Autumn – Chapter 11 – 03

                The road stretched out in front of them, lit by the rising sun.  Cameron watched Neve as she packed up their mess kit while he kicked some more sand and dirt over their doused campfire.  Neve glanced up at him and smiled briefly.
                “What’s wrong?”
                He shook his head a little.  “A part of me still can’t believe you came with me.  You didn’t have to.”
                Neve straightened, her dark brows hooding her bright eyes.  “Cam—Cam, I wanted to.”
                “I guess a part of me can’t understand why you would,” he said quietly, taking the mess kit from her, knotting the cord so the pots and pans wouldn’t end up scattered everywhere when he tossed the bag across his horse’s rump, behind his saddle.  “He’s your family.  Sounded like he’s all you’ve got—him and your cousins, anyway.”
                “That’s true.”  They walked toward the horses, picketed in the grass downwind of their little camp.  “But that shouldn’t tie me down, should it?”  She stopped walking, brow furrowing more deeply.  “Didn’t you want me to come?”
                His mouth went dry and he stood frozen for a moment, meeting her confused, almost hurt gaze.  His heart tripped over itself as he reached for her hand.  “Of course I did.  I couldn’t stop thinking about you after we separated on the road weeks back.  I kept worrying about what would happen to you, whether or not you’d be safe and I—I missed you.  I missed talking to you.”  Her fingers were warm in his as he squeezed her hand.  “When you told me that you were coming with me when I left—when you stopped trying to talk me out of it—I was relieved.”
                “Just relieved?” she asked softly.
                He blushed.  “Maybe a little excited.  It’s a big adventure.  A big, stupidly dangerous adventure, but still an adventure.”  His heartbeat quickened as he leaned toward her, his lips brushing lightly against her cheekbone.  “I’m glad you came.  I’m glad you didn’t give me a choice.”
                She caught his chin in her free hand and turned his face to hers, kissing him hard.  For a second, Cameron couldn’t breathe, blood beginning to roar in his ears.  He dropped the mess kit and slid his arm around her, marveling at how neatly she fit against him.  Neve slid an arm around his waist, leaning against him, her body like a torch in the morning chill.
                Then it was over and she was stepping back, leaving him flushed and blinking, feeling almost as if his fever had returned.  Neve stooped and picked up the mess kit.
                “Tonight,” she murmured.  “When we’re camped again, that’s to be continued.”
                He laughed quietly.  “You’re on.”
                She grinned over her shoulder at him and strode toward the horses.  The mess kit got tied behind his saddle, muffled between his bedroll and the horse’s hindquarters.
                “How’s your arm?” she asked as she checked the saddle girths one last time.
                “A little stiff, but I think it’s all right.”  His lips quirked in a smile.  “Worried that I’m not going to be able to stay in the saddle?”
                “Maybe a little,” she said with a faint smirk as she tugged on her archer’s glove, reinforced over her thumb and her first three fingers, then began lacing on her bracer.  Her bow dangled from a hook on her saddle, next to a quiver of arrows that would hang against her knee once they mounted up.  “But if you stay you’re all right, I’m going to have to trust you.”
                “That’s right,” he said quietly, catching her hand and squeezing it gently.  “But I’m not lying.”  At least I hope I’m not.
                “I’ll be the judge of that,” she said, swinging into her saddle.  Cameron gathered her horse’s reins and handed them up to her.  She smiled faintly and nodded.
                “Maybe I should have let you mount first.”
                Cameron shook his head.  “It’s all right.  I grew up around these kind of brutes.”  He grinned and gathered his own mount’s reins, clambering into his own saddle.
                “You did?”
                He nodded, smiling.  “My uncle had horses,” he said, feeling a brief pang of sadness.  His uncle had died when he was a teenager.  His aunt had kept running the place, but he’d lost touch with her after his first deployment.  I wonder…
                “You okay?”
                “Yeah.  Just thinking.”  He shifted until he was comfortable in the saddle, then kicked his horse gently into motion.    “I used to spend almost my whole summers there when I was a kid.  Horses and airplanes.”
                Neve drew abreast of him and their horses trotted side-by-side along the old roadway.  “It’s not that strange, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
                “It wasn’t.”
                “Then what?”
                “Teague was saying something to you the other day,” he lied—half lied, really, since he’d been curious about it since he’d heard the edges of the conversation.  “Something about someone named Seamus.”
                Neve winced, her fingers tightening around the reins.  “I didn’t think you heard any of that.”
                Cameron edged his mount closer to hers, reaching for her knee.  “Who was he, Neve?”
                She sighed.  “Our brother.”

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