L-chan's Notes: This is my first multi-chapter fic for this fandom and pairing. As such, I appreciate any and all feedback. Thank you very much for reading.
"C'mon, baby," Guy coaxed. Gentle caresses and encouraging words were only getting him so far. It was time for some action.
He flipped the switch and waited for the motor to whir to life. Reluctant and petulant like a child, it took its sweet time, starting slow, then picking up speed. "Thatta girl." For two days he'd been trying to get this damned thing to obtain and sustain its momentum. If it was working now, it was only because he'd exhausted every other possible solution. "Thatta girl!" The motor spun faster, clicking with the beautiful sounds of success.
Then it sputtered and let out a resounding clank before stopping altogether.
"Shit." At least he didn't get a face full of black smoke this time.
"My lord, forgive my untimely intrusion."
His valet's words made him look up for the first time in hours. Merton never came to the workshop. It was Guy's one room of organized chaos—the one room he insisted no one touch—which left the persnickety valet twitching in discomfort.
"Yes, what is it?"
"My lord, Her Highness Princess Natalia has arrived and wishes to speak with you." Merton's tone and expression suggested a life spent sucking on lemons.
"By your pithy response, I take it Her Highness was not expected. Should I request she return with a proper appointment?" Only Merton would stand on such ceremony. Natalia was one of Guy's oldest friends. And that aside, Guy would never dare snub her, princess or not.
"Oh, for goodness sake, Merton." Natalia squeezed her way past and into the workshop, her skirts swishing with impatience. "He'll receive me. He knows what will happen if he doesn't."
Guy quickly stood up. Despite his valet's concerns, Guy's manners had always been impeccable. "Your Highness," he said with a deep bow conveying his respect for her, yet at the same time mocking Merton's desire for proper protocol. "This is a delightful surprise."
Her smile looked a bit forced, preoccupied. "I apologize for not drafting an official document stating my desire for an audience. Next time I shall submit my request in triplicate, if you prefer." Her hazel eyes slanted toward Merton. The two of them were often at odds over the informality of her friendship with his employer and her tendency to order the household staff about as if they were her own.
"On the contrary, I am most honored by your presence." As the one who had to live with Merton, Guy would be as formal as necessary. Unfortunately, he was still going to get a lecture about his shabby appearance. His work clothes consisted of an old shirt and trousers, stained with a smudge of grease here and there, and he wiped the sweat from his forehead with an equally old rag, then stuffed it in his back pocket. He could practically hear Merton cringing. "If you'd like to wait in the parlor, I'll go and make myself more—"
"No, this is fine," she interrupted. "I'd like to see what you're working on, if I may."
It was highly unlikely that Natalia had come all the way to Grand Chokmah just to see his latest project. "As you wish."
"If I may register an objection, my lord, the parlor would be more suitable—"
"Your objection is noted, Merton, thank you." This was Guy's house. It was only fair that he get to interrupt, too. "Please have some tea and sandwiches prepared." This was more a personal desire than a show of hospitality. He'd worked straight through lunch again, and hunger was starting to gnaw a hole through his stomach. "Proper sandwiches, not those tiny cucumber things you usually insist upon."
"Yes, my lord." Merton bowed before taking his leave, his disapproval wafting from him like cheap cologne.
Guy let out an exhausted sigh. Dealing with Merton made him feel like he was still an obsequious errand boy rather than the heir to House Gardios. "Forgive my rudeness, Your Highness." He pulled the room's only chair away from his drafting table and offered it to her. "Please make yourself comfortable."
Once seated, she smoothed her skirts and crossed her ankles. "You can drop the formality now, Guy."
"Okay. Hey, Nat, how's it hangin'?"
She rolled her eyes. "Somewhere between the two extremes will suffice."
So she wasn't in the mood for jokes. Whatever had brought her here must be serious. "Sorry. So, what's up? I didn't know you were going to be in town."
"No, neither did I. This was a rather spontaneous trip." She plucked idly at the folds of her skirt as she glanced around the workshop. "What are you building?"
"Ah, that's highly classified." Some sketches still sat on his drafting table, and her quick eyes found them. On top was a drawing of a wheel assembly with some notes about balance, pressure, dimension, and some other numbers that wouldn't mean much to her. "It's kind of a friendly competition between me and Ginji. Wait, you're not here to spy for him, are you?"
At that she finally laughed. "Yes, I'm a spy. How very clever of you to catch me out."
He grinned back at her, relieved to see her relaxing for the first time since she'd stepped in the room. "All for the glory of Kimlasca, right? Can't have me showing up Sheridan's best."
"Oh, that's just the tip of the iceberg, as it were. First I use my title to force my way into your house, drink your tea and eat your sandwiches, and then… I can't tell you that part, yet, can I?"
She was enjoying her little story, and he was more than glad to play along. "If I'm not careful, you'll use your feminine wiles to abscond with my heart and my secrets. Well, Your Spyness, my heart you can have, but my secrets I'll never give up."
A peculiar expression crossed her face, and her smile disappeared as she looked away again. Something he'd said must have hit on her reason for visiting.
"Hey," he said quietly. "What's wrong?"
She chose to stare intently at the drawing on his table. "I didn't come for tea and sandwiches."
"I didn't think you did. I don't exactly live next door."
There was no follow-up to this statement. Anything she'd been about to say remained unspoken for the moment. Her finger traced the outline of the wheel. "So it's something with wheels and a motor. Is that what Ginji's doing, too?"
Still she avoided his eyes. "I need a favor."
"A very, very big favor."
He leaned against the drafting table with his arms folded and waited for her to look at him. "You can ask me. If it's within my power, I'll do it." The more she hesitated, the more concerned he became. There weren't many people he was this loyal to, whom he'd drop everything to help if they were in trouble. That she'd travelled so far just to see him spoke to the urgency of the situation.
As he watched, the hesitation slowly left her demeanor, replaced with determination. Her shoulders squared, her chin lifted, and she looked him directly in the eye. Good, this was the Natalia he knew.
"Will you marry me?"