Watching your family grow up was a fascinating process, especially when they took as much time doing it as the Meathead did. As Neal and Yuki took their marriage vows in both the Tortallan and Yamani fashion, Dom could scarcely believe his eyes.
People around him wept, and while Dom was moved by this display of love and maturity, he didn't find it in himself to cry. Even Kel, whose emotions he could never quite guess, got teary-eyed, but Dom's full heart was good enough an expression for him.
The whole time they were up there, Dom kept his eyes locked on his cousin. Neal was a few years younger than he, and he had an odd sense that he should have married first. But that would mean leaving the Own, and Dom had never yet met a woman he loved enough to do that.
After the ceremony, Dom congratulated Neal with a hearty embrace. He kissed Lady Yuki's hand and joked about how she had her work cut out for her—but through it all, something just felt a little bit...off.
He was happy for Neal, of course, and not the least bit jealous. But he found it hard to connect to the feelings of overwhelming joy expressed by so many of his relatives and friends. Perhaps it was because he remained unmarried, or perhaps he was just not in the right mood for a wedding.
The festivities after the ceremony were grand. A ball was held with most of the music in the eastern fashion, the dance floor decorated with Yamani cherry blossoms. Dom danced with several ladies, even taking a turn with the lovely bride.
"Welcome to the family," he joked to Yuki. "Officially."
Yuki smiled, and not just with her eyes. "You are too kind, Domitan."
"I am," he agreed. "I'm just trying to soften the blow that comes from binding yourself to the Meathead."
"I'll tell him you said that." Yuki's eyes twinkled.
"Please do!" Dom laughed. "It might help your case."
"If I've got a case of anything, my Neal is sure to cure it."
"Gross," Dom said, spinning her in a circle in time to the music.
"It will not seem so when you find your match, Domitan!" Yuki said. The song came to a close, and she bowed to him. "Is that eastern enough?"
Dom bowed back, half-kneeling. "I don't know—is this western enough?"
Yuki winked and shook her head, then was swept away by Lord Raoul as another song begun.
Dom helped himself to some finger food, impressed by the sweetmeats. Lady Alanna stopped at the table of refreshments to refill her plate alongside him.
"I'm almost glad George is home sick," she said through a mouthful of dumpling. "He'd be telling me to eat less."
"I never took him as one who cared so much about his wife's figure," Dom remarked.
"He doesn't," she said, licking her fingers. "He's just worried about my table manners!" She laughed. "You'll get it from your wife, when you're married."
"I haven't met the woman yet who could woo me from the Own," he said.
"Or you haven't realized it." Alanna clapped him on the back and wandered off.
Dom shook his head as he went to find somewhere to eat. What was that supposed to mean?
"Dom, there you are!" Kel waved him over to where she sat with the Wildmage. "Daine and I were just talking about that ogre you and Third Company killed on the way here."
"Nasty fellow, that one," Dom said, sitting down. "Usually that many men will scare a lone ogre off, but—"
"Daine! Daine!" cried Numair from across the room. "Come here—I've lost my scrying glass—"
Daine sighed and rose to her feet. "I'm sorry, Domitan," she said. "He'd lose his own feet if they weren't too big. You'll have to tell me some other time." She rushed off to aid her lover, leaving Kel alone with Dom.
"I am so glad this isn't my wedding," Dom said, sipping from a glass of wine. "I swear, everyone is dropping hints that I need to settle down, but I don't think I need some poor lady picking up after me."
"You know that's not what Daine and Numair are like," Kel chided.
"Or Neal and Yuki, or Buri and Raoul, or George and Alanna." Dom waved a hand. "Yes, I know. My point still stands—we ride with unusual folk."
"Why wouldn't your hypothetical bride be just as unusual?" Kel said.
"I'm not one of them," Dom said. "I know you hate to have it pointed out, but even Practical Lady Keladry is far more incredible than some sergeant in the King's Own."
Kel rolled her eyes. "Stop being modest. It doesn't become you."
"I didn't mean in looks," Dom said, puffing out his chest and lifting his chin nobly. "Just in—magical destiny, being god-touched, that sort of thing. It's the only way I'm average, since I am clearly the handsomest lad in the Own—nay, all of Tortall!"
Kel shook her head with a smile. "That's the Domitan of Masbolle I know."
The band began a slower tune—an old lullaby that washed over Dom with nostalgia. It was a family favorite, something he always insisted his mother sing to him as a child. Evidently Duke Baird had sung it to his son, as well.
"Mm, that brings back memories," he murmured. His eyes followed Neal, now reunited with Yuki, as they danced in marital bliss.
Kel stood up suddenly. She wore a loose-fitting green dress complemented with a pale yellow shrug, simply attired in contrast to the more extravagant costumes of the other noblewomen. But Dom liked her outfit—it was much more her than some fancy ball gown would have been.
"Do you want to dance with me?" she asked.
Dom blinked, surprised by her offer. He noticed a momentary grimace on her face, and his belly tightened as he wondered what that meant.
"Wyldon taught all us pages how," she added. "I'm more familiar with the men's part, but—"
Dom stood up and took her hand. "Of course," he said. "I can play the lady, if you want."
They joined the crowd of dancers, matching their steps to the rhythm. Dom's eyes wandered around the room, seeing all sorts of couple clutch each other close. That oddness from before swept over him again, and he wondered why he felt so detached from the otherwise perfectly romantic scene.
Eventually his eyes met Kel's. Hazel. They were a pretty color, he noticed. She led the dance with grace and strength that became her. Gods, she was bigger than he was at the shoulders, and almost his height.
He didn't know why he was thinking about all that—he'd watched her grow into an adult, after all. He'd fought alongside her in the Own and in the Scanran War. It wasn't as if he'd never noticed these things before.
His expression must have belied his thoughts, at least in part, because Kel frowned.
"I'm sorry, should I not have—?" she began.
"No, no," Dom assured her. "This is—nice. I like it." Even if it was a different feeling to be following in this dance.
"You smell nice," he blurted out. "I mean, usually we all smell like horse and sweat, if we're lucky, so it might just be you're clean, but—"
"I'm wearing perfume," Kel said. She stifled a laugh. "I am a girl, Dom."
"Um, yes, definitely," Dom agreed. Was that what had got his heart all in a twist? He certainly didn't feel the same way about Kel as he did with all the other ladies he'd courted and bedded; he would never suggest such a thing to her, one of his best friends!
Kel gripped him just a bit tighter, lifting him in to the air with the dance. Dom felt his heart skip a beat, entirely from surprise. His head spun as he landed back down on the ground, and his heart pounded long after the dance had ended and he and Kel went their separate ways.
He wasn't quite sure—he didn't understand his own feelings, after all—but if he didn't know Kel better, he'd guess she might have been flirting.