It was during yet another ball when Delia's suspicions took on a new twist. She was dancing, yet again, with Squire Alan, who was, yet again, looking horribly uncomfortable, and Delia was almost at the point of throwing propriety to the wind and informing the stiff redhead that nobody really cared if he preferred men, when her dance partner stumbled slightly and Delia's hand crashed into Alan's ribs.
Blushing, Alan recovered his balance and escorted Delia over to her waiting knot of admirers, but not before Delia got a very good feel of something decidedly not a silk tunic or linen shirt through the young man's clothes.
There was only one real reason that Delia could think of that someone would need a corset when dressed as a man.
Squire Alan was female.
Delia spent the next several social events watching Alan. The squire's notorious shyness made perfect sense now; she most likely did prefer men, but it wasn't quite as transgressive a thing as Delia had originally assumed.
No, Squire Alan was transgressive in other ways.
Squire Alan, Delia noted, also had a very obvious crush on the Prince. She wondered that no one seemed to notice that, but then she noticed Alan giving her another poisonous glare, and noticed one short, somewhat scruffy knight watching Alan thoughtfully.
…Clearly, Alan hadn't managed to fool everyone.
But just as clearly, Delia thought, observing the people around her with long-practiced subtlety, Alan had fooled enough people.
Delia could admire that, in a girl.
It was pretty obvious that the Prince knew his squire was a girl, and it was just as obvious that he had a wicked sense of humor - he insisted on making Alan dance with all the women at each ball.
Delia hid another snicker and watched a red-faced Alan squirm out of yet another admirer's arms; the social climbers had clearly started to swarm around the Prince's squire.
Delia watched the Prince drag a mulish Alan over to still another lady through narrowed eyes.
She walked over and tapped Alan on the shoulder. Alan spun, alarmed, and Delia neatly cut in, pulling the shorter girl into a dance.
"Relax," Delia muttered, when they spun too close to the musicians for anyone to hear. "People get suspicious when you're that stiff."
Wide purple eyes met Delia's green ones, filled with alarm.
"We need to talk," Delia added, and Alan swallowed and nodded.
It had taken nothing at all to get Squire Alan alone; Delia had simply chosen Alan as her escort back to her rooms. The Prince's eyes had narrowed - in suspicion or in fear for his friend's secret, Delia couldn't tell - but the others had simply tittered or looked jealous.
Alan was silent, full of skittish energy. It was a long walk through the palace.
Finally, they arrived at the door to Delia's quarters, and Delia waved Alan inside. She stared at the shorter redhead for a long moment, watching Alan rally and defiantly stare back.
"I know you're a girl," Delia said finally.
Alan flinched. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Delia raised a hand. "Don't. You're a terrible liar."
Alan just stared back, face bone-white, lips compressed.
Delia sighed. "I'm not going to tell anyone." She toed off her shoes; the blasted things pinched after a while.
"Why not?" Alan asked sharply.
"Because I don't want to?" Delia said, moving around to her vanity. She began to unlace her dress, watching Alan in the mirror.
The other woman shied back and looked away, face flushing, as Delia's dress slid off her shoulders.
Now this was interesting. Maybe Alan's nervousness wasn't entirely about her secret, after all, or not the secret Delia had figured out. Delia turned to face Alan, letting her dress pool at her feet.
"Squire Alan, look at me," Delia said.
Alan did, but her violet eyes darted down to look at Delia's bare shoulders and chest, at her stocking-clad legs. Blushing even redder, Alan forced her chin up and looked Delia defiantly in the eyes.
Delia came closer, slowly, giving Alan plenty of time to back away. Alan, rigid, never moved. Delia pressed lightly up against the stiff squire, and huffed a laugh as Alan jerked slightly at the pressure of Delia's breasts.
Delia placed her hands on Alan's shoulders. "It's okay, Alan, or whatever your name really is," she whispered intimately into Alan's ear.
When Delia kissed the other girl, Alan jerked away, finally regaining her mobility.
But she couldn't take her eyes off of Delia.
Delia smiled - an honest smile, not a courtly one - and simply stood there, letting Alan look. "Come here," she said softly, and, blushing fiercely, almost reluctantly, Alan did.
This time, when Delia kissed her, Alan didn't move away. She did start when Delia slipped off her tunic, wrapping her arms around her chest before Delia could remove the shirt, too.
"It's okay," Delia said again.
Alan stared at her for a long moment, and then finally, slowly, tentatively, nodded. With a nervous fidget of the hem and defiant speed, the squire pulled her shirt off. She moved to undo the laces of her special corset.
"Let me," Delia said, catching the other girl's hands. Startled violet eyes met hers, then Alan nodded.
Delia slowly set to work on the laces, punctuating her progress with soft kisses and light caresses on the young woman's slowly exposed flesh. She was almost to the end when the other woman grabbed her, redirecting her attention upwards.
"My name is Alanna," the squire said, almost fiercely. Violet eyes blazed. "And if you tell anyone…"
Delia silenced her with a hard kiss. "I told you, I won't tell. I like a girl who causes a scandal."
This time, Alanna returned the kiss enthusiastically.