I held my sword tightly, glaring over at Leon. I knew at any moment he would strike. I had to be ready to block his attacks… Already I had been nicked on both shoulders and the back of my leg due to lack of focus. He wasn't being easy on me, either. Not that I had any room to complain.

He rushed at me, aiming to strike at my face. I deflected his sword with my own. He swung around to catch me off-guard, but I merely jumped back. "Ha. I'm getting a little better now, hm?" I smiled through my breathlessness.

"Better…but still not good enough." He shook his head.

I narrowed my eyes and bounded forward. At the last second I dove to the ground in a roll to come up behind him, my sword slashing at his legs. There was the screech of metal on metal as he blocked my attack. The force of the blow traveled through my arm. I gritted my teeth and pushed off his blade, jumping to my feet.

"Now you're getting angry." He made the motion to sheath his weapon. "We both know you can't fight when you're mad."

"Yes I can!" I growled lowly before attacking again. He merely deflected it.

"No, you can't. Stop, Kat."

I pushed on his blade with all my strength, my muscles burning with the exertion. He slipped his guard beneath mine and, with a quick flick of his wrist, wrenched it from my hands. Leon then proceeded to knock the back of my knee with the pommel of his weapon. I began falling backwards.

He caught me in his arms before I hit the ground. I blinked rapidly and looked up at him. He smiled gently. "Now do you know why you can't fight when you're angry?"

"Yes…" I rolled my eyes.

He stuck his sword in the ground and brought his other hand up to cup my cheek. "I could stare into your eyes forever…" He ran his thumb along the bone.

Wrapping my arms about his neck, I smirked. "Who's stopping you?" I pulled myself up to press my lips to his.

He moaned softly and I felt his tongue running along my bottom lip, begging entrance to my mouth. I backed off. "Whoa, sir. Not too fast. I have to get used to this again."

"No better way than to jump in all at once." He smiled boyishly.

My eyebrows skyrocketed. "Don't push your luck."

"Oh, fine…" He grumbled, setting me back on my feet. "Well. Do you want to try again or shall we get going?"

I went to pick up my sword and return it to the sheath on my side. "Let's keep traveling. If memory serves me correctly, the next town is the last human settlement before we reach elf territory. Not to mention, monsters are much more active. We'll have to stay on our guard."

"Don't want another orc problem…" He mumbled to himself, mounting his horse.

"We'll also have to leave the horses behind. The forest is too dense for them to get through." I mounted my own steed.

He turned the animal around to face me. "I thought your merchants always used horses when traveling through that part of the wood."

"They're fine on the paths. But we won't be using those." I spurred the best onward, allowing Leon to follow me. "In order to find Autumn, we'll have to go through all the other parts of the forest."

"Wouldn't it make more sense to use the paths? That way we're sure to find the bandits."

"This is true. However." I turned to look at him critically. "I don't know about you, but I know I'm definitely not strong enough to take on a group of bandits."

He nodded once. "Hm, yes. That dilemma."

"If we manage to catch them by surprise, we can find Autumn and get out without relatively any problem."

"That's the plan?"

I smiled over at him. "That's the plan."

"Good enough for me."

"That's a good boy, agreeing without question. I knew I married you for a reason."

He inclined his head toward me. "As if saving your life multiple times weren't enough."

"Well, since we're on that topic… Let's not forget I braved the high seas to rescue you."

"Please. You fought a sea worm, pirates, caught a cold, and fell in a hole. Hardly 'braving' if you ask me." He laughed softly.

I frowned. "I'll have you know that I sprained my ankle falling in that hole. And it hurt. A great deal."

"You poor dear."

"Now you're just being sarcastic." I slapped the reigns against my horse's neck, spurring it onward into a gallop.

I heard him do that same behind me. "Catch me if you can, Leon!" I glanced back at him.

Soon he caught up to me, overtaking me. I ordered the horse to run faster. Our laughter rang through the forest as we raced. With the wind in my face, I felt almost child-like. My mind flashed back to the days of our early marriage, back when everything was still fresh and new. Our only concern then was making sure we lived from day to day, together…

Leon lay out on the bed in the room we rented at the inn for the night. He had removed his boots and his cloak, leaving him in breeches and a fitting tunic. He stretched and sighed deeply.

I began to get comfortable myself, lying on my back next to him. "I'd almost forgotten what it was like to sleep outside…" I murmured absently, referring to the few days we'd spent under the stars.

"Me too." He arched his back where he laid on his stomach. "Ugh…"

"Are you all right?" I turned on my side toward him.

"I'm not as young as I used to be." His eyes were closed in a wince.

I placed my hand on his shoulder, feeling how tense his muscles were. Training me must take more out of him than I thought. Immediately I felt a bit selfish. He was working so hard trying to find Autumn and care for me at the same time… And here I was, focusing only on her. My eyes narrowed resolutely and I stood up to walk around to the side of the bed he laid on.

Apparently he had been half-asleep as he didn't seem to notice my absence. However, he did question me when I began to gently knead his shoulders. "What…are you doing?"

"You need to relax. I'm helping. Unless I'm not. Do you want me to stop?" I stilled my hands.

He chuckled deeply, rumbling the bed. "No… Keep going. It feels…nice."

I worked at releasing the knots from his back and shoulders. He sighed in contentment at my hands. As I moved down his spine, I asked softly, "Better?"

"Much. Now I know why I married you."

"For my hands?" I tilted my head slightly before rolling my eyes.

He simply chuckled again. "Silly girl…" He suddenly turned over on his back and pulled me down on top of him. "If you don't know why I married you, then allow me to refresh your memory."

I felt his arms around me, pinning me to his body. No… He wasn't pinning me anywhere. He was holding me, gently and carefully. I placed my hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat. Beneath my ear I could hear him breathing. I nuzzled against his bearded chin and moaned softly. "I still don't understand."

"You make me feel…complete." He kissed the top of my head. "That's why I married you." He moved my hand directly over his heart. "Do you feel that?"


"It beats faster when you're near me. Eighteen years later and I still can't believe you're my wife." His arms tightened ever so slightly. "I thought you'd stopped loving me when your father died. I… I hated seeing you so busy all the time. You ignored everything else that was going on."

"I didn't…mean to…" I closed my eyes.

He sighed. "Do you remember, two winters ago? When I nearly lost you?"


"I remember being so…scared that you were going to die, Kat. I didn't want to leave you alone. I was afraid that if you fell asleep, you might not wake up again. I'd never seen you so sick before…"

I could remember clearly what he was referring to. I had taken ill with whatever plague was going around the city at the time. However, I refused to pay attention to it and continued working diligently at the Guild. One morning I woke to leave and simply collapsed in the hallway. Leon rushed for a physician to help me, but by then, it was nearly too late. He stayed by my side until I was well enough to leave the house again.

"It was the only time we really spent time together and talked… Well, you talked. I couldn't." I laughed faintly. The illness had taken my voice from me, reducing it to barely a whisper.

His arms dropped to his sides. "I don't want to ever have that feeling again."

I pushed myself up. "Neither do I." I got up to change into sleeping clothes. "And fortunately you won't ever have to again."

"Why's that?" He joined me.

"Because I promise never to be so reckless again. I have a family to take care of. I can't afford dying now." I gazed up at him. "Besides, I'll never hear the end of it if I do."

He grinned. "Exactly."

I stood up on my toes to kiss his cheek. "We should probably get some rest. We have a lot of traveling from here on out."

We changed and slid into the bed together. He pulled me into his arms. In the semi-darkness, I could see his eyes as they gazed into mine. He lightly traced my face. "Kat…"


"I love you."

I smiled warmly. "I love you too, darling." I rubbed the tip of my nose to his. "Good night."

"Good night…love."