Fiction~~The Last Pure Human~~Ch. 40
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Chapter 40 - We All Come Together
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Leaning against the wall, Korosh yawned his way through his
fourteenth hour on guard duty. He snapped to attention as a figure
turned the corner. The man was large, moved smoothly, and Korosh had
the fleeting thought that he was armed until he recognized the bundles
in his arms as two baskets rather than weapons. And then he recognized
the man himself.
“Davin!” Korosh looked him over as he came closer and shook his head. “So were you in the Haven too, or did you piss Mick off recently?” Whatever injuries there had been were gone, but Davin still had a few piercings here and there where the nanites were likely healing something.
“Mick would be more likely to cut me with words,” Davin said dryly. “Easier clean up afterward.”
“He might have escalated.” Korosh flashed him an impish grin, and then his nostrils flared and he stared at baskets. “You brought food!” He leaned in close and inhaled again, eyes wide. “You will be my new favorite if you tell me one of those baskets is filled with Greeting Meal goodies.”
Davin tossed the smaller of the baskets and Korosh snagged it, bringing it to his face and sighing happily before reaching in. He shoved an entire kalla pastry into his mouth, cheeks bulging and white filling spilling out the edges of his lips.
“How does Davi put up with you? You’re like a kitling,” Davin marveled. He set the other basket against the wall and leaned there himself.
Korosh made a face at him. “So,” he mumbled, still half chewing. “Who mated? I heard there was going to be a Greeting, but I didn’t know who it was.”
Ears twitched once, enough for Korosh to pause before he grabbed more food. Davin grinned at him. “There were a few; a number of heats kicked off at the same time.”
“You wouldn’t look like that if it was just a few pairs mating. What happened?”
“The Lord King mated again.”
Korosh choked on the food still in his mouth, hacking roughly for a few minutes before he managed to get air again. “The Lord King! With who?!”
Davin smiled slowly. “Who do you know who’s been in heat for a while? And is often around the Lord King and his family?”
Korosh had to think about it and his eyes popped when it came to him. “No! Leero? Leero and the Lord King are mates now?” Korosh frowned, picking up a small sausage from the basket and licking the grease from his fingers. “But…the Lord King had a consort originally, didn’t he?”
“…and Leero was in heat.”
“Uh huh.” Davin’s grin was getting bigger.
“…how would that even work?”
Davin shrugged. “Turns out you can bottom during your heat. Leero has a consort’s mark, anyway, clear as day. The Lord King gifted him with the sheerest consort’s loincloth anyone has ever seen for the Greeting; I honestly thought he was naked, at first. I’m surprised the Lord King didn’t burst into flames, the way Leero was glaring at him.”
Korosh sniggered, still chewing on the little sausage. “Doesn’t surprise me. Always tops, I hear. One of those, you know? He must be spitting mad.” Korosh stared at the ceiling. “Although… they could be a good couple.”
“The Lord King and Leero? A good couple?” Davin snorted. “Seems like they’d be like oil and water, those two. Nothing drives Leero more insane than some of Kasan’s stunts, and I hear the Lord King was even worse when he was young.”
Korosh ate another sausage, the spices tickling his nose. “And still, Leero and Kasan are as close as any of the princes. I think it’ll be good for them both. I’m going to put my money on it, if there’s a pool.” Davin opened his mouth and Korosh poked him in the shoulder. “I like people to be happy. Shut it.”
“All right, not another word on the ‘happy’ couple.” Davin sat down and Korosh followed, nudging the other basket with his foot.
“For Prince Kasan and the little one?”
“Just a few tidbits. I missed a Greeting Meal a few months back. Had to patrol the outer city; Kasan saved a few choice bits for me and I thought I’d return the favor, seeing as I’m going to be here anyway.”
“You’re spelling me, then, yeah?”
“Why’d you volunteer for it? I thought you’d be off the duty roster still, watching Mick like a hawk, with him hurt and all.”
Davin was quite a long moment. “I was part of the group that found Kasan and Max out in the forest, did you know? It was so close…I’ve never seen someone that feral before. And Kasan’s consort was so damn helpless. You know he’s tiny, seeing him with Kasan, but out there in the forest, where the cold alone looked like it could have killed him? It struck me hard how difficult this has to be for Kasan, having such a fragile consort. And then thinking what those Purists had planned for him, someone who couldn’t fight back any better than a child…” Davin growled under his breath, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself.
“I need to see them safe through this. Both Mick and I did, and since he needs to rest a bit more, I’m doing it for the both of us. And I’m healthy, besides, which is more than you can say for most of us, today.”
Korosh nodded absently, both of them silently digging in to more goodies until there was nothing left in their own basket but a grease stained cloth and crumbs. “They told you the shift length, right?”
“Twice the normal, I heard.” Davin brushed a few crumbs from his bare chest, standing up. “I expect that’ll be normal for a while,” he said quietly.
They both dropped their eyes to the floor, ears lowered. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?” Korosh whispered. “I can’t believe Waran would do something like that, or any of the others. I liked some of them! Have you… have you heard what they’re going to do with them?”
“Not sure,” Davin said. “It’s not like we can shun all of them. Most of them weren’t even from here. I heard some were already shunned in their own territory. We kick them out here, they’d only move somewhere else, maybe even come back here later. I don’t envy the Elders in figuring it out.”
Korosh flung out a hand, pointing. “And that’s why I never plan to be one. Die young and pretty, that’s my goal. Hopefully during a bout of very enthusiastic sex.”
Davin snorted, slapping him on the back. “Here, give me a moment to hand this off to Kasan inside and then you can go. I’ll see you later, eh? Give Davi my good wishes. Glad you both made it through.”
“Same for you. And if Frodi is needed, he’s set up in the green room next door. He needed a place to catch a few hours of sleep that wasn’t too far from the healing stations.”
“Got it. Take care, and don’t fall asleep before you make it to your room, like last time!”
Korosh threw him an obscene gesture and headed down the hall, limping slightly but with an extra swing in his red braid as though to make up for it.
Tucked against Kasan’s body, Max slept so heavily that Kasan had to
check – again – to make sure he was still breathing. Thankfully for his
own peace of mind, the little one’s chest moved steadily, not even a
hitch to indicate he was close to waking. Kasan purred and stroked
Max’s head, combing his fingers through his golden hair and brushing
his thumb over the small, silky curve of Max’s ear.
The room smelled of Max, come, and a spicy sweetness from the small basket of food by the door. If that had been all, Kasan would have been able to drift back to sleep. But overlaying every other odor was the spicy-citrus scent of Max’s medicine, a pungent reminder of everything Kasan had done to harm him.
The heavy feeling in his chest every time he inhaled was more than enough to keep Kasan from sleep.
“It could be worse,” he reminded himself. Max’s acceptance of their heat and his apparent lack of fear, after everything, gave him hope that some day, they could move past this. Somehow. Three times Kasan’s heat had spiked and Max hadn’t protested once. Kasan had been certain that at least by the third round, Max would have bolted. Instead, his consort had been demanding and aggressive every single time. More enthusiastic than he’d been before he’d been kidnapped!
What went on in his husband’s head?
How could he forgive Kasan so easily?
Kasan ran his finger over the soft, fragile lobe of Max’s ear. Max still didn’t stir, curled into a ball as he’d been for the entire morning, his head on Kasan’s bicep with his hands tucked under his cheek. Max was so precious, so damn fragile, and Kasan would have been happy to do nothing more than watch over him and keep him safe for the rest of their lives. If only they had that luxury.
The Elders had called a meeting before midmeal. Kasan was sure they would be discussing not only how things were progressing within the Haven, but what they were going to do about the Purists, both those they might have captured and any who might have escaped. He needed to be a part of that.
Davin had said Leero and the Lord King had been found, and that both would live, but he hadn’t known more than that when he’d dropped off the food. Kasan wasn’t sure if either of them were well enough to attend, which meant it was on Kasan as the Battle Leader to be a part of this. He had to find out how his men were doing. He had to ensure that the men who had harmed his people, his consort, never had the chance to touch anyone in the clan every again. It was bad enough that he’d failed to do so in the first place.
And he had to learn how they could prevent something like this from happening anywhere else. The bastards had already done far too much harm here.
He couldn’t believe that they’d been so willing to kill, even those who were family. Even knowing that it would doom their partners, too.
Kasan inhaled Max’s scent, burying his face in his hair, his ears flat against his head; he didn’t have to use his imagination to know how all those facing death after the loss of their mate or consort must feel right now. He knew the crushed hope, the surety that their partner was dead, even the raging heat that would follow.
He’d been so close to the end. And Max…
Kasan curled around Max protectively. It has been so close. Max could have been lost, just as the others were, and no one deserved to die like this, because of these… these fanatics.
“What are we going to do, little one?” Kasan gazed blankly at the mirror on the wall, his hackles rising at the image of Max curled up so small and helpless, thinking of what the bastards had planned for him.
He hoped to hell that the Elders had some idea of what to do, because what they’d done in the past wouldn’t work for this. It wasn’t uncommon to hold people for petty crimes for a few days, but shunning had been reserved for the worst, and for this?
No. Just no.
But what did that leave? Imprisonment, when the only dungeon they had was the ridiculous museum piece that had been used to confine Kasan? Execution? Kasan was uneasy even thinking of it. It was one thing to tear someone apart in response to a threat, but to plan their deaths? He shivered.
But if they didn’t stop this here, the Purists would only go and find a way to continue their ‘work’ somewhere else, and knowing what they were capable of, how could anyone allow that?
Focusing on the scent of Max, Kasan closed his eyes and then grimaced as the damned medicine hit his nose instead. It was time to get up, anyway. For both of them. Because the thought of Max more than a few feet from him was enough to make his claws come out; they’d both be going to the meeting. Kasan would carry Max all day, if he had to.
Kasan eased his arm out from underneath Max’s head. “Max, time to wake up. Max? Gisho, little one, we need to get up. It’s nearly midday.” Kasan jiggled Max’s shoulder and got a sleepy grunt and a pout. He continued to prod, fuzzing Max’s hair into a ridiculous poof and even poking him in the nose until Max finally got one disgruntled blue eye opened and glared blearily at him.
Max didn’t say a word past the stare. Kasan wasn’t certain he was actually conscious.
“Max, I need to take a piss. Understand?” Kasan made some hopefully appropriate gestures and after more blank staring, now with both eyes open, Max nodded. The man sat up in bed, stretching his arms up and showing off his pectorals in a distracting manner, his skin pale golden against the turquoise sheets. Unable to move as Max yawned, Kasan could only stare, drinking him in. Max yawned again, scruffing a hand over his own hair until it was even more of a tangled mess around his head.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Max finally seemed to realize he was being observed and he flushed, staring down at the bed and wrinkling the sheets with his toes. Kasan caught his subtle grimace of pain and headed for the jar of medicine without another thought.
He stopped himself from touching him.“Kasan help, Max, or you do?”
Max’s brow furrowed until he spotted the jar of medicine and then he reached out for it with a smile – a smile. Kasan handed it over and turned away, swallowing. “I’ll- I’ll be right back.”
He still had to piss, and his stomach was a mess as he walked into the separate alcove to take care of it. The idea of Max carefully penetrating himself to slide the medicine in was intensely, painfully erotic. Kasan could still feel a mild, residual tingle on his own dick where it had come into contact with the ointment when they’d coupled.
He should not feel aroused by this. It was awful, what he’d done to Max. And yet he couldn’t stop thinking of Max’s glistening fingers disappearing into his body, no matter how he tried.
It made using the room a bit of a nightmare. The urge to pee built up as he stood, trying to aim his uncooperative dick at the water, but he had to work for a few minutes to get his mind out of the gutter so his erection would go down enough for him to actually urinate. By the time he got back out, Max was already done, sitting gingerly on the bed with his feet hanging over the edge. He played with the small jar, rolling it from one had to the other.
Kasan watched him carefully. Max wasn’t wincing as he sat; that had to be a good sign, didn’t it?
Picking up his loincloth from the floor, Kasan smiled at Max softly as he dressed. There were a few extra loincloths on the shelves and Kasan picked an emerald green one for Max before he remembered that Max wasn’t supposed to be standing or walking for a couple more days.
Wrapping a loincloth was a pure hell when you couldn’t stand to do it.
In the end, Kasan picked him up and wrapped it around a flushing, sputtering Max who was half-laughing as he did it.
“Kasan! Jeesh, I can dress myself, you big, grabby cat! Kasan, I, oh hell, sure, floss my ass for me, why not. Not like you don’t do everything else to it. Why should I care, right? It’s Kasan’s property right now. I should get a stamp, a big, red stamp that says ‘Nympho-man, property of Kasan.’ You can just stamp it right on my ass, right?”
Kasan finished tucking in the ends of the loincloth and sat Max on the bed cautiously, checking to make sure that Max was as calm as he sounded. The big, embarrassed grin was good enough to have Kasan smiling back tentatively.
“All right. Let’s go, Max. I’ll…carry you, all right? Pick you up?”
Max nodded, holding up his arms as Kasan reached down. He settled against Kasan’s chest with a sigh.
“When you guys pamper, you really pamper, don’t you? Next you’ll be feeding me grapes with your fingers.” Kasan grabbed the basket handle from the floor and handed it to Max to hold. “Or sausage and pastries. Seriously, how are you even real, Kasan?” Max’s lips clamped shut as Kasan opened the door and Davin wiggled his fingers at them in a cheerful wave.
“Do you need to be spelled yet?” Kasan asked. The schedule had already been getting blurry around the edges with the frenzy from before. After last night, with injuries and even more matings, Kasan would be amazed if it had held up.
“I’m fine. Neera stepped up to the plate and revamped the entire schedule this morning. Woman’s an organizing genius, seriously. The shifts are gonna be long for a bit, but needs must, right?”
He nodded, thanking him again for the basket. A few steps only and he jumped back as the door directly across from him opened with a smack. Frodi stepped out, braid in disarray, rubbing his eyes. He was yawning, prompting one from Max as well, when he seemed to realize they were there.
“Well that’s damn convenient.” Frodi smiled at Max. “Here I thought I was going to have to track you down later so I could take a look at your consort.” He yawned again, stretching, and his back cracked loudly. He rubbed at it with a wince. “We really have to do something about these beds. Terrible for your back.”
He gestured at Kasan to come closer. “So, bring him here. I need to see how he’s healing.”
Kasan froze as Frodi made to grab at Max’s leg. “What the hell are you doing?” Max yelped as Kasan yanked him away, backing up.
Unimpressed, Frodi’s ears snapped back. “I’m looking at my patient. I’m not going to hurt him, Kasan. Now stand still so I can take a look.”
“Take a look? You’re not taking a look out here in the hallway!” Kasan took another quick step back and his back hit the side of the hall. His tail smacked against it as it twitched. He could see Davin’s confused look out of the corner of his eye, and Max’s hands were fluttering against the basket nervously.
And Frodi – “Frodi, don’t fucking think about it.” Kasan snapped, turning to the side to keep the man’s hands from Max. “Max doesn’t like to do this in public!” What was wrong with him, thinking of exposing Max’s bottom in the hallway like this, to spread it open to check for damage where anyone could see?! He should know by now that Max would hate that.
Frodi snapped back at him, managing to catch Max’s ankle. “Your consort doesn’t care! For the love of – Kasan, stop pulling him away! If you’d stop making this into a huge drama, I’d already be done looking at his feet and be on my way!” Frodi snarled at him, baring his fangs.
Kasan’s brain processed what he said and he froze, just long enough for Frodi to grab both of Max’s ankles and pull up his feet, looking at the bottom of them carefully. Max crossed his arms, pulling the basket to his chest. He sighed, watching Frodi and wincing a couple of times as the man probed a few spots. Frodi patted Max on the leg and let go, smiling.
“Looks like they’re healing quite nicely. Quicker than I would have thought. Just remember to keep applying the salve for the next few days and they should be good to walk on before you know it.”
Kasan couldn't stop staring at Frodi, and then back at Max, who was trying to pull up one of his legs to inspect the soles of his feet and still hold onto the basket. For the first time, Kasan noticed they were slightly swollen and had puncture marks, which meant the salve...
“His wounds are…on his feet?” he asked weakly.
“Of course. Where else would they be?” Frodi groused. He’d already turned to go.
Kasan felt the flush start at the top of his head and begin to spread down, his face hot. “Uh…”
Davin blurted out, “Kasan, tell me you didn’t!”
Frodi stopped dead, looking first at Davin, and then Kasan didn’t know exactly what he saw, but Frodi scowled and crossed his arms. “What did you do?” he asked, growling.
“I…uh…” Kasan had not thought his face could grow any hotter, but it was doing its damnedest.
“Kasan, what did you do?” Frodi snapped. Max began to stiffen in Kasan’s arms, pushing away from Frodi. Kasan soothed him automatically, purring and holding him closer.
Davin was eavesdropping unashamedly, not even bothering to pretend when Kasan glared at him. Kasan’s ears sank to his scalp.
“I thought the wound was somewhere else,” Kasan muttered. “I may have…applied the medicine to the wrong area due to... that particular misconception.”
“Kasan! You know how morelenta wounds are! If he misses a dose, it could seriously affect his healing. And I gave explicit instructions-”
“You didn’t say where!” Kasan snapped back defensively. Frodi stopped, blinking, and Kasan swallowed back his urge to yell. It wasn’t Frodi’s fault Kasan was hadn’t asked for more details. “You didn’t say where he was wounded, Uncle. And I assumed… I was feral when he found me, and I… I assumed…”
Kasan could see the exact moment when Frodi realized what Kasan had thought. Davin had already covered his mouth and the muffled snorting from behind his hands fooled no one. Kasan closed his eyes, swearing under his breath.
“So… you applied the medication…internally?” Frodi asked. He was biting his cheek; his ears quivered.
Kasan was never going to hear the end of this. “Yes,” he growled.
Frodi’s voice was choked from holding back what Kasan was sure was laughter at his expense. “… I imagine the both of you had a very exciting night of it,” he managed.
And now Kasan’s face was hot again. “It won’t…it didn’t hurt him, did it?” he asked. He thought Frodi would have ripped him apart, if it had, but there might be something…
Frodi waved a hand. “Not this one. Thankfully for you both. There are some medications that could cause some damage if they’re used improperly; this one merely has an intense sensation associated with it. I’m sure you both had a, ahem, very exciting night. But next time something like this happens, ask me before you decide you’ve figured it all out. I don’t want to find out that you’ve gone and injured yourself or your consort because either of us was in too much of a hurry to be safe!”
Kasan bobbed his head once, watching Frodi trot away back toward the healing stations without even a goodbye.
Davin snickered again. “I told you that the little one didn’t look like you were causing any injury,” he said. “Although I hadn’t considered where that misconception would lead, that’s for sure!”
Kasan ignored Davin’s teasing and let it sink in. Embarrassment was quickly followed by the realization of what it meant. If Max hadn’t been injured internally then…Kasan hadn’t hurt Max. He hadn’t hurt his consort. He hadn’t hurt him.
Max squawked as Kasan dragged him close. The basket tumbled to the ground, Kasan flipping him around until Max was facing him, flush against his chest, clutching Kasan’s shoulders. Half-crying, Kasan planted kisses over his entire face, murmuring endearments in between each one, until Max growled and held his face still to kiss him in earnest.
Max glared when he let go, obviously confused and aroused. Kasan couldn’t help himself, beaming at Max’s adorable, furious face as Max poked him in the chest and proceeded to chide him mercilessly, not that Kasan understood a word.
“I didn’t hurt you,” Kasan said, smiling.
“Yes, Kasan no hurt Max,” Max said, looking so irritated, as though it was the most obvious statement in existence, that Kasan laughed.
“No pain, no… I didn’t even frighten you, did I?”
Max greeted that pronouncement with a confused, annoyed frown and a finger pointing at the basket of food. “Pick up, Kasan.”
Kasan snorted and, grinning, he held Max up above his head and spun, laughing, to the sound of more squawking. His chest felt full to bursting.
“Not me! The basket! Kasan, let me down right this second, you crazy bastard! What the hell are you doing? Kasan! No!”
Kasan dragged him back, nuzzling the top of his head and he tucked him back against his chest, cradling him. Grinning, Davin handed him the basket from the floor, with about half the goodies spread out around them.
“I love you so much, Gisho, you have no idea. So damn much.” His throat tight, Kasan held Max close. He finally felt like he could get through the next few days, no matter what they learned, or how bleak it might be.
He hadn’t hurt Max.
The room for the meeting, one of the larger ones in the main floor Citadel, brought Kasan back down to earth. There were small privacy screens of wood and pale velvet set up in all the corners, for anyone who needed to step away from the main discussion and regain their composure if things grew heated.
Even with Max in his arms, unafraid, Kasan had a feeling he might be using them more than once.
The center of the floor was in the expected arrangement, if larger than normal. An enormous central rug covered the floor with matching cushions of blue and green around the edges for seating. More rugs and cushions filled the edges of the room. Small, low tables held a number of hand comps, and one screen had been brought in for the side wall. Pitchers of water and juice sat beading dew onto more low tables along the back wall in front of a hanging that was supposed to be something abstract but had always made Kasan think of a green face sticking out its tongue.
He headed over with Max, seeing how his attention went immediately to the pitchers. Setting down the basket first, Kasan helped Max settle into the cushions and stood guarding him, picking one of the pastries as Max dug in. Hopefully they’d have a while before the others came in so Max could get enough to eat. Poor little thing likely hadn’t had a bite since he’d been kidnapped.
Handing him a glass of juice, Kasan thought they were alone at first before he heard the low murmur of voices behind the farthest screen. He doubted anyone else would have heard them except another throwback; Max certainly didn’t seem to. Aosh and Zonta…and considering their tone of voice, already bickering. It eased another wound to his heart; they couldn’t be too injured if they were well enough to gripe at one another.
“…didn’t have to happen! If the Elders would just get their heads out of their asses-”
Ah, the tec argument again. He wondered what part of it Aosh was focused on now. More access to old resources, more research on how near they could get technology to the citadel, on how much it would accept before the automatic defenses came into play. He knew Zonta would be trying to calm him and get him to see the Elder’s side, if gently.
Kasan wasn’t certain that he wanted to be gentle on the topic any longer. He was old enough to remember the last time a clan member set off the automatic defenses and was ripped apart. If Aosh had ever seen that, he’d understand exactly why the Elders were so cautious at testing them. He thought Zonta had read enough to know more about it than Aosh realized. There were stories in the histories that could give one nightmares for years.
“Aosh, don’t you glare at me,” Zonta hissed.
“I’m not glaring at you. I’m glaring at this entire conversation! You know I’m right. You know what technology we used to have. There were machines small enough to fit in your ear that work just like the boxes do! If we’d had those today, you and Zerard would have been able to tell everyone immediately that Uncle was there. You wouldn’t have gotten hurt; Zerard wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”
Zonta sighed heavily, his voice choked. “Zerard wouldn’t have gotten hurt if I hadn’t ignored my studies so much that my martial skills are a known joke. That is my fault, no other’s.”
“Zerard protected you because you are worth protecting, Zo, not because you skipped a few lessons! And whatever your skills, you still wouldn’t have been a match for that man, who attacked you in the first place, so don’t go thinking that it’s your fault Zerard was wounded. Besides…the tec could have protected you both.”
“It could have! We have resources that can help us and they’re being wasted. The Elders only let me repair what little we use, and that’s less than a tenth of what we have. They won’t let me look at the older tec, they won’t let me try anything new, and the last time I tried to look into the medical tec we have, Aunt Asha nearly tore off my ears!”
Kasan instinctively recoiled; Max didn’t notice, completely focused on eating his fill. When had Aosh started doing that? Aosh had never gone so far as to talk about medical tec before, let alone try to examine it.
Kasan wasn’t surprised Asha had gone at him for that. Medical research was why they had this damn kouloc in the first place! And the Purists embraced ‘medical’ research with open arms. That alone should be enough for Aosh to realize what a danger it was. Technology and biology together led people to forget their morals, every time. Kasan took a savage bite of his pastry, forcing himself to stay where he was instead of going over to smack some sense into Aosh. He had no qualms about eavesdropping; if they’d wanted to keep the conversation private, they should have had it in their room.
“It could have gotten you killed today, Zonta,” Aosh said, his voice more tired than Kasan had ever heard. What exactly did he mean by that?
“And that would have been my own fault!” Zonta said, more fiercely than Kasan had ever heard.
Kasan could hear shuffling, like Aosh had grabbed onto Zonta’s hand. “I know you don’t believe me just how stupid that thought is. If Zerard hadn’t stepped in front of you, if the others hadn’t come back in time, you would have died today, no matter what training you’d had. And we have nothing that could have saved you. On most other planets we trade with, your wounds would have been easy to treat. We have the ability to learn how to save people and we’re not allowed to pursue it! It’s…it’s immoral.”
“Aosh, now you’re being-”
“No, Zonta, you’re too nice. If our lives end because of knowledge we haven’t discovered, that’s one thing. But this is willful ignorance that’s going to end up allowing people to die who could have lived. How can they not see? What if it had been Kasan who had been wounded, or little Max? What if you’d died because they won’t-” Aosh paused and Kasan leaned to the side to see through the gap between the screens. Aosh sat against the wall, scrubbing at his eyes, and Zonta crouched down and embraced him.
“I’m all right. I’m not injured.”
“You think I don’t see the piercings up and down your arm, there? You could have died!” Aosh hissed. “And I wasn’t even there!”
Kasan swallowed, looking down at Max before staring back at the boys. Medical research was far too often used for ill. It had been the end of everything, their entire history wiped clean and forcing the world to start over again. It was used by truly evil men. That was fact.
What about Max? Kasan hadn’t considered that. He didn’t agree that they were that far behind their allies in medical science. The Elders wouldn’t permit that sort of willful ignorance to continue, no matter what. Kyashin medicine was perfectly adequate to take care of them – it had done so for centuries now.
But…what if it didn’t do as well for Max? He was even less robust than some of the littles. He couldn’t survive so much as a long fall. What if he couldn’t utilize Kyashin medicine very well, either? What if…what if Max needed something else? What if he needed something new?
What if he needed…the very type of research that the Elders argued against?
“Aosh, stay calm,” Zonta said softly. He rubbed a hand over Aosh’s ears. “I didn’t die. I wasn’t permanently maimed, although through no effort of my own. And while I would have been happy to have you with me, you were in no shape to go, and that’s not your fault. It’s because of you that we were able to save Max; you did enough!” They were quiet for a few minutes, heads bent toward each other.
Aosh was the one who pulled back. “But Zonta, they-”
“Enough for now, Aosh. Please? I already agreed to work with you on persuading the Elders, even when I don’t completely agree.” Zonta’s ears drooped. “But, Aosh, don’t discount their fears; I’ve studied our past as much as they have. Whatever good you see in researching medicine, it’s still what nearly destroyed our entire planet. Our doctors were the ones who started researching how to kill each other. Our doctors made the kouloc. The Elders have a right to be cautious.”
Aosh laid his head against Zonta’s arm. “And now it’s going to be worse, isn’t it?”
“Probably. Finding out that there was a group doing experiments on fellow Kyashin in the name of medical science? Would you be surprised?”
Kasan’s ears flattened. The Purists had done horrible things, and planned to do worse to Max. It wasn’t unjustified fear to be concerned about that happening again. Although if Kasan couldn’t help Max if he ever got truly hurt…
“I don’t know what I can do,” Aosh whispered brokenly.
“You’ll pick yourself up and we’ll find a way for you to learn, that’s what you’ll do,” Zonta said quietly.
“And if I can’t do that here? If I can’t change their minds?”
Zonta paused long enough that Kasan thought he’d missed hearing Zonta’s answer at first. “Then…when we go into heat, we’ll find consorts or mates who are willing to emigrate. We’ll go to one of the clans that have retained more of their knowledge and are willing to explore further. You can apprentice with someone there.”
Kasan sucked in his breath. They were talking about leaving! There was no way in hell…
“…if we had to, I would… I would be willing to be your consort, Aosh, if we can’t find anyone willing to leave.”
Kasan sucked in his breath until Aosh sat up and smacked Zonta in the arm.
“No, you won’t.” Aosh’s voice was a little stronger, though, and his ears had perked up. “You know close family matings have a bigger chance of failing; I wouldn’t take that chance with your life, idiot. Besides, we’d kill each other within a week.”
Zonta snorted and hugged him tightly again. Kasan could hear his voice against Aosh’s skin, muffled. “I would though, Aosh. I would, if you needed it. You know I would. I just want you to be happy.”
Aosh wrapped his arm around him. “I know, love. There’s no need, though. I can find someone who would be willing to travel, if I need to. We have at least a year or more left before we have to think about it, anyway. But…you don’t have to come with me, you know.”
Zonta nodded against his skin. “Yes, I do. You’ll get yourself killed without someone to rein in your mouth. But…we shouldn’t give up yet. We might be able to persuade the Elders. Don’t give up.”
“I won’t,” Aosh said softly, but Kasan could tell it was more placating Zonta than actual belief. They both quieted, holding onto each other silently.
He’d have to keep an eye on them both. And talk to the Elders. He understood their reserve; the very idea of expanding their technological base made his testicles want to withdraw into his body. Everyone knew that pursuing knowledge had to be a cautious endeavor. Medical knowledge especially. Rampant pursuit of knowledge in that field led to fanaticism and a complete lack of ethics; the Purists were the perfect example.
But Aosh was right, too; what if it had been Max? What if Max had been the one who’d been hurt and they didn’t have the knowledge to save him? Or Zonta? Or his father? How many of their people were lost because of their caution?
And how many could they lose if they didn’t stick to it?
Lost in his own thoughts, Kasan heard a small thunk and saw Zonta pick up a plate from Aosh’s lap, full of the same fruits that were arrayed on another of the tables in back. “You’ve hardly touched your food.”
“Not hungry, Zo.”
“I don’t care. You need to eat. You have a lot of healing to do; you need the resources.”
Aosh sighed, putting a bit in his mouth with a pointed look at Zonta.
“More. You need a lot more and you know it. Quit acting like a kitling and eat your food.”
That reminded him. He glanced at Max – he had leaned back against Kasan’s legs with a contented sigh – and picked him up. Max raised a curious eyebrow. “We’ll be right back, Max,” he said softly. With Max tucked against his chest, Kasan ducked outside and got the kitchens on the nearest box.
“Prince Kasan…Yes. I need to have about fifteen kilos of raw meat sent to my room and left inside the door. No, no plates. Leave it on the floor. No one is to go any further into the room than the entrance. And warn them not to attack the shokan unless they need to defend themselves.”
There was a very long pause on the other end. “Not to attack… the shokan…in your room?”
Kasan could admit it was amusing to hear a man’s voice go up to such a high pitch. “That’s what I said, yes.”
Clearing his throat, the man squeaked out. “And raw meat? Nothing else. On the floor. For the… shokan?”
“Yes.” Clearly, they were going to need to disseminate information about the shokan as quickly as possible. And Kasan needed to make sure and talk to the Elders about them, as well. They needed to hear how intelligent they really were, or at least what Kasan had seen.
Kasan heard the man take a deep breath. “Ah, all…right. Anything else?”
“For now, no.” He didn’t like to think of what it might have been like to return to the room with hungry shokan in it. On top of potential maulings, Kasan suspected that Ando-kees was a little shit and would take his frustration out on Kasan’s belongings.
If Max didn’t seem to like them so much, and if they hadn’t saved him…
But they had, so Kasan was going to start having to think of their food, and…oh god, their scat, as well. He pushed the thought aside; time enough dealing with that later today.
“Kasan, what do here?” Max asked as they walked back inside. “Done soon?”
“Meet people, Max. They’ll be here soon; the meeting shouldn’t be too much longer.” He didn’t have to say anything else. Aosh and Zonta heard them and Zonta shifted the screen to the side to open up the space. Aosh sat leaning against the wall in a mound of cushions, a space next to him where Zonta had been crouching.
Zonta’s hands clenched into fists. He scanned Max from head to toe worriedly. “Did they-?”
“I don’t think he was too badly harmed,” Kasan said, carrying Max across the room. “He had no visible wounds unhealed in less than a day after they took him.”
Zonta merely nodded, but Aosh smiled, leaning forward as they got close. “I told you he’d be all right, tough little thing that he is. Hello, Max.” He stopped, his voice roughening as he held out a hand. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you.”
“Aosh,” Max said softly. He pulled in Kasan’s arms. “Come on, Kasan. Let me down here. I need to see him.”
Kasan sighed and sat down on the cushion nearest Aosh’s seat, letting Max kneel on his lap with his pointy knees jabbing Kasan in the thighs.
Max leaned over and touched his finger very deliberately over Aosh’s lips before taking his hand and clutching it tight. “Thank you, Aosh. Thank you so, so much. I’m so glad you didn’t die, you have no idea. And…and sorry I thought you were a huge dick of a cat. Or, well…you were a huge dick of a cat, but not so much last time. So thanks.”
Aosh sniggered. “Oh crap, he said it again. ‘My delicate ass.’ That will never get old.”
“Aosh,” Kasan warned.
Aosh waved back at him dismissively. “Yes, I know. Don’t taunt, tease, poke, or otherwise prod your consort.” Aosh smiled back at Max. “I have no idea what you just said, little one, except for the thanks. And words that I’m sure sound like something they’re not. But I’m glad to see you looking so well. I was worried-” His face grimaced and Max nodded, frowning back.
“Yeah, this whole thing was pretty much worse than you walking in on me during sex. Which is never going to happen again, ever, Aosh, so just get used to it. But… I’m still glad you’re not dead.”
Aosh looked up at Kasan, grinning. “I can’t understand a thing he says, but he just keeps on going, doesn’t he? Doesn’t seem phased by being kidnapped at all.”
“He is pretty amazing,” Kasan said softly
Aosh and Zonta looked at him and Kasan internally winced as their ears quivered and they both cocked their heads to the left in the same inquiring gesture. “What happened to him, Kasan?” Zonta asked carefully. They both looked at Max searchingly and then back at Kasan.
Kasan shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. He got away from them, all the way out into the middle of the forest, all on his own. And then the shokan…” Kasan gave Max a squeeze again, shuddering at thinking of all those tracks surrounding Max’s.
“Androcles?” Aosh smiled. “I hope you gave him that steak.”
“He’s getting it now. He and the other shokan that Max ran into in the forest.”
Aosh and Zonta blinked in unison. “Another one? We have two now?”
“Probably more, soon. It’s a female. And as to what happened, you’re going to have to work with Max on learning some more words because we need to know what went on, and right now he just can’t tell me. And I can’t…the thought that something may have happened and we don’t even know…”
“I’ll work with him as soon as I can,” Zonta said. He exchanged a glance with Aosh that Kasan couldn’t figure out but before he could ask about it he door opened and Aunt Nerin and Asha walked in.
“I’ll speak to you about it later,” Kasan finished quietly. He stood to greet them; it was never a good idea to meet Aunt Asha on uneven footing. You never knew when she might decide to take advantage.
Aunt Asha clumped across the room straight to Kasan and hugged him with surprising fierceness. Then she punched him in the stomach and his air left him in a whoosh.
“That’s for making me worry,” she said gruffly. He rubbed his stomach, wheezing, and hugged her again anyway while she sputtered.
Max watched with his eyes narrowed, half-scowling at her. When she tried to include him, he pushed her hand away. “No. Hurt Kasan,” he growled.
Asha smiled. “That’s the kind of consort my nephew needs. Fierce at heart, eh? Despite your poor start.” She grabbed them both, then, ignoring Max’s flailing that eventually ebbed to a sort of annoyed limpness as he hung in between them.
“Thank you for your help in searching for Max,” Kasan muttered into her hair. She nodded under his chin and he held on for another minute. Aunt Nerin waited until her sister was done and then embraced them both very gently.
“What’s been decided about the Purists?” Kasan asked quietly. “And the guard…I don’t know who we lost, or who was injured. I haven’t even talked to Leero yet. Will he be able to come? And father-”
Aunt Nerin patted his arm. “They’ll both be in later. Leero had a busy night; fight cause an early spike. He’s mated, now.”
Kasan’s belly twisted. Mated after a fight in the Haven like that, it was unlikely Leero had any choice in partners, and Kasan knew how much Leero had wanted someone he could care about. He’d seen how Leero looked at the couples in love. And instead, Leero’s partner was whoever had been ripe and close. “Who did he claim?”
Both his aunts chuckled. Aunt Asha couldn’t stop grinning. That was…unexpected. Who had Leero chosen? “ I’m not ruining that surprise for the world,” Asha said. “You’ll see soon enough.”
She patted his cheek so hard it was nearly a slap and turned to talk to another uncle as he walked through the door. Aosh, still sitting, held out his arms as soon as her back was turned.
“Here – Kasan, stop hogging him. Hand him over.”
“Your consort. I need cuddling.”
Kasan’s grip tightened and Aosh rolled his eyes.
“No, not that type of cuddling, I need…” Aosh grimaced and then jutted out his chin. “I need to feel that he’s safe, all right? I haven’t seen him since Waran carted him off and it doesn’t feel real yet. Just…let me? If you don’t object, Max?”
Max looked between them both as Kasan tried to gesture what Aosh wanted. He huffed when he seemed to figure it out. “Seriously? Oh…fine. I want to check you out anyway, you big perv.”
Aosh reached out and Kasan gently put Max in his lap. Max immediately checked Aosh’s side for the wounds and then his thighs, hand hovering over the piercings without touching.
“It’s all right, Max. I’m fine.”
Max scowled and looked back at Kasan. “You have Waran, right? He can’t do this to anyone else, right?”
Kasan shook his head, shrugging. “I don’t know anything about Waran, Max. I’m not sure what happened to him since we went off by ourselves. Do you know, Aosh? Zonta? Did they find him? The other Purists were going to let him go when I last heard them.” He scowled, frustrated. “I haven’t been able to talk to anyone yet!”
Zonta reached out for his arm at the same time Max turned and did the same. Kasan rolled his eyes. “I know. I need to cultivate patience. This is not news.”
“I don’t know much, but I know they found Waran,” Zonta said, scowling. “They caught him trying to find Shoru; he’d rather be captured than face dying without his consort, it seems.”
Kasan nodded, taking Max back – he wasn’t ready to let go of him for
any length of time yet – and sat down next to them both. He kept an eye
on the door as more family finally began to trickle in. “Do you
know who Leero bonded with?”
Aosh snorted and quickly choked it back. Even Zonta looked at him curiously and he waved them off. “I’m not telling a soul. I’m going to enjoy the big reveal far too much.”
His aunts had said the same thing. What was so humorous about this mating?”
Aosh shook his head again, and clamped a hand over his mouth briefly to mimic slamming it shut. “He’ll come in soon enough.”
“You’re a pain in the ass, Aosh.” Kasan flicked him in the nose.
“Actually, they usually say I’m very smooth when I’m in someone’s ass-”
Kasan groaned. “No, shut up. I do not want to know how your many conquests rated you in your imagination.”
Zonta looked away from Max and spoke up. “He’s not making that up, actually. They sing his praises loudly enough during sex that I can hear them from my bed in the other room. And they really do say that.”
Aosh preened and Kasan flicked him again. “You keep talking like that, people will think you’re planning to get together yourselves.” And oh was it fun to look how they squirmed at that one.
Aosh scoffed first. “Are you kidding? We would not be sexually compatible. I’ve heard how long it takes Zonta to get himself ready when he masturbates with that wooden dildo of his; I do not have that kind of patience. Besides, I don’t think I’m up to the challenge of…”
Zonta smacked him in the back of the head.
“Hey! I’m wounded and you hit me?” Aosh exclaimed
“Your head is too hard to be injured,” Zonta said firmly, but he reached out and rubbed the spot as he said it.
Kasan let the familiar sounds of the bickering wash over him as he held Max and leaned back against the wall, content for the moment to watch the family continue to trickle in. He knew their banter wasn’t entirely true, no more than his own was. There was an undercurrent of pain and worry for all three of them. But it was enough that, for now, they could pretend for at least a little while.
People continued to arrive, congregating around the food and drink, or the Elders, and almost everyone made a point of stopping by to see how Kasan and his little consort were doing. It wasn’t long before they ended up with a small circle of his siblings and their consorts around him. He and Max have hugged so often he felt tenderized, and the room was full enough to obscure their view beyond a few feet.
“Have you seen Roto or Tisu?” he asked Jolan, after this requisite hugging. “I thought they’d be here by now. They didn’t go into the Haven, did they?”
“They’re all caught up in baby fever,” Ko said, peeling Jolan off and holding onto him tightly. “Roto is absolutely enthralled by that little one they found in the cells. The poor thing barely speaks Hinta, though, so it’s been difficult to find out much about him.”
Jolan snorted. “Partly because the kitling keeps escaping from the healing stations and sneaking into Shoru’s quarters. Hard to talk to him when he won’t sit still for it. The last time the healers tracked him down, the kid was clinging to Shoru like a lirling, refusing to go back. Last I heard, Roto and Tisu are going to try and watch the little one while Shoru comes down for the meeting. We need to know what he learned from Waran.”
Zonta heaved a huge, shuddering breath. “We wronged him,” he said quietly.
Ko frowned. “Who, Shoru?”
“How many times did we talk about how much we disliked Shoru? How rude he was, how he didn’t fit in. What a saint Waran was to put up with him…”
“Yeah, we were wrong about Waran, but that doesn’t mean Shoru isn’t an asshole,” Ko said, lips tight, ears flat.
Kasan felt another layer of guilt piled on top of the mountain he already had. “So’s Tisu,” he said, trying to smile and failing. “Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be part of the family. Zo’s right. You didn’t see him down in the Haven. The man thought Ando-kees was attacking and he jumped in front of the kitling to save him. Not a moment’s hesitation, either. I don’t think we know him at all; we have amends to make with him.”
The conversation petered out and Kasan focused on Max in his arms. Something he could hold on to right now. Max leaned against his chest drowsily, simply watching the people around them, and he was the first to see Roto and Tisu finally come in, working their way through the crowd. He waved, putting up with Roto’s embrace that was a bit too teary, clinging to them both until Tisu gently pulled him off.
Tisu patted Roto on the back and looked Kasan and Max over carefully. Kasan stared back without saying a word, daring him to say something. Tisu snorted. “Fuck this.” He leaned over and Kasan found himself in another, larger hug. “I thought we’d lost you,” he said into Kasan’s neck.
Kasan patted his back, and smiled as Max reached up with a small hand and did the same, trapped in between them so all that made it out was the pale hand patting Tisu’s shoulder. “When I’m not done making my brothers’ lives a pain in the ass?” Kasan said. “Not likely.”
Tisu snorted as he let go. “Trust you to be safe solely out of a desire to be annoying.”
“I do try. Wait…weren’t you both going to be watching the little throwback from the Haven?”
Roto gripped Tisu’s hand. “He wouldn’t let Shoru leave without him, and, well, that was really that. Shoru cursed and complained and threatened, but he didn’t lay a hand on that little boy to pry him off. Never thought I’d see the day.” He smiled sadly. “Shoru is going to see if he can coax the little one into coming down, but if not, he’ll be meeting in his room with the Elders later.”
Kasan was about to reply when he saw Leero and his father make it through the crowd, as well. Finally! He looked them both over quickly, but neither seemed to be sporting any studs or rings, no bandages. No limping. Leero was still wearing his collar, poor bastard. And it obviously bothered him as he flushed as soon as Kasan and the others saw him. Where was his consort, though?
Ears flat, Leero made his way over, Kasan’s father ambling behind, and they clasped forearms. Leero managed a smile. “Found your little one, huh?”
Kasan nodded and double-checked Leero’s eyes. They had faded from the over-bright sheen of the heat. “So you did find a consort,” he said softly. “Congratulations. I wish you happy. Where is she? Or…he?”
Leero flushed red to his hairline, his ears twitching. Kasan thought he heard Aosh snicker. Kasan’s father came up behind him and wrapped his arm around Leero’s waist, getting a jab in the stomach from Leero’s elbow for it.
Kyoru’s other arm came out and lay on top of Kasan’s head. “I’m glad you made it, boy,” he whispered. Then he let go and pulled Leero in closer, ignoring another jab. “And thank you for the congratulations. It’s been a long time since I had a consort, but I think we’ll do well together.”
Kasan stared. He looked at Leero and the man wouldn’t meet his eyes, still flushing. “You…and Leero? You both…uh…” Kasan bit his tongue to keep from blurting out something inappropriate. His father was giving him the look that said he’d better choose his next words very carefully. But Leero and his father? “So,” his voice cracked. “Yes, congratulations. And…so nice to have a new…consort in the family.” His voice broke on the last word as he choked back a horrified laugh and Leero glared at him.
“Shut up, Kasan.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Kasan protested. He knew his ears were shaking with the effort of keeping some of this inside. If anyone had asked him before, he would have laughed hysterically at even the idea of Leero and his father. Except… Kasan looked at his father and his eyes?
Kasan hadn’t seen his father look like that in so long he’d forgotten the look existed. And it existed for Leero. Grouchy, often an asshole, Leero. Who, yes, Kasan enjoyed teasing because the bastard needed it to keep him from circling into gloom and…oh. Hmmm.
This could work out.
This could really work out.
Kasan caught his father brushing his fingers over Leero’s waist, Leero’s flush, the way his eyes sought out Kyoru’s as if he couldn’t help himself. The Lord King’s smile, just that little bit wicked. Huh. Looked like it was working out quite well, already. Even if, judging by Leero’s scowl as he noticed Kasan staring, Leero was too preoccupied with being pissed off to notice.
Kasan shared a small grin with Aosh. The possibilities for humor as his father and Leero worked this out were endless.
“I told you to Shut. Up,” Leero snarled.
“I still haven’t said anything.” Kasan couldn’t stop smiling.
“And I heard everything you didn’t say,” Leero growled.
Kyoru snorted next to him, kissing Leero on the head. “I have to go speak with the Elders before we get started. You two enjoy.”
Leero watched him go and then glared back at Kasan. “You’re father is a complete asshole,” he muttered.
Kasan snickered into his hand. “Oh God, I know. But…what happened? I didn’t know you were even considering him.”
“I wasn’t!” Leero said, voice too loud. He lowered it, glaring back at Kyoru and looking confused as hell. Poor bastard. “Everything went to shit in the Haven. We got trapped in a room by ourselves, cut off, and I went feral. I guess he…saved me.”
And Kasan could tell it had burned Leero’s tongue to say that. But…he didn’t look as though he were disgusted by it all. More the type of rage Leero tended toward when life wasn't working out how he thought it should. Leero looked that way far more often than he should.
“It’s not so bad, is it? I mean, father had a reputation, from what I remember. People were calling Aosh ‘Kyoru, mark 2’ when he started exploring sex. So…the sex at least is good, yes?”
Leero’s cheeks suddenly looked significantly more pink. “Probably.”
“I don’t remember it very well and we haven’t repeated the experience,” he said shortly. His ears were lying flatter. Kasan wasn’t sure if it was because he was pissed he couldn't remember, or frustrated because they hadn’t done it again.
“Will it really be that bad?”
Leero threw his hands in the air and snarled under his breath. “Of course it will be that bad! You know me, Kasan! I’m the alternate Battle Leader! And I like to top! And now I’ll be expected to go to things like Consort Gatherings!” He shuddered. “Me! This is a disaster!”
Max made a questioning noise next to him and Kasan wrapped an arm around him to let him know it was all right. Then he raised an eyebrow, nodding his head at Jolan’s consort. “I think Ko might have something to say about those kind of stereotypes, Leero. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t make a good consort. And if you like to top, I’m sure father would be willing to bottom when it’s not the heat, wouldn’t he?”
“That’s not the point,” Leero choked.
“It’s your father!”
“It’s your father! I’m your father’s consort! My best friend’s father’s consort!”
Kasan couldn’t understand why this was so upsetting for Leero. Yes, he was going to tease the ever-loving crap out of him over it, but Leero…what was he upset about, exactly? Not so much about Kyoru, he thought, but more…as though he might lose something from this.
“Leero, you know this simply makes you officially part of the family now, don’t you? Which you were already a part of a long time ago.”
Leero shook his head jerkily, “I know that we’re close, but…”
Kasan searched his face, shocked that he didn’t seem to know. “Leero…you’re family. You’ve been family since we were young enough to be stealing pies from the kitchens together. You’re like a brother to me. This? This changes nothing except where you spend your evenings.”
Leero swallowed, his ears finally peeking up from behind his hair, and Kasan yanked him down to hug him. “Truly?” he asked hoarsely.
“Of course! Idiot,” Kasan said fondly. Leero pulled back and touched his lips briefly in thanks and Kasan grinned as he saw him relax. He couldn’t resist adding, “So, now tell me…do you prefer to be called mother or mam?”
He started laughing as Leero punched him in the arm so hard that he nearly fell over onto Max. It was an effort to stop, even when his aunts and Kyoru finally walked to the center of the group, waiting for everyone to ready themselves to listen.
This was going to be a very long day.
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