Chapter 17: Lakefrost
He squeezed through the white slats of wood. The gate latch rattled against the post. He froze, eyes darting. He saw no movement in the garden and let his fur lie flat. But he wouldn't relax. No, not in the middle of a twoleg place. He continued through the gate, leaving the thunderpath behind as he entered the hedged-in garden.
Morning sunlight slanted down. It passed through the leaves of the apple tree, spattering a dappled shadow onto the gravel path which led from the gate to the dwelling's back porch. On either side of the path, neat rows of plants grew in patches of dirt enclosed by low red bricks. Flowers in full bloom sent out thick scents overwhelming his sister's scentmarks. Bees droned, flying from flower to flower in a rapid dance. Vines rocked on their poles as a cool wind blew away some of the clouds overhead. But the gray masses fought back, plunging the ground into misty shadow.
Lakefrost stepped away from the gate and started down the path. The gray tabby tom flicked his low ears and his blue eyes scanned the garden. Where was his sister? Last time she'd sat on the back porch, eating from a bowl of food by the door while a twoleg stroked her back. Now he couldn't see the bowl and her golden pelt was nowhere in sight.
The rocks crunched as he padded onward. A narrow white twoleg nest settled in his gaze. He approached it. This door was open and he peered in to see a low wooden table leaning against one side. Reddish-brown round containers rested beneath the table, bags of dirt filled the nest, and shining metal with flecks of rust hung from the walls. But no Honeybee. A stale scent wafted from one corner, rising from a pile of rages. They'd been used once as a nest, but she hadn't been back to that place.
His brow furrowed and he pulled his head out. He glanced side-to-side, fur fluffing against the cutting wind. Where was she? He stared at the ground, his shoulders hunched. She hadn't left had she? Maybe she'd run from here after he found her, determined to never see him again. Or maybe the twolegs had gotten rid of her. His heart clenched at the thought. In either case, he probably wouldn't see her again.
A squeaking noise caught his attention and he looked up. The back door to the twoleg next had opened. He tensed, searching for a place to hide, not wanting to be trapped in the narrow nest. He was expecting a twoleg to come out, but instead she appeared. Her gait was stiff, a frown on her golden face. The door shut behind her and she sighed, sitting down.
He smiled. He'd found her. She was still here. The tom started walking over, not wanting to call out in case a twoleg came out or his voice startled her. She rose and stretched long, her eyes closed. Her tail waved in the air as her front paws reached out.
"Honeybee," he meowed. One paw rested on the first step up to the porch. Her eyes opened and she stared down at him. Her jaw opened slightly.
"Lakefrost," she breathed, smiling brightly. She straightened, sitting back down.
He hurried up the rest of the way and purred, licking her head. She returned the gesture, leaning on him.
"You came back," she meowed.
"Yes, I couldn't leave you," he answered.
She sat back and gazed at him.
"They let you in?" he asked.
"Lock me in more like it," she sighed. "Every night, as if I can't handle myself. Then they force me out every morning. And on a day like this when it's going to rain, I'd rather be inside."
He nodded as if he understood, as if even wanting to be inside with those tall creatures wasn't repulsive.
"Are you really happy here?" he meowed. His eyes remained lowered on the stone porch. Perhaps he really didn't want to know, but if she was content, he shouldn't try to take her away to a life she despised.
"I am . . ." she meowed.
He looked up, eyes wide and his heart pounded.
". . . content I suppose," she continued. "Like I said, I'm safe here. I'm not a burden to anyone."
"How are you a burden? We all miss you. Orangestripe misses you."
"He does?" she meowed, blinking rapidly. "You do?"
"I'm sorry about before," he started. "I just wanted you to stay here away from the battle, but I was wrong. We need you there. StarClan called you because you were the right cat to fulfill that duty."
"But I'm useless," she told him. "No cat trusts me with anything and I can't fight."
"StarClan trusts you. Fawnfur even trusts you. She needs you. She told me that herself. And you are not useless: you're my sister, my Clanmate, a warrior. You are still alive and healthy. You aren't deaf!" His voice ran in the stillness.
She stared at him with wide eyes.
"Are you?" he whispered as the leaves blew away from the question hiding in his mind. Finally he knew what had been bothering him. If Badgerface was deaf, could the same thing have happened to the rest of his siblings? Was Honeybee haunted by the same problem?
"No. Why would I be?" she asked, her head tilted to the side.
"Any other problems then?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Badgerface," he meowed.
She blinked and still looked confused.
"He can't hear," Lakefrost meowed and briefly explained what he'd learned when he went back to the Clan. "So you see, he should be feeling like a burden and leaving us, but he hasn't and we won't give up on him. Like I won't give up on you."
She stared at him, her eyes shining, her mouth quivering.
"Oh, Lakefrost," she sobbed out and buried her head in his chest. "I'm such a fool. The Dark Forest wanted to tear us apart and I gave in. I can't go back. I'm not worth it."
"You made a mistake," Lakefrost agreed, "but we still want you. Fallingstar has missed you. She's confused why you had to leave. It doesn't matter what you did or why, but come back. Be with us when the Dark forest comes. We couldn't fight without you."
He could feel her head against his chest. "Yes, yes."
He felt glad. She was coming back! Her sister was no longer a kittypet but a warrior of ShadowClan.
"So quickly?" he murmured.
"I lied," she told him, glancing up into his face. "It might be safe and have everything I need, but I'm not happy. I miss you. I miss the forest and the Clan and-and Orangestripe. I want to go home!"
"Then we'll go," he meowed. Suddenly a yawn overtook him. "But I've been traveling all night to get here. Let's sleep first."
She smiled and nodded, guiding him to the narrow white nest before they went back to the lake.