Two of a Kind Ch. 06byCia81©
"Let's get you inside."
Getting out of the car took quite a bit of work. Cavel had to pry Bashta's arms from around his chest and gently coax him from his place in the backseat. As soon as they were standing, Cavel swung the slighter man up into his arms to keep his bare feet off the sharp gravel. It was probably unnecessary but Bashta just huddled into him, his long legs dangling limp.
Saulle hurried ahead of them and opened the door. Walking in sideways, Cavel made his way to the living room. Painted a sage green, the windows showed the west side of the house and looked over the foothills of the mountain and the verdant forest. The room was large but it was dominated by a tan microfiber couch.
Cavel sat down while still holding Bashta and snagged the blanket that was draped over the back. He wrapped it around them, tucking it around Bashta so that all but his head was covered in the velvety soft fleece.
"My laptop is in the office," Cavel told Saulle. "Go get it and load that memory card."
Cavel watched as Saulle went through the kitchen to the office at the back of the house. Cavel was rubbing slow circles on Bashta's back as the young man continued to silently shake in his arms. Cavel looked up when Saulle reappeared with a bottle of water and his laptop. Saulle offered him the bottle.
Saulle nodded and sat down on the other end of the couch, booting up the laptop. He slipped the SD card into the drive and then opened the folder with the images. He turned the computer so that Cavel could see the screen and scrolled down to the last images. Cavel tried not to see the bodies of the Carthera who had sat at his dinner table; their bodies distorted by death were a disturbing sight.
"It's the little girl's room," Saulle whispered. "A bed, clothes, shoes, and a doll. The doll is the last picture."
Cavel pushed Bashta's damp hair off his face. "I know you are a little lost right now but I need you to talk to me."
Bashta opened his eyes. They were shiny with unshed tears as he stared at Cavel until they began to flow unnoticed down his cheeks. He opened his mouth and then shuddered, his ears flat to his skull.
"The doll; it was Velli's," he whispered. His hand curled into Cavel's shirt, his claws making small tears in the fabric.
Saulle frowned. "The little girl's name was Annelise."
Cavel looked back down at Bashta. "Who's Velli, babe?"
"My little sister."
Cavel blinked. How did?
"She... she followed me everywhere. Fell asleep in my lap almost every night." Bashta let out a small sob. Cavel hugged him closer and Bashta swallowed hard as he suppressed the sobs Cavel could see threatening to break out. "Lasemo taught me how to carve but I couldn't do it as well as he could so I asked him to make her a doll. One with a golden goddess flower headdress and a black necklace like the one Velli wore."
Cavel wiped Bashta's face with a corner of the blanket. "So you recognize this doll?"
Bashta nodded. "She took it everywhere," he said hoarsely. Cavel handed him the bottle of water and Bashta took a small sip. His ears were still flat and he still shuddered from time to time but he was beginning to calm down.
Saulle's face was serious. "I hate to ask you this, but could the jaguar in these photos have come to your clan and made them sick somehow?"
"I've never seen him before."
"You were just a kitling; are you sure your memory is clear enough to be sure?"
Bashta sat up on Cavel's lap and glared at Saulle. "I may have just been a kitling but those memories you seem to think aren't clear enough are the last ones I have of my family and friends. I have thought about that time over and over as I cried and mourned for the goodbyes I never got to make," he rasped. "Outsiders were rare; usually humans who lost their way or local tribesmen. They were never allowed in the village where the women and kitlings were."
Saulle bowed his head under the force of Bashta's glare and the anger in his tone. "I apologize."
Cavel began rubbing Bashta's back again, this time to soothe his anger. "We believe you. That just makes this more confusing though. Can you tell us how long it's been since your family...?" Cavel paused, trying to come up with a gentler way to say it.
"Died?" Bashta closed his eyes. "They're dead. You can say it. I couldn't for a long time until I realized thinking anything else only made it worse. I've had a long time to get used to the reality of being alone, several cycles of seasons. Five, I think."
Cavel put his hand on Bashta's cheek and turned his face so he would look at him. "You're not alone anymore."
Bashta covered Cavel's hand with one of his own. "No, not anymore. But for a long time I was." The pain in his voice was unmistakable and Cavel vowed he'd make sure Bashta never had to feel that way again.
"Too long. It's just too long of a time gap." Saulle looked thoughtful. "Could they have somehow found the doll outside of the village?"
"No!" Bashta said sharply.
"They haven't been out of the country either. I had Mackent run their names through the computer to find out as much about them as we could. I wanted to make sure they weren't thing hiding anything before we let them join out clan. The little girl didn't even have a passport."
Cavel frowned. "I don't think this sickness was brought to us deliberately. It's too random, too unpredictable with the outcome. What if it spread? Our clan is larger than most and that could make the other jaguar clans fear us but they wouldn't risk getting the plague as well. I have no idea how to discover what is really going on though."
"Someone has to have gone to his village. It's the only thing that makes sense," Saulle said.
"I can go back to the jungle and find out. I could go right now." Bashta's tears had dried on his cheeks and his red eyes gleamed in anger as the situation settled in. "Someone has desecrated the dead in my village. It cannot go unpunished."
"No!" It was Cavel's turn to snap.
Bashta bristled in anger, glaring at Cavel. "Are you trying to tell me what I can and cannot do?"
Cavel took a breath and spoke more calmly. He had to defuse Bashta's rage that was pulsing through the bond, not make it worse. "I am not trying to forbid you from doing anything. But this is not a safe time for me to be gone from the clan. They are bonding with you right now and recovering from this plague. They need us here, the bond isn't secure yet."
"What bond? Our mate bond?" Bashta asked, looking worried as his fingers clenched in Cavel's shirt again.
"No, no. Our mate bond is solid." Cavel sent a wave of love to Bashta who smiled and returned it along with a wave of relief. "See?"
"Okay. You shouldn't scare me like that. There is just so much my mother didn't teach me, so much I don't know."
"And that is why you need to be here," Cavel reminded him. "As the Alpha pair of our clan we have a bond with our people that keeps the clan's magic working. In the animal world jaguars are solitary creatures but we are partly human. The magic that bonds each clan comes from the alpha bond. It joins us together and lets us live in harmony. Without an alpha the bond dissolves and everyone can go feral."
"But you were gone before; you came to my jungle." Cavel could see how frustrated and confused Bashta was. He wasn't doing a very good job of explaining himself.
"I took mated men from our clan with me. They were linked to me and to their mates. With those bonds still in place the clan was safe."
"So I take some men with me too."
"What if they get sick again? The antiserum will protect the clan, but only for a certain period of time." Cavel hated to deny Bashta but what his mate wanted was not feasible.
Bashta's eyes got big. "I thought the antiserum was going to save everyone." Distress came from the bond. Cavel's hand began to stroke his back.
"It will, but the benefits of it won't make them actively immune to the disease like you. You had the disease and recovered which means it can't attack your body without a natural response stopping it. The antiserum made from your blood attacks any cells with the plague once it's administered but once it had done that it won't continue. We can't take the chance that the men who go with you will no longer be protected by the antiserum if they are exposed to the plague again. It's just not safe and the next time the antiserum might not work on them.
"If something like that happens those men would die, their mates would go feral and their kitlings would be left alone." Cavel knew that he wasn't being fair. He was putting what if's into Bashta's head in order to keep him from making a choice that would endanger them both. He was causing him pain and he hated it but he would do whatever it took to keep his mate and his clan safe.
Bashta bowed his head. "I don't know what to do. My father put the responsibility for my clan on me. To be the last of my clan is a terrible burden but there was no one else. I have to protect them in death, just as I would have in life." Bashta looked up at Cavel, pleading with him. "Help me stop this desecration. Velli should be left in peace, they all should."
Cavel nuzzled their cheeks together. He took a deep breath and let it out. "There is someone who might be able to help us."
"I need to speak to Velaku." Cavel sat on the couch with Bashta still snuggled in the blanket, nestled beside him.
Bashta could hear a deep male voice on the other end of the phone speaking. "Is this an emergency?"
"Not exactly but it's very important. Look, who am I speaking with?"
"This is Natham."
"Velaku's mate?" Saulle's eyebrows rose when he heard Cavel ask that question.
"Now maybe I should ask who I am speaking with."
They could all hear a hint of irritation in Natham's voice and Cavel hurried to answer him."I'm sorry. This is Cavel, alpha of the Jaguar clan."
"Your clan is the one that is sick. I'm sorry, I didn't realize." Natham paused, "Velaku is on a conference call but he should be done within the quarter hour. I can have him call you back as soon he is done."
"I can speak with you for now, if that's acceptable." Bashta played with the edge of the blanket, folding and pleating it. Cavel moved the phone to his right ear and laced his fingers with Bashta's, stilling his restless folding.
"Sure," Cavel could hear rustling, "just a minute." A door closed and the slight sound of voices in the background was gone. "I can hear you better and we have more privacy now. What can we do to help your clan? The last we heard you were searching for a cure in the Amazon."
"We found a cure in the Amazon, but it wasn't from any plant. I found a lone survivor of this plague there, my mate, Bashta," Cavel said proudly. "Congratulations are in order then. Your clan can be saved and you finally met your mate. Is she adjusting to the modern world well?"
"Well she is a he; but yes, he is. He's been helping to treat the kitlings and sick women while the doctors made an antiserum from his blood. His clan was stricken with this same plague about five years ago. He was too young and there was no way to save his clan but he saved ours. He is a precious gift from the gods."
Bashta was looking at Cavel as he spoke, tears once again shining in his eyes. He ducked his head and wiped his eyes surreptitiously. "I love you," he mouthed when he looked back up.
Cavel touched Bashta's cheeks gently with his fingertips and smiled.
"As good as it sounds like things are there; obviously there is some reason why you need to speak to Velaku. Can you tell me what that is?" Natham spoke carefully. He was Velaku's mate but he wasn't a Falcon and it was almost unheard of to have a cross species mating like his and Velaku's. Some of the subordinate clans had objected to Natham since he was a lynx. Cavel knew about their objections though, had no such compunctions himself.
"Sure," Cavel said. "I think once the shock of finally realizing that things would be okay we finally realized something we had overlooked this whole time; how the plague made its way to my clan."
"Do you have an answer?"
"I have a dead family of jaguars who were petitioning to join my clan but I don't think they brought this to us on purpose. I think there is something much bigger going on." Cavel tightened his grip and rubbed Bashta's arm. The caressed helped to keep him from falling back into the horror the sight had brought back for him; Cavel had to speak about the family. Velaku would need the information so he had to tell Natham but Bashta could tell he was hesitant to speak of it in front of him.
"I have pictures of the guest house they were staying in. If you'll give me an email address I can send you a link to the images. The most important one is the last, a small statue like doll carved from wood."
"You can send it to Velaku's clan business email, I have access to that account and this way he will be able to see it as well."
Saulle was still sitting with the laptop open on his lap. His fingers danced over the keys. "Done," he said.
"You should have them any minute," Cavel informed Natham. Bashta was amazed at the technology but it wasn't enough to draw him from his funk. He leaned his head against Cavel and snuggled in closer.
Cavel was silent for several minutes as Natham scanned the images. He could hear the menacing snarl building up over the phone. It was a dangerous sound and he couldn't help but shiver. Cavel only hoped no one walked in and surprised the livid lynx until he had a chance to calm down.
"Someone killed the Giddings? Why weren't they treated with the rest of your clan?"
Cavel swallowed hard at the deadly sound of Natham's voice. The lynx was clearly very upset. "I don't know how they got this plague; they didn't call anyone from my clan or tell us they were sick. My second in command's mate was acting as a liaison for them and she came down with the plague herself. With everything going on, they were forgotten."
Bashta could tell Cavel felt horrible about that, the guilt in him was spilling into their bond. He rubbed his cheek on his mate's shoulder, comforting him. "You didn't know," he mouthed. Cavel smiled at him sadly before his face settled back into serious lines.
"There is not a lot I do know, which is why I was calling Velaku. The doll statue was a toy that belonged to a younger sibling of my mate."
"Are you sure it's not just a recreation?" Natham was barely keeping his growl out of his voice.
Bashta could hear him and shook his head. "Each one was unique and I saw Velli's doll every day. There was a small V in the top flower. I saw that same v in the headdress."
Cavel rubbed his mate's arm before answering Natham, knowing he had to have heard Bashta."Yes sir. We need to find out how it got here though. None of the natives would have gone near his clan's village. Bashta's father spent his last moments carving plague warnings around their village; no way would any native not heed the warnings. This plague only seems to attack jaguars but we have no idea who is responsible and if they deliberately infected our clan."
"What exactly do you need from us?"
"It's not safe to return to the jungle for anyone in my clan while this plague is being spread. We need someone to investigate where the doll came from and who is behind the desecration of my mate's people. My mate and I must return to the jungle next year but we need answers before then. I want those responsible to pay and for my clan to be safe from future attacks."
"I want whoever caused the deaths of the Giddings and attacked your clan as well. I will speak with Velaku and see what ideas he has. He should be wrapping up on his previous call about now; expect some answer within the hour." Cavel could hear Natham typing on the computer. His anger was still almost palpable through the phone lines.
"Thank you," Cavel said. "We will be here."
Saulle spoke up as soon as Cavel hung up the phone. "Do you truly trust him to do this?"
"Yes. I have met both Velaku and Natham. I don't care what other Carthera say about them; they are right for each other. The fact that they are both males and different clans is the will of the gods. They are still mates. I don't doubt for a moment that Velaku would be anything less than the man his father raised him to be." Bashta was still snuggled into the blanket and leaning against Cavel. His yawn got Cavel's attention.
"I'm going to take Bashta back up to bed. We didn't get much sleep last night and a nap will do us good."
"Oh, that sounds nice," Bashta said tiredly. The emotions of the day had worn him out. Cavel stood up and Bashta and Saulle followed.
"I'm going to head back to my family if you don't need me any longer." Saulle rubbed his red rimmed eyes. "I've not been getting much sleep either."
"Call Piscel and tell him he's to take charge of the families in the community center so you can get some rest without being woken up. Then have Mackent take a couple of men to the houses and clean them up. Have them take special care while bagging the doll, I want it triple bagged. I'll call Piscel if we need you; until then, get some rest and take care of your girls."
Bashta shrugged the blanket off his shoulders on to the couch. He stepped forward and hugged Saulle. "Thank you," he said quietly. "I didn't need to snap at you earlier. We are all upset right now. You are trying to help."
"It's what clan does," Saulle said honestly. He hugged Bashta back and then hugged Cavel before letting himself out.
Cavel held out his hand. "Ready to go upstairs?" Bashta took it and with the skin contact Cavel could feel his exhaustion through their bond much stronger than before. "Let's get you in bed before you fall asleep right here."
"Okay," Bashta mumbled through another yawn.
Once they were in bed Bashta snuggled up to his chest and soon fell asleep. Cavel had one arm around his shoulders and the other one was holding the phone. He wanted Bashta to get plenty of rest to let his mind come to terms with the things he had seen that day. Cavel rested his arm over his head on his pillow and closed his eyes.
He jumped a little when the phone vibrated against his ear and woke him up. He felt around with his hand trying to find it. He was glad he hadn't dropped it off the bed. He glanced at the time on the screen before he answered it in a groggy voice, "Hello."
"Cavel?" The tenor voice belonged to Velaku; though it was lower than normal. He sounded angry, as angry as his mate had been when he got off the phone a few hours before.
"Yes. Just a moment." Cavel slid carefully out from under Bashta and off the bed. He walked over to the bathroom and shut the door all but an inch so that he could hear Bashta if he needed him.
"Sorry about that. My mate is sleeping and I didn't want to wake him with our conversation." Cavel leaned against the cool marble of the counter and shivered a little from the sensation on his sensitive back.
"Understandable. Natham told me you found your mate when you were in the Amazon jungle, congratulations. That deserves celebration but I'm afraid these other matters take precedence."
"I agree, sir."
"I'm sorry this took longer than an hour but I have been dealing with some things in other clan territories as well. Something or someone is creating a lot of trouble for our people and I think your plague might be part of it. I agree that it wasn't something deliberately done, though I'm worried it might be in the future."
"What can we do about it?"
"We can do nothing ourselves but I think I have just the man for the job. Davis Retic."
"The Snake?" Cavel asked incredulously. "You are seriously going to try and ask the Snake for a favor? Does anyone even know where he is anymore?"