Bound to Stars

Chapter 40 || Flashes Through Time

This is a long one, guys.

Please heed this trigger warning!

I’m not kidding, either. Lots of dark stuff buried in here, but it’s necessary to tell Batchaser’s backstory. If you’re still here and ready to move on, stay safe.


“Agh...” Batchaser groaned from the heavy weight on top of his back, body flattening under the she-cat. His eyes were screwed shut, claws sinking into the damp ground below him. Everything in his body was sore and pained, and all Batchaser wanted was a nice, long nap in StarClan. But that certainly wasn’t happening any time soon.

⠀⠀“Well?” the voice prompted impatiently. Batchaser’s eyes snapped open and he suddenly swiped his paw back, catching the cat in the face. She snarled and fell over, cursing under her breath. Finding his footing, Batchaser leapt out of her hold and flicked blood from his ears, gaze wide and unfocused.

⠀⠀And dear StarClan, the cat was Spiderstar.

⠀⠀Up close she was even larger, shaggy black fur broadening her size. Her eyes were a sharp yellow, like moonlight cast upon a shadowy forest, an amber glint fogging over her gaze. Her claws were long and sharp, and upon further inspection of her body, Batchaser could see the long scars drawn over her black pelt.

⠀⠀“You didn’t answer me,” Spiderstar said, slowly picking herself to her paws.

⠀⠀“Maybe I would’ve, if you hadn’t attacked me!” Batchaser spat, heart beating irregularly in his chest. He hated Clan cats sometimes. Seriously. Some of them just need to die already!

⠀⠀“I wanted to make an entrance.” A wide grin spread across Spiderstar’s cheeks, but Batchaser saw far too many teeth. I don’t trust her at all, he realized.

⠀⠀“Yeah, well.” Batchaser’s voice fell flat, and when he looked back at Spiderstar, something flashed in front of his eyes. A memory, so distant and tilted that he wasn’t even sure if it was real....

⠀⠀The haze widened into a black silhouette, outlined in splattered silver lines. A grove of trees flanked the outside area, grass soft and tufted under his paws. The shadow moved forward and blood-red claws slid out, a crooked smile spreading across the cat’s dark face.

⠀⠀“I-” Batchaser stepped back when he realized Spiderstar had inched closer, gazing at him like he was some sort of anomaly. “What was that?”

⠀⠀She was quiet for a moment. “You don’t remember.” It was less of a question - a statement, sharp and piercing.

⠀⠀“Remember what-?”

⠀⠀Batchaser was thrown back into the vision. He realized he was in a den, and a fluffy brown shape moved beside him. “Batkit!” she exclaimed, green eyes peering into his.

⠀⠀Adderkit. My dear sister, his heart whispered, and the memory was so sudden and painful he doubled over. Spiderstar looked down at him, thick, scarred tail twitching. “You’re remembering.”

⠀⠀Batchaser shook his head desperately, paws flying to his head. “No,” he said brokenly. “I can’t. I can’t relive any of that.” Batchaser lifted his head and his expression drew into a snarl. “How do you even know what’s happening to me?!”

⠀⠀“Because I’ve seen it. I keep seeing you in my dreams.”

⠀⠀Batchaser scowled. “Okay, that’s creepy. You know what else is creepy? You!”

⠀⠀“It’s because we’re here.” Her voice dropped to a whisper and Spiderstar cast her gaze around the clearing. “When you return, we’ll talk about everything.”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s eyes widened. “Wait, what do you mean when I return-?!”

⠀⠀He was thrust into another memory, space and time flying by his peripheral vision. He was Batkit again, staring up at his father’s cold blue eyes. A paw swiped into vision and harshly toppled him to the ground, Batkit’s scream bouncing inside his skull.

⠀⠀A chorus of angry voices faded into another memory, one where he and Adderkit put burrs in Dappletail’s nest. Fallenstar had been so angry, but nothing constituted the rage of his father. Batkit and his sister were taken out of camp in the middle of the night and he watched Cedartuft mutilate a rabbit. He was sure he’d never forget the blood dripping from his father’s claws, the dead look in the rabbit’s eyes as Cedartuft ripped its head off. “This is what I’ll do to you if you ever disrespect me again.”

⠀⠀“B-but Dad-” Adderkit yelped when Cedartuft slammed his paw down on her shoulder. She squirmed under his grasp, eyes wide and terrified. “H-how is p-pulling a prank on our- our Clanmates disrespecting you-?”

⠀⠀“Because!” Cedartuft snarled, spit flying from his lips, “if you’re disrespecting your Clanmates you’re disrespecting me. My image. Do you think I wanted kits?”

⠀⠀Adderkit began to cry. Cedartuft silenced her with a slap to the face. “Shut up! You’ll wake the whole camp with your whining. Come on.”

⠀⠀Batkit held his sister close. She sobbed into his neck fur and Cedartuft glared down at both of them. “If you ever tell anyone - even your mother - about what you saw tonight, I’ll make sure that rabbit is you next time.”

⠀⠀The vision faded into another. His mother, Finchcall, had started to become more and more distant, and Batkit’s memories of his father’s abuse distanced into a fog. The only thing he remembered from that night with Adderkit was the killing of the rabbit, and nothing else.

⠀⠀He and Adderkit became apprentices. The abuse passed from Cedartuft to Bearmask, and Batpaw found himself fighting to even wake up due to his mentor’s harsh words and merciless training. Adderpaw grew hardened, the jokes and pranks from Batpaw’s childhood disappearing with whatever else Adderpaw had lost.

⠀⠀The day had fallen to night, and Silverpelt glimmered over ShadowClan’s camp. Batpaw picked his way to the nursery under the blanket of darkness, face morphing into one of confusion. Finchcall was still awake. “Mom?” he whispered, voice gentle.

⠀⠀She didn’t move. Batpaw slid forward and pressed a paw to her flank. Finchcall jerked away, green eyes glassy and clouded. “Don’t touch me!”

⠀⠀“Mom-” Batpaw stared at her, shocked. Something akin to hurt pounded beneath his flesh, blood chilling. “I- what do you mean?”

⠀⠀“I didn’t do anything,” she said, shaking her head desperately. “Please. Don’t hurt me.”

⠀⠀“Mom, I’d never hurt you!” Batpaw began to tremble. A memory flashed - his father’s claws dripping with blood, but he couldn’t remember exactly where it came from.

⠀⠀Finchcall stared at him for a moment, hackles lowering. “Mom?” she echoed, rolling the word over her tongue like it was foreign. “Batpaw?”

⠀⠀“Yes,” he sobbed, pushing himself into his mother’s brown fur. “You scared me. I- I thought-”

⠀⠀Finchcall shushed him, wrapping her plumy tail around his scrawny body. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she repeated, eyes screwing shut. “I didn’t know it was you.”

⠀⠀“Who did y- you think I was?” Batpaw stuttered. Why was his mother so scared? Who was hurting her?

⠀⠀But his mother just shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, love,” she whispered. Her paw found its way to his flank and he froze when Finchcall brushed over a scar under his fur. The she-cat stiffened and blinked at him. “What is that?”

⠀⠀“N- nothing,” Batpaw said, scrambling away.

⠀⠀“No. It isn’t nothing.” Finchcall’s voice hardened slightly. “Who did that to you?”

⠀⠀His heart dropped. Was he really going to have to say it? Batpaw pushed his weight between both paws, shuffling his feet. “I made Bearmask angry... but I deserved it. I forgot my hunting crouch and we lost a squirrel. It was my fault, I should’ve-”

⠀⠀Finchcall curled her paws around his neck and pulled him into a hug. He eventually relaxed against her warmth, a cry wrenching from his throat.

⠀⠀“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

⠀⠀“Nonsense,” his mother said quickly, licking his ear. “Don’t be sorry. You didn’t deserve anything. I’ll talk to Bearmask tomorrow, okay?”

⠀⠀“Okay,” Batpaw replied, nodding into her pelt. Everything was going to be fine.

⠀⠀The vision swirled into another, not too long after Batpaw’s heart-to-heart with his mother. Bearmask has become less physical with Batpaw, but still tried to nick him from time to time. At least his mother had tried, right?

⠀⠀Then he began training with Adderpaw and her mentor, Pinestorm. Tension between Finchcall and Cedartuft only grew. “Hey,” Batpaw said after a training session, falling into step with his sister. “Do you know what’s going on with Mom and Dad?”

⠀⠀Adderpaw looked at him, ringed brown tail lashing. “You don’t want to know.”

⠀⠀Batpaw squinted at her. “What do you mean? Do you know something?”

⠀⠀“Don’t worry. It’s just family drama - things happen. So stop being nosy.” Adderpaw ended the conversation with a leap into camp, retreating into the apprentices’ den.

⠀⠀Batpaw began to watch his parents more. Every time Cedartuft marched up to Finchcall - and marched was not an exaggeration - she flinched away from him. Cedartuft stood uncharacteristically close to her, too. Batpaw grew more worried, especially when his mother’s health began to deteriorate. She was always in and out of the medicine den, and neither Hickoryflight nor Cloudpaw knew what to do.

⠀⠀The last line for Batpaw was when he visited Finchcall in the nursery again. She looked over at him, slightly disoriented, and tilted her head. “Are you here to see the new kits?”

⠀⠀Batpaw looked over at Shadedfern and the kits suckling on her side. “No,” he said, slightly confused, and returned his gaze to Finchcall. “I’m here for-”

⠀⠀“Their names are Ghostkit, Amberkit, and Bluekit,” Finchcall interrupted with a purr. “Sometimes I wish I had kits.”

⠀⠀Batpaw froze. Chips of ice speckled his blood and his fur stood on end. “Wh- what?”

⠀⠀Finchcall rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t look so surprised. I know Branchtuft and I never worked out, but there’s still time for me!”

⠀⠀“Mom,” Batpaw croaked, shoulders slumping. He stared at her, genuinely unable to comprehend what was happening. Did she not remember him? “It’s me. Batpaw.”

⠀⠀“That’s a nice name,” Finchcall nodded. “I’ve always wanted to have a son named Batkit. My grandfather’s name was Batstalker - one of the most influential senior warriors at the time of Willowstar and Softstar’s war-”

⠀⠀“I don’t care!” Batpaw exploded. He jumped to his paws, claws flicking in and out of their sheaths. “I’m Batpaw! The son of you and Cedartuft! Do you not remember me?!”

⠀⠀Finchcall laughed. “Cedartuft? I’m sorry, but I would never be with him! Any RiverClan cat from Softstar’s reign cannot be trusted, whether or not he’s in ShadowClan now.”

⠀⠀Batpaw backed away, shaking his head. “I- I can’t- I can’t do this.” He turned tail and sped from camp, pine trees towering over his head. Leaves crackled under his paws, a cold draft sifting through his fur. Batpaw harshly breathed through his nose, tears leaking out of his eyes. He didn’t understand what was wrong with his mother. How could she not remember him?

⠀⠀“....Batpaw..... Batpaw...!”

⠀⠀He swiveled his ears in the direction of the calls, blue eyes widening. Adderpaw. The brown tabby she-cat’s voice grew closer until she emerged from the foliage, blinking back at her brother. “Batpaw?”

⠀⠀“What?” he mumbled, tail flicking angrily.

⠀⠀Adderpaw frowned. “What’s wrong? Why’d you run out of camp?”

⠀⠀Batpaw glared at her, a scowl forming on his face. “Why do you care? After all, it’s just family drama.” He spit the words out like they were poison. “Just go, Adderpaw.”

⠀⠀His sister wasn’t known for being obedient, though. “No.” She slid forward and sat beside him, tufted ear tips flicking away a gnat. “What happened?”

⠀⠀Batpaw looked away. I don’t think I can say it. Shaking his head, he shrugged hopelessly. “Mom.”

⠀⠀Adderpaw’s gaze hardened. “What did she say?”

⠀⠀He began to tremble again, unable to meet his sister’s gaze. “She didn’t even know who I was. Her own son! And she didn’t know me!” His voice rose into a broken wail.

⠀⠀Adderpaw was quiet as Batpaw sniffled. He eventually stood up, aggravated. “It doesn’t matter. Just go away.”

⠀⠀“No, I-” Adderpaw’s voice died in her throat. She lifted herself to her paws, wavering. “I know what’s wrong with her.”

⠀⠀Batpaw’s head swiveled toward her. “What?” he demanded. “What is it? How do we fix her?”

⠀⠀But Adderpaw was already shaking her head. “We can’t.”

⠀⠀“What do you mean we can’t?!”

⠀⠀“It isn’t possible!” she snapped, teeth baring. “It’s all Dad’s fault- if we can even call him a father.”

⠀⠀“Cedartuft?” Batpaw said, shocked. No. He didn’t do anything. “Why are you blaming him? It’s obvious Mom is...” He waved his paws. “Messed up or something!”

⠀⠀“Yeah, because of him!” Adderpaw stomped forward and pointed to her shoulder, where two scars curled over her fur. “Where do you think I got this scar from?”

⠀⠀Batpaw’s mouth went dry. “N- no, you scratched it on a tree, remember?”

⠀⠀“No!” Adderpaw snarled. “I think I’d know where my scar came from, thank you very much. Remember when we put burrs in Old Dappletail’s nest?”

⠀⠀The memory was there, but it was vague. “I- I mean, yeah, Fallenstar was really mad at us because Old Dapple ratted us out-”

⠀⠀“But Cedartuft was even angrier.” Adderpaw began to pace back and forth. “He took us out of camp at night - remember? He beheaded the rabbit in front of us, then said we would end up that way if we disrespected him again?”

⠀⠀“N- no, no, no,” Batpaw whispered, shaking his head desperately. He remembered the rabbit, remembered the blood dripping from glinting white claws, the crooked smile hidden behind his father’s mask. But it couldn’t be true. Maybe it’d been a hunting accident gone wrong. But why did he take us with him? Shivering, Batpaw stepped back. “What does this have to do with Mom?”

⠀⠀Adderpaw faced her brother. “He-” She hesitated, seemingly weighing her options. “Batpaw, he hurts Mom. Abuses her.”

⠀⠀It felt like the world fell out around him. Batpaw froze, shocked, and stared back at Adderpaw. “Wh- what?” he stuttered nervously. “What do you mean, abuses her?”

⠀⠀“He claws her, Batpaw!” Adderpaw yelled, bushy tail lashing. “Are you dumb? Haven’t you seen?”

⠀⠀“No!” he exclaimed. “Why would he do something like that? I- I don’t even remember the night you’re talking about!” He did, though. Still, maybe pretending like it didn’t happen would make the pain go away.

⠀⠀“Liar!” Adderpaw spat. She reared her paws forward and slashed Batpaw’s cheek. He hissed and reeled away, fumbling over his feet. What in StarClan’s name is she doing? Batpaw leapt out of the way when his sister barreled for him, narrowly missing the snap of her jaws.

⠀⠀“Stop it!” he cried.

⠀⠀“Not until you listen to me!” Wasting no time, Adderpaw whirled around and clamped her teeth around Batpaw’s leg, pulling his weight out from under him. She pinned him to the ground but Batpaw was stealthier, batting an unsheathed paw up towards her chin to knock her away. He scrambled back, gaze glassy and unsteady. Adderpaw glared at him. “Why won’t you listen to me?”

⠀⠀“Because you’re talking nonsense!” Batpaw exclaimed, chest heaving with every breath. “This- this isn’t you. Just calm down!”

⠀⠀“I can’t calm down when my own brother won’t listen to me!” she screamed back. Batpaw suddenly realized how small and vulnerable she looked, tears dribbling down her cheeks. He paused, claws sinking into the ground to hold himself. She was telling the truth, but it was something Batpaw didn’t want to hear.

⠀⠀“I’m sorry,” is all he could say, mouth dry.

⠀⠀Adderpaw shook her head. “You’ll remember this day, Batpaw, and then you’ll see his true colors. Just like I have time and time again.”

⠀⠀Batpaw closed his eyes. “Don’t be dramatic.” He forced the words past his jaws, and they hurt to hear. When he looked at Adderpaw again, she appeared to be completely shattered.

⠀⠀“Goodbye.” Flicking her tail, his sister turned and disappeared into the foliage, nettles and brambles camouflaging her brown pelt.

⠀⠀Adderpaw didn’t return to the apprentices’ den that night. He figured she was out alone, thinking, and maybe looking to apologize. After all, she’d been the one to attack him! Batpaw decided not to think about her anymore and eventually fell asleep. When he awoke in the morning, Adderpaw’s nest was cold. Something worked tightly in his stomach.

⠀⠀Something’s wrong.

⠀⠀He leapt head-first out of the den, splattered pink and orange light outlining the patrol that was trudging into camp. On Fallowpike’s shoulder slumped a dark brown shape, completely unmoving. Batpaw’s blood went cold and he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. He watched Fallenstar leap down from the Leader’s Branch, muscles rippling under white and orange tabby fur. “What is this?”

⠀⠀Fallowpike frowned and gently leaned down, letting the cat roll off of his back. Batpaw flinched when he saw the dead, clouded haze in Adderpaw’s eyes. “We.... found her hanging on a vine on one of the trees.” The warrior stepped back, deeply disturbed. “It looks like she’s been there all night.”

⠀⠀“No,” Batpaw whispered.

⠀⠀“My baby! My baby, Adderpaw!” A shape flung itself from the nursery and next to his sister’s deceased form, shoulders heaving with heavy sobs. Batpaw watched his mother break, and he was sure the cracks were spreading to him, rotting through his chest. “What happened?! What did he do?!”

⠀⠀What did he do. Batpaw staggered off to the side and flopped to the ground, jaws widening as he threw up. Oh, dear StarClan. It was true. All of it was true. A wail formed in Batpaw’s throat as he laid there on the ground, broken and unmoving. I could’ve stopped this. I could’ve stopped her from... from.... if only I’d told her I remembered!

⠀⠀But it was too late, and his sister was dead.

⠀⠀A quarter moon later and Batpaw was standing atop one of the rocks in camp, face outlined by the silver glow of the moon. Silverpelt splattered across the sky, stars twinkling brightly. “Are you happy now?” he mumbled bitterly, tail lashing.

⠀⠀A dark shape moved on Batpaw’s side. He whirled his head around and spotted.... his mother. “Mom?”

⠀⠀“Hi.” Finchcall joined him on the tall, flat stone, following his gaze to the sky. “What are you doing?”

⠀⠀“Talking to Adderpaw.”

⠀⠀His mother visibly flinched. “Oh,” was all she said.

⠀⠀Silence spread between them. Batpaw twitched his ears and looked at his mother, face drawn into a frown. “Are you okay?” His eyes widened when he spotted the smear of blood on her cheek, deep clawmarks marring her fur. “Wh- what happened?”

⠀⠀Finchcall closed her eyes, clearly pained. “I never wanted you to know.”

⠀⠀He stared at her. “Cedartuft.”

⠀⠀She turned to him in surprise. “You.... know?”

⠀⠀“Adderpaw told me before...” Batpaw trailed off. “I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know she was going to do what she did.”

⠀⠀“Hush.” Finchcall wrapped her tail around his body, pressing him into her side. “It wasn’t your fault. I’m... afraid she saw more than you did - saw more of who your father really is. And I don’t think she could live with that.”

⠀⠀Batpaw began to tremble, and the emotions swirled in his chest, sudden and roaring and angry. “I’m sorry,” he spluttered. He turned his head and sobbed into her soft brown fur. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry....”

⠀⠀“Love. Hey. Look at me.” Finchcall pushed his chin up with her paw. “Remember that I always love you. I always will, no matter what happens. You must know that.”

⠀⠀Batpaw nodded. “I- I know. I know, Mom.” He forced his cries back down his throat. Something about his mother’s words sounded disturbingly familiar. “Why... why are you telling me this?”

⠀⠀Finchcall slumped, a pained smile forming its way on her cheeks. “I can’t stay here anymore, love. It isn’t safe for me. And I...” She shook her head. “I can’t keep living in that nursery, in this camp, in this forest where my baby- where-” She broke off. “He killed her, Batpaw. Cedartuft killed my baby, and now he’s going to destroy you, and I can’t watch my life fall apart anymore.”

⠀⠀Batpaw jerked back as if he’d been struck. “You’re leaving?” His words took on more force than he’d intended, but the anger was there, hot and brewing. “How could you do that to me? How could you leave me with him?”

⠀⠀Finchcall turned her head away. “Because I’m a coward, and you’re not.”

⠀⠀“So Adderpaw was a coward?” Batpaw’s voice grew hard. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you all so selfish?!”

⠀⠀“Batpaw, stop!” she cried, flinching away. “I can’t stay here! It’s done. I never belonged in this Clan, anyway.”

⠀⠀“What, so- so- so you’re going to leave? Go into the forest and probably end up dead at the paws of a badger or a fox? Is that really the life you want to live?!” Batpaw took a deep breath, labored breathing pushing harshly against his chest. “What did I do to you to make you leave? Do you think it’s my fault? You didn’t even remember me! You didn’t know your own son!” He began to sob, completely breaking down. “Did you know Cedartuft took me and Adderkit out one night and mutilated a rabbit in front of us? Then said we would end up like that if we disrespected him again? If we told you anything? Did you know?” The memories rushed back, dark and painful. “DID YOU?!”

⠀⠀Finchcall was deathly silent. Batpaw stumbled back, crying into his paws. It felt like his whole life was falling apart, like the earth was going to swallow him whole. His mother stepped forward then hesitated. “I’m.... I’m sorry, Batpaw.”

⠀⠀He saw a flash of Adderpaw and himself, standing in the forest clearing. ‘I’m sorry. Don’t be dramatic.’ The words hurt so, so badly. “J- just leave,” Batpaw spat angrily. “I don’t want to see you ever again.”

⠀⠀Finchcall had a horribly broken expression in her blue eyes. “Batp-”

⠀⠀“LEAVE!” he screamed.

⠀⠀His mother took a deep breath and nodded. “Then.... so be it. Goodbye, son. I hope you find the life you deserve.” With that, Finchcall turned and bounded down the rocks, disappearing from the mouth of camp.

⠀⠀Batpaw didn’t watch her leave.

⠀⠀Moons passed after the death of Adderpaw and the disappearance of his mother. Batpaw refused to speak to Cedartuft, intent on believing he had ruined their lives. It was him. Everything was his fault. The anger gradually turned into rage, until one day he snapped and attacked his father on a border patrol. Fallenstar had been furious, but Batpaw didn’t care - the fearful expression in Cedartuft’s eyes had been enough to satisfy him. “You little monster,” his father eventually growled as they walked back to camp.

⠀⠀Batpaw whirled around, Lynxpaw and Pepperflight physically restrained him. “I hate you!” he screamed. “You killed Adderpaw and Finchcall! It should’ve been you!”

⠀⠀Fallenstar had a talk with Batpaw after the ordeal. He’d be cleaning out the elders’ ticks for another moon - and his warrior ceremony would be held back, as it was meant to be held in a few days. Batpaw genuinely didn’t care anymore.

⠀⠀When he returned to the apprentices’ den, Lynxpaw looked up at him, amusement glimmering in her sky-blue eyes. “That was quite a show, Batpaw.”

⠀⠀“Leave me alone,” he growled. The black tom sunk into his nest, curling his thin tail around his scrawny body.

⠀⠀A shadow covered the partial sunshine through his eyelids. “C’mon. Want to talk about it?”

⠀⠀Batpaw ignored her.

⠀⠀“Hmph.” Lynxpaw flopped to the ground. “Fine. Then I’ll just sit here until you do.”

⠀⠀“Wear yourself out.”

⠀⠀Lynxpaw hummed. “Did he do something to you? Why don’t you like him? I mean, everyone knows about your family, but-”

⠀⠀Pain and anger exploded in Batpaw’s chest. He threw himself to his feet and shoved Lynxpaw away. “Go bother someone else!” he snarled, fur bristling along his back. “My father is a terrible cat. He killed my family, and he deserves every bad thing that comes to him!”

⠀⠀Lynxpaw stared at him. “Are you done?”

⠀⠀Batpaw glared back. “Don’t. Talk. To. Me.” He turned away from her and dropped back down in his nest, flicking his ears down to block out her rambling.

⠀⠀Life gradually got better, though. Batpaw finished his punishment in the elders’ den and became a warrior alongside Lynxpaw, who was a moon younger. Batchaser and Lynxbite. That somehow felt right.

⠀⠀Lynxbite had also managed to gradually work her way into Batchaser’s heart. The anger and pain of his past began to dissipate, and he realized how much he loved her.

⠀⠀“Be with me,” she suddenly said on a hunting patrol, just the two of them side-by-side.

⠀⠀Batchaser jerked back, surprised. “What?”

⠀⠀Lynxbite turned toward him. “Be my mate.”

⠀⠀His heart unexpectedly burst with joy. Batchaser’s eyes widened and a wide grin formed on his cheeks. “Yes. Yes, I- I-”

⠀⠀She smirked. “Love me?”

⠀⠀“Yes.” Batchaser was breathless.

⠀⠀“Good.”

⠀⠀So, the two new mates cherished their new relationship, and surprisingly, their Clanmates congratulated them.

⠀⠀But with leaf-fall came clear blue skies, and with leaf-bare came a harsh, relentless snow. Many of Batchaser’s Clanmates caught Greencough - Fallenstar, Toadsong, Fallowpike, and Cedartuft. Fallenstar lost a life and Toadsong was lucky enough to recover. Fallowpike, however, passed in his sleep.

⠀⠀Cedartuft. One day, Batchaser pushed his paws through the thick snow, white flakes falling around him. He shook his black fur out and entered the medicine den, nodding at Cloudflame. In the back of the den was Cedartuft, gray fur matted and hazel eyes crusted. “Mmmm..?” He groaned softly. “Cloudflame?”

⠀⠀“No.” Batchaser’s voice was full of cold steel, unbreakable. He stood calmly, looking down at his father. “It’s me. Your son.”

⠀⠀Cedartuft froze, an indescribable expression on his ugly face. “Oh.”

⠀⠀“Listen.” Batchaser breathed in thickly. “You will not control my life or emotions any longer. You’ve hurt me, my sister, my mother, and all because you’re selfish. I can’t even call you a father - you’re less than one. Maybe the worst in the world.” He shook with anger but controlled himself. Memories of his father’s violence flashed back, and looking down on him, Batchaser realized how weak and scared Cedartuft really was. “I’m happy you’re going to die. And I hope that you wake up and find yourself in the Dark Forest, where you’ll be tortured over and over again for the rest of eternity.” He stepped back, trembling. “Goodbye, Cedartuft.” With that, Batchaser turned away, trudged back up the slope, and flopped next to Lynxbite in the warriors’ den.

⠀⠀Cedartuft died the next day.

⠀⠀Life still went on, and it seemed like things were only getting better. It was a sore thought, but perhaps losing his family had been the only thing to build him up - to reach the ‘life he deserved,’ as his mother had so eloquently stated. That being said, Batchaser was absolutely ecstatic when Lynxbite broke the news.

⠀⠀She was pregnant.

⠀⠀Seventeen moons old and Batchaser was going to have kits. The image of their children running around their feet, growing into good, strong warriors changed his entire perception of life. Unlike Finchcall, he would never abandon them, and unlike Cedartuft, Batchaser would never hurt his kits or his mate.

⠀⠀Except.... Lynxbite didn’t seem as excited as he was. Her expression was muted, dull, face sunken in from what Batchaser assumed was stress and a lack of sleep. She was shaping up to be a great warrior, and gossip was spreading quickly - would Lynxbite become the next deputy of ShadowClan?

⠀⠀Batchaser gradually noticed his mate’s change in personality as the pregnancy continued. While they’d once enjoyed hunting patrols together, running side by side through the foliage, Lynxbite refused to leave. If they were put on patrol, she would often scratch Batchaser for saying something about their “future kits.” Her belly had rounded and the promise of children was there, but.... Lynxbite was different now.

⠀⠀“Lynxbite?” Batchaser finally gathered the courage to ask about their relationship one night, stars spreading out like cobwebs in the navy sky. “Are we... okay?”

⠀⠀She looked at him in surprise. “Of course. Why wouldn’t we be?”

⠀⠀That filled Batchaser with even more confusion. Perhaps he was a stupid tom, but something didn’t add up here. “I just-” He touched the faded outline of clawmarks on his shoulder blade, where Lynxbite had gotten angry about Batchaser’s name choice. “It feels like something has changed.”

⠀⠀Lynxbite shifted on her paws uncomfortably. “Well, of course it’s changed. We have.... kits... on the way.” Batchaser flinched back when Lynxbite spat out the word ‘kits.’ It all clicked together, and gears began turning in his mind.

⠀⠀“Oh,” he said miserably. Batchaser staggered back slightly, eyes screwing shut. “You don’t want my kits, do you?”

⠀⠀There was a thread of silence where Batchaser so hopefully wanted his mate to deny his claims, tell him he was being silly, that of course she’d want his kits. But... nothing came. When he opened his eyes, Lynxbite was faced away, tail lashing back and forth. “No. I don’t.” Her voice was harsher than he’d ever heard before, full of malice and contempt. “I never wanted kits. I thought you knew that.”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s eyes widened. “Me? What in StarClan’s name are you talking about?”

⠀⠀“I know you wanted this!” Lynxbite spat, whirling around. “Didn’t you? You wanted me to get pregnant, just so you could swoop in and ‘save’ me! So that you could build your happy little family after yours was offed one by one! Well, guess what? I don’t want children! Especially not with you!”

⠀⠀The words cut off Batchaser’s air circulation. That familiar feeling of grief and terror returned, rotting cracks thrumming through his chest. He could hear his own heartbeat echoing in his ears, and the swirled voices of his lost family members bounced back.

⠀⠀Lynxbite stared at him for a moment longer, then promptly turned away, bounding into the foliage nestling around the pine trees. Batchaser tried to shake the memories away and lifted his paws, making chase after his mate, if that’s what they even were anymore. “Lynxbite!” His voice was so small and fragile. Does she hear me?

⠀⠀Picking up his pace, Batchaser dug his claws into the leaf-strewn ground. “Lynxbite!” he called again, this time louder. He could no longer hear her heavy pants as she ran, though. That familiar feeling twinged in his stomach. No. No. No! He desperately whirled his head from side to side, trying to locate her. She’s pregnant with your kits! Why did you let her run away? “Lynxbite!”

⠀⠀A gurgled scream caused Batchaser’s ears to swivel in that direction. She was out of the territory. Why did she go there?! Batchaser propelled himself forward, leaping over brambles and nettle patches until he’d crossed the border near ThunderClan territory. The scream grew quieter, but he located it in the bottom of a hollow. Batchaser slid between fallen tree trunks, adrenaline pumping his body forward. He eventually skidded to a stop where another scream cut off and there- there was Lynxbite-

⠀⠀She was three quarters submerged in quicksand, jaws opening into a strangled cry that quickly filled with the bubbling brown substance. Lynxbite looked at him, eyes closing painfully, and then she was gone.

⠀⠀“NO!” Batchaser did what any stupid tom would do and leapt right in after her, paws swishing through the quicksand as he tried to find her sinking body. However, his movements became choppy and eventually Batchaser became stuck as well, thick globs sticking to his fur. He closed his eyes and realized that, if he died now, he would see Lynxbite in StarClan, see Adderpaw and, maybe, his mother. The thought of dying suddenly wasn’t so terrifying. Maybe I should let it happen. If I’ve lost Lynxbite, I’ve lost everything.

⠀⠀Batchaser would come to realize that the world never seemed to work in his favor, though. A strong set of paws heaved him from the quicksand and propped him on top of a thick log, pulling him to solid ground. “No!” he cried, hardly able to register what was happening. “Lynxbite! LYNXBITE! No....”

⠀⠀After the ThunderClan patrol saved him, Batchaser was escorted back to camp after a wash-up in the nearby river. News of Lynxbite’s death spread quickly, and rumors began to circulate- had Batchaser killed his own mate? Was he working with ThunderClan? Why were they out of the territory, and what idiot gets stuck in quicksand?!

⠀⠀The words didn’t matter to Batchaser anymore, though. Moons came and went, and his heart became cold, his tongue sharper than ever before. It seemed as if everyone avoided him - and, really, he couldn’t blame them for doing so. Batchaser was sure Finchcall’s last words to him were very true. Maybe he deserved this. The pain, the suffering, the agony. If not, then why was StarClan so cruel?

⠀⠀Fallenstar and his mate - Sapbranch - eventually had a single kitten they named Spiderkit. Batchaser tried to ignore her, but the huge, shaggy, black-furred imbecile never left him alone. That’s why when, one night, watching the stars alone in the clearing, he did something he never thought he’d ever have the courage to do.

⠀⠀The night had been dark, little to no stars speckling the sky. The moon was shrouded in storm clouds, a light drizzle spitting on the earth. Batchaser’s ears flickered when he heard the crunch of twigs and the hushed murmurs of voices. “C’mon. Just follow me out here. It’s no worries. I won’t hurt you. Your dad sent me.”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s blood turned cold when he heard Spiderkit respond back, “Okay.” What was going on? Senses on high alert, the black tom slunk through the blanket of shadows, creeping through the undergrowth. He saw the outline of Spiderkit, and another tom was leading her away from the border - a ThunderClan cat, pale brown in color with glowing green eyes. “Fallenstar is over here?”

⠀⠀“He is.” The tom crept up behind Spiderkit, eyes trailing over the she-kit’s body. “Just a little further, now.”

⠀⠀Batchaser felt like he was going to be sick. “What are you doing, you sick freak?!” he snarled, outraged.

⠀⠀The ThunderClan tom quickly whipped around, eyes wide. “O-oh! I’m- I’m sorry, this kit was lost so I was just telling her I’d take her back to your camp-”

⠀⠀“Batchaser!” Spiderkit exclaimed gleefully, grinning widely. She suddenly narrowed her eyes and stared at the strange tom in confusion. “What? You said Fallenstar was over there!”

⠀⠀The ThunderClan tom opened his jaws to explain, but Batchaser was faster. “I know.” His black fur began to bush along his back. “What’s your name?”

⠀⠀The cat wavered, paws pointing toward his own territory. “I- I don’t- I don’t think-”

⠀⠀“What.” Batchaser stalked forward with each word. “Is. Your. NAME?”

⠀⠀The ThunderClan tom seemed to deflate, green eyes dimming. “Paleheart.” He suddenly jerked up. “I- we- we can share, hey, if you promise not to tell, I don’t mind if you come along-”

⠀⠀Batchaser protectively curled his tail around Spiderkit and pressed her close to his side. The words made him want to throw up, and the thought of some tom trying to do something so vile to this innocent kit.... it made him angry. He pulsed with rage. “I’m going to kill you.” Batchaser’s words were cold and quiet, but the bite was there. The threat was imminent.

⠀⠀Paleheart stared at him numbly, then his expression morphed into one of assurance. “Then you’d best watch your back, Batchaser.”

⠀⠀Three moons later and Rippletail lead the battle attack into ThunderClan’s territory. Three moons later and Batchaser would die at the claws of Paleheart, sickening green eyes glowering over his body. Three moons later and Batchaser would find his way to StarClan, except none of his family was there, and he was alone once more, left to be solitary in a place meant to bring family back together....

⠀⠀Batchaser’s eyes cracked open. Spiderstar was standing over him, a clear frown on her muzzle, ears flicking back. “Do you remember?”

⠀⠀The black tom shook with a sob and nodded. “I remember it. I... I remember everything.”

⠀⠀Batchaser truly wished he hadn’t.

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