Kerys walked out the door, concentrating on not dropping her pile of washing and stood still at the sight of a strange man in her vegetable garden. He was pulling up her carrots and radishes, barely pausing to brush the soil off before pushing them into his mouth. She frowned slightly and put her washing down on a nearby chair.
"You might like to take some of the tomatoes and the beans as well," she noted calmly, "since I can't eat them quickly enough before they become overripe." He froze, one hand raised in a comic fashion halfway to his mouth. Slowly he straightened up and Kerys had her first good look at him. Any anger she might have felt melted away at the sight of the bruises on his face and the pitiful thinness of his body, obvious even through the ragged assortment of clothes he wore.
"I'm sorry." He had a pleasant voice, with an accent that Kerys couldn't immediately place; though she knew it sounded familiar. Deciding that she probably offered him more threat than the other way round, she descended the few steps from her porch to her garden gate and stood there for a moment, assessing the damage. At the tail end of a warm summer, her vegetables had flourished and she didn't begrudge him the few he'd had time to eat. She looked up to meet a wary expression in his eyes, his body slowly turning side on to her so that he might escape more speedily.
"There's no need to be afraid," she tried to reassure him, "I don't mind that you've taken them. Indeed, you're quite welcome, but," a sudden impulse made her make the offer before ingrained caution could stop her words, "wouldn't you prefer them cooked?" He stared at her in open amazement for a long moment, "Cooked?" he asked finally.
"Yes, with some meat of course," she added. He blinked and Kerys could easily understand his confusion and the sudden suspicion that passed over his face.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she said quietly. That got her a reaction at least, in the form of a bitter laugh.
"Oh, I've heard that one before," he said harshly. "Come in, let me give you something to eat, something for the bruises, some old clothes my husband doesn't need anymore. Come in and wait while I send my little son for the Enforcer to lock you away, Outlander!" Kerys nodded, her fingers twitching over the catch of the gate. Outlander, that gave a reason for the bruises and the odd accent, though she was still aware of a lingering familiarity about it.
"So, fair warning in advance," he almost sneered, but Kerys wasn't put off.
"I live alone," she pointed out, "and I expect nothing from you in return. You're welcome to check the cabin out if you like, it isn't very big." He was eyeing her, suspicion still deep in his eyes, but the hunger was also strong and Kerys watched him glance around the garden as if calculating how much he could collect in two quick handfuls and still get away safely. She bit her lip as she tried to think of a way to best reassure him.
"I'm an Outlander too." His eyes shot to her face as she offered this information. Kerys sincerely hoped that he was who he said he was and wouldn't give her away. His lip curled, "I don't believe you. You wouldn't be living here, so close to that town if you were. They would have locked you away, beaten you up, probably raped you." Kerys nodded.
"I know, but not if they didn't know who I was. So, now you can go and tell them and get into their good books, can't you." He looked at her uncertainly and she took advantage of this lowering of his guard, "My name is Kerys."
"How nice for you." The sarcasm was almost hidden behind a sudden and almost overwhelming exhaustion and he put a shaky hand to his eyes, snatching them away a brief second later. Kerys fought back an instinctive urge to leap over the gate and go to his aid. She wasn't entirely successful however, for he looked at her scornfully.
"You're too soft-hearted. One of these days you'll get yourself killed."
"I haven't yet," she pointed out. He snorted and didn't reply. They were both silent, he too weary to make a move to leave and she couldn't find anything to say to gain his trust. Finally she shrugged, "Fine. Your loss. Help yourself to what you need, I don't mind." She turned away and was almost inside her home before he called.
"Wait." He had come right up to the gate and was standing there, his hand resting uncertainly on the gate. "I suppose if you're going to turn me in to the Enforcers I may as well go down with a full stomach." Kerys's lips twitched until she gave up the unequal struggle for composure and she chuckled.
"So gracious, sir." This elicited a small smile from him and Kerys was aware that her heart tumbled in response and turned to walk into the house to hide her reaction.
"When was the last time you had a proper meal?" she asked, when he had seated himself. She noted how he perched on the very edge of the chair, careful to leave himself a line of retreat. He shrugged in answer to her question, "Four, five days," he muttered. Kerys ran a mental check on dishes that would be easy on his stomach before gathering her ingredients.
"Where are you from?" He stiffened immediately, "Why?" She rummaged in a draw for a whisk before turning back to him, "Just making conversation."
"Where are you from?" he countered.
"Earth. British Isles." Her honest response silenced him and she surreptitiously watched him pass his hand in front of his eyes again and lean one elbow on the table as if to keep himself upright. The quiet between them continued until she placed a plate before him.
"Eat slowly," she advised, "chew each mouthful well. Your stomach is probably quite sensitive at the moment." He nodded and picked up the knife and fork she had laid on the table.
"Where are you going?" Kerys paused as she made her way to the bottom of the stairs that led up to her sleeping platform just under the roof.
"I may have some clothes for you." He put the cutlery down and turned to watch her, "I thought you said you lived alone. There's no way I could fit in any of your clothes." Kerys realised that he had been treated worse than she had previously thought and kept the note of impatience out of her voice, "The previous occupant of the cabin left some of his things behind. They might fit."
"Why would he have left clothes behind?" His eyes were guarded, "Because..." Kerys hesitated a moment, "because he was a Watcher. As am I." He gazed at her steadily, "A Watcher. From the Federation." Kerys sighed.
"You don't believe me," she shrugged, "fine. Don't let the food get cold." She had to admire the self-control that let him leave the food on the table when she knew he was starving. Turning away, she left the choice in his hands and dug into the bottom of a chest at the foot of the stairs until she came out with a pair of trousers and an overshirt. Taking these, she went into the bathroom and began the laborious process of filling the bathtub. Piped water actually came right into the room, but it stopped at a tap in the middle of the wall and from there she had to attach a short length of hose and somehow make a judgement between hot and cold. When she was satisfied with the water temperature, she left the clothes with a large towel on a chair and went back to find him placing the dishes in the sink.
"I've filled the bath if you want one, and left the clothes on the chair. There's soap in a dish beside the tub." He turned and she watched uncertainty war with wistful longing.
"There's a lock on the door," she offered tentatively. He nodded and walked slowly across the room, pausing just before he entered, "Excuse me, Kerys?" She turned from where she had been filling the sink with water, "Yes?"
"Thank you for the meal. My name..." he hesitated and the continued, "is Carey."
"You're welcome. It was a pleasure," she smiled. As Kerys finished washing the dishes she remembered the bruises she had seen through the gaps in his clothing and pulled a small pot out of a draw. Since she could still hear splashing she went out and hung her abandoned washing on the line before going to knock on the door.
"Carey? I have something that might help with your bruises." She heard the bolt shot back and the door opened. He was wearing only the trousers she had laid out for him, and the horrifying extent of the bruises on his torso could be clearly seen beneath his tan. Kerys let her breath out very slowly, understanding at last the full reason for his wary suspicion.
"Good grief, Carey," she murmured in quiet pity. He shrugged slightly and realising that she was staring, Kerys handed him the pot. He opened it and blinked at the pungent smell.
"Man!" he breathed, holding the pot at arm's length. Kerys grinned, "I know it smells, but it is very effective, just don't put it on your face."
"I'm not entirely sure I can get it near my body," he said dryly, "how much do I put on?"
"An evenish layer," Kerys considered him, "you might need help getting round the back." He handed her the pot, "Would you mind?" She took it from him and shook her head.
"No. There's a stool in the main room and the light will be better." He picked up the shirt and followed her out. As he sat Kerys finally found herself on a level to see his eyes and their deep blue colour mesmerised her for a moment. Realising that she was staring she blushed furiously and looked away, giving her complete attention to the pot. The amusement in his voice made her look up again.
"You blush very easily." Kerys felt her cheeks heat in response, "Do I? It's not very gentlemanly of you to point that out." His eyes twinkled and Kerys applied herself to smoothing the salve on his back, flinching when she noticed how the ribs protruded from his skin.
"I mention it because if you are telling the truth, you're supposed to be under cover here. If you blush every time you look at someone you're going to make people suspicious." Kerys glared at his back.
"I shall have to remember that," she said flatly. Astonishingly he reached round and caught her hand, "I meant no offence," he replied quietly. Kerys met those blue eyes again and felt her heart begin to pound at his touch.
"It doesn't matter." Her hand was greasy from the salve and slid easily from his grasp so she could go back anointing his bruises, grateful that he couldn't see her face and especially not the confusion in her heart. You've known him a bare hour. You don't believe in love at first sight, it can only be a shallow emotion. How can you know a man's heart when he's barely put ten sentences together and those have been sarcastic.
How can you know that a man is perfect for you from looking into his eyes.
Kerys gulped and concentrated on her task, managing to regain enough control by the time she moved round to his front to calmly ask.
"Do you want me to continue." She watched his jaw muscles work as he unclenched his teeth and the thought that she was hurting him, however gentle her touch, made her heart drop. She concentrated on scolding this treacherous organ into submission instead of looking into his eyes again.
"Yes," he ground out, "please."
She washed her hands when she had finished and then turned to help him pull the shirt over his head. He rose so abruptly after this that she found her nose almost touching his chest and had to step back hurriedly.
"Thank you. I should be going."
"Is that wise?" Kerys was amazed at the steadiness of her tone and with resolute firmness pushed her feelings into a corner to deal with at a later time. He looked down at her, "I can't stay here," he pointed out.
"Because if anyone was to find out, we would both be turned over to the Enforcers. You are supposed to be a Watcher, observing these people. I'm not sure your superiors would appreciate you risking yourself like this. A lot of time and effort has been put into actually situating you here."
"My superiors wouldn't want me to leave another Federation citizen stranded, on their own, when I might be able to help," she countered swiftly.
"You don't know that I'm from a Federation planet." He was annoyingly cool and logical, so Kerys shrugged, feeling her own patience ebbing at his hard tone,
"They would still want me to offer help."
"I don't want it," he replied harshly. Kerys turned away and went to tidy up the bathroom, her eyes misting over in a ridiculous fashion.
When she re-entered the main room it was empty and she sighed, "Great," she muttered and ran out of the cabin in time to see Carey surrounded by three woodsmen from the nearby town. They were glaring at him and turned accusing eyes on her as she came up.
"He's an Outlander! We saw him come out of your cabin." Kerys effected a look of astonishment, "An Outlander? He can't be, this is my cousin, Carey. He's come over to visit me from his home village." The three men looked at her disbelievingly.
"Which village?" Unexpectedly it was Carey who answered, "Prellim, about twenty nine days journey south of here."
"That's a long way to come to visit a cousin."
"I'm Journeying at the moment. I've spent the summer slowly moving up here to see how Kerys is getting on." The three men eyed them both with deep suspicion.
"How long are you staying?" Carey shrugged, "I don't know, as long as I'm welcome, until the weather changes, if a leaf blows across my path. It's a Journey, I'm not bothered about times." This was a masterly explanation and one that the men should accept, but they weren't as willing as Kerys would have liked.
"Why were you walking away from the cabin?" Carey rolled his eyes and let a note of impatience enter his voice, "To go to the town of course." Kerys decided it was time to add her corroboration, "Carey, I told you to go out the back door and turn right."
"Oh," he managed to look sheepish, "I must have misheard." Kerys rolled her eyes.
"Sawdust for brains," she muttered affectionately. He poked her in the ribs, "If you didn't mutter all the time I wouldn't have this problem," he turned back to the men, "it's a good thing you stopped me, though I'm not sure I appreciate being taken for an Outlander."
"No," Kerys crossed her arms, "though you sometimes act like one." He glared at her, but this remark, combined with the interplay they had just seen, convinced the men and with jovial apologies they invited Carey to come for a drink. Kerys intervened immediately,
"Oh no you're not. I need the flour before midnight. You can stay here and I'll go and get it. You'd probably get lost anyway." He gave an indignant exclamation and saw the men off with a suggestive headshake that had them laughing. Kerys let out the breath she had been holding and waited until he had come back to her.
"That was quick thinking," he approved.
"Yes. Even though you didn't want my help," she returned. He flinched, "Ah. Sorry."
"I suppose I better go and get that flour now," she said turning to face him, "will you still be here when I get back?" He hesitated and then nodded.
Two weeks later, Kerys was still wrestling with her feelings for Carey. Living in close proximity, seeing his true nature slowly emerge as he relaxed in her company had only served to deepen the initial attraction into love. His experiences meant that he was still too guarded for her to judge his feelings. She also wavered between miserable certainty that he felt nothing towards her and a glorious walking on air feeling when she caught him looking at her, or he happened to laugh at one of her jokes. She was scrubbing at the bathtub with unnecessary vigour during one of her more depressed moments when a vaguely familiar sound came to her ears. She sat back on her heels with a frown until she placed it and jumped to her feet, almost falling over the chair and sending the soap slithering into a corner.
"Blast," she muttered absently and ran up the steps to the sleeping platform, pressing at the tiny piece of hardware embedded behind her ear.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." The noise was persistent and slowly rose in pitch when she didn't immediately answer. In her haste it took her two tries to fumble the draw of the cupboard open and she broke a nail in her frantic attempts to pry open the secret compartment where she had hidden the communicator. She reserved one second for a sigh of relief as she acknowledged the call and the whine behind her ear ceased, and then concentrated on the brief code flashing on the screen of the communicator.
"Good grief," she muttered and hurriedly pushed the unit back into hiding before sprinting down the stairs two at a time. She tripped on the fourth step and would have tumbled all the way down if strong arms hadn't caught her.
"Do you always pound around the house like this?" an amused voice inquired in her ear.
"Carey," she gasped. He set her on her feet,
"Who else?" The laughter in his eyes faded as he noted the expression in hers, "what is it, Kerys?"
"I've been recalled. Emergency speed." He paled slightly, "Why?"
"I don't know," Kerys wailed, "but I've got two hours to sort everything out before I collected. The code is just that, I'm not given any details."
"I see." Kerys looked up at him, noting the hardness in his eyes and an unanswered question from when they had first met flew into her mind. She had never been a nosy person and so had allowed Carey all the privacy he chose in a quiet hope that he might one day confide in her. He never had, but now she needed to know more details of his background.
"Carey, what planet are you from?" He looked down at her distractedly.
"Livian." Kerys felt a weight lift from her heart and almost smiled as she recalled the nagging familiarity of his accent.
"So you are a Federation citizen." He nodded, but only said, "You're wasting time, you should be packing. What will you tell the townsfolk?" Kerys paused,
"Would you do something for me?" He looked at her oddly, "Of course," he said quietly, "anything." Kerys met his eyes and her heart jumped at the expression there, but she didn't have time to pursue it now and only said.
"I want you to go into the postal shop. Buy something we don't have here, mention that we're going to be leaving, that I'm going to Journey with you. It's the best I can do at such short notice, but I doubt the Federation will send me back here in any case."
Carey had ignored the rest of her sentence, seizing on one word, "We?" Kerys had gone back up the stairs to gather as much of her things together as she could and stopped at his question, dread making her insides icy.
"Aren't you coming with me?" He frowned, "Am I welcome, if this is an emergency call..."
"No. I want you to come, Carey, it doesn't matter what type of call it is, and I can't leave you here. Unless," she swallowed, "you want to stay." He smiled and shook his head.
"No, I don't want to stay. Thank you, Kerys." "You better hurry," she noted, her voice slightly shaky as her heart soared at his words.
They were standing in the middle of the locked up cabin, a pile of belongings at their feet fifteen minutes before the collection time when Carey turned to her abruptly, "Kerys?" She looked up.
"Yes?" She couldn't seen his face in the gloom caused by the closed shutters, but there was an odd note in his voice. He took her hand in his, gently smoothing his thumb over the back and Kerys felt her heart begin to beat faster.
"I know that this is probably completely the wrong time, but..." he trailed off and Kerys mentally wished for a lamp or a candle so she could see what was passing over his face.
"Carey?" He lightly brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek, "I think I've fallen in love with you, Kerys." His voice was slightly hoarse and he continued so quickly that she barely had time to take in what he said.
"I've been an indifferent lover, I know that, but when I thought that I wasn't going to see you again... I realised how important you are to my happiness." He traced his thumb over her lips and Kerys felt her knees start to tremble, "Carey," she whispered.
"I don't think I can live apart from you anymore," he broke in, "you've held my heart ever since you offered to cook me a meal." This struck Kerys as funny and she gave a soft laugh.
"My mother was right," she murmured, ridiculously happy tears springing to her eyes, "the way to a man's heart really is..." He cut her off by pulling her into his arms and kissing her.
"Kerys?" There was a note of query in his voice, despite her heartfelt reaction to this gesture.
"I've loved you since I first saw your face," she told him, very aware of the warmth of his body and his heartbeat near her cheek.
"Bruises and all?" he laughed.
"Yes, and the matter was taken completely out my hands when I looked into your eyes."
"You blushed," he recalled.
"It's not very gentlemanly of you to point that out," she repeated, her voice trembling with suppressed laughter. He didn't bother holding back her mirth, and the sound of his amusement echoing through his chest as he held her, completed her happiness.
"Don't ever go away, Carey."
"No, my love, never." He pulled her close kissed her again, breaking off only to murmur in her ear, "My Kerys, my heart."
© 1998, 1999 Copyright held by the author.
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