She released him imediately and shoved her hands between her knees. "Sorry," she murmured. "I don't talk to people very often. I guess I got a bit carried away."

Rasmus laughed softly. "It's ok, I don't talk to many people either. Sometimes you just need to pour out your problems on someone." He still had his arm around her, and for the first time since the invasion Seriah felt safe. She suddenly became aware of the cuts on her legs, and they reminded her of the situation. She should have been home by now, and her stepmother probably wouldn't let her in even if she got home in five minutes. So now, she had no where to go, and she was hiding in a hollowed-out tree with a young man she just met about a half hour ago.

She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, wincing as she irritated the scratches. Rasmus looked at her with a rather blank expression, but his eyes were full of concern. He said gently, "You should head home now. The forest is no place for a girl like you." She looked at him, and her eyes widened with fear. He added quickly, "I'll come with you if you want, to make sure you get there safe." She relaxed, and Rasmus smiled. Seriah felt her heart beat faster, and she was rather puzzled as to why.

After cleaning her scratches and making sure the obnoxious soldier from earlier wasn't around, Rasmus led Seriah out of the forest. He held her hand, making sure she didn't get seperated from him. He found himself extremely attracted to her, even though they had just met. She was everything he had ever wanted in a woman; her beauty was unlike anything he had ever seen. She was brave and strong; few people would be able to live with all the hardships she faced.

He desprately wanted to spend more time with her, but as they returned to the road reality struck him like a slap. She had told him she was sixteen, and he was twenty. Even if she was perfect for him, they could never be together. He decided that after today he would never speak to her again, so she would never develop any feelings for him. The last thing this poor girl needed was more pain.

They chatted aimlessly as he walked Seriah home, and Seriah found the time passed far too quickly. When she reached her stepmother's apartment building, she asked Rasmus, "Can you wait with me? My stepmother has to open the door for me or else I can't get in. Sometimes she takes a long time." He nodded, and Seriah pushed the button to her stepmother's apartment.

For a long time, there was no response. Seriah pressed the button again, in case her stepmother was asleep. After waiting for a while, she heard yelling and breaking glass coming from the speaker. Her stepmother screamed almost incoherantly, "Where have you been you little wench! Do you know how late it is?!" Her stepmother sounded very drunk, and Seriah shrank back a little. She replied, "I was hiding from a soldier. I didn't mean-"

"Don't give me that crap! I let you live in my house, eat my food, and this is what I get?!" The sound of gulping and gasping interrupted her shouting for a moment, then she continued. "I'm done with you! Don't bother coming back, I won't let you in! You're just like your father, a filthy liar and a cheat!" Then the intercom shut off, and Seriah was left standing alone with Rasmus in the dimly-lit doorway. She was shocked, but knew her stepmother was serious. Now she really had no where to go.

Rasmus asked slowly, "Is she just drunk, or does she really mean that?"

Seriah replied quietly, "She never jokes about anything, even when she's drunk. If I come back she might try to beat me." Rasmus grabbed her hand, and Seriah looked up at him with pleading eyes. She begged desperately, "Do you know anyone I can stay with? My only living relative is my uncle, but he has six children to take care of and his wife is very ill. Please, I can't survive on the streets!"

Rasmus replied, "I'm sure there's a farm outside town you can stay on. The soldiers don't like coming to the farms, so you'll be safe there." Seriah thought he smiled, but his expression didn't change very much so she wasn't sure. It seemed he didn't like to show emotion, and Seriah thought that was a bit odd. However, she was thrilled to get away from town. She exclaimed happily, "Thank you!" She smiled, for the first time in a long time.

The End

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