Two of a KindbyCia81©
"It doesn't have to be him! He is your kind; I can sense that. But a male? No cubs can come from him. If he is here there must be others of your kind. Let him lead us to them, be our guide. A kitling his age is surely capable of that. But you can't claim him, My Lord, the clan would revolt."
Cavel's lips curled into a sharp sneer and he cuffed the cat on the head. "Do not threaten me."
His voice held a deep snarl and the other cat sank to his belly as soon as Cavel spoke. Saulle's defiance of just moments before was absent as he arched his neck so he could gaze up at his leader, his eyes flicking between the hard lips and the glowing eyes. His face quivered as he fought to stay still.
"I am alpha. I say who joins and who does not. And if I say this boy will join our clan then you will act accordingly! Did I question you when you found Nallelija? We do not choose our destiny; the gods do that for us. For some mysterious reason they have made the Carthera so that we are each a half of one soul. This is my business, not yours. If you choose to forget that you forget your place. That will not be tolerated."
Saulle's face dropped in submission as he leaned forward and rubbed his cheek on Cavel's leg. His muscles were tense as he begged forgiveness with his body. Cavel could tell he still did not agree with him but Saulle understood the danger he was in. If he continued to challenge the kitling Cavel would make him regret it.
Towering over Saulle, he let the other man grovel. He had never before taken such a stance and enforced his dominance in such an overt manner. His nose quivered as he scented the smell of the newcomer's fear and anger as he continued to ignore Saulle. Cavel was a quiet leader, one who led by strong will and strength of character, but not autocratic obstinacy. It was a hidden side of him for the most part, but if he felt the need was great enough his will brought to bear was a frightening thing.
"Leave us!" Cavel ordered and the slight body of the younger man flinched back as he instinctively tried to leave even as Saulle crawled backward.
"Stop!" Both Saulle and the other one froze. The order had been full of alpha overtones and commanded instant obedience. Cavel glowered at the stranger and pointed at the bench in the corner of the tent. The youth slunk past them warily, his pace slow in defiance. He spun around to walk backwards so that he could watch Saulle and Cavel, his gaze flicking between both them warily.
"Go, Saulle, and tell the others my words. I do not want this to happen again," Cavel said. His voice lowered and became a throaty hiss. "He is mine." His black eyes promised violence to any who dared oppose him. Saulle nodded before slinking backward gracefully as he eased his body past the loose tent flap.
Cavel turned his gaze to the nervous and angry youth. He was still agitated, breathing hard with his mouth just barely open as he scented the air and the little one in front of him. "What is your name?"
The youth simply folded his arms over his chest and glared back at him. The hard look in his eye wasn't empty bravado. Unlike many his age in Cavel's clan, his body was whipcord thin with lean muscles, flat and hard. His body was one developed from constant hard use just to survive in the hot steamy jungle. He was alone and now vulnerable, no matter how competent he was in the dangerous jungle that surrounded them. Just as his body was vulnerable to the stares of Cavel's clan in ways that made Cavel want to scratch out the guard's eyes. The only thing keeping him decent was a short breech clout
"You will tell me your name," Cavel ordered. The words came out laced with all the power of an order of a strong alpha. It appeared the youth was struck with a sudden urge to obey and his hands came down to his sides, clenching into tight fists as he fought it for long minutes and then failed.
"Bashta," he said resentfully.
"Do you know what I am?" Cavel infused power into every word. Apparently his newest member was going to be difficult. Instinctively Cavel felt the need to dominate Bashta, but he wasn't totally sure if it was because of the aura of power Bashta had himself or if it was because Cavel felt that the youth was his mate. He needed to keep him close and Bashta's resistance made him irritable.
"Alpha," Bashta acknowledged with a sneer. With an example of a supreme act of will he pulled his eyes from Cavel's, focusing on him but not held by a more dominant male. No one Cavel had ever met had been able to look away once he locked gazes with them.
"Beyond that," Cavel prompted. "Deeper."
Cavel's voice held nothing but a faint order that time. He wanted the youngling to figure this out of his own accord. He kept his gaze deliberately soft and avoided direct eye contact. He felt satisfaction as Bashta studied him; he knew what the youngling saw. He was tall with a powerful body; wearing a loose pair of linen pants tied at his waist and a button down shirt left open, hanging from wide shoulders and showing his muscular chest and stomach. Cavel knew he cut an imposing figure compared to the youth's whipcord lean form.
He was much bigger than Bashta, though their heights were the same he was much bulkier, though not fat. He was a man comfortable in early adulthood, strong and virile. Just having those eyes wandering over his clothed body was enough to set Cavel off. Bashta's nose almost quivered as he took in the scent of arousal that permeated the tent.
"Something." Bashta shook his head nervously and looked down, avoiding looking at Cavel any longer. "I don't know what though."
Cavel pressed him with his words but made sure to keep his distance physically. "But you feel something."
Bashta nodded but his eyes were restless, darting around the room, still avoiding eye contact with Cavel. Someone without the advantages Cavel had would think him perfectly relaxed. His hands were resting gently in his lap instead of crossed over his chest but his legs weren't stretched out in relaxation. He kept his weight balanced on the balls of his feet and was ready to run, if Cavel interpreted the lightning fast glimpses toward the door right. Cavel's eyes narrowed as he took a few steps to the right, blocking the path to the door.
Bashta's entire body stiffened. He glared at Cavel. "What do you want with me? I was not harming you or yours."
Pausing, Cavel thought about that. He had been alone for so long; he needed to keep Bashta with him until they could bond. Dominant by nature, he had fought to control his clan even though he had no mate and had not yet bonded when his father died. He was the leader of a Jaguar clan from southern California and only the force of his dominance, even without the strength of his Carthera side manifested, held them together.
But something, some instinct inside him told him now was not the time to pressure his little cat. He was strong alone but he had never found another black jaguar before now. He had to go carefully with Bashta. The jaguar clan was small at first, easily controlled after he established his dominance but most of its adult members were paired off as it grew steadily over the years.
He ached with the missing part of his soul as he watched pair after pair in his clan become bonded as he presided over the ceremonies. He felt the need to bond his mate no matter the cost but he had just enough control to stop himself from doing something foolish. Though, if he didn't want Bashta to go running he would have to think of something else to keep the youth close.
He was trapped on the bench while the large man stood silently, staring at him. He shifted uncomfortably. Seeming to come to a decision he pulled a stool over. Bashta grimaced when he stayed between him and the door. "My name is Cavel. We are here on an expedition of sorts."
Bashta kept his eyes moving around the room in between flashing the man angry glares as he looked for any opportunity to get away. He didn't care why they were violating his territory anymore. He had been harming no one when he followed them through the trees, watching. He had avoided all the humans who had come near his home but something about the man in the lead had intrigued him. He had felt something when he entered his territory and Bashta had made directly for the group, though he was too far away to hear or see them. Somehow he knew this man was close.
He had watched, unable to leave until this man had stared straight at him this afternoon and sent one of his kind with claws up the tree Bashta was hiding in. He was so shocked coming face to face with a transformed one of his kind again that he had frozen and let them herd him to their camp. It wasn't until they trapped him in this stifling cloth prison that he woke up to the tingling sense of danger he felt. He wanted to leave but he knew the big man could stop him, even without his fawning cat to help. Bashta's helplessness pissed him off.
"What does that have to do with me?"
"I need a guide. Someone who knows how to travel in the jungle and who will be able to take care of my men. I cannot afford to fail and I need help from someone I will be able to trust. In other words, you."
"Not interested. I don't care why you are here or what you want." Bashta put his hands on the bench, ready to stand up.
"That's why you've been following us for two days now?" Cavel cocked his head and smirked.
"I always make sure interlopers are not messing up my territory," Bashta snarled.Did he think he was something special? He wasn't, not matter how attractive he was.
Territory was a sensitive matter to most Carthera and they didn't lightly enter the land claimed by others of their kind. This was something Bashta knew and didn't hesitate to thrust in the face of the arrogant man. He knew he struck a blow when Cavel winced and looked guilty.
"I'm leaving." Bashta stood up, moving assertively toward the tent flap. Cavel stood up so fast his stool fell over. Moving quickly, he took the single stride left between them and put his hands on Bashta's lean chest. Neither man was able to hide their shudders at the sensation of a link flaring just enough to give them a taste of each other. Cavel's breath caught and came out in a moan. Bashta flushed, his tawny skin just barely showing pink but the flush covered his bare chest and flowed up his face.
Cavel moved into his space even further, his hands sliding up and into Bashta's thick black hair that fell in a heavy curtain about his shoulders. It was slightly coarse and the tugging pulled his head back. As their fronts collided he brought his hands up to curl around those muscular arms holding him so possessively and moaned. He drowned in the sensation of damp hot skin touching his but the second Cavel's lips closed over his Adams apple he jerked away.
"No!" Breathing hard Bashta stumbled back several steps. "Stay away from me!" His eyes were wide and he looked panicked, trembling and glaring at Cavel.
"Shit!" Cavel ran his hand through his own short cropped black hair. It was just long enough the humidity was making it curl and he tugged on the ends. "I'm sorry. I didn't intend on anything." He frowned. "I know I shouldn't have done that."
Bashta was still glaring at him, "I am not... not, whatever it is you think I am. I bow to no one, least of all a weak Carthera that pretends to be human." His scorn as he raked a heated glance over Cavel's clothes was just as visible as the slight heated flare in his eyes when he caught sight of a pink nipple standing firm and unhidden from the widened gap in his shirt.
"Pretend to be human?" Cavel looked affronted, his mouth and grim line as he glared at Bashta "We are human and we are also more. Humans are our brothers, not something to look down on. They are not that different from us."
Bashta shook his head. "You are just as strange to me as they are. You come here with your boxes and bags of things and disrupt the rhythm of the jungle with your very presence. You hide from the air and the sounds," Bashta gestured dismissively at the tent wall, "as if you think this could actually protect you.
"I've never understood the humans who dared to come here and I don't care to. Loud, destructive, and oft times poaching treasure hunters." Bashta was getting angry as he thought about the desecrations he had witnessed over and over; he glared at Cavel. "Your so important mission is to find the Temple, right? The fabled legend of a temple dedicated to the Jaguar that is hidden deep in the jungle beyond the rim of light. And you expect me to lead you there because surely the fact that you are the only one of my kind I've seen would make me overlook the fact you are as greedy as a weak minded human."
Bashta's hands were clenched into fists that he flexed as he spoke in a sharp hiss, "You will get nothing from me. Not a guide and not... not that." One of his hands came up to cover his neck as his eyes flashed. "I bare my neck to no one! Now move!"
Cavel didn't instantly move and Bashta saw red. His lips curled up as he snarled and charged. Cavel took him down as gently as he could but it took several minutes before he managed to pin the hissing youngling who cursed him even as Cavel straddled his hips and forced his arms above his head. Bashta tucked his chin and glared as he continued to struggle though he knew he couldn't get away. His very nature forced him to fight.
A spotted face poked through the door. "Hey Cavel, need a hand?" Piscel asked with a grin.
"No! Get out!" Cavel snarled. The head instantly withdrew but they could hear Piscel snickering outside the tent.
"Now, I can understand your anger at the way my men forced you here. And I shouldn't have touched you like that," Cavel frowned, "no matter how much I wanted to. But I am not a treasure hunter! Yes, I know the legends. The rubies, ebony, gold, the fire stones, and other hoards of the many offerings to the Jaguar are well known. But that is not what I seek."
"Right, like I am just going to take your word on that!" Bashta snarled, straining to get his arms off the ground but failing as Cavel slammed them back down after he got them up just an inch.
"It's the truth!"
Cavel got in Bashta's face. "My people are dying," he hissed. "Right before my eyes they are fading and I can do nothing. Nothing! I have to reach the Temple, the Room of Echoes and the oracle. I don't want material things; I want a way to save my clan before our young die from whatever sickness has struck them down. Each day I waste going in circles looking for the Rim of Light. I cannot let our brightest hopes for the future, innocent beings who are just beginning life, fade away. I could not bear for any of our kitlings to suffer or pass beyond if I can stop it.
"When I contacted others of our kind an elder of another clan told us the legend of this Temple of the Jaguar. She was a very wise woman and I believed in her. She also told me that my own fate and happiness depended on finding the Temple before the next moonless night. It will be here in less than a week and I have no idea if I am any closer to the temple than when I began. I am fighting this horror totally blind and I need a guide." His voice trailed off and he whispered, "I need you." He stared into Bashta's eyes.
When Bashta didn't respond Cavel's eyes closed as he hung his head. He let go of Bashta's hands, swinging his body off him and slumping on the floor, cradling his head in his hands. The bitter tang of fear and despair tainted the air. Bashta sat up and moved back a little but he didn't immediately try to leave. He rubbed his wrists and stared at the beaten down man in front of him. For that was what Cavel was, his strength as an alpha stripped from him by the threatened loss of his clan. Unable to lead them to safety, failing his people was not an option for the leader of a clan. To do so was unthinkable. It shook Bashta's surety in his own argument.
His own mother had held on long enough to see him grown just beyond a kitling and smart enough to protect himself before she went off and took to the jungle as an animal. It didn't take long for her to pass beyond his land and he never saw her again. Losing her just a year after his entire clan wasted from an incurable illness it had made Bashta wary and bitter. He had lost his littermates to the sickness before they could ever grow out of kitling days and the memory of their suffering still haunted him. Cavel's pain brought all those suppressed feelings to the surface and finally Bashta could not handle the pounding silence.
"You swear! Swear upon your honor and clan that you seek only a cure," Bashta snapped.
Cavel's head came up, his eyes red rimmed and raw with every emotion stripped bare, "I swear. I swear upon my honor as an alpha of the Jaguar clan, upon my role of protector and heart of my people, upon my bond as..." he paused, and then shook his head. "I cannot swear that yet. But everything I am I would give if it would save my clan. Whatever you need from me to believe what I say is true I will give you."
Bashta looked at him gravely, searching his eyes. He nodded reluctantly. "I believe you." It would be so much easier if he didn't though. He was uncomfortable as he watched tears fill Cavel's eyes even though they didn't fall.
"Then you will lead us? To the Temple of the Jaguar?"
Bashta took a deep breath. His clan's law, before they were wiped out, was that no outsider be taken to the Temple, ever. It was protected at all costs but Bashta was convinced he needed to help this man. His instinct was to trust him and more than once his instincts had been all that saved his life as he lived alone in the jungle for years. He would be wary though.
"I will. But that's it, just as your guide." Bashta looked around the tent and wrinkled his nose. "There is no way I will stay in one of these smelly ovens on the way though. I will come to you each morning."
Cavel was hesitant to agree to let Bashta out. If he was lying...
Bashta snorted. "You couldn't lie if you wanted to, could you? Everything you think is shown on that face of yours." He shook his head. "It's my turn to reassure you with a vow of my own, I guess. On the spirits of my mother and my lost clan, I swear I will do everything in my power to help your clan."
He stood up and his head brushed one wall of the tent. "I will not stay trapped in these smelly things though. You will have to trust me." He could see Cavel weighing his sworn promise.
"I guess I am trusting you to guide us to the Temple so I will have to also believe that you will return as you say. If I keep you here like a prisoner that wouldn't go very far to demonstrating my faith, would it?" Cavel's desperation was fading and his natural cunning and quick mind were no longer drowned beneath his fear and despair. Bashta could almost smell the changes. Cavel stared at him, his eyes glowing slightly as sweat beaded on his brow.
"Okay, definitely a good idea for us to leave this tent." Cavel got to his feet and with a few glances over his shoulder, led Bashta from the tent. Several of his clan members loitered close. Their eyes shined in the dim light that filtered through the jungle canopy to penetrate to the ground level as they watched the pair emerging from the tent.
Bashta immediately took a deep breath, smelling the heady mix of flowers, dying leaves, and damp soil. To some it would be unpleasant but to him it was comforting. In the jungle you couldn't always see what was around you but he had learned to use his ears and his nose to stay safe. The call of a startled bird or the smell of rotting meat could alert him to a predator just as the buzz of honeybees could lead him to a rare sweet treat.
Bashta straightened up and stepped away from Cavel. He stopped when one of the men standing to one side snarled at him in warning and his claws flexed out. Even in the fading light of the coming dusk Bashta could see the tawny yellow of his skin and black rosettes that flowed from his temples and down his neck to disappear under his shirt. Cavel took a few steps sideways to stand in front of him and snarled at the aggressive guard.