Disclaimer: Long wait's come with school being back in session… Being in school means I do not own. (I'm really sorry for the long wait, though)

Chapter 8: Some Things Never Change…

As sunlight entered the room, Mel began to stir. The moment Fern noticed this he sat straighter and began preparing himself for whatever actions and words she may throw at him. Considering all that had happened since he'd gone to speak to her in her room, he couldn't be sure how exactly she would react.

Finally Mel's blue eyes blinked, once, twice, and then sprung wide open as they caught sight of Fern's green eyes staring back. She shot upright, "Fern?" Mel questioned, as if she couldn't quite believe what she was seeing. Fern smirked as he squeezed her hand, the one that had yet to let go of his, in a silent answer. To his horror, Tears started to pour from her eyes and her hand in his began to shake, and then-

Mel flung herself at him, taking him by surprise and almost knocking him over. "What the-!" Mel was hugging him like there was no tomorrow, her tearstained face buried against the side of his neck. "Mel, what do you think you're doing?" Of course, he already knew the answer. She was being the silly, overemotional, and not to mention overly-clingy girl that she was. Sighing, he slowly brought up his now free hand and patted her head in an attempt to sooth her.

He was glad she was too busy crying to see his bright red face.

Fern was just contemplating what to do next when he heard Mel's muffled whisper. "I'm sorry Fern, I'm so sorry!" For the briefest of moments, Fern stiffened; Mel continued on, unaware that he was worried that she was about to bring up his accidental confession-she wasn't. Pulling back with a wince, Mel returned to her chair and looked at Fern with her tear-stained eyes, "Really I am-You warned me and I didn't listen, and now-" her voice cracked as tears started pouring out of her eyes once more, "You almost died and it's all my f-" a hand covered her mouth, gently cutting her off.

For all that Fern was relieved about what she hadn't brought up, he wasn't about to let her continue blaming herself either, "This isn't your fault, so don't you dare blame yourself." Moving his hand to her shoulder, he stressed, "It's my duty to protect you, Mel…and even if I did a poor job of it this time, at least I was able to keep you alive…that's all that really matters."

Mel shook her head, mumbling quietly as she dried her eyes, "I still should have listened…"

"Well, now you know," Fern smirked, "and next time you will…"

Fern may have said more, but just then the door swung open and Vaith strutted in, a huge smile on his face, "Ah, so sleeping beauty's finally awake-YOOOW! Who kicked me?" Turning swiftly he came face to face with a very angry Seraphia-and gulped. She had followed him inside and now had the look of someone who was about to box his ears in. Behind her stood Lecto, Lou, and Yue, all of whom were looking at him with their own personal style of disapproval. Turning back around he lamented weakly, "I mean, um, glad to see you're up." Fern just rolled his eyes.

Seraphia, pushing past Vaith, hurried over to Mel's side, "We're so glad you're both ok!" Lecto, stepping up beside her, nodded his agreement but otherwise remained silent as the others entered the room and Yue closed the door.

Lou walked past the group to Fern, feeling first his forehead, and then his wrist-ignoring the glare he was getting from the red-head. Nodding his head and taking a step back, the doctor proclaimed, "His temperature's fine and his pulse is back to normal." Then, turning to Mel, he did the same thing, "Your pulse, however, is still a bit weak, Miss Merleawe." Sending a glance at Yue he added, "Taking into account your other injuries as well, I would suggest that you not be moving about too much. Not for a while, anyhow."

"We understand," Yue spoke gruffly from the back of the group, "The king has already issued that the procession will not continue until after the Master Wizard is fit to ride. However," he said, his face falling to shadows, "we cannot stay here forever, you understand?"

Lou, a forced smile on his face, answered tightly, "Of course I understand, you have important places to go and people to meet. On the other hand, though, I will not allow this procession to put Miss Merleawe's health in jeopardy." Fern nodded to himself, as did many of the others; he had to agree with the giant on this one. Mel wasn't in any condition to be riding anywhere just yet-no matter how many of the nobility chaffed at the delay, as was obviously the case.

"I'll get better soon!" piped up the subject of the conversation for the first time, "So please tell everyone not to worry."

For a moment Fern could have sworn he'd seen a smile on Yue's passive face, "I'll do that." Yue's face was completely stoic once more.

"And you, Miss Merleawe," cut in Lou, "need to get proper rest so you can 'get better soon'. I let you stay here last night, but sleeping in a chair isn't good on that side injury of yours-and now that Fern's awake, there shouldn't be a reason for you to." Looking over to Yue he added, "And you can just as easily question her in her room after you've finished with Fern."

Without further ado, Lou picked up Mel carefully and headed out the door. A glance was shared between Seraphia and Lecto before they quickly set after them, Seraphia turning in the hall to give a little wave before she closed the door.

Turning his eyes to Yue and Vaith, Fern crossed his arms-a bit agitated at Mel's abrupt departure-and waited for one of the men to say something. Clearing his throat, Vaith broke the silence, "Well, Fern… I know you just woke up and all, but, we need you're testimony." Scratching his head, he added, "We know Lady Bianca's the one who hurt you two, since we found her tied up in vines flowing with Mel's magic, but…well…"

Vaith trailed off, letting Yue finish for him, "We need to know what exactly happened." Shaking his head, he continued, "Lady Bianca Merinos refuses to say anything. Usually the kind of resistance she's been giving us paired with the situation in which she was found would be enough to convict her of assaulting the Master Wizard, but…"

Fern nodded in understanding, "But she's nobility from another country-even worse, from Caldia-and you don't want to go upsetting public relations by convicting her without all the proof at hand." Yue nodded calmly, Vaith exuberantly. "Fine, I'll tell you what I know."

The day of the trial came quickly. The events of the night of the attack were laid bare before the shocked court and the ambassador of Caldia rushed to denounce Lady Bianca's actions, saying she, in no way, represented Caldia, despite being a noble. Apparently even her own relatives in Caldia had abandoned her, refusing to even come view her trial, let alone help her in any way.

As Mel sat beside Fern, having already given their testimonies, she couldn't take her eyes off of the restrained black clad woman. She sat proudly on her little stool in front of all the angry locals and dignitaries, her face an iron mask. As Mel studied her, she couldn't help but feel bad for the Lady. If she'd had a choice, she would have forgiven Bianca if she'd let her; she didn't have a choice, though. It was too big of an event to sweep under the rug and the people were demanding repercussions. And thus, here they were, five days after the incident, participating in a trial with an already predetermined outcome.

The judges deep voice broke into Mel's thoughts, "…unless anyone else has anything to add, the court will now take a brief respite to make it's decision. Does anyone have something they feel should be said?" Tearing her eyes from Bianca's sad form, Mel stood up, leaning heavily on her crutch, and faced the judge. "Yes, Master Wizard? Do you have something to add to your previous statements?"

"No, your honor." Mel could feel everyone's eyes boring into her, but that didn't bother her, she was used to making speeches. She just hoped she could get her point across, "What I have to say is that although Lady Bianca has done a great misdeed, she did so with only the purest of motives. From her point of view, I was a great danger to those she cared about, and she was willing to do anything to protect them. Her choice of action may have been poor, for violence and death is never the answer, but she was only doing what she felt was 'right'."

"What I ask of you," Mel added, strengthening her voice so that even the people behind her would hear clearly, "all of you, is to find understanding in your hearts. The law is the law, and it must be upheld, I understand that. But I still ask for you to search within yourselves for the ability to be lenient towards Lady Bianca Merinos, who did wrong only in an attempt to do right. Thank you." And with that, Merleawe returned to her seat, ignoring the whispering going on around her as the judge closed the session for it's respite.

Mel was nervous, there was no way she could know if her closing speech had had any effect until the verdict was given, and by then, there would be nothing more she could do. She knew very well that attempting to assassinate the Master Wizard was considered to be punishable by death. If she had failed to lighten people's attitude towards Bianca, then…then…

A hand gently touched her hands, which she hadn't noticed were now tightly clasped and shaking. As she looked up at Fern, he whispered gruffly, "You did fine, so quit worrying already." Mel smiled up at him thankfully. He hadn't really approved of her plan, but he'd supported her anyways. And considering he was the only one who'd known about the speech ahead of time, it meant a lot to her. Really she hadn't planed on telling anyone, but somehow Fern had figured out she was planning something, and in the end, she had to tell him.

The doors swung open and the judge and jury reentered the courtroom. As everyone settled down, a silence overcame the room, as if every breath were held in anticipation of what the judge would say. "The decision was unanimous. The Lady Bianca Merinos of Caldia is hereby found guilty of attempted assassination of the Master Wizard of Viegald. After careful consideration this court has decided that the Lady Bianca Merinos shall be forevermore exiled from Viegald. Furthermore, should the Master Wizard ever pass the boarders of Viegald, the Lady Bianca Merinos shall not be allowed to come within a days ride of her. Should either of these conditions be broken, the penalty will be death."

The next morning, Fern stood outside Mel's door, debating with himself; the same thing he'd been deliberating on ever since he'd regained consciousness. Should he bring up what he'd accidentally let out. He never should have told her in the first place-he was still beating himself up for that-but since he'd already let the cat out of the bag… Was it wrong to want to find out her answer? Yes, it was. Did he care? No. "Well, here goes nothing."

Knocking, Fern let himself in when Mel's voice bade him to. She was sitting on her bed, already dressed despite the early hour, brushing her hair as best she could with one hand. "Good morning, Fern!" Straining at a knot just outside her reach, she added chipperly, "Could you help me with this, please? Lou said I shouldn't use my left arm for another two days, but with hair this long, it's a bit hard!"

With a small smile, Fern settled down to help, biding his time. He dreaded her answer just as much as he anticipated it. She'd had plenty of time to ponder his confession, and she'd probably already made a decision, but…she hadn't said anything about it. She'd never even hinted at it, let alone brought up the subject. With that being the case already, he could only prepare his heart for the inevitable. Still, he'd rather hear it directly from her. If he didn't, he'd probably never get over her.

Setting down the brush, Fern turned to Mel, his face serious as he forced himself to get it over with, "Mel, I know you care about me…but to what extent? What are your feelings for me?"

There was hardly a pause before Mel's face lit with a grin and she answered as if it was the most obvious thing, "Well, of course, I love you."

Fern was speechless. Out of everything he'd expected her to say, that wasn't it. For a moment his heart fluttered, but then something about her mannerisms set off warning bells in his head. She'd answered without hesitation, but in such a commonplace way that it was almost as if… 'Dang it!'he cursed in his head as he remembered Mel having claimed back at the capital that seeing everyone was just like a family reunion. 'Why didn't I ever consider that possibility? I just told her and ran…I didn't even think she'd take it the wrong way!'

Fern felt like ramming his head into a wall, "I think you've misunderstood, Mel." Leaning in closer, he stressed, "When I said that I-that I loved you-I didn't mean as a brother!" What happened next was two things, one he expected, the other he did not. First Mel's eyes went big, as if she couldn't believe what he was saying. What happened next was that she started to laugh.

Fern didn't know what to think before she enveloped him in a hug, but things weren't boding well in his mind. "Fern, you're so silly!" Definitely not well. As she pulled back, her hands still on his shoulders, she smiled the biggest smile he'd ever seen. "I may be oblivious, Fern, but not that oblivious." And then she just sat back, saying nothing more as she just looking at him with that grin of hers.

Fern was at a loss for words. He didn't know what to say, what to do. He was shell-shocked. His being frozen in place probably saved him from more embarrassment as just then the door flung open and Seraphia came rushing in, exclaiming about having forgotten to tell Mel something important. After that, Fern found himself ushered out of the room by the princess, the door closing abruptly in his face with the order to get himself ready to go and to leave Mel to her.

"Mel, I can't believe that I've forgotten to tell you! I mean, with the trial and everything, I guess it just slipped my mind; but I think you should be the first to know!" By this point, Seraphia was practically jumping on Mel's bed. Mel laughed, patting the space beside her on the bed. The princess leaped to occupy it.

"Ok, so what is it, pri-Seraphia?"

For once Seraphia didn't seem to notice her slip up. "Oh, Mel, you were right! Thank you so much for telling me not to give up! It was because of you that I had the courage to confess!" After a pause, Seraphia added slightly less enthusiastically, "Well, that and the fact that I feared Vaith would say something stupid to Lecto before I got to tell him."

"Congratulations. I'm proud of you!" she paused, and then added, though she already knew, "And what was his answer?"

Seraphia hugged Mel, bouncing as she exclaimed, "He said he felt the same!" Sliding off the bed the princess started to pace/bounce around the room, "So far we haven't told anyone, it's been too hectic. But I can't wait to tell Grandpa!" Suddenly Seraphia froze, going pale. "Oh no, what if Grandpa doesn't approve?"

Hearing the tears threatening in Seraphia's voice, Mel quickly interceded, "Of course he'll approve! He loves you and wants you to be happy. And on top of that, a union between the two of you would actually be a good political move, what with him being from a prominent noble family and a possible candidate for the now vacant post of Under Secretary." Smiling as she thought of something else, she added confidently, "Besides, his Majesty trusts in Yue's judgment, and I can tell you right now that Yue would support you and Lecto fully."

"Thanks Mel." Looking around the room, the princess sighed, "Well, I suppose we had better hurry. I want to get back home…I kind of miss it." Taking Mel's bag in hand, she added, "I'll get your stuff to where it needs to go. You just focus on getting out to the courtyard and finding Fern…preferably without tripping over anything."

Mel pouted as the princess swept out of the room, shouting after her, "It was only once, and the floor had just been mopped!" The princes didn't reply, she was already halfway down the hall. Shaking her head, Mel grabbed her crutch and started slowly out the door, always being careful to put as little weight on her injured leg as she could. Lou really hadn't wanted her to leave just yet, but with some persuasion from Yue, he'd finally given in…but not without some misgivings. He'd somehow made Yue agree to not let Mel ride alone on her horse, fearing her wounds could cause her to fall off and make her injuries even worse.

Mel shook her head, she had a feeling that Yue and Lou would never really get along. They respected each other and obviously could cooperate with each other, or at least compromise, but she doubted they'd ever like each other much. Apparently their first impressions had been rather bad-which was sad, since she like both of them so much. Mel, preoccupied with her thoughts, didn't notice the steps down to the courtyard until it was too late.

Fern rushed forward, catching Mel before she did anymore damage to herself. "Dang it, Mel, pay attention!"

Mel smiled up at him as he set her down, "Thank you." She apparently hadn't listened to him, how typical. With a sigh he followed her as she hobbled towards the mount they would be sharing, stopping periodically along the way to talk to groups of people who had wandered in from the town to see the procession go-and to make sure that the Master Wizard really would be ok.

Fern shook his head as Mel bent down as much as her injuries would allow in order to talk to a small child who was crying. Apparently the kid had gotten lost and Mel just couldn't leave him there alone, now could she. Next thing he knew, they were wandering around searching for the child's parents, which took a good ten minutes since the courtyard was crowded. Really, Mel was just too concerned about other people.

After that long detour they had almost reached their horse when Mel nearly hit the ground again, this time because of a pebble. Fern's quick reflexes saved her, but this time he wasn't letting go of her. If he did, he just knew she'd find a way to end up in another dangerous situation-that, or she'd spot someone else who she felt deserved her time, and would go off on another detour. And really, even though they still had time to spare (apparently some of the nobles hadn't woken up when they should have, causing a delay), there probably wouldn't be time for another ten minute jaunt.

Mel must have read his mind, because she said, "Fern, I can walk on my own. Or don't you trust me?"

Fern chuckled, "Oh, I trust you all right; I trust you to do what you always have done."

Mel glared up at him playfully as he led her to their horse, which blocked everyone else from sight, "Oh, so you know me that well, do you?"

"Really Mel, some things never change."

Mel shook her head as she allowed Fern to lift her into the saddle and, catching Fern by surprise as he prepared to get up behind her, she bent down and kissed him on the cheek. "Yeah…" she began with the closest thing to a smirk Fern had ever seen on her face.

"But some things do!"

The End

Ok, I hope you liked it. I'm so sorry that it took me so long to post this chapter, but school keeps me on a tight leash. This is the first break during which I haven't had any homework (or just plain work) to stop my creative writing from happening. Well, to make up for the delay, this chapter was three pages longer than normal. If you see any errors, please tell me and I will fix them as soon as I can.

This is the last chapter-unless I get enough reviews (at least 5) asking for a bonus/epilogue. If you do want this 'last adition', then please give me at least a brief explanation of what you want (ex: far future, immediately after return to the capital, Seraphia's birthday, etc), If you want to go into more detail, that's fine with me too. What I do from here on out depends on the response I get. If I get a favorable response before my break is over, I'll try to get it up right away, but if it takes too long and school starts again, it may be another long wait. Just warning you.

I'd love to hear from you (though I don't want any flames, it's Christmas…well, close enough anyways), so please read, review, and visit my DeviantART page! Now, onto the pretty list!

Thanks to: RebelAngel91210, Rebel of my Destiny, CrimsonRose18, cheer up emo kid, Destiny101, FairWeatherPuppeh, & Kayashiku for reviewing!