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Brothers' Reunion

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Only five days as an apprentice, and I already managed to catch three pieces of fresh kill during a single hunting patrol! Just wait until the rest of the clan sees my catch! Dustpaw began to imagine the voices of his fellow clan mates in his head praising him. You must be so skilled and devoted to the clan to have caught all that prey! Bluestar is going to give you your warrior name in no time.

The brown tabby tom was beaming with pride as he strolled into ThunderClan camp carrying the remains of his recently caught fresh kill. Alongside him was his young friend, Sandpaw, and Dustpaw's mentor, Redtail. Redtail had taken the two apprentices into the forest to catch food for the clan while Sandpaw's mentor, Whitestorm, was currently in the medicine den recovering from a minor leg injury. Dustpaw walked into camp taking in with him all the praise his hunting companions had given him on their way back. The group quickly laid the dead animals into the freshkill pile as onlookers watched with satisfied eyes. Redtail was now in the middle of informing some senior warriors of Dustpaw's great hunting display, when Dustpaw was suddenly distracted by the giggles of a certain lazy cat coming from the entrance of the apprentice den.

Dustpaw was all too familiar with that playful giggle. He had heard it almost everyday when he was a kit after all. It was the laughter of his brother Ravenpaw. Ravenpaw still acted immature in Dustpaw's eyes. Even after becoming an apprentice, and having his training be handled by Tigerclaw, the toughest Thunderclan warrior. Like he was some lousy kit who was still living in the nursery. That dumb lousy cat! I can't even enjoy all this praise with him around acting like a goofball.

Dustpaw turned around, ignoring the senior cat's discussion, in order to see the shape of his brother, a lean black tom with white chest fur and a white tipped tail. He was jumping and pouncing on something next to a rough patch of grass by the den's entrance. His childish laughter was filling Dustpaw's ears like an annoying gust of wind. Dustpaw frowned at his smaller brother before he realized the black cat was playing with a bright red bug that had black spots on its back.

A bug! Like that's gonna be enough to feed a single Thunderclan cat let alone a moon old kit. That weakling doesn't even look like he's trying to kill it! Just then Dustpaw made a devilish grin, and became determined to cause distress to his obnoxious brother.

Dustpaw quickly padded over to his brother's side still grinning. As he approached, Ravenpaw finally noticed him, and shrank his body to the ground. Ravenpaw looked down as if to expect cruel words from the brown tabby to spill out of his mouth and attack him.
"Umm... hi Dustpaw", Ravenpaw squeaked quietly as his brother settled beside him.

"Hey pipsqueak! What's this?" Dustpaw quickly asked with a fake tone of ignorance as he scooted the grass next to the entrance to reveal the red bug into his view.

Ravenpaw quickly became alarmed as he saw Dustpaw begin to swat ferociously at the bug. "Stop! Please don't hurt the little buggy! We were just playing hide and seek!"

"What's wrong Ravenpaw? I just want to play with it too."

"But you don't play very nice. You're gonna hurt him."

But Ravenpaw's pleas were too late. With one more massive swipe of his paws, Dustpaw had caught the bug as it tried to fly away, and Dustpaw swiftly squished the poor creature against the hard dirt floor. Dustpaw let out a triumphant laugh as he felt the bugs juices spread under his paw. "Dumb bug doesn't even make a fun toy if it dies that fast."

Just then, Ravenpaw squeaked and began to shake as tears began to stream from his large violet eyes after having just seen Dustpaw kill his newest bug friend.

"You meanie!" *hic* "You killed the poor little buggy!" Ravenpaw cried as Dustpaw continued to laugh and jeer at the young tom. Although the two cats had just been made official ThunderClan apprentices, they were still young, and fresh out of the nursery.

As other members of ThunderClan began to look at the source of the black tom's cries, Ravenpaw started to shout "Mommy! Mommy! Dustpaw killed my buggy friend!"

Dustpaw immediately stopped laughing at these words. His self indulgent laughter had instantly been replaced with anger as he swatted the paw he had killed the bug with at the left ear of his crying brother. He continued to hit Ravenpaw as his brother cried for him to stop.
"You no good lousy cat! Shut up! SHUT UP ALREADY!" Dustpaw shouted. "Mom's dead, and she's not coming back just because you cry for help! Grow up already and stop acting like a lousy good for nothing."

Dustpaw loathed the way his smaller brother acted so weak and scared all the time. Ever since their mothers recent death half a moon before the two toms' apprenticeship, Dustpaw had grown to believe that strength and the skill to survive were all that mattered in life out in the forest. Dustpaw had quickly accustomed himself to live more independently, and with this he began to dislike Ravenpaw for not being able to mature at the same rate as him.

Ravenpaw continued to cry, and with barely intelligible speech he mustered to say "I love you Dustpaw. Please don't be mean to me anymore." Sorrow filled Ravenpaw's bright eyes as he begged his brother to be nicer. Just then Dustpaw stopped himself from swatting at the black tom again as his heart began to ache with sorrow of his own.  He looked at Ravenpaw's sorrow filled eyes, and seemed to recognize that he was acting overly cruel to him. The world then immediately grew dark. No more freshkill pile, and no more cats watching him and his brother bicker.

From Dustpaw's perspective, the world became just Ravenpaw as he cried innocently into the surrounding darkness. Why was I hurting him? Why was I so angry? Dustpaw asked himself as he began to feel regret for his cruel treatment of his brother. Dustpaw's lips quivered as he began to apologize to Ravenpaw, but his words became silenced as they came out of his mouth. Ravenpaw continued to helplessly cry as Dustpaw felt the space between them begin to grow. Now, Dustpaw wanted nothing more than to comfort his brother as he began to yell into the ever-growing void. "I'm sorry Ravenpaw! I love you too little brother! Please don't cry anymore", but his words weren't reaching Ravenpaw. At this point Dustpaw was also crying, hoping to tell his brother how much he meant to him. Please don't hate me Ravenpaw! I love you so much! So please don't cry anymore.

"I don't mean to alarm you, but there is something about your brother that I don't trust", the voice of Tigerclaw whispered to him. "I think he might be a ShadowClan spy."

No! I don't believe you! Dustpaw's mind was reeling as he struggled his way to the now distant Ravenpaw. Just then Dustpaw heard his half sister Frostfur hiss "Stay away from the kits you menace. I know all about you." More voices rang in Dustpaw's head until he was sure he was going to burst. Many voices were now shouting cruel words intended for his poor innocent brother.

No! Stop yelling at him! Can't you see he's hurting! Finally, as the rest of the voices were silenced, came the calm voice of that orange kittypet Firepaw who then meowed the words Dustpaw had hoped he would never have to hear. "Ravenpaw is dead. We found his body in ShadowClan territory." Suddenly, the world ended, and Dustpaw was alone.


 

"Ravenpaw?"

Dustpelt jerked his head upward as tears fell from his cheek. He raised his paws across his face to wipe away the tears before recollecting his thoughts and recognizing that he just woke up from a nap in the warriors den. Looking around, Dustpelt was glad that the den was empty except for one sleeping black and white tom who looked like he was still deep in slumber. Was that just a dream? No. More like another nightmare.

These past few days have been hard on Dustpelt's sleeping schedule, as naps would always end with him waking from some vivid memory from his past. Each one involved one of the many times he had cruelly tormented his brother Ravenpaw. However, this was the first time he had reacted so emotionally to such a dream. What would another cat think of me if they saw me cry like that so pitifully. Dustpelt began to sit up straight and groom the ruffled parts of his fur as he thought of how embarrassing he must look right now.

It all started four sunrises ago. That damn kittypet Fireheart had practically saved all of ThunderClan from the clutches of Tigerclaw. The scene was all too familiar to Dustpelt. Tigerclaw had betrayed the honor of the Warrior Code by staging an attack on ThunderClan meant to end in the death of their current leader, Bluestar. But it was Fireheart who was the one to save their leader's life, and also the one who exposed Tigerclaw's treachery.

Tigerclaw was the one who murdered Redtail, the most honorable warrior I had ever met and had the privilege to be apprenticed too. And it was Tigerclaw who had threatened the safety of my brother Ravenpaw, after Ravenpaw had accidentally witnessed Redtail's murder. But it wasn't Tigerclaw who had haunted his dreams. No. It was the images of his dead brother, or at least the brother I had believed to be dead for the past several moons.

Those four sunrises ago, Fireheart had also revealed something that had made Dustpelt filled with the conflicting emotions of happiness and anxiety. The fact that his brother Ravenpaw was actually alive, and currently living in a barn outside of WindClan territory. When they were still apprentices, Fireheart had told Ravenpaw to leave ThunderClan. Apparently it was Fireheart's best solution to keep his friend safe while Tigerclaw had roamed around ThunderClan. Ever since that fateful revelation, Dustpelt had been unable to think of anything but his beloved brother Ravenpaw.

How long has it been? Seven moons? Eight moons since I had started to believe Ravenpaw was dead? Ever since then Dustpelt had lived with so much guilt. So much time had been spent thinking about Ravenpaw, and how he would never be able to apologize for all those cruel words said to him. Never to see his scared eyes dart back and forth when he heard the slightest strange noise. And never to see his sweet, innocent little smile. At least not until it was Dustpelt's time to join him in StarClan. I was ready to go on with my whole life waiting to be able to apologize to him one day. My whole life having hated myself for the words I wasn't able to say back then. But now it's different. Now I know my brother is out there in some barn waiting for me to return to him. Ravenpaw. I want to see him again. No! I need to see him again! Aghhhhh! Dustpelt's fur began to itch with frustration as he began to pace out into the midday sunlight.

He stretched and looked swiftly across the camp. No one's around. Most cats are probably uneasy right now. I'd imagine they're all trying to keep their minds preoccupied hunting, or checking borders right now. I don't blame them. This camp had felt like some kind of rancid pile of jokes ever since Tigerclaw had been banished. A clan full of secrets is what this was. But I need to find him. As much as I'd hate to admit it, I need  the kittypet's help. Dustpelt began to pace around the clearing with his head full of agonizing thoughts when suddenly ThunderClan's medicine cat, Yellowfang, had just strolled into camp. This is probably the first time I have ever been excited to see her. I must really be going crazy. Dustpelt eyed the gray medicine cat curiously as she carried a bundle of herbs in her mouth towards the medicine den.

Before entering, she glanced at Dustpelt, before dropping her bundle of herbs onto the floor and exclaiming "You got bees in your brain, or are you just gonna stare at me all day?"

Dustpelt winced at these words. Although Dustpelt had personally prided himself over his collective nature, he never actually felt comfortable around the former ShadowClan medicine cat. Personally, Dustpelt would choose a battle against four RiverClan warriors over her harsh meows any day of the week. It annoyed him, but he kind of admired her abrasiveness. "Er... do you know where Fireheart is? I think I need a word with him right now."

"You think, or you know?", Yellowfang perked up with a faint smile. "Hah! Well if that's all you wanted you should have spoken up earlier. He should be in the medicine den right now", Yellowfang meowed as she picked up her herbs from the floor, and walked into the medicine den. What is Fireheart doing in the medicine den? Did that kittypet find some new lame way to hurt himself? Oh wait. He's a deputy now. Maybe he's helping the medicine cats apprentice with some strange StarClan business, or something. Dustpelt didn't really understand all too much about how StarClan worked, but he didn't really question it that often either. Knowing all about StarClan was the job of the clans medicine cats after all. Dustpelt did one more lap over the clearing before finally deciding to barge into the medicine den's entrance.


 

As Dustpelt got closer to the medicine cat den, he picked up the scent of ThunderClan's two medicine cats, as well as the familiar scent of ThunderClan's newly appointed deputy Fireheart and the scents of various herbs. What in Starclans name had Bluestar been thinking when she decided to appoint that kittypet as deputy. I suppose he did save her life. I'd probably want him around me at all times too if that were me. But a kittypet? What has this clan come too if kittypets are now more trustworthy than senior warriors?  Dustpelt's thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of voices as he made his way into the den.

"Just remember Fireheart. One poppy seed should be enough to relax you. We don't need our whole storage being used up by one cat after all." That gentle voice came from the newest ThunderClan medicine cat, Cinderpelt, as she gave orders to Fireheart while pointing one paw downward to a small pile of gray seeds on the floor. Just then, Fireheart and Cinderpelt had both turned their heads to see Dustpelt stand at the entrance.

"Umm... Hey", Dustpelt stammered out his words in a strange neutral tone that clearly did not mask the fact that he didn't want to be talking to the orange green eyed tom. What are you doing Dustpelt? He's your deputy now, even if he is still a kittypet.

Fireheart had a somewhat confused expression that quickly evaporated into a small, friendly smile. "Hello Dustpelt. I'm glad to see you up and about again."

Dustpelt quickly flashed the orange tom a look of resentment as he said "And what's that supposed to mean? You think I've been neglecting my warrior duties, or something?" 

"What! No! I was just worried about how you were feeling right now, is all." Fireheart was clearly referring to the unsettling news the whole clan had received not too long ago. It's true that some cats, like myself, have been taking this information in an awkward way. Dustpelt smoothed the fur on his back, and tried to look more relaxed.

What are you doing, Dustpelt? He was just asking a question out of consideration. Recently, Dustpelt had become increasingly more aware of how much of a jerk he can be to others sometimes.

"Sorry", Dustpelt said with a bow of his head. "I didn't mean to get so defensive." This apology was clearly enough for Fireheart, as his smile had returned almost as soon as the words had left Dustpelt's mouth.

Yellowfang chimed in with a chuckle and a grin, "Sorry. I should have told you two this hothead was on his way in."

Cinderpelt responded assuredly, "Oh no. It's alright Yellowfang. Really." The dark gray she-cat then turned to Dustpelt before she meowed "So, is there anything I can help you with?"

"No. Nothing really. I just wanted to have a word with the kittyp... I mean, Fireheart for a moment." Nice catch mouse brain.

Fireheart really looked surprised now before Cinderpelt responded. "We were just about finished here really", she said with a polite smile before she turned back to Fireheart. "Just remember. We're low on stock, so don't take them too often."

"Of course Cinderpelt. I'll see you again later." responded Fireheart. Poppy seeds huh. Those are usually used for pain relief and for falling asleep easier. Fireheart must also be stressed right now, obviously. Fireheart then picked up a seed in his mouth before padding to the entrance and beckoning with his ear for Dustpelt to follow. As they padded into the empty clearing, Fireheart dropped the sole poppy seed and meowed "So... what do you want to talk about Dustpelt?"

In the warm sunlight, Fireheart glowed with a golden sheen that made him look rather admirable to Dustpelt. Dustpelt didn't like thinking positively of Fireheart. But there was something about the way he looked that made Dustpelt twinge with embarrassment. Dustpelt turned his head away so he didn't have to look the other tom in the eyes. "I... I wanted to have a word with you about Ravenpaw, was all."

Fireheart's expression became more serious as he meowed "Yes. What about him?"

"It's just... Is it really true? Is Ravenpaw really alive?" Dustpelt had tried his best to hide his feelings, but ended up looking at Fireheart with a helpless expression.

"Dustpelt. Of course Ravenpaw is alive" Fireheart responded politely as Dustpelts expression revealed his uneasiness. "Is something wrong Dustpelt? Why do you ask"?

That's right. Fireheart probably doesn't know Ravenpaw is my brother. I had tried so hard to ignore him and his friends when I was an apprentice after all. I guess Ravenpaw didn't feel the need to tell Fireheart either. Not that I blame him for that. Oh StarClan! How could I have been so cruel to him?  "Fireheart. You know where Ravenpaw is right now, correct? I want to see him as soon as possible. I need to see that he's alive with my own eyes. So please, if you can take me to see him, I'd be more than grateful."

Fireheart looked into Dustpelt's eyes, and without questioning him responded by meowing "Of course I'll take you Dustpelt. I've already assigned patrols for the day, so I can take you right now if you wish." Fireheart answered with a caring tone.

Now? So soon! Dustpelt's heart started to beat fast as he became aware of his own longing to see his brother again. What should I say? What would he even think of me? As Dustpelt started to look distressed, Fireheart leaned in closer to Dustpelt and pressed his nose gently into his fur.

"Don't worry Dustpelt. He's living safely on Barley's barn right now. It should only take a couple of hours to get their." Fireheart said comfortingly. Dustpelt was taken aback with Fireheart's sudden display of affection, but he couldn't bring himself to pull away.

"Thank you." That's all Dustpelt could say. That's all he wanted to say really.

After a short moment Fireheart pulled away and hid his poppy seed in a nearby clump of grass for later. "Well, I'm ready when you are Dustpelt", Fireheart said with a now beaming smile across his warm looking face.

"Oh. Er... let's go then." Dustpelt quickly followed Fireheart on his way out of the camp. They started to walk their way towards the barn for a couple of minutes as Dustpelt was lost in thought. Barley's barn huh. We'd have to walk across the edge of WindClan territory to get there. I hope no cat bothers us on our way.

Dustpelt's mind raced with thoughts before they were interrupted by Fireheart's voice. "So, Ravenpaw huh. Didn't know you cared about him so much."

"Uh well. Ravenpaw's my brother." Dustpelt looked away shyly as he said this.

"What! Really! I had no idea. Why didn't either of you say anything before?" Those words slightly wounded Dustpelt as he half looked at the ground while they padded through the dappled lights of the forest.

"Yeah... I... he probably didn't say anything about it since I was... well you know. I'm not the most encouraging cat to be around." Complete fox heart is probably the description of myself I should have used. Dustpelt looked up at Fireheart and was surprised to see him with a thoughtful expression. This made Dustpelt perk up a little as he went on. "I want to apologize to him for all the harsh times I put him through. That's all", but Dustpelt knew that wasn't the complete reason. He knew deep down just how much he longed to see his sweet, gentle brother again.

Fireheart responded "Dustpelt. That's very kind of you. I'm glad I could accompany you on your little journey, even if we aren't really the closest cats around." Fireheart let out a short chuckle as he smiled at his walking companion.

"Yeah well, just don't expect us to be all buddy-buddy now or anything", Dustpelt said coldly.

"Haha. I'll keep that in mind Dustpelt", Fireheart said as he passed through a circle of sunlight created by gaps in the overhanging trees. Dustpelt couldn't help but feel calmer now walking beside such a bright figure, as he decided to let himself crack a little smile.


 

The weather was warm and sunny while the sun had become close to setting. Thin rays of light seeped through the holes of the old barn's ceiling as they crept onto the pelt of a sleeping black and white tom with long fur named Barley. He woke from his nap with a long yawn as he stretched his body over the small rays of sunlight. He gently scratched one of his ears with his hind leg before springing onto his paws and walking to the entrance of the barn that he called home.

After poking his head through the door and adjusting his sight to the day's light, Barley spotted the familiar figure of a lithe black tom with large ears as he sat on a fence looking away from the barn and toward the forest. The black tom's tail swung back and forth in a slow, rhythmic fashion.

Ravenpaw. Barley had known this cat for about eight moons now, and yet it felt like he had known him his whole life. Over these past eight moons, the two toms had grown very close to each other, and had developed a strong friendship. But a couple of moons ago, Barley's feelings for the other tom had started to change in a way that made him somewhat uncomfortable. Being around Ravenpaw nowadays sometimes made Barley feel embarrassed for reasons he didn't really understand. Even now, looking at the back of his dear friend made Barley aware that he had started to become attracted to the lean tom. Barley let out a quiet sigh as he stared at Ravenpaw.

He's staring out at the forest again. He must be thinking about those clan cats. Barley couldn't help but feel a little upset with the thought of his friend thinking about the clans as often as he did, but Barley tried not to let it bother him too much. It was Ravenpaw's birthplace after all.  Ravenpaw had been born and raised in ThunderClan only to leave eight moons ago. Unfortunately, Ravenpaw had witnessed the murder of one of his fellow clanmates, and was apparently forced to leave and had to take refuge with Barley on his barn.

Barley was a little hesitant at first, but he decided to take the Ravenpaw in as he couldn't bear to turn away such a troubled looking cat. Barley understood that Ravenpaw must always be longing for the days he had once lived, surrounded by his friends and family before that life changing incident. However, Barley was very aware of his own insecurities. No matter how happy Ravenpaw seemed, Barley would always have the nagging thoughts in the back of his mind telling him that Ravenpaw could be happier. This isn't where he wants to be. Living in an old rickety barn with a boring cat like me. I wish I could be better. I wish I wasn't such a lousy cat.

Barley shook his head in an attempt to brush the thoughts away as he decided to walk over to the fence and join his kind friend's side. As he approached, Ravenpaw's ears twitched as he turned to greet his friend with a welcoming smile. But Barley couldn't help but notice Ravenpaw's forlorn look in his eyes as he smiled. Ravenpaw had tried not to show it, but Barley knew he was sad. My poor, dear friend's heart must ache with longing to return to his old home.

The sadness in his friend's eyes was quickly replaced with relief as Barley padded closer, as if he couldn't bear another minute being alone with his thoughts. Ravenpaw used his left paw to pat the space next to him on the fence, beckoning Barley to sit. Barley leapt to his companions side as he let out a wide toothy grin back at Ravenpaw. Ravenpaw responded with a giggle that made Barleys heart feel like it was going to melt. "Hey Barley! Finally awake I see." He giggled again as he nudged his larger friend's side with the top of his head. Barley couldn't help but start purring.

"You know what I always say Ravenpaw." Barley meowed confidently. "A nap a day keeps the yawns away." Barley let out a hardy chuckle at his own joke.

"Oh. I'm pretty sure I caught you napping earlier this morning as well."

"Oh that. That was just a back up nap. Gotta have one early sometimes just in case I forget later," Barley meowed. Ravenpaw then began to purr at his friend's silly reasoning as he edged close enough for their pelts to touch.

The sky was a strange blue-green color that Barley was not used to seeing too often. And for a couple moments the two cats were silent. Content with simply sharing each other's company. Barley wondered if all his insecurities about Ravenpaw's homesickness was for nothing. He had hoped that was true at least. The thoughts continued to stew in Barleys mind until he couldn't help but let out the question. "So um. You miss it, right? Your old home." 

"Of course I do silly tom, but it's not like I can just go back. Besides. Even if I could, I wouldn't leave you all alone on the barn Barley." Ravenpaw began to groom his friend's chest with gentle licks. "You're not worried I'm gonna get up and leave, are you?"

"Of course not. I was just curious," Barley answered shyly. Ravenpaw's words comforted Barley immensely. However, Barley couldn't help but feel like he was just holding Ravenpaw back. Both the toms were shy, but Barley was especially uncomfortable around groups of cats. Ravenpaw at least knew how to be sociable. Barley however, was like a wet sack of hay whenever unfamiliar cats made their way around the barn. He had lived here alone half of his life after all. Ravenpaw was an exception to Barley social awkwardness, although he wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it was because of their similar pasts. Or maybe they just had compatible natures. All he knew was that Ravenpaw made him happy.

Ravenpaw meowed "Well if you are worrying Barley, you can talk to me about it. I'll always be around to listen to you." They then smiled at each other and pressed their noses together.

I love him. I love him with all my heart.

Just then, a gentle breeze had caused Barley's ear to twitch as he recognized the faint scent of a distant memory he had hoped he wouldn't have had to remember.

Bone! But why? Why is that cat here? Why now? Barleys mind raced with thought as he caught the unmistakable scent of his phantoms' past. It filled Barley with a torrent of negative emotions. Dread, annoyance, confusion, and sorrow. The scent was coming from the other side of the barn. Ravenpaw must have picked up the scent as Barley noticed his friend tense up with a surprised look on his face. It must have shocked him as the scent had come from the opposite direction of where the clans had lived. "Ravenpaw. Stay here," Barley meowed with a serious tone.

"What! Are you serious? Barley. I'm coming with you. No matter what you say."

Barley didn't feel like arguing right now, so he decided not to retort against his friend. He was usually quick to resign himself this way. Barley had never been one for arguments. As much as Barley really didn't want his friend around for this, he had also recognized that the scent only belonged to one cat. One cat who wasn't the type to pick fights without backup. Calm down Barley. It's gonna be fine. That life is behind you now, and he can't drag you back into it. You're not alone anymore.

Barley jumped back down the fence alongside Ravenpaw as he started to anxiously pad his way towards the scent. Barley felt his heartbeat quicken with each passing step. Every slight noise would make his pelt shiver. Barley didn't fear what this cat was going to do. He feared what the cat was going to say. Barley felt as if hours had passed by as he and Ravenpaw rounded the corner to the other side of the barn. Immediately, Barley caught the sight of another black and white tom that looked strikingly similar to himself, but larger and stronger looking. It was as if all the memories had just erupted into Barley's mind as he recalled the events of his past with this cat.

Bone, a fellow member of BloodClan, Barleys former home. It was there that Barley was born and raised. On the gray concrete forest that had swarmed with twolegs and those foul smelling metallic monsters was where BloodClan lay. The memories of dark ally's filled with cruel cats who had ruthlessly fought each other over scraps of food and places to sleep. BloodClan was less like a clan, and more like an organized way to keep strong cats thriving while the weaker cats wasted away. Barley had escaped this life as well as his family there many moons ago. He had always hated it there. The way BloodClan's bosses would so casually doom the lives of any cats who were deemed inefficient, and the way they made sure that cats would always fend for themselves above others. He was never able to get used to life there, but he couldn't bring himself to leave either.

It wasn't until his innocent sister, Violet, had been attacked by Barley's own kin that had made Barley summon up the courage to finally leave. Violet was his light growing up. The sweetest cat he had known in that wretched, dark place. After they had escaped, Violet had decided to live a safe life in the den of twolegs. Although he loved her, Barley had decided to part ways as he preferred life a little farther away from those large creatures. That's when he found the barn.

The cat before him was a cat that Barley had been assigned to group up with in his old home. Bone was the boss of his clowder. A strong willed cat who had the capability to dish out words that were as strong as his strikes. He was well known in BloodClan for his strong personality. He was a rowdy cat who was always laughing and joking. It made cats flock to him, but Barley couldn't relate. He found Bones jabbing nature to be insufferable. All the laughing and jeering made it impossible to tell when he was serious or not. Apparently, the feelings were not mutual, as Bone had always used to tout Barley as one of his favorite toms to be around. Barley had never really understood why this cat had wanted him in his group anyway, but that didn't matter now.

Did he come back for revenge against my desertion? Or did he come back to try to get me to rejoin his clowder?

Bone was looking up at a hole in the barn's roof that creeped slightly off the side of the wall before he slowly turned his head to his direction. His face was blank, and for a couple seconds they just stared at each other. Barley opened his mouth to speak, but his voice cracked before he was able to meow. "Bone. What... what are you doing here?"

Bone immediately grew a wide smile as his eyes lit up with what looked like pure joy. "Barley you big rat! I finally found you". Barley started to panic as the other tom had started rushing towards him with an unexpected burst of speed. Suddenly, Barley was pressed up against Bone with a tight squeeze. "It's so good to finally see you again little brother," Bone yelled obnoxiously as he started to rub his right paw roughly against the top of Barleys head. "How have you been, you dirty son of a bitch!"

"Hey! Stop that," Barley screeched as he tried and failed to pull himself away from the larger tom. Although he hated Bone's loud shouting and roughness, Barley couldn't help but feel somewhat relieved that his pelt wasn't currently being torn to shreds right now. Bone was just as unpredictable as he had been back then. Was he not upset at all at my desertion?

"Umm... Barley. Do you know this cat?" Ravenpaw asked with a shocked, yet relieved expression. Poor tom must have been scared stiff with the way I was anxiously reacting to Bones scent.

Bone finally let go of Barley as he let out a scheming grin at the sight of his friend. "And who is this scrawny fellow? Wait let me guess." Bone walked his way over to Ravenpaw giving him a quick inspection.

Barley couldn't help but move himself closer to Ravenpaw with a protective stance close enough for their pelts to touch.

Bone gave a thoughtful expression before he exclaimed far too loudly "Ohhhhh! I get it! This must be your mate. I see you caught yourself a real cutie too."

"What!" Barley could barely believe what he just heard. His face instantly grew hot with embarrassment as he stared at Bone with wide eyes.

"Hah! Got it on my first try huh." Bone meowed with a smug expression. With a quick glance, Barley noticed Ravenpaw giggling at this strange cat's meows. Was he blushing underneath that black fur? 

"No! You're actually wildly off base with this one." shouted Barley. "Ravenpaw's my friend! We just live in the barn together, is all."

"Suuuure. I bet you two just happen to share the same sleeping spot too, huh." Bone's remark caused Ravenpaw to laugh again. "Barley, come on! You don't gotta be embarrassed of your mate. He's a real looker. Honestly." Barley glared at Bone in a very unamused way. Bone gave Ravenpaw a kind smile. "Sorry. Don't think I properly introduced myself yet. Name's Bone. I'm this smelly cat's brother," he meowed as he gave Barley's shoulder a familial shove.

"I'm Ravenpaw," the black tom answered back politely. All his tension seemed to have vanished now. "I didn't know Barley had a brother. He rarely talks about his past."

Bone looked hurt by these words, but in a fake kind of way. "What! How cruel of my own brother not to tell his mate about me. Honestly. I'm wounded Barley."

Barley sighed and turned to Ravenpaw. "Don't listen to him Ravenpaw. Me and him don't share a single drop of blood between us." While me and Bone do look uncannily similar, it was true that they really weren't related. Although, now that I think about it, Bone always did like to tell others we were brothers. It used to make Barley really uncomfortable when he noticed other cats actually started to believe him. Because of this, Barley was always treated with much more respect than he thought he deserved. Does Bone think this is funny, or something? I can't believe he's still sticking with that old bit.

"Ah, come on. Stop being such a bully little bro," Bone meowed with wide sad emerald eyes that immediately melted back into amusement.

Barley noticed Ravenpaw's growing confusion, so Barley decided to fill him in. "Me and this cat used to be acquaintances. Back when I used to live in the big twoleg place."

Bone chimed in meowing "Yeah! We were inseparable back then. This tom used to cling to my tail all the time back when he was a little guy."

Ravenpaw gasped. "Aw! You knew Barley when he was a kit. I bet he was a cute little fluffy, guy. Heehee."

Why does he have to look so cute when he giggles like that. I'm already embarrassed enough as it is Ravenpaw.

"Oh trust me. He was the cutest around. But between you and me, he was also the stinkiest little kit." Now they were both laughing. Bone with his gruff chuckle, and Ravenpaw with his soft giggles.

"Ravenpaw. Please don't encourage him," Barley meowed.

"Haha. Sorry Barley. I can't help it," Ravenpaw meowed with such an innocent smile.

Barley sighed for a second time before finally asking Bone what was on his mind. "Bone. Why are you here?"

"What do you mean? I just wanted to visit my favorite brother." He started to squeeze Barley again. "Uh, well I guess that's one of the reasons. To tell you the truth I'm actually waiting for someone. Top secret meeting. Your barn just happened to be close by, and I got kind of nostalgic." Bone put one paw up to his mouth. "Just don't tell anyone. Kay. Wouldn't be top secret if you blabbed about it."

"You wouldn't have to worry about that if you didn't show up here you know," Barley responded coldly.

Bone responded with a laugh. "Haha. Stop pretending you're not dying of happiness to see me Barley. So, are you gonna let me in the barn, or not? It's kind of stuffy out here, and I still have some time until my meeting."

As much as Barley wanted the older tom to just leave him and his friend in peace, he begrudgingly looked to Bone and meowed "Fine. I suppose it can't hurt."

"Now that's the spirit!" Bone started padding to the barn's entrance as he pointed his tail at Ravenpaw. "And boy do I have some more stories to tell you about me and my little brother here."

"I'm looking forward to them Bone," Ravenpaw meowed, still smiling. He then glanced with a sorry look back at Barley. "Of course, if that doesn't bother Barley." He rested his tail on Barley's shoulder comforting him.

Barley smiled back at Ravenpaw. "I don't mind Ravenpaw. It might actually do me some good reminiscing after all." Yeah right. And then hedgehogs would probably start flying too. Ravenpaw looks happy though. I don't want to ruin his good time right now. It's true that Ravenpaw's joy did make Bone's sharp words a lot more bearable. He wanted to nudge his friend affectionately, but Bone's smug look made Barley rethink this.

Bone meowed enthusiastically. "Great! I can't wait to see what your new pads like."

As they all made their way into the shade of the barn, Barley thought to himself. Great. This night's going to be just wonderful.


 

Dustpelt's paws were starting to ache unbearably from travel before Barley's barn had finally come into his and Fireheart's views. Finally! I can't wait to see Ravenpaw, but now I'm almost just as excited to finally stop walking. My paws are killing me. Dustpelt and Fireheart had thankfully travelled past Four Trees and the WindClan border without stirring up any inter clan trouble. Although the whole trip had also been a little awkward as he had been mostly silent to his clanmate the whole time. Each time Fireheart had tried to start a conversation, he had been met with short responses from Dustpelt, and a gloomy look on the tabby toms face. He didn't really want to talk with Fireheart, and all the walking didn't really help with that either.

"Dustpelt! Look!" Fireheart meowed. "We finally made it." Fireheart also looked tired, but still looked like he could go for a while. Not wanting to look less impressive, Dustpelt began to pick up his pace. The sun had just started to set, covering a layer of orange over the land around them that made Fireheart look especially red.

"Thank StarClan. The others back at ThunderClan are probably gonna be wondering where we are if we take too long," Dustpelt meowed. "Come on. Just a little further."

Fireheart then turned to Dustpelt with a friendly expression as they padded. "So. How are you feeling? Anxious?"

Was it that obvious? Dustpelt hoped he didn't look too pitiable right now. "Maybe just a little". Dustpelt's heart began to beat with excitement as he started to realize that in just a few moments he would once again see his beloved brother that he had believed to be dead for so long. Fireheart must have noticed this too, as he started to smile encouragingly at Dustpelt as they approached the barns fence. Oh StarClan, we're already here. What do I say? What if my presence upsets him? Does he even want to see me again?

Dustpelt's fur twitched as Fireheart suddenly put his tail on his shoulder before meowing "You're gonna be okay Dustpelt. I'm here too."

StarClan I hate how much this is comforting me. Lousy kittypet! Let me stew in my angst!

Dustpelt took a deep breath before he started padding to the barn entrance. Inside he could hear the chatter of three cats. Three? I thought it was just him and Barley that lived here? Dustpelt hesitated for a second before finally mustering up the power to meow loudly. "Um... Ravenpaw! It's me Dustpelt. I um... came to visit you," Dustpelt meowed with a shake in his voice.

A moment later Ravenpaw's head poked out of the barn's entrance with wide round eyes. Those same eyes he remembered from what felt like so long ago. Dustpelt managed to meow a greeting. "H-hi Ravenpaw." For what felt like the longest two seconds of Dustpelt's life, Ravenpaw stared at him with a blank unreadable expression. What was I expecting? Ravenpaw must hate my guts right now. How dare I show myself to him after everything I put him through. I'm such a-. Just then Dustpelt's thoughts were interrupted by the falling tears that had just produced themselves from the eyes of his brother.

Ravenpaw's whole body quivered slightly as he meowed. "Dustpelt? It really is you. DUSTPELT!" Ravenpaw cried with joy and disbelief. At the same time Ravenpaw leapt off his paws, tackling Dustpelt onto the ground with a tight embrace. Ravenpaw's tears began to stain Dustpelt's fur as his brother continued to cry. "I'm sorry Dustpelt, but I'm so happy you finally came to see me! I missed you so much brother! I love you so much!"

Dustpelt tried with all his might to hold back his own tears, but he ended up failing in his effort. Now the two toms were on the ground crying into each other's pelts as they held onto each other with tight embraces. "*hic* Ravenpaw! Ravenpaw! Ravenpaw! I wanted to see you again so badly! I love you too Ravenpaw! I'm so sorry I hadn't come to see you sooner."

As the two siblings cried and cried, Fireheart couldn't help but allow himself to smile warmly for the two cats sake. Now Barley and Bone had made their way out of the barn to see what the commotion was about.

Bone was the first to interrupt the crying. "Barley. Why didn't you greet me like that?" Bone meowed with a genuine sounding tone. Barley appeared to ignore the question. "Oooooouch! Come on already. Cut me some slack." Bone groaned with a look of dejection.

Ravenpaw must have heard these meows as he had started to laugh joyfully still in his brother's grasp. It must have been infectious, as soon all five of the toms were soon sharing a laugh under the orange blanket of the setting sun.


 

It wasn't soon after the two toms crying had ended before all five cats were settled in a cozy corner of the barn. Fireheart and Dustpelt sat next to each other, and across from Ravenpaw and Barley, so that they could face each other in conversation. Once those four had sat, Bone had decided to take up a spot next to Barley. Dustpelt was eyeing his brother up and down as they began to relax.

Ravenpaw's fur is shiny, and his eyes are bright. He's still thin, but I think he looks well fed. Maybe even more well fed than me now that I take a closer look. I wonder what the hunting around this place is like. I wish I had studied his apprentice training more so I could know if I should be worried about him. No. I'm overthinking things. Ravenpaw actually looks as healthy as I've ever seen him. Ravenpaw's eyes were still a little wet when he sat down brushing his pelt against Barley. Suddenly, Dustpelt wondered if he was happy here. Are him and Barley close? I heard stories of the barn cat being antisocial. I wonder if Ravenpaw is happy here being alone with a cat like him. Surely Ravenpaw is gonna be thrilled when I tell him it's finally safe for him to return home. And who is this other cat? He had introduced himself earlier as Barley's brother, but for some reason, I think I saw Barley give him an unapproving glare. Maybe all that crying like a kit was making me see things. As much as Dustpelt's curiosity peaked with questions, he knew that they didn't take priority over what he had originally come here to ask.

But before Dustpelt could ask, Ravenpaw had already started meowing. "I'm so happy you decided to visit me Dustpelt! And you too Fireheart," Ravenpaw meowed affectionately. "I'm always so happy when ThunderClan cats come to visit me," Ravenpaw meowed before a short joyful laugh. "But wait! Where's Graystripe? Hopefully nothing bad had happened to him, right," Ravenpaw asked now with a hint of concern.

Dustpelt and Fireheart both glanced at each other. Well don't look at me kittypet. Ravenpaw and Graystripe are your buddies. Fireheart then decided to answer Ravenpaw as if Fireheart had read Dustpelt's thoughts. He told him about how Graystripe had fallen in love with a RiverClan she-cat, how he had broken the code by getting her pregnant, and then ultimately how she had died giving birth to Graystripe's kits. Dustpelt wasn't around when it happened, but he could imagine how horrible it must have been. Even if she was a RiverClan cat, Dustpelt thought it was sad thinking about the poor kits growing up without her.

He felt less sorry for Graystripe, as Fireheart continued on about how Graystripe then decided to take the kits with him to live in RiverClan. Each passing word had made Fireheart's expression grow more and more sad. Dustpelt personally thought Graystripe was a joke of a tom, but he reconsidered his harsh feelings a little when he now saw the sorrow in his brother's eyes.

"That's horrible. Why did this have to happen to such a close friend?" Ravenpaw meowed as he got up to nudge Fireheart's side. "You and him must have gone through so much while I was gone. I'm so sorry Fireheart." Fireheart pressed his head against Ravenpaw as they comforted each other.

"It's fine now Ravenpaw. It was his decision after all. I'm starting to get over it." Did I detect dishonesty in the orange tom's tone? I'm not sure, but I do have to admit, it must be tough having both of your closest friends leave the clan you called home. Oh what am I feeling sorry for him for? Dustpelt suddenly recalled the fact that his own friend growing up, Sandstorm, had started to spend less time with him, and more time with Fireheart. Dustpelt felt a twinge of sorrow and anger in his heart at the thought of Fireheart moping around while his best friend mooned after him like a love sick dove. I'm not jealous! I just wish Sandstorm would talk to me about it instead of pretending like she doesn't even have a crush. I wouldn't be mad with her if that's what she thinks. Ahhh! Dustpelt! Stop being upset mouse brain. You should be happy right now.

Dustpelt decided to break the silence in order to escape his current thoughts. "Um... that's not all that's changed recently Ravenpaw," Dustpelt meowed with a growing excitement in his voice. "Tigerclaw has been banished from ThunderClan. This kittypet here revealed the truth to everyone. Now every cat knows what a treacherous pile of fox dung he was."

Ravenpaw gasped at Dustpelt with a look of astonishment, and fear, as if the mere mention of the murderer's name had sent Ravenpaw down a spiraling path of dark memories he had wanted to keep buried within him. He then turned to Fireheart. "Is this true? Is Tigerclaw really gone?"

Fireheart answered him. "It's true Ravenpaw. Tigerclaw is no longer considered a ThunderClan warrior as of four sunrises ago."

"So much really has happened while I was gone." Ravenpaw meowed helplessly. "I've been here this whole time not being able to do anything. I'm... I'm so sorry Fireheart," Ravenpaw meowed with enough disappointment in his voice to make Dustpelt shiver. Shouldn't he have been happy with this news? It's not like Ravenpaw had a choice in abandoning ThunderClan. This place was where he was safest. Does my brother hate himself for not being there to help his friends?

Dustpelt responded just as Fireheart was opening his mouth. "Ravenpaw. You don't have to be sorry. You should be glad," Dustpelt meowed not being able to control the shape of a smile from appearing on his face. "It means you can finally return with us to ThunderClan. You're finally safe to come home with us."

Instead of being greeted with happiness at the news, like Dustpelt had expected, the atmosphere in the barn became blanketed by silence and shock. Dustpelt thought he saw the tips of Barleys ears twitch with uneasiness with the revelation. Ravenpaw's ears flattened while his eyes became clouded with sadness. Ravenpaw seemed to have shrank a little as he glanced at Barley, and then back at him. Was he really this close to the loner? Was Ravenpaw actually hesitating to come back with me? Or did he realize that I might still be the same jerk I was to him back when we were apprentices? I wouldn't blame him. Maybe I still am.

"Ravenpaw. What's wrong? Aren't you happy"? Dustpelt asked Ravenpaw with a tinge of disappointment in his meow. Fireheart looked as though he had understanding in his eyes as he stared at Ravenpaw, and then to Dustpelt. What did he know that I didn't? Oh StarClan! Why did I have to distance myself from Ravenpaw when we were younger?

Ravenpaw finally produced a kind smile as he looked Dustpelt in the eyes. "Dustpelt. I'm happy you want me back in ThunderClan! Truly I am! But this is my new home now. I think I would rather stay here on the barn alongside Barley." It was exactly as Dustpelt had dreaded. Dustpelt took a step back as if he had been buffeted by a strong gust of wind as he opened his mouth to speak. But Barley was faster.

Barley spoke with concern in a near shout. "Ravenpaw! How could you say that? Don't you want to return to your old life? To your family and friends?"

Ravenpaw hesitated for a moment as he looked at Barley. He then shot back with an intensity in his tone that Dustpelt had not known was possible from the black tom. "Of course I do Barley! But I already told you! I'm going to stay on the barn with you."

Barley really was shouting now as he responded. "Please think about this Ravenpaw. Don't you want to return back to your old life? You'd be happier there than on this old barn."

Ravenpaw then responded with soft meows. "Barley. Do you want me to leave?" Ravenpaw's question seemed to stab Barley through the chest.

"Of course I don't! I... but.. surely I'm not worth staying here for." Barley meowed with a shaking voice. That poor tom looked like he hated his own guts right now. Dustpelt couldn't help but feel his own hurt fade away as he saw Barley begin to shed tears that fell gingerly down his cheeks. He really didn't want Ravenpaw to leave. "Surely I can't mean that much to you."

Ravenpaw quickly rushed his way to Barley's side as he buried his head into the blue eyed tom's chest. "Oh Barley. You mean so much more to me than you think, you silly tom. I want to be in the barn here with you because you're here. I love ThunderClan, but I... I love you too Barley, and I'm serious about staying," Ravenpaw meowed now with tears of his own slowly forming at the bottom of his eyes.

Barley's eyes had now opened up as wide as they appeared they could before he looked down to the shorter tom and meowed with a now more gentler tone "But you don't have to choose me Ravenpaw. I wouldn't blame you. I'll be depressed, but I could manage. I'll live content knowing you are living happily in ThunderClan. I'll be okay. Really."

Suddenly Bone had finally spoken up. "Stop lying to yourself already." Bone had stood up from his relaxed position in order to walk inches away from Barley, now meeting his eyes. Bone's personality had seemingly switched in the matter of seconds. It looked as if he was no longer the loud, obnoxious mouse brain I had originally made him out to be, as he now moved and spoke with the intensity similar to that of a clan leader. His eyes were powerfully fixed on Barley's as he continued meowing. "You say you'll be alright here alone? Hah! I bet a day wouldn't go by where you didn't cry and mope around the barn wishing he didn't leave. You were always a sappy cat like that."

This seemed to have provoked Barley, as he responded to Bone by shouting. "Don't just walk into my home, and butt into my affairs! I don't even know why you're here to begin with!" Barley hissed. "I left BloodClan a long time ago in case you forgot. And just what do you think you know about me anyways, huh?"

Bone's intensity was so great that Dustpelt half expected the larger black and white tom to swat at Barley, but instead he responded with a subdued tone that had surprised Dustpelt. "I know so much more about you than you think Barley. I know you're an awkward cat who hates being around others, and yet you fear the cold silence of loneliness. That's why you can't go back to living the way you did before you met Ravenpaw." Barley's eyes softened a bit as Bone continued.

"I can see it in your eyes friend. It's plain to see as the sun in the sky. You're the same cat I knew back then. That's why I can tell there's a new light in your eyes. You're happier now than you've ever been before." Boned sighed briefly. "No more awkwardness, and no more loneliness. It's all gone. And it's definitely because of that cat who had just chosen you over his own birthplace. He's already decided, and so have you. You just can't see it. That's why I'm only going to say this once little brother. If you do not respect this other tom's decision to stay with you, then you are disrespecting the very love that you had caused him to feel for you. Hmph. I think you'd be disrespecting your own feelings as well." Ravenpaw glanced at Barley, and back at Bone. Bone met Ravenpaw's brief gaze as his face became warm and caring, like the face of a parent trying their best to scold their kit without making them cry. "Just be here for each other is all. That's clearly what Ravenpaw wants too, right?"

Barley looked like he was about ready to break at any moment, but instead he took a deep breath and looked at Ravenpaw. "Would you really rather stay here with me instead of going back to ThunderClan?"

Ravenpaw smiled at his friend and then meowed, their lips close enough to make Dustpelt begin to suspect certain things about their relationship. "How many times do I have to tell you Barley? This barn isn't my new home. You are." Ravenpaw meowed before giving Barley a gentle lick on the nose. Barley responded by nudging his head against Ravenpaws as they both began to purr while their pelts leaned against each other. They look just like mates. Could this be more than friendship? Can two toms even be mates? Dustpelt felt like he should be upset, but the pure look of happiness on his brother's face had stopped Dustpelt from feeling anything other than joy. And maybe even pride?

Bone then interrupted the tender moment with a cough. "Ahem. I guess that's settled with." Bone's easy going expression had finally returned to him as he smiled slyly at Fireheart and Dustpelt. "You're probably making these two feel mighty awkward right about now."

Ravenpaw then refocused his attention to Dustpelt while still pressing himself against his companion before he meowed. "I'm sorry Dustpelt. I hope I haven't offended you at all by refusing your offer."

Dustpelt understood his own disappointment, but he had also grown past it by the time he answered Ravenpaw. "It's okay Ravenpaw. Really," Dustpelt began to force a smile on his face. "I'll respect your decision no matter what it is. That's why I came here after all. I didn't just want to make sure you're alive. I also wanted to say something personal to you."

"Um, should I be here for this part Dustpelt?" Fireheart asked, knowing Dustpelt's discomfort with displaying his emotions in front of others.

"It's fine Fireheart. I doesn't need to be private." Dustpelt meowed. Ravenpaw now looked at his brother curiously. "Ravenpaw. I wanted to apologize for all the times I was a complete fox heart to you when we were apprentices. I didn't just say cruel things to you after all. I also hit you like I was some kind of cruel ShadowClan cat." Dustpelt choked a little as he recalled this and then bowed his head. "I'm so sorry I was such a terrible, no good cat to you. I hate myself for those actions more than you'd ever know. Really. I'm so sorry I hurt the cat who needed his brother more than anything. I would completely understand it if you don't want to accept my apology."

Ravenpaw slowly walked over to be in front of his brother as he rested his right paw on the top of Dustpelt's now kneeling head. "Don't worry Dustpelt. I forgive you because I love you." Ravenpaw meowed softly. "Even if I can't forget the way you hurt me when I wanted nothing more than to be comforted by you." Ravenpaw meowed beginning to tear up again. The poor cat had been crying far more than he deserved to tonight, and it's all my fault. "It was awful you know. I just couldn't understand why you were so mean to me. I loved you so much, and you treated me so cruelly." Ravenpaw had started to cry out now with so much sadness in his voice that Dustpelt shook a little. He looked just like the same cat in his dream this morning. The same cat who had cried and begged Dustpelt to stop hitting him. This feeling was unbearable. It was like Dustpelt was watching some cat cut through his brother's flesh, but the cat who was cutting Ravenpaw was Dustpelt himself.

Without a second thought Dustpelt raised his head and held onto Ravenpaw as tightly as he could. With a voice full of pain, Dustpelt meowed. "I'm so sorry Ravenpaw! I was such a disgusting cat when we were apprentices. I promise I'll never hurt you like that ever again. I want to be a changed cat! I want to be there for you all the time, and accept you for who you are no matter what! I know I can't undo the past, but please let me be different this time! Let me love you the same way you love me, my poor brother."

"Oh Dustpelt! Of course I'll let you. I love you too! I'm so happy to finally hear these meows come out of your mouth. I never stopped believing in you! I never stopped loving you, you know." Ravenpaw cried while shaking in his brother's embrace.

"I'll always be your family, even if you choose to live here on the barn! From now on ThunderClan will always be the place where your brother can love and protect you." Dustpelt meowed while realizing that he had shed more tears today than he had ever shed in his whole life. Things really are going to be different now! Ravenpaw is alive, and so am I!


 

By now the sun was finally down, and the sky was a pale violet as it had just begun to show the stars that flickered in the evening's twilight. The five cats had since relaxed after having just experienced an emotional scene together. Now they were chatting with pleasantries, and reminiscing about times of the past. As the light of the sky crept farther into darkness, Bone had realized that his visit would be over soon. But before leaving, he had decided it couldn't hurt to grab a mouse before heading out. "Hey Barley. You mind if I catch a mouse or two. Now that I'm thinking about it, it would do me some good to stretch out my muscles a little. Also, I can smell mice all around! Shit, Barley. Why didn't you tell me you lived in a place as cozy as this! I would have joined you if I knew this is where you were gonna be hanging around," Bone said with a sarcastic hint in his meow.

"Ha. Catch what you want, but I'm not inviting you to stay if that's what you're getting at," Barley replied coldly.

"Aw, come on. I wasn't serious about staying, but you didn't have to reject me like that you jerk," Bone meowed with a friendly smirk. All of Bone's sharp teeth were showing, and Dustpelt finally noticed just how intimidating this cat would look on a battlefield. That is, if he wasn't cracking jokes all over it.

Fireheart added after Bone had wiped the dejected look off his grin. "Actually, I wouldn't mind going for a quick hunt too. I can use a bite if I'm being honest."

"That sounds like fun Fireheart! I would love to hunt with you again. It would be just like old times, huh? Oh Dustpelt! We can finally hunt together after all these moons," Ravenpaw chirped with the excited look of a morning song bird. Dustpelt's heart warmed as he saw his brother so excited to spend quality time with him, but Dustpelt also knew this was his chance to speak with Barley alone. After all, Ravenpaw chose him over me. I have to see what this barn cat is like. He seemed nice, but I need to know that I'm not leaving my brother in the paws of some untrustworthy cat.

"I'm sorry Ravenpaw, but I'm gonna have to decline," Dustpelt meowed as a confused look creeped on the face of his brother. "I would love too really, but we can always hunt together next time. It's not like this is the last time I'm going to visit."

"But why can't we hunt together now? Are you still tired from the walk Dustpelt," Ravenpaw asked with concern.

"No. It's nothing like that." Dustpelt decided to answer him honestly. "Truth is I want to have a private word with this cat Barley here. If that's okay with him."

Barleys ears shot up with surprise with the mention of his name. He glanced at Ravenpaw with concern, and then looked back at Dustpelt. "That sounds fine with me Ravenpaw. Having a word with your brother and all," Barley meowed without a single trace of enthusiasm whatsoever.

Ravenpaw seemed to think about this for a second before stating as if this might be a bad idea. "Fine. Just don't say anything mean to Barley Dustpelt. I'm not a kit, or an apprentice anymore. I don't need to be protected if that's what you were thinking."

Yikes! Ravenpaw read me like a really obvious prey trail. "Don't worry. I won't bite him if that's what you expect," Dustpelt meowed tiredly.

As the others were on their way, Dustpelt caught Bone lean in to Barley's ear to whisper "don't say anything stupid mouse brain. This is your chance to get his kin's favor." What is that supposed to mean? If he was trying to not have the others hear, then he was doing a terrible job at it. That cat is just too lax for my tastes.

Now Dustpelt and Barley were alone. The area around them was silent as the two toms stared at each other for longer than Barley looked like he wanted to. The black and white tom in front of Dustpelt looked anxious, like he was thinking of a million different ways he should start the conversation with. Is this what Bone meant when he called him awkward? What does Ravenpaw see in this pile of loose hay that also happens to be a cat?  Dustpelt didn't recognize that he had been eyeing the tom with a look of contempt since the others were outside of earshot.

Barley forced himself to produce a smile. "Er... so what is it you wanted to discuss with me Dustpelt."

"Hmph. Terrible question really. I obviously wanted to talk about you, you mouse brain," Dustpelt meowed with venom. Barley looked mildly offended with these words, and shifted his body to look more defensive. This made Dustpelt realize how rude he sounded. Calm down Dustpelt. You don't have to antagonize him. Even if he is a mouse brained loner. "Sorry. I just wanted to know about your relationship with Ravenpaw. If he's going to stay here, I think I'm entitled to know more about you and him."

Barley sighed with a bit of relief. "Fair enough. Although I'm not sure how much there is to say really. When Ravenpaw arrived here, it took a couple of sunrises for him to open up. Before that, he was quiet and troubled. I'm sure he would have traded his new life for his old one in a heartbeat. But that wasn't an option anymore."

"Over time we started to chat, and he helped me take care of loose mice and rats around the farm. He's a really great ratter you know!" Barley perked up with each passing word. He must really enjoy my brother's presence. Makes sense I guess. It would be pretty lonely living alone in a place like this. "I guess all I can really say is that now we're friends. Real friends! The kind who'd go with you hunting during a storm. Or the kind who'd give ya a big cuddle when you're feeling kinda down, ya know. And spend the rest of the night talking it out." Barley meowed  just as he had realized that the last bit of info may have been a little embarrassing. Not that I would understand. Me, Sandstorm, or Longtail would never talk about stuff like feelings to each other. Is that something that should change? Yeah right. That would be far too pitiable of a thing for me to do.

Barley then decided to ask, rather bravely, a question for Dustpelt. "You don't happen to be upset at me, do ya? What with Ravenpaw wanting to stay with me on the barn, and all".

"Hmph. It's whatever to be honest. Although I can't say I find you a very interesting cat," Dustpelt meowed bluntly. "However, the truth is you sound acceptable enough. Besides, Ravenpaw really likes you. You're exactly the type of mushy cat I'd expect him to be all friendly too. He looks so happy by your side. You making him smile is what I think matters, I guess. That's such a greater feat than anything I could have done for him. I know that much at least."

"Aw, Dustpelt," Barley meowed in a sympathetic way that made Dustpelt's stomach churn. "I'm glad that you're okay with Ravenpaw being with me in the barn, but you shouldn't put yourself down like that. You make him smile too after all."

"Yeah? Well, can't see why he'd be so happy to see me after the way I treated him. And what about you. Aren't you mad at me? Didn't you want to claw my face off when I meowed about how I used to treat him?" Dustpelt asked with regret seeping into his tone.

"To tell ya the truth, all that stuff did sound awful. But you sounded serious about becoming a changed cat and all. Also, it was quite surprising considering the way he meowed about you before."

"Huh? He meows about me?" Dustpelt asked now hoping to probe for more information.

"Yeah. At least twice a moon he'll mention you, and how you were such a great brother to him while you were kits. I don't know what happened between that and your apprenticeship, but he always goes off about how protective you were of him. That Ravenpaw even told me how he thought you were the coolest cat in ThunderClan, and how you saved him from falling down a small ledge he was sure was going to be the end of him. I bet that tom had a real vivid imagination as a kit. Haha," chuckled the black and white tom. "Between you and me, you look more like the brave protective tom he knew as a kit than the nasty tom you were making yourself out to be earlier".

I don't believe this! Did Ravenpaw really think so highly of me when we were kits? And to think I was such a fox heart to him after mom died. StarClan, please forgive me! Barley must have noticed Dustpelt's dejected look by now as he decided to meow some encouraging words to Dustpelt. "Don't be all sad like that. Come on, cheer up! I think Ravenpaw would rather see you smiling like him. He truly does love you, ya know."

"Th-thank you Barley. I get it. I'm pretty cool, I know," Dustpelt meowed while trying to relax himself.

"Now that's the spirit! Haha! I think you're gonna be doing just fine Dustpelt," Barley's meows were extremely comforting to Dustpelt. Dustpelt even began to feel a sense of pride over hearing about his brother's description of him. Just then, Dustpelt couldn't help but chuckle alongside Barley as he noticed how the black and white toms wide smile looked just like Bone's smile. He also had a similar laugh. Dustpelt then began to wander if the two toms really were related. They had to be. What with the way Bone scolded Barley with earlier. It felt all too familial to Dustpelt.

While Barley was still chuckling away, Dustpelt had decided to pad up to him and press his head against the other tom's chest. He didn't want Barley to see the look in his eyes as he meowed. "Thank you for being there for my brother Barley. You're not a bad cat, and I'm happy he can be here with a tom like you."

"Oh, uh, don't mention it Dustpelt," Barley meowed rather awkwardly. "I'm happy I can be there for him."


 

Ravenpaw, Fireheart, and Bone had returned carrying five plump mice by the time the sky had become dark and shrouded in the twinkling of stars. Although it was late, Fireheart and Dustpelt had decided to stay at the barn a bit longer so that they could enjoy a meal with the other three cats. They ate, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company for the next hour. Dustpelt had even thought about how he had never felt this relaxed with other cats since he was a kit. This made Dustpelt feel especially strange since two of these cats were loners who had no allegiance to any clan. At least as far as he knew. Bone continued to tell embarrassing tales from Barley's time as a youth, while Fireheart and Dustpelt would meow about hunting with their friends back at ThunderClan.

In the middle of all the chatter, Bone's ear suddenly twitched as his face became full of surprise. Did he sense something we didn't? Is it trouble? Dustpelt immediately tensed at these thoughts as he strained his senses to pick up any strange scent or sound.  It was then that Dustpelt thought he picked up a scent that smells somewhat like the scent Bone was giving off. A fellow loner perhaps?

Now, Bone had gotten up from his sitting position as he muttered out loud. "Ah crap! I forgot about the meeting!". A meeting? Is that why he was here? Wasn't he here to catch up with his brother Barley?

Barley and Ravenpaw seemed to understand what Bone was going on about as they simultaneously responded with a look of remembrance. Bone then turned to the rest of the group with a slightly worried look. Didn't know this cat was capable of worrying about anything. This must be serious!  "Okay, everyone act cool! I think I heard my boss just outside the barn door," Bone stated in a hushed tone that failed to sound even remotely quiet. "He's not a bad cat! He's just a little bit of a stick in the mud if you know what I mean." I actually don't know what you mean you mouse brained loner! I wish this tom meowed with words I could understand for once, so I can tell how serious this situation is!

Just then, the shape of a small cat was silhouetted by the moon light beaming into the barn from one of its windows. Huh? Is that a apprentice? Maybe even a kit? What is such a young cat doing around here so late? And alone at that.  I can't sense any other presences.

The small cat then slowly crept out from the shadow, and into the view of all the other barn cats. The air became tense as every head was turned to this sleek black cats direction. Dustpelt couldn't help but feel unnerved by how this cat somewhat resembled Ravenpaw. He was short and sleek with big ears just like his brother. But this cat looked far more menacing. His eyes were a cold, icy blue that pierced through each of the onlookers gazes, and his front right paw was the color of falling snow. Dustpelt also noticed that this cat was shorter than Ravenpaw. He still looked young, but his eyes had the glint that most warrior age cats had. He wasn't a kit, that's for sure. However, the most striking feature the black tom had was the collar that was loosely fastened around his neck. It looked like teeth, or really large claws were protruding out from the collar somehow.

As if hit by a stray bolt of lighting, the tense silence in the barn had been obliterated by the now familiar caterwauls of the obnoxious loner, Bone. "Hey Scourge! What the hell are you doing here? I thought we were gonna meet at that big twoleg den down by the dead willow," Bone meowed without a single drop of the anxiety he had before. He was suddenly back to the old, annoying version of himself. So this cat's name is Scourge, huh? What a strange name. But I guess all loners have strange names.

Scourge finally spoke up as he responded to Bone with a much deeper voice Dustpelt had been expecting to come out of that small cat's mouth. "I thought we were going to meet there as well Bone. And yet here you are, lollygagging with a group of strange cats I've never met before."

"Oh yeah... haha. Funny how things turn out! Am I right." Suddenly Bone had done something that Dustpelt had thought was unthinkable. Bone casually padded up to Scourge and pat the black tom's back roughly, but in a familial manner.

Scourge responded with an unapproving look on his face as he glanced back at Bone. "Bone. What have I told you about trying my patience in front of unfamiliar cats?"

"Oh come off it Scourge! Stop acting like a hard ass already. Haha!" Bone laughed as he met the serious tom's cold glare with a wide, toothy grin. What am I looking at right now? This has to be some really bad joke, or something. "Sorry everyone. If you ask me, I think he's always grumpy because he's always thinking about how short he is," Bone meowed before turning back to Scourge. "Besides. Since you're here, I might as well introduce ya to my buddies here." Scourge did not look interested in the slightest while Bone ran up to Barley, and clutched his head in between one of his front legs and his chest as he introduced him. "You remember my little brother Barley, right? Well looks like he's all grown up now! Look. He even scored himself a pretty little mate too. His name's Ravenpaw", Bone meowed proudly as he gestured with his bushy tail towards Ravenpaw who currently looked like he couldn't make out what was even transpiring.

Wait! What did he just say? Dustpelt and Barley both reacted at the same time, as both their jaws dropped wide open at the word "mate". Barleys face became red while he started to shout at Bone. "Don't just say things that aren't true like that, bastard! Other cats are gonna take you seriously you know," Barley meowed now separating himself from the other cat. Bone just laughed heartily as he let Barley out of his grasp.

"Oh come on Barley! You're gonna hurt your poor mates feelings if you meow things like that in front of him," Bone meowed while laughing. Dustpelt quickly turned to Ravenpaw, only to see his brother struggling to keep himself from giggling like a little she-cat. Is he blushing? Oh StarClan, he's blushing! Dustpelt didn't really want to believe it, but he was starting to think the two toms really were mates. Dustpelt suddenly felt like clawing the flustered look on Barley's face as he pouted away from Bone. His gruesome thought was interrupted when Fireheart had started to join in on the laughing spree. "Oh yeah! And this is Ravenpaw's brother, Dustpelt. And that orange tom is his clanmate, or something. His name's Fireheart."

Scourge swiftly glanced at each cat, but his gaze stopped and lingered when it finally approached Fireheart's. Fireheart suddenly stopped laughing, as he tried to meet Scourge's icy stare with a warm smile. However, Fireheart looked like he was going to lose composure any second now. Oh come on kittypet! You're a deputy now, so act like one.

Although Dustpelt had to admit he would not want that tom glaring at him like that for so long. Scourges stare was unnerving. It was as if he was starting to read something deep from within Fireheart's emerald eyes. Dustpelt thought he was crazy, because for a second he thought the two tom's facial features looked identical, except for their colors. Fireheart was born in the twoleg place after all. Finally Fireheart decided to speak up. "Er... It's nice to meet you," Fireheart meowed as if asking a question.

Scourges left ear flickered before he decided to let out a meow. "Hmm. I see there is a devil inside of you as well." A devil? What in StarClan is a devil? Fireheart didn't look like he had the answer to Dustpelt's thoughts, as he looked just as confused.

Suddenly, and without question, Bone bonked his right paw playfully against the top of Scourges head. Suddenly the small black tom looked as if he was about to explode in a fit of rage. "Oh great and honorable leader! What did I tell you about saying dumb things like that in public," Bone meowed, and then smirked slyly.

That must have been the last straw since Scourge then started to bat ferociously at Bone while hissing and yelling at him. "Keep your paws off me you ungrateful swine! I'm the leader, so I can say whatever I so damn please." Dustpelt was worried at first, but then he realized that Scourge had kept his claws sheathed, and his bats looked more playful rather than intentionally harmful. Dustpelt actually had to keep back a smile as he watched the small tom deal with his obnoxious aggressor.

Scourge's fit ended when Bone finally wrapped his paws tightly around Scourge, as he began to affectionately lick the top of his head. Scourge began to calm down as he pouted, and lightly purred while in Bones coddle. It was as if all the menace that he had brought into the barns atmosphere had vanished. Scourge must not have had any of those sharp teeth on the back of his collar, since it didn't look like Bone had been bleeding due to this action. Did Scourge place the teeth like that intentionally?

"Ya know Barley. You aren't the only one who had scored yourself a real cutie." Bone meowed, and then smirked as he glanced towards Barley and Ravenpaw. If this revelation had upset Scourge, he didn't look to show it. Maybe the two strangers really were mates, and that wasn't just some off hand lie. Dustpelt still felt upset at the notion of his brother being mates with Barley, but he was at least glad the tension had subsided.

Scourge closed his eyes and let out a long sigh before exclaiming that his time in the barn was over. "It's late, and me and this mongrel here were supposed to rendezvous an hour ago. I think it's time me and him bid you all our farewells."

Barley looked a little disappointed, as if he had actually been enjoying the company of Bone, but he seemed to have resigned himself. "Oh! Well okay then Bone," Barley meowed as he padded up to his alleged brother. "Goodbye Bone! This visit wasn't so bad, I suppose."

Bone then pulled Barley into his hug as he meowed hardily at him. "And just what is that supposed to mean you jerk. Haha. See ya Barley! It was fun getting to see you, and your mate over there." Bone gestured to Ravenpaw again, but this time Barley didn't correct him or get upset. Dustpelt had by now accepted the fact that Ravenpaw was a full grown tom who was more than free to make whatever decision he wanted to make, and be mates with whatever lousy loner he wanted. I suppose Barley could have been a much worse cat.

Ravenpaw had also gotten up and joined the group's farewell hug. "Farewell Bone. It was an honor to finally meet Barleys kin." Ravenpaw meowed with a heartfelt smile. "And Farewell to you too Scourge. I hope this big lug doesn't bother you too much." Ravenpaw then let out a playful giggle as he softly patted Bone's shoulder.

"Oh trust me Ravenpaw, I'll have him beaten and tortured the moment we're back in the twoleg place." Scourge meowed with a completely straight face. I kinda hope that was a joke, because looking at this cat, I think I can believe him actually following through with what he just meowed. Bone didn't look too bothered by it though. Scourge then turned his gaze to Dustpelt. "Farewell brother of Ravenpaw, and farewell Fireheart." Hey! How come I'm "brother of Ravenpaw" when Fireheart is just "Fireheart". Whatever. Dumb loner!

Soon everyone had said their goodbyes to Bone and Scourge, and then they had been on their way to wherever they were supposed to meet. Barley watched them as they left, with a look of satisfaction invading his expression. Now it was just Ravenpaw, Barley, the kittypet, and me. Fireheart had spoken up first. "Well Ravenpaw. This has been fun catching up with you and Barley, but I think me and Dustpelt need to return to ThunderClan now. We've been gone for four hours, and there's still another two hours to get back home." Fireheart then nudged his friend affectionately.

"Oh. Well I suppose it is late, huh." Ravenpaw then looked up at the two ThunderClan cats with large, sad eyes. "I'm gonna miss you guys. And I was so happy you finally visited me Dustpelt." Ravenpaw was now beckoning Dustpelt to come on over.

Dustpelt touched his nose to his brother with love and affection in his eyes. "Goodbye Ravenpaw. I really meant it when I said I'd change! And don't miss me too much. Now that I know you're safe here, you can bet that I'm going to be visiting you at least twice a moon. You're my brother after all. If I get in trouble for breaking any clan rules, then so be it."

"Oh Dustpelt." The two brothers butted head gently as they purred through their farewells. Barley had then meowed his goodbyes before the two ThunderClan cats were finally on their way back home.

But before that, Dustpelt had made sure to say one last thing to Barley. "If you ever break my brother's heart, be sure that I'll be there to break you." Dustpelt was very satisfied with the way it made Barley jump a little. Ravenpaw was less satisfied, to put it simply. As Dustpelt and Fireheart were out of the barn towards the clans, everything felt peaceful. And yet Dustpelt couldn't help but feel heart ache grow within him as each step made him grow farther in distance from his brother. Deep down, a small part of him wanted to turn back and stay with his kin in the barn. But the life of a loner was no life for him. And besides, Dustpelt was a loyal ThunderClan cat who still had friends back in ThunderClan. He wouldn't dare leave for the world.


 

Barley and Ravenpaw sat by the barn's entrance while they watched the two ThunderClan toms slowly vanish from their view, and back into their clans territory. Barley still felt a pang of sadness from when Bone had said his farewell. He wasn't sure if it was okay to feel this way. It's true, Bone hadn't been the worst cat he met while he had lived in BloodClan, but he was still a BloodClan cat. All the terrible memories Barley had in his past were starting to mix with the few good ones he had while alongside Bone. He wouldn't have felt this way if Bone hadn't showed up today as his usual comical self. He really did enjoy Bones presence. And in a way, Barley did feel a small amount of kinship with the tom that referred to himself as his brother.

Barley's thoughts were also still roaring from Ravenpaw's reunion with his ThunderClan litter mate. Their meeting had been so emotional after all. Ravenpaw even had the chance to finally return home. And yet, he chose me. Even the reluctant Dustpelt seemed to have resigned himself to this fact when he told Barley not to break Ravenpaw's heart. He didn't have to tell me that so threateningly though. Barley was forced to let out a sigh as his mind continued to drown in all of today's events. He glanced over at his companion to see that sadness had still glazed his violet eyes as he watched the path the now distant cats had taken. He must be thinking a lot right now too.

Barley felt exhausted as he yearned to plop himself on a soft stack of hay, and sleep his thoughts away. Ravenpaw and Barley were used to living their days relaxing, hunting, and playing. So today had definitely been the most eventful day he had on the barn since Ravenpaw had showed up all those eight moons ago. Really, that wasn't that long ago now that I think about it. And yet here I am. Unable to stop thinking about whether or not this tom might share my feelings for him. I'm such a hopeless cat. Barley finally mustered up the strength to break the silence between them. "I think I'm gonna head back into the barn and get some rest. Are you going to stay out here" Barley asked the lean tom while placing the tip of his tail on his shoulder.

Ravenpaw tilted his head towards Barley. "Oh. No. I'll head inside with you. To be honest, I'm really exhausted" Ravenpaw meowed while starting to form a little smile. As they padded back inside, Barley had found the nice cozy spot he was used to sleeping in, and curled himself into a ball. But before he could close his eyes, he noticed that Ravenpaw padded around the barn restlessly. Unlike Barley, Ravenpaw didn't really have a preferred sleeping spot, as he usually decided to sleep wherever he felt was most comfortable at the time. Barley watched his friend as he wondered where the tom would sleep for tonight. Ravenpaw eventually padded up to Barley with an embarrassed look on his face.

"Um, Barley. Would you mind if I slept next to you tonight?" Ravenpaw asked Barley as he glanced away from him so as to not meet his gaze. Ravenpaw wants to sleep next to me! Barley began to blush as he welcomed in his friend's meows. In all these eight moons of living together, the two toms have never actually slept next to each other. Sure, they can be physically affectionate every now and then, but Ravenpaw had never shown any interest in sleeping close to Barley before. And Barley had always felt too embarrassed to ask.

Barley stammered his meows out as he answered his friend. "Of course I don't mind. But, would you mind if I ask why you'd want to sleep next to me all of a sudden". Barley couldn't help but ask. His heart started to beat faster as he waited for his friend to answer.

"It's just, I feel really lonely right now. Is that strange?" Ravenpaw asked as he finally met Barley's gaze. Barley finally noticed that Ravenpaw was shaking slightly. Is he cold? No. He looked just as forlorn as he had looked when Barley saw him stare out at the clans earlier today. He's sad. He must feel especially homesick now, after having just said goodbye to his formerly estranged kin, Dustpelt. Barley wanted nothing more than to wipe that sad look off his face, and make his friend happy again. Seeing Ravenpaw like this made Barley feel as if his heart was going to shatter.

"No. That's not strange at all my friend." Barley meowed while he made space for his friend to rest near him. Barley had expected the small tom to curl up next to him, so he was surprised when Ravenpaw instead chose to nudge his way in between Barley's back and front paws to settle next to Barley's belly. Neither of them meowed anything during this moment. Barley hesitated for a second, before wrapping his tail around the black tom so that he had been fully nuzzled by Barley's whole body. Ravenpaw's shaking quickly ceased, and was replaced by a gentle purr as he buried his head in Barley's fluffy chest. "I know this must sound selfish, but I'm happy you chose to stay here with me Ravenpaw. I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier. I was just so scared you wouldn't be happy here with me." Barley meowed while struggling to keep his voice from choking on itself. "I'm such a mouse brain."

Ravenpaw softly licked Barleys chest a couple of times before tilting his head upward to look at his friend's face. Ravenpaw's eyes were now filled with affection as he smiled sweetly at Barley. Barley's face felt hotter with each passing second as his friend had never been this close to him before. "I forgive you Barley. And please don't call yourself a mouse brain. I think you're a really great cat." Ravenpaw meowed as he then licked Barley's nose. "In fact, you're my favorite cat. These past few moons here with you made me realize that."

Barleys eyes widened as he heard these meows come from his friend's mouth. He was suddenly overwhelmed by both joy and self loathing. I'm his favorite cat? No way! How can a cat like me be anyone's favorite? How can a cat like me make anyone this happy?  After taking in the full effect of Ravenpaw's meows, Barley couldn't help but hold on to Ravenpaw's head with his two front paws. "I love you! I love with all my heart Ravenpaw!" Barley then pressed his nose against Ravenpaws so that he could meet his gaze once again. He was afraid of the look he would see on Ravenpaw's face, but he couldn't hold it in anymore. Not when Ravenpaw was this close, and this sweet to him.

Ravenpaw returned his gaze with what looked like a lifetime's worth of love and joy in his eyes that Barley struggled to believe was real. "I love you too Barley." The lean tom whispered. "I always want to be with you. Now and forever, my dear, sweet mate."

The two toms continued to purr as they embraced each other in the corner of their small, cozy sleeping spot.


 

Dustpelt wasn't sure why, but he suddenly felt a strong urge to return back to the barn and pummel Barley into the ground. Was it a sixth sense, or was he just imagining things? Whatever. StarClan knows I'm way too tired to worry about that now.

Fireheart and Dustpelt were now nearly back into the comfort of the ThunderClan camp. They hadn't spoken much on their way back, and they decided to hunt for some quick kills before actually returning home. It was now approaching moonhigh, and Dustpelt felt as if his legs were going to snap off his body any second now. He was not looking forward to the questioning he was expecting once he made it back to camp. He and Fireheart were padding alongside each other, each one carrying a small mouse between their teeth. Dustpelt couldn't help but notice how much less plump the forest mice were than the ones he had seen in the barn. At least Ravenpaw could be able to enjoy eating like that. Thinking about it that way made Dustpelt feel tremendously better. Ravenpaw meant so much to him, and he was happy knowing his brother was safe and in a place he enjoyed. Dustpelt felt as if the very weight of the world itself had finally been lifted off his shoulders. He finally felt like he could rest easy tonight.

Fireheart's eyes glanced towards Dustpelt, and back before he started to meow out of the corner of his mouth. "I'm glad you and Ravenpaw got to see each other again." Fireheart continued to meow through his teeth as he smiled warmly at Dustpelt. "I've never seen you look so happy before. You're actually a really nice cat, huh Dustpelt?"

"Yeah right! About all that acting nice and all. Well, don't get used to it." That's all Dustpelt wanted to say, but he couldn't help but feel happy all over again. He was beginning to like this kittypet. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all. After glancing back at the warm looking tom, Dustpelt suddenly understood why Sandstorm had begun to like this cat so much. He was kind of cool, to put it bluntly. And his friendliness was welcoming. Looking at Fireheart like this, Dustpelt couldn't stop himself from saying his feelings out loud. "You know Fireheart. You're actually kind of a more respectable cat than I thought. Thank you. I'm grateful to you, really. For helping me and Ravenpaw. And also, for being there to help Ravenpaw when I wasn't. But don't think you and I are friends now! I just don't dislike you, is what I'm trying to say." Dustpelt was now facing the opposite direction of the flame colored tom.

Fireheart let out a chuckle as he dropped the dead mouse, before quickly putting it back in his mouth. "Thanks Dustpelt! That means a whole lot to me! You might not consider me a friend, but as far as I'm concerned, you're one of my friends."

These words made Dustpelt blush a little. StarClan! What is wrong with this cat? Dustpelt then padded closer to Fireheart so that they were now touching flanks. Dustpelt didn't dare look at Fireheart to see if he was okay with this. He was scared to see that dumb kittypet smiling like a mad cat. "T-thanks Fireheart. Thank you for everything."

 

END

Thank you for reading!