Author's Note: A thank you to everyone who has been reading this. If you are interested in reading more about Chris/Winnia I'm going to be posting subsequent scenes/chapters at my live journal, the link to which you can find on my profile page. My ideas for them keep growing despite the fact that I'm pleased where this fic ends so I must give in to the fluffyness in other ways.
Forget the Clouds
Summer was definitely Winnia's favorite season. The heat of the sunshine felt good against her skin and the warm wind tossed dark pink locks of hair into her eyes playfully. There were thunderstorms in the afternoon, giving way to gentle evenings with brilliant stars. Perhaps the best thing, though, was that flowers still bloomed in summer, their colorful petals littering the breeze as it blew. She had always had a talent for growing things and working with her hands helped her to think and to clear her mind. It was the like the way she had always swept the inn floor at least five times when she was upset. When she was happy, she would go out and weed the garden, picking blossoms as she went.
As fate happened to have it, Baroness Bailaha had a slightly less than organized garden, both full of flowers as well as vegetables, and Winnia had immediately taken on the job of setting it in order, daunted not at all by the fact that the place hadn't seen a gardener in over a year. The little oval haven would be beautiful when she was finished, she knew it. With little brick passageways winding through it and a large willow tree on the far end with a bench under it's drooping boughs, it would be glorious when it was ready.
After receiving the final proclamation that she was healthy again from the doctor, she had set off for the garden at a leisurely pace, wearing a pastel sun dress that halted just above her knees, and had small silk straps that left her shoulders bare. It was her favorite dress and it felt good to be able to feel the summer air as she knelt by a patch of yellow roses, beginning to pull weeds away from the larger plants.
She worked for awhile in content silence, soon slipping off her shoes so she could feel the cool grass between her toes as she worked. She didn't think of much during that time, comfortable in the fact that she was happy. She hadn't felt completely at peace with herself in a long time, but with the dark earth beneath her, a golden sun above her, and the memory of Chris' voice inside her head, she could have laughed out loud in joy.
And she couldn't remember the last time she had done that.
Ah, it was with Pacifica.
Yes, that time when Pacifica had been wearing that silly Suppi-kun outfit and the jaw had fallen right off, sending her into a panic. It had almost hurt to laugh so hard then. Of course, after that there hadn't been much to laugh about at all, but now…
Now there were reasons again.
She smiled to herself, an expression that quickly faded as her first finger caught one of the rose's thorns, a small wounded sound escaping her as she jerked her hand away. Blood welled on her fingertip and she sighed softly. It was never good to daydream when working with roses. She should have known better.
"You cut yourself."
A pleasant shiver worked its way down her spine as she turned to find Chris standing next to her, for once dressed in comfortable pants and a button down white shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His eyes were fixed on her finger but she shook her head quickly.
"Mmmm, no, it's alright. I just wasn't paying attention is all."
Chris' gaze moved to her face and she saw something move within the dark depths of his eyes. She couldn't read his expression. "Why do you do that?"
She blinked. "Eh?"
"Make yourself seem unimportant."
She blushed and looked away, so startled by his observation that she told him the truth without thinking. "It's hard for me to find good things about myself, I guess. It just wasn't necessary growing up and…" She hesitated, "Uncle wasn't someone who talked a lot, even to me."
There was a moment of stillness, with only the birds singing in the trees, and then Chris knelt by her side, taking a white handkerchief from his pocket and tearing a strip from it as she watched, wide-eyed. With measured gentleness, he took her hand and wound the cloth around her first finger, stemming the blood flow as he tied it in a neat knot. He leaned back then and she touched the makeshift bandage, lifting her head to smile her thanks at him.
To her delight, he smiled back.
"Would you like to help me?" she asked, when she had gathered enough to courage. For an instant their eyes locked, deep brown meeting dark gold, and Winnia felt that pleasant shiver move through her again, only this time she thought she saw Chris tremble for an instant as well, a crack in his perfect composure.
His smooth voice drifted to her.
They weeded the rose patch for an hour in companionable silence, only speaking a few times with Winnia initiating most of the conversation. She asked about his plans for the day, learning that he had been called to the capital that afternoon to meet with Prince Forsis who was soon to become King in the next week. She didn't ask what the meeting was about, assuming it to be private since he and the Prince seemed to be close friends. She only hoped that one day he would confide in her as he did with Forsis-sama.
Wiping a hand across her forehead, she tilted her head back to find that the sun was already past its zenith, meaning they had missed lunch. It was funny, but with Chris the time seemed to move past her much faster than when she was alone.
She glanced over at him, smiling a little to see him so focused on such a menial task as weeding. He seemed to be enjoying it though, a relaxed look on his face, his body having lost the coiled spring tension she always felt from him, as if he were ready to move at a moment's notice.
Perhaps he too was at peace….with her.
"I'm going to be late for Forsis-sama," he said, following her example and sitting back away from the flowers. His eyes moved down from the sky to her…
…and something surprising happened.
His dark eyes twinkled and suddenly he was laughing, a deep, glowing amber laugh that made her sit up straighter, watching him in joyful bewilderment.
"What?" she asked, wondering what could be so funny. She had never heard him laugh before, she hadn't even known he still could, and the sound was so beautiful it made her want to cry and laugh with him at the same time.
Instead of answering, Chris leaned over and moved his fingers across her cheek, his touch making her jump, and he held up his hand so she could see. There was dirt on his fingertips.
"Eh!" She had smudged dirt on her face!
She clasped her hands over her cheeks in embarrassment, feeling the need to glare at Chris for laughing at her, but unable to in the face of his obvious amusement. In fact, after a minute, she was laughing with him simply because it felt good to do so.
Of course, the moment passed as all moments do, and Chris' mirth faded as he stood up, dusting off his pants as he offered her a hand. She took it, allowing him to pull her to her feet, her body tingling as she suddenly found herself very close to him.
Looking up into his face, he smiled gently, his hand holding hers just a moment longer than necessary before he released her to turn towards the manor.
Winnia lifted a hand hesitantly, making him look back at her over his shoulder.
"Go and come back safely."
He nodded once and headed silently back inside, Winnia watching him until he vanished from sight. Then her eyes caught the bandage on her finger and she couldn't help but smile.
The roses would need a little more tending.
"It's good to see you, Chris," Prince Forsis greeted him as he entered the library, his blue eyes looking at Chris kindly. The Obstinate Arrow leader bowed.
"Good afternoon, Forsis-sama," he replied, smiling slightly as he straightened. "You've picked a very good hiding place."
The Prince's fair complexion went a little pink. "Ah…well…Father's advisors have been very…insistent about the ceremonies required for my coronation. I needed a little time to clear my head." He motioned to the shelves of books that took up every wall. "This has always been a good place to do so. I…" Forsis hesitated, "I think my mother liked it here."
Chris schooled his expression. "The queen was a very gentle person," he acknowledged, a little surprised about the lack of an answering ache in his own heart. It was usually hard for him to hear people talk about their parents, their families, without feeling a little envious. This time he only felt a gentle empathy with the Prince.
It's like that empty space has been filled.
He blinked, caught off guard by his own thoughts.
"What are you thinking about, Chris?" Forsis asked curiously, taking a seat at the polished wooden table in the center of the room. He motioned for Chris to do the same. "You look like you're remembering something good."
Would you like to help me?
The Prince's smile grew. "Well? What is it?" When Chris seemed incapable of answering, Forsis seemed to get an idea. "I see. It has to do with a girl, doesn't it?"
Chris turned his gaze to the table top and Forsis linked his fingers together looking like he had just found a buried treasure. "I didn't know there was a lady you liked, Chris-san. She must be very special."
Chris managed to make a reply. "Ah." He really didn't want to talk about Winnia just yet. He had just figured out that the ragged remains of his emotions still functioned even after all these years of mindlessly following orders and he was in no condition to actively analyze those feelings quite yet. He would do so in his own way and in his own time. "Have you spoken to your sister lately? I heard she came to visit you last week."
Forsis seemed to see Chris' change of subject for what it was but only smiled and went along with it. "Yes, she said she would be sure to be here for my coronation. Leo-san is bringing her." He paused a moment, thinking. "I believe he said he might be bringing a… Miss Chester, too. I think she's a friend of his."
A very strange feeling shot through Chris' chest, an odd tightening that made his vision darken. He had never felt anything like it before and he wondered if he might be getting sick. But, no, he…
Outwardly composed, his voice came out like ice. "I'll be bringing her."
Forsis' pale eyebrows rose, surprised at Chris' tone. "Oh. I see. Leo-san must have been mistaken." Then he smiled slightly as something clicked into place. "Are you sure you don't want to tell me about this lady of yours, Chris?" he teased.
Chris favored him with a flat look.
The Prince laughed lightly. "Alright, alright, but please, you must introduce us at the coronation. Miss Chester must be extraordinary indeed to make Christopher Bailaha jealous."
"I think I hear your advisors coming," Chris replied calmly, watching with satisfaction as Forsis jumped up startled, his gaze on the door. After a minute, he looked at Chris and shook his head.
"That was mean, Chris-san."
Chris only smiled.
The streets of Saur were dark by the time the Bailaha carriage rolled through them, taking the family heir home for the evening. Chris was extremely anxious to get there for some reason. He wasn't even hungry and yet he found all he wanted to do was sit at the dining room table with the Arrows, the Baroness, and Winnia, and listen to them talk about the events of the day. Dennis and Fafal would beg for second helpings of whatever Winnia had made that night and she would give it to them, smiling happily at their antics. Sitting there silently, simply enjoying the atmosphere and knowing that Winnia had made it for him, he could be happy. He had felt the beginnings of it already and he had found it again in the garden with her, his first laugh in ages coming as freely as if he did it everyday.
He smiled slightly just thinking about it. Yes, he wanted to go home and know that she would be there, waiting for him.
Go and come back safely.
Outside, someone shouted and the carriage came to an abrupt halt. Chris reached for his axe lying on the empty seat across from him.
The carriage door splinted inwards before he could reach it.
"Good evening, boy. I'll be relieving you of your money tonight."
Winnia knew something was wrong when it began to rain.
The fact that summer storms had broke over the city was, in itself, not something to worry over, but the fact that Chris had not returned before them was. He had told the Baroness that he would be home before dinner and their meal sat on the table cooling, Dennis and Fafal utterly upset with their leader for doing something so reckless as to make them waste perfectly good food. Winnia would have told them to go ahead but, surprisingly, quiet Jill had told them Chris would be wanting them to eat together when he got back. The absolute conviction in the dark haired woman's voice was comforting since Jill sometimes had visions about the future. If she said Chris would be home, he would.
Still, Winnia worried.
And as the sky darkened, illuminated only by flashes of lightning, she knew something had happened.
Sitting near the closest window, still in her flimsy sundress, Winnia tried desperately to see through the rain-streaked window, her gaze riveted on the manor gates. She had absolute faith that Chris could take care of himself. He was an Obstinate Arrow, and she herself knew that they never faltered. But she did wish that he hadn't gone to see Forsis alone, that he had taken Dennis with him. With two Arrows together surely—
A dark shape resolved out of the rainy mist outside the gates.
Winnia gasped out loud and then lurched away from the window, uncaring of the startled exclamations from her friends as she ran down the hallway towards the main doors, pulling one open before hurrying out into the rain. She was instantly drenched as she bolted for the gates, her dress molding itself to her body as she ran, her eyes fixed on the limping figure trying to make it's way home.
She flung open the perimeter gates before he got there, shivering as she stood there, her heart beating wildly as she took in his condition. He had lost his cloak, his white shirt plastered to his chest, one shoulder dark with blood. His left leg seemed to be injured as well for he limped on it, hesitant to put too much weight on it. In his right hand he gripped his axe, the first joint still unattached, the chain wound around his wrist.
For a moment he did not see her, so focused was he on simply walking, but then she felt his gaze find her there in the night and, to her heartache, he smiled wearily.
She went to him as if she were being pulled, her whole body trembling as she realized she didn't know quite what to do. She knew what she wanted to do but was still a bit hesitant when it came to him, she didn't want to offend him.
Luckily, Chris solved her problem.
The moment she was near enough, he lifted his free hand and brought her to him in one quick movement, their rain kissed bodies colliding as he held her to him, his arm around her shoulders. Winnia's eyes widened to their fullest, unable to comprehend that Chris had just embraced her. Then the truth hit her like a stroke of lightning and she started to cry quietly, sobs racking her as she wept into his neck, her arms resting against his chest.
He held her silently for a moment, letting her cry, his breath coming a little harder than normal just above her ear. Then, when she started to get a hold of herself, she heard his low voice over the tinkling of the rain, an echo of it rumbling beneath her fingers.
"I'm alright, Winnia. I was caught off guard, a rookie mistake. It's the only reason they managed to cut me." His arm tightened around her and his cheek pressed against hers. "I'm alright."
Her fingers tightened in the sheer wet fabric of his shirt. "I knew something was wrong. I was worried."
Pressed against him, she felt a tension she hadn't known was there unwind at her words.
"I wanted to come home," he breathed softly. "I wanted to be where everyone was… where you were." She slid her hands over his chest and wound her arms around his neck to hold him closer as he spoke into the crook of her neck and shoulder, his own hand slipping down to her waist. "Winnia, I want you to stay with me. I want to come home at night and see you waiting for me. I…" His voice grew hoarse. "I want…"
She didn't wait for any more.
"I'll do whatever you want," she said, hugging him fiercely. "Just let me stay near you."
His head came to rest against her shoulder wearily and she stood there and held him while the rain mixed with her tears and dripped from the ends of his hair.
"Winnia, I'm back."
She closed her eyes.
"Welcome home, Chris-kun."