"My, you really do look lovely, dear!"
"Thank you so much! You're too kind."
"Oh, not at all; it's true. If you don't mind my asking, how far along are you?"
Anna smiled kindly as her hand automatically brushed her stomach; ever since she'd begun to show, she was getting used to being asked these kinds of questions wherever they went. "It should be about six months now."
The woman tending the produce stall with whom she'd been conversing with giggled girlishly, nearly squashing the tomatoes she'd been sorting as she leaned forward to talk. "That's so wonderful," she tittered, "you must be excited."
The two women continued chatting idly for a few more moments until Anna noticed that Kratos has reappeared by her side, carrying several shopping bags in each hand and looking slightly sullen. "Are you about finished here?" he asked, sounding a bit like a bored child. "We should take all this back to the inn soon."
"I'm nearly done, don't worry," she reassured him. "I guess I just let the time slip away from me."
"Oh, is this your husband?" the stall woman asked as she handed Anna her change.
Anna faltered for a moment before smiling again and nodding lightly. "Yes, that's right," she confirmed, glancing back at Kratos, who didn't react. "We're on a trip right now, just passing through Palmacosta."
"Well, that just sounds lovely!" The stall woman giggled again. "I really shouldn't keep you any longer; your husband seems impatient. Have a wonderful trip, and congratulations to the two of you!"
Anna thanked the woman again and dashed ahead a ways to catch up with Kratos, who had already started walking away. "Hey, wait up!" she called, and he slowed his stride until she was beside him. "Sorry about that," she said a little bit breathlessly, but with a wide smile still on her face. "Didn't realize you were waiting for me."
"I still can't understand how it always takes us this long to finish shopping," he muttered. "You always get sidetracked somehow."
"And you could stand to be a little more patient!" she said, shoving him playfully. Kratos merely grunted, but didn't reply. They waded through the crowds of people in the marketplace, getting jostled this way and that, the sun blazing down upon them with the heat of midsummer. Anna sighed, trying to wipe some of the sweat from her brow, but the bags she carried were in the way. She got winded much more easily nowadays thanks to all the extra baby weight, which didn't make days like this any easier.
"I don't think there's anything else we need," she panted as they came to the end of the line of stalls. "You're right, let's head back to the inn. I'd really like to rest for a little while."
"Good idea," Kratos replied, looking a little weary himself. "By the way," he said glancing at Anna as they crossed the bridge near the inn a few minutes later, "I'm curious…since when were we married?"
Anna's breath caught in her throat, and she nervously fumbled for an answer, thinking Kratos was angry until she looked up and saw the amused smile on his face. "Oh…" she finally breathed, chuckling weakly. "Well, what was I supposed to say?" she asked, looking at him with exasperation. "You hate it when I tell people you're my boyfriend."
Kratos cringed at the mention of the word 'boyfriend'. "It's a ridiculous, childish term," he muttered, pushing open the door to the inn. "We aren't teenagers, after all."
"Oh yeah?" Anna said, puffing up the stairs to their room behind him. "Then what should we use? How about 'lovers' instead?"
He uttered a grunt of derision. "That's not much better," he said. "Saying that makes it sound like we're having some kind of an illicit affair." Entering the room, he set the bags he'd been carrying on the floor and started to sort through them.
Anna huffed as she followed him in, setting her bags down as well and collapsing onto the bed. "Fine then, what would you suggest?"
Kratos was silent for a moment as he mulled it over. "What about 'partners'?" he said finally. "That's fairly inoffensive, and not entirely untrue."
Anna frowned and rolled her eyes. "A little too inoffensive. Makes us sound like we're business partners instead of in a relationship."
Kratos sighed and rose to his feet. "Does it really matter whether or not we have a name for it?" he asked.
"Well, it's kind of awkward that we don't," Anna retorted. "Just what are we supposed to tell people when they ask?"
"We don't need to tell them anything," he snapped. "Our relationship is no one's business but our own."
"It isn't something we can avoid, Kratos!" Looking somewhat annoyed, she placed her hands over the bulge on her stomach. "Soon we'll be carrying around a baby, and people will fuss over it and ask questions…it's just what people do. We can't just - "
"I don't feel the need to justify our relationship to a group of inquisitive strangers," he cut in, trying to end the argument.
"Then what about justifying it to me?" Anna burst, standing suddenly from the bed and glaring at him. "You always act like you're trying to hide it! You won't hold hands with me in public, you're afraid of explaining it to people…just what am I to you, Kratos? Your dirty little secret?"
A terrible silence choked the room. Anna was trembling, but not quite on the verge of tears; Kratos looked as though he'd forgotten how to breathe. He finally let out a small breath, gazing at her with a look of distress. "You know that isn't true," he said quietly. "Even if I don't often acknowledge it in public, it doesn't mean I don't care about you. I've always been a private person…sometimes to a fault."
Anna's gaze shifted guiltily to the floor. "Yeah, I know," she murmured.
"I've never actively tried to hide our relationship from anyone," he continued. "I suppose I never considered there to be a need to put a name to it. Because no matter what anyone else thinks when they see us…" Anna looked up again slowly, and found his eyes locked resolutely on hers. "…To me, you are simply the woman I love."
"Kratos…I'm sorry," she said quietly, her face flushed a deep red - partly from shame, and partly from hearing him say so openly something he usually only implied. "Of course I know you care for me. I…I guess you're right. I'm making a bigger deal of this than it needs to be."
"No, you're not…" It was now Kratos' turn to wear a look of shame. "In fact, I should be apologizing to you. I may not have felt the need to define our relationship with words, but you did…and I ignored that."
Anna shook her head. "I think we just misunderstood each other for a while," she said, a tiny smile reappearing on her lips. "If you're really okay with it, then tell me; what should I call you around other people?"
"Call me your husband, if you'd like." He was smiling now as well, but it was tinged with sadness. "We're devoted enough to each other that we may as well be married."
A moment passed before Anna spoke again. "Kratos, would you tell me one more thing?" Her voice had lowered to almost a whisper, and wavered a bit though she tried to control it. "How come…you've never asked me to marry you?"
His smile faded, and the sadness that had only been hinted before now overtook his expression. "I wanted to," he told her. "I thought about it months ago, but I realized it wouldn't be possible."
"Why not?" she asked, her voice breaking just a little.
"Because we're fugitives," he said softly. He stared out the window to avoid seeing her distraught face. "The Church of Martel keeps extensive records of each couple married by its authority, largely for Cruxis to use as reference when deciding upon the next Chosen. Naturally, those records are available to anyone with authority within Cruxis, as well as the Desian Grand Cardinals if they requested it. Both of them are on high alert right now trying to find us. If our names were to appear on that record, I have no doubt they would be upon us within the hour."
"I'd never even thought of that," she murmured.
He nodded slowly. "Realizing that, I knew it was a risk we couldn't afford to take. And in any case, I thought you seemed content with the way things were."
"Well…I guess I am content." He realized she was in front of him as she slid her hands softly around his, and saw with some relief when he finally looked down at her that a smile was returning to her face. "Getting married wouldn't really change things between us, after all. It would just be a way of reaffirming the feelings we already have."
"And if that's the case…then who says we need the Church's permission to get married, anyway?" she asked mischievously.
He raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean," she said, squeezing his hands, "why don't we just get married by ourselves?"
"Is that a proposal?"
"Something like that," she said lightly.
Her good humor was infectious, and Kratos found himself unable to keep a smile from his face. "All right then," he said with a slight chuckle. "Just what did you have in mind?"
"Well, if we're going to get married, we may as well do it right. First, let's find someplace a little more romantic than this…" She looked out the window, noticing that the sun had begun to set while they'd been talking, and was struck with an idea. "Perfect! Come on, let's go before it gets too dark outside," she said, leading him by the hand out the door of their room.
"And where is this 'romantic place' you're thinking of?" he asked as they stepped outside the inn and headed down the street.
Now that the sun was going down the air felt cooler and less humid, and there were fewer people on the street than when they'd been shopping earlier that day. Anna was still holding onto Kratos' hand as they walked, which surprised her a little since he ordinarily would have tried to wriggle it free by now. She glanced up at him with some curiosity; he had fallen silent but appeared to be perfectly relaxed. Wondering if he'd taken her earlier complaint to heart or was simply complying for now because there was hardly anyone around, she continued leading him through the city, now tinted orange by the sunset, until they reached the docks. They found one of the longer ones without a boat moored alongside it and walked out towards the end of it, where Anna finally brought them to a halt.
"I think this'll do," she said, looking around at the view. "There's no one around to bother us here…and it's pretty romantic, wouldn't you say?"
"The ocean at sunset," Kratos mused. "A little cliché, but I suppose we could do worse."
"Give me a break," she laughed. "I'm just working with what we've got!"
He smiled and turned to face her. "Well then, how shall we begin?"
"Hmm." Her hands moved towards his again, but this time he reached for and grasped hers on his own. "I guess we should start with the vows," she suggested, feeling her face turn pink once more. "I'll go first, then…
"Kratos," she began, looking past the long bangs that always hung in front of his face and into his eyes, "will you take me as your wife? Standing beside me through whatever trials we may face, through each day to come whether it brings joy or sorrow?"
"Yes," he said solemnly. "I will." Pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts, he took a breath and began once more. "Anna, will you take me as your husband? Will you stay by my side through whatever hardships we must endure, through whatever blessings we are given?"
She nodded with a serene smile. "I will," she said softly.
They stood quietly for a minute before Kratos spoke. "So, with this…are we married now?"
"Almost. There's just one more thing you have to do," she hinted.
"One more thing…" Anna watched with some delight as his expression turned from one of pondering to one of recognition. He pulled her closer and cradled her cheek in one hand as their lips met, and Anna sank forward into his embrace. They continued to hold one another for a while even after they'd broken the kiss, Anna with her head resting on Kratos' chest, and him gently stroking her hair. The bright orange glow of sunset slowly faded into twilight, drawing around them like a blanket.
"I just realized," Kratos said with a small sigh, "I don't have a ring to give you. I'm sorry."
Anna shook her head. "Neither do I…it's okay. Hearing you say those words is all I need. And besides, rings are a little expensive. We should be saving money to use for the baby right now."
"The baby…that's right," he murmured, in what Anna recognized as an apprehensive tone of voice.
"You're still nervous, aren't you?" she asked, lifting her face to look at his.
"I can't hide anything from you, can I?"
"Well, you shouldn't be. We're a team, remember? Between the two of us, I'm sure we can handle one little kid." She smiled reassuringly at him. "We're in this together."
"I know." Seeing her smile made him a little more at ease, and he put one on as well. "As husband and wife, right?"
"Yeah," she said, and gave a small chuckle of happiness at the thought. "As husband and wife."