Sweet Fire

original story by C Petterson and S Sizemore
rewritten by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2247)

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PART SEVEN

Eighty-four hours after the Enterprise had gone dark, Captain Kirk stood on Elba II, confronting an appalled and despairingly concerned Donald Cory. “They’ve killed him,” Cory stated. “Why would they do such a thing? What kind of insanity would lead a keheil to kill?”

“You can’t blame yourself, Doctor,” Kirk said grimly. “I’m sure you had no reason to suspect the forgeries, and a keheil’s presence is a guarantee of good intentions.” He shook his head. “I only wish we’d gotten here in time.”

“So do I, Captain,” Cory agreed. “What can I do to help now?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid,” Kirk replied. “Thank you for your time and the information.”

What now? Jim cried mockingly. You can’t stop them, can’t even find them…

And Spock will still die! Kirk returned savagely. They can’t hide out forever. Fleet doesn’t let traitors go. I’ll find them sometime, and for now, I’m still safe.

And I’m still here!

Die, damn you!

White noise!

Jim's voice was harsh mockery and Kirk realized his fists were clenched. He was white with helpless anger. Stop, he cautioned himself. You should be stern, unyielding, not blindly furious. You want to find the traitors, yes, but as far as you know, they may already be dead. Go back to the ship. Think this through. He moved to the transporter disc purposefully, but the bitter laughter echoed in his brain.

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“Why?” Kevin Riley muttered for about the fiftieth time. “I don’t understand. Why would they do it? I mean, I can almost understand Majiir, what with the whole mating thing…” He glanced at Sulu and abruptly shut his mouth.

“It’s true, Kev,” Sulu growled, as his fingers punched in orders at the helm. They’d traveled to Elba at breakneck speed, and some of the controls were still sluggish. “Why should anyone try to deny it or defend her?” A part of him recognized the concern Riley was trying to show, but it only made it worse. “It’s done, they’re traitors,” he continued tightly. “They don’t deserve understanding.”

“You’re a cold bastard,” Kevin returned. “What about the Talos thing, or that time with – what was her name? Lester? There were reasons then, it was justified. Maybe…”

“That was then,” Sulu cut him off. “There’s no justification for this, none at all.”

Kevin sighed in disgust and Sulu closed his eyes, trying hard not to acknowledge the pain sweeping through him. No justification. God, Jilla, why?

No, I know why and it doesn’t matter. I’ll bring you to justice if it’s the last thing I ever do!

Hell, it probably will be. How can I live without you? Damn it, damn you…

I love you!

Jilla, how could you do this to me?!

The words had repeated endlessly in his head for the past three and a half days, searing him more and more deeply. He could barely control the fierce agony on duty. Off duty, he laid on his bed, shaking, fighting the nausea that tore into him, the anger that burned in his veins. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep; he was burning himself up with pain and fever. It was some kind of twisted, sick-fuck irony that his reactions mimicked that of stimulant use and withdrawal. He’d laughed hysterically at the realization. There was only one thing that drove him now: vengeance. He survived on the thought of finding her, of making her pay, of punishing her for how she had betrayed him. Treacherous bitch, you used me – god, used me! I flew a needle, a goddamned tapestry on venus for you!

Glorianna, how could you?

He took a deep breath, set his teeth against the pain and furiously snapped at the helm controls. I’ll get you, Majiir, I will. I swear it.

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Ninety-six hours after Communications went out, the ‘irreparable’ damage disappeared and all frequencies were once again functioning perfectly. Uhura kept shaking her head and wondering how. Kirk ignored her consternation and irritably ordered her to contact Starfleet Command.

After the initial shock and long minutes of explanation, Admiral Davidson authorized the Enterprise to search for the shuttle and the three deserters.

The order was rescinded almost immediately as a message came from the Enterprise’s sector command. The Borderline had put in at Roget II and was engaged in the exchange of pharmaceuticals for Federation credits.

Kirk damned the timing, noted with grim satisfaction Lieutenant Sulu’s angry disappointment, and gave the order to warp back to the Borderline.

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Screams. Ruth no longer knew who was screaming. She had become lost inside Spock’s suffering. It wasn’t only the pain, she had been trained to accept and deal with physical afflictions. It was the fear, the horrible, freezing terror that trickled down her spine and ran through her being like tendrils of suffocating ice. She had dealt with nightmares all her life, but she had known those as her own, and could identify the monsters that plagued her. This was terrifyingly different. Were these monstrous visions her own or Spock’s? Was there a world with a red sky and a wolf/cat-creature with tearing claws…

Blood spurted green and spattered, hissing on orange rocks. The le-matya’s hot breath stank in her face, its teeth tore at her throat…

Zehara, what’s happening to me!!

Something shook her so hard she thought her head would fall off. A hand struck her face again and a gain and a voice called her name. “Ruth! Ruth! Come out of it! Wake up! Ruthie!!”

Bones.

She blinked and saw his face come into focus. Nausea hit her. She fought it, then realized she was on her hands and knees retching weakly. McCoy grabbed her around the waist, turning her over, forcing a liquid down her throat. She swallowed, knowing it was water, but her mind tasted blood. Hallucinations! she told herself, but retched again anyway. She heard a bellowing cry, and immediately tried to break away from McCoy. “He needs me!” she screamed, and being too weak to stand, started to crawl. Something hissed coolness next to her skin, and McCoy’s hands held onto her until darkness overcame her. She slept, and her dreams were her own.

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McCoy lowered the unconscious women to the deck, waiting until he was sure she was deeply asleep before covering her with a blanket. Then he wearily made his way to the rear of the shuttle. Spock had stopped struggling against the restraints. He lay panting, his body covered with sweat, his arms and legs twitching. Jilla sat next to him, bathing his face with cool water, her own features shimmering with anguish. “Is she…” she began, her voice soft and tired.

“Asleep,” McCoy said. “She needs the rest.” He gestured to Spock. “But what about him? Do you realize what this is doing to him? He’s dying, Jilla, horribly. The only chance he has is the cordrazine. We’ve got to return him to Elba, or the Enterprise, can't you understand that?”

“He remains here, Doctor,” Jilla replied. “He may die, but he has not died yet.”

“Murderer!” He spat the word at her and turned away. He desperately wanted to get away from it, but there was no where to go. He needed a little privacy, and a lot of rest. “What I wouldn’t give for a night’s sleep,” he muttered. “We’re locked together in what might as well be a damned coffin. I became a doctor to help people, not to watch them die because two idealistic women don’t know when to quit…” He rubbed his hands over his face.

“How can we ‘quit’, Doctor?” Jilla returned, and McCoy realized he’d been muttering out loud. “We are his only hope, Captain Kirk’s only hope…”

“And that’s another thing,” McCoy said, turning back to face the Indiian. “How can you justify…?”

“I trust my senses,” was her only reply.

McCoy sighed heavily. “Maybe you’re right… hell, I don’t know anymore. I just don’t know…” He sank into the seat beside Ruth slept, and closed his eyes.

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Jilla continued to sit next to Spock, to wipe the sweat from his face with gentle comfort. He abruptly jerked his head and she stopped. His hand clutched, trying to reach for hers from the restraints, and she brought it to him, letting him grasp it. His eyes were shut tightly, his face a yellowing, sunken mask. She waited, letting him draw what strength he could from her, knowing that his terror had only been stifled for a short time. Finally he groaned and opened his eyes. They looked up at her and they were empty and mindless, seeing nothing. He closed them again and murmured hoarse Vulcan words, strung together as though at random, and making no sense.

Has the madness claimed him? she thought anxiously, or is this only part of another hallucination? What will we do if he lives, but remains mad? She glanced at Ruth, the Antari’s exhaustion plain even in sleep. She sensed the rejecting tension in McCoy as he sat slumped in the pilot’s chair. Then she looked back at Spock, caught in a struggle he had not asked for and did not want. Is it not hopeless, after all?

Perhaps. Yet, if he lives and is sane, it will all have been worth it. He has to live, not only for his own sake, there is James’ life at stake as well. You keep reminding McCoy of it, can you not accept it within yourself? You must be strong, you must be the Imperial child, regardless of what will come of it at the end…

Regardless of what cost Starfleet will assess , regardless of the fate that awaits telmnori, regardless of how Sulu will hate you…

“Live,” she whispered to Spock.

He heard her and again opened eyes dull with confused pain. “Kan hwr qi m’lkta’fee? S’rn kali as’t lk qi r’jhan?” The words, though spoken softly, were hateful for Jilla to hear. He asked where Ruth was, the betrayer, ‘she who intrudes on my dreams.’

Jilla could find no way to answer him. She simply stroked his face until he lapsed back into incoherency.

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Ruth opened her eyes as the soft sound of a lyrette floated to her awareness. Was she dreaming? She sat up. McCoy was sitting on the edge of the cot, taking his turn watching over Spock as the Vulcan twitched and trembled in restless sleep. Jilla was in the only open corner of the craft, strumming gently on the strings of her lyrette. She sang quietly to herself, the first song Ruth had ever heard her play in public. The Vulcan duet was beautiful, a love song, though Ruth knew Vulcan wouldn’t admit to that interpretation of the lyrics. It had also been the first time she had heard Spock sing. She fought the tears that sprang to her eyes, but couldn’t fight the pictures memory gave her; Jilla playing in their cabin, desperately trying to remind Ruth of just those pictures, Spock, calm and elegant, his strong, sure fingers playing the deep countermelody to Jilla’s sparkle and shimmer. She heard again the low, soft voice complimenting Jilla’s light tone, saw the warm respect in his dark eyes, the deep appreciation for Jilla’s reverence for Vulcan culture as well as for her skill with the Vulcan instrument…

Then she glanced at the thin, shivering, restless man who was strapped to the cot at the back of the shuttle. The contrast was too painful, and she asked Jilla to stop.

“I thought… it seems to soothe…” Jilla stammered.

McCoy rose from the cot. “It has seemed to help keep him calm, Ruthie.”

“Okay,” Ruth sobbed, “but I just can’t take it… please, Jilla…”

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The music faded. A sharpness replaced it, the sound of pain and fear, followed by sweet, deadly ice. Spock struggled to open his eyes. Grotesquely distorted images pounded into his brain and he shut them out. He moaned as a need slowly crawled through his body, an insistent, demanding craving. For what? He groped for an answer, but none came through the scattered, garbled thoughts. The need, the fire grew stronger. One drive pulsed in him, but he could not identify it. He knew only that he had to reach it, had to walk or crawl, somehow move toward it, though he did not know what ‘it’ was. But when he tried, he found he could not move. Panic flowed through him. He couldn’t move! His heart raced and every beat sent streams of flame tearing through his flesh. He thrashed wildly, his arms and legs pulling free.

He could hear voices, steel and fear and ice. The fever he couldn’t identify burned him with searing urgency. It grew steadily more painful. Steel and fear and… ice! I am on fire – to be cold again… cold is death… but the fire consumes me! I must reach… ice, mate, only her cold can save me…

He stumbled blindly toward the only cold he knew existed.

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The loud snapping of the restraints mobilized them. McCoy reached for his medkit. Jilla dropped the lyrette as she and Ruth leaped toward Spock. He screamed as Ruth grasped his arm and she let go in alarm. He cried out to Jilla, reaching for her.

“Jilla?” Ruth gasped.

“Ice,” Jilla replied frantically, pulling him into her arms. He buried his head against her body. “He is burning, Ruth. He says I am ice.”

Ruth nodded and firmly placed her hand on his arm. She concentrated, draining some of the fiery agony from him. For an instant, Jilla felt him feeling it, and succumbing to it. Then panic struck him and he pulled away from them both. He shouted at them, and pressed his back to the shuttle bulkhead, staring at them with fevered wariness.

Jilla glanced at Ruth, then took a hesitant step forward

“Jilla, don’t!” McCoy hissed.

Something seemed to click within Spock’s mind. As Ruth carefully watched him, his eyes closed and he shuddered. When they opened again, they were clear.

Rilain,” he said, his voice soft. Jilla moved to him and he leaned gratefully against her.

Ruth sighed. “We’d better secure him while we can,” she said, and took a step toward him. He tightened his grip on Jilla and glared a warning at her. “Lie down, Spock,” she ordered calmly. His face darkened and he spat a single word at her.

“Tra’gentik!”

Jilla’s features twisted in anguish. “Klee fah en tra’gentik!” she cried.

Spock snarled at her, again in Vulcan. "She brings pain, she feeds on it!"

"No, Spock, it is help she brings," Jilla insisted. "She does not feed on your pain, she takes it from you!"

He glared at her. "You defend her, the golden one who would steal your mate?"

Jilla took a ragged breath, ignoring the sharp sting of memory. "It was not so, Spock…"

"Was I not your mate?!" he countered savagely.

Jilla tried to avoid the question. "Spock, let her help you, let me…"

"You? You brought me to him! Now you bring her, death-skilled…"

"Spock, please, she is not…"

"M’lkta’fee!!"

With lightning speed, Jilla’s hand struck him across the face. She pushed him from her embrace, turning away. His eyes glowed through a mask of sudden anger and he grabbed at her, wrenching her arm as he yanked her back to him. Ruth shouted for McCoy and pushed her way between Jilla and the enraged Vulcan. He effortlessly threw her aside, but she had distracted him long enough for McCoy to dart in and press a hypospray to his arm. Spock collapsed and Ruth dragged herself to her feet, seizing on the temporary inactivity. She and McCoy fastened a new set of restraints to the cot, then returned Spock to it, securing him. Then she turned and knelt next to Jilla.

“Are you all right?” she asked wearily.

Jilla’s reply was tight and hoarse. “Leave me alone.”

Ruth ignored the request. “What does it mean, Jilla?”

“I asked you to…”

“I’m sorry, Ruthie,” McCoy interrupted. “I shouldn’t’ve left him.”

“It’s all right, Bones,” Ruth said brusquely. “Jilla, what did he say? What is m’lkta’fee? What is tra’gentik?”

Jilla turned wide, tormented eyes to her.

“Vulcan is a language of concepts,” she whispered. “I could tell you the literal translations, I could give you their origins in Vulcan culture and history. But I could not tell you what they mean to him… to me…” She paused, her voice getting even softer. “They are the worst things a Vulcan can imagine, the worst betrayals…” Her voice broke.

“I have a right to know,” Ruth insisted quietly “There’s so much jumbled in his head that, even if I wanted to, I can’t be sure of…”

Tra’gentik means death-skilled, a healer who uses the arts to destroy life rather than preserve it!” Jilla snapped as she got up, stumbling toward the front of the shuttlecraft. “M’lkta’fee is a woman who betrays and kills her mate!” She fell to her knees as she reached the pilot’s seat, her head dropping to her arms, nearly-silent sobs escaping her. Ruth stayed frozen, staring at nothing, tears forming in her unblinking eyes.

“Ruthie,” McCoy began, “he’s delirious. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

Ruth looked up at him. “It doesn’t matter, Bones,” she said. “Whether he means it or not, it’s true.”

“Now you have to know that isn’t true…” McCoy returned. “If it weren’t for you two…”

“I betrayed him,” Jilla choked out. “I have to, I have no choice.” The Indiian turned hollow, tormented eyes back to them. Her voice was unnaturally high-pitched. “For vengeance, for Selar,” she continued. “It is my husband’s right – and he knows…”

“Jilla, you didn’t…” Ruth began, regaining some of her composure.

M’lkta’fee is clever,” Jilla went on as though Ruth hadn’t spoken. “She has to be. She waits, she traps her mate when he is helpless. He will follow her blindly then, and she lures…” She suddenly stared up at Ruth. “I lured him! I cannot lie, he knows that, but I used the truth… I trapped him, loved him… he trusted me and I betrayed him!!

A wail came from Jilla’s throat, one of keening loss and unspeakable agony. Ruth moved forward, grabbing her by the shoulders, shaking her. “Stop it!” she rasped. “Stop it this minute! You did what you had to, we’re all doing what we have to! You know that, you made me see it! Spock’s going to live and he’s going to be sane and its because of us so just stop it!”

Jilla shuddered, her body slumping. Ruth pulled her into a tight embrace as the tears that had started in her eyes fell into the Indiian’s hair. “He’ll forgive you, Jilla,” she murmured.

“Never,” Jilla replied hopelessly, and to that, Ruth had no answer.

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“That’s a hell of a thing to say to a widow,” McCoy grunted as Ruth came back to Spock’s restless form, wiping her tears away with the back of her hands. “It’s not like she meant to go into pon farr and it was our idea to put her on the Bridge with him…”

“Bones,” Ruth interrupted wearily, “don’t you know?” She glanced back at Jilla. “She wasn’t talking about Spock.”

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McCoy leaned forward in the pilot’s chair, rubbing his eyes. He yawned and for a moment thought he wouldn’t stop. The shuttle was, for once, relatively quiet. Jilla was checking the power units. “The way this thing is thrown together,” he muttered, “it’s a wonder we haven’t all been blown to kingdom come.” Ruth sat at Spock’s side, her eyes closed, trying to swallow a protein supplement to regain her strength. “And it’s a wonder either of them are still breathing.”

He still wasn’t sure he believed them. Everything they told him sounded so insane. The story about Jim being possessed by some demon was bad enough, but the idea that Jim had deliberately addicted his First Officer and best friend to cordrazine was positively ludicrous. Still, he knew that Ruthie believed it, or she wouldn’t be here. And Indiians don’t lie, so Jilla believed it.

And what reason have you got not to believe them? he asked himself. Ruthie’s worked so many miracles, and neither one of ‘em’s a fool. There has to be something to it. Unless the bond between mates is so strong that Spock’s goin’ crazy sent Jilla over the edge, and Ruthie’s empathy picked up on it. If the drive can kill a man… and if Indiian sensitivity and Antari empathy feed off of each other…

Or, it’s all the truth.

He sighed deeply. Even if it was all true, what hope was there? Everything they’d done was mad, futile and illegal. How they’d gotten this far, he’d never…

Hell yes, I know. Chutzpah and hellfire. Chutzpah I don’t mind – hell, bein’ around Ruthie, you get used to it or else. But hellfire – especially when they go draggin’ innocent bystanders into it with no hope of escape…And hell it is, no time to eat, less to sleep, and none of it in private, constantly battling a delirious madman who’s five times stronger than any one of us… By all the gods of the galaxy, how have I lived through nine days of this insanity? How have they? And how have they kept Spock alive?

Medically, he knew it was impossible. No one had ever lived through cordrazine withdrawal. This was plainly and simply impossible…

Really, Doctor? Then explain the proof of your senses.

Oh shut up!

He shook his head. If you don’t watch it, McCoy, you’ll end up as crazy as he is. Sleep-deprivation, that’s what it is; coupled with malnutrition and overcrowding.

He yawned again and nearly fell asleep in the middle of it. Stifling another, he got up, stretching his exhausted muscles. He clamped a fatherly hand to Ruth’s shoulder. “Get some sleep, Ruthie,” he said. “I’ll take over for a while.”

Ruth smiled wanly, shaking her head. “I’m all right.” She turned to Jilla. “How are we holding out?” she asked.

“The cloak is taking a little more power than I expected,” Jilla answered dully. “We have only another two days, sixteen hours of battery reserves.”

“You’ll never cure him in less than three days,” McCoy mumbled.

“If you’re not gonna be helpful, just sit down and shut up,” Ruth snapped.

“You givin’ the orders now, Lieutenant?” he replied dryly.

“I have been since we started, or hadn’t you noticed that?”

“Ruth,” Jilla cautioned. Ruth glared at her, then sighed.

“All right, it’s been a joint venture. I guess I’m more tired than I thought.” She glanced at Spock. “He’s quiet, and I’ve got to get some real sleep.” She stood up, crossing to one of the chairs and flopped down into it. Jilla moved to take Ruth’s place by the cot.

“Look at her,” McCoy said “It’s hopeless, you know that.”

“Not as long as he lives, Doctor,” Jilla replied. “You know that.”

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A blazing sun shone in a red sky, sending waves of heat up from the desert floor. She stood before him, the silver of her gown reflecting the intensity of both sun and sand. S/He stood also in shades of ebony, staring at the taunting vision, burning with a fire that came not from the sun, but from within his/her own blood. Sounds whirled around her/him, rhythmic bells, the answering sound of a gong. Words were spoken, seeming strange and far away, yet they heightened the arousal.

Steps were taken forward and she could not tell by whom. S/He watched as she made a flowing gesture of submission. She cried out a name. S/He mouthed an answer.

Fever gripped her. She could no longer separate the dark and the bright. She could see both, was both, and dimly knew she was neither. S/He turned and crossed the open grotto. There was the swirl of a cape and a challenging, seductive call was torn from her/him. Desire pulsed through her/him and the fever grew.

S/He crouched, waiting. The longing was sharp now, a piercing fire that was consuming his/her mind. ‘Kah-if-farr!’ The sounds echoed around her. She waited, ready… but something was wrong. There was deception, betrayal… and a wall of flame sprang up before her. Panic…but a triumphant leap!

He came out of the fire and she screamed, and turned to run. He grabbed her. The flames spread smoke and burning heat, she could feel it, she could taste the acrid bitterness and stung her eyes and throat. He held her, demanding his husband’s rights. She shrieked at him, desperate to make him understand. The fire, she could not face the fire!

It made no sense. She must complete the ceremony, she was his! He had leapt the fire, what was there to fear? Explain. Specify. The fire! She said he was burning, that he would take her into the sheet of flame that was streaming up to consume the sky. She screamed, over and over… the fire, the fire!

McCoy held Ruth’s hands, trying to calm her down. He had pulled them away from Spock’s temples when she started screaming, but she was clawing frantically. It was the lightning to Spock’s thunder. His roars were of agony and, quite clearly, fury.

“I’ve got her,” McCoy shouted at Jilla. “Do something about him!”

Jilla raced to the bed. Spock was bellowing in Vulcan, thrashing wildly. The restraining straps were dangerously close to being broken again. She took a deep breath, made her voice as calm as possible, and said his name. The rapidity with which he responded startled her. He had never been this easy to reach. He stared at her, his breathing labored, his eyes fevered. She tried not to notice that he was also obviously, ragingly erect.

“Spock, you are aboard the shuttlecraft,” she began. “You are restrained to prevent injury to…”

He interrupted her with a string of harsh Vulcan syllables, his tone somewhere between plea and demand.

“Do you understand me?” Jilla asked.

His answer was a roar of one word “farrei!” and Ruth immediately shrieked “the fire!” and Jilla understood.

“It is not The Time!” she shouted at Spock. “This is not the place! This thing is not permitted, you will cease!”

Spock struggled more violently, his body straining and heaving against the straps. He countered Jilla’s assertions with harsh, broken words. “…will not deny… as it was in the days of our fathers… never and always… T’Pring!” T’Pring. Jilla had heard the name before. There had been distant kindred on a pilgrimage, Selar had spent a few days as a guide. She had seen a beautiful female walking quietly behind a tall, unattractive male. There had been whispering among Selar’s younger cousins. Stonn, T’Pring. His mate, but not his wife. Property, a lost Challenge… the half-breed legend, Spock…

It had meant nothing to her then. Now she understood the connection. Spock had been Challenged. He was alive, he had won, but he had given away his property, she who had dared to Challenge; T’Pring. Jilla shook away the anger, knowing now how to reach Spock.

“Not T’Pring,” she said firmly. “The female is Ruth. ani Ramy, Antari, she is not your mate, not she-who-Challenged. She is not T’Pring, the chattel is gone from you. She is Ruth!”

“T’Pring…” Spock groaned.

“Ruth!” Jilla countered. “The chattel is gone!”

“She dares…!”

Ruth!

Spock shuddered, his eyes seeming to see her as the tension in his body slowly ebbed. Jilla went on quickly.

“The Time was long ago, Spock,” she said. “It is over, you are not in its fire. The fever is from cordrazine, not The Time. The female in your mind is Ruth, T’Pring is with her master. The fire does not burn, the kah'kn need not be struck. Vulcan is far away, Spock. It is over.” He blinked. “Do you hear me, Spock?” she asked.

He nodded wearily, and whispered, “Sal'q.” Water.

As Jilla complied with his request, she glanced at Ruth and McCoy. McCoy had cradled her in his arms and was speaking quietly to her. Her face was tear-streaked, but she was calming. Her cheeks were red from the sting of his hand.

“Are you all right, Ruth?” Jilla asked.

McCoy answered. “I think so,” he said. “Your calling her helped.” Jilla decided there was no reason to correct him. “What was it this time?” he continued.

Jilla ignored him as she gave Spock a cup of water, then brought some to Ruth. She stared worriedly into the purple bruises that were the Antari’s eyes. They took a moment to clear. Jilla saw them flicker with recognition and grow wide as memory returned. Then they closed as Ruth’s face reddened further with the realization Jilla had hoped she wouldn’t understand.

“It is all right,” Jilla soothed. “It happened long ago. He did not really think... He did not intend to mate with you...” She fell silent as Ruth’s eyes reopened and their gazes locked. Ruth’s thoughts came clearly to her senses.

Yes, he did. So did I.

It was Jilla who pulled away first.

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