Fiction~~The Last Pure Human~~Ch. 34
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Chapter 34 - Truth and Consequences
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Kasan’s ear flicked the voice away so he could sleep. Angry brambles were nipping at his skin, burning it with a hot sting that he knew would translate into a lot more pain once he fully woke. He wasn’t going to give it a chance. He’d let go, just sink back into his dreams.
A small bundle of heat against his stomach startled. Growling audibly, Kasan curled around it and clung tightly, pulling it close. His thighs and back screamed at him for the small movement and he growled again. This kind of pain he knew. He’d had sex. A lot of sex.
Or a really intense training session. Maybe both. He didn’t care; Kasan didn’t want to get up.
“Kasan, we’d let you recover longer but there’s a storm coming in. We need to move. Kasan? Can you hear me?”
Kasan’s partner twisted softly against his skin and he purred at her to keep still. The sex had to have been amazing if he felt this exhausted; he didn’t want her to leave before he knew where to find her again.
“Kasan, get up.”
Kasan tried to snarl and it came out as a hoarse whisper. He’d had more voice left after he’d finished an entire day of yelling orders at full volume.
“It’s Leero’s turn for morning shift today,” he muttered. “Go wake up him up. I'm sleeping in.” Kasan didn’t know which one of them was scheduled, but Leero could damn well take the shift. The man owed him a few mornings.
“Shit, he doesn’t even know what’s going on. Must think we’re still in the citadel,” the voice murmured. Another voice grumbled back, low and indistinct. “Yeah, that’d work. He’s going to give me hell over it later, though.” There was a pause, just long enough that Kasan almost managed to get back to sleep. “Kasan! Max is hurt!”
Max! Kasan sat up with a jerk, eyes searching wildly. His skull exploded with pain, blurring his vision, and every muscle howled in protest. The weight on his lap let out high-pitched yell, wriggling wildly.
“Eeek, stop! You’re still inside me!”
Max, oh thank God, Max. He was right here.
“Oh my GOD, there are people here! Kasan, no! Stop hugging me and let me up! Do you hear me? Kasan, get out of me and…”
Kasan closed his eyes, holding Max tightly, letting the familiar babble flow over him and soothe the pain. How could he have forgotten, even for a second? Not a woman, not ever again.
And Max was here, not injured, and Kasan was going to kick someone’s ass as soon as he was done holding Max. Later, when he got tired of feeling the beautiful, petite body against his own. Which would likely be never, because…
…because he’d thought he’d never feel it again.
Kasan tensed, the tsunami of memory drowning him. His grip shifted against Max’s skin so that he could pick him up and run if he had to. Where the hell were they? And when had he found Max? Squinting, Kasan made out the small bower they were in, surrounded by trees too big to be anything but wild. Still in the forest somewhere. He let out a shaky breath as he recognized Rui and Mick facing away from him, with Davin closer at hand, watching carefully, ears alert but unafraid.
No purists around, then. He didn’t have to get his little one to safety.
His little one….
Max. He’d found Max and he was-
Kasan looked down and straight into a pair of frantic blue eyes. Slim thighs splayed wide over Kasan’s hips and he could smell the bitter musk of Max’s seed coating his own stomach. Delicate fingers shoved at Kasan’s chest and finally a fist doubled up and punched him ineffectively in the ribs. And Max’s lips didn’t stop moving the entire time, releasing a stream of what seemed like frustrated curses.
“Max.” Kasan’s voice cracked. “You’re really here. God, Max-”
Kasan hugged him close, ignoring Max’s renewed sputtering, and breathed in deep until no other scent but Max existed. He curled over him, mouthing the firm curve of his sweet little ear. Kasan’s head pounded in time to his own heartbeat, his skin burning unpleasantly, and his muscles ached with a sharp, dragging pull as he held himself there.
He didn’t damn well care. As far as Kasan was concerned, he’d never felt better in his life.
The last thing he remembered was a spike so bad it had brought him to his knees. He’d crawled for a few tics before collapsing across a bundle of roots that dug into his stomach. The shokan had bumped at him, a strange whine in its throat, and then there was pain and darkness and nothing else, until Max.
Had he found Max? Or…had Max found him?
Did it even matter?
Max squirmed again, slapping out with his hands at Kasan’s chest. “Shhh, little one.” Kasan ran a shaky hand over Max’s head, still holding him close. “Soon. Just give me a moment.” He had come so close to losing him.
“Kasan, I'm truly sorry, but you need to pay attention to more than your consort. We have to move, now, before the storm hits.”
Max yelped at a much higher pitch and pushed even more frantically at Kasan. Kasan watched Davin ostentatiously not staring directly at them. He tried to remember when Davin and the others had come but got nothing of use. Darkness. Unrelenting, burning pain. The need to thrust.
But Kasan had been deep into the forest when he collapsed. And Max had been taken by shokan, hadn’t he? “How did you find us? Did we… How did we get away from the shokan?”
Davin frowned, still avoiding direct eye contact. “Well, at least you’re tracking better,” he murmured. “You can thank Rui for hunting you down, Kasan, but as for the shokan and Max, your guess is as good as mine. Now, though, we need to start thinking about the weather.”
The weather? Kasan looked at the sky in confusion and then Max wriggled again. Something tightened over Kasan’s cock. A rush of heat hit Kasan like lightening skimming over his skin and he shuddered. His hips bobbed once, making Max squeak adorably.
Kasan lost interest in the clouds above them, nuzzling Max’s hair, stroking down his spine. He couldn’t stop moving his hips again; he wanted to hear Max moaning and see his lips opened obscenely, cheeks flushed, pupils completely blown. God, Max was so beautiful. Kasan wanted to make him-
“Kasan? Kasan, can you hear me? Dammit, we don’t have time for this again.” There was a hand on Kasan’s arm, shaking him.
“Back off!” Kasan snarled, pulling Max in close. His hands shifted, away from Max’s skin. He couldn’t hurt Max if his claws had to come out. If anyone touched Max, he was going to rake their skin until they had nothing left but sinew and bone.
“Shit.” Someone sighed. Wait, it was Davin. Davin sighed. Kasan shook his head, shoving down the heat, trying to concentrate.
Davin snorted. “You know what, you can’t get your mind off your consort, then let’s do it that way. Max is in danger, Kasan. Did you hear me before? There’s a storm coming in; sounds like a bad one. We need to find shelter or get back to the Haven before it hits, so your consort can be safe. You want that, don’t you? To keep him safe?”
Kasan nodded slowly, driving away the need to sink into his consort. Max was in danger; they couldn't do this now. Had to wait, clear his head. Move.
Max needed him.
“You with me again?” Davin asked. Kasan nodded, lips tight. Davin grunted in response. “Good. Can you stand, or do you need help?”
“I’m good,” he said roughly, testing his muscles. Every single one wailed in distress, but nothing felt unduly injured. The erotic quality of Max’s wild squirming, and the heat it produced, was harder to ignore than the pain.
Now that he was trying to focus on something other than his consort, however, Kasan could hear the rush of the leaves over head and the dull roar from the trees somewhere further away, growing closer as the wind headed their direction. The night was dimmer than it should be; clouds had to be obscuring the moons already. The temperature would be dropping soon.
“Do you know how to get back to the Haven?” Kasan asked. He knew he should get up and put Max on his feet already, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to let go yet. His arms acted like they were operating with instructions of their own and refused to stop petting the little one and keeping him close. Although Max seemed very determined to get away now that they were awake.
Something niggled at him, a spark of a thought, but it lasted only long enough for him to notice its existence before collapsing.
“The Haven? Haven’t a damn clue, Kasan. Rui might have a shot, but we were hoping that shokan of yours might be able to help.”
Kasan looked around the bower again and didn’t see the big animal. “Ando-kees? Where is he? Is he still here?”
Mick called out, “He is. Outside, still guarding.”
Davin’s ears flickered. “Has another one with him, too, and they both nearly make me piss myself. Oh, and Rui’s gone into heat, just to make today even more special.”
“Freaking let me go, Kasan! For the love of god, there are people here and you’re still inside me, you stupid sex-fiend! Let! Go!”
Max’s volume startled them both. Kasan stopped stroking and realized rather suddenly why Max might be having trouble. Kasan was still partially erect and completely embedded in him. That might explain why every wriggle was giving Kasan the urge to thrust.
No wonder the heat was so hard to ignore right now. “Sorry, little one. I hadn’t realized. Here. Calm down now, let me just… there we go.” Kasan eased the Max off, slipping out of his body with a painful sense of loss. The urge to bury his cock back inside Max’s warmth was unsettling in its intensity.
Max shoved at him as soon as he was free, stumbling to his feet. His legs wobbled, but he stayed upright.
Kasan drank him in. Pale dirt-streaked skin, long limbs, hair sticking out every which way, and that tiny little backside that he flashed at Kasan as he whirled around, as though he were trying to hide it from Davin. He had his hands in front of his groin again. If Kasan wasn’t mistaken, Max was blushing furiously, too. He wouldn’t look at Davin at all, staring at the trees, the ground, anywhere but the man watching them.
Kasan grinned. Even something as mundane as the nervous clenching of Max’s backside was damned wonderful. He beamed wider when he heard Max still muttering to himself. It made Kasan want to grab him close, spread the cheeks of that adorable ass, slide in deep, and-
Davin cleared his throat and startled Max. The little one literally jumped, yelping sharply when he landed. He winced, limping a few steps as he regained his balance.
Kasan’s smile evaporated. “Max, what’s wrong?” He looked over his body and didn’t see anything immediately obvious. He glanced at Davin, who shrugged, shaking his head.
More of the fog surrounding Kasan’s head dissipated. Max had been missing for hours, and however Kasan had found him, it had still taken time. Kasan didn’t know what had happened while he’d been missing, or what Waran might have done to him.
Kasan had been inside of Max and he couldn’t even say whether the little one was injured or not! Disgusted with himself, Kasan looked Max again with different eyes. Dirt had streaked down his legs. His back was so coated it looked a different color, but there were no healing cuts or scrapes over his back or bottom, so nothing the nanites hadn’t been able to heal in the hours since he’d been taken. Which didn’t mean the little one hadn’t been hurt, but Kasan…would have to deal with that later.
“Max, turn around.”
Max twisted his head to look back. “What? No understand?”
Kasan twirled his finger “Turn around, Gisho, please.” His voice was hoarse again. Max bit his lip. He checked as though making sure Davin was still looking half-away and turned to face Kasan. He winced again, swearing, shifting on his feet like it hurt to walk.
There was nothing left to see on Max’s front, either. Grime smeared over his belly and chest, but no bruising, no cuts or scrapes. Kasan couldn’t tell if bones had been broken, but more serious injuries would have been dealt with first. If there were no marks on his skin, the bones should be healed by now, too. So why…?
Max took another careful step back and winced again noticeably. He blinked in the faded light and then flushed when he glanced at Kasan’s cock. Kasan could hear him start to mutter uncomfortably again. Kasan stiffened.
Kasan hadn’t woken up with Max.
Kasan had woken up inside of Max.
He swallowed. He couldn’t remember…no, wait. Kasan looked rapidly around the hollow again, cataloging with new eyes. Ripped moss on the broken trunk of a tree, in the pattern small, clawing fingers would make. Swaths of soft leaves and dirt that had been shoved aside to expose the darker earth underneath. There, and another over there, and another just past Davin.
No. No! He didn’t remember this!
He couldn’t remember this!
Except, he did. The darkness in his mind grew less opaque, shadows instead of solid black. He remembered holding someone small in his arms in an unyielding grip. He remembered his claws emerging along with the urge to bite and take. Thrusting into tight heat as hard as he could, over and over. One time blurring into the next in an unending fire of need.
Kasan choked, finding it hard to breathe. He felt sick. Please, no. Not with Max. He was supposed to find Max and save him. Not…this.
Kasan looked down at himself, shaking, seeing drying fluids on his own cock and finding evidence of more dried on his stomach and down his thighs, the scent of Max’s release still strong under the smell of churned up earth and crushed herbs.
When he’d found Max, Kasan must have-
“Kasan? What wrong?” Max took a step forward and flinched.
Kasan whined low in his throat. He hadn’t meant to- He would never hurt Max!
His soul shriveling, Kasan saw the remains of his seed over Max’s body, as well. And Max was injured. There was nothing on his skin. Whatever the purists might have done, it had healed already. Which meant Kasan was the one who had caused this pain. Even if he might have made Max release, he’d hurt him. And with nothing visible?
It must be inside. Kasan had taken the little one so hard that the nanites still hadn’t repaired it. All his plans of protecting Max and he’d been the one to hurt him this badly. Everything inside Kasan crumpled into hot agony, and what made it even worse was that he could feel the urge to take Max again already welling up from that low, dark place in his mind.
How could Kasan fix something this heinous?
Davin’s voice said something in the background but Kasan couldn’t hear it. The pale face of his consort was just visible. He was alive, Kasan reminded himself, trying to keep from despairing entirely. The purists hadn’t broken him beyond repair. Kasan wanted to hug him close, promise Max that no one would ever hurt him again, not even Kasan, but how could Max even stand to be touched after what Kasan had done?
Max must have been so frightened. There was no way he could have fought off Kasan, no one to help him.
Kasan snarled at Davin. “Why didn’t you stop me?!”
Davin’s ears flattened. He stared fully at Kasan for the first time. “Stop you?”
“From taking Max!”
“What? Why? You weren’t hurting the little one or you know we would have held you down and let him finish on top. And however dangerous it was to stay here, you needed to finish until you at least came back from going feral. You know that.” Davin shifted his hand over his spear nervously. “Are you all right?”
Kasan shook his head, holding back another whimper. Davin didn’t even understand! How much worse that must have been, Max trying to get away and help arrived and they hadn’t interfered. Max couldn’t ask them for aid; he might even have thought they were Purists. And Kasan barely had to flex his muscles to keep Max pinned. He hadn’t even bruised him. Kasan had probably looked like any other Kyashin during sex, not violent and out of control like most ferals did.
They didn’t know he was always careful not to hurt Max, not to thrust too hard. They didn’t know that ‘normal’ sex could injure someone as delicate as Max. They didn’t know what Max sounded like when he came, the difference between that high-pitched little cry and a cry of actual pain.
They didn’t know Kasan must have torn Max up inside so badly that the nanites hadn’t healed it yet. He was still in pain!
And Kasan had promised he wouldn’t hurt Max. The little one had trusted him.
Kasan rocked, his ears flat against his head, drowning in the blue of Max’s eyes. No matter how bitterly he resented it, his erection rose between his thighs, half-firm and growing harder. They’d have to have sex again soon. Multiple times, in all likelihood, to make up for the damage the Kouloc might have caused.
Kasan couldn’t be sure Max hadn’t caught it. When he’d thought that he’d die before finding Max, he’d hoped – God, he’d hoped – that Max was free from the Kouloc. But they couldn’t be sure. It had been designed to be hard to detect in the early stages, so it could spread more rapidly. Even if Kasan walked away right now and just let himself be consumed by the first animal he came across, no one would know if Max was safe until well after Kasan was dead, and then it would be too late. He couldn't allow that, not when he had a choice to ensure that Max would live.
But Kasan couldn’t even give the little one more than a few hours grace before they would have to…before Kasan would have to use him, as though Max were a tool rather than his consort.
“Oh God. God, I’m so sorry, Max,” he whispered brokenly. Max tilted his head, uncertain. Why didn’t he look more frightened?
Davin cleared his throat again. “Kasan? Are you back with us, still?”
Kasan shivered. He had to know. “How many times?” he rasped.
“How many times did I take him?” His words were barely over a whisper.
“Ah, that. Four, when we were here. But you’d already started before we found you.”
“He can’t even walk without pain,” Kasan said. Davin turned to look and saw the same thing, another step as Max tried to shield his privates with his hand, another wince as the movement caused him pain. “I can’t believe I did this to my own consort.”
Davin looked between them, eyebrows furrowed as though he couldn’t see what Kasan had done! “It’s all right, Kasan. He’s not badly injured. And trust me, when you took him, he was definitely-”
Kasan shook him off. “I hurt him, dammit. That’s…God, Davin, look at him! I could have killed him!”
“You didn’t.” Davin’s voice was soothing.
Kasan ignored him. Davin didn’t understand. “Max is so fucking fragile and I just took him and…I can’t believe he’s not running away from me screaming right now.” Kasan realized his voice was getting louder as Max looked at him with wide eyes, glancing between him and Davin worriedly. His words dried in his mouth. He could barely force them out. “I can’t even tell him I’m sorry in a way he’ll understand.” Kasan’s voice broke and Max limped over to him.
Kasan sat on the ground, unable to stop staring at the pale, concerned gaze of his consort. Max glared once at Davin and put his hands on one of Kasan’s biceps. “Kasan…good?”
Kasan choked. “Max, shit, how can you even ask me that, after what I did?” Max frowned, focusing on his face. Kasan didn’t know what he saw there, but he leaned forward and hugged him.
“I don’t know what that asshole said to make you upset, but it’s okay. You’re not going to die, now. It’s okay, I can help….”
Kasan tried to pull back but Max hung on, shifting until he was standing in front of Kasan, one foot on either side of his legs, bending over to hug Kasan around his neck and rubbing his cheek against Kasan’s. Kasan could barely breathe. Max was touching him, voluntarily, and after what he’d done. He couldn’t understand. Max should be acting like he had after their first time together, huddling underneath that ridiculous pile of pillows, shaking and terrified.
But he didn’t even smell frightened. How could Max act like this?
Davin cleared his throat. “Kasan, we really do need to go.”
Max stiffened, flushing. “Oh crap, I’m freaking mooning him.” He tried to stand and turn at the same time but his feet tripped over Kasan’s legs as he moved. He ‘eeped’ as he lost his balance and fell into Kasan’s lap. Kasan wrapped his arms around him automatically and released him just as quickly. Max wouldn’t want-
Max latched onto one arm and wrapped it back around, pulling it between his legs. “Right there, Kasan. At least hide my cock from everybody, okay?”
Davin gave them a small smile. “He doesn’t seem to be too traumatized to me,” he said softly. “You’re a good mate, Kasan. You aren’t the first to get a little rough when the timing is close, but you don’t seem to have harmed the little one to the point he even cares.”
Shaking his head, Kasan carefully put Max on his feet and stood himself. Davin didn’t understand. Kasan had promised Max that the little one would be safe with him, and he’d broken that promise. Whether Max was frightened right now or not, whether it would hit him later after they were out of danger, even whether he forgave Kasan or not was beside the point. Max shouldn’t have to forgive him. Kasan shouldn’t have done something to be forgiven for, not after he’d upset Max so badly before the little one was kidnapped.
Kasan was a callous bastard. One who was going to have to have sex again with Max, if his body was anything to go by, no matter what either of them wanted. The fact that he wanted Max so badly that his fingers curled with the need to hold him, even while he was disgusted with his own actions, made it even worse.
“Kasan good?” Max asked hesitantly, looking up at him.
“I’m fine.” He placed his hand gently on Max’s shoulder and couldn’t believe the bright smile he got in return. He thought of picking him up, hands hooked under the little one’s thighs, and looking into Max’s smiling face as he took him against the nearest tree. “We- We need to get going,” he choked. Had they done that already? Kasan shook his head, trying to erase the vivid image that might just possibly be a memory as well. “Where’s Ando-kees again?”
Kasan nodded and turned to Max, uncertain. If the little one was too badly hurt, he wouldn’t be able to walk. Kasan wouldn’t have thought he’d want Kasan’s touch either, but Max wasn’t acting at all as Kasan would have expected. Knowing that Kasan trusted Davin, and Rui, and Mick - that they weren’t Purists - shouldn’t he be gravitating toward them? They’d protect him, if Kasan lost control again.
“Max, do you want me to hold you?” But maybe Max didn’t know that? Maybe he thought no one would help him. “Or…or someone else? Davin can. If you’re scared, or need help, Davin can protect you.”
Max looked at him blankly.
“If…If Kasan is…uh…angry, Davin will help Max.” Kasan pointed at the man. “Davin, here, can help. Understand?”
Max raised one eyebrow, his face screwing up oddly as he looked between Kasan and Davin. “Kasan help Max,” he said, voice firm and asking a question at the same time.
Davin snorted. “Yes, he seems terribly traumatized and afraid.”
“Shut up, Davin, you don’t understand!”
Davin sighed. “I know it was close, Kasan, but…trust us? We won’t let your little one get hurt if you go feral before we get home.”
Kasan ground his teeth. “You did before! He’s more delicate than you know, Davin! Any sex at all, if I’m not in control, can hurt him without my even trying!”
Davin stared at him a long moment. “If you go feral again before we arrive home, we’ll hold you down. Even if you look like you’re being gentle, if you can’t talk to us in a way so that we know you’re still tracking, we’ll hold you down for the little one to climb on top. Will that do?”
Kasan nodded jerkily. It would have to. He turned his attention back to Max, who was staring up at him fretfully, obviously more worried about Kasan than about how Kasan had treated him. How had Kasan ended up with a consort this damn sweet? Kasan gentled his voice. “Up, Max? Do you want me to pick you up?”
Max smiled, his body relaxing. He held his arms up like a demanding child. “God, yes! Pick me up.” Kasan couldn’t quite believe he’d understood right. He slowly put his arms around Max, giving him enough time to step back if he wasn’t uncomfortable.
Max moved into Kasan’s embrace instead, leaning against his chest as Kasan picked him up. “Shit but my feet are killing me like you wouldn’t believe.” Max looked up at Kasan and pointed a finger at him. “Your forest sucks, Kasan. I am coming back in here with a freaking flame thrower and I’m going to fry all those stupid thorny vines into oblivion.”
There was a long pause as Max continued to stare up at him. He reached up, nearly touching Kasan’s face before he withdrew his hands and clutched at himself instead. He moved his face into Kasan’s chest and lowered his voice. “I’m so glad you’re okay Kasan. I couldn’t have- If you’d died, I couldn’t have-”
Kasan felt something wet against his chest and realized Max was crying, hiding his face as he did it. Kasan could feel his own eyes sting and he looked out at the trees until he could control himself. He didn’t understand. Max wasn’t afraid; Kasan would smell it if he was, and besides, Max didn’t hide what he felt. If he was scared, he looked frightened. And he didn’t.
He was letting Kasan hold him, clinging to him and weeping. Was he more upset about his kidnapping, or what Kasan had…done to him? God, Kasan just damn well wished he could make it all better.
Kasan didn’t know how long he would have stood, frozen, if Davin hadn’t spoke. “Kasan, the storm. We need to go.”
Kasan cocked his ears briefly and walked toward the opening between the trees. Now wasn’t the time to wallow in his own misery. When Max was safe and everyone who’d hurt him had been beaten unconscious, then Kasan could try and think about this again. He could figure out how to atone for this. But he had to protect Max, first.
Mick and Rui nodded to him, leading the way out of the thicket, with Davin taking the rear. Kasan swallowed, stepping carefully behind Mick. He’d never fully understood what going feral involved. Intellectually, yes. There were always stories of couples separated by illness or misfortune when the heat spiked. If they survived, what happened when they came together was the stuff of campfire tales. And none of the Kyashin in the stories were as delicate as Max. Kasan truly could have killed him when he was feral.
A sharp bark came from the right as they walked out of the thicket. Kasan spun away from the sound, clutching Max to him in a protective crouch.
Max peeked over Kasan’s shoulder. Kasan figured out what the sound was just as Max blurted out, “Androcles?”
There was another bark and a small series of yips as the large animal walked closer, ignoring all of them except for Max.
“Androcles!” Max squirmed and Kasan turned to let him down carefully so his body wasn’t jarred any more than necessary. He reached for him again with an abortive shout when Max stumbled forward and fell against the shokan. It didn’t even bare a fang at him. And Max wasn’t showing any hesitation at all – he rubbed the large animal’s head, hugging him around the shoulders. Max started babbling as his hands buried in the thick fur, saying some odd phrase over and over, ‘good dog.’
And Ando-kees sat there and let him do it. He rubbed his head over Max for more, in fact. The beast tolerated Kasan, but Aosh had been absolutely right; it liked Max, and Max sure as hell like it.
Kasan finally noticed the sounds behind him and turned. Mick, Davin, and Rui were watching the scene with open mouths.
Rui seemed especially shocked. “He’s petting it! A shokan! And he’s…petting it! And it’s letting him! How can he do that?”
“They’re friends,” Kasan said quietly.
Rui choked again, shaking his head. “I will never, ever pet that thing. I don’t care how friendly it is. There is no way.”
Ando-kees seemed to hear and turned their way, baring a fang at them, before he turned back to Max and rubbed over him again. Max stiffened.
“Oh God. Aosh!” He whipped around, holding onto the scruff of Ando-kees’ neck with one hand. “Kasan, Aosh…where’s Aosh? Did he…was he okay? Did you find him?”
Kasan’s throat closed up again. He recognized his brother’s name. After all this, Max was already thinking of someone else. Kasan loved him so damned much. “Aosh will be fine, little one. We found him in time.”
Max’s eyes looked too big for his face. “He’s…okay? Aosh good?”
“Aosh is very good. He’ll recover.”
Max nodded, but he was still tense. “It was Waran, Kasan. You can’t trust him, okay? You’ve gotta-”
Kasan couldn’t stop his growling. “Waran won’t ever hurt you again, Max.” Kasan held up his hand and let his claws emerge.
“Oh, uh, guess you know about that already, huh? I’m really sorry, Kasan. He was a friend, yeah?” Max reached out, taking a wincing step toward Kasan, and suddenly there was a small, growling shokan between them both. Kasan’s claws came out further. This wasn’t Ando-kees, and it was next to Max! He felt the others crouching, ready to spring, when Max growled back.
“Cut it out, Cleo!” He shoved at it and Kasan’s heart leapt into his throat. The animal didn’t attack, but bumped Max with its shoulder instead, keeping Max closer to Ando-kees. Max shoved at it again. “Quit being such a jerk! I said cut it OUT!” And Max smacked it in the head.
Rui’s indrawn breath was loud in the sharp silence. Ando-kees whuffed loudly, drawing the other animal’s gaze, and with great reluctance, she – Kasan could see it was a she now, from the eyes – drew back and let Max walk back to Kasan. She watched Kasan with a much colder look than Ando-kees, keeping her stare on him. Kasan waited until Max was out of striking distance and then grabbed him, retreating from the animal.
“Woah, Kasan, what the hell! You scared the crap out of me!”
Kasan couldn’t stop himself; he nuzzled Max’s hair. The smell calmed him, reminding him that Max wasn’t lost any longer. He needed the reassurance that Max was safe or he might go feral again before Max recovered.
“Sorry, Max.” Kasan opened his mouth and paused as he caught Rui’s stare. The young man was staring at Max as though he was the Dawn reborn.
“He hit it,” Rui murmured. “He hit it, and it didn’t even snarl at him. It didn’t touch him.” He looked up at Kasan. “Your consort can hit wild shokan.”
Kasan shrugged the best he could while still holding Max. He didn’t understand it either. He didn’t care. Kasan was simply glad they hadn’t hurt Max. Ando-kees was looking at him and Kasan didn’t even pause when he started talking to him. “Can you get us home, beast? I don’t remember the way, and no one here is going to be able to track anything now, not until the sun’s up. Can you do it?” It felt almost normal to talk to an animal, with what they’d been through today.
Ando-kees looked them over disdainfully and turned with a small yip. The female followed him, monitoring Max over her shoulder as they moved. The pace was rather quick. Good. It was cooling off rapidly, now, and Max was starting to shiver.
Walking, Kasan kept Max close to his chest and tried to keep up. Ando-kees had been almost preternaturally helpful about this. Kasan was going to have to re-examine much of what he’d thought about shokan. Not that he thought he’d ever be more than fond of the beast. But with Max in his arms, Kasan knew he’d be grateful to it for the rest of his life.
Ando-kees had a place to stay and free food for years.
Ando-kees yipped again and sauntered through a set of bushes. Max snorted against Kasan’s chest.
“Don’t mind me, just follow the talking collie.” He snorted again and Kasan realized he was amused. How he could retain his sense of humor at a time like this, when his body had been abused, was…
It was a miracle.
Kasan hugged him tighter. “You’re amazing, little one. You hang in there. You’ll get through this.” Max stared up at him but Kasan couldn’t meet his eyes.
If he thought too long about what he’d done… He was going to have to get Zonta, or someone, to come and be with Max during the days now, as soon as they got back. Someone who didn’t frighten him, or make him remember what he’d had to endure out here. Someone who could talk to him about what had happened when the Purists had Max, so Kasan would know who he had to destroy.
Kasan cleared his throat, turning to Mick on his right. “How did you make it through? You were outnumbered in the fight, the last I saw you.”
“Reinforcements arrived when Rui came in with more men. There’s enough now to hold our own. Should be enough to clear out the Haven completely once they get the guards in from the city and send some of them along, too. Waran and the others won’t get away.”
Kasan breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been worried Waran might have been let out of the cells before any of their own people could secure him. “Did you hear anything about Shovak?”
“Nothing yet.” Mick veered around a small bush. “Rui’s group hadn’t encountered much before finding us. Communications are a bit…spotty. And stop looking at Kasan’s bottom, Rui. It’ll only make the heat go faster.”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Kasan could see Rui’s head whip around, cheeks flushing. He adjusted his grip around Max to make sure his consort’s backside was hidden. He didn’t mind people seeing his own, and it was unavoidable in certain circumstances, but right now, thinking of them watching Max made his skin heat and his vision take on a red tinge. Kasan wanted to take the little one away from them all to claim him. Or lay him down on a soft patch of moss and take him no matter who was watching.
Kasan panted, trying to ignore the hot, crackling pain growing in his body, and followed Ando-kees. He couldn’t afford to let himself lose control. The storm, the cold – he had to protect Max. He had to make sure he stayed with the others so they could protect Max from him.
They hadn’t walked long before it was clear that following Ando-kees was going to be a problem. The clouds were thickening above them too quickly; the light was almost completely gone. Ando-kees was steering them clear of the morelenta and their nasty thorns, but everyone had to step so carefully in the near darkness that they had slowed to a crawl. The temperature had dropped sharply again, icy now, and Max was shivering continuously in Kasan’s arms.
Kasan was reminded of the tunics Max insisted on wearing and worried about a human’s cold tolerance. Kasan was nude and uncomfortably but not dangerously cool. Max’s skin was rapidly growing icy outside of the shelter of the thicket they’d been in. What if this cold was enough to make Max really ill? Or even kill him?
Kasan found himself obsessing about covering up as much of Max’s skin as he could. He wrapped himself around Max tightly, tucking up the man’s legs inside the circle of his arms, and tried not to think about the still-growing, completely inappropriate urge to heat Max from the inside with his cock. Max seemed a little better, smiling weakly up at Kasan, but the shivering started again after a few minutes, despite that. Kasan swore, struggling to think of something he could do, looking for Ando-kees as though the beast might have the answers.
Kasan could barely see the two shokan in front of him, now. He swore again. “We have to stop.”
Davin was the one who answered. “Is there a problem?”
“Max is getting too cold. He doesn’t seem able to take the drop in temperature. We need to stop and warm him up.”
Glancing behind him at the other two who still followed, Davin’s voice lowered. “We need shelter, Kasan. We can barely see now, and you know it’ll be worse in a few tics. And these shokan might be with us, but there’s at least an entire pack of them that aren’t.”
“I know, but Max needs shelter now.”
Davin looked at him a second and then started unwrapping his loincloth. He called out to Mick and Rui to do the same. As soon as they were nude, they handed the cloth over and helped Kasan wrap them around Max’s body and over his head until only the little one’s face was peeking out, blinking with wide eyes and chattering teeth. They all shuddered unpleasantly at the cold, testicles drawing up protectively, but none of them were suffering like Max was.
Kasan could have kicked himself. Why hadn’t he thought of this? It was too dark for the others to see Max very well; it was Kasan’s job to protect him. This should have been the first thing he asked for when Max started shivering and instead all he could do was fight the urge to ream that perfect, pale bottom until Max lost control. Dammit, Kasan couldn’t afford this! He had to think.
“Shelter. Then…a fire. We can make a fire.”
“It’ll attract the shokan,” Rui said softly. They bunched together around Kasan and Max, looking out into the blackness. “They aren’t frightened of it. And the wood is wet this time of year. Hard to light.” He sounded apologetic, as though it was his fault.
Kasan nodded curtly, beating back the panicked worry for Max. He was not going to let the little one get sick now, not after all of this. “We can move a little ways, now, with Max wrapped up. But if the Haven isn’t close enough, Max will…he needs to stop soon.”
Kasan turned to keep walking the direction the shokan had gone and nearly fell over them. They both stood still, looking up at him, their eyes lambent in the last hint of light left in the gloom. Finally Ando-kees huffed and abruptly turned to the right, away from where they’d been heading.
“You know somewhere?” Ando-kees barked back at him and Kasan didn’t even hesitate. The animal cared about Max; he’d be trying to help. “It has to be close, beast,” he said, stumbling behind the two. “Max needs to get warm, now, or he’s going to be in trouble.” Kasan followed the sound of the animal’s periodic barks, loud enough to be heard over the rising wind. He lost the sight of his dark fur in the darkness constantly, readjusting his path to follow the barking.
They hadn’t gone far when the shokan stopped making noise. Kasan looked around and couldn’t see him. He couldn’t see almost anything. He only knew that Rui, Mick, and Davin were still with him from the hand on his back in brief acknowledgement, and Max from the loud chattering of his teeth. “Ando-kees? Where the hell are you?”
The animal yipped from his left and Kasan turned, reaching out blindly. It shuffled up next to him and bumped him gently forward until his hands felt a slick roughness. Not quite stone, but almost. He pressed and it moved in a rough slide. Kasan took another step and realized it hadn’t been as dark as he thought in the forest, because suddenly it went from dark to completely black. The air became frantic eddies rather than raging bellows. “It’s a Haven!”
The men crowded behind him until they were all just inside the doorway. They needed the shelter, but they couldn’t see. This couldn’t be the same Haven Max had been held in. The lights weren’t still on, and the door had obviously been partially opened for some time. Kasan could feel dirt and plant matter under his feet as thickly as it had been outside.
Kasan’s arms were vibrating with how hard Max was shaking now. “Maybe we can find a room, with a stout door to keep the predators out while we warm up Max.” He didn’t walk forward. How in the hell were they supposed to warm Max up if they couldn’t see?
“Won’t be able to have a fire unless we find a room with the right ventilation,” Davin noted. “But if I remember right…” His hands left Kasan’s and Kasan could hear him fumbling to the left of the door, just inside. There was a series of crystalline clicks. “Damn.”
Another bit of clattering, a few more curses, and then a soft glow filled the corridor going in. Davin peered around the doorway, grinning. “Ha, got it! Havens were always built with a few spare lights at exits, just in case. Most of the others don’t work, but we’ve got at least one.”
He smirked at his consort, Mick. “And you thought my boyhood obsession with Haven’s was silly.”
“Cute, not silly. Very, very cute. And obviously useful,” Mick said with a matching smile.
They were examining the hallway even as they spoke. From the look of it, there had been a false front to resemble natural stone at one time but it had been worn away over time and now a heavy, reddish brick was all that was left, very obviously not natural. The door was half off its hinges; Kasan was surprised it had moved at all. The hallway they stood in ended a few feet on, turning into stairs that led down into the deep black of the Haven.
“We need to get Max down there, out of the wind. Then…” Kasan’s thought was to make love to Max until he warmed him up, but he slapped it away. That wasn’t going to happen. They had to- They had to-
He swayed, trying to remember how they were supposed to get Max warm.
Mick came close, face calm and soothing even though his ears flickered with worry. “Then we’ll find a way to keep the little one warm. Nothing will happen to your consort, Kasan. We’ll make sure.”
Kasan nodded curtly and they trudged down the stairs, Davin holding the light and leading the rest of them after the shokan. The deeper they went, the more clear the damage was. It looked like nothing had been working here for centuries. Dirt and dead leaves coated the stairs, leaving them more like a slick, spongy slide than a staircase. Fungus grew in such profusion that they crushed some with every step. The resulting mash made their footing even worse. The smell filled Kasan’s nose with an earthy, moldy odor, choking him.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, with mushrooms growing from deep piles of detritus surrounding them, they all looked at Ando-kees. The animal didn’t even pause, just turned down the hallway and led them to a door that was set into the wall, still closed. Davin waved Kasan back and Mick opened it while Davin held ready to protect them if anything had managed to hide inside.
It was clean, an empty room with no decorations or shelves of any kind, just plain, dust coated floor and walls. But not so far from the entrance that they wouldn’t be able to find their way back, if needed, even if the light died on them.
“Let’s get him in, then.” The shokan bounded inside. Davin and Mick started to close the door and paused. They exchanged a look.
“Leave it open?”
“A crack. Don’t know if it has locks, or how the air circulation is. Better not take a chance. We can close it later if we need to.”
“I can stand guard,” Mick said quietly.
“You’re wounded, you should rest,” Davin corrected.
The shokan ignored both of them and came over to where Kasan was already sitting down with Max. Kasan sucked in his breath at the icy wall freezing his back, but he could tolerate it. He’d have to take it. Ando-kees came up on one side, the female on the other, and Kasan grunted as the female climbed up onto his lap and flopped against Max from the other side. Ando-kees planted himself to the side where he could lean against the arm holding Max’s back. He leaned his head on top of the little one.
“And-d-drocl-cl-cles,” Max struggled feebly inside his wrappings, blowing at the fur in his face, and Kasan carefully moved him until his face was cleared. But not too far. The animal was warm. Kasan pushed gently to keep Max tucked in between the three of them, a small ball surrounded by warmth from all side. With the animals helping, they might not even need a fire.
Rui came over and sat down next to Kasan, opposite Ando-kees. His eyes were a bit wild when Kasan looked at them, but he seemed to be taking deep breaths and focusing on Max and warmth. He leaned in from the other side, placing an arm across Max’s legs.
“Thank you,” Kasan said softly.
“No need. I’m happy I can help,” Rui said, just as softly. He grinned sheepishly. “And it warms me up, too.”
Mick and Davin huddled together by the door that was just barely opened. Keeping watch, neither willing to let the other rest while one was up. Kasan would have to make sure Rui and he took a shift too, so everyone had a chance to warm themselves with Max and the animals. As soon as Kasan could make himself let go.
Mick’s soft voice broke the silence. “How long do you have before you’ll need to be with your consort again?”
Kasan closed his eyes, holding onto Max and trying not to think about anything other than keeping him warm. “A few hours yet,” he said softly, hoping it was true. Mick nodded.
Kasan could hold out that long. They would have to work on everything else later, make Max better later, make love later. Just…keep him warm, now. That was enough to focus on.
Mick looked Rui over. “And how are you doing, Rui? Things aren’t…progressing too quickly?”
Rui flushed vividly and ducked his head. “No,” he mumbled. “It’s- I’m fine. No problem.”
Half-smiling, Mick leaned against Davin and they began talking quietly to each other. Rui settled in against Kasan’s side with small fidgets every few minutes. The shokan lay over Kasan like huge, heated rugs. And Max still shook.
It seemed like far too long, but when Kasan was hot enough to be uncomfortable, Max’s shivering slowly eased. Max lay sleepily against Kasan’s chest. He turned his face and nuzzled Kasan’s chest, murmuring, and his eyes drifted shut. Thank God. A little rest, then, and they could keep going. Maybe find something in the Haven that could keep Max warm out in the forest.
Feeling stupidly on the verge of tears, Kasan allowed himself one huge, relieved breath, and then he wrinkled his nose. Ando-kees had turned his head so that his snout faced Kasan. Kasan’s ears flattened as he realized that keeping Max warm was requiring Kasan to sit with the shokan breathing into his face when it smelled like the animal eaten feces. Rotten, half-digested feces.
Kasan tried to focus on something else. Max’s welcome weight in his arms. The fact that the little one was safe. Even the worry over controlling the prickling heat that still bit at his skin and boiled in his belly.
Another breath and Kasan gagged at the smell. “If he didn’t need you, I’d kick you out of the room, beast,” he muttered.
Kasan wasn’t sure, but he would swear the narrowed, amber eyes and resounding huff were the shokan version of ‘same to you, asshole.”
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