Fiction~~The Last Pure Human~~Ch. 23
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Chapter 23 - Time to Get a Job
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belly was taut with food by the time Kasan and most of the others
finally decided it was time to leave breakfast. Feeling a bit like a
kid, Max stood obediently when Kasan popped him on his feet. He
squirmed, struck once again as Kasan held onto his hand and led him
through the maze of tables towards the door.
When had he last held someone’s hand before Kasan? The big cat did it so naturally, like holding hands with Max was nothing special. All of them did. Half the cats around him were clasping hands or arms or waists.
Naked hands and arms and waists.
His parents had never touched each other, or Max, this frequently. And Max had never even attempted it with the few women he’d dated. Holding hands was such a sappy, romantic thing to do that it seemed entirely too un-masculine.
Geeks don’t hold hands.
Max was pretty sure he’d seen a t-shirt saying that once.
But Kasan’s hand enveloping his own made him feel safe, and cared for, and that was pretty damn impressive for five fingers and a palm. So as always, Max didn’t try to pull away as they headed out the door and down the hall. Returning the smile aimed at him, he even got a little shiver when Kasan squeezed his hand reassuringly.
And then the damn cat ruined it all when he yelled out right above Max’s head. Scared the crap out of him! “Zonta, wait!”
Zonta stopped, looking back down the cream-colored hall.
Kasan started talking as they headed over. “Can you watch Max today again?”
Shifting his feet, Zonta smiled at Max before he answered. “I was hoping to use today for research. There are a few sources on humans that were a bit obscure; I thought perhaps now that we have Max, we might be able to figure out what they mean.”
Kasan ran his hand over Max’s head and Max nearly lost track of the conversation. “Could you take him with you to the archives, then?”
“You’re not going to spend the day with him?”
Kasan’s ears flattened slightly. “No. I was going to participate in the hunt, but the Elders have brought in more people to search for the shokan, so I’m free to finish the inventory.
Zonta chuckled. “How terrible for you. Forced to confront boxes instead of deadly beasts.”
“Brat.” Kasan flicked at Zonta’s ear. “Truly I’m sorry to ask, but I think it would be better if he didn’t work on inventory with me. Max can’t really help yet, and you’ve seen how he is; he’ll fret himself into a frenzy if he doesn’t know what’s going on. Besides, I don’t think we’ll be done until after Lastmeal. That’s far too long to ask him to sit nearby, doing nothing.”
Zonta’s ears twitched. “I suppose…”
Kasan ran the hand down Max’s back, making small circles over the tunic. “Thank you. He’s usually so nervous left to his own devices, and with new people. But he trusts you.”
Zonta smiled and offered his hands as he nodded. “Don’t worry, then. It shouldn’t be an inconvenience. But I was wondering-” The red-headed cat looked down at Max and smiled at him. Nice smile. Kind of sexy and innocent.
Oh god, Max was analyzing men’s smiles now. Gay, gay, gay.
“Kasan, what does Max want to do today? Have you asked him?”
Kasan shook his head, ears a little flatter. His hand spread across Max’s shoulder, enveloping the muscle there and wrapping around it. “He doesn’t know enough to make that decision.”
Zonta’s eyebrow rose and Max seriously wondered what was going on. He knew they were discussing him, and something about boxes he’d managed to catch…maybe Zonta was going to go over more stuff with him again today?
He’d been looking forward to it yesterday, but there was a surprising twinge of disappointment at the thought of not being with Kasan. Again. Didn’t spouses ever get time together? A honeymoon month? Even a honeymoon day or two? A honey hour?
“Kasan, Max might be human, but don’t you think he has the right to make his own decisions? What if he’d rather come with you?”
Kasan’s tail wrapped around Max’s waist and Max pet it while he watched them both. If Kasan looked unhappy, this was likely something that would make Max unhappy. “Another time. Zonta, he’s too delicate to take a chance right now. As soon as things settle down and Max knows how to get along, then it’ll be different, but right now, I need to keep him safe.”
“Max is not going to take well to being babied. Anyone can see that, Kasan. You’d better be careful or you’re going to have a very angry little consort.” Zonta paused as Roto and Tisu passed through a cross hallway, Roto very obviously chastising Tisu. He smiled and gestured to them. “And you know how much trouble that will get you.”
Kasan grinned sheepishly and looked down at Max. “I can imagine. I think you’ll be very good keeping me in line, hmmm, little one? Or do you think I will be far too difficult?”
Max saw Zonta nodding and mouthing ‘yes’ with a small grin and he repeated it. Kasan laughed and fuzzed his hair. “Max, will you be all right going with Zonta today to study? My job is more unpleasant today. Kasan wants Max to be safe. You stay safe with Zonta today?”
Max frowned. That’s what he’d been afraid all this was about – getting dumped off with Zonta and not Kasan. “Not stay with Kasan?”
“Not this time.”
“Never stay with Kasan,” he grumbled, annoyed, and Kasan sighed. To Max’s surprise he nodded.
“I know. Not for long, though. Soon we’ll have some time together.”
Max understood enough to relieve the odd pressure in his chest. “This not…normal?”
“No Kasan and Max together. Apart all day. All night…uh…” Max looked at Zonta and cut himself off before he said any more. Zonta grinned into his hand. Max was aware that Zonta knew exactly what he was going to say, but as long as it stopped here, he was going to pretend that the man hadn’t a clue.
“No, Max. This isn’t normal. We’ll have more time together soon, I swear.”
Smiling, Max nodded, feeling like a goof at the tension that disappeared. But he couldn’t deny that it had. With one last head fluffing, Kasan stepped away from him, and it was like some giant heater that had turned off; Max felt cooler almost immediately.
“If you need me, I’ll be doing the inventory with the others, and then I’m visiting the elders to see what’s been done about Max’s…about the Niandrin.”
Zonta nodded, almost turning away before he shook his head. “I still can’t believe you all destroyed an entire vid room. What were you thinking?”
“How badly I wanted to pound on them.”
“You all think about that far too much.”
“You’re just lucky you’re the baby or you’d be wanting to pound them all too.”
“I have patience, that’s all,” Zonta said lightly. Kasan snorted.
Max swallowed as Kasan turned his attention back to Max. With a small smile, Kasan leaned over him. He tilted Max’s face up, and Max felt the briefest brush of lips against his own while Kasan stroked over the back of his head. They looked at each other briefly, and with an abrupt twist, Kasan turned to go.
Max’s hand, caught in an abortive movement to reach for him, dropped back to his side. “Bye,” he whispered.
Kasan looked back and smiled, waving quickly before he turned the corner. Something about it felt false. Or maybe that was the smile on Max’s face as he waved back.
“Self-involved dork. You’re a grown man. Suck it up.” Max swallowed, staring at the last place he’d seen Kasan. He’d really wanted to stay with Kasan today.
“Come on, Max. We’ll be going to the archives today.” Zonta’s hand touched Max’s elbow with a gentle dexterity that seemed out of place in a man as large as he was. “The day will be done and Kasan will be back before you know it.”
Max swallowed, nodding as though he understood it all, and followed Zonta. As they walked, the floor under his bare feet changed until it was slicker, like amber glass worn smooth. The smell shifted to marble infused with dust and vaguely reminiscent of the small downtown library he’d liked to study at when he was in college. Looking around, Max thought even the walls were subtly different than they had been. Rougher, less polished, with the cream color deepening to a brown flecked golden. Light reflected poorly off the stone.
Doors along the hallway appeared with less and less frequency, until Zonta turned a corner and the only exit was an enormous door at the very end. The thing was huge, feet above even the cats’ heads, and made of something that looked like enormous wooden planks, if wood were yellowed stone. A pair of very elderly guards stood in front of the massive thing.
Max was almost expecting some moldering tomb, but instead, once the doors opened and they hiked through the long doorway, he found a room that looked surprisingly like an enormous, slightly tidier version of Zonta’s room. Books, papers, scrolls and little mini hand computer screens were everywhere. Enormous shelves were built into the walls, some stretching from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room. Smaller bookcases had obviously been added later and they decorated the room at random intervals.
A very, very old looking cat came over to greet them, his dark braid striped with shades of silver and gray. Staring down at Max with an expression he hadn’t seen yet on the cats: distaste.
Did he have food on his face or something? Max reached up to check unobtrusively while the man spoke in a quavering voice to Zonta.
“What is this?”
Zonta smiled, but his hand tightened where it had curled over Max’s shoulder. “Kasan’s human. I was going to-”
“This is the human?” The old cat's eyebrows came together in a furry car crash of dark fuzz. “That can’t be right. Humans are the same size as Kyashin.”
Zonta tilted his head, eyes unnaturally wide and even more innocent than usual. “Is that so? How curious. Apparently, this one is smaller than normal.”
The other cat stared at Max and muttered to himself for a moment. “Well, what is he doing here? Kasan’s consort should stay with him. They were just mated, weren’t they? Or was that Tisu?”
“It’s Kasan, Minoru.” Zonta’s voice softened as he spoke.
“Hmph. Well of course it was.”
“Max? Let me introduce you to Minoru. Minoru, this is Max.”
Max discovered that it was much harder to speak when a giant that was looking at you as though you were a strange looking bug. “P-Pleased to meet you, Minoru.”
“Yes, yes, pleased to meet you, Max.” Minoru waved a hand at Max after a few moments. “So…we’re done here. Go on now. Back to your mate. Zonta has work to do.”
Max stared at him, and Zonta choked back a laugh. “I need to keep him with me today, Minoru. Kasan is working elsewhere. I was hoping to finish up some of the uncompleted human research. Under the circumstances, I really should get to work on it as soon as possible.”
Minoru scowled slightly, his ears back. He looked like an grumpy Cheshire cat. Max almost expected the shadows behind him to come out and leave nothing but a strange, glowing frown afterwards.
“I’m not certain I’m comfortable with him around some of the more fragile papers. He is Kasan’s consort. A consort is the shadow of his mate, you know.”
Zonta’s hand tightened over Max’s shoulder again and Max knew there was probably something in the translation that he was missing.
“I have every faith that Max will be perfectly safe among the more ancient of the papers. You can tell by his size; he is a scholar, not a warrior.”
Minoru stared at him and finally grunted. “I suppose that’s true. I don’t see what help he could be, however.”
“I was thinking of those papers from the Reconstruction. They are in human, aren’t they?”
“Those are priceless! We can’t have someone in there who might damage them.” Minoru growled under his breath in an hoarse treble.
Zonta looked around them ostentatiously and leaned in towards Minoru, whispering, “But what if he could translate them?”
Minoru’s ears popped up.
“The human can read the language; he already read through the papers that were sent up to teach him Hinta. With his help, we might have the first translation of these in over three hundred years.” Zonta glanced around again, making Max think of some pathetic spy just asking to be caught. “Just imagine. If it works, perhaps even the other clans would give us access to some of their Reconstruction texts so that Max could translate them.”
Minoru glanced down at Max like someone finding a $100 bill in the middle of the street. It was almost worse than the scowl. His ears quivered.
The man turned to go, gesturing them to follow with an irritated hand. “Well? If we’re going to get these translated, we don’t have all day! And I have just the piece. Julian - you remember, Zonta, he’s that pompous windbag from the Yanta – he was looking at it just last month, claiming he had translated the first three paragraphs. As if that hack could figure it out? Preposterous. He’ll be chewing holes in his ears over this!”
Max swallowed and looked to Zonta. The big cat smiled and pushed him along. He leaned down to whisper. “Don’t worry, Max. Minoru just needed the right motivation. It’s safe now.”
They followed behind, working their way deeper into the stacks of books and records, until they were in front of another large door. Max recognized a controlled environment the moment they stepped in. There were scrolls and a few books, but no computer bits in this section. The lights were dimmer. The air was a bit cooler and he shivered, wishing his tunic was thicker. Or that he had anything covering his legs at all.
When he sat down on an enormous chair – the first he’d seen – and it nearly froze his butt to the chair, he amended his wishing for something to cover his ass as well.
The older cat muttered to himself as he tottered around the room and eventually brought out three very fine, very old-looking papers. A slurry of words that Max couldn’t understand at all preceded his being allowed to so much as breath in their direction, but finally, Max got to take a look and see what they were doing here.
The papers contained only two languages, English and Portugese. The first was an old list of supplies gathered for some type of journey. The second was a letter to someone’s husband, best he could tell, and the author was explicit enough in what he was going to indulge in when the husband returned that Max couldn’t stop blushing.
He wondered if his body would even bend that way.
The last was instructions on some sort of machine, if he understood correctly.
After some verbal fumbling, Zonta finally got him to understand that they didn’t have the Kyashin version of these papers, unlike the ones they’d given him before. They wanted him to help them make one.
Translating languages, just like he was supposed to do for the colony.
Max swallowed, staring down at the papers. He had to blink when his eyes started to sting. “Dumbass.” So what if he had something to do now that wasn’t sex? That was no reason to-
He cleared his throat and turned his head away. “I’m good. It’s nothing.” Taking one deep breath, he gave a wobbling smile to Zonta and looked back at the papers. His eyes wouldn’t focus at first, but he finally managed to get started.
Reading the second paper helped him calm his pathetic ass down; it was good to remember where he was. Sex planet. He wasn’t sure if Zonta and Minoru would want the translation when they found out it was ‘ancient letter porn,’ but knowing the cats? Of course they would; it had to do with sex.
Minoru started working with Max first, but it was clear almost immediately that Minoru and Max were like peanut butter and pickles. ‘Clashing’ was an understatement. After five minutes, a cat sucked into a vacuum would have been happier than Minoru was. Max knew so few words in Kyashin that he had to try and find out what a new word was through a combination of bad Kyashin and charades.
And Max had always sucked at charades.
He was panicked that they were going to give up on him altogether when Zonta put aside his own papers and scooted over to help.
“Don’t worry, Minoru, I can help with this.”
“Thank god. I don’t know how humans were able to help us in the past, if they were all like this. Pardon my saying so, but Kasan’s consort must be some sort of genetic anomaly. Possibly a mental aberration. I need to go recover.”
“Of course, Minoru. Shall I meet you here in the archive later today once Max is done?”
“Certainly. Where else would I be?” Minoru left the room, and Zonta and Max got started.
Zonta seemed to be about as good at guessing in charades as Max was in presenting them, so it was a long, slow process of Max learning Kyashin words just so he could tell Zonta what a ‘human’ term meant. No matter how long it took, though, every new word had Max and Zonta beaming like loons.
Translating a word was better than discovering diamonds, damn.
They had a quick break for food, but then it was back to the letters. Hours passed, and Max spent the early afternoon immersed in the language and words of someone long gone - some human long gone.
He felt oddly less alone.
Until they finished. When Max’s eyes started to see double, Zonta called a halt to it all. He called for someone to put the papers back in their containers, and they’d been heading out of the library when Minoru stopped them. He seemed very insistent that Zonta stay to finish something. Max wasn’t sure what it was, but in the end, Zonta had nodded and talked to the guards. One had spoken into one of those little intercom boxes they used, and they’d waited until yet another cat had come trotting down the hall.
Which led to Max standing here as Zonta chattered faster than he could understand to the new cat. The big stranger was supposed to ‘escort’ Max back to his room, then stay with him until Kasan came back. From what Max could follow, Zonta didn’t even think Kasan would return before their next meal, so Max would be eating with the new one, as well.
Max swallowed, frustrated. He’d been feeling so good about the day. Exhausted, but good. And now…now it was hard not to feel like a sex toy prisoner again. Max was going to be utterly sick of that damn room if he had to wait there until Kasan…well, until he had time for him. Biting his lip, he glanced at Zonta and caught a smile as Zonta looked down at the same time.
Okay, so that wasn’t a ‘prison guard’ smile.
But Kasan had better get back to the room soon. Max didn’t want to be stuck with a bunch of strangers, and he really didn’t want to eat with them.
Looking up at the big male Zonta was talking to, Max quickly looked away. He still wasn’t fond of new cats, especially ones like this big bastard, where he couldn’t read his face. The two guards at the door would have been easier. They were smiling, at least. This one was as stiff as a tree trunk.
“Max?” Zonta was waving in front of his face and Max startled. Zonta patted his head. Max thought it was supposed to be calming, but Zonta was a bit clumsier than he’d been before. The soft thunking against Max’s skull just rattled his brains a bit.
“Can I introduce you? This is my Mother cousin Waran.”
Max swallowed. Mother cousin. He’d learned that word; cousin from my mother’s side. So they were related? Shouldn’t that have made him less frightening? Max looked up and tried to distract his ‘run away from giants’ reflex by looking for a resemblance.
The alien was big, he was a cat, and he had ears. That was as much resemblance as Max could figure out. Not good enough.
He tried to step back without making a production out of it, but he’d rather have backed to the wall. Up close to the new man, he had to crane his neck back so far that the cat’s size was intimidating as hell.
“P-Pleased to meet you, Waran.”
“Pleased to meet you, Max.” He didn’t sound pleased. He sounded annoyed.
Max took another unobtrusive step back.
“Waran is going to take you to Kasan’s room, Max, and stay with you. You wait with him until Kasan can join you.”
Max swallowed again and watched Waran. He tried to smile. Why did he feel so creeped out?
“Max? You understand?”
“Yeah. I understand.” He just wanted Zonta to tell him that he’d changed his mind and was coming along too. Or that Waran had a sudden case of the runs and one of the other guards was coming.
Zonta’s voice lowered. “It’s safe, Max. Waran won’t hurt you; he’s family.” He reached back, put a hand on Max’s back, and gently pushed him towards Waran. “Kasan will see you soon, Max. Do not worry.”
Max nodded slowly, and when Waran started down the hallway he tried to keep up. And stay at least an arm’s length from Waran. He felt his breathing starting to speed up the second they left the hallway and the big library door was no longer in sight. No, he wasn’t this stupid! It was just like… just like…
Just like whenever he’d traveled with his parents as a kid. Nothing to worry about. They’d walk unfamiliar streets and listen to unfamiliar languages, and he would so desperately wanted to know what the people around him said so he could ask where to find food since his folks hardly remembered to eat once they were immersed in their work and…
Maybe not the best way to think about it. Just the walking part, though, he could do that. When he’d been surrounded by color and smells and sounds that were completely different and new. And that could be good. Just like now. He was walking with someone new, through an enormous complex that he was still unfamiliar with. Exploring.
But without poisonous snakes. Or pink blobs.
Max glanced at Waran and looked away again. The man wasn’t talking, wasn’t even looking at Max more than the odd glance here and there. Max would rather do the same. He looked up on the walls, pretending interest, and finally realized there were small plaques attached at intervals, usually at the corners.
Something like street signs?
“Waran, what those?”
The cat glanced down as Max gestured. He smiled, and Max nearly shuddered. Waran had one of the long cat faces that looked particularly alien right about now. Waran’s face looked more feline than most of the others Max had met, like a god out of a old Egyptian myth. The smile on his face seemed as wrong as seeing a real cat smile.
Max jumped as the man finally grunted out an answer. “Directions.”
Max tried to smile back while his insides shivered as though he were in an icy fog. But this was good, dammit! Here he was, no Kasan, no Zonta, all alone with a strange cat, and look! No running! He was doing this.
He could do this.
Max took a deep breath and hoped that the chant in his head would sink into his bones and feel like more than a line from a musical. They walked for a while in silence, although he could feel the other cat’s eyes on him like they’d been popped out and rubbed on his skin. Which was such a gross thought that he gagged once.
He hated silence. “Uh, how are you doing, Waran? Good day now?”
The cat looked at him with his ears popping up and then slamming back down a moment before they slowly shifted neutral as though the cat were forcing himself. “Yes. I am having a good day. Things are fine, human.”
Waran started walking faster.
Oookay. Max trotted after him, barely able to keep up without running. He was ready to cry uncle so he could catch his breath when they turned another corner, and there was Kasan’s door. He recognized the small symbol painted above it on the wall. Waran slowed down.
“Thank you for the walking.” Max was hoping if he said thank you soon enough, Waran would leave sooner.
Waran hardly glanced at him, continuing to the guards at Kasan’s door and Max remembered what he’d seen the other cats do, that lip touching thing. Maybe Waran was pissed that Max hadn’t remembered? It felt pretty stupid, but he trotted ahead and tried to reach up to touch Waran’s lips and say thanks. The cat took a quick, almost startled, step away from him.
“You’re welcome,” Waran said quickly and walked towards the guards who were watching them both with a strange combination of expressions. They nodded to Max and one opened the door.
The bigger guard smiled. “Stay inside, little one. I know Kasan doesn’t want you out in the garden until we find the shokan.”
Max worked on that one. Inside, and Kasan not wanting something about a garden and a shokan. Not out in the garden without his shokan. Got it.
“Yes. I understand.” Max turned to go inside.
“Kasan wanted me inside with him,” Waran said. “I’ll be taking him to Lastmeal as well.” Max paused, foot on the threshold, and nearly flinched as Waran started his way.
“No, no, I’m fine.”
Waran frowned and took another step. “Kasan wants you to have company.”
Max wasn’t sure exactly what he was saying, but Waran was still coming towards him. “No. Max good. No need Waran. All good. Max happy. Thank-you-good-bye!” He darted inside and closed the door, leaning back against it and listening hard for any sounds on the other side. He could hear talking, but no one was coming in.
A guard laughed. “Kasan’s consort is still a little nervous, Waran. Don’t take it personally. He’ll be safe enough in the room alone.”
“Kasan didn’t want him left alone.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean in his rooms. He’ll be fine. You can always come back to fetch him for Lastmeal.”
There was a long pause. “Is his garden secure now?” Waran asked.
“Not entirely, but they’ve checked it over thoroughly. Don’t worry. Truly, he’ll be safe enough.”
“I suppose.” Waran was quiet another moment and Max strained his ears. “I heard that someone was killed. Did they find out who, yet?”
“No, there’s nothing left but those few bloodstains. No one’s reported missing.”
Waran made sympathetic noises. “I wonder who the poor soul was.”
The other cat piped up, his voice still the higher-pitch of a teen. “The Elders are worried it was someone visiting town.”
Waran’s voice was a low grumble. Max could almost hear the frown in it. “But that would mean that the shokan has been all the way outside the city and chosen to come back. Would one actually do that?”
“I don’t know, but the Elders seem to think it’s possible. That’s why we’re supposed to keep Kasan’s consort out of the garden. It might be safe for the moment, but we’re not certain how long that will be the case.”
“I see. Yes, that is disturbing, thinking that a shokan might be in Kasan’s garden at any time.” Waran sounded annoyed again. Max pressed up hard against the door, wondering if he could do anything to keep the cat out if he tried to force his way in.
He didn’t know why it bothered him so much, but Waran really gave him the bad-vibe heebie-jeebies. Maybe the cat just didn’t like humans?
The younger voice spoke up. “Uh, Waran, did you need something else?”
“Hmmm? Oh, sorry. My mind was wandering; Shoru…”
There was another long pause before Waran started talking again. Max wished he could understand exactly what they were saying.
“Difficulties all around, these days.” Waran took a deep breath that was half sigh. “Actually, since I’m here… I do have one problem you might be able to help me with. I have next shift, but I’m a bit worried the heat will hit early. It’s difficult to get out to Shoru now without a little more time to reach him.”
“Ah. You need someone to cover for you?”
“Only for the last two hours. I would have arranged it through official channels, but with the frenzy, scheduling is overwhelmed. I thought this might be easiest.”
“It’s not a problem. Don’t worry. I’d be happy to help.”
“I can’t let you do it without compensation, though. Please, let me take the last hours of your shift today?”
“Waran, you don’t need to-”
“It’s no bother. I wouldn’t feel right, asking this of you without giving something in return.” There was a long pause. “Please, it’s the least I can do.”
“You feel that strongly about it?” Another long pause. “Well all right, then. Zerard, you don’t have a problem working with Waran for a few hours, do you?”
“Of course not. I’d be honored, Waran. I’ve always admired how well you deal with your consor- Uh, that is. Oh god, I’m sorry!”
Max thought he heard the youthful voice cracking and he was almost tempted to open the door to see what was happening. But not tempted enough.
Waran’s voice lowered into some semblance of soothing. “Don’t worry, Zerard, It’s not more than the truth. Shoru is…difficult.”
The other guard spoke again. “I heard about what happened. I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
“Yes. Thank you. But I shouldn’t be surprised, I supposed. Shoru’s always been this way, ever since we mated.”
“I know, but no one deserves to have their consort comatose with the heat. It’s…”
“I know.” Waran cleared his throat. “Let me go and arrange a few things and then I’ll be back to take over the last few hours. Say, just before Munchies?”
There was silence for a long minute and then the two guards were speaking again in lower tones.
“Do you think he’ll be all right?”
“I don’t think he’s been all right since he mated Shoru. He’s never been the same since he came back from that trip. Just wish he’d had better luck than ending up with that asshole.”
Max waited another minute, pressed against the door, but there was nothing else. If Waran was still there, he was talking to low for Max to hear. Shaking off a case of nerves, reminding himself that Waran wasn’t in the room with him, Max blew out his breath and peeled his body away from the door.
He took two steps before he was half-tackled. Androcles head-butted him, nearly knocking him over, and latched onto to the flap of his loincloth to play tug of war.
Max tried to yell and whisper at the same time; he didn’t want Waran to have an excuse to come in, if he was still outside! “Androcles! Stop it! Andro-eep!” The loincloth tightened with a strong tug and gave Max a groin-crushing wedgie.
“Androcles!” Max could barely speak, holding onto the loincloth with both hands as he tried to keep it from pulling tighter. He was getting better at tying the stupid thing, but it wasn’t built to withstand Androcles yanking at it!
He hissed at the dog. “Let go, dammit!”
Androcles released him with a giant, obnoxious dog-grin. Max flailed and fell over onto his butt. He pulled his cloth from where it had lodged between his asscheeks and glared at Androcles, who was still bigger today. Great, the dog was now officially bigger than a great dane. He was like a small mutant pony.
“What the hell do they feed you? Growth serum dog chow? Crap.”
Androcles let him get up without messing with him, but then he crowded into Max’s space. Trying to shove his way clear, Max ended up backed into a side wall.
Androcles started licking him all over.
“And again…stop with the crotch licking! And the LIPS…do you know how gross dog slobber is? It doesn’t matter if it’s alien dog slobber or not, Androcles, it’s still gross.” Max shoved the heavy muzzle away from him and made a face at the slimy mess left on his hands.
There was a reason he’d always liked cats a little more, and dog slobber was definitely one of the reasons. Not that he hated dogs, it was simply that cats were better. Kasan came to mind and he flushed and shivered at the same time. “That was NOT the reason I liked cats,” he muttered.
After another minute of struggling, Androcles finally stopped attempting to give him a bath and headed to the garden door. Max wondered if Kasan had forgotten to come over to let him out.
And…wait, was he supposed to clean up after the dog? He hadn’t actually noticed any giant piles of dog poo out in the yard, but maybe Kasan usually cleaned up? Would he expect Max to do that? Somehow, that seemed like an awfully big chore. And getting bigger.
“I think I’m going to pretend ignorance and just let you go out on your own. You’re okay now, right? They said I could go out with you, so I could if you need me to.” He slid open the door as he talked.
Androcles scampered out like a gamboling t-rex, pausing to stare at Max once at the edge of the trees. Then he slipped into the shadows. It was amazing that something that big could disappear so completely.
“Guess you don’t need me.” He waited a second to see if Androcles was coming right back and then started to get nervous and closed the door.
The pink spiked blobs were still to much on his mind. They were freaky. As. Hell. He was more and more glad that Kasan had a dog.
With a sigh, he drooped over to the bed, floomping the pillows into a good nest shape and curling up in them. He could have kicked them all off, but it was kind of fun to make a big mess of them to rattle around in. Must be the latent monkey in him.
Or the cats were wearing off on him.
Either one wouldn’t surprise him. Especially with how tired he was all the time; he thought he’d had a siesta every day since he’d woken up. Obviously, dealing with big-ass cats took a lot out of a guy. Although right now it was his eyes that were giving him trouble. They were exhausted from reading all day; he’d just close them for a little while. Lying in the pile of fluffiness, he caught a familiar scent close by and started sniffing. It was the pillow next to his face, a little black velvet one, fuzzy, with tassels. And it smelled exactly like Kasan. He pulled it close to his face and closed his eyes for a nap.
Wiping the sweat off his face with a damp towel, Kasan looked around him with a relieved groan. The men and women who’d been on duty in the Main vid room had been allowed to leave earlier, but his brothers were seated against the wall with him, panting in the sweltering warehouse room. The boxes were all neatly put away, the numbers tallied up on the hand comps they’d been using half the day. Kasan had been bitching at everyone the entire time, working double-time, hoping to finish early so he could get out to see Max.
It was nearly five hours earlier than expected, but they were finally done. Kasan might even have enough time to go have Munchies with Max. He usually skipped the snack between meals, but he’d take what he could get today.
Especially as he’d missed the little one at Midmeal. Kasan had thought he’d have a chance to see Max until Leero had shown up with food, courtesy of their father. A little smack that reminded them all that they weren’t being allowed to stop working until they’d finished.
Leero had looked like hell, though. His body had jumped when Aosh spoke to him, backing up a step like a new recruit. Jumpy as Rui hunting the shokan. Kasan hadn’t been able to figure out what was wrong – this wasn’t like Leero at all – but Aosh had. The lecherous brat had started to laugh as soon as Leero left.
“What?” Tisu took a bite of his meat roll while he looked at his brother.
“You can’t tell? I finally figured it out.” Aosh grinned maniacally and wouldn’t say another word until Jolan threw a sausage at him. Aosh caught it in mid-air and took a large bite, but it did get him to talk, at least. “Fine, spoilsport. Leero’s in heat.”
Nolluz snorted dismissively. “Ridiculous. Father would never allow him to remain in Service if he were going into heat.”
Aosh’s eyes narrowed instantly. “Trust me, I can tell when someone’s reacting to me, and Leero never has. Just now, he was so hard when I spoke to him you’d think I was his long lost lover. I would bet my braids that he’s in the middle of heat.”
Nolluz continued the argument, the small spat escalating until Aosh dumped his salad on his older brother’s head. Kasan ignored them with the ease of long practice and chewed his own food as he thought about it.
There was a good chance Aosh was right. Little bugger was seldom wrong about sexual things, no matter what else he screwed up. And it wasn’t as though it was unexpected. Leero was the right age for heat, a couple years younger than Kasan. Add to that the fact that there was a frenzy currently going on? It made sense.
But if that were the case, why was he still in service? Kasan would have to go talk to father and make sure he knew what was going on. It was entirely possible that Leero wasn’t saying anything because of some strange sense of duty. He always took too much onto himself.
And Kasan wanted to make sure Leero got a chance to be with someone who could make him happy. He could still remember when Tisu and Roto were mated. Kasan had been complaining about his little brother going into heat before him, and Leero had still been blurry from yakkin. Sighing drunkenly about how he was looking forward to his own heat, Leero had blathered for nearly an hour over how much he wanted a consort like the others in Kasan’s family. Someone he could Join with.
Leero had denied it vehemently the next day, but Kasan had kept his eye out since then for a potential consort for his friend. He hadn’t found anyone yet who seemed just right.
Kasan damn well hoped Leero had. Considering Leero’s high standards, there was a good possibility that if he hadn’t have some time to look, the heat might take over and he’d go feral. At least Kasan had avoided that with Max. The damage he could have done to Max if he’d lost himself in the heat like that– he could have nearly killed the little one.
As mindless as some Kyashin were close to the end of their heat? He shuddered. His heat might have been hard to control, but not to the extent he’d heard about. Kasan had to think that the old wive’s tale was true: throwbacks weren’t hit as hard. Thank god. Kasan couldn’t have forgiven himself if he’d hurt Max like that.
He doubted Leero would forgive himself either, if it were to happen to him.
Tossing the towel to Nolluz, he stood up. Max was what he wanted, enough to make his guts ache right now, but Leero’s issues had to be addressed first. With that in mind, he said quick goodbyes to his brothers, glad that he’d finished the damn inventory before nightfall.
After nearly an hour of searching and redirection by various family members, he found his father in consultation with the elders. He managed to wait a few sentences before interrupting. “Father, may I talk to you for a few minutes?”
“Of course. I’ll meet you in the main room.”
With a nod, Kasan left them to their discussion – it looked as though they were eliminating candidates from those who had volunteered to go to Tien’sa. It was gratifying to see how many people were on the list on the wall, and amazing that they’d managed to collect so many names already when nearly half the guards were still trying to hunt down the shokan. Done with the citadel and already into the city now, the last he’d heard.
He should check to see if they had finished the city, yet. Another delay in seeing Max. Dammit.
Perhaps they were lucky and it had left the area entirely. That would be the best he could hope for, but it still left an uneasy taste in his mouth. The thought that they might have missed the shokan lingered in his head.
He wasn’t leaving Max alone outside for a few weeks, if they didn’t find any sign of the animal. It was just too chancy. Perhaps he could teach the little one some moves to protect himself. With the spear, one of the shorter staffs that the littles trained with, or a sling. Something.
Max could learn. He was frightened a lot, but he didn’t give up. Spirit was something you couldn't teach, and the little one had that in spades. Excitability too, but the spirit…Kasan grinned again, seeing Max in his head from the night before. So gorgeous, his face flushed as he tried to figure out what to do. Adorable, and sexy as hell, and….Kasan lost his train of thought as his father came in, but the Lord king could probably tell what he’d been thinking about.
It was awfully hard to hide an erection AND a lack of tattoo on his chest at the same time.
The knowing grin from Kyoru made Kasan get right to the point before his father started in on him. “Leero’s is in heat.”
Kyoru’s ears quirked once before he smiled. “I know.”
He hadn’t expected that. “But he’s still in service. Why hasn’t he been released yet?”
“I have need of him; he’s agreed to stay in service until the heat’s end grows too close.”
“Kasan, Leero and I have already spoken of it. It’s decided.” Kasan tried to speak again and Kyoru cut him off. “Don’t worry; he won’t be put in jeopardy. I care for him as much as you.” He suddenly grinned. “He doesn’t need much time to choose, in any case. There’s a candidate lined up already.”
Kasan wondered what the hell was going on. There was something in his father’s eyes, like when he used to tease them as littles. He hadn’t seen this look on the Lord King’s face in a long, long time. Aosh and Zonta had almost never seen it at all – father had stopped playing for years after mother died – but he used to be even worse with pranks than many people accused Kasan of.
Along with his genes, pranking was something Kasan came by naturally.
Now he was wondering whether this grin was aimed at him, or whether he should be worried about something happening to Leero. “Are you feeling all right, father?”
“I’m fine, Kasan.”
“Are you sure? I know that it’s been difficult with everything that’s happening.”
“I know.” Kyoru sighed, losing his smile. “It’s not an easy time right now, of course. But you are still alive. I have a new son in your consort, and Leero will be gaining a new partner as well. Despite the Niandrin and my brother, there is enough joy to focus on, Kasan. Don’t worry yourself into an early grave.”
“Kasan.” Kyoru shook his head and flicked Kasan’s ear with his finger. “If you must do something, make sure you bring your little one to last meal this time so that I may see him again. He’s quite…entertaining.”
“Of course.” He couldn’t argue that. Nodding carefully, he withdrew, pausing before he completely left the room. “The search for people to go to Tien’sa?”
“It goes well. We will have people ready by tomorrow, and our allies have someone already there who confirmed that there are humans for sale. But Kasan…it does not sound like there are many. The rumor is that one has already sold, and they are only putting up three or four more for bidding. I don’t know if this is all they have, or if they are trying to get the best price and hiding the rest. We will need to find out.”
Kasan nodded quietly, swallowing as he left. That few? That couldn’t be all of Max’s family. No one could survive on their own for this long with so few people, and for Max to be as unaware of their species as he was, they had to have been isolated.
He should have asked before what size group Max was used to, but things had been so chaotic. Kasan would find out when he spoke to him next. Which would still have to wait a few more minutes. He needed to check and see if the citadel guard needed anything, check how the hunt for Shovak and the shokan went, what the other clans were saying about their own purist groups if they’d spoken to Nolluz about it already, and if anything else needed his attention, and then he could finally go see his little one.
The day was far too short for everything he needed to do. He needed another pair of arms. The sudden image popped into his head of just what he could do with Max if that were the case and he ended up walking down the hall with a huge smile on his face.
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