Rating: PG for teenaged romantical shenanigans
Summary: The Howes host a party. Bonding with potential sister-in-laws while primping and declarations of feelings ensue.
Note: This was done for ten_by_ten's prompt of 'frown'.
Note the Second: This can act as a filler for Chapter 10 of A Rush to the Start's text: "Moira had a memory of the two of them sneaking away to this very room from some party or another his parents had hosted once. No one had thought to look for them and they had spent the evening curled up together on the window seat sharing tentative kisses and whispered promises of young love."
“Thank you for helping,” Delilah said, leaning forward to paint a thin line of kohl on her eyes. “I don’t think I could have gotten ready in half the time.”
Moira smiled, making sure that the gold and ruby comb was holding her friend’s hair securely in place. The comb wasn’t anything that Delilah would have normally worn; it was on loan from her mother’s jewelry case. The Howes were hosting their yearly ball for the nobility in Amaranthine and Delilah’s parents were using the opportunity to give their daughter an early debut into society. Moira’s family had been invited, probably because Delilah had asked for her to come for moral support more than the fact that Moira’s father was Teyrn. Moira had instantly agreed; she had grown fond of Delilah over the span of eleven years that they known the other, but also because it meant that she’d have an opportunity to be with Nathaniel. The two of them had been seeing the other for the better part of a year now, exchanging letters and spending as much time together as they possibly could. It meant that Nathaniel was a more frequent guest in Highever than usual, even with the two day trip that it took to travel from his home. He normally made the journey in less, but Moira could tell that it exhausted him, even when he did his best to try to hide how tired he was from her.
“It was my pleasure,” she said, sitting at the bench next to Delilah so that she could begin applying her own cosmetics. She had never been too fond of the heavier trends that were popular amongst other girls in her age group, choosing to use only the barest hint of color at her eyes and a fine dusting of rouge on her cheeks. “You look gorgeous tonight.”
Delilah’s mouth curved up into a pleased smile. “Do you really think so?”
Moira gave her a critical look. The bright red and gold of Delilah’s dress dramatically set off her pale skin and jet black hair, which was set into a sweeping riot of curls at the back of her head. Moira had always been slightly envious of the swanlike, graceful way that Delilah had, especially since it came to the younger girl so effortlessly. “I think you might have several admirers before the night is out.”
Delilah twisted her hands in her lap. “Maker, I’m nervous. What if I bumble something? What if I embarrass myself in front of boys?”
Moira set her pot of lip stain down and took Delilah’s hands in hers. “That isn’t possible. You are the most gracious, charming, elegant person I know. If anyone is going to bumble anything, it will more than likely be me.” Where things came so naturally to Delilah, Moira had to constantly remind herself to speak in gentle tones and to keep her tongue still when in conversations where the opinion of a female wasn’t appreciated. While she wasn’t really concerned with how others would perceive her, the two people that she was worried about were the hosts themselves. Arl Rendon had never given her an unkind word; in fact, he had always treated her as if she were a part of the family. Arlessa Regina, on the other hand…
While the Arlessa never said it out loud, Moira knew that she did not approve of many things that Moira did or said. It would be in Moira’s best interests if she could gain the approval of the Arlessa, especially since there was a strong chance that she would be her mother-in-law in the distant future.
That thought made Moira’s heart beat just a little faster. While she and Nathaniel had become romantically involved, they hadn’t made their relationship public just yet. Nathaniel had felt that it wasn’t right to do so when he was going to be leaving in another year, and Moira hadn’t wanted to ruin the time they had left together by arguing. She still thought that it was a dumb decision, especially since it would mean having to turn down potential suitors who were already starting to call upon her. What really didn’t sit well with her was the fact that she would have to lie to her parents. She’d never had a reason to do it before and even though there was a certain thrill to sneaking around and stealing kisses, it still felt wrong to hide how she felt. She agreed to keeping things quiet for now, but once Nathaniel was back from the Free Marches, things were certainly going to change.
“Speaking of suitors,” Delilah said, leaning closer to the dressing table mirror to check and see that she hadn’t gotten any lip stain on her teeth, “there will be several looking your way tonight, I wager.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Moira had anticipated something like that happening. This was supposed to be Delilah’s night, which was why Moira had chosen to wear an outfit that would blend in with the surroundings. The wide neckline of her dress was modest - only exposing the very tops of her shoulders and line of her collarbone - in comparison to some of the other styles she’d seen in the dressmaker’s shop window back home. The gown was simple in design; the tightly fitting long sleeves were perfect for the winter weather and the flowers embroidered in silvery thread at the neck and hemlines created a subtle detail. The only thing that broke up the sea of grey-blue fabric was a thin silver belt that settled across her hips. Like her dress, she’d decided to go simple and twist her hair into a chignon, securing the style with two ivory hair sticks, one of which that had a small cluster of pearls hanging from the end.
The only minus that she had to the entire outfit was the corset she was forced to wear underneath in order to gain the proper silhouette for the way the gown was cut. The binding garment gave the illusion that her waistline was several inches slimmer than it actually was and made her bust line even more pronounced. It also made breathing challenging and had a way of making Moira’s torso lose all feeling after being constricted for several hours. She was already looking forward to the end of the party so she could get the contraption off.
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry much about them,” Delilah said with a sly smile. “Nathaniel will more than likely run them off out of pure jealousy.”
Moira paused in dabbing a bit of lavender scented oil behind her ear. “What?”
“Oh, surely you must know how my brother feels about you. The look alone that he often gives you when he thinks no one is watching should speak of how much he adores you.”
Very carefully, she set the perfume bottle down. “I…” How do I reply to that?
Delilah’s teasing expression fell. “Oh no, I shouldn’t have said anything. You don’t share Nathaniel’s affections, do you?”
Moira shook her head. “It isn’t that. You just took me by surprise.” She worried her bottom lip. “Nate is a dear friend of mine; I’m glad that he has deeper feelings for me.”
“And what do you think about him?” The tone had gone from playful friend to protective little sister.
Moira took a breath. “I won’t lie to you; I care for your brother a great deal. I’ve had feelings for him since I was about ten. It makes me incredibly happy to know that he might feel the same way for me.” That was the truth, and it made her feel better when Delilah reached out and embraced her.
“I’ve always thought of you as an older sister,” Delilah confessed. “Just think; one day that might actually happen!”
She laughed. “I can only hope so!”
“Moira Howe,” Delilah mused. “It has a nice ring to it.”
Moira fussed over an errant curl that had escaped her friend’s comb. “I think so too.”
While Nathaniel didn’t mind parties, he didn’t necessarily care for the amount of attention that was put on him when his parents hosted one. He disliked all the scraping and bowing that certain nobles did, even when they knew that he wasn’t the one that held any power in the room. Bann Esmerelle was the worst of the lot; she had been constantly urging him to dance with her daughter for the better part of the evening. She had been subtle about it at first, but after the dinner tables had been cleared off the main floor of the Keep’s Great Hall, her requests had become slightly more demanding.
“Just take a turn around the floor with her for a single song, Nathaniel,” his father had finally said once Esmerelle had decided it was better to go bother someone that had the most influence over him. “After that, I don’t care what you do the rest of the evening.”
That had made the painfully awkward dance worthwhile. Nathaniel thought that he was inept on the dance floor, but he was nothing compared to Esmerelle’s daughter. He barely escaped with his feet intact, bowing graciously over her hand once the musicians had stopped playing and waving away her stammered apologies for the way the pointed toes of her shoes had stepped over his.
“My lady,” Fergus said, stepping in beside Nathaniel when another girl looked at him expectantly. “If I could have the honor of this dance.” Nathaniel’s friend leaned closer to him, murmuring something for his ears alone. “There, I’ve rescued you for a little while. Now go return the favor and save my sister before she pulls her hair out from sheer boredom.”
Nathaniel scanned the room, finally finding Moira speaking with one of the lesser lord’s sons. Her stance was polite and she was looking at the young man pleasantly, but Nathaniel caught her eye and could plainly tell she wanted an excuse to exit the conversation.
“Pardon me, Temmerly,” Nathaniel said once he got to their side. “I’m afraid that I might have to steal lady Cousland away for a while.” He held out his hand, which Moira gratefully took.
“Thank you,” she breathed, walking with him as they neared the dance floor. The musicians were playing a group dance that Nathaniel felt somewhat confidant in and the two of them easily blended in with the rest of the dancers already on the floor.
“I wanted to speak with you all evening,” he told her, carefully turning in time with the rest of the group, his right hand tucked behind his back and his left lightly holding Moira’s hand above their heads.
Moira smiled. “I’ve wanted to speak to you as well.” They hadn’t had much of a chance to be alone; Moira had been sucked into the circle of girls along with Delilah and Nathaniel had been busy trying and failing to avoid conversation with several of the Bann’s sons. They’d shared longing glances across the Hall, but this was the first opportunity that they’d been able to talk. They finished the dance and Nathaniel bowed lower over her hand than he had with Esmerelle’s daughter, his lips skimming over Moira’s knuckles.
“Do you want to get some air?” he asked, already leading her towards the Hall’s side doors.
“Lead the way,” she replied, tucking her hand against his arm. She took one last glance out at the scene behind them to see if anyone would notice them leaving. Fergus was his usual charming self, seemingly at home as the center of attention amidst a circle of several young ladies. Nathaniel’s parents as well as her own were currently dancing; though it always looked as if Arl Rendon and Arlessa Regina were putting on some sort of show. They might be moving gracefully through the steps and smiling the entire time, but Moira always felt as if their smiles never reached their eyes, as if they’d rather be elsewhere but were there just for appearance’s sake. Her mother’s laughter brought her attention to her parents and she couldn’t help but smile at the completely different way they carried themselves. Her father always had a way of making even the most serious of dances seem fun and the lively waltz they were dancing to was no different. He led her mother in a series of sweeping moves that had Eleanor’s skirts swirling at her ankles, his hand holding her close at the small of her back. Unlike the other dancers who had their partner’s hand held out to their sides, Bryce had Eleanor’s hand tucked close to his heart, his fingers laced with hers. They were both gazing at the other with such naked affection that it made Moira lean against Nathaniel, her heart swelling at the thought that she had found someone to share the same sort of partnership that her parents had found.
Instead of taking her outside, Nathaniel led Moira down a hallway and up a flight of stairs until they reached an informal parlor. The room was dark, but Moira could see that there was a large window that overlooked the Amaranthine Ocean in the distance. Underneath the window was a wide seat covered in green velvet.
“Now that we’re alone,” Nathaniel said, closing the door behind them and engaging the lock. He took her shoulders in his hands and drew her close to him, his mouth covering hers for a lingering kiss. “Hello.”
She grinned against his mouth, her hands sliding over his back. “Hello.”
He tightened his hold on her, ducking his head so he could press a trail of kisses across her jaw and down her neck. “I’ve wanted to do this since I first saw you tonight.” Slowly, he backed her up until her calves hit the edge of the window seat. He turned so that he sat first with one leg stretched out along the seat before drawing her down so she could sit between his legs. “Brand was staring at you.”
Moira looked away from the window. The sun had set hours ago and Vigil’s Keep was illuminated by torchlight outside. “Hmm?”
“Brand. He’s been staring all evening.” Nathaniel leaned back against the window’s wall and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Isn’t he one of Lord Packton’s children? The blond one?” She could distantly recall speaking to his sister Liza, but she couldn’t remember even having a chance to speak with Liza’s brother personally.
Moira turned in her seat and traced his frown with her fingers. “Jealousy doesn’t suit you, Nate,” she said softly, leaning against him so she could press her lips against his cheek. He turned his head, catching her mouth with his as he slowly unfolded his arms so he could place his hands on her waist. “Besides,” she told him when he let her up for air, “I think he was staring more at your sister. I’ve just happened to be next to her for the better part of the evening.”
Nathaniel’s glower returned. “Delilah is fourteen.”
“And she looks as if she should be sixteen. Brand probably doesn’t know there’s that much of an age difference between them yet.” Moira smoothed her hands down his back in a soothing gesture and put her head on his chest. “She looks quite pretty tonight.”
He rested his chin against the crown of her head. “Not as pretty as you.” Normally, he wasn’t one to let jealousy get the better of him, but he was acutely aware of the limited time that he and Moira had together before he left Ferelden for several years. He cared for Moira and knew that in his absence other potential suitors would have an opportunity to win her hand. Logically, he knew that Moira would never turn towards any of them while he was gone, but it was just damned frustrating when he caught all those potential suitors eying his girl. Protocol would have frowned upon him knocking certain young men’s teeth out, even if being the son of an Arl meant that he was of the higher station. “You’re incredibly beautiful this evening.”
She blushed. “Flatterer.” Even after a year of hearing similar compliments from him, it never failed that the tone he would say them in would make her breath catch and her pulse flutter. She sat back and caught the way that he was looking at her, his eyes dark and glittering in the moonlight, his mouth set in an easy smile.
“Just speaking the truth,” he told her, reaching out to cradle her cheek in his palm. He drew her close for a kiss that he had meant to keep somewhat tame, but then she made a little whimpering noise in the back of her throat and he lost himself in their embrace, his mouth slanting down to kiss her hungrily. He swung his leg down until both of his feet were touching the stone floor and tugged Moira onto his lap where she clung desperately to his arms, her mouth matching his in intensity. Ivory made a clattering noise as her pins fell to the ground, her hair falling in waves down her back, Nathaniel’s hands greedily threading through the mass of it.
“Someone is bound to have noticed us missing by now,” she gasped, tilting her head to the side as he nipped at the column of her throat.
“Let them notice.”
“There will be talk.” It was a weak protest at best, mostly because Moira was already gathering up her skirts so she could better straddle his thighs without the material getting in her way. He moaned when she ground her hips against his, his hands going to her waist to guide her better.
“Do you care?” He had no idea how he was still speaking in complete sentences, especially with the scent he always associated with Moira making his head spin.
“Not in the slightest, but…” There was something at the back of her mind, something that reminded her that there was someone that she desperately wanted to impress, but Nathaniel’s kisses were rapidly driving the thought of thinned lips set in disapproval away. “But… oh, Nate, don’t stop.”
Nathaniel kissed the bare skin at her shoulder, breathing deep and trying to gather a hold of his control. “If I don’t stop, we’re going to wind up on the floor.” He’d already managed to blindly loosen the first few laces at the back of her dress. “We both deserve better.”
She sighed, but slipped off his lap. “You’re right,” she finally said, bending as best as she could to gather the hair sticks off the floor. “But we can’t possibly go back now; we both look a mess.” Straightening, she reached out and rubbed off a smear of red from Nathaniel’s mouth. “You’re wearing more of my lip paint than I am.”
He let out a quiet laugh before taking a handkerchief out of his doublet sleeve and rubbing his lips. “Fergus would kill me if he saw us now.”
She snorted. “I doubt he even has any idea that we’re involved.” She loosely pinned her hair out of her face. “Although your sister has caught on.”
“Delilah’s been noticing little details and managed to put two and two together. She asked me what I thought of you.”
He quirked an eyebrow in interest and stood up. “And what did you tell her?”
“I told her the truth. I care for you a great deal and I’m pleased that it seems as if you feel the same way for me.”
“How did she take it?”
Moira linked her arms around his shoulders. “She’s already planning our wedding. Knowing her, she probably has names picked out for our children as well.”
He enveloped Moira in a hug. “Do you mind? Not about Delilah knowing about us, but the rest. Marriage and all that.”
Moira looked up at him. “No, I don’t mind. In fact, I find the idea entirely appealing.”
“You’d want to spend the rest of your life with me?” It was strange; Nathaniel knew without a doubt that Moira cared for him, but it still took him by surprise that she would want to bind herself to him so completely.
She tilted her head before framing his face with her hands. “I can’t see myself spending my life with anyone else. It’s always been you, Nathaniel.”
He closed the distance between them. “I love you, Moira,” he whispered. He’d never said it out loud before, but once the words had been said he wondered why he hadn’t told her how he felt a million times already.
Her lips trembled and happy tears blurred her vision. “I love you too, Nate.”
He gathered her in his arms and held her tightly, feeling as if his heart would burst. She led him back to the window seat and they sat with their arms around the other. “Let’s just stay here a while,” she said, kissing him in a way that stole his breath.
Nathaniel buried his face against the crook of her neck, closing his eyes as he felt her fingers lazily comb through his hair. He’d be content to stay there forever if she asked him to.