Freya had surprised herself when she had sat down and started writing that letter, had cringed at every looping letter, at the formality of the greeting and structure, all the while wondering why she was wasting parchment writing such a silly thing in the first place. Freya had surprised herself when the letter ended up finished, somehow finding itself nestled into an envelope sealed with wax bearing the Crescent crest, and further surprised herself when she had handed the letter off to be sent via Mognet. Beyond that, she had been even more surprised when, in conversation with the same messenger moogle she had enlisted to help a few days later, she discovered that the letter had been successfully delivered with few problems. Considering the nature of the recipient, with his deep propensity for the mysterious and tendency to rove (and his ability to cause problems for the well-meaning), her reaction made sense.
However, trumping all that surprise and perhaps then some, was the appearance of Amarant Coral at the Burmecian gates with a pack slung over his shoulder, boots muddy and waterlogged, looking altogether sullen. Her invitation was rumpled and abused (not entirely due to the weather, and, she would reckon, not entirely by accident), shoved deep into one of his pockets.
She had not expected him to come, despite sending the letter requesting his help (she still could not for the life of her come up with a reason why she had done that, apart from the obvious ones that he would grunt off as unimportant or a lie, like "you're my friend," or "I missed you, you bloody idiot"). The last they had seen each other had not ended well, in all honesty, though it hadn't been a fight, per se, and neither had sworn vengeance on the other, or anything ridiculous like that. But, it had been obvious to her that some pride had been hurt, and so seeing her old comrade (Mr. Pride himself) return despite that had been...
But not unwelcome.
Freya had taken Amarant to see King Puck about his assistance in the newest obstacle in Burmecia's growing gamut of problems, sponsoring his case as helper while Amarant sulked in the back. Recent dragon attacks on what was already sparse Burmecian livestock. Pest control, if you will. Amarant had proven his abilities as a warrior in their previous treks across the world, and had spent a short while helping the Burmecian rebuild despite himself the last time he had become bored enough to visit. It did not take much to plead the case, apart from a few hiccups due to Puck's typical flippant attitude and Fratley's vague discomfort regarding the man.
She didn't have to fight too hard to get Amarant onto the team. This surprised her again. But once more, not unwelcome. .
They cast out of Burmecia a couple of days after Amarant's arrival, followed by an antsy cleric that Puck and Fratley had assigned to their party, despite Freya's protests that she and Amarant would be fine to take the journey alone. The danger of dragon-hunting without a proper healer amongst them was too high for the two men, and though neither his highness or Sir Iron-Tail thought Freya and her looming companion weak (affections aside, one must not forget the business of saving the world), neither were comfortable with risking one of the kingdom's finest to Burmecia's craggy highland. Freya was disappointed a bit at the arrangements for no reason she would name aloud (part of her brain murmured in semi-sarcasm that having proper girl-talk with Coral would be much more difficult with a stranger in the group), but managed a bit of sympathy for the poor fellow, an obvious greenhorn, newly edified and freshly graduated, and nervous as a newborn mu. Amarant had been quick to show his disdain to the unwanted recruit, and on that first day his surliness seemed to hover three notches above its usual half-bearable level. As much as Amarant Coral had learned over his journeys with their 'ragtag bunch of misfits' about the value of teamwork and friendship, he had, as he called it, little patience for fools and was far from a social butterfly. Not that either of them had to worry about the pesky issue of interaction too much; the cleric wandered twenty paces behind the two at all times. Freya didn't know if it was out of respect or fear, but even then, the boy only spoke to her when speaking was needed, and avoided the hulking monk in everything from conversation to gaze with badly hidden deliberateness.
Two days in, they ditched him. It was Amarant's idea. Freya wasn't certain why she went along with it, but she did, sneaking off before dawn and continuing their journey to the ridge of mountains where the dragon denned, leaving nothing but a note telling the kid to go home and say 'Hello' to the king for them. Freya had wondered aloud if he would make it home safely, and Amarant's responding snort of obvious 'who-gives-a-shit' earned him a hard smack on the shoulder. She worried little more than that, however. They continued their trek that day in a seldom-broken companionable silence.
It took them two weeks to flush out all the offending dragons, five days to find the first cave amongst the jutting rocks. There were 3 families in all, complete with parents, adolescents, and in one case, an out-of-season batch of eggs nestled in a stone nest. They took care of those too. Two weeks of hard work and bad conditions and angry dragons and enough near-deaths that might have thrown Iron-Tail Fratley into a deep fit if he had known about them, horrible camping, shared tents, girl-talk, companionable silence, war cries, blood, and bruises. They exhausted their supply of potions and elixirs mid-way into their battle with the third family, surviving somehow through pure gumption and a bit of help from the Gods, and walking away bleeding and mottled with purpling wounds, clawed and singed and most-definitely injured despite Amarant's grumbled insistence on the contrary, but not dead, at the very least.
No. They were alive. Freya Crescent at least knew that. She was very much alive.
When they had limped towards camp, Freya had half-jokingly asked her companion, doing her best not to support her exhausted body against his slightly-less-beat-up bulk, if maybe now he regretted abandoning their healer in a field.
Without hesitation or a hint of facetiousness, the bounty hunter had replied, "No," even as blood runneled down from a wound above an unseen eyebrow, as his hard-hit joints turned sickly dark with bruises.
And as they settled around the fire that night, tending to wounds with leftover bandages and scraps of cloth, Amarant offering an exhausted spell that did little for the wounds but helped ease the pain a little while Freya wrapped and cleaned a particularly horrible cut in Amarant's back, sometimes joking, sometimes jabbing sharp words at each other, sometimes lost in a well-understood quiet, (with Freya thinking at the battles past, how familiar and right it had felt fighting back to back and yelling instructions and carving into enemy flesh with an unfriendly man that she somehow had the privilege to call 'friend'), Freya found she agreed with him. She found she didn't regret running off at all.
The pain was needling but they slept soundly that night, but waking up had not been one of Freya's favorite experiences. It was just before sunrise, and she crawled out of the tent, picking past her still-slumbering companion to find light by the pre-dawn sky to write a letter. Their position rested several days walk from the Burmecian capital, and she intended to send a letter via Moogle for possible supplies to make the journey home somewhat more bearable.
The sun was peeking over the horizon when he came out to join her. She hadn't noticed him at first--walking amongst shadows was a forte of his, apart from it just being part of the job description--and once more he surprised her, as he often seemed to do, standing above her like a tree and looking out towards the quickly reddening sky. He had asked her what she was writing in his laconic way, and when she told him, he grunted and went about restarting the campfire for coffee. They spent much of the following time in a quiet somehow more awkward than companionable, despite the easy breeze and the light fog wandering along the grass tufts and the sunrise and the sounds of birds and everything else imaginable that might make the early-morning scene relaxing.
Finally she broke the silence asking about his plans, now that this mission was just about through (apart from possible paperwork, she added, a statement which he grunted at in as close to a 'courtesy laugh' as Amarant Coral would ever be able to give). He told her he didn't have a plan. He would move on back to Treno maybe, return to wandering the world, just as he had been doing the past four years since the end of the war. He asked her what she would be doing, in the half-hearted way of a man who didn't really give a bloody damn, or perhaps already knew how she was probably going to answer.
And for a second Freya thinks back to an early morning at her and Fratley's home, Amarant packing what little he had brought, and the monk asking her offhand to join him in his travels, and calling her half-drowned and half-dead with a little too much anger in his voice when she didn't answer, and then watching him leave without another word being said--she remembers wondering if he was right then, and there by the campfire she wonders again if maybe he could have been right, and stops the words "go home and rebuild again" from escaping her just barely.
Instead she shrugged, and she thought, with a surprising amount of satisfaction, that it was Coral's turn to be surprised. The stiffening of his back spoke volumes. In silence she had finished her correspondence, and Amarant had finished his fire and started warming the coffee. When, a few minutes later, he offered her the same thing he had the last time they had seen each other before this grand quest, the same outstretched hand that suggested friendship and I missed you and I worry about you and a million other things Amarant would never admit to in a thousand bleeding years--or millenia, even, or maybe ever--she was not surprised.
They packed that morning, and set off down the mountain, aching and bruised and subsisting on little more than chakra and hard, black, bitter caffeine, with the sun blasting its dawn-intense yellow just above another far off mountain ridge. And yet, Freya couldn't help but smile.
In fact, she decided that perhaps she could do with a few more bruises.