The gym was filled with the smell of perfume that lingered heavily, a mix of different fragrances, based on preferences of the girl. There was also a strain of sweat that seemed to cling to the hall … but maybe that had to do with Ned soaking his T-shirt under his dress uniform.
The Military Cadet wasn't use to these kinds of parties. His family was prestigious, like so many fellow cadets in front of him, but unlike them, his father didn't believe in extravagance. The Starks were minimalists at best, despite being the powerhouse of the Pennsylvania steel mill trade and masters of the Hudson in New York City, with trade that dominated the north.
With an uncomfortable sigh he watched the mix of different colored dresses fluttering across the polished floor as other cadets moved to keep up with their dates and the high tempo beat of the music played by a Doo Wop band, called the "Summer Islanders" that had the dance floor alive with bodies.
It had seemed like such a scandal when Old Jon booked them for the graduation party. However, unlike Tywin Lannister, Jon Arryn didn't seem to care about the skin color of a man, as long as he was quality. It was a lesson that he passed to his two foster sons. Ned never seemed to have problem with the colored people, while Robert Baratheon was more "Hands on" in his unsegregationist view on the matter.
Lord only knew.
He loosened his tie and thumped the back of his head against the wall in discomfort. Too many people, too much movement, not enough vents in the gym. He was a Stark of the North; he wasn't made for anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only people who seemed undaunted by the heat was the rouguish Dornishmen, Oberyn Martell, who lived in the deep southwest, and was so use to the heat, he wasn't even sweating.
As dark eyes circled the dance floor, he spotted familiar faces. There was big, muscular Mace Tyrell with his fiancé, something Hightower. Robert called him a momma's boy, but than if the rumors were true, so were all the Tyrells. All big, clumsy and hairy bunch of cotton tycoons from the Deep South. They were amongst the families that opposed the booking of the Islanders for the dance.
On the dance floor he spotted Robert, it actually wasn't all that hard when he thought about it, the man was one of the tallest in the group. His blue eyes were all alight as he danced. Ned had to laugh at him; he was a clumsy oaf, knocking poor Randle Tarly out of the way as he tried to keep up with the tempo. But for all his stone feet he was making up for them with effort and Ned knew why.
Opposite of his best friend, his partner was dancing more defensively, but still gracefully. Ned's little sister Lyanna moved to the music as if connected to it in a metaphysical sense. Her dancing was intoxicating, most of the wallflowers seemed to be drawn to her. Her brunette ringlets were bouncing against bare shoulders; the lithe, slender body under her satin grey dress swayed, creating illusions that captured even the strongest men. Ned felt no shame in saying that Lya was a creature of beauty and life.
Despite dancing with Robert, her eyes were drawn straight to Ned and she was smiling and laughing. She had been his best friend all his life. Even though being handsome, growing up, Eddard Stark had always been quite the odd duck as opposed to those around him. He found making friends a hard task. He would take up spending his time alone, or would have had Lyanna not been there. She was his protector, keeper, and social hub. They never did anything without the other, and her friends became his as well as hers. It was how she had met Robert. When Ned was accepted to the Harrenhal Military Academy in Westeros City, she transferred to a nearby college. When had she learned he would be sent to the war, she went to nursing school. She would enlist and follow "her boys" into the thick of "it", as the instructors called the war.
Something glimmered just above his sister's head; it was slight and yet caught him like a fish in a net. They looked like emerald jewels chipped and crafted into pupils. Across the dance floor Ned caught the eyes of a beauty beyond compare. Long elegant golden curls down the bare pale back of girl wearing a tight satin gown of a green that reflected in the sparkle in her eyes. She gave a Hollywood glamour that Ned thought only existed in the picture shows that he drove up to see in Richmond with Lya and Robert.
The girl was leaning against the far wall; she was standing next to a young cadet that Ned knew well in the deepest dislike possible. Jaime Lannister had matching beaten golden hair, just a breath from being a dress code violation; the only difference between his and the girl's face was the Jaime's abnormal nose. Both had an arrogant boredom to their expressions as they watched the dance. Ned could tell that they didn't think much of the party.
Even without knowing who she was at first, Ned could only guess that she was Cersei Lannister when he saw her alongside her twin. The girl was a teenage queen, with an acting, singing, and dancing career with Tywin Lannister's movie studio out in the West. Ned had never seen any of her pictures, mostly because Lyanna was annoyed at how her eyebrow would quirk randomly in dramatic scenes.
It seemed so foreign to him that a starlet like her was drawn to him, her eyes tracing over him, with something. Was it interest in those gems, or was it amusement? He couldn't tell, but slowly the dance seemed to melt into darkness, as if there was suddenly a spotlight on her, she had become the only thing in the room that he could see. Her eyes were like a cobra, holding him frozen against the wall.
"Damn, Ned, you look snake bit!"
The young cadet blinked hard, being snapped out of his daze with the help of the ending of the song and the voice. Slowly the lights came back on in the ballroom and other faces became visible for the first time. He looked around and found his brother Brandon in a sleek suit standing at his side with a smug grin on that face. Brandon's face could model sardines and have every woman in America buy every can. On his arm was a woman Ned didn't quiet recognize. She was considerably pretty with thick auburn hair that shined in the dim lights; she wore a simple blue dress with a red sash tied to her waist and a white strip over the material covering her cleavage. She smiled nervously when Ned's eyes fell on her. He gave her a reassuring nod, just to let her know he didn't bite.
Without warning Brandon put his brother in a head lock, laughing as Ned struggled against him. "Come on Soldier boy, what're you gonna do?" He teased giving his kid brother a noogie. Ned was really starting to regret inviting his older brother to his graduation.
"Leave him alone Bran!"
The tall youth was pushed from behind playfully causing him to release the younger man. Lyanna appeared where he had been standing only a moment ago. Turning the man scowled at the girl.
"What's it to you, little one?" He muzzled up her hair which earned him a slapped hand and an angry outcry for messing up her ringlets. Ned smiled lightly as his siblings traded barbs and pushes in front of him.
Brushing his hair back to where he had it before, he turned to find the shy girl on Brandon's arm walk up to him timidly, forgotten in the sibling melee that currently had Lyanna on Brandon's back as she bit his ear.
"Hello" He responded stiffly.
Both together were launched into an awkward silence that neither knew how to break. He opened his mouth, but closed it when he found the girl looking elsewhere. He returned his attention to the dance, for a moment he thought he caught the red head fixing to say something to him.
"I'm sorry?" He said quickly, maybe a little too quick judging by her timid surprise.
The girl flushed. "Never … Never mind." She smiled gently suddenly founding her feet more interesting.
"By the way."
"I'm" Both were about to introduce themselves.
"NED!" Robert ploughed right through the girl like a hungry bull, tossing her off to the side. The tall youth was desperate for his friend's attention.
"What Robert?" He could tell the all American linebacker was drunk already.
"Ned … Ned, oh god Ned, you're not going to fucking believe this. Ned, this is so boss, Ned!"
"What is it Robert?"
The man shoved a plate almost in his face. "These Fucking crab cakes is what it is, Ned! Ned these crab cakes … I can't, I just ..." The stoic, young Cadet watched Robert stuff one in his mouth enthusiasticly.
"That's what was so important? Crab Cakes?" He asked flatly.
The large youth suddenly got almost comedically serious with his friend. "Ned, if there's anything more important than these crab cakes, I want it caught, shot, and burned for blasphemy …" He stuffed his mouth midsentence, before he stopped and looked out at someone. "Hey Lannister … get your narrow ass over here, you're not going to believe this, look." Ned had to admit the flash of fear in Jaime Lannister's eyes when he saw the oaf charging after him armed with crab cakes made his night. The golden haired man walked away quickly, trying to disappear into the crowd before Robert reached him on his seafood crusade.
"My fiancé …" Lyanna scoffed joining Ned watching Robert curse Jaime when he got away from him. Ned turned to the petite girl when he heard the disappointment in her voice. For the first time Ned allowed himself to see the disillusion in her mocha eyes, the lingering shadow of sorrow.
"He'll change." He tried to reassure her. "We're all still kids … if time won't do a number on him than the fighting will straighten him out." He cupped her shoulder comfortingly.
What he had meant to be a comfort seemed to make her only more anxious. She looked into their mother's grey eyes while hers moistened.
"Ned …" There was something sobering, a sudden reminder of what was going to happen tomorrow, when they all left half a world away to fight. She reached up and touched his smooth face gently. "Please … promise me you'll be careful." Her voice was shaky.
"I promise Lya."
"Promise you'll come back to me."
"Promise me Ned."
When they were children Lyanna always made him promise, made him give his word. She knew that Eddard, her big brother, always kept his promises. He was a boy of his word, as was the man standing before her. He would never let her down when he promised something to her. With a shaky, emotional breath she threw herself into his arms. They squeezed each other tightly, the embrace was loving and content.
The microphone squealed causing everyone to groan in protest. Suddenly the familiar voice of Robert Baratheon echoed through the Gym.
"Hey Pycelle … I've found the gods … and their divinity is in these crab cakes!" There was a roar of cheers and laughter from the crowd as the large youth stuck his fist in the air and marched off the stage drunkenly.
Ned laughed, untucking his sister from his arms. Despite a single tear on her cheek she sputtered a laugh at their friend. His smile disarmed her as he pressed back a lock of her loose hair.
"That's uh … great man." A black man with head of thick close cropped black hair and smooth bird-like face stood at the microphone.
"How ya'll folks liken the show so far?" The man asked the crowd, trying to play to them. There was a general satisfied cheer from the youths at the foot of the stage. "Alright, Alright … I like what I'm hearing." He nodded with a wink.
"Now I think we're gonna slow it down, just a little bit … It's getting late fellas and your girl knows you groove, but now on your last night, it's time to show her you can move."
As if on cue the back-up singers began to start a slow soulful acapella beat to snapping and Dow Wop, a nice balancing between tenor and base. The mood suddenly slowed in the hall, and partners began to get close and slowly swaying to the opening of the number.
"May I introduce, someone who's gonna help us for this, Y'all know him, give it up to Cadet Captain Rheagar Targaryen."
There was clapping and a few cheers when the man came out from back stage. He was tall and beautiful for a man. He had silvery blond hair that seemed to flow even with a shortened haircut. His violet eyes seemed to shine with some great sorrow that plagued him, reflecting in the cadet pin on his chest.
Ned felt Lyanna suddenly take interest when she saw the man take the stage. He made an amused noise at her sudden shift of attention. She countered with a sock to his chest at the teasing as she watched the man. Rheagar's gaze flowed through the room until it found the two Starks where it lingered in a stare. Ned knew look, it was the same way that his had been for Cersei Lannister. Turning he saw that Lyanna was caught up in the violet net, cast over her and only her. It made Ned frown in confusion, and unease.
"In the still of the night
I held you
Held you tight
'Cause I love
Love you so
Promise I'll never
Let you go
In the still of the night"
"In the still of the night"
Rheagar's voice was as smooth as satin, and it seemed to overtake the gym, lulling it into a surprise pause, wanting to listen to him. It wasn't the singing that took the air out of Ned, it was the fact that the man hadn't taken his gaze off Lyanna. The girl was about the same swaying her hips to the beautiful song absently. It seemed that the silver haired officer was singing to his sister and only his sister in that moment.
"May I have this dance?"
Ned moved his gaze from his transfixed sister to the golden haired beauty he had staring at earlier. She favored him with a gentle smile, though expecting eyes, it was clear that she was confident he wouldn't rebuke her offer.
She would be right.
There was a gut wrenching feeling leaving Lyanna alone, but he couldn't deny that he wanted this. He reached out and took the golden girl's white-opera-gloved hand. She led him into the press of people who were dancing again to the song.
That night in May"
"The stars were bright above"
"I'll hope and I'll pray"
Slowly the two came together, Ned awkwardly placed his hands on her waist, as she effortlessly wrapped her arms around his neck. The young soldier was painfully aware that he was sweating again. His partner didn't seem to mind or notice, her green eyes studied him as they slowly swayed into step.
"You were staring at me." Her voice was polished, yet carried an amused arrogance.
Ned Blushed slightly. "I was uh …" He trailed off.
"Thinking?" She tilted her head with a Cheshire grin and quirked her eyebrow.
Seeing the mannerism he felt terrible when he laughed. The action confused the girl in his arms, she was somewhere between surprisingly humor filled at it, and suspicious about the action. It was clear that Cersei Lannister had never been made fun of before in her life.
"What?" She asked.
"Nothing …" He tried to repress his smile.
"It's obvious it's something." She pressed.
A strange confidence overcame him. "Maybe I'll tell you later." He flashed a smug grin.
A smile twisted onto plump red lips that looked slick and heavenly. "It's possible." She countered with a private toothy grin of her own.
"To keep your precious love
Well before the light
Hold me again
With all of your might
In the still of the night"
"In the Still of the Night!"
"Is this your last night Mr. Stark?" The girl asked as they let the satin voice of Rheagar ease the tension filled nervousness.
"Yes, I'm supposed to ship out tomorrow." He replied as a phantom saxophone joined in with the song.
The girl was quiet, not looking away from him, slowly his surroundings became shadows again, and he had forgotten where he was or what he was doing. Had he been here an hour, a year, or had always been dancing with the girl?
"Are you scared?" She whispered into his ear, it wasn't a question meant cruelly, a genuine curiosity.
He thought a moment, what would he say to her? If he listened to Robert he would tell her no, tell her that he was going to come home with a thousand medals, which would be only half to how many kills he would have. But feeling the warmth against his chest, and the way this stranger with a face like an angel seemed to be leaning her head on his shoulder, he figured there was no way he could be anyone but himself.
"Yes" He whispered back.
She removed her head, and looked almost shocked at the admission. Her eyes searched his for an explanation for the honesty. Ned wondered if she was expecting him to laugh, joke with her and tell her that he was just joking. But he was neither, and it seemed to shock her that he would tell such.
"Does that surprise you?" he asked confidently. The girl studied him a moment in thought before a small grin appeared, looking off to the side.
"No …" She returned to him. "Maybe had it been someone else, I wouldn't be sure, but coming from you. No, I'm not surprised." She admitted.
"How could you possibly know? We've just met." He frowned. Her stare pierced flesh, bone, and soul. Ned knew in that moment, that this stranger had him in her grasp, seeing all of him, knowing him than anyone could in hundred years.
"I know …"
"So before the light
Hold me again
With all of your might"
"Tell me, something, Mr. Stark." She looked down at his chest, avoiding getting caught up in his encompassing stare that would break her defenses with one look.
"Yes?" He pressed in a whisper.
"When a man is scared, can he be brave?" She risked it all looking into his eyes, and knew it was a mistake, because he had her now, just as she had him, only moments ago. He saw all the insecurities, all the fear, the uncertainty of what was to come. He was the soldier, but she was the one carrying the emotions for the both of them.
"When a man is scared, it is the only time he can be brave." He said as gentle as a promise, a silent counsel to a girl with a thousand things in her life teasing and pulling at her brain and nerves.
"Then how brave are you, sir?"
"As brave as I have to be …"
"In the still of the Night"
Their lips got closer and closer.
"In the Still of the Night!"