sensitive topics SHOULD'VE SEEN THE OTHER GUY — oneshot

[[ this is just a silly little thing i wrote to give clay’s development a shove & start sorting through his issues, but BE AWARE that there’s some blood & mentions of death ]]

Clay has never thought himself anything but normal. A regular guy, he is. But since trailing behind his family to join the ranks of RiverClan, he’s felt differently. He’s felt like more of a fool than he usually does, watching clanmates and strangers and children all moving through the water like they’re meant to live here. And he just… isn’t.

The thought echoes in his head. What’s wrong with him? But he knows the answer.

It’s the maddening need to prove himself, the urge to throw himself into danger headfirst because it has to be him. He has to make himself worthy of whatever he’s given in RiverClan, in life. Clayfur has a lot to make up for in that area, actually. He isn’t the smartest—he knows he isn’t—but he can’t help but think that maybe, if he’s the bravest and the most reckless, then he can be useful. And… how can he be useful to the clan of the river if he can’t even swim? Buck had said that she’s taught kits to swim! He’s a grown adult. He should be able to do this.

Even if it terrifies him. Even if the thought of leaning too far toward the river, of falling in and never coming back up, makes him tremble. He’s such a coward.

He stands, facing the water on slightly shaking legs. No one’s around at this time of day, where the sun is just beginning to dip behind the hazy line of the horizon. The sky has begun to glow with faint streaks of red and pink, and it reflects warmly off the surface of the water in front of him. I have to do this. He squares his shoulders. Draws in a deep breath. And jumps. With a short running start, the tom throws his body into the river.

Immediately he recognizes just how horrible an idea this is, because sometimes throwing oneself into the literal deep end of the river doesn’t help to jump-start any sort of training. He just feels himself sinking, flailing and thrashing his limbs around uselessly. He can’t swim. He’s so stupid.

Even if he’s keeping his head above water, it’s only barely, and he can still taste the mouthfuls of river water that he’s inhaling. For a peaceful moment, he thinks he’s getting the hang of it, but then a sudden change in the current drags him below the waterline and smashes him against the riverbed before continuing to drag him down the river.

He can’t feel anything after a few moments, and he wonders if this is what it feels like to die. The river’s noises have gone silent in his ears, and he can hardly think anymore.

It wouldn’t be so bad to die like this, he thinks. Nobody could call him a coward anymore, at least. But without him, what would Ice and her newly born kits do? He has a family here. But… does it really matter, in the end? His family won’t save him. His clan won’t save him. They can’t. And none of them will even realize that he’s gone until they find his body, he thinks. They’ll excuse his disappearance as silly Clayfur, wandering off again. It’s a horrible train of thought, really, but not one that he can realistically regard as untrue.

He’s slammed back into reality by the force of the rushing water pressing him into the side of a small rock that juts out of the water. It feels warm. Soft, almost. Something throbs dully above his left eye, but he doesn’t have the mind to think about it because he manages to scrape a claw along the top of the rock, drag himself halfway up its side.

There’s a moment’s pause, and then he’s slipping more, hardly clinging to the stone that his form is plastered against. His hind legs are still in the water, kicking furiously in a desperate attempt to push his weight fully on top of the rock, onto dry-ish land. But he can’t quite muster the strength in his forelimbs to draw his soaking form from the water, and his legs collapse below him. He slips back into the river with a panicked shout, hazel eyes flying wide as the water closes over his head.

He doesn’t know how much time he spends floundering before he manages to get his head above water once again, kicking out desperately with his hind legs. He doesn’t want to die, and the thought makes him frantic. Red clouds one of his eyes, and he can’t tell whether it’s from the panic or the sudden chill of the water that surrounds him. I can’t die like this! He can’t die in this river; he can’t just fall to something so pointless as a river. His father died facing down a fox to defend his family. Who is Clay if he can’t go down in a similar way?

It’s clumsy and it would likely be humiliating if he had his wits about him, but the brown and white tabby is swimming. Or at least, he’s kicking enough to stay above water. But he’s disoriented, and he can’t seem to figure out which way is up, much less which way is out of the river.

The river tosses him like a tree branch caught in a windstorm, seeming intent on giving him the beating of his life, but after a time that seems both too short and infinitely long at the same time, he feels rocks beneath his paws. His claws dig in, scrabbling at the riverbed and trying to pull his sopping wet self from the icy grasp of the water.

In the end, it’s the thought of his new clanmates that drives Clay to fully pull himself onto dry land. His beloved sister, his playful niece who he adores, even brave Mudpelt and his brother Claydust. It’s the faces of Ash, of Cascadesong, of even gruff Cicadastar, that make him move his tired limbs. He may not mean much to them, but they mean the world to him, and what good is he if he’s gone?

He sputters and coughs for a few moments before his noises dissolve into wordless groans. "Shit…" There’s blood dripping onto the dirt beneath his paws, he realizes after a moment. His paws are spotted with dots of red, and he feels woozy. Lightheaded. He takes a staggering step forward, but it’s too much. The world tilts sideways, and his body pitches forward with no strength left in his legs to hold him upright.

In the last moments of the fading sunlight, Clayfur’s body falls limp, unmoving, in a slowly forming pool of his own blood.
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