when ravenpaw was just a kit, he would sit in the shade a few tail lengths away from the nursery and the prying eyes of the other kits. he would swipe is hand over the dirt, smooth it out into an even plane, and with painstaking care, etch out design after design into the dirt.
every now and then a warrior or elder would wander over and marvel at the designs he carved into the dirt and his soul. swirling spirals, sweeping arches, harsh strokes, soft bends, jagged spikes - a mural of intricate lines which could have been tattooed onto any warrior.
it was a talent that he held close to his heart. those who saw kept his secret diligently and didn’t utter a word - after all, respect and trust was the foundation of a strong clan.
however, despite drawing countless tattoos into the soft earth beneath him, ravenkit could never bring it upon himself to sketch out his own tattoo. it was something that almost every apprentice and kit did - dream of their warriror ceremony, fantasise about their cool name, and design possible warrior tattoos.
it was almost a tradition - those who had spent hours underneath the moonlight sketch tattoos onto reed paper would wake to their mentor gently grasping their charcoal-stained fingers with gently eyes and a knowing smile.
charcoal paws, they were affectionately called.
but ravenpaw never allowed himself to be stained by the charcoal of a wistful apprentice’s dream. never allowed himself to take the tattoo he held in his soul and lay it out on fragile, fragile paper, when he knew that his own life lay on equally fragile grounds.
tigerclaw had taken redtail’s life, and judging by the dark looks the older man threw at him, ravenpaw would be the next on that list.
he would never get his warrrior name, never get is clan band, never get his tattoo.
and unsurprisingly, he never did get any of the above.
but surprisngly, he survived.
he’s alive. alive. something he never expected to happen. for the past few months, he had resigned himself to a bloody and horrifying death beneath tigerclaw’s bladed brass knuckles, but as always, firepaw seemed to contradict everything he ever thought.
including becoming an honest-to-starclan leader.
including leading the clans away from the colonisation of ignorant kittypets.
including granting ravenpaw his tattoo.
it had been one hell of a surprise, that’s for damn sure.
he had never allowed himself to design his tattoo, because every stroke and line before had felt so completely and utterly wrong.
but as he sat in front of firestar, in front of every clan in the forest, huddled in an abandoned twoleg shelter, ravenpaw had found his hands going through the practiced motions which had been ingrained in him since kithood.
sweep your left hand through the dirt. Smooth the surface. Grab a small handful of fine dust. Sprinkle over the earth. extend the thumb and curl the rest of the fingers for better control.
touch the tip of your thumb to the earth.
pour your soul out.
and he does.
rounded lines which created the paw pads. Short, sharp strokes for the claws. Sweeping lines for the wings. Crips edges for detailing.
it had never felt so right and so perfect, and when mousefur etched the design onto his chest underneath the ever shining lights of silverpelt, it was as if ravenpaw was coming home.
he wasn’t a warrrior - never had the chance to be one, and was probably destined for failure. He wasn’t a loner - the clans were so ingrained into his being and sense of self identity the he could never truly separate from it.
he is ravenpaw, and as he traces the arching wings and soft paw pads that decorate his collarbone, he now knows why warriors cherish their tattoo so dearly.
it’s like discovering a part of him that he could never truly find.
a part of him that had always been there, never left, just waiting patiently at the other side of the thicket of trees for him to find himself.
he is who he is - no title or rank can change that, and for ravenpaw, that’s all he needs.