Author's Notes: Just finished Scrapped Princess so I had to do this. This is a Chris/Winnia fic and attempts to explain how they ended up in that carriage together in episode 24. There are spoilers within so if you haven't finished the series, I suggest you turn back now. Otherwise, please enjoy.
FYI: I'm going to use the Japanese suffix system when referring to people as I think it more clearly defines the characters relationships with each other, so look out for the "-sama", "-kun", "-chan" and "-san" references.
Forget the Clouds
Winnia woke at midnight from a black nightmare about Fulle.
It happened, sometimes, bad memories bubbling up and sending her back to the days of fear and sorrow. She would wake up trembling, her skin clammy and thoughts tumbling. She did not always remember what she dreamed, but those concerning Fulle always stayed with her. The rain-streaked images haunting her as she lay awake, sheets twisted around her body as she stared into the darkness, waiting for dawn.
She didn't know why he stayed with her so vividly when everything else had faded. She had not known him that well having only spent days in his presence, but there was something in her heart that ached at the loss of him. It had to do with the fact that Pacifica no longer remembered what she had lost. Only herself and Leo knew what had happened to Fulle and that weight pulled at Winnia. The one person who should have grieved for him could not. Instead, only a young knight and a chambermaid were left to remember him, and his sacrifice loomed in the back of Winnia's mind.
The more painful things are, the more people try to forget them.
It must have been much worse for Leo. She had tried to speak of it once when he had come to visit her but he had dodged the question, saying only, "We went through a lot, didn't we?"
With a sigh, Winnia shifted restlessly on her bed. She had thought she would get over it, come to terms with the fact that she held the secrets of a life her best friend had once lived and loved. It had yet to happen though, those rare nightmares reminding her that the past was not so far behind her.
A lot had happened in the days after Pacifica's death and rebirth. The Providence Breaker and her siblings had gone back to live on a farm near their old village. Zephiris had gone with them and Winnia had found them all to be quite content during her last visit. So much so that she could almost forget there had ever been a time when Pacifica hadn't smiled.
As for herself, Winnia had gone back to her Uncle and the inn after spending some time with the Casulls. It had taken some adjustment to fit back into her life there but she managed to resurrect a semblance of her old self, changing sheets, dusting furniture, and cooking with a single mindedness that spoke of suppressed emotions. She had just been trying to find herself again, find a balance between what had happened and what lay before her. The future was bright, she just had to learn to forget the clouds.
Only a few days after she had returned, the letter came.
It was not from Chris, as she had hoped, but from Baroness Bailaha with a request for her to come to the lady's manor in Saur. Apparently, the noblewoman had heard of her through Chris, a fact that still brought a blush to her cheeks, and the Baroness had invited her to be a guest in her house. Apparently, she had a need of someone to manage her household, to set it to rights after the destruction caused by the Peacemakers. The Baroness had not spent much time at the manor when she had been the Commander of the Special Forces but now that she had been relieved of her position, the lady found the place to be severely lacking in the comforts due to her and her new foster son. Would Miss Chester be so kind as to help an old lady start a new life? She would be given an ample stipend, of course.
Surprisingly, Winnia had been reluctant to go. The letter had the undertones of a woman attempting to meddle in someone else's romantic affairs, something all women liked to do at one time or another. Winnia might have appreciated it more if she had known what Chris' true feelings for her were. She did not want to go the manor only to find him annoyed with her presence, or worse yet, completely indifferent. She had been able to withstand him ignoring her once, she wasn't sure her heart could stand another such instance.
However, the Baroness was not someone who gave up easily.
Though Winnia had not answered the first letter, more sealed envelopes keep coming to the inn, each one stamped with the Baroness' crest, each one asking her politely to please accept her invitation. After the tenth such letter, Winnia had finally broken down and sent a reply, hoping she was not making the biggest mistake of her life.
The next day she left for Saur.
Leo accompanied her once again, having been in Tauros on a mission for Prince Forsis. The knight had actually become friends with Pacifica's twin brother and had been spending more and more time going between the capital and the Casull farm whilst ever pursuing his idea of chivalry. Winnia thought of him as a friend as well, their time spent together creating a bond of memories between them. Leo seemed to feel the same, often confiding in her at the oddest times, a fact that still seemed a little strange to her. She was loved. People cared about her.
But she was still lonely.
That fact became apparent in her first day at the Baroness' manor. She had been given comfortable chambers, large and spacious, something she had never had before in her life, and she was given free rein of the house, her status that of an honored guest. In return Winnia helped oversee maintenance of the estate, especially the cooking, something she often liked to do herself. The familiar motions were comforting to her, especially when she did it out of choice, not necessity. At the end of the week, she sent part of the money she earned back to her Uncle with a letter telling how she was doing.
It was a good life and she was happy. The Baroness treated her almost like a daughter and Chris… Well, it was hard to tell. He was polite and friendly and there were times when she was sure he felt something for her. He never said anything though and as the days past, Winnia began to be convinced that her feelings for him would never be returned.
And so, once again, she felt she had lost something.
Maybe that was what had started the nightmares.
Suddenly angry at herself, Winnia kicked the covers to the foot of the bed and got up, padding across the carpet to the balcony. She opened the glass doors quietly and stepped out into the cool night air, rubbing her arms against a stray breeze that ruffled through her simple white nightgown.
Outside, the evening sky was glittering with stars and she leaned against the railing to get a better look, golden eyes filled with awe at the sight. Ever since that day, the heavens had seemed closer, the moon bigger and brighter. She felt that if she wanted, she could almost reach out to touch it and feel moonbeams slip through her fingers.
Winnia started in fright, jerking backwards to find Chris standing beside her with that calmly polite expression he always wore. She had not heard him approach, she never did. He had a way of appearing and disappearing without a sound, a remnant of the training of his childhood. She should have realized, though, that since the balcony wrapped all the way around the second story of the manor their rooms were connected. Another push from the Baroness no doubt.
As if he had not just scared her breathless, Chris rested his elbows against the balcony railing, his gaze still fixed on the moon. As her heart rate returned to normal, she saw that he was still wearing his uniform, the top few buttons undone in concession to the late hour.
Hesitantly, she joined him at the railing.
"You just returned?" she asked softly, looking up at the sky. He nodded.
"The Obstinate Arrows have been recalled under Commander Sturm's personal request, on a probationary basis, of course. If all goes well, we won't have to face the punishment of traitors."
Winnia linked her fingers together for strength. She had not truly realized what he had risked to help Pacifica. "I'm glad," she replied, smiling slightly. He shifted abruptly.
"It's not as beautiful as the one in the glass gorge, though," he said, pushing away from the railing to stand up straight. She blinked, off balance.
He glanced at her, his dark eyes making her remember that she was not properly dressed. "The moon. The one in the Ravine of Arwen was much prettier."
By the time she had looked up at the glowing white orb and back down, Chris had gone as silently as he had come, leaving her standing on the balcony alone and wondering if he had truly been speaking of the moon at all.
"Ah, Winnia, there you are. Please, come in."
Winnia bowed slightly and stepped into the Baroness' study, crossing the lush carpets to where the older woman sat behind her desk. The lady motioned for her to set the tea tray down and Winnia complied, pouring tea for the both of them and offering the Baroness the delicate porcelain cup.
"Thank you, my dear," she replied, inhaling the comforting aroma of the tea before taking a sip. At her smile, Winnia took her own cup and sat down in a chair across from her, adjusting the long folds of her skirt as she went.
"That dress looks wonderful on you, Winnia," the Baroness commented, a small smile on her face. "It suits you."
Self consciously, Winnia smoothed her dress, the silky fabric running easily under her fingers. The dress had been a gift from the Baroness, among many others, and it was a delicate cream color, sleeveless, with gold embroidery along the collar and hem. It swished around her ankles pleasantly when she walked and it did emphasize her figure, but Winnia felt naked when she wore it. She was used to wearing a maid's garment, simple and unadorned. Wearing an expensive dress that felt lighter than air made it seem as if she were walking around wearing nothing but a cloud.
"Thank you," she replied, covering her awkwardness by taking a sip of tea. The Baroness' smile was all too knowing.
"Did you see Chris last night?" the older woman asked innocently, leaning back in her chair. Winnia wondered if that was a mischievous glint she saw in the lady's eye. "He came back from the capital rather late, but it seems his position there is secure for now."
"Yes, he mentioned that," Winnia answered. "He seemed relieved that the Arrows have been accepted back."
"Ah, but more relieved for the others and less for himself, I think."
Winnia blinked. "Eh?"
The Baroness tilted her head. "I think my new foster son is beginning to realize there are things more important than warfare and weapons training." A gentle expression crossed her face. "To tell you the truth, Winnia, it still seems strange to think of him as my son. As you might know, I only gave him that status in order to allow him access he might not otherwise have had. Now I find that I rather like the idea of having an heir. I'm too old to have children of my own and my sister's children are rather spoiled." She nodded to herself. "No, I think Chris will make a fine Baron. Don't you agree?"
"You seem startled. Is something on your mind?"
"No, it's just…" She hesitated. "I almost forgot he is now a noble."
This time the Baroness' smile was very compassionate. "And you are only a innkeeper's daughter, is that what you are thinking?"
Winnia felt her face turn a deep shade of red and she looked down at her lap, embarrassed. "It's silly, I know," she said softly, "and usually I am not a silly person. We've only been alone together a handful of times and we barely speak when we are together. It's absurd."
"But?" the Baroness prodded encouragingly.
Winnia raised her head. "But, I understand him. I've felt the same things he has felt and, even if he doesn't think of me in the same way, I want to be close to him. That is enough for me."
Chris' foster mother relaxed back into her chair, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Ah, but will it be enough forever?" Her eyes twinkled at Winnia. "I do not think so."
Confused, Winnia opened her mouth to question the older woman but she was interrupted by a knock and the opening of the chamber door.
"Baroness-sama." It was Fafal, the crimson-haired swordslinger of the Obstinate Arrows. She winked at Winnia upon seeing her. "Jill is here and would like to speak with you for a moment."
Hearing her cue, Winnia rose, gathering the tea things as she went. As she reached for the Baroness' empty cup, the old woman laid a hand on hers, freezing her in place.
"You are a very kind woman, Winnia Chester, and far stronger than most people understand." She patted her hand like a long lost grandmother. "Don't worry. I have a feeling things will work out the way they should."
Winnia blinked, wondering exactly what she meant, but nodded in agreement. Taking the tray, she hurried out of the room, feeling the Baroness' kindly but heavy gaze following her until she was out of sight.
"But, Winnia-san, are you sure you should go out?" Sutton asked doubtfully. "It looks like it's going to rain."
Winnia glanced at the blonde, secretly wondering for the hundredth time what talents the woman possessed to keep her in Chris's inner circle of Arrows. She was never very certain about anything and could actually be a bit of a crybaby. Still, Winnia supposed Chris had his reasons, even if she was hard pressed to understand them.
"I have to," Winnia told her, slipping her shopping basket into the crook of her arm. "There are some ingredients I need for dinner this evening."
"Send someone else to get them," Sutton replied at once. "The Baroness did not invite you here to be her servant. You are a guest!"
Winnia shook her head. "I don't mind. I'm used to it, and besides, everyone else is busy."
Sutton looked unconvinced and Winnia suddenly wondered why. She was not well acquainted with the Arrows that sometimes visited the manor although all of them were quite friendly to her. Perhaps it was just polite concern that made Sutton look so worried, but it still seemed strange. After all, it was not as if she were one of them.
"Don't worry," she said, "I'll be back soon." And before the other woman could protest, she hurried out, basket swinging as she walked.
Sutton watched her go glumly just as the first rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance. She sighed out loud.
"Chris is going to kill me."
To be continued…