The next morning she was alone in the bed when she woke. Almost immediately the door opened and Ren stepped back inside. When he saw she was awake, he hurried to her side. “How are you feeling?”
She looked down at her shoulder. “It aches but it’s not the pain like it was yesterday.” She started to sit up and hands came up to help her.
“What are you doing?”
“I need to go out back.”
“I can - “
“I need to try to walk it.”
He started to protest, but her eyebrow rose and he took a deep breath. “Okay, but I’m walking with you.” His look brooked no argument so she didn’t try. He helped her to her feet and held her as she got steady.
“Are you sure? I don’t mind - “
“Let me try.” She took a tentative step, then another. She held one of his arms as the other went around her. He was there again when she stepped out, holding onto the door jamb.
Back inside she sank into the nearest chair. “I guess I’m weaker than I thought.”
“Some of that’s hunger. I found some instant oatmeal, let’s start with that.”
She nodded and tried to relax. When he returned to her side she tried to sit up straighter. He saw her wince and put the bowl down. “Maybe you should be back in bed. I can fix the pillows - “
“I need to be up for a little while.” She took his hand. “Thank you.”
He tried to smile, then drew one of the wooden chairs closer. He took the bowl back in his hand and lifted a spoon to her lips.
“I should - “
“Shh. You have one arm right now. Just let me do this for you.”
She nodded and he fed her the oatmeal. “That’s not enough, but I’ll fix something else in a little while.”
“You eat now,” she demanded.
“Yes, ma’am.” He grinned.
When he was through, he helped her back to the bed. “I’m useless,” she whined.
“Hardly. Red, you were shot. You need some time.”
“But we have to get home. Someone has to be worried about us. We might have spouses, children - “The look on his face stopped her. He looked so stunned.
“Ren, don’t you . . . “
“If we have kids, I’m sure their grandparents are taking good care of them.”
“If we have kids?” She looked at him for a long moment. “You think we know each other, out there.”
“Of course we know each other. Look at us, we’re . . . we’re going through something here; we don’t know who we are, where we are, what’s going on. The only thing we have is each other and, and we’re handling it.”
After a long moment she nodded.
“And you fit too well in my arms.”
She looked down then, but he could see the color in her cheeks.
“We still need to get out of here. I haven’t heard a train go by since we woke up two days ago.”
“I know. Let’s see how you feel tomorrow.”
After a moment she nodded and sank back into the mattress. He watched her for a minute, then headed back outdoors. When he didn’t return quickly, she forced herself out of bed and to the door to check on him.
He was using the rest of the hot water to bathe. She stood and watched him for a moment, since he was unaware. He’d been without his t-shirt since lending it to her, now with his jeans unbuttoned and resting low on his hips and the water glistening off his skin, she couldn’t tear her eyes away. She had slept in those arms the last two nights? She could feel a fever rising in her that had nothing to do with her wound.
She could only imagine how she must look after a couple days hiking and then everything that had happen since they arrived here.
He turned then and spotted her, causing her cheeks to flush even brighter. He moved immediately in her direction. “Are you okay? Can I get you anything?”
”A long hot bubble bath?”
He grinned then, relaxing a little. “Don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, but I’d be more than happy to give you a sponge bath.” He waggled his eyebrows at her and if possible her blush deepened. That only drew a more appreciative look from him.
“I don’t think so. Maybe I could use some of your water when you’re through.”
He sobered slightly. “I really could help you clean up.” He raised his hands in the air. “I’ll be a gentleman. I think you’d feel better.”
“Ren - “
“And I could wash your hair for you, if you don’t mind dishwashing detergent.”
She looked up at him a little helplessly. “Dishwashing detergent, great. We don’t even have a comb.”
“I’ll use my fingers.”
“You, you’re serious.”
He nodded. “Let me put some more water on to heat.” He turned to the pump, then felt her hand on his arm. He looked back at her.
“My pleasure.” He winked then and she couldn’t help but smile back at him.
While the water was heating, he brought out one of the wooden chairs and sat it on the porch, facing the door. When he deemed the water okay, he sat her in the chair and poured some of the water over her hair, wetting his t-shirt in the process. She bit her lips until she saw his grin.
“By the way,” she said dryly, “where is my shirt?”
He pointed with his chin toward the pump. “Soaking.” His voice dropped. “I don’t think the blood - “
“It’s okay. There’s a hole in it anyway.” She glanced up to see him shaking his head.
He poured a little of the detergent into his hand and began soaping her hair, raising a lather. She didn’t even realize she was humming as he massaged her scalp. He did and it was playing havoc with him physically.
Did she really doubt that they knew each other? His hands knew this woman, his arms knew her. He glanced down, glad he was behind her, all of him knew her.
After rinsing her hair thoroughly, he dried it as best he could with the towel he had been using, then moved her inside. “Take off your clothes.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“It won’t do any good to bathe unless I wash what we’re wearing.”
“I, I can’t . . . “
He handed her the largest of the towels. “I said I’d be a gentleman and I’m trying here, but I need your clothes. All of them.”
“All - “
“You’re enjoying this,” she muttered at him.
“No, not enjoying, delighting in it,” he leered at her.
“I know we have this memory loss thing, but do I need to define ‘gentleman’ for you?”
“Let me help you with the shirt.” He was grinning as he flapped the towel at her. She rolled her eyes, but took the towel from him.
He very carefully lifted the shirt over her head. The bandage had gotten wet, but there was no blood seepage. She held the towel up as he removed her bra. He moved away and allowed her to remove her own jeans, underwear and socks. He tossed all of the clothing over near the door. He brought more warm water in and seated her. He washed and rinsed her back, then carefully and fully washed her feet. He stood then and stepped back.
“Okay. I’ll go do the laundry while you finish up in here. I’ll change your bandage when you’re through.”
She blinked and watched as he left the room, giving her privacy to finish her bath. She smiled gently after him. He was a gentleman.
She finished bathing and wrapped herself in the sheet, leaving her shoulder exposed. It wasn’t long before he tapped on the door. “Come in.”
He looked in and pretended disappointment at her toga. “So where’re the clothes?”
“Hanging over some bushes, drying in the sun. Have a seat. I’ll fix your bandage.”
“I guess then I go outside so you can bathe.”
“Not in that. I’ll wait until the clothes are dry, then - “
“I could just turn my back. Then you could go ahead and get cleaned up too.”
“You expect me to trust you not to peek?”
“Fix my shoulder and I’ll try to control myself,” she said dryly, but he saw the twinkle in her eyes.
Once her shoulder was re-bandaged, she picked up the book he had handed her the night before and took a seat in one of the chairs by the stove. “You promise to be a gentleman.”
“Of course, Ren.” She batted her eyes at him and turned to her book.
He watched her for a minute, but she kept her eyes on the book. He moved behind her and began his own bath.
“We need to try to walk out of here,” she repeated, not backing down.
“You can’t. You’re not strong enough and you need to heal. We’ll think of something else.”
“What else, Ren? We walked for a couple of days without seeing anyone or anything. For all we know the interstate highway is just over the next rise.”
“We’d have heard the traffic,” he said dryly.
She ignored that, continuing. “No train has gone by. Hell, we don’t even know for sure we were thrown from a train. We just happened to wake up near some tracks. We can’t just sit here and hope someone stops by.”
“No, not forever, but you aren’t able to hike for days in the hopes of finding rescue. We’ve got enough supplies here and I think we can wait a little while longer.”
“Then you go.”
He blinked at that. “Are you - no! I am not going to leave you here alone and injured. No.”
“Ren, I know you wouldn’t ditch me. You’d be looking for help. And I know you’d come back for me.”
“I am not leaving you here alone for days with only the hope that I’ll find something.”
She leaned back then and studied him. “Okay, what about just scouting around?”
“What do you mean?” His eyes were narrowed, but he was listening.
“Well, first thing in the morning you could start out, still heading west. After a few hours, if you don’t run into anything, you come back. The next day pick another direction. We know there’s nothing for several days back to the east, so that narrows it down a little.”
“That still leaves you here alone.”
“I’m not totally helpless, Ren. I can fix myself some lunch, you could pump me some water before you leave. We have to do something and I can see you’re chomping at the bit to move on.”
“I am not,” he said indignantly.
“Yes, you are, but you’re a gentleman and trying to hide it.” He looked torn at those words, so she reached out and took his hand. “At least think about it. We need to get home, wherever that is.”
He sighed, but nodded, not quite committing to leaving her.
As she watched him fill the pack with the water bottles and some traveling food she felt her pulse quicken. There was no reason to be afraid. He was even leaving the gun with her, but the thoughts of him walking off bothered her more than she had thought it would.
She moved with him to the door. Her hand came to rest on his arm. “You, you will come back.”
He looked down at her startled. “You know I will. Are you okay?”
“Yes, I just . . . “
“I’m going to miss you.”
When he tilted her head back to see into her eyes, he saw they were filled with unshed tears. “I can do this tomorrow.”
“No,” she shook her head. “I’m being stupid. Of course you need to go. This was my idea.”
“I will be back, before dark.” He leaned down then and lightly kissed her lips. When she didn’t pull back, he did it again. “Believe me, I’ll be back.”
She did smile then. “Good. I’ll have dinner ready.”
“Don’t over do,” he immediately responded.
“Promise. Now go, so you can get back.” She rose up on tip-toes and gave him one more kiss, then stepped back. For an instant she thought he was going to follow her, but he squared his shoulders and stepped out onto the front porch, and into the small yard.
He looked back and waved once, then picked up his pace and headed out, paralleling the tracks.
He was out of sight too soon for her, but she kept quiet. They had to do this; they had to get out, find their way home, wherever that was. She closed the door firmly behind her and settled into the chair next to the stove. She sat staring at the door for a moment or two, then with a sigh picked up the book he had handed her earlier.
His steps slowed for a moment once he was out of sight of the cabin. He actually stopped and turned back, but shook his head and started out again. She was holding up as best she could, but she’d been injured, she could be getting an infection even now. He had to get her back to civilization. They had to find out who they were and why there were out here in the middle of nowhere.
Keeping the sun behind him, he continued west as they had been traveling. His steps grew longer, eating up the ground. Without her beside him he did make better time, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun. When nothing changed in front of him he picked up his pace until he was jogging.
It would have been nice to have something to think about. Of course remembering her, remembering the feel of the short woman he knew as Red was pleasant, but there wasn’t enough of it. He still believed they knew each other; they had to, to be as close as they were. When she had hit the floor of that porch he had panicked, frozen for an instant. Somehow he had known that without her he didn’t care if he was found. It didn’t make a lot of sense if they were strangers. Of course being out here in the middle of nowhere made no sense either, even if they were together.
Food wasn’t a great topic for thought either, since he only carried power bars, leaving the food with her. If something should happen to him, she’d be able to feed herself until she was strong enough to start out looking for help herself. But nothing was going to happen to him. He was going to get back to her and he was going to find help, if not today, then tomorrow. Damn it was a long day.
When he opened the door she flew across the room and buried her face in his chest. He was taken aback, but delighted as his arms closed around her quickly. “Are you okay? Red, what - “
“I’m, I’m fine. I . . . it’s been a long day.” She started to step back but his arms tightened around her.
He smiled then and gave her a quick kiss. “For me too. Hey, why are you not wearing your sling?”
“I’ve been careful, but I needed my arm a little bit.” Her hand caressed his cheek. “I guess, since there’s no cavalry behind you, that you didn’t find anything.”
He shook his head. “No, nothing west and northwest that I ran into.”
“Come on, you must be hungry. Have a seat.”
She had heated a large can of stew, and his bowl was heaping. Before taking a bite, he checked to ensure her bowl was also full. The crackers were a little stale, but he was hungry enough not to care. He’d eaten half before he looked up at her again, to find her smiling at him. “It’s good,” he offered.
She nodded and turned back to her food. She got him seconds over his protests and finished off the pot into her bowl at his insistence.
When they were finished, she took the bowls up to wash later. They had been practically licked clean, then she followed him outside where he pumped some more water and stripped off his t-shirt to wash. She sat on the back steps, admiring the view and relaxing, knowing that he was back and safe.
She realized he was aware of her when he started with the bump and grind routine. She laughed out loud and he turned to face her. “You think I’m funny, not sexy?” he groused.
“You’re extremely sexy and you damn well know it.”
He grinned then and toweled off, then came to sit beside her on the steps. It would be dark soon, but the twilight was pretty and with the breeze the bugs weren’t too bad.
“So, what did you see?” She looked over at him. It was disconcerting being quite this close with that heat radiating off of him.
“A whole lot of nothing. Trees, the tracks. It was a long day.”
His arm went around her then. “I’ll keep you company tonight.” He didn’t comment on the color that brought to her face, savoring it quietly instead. He’d missed her desperately out there today. There was the feeling that he was more vulnerable without her at his back, or side as it were. Yes, whatever else, he knew this woman.
“Tomorrow?” she asked after a minute.
“South. Unless we’re in some giant terrarium there has to be someone else out there. Since we don’t have a plow or seeds, I want to find them before the food runs out.
She said nothing, leaning against him.
Shortly the breeze died down and the bugs began making their presence known. They took turns in the outhouse then slipped back inside.
She watched him get ready for bed. “Ren, maybe I could go with you tomorrow.”
He was already shaking his head before he looked up. “Not yet. I move faster and get back here quicker this way. If I still don’t find anything, we’ll see day after tomorrow. You don’t need to be back on a ration of power bars yet.”
“You’re right.” She let him help her with removing her t-shirt but when he handed her his, she merely brought it to her face, then draped it over the chair. She was still wearing her plain cotton bra.
“What are you . . . “
“I want to feel you around me tonight.”
He stared, speechless for a moment. “I want that too,” he finally said.
He could see the tension leave her shoulders and her eyes lightened. “Come on.” He led her to the bed and pulled the faded quilt back, holding her hand as she reclined. He turned off the lamp then circled around to his side of the bed and sat on the edge.
“The jeans, Ren.”
“You don’t mind?”
“You’ll be more comfortable.”
“But will you?” he asked seriously.
He smiled then and lowered his jeans, then slipped into the bed beside her. She cuddled in beside him. When her hand came to rest on his chest he froze.
“You’re a very attractive woman, Red. You know I think we know each other; that we’re connected, but I’m not going to rush you.”
“You’re not rushing anything. We’re out here, alone. If you’re right, this is a normal thing with us. If you’re not . . . this isn’t real anyway.” He could hear the smile in her voice, that’s when he realized his hand was caressing her abdomen.