Senna left the farm house and followed Harry over to the barn.
“Please, it'd be my pleasure to give him to you. It's one less mouth to feed”, Harry said as he opened the barn door. “Do you have any experience with horses?”
Senna closed the barn door behind her. Then Harry led her to one of the boxes. “I have ridden before, yes”, she replied.
“Here we go. This is Typhoon. He's three years old and - contraire to his name - a real angel.” Harry wanted to open the box the dark horse stood in.
But Senna quickly asked: “What about this one?” She looked over to the golden head that appeared in the door of another box. The horse whinnied softly when it saw Senna. Then it nodded its head quickly up and down a few times.
“Akela?” Harry shook his head. “She is no horse for you. She's too wild and she'd be no use for you. Typhoon will carry you for hours without ever complaining.”
Senna looked at the dark horse that Harry was stroking amicably. Then she returned her gaze to the golden mare. Slowly she crossed the distance between her and the horse.
“Be careful, she'll bite you if you get too close”, Harry warned.
“You won't do that, will you, girl?” Senna smiled at Akela and lifted a hand to stroke over her nose. Akela snorted and banged her foot against the barn door as if to say that she wanted to get out.
“If you don't mind, I'll try her.” Senna looked back to Harry. He held a leather saddle and a harness in his hands, ready to enter Typhoon's box with it. Senna padded Akela's neck gently.
There was something about this horse that had touched her. Maybe it was her wild character. The fire burning in the brown eyes. Or the soft side coming out when Akela nuzzled her nose against her. They had connected the moment Senna had laid eyes on the horse the night before.
“She's not broken in yet. I've tried it, but she wouldn't even accept me coming close to her with a saddle”, Harry mentioned when Senna grabbed the saddle and harness out of his hands, then entered Akela's box without hesitation.
Akela snorted and started prancing in her box.
“Good girl...” Senna whispered before placing the saddle onto the horse's back. Slowly she closed the straps around Akela's middle.
Harry stood in the hallway. From a safe distance he watched Senna and Akela with a worried gaze. “You should be...” He wasn't able to say anymore, when Senna swung herself onto Akela's back in one swift motion. Akela whinnied and then lifted up onto her hind legs.
“Yeeehaaaa!” Senna kicked Akela's sides and with a jump, the horse shot forward, out of her box and out of the barn.
Senna felt the cold morning air hit her right in the face, when she and Akela exited the barn. The soft wind tickled her face and it sent an excited shiver down her spine. Her whole body seemed to come to new life, the blood pulsing through her veins the faster Akela carried her.
This was it! A feeling of freedom and contempt overtook Senna. She laughed and pushed Akela to run faster. They flew over the courtyard, then out onto the fields - the endless horizon their only border. Akela whinnied and then sped up even more.
“Yeah, that's it girl!” Senna grabbed Akela's mane, ducking down as deeply as she could against the horse. Soon Akela started breathing heavily. Sweat covered her fur, her muscles pushing her on and on. Senna laughed again and then sat up to pull on the reins. Akela came to an abrupt halt, her hooves sinking into the dry earth. As soon as they had stopped, Senna padded Akela's neck.
“So, I guess we agree you'll come with us?” Senna pulled on the reins and turned Akela around to return to the farm. With each slow step the mare did, the smile on Senna's lips grew wider.
As she rode back onto the courtyard, Jessie, Emma and Sarah just stepped out of the farm house.
Jessie shielded her eyes with one hand as she watched Senna come closer. ‘ What is she up to now? ' she thought and lifted both eyebrows skeptically at the sight of her friend and the horse.
Senna stopped right beside her. “Morning”, she mumbled. “We have a new traveling companion.”
“A horse?” Jessie took a step back. Her eyes danced over Akela.
“Don't you like horses?” Senna chuckled when she saw the doubt in her companion's eyes.
“Uhm, well... it's not that I don't like them. It's just... I've never ridden one. Besides on the fairs when I was a child. But that was years ago.” Jessie looked at Senna only for a split second. Then her eyes returned to Akela.
Senna slipped off the mare, grabbed her reins and then walked around her to look at Jessie. “Akela, meet Jessie. Jessie meet Akela.”
“Akela? Isn't that the name of the alpha wolf in ‘ The jungle book '?” Jessie asked.
“Yes”, Emma joined in. She smiled at Sarah, gently squeezing the small hand in hers. “Sarah loves ‘ The jungle book '. That's why we gave Akela that name.”
“She's very special”, Senna said as her eyes took in the mare. Akela had stolen her heart right away. As if they simply had to meet and had to be together. ‘ It's a bit like with Jessie and me' , Senna thought as her fingers slid through the white mane.
Akela used the moment to nod her head up and down. Then she stretched her head to smell on Jessie.
Jessie froze immediately. Her eyes widened. But Akela leaned forward even more, her nose nuzzling Jessie's head, then catching a strand of her golden hair with soft lips.
“I think she likes you”, Senna laughed.
“Yeah, right.” Jessie made a gurgling sound in her throat and lifted a hand to gently, but firmly push Akela's head away. “Good horsy”, she mumbled with a stressed grin on her lips.
“I can't believe she let you ride her!” Harry stepped up to Senna and Jessie. He shook his head in disbelieve. “She's never let anybody touch her. I'd given up on her.”
Harry walked over to his Emma and Sarah and then placed an arm around his wife's shoulder.
Senna simply smiled and stroked over Akela's nose.
“Are you sure that you want to leave already?” Emma searched first Jessie's eyes, then Senna's. A hint of sorrow showed on her features.
“Yes, we should be on our way”, Senna replied and let go off Akela's reins. Then she took the sleeping bags that Emma had given them earlier this morning out of Jessie's hands to tie them to the saddle.
“We still have a long way ahead of us”, Jessie said and turned around.
“There are two saddle bags in the kitchen. I put some food, water and some other stuff you might need in them. They are old, but will do until you find something better, I think.” Emma pointed over her shoulder to the house.
“You didn't need to do that”, Jessie said in a hurry. The regret about taking so much stuff from this family was more than evident on her face.
“You've saved our lives. If you hadn't come... I don't even want to know what those men would have done to us.”
When Emma's voice broke, Harry squeezed her shoulder gently. “Please remember, you're welcome here whenever you need a place to rest”, he said.
“Thank you so much!” Jessie opened her arms, while Senna went into the house to get the saddlebags and their own luggage.
When she returned a minute later, she found Jessie in a tight hug with Sarah.
“She'll miss you”, Emma laughed and ruffled Sarah's hair. “Since her mother and father died in a car crash one year ago, she barely spoke a word. But I know she likes the two of you very much.” She hadn't even finished her sentence, when Sarah dashed forward and threw herself at Senna, who was standing by Akela, tying their belongings to the saddle.
Senna turned around and lifted her arms as her eyes lowered to the girl, now clasping her small arms around her as tightly as she was able to.
Jessie couldn't help it. A giggle escaped her before she was able to close her mouth when she saw the helpless look on Senna's face. “I think you're right right about that”, she laughed and when blue eyes lifted to her in question, she whispered a “go on”.
Senna tentatively lowered her arms and placed her hands on Sarah's back to hold her to herself. A strange kind of warmth touched her heart. Something she had not felt in years. ‘ Or ever… ' she thought bitterly to herself.
Maybe it was simply the fact that she wasn't used to so much affection. Especially not from a child. In the last years, had it not been only fear and hate she'd inflicted in people? And now this? Senna gazed over to Jessie. The green eyes regarded her with open amusement. Then, when they met hers, they turned soft. Senna quickly looked away as her heart skipped a beat.
“Kids always see directly into ones heart. They never fail to recognize a good soul”, Emma said thoughtfully.
With the words hanging lose in the air between them Senna felt a pang of guilt hit her heart. A good soul? Of all the things she had been called, ‘ a good soul ' was the least. “Okay, we better get going.” Senna gently pushed Sarah towards her grandmother. Then she took Harry's offered hand to shake it. “Thank you.”
“Have a safe journey”, Emma said, after Senna had shaken her hand as well and then moved around Akela to jump onto her back.
“Will do”, Jessie replied. When Senna offered her a hand to climb onto Akela's back, she grimaced. “Nah, I think, if you don't mind, I'll walk for now.”
“Are you sure?” Senna lifted one eyebrow at her. “We'd be much faster if you joined me up here.”
But Jessie simply nodded and started walking. “Very sure”, she mumbled and turned around to wave to their new friends with Senna and Akela following her right behind.
“So, tell me again, why didn't we take that motorbike left by the men?” Jessie was walking beside Senna and Akela, her hands clasped around the shoulder strap of her messenger bag.
They had walked for hours it seemed over sheer endless field paths. The one they travelled on at the moment led right beside a federal road. But there were no cars or any other vehicles coming. A strange silence lay over the normally busy area.
“Because”, Senna's hands rested on the saddle knob. She looked out over the fields to see if there was any danger coming towards them. Then she turned her gaze towards Jessie. “...there wasn't much fuel left in it. And besides, how were we supposed to take Akela with us if we had chosen the motorbike?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Jessie stole a glance at the mare. “The horse…”
“Are you sure you're fine down there?” Senna watched Jessie stroll beside her. There hadn't been any complaints from her young companion. She didn't even seem to care about any pain in her feet anymore.
“Yes, yes. I feel peachy.” Jessie smiled at Senna quickly. Then she gazed at Akela with worry.
“She won't bite you.” Senna laughed and padded Akela's neck. Her eyes returned to scanning the horizon.
“Just because she likes YOU, doesn't mean, she likes ME as well”, Jessie pointed out flatly.
Senna chuckled. “What is there not to like about you?”
The second Jessie heard those softly spoken words, her heart did a flip. Out of the corner of her eyes, she caught Senna looking at her. But as she turned her head upwards, the blue eyes quickly danced away from her again. Senna's lips twitched, but she didn't say anymore.
Jessie had to fight the smile that was forcing itself onto her lips. She had very quickly learned that the tall, dark woman was rather pulled back if it came to talking about feelings. The more important this little statement felt to her. But one look at Senna's face and Jessie immediately saw that her companion had not wanted to speak out loud. Feeling the tension in Senna's body, Jessie dropped her eyes to Akela again. “Well, maybe tonight I'll try feeding her one of the apples we found earlier.”
As if in an answer, Akela snorted and then nodded her head.
“I think she'd like that.” Senna looked back to Jessie and when their eyes met, she smiled. Then her gaze returned to the horizon.
“And who knows, maybe in a few days, Akela and me, we could possibly-” Jessie started lighthearted. She was stopped in the middle of her sentence, when Senna pulled the reins and brought Akela to a quick halt.
“Shhh...” Senna lifted a hand in warning. Her gaze was transfixed to something far away to their left side.
“What is it?” Jessie lifted onto her toes. Since she had been walking on the right side, she was not able to make out anything.
“I'm not sure. A person.” Senna sat up straight in the saddle, squeezing her eyes.
“A person? Alone?” Jessie's blood froze immediately. Everyone they had met until now had not been the friendliest. If you left out Harry, Emma and Sarah. But they had been a special case. Deeply in thought, Jessie reached for Akela's reins to move around the horse. But before she was able to set a step forward, Senna held out a hand to her. “Get on.”
“What?” Jessie's eyes widened and she looked at Senna's outstretched hand with worry. “Now wait… I said tonight I could…”
“I said, get on.” Senna's eyes had still been lying on the horizon. But now she turned her head and looked directly at Jessie. The blue eyes, darkened with seriousness, made Jessi move before she was able to realize what she was doing. She grabbed Senna's hand and let herself be hauled onto Akela.
“Hold on tightly”, Senna ordered.
Jessie quickly slid her arms around Senna's waist, feeling the muscles under her hands ripple with the first contact.
“Yehaaaa!” Senna didn't wait a second longer. She kicked Akela into the sides. Akela snorted and then started dashing forward.
Jessie quickly folded her hands over Senna's stomach. She hadn't been any closer to the taller woman than this, yet. And normally her fear to be sat on Akela would have sent her heart over the edge - but instead everything inside of her calmed down immediately. As if riding Akela behind Senna was the most normal thing to do. As if feeling Senna so close to her, was how it was simply supposed to be. Nothing was going to harm her.
They sped across the field, cutting the turns in the road to move faster towards the person, now collapsed to the ground. Lumps of earth flew past them from Akela's hooves, digging hard into the hard ground.
Jessie spied over Senna's shoulder. She could see the person lying on the ground, not moving anymore.
Senna pulled Akela to a halt right beside the half unconscious body. A soft moan drifted up to them. Quickly Senna held out her hand to Jessie and after Jessie had slipped off Akela, she followed her.
“What's wrong with them?” Jessie walked around Akela, her gaze fixed to the person on the ground. Tentatively she stepped closer.
Senna quickly kneeled down. “Hey… are you alright?”
There was another moan as the person rolled around onto their back.
“It's a...” Jessie gasped when her eyes fell onto the uniform the guy now lying by her feet, was wearing.
“...cop.” Senna finished the sentence for her. She slowly rose again. Her body immediately tensed. These were the kind of people she really wasn't in the mood to deal with. They meant trouble. A lot of trouble. It had always been like that.
‘ But times have changed. YOU have changed ', the voice inside of her reminded her. Senna fought against the urge to turn around and simply leave the man to his fate. Instead she looked down at him suspiciously.
“He's hurt.” Jessie pointed out and stepped up beside Senna, one of her hands landing on her friend's arm.
“Yeah”, Senna's eyes flew over the man's body. “But I don't think it's too bad.”
The man, as if on cue, came back to his senses. When his eyes opened and he realized two strangers were bent over him, he quickly rolled away from them, stumbled to his feet and then reached for the gun by his hip. But the holster was empty.
Senna lifted an eyebrow at the man while Jessie stepped a bit back instinctively.
“Who are you? Stay were you are! I swear... I'll....” The cop quickly looked to his hip and when he saw the empty holster he instead reached for the other side of his belt. His fingers searched for something, while he stumbled backwards.
“Lost something?” Senna grinned when she saw the horror on the man's face.
“Stay right there!” The cop lifted a hand and pointed his finger at Senna in sheer horror. His eyes jumped from Senna to Jessie and back.
“Or else?” Senna folded her arms and pulled her shoulders back. In a way it delighted her to see this cop so full of fear.
Jessie watched the confusion in the man's face turn into panic. It was obvious Senna's dark appearance scared him to his bones. That's why she quickly stepped around Senna and held out one hand to the cop. “Hello! I'm Jessica, this is my friend Senna.”
The cop looked at Jessie's outstretched hand, but stepped further back anyway.
“Careful!” Jessie warned when she saw the huge rock behind the man. But it was already too late. With the next step his heels hit hard against the obstacle and he fell backwards landing right on his butt. He yelped in pain.
Senna grimaced, but couldn't help from grinning. Only when green eyes meaningfully lifted to her, she shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and turned serious again.
“Did you hurt yourself?” Jessie asked after rolling her eyes at her companion.
“What? No!” The cop wanted to move further back when Jessie kneeled down beside him. But as soon as her hand touched his shoulder, he froze.
“Don't worry. We mean you no harm”, Jessie said and squeezed the man's shoulder. “We want to help you.” She looked up to Senna for affirmation. “Right, Senna?”
With a lifted eyebrow, Senna nodded slowly. “Yeah, help you”, she mumbled and then closed her mouth tightly. Times had changed. And cops were probably no threat anymore. Especially not that one now lying by her feet.
“Where are you hurt?” Jessie quickly pulled her messenger bag around her upper body. Then she pulled out a small bottle of water and opened it.
The cop immediately relaxed when Jessie lifted the bottle to his face, stabilized his head with a gentle hand in his neck and then helped him drink a few sips.
“I don't know”, the man replied after Jessie had pulled the bottle back again. He thanked her with a bright smile. Jessie answered with a smile of her own while placing the bottle back into her bag.
“What has happened?” Senna had observed the small interplay and her heart stopped beating when she saw the gestures. A sense of danger crawled up her spine. ‘ Why do you care who she smiles at? ' the dark voice in the back of her head asked. ‘ There's nothing wrong if Jessie likes that guy so much… he looks pretty handsome .' Senna bit her lower lip, regarding the cop with emotionless eyes. With all her strength she forced her thoughts back into the deepest corner of her mind and then dropped her arms. There were more important things to worry about.
“We were ambushed”, the cop said. He swallowed and then whipped his mouth with one hand.
“Ambushed? Where? And who is WE?” Senna asked. Maybe her senses had been right. This guy only meant trouble.
Jessie meanwhile pulled out a handkerchief and carefully wiped it over the cop's temples. In between the dust and dirt of the road, there were dark bruises and scratches all over his face.
He winced when Jessie's finger touched the largest bruise on his eyebrow. “Sorry”, Jessie said with a lopsided grin. But the cop simply smiled again.
“Who is 'we' and where did this happen?” Senna asked impatiently, stepping up closer to the man on the floor.
His brown eyes turned away from Jessie to meet Senna's. “Half a mile or so further down the road. There is a fuel station in that valley behind the hill. My partner and I, we had stopped there to put fuel into our car.”
“You were on duty?” Jessie asked, the surprise about a cop still working these days obvious in her voice.
In the city she had not seen one single cop. Only dozens of gutted police cars had lined the streets. There was no doubt that the cops had fled themselves, not caring about the chaos around them anymore.
“We were... on our way back to the city.” The cop lowered his gaze. Suddenly it looked like he was feeling too ashamed to tell Senna and Jessie more.
“Where is your partner?” Senna lifted her eyes to search over the horizon.
“She's still…” Now the embarrassment became unmistakable.
Jessie pulled her hand away from the man's face and searched his eyes. But he refused to look at her.
“She's where?” Jessie asked, already fearing the answer.
There was nothing coming from the cop. Instead, he stumbled to his feet. When he had caught himself, her stammered: “I've to go.” He turned around to walk away.
“She's still at that station”, Senna said. Her eyes met Jessie's who was looking at her in disbelief. “He's abandoned her.”
The man didn't turn around, but instead quickly sped up, obviously trying to ignore the two women behind him.
“And where do you think you're going?” Senna moved forward. With only two long strides she had caught up to the cop. She grabbed his collar and stopped him.
“I have to... she... get help... need to go... home…” the man stuttered.
Senna pulled him around, then grabbed his collar at the front and lifted him up until he was standing on his toes. His eyes danced everywhere but onto Senna.
“Is she still alive?” Jessie walked up to Senna and looked into the man's fearful face. He gurgled helplessly as the grip Senna had on his collar cut off any air to his head. When he started turning red, Senna dropped him and he fell back onto his butt. He coughed wildly.
“She's asked you something.” Senna towered over the cop.
He lifted his gaze to her and rubbed his throat. Then he simply nodded.
“So, you left your partner alone at the station and saved your own sorry ass?” Senna wanted to reach down and grab the man again. But a small hand on her lower arm stopped her. She turned her head and looked at Jessie.
Jessie smiled at Senna softly and shook her head no. “No, please don't hurt him.”
Senna rolled her eyes and then pulled back her hand. It was ridicules what kind of power Jessie had over her. Oh, how much she would have loved to beat this man all the way right back to the station! But the gentle touch on her arm and those green eyes regarding her had made it impossible.
“Where is that station exactly?” Jessie asked, turning her attention back to the cop.
By now he had found his voice again. He pointed into the direction he had come from. “Just down this hill. You can see it from the top already. But they are everywhere.”
“Who are 'they' ?” Senna asked as she stepped over him and gazed into the direction he had pointed to.
“I don't know. Some kind of gang or something. Truckers, I think”, the cop replied. Then he pondered his own words for a moment, before he nodded his head. “Yeah, come to think of it, there were some trucks parked on a lot just beside the station.”
Senna turned around and without a warning she grasped the back of the man's neck by the collar again. She lifted him onto his feet, turned him around and then pushed him into the direction the station was in. “Show me.”
“Oh no... no, no no no.” The cop spun around and lifted his hands. He waved them wildly in front of himself. Pure terror clouded his face.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes.” Senna nodded slowly. An evil grin played around her lips. She started walking towards the cop, her eyes showing the threat without any further words needed.
Jessie quickly snatched her bag off the ground and then reached for Akela's reins. The horse snorted in protest but followed Jessie anyway.
Jessie watched as Senna pushed against the cop's chest with two hands, forcing him to walk on. He wailed and shook his head over and over. “Please, don't make me go there again. I... can't. I have a wife and a little boy at home. They are waiting for me”, he stammered. The next push nearly knocked him over. But he caught himself in the last second and turned around to look where Senna was forcing him to go.”What about her? Doesn't she have a family?” Jessie leaned to the side to look past Senna. She could only imagine the fear of the cop's partner. Left alone, with a bunch of truckers. Maybe beat up - or worse. She had felt this fear. But Senna had been there to protect her. This cop though had simply left his partner behind.
“She's not married. No children”, the cop explained, giving in to his fate but only walking when Senna kept pushing him on.
“She must have a family who fears for her. Parents, maybe siblings… and friends”, Jessie pointed out. She simply couldn't understand how this guy had left his partner in the hands of those guys.
“She's got a younger sister”, the cop replied over his shoulder.
Senna gazed back to Jessie and when their eyes met, Senna smiled softly. She could see a dark shadow cross her friend's face. Senna quickly looked back ahead when her heart cramped as if asking her to turn around to Jessie and place a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. It was obvious how much Jessie missed her own family.
A grim look on her face, Senna pushed the cop on.
“What's your name?” Jessie asked after a moment.
“Steve”, the cop replied with a quick glance over his shoulders. When blue eyes lowered on him, he looked ahead again.
“And her name?”
“Move it.” Senna wanted to push Steve on, but he stopped abruptly and turned around to look at Jessie and her. Her hands collided with his chest though and he took a wobbly step back, but didn't move on. Instead he shook his head and searched for Jessie's eyes. “I had no choice”, he said. Regret let his voice tremble.
“There's always a choice”, Senna replied coldly and lifted her hands to push him on. But his words stopped her.
“Linda and me, we have been working together for years. She is my partner and we've been in many bad and dangerous situations. Never have we left each other's side. We could always depend on each other.” Steve's eyes danced from Jessie to Senna and back.
“Well, looks like there was one important time, she couldn't”, Senna replied matter of fact.
“She told me to go”, Steve defended himself.
Senna laid her head to the side and regarded Steve thoughtfully. If there was one thing she had never done, it was abandon the people who had been with her. Who had trusted her as their leader.
“She knew we wouldn't both be able to escape. So she drew their attention away from me and gave me a chance to escape.” Steve lowered his eyes to the ground. “I wouldn't have left her behind if there had been another way. But there wasn't.”
“And that's way you simply took off, not even thinking about what they were going to do to her.” Senna crossed her arms over her chest. Her eyes caught Steve's not giving him a chance to look away.
Jessie stepped up beside Senna, one hand on her hip, the other one cramping around Akela's reins. Even though she wasn't touching Senna, she could feel how tense every muscle in her companion's body was.
“I'm a coward”, Steve offered silently. Now he looked away.
Senna's eyes moved over to Jessie. They looked at each other for a moment, before Jessie turned back to Steve. “We can still safe her. Show us.”
Steve regarded Senna and her for a moment. Then he shook his head no. “There are too many of them. And you are just two girls.”
“Never say never”, Senna said, stepping forward. “Besides, I have many...”
“... talents”, Jessie finished with a playful grin on her lips. When Senna smirked at her, she had to giggle in return.
“Show us where that station is.” Senna walked past Steve without waiting for him to react to her. But Jessie nodded at him to go on. He quickly lowered his head, and then turned around to catch up with Senna. “It's just over there.”
“There's a fuel truck” Senna pointed to a large truck parked on a lot a few yards away from the station's main building.
“Yes, it arrived soon after they had caught us. I think they high-jacked it somewhere near a city. But they were well pissed off when they realized it was almost empty. There must be only a few drops of fuel left in it.” Steve kneeled in between Jessie and Senna atop the hill, watching what was going on at the fuel station.
There were two men standing guard at the door, baseball bats in their hands.
“How many are in there?” Senna asked.
“About ten or so. And Linda of course. They held us in a backroom. I slipped out the window at the back of the house.” Steve pointed into the direction he was talking about.
“Ten?” Jessie lifted her eyebrows and looked at Senna in question.
“That's better than eleven.” Senna commented with a smirk.
“Ten armed men. Some of them have guns”, Steve added carefully.
“Better than eleven armed ones.” Senna grinned and then crawled backwards over the hill. She only rose when she was sure the men at the station wouldn't be able to see her.
Jessie and Steve followed her.
“Well, I think this will be a walk in the park then”, Senna said and went over to Akela, who was waiting on a field for them, picking grass off the ground.
“What's your plan?” Jessie stepped up to Senna and searched her eyes. Her blood already pulsed through her veins heavily. The adrenaline in it mixed with a good dose of fear. Fear not for herself, but for Senna. Whatever her tall companion was up to, it was going to be dangerous. It meant Senna endangering herself . Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
Senna opened one of the saddle bags and pulled out a t-shirt Emma had given Jessie earlier that day. Then she looked at Jessie. “I need your help with this.”
“Of course.” Jessie nodded. ‘ Hasn't Senna had proven to you in the last few days that she's not like any other person? ' a tiny voice in Jessie's mind asked. And it was right - Senna was special. In so many ways and if there was someone being able to rescue Linda, then it was her.
Jessie smiled encouragingly at Senna when blue eyes studied her.
“Have an eye on Steve and Akela. It could get a bit noisy and I don't want them to ruin it.”
Jessie lifted her eyebrows. “You don't want me to come with you? I could help you down there.”
Senna shook her head. With a serious gaze, she searched Jessie's eyes. “Promise me, you won't follow.”
“But I...” Jessie felt her throat tighten. She wanted to be with Senna in this. Help her and be at her side when all hell broke loose down there. Not wait at the back like an annoying child. “I could...”
“Jessie...” Senna placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it softly. “I need you to promise me, that you won't follow.”
“But... what if you get hurt. What if you need my help?” Jessie felt herself sinking deeper and deeper into the blue stars shining at her. Her heart did a flip and then started hammering even wilder in her chest. “Please...” she whispered the fear for Senna making it impossible for her to speak any louder.
“Don't worry. I'll be fine, Jessie.” Senna smiled. Then she moved her hand and placed it onto Jessie's cheek, her thumb brushing over the soft skin. “It'll be alright.”
Jessie nodded slowly. The knot in her stomach untied slowly as she gazed into Senna's self-assured eyes. “Just promise me to be careful.” Jessie lifted a hand and placed it onto Senna's that was still lying on her cheek.
“I promise. I'll be back in a short while.” Senna smiled warmly and then pulled her hand away from Jessie's face. “Now you.”
Jessie had to stifle a giggle at the serious gaze Senna gave her. “Yes, I promise I'll wait here for you to come back. I won't follow.”
“Alright”, Senna nodded at Jessie. Then she turned around and slowly walked over to the hill top. After a long gaze down, she crouched and made her way downhill, careful to stay as low as possible and out of the sight of the two guards by the door.
Jessie and Steve lay down at the hilltop, watching Senna get closer to the station.
When Senna had reached the outline of the fuel station, she hurried to the lots where the trucks were parked. There, she made her way over to other side of the fuel truck. The guards by the door were chatting with each other, this way missing her crossing behind them.
Senna smiled contently and then slid along the truck to its fuel tank. She opened it, careful not to make any more noise than need be. Once the lid had come off, she pushed one end of the t-shirt into the tank and then pulled out her lighter. It took her a few tries before the bottom of the t-shirt caught fire, slowly burning further and further towards the tank.
Next, Senna hurried past the truck and over to the sidewall of the main building. She had only a few seconds before the truck was going to blow up. And if she didn't make it out before then… Senna's eyes flew back to the hill she had come down from.
If she didn't make it out of here in time, she was never going to see Jessie again. She'd never be able to look into those green eyes again. She'd never find out what it was that was connecting them so deeply.
Senna closed her eyes and took a deep breath. This was not good. She had to concentrate on her task at hand and not think of her young companion or ponder why the blonde stirred such feelings inside of her. Wherever those thoughts came from, they needed to return to that place - right now and then.
Senna sighed and then made her way along the building to the back. When she came past a window at the side of the building, she spied inside. There was a group of men in there, chatting with each other, bottles of diverse alcoholic drinks thrown all over the place. She could hear laughter when the men cheered at each other. Senna ducked back down, then slid further around the house to the back window. It was barred with wooden blanks - obviously because of Steve fleeing from there.
“Damn it!” Senna looked around. She was still alone. No one had heard or seen her. But time was running out.
Quickly she pulled out her knife and pushed it between the wall and the blanks. With some effort, they loosened and she placed them on the floor quietly.
Senna gazed into the room. There was a person sitting on a chair, their arms tied at her back, facing away from her. Their head hanging low indicated the person was either: sleeping, unconscious or already dead.
Senna let her eyes fly over the window frame. When she had found the position she needed she used her knife to pry open the window.
“Hello? Linda?” Senna pulled herself into the room. She landed on her feet silently. But the woman on the chair didn't move.
“Linda? Can you hear me?” Senna walked around her and then lifted Linda's head with a gentle hand. With the other hand she brushed the golden locks out of her face.
Linda didn't react. Her face looked even worse than Steve's. Obvious signs of being beating up had swollen her eyes closed. The area around her lips had turned reddish-blue in color.
Senna grimaced and then slipped around Linda, using her knife to cut the ropes. Linda's lifeless body sank forward immediately and then fell off the chair.
That was the moment when the door suddenly opened and a huge, drunken man stepped into the room. The moment he saw Senna reaching down for Linda to pick her up, his anger filled voice filled the room: “Hey, what's going on here? Who are you?”
Senna grinned at him and before rising to kick him in his groin, she coldly said: “You worst nightmare.”
As her foot collided with his middle, he was thrown back into the main room of the fuel station. He landed in a post card display with a yelp. The sudden noise ripped his comrades out of their private party. They jumped to their feet, yelling in surprise. Then they came rushing towards the backroom.
Senna quickly spun around, grabbed Linda, slid her lifeless arm around her shoulder and lifted her off the ground. Then she started to drag her towards the window.
“Hey! Stop!” The first man to arrive in the room pulled out a gun and pointed it at Senna. “Don't you dare move one more step.”
Senna turned around and as she saw the weapon being pointed at her, she lifted one brow. She didn't move a muscle. Her heart though stopped beating as if waiting for the pain of the bullet hitting her in the chest.
“Drop her!” The man ordered. He pointed with the gun for Senna to let go of Linda as his friends stopped behind him. They watched Senna with wide eyes.
Just when Senna wanted to open her mouth, an enormous explosion shook the ground they stood on and with it, she lost her balance. She fell to the ground with Linda still pressed up against her tightly. Glass was breaking, raining over her back. Then in the same second that she fell – another bang. And the sharp pain of something scratching past her arm. She groaned and fought to get back onto her feet. For a moment there was an eerie silence, when the men scrambled back to their feet. “Fire! Get out and away from here”, one of them, the man furthest back in the main room, screamed, looking over to the fuel truck. There were burning parts of it lying everywhere, the flames getting dangerously close to the gas pumps. “Everything will explode!” he yelled and started running towards the exit.
Senna quickly used the confusion to pull Linda closer to herself, climb out of the window and then drag her lifeless cargo with her. She was only a few yards away from the building, when another blast let the air tremble. The wave of it threw her and Linda forward without control. Senna landed flat on her stomach, her hurt arm bending painfully. She yelped in pain. Quickly she rolled around, covered Linda's body with her own and then folded her hands over her own head.
The air was shaking from the second explosion. A dark cloud rose into the sky where once the fuel station had been. Pieces of debris rain from the sky and landed all around her, hitting her hard on the back.
“Senna!” Jessie watched in horror how the second explosion at the fuel station dipped everything into a dark cloud - then the flames reaching into the sky where once the main building had been. “Oh my god!”
Everything inside of her suddenly fell silent. Pictures of Senna's dead body lying somewhere beneath the ruffle made it hard for her to breath.
“What was that?” Steve had ducked down. But now he rose onto shaking legs. “They are dead! They are all dead!” he screamed, then turned around and hurried over the field and away from Jessie.
“No, they're not!” There was a voice inside of Jessie yelling at her to run down there and search for Senna. But she had promised her tall friend to stay and take care of Steve. No matter what was going to happen. The blue eyes of her companion suddenly appeared in front of Jessie's inner self, reminding her of the promise she had made. “God, damn it!” Jessie cursed to herself. Then she spun around and rushed after Steve. She grabbed one of his arms and stopped him abruptly. “Why are you running again?”
“There is nothing left for us to do” he replied, then pulled his arm free. “They're dead!”
“And so you simply give up hope? Even though they could still be down there, needing our help?” Jessie's heart beat wildly in her chest. There barely was anything else she was able to think of than how to get to Senna and help her. But she needed to get through to Steve. She had promised Senna to take care of him!
“They're dead!” Steve screamed.
“No, they are not!” Jessie didn't know where she was taking this believe from. The station had been nothing more but a field of destruction. There sure wasn't one living being down there anymore. But something inside of her, deep down in her heart, told her that Senna was still alive. She was sure of it!
“How'd you know? Haven't you seen the explosions?” Steve stopped and pointed to the dark cloud of smoke still rising behind the hill.
“I just KNOW it.” Jessie dropped her hands and shrugged her shoulders. She had no explanation as to why she was so sure that Senna was still somewhere down there - alive and not dead. It was a feeling deep down in her soul and at the moment she had no choice but to trust in that. “And even if they are dead…” Jessie felt her throat tightening at the pure possibility of it. She swallowed hard and then continued: “And even if they're not alive anymore, I won't be a coward like you and leave them behind. I will go down there and find them. Even though I'm just a little girl!” Jessie turned around. She could hear Steve catch his breath. “If it is true, what you're saying, there should be no one alive down there anyway. So there is no danger for me. But you, of course, aren't man enough to even think about searching for your partner.”
Jessie looked over her shoulder. Slowly she walked towards the hill top. Steve's eyes lay on her back. He was obviously thinking about something. Then he shook his head and started walking towards her. “Wait, I'll come.”
Jessie smiled to herself. Then she sped up. She needed to get to Senna quickly.
That was the moment that Senna appeared limping towards them. She held Linda at her side.
“Senna!” Jessie exclaimed. Her heart did a huge flip. As fast as her feet carried her, she hurried to her companion's side. In the last second her hands caught Senna's hard fall to the ground. “Oh god…are you alright? Dear god, Senna…”
There was dirt all over Senna and blood was still pouring down her left arm from an ugly wound on her shoulder.
“Senna... Are you alright?” Jessie lifted Senna's face gently with shaking fingers. Her own heart cramped when she saw the state her friend was in.
“I'm fine. I'm fine. Check on her”, Senna breathed heavily. She forced a smile onto her lips when she saw Jessie's worried gaze. Slowly she let go of Linda and the unconscious woman immediately rolled off her and onto the ground.
By now Steve had caught up to them. He hurried to Senna's side and pulled Linda to himself. Then he nestled her head onto his lap and asked: “Is she dead?”
Senna sat up on her knees. With a groan she pulled her injured arm to herself. “No, she's not dead. She's simply unconscious.”
As if that was her cue, Linda moaned, her eyes moving even though closed tightly.
Jessie laughed softly at the nerved look on Senna's face. Then she reached out to place warm hands on Senna's shoulders. Her eyes flew over Senna's body. “Are you injured?”
Senna shook her head no quickly. “It's just my arm. I think one of the guys shot me.”
“Shot you?” Panic filled Jessie's voice as she let her fingers fly over the wound on Senna's arm, barely touching the hurt flesh.
“It's just a scratch.” Senna grabbed Jessie's inquiring hand and squeezed it. “Don't worry.”
“That's easy for you to say. I thought the worse when I heard and saw those explosions.” Jessie reached for her bag and pulled out a piece of cloth. She ripped it into half and then started wrapping the wound on Senna's arm. It really looked like just a small flesh wound - nothing too big to worry about. But still everything inside of Jessie ached when she saw her friend in pain.
“Well, my plan had been to return here before everything blew up.” Senna grinned sheepishly.
“What happened?” Jessie finished the bandage and then leaned back to search for more wounds on her companion. But it looked like Senna only suffered small scratches and some minor bruises.
“They came into the backroom before I was able to leave undetected.” With Jessie's help Senna got up. She moved her arm to try out its mobility.
Jessie placed the rest of the self-made bandage back into her bag and got up as well.
“Where's Akela?” Senna turned around herself to search for her horse. But the mare was nowhere to be seen.
Avoiding Senna's eyes, Jessie lowered her gaze embarrassed. “She took off when the truck exploded. Look, I will...” Jessie quickly lifted her hands to stop any words Senna would haul at her.
But Senna gazed at her thoughtfully for a second before pushing two fingers into her mouth and then whistling loudly.
Jessie flinched at the sudden sound. “What...”
“It's worth a try.” Senna shrugged her shoulders. Then a smile broke over her face, while her eyes followed a movement on the horizon.
Jessie turned around. She gasped when she saw the golden mare gallop towards them. “How did you...?” Jessie pointed from Akela to Senna and back.
“Just a feeling.” When Akela stopped beside them, snorting and nodding her head, Senna took her reins and then padded her neck. “That's my girl”, she murmured softly.
“That's crazy”, Jessie said puzzled. From the moment she had seen Senna ride back onto the farm on Akela this morning, she had had the feeling that the taller woman and the horse had a special kind of connection. But she had not been aware it was that deep.
“Excuse me.” Steve's voice broke into the silence between them. “What do we do now? We need to get Linda away from here.”
Jessie looked over to Steve and his unconscious partner. He was right about that. Linda needed help and a shelter to recover from her wounds.
“We have to take her somewhere safe.” Senna gazed around, as if trying to figure out where that 'safe place' could be.
“About one hour from here is a small village. We came through it on our way back to the city. It's only a few houses and we didn't really see anybody there. But maybe we could find shelter somewhere in the village.” Steve pointed into the direction where he and Linda had come from.
“Fine with me.” Senna walked over to Steve and then reached down to pull Linda up. The unconscious woman moaned in protest and nodded her head from one side to the other.
“I think she'll wake up soon.” Senna dragged Linda over to Akela and with Steve's and Jessie's help she lifted her onto the saddle. Then she climbed onto the horse behind Linda and held her in place to keep her from falling off the horse. “Let's go then.”
“There's nobody here.” Jessie looked around the empty streets of the village. The only sound came from Akela's hooves on the asphalt. The soft clacking calmed Jessie's mind. Still, she could feel a strange tension inside of her. As if an inner voice told her to turn around and leave this place.
“Just because they aren't out here, doesn't mean there's nobody home”, Senna replied. She tightened the grip she had on Linda's body. By now the cop had started stirring, moaning her protest of being shaken from side to side with every step Akela took.
“There hadn't been any people out here when we passed through earlier”, Steve said. He looked around with wide eyes. Fear clouded his features.
“No need to worry. If they wanted to attack us, they would have done when we entered the village”, Jessie said and dropped a hand onto Steve's shoulder. She squeezed it softly. Then she looked up at Senna and said: “Right, Senna?”
“Uh-uh” was Senna's only reply. Quickly she pulled her eyes away from Jessie's hand on Steve's shoulder. ‘ Drop it! ' she scolded herself and pushed the strange tingle in her stomach back into the darkest corner of herself. ‘ Jessie's just being nice. And even if she likes him that way, who cares…. '
“Maybe they've left when they heard about the truckers at the station. Or the truckers have been here before we came through and they have….” Steve chewed his lower lip nervously, stopping his assumptions quickly.
“ Maybe we'll find out more over there”, Senna said her voice making clear she didn't like Steve's scared behavior one bit. She nodded towards a bigger building ahead of them. They had passed small village houses, only a few bigger ones and some shops, some of them burned down. But this building in front of them was much larger. When they came closer they were able to read the letters VILLAGE HALL above the front door.
“And you think there's somebody in there?” Steve asked as soon as Senna had brought Akela to a halt.
Senna slipped off the saddle and with Jessie's help she pulled Linda off the mare. Jessie and her each guided one of Linda's arms around their shoulders to hold her between them.
“We won't know until we go in and find out”, Senna pointed out. Slowly, with Linda half walking, half been dragged in between them, Jessie and Senna made their way up the few steps to the main door of the building. Steve followed close by.
“Would you mind?” Jessie nodded to the large entrance door. By now she was feeling more and more agitated by him. Wasn't he the cop and was supposed to be strong and fearless to protect people? Instead he seemed like a scared child, just following her and Senna without knowing what to do next.
Steve looked at Jessie puzzled for a moment. Then, when she nodded to the door again, he tentatively walked over, reached for the door knob and then pushed the door open. They entered the building together.
But the entrance hall was empty.
“There's no one here. Let's just go and find help somewhere else.” Steve was about to turn around, when Senna guided Linda and Jessie to the right, towards another large door.
“Here...” Senna said. She stopped in front of the door. Not waiting for Steve to find enough courage to come and help them, Senna reached for the door handle and pushed the door open.
And when the door bounced against the wall, a large number of eyes turned towards them. Some of the people in the room jumped up, lifting hay forks and bats, wooden blanks and other self -made weapons to defend themselves.
Senna and Jessie stopped in the doorway.
“Found them”, Jessie mumbled, while taking in the scared villagers.
“What do you want?” A man, who stood in front of the people, stepped forward. His expression darkened with mistrust.
“We need help”, Senna answered, before Jessie was able to say anything.
“We have no business with strangers. We have nothing for you and we don't share. Go away!” the man replied, even though he clearly had seen Linda's state.
“Come on, let's go.” Steve grabbed the back of Jessie's top and tried to pull her backwards.
But she ignored him and instead smiled at the people in the room. “We mean you no harm. But this woman needs help: a doctor or just a place to stay in.” Jessie looked to Linda, who moaned again, then lifted her head. But strength failed her and her head fell backwards. Then her legs gave in totally. Senna quickly strengthened her hold on Linda and pulled her a bit further up again.
“We have no room for strangers. Go find a different place to stay in somewhere else.” The man moved forward a bit and crossed his arms over his chest. Some of the other villagers, mostly those with weapons, agreed to his words loudly.
“We don't want to stay here and we won't use any of your supplies. We just want to find a place for her and her partner.” Jessie smiled at the village leader again. She needed to calm down the situation somehow. Without looking to the side, she knew that Senna was close to doing this ‘ her way' . And that wasn't going to look too good for the people in the room. But for now, Senna simply tensed without saying a word.
“She's a cop.” A woman, her face telling in deep wrinkles of the hard times in her life she'd already been through, stepped up to the village leader. She placed a hand on his arm.
As if they had only now seen the uniforms, the villagers started whispering between each other. Some of the men with weapons lowered them immediately. Others didn't move a single muscle.
“So?” the village leader asked. He only cast a quick glance at the woman now standing beside him. “As if the cops cared for us and what happened to us and the village. Have you seen any one of the force anywhere near by the last few weeks? Where they here when this gang came to our village?”
“Come on, Brian. We can't just leave her to her fate like this. She's wounded. She needs our help.” The woman squeezed Brian's arm, before stepping forward and then waving Jessie and Senna over to come to her with Linda. “I'm not a doctor. But I do have some tricks up my sleeves.”
Senna and Jessie shared a quick glance, before walking over to the woman and then placing Linda by the wall onto the floor. The villagers followed their every move, their weapons pointed at them in a wordless threat not to do one wrong move.
“What happened to her?” the woman asked. She kneeled down beside Linda and started to check the bruises on her face.
Senna raised a brow and looked over to Steve, still standing in the doorway. His eyes danced over the villagers with as much mistrust as they had shown them.
“She got beaten up pretty badly”, Jessie said. She had lowered herself onto her knees by the other side of Linda. Gently, she took one of Linda's powerless hands and then stroked some hair out of the bruised face.
Linda was a beautiful woman, if you ignored the swollen bruises on her face. The golden locks framed a flawless face. Jessie was sure, when Linda laughed, her eyes, now fluttering open and closed in between states of consciousness and coming awake, were sparkling with joy.
“By whom?” the woman asked.
“There were some truckers up the road at a fuel station”, Jessie answered and returned her attention back to the old woman.
“We know that.” Brian suddenly intervened. He didn't bother to hide that he didn't like what the woman was doing. “Do you belong to them?” he asked towards Jessie. Anger darkened his voice.
“They're gone now”, Senna said flatly. She crossed her arms over her chest and regarded the woman now checking Linda's limbs and the rest of her body.
“They've been here a week or so ago”, the woman explained. “They attacked us in the middle of the night. Burned down our only food store after taking most of our supplies from there. Beat up the shop owner and...” The woman paused. When she lifted her gaze to Jessie she smiled sadly. “…killed our doctor.”
“Killed him?” Jessie's eyes widened. The pure thought of this let her blood freeze.
“Is that why you're hiding in here?” Senna asked, looking into the faces of the people around them. Eyes full of mistrust and fear watched her.
“We don't trust strangers”, Brian commented. “We just want to survive these troubled times as best as we can.”
“I understand.” Jessie reached over Linda and took the old woman's hand into her own. She squeezed it and when pale eyes lifted to her, she smiled. “We only wanted to find a safe place for Linda and for Steve.”
The woman looked up to Steve, who still had not moved from his spot by the door. “Please, come in.” She lifted an arm and waved him into the room. When he started walking forward, the door behind him was pushed close roughly.
Senna dropped her arms immediately. Her hand found the handle of her knife, but she left it in its scabbard, watching the villagers around her with lowered eyes. As if on cue, the villagers, all in one move, lifted their weapons again and pointed them at Senna, Jessie and Steve.
Jessie quickly got up and stepped up to Senna. Her hands wandered around her left arm, clasping it tightly.
“No, no. Please.” The woman rose and held up her hands towards Senna. “Please, Brian. Can't you call off your bloodhounds?”
Brian grimaced, his lips forming a thin line. But when the woman looked at him with pleading eyes, he gave a signal of his hands and the men lowered their weapons again.
Senna immediately relaxed as well. She turned her head and looked at Jessie, who smiled relieved at her, before letting go of her arm.
“We should take your friend over to the doctor's office. That trucker gang went through the medicine cabinets. But I'm sure they left some of the stuff behind that we'll need to clean her up. And to take care of your wounds as well.” The woman nodded first to Steve and then to the bandage on Senna's arm.
“Mary...” Brian said with a warning tone in his voice. But the old woman simply ignored him and reached down to lift Linda up.
“Let us do this”, Jessie quickly moved forward, grabbing Linda's arm and guided it around her neck again. Senna followed her lead and together they walked behind Mary out the building and over the street to another house.
The door was open and when they entered, they immediately saw the chaos the truckers had left behind. There were tables and couches thrown all over the place. The medicine cabinets had been ripped off the walls and the boxes with medicine were thrown all over the floor. Jessie gasped when her eyes fell onto the traces of blood on the floor.
“They shot him”, Mary said, when she saw where Jessie was looking. “Paul had been a doctor with his whole heart. He had dedicated his whole life to helping people. But this one time, when he tried defending his office, his good heart didn't help him.”
“That's horrible.” Jessie tightened her grip around Linda's waste, when Senna motioned for her that she was about to let her go.
“These are horrible times and people do things no one would have thought them capable of.” Mary shook her head. “I just hope with those truckers gone, we'll find some kind of peace until the world is in its right place again.”
Senna moved over to the other side of the room and lifted up a couch. Then she helped Jessie to lay Linda down on it.
Steve stepped into the room and then moved over to the window to lean against it with crossed arms.
“Do you think you can help her?” Jessie asked. She carefully folded Linda's hands over her stomach.
“I will do my best”, Mary replied.
“And we will help.” All four of them turned their heads to the sudden voice behind them. There were three young women standing in the doorway, shyly looking over to Mary.
Jessie had to smile at the thoughtful gesture. ‘ Not everyone is so full of mistrust ', she thought to herself.
“Good...” Mary murmured. “I need you to get me a bowl of clean water. And then I need cloths and whatever painkillers we can find in this mess.”
Without waiting any longer, the three women set to work: one disappearing out again, one entering the room to search through the medicines and one climbing up the stairs in the hallway to the second floor.
“Once I'm done here, I'll check on your wounds”, Mary said. “Until then, just sit down and rest for a while.”
“How is she?” Steve asked when Jessie stepped up to him with a bowl of water and a towel Mary had given her to clean his wounds. He sat on a desk with his feet dangling in the air.
Jessie glanced over her shoulder, to where Linda was lying on the couch. “She's fine, I guess.” Before turning around, Jessie's gaze brushed past Senna, who was holding up her injured arm for Mary to inspect. When blue eyes rose and met hers, Jessie felt a tingle in her stomach. She smiled shyly and turned back around to Steve. “I'll clean your wounds now.”
“Thank you”, Steve said. He leaned a bit forward and searched Jessie's gaze. “For everything you did.”
“I didn't do much. You should thank Senna instead.” Jessie smiled and then started cleaning the largest wound on Steve's forehead.
“I think without you she would have ripped me into pieces”, Steve replied and cast a short glance at Senna. But when he saw her watching them through the room, he quickly looked back to Jessie.
Jessie gently lifted his face with a finger under his chin. “She's not that bad.”
“If you say so.”
Jessie had to grin at his frown. “You don't believe me, do you?” she asked. It wasn't hard to see that he didn't trust Senna one bit.
“I've met people like her many times in my job. And believe me, you do better in not trusting them.” Steve searched Jessie's eyes again as if to underline his words.
But she simply shrugged her shoulders. “I do trust her. She's saved my life – twice already.”
Steve nodded slowly and turned his head a bit further to the side when Jessie carefully guided it around to take care of the next cut on his cheek. “What do you know about her?” he inquired.
Jessie was quick to answer – faster than Steve obviously had expected. “All I need to know.”
Steve stayed silent for a moment. But then he asked: “How long are you friends for?”
Jessie had to stifle a giggle at the question. “Well, if you ask like that…” She rolled her eyes playfully. “Only a few days.”
Steve simply lifted his brows in disbelieve. It was clear he couldn't believe that Jessie trusted this dark woman on the other side of the room anyway.
“But it feels as if we've known each other since forever”, Jessie added quickly.
Steve bit his lip. His eyes though danced over Jessie's face nervously.
“Spit it out”, Jessie requested when she realized that Steve was on the verge of exploding.
“You know, once Linda is better again, we'll leave and go home.” Steve stopped to clear his throat. “If you want, you could come with us, Jessie. We will find a safe place in the city. I'm sure some of my colleagues have built a shelter or something. We're cops and we know a lot of other cops. We have weapons at the station and we'll be able to defend ourselves. It's better than staying on the roads.” Steve didn't say it loud. But Jessie could hear his unspoken ‘…better than staying with Senna ' anyway.
She caught Steve's hopeful eyes and stopped the cleaning. It was a thoughtful offer - and for most people it would've been without question the best choice in these troubled times. But not for her. It wasn't the fact that she needed to get to her parents as fast as possible. But right at that moment, Jessie realized that it was even more important to her to stay with Senna and reach her parents together with her new friend. “That's nice of you. But Senna and me, we are headed south”, she said after a moment.
Steve's shoulders slumbered visibly. He nodded slowly and then looked past Jessie, who continued cleaning his wounds. Senna gazed at him and then lifted a brow skeptically when Steve didn't look away immediately. “Do me a favor and at least think about it, Jessie”, Steve offered as he turned his attention back to Jessie.
Jessie answered with a soft smile. Then she said: “I don't need to think about it. I'm very sure I will go with Senna.” ‘ My place is at her side' , she added without saying it aloud. Jessie's heart did a little flip when she thought of her tall companion. Maybe people would call her crazy to trust so deeply in whatever it was that was growing between Senna and her. Maybe it was a dangerous path she was turning onto by staying with Senna – a woman she barely knew. But everything inside of her told her, that it was indeed the only right thing to do. The only thing she was able to do.
Steve didn't reply anything. But Jessie could see the regret in his eyes. “So, tell me about Linda. What kind of person is she?” Jessie asked changing the subject before Steve was going to embark upon another try to convince her to come with them.
Steve turned his head and looked over to his partner, still lying motionless on the couch. “Linda is very special”, he slowly said. “She's much braver than I am and a real strong woman. Not only muscular wise, I mean. She never backs down and stands her ground in any situation.”
Jessie nodded and smiled at Steve's open adoration. “That's what I thought when I looked at her, even though I have not even spoken a word with her.”
“She's got this special kind of aura around her. Normally she laughs about me and tells me off, when I say that. But I do believe she has something in her. Like another self of her.” Steve pulled his eyes away from Linda and shrugged his shoulders.
“She's obsessed?” Jessie asked with a chuckle and winked at Steve when he looked at her.
“No…” Steve shook his head with a laugh, but then turned serious again. “Sometimes I have the feeling, she is meant for something bigger - like become a leader or whatever.”
Jessie wanted to reply something, but Senna stepped up to them at that moment and placed a warm hand on her shoulder. Jessie's body reacted instantly with a tingle on her skin, exactly where Senna's hand was resting on her shirt. Quickly, Jessie gazed up and into Senna's blue eyes. She couldn't help but smile at her companion who regarded her first with a smile herself, then with a lifted brow.
“Done?” Senna asked. She pulled her eyes away from Jessie and onto Steve. Then she grabbed his chin and turned his face from side to side to have a look at his cleaned wounds. “Just scratches…” she mumbled.
Jessie dropped the towel onto the desk Steve was sitting on and then nodded. “I don't even think he needs any stitches.” When Senna pulled her hand away from her shoulder, Jessie quickly bit her lower lip to keep from protesting. It had only been such a small touch - barely worth mentioning. Still it had had this enormous effect on her: her heart speeding up, this incredible warmth spreading inside of her, her legs trembling.
Jessie cleared her throat and then turned around to look at Linda. “How is she doing?”
“I think she'll be fine again in a bit. Her wounds have been mostly skin-deep. Just that bruise at the back of her head troubles me. But if she wakes up in the next few hours, she'll be fine”, Mary said and stored some medicine away in a cabinet by the door. “We should let her have some rest now, though”, she added and then motioned for Jessie, Senna and Steve to follow her out of the doctor's office.
“If you don't mind, I'd like to stay with her.” Steve jumped off the desk, reached for a thrown over chair and placed it by Linda's site.
Mary simply nodded at him and then left the room with Senna and Jessie close behind.
As they stepped onto the street, they were greeted by Brian and four of his men, all holding self-made weapons in their hands. “We want you to leave NOW.”
“But...” Mary started. Brian interrupted any further protest when he added: “We've decided together. We don't want any strangers here. Leave now.”
“Linda and Steve are in no condition to travel. Not for a few days at least”, Mary pointed out. She lowered cold eyes on Brian.
Brian immediately frowned. Then he seemed to think about what to say next. After a moment, he pointed at Senna and Jessie: “But they leave. Now.”
“Brian! They...” Mary started again.
Yet again she was stopped, when Senna fell into her words. “Don't worry. We'll be on our way.” Senna dropped a hand onto Jessie's shoulder and squeezed it.
Jessie looked at her in question. Was Senna not going to fight to stay? Was she going to allow those people to push her around like that? That didn't seem like the woman she had gotten to know by now. Blue eyes regarded her, then blinked and a soft smile appeared around Senna's lips. Jessie smiled back and then nodded in agreement. Without words needed she had understood that Senna didn't want any trouble in this village. She had simply wanted to find a place for Linda and Steve to stay in. “Yes, we should be going”, Jessie said and looked away from Senna.
“I'm sorry. It's just....” Mary gazed at them helplessly.
“Don't worry about it. We never meant to stay. And now that Linda and Steve are safe, there is nothing else for us to do here. You'll be safe as well with the truckers gone”, Jessie answered.
Mary simply nodded. She followed them over to where Akela was dozing in the slowly fading evening sun.
“I'll make sure that Steve and Linda get enough rest with us and that they can heal. Have a safe journey”, Mary said.
Senna climbed onto Akela. Then she held out her hand to Jessie without saying a word. Their eyes met. For a quiet moment they looked at each other. Their gazes deepened, but none of them moved.
Then Jessie giggled and took Senna's hand. She was pulled onto Akela swiftly. Jessie slipped her arms around Senna's waist. This feeling of safety immediately wrapped her into a warm, cozy blanket. Jessie had to fight the urge to rest her face against the strong shoulder in front of her. Instead, she looked past Senna. “Take care”, Jessie said to Mary. “And thank you for everything.”
Senna pushed her heels into Akela's side. The mare did a little jump forward and then sped down the main road of the village.
“I don't understand all of this”, Jessie said.
They had set up camp not long ago. Senna sat on a huge stone, while Jessie was putting a new bandage that Mary had given her, around her arm.
“What do you mean?” Senna had stared into the crackling fire. But now she turned her eyes to Jessie. She flinched when gentle fingers rubbed over the wound on her arm accidently.
“Sorry…” Jessie winced as well. One thing she had learned today was that she hated seeing Senna in pain.
“It's okay.” Senna smiled and padded Jessie's hand on her arm. “What don't you understand?”
Jessie finished the bandage and placed the rest of it into her bag. Then she sat down on the other side of the fire on the ground. “All this violence, this chaos everywhere. I just don't get it. When will people see that this is not the right way?”
Senna lifted a brow without commenting Jessie's words.
“Take those villagers. Don't you think they were normal people just a few weeks ago? And now they carry weapons and refuse to take in anyone not belonging to their place. They don't even care if people need help.”
“They are normal people still”, Senna replied. She reached for a brunch and pushed it into the fire to stir it some more. “But they are trying to defend their homes and loved ones.”
Jessie nodded thoughtfully while she watched the flames dance over Senna's face.
Yes, she understood that. She'd do the same. And after all, things had changed for her as well. Just some months, even weeks ago, she would've never thought of sitting by a fire with someone like Senna. Trying to get to her parents without even knowing if they were okay. “I just wish they didn't need to be like that.”
Senna smiled softly when her eyes met Jessie's through the fire. She had no answer to that. Did she wish things were like three, four weeks ago? With her being locked up in a much too small prison cell? But with a life out there, following rules and meaning at least some kind of security to the people? Yes, she wished things were different. But this chaos had also brought Jessie into her life. That young innocent girl, who, even though most likely still shaken from everything around her happening, was always thinking of others and how to help them first.
Senna lowered her eyes back to the flames.
She had to admit, in a way, she thanked whoever was responsible for this new life. Even if it meant chaos for others. But she would do whatever necessary to help those, who needed her. Maybe that was a way to make up for the things she had done in the past. Things she hoped Jessie was never going to find out about.
Suddenly, Senna felt a chill on her neck. A tickle crawled over her skin, then over her arms and right into her hands. She rose and reached for the knife at her belt.
“What is it?” Jessie jumped up as well. Her eyes widened with fear. “Did you hear something?”
“There's somebody out there”, Senna whispered. Her eyes darted around, scanning their surroundings for movement. The tingle ran down her spine, only to concentrate in her stomach a moment later. A strange heat flowed over her, boiling the blood in her veins.
“Where?” Jessie instinctively moved around the fire and stepped up to Senna. She couldn't see anything. Not even a movement of the leaves. Akela was still dozing in the corner of their camp site as well. Jessie searched Senna's eyes. But the tall woman was still scanning the trees, her jaw muscles tensed.
Instinctively, Jessie placed a hand onto Senna's wrist, trying to comfort her friend with the small touch. ‘ That look in her eyes – I don't like this' , Jessie thought to herself as she watched Senna's hardened eyes fly over the trees around them.
When the strange feeling inside of her got stronger and stronger, Senna rolled her head to each side. Then, when she felt a warm hand on her wrist, the sensation suddenly disappeared. There was only the warmth spreading over her body from her wrist where Jessie's hand still lay, up her arm right towards her heart. Senna shook her head and tried to pull herself together. ‘ Damn this… What was that? ' Whatever this strange sensation had been, it had had pulled strings inside of her that she would've preferred to cut off immediately. But she had not been able to. Only when Jessie had touched her, she had been freed again.
“It's gone”, Senna mumbled irritated. Then she stepped away from Jessie and reached for her sleeping bag. “We should get some rest”, Senna suggested without looking to her companion. There was no way she wanted Jessie to see the confusion inside of her.
It had been the strangest feeling. It had made her feel as if a fire had been burning inside of her. A deep yearning that had felt good but also dangerous at the same time. She had felt drawn into the darkness of the woods around them. As if something or someone had called to her - until Jessie had touched her and had pulled her back into reality. Had saved her from doing something uncontrollable.
“Okay”, Jessie replied. Senna's sudden retreat from her surprised her. One moment her dark haired friend had looked as if she was ready to dash forward and grab whatever threat was out there. Her eyes had started to sparkle. Her whole body had been on full alert.
And then, the next second, it all had vanished and Senna had pulled back completely from her. By now, she was already lying in her sleeping bag, her back turned towards the fire – and away from her.
Jessie frowned. That was a lot like Senna. Not allowing too much closeness. But there had been something else happening. Something that sent a cold chill down Jessie's back and let the small hairs on her neck stand on alert. Something scary. But she had no idea, what it had been. Now that it was gone, the peace and quiet of their campsite pulled Jessie back into its comforting arms.
She walked back to the other side of the fire, grabbed her own sleeping bag and then lay down as well. Before closing her eyes, she softly said: “Sleep well, Senna.”
A low ‘hmm' was Senna's only reply. But Jessie had to smile anyway.
Little did they know about the figure standing in between the trees, watching their campsite. Dressed in a dark cloak, the hood pushed deeply into their face. A knowing smile forming on otherwise hardened features. Dark eyes, that had taken in Senna standing by the fire, ready to take on whatever was awaiting her out here in the woods.The figure turned around and disappeared back into the darkness the moment Senna stepped away from Jessie and lay down...
To be continued in episode 5 …I'd be happy to read your comments to the story at www.facebook.com/PledgedSouls or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
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