Varjak Paw woke and smiled. His silver-blue fur was shining in the early morning light. He felt something stir beside him. His gaze fell on Holly's blue and mustard eyes blinking open beside him. Tam had already woken and was shaking out her fluffy brown coat a little further away. Varjak yawned. "Good morning, everybody!" He said cheerfully. It had been just a few short weeks since he defeated Sally Bones and her gang, and already he noticed a change in the once dark city. Cats were getting bolder, and coming out of hiding, there was more than enough food to go around since the white cat and her thugs weren't rounding it up for themselves. And the wounds of everyone who fought in the great battle were healing.

Tam grinned at Holly. "Excuse me for asking Holly, but how did you end up over there next to Varjak? When I fell asleep you were way over here."

Holly rolled her multicolored eyes. "Just fall off a building like I did. I m sure Varjak will welcome you with open arms." Tam did not think this was funny. She opened her mouth to object, but Varjak saved her from having to answer.

"Let's not talk about that right now. Come on, I found this place yesterday where there are mice everywhere." At the mention of food Tam's face lit up expectantly and everyone laughed. It was common knowledge that fat Tam loved to eat. Varjak watched Holly stretch, her black and white fur was spiked, as usual. She was beautiful. Varjak thought about how close he came to losing her. Varjak closed his eyes and remembered Holly falling to what could have certainly been her death, calling her name over and over. He shook his head to clear the images. Tam's voice broke through his thoughts.

"Varjak, come on already! I'm starving!"

Holly laughed. "You're always hungry, Tam." Then they all decided it was time to go. Holly squeezed through the narrow opening to the alleyway. Then Tam, and last of all Varjak.

"So, Mr. Paw, where's this great placing you keep going on about?"

" In the western alleys. Near the docks. It might take a while to get there but it's well worth it." So the little group set off. They climbed walls, stalked through shadows and steered around busy street corners. The sun was high in the sky before Varjak suggested they stop. Holly flopped down next to Varjak and he licked her face.

Holly pricked her ears. Varjak turned on his Awareness. Tam stood quickly,eyes wide. They all heard the footsteps .Common precaution in the City. Two bristling shaggy cats stepped into the alley Varjak had chosen to rest in. After a moment of staring each other down, all five cats relaxed.

Tam grinned and did a little bounce. "Ozzie! Omar!" Varjak and Holly looked at each other excitedly. Ozzie and Omar where big supporters of Varjak during Sally Bone's rule.

Ozzie spoke up first. "Nice to see you guys too. We were headed for the park. There was a big human festival there and they always drop food. Nasty animals, but they have taste. You in?" Tam nodded eagerly, but Varjak and Holly said they still wanted to go to the southern alleys.

Omar shrugged. "Suit yourself, come on Tam, let's eat!" Tam looked torn. She hesitated, and Holly rolled her eyes. "Just go Tammy. It won't hurt our feelings." So the two groups said their goodbyes and separated.

Varjak and Holly were stretched out in the southern alleys together, bellies full under the setting sun. Holly sighed. "Well Mr. Paw, You've outdone yourself this time. I haven't eaten like this in ages. I hope Tam got something to eat with Ozzie and Omar."

Varjak licked Holly's head. "I'm sure she did, and if you eat anything else, you're going to be as fat as she is."Holly shoved Varjak playfully with her paws. He her pounced on her in retaliation, and they rolled and tumbled for a while, until they both fell over laughing.

Holly pushed her muzzle into Varjak's fur. "I love you.

Varjak rubbed his chin along her back. "I love you too."

Varjak heard a low, rumbling growl. "This is all very touching, but you happen to be in my place, eating my prey. "Varjak's head snapped knew that he saw him. Stripes, scars, and an angry twisted expression. "You killed the Boss, and I'm not exactly one to forgive and forget, so I think-no, I AM going to rip you and your pretty girlfriend apart.

Varjak's fur bristled angrily. "You know the law. "He snarled. "You were exiled and know the penalty for coming back here."

Luger laughed. The sound was harsh and grating. "Like I care. Killing the Bones was sheer luck. I could beat you with my paws tied.

Holly spoke up from behind Varjak."Hey smartness, in case you hadn't noticed you're outnumbered, two to one."

Luger licked his paws calmly. "I don't think you would fight me unless you want to harm those kits in your belly.

Holly's jaw dropped. "How did you"-

"It's pretty obvious. "Luger interrupted. "So that events the odds pretty well, I think. "He took a bold step forward.

"Get ready to run. "Varjak whispered.

Luger lashed out with one scarred paw. "Since you'll be dead in a few moments anyway, I'll go ahead and tell you why I'm here. I have taken over Sally Bone's gang. I have made it stronger. We will invade, and we will survive! "He leaped on Varjak, who dodged quickly.

"Run Holly! Now! "Both cats took off, running their for their lives. Luger was hot on their tails. Varjak could feel his rancid breath on his ankles.

Varjak ducked into a dark alley. He and Holly made it over a thick brick wall, Luger tried to climb after them, but his weeks in exile had left him hungry and weak.

Varjak and Holly ran for a while more before realizing that they were both alone. They collapsed, panting.

"Holly", Varjak said when he caught his breath." When were you going to tell me you were having kits?"

Holly lowered her head to her paws. "I don't know, maybe tonight...but I didn't think Luger could tell."

Varjak looked at Holly from head to toe. She was a little wide. "Hey, this is good news, why do you look so upset?"

Holly's eyes were bright with tears. "I don't know the first thing about being a mother. I didn't even know mine. All I remember is that she left me, and I don't even know why. She just...left. Did I ever tell you I had a brother? She took him and left me to fend for myself."

Varjak realized that this was the first time Holly had ever talked about being a hurt him to see her so distressed.

"I think you'll make a great mother. Know why? Because you're so worried about doing something wrong, it will make you stronger and more protective. I know when you see our kits, you will know what to do.

Holly gave a little half smile. "You think so?"

Varjak licked her cheek. "I know so. Now let's go find Tam and tell her the good news."

"You're having what? "Tam was shocked. Her brown eyes were wide. Varjak felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. They had all made it back to the secret alleys around the same time. Varjak convinced Holly to tell their best friend the big secret, and they had taken turns trying to make her believe it ever since.

Holly sighed. "For the third time, kits. You know, little baby cats."

Tam sat down, processing this. "Holly. Having 'baby cats'". She shook her head.

"Finally! She gets it. It only took, what, a half hour, Varjak? Holly nudged Varjak's shoulder playfully.

Tam frowned. "I'm just glad you're both okay. What was Luger doing here? He'd be pretty dumb to try and come back here by his self. Varjak and Holly glanced at each other nervously. They hadn't told Tam what Luger was planning to do. Varjak reluctantly told her that Luger said he was building up a gang of Sally Bone's old followers. Just as predicted, Tam panicked. She started pacing.

"What are we going to do? What about your kits? What if they take all the food again? No, Holly I will not calm down! You know I have to eat!" Tam gasped. "What if I become….thin? Varjak sighed. Tam was so dramatic sometimes.

"We're hoping it was just a threat. We're still on high alert, though. All I can say is to warn everyone we know and be careful." Tam relaxed a little, but her eyes were as big as ever. Her bushy brown fur was bristling. She lay down mumbling irritably about not ever getting enough food.

"Varjak!" Holly gasped." I swear I just felt the kits moving just now. Come here." Varjak pressed his paws to her belly. Sure enough, he felt a little bump against his paws. Suddenly, it became real for Varjak Paw. He has a family to take care of. He needed to keep them all safe. He knew what he had to do.

"So, Holly, how do you and Tam feel about leaving the city for a while?"

"Varjak! This is crazy! Your family hates me! Remind me why we have to go there again?" Holly was protesting. Tam was even more stubborn. She refused to follow Varjak up the hill at all. She decided to stay with Ozzie and Omar until Varjak returned.

"Because, Holly, that is the most boring place I have ever been. Nothing ever happens on the hill. It will be the safest place to have our kits."

Holly sighed. "Fine. Lead the way, Mr. Paw.

As the two cats entered the house high on the hill, Varjak saw that everything was exactly as it had been as a kit. Same dusty curtains, same cold stone floors and faded armchairs. Only one thing was different. A silver blue kit with big green eyes was sitting in the middle of the floor. Varjak opened his mouth but the kit had already raced away.

Varjak sat down to wait, and after a few moments, he heard several loud voices and seconds later, saw them.

His father stepped forward, an astonished look on his silver blue face.

"Varjak, what are you doing here? I haven't seen you since last spring, when you left us."

Varjak began hesitantly.

"Well, I love the city, it's my home, but it's not the safest place right now. We need a place to stay"-

"We?" Father interrupted. Every green eye in the room swiveled to Holly, who had been doing her best to become invisible behind Varjak.

"She's pregnant! Varjak Paw…" Father was livid. He opened his mouth to shout but Varjak beat him there.

"DO I REALLY NEED TO REMIND YOU, JUMAL, THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR LIFE?" And the quieter, "I need a place for Holly to have her kits, and the least you could do is let me stay here.

Varjak's brother's Julius, Jay, Jethro, and Jerome all looked at Father. Aunt Juni and Mother looked at Father. Cousin Jasmine and the small kit looked at Father.

"You can stay. But don't expect a warm welcome from me." The old cat stalked away angrily.

The kit bounced up to stare at Varjak.

"You look funny. What's wrong with your eyes? Why did you yell at grandpa? Why is your friend's fur that color?"

"Jake! Where are your manners? You didn't even tell them your name!" It was Jasmine, walking over to scold the kit.

"So, Varjak, I see you've met my son Jake. I'm sorry if he bothered you."

Varjak shook his head. "No, it's fine. He didn't give me time to answer his questions though."

Jasmine laughed. "He is a little chatterbox. He probably wouldn't be that way if he had someone to play with."

Holly yawned.

"Oh, I didn't realize. You two must me exhausted. Go get some rest, we can speak in the morning." Jasmine said quickly, shooing her son away.

"Come on Jake, it's your bedtime. Go to your father." The kit ran immediately to Julius, who scooped him up in his jaws and carried him away.

"I thought that was your cousin. And Julius is your brother…." Holly looked puzzled. Varjak explained quickly.

My father insisted that we call her our cousin. He thinks it strengthens the family bond or something like that."

"Your family is strange, Varjak. I hope you know that."

The hopped up into a dusty blue armchair to sleep.

Holly smiled. "I can't wait to see our kits." That was the last thing Varjak heard as he drifted off to sleep.

Varjak dreamed. He was standing on the shore of a familiar beach with his ancestor Jalal. The old cat's amber eyes were full of sadness. He took a step into the lapping waves. Varjak's heart pounded in his chest.

"Wait! Don't leave me Jalal! I need you!" He shouted. Jalal shook his head.

"No, my child. You are no longer the helpless kit who knew not who he was. You do not need me. I have restored all lost knowledge to you. I have taught you my Way. You will teach this Way to your children, and they to theirs. Let me tell you something. When we met, you asked what I thought of you. Now you will hear my answer. You are a bright future, an open door. You are hope and light where all else is not. You are a rising sun on cold night. Before you, there was none of this. I waited one hundred years to find you, my son, and now my purpose is served." The wind blew wildly through the ancient cat's silver blue fur. He closed his amber eyes, and stepped into the water. The waves closed around him hungrily, and he was gone.

Varjak woke with a start. He felt a deep sadness in his heart for his great ancestor. This dream had come to him a month ago, but it still hurt like it had just happened. But he had other worries. He stretched and yawned. Then he hopped out of the dusty blue armchair and trotted off to find Holly. He spotted Jasmine giving Jake a bath. "Hey, Jasmine, have you seen Holly?"

"Yes. I offered her some of the dry food we have in the kitchen, and would you believe what she said to me? She said she'd rather hunt. You need to have a talk with her Varjak. I don't want Jake to hear these things." Her silky voice was full of contempt. Varjak chuckled.

"So, the garden then. Thanks Jasmine. And by the way, we hunt for our food. We eat mice and birds and fluffy bunnies. Holly wasn't insulting you." Varjak slipped out the gaping window, smiling. He could just imagine Holly eating kitty kibbles.

Varjak found Holly stalking something under a massive oak tree in the garden. Already she had a little pile of mice and one fat squirrel. When she saw him she straightened up. "Hey. You were right. This place has plenty to eat. Enough for all of us. And by 'us' I mean you, me, and the kits. Your fake cousin Jazzy almost had a heart attack when I said I was going to hunt. That lunatic covered her son's ears like I said a bad word." Varjak cracked up laughing. But Holly wasn't done. "How do these cats still have those old food rock things anyway? The humans left here a year ago. Don't these guys eat?" Varjak stopped. He hadn't thought about how much these cats had left to eat.

"I honestly don't know." Varjak shook his head. "I guess they're fine, they don't look hungry. Speaking of food, how much did you catch?"

"Four mice and the squirrel. I would have caught more, but I'm getting heavier." Holly looked frustrated.

Varjak rubbed his cheek against Holly's. "How about I do the hunting for a while?"

Varjak was washing his paws in the garden. Holly was daydreaming beside him. Varjak saw Jay, Jethro, and Jerome walking toward him. Jethro spoke first. He sounded a little awkward. "Hi…I umm…well it's been a month now since you got here and we"-Jay interrupted him.

"We want to hunt. Could you two teach us?" Varjak and Holly exchanged shocked looks.

"I could teach you. Holly's a bit out of shape right now." Varjak poked Holly's round belly. She slapped him. "But I thought the whole live meat thing was against family values."

"There's not much left for us to eat. If all that dry cat food gets eaten, we'll starve. Sooner or later we have to find something else." Jethro said.

Varjak nodded. "I understand. I know what it feels like to be hungry. We start at dawn."

All three brothers' faces lit up. Jethro started to speak but Varjak shushed him. He heard something. Was it a car? Yes he had definitely heard a car. Then the rusty garden gate shuddered. Someone was trying to open the gate. But Varjak knew the gate was locked.

"Jay, go to the house. Warn everyone. Now." Varjak whispered quickly. POP! The lock on the gate snapped loudly. CREEEAAAKKK. The gate opened. Varjak heard voices. He pushed Holly to her feet, and tried to run, but suddenly they were everywhere. Humans in blue jumpsuits with thick black gloves. Varjak saw Holly snatched up, fighting and clawing. Then Jethro and Jerome, all being flung into the back of a white van. When the woman holding Varjak threw him into the van, he landed on some big poufy mass.

"Get off! You're squashing me!" Varjak scrambled off.

"Tam?" Varjak exclaimed as the rest of the Mesopotamian Blues where tossed in. "They got you too?"

"They got us all, Varjak. Ginger's gang, the harbor cats, even Luger's new gang. Varjak got a chill down his spine.

"Luger's here?"

Varjak looked around nervously. Tam shook her head. "He's not here. It's his fault. They got us because of what he did." Varjak didn't like the way this story was going. "After you and Holly left, he took over. He had every one of his cats looking for you two. He and Wes acted like they owned the place. He put Wes in second command, and made us all bow to him." Varjak could barely believe Luger could get this all done in a month. Tam continued her story. "He had so many cats killed, Varjak, so many that he went crazy. Walked out in the middle of a human street. This little tiny human girl tried to pet him. He clawed her eyes so bad she couldn't even see. But he didn't stop. He tried to kill her. He bit into her throat and everything. The humans beat him to death, Varjak. Then they called the blue suit people to come catch the rest of us. Whatever was wrong with him, it must have been bad. They're taking every cat in the city." Varjak felt a surge of determination.

"We have to escape. Does anyone know where we're going?" Tam said no. Varjak sighed. "I'll think of something, but right now I need to find Holly in this blasted pile of cats. Are you coming?" Tam nodded and they both started looking. Varjak found Father and Mother in the far corner of the van, looking utterly disgusted. They reluctantly followed him. He found Jasmine and Julius fussing over Jake, who was filthy and bruised. Jasmine picked Jake up by the scruff, and Julius silently followed. Varjak finally found Holly, who had rounded up Jay, Jethro and Jerome. She had also found a one of the kittens who lived at the harbor, Jesse. Varjak hadn't seen her in a while.

"Holly, is everyone ok?" Holly sighed.

"So far, everyone I checked is fine. They don't seem to be hurting anyone." Varjak had noticed this too.

"Tam says that Luger's gang was caught too. Have you seen any of them? I do NOT want to be stuck in this box with them.

"They are in another part of the van. And it's not Luger's gang anymore, he's dead. The gang belongs to Wes now." Tam said. Varjak heard a collective sigh of relief. Then the van rumbled to life and Varjak felt it moving underneath his paws.

Jesse looked at Varjak. "I didn't know Holly was having kits. You should have come to tell me."

Varjak gasped. "The kits! Holly when you got thrown in here, did you feel anything, anything at all?" Varjak circled Holly nervously. She frowned. "Holly, if you start hurting tell me, okay?"

Holly rolled her eyes. "I'm not going into labor, you moron. Calm down" Jesse laughed.

"He sure is jumpy today." Everyone smiled. Except Father.

"Varjak lay down beside Holly. "Now if only we knew where we were going."

The cats traveled for four days straight. Sometimes their van stopped, but the doors never opened. Not even to feed the cats inside. "I am starving. "Tam whined. Holly rubbed her belly. You think you're hungry? I have to eat for like, three or four other cats. Varjak felt helpless. There was nothing he could do to ease this endless hunger. Luckily, it had been raining since the cats had been captured, and the roof leaked so everyone got a drink.

Father walked over to Varjak. "Son I"- He never got to finish his sentence. The van gave a sickening lurch, and everyone was slammed to the floor. But it didn't stop there. The entire van flipped over. The door flung open.

"Everyone out, now!" Varjak yelled. A flood of cats streamed out the door. Once outside, he could see what happened. The hated van had crashed into another. Cats were racing out of both vans. Varjak saw Wes and some of his gang running for their lives. He saw Ozzie, who had been in the van with Wes's gang, and had the injuries to prove it. Some of Ginger's gang was racing ahead of Varjak. Holly, Tam and Jesse appeared by his side. Everyone was headed for a forest near the crash site. They made it to the safety of the trees as the two vehicles exploded. No one stopped running watch. But Varjak could hear the relentless rain hissing into nothing on the flames.

"Varjak, we need to stop. Now." Holly said. Varjak saw the fear in her eyes. They stopped and let the panicked cats run ahead. Holly was panting. "The kits are coming." Somehow Varjak managed to stay calm enough to find a hollow tree trunk for Holly to lie down in.

"Okay, Holly you're doing great. Just breathe. Everything's going to be fine." Holly was lying on her side, groaning, eyes glazed. Varjak's heart was beating fast. Holly was having her kits. Holly's stomach was rippling like it would burst. Then, in the darkness of a tree trunk in the middle of a forest, Varjak's daughter was born. Varjak was in awe. Holly licked the loud little thing dry and pushed it toward her belly, where it immediately stopped its whimpering.

"She's beautiful." Varjak said softly. Holly let out a cry.

Apparently, another kit was coming. Holly squeezed her eyes shut.

"Holly? Are you all right?" Varjak asked anxiously.

"I'm fine. It's just a little pain. And the next kit." And with that, a slippery little bundle fell into the leaves. Varjak's second daughter. Holly sighed. "That's it, I think." Then she cleaned the second kit up, as it squeaked its protest. Varjak felt is heart swell with pride as he gazed at his little family. He heard the rain slow down to a drizzle outside.

He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when he saw that Holly was already sound asleep. He lay down beside her and drifted off to the sound of his kits squeaking.

Varjak woke to see Holly gazing at the kits. He felt like gazing himself. So he did.

"Varjak, I need to go pee. Make sure nothing eats my kits while I'm gone." Varjak knew she was joking, but the second she disappeared into the bushes, Varjak heard some loud creature crashing around.

He immediately became aggressive. His claws came out, his fur bushed out, and he snarled viciously.

A familiar brown face appeared through the trees. It was only Tam.

"Varjak! You nearly attacked me, what were you thinking?" One of the kits let out a wail from the tree trunk and Holly appeared immediately.

"You had your kits!"

Varjak led Tam into the tree trunk. Holly was beaming at the kits she was curled around. "Aren't they gorgeous?"

Tam nodded. "Of course they are. What are their names?" Holly looked as surprised as Varjak felt.

"Names?" Holly said. "I guess we hadn't thought of that. Varjak what should we call them?"

Varjak looked at his daughters. Both had Holly's spiky fur, but only one was black and white. The other was white with gray ears, tail, paws, and gray rings around her tightly sealed eyes.

"I think the black and white one should be called Lily." Holly said softly.

"I like that name. I don't know what to call the second one though." Varjak thought for a moment. What about Tobiana? We could call her Tobi for short." Holly nodded.

"Those are beautiful names." Tam said. Everyone was silent for a moment before Tam spoke. "The city cats want you to lead them."

"What? Why?" Varjak managed to say. This was one of those moments where Jalal's advice could have helped out a lot.

"They found a nice little stream with plenty of food around it, and Wes ran most of the cats off. Some left for the city and some elected you as their leader. I was sent out to find you."

Varjak sighed. "The stream runs through this part of the forest too. Bring them here. I can't go myself, because I have to hunt for Holly. She hasn't eaten in days." Tam nodded and slipped out of the trunk.

Holly fixed her blue and yellow gaze on Varjak's face. "Neither have you."

Varjak held back a grin. "Something tells me feeding you is more important right now."

Varjak was standing in the middle of the forest with his ears pricked. He was stalking his second rabbit of the day. The other was stashed in the roots of a thick oak tree. Varjak crouched down low. He could see the fat animal hopping around on the wet leaves, oblivious to the danger. Varjak shot out of the undergrowth and killed the rabbit before it could make a sound. He raised his head triumphantly and went to retrieve the rest of his catch. This place was perfect for his family.

By the time he made it back to the clearing, cats where already gathering to meet him. Most of them looked thin and exhausted. Just then Jesse came bounding up, full of energy despite her emaciated condition.

"Varjak! I just saw the kits, congratulations! They are so pretty. Varjak dropped the rabbits he had been carrying to speak.

"I know. I just can't get over it myself. I'm probably not going to take them back to the city. I"- Varjak stopped when he heard a blood curdling wail. He and Jesse looked at each other in horror. It was Tam.

The pair raced out of the clearing, into the forest. Varjak heard another pitiful wail. The sound made his heart ache for some reason. Then he saw them. Tam was shaking Omar's body with her paws. They were covered in blood. Varjak was confused for a moment, before realizing that the blood was coming out of Omar. Ozzie was lying a few feet away, breathing raggedly. He was also lying in a pool of his own blood. Varjak stood frozen in his tracks.

"What happened?" Tam didn't respond. She just kept shaking Omar's lifeless body.

"Omar?" She whined. "Omar, you need to get up. For me. For us. You know we need you. Please Omar, wake up." Tam let out another chilling cry. Varjak vaguely wondered who 'us' was. Jesse crept over to Tam and nudged her to her feet.

"Tammy, he's gone. You need to leave him now. We need to carry his body to Varjak's clearing. And Ozzie too, maybe he can tell us what happened." Tam nodded but still said nothing in response. Varjak gently grabbed Omar's thick scruff and started to drag him through the forest. Tam and Jesse dragged Ozzie between them, and they followed Varjak home.

One week after Omar's death, Tam gave birth to Omar's son. It came as a shock to everyone except Tam. Holly tried to comfort Tam, who had made a nest near her and hadn't spoken since Omar's death, except to name her kit. "He looks like Omar. Look, he has the same little mane thing going for him. Varjak looked hard at the tiny kit, and then at his own. They looked so much healthier than Tam's. It was scrawny and had an unusual pattern on its fur. Black swirls on top of a brown body. It looked about as much as Omar as Varjak did. Except for the mane. Only Ozzie and Omar had manes like a lion.

Someone cleared their throat. It was Jesse, standing in the entrance to the log.

"Ozzie just woke up for the first time. Varjak, you need to hear this."

Varjak, Holly and Jesse made their way Ozzie's shelter, a thick tangle of bushes on the edge of the clearing. As they passed, some of the cats bowed their heads to Varjak. He still wasn't used to being elected leader. When they slipped inside the bushes, Varjak smelled infection strong in the air. Ozzie didn't open his eyes, but he knew who was there.

"Where's Omar, Varjak? Where is my brother?" He rasped.

Varjak hesitated. He thought someone else had told Ozzie about his twin.

"He died, Ozzie. I'm so sorry. Tam found you both in the woods. Ozzie, what happened to you? " Varjak heard a sharp intake of breath from Ozzie. Then he spoke in a shuddering voice.

"It was Wes's new gang. Luger wasn't kidding when he said they were stronger, maybe thirty cats. They were huge, and they were crazy. Just like Luger. We were trying to keep that place by the river. But they- they got it-and us- anyway."

"We found a better place for the cats." Holly said softly. "Everyone is safe. We decided to stay here in this forest, instead of going back to the city."

Ozzie smiled. Varjak tried to convince himself that Ozzie's breath wasn't getting shallower.

"Did Tam…"

"His name is Mitch." Jesse said. "He has your brother's mane."

"Omar's eyes fluttered open for a moment. "He has Omar's mane. Like a lion. I bet he is beautiful. My own little nephew. I bet he's"…. Ozzie's voice faded into silence, and his sides stopped rising. Varjak, Jesse and Holly bowed their heads in grief. Varjak leaned into Holly for comfort.

"Jesse, find someone to bury him. Holly, you need to check on the kits and tell Tam what happened. I need to speak to the rest of the cats. Holly and Jesse both nodded in acknowledgement and followed Varjak out into the fresh air. Jesse went one way to follow Varjak's orders, and Holly went the other way to care for her kits. Varjak called over an old yellow cat standing nearby.

"Link, come here. I need you to gather all the cats together. Take them to the hill of rocks by the stream. Tell them I have something to say."

Link bowed his head. "Yes, Varjak."

Varjak sighed. Please don't bow to me." And with that he headed for his tree trunk. He found Holly feeding Lily and Tobiana inside. Mitch was whimpering in a nest by himself. Varjak didn't think twice on this. Since the skinny little kit was born he and Holly had to coax Tam to feed her son, which was probably why he was so small.

"I called a meeting with the other cats. I need to have them prepared in case Wes attacks." Holly agreed with this plan. Varjak licked Holly's forehead in a farewell gesture. Then he was off.

Eighteen curious cats were gathered around the big stone Varjak sat on. He cleared his throat, even though everyone was already looking at him. He began in a loud voice.

"We need to prepare ourselves for Wes's attack. I'm not saying it's guaranteed to happen, but I just spoke with Ozzie, before he passed away, and he said that gang is as messed up as Luger was. I want three cats on guard. The rest of you, start training with anyone who knows how to fight."

A little gray kit, Katie, stepped forward. "Why aren't we going back to the city?"

Varjak used his most patient voice on the young cat. "We traveled almost five days by a human car. They go really fast, Katie. Even if we knew what direction home was in, it would take us a very, very long time to get there, and the humans were trying to get rid of us. So we decided to stay here." Katie nodded seriously. Varjak smiled at her.

"Go train with the other kits now, okay?" Varjak nudged her in the direction of the other four exited kits who were being instructed by a young,well-muscled black cat named Sheer. Varjak made sure she joined them before trotting off to see Holly.

Varjak was curled up next to Holly; both were watching their kits with growing admiration.

"Varjak, is this anything like you thought it would be?"

"What do you mean?"


"No. It turned out so much better."


"Why hasn't your family come to see our daughters?"

"Father won't let them come." As if on cue, Jasmine appeared in the opening of the tree.

"Of course he won't." She said softly. "He won't accept anything different from his own self. Uncle is too selfish to see something beautiful. I'm so sorry about the things I have said to you. Being here, I see that we are all the same."

Varjak felt his chest swell up with pride. "So you've come to see my kits, then?"

Jasmine stepped forward. Holly moved her tail, which had been wrapped protectively around the kits. Jasmine never got a good look because Mitch squealed, as Jasmine had accidentally stepped on the forgotten kit in his nest.

Jasmine frowned at the pitiful kit. "That one belongs to Tam, doesn't it?"

Varjak sighed in exasperation. "Yes. Jasmine, please do me a favor and find her for me. This poor kit must be starving."

When Jasmine left, Holly grabbed the wailing Mitch by his scruff and dropped him between her own two kits.

"He needs to be fed. I can't stand it when Tam does that." Mitch's crying gave way to little purrs of joy as he filled his belly.

Varjak couldn't help but feel that the kit belonged right where he was.

Tam didn't come back that day. Or the next day. The only benefit from being abandoned by his mother was that Mitch actually gained a little weight being fed by Holly. But he was still much smaller than Lily and Tobi.

Varjak and Holly were walking together to the stream for a drink.

"I haven't seen hide nor hair of Wes's gang since they attacked Ozzie and Omar." Holly mused as she bent down to drink.

I'm not disappointed. These cats aren't ready to face a threat, not to mention the fact that that gang has a lot more cats than us." Varjak said.

Holly nodded. "You're right on that. This little gang of yours can't fight at all. I think the only cats here that have potential are the kits Sheer is training.

Varjak looked across the clearing at Sheer giving instruction to the kits. At a word from Sheer, Katie pounced on Jake, who immediately flipped her onto her back. Katie pushed Jake hard with her back paws, and he flew , landing in a humiliated silver-blue heap.

"I need to put him in charge of the kit's training officially." Varjak thought to himself. When he told Holly, she insisted that he go through with it.

"I would go with you, but I need to go back to the kits." She said. She rubbed Varjak's cheek against her own. "Bye"

Varjak sighed. "G'Bye."

Varjak walked across the clearing to watch Sheer work. The black cat glanced at Varjak, but kept talking to the kits.

"No, Cosmo, if you run with your claws out all the way through the woods, leaves will get stuck in them. If you have to chase someone or fight one of those gang cats you can't stop to pick the leaves out. Try it. All of you. Run with your claws out to the big tree we climbed today, and back to me with your claws in."

All five kits took off running. Cosmo was last. As the little black kit raced to catch up, Varjak noticed that he had only a tiny stump of a tail. Once all the kits had vanished, Varjak stepped forward and cleared his throat.

"How are they doing?" He asked.

Sheer smiled. "I think I'm really getting through to them. Even Cosmo. His balance is a bit off though. Probably because of that tail. He was born like that. And Katie is really strong for someone her size. She practices with Jake all the time. And"-

"How would you like this to be your assigned job?" Varjak interrupted.

Sheer looked surprised. "Of course. I'm really good at it. Can-can I tell them myself?"

Varjak nodded. Right then two brown kits bounded through the bushes. Sheer wasted no time telling them the news.

"Sienna! Sammie! Guess what?"

Varjak didn't stay to see the rest of the conversation. He had other places to be right now.

Holly was grinning like crazy when Varjak entered the tree.

"Hey, Varjak. I think the kits have a surprise for you. Look. "

Varjak had no idea what this meant, but didn't question Holly.

Varjak looked at is daughters (and Mitch) and immediately saw what Holly was so happy about.

"Their eyes opened!" he gasped.

Both of his daughters had enormous kit blue eyes. The color would probably change when they were older. Varjak felt his heart grow warm. His children were so beautiful.

"Mitch will be next. He's only a few days younger than Lily and Tobiana." Holly's smile faded instantly. Varjak knew why, and he felt the same way.

Holly buried her muzzle in the kit's soft baby fur. She spoke so quietly that Varjak barely heard her.

"I hope Tam never comes back."

Varjak lay down beside her. He nudged her with his nose until she looked at him.

"No one is taking him from us. He belongs to us now. Even if Tam comes back. I promise.

Holly's eyes hardened. "Even so, if anyone touches my kits, I'll rip them open."

Varjak laughed. "That's the first Holly-ish thing you've said in weeks. I think you're going soft on me."

Holly just rolled her eyes.

Varjak loved when she did that.

Varjak watched is children as they toddled across the clearing after Holly. They were just beginning to walk and Varjak couldn't get over how adorable their short little legs were.

"Whoa! Watch out, Tobi!" Varjak caught his daughter with a paw as she fell. "Holly, is it normal for a kit to fall so many times?"

Holly looked as concerned as Varjak felt. "I don't know. They've only been walking for a few days. Maybe she'll get better at it."

A shaggy old gray and white cat called Marie who had been listening in on the conversation spoke up.

"Don't you young ones worry too much. All babies do that. She'll get the hang of it sooner or later. When my first litter was born, I had one who fell over constantly. I was worried sick that he was gonna be a cripple or have head problems. But one day he just took off. That kit never sat still. Most sure footed of the litter he was. Didn't do him no good though. The Vanishings took him. I sure do miss that boy." The old cat had a faraway look in her eyes.

Before Varjak could say a word, Marie wandered off, lost in her own memories.

Holly was watching the old cat sympathetically.

"I would hate to lose one of my kits."

Varjak looked at the kits gathered around his feet. Mitch was blinking hard, and Tobi was yawning. He didn't even like thinking about not having them.

"You go on to the stream for a drink. I'll take the kits in for a nap, and then I'll be right with you. Okay?"

Holly nodded. She bent down to the kits' level.

"Your daddy's gonna take you home alright?"

The kits squeaked and pressed their little faces against Holly's legs, even though they probably didn't understand.

"I promise I'll be back in a minute." Holly said to the kits as Varjak herded them together and headed for the log. When they got home, he placed the exhausted kits in their nest and waited for them to drift off. It didn't take long, and once they were asleep, Varjak padded off to meet Holly.

Holly was at the stream, but she wasn't drinking. She was staring at something clumped up in the water. Varjak thought it was a cat, but it was so muddy that he couldn't really tell. He stepped into the shallow water to investigate.

He pushed the thing over in the water. He could see now, where the water had washed away some of the mud. It was a cat. A spiky black and white cat that Varjak couldn't believe was still alive. She looked horrid.

"Holly, help me get her out of the water. She's too soaked for me to get by myself."

Varjak's voice shook Holly out of her trance. She grabbed the cat's water soaked fur and helped haul it out of the stream.

"She's deadweight." Varjak panted, once they had dragged her onto dry land.

Holly flipped the cat over with her paws to get a better look. It moved a little.

Her face was dark and expressionless, even when the bedraggled cat's mustard eyes opened and looked at her with mingled astonishment and fear. The cat coughed and a bit of water came out.

"Holly." She breathed.

"Hello, Mother." Holly said harshly.

Varjak couldn't believe his ears. Or his eyes for that matter. This cat looked exactly like Holly. A filthy, older Holly.

"This is your mother?" Varjak practically squeaked. "How did she get here?"

Holly looked the older cat up and down before speaking. "That's what I want to know."

"Maybe we could talk at your home?" The cat said hesitantly.

Holly growled. "Sure. But I want to hear everything. And I do mean it when I say everything." And with that, she stomped off into the trees.

Varjak turned to the filthy cat.

"Can you walk?"

"I think so." She said as she stumbled to her feet. "My name is Selena. What's yours?"

"Varjak." That was all he said. This was the cat who had abandoned Holly. He wasn't about to make friends with her.

"Holly, you need to speak to your mother. Get up. She's waiting for you." Varjak said, poking his head into the log. Holly sighed. She stood up, and the kits she had been feeding squeaked in protest. Varjak stepped back from the entrance to let Holly out. The kits tumbled out around her.

"Let's get this over with." She growled.

Five minutes later Varjak and Holly were seated in front of Selena. She had cleaned the mud and grit out of her fur, but she still looked terrible. Varjak could count the ribs on her sunken frame.

Both of the spiky black and white cats were staring at each other without saying anything. The kits were huddled underneath Holly sleepily. Selena broke the silence.

"Are they yours?"

Holly's eyes narrowed. "Yes."

Selena rolled her eyes, exactly like Holly would. "Okay, I get it. I'm not allowed to talk about your kits. You just want some answers. Fine. Where do I start?'

"How did you get here?" Holly snarled.

"I was taken in the vans, same as you and everybody else."

"You've been in the city all this time? And you didn't even try to see me?" Holly shrieked. Varjak had rarely seen her this angry. Her blue one blue eye was actually twitching. Even the kits looked frightened. Holly noticed this and her expression immediately softened.

"Varjak, will you please take the kits home for me?"

As Varjak gathered them up, he turned on his Awareness. He hadn't used his Skills in a while, but he needed to listen out for Holly.

When he began pushing the kits across the clearing, he heard Selena whisper to Holly.

"You would really trust that brute alone with your children?"

Varjak could hear the shock in Holly's voice.

"Wow. You are even more of an idiot than I thought. You are unbelievable. That 'brute' is my kits' father."

"I'm so sorry. I didn't realize"-

"Just shut up."

As soon as the kits were home, Varjak hurried back to Holly, who hadn't spoken since Selena's slip-up.

"You still haven't told me why you left me in an alley, Mother." She said finally.

"What is there to tell? I was young, and I didn't know how to take care of you. But look, you made a nice life for yourself. You have a mate and kits, and you look like you get enough to eat. And I"-

Two cats interrupted Selena's pitiful defense.

It was Jake and a striped orange cat called Tommy.

Jake was bouncing around happily.

Tommy looked a bit nervous about speaking to Varjak.

"Varjak, Sheer has requested that you speak with him immediately. He says it is of utmost importance."

Jake kept bouncing. "Come now, Uncle Varjak. Please."

"Ok. Holly, are you coming?" Holly was at Varjak's side in an instant.

Selena looked puzzled. "Why on earth would someone need to request to speak with you? Why not just say it, if it's so important?"

Varjak saw a playful sparkle in Holly's eyes. "Oh, Mother, don't you know? This brute leads the whole gang."

Varjak was still laughing over Selena's astonished face when he found Sheer. The black cat was talking quietly with Julius. When Varjak and the others arrived, Jake ran happily to his father's side.

Sheer stepped forward to address Varjak. "We need you to take a look at something. Come with me."

Varjak motioned for the other cats to follow Sheer. As they set off into the forest, Sheer explained.

"I had the kits playing a game in the woods. Jake and Katie were on one team, as Wes's gang. They went to the stream. The twins, Sammie and Sienna, were supposed to be your gang. They went to the northern part of the forest. Me and Cosmo were supposed to track them all the way back to the clearing, and they were supposed to stay hidden all the way. But Katie found something really odd when they got to the stream."

They stopped abruptly. They had made it to the stream, and Katie was there, proudly guarding whatever she had found. Varjak and the others hopped over the stream to investigate.

It was a large pile of dry cat food. Tommy sniffed at it.

"It's poisoned. I smelled this before. In the city. People use that stuff to kill animals. It happened to a cat I knew."

Katie gasped. "Well I'm glad I didn't eat any. Not that I would want that stuff."

"Yeah." Jake said. "Me too. At my old home, Father and Mother made me eat it all the time. Not the poisoned kind though. Mice and rabbits are so much better than that trash.

"We need to leave." Holly said quickly. "Now. Once they realize we're not too stupid to eat poisoned food, they will try other things. The humans want us dead. They're not going to stop."

"At least we'll be safe from Wes's gang if we go." Julius said.

Everyone mumbled an agreement at this.

Varjak's mind was made up for him.

"Holly, get the kits. When you're there, tell everyone to meet me here, at the stream. Katie, go help her." When they left, Varjak sat down to think. He had to find a place where the humans wouldn't follow.

SPLASH! The sound stopped Varjak's thought dead in its tracks.

"Jake!" Julius shouted, shaking water out of his fur. "What on earth are you doing in the stream?"

"Trying to catch a fish." Jake said guiltily, water streaming around his silver-blue paws.

Varjak looked at the stream. Just as Holly returned with the kits, an idea hit him.

He told Holly quickly and she agreed. Now all he had to do was wait for everyone to get here.

Once all of the cats were gathered, Varjak hopped onto a wide rock so they could see him.

"Attention please, everyone. I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the people who brought us here want us dead. They have started putting food near the stream with poison on it."

"There's a shock." Father muttered sarcastically from the crowd. Varjak ignored him.

"Holly made a good point about the poison. If they really want us dead, they won't stop at poison. They will try everything. Which is why we have to move on."

Varjak heard a few angry protests. Father's voice stood out over them all.

"This place is good!" He howled. "Why should we leave because of some humans? You probably don't even know where to go!"

Varjak felt a deep resentment for the older cat.

"You can stay here if you want, but I am taking any cat who doesn't want to be shot, or poisoned, or trapped and starved for days on end in the back of a hot van, with me. End of story. We leave tonight. And I do know where we are going. Upstream, farther away from the road the vans wrecked on."

Father still looked angry, but he didn't say anything more.

Varjak jumped off of the rock. The meeting was over. The cats stayed in a tight huddle, like the van people would come for them at any moment. (And they probably where.)

Varjak and Holly were watching the kits carefully to make sure they didn't fall in the water. Varjak was aware that his father was glaring at him a few feet away. He had been trying to ignore the looks, without much success.

"Hey, Holly, can you manage the kits without me for a minute? I need to do something."

"Sure I can. They need a nap anyway."

Father saw Varjak coming and curled his lip into a sneer.

"The great leader has descended from his throne. What did I do to receive such a coveted visit from his Highness?"

Varjak stopped in front of his father.

"What do you want from me? I haven't done anything to you."

The old cat growled.

"Nothing wrong? Saying that is wrong in itself. You left your home to live like a wild animal. You pretend you are not a purebred Mesopotamian Blue. You have destroyed your bloodline by breeding with that creature you call a cat. And to top it all off, you dragged your entire family into your life."

Varjak felt his jaw drop. His father was actually blaming Varjak for their situation.

"OK, first of all, I left home to save your tail from getting stuffed and put on a toy shelf. Then I realized how amazing life was outside of the house. Second, I know I what I am. I am a Mesopotamian Blue, I just don't let that knowledge rule my life, because if I was like you, we would all be dead right now, and I would have never met Holly, which leads us to point number three. I love Holly, and I love my kits. I don't understand why you think our bloodline is so important. It won't do you any good in the middle of the forest to say you have pure blood. It won't get you food, it won't get you shelter, and if any human being catches you, they won't hesitate to kill you. And lastly, how can you blame me for this happening? I wasn't even in the city when this happened. I was on the hill with the family. I didn't scratch the human girl. I didn't crash the van. And I didn't put out poisoned food. But I am trying to protect you, you and everybody else in these woods. And in case you hadn't noticed, every other Blue here is adjusting fine. So get off of your high horse and deal with it." Varjak practically shouted.

Then much more softly, "There is nothing you can do to change the past. What's done is done, and you know it. No matter what you do or how you act, you are here, and you will always have been here, even if your life went back to the way it was before. That's all I have to say."

Varjak turned and walked away from the astonished cat. If there was a reply, Varjak never heard it.

"Alright everybody, it's time to go." Varjak said, looking at the rising moon. The anxious cats gathered behind him. Holly stood on his right side with the kits. Jesse was on his left side looking worried. Varjak tried to reassure her with a smile.

"Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine. I'll find us a new place to live, with no people, or gangs."

"Yeah, but does a place like even exist?" Jesse said. Varjak didn't have an answer to that.

He started walking, and all the cats slowly followed him. Holly shuffled the kits along with her paws.

Varjak heard laughter and saw all the older kits running around the rest of the gang happily. At least they were excited to be going.

Varjak dropped his pace and called them over. They bounded up to him.

"Hey, guys, walk with me for a minute." They dutifully obeyed. It was time for a lesson.

"Does anybody know why I decided to go upstream?" He asked the kits.

"To get away from the van crash! You said that earlier!" Cosmo piped up.

"Good job listening, Cosmo. I have a few more reasons that I haven't said yet. Anybody?"

Katie and Jake blurted out the answer together.

There's a lake on the end!" They said.

"Very good. I'm impressed."

"I got one, Varjak!" Sienna said, hopping up and down excitedly.

"Me too!" Sammie said.

"Well, let's hear it. You first,Sienna."

"If the humans track us, we can walk through the middle of the stream. That way they won't leave paw prints. "

"Nice one. Did Sheer teach you that? Sienna nodded, green eyes sparkling at Varjak's praise.

"Sammie?" Varjak watched the kit take a deep breath before speaking.

"There are fish in this stream. That means there will be a whole lake of food for us. And mice and rabbits and other stuff will be near the water. Right Varjak?"

"That's exactly right. Good job, Sammie." Sammie put on a winning smile.

"Varjak, I think Holly needs your help." Cosmo said suddenly. Varjak's eyes found Holly at the back of the crowd with Jesse, trying to coax Lily to stand up. Varjak bounded over to help.

"It's no use." He said. "She's too tired."

Holly sighed. "They all are. Will you carry her? Me and Jesse can get the other two."

Varjak gripped Lily's scruff gently between his teeth and picked her up. Holly did the same for Tobiana, and Jesse grabbed Mitch.

"Lesh go. I goh huh,Hohee." Varjak's words came out garbled through his mouthful of kit fur. Varjak ran to the front of the crowd to lead. Holly and Jesse followed with the kits swinging in their jaws. Varjak's gang plodded silently until the sun began to rise. He noticed that the cats were beginning to look tired.

Varjak stopped walking, and the group copied him.

"We'll stop here and rest for a while. "He said after he dropped a sleepy Lily on the ground. "But I want everyone to stay in the bushes on the right side of the stream. Do not go out in the open. Those humans are probably looking for us right now."