Jul 8, 2022

the endless worry, heavy upon the shoulders of a girl with a desperate grip on what remains. this isn't about her. it has never been. buck has more to protect than herself. the river, caraway, raccoon. the woman is staring back at herself, some deep-seated ache that makes her eyes burn and teeth grit and grind. it doesn't matter what she does, how she grows, or her strength. the river will always show the little molly who would cry by its banks. in the end, is she not just that neglected child? providing for the world, and wishing for the same?

buck thought that after all these moons, she would have been over it. but perhaps its something that will haunt her. there's a shudder on her breath before her shoulders round and eyes clear. if the world is to look upon her, they won't see a scared girl. a proud and confident fighter, a woman who holds her own. someone who can steel themselves against the rushing waters and come out victorious.

her paws tear apart the mirror image of her, padding through the cool waters as she continues on. buck has little care for their camp, the same that they had little care in stealing. her body disappearing in the winding reeds. the cattails reaching for the sky, dancing with the wind as the clouds float calmly ahead. it's scenic, and it's beautiful, and it's all she knows. her chest narrows and expands with the deep breaths she takes. the water fills the air with its homely scent, the birds are chattering in a language she'll never understand, the brush is gentle and calm.

the calmness almost brings forth a bubble of laughter at her earlier outburst. but she's frustrated and confused. she has eyes looking to her, cats she can't let down. a ticking is constant, she's sure that if the land cats knew of her threat to their god, she'd have a bounty on her head.

there's a heaviness, something forcing her off her path. her paws slide a bit, the grasses below tickling the pads of her feet. a concentrated gaze settles upon someone alike. a dark chestnut tom, she's sure he is the fool in the river from earlier. he looks weak, scrawny in a sense. it almost pushes her to settle, but buck knows better than to be careless around a land cat. "I thought you would've drowned in a puddle by now." its a half-hearted tease, but buck is still cautious and tense.


Clay is a simple man, really. He only moved to RiverClan’s horribly dangerous, scary territory because his family also moved here. He still doesn’t quite understand why the solution to the two groups fighting was to split two groups into five. Won’t that just cause more fighting, now that there are more groups all needing food and territory? Maybe the reasoning has just gone over his head—that tends to happen often.

The brown tabby perks up when he hears someone approaching; hazel eyes raise to meet the form of another brown and white cat. She’s not thin and weak-looking, but is also not powerfully built. She could definitely beat him in a fight if she wants to. Oh, she’s saying something. "Huh?"

He stares at her for a second, gold-flecked eyes blank as he untangles the thread in his brain. Oh. He has the good sense to be momentarily embarrassed, dipping his head to look at the ground instead of at her. His brain helpfully recalls his fall into the river, his shriek and the blind panic that he’d felt before realizing that the water he’d tripped into wasn’t deep at all. "Honestly, I thought the same thing," he admits, a goofy smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

"The water isn’t fun. I dunno what I thought, like, coming here when I’m scared of it." He thinks she’s one of the cats who’d already been living here when Cicada had brought the rest of them to their new camp, and he feels a bit self-conscious about himself suddenly. But he presses on, tipping his head to the side. "Can you swim?" He questions, ears flicking forward as he settles into a sitting position, one hind leg extended comfortably.

he doesn't seem bright, either that, or he lacks any attentive qualities. she almost feels foolish for being on edge with the same tom she watched drown in the shallows. she's either losing her edge or becoming paranoid. neither is too good.

he's staring at her, causing the muscles under her furs to tense and stiffen. she stares right back, a tight frown decorating her lips as she attempts to stare him down. and then he's studying the ground, and she takes a step back. this tom is strange. most cats she's seen share a little conversation with her and move on. perhaps ask her for help if they are newer to the river, need someone who can swim to show them how to live. to show their kits a new way of survival. that's usually when their interactions end.

and then he smiles at her. something jovial and bright and crooked. she does not return the action. there's no need to be on friendly terms. especially with someone that buck won't see in a moon. by then, minnows will be feasting on him. he came to the rivers, unknowing of anything, and joining those landers. it's an instant mark as an enemy, but she feels that if she were to even huff on him, the tom would blow over. his presence isn't firm, it's bending and willowy. she's planted in this land like a reaching pine. never moving or faltering.

she is about to leave, but then he asks her if she can swim. this draws a slight laugh from the woman. "swim?" she echoes back his question, surely he has enough brain to realize she's one of the cats who opposes him. the cats who have only known the river and its beauty. "yes-yes, I swim. better than some of the fish." he's relaxing in her presence, and unbeknownst to her, buck is doing the same. "why? are you looking for lessons? maybe you could join some of the kits i've taught." the younger they are, the easier they take to the water. the similarly pelted tom might be a bit too big for them.

Clay doesn’t see her as a stranger, or an outsider, or any sort of threat. He doesn’t see anyone as an other, actually. The cats of RiverClan are his friends by association. And as for the cats living in the river territory, regardless of origin, he thinks they’re all his friends as well. Or they will be eventually, at least. Because he’s funny, and always cheery, and good at making conversation—even if the she-cat he’s talking to right now seems to think the opposite, if the less than amused expression she wears is any indication. "Better than the fish," he echoes, tipping his head to the side slightly. She must be really good at swimming, then.

When she asks if he’s looking for lessons, he shakes his head without a thought, hazel eyes going wide. A grimace curls onto his maw. "You couldn’t convince me to get in that river even with my own life on the line." He says it with the utmost seriousness, but his grin slides back into the loose, sharp-toothed one that usually sits on his face. It’s better to take things in stride than to cause problems, isn’t it.

"I’d get laughed at by the kits, anyway," he adds, trying not to allow his annoyance to show. No, he’s definitely not upset that some hypothetical kits are able to swim better than he can. He’s just offended by the idea that he would need to be taught swimming lessons alongside a group of children. As if he’s not fully grown. "You actually teach kits, though? How long have you been around the river?" There’s no way she’s that good at swimming, right? But if she has, perhaps she’ll teach Lily to swim. Never mind the fact that his niece is old enough to take care of herself independently; he’s just checking in case she happens to need it.

he is turned off from the rapids, alighting annoyance in the water-born woman. there wasn't a tinge of a light-hearted refusal, it was a man being final about something. it always sounded different to her than when a molly was firm on her refusal. "so you expect others to fish for you?" to live amongst the river is to be apart of it, she has given up everything to be near it and to stay by the sand and pebbled banks. "if you can't stand water, why even be here?" she copies his tone from earlier, perhaps she poses it as a challenge, but to stay in a land that is so dependent upon the fair tides...it could never make sense to her.

the tom, still unnamed, tries to flee from the heavy air between them. striking with another joke, how he wouldn't want to be humiliated by the young who could actually swim. it draws a light exhale from her, but the kits would never laugh. they've all been in the same position. nervous about their changing world, of learning something that could drown them, of buck. and then they light up with pride as they wade further from the shore and as they catch their first fish. "I teach every one that comes to me." buck was always going to give a fighting chance to the young, perhaps as a reflection of what she could not do before.

"i was born here. dark day by a riverbed, the first with webbed paws." or, the first with prominent webs between each digit. she was always a strong swimmer. she was made to be. buck doesn't know about destiny, but her fate lies with the river. "do you really not intend to learn?" she pushes it further, watching to see if he'll bark out a harsh refusal. if he'll bend and break. buck only offers once, and the chance is slipping.

There’s no shame in being a lame, cowardly land-cat in the midst of a group called RiverClan. He’s been telling himself that for days. This brown-furred feline seems to think there is, though, and Clay can’t help but to frown at her. "Ah, no, actually. About the fishing. I’m working on learning how to." Just like he had been doing when he had so ungracefully flipped into the river, he figures he can fish without actually getting into it. Sure, his paws would still get wet, but he could stay dry as a whole. "And I’m really good at catching prey on dry land, so I don’t need anybody to help me find food to eat," he tries to brush it off with a chuckle, but the comment still sits wrong in his chest.

She questions his reasoning for coming along with Cicada, and staying in the river territory despite his dislike for the river itself. "I don’t like the water, but I wasn’t going to let my family come here without me," he says, feeling only slightly offended by it. She doesn’t know him, so of course she has no idea why he’d decide to move here. He tries to let it roll off his fur, shoulders relaxing. An open, comfortable expression returns to his face, looking only slightly stupid now.

She’s saying something about teaching everyone, when it dawns on him that he has to be one of the most rude cats in existence. No wonder she’s being callous with him—he hasn’t even introduced himself yet! "Also, I’m Clay. Ice and Beetle are my siblings, I don’t know if you’ve met them." He doubts she’s met them yet, but perhaps she’s seen the pair of them around the clan, or perhaps even Lily. He isn’t sure how much time she’s spent spying on the new arrivals to the territory yet.

At her continued prodding, he relents with a sigh. "I mean… I should probably learn how to swim eventually. I just—I don’t have webbed paws or anything like that." She knows how to convince someone, he’ll give her that much. He doesn’t want to be the only cat in RiverClan who doesn’t know how to swim. And he can’t be worse at swimming than a bunch of kits.