It was late night, but she couldn't sleep. Reluctant and tired, Squirrelflight left her nest in the warriors den. Her foot almost hit the sleeping Spiderleg, but she wouldn't have cared if it did. She padded out to the clearing, towards the thorn entrance, all the while grumbling to herself.
Brambleclaw was on night watch by the Highledge. It was a safety precaution, in case WindClan still wanted to sneak up on them. It had been way too often lately.
As he sat there, he saw the ginger warrior emerging from the den. Brambleclaw was still not on friendly terms with her, so he was unsure whether he should approach her or not. But finally he decides to slip after the she-cat, though in a silent way.
Just out of camp, he watches as she slumps down on a patch of mossy grass, and growled lowly. Squirrelflight flexed her claws on the damp moss, and then rolled over to her back.
The deputy concludes he's seen enough. Calmly, and with the usual stern expression cladding his face, he steps forth. Squirrelflight jolts, her green eyes going wide. She remained silent as Brambleclaw asked: "Now what is a warrior doing outside of camp at this time of night?"
Squirrelflight turned her head, and licked a shoulder nervously. "I...I couldn't sleep." She evaded his eyes, knowing her explaination would never please the deputy. And it didn't.
"You're lying. Something is bothering you." His eyes stayed cold and emotionless as he spoke.
Her eyes flickered, but now irritation was starting to churn inside of her. "It's nothing of your concern." She heard him growl in a low voice. "It is. I am deputy. It's my responsibility to know."
"Fine, if you have to know," Squirrelflight mumbled, knowing exactly how brisk she sounded. She lay on her stomach, and flicked her tail. "Sniff," she ordered him.
Brambleclaw sniffed as her tail sent a certain scent his way. After a moment, it seemed reason was dawning in his amber eyes.
She heaved a sigh, and with her claws raked the moss some more. That he knew didn't help her much.
He almost found her amusing where she lay, but didn't show it. He kept the serious tone as he sighed. "So, your reason for leaving camp in the middle of the night, is because you're in heat?" She-cats, he thought inwardly.
Yes," she grumbled, her head in the dewy grass. As she sighed, a droplet glid down one of her whiskers. "I couldn't stay in the den like this...but I don't know what to do."
Most of the clan has gotten completely over her and Leafpool's lie by now. Especially now when her dear sister was dead. Pure misfortune it was too. She'd been alone in the forest, hunting, when a pair of badgers found her. When Lionblaze and Cloudtail found her, Leafpool was already on her way to StarClan. It had left Squirrelflight devastated.
Only Brambleclaw remained resentful of her. It hurt her much, because Squirrelflight still bore the deep love she'd felt for him since they first travelled to the lake.
She looked up at him for an instant, and sighed again. But then, a light seemed to enter her green orbs, and it was as if a firefly lighted above her head. Atleast it looked that way to Brambleclaw.
Squirrelflight got to her feet, and stared at him. "Can't you help me? It's just, you've done it before...I mean, with me..." she ranted on, skeptical and hopeful all the same.
Her question caught him completely off guard. She'd barely dared to speak with him for moons, and now she practically leaped up in his face with one very big proposition. He fought to regain his composition.
Her green stare turned dim and sad, and if a cat could cry, she would've been weeping rivers. "I know so well that you haven't forgiven me. Neither Lionblaze nor Jayfeather really have, and I won't ever ask any of you for forgiveness again. Never."
She looked away, letting her eyes rest on a bramblebush. "If only I had your kits. If only they were really mine," she begged, seemingly to the bush. "I enjoyed being a mother, a queen, you know. The chance for me to have kits is tiny, according to Leafpool. But if I ever were to be blessed with kits, I would only have yours."
Her honesty, and the feelings of desperation and sorrow which edged her speech, hit Brambleclaw in the gut. She was afterall the only she-cat he'd ever mated with. Nobody else.
Squirrelflight continued talking. "I can only sink so low as to ask you, Brambleclaw, please. After this, I promise I won't even peek at you, only respond to orders. You won't notice me at all, I swear!"
It was hard to reject her. He knew he had to. They couldn't just...right now, in a situation like this. But there was still this chance. A tiny hope, that he may have kin in the clan again. His eyes flickered from the ginger she-cat, to the trees before the camp entrance. Brambleclaw stifled a cough, and turned to face her completely. "Alright. If you're so desperate." He feigned sarcasm.
But she took no notice of his tone, and waved her tail happily.
Two moons later, Squirrelflight was stuck. Literally stuck. No clan-cat had ever seen a she-cat that big, and neither had she. But she carried the cargo too, heavy as it was.
It had surprised them all when Whitewing noticed that Squirrelflight was with kits. The two had been sharing tongues when the white she-cat had pointed it out. Stares of astonishment and shock had turned to her direction. Not that any of them beat her own expression, her jaws dangling like freshkill.
Sorreltail had tried to ask about the father, but she didn't tell. It was luckily still custom that if a she-cat didn't tell, she didn't tell.
She kept her promise to Brambleclaw. After that night, she had kept away completely, and been as good a warrior as she possibly could.
That is, until Sandstorm shooed her into the nursery when she got stuck in the thorn entrance. Now she was round like a hedgehog.
At the point of two moons, Squirrelflight was about to go mad. She was getting crankier than Jayfeather, and that says a lot. Brightheart had been wanting to visit her in the nursery when she overheard her speaking with Jayfeather, and instead retreated with a pale face. If her kits didn't come soon, she feared murder would occur inside the walls of the nursery.
But the medicine cat had assured her she was nearing time now. And goodness, was she glad for it. Squirrelflight could feel the ground graze her stomach skin as she walked, and the nursery entrance was really becoming too small. Luckily she was the only expecting queen. Daisy had even decided to move into the warriors den in the meantime, a try to give her more space. And she guessed it was good for her too. It would do Daisy good to be closer to the regular warriors. She might even dare herself to take a step out of camp every now and then.
It was a warm new-leaf evening. Sandstorm sat outside the nursery as Squirrelflight emerged, a mouse before her paws. "Some food for you," she gleamed in kindness at her remaining daughter. Squirrelflight thanked her, and took in the meat. Her appetite was like that of the plumpest kittypet.
Sorreltail padded up to them. "Not much longer noe?" the tortoise asked. Squirrelflight sighed. "No. If it goes longer than this, I'll crack like a tick." The she-cats sat talking until the evening patrol called for both Sorreltail and Sandstorm. StarClan, Squirrelflight felt bored at times like this. How she'd rather run in the woods instead of sitting there like a stuffed vole.
But then she'd remind herself ot the chance she'd been given. I'll finally have his kits! Although she knew she would be alone about them. Brambleclaw wouldn't turn now. So be it. She'd be the greatest lone mother in all of ThunderClan's history. It's not like she lacked experience, after she raised Leafpool's kits.
The same night, she started shaking. Daisy, on a check-up visit, heard her surprised gasp. She quickly grasped the situation and ran out to collect Jayfeather.
Only a few cats were still awake, awaiting the moonhigh patrol's return. Among them was Firestar. He stood speaking with Brambleclaw, when his deputy turned his gaze away curiously. As he followed his stare, the leader saw Daisy race into the nursery, closely followed by their medicine cat.
"Her kitting must've started," Firestar deducted. Brambleclaw nodded, his eyes distant. Then he returned to speaking about the border patrols.
Meanwhile, Jayfeather found the ginger queen lying down, painful spasms rippling through her. With his paw, the blind cat felt her tummy. "You've started fine, Squirrelflight. One of them will come anytime."
He felt some more, and used his special senses to hear the heartbeats within her body. "But I must say, with your size and all this activity, there's atleast four of them."
"At least!?" she wailed in shock.
"Yes, but we'll have to see. Daisy, come here. I need you to help the kits as they come. This will get busy," he groaned.
The first ray of sunlight slipped over the mountains, and the medicine cat has still not left the nursery. Cloudtail and LIonblaze had taken out hunting parties, and the dawn patrol had gone long ago.
Daisy came out, ran off, and stumbled back with some moss. After disposing it in the nursery, Brightheart came up to her. "How is she?"
The creme she-cat rested her tail on her shoulder kindly. "Not too good, I'm afraid. Her kitting has gone slowly, and Jayfeather fears she might faint anytime. She's been clutching a stick since just past moonhigh."
Squirrelflight felt bad. Utterly, terribly bad. The pain was terrible, and for each contraction, it felt like she was ripped in two. No fight wound could measure up to this.
Jayfeather would mumble something to her every once in a while, but she could barely hear him. She was getting so very tired.
A praise told her she'd delivered another kit. "How many is there?" she asked for the umpteenth time, losing count for each kit. "Fifth. And it's good, because there's only one left." The medicine cat's sympaticness was giving way to annoyance, for which Jayfeather was very known.
But now, it went wrong. The first notice was when she heard Jayfeather mutter: "Mouse dung! It's lying the wrong way. Daisy!"
After that, Squirrelflight's eyes were slipping. Daisy was calling to her, but she found nothing to say. Instead, the nursery walls gave out to darkness.
When she woke, there was no ground, only a starry sky glittering. Beyond, she saw the faint outlines of glimmering tree-trunks, with thick crowns of leaves.
But it was the kit tumbling around beside her that caught her attention. He was very dark coloured, and as she saw him, he turned her way, mewling playfully. His eyes were light, pale yellow, and Squirrelflight saw herself reflected in them.
By the scent, she knew. "You're mine, aren't you?" the kit let out a mew, then turned to chase his tail. By now, a cat was emerging from the forest beyonf.
Squirrelflight's throat went dry as she saw Leafpool treading out of the dark. "Good, little sister. You have done well."
Seeing her sister here, she wondered. "Am I...dead?" Leafpool's soft, white muzzle brushed her ear. "No, sister. Someone else is. But know that it wasn't your fault."
Hearing her say that, Squirrelflight looked at the dark kit. Small lights flickered around him. "I couldn't manage..." her voice trailed away. Leafpool nuzzled her again. "It's okay. You did your best. Nobody can do more than that. Now, I will take care of him for you, like you did to mine."
Before she could walk away, Squirrelflight called. "Wait! Can I...give him a name? He shouldn't enter StarClan without one." Leafpool nodded. "Alright. Give him a name."
The ginger cat looked at the dark kit. He had the looks of his father, his pelt was in fact darker, though he lacked the tabby markings. But his eyes, so bright yellow, reminded her of the golden sand on the beach.
"Goldenkit. For his eyes." Leafpool flicked her tail on her shoulder. "That's wonderful. Now, I will take Goldenkit to his new home. And you, dear sister, shall return to yours."
"Leafpool..." Squirrelflight stared after her littermate. Her amber eyes gazed back, kindness, warmth and all else which she reminded her of, pooling in them. Then, with Goldenkit tumbling between her feet, she returned to the stars.
"Squirrelflight? Squirrelflight!?" The desperate cries of Jayfeather woke her. Her nephew stood over her, his blind eyes wide. "Thank StarClan!" came the relieved sigh of Daisy. With her tail, she gestured for the queen to look down. At her side lay five small kits, some sleeping, some suckling.
"We carried them over to you. I'm sorry, but I couldn't save the last one. You can see him if you want to," Jayfeather added with a tinge of sadness.
Squirrelflight shook her head. "It's okay. Goldenkit is fine."
His blind blue gaze was beyind curious, but he nodded. As a medicine cat who walks with StarClan, he would surely get to know later.
Daisy pressed herself out, and, after checking the kits one last time, he exited too.
Outside, the sun was still low, but the ground was growing warmer. A few of the cats from the dawn patrol was gathered, and Sandstorm sprinted forward when Daisy came out.
"How is she? My kit, is she okay?" her question revealed the worry she had for her daughter. Daisy eased her, and spoke, loud enough to let Cinderheart, Lionblaze, Ferncloud and all the other cats in the clearing know.
"She's fine. She gave birth to six kits, although one of them died." The clearing gathered in a purr of delight. Poppyfrost called. "Can we see them?" Blossompaw sat by her mother, Millie. "Have you heard of a litter that big before?" Her mother looked thoughtful. "Only among Kittypets. It seems it's more common there. I'm not sure why."
Firestar came up to Sandstorm, and licked his mate between the ears. "Easy now. She must be exhausted. We'll see her later, I'm sure. Knowing Squirrelflight, it won't be long until she comes around."
Some time later, Jayfeather emerged from another check-up. With a nod to Firestar, it signaled they were allowed to enter.
The couple went in, leaving the rest curious. In the nursery, their daughter lay, awake but clearly emptied of all her usual spirit. Seeing Sandstorm, she growled: "Remind me never to do this again."
Her mother purred. "It's fine noe, lovely. They're wonderful." Firestar nosed his daughter. "Yes. You've done really well, Squirrelflight." His eyes caught the dark, unmoving bundle between her paws. "Shall we-" "No! Not yet. I want Goldenkit to stay for a moment longer."
Back outside, Brambleclaw had just returned from a hunting patrol. He approached the leader as he exited. "Forgive me, teh hunt took longer than we thought. We spotted the fox, and just couldn't let the chance to scare it away slip." The ginger tom nodded. "That's fine. At least the fox is gone now."
Dustpelt came up to them. "Now, any movement in the nursery?" Firestar turned to hm, his green eyes almost reflecting the sight he'd seen. "She's fine. There's five of them."
Dustpelt's whiskers shook. "Five? By StarClan..." "There were six, but the last one didn't make it," he added more solemnly. The dark warrior knew better than most how it was to lose kits. But he only nodded. "I say, I've never heard of a litter that big. StarClan on her side, seeing she made it through." He sighed, and walked off to hear more from Ferncloud, who'd just been to the nursery.
Lionblaze came up to the deputy. "Are you going to see them?" Brambleclaw looked almost taken aback, then shrugged his mighty shoulders. "Yeah, why not?" The cats close by gave him a quick stare, then returned their eyes. Everyone knew the relationship between the deputy and the ginger cat had been more sour than a fox's breath.
The tabby followed the younger warrior inside. A faint mewling sounded, together with the rythm of licking. Lionblaze called to the queen, and the two exchanged a few words before he remembered he was on sunhigh-patrol.
"I'll leave you up to it, then. You'll do great, I'm sure. Afterall, I don't remember any wrongs in my upbringing!" the golden tabby said cheerfully. Then, with a peek at Brambleclaw, he got outside.
It seemed to the deputy, that Lionblaze had now forgiven his aunt. Not that it was anything wrong about it. He felt actually calmer now, seeing that he'd decided to move on. Brambleclaw still had a fatherly affection for the warrior lingering, no doubt about it.
A shocked noise broke through his thoughts. "Brambleclaw? Why're-" the ginger queen began, but then shut her mouth. She must've remembered the promise. He stepped forward, awkwardly. The deputy looked down on the colourful patches of fur beside her.
"Have you given them names yet?"
The queen nodded, still amazed that he was talking to her like this, about the kits. Squirrelflight swallowed her tensiety, and began listing their names.
"The pale tabby here is Sunkit," she nudged a tom away from another. "And this ginger one is Fallowkit," she pointed to the little she-cat Sunkit had been lying on. "The little tortoise is Leafkit, and the dark ginger tom beside her is Ruffledkit." She purred as the tabby tom with a very fluffy, disheveled pelt, batted his tortoise sister. She turned to a tabby tom with almost the same pelt colour as himself. "This is Hazekit," she said and gave him a lick.
Then, the queen nodded towards the bundle between her paws ."And this is Goldenkit. For his eyes, which would've become golden."
At her saddened expression, Brambleclaw remembered Firestar said one kit didn't make it. "I'm sorry," he said. "No, don't be! I was the one who fainted!" Squirrelflight didn't sound sad anymore, only shocked. Her pelt stood on end. But his amber eyes stayed on the dead kit. "But if I hadn't agreed to your plea, this wouldn't have happened."
Her shocked green orbs turned dark with anger. "Don't you dare say this is something to feel sorry about! I wanted this! I've never wanted anything more! Goldenkit is not your fault! And yet you apologize to me!?" Her shaking voice was thick with many different, contrasting emotions.
Brambleclaw felt his neck fur rise in surprise and slight fear. "Okay, I won't apologize. You've pulled through. You've done well," he nodded, almost embarrassed.
Her fur flattened, and she turned her attention to the kits again.
Some seconds earlier, Cloudtail returned with his hunting party of Brackenfur, Sorreltail and Icecloud. The youngest she-cat padded towards the nursery, but was stopped by Lionblaze. "You shouldn't enter yet. The deputy is visiting at the moment." The white she-cat stared curiously at him. "Why?" The golden warrior winked. "You'll see."
The deputy in question had trouble finding words to say. Maybe he really should leave. Besides, their deal made it that the kits would never know him as their father. Right?
Squirrelflight licked Ruffledkit, then returned her attention to him. "Um, can I ask you something?" His eyes shot at her. "What?" Her ears flattened, and her voice turned meek. "I know you won't have anything to do with my litter, but would you bury Goldenkit? I just...don't have the strength...to do it myself..."
His amber gaze softened. She was still wo very scared of saying anything wrong, and she was far meker than she used to be in the past. But when he apologized, she showed the flames of the temper she had. Her heart still remained with him him, but he had decided to push her away after her lie. How long until Squirrelflight's heart changed? She had suffered so many losses. The whole clan lost faith to her, the kits she had raised turned on her, he broke up with her. Then, Leafpool died...
With cranky moves that would make even an elder look steady, he bent his massive body over the she-cat, and rasped his tongue over her torn ear. Squirrelflight stared at him, her words obviously lost.
But his own was there. "You said the litter won't know of me. Let's scratch that."
His heart thumped. Was he really going to return to her? After all this time? But the sight of her, staring longingly after him, caught him in the throat. She was the same, she'd never really changed. Brambleclaw hadn't wanted to see that, for he would too, long for the old days. But seriously, what did he have to lose?
"But...the promise?" Squirrelflight was genuinely confused.
"And I take it back, the same way I'm talking back everything else I've said until now." Her green eyes turned wider for each word, and she started to prick with embarrassment.
"You mean...you forgive me?" She locked his gaze.
"Yes," Brambleclaw said, and nodded.
Squirrelflight purred so hard it made her kits shake. Hazekit argued, and she had to calm herself down. Brambleclaw rose, and sniffed Goldenkit.
"I'll take him out now." He grabbed the cold kit, and padded out.
The queen lay with the remainder of her kits, staring happily at them. "He's forgiven me!" she called to herself. She nuzzled the kits one after another, thanking them, thanking him, for the blessing she'd just received.
When Brambleclaw came out, he carried a dark bundle in his mouth. He walked out through the entrance, and disappeared. Icecloud and Rosepetal looked after him, and then spoke with eachother. "Is that the?" "Yeah, I think so."
Firestar looked on from the Highledge. He heard Mousefur speak with Longtail beneath him. "Why's he carrying it?" the dusky brown she-cat asked. Longtail answered sleepily: "Dunno." The leader didn't know either, but he had a hunch.
When his deputy returned, he greeted him in the entrance.
"You buried him?"
"Yes, Firestar. I thought it reasonable to bury him instead of Squirrelflight, since she's so weak. Besides-" he put in before Firestar could ask the obvious. "-I'd rather bury my son by myself."
All those within hearing, choked upon hearing it. Cloudtail barged out a "What!", and Sandstorm coughed in her washing. Spiderleg padded up to his deputy.
"You mean...they are your kits?"
Brambleclaw puffed out his chest slightly, then answered cooly: "Yes, they're mine. All six of them." Spiderleg looked almost doubtful, then shrugged. "Well, good luck. Five kits...you'll need all the luck you can get."
Icecloud cheerfully spoke with Lionblaze, who answered: "Told you." And Whitewing nudged her mate Birchfall from sleep. Foxleap ran to him. "You just missed the news of the season!" he shouted.
By nightfall, every cat had seen the kits, and not to mention heard the news. The coming night was sorely needed for the tired Squirrelflight, and Jayfeather's look-in was luckily
The next night was a Gathering. The first cat Brambleclaw noticed in the crowd, was Tawnypelt, who sat beside her mate Rowanclaw.
"Brambleclaw!" she called to him, happily. After exchanging news, she looked around. "But where's Squirrelflight? She hasn't been to a Gathering for moons! She's not punished for something, right?"
Her brother's whiskers twitched in humour. Tawnypelt would guess punishment before sickness on Squirrelflight. Well, all who knew her would think like that. "No," he answered. "She's been confined to the nursery for two moons now."
His sister's green stare widened. "Really? When, I mean, how..." But before he could answer, the leaders called for silence. Most news went like always, and both Leopardstar and Onestar were quickly finished.
Then it was Firestar. He told of the fox chase, and then general news. "Then, for new cats, our queen Squirrelflight gave birth to six kits last night, where one sadly did not make it."
As he listed their names, Tawnypelt's jaws sunk. And Rowanclaw's too. Not to mention the rest of the cats present. "No way," she whispered. "That many? She must've been...big."
Brambleclaw chuckled. "Huge is more correct."
Firestar turned his stare at his deputy. "ThunderClan praises her and her mate Brambleclaw for well delivered."
Again, Tawnypelt turned to him. "You!?" she called loudly, and interrupted the meeting. Some cats laughed, but Blackstar looked like a throbbing vein.
"I mean," Tawnypelt turned to her brother. "I'm so glad you've finally recovered your head!" she licked his cheek, then turned to the leaders. "Forgive me." Bramblaclaw wasn't sure whether to feel insulted or relieved.
Blackstar was about to call out to her, but Firestar beat him to it. "I am glad to hear this of you, Tawnypelt. Now, Blackstar, would you like to continue our Gathering?"
Back home, Brambleclaw peeked in on Squirrelflight. She was still awake, her tail curled around two of the toms. "Really, these ants are driving me mad! They won't lie still for a moment, Sunkit especially. They've been crawling over me all day!"
Brambleclaw nudged the two upwards, so that they weren't in the danger of falling out of the nest. "They seem calm now. You should rest." He nuzzled her flank.
"Yes. If I'm lucky, Leafkit won't start squeaking until dawn."
It was weird, how they suddenly were back to their normal relationship. After all these lonely moons, he was back. To stay, this time. She stared at him.
"Hmm?" Brambleclaw murred.
Squirrelflight blinked: "I...I love you."
He licked her cheek. "I know."