The corridor widened until it opened into a clearing. Black clouds drifted overhead, revealing the light of a pale full moon. It illuminated a glade; gnarled winter trees without leaf or blossom planted in a circle around a manicured lawn. Past the clouds and beyond the moon sat familiar constellations.
Reginald entered the clearing first, the tempest of his mind emptied at the serenity before them. He squeezed Kat’s hand involuntarily, awestruck. Out of the ballroom, in an alien setting he had been prepared for, he had no landmarks, no bearing, no line he could call upon with surety. As a result, he broke the silence first with a clumsy sentence.
He whispered, hoping fruitlessly that he would not disturb the tranquility, “Do you think they look better planetside? Moons, I mean.”
Kat shrugged, responding quietly, “I’m not sure, they’re so pretty in space too.”
He looked at her and briefly forgot about language, of how to craft words, of spoken description. He just admired the way the soft moonlight illuminated her face and reflected off of her green eyes.
“You really do look lovely, tonight.”
She smiled at him, “So you keep saying him.” She turned to look at him directly, “But I’m glad you think so.”
Suddenly, Reginald felt color return to his cheeks. Attempting to glance away he said, “You know I can’t lie to you.”
Kat laughed a little, “That’s what a liar would say.”
He mulled over a thought. It could work. Perhaps. The words were on the tip of his tongue as he continued to look at her, but couldn’t bring himself to say it. She could respond negatively, then it would be incredibly awkward. But it wasn’t the awkwardness that scared him–it was not knowing what her response might be.
Reginald found himself blushing, “You’re too good at telling. Let’s see… Do you think my next sentence will be a lie?”
Kat put on a thoughtful expression, “Nah, I don’t think it will.”
He looked at her, curious, “How do you know?”
She grinned, “Because now you feel guilty actually lying to me and proving me wrong.”
He was shot down.
He glanced away again, “Oh, then I suppose we can do away with my sentence, then.”
He knew he was putting off the inevitable, but he didn’t know how else to prepare. Years of practicing etiquette hadn’t mentioned what to say to a beautiful young lady in a moonlit glade. The reality of it all was that courtship was supposed to be done in public areas and if not, then with a chaperone. There were breaches throughout what he was doing with Kat. And he knew that this was improper. The Holder in him was telling him to return to the ballroom, to go back to dancing. But there was a quiet voice at the back of his head saying to stay. Why was he listening to it, now?
He swallowed, trying to change the subject by leading her deeper into the glade, hoping that something interesting–a flower, some form of insect, a hidden view–would turn up. But there was nothing of the sort. Only the two of them bathed in pale moonlight standing in the center of the clearing. He removed his tunic and placed it on her shoulders more on instinct rather than anything else. He benefited from the act as well–he could feel his face burning.
He asked, “Did you grow up on a planet like this one–I mean, of course you would have needed to grow up on a temperate planet–I meant, on a mountain like.. or rather in the mountains?”
What a stupid question.
When she didn’t respond, he sighed, exasperated at himself, “Am I bad at this?”
She giggled, “Apparently.”
With the voice guiding him and with etiquette blaring in his head, he tried to form a cohesive structure of words. There was no way it could work now. He wasn’t sure, but the opportunity had passed somewhere between the ballroom and when he was standing here, with her, in the glade. But the voice said to try. He was blushing fiercely, and his voice was only barely noticeable because of the absolute stillness, “May I–”
No, his Holder upbringing proclaimed loud and clear through his consciousness. The words were there, ready to flow over the precipice he had created for himself–a barrier to what he wanted to say. But he retreated, “No, my apologies, that would be improper.”
Kat laughed, “Nope. Say it.”
He could feel more heat rising in his cheeks. Retreat. Run. He looked away, “No, I really think I should keep it to myself.”
“Too late, tell me!”
There, the voice said. She wants you to tell her. No, his upbringing yelled–that’s not the way this works. Both families need to be in agreement. Papers need to be signed. Agreements must be made. But you don’t live like that anymore. Just ask her. Or else you may never know.
He felt much like how a court jester must feel–absolutely ridiculous. He tried to regain his composure. He took her hands in his, calling upon years of upbringing for a strong voice. At least let it be firm, he begged himself.
He managed to blurt out, “May I kiss you?”
Moron. He turned away almost immediately, his heart sinking as he was sure about the outcome. In that moment, he wished he was capable of jump cloning to a distant, far away hermitage to live the rest of his life out as a monk, secluded from anyone who would ever hear of this night. He could just charter a shuttle to send him to nullsec, or maybe get lost in a chain of wormholes. Maybe without another living soul for lightyears around he could find a way to wash away the humiliation.
That’s when he felt her hand on his cheek. He tensed, expecting a stern look from her as she gently guided his face towards her own.
And then she brushed his lips with hers.
His eyes shot open in surprise, but he let himself relax, enjoying the moment.
She broke the kiss with a soft whisper, “Still embarrassed?”
He was still blushing a little, but he managed to respond with a gentle smile, “Not so much.”
After a moment of hesitation–the final inhibitions of decorum being lifted–he pulled her in gently for another kiss, growing in confidence with time but remaining proper. She wrapped her arms around him and he did the same.
After a minute she broke the kiss, “How long have you wanted to do that?”
He blushed again, but confessed, “Since before I told you–,” but he bit his lip, unwilling to utter the words “that we shouldn’t see each other” lest it all disappear into nothingness like a fleeting dream. He said instead, “For quite a while.”
She smiled, “Well I’m glad you worked up the courage to ask.”
He grinned sheepishly, “You helped quite a bit.”
She grinned back, “That’s my job.”
He had never felt this calm in his life. The strain of running a corporation, of trying to meet the expectations of his alliance executor, of answering thousands of messages, of handling logistics–it all mattered not. He was happy here. He was happy with her.
He suddenly wondered at the time, his attention turning towards the entrance, “Do you think anyone cares that we’re out here?” He asked her.
She shrugged, “No idea, why?”
He took Kat’s hands into his own again, staring warmly into her eyes, “Because it’s almost perfect. No one judges us, no one thinks it’s wrong that we’re together.”
She smiled, “Only almost perfect?”
He responded with a quiet smile, “Because I don’t want to run away from them.”
She laughed, “Well then let’s not run.”
And he wouldn’t. Not as long as she was with him. Suddenly, all of Lady Lianne’s spiteful, hypocritical words melted away. He wouldn’t care at all what his executor thought about his relationship. No, Kat was here now, with him, and that’s what mattered. He felt he could do anything as he gazed into her eyes, their expressions light and composed.
He rubbed her hands to ward away the cold, then kissed them softly, “I don’t plan to. But it’s nice to get away from all of that once in a while.”
She nodded, “I know,” then added, “So… what do you want to do now?”
Responding matter-of-factly, “Ask you to move in with me at the Manor. And then… maybe kiss you again before we leave?”
He blushed at his own boldness, unsure from where those sentences had emerged, “I’m sorry, that was probably incredibly forward of me.”
Kat laughed, “You’re allowed to be forward you know. Especially since you basically just asked me to be your girlfriend.”
He joined in her laughter. He poked fun at his upbringing–it wouldn’t have allowed him to be happy after all–he bent down on one knee. Looking up at Katerina so that his own eyes reflected the heavenly beams of the moon, he asked, “Then, Miss Katerina Tzestu, will you be my girlfriend?”
She smiled, her eyes shining, “I will.”
Beaming, he straightened up, then drew her into another kiss. She accepted graciously, then, after a moment, leaned her head against his chest. How he wished for the moment to last. He rested his cheek against her forehead, his mind cleared of thought, lest a misplaced word spoil the memory.
Finally, a cloud passed overhead, casting them in shadow. He whispered to her, holding her close, “Stay with me, tonight?”
She nodded silently against his chest, her eyes remaining closed.
He held her softly as a silent watchman, his gaze scanning the trees for a wayward shadow or a misplaced servant. There were none. He closed his own eyes. Heaven.
After a long while, Kat straightened up, “We should go,, we both have work to do tomorrow, you know.”
The realities of being a capsuleer.
He nodded, “All right.” Taking her hand, he led her gently back to the entrance savoring every additional second, “I’ll miss this place.”
“It’s a lovely place.”
He smiled at her, glanced over the clearing once more, then, hand-in-hand with Kat, reluctantly turned his back on the glade.