Morningstar: The Malaise - 20. Chapter 20 Taking Turns
I would do anything....
Morningstar: The Malaise
Tobyn was terrified in a way he’d never been before. It wasn’t from the words Kellar had spoken. No. It was that resignation in his voice. He wasn’t expecting to survive the poison. Despite his reassurance, it was something he couldn’t hide, and Tobyn ran like the wind to prove him wrong.
Kellar’s descriptions and directions were spot-on. He immediately located the three plants, placing them in a plastic bag and sealing it. Shifting back, he lifted the precious package carefully with his teeth and bolted out the open door, forgoing the steps entirely. He set a blistering pace as he raced through the forest, maneuvering the trails with more instinct than thought.
As quickly as he ran, it didn’t seem fast enough. What would he do if…? No, he couldn’t go there. He had another bunch of miles to cover and needed to concentrate on reaching the man relying on him, in one piece with the herbs intact. He threw caution to the wind as he sprinted through what used to be friendly territory. Now, he wasn’t so sure… another hunter could be around the next bend. Only one thing mattered, though… Kellar… and that was who he focused on. Finally bursting into the small clearing, Tobyn’s heart felt ready to explode from his mouth.
He shifted, let out a gasping sob, and dropped to his knees in front of the big guy whose hands were clamped to his wound. Staring at a motionless Kellar, Tobyn caught and held what little breath he had until the man slowly opened weary, pain-etched eyes.
Kellar smiled weakly and Tobyn breathed again. “You made it. I’m so… you need to do the chewing for me… I… can’t.”
“Okay, how much? Show me.” Tobyn tried to keep the panic from his voice, but knew he failed miserably. His fear kept escalating despite his effort to calm himself. Seeing the state of this guy who meant so much to him ensured that.
“Hey? It’s okay. We have time.” Kellar smiled again as he continued in a frighteningly feeble voice. “We’ll try equal amounts of the two with the dried flowers… just leaves and buds… no stems… wait… upper stems of the darker one. Put as much as will fit comfortably in your mouth and use all the saliva you can generate. Do not swallow it. Spit it in the bag if you can’t hold it. I’ll need every bit of it.”
He closed heavy-lidded eyes after the effort of speaking, and Tobyn worried that his mate… his mate… might not have enough strength left to get this done. He was already chewing for all he was worth, turning the plants into a mushy mass.
“That’s enough. Spit it all into my mouth, and try not to lose any. These poisons are potent.” The words came out in a whisper. God, he sounded so drained. Tobyn leaned close, putting his lips against Kellar’s, and transferred the clump and all the liquid as slowly as he thought necessary, careful not to cause him to choke. He kept his lips in place to ensure none of the precious medicine escaped. A sickly Kellar managed the few measured swallows before sucking more from the mushed-up mass. He surprised Tobyn by pushing the clump back into his mouth before pulling away.
“It’s powerful. You did good. Really good, Tobyn. If you could just chew it a bit more and then squeeze the rest of the liquid out of the herbs and drip it in, I should have enough. Then you can return the clump to me. We have to hurry now. Make sure you spit out anything left. It won’t hurt you, I promise, but it could make you retch.”
Tobyn did as he was asked, pleased at the amount of liquid he was able to squeeze out before inserting and positioning the herbs against the inside of Kellar’s cheek.
“Okay….” Kellar was beginning to pant in little breaths. “I really need your energy for this. Put your hands over mine.”
Tobyn did, and felt even more warmth build than he’d experienced with Adelin’s healing. He tried desperately to calm his still-racing heart, but the fear had too strong a hold on him. This had to turn out well… he couldn’t face the alternative. “Is it working?”
“Too soon,” was all Kellar said, keeping his eyes closed. Tobyn rested his forehead lightly on Kellar’s pulled-up knee before realizing it was his fractured leg. He immediately removed it, but Kellar stopped him with a plea. “No… please keep your head there, just like you were.”
“But, it’s your broken one. I don’t want to put any pressure on it.”
“It’s fine. The bone is in the right spot, and that touch feeds me more energy. You’re stronger than I am.” It sounded like such an effort to talk Tobyn felt guilty. “It’s the poison we need to worry about... not the fracture.”
“Okay.” As soon as Tobyn’s head was back in place, he noticed the familiar warmth present there as well. Maneuvering in increments, he placed his foot against the side of the same leg, and again there was heat.
Kellar soon whispered, “Better.”
Time passed as shadows deepened and winds built, and Tobyn was aware, but only barely. He stayed stock-still, and felt the slow and steady drain on his being. It was as if their four hands were fused together, and in a way they were, with the blood seeping from the large and grotesque leg wound. The first few rain drops startled him, but he didn’t waver. He had no concern for a spine feeling like it would soon snap. Nor did he care about his butt and knees protesting their positions. It only mattered that the poison was defeated. More rain came, and while cold, it was also cleansing. He lost all sense of time, and put total concentration into staying conscious.
Tobyn’s eyes sprung open when he felt movement beneath his hands, and found himself staring into an exhausted but smiling face. “What’s going on? Do we need more liquid?” His throat had never felt drier, and his voice cracked as he asked the questions.
Kellar turned his hands over and gripped Tobyn’s. “No, the poison is gone. Thanks to you, we did it. I must admit I had some doubts, but it has all disappeared.”
“Really? That’s the best news I’ve ever heard.” His eyes filled with water and he swiped it away, but it was only a temporary fix. “What about your broken leg?”
“Stop worrying.” Kellar reached out and brushed more tears from Tobyn’s cheeks. “It’s already started to knit together. Let’s just rest a bit, and then I can chew some of the other plant. It won’t take much longer until I’ll be able to shift and walk. You’re… you're much stronger than the last time you leant me your energy.”
“What? Nothing. What do you mean?”
“There’s something bothering you. I felt it when you said I was stronger.”
Kellar’s eyes widened. “Well, I guess that’s another sign then. I’m sorry, man. I wasn’t thinking straight, but I’m pretty sure... fuck... there's no other way to say it. Tobyn, we likely started the joining.”
It was Tobyn’s turn to widen his eyes in comprehension. “My saliva?”
“And mine. Right after I gave you back the clump, I could sense your heartbeat. It was going like a freight train, wasn’t it? I didn’t hear it… I felt it, like it was a part of me.”
“Yeah, it was… it definitely was. I was terrified of losing you.”
Kellar winced, and Tobyn knew what was behind it when Kellar continued. “Ms. Sybil said the joining is about exchanging bodily fluids… I guess I should have realized saliva could be one of them. I’m really sorry. If I'm right, this will make it harder for us to handle separation.”
Tobyn moved up beside the big man, feeling such peace that he was going to be okay. His mate was going to live. “It wasn’t very much saliva.” He leaned back against the same giant tree, not minding the scratchiness of it. The rain had stopped and a sliver of sunshine had made its way through the branches, caressing them with a welcomed touch.
“Maybe you didn’t get enough to matter. I got much more of it.”
“That hardly seems fair. How does your leg feel now? You’ve stretched it out a little.”
Kellar turned his head, a questioning look on his face, and Tobyn smiled at him. “What did you mean when you said it hardly seems fair?”
The intensity of his eyes burned into Tobyn’s, and he could swear his whole body heated. “I think you owe me some saliva. It should be equal, shouldn’t it? I’m not going to be some subservient mate, just because you’re the size of a mountain. Now, are you going to give me some more saliva or not?” He grinned at Kellar’s expression.
“Do… do you mean it? I think you still have a choice, Tobyn.”
“Jeez, are you always going to be this slow? I thought I was the dense one in this pair. Kiss me for God’s sake.”
As Kellar opened his mouth to speak again, Tobyn took the initiative and leaned in, brushing against lips that soon responded. Blood-stained hands came up to touch unshaven cheeks, but Tobyn didn’t care. He let Kellar take the lead, delivering more saliva with a tentative tongue, as requested. He didn’t have a lot of previous experience to go on, but as far as kisses were concerned, their first one was a doozy. Tobyn actually felt a little faint as they slowly, oh so slowly, drew apart.
“Wow,” Kellar muttered before finally opening his eyes. “Did you feel that?”
“If you mean that there were fireworks in my head and it was like it was meant to be, then yeah, I felt it,” he replied a little breathlessly.
“Yeah, that’s what I meant.” The wondrous smile that followed almost prevented Tobyn from seeing the tiredness in his mate’s eyes, but not quite.
“Okay, we need to get you healed enough to get you home because we need to get out of here. Are you ready to do some chewing?”
“Maybe after one more of those kisses.”
“That can come later, mountain man. Another one of those and I might lose my ability to walk,” he said with a shy grin. “We need to get this done.”
“But, I was serious. That kiss fed me some energy… don’t make that face… it really did, so stop arguing and pucker up.”
Tobyn laughed. “Okay, but don’t even think about bossing me around,” he murmured as he leaned back in for an encore. This one was soft, gentle, and oh so fulfilling. Tobyn was reluctant for such sweetness to end. “Better now?”
“Oh, hell yeah. You can be my battery charger from now on. Tobyn? I’m not dreaming, right? You really want this?”
Tobyn caught and held the light blue gaze. He could see the need residing there. “I really want this. I want you… I have since I first saw you. Kellar, I might be slow, but I’m not entirely stupid. And now it’s your turn to stop stalling. I’ve done enough of that for both of us.” He raised an eyebrow and smirked. “We have some healing to do… among other things.”
“Yes, we do. And I just figured out why there was more energy mist from your mom and Denver than from us yesterday.”
“Always the healer,” Tobyn said with a cheeky grin. “So… are you going to tell me why?”
“Yup. Saliva. They started their joining before they met the pack together, and we hadn’t. I saw them kiss a couple of times.”
“Ewww. Way to spoil the mood,” he said with a snicker. “Can we not talk about my mother exchanging saliva with someone? Anyway, so now that we’ve traded spit, we’ll produce more mist?”
“Well, I won’t be certain till we’re around shifters who need the energy, but yeah, it makes perfect sense it was the reason for the difference.”
The big man hesitated in filling his mouth with the third herb. “Yeah?”
“What are we going to do with the hunter’s body?”
“I think we should leave it where it is. Thank God it fell over after you left, but it startled the shit out of me,” he said ruefully. “It’ll look like an animal attack if someone finds him. This is crown land, and it’s a long way from my property. I’ve never seen or smelled anybody in these woods at any time since I moved here, so don’t worry, okay?”
Tobyn nodded, trying to appear unaffected by the dead man. He took a nervous look through the trees around them.
“We’ll clean up any sign of humans being around, though, and there’s already wolf hair and flesh in the trap so we’ll spring it again. It’ll look like an animal was barely caught, and was able to pull free and attack him before he could use his rifle. We need to remove your fingerprints from when you took it away from him, and I want to check to see if he has any I.D. before we leave. He has a nephew out there somewhere hunting shifters, so a name would be good to have.
“Tobyn, look at me. You did a great thing for Morningstar, and every other pack, not to mention saving my ass. Like I said, the brute was a fucking murderer, and if you hadn’t done what you did, I have no doubt he’d have killed a lot more of us.”
Tobyn felt and loved the concern flowing out of Kellar for him and his state of mind. He understood it was the right thing, the only thing he could have done, but still, it was hard to take a life. His wolf had been up to the task, though, and for that he was grateful. “Thanks. I’m fine now… stop worrying about me and get chewing.”
“Now, who’s being bossy?” Kellar raised an eyebrow, and Tobyn was struck by how sexy that little gesture looked on the big shifter.
“Maybe we can take turns?” That earned him one of those belly laughs he loved so much. Something he’d worried he might never hear again.
“Sounds good to me.” Kellar filled his mouth and chewed, swallowing every couple of minutes until he gave Tobyn the thumbs up. Less than an hour later, it was done, and Kellar could stand. He was obviously sore, but the bone was healed and the wound closed. Tobyn felt pride when his mate insisted his energy had played a huge part. They stood and embraced for the first time as mates who understood what it meant. Tobyn let himself relax into it, and the handsome man. The feel of him in his arms, pressed against him, healthy once again, brought a lot of emotion to the surface.
“I was so scared. I didn’t know if I’d be fast enough.” He squeezed Kellar harder, afraid to pull back because his tear ducts were betraying him. “I wouldn’t have been able to handle losing you.”
“Knowing you came after me is what kept me going, Tobyn. I held onto that, and it let me slow the poison down. I didn’t know for sure what it meant, but it was enough no matter how we ended up. As long as I knew you didn’t hate me.”
“Jesus, man. Why would you think I could hate you?”
“Because I kept things back until I was sure, and you got blindsided twice as a result. I’m sorry for not telling you everything I was thinking.”
Tobyn really had to fight the tears now. “You did nothing wrong. Please don’t think you did. It was a weird day for sure, and I had the rug pulled out from under me, but it was what I needed. I was so damn focused on having a family and building up the pack, I wouldn’t let myself adapt. That’s on me, not you.” He finally pulled away enough to look into those attentive eyes, and saw the shimmer of them. Lowering his own eyes, he continued in a soft voice. “I’m sorry I took off. I didn’t think that through either. I didn’t think about what it would look like to you… to my mate. I let my wolf take over, and I ran. He wasn’t very happy about leaving you, but I couldn’t think straight, so he did it. When I realized what I’d done… it was too late. You’d already left.” He tried to smile, but still felt the shame.
“I caught hell from my mom, and from Tilly, who feels terrible about what she did by the way, and even from Miss Sybil. Man, was she mad at me. She said I was a fool for not learning our histories like I should have, and that I should start paying better attention because it might have cost me the best thing that could ever happen to me.” He looked back up into his mate’s eyes and managed a grin this time. “I deserved it… she was right… and you sure are a popular guy with the ladies.”
Kellar snorted, and followed up with that deep laugh of his. “Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” His laughter became a chuckle. “I’m thankful for whatever or whoever brought you to me.”
“You brought me here. All it took was you. It didn’t matter what they said because I already knew what I had to do. I tried to wait until morning, but I couldn’t. Thank the earth mother I didn’t wait. We can talk about all this later, though, because you been through hell and we need to get you home. We’ll just ignore what’s going on ‘down there’ for now.” His wet eyes twinkled and he received another dose of the big man’s laughter.
“For now,” Kellar agreed. “I’m going to search that creep’s clothes for information, if you want to grab one of those fallen pine branches and sweep away our footprints… leave our paw prints though, and don’t go near the parts of him you spit out.”
“It’s a deal. I don’t want to touch him ever again.” Tobyn’s eyes were drawn to Kellar’s swaying erection as they parted, shaking his head at the size of it. His mind went to their joining, and his anticipation was mixed with just a little apprehension. He raised his eyes to see he was being observed.
“I know what you’re thinking. We’ll be fine. There are different ways to join. We could even do the blood-brother thing where we cut our fingers and mingle the blood.”
“Oh, hell no. Not a chance, mate. We’re going to do it the right way, and that means making love. If you can sense my heart, you should already know that. I look forward to the challenge… might need a little time, though.” He smirked at the big man as he went off to find a branch.
That booming laugh followed him. “I think I like you being bossy. I’m sure as hell not going to argue with you.” His laughter ended and he became serious. “Tobyn?”
“I would do anything for you.”
“I know. Me too.” His eyes swept over the toppled corpse before he turned away, looking for a suitable broom.
Much thanks to my editor, Timothy M., and to all those who read and support this story.
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