"Everpaw!" A warm whisper cuts me out of my stupor. I turn and see Galepaw approaching me, a rabbit in his jaws.I stifle a purr and quickly pad over to the handsome tom from my perch in a cedar. We aren't supposed to see each other, he's older than me. By two moons, only two moons, I remind myself. So it isn't too illegal.
"Where'd you catch this?" I ask, sniffing it. It smells fresh, unlike the usual prey we eat. "At the pond. It was drinking," Galepaw admits. I laugh a light, breezy laugh. "Even if it had seen you, you would have caught it," I mew earnestly. He snorts, but doesn't protest. "Where's Hazelleaf?" I ask him, peering around the dense foliage. Hazelleaf is Galepaw's mother. She allows him to go on the hunts, but usually stays close to the border, pacing, waiting for his safe return that might never happen.
"Out hunting. Violetpaw saw a deer and they're trying to bring it down." My eyes widen. "Don't worry, it's an authorized hunt." He reassures me. Right. Because that ever stopped anyone from going into the woods to hunt. Namely me and Galepaw. "Good." I say instead. Our Watchers know we hunt illicitly, but they don't protest. They like fresh prey as much as we do. Except they don't risk their lives to get it, unlike us.
"Wanna share?" He offers. I nod, then remember something. "I'll be right back." His brow furrows, but I turn and go back to the camp. Primrosekit, my younger sister from another litter, has prepared a gift for me and Galepaw. It is by my nest, wrapped carefully in a delicate bundle of leaves. I pick it up and return quietly to Galepaw's side in the forest, not drawing attention to myself.
"What is it?" He nudges me, and I laugh, setting it at his paws. The bundle opens like a spring flower in bloom. There are daisies, at least fifty of them, in a small heap inside. Someone gasps, and I have the vague feeling it might be me. Galepaw looks stunned. "How did she manage to collect so many?" He whispers. A faint smile uncurls over my face. "I showed her a patch." "But she needs it for her medicine!" Galepaw protests.
"Evidently not," I observe, sniffing them. They are still fresh, must have been picked just this morning. We divide them as equally as we can, sprinkling them over our newly-caught rabbit. We dig in hungrily, I haven't eaten since last night, and Galepaw hasn't eaten since that morning. It's soon gone. I can tell he's anxious from all the lost hunting time. I lick my jaws clean. "We can make up for it. We hunted plenty this morning." He's unconvinced, so I add, "And they'll soon have that deer."
He nods slowly, skepticism still glimmering in his eyes. "Who went out?" I ask. "Violetpaw, Hazelleaf, Smudgewrinkle, and Roarpaw." "Well, Hazelleaf and Roarpaw know how to hunt," I say, but even to me my tone sounds false. He sighs, staring with dark eyes at the forest. I shiver, knowing he is about to start raving about them, but surprisingly, he doesn't.
Instead, he turns to me "Are you nervous?" He asks. His silky voice creates butterflies in my stomach. "Not as much as you are," I respond softly. "How many times have you entered?" He asks. "Seventeen this year," I reply. "You?" His lip snags on his teeth and I know what he is refraining from telling me is horrifying. "Twenty-six," He says. I know he's lying, but that's enough entries in itself. "Galepaw..." My voice is choked. "Shh, It's okay." He puts his tail around my shoulder, embracing me.
I'm selfish. I know I am. I'm out here, enjoying the day, when everywhere else people are locked at home, distancing themselves from others, nerves eating them alive. And I'm selfish because I'm with Galepaw, and because I ate this morning... I close my eyes. I have to get through the day. The only day I worry about will soon be over, and I won't have to think of it for moons to come.
In a few hours, this will all be over. I sigh, resting my head on Galepaw's shoulder. It's an action of affection, of thankfulness. I remember the other she-cats. They stare at Galepaw, glare at me. I'm jealous, but not for the reason people would think. He's my hunting partner. Mine. I'm surprised when my heart thumps in my chest, and I realized why. Somewhere, deep down, I have grown to trust Galepaw. Trust him to the point of where I think of him as mine.
A revelation such as this one, on a day like this? I want to laugh bitterly. But I don't. Instead I stay with Galepaw, just the two of us, in the forest. Alike. So alike. And yet... I fight the urge to open my eyes and walk away. And yet we're so different. So very, very different.