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Chapter IX

Torama - posted on 4 May 2016 @ 11:38am

Harley woke with a start, her brain trying to make sense of the different, fresh air that rushed into her lungs. There was a warm, furry mass next to her, one dark bluish purple arm draped protectively across her.

It wasn't Mace, Mace wasn't purple and Mace never stayed as she would murder him in his sleep if he did.

She wasn't in her cave cell.

The last couple of days had not been a dream.

A soothing feeling emanated from her companion. Harley turned her head and looked at Nightshade. She didn't understand how he did that, and he barely had words to have a basic conversation never mind explain something that might be complicated to her. She wasn't too fussed anyway, she was free thanks to him. He was awake. She briefly wondered if he ever slept, he was awake when she fell asleep and he was awake when she woke up. He was warm now. The first night they had spent in the desert on the lee side of an outcrop, she had been freezing. He hadn't seemed bothered but upon realising she was
cold, he had raised his body temperature until she had indicated that she was warm again. She had no idea how he could have possibly done that.

Then again, he was an alien, even if right now he looked exactly like a Martian man who had dyed his fur a weird colour.

He leaned closer, his nose nuzzling gently against her neck as his hand moved to her stomach. A warm, delicious, golden feeling spread through her. She murmured wordlessly. It felt so nice, and he was so gentle, and yet the memory of the seemingly endless rapes barraged to the forefront of her mind, causing her to stiffen and gasp, trying to quell her panic.

Nightshade pulled back then, propping up on his elbow and placing his other hand on her head, a look of concern in his eyes. She was sure it was his touch that was causing her to feel heavy-headed, even though that made no logical sense. But at least it stopped the chest-tightening, heart thumping panic.

She gazed up at him in a turmoil of emotions. There was something in his touch that she couldn't understand, but it made her feel better. She wanted to get more intimate with him, partly to see if the intesity of his touch increased with closer interaction, partly because she wanted to give him something back for rescuing her, for taking her with him when he could have just as easily left her behind. With that desire came the feelings of intense guilt. She still held feelings for a certain white mouse with a metal mask, and even justifying that she had no idea how much time had passed and whether he had moved on or was even still alive could not quell the feeling that she was somehow cheating on him. In the midst of that storm, she found herself wondering at how Nightshade's eyes could be so expressive but his face so still.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. His eyes frowned slightly then, and this time he touched his nose to the top of her head, again gentle. It felt comforting. He didn't kiss, didn't seem to know what his mouth was for besides talking. Maybe she should teach him. She reached up and took his head gently in both hands. He stilled, looking down at her with curious eyes. She kissed his nose gently, then his mouth. He remained still while she was doing so, making it hard for her to tell whether he liked it or not. She pushed her tongue against his mouth and his lips parted slightly, allowing her to slide her tongue in.

His hand ran down her back and cupped her butt, pulling her against him. He did it strangely though, not in the stereotypical male way of wanting genital contact, in fact she couldn't even feel the usual bulging hard-on through the pants one would expect at this point. He just wanted to maximise the amount of body surface they had contacting. It was unexpected and strange, but not in a bad way. He then stopped suddenly. Harley pulled back abruptly, rolling onto her back, shame washing over her. Vinnie would understand, she was sure, and yet...

"Hurt?" Nightshade placed his hand over her groin. Harley stiffened with remembered fear. Why was she being so stupid? She had initiated and invited this contact, a weird but welcome concept after having been forced for so long. She tried to relax, but she felt uncomfortable with his hand there. He seemed to realise and moved it, though he continued to look at her with inquiring eyes in that blank face. How did he know? She had been injured at both ends down there, tearing a few times with Mace's and his cronies' rough treatment. Maybe he had surmised it from the first day they'd met.

"Yes," she replied, "it hurts. But it's not your fault. It was those guys from earlier."

His ears twitched in a vague semblance of the butterfly ears he had sported when they'd first met. She wanted to stay in the cave with him. She felt safe here with him. But she also had to go to the little girl's room and she needed something to eat. It occurred to her that it was kind of weird that he didn't seem to need to go or eat.

"We better get going," she said, sitting up. "The sun's coming up."

-= o =-

These creatures were complicated.

Nightshade watched as Harley paused by the mouth of the cave, checking for danger before disappearing to the area that she had made clear was out of bounds to it while she was there. Harley didn't energy transfer like it did. Bonding seemed to be concentrated towards the rather versatile opening where the soundwaves were emitted, and the rear with the rest of the body only playing a small part, and intake was done by actually ingesting things through the soundwave emitter. On study of the plant she had taken fruit from, it seemed that the plants had evolved in a similar manner and actually required its fruit to be ingested. It had detected no communication whatsoever between Harley and the plant.

Apparently doing things their way was uncommon. It had vague memories of other dimorphic statics also needing to ingest things.

Nightshade moved outside. Harley was not far away to the left of the outcrop. It scanned the area. To the right, away from where Harley was and not very far away, there was a plant. Nightshade hopped nimbly down the side of the outcrop to its base.

The plant was sprouting nervously out from a tiny alcove, protected from the worst of the beating sun and racing winds, but exposed enough to be able to draw energy from the same sun when it wasn't beating down so hard.

Greetings. Nightshade touched one of the plants' leaves gently, and got a sense of danger. It was the same type of plant Harley had carefully picked fruit from before, and she had hurt her hands. Nightshade crouched down, leaning close to the plant. The plant's stem was covered in thorns.
Ready fruit?

The plant didn't respond immediately because it was astonished that it had been addressed by something that didn't really register as a plant at all. Once it got over that, it told it that not all of them were ready, which is why the plants had thorns. Some just took without knowing when the right time to take was. Nightshade assured it that it only wanted ones that were ready. The plant directed it to the darkest red ones. Nightshade adapted its hands to have smaller, skinnier and more tentacular fingers so it could pluck those berries without hurting itself on the plant stem. While doing so, it
initiated an exchange with the plant. The plant was startled, having never experienced such a thing before. Surprised, Nightshade thanked the plant and returned its hand to the right shape for this morph, walked around the outcrop, and sprang back up to the platform where the cave was.

Harley was looking into the cave entrance, feeling slightly confused. Nightshade wasn't sure why, it hadn't moved out of range. She suddenly exuded fear and spun, pointing one of the energy dismantlers that she'd labelled "blaster" at it.

Nightshade reacted, three spine quills forming into a tentacle and grabbing her forearm, slamming it into the rock behind her. She cried out, this time giving off a lot of surprise and pain as the blaster tumbled out of her hand onto the ground. Nightshade sprouted another tentacle to sweep it away, then studied Harley curiously. Why had she been surprised? It hadn't damped its presence.

"Nightshade!" she exclaimed, then the soundwaves startedcoming thick and fast and it couldn't make any sense of them, aside from the oft-repeated "sorry" which seemed attributed to remorse, but she felt contrite and somewhat distessed. She had apparently really not known it was there and pointing the blaster had been a fear reaction. How something could have that low an awareness was boggling.

"Sorry," it tried, and let go of her arm, retracting the tentacle. She continued leaning on the rock, rubbing her arm absently, and then looked up at it, more sounds coming from the sound emitter. Then she smiled. The feeling that was normally associated with the smile was a bit sparse, polluted by remnants of fear.

Oh yes, it had the fruits for her. It held out its hand, with the ten little fruits nestled in its palm. What sounds had she associated with them? "Thornberries?"

Surprise overtook her fear again, then gratitude. It was strange how muted her feelings were. Nightshade wondered if it had something to do with the fact that most of the statics' energy structure was taken up in a form so solid it couldn't budge at all.

"Thank you," she said. Those sounds corresponded to gratitude. She had repeated the set of sounds several times after it had made the decision to take her with it, not that that decision had been particularly difficult after it had watched the reavers at work. She approached and held out her hands. Nightshade dumped the berries into her hands. She pinched one between thumb and forefinger and popped it into her mouth.

"Mm," she murmured, and then a couple more sounds followed. She offered the berries to it. Nightshade shook its head, and observed in some fascination as the energy contained in the berries slowly dissipated from the sound emitter, vanishing quickly into the rest of Harley's energy structures. It seemed a very inefficient way to get energy, especially considering how much energy seemed to be expended in finding the plants to begin with.

She finished the berries quickly. Looking at her, Nightshade knew she would need many more berries to fix her energy levels. It could help if it could bond with her properly. Simple nuzzling was not nearly as efficient as it should have been, and Harley seemed to fear the type of bonding creatures of her energy structure engaged in.

Harley babbled a little bit more, pointing towards the large energy node that she called "city". Nightshade looked towards it. It could probably do it before the sun set, but Harley didn't seem to cope with the full sun very well. There was a smaller node that they would reach when the sun was high not too far away. Nightshade shook its head and pointed in the direction of the smaller node, off to the right of the "city". Confused, Harley made a few more noises and kept pointing to the large node. Patiently, Nightshade pointed at where the sun was, tracked its path up to the highest point, and then pointed at the smaller node again. Then it pointed at the sun, tracked its path all the way to setting, and pointed at the larger node.

Harley looked out towards the larger node, she really wanted to get there. But then she looked dubiously at Nightshade and nodded. Nightshade waited while she climbed onto its back. When she was secure, it morphed wings and took off, heading towards the smaller node.

-= o =-

At first, his pleasure-soaked mind thought it was part of the aftershocks of climaxing. Then logic kicked in, reinforced by Benihana looking towards the source of the disturbance, her movement eliciting a delicious feeling in his loins.

He would much rather see if they could go again, but it seemed that circumstances were conspiring against that. Rimfire pulled Benihana down on top of him, felt her gentle exhale on him as the rapid movement caused him to slip out of her. They waited, distracted from feeling each other by feeling where the presence was. Not too far away. They made eye contact, then Benihana quietly rolled sideways off Rimfire, scooping up her pants as she did so and expertly wriggling into them as she landed beside him on her back.

Rimfire carefully arched and pulled his own pants back up, both of them with senses keen for any strange movements, any indication that someone was trying to sneak up on them. They had chosen their spot carefully, this was supposed to be a relatively safe area. Plutarkian, Catatonian or even just plain old rat scouts were not out of the question though.

After their relative silence, even the warm up hum of their blasters sounded like it would give their presence away, though it would have had to be the dead of night with nothing else moving and no wind blowing for that to be a potential issue.

They could hear a low female voice now, too low to make out words clearly. It sounded conversational rather than conspirational, and either way they now knew that there was more than one person, it wasn't any of their Freedom Fighter comrades and they were not too far away.

Rimfire pointed to himself, then at a ledge he could see on the outcrop up to their left, then pointed at Benihana and made a circling motion around to their right. Benihana nodded. Keeping low to the ground, her slender, well toned form scuttled rapidly in an arc, hugging the rocks and circling around the low voice they could hear. Rimfire gave himself a moment to admire the view before turning to the task at hand. He quietly scaled the outcrop, a relatively easy job when the slope was right and the rocks provided handy bumps to grab onto.

It didn't take him long to reach the ledge he was aiming for. He followed it around and peered carefully over the overhang. He could see a tall, thin male mouse with long black dreadlocks not too far below him. Was his fur purple? The owner of the voice was out of sight beneath the overhang. If he leaned over too far they might spot him. Rimfire sighted Benihana not too far away on the unknown man's left, concealed behind a large rock. He held up his right hand in a loose fist. Spyng him, she repeated the motion but kept her first close to her head so that she wouldn't be spotted by their
target.

Lightly, Rimfire dropped a safe distance behind the strangely coloured man with his blaster drawn.

He completely did not expect the man to casually turn and face him when he landed, looking like he'd been expecting him. Oh well, he could still do his interrogation even if he didn't seem to have the element of surprise for some reason. Rimfire pointed his blaster meaningfully, sensed the man's brief alarm, and then his target was no longer standing there. Rimfire blinked, his brain struggling to accept the message from his eyes as truth before he felt a hand not quite as big as his Uncle Modo's close like a vice around his right wrist and squeeze so impossibly hard he thought his wrist would
break. His cry was choked off by a purple arm latching around his neck and he found himself lifted off the ground, feet kicking at the empty air.

Rimfire grabbed at the elbow of the arm doing the chokehold, digging his fingers into pressure points.

Nothing.

He lashed his tail straight upwards, contacting the groin hard.

Nothing. Impossible. His mind refused to comprehend. He had just flicked the guy in the nuts. He should have caved. But he hadn't, because there had been nothing there. He had no nuts.

He could hear people yelling, though his oxygen-starved brain was concentrating more on telling him he needed to breathe than work out what it was they were saying. He could hear Benihana shouting orders, and an older woman screaming something else. The older woman sounded vaguely familiar, though he couldn't think why. Rimfire turned his head as much as he could toward Benihana. Breathing became less of a challenge, and not-so-starved of oxygen, his brain finally relinquished a few resources to the comprehension department.

"Let him go or I will shoot!" Benihana was yelling. She was a crack shot, but Rimfire wasn't sure if he wanted her to peg the guy in the head while he was being used as a mouse shield. He didn't think Benihana really wanted to take the chance either, as it didn't sound like the first time she had yelled that out.

The older woman was shouting "Nightshade! Stop! You'll kill him!" closely followed by "Rimfire, drop your blaster!"

She knew his name.

"Please, please drop your blaster," the woman was begging Benihana. She didn't sound like someone trying to take control of a situation or capture them. Rimfire saw Benihana look terrified and undecided for a moment before she threw her blaster aside.

Rimfire felt himself dropping until his feet touched ground, then the iron grip on his neck and wrist loosened enough for him to breathe but not enough to free him. He sucked the air into his lungs in long, sobbing breaths, wanting to double over but unable.

"Let him go, Nightshade! He's a friend! Friend!"

"Friend?" the man sounded dubious. "Blaster."

"They didn't know!"

His head was still a bit uncomfortable but he could think straight now. His first instinct was to try to free himself again, and that's probably what he would have done if he'd been younger and stupider. Being older and hopefully wiser, he saw sense in letting the woman try to talk the man down. His right hand was empty. At some stage he had dropped his blaster. He looked at the woman. She looked so familiar. They had moved at some stage, because he could see Benihana behind the woman.

"Please don't pick up the blaster yet," the woman was saying over her shoulder, "I promise you can get it later." Then she turned back to them. She seemed a bit calmer now that the man wasn't strangling him to death. "Nightshade, please let him go. Let go. He's a friend."

There was shots of silver lightening her light brown mane and fur, and she looked gaunt and haggard and mistreated, and it had been so, so long. Could it be...?

"Harley?" Rimfire choked out, "Is it...you?"

Benihana stopped looking for an opportunity to grab her blaster and stood staring in confusion. The iron grip evaporated away from his neck and wrist and he staggered forward towards Harley, turning to put his back to her and face his assailant. Harley must have moved forward as she came up behind him. She had shrunk - or more realistically he had grown taller - and he felt a strange sense of deja vu when she put a hand on his shoulder. But back then it had been Mace that had been towering threateningly over them rather than this dark blue-purple man with black dreadlocks and weird purple eyes. With some effort Rimfire drew himself up, almost but not quite eye to eye with the purple man. He was in turn regarded calmly with a trace of wariness through those very unmouselike purple eyes.

Harley moved around in front of him like she had when Mace had confronted them all that time ago. Rimfire wanted to pull her back, but it was him, not her, the man was eyeing warily.

"Nightshade, this is Rimfire. He's a friend." Harley pointed at him when she said his name, and emphasised "friend".

Rimfire had no idea how he detected the frown in the man's eyes. His face hadn't changed.

"Rimfire, this is Nightshade. He rescued me."

It took a while, but Rimfire found his voice finally. "Harley?"

Harley turned to him and smiled. "Hey Rimi. You've grown."

"Harley!" It was hard to believe. He grabbed her in a hug, just to make sure she was really there. She hugged him back, feeling a little small and frail.

"Rimi?" Benihana sounded uncertain in the background.

"Beni! We found Harley!" he felt giddy with delight, holding Harley under one arm partly to make sure she wasn't a dream. "Can you believe it? We found Harley!" He couldn't wait to tell Modo and Throttle and Vinnie and Stoker.

Benihana scoooped up and holstered her blaster, warily watching Nightshade. She closed the gap between them.

"Hi," she said uncertainly, her eyes darting from Harley to Nightshade and back again.

Of course, Benihana didn't know Harley. "Harley, this is my wife Benihana."

Harley started violently, staring at Rimfire in shock. "Your wife?!"

Rimfire held out his rather sore right hand to Benihana. She approached all the way and took his hand. He'd have to slow down a bit. Harley had been missing for thirty years and eventually presumed dead for twenty of that. Depending on what had been happening to her in that time, she might not be aware of just how much she had missed.

Harley looked and sounded nervous when she asked her next question. "How...how old are you, Rimfire?"

"Forty seven," he answered, as gently as he could.

"Forty...seven," Harley repeated incredulously. She wavered, looking like she was going to pass out. Rimfire darted forward, grabbing Harley by one arm. On Harley's other side Benihana had done the same. Under Nightshade's watchful eye, they guided her back under the overhang and lowered her gently onto a rock.

"Have some water," Rimfire said, pulling the canteen from his belt, unscrewing the top and handing it to her. Harley numbly took the canteen and swigged.

"I think I need something stronger," she mumbled, before gazing up at Rimfire. "Has it really been thirty years?"

Rimfire and Benihana glanced at each other over the top of her head.

"Yeah," Rimfire didn't know what else to say.

A frightened look crept into Harley's eyes. "Is everyone...?"

"Everyone's fine," Rimfire assured her quickly. He glanced at Nightshade, who did not seem to have moved at all since they came under the overhang, and looked back at Harley. "There's so much to tell you."