Disclaimer: Nope. Don't own them yet.

Author's Notes: This is another Chris/Winnia fic set before the last episode and the infamous "carriage scene". Should be considered a sequel to "Forget the Clouds", but you don't have to have read that one to understand this one. Enjoy.

In the Business

Christopher Bailaha had never been a weak person. Or, at least, he could not remember being so. He was a commander, a soldier, trained almost from birth to follow orders and to die at a moment's notice if that meant getting the job done. It wasn't that hard, the dying. He had come close many times. No, it was the living that was difficult.

It was a lesson learned only recently, somehow tied into images of Forsis stabbing himself and a pair of golden eyes watching him with hope as he ruthlessly walked past, breaking her. It was the sum total of a golden-haired girl coming back to life, a tearful reunion of siblings, and the knowledge that never again would he be forced to do something he didn't believe in.

He could choose.

That was why he had come here to the Casull farm, a single sentence caught within the prison of his heart and echoed in his eyes. Shannon Casull had read that command, that wish, easily and had reacted in a manner that Chris had come to expect from one of the Providence Breaker's guardians.

He snorted and told him to draw his sword.

They were standing in a pasture, a small herd of horses grazing on the hill nearby, the sun sliding over Chris' shoulders and warming him. The air was fragrant, the birds were singing, and Shannon Casull was preparing to fight him.

It was perfect.

He had fought the man before and gotten beaten as well, but Chris was sure he now knew the reason why. Before, in the glass gorge, Chris had had no aim except to follow orders. Shannon, on the other hand, had been fighting to protect someone and that had given him a strength Chris had been incapable of knowing.

Had been.

Things had changed, lots of things. Especially… her.

She was sitting on the fence nearby, Pacifica next to her. They were chatting quietly, Pacifica giggling now and then while Winnia smiled, content. She did not laugh often but when she did, it was with such soft honesty that Chris had often been inclined to join her. He didn't, of course, it still wasn't that easy for him. But he was learning. He was changing too.

He would wake up in the morning only to see her face, to speak with her in passing, to make her smile. The nights he spent with her on the balcony were like pearls, his days with her in the garden, diamonds. If he could have, he would have strung all those moments together and laid them around her neck like a memory, a ring of stars and moons.

Only with her did he feel… did he feel. And he was beginning to understand why.

The thought was disconcerting, of course. He had had an inkling of it when the Baroness had made him her heir. A small part of his empty heart had filled, a piece of his missing past clicking into place. With Winnia the part was larger, the piece bigger. She was filling him, heart and soul, and he knew he had to find a new way to live. One that didn't involve orders and laws and obligations.

His new world would be made of choices. His own.

And so he challenged Shannon Casull to spar with him.

They came together in a clash and then broke apart with the speed of lightning. Chris disengaged his axe, sending the chained sections flying towards his opponent. Shannon avoided them by flipping forwards, forcing Chris to retreat in order to stay out of reach of the other's sword. He recalled the end of his axe and moved to the side, eyes narrowing as he focused.

The girls on the fence went silent, curious.

Shannon attacked, the full force of his blade landed squarely against Chris' upraised axe. For a moment, there was a battle of pure strength and then Shannon pushed forward with an extra ounce of willpower. Chris' feet slid backwards in the dirt.

"If you're going to be in the business of protecting someone, you have to fight with their safety in mind, always." Shannon's eyes flickered towards the fence. "Even now, you must be completely aware of that person." With a flick of his free hand, the dark haired swordsman sent a dagger flying over Chris' shoulder, his intent clear.

Eyes widening slightly, Chris sent the sections of his axe whirling behind him to snap the knife out of the air, sending it careening into the ground where it impacted cleanly. He took a step backwards then, startled, and all too aware of the dagger's destination.

His voice came out almost too low to hear. "You would have hurt her just to prove a point?"

Shannon looked at him as if he had missed something important, an adult impatient with a child's progress. "That dagger is fake, it's painted wood. It would have left a bruise, that's all, but I knew it wouldn't reach her." The swordsman nodded towards the fence. "The crucial thing is that you thought she was in danger and reacted accordingly."

Chris looked away for a moment. "I don't want to be strong only when she's about to be harmed."

"You won't be, axe boy." Shannon paused briefly, searching for quiet words. "Protecting someone is both a burden and an honor, but it's a weight you choose for yourself. If you accept that, then their presence will only give you strength. Alone, you'll just be another soldier." He glanced at Winnia. "Together, you will be more."


Chris followed the other man's gaze, watching the wind brush through Winnia's burnished hair, her gold eyes watching him inquisitively, concerned. He wasn't sure why, but the image of her sitting there, worried for him, made something warm curl into his chest and take root.

He was filled.

"I'm not alone," he murmured to the breeze. Shannon caught his words and nodded with understanding.

He was, after all, in the business.