What happened to Ash is, Clay thinks, unacceptable. No child—because she is still a child, apprentice or not—should go through so much. He doesn’t care how good a shot he has, he wants nothing more than to track down whatever filthy twoleg touched her and-

Wow. Okay. I need to chill out. His heart is racing, breaths coming quick, and he hasn’t even realized that his usual easy gait has turned into heavy stomps against the dirt as he makes a beeline for Beesong’s den.

Now isn’t the time to stew in his anger, not when he’s got a kid to help take care of.

Clayfur tries to keep his voice down as he ducks into the medicine den. It’s important that he tried to stay upbeat, for the sake of both Ashpaw and the clan as a whole. It’s tiring, almost, attempting to be happy, enthusiastic, when the clan is suffering. And as hard as it is to keep his head up, he needs to strike the delicate balance between enthusiasm and softness.

"Hey, kiddo!" He slides into the den with an only slightly garbled greeting around a mouthful of leaf. He can’t tell whether she looks better or worse than when he saw her last. He doesn’t want to think about it. Beesong knows what they’re doing; he has to trust that even if Ash is indeed doing worse, she’ll get better with the medicine cat’s attention and care.

He settles a tail-length away from the apprentice to lower the leaf easily to the floor of the den, then looks back up at her. The three little ants trapped inside the leaf begin skittering around immediately, and he uses a white paw to gently guide them back onto the leaf. "Someone missed you," he says, feeling just a little bit dumb. "Well, like, obviously I missed you, but someone else did too!"

One of the ants is making its way up to his ankle, so he gives a tiny shake of his paw to dislodge it. The thing skitters back across the leaf, and he huffs in annoyance. Why did I think this was a good idea? "I couldn’t really tell him apart from the others so I just grabbed a couple of them, okay? So if it’s not him you can’t get mad at me." He’s hardly taken a breath since he started talking, feeling like he’s rambling just a bit. Is it too much for her? He hopes he’s not being overwhelming. "I just thought Rock might want to say hi to you."

// @tinyleafs

A S H P A W.

She's half-asleep when he arrives, blinking back into consciousness from another hours-long nap. Ashpaw has been sleeping a lot. Beesong says that's how her body heals.

She hears him come in and perks up, green eyes brightening. Clayfur! She loves Clayfur, he's the bestest!

Hi, kiddo! he says, and she starts to smile, but winces when it bothers the bruise on her cheek... she hopes Spiderfall doesn't come to "check" on her again today. He doesn't need to, she already promised.

(She wonders if Clayfur is the one Spiderfall would hurt if she broke that promise. She thinks that every time she sees one of her clanmates now, and it refreshes her terror each time.)

Luckily she's hurt enough elsewhere that the wince won't draw suspicion. Or... well... maybe that's not lucky? Being hurt isn't normally a lucky thing. Ashpaw is too busy struggling out of her nest to care that much. Aching muscles scramble at soft moss, the laceration down her flank panging its protest, but Ashpaw doesn't listen-- Clayfur's here!

"Hi," the kitten says as she hobbles closer, straining against injuries. "Hi, hi, hi, hi..."

She continues her string of quiet "hi"s as she reaches the tabby warrior and half-sits, half-falls into the space between his front paws.

When she realizes what-- or rather who-- he's brought with him, she gasps, tears brimming in glass-green eyes. Clayfur really is the bestest.

"You brought him," she says in an itty-bitty voice, lowering her little body to gaze down at the ants. "It's Rock. And, and his deputy, and his medicine ant... they traveled on a leaf boat."

She tips her head back to look up at Clayfur, then whispers, "That must've been a big journey."

Stay, she's thinking, please please stay. He doesn't have to play with her and Rock. She just... doesn't want him to go.

—— " i found gold in the wreckage "


Clay has been doing a good job, he thinks, of remaining positive about what happened to Ashpaw. He's been smiling and laughing and believing that she'll make a full recovery, but at the same time he feels as though he's crumbling inside. What if the twolegs who caused this in the first place get to her again? What if they come to RiverClan's camp to finish what they started? His mind chases itself in circles with worry, and he suddenly feels sick to his stomach. He'd do anything for her, even if that means he'd have to throw himself straight into the path of a twoleg that's ten times his size. He'd take a death like Cicada's if it meant this precious apprentice, this golden child, would be safe.

He gasps a bit when Ash stands up, mouth open to protest, to tell her to lie back down. But that's probably all she's heard since she came into the medicine den, and Clay may want the best for her but he's not the strict sort. He's here if anything bad happens. "Hi," he says, softly. She stumbles, staggers to settle between his paws, and his shoulders droop with relief. She's not so downtrodden that she doesn't want to speak to him, at least.

He smiles down at her, a gentle thing that brightens his entire face, and tips his head toward the ants and their leaf boat. "Yeah, I had to carry 'em kinda far to get here. But they weren't scared, I don't think." Because of course Rock the ant wouldn't be afraid of anything, just like Clayfur tries to convince himself he isn't. "Do his deputy and medicine ant have names? Like... Pebble and Stone, maybe? How do you name ants?" He chuckles mostly to himself, then leans his head down a bit to take a closer took at the ants over the ginger apprentice's head.
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