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Ikiiri

by Zephir

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Chapter 2

The hunter looks down at her sadly and shakes his head. "I'm sorry..."

Then he stoops down and collects her body, moving her to a different place.

***

The hunter walks somberly through the woods, moving towards an unmistakable noise coming from ahead of him. In passing by a tree he lays one hand on it, steadying himself, then looks up and regains his composure. Manny stomps through some thick brush in front of him, storming angrily after her. He throws a tree limb aside and steps through a bush, where he sees the man and hurries over to him. "Did you see her? Where did she go?"

He tries to walk past him, but the man grabs him by his arm and turns him back. "I lost her."

Manny stares at him for a long, painful second before asking, "Wwwhat?!"

"I lost her," He repeats, tossing his head to one side. "She knocked me down and when I turned around, she was gone. Not a trace. I don't know where she went."

"You can't be serious..." Manny says, trying to pull away and go off in her direction.

The man pulls him back again and asserts himself. "Manny, it's useless! She could be in any one of a hundred directions by now, and she's got a big head start. Without any place to begin, we won't be able to catch her anymore."

"I don't give up as easily as you," Manny spits, trying to pull away once again.

The other man pulls him back again and almost growls back at him, "Manny, even you've got to admit that it's over! She's gone, man."

Manny snarls back at him, then shakes his arm off and sheathes his knife. He turns away and walks back off to the clearing, kicking a bush on his way out and swearing. "Sonuva!"

The man waits until he's gone to breathe a long sigh of relief, and then turns back in her direction and looks. 'I'm sorry...I hope you can find some help before...'fore you really do die...' He thinks.

He finally turns and follows Manny out with his head hung low. He might've saved her for the moment, but he still doesn't feel good about what he did.

***

Minutes, and then hours pass by where nothing moves, save for a few small insects and animals. Daylight slowly begins to turn to dusk, with the first few rays of orange light shining in the sky. The tranquilizer he'd laced his knife with had worked as advertised: she's been out for hours, and she'll be unconscious for hours longer. Somewhere in the middle of all the silence, footsteps start approaching her underbrush growth, getting steadily closer. A small man strolls through this part of the woods, about one hundred fifty-five centimeters short and wearing simple clothes underneath a very large, oversized robe. A few loose strands of his long red hair fall back into his eyes again, as they usually tend to do, and he brushes them aside with a hand thoughtlessly, but he stops dead in his tracks when he sees a small amber shape on the ground nearby.

He blinks a few times at it, then unfreezes and moves towards it carefully, not knowing what he should expect. He stoops low when he gets close and pushes a few branches aside, revealing her bloodied, sleeping form. He looks over her whole body, from her head to her toes and back again, whispering, "Oh, my..."

He bends in closer and inspects her wounds one by one, especially the bleeding hole in her chest. He whispers again, "Oh, no..."

Then he reaches into his robes and removes a bottle of liquid that he's saved for a very long time: a healing potion that he'd bought over a year ago. 'I don't know if this'll even work...there's no magic anymore...but, man, I've gotta try,' He thinks. He removes the cap and pours the liquid carefully over her chest, trying to douse it fully in the stuff. He sits back and watches her for a few seconds, waiting for something, anything to happen...

But nothing happens. He grunts and removes another set of potions and a cloth, then sets quickly to work doctoring her wound as best he can. Once he's gotten a rough bandage on her, he scoops her up into his arms carefully and rises to his feet from his knees, then walks back towards his home at a slow pace, trying to be gentle with her.

***

She stirs in bed, pulling her cover up closer to her neck absent-mindedly. Slowly she rolls over to one side and opens her eyes, moaning quietly because of a mixture of dull pain and utter fatigue. Her vision's foggy at first, but after she blinks her eyes a few times things start clearing up, and she looks around at some very unfamiliar surroundings, her mouth hanging open...

Her awakening draws his attention and he's soon on his knees by her side, speaking softly to her. "Hey...so you're awake now?"

She glances over and past him, still trying to process everything she's seeing. Her eyes focus in and out, blurring and clearing up her vision alternately, and finally she settles her eyes on him and stares blankly, her mouth still open. She looks into his eyes and over his nose down to his mouth, then back again to his eyes, studying his face in detail. His face is actually rather pretty; if people didn't know him already, they might easily mistake him for a woman, despite his simple dress and hairstyle...but then, he does have a pretty slim build, so it might not be much help. Through all the fatigue and drugs she can hardly think or reason, so the only reaction she has is pure fear and a need to flee. She moans louder, not moving her jaw, and reaches for his face with her right hand, extending her claws and grabbing weakly at his face.

They dig into his skin shallowly in several places; her thumb's in nowhere but presses against his right cheek, her index finger's in his forehead between his eyes, and the rest are spread throughout his hairline. He winces and bends down closer to her while being held like that, protesting quietly, "Ah, ahhh, oooooooooooooooowww, ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow! Cut it out! Ow!"

Finally her claws pop out and she releases him, but then she reaches up with her left hand and places it on his shoulder, then pushes him away as hard as she can, moaning and closing her eyes, "Uhhhhhhhnh!"

He lets her push him away, but takes her by her left wrist and holds out his other palm flatly to reassure her. "It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you. Just calm down and relax."

She reaches over with her other hand and pushes against his palm weakly, then scoots backwards on her bed, trying to get away and making pitiful sounds -- almost like whimpers -- since she's still too weak to speak properly. He follows her on the bed, reaching over and trying to grasp her by her shoulders. "No, don't move, you need to rest. Look, I'm not going to hurt you, just don't move and rest...just rest for a while first."

She makes one last effort to get away, pushing against both his palms now with all her strength. She manages to move herself a few centimeters backwards, but she's drained the last of her energy and looks at him one last time through hazy eyes. Too groggy to think of anything at all, she simply passes out and falls limp in place, settling into a very deep sleep.

***

Hours pass while she sleeps, day turning to night and then to day again. He stirs some liquid in a small pot, mixing the contents better while glancing over at her through the bedroom door. He removes the pot from the stove at last and pours the soupy liquid into a bowl, then carries it over into her room and kneels down by her side, watching her sleep peacefully. While he watches her sleep he glances over her face and stops his eyes on her forehead, intrigued. He cradles the bowl in one hand and raises a hand to her forehead, stroking her ivory spheres gently. 'I've seen stuff like these before...can't remember where...'

She stirs under his touch and he withdraws his hand, watching to see if she's waking up. Seeing that she isn't, he bites his lip and then raises up and scoots closer, putting his right arm under her back and neck in a cradle and lifting her gently from the pillow. He holds her up as steadily as he can and starts pouring the liquid into her mouth slowly, making sure that she's swallowing first. She absent-mindedly drinks the broth and starts to wake up, taking some time to realize what's going on.

Once she has, however, her eyes flutter and shut, then she spits out her mouthful of soup and reels, gagging. He babbles something and sets the bowl down, chastising her. "Ahh, shoot! Maaannn...look what you did now...awww..."

He starts patting at the sheets, trying in vain to clean up the mess. While he does this, she turns over and starts climbing out of bed over the headboard, repeating, "She...! She...!" In a weak voice. ('No...! No...!')

He turns back and climbs up in bed with her, grabbing her around her waist from behind and pulling her back in. "No, wait, I'm just trying to help! I just want to--mmmff!"

She reaches up with and slaps the broad lower side of her tail to his face, making a soft patting sound and smothering his mouth, silencing him. He pushes it aside and then grabs her around her waist again and pulls gently. She keeps crying 'she' weakly and scrambling, but in her state she's eventually pulled back in and turned around in bed. He backs off from her and gets off the bed, raising his palms at her again. "Please, stop! I just want to help, that's all. Calm down, now, please."

She lays on her back, eyes closed, clawing at the air between them helplessly, her words reduced to whimpers. The drink starts taking effect and her world fades out in a swirl of black, while he watches her relax and sink into bed again, falling back asleep. He falls back to his knees and breathes a deep sigh of relief.

***

She sleeps for several days while he keeps a constant vigil over her, watching with much concern for her health. He doesn't sleep much...at least, not regularly. He catnaps randomly, mostly sleeping when it seems that he can't do anything more for her at the time. After a few days he checks her sutures and finds them healed enough to remove, and does so.

Constantly he checks her condition...and every time it's always the same: sleeping soundly. Finally, after nearly two weeks' time, she begins to awaken. He's turned away from her as she wakes up, sitting with his back turned sideways, and so doesn't notice at first. She opens her eyes halfway and looks at the white pillow she's laying on...then -- feeling the oh, so soft covers and mattress underneath her -- she stretches out widely and runs her whole body over the material, all while lying on her stomach. She shuts her eyes and simply revels in this new experience; then moans satisfactorily, not giving any thought to why she's here or where she even is.

Her moan draws his attention and he shoots a glance at her, then crawls over on his knees to her bedside, thinking, 'She's awake!' She opens her eyes completely and peers sideways at him, her light green eyes looking into his blue ones, then suddenly jumps up on her left hand and pulls her sheet tighter to her neck with her other hand, scooting backwards again. He reacts quickly, raising his palms yet again and then putting a finger to his lips. "Shhhh, shhhhh! It's okay, I just want to help."

"R--r--riju mikay?" She asks quietly.

"Shhhh! Shhhhh...just be calm, now..." He goes on. She stares back at him blankly, and he does likewise, but he eventually bites his lower lip and says, "I'm Jinari. That's my name, Jinari. Do you have a name?"

He motions with his hand to her, which she just watches curiously...and cautiously. She starts to relax, however, and he adds, "Jinari. My name. I'm Jinari."

He presses his palm to his chest and says again, "Jinari."

She looks from his hand to his face and repeats slowly, "Ji--nar--ri?"

He smiles and says, "Yes, Jinari. I'm Jinari...and your name?"

He motions again with his hand, hoping she'll catch on, but she just repeats again, "Ji--nar--ri?"

"Jinari," He says, nodding his head and pressing his palm to his chest again. "Me, Jinari. What's your name?"

"Jinari..." She answers, staring blankly back at him.

He looks between her eyes, then sighs and turns his head away, looking at nothing in particular on the floor. "Maybe you really are just an animal...maybe you're just repeating what I'm saying to you."

She reaches up with her finger and touches him gently on his chest. He turns back to her quickly, glancing from her finger to her face as she speaks. "Jinari."

Realizing that she really has associated his name with him, he nods. She brings her finger back and presses her palm to her chest, too. "Ikiiri."

"Ikiiri..." He repeats.

"Enilu Ikiiri," She says, then touches her finger back to his chest. "Mikaylu Jinari."

He stares at her blankly, repeating her name in his head. 'Ikiiri...Ikiiri...'

"Eni," She says while she touches her chest again. She then presses her palm to his chest and says, "Mikay."

She gestures again at herself and then at him. "Enilu Ikiiri, mikaylu Jinari."

He raises his hand back to his chest again, slowly, and presses his palm there. "Mikay..."

She shakes her head and touches his chest again, asserting firmly, "Mikay," Then she presses her own chest again. "Eni."

Thinking that over, he figures that she might be saying 'me' and 'you', so he gestures to himself again and says slowly, "Eni..." He points at her and asks, "Mikay?"

She cracks a small smile and nods, then gestures to herself and then at him. "Lia! Eni, mikay."

He answers confidently this time, again gesturing. "Eni, mikay."

"Enilu Ikiiri, mikaylu Jinari," She says.

Seeing a pattern, he says, "Enilu...Jinari?" She nods, so he continues. "Mikaylu Ikiiri?"

She nods again and he finally smiles also, then shuffles closer and points at her. "Mikay...you. Mikay, you." He points at himself. "Eni: Me. Eni...me."

She considers this for a long moment, looking slightly baffled, then points at him and asks slowly, "Yyyou..." He nods, encouraging her to go on, touching her chest, "Me?"

He sits back on his feet and motions to her with his hands. "Yes. Mikay: you. Eni: me."

She smiles and laughs softly, and he does the same, but he adds with a wave, "Hi, Ikiiri."

"Hhhhi, Jinari," She responds, also waving but not knowing what it is she's saying, except for his name.

They laugh together for a moment before he notices her nakedness (again). Although her long fur's doing a great job of covering up everything "private", he still feels uncomfortable, so he stands up and takes his robe off, offering it to her. "Here, my robe. Here."

She stops laughing slowly and looks between him and his robe blankly. "Here," He repeats.

She reaches up and takes his robe carefully with her right hand, dropping her sheet. She scoots closer and studies it, feeling the fiber with her fingers. He steps backwards and motions with his hands. "Go on, put it on."

He points behind himself with a thumb. "I'll just go back here an--whoooah!"

He stumbles backwards over the rug and falls, then twists around and sits up, looking at it with a surprised expression. She'd moved closer and swung her legs out over the side when he fell, and now she looks down at him and laughs softly, adding a flap of her tail for a happy emphasis. He looks back up at her and starts laughing, too, then stands up and brushes himself off. He clears his throat and babbles between chuckles, "Well, um, I'll go now -- and get that, uh...robe."

She stands up when he leaves and examines his robe, turning it from front to back, then slings one end over her shoulder and tries to put it on the way she's seen it worn by him, trying to go in reverse from how he'd taken it off. It's sloppy work, but she finally gets it on and straightens out the wrinkles, feeling the soft cloth. It feels strange to wear clothes for the first time, but it also feels kind of...comfortable...

He comes back in wearing an older, somewhat beat-up robe and fidgets with his hands, since he doesn't know what to do next. "Well... Um, let's uh...try talking, huh?"

She stares at him blankly, still smiling and patting her robe down. He fidgets with his hands for a moment and scuffs a foot, trying to think of something. Suddenly he snaps his fingers and says, "Ah! Ummm...mikaylu Ikiiri. Enilu Jinari. You're Ikiiri, and I'm Jinari."

She nods quietly, not grasping the new words he's using but understanding enough to get what he's saying. "And I...me, I'm male. You're female."

Another blank stare from her. "You, female. Woman. Me, male, man."

He points at her, then at himself. "Woman, man."

"Mikay...man...me, wo-man..." She says, pointing her finger out slowly.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm a man, and you're a woman." He looks first at her, then around himself for a paper and pen, fidgeting with his hands. He quickly finds what he's looking for and rushes over to grab one of each, bringing it over to the bed and starting to draw on the nightstand. She comes over to his side and peers over his shoulder as he draws hastily, making a rough outline of a man and woman on it. He stands up a bit and points to each in turn. "There...see? Man...woman."

She looks at it curiously, pointing her finger to each of them, also. "Man. Woman."

She then looks up at him and points at him. "Man. You, man. Me, woman."

"Yes!" He says excitedly.

She grins widely and then points at him again. "Mikaylu jov. Enilu jav."

He follows her finger and points at himself again. "Jov."

Then at her. "Jav."

"Lia!" She says with a nod. He smiles widely at her and steps back, proud of what they're accomplishing. She licks her lips once and adds, "Enilu jov, sha mikaylu jav...sha enilu shishya erro lishralu chagiral e kishye ju me thul."

He stares at her long and blankly, unsure of what to say. She smiles at him at first, but her smile gets bigger and bigger until she breaks into a giggle, covering her hand with her mouth. 'If he can stump me, well...I'll stump him, too,' She muses amusedly. Slowly he begins to laugh with her, totally clueless as to what he's laughing at. For all he knows, she could've made a joke about his shoes.

***

They spend the next few days trying to learn each other's languages, while she gets used to wearing clothes. Sometimes it's easy, and sometimes it's hard...nouns are the simplest things for them to build a vocabulary of, since they can just point out an object and give each other their words for them. Eventually, through sometimes convoluted means, they begin to build a workable vocabulary of nouns, verbs, grammar rules, and so forth, which he writes down in a notebook, creating a makeshift dictionary for them to reference.

On this morning a week from then, they're sitting down at the living room table with a game of chess between them. The game is evenly matched...neither of them are very good at it. Jinari taps his fingers on the table while supporting his head with his other arm, thinking out his next move. She crosses her arms and lays her head in her arms across from him, planning out her own moves as well. Making a decision, he reaches over with his free hand and takes hold of his last rook, moving it one space over to the left, then sits back in his seat carefully and taps his fingers on the table again, studying the board.

"So, how're you coming along with your book?" He asks.

She reaches over and moves one of her pawns, then sits back and answers, "Good. I read two chapters."

He looks over the board and adds, "Cool. Is it getting easier to read?"

"Lia," She says, planning out her next move. "I read...faster, now."

He nods his head absent-mindedly, more focused on their game than their conversation. "Good."

She glances up at him with her eyes and sees that he's quite distracted, and then decides to capitalize on it, stifling a grin. She glances back down and starts moving one of her pieces while taking a sip of her drink with her other. "There."

She sits back in her seat and places her arm in her lap, then looks in her cup and holds it out to him. "More tea? Please?"

"Pleeeeease?" She asks, tilting her head to one side and extending her arm further.

He takes it and smiles, getting up. "Sure."

He scoops his own cup up, too, and turns to go to the kitchen. She reaches over with her tail simultaneously and scoops up one of his knights, pushing it off the board gently and cradling it in her skin while keeping her eyes trained on his back. Luckily for her, he disappears into the kitchen, and she brings her tail back around behind her, wrapping it over his knight tighter so she won't drop it.

"You know, I was thinking that you should start going outside more. Like, work in the gardens or run laps or something," He says from the kitchen.

"Yeah?" She says, looking at the board again and considering what he said. It has been awhile since she's been outside...

"Yeah." He steps in the living room again with two full cups, then walks over. "It'd do you some good to get out more. It'd do me some good, too, actually."

"Mmmm...eni til nahi charun e ji erro, hinara..." ('I've been wanting to do that, actually...')

He glances up at her, raising his cup to his lips after setting hers down next to her. "Mikay til?"

She nods her head and reaches for one of her pieces. "Mm-hmm."

'How much longer until he finds his piece missing?' She thinks to herself, sitting back and picking up her cup. She leans backwards and places one knee against the edge of the table, then sips from her glass and looks over the rim at him planning out his move, blissfully unaware that his knight's missing. She starts to giggle but catches herself and clears her throat, setting her cup down as she leans forward again, removing her knee from the table. He stops mid-move and looks at her, his eyebrows scrunched up. "You okay?"

"Mm-hmm, mm-hmm," She hums, nodding her head and smiling.

He gives her an odd look and shakes his head, reaching for one of his pieces. "Oh--'kayyy..."

He picks up his other knight and starts to move it, but stops and starts looking over the board frantically. After a long pause he asks, "Hey...where'd my knight go?"

She just can't hold it anymore and bursts into a giggle fit, covering her mouth with one hand and leaning forward. He sits back in his seat and cocks his head at her. "Ikiiri!"

She breaks into an all-out laugh then and brings her tail out in front of her, showing his knight cradled safely in her fur. He gets out his seat and walks over to her, shaking his head. "You little troublemaker."

Just as he reaches for it she snatches it up and jumps out of her chair, holding it out to him in her hand while backing away. "Gotta get it, first!"

She giggles again and he tilts his head to one side. "Ikiiri."

She backs away from him, waving it in her hand...taunting him. "Na naaa, na-na naaa!"

"C'mon, give it back," He says, following her. She backs herself into a corner, giggling madly while waving it around. "Ikiiri..."

"Hyaaah!" He lunges for it suddenly, grasping at her hands with little success. She waves her arms this way and that, shrieking and laughing hysterically as he grabs at his knight over and over.

Finally he gets a hold of it and wrestles it from her fingers, then hops back and holds it in the air. "Yes! Yesss!"

He walks in a full circle and comes back to face her, gloating over his little victory. "Got my knight back!"

She laughs harder and leans against the wall, holding her hands down in her lap and wrapping her tail around her legs. Her whole body shakes with her laughter, and the more she tries to say something the worse she gets. He shakes his head and chuckles, then holds up his piece and asks, "You tired of chess, too?"

She nods her head and tries to answer, covering her hand with her mouth. "Yes."

"...All right," He says, smiling wide. He turns back and places it on the table, next to the board, then turns back around and walks up to her. "You wanna go for a walk?"

She calms down slowly and nods enthusiastically. "Eniena ru erro." ('I'd like that.')

"Cool." He steps over and opens the door, then stands aside and holds it open for her, waiting. She leans out of her corner and goes over to him, glancing at him once before stepping outside. The bright evening sun falls down on her suddenly and she shields her eyes from the light with her hand, squinting even in her hand's shadow. The door closes behind her and he comes up beside her, starting to walk away but stopping to turn back and look at her. "You coming?"

She'd been just standing around, staring blankly around herself at the trees and sky. His voice shakes her out of it slowly and she turns to look at him, expressionless. "Huh? Oh! Yes, yes."

She grins and trots alongside him, but soon prances off ahead of him into the surrounding forest, leaving him to walk along behind her and smile. She runs off a rabbit over here and a pack of birds over there, skips after a butterfly and stops to smell a bed of wildflowers, but suddenly pauses and stands still, like she's listening and waiting to pounce. He comes up behind her quietly, a puzzled and concerned look on his face, and asks in her ear, "Ikiiri, what're--"

She cuts him off with a sharp, "Shhh!"

And spins back forward, facing into the brush. A long, awkward silence ensues, with her standing stiff and staring while he glances between her and the brush, getting worried...until she suddenly leaps forth and exclaims, "Hhaaah!"

A small, brown rodent explodes from the underbrush and darts away from them, smashing off through bushes and leaves. Even Jinari's startled and hops in the air, whelping as she runs after the animal in a mad rush.

It hops a log, she hops it, too; it goes under a bush, she jumps over it, too; it rushes into a clearing and darts first to its left, then to its right, and she follows it still. She anticipates another dodge and leaps in front of it, snarling playfully and assuming a squat, vaguely feral stance as it puts on the brakes and rears up on its hind legs, then topples over backwards and runs back off in the other direction. She follows it immediately, hopping over logs and holes and leaping after it as it twists to the left...but it was all a feint, for the animal turns and heads right suddenly.

She flies gracefully through the air, watching it get away with her head twisted to her right and her tail flapping in the wind...then collapses on the ground in a disheveled amber heap. She props her head up in her hands, her elbows planted on the ground and her hair all fallen down in her face, smiling after it.

Jinari comes up behind her and kneels, wrapping an arm over her shoulders and helping her up. "Hey, you all right?"

"Yeah," She says, standing. She looks around herself once and then straight in his eyes, practically beaming with delight. "I feel great!"

He smiles back at her, then looks around himself at all the flora and fauna. "Feels great to be out again, huh?"

She just nods and looks up through the forest canopy at the sky, her eyes glazing over completely. He looks into her face deeply, entranced by her wonder and joy and remembering the last time he'd felt that, too.

"Too long" is all the answer he can come up with. He shrugs his shoulders and looks about, then nudges her shoulder to get her attention. "Hey. Wanna sit for a while?"

He nods his head over to a nearby tree when she finally looks back down, but it takes a full few seconds for it to click for her. "Oh! Lia, lia."

A half-confused, half-delighted chuckle crosses her lips as she steps over to the tree and starts sitting cross-legged. He takes her by her hand and helps her down, then takes a seat next to her, looking around at everything. They pass a long moment like so, him tapping his hands on his knees nervously while she stares past the trees at the sky. Eventually she leans back on her arms and sighs softly, throwing her head and hair back further.

He glances over at her and stares for a moment, taking in the sight as much as he can. Lately he's been bothered by thoughts of her family and home...does she miss them? Will she just run off one day to go home? What if she wants to stay with him permanently? Does she even want to stay with him? What brought her here in the first place...and how did she get that stab wound? Finally he decides to break the silence and get it off his mind. "Nice sky, huh?"

She nods and answers quietly, "Yeah..."

He follows her gaze to the clouds and stares at them, also. "So...you ever think about...home?"

She looks down at him, turning her head slowly. Her eyes lose their glaze and return to earth as his words start sinking in. "...Home...?"

"Yeah...you...miss it, don't you?" He looks in her eyes and adds, "Your family?"

She turns her eyes on the ground and shuffles one foot. "I...yes."

"Do you want to go home?"

"...Yes..." She says timidly, turning her face away.

"You don't have to be ashamed," He tells her, moving closer. "I would, too."

"But..." She looks at him again, then turns her body to face his and brings her far arm around, moving in closer. "I want -- to stay...with you, a -- little longer."

"...Really?"

"Yes. I want -- to learn, Jinari." Her eyes search his for signs of connection or understanding, and she finds them. 'And...I just...don't want to leave...'

She casts her eyes on the ground again and turns away. "And...I have to...learn...what..."

She falls silent for a long moment, during which he scoots closer and leans on the tree next to her. "It's okay. We can talk later."

He looks out over the forest, then up at the darkening sky, watching the last few rays of sunlight cast orange streaks over deep blue clouds. "Right now let's just enjoy the view."

She nods her head silently and leans it on his shoulder, shutting her eyes and relaxing. Of course she's thought of returning home these last few days, but only a handful of times and even then just for a fleeting moment. Until today she'd never given it much real thought or energy, but he'd forced her to reexamine what her old life meant to her...and it does mean everything to her. On the other hand, what she's built with Jinari's too great to simply give up...and even then, there's so much more for her to learn and experience with him, and there are still many things to figure out for herself.

The clarity and the challenge of her stay with him has given her the time and motivation to learn more about herself and an entire world that she never knew even existed. To simply give up on that isn't an option by this point. She sighs silently and nudges her head deeper into his shoulder, unconsciously wrapping her arm over his other shoulder. She can't tell if it's the vertigo or something else, but right now she simply wants to stay curled up in his arms, to live in this one moment as long as she can while it lasts...in perfect serenity, if not peace of mind.

When she next opens her eyes, she finds herself being placed in bed by Jinari...but being too tired to understand anything, she simply lets him tuck her in and snuggles with her cover, quickly falling asleep again.

***

The following morning she wakes up before him and rises from bed, stretching and yawning. She glances over at him and notices that he's still sleeping, so she rises and wanders about the house, doing some small chores, then gives another glance over to him and decides to just wait for him to wake up.

She kneels down by the couch and places her hands on her knees, staring at him sleep. As if on cue, he wakes up and opens his eyes in slits a few seconds later, peering back into hers sleepily. "Morning," She whispers.

"Mornin'," He answers groggily, then sits up and stretches while she sits next to him.

"I make -- breakfast," She says. "In kitchen."

He shakes his head and says, "No, you don't have to do that."

"No, I -- made. Ready for you," She replies.

"Oh...okay, then...um, lishra -- wanodri." ('We'll eat.')

She smiles and answers, "Lia."

He yawns once more and rises to his feet, stumbling off to the kitchen with her following him. They eat a small meal of steamed vegetables and nuts, since that's what she seems to care for most, talking between bites. Mostly it's just small talk or trying to iron out their vocabularies, and at the end of breakfast he stands and tells her, "Enilu wamin e...besho ha -- pro -- nigay." ('I'm going to work in the field.')

She nods and answers, "Okay."

He smiles at her and leaves, taking a small pouch of tools with him and whistling an old tune to himself cheerfully while he tends to his gardens. In these gardens are various plants: several kinds of simple flowers, a weed or two...but mostly he grows herbs, and lots of them. He uses them for his work as an herbalist and unofficial medicine man...though that he can grow anything at all in his gardens is something of a small miracle.

He works for about a solid hour or two, watering and feeding his plants, paying little attention to anything else going on. Suddenly he hears her scream from inside the house, followed by a thud. His head snaps up, followed by the rest of him jumping to his feet and rushing towards the house, dropping everything he's doing. He glides up the steps in one bound and throws the door open. "Ikiiri? Ikiiri?"

He rushes inside and goes into the kitchen first. "Ikiiri? Are you all right?"

Seeing nothing, he goes to the living room, asking, "Ikiiri?!"

He rounds the bend and stops dead when he looks down. There she is, lying on her side and gripping a wooden handle in her chest, with blood in her mouth. He whispers, voice shaking, "Oh no..."

He kneels down next to her and grabs her shoulder, starting to roll her over gently. "Ikiiri..."

Suddenly she sits up and jabs her hands to his chest, screaming, "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!"

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!" He screams, jolting backwards and falling onto his back. He scrambles up onto his hands and looks back at her laugh jovially at him and lick the "blood" -- nothing but watered-down ketchup -- from her mouth. He pants between heavy breaths, "That's not funny."

"Lia, nish ka," She says, still laughing. She holds up the wooden handle, revealing just that: a plain wooden handle she'd carved in her free time.

Slowly he smiles, then laughs along with her.

Later that night, after everything's been cleaned up and new words learned and new jokes cracked, they both go to bed. They follow the same routine as every night: dressing for bed separately, telling each other good night, crawling into bed...but tonight's different. She rolls over in bed a few times, unable to rest. She just can't get some things off her mind...things like...the hunters, old stories, her family, Jinari...Manny...

When she glances at the old grandfather clock nearby she sees that only a few minutes have passed, when it actually seemed like an hour. She flings her cover off and sits up, frustrated, then looks into the living room and halts, looking at the couch. She bites her lip and walks over, going around to the front of the couch and watching him lie there, looking peaceful. She kneels down carefully and lifts up the cover, sliding herself onto the couch and snuggling up against him.

He snaps his eyes open and watches her climb in with him, confused, but a soft glance from her eyes to his calms him somehow, and he does the only thing he thinks he can do: he puts his arm around her waist and holds her softly. Sleep comes quicker for her this way, because lying here, with the only human who's shown her compassion so far...she feels safe.

***

He stretches out his leg and left arm, keeping his right arm draped over her shoulders, where he cradles her head against his shoulder. He flutters his eyes open and looks down at her, and she opens her eyes and looks up at him. "Oh...you're already awake..." He says.

"Mmhmm...shivra daylol, Jinari," She replies. ('Good morning, Jinari.')

"Shivra daylol," He says back. "Ikiiri...I'm--uhh, enilu...chami e -- Jidoor, etralol." ('I'm going to Jidoor today.')

She adjusts her position and licks her lips, trying to recall what she can of his language. She ends up stroking his arm absent-mindedly while asking, "How...long -- will you be...gone?"

He shakes his head and blinks his eyes slowly. "La paje." ('Not long.')

She takes his arm from over her shoulder to her side and sits up, then helps him sit up, also. He yawns and stretches, then says, "Oh, thank you."

She furrows her brows and looks at him inquisitively. "'Thank you'--?"

He glances at her blankly, and then breathes in sharply. "Oh, right...umm...to thank someone...it's like, showing them your, uhh...gratitude," He motions with his hands, but he realizes that she doesn't know that word, either. "Man, ummm...it means...I'm happy that you helped me. I'm happy for what you did for me, so I thank you."

"Help..." She whispers, glancing away and then back at him again. "Jinari...you helped me...when I was hurt."

He nods, "Yes."

She pulls her feet up onto the couch, sitting on her knees and facing him. "Could I have -- died?"

Her suggestion has a sobering affect as he realizes the implication of it...he could've lost a friend if she'd died. He nods grimly and pulls himself up on the couch, too, sitting cross-legged across from her. "If your cut had gotten infected...maybe."

She bites her lower lip and rubs the spot on her chest where she'd been stabbed with both hands, looking down. If he hadn't been there at just that time...she looks back up and leans forward, kissing him softly on his cheek and pulling back to look in his eyes. Her voice is a soft whisper, as gentle as her sentiment. "Thank you."

He speaks likewise, curling his lips into a soft smile. "You're welcome."

An awkward moment passes in silence before he takes a breath and stands. "I, uhh...better get going..."

She whispers back and swings her feet out over the side again, "Okay."

He walks over to the table and gathers up his money and checks his robes. Having made sure that he's got everything, he faces her and tells her, "I'll be back soon, okay?"

"Okay," She replies, watching him turn around and head for the door...then trip in grand fashion over his robe and tumble into a forward roll.

He gets up and brushes himself off, trying to make the best of it while holding back a laugh. Her giggling, however, sets him into a giggle of his own, and he manages to stammer, "Bye."

She waves her fingers and giggle-speaks, "Hishe." ('Bye.')

He backs out the door and closes it, still laughing, leaving her alone to laugh at him. She finally sighs and looks around the room, trying to find something to do to pass her time.
Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VI
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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