Happy update!

xo, stupe

When she returned to the clinic after being sent to her quarters to rest, Anya found it in disarray. Equipment was smashed, glass was shattered and instruments were scattered everywhere on the floors and work surfaces. A group of eta had been summoned to assist with the cleanup, everyone silent and tense and keeping one eye on the body on the table.

"What the hell?" Anya muttered, shocked to the point where she just stood frozen. A dozen heads snapped up and looked at her as the dozen yautja present stilled in the midst of clearing the mess, then Vlieg'r suddenly broke from the group and hurried toward her, his hands held palms up. "What's going on?" she demanded warily, taking a step back at his approach as her eyes repeatedly went to L'tor to assure herself that he was still breathing. "Was it Chulonte? Who did this?"

"Female," Vlieg'r prattled, then started a tight, anxious purring, keeping his palms up to her. "Your mate is fine."

She regarded him, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. "That's not what I asked," she realized, then she did a visual check on L'tor again. On his back, breathing steadily but still shallowly.

"He...woke up. Was agitated," the Elder Healer said anxiously, his purr finding a steadier rhythm.

"He did?" she asked, brightening at the news that L'tor had woken up.

"Did not...was not...in his right mind," Vlieg'r stuttered, and Anya blinked.

"Are you saying that he did this?" she asked, gesturing at the disaster area that was once a neat and orderly clinic.

"Female," the Elder Healer said delicately. "L'tor not should be here. Not safe." A proper yautja clinic, one reinforced and set up specifically for a warrior of L'tor's caliber was clearly a necessity in this case. A place with better containment. Restraints. A segregated treatment and recovery room. More healers for round-the-cycle observation. Ones younger than him. And muscle. Lots of muscle, ready and waiting for the possibility of a stressed out and badly injured warrior fueled with homicidal levels of adrenaline and borderline toxic amounts of hormones to wake up.

"So what you're trying to tell me," Anya was saying, regarding him skeptically, "is that Sleeping Beauty over there somehow managed to get off that table and demo half your clinic?" She puttered her lips and kept a fixed gaze on him, sensing his seriousness but not believing him.

Vlieg'r stilled and considered. Despite Anya's familiarity with yaujtakind there was still much she didn't know, that no doubt L'tor had no desire for her to know. He'd taken great care to ensure that Anya was not subjected to the uncivilized side of yautja society, and she'd only ever been exposed to fully mature adults who for the most part exercised restraint and control in her presence. She'd spent little to no time in the common areas where the unBlooded and the youngBloods had free reign to act out their instincts, aggressively pursuing rank, adamantly demanding respect and viciously protecting valuables.

Here in the ooman female's domain it was calm and tranquil, the corridors etched with peaceful artwork, the furniture soft and clean and the atmosphere quiet, all the materials and furniture carefully selected for their beauty and comfort and form to honor the Bearers who dwelt here. Out there beyond the massive doors the ship was chaotic and volatile, the corridors often etched with blood, everything purpose built to withstand yautja size and strength. While outright killings were uncommon, fights and demonstrations of strength, aggression and skill were fairly constant. There were eta assigned to all parts of the ship, ready to clean the messes, to fix what was broken and to vent the n'dui'se to prevent further outbreaks of violence.

Rank must be earned, then protected. Life, while sacred, was not a right in yautja society. Like rank it was diligently earned, then constantly tested. Hunts were one way of proving a yautja's right to life, and their risk and complexity were the main ingredients in the measure of any warrior's true worth. Fights were another way to assert that right and prove that worth, and for most they were the only potential way to establish or increase rank available to those who were unable to leave the ship.

Ooman females, it was quickly learned, found the habitual brawling stressful, and seemed incapable of recognizing the signs and so were always caught unawares. There was a ritual to any respectable fight, a buildup of signals that thoroughly spanned all senses and were broadcast in escalating intensity as the combatants tested each other prior to any physical contact. Any in the vicinity were made well aware of the building aggression long before the fight, a fight that actually only occurred when neither would back down.

Sleeping Beauty. Vlieg'r's upper tusks lifted as he translated the words and grunted in mild amusement. Mild, because he was still anxious and aggravated at the damage that had been done to his clinic, and because of the potential threat currently lying on the table. In his current condition L'tor had essentially reverted, his instincts back in the violent and reactive state of his youth, triggered by pain and illness, fueled by anger and distrust. He was, essentially, superbly and exquisitely more dangerous now than he ever had been, capable of lashing out at friends and allies, unpredictable and illogical, his only goal to protect himself from all perceived danger and threat. Though he was returning to his former comatose state right now, any stimuli could trigger him back awake and put him back into a murderous rampage.

Something shattered and the Elder Healer wheeled around to glare at the offending eta who had dropped some glass, then he just as quickly checked L'tor's monitors to see if there was any reaction to the noise. He grunted, assuring himself that there was no change in his heart rate or breathing or tension, letting out a quiet breath as he cautiously observed L'tor's vitals.

"You're not kidding," Anya said flatly, watching him and seeing how alert and alarmed he was. "But that's...good...right?" she asked cautiously. "That he woke up?" she clarified.

"Female," Vlieg'r rumbled, putting out a hand and actually touching her to not only block her from moving closer to L'tor but to move her back another pace to a safer distance. "Wait." Despite the fact that L'tor hadn't reacted to the shattering glass, his level of unconsciousness was still dangerously shallow.

The clinic's door hissed open and Warkha strode in at a brisk pace, taking the damage in with a sweeping, imperious glance and keeping his stride.

"He needs to be moved!" Vlieg'r greeted him, his tone low but urgent as his lower mandibles chattered anxiously.

Warkha paused beside him and Anya and studied L'tor, then he turned his head to glare at the Elder Healer. He took note of Vlieg'r's spread hand in front of Anya, his putty, molten gaze climbing to the Healer's eyes with a low, dangerous rumble. Vlieg'r shifted his stance and removed his hand, putting a bit more space between himself and Anya. He didn't move away, but his subtle shifting communicated his lack of dispute. He recognized instinctively that the Arbitrator was feeling a bit territorial over Anya but he didn't waste time thinking it over. He had more urgent matters to deal with at the moment.

"Too dangerous," Warkha finally responded.

Anya felt Vlieg'r go rigid beside her and she had the sense that he was about to lose his shit.

"If I move him, the female will follow. The aseigan will follow. The Firstborn will follow. The mei'hswei will follow." Warkha regarded the Elder Healer for a moment, adding another perusing, assessing head to toe glance.

"He is destroying my clinic!" Vlieg'r protested, only slightly louder. Warkha blinked, then his pale gaze slid to Anya.

"Use the female," he said simply.

"He will kill her!"

"She will calm him."

"Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on?" Anya interrupted loudly.

After a hesitation long enough to put the Elder Healer back in his place and reduce his temper, Warkha's attention skated back to her and the mandibles around his mouth shifted, a subtle rearrangement from threatening authority to a less tense aspect. Lifting his chin he sent her a purring trill, and Vlieg'r actually crested slightly in response and looked at Anya sharply to see her reaction.

"The Healer has not told you?" Warkha asked her.

"Told me what?" she demanded, exasperated. Without blinking, Warkha's eyes switched to Vlieg'r, then back to her.

"Have you not noticed the damage, Little One?" he trilled.

Both yautja could see the rising of her temper and her body's response to the emotion. Her color came up, brighter, stronger. Her spots became pronounced, speckled flushes down her limbs and flanks. Her pupils dilated, her shoulders tensed, her hands fisted. The Elder Arbitrator unconsciously took in a slow, deep breath, the sound unintentionally loud in the sudden silence as he sucked Anya's scent in almost eagerly, his jaw flexing as he tasted her, rapidly sorting through the chemical signals her body was releasing.

"I'm not blind," she said, her voice low and heated, "and I'm not stupid."

"She does not believe me that L'tor caused this," Vlieg'r said quickly. He couldn't help it; the Arbitrator made him nervous, and he was unsure if Warkha perceived him as a threat. Not a physical threat, but competition for Anya's attention and affection and trust.

Warkha rumbled, the sound coming up from his mammoth chest, intensified and shaped by his throat and accentuated by the fluttering of his lower mandibles. Anya's temper, justified as it was, was also attractive.

"Your mate," he growled, "very high stressed. In pain. Very angry."

"So okay," Anya said, trying to shake off her annoyance and use her brain to help L'tor, "so give him something for the pain. And maybe like a sedative or something."

"H'ko," Vlieg'r said flatly, his tresses rustling as he shook his head. Lifting his attention back to the Elder Arbitrator, he said again, "He does not belong here."

"Whaddya mean no?" Anya demanded, turning her temper on the Healer but keeping enough peripheral awareness to see Warkha's reaction to losing her attention. Everyone, it seemed, was on edge.

"Pain relief is not for warriors," Warkha said, his tone disgusted. "Do not insult your mate's honor by pursuing this."

"Hello?" Anya snarked, lasering back in on him and flinging a hand toward the mess still being quietly and cautiously cleaned up around L'tor. "Hulk smash over there apparently needs some kind of fucking help! Aren't you a fucking Healer? Then fucking do something and heal him!"

The clinic door hissed open again in the shocked silence that followed her outburst, and Lar'nix'va stepped in then stilled, his head moving to take in the chaotic scene. He lowered his chin and rocked back a step before gathering himself and storming at the shocked Elder Healer, the enamored Elder Arbitrator, and the clearly enraged human hybrid, passing the stunned and staring eta to get to them. Anya's attention switched and stuck to him, and he began a low frequency rumble as he approached, pleased to have her undivided attention. Her temper was up and her spots and patterns and tattoo were livid, her gaze fierce and piercing. This was something Lar'nix'va wasn't used to in an ooman female, and he responded to her on an instinctive level, like he would to a yautja female. He mentally dismissed the other males in the room as easily as he had the eta, focussing only on her.

Anya watched Lar'nix'va close in on her, feeling and hearing that sound he was making, that rumble that was capable of putting her temper on hold and capturing her full attention. Vlieg'r was agitated over L'tor's presence. Warkha was agitated over everything. And Lar'nix'va was storming into this disaster like a yautja with a plan and a goal, wholly focused on her, everything-and-one else be damned.

She saw that his eyes were blazing a mixture of molten orange and fiery crimson as they skipped from one to the next until ultimately locking onto her, then he moved close to her flank, sweeping a gaze down her length before sliding himself against her back. She was shocked enough to stand her ground and not move away, and while Warkha's growl thundered Lar'nix'va was using his body, his height and weight and powerful mass to effortlessly surround her and get her moving forward without laying a hand on her. She stagger-stepped before giving in and walking forward toward the exam table and L'tor, with Lar'nix'va pressed warmly and closely against her back.

"My mei'hswei," he purred, his voice low and deep and slow, his head lowered so he could deliver each word intimately into her hair near her right temple, "needs his lou-dte kalei."

Annoyed, her eyes on L'tor as she moved closer to him, Anya scowled. "Oh, fuck you, Larnixva."

There was a rush of heat over her, ghosting over her hair and skin as he huffed in amusement. It surprised her to realize his breath wasn't horrible. "Elders," he mused, his deep baritone still low and slow for her ears only. "What do they know."

She came to a stop at the table, smelling L'tor while at the same time detecting the rise of Lar'nix'va's musk. He was angry, but not at her. At the train wreck that used to be his best friend and hunt brother. At the Arbitrator and Healer. At the mess of the clinic.

Lar'nix'va's musk was powerful, with strong hops and a bitter pungency that was natural and healthy. L'tor, on the other hand...smelled like sickness...infection...rot.

Anya flinched at the sensation of Lar'nix'va's hands softly closing around her forearms from behind. He stilled and waited until she released her tension, then he closed his hands more firmly and lifted her arms.

"You were not here, female," Lar'nix'va's mesmerizingly intimate rumble continued.

"When?" Anya asked, staring at L'tor and allowing Lar'nix'va to lift her arms up like she was a puppet.

"When my mei'hswei woke up," he answered, even more quietly. "He could not see you." He placed her right hand on L'tor's chest and she left it there with a feather light touch, afraid to cause more damage to his lacerations, feeling the heat and hardness of his chest. "He could not hear you," Lar'nix'va breathed, lifting her left arm to L'tor's face, to his fearsome, heavy mandibles that were now lying slack. "He could not smell you," he continued, holding her there so that she could feel the raspy, damp heat of L'tor's shallow exhalations against her hand.

He went silent then and shifted behind her, adjusting his stance, supporting her weight and holding her steady and still. She found herself relaxing into his hands and his body, letting him guide her and support her. Trusting him. He alone seemed to know what L'tor needed and he didn't bicker and hesitate.

It made sense, what Lar'nix'va was directing her to do, Anya realized. Though unconscious she was certain that the scent of her body, held so close to his mouth, was making its way to L'tor's brain. That on some level he was aware that she was here with him, watching over him, standing beside him.

"He wrecked the clinic," she said quietly, wanting to talk to Lar'nix'va. Wanting him to speak to her. Wanting to know whatever he already understood about what the hell was going on, since it was obvious that no one else was willing to explain it to her.

He chuffed into her hair and she went rigid, then he bent over her and purred quietly. Calming her with audible rhythm and soothing vibration. Reminding her that he was a force to be reckoned with. For so long she'd compartmentalized this yautja as a buffoon, a clown, an ass. Minimized him and his threat and the risk he presented. Despite his gentleness now...or maybe because of it...Anya realized that Lar'nix'va was no fool. Just right now he was reminding her that he was a mature yautja male. That more than any other yautja she'd ever met, her mate included, Lar'nix'va knew her kind. He knew instinctively, effortlessly, how to handle her. As she stroked the feverish hide on the side of L'tor's mandible she was made aware that his meih'swei was boldly staking a claim for the benefit of not only her but everyone else in the clinic, the Elder Arbitrator included. It was an indisputably honorable claim, not only his L'tor-given-right, but his actions also showed that he was still invested in the well being and recovery of the yautja he'd searched for, found, and returned to the clan ship.

"Sei-i," Lar'nix'va was answering her, his deep voice rolling and slow and intimate as he supported her, guarded her, and watched her stroke her mate with building confidence. "You will stay here with him. Be here when he wakes."

She touched a bristle of spines at L'tor's temple, her fingernail automatically scraping lightly along each base. Tentatively grooming him. Soothing herself and hopefully him with this familiar activity. Subconsciously waiting for Lar'nix'va to object.

He didn't.

He rumbled, the sound low and slow, and she knew he was watching her hands as they both re-familiarized themselves with the body beneath them. "Your nyaka-de never liked pain." His voice was only slightly louder, and Anya's lips twisted as she realized he was speaking so that she and L'tor could both hear him, and that he was teasing them both. Referring to L'tor as her master to rile her, and implying that L'tor habitually avoided pain in hopes to rile him.

"Coulda fooled me," Anya breathed, and there was a hesitation before Lar'nix'va chortled quietly, easing back a bit and letting her arms loose.

"Why aren't they...you know...helping him, Larnixva?" Anya implored, her hands stilling over L'tor, her fingers spread wide as she felt the heat pouring off him, the clamminess of his hide, the strong banging of his hearts.

A quiet grunt, and she felt Lar'nix'va sort of gather himself behind her, still close enough to be brushing against her and sharing his warmth. Still broadcasting with belligerent nerve that this was his business alone and that he was prepared to fight to defend or enforce it. "L'tor not a pup or a lou-dte kalei," he answered her, a bit more gruffly. "He must fight this battle alone, just like any other." When she shivered, horrified, he eased closer, his tusks in her hair, and he quietly said, "You can help him. Stay with him. Remind him why he fights." There was a pause and as Anya felt Lar'nix'va breathing her in, she was made aware that the asshole side of him was returning, chasing away the mature, no-nonsense problem-solving side of him. He rumbled, his mandibles flared so that his mouth was near her scalp, then his body slid suggestively against hers, still slow and gentle but with deliberate intent. Warkha's growling came back to her awareness, as if he'd stopped for a time and just now started up again. "He dies, female," Lar'nix'va breathed into her hair, "you mine." He waited, and when she didn't respond or move he growled against her then eased back, lifting his head and storming out of the clinic without another word. The Elder Arbitrator was hot on his tail, cape flashing as his long strides lent him an easily gliding and casually elegant speed.

Anya let out a quiet, shaky breath and physically eased herself down, taking a moment to just breathe. To clear her nostrils of Lar'nix'va's strong n'dui'se and settle her nerves. L'tor's infection smell was so strong that she wrinkled her nose in disgust.

There was a nearby clattering and she looked from L'tor to see that Vlieg'r was gathering items at the nearby lab counter. Running water, pulling a bottle from an overhead cabinet. He filled a large bowl with steaming hot water then lifted it, turned and carried it to the exam table, carefully setting it beside L'tor. He added a squirt from the bottle, stirred the water with his finger, then added another squirt. Without a word he held a sponge out to her, and for a second she dumbly looked at it, then she took it, dunked it in the water and winced at the scalding heat. Another, more careful dunk, then she cautiously squeezed it and set to work on wiping L'tor down. There was an antiseptic scent to the water, similar to the smell of L'tor's healing hot tub, and she sensed that this was all the help he was going to get. They would keep him safe, warm, clean and hydrated, but the rest was up to him.

"You a hot mess, boo," she breathed shakily as she slid the sponge over L'tor's massive pectorals, her eyes following the long-since-healed slashing scars from Mongo's huge claws, and reminding her of him fighting for her. The sight and the memory steeled her and she applied herself more diligently, with more confidence, taking charge of the bowl, dumping, rinsing and refilling as needed, adding the astringent until the smell told her the mixture was the right consistency. Dribbling the hot water into L'tor's horrendous wounds one by one, methodically flushing them out until the liquid ran clean and clear and taking despairing inventory of the damage he'd suffered as she desperately searched for any signs of healing.

"Burns," she murmured, carefully touching the soaked sponge to them with cautious but thorough pats until the encrusted dirt and blood softened and rinsed away. "Cuts...gouges..." then she let out a quiet breath and whispered, "fuck," in reaction to the gaping wound over his right hip. She stared at it a moment, then she rallied and gathered the bowl and sponge, carefully cleaning both in the sink before creating a fresh solution and bracing herself to tackle the huge wound. When she squeezed the sponge into it the smell that came out was rancid enough to make her gag. This was the one, she knew. The worst. If he could somehow recover from this wound there was a decent chance he would live.

So she applied herself, rinsing, soaking, draining, taking care to keep the table clean, damming and shoring to prevent the infected, foamy runoff from dribbling into neighboring wounds. L'tor responded here and there, tensing up, shuddering, even making a sound like a low whine at one point. No doubt what she was doing felt like torture and was agonizingly painful, and she winced with each new reaction from him.

"You're not dying on me, you hear me?" she whispered to him as she forced herself to keep flushing the gaping wound in his flank. "This is not the end of your story. You promised to take me to see my firstborn, Lahtor," she murmured, her thoughts and words gathering strength. "You promised to let me wean this one," she remembered, feeling the sting in her eyes as tears pooled and burned. "You said you would take me home again, remember?" she mourned, staring at his deeply set and even more sunken closed eyes. His mandibles were hanging slack, one badly broken, his mouth agape as he panted like a wounded animal. There was no evidence of any awareness, no proof of a response, no increase in activity or change in breathing.

Anya redoubled her efforts once the largest wound finally ran clean. She climbed onto the countertop and banged through Vlieg'r's cabinets, searching until she found another bowl and a clean sponge, then some carefully stored hides. The Elder Healer looked over at her but offered her neither encouragement nor discouragement, staying out of her way. She ran icy cold water and soaked the hides, then folded them and laid them over L'tor's overheated body. Over his crest and tresses, over his throat, then balled and tucked more hides into his armpits. Then she continued her efforts to clean each and every individual wound, pausing here and there to redip the chilled cloths to keep them cold, hoping to bring L'tor's sky-high temperature down to a more comfortable level.

"Your pal Larnixva's an asshole," she told her mate matter-of-factly as she worked. "Thanks so much for sticking me with him, by the way." L'tor's hands were a mess of cuts and she applied herself to carefully and thoroughly cleaning them. "Was that, like, a spur of the moment decision just so you could go hunt at the time, or was there a long-term method to your madness? I mean, if you were just trying to dump me on the biggest asshole you could think of, surely since you moved me to this shitshow you could've come up with a better one?" Finally satisfied with the state of his right hand, she gently set it down, stroking her fingertips down the back of it, over his huge knuckles and to his dried and damaged but now clean though horribly broken claws, then she moved around the table to his left hand. The spots on it were pronounced, as if the normally lighter contrasting colors were even paler. "For sure there's got to be a warrior on this ship who has daily screaming squirts, murderously bad breath and crossed eyes, who's maybe a snorer-" a snort cut her off and she turned to realize she had an audience to her one-sided conversation. Vlieg'r and one of his Juniors each had a steaming mug of something they were holding and two eta also remained in the clinic, dragging out the cleanup because they were more interested in listening to her than in leaving. She eyed them all, watching the Elder Healer lift his mug and delicately raise his upper mandibles out of the way as he sipped.

Deciding not to take offense, she turned her back on them again and studied L'tor's heavy left hand as she carefully sponged him clean. "Even Warkha struggles not to retch in Larnixva's presence, and that's saying something," she continued conversationally, speaking to her mate. Vlieg'r outright trilled, a warm and amused sound that made Anya smile, even as it occurred to her that she should watch what she said in front her audience. "For sure, he at least deserves a cookie or something for going and finding you and bringing you back to me, but that really doesn't make him any less of an asshole. Trust me on this," she insisted quietly. "He's a starer and a heavy breather. Where I come from that means trouble."

A chuff, also from Vlieg'r. While the audience was a rude invasion of her privacy, she recognized that the overall vibe in the clinic had calmed considerably. No one was tiptoeing around and whispering anymore, and the tension had dissipated. The Junior Healer had turned the ventilation fans on and they'd removed the powerful musk of agitated yautja males, then cleared the air of the foul smell of infection as she'd cleaned L'tor's wounds.

The Healers cautiously helped her to shift L'tor onto his side, adjusting the placement of the sensors that were monitoring his vitals and condition, then stepping away again as she set to work cleaning him with thorough diligence. "There was no food wherever you were hanging out," she noted, aware of the starkness of his ribs. "No water, except for whatever you could salvage from your supplies." His hide was stiff and sloughy, a sure sign of dehydration. She assumed he must have had access to some water, doubting he would have survived this long without but honestly uncertain of the extent of his abilities. The Junior Healer appeared with a squeeze bottle with a nozzle freshly filled, daring to linger near L'tor only long enough to set it down and make sure Anya saw it. "Oil, too," she said a little more loudly, and the Junior dipped his chin in a curt nod of acknowledgement.

Since L'tor was currently on his side, Anya took the squeeze bottle and went to his mouth. Using the barest pressure, she wet his mouth, afraid to actually spray the water down his throat in case he aspirated on it. It took almost a full minute of wetting his inner mandibles, his gums and the soft tissues of his mouth before she finally saw his throat work in a tight, dry swallow. Relieved, she continued the barest introduction of water, occasionally darting a glance at Vlieg'r who watched carefully but offered no advice. This really was all on her, she was starting to realize.

But while L'tor's recovery seemed to be entirely up to him and to her, it became apparent to her that the Elder Healer was not opposed to supporting her needs while she took care of L'tor. First came the pitchers and cups with assorted beverages, and Vlieg'r's occasional grunts and nods to remind her to stay hydrated. Then A'ni-de appeared with a food cart and their combined efforts got her to leave L'tor's side long enough to eat, then, with Limpy there to watch over her, to take a nap in a quiet corner of the clinic, now that an initial and thorough cleaning of her mate's wounds had been completed. She was, A'ni-de reminded her, very pregnant, and L'tor would be furious with her if she didn't focus her attention on her own needs and the needs of the pup above his.

Admittedly exhausted, she retreated from the exam table to the comfortable chair A'ni-de had moved, curling up on its seat and staring across the clinic at L'tor, simply watching him breathe. Studying the rough exterior of her mate, the drab coloration, the splayed and damaged tresses going gray, the clawed toes pointing at the ceiling. She watched the slow and faint rise and fall of his huge chest as he breathed steadily, part of her wanting him to do what he supposedly did before, to get up and trash the clinic to prove he was still alive, another part of her knowing that doing so would only be detrimental to his already poor condition.

She thought about the lump of muscle on the top of his forearm, right at the bend of his elbow, the way it softened and flattened just right when he bent his arm just so. It made the perfect pillow when he sat with his legs crossed and her curled up in his lap, basking in his heat and bathed in his scent, comfortable enough to sleep soundly, even a hundred feet off the ground on the limb of a tree or the ledge of a cliff.

Anya snuggled more deeply and comfortably in her chair, smiling to herself. Remembering one alien planet excursion where she leisurely lay curled up in L'tor's hard but surprisingly comfy lap, staring at the stars, listening to the haunting cries of some nocturnal beast while he fed her tiny pieces of some sweet and juicy fruit off the tips of his claws. He'd searched high and low for it, and just before sundown he'd found one at the perfect ripeness. It had a hard shell like a coconut that needed to be delicately and carefully cracked to avoid damaging the small but spectacularly tasty reservoirs of fruit hidden in tiny well protected chambers inside.

The sheer adorableness of his determined efforts to find this prize for her had touched her heart as she relaxed in his lap while he diligently worked to scoop out the super sweet bits of fruit with his claws. Feeding it all to her and taking none for himself, after having diligently shadowed and protected her all day and already having prepared himself to serve as her bed while he guarded her all night while she slept. Despite being high in a tree on some alien planet, Anya couldn't remember the last time she'd been so...so comfortable. The last time she'd felt so safe. The last time she'd been deemed special and important enough to be lathered with so much attention in an attempt to meet her every need and want, simply to please her and show affection. L'tor dangled another juicy bit of fruit off his claw over her lips and she parted them, reaching up to close her hand around his wrist. Carefully, she wrapped her tongue around the fruit and closed her lips over the tip of his finger, then slowly sucked his claw clean before releasing his hand.

L'tor had hesitated, not moving, and she thought she could see the animal reflection of the starlight in his eyes as he stared down at her in his lap, his fearsome visage lost in darkness, the silhouette of his thick tresses increasing as he responded to her sensual tease with a slight flare. He grunted quietly and softly, slowly traced her lips with his fingertip, then returned to rooting more pockets of fruit out of the alien coconut. When he dangled the next offering she opened her mouth and he eased his fingertip in, letting her close her lips on it and lick it clean of the sweet juice.

Later, after the fruit was gone and she'd sucked the sticky juices off his fingers, he softly trailed those claws and the pads of his fingers over her face, giving her chills at the sensation of the hot slide of hide followed by the sharp sting of cool claw tips. Lower, down her neck, still slow, occasionally circling, over her collarbone to the hollow in her throat, then to her shoulder and down her arm.

She smiled now, unconsciously stroking over her arm with her fingertips as she remembered. Sometimes, L'tor could be surprisingly gentle. Sometimes he almost came off a romantic, though logic reminded Anya that a yautja was by nature the polar opposite of a romantic. While she'd savored the sweet aftertaste of the fruit he'd fed her he continued to softly touch and stroke, rumbling quietly as she finally squirmed in response. He'd maintained his maddeningly slow pace, dragging his claws over her bare belly between her coverings and over her breasts until she gave in and stretched. Now that she was uncoiled he pressed his advantage, still slow, still relatively silent. He eased her over until she was belly-down on the wide moss-covered limb, giving her shuddering chills as he ran all ten claws from the backs of her shoulders to her heels, snagging her lower covering and dragging it off her along the way. She heard him shifting, then she let out a blissful sigh as he eased over her, replacing the pinpoint sensation of sharp hard claws with the slide of rough hot hide. He reached below her right hip, the claws returning, his huge hand folding itself over her haunch and applying slow, steady pressure to arch her spine and raise her backside, then holding her still as he introduced the hard bluntness of his masculinity between her legs. Maintaining his maddening leisurely pace, forcing her to flex and stretch as he pressed himself steadily and relentlessly against her until she gasped, about to object at the same moment her body stopped resisting. L'tor loosed a long, low groan of pleasure as he successfully pierced her and she shuddered, wrapping him in warmth and wetness, allowing him to glide more easily deeper, the sensation lifting his tresses and causing his colors to bloom as he dug his toe claws into the bark of the tree for leverage and balance.

Even the mere memory of that sound, of his groan, of the sensation, made Anya writhe in her seat. He filled her up with hot heat until she feared she couldn't take anymore. But she could and he knew it, tucked hard against her backside and slowly tilting his pelvis as he eased himself deeper. Until his rampant hardness was all she could feel as she braced herself, embracing the pain with the pleasure, knowing that they were opposite sides of the same sensation. They worked in tandem, both building her higher and higher as the powerful male covering and filling her rocked above and around her, huffing and grunting, his musk strong as he allowed it to flow, broadcasting conquest and threat and triumph as he applied himself to the reward he'd earned, to breeding the willing female he'd courted and wooed and protected and fed.

The sudden sound of the ventilation fan clicking on startled Anya from her doze, and she sat up and opened her eyes to see that every yautja in the clinic was staring at her. Except for A'ni-de who stood with his back to her and growled a threat to the rest, his stance confrontational, the armor Warkha permitted him to wear reminding all who looked at him that he was a capable warrior despite his injuries.

Shit, Anya thought, flushing from head to toe as she realized she'd forgotten where she was and had let her self control slip. She'd been sitting in the clinic having wet dreams about L'tor right out in public, and this particular public could smell her arousal.

Irritated beyond measure but wisely maintaining silence, A'ni-de shadowed Anya back to L'tor's quarters where she took a quick and shockingly cold shower, then put on fresh hides and hurried back to the clinic. She went right to L'tor, picking up where she'd left off with wound cleaning and temperature cooling, focusing on her task and ignoring the occasional glances from the Healers working around her. And when she'd completed another round of flushing and cleaning she took the oil that had been left for her and worked it gently into his dried and damaged tresses, hide and claws, performing a full and thorough grooming in hopes to reintroduce hydration to his withered and damaged body. In between she took regular breaks to wet his mouth and mandibles and encourage him to drink, watching closely as he swallowed and already thinking of how to define broth to A'ni-de so she could maybe add nutrition to L'tor's hydration.

"Funny story," she murmured quietly as she gently and carefully oiled L'tor's cracked, burnt and broken tresses. "I was thinking naughty thoughts about you and I forgot I was sleeping in the chair over there," she informed him. "Apparently I freaked the entire clinic out."

There was a pause, a hesitation in his steady breathing, and she could swear she heard a weak snort. It so surprised her that she froze and stared at his closed eyes for a moment, then she glanced around the clinic to see if anyone else had caught it. All of them were still diligently refusing to look at her. She blinked and bit her lip with a small smile, then continued to attend to L'tor's grooming as his regular shallow breaths resumed, but now she had a smirk on her lips and a warm sensation in her belly that lingered.

There were many acceptable Paths to take in life, and even more available that were false Paths that ultimately led to dishonorable places. All tested one's honor and were meant to; existence was a demanding privilege that pushed all life to its maximum potential in order to ensure that only the best survived to breed. Many Paths required the input of a trusted other and enough humility and control over ego in the one being tested to accept and heed that advice and input.

In Warkha's estimation, the struggle to choose a Path, to take a stand, to make a potentially life-altering decision either for one's self or for another were all tests of maturation, and more failed them than failed the chiva each season.

Lar'nix'va, as Warkha had been observing, was struggling with the choosing of this particular type of Path. The one who had for many decades made his own way was now finding himself wholly invested in the life of not only one other, but many others. Self preservation and instinct and desire all clashed with each other, leading to internal imbalance which led to angry outbursts. Lar'nix'va was angry about the wrong suffered by his hunt brother, worried about L'tor's survival and desiring his hunt brother's female, all at the same time.

This, the Elder Arbitrator decided, was wrong. Lar'nix'va, who had barely been a functioning or productive clan member to date despite ties and training was now proving to have the potential to be not only a great and honorable warrior but a valuable member of this clan, but he was being ostracized and blacklisted by this clan's leadership. An honorable and great leader with vision would recognize Lar'nix'va's potential, his drive, and would capitalize on his sudden attachments. Would accommodate and cater to him in order to secure his loyalty and trust.

Something was broken in this clan, Warkha realized, and he suspected that its failure had begun with the catastrophic loss of its females. Instead of adapting, this clan had remained rigid. As an Arbitrator he was well aware that this was one of the yautja's largest, most powerful and most respected clans, and its failure...loss...implosion...would be devastating to their entire species. That made the competency of its leadership critical to the continuance of yautja kind.

And yet.

It's most promising advisor and Master Elite, a highly respected yautja who had proven himself as a trainer and a warrior, had been apparently sent to his death on a remote and barren planetoid simply because the Clan Leader's Firstborn wanted his female.

It's Clan Leader refused to accept the loss of yautja females, and had a personal reluctance to accept the need for ooman females to continue his race. Because of his refusal to take an ooman mate himself, the strongest warriors and highest level advisors also were reluctant to embrace their new reality and accept the inevitable. Not only that, but he thought so little of ooman kind and the bonds they were capable of forging that he thought nothing of taking a female away from one of his advisors and giving that female to his Firstborn. And he apparently thought even less of sending that advisor to his death in order to take his female.

And it's Firstborn whose agenda began and ended with himself and his own needs. Who was willing to send a capable and productive clan member to his death in order to steal his female, regardless of the fact that she found him revolting or that he was eternally irritated by her species and behavior. Regardless of the fact that she was gestating the pup of another male, one that had great potential based on the pairing of its Sire and Bearer, and on the so-far success of its elder sibling.

Closed off in L'tor's armory and using it as his private meditation chamber, Warkha tried to focus on his breathing, to find his center and regain full control over his thoughts and actions. The ooman female had been wreaking havoc on him and he had not only allowed it, he had indulged himself and gloried in it. It had been so long since he'd been the focus of a female's attention that he'd subconsciously lost himself in learning her courtship play, thrilling to her every reaction to even his most casual displays of masculinity. He hadn't lost sight of the reason he was on the clan ship in the first place, but Anya's desperateness in tandem with her willing and whole hearted immersion in his kind's culture and continued survival had most certainly impressed him.

No more, he decided. The needs of this clan and by extension, his entire species, were too dire by far for him to allow himself idle courtship play. He tried to convince himself that there were no enemies, only obstacles, but something deeper and more instinctive and primitive inside him knew better. It slid behind his eyes, slithered just under his skin and hovered along all his edges, ready and waiting. No matter how he tried to rise above it, it remained, and once it was triggered...Warkha closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath, trying to concentrate on calm and find his center.

Stubbornly, as if refusing to be reined in any longer, his thoughts continued down the path he had tried to redirect them from. It was a dangerous path to take, even idly inside his own head. He was no pup, unaware of his own nature and strength. As a seasoned Elder, Warkha was well aware that his thoughts directed his actions, and that this time of meditation was a necessity for him, the way he best communed with all parts of himself and brought his mind, body and soul into alignment.

There was no one he trusted more than himself, and if his mind insisted on pursuing these thoughts then he had no choice but to think them through.

Lar'nix'va's outrage at the wrongs that had been done was borrowed fury. He had no right to be so personally invested and insulted. No right to demand revenge.

The female, though, her anger was justified and therefore righteous. She was entitled to it and she deserved retribution in payment for the wrongs done to her and her mate.

And L'tor...Warkha released a shuddery breath and shivered in his meditative pose as he let his thoughts flow where they would. He suspected that if he survived, the Master Elite's fury would drive him to exact his own revenge to regain his honor. And that his actions would result in revolution, one that could very well spread from this clan to the next like wildfire.

Another, harder shudder as he physically reacted to where his thoughts were taking him, pulling back but not quickly enough as a quiet, long stifled voice filled with righteous indignation and fury in his head demanded to know if revolution would be such a bad thing...