No sooner met but they looked;
No sooner looked but they loved;
No sooner loved but they sighed;
No sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason;
No sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy;
And in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage...
-- William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 2
"Mmm." He was almost drowsing, his face pressed into the pillow mashing a positively undignified smile. It seemed a shame to disrupt his bliss. But once the thought had crossed my mind, I couldn't banish it. If I weren't going to get any rest until he answered me, then neither was he.
"You said something about asking Simon for my hand."
That woke him up fast. He opened one eye and gave me a baleful look. I ignored it. "You didn't really mean that, did you?"
Tybalt rolled over and glared at the ceiling.
"I mean, we don't actually need anyone's permission," I pressed on.
I was beginning to have a bad feeling about this. "Tell me we don't."
"Are you asking me to start lying to you, little fish?"
"At this juncture? You'd better not," I said.
He shifted onto his side and propped his head on one folded arm. His hair was standing up all over the place, which reminded me of just how it had gotten that way. I wanted to run my fingers through it again.
"There are certain formalities," Tybalt admitted, "which it is possible you may not care for."
"Like having to ask my father for my hand. You have got to be kidding me."
"Oh, it needn't be your father," he said blithely.
"That's fortunate." No need to belabor all of the reasons why. "I guess you could ask Sylvester." Liege lord more or less equaled in loco parentis, right?
"Despite our differences, I suspect he would say yes for your sake," Tybalt mused, "but unfortunately, it does need to be a blood relative."
"Why does it even matter?" I knew I sounded peevish, but I didn't care.
"There will be enough raised eyebrows in both of our Courts," Tybalt pointed out. "Better if I follow protocol."
Sometimes Faerie's preponderance of antiquated customs is enough to drive me up a tree. He was right, I wasn't particularly fond of this one. But if he needed to consult a blood relative before formally announcing our nuptials -- "You realize there's only one choice left."
"I'm aware," Tybalt said dryly. "I don't suppose you'd agree to wait and do this another night? Let me bask a bit longer in the fact of your having said yes?"
"Might as well face the music." The look on her face was going to be priceless. I was starting to feel more sanguine about the whole thing. "Pay the piper. Rip the bandaid right off."
Tybalt winced. "That...is not a kind metaphor to a cat."
"Better stay in this skin, then."
I was pretty sure mouthing off was going to get me either kissed, or tackled with a pillow.
I can't say I minded that he opted to leave the pillow where it was.
Tybalt wouldn't let me drive. "I am not arriving on this errand in that conveyance," he sniffed. The shadow roads stole my breath, but not as much as they used to. I was getting used to this.
The Luidaeg was sitting on her front step when we emerged from the shadows. She looked Tybalt up and down with a faint smirk. He was wearing black trousers and a fine white shirt which hinted at ruffles without being too piratical. I hadn't bled on this one yet. "You took my advice."
He sketched a bow. "Toby said the leather pants were inadvisable."
"And you listened. Good for you, kitty cat."
He held out a bottle of scotch wordlessly.
"You've upgraded your gifts." Her voice was approving.
"I seek audience to speak with you about Toby," he said stiffly.
Her eyes flicked from him to me and back again and her smile broadened. "So that's how it is. Come in, then."
Her house was spotless, bearing no sign of its recent misadventures. The cream-colored carpet swallowed the sound of our footsteps like deep sand. As always in her domain, the air smelled like the sea.
We sat in a triangle, Tybalt and me on a loveseat and the Luidaeg facing us. This time her smile was sharp and pointed. "King of Cats, you seek a boon. Why should I grant my approval to this request?" The words sounded formulaic. Great: another piece of high court formality I never bothered to memorize.
Fuck it. "Because I really want you to?" I hazarded.
"I didn't ask you," she snapped, though the glance she threw me was amused.
Tybalt took a breath. He was sitting stiffly, tension radiating from the lines of his body. "Because she is infurating," he said. That wasn't what I expected, though it was undoubtedly true.
She raised an eyebrow.
"Because I would do anything to protect her."
"Hm," the Luidaeg said, noncommittally.
"Because she is balm to my heart."
That one made me melt. I wanted to reach over and clasp his hand. Something told me I shouldn't, not while we were in the middle of this.
The Luidaeg swung her gaze to me. "Now it's your turn. Why should I grant my approval to this request?"
Images flooded my mind. Memories of Tybalt saving my life, time and again. The look on his face when he called me little fish. His peculiar mix of blitheness and formality. The way he cared for Raj. The brilliant, headstrong, vulnerable man I knew him to be. What came out of my mouth was, "because I can't think of anythings better than spending my life with him."
The Luidaeg grinned. "The formula calls for three responses, but I think that's good enough. Fine," she said, looking at both of us now, "daughter of my sister and King of Cats, approval is granted. Should anyone try to interfere, I swear by Mom and Dad I'll rip their head off and throw it in the sea."
"Great," I muttered.
"Speaking of which," she continued, tossing a glance at Tybalt, "if you hurt her -- I don't mean lover's spat, I don't mean piss her off, I mean really hurt her -- I will disembowel you and feed your guts to the sharks."
"Should I err in such a way that Toby couldn't forgive me," Tybalt said thoughtfully, "I would bare my underbelly willingly."
I shuddered. "Okay, this is getting gruesome. Can we talk about something else now?"
The Luidaeg rose and padded into the kitchen, returning with three mismatched tumblers made of clouded seaglass. "Drink to seal the bargain." She peeled away the wax seal at the top of the bottle and the spicy-peaty smell of good scotch filled the air.
"Bargain? You did not just acquire me," I said to Tybalt accusingly.
"The bargain is for our protection," he corrected. "There will be those among the Cait Sidhe who would prefer that I choose a consort of my own kind this time."
"And if you think you won't hear that kind of bullshit in the Divided Kingdoms, you haven't been paying attention," the Luidaeg added, pushing a glass toward each of us.
"How about we just drink to health and happiness?" I asked, knowing it was a lost cause.
"No one can promise you those," the Luidaeg said, clinking her glass with his and then with mine, "but if you can stay alive, you might have a better shot than most."
As we tipped back our glasses and drank, the scent of the Luidaeg's magic rose around us like a curtain and then disappeared into the sea-salt air.