Hihi! I'm sorry this is a few days later than I'd hoped, but it's longer than usual so I'm hoping that makes up for it. It's also the last chapter in this arc of the story. (And there was much rejoicing!) Not so fast, I'm going to continue to follow these characters on their respective trips (rending of hair, gnashing of teeth). The next story in this mess is already started and tentatively titled 'Any place you hang your head is home'-without Elvis Costello all my stories would be called 'Untitled'-

And to all the wonderful people who have slogged through this, and been so kind and helpful and encouraging -Thank you from the bottom of my evil little heart and I hope you enjoy the new arc! Sandy

Charm School

Chapter 41

Min stepped into the room and closed the door, mind already racing ahead of his movements.

A quick shower and a snack and ...

"Hi!"

"What the! Lin, you scared the daylights out of me! "

"Sorry."

"You could have turned a light on at least! Uh, sorry, you just surprised me, let me start again. Hi, nice to see you."

"Nice to see you too. I thought I might catch you before you guys left."

"That's nice of you. Are the others lurking about?"

"No, just me. I brought presents to make up for the lack though."

"Aw, you didn't have to do that."

"Sure I did, Faun made me."

"Oh, well. What is it?"

"Open it and see."

Min opened the ornately wrapped box and moved the tissue paper aside.

"Oh Lin, it's beautiful. It's silk too, isn't it? I can't believe you did this!"

"Pull it out and see if it looks about the right size. I thought the colors would suit you but I wasn't quite sure about the size."

Min carefully slid the material out of the box and held the robe in front of him.

"It's perfect, and incredibly beautiful. I've never had anything like this before."

"I'm glad you like it. The second box is a similar outfit, more in the Chinese style. We figured you might like some finery that reflected both sides of your mothers heritage."

Min refolded the kimono carefully, rather tongue tied over the richness and thoughtfulness of the gift.

"Thanks."

"No problem. There is this too."

Lin handed him a small pendent of jade, inscribed with fine letters on the reverse.

"I can't make this out. What does it say?"

"It's in archaic elvish, it basically says you are under the protection of the dark court."

"Is that going to fly in the court of light? I mean, the two courts don't have much to do with each other from what I've been told."

"They have little enough to do with each other, still, it should give anyone who might wish you harm pause."

"You don't think anyone will wish me harm do you? I mean, I'm just going as a guest to a wedding, hardly likely to attract that kind of attention I would think."

"Oh, quite probably it's totally unnecessary. It can't hurt though."

"Why do I have the feeling you don't believe that?"

"Well, if Nadirs people do see you as a threat of some kind to their son or his happiness things could get...complicated, and the knowledge that your failure to appear back here safe and sound at the proper time will bring someone looking for the reasons, well, it will just keep everyone honest."

"Ah, but this is the seelie court, hardly the place I have to be afraid of violence."

"The threat of violence is still there, it just has prettier names. After all, dressing dark deeds in fine words and high moral wrappings isn't all that rare a thing in any world. "

"Who's the carving of?"

"The Queen of the dark court. She's by way of a relative of mine and she agreed to this minor favor."

"So I'm under the protection of the Queen? Where do you fit in?"

"Should you not turn up at the appointed time I'm the one who will make inquiries."

"Pointed inquiries?"

"Exceptionally pointed."

"Wow, thanks. I hope it isn't needed but it's a really comforting gesture."

"Well, you know how Tsin worries about you."

"So Tsin thought this up?"

Lin shrugged and Min got the feeling Tsin had nothing to do with it.

"Thanks Lin, I appreciate it."

"Don't mention it. Watch your back and have a good time."

"I'll try. Umm, was Nadir here when you arrived?"

"Yes, he was."

"I don't suppose you spoke to him about this?"

"Of course I did. He came around to my point of view eventually."

"I'm afraid to ask what kind of mood he left in."

"Not too bad, actually. He was angry and insulted at first but I think the implication that he would allow harm to come to you was the root of his anger. After we talked he graciously allowed me to extend my help, should it be necessary. He also was quick to point out you were far from helpless to protect yourself. But still, backup is never a bad thing."

"I agree, I'm just surprised he did. I'm glad the two of you don't consider me totally helpless though. Do you know where he went?"

"To lurk outside until I'm gone, I assume. Which I will be in a moment. Take care, Min."

-

When Nadir came in an hour or so later his eyes lit up at the sight that greeted him.

Min, one long leg hanging outside the sheets, in Nadirs bed.

Min stirred and opened one eye, giving Nadir a sleepy smile.

"Hi there, hope you don't mind me stealing your bed."

"Only if it means I have to sleep in yours."

"Let me think about it. Oh, okay, I guess I could stand to share."

"You're ever so kind. I assume the fairy godfather from hell has gone home?"

"Hey, don't talk about Lin like that! He's a sweetie."

"Right, a sweetie. Are you packed? Ready to go in the morning?"

"Yes, all set. Sky and Grey are going to meet us for coffee in the wee hours and then we'll be off."

"Sounds good. I gather they'll be heading off not long afterwards?"

"Yeah, I think they're both kind of nervous. But it'll be good for them, help them get to know each other better."

"I hope Grey's parents are prepared to meet Sky. He can be a bit overwhelming. Especially for the kind of conservative people Grey says his folks are."

"I think Sky's going to try hard to make a good impression, he really thinks it will help Grey feel better about the two of them if Grey's family accepts him. I'm not sure just how he's going to pull that off but he seems determined to do it."

"Well, he is an actor, I suppose he could look at it as a role. How long he'll be able to keep it up I don't know. Staying in character for days on end would be difficult, no matter how much he wants to. And he has the kind of personality that won't take kindly to being repressed for long."

"I can't say I'm looking forward to that part of this myself. I'm looking forward to the trip but it's going to be hard to be deprived for the duration."

"It will build your character."

"Thanks, you're the soul of sympathy. So, you won't miss anything?"

As he spoke he pushed the sheets aside a bit more, placing more pale skin on view.

"I didn't say that. And besides, we still have tonight."

-

"Sky, are you almost ready? "

"Almost."

Grey sighed and sat down next to his suitcase.

"If you don't hurry we're going to miss Nadir and Min."

"I'm hurrying! Well, I'm moving in all deliberate haste in any case, some things just can't be rushed."

Grey bit back a terse reply. He knew Sky was doing the best he could, but he had been gone most of the night, apparently getting in only after Grey was sound asleep. And he had known they had to make an early start.

Grey wasn't sure if he was more upset about the night out or the morning result. Neither was calculated to calm his nerves about this trip.

He looked up when he finally heard the bathroom door open and slowly got to his feet, a study in astonishment."

"Sky, how did you... you look... "

Sky did a showy runway turn that contrasted oddly with the look on his face. If Grey hadn't known better he would have thought Sky was feeling shy.

"You look wonderful! I've never seen you like this, you look so, well, you look great. Different, but great. But your hair, how did you manage to do that? I thought you had to cut dreads off if you were tired of them?"

"You do if you don't have access to Taz, who managed to whip up a little magical hairdressing assistance. He got the dye out too, without aid of natural means. Or chemical means, whichever. Took a while, but I thought your parents might like this better."

"That's where you were last night?"

"Yeah, he and Faun took me in hand, as it were. Only metaphorically you understand. And I think Lin pitched in on the sartorial side, a bit. Taz said something to that effect. I'm still pretty stunned, I kept offering to repay them but Faun wouldn't hear of it. They're good people."

Grey nodded, gazing at Sky. Without the dreads and the dye his hair was a rich red brown, pulled back loosely from his face to fall in shining ribbon down his back. The dress shirt was simple but classy, an old ivory hue that went well with Sky's pale skin and dark hair. He smiled, a wry grin that crinkled his startling green eyes a little at the corners.

"I gather I pass inspection?"

"You're beautiful, always beautiful. You're just a different beautiful today."

"Wait until you see the suit. But not now, we'll have to save that delight for later."

He pulled a garment bag and medium sized suitcase from the closet and pulled on a vintage leather jacket that Grey couldn't remember seeing before either.

"A suit? You got a suit? For me?"

"For you I'd dress in ashes and sack cloth, although I have to say I'm glad that isn't necessary, Armani is much easier to take."

-

"Are you sure you can't take pictures? Sounds a little unreasonable to me."

"Yes, Sky, I'm sure. I don't think cameras will even work there. I'll do a lot of sketches though, okay?"

"Yeah, I guess. Take some watercolors as well as graphite though, I want color. And Nadir too, will you be a dear and do a few sketches for me?"

"I'll try, I know Min's packed inks as well so I'm sure between the two of us you'll get something. I like the new look, by the way."

"Thanks, but don't get used to it, it's a bit drab for my taste."

Min shook his head and looked him over one more time.

"Not a bit drab, I think you look great. Give it time, maybe you'll get to like it."

Sky shrugged but looked pleased.

"Oh, and before I forget, take notes, I've heard that the memories of the faerie lands fades quickly when you leave it. For non-natives at any rate. And maybe you could lend me the notes when you get back?"

Grey broke in:

"Sky, he's going on vacation! He can't spend every moment writing and drawing his impressions for us!"

"I don't mind, actually I was planning to keep a diary anyway. I've been meaning to start one and this trip will be a great time to do it."

Sky grinned.

"Great idea! And when you get back you can lend it to me."

"I'll make a copy of the pertinent parts and give them to you."

"Aw, but that way I'll miss all the juicy bits!"

Nadir nodded.

"That's the plan."

Min patted Sky's shoulder in commiseration.

"Don't feel too bad, you'll be having some fun of your own while we're gone. And you can refuse to give me the full details when you get back."

"It's a deal. Although the first part will be the most interesting. A few weeks in the balmy South sounds a lot more inviting than a few weeks in the dirty snow of New Jersey."

Grey frowned.

"I'm looking forward to seeing your home town! And meeting your family too. I'm sure it's a lot more interesting there than in my little backwater in the middle of nowhere."

Sky smiled.

"We'll have to tell the story to Min and Nadir when we all get back and have them decide."