She slipped discreetly out of the tunnel two hours later, leaving a slumbering Smokefang curled contentedly in a makeshift nest of scavenged leaves. To rid herself of his familiar, comforting scent she had a brief swim in a shallow creek; even in the Greenleaf heat it was cold. She didn't complain, because a freezing dip was better than what the option of returning to camp with his scent heavy on her fur.

It was not yet moon-high, but Sablefrost dedicated a small portion of her time to hunting; it would be both lazy and suspicious if she returned to camp with no prey, especially while Smokefang was out too. Questions would be asked, questions that required answers that triggered consequences.

Somehow, even with that possible threat looming before her, she felt carefree, happy. She felt young. The weight her mother's sudden death had bestowed upon her fragile shoulders was gone- vanquished by her dashing hero, if she wanted to think romantically.

As she trotted back to camp with a squirrel and vole swinging in her jaw, the mere word- romantic- was enough to make her giggle.

It wasn't allowed- it was illegal.

It was punishable by death.

And that was somehow laughable.

"What makes you so suddenly happy?' a voice asked darkly.

Startled, Sablefrost tripped over her own paws and fell onto her muzzle in the middle of the path. When she sat up, angrily swiping dirt from her face with one paw, she found Strongclaw standing in front of her. His ears were flattened suspiciously, and the look he gave her was scrutinising.

"It was just- I was...just-" She cut her words off mid-sentence when she realized she had no excuse.

Strongclaw's eyes were shadowed and stormy, without the hopeful light she'd so thoughtlessly shattered. For a moment, she felt herself wishing that she had been nicer, softer, sweeter.

"Fine, don't tell me. It's not like, I don't know, you're my pair and we're life-mates or anything. No. Consider me a stranger- which should be easy since you've been doing it for the past two moons."

"I'm sorry," she said, but those two small words were not enough to fix him. He wasn't even staring at her, but past her, into the forest whose darkness was mirrored so perfectly in his eyes.

"Don't be. You can't help what I feel," the calico tom snapped, brushing past her into the forest. Sablefrost sat shocked for a moment, confused by the sudden confrontation and the implications of his last sentence.

Twitching her ears with a wry half-smile, she picked up her kills and began walking again, not amused in the slightest.

He watched his daughter pad softly into camp, as he so often did- watch, that was. There wasn't much one could do with a half-slit throat, so it had become a hobby.

Everyone morning he would watch-and smirk- as the two female apprentices Streampaw and Charpaw giggled and fawned over the unpaired toms. He'd watch as Redsong shambled out of the nursery, her kits tumbling around her paws. He'd heard she's had a good litter- there were four in total. He watched the elders grumble, growl and skulk around the camp like a bad smell. He watched, because Sorrlestorm was never in a fit mood for a conversation and no one else ever seemed to want to drop by.

Morningstar had now moved to the nursery, so she never visited anymore. Despite the large gap it left in his social life, he relished her absence. Her presence smothered him. When she was gone, he could breathe again.

"Hey. Sablefrost," he called quietly, warily checking over his shoulder to make sure his grumpy ginger 'guardian' remained asleep. Sorrelstorm was sprawled in his nest, and with his somber eyes closed, the medicine cat did not look quite so haggard. This was not a conversation the tabby tom wanted overheard. The movement elicited a sharp crackle of pain in his neck. He ignored it, because now his pain was the norm.

The black she-cat's head swung around, and she rose from her half-crouch; she'd just deposited her prey on the depleted fresh-kill pile. Her eyes alighted on him, and because everyone one else was asleep, she did not bother to hide her smile.

He beckoned her towards him with an urgent flick of his ear.

"Father," she greeted. "How are you feeling?" Her eyes were soft. Too soft. That was dangerous, even while the Clan slumbered.

"I'm fine," he told her, and his words were more lethargic than he'd meant them to be. But his daughter did not question him, only twitched her frost-white whiskers looking unconvinced.

"That's not the point," he muttered, rising to his paws, trying to ignore the audible creaking of protesting muscles. He'd been sitting, still and silent, for too long, and now the repercussions were catching up to him.

"Then what is?" she asked.

Thornstreak drew her into the shadows beside the medicine dens.

"You're walking a fine line," he hissed. The low vocals made his throat feel oddly tight; he was not healed yet.

Sablefrost's green eyes widened, indignant. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said smoothly.

Growling now, Thornstreak cuffed the black warrior over her head with his paw. The movement was strenuous and hurt him more than he cared to let on. She looked shocked and backed away a step, glaring at him.

"I've seen you Sablefrost, don't think I haven't. It's hard to miss you making goo-goo eyes with Littlefern's son."

The she-cat was silent. For the second time in the same night, she had no excuse.

"It's not too late, Sablefrost. Just drop whatever you have with Smokefang right now and move on to be a true warrior of PureClan. Strongclaw will not be a bad pair-"

"I can't drop it, Father," Sablefrost whispered. "It's too late. I've told him how I feel, he's told me how he feels, and we're going to try to make it work."

Thornstreak huffed in disbelief. The same weakness that had haunted him was now plaguing his daughter.

"It's not about what you can't do, it's what you must do, with your sake and for Smokefang's. Do you want to watch your pretty boy die, huh? See him scream in agony, watch the light fade from his eyes?" he demanded. He knew he was being harsh, but Sablefrost would not listen to placid reasoning.

"Just because that's what happened with you and Embertooth," she said evenly, "does not mean that it will happen to me."

He let the memory overwhelm him for a moment; heard his pair's shriek, saw her jerking on the floor of the medicine, purple foam flecking her jaws,recalled his pair's green eyes, burning, burning like a forest on fire, like a cat possessed.

Then he pushed it down, shoved it away. Those memories were for his nightmares, not his waking hours.

"I know how you feel," he said urgently. "You're young, you're happy- you're on top of the world. But it only takes seconds for that to all be ripped away. I don't want you to be hurt, because I know how painful that can be."

"I'm not my mother," the black she-cat spat. "I'm not Embertooth. And by StarClan, I hope Smokefang is not the slightest bit like you."

Sablefrost began to stalk away, tail lashing, leaving Thornstreak shocked and shivering in the shadows of the grass tunnel. He'd only been trying to warn her, not trying to alienate the last little bit of Embertooth he had left.

Slowly, limping, he returned to his nest, dropping with a thud into the moss. And then, hollow, he closed his eyes, ready to welcome the beautiful nightmare that came with sleep.

He'd failed to notice the huddled shape in the entrance to the nursery, who had been watching with wide eyes, listening with twitching ears, her pale dappled pelt growing more ruffled with every exchanged word.

Ooops...sorry for not updating for ages! I guess I was busy with family, then Christmas, and then I was too plain lazy and uninspired xD Never fear, the chapter is now here!

Now I just have to figure out what happens next chapter...

Anyway, happy new year and la da da stuff :3

-Swyfte (you should all join the PureClan forum ;D Link's on my profile.)

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