A pair of amber eyes were visible through a thick bush behind the nursery. It rustled as the cat, to whom the eyes belonged, shifted into a more comfortable position. He watched as cats mulled about camp, their soft voices vibrating the earth. They laughed, they joked, they boasted. They all had successes. A great hunter, a skilled fighter, a flawless tracker... Hemlock had seen it all. They made it look so goddamn easy.
His face crumpled into an expression of loss, a sigh rolling off his tongue. The raven-furred tom kit curled up and tucked his nose under his paw, figuring he might as well take a nap. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why he was so different. It was no secret a lot of his siblings were introverts; they got it from their parents. Sweetrose and Nightstar both were reserved cats, though they were also intelligent and respected due to being the deputy and leader respectively. But Hemlock noticed that even his most timid siblings could talk to strangers, no matter how terrible their stutter. He could scarcely form complete sentences. Of course, this was no problem around his family, whom he had known his whole life and felt a deep connection to. The issue came when he needed to make friends. Currently, he had none apart from his brothers and sisters.
Closing those vivid eyes of his, the lone child swallowed a salty lump that rose in his throat. Why was it so hard to talk to others? Why was he so petrified of the judgment of his Clanmates? Why did he think the worst of everyone he came across? Feeling defeated, he sniffed quietly and sighed shakily, using a single paw to rub his cheek.
"Great stars, what's your problem that you have to hide alone in a bush?"
A sudden loud voice snapped up his head, pupils the size of moons. Spinal fur rising along his whole back, Hemlock cowered slightly further, his nervous gaze meeting white paws. Confused, he slowly drew his line of sight upwards to see the cat looming down on him, a snarky expression on her face. She had ashen patches over her alabaster fur and striking green eyes, which reminded him of some kind of deadly snake. For all his memory, Hemlock couldn't recall ever having seen her before. But then, he reminded himself that he didn't often leave the nursery. This cat couldn't possibly have been much older than him, though; she was perhaps only five moons old given her size. Only when her eyes rolled in annoyance did he realize, however, that he never answered her.
Gulping, he stammered out anxiously, "W-W-...ell, I... er..."
"W-W-...ell, I... er..." mocked the female child pointedly, scoffing at him followed by a laugh. When she finished her bout of laughter, she raised one nonexistent brow. "How old are you? Do you even know how to talk?" Frightened now, Hemlock didn't respond with words but merely nodded his head, which prompted the stranger to sigh existentially, continuing to voice, "Well, mister 'I-can-talk-but-won't-say-anything, I'm Ivykit. I assume your mother gave you a name, right?"
Paws trembling slightly, he nodded before realizing his mistake and bit his inner jaw. He took a moment to collect himself before telling her, "Hemlockkit." The ebony child took care not to stammer, realizing that it seemed to annoy her. Seeming to be in luck, this Ivykit nodded in something like satisfaction when she heard his name.
Grinning, she asked curiously, "Like the deadly plant?" Before he had the chance to answer, she continued, "Sweet! I can tell we're going to be friends, then. You will be my friend, won't you?"
Pupils not narrowing at all but instead remaining round as ever, Hemlock nodded vigorously in response. Something told him she didn't have a lot of friends. As such, despite her vaguely threatening stances, he realized this might be a good experience for him. His first friend. A smile, for the first time ever when not around family, spread over his muzzle. It was wide, warm, and open. Even showing teeth with it, he found his nerves beginning to subside. Ivykit might not have been very nice to him, but she just didn't know how to talk to others, right? That was probably it. Sweetrose had told him all of his Clanmates were nice, so she was probably just being friendly in her own way!
Finally beginning to visibly relax, he glimpsed to her without hesitating. Her soft gray fur was slightly visible through the peeks of light in the bush. She was actually... kind of pretty. Still with that smile, Hemlock rose to his paws and nodded once again. "Yeah, I think we'll be best friends," he agreed.
A grin lined her sharp set of jaws, acknowledging him with fiery green irises. "Yes we will." Her words were followed with a twitch of her whiskers. Then, seemingly bored, Ivykit waved with her tail goodbye and leaped out of the bush. She must have been quick, for when Hemlock followed her a minute later, he found no sign of her. Must have gone back to her mother, he figured.
Still, he felt euphoric. For the first time in his short life, and the first time since leaving the nursery, he'd made a friend. A real friend. Oh, his mother and father would be so proud of him! Hemlock simply couldn't wait to tell them!