Something nudged me, and I opened my eyes. Daylight filtered into the cabin through the vents, providing me enough light to see. I was on my back, and Vall lay against my right side, with her head on my shoulder, and her arm across my chest. Her leg pressed against mine; it moved slightly in the same motion that had awakened me.
I turned my head to look at her as she slept. We had kicked the covers away in the warm summer night; waking up with a naked woman pressed against me was a novel experience. My body reacted predictably, but I pushed the idea of sex away for the moment.
Vall was a stranger to me, of course. I had rescued her, although I was mystified as to her not using her magics to escape. We had argued, but then we had fought together. She could go where she willed, but there were many who would kill her simply for who she was.
When I was a boy, I would find injured animals in the forest, and bring them to the healers. Lirimaer would tease me about it, but she would use her healing powers on them, all while teaching me how to do the same. Of course, the animals would bound away the moment they were healed.
This girl – woman – was the same in that respect. She could, and likely would, leave as soon as she could. Draen and the other elven hunters were powerful enemies, although Grandfather and Lirimaer held sway over them, and they could offer Vall protection in this part of the forest. Still, she would probably leave, anyway. This was my home, and I did not want to leave it.
I sighed, and breathed in her scent from her hair. Her skin pressed against mine, and it just felt somehow right. I was a fool. She could, and probably would, choose to leave, and I wouldn’t want to follow her. I had little to offer her, just this tiny cabin and the modest means of a hunter.
Vall stirred as if she felt the weight of my gaze, and opened her eyes. She looked confused for a moment, and then she looked at me.
“Good morning,” I said quietly.
She lifted her head to look past me as her muscles stiffened.
“We’re in my home, remember?” I kept my voice low, and I didn’t move to avoid startling her further.
Vall looked down my body, and, spotting my morning erection, rolled away from me to lie on her side. She frowned. “You’re...”
“It’s always that way until I can piss,” I explained quickly. “We kicked off the covers, too.”
She sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and stood up. “I need to go.”
I moved to sit up and set my feet on the floor. “Where will you go?”
She looked toward the door for a long moment, and then shook her head. “Nowhere, I suppose.” She looked at me with a sigh. “I have nothing; not even clothes.”
“We can get you clothes; there is a woman here that makes clothing. Until then, I have a clean shirt and the shoes you wore yesterday.”
“I don’t want to be cared for like a child,” Vall said with a frown.
“No, of course not,” I agreed. “There are times when everyone needs help, though. Friends help each other, do they not?” I pointed to one of the shelves. “The clean shirt is there.”
“I don’t have any friends.” She stepped over to the shelf, plucked the shirt from it, and shook it out.
Her movements caused her breasts to jiggle, and a little spike of warmth went through my groin at the sight. I took a breath. “I’d like to be your friend.”
Vall pulled my shirt on over her head, and turned toward me as she tugged it down almost to her knees. “It looks like you want more than that.” I opened my mouth, and she raised her hand. “I know, you need to piss.”
I was warm now, and it had little to do with sex. “I’m attracted to you, okay? Is that so bad?” I pulled on my own clothing, stepped into my boots, and walked out to the outhouse. When I returned, Vall was kneeling on the bed, reaching across to arrange the bedcovers. Her shirt had ridden up, and the warmth returned to my groin at the sight of her bare ass. I turned away and washed my hands in the washbowl.
“I’m sorry,” she said from behind me.
When I turned, she was sitting on the bed, her hands clasped in her lap. “I’m not used to having a friend.”
“I understand, at least a little,” I replied quietly.
Vall looked up at me. “Why are you doing this?”
“I told you, I want to be your friend.”
“Yes, so you told me.” Vall stood and stepped into the shoes I’d loaned her. “I have no interest in being your house girl, for you to order about and bed at your leisure.”
I slipped my baldric over my head, and turned to face her. “And when did I ask you to be my house girl?” I felt the heat rising in my face. “You didn’t seem to mind my help yesterday.”
“I don’t recall asking you to rescue me, either!” She squared off to face me, her teeth bared in a snarl.
Even angry, and with those orcish tusks, she was beautiful to me, and that only made me angrier. “Maybe I should have just let that orc roast you for lunch, after he had his way with you!”
Vall stared at me for a long moment as the emotions crashed between us. I looked into her eyes, and I saw the pain and fear in them. Tears filled her eyes, and she turned away to walk outside, slamming the door closed behind her.
I stood rooted to the spot, trying to figure out my own confused emotions – and then I was moving. I jerked the door open and ran outside. “Vall!” I spotted her thirty paces away, running back in the direction we’d come. “Vall, wait!”
She kept running, and she was fast. I dashed off after her, running harder than I ever had in my life. My harsh words tore at me, and I swore in Elvish as I wove through the trees. After a hundred paces, Vall began to slow her pace as the ground rose up toward the ridge we had crossed yesterday. I forged onward, my lungs burning from the exertion. Finally, she slipped and fell on a patch of wet grass, and I came up on her heels. “Vall! Wait, please! Please stop!”
Vall lifted herself to her hands and knees, sobbing with exhaustion and rage. “Leave me! Just. Let. Me. GO!!”
I fell down beside her, careful to not touch her. “Please don’t leave me, Vall.” I tried to catch my breath, but the hammering in my chest had little to do with the run.
She stopped, and turned to look at me. “Why, Ornthalas? Why do you even care what happens to a half-breed abomination like me? Your friends would like nothing better than to slit my throat, probably after taking me first. Do yourself a favor; turn around, go back home, and leave me alone!” Tears ran down her face, and she sat up on her knees to face me.
I matched her posture, putting our faces a few handspans apart. I summoned all the courage I had, and looked her in the eye. “I love you, Vall.”
She jerked as if I’d struck her, and her eyes narrowed. “What did you say?”
“I love you.”
She shook her head as if to clear it. “You’re moonstruck. Or under a curse. You’ve just met me,” her voice rose, “and you rescue me, give me a couple of meals.” She glared at me, and then snorted derisively as I simply watched her. “We travel to your house, and sleep for the night, and now you love me?!”
I took a breath, and nodded. “Yes, I do. I love you, Vall, and I want you to stay with me.” I held her furious gaze, willing myself to be calm under it.
“Damn you, elf!” She leaned into my face. “Let me go!”
I reached out and touched her cheek with the fingers of my shooting hand. She flinched as if I’d burnt her, but she didn’t pull away. “Stay with me.”
“Damn you,” she repeated as tears started flowing down her cheeks.
She’d gotten dirt on her face, and I gently wiped it away, struggling to see through my own tears. “Please stay.”
Vall abruptly stood and turned away from me, moving awkwardly on the slope. I stood and waited as her shoulders shook with the force of her weeping. Fearing that physical contact would drive her away, I stood where I was. Finally, she scrubbed at her face with her shirt sleeves, and turned to face me.
“I will go back with you. I do not love you, Ornthalas.” Her face was grim. “Know that.”
I nodded, and pointed toward the cabin. “Shall we go back?”