oneshot HE’S GOING THE DISTANCE — oneshot

Since a first attempt that left him with a nasty head injury and an occasional ringing in his left ear, Clayfur hasn’t made any move to slip back into the river’s clutches. He’s been fishing—or trying to, at least, with his only successes being spurred on by a lovely blue tom—but is still reluctant to put himself completely at the mercy of the water again.

He has to try again, though. He’d once been praised for his resilience. Or rather, he’d been teased about being hardheaded, but he took it as praise instead. He can’t just give up yet.

He stands at the edge of the water, toes barely being wet by the small waves lapping at them. His claws unsheathe, digging into the mud for a moment before retracting once again. (He’s never had nervous habits before, is this one of them?) He stares out across the river, hazel eyes steely and determined despite the subtle tremble in his legs. Today is the day. He’s going to do this. He’s going to fight the current, going to keep his head above water, going to make his clanmates see him as the RiverClanner he is determined to be.

Clay lifts a paw, feeling only a bit unsteady with nerves. Gently, he rests it just atop the surface of the water, watching ripples form at the touch. I can do this.

He steps forward, and both his forelegs are up to the elbows in the river. He lifts his paw to take another step, and the feeling of water swirling around his paws flashes through him like lightning. Like he’s been stung by a bee, the tom scrambles back, makes haste in putting distance between himself and the water. He’s trying so hard. He’s doing his best to be a good clanmate, not to let down everyone he cares for, but what if he can’t do this? This one thing, facing the river that his clan is named after. They already call him a drypaw, a coward—or maybe he just hears such words in the disbelieving scoffs, in the pitying tones of those who can’t understand why someone so fearful of the water would choose to make his home here.

But—that’s just it. He didn’t decide to come here. His family did, and that family has grown both literally and figuratively. Because his sister is now a mother to four more amazing children, and Clay’s family consists of the whole of RiverClan. And perhaps someday he’ll actually get to call a clanmate family in a different way, in the way that only a chosen mate can be, but that’s the least of his problems right now.

He’s disappointing them.

Some cats aren’t made for the river, aren’t suited for swimming. He doesn’t have the webbed paws of Buckgait, the fishing skill of Raccoonpaw and Clearsight, or the water-bound background of Willowroot. He is set back by his origins, a land-based feline with few inherent skills. He has always been better with his mouth than with his paws, and he can talk big all day but that doesn’t mean that anyone will listen if he can’t back himself up with actions.

The brown tabby is uncharacteristically still for a long few minutes, shoulders tensed, spine straight. He can’t do this. And isn’t that still the toughest pill to swallow, out of everything?

He’s turning to walk away, to slink back through the reeds and return to camp with empty paws and a cracked heart, when the shuffle of footsteps catches his attention. For a moment his mind flashes to Bigfoot and how he’s certainly going to die now, but there is solid evidence that he isn’t facing a forest monster today. He can’t see past the tall grass he’s padding through, but the stench of twoleg is hard to miss.

He may not be the greatest warrior of all time, or the smartest, but he can tell that he’s trapped between the twoleg and the river. There’s nowhere to run unless he backtracks—sure, the twoleg is still far from his position, but to slip past them would mean to get within a few fox-lengths of those heavy feet and loud voice.

There’s a moment of silence, where the entire world seems to go quiet. There’s nothing but the breathing of the twoleg and Clay’s pounding heartbeat, his own breath held like a prisoner in his chest. Then suddenly an explosion of sound fills the forest, and the echo of it startles birds from their perches in the surrounding trees.

Clay is running as soon as he gets his wits about him—there’s nowhere to go except for the river, because his brain isn’t working the quickest right now and he doesn’t have the thought to be stealthy. Away, he needs to get away.

His paws carry him back to the bank of the river, and a reminder of the last time he was in this position strikes him. The river is calmer today, though, and he has no other choice. White paws sink into the water and the tom pushes past the weight of fear in his chest to thrust his body into the river. Chest-deep, he briefly thinks that this would be a terrible way to die. But whatever that loud noise was still has his ears ringing, so he’ll take drowning over being on the receiving end of that sound.

He can’t say that it’s instinctual, but his legs are moving, flailing, almost as soon as his paws can’t touch the riverbed anymore. They’re clumsy, uncoordinated movements of his paws, and his head is only barely staying above the line of the water, but he isn’t being dragged under or slammed against a rock or feeling water flooding into his-

He grits his teeth, a grunt escaping him as Clayfur kicks and pants and twists his body to move himself through the water with all the grace of a newborn fawn. Halfway through, he catches himself grinning, a broad smile all full of sharp excitement. He’s doing it! He’s figuring it out! Well, not really, he’s just sort of moving and nothing bad is happening to him. But that’s just it—he isn’t dead!

His paws touch dry ground just on the other side of the river, but the distance is enough to immediately put him more at ease. And glancing back across the river, he can distantly see the twoleg stalking off in the other direction—a mercy, he thinks, that it hadn’t followed him, or even seemed to spot him.

With a toothy grin still plastered on his maw, the brown and white tom shakes himself off eagerly, spraying droplets of water all over the place. "Oh my stars! Did you see… that…?" He trails off, excitement fading just as quickly as it had come. He’s utterly alone, not a soul to be seen in the area. No one to see his accomplishment, as small as it is.