A/N: Takes place after Chris and Nash visit the Water Altar at Alma Kinan, and before they find Wyatt. This story follows the manga version of events, but certain scenes from the game do apply. Possible spoilers, and very slight ChrisxNash. Please see author's note at the end.
"It is easy to despise what you know you cannot have." - The Fox and the Grapes, Aesop's Fables
Anyone who asks me where I got my scarf will have the answer of 'my missus', but in truth, it was given to me by my sister, a product of her school's home economics program, which she had tried so very hard to ace. The casual striped green had run and come off in some places, but the memories of home, and of Julie in particular, were what really made me treasure wearing it, and why it was so special, even now. When I had first left to go journeying, it had been my sole source of comfort and warmth, the frayed edges at once reminding me of how she had pricked her finger an endless amount of times only to get an average grade in the end. Having wept over it piteously ("Oh honestly, all that effort, wasted!"), I had smiled and cuddled her close and told her I still thought it was great, and she could still pursue her seamstress dreams (because she switched fancies every week, starting with author, actress, singer, and for the longest time after, teacher,) if she really, really wanted to.
"Fine then, you can have it. But now I want to be a professional florist."
Her dreams were so far-fetched, I could only laugh. Thinking back on it now, though, I realize that's what she would have been best at: arranging flowers (or hairdressing?).
After those first few travels, and when Julie started hating me, it had been more rugged then ever before. Much as I didn't want to ruin its authenticity, I had to, because it was torn in some places, and the frayed edges were threatening to unravel completely. I took it to a proper seamstress, who fixed it up nearly good as new; I have been taking meticulous care of it ever since. It rarely ever leaves my neck.
It's interesting how when you wear something long enough, it becomes a real part of you – an irremovable organ instead of a detached ornament. It's a strange feeling: a comfort, mostly, but sometimes it can be a bother too. Especially if whatever you're wearing tends to get dirty.
I felt as if someone was dragging out my liver as I unwound my scarf from around my head and dropped it into the stout woman's laundry basket. Her bright face looked heavily into mine. "Not much to wash today, have we?"
I shrugged. "I put off cleaning that for so long; it really is the only thing that needs it. I take care of my other garments well enough, so there's no need for me to have less of them." I laughed smartly, having meant it in jest, but she must've taken me seriously to some extent. A hot blush spread over her already ruby cheeks, and I tried with some difficulty to remember if she was married., and how much I had spoken sweetly in order to get my laundry done for free.
"Anyway, I'll be picking it up this afternoon since we're only staying in the village for a day or so before we press on."
She raised an eyebrow, suddenly miffed. "'We' being who, sir?" I very nearly answered honestly; then I remembered I was going to have to deter her from any notions about us together.
I took in the wobbly stomach behind the white apron and the fiercely flushed face, and hastily replied, "My missus, of course. We're on a…third honeymoon, of sorts." I eased on a believable grin.
Unable to disguise her disappointment, the crimson seeped out of her face and she gazed limply into the basket. "Oh, I see. My own Arthur, he never did take me on a proper honeymoon, but that's what ye get when ye marry a potions merchant." She looked at me rather woefully. "Well, ye'll come back to pick it up in three hours, I want it to dry up a bit after, see."
"To be sure, ma'am. I heard you've got the best soap in town."
The words slipped out of my tongue just quick enough so I couldn't catch them. Tooooo much flattery, Nash! I saw the phantom blush coming back onto her countenance and hurriedly stepped back, gave a wave, and shot out of the door. A bell sounded cheerily, and when the last of the wood had closed one could clearly seen the sign bearing the words, Sally's Laundry Service.
"I don't go to whorehouses! I'm married, for crying out loud!"
"The bar, then. Drinking."
"I told you, it was just the laundry."
"Laundry! Nash, we need to get a move on. You always pride on washing your own clothes!"
"Yes, but only with river water and no soap! I needed soap!"
Her narrowed eyes caught sight of my surprisingly bare neck.
"Hey, that scarf's very important to me."
"Why? Because your missus, or maybe Jeanie or Beth or Kate or Sandra or WHOEVER, gave it?"
"Can't I at least say I've got a missus and have you believe it? I wouldn't wear an old girlfriend's trinket all the time, would I? Besides, I never dated anyone with any of those names – well, except for Kate, and that was when I was like…fifteen, or something." I smirked.
Her eyebrows tightened across her forehead in anger. "Three hours wasted!"
"So? Come on, you can wait a little. Sleep or something. You're tired."
"Can't you stop being so disgustingly suggestive even for just a few minutes?"
"I never suggested anything!"
"Then wipe that stupid grin on your face!"
I did as she requested, graciously and quickly enough. I had promised to myself quietly, in some corner of my mind before, that I'd let her win a battle just once, because my endless victories were wearing her out. And getting on her nerves.
I saw her lips press together in irritation and remembered that oath, but right now I couldn't afford to lose. It wasn't pride, but my liver. My scarf.
"Think of it this way - we have enough time to restock on our supplies and check out the village weaponry and armory, right?"
I could see she was going to have to raise a white flag soon. I waited expectantly. She struggled with herself for a moment, then straightened her shoulders and, in a supreme effort of humility, muttered 'fine'. I did my best not to smile or seem relieved, and gestured for the door. "To the shops, then?"
"I suppose so." Chris didn't acknowledge me with so much as a glance even as I held the door open for her, walking past as stiff and strong as her pride would allow, her bright leather boots heavy on the inn's hardwood as she descended the stairs.
Strangely enough, she doesn't even know my name.
Clovis suits me well. It's a handy alias, scraped off and plagiarized from a worn-down label on an ancient whisky bottle in the Latjke cellar – found because of Lena's dare, and treasured and remembered because well, it sounds cool, doesn't it? Much better than my real name, which has caused much spite and a handful of assassins to be pointed in my direction. Nobody even knows that it's from wine, because ever since the Redrum family had started churning out their own brand, Clovis Whisky had probably gone out of business. I use it at my leisure, only reverting back to Latjke with my very few familiars.
I wish now, though, that I hadn't thought it up so easily.
Looking at Chris, who sometimes calls me simply Clovis out of pure sarcasm (or maybe because she wants to be polite to spite me,) I can't help but regretting it. I never meant to lie.
No, wait. I did mean to.
Only I didn't expect myself to start honestly caring.
She eyed me from over the racks of medicine bottles in the store, weary now. She hasn't spoken to me over the last thirty minutes, our avoidance further marked by the distance she kept in staying near me. Two and a half hours to go. We needed to communicate soon, and rather than have herself snob me, she took the initiative and started talking. "How many healing medicines do we have left in stock, anyway?"
"Four," I answered, as casual as possible.
"Only!" She said it with surprise, but toned down the incredulity in her voice. I could almost hear her wanting to add, "You let our stocks be reduced to that little?" Still, if we'd debate on that, she'd lose most definitely. It wouldn't do at all. Instead, she started for the counter, calling steadily over her shoulder. "In that case, we ought to buy some more. You should've told me sooner."
She spoke to the shopkeeper quickly, making out that she hadn't heard my apology.
I stood by the wall, inspecting a plate that indicated the shop items' authenticity. The merchant's name, engraved in the ivory, was a reminder that if I died now, the name that would go down for me would be a falsehood. A lie.
Chris will most certainly have a hundred mounts, if not statues, done in her honor. Every one of them will echo a truth, and a daunting legacy, in the inscription of LIGHTFELLOW.
That is, of course, if she doesn't get married.
On the way to the weaponry, we passed by a tailor's shop. The brightly lit store window displayed a bridal grown, full-on white and pink, trimmed with lace and flowers. It reminded me of my own unreal bride, and with it, my unreal wedding and home and heart. I tried to think of something witty to say; a new adjective or tale to add to my missus's credit, whoever she was – but the display must have stirred thoughts of my wife for Chris, too, because she suddenly asked,
"Isn't she worried about you?"
It wasn't a question done out of kindness, but out of point blank curiosity.
"I wouldn't feel well at ease knowing my husband was off somewhere, possibly getting into harm. Not that I know much about such things," She coughed uncomfortably. "I figured anyone would. And if indeed you are notorious for being what you are, I'd have even more reason to fret."
I laid a hand on my hip languidly. "My missus trusts me, unlike some women around here."
"I can't imagine why she would."
Easy. "I send her messages from time to time."
"Messages full of lying, no doubt."
In reality, I couldn't say anything to that. But it didn't matter, because I was keeping up this game for as long as I could; or for as long as Sasarai asked me to, whichever ended first. Instead, I shook my head. "What makes you so certain that I never tell the truth? I can be honest."
She whirled away from the store window and crossed her arms, daring. "Prove it, then."
I raised an eyebrow, indifferent. "All right. You want my honest opinion on something? I do think you'd look great in that wedding dress."
Exasperated now, she shut her mouth with a great effort and stomped on down the road.
"Hey, I was telling the truth," I whined after her. She had tilted her head to indicate she wasn't listening, and I could almost hear the cobblestone underneath her heels screeching with pain. I probably shouldn't have said that, knowing how much it would aggravate her – but I had been completely earnest in saying that. What guy wouldn't want Chris Lightfellow walking down his own wedding aisle?
As far as lifelong vows went, though, it wouldn't do for a flighty, constantly on-the-go guy for me. Besides, settling down with someone would…cramp my style?
No, I was lying to myself. Of course I would've loved to have a real missus.
I started down the road after Chris, thinking about all the other girls who could've been wearing such a dress, and for me. Lena had given me a kiss once – but that was in order for me to escape, and she had dug her fingernails into my scalp really hard as a reminder. Besides, living with her and her garishly strict tendencies would be difficult, and she was my aunt. I couldn't bear anyone too clingy or needy either – a reminder of that blond teenager who had so affectionately tugged at my hand and declared me her biggest crush once. Nina, was it? I had met so many lovely ladies on my travels, their names were starting to melt and fuse in my mind. There was that teleportress, yes, and Elza from the guild (what a coincidence that was,) and…the lady that I had tried to help out during the Dunan Unification War. And…oh yes. One name stayed stuck in my mind, and would always.
I choked back a snicker, remembering her batty insults and sharp tongue and how she had so often clocked me a good one. I wondered where she was now, and which poor unfortunate fiend she was bloodsucking dry. Of course, she had taken the liberty of fleeing while I was asleep, without even leaving my porter's fee (and I had shipped much more than the price was worth, truly). That had been extremely unfair – and when I had helped her vanquish her bloodthirsty old boyfriend, too! Then I remembered the deep crimson of her eyes and how, overrun with the passion of youth, I had told her once I wouldn't mind becoming a vampire for her, really.
It was a thought that jolted me.
Had I honestly been prepared to do all that? Give up humanity, for crying out loud?
…I couldn't guess what exactly I had been thinking then. Too many years had worn down such fiery resolution – now I was cautious, and learned, and sure. On the inside, at least, because such things weren't exactly for showing on the outside, if you wanted to get across to women.
Really, I had cared for Sierra; however, she was a vampire (mother of all vampires, actually), and a bearer of the true rune. Even if she hadn't left me then, no matter how long she stayed, I would still be somewhat behind. Also, her form was sixteen. Twenty-one years would set us too far apart, making our relationship look disturbingly wrong. And she was too callous, too demanding. We'd probably quarrel if we were together, and I'd never have peace (not that I ever did).
Still, I closed my eyes and silently wished her well, whatever she was doing,
Then my thoughts drifted back to my 'missus'.
She had all the ghoulish qualities of an inflamed Sierra, an insulted Lena, and a stubborn Chris. She was also very strict and staunchly powerful; she didn't hold any true love for me, yet she had no qualms about my qualifications, and that suited us both fine. Some days she mattered, and some days she was the farthest thing from my mind; but I had pledged my loyalty to her, and that was why I was never entirely free. I had sworn 'till death do we part' to something --
My work, which I couldn't sacrifice real love in any sort of form for.
This reminded me, just as the weaponry door banged shut behind me, that I needed to send word to Sasarai soon on the development of things. We had been to the Water Altar of Alma Kinan, and to the battle at Chisha (much to my disagreement), and were now finally really on the trail of Wyatt Lightfellow. I stepped out for a moment when Chris was too deeply absorbed in asking about the attributes of that lovely broadsword on display, and heaved a whistle on the street – not for any passing ladylove, but for a messenger bird.
"For the bishop, Dominguez Jr. And no side comments this time."
A/N: This takes place in a fictional village, because I didn't know enough about the different villages to apply them as a setting in this story, and besides, even if I did, I would have taken far too many liberties. My knowledge of their world is limited as it is, but I hope it seems apt enough to be taken for any random town.
Because this story is supposed to explain certain stuff, like Nash's undercover name, I had to make up a lot of things, but I did my best to be realistic. I don't really know much about the Suikogaiden games, and I haven't even finished my own file in Suikoden III, but I hope no storyline mistakes were too glaring. Also, his feelings and thoughts on Sierra may not be flattering, but that's what I think he'd feel, at least. I don't mean to put down the coupling, of course. That's all very well too. :D
This was initially one big body of work, but I decided to clip it down into chapters for clarity. If you enjoyed it, please leave a review. I'll be uploading the following chapters soon.