Iceleaf: I actually thought of doing one-shots like that, and in this story, but I liked the way this epilogue worked out. Thanks for the enchilada! -nummy- xD

Cinnamonpool: aww c'mon, you still want to kill me? Last chapter wasn't even a cliffie! -hides from flaming pitchfork-

Lakeshadow: evil person for avoiding the cliffies. Don't bite your nails, I learned from, uh, experience... T.T

Loup D'Amour: ooh, I definitely will keep writing. -feeds the plot bunnies running around in my head- they're so cute when they nibble on their carrots like that...

Minty: yay, someone who doesn't want to kill me! -glomp- glad you like the conversation. I think it was my favorite too. xD

Twitchtail13: I know, right? Sadly, it's true... but don't worry, it's not the end, it's just the end of the beginning!

dragonqueenc: -snuffle- how could I kill Smokepaw? -huggles- I think it's just not possible. ;)

jenny: if you want to write fan fiction, that's great! Just get a story idea - a good idea, not like "blank is in love with blank aaaaagh what do we do?" plan out the plot - and then write it! But make sure you have proper grammar, spelling, capitalization, etc., otherwise some people (i.e. me) won't be able to read it. Good luck! :)

Gethernia: I've also always found songs annoying, but... they're easy enough to avoid and skip over. It was an experiment, and yeah, it's just for that chapter. Thanks for the feedback. :)

Rockclaw: "Smoke-Lots of sharp ice!" -rolls on the floor laughing- Smoke: hey, I'm dead! You can't laugh at me! Me: -shrug- sorry. -continues laughing- xP

Tanglepelt of ShadowClan: it's okay you came in late, you're here now! Thanks for joining the party! ;)

Epilogue

Nine Moons Later

"Tell us a story, Uncle Wood."

The black and brown furred trainee's bright amber eye was wide as ever as he curled up against his uncle.

The tortoiseshell she-cat sitting next to him shot him a reproachful glare. "Stop being so kit-like, Owl. We're going to become fighters tomorrow."

The dusty-brown tom sitting between them purred with amusement. He gazed out at the stars from the icy ledge they sat on, giving them a view for hundreds of foxlengths around of the powdery snow sparkling in the moonlight. "It's alright, Bracken. Stories aren't kit-like. They're exciting and fun, and need to be told. That's why they're called stories." He laid his head in his paws. "What story do you want to hear?"

"The Great Battle," Owl chirped excitedly, his single eye sparkling bright as the snow. "Smokepelt said it happened in these cliffs."

A smiled flittered through Wood's eyes. "That's right." He inhaled deeply. "So, shall I start from the beginning?"

Owl nodded eagerly, and Bracken gave a flick of her tail, but her uncle could tell she was excited. She sat down next to him and rested her muzzle on his back, settling in for a long story.

Wood lifted his head to gaze upwards into the cliffs. "It all started when this cat fell out of the sky..."

The two trainees, soon to be fighters, listened in awe to their uncle's tale. From Leaf's fall into the Freezepool, his exile with Smokepaw from Water Tribe, to the capture by Ice Tribe. From the trainees of Water Tribe who set out to rescue them, to the daring rebels of Ice Tribe who lived with their lives on the line. He recited the battles etched in his mind, the struggles engraved in his heart. And he went on, to more than the storyline.

He told them about Frost, the stoic yet kind herb cat the two trainees knew so well as Frost root, as the icy and friendless herb trainee who fought his trainer to the death and was dragged out of his isolated shell.

He told them about Willow, a cat so like himself, who the two trainees knew as a mentor and friend, as the spark who was always bright and optimistic in their darkest times.

He told them about Leaf, a cat the two trainees thought of as a mother figure, as the annoying little trainee who had found a protective fondness for the cats she had once hated, and learned to be a loyal friend.

He told them about Dark, the brave leader who stood up against the world for what he believed in and what was right, and who died for the future of those he loved.

He told them about Raccoon and Creek, who had died side by side fighting for their cause.

He told them about Flake, the kind-hearted tom who tried to see the best in everyone, and fought bravely against his will.

He told them about Reed, whom they knew as deputy of Ice Tribe, as the fiery-tempered fighter who let his emotions get the best of him, but whose heart lay in the right place in the end.

He told them about Tawny, the quiet she-cat who stole his heart.

At this, Owl interrupted. "How did you fall in love with Tawny, Uncle Wood?"

"Shut up, Owl!" Bracken scolded. "Let Uncle Wood finish!"

Wood shook his head fondly. "No, it's alright. I'll tell you..."

x

"How's your paw?" Wood asked, gently licking the torn flesh as they sat beside the fresh kill pile.

Tawny shook her head, blinking back a flood of tears. "Adder... she tried... but... she..." she sobbed into his fur. "She said I'd never be able to walk on it again."

"What? That's not such a big deal," Wood meowed, conjuring a casual, upbeat appearance despite his disappointment. "You'll still be able to walk on your other three paws, maybe even run, and hunt -"

"No, I can't," she sniffed. "I... I don't know how..."

"So? You can learn." His eyes sparkled. "I'll teach you."

She looked up at him with awe-struck, brilliant green eyes. "Really?" she whispered.

"Really really."

x

"You really taught her how to run and hunt again, Uncle Wood?"

"Obviously, Owl. You've seen her."

Wood laughed softly. "Yeah... it was while I was teaching her, that..."

x

She tripped, only to fall into Wood's sturdy side. "You alright?" his breath was warm in her ear. Her own breath caught in her throat.

"Y-yeah..." she stumbled back to her paws. The dusty-brown furred tom opened his mouth to speak. At first, no words came out, as if he was on mute, but he found his voice and forced out the words.

"Tawny... I uh..." he choked on the words, as if he had swallowed them too fast. "I..." he paused. "Smokepelt told me - no, that's not right..." Tawny gazed at him expectantly, her eyes wide and confused. "Well, uh... I'm... just awkward, you know?"

Tawny shook her head obliviously. She didn't know.

"Erm... never mind, then." Wood meowed, and they kept on walking. Tawny tried to forget the odd exchange, but the stammered, broken sentence kept playing over and over again in her mind. And she couldn't help but think how adorable he was when he stammered, when he looked as confused as she did, when his bright eyes widened. He had a sense of innocence, even after everything he'd been through, and his heart remained set on peace and kindness. It was her favorite quality of his, one they shared.

She remembered Leopardsnow telling her she ought to say something to him. You've liked him since the start, the leader of Ice Tribe told her. You should tell him so.

She supposed she might as well give it a try. "Wood..." he turned his head to her. "I... wanted to..." she suddenly realized she had no idea how to say what she wanted to. "I just... think... Leopardsnow..." she paused. "Never mind..." But she couldn't leave it alone. He would be willing to forget about the awkward moments, to move on and forget, but she couldn't just forget. She had to act.

"I like you!" she blurted out, then buried her muzzle in the snow in embarrassment. "Sorry, sorry..."love you."

"No, it's okay," Wood whispered, his tail resting on her shoulder. "I... I like you too." He paused. "No, I don't like you." Tawny looked up at him with hurt confusion. "I don't like you - I think I

Her eyes widened. "Wood..."

x

"Eww, lovey-dovey," Owl snorted.

"Owl!" Bracken snapped. "Stop interrupting!"

"It's okay." Wood chuckled softly. "I still need to finish the original story, remember?"

"But what about Tawny?" Bracken persisted.

Wood shrugged. "She decided to stay with me in Water Tribe. And -"

"Did you make kits?" Owl interrupted.

"Fishbrain." Bracken looked at him like he was an idiotic newborn. "Do you see Uncle Wood and Tawny with any kits?"

"No, I mean, did you, you know, the process of making kits -"

"Eww, Owl, shut up!"

"Err, anyways, on with the story..."

He led them on a riveting trail to the final battle, where Dark had squared off against Stoneice in front of every cat in the Snowlands, and Mud - their father - had tried to kill him. And he'd been saved by Smoke, his own brother, who then also tried to kill him - who had killed the two kits' mother and their sibling as well. But Smokepaw came to the rescue, and the two of them began the fight that determined all of their fates.

"Wait, why are you calling him Smokepaw?" asked Owl. "You're talking about Smokepelt, right?"

Wood nodded. "Well, it has to do with this tradition from the Clans Smokepelt came from..."

x

Smokepaw watched with pride for his friends, but an underlying sense of envy as they all went through their fighter ceremonies and became full-fledged fighters of their Tribes. The new leaders of the two Tribes had decided to hold the fighter ceremonies for the trainees who had participated in the battle together, and both Tribes were gathered at the battle site for the occasion. Frostroot was the last to step down from the tree-branch; he had gone up a trainee, and come down the official herb cat of Water Tribe. He calmly sat beside his friend Adderroot, who had just become the herb cat of Ice Tribe.

As Willow and Leaf eagerly accepted nose-touches of congratulations, Wood noticed his friend brooding off to the side. He approached him subtly, slipping away from the crowd.

"What's wrong, Smokepaw?" he asked softly.

Smokepaw sighed. Wood was the only one he would ever confide in with information about the land he'd come from. "Back home, in my Clan... when an apprentice - trainee - was of age, they'd have a warrior - fighter - ceremony, like you do, and receive their warrior name." He looked forlornly down at the ground. "I'd always dreamed of getting my warrior name, but...I'll never have a warrior ceremony like you guys to begin with, let alone get a name."

Wood felt and understood his friend's sorrow, but an idea sparked inside him. "Who says you never will?" he meowed quietly.

And so Wood, because he was Wood, managed to set up a warrior ceremony for Smokepaw. Every cat from each Tribe came from across the Snowlands to see the formal recognition of the cat who had saved them all. After a long discussion with Leopardsnow, leader of Ice Tribe, who had devised a speech to give, and help from Smokepaw, Wood had come up with his friend's warrior name.

Something simple, not overly dramatic, Smokepaw had instructed. Wood nodded - he had the name in mind.

"You came from another land, but your courage and bravery saved our Tribes and brought peace to our land," meowed Leopardsnow in front of the cats of the Snowlands. "A cat of your caliber, of such determination and grit, deserves to become a fighter like every trainee. In accordance with the traditions of your homeland, we have decided to do your ceremony as they would have."

Smokepaw's eyes positively glowed. He had been waiting for this all his life, and the happiness that radiated around him warmed Wood to the core.

"Smokepaw. Do you promise to uphold the ideals you live by, which include honestly, loyalty, peace, and love of your friends and allies?"

"I do."

"Then I give you your Warrior name. From this day forth you shall be known as Smokepelt."

"Smokepelt! Smokepelt!" Wood, Willow and Leaf chanted, and the other cats caught on. The chant spread like a ripple in water, buzzing across the snowdrifts.

"Smokepelt! Smokepelt! Smokepelt!" Smokepelt had never felt such joy in all his moons of life in ShadowClan or the Snowlands, never before felt so purely alive.

x

"That's so cool!" Owl chirped. "I'll have to ask Smokepelt about his homeland some time..."

"Stop interrupting, fishbrain!" Bracken scolded.

"Uncle Wood was finished!"

"Not with the whole story!"

"No, Owl has a point," Wood meowed in his crippled nephew's defense. The torn ear rose with glee, his one eye brightening. The other eye remained horribly empty, a slitted socket, but by now Wood had gotten used to the small tom's appearance. "You would probably find out some really cool stuff from Smokepelt. Did you know that our modern Tribes were formed on the basis of his Clans?"

"Really?" the two trainees chorused.

"Yeah. After the war, it was Smokepelt who proposed a new system of governing in the Tribes, and new names for the leaders. The two leaders had only just been chosen - Leopard from Ice Tribe, and Pine from Water Tribe. He had them choose formal deputies - not informal second in commands, but actual deputies, recognized as next in line for leadership."

"Like Leaf and Reed?" asked Bracken. Wood nodded.

"Pine chose Cypress, and Leopard chose Reed. Cypress stepped down recently to join the elders, as you know, which is when Leaf became deputy."

"What about the leaders' names?" asked Bracken.

"Leopard was open to suggestions," Wood continued. "Both accepted deputies, but names were an issue. To be honest, Leopard really didn't want to carry the title of Ice on the end of her name, seeing as it came with such a history of tyranny. That's how they used to do it, you know - the leader of Ice Tribe had -ice on their name, and the leader of Water Tribe had -water. Well, Pine wanted to become Pinewater, but Leopard and Smokepaw talked her out of it, and decided that they should each take the same name, as a sign of peace and agreement. After much debate..." Wood grimaced as he remembered just how much debate. "They settled on -snow."

Bracken wrinkled her nose. "Pinesnow's always difficult. She's an annoying leader anyways."

Wood shrugged; he couldn't deny it. But Pines now was also an honorable cat, and the dusty-brown fighter felt compelled to defend his leader. "Yes, she is rather stubborn and haughty, but she truly is a good cat, and a strong leader," he meowed.

"I like Leopardsnow better," Owl grumbled.

Wood's tail swayed in agreement. "Leopardsnow's just an all-around great cat. You're lucky to know her, and that relationships are so good between the Tribes. It's only because of that that Leopardsnow visits so often, and you get to visit Ice Tribe."

Bracken waved it off. "Everyone visits Ice Tribe, Uncle Wood. A moon there is required before becoming a fighter, remember?"

"You're lucky kits. You have no idea."

None of them mentioned Owl's lack of an eye and an ear, or Amber and Mud's death. Because both trainees had been too young to remember the horror, and knew how lucky they truly were.

They sat in a pleasant silence for awhile, gazing calmly at the stars and moonlit snow. After a while, Bracken broke the silence with a quiet mew. "What happened to Smokepelt and Leaf, Uncle Wood?"

Wood's eyes clouded. "What do you mean?" he asked, as if he really did know.

Bracken rolled her sharp brown eyes. "It's obvious Leaf likes him, Uncle Wood. I know they're good friends, but... it seems like there was once something more."

Owl gave her a confused, oblivious look. "Bracken, sometimes you make no sense."

Wood shook his head. "No, Bracken's right. Let me explain something to you. Smokepelt has... twisted emotions, for lack of a better word. It was right when he woke up..."

x

Smokepaw woke to a faint light, and two pairs of eyes staring down at him. As his vision cleared, he could make out one as ice-blue and the other as bright green.

He groaned, suddenly painfully aware of the gash in his hind leg and the scrapes littering his pelt. A sharp pain his side made him gasp, but then he felt a something cool being pressed onto it. "Wh...where am I?" he croaked.

"He's awake!" the green-eyed cat meowed excitedly.

"Shhh! Give him some breathing room!" the ice-eyed cat scolded.

Smokepaw blinked, his mind slowly registering the two cats as Frost and Leaf. "You're still out in the middle of the Snowlands," meowed Leaf. "Frost didn't want to move you till you woke up. He had us running back and forth all week bringing food, water, cobwebs..."

Frost rolled his eyes, but Smokepaw took no notice. He'd tuned out after "all week". "How long've I been out?" he rasped.

"Seven days," meowed Frost gravely. "One week."

"We thought you weren't going to make it," Leaf murmured.

"No we didn't. I knew you were going to live," Frost snapped. "I made sure everything -"

"I know, Frost," whispered Leaf. "You did everything, you were sure. But... there was still doubt..."

Amidst their bickering, Smokepaw tried to push himself to his paws, only to collapse weakly back to the ground.

"Smokepaw! Don't try to stand!" Leaf mewled, rushing to his side.

Frost rolled his eyes. "I remember when Wood first brought you to Water Tribe," he mused. "You tried to escape, I tried to stop you, and you were so stubborn -"

"And then Wood tackled and landed on top of you," Leaf added with an amused grin.

Frost glared at her. "Because he was a clumsy fishbrained idiot."

"Was? He's not anymore?" Smokepaw interrupted from his curled position on the ground.

The ghost of a smile played on Frost's lips. "No. He's not."

Suddenly, they heard a loud crash - and an indignant yowl as someone went flying into a snowdrift. And then a deadly threat - "Wood, I'm gonna get you for that!"

Wood, covered in clumps of snow, skidded up to them and hid behind Frost. "He's after me!" he whimpered, then burst into giggles as Willow marched up to them.

"Correction. Most of the time," Frost mused.

However, Willow's threat was forgotten when he noticed Smokepaw's yellow eyes open and looking at him. Open. "Smokepaw! You're awake!"

Wood turned to look at his friend. "Whoa, you are!" he gave him a friendly lick between the ears. "How're you feeling?"

"Give him his space!" Leaf snapped, shooing the two toms away. "He just woke up!"

"Overprotective mate, much?" Willow whispered to Wood.

"I am not!" Leaf roared.

"Better run to safety before Smokepaw's mate eats us," Wood replied. "See you later, Smokepaw!" he called over his shoulder as the two of them ran away.

x

"She scared you away, Uncle Wood?" Owl mocked.

Wood assumed a defensive position. "She's a very scary cat when she wants to be!" he whined.

"But what happened with Smokepelt and Leaf?" Bracken persisted.

Wood sighed. "Ahh... I was getting to that. Smokepelt told me later what happened..."

x

Frost waited a moment, then followed after Willow and Wood. He may have pretended to be cold and emotionless, but he could certainly sense emotions, and he could tell that Leaf felt something for Smokepaw that she needed to express. So he ducked away into the snowdrifts, back towards Water Tribe camp. He needed more cobwebs anyhow.

Leaf lay down next to Smokepaw. The two of them stared up at the sky for awhile, in silence, before Leaf spoke.

"Smokepaw... there's something... I..." Smokepaw turned to look at her, his yellow eyes bright as ever. Her heart fluttered. "I think I love you, Smokepaw."

Smokepaw sighed. "Thank you." He slowly closed his eyes.

"That's... that's all?"

"What else do you want me to say?" Smokepaw's voice was laced with confusion and regret. "I... Leaf... I could never..."

He remembered Tawnypaw, the cat he'd loved with all his heart. He saw Tawnypaw so vibrantly in Leaf, in the way they walked, in the way they talked, in the way the stood up for what they believed in so passionately and so stubbornly. But he also remembered how Tawnypelt had changed, how she'd abandoned him, and left him alone in the dust. He knew that Leaf would never do that to him, but... he couldn't help but see it happening. Just like he couldn't help the fondness he had for Leaf, yet he couldn't help not returning her love.

In retrospect, he thought, it really didn't have that much to do with Tawnypelt, because how unfair would that be? He simply didn't requite Leaf's love. It was something he couldn't control, but wished he could, because he would have loved to have fallen in love again and broken his last ties to ShadowClan. But he couldn't.

He tried to explain this to her, but the thoughts left his mouth in tattered, broken shards. She didn't understand, she didn't know why, but her heart was shattered. She had slowly come to love him, to care for him, to adore him, and now - he could just shrug her off like that?

He tried to explain that he wanted to be her friend, that he liked her, that she was a good cat, and he was fond of her. But the teary-eyed Leaf was beyond reason, and interrupted him midsentence by dashing away into the snowdrifts.

x

"Why didn't he love her?" Owl meowed. "I mean, if a she-cat ever loved me like that, I would definitely love her back."

"Love is a complicated thing, Owl," Wood explained distantly. "I honestly hope you never understand what Smokepelt and Leaf went through."

They sat in a forlorn silence for awhile, before Bracken spoke quietly. "So, how did they get to be friends again, Uncle Wood?"

Wood sighed. "That came with time and patience - and a lot of persuasion on my part." He groaned as he remembered how much persuasion. He'd been the go-between, and had spent hours screaming for them not to shoot the messenger. "But eventually, Leaf accepted his apologies - and Smokepelt hers. She put aside her feelings so they could go on being Tribe mates... she tried to fall in love again, but it just didn't work. Her heart will always lie with Smokepaw, I believe."

"Who'd she try and fall in love with?" Bracken inquired.

Wood chuckled. "Willow."

"Willow?!" The two kits exclaimed.

Wood laughed, his bright amber eyes shining again. "It was never serious. It was actually just funny. Willow, you know, didn't have a she-cat, and Leaf wanted desperately to fall in love..." picturing the look on his friend's face when Leaf had chased him during that moon of hilarity was enough to send Wood bursting into a fit of laughter. "But as you know, it never amounted to anything. Leaf was happy to become deputy - it gave her the respect she's always wanted, and let's face it, she was made for that sort of thing." Wood grinned widely. "She loved ordering us around back in the Ice Tribe prison den - and all the time, really. But in all seriousness, she's a responsible, kind cat, and she's made a great deputy, and will be a great leader one day."

"Hopefully soon," Bracken mused. "Pinesnow gets on my nerves."

Wood laughed. "She gets on everyone's nerves, but honestly, she's a great leader as well."

The lapsed into another silence, this one more companionable and comfortable than the last.

After a long while of simply gazing at the stars and into the cliffs, Wood spoke. "We should be getting back to camp now," he meowed. "You two have a big day tomorrow, and Frostroot will blame me if you don't get enough sleep."

Owl yawned. "One last question," Bracken meowed. "Why didn't you become deputy, Uncle Wood? I heard it was offered to you before Leaf."

Wood paused. "Well... I never wanted that kind of responsibility. It's the same reason Willow rejected the offer. The two of us prefer to be as carefree as possible, without the limits and restrictions of leadership..."

"But you'd make a great leader, Uncle Wood," mewed Owl.

Wood grinned. "Maybe I would. But you know what? I'm happy. And that's really all I wanted."

Owl sighed sleepily. "I wish I was just like you, Uncle Wood..."

"Yeah," Bracken meowed more intelligently. "Thanks for telling us all those stories."

"Any time, kits," Wood meowed fondly, licking each of them affectionately between the ears. He hopped down from the ledge. "Now seriously, Frostroot'll kill me if we don't get back soon. So let's go."

Bracken and Wood practically carried their half-asleep brother and nephew half-way back to camp, and then their uncle ended up supporting both of them the rest of the way. He loved his niece and nephew like his own kits, and gazed at each of them like a father as he led them to sleep in their den.

And then he made his way to his own den, where Tawny was already asleep. Wood curled up at her warm side, and she purred in her sleep.

And in his den, which he shared with his friends Willow and Frostroot, Smokepelt snored contentedly. He dreamt of Tawnypelt - but didn't feel the tug at his heart that used to come at the sight of her. Because he was here in this world, with his true, loyal friends and his new life with possibilities that stretched to the horizon and off into the sky.

For lack of a more complex word, he was happy.

And all was well.

Thousands of thanks to everyone who has read, reviewed, and shared this story with me. I really couldn't have done this without your support and input. Special thanks to those who have been with me from the beginning till now: Shaded-Strike, Shadow of the Nights, and some of you early reviewers who stopped, but I know are still there. :) Thanks to those who started reading half-way through even towards the end, who were willing to do the catch up reading and follow us to this point. Thanks for all feedback; supportive, contructive, and just plain insane (you know who you are). You all rock.

And for those of you who've been there but haven't let me know... anonymous reviews are enabled. I would love it if you'd take a second to let me know you're there, even under a false name. In fact, I'll give you a false name. If you aren't the reviewer type, but want to let me know you've been reading, just put adiofghaodirdoirhv under the name random person. Or if you want to be creative, Squishy Wood Plushie. Or blueberry pie. Much appreciated. xP

I can't believe it's over either. In denial, I will post an extra chapter, with a character guide and guide to the Snowlands. It'll be fun, and might help some lingering confusion some of you may have.

Right now, though, I'm going to sleepaway camp. I'll be gone for a month. I have an agenda for when I get back, which includes the extras chapter, finishing Roamingcrow and Jewelstep, a short prequel to Falling Smoke, and my next story.

Thanks again to everyone. I hope you enjoyed our little adventure. And, as a side-note, I hope you got the Harry Potter reference at the end there. If you didn't... well, er, I'll explain. The words "All was well" hold the same significance in Harry Potter as they do here - as in there are scars, but past is past, and now we're going on with our lives. Copywrite J.K. Rowling.

Speaking of disclaimers, I don't think I've done one since the first chapter. So just so you all know: I do not own Warriors or any of the random things I've made subtle references to (Cookies to anyone who caught Bartimaeus Trilogy in chapter 38. You're either as insane as me or just incredibly perseptive). They are (unfortunately) property of Erin Hunter(s) and various other people.

Okay, I'm done with random things trying to make the story go on. :) I hope you had fun, because I know I did. See you in a month,

Moonstar