DEDICATION: for R-chan, hope you feel better soon!
WARNINGS: shoujo ai (R+D), shounen ai (1+2), mild angst (R+1)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Just a little thing that had been growing in my head for a while, figured it was time to write it. One stylistic note: the lower-case 'i' is intentional; don't get after me for grammar!
"Will you help me get ready?" she asks me. She's glowing, and i know it's because she's going to see him again, even though she tries to hide it. Or maybe she's given up hiding things from me. Her trust is some small victory, at least. I force a smile.
"Of course, Miss Relena. Don't I always?"
She beams at me, radiant, and throws her arms around my neck--i stop breathing, wishing with all my being i could halt time, freeze this instant forever. "Yes, you do. Thank you, Dorothy. I don't know what I'd do without you."
//It's because i love you.// I disengage her arms before i melt, before my heart breaks or i lose my feeble grip on my will and break down in front of her. "You're welcome, Miss Relena." I am stiff when i pull away--i turn my back on her, even if it's only to choose a silvery gown from the closet before i hold it out to her. "What about this one?"
She shrugs. She will submit to my judgement, the way she always does. For such a strong woman, she's a hopelessly naïve one. My Relena doesn't play games like most women do--like i do. I was taught them from birth, i suckled feminine wiles from my mother's teat, imbued with the milk of seduction and petty play. It does me no good here. Not with her.
"If you like it, Dorothy," she says.
"It brings out your eyes," I tell her as she strips off her skirt and blouse, and i try to look at her without looking--i want to see her but i don't, i torture myself this way every time until she steps into the gown and turns for me to fasten up the back.
I make her beautiful. I do it selfishly, because i like to see her so; because i will spend the rest of my night watching her. I was right about the gown, the way it hugs her body and lends her curves she has yet to possess, the way the skirt rustles and shimmers like moonbeams when she moves. I am the one who fastens the diamonds around her neck, who highlights the smooth skin of her face with powder and rouge and a touch of glitter under her sky-blue eyes. And i'm the one who curls her hair, who gathers it atop her head and catches it with silver pins--it's my artistry that leaves a single ringlet spiraling to her shoulders at each ear, and my trembling fingers that smooth her glossy lips with colour.
But i'm not the one she smiles for.
I wish she'd give up. Or else i wish he would. She still doesn't realise it's obligation that brings him to her, that it's only a promise that makes him dance with her. I don't know if she notices how stiff he stands while she spins across the floor like a cascade of flowers...maybe she thinks it's just the way he is, that it's a residue of his training that he still refuses to let his emotions through. And maybe she does see how he never quite looks at her, how every moment with her in his arms his eyes are searching the crowd--maybe she thinks that's because he's a soldier too, that he's trying to protect her.
And he is. He doesn't want to hurt her. I know she doesn't see how his eyes soften when the pilot with the long hair enters the room, or notice the tender glances they exchange through her, as if she isn't there. She still thinks he's the one she needs to make her happy.
But i'm the one who picks her up each time he leaves. And i'm the one who listens to her girlish fantasies and her high ideals, who plays the devil's advocate to hone her mind, who sells my dirty soul in quiet work and manipulation so that she need never be so soiled. I've always tried to do the best for her, even when she didn't know it. For love of her, i became her enemy. What devotion could be stronger than that?
"Heero promised he'd be here tonight," she says breathlessly as she tugs on her stockings, trying not to put a run in them before she even finds her shoes. "I suggested he invite Duo along as well--the two of you would make a lovely couple, you know."
I hope my smile is not too bitter. "I don't think Duo is interested in me, Miss Relena. And he's not quite my type either, though I admit he has beautiful hair." I know very well that he isn't bringing Duo along for my sake.
She looks disappointed. "I wish you'd find someone, Dorothy. I want to see you happy."
"Like you?" i ask--it slips out before i can halt the words, and immediately i regret it, driven to remorse by the stricken widening of her eyes.
"I am happy," she protests--but she knows it isn't true, and she wilts on the edge of her bed, the silver petals of her skirt spread around her, her hands limp in her lap.
"I suppose you're right," she whispers "But it's all right. Heero gives me what he's willing to, and I provide the illusion of everything else. I have dances across the ballroom floor, and dreams alone in my bed at night. I will not ask for any more."
I slip my own burgundy gown over my head and let the folds fall to my feet. "Is that enough for you?"
I can tell from her face that she's asked herself the same question before tonight. I see in her eyes how she struggles with the answer. "For now."
I don't answer, because i don't want to give myself away...not knowing that she wouldn't take me.
She helps me braid my hair and pin it up, and my body thrills to the stroke of her fingers through it. I try to make myself as beautiful as her, on the chance that she might notice, but even when she does, it's not the way i want her to. She descends the staircase to the ballroom like a princess in a fairy tale, and i follow in the shadowfall of her passing.
Heero is there, just as he promised to be, and he bows stiffly before she can throw herself into his arms and whirl him away. I dance with Duo, because she asked me to, and because i can tell, the way the pair of us manage to always stay so close to them, that i don't have to pretend to him. He knows. We can't quite tear our eyes away at his lover in the arms of my one love, and when i look too heartbroken he coaxes my head onto his chest so no-one else can see. But he can drink in the promises of Heero's eyes, and i have no such prize from my princess.
"I wonder how long we'll all go on like this," he whispers into my hair.
I know the answer. "As long as they ask us too." Because Duo loves him as much as i love her. Because he can't hurt her. Because we're all caught, every one of us, in an intricate web of our own creation--linked, inexorably, by a love we'd give up anything for...fade to nothing for.
Duo's arms tighten around me. He brushes a soft kiss across my hair, and i pretend it's from her.
The gala passes in a blur, and ends in a slow trickle of guests out the door. I'm bidding them all farewell; old dignitaries and younger ambitious nobles. I see Heero and Duo clasp hands almost as they disappear into the night. My heart hurts.
"Did you have a good time, Dorothy?"
She's radiant. This time i don't have to force my smile. "Of course, Miss Relena. And you looked glorious."
She blushes. "I'm sure you're the only one who thinks so."
I have to laugh--who could fail to see the way she shines through her own body as if mere mortal flesh is inadequate to contain her brilliance? "And i am sure i'm not."
She twirls giddily in her gown like a little girl. "I'm going to bed...I want to relive this night again before I fall asleep." She stops mid-spin, catching my hands and clasping them to her chest. "Do you ever do the same, Dorothy? Fall asleep to fantasies of love?"
And i can only smile, because i love her so much, all the poetic phrases i use to describe her in my mind pale utterly when faced with her. It takes so long to find my tongue that i know my secret is safe. "Of course i do." I wish i could tell her. I wish i could kiss her.
But all i really do is watch her as she disappears.