Updated: May 15, 2021
Fiadh felt naked without her seal coat. Stripped of her freedom and her history, bare for the world to see with no way to cover her vulnerability.
But, for the first time in three days, Fiadh felt hope. Her sharp senses had caught Rúna's scent on the breeze an hour before she heard familiar foot steps. Half an hour after that, Rúna's honey voice whispered through the grass and Fiadh could have wept with relief. And even after Rúna's voice had disappeared, Rúna's scent had remained, reminding Fiadh that she was near.
Now as Fiadh sat in the dark, tied to and huddled against a slender silver birch, she listened. A lonely owl called somewhere close to her left. She could hear the rustling of small nocturnal creatures as they scurried about through the organic debris on the forest floor trying to find a meal and not be a meal.
A cacophony of snores, however, disrupted the otherwise peaceful night. The men seemed to finally be soundly asleep. The woman, who was often the first and last on watch, was no where within Fiadh's line of sight.
Then, a new sound perked her interest; those familiar foot steps, softer than usual, as if Rúna was trying to take great care in her approach.
Fiadh smiled. Clumsy, she thought.
There was the press of gentle hands on her wrists for just a moment and then the twine binding her to the tree fell away and Fiadh was on her feet. Without a word, Rúna's hand was in hers tugging her desperately away from camp.
After going just a few feet, Fiadh pulled Rúna to a stop. She opened her mouth to ask if Rúna had it, her coat. Before the words even had the opportunity take shape and exit her mouth, there was a familiar warm weight being draped over her shoulders.
Fiadh's knees nearly buckled as her hands came up to clutch at her seal coat over her shoulders. It gleamed silver in the starlight that filtered through the branches over their heads.
Then Rúna was taking her hand again and they were moving as quickly as they dared through the trees.
They made good time. Fiadh led their way, her vision sharper in the dark than Rúna's. When the sun started to make itself known with a golden glow on the horizon, they still continued on without speaking, hand firmly in hand.
Shortly after the sun reached its zenith in the sky and they had placed roughly 12 hours of distance between themselves and the men, Fiadh spoke.
"Thank you." It was softer than she had intended, her voice made rough from disuse over the past few days.
Rúna turned and offered her a tired but warm smile and a flask of water. Fiadh took it gratefully.
"Of course," Rúna said as Fiadh finished her drink, handing the flask back. "I wasn't going to let them take you." Rúna's voice cracked on the last word and she cleared her throat. Her eyes glassy, she asked, "Are you alright?"
"I will be," Fiadh said quietly.
Rúna nodded. She felt distant. Fiadh cocked her head, studying the woman in front of her. Her eyes tracked the movement as Rúna's hand came up to rub the back of her neck and she avoided Fiadh's eyes.
"Are you alright?" She parroted gently.
Rúna's answering smile was tremulous. "Much better now."
Fiadh wanted to crush Rúna to her. She wanted to tell her she'd never allow them to be parted again. She wanted to tell her she loved her. Completely. But life was unpredictable and they were from different worlds. And she didn't know if Rúna felt the same. She suspected. But that was different from knowing.
So instead, Fiadh wet her lips, reaching for Rúna's hand to pull it carefully away from the back of her neck. She stretched on her tiptoes and pressed a gentle kiss to her cheek. "Let's stop for a moment to eat something and catch our breath. I know you have hard cheese and dried meat in your pack." She wiggled her nose for good measure just to make the woman in front of her laugh. She was successful and her heart lifted when Rúna's laugh tripped out over her lips.
"Of course you do," Rúna said through a broad smile.
There wasn't much cover in the grassy landscape they found themselves in. But they tucked themselves at the foot of a hillock that protected them from the view of any onlookers or passers by, as well as the chill bite of the wind.
Fiadh wasted no time curling up into Rúna's side for warmth, tucking her feet under her as she sat and leaning heavily against Rúna's shoulder. She greedily accepted a hunk of hard white cheese and a generous portion of dried meat.
They ate in silence for a while and then Rúna said, "We can't go back."
Fiadh wasn't sure if she meant to their cave nestled in the little cove she had started to call home or just back to the way they were before. She felt her heart begin crack.
"...to our place?" Fiadh asked quietly.
"Yes. They'll return. Angrier than before," Rúna sighed and lay back against the hill, brow drawn. She closed her eyes for a moment.
"What should we do?"
"You should return to your people. You're safer there than with me."
Fiadh scoffed, affronted that Rúna would assume she'd rather be in the ocean than with her. "Please. I suffocate there. Besides, shouldn't I be the one to decide where I want to be?"
Rúna opened her eyes then, meeting Fiadh's gaze. "Okay, what would you like to do?"
Fiadh opened her mouth to speak, but stopped short. Her heart was torn. The ocean or Rúna? It was cruel that she had to choose.
Rúna's smile was sad. "You don't have to choose. I'd never ask you to, you know that."
Fiadh felt warm. A wave of grief rolled over her, as she began to realize that this might be the last of them. She swallowed hard.
"You-you could take it, the coat..." she offered hoarsely in a desperate attempt to stay without having to make the decision to leave herself.
Rúna recoiled, sitting up sharply, hurt flashing across her face. "You know I would never," she said angrily. "I don't want it."
Fiadh squeezed her eyes shut against the hot tears threatening to spill over. "I know. I know you wouldn't." She swallowed hard. "That's why I love you," she breathed.
When she opened her eyes again, Rúna was staring at her, mouth opening and closing, eyes wide. Fiadh waited.
A teary laugh escaped Fiadh. "Of course I do. Where have you been the last few months?"
Rúna looked at her incredulously. "You're telling me this now? Why?"
Fiadh rolled her eyes. "Because maybe I don't have to choose. We're smart women. We can figure something out. But I need to know that you..." She stopped. She would absolutely not ask if Rúna loved her in return.
Rúna stopped her with an abrupt kiss. Fiadh squeaked in surprise and Rúna was laughing again.
"I love you, too. Whatever you want to do or how you want to figure this out, I'm with you."
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