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No one in the bright ballroom noticed the two slim shadows slipping out the side door to the gardens, despite the giggling and shushing that accompanied their escape.  Down the short path they went to the small orchard at the edge of the estate, where the night air was warm, the lights from the party became dim in the distance and the music provided only the faintest backdrop for their whispering.  Still snickering nervously, the taller of the two elven shadows pressed the smaller up against an apple tree, and for a moment the sounds of giggling gave way to silence enhanced by the chirping of crickets and a faraway waltz.

“Are you sure about this?” the boy asked breathlessly when the kiss was finally broken.  “You’re sure your father won’t be angry?”

“Oh, he’ll be livid if he finds out,” the girl replied bluntly, stifling another giggle.  “My mother moreso.  But they’re not going to find out.  Kiss me.”

The boy readily complied, and this time did something with his hand that elicited a small gasp from his companion.  He paused at that, his long ears flickering.  “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” she replied quickly.  “Do that again.”

He nuzzled her forehead softly with his as his hands played around her waist.  “You’re certain no one will find out?”

Positive,” she insisted.  “Mother is playing hostess, Father is playing politics – no one was paying attention to us, no one saw us leave, and we’ll be back before anyone knows we were gone – but only if we hurry!”

“I don’t want to hurry,” he grinned, bringing his lips close to hers again.

She chuckled, pulling him close eagerly.  “Just quit wasting time worrying about my father.”

“Agreed,” came a deeper voice. “Her father’s not the one you need to worry about.”

The boy snapped his head up at the sound, and in the next second a flaming arrow zipped past his nose to take root in the tree inches from his young lady’s head, and they both screamed and scrambled away.  The arrow’s flame died out quickly, but not before its light illuminated its distinctive fletching, as well as two forms in the nearby trees, with two more arrows trained on the young would-be Casanova.  Even after the light was gone, two pairs of faintly glowing blue eyes could be seen among the leaves, and one set briefly jerked up and away towards the manor house where the party carried on.  “Go on, son,” came the voice again.  “Get out of here now, and we pretend nothing happened.  Deal?”

The boy puffed up his chest.  “If you think I’m leaving Astoreth out here alone–“

“She’s not alone,” said the other shadow.  “She’s going to have a nice chat with her brothers.  Right, Asty?”

The girl folded her arms and glared.  “You’re both jerks.”

One of the arrows nodded, catching a bit of moonlight.  “Looks like your boyfriend’s belt needs adjusting, Asty.  Better tell him to scram before we punch a few more holes in it for him.”

The boy paled, and Astoreth sighed.  “You’d better go,” she told the boy, and despite his earlier bravado she didn’t have to ask him twice.

Once he was well on his way the two forms unstrung their arrows, dropped from their trees and strolled over to her with equal strides and matching expressions of smug self-satisfaction on their near-identical faces.  “You’re both jerks,” Astoreth told them again.  “You could have shot me.”

“No we couldn’t,” said the twin on the right.  “And we wouldn’t.  Have a little faith!  We just wanted the boy to know we meant business.”

“We’re just looking out for our little sis, sis,” the left one grinned.

“You are not!” she snapped at them.  “You just enjoy tormenting me.  Rioghan was looking out for me; he’s the one who told mother Balor Redgaze was here to get her out of my hair.”

“Of course Rioghan is looking out for you,” said the right twin with a chuckle.  “Who do you think told us you were out here?”

Astoreth scowled.  The left-hand brother grinned again, and poked at the skirt of her gown with the tip of his longbow.  “Nice dress,” he said.  “Looks like something Lady Burnhart would wear.  No wonder that boy was drooling all over it.  I’m shocked Mother allowed it.”

“Mother had nothing to do with it,” Astoreth said shortly, yanking her skirts away.  “I made it myself.  And I like it, so you can fuck off, Beirgin.”

“Language, young lady,” Beirgin replied, wagging his finger, and then he heaved a sigh.  “Well!  Our work is done here, Carragan.  And I do believe I still owe Elliani Larkspur a turn on the dance floor.”  He turned, taking step back towards the manor, and stopped to glance back at his brother.  “Coming?”

“In a minute,” Carragan replied, his eyes still on Astoreth.  “I need to talk to our sister.”

Beirgin shrugged and started to walk back towards the house.  Astoreth scowled and folded her arms, waiting.  Her brother looked her over, and pursed his lips.

“You really made that yourself?” Carragan asked, and Astoreth nodded.  “It looks… nice,” he said.  “Really nice.”  He frowned a bit, to match her expression.  “You’re… growing up, I guess.”

“You just noticed?” Astoreth sneered.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Yeah, I guess I just did.”  He sniffed.  “So, uh… that boy.  First?”

Astoreth nodded, still flustered.  “And probably last,” she grumbled.

Carragan smirked.  “There will be others,” he told her gently.

“Last from him, anyway.”

He nodded.  “It better be the last.  At least until he breaks up with the two other girls he’s dating.”  Astoreth blinked at her brother, and he raised an eyebrow back at her.  “What?” he asked innocently.  “We told you we were looking out for you.”

Astoreth frowned, and started toward the house.  “You’re still jerks,” she grumbled as she strode past her brother.

“Beirgin’s the jerk,” Carragan replied cheerfully, falling into step behind her.  “I, on the other hand, am charming and witty, and always have my little sister’s best interests at heart.”

“You are the biggest jerk, Carragan Duskflame.”

“And proud of it.”

 

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