"You do realize this is a test." Cain grumbled as DG adjusted the collar of his uniform. It really didn't need adjusting, but as long as she was fiddling with it, he could grumble about the awards dinner. "They're just waiting to pounce on how I'm not a good host and since you don't have any idea what you're doing, you need to marry someone who does."
DG stood on her tiptoes and pecked his lips. "Your paranoia is usually right, but I have a plan if that scenario comes true."
"Should I bother asking what it is or just wait?"
"We'll elope with family and friends, and broadcast the ceremony to all of Central City."
"I like that plan," he smiled before kissing her more deeply than she had him. "Let's get this done."
"If it makes you feel better, Dr. Connor didn't want this fancy meal any more than you do. Natalie elbowed him in the ribs to stop him from complaining." DG took his arm and they headed downstairs to the dining hall.
The Council wanted to lavish the doctors with medals, titles, and possibly citizenship in the O.Z.—DG wasn't positive about the last one. The doctors were firmly entrenched in the just doing our jobs position. So DG latched onto the idea of an awards banquet with a speech for a compromise, and was holding a vacation up her sleeve to offer if it looked like it was needed.
They reached the parlor where everyone was gathering before dinner. The Counts had already captured Doctors Connor and Durant, but DG's brain had glitched and badly seeing Dr. Connor's tuxedo.
"No," Cain said into her ear. She turned to him with wide eyes. "I'm not wearing that ever, so don't get attached to the idea."
"But taking it off you would be so much fun." she whispered back.
His ears reddened. "Behave, we have to make a good impression."
Natalie spotted them first. Her red ball gown looked fantastic, even though she moved nervously in it. "Your Majesty, Mr. Cain., Count Roundtree was telling us how we haven't seen the best parts of the Outer Zone."
DG was all smiles. "What did you recommend they see first?"
Count Roundtree tugged on his cravat. "Oh Central City, your Majesty. Young Mr. Connor seemed to think our only technology was horses and armored transports."
Connor's arm rested around his son's shoulders. "It is all he has seen."
"Yes, well, I best check with Lord Ambrose and see if everything is ready." Count Roundtree scurried away.
Count Begon shook his head. "How does he manage to contribute anything to the government?"
DG didn't want to encourage Court gossip, especially since she was sure the cause of his distress was her fiancé, so she grinned at Jack. "Looking sharp, Jack."
"Thanks." He tugged on his jacket with a grin. "Your sister made it, but she said I don't have any magic."
"It's an even split between being really useful and being a pain in the neck, trust me."
Count Begon frowned at the attention focused on a child. "Your father is not joining us, your Majesty?"
The smile left her face, but Cain answered for her. "Consort Ahamo didn't feel up to a party after everything that has happened." He turned back to Jack. "Personally, I like the Gap across the O.Z. DG says it's longer than the Grand Canyon on the Other Side."
"Wow, I haven't seen the Grand Canyon." Jack looked up at his father.
"I haven't either," Connor admitted.
"I have," Natalie said. "High school class trip."
"My class went to Chicago, and then the chaperones wouldn't let us go to the Hard Rock Café." DG's smile had finally returned, but it still felt forced. Ahamo was hurting so much, but he didn't want her or Azkadellia to help.
Frank Powell joined their group and pointed at the other end of the parlor. "Is this how it feels when the kids are finally old enough to go to prom?"
They all glanced in the direction he pointed. Azkadellia looked lovely in the ivory gown with emerald green details and clung to Miles' arm as they talked to Jeb, Eva, and another Royal Army Captain. DG spotted the matching green of the vest under his tuxedo jacket. Cripes, did she need to explain to her sister that Az couldn't keep the young doctor?
Connor met Frank's grin fighting a grin on his own face. "They grow up so fast."
"No picking on Miles," Natalie said.
"And Azkadellia wouldn't know what to do with that kind of teasing either," Cain added.
Frank shrugged. "Miles did open up a can of whupass. He's earned a date."
Glitch threw open the dining hall doors. "Dinner is served."
Cain took DG's arm. "This should be fun." Her grin in response was more real, and he ushered her to the head of the decorated table.