A/N: Alright, so this is a fic I started shortly before Dark River came out. I can't be sure what got me onto the idea of an Ashfur/Hollypaw darkfic, but here it is! I know that warrior names, correct mentors, and the kittens to be born do not add up with the series. I'd like to ask you to try and understand that this was written a while ago, and I chose not to edit it. This is how it was made to be read, because this is how it was writ. :D
Remember to have a look at my profile for a detailed summary while the fic is in progress.
As morning flittered across the rocky walls of the hollow, I stretched my back legs, and then shook some moss scraps out of my rumpled pelt. Even in the den, I could feel that it was cold again. After a quick groom and a light sigh I pushed myself to my paws and ducked into the snow-filled hollow. The cold white powder bit at my sensitive pads, but I forced myself to ignore the pain. I would be a warrior in a season; the least of my worries should be leafbare snow!
My bright green eyes drifted across the camp, and I watched Brightheart and Squirrelpelt as they collected Icepaw and Foxpaw for a morning hunt. My ears flicked, and I wondered where my mentor was today. Bounding through the thin layer of snow I approached my friend Mouseclaw and flicked my tail. "Hey, have you seen Brackenfur, Mouseclaw?"
The gray-and-white tom turned his head to me. I was shocked to see his eyes burning with sorrow. "So I guess you haven't heard, then?"
Fear made my spine tingle. "Heard what?
He brushed my shoulder with the tip of his tail. "Hollypaw, Brackenfur was on the midnight patrol. He slid on some ice and fell into the hollow."
Brackenfur slid into the hollow…
Mouseclaw noticed the horror in my eyes, and the way terror made my muscles lock up. He added quickly, "He was breathing last anyone heard."
Abandoning my friend, I turned and bolted across the camp. I skidded into the medicine cat den, and almost tumbled into my brother, Jaypaw. I demanded, "How's Brackenfur? Where is Brackenfur? Is he still alive?"
My throat tightened with anxiety. Over the moons I have grown to trust and deeply respect my friendly and patient mentor. If he was in StarClan…
Jaypaw hissed irritably, "Is a vigil being sat?"
Relief flooded me like a wave of warm water, bubbling gently through my entire body. Instantly my tight muscles relaxed and I exhaled slowly. I was still upset, though. "Jaypaw, why didn't you come and tell me? I have a right to know he was hurt!"
Jaypaw nudged my shoulder once, his voice not as sharp as before. "We've been busy all night, Hollypaw. Dustpelt and Honeyleaf have greencough; when did I have the time to go tell you about the accident?"
Guilt prickled at me when I realized the aforementioned warriors were in the den with us. I hadn't noticed them in my panic. Dustpelt was sleeping fitfully and Honeyleaf was watching us with dull, heartless eyes. I shuffled my paws and began to apologize for being so short with my brother. "Jaypaw, I'm so-"
An annoyed hiss in my face cut me off. He shook his head, "None of that, Hollypaw. Brackenfur is with Sorreltail and Leafpool behind the lichen wall, why don't you go visit him?"
Perking my ears I crossed the den, coming to stand beside Sorreltail. She smiled sadly at me and announced, "Brackenfur, you have a visitor."
The golden tom raised his head and stiffly. I could see the pain such a simple movement caused him, and I thought back to the time- ages ago- when Jaypaw had also fallen into the hollow. It sent another shiver down my spine. He asked groggily, "Cinderpelt?"
Sorreltail stiffened and her ears twitched once. Leafpool gently corrected him, "No, Brackenfur, that's Hollypaw."
It took a second, but my mentor's eyes seemed to clear a little bit when he saw me and realized I was not his sister. I recognized the strong scent of poppy clinging to his pelt; the seed used to manage the severe pain must be clouding his mind a little.
His unfocused eyes searched for me and he meowed, "Hello, Hollypaw. It's good to see you."
I purred softly and sat down with his mate. "Hi, Brackenfur. How are you feeling?"
The golden tabby sighed. "Not too great. I fractured my shoulder. Leafpool says I won't be able to return to my warrior duties for a quarter moon."
Sorreltail flicked his ear gently, "A half-moon at least!"
My heart broke when I saw the disappointment in his eyes. Leafpool whispered to me, "Maybe you should go for now, Hollypaw."
I narrowed my eyes at her, but I knew she was right. That lost look was creeping back into his eyes. I promised, "I'll train extra hard for you!"
I heard him laugh softly as I turned and made my way to the den exit. I shared a brief hello with Cinderfur as she came to visit her father and sister, then drug my paws back into the center of the camp. Firestar slipped out of the elders' den and blinked when he saw me. He flicked his ears his direction, beckoning me over to join him. Padding over to him, I asked, "Yes, Firestar?"
"How's Brackenfur doing?" he asked me, clearly worried.
I was surprised that he didn't just go see. This conversation was probably headed somewhere. I answered, "He won't be better until at least the full moon, I don't think. Leafpool wants him to rest right now."
Firestar nodded before gently reminding, "You'll need a new mentor until then."
I frowned, but admitted, "I know that."
A voice from behind me entered the conversation. "I'll take her."
I turned my head to see that it had been Ashfur who spoke. He padded beside me and offered, "I was just going to take Lionpaw out hunting. A little competition with his sister will be good for him."
The gray warrior glanced at me, "Can you wake Lionpaw, and then meet me at the tunnel?"
I nodded, and then darted over to the apprentice den. In a heap of golden-brown fur, Lionpaw slept in his nest. I prodded his ribs sharply once with my paw. "Wake up, you lazy furball!"
He woke with a start, springing to his paws. His ears went back instinctively and he growled, half-asleep, "What's happening?"
I purred at him. "Nothing's happening. We're going hunting, so get out of the den!"
He stretched, flexing his massive paws while he yawned. Blinking the haze from his eyes, he asked, "What time is it?"
I glanced outside; it wasn't close to sunhigh yet, but it was creeping past the dawn hour. I reported, "Well into sun-up."
We bundled out of the den and over to Ashfur, who was patiently sitting by the thorn tunnel. He narrowed his eyes at Lionpaw, "The early riser catches the bird."
My brother dipped his head and mumbled, "Sorry, Ashfur. I didn't get much sleep."
With a snort, Ashfur led the way into the territory. I fell back with Lionpaw, glaring at him suspiciously. It has taken moons, but he has started being friendly with Heatherpaw again…
I whispered accusingly, "Did you go to see her again last night?"
Lionpaw's blazing amber eyes locked with mine and he snarled under his breath, "No! Not like it's your business, Hollypaw, but I went for a walk with Poppyspots at the lake."
His tone was both indignant and smug, and he lifted his tail as he pranced forward to talk to his mentor. I was left in the back to dwell on that thought.
Soon we started the hunt. It was Lionpaw's turn first- the task was to catch the squirrel four yards away, storing some acorns. Lionpaw was doing it all wrong! Using the bird stalk, he pounced much too soon. The furry animal escaped his claws and bolted for the nearest tree. He darted after it, but he was too slow.
I couldn't let it get away. The clan was already short of freshkill. I darted forward with a burst of speed, and cut off the path between the prey and the tree. Springing, I landed hard on the animal and pinned it into the ground. Before it could squeal, I delivered a snapping bite to its neck.
Lionpaw glared at me with smoldering eyes and he skidded to a halt before he collided with me. He hissed, "I was about to get it, Hollypaw! I can catch my own prey!"
My neck fur started to bristle with fury. I snarled, "You were nowhere close, Lionpaw! The clan will never be fed with your poor stalking techniques."
Our eyes stayed connected for a second, and the air seemed to crackle in between us. If he was going to be hostile, I was going to fight back.
Ashfur cut Lionpaw's reply off with an ill-tempered growl. "You took the words right out of my mouth, Hollypaw." He glared thorns at my brother. "You're too old to be making greenhorn mistakes like that! You're nearly a warrior, and you can't even catch a squirrel!"
Lionpaw dropped his gaze shamefully. I felt bad for him. His biggest dream- his only dream- was to be ThunderClan's best warrior. Ashfur smiled at me suddenly, his blue eyes bright and friendly. I was taken aback by the dramatic mood shift. "Good catch though, Hollypaw. You're a brilliant hunter. Just like Squirrelflight."
I flushed with embarrassment. "Thanks."
He flicked his tail for us to keep moving. After kicking snow over my catch, I energetically followed. I caught up to Lionpaw and pressed my flank against his. "Hey, I'm sorry for being so…" What was a good word for that sentence? Over-protective of him? Worried about the clan? Stressed about Brackenfur?
He offered lightly, "Mouse-brained?"
Ruffling my fur playfully, I cuffed his ear. He growled and bowled me over, but I managed to slip away from his paws and whack his shoulder. Ashfur, setting down a fresh magpie, watched silently. It seemed he had no problem taking a break if it was for battle practice rather then actual fighting.
My brother spun around and perked his ears, almost like he was listening for Ashfur to offer advice. He did it all of the time, I paid no attention to it anymore. With a heavy paw, he batted my muzzle hard enough to rattle my eyes. If claws had been flashing, that would have left a seriously nasty scar. I hissed and hooked his front leg with my paw, pulling it out from under him as I quickly head-butted his chest. Unbalanced, Lionpaw clattered to the ground hard. I pinned him down and pressed my paw against his throat, grinning triumphantly.
Ashfur mrrowed with laughter, "She wins."
I smiled and released him. He stood up and shook the snow out of his pelt. His eyes shone with an intense eagerness. "That was a good move! Did Brackenfur teach it to you?"
I shook my head. "No, I guess I just did it."
Ashfur commented proudly, "You both did well."
Lionpaw smiled, and then slipped into the forest to catch a mouse that just shot by. Ashfur was staring strangely at me. I blinked and asked, "Are we going to be out much longer, Ashfur?" I didn't want to complain, but now there was snow in my fur, and the bitter cold was freezing me to the bone.
The warrior shook his head. "No, we'll return as soon as Lionpaw comes back."
Before I could reply, he abruptly announced, "You have your mother's eyes."
The sudden declaration startled me. I was left mentally scrambling. Where did that come from?
"Oh, well I've been told-" My answer was interrupted by Lionpaw as he crashed his way back over to us. He held two mice, which explained the length of his absence.
Ashfur picked up his magpie. He backtracked so I could collect the squirrel. I returned home with my brother and his mentor. Ashfur was acting strangely towards me today. It was very odd.
I wasn't so sure I disliked the attention, though.