a/n: I will be playing extremely fast and loose with the timeline and canon of the Warriors series.
Every Clan knew about Loners – cats with no Clan affiliation – and most were treated with indifference unless they took prey or tried to live within marked territory. Some Loners even helped Clans by letting them hunt within non-clan domain, which lessened the strain on territorial prey populations.
There was a barn just outside WindClan's territory on the way to Mothermouth that Clan cats often stopped by to fill their bellies, where a pair of cats lived, and had the most traffic per moon.
Spottedleaf, Medicine Cat of ThunderClan, paused outside the doors of the barn, her ears twitching as she caught the faint sounds of mice scurrying within the darkness of the barn's interior.
"I can catch one for you if you'd like," a soft voice mewed behind her, making her jump. She whirled to see a ginger tabby cat sitting a polite distance away. He dipped his head respectfully. "Medicine Cats don't usually hunt, do they?"
"I was an apprentice just a few weeks ago," Spottedleaf replied, her hackles slowly settling. "I have the basics down."
The tom's green eyes sparkled in amusement and he flicked his tail. "Then help yourself."
He watched as the young fela entered the doors in a low crouch and he clucked his tongue at her poor posture. A few minutes later, she came back out empty-pawed to find him sitting there, tail curled over his paws, a pair of mice in front of them.
"No luck?" he asked innocently, before offering her a mouse, which she grudgingly took. "I'd be happy to give you some pointers if you'd like."
"That won't be needed." Spottedleaf's mew was cool and curt, and he bowed his head.
"Then I wish you safe travels back home."
He watched her disappear into the grasslands, heading towards the distant forest she called home, then turned and trod into the barn, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light within. Ignoring the sounds of prey, he leaped up some pieces of wood to the second level, where he spent most of his time.
A black and white tom greeted him with a friendly nuzzle. "Welcome back. Your name's still Rusty, right?" he teased. Rusty shot him a barbless glare and swatted at him with a paw.
"You know I'm not cut out for that Clan stuff, Barley." Rusty peered over the edge of their home. "Why didn't you come say hello?"
"You know I'm not cut out for that social stuff, Rusty," came the teasing meow, and Rusty rolled his eyes before conceding the point.
"Rare for a Medicine Cat to be alone though," Barley remarked, tail idly flicking to and fro. "They usually have some company to and from the Mothermouth."
"I didn't think to ask her business," Rusty meowed, ears perking up. "Must've been urgent."
"She stopped to hunt," Barley pointed out. "So it couldn't have been that. Perhaps she was here to see you?"
Rusty let out a hack of laughter, shaking his head. "She doesn't have an apprentice yet, so there's no way she'd be interested in romance. Much less with someone so far out of her territory."
"You and I have been around long enough to know that distance means nothing for some."
Rusty swiveled his head to stare at Barley, whose eyes were glowing with mirth and he snorted. "Bah."
"Welcome back, Spottedleaf," Redtail meowed as she padded back into camp. She smiled and exchanged nuzzles with her brother before he pulled back, wrinkling his nose. "You smell like a barn."
Spottedleaf blinked and sniffed herself before frowning. "Sorry," she mewed sheepishly. "I stopped by Barley's on the way back from the Moonstone."
Redtail's ears rotated forward towards her. "Did StarClan say anything?"
"Nothing worth mentioning," Spottedleaf assured him with a smile, which then faded. "What about you? Anything new with RiverClan?"
The tortoiseshell tom shook his head, namesake waving behind him. "They're not edging towards Sunningrocks, and their scent is mostly on their side of the river."
"Depends on the wind."
Spottedleaf nodded slowly. "That's good," she mewed softly, resting her head against him for a moment. He purred and they shared a few minutes grooming one another. Redtail wrinkled his nose at her scent again.
"It's a shame you have to travel so far for herbs. I get nervous when you're off clan territory," he meowed. "I know attacking Medicine Cats is against all the codes and then some, but there's plenty out there that doesn't care about that."
"You worry way too much," Spottedleaf mewed, though not unkindly. "I do the same for you, and every other cat in ThunderClan."
"That's your job though."
Spottedleaf batted his ears with a paw and he stuck his tongue out at her. "You could always come with me." she pointed out.
"I'll keep that in mind. And if you're in the camp. While I'm around." He chuckled. "Seems like I'm always out on patrol, hunting, or mentoring Graypaw. Or all three."
"Multi-tasking? You?" Spottedleaf's eyes were wide with disbelief. "Never thought I'd see the day." It was her turn to dodge a swipe and she purred. "I do need to go to Twolegplace for some catmint soon, so if you're not doing anything…?"
"I'll be more than happy to accompany you," Redtail assured her. "You never know when a kittypet might get the urge to wander into the forest or something harebrained like that."
"I haven't heard of any incursions since Tigerclaw killed one that had wandered into the forest." Spottedleaf mewed.
"There's a ginger that likes to sit on the fence and stare out into the woods from time to time."
Spottedleaf tilted her head. "Is that so? Perhaps we'll run into them."
Redtail copied her quizzical head tilt and frowned. "Why would you want to do that? They're a kittypet."
"…and?" Spottedleaf's brows rose. "We've had kittypets in the clans before. Even a leader, back in the day, or so the Elders say."
"We had a leader go off and become one when they got older, yes." Redtail's ears twitched and he turned his head at a call. "And that'll be Bluestar yowling for me." He got to his paws and licked Spottedleaf between the ears. "I'll see you around. Try to stay out of trouble and please don't go to Twolegplace without me."
The next day, Spottedleaf and Redtail woke up bright and early, going out with the morning patrol, eventually parting ways with them as they neared Twolegplace.
Redtail watched the fences apprehensively, ears and whiskers twitching anxiously. Spottedleaf lightly butted his shoulder with her head. "Relax," she mewed softly. "We're perfectly safe here."
He stared at her for a moment, fur slowly lying back down. "If you say so." Spottedleaf rolled her eyes before opening her mouth, tasting the air. She then trotted off, Redtail following along behind her.
They neared a fence and Spottedleaf sniffed along its base before backing up. "There's catmint here," she mewed, pleased.
"All I smell is ShadowClan," Redtail meowed. "Why would they care about this place?"
"You think ThunderClan has a monopoly on the herbs here?" Spottedleaf asked, eying the top of the fence. "I'm going over."
"What?!" Redtail hissed, eyes wide. "You can't!"
She was already over and he scrambled after her, dropping into the enclosed space warily. "Spottedleaf!" he hissed, ears flat to his head.
The Medicine Cat was nosing among some plants, tail waving in bliss. "Plenty here," she murmured, before looking up at a sound.
A small ginger molly was staring at them from the porch of the Twoleg nest sitting at the far end of the yard, and when she noticed the forest cats staring at her, she slowly approached.
"While I know I can't stop you from taking those plants, do you mind if I ask why?" she asked. "Weren't you here the other day?"
"Must've been those ShadowClan cats," Redtail meowed. The ginger wrinkled her nose in distaste before sniffing the air curiously.
"You don't smell like dead animals," she mewed, ears unflattening. "Why are there so many of you?"
"There's four Clans worth roaming around the area, although two of them are very far away and unlikely to come here," Spottedleaf mewed, ignoring Redtail's warning look. "They're not likely to mean you harm."
"The only ones that do are some wild cats from deeper within the houses," the molly mewed, curling her lip. "Savages, the bunch of them."
Redtail frowned, but didn't say anything, and glanced at his sister. "Do you have enough?"
Spottedleaf blinked, shaking herself, and nodded. "This'll do. Sorry for bothering you…?"
"My folks call me Ezra," the kittypet mewed. "You're welcome back here if you ever need anything."
"Thank you." Spottedleaf dipped her head. "May StarClan guide you."
"They don't care about anything outside of the clans," Redtail scoffed, and both mollies looked at him, then at each other.
"While I'm not entirely sure about your customs," Ezra mewed. "I have had dreams of cats with stars in their fur. They don't talk to me, but it's still comforting nonetheless."
The cats parted ways, and Redtail couldn't help but notice he troubled expression on Spottedleaf's face as they headed home.