In a house several hundred yards away, the man who would normally be the most likely to hear this distant yelling was snoring. Like the hunters, he had no claim to elegance as he sprawled sloppily across the bed with his hands and feet falling over the sides haphazardly.
However, the shouts did rouse his self-appointed guardian from his spot in the corner of the room. Edmund blinked heavily as he looked over at the woman in the chair next to his, reassuring himself that she was fine before he glanced at the bed in which their apparent patient was enjoying his sleep.
Satisfied that neither was in any trouble, he moved with heavy and awkward steps to the window and stared vacantly at the grooves on the window pane. Lazily, he brushed his hair with his fingers while his eyes focused on the snow outside, pristine and clean beneath the window. He was still thinking about the last image from the dream from which he woke. He had seen the woman again, her face hazy all except for her mouth.
She was speaking something to him in a strange unfamiliar language. He wondered if this, too, was a memory or a trick of his mind.
In the chair next to the one he had vacated, Elanore sighed happily to herself while sleeping. “Pancakes, please,” she laughed quietly, obviously caught in a dream far more pleasant than his.
Edmund crept quietly to the girl. If he were his younger self, he would have already reached over and pinched her nose until she woke, flailing and annoyed. Fortunately for her, he had become a far more thoughtful person since their childhood and instead rearranged the quilted blanket to cover her while she rested.
Adulthood had not deprived Elanore of her talent for deep sleep. Nor had it taken away her ability to find a way to eventually laugh and smile. In spite of all the things that were happening around her, last night she had pushed aside her own concerns in order to entertain him.
He leaned over her, his fingers lightly brushing away the locks of hair upon her cheeks – locks of hair that would otherwise fall into her mouth. Who Elanore was as a woman had become more clear to him over these past few days. The energetic girl he had known had become a woman of grace and resilience — a woman gifted with an ability to hope and find joy in nearly any circumstance.
She did not stir at his touch, still wrapped up in a dream of food and pleasant things. Elanore would miss the look of tenderness meant for her, a hint at the complex feelings that her best friend held for her but would not verbally express. She would also not know the silent oath that he had made at that moment – not to simply protect her from others but to protect the person that she was.
A sudden chirp jarred the young man out of his thoughts. “Sleeping Beauty giving you problems there, blondie?”
Edmund whirled about and found the coachman perched comfortably at the edge of the spare bed. He did not have to wonder how much the man had witnessed, for the look on the coachman’s face said enough. Whatever gentle and quiet feelings he forgot as he went on the defensive.
Edmund felt awkward as he offered his excuses. “She would have eaten her hair and her blanket if I hadn’t adjusted them for her.”
The coachman grinned lecherously while the young man fumbled even further while uttering proudly, “I’m not one to take advantage of a sleeping woman.”
Giles’ eyes glinted slightly. “I never thought that. But you and the lady are rather cozy at times so I thought you might be simply continuing where you left off.”
“In front of a patient,” Edmund made a rather disgusted noise. “You do have some interesting ideas. But how Elanore and I treat one another is really none of anyone’s business.”
Giles was still smiling that weird little grin. “I can pretend to go back to sleep if you want to play prince with the lady.”
“I think not,” Edmund gave the man a hard look, wondering why Giles continued to goad him. “I take it that you’re feeling better and do not need additional rest.”
“Indeedy, yes. If you and the lady are not going to be nestling anymore I think I shall dress.”
Edmund ignored that last comment and politely moved back to the window to allow the man some privacy. While there, he began to run his fingers over the window ledge impatiently. Edmund had been thwarted from his questioning the previous evening, but with Giles in possession of his senses, he could now pursue the answers he had wanted from the man.
“These clothes she set out are rather nice,” Giles spoke up suddenly. “Must be her grandfather’s things they’ve loaned me.”
Edmund turned his head to look at the coachman. “Likely that’s all they had in the house,” he said. “What you wore in was certainly not going to do you any good against the cold outside.”
“They’re nice people,” Giles said thoughtfully while he reached for his discarded clothing and searched through it. “Shame I never got to know the elder Winchester. Wasn’t around much when he was alive.”
“He was a good man,” Edmund spoke softly. “He would help anyone, even if he didn’t like them or trust them.”
“Ah, I see. Can’t say the same about a lot of folks sadly,” Giles opined unnecessarily as he continued to search through his clothes. He made a small sound of annoyance as he flung his clothes on the bed. “Now I wonder if my pipe might have dropped outside—“
“Elanore took it away—“ Edmund crossed his arms in front of him. “No smoking in the house. Your weapons are gone too.”
Giles muttered a soft curse. “Strict people — these Winchester ladies.”
What he said was true, but Edmund really didn’t care to keep at this idle chatter. “Look. I haven’t quite forgotten what you said last night. You see,” he gave the coachman a very hard look. “The snow outside the window is untouched. There are no signs of a large animal having been by the window at all.”
“Oh?” Giles shrugged. “Maybe I had a bad dream. I was rather sick and all.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Edmund stepped forward, placing himself between Elanore and the coachman. He would not forget the fight he had witnessed the previous day and overlook the deep grooves on the window frame. “Who are you… or rather what are you.”
With a forced casualness, the coachman shrugged and spoke. “I’m occasionally called a philanderer, but other than that I’m an ordinary guy who drinks too much and has an unreliable memory.”
“You wrestled a stone beast.” Edmund’s voice remained firm. “That seems highly extraordinary to me.”
“Well, I’ve been called that too by the women I keep company with,” Giles answered lightly. When he observed that his joke failed to make an impression on Edmund, he made a face. “If you believe that I’m somehow gifted with extra strength and have some kind of magical powers, I might have to point out that you managed to leave a very painful bruise on my face. If I am an anomaly, you must be as well.”
“I am not,” the younger man snapped back. “You yourself said I had simply gotten lucky and landed a blow in your ill state.”
“Well what of it if you’re a freakish magical being, Edmund?” Giles tossed back carelessly. “You’re an orphan after all. You could be that stone thing’s cousin for all you know–“
“I am not a freak,” Edmund reached out and grabbed a fistful of Giles’ clothing. “This isn’t about me. Now stop your foolishness and answer me if you don’t want me following you everywhere you go with Elanore.”
Whatever Giles saw in the younger man’s face sobered him. Slowly he raised his hands, not wanting to provoke Edmund further. “–A poor figure of speech. I meant no insult by it. And I’ll admit that I am different than other folks. Not in the same vein as Elanore, however.”
Sensing that Giles was finally starting to be truthful, Edmund began to relax. Slowly, Edmund let go of the other man’s shirt. “I’m glad that I don’t have to beat an answer out of you for there would be hell to pay for harming a patient. Again, what are you?”
Giles began scratching at his head. “Right now, I can’t exactly explain for you wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t plan for this really and it’s a bit complicated to demonstrate here. I have different gifts –one of which I mentioned before. I was able to track that beast down thanks to this gift.”
“More than that,” Edmund added, not forgetting the part that had triggered his concern. “You were able to fight it on equal ground. That – well, I can’t even understand how it’s possible.”
“It is,” the other man answered lightly.
The tone of voice made Edmund feel rather uneasy. He suspected that there was far more to Giles than being a very talented hunter in disguise. But he did not dare press further yet. “Simply answer this for me, and I’ll stop pressing the matter further. Is what you are or what you possess of any threat to Elanore?”
“Oh goodness, no.” It was now Giles’ turn to sound rather irritated. “I’ve lived here long enough without causing problems. Can’t a gentleman kick around a few rocks without having his entire integrity called into question? Really, you’re persistent about this Elanore thing aren’t you—“
Edmund glared back at the other man. “I’d do anything for her.”
The other man opened his eyes widely and gave a low whistle. “You shouldn’t say things like that. You tempt the fates that way.”
His wise words of warning earned him a blank look. Edmund did not hold much belief in fate or superstition. “I mean simply to say that I will protect Elanore against anyone who thinks to harm her. That includes your lord.”
Rather than be affronted by such a reference to his master, Giles chuckled to himself. “Youth! You young ones really-”
“Do you find my concern for Miss Redley’s safety amusing?”
“Of course not,” Giles shook his head. “You remind me of myself when I was your age. Granted, a much nicer version of myself with far more honorable intentions towards women, but still—“
Edmund glared. “And now we’re back to nonsense again.” Giles was really much too proud about his luck with women. “ Since you’re well enough to be joking, I suppose we should go to the kitchen.”
When the other man shot him a perplexed look, Edmund shrugged. “Well I’m not leaving your dishonorable self alone in the room here with Elanore. And it’s better if your breakfast is fixed by myself instead of Elanore.”
“You mean you don’t want to wake the sleeping beauty?” Giles nodded his head in the direction of the young lady.
The blonde man visibly cringed. “Unless you want to test the power of your stomach to digest bricks disguised as food. Although I suppose you might be able to eat bricks given what I saw yesterday–”
“No, I can’t eat bricks,” Giles said impatiently. “Really, is it that bad?”
Edmund gave him a look that spoke of utter misery and torment, a look that the man quickly understood. He made great haste in following the younger man out the door.