So sorry for the long wait! I've had some really horrible writer's block. Some of it's still lingering, so this is more of a filler chapter while I get everything else sorted out. Well, maybe not a filler chapter, as important stuff happens, but there's not a lot of action.

Just a warning, though – as I haven't written in forever, it might be…well, kinda crummy. And it gets a little sappy later on. Sorry!

Chapter Twenty

Vigil was cold, but there was a warm, fuzzy feeling inside me that made it bearable. The only thing that ruined it was Stonehead – cough, Stoneclaw – who just had to be made a warrior at the same time and was keeping vigil with us. Though, if you ask me, he wasn't thinking about what being a warrior meant, like Lighteningstar had said; nope, judging by the way his narrowed eyes stared unblinkingly out over the forest and by his charming personality, I'd say he was planning nothing short of world domination.

That guy was a creep. Being made a warrior didn't make him any bit better than he'd been before, which was an easy 15 on a "most likely to turn evil and crazy" scale of 1 to 10.

So, I made a promise. Whatever Stoneclaw did that was, well, bad, he was going down. After all, it's a warrior's job to protect the weak and all that, right? And we all know that Stoneclaw had a nasty habit of exploiting the weak. Or I knew, anyway.

* * * A few weeks later * * *

"Ouch, that's my tail!"

"Sorry, Mothwing."

I couldn't resist the dejected little face staring up at me. "It's okay, Daisykit." I sunk into a crouch with a playful grin. "Bet you can't catch me now!"

"Yes we can," Nightkit laughed, and both of them pounced on me. I batted gently at their ears, then rolled over with a dramatic moan, careful not to squash them.

"Oh, no, attacking kits! Pick on someone your own size! Help me!" They bounced on my belly – the air rushed out of me with an oof – andI flopped over, playing dead.

"Mothwing?" Daisykit giggled. I held my breath and kept my eyes closed.

Nightkit poked my nose with a paw. "Mothwing? You're not dead," he said confidently.

Man, they were really starting to catch on to me. "You killed me," I proclaimed, my eyes still shut.

"No we didn't, we heard you!" they protested, and I laughed, climbing back to my feet as they jumped off me.

"All right, you win," I teased. "You guys'll make great warriors!"

They puffed out their little chests and held their tails high.

"I wanna be called Nightfury!" Nightkit decided, stalking an imaginary enemy with a snarl on his face.

I licked his ears, ignoring his half-hearted grumbling. "Lighteningstar will choose your name, but he'll make sure you get a great one."

"Mothwing!" Larchfoot called me. I smiled over my shoulder at him, gave Nightkit one last lick, then nudged him and his sister in the direction of the nursery.

"Bye, guys. I'll visit you later!"

"Love you, Mothwing," Dasiykit squeaked, then nudged her brother, who made a face at the word 'love'.

"Come see us soon!" Nightkit begged.

I just couldn't resist those big eyes of his. They made me melt into a puddle of awwww. "Okay. Soon as I can."

They cheered and scampered off.

"Those kits have you wrapped around their paws," Larchfoot teased me, flicking me on the shoulder with his tail. I blushed and tried to pretend I hadn't.

"They're good kits," I said fondly.

"They are," he agreed. When we both had free time, we'd play with the kits together. He loved them just as much as I did. "Want to walk around the forest together?"

I stretched out the kinks in my legs and grinned. "You betcha. Where to this time?"

"What about the RiverClan border. We can check things out while we're there, since it's been quiet for a while," Larchfoot explained.

"Good plan."

We called a good-bye to Brindlefur, who was helping to patch up the warriors' dens for the upcoming winter. She waved her tail in response and winked at me, her eyes flicking from Larchfoot to me and back again. I rolled my eyes – Larchfoot still had no idea that I thought of him as more than a FRIEND, despite the many ways I'd tried to tell it without actually saying it out loud.

Despite that little chestnut, the patrol went awesomely. We shared a mouse when we got hungry, and generally goofed off – playing chase and catch the leaf and mock-fighting each other. I was floating on air every time Larchfoot smiled or laughed. He was really too shy for his own good – opening up was a big accomplishment for him. I resolved to get him to do so as much as I could.

"I love these trips," I sighed.

Larchfoot blushed and gave my ear a quick lick before turning away in embarrassment. "Me, too," he agreed.

Growly playfully, I pounced on his back, and wrestled him to the ground. "Muahahaha!"

Larchfoot gasped in mock horror. "Oh no! Whatever shall I do?"

I mimicked Cloudfur's deep voice. "Now, now, Larchpaw. When you turn your back, you open yourself to attack."

Larchfoot bowed his head to his chest. "Yes, mentor."

I laughed, then before I thought about it licked his nose. As his eyes went big, I blushed redder than the sun, squeaked in embarrassment and scrambled off him.

Larchfoot (with a dazed grin that made my heart skip) got to his feet, then leaped at me and pinned me to the ground. "You get off your enemy and he can get you right back," he pretend-scolded in a fair imitation of Brackenfoot's voice.

I grinned, then froze. Larchfoot quickly got off me and nudged me to my paws, his handsome yellow eyes worried. "What's wrong?"

I sniffed again, my good mood evaporating. "Stoneclaw," I growled. "I thought Lighteningstar wanted him to stay home and heal from that thorn he got in his paw?" Why did Stoneclaw have to ruin practically every good moment of my life? Why? The stupid jerk. Even when he wasn't intentionally being a nasty idiot, he somehow managed to become one.

Larchfoot was scowling too. "Same. Guess he snuck off."

Simmering with anger, I stomped silently (if that was possible) off to follow the trail, Larchfoot's gray fur brushing my side. My bad mood lifted a bit, then settled right back down. I glanced at Larchfoot, frowning thoughtfully. He seemed even irritated than I was, and I was pretty mad. Being angry at all was rare for him. Wonder what Stoneclaw did to get his tail in such a twist, other than being his usual charismatic self?

"You okay?" I asked quietly.

He still looked like he wanted to slowly pull Stoneclaw's whiskers off, one by one, but his face softened. "I'm okay. Just…upset."

"What for?"

He blushed. "Uh…" I made big, round kit-eyes, and he shuffled his feet, embarrassed. "I wanted to ask you something," he squeaked.

Under the circumstances, I let it go with a curious look (I'd beg him to tell me mercilessly later) and got back to business.

We stalked along the riverbank, keeping to the ferns and underbrush, ears pricked. Larchfoot watched our backs as I led us forward – we worked so well together that it was pretty much instinctive now. I'd take point, he'd take the rear.

When we reached the street (or Thunderpath) for the second time, the wind shifted and the smell vanished.

"Nononono!" I whisper-yowled.

I sniffed every plant and clump of dirt and pebble along the Thunderpath, but nothing. At all. It was like Stoneclaw grew wings and flew away... even his scent is bent on annoying me. I sat down, confused and practically drowning in disappointment.

"Dang," I sighed. "But he was here, very recently, when he should have been resting in camp."

Larchfoot flicked my shoulder with his tail. "Want to head back? We can look again tomorrow."

I hesitated, but agreed. At least now that I knew the jerk was sneaking out, I'd be able to watch for that. And next time, I vowed, he wouldn't escape Mothwing the super-sleuth.

"Yeah," I muttered. "Let's go back."

The wind switched again as we turned and headed for the trees. Larchfoot froze, raising his head to the breeze and inhaling deeply.

"Hey, you okay?" I asked.

He stared across the Thunderpath. "…Thought I'd smelled something, but I guess not."

"Stoneclaw?" I perked up. Maybe the trail wasn't lost!

"No…something else." He stared off into space, nose scrunched up in thought. After a minute, I waved my tail in front of his face, and he blinked.

"Earth to Larchfoot! It's fine if you can't remember. We'll check tomorrow," I reassured. "And maybe Brindlefur can come too, so we'll have an extra nose."

He nodded, still thinking about whatever-it-was that he'd smelled. "Uh-huh…"

"Cheer up. A sad Larchfoot is just…wrong," I teased, giving a shudder.

He rolled his eyes and gave an exaggerated smile, pulling his lips away from his teeth.

"Perfect!" Then I remembered. "Hey, what were you going to ask me earlier?"

He coughed, suddenly very fascinated in a very boring clump of bracken.

"C'mon, you can tell me," I pleaded. He wasn't one for secrets, which made this all the more interesting.


Larchfoot was always a bit of a pushover, but I wasn't expecting a surrender THAT quickly. I blinked. "Wow, that's it? We need to teach you the fine art of arguing."

He didn't even crack a smile. He hunched his shoulders slightly and took a deep breath. Now I was really intrigued.

"Uh, well, d'you want…would you…uh…" he stuttered himself into silence.

"Do I want…what?" I prodded. "I promise, I'm not gonna laugh or anything."

"Would you mind…Iloveyou."

"Could you say that again? I missed it," I apologized. "Sorry."

"S'okay. I love you, Mothwing," he mumbled, looking like every word was slowly and tortuously extracted from him.

"Oh. Well, that's great, I – wait. You love me?" I repeated. Time froze.

He still looked like a kicked kitten. "Yeah," he squeaked.

"YES!" I crowed. "Finally!"

I tackled him in pure joy. "You toms are so thick! I was running out of ways to hint that you were more than friend material!"

"Can't…breathe," he gasped.

"Oops!" Embarrassed to the very tips of my fur, I scrambled off him. OHMYSTARCLAN he loved me!

"You were hinting that you liked me?" he asked, sounding totally clueless.

"Not liked," I corrected. "Loved. And duh!"

"Huh." Larchfoot's expression morphed into a dazed grin, like someone dropped a boulder on his head. "Really?"

"Of course! You're smart and sweet and the nicest cat I've ever met. You know me better than anyone, and I love being around you! Besides, who else could put up with me? Who else would I want to spend my life with?"

"Uh…no one?" he tried hopefully.

I laughed, licking his nose. "You betcha."

He looked happier than it should have been possible to look, and I laughed again. The start of the rest of my life was looking pretty that point, anyway.

*looks up* Yeah. It's pretty crummy…I tried to make it as less mushy as possible, but it still came out that way. Sigh. Again, soooooo sorry for the long wait!