It is now Leaf-fall, Valley Year 8
The weather is now crisp and cool, with hints of frost forming overnight in the later moons. Prey is becoming scarce, leaves are changing colors. The valley feels busier somehow.
STONECLAN DEPUTY AUDITIONS and RAINCLAN MCA AUDITIONS are in progress, please head over to those respective threads if you are interested!
Please mark all finished/inactive threads FINISHED or INACTIVE so they can be moved by staff to the archives.
Post by Fawntastic on Jul 14, 2019 15:35:41 GMT -5
curiosity is not a sin...
...but we should exercise caution with our curiosity
"I'll go with the dawn patrol to get more daisy leaves," Shadowchaser's nimble paws gathered the last healthiest leaves in the pile and brought them before his patient. "Please chew these. I know they're a little drying, I have some water for you nearby--"
Lightstep laughed, her soft voice - cracked at the edges with age - stalled the young healer's busy movements. "You needn't fuss over me, I am able to find my way to the ambush pond should I need to."
She looked at him with such motherly amusement that Shadowchaser felt himself flush with shame. She's so kind to me, even after I let her whole family down. Pipitwing and Stoatclaw had not inherited their mother's patient, forgiving nature. The nasty looks they would send his way had diminished greatly now that his littermate was leader of the entire Clan.
They were curt with him now. Dispassionate and reproachful - but not outright hostile. That somehow did not sting as sharply as it did when they greeted Smokefur with respect and warmth - no less than what she deserved. Newtstripe's sisters had made their preferences clear about which healer they would go to when they needed one.
"Something wrong, Shadowchaser?" asked Lightstep, watching with a small tilt of her head, concern filling her light green eyes.
Shadowchaser put up a smile like a shield, as if it was something he could hide behind. "No, nothing at all. Is there anything else you needed, Lightstep? I should get back to my sorting..."
"Sunstorm's death was not your fault."
The chestnut tom's heart stopped, his eyes as wide as walnuts. "I-I'm sorry," he mumbled, "there was no time to... I should have done more. I let your family down, and I let Newtstripe down. I don't know if we're even friends after everything..." Shadowchaser's stomach twisted in on itself, recalling the conversation he'd had with Dewfrost so many moons ago. How perhaps Newtstripe had needed him to get through the pain of such a deep loss - how there was nothing he could have down, how hardships were just part of a wild cat's life.
"Not even StarClan could have stopped what happened to my Sunstorm," said Lightstep with an uncharacteristic sternness, catching Shadowchaser's attention through tone alone. "If you really know Newtstripe, then you'd know what kind of cat he is at his heart. He is not the kind to hold a grudge. Newtstripe doesn't have a hateful bone in his body - but he can be distant. With all this tension between you, it's no surprise."
Lightstep leaned over and gave Shadowchaser's ear a lick. "Do an old cat a favor, and talk to my son. Newtstripe has more stripes on his head than friends. It would break my heart to see him lose a good one."
Before the older cat could depart, the daisy leaves clamped in her jaws, Shadowchaser pressed the top of his head against her shoulder, gratitude washing through him. "Thanks. I'll..." he swallowed the lump in his throat. "I'll try."
Lightstep left him to his thoughts, and Shadowchaser willed himself to be brave. As if on cue, as he walked out of the medicine cat's den and into the host of cats going about their lives, a familiar ginger shape appeared in the mouth of the warriors' den like a candle flame. Shadowchaser's legs turned as soft and nerveless as slugs, but he forced himself to walk over - pulse speeding up as Newtstripe seemed to realize too that Shadowchaser was coming over to talk to him directly.
"H--" throat cleared, Shadowchaser tried again. "Hi. I... need to gather more daisy leaves in RainClan. Would you like to go with me? I'll be leaving with the dawn patrol." It would be a few more hours til then. Suddenly afraid of Newtstripe's answer, Shadowchaser wished someone would call his name - Smokefur, Darkstar, anyone - so he could get away from the ginger tom's wide, expressive eyes.
Maybe it'd be easier for Newtstripe to say yes if Shadowchaser wasn't standing right in front of him.
At first, once the initial shock had faded, the pain had been inescapable. It came in unrelenting waves, easing him into a numb state as the metaphorical water receded only to bring his entire world crashing down around him in the next moment when he inevitably saw the wrong thing or thought the wrong thought and was reminded of all that he had lost. He felt raw. His heart felt open and exposed to the harshness of the world like a gaping wound – like the injuries to his shoulder and face. But even those had some mediocre protection in the form of cobwebs and herb paste and whatever else the medicine cats decided to put on them. He found himself entirely uninterested in the process; it was easier to just exist, to eat what they told him to, to move when they asked him to. To not feel.
Days limped along just as slowly as he did. Weeks turned to moons, and under the watchful eye of mostly Smokefur – Shadowchaser had taken to vanishing when he could – his grief began to heal like the rest of his wounds. The open nerve became a dull, pulsing ache as time proved to be the most reliable medicine for his bleeding heart, just as some small part of him knew it would. No longer did the waves break as frequently and ruthlessly. Tender as always, his mother came to visit, but she looked incomplete and sad without her life-long partner. Any conversation of theirs was painfully awkward and stilted, horribly one-sided because he didn’t have anything to say anymore. Words of the past rang in his ears, but the anger with which they had been screamed had long since faded to regret.
“You were supposed to save him!”
It had been unfair of him to expect his friend to work miracles and do what Newtstripe himself had been unable to accomplish. He had known that then, and he knew it now. But every time he had had the opportunity to offer up an apology, those words of understanding had gotten stuck in his throat, refusing to climb up and dance off his tongue. So he didn’t say anything because it was better to stay silent and say nothing than say something that could cause any more damage. Shadowchaser must have thought the same – or perhaps he was still hurt and angry and didn’t want to talk, which Newtstripe could fully understand because he wouldn’t want to talk to himself either after that – because the black-furred tom similarly made no attempt to speak with him. Even in this, they were in agreement, so the silence had carried on. And on.
Nothing changed. Exhaustion still clung to him despite his short nap, yet Newtstripe dutifully followed a small group of his clan mates out of the den, yawning and still blinking sleep from his eyes as he did so. Pale green eyes idly glanced around camp while that tired numbness settled around him like an old friend – and indeed, it was. Only sleep, he had discovered over the past few moons, was a respite from its smothering presence. But he was fine; he had become accustomed to this new way of life, of never quite feeling whole.
The sight of a familiar black feline heading toward him had the orange tabby tom hesitating. Uncertainty flickered through him, and his heart fluttered uneasily (or was that hopefully?) against his ribs as the other tom stopped before him resolutely. As if Shadowchaser was determined to talk to Newtstripe before he left. StarClan, when was the last time they had exchanged more than a few passing words, the pleasantries of strangers? It had to have been before—before— And yet, here was the medicine cat asking him to help gather herbs as if nothing had changed.
Hope fluttered. A second chance. His legs felt weak. Suddenly self-conscious and painfully aware of the scar marring the right side of his face the warrior glanced away, turning his head slightly to hide the physical remnant of that horrible day. Pale green eyes glanced briefly to yellow and then away again.
”Y-Yes.” His voice was rough from disuse; he had very few reasons to speak these days. ”I would like that.”
Post by Fawntastic on Oct 29, 2019 22:40:42 GMT -5
curiosity is not a sin...
...but we should exercise caution with our curiosity
The subtle act of Newtstripe turning his head away made Shadowchaser's heart turn inside out. He doesn't want to talk to me, his soul groaning under the weight of that realization. Bile stung the back of Shadowchaser's throat, as if his body were trying to punish him for making a stupid choice in butting back into Newstripe's life when the warrior didn't want him to.
”Y-Yes.” said a voice Shadowchaser thought he'd imagined, until Newtstripe followed with: ”I would like that.”
The chestnut tom's heart righted itself, finding the strength to stay standing at the powerful surge of relief shooting through every limb and muscle group. "G-Great! That's great. I'm glad. I would too. Like that, I mean. If you - if you came with me."
Almost drunk with relief, the words spilled from Shadowchaser's mouth in juttering, inelegant bouts, and the deep brown hue of his coat hid the mortified flush to his skin. He backed away before he could make a bigger fool of himself, or if he ended up vomiting from nerves (a surefire method to repair friendships, obviously) right in front of his... maybe-still-a-friend.
His mind was full of echoes. Tidbits of conversation, and the first few words Newtstripe had said to him in seasons all took turns repeating themselves, making it impossible for him to forget his plans for sunrise. The last few hours of darkness passed quicker than Shadowchaser realized; though he'd spent his time tidying up the den he shared with Smokefur and rearranging the fresh moss nests for future patients, Shadowchaser struggled to fully focus.
After the ground had ripped open between him and Newtstripe, Shadowchaser had stared, abysmal and suffering, into the chasm he had no idea how to overcome. Inside the chasm was a memory both cats wished with all their hearts that it had never come to pass.
And yet... Lightstep had come to him and laid a branch over the chasm, coaxing him to reach out to Newtstripe, as if the chasm were only a temporary hurdle and not this gaping metaphorical scar that would always be there.
So Shadowchaser had braved the first few steps out over the precipice.
Newtstripe had met him halfway.
It was terrifying to think this might be a healing balm for both of them. It was equally terrifying that he might ruin the entire thing for both of them. Shadowchaser gulped, his throat as dry as greenleaf grass as he hovered on the edge of the gathering Dawn Patrol. Please, StarClan, don't let me mess this up. He would rather the clouds parted and a bolt of lightning struck him dead than cause Newtstripe any more pain. Before Shadowchaser could contemplate the idea of sneaking away to retch into the ferns before the patrol left, the tom at the center of his thoughts joined the edge of the gathered cats.
Shadowchaser started, surprised the words had manifested without him even opening his mouth, until he caught Rainfur watching him from the head of the patrol. He hastily replied. "Yes, please begin your patrol." The plan was to follow their Clanmates to the border, before Shadowchaser and Newtstripe would take up the small but important task of herb-collecting in RainClan territory.
Yellow eyes snaked to Newtstripe's face, and he took a step forward after the patrol, hesitant and uncertain if the ginger tom would mind if they walked side by side.
Words tumbled out of Shadowchaser’s mouth like fledglings from a nest, one after the other and each somewhat awkward and uncoordinated. Unpracticed. It was strange hearing him stumble over himself; usually that was Newtstripe’s job. Far more eloquent and articulate than his striped companion, the dark-furred tom had an enviable command of language and never seemed to have any difficulty with finding exactly the right words to use. The difference made him pause for a moment before he ducked his head, a sudden bout of nerves turning what had once been a smooth nod into a rushed motion. ”Ok,” He said, not quite knowing what else to say but feeling compelled to respond all the same. It was probably better to stick to short phrases anyway. Please StarClan, don’t let me mess this up.
Perhaps the sentiment was shared, for the medicine cat was quick to back away. Almost longingly, pale green eyes watched him retreat. That had been not horrible. The other tom had said “Great” not once but twice, and he’d said that he would like it if Newtstripe came with him. Maybe Shadowchaser was no longer angry with him? He had sounded genuine, and the warrior had never known him to be anything but sincere. For seasons, their interactions had been reduced to those of strangers, yet this, the closest they had come to a real conversation in far too long had ended not in shouting but in agreement – agreement over a future meeting. Where they would talk. And keep talking? Perhaps? Hope began to blossom in his chest, a warm feeling that he simultaneously wanted to embrace and run away from. Hope was dangerous.
Hope made him think that maybe, just maybe, they could go back to the way they had been before.
Time passed at a crawl. His heart never stopped thumping against his ribs, resolutely pounding out a rapid tattoo as if it could make the hours pass by faster by beating faster. The rest of him, however, felt strung out. On edge. A powerful foe to the hope blooming in his heart, fear clawed its way into his mind. Their friendship was in tatters, but there was still more he could lose. What if he did something wrong, said the wrong thing, and it made Shadowchaser turn away from him forever? They didn’t talk, but at least they weren’t enemies; they could be – painfully – cordial. What if, after all of this, the medicine cat ended up hating him and never wanted to see him again? An icy bolt of terror at the thought froze his limbs just as he reached the edge of the growing group of cats.
He felt sick. He couldn’t do this. This had been a mistake. He needed to say the right words tonight more than ever, but when had he ever been able to explain himself clearly before?
No. Never ready. He should go before he could do anymore harm. He should—
“Yes, please begin your patrol.”
His ears drank in the familiar sound of Shadowchaser’s voice even as it doomed him – in the end, it was always Shadowchaser – and he somehow managed to unfreeze his legs in time to fall in toward the back of the departing patrol. After a moment’s hesitation, he found himself quietly falling into step beside the dark-furred tom just as he had a million times before, though no longer so close as to allow their fur to brush and shoulders to occasionally bump with the familiarity of old friends. No, this time he was careful to hold himself at a safe distance away because he didn’t want to overstep his bounds, because he knew that he wanted to be Shadowchaser’s friend but he didn’t know if Shadowchaser wanted to be his and it was so much better to be safe than sorry because if he messed up his second chance, he didn’t know what he would do.
The silence seemed to stretch on, more awkward than it had ever felt before. Pale green eyes glanced toward yellow before staring back down at his paws. Oh StarClan, were they supposed to be talking? Was he supposed to be saying something? His mind blanked. He wanted to ask how Shadowchaser was doing, but they were supposed to be gathering herbs. Did he even have any right to ask the medicine cat about his life after he had practically chased him out of Newtstripe's before? Maybe the other tom would want to keep any talk between them strictly business. Yes, that was surely safest. Words. He forced them out before he could convince himself to let the silence continue: "How- How are the herbs?"
...but we should exercise caution with our curiosity
"How- How are the herbs?" "So how's Feathers?"
Anyone listening in on this conversation would've been either bewildered or amused. Shadowchaser, even though he was responsible for one of those overlapping questions, couldn't help but let his whiskers twitch in a bit of youthful mirth. "The herbs are... good. You'll be able to see for yourself soon."
What are the chances of Newtstripe having seen the bird they'd saved last season? Not very. If Shadowchaser had done his job well, then that thrush they'd nursed back to health would look no different than any other thrush in the valley. A reality Shadowchaser found both hopeful and sad. There was no way to tell what had happened to Feathers - but it had been the only thing Shadowchaser could think of as an icebreaker.
If you could... call their relationship icy.
It was something else. Something complex. Raw. Trying to heal.
Shadowchaser was almost painfully aware of Newtstripe's fur brushing softly against his, the easy rhythm of their side-by-side pace in direct contrast with the erratic flutterings of his heart. He must not hate me, if he's willing to walk so close. Newtstripe was no fool. The ginger tom wouldn't simply 'forget' about everything that had happened. About the losses he suffered and the tom who had let him down.
Yet Newtstripe was here. Beside him. Trying to ease them back into conversation, as if the friendship they'd had was something he had lost and was missing too. Shadowchaser's throat tightened. I couldn't save his father, but I can... I can at least save US.
"I'm sorry!" It was blurted in time to the sudden halt of his footsteps, the earth taking hold of him as the chaos of the past few moons all spilled out in an unstoppable wave. Golden eyes could not have been any wider, any deeper, than they were now. "I'm so sorry, Newtstripe. I know those words won't fix anything, or heal any wounds. B-But I don't know what else I can say. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about you and your family. That I don't think about how deeply I failed you."
Shadowchaser choked on a breath of air - something his lungs needed, but his heart painfully withheld. Words were more important than breathing right now. There was too much at stake. "I let you down so hard, Newtstripe. Not just as a medicine cat, but as a friend. I should have--I should have been there while you grieved."
Shame burst like a geothermal spring, and Newtstripe's visage blurred a little from the wetness rimming Shadowchaser's vision. "I-I'm not asking you to forgive me. I have no right to ask such a thing of you. I just... had to say this. I don't want to lose you, Newtstripe." Shadowchaser's lungs burned for air, and he sucked in a breath, head bowed, soft, rounded features made softer by the naked vulnerability he felt so strongly right now.
The confession came out small, weak as a sapling in leafbare. "I want to be someone you can count on."
“O-Oh,” Newtstripe said, flushing red hot under his orange fur. “That’s good.” It wasn’t really the herbs he cared about, but the courage that he had gathered to ask the question had suddenly evaporated when it emerged so wrong. “Feathers – he’s – he’s good. I think.” A pause. He hadn’t actually seen the little wood thrush for quite a while, but that was a good thing, right? It meant the tiny creature had healed well and flown off to start his own family. (He steadfastly refused to think of the alternative.)
Questions answered, silence fell again. The warrior found himself focused solely on the other tom. Many, many seasons ago, he never would have considered walking beside Shadowchaser a novel experience, yet there he was, trying desperately to soak in every quiet breath and every brush of dark fur against his. He wanted to freeze time and memorize every minute detail of this interaction with the tom whom he held so close to his heart so that when he inevitably said the wrong thing and ruined everything, Newtstripe could at least cling to the memory of the way it felt to have the other tom so close one last time. But memories were dangerous, he knew, even as he tried to engrave this one into his consciousness. Memories were haunting in an entirely unique way.
Memories were cruel. They were relentless.
Everywhere he looked – in the shadow of the medicine cat den, by the tree where they had shared prey, in the undergrowth where they looked for herbs – he saw Shadowchaser. He saw him in the cobweb bandages on his clan mates’ wounds, and then he remembered all too well the gentle press of black paws against his side. He saw him in every little bird, especially the wood thrushes that made him recall the wounded creature they had named and nursed back to health. He saw him in the sunsets that made shadows as dark as his fur and cast light as gold as his eyes. The medicine cat had gone so abruptly from a constant to an absence, and the empty void of what they had become had been filled with memories of who they used to be.
Gone were the days of easy laughter, and warm discussions had been replaced with the ghosts of conversations they could have had, born from the painful moments when Newtstripe had stopped himself from seeking out the other tom who he had known wanted nothing to do with him. But knowledge meant nothing to habit, he had found. Habit had him turning to a tom who was no longer there. Habit had him glancing automatically toward the medicine cat den every time he stepped out of the warrior’s den. Habit had his heart leaping high every time he heart his name, only to have it plummet and crash into the cold, hard ground because the cat who he had trusted for so long to be there, to catch it, was no longer around.
Pale green eyes glanced cautiously up at yellow. His fluttering heart was trying to fly again, and he wanted so badly to let it. He finally had Shadowchaser here again by his side, and he wanted to brush up against him and breathe in the familiar scent that meant comfort and happiness. Hope was a tenacious creature, sinking its claws deep into anything it could grab. Though they were like strangers now – strangers who knew each other as well as the camp that they called home – and he felt more nauseous than giddy, there had been attempts at conversation – stilted conversation at best, but conversation all the same. Shadowchaser had reached out and he had reciprocated and maybe, just maybe, things would keep going well? Longing for the comradery of days long since passed had him wanting to take the chance, but fear of what could happen gripped his heart and stilled his tongue once more. Perhaps it was better to just enjoy the company of his silent companion while it lasted, enjoy the feeling of how right it felt to have his warm presence so close beside—
Suddenly it was gone, and heart lurching into his throat - had Shadowchaser abruptly decided he'd had enough of his nonsense? - Newtstripe faltered, turning back to see the other tom with golden eyes as large as the sun.
You’re sorry? He wanted to ask. Why are you sorry? But the explanation came rushing out with the force of floodwaters, and in his mind’s eye, he saw himself swept away into oblivion. He let the sound of Shadowchaser’s voice wash over him, held tightly onto each word as he tried hard to understand what exactly the dark-furred feline was apologizing for. His father’s death? But they both knew Shadowchaser wasn’t at fault. Leaving him to grieve by himself? But they both knew it had been Newtstripe who had so harshly hurled the damaging words and blame at a kind-hearted tom who was only trying his best. It made perfect sense that Shadowchaser didn't want to be around a cat who hurt him so unfairly. He didn’t understand, and then – and then, a lifeline, spoken softly at the very end: “I want to be someone you can count on.”
His heart broke free of the fear holding it down. You are, He wanted to say. But emotion caught in his throat, freezing the words in their place. “I-I want that too,” He said instead, quietly, after a moment, unable to breathe around how much he yearned for a return to the time when he and Shadowchaser could be each other’s rocks, strong and unmovable. Never had there been any doubt in his mind that he could count on the medicine cat, but for someone who was supposed to be a friend, the warrior had not only done a poor job being there for the other tom but even chased him away with his words himself. I really want to be someone you can count on too. His thoughts strayed into speech. “I haven’t been, but I – I want to be.”
Pale green peeked up again at yellow. “And – And I can’t forgive you.” Because there was nothing to forgive. He swallowed around the knot of his throat, recognizing belatedly how bad that sound and heart sinking as he began to realize just how much of a mess he was making of all of this. Desperation strangled him. The warrior raced to explain. “I was wrong, not you. I shouldn’t have expected you to be able to fix everything – I know that. And I said some bad things to you – that was – that was unfair of me.” He took a deep breath, wishing it was truly as steadying as everyone said it was. “I was mean, and I’m – I’m really sorry.” He was no stranger to harsh words himself, knew just how much they could echo around in his head if he let them. If their positions had been switched and Shadowchaser had said to him what Newtstripe had said to the medicine cat... I know why you didn’t want to talk to me after I hurt you.
The knot in his throat was choking him, making his voice come out small. He wanted so badly to be friends with Shadowchaser again. He knew, as the one at fault, it was not his place to ask, but he couldn’t help the few words that slipped out regardless. “I miss you.”
...but we should exercise caution with our curiosity
“And – And I can’t forgive you.”
Those words would have killed him if Newtstripe hadn't rushed to explain. His eyes, always large and comprehending, seemed somehow larger still as he drank in the sights and sounds of Newstripe's rebuke. Suddenly, as if an old hunting technique that had finally clicked into place, Shadowchaser began to understand the mess they were in.
From each side of the chasm between them, they had seen different things. Attributed different things to its cause. It would have made him laugh, if he wasn't so stunned, so emotionally wrung out by the realization that this... could have been... resolved? moons ago if they hadn't avoided one another so much. It was hard to forget the desperation in the ginger warrior's voice when he begged him to save his father's life; it was impossible to get those images out of his head.
"I don't blame you for what you said," Shadowchaser whispered. "You were grieving. It's my duty to fix things - to keep others from dying. But... But there was nothing I could do..." Just like with Hollowcry. There were some things no herbs could fix, and that was the hardest truth a medicine cat had to learn. Despite the bitter taste of sorrow in the back of his throat, there was something liberating about that admission. It didn't erase how small he'd felt in the devastating wake of Newtstripe's loss, and how he'd staggered under the sharpness of his best friend's vitriol.
But some wounds only time could heal, he could not will a broken bone to mend through sheer power of wishful thinking. But he could take steps to help set it. To bind it and make sure nothing else disrupted the healing process; for Newtstripe standing before him, that meant focusing on the last thing he'd said, not the first.
"I miss you too," Shadowchaser choked, his throat tight as if an acorn had wedged itself somewhere inside of his esophagus. "I don't want to be like this any more." He swept a paw between them. "Distant. Strangers. It's like a nightmare, seeing you every day but being unable to say anything. S-So here is me saying something." Something to break this sad, wretched cycle of self-blame and self-inflicted agony.
"You are my friend, Newtstripe. My life is better with you in it, and with you walking beside me. Let's stop missing each other. Please."
The life of a medicine cat could be a lonely one. But Shadowchaser considered himself blessed in many ways; his life was one that had been touched by loss from adolescence onward, but that could never take away how much he valued and treasured those still in his company. He would hold on to them as long as he possibly could. Beseeching golden eyes came with a small, almost shy smile. "M-Maybe we can walk together every day? Until it stops feeling awkward. Until we stop thinking about painful things. I-I-If you want to, that is."
Don't push too far, warned a voice inside his head, and Shadowchaser's posture shifted from hopeful to anxious, the fur along his spine slightly raised, his tail unable to fully settle behind him. It was a good thing they weren't out here hunting.