It was Kindleflare's suggestion to have Russetfall walk around the territory to build up the strength from his wounds. Firestar insisted she was the one to join him. She kept noontime free for him for that exact reason. So she waited for him near the entrance of the camp and once he arrived she walked alongside him.
The walk started off quiet, Firestar admittedly had a lot on her mind. Mainly something that sounds stupid and crazy in her head but kept her awake at night. Keeping their pace nice and slow, Firestar looked ahead to the creek, their chosen destination. Normally Firestar took them to Starfields but with the warriors hunting the territory like mad, it was easier to have a quiet place to sit and talk near the creek.
Upon arriving at the creek Firestar went to the water, taking a few sips of the cool refreshing liquid. She wanted to thank StarClan for clearing the ash from the water but found it hard to have faith in them.
Sitting beside the creek, Firestar turned to look at Russetfall and smiled softly. "I want another litter," She told him in an effort of beating around the bush for too long. She didn't want to drag it on and instead wanted to talk to him about it right away.
While she wouldn't admit it to herself in the back of her mind she was almost certain that the loss of Mapleheart had her maternal instinct in overdrive. The desire to ease the pain was strong she only hoped that Russetfall wanted the same thing.
His injuries were still healing, and every step pained him as the burns pulled. But it was better than being unable to move at all. He knew his time as a warrior was at its end. Past its end. He should have retired some moons ago, and he knew this. But...if he left for the elder's den, if he retired, who would protect Firestar's best interests then? He'd been at her side most of her life, from mentorship until they'd become mates and parents and long term companions. He loved Firestar, even if it seemed she had less and less time for him. Except now, when he'd been so badly injured.
And then there was the entire mess with Larkpaw. He was absolutely certain she was their grandkit, sired by their only son. Even if Wildcall had no clue who her mother was, and Larkpaw wasn't talking about her mother, he knew. She looked too much like his son, had too many similarities with their family. Firestar's eyes, the deep desire to do right by the clan, determination and fire and a bright light that seemed to come from within her little body. Firestar's light, his deep determination. Their family.
Russetfall remained quiet, contemplating things, as he reached his beloved at the entrance of camp, keeping his pace slow for the sake of her short legs and his weakened body. He needed to talk to her. It was time. It was past time. Much as he hated it, he was no longer physically capable of being her champion. His body ached, there was more silver in his fur than the russet coloring that gave him his name, and he couldn't bare the thought of trying to train another apprentice. He couldn't hunt as he was, he was only a burden at this point.
When they reached the creek he took a drink when she did, gathering his courage. He opened his mouth to speak, when the most unexpected thing came from Firestar's mouth.
"I want another litter."
His mouth stayed open, his eyes widened in surprise, and he abruptly sat down as all strength left his limbs. "What?"
She expected him to stare at her in disbelief but she didn't expect him to plop and sit. Concerned that he was faint, Firestar scooted closer to offer him support in case he needed it.
She knew by his single reply that he wanted an explanation but Firestar wasn't sure how to start. She didn't want Russetfall to feel like it was a last-ditch effort to hold on to their fading youth. In fact, she feared a possible pregnancy considering her first one was so long ago, but that didn't stop her from an attempt to explain to him.
"I know it wouldn't be easy for me physically but I want to have another litter with you. Kits are always welcomed in the Clan and I screwed up," She said her head dipping slightly, showing the truth of her pain. Russetfall remained the only cat to see her in such a state.
"I let my ambitions get in the way of our family while I don't regret becoming leader I do feel guilty for not giving you the family you wanted so I'd like to now before its too late," She told him slowly looking up, ears slightly back with emotions easily seen in her amber eyes. Would he decline such an offer? See the partial insanity to it all?
He shook his head back and forth, pain splintering through his very soul and showing in his eyes. She wanted kits with him? Now? Why? Why, in StarClan's great creation, would she want kits with the tom she barely ever spent time with? The one left behind and forgotten and just not worth it anymore? But...he'd never denied her anything, not in all the time they'd been together.
She felt guilty? Now there was a first. He rose his eyes back to her, not bothering to hide just how much she hurt him. She wanted kits. He'd wanted kits for as long as he could remember, but her ambitions and the clan always came first. She couldn't have kits, it was the wrong time. Maybe next season. Something always came up it seemed. And now, he was nearing the end of his life, and she wanted kits?
"Firestar." He finally found his paws and butted his head against hers. "My heart. I need you to understand something. I know you don't want to think about it, don't want to face it right now, but its coming. If we have kits now, I won't see them grown." He deadpanned the last as his voice broke. "You have no idea how long I've waited for you to want kits again."
And here it was, his hearbreak for her to see after all this time. This...this was too much. "I would give you anything you want, you know that. I've stood at your side all this time, never faltering and never straying. You are my eternity, Firestar. But...I'm afraid."
He dropped his gaze to the ground, feeling the hot sting of tears and hearing it in his voice. "I'd give you kits, if that's what you want from me. That was never something I'd deny you. I love you. But I want you to be prepared. I don't want anything to happen, not to you and not to any potential kits of ours. My heart won't take losing you, and yours won't take losing another kit. If you get pregnant, I need you to swear to me you won't do anything dangerous or stressful until the kits are born. No fighting, no hunting, let your deputy lead. I don't want to lose you, and I don't want to watch your heart break if these kits are..." He choked, he couldn't even say it.
At Firestar's age, and after the amount of time it had been since she'd had kits, she could simply have a litter of stillborn kits. And he feared it would destroy her heart once and for all. "Please, please promise me you'll take better care of yourself." If she didn't he would have to stay away from her. No kits, not if it was a choice between potentially having kits with his beloved again, or losing her forever.
When he pulled away slightly to shake his head, Firestar prepared for him to tell her no, decline her request. She'd be okay with it, Russetfall had always been a bit more level-headed than her, not that she wasn't. She just let her heart lead her first and her head sometimes lagged behind. It wasn't a 'bad' quality for a leader but it was sometimes a poor quality for an aging she-cat to have.
As she waited for him to reply, Firestar felt the maternal instinct start to bud again. The longing to have a few kits nuzzled against her, nursing and needing her. The love of kits was far different than the love of a mate or friend. Her kits depended on her for so many moons of their life. She knew the Wildcall still loved her in the way but it felt almost forgotten. He was grown and didn't need her anymore. She wanted him to need her.
Realizing she was holding her breath before he spoke, she exhaled loudly when he started. Her ears trained to capture every word. Hearing him state so simply about the frailty of his life, Firestar was forced to blink back the overwhelming sensation of anguish. She hadn't ever imagined a life with Russetfall truly gone from her. In the past worried about him dying in battle or from sickness but never from age. She wanted him to be immune to such natural aliment. A foolish desire in hindsight.
Moving forward, Firestar buried her head into his chest, attempting to curl up inside the safety that was her mate. An ear pressed to his heart to listen to the steady beat. He sounded strong despite his wounds, Firestar wanted to hoard that knowledge. Point it out to StarClan, show them he was strong and healthy able to outlive everyone if they permitted it, but Firestar knew StarClan wouldn't do such a thing. There would come a time he'd stand before the Clan and call himself an elder. Then there would be a time Firestar would have to watch over him in silence, mourning the loss of him just like she mourned the loss of their daughter. He'd leave her long before she was ready to join him and for the first time in many moons, Firestar regretted having 6 lives to spare.
Focusing on his words that rumbled in his chest before leaving his mouth. Firestar didn't move. She stayed there and listened. She didn't interrupt him because he made very good points. He always did.
He was going to give her what he wanted, just like he always had done in the past. It was then that Firestar was reminded of how selfish she had been for a vast majority of Russetfall's life. She simply took and took from him and he let her. He gave her so much. These possible kits would be her gift to him, better late then never, so she hoped.
Holding onto her words until he was finished, Firestar slowly moved her head away to give herself a better angle to look up at him before speaking. "I promise, I'll talk with Redscar and the moment we are certain I will step away from my duties, but I'll only be able to be gone until the kits are weaned. You will have to stay in the nursery with them until they are apprentices, if that's okay," She asked him.
He sighed quietly, licking the top of her calico head before turning his gaze to the sky. He could give her what she wanted, and hopefully his body would hold out until they were apprentices. He held no hope that he'd live to see them grown, and that was fine. As long as they were safely given to mentors he would be content to go on to StarClan, and from there await Firestar. Because he wouldn't move on without her, so he'd wait. As he always had, no matter how long it took. He'd wait for her.
She'd promised him, and he had to believe she'd keep her word. If she let him give her kits and then threw herself into the duties of a leader, leaving him behind again...well he'd leave their nest. A broken promise would be the last straw. Firestar needed to realize that his heart wasn't something for her to play with, and sometimes she made him feel like he was simply a convenience for her, rather than her mate. He loved her, but he wondered if her love still held true. He didn't think she'd stray from him, it wasn't that, just the heartbreak of an aged tom that knew his beautiful mate would outlive him.
Soon, preferably when she was heavy with kits and couldn't leave, he wanted to spend an entire uninterupted night sleeping with his mate. That would make him very happy indeed.
"Alright. I take you at your word, beloved." He shook his head and gave her a weak smile. "And here I was going to talk to you about me retiring." He gave a wan smile, butting his head against hers and enjoying her being close. "I can't keep up with prey anymore, and I slow down the patrols. I don't want to go to the elder's den, but I know I should. But this...well if the queens won't be too offended I would like to be the stay at the nursery dad once you have to go back to leading. Rather that, rather staying there and keeping my kits company, than retiring before the clan."
The gentle lick to her head had a purr slipping past her lips. Even if shes didn't say it enough she loved the little gestures of affection. The nuzzles and licks to remind her that he wasn't done with her yet, he was still invested. Sometimes when he licked her cheeks or pressed close to her she felt selfish. She had taken so much from him didn't have much to give in return, her Clan had everything.
Pushing away the thought she remained happy that he had agreed. He was letting her take more from him but this time he'd likely get something in return. Kits to love and nurture again, maybe lessen the pain of Mapleheart's death. Not that Firestar really expected that to happen. The possible new kits wouldn't ever replace her.
Mulling over the promise Firestar wanted to talk to Redscar right away, explain to the tom why she was going to need him to lead the clan but held off in favor of spending more time with Russetfall. Tucking closer to him she felt her thoughts wander already toward their possible new kits and the lingering fear of Russetfall not seeing them grow up.
Hearing him mention his retirement had Firestar leaning back slightly to look at him better. It was hard for her to listen but she nodded in agreement. He had a point and while it didn't want it to happen, she had to accept his request first as a leader then as his mate.
"I think that is a good idea. Let them have all good memories of you to last them well into their time in the elder's den," She meowed in an attempt to comfort him.