"Come on, it'll be fine. Just come inside!"
Leia stamped her foot exasperatedly. When was the last time she'd needed to work so hard to convince Alvin to do something? Ordinarily, all she had to do was stand on one hip and put all her feelings into her eyes instead of into words, and he would do pretty much whatever she wanted… but apparently, not this time.
"Are you sure about this, Leia?" asked Alvin, crossing his arms skeptically with a barely noticeable sigh. "We could always elope, you know," he added almost hopefully, but Leia rolled her eyes at him and—meeting his gaze as sternly as possible—pointed firmly inside. She was not going to let him get out of this one.
Alvin picked up his suitcase and shook his head after a pause, raising his other arm halfheartedly in that strange defeated salute Leia had grown to love. "You owe me one," he decided, with the merest hint of a mischievous smile. "Maybe two or three," he continued, setting down his valise, putting his hands in his pockets, and glancing warily around the inside of Leronde Lodge.
"Oh, I'll make it up to you," promised Leia playfully, and gave him a gentle shove so that he stumbled into the inn. "Honestly, she doesn't bite," she added, a little more worriedly, as she set her own bag down. Alvin had been afraid of Leia's mother for about as long as he'd known her, which honestly wasn't an irrational response—but the fact that he hadn't come to visit more than a few times over the last five years… well, that didn't do him any favors.
"Kicks and punches are about as bad," muttered Alvin, but Leia slid her hand into the crook of his arm comfortingly, and he fell reluctantly silent—but not for long. "You tell her," he continued, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. "I don't know if I'll live through the conversation."
Leia heaved an exaggerated sigh. "You're the one who proposed, you know," she reminded him, waggling her left fingers at him. Around her ring finger curled a slender golden band, with tiny diamonds set in an ornate six-petaled flower that sparkled in the sunlight. It was the single most beautiful thing she had ever seen (besides Alvin himself), though it had been blurry through her happy tears for the first several minutes.
"Yeah, and you're the one who said 'yes'," responded Alvin, barely concealing a reminiscent smile as he nudged her lightly with his elbow. "Though it was a little unclear at first, since you were sobbing into my shoulder and all."
"Shut up," retorted Leia jokingly, poking him three times on the shoulder in their special signal, and he bent down obligingly so that she could bestow a purposely sloppy kiss on his cheek. Grimacing, he wiped it off with the back of his hand and brushed it against her face—but the door behind them suddenly shut with a snap, and they whirled around to find Sonia Rolando standing there, broom in hand.
There was silence for a moment before Leia gave a brave attempt at a smile (her mother's naturally forbidding countenance tended to throw her off) and said meekly, "Hey, Mom." What would she say this time? She'd been so busy with writing for the newspaper lately that she had hardly felt like writing to her mother, who was probably the only person in the world who still didn't use a GHS… and their arguments concerning communication had barely lessened over the years. You'd think she'd stop worrying after she came of age, but apparently not.
"Where have you been?" exploded Sonia, and Alvin flinched in Leia's peripheral vision; she cast a worried glance back at her fiancée. "I know you're busy with your job, but this has gone far enough! I'm tired of never knowing for sure whether you're all right; you have a habit of ending up in dangerous situations—"
"Mom, I'm twenty-one—" began Leia desperately, but her mother cut her off.
"I don't care how old you are," she snapped, stabbing the end of the broom onto the hardwood floor as though spearing a fish, "if you don't bother writing a letter back home once in a while—"
"If you don't bother using the GHS I bought you—" interrupted Leia, putting her hands on her hips, her patience at an end. Alvin rested a hand heavy with warning on her shoulder, inadvertently drawing the attention of both furious females up towards him. One of the myriad of things Leia loved about her fiancée was his ability to roll with the punches and shrug off awkwardness, but he seemed distinctly uncomfortable as Sonia Rolando looked him up and down.
Suspicion was written all over her face as she continued, a hint of curiosity making its way into her voice, "And what's he doing here?" Leia glanced back uncertainly at Alvin, whose dull eyes said no, not now; she pursed her lips briefly. She was an awful liar. That was her fiancée's forte, though he had certainly become a little less good at it over the years. (Or perhaps Leia had just gotten better at discerning the truth.)
"Just stopping by, ma'am," said Alvin hesitantly, after evaluating Leia's expression carefully. "Hungry for a home-cooked meal," he added after another, disbelieving pause, and the phrase sounded a little like a question: that awkward, adorkable smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth again.
"Do you have gald?" asked her mother, shifting her weight with a flinty look in her clear hazel eyes. Ordinarily, she didn't make a habit of giving Leia's friends the cold shoulder like this, but she clearly wasn't going to relax until she heard exactly what was going on. Of course, even then, she'd still probably be severe on them both.
Leia gave a long, drawn-out sigh. "He's with me, Mom," she explained tentatively. Maybe the best way to handle this was just to drop the news? "We're here to have some dinner with you. I know it's kind of late, but…" She trailed off briefly before rallying her courage.
"And also, we're, um," continued Leia, stopping short. "We're kind of," she tried again after a pause, and swallowed before finishing the last word, "engaged." She glanced up at Alvin to find him staring at her as though she was crazy, and cast her gaze down at her feet uncertainly, slipping her hand reassuringly into his: their fingers instinctively interlaced, and Alvin squeezed worriedly. Maybe she should have listened to his wordless advice, but the longer they waited, the more likely they'd be to chicken out.
There was silence for about fifteen seconds, during which Sonia Rolando stared between her daughter and her future son-in-law, apparently shocked speechless—but Leia had no idea whether she approved or not, because she didn't say anything to them. Instead, she hustled past the counter towards the backyard, bellowing "Warrick!" along her way, and she was gone almost as quickly as she had arrived.
Leia breathed a sigh of relief; to bring her father into the matter meant that she might at least take acceptance into consideration. But Alvin only shook his head despairingly. "If you turn out like your mother, Leia," he began, and she reached up to cover his mouth—but he grasped her hand before she could touch him and played with her fingers distractedly before releasing them altogether and looking intently down at her. "Seriously, though. I don't ever want to be scared of you like I am of her."
"I'll try not to scare you too much," promised Leia, leaning against him affectionately, and Alvin put an arm around her, his hand automatically settling into the curve of her waist; his thumb rubbed a lazy oval on her back. "I promise," she murmured; he smiled down at her with such honest contentment in response that Leia felt herself melt a little inside.
But all this beautiful happiness would only come to fruition if her parents understood how much they loved one another—and, to a lesser degree, if Alvin understood how kind her parents really were. (Specifically, her admittedly intimidating mother.) If only there were some way to get them used to one another more quickly…
Oh. Now there was an idea.
"I better go help with dinner," whispered Leia, slipping away from Alvin; he looked vaguely worried at the prospects of being left on his own. "I'll get our stuff," she added, picking both bags up and ignoring his protests that the lady should be the one to carry the luggage. "You just… sit down somewhere," she ordered, making her way up the stairs before he could snatch his suitcase away, and deposited both bags in her bedroom.
There: nestled carefully in an inside pocket in her duffel bag was a small glass bottle of bubbly golden fluid—Friendship Potion, saved for an extra-special occasion. Her eyes skimmed the fine print automatically, in search of instructions. Pour each half of the bottle into the drinks of two indifferent people. (Note: use with alcohol or with existing feelings of friendship may provoke infatuation.) Perfect!
Sliding the bottle stealthily into her pocket, Leia made her way back downstairs, trying to suppress her smug smile. This would fix the situation for sure, but it wasn't like she was going to tell them about it; they'd probably object to having their feelings manipulated, even if it was all for the best.
Soup, thought Leia, entering the kitchen and quickly donning her apron. Tomato soup, maybe? Ludger would approve, anyway, even though he wasn't around to say so. Rolling up her sleeves and grinning to herself, Leia decided after a moment's hesitation to start without her father. She had a secret ingredient to add.
If there was any more awkward situation than being forced at the last minute to sit across from her fiancée instead of next to him as she had planned, Leia hadn't experienced it. She and Alvin merely exchanged helpless glances from across the tiny table and sipped awkwardly at their soup, trying to think of what to say.
Leia's father had been in shock since he had heard the news. Even though he had helped Leia prepare dinner, set the table, and serve the soup, he was apparently unable to look either her or Alvin in the eye (and had also lost his appetite, judging from the way he neglected his generous helping). Her mother, meanwhile, was as stern as ever. There was no polite conversation, or even impolite conversation. There was simply… silence.
"So, uh," began Alvin eventually, and Leia glanced up at him, surprised but pleased that he should be the one to try and break the ice. "I hope you're not… mad at me for proposing to your daughter." Leia, swallowing another spoonful of soup, turned her eyes towards her mother; the label hadn't said how long it took to get results.
But she remained stony-faced, though Leia could tell she was doing so only because she was still unsure what to think. She had a habit of appearing angry when, in actuality, she was just worried or uncertain; it had taken Leia years to learn that, but now that she knew, it was much easier to forgive her for their many spats.
"Mad at you?" repeated Leia's mother, pausing with her spoon hovering over the bowl. "Not… not exactly," she decided eventually, though there were still a few barbs in her voice, and Leia gave a hopeful smile at her lack of open hostility. Was the potion taking effect at last?
No—they'd altered the seating arrangement! A jolt throbbed momentarily through Leia's whole body, and she regarded her soup intently, mind racing with futile plans. There was no excuse for them to switch bowls now; she'd have to hope for the best, and pray in the meantime the potion didn't intensify her feelings too much further, or she'd burst from sheer love. In a vain attempt to distract herself, she reached for the first topic in her mind: the conversation at hand.
"Then what's wrong?" asked Alvin after waiting in vain for Leia's mother to elaborate, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms, and Leia suppressed a proud smile with difficulty. Her fiancée was so handsome. Leia had managed to convince him about a year ago that maybe a beard wasn't the best look for him after all, and he looked all the better for it. More professional, too. If his appearance was the problem, she couldn't understand why.
Leia's father stared into his untouched soup. "She's only twenty-one," he said quietly, tapping his fingers restlessly, the sound muffled by the tablecloth. "And you're…" He trailed off, though whether because he didn't want to say the number or because he didn't remember, Leia couldn't tell.
"Thirty-two," sighed Alvin, tilting his glass of water contemplatively, and Leia could hear his heart break a little in his voice. That was the aspect of their relationship he'd been most insecure about since they had initially started dating, and Leia knew he'd never entirely gotten over it. "I know, the age difference is… considerable, but—"
"I love him," blurted out Leia, and three sets of surprised eyes turned to her; she took a nervous sip of water, feeling her cheeks turn pink. Well, it was true! She'd never loved anybody the way she loved Alvin, not even Jude. (Besides, his heart had been devoted to the Lord of Spirits for six years.)
"And I love her," added Alvin, tossing a grin across the table, and she played with her fingers, trying to find something to do with herself. He was perfect, she gushed to herself, absolutely perfect—and if her parents didn't see that, then they were blind. Elopement was a valid suggestion; if they didn't give their consent, well, they'd just have to get married anyway.
Reaching the end of her train of thought, Leia realized abruptly that she had looked up at some point and was gazing into Alvin's chocolate-brown eyes, deep and dark and full of guarded desire. She wrenched her gaze self-consciously away to find that her parents were looking between the two of them with something like amusement (though her father was teary-eyed). How long had it been since they'd locked eyes…?
"Well, it was a bit of a surprise to me at first, but it's obvious you really care for one another," observed Leia's mother, and unless she was much mistaken, that was the hint of a smile. She scarcely had time to hope, however, before her mother continued, "I don't think we have a choice but to give our blessing, do you, Warrick?"
"…No," agreed Leia's father, almost mournfully, and Leia's heart seemed to swell so suddenly that she found herself breathless. She glanced across the table at Alvin to see a smile spreading across his face, apparently replacing shock. Though his features were hardly aged, merely a little worn now and again from the stress of his business, his exuberant expression made him seem far more youthful.
Leia leapt to her feet, surprising everyone; her father jumped. "Awesome!" she exclaimed, for lack of a better word. "Now we can start planning the wedding!" She'd always wanted to have a big wedding out of Leronde. They'd have to make it on a full moon so Milla could come, though (even if that did mean Muzét would be there too), or else they'd be one very important guest short, and—
"Not so fast!" snapped her mother, cutting off her thoughts abruptly with a vehement shake of her head, though her voice was more good-natured than usual. "Do you want to kill your poor parents? We just got used to the idea that our little girl is engaged to be married, and now you want to talk about the wedding!"
"Okay, okay," muttered Leia, though of course her disappointment was short-lived in comparison to the colossal triumph of the evening. Rather than sit back down, she put herself to work picking up dishes, filled with a tremendous amount of energy. She could conquer the world if she wanted! (The thought crossed her mind that perhaps a good amount of this was the effects of the potion, but threw it out immediately; why she felt this way wasn't important—only that she did.)
As she arrived at Alvin's seat to scoop up his soup bowl, she brushed against his shoulder, and the brief touch filled her with electricity; Leia just knew he felt it too, from the way he tensed. She froze in place, all her senses sharpening to take him in, and oh, he was sexy. A smile played on his lips as those dark eyes lingered tenderly on her face, and the color rose to her face as she remembered all the times he'd looked at her like that.
"Leia," came her mother's laugh, as though from a great distance, and she realized that her hand hovered in midair over his soup. "Let us take care of the dishes before you make a mess of things. You two…" She hesitated, and Leia wondered whether she would assign another chore, but she merely finished with a resigned sigh, "Find your rooms."
Leia set down the dishes she carried and gave her mother an enthusiastic salute; Alvin, meanwhile, allowed her to seize his hand and half-drag him away from his chair. "And make sure they're separate rooms, if you know what's good for you!" called her mother as they reached the counter, but there was a joking edge to her voice—though perhaps that was an illusion caused by the warm haze of happiness surrounding Leia.
It was such a wonderful feeling, this bliss; she was sure she'd felt this way all along, just never this acutely. And Alvin clearly felt the same way, as she released his hand and led him up the stairs by the scarf.
"Easy, now," laughed Alvin as she shut her door behind them and flicked on the light, thinking of all the ways she could put this newfound energy to use; he grasped her wrists gently before she could put her fingers to work unwinding his scarf. "What's the magic word?" he added, teasingly.
"Please," said Leia immediately, drawing her wrists close to herself so that his fingertips brushed her blazer. It was the word that had started almost every night they shared, the word that determined what exactly was to be done about this energy crackling between them. Sometimes whined, sometimes breathed, sometimes moaned—always there.
"Please what?" murmured Alvin, nestling his face into her neck, breathing into her warmly: she shuddered pleasantly as his lips skimmed her jawline in something of a feather-light kiss.
Leia bit her lip, eyes fluttering shut. "Please hurry it up a little," she managed, her voice a whisper. She hardly wanted to sound impatient, but when her skin fairly buzzed at the prospects of being pressed against his—well, it was going to be difficult to wait through the long and laborious process of seduction when she was already pretty well seduced.
"Oh, so you're in that kind of a mood," smiled Alvin, withdrawing his face, his eyebrows raised and dark eyes sparkling in amusement—but he still had not let go of her wrists. "And what brings this on?" he added, backing her up in something of an awkward dance. He twirled Leia once so that she fell dizzily onto her bed, unable to suppress a giggle.
She kicked off her shoes, giving Alvin her cutest smile as he leaned over her, propped on his elbows. "Does it matter?" she asked coyly, removing her scarf as alluringly as she could. Something shifted in his eyes, the familiar gleam of anticipation sparking to life, and Leia allowed herself a small and satisfied smile.
"I guess we don't have much time," sighed Alvin with humorous resignation, carefully unbuttoning her blazer. "Last thing I want is for your mother to walk in on us. Let's make it quick."
And once her blazer was parted, there were the buttons on her vest to undo. "Why do you wear so many layers?" he muttered, pulling the two sides apart and proceeding to her button-down shirt. "Next time you come over to my apartment, I swear I'm going to hide all your clothes while you're asleep."
Leia laughed lightly, slipping her arms out of her three open layers. "Maybe you should buy me some clothes without buttons, if you hate them so much," she suggested, scooting back and pulling off her stockings one by one as Alvin removed his shoes.
"If your wedding dress has any buttons at all, you're sleeping alone the whole honeymoon," muttered Alvin, untying his scarf carefully as Leia unbuckled her belt. "Got it?" he added with a smile, yanking off her shorts for emphasis, and she squealed excitedly, only to have a few fingers pressed hurriedly against her mouth to muffle the sound.
"Keep it down," hissed Alvin, quickly extricating himself from the rest of his clothing; the speed at which her fiancée was capable of dressing or undressing never failed to amaze Leia, and she watched as though transfixed—as she always did—before remembering that she ought to be doing the same. "Our lives are at stake here!"
Leia flung her bra at his face, drawing his attention; his eyes wandered appreciatively up and down her body, lingering on a few key places—but there was unmistakable affection in his gaze alongside the lust. It was that respect, she thought, which made him so attractive. "Then get to work and save my life," giggled Leia, settling back comfortably on her bed.
"What, a strong girl like you needs saving?" responded Alvin, plucking his scarf from the floor and quickly wrapping it around her wrists, grinning at her surprised gasp. "There," he remarked, satisfied, tying the knot just tightly enough and pushing her hands above her head with one hand. They were not touching, not yet, but there were only a few inches of separation between them; Leia could feel his tantalizing heat—so close, but not close enough.
She was entirely at his mercy, and an anticipatory thrill rushed through her as she looked into his eyes. "Now you're a proper damsel in distress," he smiled, his voice husky as he lowered his body. And as she felt his muscles tense and relax in the beginnings of a familiar, powerful rhythm—Leia wondered how she was ever going to be able to keep quiet.
"Separate rooms," murmured Leia reluctantly, tangling her fingers in Alvin's hair. They lay side by side, facing one another, far too hot to bother with sheets and blankets; his scarf hung innocently from the bedpost, ready to be worn to work again. And, Leia's memo pad lay on her bedside table, full of newly scribbled notes as usual. (Alvin inevitably made a point of humorously asking what kind of article she was planning to write, exactly, but Leia wasn't about to tell him it was amateur love poetry.)
After her ecstasy and inspiration—one and the same, really—had both mostly ebbed away, Leia had stumbled across the room and turned down the lights. That had been at least half an hour ago, or maybe even longer; time meant little in the comfortable darkness. Much as she was loath to admit it, it was about time her fiancée found his own room.
Alvin groaned indistinctly at her unwelcome reminder, scooting over and burying his face in her chest despairingly as he clutched her to him, his fingers pressing into her back. "Five more minutes," he mumbled into her skin, his long lashes tickling her as he closed his eyes; Leia jumped, but bestowed a lazy kiss on the top of his head. She didn't want him to go, but her parents…
"You said that fifteen minutes ago," she sighed halfheartedly, restlessly feeling along the edges of her ring. Mostly, she didn't want Alvin to get in too much trouble. Leia's parents probably didn't want to know for sure that their beloved daughter wasn't a virgin anymore, even though she was almost certain they had guessed from the way they'd looked at one another over dinner.
Dinner… Right; her failed spiking attempt. The Friendship Potion's effect was finally wearing off, thought Leia; the emotion flooding her was her usual calm and genuine adoration for the man that was to be her husband, not the impulsive and exaggerated infatuation she had felt for him over dinner. It was a relief, really, that they could go back to loving one another in their own relaxed way. (Perhaps she'd buy another bottle for their first anniversary, though, because that was actually kind of fun.)
Heaving a sigh, Alvin slid back again and traced her waist with a gentle hand, and Leia was drawn back to the cool vernal night, full of beauty. "In all my life, I've only ever stayed with you through the night," he confessed, his voice soft and low; he'd told her so before, but the words never lost their significance. "I've had enough of sleeping in two beds per evening. I don't want to leave you."
Leia smiled slightly, resting her palm over Alvin's heart; its strong and steady beat had become as precious to her as her own pulse. "And I don't want you to leave," she admitted in a whisper, closing her eyes contentedly. This was not the same man who had once shot her in the back, nor the same one who had betrayed the world in an effort to save himself. But Leia was sure Alvin hadn't really changed over the years; he had simply discovered who he truly was. And that man was one of the most brave, loyal, and selfless people she had ever met.
"Then that settles it," responded Alvin quietly, a smile in his voice, and his hand rested atop hers tenderly, reassuringly. "I don't care what they do to me in the morning. I'm staying right here with you."