Hey everyone!

Gosh, it really has been a while since I've uploaded anything, hasn't it? I'm terribly sorry about that, but I do have a good reason for it. ^^ Recently I've been working on another story idea, though this one is completely original. I might still post some one-shots and short fics on here, though of course it probably won't be too often. If/When I do, I'll definitely keep you updated on the progress of this new story!

I've actually had this idea for a one-shot for a little while, but had yet to flesh it out. I hope it conveys some of the intricacies and struggles of real-life relationships, at least from my limited experience, haha. ^^ Anyway, I hope you enjoy! Remember to tell me what you thought in a review; constructive criticism is ALWAYS welcome!

"Hey Ravenpaw, guess what I've seen those dumb dogs doing?" Barley laughed as he bounded on nimble paws through the dry Greenleaf grasses.

I twitched my ears, listening halfheartedly to the sound of barking carried faintly on the hot breeze. "What?" I snorted.

"When I was up in the loft this morning I looked down and saw the black and white one rolling around in the dirt, straining at its tether to get at a specific patch of dirt. It was like all the other expanses of dirt weren't good enough to mess up its fur or something. I don't get why those dogs even want to dirty their fur; they'd just have to clean it all off later, amiright?"

"You think that's dumb?" I rolled my eyes jokingly. "I've seen the speckled one trying to chew off its own tail."

"Nuh uh, when did you see that?"

"Just a quarter moon ago. It kept turning around and around in circles, trying to bite at its tail."

"What, did it think its tail was trying to attack it?" Barley scoffed.

"Maybe? Who knows with those dogs? Honestly, I can't imagine why the Twolegs even keep them around. They're basically useless—all they do is eat."

"Eat and bark," Barley reminded me. "Don't forget that awful barking."

"Don't remind me," I shuddered. "Every single morning, up with the roosters. A cat can't get a wink of sleep around here."

"I suppose we'll just have to make up with food then."

Casting a glance toward Barley's midsection, I cast him a sly grin. "That does seem to be your method of coping, doesn't it?"

"Hey!" I ducked under the swipe Barley aimed at my ears, laughing. The black-and-white tom, however, had anticipated my move and lunged forward, knocking me to the ground. "You could do with putting on a few pounds yourself," he teased, raising his eyebrows. "It might be a little easier for you to keep your paws on the ground."

I coughed as Barley let me up, but didn't reply. I knew my voice would give away the swarm of butterflies tangling themselves together inside me, awoken by the brush of his fur against mine. Barley probably knew they existed already; I'd caught him a couple times hastily cutting off a lingering stare so we wouldn't make eye contact, felt it in the way he always insisted on pressing his back against mine when we curled up to sleep at night. Still, I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted, and I was happy as his bud for the moment. So, rolling upright once again, I merely bounded silently forward to catch up with him.

"For realz though, I do think we should hunt around here today. Give the barn mice a chance to settle down for a day before we start our attack again."

I snorted. "Yes sir, commander in chief. We know we have the stronger forces. It would really be a hit on their morale if they got a taste of safety before having that snatched away again."

Barley aimed another swat at me, this one much more halfhearted. I barely had to tilt my head away from him in order to avoid it. Snorting, I opened my mouth to make fun of him for it, but paused when I saw his posture. His ears and whiskers were suddenly angled forward, and his eyes were wide, searching for movement. I stopped walking, watching carefully as he prowled slowly forward, trying to pinpoint where his prey was.

He paused, mouth opening slightly, drawing in the wind's scents, sorting through them, until…

Stepping faster now, he pushed his nose through a tussock of grass, his entire body tense, making hardly a sound. A couple seconds later, he relaxed, pulling his head back out of the yellowing stalks. "Jackpot," he crowed. "Come see!"

I padded forward, my excitement growing, albeit tinged with confusion. Why wasn't Barley scared of startling the prey? He didn't want us to eat crowfood, did he?

Nosing aside the grasses as he had done, I searched the ground for any trace of prey. After a moment of fruitless searching, a flicker of movement caught my eye.

I retreated, staring at Barley. "'Jackpot'? That's a nest of baby mice."

"Exactly! They're so easy to catch, they won't even try to run away. Have you ever tasted a baby mouse? They're so tender and juicy, and you can eat each one in a single bite!"

My eyebrows furrowed and my gaze wandered back toward the clump of grass, behind which the mice slept. "But we could just as easily catch an adult mouse. There are loads in the barn, why don't we just go back and get a couple of those? We'll be stuffed full in no time."

"Nah, I'm not about to give up this treat. Come on, let's kill them and take them back to the barn with us."

I shook my head. "No. I'm not eating baby mice."

"What's wrong with you?" One of Barley's eyebrows was raised in a nonplussed expression. "What's the big deal?"

"We should at least give them a chance to grow up. Eating them now feels almost… cruel. Like we're cheating."

Barley scoffed. "Cheating? We're killing and eating, what does it matter how old the mouse is?"

I dropped my eyes to my paws, scuffing at the hard ground with one of them. "I dunno, I guess just… when I was in the Clans we were always taught to respect our prey. They give up their lives so we can eat, and we need to thank them for that."

"But they're not choosing to be eaten," Barley pointed out. "If the mice had their way we would starve. What are we thanking them for?"

I shrugged, the stream of words rising in my throat weakening. It was no longer strong enough to make it past my throat.

After a pause, Barley sighed, his voice exaggeratedly loud. "Fine then, I'll kill the mice and I'll eat them." He padded forward, heading toward the nest again. "I don't know what's gotten into you but I'm not letting this opportunity go to waste."

"See you back at the barn." I turned away, padding off in the direction we'd come. I didn't think I could stomach the sight of Barley gorging himself on the tiny bodies.

It took me a while to finally make it back to the barn. I took my time wandering around through the fields, halfheartedly chasing the mice that occasionally wandered across my path. Somehow, I couldn't find it in me to kill and eat any of them, though my stomach kept growling in annoyance every time I let another one go. I just couldn't prevent the thought drifting across my mind that the mouse I ended up catching would be a mother, that in killing her I'd have the blood of her entire brood on my paws as well. The notion that food should not in any case be wasted had been firmly ingrained into me from just a couple moons old, and somehow I couldn't shake it away.

Finally, I gave up on hunting and stood defeatedly amongst the grasses, each one turning golden-brown under the sun's relentless heat, towering over my head and providing some shade for my black-furred spine. Maybe Barley's right, I thought numbly. What's wrong with me? I never had any trouble hunting before. Maybe I should've eaten those mice with him. Maybe he was right.

Turning, I peered through the screen of bobbing grass stalks in the direction I knew the barn to be. Barley would probably be there by now, wondering where I'd gone, if he should go out and try to find me. He didn't worry about much but he did worry about me.

The thought spread tingling through my paws, but I despondently pushed the feeling aside. It was probably smart of me to have hidden it for so long anyway; maybe Barley and I were more different than I'd thought. Maybe I was going to be the one to end our friendship and all possibility of what we might become. Me and my dumb overreacting. I was worse even than the dogs.

After a long, slow walk through the fields, I arrived back at the run-down barn. Peering nervously through the entrance, I glanced around for Barley, but didn't see any sign of him. Maybe he was up in the loft already. It wouldn't surprise me; it was almost sundown.

Swiftly crossing the hay-strewn floor, I started silently up the worn ladder in the corner. After climbing up and down it twice a day since I'd arrived, I'd grown used to the odd method of climbing.

Just as I'd assumed he'd be, I spotted Barley sitting by the back wall, where an opening had formed, worn away by rot, wind, rain, and ice. The sun crouched low in the sky, spreading its orange and purple rays upward into the clouds, creating a breathtaking display of color.

This had become a tradition of ours—Barley and I would come up here to watch the sun rise and set every single day, cramped together in the smaller window at dawn and lounging by the back wall at dusk. We hadn't missed one since I'd arrived.

Cautiously, I approached the opening, seating myself next to Barley, albeit keeping several tail-lengths between us. Keeping my eyes fixed forward, I took a deep, steadying breath and waited for him to speak.

He didn't. We sat in utter silence, watching the shadows lengthen across the hills, the colors deepen overhead, the sky darken to indigo. I shifted, wrapping my tail around my paws first one way, then the other, trying to work out some of my nerves. Finally, by the time the sun had sunk almost out of sight, Barley moved.

"Aren't you gonna talk to me, or are we destined to live out the rest of our days in silence?" He winked at me, though I could see from his expression that his heart was not in it.

I loosed a gusty sigh, wondering what in StarClan to say. Usually I wasn't the one tasked with starting a conversation—that was Barley's thing. It was so easy for him.

"…okay," Barley meowed slowly as my silence stretched onward. "I guess there's nothing to say then."

"I guess so," I muttered. Something inside my ribcage twisted at my words. Was I really just… giving up?

"Actually—" I hesitated.

Barley looked up. "Actually?"

I bit my lip. Barley had often asked me what I was thinking, but I'd never fully responded, partly because I didn't know myself. I still had no idea, but maybe if I just started talking I'd figure it out along the way?

"I'm sorry about this afternoon," I muttered, looking away from him again, out across the darkening hills.

"What are you sorry about?"

"I just… I don't know what happened. I freaked out." At Barley's questioning look, I tried to explain. This was harder than I'd thought. "They just… they looked so helpless, lying there. I don't know why that bugged me so much."

"Oh." I shot a quick glance over at Barley to see him nodding slowly. "Ohhh. I think I understand."

"What? What do you understand?"

"They reminded you of… well, you, didn't they? Those mice."

Almost without my realization, a sharp breath found its way into my lungs. The memories came surging back for a moment, of Tigerclaw's insults and disapproval whenever my performance was less than perfect, his weight pinning me to the ground while I struggled to breathe, his yellow eyes glowing against the hazy grayish boulders of Sunningrocks as he stood over the body of Redtail. I inhaled again, my breaths shallow and quick, feeling the sting of his claws across my cheek as though the wound had been delivered a heartbeat ago.

I blinked. I felt the roughened wood pressing against my paws, my haunches, my tail. My eyes took in the darkening sky and the fields of grass, disappearing slowly under the blanket of night. I turned and saw him watching me, concern in the depths of his blue, not yellow, irises.

Barley sat before me. I knew Barley. He had grown up in BloodClan, yes, but he had left. He wasn't a brutal, uncaring sort of cat. He wasn't preying on the mice for their weakness. He just wanted to eat a tasty meal.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"No," Barley shook his head. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize how strongly that would affect you. I… I didn't mean to hurt you."

I mirrored his movement. "You didn't do anything."

He took a couple steps closer, and I let myself look into his eyes. They were filled with what looked like a mixture of something, though I couldn't figure out exactly what.



Barley paused, watching me. "You've gotta let me know next time. Stand up for yourself. Tell me what you're thinking without me having to ask."

I let out a sound that was maybe half of a laugh. "I know." Meeting his eyes, a brief flash of butterflies rose from the pit of my stomach.

He gave me one last half smile, which I returned, then glanced out at the sky. "Guess the sun's set by now. We should probably go back downstairs before the light vanishes completely. I dunno about you but I'm too clumsy to climb down that ladder in the dark."

"Yeah, me too."

My eyes followed Barley as he padded toward the far side of the loft. Though he'd said nothing to suggest it, not really, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something.


He turned around. "Yeah?"

We locked eyes. Suddenly, I could see every one of the emotions that played across his face, each thought passing through his mind, almost even the rush of lightning flashing through his body, just as a similar one jolted mine. Before I had time to rethink my decision, I darted forward, hurtling into him and knocking him clear off his feet.

"Barley," I panted, "I—I love you."

My heart pounded fast enough to explode inside my chest as I gazed into Barley's eyes, trying desperately to judge his reaction. Had I misinterpreted his thoughts? Had I messed up for the second or third time today? Was I about to be kicked off the farm? Did he—?

"StarClan, Ravenpaw, you don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that." A grin split Barley's muzzle in two and he reached up to rasp his tongue across my cheek. "I love you too."