It was a balmy, sunny autumn day. Ging had ended training early (why, he didn't say), so Cerridwen and Kite decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a walk together in the woods. They walked for hours, kicking their way through the thick layer of golden leaves blanketing the ground, until they came to a relatively wide river. The water was a deep greenish hue, almost murky but not unpleasant to the eye. Deciding it seemed like a good place to take a rest, the two sat down alongside each other on the riverbank.

"I'll bet he's going on another Hunting trip," Cerridwen theorized, stretching before easing herself down to the ground, resting her head in Kite's lap. "Why else would Ging end training so early?"

Honestly, Cerridwen had no idea if Ging was planning a Hunting trip or not; she was more or less hoping that saying it out loud would make it true. She and Kite hadn't had any decent length of time alone since Christmas, and she didn't know about Kite, but she definitely had been longing for more. She realized then, when they were decorating the house together, when they kissed under the mistletoe, just how she felt about him. If Ging was going to be gone for a few days, maybe she'd be able to muster up the courage to tell him. She reached up, playfully tugging on the brim of Kite's blue hat.

"What do you think, Snowflake?" she inquired with a sweet smile.

Kite's heart fluttered as he looked down into Cerridwen's shimmering green eyes. He'd be lying if he said he didn't hope she was right; time alone for the two of them had been a rarity all year. And, as much as he had tried to fight it, ever since Christmas he had been falling more and more in love with her. If Ging was going to be gone, he would finally have the chance he needed to tell her how he felt. But...what if Ging wasn't leaving for a trip? He couldn't keep it bottled up much longer. What would he do then?

"I don't know, Wildflower," he answered, reaching down and brushing her bangs out of her face. "It's certainly a possibility. But, just in case he's not leaving, I think we should stay out here for a while longer...it's nice getting to spend time together with you, without Ging constantly hovering over our shoulders."

"Sounds like a plan," Cerridwen giggled, arching her back and shifting her body before settling back into a more comfortable position. She closed her eyes and inhaled the autumn air deeply, the oddly soothing scent of dead leaves and river moss mingling with the faintest trace of laundry detergent from Kite's pants. Letting out a contented sigh, she brought her hand up to her chest and began to toy with her pendant and sang softly to herself.

Come with me
Into the trees

We'll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass

Take my hand
Come back to the land
Let's get away
Just for one day

Kite felt a smile cross his lips as he listened to her gentle voice; he realized she was probably unaware of the fact that she was singing aloud. Letting his hand wander over to rest on top of hers, he took the opportunity to sing the next verse.

Metropolis
Has nothing on this
You're breathing in fumes
I taste when we kiss

Take my hand
Come back to the land
Where everything's ours
For a few hours

Cerridwen felt her cheeks turn a bright red, keeping her eyes shut tight out of sheer embarrassment; Kite did his level best to hold back his laughter, but admittedly failed. She grumbled, covering her face with her hands.

"I'm sorry, Carrie," Kite managed, holding his sides. Trying to regain composure, he added, "You're just so damn cute when you're flustered."

"Shut up," she giggled, nudging his leg with her shoulder, her face turning even redder.

Kite beamed, gazing at her with a mixture of joy and love in his eyes. Then, suddenly, his heart wrenched with a pang of fear. What if she didn't feel the same way about him as he did about her? She was his everything; the day he found her in that alleyway, all tattered and distraught, she turned his world around. Ever since that day, he couldn't imagine his life without her; he knew he wouldn't be able to bear losing her. If he told her how he felt, but she didn't feel the same...would it drive a wedge between them?

No, he thought, shaking his head firmly and creasing his brow. I've never been indecisive before; this is no time to start. I'm telling her. Today. No matter what happens.

"Kite?" Cerridwen called, her voice laced with the slightest hint of alarm. She sat up and turned to him, nearly crawling into his lap to inspect his face. "Is everything alright? You seem distressed."

It was normal for Kite to fall silent, to fade into thought from time to time; that wasn't what grabbed Cerridwen's attention. She was eighteen now, and he was twenty-two; they had known each other for fourteen years. After all that time, she had developed the ability to sense even the slightest change in his mood. A subtle gesture, a crack in his voice, a change in his energy; nothing escaped her notice anymore.

Kite felt the tips of his ears and cheeks turn the faintest shade of pink as he met Cerridwen's concerned stare.

"I'm fine, Carrie," he replied with a reassuring smile, reaching one hand around to the back of her head and running it down the length of her satiny hair. Then suddenly, he felt his hand pass over a rough object.

And another.

And another?

"...what?" she inquired, leaning back slightly. "You look like you just drank sour milk or something."

"You've got leaves in your hair," he chuckled. "Turn around; I'll pick them out for you."

"Oh," Cerridwen replied, blushing slightly, "okay."

She turned to face the river, sitting cross-legged in front of Kite. Kite reached out and carefully took hold of her long violet hair, gingerly beginning to pick out the bits of leaves and twigs that had tangled themselves up in it when she was lying on the ground. Cerridwen shut her eyes tight, trying not to flinch whenever Kite accidentally pulled a strand of hair out with a piece of plant matter.

"If Ging is actually leaving on a trip as we speak," Kite began after a while, freeing a bright red maple leaf from its purple prison, "is there anything in particular you'd like to do tonight?"

After a moment's deliberation, Cerridwen answered, "We should have dinner. Like, go through the freezer and see what kind of frozen meat Ging has stashed in there, and look in the fridge and see what we can dress it up with."

Kite grinned. "That sounds like a good idea...hey, speaking of dressing it up, we should make it a fancy dinner. I mean, dig out our formal clothing from the backs of our closets. That kind of thing."

Cerridwen giggled. "That would be fun!"

Tossing the last bit of plant matter to the side, Kite queried, "Do you have any hair ties with you?"

Cerridwen raised an eyebrow. "No, why?"

"Pity," Kite mumbled with a sigh, setting his hands on his knees in defeat. His demeanor abruptly snapping back to its previous pleasant state, he grabbed hold of her hair and declared, "Oh well. It won't hold, but I'm braiding your hair anyway."

"Okay!" Cerridwen laughed. "Go ahead! I like it when you play with my hair."

Kite beamed, moving his hands to the base of her head and beginning to separate her hair into sections. Cerridwen let her eyes close and her muscles relax, feeling more at peace than she had in months. After a short while, however, a terrifying thought crept into her mind: Ging intended on having both Kite and herself take the Hunter Exam the following year. She wasn't too worried about the Exam; yes, she knew it was dangerous, but she also knew Ging wouldn't send them into a situation he wasn't completely confident they could survive. It was after the Exam that she was afraid of.

Kite paused, feeling Cerridwen's posture change.

"Wildflower?" he called gently, his voice laced with concern. "What's wrong? Am I hurting you?"

"No, Snowflake," she replied with a half-hearted chuckle. "You're fine, go ahead. I just...I'm just worried about next year, after the Exam."

Kite scrunched his brow, continuing to braid her hair. "What do you mean?"

"Well," she began uncertainly, her gaze settling on the quick-moving current in the river, "I mean...what's going to happen to us? After we get our Licenses, what then?"

"Well," Kite began slowly, mulling it over in his mind, "we decide what kind of Hunters we want to be and go from there. The Exam isn't until next year, Carrie; there's no need to panic just yet."

"Y-yeah," she answered quietly, forcing a smile. Reluctant to clarify what she meant, afraid of what the answer might be, she fell silent and let herself focus on the feeling of Kite's fingers gliding through her hair, letting her eyes flutter shut once more.

Kite swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the lump in his throat. He knew what she meant, even without her clarifying it: she was afraid that, after the Exam, they would go their separate ways.

That was the last thing Kite wanted.

Truth be told, yes, he was managing to get by just fine when he found her in that alleyway fourteen years before...but at the same time, he wasn't. He had been surviving, living in those sewer tunnels, rescuing and caring for stray animals until they were well enough to leave. However, he was indescribably lonely. And then he found Cerridwen...that lone ray of frightened, purple-haired sunshine in the middle of that gloomy, rainy alley. He took her in, cared for her, protected her, and felt his loneliness gradually melt away. And she never left. She had been the one constant in his life since then.

He loved her.

Cerridwen gradually opened her eyes, hearing Kite start to hum a familiar tune. As she listened, she realized it was the song he sang to her the first night they were together, and most nights when sleep was hard to come by: "The Flower of Sweet Strabane." She felt her heart flutter as the memories flooded back to her...lying on the straw pile in the sewer, the glow of a small fire warming her face, Kite's arms wrapped securely around her, tattered old blankets layered atop them both.

Still braiding Cerridwen's hair, Kite began to sing. Cerridwen felt herself start to relax again almost instantly; Kite's singing voice never failed to captivate her. As he sang, however, she realized the words passing his lips were different from the lyrics she remembered; and the further into the song Kite got, the more Cerridwen could feel herself blush.

If I were the king of all the land
And all things at my will
I'd roam through all creation
New comforts to find still
But the comfort I would seek the most
As you might understand
Is to win the heart of my love
My darling Cerridwen

Her eyes they are an emerald green
Her hair a deep rich plum
And through those soft and flowing locks
My fingers I would run
Her smile could make a prisoner
Of the heart of any man
And my heart, it's captivated by
My darling Cerridwen

If I had you, lovely Carrie
To call my very own
We'd leave all of our cares behind
And the whole wide world we'd roam
O'er hills and streams and mountains
I'd be there to hold your hand
We could be like that forever
My darling Cerridwen

But soon we'll both be Hunters
With our own paths to find
I hope that, as with all our lives
Our paths will be entwined
I want to be there by your side
Right to the very end
Just to hold you close and tell you
I love you, Cerridwen

Once Kite had finished singing (as well as braiding Cerridwen's hair), the two sat there in strangely tense silence for a couple minutes. Kite felt his mouth and throat go dry, his heart pounding in his chest. Why wasn't Cerridwen saying anything? Why wasn't he saying anything? Sighing forlornly, he rose to his feet and took a few steps away, past Cerridwen, to stand alongside a weeping willow by the water's edge. He was quickly convincing himself that he shouldn't have said a word.

Unseen by Kite, Cerridwen was staring at the leaf-covered ground, grinning from ear to ear. She was elated. Her heart was racing, soaring with delight, making her feel a little dizzy. After a moment, she managed to stand.

"Kite."

He felt his stomach flip at the sound of leaves crunching underfoot as she approached him. Gingerly, Cerridwen reached out and took hold of Kite's hand, twining her delicate fingers around his. Surprised, Kite turned to face her, greeted by the reassuring gaze of her smiling emerald eyes.

"I love you, too," she said, her eyes dancing.

Kite gasped, a band of pink appearing across his cheeks and nose, stretching all the way back to his ears. They simply stood there like that for a while, a gentle breeze toying with their hair, unraveling what little fraction of the braid in Cerridwen's hair remained, leaves swirling in the wind around them, the sound of babbling water and chirping birds filling the air.

Gathering up all his courage, Kite placed his hands on Cerridwen's waist. Cerridwen's face flushed, but she fought past her nerves to bring her hands up to rest on his shoulders, prompting him to wrap his arms tighter around her and pull her against him. She looked up into his hazel eyes...a dusty, yet somehow striking brown, with flecks of gold and veins of green scattered within them...and felt her entire body grow weak.

"I love you, Carrie," Kite whispered, his intense gaze unwavering.

"I love you too, Kite," Cerridwen breathed, sliding a hand to the back of his neck.

Moving one hand up to caress the side of her face, Kite slowly leaned in toward her and bridged the gap between them, his lips taking hers in a tender embrace. Cerridwen let out a small giggle, causing both of them to smile into their next kiss.

And the next.

And the next.

In a moment of bravery, Cerridwen gently nipped at Kite's lower-lip, causing him to part his lips just enough for her to deepen the kiss. His heart leapt at the sensation, and he kissed her just as passionately in return. They could feel each other's heartbeats pounding in unison, feel the heat radiating off each other's skin, hear the sound of each other's breathing...in that instant, they knew it was right. They knew it was what they wanted. They belonged together; they belonged as one.

"AHEM."

The two leapt apart at the sound of Ging's voice, hastily trying to regain composure. Ging stood a few yards away from them, his arms crossed tightly across his chest. Cerridwen couldn't be sure, but beneath his furrowed brow she thought she saw a slightly amused smirk.

"I've been looking everywhere for the two of you," Ging said in an exasperated tone. "I knew I'd find you together, but I wasn't quite expecting to find you together."

Kite and Cerridwen exchanged borderline guilty side-glances.

Ging huffed, fighting back a chuckle. "Anyway, follow me back to the cottage. I need to talk to both of you. Don't worry, you're not in trouble. Just come along."

Somewhat bewildered, Kite and Cerridwen took hold of each other's hand and followed Ging out of the forest.


As it turned out, Ging was in fact planning to leave on a Hunting trip the following morning. When he and his two students returned to the cottage, he went over their training schedule with them before eating dinner and retiring to his room to finish packing and go to sleep. Shortly afterward, Kite and Cerridwen had gone off to their respective rooms as well.

Hours had passed, and sleep was evading Cerridwen at every turn. She had tried every trick in the book to get to sleep: chamomile tea, counting sheep, soothing music...hell, she had even snuck a shot of whiskey from the bottle Ging kept "hidden" in the kitchen cabinets. Since nothing had worked, she gave up and decided to attempt to read herself to sleep, turning on the lamp on her nightstand and grabbing a book at random.

"Carrie, are you alright? Your light's been on for hours now."

Cerridwen gasped in surprise, looking up from her book to see Kite leaning against her doorframe, eyeing her in concern. He wore a pair of black fleece pajama bottoms, a sleeveless white undershirt, and he still had on his blue hat. She smiled at him, shutting her book and setting it on her nightstand.

"I just can't sleep, Kite, that's all," she replied, fatigue audible in her voice. "I'll be fine, really."

Kite smirked. "Disappointed about our dinner plans getting canceled?"

"Partially," she admitted with a shrug.

"We can have dinner tomorrow, Wildflower," Kite consoled, walking over and sitting on the edge of her bed. "I'll even go out and buy us a bottle of wine to split. Sound good?"

"Sounds good," she agreed, fighting back a yawn.

"Is there anything I can do to help you sleep?" Kite queried, tilting his head. "Anything at all?"

Cerridwen exhaled through her nose, burrowing down further beneath her blankets. "No, Snowflake, I'll be fine...thank you."

"If you're sure," he said, standing up and heading for the doorway.

"Kite," Cerridwen called after him suddenly, sitting back up. "Wait."

He paused, turning around to face her.

"Could you..." she began uncertainly, eyes darting around the room, "...maybe just...just hold me? Please? Like you used to when I couldn't sleep."

"Of course I can," Kite replied with a breathy chuckle, crawling under the covers next to her and reaching over to shut off the lamp. Taking off his hat and setting it on the nightstand, he pulled himself closer to Cerridwen, who was lying on her side, and wrapped his strong arms securely around her.

"Kite," she whispered, bringing a hand up to rest on his arm, "thank you, but...isn't this a little stupid? What if Ging-"

"Ging is ridiculously fast asleep," Kite mumbled in reply. "I managed to walk past his room without him even shifting in his sleep."

Cerridwen giggled.

"But if it makes you feel better," he continued, brushing her hair behind her ear, "I'll go back to my own room after you fall asleep. Okay?"

"Okay," she replied with a smile, gently squeezing his arm. "I love you, Snowflake."

"I love you too, Wildflower," he breathed, lightly kissing her ear.

They laid there in silence for a long while, the moonlight streaming in through the slits in the blinds, the sound of nightingales barely audible in the distance. Then, ever so quietly, Kite began to sing. Cerridwen's lips twisted into a wistful smile, and stayed like that as she fell asleep in his warm embrace.

If I were the king of Ireland
And all things at my will
I'd roam through all creation
New comforts to find still
And the comfort I would seek the most
As you might understand
Is to win the heart of Martha
The flower of sweet Strabane...