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By the Crius, what had they done?
Takoda rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his free hand, the other pinned beneath the woman sleeping next to him. He stared at her. She was not his chosen one, not the woman he thought he would spend the rest of his life with. His chest tightened.
No, instead he’d visited a Pleasure Dome to bury his sorrow in the willing body of a meekwee. Looking over her, he found Awan, his arm and one leg thrown over her.
He tried to remember last night, but his brain was cloudy from the Tolban ale and whatever the woman had given them. Some drink from Earth that he blamed for the pain in his head.
“Awan.” He kept his voice to a whisper, not wanting to wake the woman up. That he couldn’t remember her name proved how much her drink had affected him. He always remembered a woman’s name.
Awan didn’t respond, his breathing continued in that blissful state of sleep.
An uneasy feeling about their night to escape their heartbreak caused Takoda’s gut to tense. Everyone knew it was poor judgement for two men to enjoy one woman in the Pleasure Domes. It could be done, but only if the men were well in control to avoid bonding. Unfortunately, he had grave concerns about his control throughout the night. He had to know what Awan remembered.
Slowly, he pulled his arm out and slid from the bed. He only hoped she slept as soundly as Awan. He leaned over the bed, but quickly stood straight again, his head feeling as if a feroon sat upon it. He whispered again. “Awan. Awan, wake.”
The brother of his heart didn’t move. As much as Takoda wanted to slip out and pretend he hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t avoid the ramifications of what they might have done. He had to know.
Did they bond with a woman they’d just met?
Walking around to the other side of the bed, he could see why they’d both been happy to spend the night with the red-haired beauty. Her body was full and curvy and her legs long. A woman a man could embrace without fear of hurting her. Her face, even in sleep was exquisite with high cheekbones, a slender nose, and full lips that even now stirred his desire. But she wasn’t Xavia - the woman they were supposed to have bonded with.
His stomach rolled, the not-knowing making him sick. It was either that or the Earth drink she called teekeela. Carefully, he lifted Awan’s arm off their bedmate and tugged. His blonde-haired friend rolled his head toward him and his eyes opened slightly. “What?”
Takoda crouched down, careful to keep his head perpendicular to the floor. “Shh, we need to leave. Now.” He gestured toward their companion. “While she sleeps.”
Awan frowned and jerked his hand away to rub his temple. Lifting his leg from the woman, he sat up on the edge of the bed, holding his hand over his eyes, despite the muted light coming in from the high windows of the domed bedroom. “I need a healer.”
“So do I. Come.” He locked onto Awan’s arm and pulled him to a standing position.
Tugging his friend toward him, Takoda almost lost his own balance and let go, the pain in his head intensifying. By the Crius, what had been in that bottle? He glanced back toward the bed, concerned that she might be in pain as well. Should they bring a healer back or were Earth women immune to teekeela?
The sound of Awan bumping into the archway that connected the bedroom to the meekwee’s living quarters had him quickly moving out of the room. She must have been familiar with the properties of the drink. They could come back later and see how she fared…once he knew what happened last night.
It took all of his concentration between the pounding in his head and an unusual lack of balance to maneuver them both out of the Pleasure Dome and into the thoroughfare still empty in the predawn hour. He was thankful both for the quiet and the gray start to the day that portended rain. Thankful too that there were no cold drops hitting his still warm bare body. He focused on simply putting one foot in front of the other in a semi straight line.
“Which way?” Awan’s voice seemed as loud as the screech of a gokokhoko flying down for the kill. From the way he grabbed his head, he thought so too.
Takoda kept his voice to a whisper. “East.” He pointed toward the lightening sky. They had wandered out of their hatchoc last night, their pain over losing both their beloved and the brother of their heart too much to bear. They’d walked and talked until one of the new patrols had spotted them in the pink light of the Bendis moon.
Once the patrol determined neither of them were Kindred of Eden, Awan had pulled him into the Pleasure Dome, presumably because he’d threatened to levitate the patrol higher than the top of the dome and drop them to the ground. He remembered that much.
“She felt so good.” Awan’s whispered words held a sense of awe.
“Do you remember what happened?”
Awan’s grin turned to a cringe when he started to nod. “I remember how good it was to be inside her. And she smelled of sweet fruit. So beautiful.”
At the mention of the sweet fruit scent, the vision of the meekwee in the throes of her ecstasy flashed through his mind, spiking the pain in his head while at the same time causing his body to react.
Awan must have noticed. “I see you remember, too.”
He sighed. “Just a little. What I can’t remember is if we bonded with her.”
“Bonded?” Awan halted. “Why would we bond with her? We just met her.”
Since it had taken him a moment to react to Awan’s sudden stop, he turned back to face him. “I know that, but I don’t remember if we were careful last night. You remember being inside her. I can’t remember if I was, too.”
If they had both reached fulfillment with her one right after the other, they could be bonded. While it chilled him to think that had occurred, his body continued to react to the idea in a positive way. Walking the pathways with an erection was not considered normal for adult Edenists.
If he could just remember! But the harder he tried, the more pain filled his head.
“So what if we did? It just means we no longer need to look for a beloved.” Awan smiled crookedly, the teekeela obviously still coursing through his body. “We must have liked her enough to enjoy her, so why not bond with her?” He lifted both hands, palms up. “I would not mind returning to her dome and continuing our evening.” He turned around, lost his balance and abruptly sat on the packed dirt of the pathway.
Takoda’s head started to pound like a rockslide but he couldn’t calm himself. “Why?” He stepped in front of Awan. “Why? I’ll tell you why. Because we love Xavia!” His voice rose of its own accord and he grabbed at his head.
Awan’s face paled before he leaned over and vomited.
At the sight, Takoda closed his eyes trying to calm his own stomach. Don’t think about Awan being sick. Think of something pleasant. Something calming. His brain filled with the vision of a woman’s neck and his nostrils filled with the scent of sweet fruit. The pounding in his head eased and his stomach began to settle.
“Help me up.”
At the sound of Awan’s defeated voice, Takoda opened his eyes. The brother of his heart sat with shoulders slumped looking up at him, all the heartache they had tried to drown out in the past night stark upon his face.
“Here.” He held his hand out.
Awan grasped his forearm and pulled himself up, but he continued to hold on until his equilibrium returned. His amber eyes appeared unusually bright in the muted light. “Thank you.”
Takoda didn’t dare nod. Instead, he let go and ignored the obvious pain in his friend’s gaze. “Let’s go home.” He began to walk again, slowly.
Awan fell into step beside him, but didn’t say a word.
They continued on in silence as they made their way east toward their lonely home. What had been a warm and inviting place with the four of them now held no appeal. Their filoz was broken and their beloved bonded to another. Xavia.
They finally came to their hatchoc and took the path to the left. As they made the turn, Awan halted again.
Takoda stopped to look at him. “What is it?”
Awan pointed ahead. “Bendis.” The word came out on an awed breath.
He moved his gaze from Awan to find the giant pink moon slowly sinking below the horizon, its proximity making it appear as big as Eden itself. He was rarely awake so early and never in a position to see such an awe-inspiring sight.
“It’s a sign.” Awan’s voice remained reverent.
A sign? “What kind of sign?”
Awan kept his gaze on the quickly sinking orb. “It’s meant to be.”
Takoda ground his teeth in exasperation. Clearly, Awan had not yet emptied enough of the contents of his stomach. “Everything is meant to be. Bendis does not make it so.”
“No.” Awan finally looked at him. “But it’s a sign that what occurred in the dark of night beneath its light was meant to be. We must wait and see.”
Now his gut was back to feeling as if it were burning from the inside out. “What do you see?” He fisted his hands as Awan closed his eyes for a moment then opened them.
“I see four scenarios where we bonded, seven in which we didn’t with two in which we each had a different woman.”
No sooner were the words spoken than images of all eleven possibilities filled his head as Awan sent them to him. Another woman? He found the odd images in his mind and frowned. He’d forgotten her. Then again, he’d forgotten most of last night. Still, the odds were in their favor that they hadn’t bonded. Awan would know which was correct. He always knew when he was involved. Takoda opened his mouth to voice his thought, but found Awan watching Bendis.
Takoda moved his gaze to catch the final sliver of the moon dipping below the horizon. A bright purple flash almost blinded him before the moon was no more. Something about that odd light had him fisting his hands again. If the odds were in their favor that they didn’t bond, then why did he feel like his life was about to change…drastically?
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