It is now Leaf-fall, Valley Year 8
The weather is now crisp and cool, with hints of frost forming overnight in the later moons. Prey is becoming scarce, leaves are changing colors. The valley feels busier somehow.
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Disappearing into the undergrowth, Aspenfire left behind the TreeClan camp without hesitation. Sun-high was their meeting time and wanting to avoid being distracted by the same timed patrol, Aspenfire set out early. Best to avoid drawing too much attention to himself, Aspenfire weaved in and out of various hunting trails. Best to leave his scent in well known areas so that those that came across him thought he was hunting.
His relationship with Ferngaze had remained a well-kept secret. The only saving grace was that no one had bothered to ask him. If someone had, he'd tell the truth. The moral compass within him making it nearly impossible to lie. His heart hung out of his chest, his emotions often just below the surface. No matter the trouble he'd get himself in, Aspenfire would refuse to deny her. He'd proudly proclaim his love for her in the middle of the camp, repercussions be damned.
Leaping carefully over a fallen log, Aspenfire picked up his pace. Now in the final few fox lengths of his destination. He all but sprinted to the gathering place, excited to his mate. The warmth of his breath made a small plume of fog appear before his eyes. He hadn't realized how cold it had gotten, judging by clouds above, he had a strong feeling it would snow. Even at an early age, snowfall amazed him. He'd often get his paws numb by playing in it. Building small mounds and pretending they were new magical places for him to explore.
Curious if Ferngaze had any similar memories from kithood, Aspenfire mentally noted to ask when she arrived. After covering her in all his affections.
Ferngaze had made sure to be busy that morning, taking Sablepaw out after she'd managed to shake the sleep from her body and joining the dawn border patrol and then breaking off to do a bit of hunting with her apprentice. She'd headed back to camp afterward, dismissing the young tom to whatever he wanted to do, and lingered a bit before ducking out again and trotting with purpose.
She and Aspenfire had made this meeting and she had no intention of missing it- not when she had such important news. Echoshade and Silverstar already knew, but she hadn't told anyone else yet- she'd wanted Aspenfire to know before the whole Clan did. Would he guess? How would he react? They hadn't talked about kits, but she knew no other cat had fathered the little ones growing within her and she hoped he'd be excited.
Splashing through the stream toward StarClan's Claws, Ferngaze spotted his familiar black-and-white form and lifted her tail in greeting, her purr loud. She flicked each paw dry before crossing the last of the distance and leaned her body against him, feeling his thick fur against her own short pelt. "I hoped you'd be able to make it," she purred, brushing her cheek over his shoulder. "How have you been?"
Used to waiting for her arrival, Aspenfire busied himself with grooming his pelt. After having sprinted the last bit to the gathering place, he had a few snags of out of order fur. The soothing motion of his tongue to various parts of his body eased his nerves.
It wasn't long until his ears caught the sound of splash water. Excited that she'd be there soon, Aspenfire rose to his paws. Soothing down the last bit of fur and waited. Tail twirling as he waited for her to come through RainClan's usual entrance place.
Impatient, he trotted forward, pausing only slightly upon noticing her form. It seemed leafbare hadn't hit RainClan as hard as TreeClan. His frame tauter then he ever wanted it to be. Hunting in the forest made it even more difficult with the rising tensions between TreeClan and NightClan. Taking to the forest to find food when also fearing an ambush never did anyone any good.
Greeting her with a gentle touch of his nose to her forehead, Aspenfire purred loudly.
"It's nice that I don't have an apprentice. Makes sneaking off to see you easier," He replied, with a playful glint in her eye. Proud that his mate had a paw in raising a new warrior. "I've been alright. Preparing for war at Lionstar's request. I hope that I'm not called into battle. I have no issues with NightClan," More pacifist then some of his clanmates, Aspenfire avoided all and any conversations of war in Clans. Leaving him alone for most of the day. Not that he regretted it. War never suited him.
Ferngaze's ears flicked back at the news of impending war between the two Clans, her purr faltering a bit before picking up once more. "I hope you stay out of it as much as possible," she prayed, lifting her head to lick his cheek. "Let's not talk about that, though. This is our time together." She breathed in, his scent still a touch strange with the TreeClan smell that clung to his fur- but it was mixed with Aspenfire's own scent, as much a part of him as her RainClan scent was on her pelt. It was comforting.
"I have something to tell you, though. I've been feeling tired the last few days- it's nothing bad, don't panic!- and my stomach has been a bit upset. So i went to see Dewfrost about it yesterday. And she told me something- something I hope you'll be as thrilled to know as I was." Drawing a breath and turning to meet his gaze again, the she-cat laid it out, her paws prickling as she waited for his reaction. "I'm expecting. Aspenfire- I'm going to have kits. Our kits."
Grateful she wanted to change the subject, Aspenfire's purr grew louder. Encompassing them both in the sound of their happiness. He could live the rest of his life at this moment. Close to her and unafraid of the future.
As she went onto talk about feeling unwell, his face contorted. Concern grew across his brow despite her telling him not to worry. Asking him not to fret was like asking a bird not to fly. Instead of vocalizing his concern, his tail twitched. Waiting for her to explain herself. Mentally preparing himself for the worst even if it pained his heart to think of her suffering any lasting illness.
Her words stopped his brain from functioning entirely. Aspenfire's amber eyes grow wider as he mentally sorted through the phrase, numb to the rest of her words. It wasn't that he was ignoring her. He simply couldn't fit his mind around it just yet, but when it settled in his head. He took a few steps back. Needing a bit of space to chase away the feeling he was going to faint.
"You mean it! I'm going to be a dad!" He exclaimed, previously tidy fur on ends. "Are you save to be so far from camp! Are you uncomfortable?! What am I going to tell my Lionstar...what about Silverstar? Do they even have to know?" His questions and concerns poured from his mouth.
Once he finished his outburst, Aspenfire forced his stance to widen to avoid getting dizzy. "Have you decided where you will have them" While it wasn't the smoothes of questions, it was his way of asking if she wanted to stay in RainClan or leave for TreeClan.
"Yes," Ferngaze answered, blue eyes bright as Aspenfire's question rang out. She smiled, her brief nervous worry about his reaction calmed by the obvious enthusiasm. She laughed, lifting a paw to halt the flood of questions and giving a reply to them. "I'm fine. I get tired and hungrier more, but that's all. If- if you want to tell Lionstar, that's your choice. I told Silverstar and Echoshade, my father and mother, that I was going to have kits... they don't know about you, yet. They probably think it's some RainClan tom."
Her eyes flashed away, her tail curling tightly around her front paws. "I'll birth them in RainClan's nursery. Aspenfire- I love you, but my family is there, and if I left..." How could she deny them the chance of seeing her kits? She wasn't their only daughter, but Dewfrost was bound by her Code to never have kits... and she'd already told them. Her mother would be looking forward to seeing her grandkits one day. Ferngaze couldn't take that from her. "But I want you to know them, too. And them to know you. You should have the chance, as their father. I... I don't know what I should do."
Glad she wa fine to be so far from camp, relief settled in his chest. Easing his earlier worries. He additonally he was glad that it was up to him to tell Lionstar if he wanted to. While he never expected something like this to happen, it was nice to know he had a say in telling the leader of TreeClan. The leader of RainClan knowing didn't bother him as much knowing the parternal connection to Ferngaze.
As she looked away from him, his heart filled with dread. Had he said something wrong. Then came her reply, the reality that they were at a cross-roads in their relationship became apparent. He hated seeing her upset, the idea of causing her any discomfort stirred him to burst forward with a bold proclamation.
"I'll join RainClan. I'll walk right now to RainClan with you and stand before Silverstar and ask him to let me stay. I never knew my father and my kits will not live a life without me," Proud with his words, Aspenfire nuzzled close to her once more. "I'm not doing this just for the kits mind you, I've thought about it a few times since you showed me the willow tree. You opened my eyes. I love you Ferngaze and I want to spend my life with you," Whispering his devotion, Aspenfire's purr grew loud once more.
Of all the things Ferngaze might have expected from Aspenfire, the immediate offer to leave his Clan and join hers was not one of them. His gaze was firm, his voice determined, and she had no doubt that he meant it. Her own reservations continued to nag at her however, and she shifted closer to press her forehead to his chest. "I'm glad to hear you offer so readily. But Aspenfire- what about your own family? Your mother and sisters? They would miss you, wouldn't they?"
Oh, how she wanted him to come with her. She could take the stares and sneers from those who would look down on her, the RainClan leader's daughter, for courting a cat from another Clan- if he was at her side. But she couldn't just snatch him away without making him think of the ones he was leaving behind, because they would wonder about him, miss him. She would happily lead him to RainClan, if he was absolutely certain about his decision, but she wanted him to be sure.
She made a valid point, which made him smile. Ferngaze would make a great mother, an honor to him to have her as his mate. Tucking his tail around the pair of them. He sighed. While she was right, it never occurred to him to talk to anyone else when it came to his major life choices. While his relationship with Moonfeather was gradually mending, Amberwing and Fawnspring had been heavily strained. Additionally, it wasn't like he'd be kept prisoner in RainClan. He'd likely be able to see them at gatherings.
"You're right, but I know I can visit them at gatherings. They will understand and if they don't I can't make them. On top of that Amberwing will probably be angry with me and I've been on the bad end of her claws once before. I have no interest in going back," He replied, the tone becoming somber at the mention of his sister's attack. While he hadn't talked about it to anyone, Aspenfire's quiet disdain for Amberwing remained quiet.
"I'd like to go now with you. The sooner we face Silverstar and ask for his permission and if he says no, I will figure something out even if that means I find a den nearby," Rising to his paws, Aspenfire shook out his fur and willed it to sit flat once more. Waiting for her to lead him.