Disclaimer: As much as I'm sure Disney would love to have me write for them, I own nothing.
It was as if she was moving though a fog.
The airy voices of the choir…the expressions of the people that lined the pews…the petals that released a delicate odor with every step she took…the weight of the heavy sateen that was draped over her hips and legs…all seemed a surreal backdrop for the scene set in front of her.
The priest…the alter…and her intended. Andrew Jacoby, Duke of Kenilworth. He was standing there, resplendent in his blue uniform of the Royal Air Force, a slight smile on his face. All the uncertainty of the previous day that they'd shared was gone- replaced with the pleasant half-smile that she had learned all royalty assumed to hide their true feelings. Was she wearing the same frozen expression, or were her emotions evident on her face?
Thank God Nick wasn't there…she could see his uncle, smirking in the front, but not him…why wasn't he here, and why would she expect him to be here? Get a hold on yourself, she ordered herself sternly. What did she expect, for him to drop down from the rafters and beg her not to marry Andrew? She'd never be able to keep her composure if he was there, she realized. It was better this way.
Her life, up until this point, had been a twisted fairy tale of sorts. This was just another chapter. Duty over love…her grandmother had sacrificed so much for her country…and she'd be damned if she did any less.
Princess Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi took a deep breath, pausing slightly despite the fact her walk up the aisle was supposed to be smooth, sedate, and uninterrupted. In a flash, she could pick out the expressions of the people seated in the church- pride as well as concern on her grandmother's face, a smile of gentle reassurance on her mother's, and Lily- what was Lily doing? Giving some guard the eye. Typical. Mia would have shook her head if it didn't mean losing the tiara that Paulo had balanced very precariously on top of her curls. She squared her shoulders and resumed her walk, and saw her grandmother's face smooth out before she blocked the faces of the congregation, concentrating only on the man she was meeting in the front of the church.
When she reached the podium, Mia handed her banquet to Lily and ascended the stairs of the alter, accepting Andrew's hand. As he began to lead her toward the priest, their eyes met- and his were clearly questioning. You can still back out of this, Mia, they seemed to say. Would he blame her? No. Andrew was far too…kind. For a moment, she was tempted, glancing over her shoulder- but then she caught the eyes of Lord Palimore. His smirk had grown into a full-blown smile, and his beady little eyes were fixed on her, mockingly. He thinks I won't do it, Mia realized. Well, he has much to learn about the strength of the Renaldis. Lifting her decided chin- a feature she'd inherited from her father the king- she gave Andrew a warm smile and walked up with him, pretending not to notice the flash of surprise- and the sudden look of resignation that had entered his eyes. His air was resolute- he would make the best out of the situation, and so would she. Duty over country. That's how it had always been.
In the audience, Queen Clarisse looked at her granddaughter with a mix of pride and sadness. Her father's stubbornness and strength was visible in her today- and almost overwhelming to see in action. Mia had chosen her path- and hopefully, followed her heart- although deep inside, she knew that there was no way Mia truly loved Andrew. However, he was a good man- and Mia was a young woman with an incredible capacity to love. They were already rather fond of each other. Perhaps…Mia's experience wouldn't be like her own…
Yet somewhere, deep inside, Queen Clarisse felt something clench, especially when she saw Mia glance at Lord Palimore, and over the members of Parliament, the Old Guard.
How was it that what had made Mia special- her youth and freshness- had been overcome by tradition? She remembered the pain in her granddaughter's eyes- Grandma…I got played…The corruption of the monarchy had destroyed her innocence, and the purity of her ideas toward love, and toward the monarchy. She had given in…was following in the tradition of nearly all the Renaldis before her. Why?
She loves her country. She really, truly does.
For the first time, Queen Clarisse realized it, and she raised her chin in the same manner that Mia had done earlier, smiling proudly despite the lone tear fighting its way out of her eye. There was more of her in Mia than anyone would ever suspect.
She would be just fine.
The priest stepped down from his post, and instructed the couple to kneel before him.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…"
Mia took a deep breath, and exchanged a look with Andrew, who smiled at her reassuringly, then bowed his head.
This was it.
Oh. My. God.
"You look lovely, Your Highness!"
"A true Queen- can we call you that yet?"
"Smile for the camera, Princess Mia!"
Mia raised her left hand for what seemed to be the thousandth time that evening, and her new ring caught the light, glittering with a flash that made her blink. Andrew was by her side, of course- dressed in the casual Armani two-piece that he'd changed into after the reception. She was dressed in Armani, too- a simple cream sheath that ended right above her knees, 'showcasing' her 'gorgeous' legs, according to Paulo. She looked wonderful, but for once, she would have loved to be invisible again.
Oh. My. God.
"Darling," Andrew murmured into her ear, waving as well, "the car is waiting…and it's late."
"I know," Mia whispered back, reluctant to leave. Andrew placed a gentle hand on her lower back, steering her forward. "Thank you all!" he called to the cheering crowd. "And good night!" He pulled Mia closer to his side.
Mia smiled up at him tentatively, then on an impulse, pulled off the flowered corsage of Genovian lilies she wore on her wrist and tossed it into the crowd.
Oh. My. God.
The couple headed for their waiting carriage, flanked by the Genovian National Guard dressed in their royal blue. Everything about the evening had been perfect, and the reception had gone off without a hitch; it would be the most talked-about event in Genovia- no, in Europefor months.
Oh. My. God.
Now in the carriage, with Andrew at her side, Mia glanced down at her ring again, then up at Andrew. Her…husband.
I'm…married. Actually MARRIED. To…Andrew. Oh. My. God.
The entire evening had passed in a blur- but now that it was all over, the press was gone, and it was just her and Andrew, the truth hit her like a bucket of cold water. She was…married to this man. She would sleep with him. Have his children. Rule with him by her side.
What had she gotten herself into?
Duty before heart…
Of course, that was it. Her duty. She raised her chin in a familiar gesture, but her ready-made smile had already begun to wane. Her grandmother had taught her that duty to one's people was the most important thing…and she was shouldering it now, for them. It would be selfish not to…and she was a Renaldi.
The carriage made its way through the emptying streets, and Mia yawned involuntarily, so hard that her jaw nearly cracked. Next to her in the darkness, Andrew chuckled. "Ready to turn in?"
"I guess so," Mia said sleepily, stretching. She managed to stretch too far and ended up banging her hand on the side of the carriage, so hard that it brought tears to her eyes. "Ouch!"
"Are you all-" Andrew didn't finish his sentence, though- they were pulling up to the Genovian National Hotel, where they'd spend the night before leaving for a wedding trip the next day, to Switzerland. Mia recognized her maids and Andrew's valet, rushing up to welcome them.
"My lady!" Brigette and Brigitta were speaking in unison as usual, rushing over to help her out of the carriage. "You look splendid!"
"What a lovely ring!"
"Did he pick it out himself?"
Their eyes fell upon Andrew, and they giggled siYultaneously and lowered their eyes. "Your suite is ready, your Highness."
"Suite?" Mia echoed weakly.
"Yes!" her maids, in their excitement, forgot all protocol, reached out and practically dragged her out of the carriage. "You'll simply love it!"
"It has an enormous bathroom!"
"A marble tub with gold fixtures!"
"And the bed, Madame-"
They stopped and glanced at Andrew, embarrassed. He laughed good-naturedly and waved them on. "Go on, Mia, and settle your maids. I need to see some people downstairs, anyway. I'll be up in a bit."
Mia nodded, then on impulse, leaned over and kissed his cheek. He looked surprised, but had no chance to respond- Brigette and Brigitta had fairly pulled her into the hotel and up the stairs, leaving her only a few seconds to notice that no reporters loitered about. She wondered how her grandmother had been able to wangle that. A bellboy followed with the large Louis Vittoun tote that contained her nightgown and the items she'd be wearing tomorrow- all her other luggage had already been sent ahead to Switzerland.
The bridal suite of the Genovian National was just as impressive as her maids as promised; however, the grandeur was lost on Mia. She moved like a zombie as her maids hustled her through a bath, into her nightgown of thin openwork Genovian silk gossamer lace, set up all her cosmetics and clothing, and left the room, still chattering with excitement- apparently not noticing their mistress' lethargy.
When they were gone, Mia left the bedroom- she couldn't bear to stay there, for some reason. The air in the suite was…stifling. She entered to the adjacent living room, and spotted a set of French doors. From her experiences living in the palace, she knew that this could only mean one thing- a balcony.
Mia crossed the floor and pushed the doors open, and the cool inrush of air on her skin brought a flush to her cheeks. She stepped out on the balcony. It was rather a large one, and furnished with two elegant, ivory wicker chairs and a matching table. She tucked her feet underneath the hem of the flimsy gown and rested her head on the side of the chair, looking out over the city. The balcony provided a bird's-eye view, and candles shone in the windows as far as the eye could see- a tradition, Queen Clarisse had said, that followed a royal birth or wedding.
This is mine to rule, and care for, she thought, awed. Now she knew why it all had been worth it.
A noise behind her made her start, tumbling out of the chair and managing to break her fall at the last moment, using her hands. "Oof!"
Andrew! She drew the corners of her robe together tightly as her husband approached her, still dressed in his post-wedding suit. Could this thing be any more transparent?
"Are you all right, Mia?" he held out his hand, but she shook her head and struggled to her feet herself. "I…I'm fine," she stuttered in response, unable to meet his eyes. "I just wanted to…she gestured at the lights below. "I've never seen it all like this, and-"
"I know." Andrew stepped up behind her, looking out over the lights. His expression was the softest she'd ever seen it. "You know," he said quietly. "I said this yesterday…and honestly, I wasn't sure if we'd be in this position tonight or not, but what you did today…" he shook his head in amazement. "You are going to make one brilliant Queen."
Mia's eyes filled with tears. "Thanks, Andrew," she whispered.
They stood in silence for a moment. "Are your maids gone?" he asked.
Mia wiped her eyes with her left hand, but managed to flash him a smile. "Pretty much."
"Thank God!" Andrew rolled his eyes upward. "They really do make a person nervous. I'm going to the bath- I feel positively filthy." He paused, and when he spoke again, he did it rather delicately. "Are you…coming to bed?"
Mia felt her stomach clench. There was another thing they had to deal with. "Soon," she said, softly, still gazing out over the city.
He looked as if he wanted to speak, but he decided against it, and left.
When he emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later, he found her in the same place- except for the fact that she was sitting on the floor now, and crying as if her heart would break.
"Mia?" he approached her, tentatively. "What's wrong?"
"Everything…" she looked up at him through large, wet eyes. "God, Andrew…did I do the right thing?"
"Mia…" he knelt down beside her wrapped his arms around her shoulders, but she only cried harder. Sighing, he sat down on the concrete floor and pulled her into his lap, swallowing hard. "Oh, Mia…I'm so sorry," he whispered.
Mia wiped her eyes and stared up at him through her tears. He smelled like soap and aftershave, and was wrapped in a thick bathrobe of dark royal blue, open at the chest. His hair was wet and stuck up every which way, making him look unusually boyish. She reached out and braced a shaky hand on his bare chest, taking in the warmth, and the muscles rippling under smooth skin. Then she leaned into him, pressing her cheek to his chest. It felt so warm, so wide, He held her silently until her sobs quieted, and she drifted off to sleep.
Andrew stayed awake long after that, studying his young bride's tearstained face and playing with the dark hair that curled around it, until both the cool night air and the rhythmic sound of her breathing lulled him to sleep as well.
She didn't love him now, and maybe she never would. But he would try…
It was what was good and proper.