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Chapter 10 - Waiting
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Toru and Goru looked like they were
never going to finish talking, but Nemaro did his best to keep
his mouth shut as the minutes dragged on. He tucked his knees to his
chest and pulled himself into a meek huddle on top of the bed, as
easily overlooked as a dust bunny. It would be better if Goru forgot
all about him. With the two gods focusing on each other, as long as
Nemaro didn’t make a sound, not the slightest movement, maybe he could
make it happen.
Staying quiet and unnoticed was almost too much of a challenge for him to manage, though. The gods’ bodies and hair were so distracting he nearly lost himself in them every few minutes. It was only when he closed his eyes that he could finally keep still. The lights, brightly glowing fungus that hung from the ceiling, were too soft to get through his eyelids, so Nemaro could calm his body as he focused on everything else. The smells around him were strange and…interesting. Animal musk in different flavors, the strangely dusty scent of fur, and a subtle tang to the air, similar to the scent of Horu’s trees when the god asked them to move.
If Nemaro complained about that scent, little branches would always sneak over, poking at him until he tackled Horu to make it stop. Or tried to. Usually Horu stood there and held him away, laughing, until Nemaro gave up. Hells, Horu would face off with a landslide if it would tease Nemaro. The big green idiot. Always thought nothing could hurt him.
Nemaro opened his eyes, blinking them furiously. His fingers clenched over the blanket bunched near his chin. Horu had better keep himself whole or Nemaro was going to kick his ass.
Trying to control the strange shaking that had taken over his hands, Nemaro almost didn’t notice when the brothers moved towards the open doorway. Goru glanced at him and Nemaro carefully loosened his muscles, petting the blanket over his legs to stay calm. Toru walked out, still lecturing.
Nemaro took a slow, careful breath. Act small and unimportant. A few more steps and Goru would be out too. The room would be empty. That’s all he needed. And Toru might even help him. He’d been trying to smuggle him out at first, hadn’t he? Maybe all his talk was for Goru’s benefit and he’d come back in a few minutes to help.
But if he didn’t, well, Nemaro could sneak as well as anyone, so long as he focused and remembered where he was, and he was really fucking focused right now. He could find a way out of here. It didn’t matter that his jailers were gods with noses like a bloodhound. Even if they had powers that rivaled the nine faces of God, he was going to get past them.
Keeping his breathing even, Nemaro stroked the blanket again. The soft feathers tickled his palm, relaxing his mind. A couple minutes to let them get away from his room, and then….
His balls pulled up in terror as an enormous golden grizzly shambled through the doorway. “Merciful face of the god save us,” Nemaro whispered. The bear stopped in front of Goru, its grunt echoing in the small room.
Goru smiled, unconcerned. “There you are. I was wondering what was keeping you.” He scratched the bear’s heavy skull between its ears, murmuring to the mammoth thing like a baby. When he finally saw Nemaro shaking on the bed, he was all smirks.
“My friend here is going to be your guard for the day. She’s always a little irritable in the spring, though, so you might want to stay on your side of the room.”
“Your f-friend?” Nemaro’s voice was soft, exquisitely aware of how hard he was trying to avoid the bear’s attention. Her dark sepia eyes found him anyway. The shaggy face was enormous. She yawned, showing off her teeth, and Nemaro gulped. He cursed how well his mind took note of each and every sharp point inside her mouth. “How can you be friends with a bear?” His stomach was already sinking, seeing his chance at escape disappearing.
Goru smirked again. The bear shuffled to the side and slouched against the wall. She shifted her head for Goru to continue scrubbing her fur with his deep brown fingers. “It’s my affinity. Plants might listen to Horu, but animals listen to me. Don’t you, dear?” He stroked near her ears.
Toru poked his head back through the door. “Don’t puff yourself up. The only animals who listen to you are those on the ground,” he said. “Not those who fly.” His hair swung around his head, the colors blending so chaotically Nemaro had to look back to Goru to keep from getting dizzy.
“Of course not the ones who fly.” Goru rolled his eyes. “Otherwise I’d be you.”
“And predators seem to be more fond of you than they should,” Toru added.
“Naturally.” He and the bear looked at Nemaro. “Which is why most of your guards will be a little heavy in the tooth and claw area. Better watch yourself today, doe-eyes. Some of my friends have a taste for something more warm blooded than grass.” He grinned, baring his fangs.
Hands clenched over the blanket, body tense enough to break, Nemaro failed yet again to hold Goru’s gaze. He couldn’t do it. The god scared the piss out of him and the bastard knew it. Fright swirled unpleasantly in Nemaro’s belly, mixing with a healthy dose of anger. Nemaro wasn’t sure if he was furious over his own cowardice, or over the fact that Goru knew about it, but he wished he could get over it and stare the god down.
The bear grunted again and bumped against Goru, knocking Goru back a step. He laughed and cuffed her affectionately. “Brat. I’ll bring you some nice clover later.” He left, patting her one last time as he headed out the door.
Toru’s worried face poked back in after the bear settled down. “You’re not too afraid, are you? Goru’s only trying to scare you. He has more than enough control to keep his animals in check or he wouldn’t have them here. We wouldn’t endanger our brother’s mate. You’re perfectly safe.”
And then Nemaro was left all alone with a beast that slumped in front of the doorway and watched every fiddle of his fingers. As the minutes ticked by, Nemaro slowly lost hope that Toru would be coming back again to give him even the slightest aid. It was no use dreaming for help that wasn’t coming.
But he hadn’t the faintest idea how he was going to get out of this.
Nemaro watched the bear as time passed. Every twitch of the animal’s ear had him ready to bolt for safety. It was another hour before Nemaro couldn’t stand it anymore. There was only so long that fear of the animal could petrify him. No matter how terrifying it was, or how large, a wild beast that kept to its own side the room eventually ceased to raise his body’s alarm.
Until it moved, of course, and then every nerve screamed caution.
But he couldn’t sit on the bed all day, worried about getting too close to the doorway. Except there was nothing else to do. He’d already examined the walls, stroking over the smooth sides that were closest. The bed’s mattress and feathered blanket had been caressed until his fingers hurt. There were no windows to look out. The fungus on the ceiling glowed softly with a pale shine that made him think of translucent jade, but he’d already examined the color and shape of every one in sight. He’d even catalogued the bear’s strange, shaggy body.
Fur in shades of gold, eyes that reflected light like a cat’s, a smell that strangely resembled some strong concoction of grass and clover, and claws longer than Nemaro’s little finger. Even the sounds were all familiar: breathing, heartbeats, and the rustling of Nemaro’s bandages.
So now he had a choice. He could worry about being torn apart or worry about Horu and his friends.
Or masturbate, but he felt it was a little too early for that. And besides, his palms still stung a bit where he’d scraped them, and his cock felt especially naked without the hair that usually surrounded it. The soft slide of his bare groin startled him every time he tried to touch himself.
Nemaro got up off the bed, freezing as the bear raised one sleepy eyelid to watch. It didn’t attack. The eye closed again. He waited an eon before he took his first step, watching for a reaction, panting heavily when there wasn’t one. A few more steps along the far wall and the bear didn’t move at all. He tried to take a step towards it and its senses were suddenly alert and focused on Nemaro. The heavy head lifted, the body followed, and the bear let out a short growling bellow that nearly had Nemaro piss himself.
He’d stay on his side of the room for now.
The bear didn’t lie down again until Nemaro crept back to the bed and sat on it, folding his hands in his lap. Protecting his family assets. With nothing to do again, though, the bruises on his ass began to ache until he lay on the bed to take the pressure off. The bear’s heavy breathing became the only source of sound in the room. Nemaro’s thoughts ran around in frenzied circles, trying and failing to figure out how to get past the damn thing.
Unless something changed, he couldn’t see how it could be done. He didn’t know anything about bears other than that they killed a few hunters every year, and the females were more vicious than the males. He thought he remembered that correctly. Maybe once it was fed it might take a nap? Nemaro knew he could use one himself, even if he couldn’t possibly calm his mind to fall asleep right now. If it got sleepy, he might be able to sneak by, still. Or if one of the gods came in there was always the chance they’d dismiss the bear, or even better, take Nemaro out of the room. Until then, all he could do was find some way to occupy himself while he waited.
It might be time to try touching himself, after all. His hand moved under the blanket, stroking down the half-hard length of his own shaft. He stroked once, thinking of Horu and the feral look in his eyes the last time they’d been together. His member swelled in his hand. A small ‘whuff’ startled him and Nemaro looked up and straight into the bear’s eyes. It was watching him.
A bear was watching him stroke himself.
Nemaro’s erection wilted completely and he tried to think of something else until the bear directed its eyes somewhere else. He did not want to know why a man masturbating would be of interest to a female bear. But it wouldn’t stop watching him, staring. Nemaro was getting ready to scream at the stupid thing just to make it stop when Goru walked in with an enormous basin of greens for her.
The bear’s attention was all for her god and the food in his arms. Nemaro let out his breath. Anything that got the animal’s attention was a good thing. Goru examined him with heated eyes and Nemaro cursed. So, no, that wasn’t true. The god, whether he distracted the bear or not, was likely not a good thing.
Looking past him, Nemaro sat up warily as he realized the other piece of bad news. Toru wasn’t in the room with them.
Still raking his eyes over Nemaro, Goru ruffled his bear’s fur a few times before he spoke. “She tells me you’ve been behaving, for the most part.” He smiled slowly. “But if you’d needed someone to play with you, all you had to do was talk to her. She would have called me.”
Nemaro tensed. “I’d rather be alone.”
“Doesn’t look like it.” Goru nodded to the flat length of blanket over Nemaro’s groin. “You were much happier when you were on your back and underneath me.”
“I’d rather be alone.”
Goru stalked forward, his bare chest shimmering darkly under the light, glowing. “I think you’re wrong. In fact, I bet that after a few minutes with me, you’d be writhing for more attention like a cat in heat. And wouldn’t that just push Horu to the edge.”
Nemaro got to his knees and looked around frantically for something to fight him with. He yelled out in shock as the room exploded with small birds zipping through the doorway. The bear batted at them playfully but otherwise kept her attention on her own food. The little feathered blurs swarmed Nemaro and his bed, dropping seeds and greens in a small pile on the feathered tick. Goru started cursing and backed up a step. Nemaro was trying to figure out what in all the hells was going on when Toru came in with a stone pitcher of water. The god’s smooth stride hitched as he saw his brother.
“Goru?” Toru quickly looked over Nemaro, still half crouched on the bed. “What are you doing here? I thought you were out looking for Horu?” His eyes narrowed. “You haven’t been scaring his mate, have you?”
“Feeding our guard, that’s all.” Goru shrugged, not even looking at Nemaro. “And making sure our guest is behaving. Checking to make sure he doesn’t have any unmet needs we haven’t thought of.”
Nemaro choked off a growl and Goru whipped around and growled back.
Toru walked past him. “Goru, stop it.” He kicked him in the ankle on his way to Nemaro’s beside.
Goru growled at him, too. “Look, if the human took a fright from something then that’s his own problem. I have every right to see if he’s interested!”
The pitcher went onto a small table next to the bed. “I told you to leave him alone! He’s said he doesn’t want you, and Horu isn’t here to give permission, either!”
Goru shrugged again. “I don’t need his permission if we’re only playing, as long as his mate agrees.”
“Which he hasn’t.”
“But he will.”
“You need to let this go. The little one isn’t one of us. He could be hurt if you play too hard!”
Goru’s face went dark and Nemaro tensed again. “I. Am not. A cub.” Goru glared at his brother and after a moment where Nemaro was sure they were going to come to blows, Goru snarled and stormed out.
Toru stared after him. “Going to have to smooth some ruffled fur, there,” he murmured to himself. The god smiled more smoothly as he turned, looking Nemaro over. “Hmmm, you don’t seem any worse for wear. You’re well?”
Nemaro nodded, his heart still racing.
“Good. You can eat these, yes?” He gestured to the pile of food on the bed, ignoring the entire episode as if it didn’t matter.
As if Goru wouldn’t come back again the second Nemaro was alone.
Feeling a renewed sense of urgency to escape as soon as he could, Nemaro nodded again, trying to be agreeable with the one being who might be able to help him out of this mess. The mound on the bed looked edible. He could recognize all the seeds and greens. There were even a few out of season berries and a nut here and there.
“I’d hoped so. My little ones were fairly certain they’d seen enough humans to recall what you ate.” Toru grinned, sitting down next to Nemaro without being invited. He laid a casual arm over Nemaro’s shoulder. “Make sure to eat it all. You need this and more if you want to heal properly.”
Nemaro swallowed. He felt very naked with someone bumping up against him. After Goru’s explicit threat, Nemaro was far too conscious of Toru’s body touching him. His skin prickled with embarrassed awareness. To get out from under him, Nemaro could either get up in obvious rejection or scoot sideways and sit on his salad. He wasn’t sure how Toru would respond to either one and he couldn’t afford to offend him yet. Nemaro dug his fingers into the mattress and stared at the bear in an effort to forget his own nudity and really think about the whole situation. Was Toru still willing to help him?
Nemaro leaned against him, bringing their faces together. The god’s bare shoulder was excessively warm. “Can you get me out of here?” Nemaro hoped the whisper was low enough that Goru’s bear couldn’t hear it.
Toru’s arm tightened over him. “No, not that I would at this point. You’re too vulnerable without Horu nearby. And Goru knows who you are, now. He’d ferret you out before you even left the forest.”
Nemaro leaned back to protest and Toru shook his head. “Don’t bother asking again. It’s a waste of time.” Looking past him to the salad littering the bed, Toru seemed to dismiss the entire incident from his mind. “I wish the little ones would remember the difference between a table and a bed. Here, let’s get this moved for you.” He stood up, brushing past Nemaro to take care of the mess.
Nemaro tried to think of something to change the god’s mind and came up blank. What would matter to a god? What would make Toru want to help Nemaro again?
Toru’s loincloth swept forward as he scooped up another handful of food, brushing over Nemaro’s thigh. The same rough-spun fabric as Goru’s, it looked almost too coarse for the delicate hue of the god’s skin. A very pretty color, like the violet of a dawn sky. Nemaro’s swallowed and raised his eyes. Toru’s bare chest blocked his view of anything else. A perfect, terrifying thought popped into his head as he stared at the shifting muscles of the washboard stomach.
If Nemaro seduced Toru, he could get the god to take him out of the room. He could get outside and get away.
Nemaro looked at the god underneath his lashes. Would it work? He’d done a lot of flirting working on a job, but…it wasn’t always successful. Sometimes his surroundings got the better of him and he missed the chance to withdraw. It was one of the reasons he was so grateful for Sha and Meeta; they always helped him with that part of things, pulling him out of a situation if things got too hot to handle.
Could he do it on his own? And if he promised something, would he have to deliver? The thought of letting Toru have his body wasn’t pleasant. It made him think of Lanosh and his men and their hands all over him. Except Toru wasn’t like that. He didn’t pin Nemaro to the bed like his brother. He was attractive, soft spoken. He even smelled nice.
But…he wasn’t Horu.
Nemaro looked down at his lap and scowled. So what. This was his chance. It was a good chance. And if Lanosh attacked Horu with everything he had, it was Nemaro’s fault for being such a moron that he’d used Horu’s name in the first place. He had to get out of here and help, no matter what it took.
Nemaro willed himself to make a move. He could reach out and let his fingers drift across the back of Toru’s hand. Or maybe shift forward and lick the side of his neck as he bent over the bed. Toru put a hand on Nemaro’s thigh as he leaned over to get a few berries that had rolled off the pile to the back of the bed.
Nemaro bolted, leaping to his feet and whipping around, hands fisted in front of him. Toru stared. The bear grunted behind him, but the sound of chewing resumed after a moment. Nemaro’s lungs heaved as he shivered, trying to pull everything back together. What was he doing? The man had hardly touched him! If he was going to try and act available, he’d better damn well stop running away like a terrified virgin!
Idiot, this may be your only chance!
Nemaro reached over to help clean as if that had been what he’d intended all along, mustering up an embarrassed smile, but Toru didn’t seem offended. Confused, but not annoyed. Maybe he thought it was some strange human quirk; most of what he and Goru had said made it seem like they didn’t get many humans through here. Maybe Nemaro hadn’t ruined it all, yet.
Face tight, he tried to make clearing the bed last as long as possible to regain some control. If they were cleaning off the mattress, they had to be getting it ready for something else. Toru could be thinking about the same thing as Nemaro. That should be a good thing. A little kissing up would get Nemaro away from his furry guard, and then he could sneak back to Horu. As long as he went along with whatever Toru wanted.
Nemaro dribbled a few seeds onto the salad next to the pitcher, keeping track of Toru out of the corner of his eye. The god still smelled a bit like clover, with a nutty after-scent that lingered in the air, although there was another smell that he couldn’t describe until a few more latecomers buzzed their heads, dropping a small rain of new leaves onto the pile. Was that sorrel?
Nemaro reached for the pitcher to rinse the food off, stalling. He could see dark earth on some of the leaves, still. A quick wash would be something natural, believable. He nearly strained his back trying to lift the heavy thing. It was like trying to pick up a small boulder. Sighing over gods and their unnatural strength, he scooped out a handful of water from the top, instead, and rinsed the leaves over the table, scattering droplets everywhere.
A quick swipe with his bandaged arm took care of the puddled mess, and then he wasn’t sure what to do. Toru waited silently; Nemaro took his first bite standing up, unable to let down his guard enough to sit. In his head, he could see the casual way Toru had brought the pitcher in, carrying it as though it weighed next to nothing.
He was just as strong as his brother. Toru could force Nemaro to do whatever he wanted. If Nemaro put sexual ideas into his head, there was likely no way to stop whatever happened. And the god was watching him now, closer than before. Was it too late to stop already? Nemaro tried to eat a bite of food and it nearly stuck in his throat. Toru’s focused sky-blue stare made every bite an effort. Nemaro felt like he was choking on each swallow.
He separated the seeds, fiddling with the flavors to manage something more palatable – just a little something to concentrate on and calm down - but he couldn’t do it. The god’s attention was too distracting. And there was that smell in the air that he couldn’t identify, but…he should. He nibbled another handful of leaves and tried to remember what it was. The aroma hiding behind the clover scent was so familiar. He was certain he knew it.
He couldn’t figure it out until he took a bite of sorrel. If one could smell the taste of sorrel, it would smell just like this. And it was coming from where…?
Nemaro sniffed the air, eating another handful of leaves, inhaling after each bite, and found it on the god next to him. It was coming from Toru. Tart and a little tasty. And it was strongest on his torso, from under his arms. Which Nemaro realized he was only inches away from, so close he could see the pores of the god’s skin. He jerked back with a start, stumbling against the bed and squashing the mattress as his butt hit. Air hissed through his teeth as the sudden landing made his bruises ache with a deep, complaining throb.
“There now, be more careful. You’ve been damaged enough as it is,” Toru said softly. The feathers under Nemaro’s ass gave the illusion of movement, almost like a small, comforting pat. “Are you done eating?”
Nemaro nodded carefully. The food was nearly gone, and the bed was clear. Toru had to think he was willing, now. That was what Nemaro wanted. It was. He needed the god to think he was willing to let him….
Smiling, Toru ruffled his hair. “Good. You eat quickly enough not to be a bother. Now lie down and we’ll finish it all up.”
“Now?” Nemaro’s voice cracked and he cursed at himself, scooting back. He had to stop fighting. He had to do this. Toru touched his shoulder and Nemaro slapped it away, snarling before conscious thought could keep his mouth in check. “Don’t fucking touch me!”
Dammit, no! Fucking idiot!
Toru’s face was confused for only a moment and then he chuckled. “Oh goodness no, you don’t have to worry about that, not since I learned you belonged to Horu. Well, unless you’d like? We could play a bit, I suppose.” Blue eyes looked him over.
Nemaro tried to nod and shook his head instead. He couldn’t stop himself. Toru was too close, hovering over him, trapping him against the wall by sheer presence.
Toru smiled again. “You can always change your mind later, if you and Horu wish. I still think you’d be fun. Your bottom is so small it must be very tight. We could share for the night.” Nemaro paled. Toru pursed his lips and murmured in a quieter voice. “You’re such an energetic little hummingbird, though. Have his tastes changed that much?”
“What?” Nemaro flushed at the look on the god’s face. Interested.
Toru stared at his face. “Fascinating. Your skin reddens quite prettily, did you know that?”
Nemaro thought of Lanosh, commenting on his skin as he beat him. He felt sick to his stomach. “So I’ve been told,” he said faintly. He cleared his throat. “What do you want, Toru?” Nemaro drew in a big breath, ready for anything. There was just too much going on that he didn’t understand.
He had to know what the god was thinking so he could get him to let Nemaro out. Somehow. Without sex. Or with it. He could do that. It would just take some deep breaths, and maybe a little pain, but it’s not like he’d never had sex before!
Toru smiled again – did he always do that? “I was going to change your bandages. You’re overdue.”
After a moment of relieved surprise, Nemaro nodded. “That would be…fine.” He slid to the side, shifting over to lie awkwardly on the bed, wildly self-conscious at how exposed he was. He had enough bandages to be clothed, but they were covering all the wrong places. Underneath him, the feathery blanket cradled his ass and brushed against the back of his neck, making him feel very, very naked.
Toru didn’t even seem to notice. He unwound the soft cloths – they had to be some strange weaving of fur - and Nemaro was able to see some of his body for the first time.
It was worse than he’d expected, and it all hurt more the longer he looked at it. No wonder Toru wasn’t interested. Nemaro looked like someone had tried to paint his entire body with wounds. His palms were tight and stinging. He had scabbing scrapes up and down his arms and legs in patches. His backside felt like it hadn’t escaped with all its skin, either. His balls were still a little tender.
Most of his skin was a patchwork of black, yellow, and brown bruises, and a slim, dark line of bruising ran around his thigh from where Lanosh’s lash had missed his groin. Nemaro’s face couldn’t be much better, from the feeling of his lips when Toru started there, rubbing balm over them carefully and smearing it in a thin layer over one of his cheekbones.
Meeta had always taunted him that he bruised more easily than a babe, but it had never bothered him as much as it did right now. He didn’t want to have anything from Lanosh left on him. Looking at the mark over his thigh while Toru carefully slathered his body with more of the pungent smelling salve and rewrapped it, bit by bit, Nemaro swallowed, hard. Thinking of Meeta again, he felt so selfish inside he wished he could scrub his innards. What about the others? He was whining to himself about not wanting any marks on his skin, and what was happening to them while he was complaining? While he cringed over someone touching him gently, Meeta and Sha might be facing so much worse.
He put his hand out to stop Toru from finishing the next bandage on his calf. “Please, can’t you get me out to help Horu?” he whispered. The bear was still munching happily on her food, oblivious. “Your brother’s not here right now to stop us. You could say you’re taking me out to… to piss. I just ran away and you couldn’t find me.”
Toru shook his head, eyes soft. “No, hummingbird. I’m sorry, but no.”
“I-” Nemaro swallowed heavily, closing his eyes. Horu mattered. The women mattered. They mattered more than letting somebody touch him. “I could…pay you. Y-you said it yourself. I’m s-small. And tight. Horu’s said it, too. I could-”
Toru’s finger touched his lips, stopping him. He was shaking his head as Nemaro opened his eyes. “Now it’s definitely no. I would never take advantage of you that way, little one.”
“You were happy enough to kidnap me to use that way,” Nemaro snapped quickly. “Or to share me with Horu.”
Toru snorted. “Only if you’d been willing. And I can tell well enough when you’re interested, and when you are obviously not.”
“Like that makes a difference to a god,” Nemaro growled.
Toru sat up in surprise. “Of course it does. We are not rapists.”
“Uh huh. And Goru was just going to sing me lullabies and let me go? Do you think I’m stupid?”
Toru’s head twisted, reaching for another bandage as he spoke. “If you are not aroused, Goru won’t touch you, not for more than a few minutes to see if you might become aroused. No god would. That’s simply….” Toru shrugged. “It’s impossible.”
Nemaro thought of Mosumato and wanted to call him a liar. Except it had been pleasurable, that first time. A little, in the middle. And a lot, at the end. So, did that mean….
Was Toru trying to say that if Nemaro wasn’t so damn easy, Mosumato would have stopped?
Toru continued smearing medicine and putting on new bandages, brushing the lotion over Nemaro’s sore balls until Nemaro squeaked and tried desperately not to hit him.
“I said you weren’t in danger,” Toru soothed. He gestured to where Nemaro’s balls were trying to pull back inside his body, his cock soft and flaccid. “You’re obviously unaroused. Even if you offered again, no god would take you like this. The very idea is…disgusting.”
“Goru says a lot of things. He wouldn’t actually go too far; he just likes to frighten you. Not that hard to do, hummingbird. You’re as ignorant as a yearling.” Toru grumbled under his breath. “And besides, I am not my brother.”
“Then why are you keeping me here? Goru’s the one who-”
“Even if Goru’s motives are wrong, that doesn’t mean all his actions are.” Toru patted his head like a small child’s. “You shouldn’t be this far from your mate, not when you’re in no position to defend yourself. Horu would never forgive me if I left you alone in such a state. And to willingly help you flutter right back into jeopardy? Horu would rip open my belly, if I didn’t do it to myself from shame.”
Nemaro scowled. “Horu needs help! Can’t you see that? How can you and your brother sit here on your asses when your brother needs you? What in all the hells is wrong with you?” Toru continued bandaging him, although his shoulders tightened. “You talk like you care about him, but in the end, you’re a faithless, cowardly-”
Toru gave a short, piercing shriek of a sound that flattened Nemaro instinctively against the mattress. It was like the cry from a hawk about five times larger than it should be. Toru’s eyes were no longer as friendly. “Goru and I are doing exactly what my brother needs right now. We are watching over his foolish little mate who seems to be trying to throw himself back into the trouble that he couldn’t deal with effectively the first time or he wouldn’t have ended up as he is now: injured and helpless.”
Nemaro winced as the new bandage was tightened with a bit too much force. Toru muttered under his breath as he adjusted it again more carefully. He smoothed his hand over Nemaro’s stomach in an apology that was just this side of erotic.
Nemaro took a deep breath and gathered up enough spit in his mouth to speak again. If protecting him was the only reason Toru was keeping him here, he could fix that. “I’m not helpless. Just give me a couple knives and some clothes and I’ll be fine.”
Toru moved on to the next wound and didn’t say anything.
“Look, I was caught by surprise last time. I wouldn’t be again. And I don’t even need the supplies. I can steal something off any number of caravans on the road up to the Keep.” Although how he was going to get into the keep undetected when Lanosh was probably looking for him, he had no idea. But Nemaro could do it. He’d escaped from the Temple. No Gift had ever done that before; even Lanosh had known that.
It made his bowels clench fearfully when he tried to think of everything that had to be done just right for it to work, but he had to do this. Horu might need him. “Horu won’t know what’s going on, or where I am. And there’s too many humans for him to deal with. He’ll need my help. I’m good at this.”
Toru stared straight into Nemaro’s eyes. “I’ll think about it if you can honestly tell me that Horu would have no problem with you putting yourself in danger in order to help him.”
“Of course he wouldn’t. He knows I can take care of myself.” Even if he did hover over Nemaro like a mother hen. Nemaro swallowed and wished desperately for him to hover again. Any time he liked. As long as he damn well came out of that benighted Keep.
“He wouldn’t, hmm?” Patting Nemaro’s leg gently, Toru finished with the last bandage and stood up. “And I suppose he had no misgivings about you going into danger in the first place?”
Nemaro shook his head automatically. Toru’s hard stare made his cheeks flare, but he ignored it. So what if Horu had some stick prodding his ass over Nemaro not getting involved with Lanosh? He got odd quirks like that in his head sometimes, just like his panic over Nemaro’s pneumonia, or that one time when Nemaro had twisted his ankle and Horu had insisted on carrying him the ten miles to the nearest witchwife, just in case he’d broken it.
Horu was overprotective like that. It didn’t mean anything; it was simply the way he was.
“Mm hmm. Obviously he did.”
“No, he didn’t!”
Toru’s head tilted. He inhaled briefly, a quick sniff. “You’re a pitiful liar. Even before my affinity bloomed I could have spotted a lie that obvious.”
“I’m not lying!” Nemaro firmed his face, angry and not trying to hide it. Toru merely shook his head again.
“It’s not going to work. I don’t believe you. Helping you escape would be as good as betraying Horu. And if Horu truly needs help, it will be accomplished without putting you in danger again.” Toru started to walk past the bear and paused. Nemaro sat fuming on the bed. “Can you be trusted to come outside to relieve yourself, or will we need to bring in a container of some kind for you?”
Nemaro jumped up, mind racing. He could still get outside? If he could get outside, then he had a chance. “I won’t try to escape!”
Toru’s look was like a teacher chastising an errant child. “You’re. Still. Lying.” He turned to go and Nemaro frantically thought of what he could do to change the god’s mind.
“I won’t try to escape now if you let me go out! I promise!” He wouldn’t. He’d use his time outside to figure out where he was, and how far away the Keep was, but he wouldn’t escape. He’d do that the next time he was allowed out. As long as they didn’t ask again, or he could think of some way to answer that wasn’t lying, this could be his way out.
Although how did they know, anyway? He wasn’t that bad at lying. He was pretty good at it, actually.
Toru examined him from head to toe, tasting the air while his eyes moved, and he finally nodded. Nemaro’s breath whooshed out in a relieved rush. “Come on, then. Only for a few minutes, mind you, but you’ll still get some fresh air. It’s not healthy caged in all day like this.”
Nemaro took a step and felt air circulating where it really shouldn’t be. “Uh, clothes?”
“Why would you need those? You don’t have anything I haven’t already seen. And today’s a warm day. You’ll be fine.”
“I can’t walk around outside naked!”
“Well…you’re not naked!”
Toru’s eyes brightened. “Ah, I see. This is a human thing, yes? Such a quirky race. Don’t worry, I’ll take off my loincloth.”
“No!” Nemaro swallowed. Toru already had one hipbone bare. The lilac skin looked flower-petal smooth. “I want clothes of my own. Like yours.”
And there went the head shaking. “No, you’d be too tempted to run, I think, even if you truly do mean to keep to your word right now. No clothing.” Nemaro cursed and Toru gestured to him. “Now do you mean to come, still, or are you going to hide out here in the room?”
“I am not hiding!” He just wanted something to cover himself with so he had a better chance to blend in once he got free! It wasn’t that much to ask. Why couldn’t the gods make any sense?
“Then come. The sunshine will do you good.”
Snarling under his breath and creeping cautiously past the heavy bear, which looked happy to continue eating as long as the god was taking charge, Nemaro followed Toru out of the doorway. It turned out that his room was at the end of a passageway that looked like the polished insides of an enormous root. It was no longer than the width of a small inn, just tall enough so that Toru didn’t have to duck.
The sides and ceiling were rounded, a little gnarled and irregular, with vivid grain patterns that Nemaro could have spent hours tracing. A few open doorways broke to either side of the hall into small rooms. No doors blocked the openings, just like in Nemaro’s room. At the end, a large parlor opened out, bright with windows that were screened with thin leaves and a fine mesh of delicate branches.
There was more furniture here, similar to what he had in his own room. Heavy wood tables and chairs that blended naturally with the walls. But brilliant feathers had been woven together for pillows and rugs, and covers for the walls and tables. One large, onyx fur covered a section of the floor near the side wall, so huge that Nemaro couldn’t even imagine what animal it had come from.
It made for the brightest home Nemaro had ever seen. His bare feet sank into the feathered carpets. As he walked, his toes clenched over the softness. He wanted to reach out and touch the large table on the side as they passed; it was polished so heavily that it seemed to glow.
Toru barely noticed, heading straight for the enormous door that led outside. It was the first door Nemaro had seen in the place. Too heavy to get through. He’d have a better chance breaking through the windows.
It was an amazing piece of craftsmanship, though. The massive wooden barrier was the only thing that wasn’t part of the walls themselves, although Nemaro couldn’t tell exactly how it was connected, only that it was. He couldn’t see any hinges or pins. Large, rounded at the edges, fitting tightly with the doorway – it was part of the structure and not at the same time.
The door opened with the barest touch from Toru and they walked out into the wilderness. Nemaro stopped a few steps onto the grass to look back. It was a tree. An impossibly huge tree that he’d been inside of. No wonder the walls had seemed so solid! How had the gods carved out the inside of a tree and not killed it?
And how was he going to get back to Horu, he wondered, looking away from it. He’d assumed there would be something nearby. Not a city, necessarily, but a farm, maybe. A small compound. At least a stable with a horse or two that Nemaro could have taken. But all he could see was the gigantic tree behind him and the even more gigantic forest around them.
Soft grass spread from the very edge of the doorway. It made the barest hint of a trail into the underbrush, but it was quickly lost among the trees. Nemaro picked his way carefully after Toru, trying not to step on anything that was going to hurt him too badly. He still had to pause and pull out a few thorns. And then check his feet after a particularly sharp rock.
Toru waited patiently, tutting when he saw a drop of blood after a particularly nasty thorn. “You have very soft skin. I hadn’t realized. Horu must have to watch you very closely.”
“I watch myself just fine without Horu’s help.” Nemaro said. His temper flared at the implication. “I’m not some helpless toy.”
Toru laughed softly. “Very closely, with that attitude. You must get into trouble constantly.”
“I don’t get ‘into trouble,’ I help Horu get rid of the trouble.” Nemaro wanted to growl when Toru made a disbelieving little snort.
“In any case, your feet need protection. We’ll get something for them before we go out again.” Toru walked them into the shade of the trees.
It was cooler in the shadows, and the lack of clothes made Nemaro feel the chill quite a bit more. Walking in the forest with his important bits dangling out wasn’t unusual – everything dangled under a kilt – but it was much warmer and more protected when he had soft fabric over his hips and groin. He didn’t like feeling so vulnerable, and his anger leaked away as he walked. The size of the woods around him didn’t help at all. He felt impossibly small the deeper they went, as the trees got larger and broader.
But if the forest was this expansive, surely they couldn’t track him, if he could run away fast enough….
“I wouldn’t try to escape if I were you,” Toru said conversationally. “My friends will find you, and they can stop you if need be, until I get there. And I will not be pleased. Goru even less so.”
Nemaro didn’t understand what he meant until a swarm of tiny, round-bellied chickadees emerged from the leafy canopy. Oh damn, the birds. They flittered around Toru, landing on his shoulders and hair, shrieking ecstatically until he nodded and murmured to them. A few landed on Nemaro, testing, and he held very still. The tiny black and white things tugged at his curls curiously and one rubbed its small, feathered head against his neck.
Nemaro moved very, very carefully. Horu didn’t take well to anyone damaging his precious plants. Nemaro didn’t want to see what Toru and his brother would do to anyone who hurt their animals. And besides, he’d never had a bird come this close before. Nemaro brought a cautious hand up and stroked it softly over the little one nuzzling his neck.
“It’s so warm,” he murmured. So different from the cool softness of feathers by themselves. He stroked it again, and the others abandoned his hair to fly to Toru with the rest of the flock. The one against his neck stayed, making a soft, contented noise as Nemaro smoothed its feathers.
Toru chuckled. “All right now, back to the trees with you. The two of us have things to do.”
Feathers filled the air as every one of them took to the air and fled back to the trees. Within moments, Nemaro could only see a handful. The rest were too well hidden.
He’d never be certain he was safe, if he ran. There was no way he could avoid every, single bird in the forest. How was he going to…?
“As I said, don’t run.”
Nemaro clenched his teeth and followed Toru down a side path that he would have missed if Toru hadn’t been right in front of him. It led to a little thicket where a low pit had been dug. It didn’t smell all that pleasant.
“Goru had it widened for you. We don’t need to eliminate all that often, but we weren’t sure how often humans did?”
“A few times a day.” Anything that would give him more chances to get out, and try to escape. And it wasn’t a lie, not if Nemaro drank enough.
He took care of himself, self-conscious as hell when he thought about all the little creatures watching him, even though Toru turned away when Nemaro asked. He tried to keep an eye out for landmarks on their way back, but the trees were so thick he couldn’t even figure out which direction the mountains were, let alone the Keep. To get his bearings he’d have to climb a tree, or find some higher ground.
But he wasn’t giving up.
If they let him out of his room again, he could make a run for it. The birds might be able to find him, but they’d all been small, hadn’t they? He didn’t want to hurt them, but he could smack them out of his way if he needed to. They’d simply be…dazed. Not hurt.
He spent the trip back working out the best way to do it.
The rest of the day passed in a strange haze of boredom mixed with fear for Horu and the others. Nemaro was allowed outside twice more. True to his word, Toru brought him a small, handmade pair of soft leather shoes that laced up his calves. Nemaro had hoped that with some protection for his feet, he might be in a better position to escape, but he still couldn’t figure out a way.
The path was the same, at least there was that. The spot where they walked around one tree and slithered between another would be perfect to just disappear. But Toru seemed to sense he was thinking of running and kept closer than he had the first time out. He held onto Nemaro’s upper arm for most of the trip. He even kept his grip on Nemaro when he was taking a piss.
There was nothing like listening to another man pee while he held onto you. Humiliating. And too much of a reminder of how little control Nemaro had over his life. All he wanted was the freedom to leave. If they wouldn’t help their own brother, the least they could have done was leave Nemaro alone so that he could.
Toru made it clear that wasn’t going to happen. He even growled on the fifth time Nemaro asked, his back stiff as he left the room. For a while, it seemed as if he was angry enough he might not feed Nemaro anymore, but he carried in lunch a few hours later. It wasn’t as nice as the previous meal, though. There was no more sorrel, and without the tartness, the bitter flavor of the greens was much more noticeable.
It was a similar salad plus a raw fish when dinnertime came round. Nemaro stared at it with a frown. Toru didn’t say a word until Nemaro poked the dead trout with his finger.
“Oh! I forgot, humans cook it, don’t you? Just a moment, I’ll see what I can do.” He left and came back about 30 minutes later with a fish charred and raw in an oddly piebald pattern. Nemaro couldn’t even think what type of flame could have cooked it that way. He thought Meeta would have been impressed. She seemed to pride herself on her ability to stamp out every crumb of flavor when she was in charge of supper.
Staring at the unappetizing fare, imagining Meeta handing it to him instead, Nemaro could feel himself choking back the worry and another plea to leave with every mouthful. He tried to think about the food and the food alone, but it was difficult. No spices. No herbs. No effort made to enhance color, or add an enticing flavor or texture.
Nemaro took another bite of fish and hesitantly asked about Toru’s opinion on killing the fish, trying to distract himself.
“Killing fish? It’s fairly easy. Why?”
“Horu hates killing plants, so I thought…”
Toru frowned, eyes sad. “Killing the weak preserves the natural order of things. But Horu has his reasons….”
He let Nemaro finish his food without saying another word, and left him alone with the grizzly again. A wolf took the bear’s place just around moonrise. The animal simply sauntered in and set himself up across the base of the exit, making the bear walk over it. Nemaro could hardly sleep, worrying that the huge thing was going to eat him. The bright eyes looked at Nemaro much more hungrily than the bear’s sleepy gaze, and the creature had a tendency to let its tongue loll out in a hungry grin whenever Nemaro glanced at it.
Nemaro thought it might be doing it on purpose.
The next day was more of the same. Another bear for a guard, darker brown with golden fur highlighting its muzzle and eyes. An entire day gone now, and Horu still hadn’t shown up. Something had to be wrong. It couldn’t have taken this long, if Horu had rescued Meeta and Sha and fought his way free. Nemaro tried to say as much to Toru in mid-morning when the god came to take him out to relieve himself again.
Stomping through the grass, ignoring his own bare skin, Nemaro attempted reason. Something that gods seemed willing to ignore at will. “Horu would be here by now if he was healthy. You have to go look for him.”
Toru shook his head, holding out his hand for a wren to land on. It rubbed its sharp beak over his thumb in greeting. “He’s fine.” More wrens came down to decorate the god’s shoulders, peeking back at Nemaro through strands of jeweled hair.
“He could be dead, for all you know!”
Toru shook his head, still walking. “If he were dead, I’d know.”
“And how’s that? You have some special powers to sense your brother, now?”
That stopped Nemaro flat. “Wait…you do?”
“All gods do. If a god dies anywhere in the world, all of us would know.”
He couldn’t think for a second. “So…Horu is…he’s still alive?” When Toru nodded, Nemaro was shocked to feel his eyes start to prickle. He blinked, rubbing at them, and smeared salty liquid across his face. What the-
Toru stopped, watching him. “Are you crying? What’s wrong?”
“I have something in my eye! And n-nothing’s wrong! I’m just surprised, that’s all. I thought – I didn’t know if Horu was alive…or not.” He blinked again, wiped at his eyes, felt his chest breathing easily for the first time, it felt, in eons.
“Humans cry when they are surprised?” Toru peered at him carefully. “How curious. I didn’t realize.”
“Yeah, well…that’s humans for you. We’re full of surprises.” Nemaro took a shuddering breath. Horu was alive…please, let Horu be safe, too, whichever face of the god had control of the situation. And the girls. Because if anything happened to Horu….
Please keep him safe.
“You should have been aware he was alive. Your bond would tell you if he passed.”
Nemaro blinked, shaking his head. “Well, it didn’t. And I keep telling you I don’t have this bond thing anyway, so it couldn’t. Because I don’t have it.”
“Hmm.” Toru stopped listening, looking up. The wrens scattered and another bird landed on his arm, heavy claws latching onto bare skin. Nemaro took a quick step back.
It was the first feathered predator Nemaro had seen, as large as a year old child, some kind of eagle with a line of crested feathers on its head. It stared at Nemaro with fierce golden eyes that focused on parts of him he wasn’t sure he wanted a raptor to be noticing.
He thought of running again, while Toru was occupied, but the raptor worried him even more than the little seedeaters. An eagle that size could take out a man’s eyes. He’d heard of it done, once, to a servant that had angered a local Lord one too many times. Nemaro didn’t know if he could fight it off. Maybe if he were well, but right now? His body still ached abominably when he moved, and he was so exhausted from lack of sleep that he wasn’t sure he could avoid it.
They were heading back to the house tree, but Toru was pulling ahead. He seemed completely focused on the eagle, stroking its breast and cooing to it. Nemaro looked around, trying to seem interested in the leaves rather than the spaces behind them where he might be able to sneak through. He slowed, dropping further back. Taking one step to the side, he readied himself to run.
A sharp, short scream stopped him. Tripping over his own feet, Nemaro looked up and saw a lynx on the tree above him, watching. Another short scream, high pitched and startling, and he found a second on the other side of the path, peering at him from between two bushes. Both watching, both waiting.
Both able to take him down before he took more than a few steps.
“You fucking bastard, Goru. Shit.”
Nemaro swallowed and caught up with Toru. The god hadn’t even noticed what had happened. Or he’d known about the lynx and that’s why he’d been so complacent. Why wouldn’t they let him go? He didn’t want this! He had to get to Horu! Horu should be here, and if he wasn’t, that meant he needed Nemaro to be where he was. And so far, Nemaro couldn’t figure out how to do it.
A few more hours inside didn’t help. Toru put on new salve and bandages and left him alone with hardly a word. Nemaro was reduced to limping and pacing, thinking until it was time to go back out again. How was he supposed to avoid Toru’s birds and Goru’s carnivores, too? He couldn’t flirt his way out. Lying didn’t seem to be effective at all.
Nemaro couldn’t figure out how to escape!
He didn’t speak to Toru at all when the god came to get him that afternoon. They left the house in silence. Even the woods seemed quieter.
“Are you still worrying, hummingbird?”
Nemaro glared at him and refused to answer.
“He’ll come soon. I’m sure he won’t stay away from you for any longer than he must.”
Of course he wouldn’t. Nemaro knew Horu would come for him…if he could. But how long would he have wasted looking for Nemaro, thinking he was somewhere inside that castle? And how many men had Lord Lanosh brought against him? There was only so much even a god could do.
They might live a long time, but everyone knew they could bleed. And die.
Nemaro and Toru had finished their business and were returning along the same path, Nemaro hanging back as much as he dared, when a little chickadee shot over their heads to chirp frantically at Toru. The god whipped around, hurrying back to Nemaro at the same moment bellowing echoed through the trees.
“Nemaro! Nemarohhhh! Where are you? Nemaro? NEMARO!”
A full body flush tingled instantly over Nemaro’s skin. Horu! “Hor-!”
The shout was cut off as Toru reached him. The god yanked Nemaro in close, slapping his palm over Nemaro’s mouth. Nemaro went wild, kicking back at him and trying to free his head to get Horu to hear him.
“Quiet! Do you want to bring Goru into this right now? He’s just mad enough to use you as bait, and I won’t put him or Horu at risk like that! Just be quiet and I’ll take you to him. If we’re lucky, Goru’s too far away to get here in time.”
Nemaro nodded frantically, not saying a word when his mouth was released. He heard Horu call his name again and had to bite his tongue to keep from calling back. Toru took off, the chickadee springing from his shoulder into the air, and Nemaro sprinted after him.
Horu was here. He was here. Nemaro couldn’t hear the women’s voices, but he tried not to think about it. Running was enough to worry about, for now. Horu was here, and safe, and they could work out the rest later.
They were within sight of the house, too far from Horu’s voice to see him yet, when Goru charged out from behind the giant tree. Toru slid to a stop and Nemaro slammed into his back.
Goru smiled with an extra helping of teeth. “You heard him, too, I see.”
“Goru, let me take his mate to him. Once he has Nemaro, we can talk this over.”
Goru bared his fangs. “I don’t think so. How about we go ask what he thinks he’s doing back here? Then I can beat him into a pulp for being such an ass. And play with his pretty while he’s lying on the ground and can’t do a thing to stop me.”
“As if you would.”
“I said play. There’s quite a bit I can do that would drive Horu out of his mind and doesn’t even come near being rape.”
Toru reached behind him and grasped Nemaro’s arm, pulling him against his side. “Don’t involve the little one, Goru. It’s not right. You need to be reasonable.”
“I am.” His eyes hardened. “Horu has a lot to answer for. Give doe-eyes to me and let’s see what he has to say.”
Toru’s grip around Nemaro tightened. “He’s too fragile to be between the both of you. And I won’t let you hurt him. If you won’t let Horu have him back, you should shut him back in the house until we have this settled.”
Goru frowned, looking at Nemaro, and Nemaro tried to look as tough as he could. He wanted to go to Horu. So what if Goru was holding on to him? Better out where he could see Horu than locked away. Nemaro needed to see him, make sure the girls were with him and he was all right.
Nemaro bared his own teeth, growling, hoping it gave the right impression.
Goru snorted. “Still as puny as it was before.” He stared another second and then huffed under his breath, throwing his hands out. “I give up. You’re right. As always. He’s not tough enough. But I’m still going to have it out with Horu. Put his mate back in the room. As long as he stays there, I’ll leave him be.”
“No! Let me go, dammit, I’m going to see Horu!” Nemaro struggled wildly as Toru took him inside the tree and back to his own room. He was tossed gently onto the bed. “Fuck you, Toru! Don’t you dare let your brothers fight!”
“It’s their own choice,” he said softly, an apology in his eyes. “I’ll do my best to intervene, but if they choose to battle, all I can do is help clean up afterwards. Why do you think I’m so good at bandaging?”
He left, skirting around the bear at the door.
“Let me out, Toru!” The bear eyed him once and then lay down fully in the middle of the doorway. “Shit!” Nemaro watched the bear, looking for some way he might be able to get past. He had to get out to Horu! That bastard brother of his might be doing anything!
If he hurt Horu, Nemaro was going to find his good set of knives and fillet the brown god into bite-sized pieces.
“Let me out of here!” he yelled, kicking at the nearest wall. He couldn’t go near the bear yet, not without a weapon. The stone pitcher caught his eye and he heaved it up in both arms with a pained grunt. If he charged the bear and flung this at its face just before he reached it, maybe he could run past when it flinched? If he could even throw it. But it was heavy enough to do some real damage, even to an animal as large as the bear.
He wouldn’t know unless he tried.
Taking a deep breath, the jittery tingle coursing through him that always hit before a challenging job, he turned to run at the beast. A heavy crack reverberated through the room, like a lightening bolt had hit the tree.
He and the bear jerked, looking around wildly. There was another crack, the room shaking with it this time, and Nemaro fell to his knees. He lost his grip on the pitcher and it rolled away to stop at the bear’s clawed foot. No!
One more crack and Nemaro shielded his eyes as light hit him in the face, pouring into the room. The bear roared. It took little more than a second for Nemaro to realize that the back wall had split open, leaving a slim gap open to the outside. He heard the bear scrambling behind him, still roaring, and Nemaro leapt for it, squeezing through. He swore he felt the animal’s breath against his ass as he fell onto the heavy grass outside.
And now that he wasn’t inside anymore, he could hear noise. Goru yelling, Toru’s quieter tones, and Horu’s bellowing. Even furious, Horu’s voice eased the ache inside Nemaro’s belly. It soothed like a drug.
And there were other voices – the women? Nemaro would swear that was Meeta’s angry growling.
Please let it be them. Let them have made it out.
He got to his feet and stumbled against the tree, ignoring the bear still roaring from inside the room. It dug at the crack with its claws, splintering the wood, too large to get out. A branch reached down and helped Nemaro get his balance. He rubbed it, laughing almost hysterically.
It had only been days, but how he’d missed Horu’s stupid trees poking at him.
Another angry bellow startled him, then the crash of something being thrown into the brush. Nemaro pushed away from the trunk, sprinting clumsily around the side of the tree. His breath came in frightened pants – Goru’s angry cry still scared him – but if Horu was fighting, there was no way Nemaro was going to hide out like some fucking coward.
Horu had come to get him; Nemaro wouldn’t let him get hurt because of it. Not even if he had to take on that stupid bear.
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