Love at Long Last

Sootfur leapt off of Warm-Rocks and arched his back in a luxurious stretch. Nearby, Whitestorm was murmuring into his mate Willowpelt's ear. Bluestar gave Oakheart one last lick and jumped off of the warm stone. Sootfur squashed a pang of envy that gnawed at his belly. Why couldn't he have a mate like the others? He had been just fine in ThunderClan before he died; no she-cats had interested him. Now he was surrounded by cats that had mates, and he wanted one. But how could he, when he didn't truly love any?

Rainwhisker opened his mouth, drawing in the scents of the familiar forest. He pushed the thought of Redtail grooming Brindleface to the back of his mind. He had been fine so far without a mate; why would he want one now? The rustling of a tiny creature in the undergrowth banished his longings. The scent of wood mouse flooded his nose. There it was, nibbling on a seed. Rainwhisker dropped into the hunter's crouch and stalked the mouse. It was absorbed in its meal and didn't notice the hunter until it was too late. Rainwhisker snapped its spine with a sharp nip to the neck and sat up with his prey.

The dark gray tom was startled to see a light brown tabby shape staring into a small pool. Honeyfern. She must be thinking about Berrynose and Poppyfrost again. Rainwhisker found himself staring at the she-cat, studying the shape of her head, the sleekness of her fur…

As he watched, Honeyfern suddenly glanced up. Her gaze met Rainwhisker's, and she slowly rose to her paws.

"Hello," she mewed. She seemed to be looking past Rainwhisker at something only she could see.

"Were you thinking of Berrynose and Poppyfrost?" Rainwhisker asked gently and unexpectedly. A feeling stirred deep within him. Why did he feel…jealous…of Berrynose?

"Yes," she replied. "Berrynose is a good mate for Poppyfrost and a good father for Cherrykit and Molekit. He's a bit overly protective of Poppyfrost, but I know that he just doesn't want to lose her." Like me. The words hung unspoken in the air.

"You still love him, don't you?"

Honeyfern looked away. "Yes." There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Only then did Rainwhisker remember the mouse at his paws.

"D-do you want some fresh-kill?" Rainwhisker hastily shoved the mouse closer to the pretty tabby.

"Thank you." Honeyfern blinked at Rainwhisker with eyes like the light green of a new bud. She crouched down and took a bite.

Rainwhisker watched her eat. She was so beautiful. Why, oh why, did she have to love Berrynose? Then his belly growled.

Honeyfern blinked in amusement. "You can share with me—Rainwhisker, was it?"

Rainwhisker nodded and took a mouthful of mouse.

"Rainwhisker, I told you that I still love Berrynose. Well—"

Rainwhisker focused on chewing.

"—I can't be with him. He has Poppyfrost. I can have a mate here."

Rainwhisker stopped chewing and looked up at the pretty she-cat. "A-anyone in mind?" he asked nervously. He held his breath, almost afraid of the answer.

"Right now, I want no one but you." Honeyfern rubbed Rainwhisker's cheek with her own. Rainwhisker caught a whiff of her sweet breath. "Do you want that?"

"Honeyfern, I love you." He twined his tail around hers and pressed against her. He was so glad that Honeyfern felt the same way about him. He didn't know what he would do if she didn't love him.

Sootfur finished talking with Stonefur and padded away, towards a stretch of moorland. He waved his tail in greeting to Gorsepaw, who acknowledged him with a flick of his tail as he dashed in pursuit of a rabbit. He passed Tallstar and Deadfoot, and continued until the tough, springy grass underpaw turned to stone. Soon a waterfall appeared. It was beautiful, water droplets creating a rainbow above it. Sootfur settled down and watched the water as it tumbled into a pool with a roar.

"Oh, hello."

Sootfur whirled around. A sleek she-cat, white with tortoiseshell patches, was padding towards him.

"Do you come here, too? I find that it helps me relax."

"Who are you?" Sootfur asked.

"Sweetpaw. Who are you?"

"I'm Sootfur. You don't look like an apprentice."

"I'm not. I died when I was a 'paw." She sighed. "I want a warrior name, but I don't know who to talk to about it."

Sootfur padded closer to the pretty young cat. "What would you want your warrior name to be?"

"Sweetpoppy," she answered promptly. "After my mother, Poppydawn." Sootfur recalled the bushy-tailed dark ginger she-cat he had seen occasionally.

"Sootfur," Sweetpaw mewed, pressing close to the light gray tom, "if you knew how to change my name, would you?" She gazed up at him pleadingly.

"Sweetpoppy, I would do anything for you. Say," he meowed, "I have an idea how to get your warrior name. But first, let's sit and watch the waterfall."

Rainwhisker was sharing a squirrel with Honeyfern the next day when a crowd of cats hurried past.

"What's going on?" he demanded, grabbing the tail of the nearest passing cat with his teeth. Dappletail stumbled with an annoyed squawk.

"There was meeting called," she snapped, pulling her tail out of Rainwhisker's mouth.

"A meeting?" Honeyfern sounded surprised. "What—" But Dappletail was already leaving, muttering about the rudeness of young cats.

"Let's follow them," Rainwhisker suggested.

Soon they came to a large hollow filled with cats. Perched on a large flat rock were for cats; Rainwhisker recognized the founders of the four Clans: Thunderstar, Shadowstar, Riverstar, and Windstar. They were talking and shooting occasional glances at the growing number of cats in the hollow. Then Thunderstar gave a yowl, silencing the cats.

"We are gathered here today to name a cat worthy of her warrior name. She died as an apprentice, and now she will be a warrior. Come forward, Sweetpaw." Gasps of shock rippled throughout the crowd as Sweetpaw leapt easily onto the rock.

"Sweetpaw, you are more than ready to be called a warrior. I, Thunderstar, have watched over this cat for many moons. She shall be known as Sweetpoppy, for she has her mother's spirit."

"Sweetpoppy! Sweetpoppy!" Cheers erupted from the crowd. The newly named Sweetpoppy scanned the clearing. Her gaze met Poppydawn's. Her mother was so proud. There was another who Sweetpoppy was looking at with warmth. Rainwhisker followed her gaze and saw…Sootfur! Sweetpoppy was in love with Sootfur! The light gray tom had his gaze fixed on Sweetpoppy and was mouthing, "I love you."

The cheers died down, and Sweetpoppy jumped off of the rock. Cats surrounded her, mewing congratulations, and she plowed through the crowd until she came to Poppydawn and Sootfur. She pushed away her mother's licks and pressed against Sootfur.

"I did it," the tom murmured in her ear. "And I love you, Sweetpoppy."

"I love you, too, Sootfur." The white-and-tortoiseshell she-cat licked Sootfur's cheek. "I want you to be my mate."

"Sweetpoppy, I want that too."

As they nuzzled, Rainwhisker turned to Honeyfern. "Sootfur isn't the only one who wants a mate. Honeyfern—"

The pretty tabby interrupted him. "No need to say it. I want the same. Rainwhisker, I'm glad that cats in StarClan can pick a mate after a lifetime without love."

Rainwhisker rested his head on Honeyfern's. "I'm glad for that, too."