peroxidepirate: (kel/easy way)
[personal profile] peroxidepirate
Not a new fic, but one I wrote in August & just now realized I never posted here.

They Call This Progress?
Rating: PG-13
Length: 1250 words
Fandom: Tamora Pierce (Tortall)
Disclaimer: Just playing, no profit. I don't own these characters, this universe, or anything else of value.
Characters: George/Neal, Alanna, Aly, Alan, Kel

Summary: Companion piece to "Fencing Lessons." During the Grand Progress, George and his two youngest children visit Alanna. The Lioness is otherwise occupied, so George ends up spending time with her squire, instead.

Baron George Cooper is looking for his wife. If he can find a particular red and gold banner amidst a sea of red and gold, he can locate her tent -- which she'll return to, eventually. But shouldn't the royal pages be back at the palace instead of here, with the Grand Progress?

"Touch that and I'll have your ear!" George growls, and his twelve-year-old son, Alan, guiltily drops his hand.

"Da?" says his ever-helpful daughter, Aly. "We've already come this way. We're going in circles."

"She's being King's Champion from dawn to dusk, she says." The green eyed squire shakes his hair out of his eyes. "Her tent's that way." He points, and George can just see it in the distance. "Spelled to keep everybody out. All she's taught me, and I can't even sense her from outside the protective circle."

"And you her squire? That's madness."

"You don't know the half of it," Neal says, with exaggerated sorrow. "She's turned me over to Lord Raoul for tilting lessons."

George chuckles, in spite of himself. He's always liked Squire Nealan.

There's a shriek, and a squeal, and half a dozen children tear through the camp in a flurry of bright colors. George picks out his twins and a blond lass, amongst the pages in their eye-smarting uniforms.

"Stay out of trouble!" he calls after them.

"You magic your own husband out of your tent? What's the meaning of this?" George's teasing voice belies his harsh words, and he holds out his arms.

"Oh, Goddess, not now." It's full dark, and George has been waiting a stone's throw from Alanna's tent. "I'm exhausted. I just came out to use the privy--"

"And you can't say hello, lass?"

"Hello." She crosses her arms over her chest, and there's a silent exchange of glares.

She speaks first. "You couldn't say 'hello' six months ago? You couldn't even write me yourself? You couldn't write Myles? He had to hear it from one of his agents, and I had to hear it from him!"

"It's not my fault."

"I was worried sick, you idiot," she snaps. "And then word comes back that you're fifty leagues from where we thought you'd be--"

"I can't--"

"Why, George? Just tell me why!"

"I can't!" His voice is as harsh as hers, now. "You knew years ago, there'd be times like this. You'll just have to trust me."

She opens her mouth and then, uncharacteristically, closes it again without speaking. She turns, in a whirl of dressing gown and red hair, and ducks back into the tent.

George tries to follow, and slams into a wall of impenetrable magic.

"Drink this." The command, and the smell of the drink, are familiar accompaniments to the physical symptoms of a hangover. George obeys before he notices that neither the voice, nor the hand holding the mug, belongs to Alanna.

He looks up, into the concerned face of Squire Nealan. "Thanks." His voice comes out as a croak. "She gave you the recipe?"

The tent flap opens before Neal can reply, and Alanna enters. "Can we talk?"

Neal bows, then makes a hasty exit.

"Ma!" The call dies on the lips of the twins, as Neal collars one in each hand.

"That was our mother," Aly asserts. "We need to see her."

Alan struggles against Neal's grasp.

"Your parents need to be alone for a little while." Neal wonders how much he should tell them. "Your father is, um, not quite himself this morning..."

Seeing his obvious discomfort, they both begin to giggle. "Da's had too much to drink," Alan states.

Aly answers with a knowing nod. "And Ma's mad at him. Only question is, is Ma mad because Da drank too much... or did Da drink so much because Ma's mad?"

Neal throws up his hands.

In the nearest mess tent, Neal finds Kel eating lunch with her friends Iden and Warrick, both fourth-year pages. He introduces the twins, and they all sit down with their trays. Alan becomes instant friends with the pages, while Aly and Kel survey each other with surprising intensity. Neal finds himself desperately wishing for fall, and the end of the Grand Progress. For some reason, nobody is behaving the way he expects.

The Lioness has collected her children, promising to take the afternoon off from being Champion. Neal has an hour before tilting lessons, and he's gone back to his own area of camp. "Did you patch things up, then?"

George looks up, uncomfortably. The short answer is no.

Neal gives him a studiedly careless smile. "No concern of mine, of course. Only she's my knight-mistress, and if she's not happy, she sees to it that I'm not, either."

"The Progress, being Champion, dealing with conservatives... it's hard on her. I didn't realize." That's all the answer he's going to give.

After a minute, Neal shrugs. "Good thing they left this tent up." It's pitched beside Neal's tent, and was intended for Alanna. "Is there room enough for you and the twins?"

The squire's concern is touching, and George can almost forget the unpleasant distance between himself and his wife. "Yes. Thank you."

They both smile, and this time, it's genuine.

A week later, torrential rain has called a halt to most of the activities of the progress. By mid-morning, the twins are at the mess tent, the driest place in camp, with their new friends: Alan's are mostly pages, while Aly's are a cross-section of riders, kitchen folk, noble girls, squires, hostlers, and any number of others.

In Neal's small, somewhat damp tent, George nudges the squire awake. "Drink this," he says, when Neal blinks groggily. "I think I remembered the recipe."

Neal sips, chokes on the sour taste of the concoction, and then gulps the rest. "George?"

"I hear a number of the young nobility had quite the celebration last night." The baron raises one eyebrow. "You were in quite the celebratory mood when you came home, too."

"Mithros," Neal whispers, face going pale and then, quickly, red. Memories of the night before flood his mind. "George-- Baron, sir, I'm sorry--"

"So am I." George's voice is serious, and he turns his face away. Neal's sitting up now, bare chest exposed above the sheets, and George is trying not to stare. Neal may have started things, the night before, but George didn't exactly discourage him.

"It'll never happen again!" Neal says quickly.

"You're sarden right, it won't!" George turns back to face the cot, just as Neal stands up, and they nearly collide in the middle of the tent. Reflexively, they both put out their hands to steady one another.

And that's how George ends up -- cold sober, in the middle of the day -- with his arms around his wife's squire, who's clad only in a loin cloth.

As soon as they touch, their promises of "Never again!" are completely forgotten. Neither will admit to moving first, but suddenly they're kissing for all they're worth. Then they're falling back onto the cot, and seconds later, George too is down to his loin cloth. Which is a step past what happened the night before.

"Do you think," Neal gasps, "That anyone will hear us?"

Thunder crashes outside, as the rain continues to fall.

"Doubt it," George says. "Don't care anyway." He returns his mouth to the young man's skin. Neal's gasp turns into a groan, and the outside world is forgotten.

As it turns out, Neal quite enjoys the rest of the summer. He's not the only one.


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