Shellheart: as always, thanks for the in-depth, encouraging review. State exams went well, thanks, but final exams are next week...ack, too many exams! x_x Hope yours went well. And yeah, it does seem really weird that Falling Smoke was just a year ago... or more like woah, a whole year ago. It almost upsets me now reading the beginning of Falling Smoke, because I know it's not as well written as it could be if I wrote it now. Not to mention that this means we've both been involved in the Warriors fandom for a year, which is kind of amazing, seeing as we haven't got bored or been scared off by the horribleness of the third series. Yay for us. :) But now this reply is getting to long, so I think we'll get on with the chapter now...
Six, a Conclusion
Though sometimes he feels like an alien being, Smokepaw is a cat, and cats always land on their feet. Smokepaw lands on his feet alright when he falls from the tree - and then his paws give way and buckle beneath him.
"Smokepaw!" Tawnypaw and Talonpaw exclaim at the same time, and the two sprint to his side. "Are you alright?" Talonpaw questions worriedly.
Smokepaw nods wearily and attempts to pull himself to his paws, but his front left paw collapses and betrays him, and he crumbles back to the ground. Rowanpaw, leaping down safely and triumphantly from the tree, laughs at the sight.
"You could have lost with dignity, Smokepaw," the older apprentice informs him smugly. "But instead, you've chosen to walk away with a broken paw... no pun intended."
Cedarpaw joins his brother in laughter. Smokepaw fumes, but he lacks the energy or ability to kill them for their cruel remarks; his paw throbs viciously, and he can barely stand, let alone attack his despised enemies.
"Leave him alone, Rowanpaw," Tawnypaw meows softly. But Smokepaw sees the lack of meaning in her words. What she really wants to say is Good job, Rowanpaw. Nice move. But she can't bring herself to, Smokepaw knows, which is why she feigns interest in his injuries.
It takes Smokepaw awhile to grudgingly admit to Talonpaw that he can't stand, and when the quiet confession finally escapes him, his brother helps him to his paws and allows Smokepaw to lean on him for their journey back to camp. Tawnypaw takes a step in her injured friend's direction, but Rowanpaw's call stops her.
"Hey, Tawnypaw, come here," Rowanpaw meows. "Come walk with us."
Tawnypaw glances at Rowanpaw walking leisurely at Cedarpaw's side, Smokepaw can see that she wants more than anything to go join them. But then she looks back at Smokepaw, and feels that her duty as a warrior is with her limping friend.
Smokepaw sees her dilemma. "Go ahead, Tawnypaw," he whispers. "Go."
Tawnypaw isn't sure if he is being truthful or not - he may be just saying that out of guilt, she thinks. And Smokepaw knows that she is correct, but of course does not tell her so. It should be her choice, after all. Him or Rowanpaw.
Tawnypaw pauses, looks back at Smokepaw leaning on Talonpaw one last time - and then runs to catch up with Cedarpaw and Rowanpaw.
Smokepaw's harsh inner monologue is running haywire, with words, thoughts and sentences no cat could even begin to comprehend. He feels Talonpaw's tail brush against him, which must have been meant as comfort, but Smokepaw is beyond such feeling.
Talonpaw is under the impression that things can't get much worse for his brother. He had been humiliated in front of the she-cat he loved, by his rival Rowanpaw no less, and now has a painfully broken paw to show for it. He wishes desperately that Smokepaw had not offered Tawnypaw a way out, but knows better than to interfere, even as she takes it and goes. No, he thinks, things couldn't get much worse.
That is, until they get back to camp. The second the apprentices push through the undergrowth and into ShadowClan camp, they are spotted by Russetfur, who instantly makes a beeline straight at them.
"Cedarpaw! Rowanpaw! Where have you been?" she admonishes. Rowanpaw opens his mouth to speak, probably to protest that he had no idea he was supposed to be in camp, but Russetfur won't have any of it. "Come on, you two, get yourselves to Blackstar's den, and hurry, for StarClan's sake. No one could find you anywhere, and he's beginning to consider calling off your ceremonies."
The two elder apprentices don't need to be told twice. Rowanpaw's emerald eyes glow with excitement and also anxiety at the prospect of Blackstar's anger, but true to his nature, his ambition wins out. With a hurried goodbye and a lick between the ears to Tawnypaw, he darts after Cedarpaw to Blackstar's den.
Talonpaw can't quite name the emotion choking, silencing, tearing Smokepaw apart at the moment, but he knows that his brother cannot not form words. So he quietly informs Tawnypaw, "I'll take Smokepaw to Littlecloud's den, okay?"
Tawnypaw nods, her eyes still fixed on the spot where Rowanpaw had disappeared into Blackstar's den. "Do you need any help, Talonpaw?"
Talonpaw feels Smokepaw tense at his side. The last thing Smokepaw wants is help, from anyone, let alone Tawnypaw. He despises pity and aid of any sort, as he was raised to by his Clan. Besides, he figures, the last thing Smokepaw wants right now is to be with Tawnypaw. She has already made her choice, and her decision is clear in the fixation of her leaf-green eyes.
"No thanks, we'll be fine," Talonpaw answers softly, barely above a whisper. "You go ahead."
With that, he leads Smokepaw away to the medicine den, where they hardly hear Blackstar's booming voice from outside.
"Will all cats old enough to catch their own prey join me at Highpine for a Clan meeting!"
Littlecloud gently rubs a crushed herb on Smokepaw's injured paw. "Let the marigold sit for a moment," he instructs. "You are exempt from the warrior ceremony, but Talonpaw and I must go. Come now, Talonpaw."
Talonpaw hesitates, then shakes his head. "If it's all the same, Littlecloud, I think Smokepaw could use some company," he mews. "I'll stay with him."
Littlecloud eyes the two brothers. He isn't a medicine cat for nothing - he sees the pleading in Talonpaw's eyes, the anguish in Smokepaw's, and knows something is occurring that he can't and doesn't want to understand. He nods kindly. "Alright. Just don't tell anyone."
From the medicine den, Smokepaw and Talonpaw thankfully cannot hear most of the warrior ceremony. Talonpaw thanks StarClan for this, because he has no idea what the simple age-old words would have done to his brother. Smokepaw is curled up silently in the corner, unspeaking and unmoving, but Talonpaw can tell that he appreciates his presence. He is the only one who knows Smokepaw well enough to catch the glint in his eyes, the silent thank you, before he closes them.
"Rowanclaw! Cedarheart! Rowanclaw! Cedarheart!"
Smokepaw's eyes snap open as the voices of the Clan echo from outside. Talonpaw averts his gaze. He has no idea how to express his sympathy, or how to even begin to piece together his broken brother. But then, Smokepaw never wants help anyways.
After their warrior ceremony, Tawnypaw spends most of her time with Cedarheart and Rowanclaw, Rowanclaw in particular. She barely seems to have time for Smokepaw anymore, he thinks bitterly.
What happened to the shivering, terrified outcast he'd found alone and lost in the rain that fateful night? What happened to the timid, shy apprentice who used to speak in a barely audible whisper and nervously avoid eye-contact, hiding her glittering leafy eyes from the world? What happened to Tawnypaw, Smokepaw's best friend?
Tawnypaw is almost a different cat now, and Smokepaw can almost swear he never knew the shy little she-cat she once was. She is now bold and outspoken and walks with her head held high, her days as an outcast in ThunderClan nothing but a shady memory. She is never lost, with a sense of vibrancy and strength radiating from her being, and certainly never alone; Rowanclaw is a constant presence at her side, Cedarheart often tagging along, and she is even admired by the older warriors. To the cats of ShadowClan, never ones for humility, it seems as though the once-fearful, broken, terrified apprentice has finally come into her own, blossoming into a beautiful flower.
Except for Smokepaw, that is. Because though Tawnypaw is happier than she's ever been, and also stronger, greater and just more alive, she's also painfully distant, and he can't help but feel the opposite of everything she has become. She makes sometimes makes efforts to speak to him, but now he wants to push her away, because she did it first, and isn't that what she wants? Is that what he wants?
He barely speaks to her between Cedarheart and Rowanclaw's warrior ceremonies and hers, about a moon later. But when her ceremony day comes, he resolves for just one day to push all his dark, depressing thoughts aside, and try to mend whatever it is that has forced the rift between them. I'll be the first one to touch noses with her in congratulations, Smokepaw decides. I'll push my way to the front and be there for her.
And so, after a moon of painful brooding and lying alone in the corner of the apprentice den or out in the woods, Smokepaw has decided to try and make everything right. Tawnypaw's special time has come, the time to become a warrior, and Smokepaw is going to be there for her.
He quietly pushes his way to the front of the crowd of proud ShadowClan warriors as Blackstar speaks.
"You have trained well, and will honor and make use of your excellent training as a warrior..."
Smokepaw spies Rowanclaw and Cedarheart sitting side by side also at the front of the Clan, but just a bit off to the right. Smokepaw is dead center, and with his vantage point, he's sure he'll reach Tawnypaw first.
"...And so, Tawnypaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
Smokepaw pushes past Tallpoppy, and completely disregards the stern glare the she-cat shoots his way as he squeezes into the front row.
Smokepaw's breath catches. Despite everything, he feels incredibly proud of her - though he would never admit it, of course. After everything she's gone through to get here, she deserves the proud warrior name she is about to receive.
"Then from this day forward, you shall be known as Tawnypelt."
The Clan breaks into cheers. "Tawnypelt! Tawnypelt! Tawnypelt!"
Smokepaw takes the chant as his cue, and breaks forth from the Clan and up to the base of the Highpine, where Tawnypelt is just leaping down.
"Tawnypelt!" Smokepaw rushes up to her, running on the air, and feels the wind sweep everything else away behind him. It is as though all the problems and tensions burdening him concerning Tawnypaw are left behind as he approaches her, a broad grin stretching across his face for the first time in moons.
He reaches out to touch noses with her in congratulations. "Tawnypelt, I -"
To his complete and utter surprise, heartbreak, downfall, shattering, collapse, Tawnypelt turns away. His nose never makes contact with hers.
He cocks his head to the side. "Tawnypelt?"
And then Rowanclaw and Cedarheart approach from the side, and she passionately touches noses with each of them in turn, her eyes glowing with the light of a warrior. But Smokepaw only darkens.
"Tawnypelt!" he cries as her turned back, "Why won't you speak to me?"
Tawnypelt says nothing, and ignores him as though his voice was merely a whisper on the wind. After a moment, just when Smokepaw thinks he isn't going to be graced with a response, it's Rowanclaw who answers.
"Tawnypelt doesn't have time for the likes of you, runt," he snickers. "If you know what's good for you, you'll just leave her alone."
Smokepaw feels his temper rising within him, but he fights it down. "Tawnypelt!" he tries again. "Please, Tawnypelt, just talk to me!"
Tawnypelt finally turns around to look at him. His eyes meet hers, and he sees the painfully conflicting emotions in them, and knows in that moment that the fight between her feelings and loyalties flows deeply in her blood. And then something within her breaks, and she simply shakes her head, and turns away again, to touch noses with more well-wishers of the Clan.
Smokepaw feels almost as though he has received a physical blow - or worse, as though she is running away from him. "Tawnypelt, why are you doing this?" he demands loudly, but still she ignores him. And then he sees it.
He spins around furiously on Rowanclaw. "You put her up to this, didn't you!" he snarled. "You told her not to talk to me!"
Rowanclaw shrugs coolly. "So what if I did? It's for her best interests. She doesn't have time for losers like you."
Smokepaw feels the heat rising across his body and the flare pouring out his ears. "No, it's not for her best interest! You've never had her best interests in mind!" he snaps, and then turns his appeal back to Tawnypelt. "Come on, Tawnypelt! You always said you wanted to be strong and fair! Well is this fair to you?"
For a moment, Tawnypelt wavers. She looks like she's almost about to turn, and for a moment she's two cats, both wrestling for control of her body - and then one side wins, and she turns away from Smokepaw again. This time, for good.
"Don't insult her," Rowanclaw meows smoothly. "Tawnypelt is strong and fair. You have nothing to do with any of it. In fact, you have nothing to do with her at all."
"No," Smokepaw growls, loud enough for Tawnypelt, feigning ignorance, to hear. "She's certainly not fair, because if she was, she would have at least greeted me just now. I have everything to do with her, because she's my friend. And I this also means she's not strong at all, because she gave in to you." His voice suddenly rises in desperation. "Please, Tawnypelt! Why am I the exception? Why can't you be strong for me, too?"
Rowanclaw laughs mockingly. "It's useless, runt. Watch what you say, or I'll have to act." But then he seems to decide that picking a fight with the young apprentice is a waste of his time, and motions to leave. "C'mon, Tawnypelt. Let's go."
Tawnypelt hesitates for the briefest of moments, and for a split second, she is still caught, still torn. But then, without even looking at Smokepaw, she pulls herself forward and moves on.
She walks away into the crowd of well-wishers, leaving Smokepaw standing alone gazing after her. His eyes follow her until she disappears into the crowd, and beyond, but his heart remains right there in the dust.
Smokepaw runs off to the flower patch later, to think. Tawnypelt's scent is incredibly strong, and he wonders if she's been there recently, or It's the first time he's been there since Rowanclaw's presence defiled the sanctuary, but still the simple fact that he's here, in his favorite place in all the forest, manages to comfort him. He forgets about Rowanclaw, about Tawnypelt, about everything, and just lets himself slip into the mums. He tears his eyes away from the bright amaryllis, their centers dripping blood, and directs his glassy gaze up to the sky.
Ominous gray storm clouds are gathering up above, and Smokepaw studies them with fascination. How must it feel to be a storm cloud, to be able to channel the anger within you into fierce rainfall, hailstorms, and strikes of lightning? To roll across the sky with thunder, as the clouds did now, causing animals of the forest hide away in fear? To have the power to burn a tree to the ground, and to bring a cat to its knees?
Sometimes, Smokepaw feels like he had a storm raging inside him. But right then, he wishes he can be a storm.
And then, with a clap of thunder, the rain brakes. Water begins to pour down on Smokepaw's head, and for a moment it feels cool and refreshing, and then it feels like he's being battered with claws of water. He sits up and tried to shake the liquid from his fur, but it's useless; the rain is already starting to come down even harder, and he just gets drenched all over again. Thoroughly soaked even after just a couple of seconds, the apprentice decides to head back to camp.
On the way back, he nearly runs right into the sunhigh patrol, but manages to dart up a tree just in time. He's in no mood to talk to anyone, especially not when he sees just who comprises the patrol: Rowanclaw, Cedarheart, and Tawnypelt themselves. Fortunately the patter of the rain is louder than the pounding of his heart and the raging liquid hides his scent, so the patrol passes right by without a clue as to his presence.
Perhaps because of his rainy mood, Smokepaw is nearly oblivious to the water the sky is shooting at his back, and takes his time the rest of the way back to camp. He almost doesn't want to go back. But then, where else is there to go? Much as he would love to just disappear, ShadowClan is his home. Nightwing, his mother, is there, as is Talonpaw, who he doesn't know how he'd survive without. And despite what he told Talonpaw, he's also fond of his harsh mentor, Oakfur, who teaches him everything there is to know about being a ShadowClan warrior. And though he would never admit it, and maybe he doesn't even know it, Smokepaw loves the smell of the pines, the honor of his Clan, the soft breeze stirring the dust, his stubborn pride, everything that makes his Clan what it is.
Despite everything, he thinks he would miss this place should he ever have to leave it.
As soon as the non cynical thought enters his mind, he pushes it out. This is no time to be thinking positive. Especially not after...Tawnypelt. The events of the day come crashing down on him all over again, and it's with a heavy heart that he makes his way into the apprentice den.
The camp is deserted, with every cat huddling inside their dens to escape the rain, and the apprentice den is no different. Since Tawnypelt became a warrior, Smokepaw and Talonpaw have the den to themselves, but at the moment Talonpaw is nowhere to be seen, so Smokepaw is literally and figuratively alone. He sighs, and makes his way over to his corner of the den.
He slowly stalks over to his patch of moss, the spot where he sleeps every night, perfectly prepared to curl up and take a nap. He had been meaning to change the moss today, as he hadn't in almost a moon, but it didn't matter at the moment -
Except, wait. The moss has been changed. Someone must have done it for him; Talonpaw, he thinks. But no - Smokepaw does a double-take - there's something lying in his moss. A flower.
There's only one cat who would have thought to put a chrysanthemum in his spot, and it isn't Talonpaw.
Tears well in his eyes, and his heart breaks and rebreaks and breaks again inside him. He bends down to sniff the crimson mum, which smells as though it had been picked just a short while ago. It would have been a perfect, pristine flower, except for the raindrops dripping through the roof of the den and pooling on one of the petals, right around a small tear. As the drops accumulate, the rip widens, to the point where a normal cat would notice it - when Smokepaw's perceptive eyes had picked it up, it had been a tiny tear, but Smokepaw had seen it nonetheless.
And whether it is on purpose or not - the logical side of him tells him it isn't, while the cynical side tells him it is - the chrysanthemum is ripped, its beauty tainted, left alone and forgotten in the rain.
Smokepaw doesn't know, and never did find out, what Tawnypelt had been trying to say with that chrysanthemum. She might have been trying to say sorry, minus the words, but with a symbol that spoke a thousand; she may have meant it as a gift, from friend to friend, to show that she hadn't forgotten the friendship they had once shared; she may have been trying to tell him to shove off, and never speak to her again...or perhaps she meant it as her last goodbye.
But the meaning, meaning which he does not have words or emotions to describe, isn't lost on Smokepaw.
He breathes in the mum's rich, fading scent, tells himself his face is wet with raindrops.
Smokepaw doesn't speak to Tawnypelt again after that. Nothing, not at all, not even in simple greeting from Clan member to Clan member. He has nothing to say, and neither does she.
He tells himself it's stupid to be so upset over something as stupid as a kithood crush, and buries his feelings inside himself. It's no use feeling, after all. And so his life returns to normal.
Newleaf arrives, and Twolegs begin to devastate and demolish the forest with their giant, reeking monsters. Every cat in the forest knows that a great tragedy is upon them, but no cat has heard anything from StarClan. Littlecloud is constantly fretting, and Talonpaw also seems afraid, but Smokepaw remains stoic and unfeeling. The world has always been full of suffering, he thinks, and now is no different. He thinks that maybe, this time, StarClan won't save them.
And then Tawnypelt disappears.
ShadowClan is thrown into greater chaos than before, with wild theories of the end of the Clans flying around, and blame being placed on ThunderClan. But Smokepaw, Smokepaw is indifferent. Tawnypelt never gave a rat tail for him, after all, so he doesn't give a rat tail for her. It's that simple.
Sometimes he thinks about the vision he described to Talonpaw, what seems like ages ago, that night in the forest. And sometimes he wonders if, despite his brother's efforts, he isn't already falling off that cliff. Or if he hasn't already fallen, and already hit the ground.
Or maybe he hasn't fallen, not quite yet. But he knows he will. He just doesn't know how literal his metaphor will become... but that's another story.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who read this, and lived through my experimenting with random tenses, rambling, and attempts at symbolism. Actually, I'm happy with the way the symbolism all worked out. If you don't fully understand what I was aiming for with that, check out this website: www livingartsoriginals com/infoflowermeaning htm#H. It's what I used for all the flower references. (Note mums, amaryllis, hollyhock, etc.)
And yes, for those of you who don't know, Smokepaw's story continues in Falling Smoke. Skip ahead a few moons to Dawn, the fourth book of the New Prophecy, for the Clans' journey to the new territory, and Smokepaw's actual fall off a cliff.
One more irrelevant fact: for some reason, writing this made me love Talonpaw. I really want to hug him right now. I think some Talonpaw plushies are in order. As thanks for reading, virtual Talonpaw plushies for everyone who read. :)