AUTHORS' NOTE: This is Esquirella. I wanted to publicly apologize to the readers and, most importantly, to my writing partner, jma, for my very long absence. Long story short: I had a baby in September 2008, and then my mom died three weeks later after a long battle (her second) with breast cancer. The depression was pretty bad and I was also trying to cope with now being a mom, and not having my own mother there to help me through it.

But let's not dwell on the past. Things have gotten much better, despite me being laid off. (Hey, no life ever goes the way you want it to, right?) I'm back to help pick this and the other stories back up.

Regarding the note on the last chapter to Jess … look, we appreciate all of our readers and love getting reviews. But if you're sick of seeing things in stories, in this case a rape plot, we're not going to apologize. This is OUR story and we will write OUR story the way WE see it. You're invited to stay and come along for the ride, or go find another story more to your liking. YOUR choice. No one dictates our plot lines to us … whether it be here in our co-written stories or in our solo writings.

Chapter 8

Tamber paced back and forth within his tent, every so often letting his eyes drift to the opening. He'd been waiting for Marrow to return to him for hours now, foregoing his meals and pacing … always pacing. He did not know what he would say to his mate upon his arrival. How did you tell someone you knew the story of his horrific past? Especially someone as proud and stoic as Marrow. The warrior had displayed nothing but stoicism since they'd met, and now it was easy to see why. That he was able to live any sort of life at all was a wonder considering what he'd been through. And to even want to seek out a mate was a miraculous event, as far as Tamber was concerned. Such could surely have put Marrow off from pursuing any sort of normal life. Many would likely have chosen a life of solitude, as the few, strict greelaks, the ultra religious order that preferred to live hidden away in the forest.

Yet he was here and he was Tamber's mate. It was written in the stars long before either had been born. And as much as Tamber wished to fight for his independence, a part of him would never rest easily now unless he was with him. His own desires to remain free seemed like such childish dreams now. He could be happy in the city if he willed it. He knew he could. And he would be able to start his own traditions and direct his own household. From what Marrow had told him, he wouldn't be required to give up all that he enjoyed to do the washing and the cleaning and the cooking. He would still be able to dance; though he was sure his mate would restrict the activity to the privacy of their own home. Not that this bothered Tamber, as he was no longer using the techniques to beguile various lovers. There would only be one he wished to beguile now.

Life would undoubtedly take some getting used to, though. Tamber was used to life on the open land, sleeping in tents and moving on when the elders decided.

And what of his giver? The story Doriuq told had chilled Tamber to the bone. How could anyone watch another give their child to strangers to … do such unspeakable things to? Tamber wasn't sure just how to go about forgiving his giver for that. Somehow, it didn't even matter that it was done to his mate. That Doriuq could stand by and witness such a thing at all diminished him in Tamber's eyes. This was what was expected of the wise old elders of the tribe? Such shouldn't be tolerated from even the basest of species, let alone his own parent!

"I see you are troubled again," Marrow's smooth voice cut through Tamber's thoughts and made him all but jump out of his skin. He whirled around to face the handsome warrior.

Marrow's face held his usual stoic expression, yet Tamber could see the turmoil in his eyes. He could see that Marrow knew Tamber had been told of his past. In fact, it looked as if the he was awaiting some sort of reaction … steeling himself against what he probably expected would be an outright rejection of their union. He was also probably prepared to drag Tamber back to the city. Funny how just yesterday Tamber was thinking of all the ways he could to get out of it. Well, life apparently held as many surprises for him as it did for Marrow.

"There you are," he said with a small smile.

"Yes," Marrow replied warily. "Here I am."

Tamber slowly approached him and held a hand up to touch his cheek. Marrow's eyes took on a gaze of confusion,

yet he allowed the small caress.

"I was wondering when you wanted to leave for the city," Tamber said softly. "I'll need to pack all of my things and I wanted to know how long I had to do so."

Marrow's forehead furrowed in a visibly physical sign of confusion. This was hardly what the man had expected upon returning to his mate's tent. Despite how he had last seen Tamber, the man cuddled up to his Bearer and crying over his pain, he had expected to come back to an angry bearer who refused to go to the city, who refused to be with one such as him. It was disconcerting to see Tamber acting so very gentle and caring when he was usually so stubborn and aggressive in his wants. Certainly, he knew the cause of this action. Most people either chose rejection and disgust or pity and catering when it came to his past – not that he encouraged the spreading of the knowledge but some tales took awhile to die. Clearly his mate had chosen the latter and was giving him an unwanted pity that was followed by the soothing feel of his hand. Knowing this, he could no longer stand there and pretend the touch was anything but what it was. He knew that his mate was obligated by the stars to need to be with him but he wanted his mate to want to be with him. Not to give in simply because he felt a guilt for something that was none of his concern.

Pulling away from the smaller male, he gestured around the room. "We will leave at dusk. You can be assured, Tamber, that my home in Scrijix city is a well sized town home that you may do with as you wish. We will live there so you need all things you would wish to keep not just what you hold dear. Bring it all if you wish," he knew he was rambling a bit but he felt the need to fill in any oncoming silences and avoid any awkwardness. Truly, he didn't know what he would say were his mate to ask him of such things. "Just know that we will visit here for short periods, I will never live among the Reyls."

He waited; almost wishing Tamber would snap something back and defend his people, as he would have just yesterday. But he did not and instead only nodded in a sickeningly agreeable way that left Marrow's mouth dry and his chest aching. Not sure what else to do, he turned once again for the tent flap and left his mate to his duty while he made his own way to the food shacks and to find Reelle.

Seeing the handsome if older bearer, he approached him cautiously as he had seen the man there as well when Doriuq had told his sob story and he had no wish for the man to make an unnecessary emotional scene. "Reelle?" It felt odd calling the man by his given name.

The man immediately raised his head from where he was staring at his hands, hands that were constantly working on shelling some sort of small vegetables and hands that barely paused in their work as he looked up at the giver only to look immediately back down. "Yes, Marrow?"

The man had such a lovely voice, so melodic, Marrow thought. It was a pity his mate didn't share the trait though no doubt there was something about his own mate's voice. So low and sexy when he wanted and then strict and directive and all with a slightly gravelly edge that was not hyper masculine but not feminine like some others. It was a good strong voice that suited the young redhead.

"Marrow?" Reelle said his name again, head raised to peer at him when he didn't continue.

Clearing his throat, he remembered just why he had sought the man out and immediately zeroed his cloudy green eyes on the man. "I would ask of your assistance."

"In what?" the man kept his eyes downcast on his work, trying to be inconspicuous of his feelings.

Marrow ignored that and instead said, "I will take your kit home with me this night and I wish only his comfort in his new home. That said, I wish of you to purchase some items on my behalf for my mate. Things that would make his decorating of my home make him feel more at home." He nodded upon saying it, pleased with his words.

Reelle raised his head and stared at the giver, surprised that the man would think to be so kind. Perhaps there was more to this man than Doriuq had said. Doriuq had told him of the words that Marrow had shared with him and Reelle couldn't help but think it terribly sad … and terribly empty. He had feared his kit would end up alone with only a hollowed mate to fill his time with. But surely a hollow mate, an uncaring mate would not think to do such a kind thing?

The Zercan fought the urge to fidget and instead cleared his throat. "Reelle?"

The bearer smiled and rose from his task, "These can hold for a bit, after all, it shouldn't take too long to tackled the market."

Marrow shrugged and followed. The only memories he held of a Reyl market were as a child and surely the time spent in such places seems either shortened of lengthened because of age.

The market was a large mass of tents, much like the rest of the Reyl camp only the merchandise and the open flaps upon the tents really set them apart as stores. The these tents lined either side of a sixteen foot wide row that went on for a good mile, musicians and jugglers massing in the midst of shoppers from Zerca and other Reyl tribes, performing great feats and humorous routines in hopes of getting a stray coin.

Marrow didn't really care for being so very crowded but had growl accustomed while living in the capital city. He really didn't care for the ten minutes it took them to leave one store and trudge across the sea of people to get to another either. But he followed nonetheless; allowing the man to purchase anything he thought would make Tamber's home life more pleasant. He even purchased several trunks from a shopkeeper so he could keep the items a surprise until they got home. Perhaps this would keep his mate in like with him at least for a bit once he saw the city.

"I realize you two are newly mated so … Well, I mean," he cleared his throat but his cheeks didn't die down from that extreme red. "Would you are to enter this store?"

Reelle's red face should have clued him in but it didn't. He looked in the gestured direction to see a sensual clothing store. He waited for the horrid memories to come but when his heart didn't leap and his head didn't begin to pound, he felt even more confused. Marrow knew the way his mind worked. He had flashbacks over so many things and this, well, this should have had him in la land. But he wasn't and he wasn't sure why. Could it be that hearing his own story –

"Bearer? What are you doing here?"

Marrow turned to gaze at his mate, the young redhead eyeing him suspiciously and then his parent. Ah, so that was it, his mate kept the demons at bay. Surprising, but certainly appreciated.

Reelle realized they were standing just in front of the questionable clothing and turned even redder, which Marrow hadn't thought possible. "We were, uh, you see-"

Marrow took pity on the man and cut in, "I was looking for something in particular, your bearer was assisting me in finding it."

"In there?!"

"Certainly not," Marrow rolled his eyes at the dramatics but was rather pleased that Tamber was forgetting to be his too kind, pitying self already. It gave the giver hope that the younger man wouldn't hold on to the personality change and would just be his very stubborn, very mouthy self. "However it is a store that must be passed to get to other vendors, Tamber."

"Don't talk to me like a kit!"

"Tamber," Reelle frowned and looked back and forth between them abruptly, as if reminding his son of something.

Tamber caught on too quickly for comfort and immediately lost his ire. "Uh, what I mean is ... can I help?"

"No."

Both Reelle and Marrow said it so abruptly that Tamber was totally taken aback – and immediately suspicious. He didn't push the issue though and instead just sniffed and walked the other direction.

What on Zerca are those two up to? Tamber simmered as he stalked away. He'd gone to the market to pick up some things for his trip and because it might be his last visit to a Reyl market for probably a long time. He had a suspicion that Marrow would avoid bringing Tamber back for a visit until he'd given birth to their first kit, or was at the least with child. Marrow seemed to have an urgency to becoming a real, official giver.

He was still reeling from the hostility he'd received from his mate earlier. And he had no idea why Marrow reacted so surly. Tamber had, after all, given in to the demand that they leave the tribe immediately and start their life back in the city. Why was it that Marrow took offense to getting what he wanted, after Tamber was clearly sacrificing his own way of life for his mate's comfort? And now Tamber encounters his mate with his bearer in, of all places, a Reyl market, and is summarily dismissed by both.

Tamber kicked a rock aside as he walked, so lost in his thoughts he bumped into someone who was walking close by.

"Tamber?" the man's amused voice rang out melodiously.

Tamber glanced up to see a man he'd once had a romantic interest in strolling beside him. "Oh … um … hello, Priall," he nodded to the other. "How are you this day?"

"Much better now," the tall, blonde-haired Reyl replied. "I haven't seen much of you lately. There's been this terrible rumor going around about you being mated. I laughed heartily when I heard."

Tamber could feel his cheeks redden as he looked away back in the direction from where he'd come. Thankfully, his bearer and Marrow had disappeared into the tents again. Tamber had no doubt in his mind that Marrow would take a major offense to seeing his mate with a strange man. And though Tamber himself bristled at the need for looking over his shoulder, and was still miffed about Marrow's reaction to his agreement to move away from the tribe so quickly, he had no desire to cause his mate any more anguish than that with which he was already dealing.

"Actually," he said, looking back at Priall for a moment before looking down, "it's not a rumor." He wasn't sure why he felt the need to verify it, but since he was leaving this night, he guessed it didn't matter that he told the man.

"Really?" Priall asked, sounding disappointed. "Truly?"

Tamber nodded.

"Well, I can't say I'm delighted to hear it," the other man sighed. "But I am happy for you … if you are happy, that is."

"Tamber shrugged and looked back up. "It is what it is fated to be."

Priall narrowed his eyes and peered closely at the younger man's face. This could be his last opportunity to pursue the red head. Tamber was wild at heart, as most of the nearby tribes knew, and though Priall had not yet had the pleasure to follow through with anything, he'd felt the spark of interest between them in the past.

"You have not … consummated the mating yet?" he asked delicately.

Immediately Tamber's eyes flew wide with shock then narrowed in disgust. "That is neither here nor there," he hissed. "I am mated, and that is that!"

With that, he stormed away; leaving behind him a thoroughly embarrassed Priall who was looking about him to make sure no one heard.

Marrow couldn't help the smile that found his face as he watched his young mate stomp away from the blonde man. He had followed Tamber to make sure the man didn't stay within the market or at least in the section he and Reelle were in. He didn't put it past his mate to stay and spy on him; Tamber seemed just the type, in fact. He learned quickly, however, that it was not Tamber's intention to follow after him and saw him stopped by the other Giver on his way out of the market.

It took everything in Marrow not to run forward and assault the lustful brute whose face showed all to clearly his wants even had he not opened his mouth. He was in the process of stalking forward slowly, to see what his mate had to say if nothing else and it was because of his mate's words that Marrow was so very pleased he had restrained himself. The Bearer's words gave him such hopes for the future, a hope he had dared not even hold on to in fear that he would be so broken at the realization. Oh, he knew that one instance could not answer for all, but Stars it pleased him mightily to see his mate turn down one so handsome.

"What're you looking at, Zercan?" The blonde man caught his eye having apparently caught a glimpse of Marrow eyeing him.

Marrow said nothing, just raised an arrogant brow and crossed his arms, his stance widening a bit. The lazy pose a blatant show of disrespect when addressed with such hostility.

"You'd best answer me, Zercan. This is Reyl territory and no one will bat an eye when I tear you apart."

"Calm yourself, kit, that redhead just saved your life."

Priall dipped his head and scrunched his nose up as a hiss erupted from him. Openly embarrassed from the public turndown, he was heated and ready for a bit of violence at the mentioning of Tamber. "I don't know-"

Reelle stepped between them, shaking his head at the pair before shooing them away from one another much like a Mother Goose. "Priall, you will calm yourself ere I find your Bearer, is that clear?" He took the man's scoff before he walked away as an affirmative answer. To Marrow, he just shook his head. "Stars, boy, you must learn to lighten up or life between you and my son is going to be Blanserta."

Marrow didn't know what to think of that and so just shrugged and turned back in the direction that they had come from.