The Wolf and the Lamb
Gordon and Teesah showed up six hours later – early afternoon. Taylor was sleeping, so Tristan was waiting for them outside. Gordon could see from the look on the wolf's face – something bad had happened... now it was just a matter of what. Or who.
"How's Taylor doing?" Gordon asked when he got close.
"Oh... Uh... he's okay. He's asleep. Uh... Gordon? The Lady... The Lady's dead."
Gordon stopped in his tracks. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure, Gordon. I'm sorry..."
"Help me get this stuff off." He said, referring to his travois harness and spear-quiver. If the rabbit was sad, he was sure hiding it well. His ears weren't even down.
Once freed, Gordon resumed walking towards the cave. The cat-woman started to follow him, but Tristan put his hand on her shoulder, "No, Teesah."
She stopped and looked at Tristan while Gordon walked on. Then she looked back towards the rabbit, who was sullenly walking on without her. She had guessed what was going on – someone important to Gordon must have died, or was at least very sick.
Teesah had known the Gordon for less than two days now. To her, the boys and their behavior was still only "interesting", although the rabbit was rather at the highest end of that scale, especially after he'd "given himself" to her. That had been an entirely new experience, and she still didn't really know what to make of it. But whatever it was – he'd given it, and she had received it - and now the rabbit had some sort of problem that was making him sad. She looked back into the wolf's eyes.
"Yes, Tristan." She jogged back up beside Gordon just as he was entering the cave.
He stared down at her on the floor. Tristan had put a blanket over her body, so Gordon pulled it back, and then just stood there and stared. Teesah waited, and wondered. This goat was a little old to have been Gordon's wife. Not to mention that she was a goat – but that wouldn't have surprised her by this point. More unexpected was that the fourth member of their group was apparently a young – very young – sheep. So the wolf must have been anxious to get back on this goat-woman's behalf then, she thought.
Gordon began to speak, but not to her, and not to The Lady, either... Mostly to himself.
"Twenty-three years..." he said, and paused to let it sink in, "Most of my life. I was just about Tristan's age when she took me in. The stupid rabbit who didn't like people. Her husband was against it, y'know. Said she should 'let nature take it's course' with me. But I was big – even then – and I could pull a load, so she took me, and trained me, and taught me..." he took a breath, and changed memories, "I was with her when her husband was killed. Mudslide. We were barely a month away from my home – just getting to the hills before the mountains, heading east. He was buried alive. Y'know even he never called her anything but 'Lady' and 'ma'am'? I don't think she ever cried... or maybe she just didn't do it in front of me."
Teesah kept watch on Gordon's eyes. His tone was sad, reflective, she could tell that much. But he wasn't crying. Suddenly, he looked over at her.
"You don't understand a word I'm sayin', do ya... Teesah." At the sound of her name, she took one of his hands into both of hers. No one had ever done that to Gordon before.
He looked down at their enjoined hands for a moment and then said, "I wish she could have met you. She'd have had a lot of fun teasin' me, that's for sure. All I ever told her was that I wanted to go live by myself somewhere – didn't care where, neither. I wonder..." his voice dropped to a whisper, "... I wonder if she knew better..."
Because that was no longer what he wanted at all. That had just occurred to him.
He looked back down at the dead woman, and then back up at the living one, and then surprised himself by thinking - Guess I've traded a sharp-tongued woman for a sharp-clawed one, huh? Imagine: me, with a woman. Okay, well, WITH a woman, I mean. I just never thought... and least of all NOW... Ah. Well, things to do.
He let go of the cat's hand to stand behind The Lady's head, and squatted down, pulling the blanket back up over her. Then he nodded at Teesah to grab her legs. She understood that well enough. They carried her from the cave.
There was no way to dig in the rock, so the three of them – rabbit, cougar, and wolf – stacked loose stones around her, careful to make sure none of them were resting on The Lady's body. She was buried with her staff – previously Gordon's – and that was all. Gordon had considered trading back with her, but then thought it might be insulting, so he didn't. No words were said, no marker was left.
Tristan went to make some dinner - he wanted Taylor to have hot food when he woke up. He used all the wood they'd scavenged from the sagebrush country, and it was barely enough for one fire. He made it away from the cave entrance so the smoke wouldn't go in. Gordon sat on a rock a private distance away from him and looked off in the direction of The Lady's grave, twenty-yards distant. Teesah sat beside him.
"Gordon?" she said to get his attention. She needed to find out exactly what she was dealing with here. "Gordon dar Lady..." she began, and then clasped her hands together firmly, her fingers intertwined. She cocked an eyebrow at him.
It took the rabbit a moment to understand what she meant. "Oh, no... no-no-no. No. Uhm... Lady," he held up an index finger, "Gordon," he held up his other index finger, and then brought the two together, side-by-side.
"Too, too," she said, relieved, "Okay, Gordon. Gore-dun." she giggled again after she said his name the second time.
"What is so funny about 'Gordon'?"
She looked at him slyly – an easy look for a cat to pull off. She pointed to her head, "Taka 'dun'."
"Head?" he asked, pointing to his own, "Head taka 'dun'. Okay..."
She giggled some more, and stood up. Then she squatted down, and looked between her legs. "Taka 'gore'."
He shook his head.
Teesah huffed and stood back up. "Okay okay," she said, sounding frustrated. Then she put one hand down to her groin, as if she were holding something there, arched her back, and said, "Aaaaah..."
He had to laugh – she was taking a leak. She'd had to show him how men do it before he understood. "Okay, so pee taka 'gore'. So... oh. 'Gordon'. Pee-head." He grinned at her while she giggled again. "My name sounds like 'pee-head'. Well... that's... that's just great..." He rolled his eyes at her. Her giggles turned into laughter.
"Pee-head!" she said through her laughs.
"Maybe we should see what's for dinner, Teesah," he said, getting to his feet, "'Pee-head'. Just fuckin' great..."
"Fuckin' great, Gordon!" She erupted with laughter again. He couldn't help but chuckle with her. As they walked towards Tristan and his fire, he spared one glance back at The Lady's grave. Good-bye, ma'am. It was an honor.
Tristan finally got Taylor onto his shaky feet and walked him out of the cave. As starving as the boy was, he had even more urgent business to take care of - he'd never needed to pee so bad in his life. The water he'd drunk earlier had gone right through him as his body used it to flush out waste toxins that had been building up for almost three days. He still felt awful - but not nearly as bad as when Tristan had first returned.
He still needed water, as well as food. Tristan gave him another skin to drink from, and then proceeded to admonish the boy for drinking too much and too fast again. Taylor just glared at him as he drank.
When the wolf brought him back to sit him by the fire, he noticed Teesah for the first time. This was the closest he'd ever been to a cat-person - they weren't as common in his Town as the wolves and foxes had been. And thinking about it, he realized that maybe it was the predominance of canines that kept the cats away. Canines and felines didn't tend to get along - even the sheep knew that. She was pretty, though, in her dangerous-predator way. Her light brown solid-color fur looked softer than Tristan's, and of course, far softer than his own wool. It kind of reminded him of Gordon's, especially the patch of white that ran from her chest, down her belly, and to the insides of her thighs. Other than that, she had white patches where her whiskers would have been, if she'd had any - but all the rest was beige.
Seeing him staring at her, she pointed to herself and said, "Teesah," as usual. She smiled.
Her teeth looked... sharp, and Tristan felt the lamb tense up. "It's okay, Taylor - I think she's Gordon's girlfriend."
"Gordon... girlfriend?" Taylor had trouble even connecting the two ideas.
"Tristan - shut up," Gordon said, wondering if the phrase was going to become a common one (it was). "Teesah," he said, and pointed to the boy, "Fay taka Taylor."
"Fis taka Taylor," she corrected him.
"Oh, yeah, right. Fis taka Taylor. Fay taka pee-head. Got it. Anyway, she ain't gonna hurt ya, Taylor. I kinna have the feeling she thinks we're all a bunch of weirdos, though."
"Pee-head?" Tristan asked, smirking.
"In her language, my name means 'pee-head', Tris. Shut up."
Tristan really did try not to giggle. Giggling was un-wolf-man-like.
"Uh," Taylor interrupted, "Is the stew ready yet?"
Tristan scooped out a bowl for Taylor, then Teesah, then Gordon, and lastly for himself. The cougar just stared at it, until Gordon went and found her a spoon. She scooped herself a spoon-full – and then stared at that instead.
It had vegetables in it. And grain. Chunks of white and green and orange... but there was meat there, too. She tasted one of the pieces of meat - it was pretty good. So she tried one of the orange chunks - and spit it out. She watched the wolf taking great spoon-fulls into his mouth, all the colors at once, too. A wolf? Wolves don't eat plants...
Then she noticed - Taylor was doing the same thing. The lamb was chewing on meat... And when she looked over at the rabbit - so was he. They were eating flesh along with their plants.
These people just kept getting stranger all the time. That wolf and the lamb over there, sitting so close together, were apparently really, really good friends. Like brothers. She'd never even imagined such a thing... She almost feared what she might find out next...
She pondered all this while picking the meat out of her stew. Next time she glanced up, the boys were nosing. Nosing! She quickly bent her head down as if intently studying what was in her bowl. Nosing? A wolf and a lamb? Both boys? And one barely into puberty? No... no, she must have... seen wrong, somehow. They couldn't possibly have been-
Now their mouths were dove-tailed together, both their eyes closed. Kissing deeply. Her eyes grew wide. She almost choked.
She looked over to Gordon - and found him already looking back at her, smirking.
"Break it up, boys - you're freaking out the cat..." he said to the lovers, then turned back to the cougar to explain, "Teesah. Uhm... Tristan and Taylor... uh..." He clasped his hands together like she had earlier, shaking them to show how firmly they were gripped.
It looked like her eyes were going to pop from her head. "KEETAN?!" she cried.
Gordon chuckled - she reminded him of himself, "Well, if that taka 'partner', then yeah, keetan. Tristan and Taylor keetan. Quite a thing, iddinit?" he was smirking at himself as much as her. She went back to intensely studying her stew, her brow furrowed in consternation.
"Oh gods - not another one," Tristan moaned.
"Give 'er a minute, wolf-boy. She's thinking about it... just hold on..." Gordon was having a hard time not laughing outright. Teesah had her ears folded down - she knew they were talking about her. She elbowed Gordon hard in the ribs - shut up - and took another bite of stew-meat as if she weren't the center of attention now.
Taylor started to giggle, watching her. She shot him a glare, but couldn't put much menace into it - he was just too cute. His wolf friend - boyfriend - partner! - was a handsome kid too, as far as canines went. So, well, okay, they were kind of... something... together, but - two boys? She fished around looking for another piece of meat in the bowl. She'd never even considered that sort of thing before. What were two boys going to do when...
Oh... Oh, ow... No, they... Oh, OUCH!
She looked back up at the boys as if to make sure it was really possible. Tristan looked like he was waiting for a challenge, but Taylor was smiling brightly at her. Then he winked. She glanced at Gordon, who was obviously barely able to contain himself at this point. He could tell what she was thinking. Her ears had popped back up when she's thought the "Oh..." thing, and her tail had stopped twitching, too.
In this acutely awkward situation, the only thing for her to do was to continue eating, so she tried to do that, and lifted another chunk of meat to her mouth.
It never made it.
"SNERRRRRRRRKKKT!" Her hand came up to cover her muzzle, but it didn't make much difference. She helplessly burst into a fit of giggling that she was completely unable to control.
Gordon took her bowl so she wouldn't spill it. "I think she's figured it out..." he said.
"I'm not sure I like whatever it is she's figured out..." Tristan added. He didn't like cats. This was why.
"I'll take funny over disgusted any day," Taylor said, "I just hope the people in Civilization aren't like her, is all. Or him, for that matter."
"Hey, now that's not fair, Tay," Gordon complained while Teesah continued giggling, almost doubled-over now, "I got used to the idea, didn't I?"
"Yeah – after four months of bitching about it, you did," the wolf said, "You'll understand if we don't wanna have to go through that with everyone we meet, right?"
"You're smiling, wolf-boy."
"Yeah well... I can't help it with your cat-girl giggling like that. But I'm still pissed."
"Tris? I need some more water..." the lamb said holding out the empty skin.
"You finished that? You drank the whole thing?"
"I gotta pee again, too."
"You... well, you must be feeling better, then, right?"
"Tris... I gotta pee now..."
Taylor went through three skins of water that first day, and another the next morning. He was able to walk on his own by then, although his joints still hurt a little. They decided to move their camp to the oasis – such as it was – but there was no rush, so they wouldn't leave until noon. At the oasis, they could drink their fill, bathe... generally take it easy for a while.
So after breakfast, Gordon took out The Lady's map and spread it on a flat rock. He took a pencil from the map-folder and tried to guesstimate where the oasis was. The Lady had been updating the map all the way to the cave, along with notes about the countryside, but now that duty would fall to him. Next to where she had indicated the cave was, he wrote in "The Lady", making the letters extra bold.
While he tried to figure out the location of the oasis, Teesah came up behind him to see what he was doing.
"What, Gordon?" she asked.
"Map," he said.
"Okay, 'map'. Kaaa... water?"
"Yeah – I'm tryin' to figure out where it was from here."
She pointed north-west, "Kef-sin fendomike."
Gordon looked up at her from his kneeling position on the ground – just how well did this woman know the Desert? Where had she even come from? She was out here, in the middle of this absolute wasteland, with a back-pack of food and a canteen! Obviously, she knew some things he didn't... He held his pencil up to her.
She squatted down and began sketching things in.
"Tristan..." she said, coming up behind him as they walked to the oasis. She was eyeing his bow, which he had re-packed onto his travois.
"What," he said sharply. He was still a little angry about how funny she apparently found the idea of him and Taylor.
"Oh, Tristan... I sorry. I, uh..." she ran off a string of foreign words he didn't understand, ending again with, "Tristan and Taylor. I sorry, okay? I fuckin' sorry..."
That made him smile again. Of all the words to pick up fast... Well, she was talking to the rabbit a lot. No wonder. "Okay okay, you're sorry. I get it. Is that what you wanted to say?"
"Uhm..." she patted the bow tied with his other cargo, and he looked over his shoulder to see what she was doing.
"Bow? My bow?"
"Bow. Yes, Tristan. You bow. I see?"
"Okay with me, I guess," he said, and stopped walking so she could untie it. When she had re-secured his load, he began walking again, and she came up beside him, admiring the weapon.
"Good..." she said, appreciatively. She's never seen a bow like this one before. It wasn't that it was extra-finely wrought or anything – she'd seen better, but she'd never seen one like it in design. The limbs of the bow curved toward the archer, as usual - as her own did, in fact – but mid-way along, the limbs curved back away. The limb-tips where the string was looped over actually pointed forward at a significant angle. She'd never seen a re-curved bow before.
Taylor was on the wolf's other side, and said, "It's a lot shorter than yours, huh, Teesah?" Indeed it was. Her bow was taller than she was. Tristan's was almost half the length of her's. She held it out and drew it to her cheek-bone. It was a heavy draw, but she liked them that way.
"Uh... yeah," Taylor showed her with his hands, "Short. Tall."
"Yes. Short. Tristan - you make?"
He'd seen this coming, "Gordon." Now she'd have another reason to gush over the rabbit. She was almost annoying about him as it was, always asking questions. Always about Gordon.
She jogged ahead to Gordon's side, just as he'd expected.
"I still love you, Tristan..." Taylor teased.
"Oh fer – I am not jealous, Tay... She just... I don't like cats, is all. They bug me."
"She's hot, though, don'tcha think?"
"She's at least twice my age, Taylor. And besides – you're hotter."
"I know," Taylor said. This was fun. "I bet she thinks of you as a little kid..."
"Don't you need to pee again by now or something?"
After spending one night in the Desert, they were again at the oasis, and unpacked. Taylor immediately waded in, so excited about it that he forgot to take off his sword and clothes, and had to wade back out to get undressed.
Teesah had filled in an amazing amount of detail - especially considering it all came out of her head - to fill in Gordon's map. Most amazingly, there was water in the Desert! All kinds of it, apparently -if one knew where to look, and Teesah did. Their water problems were over. So that was how she managed to be here with just her one canteen. She knew the Desert extremely well.
Now it was just a matter of food - and they had quite a bit of that. If they'd managed to save that second sled, they would have had enough to make it all the way to Civilization without stopping - but since they hadn't, they'd probably have to camp for awhile once they got out of the Desert to replenish their larder. Taylor and Gordon could have lived off the land while they traveled, since it would be green and warm by the time they reached the western range of mountains, but the carnivores would want meat, and that was harder to come by.
The left the oasis the day after next, following a the map to the next watering spot, two days away. As they walked, the cougar and rabbit talked incessantly - quite a lot of it was simply trying to learn each other's language. Tristan and Taylor would listen to them in wonder. Gordon was becoming a different person before their eyes. Animated, talkative, laughing - that wasn't the Gordon they knew. The wolf and lamb exchanged knowing glances from time to time. A week went by. They watched Gordon fall in love.
But they had no idea if the cougar-woman felt the same way about the rabbit-man. They didn't know her well enough.
And, truthfully, neither did Gordon. It was maddening... She'd sit next to him - but always a foot away. She'd walk next to him and chatter - but never hold his hand. He's show her Blood and Teeth moves - and she'd be the model of professionalism. Which was all good and well... but... Another week went by.
"Hey, uh... Tristan. Can I talk to you for a minute? Uhm... in private?" Gordon asked while they were out hunting for something that would burn. They were in cactus country now, mostly yucca and Joshua trees. And tumble-weeds... tumble-weeds everywhere. Easy to make a bonfire, somewhat tougher to make a fire that would last long enough to boil water.
"Doesn't get much more private than this..." the wolf said. He'd wandered almost a quarter-mile from their camp-site by the well.
A well! Out here, in the middle of nowhere! Teesah said it had been there for as long as anyone could remember. No one knew who had dug it.
"Yeah. Okay. Uh... Look... I need your help with... something."
That was unusual, but Tristan wasn't paying much attention. He was more concerned with trying to break off a dead "branch" of Joshua tree without puncturing himself in a dozen places. "What's up?"
"Uh... I need... I mean, I want... Gods damn it. How do I tell if Teesah feels the same about me as I do about her? There. Go ahead and laugh. Believe me, if there were ANYONE else I could go to..."
Tristan stood up straight looking at Gordon. The tough, adult, rabbit-man wanted relationship advice from a 17-year-old wolf? Who's partner was a 12 year-old boy? A partnership that the rabbit had found sickening barely 5 months ago? This was rich! Why, there were so many ways for Tristan to take advantage of this situation, so many ways to poke fun at Gordon! And not just now, either, but FOREVER! Tristan began going through a list of possible things to say, trying them out in his head to see which one would be most humiliating to Gordon.
The poor, tough, rabbit who was in love with the cat-girl. And obviously, too. For weeks now. It would be so great to really get a burn on Gordon. Get him back for all the times he'd burned Tristan about being partners with Taylor... Like the time when... when...
Wait a minute. Gordon had never actually made fun of Tristan over Taylor... had he? No, no... he'd voiced his disgust a few times - even that not really very much - but never made fun of him. And since then, he'd even come to accept it. Accept it to the point of... asking him for romantic advice? Whoa. Dammit - it wasn't fair! Here he finally had ammunition dumped in his lap, ammunition that could really hurt the big tough rabbit... and he couldn't use it. Fuck.
"All right, Gordon. I'm not laughing. I'm not sure why I'm not laughing... but listen: you're a big, hard-nosed, rabbit, right? And you've been that way for a long time, haven't ya..."
"Okay. So tell me, Gordon - how do you feel about me?"
"C'mon, tough-guy. Yeah, how do you feel about me... Just say it."
This was not how Gordon had imagined this conversation going. At all. "Uhm... well, I like you. Okay? You're all right, for, y'know, a wolf an' all..."
That was pretty much exactly what Tristan thought he would say. "Okay - now look what you just did. First: you like me. Right?"
"I'll take that as a yes, ya big dummy. But then saying that made you feel vulnerable, didn't it... Even though you know damn well that I like you too - but I've never actually said it - so when you said it first, it left you exposed, didn't it..."
"So then you have to say, 'Okay?', and make it sound more like a challenge. Like if it wasn't 'okay', you could beat me up or something. Anyway, then you have to put it a different way - you like me because I'm 'all right'. Like it's just that one thing. If I weren't 'all right', you wouldn't like me. See how it works?"
Admittedly, it had been awkward for Gordon to say that. But playing it back in his head... the damn wolf was picking him apart word-for-word! Trouble was - he was doing it right, too. Damn wolf.
"And then last, you qualify even the sole reason you like me - because I'm 'all right' - with 'for a wolf'. In other words, you'd like me a lot more if I weren't a wolf. Is that what you meant?"
"I never said that..."
"C'mon Gordon... that's what you said. What did you mean, then?"
"Hey, now look here-" the rabbit began - this was just getting a little too personal, and too fast - but Tristan cut him off.
"Gordon? I know how it is, okay? I'm the same way... or at least, I was, until Taylor came along. Because he's not like that at all, y'know. He just comes right out and says 'I like you', 'I love you', 'I wanna sex with you'. It used to kind of freak me out, in the beginning... and then I realized... Well, I realized that I loved that about him. You just gotta tell her how you feel, bunny-man – and NOT like you just did to me. Show her how tough you are by making yourself vulnerable to her."
"That how you did Taylor?"
"Heh. No. Uhm... me and Tay are... different."
"No kidding," Gordon said, getting in a zing.
"Saw that coming, Gord."
"Sorry. Okay, so I tell her how I feel – as best I can with the language barrier, anyway - I see what yer sayin'... but how do I tell her that... that I want to, uh, go to the next level?"
"You mean 'fuck'?"
"Well, if ya wanna be crude about it... How'd you do that with Tay?"
"Uh... I don't think that'd work for you... I basically raped him the first time we met. I didn't mean to... It just sort of happened. And he liked it."
"No, I don't think that's gonna work for me, Tristan..."
"Like I said – it was different with Taylor. Pretty much everything I ever thought about 'being with someone' is different with Taylor. That's why I'm... well, with Taylor. Start off telling her that you like her, Gord. See what happens. If she likes you too, then maybe you can nose her, and see how that goes. If you get lucky, maybe she'll nose you instead – cats are big on nosing."
"How do you know that?"
"I've known cats, Gordon. Not as in 'girlfriends' or anything, but I went to school with 'em ya know. Cats like to nose a lot. Take my word for it."
"The thing is... I'm not sure how she's gonna take the whole... y'know... cat and rabbit thing. You saw how shocked she was about you two..."
"There might have been a lot of reasons for that."
"Yeah – but..."
"You might get burned, Gordon. It happens. You gave yourself to her – that oughta count for something, don't ya think? She ever ask about that?"
"No, she hasn't. I don't know what I'd say anyway... but it was nothing sexual, you know. 'Giving' has nothing to do with sex."
"That's what you think. Try it with someone you love sometime... it's a whole different thing. Hey! You guys could even do Blood and Teeth when we get to Civilization! Ooooooh... I'd love to see that..." Tristan smiled wickedly.
"Uh-huh. Gettin' a little ahead of the game there, Tris. I don't even know if she likes me yet."
"You don't? Well, here: she likes you Gordon. Now you know. What you gotta find out is whether she's interested in your or not."
"Desert five... uh... five and five?" Teesah asked.
"Ten," Gordon answered.
"Desert ten more day, Gordon." They were standing on a hill the night of the same day when the rabbit had asked the wolf for advice. They would leave tomorrow, and Teesah was showing him the next landmark – a mountain they could see rising above the sand dunes they would have to cross. Gordon hated sand – walking in sand just seemed to suck the energy right out of you, worse than snow. He idly wondered why no one had thought of 'sand-shoes' like they had 'snow-shoes'. He might have to work on that, someday...
But tonight, he had other things on his mind.
He and the cat-woman had been spending a lot of time together. They talked almost constantly – as Tristan had pointed out to him on several occasions. She was... wonderful. Even if she was a predator. Gordon had always said that he didn't like predators... now he wondered why. Just never thought about it before, he guessed. He sure liked this one. Really, he would have liked her no matter what her species – but her being a cat was... well... kind of cool. Teeth and claws and all that. Dangerous. Formidable. Yet her fur was so incredibly soft...
She even smelled good.
I wonder if she purrs... Gods, Spirits, and Nature – if she does, I'll just curl up and die. Happy.
Right. His fantasies about her had gone on long enough – it was time to put-up or shut-up.
"Teesah..." he said, putting his hands on both her shoulders and turning her to face him, "Teesah – I like you. A lot. Uh... a lot. You're just the... well, most unexpected... wait, wait, I'm getting off-track here..." He swallowed and tried to gather his thoughts into some kind of coherent form.
She waited anxiously. Fearfully. She knew what he was saying, even if she wasn't getting all the words. She'd known it was coming for some time. What she didn't know was – what she was going to do about it.
This wasn't her first time – far from it. A woman with her looks and demeanor, she'd come to expect this to happen any time she spent much time with a male. A male of any species. Usually she just brushed off her woo-ers with well-practiced gestures and the right tone of voice, depending on whether the come-on was lewd or genuine.
But this time was different. Gordon was... absolutely the most fascinating person she'd ever met. He was funny, he was skilled, he could make fun of himself, he was intelligent, but not overly-learned. She had a list of what she would require of a mate:
Her mate must have a warrior-build, athletic, strong. Check.
Her mate had to be able to best - or at least equal - her in a fight. Check.
Her mate had to be a man of honor. Check.
Her mate had to be worldly, mature, intelligent. Check, check, check.
Her mate had to have character, be interesting. Big-time check.
Her mate must be able to provide for her kittens.
There would be no kittens with Gordon. Whatever else the different species might do together - work, live, sex - they could not reproduce. Not if they were too different. Gordon and Teesah were about as different as two species could get.
She reached up and took his hands off her shoulders, holding them between their bodies as she looked into his eyes. But she couldn't do this looking into those eyes, not this time, not him. Not after... what she'd once seen there. So she lowered her eyes to the ground - and shot him down. "No, Gordon."
Tristan saw him coming back. Alone. He guessed what it meant.
"Burned, huh..." he offered.
"Sorry, Gord. What an idiot - gods I hate cats! They-"
"Watch it, Tris..."
"Uh... oh. Yeah. Well, I'm still sorry. Because of the rabbit thing?"
"I imagine. I don't know. Does it really matter?"
"Look, in Civilization, there'll be lots of girls who-"
"Shut up, Tristan."
Obviously, she couldn't stay now. It was far too awkward. She blamed herself - she'd been so 'into' the rabbit, she'd forgotten all about keeping her distance. So this had been bound to happen. She tried not to think about it - which kept her from thinking about why she was trying not to think about it. Her decision had been made, and he'd accepted it without question. Thank the goddess for small favors. But Gordon was a rabbit. That was never going to change. He would never give her kittens.
She gathered up her things next morning along with everyone else as they were preparing to leave, and turned to Gordon, who was facing west waiting on the wolf to get his travois hooked up. She wanted to look him in the eye, but still couldn't, and talked to his chest instead, "I go now, Gordon."
He didn't need to ask what she meant. "Okay, Teesah."
Could it really be so simple? Was Gordon making it easy for some reason? She turned to the boys, "Goodbye, Tristan and Taylor."
They just stared at her. The look in the wolf's eyes could have melted steel - but it was Taylor's look that got to her the worst. He was disappointed. Not because she was leaving... The lamb was disappointed in her.
She started walking north, and never looked back. Maybe it was time to go home. This walkabout had been going on for over a year now, maybe she'd Discovered enough about the World. About other people.
One foot in front of the other. Don't think about it. Don't think. Keep going.
Deep down, she knew she'd have to stop walking eventually, and she was already dreading it. She already knew, without knowing that she knew, that she didn't really want kittens at all. It was simply that she wasn't ready to give up the option of being a mother yet. And because her biological clock was running down now, at 33 years old, that option seemed all the more imperative to keep open.
No matter what.
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