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Fine Feathers

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The Doctor had left, her mother was discussing broth with the serving staff, and now her only company was him, perched beside her bed. Perhaps she ought to let herself go to sleep? She knew she ought to sleep. She could feel the weight of her eyelids, the pull of the draught the Doctor had given her, the ache in her arm throbbing just out of time with the pulse pounding in her head, but she could not bear to stop looking at his face, not even to ease the pain.

It eased a different sort of pain, to watch. She couldn't otherwise reconcile the past hour, the Miss Morville in her head huffing and sputtering in an awkward fluster, caught between dismay and disbelief; Drusilla was having just as much trouble, caught in the memory of the feel of his lips and the stutter of her breath when he'd insisted on carrying her himself.

"Is your shoulder all right?" That was not what either Miss Morville or Drusilla had wanted to say, but it seemed she wasn't listening to herself at the moment.

Besides, it had most apparently been the correct thing to say, because his eyes opened wide, bright blue laughing at her even as he shook his head. "My most absurd robin, you are supposed to be resting. Not fretting yourself in regards to my shoulder."

" -- "

"Which is fine." He interrupted her before she could even managed a half a word, hand lifted and palm out to signal for quiet. "Now it is your turn to listen to the Doctor, who has assured me you are always a most excellent and sensible patient."

"Sensible" was a compliment, to judge by the way his smile softened, and really, no matter how much Drusilla wished to be dramatic, she was perfectly well aware she'd feel better on the morrow if she slept. She sighed and closed her eyes, holding tight to the memory of blue caught between thick lashes.

"There we go," his voice was as soft as a breath, and there was the barest whisper of a touch against her arm, fingertips adjusting her sling, and she couldn't help another soft sigh. Her life was exceedingly absurd.

But it was the best sort of absurd; she hoped it never made sense again.

Gervase loves me.

"It has set just as it ought and I have no concerns for your trip home." Dr Malpas smiled and patted her (un-broken) arm rather perfunctorily. "I will be more than happy to attend to you there in a sennight to observe your progress. If all is as expected, you should then be ready to begin small hand movements, being careful to keep your arm itself still, and be free from the sling entirely in six weeks." He nodded brusquely at both her and St Erth, and was out the door before she'd entirely finished nodding in reply. He was stepping so quickly that she wondered if he was attempting to avoid the Dowager.

She wished him luck, but didn't think it likely he'd succeed.

Six weeks.

It was about what she had expected; she'd nursed more than one broken arm over the years. Brothers.

St Erth seemed equally unsurprised by the Doctor's pronouncement; to judge by the barest hint of a frown between his brows he was nonetheless still disappointed, and this observation was more than enough to make the last remnants of Miss Morville's stuttering thoughts disappear.

Drusilla didn't miss her. Drusilla wondered what Lady St Erth would sound like, once she had something to say. Drusilla considered that she should be careful in regards the dosage of the Doctor's medicines, or she might start announcing thoughts like that aloud.

Gervase might like that.

"You seem remarkably content for someone who just broke her arm." St Erth's voice was even and polite, the hint of a frown smoothed away to leave his expression almost entirely opaque except for his eyes, rueful and smiling both.

She did so love his eyes.

She smiled at him, as she was unsure if her eyes were up to transmitting her opinion of him without the assistance of the rest of her face. "I am sure tomorrow I will not be, as the fact that I will be able to neither stitch nor knit will make for a very long week, but today I am quite comfortable."

"Excellent." St Erth nodded. "We must engage you a secretary directly."

Drusilla blinked.

His eyes were positively dancing, even as the rest of his face stayed still for a heartbeat, two, until one lone eyebrow slowly raised in response to her continued silence. "You do prefer to be busy." It wasn't a question, for all his voice lifted delicately at the end of his sentence. "I am sure there are numerous things to be arranged prior to the wedding, and perhaps a ball afterwards, to present Lady St Erth?" His gaze was steady and firm as he met hers, and she did not blush, she certainly wasn't embarrassed, but there was something of heat between them, new and different than anything she'd ever felt before. It almost made it hard to breathe, some inexplicable tension building, until the moment he smiled, small and crooked and achingly sad. "I certainly cannot trust my relatives to manage them."

Theo would have been more than -- That was not a thought worth finishing for anyone, but most especially not Gervase, so she let it go, tried to ignore the vast chasm inside her, the drop of the floor as it almost disappeared. Not Theo. Instead she nodded. "I was unaware we had decided on a date?"

"Of course not." St Erth allowed a flicker of relief as she avoided the subject they neither of them could bear to mention. Not yet. Instead his eyes widened, most properly horrified at the impropriety of the suggestion, "I must go and ask your father's official consent today, and then make my official offer to you, but that is no reason not to begin our preparations now."

"I believe that might be the only reason. Most preparations do require a timeline."

"Six weeks, of course. I would have preferred less, but one can't very well get married in a sling, now can one?" St Erth was good at imperious, but he shifted to exquisitely mournful with barely a breath of pause between his words. "Turvey would never forgive me, as it would assuredly not go with my coat."

She giggled.

Her uninjured arm lifted her hand to cover her mouth an instant too late to catch the sound, her eyes wide in surprise. She had never known herself to do so before, not since she was about seven, but it had most assuredly been a giggle.

"Definitely a robin." St Erth bowed, a hint of a smile escaping his eyes to curl his mouth, and escaped before she could try and contradict him.

Not that she had been planning any such thing; she enjoyed being his robin, and assumed even she was allowed one such entirely impractical sentiment.

At first waiting on her arm to heal was no great hardship.

That first day involved travel, getting herself and her mother back home. For the last time that this will be home? It didn't take near the entire day; even so it was enough, when combined with St Erth being deceptively irreverent at her father all evening. She almost giggled again.

She didn't feel at all like giggling when he bent over her hand to say goodnight, though it was a very similar light-headed breathless sort of feeling. Only better. Infinitely, endlessly better.

Day two she rested. It was a quiet peaceful day, and she could not ever recall a single thing she accomplished for the duration, but it was not nearly as frustrating as she'd expected. She was still too tired to mind the slow shift of the fire in the hearth, and the sound of the wind through the trees outside.

Especially because she was sitting by precisely the best window to watch Cloud bringing St Erth over for a visit, and she settled there again when it was time to watch him leave.

Day three was Sunday. Reverend Clowne read the Banns, and while she heard the whispers afterwards, the uncomplimentary surprise throughout the parish was not unexpected and could not diminish her pleasure in hearing her name spoken next to St Erth's.

St Erth was less forgiving, though she didn't think anyone beyond herself and two of the party from Stanyon recognized the glint in his eyes as something of which to be wary. But Lord Ulverston stood too still before his easy smile broke free, and even Martin had somehow gained sense enough to be stiff and snarling on someone else's behalf rather than his own.

Martin apparently also gave Mr. Alston a shocking leveler at some point that afternoon. (Shocking because Mr. Alston was generally considered the best boxer in the county, not because there was any reliance to be placed in either the complacency of Martin's temper or the quality of Mr. Alston's manners.) Neither Lord Ulverston nor Martin told her any such thing, but it was hard not to notice Lord Ulverston's sudden cooperation with young Mr Frant in distracting St Erth that evening. Despite both their inclinations towards mutual avoidance, they were in agreement in regards keeping the event from St Erth's attention. It seemed they thought it better to let the notoriously hot-headed Martin punch people who said obnoxious things about his soon-to-be sister-in-law rather than let St Erth have at them. She decided that was a compliment to herself, even if it was obtuse of them to think St Erth didn't already know.

It was perfectly normal for Lord Ulverston to frown any time he looked at Martin, but it was noticeable on this particular evening that he did keep trying to smooth it away. She was amazed the man had managed to keep his engagement a secret for more than a quarter hour. "I do think," she mentioned to him after asking after his daily visit to Whissenhurst, "that it is unkind of you to be annoyed at Martin simply because you find it disconcerting to be in agreement with him." It was gratifying to have caused Lord Ulverston to be at a total loss for words. She had never seen such a thing before. "Not that I do not appreciate the courtesy displayed towards myself, or the surprisingly efficacious results that can come from a good fisticuffs if one is careful not to mock the loser after the fact. But after bemoaning Mr. Frant's lack of sense for these several weeks, it does seem unfair to find him just as frustrating when he is actually attempting to be sensible, especially as it is in service to his brother this time?"

Lord Ulverston's eyes narrowed for a moment before he smiled, wider and brighter than any she'd seen before; more surprise than charm. "You and St Erth are an excellent match, my lady. I look forward to attending upon you both for years to come."

"Why thank you, my lord. That is very kind of you."

By day four she considered asking Martin to visit and teach her how to snarl, (though not to punch anyone, at least not just yet), to see if it would provide a relief to her nerves. Listening to Papa and the Dowager (who deigned to grace them with her presence for a morning visit) continue their animadversions towards each other's familial lines without the solace of work to distract her was more than Drusilla could easily endure.

At least Mama found them amusing, and her brothers had not yet arrived to join the fray and stir up opinion even more.

St Erth came on a visit of his own in a suspiciously short amount of time after his mother-in-law's departure. The very sound of his footsteps approaching down the hall were enough to improve her mood, especially as he then consented to distract her from twitchy fingers and an aching arm for the rest of the day.

Day five was almost worse; her shoulders were stiff from trying to hold her arm still, and she had a growing list in her head of all the things she needed to do and couldn't, because whenever she tried to get a start on them, Mama shushed her and told her to rest.

"If I rest much longer I may commit murder." She confided in St Erth when he arrived promptly on time for afternoon tea.

"Well, I cannot very well have my bride carted off to Newgate, can I?" Mama startled, and Drusilla had the sudden disconcerting discovery that other people did not recognize the way St Erth laughed, no matter how obvious she found the bright and dancing blue of his eyes. "I did bring a proper carriage today, perhaps we shall go for a nice quiet ride?"

Day five was the best day she'd had in months.

On day six St Erth appeared with a handsome secretary, a middle-aged woman with prodigiously impressive taste in hats. Mama was flustered. Drusilla had never seen her mother flustered. It seemed likely St Erth was going to manage it on a regular basis.

That was going to be entertaining. In the meantime, she finally caught up on her correspondence.

For day seven her head ached, her eyes had trouble focusing, and her arm decided to shift to agonizingly painful again, and as a result did not bear considering, beyond the kindness of Marianne's short visit, and the hushed whisper of her voice as she drew the curtains and escaped downstairs to guard Drusilla's rest from any interruptions. A quite singular act of bravery, considering how nervous Mama made her. All Drusilla noted in her diary that day was never again.

Day eight was dull and rainy but her arm had settled back down to a low throbbing ache, and Dr Malpas was pleased with her progress. St Erth threatened to bring Turvey over to go through her trousseau, so she had the privilege of watching both her parents blink and almost stutter when she laughed.

All in all an excellent day.

The remaining weeks of her convalescence were more of the same. Better, of course, because she was finally doing something. Plans for both the wedding and the ball proceeded apace; her new secretary took excellent notes. She faded quite impressively into the background during every interview with the staff, but could also manage to be ostentatiously present whenever the latest tradesman thought the soon-to-be new Lady St Erth would be an easy mark.

It was quite satisfactory to disabuse them of that notion.

St Erth came to visit almost every day; he also gave her a list of people not to invite. It was a very odd combination of names, but the inclusion of Mr. Alston made the impetus apparent. She spent at least a day trying to talk him out of quite such a public snubbing. She wasn't sure why, as she knew perfectly well he was as immovable as granite once he'd made up his mind, but she felt as if she ought? Or perhaps it just felt odd to have someone snubbing important members of Society on her behalf. When she finally ran out of arguments, Gervase just smiled at her, and took her hand, and told her she'd have made the same decision if anyone had insulted him so blatantly, and she was forced (not at all regretfully) to concede the point.

Marianne came to visit almost as often as St Erth. It was surprisingly relaxing to simply smile at each other, two newly engaged young ladies, delighted by their fates. Marianne even indulged Drusilla and helped brace her embroidery hoop for over an hour after tea on more than one occasion.

Marianne also blushed quite prettily as Drusilla and her Mama debated the benefits of a new nightgown for her wedding night. Or rather, as Drusilla let her mother talk her into agreeing to a new one, as she was delighted by the excuse; it was going to have pink lace. It was going to be the most luxurious thing she'd ever owned. Delighted barely even covered it.

It barely covered her, the linen so fine as to be practically sheer.

She hoped Gervase would be as delighted as she was.

Marianne was much more invested in the conversation about Drusilla's new dress, the one to wear at her first public appearance as Lady St Erth, presiding over her first ball. It was not quite ostentatious, but it was closer than might have been wise, considering there were already whispers about only a Miss and marrying above her station,who are her people?  and she's not even pretty and have you heard about her parents?

Not that Drusilla was letting that stop her enjoying every moment. Getting fitted with a broken arm was almost excruciating enough to dampen her joy in watching the development of her very expensive ballgown with its very ornate embroidery, but only almost. (Not even almost; she was practically giddy.)

It was a definitively enjoyable convalescence.

Except of course, for the fact that part-way through week four her arm was finally healing well enough to itch. Abominably. Almost constantly. Gervase brought her flowers and his eyes laughed. He offered to drive them both up to Scotland if she thought that would distract her sufficiently from her discomfort.

Marianne blanched.

"That was very unkind of you." Drusilla replied. As if I'd lose the chance to dance with you in my new dress. His smile was positively cherubic. Devilish man. She loved him so much it hurt to breathe.

Lord Ulverston patted Marianne's hand sympathetically. "Quite a fuss, ain't he?"

By week six she was cautiously hopeful that everything was going to work as intended, though she knew better than to count on such a thing. She even managed, the afternoon after Dr Malpas removed her sling, to take time off to knit, slowly and carefully, feeling the shift in the muscles of her hands and arms. She let her mind relax, wandering over her preparations and trying to confirm that she had appropriate contingencies for any probable (and most of the improbable) complications.

St Erth settled himself quietly and watched her for awhile, a comfortable silence surrounding them for the duration of four new rows.

Gervase broke the silence first. "You do not seem to be at all nervous."

"Should I be?"

"Well, above and beyond the fact that my sister did always seem to be most especially excited in the days before a ball," his voice was barely louder than the occasional click of her needles as she adjusted her grip, low and almost rumbling, "I have understood that it is customary in young maidens about to be married."

"But that would imply I am not comfortable with the man I am marrying." She let her gaze lift from her yarn, focusing on him directly, on the ache between her heartbeats every time she looked at him. "If that was the case, why would I be marrying such a man at all?"

"I am honored by your trust, my lady."

"Are you?" She had to swallow at the weight in his eyes, his voice, the tremble in her throat.

"Of course." His smile tilted, as warm as the light in his eyes. "Or why else would I be marrying you?"

"That is a very astute point." She hoped he could see the same warmth in her, for all her voice stayed calm and level. "I agree."

He leaned back, shaking his head, but his smile deepened. "While I adore your practical sensibilities, my robin, I am not sure astute is the most romantic of descriptions for one's bridegroom as he impatiently awaits his wedding day."

"You are the least impatient man of my acquaintance." He was entirely relaxed in his chair, his smile open, his hands easy in his lap, his eyes as bright as ever as he listened to her. "You are also perfectly well aware that I am not in the least romantic."

"Not even a little?" He pretended to mournful again, though his eyes were too delighted to make it convincing.

"Very well." She felt her lips twitch with half a smile of her own. "How about adroit?"

"Hmm." He clicked his tongue. "That has potential, but implies a certain rush to the proceedings that I dislike."

"You were the one who professed impatience."

"For the wedding day to arrive. Not in any desire to rush the day itself, once it's here."

There it was, that heat again, almost scalding the very air between them, and she spared a moment in gratitude for how very unconventional her Mama could be, that she felt no need to blush like poor Marianne. "Or the wedding night?"

He blinked ever so slowly, and it did not a thing to break the heat of his gaze. "How very astute of you."

"Of course."

The wedding itself was exactly what she'd wanted. A small family gathering in the morning, the sun shining brightly in the windows, the Reverend smiling at her as they spoke their vows.

The sky was not nearly as bright a blue as Gervase's eyes.

Everything was perfect. Even with the Dowager in attendance. She and Papa both behaved themselves; Drusilla was tempted to thank God for such a miracle, but Reverend Clowne might think that blasphemous. Martin smiled. Her brothers behaved. They were even mostly discreet about eyeing up St Erth, caught between wanting to protect their sister and be happy for her, while also wondering what a dandy and an Earl could possibly see in her, for all they neither of them were rude enough to say so.

She had noticed that it was difficult for most brothers to appreciate their sisters as actual grown women. Not that she would ever stop recalling them as rambunctious ten year olds who needed an unreasonable number of bandages and baths to be presentable, so they weren't the only ones with such a weakness.

She did wonder as the day dragged on as to why it was considered proper to have the ceremony in the morning. Perhaps it was so every new bride and groom would have a distraction from worrying about how their various family members would behave now that they were all in the same room together? She spent a considerable amount of time distracted by the possibilities of Gervase and her new nightgown.

Despite such prolonged anticipation, they did survive the remainder of their wedding day. They survived the Dowager somehow managing to monopolize anything resembling conversation over luncheon, and her brothers and Martin annoying each other for half the afternoon, only resolving their differences when they made it to the stables and called a truce over the importance of discussing horse-flesh. Boys. The almost-squabbles made the absence of Theo's calming presence even more noticeable, despite the pained realization that such serenity had been a lie for much, much too long. They even survived the Dowager's insistence on presiding over whist and brandy. By mutual agreement, they both condescended to indulge her, this one last time. She was losing Stanyon after all.

They survived, in Drusilla's opinion, primarily because of Gervase's fondness for addressing observations and questions to Lady St Erth under his breath whenever no one else was paying attention. Or occasionally even when they were, as her new husband was decidedly impertinent. She was amazed so few people ever seemed to notice. Except for Lord Ulverston, who shot her a conspiratorial grin before dinner.

Though that might have been him wishing them well on their wedding night. Lord Ulverston was capable of being impertinent as well. She smiled back, perfectly content with either interpretation. She was looking forward to meeting more of St Erth's friends once they went to London for the Season; but not to the same degree as she was looking forward to the moment when she and Gervase would finally be alone.

Alone at last.

“Lady St Erth.” Gervase bowed, and kissed the back of her hand, and she had never been so aware of her own skin before.

“Lord St Erth.” She dipped into something that was only about a quarter of a curtsy, as he did not let go of her hand. She lifted her chin as she rose, and he kissed her, she kissed him, warm lips and soft breath and his nose bumped hers and she couldn’t stop smiling.

“Drusilla.” His hands were warm against the line of her jaw, his fingertips gentle against her cheeks, curling as if to chase her smile. Her eyes closed as he kissed her again, kissed her ‘til she was dizzy, fingers digging into his shoulders to hold herself up, and they were close enough she could feel the lift of his chest when they finally had to breathe

“Gervase.” He grinned at her as she said his name, and she had only half a breath to realize she should be suspicious before he’d picked her up and spun them both around, and around, until they were most of the way to the bed, her dressing gown alternately swirling out and tangling back around her legs.

Not that her dressing gown was anything in comparison to his; she had never seen so much embroidery in so very many colors. It made his hair glow like gilded thread, his eyes shine even brighter than usual. She adored it. She adored him.

"I love you," she whispered, still breathless from the spin, the wedding, his eyes, her feet barely coming to rest against the floor before she had to speak, had to say what she never had before. Not that she expected that either of them were in any doubt of such sentiment. It was still nice to say.

He kissed her, hard, hard enough she felt her heart skip, her toes curl, hard enough she gasped when his mouth moved, a kiss against her jaw, her neck, a whisper in her ear, "I love you, too."

It was even nicer to hear. Especially when combined with another kiss, closer to the curve of her shoulder.

"I have a surprise for you." She felt his lips smile against her skin before he lifted his head to look at her directly.

"Do you now?" His voice was almost as much a warm caress as his lips had been.

She took a half a step back, enough to give her room to breathe. She paused a moment, watching his head tilt as he waited. She untied her dressing gown, and let it slip from her shoulders, and felt the heat flush her skin as his eyes went dark and his face was even better than she'd imagined, a half a sound caught in his throat before he managed to speak.

"That is an excellent surprise." He stepped forward, fingers trailing gently down her sides, just enough she could feel the warmth of his skin even through the cool touch of the linen, and it was her turn to lose her voice, something almost a moan and almost a sigh caught in her throat at the sensation. "Wherever did you get it? We need at least six more."

"Six?" She managed, though her voice was not a thing she recognized, breathless and low and almost ragged.

"One for every night of the week." He kissed her again, but it was different this time, open mouthed and hot, her body scalding as he pulled her tight against him. "Or possibly just to replace this one if we are too enthusiastic before I manage to get it off of you."

"I do not think yours is as easily replaced, my lord." There was a tremble in her voice, her fingertips, and she hoped it would never stop. "If I may?"

He nodded and she reached to untie his dressing gown. She hummed low in the back of her throat at the feel of his shoulders beneath her hands, the heavy weight of brocade against her skin as she pushed it back, and watch it crumple into a pile behind him. His feet shifted, and she did make a sound this time, a tangled aching gasp as he scooped her up in his arms and took the final few steps to the bed.

His face as she descended the stairs in her ballgown the next day was almost as good as the one her chemise had inspired, if more appropriate for public viewing, the heat mostly hidden behind the smile in his eyes.

"Lady St Erth." He offered his arm, and she took it, and they moved together to prepare to greet their guests.

"You are positively glowing, my robin." He sounded inordinately pleased with himself as he whispered to her after the last of their guests had moved past them.

She supposed that was not unreasonable of him. "I am an adequate hostess, aren't I?"

He laughed silently down at her, eyes bright and sparkling as he led her inside.

She did host an excellent ball. She was almost as pleased with herself as Gervase was with the both of them.

"Would you have this dance with me, my robin?" The musicians were preparing for the last dance of the night, the familiar shifting beat of a waltz.

"Again, St Erth?" They were already half-way to their place before she'd finished, as of course she'd given him her arm in answer almost before he'd asked. "Whatever shall they say about such a thing?"

"I do believe newlyweds are granted some slight forebearance." He bowed and took her in his arms.

She felt the music lift them both as they began to dance, as magical as flying. "It is nonetheless shockingly unfashionable of you."

"You wound me, my lady, I may never recover." His eyes still laughed, even as his voice dropped mournfully.

She smiled, an ache in her chest and breath caught between her heartbeats. "Whatever will your excuse be next year, my lord?"

"I'm sure we shall count as newlyweds for at least five years."

"Is that all?" She felt her smile widen as they managed an especially impressive spin. There was very little in the world that was better than dancing with her Gervase. "Here I was hoping for at least a decade."

"I believe even a decade is not enough." He clicked his tongue, and shook his head. His fingers tightened around hers, just enough to allow her to follow his next shift in direction, just enough to remind her heart to try and find its rhythm again. "All of them."

She nodded her agreement. "All of them."