Fiction~~The Last Pure Human~~Ch. 19


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The Last Pure Human
Chapter 19 - Rescuing Humans

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Standing in the room with his family around him, Kasan could barely breathe as his mind processed the news from the screen. His brothers and their consorts were almost as upset as he was; at the edge of his awareness, he could see ears flicking downwards, hear their angry murmurs even while they tried to offer comfort. There was the brief touch of Aosh’s hand brushing against Kasan’s shoulder, considerately avoiding the leash hanging over his chest. Roto’s fingers rubbed at his ears.  Even Ko and Jolan were patting his arms gently, but it wasn’t enough to take the shock away.

Did the Niandrin really have Max’s people?

From the large, paternal hand petting the top of his head, it was clear his father believed they did. The elders must believe it as well or they wouldn’t have put their punishment on hold to call him in.

Kasan didn’t want to believe it. It made Kasan and Max into a damned test case for the Niandrin, and one that might help sell the rest of Max’s people. Kasan thought he might vomit, knowing what the humans would end up as: whores, concubines, pets to be kept in a collector’s zoo, or worse, specimens to be experimented on.

At least they were too small and frail to make good competitors in blood sports. Hopefully, that meant they would live long enough to be rescued. And then Kasan would like to see the slaving sons of bitches try to get them through the Guardian Satellites of Kyashin.

Bastards like these were exactly why the grid of satellites had been installed in the first place. Now some of the Saviors’ technology that still remained would help protect some of the very species that had built it. If they could get to humans in time.  Kasan’s growl grew as he stared blindly at the screen while his family huddled close and touched him soothingly until he got a sliver of control again.

He wanted to believe it would take the Niandrin a long time to off-load their human cargo. Everyone knew that they’d successfully faked genetic tests in the past; it would hamper their attempts to claim that Max’s people were really humans. They would never get what the humans were worth. 

Or they never would have, if it weren’t for Max. Because everyone, especially the filth in the slave trade, also knew that Kyashin couldn’t survive puberty without another Kyashin, or without a genetically pure human. They didn’t know the details, but they knew enough to always try to capture Kyashin in pairs.

So they’d used he and Max to get the best fucking price for Max’s family. Kasan shuddered, choking back the rage before he lost control. Stupid, damned gossip-mongering idiots had helped them do it, too; his own mating would have been all over the social news hours after it happened.

Max had people of his own, people he probably loved, and right now they were being sold as slaves.  Kasan vibrated with growls so deep his collar shivered against his throat. He partially crushed the screen control in his hand before his father took it from him with a gentle touch.

With a throat that felt raw from unuttered screams of rage, Kasan finally managed to speak. “We’re getting Max’s family back.” Every last one of them.

Jolan pinched his ear. “Don’t be stupid. Of course we are. They’re part of our family.”

The elders and his father nodded sharply, not that Kasan needed the reassurance.  He’d simply had to say the words. He needed to know that they were true.

He needed Max.

The screen was paused on an image of Max’s pale face, frozen in a moment of terror during their greeting. Kasan’s whole body ached, remembering the little one’s fear, imagining what it could have been.

What were the odds that the Niandrin had picked Max out of all the humans they had? It could have been anyone in Kasan’s cell with him that day, and Max would have been sold to someone else. The terror on his face, blown up to enormous size on the screen, would have been just as real. But no one would have cared.

Red clouded Kasan’s eyes. His beautiful, amazing, helpless little Max, with some low-life, slave-buying bastard who wouldn’t give a damn how frightened Max was. Kasan’s claws emerged entirely. His body shook with the need to attack the Niandrin and rip them apart so savagely he would feel blood spray across his face.

“I will fucking kill them.”

You will stay here and take care of your consort.” Kyoru looked at him with eyes like sharp stones. Everyone else took a few steps back. “And Shovak still needs to be dealt with.”

Ears flat, Kasan refused to look away. These were his consort’s people. He wanted blood. “They have the other humans!”

Kyoru looked at him without speaking. Even with the collar on, Kasan’s fingertips tingled as he flexed his claws. He didn’t know what might have happened had Aosh not interrupted the unspoken challenge.

His baby brother stepped between them. “I’ll go get them.”

Kasan, the Lord King, and everyone else stared at him until Aosh’s ears wilted.

Aunt Asha yanked at one of Aosh’s braids. “You so much as think about it and I will strip the fur from your ears.”

Aosh stood straight and met her glare, even as his ears flattened protectively.  “You know it’s feasible. Zonta and I are known to be brothers to Kasan and we don’t have consorts. If we don’t deny the slave purchase outside of Kyashin, then they might believe that we’d want a human for ourselves. Aosh and I could get into the auctions.  Besides, Zonta is fluent in practically every damn language he comes across, including the human’s, if he can study it a little. We can-“

“You can stay here where you won’t be picked up and sold.” Aunt Asha’s biting voice was lethal and she yanked at his braid again so hard that he was forced to lean down until they were face to face. “You think we’re going to let two barely ripened Kyashin off-planet? And identical twins, at that?” She glowered at him scathingly. “You’d be snapped up by a whore house in seconds. Even if they only had a year before you both died during your heat, they’d make enough profit to make it worth their while.”

The very harshness in her voice made Kasan stare at her hard before he looked away. His claws sank bank into their sheaths as he was reminded of an old rumor he’d heard and discounted, that Asha had managed to sneak off planet when she was very young.

According to the story, she’d been found in a child brothel on Tien’sa.

Aosh stood as the Elder released his hair. “We wouldn’t be alone! People expect guards and servants with royalty. We could have an entire ship of trained-“

“You’re also needed here,” Aunt Nerin said.  Aosh turned to confront at her with a frustrated scowl.

“You have dozens who can do what I-“ 

“Don’t argue about this. You’re too young,” the Lord King said.

Kasan completely agreed. His youngest two brothers weren’t ready to leave the planet yet, even if Aosh’s gesture helped Kasan keep his claws in.

His father wasn’t done talking. “…and you’re definitely too fond of making people squirm to be let out on your own, yet.”

Aosh’s jaw tightened. “I am not a child. Zonta and I-”

“We have diplomats, leaders, and warriors who would all make better choices, and that’s only in our own family. If we ask for the aid from some of the others clans, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people I would choose before I’d let you and Zonta endanger yourselves that way.” Kyoru paused before a small smile softened his features as he reached out and flicked the tip of Aosh’s nose. “Besides, I have a feeling you’re almost as interested in finding a human for yourself as in a rescue attempt.”

Aosh didn’t look amused.

Kasan felt about the same, but for entirely different reasons. Father was going to ask for help from the other clans? “I agree that Aosh and Zonta are too young.” He touched his finger to Aosh’s lips when his brother began to growl. “Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, Aosh, but you are. You don’t even have a consort yet. But-”

“You’ve only had yours for a few days!” Aosh’s snapping reply stopped Kasan’s next words in his throat. He didn’t care about jibe; it didn’t matter that Kasan’s mating was so recent.  It did matter that he had a consort now.

He deserved a punch in the head, reacting like this, like someone still ripe. Kasan might ache for the Niandrin’s death with a stomach-gouging need, but painful as it was, it wasn’t nearly as consuming as his need for Max. The little one was far more important. And if he followed through on what he wanted and went after the Niandrin himself, where would Max be?  With Kasan, close enough that they could mate nightly as they needed to? Vulnerable to any group who wanted a human of their own? Kasan would never put the Max at risk like that.

He couldn’t leave the planet.

Kasan swallowed the words Aosh had halted, and thought before he spoke. It felt like the first time since he’d watched the news that his mind had started working beyond the lust for Niandrin blood.

“Father, we can’t waste too much time contacting the other clans. We need to get someone out there now.”

It would take over a week to get to Tien’sa. Whether Kasan went or not, they didn’t have time to spare for interviewing too many candidates for a rescue mission.  Kasan thought he could ask for volunteers and have enough men from their own forces before the end of the next fifth. That was as much time as he wanted to spare.

His father raised an eyebrow and Kasan added, “No, it will not include myself. I’ll keep Max safe.”

The acknowledgement of what was needed for his consort’s health seemed to ameliorate some of the tension among the older members of the family, especially his father. “I’m glad you finally calmed enough to think of his safety.”

Kasan’s ears flattened. He knew a backhanded reprimand when he heard one.

Aunt Nerin shifted close enough to touch his hand. “I know you’re worried, but impatience and an ill-planned attempt will help no one.”

“There’ll be no one to help if we take too long. They’ll all be sold.”  He couldn’t believe the Niandrin wouldn’t be prepared to put the humans on the market immediately. The elders had to be as aware of that as he was.

“If they’ve been sold, then we will track them down,” Kyoru said, his tone soft. He passed by Leero to stand closer to Kasan.  “We will not let your consort’s people be harmed, if we can help it.  But we will not dive into this and endanger our own men foolishly. We must check with our allies, find out if the humans are already for sale, and by then we will have enough people to make the journey. With luck, it will require nothing more than funds to pretend we wish to purchase them ourselves.”

The Elders snorted their contempt at the idea of dealing with the Niandrin, but they didn’t speak against it.

“It is more likely we will need to help them escape from other owners.” Kyoru hugged Kasan tightly, rubbing his chin over Kasan’s head. “We will not forget them, Kasan. There are other problems this report causes, however. The other clans have already begun to ask questions. They want to know if we bought you a consort.”

Jolan snarled. “As if any Kyashin would purchase a slave!” Ko touched his arm and gestured to their father. Kasan saw the moment that Jolan recalled Shovak, who had dealt with slavers, even if he hadn’t actually bought Max. “That is…  Damn. This could be bad.”

Kasan was very glad that he wasn’t the one who dealt with diplomatic issues; Nolluz was going to have a firestorm on his hands. All Kasan had on his plate was a list of who to send, and… his consort's feelings. What was Max going to think when he found out what was happening?

“Max is going to be devastated.” His voice was muffled against his father’s arm.

Kyoru slowly released him, stepping back before he spoke again. “Will you tell him, then?”

“I don’t know.” Would the little one feel the same guilt Kasan did, knowing their mating had paved the way for this atrocity? “Maybe I should wait.”

Tisu spoke for the first time. “At least wait until the rescue team is gone. You don’t want him trying to get involved and get hurt. Little things like him are… fragile.”

Roto flushed as Tisu wrapped his arm around him and the smaller Kyashin elbowed Tisu in the side. He added his opinion before poking Tisu again. “You should trust Max. Tell him.”

“Let Kasan make his own decisions about his consort’s needs,” Kyoru said. “Kasan, don’t worry about who to send. Leero knows as much as you do about our men. He can provide me with couples who are both capable of taking this on, or men and women beyond the heat who are willing to volunteer.” Kyoru tugged Leero forward with the leash and Leero flinched noticeably. Kasan had never realized how bright green his eyes were when his cheeks flushed like that. “You’ll need to do this before next meal, Leero. Any other request for your services by someone other than myself may be ignored until the task is complete.”

Releasing the leash, Kyoru’s fingertips ran lightly down Leero’s spine as he pushed him forward.  Kasan thought he saw Leero jump before the man nodded stiffly and left.

Kyoru turned as soon as the door closed behind him. “Nolluz, you’ll need to let the other clans know about Shovak’s involvement. They are already aware that his name has been struck. Kasan, reporters from multiple races have been sending requests for interviews about your new consort. We need to discuss what you will say. You’ll need to-”

“Stall them,” Aunt Nerin croaked out.

Kasan had no idea what she meant. “So you don’t want me to speak to them?”

“Of course I do.  That’s not what I meant.” She tottered forward until she was staring down at him. Her hands teased at his leash. “Lie, boy. Give an interview, look sickly, put some gray on your face, say we’re not certain the mating is taking as we thought, perhaps because your consort isn’t what was claimed.  They hardly know a damn thing about mating; they’ll believe it. It’ll delay any sales the Niandrin try to make, if others believe their goods are tainted. They’ve done it too often. Stalling might get us enough time to get to Tien’sa ourselves.”

Kasan nodded slowly.

Nerin looked at his other brothers and their consorts. “And the rest of you, go spend some time with each other.  This needs something joyful to wash the taste of it from your mouths.”

Roto bit his lip, looking up at Tisu as they all hesitated. “What about the inventory they were doing?”

Aunt Nerin waved her hand. “They’ll still do it.  Tomorrow. Go on now, before I change my mind.”

The others made it out the door before Kasan had even turned, Neera giving Nolluz a quick pat on the backside before she left him standing next to Kasan.

His father spoke to him as Nolluz began talking to the elders. “We’ll try to make this as quick as we can. Two or three of the more reputable reporters should do our job well enough.”

Kasan followed them over to the screen to prepare for the talks. He wanted this over with so he could hold Max again. Whether he told him about the Niandrin or not, he wanted the feel of the little one in his arms for the rest of the damned night.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Kasan hadn’t realized how tense he was until the moment Zonta opened the door, and Kasan realized Max wasn’t with him.

“Where is he?” A brief touch was the only thing that stopped him from charging out of the room to find him.

“He’s simply out in the garden.  My, you must really be getting a lot of teasing today if you’re so disturbed by a few seconds without him.”  Zonta’s smile fell flat as Kasan failed to return it. Kasan hated to ruin his mood, but he needed to be told.

“We’ve found out where Max’s humans are.”

“That’s wonderful!”

“They’re being held as slaves by the Niandrin.’

Zonta’s ears quivered. With a sympathetic murmur, he hugged Kasan around the shoulders. The leash was crushed between them. “I’m so sorry.”

Kasan reached up to gently push him away and found himself holding onto his brother instead. He couldn’t let go until Zonta spoke against his hair. “I’ll get ready to help retrieve them.”

As opposite as they were in personality, in some ways, Aosh and Zonta were so alike it was eerie.

“No, you won’t. Not according to father.  Aosh already tried to volunteer the both of you and it was discarded. You can’t do this, Zonta.”

“But…I know more human right now than any of them!” The offended surprise on Zonta’s face was about what Kasan would have expected. Aosh wouldn’t have volunteered them both if he hadn’t been sure Zonta would want to come.  The two of them had probably discussed something like this as soon as they all started trying to find out about Max’s origins.

It was very touching.

“Zonta, you haven’t even had your first heat and you have no experience off-world.  Somehow, I don’t think that makes you and Aosh the most qualified for a mission like this.” Kasan tempered his words when his brother’s ears wilted. “But I appreciate more than I can say that the both of you are so willing to offer.”

Zonta shrugged awkwardly. His mouth and shoulders were tight. “I hate not being able to help,” he murmured, looking out towards the door leading to the garden.

“I know. But considering that you’ve been teaching my consort how to speak Hinta all afternoon, I can’t imagine why you don’t believe you’ve been doing just that.”

“It doesn’t seem enough.”

“Trust me, it is one of the most important things you could be doing, as far as I’m concerned.” Anything that helped Max acclimate and took the fright from his eyes was vital. Until the little one felt safe, Kasan didn’t think he could give Max information that would upset him even more.

Kasan scanned the area as Zonta led the way into the fading light of the garden. Sundown should be soon, but it was always dimmer inside the enclosed gardens.  He looked around, not seeing Max immediately, but as the insects and birds quieted at their presence, Kasan’s ears caught the barest hint of human muttering farther back in the recesses of the garden.

A tight knot inside his belly eased into a mere tangle at the evidence of Max’s well being. He could already imagine his consort’s unfocused stare as the little one talked to himself. Walking towards the sound, Kasan thought he recognized ‘Don’t touch that. My touch now.’ being repeated over and over in Max’s smooth voice.

Kasan’s ears fluttered as he chuckled under his breath. Funny little thing. Thinking of how much he was looking forward to finding out what went on in Max’s head kept the smile on his face. Every step closer to him smoothed out the tension in Kasan’s shoulders. If he could touch Max,  he could believe they had a chance to retrieve the other humans. As long as he had Max, he had the feeling he was capable of almost anything, these days.

Zonta stepped around a large bush on the winding path and Kasan followed him impatiently. It was difficult not to push Zonta aside and hurry past him. He could still hear Max, but the foliage was so pungent Kasan could only catch a hint of Max’s scent. Unpleasant. He’d never understand why Zonta and Aosh let the caretakers take over the planting of their garden and put in crap like this. Thorn-ridden, head-high shrubs that needed little care – who wanted an entire garden of this?

It masked people’s smell, it constantly stung the skin, and unlike Kasan’s garden, there was nothing he could climb and leap off of to speed things along. Cursing at another set of scratches as he brushed too close to a high shrub, Kasan wished he were already back in his own garden with Max. He’d love to take the little one up into one of the bowers he’d built in a few of the largest trees. They needed somewhere they could both forget about the rest of the world for a while. The vision was enticing: Max flushed and moaning softly underneath him, surrounded by velvety petals and shining leaves.

Perhaps they could even manage it today, even though Kasan could feel the smallest prickle of the heat in his fingertips.  It would still be at least a couple hours until he was in dire need.

He shoved aside an overgrown bush from the path. “Zonta, has Max eaten anything for Lastmeal, yet?” It was a bit early, but Zonta tended to have meals in his room at least a few times a week, especially when he got caught up in his studies.

Zonta turned his head, smiling. “You’re in luck. I thought you might be in a rush when you were done with the inventory, so I had food brought in.  I wasn’t expecting you so early, but as it stands…as soon as you two wish, you could have some time alone.”

Zonta’s flush ruined whatever teasing he might have intended.  Opening his mouth to reply, Kasan stopped as he realized he couldn’t hear Max any more. He waited a moment for the little one to speak again; a stray breeze eddied around them, rustling the leaves. Max still wasn’t making a sound. Kasan’s hackles rose at the relative silence. Stupid, to feel a moment’s quiet meant anything.  Max didn’t have to talk constantly to be well. But Kasan’s tail began to twitch, and his ears strained to hear Max speaking yet again.

“Kasan? Are you-“

Max screamed, high-pitched and terrified, and Kasan’s stomach dropped to his toes. 

He plunged into the brush, a small limb of thorns slapping viciously at his stomach. Max’s scream echoed in his head so loudly he wasn’t certain if he was hearing it again or if his mind was playing tricks on him.

Max had to be all right – there was nothing here!

So why did Kasan’s entire body crawl with superstitious dread that he was about to find Max bloody and gone.  Because of the Niandrin? Because of the scream? Dammit, Max screamed all the time!

But not like this.

Kasan leapt over another bush as high as his head, tripping as it caught at his feet. An alarm from the top of the walls screeched and Kasan stopped thinking entirely. He sprinted towards Max, whose screaming kept Kasan focused – if the little one could scream, he was still alive. Kasan clawed through the brush in front of him, unwilling to weave around it.

Blinded by the leaves in his face, he nearly knocked Max over when his consort sprinted around the next brush. Max’s blue eyes were so huge in his face that they looked warped. Kasan caught him, cutting off his scream as they both grunted from the impact. Stumbling back and nearly falling into another bush, Kasan put Max beside him and stepped in front. He couldn’t hear anything following behind. Max’s terrified panting was too loud in the air, even with the birds scared off by the alarm.

“What’s wrong, Max?” He didn’t take his eyes off the brush in front of them as he spoke. Max pulled at his arm, back towards the door to Zonta’s room.

It’s the freaking pink blobs again! Come on!

“Max, I can’t understand you.”

Shit! Uh, uh…big, sharp animal! Chase Max! Kasan, run!” Kasan tried to figure out what the hell was in the garden with them, pushing Max a littler farther behind him as he scanned the trees quickly in case one of the larger raptors had gotten in. The guards had seen something, if they set off the alarm.

Max reached from behind Kasan and tried to yank at his leash. “Kasan! Run!”  Kasan barely heard him as an animal screamed in agony near the rear of the garden, so high pitched it made Kasan’s head ache.  Zonta’s tosa – the only sounds they ever made were so high they were almost inaudible.  And very few things attacked a tosa.

Of the animals that did, only one could climb well enough to get into the walled garden. 

Kasan turned, picked Max up in his arms, and sprinted back towards the door. “Zonta! Get back inside!”

Max held onto the leash and collar as Kasan ran, nearly choking him until the little one let go and finally hunched himself into a small ball. Kasan leapt through the bushes again, curling around Max to keep the thorns from him. He would swear he could feel something gaining on him, breathing against the back of his neck. Not that he’d hear a damn thing if there were - he’d feel the claws before he heard a damned thing.

And then they’d tear into Max.

He ran faster.

Bursting through the last shrub, seeing Zonta sprinting ahead of him, Kasan pushed himself so hard that he stumbled headlong into Zonta’s room, flipping over onto his back at the last moment as he hit the ground. Max and he went skidding along the floor and Zonta stared at him as he flew past.

“Close the damn door! Close it!”

Zonta’s hand snapped the lock and Kasan didn’t start breathing again until the door slid completely shut. He couldn’t talk in more than repeated curse words. His legs trembled in reaction.

“God. Max. I almost lost Max.” Kasan held him tight to his chest, ignoring when his consort squirmed to get free.  “I swear to God, I’m never letting him out there alone again.  Shit.”

Zonta swallowed and stared at them both.  “What happened?”

Shokan.  I heard your tosa die in the garden behind Max. It must have distracted the damn thing so it didn’t go after Max. God…” Kasan stared down at Max as the man started to shake.  “Shhhh, you’re safe n-now.” He couldn’t keep his voice steady. Panting, he tried to calm Max for another tic when he realized the shivering was his own arms, shaking as they held his consort.  He put Max down on his lap so he wasn’t jolting him so much, but he couldn’t make himself let go.

“I can’t believe I could have just lost him.”

Zonta came over and knelt down on the floor next to him, patting Max, who looked more terrified now than he had before when he’d been running.

“Kasan? Animal outside? No danger here?” The little one’s voice shook.

Kasan stared at him before he nodded. Absolutely right. Nothing was getting in here at Max.

“Kasan…hurt.”

Kasan felt a small sting on his arm. Looking down at Max touching his bicep, Kasan saw thin rivulets of blood beading up and running down. The pain started as he looked at it, stinging stripes that covered his arms, legs, and chest, one hot line down the side of his face, and his entire back burned from where he’d skidded across the floor.

“Kasan hurt big.” Max’s hands hovered over the small wounds covering Kasan’s skin.

“No, Max, not big. They’re small.  You’re the one who…” Kasan swallowed and hugged him tighter. “Max almost eaten.”

A tremor rattled Kasan’s entire body.  It wasn’t the loss of his own life that bothered him, if he lost his consort.  It was losing Max.  Max in pain and torn to pieces, poisoned from a shokan’s claws, paralyzed as the pack carried him away and ate him the moment he died.

First the Niandrin, and now a shokan in the gardens. He wasn’t letting Max out on his own for a long damn time.  Like the next five years.

They were still on the floor, Zonta gathering a few bandaging supplies, when the guards burst through the door. “There was a shokan sighted on top of Zonta’s wall-”

“We know.” Kasan got to his feet, taking Max with him. “We got inside safely, but it got his tosa.” He headed to the bed. There would be more guards coming, and he’d feel safer if Max wasn’t going to get stepped on by the crowd.

The younger of Zonta’s guards gasped as he saw Kasan’s back.  “Your wounds! Did-

“It’s from hitting the floor. I don’t need an antidote.” He made a note to keep that one out of the garden. If the man didn’t know enough to realize Kasan would already be paralyzed if he’d been clawed, he shouldn’t be getting anywhere near a shokan. “Have they surrounded the garden yet?” he asked over his shoulder.

The older guard shook his head. “Not when they contacted us, but they had more men coming. If it’s not secured by now, it soon will be.”

Kasan put Max on the bed, smoothing his hair from his eyes. Zonta joined them with an antiseptic that smelled like tea flowers.

“I need to treat these.”

Kasan shook his head as he stood. “I’m fine for now. You can help me with them once I come back in. Right now, the others will need me to help in the garden when they locate the pack.”

Snagging the now-ragged ends of the leash, Max surprised them both. “Kasan, sit.”  Kasan paused.

Zonta smiled sharply. “Forgot you were still in Service?”

It was tempting to ignore it and take whatever punishment came his way, but Kasan couldn’t make himself do it. He flushed, sitting down next to Max, and let Zonta start cleaning the small cuts. He could hear the guards chuckling, wondering how much his consort ordered him around when they were in private. Or in bed. A quick glance at Max made it clear the little one wasn’t listening to them at all.  He was watching Zonta’s hands as they smoothed the cream over Kasan’s skin.

He was oddly focused on it, and after a few more strokes along one of Kasan’s arms, Max held out his hand. “I do it.”

“Do what?” Zonta continued rubbing in the cream, leaving behind a pleasant coolness.

Max gestured towards the bottle. “Make hurt better.  I do it.” Kasan would swear he heard him mutter, “Kasan mine.”

The guards chuckled louder as Max took the medicine and tried to use it himself.  He ended up with a goopy mess that dripped off his hand as he spread it over Kasan’s other arm. Kasan shivered violently. The cream was cold enough when it was only a thin film. A full slathering of it was icy.

“Max, not so much, little one.  It’s cold.”

“Maybe he can warm you up, then.” The older guard smiled at them both. Max froze, glancing at him and flushing before he poured out a much less generous portion. His fingers shook.

Kasan watched Max’s eyes, alien and round, framed by those feathery, dark lashes. The little one was worrying his bottom lip, his white teeth forming a sharp indentation in the plump flesh. Kneeling to reach Kasan’s body, Max seemed completely focused. He ran his hands over each small scratch, lingering over the marks. Starting at his stomach, Max spread the slippery lotion over his body, working his way up an inch at a time. Kasan couldn’t stop his reaction.

He was certain everyone noticed, too, except for his oblivious little consort. The guards had quieted, clearing their throats and watching so closely Kasan felt like he was in the middle of a peep show rather than receiving first aid.

He cleared his own throat. “Max, I think that’s enough. You don’t need to do any more.” Not until they were in private.  Then he could rub lotion, oils, and himself all over Kasan.

Max poured out another dollop of antiseptic. “No. Kasan help Max. Kasan hurt. I help Kasan.” Starting on another scratch, both of their breaths hitched as he followed it over Kasan’s nipple. Max’s fingers stopped over the dark beige erotic point the moment it hardened.  He flicked it once. As it hardened further, he massaged it curiously, rubbing small circles with his finger until Kasan groaned deeply.

Max jumped, stared up at his face, and yanked his hand away as he flushed violently.

“I-  I-” Max dropped the bottle of medicine and it clanked loudly as it missed the bed and landed on the floor. They stared at each other and Max’s eyes went to the scratch that was now throbbing along his cheek. He swallowed heavily. “I help Kasan,” he said softly, getting up higher on his knees.

The little one lifted up his lotion-covered hand, still flushing like mad. Small fingers slid gently across Kasan’s skin, skimming over his cheek and up past his eye. Kasan didn’t think Max realized how close he was until they were both breathing into each other’s warmth. His consort’s hand didn’t move, heating Kasan’s skin, until Kasan couldn’t help himself and touched his lips to Max’s.

His consort tasted of his last meal, sharply sweet with a little heat. Kasan let his tongue enter Max leisurely, savoring his taste, memorizing the velvety feel of his mouth. He couldn’t bring himself to smile as he pulled away. He felt too raw, thinking that he might have missed this. One moment too late, and Max would have been gone.  “Thank you, Max.”

Max’s tongue darted out to lick his lips. His nod was shaky as he sat back down on the bed and clasped his hands together over his groin. “I h-help Kasan.”

“Yes, you did, Gisho.”

“Are you sure you want to help with the pack, Prince Kasan?” Kasan glanced over at the guard who was smirking fondly at him.  The older ones tended to do that, unfortunately. “Your consort looks as though he’d rather have some time alone with you. I’d say he could really use your…Services.”

Zonta coughed as he started to laugh. Kasan thought the guards might have teased him more but the summoning box rang and interrupted. They weren’t laughing when they came back from getting the message.

“They’ve secured the garden, but they can’t see a pack from up on the walls.”

Kasan cursed. Zonta’s garden didn’t have enough coverage to hide an entire pack.  Either they were dealing with one animal, a rogue or one separated from its pack, or the pack had escaped before they secured the perimeter.

Or it was one animal and it had escaped. The work involved in searching the entire citadel if that happened would be immense, and risky. It was dangerous enough trying to clear shokan from an outlying farm, when they could use modern weapons. Having to keep to the more traditional weapons if they didn’t want to set off the citadel’s defenses made things potentially deadly.

He revered the Saviors as much as anyone, but he would never stop wishing that plans for this citadel had survived the centuries so some of the defenses could be disarmed in a situation like this, at least temporarily. Kasan knew the Yanta were able to do that; they ribbed the Hinta all the time for losing their own schematics.

As more guards finally started trickling in, including a couple with a few throwback traits like himself, he tossed aside the regret and they started discussing the best way to search Zonta’s garden. They wouldn’t worry about an escaped shokan unless they came up empty-handed. The planning didn’t take long; most of them had dealt with the animals before, on the battlefield or the outskirts of a town, if not in a situation like this. All Kasan needed before they started was a weapon.

Zonta stopped him as Kasan headed through the open door to Aosh’s room to find a spear – he didn’t have time to excavate Zonta’s for something useful. “Kasan, are you certain you wish to do this? We have enough guards.”

“But not enough throwbacks to give us an edge.”

Zonta let go with a soft sigh and nodded slowly. He knew as well as Kasan that against shokan, they needed whatever edge they could get. The deadly predators were nearly silent, had almost the same scent as a Kyashin, and were faster than lightening. Not to mention they outweighed even a giant like Tisu.

When Kasan came back with a spear and a small collection of knives that he tucked into the sides of his loincloth, he paused by Max. He leaned down and hugged him quickly, smearing him with antiseptic as he kissed him hard.

“Stay with Zonta, Max. I’ll be back soon.”

Kasan joined the group guarding the door as they slid it open, and when nothing attempted to charge inside, they slid out the door as rapidly as possible. With the door was secured behind them, Kasan said a small thank you for Max’s safety, and then he and the others fanned out and got ready to hunt shokan.

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