(Author's Note: I kinda love these two characters and I've wanted to write a fanfic about them since I finished the book... So... Here it is. Book spoilers, eh? Hal's POV, because I'm more in tune to bookish and nervous people. Also, I don't care if they have electricity or not (nor am I completely sure, I think they do), but I really liked my plot point, so I kept the candles. I remember talk of alarm clocks, but I don't care. Candles stay ;) I just wish this idea hadn't come to me at 2:45 in the morning . And disclaimer: Don't own it. Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett do... Please don't sue.)
The first night I spent with Royston in his tower happened, I believe, by some miraculous mistake.
We had just arrived back at the tower from a dinner with th'Esar, something that had been happening with dwindling frequency for whatever reason (though I harbored the belief that the Margrave was starting to decline the invitations in order to provide me more time to study for my classes at the 'Versity).
I was tired and must have taken leave of my senses. As we ascended the stairs, I neglected to take the separate set of stairs to my own bedroom and continued to follow Royston to his quarters.
Once he had opened the door and I stood in the threshold, however, we both seemed to realize exactly what had happened. For several moments we stood there silently, as though each of us were afraid to say a word. I was expecting him to pat me on one shoulder, say good night, and send me on my way.
He was regarding me curiously in the dim lighting. Then he took a few steps forward and took my hand. Again, he looked at me with that contemplative look in his eyes, as though he was afraid that my very presence in his bedroom was breaking the rules he had begun to stick to again.
I was beginning to prepare my best mask to cover the disappointment of being sent away when he said "Why don't you go change into your nightclothes and bring back a roman?"
I had to blink a few times and I think he thought it was because of the hair in my eyes, so he brushed it away with a tender hand. Afraid that he would change his mind, I turned without a single utterance and went back to my own room to rid myself of my heavy boots and dress clothes.
As I walked back to his room, roman under arm, I half expected to arrive at a closed door. Leaving the Margrave alone to his thoughts could sometimes lead to decisions that he thought were in my best interest. Leaving me alone to my thoughts generally meant that there was a possibility of the rules being smashed to bits.
I wasn't left alone as frequently as I would have liked. Though I should not have had any reason to complain, since what I wanted was to be around him, in any capacity, and this was usually what I got when I wasn't at the 'Versity.
I was halfway up the stairs when I wondered if I shouldn't have worn my nightshirt. Was I being too conservative in my choice? I was wearing thick wool socks, night trousers, and a nightshirt that went almost down to my knees. It was the middle of the winter, after all, and I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps he would have me sit in the chair and read to him until he was asleep.
This was uncharted territory.
The door was three-quarters of the way closed and I knocked gently at the doorframe, unsure of whether he had changed himself or, and I certainly hoped not, changed his mind about my return.
"Come in," he said.
I looked around when I entered, half expecting him to already be tucked into his bed. Instead, he was lighting a few of the candle fixtures on his walls. I must have looked confused by the candles because he gave me a sideways smile and approached me, taking the roman from my hands and looking down at the dusty cover.
"I had thought," he said, "That perhaps light may be necessary for reading. Unless you have a Talent for seeing in the dark that I have not yet been made aware of."
I blushed as he walked over to his bed. He was simply wearing trousers and even though I had seen him without a shirt before, it had never been the same conditions. We had been frozen and likely to catch a cold the previous time and I hadn't been anywhere near as besotted with the Margrave at that point in time. Now I was here in his bedroom, wearing my own nightclothes and watching as the flickering light danced on his skin. He was no longer pale, shivering, and soaking wet.
I looked away for a moment.
There was a dull thud as he propped the book on the pillows against the headboard and began to turn down the covers on one side. There was a candleholder on the night table on the side I was closer to and I focused on it for a moment before looking back up after pushing those thoughts to the back of my mind.
I realized with a trilled feeling in my stomach that Royston had turned down each side of the bedclothes. The thoughts returned.
He cleared his throat and picked the book up again, touching it with care that mirrored the tenderness I handled my books with. He held it in front of him for a moment and regarded the title.
"Maralton the Curious," he said. "An interesting choice."
"The Esar mentioned him tonight during supper," I replied. Without having control over it, as I rarely did, I could feel my cheeks turning pink. "I thought perhaps I would refresh my memory. I last read this--"
"When we were in the country, yes," Royston said as he ran his fingers over the embossed title. He looked up at me and smiled what almost looked like a nervous smile. "Shall we read it together?"
He got onto the bed and I remained where I had been standing the entire time, only two steps into the room, and waited for him to situate himself. I still did not want to presume that I was going to be invited to join him on the bed. When I read to him in Loque Nevers, I had always sat in the chair opposite him; the same when I read to him in the parlor.
Now, however, Royston looked up at me and patted the pillow next to him.
I think that I may have flown to the space next to him. Again, I was trying to ensure that I was not giving him time to rethink any of his decisions. Had he had anything to drink at th'Esar's, I would not have been so eager because I would have thought his behavior a reaction to the alcohol. But he had not had anything other than coffee after dinner and had drank water with his meal. There was no excuse for him other than that he wanted me there.
And I was going to take advantage of this.
When I was comfortably seated next to him, propped up by pillows against the headboard, Royston shifted the roman so that it rested halfway on each of our laps. When he opened the cover, our shoulders touched and I felt the thrilled feeling in my stomach again when he not only neglected to draw away, but shifted slightly, bringing our legs into contact with each other. We were covered by the blanket up to our waists and the roman was between us, but I knew he had noticed the contact.
He began reading first, telling me a story I already knew. I paid attention to him out of the corner of my eye, pretending to be looking down at the page. There were few things that were more fascinating to me than the words in romans; Margrave Royston was one of them, if not all of them combined into one. When he spoke, I couldn't help but listen attentively, even if he was simply saying my name to alert me to something, telling one of his war stories, or, in this case, reading from a roman I nearly knew by heart.
I held my side of the roman down and each time he turned the page, I made sure it was flat against the other pages so that none would wrinkle or tear when the book was closed.
He had only read seven pages, the story of Maralton and his first curious attempt at finding the gold at the end of a rainbow (he made a total of thirteen before he died), before Royston caught me stifling a yawn which I had covered with a cough.
I tried to protest, but he took the roman, placed the ribbon to mark the page, and closed the roman gently. He placed it on his own lap and shifted slightly, making the old bed creak, and turned toward me. He brought his hand up to my face and gently caressed by cheek.
"You've had a busy day," he said. "That's probably enough about Maralton for tonight."
"I'm not ti--" I started, but my body betrayed me. I yawned and immediately clapped my hand over my mouth, as though slapping the yawn that was trying to escape.
Royston smiled at me fondly and started to rise from the bed. He placed the roman on the bedside table on his side and started to walk about the room, extinguishing the candles he had lit only ten minutes before. They had barely burned a quarter down and I cursed myself inwardly.
I was sure that he was going to send me back to my room. He started walking toward the bed again, this time approaching me on my side. I expected him to give me the candle that remained burning next to me and send me away with it to guide my way.
Instead, he sat down on the edge of the bed and faced me. I shuffled slightly to the side and leaned forward a bit, just trying to close some of the distance between us.
My being here was breaking his rules. What was the harm in hoping he would break another?
When we had been in the Basquiat, he had said, during his fever, that he hoped I would allow him to kiss me in a place more appropriate than a sickbed or carriage. Or boathouse or pantry, I had added in my mind at the time. But he hadn't.
In fact, since that time, there had been very little physical contact between he and I. It wasn't as though I was focused solely on it, but it was a disappointment and I had felt as though he was keeping me at bay as I started at the 'Versity. For a while, everyone knew my face and I think he had been waiting for the public's novelty of me had started to wear off. I think he was, again, doing it because he thought it in my best interest.
But when we were alone like this, here in the tower, I was always surprised by how distant he was.
Not now, though. Now he was sitting before me and looking at me with a look in his eyes that made me think he wasn't sure of what he was doing here any more than I was. It was strange for me to be in the situation. The experience I didn't have was exactly what I didn't want to show him. As he cupped his hand around my jaw and leaned toward me, I braced myself, telling myself that this may be the only chance I had. If I was too eager or did something wrong, I may not be invited back. This was breaking the rules.
The kiss was short and warm and then he pulled away slowly and looked at me from a few inches away. His other hand came up and he rested his palm on my shoulder against the thin fabric of my nightshirt. I wondered if he could feel how my pulse had quickened in the previous moment or if he was going to think I had a constantly heightened heart rate.
He looked at me as though asking permission to kiss me again. I closed my eyes and parted my lips slightly, taking a short breath before his mouth covered mine, not quite so gently this time.
I leaned closer to him, careful not to show exactly how eager I was or how close to him I wanted to be, and reached up to put my hand against his throat. I could feel his pulse matching mine below my fingers and felt genuinely reassured that I wasn't about to be pushed away.
I was half of the way to being on my knees on the mattress when he pulled away from me with some reluctance. I was higher up than him now since he was merely sitting, and I touched my forehead to his and closed my eyes. His hands remained on my face and shoulder and his thumb was tracing my collarbone where the collar of my nightshirt had slipped sideways and revealed my skin.
I shivered and opened my eyes to find that his eyes were closed as well and he seemed to be trying to calm himself down a bit. I knew in my mind that I didn't exactly want him to calm himself down, but the last thing I wanted was for something to happen that he would regret; or worse, something he thought I'd regret, since these rules were for my benefit in the first place.
I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could, knowing he was about to send me away. Rather than acknowledging that he had spoken, I decided to take a dive much like a member of the Dragon Corps, and I cut him off by kissing him.
He let me kiss him for a few moments before he started to push me back with the hand that was on my shoulder. I started to lean away from him with great reluctance, condemning myself and congratulating myself for my bravery at the same time, when I realized that he was following me backwards.
My breath caught when I felt him shifting onto the bed with me and my head nearly exploded with the realization that I wasn't being pushed down; I was being laid down.
I moved my hand to the back of his neck, intent on holding him where he was in case he changed his mind, and let my other hand move shakily to his side. Despite the cursed age difference between us that made him so reluctant to be with me, we seemed to fit together like this perfectly. I refused to imagine that he could ever have held someone as carefully as he held me; that he could touch someone with such tenderness. I didn't want to.
He was resting most of his weight on his knees until he was entirely on the bed, partially beside me and starting to shift his weight onto one arm.
His other hand trailed down the side of my face and then he all but tickled my side as he ran his hand down to my hip. I gasped and my entire body shivered, from my spine to my toes. When I gasped, he took the opportunity to slip his tongue past my lips. This new touch made my toes curl and I tilted my head up towards him, hoping to find a better angle, and twisted my fingers into the hair on the back of his head.
He made a soft sound low in the back of his throat and I could feel the vibration of the sound in my own and, feeling slightly emboldened by what I could only assume was a positive response, ran my tongue along his bottom lip before crushing our mouths together almost violently.
I wasn't sure if I was breathing anymore and sometimes I wasn't sure if the stars behind my eyes were those caused by the kiss or by the lack of oxygen to my brain. Oddly, I found that I couldn't find time to care about it.
Royston's mouth left mine and I tried to protest, but he kissed the side of my mouth with a smile. He then placed several kisses along the line of my jaw before moving to my throat. I gasped audibly, finally taking in the air I hadn't cared about a moment ago, and tried to keep my breathing steady as he lightly nipped at the flesh on the side of my neck.
He chuckled lightly against my neck and pressed several kisses in a line across the exposed part of my chest, stopping and dipping his tongue into the hollow at my collarbone.
I was surprised that he had not yet pulled away. I had half expected him to send me away once my reaction to him had started to press rather insistently against his hip. Surely he had to have noticed that that hadn't been there before.
But I wasn't about to acknowledge it.
It was a moment later when he shifted again, placing most of his weight on his arms and positioning himself just above me, that I realized I wasn't the only one with, well, a reaction.
In fact, when Royston pressed his mouth against mine again, he moved so that the lower halves of our bodies were pressed together, aligning perfectly and making me arch against him against my own volition.
Unfortunately, this seemed to be the wake-up that I had hoped Royston would not receive.
He slowed the kiss and placed one of his knees between mine so he could shift his weight. The friction that was created during this shift caused a strangled sound to force itself from my lips and Royston swallowed it with a short, breathless chuckle.
He pulled away and I looked at him through half-lidded eyes, trying to catch my breath and also hoping to cool down a bit. It was a relief to know that I had the same effect on Royston as he had on me, but it pained me to know that he was still so reluctant to act on those feelings.
Royston shifted his weight once more and cupped my jaw in his hand. He leaned forward and kissed me chastely and then looked at me as our breathing began to return to normal.
"I won't send you away," he said.
It was all I really needed to hear, so I said nothing more.
"However, we can't rush this, Hal," he said. I was about to protest and he put a finger to my lips. "I don't think you even wholly understand what you're asking me for."
I knew that my inexperience was always going to be the factor in this relationship and it frustrated me to no end. I couldn't learn if I wasn't taught. It wasn't as if I could find a library and check out romans on this sort of thing.
I flushed, partly in frustration and partly in embarrassment.
"Ah," he said, touching what I assumed were the red splotches on my cheeks that were also due to the kissing I had just been doing. "It is good to see that the blood still flows to your upper half." He smiled and I could feel myself turning redder.
"We should sleep," Royston suggested, moving away from me and onto his own side of the bed. He turned to me once he was off of me and touched my face again. "I think I should like it very much if you'll stay with me."
I needed no encouragement.
I quickly moved into his arms and rested my head against his bare chest. I could hear his heartbeat, starting to calm down just as my own, and wondered how long it would be before he didn't push me away; how long it would be before we no longer needed the rules.
I yawned against his skin and he laughed and stroked my hair. As I slipped into sleep, I couldn't be sure whether it was the beginnings of a dream that I heard or whether it was Royston himself murmuring a soft "I love you" into my hair.
Since I could still consciously think and feel the warmth of his breath, I could only assume it had been Royston himself. And this made me wonder why he never said it when he knew I was fully awake. I wondered if that was another of the rules.
It's been so long since I wrote in first person POV... This was so odd :-P Hopefully I managed to pull it off.