To Love a Stray Ch. 05byMygypsy©
Thanks once again to my editor wulfgrleditor and thanks to my greatest critics S & W and I'll let asking for another cuppa pass as input Tang.
"Can we please stop so I can sit down for a while?" I ask Pete.
He turns his head to look at me and frowns, "Why didn't you say something sooner? You look ready to drop!" He scolds as he looks around.
"I thought you'd stop sooner," I say and sit down on a patch of thick grass happy to get off my wobbly legs.
Pete looks at me where I am sitting then looks around through the trees with a frown, "Hey Edwin! Get your arse back here!" he demands before coming over to sit near me. "You're okay?"
"Yeah just ... easily tired," I struggle to find the words to explain.
"You're sure?" Pete insists.
"Yeah all I need is to sit down for a while," I tell him as I settle my injured arm across my lap.
"Edwin! Get back here!" Pete yells before producing a bottle of water from one of the pockets in his cargo pants and holding it out to me, he hesitates a moment and removes the lid before holding it out towards me once again.
"Thanks," I say and immediately drink nearly a third of the water. I glance at the bottle then hold it out towards him.
"No, I brought that along for you." He tells me and looks around again. "Think you'll be right to walk back?"
"If we take it a bit easier," I say even though I have no doubt I will be fine once I have half an hours rest.
"Hey, what are you two doing sitting down?" Edwin asks as he walks into sight.
"Rosy needs to rest for a bit," Pete tells him and Edwin sits down as well.
"Micah and Steven got a feral deer each about a mile from here, damn shame to miss out on a feed of fresh venison." Edwin sounds disappointed.
"There's deer around here?" I ask in surprise.
"Yeah some farmer tried to start up a deer farm but ... it didn't work out and a lot of his stock ended up in the national park behind us," Edwin explains.
"Only a mile?" I ask.
"Yeah probably a bit less," Edwin tells me as he looks back in the direction he came from.
"And they'll share with you if you were there?" I ask. The thought of a feed of freshly killed deer is very tempting.
"Yeah it strengthens the bond a clan has. Hell they'd even happily share with you if you were there," Pete tells me.
"No thanks, sounds like the perfect way to invite an attack." I mutter.
"Well hopefully one day you'll trust us enough to know that's wrong," Pete says as he gets to his feet and walks away. I bite back a groan of frustration and lay out flat on my back, immediately Edwin is in my personal space as he reaches out and lays his hand on my stomach. I flinch at his touch then go still as I glance his way, his eyes are glued on my stomach where his hand rests. I glance up as I hear Pete return, he is watching Edwin with interest and I realise he is waiting for him to move so he can touch my stomach.
"Don't be a pig Edwin," I say pretending to be annoyed. Edwin takes a quick glance at my face and moves away, Pete is quick to sit down and reach for my stomach. He slides his hand beneath my jeans waist and I immediately try to push his hand away with my good arm.
"Come on Rosy hold still," Pete tells me as he catches my good wrist and pins my arm down beside me with one hand while the other one remains on my stomach.
"Stop it Pete!" I cry out as I try to roll away from him but with my arm pinned I would be forced to roll towards him, "Get your hand out of my pants!" I start crying and find myself immediately released. I scramble to my hand and knees and try to crawl away from him but suddenly find myself being lifted to my feet and placed behind Edwin as he glares at Pete.
"Hey I didn't mean it that way!" Pete lifts both hands shoulder high as he backs away from Edwin who I realise is growling angrily.
"You all right Rosy?" Edwin asks suspiciously.
"I am now," I admit as I sniff back my tears.
"Come on Rosy. We're heading back now," Edwin orders and takes me by the upper arm. I have no choice but to allow him to take me back the way we came, after a while he slows down and looks around for a place to stop. I sit on a large flat stone thankful to get off my feet and I wrap my good arm around my legs as I rest my chin on my knees.
"You right? You didn't get hurt?" Edwin asks.
"It just scared me," I admit feeling silly. Edwin doesn't say anything just gives a nod as he looks around before picking up a pinecone and tossing it along the ground.
"You don't mind us touching you ... I mean your belly?" Edwin asks curiosity in his voice.
"Sometimes it doesn't bother me too much and other times I hate it," I mutter and look away.
"Ready to walk some more?" He asks.
"Might as well, we got quite a hike to get back." I tell him. We walk in companionable silence for a while before he speaks again.
"So you're really pissed with Steven for punching lover boy?"
"First, let's get one thing straight. I don't think of Mitchell like that, and secondly it would be no ones business but mine if I did." I reply angrily.
"Mitchell is not dominant enough to look after you or protect you; he's not old enough to be. At least not yet although he would obviously give it a good try, besides he ..." Edwin tells me his voice trailing off and I get the impression there is something he isn't telling me.
"Maybe I don't need looking after!" I snort angrily and get to my feet. I head off the way we were headed not even looking back when I hear Edwin get to his feet and follow me. Anger keeps me going most of the way until I run out of righteous anger and I am forced to stop and look for somewhere to sit down again.
"Calmed down?" Edwin asks as he finds himself a seat a small distance from me.
"You like annoying me don't you," I say as I look at him.
"I seem to be able to do that don't I," Edwin says and I detect a wistful note to his voice. Maybe the guy just had the bad luck of saying the wrong thing!
"So how much longer do you think it will be before I can expect a couple of big black cats running this way?" I ask.
"They'll shift before they get too close to you," Edwin tells me with a reassuring smile. I open my mouth to argue out of fear and stop as it occurs to me he would know the others much better than me. The tinny melody of a mobile phone breaks the silence and I jump nervously as I look his way, Edwin is already taking his phone out and he frowns as he reads a message.
"We need to get back," He tells me as he gets to his feet. "Oh and the others will probably come this way in a hurry." I nod as I get to my feet thankful for the warning. The pace he sets as he takes the lead is fast and soon I start to fall behind, I can tell he is in a hurry but he makes no attempt to force me to go faster than I am comfortable with. When sounds come from behind us I become nervous and Edwin stops and catches me by the upper arm.
"Stop, turn around and you'll see them coming. Learn to control your fear," He tells me gently. I do as he tells me and I am relieved when I see that they have changed back to human form although it is clear that they stopped to do it just out of sight as both Micah and Steven are fastening their jeans as they walk into view.
"I thought I told you to stay with Edwin and Rosy," Micah growls at Pete.
"Ended up a slight change of plans," Edwin speaks up, "Rosy and I were getting on pretty good. Hopefully she's actually enjoyed the walk,"
"It has been good to get out," I admit softly as I fall into step beside Edwin.
"Pete you right to find a movie or game for Rosy while we take care of this business?" Micah asks. I find it hard not to stare at the bare backs of the two toms as they walk ahead of me; both are impressively broad with well-defined muscles and richly tanned skin. Both of them have several scars on either their ribs or arms and I try not think about how they got them or about the fresh pink scars down the inside of Edwin's right forearm.
By the time we reach the tree line I am exhausted and ready to head towards The Quarters, thankful for the chance to get to rest for more than a few minutes. Micah, Edwin and Steven head for the stone building well away from the other buildings while Pete and I continued towards our destination. I am braced against the outside corner of The Quarters working my muddy shoes off when the warm breeze catches my full attention. I move out from the corner of the building as I inhale deeply searching for whatever scent had caught my attention in the first place. Fear fills me as I catch a familiar scent, I gather myself to run but stop as I catch the blood and fear mixed in with the scent.
Instinct has me moving in a silent stalk as I follow the scent on the breeze, I find myself approaching the building where Micah, Steven and Edwin had went. The scent is stronger in the air now and is mingled with scents of other werecats. The sound of solid, meaty thuds reach my ears and I hear the muffled moans of pain in a familiar voice that follow. Unable to contain myself I push at the heavy wooden doors and step into the interior of the building, it is lit by electrical lights and I have no trouble seeing the figure hanging by his bound wrists from a crossbeam of the building. He slowly raises his head as the light from the open door falls across him and he looks straight at me, blood dripping from his nose and split mouth.
"Well hallo Miss Pretty Kitty Cat," His voice is thick and slightly slurred with pain.
"What is she doing here? Get her out of here!" Wade roars but I barely take any notice of him, my every shred of attention on the battered figure before me.
"So they finally caught you did they Rosy?" Jasper asks and looks at the toms in front of him to my right, "Took yous long enough to catch her," he laughs in disgust.
"You know him?" Micah asks as he walks towards me from where he had been standing near his father.
"Of course she knows me. We're old friends aren't we Miss Tawny?" Jasper taunts me.
"We're not friends anymore!" I snarl at him.
"Awww come on now Darling, I can think of at least one recent occasion you were happy to see me," Jasper sneers.
"How do you know Rosy and how long have you known her?" Micah demands as he turns his attention to Jasper.
"Kendal Darnel introduced us," Jasper grins obviously enjoying the angry hisses this brings, "He had her cornered in some rough country but couldn't quite catch her. What you can't smell you can't find, isn't that what you always say Tawny?" Jasper coughs and grimaces in pain, it's then I see the bruises mottling his ribs and stomach.
"How long have I known you Tawny? Miss Pretty Kitty Cat? Rosy? Alley Catty? Any other names you been given?" Jasper takes a deep breath and a bright spark ignites in his eyes, "Looks like I got lucky Babe," he grins at me and I snarl savagely.
Jasper turns his head to look at Wade, "You want to know how long this little piece of mischief has been running around your territory? Try ..." he turns his head to look at me, "... when did Kendal first come across you? Eight ... nearly nine years ago? A skinny feral little kitten that could run like a greyhound ..."
There are muttered sounds of disbelief but I can't take my eyes from Jasper, "You were worth it Babe. A real screamer but worth it, just a shame Kendal got to you first four years back when you were in heat but you still had plenty of fight in you ..." Jasper closes his eyes and hangs his head for a few moments before lifting his head and looking me in the face, "I was hoping to get off with declawing and my canines but I guess they'll kill me for what I done to you ... already told you how warriors and clan cats work,"
"Are you admitting to mistreating a she-kitt?" Wade asks in a dangerous voice. "Tell me the truth and I'll make sure it's quick and clean,"
"Mistreating? Hell man I was only ..." his words were cut off by a hard punch to his midriff and he groans as he tries to suck air back into his lungs.
"Don't ...swear ...in ... front ... of ... your ... betters," each word is followed by a punch to his ribs leaving him groaning in pain.
I turn horror filled eyes on Micah who had delivered each punch, "Every word he's told me is true isn't it. Yous kill strays,"
"I fucked her ..." again Micah punches Jasper making him swing wildly by his bound arms " ... I told her what mongrels you lot are and when she came into season I tracked her down and...."
I don't stay to see anymore as I turn and flee for The Quarters, I pass Pete on the way but easily dodge him as I race for the building. Inside I race to Mitchell and Sam's room and climb onto Mitchell's bed to bury my face in his pillow as I give in to my tears. Mitchell's scent surrounds me but I find little comfort in it as I wait straining my ears for some sound to give away Jasper's fate. It seems like an eternity before there is any movement in The Quarters and then it is only Pete moving around in other rooms before leaving once again. I curl up on my side with my wrist cradled to my chest watching the doorway, it is beginning to become cool and I pull one corner of the doona over myself and settle in hoping to fall asleep.
The slight sounds of movement in the building bring me to full alert and I lift my head slightly as I listen carefully. Soon there is the aroma of cooking food and my stomach growls hungrily but I stubbornly remain where I am. Footsteps move along the room outside the door and I watch the doorway tensely but Steven and Pete go past without bothering me. I am expecting the footsteps that come to the door and stop for a few moments before coming into the room.
"You feel like something to eat?" Micah asks softly as he sits on the edge of the bed.
"Can I eat in here?" I ask unhappily.
"No. Three other warriors from our clan have come back and would like to meet you," Micah says firmly.
"I don't want to go out there," I say miserably, "Can't I eat in here?"
"Are you going to let what some rogue, who kept breaking the rules, said about you make you hide away?" Micah asks me.
"Leave me alone," I protest miserably, "I want Mitchell."
"What is it you want? Mitchell explains things to you doesn't he?" Micah asks patiently.
"Am I in trouble?" I ask after several minutes, "Am I going to be punished?"
"Well you shouldn't have gone near the brick shed but no, you're not going to be punished. Not this time," Micah says evenly. "Now come out and try to eat something,"
Micah flips the doona off me and urges me towards the edge of the bed. I have no choice but to do as he urges and I am soon on my feet and being led out to the lounge room.
"Sit down I'll bring your food in to you." Micah orders firmly as he directs me towards the unoccupied lounge.
"I don't want to be here," I protest softly trying to edge back towards the bedroom.
Micah gives a loud sigh and turns to face me, "Okay. Why don't you want to be here?"
"Cause ... 'cause I'm scared of them," I mutter with a quick glance towards the door to the kitchen.
"Why?" Micah asks with exasperation. I glance towards the door nervously and attempt to pull away from Micah's hold on my good wrist as a large form moves into the doorway.
"I told yous it was a she-kitt at the service station several months back when we chased that stray out of the bar," A deep voice says.
"No it was a tom Malcolm," Edwin says as he appears in the doorway beside the large tom, "Hey Rosy. Come meet the warriors I work with," he invites with a smile. He is followed into the room by three strange toms and Steven and Pete, I move so that Micah's large form is between us. Edwin frowns at me as I glare at him and those behind him before he glances at the three strangers.
"Yous have chased me," I say almost accusingly.
"When?" Edwin challenges.
"At that bar and yous chased me right out behind that big lake and then I snuck back to my car that yous had wrecked and I went to the servo and had to run for it from there. And several times down Rock Valley way last year," I mutter uncomfortably.
"Well I'll be!" Steven says and starts laughing, "We've probably all chased you a time or two if that's been you down Rock Valley way!"
The smile disappears suddenly off Stevens face and he looks at Micah, his face tense. "Why the hell didn't we pick up she's a cat at Pete's that night?" He demands suddenly.
"That is something I'd like to know," Micah mutters between gritted teeth.
"Want me to go get Wade?" Steven asks.
"No! Nonononono!" I scream in a panic as I jerk at my arm and try to get away from Micah. My heart pounds painfully hard in my chest and my pulse roars in my ears as I struggle to get away from Micah but he quickly wraps me in both of his arms pinning my arms against my body as he forces me to the lounge.
"No need to disturb his supper. I'm sure Rosy will sit down and talk to us in a few minutes when she realises we won't hurt her," Micah tells Steven.
"What ever happened to she-kitts being placid and docile?" One of the strangers mutters and I flinch as I slowly stop fighting. Micah is much stronger than I am and I realise that I need to preserve my strength for when I will really need it and considering what I am sure has been done to Jasper it might be very soon. Surely they will have no mercy now they find out not only did I run with Jasper while he taught me to be a cat when I first became a werecat but I was also married to him.
"Can we not talk about Rosy as if she was not here?" Micah asks through gritted teeth and I realise he is becoming angry. He eases me onto the lounge and I strain against the steady pressure forcing me to sit down for nearly a minute before I begin to stop fighting him. I can smell the strong musky scent of his body and feel the heat radiating from him even through my clothes.
"If I let you go you'll stay there?" He asks softly near my bowed head. I hesitated a moment then nod my acceptance and he slowly eases away probably prepared to grab me if I try to run away.
"Tell us what you were doing at the bar," Micah orders softly and I recognise it as the order it is.
"I needed to eat. I hadn't eaten for over a day and I was getting too tired to keep driving home, I needed to eat and rest for a little bit." I answer very softly.
"You knew you were on clan territory?" Micah asks gently.
"It's not safe for me to stop in No Man's Land," I say quietly.
"So you knowingly stopped in clan territory?" Micah insists.
"Only because there was no drive thru take away open," I admit.
"What about over Rock Valley way?" Micah changes the subject.
"I prefer to hunt over there 'cause there's no hunters and plenty of smaller game," I mutter.
"Why smaller game?" Micah asks as if curious.
"So I don't leave anything behind after a kill, I don't want some gung ho hunter chasing me with a gun or some tom set on running me down," I say bitterly.
"You've been chased off your kills a few times?" Micah asks softly.
"I don't stick around to see if the tom wants my food or me or both," I hiss defensively.
"Smart Stray," I hear Edwin mutter and I lift my head to snarl at him.
"You've chased me off two kills I've really needed," I snap and he has the grace to look ashamed of himself.
"Hell if I had known you were a she-kitt I would have made the kill for you and moved off and let you eat your fill," Edwin tells me with a grin. I notice that the three strangers are standing back regarding me with a mixture of shock, interest and surprisingly fondness. I chance a glance up at Micah but he has no emotion on his face and I move back into my seat on the lounge a bit more.
"You going to tell us how long you've been a cat?" Micah asks softly and I glance at him nervously.
"Jasper claimed eight or nine years," One of the stranger mutters.