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Burning Thistles

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ThunderClan

 

Leader

Sunstar - Large, bright ginger tom, yellow eyes

Deputy

Bluefur - Blueish gray she-cat, blue eyes

Medicine Cats

Featherwhisker - Pale silver-gray tom, amber eyes

Apprentice: Spottedleaf

Warriors

Speckletail - Pale golden tabby she-cat, amber eyes

Frostfur - Pure white she-cat, dark sky-blue eyes

Lionheart - Golden tabby tom, green eyes

Goldenflower - Pale ginger tabby she-cat, yellow eyes

Whitestorm - Snowy-white tom, yellow eyes

Tigerclaw - Dark brown tom, amber eyes

Apprentice: Darkpaw

Rosetail - Gray tabby she-cat with an orange tail, green eyes

Thrushpelt - Sandy-gray tom with a white chest, bright green eyes

Redtail - Dark tortoiseshell tom with a bushy ginger tail, amber eyes

Swiftbreeze - Tabby and white she-cat, yellow eyes

Dappletail - Tortoiseshell and white she-cat with a graying muzzle, amber eyes

Apprentice: Mousepaw

Patchpelt - Small black and white tom, amber eyes

Fuzzypelt - Black tom with a thick-furred tail, yellow eyes

Apprentice: Runningpaw

Sparrowpelt - Big dark brown tabby, yellow eyes

Adderfang - Mottled dark brown tabby tom, yellow eyes

Robinwing - Small dusky brown and red she-cat, amber eyes

Apprentices

Runningpaw - Lean light brown tabby tom, amber eyes

Mousepaw - Small dusky brown she-cat, yellow eyes

Darkpaw - Dark gray tabby tom, yellow eyes

Queens

White-eye - Pale gray she-cat with a wounded eye, yellow eyes

Brindleface - Pale gray tabby she-cat with dark flecks, green eyes

Spottedleaf - Dark tortoiseshell she-cat with a distinctive dappled coat, amber eyes

Willowpelt - Slender, very pale silver-gray she-cat, unusual blue eyes

Kits (Oldest to Youngest)

Firekit - Dark red tabby tom, green eyes

Lightningkit - Brown and red tortoiseshell she-cat, green eyes

Copperkit - Pale ginger tom, all paws white, green eyes

Creekkit - Brown tabby she-cat with white chest & paws, green eyes

Airkit - Brown tabby tom, one white paw, green eyes

Sandkit - Pale ginger tabby she-cat, pale green eyes

Elders

Weedwhisker - Pale orange tom with white flecks, yellow eyes

Smallear - Gray tom, amber eyes

Larksong - Pale tortoiseshell she-cat, pale green eyes

Poppydawn - Long-haired dark red she-cat, amber eyes

 

(A/N: Sandkit is born after Firekit+; Running and Mouse are one moon away from being apps; Darkkit is one moon older than Fire+)

 

RiverClan

 

Leader

Crookedstar - Light brown tom with a twisted jaw, green eyes

Deputy

Timberfur - Graying brown tom

Medicine Cats

Brambleberry - White she-cat with black spotted fur, blue eyes

Mudfur - Mottled light brown tom

Warriors

Oakheart - Reddish-brown tom, amber eyes

Voleclaw - Gray tom

Echomist - Pale gray she-cat

Owlfur - Brown and white tom

Apprentice: Stonepaw

Beetlenose - Crow-black tom

Softwing - White she-cat with tabby patches

Dawnbright - Ginger and white she-cat

Apprentice: Mistypaw

Mallowtail - Tortoiseshell and white tabby she-cat

Reedtail - Pale gray tabby tom with a long, thin tail

Skyheart - Pale brown tabby she-cat, green eyes

Whitefang - Huge pure white tom with brown paws

Leopardfur - Dappled golden tabby she-cat, amber eyes

Blackclaw - Black tom

Petaldust - Tortoiseshell she-cat

Loudbelly - Dark brown tom

Frogleap - Gray tom with a striped tail

Apprentices

Mistypaw - Pale blue-gray she-cat, blue eyes

Stonepaw - Blue-gray tom, blue eyes

Queens

Sunfish - Pale gray she-cat

Kits

Silverkit - Silver and black tabby she-cat, blue eyes

Grasskit - Brown-striped tabby she-cat

Vixenkit - Black tom

Elders

Ottersplash - Pale ginger and white she-cat

Fallowtail - Brown she-cat

Graypool - Dark gray she-cat with memory problems, yellow eyes

 

ShadowClan

 

Leader

Raggedstar - Large dark brown tabby tom, amber eyes

Deputy

Cloudpelt - White tom, blue eyes

Medicine Cats

Yellowfang - Dark gray she-cat with a broad, flattened face

Runningnose - Small gray and white tom

Warriors

Brokentail - Long-haired dark brown tabby tom

Apprentice: Stumpypaw

Ashfur - Thin gray tom

Blackfoot - Large white tom with jet-black paws

Nightpelt - Black tom

Clawface - Battle-scarred brown tom

Boulder - Silver tabby tom

Russetfur - Dark ginger she-cat

Poolcloud - Gray and white she-cat

Lizardstripe - Brown tabby she-cat with a white underbelly

Deerfoot - Brown tom

Tangleburr - Gray and brown she-cat

Scorchwind - Ginger tabby tom

Darkflower - Black she-cat

Blizzardwing - Mottled white tom

Brackenfoot - Pale ginger tom with darker legs

Ashheart - Pale gray she-cat, blue eyes

Frogtail - Dark gray tom

Finchflight - Black and white tom

Nutwhisker - Brown tom, amber eyes

Apprentice: Cinderpaw

Rowanberry - Cream and brown she-cat, amber eyes

Wolfstep - Gray tabby tom with white front paws, tail-tip, and torn ear, green eyes

Flintfang - Gray tom with very thick fur on his paws

Apprentices

Stumpypaw - Brown tabby tom

Cinderpaw - Thin gray tom

Queens

Featherstorm - Dark brown tabby she-cat

Brightflower - Orange tabby she-cat with a broad, flattened muzzle

Newtspeck - Black and ginger tabby she-cat

Fernshade -  Slender tortoiseshell she-cat, yellow eyes

Kits

Volekit - Tiny brown tom

Mosskit - Big brown and white tom

Dawnkit - Small pale ginger tabby she-cat

Mintkit - Small gray tom

Marigoldkit - Tiny tortoiseshell she-cat

Badgerkit - Very tiny, fluffy black tom with white stripes, green eyes

Elders

Crowtail - Small black tabby she-cat

Archeye - Gray tabby tom with black stripes

Hollyflower - Dark gray and white she-cat, blue eyes

 

WindClan

 

Leader

Tallstar - Large black and white tom, amber eyes

Deputy

Deadfoot - Lean black tom with a twisted left paw

Medicine Cats

Hawkheart - Stone-gray tom with darker brown flecks

Barkface - Short-tailed dark brown tom

Warriors

Stagleap - Dark brown tom, amber eyes

Hickorynose - Brown tom

Apprentice: Tornpaw

Appledawn - Pale rose-cream she-cat

Apprentice: Morningpaw

Meadowslip - Pale gray she-cat

Mistmouse - Light brown she-cat

Apprentice: Mudpaw

Hareflight - Light brown tom

Doespring - Light brown she-cat

Crowfur - Black tom

Apprentice: Ashpaw

Aspenfall - Gray and white tom

Plumclaw - Small dark gray she-cat

Apprentice: Onepaw

Ryestalk - Gray tabby she-cat

Wrenflight - Brown she-cat

Apprentices

Mudpaw - Mottled dark brown tabby tom, amber eyes

Tornpaw - Wiry gray tabby tom, blue eyes

Onepaw - pale brown tabby tom, blue eyes

Ashpaw - Broad-faced gray she-cat, blue eyes

Morningpaw - Tortoiseshell she-cat, amber eyes

Queens

Larksplash - Tortoiseshell she-cat

Kits

Whitekit - Small white she-cat

Webkit - Dark gray tabby tom

Elders

Whiteberry - White tom

Lilywhisker - Light brown she-cat with a crippled hind leg, amber eyes

Chapter Text

Firekit crawled towards his tortoiseshell sister, as quiet as a mouse. He was the sneakiest warrior in all of ThunderClan! Big and brave and strong at only one and a half moons!

 

He wiggled his haunches, hiding low in the grass on the outskirts of camp, where it was longer. His sister was batting a mossball back and forth with their two brothers oblivious to the approaching predator. He prowled closer and closer, barely a fox-tail away from them… He tensed, preparing to leap and…

 

A large and heavy bundle of brown fur barrelled into him, causing him to yowl and topple over. His denmates looked over to him in alarm that quickly turned to laughter as Runningkit pinned Firekit down, his much larger kit-body crushing Firekit under him.

 

Firekit wheezed, “Runningkit! What are you doing?!”

 

“Winning!” the kit proudly announced back to him.

 

“You’ve been eating too much fresh-kill again,” Firekit mewed, then shoved at his denmate. “Get off me!”

 

Runningkit rolled off the dark ginger tom-kit with a complaining, but good-natured sigh. Firekit jumped up and swatted at his friend’s ears. “Mouse-brain! You’re way too big.”

 

“I’m five moons,” Runningkit mewed proudly. “Of course I’m big! Bigger than you, tiny.”

 

Firekit pounced on him in retaliation. To his surprise, his sister, Lightningkit, came running up to attack him too. The three kits became a squealing pile of flailing paws- sheathed, although Lightningkit had a tendency to playfight with claws, much to their mother’s chagrin.

 

But even over their playful squeals, Firekit could hear the two warriors watching them nearby murmuring to each other.

 

“Do you think StarClan’s going to accept her?” a pretty white she-cat whispered.

 

“She broke the code- if I was StarClan, I wouldn’t,” a tabby she-cat snorted.

 

A hiss. “ She didn’t break the code-” a mottled dark brown tom came stalking up to them, yellow eyes frosty. “Thistleclaw forced her too.”

 

“Adderfang,” the tabby meowed, rolling her eyes. “She should have known better. She was a medicine cat apprentice, so she already knew she was doing something wrong.”

 

Firekit felt his fur rise and his skin heat as though he was the one being judged. But he folded his ears to his head to block out their gossip and tackled Lightningkit as Adderfang let out a low hiss. The she-kit swiped at his whiskers, so he nipped at hers. Runningkit wiggled his way in-between them, paws clumsy and uncoordinated.

 

And then the sound of the camp entrance rustling reached his ears, the thumping of familiar paws making him perk up immediately. He jumped off his sister, who complained about their playfighting being over. Firekit bolted over to where his other sister, a light brown tabby, sat next to a moon older denmate of theirs, Darkkit.

 

“Creekkit! Creekkit- hi, Darkkit,” Firekit mewled as he stopped beside his sister, paws twitching eagerly. “Creekkit, do you think she got her medicine cat name? StarClan accepted her, right? She’s the best medicine cat ever, so of course they have too!”

 

Creekkit’s whiskers twitched in amusement, but her green eyes were alight with as much excitement as his. “I don’t know, fur-for-brains! Why don’t we just go ask and see?”

 

Darkkit pricked his own ears, glancing between them with a dark look. “Mousekit says StarClan will never accept her.”

 

“Well, Mousekit’s a pile of foxdung, and everything she says is too!” Creekkit shot back hotly as she hopped up beside Firekit. The two of them ran towards the entrance as two cats appeared from it, greeted by the guards. Darkkit grumbled something but followed curiously after them. Lightningkit and Runningkit stopped playing too, trotting closer as well. A hush seemed to fall over the clan, all eyes pinned on the two medicine cats.

 

Featherwhisker, a gray tom, stared back at his clan with a raised head and calmly swaying tail, all the confident cat Firekit thought him to be. But his eyes were locked on the beautiful young tortoiseshell beside him. She was taller than from how Firekit remembered when he first opened his eyes, but that was a good thing, even if he missed being able to stand up on his hindlegs and easily hit her nose and bat her whiskers.

 

“Mother!” Firekit yowled excitedly, running up to bump into her leg. He was growing bigger, too, though, and soon he’d be able to swat her whiskers just on his haunches. “Are you a full medicine cat now? I bet you have a really cool name, like Spottedheart! Or Spottedstripe!”

 

His mother’s whiskers twitched as she licked her son on her head. “I don’t have any stripes, Firekit.”

 

“I do!” Creekkit announced, bumping into their mother’s other leg. Darkkit hung back, staring at them with a frown. Lightningkit hesitated, then sat beside him, while their brothers, Copperkit and Airkit peered from behind her, just as hesitant. Mousekit huddled farther away, glaring at Firekit and his mother, while Runningkit bounced right up beside Firekit and Creekkit.

 

Firekit’s pelt pricked self-consciously as he felt his clan’s gaze on him. It seemed whenever he was with his mother, the clan couldn’t stop staring at them. Sometimes he wished he was back in the nursery, not allowed to venture out, where the only stares were Spottedpaw, Willowpelt, and Brindleface’s loving ones. And White-eye’s frowning one, but at least she didn’t bother the kits that much. 

 

His mother had noticed the stares too, but, with a supportive glance from Featherwhisker, she raised her head proudly, and announced to the clan, “StarClan has blessed me. My name is now Spottedleaf.”

 

“That name is so pretty!” Creekkit meowed, tail waving. Adderfang, who had stalked away from his earlier spat with Frostfur and Speckletail, quickly trotted over to his daughter and pressed his muzzle to her head. Everyone, including the kits, knew that Adderfang had been furious when his daughter became pregnant - but not at Spottedleaf herself. The kits’ father, Thistleclaw, was the target of his fury, and his mate Swiftbreeze had to talk him down from flaying Thistleclaw alive. Sometimes Adderfang’s fury scared Firekit, but he knew his kin meant well.

 

“It suits you,” Adderfang meowed, licking Spottedleaf’s ear as a large ginger tom approached, dipping his head first to Featherwhisker, then to Spottedleaf.

 

“I’m glad to hear that you have received your full name,” Sunstar meowed. “You have earned it.” Firekit shifted as he heard one of the warriors snort. Creekkit’s ears flattened as she shot a glare at Patchpelt, the source of the offending sound. Swiftbreeze emerged from the crowd, followed by Willowpelt, Darkkit’s mother and Spottedleaf’s sister. Both sisters were young to have kits, and had relied on one another to help care for their kits. Of course, the older queen Brindleface had been more than willing to guide the young she-cats, as she was expecting a litter of her own.

 

Willowpelt brushed her cheek against Spottedleaf’s, while Swiftbreeze raised her voice as she spoke to her daughter, a clear sign of warning to the clan gossipers. “I knew StarClan would accept a medicine cat as talented as you. I’m proud to call you my daughter and my clan’s medicine cat.”

 

Murmurs of agreement rose from some of their clanmates, although Firekit noticed a few trading whispers and glares. As the clan dispersed, Firekit eagerly followed his mother to the medicine den, before she curled her tail around him, effectively stopping him.

 

“I’ll be in the nursery soon,” she meowed, gently touching her nose to his ear. “I need to help Featherwhisker with those who are still injured.” Firekit’s tail drooped, but he nodded.

 

“Yes mother,” he meowed obediently. Spottedleaf licked his head and gently pushed him in the direction of the nursery. As the ginger-red tom padded towards the nursery, he sighed. It’s great having a medicine cat as a mother, but she doesn’t get to spend much time with us. He twitched his tail, frustrated. She has to go to those medicine cat meetings every half-moon, and the Gatherings or else the other clans will get suspicious. Firekit was jolted out of his thoughts as Lightningkit tumbled into Airkit, making the smallest kit in their litter yelp.

 

“Careful!” Creekkit meowed crossly as Lightingkit let go of Airkit. “Mother says not to play so roughly, remember? Especially with Airkit!” Lightingkit rolled her eyes and opened her mouth, but Firekit interrupted before she could say anything.

“It’s great that mother has her full name now!” he purred. “Right?” he added when his siblings hesitated. 

Copperkit nudged his brother, his pelt a lighter ginger than Firekit’s. “Maybe now the others will stop looking at us weird, and stop talking like we’re going to break the code.” 

 

Airkit, now back on his paws, quietly meowed, “I think she should have gotten it moons ago.” Creekkit nuzzled her brother comfortingly

 

“She didn’t have a choice,” she meowed gently. “She had to take care of us-”

 

“Maybe she should have worked harder to get it then.” Lightingkit meowed bluntly. Before any of the other kits could scold her, she announced, “I’m finding Mousekit.” The little tortoiseshell whirled around and sped over to join Mousekit’s moss game. Creekkit rolled her eyes at Firekit. Neither of them liked Mousekit very much- sometimes she could be really mean to them. Out of all their littermates, she only liked Lightningkit, who didn’t do much to tell the older she-kit off. 

 

Airkit yawned.

 

“I’m gonna go sleep,” he murmured. Creekkit licked his ear, ever watchful of their littlest, weakest brother.

 

“Okay.” Copperkit bounced after the dark brown tabby, keeping close to him as they slipped into the nursery. Creekkit might be protective of Airkit, but Copperkit was just clingy.

 

Creekkit playfully pounced on Firekit, who rolled as the brown tabby landed on him and pinned her down. She purred, batting at his ears as he jumped off her and dropped into an attack crouch. 

 

“Hey! Let’s go see what Runningkit and Darkkit are doing!” Creekkit suggested with pricked ears and bright eyes. Firekit peered over at the other two kits, who were frisking around by the apprentices’ den. A rustle from the medicine den caught his attention.

 

“I think I’m gonna go see what’s going on over there,” he gestured with his tail to the medicine den. Spottedleaf wouldn’t yell at him too much for bothering him after she told him not to, although Featherwhisker and their patients might get huffy.

 

“Okay!” Creekkit wasn’t bothered. She licked Firekit’s nose and dashed off to Runningkit and Darkkit. Firekit shook out his fur, some dust from his and Creekkit’s mock-fight floating off his flame-red coat.

 

Firekit flicked his tail as he trotted toward the medicine den, intent on his destination until he skidded to a halt as a dark brown paw stepped into his path. “Sorry!” he meowed, automatically. He glanced up, meeting the intense, unimpressed amber gaze of Tigerclaw. “Hi, Tigerclaw.” he meowed respectfully, bowing his head.

“Where are you off to?” the dark tabby warrior rumbled, deep in his throat. Firekit shifted under his stare, feeling uncomfortable.

 

“The medicine den,” he replied truthfully. Tigerclaw snorted.

 

“Planning on being a code-breaking medicine cat like your mother?” he growled. Firekit flinched. He hated that great and respectable warriors like Tigerclaw looked down on him and his littermates because of the circumstances of their birth. “Such a shame, really,” Tigerclaw’s mew caught his attention as the tabby continued, “that Thistleclaw’s blood was wasted on you.” Firekit’s ears flattened at that.

 

“Firekit!” the warm voice of Whitestorm greeted his ears, which perked up. Whitestorm was Thistleclaw’s oldest son, and the deputy Bluefur’s nephew. The white tom was friendly with his littermates, and did, sometimes, sneak them something tasty. “Tigerclaw.”

 

“Whitestorm,” Tigerclaw meowed, nodding. Firekit, wondering once more, why Tigerclaw was so antagonistic towards him because his father is Thistleclaw, but was friendly with Whitestorm. 

 

Not that I want him to be mean to Whitestorm, Firekit thought. Whitestorm is great! Spottedleaf, Firekit saw, slipped out of the den, then back inside. Oh… is it because of our mother, and not our father? Whitestorm gave Firekit a playful grin before he told Tigerclaw they were going on a border patrol. As the two warriors walked away, Firekit sighed, more deeply this time. He wished he could meet his father, and find out what he was really like. Spottedleaf only ever said he was a great warrior, fierce and brave in battle. The clan only ever gossiped about him. As he padded slowly back towards the nursery, Firekit glanced at the dark sky alight with stars. I just wish I could meet my father.

Chapter Text

Firekit slowly blinked open his eyes, confused at the darkness eclipsing his vision. The warmth of his siblings beside him, Copperkit flopped over and crushing him, the softness of his mother’s belly, and the curl of her tail brushing his nose was nothing more than a lingering feeling as he staggered to his paws, taking in the forest around him. Dark, scary looking trees surround the clearing he was in, and he wrinkled his nose as he lifted a paw and some slimy mud clung to his red fur. 

 

Yuck! Where am I? He glanced around, spotting another form picking her way across the slimy floor.

 

“Lightningkit?” he meowed. “Is that you?” 

 

His sister huffed, “Obviously.” She glared around the clearing. “What is this place?”

 

“My home,” a soft, female voice answered. The two kits jumped, fur puffed like dandelions, as a tortoiseshell she-cat with a white tail emerged from the shadows, darkness seemingly clinging to her patchy fur. Lightningkit and Firekit exchanged nervous glances.

 

“Who-who are you?” Lightningkit asked, trying to sound commanding. The she-cat looked amused, her whiskers twitching.

 

“Don’t be frightened,” she meowed. “I’m a friend of your father’s.” Firekit frowned, his own whiskers twitching, this time in confusion.

 

“Wouldn’t you be in ThunderClan?” he asked. “I’ve never seen you before.” The she-cat gently tapped the young kit on the nose with her tail. The white fur tickled him, but he held back his sneeze.

 

“I used to be in ThunderClan,” she confessed. “But I left the living world many moons ago.” Lightningkit’s and Firekit’s identical green eyes widened at the confession.

 

“Are you from StarClan ?” Lightningkit asked. Firekit gazed curiously at the she-cat, noting how similar her body structure was to that of his clanmates.

 

“What’s your name?” he asked.

 

“Mapleshade,” she replied calmly.

 

“Are you really a friend of our father?” Lightingkit pestered the tortoiseshell, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

 

“Hush,” Mapleshade meowed, her voice sounding just like the queens in the nursery. “Yes, I’m doing him a favor, so he can do one for me.” Her ears pricked, then swiveled as a smile placed itself upon her face. “Ah… Look, little kits. There he is.” 

 

Firekit and his sister turned and gapped at the tom steadily approaching them. He was a large gray tabby with spiky, long fur, sharp but warm amber eyes and splashes of white on his pelt like curling clouds. Three of his legs were the same gray as the rest of him while one of his front legs was a paler gray fading down to a snow-white paw. 

 

Like Airkit’s, Firekit thought briefly of his brother’s singular white paw, in awe of the tom - his father in front of him. Thistleclaw paused and gazed at them, clearly drinking in the sight of his kits, before he bent down and gently pressed his nose against each of theirs. Firekit and Lightningkit were too stunned to back away.

 

“Hello there, my kits,” he meowed, his mew rumbly like Tigerclaw’s, but also a tad bit like Whitestorm’s - gentle and loving. “I’m your father.” Firekit couldn’t tear his eyes away from his father, curiosity and confusion racing throughout his mind. 

 

“Are you really ?” Lightningkit looked suspicious. “They said you were a great warrior. You don’t look all that great to me.” Firekit gaped at his sister. How could she not see the power beneath his pelt, the ripples of his muscles underneath? The way he held himself like a true ThunderClan warrior, yet had that dignified grace that cats like the deputy Bluefur held? His long, sharp, curling claws that dug into the muddy ground beneath them?

 

Thistleclaw’s whiskers twitched, but Firekit couldn’t tell if what flashed in his eyes was amusement or indignation. “Greatness doesn’t come from how you look, but rather how you act. I am a strong and powerful cat, and I proved that in countless battles. I was destined for glory.” His eyes softened as he gazed at his kits. “And I can see you are too. What are your names, my kits?”

 

“Well shouldn’t you already know , as our father?” Lightningkit spat at him, her shoulder fur fluffing. Firekit felt the urge to smack his sister. How could she talk to their father like that?! They had only just met him!

 

Thistleclaw just sadly shook his head. “Our clanmates kicked me out before I could ever meet you… And I have no idea if your mother used the names I suggested.”

 

“What-” Firekit felt nervous, struggling to stop his legs from trembling. “What names did you suggest?”

 

“Snowkit,” Thistleclaw answered immediately, making the hope inside Firekit die. But then, his father continued, “Sweetkit, Larkkit, Shadekit, Copperkit, and Firekit.”

 

Firekit stopped himself from jumping. Instead, it came out as an odd jerking motion. “My name is Firekit!”

 

Thistleclaw’s eyes shone with intrigue. “Is it really?”

 

“Yes!” Firekit mewed excitedly. Mapleshade’s whiskers twitched in a weird fond way as she silently watched the kits meet their father. “And this is my sister, Lightningkit.”

 

“That’s a beautiful name,” Thistleclaw complimented but Lightningkit just closed her eyes and snottily turned her head away. “A powerful name,” Thistleclaw corrected himself, “for a powerful she-kit.”

 

Lightningkit cracked one eye open, staring at their father, before huffing. But Firekit could tell she was pleased from the way she puffed out her chest, raised her chin, and curled her tail.

 

“Father?” Firekit asked, hesitant. “Why did you want to meet us?” 

 

Thistleclaw tilted his head. “Why wouldn’t I want to meet my kits?” he replied. 

 

Firekit and Lightningkit exchanged confused looks. Firekit flattened his ears as he elaborated, “But...why us ? Don’t you want to meet all of your kits?” 

 

Thistleclaw frowned. “You mean Whitestorm?” Lightningkit snorted.

 

“There are five of us!” she meowed. “I’m the best though.” She glanced at Firekit quickly. “And Firekit’s pretty cool too, I guess.” Thistleclaw shot Mapleshade a look. 

 

“He only told me about the two,” he meowed, voice low. Mapleshade just shrugged, flicking her tail tip.

 

“I don’t care,” she said. “As long as I get what I want.” 

 

Thistleclaw nodded slightly, eyes a fraction narrowed, then turned his attention back to his kits, his expression soothing into a smile. “I would love to meet the rest of you, but for now I’m satisfied with the two of you.” 

 

Firekit happily flicked his tail, but fidgeted a bit, still a tab bit confused by this whole situation. Lightningkit pawed at him. “Will you stop squirming?” she hissed, lashing her tail. “You’re not a worm!” Thistleclaw gently covered her mouth with his tail.

 

“It’s alright,” he meowed, setting his amber gaze upon Firekit. “What’s on your mind, little one?”

 

Firekit stared at his father, unsure if he was allowed to ask such a question, but his curiosity won out. “What did you do?” he blurted out. 

 

Thistleclaw tilted his head, eyes wide and open, like an owl’s. “What do you mean?” 

 

Firekit nervously pawed at the ground. “You were exiled from the clan,” he began. “And only bad cats get exiled. Frostfur said it’s because Spottedpa- I mean, Spottedleaf was too young to have kits. But why would you get exiled for that?” Lightningkit paused, and slowly nodded, curious about it as well. Thistleclaw’s eyes darkened, and Firekit nervously flattened his ears.

Thistleclaw noticed, and curled his tail around his kits.

 

“It’s not because of that,” he assured them, mew soothing. “It was because she was a medicine cat. Our love was forbidden.”

 

“Oh,” Firekit meowed, a thought suddenly coming to him. “Is that why Tigerclaw is always so mean to us? Because our parents broke the code?” Thistleclaw twitched an ear at the mention of Tigerclaw. 

 

“Could be,” he mused. “Tigerclaw is a great warrior- I know because I taught him myself.” His eyes flashed, and he puffed his chest smugly. “But he does have a bit of trouble realizing that sometimes, the code comes after some things.” He gazed warmly at the kits. “Like love.” 

 

Lightningkit and Firekit nodded, accepting what their father said. “Now,” Thistleclaw’s mew was brisk. “It’s almost time for you to wake up.” he gave each of them a lick. “Don’t tell anyone about this - it’ll be our little secret.” His kits nodded, Firekit’s paws trembling at the thought of keeping a secret from his mother, but also from the excitement of finally meeting his father.

 

“Because they’ll all try to stop us, right?” Lightningkit meowed. 

 

Thistleclaw nodded. “That’s right. Then we won’t be able to meet anymore.” He nuzzled them. “And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?”

Chapter Text

The sun had already just started rising, but the kits were as active as ever, like a pile of burning weeds were under their paws. They jumped and danced around, pinning each other and scuffing ears, fur fluffed and whiskers twitching.

 

The light brown tabby tom, Runningkit, was boasting today, as he often did.

 

I’m going to be an apprentice today.” He puffed out his lighter chest fur.

 

“Yes, like you’ve said ten times already,” Creekkit said, exasperatedly, rolling her green eyes. Firekit playfully flicked Runningkit with his tail.

 

“Know who your mentor’s gonna be yet?” he asked. Runningkit shook his head, and Firekit’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “Any guesses?” The brown tom glanced around, inspecting the warriors in camp.

 

“Adderfang would be cool!” he meowed at last. 

 

“He sure is!” Copperkit skidded over, Airkit lagging behind him. “Adderfang’s awesome!”

 

“Whitestorm is nice, and so is Rosetail.” Runningkit went on. He humphed. “I don’t know, I just want a mentor that’s nice. And cool.”

 

“Thrushpelt’s nice!” Airkit meowed. He flattened his ears as Lightningkit’s moan reached them.

 

“Why can’t I be an apprentice?!” she exclaimed. Their sister was by Mousekit. “It’s not fair ! I’m ready to be an apprentice!” The brown she-cat gave Lightningkit a friendly nudge.

 

“You just have to wait a bit longer!”

 

Lightningkit huffed. “Three and a half more moons! That’s way too long!”

 

Airkit scuffled his paws. “I don’t really want to be an apprentice,” he meowed quietly. Lightningkit shot him a cross look.

 

“That's completely mouse-brained!” she hissed. “What kind of cat doesn’t want to be an apprentice !?” she snorted. “You’re being pathetic! As usual !” Airkit flinched back from her harsh words.

 

“Hey!” Copperkit meowed hotly, ginger fur bristling. “Don’t be so mean!”

 

“Yeah, Lightningkit!” Creekkit spat. “You’re being a bully! Leave Airkit alone!” Firekit and Runningkit exchanged startled looks at how quickly this argument escalated. “Come on, Airkit,” Creekkit gave her brother a comforting lick, shooting a hostile look at Lightningkit as she did so. “Let’s go play somewhere else!” Copperkit led Airkit away, while Creekkit paused. “Wanna come Firekit? Runningkit?” Runningkit shook his head.

 

“Mother wants Mousekit and I to come into the nursery soon for a wash.” He wrinkled his nose. “I know I don’t need one!” He fluffed up his sleek brown pelt, sending a teasing look at Mousekit. “But you might!” Mousekit growled, swiping at her brother.

 

“Take that back!”

 

“Never!” Runningkit exclaimed as he ran away, Mousekit on his tail. As the two siblings moved farther away, and Creekkit sped over to their other littermates, Firekit turned to Lightningkit.

 

“Um, Lightningkit…” he began.

 

“What?” she meowed crossly. He kicked at the dirt.

 

“Do you think our father will visit us again soon?” That dream they had had was so weird! Firekit was beginning to think it was a result of him eating too much. Lightningkit shrugged.

 

“Dunno. But don’t go yapping your mouth off about it! It’s a secret , remember? If someone finds out…” For once, hesitation and sadness flitted into his sister’s eyes. “We won't be able to see him again.”

 


 

“Copperkit, quit wiggling!” Spottedleaf scolded lightly. “Lightningkit, look at you! Your pelt’s covered in dust!” Their mother bent over and began cleaning her daughter’s fur, much to Lightningkit’s chagrin.

 

“I’m fine Mother!” she meowed, huffy. “Don’t get your tail in a twist about it!” Spottedleaf smoothed down her dark tortoiseshell pelt one more time.

 

“Now, you must be respectful when Sunstar makes Runningkit and Mousekit apprentices,” she meowed, staring firmly at them. “Understood?” The kits nodded obediently. Spottedleaf pricked her ears, turning her gaze upwards. “Here he comes.” Sunstar had emerged from his den, and leapt up the Highrock.

 

“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join beneath the Highrock for a clan meeting!” he called. Many of the cats were already out, but the last stragglers emerged from their dens and padded into the center of camp. Sliding out of the nursery were Runningkit and Mousekit, pelts cleaned and tails held high as White-eye followed them out, her good eye sparkling with pride. The three cats reached the front of the crowd and settled there as Sunstar leapt from the rocks to join them. The deputy, Bluefur, was off to the side, watching approvingly as the two kits stepped forward.

 

“From this day forth,” Sunstar began. “This kit,” he rested his tail on Runningkit. “Will be known as Runningpaw.” Runningpaw lashed his tail back and forth eagerly. “Fuzzypelt.” An old black tom with his fur spiked out padded forth, amber eyes meeting Runningpaw’s green. “You did a wonderful job training Patchpelt, and he is a credit to his clan. I trust you to pass on the cleverness you taught him onto Runningpaw.” Fuzzypelt dipped his head.

 

“I will do my best Sunstar.” He leaned forward and touched noses with Runningpaw. Sunstar turned to Mousekit, who was fidgeting slightly.

 

“From this day forth, this kit will be known as Mousepaw.” Sunstar nodded to another cat in the crowd. “Dappletail, you have proven to be an excellent mentor to Goldenflower. I trust you will train Mousepaw to be just as great of a warrior.” Dappletail nodded.

 

“You can count on me, Sunstar,” she meowed. Like Fuzzypelt, she leaned forward and touched noses with Mousepaw.

 

“Runningpaw! Mousepaw! Runningpaw! Mousepaw!” the clan called, greeting and welcoming the apprentices by their new names. The kits in particular were very loud, excited to see their friends as apprentices. Runningpaw immediately darted over to them.

 

“I’m an apprentice!” he announced. Firekit pawed at him.

 

“We know , mouse-brain!” he meowed. “We just saw it!”

 

“Have you gone bat-blind?” Creekkit teased. Runningpaw dropped into a crouch, giving Creekkit a playful look.

 

“I don’t know, maybe we should test it out!”

 

Right as Runningpaw was about to pounce, Fuzzypelt called out, “Runningpaw! You’re not a kit anymore- come here.”

 

Runningpaw flinched, looking embarrassed. He licked his chest fur, saying, “Coming!” He sent the kits an apologetic grin before bolting towards his mentor, Dappletail, and Mousepaw, who sat at the entrance of the camp. Mousepaw’s whiskers twitched as she stared amusedly at her brother. Fuzzypelt cuffed his apprentices over the ears, before all of them turned and left camp.

 

The kits watched the empty entrance for a moment, before Spottedleaf licked Creekkit’s head, and announced, “I’m going to talk with Willowpelt for a moment. You kits play nice.” The tortoiseshell and white she-cat trotted over to her gray sister, who greeted her with a nose bump.

 

Copperkit turned to pounce on Airkit, but Lightningkit suddenly spoke, eyes bright and smile dangerous. “We should sneak out of camp.”

 

Airkit’s brown kit-fur immediately fluffed up. “We’re only two moons!” he squeaked.

 

“And a half !” Lightningkit spat back at him, defensive, her tortoiseshell fur bristling. “We’re totally old enough to leave. What are you, a mouse? A whittle itty bitty scaredy mouse?”

 

“Knock it off-” Creekkit began, but Airkit leaped to his paws.

 

“NO! Am not! I’m telling Spottedleaf!” The tom-kit charged towards their mother, who looked faintly exasperated when she realized one of her kits were already coming to bother her. Willowpelt’s whiskers twitched, amused.

 

“MOUSE-BRAINED TATTLETALE!” Lightningkit hissed, chasing after her brother. “Don’t!”

 

The other kits, including Darkkit, stormed after the two, but hung back a bit as Airkit barrelled into Spottedleaf and Lightningkit stood as puffed up as a dandelion in front of them.

 

“Mother!” Airkit cried. “Lightningkit’s being mean again!”

 

“Is she?” Spottedleaf’s eyes hardened. “Lightningkit, you know you shouldn’t be mean to your siblings.”

 

“Especially Airkit,” the she-kit grumbled under her breath, her neck fur prickling. “Why’s he so special?”

 

“Because he spent the first moon of his life in the medicine cat den.” Spottedleaf wrapped a paw around Airkit and pulled him closer, looking sternly down at her daughter. “And you don’t want him to spend anymore time inside there, don’t you?”

 

Lightningkit just glared at her paws, so Willowpelt sternly added, “You don’t want him to end up like my kits, do you?”

 

Firekit and his siblings had been too young to ever know the moon-older kits who had passed, but he had heard about them from his mother and clanmates. One of Darkkit’s siblings had been born dead, while two others had been born sickly, and didn’t survive a moon under Featherwhisker and Spottedleaf’s care. Airkit had been born just as sick

 

Some of their clanmates said it was because Willowpelt and Spottedleaf were too young to have kits.

 

Others said it was because StarClan’s wrath at a medicine cat breaking the code had accidentally taken her sister’s kits instead of hers.

 

Firekit was terrified that StarClan hated him and his siblings, but Spottedleaf always told them StarClan loved all kits, regardless of whose they were or what they were born into.

 

Lightningkit’s shoulders dropped, her anger fading. “No…”

 

“Good.” Spottedleaf nodded. “Now go stay in the nursery until sunhigh, and maybe you’ll think twice about bullying your brother.”

 

Lightningkit huffed, glaring up at her mother, but spun around and marched towards the nursery in a sulky mood. Airkit stuck his tongue out at her, but luckily Lightningkit had her back to him and couldn’t see, or else Firekit was sure she would have attacked him and ripped his ears off on the spot.

 

He did hear her mutter, as she passed by, “Well maybe he shouldn’t be so weak.”

 

Spottedleaf sighed, shaking her head. “Kits can be so difficult.” Willowpelt purred in agreement beside her.

 

Firekit pricked his ears, staring up at his mother. “ I’m not difficult, am I?”

 

Spottedleaf smiled at her son. She used the paw not wrapped around Airkit to pull Firekit closer, and lick his ears. “You’re your own special brand of difficult,” Spottedleaf mewed fondly. “You’ve made me trip over you more times than I can count, running around the medicine cat den like it's the nursery.”

 

Copperkit snickered at his brother, and Creekkit purred, amused, so Spottedleaf quickly told them, “Shush. You kits did the same thing. Your brother just hasn’t grown out of it yet.”

 

“And I never will!” Firekit protested. “I like it in the medicine cat den.”

 

“Do you want to be a medicine cat, Firekit?” Willowpelt asked, ears pricked in intrigue.

 

Firekit shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I wanna be a warrior! The best warrior. I just like being in the medicine cat den because it’s where you are, Mother.” And it was away from all the stares of his clanmates, he thought privately.

 

Spottedleaf’s face softened, her whiskers twitching. She touched her nose gently to his forehead. “I’m sorry I can’t be with you as much as other queens, kits.”

 

“It’s okay,” Firekit said immediately, and Creekkit mewed an agreement behind him. “I know you're very important to the clan. That’s why you’re the best mother!”

 

“Willowpelt’s better,” Darkkit murmured in petty disagreeance. Willowpelt was a good mother- as his mother’s sister, she often took care of Spottedleaf’s kits too, even if having six kits curled up at her belly and pushing her out of her own nest was a bit much.

 

“You’re just as important,” Spottedleaf praised, gazing fondly at her kits, and even Darkkit. “All of you are, just as every kit is. I know you’ll be great warriors when you grow up.”

 

“Did you have a prophecy about it?” Creekkit asked eagerly, as she always did after she had learned that being a medicine cat not only meant taking care of your clan, but interpreting omens from StarClan.

 

Spottedleaf and Willowpelt both mrrow ed, but Spottedleaf shook her head. “No. I just know it in my heart.” She nudged Airkit away from her with her nose. “Now go play, kits. The sun is still shining, and you wouldn’t want to waste it.”

 

The other kits obediently turned around and dashed off, Copperkit meowing something about playing mossball, but Firekit hesitated. Airkit hesitated too, but walked after Copperkit when Spottedleaf nudged him again. Firekit glanced at his mother.

 

“Can’t you come play with us?” he asked.

 

Spottedleaf sadly shook her head. “I have to treat Sparrowpelt’s cough and check Frostfur’s paw to make sure it's not infected after she got a thorn in it.” Firekit probably shouldn’t tell her Lightningkit purposefully put a thorn in Frostfur’s nest after she heard her, Speckletail and Robinwing gossiping, again, about Spottedleaf.

 

Firekit reluctantly nodded. He waved his tail at his mother and Willowpelt before running off to the other kits.

 

“...not supposed to do that,” Creekkit was saying to Darkkit in a hushed, slightly-hissing voice.

 

“Not supposed to do what?” Firekit asked curiously.

 

Creekkit frowned before replying, “He wants to follow Lightningkit.”

 

“Outside of camp?” Firekit frowned as well, tail tip twitching. “But Lightningkit’s in the nursery. She can’t leave now!”

 

Creekkit huffed, rolling her eyes. “She’s Lightningkit! She does what she wants, you know that.”

 

“She’s gonna get out of camp no matter what now that she has her mind set to it,” Darkkit added in a low mew. “And I wanna go with her! Haven’t you always wanted to go outside camp?”

 

“Yeah,” Firekit agreed. “But we’ll get to do that when we’re apprentices!”

 

“And we won’t be apprentices until three moons from now,” Darkkit whined, then paused. “Well, four moons for you five. But doesn’t that make you want to explore more?”

 

Firekit shook his head. “We aren’t supposed to leave camp without somebody. The clan will be mad at us-”

 

“More mad than they already are?” Darkkit paused again, then added, again, “At you five?”

 

Firekit pawed at the grass beneath his paws. “Spottedleaf will be worried.”

 

“Not if she doesn’t ever know we left,” Darkkit protested.

 

“Kits always get noticed when they leave,” Creekkit meowed. “‘Cause then the camp’s a whole lot quieter.”

 

“But the camp’s busy right now,” Darkkit said. “With two new apprentices, and the patrols are just starting to get organized.” It was true; Bluefur was in the center of camp, ordering warriors around for border and hunting patrols. Everyone seemed focused on her. White-eye wasn’t a nursery queen anymore, so she wouldn’t be keeping an eye on the kits, too eager to be back on patrol, and Brindleface was sleeping in the nursery. Spottedleaf, as she had said earlier, had vanished into the medicine cat den. Willowpelt would be the only one watching the kits, and right now she had been distracted by Goldenflower and Swiftbreeze.

 

“Maybe we could…” Firekit muttered. Creekkit cuffed him over his ears.

 

“You mouse-brain!” But then she sighed. “There’s no way I’m gonna convince you not to leave camp, Darkkit, and StarClan knows there’s no way to convince Lightningkit not to… So I guess Firekit and I’ll have to come with to make sure you two don’t do anything mouse-brained.”

 

“I’m older than you,” Darkkit protested, fluffing out his dark tabby fur. “I don’t need to be kit-sat.”

 

“Well too bad,” Creekkit said. “Now let’s get this over with quickly, before all the ‘business’ is over.” She waved her tail as a patrol consisting of Adderfang, Tigerclaw, and Patchpelt slipped out of camp.

 

The three kits ambled their way over to the nursery as unsuspiciously as possible. Firekit didn’t know if they were truly as unsuspicious as they thought they were, but nobody came running over to stop them.

 

Brindleface, a pale gray tabby, was lying on her side, snoring lightly. The only movement from her was the twitch of her tail and her rising sides. Her belly was so big that Firekit thought it was going to burst. When he was younger, he once asked Spottedleaf- Spottedpaw at the time- if that’s how kits were born. That they just burst out from their mother’s stomach. Mousekit had overheard and called him a mouse-brain, stating that a she-cat would die if that happened.

 

In their nest, Lightningkit was curled up tight, a ball of prickly fur (Firekit knew now that she got it from their father, compared to the rest of her smooth-furred siblings) colored dark brown and ginger. The patches of ginger zigzagged across her pelt, earning her her name. She didn’t move a muscle until Creekkit padded closer. Then her ears pricked and her head came flying up and around, staring at her sister with a frown.

 

“What are you doing here?” she meowed hotly. Since it wasn’t a hiss, Firekit knew she wasn’t angry at them, just angry in general.

 

Creekkit smirked. “We’re helping you sneak out.”

 

Firekit swore he’d never seen his sister grin so brightly at them before.

Chapter Text

Creekkit and Darkkit fluffed out their longer pelts to hide Lightningkit behind them as they walked along the barrier of the camp. Firekit trotted in front of them, pretending to bat a clump of dirt at them as though they were playing a game. His pelt- like his name- felt like it was on fire, wary and paranoid a warrior would see them and they’d be in big trouble.

 

But they made it to the dirtplace uninterrupted, and the kits exchanged glances.

 

“I’ll go first,” Lightningkit mewed, pushing her way past the kits. “Since I’m not supposed to be out. Creekkit, you come with me.”

 

Creekkit rolled her eyes at Lightningkit’s bossy tone, but followed after her sister. Firekit squished the clump of dirt underneath his paws as he watched his sisters vanish into the smelliest place in camp.

 

Darkkit huffed beside him. “How long do we have to wait?” he whined.

 

“Just until it’s not as suspicious to have four kits going into the dirtplace,” Firekit told him.

 

“How long is that ?” Darkkit complained, ears falling and whiskers drooping.

 

“We’ll go in a whisker’s twitch,” Firekit promised his denmate, brushing his tail over his back. Firekit glanced behind him to see if any cat was watching. The only gaze he met was the green one of his brother, Copperkit. Firekit tensed, but Copperkit just tilted his head, smiled, and turned to Airkit.

 

Across the clearing, Firekit heard Copperkit say, “Hey Airkit! Why don’t we go ask Weedwhisker and Larksong for a story?”

 

In return, he heard their smallest brother complain, but follow after Copperkit regardless.

 

Firekit breathed a sigh of relief, then turned to Darkkit. “Come on, let’s go.”

 

Darkkit perked up and scrambled after Firekit as the two entered the dirtplace. Firekit scrunched his nose up, carefully treading along the outskirts. Lightningkit was halfway through a small hole dug at the back of the dirtplace, and Creekkit was nowhere to be seen- but Firekit could scent her smell wafting through from the other side of the barrier. Lightningkit’s tortoiseshell fur vanished in the next moment, and Firekit exchanged a look with Darkkit.

 

“You first,” Firekit meowed. “I’ll keep watch.”

 

Darkkit frowned but wiggled his way into the hole. His long fur caught on the thicket as he pushed through, leaving dark fur behind. Firekit tried to pluck a few pieces off, but it and a few of Creekkit's brown fur stayed firmly stuck. Firekit then squeezed himself through the hole, hissing as the thicket dug into his pelt.

 

Lightningkit grabbed his scruff and helped pull him through. Firekit sprung out to the other side, tumbling on his paws for a moment. Then, along with Creekkit, Darkkit, and Lightningkit, he stared around at the forest.

 

Behind them was a thick thicket and bramble wall, wrapped between trees and softening the faint murmurs of conversation inside as well as the scents that drifted in and out. In front of them was an entire forest, the ground littered with tall patches of grass, moss, ferns, and flowers, so unlike the clear, flattened grass inside the camp. Trees stretched as far as they could see, blocking out the sun above with their leaves save for a few dappled patches.

 

Firekit felt a shiver run down his spine. It would have been moons longer until he saw how beautiful the forest really was. He pawed a fern beneath his feet, fascinated at how it felt. A lot damper, wetter, than it was in the sunny camp. He saw Creekkit pounce on a beetle as it vanished underneath a fallen leaf.

 

“Wow,” Firekit breathed. “The forest is beautiful.”

 

“And big,” Darkkit murmured, yellow eyes wide and wondrous as he glanced around.

 

“Which is why it’s mouse-brained that they keep it from us until we’re six moons,” Lightningkit hissed.

 

“It’s not safe for kits to be outside of camp,” Creekkit parroted what the queens always said, but she looked too awed to really care.

 

Firekit jumped onto a bundle of small blue flowers, then lifted a paw to examine it. One of the little white-blue petals were stuck between his toes.

 

“Come on!” Lightningkit barked, startling Firekit as she shoved him. “Let’s go! We’ve got the entire forest to explore, we can’t sit diddley-daddying here.” Firekit scrunched his nose, partly amused, at his sister’s out-of-character phrase. She must have heard one of the respected warriors say it and thought it was cool- like Tigerclaw or Redtail.

 

She bolted into the forest, and Firekit was started by how quickly she disappeared into the undergrowth.

 

“Lightningkit!” he yelled, before Creekkit slapped a tail over his mouth.

 

“Shhh! We’re next to camp still! The warriors might hear,” she warned him. “Now, come on. We can’t let Lightningkit beat us!” She ran off after their sister.

 

“Beat us? Beat us at what?!” He and Darkkit exchanged a look before Firekit grinned and jabbed at Darkkit’s shoulder. “Well, whatever it is, I’m beating you !”

 

Darkkit yowled (not too loudly) as he sprang after Firekit. Firekit leaped over a plant that he thought was marigold if his time in the medicine cat den told him anything. Darkkit tumbled straight into the plant, and Firekit purred as he shook the yellow dust off of his black tabby pelt. Darkkit growled at him, wiggling his haunches, before leaping.

 

Firekit let Darkkit pin him, before swatting at his shoulder and kicking at his belly with his hindlegs. Darkkit yelped and Firekit surged upwards, knocking him over and pinning him. He triumphantly stood over the bigger, older kit.

 

“Hey fur-for-brains!” Lightningkit called. “Keep up with us!” She and Creekkit had paused, both of their pelts snagged with grass and twigs from the crowded forest floor. Their tails were raised and their green eyes shined. “It won’t be our fault if you get lost and start calling for Mother.”

 

“Race you!” Firekit called as he jumped off of Darkkit and sped over to his sisters.

 

“Race me where ?” Darkkit called as he followed after the ginger tom-kit.

 

“To the border!” Lightningkit suggested as she ran ahead, long limbs stretching out like a WindClan cat. Not that Firekit knew what a WindClan cat looked like, but the stories painted them as fast, thin, and sleek-furred. He always thought his sister and maybe Airkit fit the profile. Although Airkit was always a little chubbier since the queens overfed him after his scare in the medicine cat den.

 

“How do you know where the border is!” Creekkit meowed to her sister, lagging behind her and Firekit. Lightningkit was definitely the fastest of the siblings, and maybe Airkit would be if he ran instead of wobbling pitifully around. Creekkit’s long fur always weighed her down, and so did Darkkit’s. Copperkit and Firekit were always trying to beat each other in terms of speed, but at least Firekit could safely say he was the second fastest kit in the nursery since Runningpaw and Mousepaw were apprentices now.

 

“I don’t,” Lightningkit answered back, but didn’t slow down a bit. “But I know we’ll smell it when we get to it!” The warriors always said the other clans smelled weird- RiverClan like rotting fish and wet fur on a rainy day, WindClan like a storm had come upon them and flattened their pelts and their scents, and ShadowClan like old carrion, rats, and muddy pelts. Firekit didn’t really know what most of that smelt like, save for rainy and muddy pelts, but even the thought of it made his nose wrinkle.

 

Firekit yowled when Creekkit suddenly leaped onto him, grabbing him by the haunches and dragging him down into a tumble. Darkkit tried to jump over them, running too fast to stop, but instead Firekit’s flailing leg kicked him in the face and he landed in between some roots. Lightningkit mrrow ed at them all, stopping and turning around.

 

“Mouse-brains and slowpokes!” she taunted. “You’ll never make it to the border like that!”

 

Creekkit purred in laughter as she sprung off of Firekit, running towards the tortoiseshell she-kit. “Don’t be so sure!” She jumped at their sister, but she nimbly dodged away like a mouse avoiding a hunter’s claws.

 

Firekit rolled to his feet, shaking out his pelt, as his sisters chased after each other again. Darkkit stood up beside him, looking at his messy pelt riddled with dust and fauna. He huffed, “Willowpelt’s going to spend ages cleaning me!”

 

“Not if you clean yourself,” Firekit meowed. “ I know how to clean my own pelt- you’re just lazy!”

 

“Am not!” Darkkit struck a paw out at Firekit, who hopped backwards with a purr.

 

“Are too!” Firekit sang, yowling happily as Darkkit took the bait, sprinting after him.

 

The four kits darted around trees, never stopping to take a break in fear a patrol would stumble upon them and their fun would be over. As their breaths started to become pants and their legs carried them slower, Firekit took it as an opportunity to get revenge on his sister for earlier.

 

He crouched down and then leaped at his brown tabby sister. She squealed as he pounced on her, the two of them becoming a rolling pile of fur as the hill became steeper and steeper. The world became dizzy and blurry around Firekit, but when they hit the bottom, he quickly kicked out his legs like a rabbit at his sister, not one to lose a fight.

 

It was only then as his sister flew over a ledge that he realized the roaring in his ears was not because he was rolling downhill, and that a strange scent was piercing his nose, like mist on a rainy day but stronger and sharper.

 

“Creekkit!” Lightningkit and Darkkit both yelled as they raced down the hill, looking horrified. Firekit scrambled to his feet and then peered over the ledge-

 

Water greeted him. Rushing fast and hard over rocks and stray branches, he’d never seen anything like it. Water had always been from rain, or soaked into moss, and sometimes into a little puddle in the corners of camp after a particularly rainy day. Not moving as violently as it was now, and with so much of it.

 

Creekkit was nowhere to be seen.

 

Firekit’s eyes dragged across the raging river rapidly, his ginger pelt fluffed out in all directions. “Creekkit! Creekkit!” Lightningkit and Darkkit scrambled up beside him, peering over the river. All three of them frantically paced along the edge. “Creekkit!”

 

“There!” Lightningkit yowled, pointing further down the river. “I saw her brown fur!” Firekit could hear Creekkit’s gurgled wails of terror as she was swept downstream.

 

“Creekkit!” he yelled. “Try to swim!”

 

“She doesn’t know how to mouse-brain!” Lightningkit screeched, all three of them chasing after Creekkit down the riverbed.

 

“She has to try!” Darkkit yelped, eyes wide with horror. It seemed Creekkit had heard Firekit’s suggestion, and was trying desperately to paddle with her paws. Her head was up out of the water, but she wasn’t strong enough to propel herself through it. Firekit ran down and pointed with his tail.

 

“Look! Stepping-stones!” he yolwed. “Creekkit! Grab the stepping-stones!” Firekit moved to run to the stepping-stones, but froze as a blur of gray fur - spiky gray and white fur - sped past his vision on the other side of the tumbling river. Lightningkit gasped as the gray tom dove straight into the river, disappearing for a split-second, then resurfacing and paddling strongly towards Creekkit. 

 

It’s Thistleclaw! Firekit inwardly gasped. Their father had reached Creekkit and grasped her by the scruff. His amber gaze was narrowed in concentration as he swam toward the ThunderClan side of the river, and scrambled out of the water, sharp claws digging into the ground as he heaved himself up. He gently set Creekkit down as the other three kits rushed over.

 

“Creekkit! Creekkit!” they shouted. Firekit reached her first and bowled her over. “Are you okay?!” The brown tabby was shivering, and shook out her pelt.

 

“I’m f-f-fine,” she chattered. “J-just cold.” Thistleclaw gave the kits a once over.

 

“The river is a bit chillier around this time,” he meowed. He sniffed Creekkit, and nodded. “You should be fine, but you might want to have Spottedpa-leaf check you over when you get back.” He paused. “Now, just what are you four doing out here?” His mew was stern, and his eyes sharpened onto Lightningkit and Firekit. Darkkit shuffled his paws under the powerful warrior’s gaze.

 

“We thought it would be fun to see the forest,” he meowed. Thistleclaw kinked his tail.

 

“You really should be more careful,” he meowed. “And you should listen to your clanmates. If I wasn’t around when this little one fell in, she would have drowned.” Creekkit squeaked in fear. Thsitleclaw’s eyes softened. “I’ll take you a little further in,” he meowed, nudging the kits along. “It’s time for you to get back home.” Creekkit was still shaking from her tumble, and Darkkit pressed against her to help get her warmed up. Thistleclaw rested his tail across Firekit and Lightningkit’s backs, a warm glow in his eyes as he looked at them. “Is she one of mine, too?” he softly inquired to his two kits.

 

“Creekkit?” Lightningkit meowed. Thistleclaw nodded.

 

“Yes, she is,” Firekit nodded, a small wiggle of energy running through him. “Darkkit is Willowpelt’s.” Thistleclaw nodded, casting a concerned eye over his daughter.

 

“Make sure she sees your mother,” he ordered, then raised his voice so Creekkit and Darkkit could hear him clearly. “She could get sick from that soaking.” Firekit nodded, promising to do exactly what his father said.

 

“But then they’ll know we snuck out!” Lightningkit objected. Thistleclaw shot her a stern look.

 

“You weren’t supposed to be out in the first place!” he scolded. “And Creekkit nearly died. If you get punished, it is rightly deserved!” Lightningkit ducked her head, ears flat from their father’s scolding. He nudged them along so they could catch up to Creekkit and Darkkit. The former was glancing over her shoulder, eyes confused and suspicious. 

 

As Firekit padded up to her other side, she hissed into his ear, “How do you know him?” Firekit nearly stumbled.

 

“Um, what do you mean?” he stalled. Creekkit gave him an annoyed look.

 

“You know him.” She flicked an ear at Thistleclaw. “How?” Firekit nervously glanced at Lightningkit, searching for an answer, when Thistleclaw froze, ears pricked.

 

“I must be going now,” he meowed. “You’ll be safe.” He hesitated slightly, a longing look in his amber gaze as he glanced at three of his five kits, then turned sharply and sped away, crossing the stepping-stones in a couple bounds, into what Firekit assumed was RiverClan territory.

 

“Why did he-” Darkkit began, before he paused. “Oh.” A patrol had come across them moments after Thistleclaw vanished. Firekit recognized Redtail leading the patrol, with Thrushpelt and Whitestorm behind him, and Rosetail bringing up the rear.

 

“Firekit?” Redtail meowed, surprised. “Lightningkit, Darkkit, Creekkit, what are you all-” Redtail’s mew was cut off by Rosetail.

 

“Great Starclan, what happened to you?!” she exclaimed, rushing over to the kits, giving them all fierce, frantic licks. “Creekkit! You’re soaking wet! Did you fall into the river?” The brown tabby ducked her head, mewing a quiet, “Yes.” Rosetail began licking Creekkit’s fur as Whitestorm sniffed the other three kits.

 

“Are the rest of you all right?” he asked, concern obvious in his yellow gaze. Firekit nodded.

 

“Creekkit fell in when we were playing,” the red kit explained. He hesitated, unsure how to explain Thistleclaw saving her, when Lightningkit butted in.

 

“A RiverClan warrior saw and saved her!” she exclaimed, her tail raised and her shoulder fur fluffed in excitement. Thrushpelt glanced up from his inspection of Darkkit.

 

“A RiverClan warrior?” he asked. “What did he look like?” Lightningkit hesitated, glancing at Firekit.

 

“Um,” Firekit meowed nervously. “Gray. He had gray fur.”

 

“Gray fur,” Redtail murmured. “Voleclaw maybe? Or Reedtail?” He casted his amber eyes - like Spottedleaf’s, Firekit absentmindedly thought - upon the kits. “Can you describe anything else about him?” Firekit shuffled his paws.

 

“I don’t think so,” he said. “He saved Creekkit, then took us a little ways away from the river, then turned around and went back to his territory. I think he didn’t want to intrude on ThunderClan’s territory.” Firekit felt guilty about lying to the warriors, but he knew it wasn’t a good idea to mention Creekkit’s savior was Thistleclaw.

 

“Well,” Rosetail began gratefully. “Whoever it was, thank StarClan for them! Creekkit could have died!” She licked her niece once more before picking her up by the scruff. Creekkit was too tired and soggy to put up a complaint.

 

“Let’s get you all back to camp.” Thrushpelt picked up Darkkit. Whitestorm grasped Lightningkit’s scruff -  much to her displeasure - and Redtail carried Firekit. As the patrol headed back to camp, Redtail paused and quietly asked around Firekit’s scruff;

 

“He had RiverClan scent, right?” Firekit nodded, confused about why Redtail was asking that. “You’re completely sure?” The red kit nodded again.

 

“I’m sure. He smelled like the river,” Firekit lied. He hadn’t thought about Thistleclaw’s scent that much- he smelled like his father. Redtail nodded.

 

“Just checking.” He grasped Firekit once more and padded towards camp. Firekit wondered why Redtail had asked him that. Why had Redtail questioned him on his scent? Did it matter? Firekit stiffened. Wait, Thistleclaw’s scent had been watery and fishy, like RiverClan’s. Why was his scent RiverClan?! Firekit twisted around to look at the river, and spotted his father’s spiky gray fur, sleek and shiny, on the other side as the tom peered back to watch them. He had been hidden from the ThunderClan patrol. Does...does Thistleclaw live in RiverClan?

 


 

“Lightningkit! Creekkit! Firekit! Darkkit!” Spottedleaf and Willowpelt’s frantic screeching greeted the returning patrol’s ears. The kits shrunk into themselves as they saw the clan running about, frantically searching for the kits. Redtail set Firekit down and called out to his sisters.

 

“Spottedleaf! Willowpelt! It’s alright, we found them!” Both queens rushed over, but were beaten to the kits by their father, Adderfang. The mottled tom was agitated, pelt bristling, as he skidded to a halt beside his son.

 

“Are they alright?” he demanded, nosing his grandchildren. “Are they hurt? Did anything find them? If anything hurt them, tell me what it was so I can rip it apart!” Redtail rested a paw on his father’s shoulder.

 

“Easy, there,” he soothed. “They aren't hurt. Creekkit is a bit soaked. She fell into the river, but a RiverClan warrior saved her.” Adderfang’s tense stance softened.

 

“Good,” he grunted. “Who was it?” Redtail shrugged.

 

“Don’t know. They say it was a gray tom. Could’ve been Voleclaw, Reedtail, or Frogleap.” Adderfang looked thoughtful.

 

“Maybe at the next gathering we can ask,” he meowed. “Give them my thanks for saving my granddaughter.” Redtail butted his head against Adderfang.

 

“I’m sure we can ask around,” he purred. Spottedleaf had flung herself at her kits, licking them and checking Creekkit over. She sighed.

 

“She’ll be fine,” she meowed. “Just needs rest and warmth. Creekkit, darling, go into the nursery and rest. Copperkit! Airkit!” she called. The other two kits darted over. “Go with your sister and warm her up, please.”

 

“Yes Mother!” Airkit meowed. He, Copperkit, and Creekkit slipped into the nursery as Spottedleaf turned on her last two kits and Darkkit.

 

“What were you thinking?” she scolded. “Don’t you know how worried I was? How worried Willowpelt was?” Firekit fixed his eyes on his paws, shame running through his pelt, making it hot. Lightningkit, however, did no such thing.

 

“We wanted to see the forest!” she meowed boldly, standing as tall as she could. “It stinks to just sit in here doing nothing!” Spottedleaf’s amber eyes glared sternly at her.

 

“You know very well that you, Lightningkit, were meant to stay in the nursery. I’m guessing you convinced your littermates and Darkkit to come with you out of camp.” Firekit guiltily looked up.

 

“No, she didn’t,” he mumbled, scuffing the dirt beneath his paws. “We came with on our own… We even helped her escape.” Darkkit shot a glare at Firekit, as though upset that he revealed that truth.

 

“I am very disappointed in you,” Spottedleaf stated, frowning. “From now on, you are to go nowhere unless you have a warrior or apprentice with you. You must tell them where you are at, and where you plan to go.” Lightningkit’s pelt bristled and she bared her teeth.

 

“But-”

 

“But, nothing!” Spottedleaf growled. “You disobeyed me, and this is your punishment. Willowpelt,” she glanced at her sister. “Do you agree?” Willowpelt nodded, fixing her son with a stern look.

 

“I do.” she meowed. “You will do this until we say so. Understand?” Firekit glumly nodded, Darkkit bowed his head, upset but resigned. Lightningkit lashed her tail, furious, but muttered an ungrateful “Yes.”

 

“Good.” Spottedleaf nodded. “Now, into the nursery. All of you.” She brushed her tail toward the den. The kits trudged back to their nests as Spottedleaf paused and sniffed Lightningkit.

 

“What?” the tortoiseshell kit snapped. Spottedleaf’s eyes were unreadable.

 

“Nothing,” she meowed. “It’s just that scent...it’s familiar.” Their mother said nothing more as they entered the den.

Chapter Text

“But LionClan wouldn’t give up despite the boar’s vicious attacks,” Weedwhisker, a pale orange elder tom with white flecks through his pelt and gleaming yellow eyes, spun the story to the kits, who were enraptured by his tale. “Goldenstrike was the clan’s greatest warrior, and he was assigned by his clan leader to lead the boar to the cliff.”

 

“What happened next?” Copperkit leaned eagerly forward, his ears pricked. Airkit was curled up between him and Creekkit, while Firekit and Darkkit sat tucked together. Lightningkit sat grumpily away from the kits, but even her ears were trained on Weedwhisker.

 

“Goldenstrike taunted the boar until he angered,” Weedwhisker continued, voice low. “When the boar charged him, he ran like the wind until-”

 

A loud wail rang throughout the camp, making all the cats inside the elders’ den jump. It was crowded, with six kits and four elders, and Darkkit yelped as Firekit stepped on his tail.

 

“Sorry,” Firekit apologized, and heard likewise mumbled from Lightningkit, surprisingly to Smallear, the elder who had only joined the elders' den this moon.

 

The kits wasted no time in scrambling out the den, making Larksong hiss, “Watch the tail!”

 

They leaped over Larksong and Poppydawn’s tails as they pulled them close, nearly falling over themselves to do so. “Kits,” Firekit heard Larksong mumble to Poppydawn, who just purred amusedly.

 

“What’s going on? What was that yell-?” Creekkit, at the head of the kits, asked as they exited the den. She cut off as Runningpaw stepped in front of them, frowning sternly down at them.

 

“You’re not supposed to leave the elders’ den without some cat watching you,” he reminded them, which made Lightningkit grumble and Darkkit huff.

 

“What was that yowling?” Creekkit asked their former denmate. “Is ShadowClan attacking? Did a badger get into camp?”

 

“No,” Runningpaw dismissed her concerns, shaking his head. “Brindleface is kitting. Willowpelt and Spottedleaf sounded the same way. Don’t bother her the rest of the day, okay? Kitting’s difficult enough without kits crowding the den.”

 

Firekit saw Spottedleaf race from the medicine cat den to the nursery. Swiftbreeze lurked at the entrance, already helping Brindleface as best she could. He found his paws moving after his mother instinctively, thinking that he could help her by carrying some herbs like she let him do something when he was younger.

 

But she stuck out her paw as he tried to follow in the nursery after her and Swiftbreeze. “Featherwhisker is out of camp right now- I’m sorry Firekit, but I can’t have you running under my paws.”

 

“I’ll be still,” Firekit protested. Spottedleaf frowned, but Willowpelt was stepping up beside her in the next moment. She rested her tail tip on her sister’s shoulder.

 

“I’ll watch the kits.”

 

Relief was evident on Spottedleaf’s face. “Thank you.”

 

Willowpelt nodded as Spottedleaf disappeared into the nursery. Peering in, Firekit could catch a glimpse of Swiftbreeze beside Brindleface, coaching her and soothing her, as Spottedleaf dropped a bundle of herbs in front of her, before Willowpelt herded him back to the rest of the kits, who had been trying to get past Runningpaw. The light brown tom wasn’t at his full height yet, and the kits were quickly catching up to him, so it was difficult to push all five of them back.

 

“Kits,” Willowpelt warned, and immediately they all stopped fighting against Runningpaw, who breathed a sigh of relief, clearly realizing watching over his former denmates was much harder than playing with them. “You mustn't disturb Brindleface and Spottedleaf. Don’t you hate when we make you stop playing, or make you wake up?”

 

The kits dipped their heads, and Airkit asked, “How long will we not be allowed in the nursery?”

 

“It depends on how many kits Brindleface has,” Willowpelt replied. “And if they come out easy or worrisome. Regardless, she’ll need her rest, and time to meet her little ones, so you won’t be in until the sun starts going down, okay?”

 

“Okay,” the kits echoed, Airkit a bit sourly, since he liked taking naps frequently in the nursery.

 

“But when will we see Brindleface’s kits?” Copperkit meowed eagerly. “And will they be big? Or small? All kits start off small, right? As small as a mouse?”

 

“A little bit bigger, I’d say,” Willowpelt answered, sitting down and curling her tail over her paws. She glanced back at the nursery as another yowl escaped the den.

 

“But Airkit was even smaller than a mouse,” Darkkit stated. “When he was born.”

 

“Was not!” Airkit puffed out his brown fur, still smaller than his siblings, but a respectable size for a kit.

 

“Was too!” Darkkit meowed. “I was there when you were born! You were tiny!”

 

“You were tiny too, Darkkit,” Willowpelt cut in, exasperated. “But now you eat so much you’ve grown twice as big.” Darkkit fluffed out his long black fur proudly.

 

“I’m gonna be bigger,” Lightningkit mewed, puffing out her chest. “As big as my father.”

 

“Your father?” Willowpelt frowned, while Firekit sent a panicked look at his sister, and Creekkit eyed the two of them suspiciously.

 

“Yeah! They say he was a big and strong warrior, and I’m gonna be like that too.”

 

“Well,” Willowpelt began hesitantly. “I wouldn’t say he wasn’t a big and strong warrior, but I’m not sure-”

 

“Are the kits being a pawful?” the simultaneously soft and sharp voice of Frostfur cut in. “You look like you need a paw to watch these rowdy kits.” Frostfur stepped up beside Willowpelt, then eyed Runningpaw. “And it seems like certain apprentices aren’t helping.”

 

“Hey!” Runningpaw whined. “I was a kit a quarter-moon ago- how am I supposed to control these things?” He gestured at the kits surrounding him.

 

Willowpelt and Frostfur both purred amusedly, with Frostfur commenting, “Now you know how White-eye felt dealing with you and Mousepaw.”

 

“We were never this bad,” Runningpaw argued.

 

“I suppose you two never snuck out of camp.” Willowpelt looked disapprovingly at the kits. Firekit shrunk into himself, while Lightningkit rolled her eyes.

 

Another yowl pierced the air, and all the kits’ attention was pinned onto the nursery again before Lightningkit huffed. “This is mouse-brained,” she complained. “Brindleface should be quieter.”

 

Frostfur hissed at her, swatting her in the back of the head. “Be respectful to your seniors! When you have kits you’ll understand the pain and why you can’t just be quieter.”

 

“I’ll never have kits,” Lightningkit muttered, then added spitefully, “ You haven’t even had kits anyway, so how would you know.”

 

Frostfur bristled, before letting out an agitated huff and rolling her icy-blue eyes. She craned her head to face Willowpelt. “I’ll have kits when Lionheart stops being so flutter-brained.”

 

Willowpelt purred. “For being such a strong, powerful warrior, Lionheart can sure be as nervous and bumble-brained as an apprentice when it comes to you.”

 

Frostfur sighed dreamily. “I know. But at least that means he likes me!”

 

Runningpaw rolled his eyes, turning to the kits and mocking Frostfur by making faces as she talked about how handsome and brave Lionheart was. When the kits started giggling, Willowpelt took notice and whacked Runningpaw with her tail.

 

“Go to your mentor, Running paw ,” Willowpelt emphasized. “Instead of teaching the kits bad manners.”

 

Runningpaw groaned. “I can’t. Fuzzypelt’s trying to convince Robinwing to go to the nursery, even though her belly isn’t even that big yet.” He flicked his tail to where the black warrior was talking to his dark brown and red-furred mate, who had her tail curled over her paws and her head turned away.

 

Willowpelt’s ears flicked forward, shocked. “I hadn’t even realized Robinwing was pregnant.”

 

Frostfur lowered her head to whisper, loudly, into the gray queen’s ear, “She didn’t want anyone to realize because Fuzzypelt isn’t the father. It’s Patchpelt.”

 

Willowpelt shook her head. “Of course, I would expect that of my brother…” Then she frowned, staring at Frostfur. “Gossiping about your own mother, Frostfur, really? And in front of the kits, no less. There’s no way to know that’s true. Stop spreading lies before cats believe them.”

 

Frostfur sheepishly licked her white chest fur, before saying, “They aren’t lies, and the kits weren’t even listening.”

 

“We were!” Airkit mewed. Creekkit swatted him over the ears.

 

“Mouse-brain!” she mumbled.

 

Runningpaw purred, then nudged Copperkit. “Do you kits wanna play mossball? I’d be nice to play a game before my mentor realizes we were supposed to be tree climbing right now.” Firekit didn’t know why, but Runningpaw hated tree climbing- said he hated the way it made his claws ache, with no reward except being unnecessarily high in a tree. “Let’s leave the queens to gossip.”

 

Copperkit and Creekkit jumped up, meowing their agreements with ease, and Airkit and Lightningkit nodded too. “Well, come on then! There’s a perfect ball of moss over here.” Runningpaw guided the four kits towards it, but Firekit frowned, turning his attention back to the nursery instead of following his siblings.

 

Is Spottedleaf still helping Brindleface, or are the kits already born? Firekit wondered. Is Brindleface okay? Did the birth go well, or were the kits born like… like Darkkit’s siblings.

 

Firekit glanced at the dark tabby tom that stood beside him. Darkkit watched his denmates play with Runningpaw, then glanced at Firekit. He looked back at the playing kits once more before he settled down beside Firekit, curling his tail over his paws. Firekit smiled warmly at him, before he turned to Willowpelt.

 

“Why hasn’t any tom ran into the nursery?” he asked Willowpelt. That was how Frostfur, Speckletail and other cats had described a birthing queen’s mate, but Firekit didn’t know if Thistleclaw was there for Spottedleaf before he was exiled- if he even could be, because the lurking thought of, What if Thistleclaw is a RiverClan cat, and the clan is just trying to keep the fact that we’re half-clan a secret? kept pestering him.

 

Willowpelt frowned, glancing at the nursery. “Brindleface doesn’t have a mate right now, so her kits don’t have a father.”

 

“Like us,” Darkkit murmured into Firekit’s ear quietly.

 

“I have a father,” Firekit meowed obliviously, then immediately regretted it, his fur pricking self-consciously. Nobody was supposed to know he’d met his father! Hopefully they didn’t think he met that.

 

Darkkit frowned, gazing sadly down at the ground. Firekit realized that he had no idea who Darkkit’s father was, or if he ever had one. Nobody had ever talked about Darkkit’s father before, not like they had Firekit’s.

 

Willowpelt’s gray fur had prickled too, her gaze a bit frazzled, but she licked her kit’s pelt lovingly, with a light purr. “You don’t need a father to be loved, Darkkit.”

 

Darkkit grumbled under his breath, and Firekit nudged him. “We don’t need fathers because we have each other.”

 

Darkkit glanced up at him. His whiskers twitched before he rubbed his forehead against Firekit’s appreciatively. “Yeah.”

 

Firekit grinned, then shifted himself to lay down beside Darkkit, brushing his ginger pelt against Darkkit’s black one and letting his warmth comfort his older denmate. The sun was glaring perfectly down on this spot too, setting his pelt alight like a fiery blaze, so Firekit thought they would stay there, basking in the sunlight, for a while. Darkkit touched his nose to Firekit’s shoulder, a low rumble in his throat. Firekit stretched his neck to settle his chin on Darkkit’s back. Both of them closed their eyes and let the warmth consume them.

 

Meanwhile, Frostfur was trying to whisper to Willowpelt inconspicuously and utterly failing.

 

“Who is Darkkit’s father?

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Willowpelt hissed back quietly. “It’s not important.”

 

“You know,” Frostfur pressed regardless of Willowpelt’s discomfort. “When you became a warrior, Tawnyspots seemed to take a liking to you. He always offered you the best piece of prey in the fresh-kill pile, and you two would share tongues together…” Firekit knew, from gossip from Frostfur herself, as well as other warriors, that Willowpelt had become a warrior early, at eleven moons, and that she had been pregnant at eleven moons. Dappletail had called her the youngest queen she’d seen, but Larksong had said she’d seen younger, of a rogue. He knew, too, from a conversation he’d overheard Bluefur saying to Sunstar once, that Tawnyspots had been the deputy before Bluefur, before sickness took him.

 

“It would be amazing if Darkkit’s father was a deputy,” Frostfur continued. “If my kits were the kits of a deputy- and I know they will be one day,” she purred proudly. “I’d make sure everyone knew it.”

 

Willowpelt hissed, not a quiet hiss, and Firekit popped an eye open as he felt Darkkit stiffen underneath him. Willowpelt was snarling, pelt bristling and teeth bared at Frostfur, who seemed startled. “It’s none of your business, Frostfur. Go pester Lionheart with your theories- maybe he’ll appreciate them.”

 

Frostfur frowned, and meowed, “I was just trying to help-

 

“If I wanted to reveal Darkkit’s father, then I would have done it already,” Willowpelt growled, eyes flashing. “Darkkit doesn’t need a father, he’s got me.” Firekit flattened his ears and laid his head on Darkkit’s pretending he did not just hear the two she-cat’s argument. Was Willowpelt right that Darkkit didn’t need a father? Did anyone need a father? He frowned. Do I need a father? he thought. Thistleclaw’s been nice, and he really cares about us - he even jumped into a river to save Creekkit! Surely everyone needs a father...right?

Chapter Text

The murky forest loomed around Firekit and Lightningkit as they scuffled with each other, Thistleclaw and Mapleshade watching nearby. Thistleclaw’s eyes were alight with pride as he observed his kits. Firekit ducked as Lightningkit swatted at him, and he propelled himself forward, slamming into her belly with a yowl of triumph. His sister hissed a curse and batted at his ears, making him shuffle back from her blows. Lightningkit crouched down, eyes fixed on him as she planned her next move. Firekit pounced on her back and she rolled over, but the red kit was determined to not let her show him up in front of their father. He kicked with his hind legs into her back, sending her tumbling off him as he sprang back to his paws and launched himself at her once more.

 

“Alright, you two,” Thistleclaw’s mew made them pause. “That was very well done.” He gave both of them a lick. “You both are quick, and can think on your feet. That’s a very good trait to have.” Lightningkit shook herself, a stray leaf falling off her pelt.

 

“Firekit’s the only one who can keep up with me,” she complained. “Airkit’s too weak, and Copperkit doesn’t like fighting. Creekkit’s pretty good, but she also doesn’t want to fight.” She pouted, “Ever since Mousepaw became an apprentice, I’ve got no good fighting partners!” Firekit narrowed his eyes at her, offended. “Except Firekit.” Lightningkit corrected herself. “But…” She poked her brother with her paw. “He’s always off doing who knows what with Darkkit!” Thistleclaw looked amused.

 

“It’s good that you’re eager to learn,” he meowed. He tilted his head. “Tell me, what are my other kits like?” Lightningkit rolled her eyes.

 

“Nothing much really,” she muttered. Firekit frowned at her.

 

“Creekkit likes to play catch-the-mouse with us,” he meowed. “She always wins at that game. And Copperkit and Airkit are each other’s best friends.”

 

“Yeah, it’s like they’re glued together,” Lightningkit inputted. “Like Firekit and Darkkit.” Mapleshade purred.

 

“It’s good to hear that you have such fine kits,” she meowed to Thistleclaw.

 

“Did you ever have kits, Mapleshade?” Firekit asked, tilting his head. The tortoiseshell stiffened for a moment.

 

“Yes,” she meowed after a bit, gazing away from the kits. “I did. Three of them. Larchkit and Patchkit were both tom-kits, and Petalkit was my only daughter.” She sighed wistfully. “They were my light and life.” Lightningkit looked curious now too, leaning forward with pricked ears.

 

“What happened to them?” she asked. Mapleshade’s eyes darkened.

 

“Their father wanted nothing to do with them,” her mew trembled. “I took them out into the forest because I thought Appledusk would want them, but he let them drown in the river.” She gazed at the kits, her eyes dark with grief. “He was a RiverClan warrior.” The kits gasped.

 

“A RiverClan warrior?” Lightningkit gapped. A shiver of fear ran down Firekit’s spin, making his fur fluff. Will that happen to us? Does Thistleclaw really want us? Is he a RiverClan cat?

 

“I was wrong to trust him,” Mapleshade snarled. “He played me for a fool.” She shook herself. “Be glad to know that your father is of fine blood, and doesn’t carry any bad blood like Appledusk.”

 

“What happened to Appledusk?” Firekit asked, now afraid for what his father may be one day.

 

“He died,” Mapleshade meowed shortly. “And StarClan let him in. Pity.”

 

“StarClan let him in?” Lightningkit asked. “But he didn’t help you! That’s not fair!” Mapleshade stroked the she-kit’s head with her white tail.

 

“I know,” she sighed. “StarClan can be blind fools. That’s why you must be careful about which friends you make.” The two kits obediently nodded. Firekit knew they weren’t in StarClan’s grounds, but it did make him wonder where they really were. Not the Place of No Stars the elders warned him about when he was younger, he hoped. He heard Mapleshade call it the Dark Forest, once, but he didn’t know what that was.

 

Thistleclaw had been listening to Mapleshade’s tale with interest. “I never knew you had such a grudge, Mapleshade,” he commented mildly. Mapleshade narrowed her eyes.

 

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” she meowed softly. For a moment, the two held each other’s gaze.

 

“I think,” Thistleclaw meowed at last. “I would like to meet Creekkit now.” Mapleshade nodded.

 

“Very well.” The pale tortoiseshell turned and padded into the misty trees, disappearing after a blink of an eye.

 

“What?” Lightningkit yelped. “Creekkit? Why is she coming here?” Thistleclaw curled his tail around his paws, tilting his head at his daughter’s cry.

 

“Why shouldn’t she?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” Firekit agreed. “She’s great!” Lightingkit muttered something under her breath, claws digging into the ground.

 

“Excuse me Lightningkit?” Thistleclaw frowned. “What was that?” Lightningkit didn’t answer for a moment, frowning at the ground. Then, she burst out;

 

“She’s just no fun! She’s bossy, and sits around and parrots everything the queens say! And ,” Lightingkit paused dramatically. “She’s a huge tattle-tale when she’s not involved!”

 

“That’s mean, Lightningkit!” Firekit hissed. Thistleclaw gently rested his tail on Firekit, effectively getting him to pause.

 

“Your brother is right, Lightningkit,” he scolded lightly. “Creekkit is your sister. Your littermates are who you should be the most loyal to.”

 

“Even before Mother? Or Sunstar?” Firekit asked, confused. Thisleclaw held both of their gazes.

 

“Even before them,” he meowed firmly. The two kits exchanged thoughtful looks as the nearby bushes rustled, and Mapleshade appeared with the little figure of Creekkit behind her, looking suspicious. Lightningkit seemed to have heeded her father’s words, but still couldn’t resist shooting a glare at her sister, who glared right back. Both of their green eyes were blazing. Creekkit then spotted Thistleclaw, and recognized him with a gasp.

 

“It’s you!” she exclaimed. She looked suspicious once more, eyes narrowed. “Who are you? Are you a spy? For RiverClan?” Thistleclaw’s whiskers twitched, amused.

 

“I am Thistleclaw,” he replied. “Your father.” Creekkit blinked, perplexed.

 

“What?” she asked, voice low. Thistleclaw licked a paw and stretched, letting his claws slide out.

 

“I’m your father,” he repeated. “And you are currently in a very special place where very noble warriors go when they have passed.”

 

“But…” Creekkit meowed slowly, glancing around warily. “We aren’t dead. You aren’t dead.”

 

“That is true,” Mapleshade agreed. “But we warriors in this place can bring special cats here for special training.” Lightningkit perked up.

 

“Can we have that training?” she asked eagerly. Mapleshade and Thistleclaw shared an amused look, but Firekit saw something else glittering in their eyes.

 

“Not yet, young one.” Mapleshade purred, eyes soft as she looked at the kits.

 

“You’ll be ready when you’re older and stronger,” Thistleclaw explained. “I didn’t start my training here until I was a young warrior.” He gave them a proud look. “You three will be beginning your training much earlier on as apprentices.” Lightningkit flattened her ears, anger simmering in her eyes.

 

“We already should be apprentices!” she spat. Uh oh… Firekit thought, recognizing the start of his sister’s hissy fit. “How can a little bit of training hurt us ?! We’re your kits! It’ll make us better, so much better than any other apprentice! We’ll be better fighters in the future then!” She stomped her paw on the slimy ground. “I want that training!” she demanded. Thistleclaw smoothed out her ruffled fur with a paw.

 

“That is some very great thinking,” he praised. “It’s good to be ambitious, and to want to be stronger.” He and Mapleshade exchanged one last look. “We can start teaching you now, if you wish.”

 

“Yes!” Lightningkit agreed immediately. Firekit and Creekkit hesitated. The red kit met Thistleclaw’s expectant amber eyes and nodded, not wanting to disappoint his father.

 

“Okay.”

 

“Creekkit?” Thistleclaw turned his eyes onto his daughter. “What about you?” She hesitated, unsure.

 

“Come on Creekkit!” Lightningkit hissed. The brown tabby glared at her, but slowly nodded.

 

“Now,” Thistleclaw meowed. “We’ll show you something simple, yet effective.” The kits pricked their ears, eager to learn. Lightningkit shuffled from paw to paw, more excited than the others. Thistleclaw crouched down and performed what the kits recognized to be the front-paw swipe, from what Runningpaw and Mousepaw had shown them. 

 

“The trick is to make sure you have your paw angled correctly. You don’t want it to be too flat.” He tilted his paw to show them the incorrect way. “Or you’ll hurt your paw. You want to be angled like this.” He tilted his paw inward. “Show me.” The kits each reached out with a paw and tilted it. Mapleshade nudged Creekkit’s a bit outward, and the other two’s slightly inward. 

 

“There, perfect.” Thistleclaw nodded, gazing proudly at his kits. “Now, make sure you’re balanced, or you’ll get a nasty surprise. Then, swipe!” Thistleclaw lashed out and raked his claws across one of the spiny bushes, shredding it.  Lightningkit gave a wriggle of excitement and swiped. Her paw hit the bush, but she forgot about her balance and lost her footing, letting out an “Oof!” as she hit the ground. Creekkit failed to successfully stifle her giggle as the tortoiseshell scrambled back to her paws, huffing.

 

“You try it!” Lightningkit snapped at her sister, teeth bared and fur fluffed embarrassed. Creekkit crouched down, reaching out with her paw, and swiped.

 

“The form is good,” Thistleclaw observed. “But put more power behind the blow.” He turned to Firekit. “Your turn.” Firekit padded up, nervous but determined to make Thistleclaw proud. He carefully recalled what he and Mapleshade had told and showed them, then crouched down. He raised his paw, tilted it, then lashed out with a quick swipe. The bush rustled as he hit it, and a few twigs snapped off.

 

“Good! Very good!” Mapleshade purred. “Try again, all of you.” Firekit glanced over his shoulder, ansty to find out what Thistleclaw thought of it. Firekit met his father’s gaze, and his tail curled as he saw the spiky gray tom’s look of pride.

 

I hope he’ll always be proud of me.

Chapter Text

Firekit jerked his body left, rolling on the ground, as Lightningkit’s paw soared right past him, cutting into the air where he had been a moment ago. He hopped to his paws and jabbed a paw out at his sister, who hissed as it hit her shoulder hard enough to hurt. In normal playfighting, Firekit would have apologized, but this was no normal playfight- they were training to be the best warriors they could, and warriors didn’t apologize over silly things like hitting someone too hard. If this was a real fight, then Firekit didn’t hit hard enough .

 

He ducked under another one of Lightningkit’s lightning-fast paws, and it brushed against his ears. He darted around his sister, but she whirled to face him. He yowled as she leaped forward, paws grabbing at his shoulders, before he headbutted her chest to knock her off. She stumbled backwards and he ran a safe distance away before circling back.

 

Creekkit creeped up beside him, her ears and whiskers pricked. “Team up?” she whispered quietly to him.

 

Firekit nodded. “Team up.”

 

Both of them surged forward at Lightningkit, whose fur bristled and eyes widened as she realized they both were attacking her. But Lightningkit was not one to run, and she tensed her body, watching as her siblings sprinted towards her. Creekkit darted to the right while Firekit continued head on. He swiped at his tortoiseshell sister when he neared, and she swiped right back at him, only for Creekkit to barrel into her. The two went tumbling together before Lightningkit rabbit-kicked her off. Firekit pounced on his sister’s exposed belly, pinning her, but Lightningkit wriggled and growled, managing to fling herself onto her side, throwing him off. Creekkit ran in and traded a couple blows with the tortoiseshell, and Firekit swiped at Lightningkit’s hindquarters. 

 

We’ve got her now! Firekit thought triumphantly, before blinking in surprise as Lightingkit spun around, knocking Creekkit aside and swiping at his nose. He yowled as he felt her claws rip painfully across his nose, and sprang away, pawing at the scratch. Blood coated his paw pads and fur as he pulled them away from the cut.

 

“Lightningkit!” Creekkit gasped. She then glared at their sister. “You hurt him! We weren’t using claws!”

 

“Now, now,” Thistleclaw’s low mew interrupted them. “That was clever of Lightningkit.” Creekkit flattened her ears, shooting a horrified look at their father.

 

“We never use claws when we fight!” she insisted, shoulder fur fluffed. “The apprentices don’t either!” Firekit, meanwhile, had still been pawing at his nose, wincing at the thrum of pain that it caused. His tail was dragging in the slimy ground, and his ears drooped.

 

“Using claws now,” Thistleclaw explained, “will prepare you for later in life. You will be more willing to unsheath them and defend your clan.” Firekit flinched. Maybe Thistleclaw’s right, he thought, wrinkling his nose. I mean, it is just a scratch...though I still don’t like the idea of using claws in training. His frown must have been obvious, since Thistleclaw then meowed;

 

“Firekit will recover. It is just a scratch,” he echoed Firekit’s previous thoughts. Firekit blinked as he saw the forest around them start to fade away. He stumbled backwards, glancing around, only to blink away to the inside of the nursery den. Someone was pressed against him with their nose, and for a moment Firekit didn’t recognize the scent, his nose clogged up with the musty smell of what Mapleshade called the Dark Forest.

 

“Mother?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”

 

“You were trembling in your sleep,” she meowed. Spottedleaf then gasped. “You’re bleeding!” She began licking his nose, cleaning it of the blood. Firekit blinked owlishly as his mother nudged Robinwing awake, asking to keep watch on her other kits. How is my scratch still here? he thought, eyes narrowed in confusion as he stared down at the scratch. I was dreaming!

 

“Come on, Firekit!” Spottedleaf meowed. “Let’s get you something for that scratch.” He nodded, still too confused to reply. He stepped out of his nest, careful not to disturb his siblings, nor Brindleface and her daughter, Sandkit, and followed Spottedleaf out of the nursery. They trotted quickly to the medicine den and slipped inside. Firekit settled down as Spottedleaf nosed through the stores and pulled out a few leaves - burdock and marigold. She began chewing the marigold, then gently applied it to his nose. Firekit winced slightly from the sting, but kept very still, knowing that medicine cats need their patience to behave while they worked. Spottedleaf then took the burdock leaves, chewed them up, and applied them onto his nose.

 

“Just where did you get this from?” she murmured as she licked the burdock on.

 

“Umm…” Firekit started, frantically searching for an excuse. “I must have accidently scratched myself or something.” Spottedleaf’s amber eyes - unlike Thistleclaw’s piercing ones - were gentle.

 

“Were you having a nightmare?” she asked. Firekit shrugged.

 

“Sort of, I guess.”

 

“What was it about?” she gently pressed.

 

“I don’t really remember,” the red kit mumbled. “It was dark, and I was attacked. But that was it.” His ears flicked as he heard Featherwhisker stir in his nest.

 

“Well, Firekit,” Featherwhisker’s friendly mew was quiet as he rose from his nest. “I thought you’d finally stopped crowding the medicine den!” The amused look in his eyes assured Firekit of the gray tom’s joking. Firekit shrugged, a little grin on his face. Spottedleaf curled her tail around him and licked his head.

 

“I’ll miss your presence when you’re an apprentice,” she meowed. Featherwhisker reached to rest a paw on her shoulder.

 

“I don’t think you should encourage his behavior,” he whispered mildly. Spottedleaf smiled, but dipped her head, giving another lick to Firekit’s head. Feathwhisker sniffed Firekit’s wound before settling back down in his nest. They sat in quiet, comfortable silence before Firekit timidly asked;

 

“Why was my father exiled?” He was anxious to know. Was Thistleclaw really a RiverClan cat, and that’s why the clan was so outraged about Spottedleaf breaking the code? Spottedleaf tensed, glancing at Featherwhisker.

 

“It was Sunstar’s decision,” she soothed, licking his head. “Nothing to worry about.”

 

“It was more than Sunstar’s decision,” Featherwhisker interjected hotly. “A cat like him deserved to be exiled.” The older medicine cat glanced at Firekit, and seeing his downcast expression, added; “Your father wasn’t a nice tom, but your parentage doesn’t determine who you are.”

 

“If he’s so bad for what he did,” Spottedleaf whispered. “Then why wasn’t Tawnyspots ever exiled?” Featherwhisker was silent. Firekit stared between them.

 

“Willowpelt was a warrior,” Featherwhisker began. “But-” he quickly meowed at Spottedleaf’s bristling fur and low hiss. “It still wasn’t right. However,” he sighed. “The clan just didn’t know better.” Spottedleaf echoed his sigh, then looked down at Firekit. The red kit was confused. So...Willowpelt and Tawnyspots were mates? he thought, perplexed. So Darkkit’s father was Tawnyspots…? Spottedleaf licked his pelt soothingly.

 

“You don’t have to worry about it,” she meowed. “You’re a kit, and all kits need to worry about is not worrying their mother by running out of camp.” Her amber eyes twinkled when Firekit pouted.

 

“That was a moon ago!” he objected.

 

“A moon feels a lot longer to a kit than a warrior,” Featherwhisker mused. His whiskers twitched at Firekit’s muffled yawn.

 

“We should get back to the nursery,” Spottedleaf decided, unfurling her tail from around her son. “Come on.” She nudged Firekit out of the den, sharing one last look of sadness with her mentor.

Chapter Text

“It’s alright,” Firekit meowed. “It was scary when I first left the nursery too.”

 

Sandkit, with a very pale ginger coat that earned her her name, peered out of the nursery, hesitating with one paw outside. Beside Firekit stood Darkkit and Copperkit, their tails waving calmly behind them. Airkit and Creekkit were fast asleep in their nest, curled up against Willowpelt since Spottedleaf was out collecting herbs, while Lightningkit had ditched the kits to talk to Mousepaw across the clearing.

 

“I’m not scared,” Sandkit said, her shoulder fur fluffing out. “I’ve been outside the nursery before.”

 

“And Brindleface would always drag you right back inside,” Copperkit commented with an amused twitch of his whiskers. “Every time you stuck your nose out.”

 

Sandkit huffed. “Brindleface should have let me outside earlier. I’m big.” Sandkit was not big, only one moon old compared to the three and four moon old kits around her. Firekit couldn’t ever remember being so small.

 

“Willowpelt wouldn’t let me outside by myself until I was a moon and a half ,” Darkkit complained.

 

“Aw, poor kit,” Copperkit meowed, nudging Darkkit teasingly.

 

Sandkit inched out of the nursery, blinking her eyes as the sunlight hit them. She shook out her fur. “It’s so warm outside,” she mewed.

 

Firekit fluffed out his ginger pelt. “That’s the sun. It warms the ground up with its light.” He raised his paw to point to where the elders laid under a dappled patch of sunlight. “See? The sunlight hits us and warms us up.”

 

Sandkit’s ears pricked, and she tilted her head. “Who are they?”

 

Firekit glanced back at her, startled. “How can you not know the clan elders?”

 

Darkkit shoved his shoulder. “Mouse-brain. You didn’t know the clan elders either, when you were just born! I had to introduce you to every cat in the clan when you were younger than a moon-old kit. Or did you forget?”

 

Firekit flattened his ears to his head, his skin going hot under his fur. Maybe he did recall Darkkit telling him who was who, but he wasn’t sure. The first moon of his life felt all fuzzy. He shrugged. “I thought I just kind of knew everybody.”

 

“I don’t remember it either, Firekit, but I knew somebody had to tell me who's who!” Copperkit purred, amused, as his whiskers twitched. He turned to Sandkit. “Those are Larksong, Weedwhisker, Poppydawn, and Smallear.” His tail jerked to each cat as he introduced them. “Weedwhisker has the best stories, but Poppydawn’s tail is the most fun to chase, because it’s so fluffy.”

 

“Larksong can be snappy,” Darkkit added. “But she plays a good badger.”

 

“Yeah!” Firekit agreed, nodding his head. “Smallear’s the youngest of them, but he’s the one starting to go a bit deaf.”

 

Sandkit tilted her head. “What’s deaf?”

 

Firekit pondered this for a moment, then answered, “It means he can’t hear things well, so you have to speak loud around him.”

 

Sandkit nodded, then walked a few steps forward, glancing around camp with big, green eyes. Firekit wondered if that was how he looked when he first saw the camp.

 

Firekit pointed towards the medicine cat den as Featherwhisker slipped out of it, Dappletail beside him with a slight limp to her paw. He was chatting to her, and Firekit didn’t have to guess that he was telling the golden-and-white tortoiseshell warrior to stay off her paw.

 

“That’s Featherwhisker, the clan’s medicine cat, just like my mother, Spottedleaf.” He puffed out his chest and curled his tail proudly. “You’ve met him, right?”

 

Sandkit nodded, then asked, “Who’s the cat beside him?”

 

“That’s Dappletail,” Firekit answered. “She’s nice, but she doesn’t really like kits too much, so stay out of her way.”

 

Sandkit glanced around the camp, trotting closer to the middle, where a cluster of cats were. “Is that blue cat there the deputy? She’s telling others to go on patrols, and Brindleface says that’s what the deputy does.” She said the word patrols like she wasn’t really sure what they were.

 

Copperkit nodded. “Yep! That’s Bluefur.”

 

“She’s nice to us kits,” Darkkit said. “But she can be strict, since she’s the deputy and all.”

 

“She’s very well-respected,” Firekit tacked on. “Sunstar chose a good deputy to succeed him.”

 

The she-kit tilted her head. “What does succeed mean?”

 

Firekit raised his chin, saying, “It means that Bluefur will take over as clan leader when Sunstar is gone.”

 

“Where’d he go?” Sandkit mewed.

 

“What?”

 

“If he’s gone, where’d he go?”

 

Firekit faltered, looking at Darkkit and Copperkit. “Uhm…”

 

“When warriors die,” Copperkit began. “They go to StarClan. That’s what Firekit meant.”

 

“Oh,” Sandkit said.

 

“Look!” Firekit shouted, desperate to change the topic. “A hunting patrol just came back.” He pointed his tail at the warriors as they entered camp. “That’s Tigerclaw- he’s a really respected warrior like Bluefur, and powerful and strong. Some cats say he’ll be deputy one day, but that he just needs more experience. When cats say that, they just mean you need to be older.” Pausing a moment, he quietly added, “I don’t think he likes me though.” He continued happily, gesturing to the next warrior. “And that’s Whitestorm! Tigerclaw’s best friend, and our half-brother.” He nudged Copperkit playfully. “He’s great, and he’ll sneak you some prey if you ask.

 

“And that’s Thrushpelt- probably the nicest warrior you’ll ever meet!” Firekit meowed. “He’ll play just about anything with you if you ask him.” He nodded to the last golden she-cat. “And that’s Goldenflower. I once heard Patchpelt say she was the prettiest cat in the clan.” He scrunched up his nose, remembering Patchpelt’s moony tone. “She’s really nice too, just don’t catch her on a bad day.”

 

Sandkit nodded, then her ears twitched and she turned to watch four cats pad towards the camp entrance. “Who are they? Are they on a… patrol?”

 

“Yep! They’re going to hunt for the clan,” Firekit said.

 

“Or mark the borders to make sure the other clans don’t take prey from us,” Darkkit added.

 

“The two in the front are Speckletail and Rosetail,” Firekit started. “Speckletail can be really judgemental- that’s like a big word for rude- and Rosetail can be super overbearing.”

 

Sandkit tilted her head again, blinking her eyes owlishly. Copperkit explained, “It’s like when Brindleface wouldn’t let you out of the nursery because she cares so much that it’s annoying.”

 

“Yeah,” Firekit agreed. “The tom was Sparrowpelt. He seems no-nonsense but he’s got humor under his stern glares. And the she-cat at the back was our grandmother, Swiftbreeze. She gets annoyed if you bother her too much, but she makes sure to check up on us everyday.”

 

Darkkit gagged, and Firekit blinked perplexed at him. “What was that face for?”

 

Darkkit pointed towards a corner of camp where Frostfur and Lionheart sat sharing prey together. Frostfur rubbed her head against his cheek, batting her eyes up at him. “Ew.”

 

Firekit rolled his eyes, turning back to Sandkit. “Frostfur is totally en-rapt-ured-” Darkkit raised an eyebrow at his denmate, “by Lionheart and talks about it allll the time… Lionheart’s really cool, though. He’s Goldenflower’s brother.”

 

“Frostfur gossips more than she hunts prey!” Copperkit grinned. “I’m sure she even gossips to prey.” All of the kits purred, amused. When they were done, Firekit glanced around camp for more of their clanmates.

 

“I don’t see Sunstar,” he meowed, disappointed. “And White-eye, Adderfang, Fuzzypelt, and Runningpaw must be out of camp right now.”

 

“In just a moon, I’ll be out of camp too, as an apprentice!” Darkkit boasted.

 

“Speaking of apprentices,” Copperkit started. “There’s Mousepaw! It looks like she and Dappletail are going out to train.”

 

Lightningkit was frowning and glaring as her usual grumpy self as Mousepaw waved her tail bye to the kit, following after her mentor as Dappletail led her away, still limping lightly on her front paw. Lightningkit whipped around, fur puffed out in annoyance. Her ears pricked as she spotted the kits watching over. She strutted over to them.

 

“Hi, Lightningkit!” Copperkit greeted, raising his tail.

 

Lightningkit huffed, turning her attention to Firekit. She glared briefly at Darkkit beside him before asking, “Do you want to go practice fighting, Firekit?”

 

Firekit glanced down at his paws, shuffling from paw to paw nervously. Hesitantly, he meowed, “Sorry, but I’m showing Sandkit around camp…”

 

Lightningkit’s pelt bristled, and she glared at Sandkit, who flattened her ears with a frown. “ Of course you are- you never want to do anything fun,” she spat at Firekit before storming past the kits towards the nursery.

 

“Wait!” Firekit called out, jumping forwards, but his sister had already disappeared inside the nursery den. His ears drooped.

 

Copperkit rested his light ginger tail on Firekit’s shoulder. “She’s just in a bad mood today, Firekit.”

 

“She always is,” Darkkit murmured, tufted ears flicking backwards.

 

Sandkit glanced back towards the nursery. “Well, she woke up with beetles in her nest, didn’t she?”

 

All of the kits’ startled at Sandkit’s quip, before Copperkit burst out into laughter, chest rumbling with a purr. Firekit and Darkkit soon followed before Firekit playfully pounced on Sandkit, pinning the smaller kit to the ground. He swiped at her nose. “That’s my sister you’re talking about!”

Chapter Text

“Today, we welcome a new apprentice into our clan,” Sunstar announced from the top of Highrock. “Darkkit, please come forward.”

 

Darkkit shuffled his paws nervously and Firekit nudged his shoulder, shooting him a grin. Darkkit smiled back and raised his head as he padded forth, standing in front of the Highrock and gazing up at their leader.

 

“From this day forth, this kit will be known as Darkpaw.” Sunstar gazed into the crowd of warriors while Darkpaw fluffed out his black tabby fur proudly. “Your mentor will be Tigerclaw.” Firekit saw Darkpaw tense, his eyes wide as he glanced back at the large, powerful brown tabby tom as he strode forward from amongst the ThunderClan warriors. Darkpaw’s tail trembled, but he raised his chin and met Tigerclaw’s steady gaze as the warrior stopped in front of him. “This is your first apprentice, but I know you’ll train him well.”

 

“Of course, Sunstar,” Tigerclaw’s voice rumbled. He leaned forward and touched noses with Darkpaw, who had to stretch his neck to reach the tabby’s nose.

 

“Darkpaw!” Firekit immediately yowled out, leaping onto his feet. Beside him, his siblings and Sandkit did the same. “Darkpaw! Darkpaw!” Around them, the clan joined in joyously. Darkpaw gazed at his clan, his yellow eyes brimming with pride. He met Firekit’s green gaze and both of them smiled. As the yowling died down and Sunstar dismissed the clan, the kits came running over to the new apprentice.

 

“Congrats, Darkpaw!” Creekkit meowed, her whiskers twitching. Copperkit bumped his head against Darkpaw’s leg, purring.

 

“Tell us all about your first day tonight!” Copperkit demanded in a humorous tone.

 

Behind Darkpaw, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. “A good apprentice is exhausted by the end of their first day. If he’s able to tell little kits stories like an elder by the end of the day, then he hasn’t trained hard enough.”

 

Darkpaw ducked his head. “Right.”

 

“Aw.” Creekkit frowned. “Well, tomorrow, then.”

 

“Maybe we’ll be apprentices tomorrow,” Lightingkit mumbled under her breath, as pouty as ever. The kits just ignored her.

 

Runningpaw and Mousepaw came padding up to Darkpaw. “Congratulations,” Mousepaw said. “It feels great to be an apprentice, doesn’t it?”

 

Darkpaw nodded, and Runningpaw grinned. “The first day is the easiest- just wait until you’re on nest cleaning duty!” Firekit glanced at Tigerclaw, who seemed to have implied the opposite- that the first day was the hardest. Or the beginning of hard, rigorous training to come.

 

Maybe we should have brought Darkpaw to train with us under Thistleclaw and Mapleshade, Firekit thought. That way he’d be ready for Tigerclaw’s training. Firekit’s fur fluffed at the thought of being Tigerclaw’s apprentice. On one paw, the warrior hated him. On the other, he was sure Tigerclaw would make him the greatest warrior ever. But I have Thistleclaw! My father will make sure me and my sisters are the greatest.

 

“Nest cleaning isn’t that hard,” Mousepaw meowed, flicking her brother’s ear with her tail tip. “You’re just lazy.”

 

As Runningpaw pouted and swatted his sister’s ears, Willowpelt snuck up to her son. “I’m sure you’ll do great,” she praised, giving her son a lick between the ears. Darkpaw mewed in protest, trying to flatten the strip of fur her lick had raised. “Nest cleaning or otherwise. I’m proud of you, Darkpaw.” She touched her nose to his ear, eyes closed. Firekit noticed how Tigerclaw’s ear twitched and his lip curled in mild disgust, sharp fangs glinting in the morning light.

 

“We better head out now,” Tigerclaw meowed commandingly. “Before we lose more of the day.”

 

“Of course,” Willowpelt murmured, moving back from her kit. “Come on, kits. Let’s leave the apprentice to actually be an apprentice.” The kits shuffled away, but not before Firekit gave one quick swat at Darkpaw’s whiskers.

 

“Catch a mouse for me!”

 

Darkpaw thumped him with his long-furred tail as he walked passed, following after his mentor. The kits purred as Firekit spat out a few dark strands of fur.

 

“Bye, Darkpaw!” Sandkit called as he and Tigerclaw slipped through the camp’s entrance.

 

“We better get to our mentors too,” Mousepaw said, glancing at the kits with hesitance in her eyes. “Before they yell at us. Bye, Lightningkit, Sandkit. Talk to you later.” She waved her tail at the tortoiseshell she-kit and the pale ginger she-kit, purposefully ignoring the other kits. Firekit didn’t mind- at least she wasn’t outright mean to them anymore, and sometimes she’d talk to them if Lightningkit or Sandkit was playing with them. It seemed like she was more confused about what to think of them.

 

“She’s right,” Runningpaw meowed, his tabby tail twitching. “See you kits later! I’ll bring you and the queens a squirrel after sunhigh.” The kits mewed their goodbye’s as Runningpaw dashed away to his mentor, Fuzzypelt, who sat beside his mate. Robinwing’s belly was now showing her pregnancy, almost as plump as Firekit remembered Brindleface’s being.

 

“You kits behave,” Willowpelt told them. “I’ll be in the nursery if you need me.” The kits all nodded, and Copperkit immediately turned to pounce on Airkit.

 

“Let’s go play foxes and warriors!” Copperkit meowed excitedly.

 

“Alright!” Lightningkit said, jumping up. “Finally, a real game!”

 

“What’s less real about the other games?” Copperkit asked her as he, Lightningkit, Airkit, and Sandkit ran off.

 

“They’re kits’ games!” Firekit heard Lightningkit meow. “Too soft and boring!”

 

Firekit was tempted to follow his siblings, but it felt weird without Darkpaw beside him. Plus, he saw his mother trotting towards them. He leaped up as Spottedleaf approached, but she only offered him a quick tail flick as she walked past.

 

“Willowpelt!” she called.

 

The gray she-cat paused, turning around and glancing at her sister curiously. “What is it, Spottedleaf?”

 

“You don’t need to go to the nursery anymore,” Spottedleaf told her gently. “Darkpaw’s an apprentice now. You’re not a queen.”

 

The surprise was obvious on Willowpelt’s face. She glanced back at the nursery, whiskers twitching nervously. “But…” She shook her head, then looked up at her sister with sad, perplexed eyes. “I’ve always been in the nursery… All the time I could have been- I could have been a warrior, it was spent here.” She flicked her tail at the nursery. Firekit exchanged a worried look with his sister, Creekkit. Willowpelt’s voice was soft and vulnerable as she continued, “I don’t know how to be a true warrior anymore- what if I mess up and do something an apprentice would do on a patrol?”

 

“It’s alright, Willowpelt,” Spottedleaf murmured, pressing her nose to her sister’s ear comfortingly. “I’m sure your instincts will come back soon. Every warrior has them.”

 

“No,” Willowpelt argued softly. “Every apprentice is trained to have them, and I wasted them in the nursery...”

 

“You didn’t waste them in the nursery,” Spottedleaf said fiercely. “You spent them raising kits- yours and mine, and for that I thank you. Teaching them the way of a warrior, the warmth of a clan, and the love of a mother. Without you, how might they have learned and grown?” Willowpelt pressed her head against the tortoiseshell medicine cat’s shoulder, and Spottedleaf rested her chin on her sister’s head.

 

Firekit glanced at Creekkit again, nervous. Perhaps he should leave his mother and aunt to go play with his siblings- he felt like he was intruding, or would they be okay if he cuddled up against them like he wanted to?

 

He didn’t have to decide, as he heard the deputy, Bluefur, call out, “Willowpelt!” Willowpelt jerked away from Spottedleaf, blinking puzzled at the deputy. “You’re on a hunting patrol with myself and White-eye.” Bluefur flicked her tail to the white she-cat beside her.

 

Obvious relief spread over Willowpelt’s face. Beside her, Spottedleaf nudged her shoulder. “See? You’re on patrol with two cats who returned to their warrior duties just fine after being queens in the nursery.” Firekit was sure Bluefur did that on purpose, if the friendly flick of Bluefur’s tail as Willowpelt approached her and White-eye was any indication. The three she-cats exchanged quick words before they set off.

 

Firekit bounded over to Spottedleaf, stopping in front of her paws and peering up curiously at her. “Who are Bluefur’s kits?” he asked. “I didn’t know she had kits.” Nobody in the clan particularly resembled the deputy. Except for maybe Whitestorm, but Firekit knew Bluefur would never have kits with Thistleclaw. She kept her distaste of him well-hidden, but Firekit could see how much she hated him whenever she spoke of him. But at least she didn’t hate the kits for being his- Firekit was grateful for that.

 

Spottedleaf ran a tail over Firekit’s mouth. “Shush,” she said quietly. “It’s not my place to tell.” A knowingness filled with worry glittered in her amber eyes.

 

Creekkit punched Firekit in the shoulder, making him yelp. “Mouse-brain! It’s rude to ask that. Don’t you remember how Willowpelt and Brindleface’s kits died?” One of Brindleface’s two kits, another she-kit, gray with a couple light patches on her fur, had been still-born- the other had been Sandkit.

 

Firekit ducked his head sheepishly, mumbling an apology. He was cut off by a wail from Airkit as the brown tom-kit ran over to Spottedleaf.

 

“Mother!” he screeched. “Lightningkit clawed me!” Firekit saw that his brother now bore a small nick on his left ear - presumably from Lightningkit’s claws. Spottedleaf licked it, gave it a sniff, and meowed;

 

“Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. Look, it isn’t even bleeding.” Her mew was soothing as she ran her tail down Airkit’s back. Spottedleaf turned to Lightningkit. A few paces away, Lightningkit stood facing Copperkit, Sandkit hovering nervously behind the two kits, who were nose to nose. Lightningkit’s fur was fluffed up, her fangs bared in a furious hiss, and claws unsheathed, digging into the ground, as Copperkit yelled at her, his own light ginger fur raised.

 

Spottedleaf darted forward, pushing the two kits apart. “What is going on here?!”

 

“Copperkit is a weak shrew-heart!” Lightningkit spat, tail lashing behind her as she glared claws at her brother.

 

“Lightningkit’s being a mean fox-heart!” Copperkit retorted, glaring right back.

 

“Siblings don’t call each other mean names,” Spottedleaf reprimanded them with a cold, stern glare. “Now apologize to each other.”

 

“I’ll apologize when Lightningkit apologizes,” Copperkit meowed, raising his chin defiantly.

 

Lightningkit hissed. “I don’t have anything to apologize for.”

 

“Do too!” Copperkit yowled. “You hurt Airkit!” Airkit shrunk behind their mother’s leg, and Creekkit nudged him supportively.

 

“Well Airkit’s weak!” Lightningkit said, in way of explanation. “A little scratch will do him some good, ‘cause maybe then he won’t whine as much when I show him my real claws.” She flexed her long, sharp claws and bared her fangs in a prideful snarl at Airkit.

 

Spottedleaf gasped. “Lightningkit! A warrior never raises a claw against their clanmate! That’s against the warrior code.”

 

Lightningkit huffed, ears folding back. She glanced down at the ground, and her claws. She didn’t sheathe them, but her gaze didn’t go back up to their mother. Firekit could tell she was starting to feel a bit ashamed for her actions.

 

“Lightningkit,” Spottedleaf began firmly. “Go clean out the elders’ den. Perhaps if you want to be an apprentice so bad, you can start doing some of their duties.”

 

Lightningkit whined, “That’s not fair!”

 

“It absolutely is,” Spottedleaf said, staring down at her daughter. “Now go.”

 

Lightningkit dug her claws into the dirt, tail lashing once more, before she begrudgingly moved forward. As she strutted past Airkit, she hissed in his face, “This is all your fault, weakling.”

 

As Airkit shrunk and stared guiltily down at his paws, Spottedleaf warningly said, “ Lightningkit .”

 

“I’m going, I’m going,” Lightningkit muttered as she ran towards the elders’ den, stomping her paws angrily as she did so and attracting the attention of a few cats. Firekit noticed with a wince that Frostfur, Speckletail, and Patchpelt had already started whispering to each other, eyes locked on Lightningkit.

 

Spottedleaf curled her tail around Airkit, but spoke to Copperkit as she said, “It was good of you to defend your brother, Copperkit, but don’t turn to claws and petty insults next time, okay?”

 

Copperkit nodded. “Is Airkit okay?”

 

Spottedleaf gave Airkit another quick lick to his ear. “He will be.”

Chapter Text

Lightningkit’s groan echoed through the nursery as she rolled over, squishing Firekit’s tail. He yelped and pulled it out from under her as his sister pinned her ears down with her paws. Firekit blinked his eyes, peering over the pile that was his siblings’ to see Spottedleaf had rushed over to Robinwing. The queen was yowling and writhing, claws digging into the moss of her nest.

 

Again? ” Lightningkit complained. “Why are queens so noisy?

 

“Hush,” Brindleface murmured, leaning over from her nest to bump her nose against Lightningkit’s face. “You all must be quiet and not disturb Spottedleaf as she helps Robinwing. If you can’t do that, then go outside.” Curled up beside her mother’s belly, Sandkit peered out at Robinwing with wide eyes.

 

Airkit whined, “It’s dark out!”

 

“Brave warriors aren’t afraid of the dark,” Lightningkit hissed at him, making him wince. She jumped up to her paws, tail lashing behind her as she stomped out of the den. Her ears were flat against her head as she cast an annoyed look at the queen in labor.

 

Airkit pricked his ears, watching his sister go. He made an aborted movement forward, paused, and then pushed himself out from under Copperkit and Creekkit, scrambling after Lightningkit.

 

“Airkit!” Copperkit meowed, surprised. “What are you doing?”

 

“I’m being a brave warrior, and not a weak kit!” Airkit answered as he left the den. Copperkit stumbled after his brother, following him outside. Creekkit settled herself beside Firekit at the loss of all her siblings’ warmth, sharing a glance with her brother. Firekit’s whiskers twitched as he watched Spottedleaf murmur soothing reassurances to Robinwing, and instructed her to bite down on a stick. Spottedleaf didn’t have any herbs with her, but it wasn’t long after Copperkit left that Featherwhisker came bounding in with herbs. He dropped them down and quickly moved behind Robinwing, where Firekit could barely see the first kit coming out. He raised his head, trying to see more, but Spottedleaf’s tail and Featherwhisker’s paws blocked him from seeing much. But the kit looked weird- were they supposed to look like that? All… curled up and sticky and glossy?

 

And where’s Fuzzypelt? Firekit thought with a twitch of his ears. He’s been worried about Robinwing and their kits before she even moved to the nursery.

 

“What’s going on?” the quiet, confused voice of Sandkit spoke up.

 

“Robinwing is having her kits,” Creekkit answered. “Just like Brindleface had you and Spottedleaf had us.”

 

“I know that,” Sandkit replied snarkily, before she frowned. “But I just didn’t think It’ll look so…” Her ears flicked down at one of Robinwing’s whimpers. “Painful.”

 

“It can be painful, yes,” Brindleface said. “But it’s worth it to have beautiful kits like you.” She licked the top of Sandkit’s head with a light purr. “Now, if you’re going to be nosy and loud, get out of the nursery and leave Robinwing in peace.” Her ears twitched and she peered out of the nursery. “I imagine Fuzzypelt’s going to run in here and crowd the place more too.”

 

Brindleface stood up, nudging the three kits outside, despite their protests. A chill ran down Firekit’s spine as the night’s chill reached him.

 

“It’s cold,” Sandkit mumbled as she shivered and her pelt fluffed up. Firekit pressed against her while Creekkit stood on her other side.

 

A snarling hiss alerted them to Fuzzypelt standing with fur spiked up and a lashing tail as he glared down at a smaller black and white tom. “I don’t care if you think they’re your kits or not! That’s my mate, not yours.”

 

“I’m their father,” Patchpelt responded steadily against the black-furred tom’s rage. “I have a right to see them.”

 

Fuzzypelt spat, “You aren’t their father and if you are , you shouldn’t and won’t be their father.”

 

His former apprentice shrugged, and Firekit saw his current apprentice- Runningpaw- watching from the apprentices’ den with wide eyes. “It was a mistake - but I am their father now.”

 

“You know as well as StarClan that it wasn’t a mistake, and I know you don’t feel any shame either, fox-heart!” Fuzzypelt growled. Fuzzypelt whipped around, fur bristling then spat, “Why don’t you go flirt with Goldenflower some more since you’re so desperate for a mate!” He stormed off to the nursery, and Firekit scrambled sideways, pressing against Brindleface to stay out of his way. Brindleface curled her gray tail around the three kits, glancing worriedly back at the nursery.

 

Patchpelt sighed, ducking his head down and his tail drooping. From the warriors’ den, Willowpelt slipped out, pushing against the other warriors whose heads were peering out both curiously and worriedly. She stopped beside her brother. “You know,” she began, not in the typical reassuring voice she used for the kits. “It really is your fault and Robinwing’s for messing around together when she had a mate already.”

 

Patchpelt frowned, glancing at his sister. “They were taking a break then anyway,” he defended himself. “So what was the harm?”

 

Willowpelt raised a brow, flicking her tail towards the nursery. “Clearly, that.”

 

Patchpelt’s ears flattened and his whiskers twitched, his eyes glazing over with sadness. “I just want to be a father to my kits.”

 

“Get a real mate then,” Willowpelt told him roughly. “Or even just ask a cat to have kits with you, instead of flirting with every she-cat that looks your way.”

 

Patchpelt’s tail twitched, waving behind him. He sent one final sorrowful cast towards the nursery before turning around and glumly walking back to the warriors’ den. His ears flattened against his head as he noticed his clanmates’ stares, his gaze turning a bit sour as his pelt prickled slightly. The warriors ducked their heads, disappearing into the den. Outside, in the camp, Sparrowpelt and Lionheart- the warriors on guard duty- exchanged startled, perplexed looks. They looked out of place, and awkward, as though they hadn’t expected two grown warriors to start a yowling match in front of them. Which, Firekit supposed, who would?

 

Willowpelt walked over to Brindleface and the three kits, Lightningkit, Airkit, and Copperkit trailing after her nervously. “You’ll have to wait a bit in the chill before you can go back in,” Willowpelt explained to them, wrapping a paw around Creekkit and her tail around Lightningkit and Copperkit. “After Robinwing’s done birthing her kits.”

 

Airkit let out a high-pitched whine, his brown and white pelt fluffed up, making him seem bigger than he normally was. He shivered exaggeratedly. “But it’s cooooold-

 

He cut off as Lightningkit glared at him, straightening and puffing out his chest, holding his chin high. Firekit noticed little tremors start and stop throughout his brother’s body. Firekit’s ears flicked in surprise- Airkit never passed up an opportunity to complain. He and Lightningkit were similar, in that regard. Copperkit, too, frowned at Airkit’s unusual behavior, glancing at him worriedly.

 

The elder, Weedwhisker, padded towards the kits from the elders’ den, his pale, flecked fur smooth despite the cold weather. “The kits can stay in the elders’ den,” he meowed to Willowpelt and Brindleface. “There’s plenty of space in there if Poppydawn and I sleep in Sparrowpelt and Lionheart’s nests for the night. The kits need their sleep more than us.” His whiskers twitched amusedly. “Or else they’ll be a grumpy, whine-y hassle to deal with in the morning.”

 

“Will not,” Creekkit protested.

 

“Will too,” Lightningkit grumbled, shooting a glower at her sister from around Willowpelt.

 

Brindleface dipped her head to the elder. “Thank you, Weedwhisker.”

 

“‘Course, no problem,” Weedwhisker replied.

 

“Come on, kits,” Brindleface murmured, grabbing Sandkit by the scruff and nudging the other kits. Willowpelt flicked her tail, standing up and guiding the kits to the elders’ den even as Lightningkit ran ahead.

 

Smallear greeted them with a friendly hello as they entered. “But be quiet,” he said softly. “Larksong is still fast asleep.” He flicked his tail at the pale tortoiseshell she-cat. Firekit’s whiskers twitched, surprised a cat could sleep through both Robinwing yowling and Fuzzypelt’s hissing.

 

“Come on, Firekit!” Creekkit whispered. “Let’s get Poppydawn’s!” Firekit twitched an ear to acknowledge her words and the two of them pounced into Poppydawn’s nest and curled up, Creekkit’s head laying across Firekit’s back, and his tail curled around her own. As Firekit closed his eyes, he frowned as he recalled Patchpelt’s words about wanting to be a father. 

 

Did Thistleclaw want to be a father? he thought. Then he mentally shook himself. Of course he did! He had Whitestorm with Snowfur, and us with Spottedleaf! He morosely stared at the den’s entrance, listening to Robinwing’s quieting cries and Fuzzypelt’s soothing mew. 


I want my father, he thought quietly. Thistleclaw had stopped meeting with him, Lightningkit, and Creekkit as frequently as he used to, saying that he couldn’t train them every night. But the red kit already missed him after not seeing the spiky gray tom for a quarter-moon. Firekit squeezed his green eyes tight. I wish I was with my father.

Chapter Text

Firekit blinked his eyes open, pricking his ears as he recognized the Dark Forest around him, the mud soft and squishy under his paws. He sprang up, desperate to see Thistleclaw again, then paused as he heard his father’s voice speaking to another.

 

“...the clan never takes their eyes off Silverkit, so there’s no chance…” Firekit frowned, confused. Silverkit? Who’s that? Thistleclaw, Firekit heard, continued after a pause, talking about something else. “...Oakheart might be more useful alive than dead - he’s the only cat that doesn’t glare at me in camp, despite past transgressions…” The other cat scoffed, and Firekit recognized it as Mapleshade.

 

“Are you a kit, or a warrior?” Firekit flattened his ears, offended on behalf of his father. Thistleclaw is a great warrior!  

 

Thistleclaw explained himself, stating, “I need their trust, not their suspicion…” Firekit strained his ears, wanting to hear more as their voices became muffled, walking through the twisted forest.

 

“Brokentail is being difficult…” he heard Mapleshade mutter. Brokentail? Firekit tilted his head. I feel like I’ve heard that name before…

 

“...Timberfur will retire soon.” That was Thistleclaw. “And if not, I’ll make him retire.” His father’s voice had trailed into a threatening growl that made Firekit back away slightly. He stepped on a stick, and the resounding snap echoed through the forest. Firekit froze as he heard a low hiss before it cut off, then;

 

“Firekit!” Mapleshade purred, and Firekit glimpsed her red and white fur, spotted with black, through the bushes. She must have recognized my scent, Firekit thought. He was a tad bit uneasy. What were they talking about before? “Come out, I would never hurt a precious little one like you.” Firekit warily crept out, glancing between his father and the Dark Forest warrior as they smiled at him.

 

“Firekit,” Thistleclaw greeted him warmly. He bent and licked his son’s head. “How are you here?” Firekit shuffled his paws.

 

“Well, I wanted to see you,” he meowed slowly. Mapleshade hummed.

 

“It takes a brave and powerful kit to will themselves into this Forest,” she commented. Firekit puffed up at the compliment, then flicked his tail nervously.

 

“What were you and Mapleshade talking about?”

 

“It was nothing,” Thistleclaw meowed sharply. Firekit rubbed his paw against the ground, grass and mold folding underneath his pads, feeling slightly upset although he couldn’t pinpoint why. “Being a great warrior,” Thistleclaw continued, “takes planning. That is all.” Firekit tilted his head.

 

“What are you planning?”

 

“Nothing you have to worry about.” Thistleclaw flicked Firekit’s ear playfully with his tail. “Would you like some training?”

 

“I just want to be with you,” Firekit meowed, feeling vulnerable as his whiskers twitched. Thistleclaw curled his tail around him.

 

“I’m here right now.”

 

Mapleshade purred. “I’ll leave you alone for some father-son bonding. Maybe go check on the others.” Mapleshade padded out of the clearing, her faded form easily lost in the mist. Thistleclaw tilted his head, eyes on his son.

 

“What’s wrong?” he inquired. Firekit dug his claws into the ground, frustrated.

 

“I just...I just wish you could be there for me every day,” Firekit muttered. “Like a normal father.” Thistleclaw sighed.

 

“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t choose to be exiled. If I had a choice, every one of my days would be spent with you, your siblings, and Whitestorm.” Firekit was silent for a moment.

 

“Were you really exiled?” he asked. Thistleclaw blinked, and Firekit noticed his amber eyes were hard now.

 

“Did you think I would just abandon my kits and lie to you about it like that?”

 

Firekit shrunk away from his father. “No- no, I mean…” He blinked up at the gray and white warrior. “I was wondering… Are you… a Riverclan warrior?”

 

“Why would you think that?” Thistleclaw looked surprised.

 

“Well,” Firekit began. “You came from over the river, from RiverClan’s territory, when you saved Creekkit.” Thistleclaw was quiet. Then;

 

“I was born a ThunderClan warrior, and I will always be a ThunderClan warrior at heart, but when I was exiled, I sought refuge in Riverclan. After all, a warrior can’t live without a clan...” He fixed his amber eyes on Firekit. “You mustn’t tell anybody.” Firekit nodded.

 

“I won’t,” he promised. He added, “I’m happy you saved Creekkit from the river, unlike Mapleshade’s mate, Appledusk.” Thistleclaw laid down on his belly, face to face with his son.

 

“I’ll do anything to save my kits.”

Chapter Text

Firekit swallowed a piece of vole, purring as the taste lit up his mouth. He watched as Sandkit slowly chewed her piece, her whiskers twitching. After she swallowed, she said,

 

“Yeah, it’s not as good as squirrel,” Sandkit meowed. “But I suppose it’s better than mouse.”

 

Firekit huffed. “Vole is the best prey! Especially since Darkpaw hunted this one.” Firekit nudged the vole, then raised his chin. “You know, I’ll be hunting voles soon too, in just a quartermoon!”

 

Sandkit rolled her eyes. “You can barely hunt a beetle.”

 

His fur fluffed out indignantly. “I’ll be a great hunter one day!” He pricked his ears with a smirk. “I’m already the best fighter.” Thistleclaw said so!

 

“Oh yeah?” Sandkit’s green eyes narrowed with her own smirk. “Prove it.”

 

Firekit’s stance slipped into a fighters’ crouch with ease before he launched at his pale ginger denmate.

 

“How’s this for proof?” Firekit playfully hissed, jabbing at her ears. Sandkit ducked, an excited gleam in her pale green eyes, then swatted at his head. Firekit avoided the blow and rolled to the right, springing up to pounce on Sandkit. Thistleclaw taught me that one! Firekit proudly thought as he slammed into the pale ginger she-kit’s side. Sandkit tumbled with the hit and the two kits rolled over each other on the dusty ground, coating their pelts in the tan sand.

 

“Not bad!” Sandkit puffed, coming up to pin her opponent. “But, pinned ya!” Firekit stuck out his tongue, then sprang up and pinned Sandkit in return, shoving her to the ground with his paws on her shoulders.

 

“Now I pinned ya!” Firekit yowled triumphantly. Sandkit let out a yelp of pain, and Firekit immediately leapt off, concerned. He froze as he realized his claws were unsheathed, and Sandkit had pricks on her shoulders from his claws.

 

“I’m so sorry!” Firekit apologized instantly as Brindleface, hearing her daughter’s cry, darted over.

 

“Sandkit, are you okay?” the gray speckled queen asked, licking her daughter’s shoulders soothingly.

 

“Firekit clawed me!” the pale ginger tabby wailed.

 

“I didn’t mean too!” Firekit meowed, guilt washing over him. “It was an accident.”

 

“Firekit, you’re old enough to know not to use claws,” Brindleface scolded. Firekit shrunk into himself, feeling like a naughty kit. Well...I am still a kit.

 

“Lightningkit always wants me to use claws when we playfight,” Firekit meowed, ears flatted in shame.

 

“That’s no reason to use claws,” Brindleface meowed. “If you can’t control your claws just yet, perhaps your apprentice ceremony - yours and Lightingkit’s - should be delayed.” Firekit straightened up, alarm shooting through his body. Lightningkit would kill me if that happens!

 

“I won’t use claws again!” Firekit promised, panicking.

 

“I do hope so.” Brindleface bent and picked Sandkit up by her scruff, much to the pale ginger kit’s displeasure. Firekit sent her an apologetic look as they passed. He sighed and pawed the ground, his stare fixed on his paws.

 


 

Creekkit swiped at Lightningkit, claws unsheathed as the two sisters attacked each other. Lightningkit hissed, eyes narrowed and fixed on Creekkit’s tabby pelt and lunged. Creekkit spun around, barely avoiding the tortoiseshell’s claws, and hit Lightningkit’s head with a front paw swipe, the move speedy and accurate.

 

Firekit hung back in the shadows, trying to stay out of the way of his sisters, and to stay away from the fight in general. His promise to Brindleface was stuck in his mind, and he was taking his word very seriously.

 

“What’s wrong?” Firekit heard Thistleclaw’s mew as he slid up to Firekit. Firekit kicked at the ground, watching a lump of dirt and grass roll.

 

“I accidentally scratched Sandkit while we were playing, and I feel bad about it. I don’t think we should use claws anymore.”

 

Thistleclaw’s eyes hardened as he sat down beside his son. “Fighting with claws will make you used to pain, as well as a better fighter,” Thistleclaw explained.

 

“But we aren’t supposed to use claws on our clanmates,” Firekit protested, recalling Spottedleaf’s scolding of Lightningkit almost a moon ago.

 

“Never in a real fight, but you’re training in this special place where we’re more than clanmates. Where we work to better ourselves and each other.” He paused stonely before adding, “You’ll be apprentices soon, so training even harder will make you better warriors quicker.” Firekit saw Lightningkit’s eyes gleam, excitement making her fur fluff out. A few pricks of blood were on her claws, and Creekkit was wincing slightly from a scratch on her cheek. Thankfully, they would be easy to hide or explain away to Spottedleaf, although their mother was getting increasingly worried about Lightningkit’s rough behavior.

 

“Perhaps,” Thistleclaw then meowed. “We should bring Airkit and Copperkit here, once they’re apprentices.” Creekkit’s head snapped up, green eyes wide with panic.

 

“That’s not a good idea!” she blurted out, her tail puffed.

 

“Why not?” Thistleclaw asked, eyes fixed on her.

 

“Ah, well-” Creekkit’s eyes flickered around frantically, scrambling to explain. Firekit had never seen his sister so panicked before. “A-Airkit can never keep his mouth shut and will tell Sp-Spottedleaf and Willowpelt, and Copperkit wouldn’t want to come if Airkit can’t.”

 

“Besides,” Lightningkit piped up. “It's better when it’s just us. They’re annoying, and are terrible fighters!” Firekit’s ears flicked up, surprised Lightningkit would agree with Creekkit.

 

“Don’t speak of your siblings like that,” Thistleclaw warned, mew sharp. Lightningkit huffed.

 

“It’s just the truth,” she muttered, but clamped her mouth shut at Thistleclaw’s stern look. Thistleclaw kinked his tail as his gaze turned contemplative, thinking over Creekkit’s previous words, before he nodded.

 

“You are the smartest of your siblings, Creekkit,” he meowed slowly. Lightningkit bristled, a low hiss building in her throat, while Firekit frowned. I’m smart too… “If you believe Airkit and Copperkit wouldn’t keep our secret… then I’ll be happy to just have the three of you for now.” Thistleclaw smiled at them all, and Lightningkit’s fur smoothed with a pleased purr.

 

But Firekit noticed how Creekkit bowed her head with a relieved sigh, tail twitching. Firekit frowned further, wondering why his sister was so worried about Airkit and Copperkit. Didn’t she want them to meet their father? A small part of Firekit wanted to keep his father and his praise all to himself, but Lightningkit was the one Firekit expected to share in that feeling- not Creekkit. She always made sure every kit was included in their games. So what was up with his sister?

 

Thistleclaw spoke before Firekit could question his sister. His voice rumbled, “Training will continue. Firekit, I want you to try a new move on your sisters…”

 

Firekit jerked to attention, standing attentively on his paws with his ears erect and his whiskers straight. He could worry about Creekkit’s strangeness later. For now, he had to please his father and make him proud.

Chapter Text

Firekit wriggled on his haunches, claws curling in and out, and his tail waved back and forth.

 

“Sit still,” Spottedleaf purred, amused, as she licked her son’s head. “You’re making this harder than it needs to be!”

 

“Speak for yourself,” Redtail murmured nearby, as he stuck his paw out to stop Lightningkit from running away. The dark tortoiseshell she-kit- no, she-cat- kicked her hindleg out at him even as Redtail dragged her back. She hissed and swatted at him when he leaned down to lick a patch of fur that stuck out on her shoulder. Redtail huffed, “Stop it, Lightningkit. Just a few licks and you can go.”

 

Lightningkit growled. “I can groom myself!”

 

“Yet you never do,” Swiftbreeze meowed, tail tip twitching as she watched her son and grandkit. The tabby-and-white she-cat’s yellow eyes gleamed in both pride and fondness. She was grooming Creekkit, but, unlike the other kits, the light brown tabby she-cat had already groomed herself, her white chest puffed out and almost shining in the sunlight.

 

“We’ll be grooming you until your warrior ceremony if you keep acting like you do!” Willowpelt reprimanded the young she-cat jokingly, brushing Copperkit’s light ginger fur with a paw, using her claws to pull out a burr that he’d tangled on his back leg.

 

Lightningkit glared at the gray she-cat before swatting at Redtail’s nose. Firekit noticed her sheathe her claws at the last moment, clearly not wanting to risk delaying her apprentice ceremony. Firekit was surprised Sunstar hadn’t delayed Lightningkit’s ceremony.

 

Lightningkit ducked under Redtail’s paw and bolted away, only to be cut off by Adderfang’s tail. The dark brown tabby tom stared sternly at her with narrowed yellow eyes. She paused, whiskers twitching, before she drooped her head and walked grouchily back to Redtail, plopping herself down at the red tortoiseshell’s paws with a grumble. Redtail blinked, glancing back at his father, but Adderfang had resumed washing Airkit with a low rumble in his throat.

 

“Well,” Redtail said, finally managing to lick Lightningkit’s fur down. “I’m never having kits if they’re all this difficult.”

 

The tabby ears of Runningpaw twitched as he and Mousepaw trotted up to the family. “I’m sure any kits you have will be just as great and kind and patient as you,” he meowed with a quiet purr, doey gaze so focused on Redtail he nearly ran into Adderfang before Mousepaw jabbed his shoulder. The apprentice paused, then bashfully ducked his head, mumbling a sorry to the senior warrior and now keeping his gaze away from Redtail. Firekit frowned and tilted his head at his friend’s odd, embarrassed behavior.

 

Mousepaw rolled her eyes with an annoyed sigh at her brother while Adderfang exchanged an amused gaze with his mate, Swiftbreeze.

 

Redtail just smiled at the younger tom. “Thank you,” he purred. “I do want kits, as fun as it is to watch over my sisters’ kits. It’s just a little harder finding a tom rather than a she-cat.”

 

“You like toms?!” Runningpaw squeaked, head jolting upwards and his fur spiking up.

 

Redtail’s whiskers twitched with a polite smile. “I thought everyone in the clan knew that.”

 

“I mean, I thought- but I didn’t- uhm.” Runningpaw ducked his head again, coughing. “I mean. That’s cool.”

 

The cats around him purred amusedly at Runningpaw’s bumbling words, although Firekit found himself confused why his normally energetic and confident friend was so nervous today.

 

Perhaps he’s afraid he’ll have competition as the best apprentice, Firekit thought, his pelt twitching and his claws briefly sliding out to curl into the soft ground. We’ll totally smoke him in all our training! He thought proudly of his training in the mysterious, special Dark Forest with his sisters, Thistleclaw, and Mapleshade.

 

Lightningkit let out another hiss when Redtail tried to groom her face. “My fur is fine!”

 

“Come on, Lightningkit,” Redtail groaned. “I just need to lick those hairs sticking out right there. And don’t even say you can groom it yourself! You can’t reach there.”

 

“Lightningkit,” Mousepaw meowed, coming to stand beside the two tortoiseshells. It was weird, thinking back to when Mousepaw was as small as Lightningkit was now- only as high as Redtail’s shoulders- but now Mousepaw was as big as Redtail, only a moon or so away from her warrior ceremony. “Calm down. You can get groomed now and then never have to be groomed ever again, once you’re an apprentice. But you won’t be an apprentice if you can’t even be groomed!”

 

Lightningkit glanced at her friend, then subsided with a grumble, lifting her head up so Redtail could lick a spot right under her eye.

 

“You’re awful at wrangling kits, brother,” Willowpelt meowed, amused.

 

“Hey, I keep getting stuck with the difficult one,” Redtail huffed, rolling his amber eyes. Lightningkit glared at him. “Sorry, but it’s true. At least that stubbornness will be good against our enemies.” Lightningkit’s anger relaxed into pride as she smirked, raising her chin.

 

Out of the nursery behind them, Brindleface slipped out with Sandkit trotting beside her. They walked past Robinwing, who was curled around her kits, grooming them. The pale tabby tom-kit peered out at the older kits, watching them with intrigued eyes, while the ginger-and-white she-kit and the reddish-brown tom with lighter patches tussled behind him. Robinwing and Fuzzypelt- not Patchpelt- had named them Longkit, Cherrykit, and Chestnutkit. Firekit knew from Frostfur’s gossip that the newest rumor- started by the white she-cat herself- was that the kits were neither Fuzzypelt nor Patchpelt’s, because, “did any of them look like the two toms?” Frostfur’s theory was that their father was from another clan, and that Robinwing had tried to cover it up using Patchpelt, but since none of the kits shared in his black-and-white pelt (although Firekit personally thought the black stripes on Longkit looked the same as Patchpelt’s black, and Cherrykit and Chestnutkit had his eyes), her cover-up plan had failed.

 

Of course, nobody in the clan took much merit in Frostfur’s gossip. They knew she was just bored with nothing interesting happening since the birth of Robinwing’s kits.

 

Sandkit padded up to the cats who would only be her denmates for a few more whisker-twitches. She was frowning, her tail tip twitching. “Why can’t I be an apprentice yet?”

 

“You only have two more moons to go,” Swiftbreeze reminded the pale ginger she-kit. “Not very long.”

 

“Feels like forever,” Sandkit murmured, dragging a claw through the dirt.

 

“It felt like that for me too!” Firekit said. “When Darkpaw became an apprentice-” Speaking of Darkpaw, Firekit hoped Tigerclaw wouldn’t keep the black tabby from their apprentice ceremony with his training. “-it felt like forever until I could be an apprentice. But here I am now!”

 

“Here we are now,” Creekkit corrected. “We’re gonna be apprentices!”

 

“Best day of my life, by far,” Copperkit added.

 

“Y-yeah,” Airkit said, the nervous tremors in his voice making it obvious he thought the opposite. But the white-patched brown tom sent a glance towards Lightningkit, and straightened up at her gaze.

 

“It’s alright,” Adderfang murmured into his grandson’s ear. “You’ll be a great warrior one day.”

 

Airkit nodded, raising his chin and puffing out his chest in a mimic of Lightningkit’s stance, but his twitching tail tip gave him away. Firekit pricked his ears as Darkpaw trotted through the tunnel, Tigerclaw behind him. The large, dark brown tabby paid no attention to his apprentice and immediately veered off to talk with Goldenflower and Lionheart. Darkpaw, glancing at his mentor, then the kits, made a beeline for his soon-to-be new denmates.

 

“Firekit!” Darkpaw yowled as he came to stop in front of them. Firekit wiggled out of his mother’s paws, darting forward to meet Darkpaw. “I can’t wait until you join us in the apprentice den!” Firekit purred.

 

“Me too!”

 

“Me three!” Runningpaw grinned, gaining his normal confidence and energy back. “Though, I won’t be an apprentice for long. I’ll be a warrior next moon. Or maybe earlier, if I can impress Sunstar!” He puffed out his chest.

 

“It’ll still be fun to train with them!” Darkpaw meowed. Creekkit gasped.

 

“Look! Sunstar’s come out of his den!” The kits and apprentices all stopped moving, apprehension filling them as they gazed at the large ginger tom. The warriors and medicine cat watching them smiled at the younger cats.

 

“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join beneath the Highrock for a clan meeting!” Sunstar called once he reached the top of the cluster of rocks. Immediately, cats emerged from their dens, heads poking from the entrances. Copperkit quivered with excitement as the clan gathered for their ceremony.

 

“Come on,” Spottedleaf meowed. “Follow me.” Her five kits, all sleek-furred and eyes shining, padded after her. Swiftbreeze and Adderfang claimed spots at the front, with Redtail and Willowpelt beside them.

 

“The time has come to appoint five new apprentices,” Sunstar’s mew rang out. Bluefur was seated at the foot of the rocks, with Featherwhisker at her side. Sunstar leapt down from Highrock and padded towards the kits. “Creekkit,” he began. Creekkit was breathing quickly as she walked up to Sunstar. “From this moment on, this kit will be known as Creekpaw. Swiftbreeze-” Spottedleaf, Redtail, and Willowpelt all snapped their heads towards their mother, surprised. Firekit’s whiskers twitched as he heard Redtail mutter, “She didn’t tell us!”

 

Swiftbreeze purred as she trotted over to Creekpaw, who looked equally relieved and excited to have her grandmother as her mentor. “You will mentor Creekpaw. You did a fine job with Lionheart, and I trust that you will do the same with Creekpaw.” Swiftbreeze dipped her head, acknowledging her leader’s words, before touching noses with Creekpaw.

 

“Copperpaw,” Sunstar continued. Copperkit, now Copperpaw, darted forward, nearly tripping in his excitement. “Your mentor will be Lionheart.” Copperpaw’s tail shot up in excitement as the big golden tom came to meet him. “This is your first apprentice, Lionheart, but you had an excellent mentor in Swiftbreeze. I trust you to pass down all you know to this apprentice.” Lionheart nodded, looking as happy as Copperpaw to have an apprentice. They touched noses and went to sit beside Swiftbreeze and Creekkit.

 

“Airpaw.” Airpaw was shaking as he hesitantly padded up to Sunstar, who’s eyes softened as he gave the young apprentice a reassuring nod. “Your mentor will be Thrushpelt.” Airpaw pricked his ears slightly as the brown tom trotted up to him. “This is your first apprentice as well, and I know you will do well with him, just as your mentor Larksong did with you.” Thrushpelt dipped his head.

 

“I will do my best, Sunstar.” Thrushpelt leaned his head down to Airpaw’s ear, whispering reassurances to the skittish tom. Relief washed through Firekit that his brother had a kind-hearted mentor.

 

“Lightningpaw,” Sunstar meowed next. Lightningpaw strutted forward, looking as smug as ever. “Your mentor will be Speckletail.” Lightningpaw’s smug smile fell as the speckled she-cat came forward. “Weedwhisker taught you well, and I expect you to pass down the respect Weedwhisker taught you to your apprentice.” Lightningpaw looked like she wanted to screech to StarClan about the unfairness of it all, her pelt bristling. His sister had wanted a warrior like Tigerclaw, Goldenflower, Redtail or Whitestorm as a mentor, not a gossiping queen like Speckletail, who was one of the worst when criticizing their parentage. Lightningpaw reluctantly touched noses with Speckletail, and followed her to their littermates. Firekit shuffled his paws, nervous now that his turn was up.

 

“Firepaw,” Sunstar meowed, gazing down at him calmly. “Your mentor will be Bluefur.” Firepaw’s eyes widened as the blue-gray deputy slowly padded up to him. “Bluefur, you began your training under Stonepelt, and he now rests with StarClan. I finished your training, and I know you will do brilliantly with Firepaw as you did with Frostfur.” Firepaw slightly frowned at the mention of Frostfur, but eagerly touched noses with Bluefur.

 

“Creekpaw! Copperpaw! Airpaw! Lightningpaw! Firepaw!” the clan cheered, Runningpaw and Darkpaw being the loudest of them all. A purr rumbled through Firepaw as he gazed out at his clanmates - he was an apprentice of ThunderClan, through and through, now.

 

Spottedleaf walked up to her kits, amber gaze misty but proud. She rubbed her cheek against Copperpaw’s, then Airpaw’s. “I’m so proud of you all,” she purred, tail curling. She touched her nose to Firepaw’s. “I know you’ll be great apprentices.”

 

“And one day,” Redtail’s voice mewed as he padded up to them. “You’ll be great warriors too.” He flicked Lightningpaw’s ear with his tail playfully, and to Firepaw’s surprise, she just smiled, raising her chin, her self-satisfied smirk back.

 

“It feels like it was just yesterday you five were crawling and mewling at your mother’s belly, eyes closed and ears folded,” Adderfang purred, his eyes glistening with strong emotions. He licked Creekpaw’s cheeks as he stood next to Swiftbreeze, brushing up against her. His mate’s whiskers twitched and she smiled fondly as she watched the brown tom gush over the newly made apprentices.

 

“Adderfang, stop, you’ll suffocate them like you did us at our apprentice ceremony.” Willowpelt bumped her shoulder against her father’s.

 

“You were so small then too...” Adderfang meowed, voice raw with emotion compared to what the strong and aggressive warrior normally sounded like.

 

“You always had a soft spot for kits,” Swiftbreeze commented. “Perhaps you should have been in the nursery instead of me.”

 

“If only I could have,” Adderfang sighed before raising his head. “But I am a tom, and a warrior, and I’m proud. Just like I’m proud of all of you.”

 

Lightningpaw raised her head high at the praise, a content purr reaching Firepaw’s ears. His sister? Purring? That only happened once in a blue moon. Creekpaw noticed too, giving their sister a teasing grin, and Lightningpaw’s smile quickly fell. She rolled her eyes with a scoff, but her purring remained.

 

The apprentices were the next to join the group, with Darkpaw headbutting Firepaw’s shoulder. “Now we can train together! I’ll totally beat you, easy!”

 

“We’ll see,” Firepaw purred, his paws twitching at the idea of a fight.

 

Lightningpaw jumped over to Mousepaw, tail high. “Now we can train together, Mousepaw! I’m sure I’ll be a way better sparring partner than Runningpaw and Darkpaw!”

 

“Darkpaw- maybe,” Mousepaw meowed, and Darkpaw shot her an offended look. “But Runningpaw certainly gives me a run for the best prey in the fresh-kill pile.”

 

Lightningpaw’s tail dropped slightly, but she raised her chin high. “That mouse-brain’s easy to beat, just get me in the hollow with him, and you’ll see!”

 

“Hey!” Runningpaw protested. “I am not!” He glanced at Redtail, then puffed his chest fur out. “I’m the strongest apprentice in ThunderClan!”

 

Copperpaw purred, lowering himself into a crouch. “We’ll see about that!”

 

Lionheart stepped in front of his apprentice, watching with a smile. “You can prove yourselves later. For now, leave us to teach our new apprentices, Runningpaw, Mousepaw, Darkpaw.” He nodded at the three older apprentices.

 

“Yes,” a new, harsh voice meowed, and Firepaw jumped as Tigerclaw appeared behind them. “Darkpaw, come. We were supposed to do training hunting today- or have you forgotten?” The tabby’s eyes narrowed.

 

“No, Tigerclaw!” Darkpaw quickly said, scrambling to his mentor’s side. “I’m ready.”

 

“I wasn’t asking.” Tigerclaw flicked his tail and turned around. “Come.” Darkpaw shot an apologetic look Firepaw’s way before chasing after his mentor as they strood out of camp.

 

A sense of thrill shot up Firepaw’s spine.

 

He was going to go outside of camp today.

 

The day when he, Lightningpaw, Creekpaw, and Darkpaw had snuck out of camp seemed so distant, foggy now. How would the forest look now that he was bigger? Now that he was an apprentice? Now that the seasons were changing and the leaves were starting to fall as leaffall began and leafbare approached?

 

“We should go find Fuzzypelt and Dappletail too,” Mousepaw added. “See you later, Lightningpaw.” She waved her tail at the tortoiseshell as she and her brother ran off to their mentors.

 

Spottedleaf sighed. “And I supposed I should help Featherwhisker. I heard Larksong sniffling earlier- I hope she hasn’t caught sickness.” She gave each of her kits a quick lick or nuzzle before leaving- even Lightningpaw accepted hers without so much as a grumble.

 

“Adderfang and I were supposed to be on a border patrol right about now, right?” Redtail meowed, glancing at Bluefur. Another thrill ran down Firepaw’s spine as he remembered the blue she-cat was now his mentor. The deputy nodded.

 

“With Goldenflower.”

 

“Let’s go find her,” Redtail told his father, and then the two were off. Willowpelt’s whiskers twitched as she was left with the apprentices and her mentors. She touched her nose to Airpaw’s ear.

 

“Keep safe,” she murmured before she turned and padded over to Robinwing, asking if she needed help with the three rowdy kits running around her paws. Chestnutkit leaped at Longkit, pinning the bigger tom-kit down with a proud yowl. Cherrykit darted around her brothers, yelling jeers of encouragement. A small distance away, Firepaw spotted Patchpelt watching the kits from beside Goldenflower and Frostfur, with a melancholy expression, right before Redtail and Adderfang padded up to them.

 

Oh, Firepaw thought suddenly. Patchpelt is my uncle. If those kits are his, then they’re my kin! His whiskers twitched at the thought. I’ll have to come back to the nursery and visit them often. Maybe with a plump vole from my first hunt!...

 

“Now then.” Firepaw was pulled back to the cats around him as Bluefur spoke. “I suppose you’re all ready to see the territory- for those of you who haven’t already.” She glanced at Firepaw with an amused look. He ducked his head, and saw Creekpaw do the same, while Lightningpaw just raised her chin higher, defiant and proud of it.

 

“Of course!” Copperpaw meowed excitedly, tail waving behind him. “More than ever.”

 

“We’ll split up so we don’t scare all the prey off,” Swiftbreeze suggested. “I can take Creekpaw near Fourtrees.” Firepaw saw his sister’s eyes light up at the mention of the sacred Gathering place.

 

“Bluefur and I can take Firepaw and Airpaw to the thunderpath and Owl Tree,” Thrushpelt suggested, before ducking his head to the deputy. “If that’s alright with you.”

 

“Of course,” Bluefur meowed. “Speckletail, Lionheart, are you alright heading near Twolegplace and RiverClan’s border?”

 

The two warriors nodded. “Some time to catch up with my son, I suppose,” Speckletail murmured, flicking her tail at Lionheart’s shoulder. Firepaw’s ears pricked. He didn’t know Speckletail was the mother to Lionheart and Goldenflower. She was so sleek, tall, and short-furred compared to the large, furry, muscular golden warriors. “Come on Lightningpaw,” Speckletail meowed, kinking her tail towards her apprentice. “Let’s get going.” Firepaw’s ears perked up as his sister and Copperpaw left camp, with Creekpaw and Swiftbreeze behind them and their mentors. He glanced at Bluefur, ready to go, but found his mentor waving Sparrowpelt over.

 

“Sparrowpelt, could you organize the patrols for today while I train Firepaw?” the deputy asked the senior warrior.

 

Sparrowpelt nodded. “Sure thing. Is there any cat you had in mind for anything?”

 

Firepaw was distracted when Airpaw shifted beside him, his tail lashing abruptly side to side as he stared at the ground before glancing quickly at the camp entrance. Firepaw nudged him with his shoulder, smiling.

 

“Don’t worry, Airpaw!” Firepaw meowed reassuringly. “It’s not as scary as you think it is.”

 

“I just-” Airpaw hesitated, ears flicking backwards. “What if I fall in a river like Creekkit- err, Creekpaw did? Or- or- we get attacked, or I do something mouse-brained?”

 

“That won’t happen,” Firepaw promised. “I’ll be there to catch you- and Bluefur and Thrushpelt too! And if you do anything dumb- well then I’ll do something dumber!”

 

Airpaw smiled at him, then nodded. He straightened his posture, although he still fidgeted his paws. “Right! I’m- I’m gonna be a big strong warrior, and big strong warriors aren’t afraid of anything. Not the dark, and not some river!”

 

Firepaw’s ears twitched- that sounded like something Lightningpaw would say. But he just nodded and bumped his nose against Airpaw’s shoulder. “That’s right!”

 

“Firepaw, Airpaw,” Bluefur’s mew caught their attention. She was padding towards the entrance, Thrushpelt beside her. “Come along. We have a lot of territory to cover.”

 

Firepaw shot a grin at his brother before dashing after their mentors, excitement making his fur prickle along his spine.

 

“Now,” Bluefur meowed as they left the entrance tunnel. “This is the ravine. You Firepaw, wouldn’t have seen it on your...escape.” Firepaw flicked his tail in quiet embarrassment. “This is the path we use when leaving on patrols. See those rocky clefts?” At the apprentices’ nods, she went on, “We use those to get up. Thrushpelt, would you care to demonstrate?” Thrushpelt gave a friendly nod.

 

“Of course.” The light sandy-gray tom shifted his weight, eyed the first ledge - which looked a bit crumbly and unstable in Firepaw’s opinion - then sprang up, landing lightly on the rocky cleft.

 

“Much easier than it looks, I assure you,” Thrushpelt meowed. He jumped to the next one.

 

“Firepaw?” Bluefur asked. “Would you like to go next?” Firepaw glanced at Airpaw, who was looking terrified at the thought of jumping on a bunch of rocks that could collapse at any moment. He mentally frowned. How can I get Airpaw to go without it looking like I’m worried about him? I don’t want to hurt Airpaw’s feelings… He pricked his ears thoughtfully.

 

“Can Airpaw go?” he asked. Airpaw gave him a terrified look. “He’s a good jumper, I’m sure he’ll do great!” Bluefur gently nudged his brother.

 

“Airpaw?” she prompted. The brown tabby hesitated, then looked up to where Thrushpelt was.

 

“You can do it!” Firepaw whispered. Airpaw squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, then dropped into a crouch. He, like his mentor, eyed the rocky cleft, sizing up his leap, then sprang. Firepaw was relieved to see his brother land safely, only slightly slipping when he landed.

 

“Good job Airpaw!” Thrushpelt called from the third cleft. “Follow me!” Airpaw’s ears had pricked in pleasure. He glanced down at Firepaw, who was behind Bluefur and giving his brother a proud ‘good job’ look. Airpaw gave a little nod to show his thanks, then sprang to the next cleft.

 

“Your turn Firepaw,” Bluefur meowed. She bent down. “And good job on getting your brother’s confidence up,” she whispered as he crouched. He gave a happy flick of his tail before he leapt for the cleft. Like Airpaw, he had a little trouble getting a good grip on the uneven surface, but was satisfied when he found a good perch. He spotted the next one up and sprang for it. He heard Bluefur land on the first rock and saw further up Thrushpelt and Airpaw had almost reached the top. Here we go! Firepaw thought, excitement running through him once more. He and Bluefur jumped from cleft to cleft, reaching the end as Airpaw’s tail slithered over the top.

 

“That was fun!” Firepaw purred as the four cats trotted away. Airpaw had a little skip to his step as well.

 

“Yeah!” he agreed. “I was a little scared at first, but once we started jumping, I actually really liked it!” Firepaw purred once more, giving his brother a lick around the ear.

 

“We will be heading for the ShadowClan border,” Bluefur called, beckoning with her tail for the apprentices to catch up. When they started running to meet them, she continued, “Then we’ll make our way back and end at the Owl Tree. Our territory isn’t small enough for a one day trip - which is good, since more territory means more prey.” Thrushpelt purred a laugh.

 

“It’s so like you, Bluefur, to always think of the Clan’s needs,” he meowed fondly. Bluefur twitched an ear, acknowledging her friend’s words.

 

“You know me,” she meowed lightly. “Always looking out for ThunderClan.” Firepaw noticed a sad tone to her words that made his head tilt in curiosity. He bounded up to her side.

 

“When I’m a warrior,” he started. “I want to do the same thing!” 

 

Bluefur gazed amused at him, but approval shone in her blue eyes. “I’m sure you will.” 

 

Airpaw padded up to Thrushpelt. “Me too!” he declared. Thrushpelt and Bluefur traded fond looks with each other.

 

“It’s good to know ThunderClan has two apprentices who are determined to help their clan,” Thrushpelt purred. He then shook himself. “Come on! Time's a-wastin!”

 

“Can we race to the border?” Firepaw eagerly asked. He loved racing his littermates and the other kits in the nursery.

 

“Not today,” Bluefur meowed, a tad sharp. “We don’t want you two to run onto the Thunderpath.” A haunted look entered her eyes.

 

“Oh,” Firepaw said, glancing down at his paws. “Okay. Sorry.” Bluefur shook her head.

 

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she told him. “Now, this way!”

 


 

“Woah…” Airpaw breathed. “That’s the Thunderpath?!”

 

“Mmmhmm,” Thrushpelt hummed. “Be careful, usually the monsters stay on the path. But sometimes it can skim the edges, so make sure you stay back.” Both apprentices nodded, understanding this was a serious lesson. Bluefur pricked her ears.

 

“ShadowClan patrol,” she meowed. Firepaw felt Airpaw tense, and his smaller brother pressed up against him. The red apprentice nuzzled his shoulder lightly as a group of three cats appeared over on the other side of the Thunderpath. Bluefur raised her tail in greeting.

 

“Greetings, Scorchwind,” she meowed. “How’s the prey running?” A ginger tom, whom Firepaw presumed was Scorchwind, gave a respectful nod to the ThunderClan deputy.

 

“Rather well for leaf-fall,” he replied. “You?”

 

“Very well,” Bluefur responded.

 

“Hello Nutwhisker,” Thrushpelt greeted. “How’re your sisters doing?”

 

“Rowanberry’s getting awfully friendly with Clawface if you ask me,” a brown tom muttered good-naturedly. “And Yellowfang is as grumpy as ever!” A thin gray tom came bounding up to his side of the Thunderpath.

 

“Hi!” he called to Firepaw and Airpaw. “I’m Cinderpaw. Who’re you? Haven’t seen you around before.”

 

“I’m Firepaw,” Firepaw introduced, raising his tail amicably. “And this is my brother, Airpaw.”

 

“Hi.” Airpaw lifted a paw in shy greeting.

 

“New apprentices?” Cinderpaw asked. At their nods, he added with a proudly raised chin, “I’m nearly a warrior. Can’t wait for a full name!”

 

“We have some friends who are nearly warriors,” Firepaw meowed. “Runningpaw and Mousepaw.” 

 

Cinderpaw perked up. “I know them! Is Runningpaw still mooning over Redtail?” 

 

Firepaw recalled the sappy looks his friend had whenever Redtail was around. So that’s what that was? He purred, “You betcha!” 

 

Cinderpaw purred a laugh. “Nice meeting you!” he meowed as Bluefur and Scorchwind ended their conversation (which sounded like it was borderline tense). “Enjoy your apprenticeship!” The ShadowClan cats turned from the Thunderpath and disappeared over the edge.

 

“They were...friendlier than I thought,” Airpaw stated hesitantly, frowning as the group of four trekked their way to the Owl Tree. “I thought ShadowClan was dark, and mean.” Thrushpelt brushed his pelt against his.

 

“Those are just nursery stories the elders like to mew on about,” he assured his apprentice. “Mind you, Cinderpaw was much friendlier than even cats in ThunderClan are.” He pricked his ears. “Ah! We’ve arrived at the Owl Tree!” Airpaw glanced hesitantly at the tall tree with a knot in it.

 

“Isn’t there an owl in there?” he asked quietly.

 

“Yes, there is,” Bluefur replied. “But it rarely comes out during the day.”

 

“Poppydawn told us that the second leader of ThunderClan - Owlstar - used to sneak out of camp and follow it around,” Firepaw meowed excitedly.

 

“That he did,” Thrushpelt agreed. “He was Thunderstar’s second deputy - and, if I recall correctly, his cousin.”

 

“Woah, cool!” Airpaw stared wide-eyed up at the tree. Bluefur beckoned them with her tail.

 

“Come along, you’ll see the rest of the territory tomorrow.” Firepaw’s tail drooped. He wanted to see the rest of ThunderClan’s territory. He then noticed Airpaw stifling a yawn, and realized he, too, felt a little tired. “Let’s get back to camp,” Bluefur meowed as they set off. “You can get some rest, and then -” she twitched her whiskers mischievously, “You’ll learn how to take ticks off the elders.” At Firepaw and Airpaw’s horrified looks, Thrushpelt teasingly added;

 

“All the more reason to train hard, you know. The sooner you’re warriors, the sooner you don’t have to do it!”

 

 

Chapter Text

When Firepaw woke up, it was like he had never been asleep at all, his paws buzzing with excitement at another day of being a real warrior apprentice. He could hardly get to sleep, and Darkpaw and Creekpaw in their nests beside him had complained about his tossing and turning.

 

He was faintly disappointed that his father hadn’t visited them at night, but he supposed that was alright- he needed to be well-rested for his second day as an apprentice. He shook himself, letting his pelt fluff out before he shoved Darkpaw roughly in the shoulder.

 

“Wake up, sleepyhead!” Firepaw meowed loudly into his ear. Darkpaw groaned and swatted at him. Firepaw purred, amused, as his friend shoved his head into his paws. “We’ve got training to do!” He hoped, anyway. Darkpaw grumbled something at him, and Firepaw leaned down to grab him by the scruff. He yanked backwards and started pulling the much heavier apprentice out of his moss bed. Thankfully, Runningpaw, whose nest was in front of Darkpaw's and Firepaw’s was already gone, and so were Mousepaw and Lightningpaw.

 

“Firekiiiiitttt,” Darkpaw whined when Firepaw nearly had him out of the apprentices’ den. “Stop, lemme sleep…”

 

“Fire paw ,” Firepaw corrected proudly, dropping Darkpaw and puffing out his chest. Darkpaw cracked one eye open and rolled over onto his back, stretching out his limbs with a yawn.

 

“Fine, fine, I’m up, you win,” Darkpaw conceded as he slowly stood up. Firepaw grinned at him, turning around and looking around for their mentors. Darkpaw grumbled but groggily followed after him. Firepaw spotted Bluefur exiting the warriors’ den and immediately bolted over to her.

 

“Bluefur, Bluefur!” Firepaw yowled excitedly. “What are we doing today?! Can we train with Darkpaw and Tigerclaw?” He flicked his tail towards Darkpaw as the apprentice trudged towards them.

 

Bluefur smiled at him, amusement twinkling in her deep blue eyes. “Lower your voice. I don’t think some warriors would appreciate the loud awakening so early.”

 

“Too late,” a warrior grumbled, and White-eye slipped out of the den with a glare at Firepaw.

 

“Sorry,” Firepaw mumbled bashfully, licking his chest fur.

 

White-eye huffed, but trotted past them over to where Goldenflower and Patchpelt were already awake, chatting quietly as the sun began to rise and warm their pelts. Nearby, Firepaw spotted Mousepaw and Runningpaw sharing an early mouse.

 

Firepaw flicked his ears expectantly towards Bluefur when White-eye had gone. The deputy blinked calmly at him, then meowed politely, “I have to attend to my duties as deputy first.” Firepaw’s tail and whiskers drooped.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Bluefur assured him, resting a tail on his shoulder briefly. “I promise we’ll have extra training to make up for it.” Firepaw perked up with a bounce. “Now go wake the other apprentices,” Bluefur continued. “So they’re up and ready for their mentors.”

 

“Of course, Bluefur!” Firepaw meowed obediently with a dip of his head. He whipped around and bounded back to the apprentices’ den. Darkpaw groaned as he turned around, glumly padding after Firepaw.

 

Firepaw leaped into the apprentices’ den. “Get up!” he yelled to his denmates. “It’s another day of being apprentices.”

 

Airpaw jolted upwards, brown and white fur puffed up. He knocked into Copperpaw in his panic, and the light ginger tabby tom blinked open his eyes, bewildered. He yawned and slowly stood up. “Wha’zz up?”

 

“It’s our second day as apprentices!” Firepaw meowed to his siblings with a happy wave of his tail. “Gotta be bright-eyed and early!”

 

Airpaw’s fur slowly smoothed out with a blink as he realized they weren’t under attack. “Couldn’t we be bright-eyed and late?” the tomcat whined. “I don’t think Thrushpelt will mind.”

 

“Thrushpelt won’t mind,” Darkpaw said. “But Tigerclaw definitely will!”

 

“I think Swiftbreeze would too,” Copperpaw added with a glance at their snoozing sister, still curled up in her nest and snoring away. His whiskers twitched. “Should we let her sleep in?”

 

“No,” Firepaw meowed. “That’s mean!” He moved towards Creekpaw and poked her at the top of her head.

 

“It’s funny,” Copperpaw argued with a grin.

 

Creekpaw rolled over when Firepaw poked her again, whining, “Five more whisker twitches, Spottedleaf…”

 

Firepaw laughed. “We aren’t kits anymore, Creekpaw! We’re apprentices! So get up or you’ll be on tick duty!”

 

Creekpaw sprung onto her paws, wide-eyed. “I’m up, I’m up!”

 

“Come on, Creekpaw!” Firepaw exclaimed. “It’s time to get up and get going!”

 

“I’m coming! I’m coming!”

 

All the apprentices left the den in a hurry, Firepaw and Copperpaw in the lead, and nearly ran into Swiftbreeze and Lionheart as they approached the apprentices' den.

 

“You’re up early,” Lionheart meowed, surprised, ears flicking upwards. “Normally new apprentices aren’t this eager to be up and running. Not after moss cleaning duty.”

 

“What will we be doing today, Lionheart?” Copperpaw asked, tail waving in excitement.

 

“We will be doing some group training today on hunting techniques," the large golden tom replied. “Just the basics.” 

 

Creekpaw leaned towards Firepaw, whispering into his ear, “Lightningpaw’s gonna be mad it’s not battle training.” Her long whiskers twitched, amusement sparkling in her gaze. Firepaw mrrow ed at her teasing before he paused. He tilted his head, looking back at the den. I don’t remember seeing Lightningpaw in the den when we woke up… he thought. Where is she? Making dirt?

 

“Are Darkpaw, Runningpaw, and Mousepaw joining us?” he asked, mind still half-on where his tortoiseshell sister was. Swiftbreeze shook her head.

 

“They already know the basics,” she explained, at the young apprentices’ disappointed faces. “They’ll be on real hunting patrols.” Firepaw and Darkpaw exchanged sad looks, before the dark tabby sighed.

 

“I better go see if Tigerclaw is up.” he meowed. He padded away as Thrushpelt and Speckletail lopped up to the apprentices.

 

“Where’s Lightningpaw?” Speckletail asked, eyes narrowed and face frowning.

 

“Don’t know,” Copperpaw admitted, ears twitching as he glanced at his siblings. Speckletail, huffing with agitation, stalked towards the apprentices’ den and stuck her head inside. She pulled her head back out, frown even more pronounced. Firepaw saw Airpaw shuffling his paws, nervousness clear in his stance.

 

“I saw her leave the den last night,” he admitted quietly. “But I thought she was going to the dirtplace.”

 

Speckletail called Rosetail, Goldenflower, and Frostfur over. The cats who were on guard last night, Firepaw realized.

 

“Did any of you see Lightningpaw leave last night?” she questioned, tail tip flicking in irritation. The she-cats glanced at each other, and Rosetail’s fur started to rise as panic set in.

 

“Why? Is she missing?” she asked fearfully, eyes wide. Firepaw's ears flattened against his head as he glanced at his siblings, who wore similar concerned looks. Their silence made Rosetail and Goldenflower's pelts fluff up, and even Frostfur looked alarmed.

 

“We couldn’t have missed her!” Goldenflower exclaimed, pacing back and forth. “We were watching the entrance and Frostfur was patrolling around and outside the camp.” Ever since the fighting between WindClan and ShadowClan had started, the Clan had been on edge. They had posted more patrols and guards to make sure the fighting didn’t pass over the border and into ThunderClan’s territory.

 

“Her pelt is dark,” Thrushpelt mused thoughtfully with a calm lash of his tail. “She’d blend in well with the shadows.”

 

“She’s only been an apprentice for a day!” Rosetail argued. “She shouldn’t be able to sneak past three fully-trained warriors!” Firepaw traded a guilty glance with Creekpaw. Thistleclaw and Mapleshade hadn’t just taught them fighting moves- but also other useful skills. Thistleclaw had Mapleshade hide in the forest somewhere, and he taught them how to properly sneak up on an opponent. None of them had managed to get Mapleshade yet, but they all had drastically improved since their first try.

 

“She snuck out before, she can do it again.” Speckletail growled.

 

“She had help before, though.” Frostfur pointed out, looking at Firepaw and Creekpaw. Firepaw flattened his ears, ducking his head shamefully.

 

“We wouldn’t have let Lightningpaw sneak out!” Creekpaw argued. “We’ve-” she gestured between herself and Firepaw with her tail, “-learned our lesson! Clearly Lightningpaw hasn’t.” She huffed, whiskers twitching agitatedly.

 

Other cats had started to notice the panic. Bluefur, Sunstar, and Redtail quickly walked over from where the deputy was about to send the tortoiseshell tom out on a border patrol.

 

“What’s going on?” Sunstar asked in a commanding meow.

 

“My apprentices snuck out of camp on her second day,” Speckletail growled dryly, tail lashing behind her.

 

“We don’t know that!” Airpaw protested. “What if she was attacked or something?!”

 

“Of course,” Speckletail meowed condescendingly. “A hawk must have swooped into camp, completely avoiding our three warriors on guard, plucked her from her nest, and flown off.” She snorted, rolling her eyes. “I think not.” 

 

Airpaw shrunk into himself, his tail nervously twitching as he stared at the ground. Firepaw heard him quietly mumble, “Some cats just don’t like us…” 

 

Sunstar shot Speckletail a stern look before meowing, “We’ll send out search patrols immediately.” Bluefur nodded in agreement as Darkpaw trotted up, looking confused and worried.

 

Again ,” Speckletail hissed under her breath.

 

“What’s going on?” he asked, staring at Firepaw with a frown.

 

“Lightningpaw’s missing,” Firepaw explained, pawing at the ground. “No one has seen her since Airpaw saw her leave the den last night.”

 

“Darkpaw,” Bluefur meowed, frowning slightly as her icy-blue gaze swept across camp. “Where’s Tigerclaw? He would be a great help in looking for her - he has one of the best noses in the clan.” 

 

Darkpaw shrugged. “I went to go get him, but I didn’t see him in the warriors’ den.”

 

“He went night-hunting,” Goldenflower spoke up. “He does that quite often.”

 

“Maybe he’s found her!” Rosetail hopefully added, rosy-colored tail springing upwards. Right… Firepaw hated to disagree with his aunt, he loved her, he really did, but Tigerclaw hated Firepaw and his siblings. He would have left Lightingpaw to rot wherever he found her. Firepaw and Copperpaw exchanged worried looks as Spottedleaf and Willowpelt slinked out from the medicine cat den, attracted by the growing crowd.

 

“What’s wrong?” his mother asked worriedly, brushing her pelt against Firepaw’s and flicking her tail against sad Airpaw’s shoulder.

 

“Your kit’s missing,” Speckletail muttered exasperatedly. “ Again. No surprise to anyone.”

 

Spottedleaf and Willowpelt’s hair rose anxiously from their backs as they exchanged worried looks. Spottedleaf started to anxiously pace around her remaining kits and Willowpelt pulled Darkpaw close to her while Bluefur started to order search patrols.

 

“Redtail and Whitestorm,” she began. “You search along the edge of Twolegplace up to the Owl Tree. Rosetail, Fuzzypelt, and Darkpaw, you will head in the opposite direction up to Sunningrocks. When you’re finished, circle back around and meet in the training hollow.”

 

“What about us?” Creekpaw complained. “We want to help!” 

 

Bluefur shushed her with a flick of her tail tip. “You don’t know the territory well-enough yet, it would be safer for you to stay here.” Creekpaw visibly wilted, but complied with the deputy’s orders, sitting down and curling her tail around her paws. Whitestorm and Redtail turned to leave, but paused as the brown tabby form of Tigerclaw - with a squirrel clamped in his jaws and looking irritated - walked into camp, with none other than a grumpy, surly-looking Lightningpaw behind him. 

 

Several cats gasped and Firepaw found his jaw dropping in confused, unspoken words. The warriors around him wore startled expressions.

 

“Tigerclaw,” Sunstar meowed, perplexed as every other cat, but straight to business. “What happened? Where did you find her?” Tigerclaw placed his squirrel down and stretched his shoulders languish, muscles rippling. Firepaw stared wide-eyed at the powerful warrior and shivered. He so didn’t want to be on the wrong side of him.

 

“I was out hunting when I stumbled across this mouse-brained apprentice.” Tigerclaw flicked his long-haired tail at the tortoiseshell. Lightningpaw huffed, muttering, “Mouse-brain yourself,” under her breath.

 

“Lightningpaw!” Spottedleaf chided, running up to stand in front of the apprentice. “What did you think you were doing?”

 

“I was hunting!” Lightningpaw spat, defensive as usual. “Like any good warrior would do.”

 

Spottedleaf narrowed her amber eyes at her daughter disapprovingly. “You don’t even know how to hunt.”

 

“That much is obvious by the lack of prey you have,” Frostfur agreed with a flick of her ear. Lightningpaw snarled at Frostfur.

 

“Lightningpaw!” Spottedleaf scolded before Lightningpaw could snap anything at Frostfur. “Don’t treat your clanmates like that!” Lightningpaw kicked at the dirt and muttered a half-hearted apology to the white she-cat. Speckletail snorted and turned to Sunstar.

 

“I’m not surprised I need to punish my apprentice before she’s even seen the entire territory. Sunstar nodded, but someone else’s voice cut in. Firepaw blinked in surprise and confusion as Tigerclaw padded up to the two and meowed;

 

“She shouldn’t be punished.” Everyone stared at the tabby warrior.

 

“Why not?” Bluefur inquired, intrigued.

 

“She has ambition, and a will to serve her clan, but it comes out in the worst ways - like sneaking out of camp. She just needs some direction, and then she could become a fine warrior.” 

 

Firepaw’s mouth was gaping. Why was Tigerclaw of all cats defending one of them ? Lightningpaw raised her head at Tigerclaw's words, green eyes flashing with pride as her confidence making a comeback, but she was looking away from her clanmates, ears flat against her head. She was obviously still worried. 

 

Sunstar considered Tigerclaw’s words for a moment, then slowly nodded. “Very well,” he meowed. “She won’t be confined to camp, but she will be punished.”

 

“How?” Lightningpaw demanded, her eyes holding her usual defiance but her lips were curled in a frown, revealing her worry.

 

Sunstar flicked his tail to Speckletail beside him. “That’s up to your mentor.” 

 

Speckletail raised her chin, staring frostily at her apprentice. “We’ll still train, but you will be tending to the elders every morning and night.” 

 

Lightningpaw angrily frowned, but managed a respectful, “Fine.” 

 

Sunstar, now that the Lightningpaw drama was done, yowled to the clan to get back to their daily schedule. The crowd dispersed with murmurs and Firepaw stood up to stretch to relieve the tension in his shoulders. As he did so, he heard Speckletail tell Lightningpaw to get started on the elders’ den, since it was still morning. Lightningpaw’s tortoiseshell fur bristled, but she padded off. Firepaw blinked, surprised as Creekpaw made a determined beeline for their sister, staring her down until they came nose-to-nose.

 

“I know you weren’t really hunting,” he heard Creekpaw hissed furiously to Lightningpaw. “I don’t know what you were doing, but I’ll find out.”

 

“Get out of my way!” Lightningpaw spat, but her voice was just as quiet as Creekpaw’s- she didn’t want to be overheard even though normally she loved the attention. “You’re just jealous that I’m already a better and more ambitious warrior!” She strutted past Creekpaw and loftily added in a whisper, “Just like Father wants.” She stalked off towards the elders’ den, while Creekpaw glared after her. Firepaw watched in dismay as his sisters’ rivalry clearly reached a turning point, and he slowly padded over to Bluefur, no longer excited for his second day as an apprentice.

Chapter Text

“Keep your tail low,” Bluefur instructed him, gently pushing his tail down with her paw. “Keep your eyes on your prey,” she added when Firepaw glanced back at her.

 

Firepaw crouched low to the ground, grass tickling his belly as he prowled forward, keeping his paws as silent as possible. And then, when he thought he was close enough, he wiggled his haunches and leapt. His paws landed with a crunch onto the big, red leaf he had stalked. He pricked his ears happily and looked back at Bluefur eagerly.

 

Bluefur nodded in approval. “Your stance is good for a new apprentice. Now, prick your ears and listen.”

 

Firepaw did as instructed, swiveling his ears around to hear anything. But all he could hear was the soft breeze blowing by and rustling the leaves overhead. He frowned. “I can’t hear anything.”

 

“Listen harder,” Bluefur said sharply. “Hunting is of the utmost importance now, with Chestnutkit and Larksong having caught whitecough.”

 

And Featherwhisker predicts it’s soon to change to greencough as the weather coldens, Firepaw thought grimly, glancing up at the blue sky. Firepaw closed his eyes and strained his ears, searching for the slightest of sounds.

 

There! His eyes snapped open and he turned his head to look behind him as he heard the scuttle of tiny, tiny paws.

 

“Crouch, and glide your paws across the grass to where you can hear the mouse’s paws,” Bluefur told him in a soft murmur. Firepaw slid down into a hunter’s crouch, slowly approaching where he heard the small footsteps.

 

This is it, he thought. Your first catch. You can do this! With Bluefur’s training and Thistleclaw’s. He’d make his father proud if he caught this mouse, he was sure. A thrum of warmth inside him at the thought of earning his father’s praise made him wiggle his haunches before he was close enough to the mouse. The movement caused his tail to swish over a fern, and he saw a gray ear peak out of a patch of grass.

 

He tensed and then jumped right as the mouse started to bolt away. His paws landed on empty space and he panicked, swatting out at the mouse. But then a blue blur leapt in front of him, and Bluefur had slammed her paw on the back of the mouse, pinning it down. She leaned her head down and nipped its neck, killing it swiftly.

 

“Thank you, StarClan, for this prey,” she murmured under her breath before turning to Firepaw. He ducked his head down, burning with shame. This wouldn’t make his father happy… And it wouldn’t make his mentor either. “Well done.”

 

The ginger apprentice’s head jerked up in surprise. “But I didn’t even catch the mouse!”

 

“An apprentice rarely ever catches something on their first try,” Bluefur meowed.

 

Firepaw’s ears drooped as he grumpily said, “Runningpaw did…”

 

“Runningpaw was lying just to brag,” Bluefur said. “He only caught that squirrel because Fuzzypelt steered it towards him.” Firepaw blinked. Runningpaw lied to him! That weasel-face. Bluefur flicked her tail tip. “Now come on. We’ll need to move away from this spot. The prey will have been scared away here.”

 

Firepaw nodded and followed her after she buried her mouse. His whiskers twitched as he realized they were heading towards the RiverClan border, a little ways away from Sunningrocks. A shiver ran down his spine, raising his hair. In front of him was the same river that had swallowed Creekpaw up. But it was so calm and slow now, the rush of water almost sounding pleasant to his ears.

 

“Why isn’t the river as fast anymore?” he asked Bluefur, peering into the water and watching his reflection stare back at him. He blinked as he saw the faint outline of a cat beside him in the river, and glanced over, expecting Bluefur to be there. But she was still a few foxtails away. He glanced back at the river, but all he saw was his green eyes staring back at him.

 

“The river changes like the weather,” Bluefur answered, walking up beside him. “Sometimes the river is small and quiet, other times large and raging.”

 

“Oh,” Firepaw said, staring at the river.

 

He jumped into the air when he heard a twig snap, fur bristling, but Bluefur placed her tail on his shoulders, murmuring into his ear, “A RiverClan patrol is approaching.”

 

Firepaw watched as plump, long-furred, big-pawed cats trudged through the undergrowth, appearing at the riverbank. His fur rose as he counted five cats, plenty to overpower him and Bluefur. He knew RiverClan was always fighting for Sunningrocks, even though it belonged to ThunderClan.

 

He felt Bluefur stiffen beside him, her gaze locked on the two blue-gray cats at the back of the patrol, before she suddenly relaxed, her shoulder fur smoothing.

 

“Greetings, Timberfur,” Bluefur meowed politely. “Is prey running- or swimming, I suppose- well in RiverClan?”

 

The brown cat with a graying muzzle that was leading the patrol nodded his head. “Better than ever, Bluefur. And who might this be?” Timberfur gestured a paw at Firepaw, who nervously stepped closer to Bluefur, uncertain what to think of these RiverClan cats. The ShadowClan cats he met had been friendly, but could the same be said of greedy, fish-fed RiverClan warriors?

 

“This is my new apprentice, Firepaw,” Bluefur said, and Firepaw managed to raise his head proudly as the RiverClan cats stared at him with curious eyes. “Firepaw, this is RiverClan’s deputy, Timberfur.” 

 

Firepaw quickly bowed his head in respect. “It’s nice to meet you, Timberfur.”

 

Timberfur purred appreciatively. “Good to see some ThunderClan apprentices still have manners.” Firepaw would bet his fresh-kill that Timberfur was referring to Runningpaw.

 

“The warriors are Dawnbright and Owlfur,” Bluefur continued, flicking her tail at a tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat and a brown-and-white tom. “And Mistypaw and Stonepaw.” The two blue-gray cats from earlier raised their tails proudly, and the she-cat’s whiskers twitched as she looked at Firepaw. Their pelts looked weirdly familiar, but no ThunderClan cat would ever have fur as shiny as theirs or a belly as round.

 

“I didn’t know ThunderClan had any more kits,” Timberfur mused.

 

Firepaw puffed out his chest. “I have four more siblings. And we’ll all make ThunderClan stronger!” Especially with Thistleclaw and Mapleshade’s training, he thought.

 

“I thought I would remember Sunstar announcing a litter of five healthy kits,” Dawnbright meowed. “It’s rare for a litter that big to live all the way to apprenticeship.”

 

“Who’s the lucky queen that had so many kits?” Owlfur asked, smiling.

 

Firepaw shot a panicked look at Bluefur, shuffling his paws uncomfortably. Bluefur’s face was as even and neutral as ever. How was she not worried!? Firepaw had messed up pretty badly, if these RiverClan cats found out his mother was a medicine cat.

 

“The queen wishes to remain unknown,” Bluefur coldly stated. The patrol seemed startled, trading confused and shocked glances with each other.

 

“Only a cruel queen would do such a thing,” Dawnbright murmured, as though she was trying to be quiet so Firepaw wouldn’t hear her, but not doing a good job of it. “She’s effectively disowning her own kits.” She cast a sad, pitying glance at Firepaw.

 

Firepaw’s fur felt hot and he dipped his head down, embarrassed even though he knew Spottedleaf loved them and would claim them if she could. He knows Bluefur can’t tell them Spottedleaf is their mother, that he and his siblings are the product of a broken code, but he found himself angrily thinking, Why? Why couldn’t Spottedleaf just be their mother? Why did her being a medicine cat matter? Maybe Spottedleaf secretly was ashamed of them.

 

Thistleclaw loves us, Firepaw thought bitterly. He loves us and wants us, but he’s the one that’s been forced away from us.

 

A wave of guilt hit him. He knew his mother loved him too. He was lucky to have such loving parents. Darkpaw only had Willowpelt, and Runningpaw and Mousepaw’s parents were distant compared to Spottedleaf’s, Willowpelt’s, and Thistleclaw’s smothering love. He was lucky to have such parents.

 

Even if he had to have them in secret, unable to call either his parents openly.

 

Bluefur’s tail tip rested on his shoulder comfortingly and he sent a small smile up at her.

 

One of the apprentices, the she-cat, bounded forward before Firepaw could decide to respond to Dawnbright’s comment. “Hello Firepaw. I’m Mistypaw. It’s nice to meet another apprentice!”

 

Firepaw stuttered briefly, caught off guard from her cheeriness, before replying, “Likewise.”

 

Mistypaw purred, then gestured with her tail to the tom, who walked over. “And this is Stonepaw, my brother.”

 

Stonepaw scuffed his sister over the ear. “He would have heard Bluefur greeting us, you feather-brain.”

 

Both apprentices purred their laughter, warm and boisterous, and Firepaw found himself brightening in their presence. They seemed fun. Maybe RiverClan warriors weren’t so bad.

 

They’re helping my father, Firepaw remembered, suddenly with a blink. How could he forget? Thistleclaw said he was in RiverClan camp since ThunderClan kicked him out. I don’t think he’s a prisoner, either.

 

“Well, we ought to keep going before the sun turns into the moon,” Timberfur meowed. “See you at the next Gathering, Bluefur.” He raised his tail in a goodbye as he turned his patrol around.

 

“Hopefully we’ll see you too, Firepaw!” Mistypaw called out as she followed after her deputy.

 

“Bye,” Firepaw meowed, happy. The Gathering was fast approaching- maybe he could go! He glanced at his mentor. Bluefur had the same cold eyes she always did, her face stony, but when the RiverClan patrol was gone, her expression softened, a hidden warmth sparkling in her eyes.

 

“I thought RiverClan was our enemy,” Firepaw questioned her. But Mistypaw and Stonepaw seemed really nice, just like Cinderpaw!

 

“They are,” Bluefur responded. “But you can still treat the other clans with respect. At least we aren’t locked in battle with them like WindClan and ShadowClan are with each other right now, although I’m sure RiverClan will try to win back Sunningrocks sometime soon.” Bluefur turned around and flicked her tail. “Now, come on. We still have plenty of day left to practice hunting.”

 

Firepaw glanced back over the river one last time.

 

He wondered what RiverClan knew about his father, and if Thistleclaw was in RiverClan camp, right now. Was he thinking about Firepaw and his siblings? Was RiverClan treating him fairly?

 

Firepaw shook his head, dismissing his worries before running off after Bluefur before she called for him.

Chapter Text

Firepaw’s paws prickled with anticipation as he paced around his siblings. Lightningpaw lazed on her side, licking her paw as though disinterested, even though Firepaw knew she was the opposite. Airpaw was curled up against Copperpaw, his eyes wide and ears pricked as he stared at Sunstar’s den in Highrock. He and Copperpaw traded intrigued whispers. Similar to Firepaw, Creekpaw and Darkpaw were also shifting around, eyes bright.

 

“He’s coming!” Airpaw meowed when the ginger pelt of Sunstar slipped out of his den, his light gray brother, Featherwhisker, beside him, looking worried.

 

“You’re too sick,” Firepaw heard Featherwhisker murmur to Sunstar as they passed.

 

“I’m well enough to attend one Gathering,” Sunstar replied stubbornly.

 

So many cats are catching whitecough, Firepaw thought uneasily. First Chestnutkit and Larksong, now Cherrykit, Weedwhisker, Frostfur and even Sunstar. How long until it becomes greencough? With a shiver, he glanced at the medicine cat den, where the sick patients lay inside with his mother, Spottedleaf, tending to them. Chestnutkit and Larksong are the worst of them.

 

Sunstar raised his tail high and gathered the attention of his clanmates. “ThunderClan! For the Gathering tonight, all mentors and their apprentices will be going.”

 

Shocked gasps and whispers spread throughout the camp, and Firepaw felt a shiver run down his back. All of them? He didn’t know whether to feel honored or worried.

 

“Most of them haven’t even been apprentices for a moon yet!” one cat, Robinwing, yowled out.

 

“Can they be trusted to behave?” another, Dappletail, murmured with narrowed eyes, as her apprentice, Mousepaw, sat beside her with the same expression.

 

“By bringing all of our apprentices,” Sunstar began. “The other clans will see how much new blood ThunderClan has. They will see that our next generation will be powerful!” Firepaw raised his head proudly, puffing out his chest. They were powerful! Thistleclaw said they would be the best warriors in all of ThunderClan some day.

 

Speckletail padded forward with a low hiss in her throat. “Will even Lightningpaw be coming, despite her recent disobedience?” Lightningpaw glowered at her mentor, her claws curling into the ground, although she didn’t protest.

 

“Perhaps being surrounded by loyal clancats will show her how to act,” Sunstar meowed evenly, casting a cautious glance at Lightningpaw, who avoided his gaze. “Whitestorm and Willowpelt will come too, as well as Poppydawn and Smallear from the elders. The rest of you will guard camp. Sparrowpelt will be in charge.”

 

A few cats muttered to each other, but all listened to Sunstar, grouping together. Runningpaw ran up to Firepaw and Darkpaw, purring. “This is your first Gathering! Are you excited?”

 

“Of course!” Firepaw mrrow ed, tail high.

 

“It’s just a dumb Gathering,” Lightingpaw hissed, tail flicking back and forth. “Where we have to be nice to fat RiverClan and smelly ShadowClan.”

 

“You’re excited too!” Firepaw teased, playfully nudging her shoulder. “Don’t even try to hide it.”

 

“And don’t insult the other clans like that.” Creekpaw scowled. “They didn’t do anything.”

 

“RiverClan thinks they own Sunningrocks,” Lightningpaw snarled. “And ShadowClan is ShadowClan. Of course they ‘did something,’ mouse-brain.”

 

Firepaw frowned as his sisters fought again. Even as kits, they fought, but now it seemed like they were always at each other’s throats, looking for ways to insult the other.

 

“Apprentices.” Sunstar’s voice cut in as he padded forward, Bluefur and, to Firepaw’s surprise, Spottedleaf beside him. “You must not tell any cat the truth of your parentage at the Gathering. No RiverClan, ShadowClan, or WindClan cat must know that your mother is Spottedleaf or your father Thistleclaw.” Firepaw’s gaze went to the ground. He knew they had to keep it a secret, but it still hurt to hear it.

 

Lightningpaw huffed. “It doesn’t matter who our parents are. Why should other clans care?”

 

“Medicine cats can’t have kits,” Bluefur explained calmly. “If the other clans find out, they’ll call ThunderClan codebreakers and weak-hearted.”

 

“But remember that I love you all,” Spottedleaf meowed, stepping forward to touch her nose to a frowning Airpaw’s forehead. “And ThunderClan will never throw you out for the mistakes of your parents, so you’ll always have a place here.”

 

Lightningpaw was unconvinced, eyes narrowed as she finally sat up. “Why did Thistleclaw get exiled for that mistake, and not Spottedleaf as well, then?”

 

Spottedleaf ducked her head, looking away guiltily. Firepaw scowled at his sister for upsetting their mom, but Creekpaw was already swatting Lightningpaw’s ears with a hiss. Copperpaw was glaring at Lightningpaw too, but Airpaw had a frown on his face, glancing between his sister and brother. Darkpaw and Runningpaw awkwardly hung to the side, trading glances of their own.

 

But, as much as Firepaw was angry at Lightningpaw’s harsh words, he couldn’t help but agree with them. Why wasn’t Spottedleaf exiled for the same mistake too? Why did Thistleclaw get unfair treatment?

 

“Thistleclaw was not a kind warrior,” Bluefur answered, eyes narrowed as she stared firmly at Lightningpaw. “He tricked a young apprentice into loving him.”

 

Spottedleaf’s head jerked up as she protested, “They aren’t old enough to-”

 

Bluefur raised her tail slightly. “They’re old enough to know that they themselves are too young to have kits. Spottedleaf was only a few moons older than all of you when she birthed you.”

 

A silence washed over the apprentices. Firepaw couldn’t imagine having kits right now, and not even in a few moons. He still had so much to learn, so much time to become a warrior, time that he couldn’t imagine spent cooped up in the nursery instead. But did that mean Thistleclaw was wrong for loving Spottedleaf? For having kits with her? And why wouldn’t Spottedleaf just wait to have kits until she was older? And why would Thistleclaw be punished for Spottedleaf having kits while Spottedleaf wasn’t? Just because she was too young to have the kits? Firepaw couldn’t quite make sense of it.

 

“Of course we’ll keep it quiet,” Copperpaw meowed, face set in grim determination. He moved away from Airpaw to headbutt Spottedleaf’s shoulder. “I love you no matter what, mother.”

 

“Me too,” Creekpaw agreed, pressing her shoulder against Spottedleaf’s.

 

Despite his confusion, Firepaw knew he’d always love his mother too. He nodded with a small smile. Beside him, Airpaw and Lightningpaw remained silent. While Airpaw was frowning, his ears folded down, and looking as nervous as he always was, Lightningpaw’s fur was bristling. Her tail lashed back and forth for a moment before she spat out, “I guess you’re a good enough mother, but I don’t see why we can’t have a father too.”

 

She turned and stomped away, over to Mousepaw who greeted her warmly.

 

Firepaw stared after her, conflicted.

 


 

Firepaw’s ginger fur fluffed out in excitement as he followed after Bluefur and Tigerclaw, walking in stride next to Darkpaw. The moon’s silver glow seemed to make all the plants shine, and the water droplets gleamed on the stalks and stems, wetting his paws as he walked.

 

“Now remember.” Firepaw snapped his head towards Bluefur to listen to what she had to say. “You must be on your best behavior during the Gathering,” the blue-gray deputy lectured. “And you must not reveal any of ThunderClan’s secrets.” Me and my siblings are the only secrets ThunderClan has, Firepaw thought sullenly.

 

“Don’t worry!” Runningpaw cheerily meowed, bounding up to Firepaw’s other side. “I’ll make sure they don’t act up.” Firepaw scoffed and playfully shoved him.

 

“More like we need to make sure you don’t!” he purred.

 

“Hey!”

 

Firepaw laughed as Runningpaw swatted his shoulder, the skinny tom darting away when Firepaw tried to swipe him back. He shared a glance with Darkpaw beside him before attempting to chase after Runningpaw as the apprentice dropped into stride beside his sister, Mousepaw.

 

But Tigerclaw’s amber glare stopped them short, and he ducked his head, chastised without the powerful tom even saying anything. But those worries slid away from his mind as the ferns rustled and many scents hit his nose- ShadowClan and RiverClan and an unfamiliar, rabbit-y scent that Firepaw would bet a mouse tail was WindClan.

 

“We’re here,” Darkpaw murmured, his whiskers twitching as his yellow eyes were wide.

 

Firepaw pressed against his friend as they both followed after their mentors, and then their paws touched the land of Fourtrees and Firepaw stared in awe. So many cats! And with so many different scents. And the night sky above was filled with the stars of their ancestors shining down on them.

 

“Firepaw, Darkpaw!” Runningpaw called out. “Stick with me!”

 

Firepaw and Darkpaw trotted over to him, watching as Mousepaw took one look at them, sniffed disdainfully, and walked off into the crowd of cats. Lightningpaw was quick to streak after her. Airpaw and Copperpaw both paused as their sister left, but Airpaw only hesitated a moment before bolting off after Lightningpaw and Mousepaw.

 

“Airpaw, wait!” Copperpaw meowed, attempting to follow him, but the brown and white tom was already lost to the sea of cats. Copperpaw’s light ginger tabby pelt prickled uncomfortably before he padded over to Firepaw, Darkpaw, and Runningpaw, his head drooped and tail dragging miserably. “Airpaw doesn’t hang out with me as much anymore,” Copperpaw announced sadly.

 

The light brown tabby pelt of their sister, Creekpaw, appeared as she walked away from her mentor, Swiftbreeze. She rested her tail on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Copperpaw. Cats change as they get older. He’s just more independent.”

 

“But he’s hanging out with Lightningpaw now and she hates him!”

 

“Come on, hurry!” Runningpaw told the younger apprentices. He flicked his raised tail, running off into the crowd. Firepaw and Darkpaw followed at his heels, with Copperpaw and Creekpaw right behind them.

 

Firepaw kicked up some water droplets as Runningpaw yowled at them to hurry up, leading them over to where a cluster of young cats were hanging around. Firepaw’s ears pricked as he recognized Mistypaw and Stonepaw from RiverClan - but the others he didn’t know. A mottled dark brown tabby tom, a wiry gray tabby tom, a pale brown tabby tom, a broad-faced gray she-cat, and a tortoiseshell she-cat all smelled of rabbity WindClan.

 

“Hi there!” Runningpaw greeted the WindClan apprentices.

 

“Hi Runningpaw!” the gray she-cat meowed. She curiously tilted her head. “Who are they?” She pointed her tail to Firepaw, Creekpaw, and Copperpaw.

 

“This is Firepaw,” Runningpaw winded his way around them as Firepaw waved his tail. “His sister Creekpaw.” The brown tabby meowed a hello, her fluffy fur even more fluffed out in the cold. “And their brother Copperpaw.”

 

“Hi!” Copperpaw said, raising a paw in greeting.

 

“And you already know Darkpaw.” Runningpaw finished.

 

“Nice to see you again,” the dark tabby meowed, flicking an ear. He didn’t look all that excited to see them- at least, not as much Runningpaw was.

 

“I’m Ashpaw,” the gray she-cat meowed amicably. “This is my sister Morningpaw.” The tortoiseshell blinked friendly at them. “And our little brother Onepaw.” Her meow became teasing. The pale brown tabby tom flattened his ears and made a face at his sister. “These two mouse-brains are Mudpaw.” The mottled brown tom looked offended. “And Tornpaw.” The wiry gray tom snorted.

 

“Mouse-brain, yourself!” he meowed.

 

“And Firepaw already knows us!” Mistypaw meowed. 

 

Copperpaw blinked at his brother. “You do?”

 

Firepaw scuffed his paws against the wet grass. “Yeah, we met when Bluefur took me to the RiverClan border - they were patrolling.” For Creekpaw and Copperpaw’s sake, Mistypaw introduced herself and her brother.

 

Hey,” Runningpaw meowed, looking around. “Where’s Cinderpaw and Stumpypaw?” Firepaw’s ears pricked as he recognized the names of the ShadowClan apprentices he and Airpaw met. 

 

Morningpaw shrugged. “I saw Stumpypaw earlier, by his mentor - Brokentail,” she clarified for Firepaw and his siblings. “Don’t know where he’s at now.”

 

“Who’s Brokentail?” Copperpaw asked, pricking his ears interestedly. Firepaw found himself intrigued too.

 

“He’s Raggedstar’s son,” Mudpaw answered. He narrowed his eyes with distaste. “Over there.” He nodded at a broad-faced tom with dark fur and a scowl on his face, sitting in a crowd of ShadowClan cats. Creekpaw shivered.

 

“He looks nasty,” she quietly hissed. Onepaw slid up by Firepaw’s side.

 

“That’s something I agree on,” he muttered, giving a sideways glare to the dark tom. Firepaw nodded. Brokentail looked creepy with his sharp amber eyes and permanently kinked tail.

 

“I heard he became a warrior early,” Ashpaw meowed, frowning in the same direction as Onepaw.

 

“Really?” Darkpaw asked, surprise lighting up his features. “Why?”

 

“No idea,” Onepaw replied.

 

“Probably favoritism,” Mudpaw drawled with a disdainful sniff. “His father is clan leader. Wouldn’t surprise me if his daddy pulled a few strings to get his way.” He sneered in the ShadowClan warrior’s direction. Firepaw stiffened as Brokentail caught Mudpaw’s look and curled his lip in their direction. Creekpaw slowly pressed herself against Firepaw’s side, a little bit of fear in her green eyes.

 

“Well,” Runningpaw, in his typical rambunctious mood, completely oblivious to WindClan’s antagonism with the ShadowClan warrior, interrupted. “Guess who’s gonna be a warrior next Gathering!” He puffed out his chest proudly.

 

“Only if you pass your assessment,” Mistypaw said with a roll of her eyes. “And we’ll be warriors too by then.” She bumped Stonepaw’s shoulder with her own, grinning.

 

“I overheard Oakheart tell our mentors they should assess us this quarter-moon!” Stonepaw meowed with shining eyes.

 

“Just don’t drown when you go to catch some fish,” Tornpaw rumbled with a flick of his tail. He shook his pelt out as a chilly breeze passed by. “I don’t understand how you RiverClan cats can stand swimming in this cold weather.”

 

“I don’t understand why RiverClan cats swim at all!” Creekpaw meowed with wide eyes. “Rivers are awful.” Firepaw felt a wave of sympathy for his sister- he didn’t like rivers much either, and she was the one who fell in one.

 

“And wet,” Copperpaw added, sticking out his tongue.

 

The apprentices around him laughed and purred, amused. “Of course they’re wet!” Morningpaw chuckled. “They’re rivers!”

 

Firepaw snapped his attention to the Great Rock, startled, when a yowl sounded from its top. A big dark tabby stood, commanding attention. He looks a bit like Brokentail, Firepaw observed, glancing between the two toms. I’m guessing it’s Raggedstar. The ShadowClan leader then called;

 

“Let the Gathering begin!”

Chapter Text

Firepaw glanced back at Runningpaw only to find him padding quickly back towards the ThunderClan cats, sitting down next to his mentor, Fuzzypelt. Firepaw watched as the RiverClan and WindClan apprentices slinked away too with only flicks of their tail tips as goodbyes. He traded a glance with Copperpaw before following after Darkpaw as the dark tabby tom walked towards Tigerclaw. Copperpaw and Creekpaw broke off to sit next to Lionheart and Swiftbreeze. Firepaw paused for a moment, searching for his mentor before finding her sitting amongst the deputies.

 

Oh right, he remembered. Bluefur sat next to a dark brown tabby tom, her fur prickling as the bright-eyed tom murmured something to her. Two other cats sat on the other sides of them, but there was no Timberfur, to Firepaw’s confusion. Where do I sit now?

 

Firepaw blinked as he saw Willowpelt bashfully pull away from a gray tabby tom among the ShadowClan cats. The tom winked at her as she walked away, smiling. Willowpelt settled down on Whitestorm’s other side, and Whitestorm purred a friendly greeting towards her. After a moment of indecision, Firepaw followed her lead and sat between Darkpaw and Whitestorm. Whitestorm smiled at Firepaw, giving him a small nod. Firepaw ducked his head, though, when Tigerclaw sent a cold glare his way from the other side of Darkpaw. Lightningpaw was sitting on the other side of Tigerclaw, yet he didn’t seem to mind. Why did cats like Mousepaw and Tigerclaw not mind Lightningpaw, but hated Firepaw and his other siblings?

 

Firepaw stared up at the leaders on the Great Rock, a shiver of awe alongside the cold making his fur prickle along his spine. He knew who Sunstar was, of course, and Raggedstar of ShadowClan was right beside him. But who were the other two leaders?

 

“Who are the other leaders?” Firepaw whispered to Darkpaw. Darkpaw’s ear twitched and he opened his muzzle to respond, but Tigerclaw’s hiss cut him off.

 

“You ought to be able to figure that out yourself, Fire kit, ” the powerful tabby hissed in a low voice, glaring at him. Firepaw shrank down, shame washing over his pelt. “Now be quiet as the leaders are speaking.”

 

“Brightflower has birthed two healthy kits,” Raggedstar was meowing, loud and proud, from the top of the Great Rock. “And we welcome two new warriors to ShadowClan this Gathering- Cinderfur and Stumpytail.”

 

Cheers and yowls broke out through Fourtrees as the clancats chanted the new warriors’ names. Firepaw was quick to add his voice to the calls, happy for Cinderfur, who had been kind to him on his first day. “Cinderfur! Stumpytail!”

 

As the calls died down, Raggedstar bowed his head to an older cat beside him. The black and white tom moved forward, his limbs as long as his tail. Firepaw guessed he was the WindClan leader, Tallstar, as his pelt was so smooth from the wind and his body so thin from running. Firepaw couldn’t imagine living on the open moors, having to chase rabbits instead of stalk mice.

 

“The rabbits are running as fast as ever in WindClan,” Tallstar began in a sage voice. “But my warriors run faster.” Amused purrs were heard throughout the warriors, and Firepaw smiled too. He liked Tallstar- he didn’t seem or look as mean as Raggedstar or the brown tom with a broken jaw beside him. Firepaw would bet that was Crookedstar of RiverClan. “Our kits are well-fed and growing quickly, and our borders are well-guarded from any threats.” Tallstar’s eyes narrowed as he threw a glance back at Raggedstar, who stared coldly back at him. “That is all from WindClan this moon. Sunstar?”

 

The bright ginger tom coughed, looking weary and sickly next to the other clan leaders. But he stepped forward with purpose and raised his chin high as he announced ThunderClan’s news. “ThunderClan is growing big and strong, with five new apprentices in our midst.” Firepaw raised his head proudly, and saw his siblings do the same next to their mentors. He glanced at the other clans, and saw some cats staring enviously or curiously at the group of ThunderClan cats. He made eye contact with Mistypaw, who smiled and waved her tail at him. “Their mentors are training them into fine warriors every day. And our prey is running excellent, with plenty for our growing numbers.” He let the declaration hang before he stepped back, nodding to Crookedstar. The brown tom with a broken jaw stepped forward, powerful muscles rippling underneath his pelt.

 

“We have tragic news,” Crookedstar began. “Timberfur’s old age has caught up to him, and he passed in his sleep. He’s in StarClan now.” He bowed his head, and Firepaw did the same, sad to hear the kind deputy had passed. He hadn’t looked at all as old as the elders, and he hadn’t looked sick either. “RiverClan’s new deputy is Oakheart.” The brown tabby tom was seated next to Bluefur, his chest fur puffed out, but Bluefur’s gaze stayed away from the tom, unlike the other deputies who murmured quiet congratulations to the RiverClan tom. “And we have a new warrior residing in RiverClan camp.” Crookedstar’s amber eyes narrowed, glancing back at Sunstar. Unease prickled at Firepaw’s pelt as a sense of foreboding lurched over him.

 

“I didn’t think any of RiverClan’s apprentices were ready to be warriors,” Willowpelt murmured naively to Whitestorm. Around Fourtrees, other cats whispered to their clanmates, intrigued.

 

“I don’t think it was an apprentice,” Whitestorm replied with a more suspicious tone, his yellow eyes narrowed. “Why would he phrase it like that otherwise?”

 

“I didn’t think RiverClan was in the habit of taking in strays,” Willowpelt meowed back. Firepaw glanced to his other side, at Darkpaw and Tigerclaw. Darkpaw traded a confused look with him, while Tigerclaw was staring straight forward, right at Crookedstar, as though he could hear the tom’s next words.

 

“We have taken Thistleclaw into our ranks.”

 

The cats of ThunderClan leaped to their paws, fur bristling as they erupted into yowls. “How dare you!” Swiftbreeze’s voice rose above them. “He’s a traitor!”

 

“He’s a wretched cat!” Willowpelt meowed, although her voice was almost frightful. Whitestorm glanced sympathetically at her, putting his tail on her back. Firepaw himself was shocked. ThunderClan truly didn’t think that badly of his father, did they? He knew some cats, like Tigerclaw, still respected the tom, but surely Whitestorm did too? He was Thistleclaw’s son too! He knew how great Thistleclaw was! Right? Right?

 

Even though everyone in ThunderClan was unsettled, it seemed only Tigerclaw, Darkpaw, Firepaw, Lightningpaw, Airpaw, Speckletail, and Poppydawn weren’t calling him a horrible traitor.

 

From another clan, some cat shouted, “The exiled ThunderClan warrior?”

 

Firepaw blinked, startled. The other clans knew Thistleclaw was exiled? He thought that was ThunderClan’s secret. Whitestorm leaned down to Firepaw, seeming to notice his confusion. He whispered in his ear, “When Thistleclaw was first exiled, Sunstar announced it to the clans, but never explained why he was exiled.”

 

“What is the meaning of this?!” Sunstar hissed, facing Crookedstar with a snarl. “Why would you be so foolish as to take an exiled cat into your ranks?”

 

Crookedstar stared cooly back at him, his fur smooth and unbothered. “Thistleclaw was exiled from ThunderClan, not the other clans.”

 

Sunstar growled, his claws sliding out as his tail lashed. Was he going to fight Crookedstar? Firepaw’s heart pounded inside of his chest, and he glanced up at the starry sky. Was StarClan going to cover the moon?

 

But Tallstar stepped forward, placing a paw between Sunstar and Crookedstar. “Perhaps if you told us why he was exiled, Crookedstar would know not to treat him with such hospitality?”

 

Sunstar stayed still, glaring at Crookedstar with bristling fur. Raggedstar watched the other leaders with unhidden curiosity. He prompted, “Yes, that would be helpful.”

 

Firepaw glanced at the medicine cats as he saw them whisper amongst themselves. Spottedleaf seemed so small, curled up between Featherwhisker and a dark gray she-cat with a smushed face. She was almost as small as how Firepaw remembered her when he was just a moon-old kit and she was still named Spottedpaw. Featherwhisker placed his tail on Spottedleaf’s back, and she looked up at him with worried eyes. The dark gray she-cat beside her leaned down to mutter something in her ear, which Spottedleaf nodded at. Firepaw wished he could run up and know what they were saying, as well as curl up beside his mother. Did the other medicine cats know about Spottedleaf’s secret?

 

He looked back up to see Sunstar’s fur smoothing. The ThunderClan leader turned back to the clans, and announced, “The Gathering is over.”

 

Warriors murmured and yowled protests, but Sunstar was already leaping down the Great Rock, and Crookedstar was following close behind. Sunstar raised his tail and called, “ThunderClan! To me.” Firepaw scrambled to his paws, his heart still beating wildly inside his chest. His father was in RiverClan, but he wasn’t just their prisoner, but their warrior! And now the rest of the clans knew! What would happen?!

 

Firepaw stuck to Darkpaw’s side until he saw Bluefur, then he ran up to her, weaving around his clanmates, until he was beside her. “Why didn’t Sunstar say why Thistleclaw was exiled?” he demanded, confused.


“The other clans would see fault in Spottedleaf instead of Thistleclaw,” Bluefur responded evenly. Just like some ThunderClan cats… Firepaw thought glumly. He frowned as he and his clanmates began their trek back to camp. I can’t find fault in Spottedleaf or Thistleclaw...is Spottedleaf being too young the reason Thistleclaw was exiled? But Willowpelt had Darkpaw a moon before us… Firepaw’s ears twitched in frustrated, green eyes flashing in puzzlement. Why is everything so confusing?

Chapter Text

Firepaw bowed his head down, pelt brushing against Creekpaw’s, who sat beside him. Sandkit sat on his other side, eyes wide. She was nearly as big as him now. The entire clan was in camp, circling the bodies of Weedwhisker and Chestnutkit. Weedwhisker had died this morning, but Chestnutkit had passed moments before Weedwhisker’s vigil had begun. Robinwing had been devastated, losing her father and son in one day. Even Fuzzypelt hadn’t protested when Patchpelt rested beside her, comforting her, saddened by the loss of his own kit too.

 

“Weedwhisker lived a long and happy life, surrounded by his clanmates since his first breath and until his last,” Featherwhisker meowed. He sniffed, but not from sadness, but from the sickness taking a hold of him, too. Sunstar was beside him, just as sick. It made Firepaw feel a sense of dread and worry at his clan being so weakened. What if WindClan decided to attack for no reason? “As a warrior, he was always at the front of battle, wanting to protect his clanmates even in the face of his own demise.”

 

Speckletail stepped forward, head dipped. “He was the greatest mentor. He taught me everything I know. And he always loved to make cats smile on their darkest days.” She glanced at Robinwing, allowing her a chance to speak, but Robinwing just wailed and pressed her face into Patchpelt’s shoulder. On her other side, Fuzzypelt rested his tail on his mate’s back, although his shoulder fur was bristling as he stared at Patchpelt.

 

“Chestnutkit had a bright life ahead of him,” Fuzzypelt began instead, eyes full of grief for the son he still loved despite Robinwing’s affair. “May he rest peacefully in StarClan now.”

 

“May he rest peacefully in StarClan now,” some ThunderClan warriors echoed, Firepaw among them. He had loved playing mossball with Chestnutkit. After a moment of silence, Firepaw saw Lightningpaw turn around and head back to the apprentices’ den. Airpaw followed after her immediately, while Copperpaw chased after his brother. He glanced back at the warriors, and saw a few like Tigerclaw and White-eye slink away to their den. Firepaw slowly stood up, the cold making his body ache. He shook out his pelt as Creekpaw stood up beside him. Nearby, Darkpaw, Runningpaw, and Mousepaw rose to their paws too.

 

“Let’s leave their family to mourn for them,” Firepaw murmured into Creekpaw’s ear, who nodded. They and the other apprentices made their way quietly to their den.

 

“Spottedleaf once said it was a bad omen to have two deaths in one night,” Creekpaw whispered, her pelt prickling. A shiver ran down his spine, ears flattening. He curled up in his nest, feeling Creekpaw and Darkpaw settled down beside him. He shut his eyes closed, feeling melancholy.

 

When he opened them, he was in the familiar land of the Dark Forest. A thrill of excitement and relief washed through him. He could see his father now! He hadn’t seen him in so long. And Mapleshade too!

 

Lightningpaw was already there, sitting coolly in front of Firepaw and washing her paw nonchalantly. Creekpaw was right behind Firepaw and he purred at his sisters, raising his tail. Then he noticed Thistleclaw padding towards them and burst forward to greet his father.

 

Thistleclaw smiled at him, touching his nose to his forehead. “It’s so nice to see you, my kits.”

 

“You haven’t brought us to train for so long,” Lightningpaw immediately complained, glaring at Thistleclaw.

 

Thistleclaw blinked apologetically. “I had other business to attend to.”

 

“So we’re just business?” Creekpaw muttered under her breath. Thistleclaw stepped towards her, dipping his head to the side.

 

“No, of course not.”

 

Firepaw glanced between Thistleclaw and Creekpaw before blurting out, “Why are you a RiverClan warrior now?” His ears flattened as he stared worriedly at his father. “You said you were just seeking safety in RiverClan. That you were still a ThunderClan warrior at heart!”

 

“I couldn’t be a prisoner forever,” Thistleclaw said in a long meow. “I’m a warrior, and one day, a leader.” Firepaw blinked at that. His father, a leader one day? But how did he know? Would ThunderClan ever welcome him back? “But I’ll always love ThunderClan.”

 

“I think it’s ridiculous that you were exiled in the first place!” Lightningpaw hissed, eyes flashing with indignation. Thistleclaw ran his tail down her flank.

 

“You are correct,” he agreed, sighing. “But it’s not my place to decide who is and isn’t exiled.”

 

“Sunstar is a mouse-brain!” Lightingpaw spat.

 

Creekpaw gasped. “Don’t speak of our leader like that!” Lightningpaw rolled her eyes at Creekpaw’s chiding. Firepaw glanced between them, uneasy to see their rivalry catch fire once more.

 

“Enough bickering you two,” Thistleclaw meowed, placing his white paw between his daughters,  who were glaring darkly at each other. “Show me how well your skills have improved.”

 

“Where’s Mapleshade?” Lightningpaw asked, tearing her gaze from her heated staring contest with Creekpaw, her gaze flickering around the murky forest. Thistleclaw paused, then meowed;

 

“She’s catching up with an old… friend.” Lightningpaw looked slightly crest-fallen. Out of the three of them, she got the best along with the old tortoiseshell. Firepaw himself felt slightly uncomfortable around the fading queen. There was something about her that was slightly off-putting.

 

“We’ll use claws unsheathed this time,” Thistleclaw instructed them. Firepaw saw Creekpaw frown at that, and shared her feeling of unease and nervousness. He still remembered the time he accidentally scratched Sandkit with a rush of shame. “But don’t dig them in too deep. I don’t want you to wake up with an injury you can’t explain to your clanmates.”

 

Without missing a beat, Lightningpaw leaped for Creekpaw. The brown tabby immediately whirled around to face her, ducking under Lightningpaw’ swiping claws and snaking under her belly. Lightingpaw sprang up to avoid Creekpaw’s kick, swiping and leaving a scratch on her sister’s cheek. Firepaw jumped forward as Creekpaw reeled back, aiming for his dark tortoiseshell sister’s side. He yowled in triumph as he collided with Lightingpaw, sending them both tumbling over each other. He heard Lightningpaw hiss in pain, looking furious that he had caught her off-guard in front of their father, and sprang onto his back. Firepaw blinked as she dug her claws in, and before he knew it she had shoved him to the ground. Creekpaw, seeing her brother struggling, dove in to help and tore Lightingpaw off him. Firepaw scrambled up, wincing from where Lightingpaw had dug her claws in - a little too deep , he noted - and sprang to help his tabby sister. He paused when he saw Creekpaw had managed to wrestle Lightingpaw to the ground. Lightingpaw struggled under her sister, snarling in frustration as she couldn’t get free.

 

“Alright Lightningpaw,” Thistleclaw called. “You’re out.” Lightningpaw flattened her ears, shooting a furious look at Creekpaw as she was allowed up, stalking across to Thistleclaw to sit by him and watch as her defeater and Firepaw began circling each other. Firepaw noticed Creekpaw was breathing heavily, and seemed to favor her right front leg. Her left front leg must be sprained, Firepaw thought, eyes narrowing. If I can swipe it out from under her, I can pin her to the ground! He crept forward, prowling closer to his sister. She let out a playful hiss as he neared, an amused glint in her eyes. Whenever they were one-on-one, it was clearly friendly sparring, and no hard feelings from them - it was the complete opposite between Creekpaw and Lightingpaw though. Firepaw and Lightingpaw were competitive, but not on the level his sisters were together.

 

“Watcha gonna do Firepaw?” Creekpaw teased, crouching down. “You’re not a mouse, why are you creeping around like one?” Firepaw wrinkled his nose at her.

 

“Surprise is a warrior’s greatest weapon,” Firepaw meowed, - almost there - quoting one of Lionheart’s favorite words of advice. “Why would I tell you?” Creekpaw shifted her right paw, and Firepaw felt like he just confirmed his suspicions. Her left paw was sprained. Time to enact his plan. Firepaw met her eyes, then, without missing a beat, swiped a paw at her left leg. He had a momentarily thrill of triumph before Creekpaw pounced, smoothly dodging his blow, and pinning him to the forest floor.

 

“Creekpaw wins.” Thistleclaw announced. Firepaw leaped up, blinking as he realized what Creekpaw’s plan had been - to fake him out. He tilted his head at his sister, giving her an exasperated look.

 

“Really? You had to trick me?” he mewed, whiskers twitching. Creekpaw licked her chest, amusement once more dancing in her green eyes.

 

“Knew you’ll fall for it!” she teased. Firepaw gave a good-natured huff.

 

“Next time,” he declared.

 

“We’ll see!” Creekpaw purred.

 

I wouldn’t have fallen for that!” Lightningpaw’s critical yowl broke their good mood. Thistleclaw placed his tail over her mouth.

 

“I’m sure we’ve all learned something tonight,” he meowed, looking prideful. “You all did very well.” Firepaw’s ears pricked at his father’s praise, happy despite his loss to Creekpaw. His sister looked like she was proud, but also troubled at their father’s words. Lightingpaw had dropped her head, claws scoring across the ground in frustration as a low growl came from her throat.