1The ground shook like thunder before a storm, heralding the approach of a monster. An unnatural wind hissed through the trees' branches. The sound fell on literal deaf ears. A young, snow-white tomcat sat calmly beside the Thunderpath, calmly watching the shiny-pelted creature roar past. He blinked his sky-blue eyes. It was those same eyes that had intimidated many cats into fleeing in terror.

Fishkit was known all around the forest for being a watcher. He never said a word. He never replied to anything any cat said. He just watched. It was eerie, almost disquieting. Very few of the rogue cat's foes knew his deepest and darkest secret.

Fishkit was deaf.

Like most white-furred, blue-eyed cats, Fishkit was deaf. He never said a word because he had never heard a word. He never replied because he never heard the question. But while his hearing had been taken away from him, the young cat's other senses were super-strong. He could scent prey when it was upwind. He could tell which cat was approaching him by the vibrations of their pawsteps. He could see farther than most of his friends.

Fishkit sat stone-still as he felt the earth shake, though not as fiercely as it did at the coming of a monster. The rhythm was familiar. Finally, he turned to see the startled face of the cat who had been trying to sneak up on him. The big tabby winked. "Hello, Fishkit," the tom meowed aloud, at the same time making a few motions with his paws and tail. Fishkit nodded a greeting.

"Hello Rust," Fishkit signed, streaking his tail down his shoulder to imitate the stripes of Rust's fur. Rust nodded and sat beside the young tom. "Thinking," Fishkit told him, patting his own head with a paw. Rust nodded again.

"ThunderClan thoughts?" Rust asked. Fishkit stiffened at the mention of his old Clan. Rust leaned back. Fishkit was a lot smaller, but the white tom had powers that made Rust a little nervous.

"Yes." Fishkit tapped the ground once. "ThunderClan thoughts."

Rust's tail made a nervous twitch. "Want me to leave?" he asked. After a few moments, Fishkit made the yes-sign again. Rust got up and backed away.

Fishkit sighed, alone in his mind. Rust has been my brother ever since I joined with his group of rogues. He's the only one who really tried to talk with me aside from... Bluefur...

---F î " t z î ---

Tigerpaw's face bore a sneer. His mouth moved. What is he saying? Fishkit wondered, Is... Is he being mean to me? Ohh... where's Bluefur?

Fishkit opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Only a soft, squeaking mew. "What's th' matter?" Tigerpaw sneered. "Can't take a joke, Fishkit? Huh?"

"Heh!" laughed Darkkit. "Yeah. Too stupid?" He and Tigerpaw extended a claw, hooking them together.

"You guys!" mewed Lionkit. "Leave him alone! He's not stupid! Remember? Rosetail the medicine cat said it herself: he's deaf. If you guys don't stop it, I'm gonna tell Bluefur!"

Tigerpaw, Lionkit, and Darkkit all started arguing. Fishkit could tell by the looks on their faces that Lionkit was defending him, while Tigerpaw and Darkkit were trying to defend themselves. He sighed. He wondered where Bluefur was. Bluefur had been a young queen who had lost her kits to a badger or a fox a few moons ago. She was Clan deputy now. He sniffed the air, smelling that familiar, warm scent. Fishkit turned to see Bluefur padding over.

"Bluefur! Bluefur!" Lionkit mewed, running over to tattle. "Tigerpaw 'n' Darkkit were makin' fun of Fishkit again!"

Bluefur sighed. "Again?" she whispered. "Look you two, leave poor Fishkit alone. You shouldn't be making fun of him. It's a bad thing for good little kits like you to be doing."

"But Bluefur!" Darkkit whined. "It's not bad to do it, 'cause Fishkit can't hear what we're saying!"

"Yeah!" Tigerpaw added. "So how does he know we're saying bad stuff about him? We could be telling him he's got the prettiest fur in the whole Clan!"

"But you aren't!" Lionkit shot back. "You're saying he's stupid. Bluefur, why don't we tell Fallenstar what they was doing?"

Bluefur's tail gave an irritated jerk. "Don't bother. It's not like she'd really listen, is it? She's getting so..." Her voice trailed off.

"What do you mean?" Lionkit asked. Bluefur shook her head.

"I shouldn't be talking like this," she muttered, "It makes me sound like I want her to die. No." Bluefur shook her pelt out. She turned to Fishkit. "Fishkit," she signed, pointing to the tom. "Come." She made a walking motion with her front paws. "With." Her long tail tapped Fishkit's flank, then her own. "Bluefur." She ran a paw down her muzzle, Fishkit's chosen sign for her.

Fishkit nodded and stepped up beside her. Lionkit came up. "Can I come too?" he asked hopefully. Bluefur shook her head.

"I'm sorry, Lionkit. You're still a kit, even though you'll be an apprentice in a mere pawful of moons. You're too young. Fallenstar would have my tail if I took you with me."

"So how come you're takin' Fishkit?" Lionkit mewed indignantly. "He's a kit too!"

"Because no cat really cares where Fishkit goes, so long as he's with me."

"You're leavin' ThunderClan territory, then?" Tigerpaw asked. "Can I come too? Please?"

"Ask your mentor," Bluefur replied. "Although, personally, after the way you've been acting, I doubt they'll say yes."

Tigerpaw narrowed his amber eyes. He slunk away from the happy pair. Fishkit butted Bluefur's shoulder in a gesture of happiness. Bluefur wasn't his mentor (Fishkit was only three moons old), but she took such care of him, she might as well have been. Bluefur gave the sulky Lionkit a comforting lick on the head before motioning for Fishkit to follow her.

They walked to Stepping Stones, the border between ThunderClan and RiverClan territory. Bluefur sighed and sat down. Fishkit saw her mouth moving, but not her paws or her tail. She needs to talk to someone who won't judge her, Fishkit thought. And she's come to the right cat. I can't hear a word! Bluefur sometimes needed to talk, but not really be listened to. She turned to Fishkit for this.

"It's Fallenstar," she meowed softly. "She's a great and noble leader, but she's starting to get senile. I feel like I can't talk to her any longer. I don't know what to do." Bluefur sighed. "It's no secret, either. Every cat in the Clan knows that Fallenstar's not as sharp as she once was. I want to be leader, Fishkit, but not so badly. I think I could do a better job of it, but I don't want to go against StarClan's choice of Fallenstar. They'll call her to join them when she's ready, I know, and choose me to take her place when that time comes."

Fishkit listened silently. He could smell the scent of Bluefur's hopelessness and confusion, and drew close to her, purring comfortingly. Bluefur nuzzled him. "Fishkit... I think there's something I should say out loud." She cast a swift glance around her, looking for any other cats. "It's been bothering me since it happened. Mistykit and Stonekit are alive. They're... they're in RiverClan." Shudders passed down her spine. Fishkit pulled even closer. "I gave them away to their RiverClan father, Oakheart...And...that means I've disobeyed the warrior code by taking a mate from another Clan...I don't deserve to be Clan leader..."

Fishkit looked up into Bluefur's ice-hued eyes. He could see great sadness in them. He licked her flank soothingly. Bluefur purred, the deep vibrations filling Fishkit's world with a happy hum. It was the sound of the nursery, the sound queens made to their sleepy kits. It was the sound of nature, the sound of gathering thunder. It was the only sound Fishkit heard, and he treasured it above everything.

Bluefur rose to her paws. "Fishkit," she motioned. "Come home with me. It's late."

Fishkit nodded and got up. He trotted after Bluefur. The deputy licked his ears fondly and padded towards ThunderClan's camp. Fishkit's mother, Dappletail, greeted them at the camp entrance. "Tigerpaw said you were out," she meowed. "I know how you two are. Thank you for keeping a good eye on my son, Bluefur."

Bluefur nodded. "I suppose I just need to be near kits after losing my own..." her voice trailed off. Dappletail gave her a consoling nuzzle.

"That's one of the hardest parts about being a queen, Bluefur," she mewed. "Losing your kits. Don't worry. I'm sure you'll have more some day."

Only Fishkit saw the uneasy glint in the young deputy's eyes. He had a feeling that whatever Bluefur had been telling him had been referred to by his mother. He pushed his muzzle into Bluefur's bluish pelt and stepped up beside his mother. Dappletail guided Fishkit towards the nursery, giving Bluefur a sympathetic glance before she stepped into the dark den.

"Hi Fishkit!" Lionkit mewed, waving his tail to catch the other kit's attention. Fishkit returned the gesture and curled up beside his brother. Redkit, a mottled tortoiseshell tom-kit with a bushy red tail, waved his red-furred appendage as well. Fishkit nuzzled his other brother. Dappletail curled her body around her three kits.

"Good night, my beloveds," she murmured, nosing them in turn. "May StarClan watch over you all as you dream."

Fishkit, however, did not plan on dreaming in the nursery tonight. He was tired of Tigerpaw and Darkkit teasing him. Even though Redkit meant well, sometimes he would try to side with Tigerpaw in order to look "cool." It hurt him. It hurt a lot. Fishkit knew Bluefur would be unconsolable if he left, but he had to.

ThunderClan is not where I belong, Fishkit thought as he stared up through the gaps of the nursery ceiling. I can't stay here. I'll find another Clan to join.

The whole night, Fishkit pushed up close against Redkit. The dappled he-kit grumbled for Fishkit to move over repeatedly in his sleep. Fishkit waited until Redkit's breathing had slowed to the point where he was in a deep sleep, then slid away silently. Redkit gave a muffled mew of content and stretched out until he filled the spot Fishkit had occupied as well as his own spot. Fishkit nodded. That had worked exactly how he had planned it. The deaf tomcat turned and crept from the nursery.

Even when he was fully grown, Fishkit never could figure out just how he had escaped the notice of all the cats in the camp that night. There had been no shortage of able-bodied warriors and apprentices who would have no trouble stopping a wayward kit from leaving the camp. Fishkit watched as Whitestorm dragged himself out of the warriors den to join a moonhigh patrol. He hung back in the shadow of the nursery, quivering with fear. Whitestorm was a young warrior with keen senses and sharp yellow eyes. If he didn't see Fishkit, he would surely smell him.

Whitestorm, however, was not really paying attention. The white-furred warrior opened his jaws in a huge yawn and shook scraps of moss from his pelt. Fishkit huddled deep into the shadows. Whitestorm poked his head into the apprentices den and called for his apprentice Goldenpaw. Goldenpaw staggered outside sleepily and followed Whitestorm to where a group of a couple more warriors was waiting. Fishkit waited until he could no longer feel the vibrations of their pawsteps before moving from his shadowy hideout.

He turned and ran. Since he didn't know his way around ThunderClan territory, by the time dawn broke, Fishkit was barely a mile from the camp. If he had not been deaf, he would have heard Dappletail's wail of anguish and grief when she awoke to only two kits in her nest.