunting closer to where they were. A few more heartbeats and they would be spotted!
"Crowfeather, run!" she hissed.
"No. I'm not leaving you," he mewed stubbornly. "I don't care what they'll say or do. I love you, Leafpool."
Mousebrain! We'll be caught.
Just at that moment, a mouse headed straight for them, followed by Leafpool's father, and the ThunderClan leader, Firestar. The mouse disappeared at a hole near Leafpool's paws. Firestar looked up with frustration in his green eyes, then they flew open wide with shock as the dark ginger tom took in the scene before him.
"Just what do you think you're doing here?" he snarled at Crowfeather. "And with my daughter." He glanced at Leafpool, anger brimming in his green eyes.
The rest of the patrol padded up, having heard their leader's voice.
"Well, well. What do we have here?" Berrynose meowed scathingly. Leafpool and Crowfeather cringed. Brambleclaw and Cloudtail stood there in shock, Brambleclaw's dark brown tabby fur bristling and his amber eyes wide open.
"What are you doing here?" he hissed at Crowfeather. The dark gray WindClan tom bristled.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he retorted, pressing his pelt against Leafpool's.
"It looks like you're trespassing on ThunderClan territory," Berrynose meowed.
"And trying to steal my daughter," Firestar growled. Crowfeather bristled. Leafpool was afraid the aggressive dark gray tom would launch himself into battle, but after a few heartbeats Crowfeather let his fur lie flat.
"Look, this is between me and Leafpool. She's not betraying her Clan, if that's what you think."
Firestar's flame-colored fur bristled. "It sure looks that way to me!" he spat. Behind him, Brambleclaw, Berrynose, and Cloudtail bristled and unsheathed their claws. The ThunderClan leader flicked his tail. "Get him."
Leafpool watched, terrified, as they launched themselves at Crowfeather. "NO!" she wailed. Without a second thought, she leaped into the fray-but she wasn't aiming for Crowfeather. She landed on Berrynose's back, digging her claws in the cream warrior's fur. Berrynose yowled in pain and surprise. With a thrust, he threw the light brown tabby warrior off of him and spun around to face her.
"Leafpool, what are you doing?" Crowfeather yowled as he dodged a blow from Brambleclaw and kicked Cloudtail in the side.
"Helping you!" she called back, planting a solid blow to Berrynose's belly and dashing over to his side to take care of Cloudtail.
Firestar stared in dismay. "Stop!" he yowled. "ThunderClan, retreat!" Cloudtail and Brambleclaw tore themselves free from Crowfeather and Leafpool's claws and teeth and fell back to their leader. Firestar glared back at them. "Leafpool, you and I are going to have a serious talk when you get back."
Leafpool didn't say anything. Instead, she pressed her muzzle into Crowfeather's fur, waiting until her father had vanished.
"I'm going to be in so much trouble," she muttered. Crowfeather pressed reassuringly against her and drew his tongue over her face. "Don't worry about that," he murmured. "Let's just enjoy this time we heve together."
Leafpool fell silent, enjoying his warm scent and strength. Finally she mewed, "Crowfeather?"
"Will you meet me here tomorrow night?"
Crowfeather purred. "Of course. Unless we can meet sooner."
"I'll get a message to you." Reluncantly, Leafpool pulled away. "I'd better go."
"Leafpool." She paused and looked back at the dark gray warrior. "Good luck. You'll need it." Before Leafpool could say anything, he leaped the stream and headed into his own territory. With a sigh, tail drooping, Leafpool headed to the camp, pausing to dig up the squirrel she had caught.
StarClan help me!
When Leafpool padded through the thorn tunnel into the ThunderClan camp, she spotted her mother, father, and sister waiting for her. The rest of the Clan was in the center of the clearing, watching. Lionblaze and Jayfeather watched her from the medicine den, faces expressionless. Dovepaw, Lionbaze's apprentice, and Ivypaw, Cinderheart's apprentice, were sitting close together whispering.
"Leafpool!" At Firestar's commanding yowl, every cat retreated to their dens, peering out to watch the scene unfolding before them. Leafpool dropped her catch on the fresh-kill pile, slunk forward, ears back against her head, until she reached her family.
Her heart sank when she saw the look in their eyes. Firestar's eyes were filled with anger, and Sandstorm's green eyes were filled with the sense of betrayal. Squirrelflight's emerald gaze was full of sadness and sympathy for her sister.
Firestar flicked his tail at her. "Come on. I want to talk to you in my den."
With a stifled sigh, heart sinking, Leafpool followed her mother, father, and sister into Firestar's den near the Highledge. Once inside, Firestar rounded on his daughter.
"I can't believe you!" he spat. "You attacked your Clanmates! And for what? That mangy excuse for a WindClan warrior!"
Leafpool felt herself grow hot with anger as she looked her father in the eyes. "Crowfeather is not a mangy excuse for a cat!"
"Well, you would know about that," Squirrelflight sneered, flexing her claws. "I'm guessing you two had time to get all cozy before Firestar found you. And besides that, you've had kits with him before. Don't you get that he has Nightcloud for a mate now?"
"That's enough," Firestar hissed, silencing the ginger warrior with a glare.
"Leafpool, how could you do this to us?" Sandstorm asked. The pale ginger she-cat looked hollow with the sense of betrayal.
"I love him!" Leafpool exclaimed. "You wouldn't understand. None of you have ever really known him."
"Hey! I've known him!" Squirrelflight protested indignantly. "We went on the first journey to the sun-drown-place along with the others. You should know that already."
Firestar's neck fur was still fluffed up. "Leafpool," he meowed, "you have attacked your own Clanmates, Clan deputy, and worst of all, you've been having an affair with a cat from another Clan--who already has a mate!" Then he sighed and padded onto the slope to Highledge, yowling, "Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath the Highledge to hear what I have to tell you!"
Within a few heartbeats the whole Clan had gathered beneath the ledge, looking up at their leader, and then Leafpool. Leafpool felt their hostile gazes raking her fur, boring into her pelt. She felt like leaping off the ledge and running into the forest to meet Crowfeather so they could run away together, like last time. Well, why shouldn't I? she wondered. Her mind made up, she bunched her muscles and, without saying a word to anyone, leaped off the Highledge among her startled Clanmates.
"Leafpool!" Sorreltail yowled. "What are you doing?"
The pale tabby warrior didn't bother to reply. With a flick of her tail, she bounded through them and raced through the thorn barrier into the forest.
"After her!" she heard her father yowl, but by then it was too late. Leafpool sprinted through the trees to the WindClan border.
StarClan, please let him be there!
In a few more heartbeats, she reached the WindClan border, the sound of pawsteps pounding the forest floor a ways behind her. Desperately, Leafpool tasted the air for Crowfeather's scent. It was well within WindClan territory. Suddenly, not caring if any cat from either Clan saw her, she boldly stepped over the scent line and followed Crowfeather's scent. Let them try to follow me now! she thought. She padded out from WindClan's woodland and onto the moorland.
"Leafpool!" A yowl behind her made her pause and look back. A ThunderClan patrol consisting of Sorreltail, Cinderheart, Ivypaw and Blossomfall were standing right on the border, staring after her. The cat that had called out was Sorreltail. "What do you think you're doing?" the tortiseshell warrior demanded.
"You wouldn't understand!"
"You're right, I don't. So why don't you explain it to me?" Sorreltail took a step forward, her neck fur beginning to bristle with annoyance.
"Can't you see? I love Crowfeather and I want to be with him!"
"Be that as it may, we have to follow Firestar's orders," Blossomfall broke in. "Let's get her."
"But she's on WindClan territory!" Ivypaw protested.
"She's right," Cinderheart meowed. "If a WindClan patrol catches her, leave it up to them. She is on their land."
Leafpool broke into a run again, trying to stay out of range of their voices. She was grateful to Ivypaw and her mentor, though. By now she was deep in WindClan territory.
Pawsteps jolted her out of her musings. A patrol of six WindClan cats appeared over a hill and circled her. Sedgewhisker, Breezepelt, Leaftail, Boulderpaw, Emberfoot, and Harespring were all bristling.
"What are you doing here?" Leaftail hissed.
Leafpool swallowed. "I need to speak to Crowfeather. Where is he?"
Breezepelt unsheathed his claws and tore into the soft moorland turf. "Why do you need to see my father?"
Leafpool desperately scanned the faces of the patrol. "It's none of your business!"
Sedgewhisker must have seen the desperate look in her eyes, for she let her fur lie flat. "Come on," she mewed. "We'd better take her to our camp." The light brown she-cat rested her tail-tip on Leafpool's shoulder and led the way to the WindClan camp.
Immediately, the rest of the patrol surrounded them, Boulderpaw padded around Leafpool, circling and guarding her as if she was the Clan's most dangerous warrior.
"What's the matter?" Leafpool muttered. "Scared I might give you some medicine?"
"You're not even a medicine cat anymore!" Boulderpaw snapped. "So I wouldn't even go there if I were you."
"Good point," Leafpool conceded. "I just want to talk to Crowfeather. What's wrong with that?"
"Oh, let's see," Breezepelt interjected sarcastically. "First, you fell in love with him. Second, you ran away together. Third, everyone around here gets all tense when you or any other ThunderClan cat mentions him because of it. Fourth, you gave those pieces of fox dung away to your sister and her former mate and didn't tell anyone that they're really yours and my father's! What's to stop you with taking off with him? I don't see anything wrong with that, do you, Boulderpaw?"
The large pale gray apprentice shook his head.
"Just drop it, Breezepelt," Harespring growled. "We'll find out what she wants when we get there!"
They journeyed the rest of the way to the WindClan camp in silence. When they reached the center of the camp, Leafpool heard the voices of kits coming from the nursery.
"I smell ThunderClan!"
"Can we go see who it is, mother?"
"No! Now, be quiet," came the voice of a she-cat that Leafpool recognized as Sunstrike, a tortoiseshell she-cat with a large white mark on her forehead. The pale tabby shook her head in amusement, then straightened up when Onestar came out of his den.
"What do we have here?" the brown tabby tom asked.
"A ThunderClan warrior," Sedgewhisker answered.
"ThunderClan?" the WindClan leader meowed, surprised. Then his voice hardened. "What does Firestar want now?"
"Nothing," Leafpool spoke up from the middle of the circle.
Onestar tasted the air. "Leafpool?"
"What do you want, then, since Firestar didn't send you?"
"Onestar, I need to speak to Crowfeather. Where is he?"
"He's out hunting--" Onestar started to say, then was interrupted by Crowfeather racing down the hill with a rabbit in his jaws. His eyes widened when he saw Leafpool, but he managed to drop his catch on the fresh-kill pile before padding over to her. "Is something wrong?" the dark gray tom asked.
"No," Leafpool meowed. "Well, yes. Can I talk to you alone?" she amended, glancing at Onestar.
The brown tabby sighed. "You might as well," he mewed with a flick of his striped tail.
Leafpool looked at Crowfeather who meowed, "Follow me," as he lead her to a secluded area outside camp. He settled down on his haunches gazing at her curiously. "What is it?"
"I'm in trouble."
The WindClan warrior huffed with amusement, whiskers twitching. "Why am I not surprised?" His blue eyes grew serious as he meowed, "What happened?"
"Firestar chewed me out when I was back at camp and was about to exile me. I leaped off Highledge and ran to the border with a ThunderClan patrol after me - where I was caught by a WindClan patrol, and, well, here I am." She shrugged. "It's no big deal."
"Would I kid about something like this?"
"No. It's just that you used to be so, well, quiet as a medicine cat and now you're. so, well . ."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing. Leafpool, what is it you wanted to ask me?"
She grew so tense that she imagined lightning playing off her fur, but she had to say what was on her mind. "All these rules, the Clans, territories, I wish we could get away from it."
"What--run away? Have you forgotten what happened last time we tried that?"
"I know, I know--the badger attack. But if we leave now, no one would know."
Crowfeather opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything they were interrupetd by Nightcloud poking her head out of the gorse bushes. "Are you two done here?" the black she-cat demanded. "Onestar is getting nervous - not to mention me, Ashfoot, and Breezepelt."
Crowfeather gave an exasperated sigh and told the black WindClan warrior, "We were just about done here. Just give us a few more moments, all right?"
Nightcloud's head ducked back into the gorse bushes surrounding the camp. Nervously checking to see if there were any other cats around, Crowfeather signaled with his tail for Leafpool to follow him as they padded away from the camp. Under his breath he seethed, "No one will notice?"