CONFESSIO || emberstar

Since she'd seen the sycamore in ShadowClan's territory ignite in a twisting hot red inferno, Flickerfire's world has been a blur. The rush to save Hailpaw, the young she-cat's scruff loose between her and Pitchsun's straining jaws - the crowding under the tunnel, throat aching as honey drips like sweet, slow mucus down the back of her throat - the singed fur and whiskers, the bitterness in her heart at StarClan for wreaking havoc on them -

The Gathering had put things in perspective. A little. Flickerfire's heart had nearly ceased pounding after hearing Emberstar speak, talk about lives lost. Their territory and their Clan would have succumbed to the blaze, had RiverClan not rushed into their camp and helped others pull the survivors from the flames.

Emberstar, though, has nine lives, Flickerfire had reasoned. She'd let herself lose one quickly enough. Even if she'd lost one more, the ThunderClan leader would be fine, could keep walking another day to annoy her, to pounce and frolic along the Thunderpath like borders had never existed.

Like the two had never once been fated to kill one another.

Like the two were still enemies.

Now, though, Flickerfire knows that even nine lives do not guarantee a cat safety from eternal death. Briarstar's tattered red and black body, convulsing over and over until nothing but red I love yous bubbled from useless, still lips, her children crying over her body - that had ended all fanciful thinking Flickerfire had had about immortality being StarClan's gift.

The tortoiseshell's first horrible thought had been about Briarstar herself, the way the leader had been a stagnant figure in her life since she'd toddled furiously into the marshes after losing everything. How Briarstar, despite Flickerfire's barbed tongue and aggression, had given her a home worth fighting for.

And her second thought had been, Emberstar. Emberstar could have died like this. Emberstar could die like this.

The thought causes her body to still as though it's coated in a thin frost. The thought is tangible, and she grabs it in her mind with frantic claws and holds it as it beats its wings: She'll jump onto the Thunderpath to save someone and she'll be hit. Nothing left. Nothing even to bury. Like Briarstar.

The last thing she wants to do is cross the Thunderpath, but she has to see Emberstar. She has to. Her eyes are gleaming with scarlet desperation and her body blends with the shadows. The fumes as she crosses cause her almost to retch at the horrific memory of her leader's death, but she goes until she's stumbling about the undergrowth in ThunderClan territory. I need to see you. I need to see you before it happens to you.


The remnants of tears still hang around her eyes, though she cried no more. It had been a long and hard conversation with Howling Wind, and it had pained her to have it. It made her feel guilty, that her own deputy had needed to talk her down after finding her weeping in her den. It was unleaderly. She was supposed to be better than that, stronger than that. It was her job to protect and help her clanmates, not the other way around. In the end though, she had been convinced to accept help. From now on, she was going to be letting others do some of the work she had been trying to take all on her own. That was the promise she had made.

It too, made her feel guilty.

A little sniffle escaped her, and for a moment she thought she was going to begin crying all over again. She really hoped not. Once the dam had burst it had been hard to stop. She didn't want to have to do it again. Then, a familiar face pushing through the underbrush caught her eye. She blinked once, twice, not believing what she saw.

"Flicker?" she called out softly, her tone dripping with confusion. The border wasn't far, she had wanted to get away from camp in order to calm down, but it wasn't this close. Seeing the other molly near Thunderclan territory at all was a shock, seeing her here was baffling. So much so that Emberstar forgot about her tears entirely, didn't even try to hide them. "What are you doing here?"
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She hears the soft brush of paw pads against the undergrowth, and she freezes, wondering if she's stumbled across a patrol or a lone warrior hunting for the Clan. But she forces herself to pause and taste the air, and Emberstar's familiar scent causes the fur at her neck to lie flat. She nods as the she-cat calls out, and her voice is raw, broken-sounding, like she is a kit after being scolded and not the brave ThunderClan leader she's known.

"I'm..." She looks at the flame point helplessly. There are new scars, a new sadness hanging on her friend's features and dragging them to the earth connecting their paws. Why is she here, except to force herself to believe that Emberstar is alive, hadn't had all eight lives taken away in some freak accident?

"The fire... did you die?" Flickerfire's voice is almost uncharacteristically timid. She takes a cautious step forward. "I came 'cause... Briarstar... is gone." The words still feel unreal, like ice water from a mouth numbed with pain. "And I was so afraid... I saw you after the Gathering, but now I know - I know it can happen to you, too, and I know how reckless you are, and... I..."

Her whiskers tremble. What is she trying to say? She shakes her head, frustrated with her inability to speak from the heart. Instead, she says, "Are you okay?"

To Emberstar's eyes, Flicker seemed different too. Never before had she seen the other molly look so afraid. She didn't like it. It made her heart ache and her eyes water. She blinked a couple times, trying to clear the tears from her eyes and stop anymore from falling. Already once today she had cried in front of a friend, she didn't want to do it again. Through her drying eyes she stared at the tortie, waiting for her to speak.

The question was unexpected, and it took her a moment to find the answer. Even though she knew it all to well. "Uh, yeah." She admitted weakly, not trying to hide or soften it as she usually might. "There was. In the confusion of the fire, there was a big branch that, uh, fell? It was on fire too." She explained lamely, glancing at the newer, bigger scar on her back. "I'm more scars than fur now." That had been meant to be a joke, but it didn't sound like one when it came out of her mouth.

Her gaze turned swiftly back toward Flickerfire when she spoke again, narrowed in confusion. "What? Where did she go?" she asked dimly. It didn't even cross her mind what was really meant, even with what was said after. it all went over her head. Briarstar had nine lives, like her.

Like her, she was practically immortal.

The last question though, that made her turn her gaze to her paws. Cinderfrost and Howling Wind both, they had encouraged her to be more honest with her feelings. Perhaps she should try listening. "Not really." She admitted. "Howling Wind kinda just chewed me out." That joke, at least, sounded like one. Even if not a good one. "Wanna sit with me?"
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Flickerfire isn't surprised when Emberstar admits that she'd died in the fire. A burning branch, trapped in camp, laid across the small of her golden back until it had singed the fur away. A clean red scar, angry still, a gift from StarClan in return from her precious life.

The tortoiseshell's eyes burn with rage, but she does not know who or what she's angry with. "I'm more scars than fur now." Emberstar's tone indicates it's meant to be a joke, but the flat affect and the sniffles tell a different story.

"You were lucky," she says, striding forward until she is flank to flank with the other molly. She looks criticaly at the scars lacing the ThunderClan leader's pelt, and her heart aches. A scar for every life she's saved, every life she carries on narrow shoulders until she collapses from the weight.

She doesn't seem to understand Flickerfire's statement about Briarstar. The ShadowClan warrior flicks her black tail tip under Emberstar's chin. "Gone," she repeats, a haunted look in her flame-colored eyes. "Dead. She lost all nine lives getting her boys off of the Thunderpath."

There's a desperation in her then, remembering her leader convulsing on the blacktop with blood trickling from her mouth and ears, the shattered I love you from her crooked mouth. In her mind, the fur is golden instead of black, the vacant eyes gray instead of green, and she shudders. Flickerfire puts her head against Emberstar's shoulder.

"I'll sit with you," she says. She attempts to ease herself with her tail still against Emberstar to guide the other molly down, to relax. They can hear the Thunderpath roar behind them, the haunting song of ShadowClan's nightmares, and they can smell the ghost of the fire that had taken Emberstar's life, but otherwise it's just the two of them.

"I had to see you," she says, clumsy. "I don't want you to die anymore. I hate thinkin' about it." She's quiet, then, waiting. She can hear a cricket somewhere, a cicada. But she says nothing else, waiting for Emberstar.

Emberstar shrugged at the assertion she was lucky. It was probably true, but it didn't feel true. She felt a whole lot of things right now, but she certainly didn't feel lucky. It felt like everything that could go wrong was. Like everything was falling apart around her and she was failing to hold it all together. She couldn't even hold herself together anymore.

A tail under her chin pulled her gaze up to Flickerfire's, and she blinked in surprise at the look that burned there. It was unlike anything she had ever seen. Blinked again at the words that accompanied it. "What? That's not-" Confusion and fear writ themselves across her features. That wasn't how it was supposed to work. The stars had promised them nine lives, gifted all leaders that in order to protect their own clans. Losing all of them at once wasn't supposed to happen. It couldn't.

She had just seem Briarstar at the gathering.

Still, it had. She trusted Flickerfire enough to believe that. Even if she didn't really understand how it could have happened. "I'm so sorry." Emberstar whispered to her. It felt like only yesterday she had learned Haze had died, now Briarstar too? What was happening?

Flickerfire sits with her, and they are closer to one another than Emberstar has been with anyone in a long, long time. Since her mother died, she thought. It was a kind of closeness that she had been seeking, without realizing it. One that she had never known well enough to miss. It felt good, and she couldn't help but sink into it. Leaning into the molly beside her.

"I'm okay, I'm okay. I'm not dead, I'm right here." She reassured, her tone low and warm.

Part of her wanted to reassure that she wouldn't die, that she was immortal. That she had seven more lives to spend before she lost them all. Say all the things that she had said before. That felt less certain, now, in the face of Briarstar. Her promises and reassurances felt too empty to speak out loud.

"I'm usually better at taking care of myself." She admitted, instead. "I mean I got this far without dying even once!" in spite of the dour tone that had settled over them both, she couldn't help but snort at her own joke. "But, ah, it's more than just me now. I've got so many friends to take care of now, and I'm so glad for that. But I'm also still getting used to it. I learn fast though, my mom said so. I'll get the hang of it, then I'll be fine. Don't worry."
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Emberstar's eyes are wide, and Flickerfire understands. "I know," she mutters. Briarstar's death - nine lives over several minutes - had shocked the entirety of ShadowClan, continues to shock them. Normal cats, cats not blessed by StarClan, know that a monster brushing against them almost always means death. But Briarstar --

The tortoiseshell shrugs, and the movement reminds her of how close she and Emberstar are right now. Flank to flank, close. Fur brushing, black and golden, heartbeats palpable.

"It's okay, I'm okay. I'm not dead, I'm right here."

"I know," she murmurs, and she has to look at her paws for a moment. "But now... it could happen, couldn't it?" She refuses to meet Emberstar's eyes for a moment.

The ThunderClan leader says, "I'm usually better at taking care of myself." Flickerfire snorts. "Since when?" It's part joke, part reprimand, but she lets it go. Emberstar tells her, "It's more than just me now. But I'm still getting used to it. I learn fast though, my mom said so."

Her mother. Emberstar had never mentioned her mother. Flickerfire's first instinct is to give a biting comment, something about her mother being wrong, but she doesn't. Something in the other molly's gaze stills her tongue. "Where is she?" She tries to relax her muscles. "Is she... still here?"

"Since when?"

A frown found its way onto her face at that. It was a joke, she knew, but it was also wrong, She had been good at taking care of herself. "Before I knew you, before I came here." She explained seriously. When she was on her own, that was when she had taken best care of herself. Her mother had been right, in that way. She would have wanted her daughter to stay out of all this mess.

Emberstar couldn't though, she cared too much.

It was hard to keep her mother from her thoughts right now, even though she was trying. It felt like those memories were lingering just on the edge of her mind. Then Flickerfire asked, and she couldn't hold it back anymore. There was no resisting the wave of nostalgia that fell over her.

Her eyes drifted up to the stars above, her gaze soft and faraway.

"No." She began quietly. "She's not still here. I don't know if she's up there either. I still hope she is. I wanted to believe she was so badly, that she could find a place among our friends in the stars, but then she wasn't there when I got my lives. So many faces of friends I had lost came to give me last goodbyes and she wasn't one of them. I tried not to think about it, but, if she could have been there then she would have. Nothing could have stopped her."

Emberstar let that hang in the air for a moment. If she hadn't already cried herself out she might have started all over again. When she had gotten her lives, she had ignored the thoughts. Cinderfrost killing her had been enough of a distraction to take them off her mind completely. Now that she wasn't pushing it away though, it felt like she was grieving her mother a second time.

It took her a moment to start again. "My mom would have deserved to be up there too. There isn't a warrior I've met, up there or down here, that could match her. Myself included. I never laid a paw on her the entire time we trained together." A soft, sad laugh pulled itself from her chest. Born from a warmth in her tone that grew brighter with every word. "Maybe I could now, but I still wouldn't beat her at her best. She was sick. We both knew that. I can't remember a time when she wasn't. I was faster than her and healthier than her, and still I never even touched her. I've never seen anything like it. It was like she knew my every move before I did, I swear sometimes she even started moving out of the way while I was still figuring that out."

She smiled, gently. "She taught me everything I know."

Their lives had been harder, back then, than her life was now. For all her present tragedies, she could count on having a full belly every morning and a warm place to sleep, and death - or at least her own - was a faraway concern. Yet, even knowing all that, it was hard for her to not find nostalgia in the memories of all the time with her mother.

"All we did was hunt and fight together, so that I could learn. She was worried she didn't have the time left for anything else. The only exception was when we curled up together for warmth at night, and chatted and joked until we both drifted off to sleep." Her smile remained for a moment, then struggled, faded. Her gaze fell back down to the ground. "She warned me that I wouldn't have time to mourn her, either. She was right. One morning she was just gone. It was leafbare, though, so I had to go out and hunt, I just had to keep moving."
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Emberstar doesn't laugh at Flickerfire's admonition. Her since when? is answered honestly, flatly. "Before I knew you, before I came here." Here, being the world of the colonies, the embittered lives of the Clans, and somehow the tortoiseshell knows this. She had had the opposite experience, but she knows exactly what the ThunderClan leader is talking about.

But she says nothing, their flanks resting close. She can feel Emberstar's fur shift againsts hers as she begins to speak about her mother.

"No, she's not still here. I don't know if she's up there either. I still hope she is." Flickerfire stiffens. She'd never considered it, that her mother and sister might not be up there with Moth, with Briarstar. She follows the other molly's gaze to the skies, where the two of them search blankly, as though hoping to see the faces of those they've lost peering back at them.

"I never thought of that," she says, and she sounds far away even to herself. Flickerfire is surprised to hear Emberstar admit that none of her nine lives were gifted to her by her mother.

Some warmth returns to the flame point, though, as she describes the molly who'd given her birth. A smile, a laugh pulled from the trenches of Emberstar's sorrows, and a wonderful picture she paints for the tortoiseshell. A queen who loved her daughter, but who had known the worst was coming, was unavoidable, and had taken matters into her own paws.

Flickerfire gazes at Emberstar. "She taught me everything I know." "That's why you're so strong," she says, smiling. It's tilted. "She wanted you to be able to survive anything, and you have. If she's up there, she's proud, believe me."

It's not something she can say about her own mother, about herself, about Moth, even, but she pushes those thoughts away. "One morning she was just gone. It was leafbare, though, so I had to go out and hunt. I just had to keep moving."

"Did you ever... go back, to where she died? To talk to her? To see her?" It's a question that's haunted her since Emberstar had moved back to the oak forest. Even without a proper grave, does the site where one once lived serve its purpose? Are memories as ghosts just as effective? "I bet you miss her a lot." A statement said with childish finality.

Flickerfire leans against Emberstar, suddenly feeling as though her own sadness and loneliness might eclipse her. She needs the other's warmth, the other's comfort -- just for a moment, she tells herself. But she doesn't pull away. "Even if she isn't in StarClan, I bet she's up there somewhere. Too many stars in the sky to just be the cats who died at Fourtrees, right?"

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"She wanted you to be able to survive anything, and you have. If she's up there, she's proud, believe me."

"I know." Emberstar affirmed softly, her eyes locked on her paws. "I just miss her, y'know?" Not a day went by that she didn't miss her. It felt like there was a part of her heart that she had lost, but it had been gone so long she had gotten used to the absence. She had accepted it, that there was nothing she could do to fill it, and she would just have to live with that.

At least she thought she had.

Her gaze drifted to Flickerfire beside her. Being here with her, that made it better. It didn't repair her heart, exactly. Instead it expanded it, so that the hole was smaller. That was what all her new friends had done. Which was more than she had ever hoped for. That was why she had fought, and died for Thunderclan. For all the clans. That was why she would again.

Emberstar simply blinked at the next question for a moment. "No. I mean, why would I go back? She's not there." She stated, as if that was the simplest thing in the world. Then, after a moment of consideration, she continued, "Though, I do talk to her sometimes, or try to. It's more like talking to myself. I just, I know what she would say, y'know? I can practically hear her reply in my head." The molly explained with a shrug. After a moment, she added, "I did it more when I was on my own. Before I came here." She decided to leave it at that.

At the assertion that she must miss her mother a lot, the leader simply smiled sadly and nodded. More than words could express, she didn't say.

Flickerfire leaned against her then, an act that filled her with a strange, wonderful warmth. Then reassured her that her mother must be somewhere among the stars, if there were so many of them. Emberstar blinked, glanced up. There were a lot of stars, weren't there? More than had been in all of the marsh and pine groups combined. It was a nice thought, that there were so many more cats up there. Too nice of a thought for her not to believe. "Yeah." She breathed, wrapping her tail around the two of them. "She must be.
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Their fur is brushing, dawn against dusk, and Flickerfire looks at the she-cat settled against her with sorrow as she affirms: "I know. I just miss her, y'know?" Oh, she knows. She knows, but she cannot say it. Not to Emberstar. And if not to her, then to who?

Flickerfire settles her head against Emberstar's shoulder, feeling the flame point's tail brush against her own. "I've never been back, either," she murmurs into the other's pale fur. "I... I've never even been close until that first day I came to meet you here... in ThunderClan territory." Tears sting at the corners of her eyes, but they do not fall.

"But if Rain is up there, and Briarstar," she says, her voice hushed against pale golden fur, "Then our mothers must be. Right? And my..." Her voice chokes, and she shakes her head impatiently. "And you... you have to try to stay alive now. Please? I... don't want to come try to meet you one day and be greeted by someone else..." She's hollow at the thought. "I know you can protect yourself. But..." Her thoughts are treacherous. I want to protect you, they cry. I want to be hurt instead of you, die instead of you. Incoherent, lightning bolts of feeling that shoot through her veins, through her heart.

Instead of saying it, she moves her muzzle to Emberstar's neck but does nothing more.

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