A/N I am so, so, so sorry that it took me this long to post! Like I said I was taking a little break to work with the plotline and I wrote so much that just wouldn't work with the ending I had planned so I put it down to come back when I found a new direction. It's short but for your patience I included a bit of romance... ;)
"He's bad off- it'll be a miracle if he makes it."
Leah stirred the broth mechanically, her mind curiously blank save the rush of blood in her ears. A voice sounded in her head that wasn't entirely her own.
He'll die. He'll get an infection and he'll die. No one lives after being scalped.
"It's just strange that he dragged him off so far from the wagon. Why would he care if we found him?"
Leah's hand froze over the pot. Micah noticed and cleared his throat.
"Remember whose company we keep."
The two men looked at the mulatto woman and then to him as if to say, Are you serious? but both tipped their hats and begged her pardon, walking outside to continue the conversation.
"Don't worry Miss. We'll bring her home."
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. He stood behind her awkwardly for a moment before following the men outside. Leah took the opportunity to press a shaky hand to her mouth.
What had she been thinking? She should have just left him alone- what if he woke up long enough to tell them what had happened? For now he lay delirious, a high fever wracking his body with chills and sweat.
She'd seen him when she changed his bed linens the day before. Not through any sense of guilt- had she consulted her own inclination he would have lain in his own shit indefinitely- but so no one would become suspicious. He'd looked simply terrible but he was still alive and the wound was closing.
Setting down her spoon she lifted up the hem of her apron to hide her face.
What was she going to do?
Looking over his shoulder, Thunder Crow eyed the group of villagers around the fire. He could hear them faintly- still singing and dancing they probably wouldn't be coming back to their homes for some hours.
Shifting her in his arms he entered She Walks in Beauty's tipi, carefully closing the flap behind him.
Beatrix slept on.
"Hey. Wake up."
Her eyes fluttered open.
"Is it time to get up? It's still dark, though."
"No. You have to take your clothes off."
Now she was awake.
"Calm down- you don't sleep in your clothes. You hang them on the wall. Lift up your arms."
She hesitated for a moment, peering at him in the dark. He smiled in a way that he hoped was reassuring.
"I've already seen it."
Shyly she sat up and did as he asked. Once the heavy gown was off her shoulders her skin pricked in goosebumps, not entirely from the cool air.
Thunder Crow put the dress aside and looked at her until she started to squirm.
"Hold still, Little Bird. You don't have to fly away..."
He leaned forward and kissed the peak of one trembling breast, then brought up his hand to cup the other. Beatrix was horribly embarrassed, but at the same time her body felt all lovely and hot. In a trance she watched him touch her. When he looked up to meet her eyes she shivered.
This broke the spell. Wide eyed, she covered herself with her hands.
"No, Thunder Crow I-"
"I'm just going to kiss you. You like it when I kiss you."
Unsure, she hesitated until he pushed her down firmly by the shoulder. It was terrifying and exhilarating together. He leaned over her, hands and mouth everywhere. Despite the cool air of the tipi her skin was alive with heat and soon her mouth sought his with a desperation she was almost ashamed of.
Easing his tongue between her lips he tasted her, cupping the back of her neck to bring her closer. Slowly, awkwardly she put her arms around him. Suddenly he sat up, ripping his new shirt over his head so she could touch his skin. His smell, which the heavy scent of leather had muted, washed over her and a dim ache bloomed between her hips. He knelt above her letting her touch him with her fingertips. It surprised her to feel how heavy his breathing was.
With lips parted and eyes wide and hazy with anticipation, he brushed his fingers between her legs.
"I want to-"
"A-i-i-i-i! Useless! Get out of my house! What, you think you're a big man and can go wherever you want?!"
They both jumped. They hadn't noticed the door to the tipi opening. Beatrix scrambled to cover herself with her dress.
"Her I don't blame. She doesn't know how things work, but you? Useless!"
"I'm sorry, I just-"
"Yeah, you are sorry! Thought you were pretty smooth, eh? Wait till no one's looking and sneak off with her! And here you are with your hand caught in the honey! Be grateful I was the only one who noticed!"
Beatrix was crying now, not realizing that the tirade was intended for Thunder Crow.
She Walks in Beauty sagged, a little of the anger dissipated.
"Now look what you did!"
She bustled into the tent, noticing the still suspended front of his breech cloth with disdain but relief.
"At least you didn't have a chance to do something really stupid! Go and be useless somewhere else."
Swallowing his frustration, he shouldered into his shirt and left the tipi, though not without sharing a quick, reassuring look with Beatrix. She Walks in Beauty was furious but she wouldn't tell anyone. It would ruin Beatrix's reputation in the village if her virtue was in doubt. Under the protection of the Chief's wife no one dared say anything against her.
And the slap from earlier, though humiliating him, had won her back a great deal of credit.
That night One Who Listens had announced that he had adopted Little Bird as his child. It would have been easier if they'd just accepted her as a captive bride, but she would have more honor when he brought her to his own village if he had to work for her hand. At least he'd already proven himself in several raiding parties- now all he had to do was gather the horses and gifts to give One Who Listens for a bride price.
He only wished she hadn't been adopted by a Chief. It made his head spin to consider how much buying her back would cost.
The next morning Beatrix woke from a surprisingly sound sleep. She'd expected She Walks in Beauty to throw her out she was so angry. Instead she'd simply looked at her for several moments before sighing and sitting down next to her to remove her jewelry and wipe the paint from her face.
As it turns out Thunder Crow had told the truth about sleeping naked. After she finished She Walks in Beauty had stripped right in front of her before lying down in the animal skin bed on the other side of the room. Distinctly uncomfortable (and still a little squirmy and hot, despite the interruption) Beatrix lay stiffly in her own bed, sure she wouldn't be able to fall asleep before morning, but then She Walks in Beauty began to sing a soft lullaby. It sounded like stars and high places and cool wind. Before she knew it she was asleep.
She Walks in Beauty called her to the center of the tipi, already holding her bowl. Inside was hot mush, and though it had looked terrible Beatrix soon emptied the bowl. Her appetite had returned with a vengeance, and the absence of salt was a little less obvious to her palate. As she was contemplating asking for a second helping a low, masculine voice startled her.
Chief One Who Listens was lying in bed behind her. She nearly dropped the bowl in her attempt to cover herself; she'd only taken the time to put on the short sort of loin cloth that women wore for underwear so her torso was totally exposed.
When Thunder Crow said that this was She Walks in Beauty's tipi she'd thought he meant that she lived here alone with her daughter. She didn't realize that her husband lived with her.
They both laughed and One Who Listens waved his hand at her, rolling over to face the wall and catch a few more minute's sleep.
She Walks in Beauty pointed at him, repeating a short word.
Then she pointed at herself.
Securely wrapped in a blanket Beatrix merely looked at her and nodded.
"Mother. Say mother!"
Her new daughter shook her head at her, smiling but not understanding. She sighed heavily. She'd have to go get Useless to explain. He was leaving that day to tell his family his intentions and gather the bride price. He'd be gone the entire winter and most of spring- hopefully long enough for him to forget her, or better yet for Little Bird to forget him. She was fond of the recent addition to her family and didn't want her to go so far away- especially not for someone as worthless as her intended.
"I told you she's stupid."
"You called everyone mother until you were three."
"Isn't it always."
She winked at her younger daughter. Or at least she thought she was the younger one. Shining Smile was twelve, surely Little Bird was older than that?