Disclaimer: All concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and kingdom of Valdemar, are the sole property of the author Mecedes Lackey.
Notes: Fluff. Canon fluff. There’s angst too, however— it’s a habit I can’t break. Aaand… very, very belated birthday wishes to Senashenta! It’s really not Cari or Vax, but they really are being pains to write…
My fingers move over the metal strings of the twelve stringed gittern almost of their own accord, working through the scales and simple exercises that are practically instinctual to a Bard. Show a Bard a place to sit, an instrument, and a small amount of free time, and he or she will start practising.
Practising means less thinking, and there are times when less thinking is definitely a good thing.
I am beginning to have some severe doubts as to this actually working, whatever Medren says.
The minor scale segues easily up a half-tone to a major scale as I try to be positive about matters. After all, nothing else has worked; down to and including jumping into a hot pool naked with the damn man. Well… nearly naked. Medren warned me emphatically against breaking into his rooms and jumping on him— literally— when he was asleep, so I guess this is the next best thing.
I must admit, from all that Van had said about his family, I wasn’t expecting it to be this easy. I mean, Medren had me all prepared with a map of the keep with the guest rooms and Van’s usual room marked on, along with the easiest route between the two parts of the building, and when I finally get shown to my room after dinner, I find that my packs are sitting innocuously next to Vanyel’s. In the same room.
Finally, Lady Luck noticed me again.
After spending a short amount of time checking that the contents of my packs had made it to the room with no untoward accidents, I settled in the large window sill-cum-padded seat and set about tuning my gittern.
Although I dearly love my gittern, tuning it after its spent time bouncing around on the back of a horse is time consuming and a real test of patience.
And that is what I finished doing a short amount of time ago, and am now just lazily running through scales in different key signatures. Major scales accompany optimistic thoughts, and minor scales bring with them the pessimistic doubts. Change up another half tone, onto a minor scale.
Dinner with the Ashkevron family was… an experience. Even the main dining hall that students at any of the Collegia use is no kind of preparation for the intricacies of a family dinner, where the family is so large that the dinner is actually taken in shifts. As soon as we had arrived, Van and his aunt had been spirited off by Lord Withen, and the Lady Treesa extended her right to monopolise me.
That lasted all the way through dinner, where I was sandwiched in between her and some other female relative of Van’s… his brother’s wife, I think, and had to make polite conversation. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did; it was certainly a novel experience. But…
… the whole point of this little trip is to try and figure out what the Hells goes on behind that mask of Van’s.
Major scale; he feels about me the way that I feel about him and everything will magically work out. Somehow.
Cynical snort— back down to the minor scale; this will be an unalloyed disaster, and I’ll end up sleeping in a stable with Melody.
I’m really not sure that this will work, and playing musical scales isn’t having the usual relaxing effect on me. I’m resisting the urge to pace. I sigh loudly and slide off the cushioned window seat, padding across the room to retrieve the case for my gittern. I loosen the pegs on the strings slightly, before fitting the fine leather of the case around the beautiful instrument and placing it back on the chair facing the large fireplace.
The gittern slides over to one side, until it catches in the fabric of the dusty red tunic slung over the back of the chair; left where I discarded it as soon as I was alone.
Arms crossed in front of my chest I wander slowly to the corridor side of the room, stare at the wood panelled wall for a moment, turn around and walk back towards the window. Pausing to nudge my riding boots out of the way, under a table, I sigh again.
It’s not that I’m impatient… well, not much… but waiting like this—and for what I’m waiting— is driving me up the wall.
Turning on my heel again I make my way back across the room, my angle this time taking me to the side of the canopied bed. My mind is completely wandering and it’s in an almost-trance that I sit down slowly on the edge of the bed, hands either side of me.
Nice soft mattress… My internal monologue comments. I flush hotly, which is completely ridiculous because I’m alone at the moment and besides; I’m me, I don’t get embarrassed about sex— do I?
My face begins to really burn and I get up abruptly and cough. Apparently I do, now. Flustered, and not really knowing why, I loosen the ties on my shirt, pulling it open at the neck and increasing my outward appearance of a tired vagabond. Hopefully an attractive, sexy, tired vagabond— Another blush.
Pacing the room. That seems like a good idea.
I’ve managed a further two repetitive circuits of the room and am standing on the corridor side of the room when the door handle suddenly moves with a creak and the door itself begins to swing inwards.
Stifling the yelp of surprise that threatens to escape, I instinctively fling myself sideways, into the wall behind the door, and stare wide-eyed at it as it swings towards me.
Soft footsteps and a heartfelt sigh announce Vanyel’s entry into the room and I freeze for a brief moment, switching my glazed stare to his back as he steps into the room, then stops dead, staring at the fireplace… at the packs sitting on the rug in front of the fireplace.
Ah— Some part of my brain is still functioning and I manage to slide sideways and close the door silently, turning to fumble with the lock on the door before managing to shoot it home with an overly loud clunk.
Slowly I shuffle around, the wooden floor feeling cool to my bare feet. “Before you ask, this wasn’t my idea—“ I’m sure that wasn’t how I planned to start, but I plough on anyway, only to be interrupted by Van.
“Oh, ah— Stefen—“ he sounds more uncertain than I thought I did; his voice is strained and his expression is shock mixed with… something else. “—get my things and—“ I shake my head stubbornly as he stumbles on, my hair flopping over my eyes before I brush it back.
“No.” I’ve managed to get some measure of control over my voice and I actually sound like I know where this conversation is going. Good joke.
So now I’m the one in charge of the conversation. This explains why it manages to get one proverbial foot in the stirrups before the horse of attention kicks it in the shin and bolts across the horizon. In other words, Van interrupts me, speaks my name—
—thinks that I’m an infatuated child?!
I’m truly split; part of me wants to burst into disbelieving laughter, I mean— where has Milord Herald-Mage been keeping his brain whilst he’s been in Haven? I wasn’t exactly the most subtle player of bedroom games and Kernos knows everyone else at the Palace managed to find out about my escapades.
That part of me gets firmly sat on, however, and it’s the other disbelieving portion of my mind that takes over, allowing me to stalk silently towards Vanyel— who is staring at the fireplace, not at me at all— grab him firmly by the shoulders and forcibly turn him around to meet my gaze.
His face is pale, his gorgeous silver eyes are wide with shock and he feels cold to the touch.
“Vanyel Ashkevron, I am shaych, just like you—!” In some ways, I wanted that to come out at a shout, but my treacherous throat spasms and my declaration instead emerges as a hoarse croak.
This could do with going better, Stefen. The part of my mind that is still laughing at Van’s complete unawareness that he is standing in the same room as the self-styled hedonist of Bardic Collegium see fits to point out the obvious. I ignore it… although, on the hedonist note—
“—in one year than you’ve had in the last ten!” That sounds incredibly catty and not at all the kind of impression I’m trying to force into Van’s dense skull and I hiccup, stumble over some more words, and hastily follow it up with the whole point of this mess. “—I… think I love you.”
I finally scrape enough courage to look back up into Van’s face— I hadn’t even realised I’d looked away— and, honestly, someone could have snuck into this room and replaced him with a statue, he’s that still. It would also explain why he still feels cold to my hands— does he not possess body warmth?
But… I’ve started speaking now and I don’t think I can stop— “—w-wonderful and w-wise and—“ I’m not even really thinking about what I’m saying; the words are just tumbling around my mind and out of my mouth and I really don’t know if I’m making any sense at all.
He’s still not speaking— The internal voice pipes up again. He’s not speaking and he’s not moving and he’s not reacting at all— and with these realisations comes a cold, hard feeling that sits in my chest and seems to be squeezing the air out of me, making my voice crack, sound desperate. I blink, the candlelight wavering in the corner of my eyes and I feel the ghosting touch of a tear on my cheek.
No! I try to squash the growing doubts, shove them to one side and ignore the fact that they are growing inside of me, creating an ache that I can’t touch. Carry on talking— if I don’t stop talking then I’ll be fine.
Only… I’m about to run out of words, “—not ever again.”
It’s so quiet that I can hear the rain pattering against the leaded window and I can hear my heart thundering in my ears and my breath catching in my throat.
My hands, still on Van’s shoulders, feel numb and I can see them shaking slightly; almost as if I’ve absorbed some of his coldness—
Coldness that extends to every part of him; his expression is… blank. Beyond blank. My breath rasps in my ears and I can see myself reflected in the candlelight glow in his eyes as I stand and stare at him, completely open, completely vulnerable, and he does nothing— says nothing.
Say something—please— The earlier sarcasm has gone and my inner voice sounds as lost and alone as the cold, deep ache inside my chest feels.
Something begins to fray inside of me, and I know that when it snaps I’m going to fall into the icy sharp ache, start crying and I don’t know how I’ll be able to get myself to stop. The tears well up and I feel one escape and trail down my face as my vision begins to blur and burn. I can’t stay here now— I can’t.
You’ve got to get out of here—run away. I relax my grip on Vanyel’s shoulders.
“I… suppose—“ The voice is high and strained and it’s a long moment before I realise that it’s my own, some part of my mind trying to dig myself out of this mess. The rest of me is just… frozen, but falling at the same time, and when I hit something I think my heart is going to shatter like a dropped mirror.
The words don’t even register until I feel cool fingers on my left cheek, “No—no, Stef… I—“ Eyes wide, I jerk my head up and stare dumbly at Van’s face for a long moment. There is certainly emotion there now— a great, swirling mix of it— and I feel the smile stretch my suddenly hot face as I catch hold of his hand in both of mine and begin stepping backwards; towards the bed.
Faint worry, doubt, even fainter amusement and desire flit across his features as I blow out the first candle and keep on reversing, until I bump into the bed frame.
The same expressions dance, the doubt being squeezed out, as I lean sideways and extinguish the second—and final— candle and darkness claims the room.
My other senses immediately begin to overcompensate and I am acutely aware of how close to each other we are standing and the fact that I can hear his every breath. Despite my entire prior… ah… experience, I think this is one of the most erotic moments of my life.
I blush, unseen, suddenly nervous for reasons I can’t begin to explain and slowly pull Van towards me with hands that are trembling slightly.
For a moment, he doesn’t react, but then his arms close around me almost shyly and I manage to retain enough self control to tangle my hands in his hair and pull him in to a deep kiss.
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