but i can't love myself | patrol return

He left Cicadastar. He made the call. Was it a mistake? Could they have gotten the dappled ash-colored tom free before the two-legs attacked again? Could they have dragged him away to be helped in safety? Was it worth the risk? Multiple scenarios struck him all at once, thousands of options poured in like a cascade but he could only remember the ice water eyes and drowning voice demanding they go, pleading for them to leave.
Should he have listened? Was his blind obedience folly?
Smokethroat didn't know, he might never know. Nine lives…was it a real thing and did it even matter if the man had them when he was taken away to presumably just be killed again…?
What did it matter if he could just come back if he was held captive by the two-legs? For all they knew they were going to eat the ash splotched leader and there would be nothing left for the stars to touch.

Had he done the right thing? The dark tom walked back into the camp, his expression neutral but his eyes betrayed him; he looked as though he hadn't slept in years, as if time had burst at the seams in those milliseconds to age him countless moons in the span of one arrow shot. Cicadastar was dead. They had to inform the rest of the clan, had to figure out what to do. Was it worth sending a group to try and recover him, was the risk too high, was it necessary, would there even be a body to fetch and even if there was were the whims of StarClan true or some great joke meant to shake them? One thing at a time, Smokethroat...
Shaking his head he pushed the apprehension, the anxiety down, it would do them no good right now and order had to be maintained. His patrol was a wreck, the two apprentices horrified, the older warriors there shaken, he didn't have the energy to give orders and he hadn't the heart to push any of them further; he'd already asked a lot in abandoning their leader.
"...Willowroot." His orange eyes sweep the camp for the other lead warrior, if anyone would be able to offer guidance or help console the frightened masses it was certainly her. While he does not see the smoke she-cat immediately she must be nearby and he takes a moment to assess the others. Smogbreath had locked up, it was a wonder they'd managed to get him back to camp without dragging him by the scruff, Clayfur had seen to that personally. Foxpaw and Clearsight were besides themselves with grief, Iciclepaw was...
It occurred to him then what the apprentice might be thinking about, that had she not stepped forward so far they might not have been seen but he doubted the speed with which a two-leg could react the way it did, surely they were aware of the cats being there long before the tortie made herself a target. It was just poor luck, just as he was poor at offering comfort but his tail did go up briefly in a light gesture to her shoulder before he nodded in the direction of the medicine cat's little hovel.
"Iciclepaw, would you fetch Beesong for me..." A distracton? Perhaps, but also it would do well to check the others.

Summary: Cicadastar was pinned to a tree by an arrow and left behind, the patrol returns without him. [Original Thread]

Iciclepaw walks on unsteady paws beside her mentor as the patrol trudges back to camp. For the first time in her young life, the tortoiseshell's confidence has been shaken to its core. Her bones rattle as she trembles, processing all that's happened, all that she has caused.

Now they must tell all of RiverClan that Cicadastar is dead, that his dying breath had been his command for the rest of them to get to safety. Seeing their leader impaled like that, suspended as if halfway strung between the stars and the earth - the image is burned into her brain, seared with fire.

Smokethroat's tail brushes Iciclepaw's shoulder. She jumps at the sensation, hesitantly tilting her head upwards to meet his face. She frowns, her lower jaw trembling. He asks her to fetch Beesong, and she only nods, withholding the eye rolls or the quiet passive aggression.

She takes a crooked step towards Beesong's den before turning back to Smokethroat. Her eyes are clouded, troubled, and she whispers, voice breaking, "Smokethroat, I'm... I'm so sorry."

Would he have died, had she not been a fool? Why hadn't she been afraid like the others? Why hadn't she known to stay back? Foxpaw had. Why hadn't she?

She doesn't wait for a response, only pads to the medicine cat's den to fetch him. He should know what had happened. A wound he could not fix.


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riverclan warrior. 32 moons. tags

Clearsight staggers home with the rest of the patrol, stunned and silent.

He's gone. And they've been told of nine lives granted by the stars, but how can they know? Cicadastar was dead, icecap eyes empty and a body's worth of blood spilled on the forest floor.

On Clearsight's own fur.

Whether he'll come back-- whether he can come back, his body so mauled and still speared through-- will be a waiting game to see. The blue tabby's stomach rolls as he thinks of the hours ahead. Either Cicadastar comes back or he doesn't, and until then they will sit with the nausea of not knowing.

Glancing over two glassy-eyed children stumbling home, traumatized but alive, Clearsight doesn't doubt for a second that Smokethroat made the right call. They don't stand a fucking chance against the beast that killed him, and they couldn't take another loss. He knows that.

Still tears stain his bloody cheeks as he imagines Cicadastar's body collected like prey, tossed on the twolegs' own fresh-kill pile-- imagines the man he loves so dearly reduced to a monster's meal-- imagines life returning to bright blue eyes only to die again on that vicious spear. He could have done something.

Instead he pressed a kiss goodbye into the man's fur and saved the girl Cicada called his charge.

The patrol arrives back at camp, trembling pawsteps on the sand of their little island. The island chosen by Cicadastar, a home carved out on the safety of the river, and stars, it takes everything in him not to break. Clearsight hears Smokethroat ask for Willowroot, for Beesong. He turns, flaxen-gold eyes still vacant with shock, searching for Smogbreath and Clayfur who must've been behind him.

He wants the comfort he always finds with Clay-- wants to press a reassuring shoulder against the the earthen-furred tom, so sweet and so jovial.

The earthen-furred tom who is nowhere in sight.

Clearsight's legs buckle.

He hits the ground, vision gone gray and narrow. No. No.

"Clay," he chokes out. He's dead, his mind supplies without skipping a beat. Those monsters weren't satisfied with one dear friend — no, they've taken Clayfur too, and you'll never see either of them again.

Despair takes him so easily and he can't even fight back, spiraling, gripped by memories that'll always stay memories now. Hunting alongside them, how he'd laughed with Clayfur over Smokethroat's tumble, how hazel eyes glittered in the sun, how a butterly landed on a pretty brown nose; teaching Clay to fish while flustering him with little nose-kisses. Pressing his fur into Cicadastar's own, leaning into his warmth, meeting icecap eyes and smiling soft, tender licks to the top of his wispy black head. The tortoiseshell tom had brushed by him before the patrol, offering comfort, and Clearsight hadn't even responded. Now he's covered in the man's blood.

Panic seizes him, shock, and his breaths come fast and shallow.

"Where is he." Clearsight struggles to form the words. "They can't — they can't both be gone."

A strangled, shattered sound tears out of him. This is too much.

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Ravendusk knew all about to make difficult decisions in life so it wasn't hard to tell what was going on here - all of thier faces haunted with that same expression he felt so familliar with. A tragedy. That was what had happend here. Missing clanmates who not had returned back with the rest of the patrol. What a sorrowful day.

" Did Cicadastar not make it?" he didn't need to ask what had happend, he was sure somebody else would demand answers from this patrol regarding that. So he spared his words and instead thought his words out carefully. Whatever had happend out there thier leader who had gone out there with them was nowhere to be seen and that should be the main concern right now.

However, Clearsight tear-jerking chokes after thier beloved one was surely making this already tragic day even more sorrowful. Briefly his gaze would fall down on them, watching thier pitiful self with an emotion he couldn't track down on. Clearsight used to be so cheerful and real clarity to the clan but today in this very moment...he guess even a cat such like them could break by grief. Ravendusk had no words to comfort them with so he closed his eyes as he turned his attention away from them before liftening his head up high and he would open them again to face Smokethroat, expecting them to the very least be stable enough to answer everything that would get thrown at them.

If someone was expected to stay strong right now it was thier lead warrior. Time had never been merciful to stop and wait and right now decisions after decisions needed to be made. Smokethroat had the whole world on thier shoulders now so much to be expected from them and Rav did not envy them.


✵ ღ ☾ IT TOOK ME BY SURPRISE - The sight of the patrol dragging itself back into camp was a hard one to miss. Their heads hung low and voices coarse.
Lakepaw is only curious at first, edging forward with her ears perked as she pieced the situation together.
Cicadastar didn’t make it?
Ravendusk’s question echo’s in her mind. Narrow optics widening in alarm she found her gaze searching for someone in particular who had also gone on that patrol.
The leaders forsaken apprentice.
Gliding through the gradually group of equally confused cats, Lakepaw was searching for another, mindlessly speaking at the same time.
❝ He was given nine lives… right? ❞ She pondered, surely he’d be alright?
❝ Was anyone else hurt? ❞ Her question is general, but prying.
❝ Speech. ❞

He’s not too far behind the rest of the patrol—just enough to ensure that if a stray twoleg followed them, he’d have time to distract them, lead them off the patrol’s path. He hadn’t thought to alert the others to this, as panicked as they all were, and moving too quickly to communicate much of anything. And besides, he isn’t sure he’s had a coherent thought since they started running.

Cicada died. The image of the leader’s impaled body flashes behind his eyelids each time he blinks, a scathing reminder of the life draining from icy blue eyes as the leader shouted for them to go. Clay doesn’t even know Cicadastar that well, not like the others do, but the loss cuts him all the same. And he’s running without paying attention, head fuzzy and clouded in a way it shouldn’t be, and he’s tripping over loose twigs and stones that catch at his toes and ankles. Because Cicada is dead, even if it’s only temporary, and they couldn’t even bring him back with them so he could return to life greeted by his clan.

And Clay… Clay knows he can’t blame anyone. What happened rests on no one’s shoulders alone—and especially not Icicle’s—but he can’t help but need to pin the blame on someone. Cicadastar is dead, and Smoke had declared they were going on that patrol, and… his mind is a mess right now. There was no plan, a plan. A controlled set of things to do if the worst happened. This entire disastrous patrol feels like something that Clay himself would have put together, not… not Smokethroat! Smoke, who should know better because he’s a lead warrior, and…

How are they going to explain this to the rest of the clan?

A blur of chestnut and umber and ivory crashes into the camp a while after the rest of the patrol does, hunched over and panting hard. "Shit," he says, with feeling. Because, like, what else is there to say? Goose eggs for brains, he’s got.

He swings his head around, counting off each member of their patrol—minus one. He catches sight of Iciclepaw’s retreating form and sighs. Thank the stars. He’s got to find her parents, they’re the ones who need to comfort her right now, but he can’t see them and he’s panicking. Foxpaw is—safe, but clearly not okay because none of them are. He can’t tell whether Smokethroat has told the clan what happened yet, because Lakepaw and Ravendusk both have their own questions, and why hasn’t he told them?

He finally notices a slate blue form crumpled on the ground, and Clayfur finds himself rushing to the other tom’s side. He must be destroyed, Clay thinks. Wrecked inside, because he loves Cicada and just watched the dappled tom die and now has the leader’s blood splattered across his whirlpool pelt like a brand. We shouldn’t have left him there. The thought presses into his mind unbidden, because Clayfur knows that they absolutely had to leave him there for their own safety. But looking at the state it’s reduced Clearsight to, he can’t push the errant thought back into whichever box it sprang from. It’s there for good now, a termite that’s found the highest quality wood to chew on.

He presses his weight against the other tom’s side, hoping to grant at least some small amount of comfort. He’s no replacement for Cicadastar, he knows. He’s just doing his best. Clay tilts his head down to lick against a speckle of blood, uncaring for the taste on his tongue but desperate to clean some of it off. Between licks, he murmurs, "Clear. Clearsight, he’ll be back. Honey, breathe." He’s sure one to talk, chest still heaving with the effort of running all the way here, but he closes his eyes and tries to slow his breathing down.

He doesn’t respond to Ravendusk’s question—it doesn’t seem right to just blurt out, Cicadastar is dead without preamble, an explanation. And Clay is already turning to the white-speckled lead warrior, eyes narrowed. He dips his head to nose at the crown of a blue-furred skull before staring the lead warrior in the face. "Smokethroat." He doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t think he needs to. "Tell them what you had us do." He can’t blame Cicadastar—the man had died for his mistake—and so his ire must fall upon the shoulders of Smokethroat.

“Don’t.” The lone word lacks its usual weight, the white-spotted tom shaking his head as the apprentice takes her leave to do as asked, “It wasn’t your fault.” It was mine. He shoulder have kept a better eye on her, he should have paid more attention to the box than querying over what it was, he should've gone to free Cicadastar from the arrow pressing his throat to the tree, he should have been quicker, he should have been more aware...

Smokethroat's train of thought was interupted by the sudden sound of sobbing and despair, his orange gaze finding Clearsight in disarray and the call of 'where is he' had him bristling in horror at the realization.
Clearsight’s wretched and heaving form has him frantically searching the treeline, he hadn’t realized someone had fallen behind in the haste to get back to camp so when Clayfur finally appears before him he is instantly relieved; for only a moment. And the brown tom comforts the other he turns to find Lakepaw and Ravendusk approaching, their faces twisted and words distraught-asking the answer to the obvious question; surely they already knew and yet they insisted on being told. Smokethroat could not fault them for that, could not fault them wishing desperately that the hard truth was right there at their paws. He could still feel the blood on his face and chest, drying up and making his fur prickle in unease at the sensation. The tom had seen countless cats die before, but not like this and not any that he felt any kind of kinship to. The split second before icy eyes hazed over into colorless hues was something he didn’t think he’d ever truly forget in all his days.

His gaze meets the normally jovial bard's cold stare and for a moment he does not register what was said, until finally he does.
There is an accusation in the demand, a push for him to accept the blame and explain. The words used were almost comically reflected by something he once said similar to Clayfur, a dismissive demand the other tell someone about his nonsensical patrol hunting whimsy and kitten stories at night.

“What would you have had me do otherwise, Clayfur?”
His question is cold, but his eyes are burning as he turns to the tabby tom with an expression both righteously infuriated and hopelessly lost. “Did you think I wanted to leave him skewered to a tree like a piece of prey?”
His voice remains eeriely steady despite the force with which he spit his words out, as if letting them linger any longer in his mouth would leave a taste he couldn't bare. That he might have even wanted this at all was an insult, if the choking and final words of a dying man hadn’t urged him to leave he would have sunk his teeth into the spike to bring the leader’s limpid form back to camp with them, but the risk had been too high…or had it..he didn’t know anymore. He didn’t know if what he did was correct or if it had damned the ashen king to a fate worse than death, he didn’t know if StarClan were honest and that perhaps Cicadastar would somehow return to them. He had no idea. Smokethroat realized then there was so much he didn’t know. So much he didn’t want to know…
“...if you hate me for it then so be it…” If he had to be the villain here then he could accept that, if Clayfur wanted someone to blame then by all means do so-he wasn’t going to argue or deny it.
It wasn’t like this was the first time he’d be despised for a decision he made and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“If you want to stupidly throw your life away do it under someone else's watch and not mine, because I won’t allow it.”

To properly answer the others' questions though, he turned away from the tabby with a sharp jerk of his head and faced them at the center of the camp.
“Cicadastar was killed by something the two-legs fired, it pinned him to a tree.”
We left him, he went to say, but he lashed his tail once and rephrased the sentence before it escaped him, “I made the call to leave him.” And he did. He’d done as ordered, as asked, as begged for with the last dying gasp of a cat they may or may not ever see again for all he knew.
"...I'm assuming they took him back to their camp...I..." He didn't know what to do. Impulsively his gaze darts around for the familiar smoke form of Willowroot, as if she could do anything, as if her just being there would help.

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Everyone looked so sad. There was melancholy the hung dark in the air more powerful than Fernpaw had ever experienced- not that there was much competition on that front. Most of his life up until now had been filled with happy memories and only brief lapses of failure. But this group, they were nothing like him. They were big, banded together, inseparable and powerful. Yet there was one important face missing, the thought that the solemn atmosphere conjured in his mind one that distressed Fernpaw greatly. Pondwater eyes watered, vision swam, as he toddled clumsily toward the group.

"Wuh- what happened...?" Looking around and realising the juvenile certainty that he needed despite what he could infer, Fernpaw felt smaller than ever. Smokethroat spoke, addressing not just him but everyone- Cicadastar was killed. The tiny tom could not help the fat tears that flattened his face fur then, falling without the shudder of a sob. He blinked, hard, trying to suck it up and show everyone that he was tough- but he couldn't stop it, not as he saw Uncle Clayfur falter, not as he saw the shaken stoniness that his usually-so-well-put-together sister displayed. The air was frigid with uncertainty. "Why'd... why'd they hurt him...?"

Fernpaw's voice now was a quiet whimper, barely a squeak in his throat. Cicadastar hadn't been doing anything wrong or bad. Why would they do that? How could they?
( penned by pin )
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I’ll be right back, okay? She had told Ash, rising on weak paws to get some fresh air. As much as she loved spending time with her newfound love, the air in the medicine den had begun to become suffocating, choking her with every breath. As words reach her ears as she sat outside, she swallows hard and immediately regrets coming out in the first place.

You- You left my dad?” her voice isn’t angry but the story her eyes tell says otherwise. Her heart begins to ache. No, no, no, no, this can’t be true, he’s lying, he’s lying. She stumbles a bit, eyes wide in disbelief. If it wasn’t true, then why did everyone look so upset? She wants to scream, scream as loud as she can, scream in to the heavens but as her mouth falls agape nothing but a strained squeak comes out. Shock. “He’s dead?” her voice is a plea as her eyes burn, sting and shes sure tears are about to fall. But she couldn’t cry, nothing came out. Her dad was dead.

She had failed for the third time in the span of a week. Sobs wrack her body despite the lack of tears. Her heart rate picks up and breaths become shallow. She couldn’t, she couldn’t lose him, he was the only parent she had left as Mother so graciously abandoned her. Told her she was never going to be her child. She wretches. Please.

Ash!” her voice finally breaks a scream, long and drawn out in agony. Theres nothing more that she wants right now than to just envelop herself in Ash’s touch. Everything she knew was falling apart. If Cicada had died, what did she have here other than Ash? Would this mean she would have to leave? Her whole world has shattered in the span of a couple days. She falls silent, shaking like a leaf in the wind as her eyes turn widened to her paws.

This wasnmt real. This wasn’t real, please.
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( ) she's there at a call of her name, slipping from her den, eyes bloodshot with lack of rest. she's been sitting up, waiting for the patrol to return, awaiting any news of who the new terror within the forest could be. the group stands now, in the center of camp, frantic and wild eyed, and she scans the tiny group, counting, making sure... oh. cicadastar is not among them. their glacier spirit of a leader is not stalking in last, nor is he stood beside his lead warrior, commanding stare giving strength to those around him. willowroot darts forward as yowls break out, demands to know where cicada could be, what happened. clayfur, icy eyed and sullen, demands something of smokethroat, and wil watches her fellow lead warrior swallow fire. cicadastar was killed... and all other noise fades for a moment as she takes this information in. logically, this should mean the clan is left leaderless. logically, the smoke mottled tom now lies completely gone in some twoleg camp.

but stars exist, and with them, spirits. cada is likely going to return to them. to think otherwise would be defying what the stars have spoken. willowroot doesn't completely trust the leader, but she'll be damned if she doesn't trust the stars. she paces towards smokethroat, pressing in against him as he comes to a stuttering stop in his speech, and she prepares to take over. "you did the right thing, smoke," she'll murmur in his ear before she turns to the rest of the clan. "there is no use in blaming anyone but the treacherous twolegs who took our leader from us. cicadastar is strong and brave. he accompanied the patrol into that camp not because he knew it would be safe, but because he cares about his clan." tufted ears swivel, bottleglass eyes landing on each who has gathered as she tries to make sense of the situation in her own head.

why'd they hurt him? fernpaw's call begins to crack at their heart. you left my dad! pumpkinpaw's sob quickly finishes the job, a stunning blow to willowroot's emotions as tears storm from the ginger femme's sunset eyes. oh stars, this poor child. "cicadastar is not a liar. we must trust in him and in the stars that he will return with us, eight lives strong." and now they don't know what to do. they've said their piece, tried to soothe their clanmates and there is still bristling fur, still traumatized young cats collapsed on the ground. "there is nothing we can do about cicadastar right now. he is strong, he was granted life by the stars, and he will return to us. the best we can do right now is defend our camp and heal. smoke, take those on your patrol to beesong's den. everyone else, do what you need to do to feel okay. i'm sorry there is not more we can do. but there is no use blaming anyone, especially one who was following orders from our leader himself."

she bites her lip, claws piercing the ground as she takes comfort in the solid, breathing, warm being beside her. smokethroat and willowroot work together like they were meant to from the beginning. where she falters, he takes control. when he looses his way, she finds it. they must together lead their clan until their leader returns. stars, let him return.

"beesong will be very busy, so if you were not on the patrol, please don't crowd them. if anyone needs anything, come talk to me. we're a clan. a family. we'll figure this out. cicadastar will come home."

Foxpaw trails in behind the other warriors, eyes misty with unspilled tears, their golden depths vacant with grief and horror. She's unharmed physically, despite perhaps the lightest dusting of soreness where Clearsight had forced her away from her shock-stilled paws, but her mind is slow and thick like the fabled spoilt honey. It won't run properly, is sticky with memory.

The horrific smell of blood. The Twoleg's scent, the wooden claw protruding from Cicadastar's body. She has seen a cat dead before - only one - and she's there again, not a RiverClan apprentice but a marsh group kitten hiding her siblings behind a bush while their mother bleeds to death.

She shudders. She's a coward. She's cold. She's afraid Cicadastar will not come back. She believes in StarClan, she believes in nine lives, but they hadn't seen him wake up. What will the Twoleg do with him now?

Her heart aches for her mentor, body left alone. Is his spirit in StarClan, cursing them for leaving him there?

There's no blame in her heart for any of the warriors on the patrol. None for Cicadastar himself. Not even for Iciclepaw. Foxpaw knows the Twolegs are swift, cruel creatures who can attack without mercy. Had seen that at Ashpaw's disappearance on the riverbank.

Her lost amber gaze finds Lakepaw's blue one, and she shakes her head, slowly. She wants someone to comfort her, but she can't ask for that from anyone, especially not Lakepaw herself. She wants Froggy, Rocky, Dizzy. She wants Dewdrop. She wants Thornpaw.

But she only heads for the apprentice's den, ready to face an evening of nightmares alone. She plans to keep herself awake praying for her mentor's safe return.

He doesn't think about much and he can't think about much at all. His mind is an empty fog and all he can truly remember is the way Cicada looked hanging from that tree. Clay forced him to move, to get out of there and he did almost mechanically as his labored breathing started a higher pace. It took him time to calm himself as he followed the rear of the patrol. He doesn't want to be sick but he feels like he might just be. As he finds himself back in camp he swallows thickly and watches from a distance as everyone begins bickering. Every pointing paws at someone else. Nervousness sprouts and he takes his steps back.

It is not Smoke's fault, there was nothing he or the patrol could do for the leader and he doubts that any of them had the strength to pull that silver thing out of him. His stomach churns and twists and it becomes apparent that he will be sick. Swallowing thickly the scarred tom shifts himself away from the patrol then, watery eyes blinking as he makes his way. He doesn't want to he sick in front of his clanmates. They don't need to see his folly and how much he fears just about everything.

So he leaves off, gritting his teeth to keep it at bay at least long enough for him to get out of there. In his mind he needs to believe that Cicada will be okay but seeing that. Seeing him pinned to the tree like nothing more than a piece of meat. The image surfaces in his head and he picks up his pace, running along the length of the river.


A S H P A W.

Pumpkinpaw's scream has Ash clambering desperately from her mossy nest in the medicine den, fighting to reach the doorway where the girl sits, pulling at the gash down her flank but she doesn't care-- Pumpkinpaw is screaming-- why is she screaming--?

As she hobbles on still-sprained paws toward the pretty cinnamon calico, Ashpaw catches the tail ends of words snapped and snarled from outside.

--leave him skewered to a tree like a piece of prey--

--why'd they hurt him?

Cicadastar was killed.

Her breath catches in her throat as the words hit her.

Ashpaw crumples next to Pumpkinpaw, pressing into the other girl, green eyes glassy.


Cicadastar. Gone. Gone? He had curled around her so gently last night, had licked the top of her head and called her liebling-- "I've got you," he'd said, and she'd known for the first time that night that she was safe.

Pumpkinpaw is sobbing, Clearsight shuddering on the floor-- Clayfur and Smokethroat staring one another down. Ashpaw looks around, panicked, and sees Fernpaw trembling, Foxpaw in shock, Smogbreath fleeing--

She doesn't realize she's crying until she sees the teardrops hit the sand.

"Cicadastar," she whispers. "Cicadastar... he... he's not, he can't..."

He was the only cat she'd thought of telling after Spiderfall... after he. He. Talked to her. Cicada just seemed so-- invincible. Maybe he could make sure Spiderfall didn't hurt anybody else? But now the scent of blood is everywhere and she knows that it's his. And. He's supposed to have nine lives but he still isn't home. He's in the twolegs' camp-- what if he really does have nine lives and they just kill him nine times? What if they put him in a little silver box like she was in and they use their thunder sticks or their sharp silver stones or-- or--

She whimpers, tears rolling down ginger cheeks. Please no. Please don't be real, please Cicada don't be gone.

And then Willowroot arrives. Calm and certain, her mentor takes control of the situation with ease, their voice steady and reassuring. He was granted life by the stars, and he will return to us.

Ashpaw clings to the words.

Come home, Cicadastar, she thinks desperately. Willowroot's right-- Willowroot has to be right-- the world will end if Willowroot is wrong.

She presses into Pumpkinpaw's side-- I'm here, I'm here, don't leave-- and cries.

—— " i found gold in the wreckage "


He goes quiet as Willowroot arrives, silently thankfully and allowing her to take control of the situation with her words, her confidence, her assurances, all things he was incapable of giving when it was needed.
Did he do the right thing…? Despite the calm insistence he wasn’t sure if he had still.
Smokethroat kept his usual mask of neutrality but for once it was a struggle to hold it fixated on his face, normally he kept his composure well; could handle most things with an air of indifference and stoicism that rivaled stone for all its emotional depth. But he was crumbling here and he hated every second of it. He needed a moment, or two, or several.
Orange eyes found Willowroot’s gaze for a moment, sturdy and reliable as her namesake.

“...a patrol.” He says finally, the words strained as he forces them out, “...survey the camp? If they’re at the…the box nest they may not be there…” They needed some kind of footing, some advantage over the two-legs because facing them as you might a normal predator was impossible and maybe they would take Cicadastar to the camp? Maybe they left him at the tree? They needed to know something. Would StarClan act on their word or would they be left to flounder like trout on a shore.

“...no apprentices.” Would that have changed his choices? Would he have been more reckless knowing younger cats weren’t present and in danger. The dark tom tried to consider this, but in the end he found himself lapsing back to simple obedience in face of truth; no. Even if it was just him, Clayfur, Clearsight and Smogbreath-he would have acted the same. He hadn’t wanted any of them killed either, let them be angry at him for it he’d not begrudge them that.
It is Pumpkinpaw’s dejected and horrified question to an answer she already knows that is the final straw, even with Willowroot’s soothing presence there he can not take a second longer of the guilt that is piling onto him like heavy stones, but for his part Smokethroat’s demeanor does not shift in the slightest as he turns to pull away from the group and pad forward into the heart of the camp; he has spent years perfecting the perfect facade of composure and his claws grip it tightly against himself even as the cracks start to form. The mask remains, neatly fixated on his face and plainly neutral for all to see despite the fact that he is drowning under the surface of it.
With a tail lash he is gone, moving swiftly and vanishing just as quickly as his name speaks; smoke dissapting.