✦ ✧ ✦ It was the middle of the night and Pythonstrike couldn't sleep for the life of her. She had tired herself as best as she could, but...she just couldn't will herself to sleep. Tossing and turning in her nest and huffing to herself, she finally sat up and gave up on the idea of sleeping. The tan molly stood up on exhausted limbs shaking with overexertion, stumbling out of the warrior's den and out into the chilly darkness. Pythonstrike tilted her chin skywards, hazel gaze glancing over the clear sky and the moon that hung high in the sky. It was late, from what she could tell, but she seemed to be wide awake, not an ounce of tiredness in her bones despite working herself pretty hard hours beforehand.
What she would give to sleep like a kit again.
Shivering from the cold leafbare chill the molly stiffly slid into a laying down position, back leaning against the sturdy walls of the den that she had just been trying to snooze in moments before. Python couldn't put a paw on what was bothering her, a puff of frosty breath coming from her nose as she rested her head on her paws. Was Harrierstrike up? There was no good reason that he would be up, but she sort of hoped that maybe he would be awake so she wouldn't have to stir in her emotions by herself. Ick, she was being all pathetic and mushy about him, but he was the only real friend she had made in Thunderclan so far. Was it normal to be thinking so damn much about this? Maybe it was just the exhaustion riddling her brain. She would blame it on that.
// rip sorry for this taking so long i literally fell asleep right after saying it was a good time and then i had school
also ;0000 im thriving i love these two
Once, long ago, Harrierstrike had been able to fall asleep with ease, curling into his nest and drifting off into a world of peace and darkness within a few short moments. But, like all things, that time had passed, and the dark brown tom found himself awake in the middle of the night despite his best efforts. For hours, he had laid there curled tightly in his nest, unable to get comfortable despite the fresh moss he had lined it with only a few days ago. Stubbornly, he closed his eyes and buried his nose under his foreleg, tensing his muscles and then slowly relaxing them, trying everything he knew to help him sleep better.
With a frustrated sigh, the tom finally gave up on sleep for the night, forcibly reminded of the time after Asterkit had died where he was too afraid to sleep for fear of memories of the blood of his niece staining Sunningrocks. At the very least, he wasn't quite at that level, not mourning, and not afraid to fall asleep. Instead, it was all he wanted, and it eluded him. A scowl adorning his features, the dark tabby got to his paws and shook out his rumpled fur, slipping out of the warriors' den with surprisingly quiet steps, careful not to wake anyone else.
Stepping from the mouth of the den, Harrierstrike's attention was caught by the now-familiar shape of Pythonstrike sprawled alongside the wall of bramble. "Can't sleep either?" the tom asked softly, voice rough in the quiet night. Strangely, he felt... reassured, that he wouldn't have to spend alone, that he wasn't the only one to struggle with sleep sometimes. That it was Pythonstrike there. He felt confusion rise briefly at that thought, though soon dismissed it as his tired brain longing for the company of one of his closest friends of the cats who hadn't known him before. That must be it.
✦ ✧ ✦ //ahh no worries, school sucks b utt :,( also these two?? make me cry theyre so g o o d <33
It wasn't long for Pythonstrike's silent prayers to be answered; the voice of Harrierstrike made the tense molly jump a bit, coarse fur standing on end as her eyes found the exhausted figure of her friend in the dark. At the sight of Harrier her fur slowly laid flat, a tired smile curling onto Python's maw at the appearance of the tabby tom. Guess they were both shitty sleepers, thought it did strike her as a little odd. Harrierstrike had been through some traumatic things in his life, if Pythonstrike had heard from the small things she had picked up from idle conversations of npcs while she was eating or out on patrol. She wasn't going to pry for the reason why Harrierstrike couldn't sleep.
The tom's voice was rough, gruff as he drew a bit closer, Pythonstrike hauling herself into a sitting position and gesturing for him to come sit with her. "Unfortunately." The tan molly huffed softly, gaze turning upwards for a moment as she tried to calm her racing heart. She was glad Harrierstrike was here, the thought of being out here all alone was enough to give her the creeps. Thunderclan was safe and it definitely wasn't creepy, but she was a city cat and weird things happened at night. Strange cats, strange noises, it was something that Python didn't miss about Bloodclan. Here it was calm and quiet, though sometimes the silence was almost deafening in its quietness.
"Anything you wanna talk about?" Pythonstrike didn't want to dig for information that Harrier wasn't comfortable in giving, but she...wanted to be there for him, as corny as that sounded. They were friends, right? Meeting his gaze, something twinged in her chest. Yes, friends. Surely.
It was certainly strange, to go so easily from expecting an enemy to finding a friend in Pythonstrike, but Harrierstrike was certainly glad that things had happened as they did. If they hadn't, and he had made an enemy of the tan molly, then the tabby tom wouldn't have been able to let out a breath he hadn't even realized he was holding, and pad towards her with a strange sense of ease. Seeing her move over to make room for him, he offered her a weary smile and settled onto his haunches beside her and gently leaned his shoulder against hers, hoping that the touch wouldn't be unwelcome. "I hope you don't mind. It helps, knowing for sure that I'm not alone," he admitted, finding the words more easily in the quiet darkness than he ever would have in broad daylight.
The night, for Harrierstrike, was a strange time. It was for dreaming, for secrets, for mourning. Sometimes all three at once, if he was particularly unlucky. It seemed that tonight provided a home for secrets in the chill air and the company of another that, against all the odds, he found himself trusting more and more. Growing up in ThunderClan, surrounded by the soft breathing of his littermates, then the other apprentices, then the warriors, the silence of sleeping alone in the hollow of a tree or under a bush had been stifling and terrifying. And now that he was back, the peace and quiet of camp felt wrong, almost, like the world was holding its breath in anticipation of the main event.
As Pythonstrike offered to listen to whatever was bothering, the tabby tom met her hazel eyes with a soft expression, feeling a breath catch in his throat. No, I can't feel that, he scolded himself, but made no attempt to move other than averting his gaze. "It's weird being back around everyone after so long on my own. I'm happy here, but it's a little overwhelming to just be accepted, no questions asked because I was lucky enough to be recognized. What if I hadn't been recognized? I did nothing to deserve their acceptance," he spoke, a frown tugging at his lips as he stared intently at the dirt beneath his paws.
✦ ✧ ✦ Python and Harrier were a strange do, they could've been enemies even if the slightest thing had gone wrong in their second interaction. If she would've said something too bitter, too venomous, everyhting would've gone wrong and she wouldn't be lucky enough to be sitting here, beside Harrierstrike, listening to him confide in her. She realized that she was lucky to have somebody like him at her side, somebody so sturdy and steadfast was hard to come by. His voice was soft as Pythonstrike listened, gaze following his features as he spoke. She could see the guilt, buried deep within dull yellow eyes, that Harrierstrike carried with him wherever he went; she might not know what had hurt him, but she could see it, feel it, resonating. Python leaned back into Harrier's shoulder, pressing hers against his to offer him some semblance of comfort as it was all she could offer besides awkward words.
"Don't get caught up on 'what if's'. It's hard to, I know, but...you're here in one piece and you're safe. I think they would've recognized you no matter what, Harrier, you're not exactly a forgettable face. From what I've heard-- you were important, are important, to Thunderclan and your clanmates would accept you no matter what." Pythonstrike breathed in, deeply, eyes burning holes into her paws for a moment before catching Harrier's gaze again. She lifted a paw to his chest, though it was just to emphasize her point. "You gave your undying loyalty to them, your diligent work ethic. You might not think so, but you've done more than enough to deserve their acceptance. Don't doubt yourself, Harrierstrike, you're a good cat. A great cat." The tan molly pulled her paw away, shaking her head a bit.
"Sorry, late nights make me a little more sappy than usual, don't get used to it." Pythonstrike's voice was teasing, but undertones of exhaustion crept in as her jaws parted in a fierce yawn. She was tired, but she doubted she could go back to sleep when all that awaited her was nightmares and fractured dreams.
In time with Pythonstrike, it seemed, Harrierstrike was also considering just how lucky he was to have found someone that he trusted enough to share his insecurities with as if it was nothing. How lucky he was to have earned the gentler side of this brash, wonderful, spitfire of a molly. How lucky he was to lean against her and let himself think that maybe this isn't the end. It was rare to find a cat who made him feel that he was enough as he was, without the bravado or the incessant flirting. He didn't have to be anything more than Harrierstrike, the bony tom who was loyal and steadfast and sarcastic. The thought was comforting, and gave him the courage to look up from his paws as she began speaking once more.
Deep copper eyes searched her face as she stared at her own paws and offered him reassurance that, for once, he actually believed. As she caught his gaze and rested her paw on his chest for emphasis, Harrierstrike inhaled sharply, before tilting his head forward to briefly touch his nose to her paw as the tan molly continued to speak. Looking back at her, the tabby tom nodded once, unsure if he believed that he was a great cat who deserved to be here, but willing to at least try, for her. "Thank you," he murmured, voice barely above a whisper.
And just like that, with her paw pulled away and humor lacing her voice, the spell was broken and Harrierstrike allowed a snort of laughter at both her comment and the abrupt return to normalcy. "Of course not. Your precious reputation is safe with me," he responded in jest, the words coming easily, no anger driving his statement. However, as a yawn broke from her maw, the tom gave her a worried look. "Sorry. I just dumped all that on you and you're exhausted," he apologized, wincing as he realized he had just effectively dumped all his problems on her without considering that she was just as tired as he was. "Do you think you'd be able to sleep yet, or do you want to hang out here for a little longer? I'm fine either way. If...if you want to talk about anything, I'll listen," he rambled, not ready to go to sleep yet himself, but not wanting to keep Pythonstrike awake any longer than she needed to be. He saw how hard she worked, and she definitely needed the sleep if she was going to keep that up.
✦ ✧ ✦ The soft touch of Harrierstrike's nose to her paw made something strange stir in her chest, her heart clenching as if it was being squeezed by a vice as she finally pulled her paw away from the fur on the tom's chest. It was nice to be able to go from meaningful to playful teasing with Harrier, not many cats would be able to notice the small shifts in Pythonstrike's voice or the way her tone changed from bitter to affectionate; she didn't like to think of herself as complex, but if you spent long enough with anybody you would start to notice the little things they did. Although they hadn't known each other for long, Harrier seemed to pick up on the small things that Python did that helped him get her in ways that few others did.
Harrierstrike was apologizing now, a look of shock playing like a quick shadow over Pythonstrike's face as she glanced over towards the skinny tabby tom. "You don't have to apologize, I don't mind." The molly promised earnestly, pressing her shoulder briefly back against his to back up her words with some action. She lingered for a beat longer than intended, her mind finally kicking in to tell her to pull away before she made a fool of herself. Pythonstrike sat up straight again, heas turned towards Harrierstrike as he finished his question, hazel gaze catching his.
"I think I'll be up for a little while longer, I-- I've been getting nightmares, but they're not really anything that I haven't dealt with before. They're more annoying than anything now, y'know?" Pythonstrike wasn't ready to go more in depth about her nightmares as they contained general things of her past. If she told Harrierstrike he probably wouldn't of been surprised, it was just the usual things that Bloodclan did: blood, tortures...but they had effected Python in ways that she hated to admit. Her ears lowered against her head, face falling as her eyes retreated back to her paws. "I just wish they would go away so I could actually get some decent sleep. Sleeping alone is weird, having my own nest is really weird. I guess I'm just used to being cramped with a bunch of other cats so having my own space is still strange." Pythonstrike had to force herself to stop talking before she caused Harrier's ears to fall off. Gaze hesitantly finding Harrier's, she looked like a mess.
Harrierstrike had always been good at reading people, he supposed, though he had more often than not ignored the subtle shifts in others' behavior, choosing instead to do what he wanted regardless of what was right in a situation. It was strange to him, how quickly he had picked up on the little tells of Pythonstrike: the way she fell back on teasing after saying something genuinely caring, the way her voice changed ever so slightly between bitter mockery and friendly jabs. Then again, maybe he just liked watching her. But that was not a thought to entertain right now. Or ever, probably.
He allowed himself to be reassured by her words and the way she leaned against him once more, for a moment longer than was necessary. Not wanting to disrupt this easy peace between them, he decided that he wasn't even going to think about that, as difficult as it might be. Instead, he listened attentively as she began to speak once more, copper eyes settled on her face and the expressions that darted across her features.
"I get that. I think, growing up in any clan, it's more worrying if you don't have nightmares. You see a lot of things when you live like this," he began, sensing her reluctance to share the reasoning behind her nightmares, and instead referring loosely to the causes of his own. She didn't have to open up to him about everything, and more than anything he was honored that she shared as much as she had. "I think you're very brave to realize the effect life has had on you, and to become better than the things you've seen," Harrierstrike admitted, conviction driving his voice despite his soft volume.
As she mentioned the strangeness of having her own space, it took everything in Harrierstrike's power to not just offer to share his nest with her. Honestly, he wasn't sure he would be able to let himself do that. Not without facing the guilt of leaving Honeystep behind as if she had been nothing to him, doing with another what he had done with her so many nights. No, it was bad enough that he recognized the way his chest clenched at the idea of Pythonstrike being in pain, how his heart skipped a beat when he looked at her now. Everything about this felt like a betrayal. He had always been good about denying himself happiness for the sake of others. What was once more?
"Yeah, I get that. While I was on my own, it was so strange to sleep all by myself, and now that I'm back, having cats around me again hardly feels real. I've found that it helps to keep your nest as close to someone else's as you can without getting gossip started," he responded, trying for humor as he noticed the expression she wore. Guilt be damned, he was going to help her if he could.
Pythonstrike hadn't realized that her expression was a bit sour: the corners of her maw turned downwards and her eyes narrowed slightly. It wasn't hard to. tell what the tan molly was feeling, she had a bad habit of wearing her emotions on her sleeve. Whether it was as telling as a frown or as subtle as a glint of frustration in her eye, she wasn't the most challenging cat to read. She also wasn't one to open up to a cat she barely knew, but the tabby tom alongside her was...different. Pythonstrike couldn't quite place the feelings she had for Harrier, though she could only assume that they were more than what a friend should feel for another. What was normal? What was she supposed to feel? When had Python suddenly gone all soft? Her gaze lingered on the tabby's face as he spoke.
Harrierstrike's words washed over her like a breath of fresh air, awakening her more as she sat up straighter, ears perking forwards more intently. Brave? Python's facade faltered a bit, eyes downtrodden as she tried to gather her exhausted thoughts. She couldn't squash the tight knot of fluttering in her stomach; it was subtle, tiny, but it was something that Pythonstrike felt guilty about. Harrierstrike was still an enigma to Python, a tom that she didn't know too much about. What was his history, his past? It was all still a mystery to the molly.
"I wouldn't call myself brave..." Pythonstrike laughed a bit, shaking her head and finally lifting her eyes up to meet Harrierstrike's gaze once more. Keeping her nest close to others? Getting much closer than she was now to other cats would surely spark things that wouldn't be good for any of the cats involved. Python's cravings for companionship and affection were her weaknesses, her downfalls, that she tried to squish but she could never successfully do so. Her eyes almost searched Harrier's features, brown eyes sliding over the dip and curve of his face before she let out a soft, amused snuff. "Might as well give the queens something to gossip about."
Python's voice trailed off as Harrier touched briefly on his past. "If it doesn't make you uncomfortable to talk about...why were you out on your own? You were a great warrior; why did you leave?" Python didn't want to dig too deep, to hit a nerve with Harrierstrike that would close himself off to her. She...just wanted to know more, to clear the haze around the tom's background.
Harrierstrike let out a quiet laugh in response to her apparent disregard for what others would think or say about her. Gossip was merely gossip, nothing more. Even if he wanted something more. Even if there was the slightest hope of something more that he recognized in the way her brown gaze lingered on his face as he spoke. It was completely possible that he was lonely after being alone for so long, that he was simply projecting his need for affection onto the tan molly. But maybe it was for the best that way, with no guilt to be spoken of and no betrayal and no apologies.
Why did you leave?
Despite the efforts he put into keeping his expression lighthearted, there was no mistaking the sorrow that flashed across his gaze, or the way he winced at the words. Nevertheless, he sighed, and opened his jaws to speak. The night was the time for secrets, for truths he dared not speak in the light of the day. And maybe, under the stars with Pythonstrike, Honeystep and Coldthroat and all his nieces and nephews wold be able to see him, and he would know they approved.
"I never wanted to leave, really. I loved ThunderClan with all of my heart, and I still do, but... I..." his voice faded out as he remembered the shame of leaving, of slipping out of camp without saying anything to anyone beforehand. Surely, they had looked for him, but he hadn't wanted to be followed. And all this because of his damned emotions. "When you lose so many cats dear to you, it's hard to stay in that place and notice the emptiness left behind," he began once more, sighing heavily. "I found my daughter on the bank of the river, her throat torn open and Sunningrocks soaked with her blood. I don't even know how there was so much; she was still a kit, still so little," Harrierstrike began, not caring in the moment that Asterkit had been his niece, not his daughter. In the grief that washed across his features, he could only recall the days spent in the nursery playing games with them, the kits who called him dad more than they did their actual father. Yes, she was his daughter, blood or not.
A moment of silence passed as he breathed deeply, trying not to recall how her blood had drifted and swirled with the flow of the river. He needed to think of something else, anything else. "I had a mate, too, before. Honeystep. Losing her so soon after Asterkit just did it for me, I guess. I couldn't stay in a place that should have been full of their laughter," he answered, feeling frankly terrible for ruining what could have been a good night with his own baggage. As much as it was a relief to finally get his words out, some part of him screamed that this was not what Pythonstrike had wanted. She couldn't want a broken tom with a broken heart and enough arrogance and bravado for two. Swallowing thickly, he opened his jaws to speak, but remembered her words from earlier, and snapped his maw shut.
✦ ✧ ✦ Shame. That was the emotion that Pythonstrike was seeing, watching as it took over Harrierstrike's features. It settled on his face, dark and all too telling, as he spoke about the things that weighed on him day in and day out. The tan molly didn't say much of anything as the tabby tom spoke, eyes glued to his as he seemed to unpack everything in his closet, all of his skeletons laid out for her to see. Leaving must've killed Harrierstrike; she could see how much the clan meant to him, how much all of the cats here meant to him. He had lost so much, lost his daughter, lost his mate; how could she judge him for leaving when she would've done the same? It wasn't she was completely innocent, either, she had left Bloodclan for Thunderclan. To her birth clan, she was a traitor and nothing more. Harrierstrike had a reason, she had a reason. They both had a reason to leave, even if Harrier had only left for a little bit.
Harrier had needed time to think and who was she to judge him for that?
"You lost so much...I would've done the same, if I were in your paws. Losing family, something like that-- I couldn't, I can't begin to imagine what it felt like." Pythonstrike choked on her words, ears laid back against her head as she squeezed her eyes shut. Why was she getting emotional? Why did Harrierstrike bring out the caring side in her, the emotional side? She had spent years shoving that part of her down, emotions were weakness, but he could drag it back up to the surface with nothing but his presence alone. He could see right through her, pry her open with his bare paws and read her like an open book. How? Pythonstrike let a small breath hiss out between her clenched teeth. "I'm sorry t-that you had to go through that," she paused for a moment, voice cracking, "it must've been hell."
Pythonstrike must've looked pathetic, eyes shimmery with unspoken emotions as she let out another shaky breath. Head tilted back towards the stars, she took the time to try to formulate anything. Something that she could say to comfort Harrierstrike, but...nothing came. She never was too good with words, was she? Pythonstrike was terrible with the emotions of others and even worse with her own. Her head lowered and she picked herself up onto her paws, muscles pleading with exhaustion as she moved closed to Harrierstrike. Pressing her side against his, her nose would briefly touch the side of his cheek; a gesture of comfort, apology or romance, she couldn't decipher it. It wasn't the time to think about herself, but she couldn't kill old habits so soon. "I'm sorry..."
Harrierstrike had grown used to the pity of others, their comforts, their pathetic attempts to tell him that everything was going to fine. But he knew better, knew from experience that it might never be fine. As much as he had faked it, the tom hadn't been okay in the moons after his parents' death as the camp burned around them and smoke filled their lungs. Why had he been given the chance to survive that with his siblings? What made their lives more valuable? What had they done to be saved? But he had neatly tucked that part of him away and built himself from the ground up, young and stupid and confident. And then he had done it again, and again, and again, condemning his own sorrow. He had to be strong for the clan.
He was not being strong right now, but for a moment he allowed himself to believe that he didn't have to be. With Pythonstrike at his side, making no attempt to tell him that everything would be okay, because it wouldn't. It didn't have to be. Harrierstrike had always been emotional, but the tan molly had a way of picking him apart and drawing every thought from his brain, knowing when to be soft, and when to joke, and when to give him a push or a sharp retort that brought him back to the present. She was soft now, her dark eyes shining with emotions that he was positive matched his own.
"It's not your fault, Pythonstrike. You don't need to be sorry," he answered softly, instinctively leaning into her touch as she pressed her nose to his cheek, a sudden warmth blooming through his chest and ears, chasing away the numbness and the cold dread weighing him down. "Thank you for listening to me," he added, pressed tightly to her side and making no move to step away. Though guilt tore at his heart fr allowing this, the dark tabby looked up at the stars splashed across the inky sky and stared. Forgive me, he prayed, I will take joy where I can find it. And as if acknowledging his pleas, Harrierstrike thought he saw one of the countless stars blink back at him, and he smiled.
"I believe in second chances, for all of us," he said, his copper gaze meeting Pythonstrike's warm brown one. Though sorrow still flooded his features, there was hope there, too. Maybe, just maybe, he could be forgiven, he could be happy.
✦ ✧ ✦ The stars twinkled overhead as Pythonstrike stayed curled close to Harrierstrike, ears laid back against her head as the silence of the night hushed the thoughts in her head. Silence usually was a bad thing for Pythonstrike; silence signaled death and the dying, but right now, pressed into Harrier's side, silence could be peaceful. The former Bloodclanner could find solace in the absence of sound. She was expecting him to pull away, to find hesitance in his gaze as he apologized profusely and would excuse himself. Harrierstrike made no move to pull away, taking the tan molly by surprise and curling in closer. Pythonstrike wasn't quite sure what she was supposed to feel in this moment: was this what Harrierstrike would want? Would he want to be with somebody like her, somebody that was so different from him and so different from all the cats that he had loved previously? Python didn't want to replace Honeystep, she just...she wanted to be there for the tabby tom. She wanted to be there for him when he needed somebody to lean on, somebody to confide in. She hoped she could be that for him.
"Second chances..." Pythonstrike echoed Harrier's words back to him, gaze falling to her paws as she fell silent once again. The conversation had lulled to a stopping point, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It was easy and again, silence wasn't usually easy for the ticked molly, but Harrier made it easy, made it comfortable. How the hell did he do that to her? How did he make her feel this way?
The ticked molly stiffly laid down at Harrierstrike's paws, cautiously leaning her head on his shoulder, gaze still glued to her paws. Her maw hung open as if she was going to say something, but no words came for a few moments, as if she was still thinking, daring herself to ask the question that sat on the tip of her tongue, begging to be spoken. "Are...are we more than just friends?" Pythonstrike's voice was soft, wobbly as she didn't dare meet Harrier's gaze. Affection was not her strong suit; she craved affection, but she was too scared, too hesitant to initiate it most of the time. It was a foreign concept to her. In Bloodclan, the only affection she had received was from her mother and her siblings; did she deserve what Harrierstrike was willing to give her? Was she deserving?