DISCLAIMER: Ó 2006 MF Vinson All rights reserved.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By sailor80


Cade ran hard. She didn't remember how she got free, but she knew that she had to escape this place with its tile and chrome and glaring lights, that if she didn't, she'd never get away again. She knew the rules, had played by them most of her life. Until Nash, that was when she had changed, and it was Nash who was pulling her away from this place; Nash, because Cade had to touch her again.

She found a door, slammed her body at it, tumbled to the ground when it popped open, rolled to her feet and ran again, toward the shadows at the perimeter of the compound. She heard the alarms, klaxons, gongs and angry male voices. And she knew the rules: If you get past the gate, you're free – until they catch you again.

In the darkness, she almost tripped over one of the compound guards, mutations they had created, cat-like things. She laid a hand on its head cautiously, scratched it behind the ears. It growled, but Cade was unsure if it meant to harm her until it rubbed against her thigh.

She unchained it and stepped away. It came with her, the two of them racing for the gate. The guards were beginning to close it and she stepped in front of one of them, tall, blond, young, indistinguishable. "Stop," she told him, was surprised when he did.

Cade stepped through the gate, turned to face the men in their dark uniforms. "I want transportation."

The beast stood beside her. They looked before them. One of the men stepped away. Cade turned and ran again. She felt the guards' angry eyes on her back for a long time. She ran steadily, the beast beside her, feeling better and better as the distance between herself and the prison increased. Ran for hours, following the moon as it fell behind the mountains. As the sky began to grey, she slowed, thinking about shelter; the day was less safe than the night, and without proper clothing or identification, she would be sent someplace worse. She spotted, at last, a rock overhang behind a ferny outgrowth, crawled in. The beast followed her, laid across the entrance. She stroked it without thinking, talking to it. "Thank you. I do not know how to address you, will call you Gato if it does not offend."

As if it approved, the beast growled softly, nonthreateningly.

"From here, I don't know where we go. You need not come if you do not wish. You are free."

Gato, growling rhythmically, laid its head on its paws, closed its eyes. Exhausted, Cade curled up beside it and slept also.

The moon was just above the trees when she woke. Gato was gone. Cade remained still, listening, then emerged, wondering while she stretched where she would find something to eat. She didn't hear the beast approach, was surprised when Gato bumped its head against the back of her thigh. Its muzzle was wet, she saw when she bent to rub its head, then saw what it had brought her, a fish shining on the leaves. "You are wonderful," she told it. "Can you take me to that water?"

Cade picked up the fish, followed Gato to a stream bank. It sat patiently while she washed the fish, scraped the scales off against a sharp rock, broke it open with another and ate it. She sat a while, thinking things through. "If we follow this to the mountains we may have a chance," she told it.

They set off again, staying close to the stream. After several hours, she saw a clearing ahead, a seemingly abandoned bar standing there. "Is it safe?"

Gato bounded into the clearing, padded around the bar, nosed the door open, disappeared inside then returned to her side. She followed it cautiously, entered the barn. It smelled of rot; dust, grime and old bird droppings covered everything. It was hard to see in the dark and Cade waited for her eyes to adjust, then saw rusting farm implements scattered about and hanging on the walls. She searched, seeking anything useful, and was able to free a spike from a drag; found a file and a long, thin strip of glistening metal, and leather saddlebags that were still good. There was no food, though, so they departed again, moving swiftly and warily across the clearing back to the woods. They walked without stopping until the moon fell behind the mountains, when Cade began to search again for shelter.

Tonight, it would be a thicket; with Gato at guard, she set about turning the metal into a knife, methodically filing the edges and forming a tip. She filed rust off one side of the spike, used it to hone the edges. When she was satisfied, she curled up next to the beast, glad for its warmth, and slept the day away.

Again when Cade woke the beast brought her a fish; eating it was quicker this time, with the knife, which she stuck into her boot after cleaning. Gato waited patiently, grooming itself, for them to set off again. They were into the foothills now, and progress was a little slower. It began to drizzle after a wile, a bone chilling damp that made her shoulder ache, the injury from the first time they caught her. She tried to ignore it, walking and wondering how she would ever find Nash, anyone she knew. After midnight, the drizzle turned to rain; she used the saddlebags to keep the water from running down the back of her tunic, bowed her head and kept walking. Cade thought she was hallucinating when she heard a woman's voice telling her to stop; when it was repeated, and Gato growled nastily, she looked up, reaching instinctively to touch the beast. The woman wore rain gear, and was armed, blocked her path. "Who are you?" she demanded.

"I am a refugee," Cade replied cautiously. "I mean you no harm."

"You will come with me." Her voice left no doubt that she would.

She followed the woman for an hour; the beast grumbled uneasily, but stayed at her side. They stepped into a less wooded area; small houses were scattered throughout. The woman led her into one of them, left her there in front of a fire. She warmed herself, wondering what would come next; Gato stretched in front of the fireplace and began to clean the mud from itself. After a while, another woman came in, removed her cape, stepped into the firelight. "San?" Cade asked cautiously.

"Who are you? How do you know me?"

"It's Cade. Do I look that bad?"

"Worse." San hugged her.

"Do you know where Nash is?"

"She's here."

"Can I see her?"

"Of course. But what about that?" San nodded toward Gato, asleep on the hearth.

Cade knelt beside it, scratched its ears. It looked up at her sleepily, then stood and stretched, waiting. "We have reached an understanding," Cade told San. "It will not harm us."

San shrugged. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes, both of us, I'm sure."

"Wait here. I'll get you something to eat, and find Nash."

"Thank you." As San left, Cade hunkered down beside the beast, petting it absentmindedly while she waited. Next thing she knew, the door burst open. She spun around, rising, saw Nash dripping water onto the floor; the beast too, had risen, and stood growling at Cade's side until she rubbed its head, told it to lie down. Then Nash was hutting her. "I can't believe it's you. I thought you were dead," she said, and pulled back to look at Cade. "You look so different," she said, touching her face, then taking her hand. "Come with me, I'll get you some dry clothes," pulling her away.

Cade stopped, looked back at the beast, eyeing this new turn of events. "Of course," Nash told her, so Cade asked it, "Coming?" It followed, the three of them running through the rain to Nash's dwelling.

Nash put both of them in front of the fire, changed her clothes, stripped Cade and wrapped her in a blanket, then got clothes for her to change into. "Would you like a bath first, or some tea?"

"Yes, both please," Cade answered, and stayed put, as Nash told her to while she prepared both. The tea was ready first. Hot and sweet, it gave Cade energy. While she was drinking it, San brought in food for both Cade and the beast. Nash let them eat in peace while she finished preparing Cade's bath, then led her to a tub full of steaming water.

"This is the first time in months I've been warm," Cade told her, then immersed her head, sat up, relaxed. Nash sat on a stool, smiling at her; when Cade began to wash herself, Nash took the soap and cloth from her, washed even her hair, and wrapped Cade in a huge towel when she finished, dried her, then gave her a warm, heavy robe to wear. She sat Cade in front of the fire again, and combed her hair. When she was finished, Cade leaned back, resting against Nash, and fell asleep.

Nash woke Cade to take her to bed. She pushed to the door between the main room and the other room, but Gato followed, and stretched out on the rug beside the side of the bed Cade was in. Cade, refreshed after he nap, snuggled up with Nash. "I am so glad I found you."

"Me too. I've missed you so much, was afraid of all the things that could have happened."

Cade shrugged. "It could have been worse."

"We'll talk about that tomorrow." Nash smoothed Cade's hair. "Tonight I'm just glad to be with you again.

Cade kissed her; when Nash returned the caress, Cade thought, 'for this I gave up everything, for this I am glad,' stopped thinking when Nash wrapped her up in a fully body hug.

When she woke, Cade had to stop and remember where she was, saw Nash and remembered. Both she and Gato slept still; Cade, seeing no light from outside, put her arm across Nash and tried to sleep again. It didn't work, so after a while, she got out of bed and back into the robe. Gato stretched while she did that, padded behind her into the main room. Cade peeked out the door, saw that the sky was beginning to lighten, dressed in front of the still-glowing fireplace in the clothes Nash got for her last night; her boots were dry and she pulled them on, then went back to the doorway where the beast waited patiently and stepped out into the dawn. She feared to let the beast roam alone, that it would be hurt or killed by someone, so walked with it. There was a woman at the edge of the path out, and she stopped Cade. "Who are you and where are you going?"

"I am Cade. We are going for a short walk."

"I am Lanz, welcome. You need not fear for your friend, everyone knows it is here," but she eyed it cautiously.

Cade nodded acknowledgement, knelt to speak to the beast. "Go where you will; if you choose to return, I will be here with my two-legged friends." She stroked under its chin affectionately before rising. Gato hesitated. "Go on," Cade encouraged it gently, "Everything is fine," and it trotted into the woods.

"I thank you, good day." Cade returned to Nash, found her still sleeping, so she stoked the fire, put on water for tea, found a book and read, waiting for Nash to rise.

It wasn't long before Nash came in, kissed the top of her head. "Good day, dear heart."

"Want some tea?" It's ready."

"Thank you. Have you been up long?"

"Not too long. I saw so reason to wake you and amused myself."

"And the beast?"

"Gone hunting."

Nash sat on the floor beside Cade, rested a hand on her thigh. Cade covered it, leaned against her. "What is today? What will we do?"

"Nothing, not today. Tonight, we celebrate the solstice."

"It's been that long."

"Oh." Nash sat her mug down on the hearth, wrapped both arms around Cade. "I would give everything to change that."

"But you can't. It's finished now."

"Except for the explaining."

Cade didn't answer, backed out of Nash's embrace.

"Not now, not to me," Nash told her. "We have other things to discuss, come back to bed, I want to be greedy and have you to myself for today."

Cade gave her a sidewise look.

"I want to tell you how much I missed you and how glad I am to have you here and how my heart raced when I saw you last night."

Cade smiled. "How can I refuse that?" and let Nash kiss her.

The cadence of the ceremony drew Cade in more than the words; it was in the old language and she had difficulty following, but felt and rejoiced in their power. After that, the merrymaking began, wine, music, games and time for Cade to greet the women of the community, many of whom she had known before. She wandered through the throng, drinking and dancing, stopping to talk; Nash sought her out after several hours, cheerfully inebriated, pulled her into a dance that lasted until they exhausted themselves, moved from the group to lie sweatily on the damp ground.

"Now," Cade told her, "I feel free," squeezing Nash's hand.

"You look like a goddess."

"You're drunk and you're silly and I love you."

Nash laughed, rolling onto her side. "And I love you. Now that's settled, shall we have some wine?" She leaned to whisper into Cade's ear, so she didn't see Cade's eyebrows rise at her suggestion, but knew it was accepted when Cade cupped her face with one hand.

They went outside to watch the sunrise, then returned to bed, cuddling under the blankets. "What shall we do today?" Cade asked.

"I thought we'd stay here. No one will be up for hours, this is time for us."

Cade rubbed Nash's nose with her own. "Never enough of that."

"True. I live in anticipation of this and am always amazed that it's better than I imagine."

"You say the sweetest things. When I try to say that, I feel foolish and it doesn't sound right."

"I hear what you say and it always sounds right."



"It won't stay like this always, will it?"

"I don't know, dear heart." She stroked Cade's cheek with the back of her fingers. "But what would be the fun of knowing?"

It rained again the next day, and Cade wanted nothing more than to read by the fire. Both she and Nash were jumpy, waiting for the summons to the Council; Nash's home wasn't big enough to hold them and Cade's apprehension. When San came to fetch Nash, Cade jumped at her knock, shattering her tea mug on the floor. Nash tried to help her clean it up before she left, instead hugged Cade when she shook her head. "When you tell them, it will be done," Nash promised. "What they can't take away, we will," and left Cade huddled by the fire.

She hadn't returned when San came to take her to the Council. Cade put on the poncho Nash had put out for her, followed San into the greyness, to another place.

They greeted Cade warmly, trying to put her at ease; someone, Cade was never sure who, brought her more tea. By the time she finished it, she realized it was drugged, but she didn't mind, whatever it was distanced her from what had happened. She told them of it, from being trapped in the tangle of their nets, the terror and the pain, the monotony of isolation, the unending days of backbreaking labor, their attempts to break her spirit as well as her body, and getting away. They waited to question until she had finished the recitation, asked only to fill in what Cade had skipped over for whatever reason. When they were finished, San half carried, half dragged her through the mud back to Nash, who put her in the chair by the fire, covered her with blankets, and waited.

When Cade came back, the fire was banked, Nash sleep on her thigh. She tried to move, but it made everything swim. "Nash," she croaked.

Nash woke instantly, looked up at Cade. "What?"

"I feel terrible."

"You need to sleep, and to eat, don't move, I'll take care of it."

She brought soup, bread, tea, helped Cade eat what she could. "Better?"

Cade nodded. The nausea was gone, though she still felt weak, puzzled over what had happened, then remembered. "They want to send me away."

"Only for a short while, to the caves."

"I don't want to go."

Nash, perched on the arm of the chair, stroked Cade's hair. "I know."

Cade felt sick again, hid her face in Nash's lap.

"Oh don't, please," Nash curled around her. "It isn't up to us. It won't be long."

"I'm sorry, it's just," Cade sat up, "every time we begin something happens. I just want to stay with you and not wonder when we'll see each other."

"Darlin', I'll do everything I can to make sure this is the last time we're way from each other by someone else's choice."

Cade dreamed that night, of when she and Nash first met, something she thought forgotten in their many comings and goings. She had been wary of Nash that afternoon, noncommittal in conversation as they uncovered their mutual interests, wondering later why they hadn't met before. But what stayed in her mind, then and when she woke, was the kiss Nash planted on her cheek before she left that first night.

When Cade woke, Nash was leaning on her elbow watching her, the other hand nestled under Cade's breasts. It was still raining, water dripping quietly from the roof. Nash's hand slipped up between Cade's breasts to caress her face. "Better today?" she asked.

"I supposed." Cade stared at the ceiling, then turned to Nash. "What about all this?"

"What about it?"

"You went?"

"Yes." Nash's eyes clouded. "I don't remember being there, just going and coming back."

"I suppose it can't be worse than any of the jails."

"No, it's not like that. When I came back here I was stronger, it didn't hurt anymore."

"It isn't that, only we seem to have spent all our time in goings and comings, not together." Cade turned her face into Nash's palm, kissed it. "I feel cheated that we haven't ever had the time to explore this. Can't it be put off, can't we go together?"

"I don't know."

"Can we ask?"

"No harm in that."

Cade returned to the Council to plead her case; Nash went also, to give her side. They told their history, were sent away while the women deliberated, summoned not too long after. They listened; Cade wasn't sure what they had decided, knew only that Nash held her hand during, led her away afterward. "What were they saying?"

"That we should have a life of our own for a while."

"I heard that. What does it mean?"

"They're sending both of us somewhere else."

"Nash, I didn't want you to leave your home."

"Dear heart, wherever you are, I'll make my home as long as you'll have me."

"Where are we going?"

"Some place far away, some place safe. But not until you're rested." Nash squeezed Cade's hand. "I'm sad but excited. We'll be back, I think. But to have time with you, as much as we need."

"Really? They won't take it from us?"

"Not this time." Nash pulled the door open, pushed Cade through it.

Cade smiled for the first time in days, hugged Nash tightly. "Whatever time it is will be enough. Ours; imagine."

The End

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