Everything had changed since Aspenfire's joining the Clan, but Ferngaze had refused to let her Clanmates' disapproval over the stranger suddenly in their midst sour her mood. She'd settled into the nursery, in a nest close to Echoshade, taking it easy as Dewfrost had told her to. The inactivity, the lack of duties to occupy her mind, left her restless and she'd taken to going on short walks while staying close to camp. The kits had kept right on growing, her belly expanding by the day along with her appetite- each day bringing her closer to the day she would birth her kits.
They came before sunrise on a cold day, the quiet patter of snow on the walls of the den initially the only sound when Ferngaze woke up. A deep ache, not exactly pain but not far from it, squeezed her middle like the pressure from strong jaws, and her hind legs stiffened until it passed and she managed a deep breath. She managed to get to her paws and make her way to the medicine den to fetch Dewfrost, ignoring the loud and repeated scoldings for not sending someone else instead, waking their mother as both slid back into the nursery.
Ferngaze was no sooner back in her nest than a pain started, sharp enough to make her gasp, claws curling into the reeds of the nest as she choked back a cry; blue eyes landed on Echoshade and she reached out a paw to her mother as the pain eased again, seeking the comfort of the gentle she-cat.
Echoshade spent most of her time being a fluffy kit warmer for other queens, and most recently a expectant queen warmer as the joyous news of her first grandkits arrived. She was so excited and had spent as much time as she could with Ferngaze, making sure her nest was just the way the other she-cat wanted it, that she had everything she wanted or needed, and that the tom that was her mate knew how lucky he was. Ferngaze was a beautiful she-cat, at least Echoshade thought so. Perhaps that was mother's bias, but she didn't think so.
So when the time came the she-cat was quick to her daughter's side, plopping down to be close and keep the other warm through this trial. "Mother's here my sweet." she cooed, taking on a tone she hadn't used since her kits had left the nursery many moons ago. As the first waves of pain came she laid a paw on the other and her tail over the swell of pregnant belly.
Dewfrost was busy delivering kits, so she didn't distract her other daughter, just happy she was there when her sister had needed her. "Is Aspenfire on his way?" She asked, grooming between Ferngaze's ears to comfort the other and snuggling in close. She'd move when and if the father of these kits got here. And if he missed even one being born then Echoshade was going to shred him.
As the days faded into moons, Aspenfire gradually gained more freedoms. Not many, but some. He had been permitted to walk with Willowbreeze to hunt in the rare occurances of thick foilage within RainClan's borders. It still hadn't learned to fish and hadn't really pushed the issues yet. He wanted to learn from Ferngaze and with her pregency, some things had to wait.
Lucky for him Willowbreeze was perhaps the most pleasant of cats to be around. Wary at first, she didn't grumble his name or glare at him as if he had been sent to spy on RainClan. Grateful for her kindness, Aspenfire considered them to have a budding friendship.
"We should head back, we got caught a few good pieces," She broke the silence of their hunt, pulling Aspenfire's attention. In his jaw, he carried newleaf plump mice, at his paws a water vole. A prey he wasn't sure if he enjoyed. While it tasted similar to forest voles, it somehow felt strange on his tongue.
"Sure, lead the way," He agreed, speaking around the now three pieces of prey in his jaw. Willowbreeze gathered up her kill, guiding the tom-cat back to camp.
Along the journey back, he focused first on the various landmarks. Certain permanent rocks or sections of reeds to help learn his new home. His daily walks with Ferngaze had helped him learn the immediate area but hunting trips broadened his understanding of RainClan's layout.
"There you are!" A different cat's voice caught his attention, his ears flatten in surprise. Prey fell from his mouth to make way for his words.
"Is something wrong? Is Ferngaze okay?!"
"The kits are coming, hurry up and join your mate," Aspenfire bolted toward the nursey, forgetting all about his fresh-kill.
Using his claws to slow him down as he skidded into the camp, he turned sharply to push his way into the nursery. Caught up in the sight of his mate, her mother and sister huddled together.
"Am I too late?" His voice, soft despite the panting from his sprint. He did not want to miss any more than he already had, he carefully picked his way around Dewfrost to join Ferngaze. Opposite of her mother. "I'm here now," He purred, offering her cheek a gentle press of his muzzle.
His heart started to pound against his chest as he felt Ferngaze's body flex. The miracle of life happening before his eyes. It pained him to see Ferngaze in obvious discomfort. He knew kitting would be painful, but as a tom, he would never experience and by default could not offer her any more support. Taking Echobreeze's lead, Aspenfire continued to purr. Doing the best with what he had. The thrill of becoming a father almost underwhelming as his sole focus remained in Ferngaze. Not that it bothered him, the moment felt slow as well as moving too quickly.
Between what he could assume were kitting pains, Aspenfire came to the realization in a few moments he would see his kits. The bundles of joy he had felt through the taunt skin of their mother's belly would be in their world. He could scent them, clean their faces and rejoice in their arrival. He and Ferngaze would be able to name them after she rested of course. He hadn't even considered names, following the tradition of not naming them until their birth.
The contained chaos creating a unique timescape. Time didn't seem to exist anymore. A strange sense of being unprepared washed over him. Could he keep them safe? Could he teach them anything? RainClan offered very little when it came to his skillset. No trees to navigate, minimal foliage to hunt in. The threat of failure as a father loomed over his head. Ready to rip apart his happiness and joy.
Lucky for him, the dark thought disappeared at the sound of Dewfrost voice. He hadn't heard her words but it helped return his focus to Ferngaze. "I love you," He whispered into the fur near her ear, wishing she could understand the depths of his devotion to her and to their family. To him, actions spoke louder, but in the confines of the nursey, his words would have to make due.