Chapter 16: Badgerface
He could only feel his heart beating steadily in his chest. The sound slowly rose, filling his head. Somehow everything became muffled and yet his ears felt full when everything else became silent. It felt like his head was under water. He knew what sticking his head under water was like. He'd done it once on a dare as an apprentice.
It had been a Gathering night. RiverClan's Dustypaw and Gorsepaw challenged him to see how long he could hold his breath beneath the water. He agreed to their challenge, dipping his head into the lake water for as long as he could. He almost passed out before a warrior found them and pulled him out.
He caught whitecough from the occurrence. It slowly worsened before Littlecloud and Flametail cured him. However, since he recovered, things went wrong. Sounds started fading, voices cut out around him. The episodes lasted for longer and longer periods until for at least a day he could hear nothing at all. He was nearly deaf. He could only wonder how long it would take before the sounds never came back. He, Badgerface of ShadowClan, was a flawed warrior. Why did StarClan even want his help? He didn't feel able or worthy enough to help. They probably didn't know about his disability or else they wouldn't have asked him.
There were times when he could hear just fine, answer other warriors, do as they asked. The other times he could only behave like usual, react by the looks on faces. Just answer yes, no, repeat back the things that made it through the silence. It made hunting difficult. He didn't know how loudly he placed his paws or if prey cried out. He had to spot prey with his eyes because he'd never hear it. He would never be able to tell until the last heartbeat if he'd been ambushed in fight.
Badgerface felt he couldn't do much. He hadn't even received the message StarClan had sent Lakefrost, Honeybee, or Mallowstalk. Mallowstalk had to tell him the starry ancestors had included him. He hadn't even received the full prophecy the rest spoke about. Fortunately that day he'd been able to hear. Because after, he'd heard Lakefrost's plan to visit Fawnfur for the first time and he and his siblings had almost stopped the gray tabby tom. It seemed for nothing though.
Lakefrost had been punished twice for trying to meet with Fawnfur. Now the ThunderClan she-cat was there by the border, willing to step over the scentmarkers just to meet with Lakefrost. That had to be dedication of some sort. The little ginger-brown tabby she-cat crouched in front of Mallowstalk, looking very frightened. She stood in the sparsely covered ground before the ShadowClan border. A few bushes poked between the trees. The leaf covered ground, full of fallen branches, ferns, bushes, and grass hid the Clan territory behind Fawnfur. She had her chance to run, but she slowly stood up, confronting Mallowstalk.
She glanced at him and he looked away, not willing to meet her eyes. Who knew what she thought he meant by it. He could hear her breathing and then the silence returned, filling his ears. He could only watch her now.
He saw her blink, her golden eyes on Mallowstalk's face. He glanced at his sister. She stood in front of him, but he could see the side of her jaws. She wasn't talking though. It was Honeybee. He could suddenly hear her voice.
". . . told Fallingstar . . . Lakefrost. . . punished. . . over border. . . stealing prey. . . . . . . . . . . . . there. ."
She shook with anger.
Mallowstalk spoke next, but Badgerface couldn't hear a thing. He looked at Fawnfur and saw shock on her face. It slowly turned into sadness. Suddenly her fur fluffed up, her claws out. Badgerface turned and stared at Honeybee who snarled into the medicine cat apprentice's face.
Badgerface swallowed, wondering if his golden sister would jump across and start a fight. He glanced around, wondering if he would be able to spot a ThunderClan patrol.
Mallowstalk brushed her tail down her sister's side and Honeybee took a deep breath, calming herself.
". . . . ignored," he heard her say. " . . . . . . . . . . . meet you."
"Then explain--" Fawnfur meowed.
Her voice cut, but it wasn't his hearing. Mallowstalk had interrupted.
"We can't . . . you can't. . . . us."
Badgerface wanted to moan. He wished he could understand them! It was frustrating. Even their reactions told him nothing except that they disagreed with each other. Fawnfur seemed different somehow. Her body was stiffer, but something seemed more dangerous as if she'd found something she could use. Then she slumped.
" . . . helping me? My Clan is in danger and you are the only ones that can help."
Badgerface stopped holding his breath and it rushed out just as Honeybee gasped. She wanted their help? She had to know they were the four StarClan had come to. Lakefrost had probably told her. His brother hadn't been speaking to them since Ashpaw had caught Fawnfur and Lakefrost at the border a quarter moon ago. He had to get escorts when he left the Clan and he would only accept his siblings as a last resort when no one at all would take him.
Badgerface had started feeling guilty by all the punishments Lakefrost was willing to go through just to help ThunderClan. Mallowstalk was still against it and trying to convince Lakefrost to not help anymore. She said he only needed the rest of the half moon and it wouldn't matter anymore. Supposedly that was all the time StarClan had given them. When the next Gathering came, ThunderClan would be no more.
He and his siblings were the only ones who could help her. They wouldn't.
But I can't, Badgerface thought, I am not. . . good enough to help.
"No," Mallowstalk meowed. ". . . . ."
He could see her mouth moving, cold in her eyes. Honeybee remained solid and angry on the ginger's other side. The dark trees just rose above them, shadows and sun pouring down on them, dappling the ground. Everything was still around them, as if waiting. When his sister was finished, her jaw clenched shut. He was sure he would have heard it click.
He turned to look at Fawnfur. Sadness entered her golden eyes.
". . . we'll be killed," she meowed quietly. "Even. . . . . . .-ate it."
ThunderClan actually killed. His eyes narrowed. Badgerface found it so hard to believe. They were the strongest, biggest Clan, but Fawnfur was frightened of it, of this warning StarClan had given her. Perhaps he'd been trying to convince himself it would never happen, but a ThunderClan cat was afraid. That meant something was really bad. They actually could be destroyed. If he thought about it, a half moon ago had been so long ago when his brother and sisters had discussed the prophecy. Now it wasn't long at all before the moon was ended and ThunderClan had no chance for survival.
He heard his sister snort, startling him out of his thoughts, but heard nothing much after that. ". . . .we'd all be better off."
Better off if what? Badgerface wanted to ask.
Fawnfur's ears collapse and she looked around, searching. She looked at him. He couldn't meet her eyes. What could he say to her? I'm sorry? I'm sorry your Clan will all die because Mallowstalk won't help, doesn't want to. He blinked. Sorry because I'm worthless? He looked at Fawnfur. She continued to stare at Mallowstalk, confused and worried.
"Go back," Mallowstalk meowed. "Leave. . . . . . Maybe . . run away. . . live."
"I have. . try," Fawnfur replied, closing her eyes. "StarClan. . . wanted you. . ."
StarClan. They wanted ThunderClan to be safe. They'd asked him and his siblings. Only Lakefrost was willing to do anything and now he was unable, constantly watched, prevented from helping. What would the ancestors think if they didn't do anything at all? Was it possible as Lakefrost said that once ThunderClan was gone, ShadowClan might be next?
Badgerface tried to keep his voice normal, not too loud or too soft. He tried to say each word, clearly leave them spaced and not rushed together. He couldn't hear what he said most of the time and though it might sound slow to others, at least they could understand him and wouldn't think anything was wrong with him.
Fawnfur turned. She looked at him, surprised.
"Lakefrost wanted to help you," he continued. "StarClan wants us to help you. I," he licked his lips, not quite sure why he really wanted to help at all.
He knew he wouldn't be successful. He was disabled and couldn't even take orders from her, couldn't advise her. He couldn't help her, he didn't know how, but he'd be willing to try. Perhaps just to prove it was possible for him. That he really did mean something despite being deaf.
"I can't let another Clan just die. It isn't right."
He said the words because he knew that's what Lakefrost would say. Lakefrost felt some other sense of right and wrong that went beyond Clan boundaries. Badgerface often pushed back the feeling, knowing he had to help his Clan first. This time he had a reason to help ThunderClan. He had to do something before he fully became deaf, before Fallingstar sent him to the elders' den, unable to be a warrior any longer.
Fawnfur smiled. A sudden, grateful smile. When Badgerface looked at her, he could almost see why his brother liked her. She was such a beautiful she-cat. He was sure that she had a nice personality to go with her looks. She seemed usually calm.
He nodded to her.
"Badgerface," Mallowstalk hissed. "What. . . doing?"
"I'm helping Fawnfur," he replied, feeling certain he knew what she'd asked. "She needs us."
"Haven't you been listening to anything I just said?" she yelled.
He swallowed and tried not to react. His face burned, but he couldn't let her see that her words bothered him.
Oh, please, just let me hear for a few more heartbeats, he prayed, staring at her.
She'd turned to face him, standing a tail length away from him as if not knowing who he was.
"We'll be betraying our Clan," Mallowstalk meowed, quieter, her eyes pleading.
"Lakefrost said we might be next," he answered.
Mallowstalk snorted. "What does. . . . . .? Helping has gotten him into this mess."
"You have," Badgerface meowed. "He's doing what StarClan asked him. He's only punished because he was caught. Do you think we might have been able to prevent it, help him out of this mess? Say he's been with us instead?"
Mallowstalk blinked in surprise, pulling away from him and bumping into Honeybee.
"Stop being so afraid of helping ThunderClan. No one will care if they don't know about it. And maybe they will know. Then what do you think will happen? They'll say we were too scared, too cruel to help when we could."
"Who is this 'they'?" She glared at him.
"The same ones you fear will think you betrayed them."
She looked down, her paw shifting in the dirt, pushing the pine needles around.
"Then you and Lakefrost should just join ThunderClan if you want to help them so much," Mallowstalk growled, glaring at him, stilling her paw. She started to turn away.
"Please," Fawnfur spoke up. "Why aren't you helping? What do you fear?"
Mallowstalk froze and even Honeybee looked at her sister's back, question in the slant of her ears.