Fiction~~Nature's Choice~~Ch. 2


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Nature's Choice
Chapter 2 - Leather

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Nemaro sat by the stream, flicking pebbles into it and watching as the ripples got lost in the trickling water.  His other hand crushed a broad leaf between two fingers and he inhaled.  Hmmm.  Mint, with just the slightest hint of citrus.  It smelled like it might do well with his salmon marinade; the smell would give it a nice little zing. If it was edible, that is.  He’d have to ask Horu.

With a sigh, he dropped the leaf to the ground.  Nemaro didn’t think he’d be able to get enough time with Horu to even work in the question.   Every time he was left alone with the god, Horu excused himself within moments and didn’t return until Sha or one of the others was around.  It was too depressing. Two weeks now, and Nemaro still felt like a damn pariah. 

It had to be the incident with Mosumato.  From Horu’s initial teasing, Nemaro hadn’t thought it bothered his friend in the slightest, but only one day later, Horu had started avoiding him like he was infested with lice.  Bastard.  Friends for two damn years and suddenly getting screwed by another god was enough to ruin it all?  Well, fuck him.

Nemaro flung a whole handful of pebbles into the water and watched them sink in a scattered bundle to the shallow bottom.  Stupid jerk.  How could Horu do this to him?  It wasn’t as though Nemaro wanted to be taken by another man!  It had just fucking happened; why was it ruining everything?  Why was his only friend acting like such an asshole and pulling away from him when it wasn’t even his fault?

Another handful of pebbles joined the first and Nemaro slammed his fist down onto the hard gravelly dirt underneath him.  He started sucking on the side of his hand almost immediately afterwards to soothe the sting of the nasty scrape.  The feel of his own lips made him shiver and he sucked a little harder.  His belly and groin grew pleasantly hot before he finally stopped and sighed morosely.  He missed Horu: his teasing, his rare smiles, even his calm nodding as Nemaro complained about everything from the price of a coveted pair of leather gloves to the latest Lord who’d tried to get into his pants.

He didn’t know what he’d do if he lost Horu.  It was hard to remember a time when Horu hadn’t been a part of Nemaro’s current life.  Not his past one; life as an offering to the Arcane face of the God had been so stifling that Nemaro had honestly thought he’d go insane before he got away.  After he’d escaped, though, he’d only been in Leorn a few weeks before he’d met Horu, or rather, been rescued by him.

Nemaro smiled slightly, fingering a rough, ridged scar along his left forearm.  He probably would have been dead if Horu and Sha hadn’t met him when they had.  What a moron he’d used to be.  He’d been taking any job that was offered, terrified about being out in the world that he’d only heard of in stories, trying to save up enough money to ensure he could eat daily.  He’d been so nave he’d never thought that other thieves might have more than thievery on their minds. 

He snorted.  If he remembered right, he’d even believed that old crap about honor among thieves.  Nemaro had no idea how he hadn’t died within the first few days after he’d run away from the temple, he’d been that damn stupid. Well, at least he’d learned his lessons pretty damn quickly.  His first, and last, experience with highway robbery had been highly educational. 

He’d really only been with the rather large group as a consultant; always nice to know what the most valuable items were when you were trying to loot an entire caravan.  When an attractive crippled woman and her young son weren’t quick enough to run away during the attack, though, he’d been prepared to let them go. They weren’t interfering, after all.  The others hadn’t viewed it the same way, which was why he’d cut one of the thieves who’d been about to take the woman, and stabbed another who’d been on the verge of raping a boy who couldn’t have been more than 12.  He’d ended up trying to defend the pair from almost a dozen men, armed with less knives than there were attackers. 

Fortunately for him and the two he was trying to protect, he’d only received a rather nasty slice on the arm by the time Sha had come blazing in, Horu in tow.  As the first god Nemaro had ever seen up close, Horu had been utterly terrifying to watch. He’d stood, skin glowing with pale fire, and directed tree limbs as they swept down and literally ripped men apart like straw dolls.  Nemaro was fairly certain he’d peed himself from fright.

He'd always been rather grateful that Horu never mentioned that. 

Nemaro still didn’t know why he hadn’t run for it during the confusion and left the woman and her child to their fate.  Quite possibly he simply hadn’t been able to move.  Freezing like a startled deer likely saved his life, however, as the boy and his mother went babbling to Sha about how he’d heroically risked his life to protect them.

He would honestly still call it blind stupidity, but he’d leave them with their little delusions.

In any case, saving Sha’s sister and nephew had begun their friendship with at least a small level of trust.  She’d hired him for a few jobs over the next few weeks and when Nemaro hadn’t cheated her blind, she’d introduced him to her cousin Kara and her cousin’s lover, Meeta.  Horu simply showed up every once in a while and asked him for help in locating a certain gem or person or ruin.  Unlike the women, Horu didn’t offer payment and Nemaro had been too intimidated to ask for it.  After a few months, Meeta and Kara had a job that they wanted everyone’s help on, going so far as to ask Horu to come along, and since then, they all just seemed to naturally ask the rest to come along if a big job came up. 

Nemaro was always a little surprised that Horu went with them as often as he did; the god seemed to have an unlimited supply of gold and jewels hidden somewhere, so it couldn’t be for the money.  But now that he’d become used to the forest god and his friendship, having it yanked out from under him, and in the middle of a treasure hunt that kept them all in fairly close proximity, was a painful shock.

What was he going to do if Horu still wouldn’t talk to him once they’d finished searching for the Eye of Forshar?  Horu was the only one he did anything with anymore.  Hell, Horu even helped him when he tried to spy on the women and see if he could catch them making love!  Nemaro would be looking for a strategic place to hide and more often than not the twigs would rustle and come together to give him the cover he needed.  Then the big god would just smile at his new bruises when he came back, and slap him on the back.  Nemaro wasn’t actually sure whether Horu was helping him because he liked Nemaro, or because he liked teasing the women, but either way, he didn’t want to lose it along with everything else.

Nemaro’s shoulders slumped and he flicked one last pebble at the annoyingly cheerful brook.  He’d rather never get to spy on the women again than have Horu stay this distant.  How pathetic. 

Why wouldn’t Horu look him in the eye any more?  Nemaro worried the inside of his cheek and wondered if there might be more to it than he was seeing.  Could it be some part of the god’s culture that he was unaware of, more than the fact that Nemaro had sex with another man?  Maybe humans were only supposed to be friendly with one god at a time?  Mosumato had certainly been hostile enough the first time their group had encountered him.  Or should Nemaro have fought more?  Should he have given in more? 

Why the hell was Horu so upset with him? 

Kicking out with his legs, knocking a sprinkle of dust into the water, Nemaro scowled.  He was going to have to confront him.  No matter how humiliating it might be, he needed to figure out what bee had flown up Horu’s ass, and he needed to do it soon.  At least he’d know what the hell was going on then.

The next time they were alone, he would take a deep breath and ask Horu outright if he was having a problem with Nemaro or not. No more letting him walk away as soon as he spoke; that shit was done with.  They were going to talk, dammit.  As a tight knot dissolved in his stomach, he nodded to himself in relief.  That was it then; the absolute confirmation that he needed to do this.  His insides were calm and smooth.

Kara always teased him about his little fortune telling stomachache, but even she had to admit that it was rarely wrong.  If his belly was in knots, then he was doing something superbly stupid.  If it calmed down, then he was going in the right direction.  It was one of the reasons he’d left the temple when he had, and while it wasn’t something that popped up every day, he’d learned to listen to it when it did.

So, he’d talk to Horu, and that would be a good thing.  This would work.  Talking  would definitely work.  Inhaling hugely in relief, he caught a hint of woodsmoke and smiled.  Yet another gold piece to add to the pot; he’d managed to avoid cooking duty again.  It would mean he’d be stuck with cleaning up, but he’d rather wash and polish all the dishes for an invading army than try to prepare food for Sha, Kara, and Meeta. 

They were always so irritable when he cooked, as if it weren’t normal to feel and taste and smell all the ingredients.  He couldn’t understand why they weren’t willing to wait a few hours for him to prepare a meal, but every time he tried, he ended up with bruises and welts as they began to express their impatience in an entirely physical way.  It wasn’t as though he got so involved in the experience that he had to go physically relieve himself, dammit.

Except that one time, of course, but that had involved a stolen box of that amazing, lovely chocolate.  If the women couldn’t understand how such a fantastic creation could require an orgasm to recover from, they were a lost cause. They really were, anyway.  If the three of them were anything to judge by, the outlying kingdoms of their birth had never heard of terms like cuisine, or flavor.  Nemaro should probably be happy they’d heard of bathing, actually.  And he was happy that they tried to make up for every other lack by teaching their women to fight as well as their men. It had certainly saved his life more than once.

Taking another whiff from the air and judging that he had a little while still before he would be completely safe from being forced to cook, he took out his knives and practiced hitting various knots and branches among the piles of deadwood nearby. 

He’d use the trees themselves, but Horu’s outrage the one time he’d done so was not something he wanted to experience again. 

His arms were getting pleasantly tired when he started to smell just the faintest hint of fish in the air.  Thinking of the upcoming meal with something other than anticipation,  he nevertheless tucked his knives back into their various homes and had only taken a step when a flash of amber fire caught his eye. 

A brightly colored pebble lay in the dirt next to the water, polished, with a curious swirling combination of orange and red that he didn’t recall seeing before.  Crouching down to pick it up, he whistled tunelessly as he looked at it.  The surface was almost glassy, and the pattern of the colors was utterly fascinating; this one was going into the collection.  He tucked it into his waistband and stood up, yelping as something smacked him in the back of the head with a loud thwap just as he got to his feet.

“Horu, dammit!  That hurt!”

Nemaro was grinning, however, as he turned to confront the god.  Horu seemed to find sneaking up on Nemaro  immensely amusing, but maybe the fact that he was doing so meant that he was willing to talk again?  Nemaro’s smile faded and his mouth dried up as he finished his body’s turn.  Water from the stream hovered near his face in a sinuous appendage that gave a saucy little wave before it fell apart and splashed harmlessly back into the stream.

Oh shit!

Oh Shit!

“Alone again?”

Nemaro jumped, his head jerked left, and he gaped at Mosumato.  Leaning back against a boulder across the stream, the water god smirked at him.  The shifting colors of his hair were restrained in a high topknot, sliding over his shoulders and onto his chest. Aside from the silvery band holding his hair in place, all he had on were white leather pants that fit as though he’d been poured into them.

Nemaro started drooling before he could stop himself.  Mosumato was beautiful, he couldn’t deny it, but the pale chest and harsh features weren’t what made him want to crawl on his knees and worship.  It was the pants.  Gorgeous, gleaming, ivory leather pants. 

Had he ever seen leather that beautiful in his entire life?  He could already feel it against his palms, like thick cream. He swallowed the saliva pooling in his mouth, staring at the pale garment covetously.  God, the hide looked so buttery and soft he could just imagine licking it off the god’s skin. Nemaro moaned under his breath as he imagined the rich, pungent scent of it.  He would give almost every piece of gold he had for a pair of pants like that. 

Arms crossed over his chest, Mosumato licked his bottom lip slowly and smirked again as Nemaro’s eyes continued to drink in the shining, amazing, mesmerizing pants.

“Are you not going to run?”

Blinking, Nemaro tried to figure out what in the hells the god was talking about.  Run?  Why would he run?  He couldn’t look at the leather any more if he ran and- 

Aw shit…

Nemaro took a quick step back and wanted to hit himself across the face.  He’d done it again!  What was he, the village idiot! Way to focus, you leather obsessed ass!

“If you wish to play the sheath, human, all you need do is ask.” Mosumato’s eyes gleamed and temper erased Nemaro’s fear.  

“You can fuck off, Mosumato!” He had to leave.  Now. No more pants and no more obsessing and no more getting screwed in the ass!

Nemaro turned and dropped a knife into each hand as he stormed away.  He didn’t want to use them, but he was not going to let Mosumato just take him without a fight!  He choked as a splash was almost instantly followed by an arm wrapped around his neck.  One of his hands slashed up as the other stabbed backwards, and both were rendered completely useless as solidified watery arms ripped the blades from him before they connected.  A band of the same damn stuff whipped around both his arms and anchored them to his sides before he could go for another of his knives.

“I didn’t give you permission to leave.” Mosumato’s smooth, mocking voice hadn’t changed tone in the slightest, something Nemaro just barely noticed as he wriggled like a worm and tried to breath despite the arm around this throat.

“Didn’t… ask... asshole,” he managed to gasp out. Mosumato chuckled against his back.  Nemaro’s struggling hand brushed against something smooth and firm behind him and he choked some more.  The leather!  The leather was right behind him.  It was right behind him and if he moved just a little bit to the left he could actually touch it.  He could run his fingers over that gorgeous, slippery-smooth clothing.

Except he shouldn’t.  He had to try to reach his other knives and get away from Mosumato or he might end up just like he had before.   

But if he fought, he might miss his only chance to find out what those brilliant, thigh hugging pants felt like. 

His face twisted with anguished indecision before he gave in.  He couldn’t help himself; he fucking had to find out if those pants were as good as they looked.  Both of his hands moved back and his palms brushed up against heaven. His lungs seized as fingertips slipped under his kilt and brushed against his cock at the exact moment his own hands began to stroke across sensuously soft hide. 

He was harder than a rock before he could take another breath.

“You’re anticipating my cock inside you already, aren’t you, little thief?” The whispered words tickled his ear, but at least the arm choking him loosened a little.

“I just like your fucking pants.”

Mosumato’s hand stilled, and Nemaro could practically feel the stare aimed at the back of his head.  He used the opportunity to brush his fingers over the leather one more time before he pulled his mind back to the present and tried to see if he could free his arms.

“You like – what is inside my breeches?” Mosumato’s voice was curiously stilted, as though he were trying to determine if he’d heard right.

“I don’t want to see what’s inside your ‘breeches’ ever again, you molesting bastard!  I freakin’ like the leather, that’s all!” The limb around his neck tightened again. 

A death wish, that has to be it. I have a deeply hidden death wish, because otherwise I would not be saying a DAMN WORD! 

What in the HELLS was wrong with him that he couldn’t ever keep his mouth shut when it counted?

A deep laugh rumbled up from Mosumato’s throat and warmed the top of Nemaro’s head.  It might have made Nemaro feel a little less upset if it weren’t for the fact that the constriction around his throat wasn’t loosening.  Whether he was laughing or not, the god wasn’t letting him go.  He could still kill Nemaro in an instant, or fuck him almost as quickly, and neither one was something Nemaro wanted at all right now.

Although it would almost be worth it.  Those damn pants…

Nemaro squirmed a bit more within the water’s embrace as Mosumato’s hand started to move against his cock again.  The hot fingers barely touched him, but it felt like he was being branded.  What was Mosumato going to do?  Was he a serious threat, or was he just enjoying himself at Nemaro’s expense? 

Was it going to hurt? 

Would it feel as good as last time? 

Mosumato’s entire hand wrapped itself around Nemaro’s member and heat zinged up his spine. “S-stop it.”

Mosumato tsked, but before he could actually reply, Horu’s voice called out from the direction of the camp.
   
“ ‘Maro!  Food’s done!  Get your ass back, already!”

Ice gathered in Nemaro’s stomach.  If Mosumato planned to kill him, he’d likely do it now, before he had to battle Horu over it.

“Not so alone after all, hmmm?” 

The words were spoken even closer to his ear, almost inaudible, and his air was completely cut off.  Nemaro could feel his lungs burning as he tried to breathe.  He was going to die!  Mosumato WAS going to kill him!   He couldn’t breathe! 

His writhing struggles ended as the arm around his throat disappeared after one more agonizing moment and Nemaro drew in a huge, desperate breath.  He choked on gulps of indrawn air, supporting himself with his hands on his knees, and only realized he was completely free once the frantic needs of his body were met.  Standing unsteadily, he turned towards the stream; Nemaro wasn’t surprised to find the area completely empty.

“Nemaro?” Horu’s voice was louder. “Nemaro, answer me!”

“I’m fine!” His own voice was hoarse as he started to scan the bank and brush around him for the two knives Mosumato had taken.   Curses poured out in a steady stream when he couldn’t find them.  Bastard.  Now he’d have to buy new ones, and it had taken two jobs to get the money for such perfectly balanced blades!  “And he called me the thief,” Nemaro muttered.

Starting back towards camp, he jumped as Horu leapt down in front of him.  The odd sense of history repeating itself made him grit his teeth.  As long as Horu couldn’t tell what had happened this time, he’d be…

“Fuck, the god of piss came after you again?”

Nemaro paled.  Horu looked supremely pissed off.  Why the hell was he so angry?  He hadn’t been this angry when Nemaro had actually been fucked in the ass, dammit!  Feeling his chest tighten and his hands start to shake as he began to recover from Mosumato and his hypnotically potent leggings, he tried to push past Horu. Nemaro couldn’t deal with this yet.  He needed to talk to Horu, he knew it, but he needed to be calm when he did or things could go so badly that it ended everything.  He knew his own temper too well to try this when he was already upset. 

Horu hooked Nemaro’s elbow with his hand as Nemaro started to pass him.  He dragged him back and stared down, his voice cold.  “What did he do?”

“Nothing.” Nemaro tried to take a step around him and Horu blocked his way.

What did he do?”

“Fuck off, Horu!  He didn’t do anything!”

“Then why are you so upset?  You weren’t this upset before.  Did he hurt you?” Horu’s eyes flowed over Nemaro’s bare limbs and Nemaro knew he was probably blushing.  He didn’t want to talk about this, dammit! 

“I’m fine!”

“Then tell me what he did!”

“I-it’s none of your business!”

“It is my business if he’s coming after you again!  One time’s just sex, ‘Maro, but more than once could be…” Horu’s lips compressed and he reached out for Nemaro’s arm, dragging him close.  He looked over at his face, searching.  His eyes moved down and Horu frowned darkly, touching the tender flesh around Nemaro’s throat.  When his eyebrows lowered and he growled, though, Nemaro started swearing and tried to pull away.

He knew that damn look.  Ever since Nemaro had come down with pneumonia the year before, Horu wouldn’t listen to him about shit like this.  Yeah, so Nemaro had lied a little about how he was feeling before a job, and then they’d been caught in a snowstorm and his nasty cough had turned a lot nastier.  Apparently, that sort of crap didn’t happen to gods, and Horu had completely lost it.  Went off about how humans were too poorly made to pretend to be ‘fine’ when they were really at death’s door and on and on and on. 

Now, whenever Horu thought his friends might be injured or sick, he was a total pain in the ass. Like now, when he was yanking up Nemaro's shirt.

“Cut it out!”

The shirt started to stretch as Nemaro struggled to get free. “You’re going to ruin the fabric, dammit! Let go!” He punched out at Horu’s head, and missed.

Horu completely ignored him. “Looks okay,” he muttered, examining Nemaro’s stomach. The shirt dropped down.

“Of course it’s okay!  If the bastard was going to do anything, that’s not where he’d do it, now is it?”

“Good point.” Horu ignored the yelling and started to pull at Nemaro’s kilt with his free hand.

“Will you fucking get out of there!  I swear, Horu, if you don’t get your damn hand off of there, I’m going to cut you!  I will!”  Horu had his hand around the back of Nemaro’s head before Nemaro even saw him move. “What the-”

Growling, Horu’s skin glowed as he stared into Nemaro’s face.  “If you didn’t keep lying to me, I wouldn’t have to look, so don’t you fucking threaten me when it’s the only way I can get some answers.”

Nemaro gulped slowly.  He’d seen Horu furious plenty of times, but he didn’t think he’d ever had it directed at him before. Severely pissed, sure, but so angry that his skin started to shine like this?  Horu didn’t get angry at his friends that way.  Was Nemaro…no longer a friend? 

“If I tell you what happened, you’ll stay away from the kilt?” Nemaro asked hoarsely.  Horu’s skin dulled back to it’s normal pale green and he nodded, releasing Nemaro’s head and arm.  The brief pause as Nemaro collected himself was met with a warning growl.

“So…” God, this was humiliating.  And the nervous feeing in his gut was only making it worse.  He was fucking losing Horu; he just knew it.

“What did he do?” Horu’s voice was calmer, at least.

“He caught me while I was picking up a pebble.”

“And?”

“And…nothing much happened.” His cheeks flushed and he couldn’t look Horu in the eye.  “A little…groping.  That’s pretty much about it.”

“Your throat is bruised.” Horu’s hand went up to brush against Nemaro’s throat again.

“He was a little pissed when he heard you.  I don’t think he was altogether happy that you interrupted him.”

Horu frowned, still rubbing gently along Nemaro’s throat as he spoke softly. “I’m sorry I didn’t show up sooner.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Are you bleeding anywhere?” Horu’s hand laid against Nemaro’s skin while he waited for the answer

He must be feeling really guilty, if he was asking about something as silly as a little blood.  Couldn’t the god smell that sort of thing?  “No.”

“You sure?  He didn’t scratch or…bite you anywhere?”

“No.”  

Horu sniffed at him and actually smiled.  “He didn’t fuck you either.”

Horu sniffed again and his forehead wrinkled. “…although it smells like maybe you wanted him to.  Did I interrupt something you were looking forward to?”

Nemaro flushed wildly.  “No!  I don’t want to have anything to do with him!”

“Well then, I’m glad I showed up.” Horu glanced back at the water and scowled briefly.  “Although if he’s thinking of….”

He continued to pat Nemaro’s back harder, pushing him forward slightly.  “You might want to have company near the water for a little while, ‘Maro.  If you’re sure you don’t want him?”   

Nemaro shook his head fiercely. “No.  I like women.”

He couldn’t meet Horu’s eyes yet again as he said it.  It was true.  He wasn’t lying; Nemaro just couldn’t explain why it had felt so good with Mosumato if he was only attracted to women, and he really hoped Horu didn’t point that out.  The forest god had known he’d enjoyed it, and Horu could tell Nemaro had been a little aroused this time, too.  Nemaro breathed a small sigh of relief as the only response was a grunt.  Walking back, Nemaro only lasted a minute before he couldn’t stand the silence any more.

“Um…so what did Sha make this time?”

“Fish surprise,” Horu said, his lips tilting up at Nemaro’s grimace.

“How bad is it?”

“I think there might be a little bit in the middle that’s not black.  Maybe.”  Nemaro groaned and Horu playfully bopped him in the shoulder.  “If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t run away when it’s your turn to make something.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Nemaro muttered, and Horu’s low laugh made him smile.  He was talking to him again.  He was back.  Horu continued to chuckle softly, and Nemaro felt an odd little burst of heat in his stomach and his face.

He must be getting a little sick.

“C’mon, before all that ‘good’ food is gone.” Horu pushed him gently down the path and Nemaro let himself be prodded along.

~*~*~*~*~*~


Sputtering, Nemaro wiped the water from his eyes and pushed his drenched hair out of his face.

“What in the hells, Horu!  Cut it out!”

The huge wave that had washed completely over him subsided quickly as the tree limb causing it moved away. Nemaro started to wring out his hair, muttering under his breath.  That was the third time that day!  What kind of shit was Horu trying to do to him?  He wasn’t ignoring him anymore, so he was just going to half drown him every few minutes? Ugh. 

It wasn’t like Nemaro had a huge store of clothes along with him. It was too hard to drag his wardrobe all over the mountains. He needed baggage handlers for that. 

As he started to lean over and scoop up one of his knives that had fallen out, Meeta put a restraining hand on his shoulder.  “There was something in the water,” she murmured, her eyes never leaving the little pond as she pulled him away from it.

“It’s nothing, Meeta.” Horu glared at her and waved her away. “Just go on back to camp and take ‘Maro with you.  Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about it?” Meeta’s eyes were steely and bright as she glanced at Horu before scanning the water again.  “There was something in there.  I saw it moving, and so did Kara.”

“It’s nothing to do with you, Meeta.  Leave it alone.  I’ll take care of it.” Horu’s eyes flickered to Nemaro a moment and he waved at them again. “Take ‘Maro back to camp.”

Sha came up next to Nemaro and she joined Meeta in staring at Horu suspiciously.  “It’s always ‘take ‘Maro back to camp’ these days.  That’s not normal, Horu.  What aren’t you telling us?”

Nemaro trembled as the events of the past few days suddenly crystallized into one rather frightening realization: he wasn’t safe.  How could he have fucking missed it?  Almost every time he’d been to the water in the last while, he’d thought Horu was just being more playful than usual.  Tree limbs had splashed the water around him unexpectedly, roots had shot out underwater near his feet and almost tripped him, and Horu had jumped down next to him with sometimes shocking suddenness. 

He’d just been so glad that Horu hadn’t abandoned their friendship, he’d thought the man was teasing him a little more assiduously than normal.   If that wasn’t it, though, it meant that…

Shit!

“…can’t protect ourselves against something if you won’t tell us what it is, Horu!  Stop being such a secretive ass and tell us what’s been going on!” Sha was in Horu’s face, yelling up at him as she shook her fist before slamming it into his gut in frustration.

Horu grunted once, but otherwise he ignored her, crossing his arms and staring down at the water as if she wasn’t there.  “It’s not your concern, Sha.  Back off and get back to camp.  I’ll deal with it.”

Nemaro interrupted as he saw Sha winding up to really lay into the forest god. “It’s me!”

The three women looked at him, and he could honestly see the thoughts in their eyes.  They were the same ones he usually saw there: hurry up and explain, Nemaro, or we’ll kick your ass.

“Horu’s trying to protect me,” Nemaro said.  “Stupid moron. Why didn’t you tell me he was still…out there?”

“You can’t defend against him and you know it.  So shut up and let the women take you back to camp.  He won’t try anything that makes him vulnerable if he’s not close enough to a water source.”

“He?  Which ‘he’ is this?” Meeta asked, glaring.  Kara came up and laid a calming hand on her arm, patting it gently.

“Is there another Lord after you again?” Kara asked curiously. 

“That was no Lord in the water,” Meeta said.

“Perhaps one has got hold of something that can control water?  A freeform, maybe?” Kara’s calm response took some of the bristle out of Meeta and she nodded reluctantly.

“That could be.”

“It’s not a Lord,” Nemaro muttered. 

He knew his face must be flushed, and it only made the women more curious.  They couldn’t exactly loom over him, not when he was the same height as all three of them, but they gave it their best shot as they crowded around and stared. 

Three black haired women with biceps about twice as big as his own could intimidate pretty damn well.

“Look at his face; it’s almost as red as that one time he fell asleep in the sun without his burn lotion.” Sha’s head tilted as she pursed her lips.

“I wonder what happened that they haven’t been telling us.” Kara looked between Nemaro and Horu speculatively, smiling a little. “They have been alone together an awful lot lately.”

“It’s that damn hair; it always gets you into trouble.  I keep telling you that you should dye it, you vain nit.” Meeta smacked him on the head.

“Dammit, don’t hit me, Meeta!” Nemaro rubbed the back of his head.  He was sure he was going to have a lump there.  She hadn’t bothered to take off her fighting gloves and the metal studs always left a welt where she hit him.

“Leave him alone.” Horu stomped over and shoved Meeta to the side. He got a kick in the hip for it that he ignored.  Pushing Nemaro out of their small circle, he snapped at him.  “Get back to camp, Nemaro.  Now.  It’s not safe yet.”

Looking at the calm water, Nemaro shivered as he imagined it coming to life and binding him again.  He wasn’t a fucking coward, though!  He’d seen Mosumato and Horu fight before; Horu could get seriously hurt if he tried to take on the other god by himself.  They had to tell the women and make certain Horu didn’t do something stupid.

This was going to be soooo unpleasant.

“It’s Mosumato,” he finally said, still watching the water.

All three women had their weapons out in seconds and stood back to back as they scanned the forest and pond. 

“What the hell were you thinking, Horu?  Mosumato’s around and you didn’t tell us?  Fuck!” Sha spat on the ground as she yelled, her eyes tense.

“He’s a smart bastard.” Meeta was growling low as she maneuvered herself closer to the water than Kara.

“If he’s here, why hasn’t he showed himself yet?” Kara’s query made the other two pause.

“He won’t bother you unless you get in his way.” Horu gestured down their weapons. “You can put those away.  You know it won’t do any good, anyway.”

Sha resheathed her sword with huffing grunt.  Kara’s crossbow went back in its small leather sheath on her back, and Meeta ignored them both and kept her sword out.

“What does he want?” Sha asked.  “What’s this got to do with Nemaro?”

“Finally pissed off the wrong person, thief?”  Meeta asked gruffly. 

“I did not piss him off!” Nemaro squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, maybe, but if I did, he fucking deserved it!  This is not my fault!”

“Like taking the head guard’s pocket watch wasn’t your fault?” Sha asked.

“Or how getting trapped all night under a bed with that Lord’s stolen jewels wasn’t your fault?” Kara continued.

“Or –”

“It’s not his fault,” Horu interrupted.  “Just leave this be and take him back to camp.  Now!”  Horu’s skin was starting to flicker, and everyone but Sha backed up a step.

“Horu, don’t be such an –”

Nemaro interrupted her.  He didn’t think she realized how pissed Mosumato seemed to make Horu.  “Mosumato wants me for the same reason every other bastard does, all right!” 

“What’d you steal from him?” Meeta’s eyes promised severe pain if it wasn’t anything worthwhile.

“Nothing!”

“You said he wanted you for the reason everyone does, Nemaro.  If not that, then what?”

He hated how calm Kara could always sound when he knew she’d kick his ass just as quickly as Meeta if she felt like it.  “The other reason everyone’s always after my ass, dammit.”

The three women looked at him only seconds before they figured it out, and just like he’d thought, all three of them started to grin.  Sha spoke first.

“Are you telling me Mosumato ‘literally’ wants your ass?” Nemaro’s face burned crimson and she started to laugh. 

“You sly boots, you didn’t tell us you had a new admirer!” Kara cooed at him and chucked him under the chin.  He would have smacked her but frankly, she hit harder than he did.

“Make sure he pays in gold when he takes you.” Meeta grinned at him before her habitually sour expression took over again.  “In advance.”

“I’m not a damn prostitute!”

“Mosumato is not going get anywhere near Nemaro.” Horu’s voice was cold, like it had been the last time Mosumato had groped Nemaro, and the women’s mirth subsided.

“Is it that bad?” Sha asked carefully. “Once he has a taste and realizes that pale flesh isn’t any more sweet than dark, he’ll simply leave Nemaro alone, won’t he?”

Nemaro thought his face might actually be glowing when Horu looked at him before answering.  “He’s…already tasted.  He wants more.”

Kara and Sha frowned while Meeta snorted.  “I didn’t realize you were that good in the sack, thief.”

“It’s not funny!”

“No, it doesn’t sound like it is.” Sha was quiet as she nodded at him, the closest he’d get to an apology, he was sure.  “If he’s still after you once he’s already had your cute little ass…”

“Oh for the love of God, will you not refer to my ass in such ridiculous terms.”

“How much more?” Kara asked suddenly.

“Huh?” What the hell was Kara asking about?

“You said he wants more, Horu.  How much more?  Two more lays?  Three?  That might be tolerable, wouldn’t it, Nemaro?  I can’t imagine Mosumato is all that bad a lover.”

“I- it- dammit, Kara!  I don’t want it even once more!”

“Mosumato getting to Nemaro will not be allowed,” Horu said firmly.

Meeta shrugged and finally resheathed her sword.  “If it’s that important to you.”

“It is.”

“Then what, we take the thief away from the water for now, is that it?”

“As I’ve been asking you to for the last few minutes, yes!”

“Only if you come, too.” Sha and Nemaro said at the same time.  They looked at each other in surprise before nodding decisively. 

Horu blinked slowly. “All right.”

“About damn time,” Nemaro muttered, hugging himself.  “My clothes are soaking wet and I’m damn well freezing.”

“Poor baby.  Maybe you can think of your wild time with Mosumato and it’ll keep you all toasty,” Sha’s voice was so warm that it took Nemaro a moment to realize what she’d said.

“I did not have a wild time with –“

“What’s it like having sex with a water god, anyway?” Kara’s innocent smile didn’t fool him for a moment.

“That’s none of your –“

“Bet his dick is huge,” Meeta said calmly.  “Your ass must have burned like a son of a bitch. ”

“Dammit, shut up! You three can be the biggest assholes.  Fuck.”  Nemaro pushed past them, ignoring their laughter as he stomped ahead.

“Don’t tease him so much,” Horu said quietly as Nemaro drew farther ahead of them on the path.  “He’s upset by this.”

Kara smiled brightly, laughing again. “I know.  That skin of his gives him away every time.  It’s probably one of the biggest reasons all those damn Lords are after his little behind all the time.”

“I’m serious.  Leave him be.”

“Better to be laughed at than pitied, “ Meeta said.

“Exactly.” Sha pointed to Nemaro’s slim body as it walked stiff legged ahead of them.  “He’d rather this than a collection of sad stares and sympathy.  Trust me.”

Horu shook his head.  “I don’t like it, Sha.”

Kara and Sha exchanged a glance.  “Hmmm.  All right then.  We’ll stop teasing poor, helpless little ‘Maro.  Good thing he has such a big, strong protector around to keep his delicate ears from hearing such horrible talk, isn’t it?”  Sha chortled as Horu glared at her.

“Sha, don’t start.”

“Don’t you like being the big, strong protector?  I thought you enjoyed that.”

“Sha…”

“Or is that just for when the two of you hump like rabbits in heat when the three of us are away?”

“Sha!”

The three women started laughing again, and Nemaro glanced back to glare at them one last time before he walked back to camp even more quickly than before.

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