Snowfall listened as Stragger finished his story, her mouth slightly open. Stragger had fallen in love with her mother's RiverClan sister, the one she looked like!
She pressed her muzzle against Stragger's cheek. "I'm sorry, I never knew," she whispered.
Stragger pulled away, his face turned away from hers. "Don't tell anyone," he muttered, and Snowfall nodded.
"I won't, don't worry."
A movement behind Stragger made Snowfall turn, and she saw that the fox was getting to his feet. Before she could stop him, he had lunged, grabbing Stragger around the neck. Stragger gasped, shock filling his face, as he was shaken back and forth by the fox.
Snowfall's anguished cry of, "No!" was still in the air when she leaped. Pulling the fox's jaws apart, she freed Stragger, and then dug her claws into the ground as the fox shook the blood from his eyes. Propelling herself forward, Snowfall ducked under his snapping jaws and sank her teeth into his neck, ripping with her claws.
Blood gushed, hot and red, over her muzzle, making her gag, but she held on, tearing and slashing until the fox collapsed on his side, the light dying from his eyes. He was dead, and Snowfall had avenged her closest friend's death.
"Snowfall," a voice said weakly behind her.
Turning, Snowfall saw Stragger lying there, blood dripping from his neck wounds. "Stragger!" she cried, rushing forward.
Stragger looked up at her, his yellow eyes searching her face. "You look like Icepool," he murmured, "Stay beside me while I die."
Snowfall shook her head wildly, meowing, "No, Stragger, you can't die! You can't leave me here!"
Stragger forced a purr that rattled in his throat. "I'll always be with you as a spirit. You mean so much to me. Thank you for killing that fox. You must make sure the others are safe, too. You need to wait until I die, and then help them. You can grieve later."
Snowfall nodded, sadness engulfing her. She stayed there, crouched beside Stragger as his life bled out onto the grass. She would miss his company and companionship more than anything else in the world. His eyes dimmed, and started to close. Snowfall began licking his ears, and then worked down to his neck. Stragger went limp, the blood flowed slower, and Snowfall knew he was dead.
She buried her nose in his fur, feeling the warmth fading from his body. She breathed in, slow and deep, savoring the last traces of his scent.
"Goodbye, Stragger," she whispered, "I'll always remember you." She licked his fur one last time, then turned and raced off through the grass, wind flattening her fur to her sides. As she neared the crest of the hill, she saw a bloody battle emerge out of the hill's shadow.
Foxes were fleeing, chased by bloody warriors. Bodies, both cat and fox, littered the area. A brown tabby she-cat with green eyes and a white tail-tip chased a small fox away right past Snowfall.
"Who are you? Have you come to help?" she asked.
Snowfall nodded and replied, "I'm Snowfall, a WindClan warrior. Are you Leafstar, leader of ThunderClan?" The tabby nodded, and Snowfall stared. "Why are you here?" she asked, bewildered, "I thought ThunderClan wasn't helping!"
Leafstar smiled wryly. "Firestorm told me what had happened while I was on a hunting patrol, and I realized what must have been happening. Firestorm didn't tell me the entire story. I made him a warrior again at once and named a new deputy."
Snowfall nodded, understanding blossoming inside her. They raced down the hill together to join the fight.
Snowfall began slashing at a fox's muzzle, sending it reeling backward. She dove at its chest, slicing a deep gash in its fur. The fox barked in pain and raced off, away from the battle.
Snowfall looked around, and saw a fox diving at a RiverClan apprentice, teeth bared. She bounded in front of the apprentice, and the fox landed on top of her. Fear spread through her as her fur was sprayed with drool. She was about to die, and there was no Stragger to save her this time.
The fox grabbed her ear and chewed, making a deep gash in it. Snowfall raised a paw and managed to scratch its nose. It growled, and then dove straight at her neck. Suddenly, the fox disappeared. Snowfall turned to see it lying on the ground, while a brown blur sliced at it.
"You will never hurt one of my daughters!" the cat yowled, and Snowfall realized who it was. Diamondstar had saved her life, just like Stragger had.
Scrambling up, she joined the fight, slashing at the fox's face while Diamondstar attacked its back. Howling in agony, the fox wriggled free and fled across the moor.
Looking around, Snowfall realized that the battle was won. The last foxes were fleeing, running in different directions. Diamondstar joined Leafstar, Silentstar, and Darkstar as they yowled their victory to the sky. Snowfall felt elation surging through her. They had won!
The four Clans began separating, joining their Clanmates as they prepared to head homeward. Snowfall followed her mother and sisters as she padded along. Suddenly, Diamondstar halted, staring at the ground.
"Snowfall?" he called back, his voice tense and strained. Snowfall realized that they must have found Stragger's body.
"Yes, I know," she meowed calmly, bounding over to the limp, black bundle. She glanced back and called, "Can a cat help me carry him?" There was silence for a moment, and then Windwhisker and Breezetalon stepped forward.
"We'll help you," Breezetalon meowed. Snowfall purred gratefully, and stood still as Windwhisker draped Stragger's limp form over her back. Her two best friends padded along beside her, making sure Stragger was steady, as the Clan set off back to the camp. Snowfall slipped in first, dragging Stragger behind her.
She laid him in the center of the clearing, and arranged his limbs so that he could be sleeping. She closed his eyes fully with a lick, and then turned to see Nightwhisper approaching with some herbs in her jaws.
"These are for Stragger. You need to rub them over his pelt." Snowfall looked around at the herbs, confused slightly. She had never seen a cat die while she was living in the Clans, so had no idea what to do. Nightwhisper purred, and then settled down beside her.
"It's just traditional, what we do," she meowed. Snowfall nodded and picked up one of the herbs, rubbing it along Stragger's spine. Nightwhisper picked up another herb, and worked on his hindquarters. Soon, Stragger was completely covered in the herb's smell.
Snowfall looked up at Nightwhisper and meowed, "What happens now, usually?"
Nightwhisper glanced down at Stragger and meowed, "The cats that were closest to the dead cat stay out the night with the cat. The elders take the body away at sunrise to bury him or her." Snowfall nodded and settled down in a more comfortable position, ready to stay the night out with her closest friend.
The sun set on a scene of bloody, bruised cats. All the warriors and apprentices who took part in the fox battle were being treated by Crystalwing, who was helped by Flarepaw, Freepaw, and Swiftpaw.
Snowfall turned them away until the others were treated, then finally accepted Crystalwing's herbs to treat her shoulder and ear. She also had some small scratches all over her body, but Crystalwing had exhausted her supply of healing herbs, so she was merely instructed to keep them clean while they healed.
Snowfall looked down at Stragger's fur, now glowing in the light of the moon, which was almost all the way full. She would miss him more than anything. The stars began appearing, slowly fading into sight around the moon, glowing brightly. She remembered the night he had showed her how to navigate by the stars, and a wave of grief swept over her.
She crouched there, overcome with grief, until the moon was high overhead. At moonhigh, she looked up and was astounded to see that a bit of the Lion, most of the Mouse, and the Winged Rabbit's ears made up a face that looked like Stragger's.
Suddenly, ghostly eyes opened in the face, and she felt a slight disturbance in the air beside her.
I will always be with you. A voice drifted through the air, and Snowfall felt joy welling inside her. Stragger was there, right beside her. She knew he would be there, forever. She was safe, as long as Stragger was there. They were together, forever, and nothing could separate them. Stragger would stay beside her until she died, and she liked that just the way it was. She had found happiness at last.