He wakes up feeling rested. His first realization is that he is naked, in an unfamiliar place, lying on a thick carpet or quilt spread out directly on the ground. He looks around as he slowly props himself up to a sitting position; the room he is in is quite large, and while it's mostly shrouded in darkness, there is light bleeding through the fissures of the large window and doors.

The second realization that hits him is that he is without his glasses, and with no idea where they may be found. As fuzzy as the fissures may seem in the mist of his myopia, he finds he can make out things clearly enough in the penumbra that surrounds him. And yet, he has little hope that he might be able to find what he is looking for. He does, however, find a large, thick wooden board lying on the ground at arm's reach from the quilt he has been laid on to rest; on the board, there is a large bowl filled with water, and some loaves of —presumably— some kind of food. On the other side, towards the feet and slightly farther from the quilt, a bucket.

As his eyes get better used to the unfavorable conditions, his mind also starts clearing up from the nightmarish memories of the last moments he remembers being conscious. Waves of panic and reassurance wash over him, alternating between the uncertainty of his predicament, and the realization that, at least, whoever brought him there seems to care enough to have left him some bare essentials —there is even a blanket crumpled at his feet, maybe something he was laid to rest under and that he himself pushed away in his sleep.

He has barely the time to realize that he has been placed to rest in some kind of shed, that the large wooden doors loudly slide open, the bright light from the outside pouring suddenly in, forcing his eyes to tighten close.

Two people walk in, surprisingly wary. The bright light behind them prevents him from seeing clearly anything but their silhouettes, only allowing him to make out their feminine shapes, that one of them is holding some kind of bag, and that the other is holding some kind of spear. Suddenly, all the reassurance that he had found in the food and water —that he yet had to even touch— collapses.

They approach him slowly, and even though the one with the bag is the one that gets closer, kneeling carefully at the feet of the quilt, he keeps his sight fixed on the other one, the more obvious threat. In the end, it's the kneeling one that turns, and … talks to the other one, with growling and snapping sounds he finds totally alien. The speared one snaps something back with the same kind of voice, but she seems to acknowledge whatever the other one said, and turns the weapon around, planting it into the ground, leaning on it.

I hunt. It's what I do, and I'm the best at it. I know every plant and animal species for three hundred thousand paces around here, and I have never seen anything like this before. This … creature here is unlike everything else: at a quick glance, one could even think for a moment that it is a person, but that same glance would call for a double take, because no person has such a hairy body. And yet, it's not even proper fur that covers him —him, because it's just as obviously a male animal.

I hunt, and it's hunting that I found him, curled up in a foetal position, perfectly still, and at first glance I thought it was someone who had gotten lost, maybe hurt, but no, it was this … uncanny creature. And that's not all: there was nothing around him but the leaves and the trees: no track, no trace, as if he had fallen from the sky, or emerged from the ground. What is this thing?

Of course I went and called for help, even if I'm the best —no, actually, because I'm the best— I know when I'm in a situation which is well beyond me. And still I can't but think that maybe I shouldn't have, because now I've lost my faith in the wisdom of the others, as their first reaction was to go for a kill.

Kill him? Like this? Why? How can one be so scared of the unknown, so afraid of it, that their first impulse would be to destroy it? Unbelievable. Good thing I'm still the hunt leader, good thing I still command respect and obedience.

But this also means that this creature is now my charge, and I have to admit to myself that I have no idea what to do with it. I had him brought here, I had food and water provided, but it seems everything has gone untouched. Even the bucket is empty. Is he sick? His total immobility in the woods, the lack of any reaction when we transported him here, everything seems to suggest so.

This is why I brought our veterinary, who is now screaming at me that I'm scaring him, and that I should either leave or calm down.

I am calm. And yes, just because I feel confident enough to bring him here, it doesn't mean I'm foolish enough to not be ready in case he turns out to be aggressive or dangerous. He is scared of my weapon? Good. It means I can at least count on enough animal instinct to dissuade him from attacking without having to actually hurt him. You do your job, I do mine.

The kneeled one lets the situation settle before approaching him again. She extends her arms slowly, palms clearly visible, leaning over slightly, then more, gauging his reactions. Hoping for some universality of this kind of gestures, the man shifts to mirror her position, arms extended, palms turned upwards. While still unable to refrain from throwing glances at the other one who is now standing perfectly still and silent, he tries to focus on the one in front of him, lit enough by the light flooding from the shed doors to allow him to see somewhat better.

Their bodies, fully exposed, have clear anthropomorphic characteristics, but he realizes now that his captors aren't human. There is something feline in the shape of their face, down to the slit pupils. When their fingertips finally meet, he notices the rough, spotted surface, so unlike his. Lowering his gaze, he is not surprised to see the lack of fingernails, and the slits for the retractable claws. And the sixth finger, unmatched by his.

Overwhelmed by the discovery, his heart beating fast, his mind strangled by the absurdity of the situation, squeezed between “it cannot be, it cannot be” and “stay calm, stay calm”, the man tries to remain perfectly still, fearing the delicate balance that at any moment might trigger the predatory nature of his captors.

He cannot prevent his muscles from stiffening when the hand (paw?) of the one in front of him finally grabs his wrist. The grip is solid, but not overly tight. He could probably pull away if he exerted enough strength, but aside from his body's natural reaction, his focus is now on not rousing his jailers' anger. So when the grip changes, two fingers pressing harder now against the wrist, he keeps perfectly still. But as the seconds pass, and his focus on controlling the breathing allows him to clear his mind, he gets to wonder: is she just taking his pulse?

Is this what this is? A medical examination? It suddenly seems obvious, and he almost explodes in a laugh as the tension that has sprung him in the last moments gives way to this realization. Of course they would want to do something like this. How could they not, considering their reaction on finding him was not just to “kill the monster”. He smiles. Everything is going to be fine.

The doctor, or whatever she is, seems to realize the change in attitude. He wonders if her new expression is one of perplexity, or understanding, or what else. It matters little: now that the tension is gone, his own curiosity is taking over, and he's almost in a hurry to learn to communicate with them, learn everything about them, as he is sure they'd want to learn from him.

The examination proceeds. The doctor now approaches him more closely, and as she feels around his arms and shoulders, the man becomes aware of her higher body heat. She grabs his head, trying to get a better look at his eyes. She then moves back, reaching for her bag and pulling out a few instruments.

The first is a small cylinder. As she turns the cap, a bright light shines out. She points it briefly at her own eyes, and then at his, blinding him. He covers his face for a moment, shutting his eyes to recover. When he opens them again, the cylinder is still in front of him, but only a very small pinhole on the cap lets a single ray out. The doctor slowly turns the cap, enlarging the pinhole, until he turns his face away again. She then proceeds with the other eye, and seems to finally be satisfied.

Still with the cylinder in her hand, she yawns. In her jaws open wide, the man cannot but notice the sharp teeth, the longer canines. He then opens his mouth as wide as he can, giving her the opportunity to examine his mouth.

She then proceeds to auscultate his back, his front, palpate his abdomen. Her hands then proceed to the genitals and the taint, moving well beyond his comfort zone. He's almost ready to protest, but his gaze meets the one of the armed one, pointed at him, eyes reduced nearly to a slit, and he abandons the idea, as he feels that despite all this, he might end up turning as food again.

As we step out of the shed, I'm eager to hear the veterinary thoughts. What I have witnessed is beyond ridiculous: it almost seemed as the creature knew exactly what was needed of him. Is it simply strong empathy on the vet's part, or does the creature have some form of telepathic capability? Now that would be something to be wary of! I just wish the vet stopped sighing and finally said something.

«He seems to be healthy enough, for what I can tell.» the vet says. Seriously? Sure, that's good, but that's not what I want to know!

«What is he?» I insist.

The vet shrugs. «I haven't the foggiest idea. You are right, the first impression he gives is that of a person, but one is quick to reconsider that: he only has the male organ, for starters. Also that ridiculous … what is that, body hair? As in, hair growing out of the body? It's not even fur! What kind of purpose could it serve? I also don't understand what kind of animal would it be. Maybe some kind of opportunistic carnivore? It's most definitely not just a herbivore, judging by the teeth, and the eye position is that of a predator, even though he has no claws, just these outer bony shells on the last phalanx; and it seems to be declawed or something, as if it was domesticated. Same with the body fat. Also» and here the vet pauses for effect «I'm not sure he is an animal, because not only he looks like a person at first glance, but he is quite obviously extremely intelligent. I am quite confident he quickly recognized that this was some kind of physical examination, and he was impressively ready to follow through. I would have guessed he knew exactly what I was doing, and what I needed him to do.»

«I gathered as much, but I'm glad to know it wasn't just my impression. So what is it?»

«How should I know? I do want to test his intelligence further though. I want to verify how much of it is simply the habit of domestication, and how much is actually brains.»

«What should I do in the mean time?»

«Wash him. He needs it badly.»

«What

«You didn't notice?»

«That's not the point. How ever am I supposed to do that?»

«Ah, that's your problem. He's your charge, you take care of him.»

«That's …» I'm furious, but I know the vet is right. «I would have expected you of the whole pride would care about this! At least give me a hand.»

«Sorry, I do care, but I have more pressing matters to attend to. Have fun.»

«Fine! And fuck you too!»

I've never felt so angry and betrayed and defeated before. Fine. I'll do it, and the creature better behave if he cares about keeping his limbs intact.

His captors have not been away for long when the armed one storms back in, in what seems a fit of rage. He jumps back from the water bowl he had just approached, fearing for his life again, but his jailer is just as quick to stop: she plants the lance on the ground again, growling, looking around, then leaning out the shed doors as if to check the surroundings. Finally, she approaches him with quickly, grabbing his wrist and dragging him out, picking up the lance in the other hand as they step outside.

The sun shines brightly, forcing him to nearly close his eyes. He only gets a vague impression of his whereabouts as the quick step of his jailer forces him to stumble forward. He manages to make out a few houses, apparently in wood and stone, and a large mass of vegetation, maybe a forest, straight ahead. Yet that's not their destination, as his captor leads him on a side path —everything seems to be unpaved— and then through a low gate into a yard, straight through a door, down a curved staircase, through another set of doors, and there she finally stops.

There's a few moment of stillness that allow the man to finally consider his surroundings better, getting used to the dim light conditions of the new settings. A stone floor under his feet, imperceptibly sloping towards the center of the room, where a large pool of still water awaits, surrounded by a parapet. Taking advantage of the regained freedom of movement, he approaches the parapet, barely managing to make out the fountain on the opposite side. The pool itself is circular, three, maybe four meters in diameters, and terraced steps can be seen below the surface.

His captor once again grabs him by the hand, guiding him —more gently this time— to a side area, with a smaller partial enclosure with buckets, stools, sponges, and soap. He catches on, and anticipating any possible requests, he sits on a stool, grabbing a bar of soap and rolling it in his hands to produce foam. He guesses from the lack of intervention that he's doing as expected, and proceeds to start washing himself up, with a sigh of relief at the much needed refreshment and, more importantly, at the escaped death.

All right, this is quite surprising. One would think that he's more than domesticated. He seems civilized, even. I mean, he's mostly doing it wrong, but who knows where he even learned to soap himself up and then rinse. I guess that spares me the need to throw him into the pool and try to scrub the dirt off that ridiculous body hair of him in what I'm sure would be the most absurd pool fight ever.

Aaand there goes a mental image I could really do without, the sexy pool fight with an alien creature. Seriously, what the fuck? That's sick. As civilized as he may seem, he's still a fucking animal. All right, bad choice of words, stop thinking about that.

Interesting, he has no hair on his back, he even seems in better shape from behind. Gah, stop looking at him this way. He can be as person-like as you want, but still, whoever would think about having sex with him?

Mother Fucking Nature, am I in heat or something? Because apparently I do. I so want to run my fingers on that smooth back of his, I want him between my legs. Actually no, I so want him to fucking mount me. No I don't, what am I even thinking, that's sick, he doesn't even have a full set of genitals! What am I going to do, just lean over and wait for him to cover me? Do they do it like our cattle?

Stop fucking thinking about that. What the fuck is my problem? I bet he'd be like a big plushie, with that belly fat and body hair. Even his penis seems fat, I wonder if it actually is, or if it just seems so because it's just larger and softer than ours?

No I'm not wondering about it, I don't care. I just want him to shove it into my cunt so much. Fuck. I've gone insane.

Mother Nature, he's trying to wash his mane with that soap. No, no, no. It would even be cute if I wasn't so fucking horny. Damn it. I have to show him.

Aaand I shouldn't have gotten this close. Oh well, at least now I know why I'm so horny, he's spreading pheromones like crazy, but why the fuck am I so receptive to them? He's a completely different species. All right, forget it, forget that, just show him how to use the mane soap. I needed to wash mine anyway.

Stop thinking sex, stop thinking sex. Just take the liquid soap in your hands, brush the mane thoroughly, grab a bucket and pour it on your head. Easy, right? I'm sure he can follow the example now.

He's looking at me, and I can't make out his expression. Is that surprise? Embarrassment? Is he horny too? Mother Nature, he is, look at that thing. Soft my ass, he was just not aroused, and look at how big it got. Mother Nature, he's trying to hide it, it's so cute. Aaand I'm getting hard too. Damn it.

Washing himself, an ordinary piece of a daily routine even at home, helps him relax. The initial feeling of clumsiness, the almost painful awareness of his captor's gaze, soon dissipate as he washes over. There is a small manual pump he can use to fill the bucket to rinse after soaping up, and he's soon mostly done, only his hair remaining. He tries making enough of a foam to be able to soap them thoroughly, and suddenly his captor steps in his field of vision. She takes a different soap, in liquid form, from a bowl sitting in the corner, and uses that to wash her own mane-like hair.

He finds himself admiring her sculpted body, the solid back, the muscular legs, the toned buttocks, the covert sensuality in the motions she goes through, everything about her now that she's not pointing a lance at him or dragging him forcefully around. And when she bends over to activate the pump and fill a bucket, his gaze inevitably falls between her slightly spread legs, and the revealing glistening in the crack they converge to triggers a natural reaction.

His face reddens, as he realizes he's getting aroused by the alien body, and the absolute inappropriateness of the context doesn't escape him; yet the similarity of their form is so close that he'd bet anyone would have a similar reaction. He sits there, thighs clenched, praying she doesn't notice —and when she turns, dripping from the bucket she has just poured over herself, her gaze falls straight on his lap, destroying any hope.

The reaction he fears doesn't manifest, and he tries to distract himself by taking care of his own hair, the awareness of her closeness and gaze weighting down his shoulders.

When he's done, he looks around for some kind of towel to dry —and cover— himself with, and finding nothing, he brushes the water off his skin, looking back at his captor, trying to communicate his needs silently. She doesn't move, holding his gaze with hers in perfect stillness. He is the one looking away in the end, as he stands up to signal that he is finished.

That's when she steps closer to him, so close in fact that her breasts brush against his chest: she stands nearly a head shorter than him, yet he'd bet she could rip his arms off, if she ever wanted. Instead, her hand slips between their bodies, and nonchalantly grabs his erection, with a firm yet gentle grip, her fingers finding their way to the base, the wrist softly pushing against the head, the thumb sliding on the back, feeling the firmness —and helping it grow firmer.

Then she turns around, still without letting go, and slowly drags him away, out of the bathroom, back into the vestibule and from there to another room, mostly occupied by a large, thick mattress. This is where she lets go, climbing on the bed on all fours, offering him her backside. She slides the same hand she was holding him with between her legs, up to find her own pussy, slowly caressing the lips, revealing more of the glistening drool. She lowers her shoulders, pushing her ass back towards him some more.

Oh well, he thinks, at least I'll die happy.

I've gone insane, there is no other explanation. I've never done anything like this with anyone I've been with, so why the fuck am I trying to be so inviting for him now? It's all his damn fucking fault I feel so horny in the first place! But I want him so badly now, and what the fuck does he want more to understand this? Come on, if you're intelligent, why don't you mount me already?

Mother. Fucking. Nature. Here he comes. Fuck yes. Oh, he's larger … ah, this is it, ah, why are you going so slow, fuck, ah, I'm sure I can … ah, take it. Fuck. I've never felt so full.

He weights down on me, pinning my shoulders, pushing strongly and slowly against my raised loins. I feel his cock reaching deeper inside, my pussy widening to accept him, pulsating from the pleasure of the stimulation. His cock is hot and thick and filling. He wins me over, my legs losing strength. He squashes me down against the bed, and starts to thrust, slowly sliding halfway out, then in again. It's completely unlike what I expected —a rough, violent coupling like animals do— and instead it's driving me crazy with its paced, deliberate intensity. I try to meet his thrusts, my own cock rubbing against the sheets, driving me even more crazy with pleasure.

Fuck, I love this. I'm so close, fuck. I love this. Mother Nature, this is the most … amazing … oh fuck he's coming, he's, ah, fuck, it's … ah, fuck, ah, I …

Mother.

Fucking.

Nature.

That. Was something. I came. Fuck if I came. That's the first time I come like this, because someone is coming inside me. Fuck, it's great. And he's still throbbing, and it's so nice to feel him still inside, and my own cunt tightening on him. Ah, feels still so good. Fuck, I'm purring like a fucking nursed child, ah, it's so good, and his weight on me, I would have never guessed I'd like it so much. It's almost like an embrace, and he feels lighter than I would have expected. Let us stay like this.

He lies there on top of her, barely propping himself up on his folded arms intertwined with hers, still feeling the warm, wet, tight, muscular pussy twitching around his throbbing cock, holding it in, preventing the erection from completely dying out. And in the panting afterglow, the heat of the moment past, the full weight of the insanity of his actions finally hits him. Unprotected sex with an alien creature. The shortest, most intense sex he has ever had, every single motion within her tight channel nearly drawing his seed, the care he had to take to avoid exploding as soon as he had managed to slip in, the enthusiastic feedback with which she responded when pinned down, and now that incredible rolling noise coming from her lower throat, like a cat purring. You know what, he says to himself, I don't care: my life is busted, I'm probably going to die as soon as she recovers anyway, do I care about STDs or whatever else might be the rational reason to be careful with this? no I don't, and I'd do it again in the blink of an eye, given the opportunity.

The past sensations still rippling through his body, kept afresh by the periodic clamping with which she seems to try and keep him in, her purring —she purrs! he keeps thinking, how awesome is that?— make him completely oblivious to his predicament, the inexplicability of his situation, the uncertainty of his future, the loss of his past. The pleasure of the present is the only thing he cares about. And he is fine with that. He'd be fine with the present situation enduring, if possible with only minor changes, such as being able to communicate with her verbally, and maybe try and have sex in a less animal fashion —not that this wasn't ridiculously satisfying or anything.

When he finally lifts himself up with a deep sigh, managing to slip out of her milking grip, it's almost with a quiet resignation: whatever comes, he has felt pure bliss, he's ready for whatever comes. Feeling his weight lift, she groans, and slowly lifts her chest up, turning on the side to look at him.

«I'm sorry.» the words escape him in a whisper, before he even realizes the futility of the gesture. Her eyes grow wide with surprise, giving him time to regret opening his mouth in the fraction of a second before her pounce. She grabs him, throwing him to the mattress again, pinning him with his back down, straddling him, her still wet pussy firmly pressed against his groin, her gaze locked into his as she slowly leans over, the ambiguous expression on her face doing little to help his scare subside, even as he can now tell that if there's something to fear now, it'd just be unwitting maiming in the throes of passion, because it's apparent from the sensuous grinding of her groins against his that she's only looking for more physical attention.

She growls something back at him, something different from anything he's heard from her or the other one so far, something with a distinctive meowing sound, and he's ready to bet it's some kind of invitation, made so much more obvious by her repeated attempts at capturing his cock —that has lost all appearances of stiffness due to the sudden scare of her pounce— back into her pussy. Her hands slip again between them, getting hold of the cock, gently squeezing the base; he remains amazed at the intensity with which she seems to desire him, and that alone is sufficient to help him recover, something which she manifestly appreciates, redoubling her efforts, letting his growing erection slide between the drooling lips of the cunny.

He takes his time to admire her body, her small, toned breasts, her muscular abdomen, in such sharp contrast to his belly softened by decades of office work, and her own half erect penis, softly resting against his groin.

Her what?

He props his shoulders up on his folded arms, just enough to better look down at their connected groins, in the shadows that fuzzy his vision. And yet there is no mistake, her mating companion has either a ridiculously oversized clitoris, or an actual penis, even though no testicles can be seen. And she obviously enjoys the mixed stimulation she gets from rubbing it against his belly, in the same motions with which she slides his erection between her pussy lips, closer and closer to piercing the soft meat; and then she finally grabs his cock with determination, lifting herself up, and guides him to the entrance, slowly lowering herself down, engulfing him again in her wondrous pleasure channel. She pushes down until he is completely in, and then stops, as if to rest, or to verify his agreement.

The initial confusion of the discovery of his mate's physiology completely disappears in her initiative, and the consequent pleasure. It'd be more than he bargained for, he would think, but he realize what little bargain power he has in his present conditions, and he decides to roll with what he gets offered, as weird as it may become. He wraps his fingers around her organ as he would with his own, finding hers to be shorter, much thinner —and getting instantly gratified by her reaction, a sudden thrust forward pushing the organ through his soft grip, accompanied by a meowing moan.

She straightens herself, arching back, pushing down against his groin, forward through his fingers, with small, continuing thrusts, faster and faster, with gasping moans and tightening pussy, until her outburst, thin clear liquid squirting through his fingers all over his chest. She flops forward, exhausted, her cunt still pulsing violently around his unsatisfied erection, desensitized by his previous orgasm.

He lifts himself up to a sitting position, as she wraps her hands around his neck and shoulders, her legs around his waist, letting him manipulate her to a comfortable position, purring again as he grabs her buttocks and moves her forward and back to seek his own release.

Mother Fucking Nature, he spoke, I'm sure of it, and that voice … it's so … angelic! You're mine.

Maybe I shouldn't have jumped him, I think I scared him, but I want him, I want him to do me again, and again, I want to feel him inside again. Give it to me, give me that wonderful cock again, ah, it's too soft now, and it's still so fucking fat, get it hard for me, tell me something again.

I wonder what was that he told me just now … did you just tell me you liked it too? Please tell me you liked it, and that you want to do it again, because I want you so much, I want to feel you filling my cunt.

Give me your cock, here, let me, ah, yes, get hard, this is what we want, you want me again too, don't you? Did you like me? Was I too tight for you? Ah, you can't get in yet? Mother Nature, it's so nice to just let you slide out here, ah, it's wonderful, and your belly against my cock it's so nice, fuck, I could come just like this, ah, there you are, that's it, ah, it's hard again, come inside, fuck, that's … it.

Oh fuck, my cock, yes, that's … ah, that's fucking great, both at once, both … ah, it's too much it's too much, it's … ah, Mother, I'm …

Fuuuck that was …

Ah, it's sill …

He didn't …

Fuck, wait, I'm … it's too … ah, fuck, fuck, do me, do me, this is … I'm still coming, I'm still … Mother Fucking Nature, I don't …

Ah, he's coming, I love it, it's so hot and it spurts so much, and it's so intense that …

Ah, it's so beautiful, feeling him still inside, throbbing with me, even as we catch our breath, and the way he holds me, this position, it's so … intimate, so personal, so …

This … this creature is not an animal. He might not be like us, he might have so many of the attributes of the domesticated animal, but he cannot be just something like that. He speaks, he has … initiative, control, and he … the way he moves, interacts, even the way he's holding me now —there's intelligence behind it, empathy: he's a fully sentient being like us.

And the sex … Mother Nature, the sex. Maybe he is some kind of sex god? Keep me like this forever, in the pure bliss of your embrace.

They remain in the lotus blossom for long, silent minutes, catching their breath. Coming down from the ecstasy of the second orgasm, the man starts to feel the weariness from the exploit, the hunger and the thirst from the prolonged lack of food and water, and the growing weight of his companion, as she seems to fall asleep.

As slowly as he can, he leans back, barely managing to lay down on the mattress without sudden falls, her legs still wrapped around his waist and now keeping his back slightly lifted, the stickiness from her ejaculate gluing their skin together. In her grumbling protestations, he manages to roll on the side, unhooking himself from the full embrace, finally slipping completely out, finding enough room to stand.

He contemplates his former captor sprawled over the mattress, still apparently asleep, and ponders his situation.

His first realization is that he seems to not be in any more immediate danger of death by execution in the hands of these creatures. Even more than that, this one in particular seems to have developed a taste for sexual intercourse with him, an idea that by itself, had he not just experienced two of the most intense orgasms of his life, would be enough to arouse him —despite the extra packaging these creatures seem to be endowed with.

The bright sides, however, seem to stop here. He's completely lost, alone, without any means of communications or connections with his past existence, deprived of some of those tools and devices that would compensate for his lack of physical prowess and other assorted defects —such as his poor eyesight. Without external assistance, he wouldn't bet on his own survival even at impossible odds, and the only hope he holds onto relies on the perduring favourable disposition of his host.

With a deep sigh of resignation, he looks around, unconsciously seeking out something familiar on which to anchor his mind. Instead, his surroundings offer an uncanny similarity with what he is used to, with just enough difference to make him feel uncomfortable.

The room, underground as far as he can remember, is lit by regularly placed holes on the ceiling, cylindrical bores with sides covered of some reflective material that amplify the incoming light, wherever it shines from. The bed linen, the memory of which is still fresh on his skin, could be of roughly woven cotton. The hard stone under his feet emanates a soft, diffuse warmth —that actually worries him a bit, as the only explanation he finds for that is radioactivity, and he only finds reassurance in the thought that the local creatures would not seem as healthy if that was really the case.

There's a chest of drawers leaning against one of the walls, topped by a mirror, and a large trunk in a corner. There are no bedside tables, no desks, no chairs. Overall, the room is almost painfully bare. He does get to wonder what could be stored in those drawers, or in the trunk, considering that by what he has seen so far, nudity seems the norm.

With a still unsteady step, the man waddles out of the bedroom into the empty vestibule, and from here to the bathroom. He'd like a meal more than anything now, but he resorts to taking care of the stickiness from their combined bodily fluids first, mostly as a way to delay facing the inevitable tragedy that would be acquiring safe sustenance in such an alien context.

Alien. That's the reality of things, as incredible as it might be, he ponders while absent-mindedly soaping up. All this is alien to me, and I would bet all I have on … meh, not much of a bet now, is it? And to them, I must seem no less alien than they seem to me. I wonder what kind of fauna they have here, what kind of animals are they used to. Do they have simians, to compare me with? I guess I couldn't say primates here, as they would consider themselves such, as much as for me they would be just evolved, sentient felines. And yet, so similar to us. Heck, I could overlook them not being human so easily, especially without my glasses on. Up close, though, it's a different story, with those manes, those slit pupils, those fangs, those retractable claws. And that … penis, or whatever that is. Are they full hermaphrodites, I wonder? Is it just her?

He's startled from his thoughts by the sudden weight of his companion on the shoulder. As he recovers from the sudden scare, he realize how silent and deadly she can be, and his anchor of hope wavers again, despite her loud purring. Her raspy tongue runs over his neck, inviting, and he changes his mind again. Indeed, it looks like —at least with her— he's more likely to die from exhaustion than anything else.

His stomach gurgles in hunger, and he can feel her detaching from him, and producing a sound not unlike the barking of a seal. He turns, worried, but it looks like that's just her way to laugh. She steps in front of him, proceeding to wash herself, her barking laughter turning into a fast, confused mash of overlapping growls and gasps. Then she suddenly stops, and turns to him, as if expecting some kind of answer. He looks at her, desolated:

«I'm sorry, I really don't understand what you are saying, I don't even understand if you asked me something or what.»

She gets that wide-eyes expression on her face again, making him fear another possible pounce, but she doesn't jump him this time. Instead, she turns, squeezing the excess water off her mane, then turning back to him, grabbing his wrist, dragging him away.

The room where she stops is obviously a kitchen. A large wooden table sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by wooden stools. A stove, a sink, cabinets and shelves line most of the walls. Sunlight floods the room from a large window over the sink, highlighting the varnished furniture.

He sits down on a stool hesitantly, as his companion fetches a large bowl —not unlike the one he was given in the shed— and fills it with water pumped at the sink. She drops the bowl in front of him, then moves over to don a leather apron and start messing around, just to stop mid-step, perplexed, when she notices him lifting the bowl to his face and slowly drinking from the rim. He quickly stops, eyeing her over the tipped bowl, then lowering the vessel to the table again, fearing his action might have some offensive meaning to her. Instead, she barks her laughter again, and goes back to her business, as he realizes how odd it must have been for her to see him drink this way —from a vessel obviously designed more for lapping liquids from rather than for drinking the human way.

«You must be hungry! Just let me wash up, I'll prepare something for you in no time.» I suspect he cannot understand what I say, but I feel so lightheaded, I don't give it much thought. «I was worried you would be trying to run away.» I try to explain «You won't leave without telling me, right? It's not safe out there for you without me, the others aren't as friendly as I am, they fear you, some of them want you dead. Please stay with me until this is resolved, will you?»

I'm done freshening up, I turn towards him, and he has that quizzical look on his face, it's so obvious my rambling has completely missed the target. However, I do get the benefit to hear his voice again, and again I feel like this must be what angels singing sound like, and I feel so ridiculously happy, even though I don't understand what he is trying to tell me.

I take him to the kitchen, and first of all I offer him a bowl of water —he has gone without drinking at least for half a day, and I doubt it can be any less problematic for him than it is for us. I then set off to prepare some food, but I can't avoid stopping to look at him drinking —such a strange way to do it, by pouring the water straight into his mouth, rather than lapping it up. No surprise he's making a mess, dripping everywhere. I laugh, but I suddenly stop, when I realize that cannot be comfortable at all for him —if he is indeed a civilized sentient, like I suspect, he's probably used to gadgets better suited for his style of drinking. I glance over at him while I prepare the meat, but he seems to have gone back to drinking without taking notice of my laugh —does he even know that's what laughter sounds like?

I'm suddenly getting worried for him, I wonder how he must feel, so out of place, with everything unfamiliar around him —unless he actually is really just a sex god, come to me to reward me for … I have no idea, I stop thinking about that, barely holding back a laugh at the stupid idea. Still, I feel so ridiculously oversexed when I'm near him …

Stop thinking about that, I tell myself, or you'll cut off a finger. I'm just done with the meat when I stop to finally wonder if that's actually something he would eat, or not. I never thought about it, I just assumed … and that's stupid, he could just be a herbivore. What was that the vet said? Opportunistic carnivore? What does that even mean? Maybe I should prepare him something else? I have some seasoning … a veggie stew? Like, a stew without the meat in it?

That sounds so stupid though. Oh, fuck that, let's just hope he can eat this.

I prepare two plates, one for him, one for me, and carry them to the table. As I slide his in front of him, I say:

«I hope this is acceptable for you.»

And I hate myself just after, because of how snarky it sounds, then I realize it means nothing for him, because he cannot understand. What can I tell him then?

«Food.» I say. I sit in front of him. I point at the contents of his plate, «Food.» I repeat. Then the same with mine. «Food.»

That perplexed look in his eyes again. Does he not understand?

And then, hesitant, he tries. Not to eat, but to repeat what I just said. I'm amazed, and I almost feel like telling him not to, that his voice, his language is the most beautiful thing that I've ever heard, and instead I feel like I'm melting as I realize that his effort, regardless of the result, means to me immensely more than anything anybody could tell me in this moment. Is this what mothers feel when their offspring start speaking?

«Food.» I repeat, and again, for each and every attempt of his is closer to the right way, until finally:

«Food.» he says, and I go crazy, I lean over just to be able to lick his face in happiness and gratitude. He's a bit taken aback by my gesture, I feel embarrassed by my own outburst, I sit back.

«Eat now.» I say. I don't expect him to try and repeat it, but he does start to eat, after wiping his face with the back of his hand. I would guess that is not how they express joy? I'll have to be more careful with it, I guess.

As he grabs the first lump of meat, I can't avoid staring at those hands of his, the smooth fingertips, the bony shell of the last phalanx. It's so strange to see something so similar and yet so different, almost like a deformed monster. I wonder how can he even grip things, especially wet ones, or how he could fight, with those bony extremities filed out. I wonder what kind of tragic ritual would involve clipping of the claws, what kind of society would require it of its members.

I'm so full of questions now that I feel confident of his nature, and yet I'm transfixed by his slow consumption of the food I've prepared. He picks a lump, rolls it in the sauce that has pooled at the bottom of the plate, brings it to the mount, chews it slowly, with his mouth closed. I find it fascinating, and so hard to divert my gaze. I could just watch him eat for hours. I'm not sure he enjoys the attention.

«I'm sorry» I say, trying to look away.

He stops eating, as if to wait for me to add something else. I hide myself in the consumption of my own portion.

She slides a large wooden tray with raised edges in front of him, filled with dices of food about as large as his thumb, wet by an oily condiment that is now pooling at the bottom of the tray. She growls something, that could mean anything, “eat”, “food”, the specific name of the food itself, or even just “tray”, or “plate”. She sits down opposite him, holding a second tray, with larger slabs of the same food —there recognizable for raw meat. As she puts her own tray down on the table, she repeats her growl, multiple times, pointing at each of the trays.

He tries to repeat that guttural sound, with little success. She insists, enthusiastically, until he finally manages to emulate her growl, causing her to pounce again, licking his whole face with her raspy tongue, nearly throwing him off balance. She's quick to retreat to her seat, growling something that could be an apology.

He wipes his face, before starting to eat: aware that the gesture may seem offensive to his host, he feels that her attitude is friendly enough to allow for the definition of boundaries in their exchanges, as a form of teaching (and learning) the differences in their respective cultures.

For example, the food: no tools were provided, so he assumes it's supposed to be eaten by hand; he picks one of the dices, soaks it in the condiment, and finally brings it to the mouth. Hunger, the perceived lack of alternatives or time to explore the differences in their digestive systems, push him to finally bite down on the morsel. He chews it slowly, tense, uncertain on what to expect, uncertain on the amount of oddity in the taste that he should allow, before fearing for his life.

And yet, the flavours are uncannily familiar: olive oil, lemon juice, maybe a scent of garlic, the condiment reminds him of the salmoriglio or the chimichurri. The meat itself is somewhat sweet, possibly closer to horse meat than beef. He tries another morsel, and then another, never hurrying, despite the hunger, still fearing possible negative reactions.

His mind wanders, to the many things that could go wrong with this … relocation of his. He could have ended up in a place without breathable oxygen, or without dry land. He could have been eaten up, or killed. Everything could be poison for him. And even though all this was missed, there's so many little things that he should watch out for, especially false resemblances that would drive him to eat or drink something expecting it to be safe.

At the same time, he cannot live his life in fear. The sentiment that has driven him so far, that everything is lost anyway, so there's no reason to hold back, pushes through the daunting feeling that anything can go horribly wrong at any time; and yet, there's no need to be careless if a sane amount of caution can make his life better, and longer: so it's just a matter of finding the right balance between going with the flow, and holding back. Easy to say.

He suddenly becomes aware of the intent look with which his host is watching him eat. He glances back at her, just to see her averting her eyes, whining something under her breath, and finally starting to eat, grabbing a slab of meat, ripping it apart with her sharp teeth, chewing away with an intensity that the man finds a disturbing reminder of how his host, as friendly as she may seem, is still a violent predator at the top of the food chain. He goes back to his own meal, intimidated.

With the last morsel going down, the man ponders the opportunity to ask for more, to fight the lingering hunger. His host is just finishing up as well, her wide, thin tongue lapping away at her snout. He wonders if he can even reproduce the growl he had just learned, and maybe already forgotten, or if it's even the appropriate one. The hunger wins, and he hesitantly tries repeating the growl.

Apparently, the results are satisfactory enough, or a least whatever comes out of his throat is similar enough in meaning, for the host to understand. Wide-eyed, overjoyed, she repeats the word, adding some more meaning who knows what. She readily jumps down from her stool, grabbing his tray to bring it back to the counter. Cautiously, the man stands too, and approaches, piqued to follow the preparation process, the tools, the means.

A large bone knife is what his host uses to cut off the slabs of meat from a loaf not unlike the one that was in the shed. With the same knife, she then cuts the meat further into ribbons and then into dices. With a wooden ladle she picks more of the oily sauce, which sits in a bowl taller and narrower than the one he had been offered to drink from.

He takes the opportunity to look around, and especially at the nearby larder, looking for something more filling, wondering at the same time how appropriate it would be to make such a request, let alone how to make in the first place, even assuming he could recognize anything. Before managing to find anything of interest, he gets distracted by his host, who grabs him by the wrists, dragging him back into position behind her, firmly placing his hands on the counter, to each of her sides.

In the absurd unreality of the situation, for a moment he can only think of some comedic quips about the situation unfolding too soon, or getting to know each other better. It doesn't occur to him that the gesture might have any other meaning than a manifestation of attraction, and he is intensely aware of its intimacy, well beyond that of the earlier sex craze; and in any other context —more familiar, to wit— he would have found it embarrassing, with such a complete stranger, even after the unusual —for him— romping, or the shared meal. But here, now, where his host is the only anchor in the storm of feelings and emotions that is stressing him since he has become more fully aware of his predicament, he is willing to ride that tide. A small part of him doubts the honesty of such an approach, pale memories of the many psychological complexes associated with such situations resurfacing as if to scold him, but survival takes priority.

Survival, and maybe something more, as he becomes aware of her body heat again, and her slow rubbing motions of her backside against his groin, that leave no chance of misunderstanding. He moves his arms closer, allowing the hands to find the underside of her apron, feeling the rough texture of her skin. He slides his hands up towards her breast, stopping barely before, then down towards the groin, enjoying the shivers that run through her body, her slow pushing back her ass against his growing erection.

His stomach intervenes to remind him of his lingering hunger loudly enough to arouse her laughter. She turns, pushing him away and bringing the tray back to the table. He sits down again to eat, chewing slowly again, this time not out of suspicion for his health, but to get a fuller feeling from the food he has available; and maybe, unconsciously, to delay the inevitable —not so much because he minds the sex with his former captor, but rather out of a self-preservation instinctual push towards the fundamentals first. And the whole time he sits there eating, trying to focus on the food itself, he cannot distract himself from his host, perched on the stool next to him, watching him intently, as if ready to pounce as soon as he's done.

Mother Nature, what is wrong with me, that every time he gets close to me, I get crazy with desire? I feel like I've gone back to the time of the first heats, unable to control myself, seeking out my crushes and inviting physical contact at every turn. This is not the kind of behavior one would expect of an adult, much less so a hunt leader like me. I must reign this in.

He's willing, he's obviously willing. Fuck, we could probably do it non-stop until we fainted from exhaustion, and I'd better not think about that. As willing as he may be, he is never proactive. Am I abusing his patience, or does he really enjoy my company as much as I absurdly enjoy his?

Mother Nature, it's even worse, I'm not just hungry for sex, I'm really crushing like crazy. Fuck, I'm starting to think of him as a person, one of us, who's now living with me, this is bad, my mind is completely in the mist, I must remember what our situation is, he is my charge, I'm responsible for him, and he is not one of us, if I keep forgetting it I'm going to get him, or both of us, burned badly.

And I still have to fight this constant background thought, please have sex with me, pleas have sex with me, please have sex with me, stop eating and mount me here in the kitchen.

No!

Breathe in, focus. I mean, there's nothing necessarily wrong with having sex with him, especially when he's willing. But I must keep my head screwed on right, or I'm going to lose it completely. And that won't be good.

Is he done? He is done! Don't pounce, don't pounce, keep steady. Just step down from the stool, nonchalantly. He must be tired now, lead him back to the bedroom, we'll get some rest.

After we have sex, of course.

Is the bed comfortable? I'm sure it's comfortable, look at him, lying down like that. It's still a bit wet from the sex before, I'll have to remember to clean the sheets, but that's after we've finished dirtying them, right?

Can I lie down next to him without scaring him? Maybe I should teach him to say «sex» so he can ask for it. He's so nice and cool to embrace, it's almost as if all his blood is in this wondrous cock of his, look at it get hard, just for me, again. I so want to just climb on top of him and ride him until I come … but that's not nice, is it? It's just so hard to keep a straight mind so close to him …

I try to read his face, but he has his eyes closed. Is he just waiting? Is he trying to rest? I wish we could talk, that he could tell me what he wants, how he feels, how he got here, what is he doing here in the first place. I wish he could tell he what he likes, if he enjoys the sex as much as I do. Does he want his nipples licked?

Oh, he does. This is so fucking hot. He has such an interesting scent and taste.

She straddles him with conviction, locking both their male organs between her tight stomach muscles and his softer belly, but her focus currently seems to be his nipples, as she runs her wide, raspy tongue enthusiastically over them. The sensation he derives is intense, but not unpleasant, as much as he'd prefer more wetness.

If she might have been interested in gauging his reaction earlier, she now seems completely oblivious, focused on her own passion. She starts grinding against him, audibly manifesting her enjoyment for the contact of their organs in the restricted space between their stomachs, a sensation that he finds all but unpleasant as well —as much as it could be improved, again, by more lubrication: an issue that can be solved much more easily this time.

When he grabs her waist to invite her forward, trying to position her better for penetration, he is surprised by the lightness of her frame, as well as the immediacy with which she responds, shifting herself up just enough to be able to place his erection at the drooling entrance of her pussy, and barely waiting for his initial successful attempt at penetration before pushing back, driving him fully inside her.

Without hesitation, she goes back to the grinding, giving up just as quickly, straightening herself, and grabbing his hand to place it on her male organ. He catches on, and wraps his fingers around it again, helping her masturbate against it while riding his cock. Just like the previous time, he is soon gratified by her explosion, the thin, clear ejaculate, the massaging convulsions of her cunt, and the loud purring against his chest as she flops down, satisfied.

He pushes her over, rolling with her until he finds himself on top, her relaxed legs flexible under his hands, as he positions himself to fuck her to his satisfaction. He can still feel her cunt holding him tight, pulsing periodically as if to drive him further inside. The man tries to synchronize his pushes with her contractions, her yelp every time he reaches the deepest inside her encouraging him to continue, picking up the pace, quicker and quicker as he feels his own orgasm approaching, and finally releasing inside her, barely noticing her second ejaculation.

Fully spent, he lowers herself to almost lie on top of her, holding himself up on the vanishing strength of his forearms, enjoying the aftershock of their synchronized orgasms, deciding then and there that these moments are worth it, that they compensate for all the scares, all the fears, all the doubts, for fears, his lost past, his uncertain present, his dubious future.

As he realizes his companion has fallen asleep, the man slowly untangles his legs from hers, and moves away, the final desperate grip from her still active pussy making him hesitate. With an unsteady step, he heads to the bathroom, washing himself up once again, mind blanked by the exhaustion and the satisfaction. He find a water closet through the third door opening on the vestibule, and after making proper (he wonders) use of it, and cleaning himself again, he drops back on the bed to find his due rest.

When he wakes up, his companion is still deeply asleep, curled up in a foetal position, turned towards him. He steps down from the bed as carefully as he manages to avoid rousing her, unsure himself whether he is doing it just out of the common courtesy of respecting the sleep of others, or whether it's more our of fear of what might happen —that she might not recognize him fast enough on waking up, or that she might, and demand sex again.

He realizes that he has barely gotten enough sleep to wash out that exhaustion, and he still feels his muscles unsteady, and his stomach calling for more food. He takes the opportunity of his host's sleep to carefully explore the whole house, and the larder in particular. His mind mellowed, if not dulled, by the lingering sense of satisfaction from the multiple orgasms of the last hours, he starts to superficially take note of some key points of the environment he finds himself in. Exploring the rooms one by one, in a placid roaming, leaving the eyes wander to catch whatever piques their interest with no particular aim, he starts putting together pieces of information about the state of technological advancement of the sentient beings he understands will be his main interlocutors in his immediate future.

They have obvious knowledge of metal-working, which would imply they would know how to make and use fire, even though he has not seen it used so far. They seem to have excellent knowledge of stone cutting, masonry and wood-working, as the house reveals sophisticated structural intricacies in its two-floor structure, with the underground floor still excellently lit and ventilated. Various symbols carved here and there hint at a possibility for the concept of writing, although he finds nothing resembling longer written (or carved, or scribbled) texts.

The tools he finds are mostly rather simple, but still well-designed. A whole room is filled with a wide range of weapons —spears such as the one he had already seen, bows and arrows, well-balanced throwing knives, short swords— and pieces of leather armor. In the kitchen he finds bowls, trays, knives, spoons. Despite the variety in shape, size and materials, no bowl resembles a cup, and only the smaller ones would allow him to drink comfortably, if only in small doses.

The last room he visits is the larder, accessible from the kitchen via a rather narrow set of steps. Even though not as deep underground as the other rooms, it's surprisingly much cooler. In the dimmer light that bleeds in through a small window and the entrance, the man notes the content of the shelves, meat in various shapes and forms, apparently preserved by smoking or salting, a sizeable collection of nuts of different species, mostly unknown to him, some vegetables, and a small selection of herbs. The lower shelves are occupied by large, sealed jugs. All in all, assuming two meals per day with portions like the one consumed by his host, the man judges the reserves would be enough to allow the occupant to press on for a month or so.

Visiting the pantry makes him even more aware of his unsatisfied hunger, but he deems it would be inappropriate for him to take advantage of the food there. Moreover, the lack of something like bread or potatoes makes him wary that as much as he could eat, he'd still be far from the filling sensation he's used to from the consumption of those. He finds himself thinking about pasta and pizza, the king of meals, falling into a despondent disposition.

Back to the kitchen, he sits on a stool, contemplating the sunlit backyard, and wondering —disapprovingly— why, with the complete absurdity of his whole situation, food seems to be his primary obsession, even beyond what survival would require. Seriously, lost who knows where in the universe, amidst evolved, anthropomorphic, hermaphroditic felines with —apparently— a large appetite for sex, and the major thought is about pizza?

And suddenly, a loud, crystal clear bell sound, repeated a couple of time, startles him. He looks around, confused at first, then worried. The sound was loud enough that it probably woke up the master of the house, but to him, it's just the sound of the uncertainty of his immediate future rearing its head again. Who might it be? What do they want? Is he in danger?

I was so drowsy when I got up and stumbled to the bathroom that I didn't take notice of his absence. The cold water I wash myself with wakes me up completely.

Fuck.

If he's gone wandering outside …

I run up the stairs, stopping just before stepping out into the kitchen. Apparently, he was in the pantry. Is he hungry again? He doesn't seem to have taken anything.

Watching from the shadows, I see him sit down at the table, facing the window. There is something different about his posture, it's much more relaxed. I imagine he has moved on from the fear he must have had on finding himself here, our prisoner. I'm ready to step into the light, happy for him, but there's something more about his whole attitude that holds me back. I wait. His stillness, the empty gaze lost in the void, the slouching shoulders … I start to worry.

Is he … sad? Is he not happy here? Did I … is it because of me? Is it because of him? Was he brought here against his will? I mean, here here of course he was, we brought him, but … there in the forest, where we found him?

I had never thought about this possibility. I just assumed … did I assume anything, actually? Did I even have time to think about him, his … circumstances? How could I have, when I didn't even know what he was? Well, I still don't know, but I didn't even know if he was anything more than an animal.

And here he is, his whole posture and attitude manifesting sentiment, emotion, and not of the positive kind, either. I wish I could …

The doorbell! Mother Nature, look at him panic! Did he ever hear anything like this? Does he know what this is?

I step into the light. «Someone is at the door.» I mention, trying to sound as casual and relaxed as possible, giving him my best smile. I wonder if he's able to at least read my attitude correctly. I cross the room quickly to get the door.

It's the veterinary, with a bag even bigger than usual. I hate that air of detached superiority they sport, but this time there is something I know better than them.

«He speaks.» I claim, without even greeting them.

«Does he.» unfazed. I have so much hate for the vet right now.

«He does.» I insist, trying to keep as calm as I can. «He has his own language, and he tried to speak ours too.»

The vet nods «So I guess there's no more need for me here.» turning around.

Hate. But I have to swallow it, because I do need their help to better understand the creature.

«Don't be a … fuck, come back here!»

The vet turns back, the most despicable smirk on their snout.

«Ah, so you still do need me. I hope you at least managed to give him a proper wash-up?»

«He did, actually.»

«Really.» the same unfazed tone, as the vet steps into the room.

«Yes, he actually knows how to use soap and water.»

The vet nods, pensive. «Is that why you smell like him now?»

Fuck.

Do I really … no, I must not react, the vet is obviously just trying to provoke me. That smirk again …

Must. Not. Kill.

The vet sits at the table in front of the creature. At least he doesn't seem as scared anymore, he probably remembers from this morning. Maybe he is wondering if this is another checkup. I'll admit I'm actually curious myself to see what the vet is planning, but most of all I wish I could provoke the creature into speaking again, just to show them.

I know, I could propose food, he was in the pantry just a few minutes ago, he's probably hungry.

«Food?» I ask.

«No, thanks.» the vet interjects.

«That wasn't for you!» I roar, as they glance at me provocatively. «Food?» I ask again, making sure it's apparent I'm addressing the creature.

He tries again, it comes out a bit flaky. «F…food.»

I smile, and set off to prepare something to eat.

«You do realize he might just be trying to mimic you.»

«That's because you haven't heard him speak in his own way.»

«All animals have a verse. He might be communicating in his own way for sure, but from here to talking …»

I don't reply, I don't want to get to the point where I may not resist the temptation to smack that know-it-all attitude off that despicable snout.

The vet turns to the creature again.

«Sex?»

What the fuck … Mother Nature, give me strength, this is not the time to kill. But am I glad I didn't try to teach him that word.

The creature looks at the vet suspiciously. He tries to emulate the sound again, a few times. He only gets some unintelligible raspy sounds out, nothing even close.

«Sex.» the vet insists, and after a few more tries, the creature stops, holding the throat. The vet turns to me, ignoring my killing gaze «You know, I don't think his throat is designed for our language.»

«Our language isn't designed for his throat.»

The vet's eye roll back. Apparently my being a smartass isn't delectable to their ears. Cannot take what they dish out, hm?

«Well, why don't you make him say something in his own “language” then?»

«You're the doctor here, that's your job. He tried to speak to me, that I know, in his own language. And I only taught him about ‘food’ because that's a bare essential for survival.»

«And ‘sex’ was too difficult for him to say.» the vet shrugs, turning their back on me. I'm tempted to smash this plate on that thick head, but I manage to hold back.

The newcomer is the doctor that visited him earlier. The man sighs of relief. He can handle another examination. He's still hungry, so when his host asks him about food, he gladly accepts. At least that's one thing they can communicate about.

There seems to still be some tension between the host and the doctor. They keep talking back at each other, and even though the growling nature of their language makes it hard for him to tell if there's actual aggression in their voice, their whole posture doesn't look very friendly. The man finds this to be not particularly reassuring, as much as he feels sure that his host could overpower the other one with relative ease: she's taller, and while not larger, she does seem more muscular than her counterpart.

The doctor tries to make him say something. Without understanding what it means, the man makes an effort to repeat it. After a few attempts, he gives up, the strain making his throat ache.

She starts pulling out stuff from her bag, and this time it's not medical devices, but wooden blocks and other … toys? The man realizes that it would make sense for them to be testing his intelligence, and suddenly he gets worried: would his chance of survival be higher if he were to roll with it, comply faithfully and show his smarts, or would it be safer to play it on the down low, pretend to be dumber? Maybe some kind of compromise? Too intelligent, he might be considered a threat. Not enough, he might be considered useless for anything but meat. In fact, if he is smarter, would they even realize that? Are we —are they- able to judge someone beyond our own capabilities?

The blocks are of a large variety of shapes and dimensions. There's a lot of them which are smallish and less smallish cubes, others that are more sizeable and cover all the platonic solids, plus a few other shapes. Most of them seem to be in their natural color, others have been painted in a variety of colors. The man is impressed by the color range, in fact, as he remembers from human history that such a wealth of pigments would be unusual at the technological level these creatures seem to sit at.

Fascinated by the possibility, he forgets his worries, and starts studying the pieces with more attentions. He arbitrarily decides that the smaller ones are for counting, the others for geometrical perception and analysis. The colored ones might be child toys to learn about the colors in the first place, they could be used to assess his capability of perceiving them. He feels a sour laughter growing inside: they didn't really get lucky, with a short-sighted, color-blind representative of the human race.

The irony of thinking about their luck isn't lost on him, as he is painfully aware of how detrimental to survival his sight deficiencies are in an environment like the one he seems to have been transferred to, much closer to nature than the sophisticated technological world he comes from, making it even more crucial for him to remain in the best possible terms with these creatures —despite the impossibility to predict their reactions.

In the end, what better choice does he have than just roll with it, without dissimulating his capabilities? At least this way there is some hope that they may find him useful —he knows he'd rather prefer that than being ’accepted’ as some kind of dumb pet. As long as he manages to not appear threatening in any way, he should be fine.

Overall, the biggest obstacle remains communication, both verbal and non-verbal. He can never assume that their expressions and attitudes would match the sentiments and emotions he is used in reading them. In this, at least, his host seems to at least be more expressive —and thus more useful for learning— than the doctor, who has been observing him for a while now with glacial detachment.

So there we go, he thinks, let's see if the language of mathematics is truly as universal as we are used to think. He pushes everything to the side, leaving the table section between him and the doctor totally empty. Tabula rasa.

«One.»

He picks one of the smaller cubes, puts it in the middle of the table, the other hand signaling the quantity with the index finger raised.

«Two.»

He adds another cube, lifting the middle finger.

He continues the sequence, up to five, switching then to both hands to show the number that he is saying and building with cubes.

«Ten.»

He adds the tenth cube to the table center, shows all his fingers up, then picks a cube of the next size up, and puts it on the table, slightly apart from the others.

«Ten.» he repeats the word again and again, indicating first the ten smaller cubes, then the bigger one. He moves the smaller ones away, and adds them back one by one next to the 'ten' one, speaking the numbers aloud up to nineteen.

«Twenty.» he adds a second 'ten' block while pushing away the nine units.

He glances up, noticing that he has again attracted the attention of his host, who is observing them from behind the doctor's shoulders, and whose expression seems to denote considerably more enthusiasm than the attentive but inexpressive face of the examiner.

As he stops, the two creatures in front of him start exchanging words, this time much more peacefully than before, and in a much lower voice, as if not to disturb him. Then the doctors puts up her hands fully spread, articulating all the fingers, stressing out the extra ones she has.

«Twelve?» the man asks. He moves one of the second 'tens' block aside, and brings in the smaller cubes again, lining them up in three rows of four. He points at the doctor with one hand, the other alternating between the single larger block and the twelve smaller ones. «You, twelve. I, ten.» he removes two of the smaller blocks again.

Right, because a different numbering system is exactly what I needed to make my life easier, he thinks. Wait, what was that way to work in base twelve on our hands? Oh yes, the phalanges.

He puts up one hand, and with the thumb points to each of the phalanges, from lower to higher, from the index to the pinkie, counting again. The doctor finally has a reaction: she laughs.

I don't know why they're laughing, and I'm not sure I want to know. I'm happy that the vet finally acknowledged that the creature cannot be just any animal, that he speaks and has at least a rudiment of sapience —even if not in so many words.

But I'll also admit that I'm feeling uneasy about this, I don't like how he seems to be able to communicate with the vet better than he does with me. He's mine. I'm the one taking care of him, look at this tasty meal I'm preparing now. I should be the one he feels closer to, not that arrogant …

Mother Nature, I can't believe I'm thinking like this, I sound like a first-estrus jealous runt. I'm better than that!

Look at this food. Isn't it a work of love? Sure, for us it would just be a side-dish, but if meat isn't to his satisfaction, what else can I try? At least the portions should be large enough now.

I try to serve him as nonchalantly as possible, sliding the tray in front of him in a moment of pause. He turns to look at me, and says something in that sweet voice of him, and I feel like I'm melting inside, even if I have no idea what he just said, he could have been cursing me for interrupting, or thanking me, and it doesn't even matter, because just the fact that he spoke to me is crowning my day.

I get the idea that he might be thirsty too, so I fetch a bowl of water as well —a smaller one, in the hopes that it'd be more comfortable for him, but apparently it's still not enough. He gets up himself, and picks one of the smaller serving bowls, using it to collect water from the bowl I fetched, and drink from it.

I perch myself on a stool, looking at them play with those kids toys as if they were serious business, and I can understand that they can be, as he is showing us that he can count, and do basic math, even if he's used to that stupid tens system.

To me, it's just confirmation of what I've started suspecting since dragging him home, that he'd be a person just like us, if not for the different species, that he is sentient, and sapient, that he has intelligence, emotions, feelings, empathy —as alien as all that may seem to us when expressed by him.

When the creature takes a toilet break, I ask the vet:

«So?»

«Very interesting.» damn, would it cost you so much to be a little more expressive? Enthusiastic? You seemed to be very taken just a second ago! «He's definitely more sophisticated than any animal I've seen so far.» Oh well, at least.

The creature is back too soon to let me pressure the vet more, and they get back to their games. I'm so taken by their interactions —and maybe a little too much by the sound of his voice specifically— that I barely notice the passage of time, and I get a sudden scare when the doorbell rings again, violently.

«Come on out, hunt leader!»

The others are no less startled, and I can see that the creature particularly distressed. And I think I know the voice.

«Rugwar.» of course that's who it was.

«The Queen wants to see you, and that … thing.»

«Let me guess, that's your doing.»

Rugwar growls at me. I ignore them. They're nothing more than a runt with delusions of grandeur, compensating their lack of capabilities with overbearing aggressiveness.

«Be quick, hunt leader, the Queen doesn't like waiting.»

I resist the temptation to smash Rugwar's head in on the door frame, and turn back inside.

«Let's go.» I tell the vet, who has already started collecting his trinkets. I put a hand on the creature's shoulder. «Get up.»

I doubt he understands, but he complies.

The bell ring startles him, and he finds little comfort in the commotion that follows. As the doctor collects her things and stands up, he follows through, just as his host is putting a hand on his shoulder. He hesitates, before understanding that it's time to go for him as well.

Outside, there's a third one of the creatures, shorter and thinner than either of the other two, and apparently much more angry. The man finds little assurance in the interposition of his host, as it's quite obvious that the newcomer is not in friendly terms with her.

The short one takes the lead, walking out at a brisk pace, his host begrudgingly following, taking him with her, the doctor behind them. They take him through the unpaved roads of the village, the sparse houses around remarkably reminding him of a certain indomitable village in Armorica. There's even a large round clearing with the ashes of a huge bonfire in the middle. And facing it, the largest house of the village, with thick double doors that open up just enough to let them in.

The room they are led to holds no less than ten more of those creatures, and still seems empty by its mere vastness. Of those waiting for them, one stands out for her size despite her relaxed position: reclining on what could be an enormous bean bag positioned on a raised platform, she is breastfeeding two pups, one per side, and the man can see even at the distance that she is easily more than a head taller than the others, and probably even larger than him.

They have barely stepped inside that she —the queen of the pride?— speaks. There's a long exchange of words between her, the one who led them there, the one that has hosted him so far, and the doctor. It's not hard for him to tell it's him they are talking about, and while not surprising, he does find it a bit uncomfortable.

The voices quickly get louder, and the aggressive attitude of the smaller one become more and more obvious, as she approaches the man with bared fangs and a growling throat. He doesn't understand what she's saying, if she's threatening or not, but as the distance between them grows shorter, his discomfort grows larger, and his patience thinner. When he finally finds her snout right below him, pointing upwards at his face due to the height different, his natural impulse is to simply push her away.

Maybe due to his discomfort and feeling of threat, maybe because he simply forgot that the creatures' frame is lighter than the humans, the force with which he pulls the runt back is quite excessive, and he ends up shoving his aggressor to the floor —possibly unintentionally, although while seeing him slide away on his back, he isn't so sure anymore. The crowd explodes in a roar, and suddenly the man realizes he's made a horrible mistake, and a dangerous enemy. Indeed, the runt stands back up quickly, and it's only the intervention of his host that avoids a full-on assault.

Conflicted, the man is still grateful for her intermission. On the one hand, he feels he could easily win against such an opponent —in fact, he wouldn't be surprised to find out he is stronger than his own protector. On the other hand, these creature are fast, and probably used to hunt wild game —if not else, they are for sure in a much better form than he has been in a long time, if ever. To top it off, he would have to fight bare handed, against someone with natural weapons —fangs and claws. All in all, his reaction was immensely unwise, and the complete opposite of the kind of nature he was aiming at manifesting: friendly, non-threatening. Still, would that have to mean accepting any threat or aggression from the creature themselves?

Self-preservation is a much more complicated matter than one would think, out here, he ponders: no surprise it's mostly statistics; but there's only one of me, I really cannot afford that.

«So, this is the famous creature.» the Queen doesn't even greet us properly. An amused grin widens their snout. «It looks like a scrawny bear with alopecia had sex with one of our runts. Look at those legs, that hair all over, and yet so sparse. What a funny creature.»

The Queen takes their time, they looks at me, at the vet, at Rugwar, and the creature again.

«So tell me about it.»

I'm the hunt leader, it's my turn first. I explain how I found him, why I asked for help, how I needed to exert my role to ensure his survival. This is where Rugwar starts talking over me, trying to explain their position, the threat of the unknown, all means of catastrophic possibilities, as if finding this creature was a sign of the end of the world. They keep talking of him like an animal, so I have to make my voice heard again, explaining that he is not, that even if not like us, the creature is most definitely a person, capable of thought and emotions, beyond the base instinct of any other animal. Rugwar won't shut up about how I'm talking nonsense, and it's just because the Queen finally asks the vet that I don't get to the point where I rip the runt's throat off just to shut them up.

And the vet takes their time to reply, as usual, weighting each word with great care.

«This is for sure the first time I've had to deal with a case this peculiar, so please forgive me if I feel like I don't yet have the authority to make any strong claim. I can add very little to what is obvious and what the others have said. The creature does seem to be extremely intelligent and capable. However, I have not had time to fully determine the extent of his intelligence, and I'm not even sure that it should be my duty to proceed. I would like to at least consult with the shaman of the Wise People before proceeding.» I'm amazed. Is that humility in what the vet proposes?

«This does not answer the question of what he is, or what we should do with him.» the Queen remarks.

«I cannot answer the question.»

«Rugwar does raise some valid points.» Seriously? That runt? «Does the creature pose a threat for us? Is he dangerous?»

Again, the vet takes his time to reply:

«That is hard to assess, but there are a few things I can say, to help you make a better judgement of the situation. The first is, I don't know if he is civilized or not, but even if he is an animal —a rather intelligent one at that— he does seem to be domesticated. He is familiar with many of the concepts of civilization, as much as some of the specific details may seem alien to him. It is hard for me to determine if he is a predator or not: if I were to judge from his masticatory apparatus, I would say he is an opportunistic carnivore, with a diet based mostly on fruit and vegetables, but still capable of eating meat when he gets the possibility.» he turns to me «This can be confirmed by our hunt leader, who has prepared his meals so far.» I have nothing to add, the vet continues «He has no fangs, and instead of claws he has bony extrusions, that are however trimmed so as to just cover the last phalanx, thus useless for hunting or aggression in general. He seems to be rather short-sighted compared to us, especially in lower light conditions, and his color perception seems to also be inferior to ours. Finally, so far he has exhibited a very docile behavior. I have no reason to suspect him dangerous.»

«What about his kin?» intervenes Rugwar «What about his owners, if he is domesticated? Where are they? Who are they? How do we know they don't pose a threat? How can you dismiss so trivially the inexplicable nature of his arrival? No track? No trace? Are we to believe Mother Nature herself has produced a fully-formed, adult creature from the ground? Or is it more likely that our hunt leader has completely lost it?»

«Watch it, runt.» if Rugwar's aim is to provoke me, I'm ready to fall for it now.

«Come on, answer these question, hunt leader. Where did it come from? How? Where are the others?» Rugwar gets closer and closer to my charge. I'm tempted to intervene, but I doubt they have the guts to do anything, not with me right there. «Where are you owners, you fucking animal?»

This is where the unexpected happens. The creature, face to face with Rugwar, simply shoves the stupid runt to the ground, and with such force that Rugwar ends sliding halfway through to the platform. I laugh. We all laugh. But then I realize the stupid runt is taking the opportunity to jump him.

«Mine!» I roar, dropping between them.

«Teach your fucking pet to behave!»

«Don't fucking provoke him!»

«Answer those fucking questions, hunt leader

«Are you challenging me, runt

«I'm looking for the best interest of my pride, hunt leader, are you?»

«If I may interject» interjects the vet «while the questions do raise some valid issues, where is the wisdom in treating the creature in such a matter? If he is domesticated, or otherwise civil, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain from his cooperation. Mistreating him would gain us nothing, except maybe for driving him away. Now, the question would be, driving him where? Let's say he got lost from his pride or flock or whatever, or from his owners. Would driving him away so violently buy us any credit with them? Wouldn't it still be wiser to feed him and house him until we find more?»

«That's enough.» the Queen raises, entrusting the pups to the inner circle, stepping forward «Our esteemed veterinary is quite right, whatever he is, wherever his kin or owner is, there is no wisdom in mistreating him. However, the mystery of his origin should be investigated. Hunt leader, I trust you can take care for that?»

«I will organize a party to sweep the area. We will leave no leaf unturned.»

«Thank you, dear. Please don't forget to bring home some food too, uh? Rugwar, would you go with her? I'm sure you can give valuable contributions to the hunt.» I wonder if the runt realizes the mocking tone of the Queen's words. «Oh, and you, hunt leader,» back to me, the sweetness gone from the voice «the creature is your responsibility until further notice. Please make sure he learns to behave civilly, if he can't be useful, and if he really is capable of independent thought, remember that he will be held responsible for his actions. Well,» and the Queen's tone goes back to being cheerful «everything is solved. You may all leave. Not you.» the Queen grabs my hand «Or him.» and his wrist.

We wait, as the room empties, except for one of the Queen's servants, who waits, sitting, at the other end of the room from us.

«So.» the Queen looks at me, knowingly. I feign ignorance. «Oh, come on, you smell of him.»

«Try attending cows for a whole day, see how you smell.»

The Queen shakes their head, smiling. «Please, don't play me a fool. You've had him all over you, didn't you? Come on. How is he?»

I can feel my teeth clenching. What the fuck do you care, you sex-crazed maniac?

«What's the matter dear? Afraid I'd steal him from you? Is he that good?»

None of your business, you cunt. He's mine.

«Oh, look at him. It seems the situation got him all riled up …»

Get your fucking hands off him, you cunt!

Oh, I can't stand looking at you wrapping yourself all about him. Take your stupid hands off his ass! No! Not his cock, that's not what I meant! Fuck! And what the fuck are you getting so hard for? You're mine, that cock is mine.

I realize too late I'm growling. The Queen turns to me.

«Do you really want to challenge me, hunt leader? For this creature?»

I cannot stand the Queen's gaze. I lower mine. «No, mistress.»

«Wise choice, dear. Don't worry, I'll just take him for a test ride, I have no intention of breaking your sex toy.» Stop smiling you fucking cunt. «Tell you what, come with us, I'll let you watch.»

What? No! I don't want to watch! I don't want you to have sex with him at all.

«You come with me, cutie.» why is the Queen's hand still holding his cock? Fuck, taking him away, are we?

Damnit. You bet I'll come and watch. I'll hate myself for it later, but I don't trust you, I don't trust you at all.

I throw a quick glance at the remaining servant as we walk away, but we might as well be invisible for the attention they give us. I quicken my step, to make sure I don't lose the Queen and my charge, and for the first time in my life I step into the inner rooms of the Queen's palace, down to her bedroom.

Softer linen, softer cushions, a bed lifted from the ground, a small but comfortable armchair. I don't know what I expected.

The Queen throws herself on the bed, legs spread, inviting. The creature is hesitant at first. He looks back at me. I try to remain impassible, knowing that the Queen would take it out on me if I managed to dissuade him.

«How do I get him to mount me?»

«I don't care.» Why the fuck are you asking me? Your cunt is dripping, maybe he just doesn't want? He would have already been inside me at this point.

And he does anyway. Hesitantly, he moves between her legs. Stop that. Oh, it looks like he lost his verve, uh?

The Queen starts caressing his cock. «Come on, sweetie, you can do better than that, right? We all saw you, much more splendid than this …»

«Maybe you should shut the fuck up.» I can't hold myself, but the Queen seems to accept the suggestion, after throwing me a killing glance.

And I hate myself, because it does work, the Queen's hand working him in silence gets him hard again, and there he plunges into that fucking cunt and I hate him so much right now, but no, I hate myself, and not just for the hint, but because as he starts moving, and the Queen starts enjoying it, I'm dying of jealousy, but the scene is so fucking hot and I hate myself because I'm getting aroused.

When the leader of the creatures stands, calmly cruising the room to reach their group, her words smoothing out the incident, the man feels the adrenaline rush dropping, and his attention focusing on her majestic bearing. There is strength in her soothing voice, a powerful aura of dominance and control, commanding respect and obedience from all the others.

She is larger and taller than any of the others, and can stand eye to eye with him. He tries to not look at her larger, soft breasts with indiscretion, despite their distracting allure. And when, in managing the crisis, her hands inadvertently brush over him, he finds his body reacting in the least appropriate of ways.

As things calm down, she gives some final directions, and the room quickly empties, leaving her alone with him and his host. There's some more discussion about him, and out of the blue he finds the Queen's body against his, her hands all over him, in the most inappropriate ways. Her body is softer than his host's, her scent less feral, and more seductive. She grabs him by his obvious handle —second time today, is this going to become a habit?—, a firm grip without excess, and drags him away, the other one following behind, with obvious discontent.

The room she leads them to is dominated by a large raised bed. She promptly lies down on her back, legs spread inviting, fingers slowly running up her pussy lips, as if to highlight the wetness oozing out, her hand partially covering her own erection. And if not for the discomfort of the presence of his host, the man would jump at the occasion: but he guesses her discontent, and her foreboding presence, if not intentionally threatening, is still enough to kill his drive.

There's another quick exchange between the two, and the queen calls him over again, her hand expertly playing with his now soft member, her inebriating scent catching up with his desire again. It doesn't take long for him to be ready again, and for her to direct him straight to the main act.

Unconsciously, he has started to realize a few important aspects of the social structure these creatures share, with rank determined first and foremost by physical prowess, and might making right. Hence the runt's attempt to raise her rank, or the calming effect of the queen's imposing presence. And he feels that for his survival it is important for him to find a significant role in such a society, a role that commands respect, even without being the leading position.

He's glad of the opportunity that he is given now, as he sinks in the soft, warm pussy of the pride queen. He drives deep inside her, yet slowly, very slowly. Still partially desensitized by the repeated encounters with his host, he feels fully in control, ready to guide his new partner to the peak, but dictating the times and rhythms himself.

With a sense of detachment, a feeling almost of disconnect, he toys with the queen almost as with a living doll —without ill intentions, but still without any consideration but for her pleasure. Taking hold of her arms, he pins her down against the bed, propping himself up at the same time, and slowly grinding against her, inside her. He lowers himself, finding her breasts, pinching one of her nipples between his lips, biting on it while a hand finds and pulls the other. His tongue insists on the same, licking around, then suckling on it as she arches her back. He feels some milk pouring in his mouth, he bites again, then leaves that nipple to take care of the other.

Pacing himself, he partially pulls back, helping her lift her legs, pushing them against her chest, raising her butt, before plunging back deep inside her again, finding new angles, better stimulations for both. She is cooperative, open, welcoming, responsive, tightening her cunt around his thrusting cock, meowing inviting, her breath growing shorter as she gets closer.

He wouldn't be able to tell how he gets the idea to involve his host —maybe the subconscious nag of her exasperated presence in the room, maybe simple power play against the pride queen, maybe the realization that an opportunity like that to have two partners at the same time is unlikely to present itself again. He suddenly slide out and away from the queen, pushing her back down when she sits up trying to protest. Turning to the other creature, whose erection manifests a state of arousal in sharp contrast with her disgruntled expression, he grabs her by the wrist, dragging her over to the bed.

Disregarding their weak protests, he slowly dives back into the pride leader, holding her cock straight up, then guiding his host to mount astride the queen, facing him.

There's a brief moment of stillness, his host's incredulous expression manifesting her disbelief, but the next instant she grabs onto him, furiously riding her queen's cock. He wraps his arms around her, using her for leverage as he slowly grinds against the queen's pussy, small thrusts to keep both of her organs on the edge.

It doesn't take long, the queen's orgasm pushing her pussy to sudden, intense contractions desperately milking his erection, trying to drive his seed. But he's not done yet, and neither is his host, who keeps grinding in a frenzy, trying to push herself towards him. He gets the idea, and grabs her cock like he's done previously, rewarded by her sudden thrusts, shortly followed by the now familiar throbs of her ejaculation.

It's only with his host's purring head against his shoulder, her clear semen sticking to their bodies, the queen's still pulsating cunt tightly wrapping his cock, that he finally focuses on his own pleasure. His thrusts get deeper, wilder, the queen's hands reaching out from behind the other, frantically trying to get a hold of him, or maybe to push him away for a sensory overload. His host wraps her legs around him, holding him closer against her, deeper into the queen's pussy, where he finally explodes.

What … what is he doing? Why did he …? Me? What do you want with me, do you want us both killed? Leave me, I'm not …

Are you fucking crazy? I can't do it with the Queen without her … oh fuck, she's in, she's in, Mother Fucking Nature, I'm riding the Queen, the Queen's cock is … ah, it's so nice, it's so hot, it's … ah, I'm going to die for this but … ah, it's wonderful, it's … ah, ah, it's coming already, ah, I love you fucking crazy alien, I … ah, I have the Queen's seed inside me, the Queen just came inside me, ah, make me come too, I … oh fuck yes, grab it, ah, I love you, it's …

Ah, I'm … I'm coming, ah, it's …

You're not there yet? You're … ah, wait, not so … ah, the Queen is still … ah, still hard, I love this, ah … come, my love, come with us again …

Ah.

Fuck.

I'm dead.

We are so. Fucking. Dead.

As soon as the Queen … gets her breath back, we're dead.

Hold me tight, I want this feeling of your body against mine to be the last thing I feel, even if the cock inside me isn't yours.

I fucked the Queen. The alien made me fuck the Queen. The Queen came inside me. This has been the best day of my life, even if it's the last.

«Get off.»

When the Queen finally speaks, it's with a clear and calm voice, despite the shortness of breath. I'm so dead.

I slowly lift myself, the Queen's cock sliding out giving me an extra thrill. I roll to lie down on my back, eyes closed. I'd rather not face the Queen's rage now. I guess he pulled out too, as I feel the Queen sitting up, getting out of bed.

I wonder what he will do now, I wonder if he realizes the gravity of his actions, their implications.

Nothing happens. I peek with only one eye. The Queen just stands there, next to the creature. He is doing nothing. He looks straight at the Queen, and I wonder if he realizes what it means for us. Yet the Queen doesn't seem to pick up the challenge.

«That's enough for now.» The Queen finally turns, slowly walks towards a side door. I get up, slowly. Is that my sign to leave? No consequences? «You will not speak of this with anyone.» I bow my head. The Queen turns around. Is that … a smile? «I might come visit you some time, hunt leader. Have fun.» And just as suddenly, the smile disappears «Begone.»

I'm not dead.

I fucked the Queen and I'm not dead. We're not dead, he … he dominated the Queen, and he's still alive.

We're out of here, lest there may be second thoughts. Out of the room, out of the palace, straight home. The farther we get, the better. We still get to live tomorrow!

Fuck.

Fuck, tomorrow I have the hunt. I have to organize the hunt for tomorrow. And I can't take him with me. And I'm responsible for him.

Fuck.

The worst of it? I know perfectly well who's the only one I can ask for help, and I know just as well that even if they do help me, I'm never going to live that down.

Fuck.

And yet, I don't have a choice. Please be home, please be home, please be home …

The vet opens the door chewing idly on a slab of meat, no surprise on their face, and mocking words out of their mouth before even greeting us.

«Had fun with the Queen?»

I'm tempted to reply something to the tone of “more than you can imagine”, but the truth is that just being reminded of what just happened gives me cold sweats. I ignore the question, it's obviously rhetorical anyway.

«I need a favour.»

«Why else would you come to me?»

«That's unfair! I …»

«It's the plain truth. Whenever have you come for anything else? Yet you don't see me complaining about unfairness.»

This is even worse than I had feared. There's no anger in the vet's statement, yet the words hurt more than I would have ever imagined.

«I need someone to look after him. I have to lead a hunt tomorrow, and I can't take him with me, and I don't …» trust, no, use a different word «feel like leaving him alone, not until he proves he can be.»

«That's indeed quite the conundrum you have there, but what does this have to do with me?»

«You could look after him.»

«I have my rounds to make tomorrow.»

«You could take him with you.» I plead

«Wait, you can't take him with you, but I can?»

«You can't be fucking seriously be comparing the two things! It wouldn't be safe for him on a hunt, especially not with Rugwar around!»

«What if he gets kicked or bitten or scratched? We have no idea how resilient he is. Mon, he might be getting diseases just by standing around us here. Who knows what kind of environment he has lived in until now?»

«It's not the same fucking thing, and you know it! There isn't anyone actively trying to get him hurt here, except for Rugwar, who is coming to the hunt.»

«Still, he will be a burden. I would have to look after him in addition to doing my rounds. Not really something I'm looking forward to.»

«Please, I'll pay you back, you can get my share from the hunt.»

«I'm not greedy, I have plenty enough as it is.»

«Think of how much you can learn about him. You want to take him to the Wise People? Think about how much you'll be able to tell them.»

The vet just stands there finishing the snack, silent, pondering, gaze lost.

«All right. I'll come pick him up tomorrow when I start my rounds. Make sure he's ready. I get your share from the hunt. But you'll still owe me one.»

And you weren't the greedy one? Fuck you. But I'm too happy the vet accepted to rebut anything. It's a deal.

It's only in the dead silence of the recovery that the man gets the idea that he might have overstepped his boundaries. He has no doubts about how pleasurable it must have been for all involved, and when he finally starts to think clearly, his initial impression is that the stillness that follows is just the inevitable quiet of the recovery, interrupted only by the sharp exhales getting deeper as they all catch their breath. Yet in the prolonged stillness he starts to realize a certain growing tension, his host now clinging to him almost desperately, the queen's leg gaining a nervous twitch.

He watches it unfold slowly, with the command from the queen barked out, the other complying with a fearful hesitation. As he starts to realize the enormity of his actions, he steps away from the bed, giving room to the queen to lift herself up, her gaze fixed on him. He briefly lowers his, but just as quickly remembering that he has nothing to be ashamed of, really, he raises it again: dropped into an environment completely alien to him, ignorant of the social customs of the people, manipulated with very little respect for his own opinions or consideration for his own thoughts and emotions, he finds that his reactions aren't, after all, to be judged negatively.

Again, it's not even a matter of being forced to do things he wouldn't do —in context, while it could be debated how much choice he has been given each time, it could just as well be argued that he was ready to jump to the occasion— but rather the fact that he is not being given time to learn, adapt, adjust, comply. He would gladly find his own place within that community, if the creatures just stopped treating him like a mere curiosity, especially a sexual one.

It's quite probable that the way he managed his encounter with the queen has violated more than one social custom, especially with the involvement of the other. If the queen intends to express displeasure at his conduct, now is the time, and doubly so now is the time to keep her well in sight, as he has no intention to submit to whatever physical punishment she might intend to dish out in the spur of the moment.

The queen holds his gaze, an indecipherable expression on her face, and shortly after, with the same snapping sharpness as before, she barks out what are possibly orders to leave the room, as his host quickly stands up and drags him away.

The rush with which she walks away —another hint at the impropriety of his behavior— dragging him along, through the palace, out into the square, along the way home, has the haste of fear; and yet, it gets abruptly interrupted when she stops, pondering for a moment, then changing direction.

In the dying light, the man barely recognizes the doctor in the creature that idly opens the door, and even though he understands nothing of the heated argument that follows, he is quite sure that one way or another he —and possibly what he has just done with the queen— is the center of it. As the tiredness of the day reaches up to him, he feels his extraneousness almost like a physical pain, clinging to his heart.

Alone, in an unfamiliar environment, unable to understand exactly what is happening around him, unable even to see clearly, he feels the desperation washing over him, made stronger by the physical exhaustion. When his host takes off again, he follows meekly, yet with a trace of dread, as losing her would mean losing the only familiar —even if only marginally— thing in his current situation.

And yet he feels that she is more distant now, distracted into her own thoughts. She prepares the evening meal with accurate celerity, remembering to prepare a larger portion for him, and they eat in silence, barely ever looking at each other. After the meal, she quickly stands and goes downstairs; hearing her trafficking around, not minding his absence in any way, he quietly stands too, clearing the table, scrubbing and washing the trays in the sink as he has seen her do. Again, the mundanity of the gestures gives him some respite from the growing wave of panic that the end of the day is bringing him.

He finally steps downstairs, to find his host leaving the bathroom to enter the bedroom. They exchange a glance, which she quickly drops. The man starts to suspect the consequences of the meeting with the queen might turn out more severe than he initially thought, as he can think of no other reason for her sudden coldness. He reaches for the bathroom as well, carefully washing himself all over, focusing again on the familiarity of the act to distract himself from his apprehensions.

When he finally lies down on the bed, turning his back at his host, he can feel her scooting over, throwing her arm around his waist, even without fully waking up. The physical exhaustion from the day finally prevails, and he drowns in a dreamless sleep, relieved by that affectionate gesture.

The next morning he wakes up alone in bed. He gets up, waddling around the house still drowsy, relieving himself in the water closet, washing himself up in the bathroom, peeking into the storage room to find half of the weapons gone, climbing upstairs to find a breakfast waiting for him. She's gone! he realizes.

As the full extent of his predicament finally reaches up to him, unhindered by the string of distractions that had kept it at bay the day before, the uneasiness he woke up with turns into panic. He drops to sit on a stool, in shock.

Alone.

Lost.

Pruned from his old life.

Useless, with no learned survival skills but for the misty memories of scouting books from his early teenage years.

But most of all, alone. He gains conscience of how he had grabbed onto his host with desperation, just to avoid thinking about that, just to avoid contemplating the horrifying possibility that he'd be the only human, there.

There, wherever ‘there’ would be.

In a more serene state of mind, he'd actually be thrilled by the situation, the possibility to travel to other worlds, or even other universes, the fascinating implications in science and beyond. But living it, so suddenly, without any preparation, without any forewarning, puts him in a very different condition, and the complete lack of control on how it happened gives him an even scarier outlook, that the same thing might happen again, and again, throwing him around with no rhyme or reason, no anchor to reality, no peace of mind.

Suddenly, the prospect of remaining there, even with the impossibility to understand or communicate with the local sentient species, even with all he has lost, seems a little less terrifying, albeit scarcely any more comforting. Like the food in front of him, with no allure but the fact that it would satisfy his hunger, and yet unpalatable at the moment, as he finds revolting even the mere idea of putting anything in his stomach.

Drowning in desperation, he barely even turns his head towards the door when the bell rings. The doctor steps in with what could be a salutation, to which he responds with a brief, forced smile, turning back to the food —that still hasn't regained any appeal.

It takes a moment for the man to realize that the doctor is still talking to him, and that she seems to be somewhat agitated or anxious. He lifts his gaze at her, still unresponsive, wondering maybe what he looks like to a creature like that, especially now that he feels completely devoid of life.

She's insisting on something, maybe getting angry. What does she want? What does she have to do with me? he wonders. But he's not given much time to think about it, as she grabs him by the shoulder and tries to pull him up.

He starts to get the idea, and he slowly stands, still without any willpower, merely letting himself be fully guided by the doctor. She drags him away, her step getting faster as they move away from the house and she feels he is finally following. Soon, she leaves his wrist, letting him walk freely behind her, yet still periodically checking that he is indeed still there with her.

He follows out of inertia, with no will or intent, simply because she's leading. He barely takes note of the path they take, or the suspicion or the curiosity manifested by those they come across. He barely realizes that they've crossed the whole village, that there is no clear boundary to it, and that the sparser houses they have in front of them now are somewhat different from the ones they've left behind, the small gardens replaced by enclosures for livestock.

There are flightless birds that are neither chicken nor turkeys. There are hoofed animals of different species that are neither cattle nor pigs nor sheep nor goats. And yet, were he in a better state of mind, he could easily draw analogies, say “that's basically a cow”, “that's basically a chicken”, “that's basically a hog”. Instead, all he thinks is “that's not exactly a cow”, “that's not really a chicken”, “why would anyone say that's a hog?”.

Wherever they stop, the doctor is greeted with joy and respect. She checks up on this or that animal, discusses things with the owners, and then they move on. As the veil of desperation lifts, the man starts becoming aware of the cold stares of the adults, of the curious, yet mostly scared, gaze of the younger ones. He is not surprised, or disturbed, by the reaction, but prefers to keep a bit to himself, mostly waiting for the doctor to do her deeds; he often remains on the road, sometimes idly strolling up and down, sometimes leaning against a fence, or absent-mindedly studying a hedge.

Around midday, the doctor takes a break. She washes herself up at a water pump, with his assistance, then helps him wash himself up. They sit down on a felled trunk nearby, and the owner of the house they last stopped at brings the doctor a tray of food and a bowl of water. She says something, and after some hesitation, the other disappears to come back with food and water for the man as well. Uncertain on how to react, he joins his hands in a form of prayer and bows slightly before taking the tray he is being offered. He could bet on the doctor's reaction being a snickering chuckle, but he ends up ignoring it, like he has ignored everything so far.

They work on their meals slowly, the man still dragging the weight of bleak reflections that drive away his hunger, the creature visibly enjoying some due rest. He is aware of the glances she throws at him now and again, but as with everything he has come across that morning, he feels no impulse to react, dulled out by the desperation; even the apparently tasteless food find its way from the tray to his mouth more out of courtesy for their host and the doctor's intervention than out of need.

Halfway through the meal, the doctor starts to absent-mindedly scratch the ground in front of them. The man observes stick figures taking form, unfamiliar glyphs traced below them. His companion then points at one of the stick figure, and calls it out.

«Grish

Or something like that. The man repeats it, and the doctor smiles, satisfied. She draws a circle around the other stick figures, then points at the glyph below it, then reads again: «Grishin.» and when the man repeats, she smiles again. She then proceeds to draw, no less schematically than before, what could be with some effort be interpreted as animals, elliptical bodies with protruding lines for the legs and tails, and a small circle for the head. She points to each in turn, and then scribbles the corresponding glyph, reading it out loud: «Rhogh

«Grog?» the man repeats, as the sound seem similar to the one he has already been taught for “food”. She laughs, shaking her head, and proceeds to draw a hat, or a python eating an elephant, or a meatloaf on a tray. «Grawg.» she writes and read out under it. «Rhogh.» she points at the glyph under the animals. «Rhoghin.» she adds, encircling all the animals and scribbling beside the circle.

Well, at least one thing seems clear, plurals are done by adding that ”in” sound, the man considers. He makes an effort to reproduce the strongly aspired ‘r’ in front of the new word, the almost foaming hard ‘g’ at the end. The doctor doesn't laugh this time, but repeats the words, patiently, another couple of times.

After the man gives his best effort imitation, they move on: the doctor draws another stick figure, adding small segments coming out of the arms and legs and trunk; she then hands the stick over, and awaits. When he doesn't react, unclear on what the figure represents, she picks the stick again, and pointing at the extra segments with it, she pinches the hair on his arm.

The man guffaws, holding back his laughter, and picks the stick. «Human.» he says. «Nnnan.» she repeats. «Human.» he insists. «HU» he writes down «MAN» the syllables while repeating them. She contemplates his writing, pensive, then takes the stick off his hands, and repeats: «Hun» and scribbles something under the first letters «nan» another scribble; then below she collects the two glyphs together «Hun-nan».

I guess that's the best I can hope for, concludes the man, doubting she feels any better about his failure to pronounce her language correctly. He also starts to take note of the word and glyph composition she has just shown him. He could probably manage to at least learn to read and write, if not to pronounce that language correctly.

He grabs another stick lying around, and draws a new stick figure next to the one representing him, adding what he hopes could be readily considered a lance. He then turns to her, waiting. She smiles, and scribbles a new glyph under it. «Arawe.» she says.

«Arawe.» he repeats. This is easy. He draws more stick figures with spears, some with bows. «Arawin?» he asks.

The doctor explodes in laughter. «Hunut» she says then, and writing the word under Arawe, repeats: «Hunut.» and then «Hunutin», circling the other armed stick figures. «Arawe rhe hunut.» she adds. Then, as if to correct herself, she insists: «Arawe rhe rhawrha hunut

With growing enthusiasm, she wipes the ground in front of her, drawing more armed stick figures, a larger one on top, smaller ones below that. She then points at the larger figure. «Hunut.» then to each of the smaller ones «Hunut. Hunut. Hunut.» then circling all of them «Hunutin.». Then circling the larger one «Rhawrha hunut.» and finally, with a satisfied grin on her snout: «Arawe rhe rhawrha hunut

The man still isn't clear on whether hunut is supposed to be hunter, or soldier, or both, but he does get the idea that Arawe is his host's name, and that she is in charge of the other hunters, or soldiers. He then wipes his own side of the ground, draws a nondescript stick figure with more smaller ones below her, and tries to declare that «Rhawrha grish.» The doctor looks at his drawing perplexed, tilting her head on the side, leaving him unsure on whether the issue is with the drawing or his pronunciation, so he proceeds to add schematic breasts to the larger figure, and tries to copy the glyphs for rhawrha and the glyph from grish below it, while repeating, to the best of his ability, «rhawrha grish

Again, his attempt is met by laughter. He finds consolation in the fact that at least the doctor seems to be taking the whole thing with a much more relaxed attitude than her inspection the day before.

«Rhawrhage.» she corrects him finally, fixing the glyph as well. She then goes back to wipe the ground in front of her. She copies his drawing for the queen, and below adds the glyph for rhawrhage, reading it out loud. Below it, she adds a new glyph: «Gawa.». She then proceeds to draw Arawe, writing rhawrha hunut below, and the name of the hunt leader below that. Finally, she draws the hairy stick figure again, and writes hunnan above it, saying it again her own way, then going back over the others to write grish. She concludes pointing at the empty space under his depiction «Rhe warh ne? Rho rhu rho ne

The man understand clearly what the creature wants, and while he could give his name —for what that'd be worth— he feels the pressure of not having any idea on how to describe his role or job —how do you describe office work to such a material culture? How do you represent abstract thinking in pictures? To gain time, he turns the question back to the doctor. He draws her next to him, a stick figure with a purse in his hand, then points the stick at her in person, to make it clear who he just traced, and asks her: «Rhe warh ne?» or the closest approximation of it he can manage.

He manages to get another laugh out of the doctor, as she writes down her name, «Gwara» and her profession, «Gawrhogh», reading both out loud as she writes them down. «Ne ay» she prods him finally.

«Robert.» he finally proclaims, and then more slowly, «RO» writing each syllable in the sand «BERT». It should actually be easy for them to pronounce, he realizes.

«Rowwert.»

Oh well, he sighs, it could be worse.

When they finally go back to the doctor's rounds, the numbing darkness that shrouded his mind for the entire morning is gone. Focused as he is on the learning experience, Robert doesn't even realize the change in his state of mind. He does feel lighter, with a clearer vision, and all the small details that had escaped him earlier finally jump to him. He spots the younger grishin spying on him, and he makes faces at them. He notices the suspicion in the adults, to which he simply offers a smile in response. He follows Gwara more closely, as she takes her time to talk to him about her work, calling the animals by name, telling him what she is going to do, and many other things, most of which actually escape his comprehension.

There's a childish enthusiasm in the way the doctor has taken on the task to teach him, and even though both know that a lot of what she's teaching will be lost on him, or forgotten the next day, they are just as well aware of the importance even of just the motions they go through to establish such a relationship. And in all this, there are still quite a few things he will remember for sure, some because they are general notions —such as a rudiment of the social structure of the grishin, which the doctor took the time to represent in tree-form— some simply because he keeps reminding himself of them, such as the names of the creatures he feels he can rely on the most, Gwara and Arawe —both just below the queen's own entourage in terms of social importance.

As the doctor ends her rounds, his sharpened mind takes better note of the composition of the village as well as its boundaries, undelimited as they are by the lack of any form of major enclosure. Gwara leads him beyond the farming area and the neighboring fields, on a path the cuts through the surrounding sparse woods. Shortly after, the trees end, and an immense prairie stretches out in front of them. There are a few more buildings here, but further apart from each other than all the other he has seen. The path continues onward, straight, wider, disappearing into the horizon, but the doctor stops at the first building.

Robert easily identifies the spacious room they step in as a workshop. There's a single grish sitting in the middle of the room, her back turned, intent at her woodwork. She grumbles something indistinct even before Gwara has time to extend their greetings, to which the woodworker replies in a barely more distinct way.

When she finally puts down her tools, turning to face her visitors, the woodworker jumps, visibly startled by Robert's presence. A rather heated, if short, argument follows, and while the man misses most of it, he is left to wonder about her surprise, as if she hadn't even heard of his presence. As short as the time he's been here might have been, it had seemed so far that the entire village had at the very least heard the news.

While the doctor clarifies the situation, the man looks around, trying not to move too close to the assortment of gadgets hanging from the walls, or lying on the floor. An entire section is dedicated to weapons, a selection not different —except maybe in variety— from the one he had discovered in Arawe's armory. There's trays, and bowls and large wooden spoons and ladles —the kitchen section. And finally pipes, shelves, legs, frames, pegs, rungs —an impressive assortment of assembly parts for home improvement. In the corner on their right, a pile of discards, often cracked or broken, or simply blemished beyond their creator's tolerance.

It's among the discarded piles that Robert notices a pipe section that would be just the right size for a mug. Forgetting his status, he steps behind the doctor to reach for the piece, careful not to destabilize the pile. When he turns back, lifting his gaze from his prize, he notices that the woodworker is goggling him: there's no anger in her gaze, but he still feels that his action has been inappropriate at best; yet as he motions to put the piece back into the discard pile, Gwara stops him, and even though he fails to understand what she tells him, the meaning becomes clear when she pushes him towards the workbench.

Still embarrassed by his actions, bothered by the inability to express himself in the grishin language, the man tries his best to explain the intended use for the pipe, pretend-pouring something in it, then lifting it to his mouth with a hand, using the other to fake a bottom, and pretend-drinking from it. When he brings the pipe section down, he's met with the perplexed gaze on the woodworker face, and the doctor has to intervene again; her explanation seems to achieve the desired result —or at least some result, as their host disappears for a few moments in a side room, coming back carrying a large swath of leather. She sets it down on the workbench, together with a number of cutting implements.

Before she can get started, though, Robert gets another inspiration from the shape of the leather: folding it in two, it could be made into a decent waterskin. He feels the leather with his fingers, wondering if it has been treated to make it waterproof, and if not, how could he ever explain something like that to the creatures. Do they even have something like wax? He tries to remember the natural source for wax, and he can only think of bees, of which he has seen none. Do other insects also do something similar, he wonders? How about trees? And as he is wondering, he realizes that he's still thinking about the plants back home, and that even if he knew the answer, he wouldn't know if they still applied where he is now.

His folding gesture has not escaped the attention of the workshop owner. She asks something, and realizing she has little chances of being understood, she steps away again, this time bringing back some sort of bagpipe. Robert is impressed, and at the same time puzzled. On the one hand, the sudden discovery that these creatures have the concept of music blends with the bittersweet taste of the uncanny familiarity of the instrument, and the background fear of the nature of the instrument itself —why a bagpipe at all? On the other hand, he's left wondering how to explain that the principle would be the same, but with a different destination of use, and more importantly, how to clarify the need for waterproofing the container.

As the grishin seem to be discussing something —hopefully the opportunity to step outside to showcase him the instrument— he tries to mimic the act of drawing. There's some more discussion, and finally the workshop owner hands him a clear slab of wood and some charcoal.

On one face, Robert depicts to his best a stick figure playing a bagpipe, complete with notes coming out of the reeds, without stopping to wonder if the note glyph would make any sense for these creatures as well. He shows the picture to both the grishin, indicating the instrument, and even mimicking playing it (is there such a thing as “air bagpipe”, he wonders) and humming a nonsensical tune. This at least manages to trigger laughter from both Gwara and the woodworker, and hopefully comprehension as well.

The man then turns the slab to the other face, and here he tries to depict a stick figure waterfall drinking from a waterskin. He tries to illustrate the fact that the vessel would have to be smaller, and shaped differently. He tries to illustrate it in gestures as well, and finding another wooden slab nearby, uses it to show a surface dripping, crossing on it, and then another one not dripping.

Out of ideas on how to further convey his meaning, he stops, looking intently at the workshop owner, whose perplexed face doesn't hint at anything good. Oh well, he sighs, it was worth a try.

The sun has disappeared behind the forest to the West when the doctor drops him off at Arawe's house. They exchange salutations and thanks in their respective languages, and Robert remains at the door until Gwara has reached the street again. Even though she seems to be making an attempt at her usual detached attitude, he feels a satisfied, maybe even enthusiastic gait in her stride. He doesn't exclude that he might be just projecting his own state of mind, tired by the long day yet with the fulfilment of having found a new path in life —even if just the beginning of it.

He steps inside the house, the breakfast prepared by his host still waiting for him, and even though there's still nobody home, he sits at the table with a very different attitude from the morning, accepting —and consuming— the meal with a thought of gratitude for the attentions Arawe has given him already.

Emerging from the confusion of the day before and the desperation from earlier that day gives him a more positive outlook for the future: even with the fundamental questions unanswered —how ever did he even get there, or where ‘there’ is— he now feels that —at the very least— survival is possible, communication is possible, and possibly even understanding. There would still be the unknown of open hostility —how does one defuse a situation when talking isn't an option, especially considering how even talking sometimes isn't enough?— but even if the suspicion in the adults' gaze doesn't bode well —heck, even Arawe was hardly friendly in the beginning— he has yet to experience aggressive behavior.

He stops mid-bite, remembering that that's hardly true. That runt, whatever her name was, seemed to be quite on the aggressive side, and quite ready to assault him. Robert has now time to fully regret his reaction, even wondering what a proper response should have been instead, as being a total pushover would probably have not depicted him in the best of lights either, since the social structure of these creatures seems to be still based on a physical pecking order. He still doubts the runt would openly attack him in normal circumstances, but he doesn't exclude the possibility of an ambush, were he to venture alone in less frequented parts of the village —or outside of it.

Finished with the meal, he steps downstairs to wash off the dust of the day. The warmth of the rooms and of the water still strike him as odd, and he is left wondering on the source of the heat, yet he accepts it gladly, considering that plenty of natural explanations would still be possible —not all of them implying a highly radioactive soil. His pondering makes him realize how much he had gotten to rely on the immense repository of knowledge that the Internet used to be, his own mind being reduced to hooks on how to grab that same knowledge, possibly to make use of it.

And now he misses all of the things that he always dreamed about learning, without him ever taking the chance to act on it, from martial arts or even just self-defence classes to the languages from all over the world, from the history of technology to the most basic wilderness survival skills. He has faint memories from the books he used to read when he was younger, and from the videos he escaped to, from time to time, still as an adult, and the little experience he gained from his brief foray into trekking and scouting when he was a teenager, but all of it seems distant, buried somewhere in his brain and nervous system, probably hardly to ever be useful.

He realizes that even if he can learn much from the grishin —provided their continuing hospitality, and their willingness to teach— there would be still be much of it that would be tuned to their specific nature, so he'd have to learn by personal experience how much of it could still apply to him. But the most astounding thing for him remains the apparent inconsistency between certain aspects of the grishin technological progress.

Something like the house he finds himself in, for example, must have required some very sophisticated process to be built, particularly considering the design of the considerable underground section and its ventilation and illumination systems. The tools and attitude of the doctor could have easily been those of a contemporary physician from where he comes from. On the other hand, something as simple as a waterskin seems to be news to them —even though they have had similar uses for those same materials.

It occurs to him that he's trying to assess the characteristics of an entire civilization from a brief, superficial contact with a limited sample of its members, a sample that —for all he knows— could just as well be a small, unrepresentative fringe. Even more than that, in fact, for all he knows, not all he sees around might have been developed by the grishin in the first place: they might have inherited them from someone else, either a past civilization (grishin or not, but probably still anthropomorphic) or a contemporary alien one. (After all, if he appeared there out of the blue, why couldn't there be other aliens roaming the planet, or even the area?)

The number of possibilities is immense, and most of them have some form of plausibility —if not else justified by his own presence then and there— but in the end, what difference would it make for him, in the present state? Even if it could have an influence on his quality of life, there's little he could find out without first learning at least to communicate with the locals.

Lying down on the bed, he glides into sleep while trying to go over the little he's learned at lunchtime, as the exhaustion from the day takes over.

The man wakes up the morning after, fully rested by a dreamless sleep, yet still with the uncomfortable sensation of being out of place. The deserted bed, the deserted rooms unchanged from the night before give him a mixed feeling of despair and safety, as the growing familiarity of the new context fights its way into his mind.

He intentionally lingers in his morning routine longer than necessary, taking his time with extra care for each of the usual activities, in an effort to focus on the self rather than the outside world, to drive away any unwanted thoughts, even just to fill the time with something.

No breakfast awaits him today, and no doctor bursts into the kitchen to drag him away. Thus, he finds his way to the pantry, examining the contents of the shelves with greater care, still finding there very little that he would call appropriate for a morning meal: some berries and nuts, nothing but water to drink. He wonders if the lack of fruit is specific to the choice of the dweller of this particular house, or due to the season, or to the general eating habits of these grishin, or of the grishin in general, or even due to the impossibility for them to consume fruit, or whatever else; and immediately after, he wonders if he'd be able to find some for his own consumption, whatever the reason for their absence might be.

He ponders on the many possibilities while idly munching on the berries and nuts, getting back to the pantry to retrieve a fistful now and then, gazing outside of the kitchen window otherwise, everything slow around him, the growing light of the day, the soft breeze rising from time to time, his own motions, his own thoughts. He stops, before reaching satiety, wondering how much he is abusing hospitality with his behavior, and realizing, in the long minutes that follow, how important it is for him to find himself a role in that society, not just out of respect for the others and for what they have done for him so far, but even more so to preserve his own sanity.

Sitting down at the table, still lost in contemplation of the scenery outside the window, he remembers how such moments of downtime would be long-sought opportunities to finally dedicate some time to himself, studying and toying around to learn something new, or writing some well-thought cogent argument about any of the wide range of topics he liked to reason about, possibly find some inspiration with a peaceful stroll outside, or even just sit down relaxing watching a movie, or playing a video-game. He realizes how inapplicable most of those activities are to his current predicament, and those that would be possible are now shrouded in a sense of inanity that repels him, leaving him to a void where he knows he'll find nothing but desperation.

Going over the few professions he's come across in these two days of coexistence with the grishin, he doesn't feel a particular inclination for any of them.

Hunting —assuming that is indeed what Arawe does— is out of the question, due to his poor eyesight and color blindness: even assuming he'd learn to use the ‘tools of the trade’, bows and arrows, spears, knives, managing to spot a prey without being seen would essentially be impossible.

Medicine might not be completely out of reach, provided he could manage to learn what's needed. Diagnosis would be problematic in some cases, again due to his color blindness, but all in all he could be of some assistance to Gwara, at least for the practical side of things. A similar argument could be made for farming: he could give a hand looking after crops and livestock, but he might have trouble spotting problems.

All in all, the most promising opportunity would be as apprentice in the workshop. He has always been fascinated by woodworking, and he can't deny the appeal of the isolation in which the worker he's met seems to live. Or, he gives himself a laugh, he could try a more sociable opportunity, as a gigolo, given the unsound interest he seems to have aroused in his host at least, or the curiosity he piqued in the queen.

Even though he doesn't take that possibility into consideration with any seriousness, he does wonder about the reason for such a passionate response from some, whereas most seem to look at him with suspicion, and a few —that runt, for example— hating him with a passion comparable to the one Arawe manifests in her sexual interest. All in all, the most balanced reaction so far has been the one from the grish he now sees from the window, the doctor herself, with her cautious yet open approach.

He greets her on the doorstep, without even waiting for her to reach the steps, and they're quickly off again. On the way, she talks to him, and he gets the impression that the doctor is intentionally speaking slowly, possibly in the hope of this making it easier for him to understand —wishful thinking, at best, even though he must admit that at the very least the sounds have now started feeling somewhat familiar, even though their concatenation in words, and the meaning of these, are still out of reach.

Robert finds himself following up on the option of assisting the doctor sooner than he would have expected —or liked— as the pregnancy of one of the cows —or whatever they are— they had already visited the day before degenerates into a problematic delivery.

As a spectator, he had noticed pretty quickly that the visit wasn't just a routine checkup, and it was almost with morbid fascination that he had watched the beginning of the intervention. And it was with completely unexpected readiness that no more than a few minutes later he had found himself on the other side of the fence, following orders he didn't really understand, if not for the gestures and the example he managed to imitate, pulling the cow by the horns at first, and then whatever was coming out on the other end.

His strength and weight —superior to those of the grishin despite (and because of) his lack of exercise— prove decisive, yet when the calf is finally born, even through the mist of his poor eyesight he can see that something is wrong; and as the adrenaline rush from the intervention washes out, the full impact of the scene on his senses starts taking over: he stumbles back, trying to fight back the growing sensation of nausea, until his stomach finally revolts, giving him just enough time to turn away before his breakfast comes back out from the same path it had found on the way in.

He leans against the fence again, still bent forward, face to the ground, eyes closed trying to forget the sight of the barely formed blob on the ground, trying to block out the stench still surrounding him. Absorbed as he is by the cleansing his body is requesting, it takes him a few moment to become conscious of the chaos around him. He turns around, just to be overwhelmed by the anger manifesting in the agitated gesturing with which the other grishin seem to be debating with the doctor, whose normally serene demeanor is obviously cracking up; and even without getting any part of the discussion, it's still clear that the anger is directed at him, and that Gwara is taking his defense.

The reaction of the creatures perplexes him, but in the heat of the moment the only thing that gets through his mind is the conflicted uneasiness stemming from his helplessness, the inability to fully comprehend the situation, and hence to defend himself, having to rely on a third party to take over this role from him. He stands still, hesitant, wishing to be somewhere else, away from the unsettling ordeal that was the manifestly failed delivery he has just helped with, away from the stench that he now feels sticking to him, away from the rage that threatens to explode at any moment, despite the authority that the doctor manages to exert.

Thus, when Gwara finally stomps away, grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him away, he's more than glad to follow her. She leads him down the same road they had walked the day before, passing by the place where they had had lunch and exchanged the first attempts at verbal communication, and finally stopping on a small paved circular plaza built around a large hand-operated wash trough. Without hesitation, and in fact with excessive fury, she starts pumping up the water to fill the buckets lying around.

As soon as he starts following her example, she picks up one of the buckets and splashes him. He turns, disappointed, surprised, just to receive another bucketful to the face, her barking laughter ringing in his ears. It takes him a moment —and a third bucketload— to collect his wits and finally react. With a sense of relief that makes him breath more easily, he responds in tune to the doctor's provocation, throwing her off balance if just for a brief moment. In the ensuing water fight that serves the well-needed purpose of wiping out the leftover from the failed delivery, the man appreciates that the shell of detachment that had surrounded the doctor in the previous days seems completely —if temporarily— gone, replaced by a manifestation of pure enjoyment.

When they stop and sit down to catch their breath, he doesn't miss that her new, more free attitude has opened her to an excitement that goes beyond the fun of splashing each other with water, with a revealing erection popping up between her legs. For a brief moment, their gaze meet and the man believes he can read the desire in her eyes, before remembering how, despite the uncanny resemblance in everything, they are still an alien species, and it is presumptuous of him to think he can truly understand their body language, even in the most obvious cases.

She quickly distracts herself, and he follows her lead again, focusing just on the relaxing warmth of the sun of the approaching midday, the now wet stones under them offering a surprisingly comfortable support. Yet when the doctor lies down, her eyes closed, her legs slightly apart, her erection still in full glory, he wonders again if she's really just unwinding, or rather waiting for him to take the initiative. He scuttles closer, making an effort to not try to be stealthy, to avoid taking her by surprise. He lies down next to her, on the side, propping himself up with an arm, his eyes getting lost all over her naked, inviting body, from head to feet and back, just to find her glaring back at him. She holds his gaze, still unmoving.

The man reaches for the doctor's body with his free hand, fingers running delicately over her skin, feeling the tensing up of the muscles below. He caresses her stomach, the hand sliding down to the opposite side almost in an embrace, running down to the leg and then up again, her body shivering at the contact. He briefly cups one of the doctor's small, firm breasts, then lifts his hand until only the fingertips are circling it, closing in with a soft pinch, stopping just as they feel the hardening nipple. His hand runs down the stomach again, purposely avoiding her erection, on to her thigh, over to the inner part of it, and then up again, until the back of the thumb meets the unmistakable wetness of her pussy, just as he leans over to grab the other nipple between his lips.

The doctor exhales deeply and loudly, her hand now looking for the man's body, finding his budding erection, grabbing it if just for a moment, giving it a squeeze, letting her fingers slide along, around it. The moment after, she suddenly pushes him away, jerking herself up to a sitting position, deliberately looking in front of her, away from him.

The man sits up more slowly, surprised, uncertain on how to interpret her apparent distress. He looks around, to find no one is sight, although the village sounds he has been getting used to are clearly audible from beyond the closest buildings. He wonders about the grishin sense of modesty, and how different it would be from theirs, given the freedom with which they walk around completely naked, but for the occasional work-related piece of clothing. What about sex, or even just arousal?

Yet there's something in the abruptness of her reaction that leads him to think it's not just —if at all— a matter of propriety that is bothering her, but rather something deeper, maybe more personal —and something he can't even inquire about. So he just sits down, waiting for her to find her inner balance again, when the doctor just as a abruptly jumps to her feet and rushes off, towards the neighboring sparse woods. He ponders for a moment how appropriate would it be to follow, rather than just wait for her to come back. With a deep sigh, he stands up, and sets off for the trees, with a more careful step: he doesn't know why she has looked after him so far, but he does know he has no one else to turn to.

Following a straight path inside the woods, he finds her pretty soon, curled up at the foot of a birch-like tree. Long before he can reach her, though, the doctor turns to him, undoubtedly disturbed by the noise he's making across the undergrowth, and growls at him, in an unmistaken —and unusual, yet not surprising— sign of aggressiveness. He stops, and since she keeps tensely staring at him, he turns around and walks away.

On the way back to the village, he wonders what exactly has gone wrong, or what he has done wrong. He has little doubt now about misreading the situation: her state of arousal, her initial willingness. Did he push too far, or did she just have second thoughts, a sudden “no, I can't do that”? He wonders if this is about her role in the village, or his “role” as prey to the hunt leader, or some other social rule (for mating?) that he would know nothing about.

He realizes the idleness of those questions, as he is unlike to get an answer, ever: it would not be easy to discuss this with a human, sharing a language; how much harder would it be with some other sentient being, with a completely different (well, maybe not completely) view on life, and a language that still completely escapes him?

And now he is left alone again, waiting for Arawe (was that the name?) to come back from her hunting. And what about the doctor instead? Would she approach him again? Would they just come across each other and embarrassedly look the other way? Or would she take him with her again in her tours? Would she teach him again?

The man snorts. Barely a day has gone by, and he finds himself desperately attached to another of those creatures, feeling completely lost the moment he faces the prospect of being separate from her. And even though he can rationalize it with the uncertainty of his situation, or his opportunities for survival, he still feels that there's something deeper, less rational, more impulsive, making him clingier than necessary. And it would not be just the approaching lunchtime.

When he steps out of the woods into the main path, the man realizes he has wandered from his intended course, and is now facing the outer skirts of the village, where the workshops are. He wonders about the woodworker, and what she might think of him, or his ideas, or even if she bothered at all with them, considering how incomprehensible his explanation must have been, and how lost in her own world she seemed. He stands in front of the workshop door for a few moments, pondering on the opportunity to pay her a visit, before finally stepping in, convinced more by the nonthreatening attitude worn by the owner the day before than by any particular need or desire on his side, other than the fear for the vacuum that awaits him otherwise.

The woodworker is sitting turning her back at the entrance, just like the day before, and just like the day before, she grumbles something before the man has the chance to make his presence manifest. Yet, as he is trying to remember the salutations exchanged the day before by the doctor, he realizes that the grish is actually just talking to herself, and hasn't taken notice of him at all.

He clears his throat loudly, forcing the worker to lift her head from her work to look at him. They exchange greetings —the man emulating the sounds she welcomes him with, recognizing them for what they are— and the creature then starts on a tirade that flies completely over his head. He imagines her saying something along the lines of “no, I haven't given your crazy ideas any thought”, but unable to grasp her meaning at all, other than not sensing any threat in her words or her attitude in general, he just shrugs in reply. She stops, maybe perplexed, pointing at him for a moment, touching her nose, then closing with an extremely vague, dismissive gesture of her hand.

«May I sit here to wait? I have nowhere else to go.» he explains.

She looks at him for a moment, shrugging back at him. Oh well, he thinks, at least we're on the same wavelength about not understanding each other. He approaches the counter, perching himself on one of the tall stools, and just sits there quietly as the woodworker seems to forget about him to go back to her work.

The man patiently watches her patient work, a growing curiosity absorbing him. Now and again, when turning around or standing to fetch a new tool, the grish seems startled, as if surprised to still find him around, yet just as quickly going back to simply ignoring his presence, and Robert actually finds something reassuring in the complete disregard the workshop owner reserves him.

He even forgets his lingering hunger until the workshop owner suddenly stands, stretching out in an obvious moment of pause, and disappears through a side door, just to reappear shortly after to ask him something he doesn't understand. The grish tries again, rephrasing, talking more slowly, and this time Robert manages to catch the word for food.

«Grawg?» he repeats «Food? Yes please.» He joins his hands again in a form of prayer, despite realizing the futility of his gesture, simply hoping that his pleading tone doesn't convey too much desperation. And it's with gratitude that he accepts the plate that his host finally brings over.

It's late in the afternoon when the doctor finally drops by, cautiously peeking through the entrance of the workshop, and drawing what Robert imagines to be a sigh of relief in finding him there. She approaches the bench with a measured step, chatting up Nuwaga —as the man has learned the name of the woodworker to be— about —he assumes— the state of things.

The state of mind of the man has distinctly improved. He wouldn't be able to tell if he could consider himself happy, but he couldn't deny a sense of satisfaction, maybe even pride. He has been able to communicate, as marginally as it might have been, with the workshop owner: they shared her food, learned each other's name, and for a while now she has been teaching him the basics of woodworking, showing him the tools, the simplest techniques, all information that he has been eagerly taking in, and practising in earnest.

He realizes that his own interest in the matter is largely driven by this opportunity as an anchor for his own sanity, rather than a personal passion —even though he wouldn't deny that he has always had a certain curiosity for this kind of things, a fascination for the manual creative process. But now that he has been shaving and drilling and sawing and sanding and carving and smoothing and polishing all afternoon, he gets a feeling that this could actually be a nice way to spend his time there —even though he has little to show for it yet, except maybe for the extraordinary talkativeness Nuwaga manifests in responding to the doctor.

About Gwara, Robert would like to think that she seems more serene, even though he still cannot say that he is able to properly gauge the grishin faces and expressions. The distress and aggressiveness from early seems to be completely gone, and even though he guesses cautiousness in her approach, he feels the crisis has been overcome. And in the end it's the doctor herself turning to him, inviting him to stand and depart from there —even without understanding the words, the gestures are quite clear even for the human.

And so he stands, and follows the doctor to the door. When she turns for the final salutations, he turns as well, and with a small bow, voices his thanks to Nuwaga. He would like to ask about the next day, but he understand this is something still behind his communication capabilities, and he figures he can just show up in the morning, and try to gauge from the woodworker reaction whether he should stay or not.

Gwara walks him home then, in silence, her attitude unreadable. She stops at the bottom of the steps that lead to the hunter's house' main entrance, and finally lifts her arm, caressing Robert's cheek, a single light brush, barely with her fingertips, and then she turns, and she's gone.

The man staggers home, perplexed. He prepares a meal not unlike the ones he is getting used to consume, all the time wondering about that departing gesture from the doctor, the only interpretation being acknowledged by his brain being the one he would make had she been human.

He realizes how much bigger an obstacle this lack of kinesic understanding can be, even more so than the lack of a shared language. He wonders how much harder or easier it would have been if rather than a completely different species, those around him had been humans, but from a completely different culture. He recalls the uncanny sensation he had felt at times with movies and animations from the Far East, but just as quickly tries to suppress the thought, scared by the possibility that he might feel as unfamiliar among humans as he has been feeling here with the grishin.

Yet even with this dark thoughts looming around, the man manages to find a quiet sleep, undisturbed until morning, his spirit still propped up by the satisfaction from the workshop afternoon.

The morning after, the man wakes up feeling well rested, and finishes up his breakfast just as the doctor rings the doorbell. Stepping out into the open, Robert struggles with his first attempt at a complete sentence.

‹Robert go Nuwaga›

He is sure the grammar is not correct, and he wouldn't be surprised to find that the verb may be wrong, but the surprised reaction from the doctor is enough to give him satisfaction. She laughs, and happily departs, inviting him to follow —as far as he can guess.

They go straight to the workshop, where Gwara has an animated discussion with the woodworker, who doesn't seem to share her enthusiasm: Nuwaga's reactions is limited to a few nods of assent, sharp words, and a brief gesture in salutation when the doctor finally leaves.

The man isn't stumped by this: Gwara's excitement is sufficient to support his own satisfaction —and truth be told, he would have found it peculiar if Nuwaga had reacted any other way, given her consistently placid, almost uncaring demeanor. In fact, the detachment with which she seems to have accepted his presence, or even taken him on as apprentice —if that is what this is— is currently Robert's beacon against the distress of his predicament: it gives him a sense of stability —no threats, no sexual tension, no pressure— that he would rather not see shaken by a sudden change of pace.

He's thus glad to get back to work, approaching the bench as the woodworker takes out again all the tools and gadgets he had been training on the day before, and soon enough he gets lost again in the focus of his apprenticeship, Nuwaga's supervision vanishing over time as she moves back to her own work, that proceeds then uninterrupted until the late lunchtime.

It's late in the evening, way past the time he would have expected the doctor to pick him up, when Robert realizes that something is up. The woodworker doesn't seem to be annoyed by his prolonged permanence, but as the light grows dimmer, she starts to pack things up. The man follows her example, learning to clean and sort out the tools of the trade, their place in the workshop. He realizes that Nuwaga is distracted, sometimes stopping as if to listen, or smell the air. And then finally he hears it too, the remote sounds of the village turning more hectic, possibly louder, even if not closer.

«Hunutrho rhoge. » the woodworker proclaims, in her usual detached done. The man doesn't understand the meaning of the phrase, but he does pick up the hunut in it. «Arawe?» he asks, doubtful, before realizing that he has no way to understand if Nuwaga's reply is affirmative or not, neither from the sounds, nor from the gesture that accompanies them. He fidgets, not wanting to abandon the woodworker abruptly, but anxious to go look for Arawe if she's back indeed. His head turns from the door to the grish that has so generously given her time, as he remains undecided, and ultimately it's Nugawa herself that dismisses him, with the apparently shared gesture of sending someone off, distended hand, flicking fingers as if to drive him physically out.

Robert runs, out through the door, down the path that takes him to the village, and then simply aiming for the source of the growing commotion, following the noise, and the direction where most other grishin are moving towards. He runs, ignoring the discomfort of his flopping family jewels, focused as he is on reaching his target, his attention taken entirely by the potential obstacles on the path, large or small that they may be. He doesn't wonder why he feels such a desperate need to rejoin with Arawe, he doesn't consider how much this small effort could be improved by some more proper clothing, or at least a loincloth and some boots: that'll all be for later.

His run ends in the large clearing he had already noticed when first brought in front of the queen, obviously an important meeting place. Grishin are busy all around him, lighting torches, making room for something big. The queen herself has come out of the palace to greet the returning team, and Robert tries to follow her, keeping his distance, moving along the sidelines. And finally he spots them, the returning hunters, all dressed up in leather vests, armed with spears and short swords, with the filth and the exhaustion of the road and the fight covering them. Arawe leads, as he has come to expect, carrying her share; but even though their prey is big game —a bear, perhaps?— and they should be happy for that —sharing the enthusiasm of the welcoming team, the grishin that come to their aid in carrying the huge beast into the village— it's not happiness or pride that Robert finds in Arawe's expression, or in that of the other hunters.

Something has gone wrong, and this realization is sufficient to hold back the man from manifesting his presence to the hunt leader. He stands there on the sidelines, in the shadows, to watch, and think, to try and understand, his eyes floating from the hunters, to the queen, back to hunters, to the path they came from.

How am I supposed to feel? We lost one. And one of the best, to boot, not that damn runt who is responsible for all this.

The Queen comes to greet us, and I don't even pretend that things aren't as bad as I feel they are. I barely respond to the greeting, and let the welcoming team take over the task of carrying away our prey, to prepare the shares for each of us and that for the feast that awaits —a feast that will not just be a celebration tonight, but a commemoration for our fallen hunter.

«You lost one»

«Grawen»

«I am sorry. It is a big loss, for all of us.»

They ask, I tell. I tell them of the cave I warned the team against, I tell them of the runt that ignored the warnings, screaming their suspicion that I was trying to hide something, I tell them of how Rugwar provoked the beast, how it shouldn't have been our prey, yet became such for our defense, how the same runt revealed their cowardice running into hiding to avoid the fight, and how the beast got Grawen by the arm, throwing them against a rock, where we had to leave them as the fight protracted until we and the other three hunters finally managed to strike the beast down.

I do not need to tell the Queen about the pain of leaving Grawen there, still breathing yet broken, for this is a pain that the Queen knows well. And I do not tell them about my hatred for the coward, dangerous runt that cost us our best teammate, because this is not something I should weight the Queen with.

And even when Rugwar comes forward, claiming that Grawen couldn't have been that good, if they lost so badly to the beast, I have to hold back, because it is not for me to challenge the runt, but the reverse, even though the coward will never get to the point, and stick only to their provocations. But this doesn't prevent me from roaring to their snout until they run, cowering behind the crowd.

And there, shying away in the background, I can spot my charge, my freak; and I forget about the runt and their cowardice, I even forget about Grawen, if just for a moment, because my passion is there, towering over all the others, beckoning me.

I catch up to him, allow myself a small pounce to get into his arms, to lick his face. He holds me, and his hands sink into my mane, caressing my head. I do not understand the gesture, I do not even care about the meaning it may have for him; I just enjoy his cool body against mine, the strength with which he holds me against him, the voice with which he calls my name.

Wait. How can he …

I step away from him, I ask him: «How?»

And he replies: «Gwara teach me.»

«You speak!»

«Only some. Not good.»

I'm flabbergasted, I'm jealous, I'm desperate I will not hear his angelic voice again, only his butchered efforts at our language, and still what I hate the most is the time he has shared with the vet, learning and doing who knows what else. And still I'm happy of this bridge between us, as flaky and broken as it might be.

I let him hold me again, before realizing that the crowd is dispersing, preparing for the feast.

«Come.»

I take his hand this time, walking him to my home, to my bathroom, dropping my gear carelessly in the vestibule. I have other things in mind now, but he precedes me: he forces me to sit on a stool, and then proceeds to soaping me up, scrubbing me all over, then dedicating himself to my mane, with thorough care.

I soon give up trying to resist. I let his hands all over my body, and even though there's nothing erotic about his touch, his closeness is as thrilling as ever; there is strength in his hands, and on my tortured skin and tired muscles, even just the attention he is giving me, the care he's taking of my body are new sensations that manage to unsettle me. Oh, I could get used to this, coming back from the hunt to be met and taken care of this way … but for the time being, his hands on my body, the deep rubs in my mane, on my head, only go to reinforce the libido that has been boiling up since we've come back home. And with his final touches, as he brushes my mane, I spread my legs, exposing my tense erection, my overflowing pussy, waiting for him to catch the hint.

His hands fall back to my shoulder, then further down to my breasts, flicking my nipples. I meow. He leans over, his body pushing against mine as his face appears in my field of vision, and his hardening cock manifests his desire against by back. His faces comes down to mine, he licks me from the forehead to the tip of my nose. This is new, and even I believe he's just trying to emulate us, I love it.

«Fuck me.»

I don't know if he's learned this too, I don't know if he understands or not, but if he does, he still chooses to take his time. His lips —so red and fat compared to ours— run down my neck, giving me a thrill —why don't we do this? why can't we do this?— almost distracting me from his hands, that finally leave my busting nipples alone, caressing my stomach, reaching out for my cock —except he doesn't actually take it. His left hand pushes against my groin, two fingers on each side of my erection, the tips playing with my pussy lips. I'm gasping, I'm meowing, I'm lifting my ass trying to push against his hand, until I can't hold back anymore, I stand and turn, ready to pounce.

He holds me back, sitting himself on the stool I was on just a moment ago, and then inviting me over. I straddle him, and his cock has no problems finding my pussy. And Mother Nature, I'm … coming … already.

Fuck, that was intense. I needed this. It felt so good, giving up control, trusting his hands … Mother Nature, it still feels so good, even if he's just using me, even if I don't have the energy to do anything but hold on to him. His hands on my waist, so strong, and yet not forceful … he's using me, he's just using me, and I don't care, I want him to … ah, he's coming, and I'm … it's just a reflex, but Mother Nature is it intense …

Wait, wait, let's just stay like this. Let's wait. I don't have the energy to ask, so please understand me, even if I'm not talking. I want to feel you still inside, I love how your cock reacts to my pussy, I love how your lips feel on my neck, I love how you manage to understand me, to feel me. I love you.

I'm sick, I know I'm sick. There's something wrong with my lust, there's something wrong with my heart, there's something wrong with my mind, I'm all fucked up, and not in the good sense, but I don't care. I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm happy to have you, I'm happy that you stick to me. I hope you're happy, because I want you to be happy, I don't want to see you scared anymore, I don't want to see you in pain, I don't want to see you sad. Please be happy, here, with me.

It's only when the pulsing of her pussy stops, and his erection finally loses all power and slips out, that she moves again. She takes his head in her hands, her eyes fixed on his, right before giving him a long, passionate lick. She stands, sighing, and proceeds to wash away the remnants of their encounter, not just on her own body, but also on his, returning his previous care for her.

When they're done, he stands too.

«Robert.» he says, left hand on his heart. «Arawe.» he touches her. «Robert.» he repeats, hand on his heart again.

«Row-wert? Rowwert.»

He smiles. He knows he can't expect better. She tries again, and again, until he puts a finger on her mount.

‹Good. Is good.›

She licks his finger, then his face again. ‹Rowwert. Rowwert mine. We go now.›

The man is happy, and it's not only from the endorphins from the sex they just had: it's the distinct feeling that they are finally connecting, in simple but meaningful way. It's discovering her interest for him has not waned, it's discovering that it's not just lust, that there's more behind it, even though he wouldn't know yet what, or how much.

He follows her around, as she picks up the apparel and weapons she had dropped in the vestibule. He assists her in cleaning them up, in putting them back in storage, the actions giving him a domestic feeling that entertains and reassures him. They end up in the bedroom, facing the mirror on top of the chest of drawers. In the dying sunlight that still barely manages to bleed into the room, the man has for the first time the opportunity to see himself and Arawe together. They both stand still, looking at their reflection in the mirror.

At a different time, the uncanny similarities between their species would have given him an uneasy feeling, but presently he actually finds comfort in it, and even more, he sees how they could be seen as a couple, despite the difference in major and minor details: their hairless skin versus his body hair, their prominent snout versus his flatter face (and largish nose), the ears, the eyes … none of it matters.

He leans over just as she tilts her head to look up. Their eyes meet, and the man has the feeling that the expression his host is making now is their equivalent of a smile. He presses his lips on her forehead, a long kiss that she accepts with eyes closed. And yet when he straightens up, she's suddenly busy, with something that Robert still feels to be magic, as light shines through her fingers from a stone she's picked up: not as bright as the one Gwara had used to check his eyes, but still strong enough to brighten the room sufficiently to clearly tell colors apart. He resists the temptation to pick the stone up, to study it, worrying that it might interfere with its functionality, or with whatever Arawe is now doing: painting her face.

From the top drawer, the grish has picked a few pots holding paint of different hues: clean whites, bright yellows, deep reds, metallic blue; and she is now drawing distinctive lines on her visage, her arms, her chest. She turns to him them, and adds some minimal lines on his forehead, and then on both arms, just below the shoulders. He understands that hers may be some celebratory makeup for the accomplishment of the hunt, and wonders about the possible meaning of his new paintings, but doesn't even bother asking, knowing how much of a hurdle understanding would be.

When she finally speaks, he does understand: they are done, and should be going now. As he follows her out of the house again, and he feels happy just because he's doing it because she told him, and not because of desperation, or because she dragged him out, even if just to make him understand. How often has he thought about the inadequacy of the word as a communication instrument? And yet now, just being able to communicate verbally elates him.

The path they follow takes them around the village, close to the woods that surround it on that side, towards the road she had taken when returning from the hunt, but their quick march gets distracted by shuffling, panting noises coming from the woods. They stop, they wait, and even through his tension (and fear), Robert realizes that Arawe's attention does not seem to be the one of the hunter, or the protector: there's no threat in her expression or posture; on the contrary, he notices a shiftiness that would seem to hide embarrassment … as if she knew what is coming, and would rather be anywhere else than there to greet it.

The sounds get closer, slowly. The man feels the heart thumping in his chest, an uncomfortable feeling creeping over his skin. He tells himself that he shouldn't be afraid, not with Arawe there, not with her resigned stillness there —unless it's actually her attitude pushing him over. And when he can finally make out the silhouettes approaching in the dark, he is even more surprised, as it looks like a grish, someone that is having troubles for the last steps that separate them from the clearing where Robert and Arawe are standing in; and yet the huntress doesn't move, even if for a brief moment the man has the impression that she's trying to look away.

It is indeed a grish that stumbles out of the woods, her step unsteady, her body —still covered in the simple armour that the man has seen worn by the other hunters— covered in filth, a pained expression contorting her snout, her gasping breath unable to hide a broken, whistling hiss. She stops next to the last tree, leaning against it with her shoulder, before slumping down on the ground, on her knees at first, sitting down with her back against the trunk then, head pushed back, snout in the air, eyes closed.

«Grawen …»

The man can distinctly hear the sadness in the single word uttered by Arawe beneath her breath, but he's unable to comprehend. He doesn't understand if it's a word, a name, a swear, but most of all he doesn't understand the coldness in Arawe's attitude. Confused, he looks at the newcomer, then back at his companion. There's no hate, no terror, just pain and sadness. What's wrong? Why isn't Arawe helping her? Why isn't anybody calling for help? Why is everyone so …

Resignation. This is what it is, both on the newcomer's side and from Arawe: resignation. But why? To what? We must call for help, we must …

«Gwara!» he shouts finally «We must call Gwara,» he repeats, turning to Arawe «there's something wrong with her,» she points at the newcomer with both hands, arms outstretched «Gwara will know what to do! We must …»

This is when he realizes that he's been talking in his mother tongue, that Arawe cannot understand him; yet she must have at least been able to catch the doctor's name, extrapolate from that. But she stands there, frowning, looking at him with a new expression on her face, suspicion maybe.

Robert is too busy worrying about what's happening, about the fate of the newcomer, to worry about his own status or state; there's no fear in him anymore, except maybe that he might not be able to do anything to help. He springs into a desperate race, hurrying towards the main square, looking for Gwara, calling her, suddenly remembering to speak in their language when he finally finds her.

‹Come, come.›

It's all he can say, before running back, looking back just to check that the grish is following him, perplexed by how composed she is, even though it should be obvious, at least from his expression, that there's some kind of emergency —or is there?

He can't shake of this feeling that there's something horribly wrong in this situation: not so much some specific threat to the village or the grishin he's getting to know, but in a more general sense —something out of place, a missing piece.

When he gets back, Arawe doesn't seem to have moved, and neither has the other grish. But what surprises Robert the most, as he kneels next to the newcomer, is that even Gwara seems profoundly unfazed. They're not worrying, why are they not worrying? Robert tries to focus his attention on the grish sitting against the tree, wishing for more light, as he gets closer. Her eyes, as they roll towards him when he approach, seem confused, almost devoid of intelligence; they roll back up towards the tree top soon after.

She's obviously hurt, in multiple places. The man is appalled to find that the worst injury seems to be a broken arm: even though the bone is not exposed, the fracture is apparent. Did she walk —stagger— through the woods, alone, despite it? What is wrong with them?

He turns to Gwara again, desperate for a means to communicate with her about the issue, dismayed by the apparent lack of engagement that she shares with the huntress. Why? How? This is their … she must be one of them, a huntress too probably, why are the leaving her here like this?

He starts drawing in the dust with a stick, feverishly trying to depict the broken bone, the need to set it back into place. He gestures, grabbing his own hand, trying to illustrate the procedure —a procedure of which he only has a vague theoretical notion, to boot. Please understand me, he pleads in his mind, please come over and give me a hand. They're talking. They're talking about it. Please understand, please help me.

He sighs of relief when Gwara finally approaches. As light stones and torches start gathering around them while keeping their distance, he feels the pressure raising. What am I doing? I don't … I've never done this, I can't be taking on myself the responsibility of this … but the doctor is now in front of him, waiting. Sweating profusely, he tries to regaining composure, but his faltering voice betrays him.

«I'm going to hold her down, keep her arm steady. You help me straighten the fracture, OK?»

No, this won't do. He closes his eyes for a moment, stressed out by the inadequacy of his mastery of their native tongue.

‹I hold. You pull. Straight.› he tries to accompany the words with the gestures, in the hope that it'll be enough.

‹Go.› is all the doctor replies, unfazed.

Robert is hesitant at first. He grabs the grish lightly, barely more than a touch. No, we need more, we need her to not move at all. He finds room behind the grish, holding her in place from behind, as she looks around, confused. The man steadily grabs the injured arm, signaling the doctor over, and she pulls.

The injured grish roars out in pain, her muscles spasming as if to break free from Robert's hold, but the man holds on tight, even finding the strength and dexterity to assist the doctor in setting the bone. And when they're done, he realizes that the body in his arms has flopped down, completely devoid of any strength; he looks at Gwara, worried, but the doctor seems impassible: she feels the grish pulse, at the wrist first, at the neck next, and then she just nods.

That can't … that can't be all, can it? We need … we need a cast, we need to ensure her arm is safe and protected and still, we need to check all of the other injuries, we need something to safely carry her to her own house, we … It is I that has to do it, isn't it? That's the point, you don't know anything about this. You don't have … medicine? No, it's not possible, not with the kind of examination you've given me. You must know about this, it's not possible, it's not possible.

A cast. How the heck do you describe a cast? How do you draw it? How would you even make it?

The man sinks again in the desperation stemming from his lack of knowledge, his uselessness hovering over him, cursing him a step away from panic. It doesn't have to be a cast, anything to keep the bone, the arm steady, to avoid further injury …

‹Wood.›

Grawen made it.

I can't believe my eyes, they managed to get back. This is … this is incredible, and still … look at the state they're in. Broken, useless. I … don't want to stay here and watch them suffer and die.

Why is Rowwert … He doesn't realize, does he? No, he doesn't, he wants Gwara, what does he think the vet could do?

And yet he goes to fetch them, and tries to draw something.

«He wants to fix the bone.» Gwara claims.

«What? You cannot fix a bone, not with that … you cannot, right?» is all I can say.

And the vet is silent at first.

«I don't know.» the voice, always so calm, as if it didn't matter.

«You don't know

«I don't. It is not possible, to my knowledge, but he obviously thinks one can. Or at least he believes that we should straighten the fracture. Does he think the bone will mend itself? Does he know something we don't?» the vet ponders silently for a moment «Maybe his bones can repair after being broken.»

That's … absurd. I know it's absurd. We all know it's absurd. Bones don't mend, they don't for us, they don't for the animals … how much meat we've been able to procure easily just because of that? He can't really be thinking …

And yet he's trying, he's really trying, and he's dragging Gwara with him. Why? What's the point? Leave it be, let Grawen find their peace …

What … are they crazy? You can't do that, what are you trying to do? He speaks in his language again, and Mother Nature I wish it wasn't so wonderful to hear, when you're talking about Grawen. He tries again in our language … so lacking, so hard for him … why, why all this?

Mother Nature they're really doing it …

I'm angry now. Pain is one thing, but giving gratuitous pain like that? Why? What difference does it make now?

And now he wants wood, for … a cage? A cage for the arm?

He's frustrated. He is obviously frustrated to the point of desperation, and while I understand he's just trying to help, I can't but think how … foolish all this is. And now that he's running away —is he just running away to go hide and cry? did he decided he'll just to it himself?— I can talk to Gwara freely again.

«What's going on?»

Shaking their head, the vet isn't any help: «I don't understand. We put the two halves of the bone in place, I think. Difficult to say. Grawen is still alive, although they fainted from the pain. And now he wants to do something with the arm, something to … protect it, I think.»

«Grawen will … live.»

«Possibly.»

«No more hunts, though.»

Gwara doesn't respond.

«A hunter that cannot hunt.» my heart aches just saying this. I cannot image how Grawen will feel when they will come to.

This can't be, I should put a stop to it. He is my charge, I'm responsible for his actions. I'm responsible for Grawen too, as the hunt leader. Yet I cannot bring me to do it, and it's all Gwara's fault, for I trust the vet's judgement on this, and if they are giving Rowwert a hand, there must be something, something I'm missing.

The man has to make several trips to gather all that he things he needs. He fetches wood, a lot of wood. Wood for the fire to boil some water, sticks for the makeshift splint; wood from the main square, from Arawe's house, even going as far as the workshop, always on the run, always without breath.

He fetches a pail of water, after searching through Arawe's house, using the lightstone from the bedroom. At a different time, he'd ponder about the stone itself, the heat it emanates, or the light itself, but right now he's so worried about finding everything he needs that he completely overlooks the oddity of his own gestures, and the tools he manages to come by.

He asks for help to light the fire. He starts setting up the wood, and tries to gesture flames coming out from it. Gwara catches on, and helps him layering the wood more properly, setting stones around it to protect it. The man further represents that they need to put the pail on it, and again the grish assists him in preparing supports for the pail. A torch from a bystander puts the wood aflame, and Robert can run to look for more materials after setting up the water to boil.

Arawe will kill me, is his thought as he finds new bedsheets in the drawers, and then a knife from the kitchen, to cut it down in strips. When he finally gets back to the clearing, he's completely out of breath, but so taken by his endeavour that the possibility for Arawe's anger —anger that doesn't manifest— doesn't even faze him. Instead, he asks her for help.

«Hold it here. Here. Hold it.» he repeats, until she takes the hem of the sheet, incredulous. He then starts cutting through, with some difficulties, with the knife, dropping into the pail each strip that he manages to complete.

It's after the third strip that things start to change, as Nuwaga —to Robert's surprise— comes forth, with proper cutting implements, and takes over the role of cutting the bed sheet. Curiosity? Practicality? The man doesn't know, and doesn't have time to care. He signals his thanks with a bow, and starts taking the strips that she completes, to drop them into the finally boiling water. How long do they have to boil to be disinfected? Was it five, ten minutes? And in the mean time? Heck, how am I supposed to even count the time passing?

He keeps throwing the strips into the water with automatic gestures, pondering on what to do next. As time goes by, more quietly now despite the background chit-chat from the crowd that has gathered to observe, he starts to feel the pressure of the responsibility he has subsumed almost against his own will. He is well aware that he isn't competent enough, even though he seems surrounded by even less competent people; yet, he realizes that even if he had more than a vague idea about what to do, he still couldn't be sure that the course of action would be appropriate for the grishin. The thought finally emerges that their complete surprise could be caused by the idea that mending broken bones could not be possible —and that might not just be ignorance on their side, it might actually be the case for them.

With the last strip still in his hand, he stops. How stupid can he be? Is this all a waste of effort? If it ends up going nowhere, will they just dismiss it as the quirk actions of an alien? How would people on Earth react if they were to come across an alien claiming that you could, say, reattach the head of a person?

Robert shakes his head. What a fool. And yet, there's so much involvement now, from Gwara, from Nuwaga even, and the curiosity of the crowd, that it would seem even more foolish to just drop it there. And if it works, wouldn't Arawe be happy? Or would she see all of this as some kind of … sacrilege?

Despite the uncertainty, the man decides to carry on. The strip in his hand reminds him that he has never even tried to bandage someone —he tries on himself first, trying to wrap the cloth around one arm, using the free hand and what he can of his own body to assist. Gwara's curious look makes him realize that he might have an ally in her still. He unrolls the bandage, lends it to the doctor, and offers his arm for practice.

It takes a lot of gesturing, spoken words that are not understood by the other side, growing frustration and several attempts before he gets the feeling —nothing more, given his lack of experience— that the results are satisfactory. And he's glad he can at least say ‹Good.› in their language.

Then comes trying to explain the splints again. What size should they be, he wonders? Should they just protect the arm, and leave the elbow free to move? What about the wrist? So many questions, no way to ask. In the end he decides to leave the elbow free, but still block the wrist, while keeping the fingers free. He starts gather twigs of the correct size, and Nuwaga again comes to his aid, clipping the ones that are too long. Does she always walk around with the tools of the trade with her, he wonders, or did she come here because she heard?

It's to the man's greatest relief that the woodworker, after several exchanges with Gwara, also comes up with the solution to tie the twigs together in a rectangle that can be folded into a cylinder of the correct diameter for the thinner arm of a grish.

Most of the crowd has dispersed when the bandages finish boiling and have been cooled off enough that they can be wrapped around the arm and chest of the injured hunter. The only remaining grishin are Arawe, that has remained silent and immobile, watching, like only hunters can, and Gwara and Nuwaga, that help Robert bandaging Grawen and splinting her arm.

The man is too busy with his new responsibilities to take note of his mentor's look anymore, and it's only when she abruptly leaves that he feels the suspended threat —if that is what it is— of the offense that he might have caused, even though he still fails to understand why assisting an injured grish would cause such a fuss. He digs out memories of the Jeff Hawke episode where Mac gets saved on point of death by the aliens that caused the accident, re-engineered into a “more perfect” being that doesn't need any help —and for which, in fact, getting help is almost a sin— and he wonders if this is the kind of alien thinking he has to face now.

Yet the doctor and wood worker are still here with him, and even help him design and assemble a stretcher with which to carry the injured into her home, even if following a somewhat contorted path to stay clear from the celebrations that are now taking place at the center of the village.

While Nuwaga leaves shortly after they've placed Grawen in her bed, the doctor remains; she thoroughly examines the hunter —that has now regained consciousness— exchanging with her a long discussion from which the man remains completely excluded, unable to catch anything —except maybe his name at one point. When the doctor leaves, Robert remains seated in a corner, embarrassed, conflicted. He realizes that he is fully responsible for the current and future state of the injured hunter, regardless of what the grish herself —or the other grishin— might think of it. And yet he wonders how much he would be able to watch over her, or even just keep her company. He feels completely out of his depth, and Grawen's hissing breathing, made even more difficult by the chest binding, do nothing to ease his mind.

Gwara steps back into the room, having prepared a concoction with some herbs and seeds. She helps Grawen drink it, leaves a bucket of water close by, reminding him the word for it, and then departs for good.

The hunter keeps floating in and out of consciousness. When she's aware, her feverish eyes meet the man's before wandering off, her head unsteady. Now and again, the man stands to help her drink, and he even finds himself helping her up from the bed to walk her to the water closet.

In the long hours of the night, as the celebrations outside reach their climax and then wane into silence and stillness, the man has the time to look around the house —a much more compact environment than Arawe's: extending on a single floor, it lacks an armory, and all of the rooms are simpler and smaller. Robert figures that this is likely related to rank, and that he would probably see similar layouts in most other houses. Unable to catch sleep, he tries to distract himself from the situation he's thrown himself into, wondering about Gwara's house —would it be more similar to Arawe, given his understanding that their rank are similar? What about Nuwaga?

But those are just distractions, and his thoughts soon come back to his new responsibility. Is he really helping? Did he take the biggest faux pas in his short-lived permanence with the grishin? Is there something —anything— he can do to improve or speed up Grawen's recovery? Will Arawe be pleased by any positive results he might achieve? Will he shun him for his interference? Is she angry now, because of the help he has given? Is she jealous, maybe, of the attention he is giving to her subordinate?

He barely realizes he's been dozing off as the tension of the evening catch up to him, and he falls into slumber without any other realization than how ridiculous his thoughts have become.

There is nothing I can do here. This is immensely frustrating. My charge is trying to do the impossible to help one of my best hunters, and all I can do is watch. I don't know if I can trust him, but then again neither does the vet, and yet they're helping —Mon, even Nuwaga is helping. And I feel useless.

Everybody has left now, the celebrations will start soon. What am I supposed to do? I am the hunt leader, I know my responsibilities. And even if I wanted to eschew them, what for? There is nothing I can do here.

They will realize I am missing. They will understand —at least the vet, Nuwaga. I cannot say the same for my charge, but then again, what would he understand?

And still, I am amazed. And jealous. I shouldn't be, I should be happy, for we can finally communicate —somewhat. He can learn. He has learnt. I'm sure Gwara has taught him —and what else? What has he done while I was away? Why was Nuwaga there? I will have to ask —and I don't even feel like it, especially not to Gwara, with their smug attitude … I wish he could speak more, then I could do without the vet at all …

And now I'm even more in their debt, for the assistance they've lent to my charge, for the sake of my hunter … this is embarrassingly uncomfortable, I'll be ever in their debt, and with reason, for I am grateful, as I should rightly be, for everything they've done, for everything they're doing, for everything they will do —because there's one thought I can't shake, and it's that Gwara will see this through, for good or for bad.

And everybody knows, everybody is talking about it —this hunting return ceremony will be quite different from the others, and understandably so. For we have reason to celebrate the result of the hunt, despite the losses we have suffered, but doubly more so when there's hope that the losses might be recovered.

And I say my thanks to Mother Nature publicly, loudly, proudly, as my role requires, for the success of the hunt. And in the hundred heartbeats of silence that follow, I still say thanks to Mother Nature because Grawen is still with us, and I pray that they might recover.

The Queen is looking at me, and smiling. I realize they know. Do they agree as well? Or is this just entertainment for them? Or … are they thinking about something else entirely? I have to distract myself, lest my thoughts go back to what my charge made us do.

And the celebrations progress well into the night, but I cannot see him. Did he go back home? Is he staying with Grawen? With Gwara? No, the vet is there, I can ask …

No, I should not. I must not. I must not let these events control me, drag me down from my role. This is not the time to think about anything but the celebrations, for the hunt is over, the pride has food, and Grawen may still be with us. Mother Nature, please let them stay with me, with us. This is what the celebration is for: thanks for what we have, and prayer for what we wish for. We drink, we eat, we dance to celebrate life, and death, and the life that comes from it; the time we've had, and the time we will have.

Until the fires die out, and with them the celebrations, and we can finally reach our homes, for a well-deserved rest.

Home.

My house seems large and cold after the hunt. It always has seem so, but this time more so than usual, for there's people missing, and thoughts that weight me down.

How long has it been? Six days? Five? And how many of them did I spend with him? And yet it's as if I'm used to his presence already, longing for it after we've been apart for the hunt. I'm tempted to go visit Grawen, but I realize it would just be an excuse to check that he is indeed there with them, looking after the injuries, and I feel shame for offending this way the memory of my strongest hunter.

Or my former such. I'm shivering at the thought of her survival, just to find out they've been weakened to the point that even a runt could beat them. Mother Nature, please do not let this be the case, please support Grawen with a full recovery. I do not know if this is even possible, but please, if it is at all, let Rowwert be right, let Gwara's trust not be misplaced.

The man wakes up started, confused, still dazed by the irregular sleep of the previous night. With a deep sigh, he comes to terms with the realization that the reality surrounding him is still the same. The injured hunter is lying in her bed, propped up by cushions; the doctor is back, visiting her. They're talking, but Robert makes no effort to even try and understand, his mind absorbed in the regret for the impulsiveness of his actions the night before.

Restless, he suddenly stands and walks out of the room, out of the house. In the sunlight, he sighs again, looking around to try and catch his bearings. But does it really matter the way he goes? He stumbles out in the general direction opposite to the center of the village, then following the village boundaries when he reaches the first trees, unconsciously trying to avoid the possibility to come across anyone —known or unknown— even thought he doesn't actually care if they see him, or what they think of him, wrapped as he is in his self-affliction.

Whatever got through his brain when he took action? He knows nothing of their society, nothing of their culture, nothing of their nature, nothing of their biology. Heck, he barely knows anything about his own. How long would it take for a fracture to set in a human? Is it weeks? Months? And how long will it be for them? They are hypercarnivores, does their diet even have enough calcium to help the bone setting? Would they be able to drink animal milk? Would it help? And who is he to even think about proposing anything —and most of all a dietary change— to them? Are their bones even made of the same elements as ours?

So many stupid assumptions, so many stupid questions.

I shouldn't even be here.

«Take me back!» he shouts at the sky «You hear me?»

Obviously not.

And it's the same sky, isn't it? At least it looks like the same sky, the same light blue with white clouds; maybe a little brighter, but then again, without glasses, would he be able to tell? Or maybe it's different, but the difference is in the hues that his color blindness prevents him from differentiating.

It's the same sky, the same sun, the same air … even the same gravity, he ruminates, lightly jumping on the spot. And yet it's obviously not the same.

What am I to do?

Again, the oppressive feeling of not belonging grows within him, compounded by the obligations he got involved in the previous night. There is no way out. The only relief now is the emotionless attention the doctor has given to his ideas, a glimmer of hope despite her detached expression, as if the possibility of curing such ailments was nothing more than a curious novelty —and thus he still doubts that she'd be able to take over from him, if the need would arise.

He finds himself at the fountain, and takes the opportunity to rinse, more as a symbolic gesture to wash away the thoughts than as a way to actually get cleaner. He lies down on the warm stones, letting the blue of the sky pour into his eyes, the sound of the village pour into his ears. A passing thought that his presence there might drive the grishin away from the fountain passes his mind, soon to be forgotten. He hears the fountain drip, pups playing, a repetitive dull sound of something beating against the ground, animal grunts, a desperate mooing.

It takes him some time to make the connection. He props himself up, listening more carefully, turning in the direction where the mooing is coming from. That would be the farm where he helped deliver the … whatever that failure of a delivery was. The memory unsettles his stomach, but this only serves the purpose of reminding him that he has skipped breakfast.