She is wading in the stream gracefully, her ginger fur dampened by the water, clinging to her pelt humorously. It is tinged a dark crimson from the wetness, and he smiles at her, adoration kindling furtively in his eyes, wide as a lake.

She turns to beam at him, her green eyes laughing and sparkling. The tip of his tail trembles, and he wants to be near her. She's beautiful - he loves her.

So he takes the first step, dipping a hesitant gray paw into the water and hissing as the frigid liquid froze his tender pads. But she is waiting for him, her soaked tail raising high in the air, her eyes expectant and exuberant.

He slides in the stream with a gasp, finding the smooth pebbles at the bottom. It's the first time he's ever swam for the joy of it.

She's waiting for him as he crosses the water, a wake of clear rippling following his tentative kicks.

"There, you've got it," she says teasingly, pressing her nose to his. "We had to swim like this at the sun-drown-place." Her laugh is a tingling trill that sends his stomach fluttering and his heart pacing.

"I'm sure you were brilliant," he tells her sincerely, giving her his honest smile. She blinks and allows a slow grin to stretch across her features.

"Hardly." At this, she snorts. "I was only there to save Bramble --"

She breaks off and blinks, as if aware of the depth of her words. He forces a smile at her, his pleasant mood vanishing like mist in sunlight.

She doesn't meet his eyes now, and he curses the name she was about to utter.

"Do you love me?" he bursts, because he needs to hear it - he has the right. She teases him and sends his heart racing, but she's never told him what he needs to hear. They could be together - they should be together.

Parts of him wonder if he gives her the same butterflies she gives him, or if Brambleclaw gives her the tingling in her paws.

She stares at him, uncertainty in her green eyes. He knows the answer even before she parts her jaws and murmurs, "No."