Chapter 6: Sunstorm
"Well?" Sunstorm insisted. Her paws ached horribly and she hoped this yellow-ginger tom couldn't see how weak and battered she was. She knew she couldn't win a fight with him. And she knew he wasn't hesitant about striking. He'd just attacked the white she-cat that currently crouched behind her.
"She's my mate," the tom finally meowed. He waited for her reaction.
"It doesn't seem like she wants to be your mate now," Sunstorm spat. "You should just leave her alone."
"Don't get involved in something you don't understand," he growled back, the snarl plastering itself on his features again. He leaned forward threateningly.
"I don't need to be involved to know that she hates you and is scared of you," Sunstorm replied, refusing to give in and back away. She glanced behind her shoulder at the other she-cat.
The white she-cat with a black belly crouched there, watching with wide blue eyes. Black trees formed a forest around them. Branches raising high into the sky narrowed, tipped by gray leaves. It was such a gloomy place and Sunstorm was surprised to even see any cats living here.
"What is going on?" she meowed.
"He won't leave me alone," the she-cat whispered. "I want him to go away, but he keeps coming after me."
Sunstorm looked back at the tom and gave him a glare. "That isn't very nice. You could do so much more than follow her around and make her miserable. I know, it might be fun for you, but really. . ."
The tom hissed at her and dug his claws into the sand. His tail thrashed behind him. "You don't even understand. Be quiet and leave us alone."
"I can't, not when you keep trying to harm her."
"He killed me," came the she-cat's chilling whisper. "He killed me and I came here. Then he came here after me."
Sunstorm blinked. This tom had killed her and then died too? Had he murdered her and then himself, chasing her down even to death?
"That's sick," she spat.
Suddenly his ears went down and his eyes closed. She watched his claws come in.
"I keep trying to apologize, but she won't listen," he meowed. His eyes flashed open and he looked over Sunstorm. "Please, Hawthorn, just give me a few moments."
"Shut up!" the white she-cat screamed and got up from her crouch. Sunstorm suddenly felt nervous to have her at her back. She couldn't see this other cat and it made her frightened. She couldn't keep both in her sights if she was supposed to be protecting one or the other, not that she wanted to protect the tom. She'd probably just run if they started fighting again. Or limp away as it may be.
"I don't care what you have to say. You're only here to punish me."
"Hawthorn," the tom pleaded.
"Quiet! All this is my punishment. You're here to punish me. You're words hurt like your claws hurt. Leave me alone!"
She wailed and raced away. Sunstorm turned to see her disappearing behind the black tree trunks, a flash of light fading away into the gloom. She stared after the she-cat and only turned when the tom sighed.
She looked at him. He leaned down, his head lower than his shoulders. His tail didn't even move behind him.
"You aren't going after her?" Sunstorm asked.
He just shook his head.
"I thought you wanted her," she meowed. It didn't make any sense. He'd been so insistent, obsessively so about being with her. Now he was just letting his 'mate' go.
"I do, but she won't listen to me. She never does." He looked up and stared at her with his multicolored eyes. "It's been moons and she still believes there is nothing good here."
Sunstorm glanced around, one of her eye lids drooped. It sure didn't look like a fun place they'd picked out to live in. No prey, just these dark trees.
"My name's Forest by the way," the tom meowed. He flicked his tail. "That was Hawthorn."
"Great," she nodded with a tight smile. Like she really wanted to know who he was. "Where is she going anyway?" Sunstorm asked.
"Anywhere from here," he replied. "She won't leave this forest. She never does. She wants to stay because she died and awoke here."
"And you?" she meowed, her eyes narrow.
"I won't leave her," he meowed, glaring back at her. "I don't care what you think, but it's not whatever your young mind can imagine."
"Young?" she questioned, suddenly in a strange mood. "We never age here," she told him. "For all you know I'm older than you."
He blinked and his ears went back. "I-I'm sorry then."
She smiled, feeling laughter bubble inside her chest. It suddenly turned into a cough. She sat down and wheezed until the constricted feeling left.
"Are you all right?"
She opened her eyes to see him peering at her, concern on his face. His eyes trailed down her chest to her paws. She looked down too. Blood leaked from her paws and cracked claws. She could even see the bloody paw prints leading away, probably even to the beach where she'd woken up.
"I've had a rough day," she meowed.
He waited, but when she didn't continue, he looked away. She didn't feel the need to explain anything to him. He was an odd cat she still wasn't certain about. After all, what tom kills his mate?
"You should rest," he meowed.
"I have someplace to be," she answered.
She started to turn away, not interested in these problems anymore. She couldn't help and obviously Hawthorn had survived long enough with him. She wasn't in any mood or physical position to fight.
"Where?" he asked, tilting his head. He actually seemed interested.
"I don't want you following me," she growled at him.
"Don't worry, I won't," he rumbled back.
They stared at each other and then Sunstorm started walking away again. She could see the light changing on the ground and in the leaves. Overhead in the spaces she could see through the gray, the sky turned an orange. She had to find a place to rest. In the morning, she'd start her journey back to the mountains. Or at least back to StarClan.
"Just sit down and wait here," she heard him meow.
"No way," she answered, not turning around.
"I can't let you limp away like this. You aren't in any condition. Stay here and I'll be back with some prey."
She blinked and stopped walking. The mention of food made her stomach growl. She licked her lips and looked back at him, examining him with narrowed eyes.
He seemed different from when he held Hawthorn down. No longer was that snarl on his face, anger burning in his eyes. He seemed genuinely concerned now.
"You aren't just teasing me are you?" she meowed.
He sighed. "I know you probably don't trust me. I don't know what you think, but I'm not a bad cat. Just let me care for you right now. You can go on your way tomorrow. Whatever you'd like to do."
"Why are you doing this for me?" she meowed. "I can take care of myself."
"I need to feel like I'm wanted," she heard him whisper, his eyes closing. "I make a mistake. Just one mistake and it cost me. It tore my family from me. Now I can never be forgiven. I haven't seen one cat since we got here. It's just me and her. All alone here. Sometimes I feel like I'm going mad."
She watched him, his face changing into grief. She swallowed her throat suddenly tight.
I shouldn't feel this way about him, she told herself. I shouldn't feel sad for him. I shouldn't believe what he says. I've seen what he did. He killed his mate. Who would even trust a tom like this?
"I'll wait here," she meowed quietly.
He looked up at her and for a while his blue and green eyes didn't seem to believe her. Then he nodded. "I'll be back."
Well, I hope so, she thought, her eyes narrowing at his yellow-ginger back. Why else would I stick around?
When he disappeared between the black trunks Sunstorm looked for a place to rest. There wasn't any undergrowth to hide under, or moss to lie on. In a forest it just seemed natural to find a good bush to have overhead protecting you. Not that they needed protection. There weren't foxes, dogs, or badgers in this dead world. In the end she just sat and waited for Forest to get back. She found a spot in the remaining sunlight and let the warmth soak into her sore body.
The yellow-ginger tom came back as the light started to become dark blue and her beam of sunlight disappeared. He carried a large fish in his jaws. Sunstorm looked up when she heard his paws sinking into the sand.
"Here," he said, dropping the fish in front of her.
She stared at it. "Thanks." Fish wasn't her favorite thing. It was for RiverClan cats. But she didn't suppose there would be anything else in this black forest. He probably had to go to the stream to even catch this.
"I was surprised to find even after I died I was hungry," he meowed, watching her take a bite.
She grimaced at the strong taste. "So was I," she told him, remembering her first night she died. "But you get used to it."
"I suppose," he meowed.
He sat down, not too close. She was glad when he stopped watching her. It still made her uneasy to have him with her, but at least he wasn't growling at her anymore. It seemed less and less likely that he would attack.
"So where do you sleep?" she asked when she couldn't take another bite of the fish, too disgusted.
He licked his whiskers, his eyes on the remainder. "Anywhere. I find where Hawthorn is and I rest nearby."
"I suppose that isn't any different than the Tribe," she meowed. They slept in the open and she was almost used to it.
"The Tribe?" His ears went up.
She frowned at him. She really didn't want to tell him about anyone else. But as far as he knew there hadn't been anyone else in the skies. He probably hadn't even known when he died that he'd wake up here.
"They're a group of cats living in the mountains," she replied. "I visited them for a while."
"A group of cats?" he asked.
She nodded. "After cats die, they come here. Many watch their descendants and guide them."
"I didn't know we could see our families," he meowed. A hungry look crossed his features. Then he blinked. "So how did they meet?"
"The Clans?" she meowed.
"No, the Tribes, group of cats." He obviously didn't realize these were the same things.
"When we were alive, we always knew we'd die and join StarClan or the Tribe of Endless Hunting," she meowed.
He stared at her. "You knew?"
She nodded. "We knew. Most rogues and loners don't though. So I can see how it was a shock for you."
He sighed. She wasn't expecting a reply, but he had something to say. "Do you think we could find a way to look at our family?"
She stared at him. "I have no idea. Usually there's some special spot you all share in common. I think they have to know you're here to even see or contact them."
He gave another sigh, closing his eyes tight.
"I'd really like to sleep now," she told him. "So you can find Hawthorn now."
He opened one eye. "You just want to get rid of me. I understand. She's the same. But right here isn't the most comfortable spot to sleep."
He stood up and approached a tree. He started digging at the base of a trunk. Sunstorm stood up and limped over. Forest used his claws to pull away the sand, creating a low dipping nest. The sand slowly became darker, and a pile built up to the side.
"Here," he meowed and pointed to it with an ear.
He walked over to the fish and picked up what was left, eyes on her as if certain she would tell him to stop.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I'll make sure Hawthorn is all right," he said through the fish. "I'll be back in the morning."
She watched him walk away and then she curled up inside the nest he'd made for her. Oddly enough, she felt completely safe.