When My Love Does Wander

A Keene and Gareth Oneshot

By Gabi (pinkfluffynet

A/N: Pardon my Welsh, but the characters in this story are bilingual and it's important to note when they're speaking in English and when they're not. Errata for the game Branching Spirits – .org

Summary: Always winter and never Christmas. Keene spends Santes Dwynwen alone. Gareth spends it in the hills with the sheep. Bloody welsh prophets.

The house was so chill, open and drafty the way it always was during the winter, no matter how hard they tried to keep it shut up and insulated. The place was just too big and she couldn't even feel the nap of the carpet underneath her feet because she was bundled so in woolly slippers at Meleri's insistence. Without the feel of the ground under her toes, Keene felt very exposed, as if she didn't know where she was going in her own home.

So rather than wander the drafty halls of Coed Gwyn alone, with not even her bare toes to guide her, she stayed bundled in the downstairs parlor, wrapped in three afghans and drawn close to the fire. In these cold days past Midwinter's, she did not like to be in her room on the second floor. The windows all faced east, and even with the shutters drawn, she felt too exposed there, too exposed – like a rabbit with no hole to bolt down. Gareth's room was as dark and silent as her own, and she knew that she would find no comfort there. He was up on the high hills with Farmer Powell's sheep, wintering in a small cottage. She'd not seen him since Christmas day when he'd come down to leave the dog with her and give her his own present: a lacy frock she wouldn't be able to wear until March at least – but still, the lace had a very pleasant texture, and she'd tun her fingers over it half a dozen times before packing it away in a box to wait for the thaw.

Her own gift to him had been one that he had taken with him, back up the mountain. It was a haphazard scarf that she knew was not of the best design or quality, despite her having made it three separate times. Meleri had insisted that it was just fine, especially for a first try, but Keene didn't need eyes to hear the tinge of a lie in her voice whenever she complimented her knitting. Well, the old lady was only being charitable because she would thought it would make her feel a little better. Keene had put honest hard work into the muffler, even if it had not turned out as planned. Gareth had said not a word against it, simply thanked her in his monosyllabic way and squeezed her hand firmly. She knew he'd worn it back up the mountain not because he'd said that he had, but because she had felt it around his neck when she'd absently fondled his shirt collar as he stood by the kitchen stove, watching the snow come down. She'd have known even if she hadn't felt it. She knew that he would not go anywhere without something that she had made with her own two hands, even if her making had not been the best.

He wasn't due back until Tuesday after next, depending on the weather. Most of the sheep of Tywin wintered down in the valley, but Powell insisted that wintering on the hills made beasts stronger. He often had trouble finding someone to winter up in the high stone cottage with them, but Gareth had offered to spend most of the winter with them, without even broaching the subject with her.

Of course, she knew why he'd done it, knew why he always took the worst jobs. They paid the best money, and he was carefully saving and building a little nest egg. It was the just-in-case money, that he was keeping in hopes that he wouldn't need it. She knew all of this without him ever telling her because she knew him and knew there was no other reason he'd spend his hours up in the hills alone and away from her.

So even though she felt awkward and alone even in her own halls, she would not complain, because what he did he did for her. She burrowed down in her afghans a little further. He'd even left the dog in hopes he would be some comfort to her. The last thing she'd heard Gareth say had been a sharp command to the dog to stay with her, and he hadn't let her since, even when she went to the toilet. Howell was a good dog, and followed Gareth's orders to the letter, but still . . .

He was not Gareth.

"Dod yma, Howell," she called softly, her voice almost lost in the still room. She heard him shift and then the clatter of his claws on the floorboards. Oh, so he'd been asleep on the rug by the fire. She'd forgotten. They'd been dozing silently in the parlor for what had to be hours. She knew Meleri had gone to bed some time ago. It had to be past midnight. She let her hand drift to the dog's solid head and then started as the clock in the corner chimed out the hour – once, twice, thrice.

It was later than she had anticipated, almost too late to go to bed. The radio station she'd been listening to had gone to soft hissing static only a little while after Meleri had left, but she had not had the energy to get up and switch it off. The chair was safe and deep, and here she was warm. Here she was not alone. The low static even made the room a little more full. As if she were not sitting by the fire quite alone except for the dog. He whined softly, and she heard the heavy thump of his tail against solid oak of the floorboards. The house shivered against the snow outside, and still falling heavily, and she shivered against the night and began to sing, softly, in hopes she could lull herself to sleep.

"If to me you can be true, just as true as I to you, then it's one, two, three, four, five, and six, sing the bells of Aberdyfi," her voice was querulous and warbly, wandering without direction against the soft hiss of the static and the mindful tick of the clock – her own metronome, "Boys do love to be in love, and girls do love to marry, but my love's for only one, for Bess of Aberdyfi."

The house shivered again and suddenly the dog started and Keen felt him jerk away from her hand.

"Ust, Howell," she ordered gently, "It's just the house settling." She knew well that she would get an inkling that something foul was happening long before the dog did, and she felt nothing other than the slight chill of the room. She squirmed out of her slippers and thick woolen stockings and tentatively settled one toe on the floor. Immediately, Howell was snuffling it, and his attention soon caused her to draw it back up into her cocoon, "Ymddwyna," she chided.

The dog obediently sat, and she laid her hand on his head again, though she could tell he was still watching the open doorway behind her. It was a little unnerving and she trembled despite knowing better. He settled, and she was about to begin singing again when suddenly he started again and was out from under her hand and out of the room before she could call him back. She heard his rattling clawbeats fade out rapidly as he headed toward the kitchen. She drew into herself. Howell never disobeyed Gareth's orders, and now she'd been left all alone.

Her voice climbed tremulously out again, willing her to be calm. It was just the weather that was making her like this. Just the chill that would not break. Always winter, but never Christmas, at least for her, and Gareth was so far away, up on the hills that they wandered together in springtime.

"If your love is just as true as the love I have for you, it's one, two, three, four, five, and six for the bells of Aberdyfi."

She heard the floorboards pop almost directly behind her and whirled around, sightless eyes wide, a reflexive action, as if she might see what stalked her.

"Pan ddôf adref dros y môr, cariad gura wrth dy ddôr; mal un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump, chwech, meddai clychau Aberdyfi," and his voice was right behind her, warm against her neck even though she knew he was with the sheep, almost half a mile up the mountain. "Mae'n chwith gen i. I'm not one made for singing, but it is a pretty song."

She squirmed out of her afghans like a birthday gift unwrapping itself and her hands darted up to where she knew his voice came from and her hand caught his sleeve at the seam of his heavy overcoat, still damp with the melting snow and caught the edge of his badly made scarf.

"You're here," she almost sobbed and wrapped her arms around his neck, but he was quick to disentangle her.

"Hedd, fy genethig. Let me get my coat off. You'll get yourself wet and cold."

She did as she was bidden, although refused to let go of his sleeve until he had shrugged out of his overcoat. As he did she heard the dog come trotting back in and he chastised it for leaving her, even if the dog had run to the kitchen when he'd heard his master's step on the porch.

"It's all right, Gareth," she insisted, tugging on his arm, "Leave him be. He only left because he knew you were coming."

"Na. I told him not to leave you and he did," Gareth said shortly, and then turned away from her, presumably to speak to the dog. "Erys tawel."

She heard the dog drop to an obedient down, and knew that he had been effectively punished. She tugged on his sleeve again.

"But Gareth, who is with the sheep? You can't have left them, what if wolves come?"

"Wolves? There haven't been wolves in these hills for two hundred years or more. You know that, fy genethig," he chided gently.

"Well, there mayn't be wolves, but there are other things in the hills, Gareth. Worse things."

"Peace, anwylyn, peace," he almost chuckled as he let a large rough hand rest on her head, "I have not left the sheep alone."

"Then who's with them?"

"Davidson. He owed me a favor for walking down that lamb of his last spring."

"I've missed you, Gareth."

"Ie. The hills get lonely up there. You can almost hear the wind calling your name, if you listen, which you shouldn't. And I couldn't let you alone today."

"Today?" the question in her voice ran obvious. It wasn't her birthday, and past midwinter, and long before he was due back.

"Santes Dwynwen," he said simply, and pressed a chilly, damn envelope into her hands.

"Oh," she said, cocking her head absently, as she turned the envelope over in her hands, "I'd lost track of the days. Is it already?"

"Ie. That's all right. Seeing you is enough."

He was silent as she opened the envelope with small, nimble fingers and unfolded the simple handmade card that was inside. She had an assortment of these cards, as she'd been getting them from him since she was ten years old, but had never read any of them save the first one. He never wrote hard enough to force the indention into the paper, and she never asked him to, just let her fingers slide over the ink she could feel and then smiled slightly. She could not read his cards, but she didn't need to. She knew what he wrote in them, awkward and manful as anyone unused to poetry. As she folded the card gently back into the envelope, she heard him softly singing,

"Os bydd gennyt air i'w ddweud, bydd gwneud yn well o'r hanner;" his voice rough and soft at the same time and terribly untried.

Perhaps always Christmas, but never winter, at least when she could tether herself against his bulk. Her voice was still shy, but since he had asked, she felt she could meet him halfway, and suddenly the night was not so chill.

"If your love is half as true as the love I have for you, it's one, two, three, four, five, and six sing the bells of Aberdyfi."