Just Duty, Huh?

Smokefang woke when a ray of sunlight washed over his face, blindingly bright even through the skin of his eyelids. The den was close to being empty; only Coldbone and Tawnypetal remained, sprawled in their nests. Coldbone snored, but Tawnypetal could've been dead for all the sound she made. The young warrior climbed to his paws and smothered an indulgent yawn.

You're staying up too late, he scolded inwardly. But if waiting up another few hours means I can spend time with Sablefrost then I'll do it. Smokefang enjoyed their chats, their closeness. He could pretend he'd never even heard of PureClan when he was with her, or their sadistic ideals.

He slipped out of the den. The clearing was no longer a medley of mess and mud- the soft ground was hardening by the second in the bright sunlight, warmth the territory had not known for days. There was even prey on the fresh-kill pile, and he did not hesitate to trot over and snatch a chaffinch from the top. The blood on its neck ensured it had been killed by a cat, and was not another of the storm's drowned victims. Smokefang turned away and picked a dry, shaded spot to sit in. The day was young, but it was already too hot.

When he looked up after taking a large bite of the dead bird-feathers and all- he saw Sablefrost enter the nursery, closely tailed by her pair Strongclaw. The grey tom paused in his methodical chewing, and swallowed.

Sablefrost hates the nursery, he reflected. She told me herself. I guess I would too if all I saw were the memories of my dead mother. So...why is she going in?

Smokefang dipped his head to rip another chunk from his meal. He hadn't eaten much for a while. All the suitable prey and gone to the nursery to feed the kits and to fill Morningstar's bloated belly.

"Hey," Jayflight said tersely, appearing in front of him. She was frowning, a harsh contrast to the smile she usually wore. "Can we talk? I mean, we need to talk."

"I'm eating," Smokefang grumbled, around the meat in his mouth. "Can it wait?"

His pair sat down beside him and nodded reluctantly. "Eat fast," she told him, licking a paw and drawing it fretfully over her ear.

He tore off another bite, then another, followed by another, until it had been reduced to a pile of bloody feathers and tiny, fragile bones at his paws.

"What's so important?" he asked, rubbing his cheeks and chin against his forepaw to scrub off the bird's blood.

She glanced nervously over her shoulder, at the camp that was finally brimming with cats once more. "Not here," she murmured. "Not where they can hear."

"Don't be so paranoid," Smokefang snapped, but he climbed to his paws anyway. "I'm sure whatever you have to say can be said here, if anywhere." But Jayflight shook her head and began to slink into the forest. With a sigh, Smokefang followed, leaving the remnants of his meal lying on the damp earth.

Jayflight meandered through the forest for a few minutes before finally choosing a spot beside the meadow. Just a few mere feet lay between them and the tunnel, but Smokefang ignored that fact; pushed it away, swallowed it. What his pair had to say evidently required his attention, and he could not focus if he dwelt on happier, moonlit memories.

"I don't know how to tell you," the blue-grey she-cat muttered, scuffing the ground with a white paw.

He pricked his ears; this sounded interesting.

"I...well, um..kits, Smokefang. Kits."

"Whose kits?" he asked, a sudden coil of panic in his stomach. He didn't have to ask- didn't have to know. Jayflight was too young, too little; what if having kits so early would mess her up just as Swanpath had been messed up? The white she-cat's failing strength was betrayed by the stick-like thinness of her limbs, her quiet, frequent visits to the medicine den. Her stomach remained stoically round, no matter how little she ate.

"They're mine," Jayflight whispered. "Ours, technically."

Smokefang winced, and instead of looking at his pair's pinched, terse expression, he pictured Sablefrost's face, envisioned her anger and betrayal.

It's my job, he reminded himself. The next generation of warriors won't make themselves.

"Morningstar will be pleased," he managed to say at last, trying for a hopeful smile.

"Morningstar, Morningstar," she grumbled. "Everything's about Morningstar. Are you happy, at least?"

"Kits make everyone happy."

"Are you going to ask how I feel?" Jayflight demanded. "How this impacts me?"

Smokefang blinked at her, bemused. "Well no, actually, I wasn't," he replied, beginning to smile, sheepish.

"StarClan, Smokefang!" she snapped, glaring at him with icy blue eyes. "I-you-you're impossible! Never happy, always dreaming."

Without giving him a chance to respond, she stormed past him, roughly forging her own path through the forest instead of taking the well-trodden path.

The grey tom felt a small flicker of guilt; she could be terrified at the prospect of kits, kitting, being a mother, yet he hadn't paused to consider her feelings- only Sablefrost's. Ignoring his pair's pain, he'd focused solely on his...well, what? What did he and Sablefrost have? Was there any single, appropriate name to give to the giant mess they'd become entangled in?

He sighed, stood up, stretched. He tried to formulate how he'd tell Sablefrost his pair was pregnant, but the words would not come.

An ugly thought crossed his mind. What if… if there's only one, or they don't go with Morningstar's 'plans'? What if they're taken away? No, Smokefang, those are your kits. Sablefrost can deal with it, she has her own pair anyway.

"Jayflight left rather abruptly," Sablefrost said. "You could almost say that she looked upset." Smokefang glanced over his shoulder; the black warrior lounged against a tree trunk, a smug look dancing on her muzzle . In a heartbeat it disappeared, to be replaced with a faint expression akin to Jayflight's previous anxiety.

"She was upset," he snapped, feeling irritated. He wasn't annoyed with Sablefrost, really, but himself; his reaction to his pair's news had been immature, selfish.

Her eyes flashed. With anger? Annoyance? "The world's not perfect," she said snippily. "Jayflight should know that by now. I'm guessing you've stopped playing pretty pairs, anyway."

Smokefang grimaced. She had a pet name, for his relationship with the little blue-grey she-cat. Pretty pairs, as if it were a game, a competition. Sablefrost had a knack for mocking things, for avoiding anything she'd rather not confront.

"You could say that," he grunted.

She snorted. "I can say a lot of things, doesn't make them true."

The grey warrior watched the wind stir the green grass of the meadow. "Do you have anything to say?" he asked. "Or are you just here to escape Strongclaw?"

"Oh, I definitely have something to say. I'm just not sure whether I want to tell you or not."

He repressed a sigh; she was impossible when she was in one of these moods, distant, prickly, unreachable. It was at times like these when her PureClan streak showed. "Stay and tell me, or don't and leave. It's broad daylight, you know. Patrols will be combing the woods for prey."

She flicked her tail dismissively. "We're warriors. We're allowed to talk to each other, you know. If someone finds us I'll pretend to tell you off for being slack, or something."

"What if they hear something important?" he insisted.

"If you think I'd be stupid enough to blurt out my feelings to the whole wide world-"

"I didn't mean that," he interrupted hurriedly. "It's just, the Clan isn't dumb. They can piece things together and I think we've given them too many clues."

"Strongclaw's new nickname for me is Frozenface," Sablefrost hissed. "If either of us has been dropping little hints about our sneaking around, it's you. What did you say to make Jayflight so upset, huh?" the black warrior demanded. "'Sorry, but I wish I'd been paired to someone else?'" Her voice dropped low to mimic his.

"Jayflight is expecting kits," he snapped. This silenced her; all she could do was stare at him, her eyes wide and shocked.

"This was always going to happen," Smokefang said, softer. "We have duties to our Clan and if we don't fulfill them, cats are going to be suspicious."

"You foxheart," she snarled, her unsheathed claws glinting in the sunlight. "You're a piece of dirt! I can't believe…"

He frowned at her, searching for words of consolation that might calm her. He found none. "What's wrong?" he murmured, at last.

"If you're so fond of your clues, you can figure it out. Figure it out when I move into the nursery."

It was all he could do to gape at her, her defiant, brutal snarl twisting her pretty features. The implications echoed in his head as she gave him a final hiss and turned on her tail.

Everything's going wrong.

Sorry I haven't updated for ages! I'd say it was school, but really, I'm lazy xD

Anyone else wanna slap Smokie right now?

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