"Tigerpaw? Why are you still up?"
Tigerpaw angled an ear behind him, but he didn't turn. Behind him, Whitepaw approached, taking a seat next to him and tilting his head.
"Thistleclaw was muttering about your assessment being tomorrow. You should be sleeping."
"So should you."
"Is this about Tiny?"
Tigerpaw's tail twitched, and he looked to Whitepaw, amber eyes glowing in the dark. The scar over his eye was visible, even in the shadows; Whitepaw remembered fussing over it back when he first heard Tiny's name.
"What happened to your face?!"
"Thistleclaw happened," The tabby muttered, trying to hide the tears in his open eye. Whitepaw frowned, shaking his head and pressing into one side to guide him into the medicine den, casting a glance behind him to his father and aunt. Only Bluefur returned the gaze, looking saddened and worried as she headed towards Sunstar's den.
"I'm so sorry, Tigerpaw…"
Tigerpaw shook his head, huffing. "There was some kittypet kit - Tiny. He was across the border, and Thistleclaw told me to attack him… But… I couldn't, Whitepaw."
"You saw Pinestar."
Tigerpaw nodded, silent, as they entered the medicine den, wincing at Featherwhisker’s shocked mew.
Whitepaw sighed, curling his tail around Tigerpaw's and gazing into his eyes in return, smiling. "Well, if you're thinking about him so much, why don't we pay him a visit?"
The tabby blinked, then cast a glance at the hollow down the ravine. The camp was quiet, and even Rosetail, standing guard for the night, seemed half-asleep. After a moment's thought, he nodded, looking back to Whitepaw.
"Will you come?"
"Of course! And if anyone asks, we were just practising our night hunting for the assessments."
It had been dusk when Tigerpaw found him again, on the same border - this time, the collar was laid out on the ground, messily torn off the kit's neck. Tigerpaw's ear twitched in the faintest amusement, looking him up and down.
"What is this?"
"I'm giving up my collar," Tiny had squeaked. "I want to be a warrior cat, too!"
It was a struggle for Tigerpaw to keep himself from bursting out laughing on the spot. If nothing else, the kit had fire, something that was very much needed in the Clans - but his size, and obvious timidity, would be his downfall. Especially while Thistleclaw was alive.
"You think giving up your collar is all it'll take for you to join the Clan? We have a code. A way of survival. A religion. A strict training regimen that can be absolutely ruthless to outsiders."
"Then -- then I'll learn it all! I'll do it! I want to join!"
Tiny faltered, then, and shuffled his paws, suddenly looking down. "... Because… I - I don't belong with my family. Nobody wants me - I'm a burden there. But if the Clans have all this - this learning stuff, then I can do something! I can be useful, I promise! Please let me join!"
Tigerpaw snorted, once again looking Tiny up and down. He almost… Almost, looked like he could make a decent warrior one day… Moreover, he could sympathise with the kit. The feeling of displacement. Like nobody, not even your family or your Clan, wants you.
He softened. Maybe he and Tiny were more alike than he thought.
"... It's not my call," He said finally, turning his back on the kit. "But how about this; every few days, I'll visit you, and teach you something about the Clans. When I get my warrior name, I'll bring you to ThunderClan. Maybe Sunstar will let you in if he sees you're serious."
"Okay! Yeah!" Tiny bounced on his paws, grinning after the tabby. "Thanks, um…"
"Thanks Tigerpaw! I'll see you soon!!"
Tigerpaw sized up the fence as he and Whitepaw approached, taking in a breath and sitting in the grass just before it. Whitepaw settled next to him, keeping his cheerful and spirited smile on his muzzle.
It didn't take long for Tiny to push his way between the fence boards, ears perked to height. He'd gotten bigger than last time they met, though not by much. Still, he had more confidence and calm in his step as he approached the two Clan cats, and he was genuinely happy to see them.
"Tigerpaw! Whitepaw! I wasn't expecting you tonight! What are you doing out here?"
“Tigerpaw couldn’t sleep,” Whitepaw joked, nudging the broad-shouldered tabby with a purr. Tigerpaw rolled his eyes, fixing Tiny with a more certain look.
“Whitepaw and I are set to take our assessments tomorrow. We’ll be warriors.”
Tiny’s ears perked up, and his eyes filled with admiration and excitement. “Really? Wow! Congratulations, you two!”
“So,” Tigerpaw continued, “I might be coming back for you tomorrow.”
The black cat shuddered a little - Tigerpaw took it as anticipation, and stifled a purr, twitching his tail. Whitepaw hesitated only slightly, but gave Tiny a surefire smile, curling his own over his paws.
“You’ve been practising what Tigerpaw taught you, right?”
“Of course! I’m more than ready!”
“Good. And has anything happened, over here? Along the border?”
“No, Tigerpaw. I’ve been patrolling every day, just like you told me to - other than ThunderClan patrols, there hasn’t been anything on either side of our border.”
“Good. Alright then, Tiny. Keep yourself sharp. I’ll be back tomorrow with a new name!”
Tigerpaw grinned, standing up properly. Whitepaw followed, dipping his head as Tiny hopped to his paws and nodded.
“Good luck Tigerpaw, Whitepaw! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
He disappeared behind the fence with that. Tigerpaw and Whitepaw lingered for a moment; the white tom let his smile fall, finally, and looked at Tigerpaw.
“... Not to dampen the mood,” Whitepaw murmured, “But do you even know how you’ll introduce Tiny? He’s going to be a target for -”
“For Thistleclaw, I know. And he’s not the only one.”
Tigerpaw shifted before starting to lead the way back, Whitepaw following him closely as he continued.
“Bluefur was there, the day we met Tiny. I figure I’ll ask her to come with me, explain things on the way. She’s the most understanding, and has the best chance to convince Sunstar to let him stay. Hopefully, he’ll get apprenticed to her. Or, to you or me, if we get our names.”
“That’s a big chance to take,” Whitepaw mused before bumping shoulders with the tabby as they rounded a small bend. “But I’ll stand with you either way.”