Title: Courtship

Rating: G

Summary: Douglass helps Gary buy Cythera the perfect Midwinter gift. Written for Rosie on Goldenlake. Thanks to Isha for betaing :)

A/N: Go read Rosie eisoR's fics (you'll find them in my favourites) for context. Especially Protecting Teddy, Protecting Dunlath, Flour Power, Sigh for Cythera and Knight Swap – they're awesome!

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PART ONE

- - -

"None of this is right," Gary muttered to himself, browsing through the jewellery in front of him. "It needs to be something special."

"Talking to yourself again?" Douglass enquired knowingly. "I hear love turns you mad. Obviously, you were already insane from too much Naxen inbreeding, but I like to think that love-"

"Shut it, Douglass," Gary snapped. "You're supposed to be helping me find a gift." As an afterthought, he added, "And I'm not in love."

"We'd be done shopping by now, if you'd listened to my advice," Douglass said loftily, moving to the other side of the cart. "We'd be all the way back to the Palace by now. We'd be warm." He glanced around at the falling snow.

Gary rolled his eyes at his Squire. "I am not getting Cythera a python. Especially a six foot Carthaki one!"

"I don't see why not. Exotic and cuddly. It'd make a wonderful companion. Aside from the whole eating-her thing." Douglass held up a necklace. "What about this?"

Gary leant over for a better look. "It does look nice." It was a vivid blue stone hanging on a delicate silver chain. The blue would look fetching with her eyes in a way another colour wouldn't. Then he examined it more closely. "Douglass, this is a pregnancy charm!"

The old woman selling the trinkets snorted. "Exactly!" replied Douglass. "Pretty and practical." He beamed at his knightmaster.

Gary hit his head against the side pole of the cart in frustration. "Maybe we should have gotten her the python." He rummaged around the box a bit more, and pulled out a ring fitted with a light blue stone. "What do you think of this?"

Douglass's eyes welled up with tears. "Oh, Gary!" He covered his heart with his hands. "I always knew this day would come! Of course, I thought you'd do somewhere classier than the lower city, and with a much bigger stone... but yes, Gary yes!"

Gary turned bright red with embarrassment as the other customers backed off, frightened by the Squire's theatrics. "Douglass. I am going to thrash you on the courts when we get back to the Palace." He threatened.

"Gary, dearest, you wouldn't!" Douglass wailed. "You're simply rotten, you know. Engaged for a minute and you're already threatening to beat me." To the stall keeper he whispered loudly, "It's the Naxen instability, you know. So unpredictable, and there's always one in every generation!"

Gary gritted his teeth. "I think we're done here Douglass." He grabbed the back of the younger boy's coat and dragged him away.

- - -

There was a rap at the door. Putting down her needlework, Cythera shook out her skirts and went to answer it. Outside she found a very nervous looking Gary.

"Gary!" she exclaimed, delighted. "What a pleasure. Would you like to come inside?" She stepped aside to let him into the room, silently crossing her fingers behind her back. Today was the day!

"Cythera." Gary tried to smile at her. "Happy Midwinter." He stared awkwardly at her for a moment. "It's very cold outside." He stammered.

"Well, it is Midwinter," she agreed. "A very cold time of the year." She waited politely for him to make his point.

Another awkward silence followed. Eventually Gary spoke. "I came here to see you," he explained. "I have something for you."

Cythera's eyes lit up. This was it. "Oh Gary, you don't have to give me anything," she replied.

Gary motioned to the bulky, hastily wrapped package in his hands. "Here you go. It's a slightly early Midwinter gift. "

Cythera took the package from his hands, confused. "Uh, thank-you." She stood for a moment, waiting for him to get down on one knee.

He didn't. "Well, go on." Gary smiled nervously. "Open it."

With a sinking feeling, Cythera pulled the plain wrapping off the package. Inside was a stuffed teddy bear wearing a tiara. Admittedly, it was sweet; it just... wasn't what she was expecting. She struggled to hide her disappointment.

"What's wrong?" Gary asked, sounding concerned. "Is it okay?" He rushed ahead without waiting for an answer. "Her name is Lady Theresa. I wasn't sure what to get you, and then Douglass said-"

"I love it," she interrupted, smiling. "Thank-you Gary." She gently hugged the bear to her chest.

He looked pleased with himself. "You are very welcome. I honestly had no idea what to get you."

A ring, she felt like replying. More than anything, I wanted a ring.

- - -

"A stuffed bear?" repeated Gwynnen. "Are you sure it was a real gift? Maybe it was a joke."

Cythera shook her head, amused. "It was definitely a real gift."

"I see," replied Gwynnen. "Well if that is all courting the son of the second-most powerful man in the realm gets you, I might stay single after all."

"I suspect Douglass had something to do with it." Cythera confided. "Gary muttered something about him when he gave it to me."

Gwynnen rolled her eyes. "That doesn't surprise me. Douglass probably convinced Gary that stuffed bears are all the rage now." She looked sidelong at her friend. "Perhaps even that they were suitable substitutes for engagement rings?"

Cythera bit her lip. "I like Lady Theresa," she admitted. "Of course, it's no engagement ring, but still... I think it's sweet."

Gwynnen smiled reassuringly. "Perhaps next year."