They Danced Anyway
Machiavella of Kingsport

A/N: Before I begin, I'd like you people to know-I'm really sorry I haven't posted in so long! I know, you're thinking, here comes another bad excuse. But it's a good one-my parents had me grounded from the computer for two weeks after I got home from Camp Nokomis. So basically this summer, I've been away from the computer six weeks in a row. The first time I was grounded, plus camp, plus the second time I was grounded. Harsh world, isn't it? Let's just hope they don't see fit to ground me a third time. I really think it would kill me. Another thing you might want to know-this looks like just chapter seven-but it isn't. It's seven, eight, nine, and ten combined. They're just posted as one chapter, but they're divided so that you know when it's a new chapter. Get it? Enjoy, and don't forget to review...

Chapter 7:Alone With Her Thoughts
The swishing sound of the air around Kel being disturbed by her glaive was music to her ears. She settled into a lunging stance, the long, teak staff gliding through her grasp and the blue steel blade flashing forward. Alone in the practice courts, Kel went through her naginata pattern dances, progressing from the easiest to the most advanced.
She had originally come here to clear her mind of the ruckus and chaos inside; instead, her head was filled to the brim with wild thoughts. Unsurprisingly, most of them were of Joren. Kel's shoulder blades were still smarting from her little encounter that very morning with the handsome blond squire, from him thrusting her against the rough stone wall. Yet her thoughts were not of the pain, but of Joren himself.
Kel was still wondering why Joren had been so frightened of others knowing what was going on between the two of them. After all, nothing much was really happening-except for the fact that he was treating her in strange ways-stranger ways than usual. But surely none of Kel's friends besides Neal would go so far as to believe Joren had more feelings for her than resentment and hate. But as for Kel, she was beginning to believe that herself. All these years, had he been using hate to cover up for attraction? After all, it had been years since he'd told her how 'wrong' it was that she was a girl and training to be a knight. He hardly seemed to defend his ideals at all, in fact. But she still didn't think he'd cover up attraction by pretending to despise her.
But the way he'd looked as though in desperation when he met her on the streets of Corus haunted her. Kel's mind had been closed to Joren's facial expressions at the time, but now she recalled exactly how he'd appeared: his blue eyes were wide and wild, and his mouth had been pulled into a worried frown. Not as though he'd been jeering, but as though he was in angst, instead. As though he were worried that Kel had feelings for Cleon as Cleon did for her.
And how Joren had scoffed at Cleon's liking Kel during dinner. It seemed to her that he was covering up for a crush of his own that way. But was she making too much of everything? She tried once again to concentrate on her glaive, but the thoughts whirled around, making her dizzy. And then came a most preposterous question: Why, in the name of Mithros, was she suddenly attracted to Joren? But she had no time to answer herself. A tall figure fell heavily and purposefully against one of the walls of the building around the courts, interrupting her glaive practice. She halted, letting the weapon slide through her hand to plant itself on the ground.
"Mindelan."
She twitched at the sound of the voice, for all of its coldness and seeming indifference betrayed the speaker. She turned, inclining her head respectfully, so as not to cross him again.
"Joren."
For a while, the squires stood staring at each other from a distance, their faces blank. Finally, Joren ducked his head rather shamefully and moved along the walls so that the two were within reasonable speaking distance.
"Is there something you want?" Kel asked carefully and warily, trying not to sound too nasty. There was heavy silence before Joren sighed and answered, so quietly that Kel had to hang onto every word.
"I've come to apologize." Kel was stunned senseless. Mithros, tell me I'm insane and strike me dead! Joren coming to apologize...it made her think he had something up his sleeve. But she waited patiently for an answer. "For this morning. I...I shouldn't have overreacted." He was mumbling again, but Kel heard, and though she felt she deserved an apology at the least, she was dumbstruck. It would take the will of the gods to drag proper regret out of such a stubborn person as Joren. Joren continued, gritting his teeth. She wondered then if maybe someone had put him up to this. But then, who could? "I was completely wrong in my actions, which you did not deserve. There was no need to blow up even with a reputation at stake, and I realize that. I'm sorry, but I don't ask for forgiveness." There was another pregnant pause. And then he spoke again. Suddenly Kel had an epiphany, of just what was going on with Joren. It was like a wave of passion, or like fire-she could not decide which, having never been a romantic. But she listened. "Please...do not hate me for what I've done over the years." Before she realized it, he was gone.

~*~

And now, perhaps Kel was going mad. Had she actually heard the very words come out of his mouth? The mouth of Joren of Stone Mountain? "Please, do not hate me for what I've done over the years." Perhaps it had been a dream, a crazy hallucination. He, of all people, would hardly care what she thought of him. Maybe it was Joren who was going insane.
But she jerked herself back to the present. The incident of apology had been three days ago. Today, she was to pick up the dress for the squire ball. The squire ball? It rang a bell.
"Oh no..." she groaned. If Joren remembered, he'd threatened 'to do something' at the ball. But now that he'd apologized, he couldn't very well humiliate her, could he? But this was Joren. Perhaps it had been a lie. A very good, well-planned lie. So what would he do? "Stop it, Kel," she growled to herself, heading out of her quarters and leaving a note for Raoul. "If you want to hate him, hate him-but don't keep thinking about him."
Yet even as she walked down to the palace gates, it was impossible for Kel to tell herself she really hated Joren, and that she was only feeling physical attraction for him. There was something else that had been stirring inside her, since her dream four nights ago. Like a fluttery, half-panicky feeling, every time she saw Joren, and looked into his eyes.
She mentally smacked herself as she strode through the gates, heading to the city of Corus. 'Physical attraction, all it is, just physical attraction...' But the chanting did not bore into her as she hoped it would. A nasty little voice kept telling her, 'You love him, admit it. It's more than just physical attraction. You even wonder what it's like to kiss him like in your' "What?!"
After Kel realized she'd spoken aloud, she clapped a hand to her mouth, horrified and shaking her head. A few passers-by looked strangely at her and continued hurriedly on.
"Now you've done it, you've gone off your rocker," she muttered, ducking her head embarrassedly as she spotted Lalasa's shop. "Better keep yourself in check now." She pulled the door open to see Lalasa busily stitching a pair of gloves, humming quietly. Kel absentmindedly held the door for someone as they entered, and didn't bother to look behind her.
Lalasa looked up, unstartled. "Kel, how are you?" she grinned, rushing forward to greet her. A person behind Kel sharply drew in their breath, making her jump.
"I'm, uh, fine," Kel said half-heartedly, rubbing a hand across the back of her neck.
"You don't really look it," Lalasa replied dubiously, worry lines creasing her forehead. "Why don't you come into the back and we'll talk...and you can get your dress."
It was then that Kel noticed the shop was full of people milling around and examining the merchandise. Grateful for the private discussion area Lalasa offered, she followed the older girl into the back, disregarding the open door. She saw her dress hanging in the corner, but she made no move toward it. Instead, she sat upon the stool that her friend offered her.
"Now, tell me everything, beginning to end."
"I-I don't know where to start," Kel said, stalling a little, allowing movement in the corner of her eye to distract her a bit. But she continued-and before she could stop herself, she blurted out, "I think I'm in love!"
Lalasa giggled, covering her mouth. "Then why do you look so upset?"
"Because...because I think I'm in love with the wrong person. It's..." But then, Kel stopped herself, remembering the trial in the city a year ago. Joren was the one who'd hired hit men to kidnap Lalasa, and she didn't want to tell her it was he, out of tact for her.
"Well? Who is it?" Lalasa pressed excitedly, grinning. Kel could see she had no idea. It tore her that now she'd be upset at her for whom she loved.
"You won't like it. It's best I don't tell you." Kel had her best Yamani face on, trying not to betray herself. She heard rustling very near the open door.
"Yes, but you never hide much from me. I promise not to hold it against you."
Kel took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She lowered her voice. "Joren."
Lalasa's eyes widened, and she covered her mouth.
Kel noting the older girl's obvious displeasure, rose, saying, "I should go. I know it's wrong, I..."
Lalasa recovered quick enough to protest, "But your dress..."
"Right." She glumly sat back down. "I'm sorry to have upset you." Kel thought it useless to try to explain herself, as it was quite impossible. She didn't know why she loved Joren herself.
"Well, I suppose you're confused, I'll let it go at that." Lalasa took the dress of the rack and motioned for Kel to try it on. Kel obeyed, drawing it carefully over her clothing and stripping underneath. Lalasa buttoned it in the back, and arranged the short, stylish cape about her shoulders. "Fits perfect, if I dare say so myself. Take a look in the mirror."
She spun to face the mirror, and immediately liked what she saw. The lack of corset accentuated the curves of her hips and lower back, and the full, loose sleeves hid her muscular shoulders and arms. The neckline was low, but not too low, and the lower part of the dress was wide, even without a buttress. The cape came to the middle of her back, and draped over her shoulders. For the first time in days, She smiled. "Thank you, Lalasa." She gave her a warm embrace, and Lalasa blushed.
"It was nothing. I'm glad you like it." She handed Kel the hanger and a bag, allowing her to put her clothes back on underneath before pulling off the dress and folding it neatly to stow in the bag.

~*~

As Kel left the shop, she discreetly left five gold nobles by the moneybox for the dress. After all, Lalasa deserved it. She glanced out the window, making her way through the throng of people crowding the shop, and then froze. A tall, blond-haired figure hurried away up the street, ducking his head. "Joren..." she whispered, watching the front door close in front of her slowly. "He was HERE?" And then she remembered: holding the door for the person behind her, the sharp in-drawn breath as Lalasa's identity was revealed, the little movements out of the corner of her eye at the open door, the rustling noises as she spilled her story to her friend. "Oh, Mithros!"
She slowly exited, being careful not to show herself much. The last thing she needed was to further embarrass herself by showing herself to him.
"Oh, Mithros, he knows..."



Chapter 8: Two Nights Later
Until tonight, Kel had been able to avoid Joren as much as possible, save for them being in the mess hall at the same times as each other. For that, Kel was grateful. Now that Joren knew she loved him, facing him would have been too embarrassing for the both of them. But now, with the squire ball looming two bells in advance, worry began to close in on her as she prepared.
What would happen if they met? Would he be just as red in the face, or would he show resentment toward her feelings? Or something else entirely? Perhaps if he loved her back as she thought he did, he would try to dance with her. That would solve resentment, but what about the humiliation?
And by Mithros, what was he planning to do to her?

~*~

Joren didn't know. Why had he threatened her in the first place, if he loved her? To scare her? But then, it was hard to jolt a person like Kel enough so that her protective mask dropped, so there was no point in that.
Maybe he wouldn't do anything at all to Kel. And then, there was the problem that she loved him back. This made everything complicated, forcing them to keep their secrets to themselves lest they be made fools of. Therefore, he couldn't dance with Kel. It was as simple as that. But he WANTED to, was the big conflict.

~*~

Lalasa and her friend Tian helped Kel get ready for the ball. While Lalasa buttoned her dress in the back and straightened the sleeves, Tian powdered Kel's face and put silk flowers in her hair. Kel fussed the whole time.
"You really don't need to do all this, it's rather unnecessary..." she protested, but Lalasa cut her off.
"It is too necessary! You're going to a ball, and you're going to be with handsome young men. You're dressing up, whether you like it or not."
Kel sighed and grinned, rolling her eyes. But at least she wouldn't be overdone like she predicted the other girls would be. 'Well, except for Adalia,' she thought, remembering Neal was bringing her older sister. And she still pondered how that had come about. She hadn't bothered pressing for details any further than she thought was proper.
So she obeyed when Tian ordered her to open her lips so that they could be painted. She watched in the mirror. 'Well, Kel, you look very nice,' she complimented herself. The green and rust in her dress brought out the color in her hazel eyes, and the blue complimented her white, powdered skin.
"Now, don't forget-always dance if you're asked," reminded Tian fussily. "It's not nice to turn a man down."
"I know. I was brought up in an imperial court, in case it slipped your mind." Kel grinned as Tian laughed sheepishly.
"And don't spill anything," added Lalasa. Kel rolled her eyes again.
"I'm sixteen, and I can be careful with food and drink. Besides, I wouldn't want to destroy your beautiful stitching."
"Of course." Lalasa smiled. The bell tolled. One more to go. Kel shivered involuntarily, half excited, half glum. She wondered what Joren was doing just then.

~*~

Joren straightened the collar of his yellow shirt. He really detested the Nond colors, for they didn't suit him well at all, but he knew it was mandatory for him to wear them at social functions. And Paxton wasn't even going to be there-he was off visiting family.
A part of him wished he had invited a noblewoman as an accompaniment, but he hadn't met any worth taking, so it was too late now. But how would he look if he came alone? Then again, Kel was probably coming alone as well. This was going to look even worse. Yet he managed to shove the negative thoughts out of his head and set to work on fixing his horsetail.

~*~

Just as the women finished with Kel and went back to their places, a knock came at her door. It was most likely Neal. As it turned out when she opened the door, she was right.
"Come in, Neal. Need fixing up?" she grinned impishly, clucking her tongue. Twenty one years old, and you STILL don't know how to dress for a ball."
"Imagine what a few years with university students can do to you," he sighed tragically. "Well, get on with it."
Chuckling, Kel shook her head and straightened his tunic, smoothing out the wrinkles. Then she turned down his collar all around. "Well, there you go. When does my sister arrive?"
"Never." Neal grinned evilly. "It was a joke."
Kel blinked, shocked. Since when could Neal pull a good trick on her without her figuring it out?
"No. Actually, she's supposed to be at the palace gates pretty soon. Had you there, didn't I?"
Kel laughed. "For a little bit. Now really-how'd you meet her?"
"It's a secret."
"You know you're going to tell me sooner or later."
"Okay, okay. I met her during one of the feast on the royal progress. We got chatting about how boring it all was, until Alanna reminded me I had a table to wait upon. Good enough for you?"
"Well, now I know."
"Shall we march to the gates?"
"Sure. I haven't seen Adie for a while." Kel followed Neal out of her room, closing the door and locking it, and together they headed through the hallways to the palace gates.

~*~

Pulling Kel aside, Neal remembered Joren's threat, and wanted to speak to her privately. Adalia waited patiently a little while down the corridor.
"So-you haven't any idea of what he might do?"
"None." Kel stared glumly at the stone floor. She wondered if she should mention her crush and that Joren knew, but she decided against it. Neal would probably think she was sick in the head.
"let's hope he forgot, eh?" Neal grinned. "As though THAT'S likely," he added quietly.
"If not, then I'll just avoid him as much as possible. It's a big hall, and there will be nearly twice our normal amount."
"Good idea. Now if you'll excuse me, I must get back to your exceptionally beautiful sister...
"Aw, shut it." Kel laughed and punched his shoulder in a friendly manner. Looking out the window, Kel saw the bellboy climbing the tower. It was almost time.

~*~

Joren sat on a chair outside the hall as the bell sounded. Squires stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the doors with their companions, chatting quietly. He wasn't surprised to see that Vinson and Garvey had come alone. He could not see Kel amidst the crowd; she was most likely at the back.
The doors opened, revealing a brightly lit banquet hall, festooned with garlands and chains of holly and spruce and hemlock. Long tables of foods were spread out against the walls, and servants stood still with trays of refreshments. The young men and women filed in.
At one end of the room, on a sort of wooden platform, eight musicians played a lively dancing tune. Joren watched as people immediately partnered up for dancing, but he withdrew and stood by the open entrance doors, and took a bubbling red fruit drink from a passing servant. Over in another corner, Kel stood talking to another girl he did not recognize, though the two seemed to resemble one another. He had to refrain from goggling at the squire: she was quite exquisite.
'Oh, stop it, you poof,' he told himself. 'Three weeks ago, all you could think of was how to get rid of her and now all you can do is moon over her. She's improper, unnaturally tall, probably has more muscle than you do, and she's unconventional. VERY unconventional.' BUT, by Mithros, that was why he all of a sudden loved her. She defied all of what he believed in. They had hated each other, but now, they seemed drawn to each other. Even Joren noticed it. 'Something in both of us has changed,' he realized, sipping his drink and still staring at Keladry.

~*~

"So you and Neal met at one of the feast during the progress?" Kel inquired of her sister, leaning against the wall unconsciously and sipping her punch. Adalia giggled.
"Uh-huh. He's handsome, don't you think?"
"To tell the truth..." Kel grinned and leaned closer to whisper. "...I had a crush on him last year."
"What happened to that?"
"It just sort of faded, you know."
"Sure." Adalia smiled, understanding. "Who is it now?"
Kel's Yamani mask fixed itself upon her. "Does it have to be anyone?"
"Oh, come on-there has to be SOMEONE."
"NO."
"Well, with your 'face' on, I know I can't get to you. I give up!" Adalia sighed heavily and went to find Neal, but before she left earshot, she added, "And I think you're being stared at by a handsome blond man." She turned away.
Kel blushed and immediately found her gaze locked with Joren's. 'I'm blushing,' was all she could seem to think. Joren leaned against the wall across from her, shadowed by the door, drinking from a small glass. The music, though loud, seemed as though just part of the background. She forced herself away from his blatant stare. 'If only I knew what he'd planned for tonight!' she thought frustratedly.



Chapter 9: Last Dance
AS the night wore on and the lights grew dim, Kel passed the time by dancing with each of her friends. Even if it wasn't enjoyable, or not very much, at least it was something to do other than sit around and stare. She and Neal chatted as they danced now.
"I'm beginning to think Joren forgot about his threat," Kel whispered gleefully. "It's not too long until the last bell of the evening."
Neal let out a hiss of breath. "I wouldn't be so sure. This is Stone Mountain we're talking about here."
"You always see the negative side of things," Kel scolded. "Just think about when you're an old man..."
"I'll probably die at an early age, being a not-so-skillful warrior."
"Exactly my point," murmured Kel exasperatedly. "Listen to yourself! I'm beginning to wonder how my sister puts up with you!"
"Harsh."
"You know it." They drew apart as the song ended, and Kel went back to her spot against the wall. "Now go dance with her," she ordered.

~*~

Joren, however, had not danced nor eaten all night. He contented himself with punch and watching everyone else having fun, including Keladry. 'She's certainly popular,' he mused. 'Compared to me,' he darkly added, remembering his posse of cronies-not-friends.
But he was getting bored, having nothing to do. A few girls had been eyeing him all night long, but he had no desire to satiate their desire for a piece of man. A few times, Vinson and Garvey had tried to strike up conversation with him, only to be disappointed in his monosyllabic answers.
Vinson was now off in a corner with a shy-looking girl of about fifteen, flirting quite obviously, as Joren could see. 'I don't even want to know what he'll do next, as he hardly knows her,' he thought. A passing servant took is empty glass and filled again. 'I'll dance in the last song.' He downed his glass. 'With Kel.'

~*~

Most of the chandeliers in the hall, except for two, had been extinguished. The light was now dim, but enough to see by. It was getting late, and the ball was nearly over. 'He's forgotten,' Kel realized, relieved. 'Joren forgot about his threat. I'm safe.' She watched triumphantly as people paired up for one last song. This one was slow and relaxed, with a triplet meter, and Kel immediately found herself swaying to it. 'Maybe I should dance, if I'm going to be like...'
There was a tap on her shoulder, sharp and light, but enough to jolt her so that she nearly spilled her punch. She whipped around. "Neal, you almost scared the..." But it wasn't Neal. A blonde, handsome, tall Joren looked upon her with cool-but not cold-blue eyes, and as she noticed right off, he had the strangest smile on his face. 'Mithros, he remembered-I'm doomed!' She carefully set her drink on a table nearby.
She gulped. "Is-Is there something you want?"
Joren leaned forward, whispering softly. "Only one thing." Kel waited tensely, her best mask on. His next sentence was so quiet she could hardly hear, even straining to do so. He breathed, "That you dance with me."
Her jaw nearly dropped. This was Joren? Or was this a god in disguise? SHE felt a strange pulling sensation in her heartstrings. 'Mithros, what now'-Joren took hold of her hands, caressing them a bit. All Kel seemed to be able to do was follow him as he led her slowly to the center of the room. Obviously he was taking advantage of the fact that it would be extremely rude if she refused him. But the horrible thing to Kel, as she still found it hard to admit her crush, was that she was happy-inexpressibly joyful, as though in utter bliss. 'Mithros, it IS more then just physical attract'-
She suddenly felt the burning of a hundred eyes upon her and Joren. 'They're watching, by the gods, every single one of them is watching..." Joren drew her tighter
~Help me, I'm falling~
to him, and they swayed and stepped to the music, gracefully moving with each other's bodies. Kel felt warmth envelope her and she pressed into Joren's torso, and she quivered with giddiness. 'But this is so wrong'-Yet, it felt like it was meant to be, as though it was all part of someone's plan-SO THIS WAS IT! Kel nearly froze. 'This was what Joren wanted to do to me, make me dance with him-but the problem is, I like it! And...' Kel swallowed hard. '...He was probably faking a crush on me to make it seem more natural...' She felt like she was going to burst into tears. 'Yamani smooth...think calm, cool, blue lake...'
And all at once, the song was over. But Joren didn't let Kel draw away. A hand slid to her neck, tilting it back, a thumb stroking the silky skin beneath her ear. Joren was still smiling oddly. He lowered his face closer to hers, until they were just inches apart. Still he came closer. Kel closed her wide eyes. 'What is he doing??' She felt warm lips brush hers, lightly, and then press harder, thrusting hers open. 'Oh, my'-And suddenly she was free from his embrace, looking around at the people, lost, and they were staring at her like she was a ghost. Dizzy and confused, she fled from the room.



Chapter 10: Explanations
Joren found Keladry leaning against the wall just outside the entrance to the ballroom, sucking in her breath, obviously trying not to cry. He was frazzled-what should he do? She could hardly look at him, and somehow he had to explain himself-providing she would listen. That was the problem. She barely seemed to acknowledge his presence.
"Kel?"
No answer.
"Keladry?"
She started sobbing, unable to help herself, and moved away? Had he ever seen her like this? Had ANYONE ever seen her like this? She must have been away from the Yamanis too long. He firmly held her shoulders, bringing her to face him. Through a mask of tears, she managed to meet his eyes.
"Kel, I can explain. I..." he searched for words. "...Well, that was carrying out my threat." Of course, it hadn't been-he hadn't had the slightest idea of what he was going to do. Kissing her had seemed like a good idea, just seconds ago. "If you want to know," he began in a gentler tone, "That's something I've been aiming to do for a long time." That part was somewhat true, but it had taken him a while to realize he wanted to kiss her, all the same. "I..."
"What?" Bewilderment crossed Kel's face as she interrupted. "Why?"
He was silent.
"All these years we've hated each other. Why have we changed all of a sudden? Why this? In front of everyone...Mithros..." She wiped frustratedly at her salty tears.
"I don't know. It sounds so...not me...but three weeks ago, something just...something about you altered my thinking somehow. Unexplainable as it is, I think I love you."
Kel could help herself. She was grinning like a madwoman. She was grinning, and crying, all at the same time. She wondered briefly if she was going mad. "AS you already know, that's a mutual feeling between us. I'm just...really confused. So what's there to explain, then?"
"Me. I-I was such a jackass these past years. I want you to know I've changed. I really have."
"That I could tell. Just listen to yourself. Look-that day you apologized; I kind of knew you'd changed. Something in the way you phrased it. And that you begged for me not to hate you."
For the first time in his life, Joren smiled. Truly smiled, and it was thoroughly genuine. All of a sudden, his eyes weren't so cold, and his hands on Kel's shoulders seemed to burn. "Whatever has happened to us, I guess it can't be all that bad..." With that, he bent down, his lips finding contact with hers.
After, it was all they could do to keep from flaming. Their arms entwined around each other, their kiss seemed to last forever.


THE END