By Carol Sandford


Chapter 07


The stranger stared at the rain-drenched and clearly petrified woman before him, "Lady, you look like you’ve seen a ghost."

Deanna could only stammer, knowing that she looked a fright, in more than one way, "B...Bear!"

The young man swung around half expecting to find a grizzly to be looming over him, although perplexed at how the darned thing had gotten by him, "Bear! Where?!"

"You." She muttered finally, fully aware at just how much the situation surrounding her had addled her brain enough to imagine a man that was in reality no more taller than her to be a raging 7 foot plus bear.

The stranger chuckled, revealing his youthfulness with his amusing rendition of the moment, "Cool!"

In every aspect, the man appeared to be a normal, typical American teenager until you spied the glossy mass of raven hair beneath his dark Stetson. He was clearly a native American Indian, and it was only for a brief moment, a very brief moment that images of scalp hunters and bows and arrows flitted through her mind. It was only a second longer that she dismissed the ridiculous notion as the boy turned away, indicating that she followed him and begun whistling an old country and western style song that even she had heard before.

Deanna was intrigued as to why the man hadn’t questioned her, or not even appearing to want to know her name. She thought it prevalent that she told him, "My name is Deanna Troi, and I... I got lost."

He barely threw her a look over his shoulder, but he let her see the tiny smile as he did so, "I know who you are, lady. Why do you think I’m out here in the rain and the dark when I could be home in front of the fire?"

His smile told her he hadn’t minded, but In that moment, Deanna knew something else, "Will called you on the radio, didn’t he?"

The teen stopped, holding back a low branch that would have whupped her full in the face if he hadn’t have done, "Yup, said to look out for a gorgeous woman with a huge chip on her shoulder."

After they had passed by the offending branch, the man gently took her elbow and helped her down the incline that sprung up before them. As Deanna negotiated the slippery bank, his voice held a hint of amusement as he spoke, "I can’t see no chip...oops, mind your step here."

Once they were on more stable ground, Deanna thanked him for his help, "Thanks, and besides, I left the chip behind at Will’s place, I figured he earned it."

As they plodded on, comforted to know that he at least seemed to know where they were going despite there being no evidence of a path. Deanna asked, "I guess you’re a friend of Will’s?"

He grinned at her again, showing even white teeth, that dazzled even in the dimness of the darkness, "Yep. Me and my family, and lots of others besides, helped Will build his lodge. He told us that you were going to be his first guest."

That brought Deanna up short. Will hadn’t even known where she was two weeks ago, she could have been anywhere in the galaxy for all he knew. Deanna went warm at what it implicated; He hadn't given up and was never going to stop looking until he’d found her. The image brought a lump to her throat. What if he’d never found her? He would have never been happy in his new home. A home she’d know all along that he’d built for her; for them, and their future.

The man watched the myriad of emotions flit across the woman’s features when he’d told her about Will’s plans. He physically started when Deanna turned as though she was going to head back the way they’d came. His thoughts must have registered because moments later, she turned back towards him and began to move in the general direction that they were headed. Gary didn’t miss the sheen of tears that shone brighter than the moonlight in her beautiful midnight black eyes.

The forest began to thin telling Deanna that civilisation loomed. It suddenly occurred to Deanna as they moved on through the greenery that she didn’t know her accompaniment’s name. She broke the comfortable silence by asking him, "Is your name a conservative one or tribal?"

He grinned again, flashing that brilliant set of pearl white teeth, " Gary Black Horse, ma’am."

The grin was infectious and Deanna found herself grinning back.

By the time they had stepped into a clearing surrounding a small dwelling with a welcoming plume of smoke spewing from its chimney, the rain had increased. Gary swung open the door, stomping his feet as he did so yelling at the top of his voice, "Found her, gramma!"

Amused, Deanna wondered why he was yelling when it was clear that the entire floor space of the house was not much bigger than her quarters on the Enterprise, but looking around, it soon became clear how much love lived within the four walls.

Gramma turned out to be a short chubby woman with a serene welcoming smile, and apron that had seen more life than she ever would and voice so soothing, Deanna instantly liked the woman as soon as she’d spoken, "Sit down, it's supper time, and you must be starving."

At first Deanna was going to refuse, but one swift glance at Gary told her better and she meekly sat at the table. Gary trudged off into another room but soon came back with a woven blanket, draping it across her shoulders as his mother placed a steaming bowl of rich fragrant soup before her.

Deanna grinned as she took in the heady aroma, finally admitting to herself that she was indeed starving. Barely two minutes later, the bowl was empty and her onlookers that had stood and watched every spoonful enter her willing mouth beamed with joy.

Deanna fell back in the chair, completely satiated, "Thank you, Mrs Black Horse, that was wonderful."

The old woman clucked good naturedly as she bent and swept away the empty bowl, "Tsk, t’was nothing, my dear, and the name is Juanita."

Deanna followed her form as she moved to the kitchen area, "Thank you, Juanita, I think you and your grandson have saved my life."

The soothing quiet that followed told another story; Yes, her life had been saved, but it wasn’t by a bowl of rich vegetable soup, or by a teenager that had trekked through the night. Her life had been saved by the man that was making his way to her, right now.

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