Of Mice, Men & Obstinate Arrows
A Bit of Background and Context
Roughly set after Episode 22 of the animated series: Chris and his loyal band of Merry Men (and Women) have finally seen the light and crossed over to the sunnier side of the Apocalypse; Pacifica has been saved from imprisonment and certain death by the aforementioned rebel group and reunited with Shannon, Raquel and Makarov the horse; and our gang of misfits and criminals is currently regrouping in the forest. But despite of the overhanging danger from all sides, our friends still have time for plenty of misunderstandings, unexpected character development, new friendships and even a wee bit of romance.
I don't own Scrapped Princess.
Chapter 1: Serenade of Sleepless Souls
"Leo? Leo!" Her not-so-quiet whispers didn't seem to have much effect on the sleeping aristocrat, so Winia Chester decided that more drastic measures were in order. And as the sleeping Leopold Scorpos would soon find out, Winia's drastic measure of choice was cold and very, very wet.
"Argh! C-C-C-COLD!" Poor Leo's dream about Pacifica, a beautiful starry night, and romantic background music came to an abrupt end when Winia unceremoniously emptied the entire contents of a bucket on his head. "Wiiiinia?"
But curiously enough, the offender in question didn't offer him any explanation as to why she had deemed it necessary to interrupt his wonderful dream quite so mercilessly. Instead, she handed him a towel, silently gesturing him to be quiet and to come with her. Her strange behaviour immediately aroused the young noble's curiosity. This was certainly unusual, especially for someone as timid as Winia. So was her atypical behaviour a sign that something wasn't quite right? Was it a cause for concern? For the life of him, Leo didn't know, but he had to admit that the sudden change of pace was rather exciting. Thus, deciding that it was only fair to give his friend's mental health the benefit of the doubt, the aspiring knight obediently trotted after her when she disappeared among the trees.
But unbeknownst to both Winia and Leo, the big, golden-brown eyes of a certain Obstinate Arrow commander followed them as they retreated into the forest. A small frown of displeasure settled on his face as they disappeared among the trees. What on earth were those two up to? Christopher Bailaha had expected everyone – with the obvious exception of Pacifica Casull, of course, but that was a given – to exercise more caution than to wander into the woods by themselves, especially at this time of night. It simply wasn't safe, and he remained firmly unconvinced of the Amber Knight-wannabe's abilities to protect anything should the need arise.
True, he had reluctantly agreed to spar with the Duke of Scorpos' heir, but that had been for less than a noble reason (boredom, to be exact) and in order to finally put an end to the seemingly endless stream of requests. He had much preferred to fight Shannon Casull or maybe the Giat princess, whose abilities were better matched with his own – or anyone less chatty, really – but Chris had his pride and would never under any circumstances turn down a challenge.
But just as he expected, it had been almost painfully easy: Scorpos had accepted defeat a disappointing twenty seconds after launching his first inadequate attack. So, no, Chris had absolutely no reason to believe that the young man could protect himself or his companion if they were surprised by enemy scouts or wild animals. Perhaps he ought to follow them to ensure their safety and continued longevity? But surely, that would qualify as a gross invasion of their privacy, wouldn't it? After all, they must have a damn good reason for walking into the woods in the middle of the night… Or was it simpler than that? Could it be that they just wanted to be alone? But why would Winia and Scorpos—
"Should I bring them back?"
The melodic sound of a woman's voice put a sudden and immediate end to his inner debate with himself; and while an ordinary person might have jumped out of his skin, Chris was far from ordinary and merely acknowledged her presence with a small nod.
He was sitting with his back to a tree, securely wrapped in his cloak in front of the remains of the campfire, so the tall redhead crouched down beside her old friend and leader, patiently waiting for his reply. Now, Fafal didn't actually think that Chris would send her out into the dark, damp forest to chase after the clumsy noble and his pretty companion, but she wasn't going to assume anything when it came to Chris' dealings with Winia Chester. After all, she, along with the rest of their unit, had read The Letter and detected the undertones that only a fool (it was almost scary how their own darling Dennis, for all of his dagger-flinging abilities, really was THAT dense) would mistake for anything other than a young woman's first awkward attempt at romance. But the Arrows had yet to discover whether or not the girl's feelings were at all reciprocated; as usual, Chri-boy had donned a mask of polite indifference, and none of them were brave or foolish enough to ask him about it.
"That won't be necessary. They know the way back."
Satisfied that Fafal understood that his decision was final and irreversible, Chris watched her disappear into one of the nearby tents.
Well, admittedly, the thought of a defenceless Winia and an almost equally defenceless Scorpos all alone in the woods was far from pleasant, but Chris wasn't so naive that he hadn't foreseen Fafal's reaction had he ordered her to bring them back to camp. She would undoubtedly and incorrectly – and not to mention, foolishly! – have misinterpreted his concern for both of their safety as something farfetched, like jealousy, and that would only lead to one thing: trouble.
And a lot of it, at that.
Indeed. He hadn't forgotten the identical, unsettling look on their faces before, during and after that ill-fated meeting with the Baroness; Fafal and Jill had both been grinning at him like a pair deranged idiots. Chris still couldn't quite believe that his own "mother" had intercepted Winia's letter and then found it necessary to distribute copies of it to the entire unit. The Baroness had claimed that it was a distraction that would hinder his ability to successfully complete his mission, and was as such wholly unacceptable. She had then gone on to forbid him to visit the origin of the so-called "distraction" while he was away at Grendel.
Chris had been irritated, yes; the Baroness had little right to interfere with his private matters, especially when it concerned something as trivial as a letter, and perhaps a little insulted, too. Had he ever let anything of an even vaguely personal nature interfere with his duties?
No, Chris thought not.
After all, he was nothing but a professional.
...although, the youngest Arrow was not above admitting that, maybe, it did help that certain members of his unit lacked even the most basic understanding of (and respect for) the concept of Other People's Business, which made having a personal life (with emphasis on "personal" as apart, separate, safe from Fafal's pryingeyes and exempt from Dennis' clever questions) rather difficult in the first place. This was, however, just another fact of life and would have been – as the colloquial saying went – very "old news" if it hadn't been accompanied by an ever-so slight tingle of embarrassment.
But he hadn't given it much thought at the time: Chris had been preoccupied with wondering exactly what could have prompted the Baroness to resort to such a drastic course of action, because he was certain that she hadn't told him the whole truth. He had been equally suspicious of her sudden and wholly unexpected display of affection; Baroness Bailaha was not a cruel woman, but neither did she possess a particularly warm or inviting personality. So her last act as his superior – touching the side of his face with her hand, itself an entirely alien gesture (albeit not entirely unwelcome, he had to admit; only very, very odd under any circumstances), and telling him to follow his own free will – had been alarmingly uncharacteristic.
So even though he eventually had followed her advice (and thus explaining how he had come to betray his country and take up residence in a dark forest, after having come to the rescue of the very person he had worked so hard at to eliminate), he could only assume that the unexpected situation had stemmed from the traumatic experience of the Baroness being removed from office. It wasn't a completely satisfactory explanation, however, since she had never struck him as someone who would ever allow feelings and emotions to cloud her better judgement; and Chris prided himself in the ability to read people and situations like open books. In fact, if he hadn't known any better, he might have thought that the steely, bespectacled woman had been concerned about him.
But that was, of course, utterly ludicrous for two reasons: firstly, he was her son only by necessity and nothing else. He had assumed the Bailaha name for one purpose only; in order to further his investigation into the Grendel Prophecy and the truth behind the Scrapped Princess. Secondly, if so-called "motherly concern" indeed included ruthless infliction of humiliation upon her offspring in front of his comrades, he was certain that it was something entirely undesirable and that he would survive just fine without a mother. That wouldn't be a problem. Until only very recently, he had.
So he honestly could not understand the fuss about the arrival of a simple letter, which contained not a shred of important information or secret code. So while the Baroness had declared it riddled with romantic intent, he was fairly certain that her claim had been part of some elaborate scheme to prevent him from straying from his assignment (which, again, stabbed at his professional pride. Chris never skipped out on anything). So when he finally read the letter himself – dryly noting the irony of being the last one to do so – Winia had appeared decidedly friendly but nothing beyond that.
It was only natural that he replied.
Chris prided himself with perfectly civilized manners, despite of the severe disadvantages of a provincial background, no parents and a rather brutal line of work. So as was proper, he had arranged for the tone of his reply to match hers, and after the customary polite enquiries in the form of How do you do? and I hope this letter reaches you well (as well as the more atypical I didn't expect you to write and I'm sorry for the kidnapping bits), he had written something about that beautiful night in the Glass Canyon. But that was merely because he didn't know what else to say.
After all, what did one write to one's ex-hostages?
The whole letter situation had undoubtedly, now that he thought back on it, been utterly unreasonable – albeit not entirely unpleasant for reasons he wouldn't dwell on even if he had wanted to.
Chris stifled a yawn.
It was getting late. There were still no signs that Winia and Scorpos intended to return to camp any time soon, but the surrounding forest seemed peaceful enough; Raquel Casull had sensed the area for enemies and found none, nor had her brother's Dragoon detected any hostile presences. So Chris decided to put his trust in those two highly reliable sources of information, deeming the danger of either Winia or Scorpos dying in the immediate future to be rather slim. Or at least slim enough for him not to risk his reputation by having them escorted back to camp.
Thus, Christopher Bailaha, formerly Armalite (and for some unfathomable reason, "Chri-boy" to a certain redhead) decided to allow himself a few hours of well-deserved sleep. But as usual, he made sure to keep his trusted battle-axe close by his side in the case of an emergency.