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it's in the stars

Chapter Text

Okay, so while they hadn't done it that much (only twice, Lance thinks), they had done it enough for Lance to know right away that he and his friends had just jumped into an alternate reality. It wasn't just the strange atmosphere, the unfamiliar vibes of the place, that tipped him off. It was also the fact that he was currently staring at his very cat-like paws rather than hands.

A groan caught his attention and he snapped his head up to see who he was pretty sure were his friends -- also now cats -- get unsteadily to their paws.

The first one Lance recognized was Keith. Keith had been changed into a tortoiseshell that was almost all black; the brown was only noticeable when the sun hit him just right, as it was now. What gave away his identity was his eyes, those blue-grey-almost-violet eyes, blinking at him in confusion. Lance would know those eyes anywhere.

Shiro was probably the most identifiable of the bunch; he was quite muscled and had a pelt that was mostly black but was patched with white (with a single conspicuous white spot on the crown of his head). His muzzle held that single scar Shiro was quite known for, and his grey eyes remained as calm as ever. That settled Lance's nerves a bit; Shiro would help them all get through this.

It was pretty easy picking Hunk out from the crowd, too, large as he was. He was a dark ginger tabby, his stripes matching the color of his hair. The tiny one next to Hunk could only be Pidge, Lance decided. She was indeed small, looking quite like a kitten (though he would never say this to her face, he valued his life thank you very much). She was a dark yellow tabby with mask-like markings around her eyes, eyes that squinted as if she were fighting off a headache. She pressed close to Hunk, not looking fearful, but seeking comfort from his presence all the same.

That just left Allura and Coran; Allura was easy to pick out for even as a cat, she was quite a beauty. She was almost pure white and long-furred. Spots of brown tabby markings dotted her pelt throughout, with two uneven patches around her eyes and a large patch on her rump, coloring her long tail in pretty tabby stripes. Coran crouched next to her, his blue eyes bright in interest. Though he certainly looked almost elderly in this form, his bright ginger tabby fur was far from rumpled with age, instead gleaming almost as brightly as that of the youths that surrounded him. His ears twitched frequently, catching sounds from all around them.

Then Lance himself. He could tell that he was a solid brown, and he felt quite tall despite being a cat. His ears also stretched out farther than he was used to and he was sure they were larger than those of his friends. Looks like Allura would have good reason to rag on his ears now.

He moved closer to the group and took in his surroundings. It was quite beautiful here; a forest that looked so very Earth-like, it both pierced Lance's heart and soothed him at the same time. A place that looked like this couldn't be all bad, right?

The others... did not seem to share the sentiment. Curiosity was the tamest of the whirlwind of emotions that had covered everyone like a blanket, but it was a thin layer that paled in comparison to the thickness of fear and confusion and intimidation. Shiro looked the calmest of them all, but Lance could see the tell-tale signs that he wasn't as placid as he attempted to appear; the strained focus of his eyes, the clench of his jaw, how he subtly kept unsheathing and sheathing his claws into the soil beneath his paws. Lance had the distinct impression that he'd cross his arms if he could, and that the fact that he couldn't only put him more on edge.

"Looks kind of like Earth here, huh?" Lance broke the silence, hoping this fact might help soften the tension that stiffened everyone's shoulders, caused their eyes to frantically map out the place in paranoia.

"Yeah... which is what worries me," Keith replied instantly, though there was no heat in it; he wasn't arguing so much as observing, assessing the situation and remaining as cautious as necessary. "Because if this IS Earth, why are we cats?"

"Well," Pidge interjected, seeming less fearful as her companions but still keeping a wary tautness to her features nonetheless, "since this is an alternate reality, things are bound to be different."

"Do you think there are any humans in this reality?" Hunk asked tentatively, earning a comforting tail flick from Pidge.

"Probably," Pidge replied, inspecting the forest they were in with critical eyes. "But in this reality, I'm guessing we were born as cats."

A burst of hope shot through Lance. Did that mean his family might be here after all? Just, you know, as cats instead of people. Lance didn't care; he'd take that over not seeing them at all any day.

"Or maybe we don't exist in this reality and have thus taken forms that blend us in with the locals more easily!" Coran suggested cheerfully. "Tell me, what are these 'cat' creatures like on your home planet?"

"Well, for one, we aren't exactly welcoming to trespassers."

The sound of a new voice caused everyone to jump, and they all jerked their heads around to see who had spoken.

Before them stood a group of cats smaller than their own -- three cats altogether. The largest of them was a long-haired yellow tabby with glaring amber eyes. He seemed the buffest of the three and was certainly the most intimidating. His build was reminiscent of Shiro's and Lance knew right away that this was a cat one did not mess with.

Beside him crouched a small silver tabby with sightless blue eyes. It was a little amazing, actually; the way this cat held himself, the way his gaze swarmed over them, Lance could swear his eyes weren't as sightless as they seemed. This somehow made him almost as intimidating as the golden cat, as if he could see right through them all. It left Lance feeling exposed and he internally cringed into himself.

The she-cat with them glowered furiously at the group of cats before her; she was solid black with startling bright green eyes. She and her companions all shared long muzzles and large ears, which gave Lance the impression that they were somehow related.

It was the she-cat that had spoken (meowed? Lance wasn't sure), and she was speaking again now.

"Who are you and what are you doing on our territory?" she hissed. Her hackles were raised, as were the two cats beside her, and all three looked lean-muscled and hostile. Much as he hated to admit it, Lance was pretty sure he and his friends couldn't take on these three new cats and win, despite outnumbering them.

Shiro apparently shared the sentiment and he stepped forward, bowing his head respectfully. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean to intrude. We're not exactly sure where we are right now," he continued, voice placating. "Would you be willing to help us?"

The she-cat narrowed her eyes, obviously suspicious of the visitors. The yellow tabby tom seemed to feel the same way, his hostility not at all fading. The silver tabby tom, however, looked interested. He stared at the strange group of cats with a fierce intensity that once again had Lance internally cringing.

The yellow tabby tom seemed to pick up on his friend's intrigue, for he mewed quietly to him, "What is it, Jayfeather?"

The silver tabby was quiet a moment longer before replying with a voice as sharp as a flint and almost cold as ice -- warmth seemed to only exist deep down, under layers of contempt, disinterest, and anger.

"I don't think they're intruding on purpose; they really DON'T know where they are."

"That's what we've been trying to say!" Lance snapped, though he had the good sense to keep his voice low. The silver tabby -- Jayfeather -- growled at him nonetheless.

"But maybe we should chase off the mousebrains anyway," Jayfeather continued, sounding disgruntled at Lance's attitude (which, fine, Lance will take the blame for). "Not sure I want to deal with a bunch of cats that have less brainpower than a newborn kit."

"Hey!" Lance and Keith both flashed back at that one. Hunk mimicked them a moment too late, and a touch quieter though no less offended.

After a moment of the three cats probably thinking things over, the she-cat stood up tall and, voice steady and hard, mewed, "No, let's take them to Firestar. We don't want these cats possibly coming back like Sol did."

Jayfeather nodded his agreement. "Hollyleaf has a point," he conceded, albeit reluctantly.

The yellow tabby looked like he wanted to argue, but after a moment, he sighed and shook his head. "Fine," he grumbled, turning away.

Hollyleaf bounded towards the group of intruders and Lance found himself instinctively moving in front of them defensively. He may not stand a chance, but he'd fight for his friends if it came to that. Keith joined him, ears flattened against his head, and Shiro was not far behind.

"We're not fighting you," Hollyleaf snorted without amusement. "We're taking you back to camp. Firestar will decide what is done with you." She padded around until she was behind them, and began herding them forward. Jayfeather, ears twitching, came up to their left and the yellow tabby glanced back before going to their right.

Team Voltron was surrounded and Lance could tell he wasn't the only one who felt uncomfortable about this. Everyone's fur stood on end, ears flicked nervously or flattened altogether, and claws were flexing apprehensively.

Feeling nudged forward despite not being touched, the group began making their way through the forest. Eventually, Jayfeather left their side to walk in front of them, steering them towards their destination. In spite of the tenseness of the situation, Lance found himself amazed at how easily Jayfeather weaved through the forest even though he was blind; it really was like he could see with how sure his pawsteps were, how well he dodged debris and trees without needing a warning. How many times must he have navigated this forest to have it mapped out so well? Or were his other senses catching onto his surroundings and silently guiding his way? Either way, it was fascinating and Lance thought they could learn much from the unsighted cat in front of them.

Partway through the forest, a few drops of water found their way through the canopy of trees before pouring down in earnest. Lance immediately stopped and stared in wonder at the sky.

Rain.

It was actually raining.

He hadn't seen or felt rain in so long and suddenly this place felt like a heaven. He lifted his face to look at the water falling from the sky before closing his eyes and relishing the fresh rain on his cheeks, his eyelids, his ears, his nose. It all felt so alien and yet so like home that Lance's heart burst and broke all at once and he had the feeling that if he could, he would be crying now.

Jayfeather stopped ahead of him and looked back at Lance. "What are you doing?" he asked disdainfully.

"I haven't felt rain in so long..." Lance murmured, eyes open to take the sight in once again. "I've missed it."

With a snort of disbelief, Jayfeather turned to go forward again, head ducked in disgust at the moisture hitting his pelt. "A place with no rain? I wouldn't be complaining." Then, under his breath, "Mousebrain."

Lance purred without amusement, looking at the silver tabby ruefully, "Dude, you have no idea what you're asking." Homesickness came crashing down on him and he only just managed to keep his voice steady. "You really don't know what you have 'til it's gone. Trust me."

Jayfeather snorted again but said nothing and kept up their steady pace. From the corner of his eye, Lance noticed Keith looking at him sympathetically. Their eyes caught for a long moment as Lance blinked at him in gratitude before Hollyleaf was again nudging them forward. Still, Lance could feel Keith's gaze flicking to him now and then. Hunk also seemed to sense Lance's unease for he sidled up to Lance and walked closely beside him, silent support.

The forest was quite beautiful, especially in the rain though that could be Lance's bias. Still, the way the leaves and grass glistened in the downpour, how slick the tree bark looked when wet, was just so striking in its familiarity but also quite pretty in its own way. The mud beneath their paws should have been uncomfortable but instead it was just comforting because it was something else the Voltron crew had not had in what felt like ages. Only Allura and Coran were unhappy about it, and Lance could certainly see why; both were long-haired cats and the mud was quickly clumping up in their leg and tail fur. It looked uncomfortable and Lance did not envy them in the slightest. Hopefully they would reach this "ThunderClan" soon (and hopefully it would be mud-free).

ThunderClan, as it turned out, was not mud-free. Lance could sense the presence of many cats, but they were all hiding away out of the rain. There was a pile of what could only be prey near the entrance (which was only accessed through a prickly tunnel that poor Allura kept getting caught on and would NOT stop grumbling about) but the bodies were so wet and mucked up that even to Lance they looked completely unedible. A rush of sympathy flooded Lance; he had never given much thought to strays and feral cats before but wow, this life looked hard. Lance vowed to complain much less about food goo because hey, at least he didn't have to fight to get it.

The rest of the camp, despite the rain, looked rather organized and Lance felt a newfound respect for these cats. The dens were sturdy-looking, thickly and carefully woven together with sticks and brush. The downpour made it hard to see, but Lance could vaguely make out the breathing bodies of cats within the walls of the dens. One den in particular had high-pitched squeals emanating from it and Lance wondered briefly if that's where the youngest cats made their home. His thoughts were cut off when Hollyleaf yowled loudly up a rockfall.

"Firestar! We found intruders on our territory!"

A moment later, a bright ginger tom appeared out of a cave at the top of the rockfall, squinting down at the cats below them as if to make out who they were. When it was clear he recognized none of them, he leaped down the rockfall easily and confronted the Voltron crew.

With a quick glance at the intruders, the cat called Firestar spoke evenly to them, "Who are you and what are you doing in ThunderClan territory?"

Instinctively, everyone turned to Shiro. If he noticed their glances, he showed no sign of it and stepped forward to explain his team's presence.

"I'm so sorry we've trespassed here... Firestar, was it?" Firestar nodded but stayed otherwise silent. "We're not exactly sure how we ended up here--"

"Yes, we do," Pidge piped up indignantly. "Look, Firestar, we fight these bad guys called Galra in space to save the universe, but we went to open a wormhole and it somehow lead us here. We're pretty sure this is an alternate reality we ended up in."

Firestar had remained rather composed through this exchange until Pidge spoke up; now he looked incredibly confused, as if Pidge had suddenly spoken another language. He exchanged looks with the equally-confused Hollyleaf, Jayfeather, and the yellow tabby tom.

"Firestar," Jayfeather growled after a moment, "these cats are obviously madder than a fox in a fit and shouldn't be trusted."

Pidge gave the four cats a look like they were stupid, but Lance stepped forward before she could snap back to them.

"Pidge, they're cats," he explained, almost exasperated. "They're not going to understand anything you just said. They probably don't even know what space is."

"Lance is right," Shiro agreed and wow, those were words Lance never thought he'd hear (even when he was right, nobody seemed to like admitting it). "We need to explain the situation in terms they can understand."

"Don't talk about us like we're mousebrained!" Hollyleaf snarled. "We're not stupid!"

Allura nodded to the black she-cat. "We never said you were. We just... seem to have different understandings of things."

"Then by all means," Hollyleaf was not satiated by this and growled out her response, "help us understand."

It looked for a moment like Allura might start a (literal) cat fight and Shiro stepped forward before this could happen.

"Give us a chance, we'd like to explain clearly the situation."

All the while, Firestar had stayed silent, watching the exchange thoughtfully. At Shiro's words, he nodded.

"Alright, we will give you that chance."

The rain had slowed to a stop by then, though the clouds remained ever present in the sky. There was a slight breeze, enough that everyone fluffed out their fur to keep warm, though it luckily wasn't terribly cold. After a moment's thought, Firestar nodded to the entrance.

"Let's go out into the forest," he suggested, "where we won't be disturbed."

It was only then that Lance realized that they had attracted an audience; cats had emerged from their dens and were staring at the strangers in their camp with distinct interest, some looking hostile, others merely curious. Lance was grateful to Firestar as he wasn't keen on explaining the whole ordeal with so many judgemental cats surrounding them. He had absolute confidence in his team's fighting force, but plain and simple, they were outnumbered by a wide margin and wouldn't stand a chance.

Firestar led the way out of camp (stupid prickly tunnel WHY do they even HAVE that?!). Allura complained quietly as the thorns of the barrier tunnel at the entrance tugged and tore at her long fur. Hollyleaf -- whose fur was almost equally long yet looked no worse for wear -- threw her a smug look, which earned her a glare in return. Pidge tactfully dashed in between them to walk beside Allura in an attempt to keep the two separated. Hollyleaf and Allura continued glaring at each other but otherwise kept their distance.

They eventually ended up in a nice clearing, and Firestar sat himself at the other end of it, gesturing to the others to take places around him. Shiro didn't hesitate to sit across from Firestar, but everybody else waited until Shiro was settled in before taking their spots. Lance ended up in between Shiro and Keith, the latter of whom was closest to Firestar. On Shiro's other side sat Pidge, Hunk, Allura, and Coran, and beside Coran were the three cats they had met earlier.

Allura and Hollyleaf seemed to be having a glaring contest; even though three cats separated them, they had no qualms about sticking their heads out to stare heatedly at each other. Lance couldn't remember the last time Allura held so much animosity towards someone. It almost felt like her hatred for Zarkon paled in comparison to her dislike for this new she-cat.

Explaining to a group of cats about the vastness of space and the intergalactic war taking place in it was... not easy. Not that any of them thought it'd be easy, but these cats just didn't understand anything. They kept calling space 'Silverpelt', the stars 'StarClan', and humans 'Twolegs', terminology that went completely over Team Voltron's head.

Eventually, becoming exasperated at getting nowhere, Lance stepped up and sat in the center of the circle. Unsheathing his claws, he began sketching a visual aide. Firestar was the first to step forward, watching Lance work in curiosity, and the rest of the group followed after a moment's hesitation. Lance drew space, a cartoonish but accurate enough depiction of the Galra, and the Lions. As he drew, he explained each and every item, finding it easier to compare it all to terms the Clan cats understood. By time he was done, Lance was sure the cats still didn't completely get it, but they seemed to understand the gist of it and that was good enough as far as he was concerned.

Now, whether they believed him was a completely different matter. Firestar seemed open-minded about it, but Hollyleaf, Jayfeather, and Lionblaze (they had learned the golden tabby's name finally) looked more dubious.

"Firestar..." Hollyleaf began hesitantly; Lance could see her respect for her leader warring with her suspicion of the newcomers. "Firestar, do you actually believe them?"

Jayfeather, on the other hand, had no hesitation in challenging his leader's trust in the strangers. "Their story is farfetched at best, Firestar. You'd have to have bees in your brain to actually believe what they're telling us."

Firestar leveled Jayfeather with a stern look, but Jayfeather didn't back down -- whether it was because he couldn't see or feel Firestar's gaze or if he just didn't care, Lance couldn't tell.

After a moment of uncertainly gazing between Firestar and Jayfeather, Lionblaze stepped forward to back the silver tabby up. "I have to agree with him, Firestar. That story... it's just so strange. They could be making it up, or they could be members of the Dark Forest cats trying to get to us from the inside of our Clan."

"Oh, come on, do you really think a cat could think up a story like that?" Pidge snapped impatiently. "You didn't even know what half of the terms we used WERE! If these 'Dark Forest cats' have the same basic understanding as you four, how would they know the words we used that you all have never heard of? What, does this 'Dark Forest' give them unlimited knowledge or something?"

Hollyleaf and Jayfeather seemed ready to fight back, but Lionblaze nodded. "The Dark Forest definitely don't know those words. They have and use the same terms as us and they're not given the same kind of knowledge that StarClan is."

Firestar glanced at Lionblaze with some kind of emotion warring in his gaze, something between affection and, if Lance wasn't mistaken, suspicion. That confused Lance, but he didn't have much time to ponder on it before Firestar was turning to him and his friends with a nod.

"I agree with Lionblaze," he told them with confidence, and Lance heaved an internal sigh of relief. "As... weird as this story is, there are no cats we know of that have knowledge of those terms."

"Sol knew a lot of stuff we didn't, doesn't mean we should trust him."

At Hollyleaf's bold declaration, the clearing went silent. Team Voltron, of course, had no idea of the significance of that statement, but it obviously meant something to the other cats for they all now bore looks of fear and misgiving. After a moment, Hollyleaf continued.

"He knew the sun would disappear and even StarClan didn't know that."

"Wait," Pidge stood and looked at Hollyleaf, eyes narrowed in thought. "What do you mean the sun disappeared?"

"Just what I said," Hollyleaf huffed back, seeming annoyed at having to explain something so self-explanatory. "One day, the sun just went completely black and disappeared, and Sol predicted that, so that proves tha--"

"Hold on," Pidge interrupted, looking caught between amusement and exasperation. "That's just a solar eclipse."

The clearing went silent again and the confusion was palpable.

Rolling her eyes at having to be the one that explains everything, Pidge clarified, "A solar eclipse is when the moon obscures the sun. You see, the moon moves while the sun does not and when the--"

"Pidge, they're not going to understand that scientifical techno-babble anymore than they did earlier, so getting to the point is preferred here," Lance cut in, exasperated in his own right.

Pidge snorted in annoyance but listened anyway. "Whatever. Either way, it's a perfectly natural occurrence that happens every so often. Humans--"

"Twolegs," Hunk reminded her under his breath.

"Whatever, Twolegs, then! Twolegs have been predicting solar eclipses for ages. Sol is not special, however much you think he is. He just had a better understanding of human--"

"Twolegs."

"TWOLEGS, JEEZ! He had a better understanding of twolegs' knowledge than the rest of you!" With a huff, Pidge sat back down.

Hollyleaf, Jayfeather, and Lionblaze looked rightfully offended, but Firestar did not let them verbalize it.

"Well, it seems we could have much to learn from you," Firestar inclined his head to the team. "And you from us," he added with a slight edge to his voice -- a reminder that they were not totally off the hook for trespassing. "I think keeping you with us is in everyone's best interest.

So for now, welcome to ThunderClan."

Chapter Text

Being a teenager that was suddenly thrust into an intergalactic war that had been going on for 10,000 years was an interesting turn of events in Keith's life. Being a cat and having to choose loyalty to a clan of cats with a strict moral code and bylaws was another interesting turn in Keith's life, though for different reasons.

Firestar had sat Team Voltron down and explained how the Clans work. For one thing, they finally get what 'StarClan' is. In essence, StarClan is kitty heaven. When good Clan cats die, they go to StarClan. StarClan cats have the ability to visit living cats in their dreams, can see a bit into the future, and can have some kind of control over weather conditions so that they can use said weather conditions to show approval or anger at something the Clan cats are doing. The Dark Forest is StarClan's opposite -- it's where the souls of evil cats go when they die.

Explaining what the Clans are and the rules they follow was a lengthy conversation (one that Keith could see Lance was having trouble focusing on -- Lance had the attention span of a goldfish when it came to stuff like this).

So basically there are four Clans -- ThunderClan, ShadowClan, RiverClan, and WindClan. ThunderClan lived in the forest as trees they could climb and the woodland creatures they could catch was their Thing. All Clans had a Thing™. ShadowClan's Thing™ was darkness, stealth, and so they lived in the pines and hunted primarily birds and the occasional frog. RiverClan's Thing™ was swimming and loving water, their diet consisting almost entirely of fish, and they made their home in what could be considered a tiny island surrounded by water. WindClan's Thing™ was swiftness and speed, so they lived in the moorlands and hunted mostly rabbits and squirrels.

The hierarchy for the Clans consisted of the Clan Leader, who took care of the Clan's major responsibilities and received nine lives from StarClan when they were appointed as leader; the Deputy, who was the leader's right-hand, took care of the more mundane responsibilities, and would become leader one day when the current leader died or stepped down; the Medicine Cat, whose job it was to heal the Clan cats' illnesses and injuries, and to have a strong relationship with StarClan -- StarClan would send omens and prophecies to a Clan's medicine cat, usually; Warriors, who fight and hunt for their Clan; Apprentices, who are Warriors-in-training; Queens, who birthed and/or cared for the Clan's young; Kits, who are the Clan's young; and Elders, cats who were once warriors, medicine cats, or deputies that were too old, too sickly, or too disabled to continue their duties and were allowed to retire.

The four Clans live by a code called The Warrior Code. Keith couldn't remember the entire thing, but a few bits of it stuck in his mind. He remembered that a kit must be six moons (months) old to become an apprentice, that queens and elders are to be fed first, that you don't have to kill your opponent to win the battle against them, that crossing another Clan's borders was strictly prohibited unless necessary, that romances between cats of different Clans was not allowed and neither were medicine cats allowed to take a mate or have kits.

And yet now they were all expected to become warriors of ThunderClan.

"I'm not saying I trust you yet," Firestar had told them that morning; Team Voltron had stayed in what was called the warrior's den the night previous. "However, if you're going to be here, you're going to earn your keep. We'll have your naming ceremony at sunhigh."

"Wait," Lance had interjected. "We're getting different names?"

"You're getting names that befit a warrior," Firestar had replied, his face a stern mask that allowed no objection.

"Just making sure," Lance had mumbled, sitting back down by Keith.

The names they had here were probably the least-confusing thing that had been explained to them. Kits have a suffix of -kit, their prefix given to them by their parents -- usually something the kit reminds the parent of (Cherrypaw, a kit that was recently apprenticed, was named for her ginger fur; her brother, Molepaw, had been named after their late uncle). When apprenticed, their suffix changes to -paw. When they are made warriors, the Clan leader chooses a new suffix, one the leader believes suits the warrior being named. Leaders get a new suffix as well: -star.

It was with some anxiety that Keith wandered the camp -- none of them were allowed out of camp unless they had a trustworthy warrior with them, apparently -- trying to learn the layout and find an escape route in case things went sour for Team Voltron. Lance walked with him.

Or, he was walking with him. Until he spotted a pretty white-and-silver tabby she-cat and decided flirting with her was the bigger priority. Keith ignored him, as well as the bitter drop to his gut, and continued exploring. A few moments later, the sound of a hiss reached his ears, followed shortly by pawsteps approaching him.

"Struck out?"

"Hey!" Lance snapped, then sighed. "Yeah."

"She might have a mate already," Keith told him absentmindedly, automatically seeking to comfort Lance.

"Yeah, maybe." His tone was not at all put-out like Keith would have expected. When he turned to look at the brown tom, he was met with blue eyes already looking at him.

"La--"

"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath the Highledge for a Clan meeting!" Firestar's yowl ripped through the quiet air; Keith and Lance's heads snapped to him.

"Guess this is it," Lance murmured, ears twitching.

Keith got the feeling that this was an event usually prefaced by excitement on the recipients' part, but there was none in Keith. He couldn't feel the thrill that probably usually accompanied this kind of meeting. One look at Lance's level but neutral stare and Keith figured he wasn't the only one.

Squaring his shoulders like he was about to face a battle, Keith stepped forward, Lance following beside him. As he sat below what was called the Highledge -- a large cliff-like formation in the stone hollow that was the ThunderClan camp -- Keith could feel Lance sit to his right. On his left, Allura settled in, followed by Pidge, Hunk, Shiro, and Coran. Once the rest of the Clan had found places of their own to watch the meeting, Firestar leaped down from his perch and stood in front of Team Voltron. Keith swallowed.

"Yesterday, a group of cats invaded ThunderClan with stories of travelling through Silverpelt and fighting off bat monsters," the amusement was clear in Firestar's voice, no hint of the strictness that showed he still was not happy about the trespassing. He couldn't know for sure, but Keith got the distinct impression that it was for Team Voltron's sake, to lessen the blow of what happened for the rest of the Clan.

"While their story was certainly strange, I have decided to trust them for the time being." Firestar stood, looking a little strained as cats began yowling their disapproval.

"What if they're like Sol?" a tortoiseshell-and-white queen asked harshly.

"How do we know they aren't trying to trick us?" an older, brown tabby added with scorn.

"Firestar, I trust your judgement, you know I do," a broad-shouldered dark tabby spoke in Firestar's ear. "But is this wise?"

"I understand your hesitation, Brambleclaw," Firestar replied back, and Keith could feel the respect these two cats held for each other from just this small exchange alone. "I am not sure about them, either. But I do believe they could be of use to us." After a moment, he added, "And I will be sending Jayfeather to the Moonpool to ask StarClan their opinion."

Keith was left wondering what Moonpool was, though he knew this wasn't the time to ask -- he probably was not meant to overhear that conversation anyway.

"Shouldn't we have Jayfeather go before we make them warriors?" Brambleclaw argued quietly.

Firestar's ear twitched and, after a moment, he inclined his head. "That would have made the most sense, yes. However, with the way things are going, I see it wise to add claws to our battalion sooner rather than later." His tone closed the matter, and Brambleclaw backed up, taking a seat a bit away, looking resigned.

Waving his tail to quiet his Clan, Firestar yowled, "Enough! My decision on this will not be reversed!"

It took another minute, but everyone finally quieted down and let Firestar continue.

"As I have decided to put my faith in them," and there, his eyes hardened, as if daring Team Voltron to double-cross him, "they will be warriors for now. We will be stronger with new warriors, and if their story is true, they will provide good defense for ThunderClan, indeed."

Stepping forward, Firestar stopped in front of Lance first, looking up at the sky.

"I, Firestar, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this cat." His voice held reverence for the spirits he asked approval from. "He has agreed to learn your noble code, and I commend him to you as a warrior in his turn." Looking back at Lance, he continued, "Lance, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

"I do," Lance said without hesitation; Keith knew he meant it, knew that Lance would gladly lay down his life to save anyone, stranger or otherwise.

"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Lance, from this moment you will be known as Rainstorm, for the rain you so dearly miss." A look of pain crossed Lance's -- no, Rainstorm's -- eyes for just a quick moment. "StarClan honors your patience and your compassion, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan." Taking a pace forward, Firestar rested his muzzle on Rainstorm's head. Rainstorm licked his shoulder in return to complete the ceremony, as Firestar had instructed them earlier.

Next was Keith's turn, and Keith stood in anticipation.

Firestar approached Keith, standing in front of him with all the authority one would expect from a leader, yet all the compassion and understanding one would expect from a father. Keith could have mistaken Firestar for Shiro in cat form if cat-form-Shiro were not sitting just a few paces away from them.

"Keith," Firestar declared, "do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

"I do," Keith said just confidently as Lance, refusing to back down now that he had committed to this.

"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Keith, from this moment you will be known as Blazeheart. StarClan honors your bravery and your drive, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan." Like with Rainstorm, Firestar placed his muzzle on Blazeheart's head, Blazeheart licking his shoulder in response.

Firestar turned to Allura then, who stood up to meet him.

"Allura," Firestar began once he and Allura were facing each other, "do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

"I do," Allura replied somewhat shakily. Hollyleaf, who sat a little ways away, scoffed disbelievingly, and Allura's determination hardened visibly.

"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Allura, from this moment you will be known as Snowfang. StarClan honors your tenacity and your benevolence, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."

He rested his head on Snowfang's, and after a slight pause of misgiving, she licked Firestar's shoulder.

When Firestar looked at Pidge, something sparked in his eye.

"Jayfeather has told me that you showed interest and ability in healing herbs," he told her warmly.

Pidge nodded in confusion. "Yeah?"

"He complained that you wouldn't leave him alone about it, actually."

Pidge looked sheepish at that, but the affection in Firestar's eyes showed that he was far from upset about it.

"So I have suggested to him that you train to be a medicine cat, if you so desire?"

At that, Pidge perked right up and looked excitedly at Jayfeather. When their eyes met, Jayfeather nodded -- he must have felt her gaze, as Blazeheart believed Jayfeather was not as blind as his eyes lead on.

"Yes!" Pidge jumped up, accepting the position gratefully.

Purring in amusement, Firestar nodded to Jayfeather. "He is going to the Moonpool after this ceremony. You will go with him and he will introduce you to StarClan as his new apprentice."

Pidge nodded, practically vibrating in happiness, and bounded over to sit by Jayfeather.

After that, Firestar gave warrior names to Hunk, Shiro, and Coran -- naming them Mudfoot, Whitescar, and Sunwhisker, respectively -- then told Sunwhisker that he would stay among the elders and was not expected to take part in warrior duties. Sunwhisker tried to argue that, claiming he was just as capable as the rest of them, but Firestar calmed him with a tail to his shoulder and kind words about elders being beneficial advisors to the Clan. That was enough to settle Sunwhisker, albeit with some grumbling.

And that was that. They were warriors for a Clan they had barely become accustomed to. Blazeheart wasn't sure how to feel about it; Mudfoot and Whitescar seemed to agree, looking confused though Whitescar did good at hiding it beneath a respective and observant air.

Rainstorm, on the other paw, seemed completely unbothered -- stretching and rolling his shoulders to loosen the muscles there, before sitting and grooming his ears.

To his left, Snowfang was having a glaring contest with Hollyleaf, apparently. Blazeheart was unsure why those two in particular held such animosity for each other, but he didn't have time to ponder on it. Firestar was approaching him and Rainstorm, looking serious.

"Ready to start your warrior duties?" Firestar asked of them, though his tone made it clear that, ready or not, they were starting their warrior duties right then and there.

"Can I ask something first?" Rainstorm nodded his head respectfully.

"You just did," Firestar replied smoothly, cocking his head to the side. A loud purr burst from Rainstorm.

Oh, no, Blazeheart thought ruefully. They're going to get along way too well. Regardless, he did not feel displeased by this turn of events.

Nodding his head with a slight purr of amusement, Firestar continued, "Go ahead."

"Who was Sol and why do cats keep bringing him up?" Rainstorm asked, cutting off his purr and letting curiosity thicken his mew. Whether he was asking because he genuinely wanted to know or because he wanted to skirt these warrior duties, Blazeheart couldn't be sure.

Firestar's humor dried up and he let out a sigh, looking suddenly tired. Sitting down heavily, he began, "Sol turned up on our territory some moons ago. With him, he brought an omen to our medicine cats that the sun would disappear and that StarClan not only lacked knowledge of it, but also the ability to do anything about it."

"The solar eclipse," Blazeheart murmured, finding himself becoming interested in the story of this mysterious cat.

"Yes," Firestar agreed, nodding at Blazeheart. "We asked him politely to leave as we are usually not so accepting of strangers."

Blazeheart could practically hear the questions running a race in Rainstorm's head -- he had a few of his own -- but he kept quiet and implored Rainstorm to do so also so that Firestar could finish his story.

"He left us on amicable, albeit somewhat tense, terms, and headed to ShadowClan. That's when things began to turn against us. Blackstar, ShadowClan's leader, wasn't in the best of places at the time. He was losing faith in StarClan and in the Clans' ability to survive. So when Sol came around and spoke of StarClan not holding all of the answers, that he should not trust them and instead let his destiny be carried by his own paws, Blackstar agreed. ShadowClan became less like a Clan, throwing away the Warrior Code and living like rogues."

"Shouldn't we carve out our own destiny, though?" Blazeheart couldn't help asking, confused by why what Sol did was considered to be so horrible. "StarClan may have plenty of answers, but you're your own cat and they can't live your life for you."

"Of course," Firestar conceded. "The issue lies in that he threw out the Code that keeps the Clans on peaceful terms, and the fact that he refused to trust in StarClan at all. I understand that StarClan does not exist where you are from," Firestar added, imploring the cats before him to understand, "but here, they are revered. They look out for us, they hold answers to our future, and they have lifetimes of experience in which they can impart to us. They have saved the Clans more than once, and it is only right to repay them by trusting in them. We shape our own destinies, but we must have faith in those that came before us to lead us into a better future."

Blazeheart nodded, sitting down and silently encouraging Firestar to continue his story about Sol.

"Because of what Sol did, ShadowClan was becoming more and more of a threat to the other Clans, as they no longer respected borders or followed our code of honor. Luckily, StarClan sent a sign to Blackstar," Blazeheart distinctly noticed Lionblaze shuffling his paws and Hollyleaf looking anywhere but at Firestar, "and he kicked Sol out, going back to being a respectable leader. Sol was gone for a while, but more recently, he returned and took the credit for saving two of our young apprentices. It was, in fact, Hollyleaf that saved them."

Blazeheart looked directly at Hollyleaf then, but she was staring determinedly at her paws, some strange emotion darkening her gaze. From the corner of his eye, he could see Snowfang's usual glare had melted into something akin to sympathy. Blazeheart didn't know what part of the story had done it, but he had a feeling Firestar was leaving some things out and that those things were not pleasant for Hollyleaf; Snowfang must be getting the same impression.

"Before we found that out," Firestar continued, ignoring the sudden tension, "we allowed Sol to stay within our camp. However, he began plotting with some of our cats and some of WindClan's cats, turning them against each other and encouraging them to stage an ambush against the other. However," he inclined his head to Hollyleaf, "Hollyleaf returned, we found out about Sol's plans, and though a fight did take place, we managed to diffuse it and sent Sol on his way."

"Sounds like he was a real troublemaker," Whitescar commented.

"He was," Firestar agreed.

Rainstorm was at his breaking point and burst out, "So if StarClan is all-powerful, why didn't they know about the eclipse and how come they couldn't stop it?"

Firestar sighed again, a heavy gust of breath, and he looked much older in that moment. "I do not know. It seems the things of which I know nothing of are only gaining in quantity."

Whitescar murmured his sympathy, knowing the burdens that come with leadership. Snowfang had moved closer to Hollyleaf and the two were speaking quietly to each other, cut off from the rest of the cats.

Rainstorm wasn't finished, though he looked much more subdued when asking his next question. "If you don't normally trust trespassers, why are you trusting us?"

This was bothering Blazeheart, too, and he was glad someone had asked it. The conversation between Firestar and Brambleclaw came back to him, but he bit his tongue; he wasn't supposed to have overheard that.

Firestar, meanwhile, looked troubled and had taken to staring at the sky. He took a long moment to think, of which Blazeheart and Rainstorm glanced at each other in trepidation and confusion.

Finally, Firestar looked back at the cats gathered before him.

"I think we should take this to my den, where we will not be overheard."

Blazeheart and Rainstorm swallowed simultaneously. Whitescar sat up straighter, and both Snowfang and Hollyleaf looked at Firestar, startled. Pidge and Jayfeather were nowhere to be found, and Blazeheart belatedly remembered that they'd be headed to that 'Moonpool' already.

With a few shared glances, Team Voltron nodded their affirmation, and Firestar shot to his paws and lead the way up the Highledge.

The leader's den was... cramped, to say the least. It was a small, little cave carved out naturally in the side of the camp's stone walls -- a crack, a chink in the wall that had grown large enough to be lived in. A nest of moss (because that's what these cats made their bedding out of, apparently) lay at the far end, and Firestar beelined toward it, turning to face everyone else and sitting down dapperly, his tail loosely wrapping around his paws. The rest of the group sat in a tight semi-circle around him.

Once every cat was seated, Firestar took a deep breath and began: "I have explained to you what the Dark Forest is. The Dark Forest cats have found a way to enter the dreams of living cats and having been training our own in combat. Currently, they are trying to rally a group of living cats to fight on their side to take the Clans down."

"Why is the Dark Forest so eager to see the Clans' downfall?" Whitescar asked from where he sat beside Snowfang.

"I do not know," Firestar replied tiredly, shaking his head. "Revenge, perhaps, for their deaths or how they remembered among the Clans. What I do know is that they are a threat and must be stopped."

None of this made any sense to Blazeheart. How were dead cats able to come back, as spirits, and actually cause physical harm or death to living, breathing, tangible cats? If the training takes place in dreams, how do the dreaming, living cats manage to get injuries from the training? If the Dark Forest cats are spirits, how are they able to physically harm living creatures when they should be as corporeal as ghosts -- that is to say not corporeal at all because they're spirits? Why do the Dark Forest cats want to destroy the Clans anyway when they won't gain anything from it? Why are living cats stupid enough to join the ones that want to kill their friends and family? How do you fight ghosts anyway?

These were all questions Blazeheart had, and these were all questions with no real answer. They were just going to have to go with it. At this point, Blazeheart was used to 'going with it' when it came to things that made no sense to him (he still isn't sure he comprehends exactly what quintessence is or why the Galra need it so badly).

"How do we factor into any of this?" Snowfang asked quietly.

"We need as many claws to fight on our side as possible, especially since we will be fighting our own."

Rainstorm then asked the question Blazeheart was sure was on all of their minds, "How many living cats have they recruited so far?"

At that, Firestar looked reluctant, and Blazeheart could understand why -- nobody wanted to admit that their soldiers had turned traitor. Eventually, Firestar sighed in resignation and to Blazeheart, he suddenly sounded so much older, so much more tired.

"A few cats from each Clan, including ThunderClan. We have a spy, Ivypool--" Rainstorm made a soft sound of recognition -- "who has been feeding us information from the inside. Though she has not been forthcoming on who exactly is training amongst the Dark Forest cats, the amount of living cats seems to be of high multitude. When the war comes to a head, we will be fighting many of our own, and I fear who those cats may be."

Being a teenager that was suddenly thrust into an intergalactic war that had been going on for 10,000 years was an interesting turn of events in Keith's life. Being a cat that was suddenly thrust into a war between dead cats and living ones was another interesting turn in Keith's life, though for different reasons. And now, Keith found himself longing for the simplicity of the intergalactic war.

Chapter Text

A squirrel nibbled on a fallen nut, looking around every once in a while with a twitch of its ears before returning to its meal. The creature had a tempting scent, looked soft and meaty, and it would make a fine feast for the cats of ThunderClan. Rainstorm would make sure they got it.

Carefully, ever so carefully, Rainstorm placed a paw forward, digging his claws into the soil to avoid it shifting beneath him and making noise. One of his ears was trained on his prey while the other twitched around, alert for any noises that may distract him or scare off the squirrel. His tail twitched every so often to be sure of its surroundings and that it would not hit something that could spook the squirrel, but otherwise remained stiff. His whiskers kept stock of what surrounded his torso, and he was able to avoid every branch and bit of debris he could have bumped into. Gliding forward a few more silent steps, Rainstorm bunched his muscles and readied his pounce.

A bird squawked overhead, startling the squirrel. Before it could run far, however, Rainstorm leaped, landing square on his target and finishing it off with a quick nip to the neck. Happy with his big catch -- it was Leaf-Fall, so prey was scarce, and this would fill quite a few bellies -- Rainstorm padded back to where Blazeheart waited for him. The two of them were on a morning hunting patrol; apparently Firestar was hoping Blazeheart would pick up some hunting techniques from his friends as he was lacking in that particular department. As it stood, Rainstorm, Mudfoot, and Snowfang were the best hunters of the Voltron team. Whitescar was decent at it, and Blazeheart wasn't all that great at all. He excelled in battle training, was the best out of everyone -- though Whitescar and Snowfang were close seconds, while Rainstorm was at least decent at it -- and nobody's skills stacked against his. But his hunting skills left much to be desired.

"I don't know how you do that," Blazeheart murmured, mystified, as Rainstorm dropped his catch into the growing pile. So far, this was Rainstorm's fourth catch of the day, while Blazeheart had managed a whopping one blackbird.

"It takes patience, Blazeheart," and if Rainstorm could smirk, he would have. He settled for sitting up tall and proud, as smug as possible, though he was only teasing. "Something you don't have. You were never good at the whole sneaking thing."

"I trained with the Blade!" Blazeheart snapped.

"And apparently learned nothing," Rainstorm purred back, amused.

With a growl -- one that Rainstorm had come to realize was playful -- Blazeheart lunged at the brown warrior and the two tussled in the dirt, rolling around and batting and nipping at each other while sounds of growls and purrs rose from the rolling ball of fur.

"Honestly!"

A stern voice jolted them apart and they stood at attention before Squirrelflight, Firestar's daughter.

"Are you two kits or are you warriors?" she asked them briskly, looking annoyed.

"Sorry, Squirrelflight."

"Yeah, won't happen again."

"It better not." She sighed, letting her gaze sweep over their catches. "What have you even caught to show for it?"

Squirrelflight stalked forward, and her critical expression morphed into one of shock and delight as she found Rainstorm's pile. Her nose twitched as she picked up the scent from each prey before turning to Rainstorm, looking pleased.

"You caught all of this?"

Rainstorm ducked his head in affirmation, feeling both embarrassed and elated at making such a good impression.

"Pretty great, isn't he?" Blazeheart piped up, looking proudly at Rainstorm who looked back at him in surprise. "Back in our place, he was great at hitting his targets dead-on. We called him our Sharpshooter. Hasn't let us down yet."

Gleaming from the praise, Rainstorm stood tall, gazing at Blazeheart in appreciation and something like fondness. Keith really was his best friend, had been for a while if he were honest, and the affection Rainstorm felt for him spread through his heart like an insatiable fire; it only ever grew as he saw more sides of Blazeheart.

"Well, let's hope he continues that for ThunderClan," Squirrelflight nodded to Rainstorm, looking almost proud herself. Then she turned to Blazeheart, stern again. "As for you, you haven't caught enough prey to justify playing around, and him," she jerked her head at Rainstorm, "catching as much as he has doesn't make up for your lack of contribution. Back to work. Rainstorm," and she looked back at the brown tom, expression softening, "I'll help you carry the prey back to camp."

Reluctantly, Rainstorm nodded, "Sure." Once Squirrelflight had turned away, however, he leaned over to Blazeheart and whispered, "I'll come back after dropping off prey to help you hunt... but ONLY if you help me learn that move you perfected in battle training."

The challenge in his voice seemed to set a fire abuzz in Blazeheart, yet the fondness remained in his warm gaze. "Deal."

 

----------

 

Cats of ThunderClan all milled around Firestar, all ready to go to this thing called a "Gathering."

Firestar had explained that to the Voltron team, too. Apparently, every full moon, the leaders of all four Clans would gather their deputies, medicine cats, and a few warriors and apprentices of their choosing, and meet together on an island to share news of their respective Clans. It was meant to give every cat a sense of unity, a truce formed for only the night, and as a way to spread warnings to other Clans -- such as if one had chased off a predator that could end up in another Clan's territory, or if there was sickness going around. It also gave the cats of each Clan a night to mingle with each other in harmony, for it was good to form some kind of bond with each other so that the Clan cats know they can rely on each other in times of great need.

And the entire Voltron crew had been chosen to go.

So Rainstorm sat with Blazeheart, Mudfoot, and Whitescar. Snowfang sat not far off, talking yet again with Hollyleaf. It surprised Rainstorm how quickly a friendship had sparked between the two after they had such a rocky start.

Silver and white caught Rainstorm's eye. Looking over, he noticed Ivypool talking quietly to a tortoiseshell she-cat named Blossomfall. He remembered flirting with the silver-and-white she-cat and being rejected by her with a vicious hiss. Blazeheart had comforted him by saying that perhaps she had a mate already. Rainstorm had appreciated it -- the fact that Blazeheart sought to comfort him no matter what warmed his heart, actually -- but hadn't believed him. That was until he saw the way Ivypool talked to Blossomfall, the way they looked at each other, the way they were often together. Suddenly, Blazeheart's comment hadn't seemed so farfetched anymore.

There were a lot of couples in this Clan, Rainstorm noticed, and most of it warmed his heart to see. Firestar and his mate Sandstorm, Dustpelt and Ferncloud (probably the most diabetes-inducing pair in the Clan, if Rainstorm could say so himself), Lionblaze and Cinderheart... even if Cinderheart was being a bit whiny about it.

And there was Dovewing and Bumblestripe. Rainstorm supposed they were mates -- everyone treated them as such and they were often together, Bumblestripe seeming to hold a strong affection for the grey she-cat -- but they didn't really act like it. Dovewing didn't seem to really like Bumblestripe, and she often looked uncomfortable or distracted when she was with him.

But Rainstorm supposed it was none of his business.

A nudge to his shoulder jolted him out of his musings. He looked over to see Blazeheart watching him, amusement in his gaze.

"You done roaming around in the clouds yet?" he purred. "Because Firestar called all of us to join him like five minutes ago and they're waiting on us."

Indeed, Firestar was staring at him impatiently, and the rest of the Clan either mirrored Firestar's expression or mirrored Blazeheart's.

Ducking his head, Rainstorm leapt to his paws and pounded after the patrol as they all rushed away from the camp. As they raced through the forest, Rainstorm noticed Dovewing and Bumblestripe up ahead. He watched as they seemed to exchange snappy words between each other, and Dovewing looked annoyed the rest of the way.

Again, none of Rainstorm's business.

Once they reached the water, the Clan made their way along the shore, eventually leaping over a stream one by one, and then slowing down to a trot as the shore began bordering moorland -- WindClan territory.

"We go slow here," a fully white she-cat Rainstorm remembered being called Whitewing had slowed to murmur to the Voltron crew, "because it's another Clan's territory and we don't want to seem hostile."

"But there's a truce tonight," Whitescar tilted his head, looking confused. "Surely they wouldn't break the truce."

"We like to play it safe," Whitewing reiterated. "We aren't always on the best terms with the other Clans and sometimes they look for any reason to see our presence as a threat. Even if there's a truce, they could easily say we were breaking the truce by invading them and they were only defending their Clan and territory."

"That's mousebrained!" Mudfoot exclaimed, apparently already used to the terminology of the Clan cats. "You have to get to the island somehow, and didn't every cat agree to four taillengths from the shore on the night of the truce?"

"I know," Whitewing sighed, shaking her head. "Like I said, they'll look for any excuse to pin us with some kind of crime. Better safe than sorry."

Rainstorm nodded in understanding, though he felt the fire of anger burning on ThunderClan's behalf. That was so stupid! Why did the Clans have to be so hostile with one another, and instead only target actual threats? The way it was being explained, Clan cats sounded like a bunch of whiny babies. From the look of consternation on Blazeheart's face, it seemed he agreed. Snowfang and Mudfoot looked equally frustrated, Sharppaw rolled her eyes, and Whitescar kept his face carefully neutral.

Trying to ease the tension, Rainstorm leaned over to his friends and whispered, "Good thing Sunwhisker didn't come. Can you imagine how he'd react to WindClan breaking a truce just to start a fight?"

Meows of laughter erupted from the crew and they spent the rest of the journey imitating the different ways Sunwhisker would have reacted to the situation with all his bravado and exaggerated offense.

The bridge that connected the mainland to the island was... interesting, to say the least. It was a fallen tree, dead branches fanning out closer to the island, and patches of smooth wood where the bark had been stripped off by weather and use. The cats crossed it one at a time, one right after another, forming a line of cats picking their way across the narrow expanse of thick tree trunk. The Voltron crew were the last to cross, Sharppaw going between Whitescar and Rainstorm so that she had protection if she fell. Blazeheart followed closely behind, then Mudfoot, then Snowfang.

The island itself was rather nice-looking; Rainstorm felt it'd make a fine territory for a Clan. But then, chances are if he thought that, then the Clan cats probably had already, too, and had apparently decided it was better suited for Gatherings. Rainstorm wasn't going to question it; he was learning that questioning the Clan cats' decisions just led to more questions.

"Murderers deserve to be punished!"

The words made Rainstorm jerk in the direction of the meow; Dovewing was in a heated conversation with a cat from another Clan. Intrigued, he snuck closer to listen in. He could hear the rest of the crew follow him.

"Jayfeather is not a murderer!" Dovewing turned to the cat, her fur fluffed up in anger.

Jayfeather? Jayfeather, a murderer? Rainstorm may not have known Jayfeather for long, but he sure didn't seem like a killer.

Another cat barged in between the two hissing cats, looking angry. "Why isn't he here, then? Too guilty to show his whiskers?"

If looks could kill, both of those cats would be dead from the strength of rage in Dovewing's gaze. "You told him not to--"

Whitewing interrupted her, pushing away one of the cats with her shoulders before turning to Dovewing.

"Stay close to your Clanmates, Dovewing. Some cats don't seem to realize there's a truce," she gave the warning with a pointed look at the full moon in the sky, a cloud hovering across it like a smattering of dark paint on a white canvas.

Dovewing took Whitewing's caution to heart, it seemed, as she turned away from the other two cats.

"It's not fair," she hissed to Whitewing when they were out of earshot. "They tell Jayfeather not to come and then say it proves that he's guilty!"

Whitewing smoothed her tail down Dovewing's back, flattening the fur that had ruffled in anger, and opened her mouth to speak when Blazeheart cut her off.

"Guilty of what?"

A look of surprise crossed Whitewing's face, but the anger intensified on Dovewing's.

"Oh, yeah, you weren't here for that," and there was a growl in Dovewing's voice as she said it, as if reliving whatever it was that happened. "ShadowClan's medicine cat, Flametail, was playing on the ice last Leaf-bare, but then the ice broke beneath him and he fell in. Jayfeather jumped in and tried to save him but gave up when he realized he couldn't. At the last Gathering, Flametail's sister said that Jayfeather drowned Flametail on purpose and that Jayfeather shouldn't even be considered a medicine cat anymore!"

She was huffing in her rage at this point, so Whitewing laid a comforting tail across her shoulders and continued, "The other Clans agreed that, until StarClan could tell the living medicine cats that Jayfeather is innocent, he should be confined to ThunderClan camp and put on a probationary period."

"Even though there's no proof?" Rainstorm hissed, the she-cats' anger becoming his own.

"Yes," Whitewing sighed, much more upset by the situation than she let on. "That's why Jayfeather is not here tonight, even though medicine cats always come to Gatherings. And why Sharppaw," she nodded to the apprentice, looking apologetic, "probably won't be announced as the new medicine cat apprentice tonight."

Sharppaw looked disappointed at the news, but nodded in understanding nonetheless. Snowfang stepped closer to her and pressed against her in support. Sharppaw leaned into her, appreciative.

It was then that Rainstorm realized Dovewing had stopped paying attention, her ears pricked and eyes trained in a different direction. Rainstorm tried to follow her line of sight, but before he could, an elderly she-cat was making her way through the crowd.

"Can I squeeze past, please?" she mewed.

"You can sit here, if you want," Dovewing offered, shifting to make room and beckoning the elder with her tail.

Looking relieved, the elder joined them; the smell of fish became suddenly overpowering and Rainstorm belatedly realized that the cat was from RiverClan.

Rainstorm was distracted from that by a large, white cat with jet black paws standing in his place on the branch of the largest tree on the island, where the other leaders seemed to be gathered. Whatever else was said beside him was lost to his ears as the white cat lifted his head and yowled, "Let the Gathering begin." He then nodded to Firestar and thanked him verbally. Firestar narrowed his eyes.

"You have followed the wishes of the Clans," the white cat -- who Whitewing identified as Blackstar in a whisper to the Voltron cats -- continued, "and kept Jayfeather confined to camp until we discover the truth about Flametail's death."

The air tensed so much among ThunderClan cats that it was almost palpable, and Rainstorm felt his earlier anger reemerge. How dare these cats accuse Jayfeather and punish him with no proof!

A black cat with a brown underbelly -- Spiderleg, Rainstorm remembered, an older ThunderClan warrior -- sprang up and shouted, "How will the truth be known?"

A small, elderly tabby tom stood near the base of the large tree. "We are waiting for StarClan to speak. It's a difficult situation for us all."

A silver tabby she-cat rose nearby, "None of us are comfortable with it."

"Then why are they doing it?" Blazeheart whispered into Rainstorm's ear. "If they're sooooo uncomfortable, they should lay off of Jayfeather and let their precious StarClan sort it out."

Rainstorm, although not thrilled with Blazeheart's contempt for StarClan -- this was the Clan cats' belief system and it shouldn't be degraded just because they didn't personally share the belief -- had to nod in agreement. "It's so stupid. And why are they still persecuting him without solid proof? All they have are witnesses that saw him jump in after Flametail and Flametail's grief-stricken sister looking for someone to blame. It's obvious Jayfeather is innocent!"

"I don't know," Whitescar cut in quietly, "but you two won't find anything out if you keep talking during the meeting!"

Both toms ducked their heads. "Yes, Whitescar."

Rainstorm turned his attention back to the leaders in time to hear Blackstar report, "There have been rogues in ShadowClan's forests, as well."

Firestar peered over at him. "Have you actually seen anything?" But Blackstar just shook his head, reporting only scents, broken branches, bits of fur.

The fur of a blue-grey she-cat -- Mistystar, Rainstorm's mind supplied, RiverClan's leader -- stood on end. "Whereabouts?"

"Deep in our territory," Blackstar huffed.

A brown tabby -- who could only be the final leader, Onestar of WindClan -- nodded and added, "Same here. Nothing at the borders, but traces right at the heart of the moor."

"Most scents have been found in areas perfect for ambushes."

Firestar nodded, his tone solemn. "As though an enemy is scouting for an invasion."

Suddenly, multiple cats began shouting about the different signs of invasion they had found, but Rainstorm hardly heard them. His heart was hammering in his chest as the realization of what was happening dawned on him.

It seemed the rest of his friends were on the same page; they shared a grim glance at each other, and Snowfang muttered, "The Dark Forest."

"I don't think there's anything to worry about."

Rainstorm's head snapped up as Blossomfall spoke over everyone else.

"Greenleaf has been warm and sunny," her gaze traveled to the Voltron cats, seemingly involuntarily, "Kittypets, rogues, and loners always stray farther during fine weather."

"Who--"

The deep, hostile voice caught every Voltron cat's attention, and they rose their eyes to meet those angry, amber ones of Blackstar, who glared right at them.

"--are they?" he growled out.

Rainstorm heaved a deep sigh and muttered, "So much for laying low."

"Nice going, Blossomfall," he heard Sharppaw grumble under her breath.

In the large tree, Firestar seemed to be readying himself as he leaned forward over his branch and nodded to the Voltron cats.

"These are ThunderClan's newest recruits. Our warriors -- Rainstorm, Blazeheart, Whitescar, Mudfoot, and Snowfang," he nodded to each of them and they nodded back in turn, "and Jayfeather's apprentice, Sharppaw."

A cat Rainstorm couldn't see snarled loud enough to be heard, "If Jayfeather chose her as an apprentice, then we KNOW these cats can't be trusted!"

Sharppaw had evidently had enough; she leapt to her paws, baring her teeth. "You take that back! Jayfeather is an excellent mentor, one of my best friends," she turned her rage towards Blackstar, "and he is NOT a murderer!"

Yowls of protest sounded from the crowd of cats, and ThunderClan gathered closer to the Voltron cats, as if preparing themselves to defend them.

"ENOUGH!"

Firestar's shout did little to silence the cats below him, but one by one, they all began to quiet down, turning disdainful gazes the fiery-orange cat.

"Jayfeather has not been proven guilty, and StarClan accepted Sharppaw, so she obviously has their approval."

"Firestar," Onestar growled, looking thunderous, "you realize the cats you decide to trust again might be the intruders?"

"We're not!" Blazeheart yowled defiantly, leaping to his paws.

Firestar quelled him with a look and waited for the tortoiseshell to sit back down ruefully before turning back to Onestar. "They're not, I can assure you of that."

"And why should we believe you?" Blackstar added dubiously.

From the base of a tree, a dark ginger tom looked up at the white-and-black cat.

"Blackstar, I smelled RiverClan among the scents," and his gaze became a glare directed at Mistystar.

"And ShadowClan scents have been found on our lands," Firestar nodded, glancing at Blackstar.

"No ShadowClan warrior has trespassed across your border!" the ShadowClan leader bit back, eyes mere amber slits in the hollows of their sockets.

Mistystar was growling, also disgruntled by the accusations being thrown around. "RiverClan has no need to stray into other territories. We have everything we need in our own!"

Rainstorm held back a scoff. Holy crap, did these cats really have nothing better to do than blame each other for everything? It was pathetic! Beside him, Blazeheart was rolling his eyes, Mudfoot looked nervous, Sharppaw still looked like she wanted to rip off Blackstar's tail, and Snowfang was shaking her head. Whitescar was the only one to keep his composure; he kept his expression carefully neutral, seemingly refusing to let on how he actually felt. Rainstorm admired his dedication and restraint, hoped he could emulate that eventually and step into the role of co-leader that Keith had come to see him as what seemed like forever ago.

Suddenly, Rainstorm was shaken from his thoughts as cats of all Clans began barging past each other, keeping to their own and glaring at everybody else.

"What happened?" Rainstorm turned to ask Dovewing... only to realize she was no longer next to him. Whitewing was still nearby and answered for the missing she-cat.

"The other leaders suspect your group may have tracked the scents of other Clans while trespassing," Whitewing murmured, her expression a mixture of concern and annoyance. "And then went back to blaming each other."

"Of course they did," Blazeheart sighed with a roll of his eyes.

Whitewing had stood and was heading towards Squirrelflight and Blossomfall. "Come on, we're all leaving. There's no point in staying if our Clan is the only Clan here."

"That's not true," Snowfang cut in, confused. "ShadowClan is still here."

"They won't be for long," Whitewing mewed, shrugging it off and turning back to her Clan.

Rainstorm looked around, shaking his head left and right to take in his surroundings and finding only cats of his own Clan. "I don't see any ShadowClan ca--" he cut himself off at the point of Snowfang's tail towards Dovewing and a brown tabby tom whose scent was most certainly ShadowClan. Not far away, Bumblestripe was watching them with an unreadable expression.

Looking to the heavens for strength, Rainstorm reminded himself that it was none of his business. With a sigh, Rainstorm stood and waved his tail at his friends. "We should join the rest of the Clan. She'll catch up."

The trek back to camp was quiet but tense, and the WindClan cats kept a patrol nearby -- to make sure we actually leave the territory, Rainstorm realized ruefully. Hollyleaf greeted them when they made it to the thorn tunnel entrance and Rainstorm distinctly heard a purr erupt from Snowfang.

"What happened?" Hollyleaf demanded. "Why does everyone look so upset?"

"They're still accusing Jayfeather of murdering Flametail!" Lionblaze's voice cut through, anger lacing the tone like poison.

Immediately, Hollyleaf hissed her own displeasure before Snowfang shushed her and sat to describe everything that went on at the Gathering.

"This is all so mouse-brained!" Hollyleaf exclaimed at the end of the explanation. "Jayfeather had no reason to want Flametail dead!"

"According to the other Clans," Snowfang murmured, lip curling, "it's because the Clans have been so distant with each other; they all think every Clan is out for themselves now and that Jayfeather killed another Clan's medicine cat to get him out of the way."

"That still doesn't make sense," Rainstorm growled. "If the Clans are REALLY out for themselves, wouldn't Jayfeather want nothing to do with ShadowClan? That still doesn't explain what Jayfeather's motivation would be."

"Don't forget that it's StarClan advising all the Clans to keep their distance," Sharppaw reminded him. "They're doing what they think is right because their ancestors are telling them to."

"That makes even less sense!" Rainstorm mewed in annoyance much too loudly -- the head of a warrior peeked out from its den to send Rainstorm a glare. Lowering his voice, Rainstorm added, "Wouldn't that make it StarClan's fault? If them separating is because StarClan told them to, then whose to say Jayfeather wasn't under their orders to rid the Clans of Flametail."

"My brother is not a murderer!" Hollyleaf hissed, hackles only going down slightly when Snowfang's tail caressed her shoulders in a placating gesture.

"I know he's not," Rainstorm agreed. "But the other Clans think he could be and, under their logic and considering they hold StarClan to such a high regard, why are they so accusatory towards Jayfeather if it's possible that StarClan ordered him to kill a cat from a rival Clan? Either way, their Jayfeather-directed anger makes no sense."

Hollyleaf still seemed huffy at the idea of her brother being the subject of accusation, but she sat and looked away anyway. Snowfang pressed into her side and Hollyleaf visibly relaxed.

"We still need StarClan to talk to someone about it," Sharppaw meowed after a few quiet moments. "Whether StarClan told him to or not and regardless of if he's guilty or not, until StarClan talks, nobody but Jayfeather really knows anything."

"I know my brother would never kill someone," Hollyleaf growled without looking the medicine cat apprentice's way. "He's a medicine cat; he saves cats, he doesn't kill them."

"Being a medicine cat doesn't make him perfect," Blazeheart commented. "I don't think Jayfeather did it either, but I also don't think being a medicine cat automatically means that he's innocent."

Fur fluffed out again, Hollyleaf looked ready to argue but Snowfang pressed her muzzle to Hollyleaf's cheek and Whitescar growled out, "Enough!" Everybody's attention turned to the white-and-black tom.

"Look," Whitescar continued once he knew every cat was listening," this is a highly stressful and emotional situation. I understand everyone's anger, but this isn't helping anyone."

"Whitescar's right," Rainstorm spoke up, getting to his paws. "Arguing isn't helping the Clans and it isn't helping Jayfeather. One thing we can all agree on is that Jayfeather is innocent, right?"

Hollyleaf, Lionblaze, and Sharppaw spoke their agreement immediately; Snowfang, Blazeheart, Whitescar, and Mudfoot were close behind.

"Then we're not enemies," Rainstorm concluded. "We're allies, and friends." The fact that Snowfang pressed closer to Hollyleaf did not escape his notice, but he pretended it did. "We're in this together and we'll make sure Jayfeather is protected. If I have to go to StarClan myself, I'll do it just to help."

"I wouldn't go that far," Blazeheart purred. "Going to StarClan when you're not a medicine cat means you're dead." He nudged Rainstorm's shoulder with his muzzle. "We all need your goofy butt here."

"You get what I'm saying," Rainstorm purred back. "Whatever I have to do to help Jayfeather, I'll do it. Whatever it takes. He's too important to lose to a stupid false accusation with no basis."

Every cat murmured their agreement.

"We can't exactly do our own investigation, but what we can do is keep our ears open."

"What do you mean?" Whitescar asked the brown tom with interest.

"I mean that whenever we do border patrols, or are near the borders, or come in contact with any cat from other Clans, we need to listen as closely as possible. If we can hear plans of a conspiracy against Jayfeather -- like Dawnpelt or some other cat that knows her well admitting to her making it all up -- or a medicine cat confessing to knowing the truth but keeping it a secret... then we've got evidence to prove to everyone that Jayfeather isn't guilty."

A look of determination crossed every cat's face and they all shared a glance with each other before nodding in turn to Rainstorm.

"Now let's get some sleep," he told them, noticing how tired everyone was. "We'll be no use to Jayfeather if we fall asleep during a patrol."

----------

 

Long fur brushing against him woke Rainstorm and he raised his head sleepily from his nest to see Hollyleaf squeezing through the entrance. The scents in the air told him that Snowfang was with her.

Curious and feeling in a gossipy mood, Rainstorm slowly slunk out of his nest and settled by the entrance, his ears twitching to catch the conversation.

"It's not nice to eavesdrop."

Rainstorm only barely managed to stop himself from jumping. He whipped around, claws unsheathing in preparation to defend himself, and came face to face with Blazeheart. He breathed out a sigh of relief.

"Don't you want to know what's going on with those two?"

Blazeheart shrugged. "Didn't say I didn't. I was just saying it was rude."

Rainstorm let out a quiet purr of laughter. "Get over here and help me listen."

Slightly purring himself, Blazeheart crouched close to Rainstorm, pressed up against him. Rainstorm felt his heartbeat pick up the pace at the closeness and he forgot he was trying to listen in on the two she-cats outside, focused so much more on the warmth of the body next to him.

They really were close, weren't they? Not just physically in that moment, but emotionally. Blazeheart was his best friend, and even though Rainstorm still felt a little bitter that Keith had left the team, honestly? He was just happy Keith came back, that they were next to each other, could talk to each other again, laugh together again, lead together again. Appreciation, relief, affection all rose up in Rainstorm and he found himself unconsciously leaning into Blazeheart. Pressing back, Blazeheart laid his tail tip on Rainstorm's shoulder, then pointed his muzzle at the entrance. Rainstorm's personal mission came back to him and he pricked his ears in interest.

Hollyleaf was speaking. "-- shfur decided to kill me and my brothers in revenge."

"All because Squirrelflight chose Brambleclaw over him?" Snowfang exclaimed in a shocked whisper.

Rainstorm heard a puff of breath escape Hollyleaf. "Yes. The only reason Ashfur didn't let us die in that fire was because he found out Squirrelflight wasn't our mother. So he was going to tell the Clans at a Gathering."

She paused then and the tension thickened like a heavy fog. Snowfang murmured something Rainstorm didn't catch and he heard the movement of fur brushing.

"I couldn't let him do that," Hollyleaf choked out. "He was going to ruin everything! The news could have divided the Clans even more, me and my brothers could have been exiled, there were so many things I could see going wrong. I had to-- I had to--"

Snowfang shushed her gently and the black she-cat fell silent, all except for the harsh breaths she panted in and out. Those eventually faded, as well, and the she-cats spoke no more. It wasn't necessary; they knew what went unsaid, that Ashfur was dead now by Hollyleaf's claws. And Rainstorm couldn't find it in himself to blame her.

He heard a deep breath and then Hollyleaf continued speaking, "Then I found out who my real parents were. I knew Squirrelflight and Brambleclaw weren't my parents, but I thought maybe I was kitted by a rogue or something. It was terrifying; I thought I wasn't truly ThunderClan. At the time, the truth felt so much worse."

A few murmurs from Snowfang, the sound of more brushing fur, movement. A comforting purr.

"I found out my mother is Leafpool--"

Snowfang gasped in shock but let Hollyleaf continue.

"-- and my father is Crowfeather from WindClan."

Claws scraped against the ground -- Hollyleaf's, Rainstorm guessed -- and a shaky breath was taken.

"Not only was I the product of one broken code -- no, I was the product of two. Snowfang, the code-- the warrior code is everything to me. I wanted nothing more than to be a loyal warrior and devote my life to serving my Clan for however many moons I lived, and yet my very existence went against it!" Hollyleaf's voice cracked and Rainstorm heard a tongue rasping over fur.

After the silence stretched on, making it obvious that there would be no more talking that night, Blazeheart grazed Rainstorm's shoulder with his nose.

"We should get some sleep."

Rainstorm nodded in agreement and the two toms snuck back to their nests, curling perhaps closer together than they needed to, and drifted back into slumber.

 

----------

 

Rainstorm padded through the thorn tunnel entrance to camp, fresh off a border patrol with Squirrelflight, Hollyleaf, and Snowfang. Squirrelflight left to report to Brambleclaw and the two other she-cats took off together to get some prey, chatting amicably amongst themselves as they went. Blazeheart bounded up to greet Rainstorm with a friendly flick of his tail.

"Any luck?"

Rainstorm shook his head, feeling disappointment well up in him. It had been two days since the disastrous Gathering, two days' worth of border patrols and hunting patrols near the borders, yet the other Clans had been silent as night. His determination refused to dwindle, however, and Rainstorm let the fire within him show.

"We'll figure something out," he told Blazeheart, who straightened up at the words. "The other Clans might be quiet now, but the truth won't stay buried forever."

Blazeheart nodded. "I haven't given up hope."

Pride filled Rainstorm to the brim, stoking his fire. "Neither have I."

 

----------

 

It was some days after the Gathering that Sharppaw came pelting out of the medicine den, looking gleeful, and ran right into Mudfoot's flank by the freshkill pile. She bounced off of him impressively -- Rainstorm, Blazeheart, and Whitescar looking on in amusement -- but was not deterred in the slightest.

"Jayfeather's been cleared!" she whisper-shouted, practically bouncing on her paws.

Now brightened up themselves, all four of them leaned forward eagerly.

"How?" Rainstorm and Blazeheart demanded at the same time.

"What happened?" Mudfoot asked, Whitescar waiting patiently beside him.

"He went to StarClan and met Flametail!" Sharppaw exclaimed. "Flametail admitted to Jayfeather being innocent and told all of the other medicine cats so! The other medicine cats can spread it to their Clans now and Jayfeather won't be seen as a murderer anymore!"

A triumphant expression crossed her face, bordering on smug, and she looked at the entrance as if speaking to the other three Clans. "Take that, losers! I told you he was innocent!"

"Keep it down," Whitescar purred, clearly pleased but attempting to keep some dignity. "It's up to Jayfeather to tell the rest of the Clan, so don't announce it before he does."

Sharppaw ducked her head sheepishly, though she didn't seem all that much ashamed -- and rightfully so, Rainstorm figured.

"WindClan has reset the borders and put a permanent watch on the stream," Brambleclaw's voice sounded nearby; the dawn patrol had returned and Rainstorm turned his attention to them.

"We should do the same," the deputy continued. Behind him, the rest of his patrol -- the senior warrior Graystripe and his mate Millie -- entered the camp, followed by Dovewing, a dark cream she-cat named Rosepetal, and Rosepetal's apprentice Molepaw.

"I should have stayed at the border," Graystripe was snarling as the Voltron cats came to join them.

"What could you have done alone?" Millie protested.

Firestar looked thoughtful, eyes slits, before turning to Graystripe and mewing, "Go back. Don't start anything, but warn us if there's trouble."

A calico she-cat -- Sorreltail, Rainstorm remembered -- peeked out of the warrior's den. "Is WindClan planning to invade?"

"We're not sure," Firestar replied, "but it's better to be prepared." He then flicked his tail at Brambleclaw and the two cats bounded up the rockfall into Firestar's den.

Rainstorm backed up slightly, huddling around Blazeheart, Whitescar, Mudfoot, and Sharppaw.

"This isn't good," he murmured to his friends. "How do these cats hope to defeat the Dark Forest if they're too busy fighting among themselves?"

"Yeah, but remember that most Clan cats don't know the Dark Forest is going to attack," Blazeheart argued, though he also looked concerned.

"That's true," Whitescar countered, "but in the wild, you never know when you'll end up in danger. It's idiotic to spend time arguing and fighting with each other over petty things when they need to keep relations between Clans neutral so they can help each other out."

"Yeah," Mudfoot piped up, trying to maintain composure but not succeeding as well as Whitescar. "A single Clan could be wiped out if they get overwhelmed and no cat else helps them out."

"Exactly," Rainstorm agreed.

"Squirrelflight told me," Mudfoot continued, "about this time that a pack of badgers attacked and if WindClan hadn't come in and helped, there wouldn't be a ThunderClan anymore!"

"Well, if they don't pull their heads out of their butts, there won't be an AnyClan anymore," Sharppaw retorted. "They need to pull it together."

Movement nearby caught Rainstorm's attention and he glanced towards the warriors' den to see Dovewing and a sleepy-looking Ivypool dashing to the shadows of the beech tree that lay in the center of camp. A quick check of the scent told him that Lionblaze and Jayfeather waited in the darkness of the tree.

The others had realized it, as well, and they sat there, paying attention but not making it obvious. After a few minutes, Lionblaze and Ivypool were rushing out and racing up the rockfall to Firestar's den.

"I wonder what's going on..." Rainstorm murmured.

"Hope everything's okay," Blazeheart added. "Do you think Ivypool has information on the Dark Forest?"

Rainstorm hadn't thought of that. He twitched his ears nervously, keeping his eyes trained on Firestar's den. Beside him, the others were doing the same. Bright orange caught his attention and he saw Squirrelflight and Leafpool leaping up the rockfall in determination.

"Alright, c'mon," Whitescar commanded, signaling with his tail for everyone to get up. "We're not going to be sitting around here all day like a bunch of gossipers when we could be hunting or training or something equally useful."

Rainstorm and Mudfoot groaned and Blazeheart's head drooped. Some things never change, Rainstorm supposed.

The Voltron cats separated, Whitescar joining Rainstorm and Blazeheart to hunt, while Sharppaw decided to collect herbs ("We're running a little low on mallow and comfrey") and dragged Mudfoot along with her.

Firestar, Brambleclaw, Lionblaze, Ivypool, Dovewing, Squirrelflight, and Leafpool brushed past Rainstorm's patrol and left into the forest. From the corner of his eye, Rainstorm noticed Jayfeather push himself into the warriors' den. A moment later, he came back out with Hollyleaf in tow, and Snowfang watched them leave in curiosity and concern. The two littermates followed after the large group.

"I hope everything's okay," Blazeheart repeated quietly.

Me, too, Rainstorm silently agreed.

 

----------

 

Dawn light hit the tip of Rainstorm's ear through the gaps of the warriors' den.

We really gotta fill in those gaps.

Now that he was awake, he could hear Hollyleaf and Snowfang chatting nearby, and he couldn't sleep with the noise. Yawning, he lifted his head and shook the moss from his ears. Jayfeather had gone to the Moonpool with Sharppaw the night before. He wondered how it went, grooming himself as Blazeheart began to rouse tiredly beside him, tortoiseshell fur blending with short brown and rustling a whisper against it.

That tortoiseshell fur fluffed up in alarm as a yowl sounded through the camp.

"Brightheart has kitted!" a calico she-cat named Poppyfrost announced.

"Who?" Blazeheart asked, slurring in his sleepiness.

Rainstorm vaguely recalled the orange-and-white she-cat, Brightheart; according to the other cats, she had been savagely attacked by dogs as an apprentice and she had lost her right eye as a result. Yet she managed to learn how to hunt and fight with only one eye thanks to her mate, Firestar's long-haired white nephew Cloudtail. This was Brightheart's second litter and she was up there in age, so everybody worried over the wellbeing of her and the kits.

That knowledge in mind, Rainstorm dashed out of the den and heard Blazeheart at his heels.

"Is she okay?" Rainstorm called to Poppyfrost.

Poppyfrost shrugged, looking concerned.

"How many?" the brown elderly she-cat Mousefur asked.

"Three," Cloudtail, who was pacing outside the nursery, mewed. "Two toms and a she-kit." His gaze shot to the nursery den when Jayfeather peeked out of it. "Is Brightheart okay?" Rainstorm could hear the deep anxiety in his mew.

"She's fine," came a purr. Cinderheart -- who apparently couldn't decide if she was a warrior or a medicine cat due to being the medicine cat Cinderpelt's reincarnation -- had followed Jayfeather from the nursery. "Come and see."

"It's the first good news we've had for a while," Rainstorm heard Dovewing mew; when he glanced over, he saw that she had joined Mousefur.

The elder flicked her tail, expression grim. "Perhaps Firestar should have sent her away outside our territory. They'd be safer."

"Safer?" Graystripe asked dubiously, padding up to them. "The safest place for any kit is at the heart of its Clan."

"No one's sending me away!"

The tiny mew caught Rainstorm's attention and he turned to see a kit -- Lilykit, his mind supplied -- squeezing out of the nursery. He remembered she was Sorreltail's kit.

Dovewing encircled her tail around the small tortoiseshell kit. "Of course not. ThunderClan fights for its kits. They're the heart of the Clan." She gave a gentle push to the kit, directing her towards the warriors' den. "Why don't you go and tell Sorreltail about Brightheart's kits?"

As Firestar made his way down the Highledge with his mate, Sandstorm, Rainstorm turned his attention back to Blazeheart. Blazeheart, who was right beside him and had urgently followed Rainstorm out the den at Poppyfrost's declaration despite not remembering who Brightheart was. Rainstorm suppressed a purr.

"New kits!" he mewed bright, eyes shining. "It's so exciting!"

Blazeheart didn't seem as enthused, but the light in his eyes showed that he was internally pleased. "Did you ever want kids yourself?"

Rainstorm watched wistfully as Firestar, Sandstorm, and Graystripe gushed over the kits. "Yeah, I'd love to be a father one day." Side-eyeing Blazeheart, he saw a note of sadness enter his expression. "I don't really care if they're mine by blood or if I adopted them," he amended quickly. "To me, they're my kids as long as I love them. Love connects people together stronger than blood."

A purr rose up in Blazeheart, though the look of embarrassment on his face said that it wasn't a conscious choice.

"The battle is near."

Rainstorm's attention turned to Firestar.

"We can't be sure," Graystripe protested.

"It won't be long," Firestar growled.

"How do you know? Have you had a sign?"

"I had a dream last night."

Cloudtail slithered through the nursery then and Firestar cut himself off. Rainstorm suppressed a growl of frustration but listened to Cloudtail anyway.

"They're lively!" he was purring. "Fighting over who gets to be closest to their mother's belly."

The sound of the thorn barrier caught his ear and suddenly Jayfeather was hurrying into camp with Sharppaw right behind him. Firestar went to meet him, telling Cloudtail over his shoulder, "Tell Brightheart I'll welcome her kits to the Clan later."

"Now what's going on?" Blazeheart deadpanned.

"It's always something," Rainstorm agreed. "I wonder what Firestar's dream was about..."

"Me, too. I know Cloudtail's happy about the kits, but I wish he could have shut up just a bit longer."

"I can't say I blame him," Rainstorm purred. "I wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut about having a new kid either."

A soft, unreadable look crossed Blazeheart's face then and Rainstorm found himself just keeping the eye contact between them.

The spell was broken at the sound of Firestar's voice.

"Get Lionblaze," he called to Dovewing, who instantly complied.

While she and Lionblaze made their way to Firestar and Jayfeather, Sharppaw bounded to her friends.

"That prophecy that Jayfeather, Lionblaze, and Dovewing are apart of?" she told them excitedly. "There was an addition to the prophecy, saying there was a fourth cat to be found. That fourth cat is Firestar!"

Rainstorm's eyes rounded while Blazeheart's narrowed.

"An addition?" he asked almost skeptically. "That it makes it sound like StarClan are making this all up as they go."

"Well, StarClan are mousebrains anyway," Sharppaw growled, suddenly scowling. The two tom cats pricked their ears in shock, so she continued, "StarClan is supposed to be unified, a single Clan made up of the spirits of the cats from the four living Clans. When they found out about the Dark Forest rising, however, they decided they suddenly couldn't trust ANYBODY and divided themselves up back into the Clans they were in when they were alive and encouraged the living Clans to trust only their own Clan and that all other Clans were permanent enemies."

"That's stupid!" Rainstorm exclaimed. Multiple cats turned to look at him in surprise, suspicion, or scorn, so he lowered his voice. "Cats from ALL Clans have allied with the Dark Forest, it's not just the other Clans."

"If that's the way they want to think," Blazeheart added, having the good sense to keep his voice down from the start, "then by that logic, all of the Clans should disband because they can't trust ANYBODY, not even cats from their own Clans."

Sharppaw sat with a bump. "I know that, and I thought that YOU knew that -- what did you think I meant when I said StarClan was encouraging the Clans to keep their distance? Anyway, that's why I'm saying StarClan are mousebrained. I think being up in the sky has clouded their judgment."

Rainstorm purred appreciatively at the pun, but shook his head to rid himself of his humor; this was no laughing matter.

"So what's going on with Firestar and the prophecy cats?" Blazeheart asked.

"Oh!" Sharppaw jumped back up, looking happy again. "Jayfeather united StarClan!"

Rainstorm purred again, this time from relief.

Sharppaw continued, "So now all of the Clan leaders and their medicine cats -- including yours truly--" and she puffed out her chest proudly, "are meeting up on the Gathering island so that Firestar can reveal the details of the Dark Forest's uprising and the prophecy, so the prophecy cats are going, too."

If Rainstorm could whistle, he would have. "I don't envy Firestar."

"Yeah," Blazeheart agreed. "They're going to try to eat him alive."

"Well," Sharppaw mewed, looking glum, "that's true. I guess--"

"Sharppaw!" Jayfeather's meow startled all three of them. "Get over here!"

"Coming!" Sharppaw called back. Turning to her friends, she murmured, "I'll tell you all about it when I get back." With that, she took off to join her mentor.

Rainstorm watched her go, suddenly feeling mentally exhausted by all that would be going down soon. He was broken from his reverie by a fluffy tail brushing his shoulder. Turning to look, his eyes caught with Blazeheart's; the tortoiseshell looked like he knew exactly how Rainstorm felt, and Rainstorm took comfort in that.

"Why don't we go hunting?" Blazeheart suggested, getting to his paws. Rainstorm nodded, still reeling from the situation they had all found themselves in, and the two toms padded into the forest.

Trees swished in a slight breeze, a cool one that felt nice blowing through Rainstorm's short fur. He wished all of the issues he and his friends had to face in this world could be blown away by the wind, never having to be confronted or dealt with.

The brown tom shook his head, feeling ashamed. He was a pilot for Voltron, for StarClan's sake! A handful of vicious ghost cats are nothing compared to the likes of Zarkon's forces. He'd been here so long that Rainstorm was starting to forget that he did, in fact, fight as a soldier in a space war. That this forest around the lake was not actually his home, that this was not his war, that... that his family lived in a different world and he would never see them again if he stayed here.

This forest was so much like home but... it wasn't. This wasn't home.

A tongue gently rasping against his ear dragged him from his thoughts and he looked over to see Blazeheart watching him sympathetically. In a moment of weakness, Rainstorm leaned his head into Blazeheart's neck fur. He let out a purr of content when Blazeheart gave him a few quick licks to the top of his head.

They sat there, pressed together in the middle of the forest, and as a chill breeze picked up again, Rainstorm burrowed further into Blazeheart's fur. He imagined that this is what hugging Keith must feel like -- warm, comfortable, soothing, like home.

Home.

Rainstorm hadn't associated that word with someone in a long time. Places could be home. A group of people, like his family, could be home. But a single person? One single person bearing all of the weight that the word 'home' entails and brings with it, the heaviness that comes with being someone's support and the one that someone turned to first no matter what, being the one that someone relied on more than anybody else, being that someone's rock and safe place when the storm outside was too much? It seemed impossible.

And yet it suited Blazeheart well, especially in that moment. Blazeheart was home, embodied all of home's definitions and connotations, and Rainstorm embraced that fact with a full heart. He wasn't quite ready to acknowledge what that said about his feelings towards the tortoiseshell, but he would take those feelings out later, when all of this was over and they had the time to relax and really talk about things. Rainstorm swore then that he would, that they would survive this war and he would tell himself and Blazeheart how he felt when the dust settled.

Right, the war. Rainstorm couldn't afford to be weak now, he needed to be confident and strong. Reluctantly, he pulled away from his leader, his comrade, his best friend.

"Sorry about that," he murmured to Blazeheart, ashamed of himself all over again.

He got a lick on the cheek in return and he felt a rush of affection for the tortoiseshell. "Everyone needs support sometimes," Blazeheart whispered warmly.

Yes, Blazeheart would know how he felt after the war. For now, it was time to teach him how to hunt a squirrel, because that was one thing he couldn't do to save his life!

Chapter Text

“Dovewing is so stupid, I swear!” Sharppaw barged her way into camp, instantly ranting to her friends by the freshkill pile. “I could’ve clawed her ears off!”

“Calm down,” Blazeheart told her, raising his paw in a soothing gesture. “Tell us what happened.”

Behind Sharppaw, Hollyleaf followed her into camp, her own annoyance more well-hidden but still palpable. She immediately veered towards the Voltron cats and crouched pressed up against Snowfang, who gave her a few quick licks on the ear in greeting, Hollyleaf’s expression softening with every lap of the white she-cat’s tongue.

“So we’re at the Gathering island, right?” Rainstorm’s attention snapped back to Sharppaw as she spoke. “And Firestar reveals the details about the prophecy to the other Clan leaders and their medicine cats. Willowshine, one of RiverClan’s medicine cats, asked Dovewing if she could use her powers to listen to the Dark Forest, and you know what that mousebrain says?”

Rainstorm and Blazeheart shook their heads, hiding their amusement. Mudfoot was less successful in hiding his own humor at Sharppaw’s annoyance, while Whitescar and Snowfang kept their attention rapt and focused.

“’I don’t know, I’ve never tried,’” and Sharppaw’s voice became whiny as she imitated Dovewing, before she was whisper-shouting again. “REALLY?! She’s had these powers her WHOLE LIFE, she’s known about the Dark Forest rising for AGES, and she never thought to try and reach out to the Dark Forest with her powers? Really?!

“See, this is why Hollyleaf should have been the third cat,” Blazeheart deadpanned, looking unimpressed by Dovewing’s stupidity.

“I… I don’t have powers, though,” Hollyleaf pointed out quietly.

“I wonder what kind of powers you could have had,” Snowfang mused, expression thoughtful.

“Ooh,” Rainstorm interjected, getting excited about the topic, “maybe psychic powers?”

“That could work,” Blazeheart nodded. “Like being able to see the enemy’s next move before they do it.”

“Yeah! And she’d be able to know when an ambush was set before it could be used!”

“Hmm,” Snowfang looked thoughtful. “But if Hollyleaf were the third cat in the prophecy, wouldn’t she have Dovewing’s powers?”

Beside her, Hollyleaf snorted in amusement. “I’ve never been able to see or hear really far away, so that obviously didn’t happen.”

“Did anything strange ever happen to you?” Mudfoot piped up, curious. “Like, when you found out about the prophecy, did anything that happened before suddenly make sense?”

Hollyleaf mulled it over before answering. “Some things did. Like Jayfeather seeming to know what everyone was thinking, and Lionblaze being so unreasonably strong.”

“What about anything you discovered about yourself?” Whitescar inquired.

“Nothing really. I just had a really strong attachment to the Warrior Code; it was everything to me, aside from my Clan, and I always felt a strong sense of duty to it.”

“Maybe that would have been it, then,” Snowfang murmured.

Hollyleaf snorted again. “What? Being a warrior that follows the warrior code was my ‘power’?”

“No, no,” Snowfang amended. “No, but perhaps the code would have guided you more than it guided other warriors – the code would always lead the way, whatever problems you had, supernaturally.”

“So, like,” Mudfoot asked slowly, “if Hollyleaf were really, really hungry, the code would lead her to a big, juicy mouse? Through her mind? Like, ‘Hey, Hollyleaf, there’s a huge mouse over there, you should go eat it’?”
While Rainstorm and Blazeheart had to hide their laughter, Snowfang and Hollyleaf just looked at Mudfoot flatly.

“Not… quite what I was thinking,” Snowfang grumbled, “but I suppose that gives an example of what I mean.”

“So…” Hollyleaf interjected, seeming to think about what Snowfang was saying. “So if, say, ShadowClan was planning to ambush us at the Giant Oak, I would just get a—a premonition that they were there so I could warn my Clan?”

“Or,” Lionblaze spoke up behind them suddenly, spooking all of them, “with that battle with WindClan in the tunnels, Hollyleaf would just suddenly have an urge to train in the tunnels and like, overhear WindClan planning things and get the idea to train us in the tunnels to beat them?”

“Exactly!” Snowfang brightened up as the two littermates got it. “That would have been useful.”

“You know what would be more useful?” Sharppaw mewed excitedly. “Being able to hear everyone’s thoughts!”

“Jayfeather can already do that,” Blazeheart protested.

“He can’t really hear thoughts,” Sharppaw corrected, “so much as feel them or see visions when they’re remembering something. I mean being able to hear what someone is saying to themselves in their head.”

“But if Jayfeather can already do that, why have another cat that can?” Whitescar tipped his head in confusion.

“Two heads are better than one?”

“No, no, no,” Rainstorm shook his head. “There’s no point in having two cats that can do pretty much the same thing.”

“Besides,” Snowfang added, pressing up against the black she-cat beside her, “Hollyleaf deserves to have her own unique power.” Hollyleaf purred and pressed back against her.

“Okay, but what would that power even be?” Sharppaw asked.

“Does it even matter?” Hollyleaf huffed. “I don’t have a power, so why speculate on—”

“Hush up, we’re trying to figure out what your power would be,” Sharppaw told her, earning another huff of laughter from the black she-cat.

“So maybe…”

Rainstorm listened to his friends discuss Hollyleaf’s non-existent, hypothetical powers and felt content. He relaxed against Blazeheart, who purred quietly at the touch, and listened to the carefree debate going on around him, interjecting his own ideas and thoughts every so often.

It was calming. It was peaceful.

And much as he wasn’t eager to remind himself, he knew that this would not last.

So he decided to enjoy it while it lasted.

----------

It felt like an eternity had gone by before any update on the war reached the Voltron cats’ ears. For that, Rainstorm was grateful. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t scared because he absolutely was. He and his friends were expected to fight without their Lions and bayards; he was terrified, mostly for his friends but his own mortality was a concern, too.

The real internal issue for Rainstorm, however, wasn’t even his fear. It was that he fought in a war on the daily and these last few moons of (mostly) peace had been so nice. Now he and his friends were being thrust back into it and it honestly broke his heart a little bit. He had gotten so used to seeing his friends and carefree that seeing them go back to being war-torn was not something he looked forward to.

“Rainstorm, focus!”

Blazeheart’s mew jolted him from his reverie – he was spacing out a lot lately and he knew why. Everyone knew why. Still, he couldn’t let his fear and his grief over the loss of peace keep him from training. Blazeheart was right: He needed to focus.

“Sorry,” he called to the tortoiseshell, who he could see was trying to hide how concerned he was. “I’ll pay more attention. Show me the move again?”

Blazeheart sighed, though it was one of worry and not the exasperation that Rainstorm expected. “Let’s… Let’s just take a break.”

“What—no,” Rainstorm protested. “Seriously, I can do this.”

“I know you can, Rainstorm,” Blazeheart amended. “But you’re tired.”

“We’re all tired. We can’t let that stop us.”

“It’s just for a few minutes. Please?”

How could a cat have puppydog eyes? And how was Rainstorm supposed to win against that? He couldn’t; Blazeheart looked so worried, eyes so wide in his concern, that Rainstorm found he couldn’t deny him anything in that moment.

“Fine,” he agreed with a sigh, sitting with a bump. Instantly more relaxed, Blazeheart padded over to join him, sitting pressed up against his side. Together, they crouched at the edge of the clearing where ThunderClan cats did battle training. A small breeze picked up, bringing with it the chilling bite of the incoming winter season. Rainstorm hoped he and the rest of the Voltron cats would be back in their own world by then; spending the winter months sleeping outdoors didn’t exactly sound exhilarating.

For now, however, the breeze was welcome and Rainstorm found himself truly relaxing against the warm fur of his best friend. Blazeheart began to purr and the rumble of it was soothing; before long, Rainstorm was dozing. He was glad he had given into Blazeheart’s request, especially when he felt a tongue rasp over his ear, kickstarting his own purr.

The moment of peace was broken by the sound of many animals rushing through the forest. The vibrations and sounds of paws pounding against the ground was all the warning the two toms had before Whitewing was calling to them, her fur fluffed out in urgency and fear, eyes wide with apprehension.

“What are you two doing?!” she yowled at them, her panic much less noticeable in the stability of her voice. “The Dark Forest is here! Get back to camp now!”

Instantly, Rainstorm and Blazeheart were on their feet, dashing back to camp before Whitewing could even finish what she was saying. “Hurry!” Rainstorm heard her call. “And good luck!”

Side by side, the two toms raced towards camp, barely feeling their paws skim the ground in their haste to protect their Clan. They burst through the thorn tunnel, one after the other, and stood to attention in front of Firestar as Brambleclaw addressed the Clan.

“-elt, Bumblestripe, Cinderheart, Leafpool, Rainstorm, Blazeheart, and Graystripe, you’ll help defend the hollow.”

“Graystripe comes with me,” Firestar interjected, his gaze holding all the strength of his friendship with the gray warrior.

“Of course,” Brambleclaw nodded. “In that case, Snowfang, you’ll help us here.”

The she-cat nodded from beside Hollyleaf, looking determined, before pressing against the black she-cat and giving her a lick on the cheek.

“Be careful, my love,” Rainstorm was close enough to hear Snowfang murmur, though he tried to block it out – this was a private moment between mates.

“You, too,” Hollyleaf whispered back, nuzzling Snowfang affectionately.

As Hollyleaf left, Rainstorm and Blazeheart took up places beside Snowfang, the other cats that were staying behind gathering around them. The cats set to leave grouped together close to the thorn tunnel.

“Are they everywhere?” Firestar hissed to Dovewing.

The gray she-cat stretched her ears, breath speeding up a moment later. “Yes. They’re attacking all the territories at once.”

Looking grim, Firestar gave a nod. “We knew this would happen. Stay strong. Good luck.” His gaze found Graystripe then and he lashed his tail to signal his patrol.

With that, they took off to defend their home and the camp suddenly felt very empty. Rainstorm realized that eight warriors was not going to be enough if the Dark Forest invaded the camp. He could only hope that the Dark Forest’s number will have dwindled enough by the time they reached ThunderClan camp. Eight cats would have to be the fighting force that defended this place.

It wasn’t long before the sounds of fighting reached their ears. Rainstorm paced anxiously, wishing at least Blazeheart had been chosen to fight outside the camp – he was arguably one of ThunderClan’s best warriors, despite being relatively new, and he’d be a great asset against the Dark Forest.

But then, Rainstorm thought, maybe that’s why he was chosen to stay behind. Only the strongest Dark Forest warriors will make it past all the Clans straight to the camp, so we need some kind of fighting strength here for that.

It did little to settle his nerves.

Blazeheart watched the brown tom quietly, his expression carefully composed. There were cracks in his visage, however. His eyes were a little too wide, his pupils dilated, his ears twitching. He was just as nervous as Rainstorm and, if Rainstorm knew him as well as he was sure he did, concerned for him.

Suppressing a sigh, Rainstorm ceased his pacing to ease Blazeheart’s worries, choosing instead to sit beside him and wait. Instantly, Blazeheart pressed against him. The feel of his long, soft fur was enough to sooth Rainstorm somewhat, and he pressed back and closed his eyes to enjoy a moment of peace before the storm broke out.

Fighting split the tension, yowls and shrieks sounding from outside the thorn barrier. In a flash, Blazeheart and Rainstorm raced out, side by side, to fight off the Dark Forest warriors that threatened the camp. Dark pelts swarmed the area; Rainstorm lunged at the nearest one – a black tabby – and bit into its throat. He was shaken off quickly, the air knocked out of him when the tabby leaped on top of him and raked his claws down his sides. Rainstorm yowled in pain and fury, fighting to get away but only succeeding in digging the cat’s claws in deeper.

“What’s the matter?” the tabby taunted him, foul-smelling breath close to his ear. “Only used to the wimpy fighting of your pathetic world?”

“Nah,” Rainstorm puffed out a dark laugh. “Just not used to such puny cats. I don’t want to fight too hard and break you.”

The tabby hissed threateningly, reaching for Rainstorm’s throat with his teeth.

“Leave him alone, Darkstripe!”

The tabby – Darkstripe, apparently – jerked back as a gray paw lashed at him. Dovewing snarled at him before leaping at him again, teeth bared and bloody claws ready for more. Rainstorm swiftly got his feet and fought Darkstripe by Dovewing’s side. They slashed and snapped at Darkstripe with needle-sharp claws and fangs seeking blood. Dark tabby fur flew into the air before disappearing completely, the dark ghost cat being driven back by two living ones and he looked frustrated at that fact.

Chancing a glance to the side, Rainstorm saw Blazeheart easily fighting off two dark-pelted warriors, his own teeth snarling something Rainstorm couldn’t hear, ghost fur flying and disintegrating but not fast enough for more to join it. Pride and determination surged into Rainstorm, fierce and searing hot, and he turned back to his enemy, giving back what Darkstripe had given him tenfold.

A yowl caught Rainstorm’s attention. “They’re in the camp!” Lionblaze called out.

Rainstorm glanced around. Firestar, Lionblaze, Graystripe, Cloudtail, and a ShadowClan she-cat named Snowbird had joined the fray, and all of the cats protecting the camp were out. They fought hard to push back the force of Dark Forest warriors, but were failing, dark pelts streaming through the thorn tunnel into camp.

The kits!

“Cinderheart! Dustpelt! Graystripe! Go with Lionblaze and drive them out,” Firestar called, kicking away a Dark Forest warrior. “We’ll hold the rest off here.

A shriek split the air from the camp and that was enough to set Rainstorm in motion. He dashed into camp and jumped on the closest Dark Forest warrior, digging his claws into the cat’s back and slashing at its shoulders until it yowled and rolled onto its back. The impact drove the breath from Rainstorm’s body but he held fast, keeping his grip as best as he could and biting at the warrior’s throat. Eventually, though, the weight of the cat was pushing too much air out of him and he had to let go to breathe. Remembering his training, he went limp. Once the cat above him moved, he took the opportunity to attack, biting at its legs and keeping at it until claws slashed at his cheek and ear. He felt blood coat his new wounds, tasted some of it as it splattered into his open mouth, but he didn’t let it deter him. He backed up, then jumped back in, the two cats becoming a blurry ball of flying fur and spattering blood.

“Alright, enough of this,” he heard the cat snarl before it lunged towards his throat.

The cat’s face was much too close, Rainstorm knew he would be unable to dodge it. He held on and closed his eyes, bracing for impact.

But it never came.

Instead, the leg in his mouth was ripped from his jaws and when he opened his eyes, he saw Blazeheart pulling the Dark Forest warrior away from him, flinging it away and then leaping onto its belly, slashing his claws down it and staining his paws in its blood. With a well-timed move, Blazeheart leaped onto the back of the dark-pelted cat, clinging on with his claws before raking them down his sides, opening the wounds Rainstorm had initiated even more until the cat was bleeding heavily. Its blood pooled on the ground below, and when Blazeheart jumped off and put distance between them, the cat collapsed into the thick, red liquid, eyes slowly glazing over before vanishing completely. Only the blood stains clotting up the dirt remained.

Panting, Rainstorm and Blazeheart stood side-by-side and watched their enemy die its final death. Breathing out a sigh of what was likely to be short-lived relief, Rainstorm leaned against his best friend and closed his eyes.

“You okay?” Blazeheart murmured quietly, his concern so thick it nearly choked Rainstorm – fleetingly, he thought that he wouldn’t mind being suffocated by this concern, warm and comfortable as it was.

“I’m fine, querido,” the brown tom replied fondly, the pet name slipping out involuntarily and Rainstorm prayed to every deity in every reality that Blazeheart didn’t understand Spanish.

If he did, he did not show it, only rasping a tongue over Rainstorm’s cheek wound. Rainstorm fought against the urge to curl up against Blazeheart and sleep, instead glancing around to take stock of the damage.

At some point, cats from WindClan and RiverClan had come to their aid, a few cats from each Clan. Not many Dark Forest warriors had made it into the camp, luckily, and the fighting force they had was driving them out quite quickly. It was not without injury, however, as Rainstorm could see blood splattered all over the place and a few of the living warriors were limping by the time the enemies had been chased away.

“Cloudtail! Pebblefoot! Dustpelt!” Rainstorm heard Firestar yowl just outside of the camp. “Medicine den! Now!” The cats he called limped their way to the medicine cat’s den while Rainstorm, Blazeheart, and the others gathered near the entrance to hear Firestar’s next orders.

“Is anyone else badly hurt?” Firestar asked, eyes taking in every bloody warrior.

Blazeheart lapped again at Rainstorm’s hurt cheek and Rainstorm noticed a wrenched claw in Blazeheart’s front paw, but they could still fight. The two of them stood taller, shaking off their weariness like the soldiers they were trained to be.

Leafpool gave everyone the all-clear as Brambleclaw reported the safety of the kits, when a young ShadowClan cat burst out from the top of the slope.

“Stoatpaw?” Brambleclaw called confusedly. “How’s ShadowClan?”

“Blackstar’s losing a life!” the apprentice told them, panicked. “We’ve been overrun! We need help!”

Rainstorm and Blazeheart gasped in unison. Nearby, Rainstorm saw Snowfang’s eyes widen.

She’s worried about Hollyleaf, he realized.

The ShadowClan cats joined the apprentice, looking worried.

“Have you seen Cherrypaw?” Poppyfrost suddenly asked. Rainstorm remembered belatedly that Cherrypaw was her kit and had been chosen along with her brother to deliver messages between the Clans – Cherrypaw for ShadowClan and Molepaw for WindClan and RiverClan. Rainstorm understood the tortoiseshell’s concern.

“Isn’t she here?” Stoatpaw asked in confusion. Poppyfrost looked ready to have a meltdown.

“Perhaps she’s gone to WindClan to find Molepaw,” Leafpool soothed. “Or she might be lying low until it’s safe to travel.”

“How near is the next Dark Forest patrol?” Firestar asked of Dovewing. A focused look crossed her face as she concentrated, reporting a moment later that they hadn’t broken through yet.

“Lionblaze, go to ShadowClan,” Firestar ordered, tail lashing. “You go too, Graystripe. We can manage here without you.”

I hope he’s right.

“Smokefoot!” Firestar turned his attention to one of the ShadowClan warriors. “Take your patrol home. Your Clanmates need you more than we do.”

Smokefoot nodded, looking relieved, and the ShadowClan cats bounded away. Moments later, Lionblaze and Graystripe followed hot on the ShadowClan cats’ heels.

A growl sounded nearby; Rainstorm looked and saw that the queen Ferncloud had joined the cats outside of camp. “The camp’s been destroyed,” she complained.

“We’ve rebuilt it before,” Firestar reminded her, heading into camp to assess the damage. “We can rebuild it again.”

Leafpool followed and immediately headed to her den to treat the wounded. Realizing they had a moment before Leafpool would dress the wounds of the less injured warriors, Rainstorm went back to leaning against Blazeheart, closing his eyes again and enjoying the peace while he could. Blazeheart began to purr and the sound, the rumble of it, was soothing. He drifted.

In the darkness of his slumbering mind, Rainstorm heard voices, muffled but loud. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it felt like they were talking specifically to him, trying to tell him something. It sounded urgent, but no matter how hard he tried, Rainstorm just couldn’t figure out what was being said. Eventually, the voices faded and the darkness was silent.

“They went straight for the kits.” Leafpool’s mew woke Rainstorm from his doze.

Nearby, Poppyfrost was licking at some scratches on her flank. “We saw them off, though,” she mewed, looking up.

“We did,” Mousefur added beside Purdy outside of the elders’ den before lifting a paw to rub at her scratched nose.

Brackenfur dragged brambles from next to the medicine den, already intent on fixing up the camp. “We’d better fix what we can. Mintfur, Troutstream! Can you help?”

The two RiverClan warriors rushed to help while everyone else made small talk amongst themselves, fretting or complaining or encouraging each other before the next wave of Dark Forest warriors crashed over them.

“Rest while you can,” Blazeheart told him quietly, jolting Rainstorm from his visual sweep of the camp. “The enemy will be back before you know it.” His tail brushed lightly over Rainstorm’s back and suddenly Rainstorm couldn’t find it in himself to protest – not with conviction, anyway.

“But—”

“Blazeheart is right,” Snowfang mewed, padding up to them. “We all need to rest while we can and save our strength and energy for the next battle.”

Rainstorm sighed. “Alright, but only if you two rest, too.” His friends purred in amusement, then relaxed, crouching down to doze.

“Someone’s coming! They’re injured!”

Dovewing’s mew caused all three cats to leap to their paws, instantly alert and tiredness temporarily forgotten. The gray she-cat raced out of the camp to meet whoever was coming. From outside, she called, “Jayfeather! Leafpool!” Firestar followed, Jayfeather at his heel.

Moments later, a large, dark brown tabby tom – That’s who Dovewing was talking to at the Gathering! Rainstorm realized – brushed past the torn-up thorn barrier. Firestar came next, supporting—

“HOLLYLEAF!” Snowfang yowled in desperation, racing to meet the limp, bloody body of the black she-cat.

Firestar and the tabby tom laid Hollyleaf on the ground gently. Blood clotted the fur around her throat, the light catching it and making it prominent – a stain on the silk black fur it botched up. Dovewing and Ivypool came into camp more slowly, Ivypool looking hollow as she stared at Hollyleaf. Poppyfrost crept towards her.

“Have you seen Cherrypaw?” she asked the white-and-silver tabby she-cat. “Or Molepaw?”

Blazeheart lashed his tail, his attention momentarily drawn away from Hollyleaf and her grieving mate. “Is now really the time to be asking?” he grumbled quietly into Rainstorm’s ear. “I get that she’s worried, but Hollyleaf is dying right in front of us.”

“I know,” Rainstorm sighed back. “But I get it. A parent’s first concern is their kid.”

“Hollyleaf, please don’t go,” Snowfang’s sob brought them back to the matter at hand.

“It’s okay,” Leafpool murmured. Her head suddenly jolted back. “She’s bleeding here!” she gasped. Blood was rapidly pooling at her paws and she grabbed a bunch of cobwebs and desperately began shoving it under Hollyleaf’s neck.

“It’s okay, Leafpool,” Hollyleaf rasped, her eyes cracking open. “I don’t mind. I’m glad I came back to ThunderClan.” Her chest heaved quickly as she fought for the breath escaping her at a rapid rate. “I couldn’t bear to… to leave without getting to know my mother.”

“Save her!” Ivypool shrieked. “You have to save her! Hawkfrost tried to kill me, but Hollyleaf chased him away.”

“Hawkfrost?” Brambleclaw’s gaze darkened, turning to Ivypool. “He did this?”

Ivypool nodded but Rainstorm’s attention was broken away once again.

“Snowfang,” Hollyleaf croaked. “Sno—Snowfang, I’m sorry we won’t be able to do all of the—all of the things we planned on doing.”

“Don’t,” Snowfang’s voice broke. “Don’t, please. I love you.”

Amazingly, Hollyleaf managed a purr. It was shaky and weak, but it was there. “I love you, too, Snowfang.”

Snowfang nosed at Hollyleaf’s cheek affectionately, basking in the words as they hovered in the air. Then Hollyleaf’s eyes began to dull, her head becoming limp.

“Hollyleaf?” Leafpool nosed at her daughter. “Hollyleaf!”

“No,” Snowfang’s panicked mew joined the frantic calling. “No, no. No!”

She nudged her mate’s body with her paws, chanting her name like a prayer and yowling her sorrow to Silverpelt.

It was no use; Hollyleaf was gone.

Chapter Text

Solemn and subdued, Blazeheart stood close to Rainstorm, their fur brushing in a comforting gesture, as Snowfang wailed in grief over the death of her beloved mate. Leafpool looked no less miserable, nudging at her black-furred daughter as if she may wake and rise at any moment. He could see the painful disappointment get stronger in her eyes each time her touch failed to bring alive Hollyleaf. It pierced at Blazeheart’s heart and he leaned further into Rainstorm, seeking the comfort of his warmth and presence. He felt Rainstorm lean into him immediately; his own grief and fear was palpable and Blazeheart couldn’t say he blamed him. Hollyleaf’s death just brought home what they’d all tried so hard to ignore: They were mortal beings in a violent war. Casualties were guaranteed and Blazeheart found himself more afraid than ever.

Will one of us end up among the dead by the end of this? he wondered, eyes widening at the thought. His gaze slid to Rainstorm at that and his fear grew tenfold. No, he sat up straight in determination, I absolutely refuse to let him be one of them. Rainstorm won’t die under my watch.

Pawsteps outside of the barrier caught their attention, Blazeheart’s head snapping to attention.

“Prepare for attack!” Firestar called, and Blazeheart tensed beside Rainstorm, who slid out his claws in preparation.

Ferncloud and Brightheart fled into the torn-up nursery as Squirrelflight and Sandstorm rushed to guard it. The warriors from the other Clans spread out, readying themselves for the next wave of Dark Forest cats, while Mousefur and Purdy stood guard outside their own den.

From the corner of his eye, Blazeheart saw Snowfang give Hollyleaf a final lick around the ears before joining everyone else. Leafpool then dragged her daughter’s limp body to the edge of the camp, standing over her as if protecting a kit from a badger – and in a way, she was. It pricked at Blazeheart and he shifted his gaze to Snowfang, wanting to make sure she was in any condition to even keep fighting. His worries were unfounded; determination lit her gaze like a forest fire, burning up everything in its path. It seemed her love and grief had strengthened her and Blazeheart found himself watching in admiration.

If that ever happens to me, I hope I’m as put-together as she is. Then his eyes found Rainstorm again and he felt his heart plummet. But I hope it never happens to me ever!

The ripped thorn barrier rustled and Blazeheart’s attention was drawn back to the matter at paw just as Birchfall and Blossomfall emerged. Blazeheart immediately calmed down.

“Phew!” Rainstorm breathed, relaxing. “I thought it was more Dark Forest warriors.”

“Yeah, me t—”

“Briarlight!”

Jayfeather’s mew jolted both of them and they turned to see the medicine cat race into his den. “Get back in the herb store!”

“How could you betray us?” Firestar snarled; Blazeheart and Rainstorm looked back to see the ThunderClan leader advancing menacingly on Birchfall.

“I thought you’d choose to fight on our side,” Dovewing murmured, sounding betrayed.

“Wait,” Rainstorm whispered into Blazeheart’s ear, “were Birchfall and Blossomfall with the Dark Forest?”

Blazeheart shrugged. He wasn’t sure he knew anything anymore.

“He did!” Ivypool was quick to defend her father and her maybe-mate. “He fought with me at the WindClan camp!”

“We would never betray ThunderClan!” Birchfall added, raising his tail.

A gray tom burst into camp and Blazeheart recognized him as a ThunderClan warrior whose name escaped him. “We came to warn you!”

Blossomfall nodded, looking desperate. “We saw the Dark Forest patrol! They’re coming!”

“Traitors!”

The snarl outside camp put everyone back into defensive positions as a gray and white tom skidded into the clearing.

“We lost the WindClan camp thanks to you!” he continued, tail whipping and gaze burning into Birchfall, Blossomfall, and the gray tom. “I’ll save killing you till last.”

“Not if I kill you first, Thistleclaw!” Birchfall declared. “You tricked us!”

At that moment, Dark Forest warriors flooded in and the camp devolved into a flurry of snarls, hisses, blood, and flying fur.

Blazeheart quickly found himself fighting fiercely with a scarred white tom. Claws glinting with blood slashed at Blazeheart and he ducked just as they whistled above him, catching his ear and sending his blood splattering to the dirt. Darting to the side, Blazeheart scratched down the tom’s flank, jumping out of the way before the tom could retaliate. The tom spun around and leapt for Blazeheart, but Blazeheart ducked again and used the momentum to turn and jump onto the tom’s back. Gripping his shoulders, Blazeheart dragged his back claws down the tom’s sides, ripping open wounds as more blood was spilt. Blazeheart slid off as he felt the tom turn to slash at him again, only barely missing him. The tom tried again and this time managed to catch Blazeheart’s cheek. Blazeheart hissed and crouched as another blood-stained paw came at him.

Crouched low, he went for the tom’s legs, buckling them from beneath him. He regretted it immediately as the tom’s weight fell on him and knocked the breath out of him. He struggled to get free, but the tom used his own weight to his advantage, keeping Blazeheart pinned to the ground while he bit at his legs.

Suddenly, the body on top of him disappeared and Blazeheart looked up in time to see Rainstorm dragging the tom off of him, looking furious. Throwing him to the side, Rainstorm sidled up beside Blazeheart, helping him up before turning back to the tom.

“Think you can handle two of us?” Rainstorm hissed.

The tom stared at them for a moment before apparently deciding that, no, he could not handle two of them and leapt into the fray of wrestling cats, disappearing from sight.

“You okay?” Rainstorm turned to Blazeheart, looking more than concerned.

Touched, Blazeheart nosed Rainstorm’s cheek. “I’m fine.” He nudged at the wounds Rainstorm had received earlier on his own cheek and purred, “We match now.”

“Not funny,” Rainstorm growled, though Blazeheart could hear the fondness in it.

The moment was broken by more cats rushing into the camp. Lionblaze and Graystripe hurtled past the broken barrier, leading a band of obviously-dead cats – the forest behind them was clearly visible through their bodies.

“More Dark Forest warriors?” Blazeheart murmured, readying himself to attack.

“It’s okay!” Lionblaze assured his Clanmates. “They’re Ancient allies, from before StarClan! They’re on our side!”

“Thank StarClan,” Rainstorm muttered. “We weren’t going to get out of this okay without some kind of help.” Blazeheart nodded his agreement.

As the starry warriors joined the fray, another bulking shape pushed through the barrier.

“Badger!” Blossomfall cried.

“Midnight!” Firestar called joyfully. “It’s okay! She’s with us!”

Dead cats greeted live ones as they leaped into battle; from the corner of his eye, Blazeheart saw an orange and white spirit tom pause beside Hollyleaf. He didn’t have much time to dwell on that before a cat was barreling into his side with a ferocious screech. Blazeheart’s vision was nothing but black tabby fur until the cat was hauled off of him by Rainstorm.

“Just can’t stop getting into trouble, can you?” Rainstorm snarked fondly.

“Nope,” Blazeheart replied, getting to his paws. “I live to make your life harder.”

“Figures,” Rainstorm purred.

Together, the two toms turned and faced the gray Dark Forest warrior, snarling their defiance at him. It was Darkstripe.

“You think that’s enough to scare me?” the warrior hissed. “Two scraggly wannabe-warriors?”

“Is talk all you Dark Forest cats do?” Rainstorm muttered in annoyance. “If you’re that doubtful, fight us and find out how ‘scraggly’ we really are.”

“Unless you’re more scared than you say,” Blazeheart added with a sneer.

Furious, Darkstripe lunged at them. Blazeheart and Rainstorm dodged to the sides, but Darkstripe managed to catch Rainstorm by the throat, slamming him to the ground. Instantly, Blazeheart was on top of the Dark Forest warrior, reaching for his throat quick like a snake. Darkstripe jerked upwards, trying to dislodge Blazeheart from his back and keeping Blazeheart from making the killing bite to his neck. In his distraction, Rainstorm managed to slip out from Darkstripe’s claws, turning on his attacker and slashing at his eyes and managing to rip one open. Darkstripe focused his attention on dodging the brown warrior’s paws, giving Blazeheart the opportunity to rake his own claws down Darkstripe’s back, earning him a screech of pain from the black warrior. Darkstripe dodged away from Rainstorm and rolled onto his back, driving the breath from Blazeheart as he was sandwiched between the Dark Forest warrior and the hard ground. Rainstorm jumped to attack Darkstripe’s stomach, but Darkstripe was too quick, jumping out of Blazeheart’s grip and turning on his back paw to leap at Rainstorm, knocking them both to the ground.

Blazeheart lay still for a moment, stunned, but his breath returned to him quickly enough and he rejoined the fight, ripping Darkstripe off of Rainstorm with a growl. Rainstorm got to his paws, blood dripping from some new wounds on his right flank and a nick on his ear, but his eyes were blazing with anger and Blazeheart knew he was good to keep fighting. They crouched together, eyes never leaving their enemy, as Darkstripe’s eyes darted back and forth between them. The eye Rainstorm had caught had swollen shut, blood oozing from it and coating his cheek fur.

Getting impatient, Blazeheart let out a frustrated growl, readying himself to attack. Darkstripe’s gaze zeroed in on him and, with a snarl, he lunged at the tortoiseshell. Rainstorm was quick to intersect him, slamming into his blind side. Blazeheart joined him, clawing at Darkstripe’s good eye until it bled. Now completely blinded, Darkstripe whipped his head around, looking utterly terrified. Blazeheart was ready to send him on his way when Darkstripe – apparently catching Blazeheart’s scent – lunged for Blazeheart again. He was too close; Blazeheart wasn’t going to be able to dodge this. So he readied himself, planning to go down fighting.

And then blood splashed into his face. It took him a moment to realize the reason why was because Rainstorm at jumped in at the last second and clawed a deep mark into Darkstripe’s throat. Darkstripe stood among them, more blood spilling with every panting breath he took.

“This isn’t over,” he rasped at them, body beginning to fade. His voice was a gurgle and hard to make out, but he managed. “The Clans will meet their deaths today.”

“Not if we have anything to say about it,” Rainstorm snarled, standing tall.

“Like you can stop all of us,” Darkstripe sneered back before fading away completely, the only thing left of him a puddle of blood where he once stood.

Satisfied, Blazeheart turned to Rainstorm and licked at a bleeding wound on his flank. Rainstorm nudged him away.

“I’ll get my wounds looked at when the battle is done, okay?” Reluctantly, Blazeheart nodded, and Rainstorm pressed his nose to the tortoiseshell’s ear affectionately for a moment before looking around for the next fight.

“Come on! Get up!”

The yowl caught both toms’ attention and their heads swiveled in the direction of the elder’s den. There, a pale tabby tom was nudging a brown-furred body. It took Blazeheart a minute, but he suddenly recognized the brown heap of fur as Mousefur.

“No!” the pale tabby snarled, enraged. As he leapt back into battle, Purdy stepped up to Mousefur, eyes wide with grief.

“You died a warrior’s death after all,” he murmured to his denmate, pressing his nose into her fur.

Shaking his head, Rainstorm turned away. Blazeheart could see the emotion in his eyes, how much it hurt him to see so much death. When Blazeheart pressed up against him, Rainstorm pushed his head into Blazeheart’s cheek. When he pulled away, the fire was back in his blue gaze.

“Let’s go,” he growled.

Blazeheart nodded and they jumped back into the fray. They lunged at the first Dark Forest warrior they came across – Thistleclaw. He was grappling with the ThunderClan warrior, Spiderleg. They snapped at the gray tom’s legs and scratched at his flanks. Spiderleg smacked him in the head with a heavy paw and as Thistleclaw lay stunned on the ground, Spiderleg nudged the two Voltron cats away.

“Go check on the nursery!” he ordered them before turning back to his opponent.

Trusting that Spiderleg had things under control, Rainstorm and Blazeheart pelted away, a screech sounding from their destination and making them run faster in urgency. When they got there, the nursery was in shambles; Brightheart and another queen named Daisy took out a Dark Forest warrior, leaving the kits and Ferncloud inside the nursery unguarded. There, a large and scarred black tom threatened the queen and the Clan’s young.

Ferncloud lunged for the tom’s throat, but he dodged her, catching her by the throat and dragging her out of the den. He sank his teeth as deep into her neck as he could and Blazeheart felt Rainstorm stiffen as the light left the queen’s eyes and she fell still.

“Ferncloud!” Firestar’s voice sounded from the camp entrance, but Blazeheart couldn’t take his eyes off the gray she-cat.

“NO!” Rainstorm roared, throwing himself at the dark warrior, a new determination lighting his gaze.

“Brokenstar!” Firestar snarled, springing forward but bouncing off of the massive tom easily. Rainstorm lunged again, slashing well-aimed blows at Brokenstar’s throat but the Dark Forest warrior backed up each time, Rainstorm’s claws only barely missing him. Blazeheart leaped in, matching Rainstorm’s moves blow for blow.

“Firestar!” Sandstorm sounded terrified as she called to her mate, and Blazeheart flicked his ear, listening to her while concentrating on his fight. “You can’t fight anymore. You only have one life left!”

“Every warrior here has only one life!” Blazeheart heard Firestar argue.

“Enough!”

The commanding yowl was enough to stop the fight against Brokenstar; a tattered, flat-faced gray she-cat stood before them, and Blazeheart could see she was from StarClan. Before any cat could say or do anything, the she-cat dived at Brokenstar and snapped his spine with a powerful bite. She dropped him and watched him fade away into nothing.

“Brokenstar’s dead!” a dismayed yowl sounded. Blazeheart looked over and saw that the cat Spiderleg had been fighting was staring at where Brokenstar had been slain in disbelief. “Retreat!” he cried, fleeing through the barrier in fear. The Dark Forest warriors that still stood followed quickly, apparently deciding that the battle was lost without Brokenstar.

Sorreltail went to her kits, blood soaking her belly fur; Blazeheart could smell that it was mostly hers. He prayed with every fiber of his being that she was okay.

“Why is Ferncloud asleep?” one of the other kits mewed.

“She’s tired after all the fighting, silly,” the kit’s brother mewed as Ferncloud’s mate, Dustpelt, dashed into camp. “Dustpelt will wake her up.”

Rainstorm whimpered from beside Blazeheart and looked away, looking grief-stricken at what the kits would have to go through.

“Ferncloud? Ferncloud!”

Blazeheart peeked around his friend to see Dustpelt tugging at his mate’s body. He took a peek at Rainstorm’s face and decided he needed to get away from this for now. Blazeheart moved to Rainstorm’s other side and nudged him away, blocking out Dustpelt’s angry grief behind them. The two toms stopped by Snowfang, who crouched by Hollyleaf and Leafpool.

The thorn entrance rustled again as another Dark Forest warrior stepped in, bleeding.

“Hawkfrost,” Leafpool whispered, barely loud enough to be heard.

Blazeheart’s head snapped to the brown tabby she-cat and instead caught the look of absolute fury on Snowfang’s face. Her lips split into a vicious snarl and she jumped to her paws, claws unsheathed, just as Ivypool cried out, “You killed Hollyleaf!” Both she-cats sprang at the brown tabby and though he managed to knock Ivypool away, Snowfang was able to latch onto his foreleg while Ivypool got nimbly to her paws.

Nearby, Blazeheart heard Dovewing try to help her sister, but Firestar stopped her, encouraging her to stay out of it.

“But he might kill her!” Dovewing protested.

“This is their fight,” Rainstorm told her calmly, eyes never leaving the fight against Hawkfrost. “This is personal for them. You should respect that.”

Dovewing looked defiant but she had the good sense to keep her mouth shut, her attention turning back to her sister.

Ivypool was raking her claws at his belly, slashing at his eyes, shouting, “You murderer! Liar! Betrayer!” all the while. Snowfang attacked from behind while Ivypool kept his front distracted; the silver she-cat clawed at his thighs and spine, opening old wounds and creating new ones down his sides. Hawkfrost twisted and snarled, trying to fight back both she-cats but unable to keep his attention split.

His ice-blue eyes trained on Snowfang for a moment and Ivypool used the distraction to leap onto his back, ripping down his flank with her back claws. Howling, Hawkfrost flung her off and pushed his heavy paws into her spine, pinning her to the ground and pushing her muzzle into the earth.

“You’re the traitor,” he growled at her, eyes flashing. “And this time, I’ll kill you.”

“LIKE HELL!” Snowfang roared, flinging herself onto the tom’s back and sinking her teeth into his throat. The snapping of his neck rang around the hollow like a solemn church bell, and Hawkfrost hung limp in Snowfang’s jaws, dead.

Ivypool stumbled to her paws, Snowfang darting in beside her to keep her standing. Suddenly, a massive dark brown tabby tom who looked identical to Brambleclaw but more scarred, stepped out from behind the medicine den.

“I should’ve known, Brambleclaw,” his deep voice rumbled, eyes pinned on the ThunderClan deputy, “that, even to the end, you’d never have the courage to take out your brother. You always were the weakest-willed of my kits.”

Brambleclaw stared at his father, horrified. The dead tabby tom turned his attention to Firestar, who unsheathed his claws the moment their eyes met. “Not yet,” he snarled to the ginger tom. “We will meet in battle, but not until you’ve watched every one of your Clan die.”

“This battle is over!” Firestar argued.

“The Dark Forest is endless,” the massive tabby corrected him with a hiss. “It has more warriors than you could ever imagine. The battle is just the beginning.”

Dovewing rushed forward. “But Brokenstar and Hawkfrost are dead! Why would they fight now? They have no leader.”

The brown tabby tom let out his claws, letting them glisten in the moonlight, the threat obvious. “They have me.”

“You’re no leader, Tigerstar,” Firestar stated, stepping forward. “You never were.”

“I’m a better leader than you could ever be,” Tigerstar growled.

“A leader puts his Clan first. Instead, your Clanmates are made to fight your battles, not theirs.”

“A real warrior loves battle. I give them a chance to die for a cause.”

“No true leader wants the soldiers in their care to risk their lives unless necessary,” Whitescar snarled nearby. “A true leader always puts his soldiers first and himself last. Anyone that doesn’t do that is no leader; they’re just a coward.”

Blazeheart felt himself practically bursting with pride. Well said, Shiro!

“I’m no coward!” Tigerstar hissed.

“Then prove it and fight your own battles for once!”

“What have your battles even been for, Tigerstar?” Firestar asked, pelt rippling with anger. “What cause is worth the lives of so many warriors?”

“Defeating you, of course,” Tigerstar rumbled, burning gaze going back to Firestar.

“You haven’t defeated me yet,” Firestar pointed out.

“That’s why I’m here.”

“The Dark Forest cats won’t follow you,” Firestar warned. “They know now that they can’t beat the Clans. They won’t try again.”

“I don’t need them,” Tigerstar sneered, sparing a glance at the bristling cats around the edge of the clearing. “I only have to beat you. Then I can pick off your Clanmates one by one, moon after moon, till there’s no one left.

Firestar’s gaze travelled the camp and Blazeheart knew he was taking in the body count. “I’m not going to let you harm another of my cats, not ever.”

“Then you’re going to have to kill me.”

“Has it been worth it, Tigerstar? All the hate? All the death?”

“Every moment,” and Blazeheart could swear the words rumbled the very earth, shaking them all to their core as Tigerstar leapt and hooked his claws into Firestar’s shoulder, ripping at his spine. “The moment Bluestar found you, I became nothing! I have waited all this time to have my revenge!”

Firestar slipped free, turning to claw him. Tigerstar ducked and grabbed Firestar by the hind leg, biting down hard. He dragged Firestar until he was flat on his stomach, then reared up and slammed down on Firestar’s spine with heavy paws. Firestar pushed himself to his paws and jumped at the tabby tom. Tigerstar turned to defend himself, and Firestar slammed into the tabby’s side. Staggering, Tigerstar fell, and Firestar slashed away at his head.

Struggling to his paws, Tigerstar slipped away, blinking blood from his eyes before jumping at Firestar’s throat. He clung on, his claws digging into the ThunderClan leader’s neck, Firestar stumbling backward.

From the corner of his eye, Blazeheart saw Sandstorm wanting to jump in and protect her mate, but Sorreltail held her back.

Firestar ripped at Tigerstar’s stomach and pushed him off, fur flying from Firestar’s neck as Tigerstar’s claws were dislodged. Getting to his paws, Firestar flew at Tigerstar, sinking his teeth into Tigerstar’s throat. Tigerstar thrashed as the teeth in his neck bit down harder and deeper, blood gushing around them and spilling onto the ground below. Finally, Tigerstar stopped twitching, eyes going dull. The ThunderClan leader released him, watching as the dark warrior’s body faded away.

“Tigerstar has gone!”

Dovewing’s mew was drowned out at the end by lightning cracking through the sky. It struck the fallen tree in the center of the camp and the entire thing burst into flame, Firestar’s form disappearing behind it. Just then, rain began to thrum into the hollow, the burning tree hissing as the fire crackled and died.

“Firestar!” Sandstorm cried, racing to where her mate was last seen. A body was visible there and Blazeheart knew right away who it was.

“Oh, no…”

“Firestar…” Rainstorm murmured beside him.

“I told you not to waste your final life,” Sandstorm choked, nosing at Firestar’s limp body.

“He didn’t waste it,” Brambleclaw corrected, coming to stand beside her.

“Fire will save the Clan,” Leafpool mewed quietly.

“I would have taken your place if you had let me,” Graystripe crouched by his former leader.

“Firestar!” Dustpelt called, voice soft and cracked. “When you see her, tell Ferncloud I love her.”

As the cats of ThunderClan murmured their sentiments to their fallen leader, the cats of other Clans made their exit, some of them dipping their heads respectfully at Firestar on their way out.

“The battle is over,” Brambleclaw told the Clan. “Our victory belongs to Firestar!”

Moonlight shone down through the clouds and the clearing was suddenly alight with starry warriors. Cats of old greeted the living cats, old friends and mates, lost kits and loved ones. It was bittersweet to watch the reunions, though Blazeheart’s heart filled with joy at it all the same.

A blue-gray she-cat gazed sorrowfully at the ginger tom who had given his life for his Clan. “I knew that Firestar would save the Clan many moons ago. As fire, and then as the fourth cat in the oldest prophecy, he succeeded. He leaves ThunderClan in the paws of a new leader.” With that, she turned to Brambleclaw. “If you have half the courage and loyalty of Firestar, you will be a fine leader for ThunderClan.”

“I don’t envy him,” Rainstorm whispered.

“What do you mean?” Blazeheart asked, surprised.

“I’d never want to be leader.”

“Didn’t you want to be leader of Voltron?” This was news to him.

“Nah, I just wanted to prove to myself that I was worthy of it, and worthy of my place on the team,” Rainstorm sighed. “If being your right hand has taught me anything, it’s that I prefer being the man behind the man rather than the man on the frontlines. Too much pressure.”

As they spoke, the starry warriors gathered around Firestar’s body, touching their noses to his pelt. Suddenly, Firestar stood – in a sense. He was clearly standing there, but his body still lay on the ground. Blazeheart blinked to make sure he was seeing this right.

“His spirit is leaving,” Jayfeather breathed.

Firestar’s spirit let his gaze travel the Clan, his expression warm. Then he nodded to Brambleclaw and leaned down to brush his muzzle against his mate’s. Sandstorm watched him, eyes full of love and heartache as he turned and padded out of the hollow, following the rest of the spirits.

“I will love you no matter where you reside.”

Blazeheart looked over and saw Snowfang gazing longingly at Hollyleaf’s spirit. They shared a long look of grief, their shared gaze holding a lifetime of love as Hollyleaf leaned forward to nuzzle her mate one last time.

“Ferncloud’s awake!” called one of the kits from the nursery.

Blazeheart spared a glance and saw Ferncloud’s and Mousefur’s spirits joining their ancestors, Ferncloud stopping to give her mate a good-bye. When he looked back, Hollyleaf was already bounding after them, leaving behind a broken-looking Snowfang. Sharppaw, who had stayed in the medicine den for most of the battle, sidled up to her and pressed against her in comfort. Snowfang refused to tear her gaze away from the spirit of her mate, but she placed her tail around Sharppaw’s in a silent thank you.

The starry cats all left the clearing and faded into starlight, returning to their home in the sky to welcome its new members.

Sandstorm stood, her gaze turning to Brambleclaw. “Bramblestar!”

And that’s all it took. The rest of the Clan began chanting Brambleclaw’s new name in honor of his new place as leader. He looked up at the sky, as if silently thanking Firestar, or perhaps praying for StarClan’s help in leading his Clan.

“I will honor my ancestors in StarClan,” he swore, “but not those who have ever walked in the Dark Forest. Guide my steps wisely, warriors of the past,” and his gaze lowered to his Clan, “and warriors of now.”

Rainstorm pressed up against Blazeheart again. “Yeah, definitely don’t envy him.”

Chapter Text

The camp was destroyed, at least four ThunderClan cats were dead, and one of those cats was the Clan leader.

All in all, it hadn’t been the best day.

Brambleclaw – no, Bramblestar now – had already left with Jayfeather to get his nine lives at the Moonpool, being the successor to ThunderClan’s leadership. He had chosen Squirrelflight, his former mate, as his deputy and Blazeheart had the sneaking suspicion that their relationship wasn’t going to remain professional for long if their intimate gazes said anything about it.

Squirrelflight’s first act as deputy was to order every injured cat to be seen by Leafpool or Sharppaw. Fit cats were to help rebuild the camp, although cats were free to grieve for their fallen loved ones. Blazeheart saw that Snowfang had not only helped bring Hollyleaf’s body out to the center of the clearing to be mourned, but that she hadn’t moved from her dead mate’s side since the battle had ended. Her nose was pressed into the black she-cat’s fur and her eyes looked like they held memories of a future the two would never get to have.

Blazeheart stuck to Rainstorm’s side like glue, refusing to let the brown tom out of his sight. If I close my eyes for even a moment, what if it turns out he was one of the casualties? He didn’t think he could handle that.

The two looked around at the sound of pawsteps; Brackenfur was walking around, looking concerned. “Has anyone seen Sorreltail?” he asked.

Blazeheart shook his head, but Rainstorm’s gaze swiveled to the nursery. Before he could say anything, Brightheart emerged from the elder’s den, the kits mewling after her from within deeper the den.

“Wait there! You can come out soon, I promise,” she told them before turning to Brackenfur. “I saw Sorreltail go into the nursery. You should try there first.”

“Thanks!” Brackenfur mewed, heading to the somehow-still-intact nursery.

“I hope she’s okay,” Blazeheart murmured quietly. “I saw her after the battle; she was covered in blood and it smelled like it was mostly her own.”

When he turned to glance at Rainstorm, he saw fear in the other tom’s eyes. They moved closer to the nursery, hoping they’d hear something that would settle their nerves.

They were wrong to hope.

No.

Brackenfur’s single meow made Blazeheart’s heart sink.

“Oh, no…” Rainstorm whispered, breath hitching.

The two of them hurried closer to the nursery entrance, quickly joined by a frantic Dovewing, and all three of them gasped when they stepped in blood. The stench of it was overwhelming, and the feel of it so sticky and thick that Blazeheart vaguely wondered if he’d ever be clean again.

Sorreltail lay unmoving in her nest. One of her kits popped up on her other side and squeaked, “We can’t wake her! We tried and tried but she’s still asleep!”

“Oh, God,” Rainstorm’s mew was choked; Blazeheart imagined how hard it must for him, being so close with his young niece and nephew, to hear small children talk so naively of their mother’s death.

Sorreltail’s other kit popped up beside her sister, fur sticking up in all directions, and it would be cute if the scene weren’t so horrifying. “Is she really tired from the fighting, do you think?”

A choked noise like a sob escaped Rainstorm’s throat and Blazeheart pressed as close to him as possible.

“Tired…” Brackenfur whispered distractedly.

“Lilykit,” Dovewing croaked, “Seedkit, come with me.”

“Sorry, mama,” Lilykit mewed when her paw slipped into her mother’s ear as the two kits scrambled away from the body.

Rainstorm quickly nudged the kits towards the entrance, rushing to block their sight from Sorreltail’s corpse. Blazeheart heard his breath hitch again when he noticed blood soaking the kits’ belly fur, and he tried to lick them clean as they left the nursery.

Blazeheart turned to follow, looking back to see Brackenfur curled around his mate’s head.

“Wake up, my love,” he murmured, voice cracking in a way that could have brought tears to Blazeheart’s eyes. “Our kits need you. We can’t lose you now.”

Heart breaking for the brown warrior, Blazeheart left him to grieve and joined Rainstorm and Dovewing. It looked as if Brightheart had tried to herd the kits to her, but Rainstorm kept the kits close, lapping at their bellies to clean them of their mother’s blood.

Squirrelflight joined them. “What’s going on?”

“Sorreltail is dead,” Dovewing told her quietly, sounding like the words were stuck in her throat.

Eyes wide with shock, Squirrelflight stuttered, “But… but she was fine. She didn’t say anything about being hurt.” She looked around at everyone. “Didn’t anyone notice she’d been injured?”

Taking a deep breath, Blazeheart said, “I did.” His voice turned pleading, “I-I didn’t know she was that hurt! I could smell that most of the blood on her was hers, but she was walking and talking fine, so I didn’t think—” Rainstorm laid a tail on his shoulder in comfort.

Squirrelflight looked furious and ready to argue, but Sandstorm stepped forward and mimicked Rainstorm’s movement. “If she was injured that badly, we couldn’t have done anything to help her.”

“We could have tried!” Squirrelflight snapped stubbornly.

A wail from the nursery distracted them all: “Sorreltail! Don’t leave me!”

Blazeheart flattened his ears and shrunk into himself. Was Sandstorm right? Or was Sorreltail’s death his fault as much as it was her actual murderer’s?

“I’ll go to him,” Graystripe’s mate, Millie, offered as she slipped into the den. “He shouldn’t be alone at this time.”

Graystripe’s gaze followed his love before declaring, “The Dark Forest has claimed another victim. May Sorreltail watch over us from StarClan.” He bowed his head; Blazeheart did the same, out of both shame and grief.

Squirrelflight paced around, shooting furious looks at Blazeheart every now and then. “I told you all to check yourself for injuries. Have you done it yet? I won’t have any other cats die on me!”

Subconsciously, Blazeheart licked at Rainstorm’s flank wounds; they were shallow enough, luckily, and had long ago stopped bleeding. Rainstorm nudged his head away before pressing their cheeks together.

“Since our wounds are pretty minor,” he whispered into Blazeheart’s ear, “let’s go out into the forest and collect some bedding for everyone to sleep on.”

Blazeheart nodded numbly, and once Rainstorm had finally passed the two kits to Brightheart, the two toms trudged out of camp, Blazeheart’s head and tail down. He barely noticed the broken thorns pricking at his pelt, stinging his scratches and cuts. The pain was there, but it meant nothing to him, sent no sharp vibrations through his nerves. He hardly even noticed when Rainstorm leaned over and pulled a thorn from his tangled fur.

The toms walked quietly, and if Blazeheart were in a better state of mind, he’d have noticed that they had passed plenty of moss-covered trees to collect bedding from. But while his eyes caught the sight of it, his mind could not or would not process what he was seeing. He could be looking at static for all the information he retained from it.

Silence stretched out and Blazeheart both loved and hated it. He didn’t want to confront what had happened nor his part in it, but in the quiet of the night, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Grief and shame and guilt pierced him over and over again like a thousand daggers.

Did Brackenfur blame him? Would he? He should. Blazeheart hoped he would. If it was the other way around, if Rainstorm was fatally wounded and Brackenfur knew but didn’t say anything, Blazeheart would want his head.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” Rainstorm murmured.

Blazeheart stopped in his tracks, staring incredulously at his friend, grief and fury in equal parts swimming in his eyes. “How can you say that?” he croaked.

Rainstorm looked back at him calmly. So very calmly, and it was infuriating. It filled Blazeheart with irrational rage, burned him up from the gut, the flames of it licking at his throat until he felt ready to burst.

“How can you say that?!” Blazeheart repeated, shouting, roaring, now. He shoved his face into Rainstorm’s, expression contorted with the fury he felt burning him to cinders, to ashes. “How can you say it’s not my fault?! Sorreltail was injured – I knew she was injured – and I said nothing! I did nothing! And now Brackenfur is yet another grieving mate in the Clan and her kits don’t have their mother!”

“And that’s what’s bothering you the most, isn’t it?” Rainstorm asked quietly, confidently, and Blazeheart hated it. “Their without their mother like you were without yours, and you hate that you may have played a part in that.”

“Of course I do!” Blazeheart yowled, baring his teeth. “They lost their mother, and it’s MY FAULT!!” His voice cracked then, and he bowed his head as the strength of his emotions weighed him down. “It’s my fault,” he repeated more quietly.

He felt Rainstorm press their heads together, felt Rainstorm’s fierce gaze on him. “No, it isn’t.”

“How can you say that?” Blazeheart couldn’t help but reiterate, gazing back at Rainstorm with glossy eyes.

“Because you didn’t know,” Rainstorm whispered, though the softness did nothing to lessen his conviction. “You didn’t know her wounds were that bad. Nobody did. You smelled her blood, but so what? You can bleed plenty from surface wounds. She was acting normal, like nothing was wrong. It wasn’t your fault, Blazeheart,” he pushed as a sob ripped through Blazeheart’s throat. “It’s not. Sorreltail was just a really good actress.”

Blazeheart buckled into his friend’s body, Rainstorm curling around him in response. “I wish I had said something right away.”

“I know, querido, I know,” Rainstorm licked gently, comfortingly, at his ears. “But Sandstorm was right; her wounds were too horrible, she wouldn’t have survived it either way.”

They were quiet for a bit, Blazeheart gasping for breath as his grief and guilt engulfed him. Rainstorm was a rock, curled tightly around him, nuzzling him, purring soothingly and licking at his ears.

“If it makes you feel better,” Rainstorm murmured after a while, “I’m pretty sure the cat that dealt that blow to her was Darkstripe.”

Blazeheart’s head shot up at that.

“He’s the last one I saw her fighting with and some of the blood on her fur stunk of him.”

A breath escaped Blazeheart at that, was practically punched out of him, and Rainstorm nuzzled at his forehead.

“We killed her killer. We avenged her.”

Sighing, not completely comforted but slightly more relaxed than before, he sunk deeper into his friend warm pelt, tucking his face into Rainstorm’s throat.

They woke the next morning in that exact position.

 

When they walked back into camp the next day, it was to see that the dead had been taken to be buried, the grieving cats either helping to rebuild the camp or coming back into the hollow with dirt-clotted paws and cracked claws.

Brackenfur was among those that returned and he swerved immediately to see his kits where they stayed with Brightheart. The rest of the burial crew flopped by the freshkill pile, looking much too tired to do anything else. Not long after, Bramblestar returned and immediately got into conversation with his deputy/maybe-mate. Blazeheart ignored them, padding over to the elder’s den, crouching down nearby, while Rainstorm went and pick out some prey for them to share.

Rainstorm returned with a mouse, probably knowing Blazeheart didn’t have much of an appetite. Even in his mind-numbing grief, Blazeheart found the space of emotion to appreciate Rainstorm’s observational skills and empathy. He just appreciated Rainstorm altogether; it brought forth more complicated emotions that Blazeheart wasn’t sure he was ready to put a name to yet. He would one day, though. Rainstorm deserved that.

As they ate, Brackenfur’s kits came barreling out of the den in a play scuffle. Blazeheart watched them, feeling fond despite himself. The happy feeling cracked and burned the moment Brackenfur followed his kits out into the clearing. His expression was dazed, his eyes distant, as he caught sight of Blazeheart and Rainstorm. With a glance at his children, he padded over to the two toms and settled beside them.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Rainstorm murmured sympathetically, pressing a nose to Brackenfur’s ear briefly. “Sorreltail was a great cat and she will be missed.”

“Have—” Blazeheart’s voice crackled as if he were dehydrated, the words dying in his throat. But Brackenfur was watching him expectantly, so he had to continue his thought. “Have you—Have you told the kits?”

Brackenfur’s solemn gaze returned to his children, and he looked so broken that Blazeheart felt his heart and resolve break.

“I’m sorry,” he choked out. Brackenfur looked back at him, confusion coloring his gaze slightly – Blazeheart didn’t think anything would ever take away the sadness that had planted itself so deep in the tom. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, voice stronger.

“What are you talking about?” Brackenfur asked dazedly.

“I knew,” Blazeheart croaked. “I knew—I knew Sorreltail was injured, I saw the blood on her stomach and I could smell that most of it was hers. I should have said something, I know I should have, but I thought she’d tell someone! I thought she would—”

Brackenfur rose from his place beside Rainstorm and dragged his paws over to Blazeheart, pressing a nose to Blazeheart’s head.

“I don’t blame you, Blazeheart,” Brackenfur said quietly. “You can’t be the only one that noticed she was hurt. Nobody but her knew how bad it was. It’s not your fault.”

He must have seen the disbelief on Blazeheart’s face, because he leaned closer and whispered, “Blazeheart, I forgive you for not telling anyone. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

Letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been hold and pressed his head against Brackenfur’s. “Thank you,” he spoke so quietly, it was a wonder Brackenfur heard him. But he must’ve, because he nodded, expression soft. Gazing at Blazeheart a moment longer, Brackenfur turned and joined his kits.

Blazeheart sighed, his shoulders lighter from the burden that had been lifted from him, and he leaned against Rainstorm, feeling too boneless to support himself. The weight of Rainstorm’s head laid atop his own and it felt like the world had begun to orbit again.

 

Whitecough was spreading through the Clan. It was a nasty illness that seemed like the flu. Apparently, it could turn into Greencough if not treated early enough with the right herbs, and Greencough was basically Whitecough only ten times worse.

So, a really bad flu.

The flu can be deadly, and Blazeheart had heard that the cat flu was even worse and more deadly, so he wasn’t going to take this illness lightly. So far, Sandstorm, and the warriors Hazeltail and Toadstep had all succumbed to the sickness.

And Foxleap, Ferncloud’s and Dustpelt’s youngest son, had died from infected injuries. The Dark Forest had claimed another.

He and Rainstorm had decided to hunt, taking a break from helping the rebuilding of the camp and figuring the warriors and sick cats all needed food to keep their strength up. The two sniffed around, seeking prey-scent to follow but coming up short. They had caught a bird each, and Rainstorm had caught a squirrel and a mouse, so they wouldn’t go home empty-pawed. Still, the more prey they brought back, the better.

A peculiar scent caught Blazeheart’s attention, and he pressed his nose to a fern, opening his mouth to taste the scent better. It was sharp and fowl, smelling like no prey he had ever come across. With his tail, he signaled Rainstorm over, who was at his side in an instant. Blazeheart backed up, allowing Rainstorm to take a sniff for himself.

Suddenly, Rainstorm’s head shot up, ears pricked forward and eyes focused on something Blazeheart had not yet seen. And then the scent he had picked up became overpowering, carried around them as if a tornado was keeping the smell there.

A moment later, red-brown fur was barely visible through the leaves of a nearby bush, and unfamiliar snarling filled the air. Before Blazeheart could react, three foxes leapt from the cover of foliage, lunging at the cats before them.

Blazeheart flew backwards as a fox hurtled into him, jaws snapping at his throat. Twisting from his enemy’s grip, he spun around and attacked the red-brown creature, claws slashing at its flank and teeth biting down hard on one of its ears. The fox screeched in pain and ripped itself away from Blazeheart, blood splattering onto the forest floor. They grappled with each other, Blazeheart raking his claws through flesh whenever possible, the fox snapping at whatever limb it could reach. Fox fangs latched onto one of Blazeheart’s forelegs, causing Blazeheart to yowl in pain before biting at the fox’s throat. The fox panicked, writhing in Blazeheart’s jaws and yelping in fear. When Blazeheart released it, the fox ran away without a second thought.

A nearby screech caught his attention and Blazeheart turned to see Rainstorm holding his own quite well against his own two opponents. What he lacked in strength he more than made up for in speed and strategy. He dodged attacks easily, dealing well-aimed blows, and soaking the ground in fox blood.

With the foxes distracted, Blazeheart snuck around them quietly, careful not to attract their attention. Once he was directly behind them, he lunged at them, clawing at their back ends and ripping off their fur.

Yowling and deciding to give up before they were killed, the two foxes broke away from the cats’ claws, bounding back into the trees. Rainstorm gave chase and Blazeheart pelted after him.

Eventually, they ended up at a dirt road – they were near the border between ThunderClan and ShadowClan. Blazeheart stopped within the line of trees but Rainstorm kept going further, stopping in the middle of the dirt path, watching the foxes retreat into unknown territory beyond the Clans.

“And stay out!” Rainstorm called after them with a snarl.

Even from this distance, Blazeheart could see the wild glint in his friend’s eyes, the adrenaline coursing through his veins almost visible. Rainstorm was still tense with it, but the adrenaline rush was leaving Blazeheart’s body.

And that’s how he heard it.

Ear twitching, Blazeheart looked to the opposite side of the road, the end of it that lead to the lake. A car was hurtling down the path, its driver bent over as if searching for something. Eyes darting back to Rainstorm, Blazeheart realized the brown warrior was right in the car’s path.

“Rainstorm!” Blazeheart called, not nearly loud enough as Rainstorm’s gaze stayed trained on where the foxes had disappeared.

Rainstorm!” Blazeheart yowled louder; his words failed to reach Rainstorm.

Blazeheart’s gaze swiveled back to the car and his heart stopped altogether; the car was nearly upon Rainstorm.

LANCE!” Blazeheart screeched desperately.

The familiar name shook Rainstorm from his reverie and he turned just in time to see the car as it slammed into him.

Chapter Text

The dust in the air settled as the car continued its way down the path, the driver none the wiser of the destruction they had left in their wake.

Blazeheart could only stare in horror at the limp brown body of his friend. Rainstorm didn’t seem to be bleeding, but that was even more cause for worry – the bleeding could be internal, and Blazeheart wasn’t exactly sure how Jayfeather would fix that. Trying and failing to swallow the lump in his throat, Blazeheart slunk forward on heavy paws, his eyes never leaving Rainstorm. Silence hung in the air like a poison, heavy and bleak. Not even the sound of prey, no breeze stirring the branches and grass, disturbed the eerie quiet that had blanketed the area. It made the entire ordeal all the more heart-stopping, but Blazeheart crept forward regardless, sniffing the air for any scent of blood, both hoping and dreading he’d find it.

When he was close enough, Blazeheart nudged at Rainstorm’s body, pressing his nose between the brown warrior’s shoulderblades.

“Rainstorm?” he croaked, the sound so choked that even he couldn’t hear it. He cleared his throat, swallowing, and repeated in a stronger voice, “Rainstorm?”

Nothing.

Desperately, Blazeheart nudged at Rainstorm’s body more harshly.

“Rainstorm, c’mon! Get up!”

Letting anger swarm his tone, he continued in a growl, “Rainstorm, stop being so lazy! The sooner you get up, the sooner we can get you to Jayfeather! Are you TRYING to make things harder on the rest of us?!”

But he knew it was no use; Rainstorm was not conscious. His flank rose very slightly, his breathing so weak it seemed he only inhaled the bare minimum necessary to stay alive. Blazeheart had to really focus to see that Rainstorm was breathing at all.

More concerning was the lack of blood-scent.

Scared of what he would see, Blazeheart circled Rainstorm’s body to get a glimpse at his face.

Rainstorm’s eyes were closed, his jaw slack and gaping a bit. A small trickle of blood drooled from his mouth, but it was so miniscule that Blazeheart couldn’t even pick up its metallic tang. His fur was crusted in dirt and shallow scratches, some of his still-healing battle wounds having reopened somewhat, enough to show the pink inner flesh.

Heart breaking at the sight, Blazeheart reached forward and nuzzled at Rainstorm’s cheek.

“Rainstorm,” he choked out, “please come back.”

Nothing. Complete and total silence.

“Rainstorm—” swallowing, Blazeheart corrected himself. “Lance, please.

I need you.”

Rainstorm needed to see a medicine cat, but Blazeheart was terrified what moving him by himself would do. Wasn’t it always advised not to move a patient with a head injury? That they could suffer brain damage or even fatality if moved? And Blazeheart couldn’t very well leave him here, where he could be picked off by hungry scavengers or hit by another car.

So Blazeheart paced, back and forth, in front of Rainstorm’s body. His gazed stayed trained on his friend the entire time, and only the sudden rustle of bushes on ThunderClan’s side of the border could drag his attention away.

Worried the foxes had returned, Blazeheart crouched defensively in front of Rainstorm, letting out a vicious snarl and unsheathing his claws. Then he saw gray fur and immediately went back to panic mode.

“Help!” he yowled, desperate. “Rainstorm’s hurt! Someone help!”

Dovewing poked her head out of the bushes, shaking it as if dislodging something from her ears, before her eyes landed on Rainstorm and she let out an audible gasp.

“Dovewing, get Jayfeather!” Blazeheart growled, getting annoyed as she just stood there and gaped. “Dovewing!

She shook her head again, this time clearly to get herself to focus. “R-right! I’ll be right back!” and she was gone in a flash.

Feeling marginally better, Blazeheart went back to his friend, nudging at Rainstorm’s cheek with his nose.

“Jayfeather will be here soon,” and though the words were soothing, Blazeheart found little comfort in them – what could Jayfeather do to stop internal bleeding? “Hold tight, buddy. You’re going to be fine. You have to be fine.”

Time seemed to drag, Blazeheart murmuring gentle reassurance to his friend to keep himself from exploding as the seconds seem to take hours. It didn’t help that the atmosphere was deathly silent. An ice-chill breeze stirred the leaves and grasses, but even that was muted, the only notable result being Blazeheart freezing to the bone. Not that he noticed.

In what felt like forever later, Dovewing returned with Jayfeather in tow. Dovewing kept a respectable distance, but Jayfeather’s nose was immediately at Rainstorm’s pelt, sniffing out the injuries. His whiskers twitched uneasily as he went, and he laid his paws on his patient’s flank with the air of a doctor confirming his suspicions. After a moment, he backed up slightly and turned his intense, blind stare to Blazeheart.

“You and Dovewing will have to carry him back to camp. Carefully,” he emphasized, then jerked his head as a signal for Dovewing to join them.

It was difficult and awkward, but they ended up with Rainstorm’s torso on Blazeheart’s shoulders, while his bottom half rest on Dovewing’s. Jayfeather lead the way, weaving through the trees and bushes better than a sighted cat, and the two warriors he was leading struggled to keep up with the load on their backs. They made sure their steps were careful – a single trip could send Rainstorm flying and, considering his condition, Blazeheart wasn’t altogether sure he’d survive it.

They arrived back to camp, and the wave of relief it brought was swiftly washed away by a new wave of trepidation and anticipation. What if it was too late? What if moving Rainstorm made his condition worse? What if Jayfeather discovers something horrible?

What if, what if, what if.

Thankfully, the sick cats had been moved to a different den since there were so many of them, so there was plenty of space for Rainstorm in the medicine den and little chance he would catch Whitecough himself. The moment Rainstorm was placed into a nest, Leafpool coming over and beginning to sniff out his injuries while Sharppaw looked through the herb storage frantically, Jayfeather shooed Blazeheart out of the den. They almost had a full-blown fight about it, but Leafpool made him feel guilty -- in that way she has about her – for disturbing Rainstorm and delaying his treatment.

So Blazeheart was currently pacing outside the den, ears pricked for any indication that Rainstorm’s condition had worsened. He was eventually joined by the other Voltron cats. Whitescar crouched outside the den and drifted between watching Blazeheart pace and keeping an eye on the entrance to the medicine den. Snowfang came next; when Sharppaw was nudged out of the den by Leafpool because she was too worried to work right, Snowfang offered to help her look for herbs that might help Rainstorm and the two she-cats took off. Mudfoot had joined them all by then, making sure everybody was fed and practically shoving a mouth down Blazeheart’s throat when the tortoiseshell said he wasn’t hungry.

“You can’t starve yourself because you’re worried,” Mudfoot had reasoned. “Rainstorm wouldn’t want that and it would only make him worry once he woke up.”

Blazeheart had reluctantly conceded that point and ate, even though it felt like he was swallowing burrs.

It seemed odd to him that Sunwhisker hadn’t joined them at all, considering Rainstorm’s first time getting seriously injured after joining Voltron had been to save Sunwhisker’s life. Yet when Blazeheart brought it up to his friends, Whitescar had corrected him.

“He’s resting on the other side of the den,” he told Blazeheart. “He said he can hear what goes on in there better that way, and told me he would let us know if he heard anything significant.”

Blazeheart felt his heart fill to bursting with gratitude for the old cat and he regretted ever doubting him. He’d hunt for Sunwhisker later as an apology.

The sun had begun to set by the time Jayfeather emerged from the den. Snowfang and Sharppaw had returned some time ago with multiple different herbs of varying scents – Sharppaw seemed calmer, so Snowfang’s attempt to distract her had worked. The moment Blazeheart caught the flash of silver signaling Jayfeather’s arrival, he was at the entrance of the den immediately, demanding news.

“Is he going to be okay?” That seemed to be the most pressing question.

Jayfeather let out a quiet hiss at being bombarded right away before speaking. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Blazeheart snapped, ignoring when Whitescar placed his tail on Blazeheart’s shoulders in a placating gesture.

“I mean exactly what I said,” Jayfeather quipped back. “His injuries are all internal and while we have herbs we can make him swallow that might help heal him, if the damage is extensive – which I have good reason to believe it is, considering what happened – then no herb in the world can help him now.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” Whitescar inquired, somehow keeping his cool.

“All we can do is watch and wait,” Jayfeather sighed, defeated. “I can’t guarantee his survival.”

Before anybody could get a word in, Blazeheart was nose-to-nose with Jayfeather, snarling viciously at the medicine cat and sliding his claws out threateningly.

“You better guarantee it,” he growled at the silver tabby tom. “We need Rainstorm to protect the universe and if the universe is destroyed, so is your little world and everyone you love in it. So you better be able to guarantee his survival because your life and the lives of everyone you love depends on it.”

“And that’ll suck if it happens,” Jayfeather wasn’t fazed in the slightest, “but I can’t perform miracles. If you suddenly have a power that allows you to heal the innards of a living creature, I’d love to know about it.”

Blazeheart let out another loud snarl, turning away in frustration and resuming his earlier pacing, unsure of what else to do and too distracted and upset to be useful. He heard Snowfang quietly tell him to calm down, but he ignored her, swinging his head back in Jayfeather’s direction.

“I want to see him,” he demanded.

Jayfeather nodded and silently lead the way back into his den, Blazeheart following close on his heels.

He knew to expect it, but seeing Rainstorm’s unconscious body laying in that nest still shocked Blazeheart. He looked smaller, somehow, his outer injuries patched and his expression asleep but nowhere near peaceful, as if he could feel his pain in his dreams. It broke Blazeheart’s heart and it was with grief and solemnity that he came up to Rainstorm’s side, pressing his face into his cheek.

“I know you can fight this,” he whispered. “You’re stronger than this, Lance. You can beat this. We—I need you to beat this. Please.

There was no response, and after a moment, Blazeheart curled around his best friend and nuzzled into his neck. Rainstorm’s short fur was stiff and scratchy, but it felt like the softest of feathers to Blazeheart. If he laid his head just enough to the side, he could hear Rainstorm’s pulse in his throat and it was comforting, an audible reminder that Rainstorm was still alive, still fighting.

The light outside the den had turned to night when Jayfeather roused Blazeheart.

“Go sleep in the warriors den,” he grumbled.

“Jayfeather, let him sleep here,” Leafpool admonished. “Rainstorm might be more relaxed with his mate here.”

That caught Blazeheart’s attention and his head shot up to stare embarrassingly at Leafpool. He opened his mouth to correct her, that Rainstorm wasn’t his mate, but she gave him a look that said essentially, ‘Are you really going to bs me right now?’ Blazeheart decided that, no, he would not bs her and instead just nodded his gratitude at her before snuggling against Rainstorm’s pulse point again. He fell asleep to the sound of Jayfeather quietly complaining about clingy cats.

 

Days passed and Rainstorm showed no sign of getting better. He also hadn’t woken up once.

Blazeheart was basically useless as a warrior during this time, unable to concentrate on training, hunting, or border patrolling. He missed obvious catches and got much too distracted during training and patrols, getting himself hit with a battle move he hadn’t prepared for or missing out on suspicious scents near the borders. The other Voltron cats visited frequently and Sharppaw had never worked harder – which is saying something – at her medicine cat duties, trying to find a way to help Rainstorm and save him. Blazeheart was thankful for her hard work, but with each passing day, his hope dropped a fraction. He was beginning to believe that Rainstorm may never wake up. He couldn’t accept that, though, and encouraged everyone to reject the possibility of Rainstorm’s death. This tactic failed to work on one specific cat.

Jayfeather.

Ever the cynic, Jayfeather kept his stance that there wasn’t much hope to hold onto for improvement on Rainstorm’s condition, that there was nothing he or any medicine cat could do. If Rainstorm’s internal injuries were severe enough, then all they could do was watch him die.

Eventually, that attitude got too much for Blazeheart to handle and he snapped at Jayfeather.

“Instead of bemoaning how useless you are—” Jayfeather hissed at that and readied a retort, but Blazeheart didn’t give him the chance – “why don’t get off your lazy rump and actually do something about it? Considering it’s your job.”

“I’m not a miracle worker!” Jayfeather snarled, fur standing on end in agitation. “I can’t just fix him! I’ve tried everything I can think of!”

“Then think of something else!” Blazeheart growled back. “You’re a smart cat and you talk with StarClan! You should be able to figure something out!”

“You think I haven’t tried everything?!” Jayfeather shoved his face into Blazeheart’s, their heads hovering above Rainstorm’s still-unconscious body. “You think I hadn’t thought of every possibility for healing him? You think I want him to die because of my inability to do anything? We’ve lost a lot of cats as it is! I’m not keen to lose another! But there is nothing I can do!”

Blazeheart kept showing his teeth but otherwise didn’t reply. He hated that Jayfeather was right because it meant Rainstorm didn’t stand a chance, and it was easier to be angry than to give into his grief.

Letting out a long sigh, Jayfeather retreated and sat down at the edge of Rainstorm’s nest, looking thoughtful. He stared at his paws as if mulling something over in his head. Nearby, Leafpool and Sharppaw, who had both stopped looking through herbs to watch the argument, kept their interested gazes on the silver medicine cat. Blazeheart was doing the same, no longer snarling as he watched Jayfeather with an intensity he had rarely ever felt.

“There is something,” Jayfeather murmured, gaze trained on the floor of the den. “At this point, I can’t do anything more. So if anybody can save him,” and he lifted his head to stare right at Blazeheart, “it’s StarClan.”

 

Jayfeather and Sharppaw led the way to the Moonpool, Jayfeather’s stride confident while Sharppaw kept looking back in concern and anxiousness. Not far behind them, Blazeheart and Whitescar carried Rainstorm on their shoulders, Snowfang, Mudfoot, and Sunwhisker following and sharing Sharppaw’s expression.

Apparently, the only way they could test Jayfeather’s theory was to take Rainstorm to the Moonpool – the place where the cats of the Clans communicated with StarClan. Rainstorm would have to be placed at the edge of the pool, nose to the water, so that StarClan could share dreams with him and hopefully have the power to keep him alive.

Blazeheart would be lying if he said he wasn’t anxious about trusting his best friend’s life to the paws of dead cats he couldn’t see.

You did see them, though, a voice reminded him in the back of his mind. They fought with us against the Dark Forest.

Doesn’t mean they can bring the dead back to life, Blazeheart argued back.

Rainstorm’s not dead yet, the voice told him. There’s still hope.

The warmth of Rainstorm’s body was the only comfort to Blazeheart now. Warmth always exuded from Rainstorm somehow – in his care, in his voice, in his actions. Now his body gave off warmth and it was reassuring because this warmth meant he was still alive, still hanging on and fighting.

Whatever you’re doing, Rainstorm, keep it up.

The trek to the Moonpool was long and difficult. It would be nightfall by the time they got there, and it was over the entire length of ThunderClan’s territory away, the latter half of the journey involving scrambling over mountainous rocks. That was the hardest part – carrying Rainstorm up those rocks without jerking him too much or dropping him. Blazeheart and Whitescar took extra care to make sure that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, that made the journey longer and every precious second could be the difference between life and death in Blazeheart’s mind.

Finally, they managed to make it to the top, and they stood to catch their breath as they took in the view of the Moonpool down below. It was a beautiful sight; the Moonpool shimmered and reflected the starry sky. It almost looked like a piece of the sky had broken off and fallen into the hollow, clear as the water was. The entire area looked like magic. This was the place that could determine Rainstorm’s survival, and for the first time since Jayfeather brought up the idea, Blazeheart believed it might just work.

Determination welling up in him, Blazeheart nudged Whitescar and the two carried Rainstorm down to the edge of the pool. They laid him down as Jayfeather instructed, head dangling from the edge as his nose touched the water. Rainstorm’s breath stirred the water at every exhale, creating ripples, and Blazeheart clung to those ripples like he had clung to Rainstorm’s warmth and his pulse because they were all signs that Rainstorm was alive.

“Now what?” Sharppaw asked quietly, eyes glued to Rainstorm as everybody else’s was.

“Now we wait,” Jayfeather replied, sitting down. “I need to warn you all now: Do not attempt to wake him. No matter how worried you are, waking him could mean his life if StarClan chooses to heal him.”

Blazeheart listened intently, gaze never leaving Rainstorm, watching his brown flank rise and fall shallowly with every breath. “What if he starts having a nightmare?”

“Even if he seems dead, you leave him be,” Jayfeather growled.

And it was at that moment that Rainstorm’s body became lifeless, breaths petering out and ceasing.

Chapter Text

All that existed was the endless abyss of black. That was the world, the universe now, just an eternal expanse of black. Rainstorm couldn’t decide if he was actually conscious or not. He was aware of his dark surroundings, but it seemed like was not actually awake. He must hold some consciousness, though, if he had the sense of mind to be able to contemplate how awake he was.

He was flying or floating, he couldn’t tell which. It was soothing, like laying in a pool and letting the water take you where it saw fit. Or it was like free-falling in a place with no gravity. Like space.

That was it. Like floating in space. That’s what it felt like. Being surrounded by nothingness – no density, no substance. Complete and total weightlessness.

Rainstorm wasn’t sure how long he was floating there before his paws hit solid ground with a sudden force so strong he nearly collapsed. He managed to keep his footing and when his head cleared, he realized he wasn’t alone.

All around him stood cats with various starry pelts. He recognized a few of them from the Great Battle. Before he could even attempt to put a name to each face, a group of cats separated from the crowd and padded forward to stand in front of him. It was with a surge of joy that he realized he knew most of these cats.

Hollyleaf! Sorreltail! Firestar! Ferncloud, Mousefur, and Foxleap, too!

Firestar led them, coming to stop right in front of Rainstorm.

“I’m dead and you still can’t stop causing me trouble,” he purred, looking at the warrior fondly.

With a gasp, Rainstorm found his voice. “What’s going on?” he croaked.

“You died after a monster hit you. I’m proud of you,” Firestar added. “ThunderClan isn’t your permanent home yet you stayed true to your warrior vows and gave up your life for the Clan. I knew I was right to trust you.” He shook himself out, then, standing taller. “But it is not quite your time. MoonClan is your permanent home; they need you and they need a leader.”

MoonClan?

Firestar strode forward, pressing his nose to Rainstorm’s forehead. “With this life, I give you endurance. Endure the tough times – the droughts and fires – and the rains will come again.”

Pain like fire burned through Rainstorm and he felt he might collapse. He grit his teeth against it, crouching and digging his claws into the ground.

“Endure it,” Firestar murmured.

Rainstorm did as he was told, held himself against the onslaught of invisible fire. Then it began to cool, feeling as if rain was soaking his pelt and it felt as refreshing as cold water on a hot summer day. He breathed in relief, straightening up and meeting Firestar’s proud gaze.

The ginger leader said no more, instead backing up to join the line of cats behind him. Almost immediately, Sorreltail took his place, bounding forward with gratitude shining in her eyes.

“Thank you for caring for my kits when I left them, and being there for Brackenfur,” she told him warmly. “I wish I could be with them, but I don’t regret dying for them. They were worth my last breath.”

Rainstorm found himself too overcome with emotion to reply, so he merely dipped his head. That seemed to be enough for her and she stepped forward to press her nose to his head.

“With this life, I give you the love of a mother. Your Clan is your family. Protect them and lead them with all of the ferocity and guidance of a mother.”

A cascade of emotions swept over Rainstorm like a wave, engulfing him in fear and love so strong, he barely managed to stay upright. It hurt, a sort of pressure-pain, but the faces of his team appeared behind his eyelids and he knew he would gladly feel this pain forever if it was for them.

The feeling faded and Rainstorm looked up to see Sorreltail already retreating, Mousefur stepping up next. He didn’t know her well, but he knew she was feisty despite her age, and it seemed that that had not left her, even though she looked much younger now.

“When Firestar first brought your group into the Clan, I wasn’t so sure about you,” she told him. “But you’ve really come through for us. I was wrong about you.” She stepped forward and, getting used to it already, Rainstorm reached up and closed his eyes as her nose made contact with his head. “With this life, I give you trust. Trust your Clan, trust your instincts, and be willing to trust others. They might be more necessary than you think.”

Rainstorm expected pain again, thinking that these blessings were meant to make him prove himself through hardship. However, he was pleasantly surprised to find a calm certainty wash over him. It was strong in its tide, but it brought up all the confidence Rainstorm thought he lacked. Intense, but gentle. Whatever happened, he knew he could trust his gut feeling and his Clan. They would all get him through whatever trials came his way.

He opened his eyes to see that Mousefur had already rejoined the ranks of her Clan members. In her place was a blue-gray she-cat with piercing blue eyes and a scar down her shoulder.

“I am Bluestar,” she introduced herself, “leader of ThunderClan before Firestar. You know, Firestar used to be a kittypet. A house cat,” she clarified with a purr at Rainstorm’s look of confusion. “I took a chance on him, like he took a chance on you, because I saw his potential and knew he could be a great warrior. It seems he has followed in my pawsteps and inherited my intuition.

With this life,” she murmured, nose to Rainstorm’s head, “I give you faith. Have faith in your ability to know what you’re doing, have faith in your Clan to help you, and have faith in StarClan to guide you when you need it.”

Much like with Mousefur’s blessing, this one was intense but not unpleasant. It burned like a fire, but not in a bad way. Rather, it burned like the fire of determination, a heat that made him want to act rather than brood or fret. The intensity of it was surprising, but he reveled in it.

When he looked up again, Bluestar had been replaced with Ferncloud, her gentle expression trained on him in the maternal way he had come to expect of her.

“You fought hard to avenge me and grieved for me and for the loss my kin and friends suffered when I was killed,” she told him, voice soft and solemn. “I have seen you and your friends show nothing but care and dedication to ThunderClan since your arrival and I am honored that I get to give you a life.”

Life? That sounded… odd. He would have to ask what that meant when he woke up.

Nose pressed to Rainstorm’s head, Ferncloud announced, “With this life, I give you compassion. Show love and support to all those around you; it is the most rewarding of feelings.”

Pain seared through him at once, like lightning striking through him repeatedly, gaining in strength. He nearly did collapse this time, crouched as low as he could as he rode out the waves of agony shooting through him, eyes watering. He realized he was feeling the pain of multiple cats, claws slashing at him from various enemies. He would stand up for those cats, would help them if he could, would take on their pain if he was able. At that thought, he suddenly felt lighter than air, pain leaving him like a mist and the euphoria of that relief made the ordeal completely worth it. He never wanted the feeling to end.

But end it did, and when he was conscious of his surroundings again, another strange cat stood before him. This time, it was a tortoiseshell tom who held a general air of brightness about him that Rainstorm immediately admired.

“I’m Redtail,” the tom greeted him cheerfully. “I used to be Bluestar’s deputy, but I was murdered by Tigerstar on the day Firestar joined the Clan. Luckily, Firestar found out what happened and worked hard, at the scorn of a Clan who did not fully trust him to begin with, to make sure justice was served.”

Rainstorm honestly didn’t know that, but he was impressed, turning his own proud gaze to Firestar in the crowd.

“With this life,” his attention was brought back to Redtail as a nose made contact with his fur, “I give you righteousness. Always do what is right, even when it costs you, because everybody deserves justice.”

This blessing was the most agonizing yet, every muscle in his body burning, his pelt feeling like it was literally on fire, his insides feeling like they were swelling so much they’d explode. He could swear this made him black out for a few quick seconds, intense as it was. When he came to, he was panting and Foxleap stood before him, his expression sympathetic.

“I had a lot of dreams for myself,” he began, “like being a great warrior, starting a family, and catching a fox so that my warrior name could be Foxcatcher.”

Rainstorm allowed himself an amused purr; luckily, Foxleap seemed to share in his amusement.

“Hey, I thought it was a great name,” he teased before continuing more seriously. “I know you had dreams before all this happened and I feel honored that I get to help give you another chance to achieve those dreams. So with this life,” and he leans in there, Rainstorm reaching forward to meet him, “I give you determination. Even when staying in your nest feels like the better option, don’t let it keep you from acting and achieving your goals. Let your determination drive you.”

A shock of pain struck through him, but crouching and enduring as he had done all of the other times only made it worse. It was only when he pushed himself to stay standing that the pain ebbed and he somehow felt stronger for it.

He was panting again, unsure how much more of this he could take.

A bedraggled gray she-cat stepped forward once Foxleap padded away, and Rainstorm recognized her as Yellowfang, the StarClan cat that had killed Brokenstar.

“You cause a lot of trouble for a cat who’s only been in a Clan for a few moons,” she scolded him, something like contempt coloring her features. “I’ve known kits who give other cats less run-around than you.”

Rainstorm flattened his ears to his head, unsure whether to feel angry or shamed. He sagged when she let out a huff of laughter, stern expression softening into something almost fond.

“But then,” she amended, glancing back at Firestar, “nothing of import ever got done without a cat stirring up trouble. Sometimes trouble is necessary to do the right thing.”

At that, Rainstorm stood taller, closing his eyes as the anticipated nose made contact with his forehead.

“With this life,” Yellowfang rasped, “I give you wisdom. Use it to discern when trouble is worth it and when it is not.”

There was no pain, but there was an intense pressure, particularly in Rainstorm’s head. He felt about ready to explode, like his head was expanding and was about to burst from the overexpansion. It was suffocating, this pressure, and Rainstorm was panting harder than ever, sagging forward in exhaustion, once he had been relieved.

It was worth it when he came face-to-face with one of the cats he had most been looking forward to seeing again.

“Hollyleaf.”

Her expression was soft, affectionate, and Rainstorm knew she saw him as a friend as well as a connection to Snowfang.

“I will never stop being grateful for all that you’ve done for my kin and my Clan,” Hollyleaf whispered, sincerity dripping from every syllable. “You worked hard to prove my brother innocent of murder and, even though you weren’t the one to find that proof, you still did everything you could to keep all of us calm and level-headed.

With this life,” her voice strengthened then, leaning forward as Rainstorm met her halfway, “I give you togetherness. Your Clan is your kin, but don’t just protect them. Fight beside them and show them that you have faith in their ability to take care of themselves. Stand side-by-side with them and grow as a team.”

This is what would break him, he was sure of it. As soon as the words had left Hollyleaf’s mouth, his body seized, muscles tensing so much it felt like they were being forcefully ripped from his body. A splitting headache gripped his brain, squeezing it like the great claws of a dragon. His eyes watered and he couldn’t breathe. And yet, the moment he thought of his Clan, his team, of Blazeheart, he realized he could bear the pain. It hadn’t lessened at all, Rainstorm just found the strength to endure it, to hold himself up despite it, to not let it control him. He would stand against this pain and worse for those he loved, and once he decided that, the pain seemed to ball up and exploded in gentle warmth. It felt like cuddling into a familiar blanket, draping around him, keeping him warm and safe, and smelling of the ones he kept closest to his heart. It felt like home.

He opened his eyes and met Hollyleaf’s gaze.

“Tell Snowfang,” she requested quietly, “that I will always be with her, no matter where she is.”

“I will,” Rainstorm vowed just as quietly.

Letting out a purr, Hollyleaf rose to her full height and returned to her place among the ranks of cats. Firestar stepped forward then. The other eight cats formed a semi-circle behind him, intensely staring at Rainstorm with varying expressions of pride, fondness, and respect.

“You’ve done well, Rainstar,” Firestar told him. The cats behind him took up the call, “Rainstar! Rainstar!” and Firestar joined them in their chant. All Rainstorm could do was stand there in a wave of confusion; why were they calling him Rainstar? He wasn’t a leader! And what were all of these blessings for?

“Now, you have lost one of your nine lives already,” Firestar’s solemn voice jolted Rainstorm from his reverie. “The incident with the monster was too much for your body to handle.” He stepped forward and pressed his nose to Rainstorm’s head again, only this time, Rainstorm could tell something was being ripped from him. Immense pain consumed him and he felt himself weakening before collapsing completely.

Something strange happened then. He got up, feeling perfectly fine, only to look down and see his lifeless body lying where he had collapsed. When he inspected his own self, he realized how corporeal he was, almost completely transparent. He could hardly even see himself! Firestar apparently sensed his panic for he sidled up to him.

“Don’t worry, you’ll revive soon,” Firestar soothed. The former leader had never steered Rainstorm wrong before, so he nodded to himself and took some calming breaths.

The moment of watching his lifeless body stay lifeless felt like it lasted forever; soon enough, though, he felt his consciousness leaving him and awoke in his solid body. He still felt weak, but he was able to stand on wobbly legs, helped up by Firestar coming to stand beside him.

“Since your medicine cat isn’t here,” the ginger tom was all back to business, it seemed, “I will accompany you to your vision. Keep in mind, everything that has happened here, you must not repeat to any living cat.”

Rainstorm felt instantly distressed at that. “What about Hollyleaf’s message to Snowfang?” he begged, head drooping at the thought of not passing it on.

Amused, Firestar purred. “I think we can make an exception for that.” Rainstorm deflated with a purr of his own. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Rainstorm replied, not sure what to expect.

Darkness suddenly blanketed the clearing in such a sudden swoop, it left Rainstorm staggering. Blinking, trying to get his bearings and an idea of where he was, it took a few moments for him to see the shape of trees when he looked up. He could see a night sky beyond them, nearly black, and the stars provided so little light they may as well not even exist. Still, their familiarity helped keep Rainstorm grounded, so he was thankful for that.

Now that he had some idea of where he was – in some kind of forest – Rainstorm gazed around again, hoping he’d be able to make something out. Unfortunately, the forest was so dense that that proved nearly impossible. He could vaguely see the shapes of the trees, only a slightly darker black than the backdrop, but that was—

Wait.

He could see movement, now. Shapes moving through the trees, silent and stealthy. Rainstorm’s hackles instantly rose; these were not cats. The way they prowled around set him on edge, like they were hunting something. Then a bushy tail caught the light in a split second and Rainstorm knew exactly what they were.

Foxes!

Before he could even finish the thought, snarling broke out around him like club music; hissing, growling, mrrows and barks filling the silence with fighting. Rainstorm longed to rush in and fight the foxes off, but found he couldn’t move.

His eyes widened when a fox lunged right at him, his vision swarmed with drooling jaws, red fur, and hate-filled eyes.

With a jolt, Rainstorm leaped to his paws, panting from residual fear, fur sticking up in all directions as he swung his head to-and-fro, looking for the foxes. Instead, he was met with a large, glimmering pool, reflecting the overhead starlight.

“Rainstorm!” the calls caught his ears – one voice especially – and he turned around to the surprised and delighted faces of his team, Blazeheart nearest him looking close to a breakdown.

“What’s going on?” Rainstorm rasped.

“It seems,” and the voice caught him by surprise; he looked over and saw Jayfeather was among them, “StarClan has decided to grant you a second chance at life. You had died after being hit by a monster.”

“Firestar said the same thing!” Rainstorm exclaimed. “Him and a bunch of other cats touched their noses to my head and gave me these blessings. ‘With this life, I give you blah blah blah’ and all that.”

Jayfeather stood taller at that, looking faintly shocked. “Really?” At Rainstorm’s affirmation, Jayfeather inquired, “Did they mention anything about another Clan? A Clan needing a leader, perhaps?”

Rainstorm took a moment to think on it. “Actually, yeah. They said that MoonClan needed a leader. That MoonClan is my permanent home and it needs me.”

“Well,” Jayfeather breathed, seeming pleased. “It seems StarClan has ordained your little group a Clan – MoonClan – and chosen you, Rainstorm, as its leader. Congratulations, Rainstar. Now you need to choose a deputy.”

“What?!” Rainstorm shrieked. “I can’t be a leader!”

“Well, you are.”

“Jayfeather, I can’t do this!”

“That’s too bad, because you’re going to have to.”

“I’m not cut out for leadership! StarClan should have chosen Whitescar or Snowfang! Not me!”

“They chose you, so deal with it.”

“Jayfeather, I can’t--”

“Yes, you can.”

The new, confident voice took Rainstorm by surprise. He glanced away from Jayfeather only to meet the strong gaze of Blazeheart.

“Rainstar,” Blazeheart continued with complete certainty, striding forward to meet Rainstorm face to face, “I have seen you take charge when you need to, I have seen you come up with plans that saved all of our hides on the fly, I have seen you care so much for your new Clanmates that anything bad happening to them breaks your heart into pieces. I have seen you calm your Clan when they need it, rile them up when necessary, and get them to band together when times are tough. I have seen you do everything Shiro had to do for Voltron and you did it just as spectacularly as he does.”

If cats could smile, Rainstorm knows he’d hear it in Blazeheart’s voice; he could hear the warmth and fondness dripping from every word, the confidence that was so strong, it had Rainstorm shaking.

“You can do this,” Blazeheart told him quietly.

Rainstorm shifted his gaze from his best friend to his team – his Clan now – and saw Blazeheart’s certainty reflected on their faces. They all believed in him, they all believed he could do this, they all had complete faith in him, and it was a little overwhelming.

Not trusting his ability to speak, Rainstorm just nodded, standing taller to assert his choice to be their leader.

Blazeheart backed away slightly and began the call with a voice so proud, Rainstorm could feel his own fondness for him filling his heart to bursting, “Rainstar! Rainstar!”

The others continued the chant, shouting it to Silverpelt, and even the stars seemed to be gleaming a little more brightly. Fully accepting his new name and position, Rainstar dipped his head graciously, eyes coming back up to meet Blazeheart’s affectionate ones.

A nose nudged at his shoulder once the cries died down. “You have to choose a deputy,” Jayfeather murmured.

“Oh,” Rainstar stammered. “Right.”

Now this would be a task; everyone on his team was suited to be deputy. His gaze swept over them, eventually sticking uncertainly to Whitescar. He was leader of Voltron, after all. Shouldn’t he be deputy? Or Snowfang, who co-lead Voltron? Before he could even muse this aloud, however, Whitescar piped up, voice patient and a little amused.

“Just because I’m leader of Voltron doesn’t mean I have to be leader of everything we do,” Whitescar purred. He glanced at Snowfang, who nodded, then added, “That goes for Snowfang, as well.”

“You two are so capable, though!” Rainstar objected. “All of you are! I just—”

He felt a tail lay across his shoulders comfortingly and looked over to see Blazeheart’s confident gaze. “We trust you, Rainstar, and we trust your instincts. We all know that whoever you choose, based on what your heart and head say together, will be the best deputy for MoonClan.”

Taking a deep breath, Rainstar nodded and let his eyes travel across his team again and again, constantly ending back up at the same cat. Rainstar knew who he would choose.

In the end, it never would have been anybody else.

“I see these words in the presence of StarClan,” Rainstar yowled to the heavens, remembering what Bramblestar had said when declaring Squirrelflight his deputy, “that they may hear and approve my choice!” His head swung around, blue gaze locking with slate – slate eyes that widened with disbelief a second before Rainstar announced, “Blazeheart will be the deputy of MoonClan.”

Blazeheart was obviously dumbfounded, eyes wide and mouth gaping in shock and awe. Yeah, he had been the right choice.

Finding his voice, Blazeheart protested with a rasp, “Me? But I—”

“You said you trusted my instinct,” Rainstar countered with amusement. “Were you lying?”

“Wha—No! Of course not!” Blazeheart exclaimed, looking very uneasy.

“Then accept,” Rainstar urged more quietly, hoping Blazeheart wouldn’t turn him down.

Blazeheart took a moment to gaze at the others – doing what Rainstar had done and checking if they approved. Luckily, everybody held the same air of certainty and approval as they had with Rainstar. Blazeheart turned back to his leader and dipped his head. “Okay.”

“Blazeheart!” Rainstar took up the call this time, followed quickly by Whitescar, then the others. “Blazeheart! Blazeheart!”

The cat in question ducked his head in embarrassment, still looking uncertain but pleased all the same. Rainstar was jerked out of his mooning by Jayfeather.

“And you need a medicine cat,” he said, sounding like he was trying to hold in his impatience. “And obviously that’ll be Sharppaw, and since I’m her mentor, I gotta do everything.”

He was turned in Sharppaw’s direction at that point, and though his words were annoyed, the fondness he held for his charge was apparent. Sharppaw seemed to return the sentiment, butting his shoulder with her head and quipping, “Yeah, that’s what we get for being useless, I know, I know.”

The two walked side-by-side to the edge of the Moonpool, Jayfeather turning to Silverpelt. “I, Jayfeather, medicine cat of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. She has trained hard to understand the ways of the medicine cat and, with your help, will serve her new Clan for many moons.” He turned to Sharppaw, then, his gaze intense but unwavering. “Sharppaw, do you promise to uphold the ways of a medicine cat, to stand apart from rivalry, between Clan and Clan, and to protect all cats equally, even at the cost of your life?”

Sharppaw’s own gaze was steady and certain, voice strong, as she replied, “I do.”

“Then by the powers of StarClan,” Jayfeather continued, “I give you your true name as a medicine cat. Sharppaw, from this moment you will be known as Sharpeyes. StarClan honors your intelligence and integrity, and welcomes you as MoonClan’s first official medicine cat.”

“Sharpeyes!” Snowfang took up the call first, joined quickly by Mudfoot, Whitescar, and everyone else. “Sharpeyes! Sharpeyes!”

Rainstar could feel only pride at how his little Clan was already coming together. He was happy, happier than he thought he’d be in this position. His eyes glistened with emotion and he instinctively pressed close to Blazeheart. After all, this was their Clan, now.

Blazeheart returned the gesture, a purr vibrating his frame just enough for Rainstar to feel it.

It was then that Rainstar allowed himself to acknowledge what he had been too afraid to: StarClan had said that MoonClan was Rainstar’s permanent home, but Rainstar knew now that that wasn’t entirely true.

Blazeheart was his home, and Rainstar loved him.