Interlude: Aelgifu and IoannaDiscuss
“Nervous?” Yngvi untied her tie and retied it, smoothing the knot with no apparent qualms about being that close to her, and no apparent interest in the same.
“Terrified,” Aelgifu admitted. “I’ve never been this ‘out’ before, you know? I’ve never been out at all.”
“Mm-hrmm,” he said noncommittally.
“What about you?” she pressed. There were things he simply refused to talk about, even with her, even after what that man had said.
Like now – he simply shrugged, and smiled offhandedly at her. “You know how it is. I’m just there to make sure you don’t get into too much trouble.”
A week ago, it would have been you two, before he’d decided to sulk about it. She hoped it would go back that way, when Shahin was back to normal. For now, though…
“Just like a big brother,” she teased.
“Or a friend,” he answered mildly.
“Do you think he was lying?”
“Well, he didn’t come out and say anything, did he? He just hinted around at things, mentioned a few things. My mother’s name – that’s on the records here. He couldn’t be bothered to state a single fact outright, could he?”
“Not really, no.” She bit her lip. “It might be nice, though, wouldn’t it? Just knowing?”
“I’m not sure I want to know if it’s going to mean that he’s my father.” He patted her shoulder, and tugged the tips of her vest straight. “You look handsome. Dapper, even. Go wow your lady. I’ll be waiting offstage.”
“Nervous?” Callista had slipped away from Ib somehow, finding a way, as she always seemed to when Ioanna really needed her.
“Terrified,” Ioanna admitted. “This one… she’s special, Callie. But she’s fragile. I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing, and she’s going to go up in a puff of dandelion fluff.”
“Now that would be an interesting Becoming,” Callista grinned. “Hold still, Io, I’m trying to finish your hair.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She grinned into the mirror, catching her friend’s eye. Six hands worked deftly on her thick, pumpkin-pie-orange hair, turning it into something worthy of the princess in a fairy tale and not the witch.
Callista didn’t grin back. Although her smiles were more common now than they had been that horrible first year, they were still in scarce supply. The asshole Ib seemed to like it that way.
“Do you…” Ioanna began. She almost stopped there, but Callista’s expression in the mirror, one of almost naked need, made her continue. “Do you think about next year?” Or the year after, but that was even more verboten.
She didn’t answer, but, in the mirror, her eyes were wet. She finished setting the last curl into place and hugged Ioanna fiercely from behind with all six arms. “You look beautiful,” she murmured. “You look perfect.”
Ioanna held onto her friend’s arms as long as she could. She didn’t dare cry; she didn’t want to smudge her make-up. It was Callista who finally let go.
“Knock ‘em dead,” she whispered.
“Nervous?” Ioanna was breath-taking, her little silk sheath dress bringing out the violet of her eyes, her make-up making her seem even more otherworldly.
“Terrified,” Ayla admitted again, but this time, she managed a smile. “I’ve never done this before.”
“You’ve been to plenty of dances, haven’t you? You can’t tell me you always went alone.”
“I went with friends. And with boys.”
“Well, I’m your friend, aren’t I? And tonight, you get to be the boy.”
Her grin took away any sting the tease might have had.
Ayla looked down at the outfit Yngvi had put her in. “I suppose I do,” she said ruefully. “Well, my lady, you look stunning.” She crooked her arm, the way she thought Yngvi might. “Shall we, then?”
Ioanna smiled all the wider, setting her hand delicately on Aelgifu’s arm. Her date was dapper, in a suit and silk tie that looked tailored to her, but every inch the girl this time, Io’s joking aside. But, like a boy on his first date, she was nervous and uncertain.
Io was, too, of course, still terrified of doing the wrong thing. There was something special about Ayla, something shining and bright that she’d never seen before, that she was afraid to sully, and just as afraid to lose. But “nervous young boy” – that she had dealt with before.
She smiled charmingly at her girlfriend. “I’m really looking forward to this,” she confided.
“Yeah?” Ayla looked a little reassured. Io snuggled a bit closer.
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