My mother once told me, "Darkpaw, one day you will look deep into your heart and find your truest thought, and that will save you."

I didn't understand her then, and she died before I could ask, fighting to the last breath to protect me from invading ShadowClan warriors. I always told myself I would be the same type of loyal cat she had been, defending my Clan until it killed me. I trained twice as hard as any other apprentice and learned quickly, easily rising to the top as the most skilled hunter in ThunderClan. And I soon forgot all about my mother's revelation.

My entire life was a grueling quest for loyalty. It was brutal and tough, but I always kept faith in my abilities and my friends. But more than anything, I trusted my friends.

Maybe that was my downfall.

It was all dark when it ended, black and cold and terrifying. It choked the life out of me, clutched at my heart like a vice grip, and all I was aware of was pain. Endless, suffocating pain, bleeding from the depths of my soul. And it was cold. I'd never been so cold, like every scrap of warmth was frozen over. I felt that if I simply twitched I would shatter into a thousand fragments of ice.

This was not how it was supposed to end.

I was supposed to end my life comfortably resting in the elder's den, peacefully rising to StarClan in my sleep after a long, hard service to my Clan. I was supposed to be respected and admired for my bravery and cunning in battle, and many cats would mourn my passing.

I was supposed to be greeted by my mother and join the starry ranks of my ancestors, watching over the forest.

This was not how I had wanted it to end, and I can't blame that on anyone but myself.

My soul rose to the stars, frosted over with coldness and enveloped in a pitch black shadow. StarClan appeared before me in a mist of wonderment and awe, their starry forms shimmering before my pale yellow gaze. My mother was among the first cats, watching me gravely with glowing green eyes. I wished desperately to run to her, to push my face into her fur like I was a kit again. But the freezing cold around me kept me firmly in place.

"Welcome, Darkstripe."

The tone of their voices was rich and pure. It filled me with a sense of comfort and security, lifting the cold from my body for a split second before it slammed down again.

"Is it over? A-Am I staying?"

I couldn't keep the hope out of my voice. Tigerstar was here, wasn't he? I craned my neck to search for the tabby I so desperately admired, but to no avail. Puzzlement flashed once in my eyes before I shook it off and turned attention to the ranks of my ancestors. Cautious murmurings, sounding low and furtive, tingled the air as the StarClan cats conversed. Uneasiness twisted my stomach.

"You will be joining Tigerstar soon, young one," they rumbled at last.

Icy claws gripped my pelt, freezing me in place. I didn't like the way they said that.

"In the place you will spend eternity, there is no light," StarClan went on, their voices merging together to form a single, clear pitch. "There is no prey. You must suffer alone for the rest -"


Pale yellow eyes darted to the starry form of my mother, her green eyes stretched wide with anxiety. "One last chance," she pleaded.

When there was no protest, she fixed her eyes on me, begging with me. "Darkstripe, my son," she breathed, as if willing me to understand. "Do you remember what I told you many seasons ago?"

Paws trembling, I shook my head, awestruck.

"Look deep down into your heart," she urged, voice wispy and pleading, mossy eyes boring into mine. "Find your truest thought. What is it, Darkstripe? What is your truest thought?"

It will save you.

I remembered the satisfaction of defending my Clan. I always did love a good battle, ever since I was an apprentice. Claws unsheathed and slashing through thick fur of invaders - it always was a natural euphoria. The feeling of teeth meeting flesh and knowing, knowing that you are protecting the weaker ones - it was the best bliss.

I remembered sunny days spent hunting in dappled sunlight with Longtail and Tigerclaw, before it all became so complicated. The warm feeling I got when Tigerclaw praised me - that would stay with me always. The feeling of pouncing and the squirming form beneath you, knowing it will feed a hungry mouth, was rewarding all its own.

I remembered watching Tigerstar bleed out his last lives on the ground, and the twisting feeling in my stomach as I watched. The low, strangled cry that tore from me as I saw the tabby I admired dying before my eyes. The pain that scraped at my heart like claws made of fire, the way my yellow eyes stretched wide with horror. No, no, no.

Almost without thinking, I murmured, "I miss Tigerstar."

My mother let out a high-pitched wail, her cries pleading. "No, no!" she screeched, green eyes wide with terror. "Don't take my son away from me!"

Bluestar, restored to her youth, watched me gravely. Her blue-gray fur shone with stars, and she let out the softest of sighs. Quietly, she stepped forward and knelt before me, as if she was renaming me a warrior all over again. I hunched beneath her, shoulders slumping, silver black-striped fur bristling on the spine.

"It has not saved you," she whispered softly.

Gently, she touched her muzzle to my cheek, as if apologizing. Then, straightening up once more, she cast a blue-eyed glance over the clearing. Murmurs of quiet approval rippled through StarClan, and the muffled sobs of my mother were drowned out.

Bluestar looked down again, and I managed to meet her gaze.

"We sentence you to eternity in the Place of No Stars," she announced clearly. A tremor ran up my spine at this, and I widened my eyes at her. Words clawed up my throat, but I could not speak a word. The darkness I feared most washed over my gaze.

Bluestar leaned down and whispered, "I am sorry, dearest Darkstripe. It was not supposed to be like this."

With that, she touched her nose to mine, and the worst pain striked through me, as if I was dying all over again. I let out a weak yowl as blackness overwhelmed me, and the freezing cold that had dissipated pierced me like a thorn.

It was over. It was over, and I was the only one to blame.

A/N: I love Darkstripe. He is my favorite character. I could rant about why I think he rocks your sock drawer, but that would go on for far too long. This is pretty short, but whatever. It can be seen as Deathshipping - I love that pairing, mind you - but can also be seen as friendship. It's a small little drabble. I do love those. Almost as much as reviews, which are also adored. (;