What Really Matters
By Ever-Frost © 2005

"Worthless piece of crap!" Bryan cursed and kicked the PTV (Personal Transport Vehicle) with his forepaw. The wolftaur was clearly pissed, grinning his teeth and huffing like an old steam-train. He gave the vehicle one more kick to let out his anger and frustration, and then with a visible effort, managed to control his temper for a while. He knew far too well that if your vehicle decides to break in the middle of the Outback, the last thing to do is to waste your energy on destroying it even further. Unfortunately one of the things he didn't know was how to repair a broken gearbox without tools, for he never fancied himself with motors and mechanics as a teenager, unlike most of his age-mates at that time.

"Well," he thought, "might as well hitchhike on the roadside. " But then doubt sneaked into his mind. What if no-one came? What if they drove by? Bryan puzzled these questions and thought about an option of taking a walk somewhere. But where? While thinking this, he started searching for a roadmap from his vehicle. Much to his disappointment and frustration, he didn't find it. "Damn, I must have left it somewhere or it fell off at the last stop. Why is all this shit falling on me!?" he cursed under his breath. Then he wiped drops of sweat from his furry forehead and looked at the sky, shading his eyes with his hand. There wasn't even a single cloud in the sky to offer some shadow, while the merciless sun grilled the landscape. Things were not going well at all.

Bryan did some calculating in his head, and weighed his options. There was not really a reasonable or good way out of this peril, but sometimes you have to choose between two evils. He decided to take his chances at the wild, rather than sit there doing nothing. This was rather risky, since he didn't have the slightest clue of the direction of the nearest town or such, but he hoped that he would eventually run into a sheep farm, or something like that. "With my luck, they'll greet me by telling me to fuck off from their land, but it's not like I have a choice."

Then he pressed his ears against his head, tied his lucky-scarf on his head to protect it from the blazing sun and started walking. "Oh Lord, how I hate this life," he grumbled and wandered into the bushland, starting a journey that would change his life dramatically.

Scarletpaws yawned hugely and stretched hir back. Shi was lying on a large stone in pastoral forest surroundings, enjoying the sunrays that shone through leaves and branches of trees, and listening to the concert of the singing birds. A mild wind blew between those trees and the air smelled lightly of eucalyptus to hir nose. It also made this warm day more tolerable to the furry chakat, who was still slightly tired from hir long walk, and was now gathering strength in this beautiful haven. This was one of those moments that Scarletpaws truly felt that shi lived for, and shi wouldn't have traded that very moment for anything in the world. Shi let hir mind wander in these picturesque surroundings, admiring every aspect shi saw in them. So pure, so calm, so beautiful.

Then the physical world reminded hir of its existence. Scarletpaws heard the quiet rumbling of hir stomach and remembered that shi hadn't eaten for a long while. Shi rolled on hir paws, stretched one more time and brushed a few fallen leaves off hir locks of raven-black hair. Then happily humming, shi trotted to hir backpack that shi had left in the shade of a nearby tree. After a short search, shi found a water bottle and fished out a couple of energy-bars that shi kept in the pockets of hir vest. Not much of a dinner but nourishment nevertheless.

After the modest meal, shi slipped the water bottle back in the backpack along with the wrappings of the bars, and took a look at the sky that showed its blue greatness through the leafy roof. "It's well past midday," shi thought. "Not that I'm in a hurry or anything, but if I'm going to take stroll in the open land and still make it back home before nightfall, then I’d better get going."

Scarlet flung hir backpack onto hir back and started a light trot, allowing hir tail to happily swing in the phase of hir steps, through the worn path that shi had travelled so many times over the years. Still, those woods seemed a little different and yet so magical every time. That's why shi visited here during every vacation that shi managed to squeeze out from hir schedule. Working in the Star Corps Security Force could be quite wearing after all. Shi liked hir job, as hard as it had become due to recent H1 uproar against non-humans, but nevertheless, sometimes shi needed hir little moments in havens like this one.

By now shi had arrived at the edge of the forest, and bright sun forced hir to shade hir eyes with hir palm. Shi took a scouting look at the horizon that was only broken by random bushes and rocky cliffs. Somehow that was a very calming sight. Shi started racing forward, enjoying the feel of soft sand under hir paws, and the feel of warm wind on hir face that made hir locks of hair swing among the breeze. Then shi suddenly twitched hir ears as shi heard a shout of pain from the distance.

Bryan grinned his canine teeth and leaned forward to prevent blood from bleeding into his eyes. His forepaws, especially the right one, hurt like hell and his forehead was bleeding a steadily dripping stream of blood onto the rocky ground. He was feeling dizzy already and he had great trouble catching his breath. Then he tried to ease the bleeding with his hand, only to feel his fingers become slowly wet with dripping blood, whose smell his sharp nose could now catch. It's quite unnecessary to say that it wasn't a pleasant one.

Bryan forced himself to remember the last few moments that brought him into this mess, to keep himself conscious if nothing else. He had climbed up a small rocky hill to take a look at his surroundings. From there he had seen an edge of a forest, not a good sign, but not a bad one either, since he knew that by following that edge he would probably sooner or later run into some sort of habitation. But when he started descending from the hill, some loose rocks crumbled from under his paws and, before he even knew it, he tripped over and fell right down the hillside. At some point he managed to hit his head on a sharp rock and, even worse, his right forepaw was jammed between two rocks and it was twisted in an unnatural position by the rest of his falling body, causing a nasty cracking sound. The pain was intolerable and Bryan couldn't help shouting. There he was now, bleeding, nearly in shock and unable to move.

He tried to stand up, but even if his paw wasn't stuck in between those rocks, he just didn't have enough strength left to do so. An unsuccessful attempt to move his injured leg, made a wave of pain sweep through his body. Tears pushed themselves into the corners of his eyes, and he let out an agitated yelp. Dizziness became even worse and Bryan had to take some balance from the ground with his free hand. Then the obvious question rose into his mind: "Is this where I'm going to die?" He took a look at the blazing sun in the sky and noticed that despite the hot weather, he’d started a cold sweat, a mark that made him throw away all hopes of survival.

But just then he noticed movement in the corner of his eye.

Scarletpaws raced to the rocky hill and saw the wounded wolftaur. Shi used a split-second to take a look at his appearance. He looked a little taller than hirself (quite an average height for a wolftaur male) and wiry build. His fur was a normal wolf-grey patterned with a little darker back and unusual black streaks here and there, with a white belly and chest. He wore a camo-patterned vest with many pockets in it, and a red scarf tied on his head. On his forehead, shi could see a small stream of blood, and his forepaw was apparently caught between the rocks.

The wolftaur didn't seem to be carrying any equipment, so he was probably not a poacher; more likely some local or a lost camper, but whoever he was, he was hurt and looked like that he could faint at any moment. Without further thinking, Scarletpaws raced sure-footedly down the hillside and shouted: "Hold on! I'm coming!"

When Bryan saw a chakat appear on the hillside, he thought, "Oh great! Now I'm starting to hallucinate", but when he heard hir shouting and starting to race in his direction, he knew that shi wasn't just some kind of desperate dream. As shi came closer, Bryan carefully observed every detail of hir. The creature resembled a big cat, a cougar or a lion perhaps, but where the animals neck should begin, instead begun quite humanoid, if furry, upper body. Creature’s head was not manlike, however, as its face resembled greatly a feline one. Now it held an expression of deep concern, as the shi raced through the hillside with cat-like grace. It was one of chakats' assets that impressed Bryan every time, despite of the fact that this wasn't first time he had witnessed it in action.

This particular chakat had a mild orange as the base colour of hir fur, completed with the common white chest and belly fur. The colour became more intense on hir back, drawing a nearly scarlet stripe along hir spine. That same scarlet could also be seen in hir "boot"-patterns. Hir hair was black as night, set into one long lock that swung on hir back like a second tail. Shi was wearing a dark blue top (that was filled quite nicely, one might add), and a utilitarian jeans vest that resembled his camo one a little, both by design and by purpose. He also noticed that shi was carrying a standard black backpack on hir back, so shi had to be some kind of wanderer. In his current situation, all help was welcome, although the proud wolftaur refused to admit this to himself.

"Don't move!" Scarletpaws instructed as shi arrived to the scene.

"Don't worry, I ain't going anywhere," Bryan answered sarcastically and glared at hir. Scarlet let the barb pass by and searched for a handkerchief from the depths of hir backpack. Then shi pressed the white hanky on his bleeding forehead, right below his scarf-line, causing Bryan to grin despite of the lightness of hir touch.

"Hold this in place. It's the only bandage I have with me right now."

Bryan slowly took the handkerchief in his own hand, carefully avoiding touching hirs. Scarlet noticed this gesture, which seemed odd to the open and physically expressive chakat. Shi decided that this was not the best possible time for questions, however.

"Now, let’s look at your leg," shi muttered and lowered hirself to take a better look at the battered body-part. The sight that greeted hir wasn't a pleasant one. The paw was bleeding from at least two spots and few pieces of fur were missing, some of which shi saw on the partly dried blood around the limb. It was also twisted in a nasty-looking position and was probably broken. In addition to all of this, the paw was still firmly stuck between the rocks, which didn't make the wolftaur feel any better.

"Oh, that must be painful," shi remarked to him.

"Well, I'm not exactly enjoying this, so could you do something about it?" he answered, keeping his expression as calm as he could.

Shi nodded and took a firm grip on the stony surface, or at least as firm as shi could. The shi took two deep breaths and started lifting. Bryan let out a single miserable yelp, followed by a jaw-cracking grin when the opposite end of the rock pressed against his suffering paw, but then Scarlet managed to gather hir strength to roll the rock off his limb.

He took a while to catch his breath and managed to push himself into a standing position on his three uninjured limbs. The odd pair took a while to look at each other, then Bryan broke the silence, "I guess I'll be going now. Thanks for your help."

Scarlet was stunned, "Going now, with that limb of yours? I don't think so! There is no way I will let you risk shock and blood poisoning."

"I didn't ask your help!" Bryan said with a blunt expression on his face. "Besides, I'm perfectly fine to go as I am.". He took few limping steps before tripping over again and collapsing to the rocky ground muzzle first. It would have been rather comical if it didn’t look so painful.

"What's eating this guy?" Scarletpaws thought to hirself. Then shi trotted to Bryan’s side, helped him to stand again, and fixed the position of the now bloody handkerchief; a motherly gesture that made the wolftaur feel like some puppy who had hurt itself while playing. He resisted the urge to say something very ungrateful.

Scarlet sighed and then said with a calm tone, "Look, I don't know what's wrong with you, but I'm sure that even you can see that you're not going anywhere with that paw of yours. Instead we'll make our way to my place, where I'll take a better look at that those wounds of yours. Otherwise you might walk that way for the rest of your short life. Okay?"

Bryan looked at hir calm eyes defiantly. "Why don't you just leave me here and..." he started but shi interrupted him.

"Now you stop that! If you want to die so badly, then you can take a hike and play yo-yo or something, but not before I've gotten you out of here and nursed those wounds of yours! You're on my responsibility now and I'm not going to let you get yourself killed after I've just gotten you out of this. Understand?!" Shi stopped and took a moment to ponder if shi had gotten too far with hir outburst, but it should be noted that a joy of life was one of the characteristics of the chakat race, hence Scarlet couldn't understand the wolftaur’s attitude. Then Bryan sighed and wordlessly nodded. At least he would stay quiet for a moment.

Calmed, Scarlet spoke the obvious: "We should really get going now. The way is long and it'll be dark in about few hours." Shi raised the wolftaur’s arm on hir shoulders and, for a final time, fixed the position of hir improvised bandage. Bryan took support from the chakat’s side and pressed the moist hanky on his forehead, trying to prevent blood from flowing to his eyes. Then the odd couple started a long and painful walk to hir cottage, a way whose every step felt like a hundred to the suffering wolftaur.

Then shi remembered something. "By the way, my name is Scarletpaws, child of One-Ear and Twilight, but everyone just calls me Scarlet for a short."

The wolftaur answered with a dry voice, "I'm Bryan."

"Just Bryan? Don't you have a surname?" shi asked. He took a long look at the setting sun, not being able to meet the green ocean called hir eyes. "Not the one that you'd need to know."

After the walk that seemed like an eternity to Bryan, they finally caught a glimpse of the silhouette of Scarlet’s cottage through the yellow-orange light of the setting sun. It was one of those timber huts that every hiker was glad to see, for their appearance on the horizon marked a long-awaited break and comfortable night’s sleep. But this moderately-sized cabin at the edge of the large woods meant even more to these two travellers. For Scarlet it was like a second home; for Bryan it was like heaven after this hellish hike.

They limped up the short stairs to the porch. It was decorated with a simple and sturdy table with few chairs, and of course the essential flowers hanging from their pots. There was a large window facing the portside, overlooking the desert land only covered by few trees between the cabin and the sand-line.

Scarlet took a bundle of keys from hir pocket and opened the lock with a silent click. Then shi pulled the door open with hir only free hand and helped Bryan inside. Shi helped him to lie down on the taur-fitted couch on one wall and said calmly, "I'll get the first-aid kit. Wait here."

"Don't worry, I'm not planning to walk anywhere," came the blank answer. Shi snorted quietly and trotted to the next room.

Bryan watched as the white tip of hir tail disappeared through the doorway. He sighed and shook his head, pondering his options at the moment. "Options? What options?" he added sarcastically. He was at the mercy of this kind-hearted creature at the moment, and there was nothing he could do about it. He sighed again and shook his head. If there was one thing he hated in the world like no other, it was being helpless.

Then he opened his eyes and took a look at his new surroundings. Sturdy, unpainted wooden walls seemed little odd to city-grown wolftaur, but he had to admit that the full picture was quite homey nevertheless. The furniture included all of the basics by chakat standards: the couch that he was currently lying on, a couple of small rugs on regular ones serving as something to sit on (apparently the owner... Scarletpaws was hir name, wasn't it? ...didn't fancy hirself with chairs designed for quadrupeds), a low table for eating and such, lonely-looking TV in the corner, modern comm on a wide cupboard, a small radio on another one, and walls full of pictures and memorials. There were two doors in the living room, not counting the one that led to the porch, and a single open doorway that seemed to lead to a small kitchen. "The one that shi disappeared into must be the bathroom. The last one must be the sleeping den, then," he thought.

Bryan was dragged out from his thoughts when Scarlet returned to the room carrying a first-aid kit. Shi opened it and started shuffling the insides until shi found a brown glass bottle. Its label stated: Hydrogen peroxide.

"Alright, this is going to hurt a lot, but your wounds must be sterilized. Bite this." Shi gave Bryan a thick, wooden rod. He couldn't help asking, "Do you know what you're doing?"

The chakat answered with calm voice, "I've gone through first-aid training. It's a part of Security Force training.'. That statement made him feel a little more safe. He slipped the rod between his jaws, placed the bloody handkerchief aside, and took a firm grip on the handle of the couch.

Scarlet took a white towel from somewhere and supported his injured foot with it. Then shi poured some colourless liquid on the wounds, where it immediately started foaming. Bryan was overwhelmed with pain. Every muscle in his body was immediately tensed and his shout was muffled by his jaws, which were locked tightly around the rod. His canine claws were slid out from his paws, and with an incredible effort he resisted the urge to scratch the couch covers. The burning ache seemed to last for eternity, but after a while the foaming stopped. Then shi used the towel to cover hir hands and took a firm grip from the limb. With a nasty-looking pull, shi managed to get the joints to their rightful places. Bryan felt blood escaping from his head and stated to feel dizzy. At least it eased the pain.

Scarletpaws observed the wolftaur as he slowly opened his eyes. Shi noticed that tears had forced their way to his eyes and couldn't help feeling sympathy towards the suffering soul. Shi reached to his face and gently stroked his hairy cheek. "There. It's okay now." Bryan was touched by this caring gesture, but he didn't show it outwards. "How's your head feeling?"

"Better," came the terse answer, as he took the badly-bitten rod out of his mouth. Shi slid his scarf off his head to better examine the wound on his forehead. To hir surprise, shi noticed that the fur on his head was much longer than usual, and a large black spot on his head drew something that looked pretty much like hairline. This made him look quite handsome to hir taste. Scarlet couldn't resist taking a quick look at his broad shoulders and bare chest, that was clearly visible under his vest. Shi was in hir female phase right now, and found him quite hunky.

Then shi shook hir mind off such things and took a look at the scratch on his forehead. It had already stopped bleeding and didn't look nearly as bad as shi had expected. Shi poured a drop of peroxide on a hand-towel and pressed it against the wound. Bryan grimaced, but didn't try to avoid hir touch this time.

"You said you worked in the Security Force, right?" he asked formally.

"Yeah, in the Star Corps."

Bryan was not surprised. "Then you might know my brother. He's stationed in Adelaide."

Scarlet raised an eyebrow "No, sorry. I work in Sydney.".

Now he was surprised. "Sydney? Not that I know where we are exactly, but isn't that quite a long ride from here?"

Shi nodded. "Yeah, but my family used to live in Adelaide when my mother built this thing. It’s too dear to us to be sold though."

He took another look around. "Your mother must be quite a carpenter."

"Shi was, but shi died some time ago," shi sighed.

"Sorry to hear that."

"It's okay. We're starting to get to terms with it," shi answered with a calm voice. Then shi took the hand-towel off his forehead. "Okay, this should heal all by itself. Your paw doesn't have any large bone breaks, but hairline-fractures are possible. It's best that I put a supportive bandage on it. Just don't put much weight on it for some time." With hir skills, that bandage was in place without too much time or pain.

Scarlet gathered the first-aid equipment back into the box and took it back to its proper place. Then shi returned to hir 'patient’s' side, and said, "Okay, now the only thing it needs is time."

Bryan sighed, for time was one of his luxuries that he didn't like wasting. He was about to answer something, but his words were cut off by a tired yawn.

Scarlet started feeling drowsy too. "It's been a long day for both of us. Is there anything you need besides sleep?"

"Yeah. You wouldn't happen to have anything to eat, would you?"

Scarlet slapped hir forehead. "Oh! I completely forgot we haven't eaten anything. Just wait for a minute and I'll make something up, okay?"

"Don't bother because of me," he answered hesitantly and was about to rise from the couch, but shi stopped him with hir hand.

"It's not a problem, and what did I just tell you about straining your limb?"

He reluctantly reseated himself and watched hir disappear to the kitchen. Then he made his trademark-sigh and pondered this strange host of his.

Even though the meal consisted only of milk and sandwiches, it was one of most delicious that Bryan had ever had. He didn't know if it was due his straining day or the fact, that he hadn't eaten a mouthful since the morning, but at that moment it didn't really matter.

The pair ate in silence, until Scarletpaws decided to break the ice. "There's one thing I'd like to know, Bryan..." shi swallowed hir mouthful, "...how did you end up in the middle of nowhere in the way you were?"

"My vehicle broke up and I started walking. Then I tripped over on that cliff, and you probably know the rest."

"It would have been much more reasonable to wait for another car than wander in the wild, y'know."

Bryan shook his head. "It was a very quiet road, and I tend to have bad luck when it comes to rescues."

"You didn't seem to have it this time," shi corrected. "It was sheer luck that I happened to be around."

Bryan didn't know what to answer so he just nodded.

"So, who's expecting you? Where do we have to phone tomorrow?"

He shook his head. "Nowhere."

Shi caught milk in the wrong throat and coughed for a while. "Nowhere? What about your family, or workplace?"

"My family doesn't know my whereabouts, so I guess it doesn't matter, and I'm unemployed, so you don't have to worry about my workplace."

This time shi didn't know what to say, so shi just blurted out, "Oh!" Shi certainly hadn't seen this coming, but shi somehow sensed a hint of shame and sorrow in the wolftaur’s voice when he said it. There was clearly something more in this thing, the empathic chakat was sure about it, and hir curiosity had awoken. Shi didn't want to push him, however, so shi just let the subject drop, at least for now.

Then shi took a look at the clock at the wall. "It's quite late. I think that we both deserve a little rest after all this. Will you be comfortable sleeping there if I'll get you a blanket?"

"Yeah. That's more than enough for me," he answered with a yawn.

After he got his blanket and Scarlet got to hir sleeping den, they were both quickly asleep.

Despite his sore paw, Bryan slept very well. His deep slumber was sadly interrupted by the morning sun that teased his eyes through the space between the curtains. He slowly lifted his head from the couch pillow and licked the front of his teeth. The taste was terrible. The sound of running water from the bathroom told that Scarletpaws was awoke too, probably refreshing after a night of solid sleep. He scratched his head and tried to get his 'hair' in order, while sniffing the new day. His sensitive nose could sense a whiff of fresh coffee from the kitchen, a scent that made this morning suddenly feel much better. There was a scent of promise in the air.

However, just when he stretched his back and made a huge yawn, the bathroom door opened. He instinctively took a look in that direction and his jaw dropped to the floor. Scarlet was standing in the doorway, drying hir hair with a pink towel. Shi looked slightly different with hir long black hair loose, but that hadn't surprised him. What had shocked the wolftaur was that shi didn't wear a thing. Hir solid, yet curvy, body would have made any male or female envious, but hir proudly present bust was like a forbidden fruit to ogling wolftaur, covered with silky-soft fur, nipples showing through as small bumps.

He didn't have any special bias towards these androgenous felinoids, but the sexy being in the doorway kicked his instincts into overdrive. He tried to say something, but all that came out from his mouth was just a dry whisper.

Then shi stopped drying hir hair and saw him lying on the couch. "Good morning! Did you sleep well?"

He didn't hear hir question as his mind was totally stunned. Shi gave him a suspicious look "What?" Shi stared at the wolftaur’s brown eyes and tried to find a reason for his reaction. Then the truth started sinking in and shi quickly covered hir torso with the towel.

Bryan snapped his jaw shut and blushed fiercely. Without being able to meet the warm eyes of the chakat he started gagging. "I...I...I'm...I'm sorry... I didn't... I mean... didn't mean to..." but shi raised hir hand to cut him off.

"It's okay. I'm sorry too. I don't usually bother to wear much when I'm alone, and you probably aren't used to seeing anyone bare-breasted. It's not a big deal for us chakats, so it was kind a blind-spot for me. No offence taken."

He was finally able to look hir into eyes. "None meant." Then he cleared his suddenly dry throat. "So, is that coffee I smell, or is it just my imagination?"

Shi smiled warmly. "Yes, I poured some before I went to shower. Thought that you'd want some."

He was able to pull a little smile through his blushing. It gave his usually harsh face an entirely new look. "Thanks, truly."

Scarlet was glad that the wolftaur was able to deal with the embarrassing situation. "Why don't you have some before it cools down? I'll join you in a minute, after I've put something on."

After shi had slipped on hir comfortable blue top and bound hir hair, shi joined him for breakfast. He had already dressed (knots slowing him down surprisingly much), and had limped to the table. Today he was wearing his vest and the slightly blood-stained lucky scarf was tied around his neck. There they sat and ate their modest meal, smelling the new day.

The morning light that lit the living room made the entire structure look different from under the electric lights that had shone last evening. The passing clouds in the sky made beams of light dance on the wooden floor, nearly making the material itself alive. It was one of those everyday little miracles that made these little cabins so dear to their owners. While munching his cereal and watching the lights flicker, Bryan somehow begun to understand those people.

Not many words were exchanged during the meal, but at least they could tolerate each other’s company. That was probably because Bryan was getting a little more confident around hir, and Scarlet had taken interest in this enigmatic wolftaur’s background. Neither was ready to ask direct questions yet, but the potential was already in the air.

After the meal, Scarlet cleared the low Japanese-like table and Bryan volunteered to wash the dishes ,which he did despite hir protests. Then shi took an evaluating look in the cupboards. "I have some bad news. I wasn't prepared for having a guest when I last did my shopping, so we'll soon be out of food. I was supposed to chop some firewood today though, but I guess that'll have to wait for now."

He felt a little guilty when he said, "So it's going to be another hike then?"

Shi gave him a stern look. "Not for you, and even if we get food from the shop, the wood must be chopped to size. It's three hours walk to the nearest town and the same back. Then the wood will be nearer, but I'll have to make quite a pile, and with an axe, that will be a long and sweaty job. Might take the whole day, so will you be okay here while I'm away?"

He answered hir look with a determined glare. "No I won't. I can't just sit here and twiddle my thumbs while you're running yourself ragged keeping us supplied."

Scarlet put hir commanding military-voice in use again. "But that's exactly what you'll do and that's the end of it. You are my guest by my own choice and I want that limb of yours to heal as much as you do. That's why the last thing to do now is to strain it just because of your pride. Am I understood?"

Bryan gave hir a slightly sulky look. "Yes, sergeant."

Shi couldn't help smiling a little. Then shi put saddle packs on hir back, took hir wallet from the table and trotted to the door. Shi waved him goodbyes and closed the door behind hir. Then shi closed hir eyes and took a while to just enjoy the caressing sunshine on hir face and a singing wind on hir ears. After that shi started hir way to the next town in perfect weather. Inside the cabin Bryan leaned his cheek to his knuckles and sighed. This would be a long day.

The day had already passed into evening when Scarletpaws made it back to hir cabin, with hir saddle packs full of supplies from the market. "I'm back!" shi bellowed and slammed the door shut behind hir. Bryan was not to be seen anywhere and only the faint echo answered. Shi dropped the heavy saddle packs to the floor and shouted again. "Hello! I said I'm back!" There was still no reply. Shi took a look at the empty couch and took a while to listen for the signs of habitation, but there was none. His scent was still in the air though, so he had left the hut not so long ago. "What has that three-legged dumb-ass gotten himself into?" shi cursed and scratched the back of hir ear.

Then the sudden sound of opening door behind hir made hir nearly jump into the air. Out of the blue, a walking pile of firewood had walked to hir doorstep. Shi was certainly surprised, until shi saw a set of hairy wolf legs under the tangle, one of which was still wrapped in bandage.

Bryan peeked over the pile that he was carrying and smiled while he asked, "Could you stand aside for a moment?" He carried his load to the side of the fireplace and placed the lapful over the respectable-sized pile that he had apparently already carried in (it was strange that shi hadn't noticed it). Then shi cleared his fur of splinters and gave a self-assertive grin. "Well, looks like today’s work is done."

For a moment, Scarlet didn't know whether shi should hug or punch the grinning wolftaur. Then shi just sighed. "My warnings seem to go in through one ear and out through the other! I told you NOT to strain your paw, remember?"

He shrugged. "It's okay. It doesn't even hurt anymore, see?" He pressed his paw against the floor and put some weight on it, but the pain forced him to grimace and stop.

Shi sighed again and shook hir head. "You're impossible, mister." Then shi helped him to limp to the familiar couch. Shi lifted his foot to the pillow and took a look at the wound on the forehead. Shi touched it, but he didn't draw back, so it was healing quite well. Then shi concentrated on scolding him. "Seriously, you shouldn't have done that. It wasn't worth it."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Worth what?"

"You know what! You haven't proved anything to me except your overpowering desire to neglect your healing process. From now on you stop doing such tricks and let yourself rest properly, okay?"

"Nope." His look didn't have a gram of humour in it when he continued. "No I won't. As I said earlier, I won't lie still and let you run yourself to sweat for my living, that's something I just refuse to do. That axe-swinging job was something I could do, even with this bad paw of mine, and I just don't buy that crap about your responsibility as my so-called host. I couldn't care less about impressing you with anything, but I'll work for my living, whether you like it or not." The look in his eyes told hir that he was ready to argue about this matter, if it would come to that point.

Shi was just too tired to start a fight right now. "Okay. It's your funeral." Then shi just let it drop.

Of course shi was angry at him for disobeying hir direct order, the one that was only for his own good. To hir it seemed like he wasn't able to admit his weakness, or that it just didn't matter to him. Scarlet stared at his eyes and tried to find understanding, but the only thing shi found was more mystery and rejection. Shi was sure that there was a reason for his behaviour, but his heart was too closed to tell anyone what it was.

Shi sighed once more and took a softer expression on hir face, and even pulled a little smile. Deep down, shi was impressed by the feat that the wolftaur had just achieved with his foot broken and all. Shi was also touched by his favour, but shi understood that by openly thanking him, shi could encourage him to try something similar again. Hir smile would do as a reward, at least for now. "Now, would you like something to eat?"

Bryan nodded eagerly. "Sure!"

Shi proved to be a terrific cook. Bryan had to wonder how on earth noodles, prawn and spices could be made to taste so good. Perhaps it was the hard work, or the fact that he hadn't eaten a decent meal for a long time, but his appetite seemed to be endless.

He swallowed a mouthful. "This is great! What do you put in it?"

Shi smiled. "It's my secret recipe. Glad you like it." He had just stuffed a new forkful into his mouth, so he just nodded.

After the meal, shi washed the dishes and he decided to take a shower. 'I smell like a dead skunk,' he thought. The rest of the day was spent resting, watching television, and some friendly chit-chat; nothing special really. The sunset came and they had a tasty supper. Then the evening went by with a good television series and friendly chatter. Something had changed though. Scarlet was taking a little softer tone and noticed that shi liked the company of this strange guest. Bryan, in turn, was growing a little more confident in hir company and even managed to crack some jokes. After another tiring day, hearty laughter was more than welcome for them both. All in all, it was a very pleasurable evening.

It was already quite late when shi took a look at the clock. Then shi yawned and stretched hir back while being careful not to rip the blanket with hir claws. Then shi tilted hir head left and right, stretching hir neck, but still managing to keep the feline grace in hir move. Then shi reached for hir back and scratched an itching spot.

Bryan observed this all for a while, and then opened his mouth. "A little tense, aren't we?"

"Yeah," shi yawned. "It's been a long day."

"Have you noticed that you stretch quite often? When was the last time you relaxed properly?" he asked.

Shi replied, "I sleep enough, thank you."

He shook his head. "I wasn't talking about sleeping. You can't just keep going every day until you fall into bed, y'know."

Shi stretched again. "I suppose you're right. I've just been too busy lately."

He pondered whether he should say the following or not, but he managed to muster his bravery. "I could give you a massage, y'know... if you like that is?"

Shi gave him a surprised look, and then smiled warmly. "Could you really do that? Sure." Then shi dragged hir blanket next to his and took a lying position on it.

He was certainly startled, for he wasn't accustomed to this kind of straightforwardness.

"Well?" shi asked, giving him a look and moving hir hair aside. He swallowed and slowly placed his mildly shaking hands on hir shoulders, and let them just rest there for a while. Shi didn't draw back, and gave him a look that made his heart skip few beats. Then he started gently massaging hir back. Shi enjoyed his gentle touch and felt hir muscles warm and relax. Shi closed hir eyes and let hirself drift in this ocean of euphoria. Shi smiled and rested hir head on hir arms. It made hir look so calm and outright beautiful.

Bryan loved the feeling of hir silky fur between his fingers, when he worked his magic on the muscles in hir back. This was not the first one that he had massaged, but it was one of the most tense ever. 'Shi will burn hirself out if shi keeps going like this,' he thought and kept his hands moving.

When he was finished with the shoulders, he proceeded downwards and massaged hir upper back. Over there, hir muscles were like one big knot that his skilful fingers started to open. After a long while, he made it to the line where hir blue top became in the way. He stopped for a moment and pondered if he should go on. He didn't want to give hir the wrong idea about this whole thing, for he was already sporting a mild erection. The picture of hir topless still hadn't gotten out of his mind. But then shi muttered, "Please, don't stop."

So he carried on his work, massaging through the cloth. Shi turned hir head to a better position and purred, "Oh, that feels lovely. Where did you learn to massage like that?"

He answered with a calm voice, "I used to massage my co-pilots after duty. That can be one hell of a strain in the long run, y'know."

Scarlet opened hir eyes. "Co-pilots? Were you a pilot?"

He felt little embarrassed when he answered, "Didn't tell you that, did I?"

"No you didn't. Please tell more about yourself."

He took some time to think that, but decided to let hir have it hir way. He kept on massaging and cleared his throat. "Well, where should I start? Okay, umm... I grew up in a small town away from the big city. Had a quite uneventful childhood actually. Then it was time to start choosing a career, and I ended up in Star Fleet. There I noticed that I liked piloting ships, and I was quite good at it I might add. They tried to convince me to stay in the Fleet, but I was not a military person, so I went into the private sector. There were not many non-human pilots there since most of them join the Fleet or the Star Corps, because of the more interracial atmosphere over there, but I managed to carve myself a place for myself. Everything was quite fine until I screwed up and ended up unemployed, as I mentioned last evening. It was all my own fault actually."

"About nine months ago, I was starting my holiday and took final confirmations at the Sydney Spaceport. Then out of nowhere appeared a drunken man who started hurling insults at me, about how disgusting it was to see a gene-freak in uniform and such. I tried not to notice him, but he stuck to my side like herpes. We were, of course, starting to draw attention, and there was getting people around us. Some of them just watched, but some of them gave support to the guy. A couple more insults and stares, and the whole thing was ready to blow. Then it did. He threw a punch in my face. At the moment I tasted blood in my mouth, I had had enough. I growled in rage and launched a flurry of blows at him, and he couldn't do anything (drunk that he was). He fell, I took a firm grip of his hair and banged his face to the floor. It all happened so quickly..."

Then I sobered and took a look at my bloody hands. He was laying on the ground, still and silent, with a surprised expression on his gory face. Everyone around was shocked, and I saw a child crying. Then the security took me away. I heard later that the guy survived."

He felt hir muscles tense a little, but then shi relaxed again. "What happened then?"

He sighed. "Well, as you probably guessed my career in the company was over, for they couldn't risk to lose their reputation because of the very active media. The violent wolftaur attacking innocent human passenger at the Spaceport, as they put it, was very big news in this atmosphere, with H1 active and everything..." He spat out the term like a curse. "Then that guy dragged my sorry butt to the court and ruined me. I had to sell pretty much everything I owned to pay the compensation, but I managed to avoid jail. After the whole mess, I was broke, jobless and hopeless. Tabloids had given me a stigma of a violent freak, and that pretty much ruined my chances to get any job in this whole country. So what can you do?"

"What did you do then?" shi asked.

"I took what I got, but after some time it became clear that I couldn't go on anymore. Then I started my PTV, which fortunately was one of the few things I didn't need to sell, and headed back home to get some support, and perhaps a sleeping place for a while. But on the way, the old thing broke and there I was in the middle of nothing. You probably know the rest."

"So that's how it is," shi pondered. Of course shi was surprised by this revelation, but not actually scared. The wolftaur currently massaging hir lower back didn't seem like...how did he put it?...a violent freak. In a way, shi could now better understand his behaviour and problems, and more importantly, shi wanted to help him. "Y'know, I have a flat in Sydney. It's not luxurious, but it has enough room for two. You could live there with me until your wounds heal and you get a call to your parents."

Bryan was startled and stopped massaging. "What? Why the charity? What have I done for you?"

"Why do you have to place a price on everything? I just want to help, that's all."

He shook his head. "No, I can't accept that. You have done enough already."

Shi turned hir head and looked him straight in the eyes. "Stop playing the martyr! Since your PTV is broken, and so is your foot by the way, there's not many places for you to go on your own. One way of improving your situation is by swallowing your pride and letting me to help you."

He didn't want to argue about this matter, so he just sighed. "I suppose you're right. I'll find a way to make this up to you, somehow."

Shi winked at him. "You could start by carrying on your massaging job. There are some places in my sides which just are craving your magical touch."

He smiled and did just that.

After the treatment, Scarletpaws felt better than for ages. Shi stretched once more, but this time the tension was gone. Shi made a happy smile, hugged Bryan and gave a kiss to his hairy cheek. "Thanks! That felt really good."

He blushed fiercely, and as much as one could see through the grey fur, he was red like a tomato. He looked shyly into hir eyes and muttered "No problem."

Shi giggled a little and let him go. Even if shi didn't admit it, the massage that shi had just received had felt good also in another way. His strong fingers caressing hir spine had been such a wonderful sensation that shi had a growing erection. Shi mustered all hir willpower to turn hirself off, and hoped that he didn't smell hir condition.

Then shi stood up and proceeded towards the sleeping den. He managed to get on his feet, and limped to the couch that he used as bed. When he was sitting down on it, he heard a soft voice say, "Isn't that quite a hard surface to sleep on?" He took a look at the chakat who was still standing in the doorway.

"Nope. I'm quite used to sleeping in various places." Shi was unsure about the next question, but decided to ask it anyway. "My bed in the sleeping den is much more comfortable. You can share it with me if you want to."

He was paralysed by this offer. Of course he knew about the chakats habit of sleeping together. Although not necessarily involving sex, he just wasn't used sleeping in the same bed with others, particularly ones as sexy as this one. Hir offer seemed like a big roller-coaster at the first run: frightening and tempting at the same time. Then he took a look at his host waiting in the doorway and swallowed his fear.

"I guess I could do that...if you'd like it that is."

Shi smiled, walked to him and took his hands on hir own "I will. You've turned out to be nice company, y'know."

He could never have believed he’d hear anyone speak those words.

Shi helped him to limp to the sleeping den and used every moment to look at his figure. Then shi decided to quench hir curiosity. "By the way, that fur of yours, those black streaks aren't common, are they? Does it run in your family?"

He stayed silent for a short while, then answered, "Yeah, they're a heritage from my parents."

The next morning, Bryan awoke in entirely different surroundings. Soft cover and silky sheets were a luxury he couldn't have afforded for a long time, so it was really nice to awake between them for a change. He exerted his upper torso and yawned widely.

Then he noticed that Scarletpaws was still sleeping beside him. He carefully got off from the taur-fitted bed and scratched an itching spot in his back. Then he put on his camo-vest and donned his scarf around his neck. After that, he took a look at the sleeping chakat. Hir long hair fell over hir head and shoulders like a black waterfall, and one could see a hint of smile on hir serene face. He came a little closer and just watched hir sleep for a while. He couldn't remember if he had ever seen anything so beautiful.

"Oh man," he thought, "shi looks like an absolute angel. Wonder if I'll ever manage to say that to hir." Then he noticed that hir smile grew little longer.

"I know that you're there," shi muttered with a sleepy voice. "Do you like what you see?"

He blushed briefly. "Just wanted to check up if you're still asleep, y'know?"

Then shi opened hir eyes and looked right into his, and hir smile grew wider still. "Oh please, I know perfectly well what you're looking at."

He was startled and couldn't say a word. "Take it easy. You did nothing wrong." Then shi got up off the bed, covering hir chest with a sheet. "Why do you have to take these things so seriously? You can ease up a little bit with me, okay?"

He didn't know what to answer, so he just shrugged. Then he decided to change the subject. "I think I'll pour some coffee. Would you like some?"

Shi gave him a girlish look, still holding that same smile. "Would you be so kind?"

He smiled in return and limped to the kitchen.

After the breakfast and dishwashing, shi changed his bandages, and was happy to see that the wounds in his foot had healed pretty well. A couple of weeks and he would be as healthy as ever. Bryan felt better also, for he could already put some weight on his injured limb. This made him feel less crippled, and it made things easier for Scarlet too, for shi didn't need to help him so much anymore.

"Do you have any plans for today?" he asked while they were listening the radio.

Shi thought for a moment. "Not really. Why?"

"I was just wondering how you tend to spend your days over here."

Shi listened the song currently playing for a while and then answered, "Well, I don't spend my time over here that much. I like to hike outside a lot, which is what I was doing when I found you, so this place is mostly for relaxing and sleeping."

"Would you like to show me around, then?" Shi took a worried look at his injured limb "Can you make it?"

"Don't worry, I can keep up."

Shi smiled at him. This showing-off was so Bryan-like. "When do you want to leave?"

"As soon as we're ready to. It's not as if I have better things to do anyway." Then he switched the radio off.

Shi stood up and took hir backpack from the corner. "I can lend you one of these. I always have one to spare."

Bryan gave hir a friendly grin "Is there anything you aren't prepared for?"

Shi grinned back at him. "Nope! In the wild one, must prepare for anything." Then shi got more serious. "Now pack yourself as much food and water as you'll need for the rest of the day. Then some painkillers for the worst case, a roll of bandage, pocket knife and matches. Got all that?"

He nodded. "What about a map and a compass?"

"I have them, but I know this territory so well that I have never managed to get myself lost."

Bryan nodded. He would have to rely on that.

A few moments later, they had packed and were ready to leave. Scarlet locked the door and they started their hike into the bushlands, in the direction of the morning sun. There were few clouds in the sky, but fortunately a mild wind made the weather more tolerable to the furry walkers. They strolled through the bushland, following the edge of the forest. Then their way took them to the sand desert, which was one of the toughest parts of the way. The same wind that made the air slightly cooler, now blew red sand into their eyes, which irritated Bryan a little, but Scarlet was quite used to it. They covered their eyes with their hands and kept going, admiring the rugged landscape at the same time.

At times, shi stopped to show him some landmark, such as rabbit’s den or a strange rock. At one point they saw a small pack of kangaroos in the distance. It was good luck, since there weren't many in this area. Shi was actually surprised at how well the wolftaur could keep up, for a guy who still had his foot wrapped up. Of course shi had to slow down a bit, but that was not a problem since he had become all the time more talkative, and managed to crack some jokes on the way. Most of the time, his voice was filled with awe and healthy respect for these untamed wildlands, and he was also interested in the flora and fauna they saw in their hike. All in all, he was a very nice hiking partner.

After midday had passed, they reached the forest. Scarlet quickly found a nice place to rest, which was actually not far away from the place that shi had napped two days ago. The break came just at the right time for them both, for they were both tired and extremely thirsty. Both took just a sip from their water bottles, for shi had advised Bryan to be sparing with his water. It would have to be enough for the whole day. Then they ate some sandwiches and fruits that they had brought along, and as they tend to do after a long hike, they tasted great. The forest created its own atmosphere with the peaceful-looking scenery, and it felt like a home to both of them. The unique spirit of the forest that made taurs and people come there time after time and see life itself in different light, was clearly present.

"Do you like this place?" shi asked suddenly.

"Yeah. Now I see why you like hiking over here so much." He took an another bite from his sandwich.

Shi smiled gently. "I truly love these forests; always have; always will."

"How did you get to know this area so well?"

Shi took a dreamy look into the distance. "As I told you before, my family lived in Adelaide when I was little. We made many camping and hiking trips to this area," shi closed hir eyes, "especially after my parents built that cabin. After my mother’s death, it's been mostly in my use though. That's where I resemble my mother." Shi sniffed and opened hir eyes again. He could see a small tear in the corner of hir left eye. "Shi used to love this place too."

Bryan drew closer and patted hir shoulder in a comforting way. Shi looked him straight into the eyes and gave him a smile that could have melted an iceberg. Then shi cleared hir throat. "I think we've rested enough. Let’s get going, shall we?"

They repacked their supplies and prepared to make the rest of the journey. Bryan took his scarf from his neck, dried sweat from his forehead, grimacing slightly when he accidentally touched the still sore scar, and tied it on his head to protect it from the sun.

Shi was just about to get going, but instead looked at him and asked, "What's with that scarf of yours anyway?"

"Oh this? The wind blew it into my face the day I passed my pilot-exams. I've kept it with me ever since as a lucky charm, or something like that." Then the duo proceeded on their way through the 'enchanted forest', to the bushland ahead.

The rest of the day flew by as if time had suddenly grown wings. When the sun was starting to draw closer to the horizon, Scarlet decided that it was time to go back. The air was significantly cooler when they got back to the cabin. They trotted to the porch and took off their backpacks. Then, like from a common cue, they both took a look at the setting sun. It had now attracted some dark clouds, and a mild gust of wind blew from the open land. Bryan took the scarf off his head to let it have some fresh air, and then tied it around his neck in the familiar way. Shi, in return, took off hir vest, because hir back started to feel sweaty. They both welcomed the breeze, as it wiped away the marks of tiredness from their bodies.

Then their eyes slowly drifted from the setting sun, and came to meet each other.

Shi drew a smile and said, "I've had a really lovely day. I hope you enjoyed it also."

He smiled too. "Yeah, as lovely as it can probably be. You showed me an entirely new world, y'know."

"How does your paw feel?"

He looked at it. "Pretty good, I guess. Doesn't hurt that much really."

"So it’s starting to heal after all."

He sighed. "It’s surprising how quickly I have started to like this place. As funny as it sounds, it feels almost like home."

"I know what you mean. You have every right to call this place home, at least until we get to my place."

"I still don't know about that, but I guess I'm just being silly. I just want you to know how much I appreciate your favour." He came closer, put his hand on hir shoulder and smiled. Shi smiled back and did the same. "Anything for a friend."

"Are we...friends?" he asked.

"For the last few days and moments, you've opened up a little, and showed me the person inside your armour. I truly appreciate that bravery, and likewise I really like that softer side of yours. So yes, I guess we're friends." Shi placed hir other hand on his shoulder and hugged him. "I'd like us to be something else too, though." Then shi slowly pressed hir muzzle against his and they shared a long kiss. For that moment it felt like the world itself was holding its breath. For that very moment there was only two of them, and nothing more.

In time, they released each other from the embrace. Scarlet looked deep into Bryan’s eyes and saw a vortex of surprise, fear and love all at the same time. Shi smiled at him. "Now we have shared a lot with each other, and the more I have seen the true you, the more I have grown to love you. Now I ask if you feel the same way towards me. I ask: will you be my Heartmate?"

He was stunned for a long while, and then turned his eyes away from hir. Then he let go of hir and turned his back on hir. "No, I'm sorry, but I cannot. As much as I love you I just cannot."

"What do you mean by that? If you feel for me, then why you can't you?" shi reached for his arm, but he shrugged hir hand away. "You don't know what you're asking for."

Shi was certainly startled. "What do you mean by that?"

He shook his head. "You think you know me, but really you don't. If you'd known the true me, you would have left dying as I suggested. You can't love someone like me, no one can."

"Don't give me that again! Every time I try to show you kindness, you turn away. I understand if you have problems, and I can help you solve them."

Suddenly he turned around. His jaws were locked in an angry snarl and his eyes sparkled. "If I have problems? I’ve got so many problems that I don't even bother to count them anymore! And you say you can help me, do you?! Oh, I doubt that! When I was sued, they took me to the psychologist, and the diagnosis showed that I have a mild borderline disorder, which probably caused me to snap with that drunk guy. So how are you going to help me with that oh empathic one?" his voice had a sarcastic tone.

Shi could say nothing. He went on. "I grew up knowing I was different! I used every bit of my willpower to prevent myself from doing something I would regret, and now I know why! So don't say you love me, because no one can love an official, violent psycho!" he spat out the last words like a curse.

"But I do!" shi nearly shouted. "That's not how you were in these past days and that's not how you truly are! You have shown me that you're much more than that, and you can be a lot more, if you'd just let me help you!"

He closed his eyes and turned his face away. "I don't want yours, nor anyone else’s help. I've had enough of everyone, so don't you tell me what I should do. I'm perfectly fine to do as I see fit."

"The hell you aren't! Without me you would be dead right now." shi snapped.

"Perhaps that would be better!"

Shi was now truly shocked. "You can't be serious! Haven't you even thought about all the people that would miss you? Your family..."

Now his anger had reached the boiling point. He cut hir off with a vicious snarl. "What do you know about my family, you motherless wimp?!"

He snapped his jaws shut immediately when he realised what he had said, but it was already too late. Shi backed away a few steps, clasped hir hand on hir muzzle and tears burst into hir eyes. Bryan felt a sharp sting in his heart "No...wait...I didn't..."

Shi raced off the porch and headed to the woods while crying hir eyes out. Shi didn't hear his shouting, "No...Scarlet...Wait...I didn't mean that!" The only thing he could do was to watch hir disappear into the forest.

Bryan smashed his fist against the wooden post and cursed aloud. Then he shouted out his rage and frustration, but at some point the shout turned into helpless crying. There he was, leaning on the post and covering his eyes with his hand, failing to stop the stream of tears. Then he managed to calm down a little bit. "Nice going you big-mouthed moron! Shi gives you a hand and you decide to bite it! What the hell is wrong with me?!" He would have given himself a kick in the behind if he’d had strength to do so.

After he managed calm down a little, he started on sorting out his thoughts. "Shouldn't have said that, dammit! This is exactly why I hate losing my temper! Every time it happens, someone gets hurt!" He took a look at the woods. "I must apologize to hir, and then I'll explain everything, even if shi doesn't want to see me again." He hung up his head. Then he closed his eyes. "Shi's the only one who has truly wanted to help, without wanting anything from me. Shi's also the first one who I've ever felt comfortable with. But can I ever look hir into the eyes after this stunt I pulled?"

Then he lifted his hand and punched himself "Stop that! This is your mess and you will clean it up!" He took a look at the setting sun that was partly covered in clouds. "It's getting dark, so I should probably go looking... No. Shi probably wants to be alone for a while, and besides it wouldn't help hir much if I get lost in the forest." He was heading back inside, but then he heard a scream. As far as he knew, there was only one being able to scream in these woods. "Scarlet!"

Shi had run to the forest with tears burning in hir eyes. When shi felt that shi had gotten far enough, shi leaned against a tree and cried hir pain out. "How could he say something like that?! How could he be so cold-hearted after all we've gone through?!" Then as hir shock and pain slowly started to wear off, and hir uncontrollable crying reduced to sobbing. Somewhere in the background echoed the sound of thunder. Then shi gathered hirself. There was a word that haunted in his mind. "Mild antisocial-disorder, so that's why he called himself a violent freak. But he seems so nice person, if a little lonely."

Then it started to sink in "That's probably why he doesn't accept help; he just doesn't trust others. He has been officially alienated by marking him psychopathic, so it probably makes sense."

"There's just something about him that I don't understand. Why does he behave that way? What has made him so bitter?" Shi wiped hir eyes and sniffed. Then shi opened hir eyes and sniffed the air again. "Smoke?" Shi took a look in the distance and saw flames. Then shi screamed.

Scarlet raced to escape the forest fire, but deep down shi knew that it could be all in vain. In the relatively dry terrain, the fire could advance two feet in a second, and rain wouldn't be very likely. It all sounded quite little in a textbook, but it suddenly became much more in real danger. Hir vision was still slightly blurry, but panic and instinct for survival gave hir enough agility to dodge the trees, which weren’t so dense really in that part of the forest, and not to trip on to the undergrowth. The scent of smoke dug deeply into hir sensitive nose, and the fear of smoke inhalation gave hir new speed. Shi was not sure about where shi was running, but at that point that was the smallest of hir problems.

Then the Murphy's Law struck again. Shi took few fateful moments to look at the closing flames, and then stepped on a thick root. Hir paw slipped and shi hit hir chest against a branch, and the impact emptied hir lungs. Shi fell to the ground to try to catch hir breath. That was not easy because of the smoke and shi started coughing. Then a flaming tree fell right next to hir and shi noticed that the fire-line had surrounded hir. Shi crawled back and tried to get on hir paws, but just then another burning tree fell. Shi managed to roll aside, but hir tail was caught under the heavy pine. A loud shout forced it's way out of hir throat, a mixture of scream and roar that showed hir sharp feline teeth. Shi tried to collect hir wits and started to lift the tree. Shi had already exhausted hirself by running and shock had taken its toll, so shi wasn't able to release hirself. The effort forced hir to cough again, and hir eyes started to water. Shi looked at hir blurred surroundings and saw the dancing flames closing dramatically slow. 'Farewell my sire, at least I'll meet my mother soon,' shi thought, but then shi heard a shout from a distance.


Bryan covered his face with his arm and dashed through burning bushes. He raced to hir side. "Let's go!"

"I can't! My tail..." He took a look at the burning tree lying next to hir and understood the situation. Then he tried to grab it, but was forced to let go when the fire lashed his shoulder. He laid his eyes on suffering chakat, and a huge dose of anger and adrenaline rushed through his veins. With a determined grin on his face he took a firm grip on the trunk, pushed the pain out of his mind and managed to lift it aside.

Then he helped hir stand, "We gotta go now!"

"The edge of the forest is that way!" shi pointed in the direction. They started running through the burning landscape, trying to breathe the smoke as little as possible. Fortunately they managed to find a quite safe route. Then they got the glimpse of clear land to their right, but the burning tree had fallen in the way. There was no going through the burning undergrowth, and they were getting short of time.

Bryan braced himself and got ready. "On three!" Shi understood what he meant and crouched to the starting position. "One...Two...Three!" he counted and sprinted forward as shi followed. When they reached the log they made a huge leap, which was just enough to avoid the peril of flames. Burning branches scratched their faces as the two taurs almost seemed to fly over the danger. As soon as their paws hit the ground, they kept on racing, until they were a good distance away from the burning forest.

Then they stopped to catch their breath. Suddenly he let out an agitated yelp and noticed that the tip of his tail was burning like a candle. He immediately put it out.

Shi gaped at him. "How could you move so fast with that leg of yours, and how did you find me?"

He looked at hir eyes. "It's amazing what you can do when you have to."

"Have to?" shi asked.

"Yeah, you saved my butt, remember? Did you think I would miss a chance to pay back?" He grinned, but then became more serious. "There's more to that, in fact. Listen, umm, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I didn't really mean that. I appreciate you and your help...and love you too...I just...just have some troubles showing it. Will you forgive me?"

Shi gave him a huge smile and hugged him. "It's okay. I forgive you. I'm just thankful that you came to me when you did."

For a moment they closed their eyes and enjoyed the proximity . Then lightning lit the sky and the rare gift of rain was given to the land. They opened their eyes and looked to the sky that cried for their happy reunion.

Some time later, they laid together on the large couch in Scarlet's cabin. Their soaked clothes were taken to the porch to await the morning sun, since the rainy night was not the best time to dry clothes. There they cuddled together, enjoying the mutual feeling. Hir nakedness didn't even bother him anymore. After what they had gone through, that had become just too trivial. Shi was caressing his grey fur and strong chest, as he stroked hir hair. The radio played a quiet song in the background.

There was a long silence, until shi finally spoke "There's one thing I'd like to ask. I understand if you don't want to answer though."

He nodded "Go ahead and ask."

"You seem to shun company, but why? What has made you so bitter to others, that you developed such a disorder?"

He cleared his throat. "Well, I guess you deserve an explanation. As I mentioned, I grew up alone and didn't adjust too well to groups of any kind. I had some uncontrollable hatred inside that prevented me from liking others. I felt that the whole world had turned against me, and at the times I really considered killing myself to prevent myself from snapping. Then I beat down that guy in the Spaceport, and released it for the first time. At the tests, they asked me wether I knew that hate's origin. I lied that I didn't. In fact the whole thing slowly started when I was twelve or so. At that time, I once eavesdropped my parents, and I learned the truth about my origins. I... I'm adopted."

He hung his head, but shi put hir palm under hir chin and lifted his head to meet his eyes. Then he went on. "I had some suspicions because of my fur-colour, which you probably noted too. Anyway, everything I believed in, including myself, was smashed to pieces. I realised that everything I had been told was a lie. Can you guess how that feels like? After that, I didn't trust anyone but myself and got pretty isolated. Then I snapped and the whole world was on me, telling that I was a violent freak that didn't belong anywhere."

"But that's not the entire story, is it?" shi added.

He grinned. "Yeah. I hated you and your help at the start, but then I started to feel something different. It's not easy to hate someone as kind as you, y'know. I wondered how on Earth you can be so kind to someone like me."

"Love watches not with the eyes, but with the heart," shi quoted.

He was surprised. "Spencer?"


Then his voice became more shy and insecure. "After that trip, I realised that I've grown to love you, but I... I was afraid to feel that way. I was afraid that in time I would end up hurting you too. That is something you don't deserve."

Shi was touched by his words. "No one is without flaws." Shi stroked his chin. "It's just a matter of trust. I know that you don't have it much, but I know this: I love you the way you are, and if you feel the same way about me, don't be afraid to tell it to me." Shi took a deep look into his blue eyes. "So I ask you again: Will you be my Heartmate? I won't be offended if you refuse, but I want you to give me a honest answer, whatever it is."

He stayed silent for a while, for he was just too confused to answer. Of course he loved hir, but he was just too insecure to decide right now. 'Why does my life have to be so damn complicated?' he thought, and moved his eyes away from hir. Part of him wanted to do this, but another part of him was afraid to walk this hard road.

Then they both focused on the radio, as it started to play a new song by Darknova. It was a mixed human-taur band that had a foxtaur vixen, Carlynne Clearriver, as their singer. That gave them slightly Celtic shade, but their musical style combined melodic metal and sad blues. Bryan hadn't taken much noticed to the band, but they had always been one of Scarlet's favourites. The song started with a lone, sad guitar, but the other instruments joined in soon. The keyboards echoed a strange, beautiful melody, and then the song started. It went like this:

Another night, another day
has altogether gone away,
dull and grey, as you can see,
as empty as they tend to be.

In moments that are like this one,
it makes me wonder what I've done.
Why am I afraid and shy away
from the light of a brand new day?

I guess I'm just afraid to choose,
fearing to go on and fearing to lose.
So it's time to ask myself now,
what really matters in this life anyhow?

What really matters is to live today
and take all that'll come on your way.
Yesterday's gone, tomorrow's too far,
and today you got only a heart with a scar.
Can't choose the base of your life,
but it doesn't matter without a will to strive,
'cause what really matters is to be loved and free
from this day to all eternity.

Then came the long and weeping guitar solo.

"I'll be damned," Bryan thought. He turned his eyes to the roof and pondered about the song. "What really matters in my life anyhow?" he thought. Then he looked at his surroundings in a dim electric light, and then turned his face to hir. Their eyes met, and after a moment he had made his choice.

He pressed a gentle kiss on hir muzzle. This time the awkwardness was gone, however, and for the first time in his life he was sure about his feelings. The experience could not be compared to anything that he had felt before.

When they finally broke off to get some air, he said with a smile "Yes, Chakat Scarletpaws, I'll be your Heartmate."

Shi leapt for joy, hugged him and locked him in another long kiss. When it ended, he saw that tears of happiness glistered in hir eyes. He felt his own starting to water too. Then they shared an intimate hug, and snuggled for a while.

"Hudson," he suddenly said.


"My last name's Hudson."

Shi caressed his chin. "Bryan Hudson. My sweet Heartmate."

Shi pressed hir head against his chest and rested it there. He caressed hir black hair, and looked at the gorgeous chakat that had suddenly shared his life and loneliness. Then shi started to purr quietly. It felt really nice.

He took a look through the window at the night sky that was full of twinkling stars. If you looked closely, you could see a glister of something in his eyes, that hadn't been there for a long time.

It was hope.


To be continued in I Remember You.

Story copyright © 2005 Ever-Frost   (ever-frost@hotmail.com)

Chakats and the Chakat Universe are the creations of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.

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