The Homecoming: Chapter 1: Time Marches On

If someone had told me as a young girl that I'd on a train car bound for the backwoods of Tennessee a week after my wedding, I'd have thought them mad. Yet, their prediction would have been true. Neil and I had little more than an hour to go before we arrived at the El Pano train station. We'd spent much of the ride talking of nonsensical things; what kind of curtains to hang in the windows, how we were going to survive for the first few weeks while I learned to cook.

Now, as Neil slept, I found my thoughts turning to our return to the Cove. From what I knew from Ms. Alice's letters little had changed in the Cove during my absence. The school children were still as rambunctious as ever. Lee and Dan remained an unstoppable medical force, dividing the Cove amongst themselves. Cecile had taken over my role as teacher, with Fairlight caring for the Scott's son during the day, and the mission. In some small way I felt slighted. The past year had been fairly routine for the people of Cutter Gap. Babies had been born, elderly had died, crops had been harvested, and the passing of time had been marked only by the changing leaves. I, on the other hand, had grasped in vain for some miniscule thread of normalcy. Even now, nearly three weeks after Neil's return, I found it all quite surreal. Only at night, in the still quiet, and the warmth of Neil's arms could I find complete solace.

Neil seemed to sense my discord, and I knew that it worried him. Often times, I'd find him studying me. At those moments, I'd reassure both him, and myself that I was fine. For now, I'd pass it off as merely readjusting to a new life.

Suddenly, the shrill of the train whistle pierced the quiet atmosphere, startling many of the passengers, Neil included. He started, eyes flitting wildly about the car, before relaxing when his gaze fell to me.

"How long have I been asleep?"

"Only for an hour or so. We've got to be getting close." Then, as if to reaffirm my words, Conductor MacDonald, the elderly gentleman who'd been with me on that very first train ride to the Cove, announced to the entire car that we'd be arriving in El Pano in less than ten minutes.

Neil gazed out the window for a long moment before turning back to me. "Looks like we'll be able to make it home before nightfall. "

Home. The word sent a shiver both pleasant and slightly frightening down the length of my spine. Our wedding night had been wonderful. Neil had been gentler than anything I'd ever known, and I found myself shedding the last of my insecurities that I wouldn't be good enough for him. I felt as if I was hurtling into foreign territory, without a map or compass to guide me.

As if sensing my growing worry, Neil squeezed my hand reassuringly. "Everything will be fine, lass."

"I know."

Then, in the blink of an eye, we were disembarking the train. Neil left me standing on the platform for a moment while he collected the wagon he'd rented for the last leg of our journey home. Sometime later, it could have been hours or perhaps only minutes, we were loaded up and starting down the wooded path towards the Gap.

When the cabin came into view, I found tears welling in my eyes.

"You know, there was a time when I thought I'd never see this place again."

Neil's words were quiet, and I shifted towards him.

"But you have, and you will for the next fifty years." I said with a small laugh. "So you'd better get comfortable."

He chuckled, then hopped down from the wagon. As he pulled me down, the look I'd come to associate with passion flared in his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was husky. "Welcome home, Mrs. MacNeil."

The morning after our return dawned not with the golden brilliance I'd anticipated, but instead with a tremendous clap of thunder, and the drone of a torrential downpour.

Never having been one to enjoy thunderstorms, and in fact, generally unnerved by them, I found myself shimming from the far side of the bed and back into Neil's arms. Even in sleep he draped a heavy arm over my waist, and tugged me so that my back was flush against his warm chest. Content for the moment, I intertwined my legs with his, and relished in the heady thought that I could now call him my own.

Sometime later, when the possibility of sleep reclaiming me dissipated, I found his warmth pleasing for an entirely different reason. A wave of boldness swept through me, and I turned in his embrace.

Starting at his neck, I began bestowing tiny butterfly kisses along the contours of his upper torso, pausing occasionally to bestow tender nips or suckle gently at a particularly tantalizing area. Slowly, I pulled up into a raised position, allowing me to continue my ministrations on the other side of his chest.

Nuzzling my way back up his neck, I paused to drop a kiss on his earlobe.

"Neil?"

"Mmmm?"

"Do you know what today is?" Pressing my lips to his shoulder one final time, I shifted so that I was straddling him.

Glancing up, I found him awake and staring at me intently. Wordlessly, he raised a hand and removed the tie that secured my hair, allowing it to tumble down my back in a jumble mass of curls. I sighed as he began to massage my scalp, sending delicious tingles of pleasure throughout my body.

Neil watched with a soft smile, laughing softly as my back arched in satisfaction. Drawing me down, he kissed me lingeringly.

"Well do you?" I questioned after we parted.

"Do I what?"

"Remember what today is?" He rolled abruptly, pinning me beneath him.

"Today," he dropped a kiss onto my temple, "my love," another kiss, this time on my nose "marks the one week anniversary of the day you made me the happiest man in the world." He resumed his caresses, mimicking my actions from earlier.

A strangled cry escaped me as his head dipped into the valley between my breasts.

"Beautiful. Sweet lass...only thing that matters..." On and on his litany continued, until he was hoarse.

Outside, the thunder rumbled on, and the gales continued unabated. Inside however, we loved one another endlessly and fully. Some time later, I re-curled myself around him, and drifted back to sleep.

A/N: Blushes and giggles nervously. How was that? It started as a dare from my friend, but I couldn't quite make it like she wanted. I just can't tarnish this wonderful story! So I' haven't really decided what the angsty element will be in this story and I'm still open to suggestions.