When Alston saw the Lieutenant making her way down the hall to where he stood, he couldn’t help but grin at her. Though she was wearing a Xamalian uniform, it did not completely hide away her few curves. As she drew closer, Alston was amazed at how distracted he was by her simple approach. When she stopped to look at him, Alston cocked an eyebrow at her and asked, “What did they say?”
“I’m in,” she told him, voice even.
Even with her complacent response, Alston couldn’t help but grin wider at her words. He didn’t say anything in response, though. Instead, he turned and began walking back to Zara’s chambers. As the Lieutenant followed him, Alston noticed that she was focused solely on where he was leading her. Nothing seemed to be distracting her – not other Warriors, not the route itself, and not even Alston. Realizing that he was saddened by it surprised him. However, he didn’t have time to figure out why that was; he had a deal to keep with his brother.
Once they were alone in Zara’s hall, Alston placed his finger on his insignia and said, “Pike.”
When the fairy’s transporting fire burst from the floor not even two seconds later, Alston greeted the fairy, “Hi Pike.”
“Alston,” Pike nodded, looking at Kelly with a slightly curious eye.
“We need to get to Kendrick’s. Will you take us to our usual spot in the Monan Regna?”
Pike gave a brief nod, and then swallowed both of them in his cornflower blue transporting fire. When the flames died away, Alston and the Lieutenant were standing in a hollowed out portion of the mountains that Pike had told Alston about several years before. What was really great about this particular stretch of mountains was that it was practically invisible and damn near impossible to get to. Alston knew that Kendrick had never been in this particular part of the ranges; if he had, he surely would have showed it to his brother. Kendrick liked to show him things that he found or discovered, it was a boost to his ego, and Kendrick liked boosting his ego. Not that Alston minded all of the things that Kendrick had shown him; he genuinely did find it all fascinating.
Without looking behind him to see if the Lieutenant was watching him or not, Alston began to undress. He had thought about what he would be wearing if he actually were getting married, and after weeks of mulling over the dilemma, he finally decided that he would have been dressed informally. The most obvious reason for that would be that he didn’t actually own any really formal outfits. The second reason was because he never knew when he would need to get back to business and he wouldn’t want to get a formal outfit dirty, even if Kendrick could get the stain out of the fabric. Keeping that in mind, he set aside a clean, comfortable peasant outfit, and it was that outfit that he reached for to change into.
The shirt was a light khaki color and loose fitting, though it was not baggy, per se. What Alston really liked about the shirt, though it was something he had no intention of making use of for the mission at hand was the fact that there were several hidden pockets on the inside of the shirt, where he could hide several small blades. The pants were dark brown and well worn in. His dad had given him these pants and said that they had belonged to his grandfather. Alston didn’t know if he necessarily believed that, but it was a nice story, so he didn’t press it any further.
“Come here, Lieutenant,” he called out to her, looking down into the drawer at all of the female outfits he had obtained over the years.
“Don’t you think you should start calling me by name, Alston?” she asked lightly, raising an eyebrow at him.
He started to chuckle, but the mirth quickly died on his lips. With all of the planning he had been doing, he hadn’t thought of what the girl’s name was going to be. Part of the problem was that before, he had planned on using one of Sam’s girls, or one of their friends, and they would have had an alias that they usually went by. Even if he had used their real name, it wouldn’t have mattered, really, because Kendrick wouldn’t have known them. Though he would not know the Lieutenant, not personally, he would certainly recognize her first name for being the same as Patrick Deluvia’s daughter’s name. That would have been too large a coincidence for comfort, because Kendrick did not believe in coincidence.
“I don’t think having you answer to ‘Kelly’ would be a very smart thing to do right now. You don’t happen to have an alias already, do you?” Alston asked, hoping against hope that she actually did, but not really expecting her to.
“Rose,” she informed him, walking over to look in the drawer.
“Ok, Rose,” he said, his voice quiet. It feels wrong, to call her by name, he thought. Fake or real, it still feels wrong. Keeping that thought silent, he turned his attention back to the clothes in the drawer and picked up one of Melanie’s outfits. “You look to be about the same size as Melanie. You can try this on.”
As she slipped out of her uniform and into the peasant outfit that he had picked out for her, Alston turned his attention back to the drawers. He knew that the bracelets were in one of the drawers . . . maybe the top one?
“How do I look?”
Turning when he heard the question, Alston was startled by how perfect she looked. The top of the outfit consisted of two shirts: one was a strapless dark brown that laced halfway up and tied in the back and the other was a cream colored poncho. It took him several moments before he was able to find his voice, but when he did, he breathed, “You look perfect.” Then, as an after-thought, he added, “Well, almost perfect.”
He gathered up her uniform and shoved it in the top drawer. From the bottom drawer, he pulled out a pair of sandals for each of them.
“Your hair needs to be down,” he told her, reaching a hand up to loosen her hair from the Warrior’s knot that it was in. “I told my brother that my wife was a peasant.”
Standing so close to the Lieutenant sent a shiver racing down his spine. As her hair fell down, Alston gave silent thanks that her hair seemed to be wavy enough to conceal the fact that it had been up for the past couple of months.
“What about my necklace?” she asked him, keeping her voice quiet, as though she were telling him a secret. “I’m guessing that your brother doesn’t think you married a Flair since you told him she was a peasant.”
Glancing down at the necklace, Alston wondered how he could have forgotten about it. Considering the question, he said carefully, “We would be safer if you keep it on, but it will give everything away if Kendrick discovers it.”
“The shirt is loose fitting enough to conceal the ring,” the Lieutenant offered.
“The shirt is loose fitting enough to conceal several things,” Alston said tightly. “It might make Kendrick suspicious.”
“Well,” the Lieutenant asked thoughtfully, “does he trust you?”
Letting out a hollow chuckle, Alston responded, “He trusts that he can kill me and that is good enough for him.”
Taking that response very seriously, she said, “I would feel safer if I kept the necklace on.”
After considering the matter for a moment, Alston sighed and said, “Yeah, you’re right.” Turning around, he reached in the drawer yet again and finally found what he was looking for: the bracelets. The Lieutenant’s expression changed immediately upon seeing them.
“Have you seen these before?” Alston asked.
She nodded and told him, “A couple of times before my mom died.”
Gently taking her left hand, he began tying one of the bracelets around her wrist. “Do you know what the bands represent?”
His question confused her, and she shook her head.
“The strap closest to the hand represents the man and the strap closest to the heart represents the woman. The middle strap represents the marriage. The bracelet starts undone, except for the one knot in the middle,” he paused to show her the knot he had just tied in the bracelet. “This knot represents the initial change of joining two lives into one. As life progresses and more changes are experienced – a new home, a child, a fight, a death – knots are added using the two outside bands. The man and woman encounter these changes together and, presuming the couple makes it through each of these trials, their relationship is stronger.”
Once he finished tying the first knot in her bracelet, he let his hands fall away, but continued speaking. “I never expected to live a long life. Because of this, I never gave much thought to marriage. But since I’ve met you . . . I don’t know . . . this annoying thought keeps popping up when I least expect it.”
“What thought?” she asked quietly.
Feeling the odd sensation of a blush coloring his cheeks, he began quietly, “The thought that, I don’t know, maybe marriage wouldn’t be quite the hassle I once thought it to be. And I realize that a simple life in the woods would be impossible for me, but seeing you now,” he paused, allowing his eyes to roam over her, “I only hope that if I can find a woman who will have me that she looks half as beautiful as you.”
Alston was very thankful that he had his bracelet to distract him after that admission. Although he knew he would probably have to ask for help eventually, he was more than willing to mess with the straps for the moment if it would keep him from having to look at the Lieutenant. However, she didn’t let him wait. Instead, she placed her hands on his and said in a quiet voice, “You flatter me.”
Watching in wonder, Alston saw her tie up the bracelet in a way that was practically identical to the way that he had done hers. Then she did something that completely caught him off guard – she kissed him. It did not take Alston long at all to react to it, and he eagerly returned the gesture.