The great tree came into sight, and I skidded over to its roots. Heaving for breath to replenish my burning lungs, I looked up.
Powderpaw was so far up the tree, on the thin upper branches, that I could barely see his dark gray coat against the pale twilight sky. Whitepaw was just over half way up. A branch ahead of her, Ashfur gently reassured her, "Come on, dear, I will keep you safe." His voice was dead, emotionless. His eyes were dark and his face twisted with a sinister scowl.
My brothers stumbled beside me. I glanced at Lionfang, the lesser climber of us. "Go get her down!" I was lighter and better balanced. I would get Powderpaw. Ashfur heard me, and he snapped his eyes onto us.
He jumped down onto the branch beside Whitepaw. It wobbled and she cried out in fear. Ashfur set his large paw on her back and growled, "Take one step, Lionfang, and I'll knock her off!" Lionfang instantly froze. Jaywing growled in fear and confusion, flattening his ears. He didn't need to see what was going on to understand what was going on.
I swallowed my fear and began clawing my way up to the pair of them. Ashfur swiveled his head and looked at me. He asked quietly, "Hollythorn, what's going on? Isn't this what you wanted?"
I sprang a branch closer. "What? Why would I want this?"
He unsheathed his claws, and they dug into Whitepaw's back. She squeaked, flinching in pain. He meowed sadly, "It was the only way we could stay together! You said you'd be happy without them. I know you don't have the heart to get rid of them; you're their mother. That's okay. I can do it! My heart only cries for you."
He chuckled in insanity, and started trying to push Whitepaw off. She squealed in fear, her claws splintering deeply into the wood. I pounced the distance between us, landing precariously on the branch. Grabbing Ashfur's scruff, I heaved him away from out daughter. Lionfang instantly began to swarm up and rescue her.
I had to distract Ashfur. I curled my tail around his neck and gently nudged him closer to the trunk of the tree. "I didn't mean this, Ashfur! I love them just like I love you."
He glared accusingly at me. "How can that be? How can you possibly love me the same way, if you're forced to share your heart for them?"
I narrowed my eyes in challenge. "Brindleface loved you, Ferncloud, and Cloudtail, didn't she?"
Lionfang was on the branch below us, urgently mewing to Whitepaw. She glanced at us, looking shell-shocked. I caught her eye and nodded very minutely. She scrabbled down, pressing her face against Lionfang's strong shoulder. He plucked the small she-cat off the branch in his powerful jaws, struggling to carry the heavy burden safely to the ground. He did make it, though, and he shoved her over to Jaywing.
Ashfur has retreated into himself, staring unseeingly at me. After a few seconds the wind blew, roaring fast and furiously through the forest. The Sky Oak moaned as the vicious gust forced it to lean to the side. Powderpaw yowled in terror and my heart nearly burst with fear.
"Go get him, Ashfur!" I begged, panicking. "Go! You can't let him fall!"
Ashfur's eyes suddenly became clearer then I had ever seen him. He whirled around and started darting up the tree like a squirrel. I followed more carefully, trying to keep my footing on the rain-smoothed bark. Powderpaw saw us coming up, and he frantically tried to climb down and meet us half way. I gasped, "Don't move!"
It was too late. The combination of the strong, stormy winds; and both mine and Ashfur's weight shaking the tree, made it rattle so hard Powderpaw stumbled on the swaying branch he landed upon. Slipping off, he started spiraling towards the ground.
For one fleeting second, I saw hope. He was hurtling right towards Ashfur's position. He was close enough for Ashfur to grab and yank to safety. To my dismay, Ashfur backed away and let him fall, and fall, and fall.
I winced as his little body hit the ground with a snap. I knew it was over then. At lest he had gone fast, at least. Despite the fact that nothing would survive such a fall, Jaywing rushed over to my sons limp body.
Whitepaw let out a cry of anguish. Jaywing nudged the broken spine helplessly. Lionfang hung his head. My kit, my poor little Powderpaw, was dead; and it was all Ashfur's fault!
I whipped my head to the side and caterwauled, "Murderer!" My fearsome cry echoed above even the wind. Ashfur met my eye. His were wide and terrified, and he looked as vulnerable as one of Millie's newborn kits.
He protested, "No! No, I didn't w-want this! I only wanted..." He started to tremble, closing his eyes.
I sprang up a few branches, coming to stand across from him. I snarled, my entire body quaking with the force. I felt like the blood of the ancient clans had begun to pump through me. The ferocity of Lionclan. The instinct of Leopardclan. The desire to kill from Tigerclan. I hissed, "You led your only son to his death! You monster!"
Fury coursed through my body like molten lava, and without stopping to think of our location I sprang at Ashfur with all the might my body could produce.
I barreled into him, and we both fell right out of the Sky Oak. Ashfur dug his claws deeply into my shoulders as we lurched through the empty air, plummeting fast towards the hard ground. Ashfur's back leg pinched my side, holding me still as his body went totally limp. He whispered, "I'm sorry, Hollythorn. For everything."
The next thing I knew I had been pressed against Ashfur's body, and the world came to a standstill. I felt the body beneath me go totally rigid for an instant, then totally relax as probably ever bone in my dear toms body was shattered. I forced myself to open my eyes. Ashfur lay under my paws, dead. His neck was broken, and his head had fallen to an awkward angle.
I stumbled off of Ashfur's body, shaking badly as I collapsed against the ground. He had saved me by making sure he took all of the impact. He put himself in between me and the ground like a cushion.
I heard other cats come onto the scene, but I was unable to focus on the words and scents. All I could hear were those final words. I'm sorry, Hollythorn. For everything.
He had sounded so hurt, and so lost, and still so terribly loving at the exact same time. I closed my eyes and shook my head, shuttering as I tried to block out the horror. The pain that was now aching through my entire body, surely bruising me on my belly and legs, sort of helped.
I was the murderer. I killed my own mate!
Some cat nudged me. I assumed it was Jaywing taking a damage toll. I opened my eyes to ask him to leave, but it was not my brother. It was my father, Brambleclaw. Behind him was a small patrol, made up of Iceheart, Thornclaw, and Stormfur.
Brambleclaw's eyes were cold as he licked my ear, nudging me to my paws. He didn't even ask what had happened. He glared at the other warriors and assured stonily, "An accident. This was all simply an accident, right Lionfang?"
He glanced at his son, who very quickly nodded agreeably. Brambleclaw ordered calmly, "Take the bodies back to the hollow so we can sit vigil." I watched the four warriors drag my boys away from me. Whitepaw stumbled blindly after Lionfang as he followed.
Jaywing set some herb sin front of me; still smelling of the dirt he must have hastily plucked them from. I ate them blindly, too shaken to do anything else. Brambleclaw asked gently, "Are you alright?"
I whispered so quietly I was positive I was talking to myself. "They're gone." I started to tremble, not feeling strong enough to stand. I had to lean on Brambleclaw, and he gently grabbed my scruff to support me.
"It's the shock." Jaywing assured our father. "She took quite the fall, she will be stiff and sore for a long time. She will recover from both, though, in time."
I felt the big tabby nod. Brambleclaw and Jaywing supported me as I trailed back towards the camp, looking at my paws. I was too numb and exhausted to do anything else.
Whitepaw and Barkpaw sat with Powderpaw at the vigil, Lionfang lingering close behind. I dragged myself over to them, licking my poor Powderpaw's fur for the final time. After a while I shakily walked away, heading towards Ashfur. Squirrelflight and Ferncloud were with his body, Cloudtail and Birchfall not far away.
My mother respectfully moved a few tail-lengths away when she spotted me. Ferncloud was on her belly, her nose pressed deeply into her brother's fur. I didn't disturb her, and she didn't even look at me. I sat down and stared at the peaceful, blank face. I started to think.
Now, and only now, I really was free. He couldn't control me anymore. He would never hurt me again. I had my life back. I was free to love Mouseclaw now, like I always wanted. Right?
Was it right?
I had risked my life for him to save him once. I felt empty now that he was really gone. He was my life, and now half of me was just missing. I didn't feel ready to let him go. Maybe, just maybe, that was what love was. That empty sort of wanting, that painfully agonizing need to have him back with me. If only for one second so I could tell him that I really did love him, and some part of me always would.
Closing my eyes, I sank onto my belly and rasped my tongue across my beloved's check, a soft purr rumbling out of my throat. I could swear that I felt a brush of cold against my face, and I heard a distant purr roll into my ear.
AN: This is it!! How did everyone like the ending? Surprised? xD
I've officialy started Death Did Us Part, the companion story to this. I'd much appreciate it if you all went and read it! Many questions will be answered in it.