A/n- Oh my goodness, I hadn't realized that I let this go so long without an update. Classes resumed this week, so it's been busy for me, but this shouldn't be so late; I apologize!
The night air, so cold in comparison to the heady atmosphere within the dance, hit Jane's face in a rushing breath as she ran. The quick thud of her footsteps upon the ground reverberated within hear ears nearly as loudly as her heartbeat.
The only thing she could think about was getting out as quickly as possible
Rounding the stables, the uneven earth caught on Jane's delicate heel. She fell forward, arms instinctively thrown outward to break her fall. The sharp twanging sting shuttering up from her palms' direct contact with the earth compounded upon the stinging shame already welling within Jane's heart.
She looked down at her dress, now streaked with dust, her breath coming in heavy gasps. The distinct sensation of drowning…
"Jane!" A voice called to her. It was Pepper.
The crowd was parting, watching her, whispering loudly.
Her hand, upon which his lips had brushed, pained as if bruised.
Without even acknowledging the other girl, Jane flew towards the double doors leading out to the grounds.
Shaking, Jane got to her feet, wincing as her weight was put on her left ankle, which smarted dully. Slowly, she continued, but at a walk rather than a sprint.
She could almost imagine his face- his face. He must have looked after her with the most dejected expression. What king of person runs away from the other?
The Knights Code- oh hang the Knight's Code. Jane was so confused and scared; she felt less like a Knight of the Court than ever.
A large sniff postponed barely-controlled tears.
Jane wanted to barricade herself up in her room, but she was afraid her mother would soon come looking for her.
She didn't want to go to Dragon. His company was something that she would normally welcome in times of… distress. But it was hard enough for Jane to control what she was feeling without having to keep Dragon from interfering with what had just happened.
What had just happened?
One moment she had been enjoying herself not at all and then she was being publicly humiliated in front of everyone and Gun- no. No, no. Don't think about that awful, sniveling, cheeky little-
Thoughts trailing off, Jane remembered how downtrodden the boy had looked during dinner; face to the table, eyes barely focused, lips parted just so.
Her heart did a little flip-flop.
Jane bit her lip.
Mounting the steps to the battlements, Jane traveled along the stone walkway before she rounded the top of Smithy's foundry. She knelt on her bruising knees, not minding the soft material creasing underneath her. Letting herself down onto the thickly woven roof, she crawled over to where the smoke stack protruded from its place down in the room below her.
Tucking herself between it and the wall, Jane curled her knees to her chest. Her heel sunk down a few inches into the packed straw. Cursing softly under her breath, Jane reached down to yank the slippers off her feet.
The tiny hideaway, nearly invisible from the ground below, was always the perfect place to hide during all her friend's silly little games. It was a warm spot, even in the dead of winter, due to the heat constantly wafting off the chimney.
Very far away, Jane could hear the music from the party. The dancing must have resumed…
That thought brought back much more unpleasant ones.
"Do not cry," she whispered to herself. "Do not-" but silent tears were already running down her cheeks. Jane wiped them away furiously.
I hate this stupid dress, she thought. I hate this dress and these shoes and I hate this stupid Ball.
"I hate Gunther Breech."
But as soon as she said it, Jane knew it wasn't true, and guilt surged up within her. With all her might she wished she did hate him, but she couldn't bring herself to truly feel it.
He was the bane of her existence, but she needed him, as much as she needed Dragon.
"Maybe more," her words breathed hot hair into the cooling night.
It was almost a stunning revelation. Jane never thought about how alike they were, how eerily similar. Both fought hard to prove themselves, Jane because she was a girl, and Gunther- it seemed- to distance himself from his father. Both had terrible pride issues, and each their own unwillingness to admit when they were beaten.
But Jane supposed it was more than that. They fed off each other too. It was with all honesty that Jane could say that when she sparred with Gunther, she truly felt free. He was her exact opposite, her mirrored reflection…
So she cared for him.
Jane realized that her tears had ceased their flow. Her breath was slowed, and that strange feeling of flight had replaced the heaviness within her stomach.
She… cared for Gunther?
Well, why not? He was a fellow Knight after all. He was as bound to her as she was to him by the very thing they found each other for day after day.
The bubbly blonde practically draping herself over Gunther Breech's arm continued her incessant flirtations.
But Knights didn't feel such a prickling hatred towards annoying little- it was hard, even now, for Jane to think of an appropriate word for Gunther's 'friend'- towards annoying little nobodies who happened to be sitting so very close… she was so very close to him. It was a distance Gunther would normally disallow, but why had he made such an accommodation for the unknown blonde when he had never done so for Jane?
Was that jealousy?
"Jane?" A whisper-soft voice carried itself on the cool breeze whipping around the courtyard.
The redhead froze, a hand coming up to clamp over her mouth. Her chest heaved. Gunther must have excused himself from the party to search for her. She squeezed her eyes shut, clutching her knees tighter. Perhaps he would look, find nothing, and simply give up.
Her ears strained for any little sound.
Tip-tap, tip-tap. He was sprinting up the stone stairs.
Jane took a deep breath, trying to wipe her eyes so they wouldn't look as if she'd been crying. Her clenched fists were brought into her lap as she leant back, eyes fluttering closed.
"Jane. There you are."
Warmth spread out from Jane's chest, reaching all the way into her fingertips. Opening her eyes slowly, she looked up to see Gunther standing on the edge, looking down at her. He seemed as tense as she had felt; his arms were still by his side but his expression…
"You found me," the redhead admitted lamely.
"You ran away."
A bubble of laughter forced its way past Jane's lips. "Yes, I ran."
Gunther paused, and Jane could see the conflict raging within him. Finally, he bent to kneel on the stone so he was leaning out over the foundry's roof. In the pale light, the buttons on his tunic winked like stars. He was staring at her, hair falling in his face from the angle at which he was bowed.
"I am…" Did he flinch? "Sorry. I certainly did not mean to make a spectacle out of… us."
Jane shifted uncomfortably where she sat. Her legs were going numb. Gunther seemed to read her mind, for her straightened up a bit, offering his hand to her.
No. No, why should she? Why should she unfurl herself for him? Why should he be able to swoop in from out of nowhere and expect- expect- her to just dry her eyes, dust off her lap, and talk to him as if nothing was amiss?
At her hesitation, Gunther's eyes began to harden, the warmth that had swam in them just moments before were winking out like miniature campfires. His skin, unearthly in the moonlight, paled.
An alighted fear jumped up into Jane's throat.
Slowly, she reached out to take what was offered but stopped short. Memories resurfaced of her offering the same one day a year ago, but she had recanted it at the last second that time, causing Gunther to sprawl upon his back.
The boy was right there with her. He smirked softly, "No tricks, Jane." She was relieved, relieved to see the glow again present in his dark eyes; they brimmed with fleeting hope and unbridled joy.
A small smile appeared on the girls' lips as she clutched at his outstretched fingers. With little effort she was lifted to her feet. Gunther grabbed her other hand and pulled her up to him. They stumbled back but kept their footing. Unlike the time where he had saved her from the Skyleaf, they didn't let go of each other right away.
Just like during the end of the dance, his grip was tight, but not painful. It was as if he was trying to anchor her to him; as if she might disappear if he lost touch.
"Do you accept my apology then?"
Jane had to laugh, just a little, there was so much trust flitting in his face. "I suppose…" She turned away. "It was not entirely your fault."
"Well, I was not the one who volunteered," he teased.
"That is not what happened," Jane looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Your father seems to be quite eager to thrust you into the center of attention."
Gunther rolled his eyes, "My father… yes."
It was then that he dropped his hold of her, and Jane had been unaware at how warm his skin was until she missed it. Her hand went to rub absently at the spot he had been in contact with. She gazed out at the forest, a breeze fluttering at her dress. She could hear Gunther sign, once, drawing in a deep breath.
"Jane?" He touched her shoulder, turning her back toward him just a degree. The girl looked up; expression a mix between questioning and something… something else. Gunther took her hand again. "Jane, I said I was sorry for embarrassing you, but I am… I will not be sorry for-" there was a moment where she didn't believe he could go on. His thumb ran over her knuckles in a butterfly touch. "I am not sorry for my affections for you."
Jane's breath hitched.
The boy pulled at the hand he was holding, guiding the girl toward him. His head dipped, the free hand at his side coming to slide against Jane's cheek.
Unconsciously, although she was alight with shock and a spectacularly swimming head, Jane felt herself lean in.
Ever so gently, Gunther's lips skimmed over hers, and it reminded Jane of hands over the smoothest of silks. She gasped against him, deepening the contact, shaking. The pressure strengthened degrees, as did his hold on her cheek, until she was hewn unto his very touch.
They moved against each other, whispering.
"No… do not stop."
All the jealousy from before, all the compartmentalized grief and confusion and frustration was replaced by a singular clarity that should have hit Jane as hard as a stave to the chest, but she was far beyond the simple shock of her feelings for Gunther Breech.
A low breath expelled across Jane's cheek as Gunther broke briefly to breath. Jane opened her eyes wide, watching him. His gaze was sheathed in an emotion Jane couldn't place, and a faint tinge of pink was just brushed upon the tips of his cheekbones.
"I… ever since I saw you tonight I wanted to do that. Since before I can remember."
Jane grinned, breathless, "I thought I was a complete joke in this dress."
"You could be knee deep in mud and you would look perfect Jane."
A blush spread across her face, "Gunther, I do believe you are the most complicated person I have ever met."
His hand caressed the skin over her jaw. "Shall I recant my kiss then?"
"If you must," Jane breathed, "but I shall take it right back again."
A/n: Whoa. That was… a journey.
I'ma go pass out now. Mad props to LightningFlash for the amazing beta.
Please review, it's greatly appreciated!