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Odd Couple

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He tries giving her violets. "They match your eyes," he says.

She throws them back in his face.

His sister, later, is sympathetic but amused. "The Daughters kept trying to make her stitch violets onto everything," Gwynnen recollects. "For the same reason. She wasn't very amused."

Francis resolves to do better next time.


This time, he gives her a necklace. It isn't anything too fancy, just a string of onyx beads, but something about it reminds him of her.

She actually accepts the gift this time, and Francis' heart lifts -

- Only to fall again the next day, when he realizes she isn't wearing it. She's only wearing the same frayed cord with the weird little vitric coal.

"It was a nice thought, Francis," Nen says, patting his hand. She is too young to be so disturbingly like their mother. "I've never seen her wear anything but that gem, though, not since she found it." She gives him a patient glance. "She kept it, though, didn't she? That's promising."

Francis isn't actually sure Alanna did keep it, but if she discarded it, she at least did so out of his sight.

Even that would be progress, he realizes.


Today, Francis is sitting on a bench in one of the outdoor practice courts, watching Alex duel Alanna yet again. Alanna laughs, vibrant and fiery in the afternoon sun as she parries, and Francis can't help but stare in awe even as he plots ways to drop Alex off the nearest cliff.

She only ever comes alive like this around him, and it is a bitter pill that Francis refuses to swallow.

"You know why she likes him, right?" Thom says, idly toying with his Gift.

Francis startles. Thom hadn't been there a minute ago.

Thom rolls his eyes and starts pulling colored air like taffy between his fingers. It's a bit unnerving, but that's Thom all over.

"Why are we even talking about this?" Francis asks.

"Because you like her," the younger knight replies, not noticing or not caring that Francis really doesn't want to talk about this. "And you're a decent enough sort, so if I have to have a brother-in-law, it might as well be you." From Thom, that's a ringing endorsement.

Francis looks out over the practice court as Alanna, once again, disarms her opponent, and sighs. Sometimes, life requires bravery. "Why does she like him so much?"

"Because he doesn't treat her like a girl," Thom says, before abruptly disappearing with a thunderous clap.

But she is a girl, Francis thinks, ignoring the sounds of a distant ruckus. Not an ordinary one, but still a girl.


This time, Francis splurges and, after promising the shopkeeper his firstborn, presents Alanna with a sword care kit from Raven Armory.

Her eyes go wide and she squeals like any of Francis' sisters, then hugs him and runs off.


Francis lets a slow grin cross his face. Progress!


The whole lot of them - Francis and his friends, Alanna and her friends, who have all somehow sort of become one big messy group of friends - are having a bit of a holiday in Port Caynn when Francis next gives Alanna a gift. It's a spur-of-the-moment thing, nothing grand, nothing planned, and Francis isn't even really thinking when he buys a thin cord of sturdy braided wire from a stall and hands it to her.

"Should fit your stone, shouldn't it?" he says, as casually as if she were one of his fellow knights, and it's only after she takes the cord from his hand that Francis realizes what he's done and blushes.

Alanna, examining the cord, doesn't notice. "Should do," she says, and slips the battered cord off her neck, cuts the knotted threads, and deftly catches the coal as it slides off. Just as quickly, it is in place on its new cord, secure around her throat.

Alanna fidgets with it a bit, then, apparently having decided it isn't going to come off, looks at Francis and says, "Thanks."

Francis doesn't really remember the rest of the trip.


This year's Midwinter ball is gearing up to be a fiasco, Francis notes. Thom is, much to general shock and alarm, actually in attendance, and Jon looks very much like he's about to have a fit. Only Princess Thayet's grip on his arm is keeping Jon calm, Francis can tell, and he wonders idly why they haven't announced their engagement yet. It's obvious to anyone who watches that they're madly in love.

It's not fair for anyone to have to try to manage Jon alone. Francis makes his way across the hall to the royal couple and idly asks, "Didn't you order Thom to stay away?"

"Usually I don't have to," Jon grumps, looking very much ready to throw the local headache out by his ear.

"He's only here because his sister is," Thayet remarks. "You can hardly blame family for being protective."

"Watch me," Jon grumbles.

Buri, somewhere in the background, snickers.

"Alanna's here?" Francis asks. He hadn't thought she was coming.

"Alex persuaded her," Jon says. Thayet smacks him. "What?"

Of course Alex managed to persuade her, Francis thinks bitterly. I failed, so he manages it.

Buri, with a roll of her eyes, grabs Francis' sleeve and spins him around. "What is it with all you melodramatic Tortallan men?"

Alex, now nose-to-nose with Francis, grins at the prickly K'mir. "I don't know what you're talking about, Miss Tourakom. I'm not melodramatic."

"Horse Lords you're not," Buri mutters.

Alex drops a hand on Francis' shoulder and propels him forward. "Go ask her to dance, moron," he says.

Francis trips over his feet, makes an acceptable recovery, and finds himself practically in Alanna's arms.

She is wearing a really rather fetching indigo ballgown, he notices, and a simple onyx necklace.

Francis blinks.

Alanna grins up at him, then offers him her arm. She swings him into the dance, taking the lead, and Francis ignores the snickers of his friends and his own unfamiliarity with the steps, and follows.