Nearly three hours after he and Casca first set foot into the hot spring, a much more wrinkly Guts returned to the camp. Donning just his pants, he found Judeau and Pippin propped up against opposite sides of a tree, their weapons in their hands while they slumbered. He retrieved his and Casca's bedrolls, which he had rolled as one the night before, figuring they would sleep the same way tonight. He retrieved his massive sword from where he sat earlier, and headed back into the woods.
At the side of the hot spring, Casca sat atop a boulder, not much larger than she was. The cloudless sky still allowed the moonlight to illuminate the clearing, though cast the side of her Guts would first see upon his return in shadow. As she had that night so many months ago, the night Guts first saved her life, she wore his large black shirt over her slight naked form. What's more, she was quite comfortable in the oversized and therefore revealing garment.
She smiled slightly, feeling fear, excitement, love, and concern all at once. Fear for the unknown of what was to come for the Hawks. What was to come of Griffith's dream when she departed with Guts. What was to come of her and Guts' own life together. Oddly, she felt a good deal of excitement for many of the same reasons. She was excited to discover a life outside of the Hawks; excited to build her life at Guts' side. She'd miss the friends she'd made throughout the years. Her comrades in arms whom had accepted her, even through the hardest of times. She'd miss Griffith, and his absolute charisma for life and for his dream.
Above all the things she felt, the warmth in her abdomen, the ever-growing feeling within her that she had never known, but understood completely now that she harbored it, she kept that closest to her heart; love. To feel loved by Guts, to feel love for Guts; it brought her unrivaled happiness. Simply sitting on that boulder, remembering these short days they'd always have, she couldn't help or hold the tears that fell from her eyes; tears of pure, unbridled joy.
"Casca?" Guts asked of her tears, bringing her glass-coated eyes, and salt stained cheeks into his concerned gaze. "Are you alright?"
He dropped the bedrolls and knelt in front of her, respectfully placing his hands on her slightly cold form. She brought her hands through the neck of Guts' shirt to wipe her tears, and offered him a smile as she replied, "I'm fine. I was just…"
She paused for a moment, Guts nervously blinking his eyes while he waited for her to finish.
Casca brought her eyes to meet his and continued, "…I'm happy, Guts. For the first time this year, I feel like I did that day. That after all this time, I've found something real, something that I want. I'm scared, I'm deathly afraid of what might be waiting for us in Windham, but I know that as long as you're with me, whatever it is, we'll get through it together. We'll get Griffith back, get the Hawks on their feet, and then…"
There it was once again, that beautiful smile of hers, "…then we can have our own dream, together."
He wouldn't shed a tear, though that's not to say he didn't wish to. She had said nothing short of exactly what he himself was feeling. Perhaps that he remained silent was simply a result of hearing this woman, this strongest of warriors speaking of a life with him. He raised a finger to her chin, gently lifting her face so that her wet eyes could meet his, "So you'll come with me then?"
Casca smiled and blinked the fresh tears from her eyes as she answered, "I'm your woman now, aren't I?"
"Only if you choose to be, Casca."
"I do," she warmly replied.
Guts slowly lowered his lips to hers, softly merging their smiles. "So warm," she thought. "Just a few more days, and we can be together. We can have this forever, Guts."
Guts brought the back of his right hand to slide along her cheek, slowly and carefully opening his fingers to stroke her soft skin, "I don't know what I've done to deserve you, Casca. Our time together has been so sudden and so brief, but even now, I can't bare the thought of being without you."
Finally, Guts withdrew his lips from hers, and their eyes opened to take in one another's face once more. Though they didn't speak them aloud, their thoughts were one in the same, "You are my dream."
Guts stepped back and away from her, retrieving their bedrolls and laying them out for the night. Unlike the previous night, the awkwardness Casca felt the night before never came. She didn't hesitate to lower herself onto the doubled-up fabric, and no cue was necessary for Guts to do as he'd done the previous evening, wrapping her body with his left arm. Her fingers delicately clutched his forearm, "So strong. It's hard to imagine there might be anything he couldn't accomplish with this strength."
"She's so fragile, yet strong," Guts thought as he held her tightly to him.
Again he leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the side of her face. The touch of his coarse lips on her soft skin only brought her smile to widen, and her embrace to tighten on his arm.
It didn't take long for their heavy eyes to fall shut. The truth was, this was a night of much needed rest. Tomorrow, they would return to Windham, and come nightfall, all of the planning this past year would finally be put to the test. It was a relatively simple plan in the scheme of things. They'd faced certain death on the battlefield more times than either of them could ever remember. Still, with Griffith's rescue on the line, tensions would surely be running high.
Casca's arms had gone heavy just a few moments after they lay down. Guts blinked his eyes a few times, struggling to fend off sleep, though he eventually began to submit. However, just as he was about to fall asleep completely, Guts' eyes cracked open. He looked down on Casca's short black locks, and carefully twisted his right hand from beneath his head. Gently he ran his fingers through her damp hair, straightening out the short wild strands. At feeling his gentle touch, Casca's eyes lightly opened, and though he couldn't see her face, she still wore a warm smile, "Goodnight, Guts."
The following morning, Casca, Guts, Judeau and Pipping quickly found and consumed their morning meal, and near immediately set off towards Windham. It would be but a few hours ride to the outskirts of the kingdom, and that was every bit a part of their plan. They would camp out once more on the kingdom's edge to rest, before heading out to rescue Griffith.
The journey was much more strict and serious these last few hours. Judeau had hardly spotted a single glance between the pair that led the way. They seemed perhaps even more driven than they had been those first two days. He wondered for a moment what might have spurred this change in them, though realized that it wasn't exactly his business. All that mattered was that their game faces were on, and the determination they displayed gave him confidence as well, "Soon Griffith. It's been a long time, but tonight, the white hawk will fly again."
Just as quickly as the day had gone, the night had come, and for the last time on this journey, the group setup camp. As per their usual, they found a quick dinner, and as they had every night so far, Judeau and Pippin made themselves scarce when the time came to sleep.
Guts and Casca found comfort against a rather large oak tree. Guts let his back against the wide trunk, and Casca gently lowered her back against his chest. Unlike those first two nights, they left their armor on this last night as there was no telling who or what might be waiting for them in these woods. While it was uncomfortable, it was best that they be prepared for anything. On that note, Guts left his surreal blade within arm's reach, and Casca's even closer should she need it.
As Casca settled her body against his, Guts tossed their doubled bedroll over them like a blanket. Once it came to a rest, he wrapped his arms around Casca's small waist, and she tilted her head back, allowing it to fall on Guts' shoulder as her hands and arms fell atop his. Again she found herself staring at the moon, and the stars.
"It's so beautiful," she mused aloud.
Guts too looked to the sky, and smiled, "Mmm-hmm."
"Can it be like this every night?" Casca innocently asked, her lips beaming bright.
"Anything you say, boss."
Casca chuckled slightly and turned her face towards Guts. After sharing a short, but caring kiss, Guts spoke, "You should really get some rest. You wouldn't want Griffith to see you after all this time, with bags under your eyes, right?"
She wore a warm smile at hearing his constant concern for her well-being, "Our journey is almost over, Guts. Just a little while longer."
Guts lifted his left hand from her waist, and gently wrapped the back of her head as he placed a kiss on her forehead. Her eyes closed and her body warmed throughout at feeling his lips on her skin. As he let her away from his kiss, his eyes took hers once again, and he spoke once more, "Sweet dreams, Casca."
She offered him one last smile before lowering her head back to his shoulder. Again he wrapped her waist with his left arm, and within seconds, they were asleep.
Guts' mind raced with dreams those few hours he was asleep. Dreams of the Band of the Hawk. Dreams of Casca at his side. Dreams of a little boy between them. Dreams that felt so real, he could almost taste them.
Then, woken from the paradise of his mind, Guts was brought back to reality by the voice he dreamt of. By the eyes he was always so completely lost in. By the vibrant smile his strength was worthless against. By the words that meant his dream, their dream, was one step closer, "It's time."
And that does it for this one. If you made it this far, I really hope you enjoyed it :)
It is VERY rare for me to truly love anything that I myself write, but I really loved writing this story, and even after countless proofreads, I still love reading it. It was something I needed, to see Guts and Casca further discover their feelings for one another. To see the anxious, awkward, and happy moments along the way, even if they aren't much more than a sad preface for the nightmare to come.
I still have the crossover I mentioned last time very much in mind, but in conversing with Kipper, I realize just how much of this series I still have to commit to memory. I have a longer way to go than I'd like before I can begin work on it, but hopefully, the work and the time will pay off. I've written 29 fics with this piece, and I really want this crossover to be the best thing I've ever written.
Thanks so much for reading,