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Two Minutes to Midnight (12-31-2033)

 
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Nick Allen
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2017 3:20 am    Post subject: Two Minutes to Midnight (12-31-2033) Reply with quote

Two Minutes to Midnight
31 December 2033


Nervous and uncomfortable, it would be easy to mistake the two in Nick. The tuxedo he wore wasn’t uncomfortable, even if it was far dressier than he preferred. He’d rather be wearing something loose, with a hoodie while he did a crazy stunt. This wasn’t the time for that, tonight would be crazy enough, and this was the uniform for such an occasion. He knew he looked good, Alex would have been all over him if he hadn’t. Still he had the appearance of being uncomfortable. It could simply be the waiting, he had yet to see Averia though he’d seen plenty of other people entering with names and faces that he’d never remember. All of them were supposed to be important in one way or another. He stood at the bar with Alex, casually watching the doors as he reached into his pocket once again and only became more nervous.

Crowds didn’t bother him under normal, or even extraneous circumstances. He’d learned to perform for the masses in his upbringing. He’d had to considering who and what his parents were. Nick ordered a drink and tried to relax a little. “How many people are going to be here tonight? If they pack in too many more this monkey suit is going to make me start to sweat.” He flashed a grin to Alex as he said it, talking would help. “And **** dude, some of these hairstyles look like something we should be doing tricks on.” He said that as one of those odd updo’s in question walked by defying gravity. Nick wondered if it would last the night.

“Last I heard they prepped for five hundred.” Alexander was the picture of easy composure to Nick’s jittery posture. He leaned, one elbow on the bar and his ankles crossed to prop him up. The tux was sharp, tailored perfectly and paired with a deep blue tie and gold cufflinks. They may have wanted to put Averia in red but Alex wore the colors of the crown. He watched the partygoers come and go, smiling and greeting those that looked his way. Nick on the other hand was a veritable bundle of nerves so he tipped aside to bump him with his shoulder.

“Avy tells me that some of those crazier styles are held together with literal glue. Glue dude. In their hair. I just can’t.” He put both hands up, palms out as he shook his head. Mirth danced in his grin as he turned back to the bar, two fingers signaling the tender to set them up with another drink. It mattered little that Nikolai already had one, he needed another.

There had been one benefit to spending months with Addie and her squad, though some might not call a higher tolerance to alcohol a benefit. If Alex had been trying to pull Nick out of his agitated state, it worked. He snorted at his friend, in part because of the words. The rest had much to do with the gesture. There wasn’t much Alex couldn’t do, but those things were easily defined by that look of half surrender. Nick couldn’t remember where that had come from, but it had stayed long after. “I’ll add that to the list. No glue in Alex’s hair, just don’t pass out at the same time I do or I won’t be able to stop people from following that idea.”

To his credit, Alex had never passed out that Nick could recall either. Gotten raging drunk, and done crazy things, sure, but he was rarely alone with that. “Thanks, I guess I needed the laugh.” Nick’s glass hit the bar top empty even as the new one was arriving. “Maybe I should slow down a little after this? It’s going to be a big night, and we’re only getting started.” Nick found himself grinning in spite of himself. “So, you already have someone you’re planning on taking home tonight, or do I get to point out the one you go for?”

“Lighten up, man. What’s the worst that can happen?” With a cocksure grin, Alex tossed back his drink and slammed the empty glass on the bar. The tender was quick to clear it and Alex was even quicker to turn his back on the counter. His golden eyed gaze swept the crowd, disinterest painting his expression when he looked back to his friend. “Find me a challenge. I’ll be back in a bit.”

With a rap of his knuckles on the counter, he pushed off from his lean to disappear into the growing throng, leaving Nick there at the counter alone. Just how much time passed was hard to say but finally it seemed the crowd had swelled beyond the ballroom’s capacity. The ambient lighting dimmed save for a golden glow over the entryway. Without so much as a crackle of static a smooth baritone voice came over exquisitely hidden speakers, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. The entryway was soon passed through by pairs, the crowd parting to permit the entrance of what Alexander would have called “the hoity toities” of the gathering.

Each member of the Lucian Council with their respective spouses came first, followed by delegations from almost all of the Eosian kingdoms or provinces. Solheim and Altissia were near the front, likely to keep the younger Altissian Prince away from the Lucian Prince. Duscae, Leide, and Cleigne all offered their own representatives. To no one’s surprise came the Oracle of Tenebrae by herself, and then finally the Lucian Royal Family. Alexander stepped through the entry first before turning to offer his arm to his sister. She hesitated but quiet words from her brother seemed to finally coax her forward. It was easy to see why when bright lights hit the brilliant crimson fabric of her strapless dress. All eyes were on her. Not Alex, not the delegates before them, not even Lunafreya in her flowing violet and white gown, just Averia.

The announcer’s voice lifted further to announce the arrival of the King and Queen Consort of Lucis shortly after Alex and Averia reached the end of the entry walk but still the eyes lingered on the Princess. The twins’ father lingered for a few moments to welcome everyone to the twentieth annual Trinity Ball and with that, the festivities began. Even then it seemed impossible for either Alex or Averia to seek Nick out but finally Alex caught his sister by the hand and pulled her away from whatever awkward conversation she was being forced to partake in, dragging her through the crowd to where he had last left Nick.

Glass in hand, Nick abandoned his barstool. He hadn’t really been sitting on it anyway. He’d started moving when the honored few had begun to enter. Glancing up occasionally when a new pair of names were announced. He gave a hard stare to the Altissian royals, or to one of them in particular. He moved until he found an unobstructed view of the entrance. The room was packed full of people, and pieces of the hushed conversations made it to his ears as the families moved into the light. One person had even had an opinion about the Altissian Prince and Avy. Nick looked away for only a second, trying to see who might’ve said it. He very nearly missed the announcement of Alex and Averia. He might have if every head in the place hadn’t seemed to turn as one and focus on the twins.

Nick looked to his glass for a moment, his head turning back towards the entryway. His eyes slid slowly towards them, towards Averia and the sight of her made him gasp silently. He wasn’t the only one, a collective gasp was audible. If Nick had been thinking clearly, he’d have commented about the oxygen in the room being depleted all at once. The entrance of Aunt Claire and the king were all that pulled him from his own staring. He tried to make his way through the crowd to the twins, but there seemed to be a line forming, and everyone thought they were at the head of it, or they wanted to be.

Alex solved his dilemma, or would have had Nick not moved in the first place. He tracked the twins, as he headed back for the bar. He would arrive there after they’d already made it. Up close, Averia was even more breathtaking. Nick’s head tilted to the side as he looked at her, a toothy smile pushed its way across his lips. The glass found its way to the bar as Nick closed the space between him and the twins. “Seeing you in that dress makes me forget that I was complaining about the wait a few minutes ago.” He said the words, then bit his lip, feeling stupid for saying anything. He leaned in towards Alex, and pointed out a dark haired, mocha skinned young woman as the challenge he’d requested. To Avy, he whispered something he hoped would make her blush.

As the trio reconvened at the bar, Alex ordered up another shot to go with his appraisal of the indicated target that Nick had given him. On home turf like this it would easy but he still hemmed and hawed over it before finally shooting his friend a devilish grin that said the challenge was accepted. With a quick peck to his sister’s cheek, he disappeared into the crowd so that he wouldn’t have to hear whatever was making Averia blush furiously and so he could put Nick to shame with how easily he bagged his conquest.

“You match.” She said just loud enough for him to hear, her fingers seeking out the knot of his tie to adjust it slightly before sliding down the silk until it disappeared into his suit jacket. Her silver eyes, rimmed with kohl yet especially bright tonight, lifted up to his face. In the moment he may as well have been the only one in the crowded room for all of the gravity of her attention. There were whispers around them but few she seemed to notice. Who was the young man that had captured her attention? How long would she stay before she disappeared as she always did? Have you ever seen her smile so brightly? What about the Prince of Altissia? Averia could have used a drink but instead she took a step closer to Nick under the guise of the crowded room. “You, um, you look… very dapper.”

Nick watched Alex move off knowing that he’d likely succeed, honestly he hoped that he’d found someone that could keep up with Alex, or at least hold his interest for longer than a day. The touch at his tie caused the world to fall away. “Yeah, Alex kind of made that happen or I don’t think they’d have done it.” Nick had always known that Avy was beautiful, even though he’d picked on her fiercely growing up. Tonight that beauty seemed to be magnified ten times. “Thanks, I was hoping you’d like it. You look…” He did his best to find a word suitable, but without trying she was making it impossible for him to think of anything. “...like the night sky, when it’s pitch black because the power is out across the city. All darkness, and shining stars… too many to count.” He would never be called a poet it seemed, but he meant every word. “I’d kiss you, but they’d probably have me arrested.”

He wanted to touch her, to make a proper mess of her again. Instead he offered his hand to her. “Dance with me.”

“Want to know a secret?” She asked, her smile coy as she leaned up further onto her toes until even the heels of her shoes lifted from the floor so she could confide said secret beside his ear. “Nobody is supposed to match me. But here you are.”

Averia leaned back and tilted her head to one side, hoping that the owlish cant might prevent the flush of red in her cheeks. At least it couldn’t compare to the red of her dress even if she felt like someone had set her face aflame. He could have kissed her then and there. People would have talked. Her father likely would have hated it. It would surely cause a stir, all the things that Avy avoided. But some part of her didn’t care. Still she didn’t bridge the gap between their lips, instead slipping her hand into his. “You might not be able to kiss me but you can certainly dance with me.”

Nick owed a great deal of what he was to his father, directly or indirectly. He’d been taken to Jin and Charlie young enough that dancing came almost naturally to him. This was different, and he owed his mother for the lessons in formal dance, almost like she’d expected this moment to come. Maybe she had. He led her to the dance floor, noting that there seemed to be an invisible force moving before them. People stepped out of their way, only to close the gap behind them once they’d passed. He cared little for what people thought of him, that I’m adorable smile he wore now was purely for the woman at his side. He took her as close to the center of the floor as he could before turning to her and putting his arm around her waist. He spared a look to the crowd, searching for Alex more than anything else. “You ready? Just remember, I’m supposed to lead this time.” He gave her a joking wink, as he tried to settle both their nerves.

Fortunately the orchestra was playing a waltz instead of something more complicated. Nick took a few moments before starting into the dance, with the same sure footed confidence he had when scaling a wall. “I’m not really sure that I’m not dreaming this right now. It seems like something that isn’t real.”

“If you step on my toes, I’m going to lead.” Averia gave him a private little smile and a glance through a veil of dark lashes. It mattered little that the crowd opened and closed around them, most eyes on the pair as they were. She had him and that was all that mattered in the moment. Alex was nowhere to be found. After all he had a mission to accomplish before the clock struck twelve. There was an innate intimacy in the wrap of his arm around her waist and the splay of his hand across her lower back. It was comfortable, natural instead of awkward and stiff.

“If you’re dreaming, I’m dreaming. And if we’re both dreaming the same thing, we have a whole different level of problems to deal with. More than all of these people staring at us.” Yes she had noticed. It was hard not to. Somewhere higher up, she was certain her parents were watching too. Still her steps were graceful, aligning almost perfectly with his as he led her through the waltz. Both twins had been pushed through ballroom dance lessons growing up at their father’s insistence, but Averia always bragged that she was better at it because she could do everything Alex could but backwards and in heels.

“Nah, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be dreaming all these strangers, or these clothes.” Any, he’d replaced that word with these. Nick had already made her blush enough for now. There was plenty of time for more later. He took her through practiced steps without any toe stepping. Avy was only a little shorter than his mother, making her gate close enough to avoid that kind of embarrassment. He’d shut out the people, beyond avoiding bumping into the other dancers, or he’d have noticed the black cloth of a tux approaching.

He’d seen it peripherally, but only as an object to avoid. Then words cut through the music and into the world where only he and Averia existed. “May I cut in?” Nick stopped his dance when he finally registered the meaning in the words, and that they were directed at him. He recognized the voice immediately, bristling a little before turning to look at the Prince of Altissia coldly. He gave Marcus a smile that blatantly said he didn’t care who was here, he’d gladly give him another beat down.

“That…” He looked back to Averia. “... isn’t up to me. Not after what you did.” If she’d asked him to, Nick would ignore the prince, or more if she really unleashed him. For now at least he was doing his best to hold it together as he waited for Avy’s desire to be known.

Marcus had been a shark in the water, circling until he found his in. Compared to the silent serenity of her moment with Nick, the Prince was a discordant sharp that cut through the music and her calm all in one fell swoop. Thankfully she didn’t trip as she came to a stop, turning just enough to see who wanted to cut in despite already knowing the voice. Her hands stayed on Nick, one to his shoulder and the other within the warm grasp of his palm. The latter tensed, tightening with the need to ball a fist. It anchored her, keeping her from running when every other instinct said to do just that.

“My dance card is full, I’m sorry.” She said, forcing every ounce of politeness that she could muster. Rebuked, Marcus frowned and opened his mouth to protest. Averia knew it was considered poor form to turn down a dance with a foreign dignitary but it was even worse form to touch a woman without her consent. She let go of Nick and turned toward the man, her gaze leveled upon his. Unlike Nick or Alex or her parents, it was much too easy to get into his head. Not so much as a single syllable slipped free of her lips but whatever message she delivered seemed to crack the young royal’s deliberate calm. His eyes widened fractionally then narrowed at her as she gave him a tight smile. “I’ll do it and you know it.”

“F-forgive my intrusion. Have a happy birthday, Averia.” The color had drained from his face by the time he turned away but it wasn’t until he had disappeared into the crowd that she finally turned back to Nick, her hand searching for his. As her fingers inched along his palm, her gaze swept the crowd until she found her mother and father. Just as she expected they were both watching. Her mother’s face was etched with amusement though her father’s less so. From afar she gave them both a smile, took a breath and looked back to Nick at last.

“Where were we?” Dancing, that was right. She tried not to look flustered but her composure was thinly veiled thing and finally she whispered. “We could get out of here, you know. Just you and I.”

Nick watched Averia face down Marcus, and wished in that moment that the entire room was empty save for the two of them. He’d felt her grip tighten on him, and solidified his own. He’d felt a grip like that before, from Addie when they’d been forced to make a jump that he knew terrified her. From himself as he held tightly to her hand around the hilt of a dagger. He wasn’t privy to what had passed from her to the prince, though from the look on Marcus’ face he might be grateful for that. He didn’t notice Avy’s parents looking at them, instead keeping his gaze on Marcus, as if he were a snake deciding if it should strike.

Only after the prince had walked away did he realize how coiled up he was as well. Avy didn’t need him to defend her, that was one of the things he loved about her. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t do so anyway. If he had his way, she’d never have to face anyone or anything alone. He was tempted to say something to the retreating form, but knew that would only make matters worse.

“Dancing, we were dancing.” He smiled at her whispered suggestion. He’d wanted to do that the moment she’d walked in. “We should do that. Just give me a minute to do something.” Nick turned from her for a moment, looking at the large clock on the wall. The song they’d been dancing to came to a close, and there was relative silence. Nick took that moment to turn back to face her.

“Averia, I’ve known you all of my life, seen you do things many of these people wouldn’t believe. Somehow you still manage to surprise me. I once thought we had all the time in the world, until the day that time took you away from me. I know that I have only now.” Nick put his hands in his coat pockets and looked at her seriously.

“Right now.” His hands came free of his coat, the left one taking hers as he took a knee before her in front of a ballroom jam packed with witnesses. He looked beyond Avy to her mom, a small smile in place that disappeared as he looked back to Averia from his place on the floor.

“Averia Luna Caelum, you’ve seen me at my best and at my worst. You’ve been through things with me that no one will ever truly understand. You’ve taught me without trying, supported me without being asked, loved me before I knew that I loved you too. The only time you’ve been out of my life, I was a walking trainwreck. Avy, you’re the order to my chaos, and I want to spend every now that I have left with you.” He’d rehearsed his speech to her many times since he’d written it. He knew every word like the back of his hand, or did until the moment he knelt before her. Then things came out of him that he hadn’t been expecting. Nick brought his right hand forward and opened the box that he held in it exposing the ring to her. “If you’ll have me that is. Marry me, my Averia.”
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Averia Caelum
Young Wyrm
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2017 3:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At two minutes to midnight, Averia’s heart stopped, leaping into her throat with a rush of blood to her head. Her pulse pounded in her ears, a roar she couldn’t ignore as Nick’s monologue came to a close with four sweet words. Marry me, my Averia. Hundreds looked on, hushed and enthralled by the public proposal by a boy that few knew. He was no prince, no baron, no lord. He came not from a prominent family nor did he seem to have any political influence. But there he was, down on one knee before a starstruck princess who had never before looked so beautiful in the public eye.

“Nikolai…” She whispered his name, her mouth barely moving. Was it hot in there? It had to be hot in there. Likely thanks to the spotlight that had been placed upon the center of the dance floor to highlight the moment. Her breath caught in her chest as she gave him a tiny bob of her head, a tentative nod to answer his question when her words failed her. The ring, though she hadn’t had a chance to truly look at it, mattered little compared to the question that it symbolized. She looked past the extended box to the man that knelt before her. He was everything she had ever wanted, all she had ever hoped for, and he wanted her to be his. When she could finally breathe again, she nodded once more and grabbed for his hand, intent on pulling him back to his feet.

“Get up… Yes. Yes, yes, a million times yes!” It was the only answer she had ever been so sure of, the only one she didn’t have to question in her head. No council could sway her otherwise. No King nor Queen could tell her no. From the back of the crowd came a wolfish whistle, one that Averia easily recognized as her brother’s. It sent a flush through her cheeks as she flung her arms around Nick to kiss him as if her very life depended upon it.

He’d seen the nod, and Avy could have lifted him with the slightest of tugs, let alone the command that he rise. That was one of the things he’d fallen in love with, her ability to recover easily when she was at a loss for words. “She said yes!” Nick’s face had transformed almost on instinct when the spotlight had fallen on them. That look at me smile inherited from his father found its place on him now as he broadcast her answer to the four corners of the room. His arms went around her lifting her up and losing himself in a kiss that only further isolated them in their own world, despite the sea of eyes on them.

Without looking, Nick was able to free the ring from its encasement, taking her hand in his and sliding it onto her left ring finger. He’d been planning this moment, right down to the time. Two minutes to midnight, nineteen years to the minute from her birth. He looked at the ring on her hand, the black opal was mostly blue, as was much of the ring itself. The recycled gold had taken on the color as he’d worked it, though the original color was there as well. It seemed fitting that she wear the colors of Lucis on her hand. His fingertips slid happily along her hairline then followed her jaw forward lifting her chin so that he could look into those argent eyes of hers.

“Do you know how happy you make me, not just now but always?” Nick could barely hear his words. Only now did he realize how loud it had suddenly grown in the ballroom. He leaned over, resting his forehead against hers not even trying to fight the color that was tinging his cheeks now. There was relief in his embarrassment, the kind that came with being able to touch her publicly as he’d been wanting to since they’d stepped through the portal to Lucis. Not everyone in the room was happy, whether that was directed at him for asking or her for accepting mattered little. Aunt Claire had told him that would be the case. He was not powerful politically, his standing was far beneath what those who sat on the council would have used Avy for. Right there, looking at her, none of that meant anything to him. She was his now, and he was hers, in the typical Allen boy mentality everyone else be damned.

“How hard do you think it’ll be to get out of here now?” It had been tempting to accept that when it was first offered, but he and Alex had brainstormed out this troublesome twosome plan. Alexander may have had his own motives for the public demonstration that centered around where his parents stood. Nick couldn’t say for certain, maybe his friend just wanted it to be known as much as Nick did. The crowd inside the ballroom seemed to fall into two categories now. Those who moved towards the couple on the floor, and those whose attention turned to the King and Queen Consort.

Up high, the King and Queen Consort had watched, knowing all the while that their reactions had to be very carefully gauged. Many in the room would take their cues from the pair inevitably so it was no surprise when Claire gently stepped on her estranged husband’s toe to jar him from the growing look of dismay that had been creeping across his face.

“Smile, darling. Look how happy she is.” She murmured softly, her mouth barely moving through her smile. It was impossible to deny, the couple on the dance floor radiated joy. Many in the crowd seemed thrilled too, applauding the acceptance of the proposal despite having no idea just who this man was. After a few moments, Noct also applauded, smiling stiffly down at the pair before turning away from the raised ledge upon which he had perched.

“Two months. They’ve been together two months and they’re ready to get married?” He said under his breath, sending a server off for another drink. Surely he would need it before the night was through.

“And they’ve known each other all their lives.” Claire pointed out gently. By then Luna had joined them on the platform, her smile serene despite the knot of tension growing between the royals.

“She’s only nineteen.” He again protested.

“And that ever so pleasant boy from Altissia has been after her since she was seventeen. Your point? It can be a long engagement like we had. Is there something else bothering you about it?” Her gaze ticked aside to Lunafreya then back to Noctis. He had a new drink in hand from which he sipped before answering.

“No.” He was gruff but he at least sounded honest. Claire relaxed slightly. The last thing she would have tolerated was any form of judgment in regards to the Nikolai’s worthiness as a match for their daughter. After all, Claire had been deemed less than worthy when Noct had wanted to marry her.

“They look quite overjoyed.” Luna observed. Both Claire and Noctis looked over to the Oracle then back down to the floor where Nick had Averia wrapped in his arms. Her grin was a brilliant thing even from afar. “I think I’ve seen her smile like that on perhaps a handful of occasions since her birth.”

Down below, Averia was certain her cheeks would crack from just how wide her smile was. It was impossible to dim. Every time she looked up at him it was renewed. Nikolai. Her Nikolai. Her boyfriend, no, her fiance. She could have squealed with excitement at the mere thought of it. Finally, and ever so reluctantly, she unwound from the tangle of arms to instead slip her hand into his, turning that smile upon any who may have still be looking their way. Her chin lifted toward his ear for a quiet murmur. “Be my New Year’s kiss and then we’ll escape. I have a way.”

One person managed to remind the celebrants of the time. The conductor pulled his orchestra back into reality and started them into Auld Lang Syne. It was enough to make people turn to the nearest person and welcome the new year with kisses. Nick was no exception, though he’d already begun to kiss Avy again, half a second after she’d made her wish known. It was the break they’d both been wanting, even if there was one other making his own escape from the festivities.

The Altissian Prince was relieved to have the attention of those who hadn’t looked either to the happy couple or the King and Queen removed from him for long enough to leave the ballroom as inconspicuously as possible. Though he could feel one set of eyes looking at him laughingly. **** Alex Caelum and his bitch sister.

The change in the atmosphere, seemed to release those who had been transfixed, and Nick could feel the press of people who were now coming close to congratulate them both. He didn’t know what Averia had in mind for getting free, or see how it would work with so many wanting to become some part of their event. He was ready to be gone though, suddenly feeling like a prized horse up for auction. Normally that wouldn’t bother him, he thrived on the kind of attention he was now receiving if mostly by association or morbid curiosity. Hands touched him, which were not connected to Averia or himself. Pats on the shoulder or back, as though he’d scored a winning goal in the last seconds of a game. It wasn’t the worst sensation in the world, just a far distant second behind wanting to be alone with Avy, his fiancee. He kept a tight hold to her hand, unwilling to be separated from her even for a moment because he knew she’d be swept away from him. He could probably force his way through the throng, but this wasn’t the place for force. It was a place for decorum, and patience. Nick wasn’t feeling either of those, the clothes he wore were nice, too nice perhaps, he was eager to be out of them and alone with his Princess.

“I’m ready, whenever you are.” Nick leaned in close to tell her that, tightening his grip on her hand as he expected to be led in one direction or another on Averia’s escape route.

They seemed to touch him if only because they knew better than to touch her. On the best of days Averia didn’t liked to be touched by people she didn’t know and though this was definitely a best day, she still only wanted Nick’s hands on her. Even with his silent mind at her side, the din of the crowd still threatened to overwhelm her so she was quick to lead Nick through the swelling crowd, intent on the short set of stairs to the raised platform upon which her parents sat. It was obligatory that she at least see them before disappearing.

Claire was elated to see them, congratulating them in an almost comically exaggerated fashion. Avy knew a lot of it was for the crowd but she was grateful just the same that her normally subdued mother was at least trying to help. Luna offered each half of the happy couple a warm hug and quiet words of congratulations and even Averia’s father shook Nikolai’s hand and hugged his daughter tightly, kissing her forehead before gifting her a few quiet words just loud enough for her to hear. It left the raven haired woman flushed and smiling, her hands clasped around the King’s before she let him go to turn and look over the crowd for her brother.

“Who is that?” She squinted when she finally spotted a mop of platinum near a corner. He had a girl with him, no surprise there. They were both smiling and it was obvious that he had the charm turned up to eleven. Avy tipped a look back to Nick, figuring he would have an answer for her. “I wanted to tell him Happy Birthday before we left but he looks… busy.”

Aunt Claire had been this way before, though it was rarely in elation. Even less rare was the opportunity to observe it, though if one spent a little time near the gym it could on occasion be caught. Nick preferred her this way, even if it was less for Averia and him than those who watched. He wondered what people would say if they’d known that she was, at least in small part, complicit to the evening’s proposal. Alex had been more or less his planning partner, but he had asked Avy’s mother for her blessing. Perhaps that was why her arrival had been so late though? Could she read Nick so easily? Part of him knew she could, even if the rest of him tried to deny it. He left Claire with a hug that he hoped she felt to her bones. She’d done a lot for him since his return.

Luna’s hug was not unexpected, she seemed to be demonstrative. Nick thanked her politely, recalling that she was called The Oracle. What was that about? Was she an oracle, or was it a title given? If she were then it was possible she was expecting this tonight too? To that end, if she had, Nick somehow doubted that she’d revealed it to the King. His only real evidence being that it had happened, and the slightly knuckle grinding handshake that Noctis offered him. He didn’t need to be a mind reader to know what it meant. Hurting Averia would mean his swift disappearance from any realm. Avy had said yes, and that was worth every physical reminder no matter how much it might hurt.

Nick turned to see where and who Averia was staring at. Alex was in the corner seemingly deep in an amusing conversation with the girl he’d pointed out. “I don’t know, she’s kind of cute though. Think she’s got any chance of keeping Alex interested for a while?” Nick had moved to put his arm around Avy, something that would have been photographed a hundred times had the press (entertainment or otherwise) been allowed to attend. They’d get plenty of chances for it, Nick did it because he couldn’t keep his hands off of her. Even this benign appearing embrace would be telling Avy where his mind was by the subtle pressure of his fingertips on her side.

“She could have three eyes and four arms and still not keep Alex interested.” Averia said with a roll of her eyes. Oh well. She wouldn’t interrupt her brother if he was in the midst of bagging another conquest. They knew how one another felt, there was no real need to say it out loud. With Nick’s arm around her, she tried to keep her focus on their escape instead of the creep of his fingers along her side. It was the promise of a long night ahead and made her anxious to get away from prying eyes.

“This way.” She murmured, leading him down away from the riser with a departing wave to her parents. Rarely did Averia stay at the Trinity Ball past midnight and likely tonight was a new record for her attendance. It made slipping away a little more difficult but eventually she managed to steal Nick away to the back wall. There hung a floor to ceiling tapestry, one of many in the ballroom. Each told a historical story from Lucis’ past. This one in particular displayed a massive figure wrapped in shades of blue and purple and white, her pretty face as still as death. At the edge Averia looked over her shoulder and ushered Nick closer, peeling away the corner from the wall.

“We’re going this way. Stay close.” It took more focus than she thought she had to construct the temporary diversion, spreading the jarring mental energy in an even radius out from where they stood. Those nearest came closer but didn’t seem to look their way nor did they seem to notice the drift that brought them near. It made for a nice smoke screen though, obscuring the young couple from the view of most as Avy snuck behind the heavy tapestry, one hand still intertwined with Nick’s as she pulled him to the secret panel behind it. A press of her free hand set it sliding open, allowing their passage through to one of the Citadel’s many back halls. As soon as the tapestry fell shut behind them, the crowd resumed their normal revels, none the wiser. The closing of the doorway drowned out the din of the crowd and the party’s music, leaving Nick and Averia to a relieved quiet. “See, like magic.”

Questions would come to him later, little ponderings that it didn’t really matter if he got answers to or not. How many doors were concealed like this one had been? It was a big place, had an interesting history, and maybe it too had all the romanticized secret passages that had permeated the stories he was told when he was young. Nick had stayed close to Avy, tonight at least, he doubted anything would be allowed to part them from one another. Her use of the ability had an alluring effect on Nick. He’d watched as people just seemed to stop noticing them, or even seeing them altogether. A handy trick considering his inability to act with any stealth that didn’t involve sleight of hand. Like magic, she’d said. Avy had effectively made them disappear right before the eyes of the crowd. It was like that, but it was hot too.

Nick checked the corridor, then turned his attention back to Averia with a slow hungry smile. “Magic,” He nodded his agreement, while pressing her to the wall and kissing her. “Who’s room is closer? I’m not sure how long I can wait until we’re behind closed doors.” Surely she could tell that simply from the pound of his heart, the low murmur of his words, and the smoldering look he was giving her. His fingers trailed down her neck and bare shoulder. If there hadn’t been a noise to catch his attention, it may have meant trouble in the truest definition of the word.

Averia knew they would be alone. What she hadn’t anticipated was the growing heat between them nor the way her mouth went dry when she looked at him. Her fingers curled against his hand, the edge of her red painted lip caught between her teeth. How could he make it so difficult to think straight with a simple look or touch? Her breath caught in her chest but she recovered from the minor falter a moment later.

“Ummm… this way, c’mon…” For all that she wanted to kiss him then and there, she wanted to get him somewhere truly alone first. She had shared a rather special moment with the entire ball, now it was her turn to be selfish with him.
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