"Bramblestar, wake up!" Squirrelflight's voice woke the dark brown tabby. His eyes flashed open and he surveyed the horrible wreckage done to ThunderClan's camp. The dens were destroyed. It would take moons to rebuild. Even worse were the four bodies lying in the clearing. Brambleclaw had fallen asleep, his muzzle buried in Firestar's dark ginger fur, during the night vigil. I'm sorry, StarClan, he turned amber eyes on Silverpelt. Please forgive me. "It's okay," Squirrelflight murmured, pressing her flank to his. "I won't tell any cat."
Brambleclaw nodded his thanks, too tired and worn out to speak. The clan needed to be organized into patrols, and the horrible damage taken care of. It felt good to have his mate by his side once again. He stayed there for a moment, comfortable against her warm fur. Then, he pressed his muzzle into her flank fur. Brambleclaw pulled away and headed towards the Highledge.
Jayfeather's eyes, dull with grief and exhaustion, signaled his leader over with his tail. "Is it okay if we put off the trip to the Moonpool till tomorrow night?" he asked. "There are so many wounded and dead cats. I'll need to stay here."
Brambleclaw dipped his head. "Of course. The clan comes first."
Jayfeather's eyes, still exhausted, were flooded with relief. "Thank you, Brambleclaw," he mewed gratefully, turning back to his herbs and the sick and wounded cats surrounding him.
The dark tabby touched his tail-tip to his adopted son's pelt. Jayfeather flinched, but didn't retort. Tiredness had robbed him of that, too. Brambleclaw's eyes had filled with worry. "Just promise me you'll get some sleep."
The gray tom opened his mouth as if to argue, then closed it again. "Okay, great Bramblestar. Whatever you say! Can I have Leafpool to help me for the rest of the day? She's been a lot of help."
Brambleclaw was taken aback by the medicine cat's tartness. Usually, Jayfeather was crisp and sarcastic. Now, he was quiet and hardworking, not a bite in his normally sharp tongue. "Okay. I know how important the clan's health was to Firestar."
Padding towards the Highledge, Brambleclaw heaved himself up the tumble of rocks. "Cats of ThunderClan, gather under the Highledge for a clan meeting!" Purdy, the last elder, looked up from where he was pressing his nose into Mousefur's dusky brown pelt for the last time. Spiderleg paused beside him, with Dustpelt and Birchfall taking up positions next to Ferncloud's body.
Brambleclaw glimpsed Birchfall glare over at his brother before turning his attention to the Highledge. "Cats of ThunderClan," Brambleclaw began, "Last night, we sat vigil for four warriors: Firestar, Ferncloud, Mousefur, and Hollyleaf." The dark tabby choked back his grief as he announced the dead cats' names. "We will honor these cats for moons to come: Firestar; what cat could we have owed more to? He came to the forest as a kittypet, and left for StarClan as a noble clan leader. Ferncloud has cared for the kits well these past few seasons. She died defending the nursery. ThunderClan will never forget her."
"Never," Cloudtail vowed in agreement. "She saved my kits."
"Mousefur was a warrior all her life. For season upon season, she was a warrior in the old forest. When the Great Journey came, she completed it without complaining; only worry for the kits and elders forced her to speak up. The clan benefited from her wisdom for many, many moons, and we will all miss her.
"Hollyleaf was one of the bravest warriors ThunderClan has ever had," Brambleclaw began.
"Yeah. If you call running away brave," Spiderleg taunted. Brambleclaw shot him a glare. "She was your clanmate. She died so that Ivypool wouldn't have to."
Dovewing turned wide blue eyes on her sister. Brambleclaw leaped down from Highledge and paused beside Firestar's body, eyes clouding. "ThunderClan couldn't have asked for a truer leader or mentor. May their spirits travel safely to StarClan."
The clan nodded in agreement. "Brambleclaw?" Lionblaze stopped in front of the warrior. "May I take Hollyleaf's body out of the camp for burial?"
"Yes. Ask Leafpool to help you." He padded over to help his mate carry the fallen leader's signed body to his final resting place. Squirrelflight's eyes clouded with fear and sadness. Her green gaze, always so bright and lively, seemed to have died, or fallen into a chasm where it could never be retrieved from. Will everything really be okay? she seemed to ask.
Yes, Squirrelflight. It will. I'll die to make it okay. I'll die nine times over and then a tenth after that to keep you safe.
Gazing into her soft eyes, he wondered how he could have missed all that time that could have been spent with her. She had, after all, meant everything for the best. And that's how it had turned out, after all. "You were right, Squirrelflight," he murmured, settling down beside her to scrape earth over Firestar's body. "You were right all along.