Originally written for the KKM Xmas Exchange on LiveJournal. Hope you enjoy:D And neverending thanks and cookies go to Lena Inverse and fuchschen for betaing for me (love)

Name of Recipient: alliradream
Pairings/Characters: Anissina/Gwendal, Cheri, mentions of Conrart and Wolfram.
Rating: PG
Warnings: Nada
Disclaimer: (looks in empty wallet) Nope. KKM couldn't be mine.
Original Request: GwendalxAnissina - Glimpses of backstory and towards the future. Personal interpretation of how they might have met, how they became friends and how they've continued being friends through the years, and even moved to 'romance'. Fluff and humor a must. Might have minor angst (dealing with Gwendal's father or Celi marrying again, or dealing with Dan Hiri and things like that), but fluffy mostly: let's not forget Gwendal's knitting and Anissina's inventions, please. Might show background couples and charactersbut focus over Gwendal and Anissina, please. And since this'd be as fluffy as possible, PG13 tops. It can be either a couple!fic or a friendship!fic, but couple!fic would be prefered.
Summary: To choose one's own way is to choose one's happiness.

Things such as youth and love were not to be wasted, a fact that Her Majesty Queen Cecile von Spitzweg knew all too well. It was because of this that she tried her hardest to make sure Gwendal and Conrart made their own decisions in almost every aspect of their lives, and almost always got their way. She would never force them to play with kids they didn't want to, nor ask them to eat foods to which they were adverse. She would teach them about the importance of approaching the world with an open heart and mind and would sneak a comment about free-love into almost every conversation. She wanted nothing more than for them to be happy, and she believed that happiness could only be found on one's own, and so would do everything in her power to ensure that her sons would never be forced into anything. That was her duty as a mother.

However, she had another duty to which she was sworn, and that was her duty as the Demon Queen. Much to Cheri's discontent, there were times when her role as a ruler outweighed what she thought was best for her sons; times when she would have to sacrifice her sons' happiness for the sake of her country. Cheri would look for any possible way to not let this happen, but oftentimes there was nothing she could do. A point that Sir von Krelnikov was currently making far too clear.

After the death of Cheri's first husband, the Voltaire region had been left without a governing official, as Sir von Voltaire had no siblings and Gwendal was at the time unfit for the position. Therefore, the role had fallen to the next most qualified person: General Hagen Warrik. The general proved to be a harsh ruler, governing the Voltaire region with something just short of an iron fist. Moreover, it was soon discovered that he held little regard for the boundaries set for the other aristocrat's regions, and was constantly encroaching on their land in order to steal their resources.

Lately, General Warrik had been targeting the Krelnikov Province, which had put the two territories quite at odds. With the threat of a civil war looming over their heads, the country began to demand a solution from their Queen. Though she tried her best, none of the possibilities Cheri had come up with had been enough. The General would settle for nothing less than sole ownership of the land he had forcibly taken. Cheri and her longtime friend, Sir Medwin von Krelnikov, had tried to reason with General Warrik, but even their best efforts had been for naught. Negotiations with the General typically resulted in nothing but more bad blood between the two aristocrats. Cheri had racked her brains endlessly for a solution, but nothing came. Just when she was about to give up hope, Medwin von Krelnikov had shown up in her throne room with a resolution, albeit an unsettling one.

"I know this seems like the best way to stop a civil war, but Medwin…you know how I feel about planned marriages. Love should be free! A beautiful thing for all youths to discover on their own! I would hate to take that away from Gwendal. And he and Anissina are so young. Not even forty years old."

Cheri heard a heavy sigh come from behind her, the couch's fabric shifting loudly as Medwin got up from where he was seated. She felt, more than saw, him come to her side, joining her in overlooking the garden where Cheri's son was attending one of his first sword practices. Cheri had known Medwin a long time. She could remember all too clearly when they'd first met, only weeks after she was crowned queen. While the other aristocrats seemed scornful of her girlish antics and severely doubted her abilities as a ruler, the two of them had hit it off almost immediately, becoming as close as two married government officials could without starting up a scandal. She knew that, out of anyone, Medwin would understand her opposition to an arranged marriage between their children. But Cheri also knew that he understood how much she cared for her people, and was aware that sacrifices would have to be made for its betterment.

"Your Majesty," Medwin began, watching as the young Prince adjusted his stance in response to his sword trainer's instructions. Cheri was quick to correct him, however, with a well placed pout.

"Honestly, Medwin. We've been friends for nearly a hundred years. You can stop using my title, now."

With a small chuckle, he continued, "Very well. Cheri." With the correction, his friend stopped pouting, and they both found themselves suppressing laughter as Gwendal put too much momentum into the swing of his sword, causing him to spin quickly around and fall heavily on his rear. "I agree that it would be a shame to take away the joys of falling in love from them." With another sigh, Cheri heard him turn to face her, and she knew exactly what he was about to say. The fact that he was right brought tears springing to her eyes. "But, as rulers it is our duty to do what we can for our people, and if the disputes between the von Krelnikov and von Voltaire regions are not settled, it will not be long before hundreds of lives are pointlessly lost in a civil war." His gentle hand came to rest on her shoulder then, and she found herself suddenly repulsed by it. She knew that if she turned and met his eyes, she would fold. And she didn't want that; didn't want to be forced to understand and once again make a decision upholding the duties of a position she'd never asked for. When she felt a light push on her shoulder, gently demanding she look at the man beside her, she almost fought against it, but by the time she had decided to do just that she had found herself looking directly into pleading eyes.

"This is not something I ask of you lightly," he said in an almost-whisper; the tone of voice used when a person is desperately seeking understanding. "I, too, want my child to be as happy as she deserves; to marry someone she genuinely cares for. To even think of telling her she must marry a stranger fills me with guilt. Even faced with our current dilemma, I do not intend to do that." At Cheri's look of slight confusion, Medwin gave her a smug grin, and she watched as he moved back to the sofa. "Which is why," he began, pouring himself some tea, sipping it slowly and intently before continuing, "I propose that we allow Anissina to stay here with you. To allow them to…get better acquainted."

"Oh?' she responded, a mischievous sparkle coming into her eyes as she caught on to what her friend was implying. Turning back toward the window to gaze at her son-who had just relocated his sword after flinging it into the bushes, where it had landed as a result of his grip failing-an impish grin spread across her lips. "And perhaps love will find its own way…"

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"Gwen, darling. This is Lord von Krelnikov's daughter, Anissina von Krelnikov. She'll be staying with us from time to time while her father is on business."

Standing by his mother's side, Gwendal took in the sight of the girl in front of him with caution. To put it lightly, he had a bad feeling about the young noble. She, unlike him, was standing directly in front of her father, as though making a statement, an air of superiority about her and large, blue eyes twinkling with what could only be explained as contempt. He couldn't place exactly why, but he distrusted this girl, and somehow knew she would be trouble. However, forty years of etiquette training could not be denied, and so he bowed politey...and immeidately felt as though doing so was somehow a mistake.

When Gwendal rose from his bow, he found Anissina with her arms folded across her chest, stubbornly refusing to return the gesture.

"Anissina," her father implored, a hand coming to rest on her shoulder. "Aren't you going to properly greet the young lord?"

Sticking her nose into the air, Anissina haughtily replied, "Momma said never to bow to a man."

Gwendal's previously neutral expression melted into a frown as the room fell into surprised silence, broken only by the sound of birds singing outside the window and his mother's failed attempts at stifling her laughter.

After several seconds of bewilderment, Lord von Krelnikov broke in with a chuckle, "My apologies," he began, directing it toward Gwendal...though obviously more amused than sorry. "My late wife was quite the women's rights activist, and it would seem as though that has rubbed off on my daughter." If possible, Gwendal would swear that Anissina grew even more smug with the mention of her mother.

Of course, his mother only found the display amusing. "Well isn't that just the cutest thing?" she exclaimed, running up to crush the young girl in her embrace. "I'm sure we're going to just love having you around, sweetie." Releasing Anissina-who had been making muffled noises of displeasure at being assaulted by Cheri's motherly bosom-the queen turned toward her son with a smile that was far too sweet to be innocent. "Well, Gwennie! I expect you to be a gentleman to Anissina. She's in a new place and will need a friend to show her around." With that, Cheri grabbed Sir von Krelnikov and exited the room, saying something about signing some sort of agreement…and leaving their children alone with each other.

All it seemed they could do was stare at each other; Anissina with a challenging look in her eye, as though trying to assert that she had no doubt in her mind she was better than him, and Gwendal, aiming to disprove such a ridiculous idea, fixing her with a stern frown. They stayed that way for several minutes, neither one wanting to relent, until, with an inward sigh, he decided to follow his mother's instructions and show their "guest" around the castle…though he doubted that any good could come out of such an arrangement.

His doubts were confirmed when, after offering his arm to escort her, Anissina once again put her nose to the air. "I don't need a man's help to find my way. Everyone knows men are useless when it comes to direction, anyway." With that, she walked briskly past him, going in the opposite direction than their parents had gone not five minutes ago.

Vexed, Gwendal gave only a small, "Humph," before going back to the garden to practice more with his sword. However, he found it impossible to concentrate, as Anissina and her elitist attitude kept popping back into his head. It would anger him anew each time, forcing him to assure himself that he was better off practicing than showing such a…child around his home. If she didn't want his help or company, he certainly didn't want to give it, and would be sure to avoid her as much as was physically possible. It was a large castle, after all, so the chance of them having to interact was relatively small.

…or so he thought, until later when he headed toward his room to retire for the night, and discovered that the room she would be staying in was right next to his.

------------

Their plan wasn't working.

Almost five years had passed since Anissina had first started coming to the castle, and Medwin and Cheri had noticed no progression in their children's relationship. When at first they'd noticed the two weren't getting along, they thought nothing of it, assuming that Gwendal and Anissina would eventually grow on each other. However, the contempt they held toward one another only seemed to get worse. Their arguments could be heard clear across the castle, leaving every resident walking on eggshells whenever they ran into the temperamental young nobles. Fights that used to consist of nothing more than hurled insults and hurt pride, had recently evolved into more physical scuffles, complete with black eyes and ripped clothes. It had gotten to the point where soldiers were stationed just down the hall from Gwendal and Anissina's rooms at all times, to ensure that such fights were broken up before they became too severe.

"Oh, Medwin," Cheri sighed, head resting dolefully on the palm of her hand, trademark pout on her lips once again. "They're not getting along at all, are they? I mean…just today I found Gwen practicing his swordplay on a dummy with red fabric for hair and blueberries for eyes…"

"And Anissina has been making sketches during her lessons of a dark haired boy bowing to a red haired queen…" Sharing a dejected sigh, Cheri and Medwin stared hopelessly at a document laid out before them, both their signatures scrawled across the bottom. It was the arranged marriage agreement between their children, which they had both signed after introducing the two. Now they were wondering just how wise it was for them to have done so.

"I was so sure it would work," Cheri said, pouting even more. "I've never failed at matchmaking before. But they seem to hate each other, and I just don't understand why." Picking the document up and giving it a scornful look, Cheri added, "Maybe we should just burn this and annul the agreement."

"Your Maj-Cheri," he corrected, once his friend's disapproving gaze was quickly redirected at him. "You know we can't do that. My brother and the people of the Krelnikov province already know of their eventual union, and I daresay that the acting head of state in the Voltaire region does as well. It's all that's kept us from war these past few years."

"But what are we to do!?" Cheri asked, flopping backwards onto the couch and covering her eyes with her arm, allowing the marriage agreement to flutter to the floor. She felt utterly defeated, and the whole business was just making her feel exhausted. "We can't marry them if they're going to kill each other. Although...all that anger could make for some great se-"

Before she could finish, Medwin interrupted with a loud cough, and Cheri couldn't help the small smirk that found its way to her lips. "We shouldn't give up just yet," he said, as businesslike as a man could be when his daughter's future romantic life had been brought up. Just because he was trying to marry her off didn't mean he wanted to hear about his little girl's bedroom life. "Perhaps we just aren't trying hard enough. We need to bring them closer, somehow. And," he began, entwining his fingers together in a manner that Cheri knew could only mean he was plotting something. "I believe I know just how to do it."

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Gwendal could not believe his current situation.

After spending an entire day cooped up in an office with Gunter, learning about how important it was for him to know the ins and outs of signing official documents and reading word for word what was printed on each one, Gwendal was exhausted in both body and mind. When he had found his thoughts wandering to questions of just how old Gunter was-the man had looked the same for as long as he could remember-and what his teacher's secret was to staying so young, Gwendal had pleaded to be released on the pretense of a headache. He'd been looking forward to curling up in bed and getting a good night's sleep.

He had not, however, been expecting a soldier to be in his room. A soldier who, after being furiously yelled at by the prince, informed him that Her Majesty Queen Cheri herself had shown him to this room, saying it was the only one available while security was tightened for an upcoming ball. Cheri, with her impeccable timing, had shown up just then, and when Gwendal asked where he was supposed to stay, his mother flashed him another not-so-innocent smile before assuring him that she had already made arrangements.

And that was how he had found himself staying in Anissina's room, with tension so thick it was nearly impossible to breathe.

For some strange reason, Cheri and Lord von Krelnikov had forbade the two of them from leaving the room once the sun went down, saying it was much too dangerous for children not yet even fifty to be out at night. This elicited a skeptical frown from Gwendal, who, for as long as he could remember, had never been told that the halls of the castle were dangerous at night. But, Gwendal was a proper young noble, training to be a soldier, and knew orders were orders and that was that, so he stayed in the room and tried to read a book in the dim light of the candle.

"You're going to go blind, you know." Of course, his companion was not one to let a night pass without confrontation.

Rolling his eyes and gritting his teeth, Gwendal responded with, "And you're going to die an old maid."

"Better an old maid than a wife oppressed by a useless blind man."

"You have a nasty attitude." He retorted, flipping a page and not bothering to look up. "I don't see how you could have been raised as a noble."

"Hmph! Well, my mother-"

"Your mother," he interrupted, patience finally snapping, "was an elitist fool with as little etiquette as you, and even less sense to have raised a daughter that will never contribute to the family line. Why your father would ever marry such a woman makes me doubt his intelligence as well."

The room fell completely silent then, leaving Gwendal to wonder if perhaps he had gone too far. Insulting another person's parents, especially when one was deceased, was certainly not considered very tactful, and judging by the sudden and loud slam of a drawer near Anissina, he had upset her greatly. Knowing what was to come, he readied himself for the impact of a flying object...

And waited. And waited. After five minutes had passed with no assault, Gwendal cautioned a quick look, afraid that he had sent the girl to her bed in tears. What he saw made him drop his book to the floor.

Anissina was…knitting. The same Anissina who refused to do anything considered "women's work" was doing something that was closely associated with being a woman. And Gwendal, caught completely off guard, said the first thing that came to mind, even though reason would usually have told him that he had said enough for the night.

"Hmph. …Isn't that too girly a thing for you to be doing?"

Anissina didn't miss a beat when she replied, "Knitting is an art. It's creating. It being labeled as something only women do was just a man's way of covering up his inability to do anything of the sort."

And that was it. Gwendal couldn't take it anymore. For five years he had put up with Anissina's constant man-bashing, doing nothing more than getting into petty arguments and fights with her. He had had enough. He shot out of his chair, marched over to Anissina's desk, and ripped the knitting supplies out of her hands. He would show her that a man could do anything a woman could. He would shut. Her. Up.

…or so he thought. Knitting proved to be a lot harder than it looked. The yarn kept slipping off the needles, and he couldn't seem to make anything but a lumpy knot that looked nothing like the elegant and stylistic knot-work that Anissina had already done. He tried changing positions and switching needles, even going so far as to use his teeth, but nothing would work. And when he had somehow managed to tie his fingers together, Anissina's shocked expression at having her things taken from her morphed into one of smug satisfaction.

"See? Told you a man couldn't do it." The remark only added to Gwendal's frustration, causing him to throw the bundle of yarn to the floor and storm out of the room, completely disregarding his mother's orders to stay there.

Watching him go and picking up the failed attempt at knitting with a small and triumphant smile, Anissina couldn't help but think that maybe not all men were worthless.

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Years passed, and Gwendal had recently found himself to be an older brother once again. The small, blond-haired child looked exactly like his mother in every way, and, despite what everyone else in the castle seemed to think, Gwendal knew that this one was going to be a much bigger handful than Conrart had been. Where everyone else only saw a giggling, cooing, delightful baby boy, Gwendal saw the same mischievous twinkle in his younger brother's eyes that he had first seen in a certain young noblewoman's. A twinkle that he had seen sparkling to life more often when he was around her…

Anissina's visits to the castle had become increasingly frequent after his knitting failure, as though the Original King was punishing him for some reason by inflicting such a stuck up brat upon him. To make things worse, she seemed to have made it her mission to irritate him every chance she got. Everywhere he turned, she was there with a comment that would immediately have his irritation flaring. When he didn't respond in a way that was to her liking, she would waste no time one-upping him in every little thing.

During their lessons-which had also somehow become a shared activity of theirs, after his mother insisted that Gunter simply didn't have the time to teach them separately-Anissina would always be the first to blurt out her answer, not even bothering to raise her hand, and never hesitated to correct or add on to Gwendal's answers. In horse lessons, she would be the one to bring her horse to the steadiest trot, and would attract the most attention at any of the royal balls. Most recently, she had taken up the sword.

And was beating him.

It was vexing beyond all reason, and that was partly why she was so easily able to surpass him at everything. Gwendal became so distracted by his irritation he would lose his ability to concentrate, causing him to make silly mistakes or not listen at all. Every time it happened Anissina would give him that same smug and triumphant look that seemed to be reserved only for him. Worst of all, he kept spotting his mother and Lord von Krelnikov exchanging victorious looks whenever Anissina bested him or he let his irritation show, as though they wanted the red headed girl to be the better of the two.

It was because of this he had stayed out training so late one night, trying his hardest to get his mind off the young noble and improve, lest he be seen as a weakling in the eyes of his own mother. When he did think of Anissina, it was to imagine the best way to disarm her, or the look of defeat on her face when he would finally send the sword flying from her hands. And when he finally retired for the night, it was with confidence that tomorrow he would be the victor. All he had to do was get through the night with her.

Outside her door, he steeled himself for the inevitable snide remarks that were surely to be his greeting, before quietly opening the door. …and being frozen to the spot at the scene that awaited him.

Her room was a mess. Papers were scattered everywhere, with strange sketches and incomprehensible calculations scribbled all across them. There were tools of all kinds spread across her desk, ranging from the more basic kinds-such as screwdrivers and hammers-to kinds he didn't even know existed, with metal scrapings scattered all around them. But the mess wasn't what had attracted Gwendal's attention so. It was Anissina.

Never before had he seen her like that, hunched over a small and unknown object, tongue peeking oh-so-slightly out the corner of her mouth as she concentrated with all her might and eyes sparkling with a serenity he had never seen before. Coupled with the long smudge of grease across her cheek, Gwendal had to admit to himself.

She looked absolutely…adorable.

At some point, while he was lost in his own thoughts, Anissina had not only finished her project, but also noticed that she'd gained an audience. In her almost euphoric state, she seemed to have forgotten that the two of them were supposed to hate each other, as she fixed him with an excited smile and rushed over to him, eager to show off her creation.

"Gwendal! You have to look at this!" she exclaimed, holding the object that was cupped in her hands directly to his face. He had to cross his eyes to be able to see it, and when his vision finally focused, he found himself confused. It looked like a teapot with wings.

Anissina, not noticing his befuddlement, joyously spun away with the…whatever it was, and when she spoke again Gwendal could hear the pride and love in her voice, as well as see it on her face. "It's an invention, just like my mother used to make. Of course," she continued, almost absent mindedly wiping some of the grease off her creation as she spoke, "Mother's were always a lot bigger, and could accomplish so many more things. But one day I'll make the same things she did; better, even! And her spirit will be happy, knowing that her daughter is helping the world to be a better place. Just like she'd dreamed." Winding up the object and tossing it into the air, Anissina's face was nothing short of ecstatic as it took off, fluttering about the room and occasionally making a loud whistling noise.

…it really was a flying teapot.

"I'm going to call it, Make-the-Baby-Stop-Crying-Toy. Hopefully it will make that new brother of yours finally shut up," she said, the familiar smugness returning to her face as she added, "Honestly. Men do nothing but complain from the moment they're born."

Gwendal knew that this was where he was supposed to get upset, but he found he didn't want to. Instead, he uttered, "…kun."

"What?" Anissina asked, her smirk replaced by confusion.

"Its name," he explained, face the epitome of seriousness. "It shouldn't end in toy. Kun is…cuter."

Anissina smiled gently, with a hint of fondness. "Alright. Make-the-Baby-Stop-Crying-Kun it is, then."

After that night, Gwendal would admit, if only to himself, that he actually looked forward Anissina's visits and the chance to see her that way again.

------------

Medwin von Krelnikov was dead.

While on a trip to one of the border towns, he and his soldiers stopped to make camp for the night and were attacked in their sleep by human bandits. The assault was perfectly executed, and it was doubtful that any of the men had even been given the chance to fight before they were slain.

The news of Lord von Krelnikov's death shook the entirety of the Great Demon Kingdom, for he was much loved and respected; seen as a benevolent and understanding ruler. However, no one was as affected as Anissina.

Upon hearing of her father's fate, Anissina had at first refused to believe it. She began to talk fervently about what she and her father would do upon his return, and made invention after invention that she wished to show to him. But when the day of his funeral arrived, and Anissina watched his body being lowered into the ground, she'd snapped and run to her room, refusing to see or talk with anyone. Her loud, harsh sobs could be heard throughout the entire wing of the castle, and were only intensified when she received a letter from her uncle, declaring that, due to her being unfit to govern the Krelnikov region as a woman, she would not be permitted to return home until she was wed.

Everyone assumed she would return to normal, given enough time, and though she did eventually stop crying and emerge from her room, it was obvious she was not the same. She didn't seem to want to do anything but mope around the castle, and the mischievous light in her eye that Gwendal had once thought he'd hated was gone. She no longer invented things and, most telling of all, she stopped trying to outdo him in every aspect of their lives.

Gwendal wasn't sure what to do. Loathe as he was to admit it, Gwendal had grown accustomed to her always being around, ready to outclass him at every turn and give him one of those smug grins that dared him to try to do better. Without it, he was unable to focus, his mind always returning to dull, sorrow-filled eyes that should have been full of life and ambition. He was soon being sent back to his room from all his lessons as Gunter walked dejectedly away, rubbing his temples in frustration.

So, in an attempt to get her back to normal, Gwendal did the only thing he could think of. He tried knitting again.

It was a long, tedious job, and when he'd finally finished the project meant for Anissina, weeks had passed full of his cursing, his hands cramped almost beyond use. But he was done, and he would give it to Anissina to show her that she was not alone. …and that he could do it…

Walking into her room, Gwendal found her in much the same state as she was almost always seen: curled up on her bed and facing the wall, not even acknowledging his presence.

"Anissina," he started, holding out the knitted bundle in his hands, so that when she turned it would be the first thing she saw, "I-"

"Go away, Gwendal," she interrupted, curling more tightly in on herself. "I don't want to talk to anyone, especially not you." The statement, though not the first time he'd ever heard it, cut him deeper than he cared to admit. But he was determined, so he tried again.

"You've been moping around the castle for weeks, Anissina. I think it's time you stop acting like a child and move on." Mentally, Gwendal kicked himself. That wasn't what he'd meant to say at all. He'd meant to approach the situation much more sensitively, but the blunt words slipped out before he could stop them. "You're not the first to lose their father, and you certainly won't be the last. Wallowing in self pity isn't going to bring him back."

For awhile, she didn't respond, and Gwendal thought about just leaving the room before he opened his mouth and said something even more thoughtless. But before he could do just that, Anissina was sitting up in her bed, and though her back was still facing him, Gwendal knew by her fists clenching tightly in the sheets that she was upset.

"You wouldn't understand," she said, anger and hurt lacing the words. "I didn't just lose my father. I lost everything. He was the only one who treated me fairly, in a region where women and girls are seen as nothing more than objects to clean houses and warm a man's bed. He…he believed in me, was trying to change the old ways so that I could have a future and do the things I wanted with my life. And because of a few people's greed, all of that was taken away. Now...I have no mother, no father…I can't even go home." She was shaking, and Gwendal could only stand there, frozen by the raw emotion in her voice. "What right do you, who has everything, have to tell me to move on? How can you stand there and tell me what to do when you've never gone through something like this?"

"I lost my father, too."

"You didn't even know your father when he died! It's not the same!" she yelled, finally turning to look at him. And when she did, she came face to face with the stuffed animal Gwendal had made, and the anger that had so clearly been in her eyes melted into an expression of confusion as she could do nothing more than blink.

It was obvious by looking at the toy that Gwendal had tried to teach himself how. Ends of yarn were sticking out at odd angles where it had snapped and been tied back together, and the knot-work was nothing more that a giant wad of tangled yarn, making the entire toy a large and misshapen lump. It had two protrusions meant to be be ears, but looked more like the broken legs of a crab, and the buttons used for eyes were sewn on crookedly, leaving it looking like someone had melted its face.

After several minutes of her staring, Gwendal began to feel uncomfortable. He knew it wasn't the best, but Anissina was looking at it as though it would eat something at any moment. And when her shoulders started to shake, Gwendal thought it had actually made her cry again, and was about to panic when he heard a noise that was most definitely not crying.

A snicker. Followed by another. And another. And another, until she gave up the battle and started to howl with laughter, clutching at her stomach and falling backward onto the bed.

After that night, Anissina started returning to her old self, she and Gwendal nearly inseparable as she became his personal knitting instructor.

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"Oh, Gweeen-daaaal!"

The call echoed down the hallways and corridors, frightening birds and causing the soldiers outside to halt in their training. When it reached his office, Gwendal stopped signing his papers, a sudden sense of foreboding coming over him. He'd never heard her use that tone before, and intuitively knew that no good could come from it. A fear which intensified when Anissina opened the door, narrowing her eyes much like a cat would when it had finally cornered a mouse.

"There you are, Gwendal!" she exclaimed, quickly marching to his desk and slamming her palms down on its fine wood polishing, excitement written all over her face. "I've just made a world changing discovery with one of my inventions! But I'll need your help to test it out."

"…I'm busy, Anissina," he said sternly, pointedly signing his name to another document.

"Oh, come on, Gwendal!" she said, grabbing his sleeve and almost literally dragging him out of his office. "Those papers aren't going anywhere, and I really need your help! Besides. If this works, you'll never have to sign another paper again!"

Entering Anissina's laboratory, Gwendal caught only a quick glimpse of a strange metal contraption that had quills attached to the ends of long, spider-like arms before he was forcibly seated under it. Anissina quickly set about attaching various straps and coils to his arms and legs, practically floating with excitement.

"Now, if I'm right-and, well, I usually am-I can channel your demon powers using this," she chittered, punctuating her sentence by securing a particularly uncomfortable belt around his head, "and direct it to my invention, which will allow it to sign papers at ten times the rate that doing it by hand could. I call it the Boring-Paperwork-Conqueror-kun! All you have to do," she continued, patting Gwendal's cheek with a smile, "is concentrate your powers."

Gwendal, at first, did nothing, instead staring skeptically at one of the metal arms dangling close to his head. He somehow felt that this was a bad idea, and was sorely tempted to tell his friend that he was perfectly capable of signing papers himself. But then he looked at her face again and saw the hopeful, beaming expression there, and with an inward sigh he decided to just play along. It was only an invention. How dangerous could it be?

Ten minutes later, as he ran back down the halls toward the safety of his office, face smeared with ink and hair singed from an explosion, he found himself regretting that question.

From then on, whenever he heard Anissina call his name in that particular tone of voice, he made sure to hide behind the nearest thing possible.

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Years passed, and with those years came changes. Wars were fought, people died, and regions got new rulers. Cheri stepped down as queen and was replaced by a new, young king, while Anissina's inventions became more dangerously brilliant, and Gwendal became more cold and stern. But things between the two of them remained more or less the same, and the differences could only be seen by those who had taken the time to observe their relationship over the years. Stares that once were heated with challenge were now softened with fondness, Gwendal's harsh words no longer seemed as ruthless, and Anissina no longer dragged him forcibly to her newest creation by the sleeve, but with her fingers tightly intertwined with his. They had become like the earth to the air; neither being able to be separated from the other.

It was on this note that Gwendal was currently wandering the halls of the castle, quietly peeking into every room his friend could possibly be in…not that he'd admit that that was what he was doing…

He and Anissina hadn't seen each other for well over a week, when she'd received a letter from her uncle…the first he had sent since informing her that she was not allowed home all those years ago. Upon reading it, Anissina clenched her fists so tightly the paper ripped, and so many emotions played across her face that Gwendal didn't know where to begin identifying them. Barely issuing a small request to be excused, Anissina fled from the room. And he hadn't seen her since.

Obviously, her uncle's letter did not bear good news, and Gwendal was afraid that she would revert back into the mopey shell of herself that she'd been when her father died. After not hearing from her that past week, he had started to search for her, hoping to bring her out of it before she got too far in.

Just when he was about to give up and try another hallway, he heard the sound of a piano coming from one of the rooms he had actually not checked, thinking no one would dare go in there. …his father's old room. Already knowing who it was, he opened the door, and sure enough, Anissina was there, seated in front of a pure white grand piano, playing a mournful yet beautiful melody.

That damn woman was good at everything.

"Hello, Gwendal," she said, stopping mid-tune, a small, sad smile on her lips. "I was wondering how long it would take you to find me."

"Where have you been? You've been…missed," he said, unsure of how to begin. Anissina looked like she could break at any moment, the light pooling in from the windows behind her catching her hair and the shine of tear-streaked cheeks, giving her a fiery, beautiful glow that was simultaneously heart-wrenching.

She didn't answer, choosing instead to pluck idly at a key, eyes downcast. When she finally did, it was with a broken, deadpan voice; the voice of one who had lost everything and got it back, only to have it all ripped away again.

"I'm getting married." The words made Gwendal's blood run cold, his heart clenching painfully with an emotion he could not describe. "My uncle…is executing an arranged marriage agreement settled almost a hundred years ago, when my father was still alive. He…he said if I am not wed within the year, he'll strip me of the von Krelnikov name." She'd looked at him, then, and of the many emotions he'd seen in her large blue eyes throughout the years, he'd never seen or expected to see what he did. There was desperation there. And fear.

"I don't want to," she continued. "I don't want to get married to some faceless man. To live a life I can no longer call my own. It's not fair, Gwendal!" she cried, launching herself at him, burying her face in his chest, her whole body trembling as she held back the sobs that fought to overtake her. She clutched to him tightly, as if to melt into him; to hide from the world and never have to face the reality it brought with it. "Why must I give up everything again? Everything I've come to love so dearly?"

And for the first time in a very long time, Gwendal knew just what to say. This feeling…he was unfamiliar with it. It caused his chest to constrict painfully, his stomach to churn, and his mouth to go dry. He didn't really like it, but he found that it somehow gave him the strength to listen to instinct instead of reason. To follow his heart.

"Don't," he said simply, and when she looked up, he wrapped his arms around her protectively, noticing for the first time how much smaller she was than him. "Don't give it all up. It is no one's right to rule over another person's life, even if that person is a woman. It's your choice whether or not you want to live your life with a stranger. This is your home now, Anissina. It's for you to choose whether you will leave or stay."

The smile of gratitude she gave him lit up the room, and it seemed she could no longer withhold her tears. All of the fear, all of the expectations and discrimination and hurt she'd felt since she'd been cast out by her uncle over a century ago didn't matter in that moment, and she willingly let it all go while in the safety of Gwendal's arms. And when the tears stopped flowing, when her sobs had turned into mere sniffles and it seemed she could compose herself once more, she looked up at him, seemingly coming to a decision.

"You know, Gwendal," she said, that mischievous light he was so familiar with coming back to her eyes as her lips titled in a devilish smirk. "There is a way to keep my name without losing my life…" Before Gwendal could blink, the sound of a smack resounded throughout the room. His head whipped to the side, the sting in his cheek already turning into a dull throb. "My uncle said I had to be wed in a year's time," Anissina quipped, smirking impishly as Gwendal gave her a disbelieving stare, "but he didn't say to whom."

And then she kissed him, hard and demandingly. Before Gwendal could even think, he was returning it, allowing Anissina to push him until his back hit the wall. The kiss turned almost desperate as their bottled repression rushed through in one huge flood; as lips and tongues and teeth clashed in a clumsy, hungry display of new and exciting emotions. When at last it broke, Gwendal and Anissina both panting for breath and quivering with its intensity, she gave him another smug grin.

"Hm. I bet a man could never have proposed like that," she breathed huskily, and Gwendal couldn't think of a reason to argue as he lowered his lips to hers again, allowing Anissina to lead and prove just what a woman could do.

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It wasn't until one night several years later, long after they'd married and Anissina was heavy with their first child, that Cheri consumed enough wine at dinner to tell them just who Anissina would have been marrying, anyway.