She slinks through the aphotic shadows as if she is one herself, not a splash of moonlight glistening on the fringe of her fur. Her steps are are characterized by their lack of sound, and it is obvious that it is her intent to maintain this particularly bleak silence. Any passerby could tell she is wary, by the taut string of her hind leg muscles, and her prominent ribcage that pokes against the tight flesh of her side. It is only due to the dull gloss sheen of her sable pelt, which appears downy and soft in the stygian dark, even when its owner is gaunt with the plague of hunger.

The skeletal trees are mount in an inanimate forest, their spider-like branches touching finger to the crisp air. They long for spring, as does she, but the warm moons are merely a looming cloud in the distance, sporadically seen in rare moments, when a fracture of sunlight bathes the clearing of camp.

She sweeps forth, scarcely stirring the dead foliage, as her bony paws angle her around the prevalent leaves and pliable bracken. She springs, as lithe as a flighty squirrel, on top of an archaic tree stump, one felled seasons before her Clan settled in the area.

Her ears twitch, picking up no sounds that could alert her of anothers presence. No one will notice I'm gone, she thinks, tongue swiping across her lips in with guilty satisfaction. She knows that this is wrong, sneaking out of camp in the dead of night, but who is she to misinterpret her kin's request?

And so, she vigilantlya trait not often honed by herpicks up the path once more, snaking through the undergrowth with a slyness matched only by foxes. Yet, after she clears a measurable amount of distance, she sheds the cautious nature, and proceeds forth with un-artful carelessness. Her paw steps are no longer reserved as she pads, still limber in her movements, and the previous discreetness is forgotten.

She has figured, being so deep in the forest, that no cat will stumble upon her other than the cat who invited her into the gloom.

This particular night purposefully chosen for its new moon, and with her sooty black pelt, it is unlikely one will be able to detach her from the shadows she skulks through.

It is obvious, by the way her eyes flicker left and right, that she is up to no good. Many cats who have experienced alike feelings can infer what the black she-cat is doing, but would they interfere, knowing their hypocrisy would serve against them? And thus, even if a cat were to spy her, it is doubtful that they would intervene.

Finally, she comes upon the banks of the churning river, fueled by snow-melt from the snow storm that blanketed the territory only a few nights before. She is wary, her fur pricked up along her extrusive spine and on the nape of her neck. But all of those misgivings of having intruded on the nightly serenity are forgotten as a familiar scent hits the roof of her mouth.

Her leaf-green eyes flit to the left as another cat, her in-law, emerges from the misty shadows. It is so dark out that she is only able to decipher the line of her skull and the tips of her fur from the outlying darkness.

"Why did you ask me to come here?" she fires off at once, no aggression present in her tone or features, only a clear desire to understand why she was summoned at such a late hour burning as an insatiable thirst within her.

There is a slight rustling of paws against moist moss, which causes her keen ears to twitch, but due to the impenetrable blackness of the night, it is unclear whether or not her kin has taken a seat.

"Because," her kin sighs wearily, "you need to know the truth. You and Ashfall" her kin cringes, that much is clear by the way she pauses as she mews it, "misunderstood me, all those moons ago. When we were kits in the nursery, it wasn't him I was interested in, it was you. I've never loved him the way I love you.. I went along with it because I knew the Clan would never approve.

"Every moon I was away from you after I left the Clan, it was painful. When I finally came back, though, he thought it was him that I missed. You didn't see me staring at you, because you were too wrapped up talking with my brother. I love you, not Ashfall."

She blanches at her kin beneath her black fur, astonished by the confession. Love me? she thinks, scrambling desperately for words to respond with. But it is obvious, even in the dark, that she has been knocked off her paws by the avowal, and what words she may have had on her tongue before were no longer important and did not apply to what had been said.

"I-I—" she mumbles, head bowed in the defeat of having no clue in what to respond with.

"Me too," she replies, sounding, if she is not mistaken, embarrassed. "I've never told any cat before—who could I tell? Don't answer that, it's rhetorical," her kin adds tartly, before she can summon the will to take advantage of the open-ended question.

"That's what I like about you," her kin meows after a heartbeat, with a voice twisted with wistfulness. "You support me in raising my kits, while my mate doesn't even visit me! You must love me somehow, even if it's just because we're related."

"Of course I do," she mews weakly, hating how vulnerable she is. She is so open in her fetal fear, something she hasn't felt since she was a kit stolen from the nursery. She had sworn to StarClan she would never allow herself to show such unwarrior-like cowardice, yet here she is, mentally cowering in the sight of something too much for her to handle.

"You do?" her kin asks, and she can see her outline recoiling in the dark out of surprise.

A fraction of her confidence seizes her, forcing a half-hearted reply to make itself heard.

"Yeah, Featherstripe. I love my Clan-mates." She knows that this isn't what her sister-in-law wants to hear, but she has to force her away somehow, no matter what the cost.

The Clan does not need this kind of drama, not in leaf-bare, not when there are so many on the brink of death. She feels a prickle of irritation as she glares towards Featherstripe, whose reflective eyes shine with hurt.

"But you don't love me anymore than the rest, do you, Ravenwing?" Featherstripe asks after a tense silence. Now it is Ravenwing's time to quail, although she knows she isn't shrinking back because of shock. It's something more, something she doesn't want to admit.. it's the way Featherstripe says her name. She feels bubbling remorse and anger inside of her that her sister-in-law can cause such a reaction in her, and she retaliates with a growl.

"No," Ravenwing replies ruthlessly, "In fact, I love Rabbitfur more than I love you, or any of the other cats in our Clan. As expected. We are mates after all." She regrets the tearing that hurts so terribly—it feels like her ribs are cleaving back to expose her heart—as she lies for the welfare of her Clan. Ravenwing has never really loved Rabbitfur the way she should as his mate, but she does love him enough to lie about her affection and bear his kits.

Featherstripe does not disguise the pain she feels with equally vengeful words, and instead lets out a small, pitiful whimper. Ravenwing has never seen her lose herself that way before, and all pretenses of anger vanish from her.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs ruefully, cross that she's made Featherstripe resort to such a deplorable state. "I didn't mean it, Featherstripe—I only said it because we can't feel this way about each other."

Her sister-in-law pauses, and the hope she exudes into in air is almost tangible. "We can't feel this way? You said we, which means you love me, too."

"Yeah," Ravenwing's voice falters, dismayed that Featherstripe has noticed that she had slipped 'we' in. There's no pause this time before Featherstripe practically flings herself exultantly at her sister-in-law, a purr thrumming in her throat. Ravenwing cannot help but purr herself, pressing her cheek against the side of Featherstripe's neck.

"I can't believe you love me, too!" Featherstripe crows, as if she's bragging about the commitment she and Ravenwing are bound by.

"The feeling's mutual," Ravenwing murmurs in a subdued voice that goes unnoticed because of Featherwhisker's joy, which is enough for the two of them combined.

She knows that she should not have apologized, and that she should have turned her back on Featherstripe as she whimpered pitiably, a broken mess on the moss-clad banks of the river. But Ravenwing knows that Featherstripe's pain is her pain, and she's a cowardly enough to let them go on in order to preserve herself.

She's a sick, weak mess, unworthy of her bloodline.

This was written for the TacoClan Writing Challenge! It didn't turn out very fluffy, did it? XD

Mostly AU. Special thanks to Shimmertail for being my Beta Reader.