AN: Sorry for the wait. I was really busy with school. Review and enjoy.


Nine

I stopped and cocked my head, listening hard past the rustle of leaves moving in the breeze. There it was again, that odd crackling sound of something heavy treading on the forest ground behind me. Something was following me. I tightened. My grip on the dagger at my waist and listened harder. The normally deafening sounds of the forest were suddenly gone, leaving behind a disconcerting silence. My heart fell. Ok, chances that it was just a cute cuddly bunny were dismally low. I took a deep breath and steadied my nerves.

So big question was, do I double back and find out who or what my mysterious stalker was or do I hightail it out of there before I peed my loincloth in distress? What the hell. I took a flying leap at the nearest tree and jumped into its thick foliage, with the dagger gripped firmly between my teeth, I climbed toward the sky. There was a loud frustrated rustle as if the thing stalking me had realized I was gone. I leaped onto a protruding branch and looked down, catching a glimpse of something pitch black and grotesquely huge slithering through the greenery at great speed. My heart lurched. Definitely not a cute cuddly bunny alright. Feeling somewhat hesitant to go back down onto the ground, I ended up squatting on the tree until my thighs went numb before returning to camp empty handed. The "stalking bunny" had dragged my kill away. I was in a horrible mood when I stalked back to the Tree.

Tsu'tey was attending to his ikran when I returned. The animal took one look at me, uttered several shrill cries and launched itself off the ground in a violent spasm of wings. Tsu'tey hissed as a wing swatted his head. He turned to me with an exasperated and bewildered expression.

"What happened to you?" he asked curiously. I wiped my face and shrugged. I knew I looked terrible but I didn't feel like sharing my thoughts with him at the moment. The things between us were just too weird. Just looking at Tsu'tey made my heart seize and my throat swell with some foreign emotion i didn't really want to explore at the moment. But the good thing was that he didn't seem to hate me anymore, though liking me was still a long shot.

I was hot, tired and my thighs felt like I had done a few rounds atop a bucking bull. To my relief, he didn't ask any more, just followed me silently. A few Navi women glanced at us, their eyes dancing and they giggled behind their hands. I frowned and scratched my head. We ended up sitting side by side on a thick branch, bathed in the setting glow of the sun. I glanced at my hands and he sat perfectly still, waiting for me to speak.

I hadn't forgotten my place, of course I hadn't. How could I? I was human, I worked for RDA Corps. I reported to Quaritch and I fucking had to locate the whereabouts of their precious mineral. And yet... I looked up and studied Tsu'tey's face. In the dying glows of the sun, he looked peaceful, eyes focused on the horizon. My fingers twitched involuntarily. I wanted to touch his cheek, trace the patterns under his blue skin. I wanted desperately for someone to just accept me. I wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. I clinched my fingers into fists and took a few deep breaths.

"Sorry I didn't come back with food." I mumbled finally. He gave a low rumbling laugh and studied my face with his sharp alien eyes. I ducked my head.

"No one will go hungry without your share, River. We have plenty for today." he said softly. I chuckled bitterly. Right, useless River, never fitting in, never...

"...thinks you smell like a fierce predator." a sharp elbow to my side brought me back to the present. I blinked at him.

"What?"

"My ikran thinks you smell strongly of a shadow creature. A pure predator. That was why he flew off so suddenly today." Tsu'tey said, eyes narrowing as he studied me. "Are you in trouble, River?"

I remembered the giant sleek black thing in the forest today and felt the hair at the back of my neck rise. Come to think of it, I had been having a weird feeling of being watched for a long time now. Tsu'tey watched me with questioning eyes. I laughed dryly.

"Umm, what was it that he thought was following me?" I asked, feeling a sense of dread.

Tsu'tey studied me for another long moment before answering. "We do not speak of it nor does it have a name. Very few of my people have ever encountered it and all perished. It is an ancient creature of evil and death."

I gulped and frowned. "What does it look like?"

Tsu'tey's face matched my expression. "Huge, black and monstrously fast I should think, if the legends serve to be accurate."

Check, check, fucking check. Ok, it all fit. I felt very much like puking. I banged my head against the trunk of the tree. Life just couldn't cease to fuck with me, could it? Tsu'tey didn't look convinced when I told him I was perfectly fine.

That night, as Jake and I were signing off, I made up my mind. There was no way I was going to stand around and let the thing, what ever it was, finish me off. I wasn't going to go quietly, no. If I was to die, then I was going to drag it down with me.


The next few days, I gathered my supplies in secret, sturdy ropes and sharp hooks and such. The plan was fairly simple. All I had to do was lure the thing into my trap and... Oh, what the hell, I was probably going to die horribly.

Thinking about it made my stomach lurch, so I shoved it to the back of my mind and thoroughly enjoyed the last few days I could spend in Tsu'tey's company. I listened intently to everything he taught me and let my eyes linger on him longer that it was necessary, trying almost desperately to imprint his image into my retinas. I wasn't ready to identify any of those weird feeling in my chest so I ignored them and concentrated on making some last memories. Ok, yeah that sounded so fucking bleak, but hey, what was a dying guy suppose to do? Cry like a baby? Hell no, I'd rather die.

Then it came, the day I had chosen for my little field trip to hell. It was mid afternoon when I felt the thing. It was tailing me again. I had been ambling around the forest all day, making random trips and bringing down a few animals. I didn't want to waste anything, just enough to catch its attention. And sure enough, it was here.

My heart leapt to my throat and I forced myself to keep nonchalant, trekking through the forest at a calm pace. I was starting to circle back to my trap. Over the last few days or so, I had rigged a haphazard trap at the edge of a cliff point with all the grace of a dying elephant. I sent a silent prayer to God and realized that he probably couldn't hear me this far away. I sighed and continued to approach my mark.

Something rustled in the bushes next to me. I stopped and gripped my reinforced spear tightly. There was no way I was going to go down without a fight. Something blue flashed in the corner of my vision and I turned just in time to see Tsu'tey appear, a thunderous frown on his face. He had been tailing me. My jaw dropped. He glared at me and opened his mouth to say something. I shoved him hard, feeling desperation rise in my heart like burning acid.

"You shouldn't be here!" I hissed at him. He crossed his arms and opened his mouth again. I grabbed his hand and dragged him toward my trap, thinking desperately that. We would probably be safer there. Tsu'tey moved closer to me, his body radiating heat and his eyes showing concern. I felt my heart thump painfully in my chest. There was no way I was going to drag him into this.

Something roared behind us. The sound was so deafening it made my ears pop. He stiffened next to me, groping for his arrows. I gripped Tsu'tey's hand and started to run. He stumbled after me, our breaths sounded so loud in my ears. The thing was going to catch up, and then it would... No, River, don't think like that.

We stumbled toward my makeshift trap. The trees behind us shook violently and birds of all colours and sizes burst into the air. It was getting impatient. The necklace against my chest burned white hot against my skin. I ran on blindly, scanning the trees for my marks. Yes, it wasn't far.

We crashed into the clearing and I ducked behind a smartly concealed rope cord, dragging trusted behind me. I waited until the rustling grew as loud as I could bear and cut the cord. There was a black blur, the hissing of ropes and weights and then I heard the sound of impact and the surprised whine of the beast as my barbed net closed around it.

What I hadn't expected was the strength of the creature. There was a hideous snapping sound and one of the trees supporting my trap snapped cleanly in the middle. The beast lunged at us, the rope tightened around its throat and Tsu'tey shoved me behind him, shielding me from the beast. He squared his shoulders and slotted an arrow into his bow. I winced as I tried to stand, my ankle throbbed painfully. It was steadily swelling and I had no recollection of spraining it. The necklace was practically vibrating against my chest now. I wrapped my fingers around it and Tsu'tey seemed to shudder a little. He didn't look back at me. The arrow was focused unwaveringly on the huge black beast. It reminded me of a tiger, all agility and graceful movement. Huge teeth protruded from its mouth and it made another choked off growl. The cord around its neck was cutting off further speech.

I limped past Tsu'tey, ignoring his hiss of 'get back here, River!' I kept my eyes on the beast. It was struggling to breathe. I stared into the golden orbs and reached out a hand hypnotically. It jerked its head madly.

"You don't belong either, do you?" I said hoarsely. It was breathing harshly. I looked at its flank, marred with a crisscross of scars and old wounds. "They hurt you because you don't belong either..."

I was muttering almost to myself now. "We are the same... I took your prey and you saw me, you followed me. Do you wish to kill me?"

The beast gave another choked roar and bared its teeth again. My hand hovered inches from its nose. I was standing on tiptoes and it was crouching. The size difference made me wince internally. The beast stared at me with its intelligent eyes.

"If you try to hunt me, I will not go quietly. I will take you down with me. But that would be such a shame. You're so beautiful and terrible." I reached for spear and pressed it against the beast's throat. It convulsed and slowly closed its eyes.

"River, step away." Tsu'tey sounded shaken.

I closed my eyes and pressed my free hand on its muzzle. "Your life is not mine to take."

Then I snapped the cord around its neck with the sharp tip of my spear. Tsu'tey roared something at me and the beast's eyes snapped open. It charged and I felt blood explode over my tongue as its head meet my stomach. The spear went flying and Tsu'tey grabbed for me frantically. We were shoved unceremonious off the cliff. I felt horribly regretful that I didn't just kill the thing.

The wind howled against my ears and dirt stunned my eyes as we tumbled off the cliff. The beast stopped at the edge, it's tail slashing in triumph. I was probably imagining it but for a moment there I saw grudging respect in those golden orbs. Then it was gone and we were free falling.

Tsu'tey wrapped himself around me, his arms tight against my bruised stomach. We fell into the icy current with the impact of a garbage truck. My breath whooshed out in a stream of silver bubbles. Something felt broken. I saw crimson floating past my face.

Tsu'tey dragged my limp body onto a narrow stretch of bank. I gagged and coughed out blood. He pulled me toward him and I saw that there was a deep slash on his cheek.

"I'm s' sorry...s' s' orry..." I kept chanting the words, body shaking with cold. He pressed our forehead together and murmured alien words of comfort. The necklace against my chest throbbed warmly and it felt comforting. I could contain it no longer. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and my heart thumped painfully. I shut my eyes and closed the last few inches of space between our lips and kissed him.


Review? Anyone want a lemon? next chapter? =)