This story takes place shortly after events of Sunset. Have fun reading.
Firestar was standing alone in the clearing. Wind was quietly rumbling, as he gave a thoughtful look at the silverpelt.
"I am troubled by the clan's dissatisfaction. These are difficult times for our Clan. The season of newleaf is late, and there have been fewer kits. ThunderClan needs more warriors if it is to survive." - he meowed, seemingly to himself.
"There will be more kits when greenleaf comes." - He heard from behind himself. Quickly turning around, he noticed Leafpool moving towards him.
"Perhaps. But training our young to become warriors takes time. If ThunderClan is to defend itself, it must have new warriors as soon as possible." - He spoke, although his voice was distant, as if he was thinking about other things.
"What is bothering you?" - Leafpool asked, gently moving her tail against his flank.
Hearing the question, Firestar lowered his gaze. He thought for a long time, before finally giving his answer in low, quiet voice.
"There haven't been a new queen since the great journey. Except Sorreltail, that is." - he stayed calm for a few heartbeats before continuing - "or is there one that I don't know about?" - he added with a hope in his voice.
Leafpool looked bewildered by her father's words. "I'm afraid not", she mewed quietly.
"I am not sure if ThunderClan warriors are capable of..." - Firestar broke, looking into surprised eyes of Leafpool. He gave himself a couple of awkward licks, before continuing: "I think I'll have to give all warriors a few lessons.", he meowed.
"You?" - he heard amused voice from behind. "Sandstorm?" - asked Firestar, looking around him, to check if there were any other cats in this abandoned clearing. "But why not mom? You already had Squirrelflight and me..." - Leafpool said, and with each her word Firestar looked more and more depressed.
Sandstorm was giving Firestar a stern look, while he cowled like a helpless kit. "Oh, you wouldn't understand, Leafpool", Sandstorm teased.
"I will find solution, don't worry. There will be more kits in ThunderClan!" - he meowed embarrassed, while quickly moving away. His mate couldn't stifle a purr.
Dustpelt woke up tired. He hunted yesterday all day long, and wished he could get some more sleep. As he looked around the warriors den, he noticed he was alone. Hoping that nobody would notice how long he was sleeping, he quickly moved out. Life was going slowly in the camp, most warriors already left for their duties, either patrols or hunting. Mousekit, Berrykit and Hazelkit were play-fighting just under the high-ledge. Dustpelt wondered, whether he would have one as an apprentice. Berrykit was already promised to Brambleclaw, but the other two were fair game.
"There is no greater joy to warrior than to have an apprentice. And nothing makes warrior more proud than to see his apprentice become a true warrior", Dustpelt heard Longtail, who was coming from behind his back, as if he was reading his mind. Ferncloud told Dustpelt how dedicated Longtail was to his apprentices, ready to support them with every bit of himself, and to protect them with tooth and claw. Despite this, he never trained any apprentice from start to finish, all due to tragic circumstances.
"I miss being a warrior. I was always true to ThunderClan, and I wish I could give more to the clan. But I at least can see that my apprentices are now true warriors, and I thank StarClan that I could do at least that much" - pale tabby meowed nostalgically.
"Ah, but I shouldn't stop you for elder's babbling. You have warrior's duties to do." - Longtail said, and went to elder's den.
Dustpelt wondered what should he do next: did Brambleclaw assign him for something yesterday? He didn't have to think for long, since Brambleclaw left leader's den, and started moving toward him.
"Dustpelt, you lazy furball! Are you going to sleep all day?" - Brambleclaw meowed in a playful tone. Obviously he didn't mind that Dustpelt slept a little bit longer today, so he wasn't going to apologize for it.
"Firestar wants to see you." - Dark tabby meowed, this time in a very serious tone. Dustpelt wondered what Firestar wanted from him. Did he want to give an apprentice after all? But surely Brambeclaw wouldn't be concerned by this? "I'll see him right away", Dustpelt replied and went into Leader's den. Pushing his way through the bracken, he came to see Firestar deep into his thoughts.
"Dustpelt," Firestar started speaking.
"Yes, Firestar what is it?" - asked warrior, hoping to resolve this quickly.
Firestar remained motionless, without speaking anything. Dustpelt could see that he had serious problem, and was very tense. Leader remained silent for so long, that Dustpelt thought he felt asleep. Not sure what to do, he gave himself a couple of awkward licks. Firestar started to scratch moss underneath him, trying not to look at Dustpelt.
"How's Ferncloud?" - finally he broke the silence.
It was getting ridiculous. Have he called him to gossip about his mate?
"She is fine. Firestar, what do you want from me?" - he decided to be bold, because awkwardness of the last few moments was getting tedious.
"I am worried about ThunderClan's future. There are very few kits..." - Firestar broke in the middle of sentence, not daring to look into Dustpelt's eyes. Dustpelt wasn't sure in what direction this discussion was coming. Already, half of the clan were his kits, did he wanted to ask for more? Firestar was getting into uncomfortable territory here. Besides, he never forgot death of Hollykit and Larchkit. He always thought that it was Firestar's meekness that lead to their death, but he never dared to say this to anyone.
"Firestar, what do you want?" - Dustpelt started, his voice raised in anger.
"All my kits are fine Warriors. I gave every bit of myself to the clan, and more kits than any other cat here!" - He didn't realize when he unsheathed his claws, and crouched into position to attack. Firestar still avoided eye contact. He trotted his paw, not bothered by Dustpelt's readiness to battle.
"Calm down Dustpelt", Firestar said quietly. "I want you...", he started in shaky voice, but stopped promptly after. "I want you to teach our warriors about mating". After saying the last word, orange leader turned his head, as if he tried not to look at Dustpelt.
His words stunned Dustpelt.
"What? Are you insane? Shouldn't their mentors teach them that?" - he asked in rage.
"Their... mentors? You mean, Redtail taught you that stuff?" - Firestar glanced for a second at Dustpelt, while asking that question, but quickly looked away.
"No... But I'm sure he would, if Tigerclaw wouldn't kill him!" - Firestar wasn't helping. Why did he have to ask questions about things he was sensitive about? He always valued Redtail, as cat who taught him almost everything Warrior should know, and always strived to be like former clan deputy.
"So was it Darkstripe?" - Firestar continued with his questions.
"Well... He wanted to, but he said he wasn't really competent in this." - Dustpelt answered, while trying to push aside memories from that training sessions.
"So who was it?" - Firestar continued subject. It was starting to annoy the warrior. Why couldn't he drop the subject?
"Tigerclaw. Darkstripe said that I should respect senior's warrior knowledge. Wasn't Tigerclaw also your mentor? Didn't he taught you this stuff? Or Bluestar? Or Lionheart?" - It seemed weird, but Dustpelt was genuinely curious about it.
"No, they didn't. So when you will start?" - Firestar was a leader, and it was one of not so few times that he did show it. Firestar didn't ask question whether Dustpelt wanted this, he just gave an order. There was no other choice for a loyal cat, but to follow it.
"Give me a day to prepare myself," Dustpelt said and left, hoping that Firestar wouldn't give more weird orders or questions.
"You won't believe what Firestar wants me to do", Dustpelt said to Ferncloud, as he was entering the nursery. She was lying on her bedding in the nursery, wondering what strange thing Firestar thought of now, and why her mate would be part of it. Although Dustpelt was a senior warrior, Firestar rarely gave him position of leadership or more important duties.
"Firestar does a lot of weird things lately. Making Brambleclaw a deputy, welcoming Daisy into the clan...", the she-cat voice was concerned. She wasn't the only one disagreeing with leader's choices, Daisy joining the clan did cause a lot of turmoil, and making Brambleclaw the deputy only made it worse. Firestar was very lenient on warrior code, and while StarClan signs helped a bit, clan was still feeling restless, and Firestar lost a lot of his authority. Still, his clanmates were loyal, and would do anything Firestar asked them to do.
"I though you liked Daisy?" - Dustpelt asked, obviously surprised.
"Because I do. She's a nice cat. It's just... Why did he wanted her to join clan so badly, when she didn't want it? I know she's uncomfortable in the clan. I think he wanted her kits a bit too much," she meowed calmly. Ferncloud, after all was one of the few cats that spent time with former kittypet and knew how much she was scared of living with clan. She still didn't adapt to living in the clan, despite how much time she spent in it already. Chances of her becoming a warrior were very slim.
"Kits... Wanted badly... I see, now conversation with our Leader makes a lot more sense. Firestar asked me to mentor other cats about mating," Dustpelt tried to say it in a very serious tone.
It didn't work, Ferncloud's eyes were glimmering with amusement. What was Firestar thinking?
"Shouldn't their mentors teach them?" - she asked gently. Ferncloud remembered her lessons with Darkstripe, who was very eager to start lessons on this subject, but before they started practical exercises, he was banished from the clan for poisoning Sorreltail. After that, Longtail picked up her training, and was much more gentle than Darkstripe tried to be. It was him that made Ferncloud understand that there are many ways in which she can show dedication and loyalty to the clan, and she always remembered this.
"I told him the same thing!" - he meowed in humorous manner, "But maybe he hasn't received proper training. He was an apprentice for a very short time." - He meowed.
"Don't worry, I know you will do great. Maybe you want to practice before?" - she asked, in playful tone.
He pushed his flank along hers and purred in agreement.
Leafpool was standing in front of the lake, glaring at the reflection of sun in the surface of water. It was just past sunhigh, the wind was gently ruffling her fur. Air was filled with scent of herbs she was working with for the whole day. For a first time in a long time there was no immediate threat for her clan. Yet, she was still feeling restless. Clans were never safe, but she knew that threat this time will be more personal... Leafpool relaxed a bit. She lied down, and listened to squeaking of the frogs. There won't be many opportunities like this. Time was slowly passing. All that relaxation must have dampened her senses, since she haven't noticed a cat until it was right in front of her. Fortunately, it was Mothwing, long-time Leafpool's friend.
Her tabby golden-fur shined beautifully in the sun, but her face was looking sad. Was there another problem in RiverClan, that she couldn't handle?
"It's not a good place to take a nap, you know. There could be badgers or foxes here," she said in worried tone.
"You are right Mothwing, I should be more careful," she admitted. "Anyway, what is bringing you here? Is there a problem in RiverClan?"
She shook her beautiful golden head. "No, everything is fine, Leafpool. It's just... That we didn't have opportunity to talk in private since you left. And it won't be easy now," her big amber eyes shone with sadness.
It was true, though. Now that Mothwing had an apprentice, they couldn't talk in private at the medicine cat gatherings. And since Leafpool was the only medicine cat in ThunderClan, she would rarely have an opportunity to leave camp for long. But they were alone now, so there was no point complaining.
"So how is Willowpaw?" - Leafpool tried to change the subject to something more joyful.
"She's doing well. All her enthusiasm remind me of myself. I know she will grow to be a great medicine cat... But how can I go on and lie to her?" - she took a break, and continued with shaking voice - "And what will she think of me, when I'll tell her the truth? She looks for StarClan so much... I don't want to break her heart... Or maybe I don't want to break my heart? Oh, Leafpool..." - Mothwing was slowly getting hysterical. There was nothing that Leafpool wanted more now than to calm her friend. She waved her tail in front of golden she-cat, to silence her, and cuddled to her pelt.
"She smells so nice... And her fur is so soft..." - Leafpool thought. It was almost as if Mothwing's kindness manifested on her fur. It was such a pleasing feeling, that Leafpool wished she could remain like this forever. She felt as Mothwing's muscles relaxed, in reaction to their contact. Leafpool felt golden she-cat's head pushing against her flank, her tongue smoothening Leafpool's fur. She felt how Mothwing's hair started tingling.
"I think she calmed down," Leafpool thought.
"You will know when to tell Willowpaw. And I know she will understand you, and respect no less." - She meowed.
Mothwing moved fox-length away from Leafpool, and remained silent for a few heartbeats. "I hope so...", she responded, but it was obvious that she doesn't believe in this.
"Anyway Mothwing, I'd like to ask you for a favour." - Leafpool tried to change subject again, but truth be told, she needed help of a medicine cat, and Mothwing's presence was very convenient for this.
Hearing this, Mothwing seemed a lot more lively. "I'll do anything I can to help you!" - she spoke in determined manner.
ThunderClan's medicine cat was surprised by strength of her conviction, but at the same time glad, that her friend was willing to help her.
"Firestar wants a medicine cat to talk with ThunderClan about... Mating... From health perspective... If you know what I mean" - Leafpool didn't feel comfortable talking about it with Mothwing, let alone with all cats in clan. Thanks StarClan that she did convince Firestar that she didn't have necessary knowledge. Now she only needed a medicine cat who would do it for her.
Mothwing didn't look embarrassed, but slowly enthusiasm in her eyes faded.
"Oh." - she started in quiet voice, almost if she wanted to apologize. - "I wish to help Leafpool, I really do. But I'm afraid... That I don't know anything about it. Mudfur died before he could teach me..." - she meowed.
"Don't worry, it's okay," - Leafpool tried to reassure her friend.
"I'm so sorry, Leafpool. I wished I could help you, I really do. I want to help you, to support you, to be with you... And yet, I cannot again. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry, I'm sure Littlecloud or Barkface will be able to help." - Leafpool meowed.
"Leafpool... There's one thing I wanted to ask..." - She said shyly.
"Yes?" - Leafpool asked, and noticed that Mothwing moved few pawsteps behind.
She was standing there awkwardly with her front paws crossed. "When you left with Crowfeather... How did you know he was the one? Cat, for which you could throw everything away?" - Mothwing looked at her paws all the time while asking this question in shaky voice.
Why did she ask? Did she had... Loyalty problems as well? A cat she was in love with?
"I..." - Leafpool realised she never spoke about her feelings this intimate, aside from Crowfeather. She trusted Mothwing, and knew she deserved the answer, for there was no Spottedleaf, or any other StarClan cat to show her the truth. But it was still hard to talk about her feelings...
She took a deep breath before continuing.
"I saw him in my dreams. Each time I've seen him, I was shocked with whirling emotions. Each hour without him striked me with pain. I felt excitement like none other when we touched... I trusted him with my life, and knew that I'd to go StarClan to see him, if necessary. I wanted to feel him. To know he cares. To have kits with him. And to never leave him again..."
Telling all this made Leafpool weak. She didn't realise how much she stilled cared for Crowfeather. But now... It was impossible. Leafpool tried hardest to shake these feeling and memories. She did it quite well for almost whole moon, but truth was still there, and she would never forget him.
Mothwing apparently understood her grief, for her eyes were clouded with sadness.
They stood there, looking at the white swan gently swimming at the lake, listening only to the running wind.
"So you have someone? A cat you wish you could spend life with?" - Leafpool asked, curious.
Mothwing didn't respond quickly. She twitched her tail slowly, then moved it behind her, as if she wanted to defend herself from something. She looked at the surface at the lake, and stared at her reflection at the lake. Was she suffering what Leafpool felt not so long ago?
Her friend turned her golden head to Leafpool, but her amber eyes this time were not only filled with sadness, but there was also a feeling of a piercing wisdom behind them.
"I have. But I know we can never be together... But sometimes, I dream, I wish, to have only one day together, without clans, without other cats. But then... How could I leave my clanmates? I failed them too much already, and I would never forgive myself if my negligence would again cause suffering. I made mistakes, Leafpool, but when I became medicine cat I knew this life would never be my own entirely. But at nights I still weep, that I can never fulfill my love." - Mothwing said it, her voice steady and calm.
So Leafpool wasn't the only cat lost in her feelings. Maybe all medicine cats were like this? It reminded her of Cinderpelt, and how hurt she was when Leafpool accused her of having no feelings.
"Perhaps medicine cats are destined to suffer." - Leafpool meowed and moved beside her friend, wrapping her tail around golden pelt shimmering in the sun.
Reviews appreciated. Second(and final, because I like stories that have an end) chapter will be coming at some time, hopefully in the next month, dealing with Dustpelt's memories, Barkface talk with Leafpool, Mothwing's difficult talk with Willowpaw, and of course Dustpelt's lesson to the clan.