Out of sorts didn't even begin to describe the way Sain felt. But he wasn't the only one acting oddly: Florina couldn't seem to sit still, Serra hardly spoke a word, and even Hector and Lady Lyn weren't at odds with one another.
The cause was, of course, the light of dawn and what it would bring with it. They marched at dawn, upon Nergal and the puppets under his control. They had waited months for this moment, for the chance to take revenge for Lord Eliwood's father, and the deaths of countless others. But nobody knew what they would be facing, exactly, when their march ended. What kind of power did Nergal posses? Would he be able to strike them all down with merely a handful of words?
Ah, no, that was silly! Surely no mere man could do such a thing! And Athos, who had once known Nergal as a friend, was with them. Sain's mind told him that there was nothing to fear…and yet, all those in the encampment wrote letters "just in case", or were having what they liked to call "a final discussion" with their beloved friends or those they had come to even love.
Nergal's power to create morphs was frightening. No one really knew what it took to create a morph—if one of them fell in battle, could they be resurrected to fight on the other side? It was something weighing heavily on all of their hearts.
With trepidation, he approached Fiora. She had been diligently making certain that her weapons were in perfect condition, and though he usually failed to hesitate before disturbing her (or anyone's) peace, he hated to do so this night.
A night that could easily be their last.
Determined to speak with her in spite of, or perhaps because of, that fact, he took a step in her direction, smiling as he called out her name—just her name, with nothing fancy attached.
She looked up and smiled at him, but her smile did not quite reach her eyes. "Sir Sain," said she, lowering her gleaming silver blade to the ground beside her, "what is this? No ridiculous nicknames? No wildflowers?" She let her smile fall away slowly, "Are you feeling all right?"
He doubted that anyone was feeling all right, and he said as much, though at the end of his speculation, he tacked on a flourishing bow and a, "my lovely Ilian rose," to address her.
"It's just another battle," she told him, her chin set stubbornly. "We've fought in many, what's one more?"
He paused, and sat across from her, fingers tracing down the stem of a dandelion before he snapped it loose. "My dear," he began, somewhat slowly as he worked the petals between his thumb and forefinger, "you are right in that regard, but still, I cannot help but worry—nay, wonder—what we are up against." When he looked down, his fingers were stained yellow.
"Nergal," she said matter-of-factly, as if he were stupid for having not thought of it himself.
"Do you not worry for yourself? Or even your sisters?" he asked.
"We always worry about those we love, Sain." When she smiled at him, it was genuine. "Do you think I have not worried for Florina since she was old enough to learn to ride? For Farina since long before she took off and left with no word, no indication as to her destination?"
"I see," he said, and let the weed fall from his hand.
"We're all worried, Sain. About our families, our friends…" She looked him in the eye, "Our loved ones."
He couldn't help a small splash of color across his cheekbones.
"If we lose anyone," she said, "it will hurt us all in some way."
He let his hand brush back his bangs. "Though even you must admit that losing some will hurt much more than others."
"I will not deny it."
"I didn't think you would." He grinned, but the worry still gnawed at him. What if he lost Kent, his longtime friend? Or Lady Lyn, his liege and someone dear to him? Or Wil, who had worked his way into the military and the hearts of many in it? Or—no, he refused to imagine how he might feel if he lost the woman sitting across from him.
"Are you still worried?" she asked, placing her hand on his knee.
He chuckled, but it sounded pathetic. "I think I will be until I can see for myself that it is over," he said. "Many others are writing or telling others what they wish to happen in case of their death."
"Is that why you're here?" Her voice was gentle, soft. He felt he could almost cry just looking at her, because deep in the back of his mind he knew he could lose her on the morrow, just as easily as he might lose Kent or Lady Lyn or even Wil.
He didn't want to lose anyone.
"No," he said quickly. "If I die, I die. There's really nothing after that. I suppose I'd like to be buried, but so would everyone else. Once I'm dead, I guess it won't matter what happens to my body."
"What about your family? Wouldn't you want them to know?"
"I've thought of it many a time, my dear. But in the end I wonder what would be best. For them to know I've died, or to never know, thinking I've gone off on a grand adventure."
"When Farina left us, I would have preferred knowing the truth. Many nights I wondered if she was still alive, and I thought…if she was, surely she'd have returned by now."
His smile faded and he took her hand in his, squeezing her fingertips. He hoped none of the pigment from the dandelion transferred to her skin. "You have her back, now," he tried.
"And I may lose her yet again." She straightened but didn't let go of his hand. "But that is out of our hands. We can only do our best."
He wanted to say that he didn't know what he'd do if he lost her, but instead he only spoke her name, so quietly he wasn't certain that she heard at first.
But after a moment, she murmured, "Yes?"
"Fiora," he said again, but found himself at a loss for words. He could say that he loved her, that he couldn't bear to lose her, that he wanted to spend forever with her…but he shook his head before he could say any of that. "Never mind," he said instead. "That was too cliché even for me."
One of her eyebrows arched curiously. "Oh? Now I'm curious."
He flashed her a winsome grin. "I've seen it three times this evening, my dear," he said. "But I'll not be so callous as to ask you to marry me tonight."
It wouldn't be fair, he thought, to ask someone something so selfishly, least of all someone he had fallen in love with. Either of them could die on the morrow. Wouldn't it be more prudent to taste victory, first? To sweep her off of her winged horse and propose when he knew for certain they would have a future?
She cocked her head to the side. "Callous?" she asked, and laughed. "I see nothing callous about it. I would rather die with a promise of the future than the fleeting hope that I would live long enough to see it."
"And what if I die tomorrow?"
"There is always the chance of death," she said, "but I would live knowing I was to marry you. Nobody else would ever be able to compare, I think."
He marveled at her resilience. Some women would find it romantic, but many would hold a grudge if he died and left them not quite a widow, not quite available. Love admitted, but never consummated. He ought to have known Fiora was different from most. "You don't find it to be in bad taste?"
"Let me tell you how I feel about it, Sir Sain," she said, and solemnly took his other hand, and held their clasped fingers between them in the air. "Sain," she began, a smile creeping across her face, "will you marry me?"
"Of course," he said airily, "but since I have no ring, this will have to do." And he took his finger and smeared the yellow dandelion pigment around her ring finger.
Oh my, the sugar. It makes my head spin! This 'fic was written for charity and requested by Sara Jaye. It's really late so…my humblest apologies. I do love this couple, but I don't get the chance or inspiration to write them often. Thank you for reading! (This is unedited.)