The feeling of the gentle press of Rúna’s lips stayed with Fiadh long after they had said their farewells and parted ways the following morning. If her clan thought her odd before, they thought her a lost cause now.
Fiadh wasn’t able to return to shore immediately after their shared epiphany. It was her turn to help her clanmates hunt and harvest for their winter stores. It kept her away longer than she’d like from the cove and the person she had begun to consider her home away from home. So, for several weeks, she endured curious looks and prying questions. That part wasn’t difficult. She was used to being treated like an oddity, an outsider. It was most difficult when she was alone.
She lay awake at night, wrapped safely in her seal coat and curled snugly in her nest, her mind lingering on Rúna. Fiadh wondered how she was, if she kept returning to their cove, if she worried.
It went on like this for some time. Her days were spent hunting and gathering, her nights sleepless as she wrestled with her fears.
It was early fall when she was finally able to return to their place. She rushed out of the water, seal coat falling from her shoulders as she splashed through the surf. Her eagerness to see Rúna made her careless. If she had been more alert, more careful, she would have smelled him before she saw him.
Thoughtlessly, she let the seal coat slip from her waist and to the sand at the opening of the cove. She made a beeline to the watertight chest Rúna had brought a few weeks ago to store dry clothes for her when she was onshore. She had barely finished tugging a tunic over her head and pulling trousers up her thighs when she felt a wrongness catch deep in her chest. She froze.
A voice, deeper, colder than the one she hoped for, grated in her ears. “I wondered for weeks where Rúna kept disappearing to.”
At the sound of Rúna’s name, Fiadh whirled around to face the intruder. “Where is she?” she hissed.
The man in front of her wasn’t particularly broad or muscled. He didn’t look terribly threatening. He was, on most accounts, overwhelmingly average. Average build, average height. Above-average body odor.
He clutched her extraordinary seal coat in his average hands.
At the sight of her coat wrapped in his clenched fists, Fiadh felt lightheaded.
This couldn’t be happening. Not now.
He didn’t answer her question, not right away.
“Several weeks ago, I followed her. I found you both. Here, in the cove.”
His lips pulled up into a cruel imitation of a smile. Fiadh stumbled back, casting her gaze around their shared space for something, anything to swing at him.
“Ah, ah, ah, little seal. That’s not how this works. I have your coat. You’re mine now.”
A snarl tore itself from Fiadh’s lips.
His stupid, average face grew dark with outrage, transforming him from an unremarkable human male to something that haunted Fiadh’s nightmares the entirety of her long life.
He shifted her seal coat under one arm and caught her wrist with his newly freed hand as he leaned further into her space. “You belong to me,” he growled, so close to her face that she winced away from the moist heat of his breath on her chin.
He roughly tugged her away from the cave. She resisted. Wiry and strong from her life spent in the ocean, it was a simple thing to twist out of the grip on her wrist. She scrambled away from him across the wet sand toward the surf. He dove for her. Growling, she hurled a handful of wet sand towards his eyes.
He halted, spluttering as he tried to wipe his face clean. She used the opportunity to place some more distance between them. She only made it a few feet until a feeling, cutting and sharp, brought her to her knees. Breaking out into a sweat, she tried to crawl on her hands and knees a few inches further. Everything burned. Her hands clenched and unclenched in the wet sand, her breath becoming labored, the foamy surf licking at her wrists with every wave.
She barely registered the laugh behind her. “Little seal, are you forgetting something?”
Fiadh looked over her shoulder to where he stood triumphantly with her seal coat. He had draped it over his stupidly average shoulders. Fiadh groaned. Her head throbbing, she pulled herself a few more inches into the sea. Everything was going dark around the edges of her vision.
An arm fit itself roughly around her waist, pulling her unceremoniously to her feet.
“She’ll find me,” she said hoarsely as she tried to catch her breath, dragging her feet.
“Oh, I’m counting on it,” he said ominously as he hauled her farther inland.
“Rúna…” she breathed, before the darkness at the edge of her vision overtook her.
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