Two of a Kind Ch. 04byCia81©
The tear stained faces of the men they had sent ahead were not a good sign when Cavel stopped the car. They had a large community building in the center of their small town. It looked like the entire town's cars were surrounding the center. Cavel could feel his nausea growing, a heavy feeling settling in his uneasy stomach. It was early, the cool air filled with the scent of the dew on the grass of the playground. An empty playground, not unusual at this hour of the day but the empty swings made him shudder in fear.
The silence in the car was broken when Piscel got out. Cavel appreciated the moment with his mate. He cleared his throat and spoke for the first time since they got in the jeep, "We're here."
Bashta had been looking around as they drove through town. He reached over and squeezed Cavel's knee. Cavel appreciated the gesture and tried to smile. He had a feeling he wasn't quite successful.
"I'm here with you, Cavel, no mater what. You're not alone anymore."
Cavel jingled the keys nervously in his hand when he got out of the jeep and walked around to meet Bashta. Grabbing his hand for the support he was in desperate need of, Cavel led him to toward the growing group of men and women streaming from the building. Bashta squeezed his hand to remind him he was there.
"My lord." A woman pushed to the front of the crowd, their expectant faces full of hope. "Do you bring the medicine for the kitlings Saulle told us about?
Cavel bit his lip but he kept his head up as he answered. "No."
"What? Where is it? He said you would be bringing a cure for our babies. He lied to us?" she cried.
There were cries of despair as voices were raised in disbelief and fear. So many people were talking at once that Cavel couldn't understand any of them. He could smell the sickness of the plague in the air. Many of the people in the crowd were parents and their faces were marked by grief and anxiety. The stress was obvious, many were much thinner than when he left, their hair messy and clothes wrinkled.
He was frozen, his feelings of inadequacy swamping him as his clan seemed to disintegrate. His mate was feeling the stress as well and that was coming through their bond.
"Stop!" Piscel shouted. "Calm down!"
The sight of the younger man shouting at everyone was rare enough to quiet the crowd. They stared at the three men standing in front of them. Bashta was huddled a bit behind Cavel, eyeing the people warily. He had heard some of the comments and they did not seem very friendly toward him, especially as people vented their frustration. Cavel could feel his sadness.
"Let Cavel speak!"
The people's stares and odd growls of anger were directed at the pair of men standing next to Piscel but they remained quiet for the most part. Bashta was shaking and clutching at Cavel's hand at the renewed attention, bringing Cavel out of his frozen panic. He squeezed Bashta's hand and pulled him to his side, putting his arm around him.
"There is going to be a cure," he said first, "but I didn't know it would take several days to create. I was so eager to bring this miracle to our clan, the one we needed so badly, that I didn't wait to talk to the doctor about how long it would take. If they don't make sure they have the right antiserum our kitlings wouldn't be cured and it would take precious time from producing what they really need.
"Dr. Waddel and Dr. Pennelst promised to work around the clock until they have what we need. I plan to send a man back with the helicopter so that they can bring the very first viable antiserum to the kitlings as soon as possible."
Cavel looked over at Bashta and smiled tenderly. "None of this would be possible without this man, my mate, Bashta."
"A male? How did you become mated?"
"Where is his clan? Did they survive this plague?"
Voices were calling out, speaking over each other. Bashta looked from face to face, obviously not knowing what to say. Cavel could feel his fear but he didn't give in to it. He was mate to the Alpha, his equal in all things, and Cavel could not be prouder of the way Bashta was showing his clan his worth. Under his hand, he could feel Bashta's spine stiffen as he stood firm before the crowd, taking a step away from him to stand alone.
"My people are all dead!" he said in a loud voice, cutting across the babble of voices. "They had this same plague but no help came for them."
Silence and then a few cries of fear and sobs could be heard from some of the mothers. The faces of the crowd were white and stricken as Bashta continued.
"We did not have this science you have, this ability to make medicine from a person's blood. When my mother and I returned from the Temple it was too late. My father lay dying under a tree around the edges of our home. He had been carving plague warnings into them to keep the jungle people away. His dying act was to order my mother to take me away. He died a solitary death, left to rot in the jungle alone under that tree. My mother slowly went wild from the loss of her mate, leaving me alone in the jungle to protect the Temple when I was barely past the age of a kitling."
Pain laced Bashta's voice as he told the sad tale of his clan's fate. Tears filled more than one pair of eyes as they listened to him.
Cavel put his arm around Bashta and pulled him back against his chest. He rubbed his back to comfort him. "Bashta led us there and when we found out that his blood was the cure he didn't hesitate to come with us, into a world vastly different from the one he has always known. His blood, as the sole survivor of the plague, is what will cure the kitlings. That he is my mate is a blessing I never anticipated."
"Will this medicine really cure our kitlings?" The same woman who had initially confronted them spoke up again. "Some of them are really sick."
"The Jaguar himself said that this would work. We just have to have patience."
There were murmurs of awe from the crowed, whispers and gasps.
"Patience won't make it easier for my daughter to breathe!" A shrill voice rose from the back of the crowd. A small woman with yellow hair twisted messily at the nape of her neck pushed her way to the front of the crowd. Creased pants and a stained t-shirt were evidence to the long hours she had suffered with her child.
Several other parents of the sickest kitlings murmured in support. "Nothing we do helps them. The jaguar spirit is worthy of respect but this is a matter of life. What if your cure is too late for my child?"
"I have brought things from my home, herbs and medicines, things that my clan used to help during times of illness."
The woman looked at Bashta with her arms folded defensively across her chest. "You said they died! What good are your cures that do not work?"
"These herbs won't cure the kitlings, no. But they could help them breathe easier and rest more comfortably until the men Cavel took me to can work their magic. I am part of this clan now, though we don't know each other yet. I would do anything, everything in my power, to help protect the innocent. I would never want what happened to my birth clan to be suffered by any of you."
He squeezed Cavel's hand and then moved out from under his arm. He carefully walked over to the distraught mother who stood in front of the watching clan. He held out his hand to her, his shared concern and understanding for her fear and anger Cavel could feel in their bond also shone from his eyes.
"Please let me help your child."
Her tiny nod as tears fell down her face were all he needed. Bashta held out his arms and she leaned against him.
"Thank you," he said softly.
Bashta's nose wrinkled as soon as he walked through the glass doors into the large community center. The smells of illness were overwhelming; stale sweat, vomit, diarrhea were all masked by a thick stink of pervading fear. To the sensitive nose of a transformed Carthera it was all but overwhelming. He could hear piteous whimpers and moans from the stricken kitlings as well as quiet sobs of their watching parents. Pain, in all its forms, was stalking the kitlings of the Jaguar clan.
He flinched when a hand came down on his arm. "Can you handle coming inside?" The same woman who had faced him so intractably was touching him gently, understanding in her eyes. Bashta shook a little but nodded, even as his ears flattened to the sides of his head. He would not fail his mate or his new clan.
Cavel moved up to his other side and handed him his brown bag, brought all the way from the jungle. "Piscel got this from Mackent." Bashta slid it over his head, his hands caressing its soft flexible sides for a moment.
Taking a shallow breath, he shuddered as he let it out."Take me to the sickest kitlings so I may see what ails them. If you have some way to heat water while I am looking at them I will be able to prepare some teas to help."
"Raselie can take care of that." At her comment another woman that had entered with them turned right and hurried off down a hall, presumably to get that started. Bashta turned to the woman at his side. "I'm sorry, I don't know your name."
"Thank you, Laurell, for helping me," Bashta said gently.
"If you can help our kitlings, save them from..." she trailed off, unable to finish her thought. Her own daughter was one of the sickest kitlings, her fever raging unrelieved for days.
"I will do my best." Cavel reached out for his free hand, squeezing it as he tried to comfort his mate.
Cavel caressed the hand he had captured with his thumb. "That is all anyone could ask," he reminded Bashta.
They started walking again; turning left to go in the opposite direction Raselie had gone. The room they walked into was a large open space with high ceilings taking up the center of the building.
Laurell cleared her throat, "Usually this room is filled with things like a TV and a few couches, some video game machines, and a foosball table. Now..."
It was filled with long rows of beds made up on the floor. Some of the small bodies lay on thin mattresses; others lay on makeshift pallets made of blankets. Parents crouched down over their suffering young, sponging their brows, holding hands, whispering words of comfort to soothe the tears the sick kitlings couldn't hold back.
Their faces were lined with grief and worry as they looked up as Bashta's party passed between the rows. The kitlings lying on the floor they were so desperately trying to save were not the only ones being ravaged by the horrible disease. Here and there pregnant women dotted the pallets, the babes their bodies protected suffering in their wombs, the disease poisoning the blood of both mother and unborn child.
Piscel moaned and rushed over to a woman sitting on the floor between two beds, holding the hands of identical twin girls. He dropped to his knees in front of his mate, reaching for her as she reached for him. He rocked her for a moment while the rest of their group paused, looking on discreetly. The girls lying in the beds looked frail, the bones in their faces prominent against their pale skin. Their small bodies were wracked with fevers that made them shiver, even with jackets and blankets piled on top of them.
"Cara, are they...?" He couldn't finish his sentence as he leaned back and looked at each little girl, tears streaming down his face. His hands hovered over their beds as he hesitated to touch them.
"Sleeping. They have the fever but they aren't as bad as some of the others." She wiped at the tears falling down her face with the back of her hand. The other one was buried in Piscel's shirt, holding on so tight her knuckles were white. "They got sick about four days ago, within minutes of each other. I didn't know what to do, nothing helps, none of the medicine we have. I tried everything, I swear I did."
Piscel shushed her, drawing her close to him. She buried her face in his chest and he rocked her, murmuring quietly. "I know you did, I know. Shhhh."
Bashta bent over them, pressing his hand down on Piscel's shoulder. Piscel looked up at him. "I will send some tea good for fevers as soon as I get it made. We will save your kitlings, Piscel."
Piscel looked up at him, tears in his eyes threatening to fall as he blinked rapidly. "Thank you," he whispered.
Bashta backed up, reaching for Cavel's hand. He really liked Piscel and his pain was palpable. His determination to help the clan was made even stronger as they kept walking, seeing more and more parents sitting over kitlings listless with fever sponging their foreheads or trying to soothe deep wracking coughs in vain.
"The worst cases are here in the back. These families came in first," Laurell said.
"The kitlings that were sick before we left?" Cavel asked.
"Here for the most part. None have died yet but..." she trailed off, gesturing discreetly. Cavel and Bashta could see dark smudges beginning to appear on the naked chest of one little boy who lay in his bed, moaning as he moved restlessly. His wasted hands plucked at the sheet over him. He couldn't have been more than six years old.
Bashta moved among the beds in the back of the room, touching the children, moving their clothes and sheets to feel their chests and look at their stomachs. The parents watched him silently, their eyes dull. They had lost hope that the cure would save their children; the days to wait seeming insurmountable.
They were just too sick.
His face was very grave as he turned back to Cavel and Laurell. "I need boiling water and also some sort of cream or oil. I have some things that might help."
"Down the other hall is the kitchen. Raselie should have the water boiling by now." Turning, Laurell led them back through the crowded main room filled with the slightly less sick kitlings. Bashta didn't look around again, his mind focused on the herbs and seeds he had in his bag and the main symptoms he had seen.
Cavel's face was set into stoic lines but his eyes flicked from clan member to clan member, the litany of names of each of his sick people running through his brain over and over. His clan would survive as a whole; he was sure of that the antiserum would work. The real question was how many would die before they had it.
Cavel watched as Bashta dumped out his bag on the table. He quickly sorted through the packets and bags, placing them in different piles. Turning to the women watching him, he held out his hands spread apart. "I need a bowl about this big and this deep. Do you have something like that? I'll need some smaller bowls too and cups; things we can put liquid in so the kitlings can drink it." They both began to rummage around in cupboards, stacking all the cups and bowls they could find on the counter. Since the center was often used to keep the kitlings overnight when the parents went on group hunts or runs it was well stocked, fortunately.
Cavel approached Bashta quietly. He was barely holding his panic and pain in, only his amazing self-control keeping him from losing what little calm he had left. He couldn't fall apart; not when his clan was in desperate need of his strength. His mate was calm, working furiously to help his people. He would do no less.
"What can I do?" Cavel asked.
Bashta thought for a moment, biting his bottom lip as he considered what needed to be done first. "I need something, a cloth of some sort, to hold the cacahuatl leaves and other herbs. I also need to shred some clavillia root. Combined, both will make a drink that will help bring down their fevers and soothe their coughs. These medicines are very strong though so we will have to be careful dosing them though and it must be made fresh each time they need it. A cream made from the clavillia leaves and flowers will also help the kitlings developing lesions, maybe slow their spread."
"Well I can shred the root on a cheese grater," Cavel offered. He frowned, and then turned to Raselie, "Do we have any cheesecloth here?"
"I think so. I know we did a project with some a few months ago. Back before... before," Raselie trailed off, tears in her eyes. She was the activity director for the center and all the kitlings loved her when they spent time there. It was just as hard for her to see the kitlings sick as their parents, even though she wasn't mated and had none of her own. As part of the same clan they were very close, the loss of any one would be devastating to all.
"I know, it's okay to cry." Cavel pulled her into his arms for a quick hug. She looked over at Bashta nervously but he just smiled at her gently, reaching over to touch her back for a moment before he turned back to his herbs. Cavel was relieved that Bashta wasn't jealous, though he would have to work on his own issues with others too close to his mate.
Their kind were very tactile and were reassured best by touch, especially between sub-dominant members and the alphas. Raselie soaked up the comfort her new alpha offered, hiding the tears she had been trying to stop in his chest. She quickly managed to bring herself under control.
Raselie wiped her eyes and stepped back. "Thank you," she said quietly, taking a deep breath. "Okay, I'll look for that cheesecloth. The grater is in the third drawer down."
"I need to get back to my daughter," Laurell said. "My mate is with her but..."
"Go," Bashta told her gently. He reached out and touched her hand, squeezing it for a moment. "I will bring tea for her as well, just as soon as it is ready."
"Thank you." Laurell turned and left the room, her arms wrapped around her small torso as if she were trying to hold herself together. Bashta watched her, his sadness swamping him.
Cavel gave him a hug. "You going to be okay?"
Bashta nodded. "She reminds me of my aunt, a small woman that had often taken care of me and my littermates when our parents had been busy with clan matters. She had died along with everyone else while I was at the Temple with my mother." Bashta paused and Cavel could feel his indecision
"She felt very hot, Cavel. I will pray that the heat I felt coming from Laurell isn't the fever beginning. The adults in my clan had faded far faster than the kitlings once they got the sickness."
Working quickly, Raselie, Cavel, and Bashta soon had tea made from the cacahuatl and clavillia as well as a salve of sorts to put on the chests of the kitlings. Raselie took the salve and began to tend to the sickest kitlings, very carefully spreading it on the lesions beginning to mar the small bodies. Cavel followed Bashta with a bag of cups and small bowls while Bashta carried the large bowl with the tea in it.
Over forty kitlings needed medicine but each one needed to be measured for their size and how sick they were. Bashta could not pass the burden on to anyone else. A cup with the dosage was left for each parent to coax the kitlings into drinking. For each dose, a fresh batch of tea would have to be made every four hours.
It was a daunting task.
Bashta refused to leave the kitlings, working alongside the parents to make them as comfortable as possible. Every few hours he was back in the kitchen area, measuring herbs and grating roots. The day turned into night and he still worked, dark shadows beginning to develop under his eyes. The only rest he had in the past few days had been from the drugs on the plane ride. Cavel tried to help him but his mate needed food and natural sleep.
"Come and eat," Cavel coaxed him as he stood up from the last kitling that needed tea on this latest round. He could tell Bashta wanted to say no but he was too tired to argue. Cavel pulled him into the kitchen area and back to the table he had been using to fix his herbs. He gently sat him into a chair. "You can't go so long without food; it's not good for our kind to be hungry."